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Title: Old Judge Priest - (Sequel to "Back Home")
Author: Cobb, Irvin S. (Irvin Shrewsbury), 1876-1944
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 "Old Judge Priest - (Sequel to "Back Home")" ***

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OLD JUDGE PRIEST

By Irvin S. Cobb

New York George H. Doran Company

Copyright, 1918



OLD JUDGE PRIEST



I. THE LORD PROVIDES


THIS story begins with Judge Priest sitting at his desk at his chambers
at the old courthouse. I have a suspicion that it will end with him
sitting there. As to that small detail I cannot at this time be quite
positive. Man proposes, but facts will have their way.

If so be you have read divers earlier tales of my telling you already
know the setting for the opening scene here. You are to picture first
the big bare room, high-ceiled and square of shape, its plastering
cracked and stained, its wall cases burdened with law books in splotched
leather jerkins; and some of the books stand straight and upright,
showing themselves to be confident of the rectitude of all statements
made therein, and some slant over sideways against their fellows to
the right or the left, as though craving confirmatory support for their
contents.

Observe also the water bucket on the little shelf in the corner, with the
gourd dipper hanging handily by; the art calendar, presented with the
compliments of the Langstock Lumber Company, tacked against the door;
the spittoon on the floor; the steel engraving of President Davis and
his Cabinet facing you as you enter; the two wide windows opening upon
the west side of the square; the woodwork, which is of white poplar, but
grained by old Mr. Kane, our leading house, sign and portrait painter,
into what he reckoned to be a plausible imitation of the fibrillar
eccentricities of black walnut; and in the middle of all this, hunched
down behind his desk like a rifleman in a pit, is Judge Priest, in a
confusing muddle of broad, stooped shoulders, wrinkled garments and fat
short legs.

Summertime would have revealed him clad in linen, or alpaca, or ample
garments of homespun hemp, but this particular day, being a day in the
latter part of October, Judge Priest's limbs and body were clothed in
woollen coverings. The first grate fire of the season burned in his
grate. There was a local superstition current to the effect that our
courthouse was heated with steam. Years before, a bond issue to provide
the requisite funds for this purpose had been voted after much public
discussion pro and con. Thereafter, for a space, contractors and
journeymen artisans made free of the building, to the great discomfort
of certain families of resident rats, old settler rats really, that had
come to look upon their cozy habitats behind the wainscoting as homes
for life. Anon iron pipes emerged at unexpected and jutting angles from
the baseboards here and there, to coil in the corners or else to climb
the walls, joint upon joint, and festoon themselves kinkily against the
ceilings.

Physically the result was satisfying to the eye of the taxpayer; but
if the main function of a heating plant be to provide heat, then the
innovation might hardly be termed an unqualified success. Official
dwellers of the premises maintained that the pipes never got really hot
to the touch before along toward the Fourth of July, remaining so until
September, when they began perceptibly to cool off again. Down in the
cellar the darky janitor might feed the fire box until his spine cracked
and the boilers seethed and simmered, but the steam somehow seemed to
get lost in transit, manifesting itself on the floors above only in a
metallic clanking and clacking, which had been known seriously to annoy
lawyers in the act of offering argument to judge and jurors. When warmth
was needed to dispel the chill in his own quarters Judge Priest always
had a fire kindled in the fireplace.

He had had one made and kindled that morning. All day the red coals
had glowed between the chinks in the pot-bellied grate and the friendly
flames had hummed up the flue, renewing neighbourly acquaintance with
last winter's soot that made fringes on the blackened fire brick, so
that now the room was in a glow. Little tiaras of sweat beaded out on
the judge's bald forehead as he laboured over the papers in a certain
case, and frequently he laid down his pen that he might use both hands,
instead of his left only, to reach and rub remote portions of his
person. Doing this, he stretched his arms until red strips showed below
the ends of his wristbands. At a distance you would have said the judge
was wearing coral bracelets.

The sunlight that had streamed in all afternoon through the two windows
began to fade, and little shadows that stayed hidden through the day
crawled under the door from the hall beyond and crept like timorous
mice across the planking, ready to dart back the moment the gas was
lit. Judge Priest strained to reach an especially itchy spot between his
shoulder blades and addressed words to Jeff Poindexter, coloured, his
body servant and house boy.

"They ain't so very purty to look at--red flannels ain't," said the
judge. "But, Jeff, I've noticed this--they certainly are mighty lively
company till you git used to 'em. I never am the least bit lonely fur
the first few days after I put on my heavy underwear."

There was no answer from Jeff except a deep, soft breath. He slept. At
a customary hour he had come with Mittie May, the white mare, and the
buggy to take Judge Priest home to supper, and had found the judge
engaged beyond his normal quitting time. That, however, had not
discommoded Jeff. Jeff always knew what to do with his spare moments.
Jeff always had a way of spending the long winter evenings. He leaned
now against a bookrack, with his elbow on the top shelf, napping
lightly. Jeff preferred to sleep lying down or sitting down, but he
could sleep upon his feet too--and frequently did.

Having, by brisk scratching movements, assuaged the irritation between
his shoulder blades, the judge picked up his pen and shoved it across
a sheet of legal cap that already was half covered with his fine, close
writing. He never dictated his decisions, but always wrote them out by
hand. The pen nib travelled along steadily for awhile. Eventually words
in a typewritten petition that rested on the desk at his left caught the
judge's eye.

"Huh!" he grunted, and read the quoted phrase, "'True Believers'
Afro-American Church of Zion, sometimes called----'" Without turning his
head he again hailed his slumbering servitor: "Jeff, why do yourall call
that there little church-house down by the river Possum Trot?"

Jeff roused and grunted, shaking his head dear of the lingering dregs of
drowsiness.

"Suh?" he inquired. "Wuz you speakin' to me, Jedge?"

"Yes, I was. Whut's the reason amongst your people fur callin' that
little church down on the river front Possum Trot?"

Jeff chuckled an evasive chuckle before he made answer. For all the
close relations that existed between him and his indulgent employer,
Jeff had no intention of revealing any of the secrets of the highly
secretive breed of humans to which he belonged. His is a race which,
upon the surface of things, seems to invite the ridicule of an outer and
a higher world, yet dreads that same ridicule above all things. Show me
the white man who claims to know intimately the workings of his black
servant's mind, who professes to be able to tell anything of any negro's
lodge affiliations or social habits or private affairs, and I will show
you a born liar.

Mightily well Jeff understood the how and the why and the wherefore of
the derisive hate borne by the more orthodox creeds among his people for
the strange new sect known as the True Believers. He could have traced
out step by step, with circumstantial detail, the progress of the
internal feud within the despised congregation that led to the
upspringing of rival sets of claimants to the church property, and
to the litigation that had thrown the whole tangled business into the
courts for final adjudication. But except in company of his own choosing
and his own colour, wild horses could not have drawn that knowledge from
Jeff, although it would have pained him to think any white person who
had a claim upon his friendship suspected him of concealment of any
detail whatsoever.

"He-he," chuckled Jeff. "I reckin that's jes' nigger foolishness. Me,
I don' know no reason why they sh'd call a church by no sech a name as
that. I ain't never had no truck wid 'em ole True Believers, myse'f.
I knows some calls 'em the Do-Righters, and some calls 'em the Possum
Trotters." His tone subtly altered to one of innocent bewilderment:
"Whut you doin', Jedge, pesterin' yo'se'f wid sech low-down trash as
them darkies is?"

Further discussion of the affairs of the strange faith that was divided
against itself might have ensued but that an interruption came. Steps
sounded in the long hallway that split the lower floor of the old
courthouse lengthwise, and at a door--not Judge Priest's own door but
the door of the closed circuit-court chamber adjoining--a knocking
sounded, at first gently, then louder and more insistent.

"See who 'tis out yonder, Jeff," bade Judge Priest. "And ef it's anybody
wantin' to see me I ain't got time to see 'em without it's somethin'
important. I aim to finish up this job before we go on home."

He bent to his task again. But a sudden draft of air whisked certain
loose sheets off his desk, carrying them toward the fireplace, and he
swung about to find a woman in his doorway. She was a big, upstanding
woman, overfleshed and overdressed, and upon her face she bore the
sign of her profession as plainly and indubitably as though it had been
branded there in scarlet letters.

The old man's eyes narrowed as he recognised her. But up he got on the
instant and bowed before her. No being created in the image of a woman
ever had reason to complain that in her presence Judge Priest forgot his
manners.

"Howdy do, ma'am," he said ceremoniously. "Will you walk in? I'm sort of
busy jest at present."

"That's what your nigger boy told me, outside," she said; "but I came
right on in any-way.

"Ah-hah, so I observe," stated Judge Priest dryly, but none the less
politely; "mout I enquire the purpose of this here call?"

"Yes, sir; I'm a-goin' to tell you what brought me here without wastin'
any more words than I can help," said the woman. "No, thank you,'
Judge," she went on as he motioned her toward a seat; "I guess I can say
what I've got to say, standin' up. But you set down, please, Judge."!

She advanced to the side of his desk as he settled back in his chair,
and rested one broad flat hand upon the desk top. Three or four heavy,
bejewelled bangles that were on her arm slipped down her gloved wrist
with a clinking sound. Her voice was coarsened and flat; it was more
like a man's voice than a woman's, and she spoke with a masculine
directness.

"There was a girl died at my house early this mornin'," she told him.
"She died about a quarter past four o'clock. She had something like
pneumonia. She hadn't been sick but two days; she wasn't very strong
to start with anyhow. Viola St. Claire was the name she went by here. I
don't know what her real name was--she never told anybody what it was.
She wasn't much of a hand to talk about herself. She must have been nice
people though, because she was always nice and ladylike, no matter
what happened. From what I gathered off and on, she came here from some
little town down near Memphis. I certainly liked that girl. She'd been
with me nearly ten months. She wasn't more than nineteen years old.

"Well, all day yestiddy she was out of her head with a high fever. But
just before she died she come to and her mind cleared up. The doctor was
gone--old Doctor Lake. He'd done all he could for her and he left for
his home about midnight, leavin' word that he was to be called if there
was any change. Only there wasn't time to call him; it all came so
sudden.

"I was settin' by her when she opened her eyes and whispered, sort of
gaspin', and called me by my name. Well, you could 'a' knocked me down
with a feather. From the time she started sinkin' nobody thought she'd
ever get her senses back. She called me, and I leaned over her and asked
her what it was she wanted, and she told me. She knew she was dyin\
She told me she'd been raised right, which I knew already without her
tellin' me, and she said she'd been a Christian girl before she made her
big mistake. And she told me she wanted to be buried like a Christian,
from a regular church, with a sermon and flowers and music and all that.
She made me promise that I'd see it was done just that way. She made me
put my hand in her hand and promise her. She shut her eyes then, like
she was satisfied, and in a minute or two after that she died, still
holdin' on tight to my hand. There wasn't nobody else there--just me and
her--and it was about a quarter past four o'clock in the mornin'."

"Well, ma'am, I'm very sorry for that poor child. I am so," said Judge
Priest, and his tone showed he meant it; "yit still I don't understand
your purpose in comin' to me, without you need money to bury her." His
hand went toward his flank, where he kept his wallet.

"Keep your hand out of your pocket, please, sir," said the woman.
"I ain't callin' on anybody for help in a money way. That's all been
attended to. I telephoned the undertaker the first thing this mornin'.

"It's something else I wanted to speak with you about. Well, I didn't
hardly wait to get my breakfast down before I started off to keep my
word to Viola. And I've been on the constant go ever since. I've rid
miles on the street cars, and I've walked afoot until the bottoms of
my feet both feel like boils right this minute, tryin' to find somebody
that was fitten to preach a sermon over that dead girl.

"First I made the rounds of the preachers of all the big churches.
Doctor Cavendar was my first choice; from what I've heard said about him
he's a mighty good man. But he ain't in town. His wife told me he'd gone
off to district conference, whatever that is. So then I went to all the
others, one by one. I even went 'way up on Alabama Street--to that there
little mission church in the old Acme rink. The old man that runs the
mission--I forget his name--he does a heap of work among poor people and
down-and-out people, and I guess he might've said yes, only he's right
bad off himself. He's sick in bed."

She laughed mirthlessly.

"Oh, I went everywhere, I went to all of 'em. There was one or two acted
like they was afraid I might soil their clothes if I got too close to
'em. They kept me standin' in the doors of their studies so as they
could talk back to me from a safe distance. Some of the others, though,
asked me inside and treated me decent. But they every last one of 'em
said no."

"Do you mean to tell me that not a single minister in this whole city is
willin' to hold a service over that dead girl?" Judge Priest shrilled at
her with vehement astonishment--and something else--in his voice.

"No, no, not that," the woman made haste to explain. "There wasn't a
single one of 'em but said he'd come to my house and conduct the
exercises. They was all willin' enough to go to the grave too. But you
see that wouldn't do. I explained to 'em, until I almost lost my voice,
that it had to be a funeral in a regular church, with flowers and music
and all. That poor girl got it into her mind somehow, I think, that
she'd have a better chance in the next world if she went out of this one
like a Christian should ought to go. I explained all that to 'em, and
from explainin' I took to arguin' with 'em, and then to pleadin' and
beggin'. I bemeaned myself before them preachers. I was actually ready
to go down on my knees before 'em.

"Oh, I told 'em the full circumstances. I told 'em I just had to keep my
promise. I'm afraid not to keep it. I've lived my own life in my own
way and I guess I've got a lot of things to answer for. I ain't worryin'
about that--now. But you don't dare to break a promise that's made to
the dyin'. They come back and ha'nt you. I've always heard that and I
know it's true.

"One after another I told those preachers just exactly how it was, but
still they all said no. Every one of 'em said his board of deacons or
elders or trustees, or something like that, wouldn't stand for openin'
up their church for Viola. I always thought a preacher could run his
church to suit himself, but from what I've heard to-day I know now he
takes his orders from somebody else. So finally, when I was about to
give up, I thought about you and I come here as straight as I could
walk."

"But, ma'am," he said, "I'm not a regular church member myself. I reckin
I oughter be, but I ain't. And I still fail to understand why you should
think I could serve you, though I don't mind tellin' you I'd be mighty
glad to ef I could."

"I'll tell you why. I never spoke to you but once before in my life,
but I made up my mind then what kind of a man you was. Maybe you don't
remember it, Judge, but two years ago this comin' December that there
Law and Order League fixed up to run me out of this town. They didn't
succeed, but they did have me indicted by the Grand Jury, and I come up
before you and pleaded guilty--they had the evidence on me all right.
You fined me, you fined me the limit, and I guess if I hadn't 'a' had
the money to pay the fine I'd 'a' gone to jail. But the main point with
me was that you treated me like a lady.

"I know what I am good and well, but I don't like to have somebody
always throwin' it up to me. I've got feelin's the same as anybody else
has. You made that little deputy sheriff quit shovin' me round and you
called me Mizzis Cramp to my face, right out in court. I've been Old
Mallie Cramp to everybody in this town so long I'd mighty near forgot
I ever had a handle on my name, until you reminded me of it. You was
polite to me and decent to me, and you acted like you was sorry to see a
white woman fetched up in court, even if you didn't say it right out. I
ain't forgot that. I ain't ever goin' to forget it. And awhile ago, when
I was all beat out and discouraged, I said to myself that if there was
one man left in this town who could maybe help me to keep my promise to
that dead girl, Judge William Pitman Priest was the man. That's why I'm
here."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, sorry fur you and sorry fur that dead child," said
Judge Priest slowly. "I wish I could help you. I wish I knew how to
advise you. But I reckin those gentlemen were right in whut they said to
you to-day. I reckin probably their elders would object to them openin'
up their churches, under the circumstances. And I'm mightily afraid I
ain't got any influence I could bring to bear in any quarter. Did you go
to Father Minor? He's a good friend of mine; we was soldiers together in
the war--him and me. Mebbe--"

"I thought of him," said the woman hopelessly; "but you see, Judge,
Viola didn't belong to his church. She was raised a Protestant, she told
me so. I guess he couldn't do nothin'." in.

"Ah-hah, I see," said the judge, and in his perplexity he bent his head
and rubbed his broad expanse of pink bald brow fretfully, as though to
stimulate thought within by friction without. His left hand fell into
the litter of documents upon his desk. Absently his fingers shuffled
them back and forth under his eyes. He straightened himself alertly.

"Was it stated--was it specified that a preacher must hold the funeral
service over that dead girl?" he inquired.

The woman caught eagerly at the inflection that had come into his voice.

"No, sir," she answered; "all she said was that it must be in a church
and with some flowers and some music. But I never heard of anybody
preachin' a regular sermon without it was a regular preacher. Did you
ever, Judge?" Doubt and renewed disappointment battered at her just-born
hopes.

"I reckin mebbe there have been extraordinary occasions where an amateur
stepped in and done the best he could," said the judge. "Mebbe some
folks here on earth couldn't excuse sech presumption as that, but I
reckin they'd understand how it was up yonder."

He stood up, facing her, and spoke as one making a solemn promise:

"Ma'am, you needn't worry yourself any longer. You kin go on back to
your home. That dead child is goin' to have whut she asked for. I give
you my word on it."

She strove to put a question, but he kept on: "I ain't prepared to give
you the full details yit. You see I don't know myself jest exactly whut
they'll be. But inside of an hour from now I'll be seein' Jansen and
he'll notify you in regards to the hour and the place and the rest of
it. Kin you rest satisfied with that?"

She nodded, trying to utter words and not succeeding. Emotion shook her
gross shape until the big gold bands on her arms jangled together.

"So, ef you'll kindly excuse me, I've got quite a number of things to
do betwixt now and suppertime. I kind of figger I'm goin' to be right
busy."

He stepped to the threshold and called out down the hallway, which by
now was a long, dim tunnel of thickening shadows.

"Jeff, oh Jeff, where are you, boy?"

"Comin', Jedge."

The speaker emerged from the gloom that was only a few shades darker
than himself.

"Jeff," bade his master, "I want you to show this lady the way out--it's
black as pitch in that there hall. And, Jeff, listen here! When you've
done that I want you to go and find the sheriff fur me. Ef he's left
his office--and I s'pose he has by now--you go on out to his house, or
wherever he is, and find him and tell him I want to see him here right
away."

He swung his ponderous old body about and bowed with a homely courtesy:

"And now I bid you good night, ma'am." At the cross sill of the door
she halted: "Judge--about gettin' somebody to carry the coffin in and
out--did you think about that? She was such a little thing--she won't
be very heavy--but still, at that, I don't know anybody--any men--that
would be willin'----"

"Ma'am," said Judge Priest gravely, "ef I was you I wouldn't worry about
who the pallbearers will be. I reckin the Lord will provide. I've took
notice that He always does ef you'll only meet Him halfway."

For a fact the judge was a busy man during the hour which followed upon
all this, the hour between twilight and night. Over the telephone he
first called up M. Jansen, our leading undertaker; indeed at that time
our only one, excusing the coloured undertaker on Locust Street. He had
converse at length with M. Jansen. Then he called up Doctor Lake, a most
dependable person in sickness, and when you were in good health too.
Then last of all he called up a certain widow who lived in those days,
Mrs. Matilda Weeks by name; and this lady was what is commonly called,
a character. In her case the title was just and justified. Of character
she had more than almost anybody I ever knew.

Mrs. Weeks didn't observe precedents. She made them. She cared so little
for following after public opinion that public opinion usually followed
alter her--when it had recovered from the shock and reorganised itself.
There were two sides to her tongue: for some a sharp and acid side, and
then again for some a sweet and gentle side--and mainly these last were
the weak and the erring and the shiftless, those underfoot and trodden
down. Moving through this life in a calm, deliberative, determined way,
always along paths of her making and her choosing, obeying only the beck
of her own mind, doing good where she might, with a perfect disregard
for what the truly good might think about it, Mrs. Weeks was daily
guilty of acts that scandalised all proper people. But the improper ones
worshipped the ground her feet touched as she walked. She was much like
that disciple of Joppa named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called
Dorcas, of whom it is written that she was full of good works and
almsdeeds which she did. Yes, you might safely call Mrs. Weeks a
character.

With her, back and forth across the telephone wire, Judge Priest had
extended speech. Then he hung up the receiver and went home alone to a
late and badly burnt supper. Aunt Dilsey Turner, the titular goddess of
his kitchen, was a queen cook among cooks, but she could keep victuals
hot without scorching them for just so long and no longer. She took
pains to say as much, standing in the dining-room door with her knuckles
on her hips. But the judge didn't pay much attention to Aunt Dilsey's
vigorous remarks. He had other things on his mind.

Down our way this present generation has seen a good many conspicuous
and prominent funerals. Until very recently we rather specialised
in funerals. Before moving pictures sprang up so numerously funerals
provided decorous and melancholy divertisement for many whose lives,
otherwise, were rather aridly devoid of sources of inexpensive
excitement. Among us were persons--old Mrs. Whitridge was a typical
example--who hadn't missed a funeral of any consequence for years
and years back. Let some one else provide the remains, and they would
assemble in such number as to furnish a gathering, satisfying in its
size and solemn in its impressiveness. They took the run of funerals as
they came. But there were some funerals which, having taken place, stood
forth in the public estimation forever after as events to be remembered.
They were mortuary milestones on the highway of community life.

For instance, those who were of suitable age to attend it are never
going to forget the burial that the town gave lazy, loud-mouthed Lute
Montjoy, he being the negro fireman on the ferryboat who jumped into the
river that time, aiming to save the small child of a Hungarian
immigrant family bound for somewhere up in the Cumberland on the steamer
_Goldenrod_. The baby ran across the boiler deck and went overboard, and
the mother screamed, and Lute saw what had happened and he jumped. He
was a good swimmer all right, and in half a dozen strokes he reached the
strangling mite in the water; but then the current caught him--the June
rise was on--and sucked him downstream into the narrow, swirling place
between the steamboat's hull and the outside of the upper wharf boat,
and he went under and stayed under.

Next morning when the dragnets caught and brought him up, one of his
stiffened black arms still encircled the body of the white child, in a
grip that could hardly be loosened. White and black, everybody turned
out to bury Lute Montjoy. In the services at the church two of the
leading clergymen assisted, turn and turn about; and at the graveside
Colonel Horatio Farrell, dean of the local bar and the champion orator
of seven counties, delivered an hour-long oration, calling Lute by such
names as Lute, lying there cased in mahogany with silver trimmings, had
never heard applied to him while he lived. Popular subscription provided
the fund that paid for the stone to mark his grave and to perpetuate the
memory of his deed. You can see the shaft to this day. It rises white
and high among the trees in Elm Grove Cemetery, and the word _Hero_ is
cut deep in its marble face.

Then there was the funeral of old Mr. Simon Leatheritt, mightiest among
local financiers. That, indeed, was a funeral to be cherished in the
cranial memory casket of any person so favoured by fortune as to have
been present; a funeral that was felt to be a credit alike to deceased
and to bereaved; a funeral that by its grandeur would surely have
impressed the late and, in a manner of speaking, lamented Leatheritt,
even though its cost would have panged him; in short, an epoch-making
and an era-breeding funeral.

In the course of a long married career this was the widow's first
opportunity to cut loose and spend money without having to account
for it by dollar, by dime and by cent to a higher authority, and she
certainly did cut loose, sparing absolutely no pains in the effort to
do her recent husband honour. At a cost calculated as running into three
figures for that one item alone, she imported the prize male tenor of
a St. Louis cathedral choir to enrich the proceedings with his glowing
measures. This person, who was a person with eyes too large for a
man and a mouth too small, rendered Abide With Me in a fashion so
magnificent that the words were entirely indistinguishable and could not
be followed on account of the genius' fashion of singing them.

By express, floral offerings came from as far away as Cleveland, Ohio,
and New Orleans, Louisiana. One creation, sent on from a far distance,
which displayed a stuffed white dove hovering, with the aid of wires,
in the arc of a green trellis above a bank of white tuberoses, attracted
much favourable comment. A subdued murmur of admiration, travelling
onward from pew to pew, followed after it as the design was borne up the
centre aisle to the chancel rail.

As for broken columns and flower pillows with appropriately regretful
remarks let into them in purple immortelle letterings, and gates
ajar--why, they were evident in a profusion almost past individual
recording.

When the officiating minister, reading the burial service, got as far
as "Dust to dust," Ashby Corwin, who sat at the back of the church, bent
over and whispered in the ear of his nearest neighbour: "Talk about your
ruling passions! If that's not old Uncle Sime all over--still grabbing
for the dust!" As a rule, repetition of this sally about town was
greeted with the deep hush of silent reproof. Our dead money-monarch's
memory was draped with the sanctity of wealth. Besides, Ash Corwin, as
many promptly took pains to point out, was a person of no consequence
whatsoever, financial or otherwise. Mrs. Whitridge's viewpoint, as
voiced by her in the months that followed, was the commoner one. This is
Mrs. Whitridge speaking:

"I've been going to funerals steady ever since I was a child, I presume
I've helped comfort more berefts by my presence and seen more dear
departeds fittin'ly laid away than any person in this whole city. But if
you're asking me, I must say Mr. Leatheritt's was the most fashionable
funeral I ever saw, or ever hope to see. Everything that lavishness
could do was done there, and all in such lovely taste, too! Why, it had
style written all over it, especially the internment."

Oh, we've had funerals and funerals down our way. But the funeral that
took place on an October day that I have in mind still will be talked
about long after Banker Leatheritt and the estate he reluctantly left
behind him are but dim recollections. It came as a surprise to
most people, for in the daily papers of that morning no customary
black-bordered announcement had appeared. Others had heard of it by
word of mouth. In dubious quarters, and in some quarters not quite so
dubious, the news had travelled, although details in advance of the
event were only to be guessed at. Anyhow, the reading and talking public
knew this much: That a girl, calling herself Viola St. Claire and aged
nineteen, had died. It was an accepted fact, naturally, that even the
likes of her must be laid away after some fashion or other. If she
were put under ground by stealth, clandestinely as it were, so much the
better for the atmosphere of civic morality. That I am sure would have
been disclosed as the opinion of a majority, had there been inquiry
among those who were presumed to have and who admitted they had the best
interests of the community at heart.

So you see a great many people were entirely unprepared against the
coming of the pitiably short procession that at eleven o'clock, or
thereabout, turned out of the little street running down back of
the freight depot into Franklin Street, which was one of our main
thoroughfares. First came the hearse, drawn by M. Jansen's pair of
dappled white horses and driven by M. Jansen himself, he wearing his
official high hat and the span having black plumes in their head stalls,
thus betokening a burial ceremony of the top cost. Likewise the hearse
was M. Jansen's best hearse--not his third best, nor yet his second
best, but the splendid crystal-walled one that he ordered in the Eastern
market after the relict of Banker Leatheritt settled the bill.

The coffin, showing through the glass sides, was of white cloth and it
looked very small, almost like a coffin for a child. However, it may
have looked so because there was little of its shape to be seen. It was
covered and piled and banked up with flowers, and these flowers, strange
to say, were not done into shapes of gates aswing; nor into shafts with
their tops gone; nor into flat, stiff pillows of waxy-white tuberoses,
pale and cold as the faces of the dead. These were such flowers as, in
our kindly climate, grew out of doors until well on into November: late
roses and early chrysanthemums, marigolds and gladioluses, and such.
They lay there loosely, with their stems upon them, just as Mrs. Weeks
had sheared them, denuding every plant and shrub and bush that grew in
her garden, so a girl whom Mrs. Weeks had never seen might go to her
grave with an abundance of the blossoms she had coveted about her.

Behind the hearse came a closed coach. We used to call them coaches when
they figured in funerals, carriages when used for lodge turnouts, and
plain hacks when they met the trains and boats. In the coach rode four
women. The world at large had a way of calling them painted women; but
this day their faces were not painted nor were they garishly clad.
For the time they were merely women--neither painted women nor fallen
women--but just women.

And that was nearly all, but not quite. At one side of the hearse,
opposite the slowly turning front wheels, trudged Judge Priest, carrying
in the crook of one bent arm a book. It wouldn't be a law book, for they
commonly are large books, bound in buff leather, and this book was small
and flat and black in colour. On the other side of the hearse, with head
very erect and eyes fixed straight ahead and Sunday's best coat buttoned
tightly about his sparse frame, walked another old man, Doctor Lake.

And that was all. At least that was all at first. But as the
procession--if you could call it that--swung into Franklin Street it
passed by The Blue Jug Saloon and Short Order Restaurant. In the doorway
here lounged Perry Broadus, who drank. The night before had been a hard
night upon Perry Broadus, whose nights always were hard, and it promised
to be a hard day. He shivered at the touch of the clear, crisp air upon
his flushed cheek and slanted for support against a handy doorpost of
the Blue Jug. The hearse turned the corner, and he stared at it a moment
and understood. He straightened his slouched shoulders, and the fog left
his eyes and the fumes of staling alcohol quit his brain. He pulled off
his hat, twisted his wreck of a necktie straight with a hand that
shook and, cold sober, he ran out and caught step behind Judge Priest.
Referring to pallbearers, Judge Priest had said the Lord would provide.
But Perry Broadus provided himself.

I forget now who the next volunteer was, but I think possibly it was
Sergeant Jimmy Bagby. Without waiting to analyse the emotions that
possessed him in the first instant of realisation, the sergeant went
hurrying into the road to fall in, and never thereafter had cause to rue
his impulse, his one regret being that he had no warning, else he would
have slipped on his old, grey uniform coat that he reserved for high
occasions. I know that Mr. Napoleon B. Crump, who was active in church
and charities, broke away from two ladies who were discussing parish
affairs with him upon the sidewalk in front of his wholesale grocery,
and with never a word of apology to them slipped into line, with Doctor
Lake for his file leader. A moment later, hearing footfalls at his back,
Mr. Crump looked over his shoulder. Beck Giltner, a man whom Mr. Crump
had twice tried to have driven out of town and whom he yet hoped to see
driven out of town, was following, two paces behind him.

I know that Mr. Joe Plumm came, shirtsleeved, out of his cooper shop and
sought a place with the others. I know that Major Fair-leigh, who
had been standing idly at the front window of his law office, emerged
therefrom in such haste he forgot to bring his hat with him. Almost
immediately the Major became aware that he was sandwiched in between
the fat chief of the paid fire department and worthless Tip Murphy, who
hadn't been out of the penitentiary a month. I know that old Peter J.
Galloway, the lame Irish blacksmith, wore his leather apron as he limped
along, bobbing up on his good leg and down on his short bent one.

I know that Mr. Herman Felsburg brought with him four of the clerks
of Felsburg Brothers' Oak Hall Clothing Emporium. One of them left a
customer behind, too, or possibly the customer also came. On second
thought, I believe he did. I know that some men stood along the
curbstones and stared and that other men, having first bared their
heads, broke away to tail in at the end of the doubled lines of marching
figures. And I know that of those who did this there were more than of
those who merely stood and stared. The padding of shoe soles upon the
gravel of the street became a steadily increasing, steadily rising
thump-thump-thump; the rhythm of it rose above the creak and the clatter
of the hearse wheels and the hoofs of the horses.

Lengthened and strengthened every few feet and every few yards by the
addition of new recruits, the procession kept on. It trailed past shops
and stores and jobbers' houses. It travelled by the Y. M. C. A. and by
Fraternity Hall. It threaded its way between rows of residences. It must
have been two hundred strong when the hearse horses came abreast of that
stately new edifice, with its fine memorial windows and its tall twin
spires, which the darkies called the Big Rock Church. They didn't
stop here though. Neither did they stop at the old ivy-covered' church
farther along nor at the little red-brick church in the middle of the
next block.

The procession kept on. Growing and still growing, it kept on. By now
you might have counted in its ranks fit representatives of every grade
and class, every cult and every creed to be found in the male population
of our town. Old men and young men marched; bachelors and heads of
families; rich men and poor; men who made public sentiment and men who
defied it; strict churchgoers and avowed sceptics; men called good and
men called bad. You might have ticked off almost any kind of man in that
line. Possibly the Pharisees were missing and the Scribes were served
only in the person of the editor of the _Daily Evening News_, who
appeared well up toward the front of one of the files, with a forgotten
cedar lead pencil riding in the crotch of his right ear. But assuredly
the Publican was there and the Sinner.

Heralded by the sound of its own thumping tread and leaving in its wake
a stupefaction of astonishment, the procession kept straight on down
Franklin Street, through the clear October sunshine and under the
sentinel maples, which sifted down gentle showers of red and yellow
leaves upon it. It kept on until it reached the very foot of the street.
There it swung off at right angles into a dingy, ill-kempt little street
that coursed crookedly along the water front, with poor houses rising
upon one side and the raw mud banks of the river falling steeply away
upon the other.

It followed this street until the head of it came opposite a little
squat box-and-barn of a structure, built out of up-and-down planking;
unpainted, too, with a slatted belfry, like an overgrown chicken coop,
perched midway of the peak of its steeply pitched tin roof. Now this
structure, as all knew who remembered the history of contemporary
litigation as recorded in the local prints, was the True Believers'
Afro-American Church of Zion, sometimes termed in derision Possum
Trot, being until recently the place of worship of that newest and most
turbulent of local negro sects, but now closed on an injunction secured
by one of the warring factions within its membership and temporarily
lodged in the custody of the circuit court and in the hands of that
court's servant, the high sheriff, pending ultimate determination of the
issue by his honour, the circuit judge. Technically it was still
closed; legally and officially still in the firm grasp of Sheriff Giles
Birdsong. Actually and physically it was at this moment open--wide open.
The double doors were drawn back, the windows shone clean, and at the
threshold of the swept and garnished interior stood Judge Priest's Jeff,
with his broom in his hand and his mop and bucket at his side. Jeff had
concluded his share of the labours barely in time.

As M. Jansen steered his dappled span close up alongside the pavement
and brought them to a standstill, Judge Priest looked back and with what
he saw was well content. He knew that morbid curiosity might account for
the presence of some among this multitude who had come following after
him, but not for all, and perhaps not for very many. He nodded to
himself with the air of one who is amply satisfied by the results of an
accomplished experiment.

For the bearers of the dead he selected offhand the eight men who had
marched nearest to him. As they lifted the coffin out from the hearse it
befell that our most honoured physician should have for his opposite our
most consistent drunk-ard, and that Mr. Crump, who walked in straight
and narrow paths, should rub elbows with Beck Giltner, whom upon any day
in the year, save only this day, Mr. Crump would have rejoiced to see
harried with hounds beyond the corporate limits.

Up the creaking steps and in between the lolling door-halves the chosen
eight bore the dead girl, and right reverently they rested their burden
on board trestles at the foot of the little box-pulpit, where shafts of
sunshine, filtering through one of the small side windows, stencilled a
checkered pattern of golden squares upon the white velvet box with its
silver handles and its silver name plate. Behind the eight came others,
bringing the flowers. It must have been years, I imagine, since the
soiled hands of some of these had touched such gracious things as
flowers, yet it was to transpire that none among them needed the help
of any defter fingers. Upon the coffin and alongside it they laid down
their arm loads, so that once more the narrow white box was almost
covered under bloom and leaf; and then the yellow pencillings of
sunlight made greater glory there than ever.

When the crowd was in and seated--all of it that could get in and get
seated--a tall, white-haired woman in a plain black frock came silently
and swiftly through a door at the back and sat herself down upon a red
plush stool before a golden-oak melodeon. Stool and melodeon being both
the property of the fractious True Believers, neglect and poor usage had
wrought most grievously with the two of them. The stool stood shakily
upon its infirm legs and within the melodeon the works were skewed and
jangled. But Mrs. Matilda Weeks' finger ends fell with such sanctifying
gentleness upon the warped keys, and as she sang her sweet soprano rose
so clearly and yet so softly, filling this place whose walls so often
had resounded to the lusty hallelujahs of shouting black converts, that
to those who listened now it seemed almost as though a Saint Cecelia had
descended from on high to make this music. Mrs. Weeks sang a song that
she had sung many a time before--for ailing paupers at the almshouse,
for prisoners at the county jail, for the motley congregations that
flocked to Sunday afternoon services in the little mission at the old
Acme rink. And the name of the song was Rock of Ages.

She finished singing. Judge Priest got up from a front pew where he had
been sitting and went and stood alongside the flower-piled coffin, with
his back to the little yellow-pine pulpit and his prayer book in his
hands, a homely, ungraceful figure, facing an assemblage that packed
the darky meeting house until it could hold no more. In sight there were
just five women: the good woman at the melodeon and four other women,
dwellers beneath a sinful roof, who sat together upon what the pastor
of the True Believers would have called the mourners' bench. And all the
rest were men. Men sat, row on row, in the pews; men stood in the single
narrow aisle and against the walls round three sides of the building;
and men appeared at the doorway and on beyond the doorway, upon the
porch and the steps.

I deem it to have been characteristic of the old judge that he made
no explanation for his presence before them and no apology for his
assumption of a role so unusual. He opened his black-bound volume at a
place where his plump forefinger had been thrust between the leaves to
mark the place for him, and in his high, thin voice he read through the
service for the dead, with its promise of the divine forgiveness. When
he had reached the end of it he put the book aside, and spoke to them
in the fair and grammatical English that usually he reserved for his
utterances from the bench in open court:

"Our sister who lies here asked with almost her last conscious breath
that at her funeral a sermon should be preached. Upon me, who never
before attempted such an undertaking, devolves the privilege of speaking
a few words above her. I had thought to take for my text the words: 'He
that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.'

"But I have changed my mind. I changed it only a little while ago. For I
recalled that once on a time the Master said: 'Suffer little children
to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom
of Heaven.' And I believe, in the scheme of everlasting mercy and
everlasting pity, that before the eyes of our common Creator we are all
of us as little children whose feet stumble in the dark. So I shall take
that saying of the Saviour for my text."

Perhaps it would be unjust to those whose business is the preaching of
sermons to call this a sermon. I, for one, never heard any other sermon
in any other church that did not last longer than five minutes. And
certainly Judge Priest, having made his beginning, did not speak for
more than five minutes; the caressing fingers of the sunlight had not
perceptibly shifted upon the flower-strewn coffin top when he finished
what he had to say and stood with his head bowed. After that, except for
a rustle of close-packed body and a clearing of men's huskened throats,
there was silence for a little time.

Then Judge Priest's eyes looked about him and three pews away he saw
Ashby Corwin. It may have been he remembered that as a young man Ashby
Corwin had been destined for holy orders until another thing--some said
it was a woman and some said it was whisky, and some said it was first
the woman and then the whisky--came into his life and wrecked it so that
until the end of his days Ashby Corwin trod the rocky downhill road of
the profligate and the waster. Or it may have been the look he read upon
the face of the other that moved Judge Priest to say:

"I will ask Mr. Corwin to pray."

At that Ashby Corwin stood up in his place and threw back his
prematurely whitened head, and he lifted his face that was all scarified
with the blighting flames of dissipation, and he shut his eyes that
long since had wearied of looking upon a trivial world, and Ashby Corwin
prayed. There are prayers that seem to circle round and round in futile
rings, going nowhere; and then again there are prayers that are like
sparks struck off from the wheels of the prophet's chariot of fire,
coursing their way upward in spiritual splendour to blaze on the sills
of the Judgment Seat. This prayer was one of those prayers.

After that Judge Priest bowed his head again and spoke the benediction.

It turns out that I was right a while back when I predicted this chapter
of this book might end with Judge Priest sitting at his desk in his room
at the old courthouse. On the morning of the day following the day
of this funeral he sat there, putting the last words to his decision
touching upon the merits of the existing controversy in the congregation
of the True Believers' Afro-American Church of Zion. The door opened
and in walked Beck Giltner, saloon keeper, sure-thing gambler,
handy-man-with-a-gun, and, according to the language of a resolution
unanimously adopted at a mass meeting of the Law and Order League,
force-for-evil.

Beck Giltner was dressed in his best. He wore his wide-brimmed, black
soft hat, with its tall crown carefully dented in, north, east, south
and west; his long black coat; his white turn-down collar; his white
lawn tie; and in the bosom of his plaited shirt of fine white linen his
big diamond pin, that was shaped like an inverted banjo. This was Beck
Giltner's attire for the street and for occasions of ceremony. Indoors
it was the same, except that sometimes he took the coat off and turned
back his shirt cuffs.

"Good mornin', Beck," said the judge. "Well?"

"Judge Priest," said Giltner, "as a rule I don't come to this courthouse
except when I have to come. But to-day I've come to tell you something.
You made a mistake yesterday!"

"A mistake, suh?" The judge's tone was sharp and quick.

"Yes, suh, that's what you did," returned the tall gambler. "I don't
mean in regards to that funeral you held for that dead girl. You
probably don't care what I think one way or the other, but I want to
tell you I was strong for that, all the way through. But you made a
mistake just the same, Judge; you didn't take up a collection.

"It had been a good many years since I was inside of a church, until
I walked with you and the others to that little nigger meetin'-house
yesterday--forty-odd years I reckon; not since I was a kid, anyway. But
to the best of my early recollections they always took a collection
for something or other every time I did go to church. And yesterday you
overlooked that part altogether.

"So last night I took it on myself to get up a collection for you. I
started it with a bill or so off my own roll. Then I passed the hat
round at several places where you wouldn't scarcely care to go yourself.
And I didn't run across a single fellow that failed to contribute. Some
of 'em don't move in the best society, and there's some more of 'em
that you'd only know of by reputation. But every last one of 'em put in
something. There was one man that didn't have only seven cents to his
name--he put that in. So here it is--four hundred and seventy-five
dollars and forty-two cents, accordin' to my count."

From one pocket he fetched forth a rumpled packet of paper money and
from the other a small cloth sack, which gave off metallic clinking
sounds. He put them down together on the desk in front of Judge Priest.

"I appreciate this, ef I am right in my assumption of the motives which
actuated you and the purposes to which you natchally assumed this here
money would be Applied," said Judge Priest as the other man waited for
his response. "But, son, I can't take your money. It ain't needed. Why,
I wouldn't know whut to do with it. There ain't no out-standin' bills
connected with that there funeral.

"All the expense entailed was met--privately. So you see--"

"Wait just a minute before you say no!" interrupted Giltner. "Here's my
idea and it's the idea of all the others that contributed: We-all
want you to take this money and keep it--keep it in a safe, or in your
pocket, or in the bank to your credit, or anywheres you please, but just
keep it. And if any girl that's gone wrong should die and not have any
friends to help bury her, they can come to you and get the cash out of
this fund to pay for puttin' her away. And if any other girl should want
to go back to her people and start in all over again and try to lead a
better life, why you can advance her the railroad fare out of that money
too. You see, Judge, we are aimin' to make a kind of a trust fund out of
it, with you as the trustee. And when the four seventy-five forty-two
is all used up, if you'll just let me know I'll guarantee to rustle up
a fresh bank roll so you'll always have enough on hand to meet the
demands. Now then, Judge, will you take it?"

Judge Priest took it. He stretched out and scooped in currency and
coin sack, using therefor his left hand only. The right was engaged in
reaching for Beck Giltner's right hand, the purpose being to shake it.



II. A BLENDING OF THE PARABLES


NEARLY every week--weather permitting--the old judge went to dinner
somewhere. To a considerable extent he kept up his political fences
going to dinners. Usually it was of a Sunday that he went.

By ten o'clock almost any fair Sunday morning--spring, summer or early
fall--Judge Priest's Jeff would have the venerable side-bar buggy
washed down, and would be leading forth from her stall the ancient white
lady-sheep, with the unmowed fetlocks and the intermittent mane, which
the judge, from a spirit of prideful affection and in the face of all
visual testimony to the contrary, persisted in regarding as an authentic
member of the equine kingdom.

Presently, in their proper combination and alignment, the trio would be
stationed at the front gate, thus: Jeff in front, bracing the forward
section of the mare-creature; and the buggy behind, its shafts
performing a similar office for the other end of this unique quadruped.
Down the gravelled walk that led from the house, under the water maples
and silver-leaf poplars, which arched over to make a shady green tunnel
of it, the judge would come, immaculate but rumply in white linens. The
judge's linens had a way of getting themselves all rumpled even before
he put them on. You might say they were born rumpled.

Beholding his waddlesome approach out of the tail of her eye, the white
animal would whinny a dignified and conservative welcome. She knew
her owner almost as well as he knew her. Then, while Jeff held her
head--that is to say, held it up--the old man would heave his frame
ponderously in and upward between the dished wheels and settle back into
the deep nest of the buggy, with a wheeze to which the agonised rear
springs wheezed back an anthem like refrain.

"All right, Jeff!" the judge would say, bestowing his cotton umbrella
and his palm-leaf fan in their proper places, and working a pair of
wrinkled buckskin gloves on over his chubby hands. "I won't be back,
I reckin, till goin' on six o'clock this evenin', and I probably won't
want nothin' then fur supper except a cold snack. So if you and Aunt
Dilsey both put out from the house fur the day be shore to leave the
front-door key under the front-door mat, where I kin find it in case I
should git back sooner'n I expect. And you be here in due time yourse'f,
to unhitch. Hear me, boy?"

"Yas, suh," Jeff would respond. "I hears you."

"All right, then!" his employer would command as he gathered up the
lines. "Let loose of Mittie May."

Conforming with the accepted ritual of the occasion, Jeff would let
loose of Mittie May and step ceremoniously yet briskly aside, as
though fearing instant annihilation in the first resistless surge of a
desperate, untamable beast. Judge Priest would slap the leathers down on
Mittie May's fat back; and Mittie May, sensing the master touch on those
reins, would gather her four shaggy legs together with apparent intent
of bursting into a mad gallop, and then, ungathering them, step out
in her characteristic gentle amble, a gait she never varied under any
circumstances. Away they would go, then, with the dust splashing up
from under Mittie May's flat and deliberative feet, and the loose rear
curtain of the buggy flapping and slapping behind like a slatting sail.

Jeff would stand there watching them until they had faded away in the
deeper dust where Clay Street merged, without abrupt transition, into a
winding country road; and, knowing the judge was definitely on his way,
Jeff would be on his way, too, but in a different direction. Of his
own volition Jeff never fared countryward on Sundays. Green fields
and running brooks laid no spell of allurement on his nimble fancy.
He infinitely preferred metropolitan haunts and pastimes--such, for
instance, as promenades along the broken sidewalks of the Plunkett's
Hill section and crap games behind the coloured undertaker's shop on
Locust Street.

The judge's way would be a pleasant way--a peaceful, easy way, marked
only by small disputes at each crossroads junction, Mittie May desiring
always to take the turn that would bring them back home by the shortest
route, and the judge stubborn in his intention of pushing further on.
The superior powers of human obstinacy having triumphed over four-legged
instinct, they would proceed. Now they would clatter across a wooden
bridge spanning a sluggish amber-coloured stream, where that impertinent
bird, the kingfisher, cackled derisive imitations of the sound given off
by the warped axles of the buggy, and the yonkerpins--which Yankees, in
their ignorance, have called water lilies--spread their wide green
pads and their white-and-yellow cusps of bloom on the face of the creek
water.

Now they would come to cornfields and tobacco patches that steamed in
the sunshine, conceding the season to be summer; or else old, abandoned
clearings, grown up rankly in shoe-make bushes and pawpaw and persimmon
and sassafras. And the pungent scent of the wayside pennyroyal would
rise like an incense, saluting their nostrils as they passed, and the
grassy furrows of long-harvested grain crops were like the lines of
graves on old battlegrounds.

Now they would come into the deep woods; and here the sunlight sifted
down through the tree tops, making cathedral aisles among the trunks
and dim green cloisters of the thickets; and in small open spaces
the yellowing double prongs of the mullein stalks stood up stiff and
straightly like two-tined altar candles. Then out of the woods again and
along a stretch of blinding hot road, with little grey lizards racing
on the decayed fence rails as outriders, and maybe a pair of those old
red-head peckerwoods flickering on from snag to snag just ahead, keeping
company with the judge, but never quite permitting him to catch up with
them.

So, at length, after five miles, or maybe ten, he would come to his
destination, which might be a red-brick house set among apple trees on a
low hill, or a whitewashed double cabin of logs in a bare place down in
the bottoms. Here, at their journey's end, they would halt, with Mittie
May heaving her rotund sides in and out in creditable simulation of a
thoroughbred finishing a hard race; and Judge Priest would poke his head
out from under the buggy hood and utter the customary hail of "Hello the
house!" At that, nine times out of ten--from under the house and from
round behind it--would boil a black-and-tan ground swell of flap-eared,
bugle-voiced hound dogs, all tearing for the gate, with every apparent
intention of devouring horse and harness, buggy and driver, without
a moment's delay. And behind them, in turn, a shirt-sleeved man would
emerge from the shelter of the gallery and hurry down the path toward
the fence, berating the belling pack at every step he took:

"You Sounder, you Ring, you Queen--consam your mangy pelts! Go on
back yonder where you belong! You Saucer--come on back here and behave
yourse'f! I bet I take a chunk some of these days and knock your fool
head off!"

As the living wave of dogs parted before his advance and his threats,
and broke up and turned about and vanished with protesting yelps, the
shirt-sleeved one, recognising Mittie May and the shape of the buggy,
would speak a greeting something after this fashion:

"Well, suh--ef it ain't Jedge Priest! Jedge, suh, I certainly am proud
to see you out this way. We was beginnin' to think you'd furgot us--we
was, fur a fact!"

Over his shoulder he would single out one of a cluster of children who
magically appeared on the gallery steps, and bid Tennessee or Virgil
or Dora-Virginia or Albert-Sidney, as the name of the chosen youngster
might be, to run and tell their ma that Judge Priest had come to stay
for dinner. For the judge never sent any advance notice of his intention
to pay a Sunday visit; neither did he wait for a formal invitation. He
just dropped in, being assured of a welcome under any rooftree, great or
humble, in his entire judicial district.

Shortly thereafter the judge, having been welcomed in due state, and
provision made for Mittie May's stabling and sustenance, would be
established on the gallery in the rocking-chair of honour, which was
fetched out from the parlour for his better comfort. First, a brimming
gourd of fresh spring water would be brought, that he might take the
edge off his thirst and flush the dust out of his throat and moisten
up his palate; and then would follow a certain elaborated rite in
conjunction with sundry sprigs of young mint and some powdered sugar and
outpourings of the red-brown contents of a wicker demijohn.

Very possibly a barefooted and embarrassed namesake would be propelled
forward, by parental direction, to shake hands with the guest; for,
except old Doctor Saunders, Judge Priest had more children named for him
than anybody in our county. And very probably there would come to his
ears from somewhere rearward the frenzied clamour of a mighty barnyard
commotion--squawkings and cacklings and flutterings----closely followed
by the poignant wails of a pair of doomed pullets, which grew fainter
and fainter as the captives were borne to the sacrificial block behind
the woodpile--certain signs, all these, that if fried chicken had not
been included in the scope and plan of Sunday dinner, fried chicken
would now be, most assuredly.

When dinner was over, small messengers would be sent up the road and
down to spread the word; and various oldsters of the vicinity would
leave their own places to foregather in the dooryard of the present host
and pass the time of day with Judge Priest. Sooner or later, somehow,
the talk would work backward to war times. Overhearing what passed to
and fro, a stranger might have been pardoned for supposing that it was
only the year before, or at most two years before, when the Yankees came
through under Grant; while Forrest's Raid was spoken of as though it had
taken place within the current month.

Anchored among the ancients the old judge would sit, doing his share of
the talking and more than his share of the listening; and late in the
afternoon, when the official watermelon, all dripping and cool, had been
brought forth from the springhouse, and the shadows were beginning
to stretch themselves slantwise across the road, as though tired out
completely by a hard day's work in the broiling sun, he and Mittie May
would jog back toward town, meeting many an acquaintance on the road,
but rarely passing one. And the upshot would be that at the next
Democratic primary the opposing candidate for circuit judge--if there
was any opposing candidate--got powerfully few votes out of that
neighbourhood.

Such Sunday excursions as these and such a Sunday dinner as this typical
one formed a regular part of Judge Priest's weekly routine through at
least nine months of the year. If unforeseen, events conspired to rob
him of his trip to the country he felt the week had not rightly rounded
itself out; but once a year he attended a dinner beside which all other
dinner occasions were, in his estimation, as nothing at all. With regard
to this particular affair, he used to say it took him a week to get
primed and ready for it, one whole night to properly enjoy it, and
another week to recover from the effects of it. I am speaking now of the
anniversary banquet of the survivors of Company B--first and foremost of
the home companies--which was and still is held always on a given date
and at a given place, respectively, to wit: The evening of the twelfth
of May and the dining room of the Richland House.

Company B held the first of its annual dinners at the Richland House
away back in '66. That time sixty and more men--young men, mostly, in
their mid-twenties and their early thirties--sat down together to meat
and drink, and no less a personage than General Grider presided--that
same Meriwether Grider who, going out in the first year of the war as
company commander, came back after the Surrender, bringing with him the
skeleton remnants of a battered and a shattered brigade.

General Meriwether Grider has been dead this many a year now. He gave
his life for the women and the children when the _Belle of the Bends_
burned up at Cottonwood Bar; and that horror befell so long ago that the
present generation down our way knows it only as a thing of which those
garrulous and tiresome creatures, the older inhabitants, are sometimes
moved to speak. But the rules for the regulation and conduct of
subsequent banquets which were adopted on that long-ago night, when the
general sat at the head of the table, hold good, even though all else in
our town has changed.

Of the ardent and youthful sixty-odd who dined with him then, a fading
and aging and sorely diminished handful is left. Some in the restless
boom days of the eighties moved away to other and brisker communities,
and some have marched down the long, lone road that leads to a far
country. Yet it abides as a bylaw and a precedent that only orthodox
members of the original company shall have covers and places
provided for them when anniversary night rolls round. The Richland
House--always--must be the place of dining; this, too, in spite of the
fact that the Richland House has been gnawed by the tooth of time into
a shabby old shell, hardly worthy to be named in the same printed page
with the smart Hotel Moderne--strictly European plan; rates, three
dollars a day and upward--which now figures as our leading hotel.

Near the conclusion of the feast, when the cloth has been cleared of
the dishes and only the glasses are left, the rolls called by the acting
top-sergeant--cholera having taken off the real top-sergeant in '75.
Those who are present answer for themselves, and for those who are
absent some other voice answers. And then at the very last, after the
story-telling is done, they all stand and drink to Company B--its men,
its memories, its most honourable record, and its most honourable dead.

They tell me that this last May just seven met on the evening of the
twelfth to sit beneath the crossed battle-flags in the Richland House
dining room, and that everything was over and done with long before
eleven o'clock. But the annual dinner which I especially have in mind to
describe here took place on a somewhat more remote twelfth of May, when
Company B still might muster better than the strength of a corporal's
guard. If I remember correctly, eighteen grizzled survivors were known
to be alive that year.

In saying that, though, I would not have you infer that there were no
more than eighteen veterans in our town. Why, in those times there must
have been two hundred easily. Gideon K. Irons Camp could turn out upward
of a hundred members in good standing for any large public occasion;
but you understand this was a dinner limited to Company B alone, which
restriction barred out a lot of otherwise highly desirable individuals.

It barred out Sergeant Jimmy Bagby, for the sergeant had served with
King's Hellhounds; and Captain Shelby Woodward, who belonged to the
Orphan Brigade, as you would have learned for yourself at first hand had
you ever enjoyed as much as five minutes of uninterrupted conversation
with the captain; and Mr. Wolfe Hawley, our leading grocer, who was a
gunner in Lyon's Battery--and many another it barred out. Indeed, Father
Minor got in only by the skin of his teeth. True enough he was a Company
B man at the beginning; but he transferred early to another branch of
the service and for most of the four years he rode with Morgan's men.

The committee in charge looked for a full attendance. It was felt that
this would be one of the most successful dinners of them all. Certainly
it would be by long odds the best advertised. It would seem that the
Sunday editor of the _Courier-Journal_, while digging through his
exchanges, came on a preliminary announcement in the columns of the
_Daily Evening News_, which was our home paper; and, sensing a feature
story in it, he sent one of his young men down from Louisville to spend
two days among us, compiling facts, names and photographs. The young man
did a page spread in the Sunday _Courier-Journal,_ thereby unconsciously
enriching many family scrapbooks in our town.

This was along toward the middle of April. Following it, one of
the Eastern syndicates rewrote the piece and mailed it out to its
constituent papers over the country. The Associated Press saw fit
to notice it too; and after that the tale got into the boiler-plate
shops--which means it got into practically all the smaller weeklies that
use patent insides. It must have been a strictly non-newspaper-read-ing
community of this nation which did not hear that spring about the group
of old soldiers who for forty years without a break had held a dinner
once a year with no outsiders present, and who were now, for the
forty-first time, about to dine again.

Considering this publicity and all, the committee naturally counted on a
fairly complete turnout. To be sure, Magistrate Matt Dallam, out in the
country, could not hope to be present except in the spirit, he having
been bedridden for years. Garnett Hinton, the youngest enlisted member
of Company B, was in feeble health away off yonder in the Panhandle of
Texas. It was not reasonable to expect him to make the long trip back
home. On the tenth Mr. Napoleon B. Crump was called to Birmingham,
Alabama, where a ne'er-do-well son-in-law had entangled himself in legal
difficulties, arising out of a transaction involving a dubious check,
with a yet more dubious signature on it. He might get back in time--and
then again he might not.

On the other hand, Second Lieutenant Charley Garrett wrote up from his
plantation down in Mississippi that he would attend if he had to walk--a
mere pleasantry of speech, inasmuch as Lieutenant Garrett had money
enough to charter for himself a whole railroad train should he feel so
inclined. And, from his little farm in Mims County, Chickasaw Reeves
sent word he would be there, too, no matter what happened. The boys
could count on him, he promised.

Tallying up twenty-four hours or so ahead of the big night, the
arrangements committee, consisting of Doctor Lake, Professor Lycurgus
Reese and Mr. Herman Felsburg, made certain of fifteen diners, and
possibly sixteen, and gave orders accordingly to the proprietor of the
Richland House; but Mr. Nap Crump was detained in Birmingham longer
than he had expected, and Judge Priest received from Lieutenant Charley
Garrett a telegram reading as follows:

"May the Lord be with you!--because I can't. Rheumatism in that game leg
of mine, ---- ----------it!"

The excisions, it developed, were the work of the telegraph company.

Then, right on top of this, another disappointment piled itself--I
have reference now to the sudden and painful indisposition of Chickasaw
Reeves. Looking remarkably hale and hearty, considering his sixty-eight
years, Mr. Reeves arrived in due season on the eleventh, dressed fit to
kill in his Sunday best and a turndown celluloid collar and a pair
of new shoes of most amazing squeakiness. After visiting, in turn, a
considerable number of old friends and sharing, with such as them as
were not bigoted, the customary and appropriate libations, he dropped
into Sherill's Bar at a late hour of the evening for a nightcap before
retiring.

At once his fancy was drawn to a milk punch, the same being a pleasant
compound to which he had been introduced an hour or so earlier. This
milk punch seemed to call for another, and that one for still another.
As the first deep sip of number three creamily saluted his palate, Mr.
Reeves' eyes, over the rim of the deep tumbler, fell on the free lunch
displayed at the far end of the bar. He was moved to step down that way
and investigate.

The milk punches probably would not have mattered--or the cubes of brick
cheese, or the young onions, or the pretzels, or the pickled beets and
pigs' feet. Mr. Reeves' seasoned and dependable gastric processes were
amply competent to triumph over any such commonplace combination of
food and drink. Undoubtedly his undoing was directly attributable to a
considerable number of little slickery fish, belonging, I believe, to
the pilchard family--that is to say, they are pilchards while yet they
do swim and disport themselves hither and yon in their native element;
but when caught and brined and spiced and oiled, and put in cans for
the export trade, they take on a different name and become, commercially
speaking, something else.

Mr. Reeves did not notice them at first. He had sampled one titbit and
then another; finally his glance was arrested by a dish of these small,
dainty appearing creatures. A tentative nibble at the lubricated tail of
a sample specimen reassured him as to the gastronomic excellence of the
novelty. He stayed right there until the dish was practically empty.
Then, after one more milk punch, he bade the barkeeper good night and
departed.

Not until three o'clock the following afternoon was Mr. Reeves able to
receive any callers--except only Doctor Lake, whose visits until that
hour had been in a professional rather than in a social capacity. Judge
Priest, coming by invitation of the sufferer, found Mr. Reeves' room at
the hotel redolent with the atmospheres of bodily distress. On the bed
of affliction by the window was stretched the form of Mr. Reeves. He was
not exactly pale, but he was as pale as a person of Mr. Reeves' habit of
life could be and still retain the breath of life.

"Well, Chickasaw, old feller," said Judge Priest, "how goes it? Feelin'
a little bit easier than you was, ain't you?"

The invalid groaned emptily before answering in wan and wasted-away
tone.

"Billy," he said, "ef you could 'a' saw me 'long 'bout half past two
this mornin', when she first come on me, you'd know better'n to ask sech
a question as that. First, I wus skeered I wus goin' to die. And then
after a spell I wus skeered I wusn't. I reckin there ain't nobody
nowheres that ever had ez many diff'runt kinds of cramps ez me and lived
to tell the tale."

"That's too bad," commiserated the judge. "Was it somethin' you et or
somethin' you drunk?"

"I reckin it wus a kind of a mixture of both," admitted Mr. Reeves.
"Billy, did you ever make a habit of imbibin' these here milk punches?"

"Well, not lately," said Judge Priest.

"Well, suh," stated Mr. Reeves, "you'd be surprised to know how tasty
they kin make jest plain ordinary cow's milk ef they take and put some
good red licker and a little sugar in it, and shake it all up together,
and then sift a little nutmaig seasonin' onto it--you would so! But,
after you've drunk maybe three-four, I claim you have to be sorter
careful 'bout whut you put on top of 'em. I've found that much out.

"I reckin it serves me right, though. A country-jake like me oughter
know better'n to come up here out of the sticks and try to gormandise
hisse'f on all these here fancy town vittles. It's all right, mebbe,
fur you city folks; but my stomach ain't never been educated up to it.
Hereafter I'm a-goin' to stick to hawg jowl and cawn pone, and things I
know 'bout. You hear me--I'm done! I've been cured.

"And specially I've been cured in reguards to these here little pizenous
fishes that look somethin' like sardeens, and yit they ain't sardeens.
I don't know what they call 'em by name; but it certainly oughter be
ag'inst the law to leave 'em settin' round on a snack counter where
folks kin git to 'em. Two or three of 'em would be dangerous, I
claim--and I must 'a' et purty nigh a whole school."

Again Mr. Reeves moaned reminiscently.

"Well, from the way you feel now, does it look like you're goin' to be
able to come to the blow-out to-night?" inquired Judge Priest. "That's
the main point. The boys are all countin' on you, Chickasaw."

"Billy," bemoaned Mr. Reeves, "I hate it mightily; but even ef I wus
able to git up--which I ain't--and git my clothes on and git down to the
Richland House, I wouldn't be no credit to yore party. From the way I
feel now, I don't never ag'in want to look vittles in the face so long
ez I live. And, furthermore, ef they should happen to have a mess of
them there little greasy minners on the table I know I'd be a disgrace
to myse'f right then and there. No, Billy; I reckin I'd better stay
right where I am."

Thus it came to pass that, when the members of Company B sat down
together in the decorated dining room of the Richland House at eight
o'clock that evening, the chair provided for Mr. Chickasaw Reeves made
a gap in the line. Judge Priest was installed in the place of honour,
where Lieutenant Garrett, by virtue of being ranking surviving officer,
would have enthroned himself had it not been for that game leg of his.
From his seat at the head, the judge glanced down the table and decided
in his own mind that, despite absentees, everything was very much as
it should be. At every plate was a little flag showing, on a red
background, a blue St. Andrew's cross bearing thirteen stars. At every
plate, also, was a tall and aromatic toddy. Cocktails figured not in the
dinner plans of Company B; they never had and they never would.

At the far end from him was old Press Harper. Once it had been Judge
Priest's most painful duty to sentence Press Harper to serve two years
at hard labour in the state prison. To be sure, circumstances, which
have been detailed elsewhere, interfered to keep Press Harper from
serving all or any part of his punishment; nevertheless, it was the
judge who had sentenced him. Now, catching the judge's eye, old Press
waved his arm at him in a proud and fond greeting.

Father Minor beamingly faced Squire Futrell, whose Southern Methodism
was of the most rigid and unbendable type. Professor Reese, principal
of the graded school, touched elbows with Jake Smedley, colour bearer
of the Camp, who just could make out to write his own name. Peter J.
Galloway, the lame blacksmith, who most emphatically was Irish, had a
caressing arm over the stooped shoulder of Mr. Herman Felsburg, who most
emphatically was not. Doctor Lake, his own pet crony in a town where
everybody, big and little, was his crony in some degree, sat one seat
removed from the judge, with the empty chair of the bedfast Chickasaw
Reeves in between them and so it went.

Even in the matter of the waiters an ancient and a hallowed sentiment
ruled. Behind Judge Priest, and swollen as with a dropsy by pomp of
pride and vanity, stood Uncle Zach Mathews, a rosewood-coloured
person, whose affection for the Cause that was lost had never
been questioned--even though Uncle Zach, after confusing military
experiences, emerged from the latter end of the conflict as cook for a
mess of Union officers and now drew his regular quarterly pension from a
generous Federal Government.

Flanking Uncle Zach, both with napkins draped over their arms, both
awaiting the word from him to bring on the first course, were posted--on
the right, Tobe Emery, General Grider's one-time body servant; on the
left, Uncle Ike Copeland, a fragile, venerable exhuman chattel, who
might almost claim to have seen actual service for the Confederacy. No
ordinary darkies might come to serve when Company B foregathered at the
feast.

Uncle Zach, with large authority, had given the opening order, and at
the side tables a pleasing clatter of china had arisen, when Squire
Futrell put down his glass and rose, with a startled look on his face.

"Looky here, boys!" he exclaimed. "This won't never do! Did you fellers
know there wus thirteen at the table?"

Sure enough, there were!

It has been claimed--perhaps not without colour of plausibility--that
Southerners are more superstitious than Northerners. Assuredly the
Southerners of a generation that is almost gone now uniformly nursed
their private beliefs in charms, omens, spells, hoodoos and portents. As
babies many of them were nursed, as boys all of them were played with,
by members of the most superstitious race--next to actors--on the face
of creation. An actor of Ethiopian descent should by rights be the
most superstitious creature that breathes the air of this planet, and
doubtlessly is.

No one laughed at Squire Futrell's alarm over his discovery. Possibly
excusing Father Minor, it is probable that all present shared it with
him. As for Uncle Zach Mathews and his two assistants, they froze with
horror where they had halted, their loaded trays poised on their arms.
But they did not freeze absolutely solid--they quivered slightly.

"Law-zee!" gasped Uncle Zach, with his eyeballs rolling. "Dinner can't
go no fur'der twell we gits somebody else in or meks somebody leave and
go 'way--dat's sartain shore! Whee! We kin all thank Our Maker dat dey
ain't been nary bite et yit."

"Amen to dat, Brer Zach!" muttered Ike shakily; and dumbly Tobe Emery
nodded, stricken beyond power of speech by the nearness of a barely
averted catastrophe fraught with disaster, if not with death itself.

Involuntarily Judge Priest had shoved his chair back; most of the others
had done the same thing. He got on his feet with alacrity.

"Boys," he said, "the squire is right--there's thirteen of us. Now whut
d'ye reckin we're goin' to do 'bout that?"

The natural suggestion would be that they send at once for another
person. Three or four offered it together, their voices rising in a
babble. Names of individuals who would make congenial table mates
were heard. Among others, Sergeant Jimmy Bagby was spoken of; likewise
Colonel Cope and Captain Woodward. But Judge Priest shook his head.

"I can't agree with you-all," he set forth. "By the time we sent clean
uptown and rousted one of them boys out, the vittles would all be cold."

"Well, Billy," demanded Doctor Lake, "what are you going to do, then? We
can't go ahead this way, can we? Of course I don't believe in all this
foolishness about signs myself; but"--he added--"but I must admit to a
little personal prejudice against thirteen at the table."

"Listen here, you boys!" said Judge Priest. "Ef we're jest, obliged and
compelled to break a long-standin' rule of this command--and it looks to
me like that's whut we've got to do--let's foller after a precedent that
was laid down a mighty long time ago. You-all remember--don't you--how
the Good Book tells about the Rich Man that give a feast oncet? And at
the last minute the guests he'd invited didn't show up at all--none
of 'em. So then he sent out into the highways and byways and scraped
together some hongry strangers; and by all accounts they had a purty
successful time of it there. When in doubt I hold it's a fairly safe
plan to jest take a leaf out of them old Gospels and go by it. Let's
send out right here in the neighbourhood and find somebody--no matter
who 'tis, so long as he's free, white and twenty-one--that looks like
he could appreciate a meal of vittles, and present the compliments of
Company B to him, and ast him will he come on in and jine with us."

Maybe it was the old judge's way of putting it, but the idea took
unanimously. The manager of the Richland House, having been sent for,
appeared in person almost immediately. To him the situation was outlined
and the remedy for it that had been favoured.

"By gum, gentlemen," said their host, instantly inspired, "I believe I
know where I can put my hand on the very candidate you're looking for.
There's a kind of seedy-looking, lonely old fellow downstairs, from
somewhere the other side of the Ohio River. He's been registered since
yes'day morning; seems like to me his name is Watts--something like
that, anyhow. He don't seem to have any friends or no business in
particular; he's just kind of hanging round. And he knows about this
dinner too. He was talking to me about it a while ago, just before
supper--said he'd read about it in a newspaper up in his country. He
even asked me what the names of some of you gentlemen were. If you think
he'll do to fill in I'll go right down and get him. He was sitting by
himself in a corner of the lobby not two minutes ago. I judge he's about
the right age, too, if age is a consideration. He looks to be about the
same age as most of you."

There was no need for Judge Priest to put the question to a vote.
It carried, so to speak, by acclamation. Bearing a verbal commission
heartily to speak for the entire assemblage, Manager Ritter hurried out
and in less than no time was back again, escorting the person he had
described. Judge Priest met them at the door and was there introduced to
the stranger, whose rather reluctant hand he warmly shook.

"He didn't want to come at first," explained Mr. Ritter; "said he didn't
belong up here with you-all; but when I told him the fix you was in he
gave in and consented, and here he is."

"You're mighty welcome, suh," said Judge Priest, still holding the other
man's hand. "And we're turribly obliged to you fur comin', and to Mr.
Ritter fur astin' you to come."

With that, he drew their dragooned guest into the room and, standing
beside him, made formal presentation to the expectant company.

"Gentlemen of Company B, allow me to make you acquainted with Mr. Watts,
of the State of Illinoy, who has done us the great honour of agreein'
to make fourteen at the table, and to eat a bite with us at this
here little dinner of ours." A straggling outburst of greeting and
approbation arose from twelve elderly throats. "Mr. Watts, suh, will you
be so good as to take this cheer here, next to me?" resumed Judge Priest
when the noise abated; and he completed the ceremonial by indicating the
place of the absent Mr. Reeves.

What the stranger saw as he came slowly forward--if, indeed, he was able
to see anything with distinctness by reason of the evident confusion
that covered him--was a double row of kindly, cordial, curious faces of
old men, all staring at him. Before the battery of their eyes he bowed
his acknowledgments, but did not speak them; still without speaking, he
slipped into the seat which Tobe Emery sprang forward to draw clear of
the table for his easier admission to the group. What the others saw was
a tall, stooped, awkward man of, say, sixty-five, with sombre eyes, set
deep in a whiskered face that had been burned a leathery red by wind and
weather; a heavy-footed man, who wore a suit of store clothes--clothes
of a homely cut and none too new, yet neat enough; such a man, one might
guess at a glance, as would have little to say and would be chary about
saying that little until sure of his footing and his audience. Judging
by appearances and first impressions he did not promise to be what you
might call exciting company, exactly; but he made fourteen at the table,
and that was the main point, anyhow.

Now the dinner got under way with a swing and a clatter. For all the
stitches and tucks that time had taken in their leg muscles, the three
old negroes flitted about like flickery black shadows, bringing food to
all and toddies to several, and just plain ice water to at least three
of their white friends. Even Kentuckians have been known to be advocates
of temperance. To learn how true a statement this is you must read, not
the comic weeklies, but the official returns of local-option elections.
Above the medley of commingling voices, some cracked and jangled with
age, some still full and sonorous, and one at least as thin and piercing
as the bleat of a reed flute--that would be Judge Priest's voice,
of course--sounded the rattling of dishes and glasses and plated
silverware. Uncle Zach and his two aides may have been good waiters, but
they were tolerably noisy ones.

Through it all the extra guest sat very quietly, eating little and
drinking nothing. Sitting alongside him, Doctor Lake noticed that he fed
himself with his right hand only; his left hand stayed in his lap, being
hidden from sight beneath the table. Naturally this set afoot a train
of mild professional surmise in the old doctor's mind. The arm itself
seemed sound enough; he vaguely wondered whether the Illinois man had a
crippled hand or a deformed hand, or what. Judge Priest noticed it
too, but subconsciously rather. At the beginning he tried to start a
conversation with Watts, feeling it incumbent on him, as chief sponsor
for the other's presence, to cure him of his embarrassment if he could,
and to make him feel more at home there among them; but his well-meant
words appeared to fall on barren soil. The stranger answered in mumbled
monosyllables, without once looking Judge Priest straight in the
face. He kept his head half averted--a posture the judge ascribed to
diffidence; but it was evident he missed nothing at all of the talk that
ran up and down the long table and back and forth across it. Under his
bushy brows his eyes shifted from face to face as this man or that had
his say.

So presently the judge, feeling that he had complied with the
requirements of hospitality, abandoned the effort to interest his silent
neighbour, and very soon after forgot him altogether for the time being.
Under the circumstances it was only to be expected of Judge Priest that
he should forget incidental matters; for now, to all these lifelong
friends of his, time was swinging backward on a greased hinge. The years
that had lined these old faces and bent these old backs were dropping
away; the memories of great and storied days were mounting to their
brains like the fumes of strong wine, brightening their eyes and
loosening their tongues.

From their eager lips dropped names of small country churches, tiny
backwoods villages of the Southwest, trivial streams and geographically
inconsequential mountains--names that once meant nothing to the world at
large, but which, by reason of Americans having fought Americans there
and Americans having died by the hundreds and the thousands there,
are now printed in the school histories and memorised by the school
children--Island Number 10 and Shiloh; Peachtree Creek and Stone River;
Kenesaw Mountain and Brice's Crossroads. They had been at these very
places, or at most of them--these thirteen old men had. To them the
names were more than names. Each one burned in their hearts as a living
flame. All the talk, though, was not of battle and skirmish. It dealt
with prisons, with hospitals, with camps and marches.

"By George, boys, will you ever forget the day we marched out of this
town?" It was Doctor Lake speaking, and his tone was high and exultant.
"Flags flying everywhere and our sweethearts crying and cheering us
through their tears! And the old town band up front playing Girl I Left
Behind Me and Johnnie's Gone for a Soger! And we-all stepping along,
feeling so high and mighty and stuck-up in our new uniforms! A little
shy on tactics we were, and not enough muskets to go round; but all the
boys wore new grey suits, I remember. Our mothers saw to that."

"It was different, though, Lew, the day we came home again," reminded
some one else, speaking gently. "No flags flying then and nobody
cheering, and no band to play! And half the women were in black--yes,
more than half."

"An' dat's de Gawd's truth!" half-whispered black Tobe Emery, carried
away for the moment.

"Well," said Press Harper, "I know they run out of muskets 'fore they
got round to me. I call to mind that I went off totin' an ole flintlock
that my paw had with him down in Mexico when he wus campin' on ole Santy
Anny's trail. And that wus all I did have in the way of weepins, 'cept
fur a great big bowie knife that a blacksmith out at Massac made fur me
out of a rasp-file. I wus mighty proud of that there bowie of mine till
we got down yonder to Camp Boone and found a whole company, all with
bigger knives than whut mine wus. Called themselves the Blood River
Tigers, those boys did, 'cause they came frum up on Blood River, in
Calloway."

Squire Futrell took the floor--or the table, rather--for a moment:

"I recollec' one Calloway County feller down at Camp Boone, when we fust
got there, that didn't even have a knife. He went round 'lowin' as how
he wus goin' to pick him out a likely Yank the fust fight we got into,
and lick him with his bare hands ef he stood still and fit, or knock him
down with a rock ef he broke and run--and then strip him of his outfit."

"Why, I place that feller, jest ez plain ez if he wus standin' here
now," declared Mr. Harper. "I remember him sayin' he could lick ary
Yankee that ever lived with his bare hands."

"I reckin mebbe he could, too--he wus plenty long enough," said the
squire with a chuckle; "but the main obstacle wus that the Yankees
wouldn't fight with their bare hands. They jest would insist on usin'
tools--the contrary rascals! Let's see, now, whut wus that Calloway
County feller's name? You remember him, Herman, don't you? A tall,
ganglin' jimpy jawed, loose-laiged feller he wus--built like one of
these here old blue creek cranes."

Mr. Felsburg shook his head; but Press Harper broke in again:

"I've got him! The boys called him Lengthy fur short; but his real name
wus Washburn, same ez--"

He stopped short off there; and, twisting his head away from the
disapproving faces, which on the instant had been turned full on him
from all along the table, he went through the motion of spitting, as
though to rid his mouth of an unsavoury taste. A hot colour climbed to
Peter J. Galloway's wrinkled cheeks and he growled under the overhang
of his white moustache. Doctor Lake pursed up his lips, shaking his head
slowly.

There was one black spot, and just one, on the records of Company B.
And, living though he might still be, or dead, as probably he was, the
name of one man was taboo when his one-time companions broke bread at
their anniversary dinner. Indeed, they went farther than that: neither
there nor elsewhere did they speak by name of him who had been their
shame and their disgrace. It was a rule. With them it was as though that
man had never lived.

Up to this point Mr. Herman Felsburg had had mighty little to say. For
all he had lived three-fourths of his life in our town, his command of
English remained faulty and broken, betraying by every other word his
foreign birth; and his habit of mixing his metaphors was proverbial.
He essayed few long speeches-before mixed audiences; but now he threw
himself into the breach, seeking to bridge over the awkward pause.

"Speaking of roll calls and things such as that," began Mr. Felsburg,
seeming to overlook the fact that until now no one had spoken of roll
calls--"speaking of those kinds of things, maybe you will perhaps
remember how it was along in the winter of '64, when practically we were
out of everything--clothes and shoes and blankets and money--ach, yes;
money especially!--and how the orderly sergeant had no book or papers
whatsoever, and so he used to make his report in the morning on a clean
shingle, with a piece of lead pencil not so gross as that." He indicated
a short and stubby finger end.

"'Long 'bout then we could 'a' kept all the rations we drew on a clean
shingle too--eh, Herman?" wheezed Judge Priest. "And the shingle
wouldn't 'a' been loaded down at that! My, my! Ever' time I think of
that winter of '64 I find myse'f gittin' hongry all over agin!" And the
judge threw himself back in his chair and laughed his high, thin laugh.

Then, noting the others had not yet rallied back again to the point
where the flow of reminiscences had been checked by Press Harper's
labial slip-up, he had an inspiration.

"Speakin' of roll calls," he said, unconsciously parroting Mr. Felsburg,
"seems to me it's 'bout time we had ours. The vittles end of this here
dinner 'pears to be 'bout over. Zach"--throwing the suggestion across
his shoulder--"you and your pardners'd better be fetchin' on the coffee
and the seegars, I reckin." He faced front again, raising his voice:
"Who's callin' the roll to-night?"

"I am," answered Professor Reese; and at once he got on his feet,
adjusted his spectacles just so, and drew from an inner breast pocket of
his long frock coat a stained and frayed scroll, made of three sheets of
tough parchment paper pasted end to end.

He cleared his throat; and, as though the sound had been a command, his
fellow members bent forward, with faces composed to earnestness. None
observed how the stranger acted; indeed, he had been quite out of
the picture and as good as forgotten for the better part of an hour.
Certainly nobody was interested in him at this moment when there
impended what, to that little group, was a profoundly solemn, highly
sentimental thing.

Again Professor Reese cleared his throat, then spoke the name that was
written in faded letters at the top of the roll--the name of him who had
been their first captain and, at the last, their brigade commander.

"Died the death of a hero in an effort to save others at Cottonwood
Bar, June 28, 1871," said Judge Priest; and he saluted, with his finger
against his forehead.

One by one the old school-teacher called off the list of commissioned
and noncommissioned officers. Squire Futrell, who had attained to the
eminence of a second corporal's place, was the only one who answered for
himself. For each of the others, including Lieutenant Garrett--he of
the game leg and the plantation in Mississippi--somebody else answered,
giving the manner and, if he remembered it, the date of that man's
death. For, excepting Garrett, they were all dead.

The professor descended to the roster of enlisted men:

"Abner P. Ashbrook!"

"Died in Camp Chase as a prisoner of war."

"G. W. Ayres!"

"Killed at Baker's Creek."

"R. M. Bigger!"

"Moved to Missouri after the war, was elected state senator, and died in
'89."

"Reuben Brame!"

"Honourably discharged after being wounded at Corinth, and disappeared.
Believed to be dead."

"Robert Burnell!"

"Murdered by bushwhackers in East Tennessee on his way home after the
Surrender."

So it went down the long column of names. They were names, many of them,
which once stood for something in that community but which would
have fallen with an unfamiliar sound upon the ears of the oncoming
generation--old family names of the old town. But the old families had
died out or had scattered, as is the way with old families, and the
names were only pronounced when Company B met or when some idler,
dawdling about the cemetery, deciphered the lichen-grown lines on gray
and crumbly grave-stones. Only once in a while did a voice respond,
"Here!" But always the "Here!" was spoken clearly and loudly and at
that, the remaining twelve would hoist their voices in a small cheer.

By common consent certain survivors spoke for certain departed members.
For example, when the professor came to one name down among the L's,
Peter J. Galloway, who was an incorruptible and unshakable Roman of the
party of Jefferson and Jackson, blared out: "Turn't Republikin in '96,
and by the same token died that same year!" And when he reached the name
of Adolph Ohlmann it was Mr. Felsburg's place to tell of the honourable
fate of his fellow Jew, who fell before Atlanta.

The reader read on and on until his voice took on a huskened note.
He had heard "Here!" for the thirteenth time; he had come to the very
bottomest lines of his roster. He called one more name--Vilas, it
was--and then he rolled up his parchment and put it away.

"The records show that, first and last, Company B had one hundred
and seventy-two members, all regularly sworn into the service of the
Confederate States of America under our beloved President, Jefferson
Davis," stated Professor Reese sonorously. "Of those names, in
accordance with the custom of this organisation, I have just called one
hundred and seventy-one. The roll call of Company B, of the Old Regiment
of mounted infantry serving under General Nathan Bedford Forrest, is
completed for the current year." And down he sat.

As Judge Priest, with a little sigh, settled back in his chair, his
glance fell on the face of the man next him. Perhaps the old judge's
eyes were not as good as once they had been. Perhaps the light was
faulty. At any rate, he interpreted the look that was on the other's
face as a look of loneliness. Ordinarily the judge was a pretty good
hand at reading faces too.

"Looky here, boys!" he called out, with such emphasis as to centre
general attention on the upper end of the table. "We oughter be
'shamed of ourselves--carryin' on this way 'mongst ourselves and plum'
furgittin' we had an outsider with us ez a special guest. Our new friend
here is 'bout the proper age to have seen service in the war his own
se'f--mebbe he did see some. Of all the states that fought ag'inst us,
none of 'em turned out better soldiers than old Illinoy did. If my guess
is right I move we hear frum Mr. Watts, frum Illinoy, on some of his own
wartime experiences." His hand dropped, with a heartening thump, on
the shoulder of the stranger. "Come on, colonel! We've had a word from
ever'body exceptin' you. It's your turn--ain't it, boys?"

Before his question might be answered, Watts had straightened to his
feet. He stood rigidly, his hands driven wrist-deep into his coat
pockets; his weather-beaten face set in heavy, hard lines; his deep eyes
fixed on a spot in the blank wall above their heads.

"You're right--I was a soldier in the war between the States," he said
in a thickened, quick voice, which trembled just a little; "but I didn't
serve with the Illinois troops. I didn't move to Illinois until after
the war. My regiment was as good a regiment, though, and as game a
regiment, as fought in that war on either side."

Some six or eight broke generously into a brisk patter of handclapping
at this, and from the exuberant Mr. Galloway came:

"Whirroo! That's right--stick up for yer own side always! Go on, me boy;
go on!"

The urging was unnecessary. Watts was going on as though he had not been
interrupted, as though he had not heard the friendly applause, as though
his was a tale which stood in most urgent need of the telling:

"I'm not saying much of my first year as a soldier. I wasn't
satisfied--well, I wasn't happily placed; I'll put it that way. I
had hopes at the beginning of being an officer; and when the company
election was held I lost out. Possibly I was too ambitious for my
own good. I came to know that I was not popular with the rest of the
company. My captain didn't like me, either, I thought. Maybe I was
morbid; maybe I was homesick. I know I was disappointed. You men have
all been soldiers--you know how those things go. I did my duty after
a fashion--I didn't skulk or hang back from danger--but I didn't do it
cheerfully. I moped and I suppose I complained a lot.

"Well, finally I left that company and that regiment. I just quit. I
didn't quit under fire; but I quit--in the night. I think I must have
been half crazy; I'd been brooding too much. In a day or two I realised
that I couldn't go back home--which was where I had started for--and
I wouldn't go over to the enemy. Badly as I had behaved, the idea of
playing the outright traitor never entered my mind. I want you to know
that. So I thought the thing over for a day or two. I had time for
thinking it over--alone there in that swamp where I was hiding. I've
never spoken of that shameful thing in my life since then--not until
to-night. I tried not to think of it--but I always have--every day.

"Well, I came to a decision at last. I closed the book on my old self; I
wiped out the past. I changed my name and made up a story to account for
myself; but I thank God I didn't change flags and I didn't change sides.
I was wearing that new name of mine when I came out of those woods, and
under it I enlisted in a regiment that had been recruited in a state two
hundred miles away from my own state. I served with it until the end of
the war--as a private in the ranks.

"I'm not ashamed of the part I played those last three years. I'm proud
of it! As God is my judge, I did my whole duty then. I was commended
in general orders once; my name was mentioned in despatches to the War
Department once. That time I was offered a commission; but I didn't take
it. I bear in my body the marks of three wounds. I've got a chunk of
lead as big as your thumb in my shoulder. There's a little scar up here
in my scalp, under the hair, where a splinter from a shell gashed me.
One of my legs is a little bit shorter than the other. In the very last
fight I was in a spent cannon ball came along and broke both the bones
in that leg. I've got papers to prove that from '62 to '65 I did my best
for my cause and my country. I've got them here with me now--I carry
them with me in the daytime and I sleep at night with them under my
pillow."

With his right hand he fumbled in his breast pocket and brought out
two time-yellowed slips of paper and held them high aloft, clenched and
crumpled up in a quivering fist.

"One of these papers is my honourable discharge. The other is a letter
that the old colonel of my regiment wrote to me with his own hand two
months before he died."

He halted and his eyes, burning like red coals under the thick brows,
ranged the faces that looked up into his. His own face worked. When he
spoke again he spoke as a prisoner at the bar might speak, making a last
desperate appeal to the jury trying him for his life:

"You men have all been soldiers. I ask you this now, as a soldier
standing among soldiers--I ask you if my record of three years of hard
service and hard fighting can square me up for the one slip I made when
I was hardly more than a boy in years? I ask you that?"

With one voice, then, the jury answered. Its verdict was acquittal--and
not alone acquittal but vindication. Had you been listening outside you
would have sworn that fifty men and not thirteen were yelling at the
tops of their lungs, beating on the table with all the might in their
arms.

The old man stood for a minute longer. Then suddenly all the rigidity
seemed to go out of him. He fell into his chair and put his face in his
two cupped hands. The papers he had brandished over his head slipped
out of his fingers and dropped on the tablecloth. One of them--a flat,
unfolded slip--settled just in front of Doctor Lake. Governed partly by
an instinct operating automatically, partly to hide his own emotions,
which had been roused to a considerable degree, Doctor Lake bent
and spelled out the first few words. His head came up with a jerk of
profound surprise and gratification.

"Why, this is signed by John B. Gordon him-self!" he snorted. He twisted
about, reaching out for Judge Priest. "Billy! Billy Priest! Why, look
here! Why, this man's no Yankee! Not by a dam' sight he's not! Why, he
served with a Georgia regiment! Why----"

But Judge Priest never heard a word of what Doctor Lake was saying. His
old blue eyes stared at the stranger's left hand. On the back of that
hand, standing out upon the corded tendons and the wrinkled brown skin,
blazed a red spot, shaped like a dumb-bell, a birthmark of most unusual
pattern.

Judge Priest stared and stared; and as he stared a memory that was
nearly as old as he was crept out from beneath a neglected convolution
in the back part of his brain, and grew and spread until it filled his
amazed, startled, scarce-believing mind. So it was no wonder he did not
hear Doctor Lake; no wonder he did not see black Tobe Emery stealing up
behind him, with popped eyes likewise fixed on that red dumb-bell-shaped
mark.

No; Judge Priest did not hear a word. As Doctor Lake faced about the
other way to spread his wonderful discovery down the table and across
it, the judge bent forward and touched the fourteenth guest on the
shoulder very gently.

"Pardner," he asked, apparently apropos of nothing that had happened
since the dinner started--"Pardner, when was the first time you heard
about this here meetin' of Company B--the first time?"

Through the interlaced fingers of the other the answer came haltingly:

"I read about it--in a Chicago Sunday paper--three weeks ago."

"But you knew before that there was a Company B down here in this town?"

Without raising his head or baring his face, the other nodded. Judge
Priest overturned his coffee cup as he got to his feet, but took no heed
of the resultant damage to the cloth on the table and the fronts of his
white trouser legs.

"Boys," he cried out so shrilly, so eagerly, so joyously, that they all
jumped, "when you foller after Holy Writ you can't never go fur wrong.
You're liable to breed a miracle. A while ago we took a lesson from the
Parable of the Rich Man that give a dinner; and--lo and behold!--another
parable and a better parable--yes, the sweetest parable of 'em all--has
come to pass and been repeated here 'mongst us without our ever knowin'
it or even suspectin' it. The Prodigal Son didn't enjoy the advantage of
havin' a Chicago Sunday paper to read, but in due season he came back
home--that other Prodigal did; and it stands written in the text that he
was furgiven, and that a feast was made fur him in the house of his
fathers."

His tone changed to one of earnest demand: "Lycurgus Reese, finish the
roll call of this company--finish it right now, this minute--the way it
oughter be finished!"

"Why, Judge Priest," said Professor Reese, still in the dark and filled
with wonderment, "it is already finished!"

As though angered almost beyond control, the judge snapped back:

"It ain't finished, neither. It ain't been rightly finished from the
very beginnin' of these dinners. It ain't finished till you call the
very last name that's on that list."

"But, Judge----"

"But nothin'! You call that last name, Ly-curgus Reese; and you be
almighty quick about it!"

There was no need for the old professor, thus roughly bidden, to haul
out his manuscript. He knew well enough the name, though wittingly it
had not passed his lips for forty years or more. So he spoke it out:

"Sylvester B. Washburn!"

The man they had called Watts raised in his place and dropped his
clenched hands to his sides, and threw off the stoop that was in his
shoulders. He lifted his wetted eyes to the cracked, stained ceiling
above. He peered past plaster and rafter and roof, and through a rift
in the skies above he feasted his famished vision on a delectable land
which others might not see. And then, beholding on his face that look
of one who is confessed and shriven, purified and atoned for, the scales
fell away from their own eyes and they marvelled--not that they knew him
now, but that they had not known him before now. And for a moment or two
there was not a sound to be heard.

"Sylvester B. Washburn!" repeated Professor Reese.

And the prodigal answered:

"Here!"



III. JUDGE PRIEST COMES BACK


FROM time to time persons of an inquiring turn of mind have been moved
audibly to speculate--I might even say to ponder--regarding the enigma
underlying the continued presence in the halls of our National Congress
of the Honourable Dabney Prentiss. All were as one in agreeing that
he had a magnificent delivery, but in this same connection it has
repeatedly been pointed out that he so rarely had anything to deliver.
Some few among this puzzled contingent, knowing, as they did, the habits
and customs of the people down in our country, could understand that in
a corner of the land where the gift of tongue is still highly revered
and the golden chimings of a full-jewelled throat are not yet entirely
lost in the click of cash registers and the whir of looms, how the
Honourable Dabney within his limitations might have been oratorically
conspicuous and politically useful, not alone to himself but to others.
But as a constructive statesman sent up to Washington, District of
Columbia, and there engaged in shaping loose ends of legislation into
the welded and the tempered law, they could not seem to see him at all.
It was such a one, an editorial writer upon a metropolitan daily, who
once referred to Representative Prentiss as The Human Voice. The title
stuck, a fact patently testifying to its aptness. That which follows
here in this chapter is an attempt to explain the mystery of this
gentleman's elevation to the high places which he recently adorned.

To go back to the very start of things we must first review briefly the
case of old Mr. Lysander John Curd, even though he be but an incidental
figure in the narrative. He was born to be incidental, I reckon,
heredity, breeding and the chance of life all conspiring together to fit
him for that inconsequential rôle. He was born to be a background. The
one thing he ever did in all his span on earth to bring him for a moment
into the front of the picture was that, having reached middle age, he
took unto himself a young wife. But since he kept her only long enough
to lose her, even this circumstance did not serve to focus the attention
of the community upon his uncoloured personality for any considerable
period of time.

Considering him in all his aspects--as a volunteer soldier in the
Great War, as a district schoolteacher, as a merchant in our town, as a
bachelor of long standing, as a husband for a fleeting space, and as a
grass widower for the rest of his days--I have gleaned that he never did
anything ignoble or anything conspicuous. Indeed, I myself, who knew him
as a half-grown boy may know a middle-aged man, find it hard after the
lapse of years to describe him physically for you. I seem to recall
that he was neither tall nor short, neither thick nor thin. He had the
customary number of limbs and the customary number of features arranged
in the customary way--I know that, of course. It strikes me that his
eyes were mild and gentle, that he was, as the saying runs, soft-spoken
and that his whiskers were straggly and thin, like young second growth
in a new clearing; also that he wore his winter overcoat until the hot
suns of springtime scorched it, and that he clung to his summer alpaca
and his straw hat until the frosts of autumn came along and nipped them
with the sweet-gum and the dogwood. That lets me out. Excusing these
things, he abides merely as a blur in my memory.

On a certain morning of a certain year, the month being April, Judge
Priest sat at his desk in his chamber, so-called, on the right-hand
side of the long hall in the old courthouse, as you came in from the
Jefferson Street door. He was shoulders deep down in his big chair, with
both his plump legs outstretched and one crossed over the other, and
he was reading a paper-bound volume dealing in the main with certain
inspiring episodes in the spectacular life of a Western person known as
Trigger Sam. On his way downtown from home that morning he had stopped
by Wilcox & Powell's bookstore and purchased this work at the price of
five cents; it was the latest production of the facile pen of a popular
and indefatigable author of an earlier day than this, the late Ned
Buntline. In his hours of leisure and seclusion the judge dearly loved
a good nickel library, especially one with a lot of shooting and some
thrilling rescues in it. Now he was in the middle of one of the most
exciting chapters when there came a mild rap at the outer door. Judge
Priest slid the Trigger Sam book into a half-open drawer and called out:

"Come right on in, whoever 'tis."

The door opened and old Mr. Lysander John Curd entered, in his overcoat,
with his head upon his chest.

"Good morning, Judge Priest," he said in his gentle halting drawl;
"could I speak with you in private a minute? It's sort of a personal
matter and I wouldn't care to have anybody maybe overhearing."

"You most certainly could," said Judge Priest. He glanced through into
the adjoining room at the back, where Circuit Clerk Milam and Sheriff
Giles Birdsong, heads together, were busy over the clerical details
of the forthcoming term of circuit court. Arising laboriously from his
comfortable place he waddled across and kicked the open door between the
two rooms shut with a thrust of a foot clad in a box-toed, low-quartered
shoe. On his way back to his desk he brushed an accumulation of old
papers out of a cane-bottomed chair. "Set down here, Lysandy," he said
in that high whiny voice of his, "and let's hear whut's on your mind.
Nice weather, ain't it?"

An eavesdropper trained, mayhap, in the psychology of tone and gesture
might have divined from these small acts and this small utterance that
Judge Priest had reasons for suspecting what was on his caller's mind;
as though this visit was not entirely unexpected, even though he had
had no warning of it. There was in the judge's words an intangible
inflection of understanding, say, or sympathy; no, call it
compassion--that would be nearer to it. The two old men--neither of them
would ever see sixty-five again--lowered themselves into the two chairs
and sat facing each other across the top of the judge's piled and dusty
desk. Through his steel-rimmed glasses the judge fixed a pair of kindly,
but none-the-less keen, blue eyes on Mr. Lysander Curd's sagged and
slumped figure. There was despondency and there was embarrassment in all
the drooping lines of that elderly frame. Judge Priest's lips drew up
tightly, and unconsciously he nodded--the brief nod that a surgeon might
employ on privately confirming a private diagnosis.

The other did not detect these things--neither the puckering of the lips
nor the small forward bend of the judge's head. His own chin was in his
collar and his own averted eyes were on the floor. One of his hands--a
gnarly, rather withered hand it must have been--reached forth absently
and fumbled at a week-old copy of the _Daily Evening News_ that rested
upon a corner of the desk. The twining fingers tore a little strip loose
from the margin of a page and rolled it up into a tiny wad.

For perhaps half a minute there was nothing said. Then Judge Priest bent
forward suddenly and touched the nearermost sleeve of Mr. Curd with a
gentle little half-pat.

"Well, Lysandy?" he prompted.

"Well, Judge." The words were the first the visitor had uttered since
his opening speech, and they came from him reluctantly. "Well, sir, it
would seem like I hardly know how to start. This is a mighty personal
matter that I've come to see you in regards to--and it's just a little
bit hard to speak about it even to somebody that I've known most of my
life, same as I've always known you. But things in my home have finally
come to a head, and before the issue reaches you in an official capacity
as the judge on the bench I sort of felt like it might help some--might
make the whole thing pass off easier for all concerned--if I could have
a few words with you privately, as a friend and as a former comrade in
arms on the field of battle."

"Yes, Lysandy, go ahead. I'm listenin'," stated Judge Priest, as the
other halted.

Old Mr. Curd raised his face and in his faded eyes there was at once a
bewildered appeal and a fixed and definite resolution. He spoke on
very slowly and carefully, choosing his words as he went, but without
faltering:

"I don't know as you know about it, Judge Priest--the chances are you
naturally wouldn't--but in a domestic way things haven't been going
very smoothly with me--with us, I should say--for quite a spell back. I
reckon after all it's a mistake on the part of a man after he's reached
middle age and got set in his ways to be taking a young wife, more
especially if he can't take care of her in the way she's been used to,
or anyhow in the way she'd like to be taken care of. I suppose it's only
human nature for a young woman to hanker after considerable many things
that a man like me can't always give her--jewelry and pretty things, and
social life, and running round and seeing people, and such as that. And
Luella--well, Luella really ain't much more than a girl herself yet, is
she?"

The question remained unanswered. It was plain, too, that Mr. Curd had
expected no answer to it, for he went straight on:

"So I feel as if the blame for what's happened is most of it mine. I
reckon I was too old to be thinking about getting married in the first
place. And I wasn't very well off then either--not well enough off to
have the money I should've had if I expected to make Luella contented.
Still, all that part of it's got nothing to do with the matter as it
stands--I'm just telling it to you, Judge, as a friend."

"I understand, Lysandy," said Judge Priest almost in the tone which he
might have used to an unhappy child. "This is all a strict confidence
between us two and this is all the further it'll ever go, so fur ez I'm
concerned, without you authorise me to speak of it."

He waited for what would come next. It came in slow, steady sentences,
with the regularity of a statement painfully rehearsed beforehand:
"Judge Priest, I've never been a believer in divorce as a general thing.
It seemed to me there was too much of that sort of thing going on round
this country. That's always been my own private doctrine, more or less.
But in my own case I've changed my mind. We've been talking it over
back and forth and we've decided--Luella and me have--that under the
circumstances a divorce is the best thing for both of us; in fact we've
decided that it's the only thing. I want that Luella should be happy
and I think maybe I'll feel easier in my own mind when it's all over and
done with and settled up according to the law. I'm aiming to do what's
best for both parties--and I want that Luella should be happy. I want
that she should be free to live her own life in her own way without
me hampering her. She's young and she's got her whole life before
her--that's what I'm thinking of."

He paused and with his tongue he moistened his lips, which seemed dry.

"I don't mind telling you I didn't feel this way about it first-off. It
was a pretty tolerably hard jolt to me--the way the proposition first
came up. I've spent a good many sleepless nights thinking it over. At
least I couldn't sleep very much for thinking of it," he amended with
the literal impulse of a literal mind to state things exactly and
without exaggeration. "And then finally I saw my way clear to come to
this decision. And so--"

"Lysandy Curd," broke in Judge Priest, "I don't aim to give you any
advice. In the first place, you ain't asked fur it; and in the second
place, even ef you had asked, I'd hesitate a monstrous long time before
I'd undertake to advice any man about his own private family affairs.
But I jest want to ask you one thing right here: It wasn't you, was it,
that first proposed the idea of this here divorce?"

"Well, no, Judge, I don't believe 'twas," confessed the old man whose
misery-reddened eyes looked into Judge Priest's from across the littered
desk. "I can't say as it was me that first suggested it. But that's
neither here nor there. The point I'm trying to get at is just this:

"The papers have all been drawn up and they'll be bringing them in here
sometime to-day to be filed--the lawyers in the case will, Bigger
& Quigley. Naturally, with me and Luella agreeing as to everything,
there's not going to be any fight made in your court. And after it's all
over I'm aiming to sell out my feed store--it seems like I haven't been
able to make it pay these last few months, the same as it used to pay,
and debts have sort of piled up on me some way. I reckon the fellow that
said two could live as cheap as one didn't figure on one of them being
a young woman--pretty herself and wanting pretty things to wear and have
round the house. But I shouldn't say that--I've come to see how it's
mainly my fault, and I'm figuring on how to spare Luella in every way
that it's possible to spare her. So as I was saying, I'm figuring, when
it's all over, on selling out my interests here, such as they are, and
going back to live on that little farm I own out yonder in the Lone Elm
district. It's got a mortgage on it that I put on it here some months
back, but I judge I can lift that and get the place clear again, if I'm
given a fair amount of time to do it in.

"And now that everything's been made clear to you, I want to ask you,
Judge, to do all in your power to make things as easy as you can for
Luella. I'd a heap rather there wouldn't be any fuss made over this case
in the newspapers. It's just a straight, simple divorce suit, and after
all it's just between me and my present wife, and it's more our business
than 'tis anybody else's. So, seeing as the case is not going to be
defended, I'd take it as a mighty big favour on your part if you'd shove
it up on the docket for the coming term of court, starting next Monday,
so as we could get it done and over with just as soon as possible.
That's my personal wish, and I know it's Luella's wish too. In fact
she's right anxious on that particular point. And here's one more thing:
I reckon that young Rawlings boy, that's taken a job reporting news
items for the Daily Evening News, will be round here in the course of
the day, won't he?"

"He likely will," said Judge Priest; "he comes every day--purty near it.
Why?"

"Well," said Mr. Curd, "I don't know him myself except by sight, and I
don't feel as if I was in a position to be asking him to do anything for
me. But I thought, maybe, if you spoke to him yourself when he came, and
put it on the grounds of a favour to you, maybe he'd not put any
more than just a little short piece in the paper saying suit had been
filed--Curd against Curd--for a plain divorce, or maybe he might leave
it out of his paper altogether. I'd like to see Luella shielded from any
newspaper talk. It's not as if there was a scandal in it or a fight was
going to be made." He bent forward in his eagerness. "Do you reckon you
could do that much for me, Judge Priest--for old times' sake?"

"Ah-hah," assented Judge Priest. "I reckin part of it kin be arranged
anyway. I kin have Lishy Milam set the case forward on the docket at the
head of the list of uncontested actions. And I'll mention the matter
to that there young Rawlings ef you want me to. Speaking personally, I
should think jest a line or two ought to satisfy the readers of the
_Daily Evenin' News_. Of course him bein' a reporter and all that, he'll
probably want to know whut the facts are ez set forth in your petition--
whut allegations are made in--"

He stopped in mid-speech, seeing how the other had flinched at this
last. Mr. Curd parted his lips to interrupt, but the old judge, having
no wish to flick wounds already raw, hurried on: "Don't you worry,
Lysandy, I'll be glad to speak to young Rawlings. I jedge you've got
no call to feel uneasy about whut's goin' to be said in print. You
was sayin' jest now that the papers would be filed sometime to-day?"
"They'll be filed to-day sure."

"And no defence is to be made?" continued Judge Priest, tallying off
the points on his fingers. "And you've retained Bigger & Quigley to
represent you--that's right, ain't it?"

"Hold on a minute, Judge," Mr. Curd was shaking his whity-grey head in
dissent. "I've taken up a lot of your valuable time already, and still
it would seem like I haven't succeeded in getting this affair all
straight in your mind. Bigger & Quigley are not going to represent me.
They're going to represent Luella."

He spoke as one stating an accepted and easily understood fact, yet at
the words Judge Priest reared back as far as his chair would let him go
and his ruddy cheeks swelled out with the breath of amazement.

"Do you mean to tell me," he demanded, "that you ain't the plaintiff
here?"

"Why, Judge Priest," answered Mr. Curd, "you didn't think for a minute,
did you, that I'd come into court seeking to blacken my wife's good
name? She's been thoughtless, maybe, but I know she don't mean any harm
by it, and besides look how young she is. It's her, of course, that's
asking for this divorce--I thought you understood about that from the
beginning." Still in his posture of astonishment, Judge Priest put
another question and put it briskly: "Might it be proper fur me to ask
on what grounds this lady is suin' you fur a divorce?"

A wave of dull red ran up old Mr. Curd's throat and flooded his shamed
face to the hair line.

"On two grounds," he said--"non-support and drunkenness."

"Non-support?"

"Yes; I haven't been able to take care of her lately as I should like
to, on account of my business difficulties and all."

"But look here at me, Lysandy Curd--you ain't no drunkard. You never was
one. Don't tell me that!"

"Well, now, Judge Priest," argued Mr. Curd, "you don't know about my
private habits, and even if I haven't been drinking in public up to now,
that's no sign I'm not fixing to start in doing so. Besides which my
keeping silent shows that I admit to everything, don't it? Well, then?"
He stood up. "Well, I reckon that's all. I won't be detaining you any
longer. I'm much obliged to you, Judge, and I wish you good-day, sir."

For once Judge Priest forgot his manners. He uttered not a syllable, but
only stared through his spectacles in stunned and stricken silence while
Mr. Curd passed out into the hallway, gently closing the door behind
him. Then Judge Priest vented his emotions in a series of snorts.

In modern drama what is technically known as the stage aside has gone
out of vogue; it is called old-fashioned. Had a latter-day playwright
been there then, he would have resented the judge's thoughtlessness in
addressing empty space. Nevertheless that was exactly what the judge
did.

"Under the strict letter of the law I ought to throw that case out of
court, I s'pose. But I'm teetotally dam' ef I do any sech thing!... That
old man's heart is broke now, and there ain't no earthly reason that
I kin think of why that she-devil should be allowed to tromp on the
pieces. And that's jest exactly whut she'll do, shore ez shootin',
unless she's let free mighty soon to go her own gait.... Their feet take
hold on hell.... I'll bet in the Kingdom there'll be many a man that
was called a simple-minded fool on this earth that'll wear the biggest,
shiniest halo old Peter kin find in stock."

He reached for the Trigger Sam book, but put it back again in the
drawer. He reached into a gaping side pocket of his coat for his corncob
pipe, but forgot to charge the fire-blackened bowl from the tobacco
cannister that stood handily upon his desk. Chewing hard upon the
discoloured cane stem of his pipe, he projected himself toward the back
room and opened the door, to find Mr. Milam, the circuit clerk, and Mr.
Birdsong, the sheriff, still engaged together in official duties there.

"Lishy," he said from the doorway, "young Rawlings generally gits round
here about two o'clock in the evenin', don't he?"

"Generally about two or two-thirty," said Mr. Milam.

"I thought so. Well, to-day when he comes tell him, please, I want to
see him a minute in my chambers."

"What if you're not here? Couldn't I give him the message?"

"I'll be here," promised the judge. "And there's one thing more: Bigger
& Quigley will file a divorce petition to-day--Curd versus Curd is the
title of the suit. Put it at the head of the list of undefended actions,
please, Lishy, ez near the top of the docket ez you kin."

"Curd? Is it the Lysander Curds, Judge?", asked Mr. Milam.

"You guessed right the very first pop--it's the Lysandy Curds," said
Judge Priest grimly.

"Well, for one I'm not surprised," said Mr. Milam. "If poor old Lysander
hadn't stayed blind for about two years after the rest of this town got
its eyes wide open this suit would have been filed long before now."

But Judge Priest didn't hear him. He had closed the door.

Mr. Milam looked meaningly at Mr. Birdsong. Mr. Birdsong felt in his
pocket for his plug and helped himself to a copious chew, meanwhile
looking meaningly back at Mr. Milam. With the cud properly bestowed in
his right jaw Mr. Birdsong gave vent to what for him was a speech of
considerable length: '"Jedge said Bigger & Quigley, didn't he? Well,
they're a good smart team of lawyers, but ef I was in Lysander John
Curd's shoes I think I'd intrust my interests in this matter to a
different firm than them."

"Who's that?" inquired Mr. Milam.

"It's a Yankee firm up North," answered Mr. Birdsong, masticating
slowly. "One named Smith and the other'n named Wesson."

It will be noted that our worthy sheriff fell plump into the same error
over which Judge Priest's feet had stumbled a few minutes earlier--he
assumed offhand, Sheriff Birdsong did, that in this cause of Curd
against Curd the husband was to play the rôle of the party aggrieved.
Indeed, we may feel safe in assuming that at first blush almost anybody
in our town would have been guilty of that same mistake. The real truth
in this regard, coming out, as it very shortly did--before sunset of
that day, in fact--gave the community a profound shock. From house to
house, from street to street and from civic ward to civic ward the tale
travelled, growing as it went. The _Daily Evening News_ carried merely
the barest of bare statements, coupled with the style of the action
and the names of the attorneys for the plaintiff; but with spicy added
details, pieced out from surmise and common rumour, the amazing tidings
percolated across narrow roads and through the panels of partition
fences with a rapidity which went far toward proving that the tongue is
mightier than the printed line, or at least is speedier.

When you see a woman hasten forth from her house with eyes that burn and
hear her hail her neighbour next door; when you see their two heads meet
above the intervening pickets and observe that one is doing the talking
and the other is doing the listening, sucking her breath in, gaspingly,
at frequent intervals; and when on top of this you take note that,
having presently parted company with the first, the second woman speeds
hot-foot to call her neighbour upon the other side, all men may know by
these things alone that a really delectable scandal has been loosed upon
the air. Not once but many times this scene was enacted in our town that
night, between the going-down of the sun and the coming-up of the moon.
Also that magnificent adjunct of modern civilisation, the telephone,
helped out tremendously in spreading the word.

Hard upon the heels of the first jolting disclosure correlated incidents
eventuated, and these, as the saying goes, supplied fuel to the flames.
Just before supper-time old Mr. Ly-sander Curd went with dragging feet
and downcast head to Mrs. Teenie Morrill's boarding house, carrying in
one hand a rusty valise, and from Mrs. Morrill he straightway engaged
board and lodging for an indefinite period. And in the early dusk of the
evening Mrs. Lysander Curd drove out in the smart top-phaeton that her
husband had given her on her most recent birthday--she sitting very
erect and handling the ribbons on her little spirited bay mare very
prettily, and seemingly all oblivious to the hostile eyes which stared
at her from sidewalks and porch fronts. About dark she halted at the
corner of Clay and Contest, where a row of maples, new fledged with young
leaves, made a thick shadow across the road.

Exactly there, as it so chanced, State Senator Horace K. Maydew happened
to be loitering about, enjoying the cooling breezes of the spring night,
and he lifted his somewhat bulky but athletic forty-year-old form into
the phaeton alongside of the lady. In close conversation they were seen
to drive out Contest and to turn into the Towhead Road; and--if we may
believe what that willing witness, old Mrs. Whitridge, who lived at
the corner of Clay and Contest, had to say upon the subject--it was ten
minutes of eleven o'clock before they got back again to that corner.
Mrs. Whitridge knew the exact hour, because she stayed up in her front
room to watch, with one eye out of the bay window and the other on the
mantel clock. To be sure, this had happened probably a hundred times
before--this meeting of the pair in the shadows of the water maples,
this riding in company over quiet country roads until all hours--but by
reason of the day's sensational developments it now took on an enhanced
significance. Mrs. Whitridge could hardly wait until morning to call up,
one by one, the members of her circle of intimate friends. I judge the
telephone company never made much money off of Mrs. Whitridge even in
ordinary times; she rented her telephone by the month and she used it by
the hour.

As we are following the course of things with some regard for their
chronological sequence, perhaps I should state here that on the next
day but one the Lysander John Curd hay and feed store was closed on
executions sworn out by a coterie of panic-stricken creditors. It is a
mistake, I think, to assume that rats always leave a sinking ship. It
has been my limited observation that, if they are commercial rats, they
stay aboard and nibble more holes in the hull. However, that is neither
here nor there.

In less than no time at all following this--in less than two weeks
thereafter, to be exact--the coils which united Mr. Lysander Curd and
Luella his wife in the bonds of matrimony Were by due process of the
statutory law unloosed and slackened off. Being free, the ex-husband
promptly gathered together such meagre belongings as he might call his
own and betook himself to that little mortgage-covered farm of his out
Lone Elm way. Being free also, the ex-wife with equal celerity became
the bride of State Senator Horace K. Maydew, with a handy justice of
the peace to officiate at the ceremony. It was characteristic of State
Senator Maydew that he should move briskly in consummating this, the
paramount romance of his life. For he was certainly an up-and-coming
man.

There was no holding him down, it seemed. Undoubtedly he was a rising
light, and the lady who now bore his name was bound and determined that
she rise with him. She might have made one matrimonial mistake, but this
time she had hitched her wagon to a star--a star which soared amain
and cast its radiance afar. Soon she was driving her own car--and a
seven-passenger car at that. They sent to Chicago for an architect to
design their new home on Flournoy Boulevard and to Louisville for a
decorator to decorate it. It wasn't the largest house in town, but it
was by long odds the smartest.

The Senator willed that she should have the best of everything, and
she had it. For himself he likewise desired much. His was an uneasy
ambition, which ate into him like a canker and gave him no peace.
Indeed, peace was not of his craving. He watered his desire with the
waters of self-appreciation and mulched it with constant energy, and
behold it grew like the gourd and bourgeoned like the bay. He had been
mayor; at this time he was state senator; presently it was to transpire
that he would admire to be more than that.

Always his handclasp had been ardent and clinging. Now the inner flames
that burned its owner made it feverish to the touch. His smile was as
warming as a grate fire and almost as wide. Shoulders were made for him
to slap, and children had been created into the world to the end that he
might inquire regarding their general health and well doing. Wherefore
parents--and particularly young parents--were greatly drawn to him. If
there was a lodge he joined it; if there was a church fair he went to
it; if there was an oration to be made he made it. His figure broadened
and took on a genial dignity. Likewise in the accumulation of worldly
goods he waxed amazingly well. His manner was paternal where it was
not fraternal. His eye, though, remained as before--a sharp, greedy,
appraising eye. There is no alibi for a bad eye. Still, a lot of
people never look as high as the eyes. They stop at the diamond in the
scarfpin.

When a vacancy occurred in the district chairmanship it seemed quite
in keeping with the trend of the political impulses of the times that
Senator Maydew should slip into the hole. Always a clever organiser, he
excelled his past record in building up and strengthening the district
organisation. It wasn't long before he had his fences as they should
be--hog-tight, horse-high and bull-strong.

Yet in the midst of manifold activities he found time to be an attentive
and indulgent husband. If the new Mrs. Maydew did not enjoy the aloof
society of those whom we fondly call down our way The Old Families, at
least she had her fine new home, and her seven-passenger car, and her
generous and loving husband. And she was content; you could tell that by
her air and her expression at all times. Some thought there was just a
trace of defiance in her bearing.

It was just about a year after her marriage to him that the Senator, in
response to the demands of a host of friends and admirers--so ran the
language of his column-long paid-for card in the _Daily Evening News_
and other papers--announced himself as a candidate for the Democratic
nomination for congressman. Considering conditions and everything, the
occasion appeared to be propitious for such action on his part. The
incumbent, old Major J. C. C. Guest, had been congressman a long, long
time--entirely too long a time, some were beginning to say. He had never
been a particularly exciting personage, even back yonder in those remote
dim days of his entry into public life. At the beginning his principal
asset and his heaviest claim upon the support of his fellow-citizens had
been an empty trouser-leg.

In eighty-four, a cross-roads wag had said he didn't believe Major Guest
ever lost that leg in battle--it was his private opinion that the Maje
wore it off running for office. At the time this quip was thought almost
to border upon the sacrilegious, and nobody had laughed at it except the
utterer thereof. But fully sixteen lagging years had dragged by since
then; and for the old-soldier element the times were out of joint. Maybe
that was because there weren't so very many of the old soldier element
left. A mouse-coloured sleeve without an arm inside of it, no longer
had the appeal upon the popular fancy that once it had, and the same was
true of the one-time sentimental and vote-catching combination of a pair
of hickory crutches and an amputation at the hip joint.

Nevertheless, Major Guest was by no means ready to give up and
quit. With those who considered him ripe for retirement he disagreed
violently. As between resting on his laurels and dying in the harness
he infinitely preferred the chafe of the leather to the questionable
softness of the laurel-bed. So the campaign shaped itself to be a
regular campaign. Except for these two--Maydew and Guest--there were
no openly avowed candidates, though Dabney Prentiss, who dearly loved
a flirtation with reluctant Destiny, was known to have his ear to the
ground, ready to qualify as the dark horse in the event a deadlock
should develop and a cry go forth for a compromise nominee. Possibly it
was because Dabney Prentiss generally kept his ear to the ground that he
had several times been most painfully trampled upon. From head to foot
he was one big mental bruise.

Since he held the levers of the district machinery in the hollows of
his two itching hands, Senator Maydew very naturally and very properly
elected to direct his own canvass. Judge Priest, quitting the bench
temporarily, came forth to act as manager for his friend, Major Guest.
At this there was rejoicing in the camp of the clan of Maydew. To Maydew
and his lieutenants it appeared that providence had dealt the good cards
into their laps. Undeniably the judge was old and, moreover, he was
avowedly old-fashioned. It stood to reason he would conduct the affairs
of his candidate along old-fashioned lines. To be sure, he had his
following; so much was admitted. Nobody could beat Judge Priest for his
own job; at least nobody ever had. But controlling his own job and his
own county was one thing. Engineering a district-wide canvass in behalf
of an aging and uninspiring incumbent was another. And if over the bent
shoulders of Major Guest they might strike a blow at Judge Priest, why,
so much the better for Maydew now, and so much the worse for Priest
hereafter. Thus to their own satisfaction the Maydew men figured it out.

The campaign went forward briskly and not without some passing show of
bitterness. In a measure, Judge Priest justified the predictions of the
other side by employing certain timehallowed expedients for enlisting
the votes of his fellow Democrats for Major Guest. He appealed, as it
were, to the musty traditions of a still mustier past. He sent the Major
over the district to make speeches. He organised school-house rallies
and brush-arbour ratifications. He himself was mighty in argument and
opulent in the use of homely oratory.

Very different was the way of State Senator Maydew. The speeches that he
made were few as to number and brief as to their length, but they were
not bad speeches. He was a ready and a frequent purchaser of newspaper
space; and he shook hands and slapped shoulders and inquired after
babies without cessation. But most of all he kept both of his eyes
and all of his ten nimble fingers upon the machine, triggering it and
thimbling it and pulling at secret wires by day and by night. It was,
perhaps, a tribute to his talents in this direction that the method that
he inaugurated was beginning to be called Maydewism--by the opposition,
of course--before the canvass was a month old. In an unusually
vociferous outburst of indignation at a meeting in the Independent Order
of Odd Fellows' hall at Settleville, Major Guest referred to it as
"the fell blight of Maydewism." When a physician discovers a new and
especially malignant disease his school of practice compliments him
by naming the malady after him; when a political leader develops
a political system of his own, his opponents, although actuated by
different motives, do the same thing, which may be taken as an absolute
sign that the person in question has made some sincere enemies at least.
But if Maydew made enemies he made friends too; at any rate he made
followers. As the campaign drew near to its crackling finish it was
plain that he would carry most of the towns; Major Guest's strength
apparently was in the country--among the farmers and the dwellers in
small villages.

County conventions to name delegates to the district conventions which,
in turn, would name the congressional nominee were held simultaneously
in the nine counties composing the district at two P. M. of the first
Tuesday after the first Monday in August. A week before, Senator Maydew,
having cannily provided that his successor should be a man after his own
heart, resigned as district chairman. Although he had thrown overboard
most of the party precedents, it seemed to him hardly ethical that he
should call to order and conduct the preliminary proceedings of the body
that he counted upon to nominate him as its standard bearer--standard
bearer being the somewhat ornamental phrase customarily used among us
on these occasions. He was entirely confident of the final outcome. The
cheering reports of his aides in the field made him feel quite sure that
the main convention would take but one ballot. They allowed, one and
all, it would be a walk-over.

Howsoever, these optimists, as it developed, had reckoned without one
factor: they had reckoned without a certain undercurrent of disfavour
for Maydew which, though it remained for the most part inarticulate
during the campaign, was to manifest itself in the county conventions.
Personalities, strictly speaking, had not been imported into the
fight. Neither candidate had seen fit to attack the private life of his
opponent, but at the last moment there came to the surface an unexpected
and, in the main, a silent antagonism against the Senator which could
hardly be accounted for on the ground of any act of his official and
public career.

So, late in the afternoon of the first Tuesday after the first Monday,
when the smoke cleared away and the shouting and the tumult died, the
complete returns showed that of the nine counties, totalling one hundred
and twenty delegate votes, Maydew had four counties and fifty-seven
votes. Guest had carried four counties also, with fifty-one votes,
while Bryce County, the lowermost county of the district, had failed
to instruct its twelve delegates for either Maydew or Guest, which, to
anybody who knew anything at all about politics, was proof positive that
in the main convention Bryce County would hold the balance of power. It
wouldn't be a walkover; that much was certain, anyhow. May-dew's jaunty
smile lost some of its jauntiness, and anxious puckers made little seams
at the corners of those greedy eyes of his, when the news from Bryce
County came. As for Judge Priest, he displayed every outward sign of
being well content as he ran over the completed figures. Bryce was
an old-fashioned county, mainly populated by a people who clung to
old-fashioned notions. Old soldiers were notably thick in Bryce, too.
There was a good chance yet for his man. It all depended on those twelve
votes of Bryce County.

To Marshallville, second largest town in the district, befell the honour
that year of having the district convention held in its hospitable
midst; and, as the _Daily Evening News_ smartly phrased it, to
Marshallville on a Thursday All Roads Ran. In accordance with the rote
of fifty years it had been ordained that the convention should meet
in the Marshallville courthouse, but in the week previous a fire of
mysterious origin destroyed a large segment of the shingled roof of that
historic structure. A darky was on trial for hog stealing upon the day
of the fire, and it may have been that sparks from the fiery oratory of
the prosecuting attorney, as he pleaded with the jury for a conviction,
went upward and lodged among the rafters. As to that I am not in a
position to say. I only know this explanation for the catastrophe was
advanced by divers ribald-minded individuals who attended the trial.

In this emergency the local committee on arrangements secured for the
convention the use of the new Marshallville opera house, which was the
pride of Marshallville--a compact but ornate structure having on its
first floor no less than one hundred and fifty of those regular theatre
chairs magnificently upholstered in hot red plush, and above, at the
back, a balcony, and to crown all, two orthodox stage boxes of
stucco, liberally embossed with gold paint, which clung, like gilded
mud-daubers' nests, at either side of the proscenium arch, overhanging
the stage below.

In one of these boxes, as the delegates gathered that very warm August
afternoon, a lady sat in solitary state. To the delegates were assigned
the plush-enveloped grandeurs of the main floor. The spectators,
including a large number of the male citizens of Marshallville with
a sprinkling of their women-folk, packed the balcony to the stifling
point, but this lady had a whole box to herself. She seemed fairly well
pleased with herself as she sat there. Certainly she had no cause to
complain of a lack of public interest in her and her costume. To begin
with, there was a much beplumed hat, indubitably a thing of great cost
and of augmented size, which effectively shaded and set off her plump
face. No such hat had been seen in Marshallville before that day.

The gown she wore was likewise of a fashion new to the dazzled gaze
of her more plainly habited sisters in the balcony. I believe in the
favoured land where they originated they call them princesse gowns. Be
its name what it may, this garment ran in long, well-nigh un wrinkled
lines from the throat of its wearer to her ankles.

It was of some clinging white stuff, modelled seemingly with an intent
to expose rather than to hide the curves of the rounded figure which it
covered. It was close at the neck, snug at the bust, snugger still at
the hips, and from there it flowed on tightly yet smoothly to where it
ended, above a pair of high-heeled, big-buckled slippers of an amazing
shininess. The uninitiated might well have marvelled how the lady ever
got in her gown unless she had been melted and poured into it; but there
was no mystery concerning the manner in which she had fastened it, once
she was inside of it, for, when she turned away from the audience, a
wondrously decorative finishing touch was to be seen: straight down the
middle of her back coursed a close row of big, shiny black jet buttons,
and when she shifted her shoulders these buttons undulated glisteningly
along the line of her spinal column. The effect was snaky but striking.

The lady, plainly, was not exactly displeased with herself. Even a rear
view of her revealed this. There was assurance in the poise of her head;
assuredly there was a beaming as of confidence in her eyes. Indeed, she
had reasons other than the satisfaction inspired by the possession of a
modish and becoming garb for feeling happy. Things promised to go well
with her and what was hers that afternoon. Perhaps I should have stated
sooner that the lady in question was Mrs. Senator Maydew, present to
witness and to glorify the triumph of her distinguished husband.

For a fact, triumph did seem near at hand now--nearer than it had been
any time these past forty-eight hours. A quarter of an hour earlier
an exultant messenger had come from her husband to bring to her most
splendid and auspicious tidings. Luck had swung his way, and no mistake
about it: of the doubtful delegates from Bryce County only two had
arrived. The other ten had not arrived. Moreover there was no apparent
possibility that they would arrive before the following day, and by
then, if the Senator's new-born scheme succeeded, it would be all over
but the shouting. A Heavensent freshet in Little River was the cause.
Sitting there now in her stage box, Mrs. Senator Maydew silently blessed
the name of Little River.

Ordinarily Little River is a stream not calculated to attract the
attention of historians or geographers--a torpid, saffron-coloured
thread of water meandering between flat yellow banks, and owing its
chief distinction to the fact that it cuts off three-quarters of Bryce
County from the remaining quarter and from the adjoining counties on the
north. But it has its moods and its passions. It is temperamental, that
river. Suddenly and enormously swollen by torrential summer rains in the
hills where it has its rise, it went, the night before, on a rampage,
over-flooding its banks, washing away fences and doing all manner of
minor damage in the low grounds.

At dawn the big bridge which spanned the river at the gravel road had
gone out, and at breakfast time Ferris' Ford, a safe enough crossing
place in times of low water, was fifteen feet deep under a hissing brown
flood. Two of Bryce County's delegates, who chanced to live in the upper
corner of the county, had driven through hub-deep mud to the junction and
there caught the train for Marshallville; but their ten compatriots were
even now somewhere on the far bank, cut off absolutely from all prospect
of attending the convention until the roiled and angry waters should
subside.

Senator Maydew, always fertile in expedient, meant to ride to victory,
as it were, on the providential high tide in Little River. Immediately
on hearing what had happened, he divined how the mishap of the
washed-out bridge and the flooded ford might be made to serve his ends
and better his fortunes. He was keeping the plan secret for the moment;
for it was a very precious plan. And this, in effect, was the word that
his emissary brought to his wife just before the convention met. He
could not bring it himself; custom forbade that a candidate show himself
upon the floor in the early stages, but she was told to wait and watch
for what would presently ensue, and meanwhile be of good cheer. Which,
verily, she was.

She did not have so very long to wait. The convention assembled on the
hour--a block of ten vacant seats in the second aisle showing where the
missing ten of Bryce should have been--and was called to order by the
new district chairman. Up rose Judge Priest from his place in the middle
of the house, flanking the centre aisle, and addressed the chair. He had
just learned, he stated, that a considerable quota of the number of duly
chosen delegates had not yet reached Marshallville. It appeared that
the elements were in conspiracy against the extreme lower end of the
district. In justice to the sovereign voters of the sovereign County
of Bryce he moved that a recess of twenty-four hours be taken. The
situation which had arisen was unforeseen and extraordinary, and time
should be granted for considering it in all its aspects. And so on and
so forth for five minutes or more, in Judge Priest's best ungrammatical
style. The chairman, who, as will be recalled, was Maydew's man, ruled
the motion out of order.

I shall pass over as briefly as possible the proceedings of the next
half hour. To go fully into those details would be to burden this
narrative with technicalities and tiresomeness. For our purposes it is
sufficient, I think, to say that the Maydew machine, operating after
the fashion of a well-lubricated, well-steered and high-pow-ered steam
roller, ran over all obstacles with the utmost despatch. These painful
crunching operations began early and continued briskly.

On the first roll call of the counties, as the County of Bryce--second
on our list after Bland--was reached, one of those two lone delegates
from the upper side of Little River stood up and, holding aloft his own
credentials and the credentials of his team-mate, demanded the right to
cast the votes of the whole Bryce County delegation--twelve in all.

The district chairman, acting with a promptness that bespoke priming
beforehand for just such a contingency, held that the matter should be
referred to the committee on credentials. As floor leader and spokesman
for the Guest faction, old Judge Priest appealed from the ruling of the
chair. A vote was taken. The chairman was sustained by fifty-seven to
fifty-one, the two indignant delegates from Bryce not being permitted,
under a ruling from the chair, to cast any votes whatsoever, seeing as
their own status in the convention was the question at issue. Disorder
ensued; in the absence of a sergeant-at-arms the services of volunteer
peacemakers were required to separate a Maydew delegate from Bland
County and a Guest delegate from Mims County.

Dripping with perspiration, his broad old face one big pinky-red flare,
his nasal whine rising to heights of incredible whininess under the
stress of his earnestness, the judge led the fight for the minority. The
steam roller went out of its way to flatten him. Not once, but twice and
thrice it jounced over him, each time leaving him figuratively squashed
but entirely undismayed. He was fighting a losing but a valiant fight
for time.

A committee on resolutions was named and went forth to an ante-room to
draw up a platform. Nobody cared much about that. A set of resolutions
pointing with pride to everything that was Democratic and viewing with
alarm everything even remotely Republican in aspect would be presently
forthcoming, as was customary. It was the committee on credentials upon
which everything depended. Being chosen, it likewise retired, returning
in a miraculously short space of time with its completed report.

And this in brief was what the majority of the committee on
credentials--all reliable Maydew men--had to report:

There being no contests, it was recommended that the sitting delegates
from the eight counties fully represented upon the floor be recognised
as properly accredited delegates. But in respect to the ninth county,
namely Bryce, an unprecedented situation had arisen. Two of Bryce's
delegates were present, bearing credentials properly attested by their
county chairman; unfortunately ten others were absent, through no fault
of their own or of the convention. As a majority of the credentials
committee viewed the matter, it would be a manifest injustice to deprive
these two delegates of their right to take a hand in the deliberations;
on the other hand, the committee held it to be equally unfair that those
two should be permitted to cast the ballots of their ten associates,
inasmuch as they could have no way of knowing what the personal
preferences of the absentees might be. However, to meet the peculiar
condition the committee now made the following recommendation, to wit as
follows: That the secretary of the convention be instructed to prepare
an alphabetical list of such delegates as were present in person,
and that only such delegates as answered to their own names upon roll
call--and no others whatsoever--be permitted to vote upon any question
or questions subsequently arising in this convention. Respectfully
submitted.

For a period of time to be measured by split seconds there was silence.
Then a whirlwind of sound whipped round and round that packed little
martin-box of an opera house and, spiraling upward, threatened the
integrity of its tin roof. Senator Maydew had delivered his king-stroke,
and the purport of it stood clearly betrayed to the understanding of
all. With Bryce's voting strength reduced from twelve votes to two, and
with all possibility of voting by proxy removed, the senator was bound
to win the nomination on the first ballot. The Maydew men foresaw
the inevitable result, once the recommendation of the committee had
prevailed and they reared up in their places and threw their hats
aloft and yelled. The Guest forces saw it, and they howled their
disapprobation until they were hoarse.

The tumult stilled down to a ground breeze of mutterings as Judge Priest
got upon his feet. To him in this dire emergency the Guest forces, now
neck-deep in the last ditch, looked hopefully for a counterfire that
might yet save them from the defeat looming so imminent. There and then,
for once in his life the judge failed to justify the hopes and the faith
of his followers. He seemed strangely unable to find language in which
effectively to combat the proposition before the house. He floundered
about, making no headway, pushing no points home. He practically
admitted he knew of nothing in party usage or in parliamentary law that
might serve as a bar to the adoption of the proposed rule. He proposed
to vote against it, he said, but in the event that it be adopted he now
moved that immediately thereafter the convention take an adjournment,
thus giving the secretary time and opportunity in which to prepare the
alphabetical list. With that he broke off suddenly and quit and sat
down; and then the heart went out of the collective body of the
Guest adherents and they quit, too, waiting in sullen, bewildered,
disappointed silence for the inevitable.

After this it was felt that any further opposition to the Maydew
programme would be but perfunctory opposition. The majority report of
the committee on credentials was adopted by fifty-seven to fifty-three,
the two Bryce delegates voting in the negative, as was to be expected.
Even so, Maydew had a lead of four votes, which was not very many--but
enough. To the accompaniment of a few scattering and spiritless _Nays_
the convention took a recess of one hour. This meant a mighty busy hour
for the secretary, but Maydew, from his temporary abiding place in
the wings, sent orders to his floor managers to permit no more than an
hour's delay at most. He was famishing for the taste of his accomplished
triumph. Besides, there was no trusting so mercurial a stream as Little
River. It might go down with the same rapidity that had marked its
coming up. So an hour it was.

The delegates flowed out of the Marshallville opera house into the
public square of Marshallville, and half of them, or a little more than
half, were openly, jubilant; and half of them, or a little less than
half, were downcast, wearing the look upon their faces of men who were
licked and who knew it, good and well. Moving along through the crowded
aisle, a despondent delegate from Mims, a distant kinsman of Major
Guest, found himself touching shoulders with Sergeant Jimmy Bagby, who
was a delegate from our own county.

The Mims County man, with a contemptuous flirt of his thumb, indicated
the broad back of Judge Priest as the judge ambled deliberately along
toward the door.

"I knowed it," he said in the tones of bitter recapitulation; "I knowed
it frum the start and I told 'em so; but no, they wouldn't listen to me.
I knowed old Priest yonder was too old to be tryin' to run a campaign
ag'inst a smart feller like Maydew, dem his slick hide! When the real
test come, whut did your Jedge Priest do? Why, he jest natchelly curled
up and laid flat down--that's whut he done. I reckin they'll listen to
me next time."

For once in his life, and once only, Sergeant Jimmy Bagby teetered just
the least bit in his unquestioning allegiance to his life-long friend.

"Well, I don't know," he said, shaking his head; "I don't know. You
might be right in what you say, and then ag'in you might be wrong. It
shore did look like he slipped a little, awhile ago, but you can't jest
always tell whut's on Jedge Priest's mind," he added, pluckily renewing
his loyalty.

The Mims County man grunted his disgust. "Don't be foolin' yourself,"
he stated morosely. "You take it frum me--when old men start goin' they
don't never come back. And your old Jedge is plumb gone. A baby could
'a' seen that frum the way he acted jest now." The object of this
criticism ploughed his slow way outdoors, all the while shaking his head
with the air of one who has abandoned hope. In the street he gently but
firmly disengaged himself from those who would have speech with him,
and with obvious gloom in his manner made a way across the square to
the Mansard House, where he and Major Guest had adjoining rooms on
the second floor. His gait briskened, though, as soon as he had passed
through the lobby of the Mansard House and was hidden from the eyes of
friend and enemy alike.

From the privacy of his room he sent out for certain men. With Cap'n
Buck Owings, a small, greyish, resolute gentleman, and with Sheriff
Giles Birdsong, a large, reddish, equally resolute gentleman, he was
closeted perhaps ten minutes. They went away saying nothing to any
one, for the gift of silence was an attribute that these two shared in
common. Then the judge had brief audience with Major Guest, who emerged
from the conference a crushed and diminished figure. Finally he asked
to speak with Sergeant Bagby. The sergeant found him sitting in his
shirt-sleeves, with his feet on a window ledge, looking out into the
square and gently agitating a palm-leaf fan.

"_Jimmy_," he said, "I want you to run an errand fur me. Will you go
find Dabney Prentiss--I seen him down there on the street a minute
ago--and tell him I say to git a speech ready?"

"Whut kind of a speech?" inquired Sergeant Bagby.

"Jimmy Bagby," reproved Judge Priest, "ain't you knowed Dab Prentiss
long enough to know that you don't have to tell him whut kind of a
speech he's to make? He's got all kinds of speeches in stock at all
times. I'll confide this much to you though--it'll be the kind of a
speech that he would 'specially prefer to make. Jest tell him I say be
ready to speak out and utter a few burnin' words when the proper time
comes, ef it does come, which I certainly hope and trust it may."

Not greatly informed in his mind by this somewhat cryptic explanation,
the Sergeant withdrew, and Judge Priest, getting up on his feet,
actually began humming a little wordless, tuneless tune which was a
favourite of his. However, a thought of the melancholy interview that
he had just had with Major Guest must have recurred to him almost
immediately, for when he appeared in the open a bit later on his return
to the opera house his head was bent and his form was shrunken and his
gait was slow. He seemed a man weighed down with vain repinings and
vainer regrets.

It would appear that the secretary in the interim had completed his
appointed task, for no sooner had the convention reassembled than the
chairman mounted to the stage and took his place alongside a small table
behind the footlights and announced that nominations would now be in
order; which statement was a cue for Attorney-at-Law Augustus Tate, of
the County of Emmett, to get gracefully upon his feet and toss back his
imposing sable mane and address the assemblage.

Attorney Tate was an orator of parts, as he now proceeded to prove
beyond the slightest peradventure of a doubt. He was known as the Black
Eagle of Emmett, for it had been said of him that he had an eye like
that noble bird, the eagle. He had a chin like one, too; but that, of
course, had no bearing upon his talents as displayed upon the stump,
on the platform and in the forum, and in truth only a few malicious
detractors had ever felt called upon to direct attention to the fact.
In flowing and sonorous periods he placed in nomination the name of the
Honourable Horace K. Maydew, concluding in a burst of verbal pin wheels
and metaphorical skyrockets, whereat there was a great display of
enthusiasm from floor and balcony.

When quiet had been restored Judge Priest got slowly up from where he
sat and took an action which was not entirely unexpected, inasmuch as
rumours of it had been in active circulation for half an hour or more.
In twenty words he withdrew the name of the Honourable J. C. C. Guest as
a candidate before the convention.

Only a rustle of bodies succeeded this announcement--that and an
exhalation of breath from a few delegations, which attained to the
volume of a deep joint sigh.

The chairman glanced over the house with a brightening eye. It was
almost time to begin the jubilation. As a matter of fact several ardent
souls among the Maydewites could hardly hold themselves in until the
few remaining formalities had been complied with. They poised themselves
upon the edges of their chairs, with throats tuned to lead in the
yelling.

"Are there any other nominations?" asked the chairman, turning this
way and that. He asked it as a matter of form merely. "If not, the
nominations will be closed and the secretary will--"

"Mister Cheerman, one minute, ef you please."

The interrupting voice was the high-piped voice of Judge Priest, and the
chairman straightened on his heels to find Judge Priest still upon his
feet.

"The chair recognises Judge Priest again," said the chairman blandly.
He assumed the judge meant to accept his beating gracefully and, in
the interest of party harmony, to move the nomination of Maydew by
acclamation. On his part that would have been a fair enough presumption,
but the first utterances that came now from the old judge jerked open
the eyes and gaped the mouth of the presiding officer. However, he was
not alone there; nearly everybody was stunned.

"It was my painful duty a minute ago to withdraw the candidate that I
had been privileged to foller in this campaign," said Judge Priest in
his weedy notes. "It is now my pleasure to offer in his stead the
name of another man as a suitable and a fittin' representative of this
district in the National Halls of Congress." He glanced about him as
though enjoying the surprised hush that had fallen upon the place, and
for just a fraction of a second his eyes focused upon the lone occupant
of the right-hand stage box, almost above his head. Then he went on,
deliberately prolonging his syllables:

"The man whom I would nominate has never so fur as I know been active in
politics. So fur as I know he has never aspired to or sought fur public
office at the hands of his feller-citizens; in fact, he does not now
seek this office. In presentin' his name for your consideration I am
doin' so solely upon my own responsibility and without consultin' any
one on this earth.

"My present candidate is not an orator. He is not a mixer or an
organiser. I am constrained to admit that, measured by the standards of
commerce, he is not even a successful man. He is poor in this world's
goods. He is leadin' at this moment a life of retirement upon a little
barren hillside farm, where the gulleys furrow his tobacco patch and
the sassafras sprouts are takin' his cornfield, and the shadder of a
mortgage rests heavy upon his lonely roof tree.

"But he is an honest man and a God-fearin' man. Ez a soldier under the
stars and bars he done his duty to the sorrowful end. Ez a citizen he
has never wilfully harmed his feller-man. He never invaded the sanctity
of any man's home, and he never brought sorrow to any hearthstone. Ef
he has his faults--and who amongst us is without them?--he has been the
sole sufferer by them. I believe it has been charged that he drank some,
but I never seen him under the influence of licker, and I don't believe
anybody else ever did either.

"I nominate------" His voice took on the shrillness of a fife and
his right fist, pudgy and clenched, came up at arm's length above his
head--"I nominate--and on that nomination, in accordance with a rule but
newly framed by this body, I call here and now fur an alphabetical roll
call of each and every delegate--I offer as a candidate fur Congress
ag'inst the Honourable Horace K. Maydew the name of my friend, my
neighbour and my former comrade, Lysandy John Curd, of the voting
precinct of Lone Ellum and the County of Red Gravel."

There was no applause. Not a ripple of approbation went up, nor a ripple
of hostility either. But a gasp went up--a mighty gasp, deep and sincere
and tremendously significant.

Of those upon the stage it was the chairman, I think, who got his wits
back first. He was naturally quick-witted, else his sponsor would never
have chosen him for chairman. In a mute plea for guidance he turned his
head toward the wing of the stage where he knew that sponsor should be,
and abruptly, at a distance from him to be measured by inches rather
than by feet, his gaze encountered the hypnotising stare of Cap'n Buck
Owings, who had magically materialised from nowhere in particular and
was now at his elbow.

"Stay right where you are," counselled Cap'n Buck in a half whisper.
"We've had plenty of these here recesses--these proceedin's are goin'
right on."

Daunted and bewildered, the chairman hesitated, his gavel trembling in
his temporarily palsied hand. In that same moment Sheriff Giles Birdsong
had got upon the stage, too; only he deemed his proper place to be
directly alongside the desk of the secretary, and into the startled ear
of the secretary he now spoke.

"Start your roll call, buddy," was what Mr. Birdsong said, saying
it softly, in lullaby tones, yet imparting a profound meaning to his
crooning and gentle accents. "And be shore to call off the names in
alphabetical order--don't fur-git that part!"

Inward voices of prudence dictated the value of prompt obedience in the
brain of that secretary. Quaveringly he called the first name on the
list of the first county, and the county was Bland and the name was
Homer H. Agnew.

Down in the Bland County delegation, seated directly in front of the
stage, an old man stood up--the Rev. Homer H. Agnew, an itinerant
Baptist preacher.

"My county convention," he explained, "instructed us for Maydew. But
under the law of this convention I vote now as an individual. As between
the two candidates presented I can vote only one way. I vote for Curd."

Having voted, he remained standing. There were no cheers and no hisses.
Everybody waited. In a silence so heavy that it hurt, they waited.
And the secretary was constrained to call the second name on the Bland
County list: "Patrick J. Burke!"

Now Patrick J. Burke, as one might guess from his name, belonged to a
race that has been called sentimental and emotional. Likewise he was a
communicant of a faith which long ago set its face like a flint against
the practice of divorce.

"I vote for Curd," said Patrick J. Burke, and likewise he stood up, a
belligerent, defiant, stumpy, red-haired man.

"Rufus Burnett!"

This was the first convention Rufus Burnett had ever attended in an
official capacity. In order that she might see how well he acquitted
himself, he had brought his wife with him and put her in the balcony. We
may figure Mrs. Burnett as a strong-minded lady, for before he answered
to his name Mr. Burnett, as though seeking higher guidance, cocked
a pestered eye aloft to where the lady sat, and she, saying nothing,
merely pointed a finger toward the spot where old Judge Priest was
stationed. Rufus knew.

"Curd," he said clearly and distinctly. Somebody yelled then, and other
voices took up the yell.

There were eleven names on the Bland County list. The secretary had
reached the eighth and had heard eight voices speak the same word,
when an interruption occurred--perhaps I should say two interruptions
occurred.

The Black Eagle of Emmett darted out from the wings, bounded over the
footlights and split a path for himself to the seat of Judge Priest. For
once he forgot to be oratorical. "We'll quit, Judge," he panted, "we're
ready to quit. Maydew will withdraw--I've just come from him. He can't
stand for this to go on; he'll withdraw if you'll take Curd's name down
too. Any compromise candidate will do. Only, for heaven's sake, withdraw
Curd before this goes any farther!"

"All right, son," said Judge Priest, raising his voice to be heard,
for by now the secretary had called the ninth name and the cheering was
increasing in volume; "that suits me first rate. But you withdraw
your man first, and then I'll tell you who the nominee of this here
convention is goin' to be."

Turning, he put a hand upon Sergeant Bagby's arm and shook him until the
sergeant broke a whoop in two and hearkened.

"Jimmy," said Judge Priest with a little chuckle, "step down the aisle,
will you, and tell Dabney Prentiss to uncork himse'f and git his speech
of acceptance all ready. He don't know it yit, but he's goin' to move up
to Washington, D. C., after the next general election."

Just as the sergeant started on his mission the other interruption
occurred. A lady fainted. She was conspicuously established in the stage
box on the right-hand side, and under the circumstances and with so many
harshly appraisive eyes fixed upon her there was really nothing else
for her to do, as a lady, except faint. She slipped out of her chair
and fell backward upon the floor. It must have been a genuine faint, for
certainly no person who was even partly conscious, let alone a tenderly
nurtured lady, could have endured to lie flat upon the hard planks, as
this lady did, with all those big, knobby jet buttons grinding right
into her spine.

Although I may have wandered far from the main path and taken the
patient reader into devious byways, I feel I have accomplished what I
set out to do in the beginning: I have explained how Dabney Prentiss
came to be our representative in the Lower House of the National
Congress. The task is done, yet I feel that I should not conclude the
chapter until I have repeated a short passage of words between Sergeant
Jimmy Bagby and that delegate from Mims County who was a distant kinsman
of Major Guest. It happened just after the convention, having finished
its work, had adjourned, and while the delegates and the spectators were
emerging from the Marshallville opera house.

All jubilant and excited now, the Mims County man came charging up and
slapped Sergeant Bagby upon the shoulder.

"Well, suh." he clarioned, "the old Jedge did come back, didn't he?"

"Buddy," said Sergeant Bagby, "you was wrong before and you're wrong
ag'in. He didn't have to come back, because he ain't never been gone
nowheres."



IV. A CHAPTER FROM THE LIFE OF AN ANT


SOMEONE said once--the rest of us subsequently repeating it on
occasion--that this world is but an ant hill, populated by many millions
of ants, which run about aimlessly or aimfully as the case may be. All
of which is true enough. Seek you out some lofty eminence, such as the
top floor of a skyscraper or the top of a hill, and from it, looking
down, consider a crowded city street at noon time or a county fairground
on the day of the grand balloon ascension. Inevitably the simile will
recur to the contemplative mind.

The trouble, though, with the original coiner of the comparison was that
he did not go far enough. He should have said the world was populated by
ants--and by anteaters. For so surely as we find ants, there, too, do
we find the anteaters. You behold the ants bustling about, making
themselves leaner trying to make them-selves fatter; terrifically busied
with their small affairs; hiving up sustenance against the hard
winter; gnawing, digging and delving; climbing, crawling, building and
breeding--in short, deporting themselves with that energy, that restless
industry which so stirred the admiration of the Prophet of old that,
on his heavenward pilgrimage, he tarried long enough to tell the
sluggard--name of the sluggard not given in the chronicles--to go to the
ant and consider of her.

The anteater for the moment may not actually be in sight, but be
assured he is waiting. He is waiting around the corner until the ant has
propagated in numbers amounting to an excess; or, in other words, until
the class that is born every second, singly--and sometimes as twins--has
grown plentiful enough to furnish a feasting. Forth he comes then,
gobbling up Brer Ant, along with his fullness and his richness, his
heirs and his assigns, his substance and his stock in trade.

To make the illustration concrete, we might say that were there no
ants there would be no Wall Street; and by the same token were there no
anteaters there would be no Wall Street either. Without anteaters the
ants would multiply and replenish the earth beyond computation. Without
ants the anteaters would have to live upon each other--which would be
bad for them but better for the rest of creation. War is the greatest
of the anteaters--it feeds upon the bodies of the ants. Kings upon their
thrones, devisers of false doctrines, crooked politicians, grafters, con
men, card sharks, thimbleriggers--all these are anteaters battening on
the substance of simple-hearted, earnest-minded ants. The ant believes
what you tell him; the greedsome anteater thrives upon this credulity.
Roughly, then, for purposes of classification, one may divide the world
at large into two groups--in this larger group here the ants, in that
smaller group there the anteaters.

So much, for purposes of argument, being conceded, we may safely
figure Emanuel Moon as belonging in the category of the ants, pure and
simple--reasonably pure and undeniably simple. However, at the time
whereof I write I doubt whether it had ever occurred to anyone to liken
him to an ant. His mother had called him Mannie, his employers called
him plain Moon, and to practically everybody else he was just little Mr.
Moon, who worked in the Commonwealth Bank. He had started there, in
the bank, as office boy; by dint of years of untiring fidelity to the
interests of that institution he had worked up to the place of assistant
cashier, salary seventy-five dollars a month. Privately he nursed an
ambition to become, in time, cashier, with a cashier's full powers. It
might be added that in this desire he stood practically alone.

Emanuel Moon was a little man, rising of thirty-five, who believed that
the Whale swallowed Jonah, that if you swore a certain form of oath you
were certain of hell-fire, and that Mr. Hiram Blair, president of the
Commonwealth Bank, hung the Big Dipper. If the Bible had put it the
other way round he would have believed as sincerely that it was Jonah
who swallowed the Whale. He had a wistful, bashful little smile, an air
of being perpetually busy, and a round, mild eye the colour of a boiled
oyster. He also had a most gentle manner and the long, prehensile upper
lip that is found only in the South American tapir and the confirmed
clarinet player. Emanuel Moon had one besetting sin, and only one--he
just would play the clarinet.

On an average of three nights a week he withdrew himself from the
company assembled about the base-burner stove in the parlour if it were
winter, or upon the front porch of Mrs. Teenie Morrill's boarding house
if it were seasonable weather, and went up to his room on the third
floor and played the clarinet. Some said he played it and some that he
merely played at it. He knew Annie Laune off by heart and for a term of
years had been satisfied in that knowledge. Now he was learning another
air--The Last Rose of Summer.

He prosecuted his musical education on what he called his off evenings.
Wednesday night he went to prayer meeting and Sunday night to the
regular church service. Tuesday night he always spent at his lodge; and
perhaps once in a fortnight he called upon Miss Katie Rouser, who taught
in the High School and for whom he was believed to entertain sentiments
that did him credit, even though he had never found words in which to
voice them.

At the lodge he served on the committees which did the hard work; that,
as a general proposition, meant also the thankless work. If things went
well someone else took the credit; if they went ill Emanuel and his
colabourers shared the blame. The conditions had always been so--when he
was a small boy and when he was a youth, growing up. In his adolescence,
if there was a picnic in contemplation or a straw ride or a barm dance,
Mannie had been graciously permitted by common consent of all concerned
to arrange with the livery-stable man for the teams, to hire the
coloured string band, to bargain with the owner of the picnic grounds
or the barn, to see to ice for the ice-water barrel and lemons for the
lemonade bucket.

While he thus busied himself the other youths made dates for the
occasion with all the desirable girls. Hence it was that on the festal
date Emanuel went partnerless to the party; and this was just as
well, too, seeing that right up until the time of starting he would be
completely occupied with last-moment details, and, after that, what with
apologising for any slipups that might have occurred, and being scolded
and ordered about on errands and called upon to explain this or that,
would have small time to play the squire to any young person of the
opposite sex, even had there been one convenient.

It was so at the bank, where he did more work than anybody and got less
pay than anybody. It was so, as I have just stated, at the lodge. In a
word, Emanuel had no faculty as an executive, but an enormous capacity
for executing. The earth is full of him. Whereever five or more are
gathered together there is present at least one of the Emanuel Moons of
this world.

It had been a hot, long summer, even for a climate where the summers
are always long and nearly always hot; and at the fag end of it Emanuel
inclined strongly toward a desire for a short rest. Diffidently he
managed to voice his mood and his need to Mr. Blair. That worthy
gentleman had but just returned home, a giant refreshed, after a month
spent in the North Carolina mountains. He felt so fit, so fine, so
robust, he took it as a personal grievance that any about him should not
likewise be feeling fit. He cut Emanuel off pretty short. Vacations, he
intimated, were for those whose years and whose services in behalf of
humanity entitled them to vacations; young men who expected to get along
in business had best rid their thoughts of all such pampered hankerings.

Emanuel took the rebuke in good grace, as was his way; but that evening
at the supper table he created some excitement among his fellow boarders
by quietly and unostentatiously fainting, face forward, into a saucer of
pear preserves that was mostly juice. He was removed to his room and put
to bed, and attended by Doctor Lake. The next morning he was not able
to go to the bank. On being apprised of the situation Mr. Blair very
thoughtfully abated of his previous resolution and sent Emanuel
word that he might have a week or even ten days off--at his own
expense--wherein to recuperate.

Some thirty-six hours later, therefore, Emanuel might have been found on
board the fast train bound for Louisville, looking a trifle pulled down
and shaky, but filled with a great yearning. In Louisville, at a certain
establishment doing a large mail-order business, was to be had for
thirty-eight dollars, list price, fifteen and five off for cash, a
clarinet that was to his present infirm and leaky clarinet as minted
gold is to pot metal.

To be sure, this delectable instrument might be purchased, sight unseen,
but with privilege of examination, through the handy medium of the
parcel post; the house handling it was in all respects reliable and
lived up to the printed promise of the catalogue, but to Emanuel half
the pride and pleasure of becoming its proprietor lay in going into the
place and asking to see such and such a clarinet, and fingering it and
testing its tone, and finally putting down the money and carrying it off
with him under his arm. He meant, first of all, to buy his new clarinet;
for the rest his plans were hazy. He might stay on in Louisville a few
days or he might go elsewhere. He might even return home and spend
the remainder of his vacation perfecting himself in his still faulty
rendition of The Last Rose of Summer.

For an hour or so after boarding the train he viewed the passing scenery
as it revealed itself through the day-coach window and speculated
regarding the personalities of his fellow passengers. After that hour
or so he began to nod. Presently he slumbered, with his head bobbing
against the seat-back and one arm dangling in the aisle. A sense of
being touched half roused him; a moment later he opened his eyes with
the feeling that he had lost his hat or was about to lose it. Alongside
him stood a well-dressed man of, say, thirty-eight or forty, who
regarded him cordially and who held between the long, slender fingers of
his right hand a little rectangle of blue cardboard, having punch marks
in it.

"Excuse me, friend," said this man, "but didn't this fall out of your
hat? I picked it up here on the floor alongside you."

"I reckon maybe it did," said Emanuel, removing his hat and noticing
that the customary decoration conferred by the conductor was absent from
its band. "I'm certainly much obliged to you, sir."

"Don't mention it," said the stranger. "Bet-ter stick it in good and
tight this time. They might try to collect a second fare from you if you
couldn't show your credentials. Remember, don't you, the story about the
calf that ate up his express tag and what the old nigger man said about
it?"

The stranger's accent stamped him as a Northerner; his manner revealed
him indubitably as a man of the world--withal it was a genial manner.
He bestowed a suit case alongside in the aisle and slipped into the seat
facing Emanuel. Emanuel vaguely felt flattered. It had promised to be
rather a lonely journey.

"You don't mind my sitting here a bit, do you?" added the man after he
was seated.

"Not at all--glad to have you," said Emanuel, meaning it. "Nice
weather--if it wasn't so warm," he continued, making conversation.

It started with the weather; but you know how talk runs along. At
the end of perhaps ten minutes it had somehow worked around to
amusements--checkers and chess and cards.

"Speaking of cards now," said the stranger, "I like a little game once
in a while myself. Helps the time to pass away when nothing else will.
Fact is, I usually carry a deck along with me just for that purpose.
Fact is, I've got a new deck with me now, I think." He fumbled in the
breast pocket of his light flannel coat and glanced about him. "Tell you
what--suppose we play a few hands of poker--show-down, you know--for ten
cents a corner, say, or a quarter? We could use my suit case for a card
table by resting it on our knees between us." He reached out into the
aisle.

"I'm much obliged," said Emanuel with an indefinable sense of pain
at having to decline so friendly an invitation; "but, to tell you the
truth, I make it a point never to touch cards at all. It wouldn't do--in
my position. You see, I'm in a bank at home."

With newly quickened alertness the stranger's eyes narrowed. He put the
cards back into his pocket and straightened up attentively. "Oh, yes,"
he said, "I see. Well, that being the case, I don't blame you." Plainly
he had not been hurt by Emanuel's refusal to join in so innocent a
pastime as dealing show-down hands at ten cents a side. On the
contrary he warmed visibly. "A young man in a bank can't be too
careful--especially if It's a small town, where everybody knows
everybody else's business. You let a young fellow that works in a bank
in a small town, or even a medium-sized town, play a few hands of poker
and, first thing you know, it's all over the place that he's gambling
and they've got an expert on his books. Let's see now--where was it you
said you lived?" Emanuel told him.

"Well, now, that's a funny thing! I used to know a man in your town.
Let's see--what was his name? Parker? Parsons?" He paused. Emanuel shook
his head.

"Perkins? Perkins? Could it have been Perkins?" essayed the other
tentatively, his eyes fixed keenly on the ingenuous countenance of his
opposite; and then, as Emanuel's head nodded forward affirmatively:
"Why, that's the name--Perkins," proclaimed the stranger with a little
smile of triumph.

"Probably J. W. Perkins," said Emanuel. "Mr. J. W. Perkins is our
leading hardware merchant. He banks with us; I see him every day--pretty
near it."

"No; not J. W. Perkins," instantly confessed his companion. "That's the
name all right enough, but not the initials. Didn't this Mr. Perkins
have a brother, or a cousin or something, who died?"

"Oh, I know who you mean, now," said Emanuel, glad to be able to help
with the identification. "Alfred Perkins--he died two years ago this
coming October."

"How old was he?" The Northerner had the air about him of being
determined to make sure.

"About fifty, I judge--maybe fifty-two or three."

"And didn't they use to call him Al for short?"

"Yes; nearly everybody did--Mr. Al Perkins."

"That's the party," agreed the other. "Al Perkins! I knew him well.
Strange, now, that I can't think where it was I met him--I move round
so much in my business, being on the road as a travelling man, it's
hard keeping track of people; but I know we spent a week or two together
somewhere or other. Speaking of names, mine is Caruthers--John P.
Caruthers. Sorry I haven't got a card with me--I ran out of cards
yesterday."

"Mine," said our townsman, "is Emanuel Moon."

"Glad to know you, Mr. Moon," said Mr. Caruthers as he sought Emanuel's
right hand and shook it heartily.

"Very glad indeed. You don't meet many people of your name--Oh, by Jove,
that's another funny thing!"

"What?" said Emanuel.

"Why," said Mr. Caruthers, "I used to have a pal--a good friend--with
your name; Robert Moon it was. He lived in Detroit, Michigan. Fine
fellow, Bob was. I wonder could old Bob Moon have been your cousin?"

"No," said Emanuel almost regretfully; "I'm afraid not. All my people
live South, so far as I know."

"Well, anyhow, you'd enjoy knowing old Bob," went on the companionable
Mr. Caruthers. "Have a smoke?"

He produced both cigars and cigarettes. Emanuel said he never smoked, so
Mr. Caruthers lighted a cigar.

Up to this point the conversation had been more or less general. Now,
somehow, it took a rather personal and direct trend. Mr. Caruthers
proved to be an excellent listener, although he asked quite a number
of leading questions as they went along. He evinced a kindly curiosity
regarding Emanuel's connection with the bank. He was interested in banks,
it seemed; his uncle, now deceased, had been, he said, a very prominent
banker in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Emanuel had a rôle that was new to him; a pleasing rôle though. Nearly
always in company he had to play audience; now he held the centre of the
stage, with another listening to what he might say, and, what was
more, listening with every sign of, deep attention. He spoke at length,
Emanuel did, of the bank, its size, its resources, its liabilities, its
physical appearance and its personnel, leading off with its president
and scaling down to its black janitor. He referred to Mr. Blair's
crustiness of manner toward persons of lesser authority, which manner,
he hastened to explain, was quite all right if you only understood Mr.
Blair's little ways.

He mentioned in passing that Herb Kivil, the cashier, was addicted to
tennis, and that on Tuesdays and Fridays, when Herb left early to play
tennis, he, Moon, closed up the vault and took over certain other duties
which ordinarily fell to Herb. From the bank he progressed by natural
stages to Mrs. Morrill's boarding house and from there to his own
individual tastes and likings. In this connection it was inevitable that
the subject of clarinet playing should obtrude. Continuing along this
strain Emanuel felt moved to disclose his principal object in journeying
to Louisville at this particular time.

"There's a store there that carries a clarinet that I'm sort of
interested in," he stated--but got no farther, for here Mr. Caruthers
broke in on him.

"Well, sir, it's a mighty little world after all," he exclaimed. "First
you drop your punch check out of your hat and I come along and pick it
up, and I sit down here and we get acquainted. Then I find out that I
used to know a man in your town--Abner Perkins."

"Alfred," corrected Mr. Moon gently.

"Sure--Alfred Perkins. That's what I meant to say but my tongue slipped.
Then you tell me your name, and it turns out I've got a good friend
that, if he's not your own cousin, ought to be on account of the name
being the same. One coincidence right after another! And then, on top
of all that, you tell me you want to buy a new clarinet. And that's the
most curious part of it all, because---- Say, Moon, you must have heard
of Galling & Moore, of Boston, New York, and Paris, France."

"I can't say as I ever did. I don't seem to place them," admitted
Emanuel.

"If you're interested in a clarinet you ought to know about them,
because Gatling & Moore are just the biggest wholesale dealers in
musical instruments in the United States; that's all--just the whole
United States. And I--the same fellow that's sitting right here facing
you--I travel this territory for Gatling & Moore. Didn't I say this was
a small world?"

A small world indeed--and a cozily comfortable one as well, seeing that
by its very compactness one was thrown into contact with so pleasing a
personality as this Mr. John Caruthers betrayed. This was the thought
that exhilarated Mr. Emanuel Moon as he answered:

"You sell clarinets? Then you can tell me exactly what I ought to pay--"

"No; don't get me wrong," Mr. Caruthers hastened to explain. "I said
I travelled for Gatling & Moore. You see, they sell everything,
nearly--musical instruments is just one of their lines. I
handle--er--sporting goods--playing cards, poker chips, guns, pistols,
athletic supplies; all like that, you understand. That's my branch of
the business; musical goods is another branch.

"But what I was going to suggest was this: Izzy Gottlieb, who's the head
of the musical department in the New York office, is one of the
best friends I've got on this earth. If I was to walk in and say to
Izzy--yes, even if I was to write in to him and tell him I had a friend
who was figuring on buying a clarinet--I know exactly what old Izzy
would do. Izzy would just naturally turn the whole shop upside down
until he found the niftiest little old clarinet there was in stock, and
as a favour to me he'd let us have it at just exactly cost. That's what
good old Izzy would do in a blooming minute. Altogether it ought to come
to about half what you'd pay for the identical same article out of a
retail place down in this country."

"But could you, sir--would you be willing to do that much for a
stranger?" Stress of emotion made Emanuel's voice husky.

"If you don't believe I would do just that very thing, why, a dime'll
win you a trip to the Holy Land!" answered back the engaging Caruthers
beamingly and enthusiastically.

Then his tone grew earnest: "Listen here, Moon: no man that I take a
liking to is a stranger to me--not any more. And I've got to own up to
it--I like you. You're my kind of a man--frank, open, on the level; and
yet not anybody's easy mark either. I'll bet you're a pretty good hand
at sizing up people offhand yourself. Oh, I knew you'd do, the minute I
laid eyes on you."

"Thank you; much obliged," murmured Emanuel. To all intents he was
overcome.

"Now, then," continued his new-found friend warmly, "let me suggest
this: You go ahead and look at the clarinet that this piking Louisville
concern's got for sale if you want to, but don't buy. Just look--there's
no harm in that. But don't invest.

"I'm on my way back to New York now to--to lay in my new lines for the
trade. I'll see old Izzy the first thing after I blow in and I'll get
the niftiest clarinet that ever played a tune--get it at actual cost,
mind you! I'll stick it down into one of my trunks and bring it back
with me down this way.

"Let's see"--he consulted a small memorandum book--"I ought to strike
this territory again in about ten days or two weeks. We'll make it two
weeks, to be sure. Um--this is Wednesday. I'll hit your town on Tuesday,
the twenty-ninth--that's two weeks from yesterday. I ought to get in
from Memphis sometime during the afternoon. I'll come to your bank to
find you. You're always there on Tuesdays, ain't you?"

"Oh, yes," said Emanuel. "Don't you remember my telling you that on
Tuesdays Herb Kivil always left early to play tennis and I closed up?"

"So you did," confirmed Mr. Caruthers. "I'd forgotten your telling me
that."

"For that matter," supplemented Emanuel, "I'm there every day till three
anyhow, and sometimes later; so if--"

"We'll make it Tuesday, the twenty-ninth, to be sure," said Mr.
Caruthers with an air of finality.

"If you should want the money now--" began Emanuel; and he started to
haul out the little flat leather purse with the patent clasp wherein he
carried his carefully saved cash assets.

With a large, generous gesture the other checked him.

"Hold on!" counselled Caruthers. "You needn't be in such a hurry, old
boy. I don't even know what the thing is going to cost yet. Izzy'll
charge it to me on the books and then you can settle with me when I
bring it to you, if that's satisfactory."

He stood up, carefully flicking some cigar ashes off the trailing ends
of his four-in-hand tie, and glanced at a watch.

"Well, it's nearly six o'clock. Time flies when a fellow is in good
company, don't it? We'll be in Louisville in less than an hour, won't
we?--if we're on time. I've got to quit you there; I'm going on to Cincy
to-night. Tell you what--let's slip into the diner and have a bite and a
little nip of something together first--I want to see as much of you as
I can. You take a little drink once in a while, don't you?"

"I drink a glass of light beer occasionally," admitted Emanuel.

Probably in his whole life he had consumed as much as five commercial
quarts of that liquid, half a pint at a time.

"Fine business!" said Caruthers. "Beer happens to be my regular stand-by
too. Come on, then." And he led the way forward for the transported
Emanuel.

They said at the bank and at the boarding house that Moon looked better
for his week's lay-off, none of them knowing, of course, what had come
into the little man's dun-coloured life.

On the twenty-eighth of the month he was so abstracted that Mr. Blair,
desiring his presence for the moment in the president's office, had to
call him twice, a thing which so annoyed Mr. Blair that the second time
he fairly shouted Emanuel's name; and when Emanuel came hurrying into
his presence inquired somewhat acidly whether Emanuel was suffering from
any auricular affection. On the morning of the twenty-ninth Emanuel was
in quite a little fever of anticipation. The morning passed; the noon or
dinner hour arrived and passed.

It was one-thirty. The street drowsed in the early autumnal sunshine,
and in front of his bookstore, in a tilted-back chair, old Mr. Wilcox
for a spell slumbered audibly. There is a kind of dog--not so numerous
since automobiles have come into such general and fatal use--that sought
always the middle of the road as a suitable spot to take a nap in,
arousing with a yelp when wheels or hoofs seemed directly over him and,
having escaped annihilation by an eighth of an inch, moving over perhaps
ten feet and lying down again in the perilous pathway of traffic. One
of this breed slept now, undisturbed except by flies, at the corner of
Front and Franklin. For the time being he was absolutely safe. Emanuel
had been to his dinner and had returned. He was beginning to worry.
About two-thirty, just after the cashier had taken his tennis racket and
gone for the day, Emanuel answered a ring at the telephone.

Over the wire there came to him the well-remembered sound of the blithe
Carutherian voice:

"That you, old man?" spake Mr. Caruthers jovially. "Well, I'm here,
according to promise. Just got in from down the road."

"Did--you--bring--it?" inquired Emanuel, almost tremulously.

"The clarinet? You bet your life I brought it--and she's a bird too."

"I'm ever so much obliged," said Emanuel. "I don't know how I can ever
thank you--going to all that trouble on my account. Are you at the
hotel? I'll be over there just as soon as I can close up--I can't leave
here till three."

"Stay right where you are," bade his friend. "I'll be over to see you
inside of fifteen or twenty minutes."

He was as good as his word. At ten minutes before three he walked in,
the mould of city fashion in all his outward aspects; and when Emanuel
had disposed of Mr. Herman Felsburg, who dropped in to ask what Felsburg
Brothers' balance was, and when Mr. Felsburg had gone, Caruthers' right
hand and Emanuel's met in an affectionate clasp across the little shelf
of the cashier's window. Followed then an exchange of inquiries and
assurances touching on the state of health and well-being of each
gentleman.

"I'd like mightily to ask you inside," said Emanuel next, anxious to
extend all possible hospitalities; "but it's strictly against the rules.
Take a chair there, won't you, and wait for me--I'll be only a few
minutes or so."

Instead of taking one of the row of chairs that stood in the front of
the old-fashioned bank, Mr. Caruthers paused before the wicket, firing
metropolitan pleasantries across at the little man, who bustled about
inside the railed-off inclosure, putting books and papers in their
proper places.

"Everybody's gone but me, as it happens," he explained, proud to exhibit
to Mr. Caruthers the extent and scope of his present responsibilities.

"Nobody on deck but you, eh?" said Caruthers, looking about him.

"Nobody but me," answered back Emanuel; "and in about a minute and a
half I'll be through too."

The cash was counted. He carried it into the depths of the ancient and
cumbersome vault, which blocked off a section of the wall behind the
cashier's desk, and in their appointed niches bestowed, also, certain
large ledgerlike tomes. He closed and locked the inner steel door and
was in the act of swinging to the heavy outer door.

"Look here a minute!" came sharply from Mr. Caruthers.

It was like a command. Obeying involuntarily, Emanuel faced about. From
under his coat, where it had been hidden against his left side, Mr.
Caruthers, still standing at the wicket, was drawing forth something
long and black and slim, and of a most exceeding shininess--something
with silver trimmings on it and a bell mouth--a clarinet that was all a
clarinet should be, and yet a half brother to a saxophone.

"I sort of thought you'd be wanting to get a flash at it right away,"
said Mr. Caruthers, holding the magnificent instrument up in plain
sight. "So I brought it along--for a surprise."

With joy Emanuel Moon's round eyes widened and moistened. After the
fashion of a rabbit suddenly confronted with lettuce his lower face
twitched. His overhanging upper lip quivered to wrap itself about that
virgin mouthpiece, as his fingers itched to fondle that slender polished
fountain of potential sweet melodies. And he forgot other things.

He came out from behind the counter and almost with reverence took the
splendid thing from the smiling Mr. Caruthers. He did remember to lock
the street door as they issued to the sidewalk; but from that juncture
on, until he discovered himself with Caruthers in Caruthers' room on
the third floor of the hotel, diagonally across the street and down the
block from the bank, and was testing the instrument with soft, tentative
toots and finding to his extreme gratification that this clarinet
bleated, not in sheeplike bleats, as his old one did, but rather mooed
in a deep bass voice suggestive of cows, all that passed was to Mr. Moon
but a confused blur of unalloyed joyousness.

Indeed, from that point thenceforward he was not quite sure of anything
except that, over his protests, Mr. Caruthers declined to accept any
reimbursement whatsoever for the cost of the new clarinet, he explaining
that, thanks to the generosity of that kindly soul, Izzy Gottlieb, the
requisite outlay had amounted to so trifling a sum as not to be worthy
of the time required for further discussion; and that, following this,
he played Annie Laurie all the way through, and essayed the first bars
of The Last Rose of Summer, while Mr. Caruthers sat by listening and
smoking, and seemingly gratified to the utmost at having been the means
of bringing this pleasure to Mr. Moon.

If Mr. Caruthers was moved, in chance intervals, to ask certain
questions touching upon the banking business, with particular reference
to the methods employed in conducting and safeguarding the Commonwealth
Bank, over the way, Emanuel doubtlessly answered him full and
truthfully, even though his thoughts for the moment were otherwise
engaged.

In less than no time at all--so it appeared to Emanuel--six o'clock
arrived, which in our town used to mean the hour for hot supper,
except on Sunday, when it meant the hour for cold supper; and Emanuel
reluctantly got up to go. But Caruthers would not listen to any
suggestions of their parting for yet a while. Exigencies of business
would carry him on his lonesome way the next morning; he had just
stopped over to see Emanuel, anyway, and naturally he wished to enjoy as
much of his society as was possible during a sojourn so brief.

"Moon," he ordered, "you stay right where you are. We'll have something
to eat together here. I'll call a waiter and we'll have it served up
here in this room, so's we can be sort of private and sociable, and
afterward you can play your clarinet some more. How does that little
programme strike you?"

It struck Emanuel agreeably hard. It was rarely that he dined out,
and to dine under such circumstances as these, in the company of so
fascinating and so kindly a gentleman as Mr. John P. Caruthers, of the
North--well, his cup was simply overflowing, that's all.

"I'd be glad to stay," he said, "if you don't think I'm imposing on your
kindness. I was thinking of asking you to go to Mrs. Morrill's with me
for supper--if you would."

"We can have a better time here," said Caruthers. He stepped over to the
wall telephone. "Have a cocktail first? No? Then neither will I. But a
couple of bottles of beer won't hurt us--will it?"

Emanuel was going to say a small glass of beer was as much as he ever
imbibed at a sitting, but before he could frame the statement Caruthers
was giving the order.

It was at the close of a most agreeable meal when Emanuel, following Mr.
Caruthers' invitation and example, had emptied his second ass of beer
and was in the act of putting down the tumbler, that a sudden sensation
of drowsiness assailed his senses. He bent back in his chair, shaking
his head to clear it of the mounting dizziness, and started to say he
believed he would step to the window for a breath of fresh air. But,
because he felt so very comfortable, he changed his mind. His head
lolled over on one side and his lids closed down on his heavy eyes.
Thereafter a blank ensued.

When Emanuel awoke there was a flood of sunshine about him. For a moment
he regarded an unfamiliar pattern of wall paper, the figures of which
added to their unfamiliarity by running together curiously; he was in
a strange bed, fully dressed, and as he moved his head on the rumpled
pillow he realised that he had a splitting headache and that a nasty
dryish taste was in his mouth. He remembered then where he was and what
had happened, and sat up with a jerk, uttering a little remorseful moan.

The disordered room was empty. Caruthers was gone and Caruthers' suit
case was gone too. Something rustled, and a folded sheet of hotel note
paper slid off the bed cover and fell upon the floor. With trembling
fingers he reclaimed the paper, and, opening it, he read what was
scrawled on it in pencil:


"Dear Old Scout: I'm sorry! I didn't suppose one bottle of beer would
put you down and out. When you took the count all of a sudden,
I figured the best thing to do was to let you sleep it off; so I got
you into the bed. You've been right there all night and nobody's any the
wiser for it except me. Sorry I couldn't wait until you woke up, but I
have to catch the up train; so I've paid my bill and I'm beating it as
soon as I write this. Your clarinet is with you. Think of me sometimes
when you tootle on it. I'll let you hear from me one of these days.

"Yours in haste,

"J. P. C.

"P. S. If I were you I'd stay off the beer in future."


The up train? Why, that left at eight-forty-five! Surely it could not
be that late! Emanuel got out his old silver watch, a legacy from a
long-dead sire, and took one look at its two hands; and then in a
quiver of haste, with no thought of breakfast or of his present state
of unwashed untidiness, with no thought of anything except his precious
clarinet, which he tucked under his coat, he let himself out of the
door, leaving the key in the lock, and slipping through the deserted
hallway he hastened down two flights of stairs; and taking a short cut
that saved crossing the lobby, where inquisitive eyes might behold him
in all his unkemptness and distress, he emerged from the side door of
the Hotel Moderne.

Emanuel had proper cause to hurry. Never in all his years of service for
the Commonwealth Bank had he failed to be on hand at eight o'clock to
sort out the mail; and if his watch was to be believed here it was a
quarter of nine! As he padded across the street on shaky legs a new
apprehension that he had come away the day before without locking the
combination of the vault smote him. Suppose--suppose something was
wrong!

The street door of the Commonwealth stood open, and though the interior
seemed deserted he realised, with a sinking of the heart, that someone
had arrived before him. He darted inside, dropped the clarinet out of
sight in a cuddy under his desk, and fairly threw himself at the vault.

The outer door was closed and locked, as it should be. Nevertheless,
his hands shook so that he could hardly work the mechanism. Finally, the
tumblers obeyed him, and he swung open the thick twin slabs, unlocked
the inner door with the key which he carried along with other keys on
his key ring--and then fetched a sigh of relief that was half a sob.
Everything was as it should be--cash, paper money, books, files and
securities. As he backed out of the vault the door of the president's
office opened and Mr. Blair stood there in the opening, confronting him
with an accusing glare.

"Young man," said Mr. Blair, "you're late!"

"Yes, sir," said Emanuel. "I'm very sorry, sir. I must have overslept."

"So I judge!" Mr. Blair's accents were ominous. "So I judge, young
man--but where?"

"W-where?" Emanuel, burning with shame, stammered the word.

"Yes, sir; that's what I said--where? Twenty minutes ago I telephoned
to Mrs. Morrill's to find out what was keeping you from your duties,
and they told me you hadn't been in all night--that your bed hadn't been
slept in."

"Yes, sir; I slept out."

"I gathered as much." Mr. Blair's long white chin whiskers quivered as
Mr. Blair's condemning eyes comprehended the shrinking figure before him
from head to foot--the rumpled hair; the bloodshot eyes; the wrinkled
clothes; the soiled collar; the skewed necktie; the fluttering hands.
"Look here, young man; have you been drinking?"

"No, sir--yes, sir; that is, I--I had a little beer last night," owned
Emanuel miserably.

"A little beer, huh?"

Mr. Blair, being popularly reputed to keep a private quart flask in his
coat closet and at intervals to refresh himself therefrom behind the
cover of the closet door, had a righteous contempt for wantons who
publicly plied themselves with potables, whether of a malt, a spirituous
or a vinous nature.

"A little beer, huh?" He put tons of menace into the repetition of the
words. "Forever and a day traipsing off on vacations seems to breed bad
habits in you, Moon. Now, look here! This is the first time this ever
happened--so far as I know. I am inclined to excuse it this once. But
see to it that it doesn't happen again--ever!"

"No, sir," said Emanuel gratefully. "It won't."

And it did not.

So shaken was Emanuel as to his nerves that three whole nights elapsed
before he felt equal to practicing on his new clarinet. After that,
though, in all his spare moments at the boarding house he played
assiduously.

For the purposes of this narrative the passage of the ensuing fortnight
is of no consequence. It passed, and that brings us to a Friday
afternoon in mid-October. On the Friday afternoon in question the
paymaster of the Great Western Crosstie Company deposited in the
Commonwealth Bank, for overnight safeguarding, the funds to meet his
semimonthly pay roll due to contractors, subcontractors, tow-boat owners
and extra labourers, the total amounting to a goodly sum.

Next morning, when Herb Kivil opened the vault, he took one look and
uttered one strangled cry. As Emanuel straightened up from the mail
he was sorting, and as Mr. Blair stepped in off the street, out from
between the iron doors staggered Herb Kivil, white as a sheet and making
funny sounds with his mouth. The vault was empty--stripped of cash on
hand; stripped of the Great Western Company's big deposit; stripped of
every scrap of paper money; stripped of everything except the bank books
and certain securities--in a word, stripped of between eighteen and
nineteen thousand dollars, specie and currency. For the thief, whoever
he might be, there was one thing to be said--he had an instinct for
thoroughness in his make-up.

To say that the news, spreading with a most miraculous rapidity, made
the town hum like a startled hive, is to state the case in the mildest
of descriptive phrases. On the first alarm, the chief of police,
accompanied by a good half of the day force, came at a dogtrot. Having
severely questioned the frightened negro janitor, and examined all the
doors and windows for those mysterious things known as clews, the chief
gave it as his deliberate opinion that the robbery had been committed by
some one who had means of access to the bank and its vault.

Inasmuch as there was about the place no evidence of forcible entry,
and inasmuch as the face of the vault was not so much as scratched,
and inasmuch, finally, as the combination was in perfect order, the
population at large felt constrained to agree that Chief Henley had
deduced aright. He took charge of the premises for the time being, Mr.
Blair having already wired to a St. Louis detective agency beseeching
the immediate presence and aid of an expert investigator.

It came out afterward that privily Mr. Blair suggested an immediate
arrest, and gave to Henley the name of the person he desired to
see taken into custody. But the chief, who was good-hearted--too
good-hearted for his own good, some people thought--demurred. He stood
in a deep and abiding awe of Mr. Blair. But he did not want to make
any mistakes, he said. Anyhow, a big-city sleuth was due before night..
Would not Mr. Blair consent to wait until the detective had arrived
and made his investigation? For his part, he would guarantee that the
individual under suspicion did not get away. To his postponement of the
decisive step Mr. Blair finally agreed.

On the afternoon train over the Short line the expert appeared, an
inscrutable gentleman named Fogarty with a drooping red moustache and a
brow heavily wrinkled. This Mr. Fogarty first conferred briefly with Mr.
Blair and with Chief Henley. Then, accompanied by these two and trailed
by a distracted group of directors of the bank, he made a careful survey
of the premises from the cellar coal hole to the roof scuttle, uttering
not a single word the while. His manner was portentous. Following this
he asked for a word in private with the head of the rifled institution.

Leaving the others clustered in a group outside, he and Mr. Blair
entered Mr. Blair's office. Mr. Fogarty closed the door and faced Mr.
Blair.

"This here," said Mr. Fogarty, "was what we call an inside job. Somebody
here in this town--somebody who knew all there was to know about your
bank--done it. Now, who do you suspicion?"

Lowering his voice, Mr. Blair told him, adding that only a deep sense
of his obligations to himself and to his bank inspired him now to
detail certain significant circumstances that had come to his personal
attention within the past three weeks--or, to be exact, on a certain
Wednesday morning in the latter part of September.

In his earlier movements Mr. Fogarty might have been deliberate; but
once he made up his mind to a definite course of conduct he acted
promptly. He came out of Mr. Blair's presence, walked straight up to
Emanuel Moon, where Emanuel sat at his desk, and, putting his hand on
Emanuel's shrinking shoulder, uttered the words:

"Young man, you're wanted! Put on your--"

Then Mr. Fogarty silently turned and beckoned to Chief Henley, invoking
the latter's official co-operation and assistance.

Between the imported detective and the chief of police, Emanuel Moon, a
silent, pitifully shrunken figure, walked round the corner to the City
Hall, a crowd following along behind, and was locked up in a cell in
the basement calaboose downstairs. Lingering about the hall after the
suspect had been taken inside.

Divers citizens ventured the opinion that if the fellow wasn't guilty
he certainly looked it. Well, so far as that goes, if a face as pale as
putty and downcast eyes brimming with a numbed misery betokened guilt
Emanuel had not a leg left to stand on.

However, looks alone are not commonly accepted as competent testimony
under our laws, and Emanuel did not abide for very long as a prisoner.
The Grand Jury declined to indict him on such dubious proof as the bank
people and Mr. Fogarty could offer for its consideration. Undoubtedly
the Grand Jury was inspired in its refusal by the attitude the
Commonwealth's attorney maintained, an attitude in which the circuit
judge concurred.

It was known that Mr. Blair went to Commonwealth's Attorney Flournoy,
practically demanding that Emanuel be held for trial, and, failing in
that quarter, visited Judge Priest with the same object in view. But
perversely the judge would not agree with Mr. Blair that the evidence
in hand justified such a course; would not on any account concede
that Emanuel Moon was the only person, really, who might properly be
suspected.

On that head he was as one with Prosecutor Flournoy. They held--these
two--that possession of a costly musical instrument, regarding which
the present owner would admit nothing except that it was a gift from an
unknown friend, coupled with that individual's stubborn refusal to
tell where he had spent a certain night and in whose company, did not
constitute a fair presumption that he had made away with nearly nineteen
thousand dollars.

"But look here, Judge Priest," hotly argued Mr. Blair upon the occasion
of his call upon His Honour, "it stands to reason Moon is the thief.
Why, it couldn't have been anybody else! And I want the facts brought
out."

"Whut facts have you got, Hiram?" asked the judge.

"Moon knew the combination of the safe, didn't he? He carried the keys
for the inside door of the safe, didn't he? And a key to the door of the
building, too, didn't he?"

"Hiram," countered Judge Priest, looking Mr. Blair straight in the eye,
"ef you expect the authorities to go ahead on that kind of evidence I
reckin we'd have to lock you up too."

Mr. Blair started as though a physical blow had been aimed at his head.

"Why--why---- What do you mean by that, Judge?" he demanded, gripping
the arms of his chair until his knuckles showed white through the skin.

"You carry the keys of the bank yourself, don't you? And you know the
combination of the safe, don't you? And so does Herbie Kivil."

"Do you mean to insinuate----"

"Hiram, I don't mean to insinuate nothin'. Insinuations don't make the
best of evidence in court, though I will admit they sometimes count for
a good deal outside of court. No, Hiram; I reckin you and your detective
friend from St. Louis will have to dig up somethin' besides your
personal beliefs before you kin expect the Grand Jury of this county to
lay a charge aginst a man who's always enjoyed a fair standin' in this
here community. That's all I've got to say to you on the subject."

Taking the hint, Mr. Blair, red-faced and agitated, took his departure.
After he was gone Judge Priest remained immersed in reflection for
several hours.

So Emanuel went free. But he might almost as well have stayed in jail,
for the smell of it seemed to cling to his garments--garments that grew
shabbier as the weeks passed, for naturally he did not go back to the
bank and just as naturally no one cared to offer employment to one who
had been accused by his late employer of a crime. He fell behind
with his board at Mrs. Morrill's. He walked the streets with drooping
shoulders and face averted, shunning people and shunned by them. And,
though he kept to his room in the evening, he no longer played on his
clarinet. And the looting of the Commonwealth Bank's vault continued,
as the _Daily Evening News_ more than once remarked, to be "shrouded in
impenetrable mystery."

One evening at dusk, as Judge Priest was going home alone from the
courthouse, on a back street he came face to face with Emanuel.

The younger man would have passed by him without speaking, but the old
man thrust his broad shape directly in the little man's course.

"Son," he said, putting a hand on the other's arm, "I want to have a
little talk with you--ez a friend. Jest you furgit all about me bein' a
judge. I wisht, ef you ain't got anythin' else to do, you'd come up to
my house to-night after you've had your supper. Will you, son?"

Emanuel, his eyes filling up, said he would come, and he did; and in the
judge's old sitting-room they spent half an hour together. Father Minor
always said that when it came to hearing confessions the only opposition
he had in town came from a nonprofessional, meaning by that Judge Priest.
It was one of Father Minor's little jokes.

"And now, Judge Priest," said Emanuel, at the latter end of the talk,
"you know everything--why I wouldn't tell 'em how I got my new clarinet
and where I spent that night. If I had to die for it I wouldn't bring
suspicion on an innocent party. I haven't told anybody but you--you are
the only one that knows."

"You're shore this here friend of yourn--Caruthers--is an innocent
party?" suggested the judge.

"Why, Judge, he's bound to be--he's just naturally bound to be. If he'd
been a thief he'd have robbed the bank that night when I was asleep in
his room at the hotel. I had the keys to the bank on me and he knew it."

"Thai why didn't you come out and say so."

"Because, as I just told you, it would be bringing suspicion on an
innocent party. He holds a responsible position with that big New York
firm I was telling you about and it might have got him into trouble.
Besides"--and Emanuel hung his head--"besides, I hated so to have people
know that I was ever under the influence of liquor. I'm a church member,
Judge, as you know. I never drank--to excess--before that night, and I
don't ever aim to touch another drop as long as I live. I'd almost as
lief be called a drunkard as a thief. They're calling me a thief--I
don't aim to have them calling me the other thing too."

Judge Priest cloaked an involuntary smile behind a pudgy hand.

"Well, Emanuel," he said, "jest to be on the safe side, did it ever
occur to you to make inquiry amongst the merchants here as to whether a
travelling gent named Caruthers sold goods to any of 'em?"

"No, Judge; I never thought of that."

"Did you look up Gatling & Moore--I believe that's the name--in
Bradstreet's or Dun's to see ef there was sech a firm?"

"Judge, I never thought of that either."

"Son," said the old man, "it sorter looks to me like you ain't been
doin' much thinkin' lately." Then his tone changed and became warmly
consoling. "But I reckin ef I was the trouble you're in I wouldn't do
much thinkin' neither. Son, you kin rest easy in your mind--I ain't
a-goin' to betray your confidences. But ef you don't mind I aim to do a
little inquirin' round on my own account. This here robbery interests me
powerfully, someway. I've been frettin' a heap about it lately.

"And--oh, yes--there's another thing that I was purty nigh furgittin',"
continued Judge Priest. "I ain't purposin' to pry into your personal
affairs--but tell me, son, how are you off fur ready money these days?"

"Judge, to tell you the truth, I'm just about out of money," confessed
Emanuel desperately. "I owe Mrs. Morrill for three weeks' board now. I
hate to keep putting her off--her being a widow lady and dependent for
her living on what she takes in. I'd pack up and go somewhere else--to
some other town--and try to get work, only I can't bear to go away with
this cloud hanging over my good name. It would look like I was running
away; and anyway I guess the tale would follow me."

The judge dug into his right-hand trousers pocket. He exhumed a small
wad of bills and began counting them off.

"Son," he said, "I know you won't mind my makin' you a temporary loan to
help you along till things git brighter with you. By the way, how would
you like to go to work in the circuit clerk's office?"

"Me, Judge! Me?" Fresh-kindled hope blazed an instant in Emanuel Moon's
voice; then the spark died.

"I reckon nobody would hire me," he finished despondently.

"Don't you be so shore. Lishy Milam come to me only yistiddy sayin' he
needed a reliable and experienced man to help him with his books, and
askin' me ef I could suggest anybody. He ain't had a capable deputy
sense little Clint Coombs died on him. I sort of figger that ef he gave
you a job on my say-so it'd go a mighty long way toward convincin'
this town that we both regarded you ez an honest citizen. I'll speak to
'Lishy Milam the very first thing in the mornin'--ef you're agreeable to
the notion."

"Judge," exclaimed Emanuel, up on his feet, "I can't thank you--I can't
tell you what this means--"

"Son, don't try," bade the old judge. "Anyhow, that ain't whut I want to
hear frum you now. Set down there agin and tell me all you kin remember
about this here friend of yourn--Caruthers; where you met up with him
and whut he said and how he said it, and the way he looked and walked
and talked. And how much beer you drunk up that night and how much he
drunk up, and how you felt when you woke up, and whut Hiram Blair said
to you when you showed up at the bank--the whole thing all over agin
from start to finish. I'm interested in this here Mr. Caruthers. It
strikes me he must 'a' been a mighty likely feller."

When Emanuel Moon walked out of Judge Priest's front door that night he
was pumped dry. Also, for the first time in weeks, he walked with head
erect and gaze straightforward.

In the morning, true to his promise, Judge Priest made recommendations
to Circuit Clerk Milam. This done, he left the courthouse and, going
down Legal Row, dropped in at the law office of Fairleigh & Fairleigh,
to find young Jere Fairleigh, junior member of the firm, sitting by the
grate fire in the front room.

"Jere," asked Judge Priest, directly the young man had made him welcome,
"whutever become of them three post-office robbers that hired you to
defend 'em--still over in the Marshallville jail, ain't they?"

"Two of them are," said young Fairleigh. "The one they call the Waco
Baby got out on bail and skipped. But the other two--Frisco Slim and
Montreal Red--are in jail over there awaiting trial at the next term of
United States Court."

Judge Priest smiled softly.

"Young man," he said, "it certainly looks to me like you're climbin'
mighty fast in your chosen profession. All your clients 'pear to have
prominent cities named alter 'em. Tell me," he went on, "whut kind of
persons are the two that are still lingerin' in Marshallville?"

"Well," said the young lawyer, "there's a world of difference between
'em. Frisco is the glum, morose kind; but Montreal Red--his real name is
Mooney, he tells me, though he's got half a dozen other names--he's
certainly a wise individual. Just associating with him in my capacity as
his counsel has been a liberal education to me in the ways of the
underworld. I firmly believe he knows every professional crook in the
country."

"Aha! I see," said Judge Priest. "I figger Mister Montreal is the
party I want to meet. I'm thinkin' of runnin' down to Marshallville
on business right after dinner to-day. I reckin you wouldn't mind--in
strict confidence--givin' me a little note of introduction to your
client, tellin' him I seek his advice on a private matter, and sayin'
that I kin be trusted?"

"I'll be mighty glad to," said Fairleigh, Junior, reaching across his
desk for pen and paper. "I'll write it right now. Turning detective,
Judge?"

"Well, son," conceded Judge Priest, "you mout call it that and not make
sech an awful big mistake."

"Sort of a Sherlock Holmes, eh?"

The judge made a gesture of modest disclaimer.

"No; I reckin Sherlock would be out of my class. By all accounts
Sherlock knowed purty nigh ever'thing wuth knowin'. If he'd struck two
different trails, both seemin'ly p'intin' in the same direction, he'd
know right off which one of 'em to take. That's where he'd be one pawpaw
above my tallest persimmon. Sometimes I git to thinkin' I'm a poor
purblind old idiot that can't see a thing when it's shoved right up
under my nose. No; I ain't aspirin' none to qualify ez a Sherlock.
I'm only endeavourin' to walk ez an humble disciple in the hallowed
footsteps of Old Cap Collier."

"What do you know about Old Cap Collier?" demanded Fairleigh,
astonished. "I thought I was the only grown man in town that still read
nickel libraries--on the sly."

"Boy," said Judge Priest, "you and me have got a secret bond between us.
Wasn't that there last one that come out a jim-dandy?--the one called
Old Cap Collier and the Great Diamond Robbery.

"It was so," stated Fairleigh. "I read it last night in bed."

Three o'clock of that same day disclosed Judge Priest perched on the
side of a bunk in a cell in the Marshallville jail, close up alongside
a blocky person of unkempt appearance whom we, for convenience, may call
Montreal Red, more especially as this happens to be the title to
which he commonly answered within the fraternity of which he was a
distinguished member.

They made a picture sitting there together--the old man, nursing his
soft black hat between his hands, with the half light bringing out in
relief his bald round skull, his chubby pink face and his tuft of white
beard; the captive yeggman in his shirt sleeves, with no collar on and
no shoes on, holding Mr. Fairleigh's note in his hand and, with the
look upon his face of one who feels a just pride in his professional
knowledge, hearkening while the Judge minutely described for him a
certain individual. Before the Judge was done, Montreal Red interrupted
him.

"Sufficiency, bo," he said lightly; "you've said enough. I know the gun
you're talkin' about without you goin' any farther--it's Shang Conklin,
the Solitary Kid."

"But this here gentleman went by the name of Caruthers!" demurred the
Judge.

"Wot else did you figure he'd be doin'?" countered Montreal Red. "He
might 'a' called himself Crowley, or Lord Copeleigh, or half a dozen
other things. He might 'a' called himself the King of Bavaria--yes, and
got away with it, too, because he's there with the swell front and the
education. The Solitary Kid's got a different monniker for every day in
the week and two for Sundays. It couldn't be nobody else but him; you've
called the turn on him same as if you'd mugged him for the Gallery."

"You know him personally, then?" asked Judge Priest.

"Who don't know him?" said Montreal Red. "Everybody that knows anybody
knows Solitary. And I'll tell you why! You take 'most any ordinary gun
and he's got just one regular line--he's a stick-up, or he's a moll
buzzer, or a peterman, or a con man; or he belongs to the hard-boiled
people, the same as me. But Shang he doubles in brass; it's B. and O.
for him. Bein' there with the front, he's worked the wire; and
before that he worked the bat. Knowin' all there is to know about the
pasteboard papes, he'd done deep-sea fishin' in his time--playin' for
rich guys on the big liners, you know.

"And when it comes to openin' boxes--bo, since old Jimmy Hope quit the
game and sneezed in, I guess Shang Conklin's the wisest boxman that ever
unbuttoned a combination crib with his bare hands. He's sure the real
McCoy there--not no common yegg, you understand, with a steel drill and
a gat in his kicks and a rubber bottle full of soup tied under his coat;
but doin' the real fancy stuff, with nothin' to help him but the old ten
fingers and the educated ear. And he never works with a mob neither. Any
time you make Shang he'll be playin' the lone hand--providin' his own
nut and goin' south with all the clean-up. No splittin' with anybody for
Shang--it's against his business principles. That's why he's labelled
the Solitary Kid."

Most of this was as pure Greek to Judge Priest, who, I may say, knew no
Greek, pure or otherwise. Suddenly aware of the bewilderment revealed in
the countenance of his interviewer, Montreal Red checked up and took a
new track.

"Say, bo, you ain't makin' me, are you? Well, then, maybe I'd better
spiel it out slow. Know wot a peterman is?"

The judge shook his head.

"Well, you know wot a box is, don't you?"

"I'm skeered that I don't, though I believe I'm beginnin' to git a faint
idea," said Judge Priest.

As though deploring such ignorance Montreal Red shook his flame-coloured
head.

"I'll frame it for you different--in sucker language," he said.

And accordingly he did, most painstakingly.

"Now then," he said at the end of five minutes of laborious translation,
"do you get me?"

"I git you," said Judge Priest. "And I'm mighty much obliged. Now, then,
ef it ain't too much trouble, I'd like to git in touch with this here
Mister Conklin, et cetery. Do you, by any chance, know his present
whereabouts?"

Before replying to this the Montreal Red communed with himself for a
brief space.

"Old-timer," he said finally, "if I thought you was playin' in with the
dicks I'd see you in Belgium before I tipped you off to anything. But
this here mouthpiece of mine"--he indicated the note from young Mr.
Fairleigh--"says you're on the level. I judge he wouldn't take my good
fall-money and then cross me this way. I take it you ain't tryin' to
slip one over on Shang? All right, then; I'll tell you where he is--he's
in Atlanta, Georgia."

"And whut is his address there?" pursued Judge Priest.

"The Federal prison--that's all," said Montreal tied. He smiled softly.
"If I don't beat this little case of mine I'm liable to meet him down
there along toward spring, or maybe even sooner. The bulls nailed him
at Chattanooga, Tennessee, about a month ago for a little national-bank
job, and right quick he taken a plea and got off with a short bit in
Uncle Sammy's big house. I was readin' about it in the papers. You
wouldn't have no trouble findin' him at Atlanta--he'll be in to callers
for the next five years."

"Bein' an amateur Old Cap Collier certainly calls fur a lot of
travellin' round," murmured Judge Priest, half to himself, and he sighed
a small sigh of resignation as he arose.

"Wot's that? I don't make you?" asked Montreal Red.

"Nothin'," said Judge Priest; "nothin' a-tall. I was jest thinkin' out
loud; it's a sort of failin' of mine ez I git older. You said, didn't
you, that these here sleepin' potions which you was mentionin' a minute
ago are mostly administered in beer?"

"Mostly in beer," said Montreal Red. "The little old knock-out seems to
work best in the lather stuff. I don't know why, but it does.

"It's like this: You take the beer----"

"Oh, I wasn't figgerin' on usin' it myself," explained Judge Priest
hastily. "Much obliged to you all the same, young man."

A night in a sleeping car brought Judge Priest to Atlanta. A ride in a
trolley car brought him to the warden's office of a large reformatory
institution beyond the suburbs of that progressive city. A ten-minute
chat with the warden and the display of divers credentials brought him
the privilege of an interview, in private, with a person who, having
so many names to pick from, was yet at this time designated by a simple
number. Even in convict garb, which is cut on chastely plain lines
and which rarely fits perfectly the form of its wearer, this gentleman
continued somehow to bespeak the accomplished metropolitan in his
physical outlines and in his demeanour as well, maintaining himself, as
you might say, jauntily.

In the first few moments of his meeting with Judge Priest there was
about him a bearing of reserve--almost of outright suspicion. But half a
dozen explanatory sentences from the judge served speedily to establish
an atmosphere of mutual understanding. I believe I stated earlier in
my tale that Judge Priest had a little knack for winning people's
confidences. Perhaps I should also explain that at a suitable time in
the introductory stages of the conversation he produced a line in the
characteristic handwriting of Mr. Montreal Red. Being thereby still
further enlightened as to the disinterestedness of the venerable
stranger's motives, the Solitary Kid proved frankness itself.
Preliminarily, though, he listened intently while Judge Priest recited
in full a story that had mainly to do with the existing plight of
Emanuel Moon.

"Now then, suh," said Judge Priest at the conclusion of his narrative,
"I've laid all the cyards that I hold on the table right in front of
you. Ef I'm correct in my guess that you're the party of the second part
in this here transaction I don't need to go on, because you know a sight
more about the rest of it than whut I do. The way I figger it, a decent,
honest little man is in serious trouble, mainly on your account. Ef
you're so minded I calculate that you kin help him without hurtin'
yourself any. Now then, presumin' sech to be the case, is there anythin'
you'd like to say to me--ez his friend?"

Conklin, alias Caruthers, alias Crowley, and so on, put a question of
his own now:

"You say the president of that bank is the one that tried to fasten this
job on Moon, eh? Well, then, before we go any further, suppose you tell
me what that president looks like?"

Judge Priest sketched a quick word picture of Mr. Hiram Blair--accurate
and fair, therefore not particularly complimentary.

"That's enough," said the convict grimly; "that'll do. Why, the
long-whiskered old dog! Now then, Judge--you said you were a judge,
didn't you?--I'm going to spill a funny yam for you. Never mind what my
reasons for coming through are. Maybe I want to get even with somebody
that handed me a large disappointment. Maybe I don't want to see that
little Moon suffer for something he didn't do. Figure it out for
yourself afterward, but first listen to me."

"I'm listenin', son," said Judge Priest.

"Good!" said Conklin, lowering his voice cautiously, though he knew
already they were alone in the warden's room.

"Up to a certain point you've got the thing figured out just as it came
off. That day on the train going into Louisville I started to take the
little man at cards. I was going to deal him the big mitt and then clean
him for what he had; but when he told me he worked in a bank--a nice,
fat little country bank--I switched the play, of course. I saw thousands
of dollars where I'd seen lunch money before. Inside of an hour I knew
everything there was to know about that bank--what he knew and what
I could figure from what he told me. All I had to do was to turn the
spigot once in a while and let him run on. And then, when he began to
spill his cravings for a new clarinet, I almost laughed in his face. The
whole thing looked like a pipe.

"The dope was working lovely when I hit that town of yours two weeks
later. At the right minute I flashed the clarinet on him and made him
forget to throw the combination of the vault. So far, so good. Then,
when I got him where I wanted him--over in my room--I slipped the drops
into his beer; not enough to hurt him but enough to start him pounding
his ear right away. That was easy too--so easy I almost hated to do it.

"Then I waited until about two o'clock in the morning, him lying there
all the time on my bed, dead to the world.. So I took his keys off him
and dropped across the street without being seen by anybody--the main
street of your town is nice and quiet after midnight--I'll say that much
for it anyway--and walked into the bank the same as if I owned it--in
fact, I did own it--and made myself at home. I opened up the vault and
went through it, with a pocket flash to furnish light; and then after
a little I locked her up again, good and tight, leaving everything just
like I'd found it, and went back to the hotel and put the keys in the
little man's pocket, and laid down alongside of him and took a nap
myself. D'ye see my drift?"

"I reckin I don't altogether understand--yit," said Judge Priest.

"You naturally wouldn't," said Conklin with the air of a teacher
instructing an attentive but very ignorant pupil. "Here's what happened:
When I took a good look at the inside door of that vault and tried the
tumblers of the outside door I knew I could open her any time I wanted
to--in five minutes or less. Besides, I wouldn't need the keys any more,
seeing as I could make impressions of 'em in wax, which I did as soon
as I got back inside of my room at the hotel. So I was sure of having
duplicates whenever I needed 'em."

"I'm feared that I'm still in the dark," said Judge Priest. "You see
it's only here right recently that I took up your callin' in life--ez a
study."

"Well, figure it out for yourself," said Conklin. "If I made my clean-up
and my getaway that night it was a cinch that they'd connect up Moon
with his strange friend from New York; even a hick bull would be wise
enough to do that. And inside of twenty-four hours they'd be combing the
country for a gun answering to my general plans and specifications. At
the beginning I was willing to take that chance; but after I had a look
at that combination I switched my play. Besides, there wasn't enough
coin in the box that night to suit me. I always play for the big dough
when I can, and I remembered what the little man told me about
that lumber company--you know the one I mean: that big crosstie
concern--depositing its pay roll every other Friday night. So why
wouldn't I hold off?"

"I begin to see," said Judge Priest. "You're makin' me see a number of
things that've been pesterin' me fur three-four days now."

"Wait till you get the final kick," promised the convict. "That'll open
your eyes some, I guess. Well, I skinned out next morning and I went
elsewhere--never mind where, but it wasn't far away. Then on the night
of the fifteenth--the third Friday in the month--I came back again,
travelling incog., as they say on the other side of the duck pond; and
about two o'clock in the morning I paid another call to your little
old Commonwealth Bank and opened up the vault--outside door and inside
door--in four minutes by my watch, without putting a mark on her. That's
my specialty--nice, dean jobs, without damaging the box or making any
litter for the janitor to sweep up in the morning. But I didn't clean
her out that time either."

"Ahem!" said Judge Priest doubtfully. "You didn't?"

"Oh, I didn't expect you to believe that right off," stated Mr. Conklin,
prolonging his climax. "The reason I didn't clean her out then was
because she was already cleaned out; somebody had beat me to it and
got away with everything worth having in that little old box. It was
considerable of a disappointment to me--and a shock too."

"It shorely must've been," agreed the judge, almost sympathetically.
"Mout I ask ef you've got any gineral notion who it was that--that
deprived you of the fruits of your industry and your patience?"

"I don't have to have any general notion," quoth Conklin et al., with
bitterness creeping into his voice. "I know who it was--that is, I'm
practically certain I know who it was. Because, while I was across
the street in a doorway about half past one, waiting to make sure the
neighbourhood was clear, I saw the gink I suspect come out of the bank
and lock the door behind him, and go off up the street.

"I thought at the time it was funny--anybody being in that bank at that
hour of the night; but mostly I was glad that I hadn't walked in on him
while he was there. So I just laid low and let him get away with the
entire proceeds--which was my mistake. I guess under the circumstances
he'd have been glad enough to divide up with me. I might even have
induced him to hand over the whole bunch to me--though, as a rule, when
it can be avoided I don't believe in any strong-arm stuff. But, you see,
I didn't know then what I found out about half an hour later. So I just
stood still where I was, like a boob, and let him fade away out of my
life. Yep, Judge, I'm reasonably sure I saw the party that copped the
big roll that night. And I presume I'm the only person alive that did
see him copping it."

"Would you mind describin' him--ez nearly ez you kin?" asked Judge
Priest; he seemed to have accepted the story as a truthful recital.

"I don't need to," answered the Solitary Kid. "You did that yourself
just a little bit ago. If you're going back home any time soon I suggest
that you ask the old pappy-guy with the long white whiskers what he was
doing coming out of his own bank at half past one o'clock on the morning
of October the sixteenth, with a long overcoat on, and his hat pulled
down over his eyes, and a heavy sackful of dough hid under his coat. I
didn't exactly see the sack, but he had it, all right--I'll gamble on
that. You needn't tell him where you got your information, but just ask
him."

"Son," averred Judge Priest, "I shorely will do that very thing; in
fact, I came mighty nigh practically doin' so several weeks ago when I
didn't know nigh ez much ez I do now--thanks to you and much obliged."

But Judge Priest was spared the trouble--for the time being, at least.
What transpired later in a legal way in his courtroom has nothing
whatever to do with this narration. It is true that he left Atlanta
without loss of time, heading homeward as straight and as speedily as
the steam cars could bear him.

Even so, he arrived too late to carry out his promise to the Solitary
Kid. For that very day, while he was on his way back, in a city several
hundred miles distant--in the city of Chicago, to be precise--the police
saw fit to raid an establishment called vulgarly a bucket shop; and
finding among the papers and books, which they coincidentally seized,
entries tending to show that our Mr. Hiram Blair had, during the
preceding months, gone short on wheat to a disastrous extent, the police
inconsiderately betrayed those records of a prolonged and unfortunate
speculation to one of the Chicago afternoon papers, which in turn wired
its local correspondent down our way to call upon the gentleman and ask
him pointblank how about it.

But the correspondent, who happened also to be the city staff of
the _Daily Evening News_, a young man by the name of Rawlings, was
unsuccessful in his attempts to see Mr. Blair, either at his place
of business in the bank or at his residence. From what he was able
to glean, the reporter divined that Mr. Blair had gone out of town
suddenly. Putting two and two together the young man promptly reached
the conclusion that Mr. Blair might possibly have had also some word
from Chicago. Developments, rapidly ensuing, proved the youth correct in
his hypothesis.

Two days later Mr. Blair was halted by a person in civilian garb, but
wearing a badge of authority under his coat, as Mr. Blair was about
to cross the boundary line near Buffalo into the adjacent Dominion of
Canada. Mr. Blair insisted at first that it was not him. In truth it did
not look like him. Somewhere en route he had lost his distinguished chin
whiskers and his commanding manner, acquiring in lieu of these a name
which did not in the least resemble Hiram Blair.

Nevertheless, being peremptorily, forcibly and over his protests
detained--in fact, locked up--he was presently constrained to make a
complete statement, amounting to a confession. Indeed, Mr. Blair went so
far in his disclosures that the _Daily Evening News_, in an extra issued
at high noon, carried across its front page, in box-car letters, a
headline reading: Fugitive, in Durance Vile, Tells All!

Old Judge Priest was passing Mrs. Teenie Morrill's boarding house one
night on his way home from Soule's drug store, where he had spent the
evening in the congenial company of Mr. Soule, Sergeant Jimmy Bagby and
Squire Roundtree. This was perhaps a week after his return from a flying
trip to Atlanta, Georgia, the results of which, as the saying goes,
still were locked within his breast.

As he came opposite Mrs. Morrill's front gate a blast of harmonious
sound, floating out into the night, saluted his ears. He looked upward.
Behind a front window on the top floor, with his upper lip overlapping
the mouthpiece of a handsome clarinet and his fingers flitting upon
the polished shaft of the instrument, sat little Emanuel Moon, now, by
virtue of appointment, Deputy Circuit Clerk Emanuel Moon, playing
The Last Rose of Summer with the fervour inspired of a happy heart, a
rehabilitated reputation, a lucrative and honourable employment in the
public service, and a newly acquired mastery of the melodic intricacies
of the air in question--four things calculated, you will allow, to make
anyone blithe of the spirit.

The old judge halted and smiled up at the window. Then, as he moved
onward, he uttered the very word--a small coincidence, this--which I
chose for the opening text of this chapter out of the life and the times
of our town.

"Poor little ant!" said Judge Priest to himself; and then, as an
afterthought: "But a dag-gone clever little feller!"



V. SERGEANT JIMMY BAGBY'S FEET


SERGEANT JIMMY BAGBY sat on the front porch of the First Presbyterian
parsonage with an arched framing of green vines above his head. His
broad form reposed in a yet broader porch chair--his bare feet, in a
foot-tub of cold water.

The sergeant wore his reunion regalia, consisting, in the main, of an
ancient fatigue jacket with an absurdly high collar and an even more
absurdly short and peaked tail. About his generous middle was girthed a
venerable leather belt that snaffled at the front with a broad buckle
of age-darkened brass and supported an old cartridge box, which perched
jauntily upon a fold of the wearer's plump hip like a birdbox on a
crotch. Badges of resplendent new satin, striped in alternate bars
of red and white, flowed down over his foreshortened bosom, partly
obscuring the scraps of rotted and faded braid and the big round ball
buttons of dulled brass, which adhered intermittently to the decayed
front of his uniform coat. Against a veranda post leaned the sergeant's
rusted rifle, the same he had carried to the war and through the war and
home again after the war, and now reserved for occasions of high state,
such as the present one.

The sergeant's trousers were turned high up on his shanks; his shoes
reposed side by side alongside him on the floor, each with a white
yam sock crammed into and overflowing it. They were new shoes, but
excessively dusty and seamed with young wrinkles; and they bore that
look of total disrepute which anything new in leather always bears after
its first wearing. With his elbows on his thighs and his hands clasped
loosely between his knees, Sergeant Bagby bent forward, looking first up
the wide street and then down it. Looking this way he saw four old
men, three of them dressed in grey and one in black, straggle limpingly
across the road; and one of them carried at a droopy angle a flag upon
which were white-scrolled letters to tell the world that here was Lyon's
Battery, or what might be left of it. Looking that way he saw a group of
ten or fifteen grey heads riding through a cross street upon bay horses;
and at a glance he knew them for a detachment of Forrest's men, who
always came mounted to reunions. Once they rode like centaurs; now, with
one or two exceptions, they rode like sacks or racks. It depended on
whether, with age, the rider had grown stout or stayed thin.

Having looked both ways, the sergeant addressed himself to a sight
nearer home. He considered his feet. Viewed through sundry magnifying
and misleading inches of water they seemed pinky white; but when,
groaning gently, he lifted one foot dear it showed an angry chafed
red upon toe and heel, with large blis-tery patches running across the
instep. With a plop he lowered it back into the laving depths. Then,
bending over sideways, he picked up one of his shoes, shaking the
crumpled sock out of it and peering down its white-lined gullet to read
the maker's tag:

"Fall River, Mass.," the sergeant spelled out the stamped
letters--"Reliance Shoe Company, Fall River, Mass."

He dropped the shoe and in tones of reluctant admiration addressed empty
space:

"Well, now, ain't them Yankees the persistent devils! Waitin' forty-odd
years fur a chance to cripple me up! But they done it!" Judge Priest
turned in at the front gate and came up the yard walk. He was in
white linens, severely and comfortably civilian in cut, but with a
commandant's badge upon his lapel and a short, bobby, black ostrich
feather in the brim of his hat. He advanced slowly, with a slight
outward skew to his short, round legs.

"Aha!" he said understandingly. "Whut did I tell you, Jimmy Bagby, about
tryin' to parade in new shoes? But no, you wouldn't listen--you would be
one of these here young dudes!"

"Judge," pleaded the sergeant, "don't rub it in! I'm about ruint--I'm
ruint for life with these here feet of mine."

Still at a somewhat stiff and straddle-legged gait, the judge mounted
the porch, and after a quick appraisal of all the chairs in sight eased
his frame into one that had a cushioned seat. A small involuntary moan
escaped him. It was the sergeant's time to gloat.

"I'm wearin' my blisters on my feet," he exulted, "and you're wearin'
yourn--elsewhere. That's whut you git at your age fur tryin' to ride a
strange horse in a strange town."

"Jimmy," protested the judge, "age ain't got nothin' a'tall to do with
it; but that certainly was a mighty hard-rackin' animal they conferred
on me. I feel like I've been straddlin' a hip roof durin' an earthquake.
How did you make out to git back here?"

"That last half mile or so I shore did think I was trampin' along on
red-hot ploughshears. If there'd been one more mile to walk I reckin I'd
'a' been listed amongst the wounded and missin'. I jest did about manage
to hobble in. And Mizz Grundy fetched me this here piggin of cold water
out on the porch, so's I could favour my feet and watch the boys passin'
at the same time."

Judge Priest undertook to cross one leg over the other, but uncrossed it
again with a wince of sudden concern on his pink face.

"How do you aim, then, to git to the big doin's this evenin'?" he asked,
and shifted his position slightly where he sat.

"I ain't aimin' to git there," said Sergeant Bagby. "I aim to stay right
here and take my ease. Besides, ef I don't git these feet of mine shrunk
down some by milkin' time, I'm shore goin' to have to pull my pants off
over my head this night."

"Well, now, ain't that too bad!" commiserated his friend and commander.
"I wouldn't miss hearin' Gen'l Gracey's speech fur a purty."

"Don't you worry about me," the sergeant was prompt to tell him.. "You
and Lew Lake and Hector Woodward and the other boys kin represent Gideon
K. Irons Camp without me fur oncet anyway. And say, listen, Judge," he
added with malice aforethought, "you'd better borrow a goosehair
cushion, or a feather tick, or somethin' soft, to set on out yonder.
Them plain pine benches are liable to make a purty hard roostin' place,
even fur an old seasoned cavalryman."

Judge Priest's retort, if he had one in stock, remained unbroached,
because just then their hostess bustled out to announce dinner was on
the table. It was to be an early dinner and a hurried one, because,
of course, everybody wanted to start early, to be sure of getting good
seats for the speaking. The sergeant ate his right where he was, his
feet in his tub, like a Foot-washing Baptist.

There were servants aplenty within, but the younger Miss Grundy elected
to serve him; a pretty girl, all in snowy white except for touches of
red at her throat and her slender belted waist, and upon one wrist was a
bracelet of black velvet with old soldiers' buttons strung thickly upon
it. On a tray, daintily tricked out, she brought the sergeant fried
chicken and corn pudding and butter beans, and the like, with com
pones hot-buttered in the kitchen; and finally a slice carved from the
blushing red heart of the first home-grown watermelon of the season.
Disdaining the false conventions of knife and fork the sergeant bit into
this, full face.

Upon the tub bottom his inflamed toes overlapped and waggled in a gentle
ecstasy; and between bites, while black seeds trickled from the corners
of his lips, he related to the younger Miss Grundy the beginning of
his story of that memorable passage of words upon a certain memorable
occasion, between General John C. Breckinridge and General Simon Bolivar
Buckner. The young lady had already heard this same beginning thrice,
the sergeant having been a guest under the parental roof since noon of
the day before, but, until interruption came, she listened with
unabated interest and laughed at exactly the right places, whereupon the
gratified narrator mentally catalogued her as about the smartest young
lady, as well as the prettiest, he had met in a coon's age.

All good things must have an end, however--even a watermelon dessert
and the first part of a story by Sergeant Jimmy Bagby; and so a
little later, rejecting all spoken and implied sympathy with a jaunty
indifference that may have been slightly forced, the sergeant remained,
like another Diogenes, in the company of his tub, while the rest of
the household, including the grey-haired Reverend Doctor Grundy, his
white-haired wife, Judge Priest and the two Misses Grundy, departed in
a livery-stable carryall for a given point half a mile up the street,
where a certain large skating rink stretched its open doors hospitably,
so disguised in bunting and flags it hardly knew itself by its grand yet
transient title of Reunion Colosseum. Following this desertion, there
was for a while in all directions a pleasurable bustle to keep the
foot-fast watcher bright as to eye and stirred as to pulse.

"Why, shuckins, there ain't a chance fur me to git lonely," he bade
himself--"not with all this excitement goin' on and these here hoofs of
mine to keep me company!"

Crowds streamed by afoot, asaddle and awheel, all bound for a common
destination. Every house within sight gave up its separate group
of dwellers and guests; for during reunion week everybody takes in
somebody. Under the threshing feet the winnowed dust mounted up in
scrolls from the roadway, sifting down on the grass and powdering the
chinaberry trees overhead. No less than eight brass bands passed within
sight or hearing. And one of them played Maryland, My Maryland; and one
of them played The Bonnie Blue Flag--but the other six played Dixie, as
was fitting.

A mounted staff in uniform clattered grandly by, escorting the
commanding general of some division or other, and an open carriage
came along, overflowing with a dainty freightage of state sponsors and
maids-of-honour. As it rolled grandly past behind its four white horses,
a saucy girl on the back seat saw an old man sitting alone on the Grundy
porch, with his feet in a tub, and she blew a kiss at him off the
tips of her fingers; and Sergeant Bagby, half rising, waved back most
gallantly, and God-blessed her and called her Honey!

Soon, though, the crowds thinned away. Where multitudes had been, only
an occasional straggler was to be seen. The harried and fretted dust
settled back. A locust in a tree began to exercise his talents in song,
and against the green warp of the shrubbery on the lawn a little blue
bobbin of an indigo bird went vividly back and forth. Lonesome? No,
nothing like that; but the sergeant confessed to himself that possibly
he was just a trifle drowsy. His head dropped forward on his badged
chest, and as the cool wetness drew the fever out of his feet his toes,
under water, curled up in comfort and content.

Asked about it afterward, Sergeant Bagby would have told you that he had
no more than closed his eyelids for a wink or two. But the shadows had
appreciably lengthened upon the grass before a voice, lifted in a hail,
roused him up. Over the low hedge that separated the parsonage yard from
the yard adjoining on the left a man was looking at him--a man somewhere
near his own age, he judged, in an instantaneous appraisal.

"Cumrud," said this person, "howdy-do?"

"Which?" inquired Sergeant Bagby.

"I said, Cumrud, howdy?" repeated the other.

"No," said the sergeant; "my name is Bagby."

"I taken it fur granted that you was to home all alone," said the man
beyond the hedge. "Be you?"

"At this time of speakin'," said the sergeant, "there's nobody at
home exceptin' me and a crop of blisters. Better come over," he added
hospitably.

"Well," said the stranger, as though he had been considering the
advisability of such a move for quite a period of time, "I mout."

With no further urging he wriggled through a gap in the hedge and
stood at the foot of the steps, revealing himself as a small, wiry,
rust-coloured man. Anybody with an eye to see could tell that in his
youth he must have been as redheaded, as a pochard drake. Despite
abundant streakings of grey in his hair he was still redheaded, with
plentiful whiskers to match, and on his nose a pair of steel-rimmed
spectacles, and on his face and neck a close sowing of the biggest,
intensest freckles Sergeant Bagby had ever beheld. They spangled his
skin as with red asterisks, and the gnarled hand he extended in greeting
as he mounted the porch looked as though in its time it had mixed at
least one million bran mashes.

Achieving a somewhat wabbly standing posture in his keeler, the sergeant
welcomed him in due form.

"I don't live here myself," he explained, "but I reckin you might say
I'm in full charge, seein' ez I crippled myself up this mornin' and
had to stay behind this evenin'. Come in and take a cheer and rest
yourself."

"Thanky!" said the freckly one. "I mout do that too." He did. His voice
had a nasal smack to it which struck the sergeant as being alien. "I
didn't ketch the name," he said. "Mine's Bloomfield---Christian name,
Ezra H."

"Mine's Bagby," stated the sergeant--"late of King's Hell Hounds. You've
probably heard of that command--purty nigh everybody in these parts
has."

"Veteran myself," said Mr. Bloomfield briskly. "Served four years and
two months. Enlisted at fust call for volunteers."

"Started in kind of early myself," said the sergeant, mechanically
catching for the moment the other's quality of quick, clipped speech.
"But say, look here, pardner," he added, resuming his own natural tone,
"whut's the reason you ain't out yonder at that there Colosseum with all
the other boys this evenin'?"

A whimsical squint brought the red eyelashes dose together.

"Well," stated Mr. Bloomfield, rummaging with a deliberate hand in the
remote inner fastnesses of his whiskers, "I couldn't scursely say that I
b'long out there." Then he halted, as if there was no more to be said.

"You told me you served all the way through, didn't you?" asked the
sergeant, puzzled.

"So I told you and so I did," said Mr. Bloomfield; "but I didn't tell
you which side it was I happened to be a-servin' on. Twentieth Indiana
Infantry--that's my regiment, and a good smart one it was too."

"Oh!" said Sergeant Bagby, slightly shocked by the suddenness of this
enlightenment--"Oh! Well, set down anyway, Mr. Bloomfield. Excuse
me--you're already settin', ain't you?"

For a fraction of a minute they contemplated each other, Sergeant Bagby
being slightly flustered and Mr. Bloomfield to all appearances perfectly
calm. The sergeant cleared his throat, but it was the visitor who spoke:

"I've got a fust-rate memory for faces, and the like; and when I
fust seen you settin' here you had a kind of familiar cut to your jib
someway. That's one reason why I hailed you. I wonder now if we didn't
meet up with one another acrost the smoke back yonder in those former
days? I'd take my oath I seen you somewheres."

"I shouldn't be surprised," answered Sergeant Bagby. "All durin' that
war I was almost constantly somewheres."

"Fust Bull Run--I wonder could it 'a' been there?" suggested Mr.
Bloomfield.

"First Manassas, you mean," corrected the sergeant gently, but
none-the-less firmly. "Was you there or thereabout by any chance?" Mr.
Bloomfield nodded. "Me too," said Sergeant Bagby--"on detached service.
Mebbe," he added it softly--"mebbe ef you'd turn round I'd know you by
your back."

If the blow went home Mr. Bloomfield, like a Spartan of the Hoosiers,
hid his wounds. Outwardly he gave no sign.

"P'raps so," he assented mildly; then: "How 'bout Gettysburg?"

The sergeant fell into the trap that was digged for him. The sergeant
was proud of his services in the East.

"You bet your bottom dollar I was there!" he proclaimed--"all three
days."

"Then p'raps you'd better turn round too," said Mr. Bloomfield in
honeyed accents, "and mebbe it mout be I'd be able to reckernise you by
the shape of your spinal colyum."

Up rose Sergeant Bagby, his face puckering in a grin and his hand
outstretched. High up his back his coat peaked out behind like the tail
of a he-mallard.

"Pardner," he announced, "I'm right glad I didn't kill you when I had
all them chances."

"Cumrud," replied Mr. Bloomfield, "on the whole and considerin' of
everything, I don't regret now that I spared you."

If Sergeant Bagby had but worn a Confederate goatee, which he didn't,
being smooth-shaved; and if he hadn't been standing mid-shin-deep in
a foot-tub; and if only Mr. Bloomfield's left shirtsleeve, instead of
being comfortably full of freckled arm, had been empty and pinned to the
bosom of his waistcoat--they might have posed just as they stood then
for the popular picture entitled _North and South United_ which you
will find on the outer cover of the Memorial Day edition of every
well-conducted Sunday newspaper in the land. But that is ever the way
with real life--it so often departs from its traditional aspects. After
a bit the sergeant spoke.

"I was jest thinkin'," he said dreamily.

"So was I," assented Mr. Bloomfield. "I wonder now if it could be so
that we both of us had our minds on the same pleasin' subject?"

"I was jest thinkin'," repeated the sergeant, "that merely because the
Bloody Chasm is bridged over ain't no fittin' reason why it shouldn't be
slightly irrigated frum time to time."

"My idee to a jot," agreed Mr. Bloomfield heartily. "Seems as if the
dust of conflict has been a-floatin' round loose long enough to stand a
little dampin' down."

"Ef only I was at home now," continued Sergeant Bagby, "I'd be able to
put my hand on somethin' handy for moistenin' purposes; but, seein' as
I'm a visitor here, I ain't in no position to extend the hospitalities
suitable to the occasion."

"Sho, now! Don't let that fret you," soothed Mr. Bloomfield--"not with
me livin' next door." He nimbly descended the steps, but halted at the
bottom: "Cumrud, how do you take yours--straight or toddy?"

"Sugar and water don't hurt none--in moderation," replied the sergeant.
"But look here, pardner, this here is a preacher's front porch. We don't
want to be puttin' any scandal on him."

"I'd already figured that out too," said the provident Mr. Bloomfield.
"I'll bring her over in a couple of chiny teacups."

The smile which, starting from the centre, spread over the sergeant's
face like ripples over a pond had not entirely faded away when in a
miraculously short time Mr. Bloomfield returned, a precious votive
offering poised accurately in either hand. "Bagby," he said, "that's
somethin' extry prime in the line of York-state rye!"

"Is it?" said the sergeant. "Well, I reckin the sugar comes frum
Newerleans and that oughter take the curse off. Bloomfield, here's
lookin' toward you!"

"Same to you, Bagby!"

China clicked pleasantly on china as teacup bottom touched teacup brim,
this sound being succeeded instantly by a series of soft sipping sounds.
Sitting thus, his eyes beaming softly over the bulge of his upturned cup
and his lips drawing in the last lingering drops of sirupy sweetness,
the sergeant became aware of a man clumping noisily along the
sidewalk--an old man in a collarless hickory shirt, with a mouse-grey
coat dangling over one arm and mouse-grey trousers upheld by home-made
braces. He was a tail, sparse, sinewy old man, slightly withered, yet
erect, of a build to remind one of a blasted pine; his brow was very
stormy and he talked to himself as he walked. His voice but not his
words came to the sergeant in a rolling, thundery mutter.

"Hey, pardner!" called Sergeant Bagby, holding his emptied cup
breast-high. "Goin' some-wheres or jest travellin' round?"

The passer-by halted and regarded him gloomily over the low palings of
the Reverend Doctor Grundy's fence.

"Well," he made slow answer, "I don't know ez it's anybody's business;
but, since you ast me, I ain't headin' fur no place in particular--I'm
tryin' to walk a mad off."

"Come right on in here then," advised the sergeant, "we've got the
cure fur that complaint." He glanced sideways toward his companion.
"Bloomfield, this here love feast looks mighty like she might grow a
little. Do you reckin you've got another one of them teacups over at
your place, right where you could put your hands on it easy?"

"That's a chore which won't be no trouble whatsoever," agreed Mr.
Bloomfield; and he made as if to go on the errand, but stopped at the
porch edge just inside the vines as the lone pedestrian, having opened
the gate, came slowly toward them. The newcomer put his feet down hard
on the bricks; slashes of angry colour like red flares burned under the
skin over his high and narrow cheekbones.

"Gabe Ezell--Cherokee Rifles," he said abruptly as he mounted the steps;
"that's my name and my command."

"I'm Sergeant Bagby, of King's Hell Hounds, and monstrous glad to
make your acquaintance," vouchsafed, for his part, the sergeant. "This
gentleman here is my friend, Major Bloomfield. Take a cheer and set
down, pardner, and rest your face and hands a spell. You look like you
might be a little bit put out about something?" The stranger uttered
a grunt that might mean anything at all or nothing at all. He lowered
himself into a chair and tugged at the collarless band of his shirt as
though it choked him. The sergeant, pleasingly warmed to the core of his
being, was not to be daunted. He put another question:

"Whut's the reason you ain't out to the speakin'? I'm sort of lamed up
myse'f--made the fatal mistake of tryin' to break in a pair of
Dam-Yankee shoes on a couple of Southern-Rights feet. I'm purty well
reconciled, I reckin; but my feet appear to be still unreconstructed,
frum what I kin gather." Chuckling, he glanced downward at the stubborn
members. "But there don't seem to be nothin' wrong with you--without
it's your feelin's."

"I was figgerin' some on goin' out there," began the tall old man, "but
I couldn't git there on time--I've been at the calaboose." He finished
the confession in a sort of defiant blurt.

"You don't say so!" said the sergeant wonderingly, and commiseratingly
too; and from where he stood on the top step the newly bre-vetted major
evidenced his sympathy in a series of deprecatory clucks. The third man
glared from one to the other of them.

"Oh, I ain't ashamed of it none," he went on stormily. "Ef I had it to
do over agin I'd do it agin the very same way. I may not be so young ez
I was oncet, but anybody that insults the late Southern Confederacy to
my face is breedin' trouble for hisse'f--I don't care ef he's as big as
a mountain!"

From the depths of the foot-tub came small splashing sounds, and little
wavelets rose over its sides and plopped upon the porch floor.

"I reckin sech a thing as that might pester me a little bit my own
se'f," stated the sergeant softly. "Yes, suh; you might safely venture
that under them circumstances I would become kind of irritated myse'f.
Who done it?"

"I'll tell you," said Mr. Ezell, "and let you boys be the jedges of
whether I done the right thing. After the parade was through with this
mornin' me and some of the other boys from down my way was knockin'
round. I got separated from the rest of 'em someway and down yond' on
that main street--I'm a stranger in this town and I don't rightly recall
its name, but it's the main street, whar all them stores is--well,
anyway, down there I come past whar one of these here movin'-picture
to-dos was located. It had a lot of war pictures stuck up out in front
of it and a big sign that said on it: At the Cannon's Mouth! So, not
havin' nothin' else to do, I paid my ten cents to a young lady at the
door and went on in. They gimme a seat right down in frontlike, and
purty soon after that they started throwin' them pictures on a big white
sheet--a screen, I think they calls it.

"Well, suhs, at the fust go-off it was purty good. I got consider'bly
interested--I did so. There was a house come on the sheet that looked
powerful like several places that I knows of down in Middle Georgia,
whar I come frum; and there was several young ladies dressed up like
they used to dress up back in the old days when we was all young fellows
together. Right off, though, one of the young ladies--the purtiest
one of the lot and the spryest-actin'--she fell in love with a Yankee
officer. That jarred me up a little; yet, after all, it mout 'a'
happened and, besides, he wasn't sech a bad young fellow--fur a Yankee.
He saved the young lady's brother when the brother come home frum the
army to see his sick baby and was about to be ketched fur a spy. Yes,
suhs; I've got to admit that there Yankee behaved very decently in the
matter.

"Well, purty soon after the lovin' part was over they come to the
fightin' part, and a string band began to play war pieces. I must say
I got right smartly worked up 'long about there. Them fellows that
was dressed up ez soldiers looked too tony and slick to be real
natchel--there didn't seem to be nary one of 'em wearin' a shirt that
needed searchin', the way it was when we-all was out soldierin'--but ef
you'd shet your eyes 'bout halfway you could mighty nigh imagine it was
the real thing agin. A battery of our boys went into action on the
aidge of a ploughed field and you could see the smoke bustin' out of the
muzzles of the pieces, and you could hear the pieces go off, kerboom!--I
don't know how they worked that part of it, but they did; and 'way over
yond' in a piece of woods you could see the Yankees jest a-droppin'. I
seem to recollect standin' up long about there and givin' a yell or two
myself; but in a minute or so a whole lot more Yankees come chargin' out
of the timber, and they begin to drive our boys back.

"That didn't seem right to me--that didn't seem no way to have it. I
reckin, though, I might 'a' stood that, only in less'n no time a-tall
our boys was throwin' away their guns and some of 'em was runnin' away,
and some of 'em was throwin' up their hands and surrenderin'! And
the Yankees was chargin' in amongst 'em, a-cut-tin' and slashin' and
shootin', and takin' prisoners right and left. It was a scandalous
thing--and a lie besides! It couldn't never 'a' happened noway."

His voice, deep and grumbling before, became sharply edged with mounting
emotion. Mr. Bloomfield looked away to avoid exposing a happy grin,
new-born among his whiskers. It was Sergeant Bagby who spoke, the
intention on his part being to soothe rather than to inflame.

"Pardner," he said, "you've got to remember it wasn't nothin' but jest
play-actin'--jest hired hands makin' believe that it was so."

"I don't care none ef it was," snapped Mr. Ezell. "And, besides, whut's
that got to do with it--with the principle of the thing? It was
a deliberate insult flung right in the face of the late Southern
Confederacy--that and nothin' short of it. Well, I stood it jest as long
as I natchelly could--and that wasn't very long, neither, lemme tell
you, gentlemen."

"Then whut?" inquired Sergeant Bagby, bending forward in his seat.

"Then I up with my cheer and chunked it right through their dad-burned,
lyin' sheet--that's whut I done! I busted a big hole in her right whar
there was a smart-alecky Yankee colonel sailin' acrost on a horse. I
says: 'Here's a few reinforcements frum the free state of Georgia!' And
I let him have it with the cheer, kefrblim! That there battle broke up
right then and there. And that's how I come to go to the calaboose."

Mr. Bloomfield, now rigidly erect, and with no grin on his face, opened
his lips to say something; but Sergeant Bagby beat him to it.

"Pardner," he asked incredulously, "did they lock you up jest fur doin'
that?"

"No," said the heated Mr. Ezell, "they didn't really lock me up a-tall.
But the secont I throwed that cheer there was a lot of yellin' and
scrabblin' round, and the lights went up, and the string band quit
playin' its piece and here come a-runnin' an uppidy-lookin' man--he was
the one that run the show, I take it--bleatin' out somethin' about me
havin' broke up his show and him wantin' damages. He made the mistake of
grabbin' holt of me and callin' me a name that I don't purpose to have
nobody usin' on me. He wanted damages. Well, right there he got 'em!"

He raised a bony fist, on which the knuckles were all barked and raw,
and gazed at it fondly, as though these were most honourable scars.

"So then, after that, a couple of them other show people they drug him
away frum whar he was layin' on the floor a-yellin'," he went on, "and a
town policeman come in and taken me off to the calaboose in a hack, with
a crowd followin' 'long behind. But when we got there the gentleman that
was runnin' the place--he wore blue clothes and I jedge from his costume
and deportment he must 'a' been the town marshal--he listened to whut
we-all had to say, and he taken a look at that there showman's busted
jaw and sort of grinned to hisse'f; then he said that, seein' as all us
old soldiers had the freedom of the city for the time bein', he 'lowed
he'd let the whole matter drop right whar it was providin' I'd give
him my solemn promise not to go projectin' round no more movin'-picture
places endurin' of my stay in their midst. Well, ef they're all like
the one I seen to-day it's goin' to be a powerful easy promise fur me
to keep--I know that! But that's how I come to miss the doin's this
evenin'--I missed my dinner too--and that's how I come to be walkin' way
out here all by myse'f."

In the pause that followed Mr. Bloomfield saw his chance. Mr.
Bloomfield's voice had a crackling tone in it, like fire running through
broom-sedge.

"Lookyhere, my friend!" he demanded crisply. "Ain't you been kind of
flyin' in the face of history as well as the movin'-picture industry?
Seems to me I recall that you pleg-taked Rebs got a blamed good lickin'
about ever' once in so often, or even more frequently than that. If my
memory serves me right it seems to me you did indeed!"

Mr. Ezell swung in his chair and the spots in his cheeks spread until
his whole face burned a brick-dust red.' Sergeant Jimmy Bagby threw
himself into the breach. Figuratively speaking, he had both arms full of
heartsease and rosemary.

"In reguards to the major here"--he indicated Mr. Bloomfield with a
gracious gesture of amity--"I furgot to tell you that he taken a rather
prominent part--on the other side frum us."

As Mr. Ezell's choler rose his brows came down and lowered.

"Huh!" said Mr. Ezell with deadly slowness. "Whut's a Yankee doin' down
here in this country?"

"Doin' fairly well," answered Mr. Bloomfield. "F'r instance, he's payin'
taxes on that there house next door." He flirted his whiskered chin over
his left shoulder. "F'r instance, also, he's runnin' the leadin' tannery
and saddle-works of this city, employin' sixteen hands regular. Also,
he was elected a justice of the peace a week ago last We'nesday by his
fellow citizens, regardless of politics or religion--thanky for askin'!

"Also," he went on, his freckles now standing out beautifully against a
mounting pink background--"Also and furthermore, he remembers distinctly
having been present on a number of occasions when he helped to lick you
Seceshers good and proper. And if you think, my friend, that I'm goin'
to abate one jot or tittle from that statement you're barkin' up the
wrong tree, I tell you!"

Now behold in the rôle of peacemaker Sergeant Jimmy Bagby rising
grandly erect to his full height, but keeping his feet and ankles in the
foottub.

"Say, listen here, Major," he pleaded, "ef you kin kindly see your
way dear to abatin' a few jots on behalf of Indiana I'll bet you I kin
induce Georgia to throw off every blamed tittle he's got in stock. And
then ef Indiana kin dig up another of them delightful teacups of his'n
I believe I kin guarantee that Kintucky and Georgia will join him in
pourin' a small but nourishin' libation upon the altar of friendship,
not to mention the thresholds of a reunited country. Ain't I got the
right notion, boys? Of course I have! And then, as soon as we-all git
settled down agin comfortable I'm goin' to tell you two boys something
mighty interestin' that come up oncet when I was on hand and heared the
whole thing. Did I mention to you before that I belonged to King's Hell
Hounds?"

Diplomacy surely lost an able advocate in the spring of 1865 when
Sergeant Bagby laid down the sword to take up retail groceries. As
soothing oil upon roiled waters his words fell; they fell even as sweet
unguents upon raw wounds. And, besides, just then Mr. Ezell caught
a whiff of a most delectable and appealing aroma as the sergeant, on
concluding his remarks with a broad-armed gesture, swished his teacup
directly under Mr. Ezell's nose.

Probably not more than ten or twelve minutes had pleasantly elapsed--it
usually took the sergeant twenty to tell in all its wealth of detail
the story of what General Breckinridge said to General Buckner, and
what General Buckner said in reply to General Breckinridge, and he was
nowhere near the delectable climax yet--when an interruption came.
Into the ken of these three old men, seated in a row upon the parsonage
porch, there came up the street a pair whose gait and general air of
flurriment and haste instantly caught and held their attention. Side by
side sped a young woman and a young man--a girl and a boy rather, for
she looked to be not more than eighteen or, say, nineteen, and he at
the most not more than twenty-one or so. Here they came, getting nearer,
half-running, panting hard, the girl with her hands to her breast,
and both of them casting quick, darting glances backward over their
shoulders as though fearing pursuit.

"Well," said Mr. Bloomfield, "all the excitement appears to be happenin'
round here this afternoon. I wonder now what ails them two young
people?" He squinted through his glasses at the nearing couple. "Why,
the gal is that pore little Sally Fannie Gibson that lives over here on
the next street. Do tell now!"

He rose; so, a moment later, did his companions, for the youth had
jerked Doctor Grundy's gate open and both of them were scudding up the
walk toward them. Doubtless because of their agitation the approaching
two seemed to notice nothing unusual in the fact that these three
elderly men, rising at their coming, should each be holding in his
right hand a large china teacup, and that one, the central figure of the
three, and the largest of bulk, should be planted ankle-deep and better
in a small green tub, rising from it at an interested angle, like some
new kind of plump, round potted plant.

"Oh! Oh!" gasped the girl; she clung to the lowermost post of the
step-rail. "Where is Doctor Grundy, please? We must see Doctor Grundy
right away--right this minute!"

"We want him to marry us!" exclaimed the youth, blurting it out.

"We've got the license," the girl said. "Harvey's got it in his pocket."

"And here it is!" said the youth, producing the document and holding it
outspread in a shaking hand. It appeared crumpled, but valid.

It was but proper that Sergeant Bagby, in his capacity as host pro tem,
should do the necessary explaining.

"Well now, young lady and young gentleman," he said, "I'm sorry to have
to disappoint you--monstrous sorry--but, to tell you the truth, the
Reverend Doctor Grundy ain't here; in fact, we ain't lookin' fur him
back fur quite some time yit."

"He is reunionisin' at the Pastime Skating Rink," volunteered Mr.
Bloomfield. "You'll have to wait a while, Sally Fannie."

"Oh," cried the girl, "we can't wait--we just can't wait! We were
counting on him. And now--Oh, what shall we do, Harvey?"

Shrinking up against the railing she wrung her hands. The sergeant
observed that she was a pretty little thing--small and shabby, but
undeniably pretty, even in her present state of fright. There were tears
in her eyes. The boy was trembling.

"You'd both better come in and take a cheer and ca'm yourselves," said
the sergeant. "Let's talk it over and see whut we-all kin do."

"I tell you we can't wait!" gulped the girl, beginning to sob in
earnest. "My stepfather is liable to come any minute! I'm as 'fraid as
death of him. He's found out about the license--he's looking for us
now to stop us. Oh, Harvey! Harvey! And this was our only chance!"
She turned to her sweetheart and he put both his arms round her
protectingly.

"I know that stepfather of yours," put in Mr. Bloomfield, in a tone
which indicated that he did not know much about him that was good or
wholesome. "What's his main objection to you and this young fellow
gittin' married? Ain't you both of age?"

"Yes, we are--both of us; but he don't want me to marry at all," burst
from the girl. "He just wants me to stay at home and slave and slave and
slave! And he don't like Harvey--he hates him! Harvey hasn't been
living here very long, and he pretends he don't know anything about
Har-rr-r-vey."

She stretched the last word out in a pitiful, long-drawn quaver.

"He don't like Harvey, eh?" repeated Mr. Bloomfield. "Well, that's one
thing in Harvey's favour anyway. Young man," he demanded briskly, "kin
you support a wife?"

"Yes, sir," spoke up Harvey; "I can. I've got a good job and I'm making
good pay--I'm in the engineering crew that came down from Chicago last
month to survey the new short line over to Knoxville."

"Oh, what are we wasting all this time for?" broke in the desperate
Sally Fannie. "Don't you-all know--didn't I tell you that he's right
close behind us? And he'll kill Harvey! I know he will--and then I'll
die too! Oh, don't be standing there talking! Tell us what to do,
somebody--or show us where to hide!"

Mr. Bloomfield's dappled hand waggled his brindled whiskers agitatedly.
Mr. Ezell tugged at his hickory neckband; very possibly his thoughts
were upon that similar situation of a Northern wooer and a Southern
maid as depicted in the lately interrupted film drama entitled At the
Cannon's Mouth. Like a tethered pachyderm, Sergeant Bagby swayed his
form upon his stationary underpinning.

"Little gal, I most certainly do wisht there was something I could do!"
began Mr. Bloomfield, the spirit of romance all aglow within his elderly
and doubtless freckled bosom.

"Well, there is, Major!" shouted the sergeant suddenly. "Shore as gun's
iron, there's somethin' you kin do! Didn't you tell us boys not half an
hour ago you was a jestice of the peace?"

"Yes, I did!"

"Then marry 'em yourself!" It wasn't a request--it was a command,
whoopingly, triumphantly given.

"Cumrud," said Mr. Bloomfield, "I hadn't thought of it--why, so I
could!"

"Oh, could you?" Sally Fannie's head came up and her cry had hope in it
now. "And would you do it--right quick?"

Unexpected stage fright overwhelmed Mr. Bloomfield.

"I've took the oath of office, tubby sure--but I ain't never performed
no marriage ceremony--I don't even remember how it starts," he
confessed.

"Think it up as you go 'long," advised Sergeant Bagby.

"Whutever you say is bindin' on all parties concerned--I know that much
law." It was the first time since the runaways arrived that Mr. Ezell
had broken silence, but his words had potency and pith.

"But there has got to be witnesses--two witnesses," parried Mr.
Bloomfield, still filled with the buck-ague qualms of the amateur.

"Whut's the matter with me and him fur witnesses?" cried Sergeant Bagby,
pointing toward Mr. Ezell. He wrestled a thin gold band off over a
stubborn fingerjoint. "Here's even a weddin' ring!"

The boy, who had been peering down the silent street, with a tremulous
hand cupped over his anxious eyes, gave a little gasp of despair and
plucked at the girl's sleeve. She turned--and saw then what he had
already seen.

"Oh, it's too late! It's too late!" she quavered, cowering down. "There
he comes yonder!"

"'Tain't no sech of a thing!" snapped Sergeant Bagby, actively in
command of the situation. "You two young ones come right up here on
this porch and git behind me and take hands. Indiana, perceed with your
ceremony! Georgia and Kintucky, stand guard!" With big spread-eagle
gestures he shepherded the elopers into the shelter of his own wide
bulk.

A man with a red, passionate face and mean, squinty eyes, who ran along
the nearer sidewalk, looking this way and that, saw indistinctly through
the vines the pair he sought, and, clearing the low fence at a bound, he
came tearing across the grassplot, his heels tearing deep gouges in the
turf. His voice gurgled hoarsely in his throat as he tried to utter--all
at once--commands and protests, threats and curses.

From somewhere behind Sergeant Bagby's broad back came the last feebly
technical objection of the officiating functionary:

"But, cumruds, somebody's got to give the bride away!"

"I give the bride away, dad-gum you!" blared Sergeant Bagby at the top
of his vocal register. "King's Hell Hounds give the bride away!"

Thus, over his shoulder, did Sergeant Bagby give the bride away; and
then he faced front, with chest expanded and the light of battle in his
eyes.

Vociferating, blasphemous, furious, Sally Fannie's tyrant charged the
steps and then recoiled at their foot. A lean, sinewy old man in a
hickory shirt barred his way, and just beyond this barrier a stout old
man with his feet in a foot-tub loomed both large and formidable. For
the moment baffled, he gave voice to vain and profane foolishness.

"Stop them two!" he yelled, his rage making him almost inarticulate.
"She ain't of age--and even ef she is I ain't agoin' to have this!"
"Say, ain't you got no politeness a'tall!" inquired Mr. Ezell,
of Georgia. "Don't you see you're interruptin' the holy rites of
matrimony--carryin' on thataway?"

"That's whut I aim to do, blame you!" howled the other, now sensing for
the first time the full import of the situation. "I'll matrimony her,
the little----" He spat out the foulest word our language yields for
fouler tongues to use. "That ain't all--I'll cut the heart out of the
man that interferes!"

Driving his right hand into his right trousers pocket he cleared the
three lower steps at a bound and teetered upon his toes on the very edge
of the fourth one.

In the act of making his hand into a fist Mr. Ezell discovered he could
not do so by reason of his fingers being twined in the handle of a
large, extra-heavy ironstone-china teacup. So he did the next best
thing--he threw the cup with all his might, which was considerable.
At close range this missile took the enemy squarely in the chest and
staggered him back. And as he staggered back, clutching to regain his
balance, Mr. Bloomfield, standing somewhat in the rear and improvising
as fast as his tongue could wag, uttered the concluding, fast-binding
words: "Therefore I pernounce you man and wife; and, whatever you do,
don't never let nobody come betwixt you, asunderin' you apart!"

With a lightning-fast dab of his whiskers he kissed the bride--he had a
flashing intuition that this was required by the ritual--shoved the
pair inside Doctor Grundy's front hall, slammed the door behind them,
snatched up Sergeant Bagby's rusted rifle from where it leaned against
Doctor Grundy's porch post, and sprang forward in a posture combining
defence and offense. All in a second or two Mr. Bloomfield did this.

Even so, his armed services were no longer required; for Sergeant Jimmy
Bagby stepped nimbly out of his tub, picked it up in both hands and
turned it neatly yet crashingly upside down upon the head of the bride's
step-parent--so that its contents, which had been cold and were still
coolish, cascaded in swishing gallons down over his person, effectually
chilling the last warlike impulse of his drenched and dripping bosom,
and rendering him in one breath whipped, choked and tamed.

"With the compliments of the Southern Confederacy!" said Sergeant Bagby,
so doing.

The shadows on the grass lay lank and attenuated when the folks came
back from the Pastime Rink. Sergeant Bagby sat alone upon Doctor
Grundy's porch. There were puddles of spilt water on porch and step
and the walk below, and a green foot-tub, now empty, stood on its side
against the railings. The sergeant was drawing his white yam socks on
over his water-bleached shanks.

"Well, suh, Jimmy," said Judge Priest as he came up under the vines,
"you certainly missed it this evenin'. That was the best speech Gen'l
Tige Gracey ever made in his whole life. It certainly was a wonder and a
jo-darter!"

"Whut was the subject, cumrud?" asked Sergeant Bagby.

"Fraternal Strife and Brotherly Love," replied the judge. "He jest
natchelly dug up the hatchet and then he reburied her ag'in--reburied
her miles deep under Cherokee roses and magnolia blossoms. But how's
your feet? I reckon you've had a purty toler'ble lonesome time settin'
here, ain't you?"

"I see--love and war! War and love," commented the sergeant softly.

Before answering further, he raised his head and glanced over the top
of the intervening hedge toward the house next door. From its open door
issued confused sounds of which he alone knew the secret--it was Georgia
trying to teach Indiana the words and music of the song entitled Old
Virginny Never Tire!

"Oh, my feet are mighty nigh cured," said he; "and I ain't had such a
terrible lonesome time as you might think fur either--cumrud."

"That's the _second_ time you've called me that," said Judge Priest
suspiciously. "Whut does it mean?"

"Oh, that? That's a fureign word I picked up to-day." And Sergeant Bagby
smiled gently. "It's a pet name the Yankees use when they mean pardner!"



VI. ACCORDING TO THE CODE


THE most important thing about Quintus Q. Montjoy, Esquire, occurred a
good many years before he was born. It was his grandfather.

In the natural course of things practically all of us have, or have had,
grandfathers. The science of eugenics, which is comparatively new, and
the rule of species, which is somewhat older, both teach us that without
grandfathers there can be no grandchildren. But only one in a million is
blessed even unto the third generation by having had such a grandfather
as Quintus Q. Montjoy had. That, indeed, was a fragrant inheritance and
by day and by night the legatee inhaled of its perfumes. I refer to his
grandfather on his father's side, the late Braxton Montjoy.

The grandfather on the maternal side must have been a person of abundant
consequence too, else he would never have begat him a daughter worthy to
be mated with the progeny of that other illustrious man; but of him you
heard little or nothing. Being long deceased, his memory was eclipsed
in the umbra of a more compelling personality. It would seem that in all
things, in all that he did and said in this life, Braxton Montjoy was
exactly what the proud grandsire of a justly proud grandscion should be.
He was a gentleman of the Old School in case that conveys anything to
your understanding; and a first family of Virginia. He was a captain
of volunteers in the War of Eighteen-Twelve. He was a colonel in the
Mexican war; that though was after he emigrated out over the Wilderness
Trail to the newer and cruder commonwealth of Kentucky. He was one of
the founders of our town and its first mayor in that far-distant time
when it emerged from the muddied cocoon of a wood-landing on the river
bank and became a corporation with a charter and a board of trustees and
all. Later along, in the early fifties, he served our district in
the upper branch of the State Legislature. In the Civil war he
would undoubtedly have been a general--his descendant gainsaying as
much--except for the unfortunate circumstance of his having passed away
at an advanced age some years prior to the beginning of that direful
conflict. Wherefore the descendant in question, being determined that
his grandfather should not be cheated of his due military meed by death,
conferred an honourary brevet upon him, anyway.

Nor was that all that might be said of this most magnificent of
ancestors--by no means was it all. Ever and always was he a person of
lofty ideals and mountainous principles. He never drank his dram in a
groggery nor discussed the affairs of the day upon the public highway.
Spurning such new-fangled and effetely-luxurious modes of transportation
as carriages, he went horseback whenever he went, and wheresoever. In
the summer time when the family made the annual pilgrimage back across
the mountains to Old White Sulphur he rode the entire distance, both
going and coming, upon a white stallion named _Fairfax_. To the day of
his death he chewed his provender with his own teeth and looked upon the
world-at-large through eyes, unlensed.

Yet he might have owned a hundred sets of teeth or five hundred pairs of
spectacles, had he been so minded, for to him appertained eighty slaves
and four thousand acres of the fattest farm lands to be found in the
rich bottoms of our county. War and Lincoln's Proclamation freed the
slaves but the lands remained, intact and unmortgaged, to make easier
the pathways of those favoured beings of his blood who might come after
him. Finally, he was a duellist of a great and fearsome repute; an
authority recognised and quoted, in the ceremonials of the code. In four
historic meetings upon the field of honour he figured as a principal;
and in at least three more as a second. Under his right shoulder blade,
a cousin of President Thomas Jefferson carried to his grave a lump of
lead which had been deposited there by this great man one fair fine
morning in the Valley of Virginia, during the adjudication, with
pistols, of a dispute which grew out of a difference of opinion touching
upon the proper way of curing a Smithfield ham.

We did not know of these things at first hand. Only a few elderly
inhabitants remembered Braxton Montjoy as he had appeared in the flesh.
To the rest of our people he was a tradition, yet a living one, and this
largely through virtue of the conversational activities of Quintus Q.
Montjoy, the grandson aforesaid, aided and abetted by Mrs. Marcella
Quistenbury.

I should be depriving an estimable lady of a share of the credit due her
did I omit some passing mention of Mrs. Quistenbury from this narrative.
She was one who specialised in genealogy. There is one such as she in
every Southern town and in most New England ones. Give her but a single
name, a lone and solitary distant kinsman to start off with, and for you
she would create, out of the rich stores of her mind, an entire family
tree, complete from its roots, deeply implanted in the soil of native
aristocracy, to the uttermost tip of its far-spreading and ramifying
branches. In the delicate matter of superior breeding she liberally
accorded the Montjoy connection first place among the old families of
our end of the state. So, too, with equal freedom, did the last of the
Montjoys, which made it practically unanimous and left the honour of the
lineage in competent hands.

For Quintus Q.--alas and alackaday--was the last of his glorious line.
Having neither sisters nor brothers and being unmarried he abode alone
beneath the ancestral roof tree. It was not exactly the ancestral roof
tree, if you wish me to come right down to facts. The original homestead
burned down long years before, but the present structure stood upon
its site and was in all essential regards a faithful copy of its
predecessor.

It might be said of our fellow-townsman--and it was--that he lived and
breathed and had his being in the shadow of his grandfather. Among the
ribald and the irreverent stories circulated was one to the effect that
he talked of him in his sleep. He talked of him pretty assiduously when
awake; there wasn't any doubt of that. As you entered his home you
were confronted in the main hall by a large oil portrait of an elderly
gentleman of austere mien, wearing a swallow-fork coat and a neck
muffler and with his hair brushed straight back from the forehead in a
sweep, just as Andrew Jackson brushed his back. You were bound to notice
this picture, the very first thing. If by any chance you didn't notice
it, Quintus Q. found a way of directing your attention to it. Then you
observed the family resemblance.

Quintus Q., standing there alongside, held his hand on his hip after
exactly the same fashion that his grandfather held _his_ hand on _his_
hip in the pictured pose. It was startling really--the reproduction of
this trait by hereditary impulse. Quintus Q. thought there was something
about the expression of the eyes, too.

If during the evening some one mentioned horses--and what assemblage of
male Kentuckians ever bided together for any length of time without some
one mentioning horses?--the host's memory was instantly quickened
in regard to the white stallion named _Fairfax. Fairfax_ achieved
immortality beyond other horses of his period through Quintus Q. Some
went so far as to intimate that Mr. Montjoy made a habit of serving hams
upon his table for a certain and especial purpose. You had but to refer
in complimentary terms to the flavour of the curly shavings-thin slice
which he had deposited upon your plate.

"Speaking of hams," he would say--"speaking of hams, I am reminded of my
grandfather, the old General--General Braxton Montjoy, you remember. The
General fought one of his duels--he fought four, you know, and acted
as second in three others--over a ham. Or perhaps I should say over the
process of smoking a ham with hickory wood. His antagonist was no less a
person than a cousin of President Thomas Jefferson. The General thought
his veracity had been impugned and he, called the other gentleman out
and shot him through the shoulder. Afterwards I believe they became
great friends. Ah, sir, those were the good old days when a Southern
gentleman had a proper jealousy of his honour. If one gentleman doubted
another gentleman's word there was no exchange of vulgar billingsgate,
no unseemly brawling upon the street. The Code offered a remedy. One
gentleman called the other gentleman out. Sometimes I wish that I might
have lived in those good old days."

Sometimes others wished that he might have, too, but I state that fact
in parenthesis.

Then he would excuse himself and leave the table and enter the library
for a moment, returning with a polished rosewood case borne reverently
in his two hands and he would put the case down and dust it with a
handkerchief and unlock it with a brass key which he carried upon his
watch chain and from their bed of faded velveteen within, bring forth
two old duelling pistols with long barrels, and carved scrolls on their
butts and hammers that stood up high like the ears of a startled
colt. And he would bid you to decipher for yourself the name of his
grandfather inscribed upon the brass trigger guards. You were given to
understand that in a day of big men, Braxton Montjoy towered as a giant
amongst them.

Aside from following the profession of being a grandson, Quintus Q. had
no regular business. There was a sign reading _Real Estate and Loans_
upon the glass door of his one-room suite in the Planters' Bank
building, but he didn't keep regular hours there. With the help of an
agent, he looked after the collecting of the rents for his town property
and the letting upon shares or leaseholds of his river-bottom farms; but
otherwise you might say his chief occupation was that of being a sincere
and conscientious descendant of a creditable forebear.

So much for the grandfather. So much, at this moment, for the grandson.
Now we are going to get through the rind into the meat of our tale:

As may be recalled, State Senator Horace K. Maydew, of our town and
county, being a leader of men and of issues, once upon a time hankered
mightily to serve the district in Congress and in the moment that he
could almost taste of triumph accomplished had the cup dashed from his
lips through the instrumentality of one who, locally, was fancied as
being rather better than a dabster at politics, himself. During the
months which succeeded this defeat, the mortified Maydew nursed a
sharpened grudge toward the enemy, keeping it barbed and fletched
against the time when he might let fly with it. Presently an opportunity
for reprisals befell. Maydew's term as State Senator neared its close.
For personal reasons, which he found good and sufficient, the incumbent
did not offer as a candidate to succeed himself. But quite naturally,
and perhaps quite properly, he desired to name his successor. Privily he
began casting about him for a likely and a suitable candidate, which to
the senator's understanding meant one who would be biddable, tractable
and docile. Before he had quite agreed with himself upon a choice, young
Tobias Houser came out into the open as an aspirant for the Democratic
nomination, and when he heard the news Senator Maydew re-honed his hate
to a razor-edge. For young Tobe Houser, who had been a farmer-boy and
then a country school teacher and who now had moved to town and gone
into business, was something else besides: He was the nephew of Judge
Priest, the only son of the judge's dead sister. It was the judge's
money that had helped the young man through the State university.
Undoubtedly--so Maydew read the signs of the times--it was the judge's
influence which now brought the youngster forth as an aspirant for
public office. In the Houser candidacy Maydew saw, or thought he saw,
another attack upon his fiefship on the party organisation and the party
machinery.

On an evening of the same week in which Tobe Houser inserted his
modestly-worded announcement card in the _Daily Evening News_, Senator
Maydew called to conference--or to concurrence--two lieutenants who
likewise had cause to be stalwart supporters of his policies. The
meeting took place in the living room of the Maydew home. When the
drinks had been sampled and the cigars had been lighted Senator Maydew
came straight to the business in hand:

"Well, gentlemen," he said, "I've got a candidate--a man none of us
ever thought of before. How does the name of Quintus Q. Montjoy seem to
strike you?"

Mr. Barnhill looked at Mr. Bonnin, and Mr. Bonnin looked back at Mr.
Barnhill. Then both of them looked at Maydew.

"Montjoy, eh?" said Barnhill, doubtfully, seeming not to have heard
aright.

"Quintus Q. Montjoy you said, didn't you?" asked Bonnin as though
there had been any number of Montjoys to choose from. He spoke without
enthusiasm.

"Certainly," answered Maydew briskly, "Quintus Q. Montjoy, Esquire. Any
objections to him that you can think of, off-hand?"

"Well," said Mr. Barnhill, who was large of person and slow of speech,
"he ain't never done anything."

"If I'm any judge he never will do anything--much," supplemented Mr.
Bonnin, who was by way of being small and nervous.

"You've said it--both of you," stated their leader, catching them up
with a snap. "He never has done anything. That gives him a clean record
to run on. He never will do anything--on his own hook, I mean. That'll
make him a safe, sound, reliable man to have representing this district
up yonder at Frankfort. Last session they licked the Stickney warehouse
bill for us. This season it'll come up again for passage. I guarantee
here and now that Quint Montjoy will vote right on that proposition and
all other propositions that'll come up. He'll vote right because we'll
tell him how to vote. I know him from the skin out."

"He's so powerfully pompious and bumpious--so kind of cocksure and
high-an'-mighty," said Mr. Barnhill. "D'ye reckin, Hod, as how he'll
stand without hitchin'?"

"I'll guarantee that, too," said Senator Maydew, with his left eyelid
flickering down over his left eye in the ghost of a wink. "He don't know
yet that he's going to be our candidate. Nobody knows it yet but you and
me. But when he finds out from us that he's going to have a chance
to rattle round in the same seat that his revered granddaddy once
ornamented--well, just you watch him arise and shine. There's another
little thing that you've overlooked. He's got money,--plenty of it; as
much money as any man in this town has got. He's not exactly what I'd
call a profligate or a spendthrift. You may have noticed that except
when he was spending it on himself he's very easy to control in money
matters. But when we touch a match to his ambition and it flares up,
he'll dig down deep and produce freely--or I miss my guess. For once
we'll have a campaign fund with some real money behind it."

His tone changed and began to drip rancour:

"By Judas, I'll put up some of my own money! This is one time when I'm
not counting the cost. I'm going to beat that young lummox of a Houser,
if it's the last thing I do. I'm going to rub his nose in the mud. You
two know without my telling you why I'd rather see Houser licked than
any other man on earth--except one. And you know who that one is. We
can't get at Priest yet--that chance will come later. But we can get
his precious nephew, and I'm the man that's going to get him. And Quint
Montjoy is the man I'm going to get him with."

"Well, Hod, jest ez you say," assented Mr. Barnhill dutifully. "I was
only jest askin', that's all. You sort of tuck me off my feet at fust,
but the way you put it now, it makes ever'thing look mighty promisin'.
How about you, Wilbur?" and he turned to Mr. Bonnin.

"Oh, I'm agreeable," chimed Mr. Bonnin. "Only don't make any mistake
about one thing--Houser's got a-plenty friends. He'll give us a fight
all right. It won't be any walkover."

"I want it to be a fight, and I don't want it to be a walk-over,
either," said Senator Maydew. "The licking we give him will be all the
sweeter, then."

He got up and started for the telephone on the wall.

"I'll just call up and see if our man is at home. If he is, we'll all
three step over there right now and break the news to him, that the
voice of the people has been lifted in an irresistible and clamorous
demand for him to become their public servant at his own expense." The
Senator was in a good humour again. "And say, Hod, whilst I'm thinkin'
of it," put in Mr. Barnhill sapiently, "ef he should be at home and ef
we should go over there, tell him for Goddle Midey's sake not to drag
in that late lamentable grandpaw of his'n, more'n a million times durin'
the course of the campaign. It's all right mebbe to appeal to the old
famblies. I ain't bearin' ary grudge ag'inst old famblies, 'though I
ain't never found the time to belong to one of 'em myself. But there's a
right smart chance of middle-aged famblies and even a few toler'ble new
famblies in this here community. And them's the kind that does the large
bulk of the votin' in primary elections."

We've had campaigns and campaigns and then more and yet other campaigns
in our county. We had them every year--and we still do. Being what they
were and true to their breeding the early settlers started running
for office, almost before the Indians had cleared out of the young
settlements. Politics is breath to the nostrils and strong meat to the
bellies of grown men down our way. Found among us are persons who are
office-seekers by instinct and office-holders by profession. Whole
families, from one generation to another, from father to son and from
that son to his son and his son's son become candidates almost as
soon as they have become voters. You expect it of them and are not
disappointed. Indeed, this same is true of our whole state. Times
change, party lines veer and snarl, new issues come up and flourish for
awhile and then are cut down again to make room for newer crops of newer
issues still, but the Breckinridges and Clays, the Hardins and Helms,
the Breathitts and Trimbles, the Crittendons and Wickliffes, go on
forever and ever asking the support of their fellow-Ken-tuckians at the
polls and frequently are vouchsafed it. But always the winner has cause
to know, after winning, that he had a fight.

As goes the state at large, so goes the district and the precinct and
the ward. As I was saying just now, we have had warm campaigns before
now; but rarely do I recall a campaign of which the early stages showed
so feverishly high a temperature as this campaign between Quintus Q.
Montjoy and young Tobias Houser for the Democratic nomination for State
Senator. You see, beneath the surface of things, a woman's personality
ran in the undercurrents, roiling the waters and soiling the channel.
Her name of course, was not spoken on the hustings or printed in the
paper, but her influence was manifest, nevertheless.

There was one woman--and perhaps only one in all that community--who
felt she had abundant cause to dislike Judge Priest and all that
pertained to him by ties of blood, marriage, affection or a common
interest. And this person was the present wife of the Hon. Horace K.
Maydew, and by that same token the former wife of old Mr. Lysander John
Curd. Every time she saw Congressman Dabney Prentiss passing by, grand
and glorious in his longtailed coat and his broad black hat and his
white tie, which is ever the mark of a statesman who is working at the
trade, she harked back to that day when Judge Priest had obtruded his
obstinate bulk between her husband and her husband's dearest ambition;
and she remembered that, except for him, she might now be Mrs.
Congressman Maydew, going to White House receptions and giving dinners
for senators and foreign diplomats and cabinet officers and such. And
her thoughts grew bitter as aloes; and with rancour and rage the blood
throbbed in her wrists until her bracelets hurt her. Being minded to
have a part and a parcel in the undoing of the Priest plans, she meddled
in this fight, giving to Mr. Montjoy the benefit of her counsel and her
open, active advocacy.

Perhaps it was because he inclined a flattered ear to the lady's
admonitions rather than to her husband's subtler chidings that Mr.
Montjoy confirmed the astute Mr. Barnhill's forebodings and refused
to stand without hitching. He backed and he filled; he kicked over the
traces and got tangled in the gears. He was, as it turned out, neither
bridle-wise nor harness-broken. In short he was an amateur in politics,
with an amateur's faults. He took the stump early, which was all well
and good, because in Red Gravel county if a candidate can't talk to the
voter, and won't try, he might just as well fold up his tents like the
Arab and take his doll rags and go on about his business, if he has any
business. But against the guidance and the best judgment of the man who
had led him forth as a candidate, he accepted a challenge from young
Houser for a series of joint debates; and whilst Mr. Barnhill and
Mr. Bonnin wagged their respective heads in silent disapproval, he
repeatedly and persistently made proclamation in public places and
with a loud voice, of the obligation which the community still owed his
illustrious grandparent, the inference being that he had inherited the
debt and expected to collect it at the polls.

It is likewise possible that Candidate Montjoy listened over-much to
the well meant words of Mr. Calhoun Tabscott. This Mr. Calhoun Tabscott
esteemed himself a master hand at things political. He should have been,
at that. One time or another he had been on opposite sides of
every political fence; other times he bestraddled it. He had been a
Greenbacker, a Granger, and a Populist and once, almost but not quite,
a Republican. Occasions were when, in rapid succession, he flirted
with the Single Taxers, and then, with the coy reluctance of one who is
half-converted, harkened to the blandishments of the Socialists. Had
he been old enough he would have been either a Know-Nothing or a
Whig--either or perhaps both. In 1896 he quit the Silver Democrats cold,
they having obtusely refrained from sending him as a delegate to their
national convention. Six weeks later he abandoned the Gold Democrats to
their fate because they failed to nominate the right man for president.
It was commonly believed he voted the straight Prohibition ticket that
year--for spite.

In the matter of his religious convictions, Mr. Tabscott displayed
the same elasticity and liberality of choice. In the rival fields
of theology he had ranged far, grazing lightly as he went. When the
Cumberland Presbyterians put chime bells in their spire, thereby
interfering with his Sunday morning's rest, for he lived just across the
street, he took his letter out of the church and thereafter for a period
teetered on the verge of agnosticism, even going so far as to buy the
works of Voltaire, Paine and Ingersol combined and complete in six large
volumes. He worshipped a spell with the Episcopalians and once during
a space of months, the Baptists had hopes of him. Rumour had it that he
finally went over to the Methodists, because old Mr. Leatheritt, of the
Traders National Bank, who was a Baptist, called one of his loans.

Now, having been twice with Judge Priest in his races for the Circuit
Judgeship and twice against him, Mr. Tabscott espoused the Montjoy
candidacy and sat in Mr. Montjoy's amen corner, which, indeed, was
altogether natural and consistent, since the Tabscotts, as an old
family, dated back almost as far and soared almost as high as the
Montjoys. There had been a Tabscott who nearly fought a duel himself,
once. He sent the challenge and the preliminaries were arranged but at
the eleventh hour, a magnanimous impulse triumphed over his lust for
blood, and for the sake of his adversary's wife and helpless children,
he decided to spare him. Mr. Tabscott felt that as between him and Mr.
Montjoy a sentimental bond existed. Mr. Montjoy felt it, too; and they
confabbed much together regarding ways, means and measures somewhat to
the annoyance of Senator Maydew who held fast to the principle that if a
master have but one man, the man should have but one master.

The first of the joint debates took place, following a barbecue, at
Gum Spring School-house in the northenhost corner of the county and the
second took place three days later at the Old Market House in town, a
large crowd attending. Acrimony tinctured Mr. Montjoy's utterances
from the outset. Recrimination seemed his forte--that and the claims of
honourable antiquity as expressed in the person of its posterity upon a
grateful and remembering constituency. He bore heavily upon the fact--or
rather the allegation--that Judge Priest was the head and the front of
an office-holding oligarchy, who thought they owned the county and
the county offices, who took what spoils of office and patronage they
coveted for themselves, and sought to parcel the remainder out among
their henchmen and their relatives. This political tyranny, this
nepotism, must end, he said, and he, Quintus Q. Montjoy, was the
instrument chosen and ordained to end it. "Nominate Montjoy and break
up the County ring," was the slogan he carried on his printed card.
Therein, in especial, might be divined the undermining and capable hand
of Senator Maydew. But when at the second meeting between the candidates
Mr. Montjoy went still further and touched directly upon alleged
personal failings of Judge Priest, one who knew the inner workings
of the speaker's mind might have hazarded a guess that here a certain
lady's suggestions, privately conveyed, found deliverance in the spoken
word.

The issue being thus, by premeditated intent of one of the two gentlemen
most interested, so clearly and so acutely defined, the electors
took sides promptly, becoming not merely partisans but militant and
aggressive partisans. Indeed, citizens who seldom concerned themselves
in fights within the party, but were mainly content to vote the straight
party ticket after the fighting was over, came out into the open
and declared themselves. Perhaps the most typical exemplar of this
conservative class, now turning radical, was offered in the person of
Mr. Herman Felsburg. Until this time Mr. Felsburg had held to the view
that needless interference in primary elections jibed but poorly with
the purveying of clothing to the masses. Former patrons who differed
with one politically were apt to go a-buying elsewhere. No matter what
your own leanings might be, Mr. Felsburg, facing you across a showcase
or a counter, without ever committing himself absolutely, nevertheless
managed to convey the impression that, barring that showcase or that
counter, there was nothing between him and you, the customer--that in
all things you twain were as one and would so continue. Such had been
his attitude until now.

When Mr. Montjoy speared at Judge Priest, Judge Priest remained
outwardly quite calm and indifferent, but not so Mr. Felsburg. If he did
not take the stump in defence of his old friend at least he frequented
its base, in and out of business hours, and in the fervour of his
championship he chopped his English finer and twisted his metaphors
worse than ever he had done before, which was saying a good deal.

One afternoon, when he returned to the store, after a two-hours' absence
spent in sidewalk argument down by the Square, his brother, Mr. Ike
Felsburg, who was associated in the firm, ventured to remonstrate with
him, concerning his activities in the curbstone forum, putting the
objections on the grounds of commercial expediency. At that he struck
an attitude remotely suggestive of a plump and elderly Israelitish Ajax
defying the lightning.

"Listen here, you Ike," he stated. "Thirty years I have been building
up this here Oak Hall Clothing Emporium, and also hats, caps and gents'
furnishings goods. You--you can run around with your lodge meetings and
your benevolence societies, and all this time I work here, sweating like
rats in a trap, and never is a word said by me to you, vicer or verser.
I ask you as brother to brother, ain't that so, or ain't it? It is,"
continued Mr. Herman, answering his own question.

"But, Hermy," interjected Mr. Ike, put on the defensive by the turn
which the argument had taken, "but, Hermy, all what I have said to you
is that maybe somebody who likes Montjoy would get mad at you for your
words and take their custom up the street."

"Let 'em!" proclaimed Mr. Herman with a defiant gesture which almost
upset a glass case containing elastic garters and rubber armbands, "let
'em. Anybody which would be a sucker enough to vote for Montjoy against
a fine young fellow like this here Houser would also be a sucker enough
to let Strauss, Coleman & Levy sell him strictly guaranteed all-wool
suitings made out of cotton shoddy, and I wouldn't want his custom under
any circumstances whatsoever!"

"But, Hermy!" The protest was growing weaker.

"You wait," shouted Mr. Herman. "You have had your say, and now I would
have mine, if you please. I would prefer to get one little word in
sideways, if you will be so good. You have just now seen me coming
in out of the hot sun hoarse as a tiger from trying to convince a few
idiots which they never had any more sense than a dog's hind leg
and never will have any, neither. And so you stand there--my own
brother--and tell me I am going too far. Going too far? Believe me,
Mister Ike Felsburg, I ain't started yet."

He swung on his heel and glared into the depths of his establishment.
"Adolph," he commanded, "come here!" Adolph came, he being head salesman
in the clothing department, while Mr. Ike quivered in dumb apprehension,
dreading the worst and not knowing what dire form it would assume.

"Adolph," said Mr. Herman with a baleful side-glance at his offending
kinsman. "To-day we are forming here the Oak Hall and Tobias J. Houser
Campaign and Marching Club, made up of proprietors, clerks, other
employees and well wishers of this here store, of which club I am the
president therefrom and you are the secretary. So you will please open
up a list right away and tell all the boys they are already members in
good standing."

"Well, now, Mr. Herman," said Adolph, "I've always been good friends
with Quintus Q. Montjoy and besides which, we are neighbours. No longer
ago than only day before yesterday I practically as good as promised him
my vote. I thought if you was coming out for Houser, some of us here in
the store should be the other way and so----"

Mr. Herman Felsburg stilled him with a look and removed his hat in order
to speak with greater emphasis.

"Adolph Dreifus," he said with a deadly solemnity, "you been here in
this store a good many years. I would assume you like your job here
pretty well. I would consider that you have always been well treated
here. Am I right, or am I wrong? I am right! I would assume you would
prefer to continue here as before. Yes? No? Yes! You remember the time
you wrote with a piece of chalk white marks on the floor so that that
poor nearsighted Leopold Meyer, who is now dead and gone, would think
it was scraps of paper and go round all day trying to pick those chalk
marks up? With my own eyes I saw you do so and I said nothing. You
remember the time you induced me to buy for our trade that order
of strictly non-selling Ascot neckties because your own cousin from
Cincinnati was the salesman handling the line which, from that day to
this, we are still carrying those dam' Ascot ties in stock? Did I say
anything to you then?

"No! Not a word did I say. All those things is years past and I have
never spoken with you regarding them until to-day. But now, Adolph, I
must say I am ashamed for you that you should pick on that poor Leopold
Meyer, who was blind like a barn-door. I am ashamed for you that you
should boost up that cousin of yours from Cincinnati and his bum lines.
If I should get more ashamed for you than what already I now am, there
is no telling what I should do. Adolph, you will please be so good as
to remember that all persons that work in this here Oak Hall Clothing
Emporium are for Tobe Houser for State Senator and no one else,
whatsoever. Otherwise, pretty soon, I am afraid there will be some new
faces selling garments around here. Do I make myself plain? I do!

"My brother--the junior partner here"--he dwelt heavily upon the word
_junior_, making of it a most disqualifying adjective--"he also thinks
in this matter the same way as I do. If you don't believe me, ask him
for yourself. There he stands like a dumb engraved image--ask him."

And Mr. Ike, making craven surrender, raised both hands in token of his
capitulation and weakly murmured, "Yes."

*****

The third of the joint debates, which, as it turned out, was to be the
last one of the series, began according to schedule and announcement at
the boat store corner in the presence of an assemblage mustering up
in the hundreds. In fact the _Daily Evening News_ reporter, in the
introductory paragraph of his account, referred to it, I believe, as "a
sea of upturned faces." Mr. Montjoy led off first. He had his say, for
the better part of an hour, speaking with much fluency from a small
board platform that was built up against the side of the old boat store
and occasionally, with a fretful shake of his head, raising his voice so
it might be heard above the rumbling objurgations of the first mate of
the _Cumberland Queen_ who, thirty yards down the old gravel levee, was
urging his black rousters to greater speed as they rolled the last of a
consignment of tobacco hogsheads across the lower wharf boat and aboard
the _Queen's_ boiler deck. Mr. Montjoy concluded with a neat verbal
flourish and sat down, mopping his moistened brow with a square of fine
cambric. Mr. Montjoy never permitted him-self to sweat and in public, at
least, he perspired but seldom; but there were times when he did diffuse
a perceptible glow.

His rival arose to answer him. He started off--Houser did--by stating
that he was not running on his family record for this office. He was
running on his own record, such as it was. Briefly, but vigorously, he
defended his uncle; a thing he had done before. Continuing, he would say
Mr. Montjoy had accused him of being young. He wished to plead guilty to
that charge. If it were a defect, to be counted against him, time would
probably cure him of it and he thought the Senate Chamber at Frankfort,
this state, provided a very suitable spot for the aging process.
(Laughter and applause.) He had a rather whimsical drawl and a
straightforward, commonplace manner of delivery.

He continued, and I quote:

"Some of you may have heard somewhere--casually--that my opponent had a
grandfather. Stories to that general effect have been in circulation for
quite some little time in this vicinity. I gather from various
avenues of information that my opponent is not exactly ashamed of his
grandfather. I don't blame him for that. A person without many prospects
so far as the future is concerned is not to be blamed for dwelling
rather heavily upon the past. But, fellow citizens, doesn't it strike
you that in this campaign we are having altogether too much grandfather
and not enough grandson? (Renewed laughter from the Houser adherents and
Mr. Montjoy's face turning a violent red.) It strikes me that the stock
is sort of petering out. It strikes me that the whale has bred a minnow.

"And so, in light of these things, I want to make this proposition here
and now: I want every man in this county whose grandfather owned eighty
slaves and four thousand acres of bottom lands to vote for Mr. Montjoy.
And all I ask for myself is that every man whose grandfather didn't own
eighty slaves and four thousand acres, should cast his vote for me." (A
voice, "My grandpop never owned nary nigger, Toby,--I reckin you git my
vote without a struggle, boy.")

Along this strain Mr. Houser continued some minutes. It was a line he
had not taken in either of his previous arguments with his opponent. He
branched away from it to tell what he meant to do for the people of the
district in the event of his nomination and election but presently he
came back again to the other theme, while Judge Priest grinned up at
him from his place in the edge of the crowd and Mr. Montjoy fidgeted and
fumed and wriggled as though the chair upon which he sat had been the
top of a moderately hot stove. From these and from yet other signs it
might have been noted that Mr. Montjoy, under the nagging semihumorous
goadings of young Houser, was rapidly losing his temper, which, by our
awkward Anglo-Saxon mode of speech, is but another way of saying he was
not losing his temper at all but, instead, finding out that he had one.

The _Cumberland Queen_ blew her whistle for departure and as the roar
died away Mr. Houser might be heard in the act of finishing a sentence
touching with gentle irony upon the topic which seemed so to irk and
irritate Mr. Montjoy. He never finished it.

Up, from his chair, sprang Mr. Montjoy, and shook a knotted fist beneath
Mr. Houser's nose.

"How dare you?" he demanded. "How dare you indulge in your cheap
sarcasm--your low scurrilities--regarding one of the grandest men the
Southland ever produced?"

His voice turned falsetto and soared to a slate-pencilly screech:

"I repeat it, sir--how dare you--you underbred ignoramus--you who never
knew what it was to have a noble grandfather! Nobody knows who your
grandfather was. I doubt whether anybody knows who your father----"

Perhaps it was what Mr. Montjoy appeared to be on the point of
asserting. Perhaps it was that his knuckles, as he brandished his fist
in Mr. Houser's face, grazed Mr. Houser's cheek.

Mr. Houser stretched forth a solid arm and gripped a handful of sinewy
fingers in the lapels of Mr. Montjoy's coat. He didn't strike Mr.
Montjoy, but he took him and he shook him--oh, how he shook him. He
shook him up and down, and back and forth and to and fro and forward and
rearward; shook him until his collar came undone and his nose glasses
flew off into space; shook him until his hair came down in his eyes and
his teeth rattled in his jaw; shook him into limp, breathless, voiceless
helplessness, and then holding him, dangling and flopping for a moment,
slapped him once very gently, almost as a mother might slap an erring
child of exceedingly tender years; and dropped the limp form, and
stepped over it and climbed down off the platform into the midst of the
excited crowd. The third of the series of the joint debates was ended;
also the series itself.

Judge Priest instantly shoved forward, his size and his impetuosity
clearing the path for him through a press of lesser and less determined
bodies. He thrust a firm hand into the crook of his nephew's arm and
led him off up the street clear of those who might have sought either
to compliment or to reprehend the young man. As they went away linked
together thus, it was observed that the judge wore upon his broad face
a look of sore distress and it was overheard that he grievously lamented
the most regrettable occurrence which had just transpired and that
openly he reproached young Houser for his elemental response to the
verbal attacks of Mr. Montjoy and, in view of the profound physical and
spiritual shock to Mr. Montjoy's well-known pride and dignity, that he
expressed a deep concern for the possible outcome. Upon this last head,
he was particularly and shrilly emphatic.

In such a fashion, with the nephew striving vainly to speak in his own
defence and with the uncle as constantly interrupting to reprimand him
and to warn him of the peril he had brought upon his head, and all in
so loud a voice as to be clearly audible to any persons hovering nearby,
the pair continued upon their journey until they reached Soule's Drug
Store. There, with a final sorrowful nod of the judge's head and a
final shake of his admonishing forefinger, they parted. The younger man
departed, presumably for his home to meditate upon his foolhardy conduct
and the older went inside the store and retired to Mr. Soule's little
box of an office at the rear, hard by the prescription case. Carefully
closing the door after him to insure privacy, he remained there for
upwards of an hour, engaged undoubtedly in melancholy reflections
touching upon the outbreak of his most culpable kinsman and upon the
conceivable consequences. He must have done some writing, too, for
when at length he emerged he was holding in one hand a sealed envelope.
Summoning to him Logan Baker, Mr. Soule's coloured errand boy, he
entrusted the note to Logan, along with a quarter of a dollar for
messenger hire, and sent the black boy away. From this circumstance
several persons who chanced to be in Soule's, hypothesised that very
probably the judge had taken it upon himself to write Mr. Montjoy a note
of apology in the name of his nephew and of himself. However, this
upon the part of the onlookers was but a supposition. They merely were
engaged in the old practice, so hallowed among bystanders, of putting
two and two together, by such process sometimes attaining a total of
four, and sometimes not.

As regards, on the other hand, Quintus Q. Montjoy, he retained no
distinct recollection of the passage homeward, following his mishandling
by Tobias J. Houser. For the time a seething confusion ruled his
being. Mingled emotions of chagrin, rage and shame--but most of all
rage--boiled in his brain until the top of his skull threatened to come
right off. Since he was a schoolboy until now, none had laid so much as
an impious finger upon him. For the first time in his life he felt the
warm strong desire to shed human blood, to see it spatter and pour forth
in red streams. The spirit of his grandfather waked and walked within
him; anyway it is but fair to assume that it did so.

Somebody must have rebuttoned Mr. Montjoy's collar for him and
readjusted his necktie. Somebody else of equally uncertain identity must
have salvaged his glasses and restored them to their customary place on
the bridge of his slender nose. True, he preserved no memory of these
details. But when, half an hour after the encounter, a hired hack
deposited him at his yard gate and when Mr. Barnhill, who it would
appear dimly and almost as a figment from a troubled dream, accompanied
him on the ride, had dismounted and had volunteered to help him alight
from the vehicle, meanwhile offering words intended to be sympathetic,
Mr. Montjoy found collar, necktie and glasses all properly bestowed.

Within the sanctified and solitary precincts of his library, beneath the
grim, limned eyes of his ancestor, Mr. Montjoy re-attained a measure
of outward calm and of consecutive thought; coincidently with these a
tremendous resolution began to harden inside of him. Presently as he
walked the floor, alternately clenching and unclenching his hands, the
telephone bell sounded. Answering the call, he heard coming across the
line the familiar voice of one, who, in the temporary absence of her
husband from the city, now undertook to offer advice. It would seem that
Mrs. Maydew had but heard of the brutal assault perpetrated upon her
friend; she was properly indignant and more than properly desirous that
a just vengeance be exacted. It would seem in this connection she had
certain vigorous suggestions to offer. And finally it would seem she had
just seen the evening paper and desired to know whether Mr. Montjoy had
seen his copy?

Mr. Montjoy had not. After a short interchange of views, when, from
intensity of feeling, the lady fairly made the wire sibilate and sing
as her words sped over it, she rang off and Mr. Montjoy summoned his
butler. His was the only roof in town which harboured a butler beneath
it. Other families had male servants--of colour--who performed duties
similar to those performed by Mr. Mont joy's man but they didn't call
these functionaries butlers and Mr. Montjoy did. He sent the butler out
into the yard to get the paper, which a boy had flung over the fence
palings in a twisted wisp. And when the butler brought it to him he
opened, to read, not the _Daily Evening News_ highly impartial account
of the affair at the boat store corner--that could come later--but to
read first off a card signed _Veritas_ which was printed at the bottom
of the second column of the second inside page, immediately following
the editorial comment of the day. It was this card to which young Mrs.
Maydew had particularly directed his attention.

He bent his head and he read. The individual who chose to hide behind
the nom de plume of _Veritas_ wrote briefly and to the point. At the
outset he confessed himself as one who harboured old-fashioned ideals.
Therefore he abhorred the personal altercations which in these latter
and degenerate days so often marred the course of public discussions
between gentlemen entertaining opposite views upon public problems or
private matters. And still more did he deplore the common street brawls,
not unmarked by the use of lethal weapons and sometimes by tragically
fatal results to one or the other of the parties engaged, which had
been known before now to eventuate from the giving and taking of the
offensive word, or blow. Hardly need the writer add that he had in mind
the unfortunate affray of even date in a certain populous quarter of
our city. Without mentioning names, he, _Veritas_, took that deplorable
occurrence for his present text. It had inspired him to utter these
words of protest against the vulgarity, the coarseness and the crassness
of the methods employed for the appeasing of individual and personal
wrongs. How much more dignified, how much more in keeping with
the traditions of the soil, and the very history of this proud old
commonwealth, was the system formerly in vogue among gentlemen for the
adjudication of their private misunderstandings! Truly enough the law
no longer sanctioned the employment of the _code duello_; indeed for the
matter of that, the law of the land had never openly sanctioned it; but
once upon a time a jealous regard for his own outraged honour had been
deemed sufficient to lift a Southern gentleman to extremes above the
mere written letter of the statutes. "_O tempora, O mores!_ Oh, for the
good old days!" And then came the signature.

Barely had Mr. Montjoy concluded the reading and the re-reading of this,
when Mr. Calhoun Tabscott was announced and promptly entered to proffer
his hand and something more, besides. Mr. Tabscott carried with him a
copy of the Daily Evening News opened at the inside page. His nostrils
expanded with emotion, his form shook with it.

In ten words these two--Mr. Montjoy as the person aggrieved and Mr.
Tabscott as his next friend--found themselves in perfect accord as to
the course which now should be pursued. At once then, Montjoy sat down
at his mahogany writing desk and Mr. Tabscott sat down behind him where
he could look over the other's shoulder and together they engaged in the
labours of literary composition.

But just before he seated himself Mr. Montjoy pointed a quivering finger
at the desk and, in a voice which shook with restrained determination,
he said impressively, in fact, dramatically:

"Calhoun Tabscott, that desk belonged to my grandfather, the old
General. He used it all his life--in Virginia first and then out here.
At this moment, Calhoun Tabscott, I can almost feel him hovering above
me, waiting to guide my pen."

And Mr. Tabscott said he felt that way about it, himself.

*****

In spare moments at home Judge Priest was addicted to the game of
croquet. He played it persistently and very badly. In his side yard
under his dining-room window rusted wickets stood in the ordained
geometric pattern between painted goal posts, and in a box under a
rustic bench in the little tottery summerhouse beneath the largest
of the judge's silver leaf poplar trees were kept the balls and the
mallets--which latter instruments the judge insisted on calling mauls.
And here, in this open space, he might be found on many a fine afternoon
congenially employed, with some neighbourhood crony or a chance caller
for his antagonist. Often, of mornings, when he had a half hour or so of
leisure, he practiced shots alone.

On the morning which immediately followed the day of the broken-off
joint debate at the boat-store corner, he was so engaged. He had his
ball in excellent alignment and fair distance of the centre wickets, and
was stooping to deliver the stroke when he became aware of his nephew
approaching him hurriedly across the wide lawn.

"Uncle Billy," began that straightforward young man, "something has
happened, and I've come to you with it right off."

"Son," said the judge, straightening up reluctantly, "something happens
purty nigh every day. Whut's on your mind this mornin'?"

"Well, suh, I was eating breakfast a little bit ago, when that Cal
Tabscott came to the front door. He sent word he wouldn't come in, so I
went out to the door to see what it was he wanted. He was standing there
stiff and formal as a ramrod, all dressed up in his Sunday clothes, and
wearing a pair of gloves, too--this weather! And he bowed without a
word and handed me a letter and when I opened it it was a challenge
from Quint Montjoy--a challenge to fight a duel with him, me to name the
weapons, the time and the place! That's what I've got to tell you."

His uncle's eyes opened innocently wide. "Boy, you don't tell me?" he
said. "And whut did you do then?"

"Well, suh, I came within an ace of just hauling off and mashing that
blamed idiot in the mouth--coming to my door with a challenge for a
duel! But I remembered what you told me yesterday about keeping my
temper and I didn't do it. Then I started to tear up that fool note and
throw the pieces in his face."

"You didn't do that neither, did you?" demanded the judge quickly, with
alarm in his voice. "You kept it?"

"I didn't do that either and I kept the note," replied the younger man,
answering both questions at once. "I shut the door in Tabscott's face
and left him on the doorstep and then I went and put on my hat and came
right on over here to see you. Here's the note--I brought it along with
me."

His uncle took from him the single sheet of note paper and adjusted his
specks. He gazed admiringly for a moment at the embossed family crest at
the top and read its contents through slowly.

"Ah hah," he said; "seems to be regular in every respect, don't
it?--polite, too. To the best of my remembrances I never seen one of
these challenges before, but I should judge this here one is got up
strictly accordin' to the Code. Son, our ancestors certainly were the
great hands for goin' accordin' to the codes, weren't they? If it wasn't
one Code, it was another, with, them old fellers. Quintus Q. Montjoy
writes a nice hand, don't he?"

With great care, he folded the note along its original crease, handling
it as though it had been a fragile document of immense value and
meanwhile humming a little tuneless tune abstractedly. Still humming,
he put the paper in an ancient letter wallet, wrapped a leather string
about the wallet, and returned wallet and string to the breast pocket of
his black seersucker coat.

"Son," he said when all this had been accomplished, "I reckin you done
the right thing in comin' straight to me. I must compliment you."

"Yes, suh, much obliged," said young Houser, "but, Uncle Billy, what
would you advise my doing now?"

He rubbed his forehead in perplexity.

"Why, nothin'--nothin' a'tall," bade his uncle, as though surprised at
any suggestion of uncertainty upon the nephew's part. "You ain't got a
thing to do, but jest to go on back home and finish up your breakfast.
It ain't wise to start the day on an empty stomach, ever. After that, ef
I was you, I would put in the remainder of the day remainin' perfectly
ca'm and collected and whilst so engaged I wouldn't say nothin' to
nobody about havin' received a challenge to fight a duel." He regripped
his mallet. "Son, watch me make this shot." He stopped and squinted
along the imaginary line from his ball to the wicket.

"But, Uncle Billy, I----"

"Son, please don't interrupt me ag'in. Jimmy Bagby is comin' over this
evenin' to play off a tie match with me, and I aim to be in shape fur
him when he does come. Now run along on back home like I told you to and
keep your mouth shet."

The judge whacked his ball and made an effective shot--or rather an
effective miss--and Tobe Houser betook himself away wagging his puzzled
head in a vain effort to fathom the enigma of his relative's cryptic
behaviour.

Approximately thirty-six hours passed without public developments
which might be construed as relating to the matter chiefly in hand and
then--in the early afternoon--young Houser returned to the house of his
uncle, this time, finding its owner stretched out for his after-dinner
nap upon an old and squashy leather couch in the big old-timey
sitting-room. The judge wasn't quite asleep yet. He roused as his nephew
entered.

"Uncle Billy," began young Houser, without preamble, "you told me
yesterday not to do anything and I've obeyed your orders although I
didn't understand what you were driving at, exactly, but now I must
do something if I aim to keep my self-respect or to stay in this
race--either one, or both. Unless I take up the dare he's laid down in
front of me, Montjoy's going to brand me on the stump as a coward. Yes,
suh, that's his intention--Oh, it came to me straight. It seems
Mrs. Horace K. Maydew told old Mrs. Whitridge this morning in strict
confidence and Mrs. Whitridge just took her foot in hand and put out
to tell Aunt Puss Lockfoot and Aunt Puss didn't lose any time getting
through the alley gate into my back yard to tell my wife.

"Yes, suh, if I keep silent and don't take any notice of his challenge,
Montjoy's going to get up before this whole town at a mass meeting and
denounce me as a coward,--he's going to say I'm willing enough to take
advantage of being younger and stronger than he is to attack him with my
bare hands, but that I'm afraid to back up my act where it puts my hide
in danger. I know mighty good and well who's behind him, egging him
on--I can see her finger in it plain enough. She hopes to see me
humiliated and she hopes to see your chances hurt in your next race. She
aims to strike at you through me and ruin us both, if she can.

"But, Uncle Billy, all that being so, doesn't alter the situation so far
as I'm concerned. The man doesn't live that can stand up and brand me
as a sneaking quitting coward and not have to answer for it. One way or
another, it will come to a pass where there's bound to be shooting. I've
just got to do something and do it quick."

"Well, son," said Judge Priest, still flat on his back, "I sort of
figgered it out that things might be takin' some sech a turn as this.
I've heard a few of the rumours that're be-ginin' to creep round,
myse'f. I reckin, after all, you will have to answer Mister Montjoy. In
fact, I taken the trouble this mornin' to wrop up your answer and have
it all ready to be sent over to Mister Montjoy's place of residence by
the hands of my boy Jeff."

"You wrapped it up?" queried Houser, bewildered again.

"That's whut I said--I wropped it up," answered the judge. He heaved
himself upright and crossed the room to his old writing table that stood
alongside one of the low front windows and from the desk took up a large
squarish object, securely tied up in white paper with an address written
upon one of its flat surfaces.

"Jeff!" he called, "oh, you Jeff."

"Why, Uncle Billy, that looks like a book to me," said Mr. Houser.
Assuredly, this was a most mystified young man.

"It ain't no box of sugar kisses--you kin be shore of that much,
anyway," stated that inscrutable uncle of his. "You're still willin',
ain't you, son, to set quiet and be guided by me in this matter?"

"Yes, suh, I am. That is, I'm perfectly willing to take your advice up
to a certain point but----"

"Then set right still and do so," commanded Judge Priest. "I'm goin; to
take you into my confidences jest as soon as I see how my way of doin'
the thing works out. We oughter git some definite results before dark
this evenin'. And listen here, son, a minute--when all's said and
done even Quintus Q. Montjoy, Esquire, ain't no more of a stickler
for follering after the Code than whut I am. I'm jest ez full of
time-hallowed precedents ez he is--and maybe even more so."

"Callin' me, Jedge?" The speaker was Jefferson Poindexter, who appeared
at the door leading into the hall.

"Yes, I was--been callin' you fur a half hour--more or less," stated
his master. "Jeff, you take this here parcel over to Mister Quintus
Q. Montjoy's and present it with the compliments of Mister Houser. You
needn't wait fur an answer--jest come on back. I reckin there won't be
no answer fur some little time." He turned again to his nephew with the
air of a man who, having disposed of all immediate and pressing business
affairs, is bent now upon pleasurable relaxation.

"Son, ef you ain't got nothin' better to do this evenin' I wish't you'd
stay here and keep score fur the tournament. Playing crokay, I licked
the pants off'en that poor old Jimmy Bagby yis'tiddy, and now he wants
to git even."

The judge spoke vaingloriously. "He's skeered to tackle me again
single-handed, I reckin. So him and Father Tom Minor are coinin'
over here to play me and Herman Felsburg a match game fur the crokay
champeenship of Clay Street and adjacent thoroughfares. They oughter be
here almost any minute now--I was jest layin' here, waitin' fur 'em and
sort of souplin' up my muscles."

Playing magnificently as partners, Father Minor and Sergeant Bagby
achieved a signal victory--score three to one--over the Felsburg-Priest
team. The players, with the official referee who maintained a somewhat
abstracted, not to say a pestered, air, were sitting in the little
summer house, cooling off after the ardours of the sport. Jeff
Poindexter had been dispatched indoors, to the dining-room sideboard,
to mix and fetch the customary refreshments. The editor of the _Daily
Evening News_, who was by way also of being chief newsgatherer of that
dependable and popular journal, came up the street from the corner below
and halted outside the fence.

"Howdy, gentlemen!" over the paling he greeted them generally. "I've got
some news for you-all. I came out of my way, going back to the office,
to tell you." He singled out the judge from the group. "Oh, you
_Veritas_" he called, jovially.

"Sh-h-h, Henry, don't be a-callin' me that," spoke up Judge Priest with
a warning glance about him and a heavy wink at the editor. "Somebody
that's not in the family might hear you and git a false and a misleadin'
notion about the presidin; circuit judge of this district. Whut's your
news?"

"Well," said Mr. Tompkins, "it's sort of unprofessional to be revealing
the facts before they're put in type but I reckon it's no great breach
of ethics to tell a secret to an occasional contributor of signed
communications--" he indicated Judge Priest, archly--"and the
contributor's close friends and relatives. Anyhow, you'd all know it
anyhow as soon as the paper comes out. Quintus Q. Montjoy is withdrawing
from the race for State Senator."

"What?" several voices spoke the word in chorus, only Sergeant Bagby
pronounced it _Whut_ and Mr. Felsburg sounded the _W_ with the sound of
_V_ as in _Vocal._

"Montjoy quits. I've got his card of withdrawal right here in my pocket
now. Tobe, allow me to congratulate you on your prospect of getting the
nomination without any opposition at the polls."

"Quits, does he?" echoed Judge Priest. "Well, do you boys know, I ain't
surprised. I've been lookin' fur him to do somethin' of that nature fur
the last two hours. I wonder whut delayed him?" He addressed the query
to space.

"He gives some reasons--maybe, yes?" asked Mr. Felsburg, releasing Mr.
Houser's hand which he had been shaking with an explosive warmth.

"Oh, yes," said Editor Tompkins, "I suppose he felt as if he had to do
that. The principal reason he gives is that he finds he cannot spare
the time from his business interests for making an extended canvass--and
also his repugnance to engaging further in a controversy with a man who
so far forgets himself as to resort to physical violence in the course
of a joint debate upon the issues of the day. That's a nice little
farewell side-slap at you, Houser.

"But I gleaned from what I picked up after I got over to Montjoy's in
answer to his telephone message asking me to call that there may have
been other reasons which are not set forth in his card of withdrawal,"
continued Mr. Tompkins. "In fact, about the time I got over there--to
his house--Hod Maydew arrived in a free state of perspiration and
excitement--Hod's been up in Louisville on business, you know, and
didn't get in until the two-thirty train came--and I rather gathered
from what he said a little bit ago to Quintus Q., in the privacy of the
dining room while I was waiting in the library, that he was considerably
put out about something. His voice sounded peeved--especially when he
was calling Montjoy's attention to the fact that even if he should win
the race now, he wouldn't be able to take the oath of office. Anyhow, I
think that's what he was saying.

"Say, Judge, just for curiosity's sake now and strictly between
ourselves--just what was the message, or whatever it was, that you sent
over to Montjoy's right after dinner? I overheard something about that
too."

"Oh, that?" said the judge, as all eyes turned in his direction. "That
was jest a spare copy of the Code that I happened to have 'round the
house--with a page in it marked and turned down."

"The Code--what Code?" Mr. Tompkins pressed the point like the alert
collector of news that he was.

"The Code and the Statutes--with the accent on the Code," answered the
old judge, simply. "Although, speakin' pussonally, I pay more attention
to the Statutes than some folks do. In fact it would seem like some
persons who are reasonably well informed on most subjects--ancestors fur
instance--ain't never took the time to peruse them old Statutes of ourn
with the care they should give to 'em ef they're aimin' to engage in
the job of bein' a statesman." He faced his nephew. "Tobe, my son, this
oughter be a great lesson to you--it's a work that'll bear consid'able
study frum time to time. I'm afeared you ain't ez well posted on the
subject ez you should be. Well, this is a mighty good time to begin. You
kin take your first lesson right now."

He stooped and lifted the lid of the croquet box, beneath the bench upon
which they had been sitting, and fetched forth a large, heavy volume,
bound in splotchy law calf. "I put my other copy here jest a little
while ago, thinkin' somebody might be interested later on in its
contents," he explained as he ran through the leaves until he came to
a certain page. Upon that page, with a blunt forefinger, he indicated a
certain paragraph as he handed the tome over to his nephew.

"There, Tobe," he ordered, "you've got a good strong voice. Read this
here section--aloud."

So then, while the others listened, with slowly widening grins of
comprehension upon their several faces, and while Judge Priest stood
alongside, smiling softly, young Tobe read. And what he read was this:

"Oath to be taken by all officers--Form of Members of the General
Assembly and all officers, before they enter upon the execution of the
duties of their respective offices, and all members of the bar, before
they enter upon the practice of their profession, shall take the
following oath or affirmation: I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the
case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States
and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to
the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof,
and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the
office of ------------ ------------ according to law; and I do solemnly
swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution,
I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly
weapons within this State, nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted
a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as
second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus
offending, so help me God."

Having read it aloud, young Houser now reread it silently to himself.
He was rather a slow-thinking and direct-minded person. Perhaps time was
needed for the full force and effect of the subject-matter to soak into
him. It was Mr. Tompkins who spoke next.

"Judge Priest," he said, "what do you suppose those two fellows over
yonder at Montjoy's are thinking about you right now?"

"Henry," said Judge Priest, "fur thinkin' whut they do about me, I
reckin both of them boys could be churched."



VII. FORREST'S LAST CHARGE


TOWARD morning, after a spell of unusually even-tempered and moderate
weather, it blew up cold, snowed hard for two or three hours, and turned
off to be clear and freezing. The sun, coming up at seven-thirty-five,
according to his curtailed December schedule, peeped out on a universe
that was clothed all in white, whereas when he retired the night before
in his west bedroom he left it wearing a motley of faded yellows and
seasoned greens. Swinging in the east as a pale coppery disk, he blinked
his astonishment through a ragged grey veil of the last of the storm
clouds.

Others beside the sun were taken by surprise. It was the first snowfall
of the year and a good, hard, heavy one. Down our way, some winters, we
had hardly any snows at all; then, again, some winters we had a plenty;
but scarcely ever did we have them before Christmas. This one came as
a profound and an annoying visitation, taking the community at large
unawares and unprepared, and making a great nuisance of itself from the
start. Practically without exception, doorstep hydrants had tight colds
in the head that morning. On being treated with lavings of hot water
they dripped catarrhally from their cast-iron noses for a little while
and then developed the added symptoms of icicles.

Cooks were hours late coming to cook breakfast, and when they did come
uttered despairing moans to find range boilers frozen up and kitchen
taps utterly unresponsive to first-aid measures. At some houses it was
nearly eight o'clock before the milkman got round, with wooden runners
under his milk wagon in place of wheels and rosaries of rusted sleigh
bells on the necks of his smoking team. Last year's rubber boots came
out of the closet and any old year's toy sled came out of the attic.

The old negro man who did whitewashing in the spring, picked
blackberries for his summertime living, and in the fall peddled
corn-shuck doormats and scaly-bark hickory nuts, made the circuit of
his regular patrons, equipped with a shovel over his shoulder and his
venerable feet done up in burlaps, to shovel footpaths for a price.
Where the wind piled the snow in little drifts he left a wake behind him
as though a baby elephant had floundered through there.

In the back yard Sir Rooster squawked his loud disgust as his naked legs
sank shank-deep into the feathery mass. His harem, a row of still and
huddled shapes on the roosts, clamped their chilled toes all the tighter
to their perch and stared out through the chicken-house door at
a transformed and unfamiliar world. With them--except for their
eyes--rigor mortis seemed far advanced. Small boys, rabbit dogs,
plumbers and the few persons in town who owned sleighs rejoiced.
Housewives, house cats and thin-blooded old ladies and gentlemen were
acutely miserable--and showed it.

There were tramps about in numbers. It took a sudden cold snap, with
snow accompaniments such as this one, to fetch the tramps forth from
their sleeping places near the tracks, and make the citizen realise how
many of these southbound soldiers of misfortune the town harboured on
any given date between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's. Judge Priest
did not know it--and probably would not have much cared if he had known
it--but on the right-hand-side post of his front gate, just below
the wooden letter box, was scratched the talismanic sign which, to an
initiated nation-wide brotherhood, signified that here, at this place,
was to be had free and abundant provender, with no stove wood to chop
afterward and no heavy buckets of coal to pack in.

Wherefore and hence, throughout the rising hour and well on into the
forenoon, a succession of ragged and shivering travellers tracked a
straggling path up his walk and round to the back door, coming, with
noses a frostbitten red and hands a frostbitten blue, to beg for
sustenance. It was part and parcel of the judge's creed of hospitality
to turn no stranger away from his door unfed.

"Jedge!" Aunt Dilsey Turner bulged into the old sitting room, where
her master sat with his feet close to the grate toasting his shoesoles.
"Jedge, they's 'nother one of 'em miz'ble wuthless w'ite trash out yere
axin' fur vittles. Tha's de fo'th one inside er hour. Whut you reckin I
best do wid 'im?"

"Well, Aunt Dilsey," the old man answered, "ef vittles is what he asts
fur, I believe, under the circumstances, I'd give him some."

"Whar we goin' git vittles fur 'im?" she demanded.

"Wasn't there anything left over frum breakfast?" He risked the inquiry
mildly--almost timidly.

"Breakfus'!" She sniffed her contempt for masculine ignorance.
"Breakfus'? How long does you think one li'l' batch of breakfus' is
goin' last round yere? I ain't never tek much fur myse'f--jes' swallers
a mossil of hot coffee to stay my stomach, but you's suttinly a mighty
stiddy feeder; and ez fur 'at nigger Jeff of yourn--huh!--he acks lak he
wuz holler cl'ar down to his insteps. Ef dat nigger had de right name,
de name would be Famine! 'Sides, ain't I done tole you they's been three
of dem trafflin', no-'count vagroms here already dis mawnin', a-eatin'
us plum' out of house and home? Naw, suh; dey ain't nary grain of
breakfus' lef'--de platters is done lick' clean!"

"Well, Aunt Dilsey, ez a special favour to me, I'd be mighty much
obliged to you ef you'd cook up a little somethin' fur the pore feller."

"Po' feller! Po', you sez? Jedge, dat ole tramp out yonder at my kitchen
do' is mighty nigh ez fat ez whut you is. Still, you's de cap'n. Ef you
sez feed 'im, feed 'im I does. Only don't you come round blamin' me w'en
we-all lands in de po'house--tha's all I asts you."

And out the black tyrant flounced, leaving the judge grinning to
himself. Aunt Dilsey's bark was worse than her bite and there was no
record of her having bitten anybody. Nevertheless, in order to make sure
that no breakfast applicant departed hungry, he lingered on past his
usual time for starting the day's work. It was cozily warm in his
sitting room. Court was not in session either, having adjourned over for
the holidays. It was getting well on toward ten o'clock when, with
Jeff Poindexter's aid, he struggled into his ancient caped overcoat
and buckled his huge red-lined galoshes on over his shoes, and started
downtown.

Midway of the next block a snowball sailed out and over from behind
a hedge fence and knocked his old black slouch hat half off his head.
Showing surprising agility for one of his years and bulk, he ran down
the fleeing sharpshooter who had fired on him; and, while with one hand
he held the struggling youngster fast, with the other he vigorously
washed his captive's face in loose snow until the captive bawled for
mercy. Then the judge gave him a dime to console him for his punishment
and went on his way with a pleasant tingling in his blood and a ruby tip
on his already well-ruddied nose.

His way took him to Soule's Drug Store, the gathering place of his set
in fair weather and in foul. He was almost there before he heard of the
trouble. It was Dave Baum who brought the first word of it. Seeing him
pass, Dave came running, bareheaded, out of his notions store.

"Judge Priest, did you know what's just happened?" Dave was highly
excited. "Why, Beaver Yancy's been cut all to pieces with a dirk knife
by one of those Dagos that was brought on here to work on the new
extension--that's what just happened! It happened just a little bit
ago, down there where they've got those Dagos a-keepin' 'em. Beave, he
must've said somethin; out of the way to him, and he just up with his
dirk knife and cut Beave to ribbons."

Really it required much less time for little Mr. Baum to make this
statement than it has taken for me to transcribe it or for you to read
it. In his haste he ran the syllables together. Dan Settle came up
behind them in time to catch the last words and he pieced out the
narrative:

"They toted poor old Beaver into Doctor Lake's office--I just came from
there--there's a big crowd waitin' to hear how he comes out. They don't
think he's goin' to live but a little while. They ain't got the one that
did the cuttin'--yet. There's quite a lot of feelin' already."

"That's what the railroad gets for bringin' all those foreigners down
here." Mr. Baum, who was born in Bavaria, spoke with bitterness. "Judge,
what do you think ought to be done about this business?"

"Well, son," said Judge Priest, "to begin with, ef I was you I'd run
back inside of my store and put my hat on before I ketched a bad cold.
And ef I was the chief of police of this city I'd find the accused party
and lock him up good and tight. And ef I was everybody else I'd remain
ez ca'm ez I could till I'd heared both sides of the case. There's
nearly always two sides to every case, and sometimes there's likely to
be three or four sides. I expect to impanel a new grand jury along in
January and I wouldn't be surprised ef they looked into the matter purty
thoroughly. They ginerally do.

"It's too bad, though, about Beaver Yancy!" added the judge; "I
certainly trust he pulls through. Maybe he will--he's powerful husky.
There's one consolation--he hasn't got any family, has he?"

And, with that, Judge Priest left them and went on down the snow-piled
street and turned in at Mr. Soule's door. What with reading a Louisville
paper and playing a long game of checkers with Squire Rountree behind
the prescription case, and telephoning to the adjutant regarding that
night's meeting of Gideon K. Irons Camp, and at noontime eating a
cove oyster stew which a darky brought him from Sherill's short-order
restaurant, two doors below, and doing one thing and another, he spent
the biggest part of the day inside of Soule's and so missed his chance
to observe the growing and the mounting of popular indignation.

It would seem Beaver Yancy had more friends than any unprejudiced
observer would have credited him with having. Mainly they were the type
of friends who would not have lent him so much as fifty cents under any
conceivable circumstance, but stood ready to shed human blood on his
account. Likewise, as the day wore on, and the snow, under the melting
influence of the sun, began to run off the eaves and turn to slush
in the streets, a strong prejudice against the presence of alien day
labourers developed with marvellous and sinister rapidity.

Yet, had those who cavilled but stopped long enough to take stock of
things, they might have read this importation as merely one of the
manifestations of the change that was coming over our neck of the
woods--the same change that had been coming for years, and the same that
inevitably would continue coming through years to follow.

Take for example, Legal Row--that short street of stubby little brick
buildings where all the lawyers and some of the doctors had their
offices. Summer after summer, through the long afternoons, the
tenants had sat there in cane-bottomed chairs tilted back against the
housefronts, swapping gossip and waiting for a dog fight or a watermelon
cutting to break the monotony. But Legal Row was gone now and lawyers
did not sit out on the sidewalks any more; it was not dignified. They
were housed, most of them, on the upper floor levels of the sky-scraping
Planters' Bank building. Perhaps Easterners would not have rated it as a
skyscraper; but in our country the skies are low and friendly skies,
and a structure of eight stories, piled one on the other, with a fancy
cornice to top off with, rears mightily high and imposing when about it,
for contrast, are only two and three and four story buildings.

Kettler's wagon yard, where the farmers used to bring their tobacco for
overnight storage, and where they slept on hay beds in the back stalls,
with homemade bedquilts wrapped round them, had been turned into a
garage and smelled now of gasoline, oils and money transactions. A new
brick market house stood on the site of the old wooden one. A Great
White Way that was seven blocks long made the business district almost
as bright as day after dark--almost, but not quite. There was talk of
establishing a civic centre, with a regular plaza, and a fountain in
the middle of the plaza. There was talk of trying the commission form
of government. There was talk of adopting a town slogan; talk of an
automobile club and of a country club. And now white labour, in place of
black, worked on a construction job.

When, after many false alarms, the P. A. & O. V. got its Boaz Ridge
Extension under way the contractors started with negro hands; but the
gang bosses came from up North, whence the capital had likewise
come, and they did not understand the negroes and the negroes did not
understand them, and there was trouble from the go-off. If the bosses
fraternised with the darkies the darkies loafed; if, taking the opposite
tack, the bosses tried to drive the gangs under them with hard words the
gangs grew sullen and insolent.

There was a middle ground, but the perplexed whites could not find it.
A Southem-born overseer or a Southem-born steamboat mate could have
harried the crews with loud profanity, with dire threats of mutilation
and violent death, and they would have grinned back at him cheerfully
and kept right on at their digging and their shovelling. But when a
grading expert named Flaherty, from Chicago, Illinois, shook a freckled
fist under the nose of one Dink Bailey, coloured, for whom, just the
night before, he had bought drinks in a groggery, the aforesaid Dink
Bailey tried to disarticulate him with a razor and made very fair
headway toward the completion of the undertaking, considering he was so
soon interrupted.

Having a time limit ever before their pestered eyes, it sorely irked the
contractors that, whereas five hundred black, brown and yellow men might
drop their tools Saturday night at six o'clock, a scant two hundred or
so answered when the seven-o'clock whistle blew on Monday morning.
The others came straggling back on Tuesday or Wednesday, or even on
Thursday, depending on how long their wages held out.

"Whut I wants to go to work fur, Mist' W'ite Man? I got 'most two
dollars lef.' Come round to see me w'en all dat's done spent and mebbe
we kin talk bus'ness 'en."

The above statement, made by a truant grading hand to an inquiring
grading boss, was typical of a fairly common point of view on the side
of Labour. And this one, below, which sprang from the exasperated soul
of a visiting contractor, was just as typical, for it was the cry of
outraged Capital:

"It takes two white men, standing over every black man, to make the
black man work--and then he won't! I never was a Southern sympathiser
before, but I am now--you bet!"

The camel's back broke entirely at the end of the third week. It was a
green paymaster from the Chicago offices who furnished the last straw.
He tried to pay off with paper money. Since those early postbellum days,
when the black brother, being newly freed from servitude and innocently
devoid of the commercial instinct, thought the white man's money,
whether stamped on metal disks or printed on parchment rectangulars,
was always good money, and so accepted much Confederate currency, to his
sorrow at the time and to his subsequent enlightenment, he has nourished
a deep suspicion of all cash except the kind that jingles; in fact, it
is rarely that he will accept any other sort.

Give him the hard round silver and he is well-content. That is good
money--money fit to buy things with. He knows it is, because it rattles
in the pocket and it rings on the bar; but for him no greenbacks, if you
please. So when this poor ignorant paymaster opened up his satchel and
spread out his ones and his twos, his fives and his tens, his treasury
certificates and his national bank notes, there was a riot.

Then the contractors just fired the whole outfit bodily; and they
suspended operations, leaving the fills half-filled and the cuts
half-dug until they could fetch new shifts of labourers from the North.
They fetched them--a trainload of overalled Latins, and some of these
were tall and swarthy men, and more were short, fair men; but all were
capable of doing a full day's work.

Speedily enough, the town lost its first curious interest in the
newcomers. Indeed, there was about them nothing calculated to hold
the public interest long. They played no guitars, wore no handkerchief
headdresses, offered to kidnap no small children, and were in no respect
a picturesque race of beings. They talked their own outlandish language,
dined on their own mysterious messes, slept in their bunks in the long
barracks the company knocked together for them in the hollow down by the
Old Fort, hived their savings, dealt with their employers through a paid
translator, and beautifully minded their own business, which was the
putting through of the Boaz Ridge Extension. Sundays a few came clunking
in their brogans to early mass in Father Minor's church; the rest of the
time they spent at the doing of their daily stint or in camp at their
own peculiar devices.

Tony Palassi, who ran the biggest fruit stand in town, paid them one
brief visit--and one only--and came away, spitting his disgust on the
earth. It appeared that they were not his kind of people at all, these
being but despised Sicilians and he by birth a haughty Roman, and by
virtue of naturalisation processes a stalwart American; but everybody
knew already, without being told, that there was a difference, and a big
difference. A blind man could see it.

Tony, now, was a good fellow--one with sporting blood in his veins. Tony
was a member of the Elks and of the Knights of Columbus. He owned and
he drove one of the smartest trotting horses in the county. He played a
brisk game of poker. Once a month he sent a barrel of apples or a bunch
of bananas or a box of oranges, as a freewill offering, to the children
out at the Home for the Friendless--in short, Tony belonged. Nobody ever
thought of calling Tony a Dago, and nobody ever had--more than once; but
these other fellows, plainly, were Dagos and to be regarded as such. For
upward of a month now their presence in the community had meant little
or nothing to the community, one way or the other, until one of them so
far forgot himself as to carve up Beaver Yancy.

The railroad made a big mistake when it hired Northern bosses to handle
black natives; it made another when it continued to retain Beaver Yancy,
of our town, in its employ after the Sicilians came, he being a person
long of the arm and short of the temper. Even so, things might have gone
forward to a conclusion without misadventure had it not been that on
the day before the snow fell the official padrone of the force, who was
likewise the official interpreter, went North on some private business
of his own, leaving his countrymen without an intermediary during his
absence. It came to pass, therefore, that on the December morning when
this account properly begins, Beaver Yancy found himself in sole command
of a battalion whose tongue he did not speak and whose ways he did not
know.

At starting time he ploughed his way through the drifts to the long
plank shanty in the bottoms and threw open a door. Instead of being up
and stirring, his charges lay in their bunks against the walls, all
of them stretched out comfortably there, except a half dozen or so who
brewed garlicky mixtures on the big stoves that stood at intervals in
a row down the middle of the barracks. Employing the only language he
knew, which was a profanely emphatic language, he ordered them to get
up, get out and get to work. By shakes of the head, by words of smiling
dissent and by gestures they made it plain to his understanding that for
this one day at least they meant to do no labour in the open.

One more tolerant than Beaver Yancy, or perhaps one more skilled at
translating signs, would have divined their reasons readily enough. They
had come South expecting temperate weather. They did not like snow. They
were not clad for exposure to snow. Their garments were thin and their
shoes leaked. Therefore would they abide where they were until the snow
had melted and the cold had moderated. Then they would work twice as
hard to make up for this holiday.

The burly, big, overbearing man in the doorway was of a different frame
of mind. In the absence of his superior officers and the padrone, his
duty was to see that they pushed that job to a conclusion. He'd show
'em! He would make an example of one and the others would heed the
lesson. He laid violent grasp on a little man who appeared to be a
leader of opinion among his fellows and, with a big, mittened hand
in the neckband of the other's shirt, dragged him, sputtering and
expostulating, across the threshold and, with hard kicks of a heavy
foot, heavily booted, propelled him out into the open.

The little man fell face forward into the snow. He bounced up like a
chunk of new rubber. He had been wounded most grievously in his honour,
bruised most painfully and ignominiously elsewhere. He jumped for the
man who had mishandled him, his knifeblade licking out like a snake's
tongue. He jabbed three times, hard and quick--then fled back indoors;
and for a while, until help came in the guise of two children of a
shanty-boater's family on their way to the railroad yards to pick
up bits of coal, Beaver Yancy lay in the snow where he had dropped,
bleeding like a stuck pig. He was not exactly cut to ribbons. First
accounts had been exaggerated as first accounts so frequently are. But
he had two holes in his right lung and one in the right side of his
neck, and it was strongly presumptive that he would never again kick a
Sicilian day labourer--or, for that matter, anybody else.

Judge Priest, speaking dispassionately from the aloof heights of the
judicial temperament, had said it would be carrying out an excellent and
timely idea if the chief of police found the knife-using individual
and confined him in a place that was safe and sound; which, on being
apprised of the occurrence, was exactly what the chief of police
undertook to do. Accompanied by two dependable members of his day shift,
he very promptly set out to make an arrest and an investigation; but
serious obstacles confronted him.

To begin with, he had not the faintest notion of the criminal's identity
or the criminal's appearance. The man he wanted was one among two
hundred; but which one was he? Beaver Yancy, having been treated in
Doctor Lake's office, was now at the city hospital in no condition to
tell the name of his assailant even had he known it, or to describe him
either, seeing that loss of blood, pain, shock and drugs had put him
beyond the power of coherent speech. Nevertheless, the chief felt it
a duty incumbent on him to lose no time in visiting what the _Daily
Evening News_, with a touch of originality, called "the scene of the
crime." This he did.

Everything was quiet on the flatlands below the Old Fort when he got
there, an hour after the stabbing. Midway between the bluff that marked
the rim of the hollow and the fringe of willows along the river, stood
the long plank barracks of the imported hands. Smoke rose from the
stovepipes that broke the expanse of its snow-covered roof; about one
door was a maze of tracks and crosstracks; at a certain place, which
was, say, seventy-five feet from the door, the snow was wallowed and
flurried as though a heavy oxhide had been dragged across its surface;
and right there a dark spot showed reddish brown against the white
background.

However, no figures moved and no faces showed at the small windows
as the chief and his men, having floundered down the hill, cautiously
approached the silent building; and when he knocked on the door with
the end of his hickory walking stick, and knocked and knocked again,
meantime demanding admittance in the name of the law, no one answered
his knock or his hail. Losing patience, he put his shoulder to the
fastened door and, with a heave, broke it away from its hinges and its
hasp, so that it fell inward.

Through the opening he took a look, then felt in his overcoat pocket for
his gun, making ready to check a rush with revolver shots if needs
be; but there was no rush. Within the place two hundred frightened,
desperate men silently confronted him. Some who had pistols were wearing
them now in plain sight. Others had knives and had produced them. All
had picks and shovels--dangerous enough weapons at close quarters in the
hands of men skilled in the use of them.

Had the big-hatted chief been wise in the ways of these men, he might
peacefully have attained his object by opening his topcoat and showing
his blue uniform, his brass buttons and his gold star; but naturally he
did not think of that, and as he stood there before them, demanding of
them, in a language they did not know, to surrender the guilty one,
he was ulstered, like any civilian, from his throat to the tops of his
rubber boots.

In him the foreigners, bewildered by the sudden turn in events, saw
only a menacing enemy coming, with no outward show of authority about
him, to threaten them. They went right on at their task of barricading
the windows with strips of planking tom from their bunks. They had food
and they had fuel, and they had arms. They would stand a siege, and if
they were attacked they would fight back. In all they did, in all
their movements, in their steadfast stare, he read their intent plainly
enough.

Gabriel Henley was no coward, else he would not have been serving his
second term as our chief of police; but likewise and furthermore he was
no fool. He remembered just then that the town line ended at the bluff
behind him. Technically, at least, the assault on Beaver Yancy had been
committed outside his jurisdiction; constructively this job was not a
job for the city, but for the county officials. He backed away, and as
he retired sundry strong brown hands replaced the broken door and began
making it fast with props and improvised bars. The chief left his two
men behind to keep watch--an entirely unnecessary precaution, since
none of the beleaguered two hundred, as it turned out, had the slightest
intention of quitting his present shelter; and he hurried back uptown,
pondering the situation as he went.

On his way to the sheriff's office he stopped by Palassi's fruit store.
As the only man in town who could deal with Sicilians in their own
tongue, Tony might help out tremendously; but Tony wasn't in. Mrs.
Palassi, née Callahan, regretted to inform him that Tony had departed
for Memphis on the early train to see about certain delayed Christmas
shipments of oranges and bananas. To the youth of our town oranges
and bananas were almost as necessary as firecrackers in the proper
celebration of the Christmas. And when he got to the courthouse the
chief found the sheriff was not in town either.

He had started at daylight for Hopkinsburg to deliver an insane woman at
the state asylum there; one of his deputies had gone with him. There
was a second deputy, to be sure; but he was an elderly man and a chronic
rheumatic, who mainly handled the clerical affairs of the office--he
never had tried to arrest anyone in his whole life, and he expressed
doubt that the present opportunity was auspicious for an opening
experiment in that direction.

Under the circumstances, with the padrone away, with Tony Palassi away,
with the sheriff away, and with the refuge of the culprit under close
watch, Chief of Police Henley decided just to sit down and wait--wait
for developments; wait for guidance; perhaps wait for popular sentiment
to crystallize and, in process of its crystallization, give him a hint
as to the steps proper to be taken next. So he sat him down at his
roll-top desk in the old City Hall, with his feet on the stove, and he
waited.

Had our efficient chief divined the trend of opinion as it was to be
expressed during the day by divers persons in divers parts of the town,
it is possible he might have done something, though just what that
something might have been, I for one confess I do not know--and I do not
think the chief knew either. There was a passion of anger abroad. This
anger was to rise and spread when word circulated--as it very shortly
did--that those other Dagos were harbouring and protecting the
particular Dago who had done the cutting.

Such being the case, did not that make them outlaws too--accessories
after the fact, comalefactors? The question was asked a good many times
in a good many places and generally the answer was the same. And how
about letting these murderous, dirk-toting pauper labourers come pouring
down from the slums of the great cities to take the bread right out of
the mouths of poor, hard-working darkies? With the sudden hostility to
the white stranger rose an equally sudden sympathy for the lot of the
black neighbour whose place he had usurped. Besides, who ever saw one of
the blamed Dagos spending a cent at a grocery, or a notions store, or a
saloon--or anywhere? Money earned in the community ought to be spent in
the community. What did the railroad mean by it anyway?

Toward the middle of the afternoon somebody told somebody else--who, in
turn, told everybody he met--that poor old Beaver was sinking fast; the
surgeons agreed that he could not live the night out. Despite the rutted
snow underfoot and the chill temperature, now rapidly dropping again
to the freezing point and below it, knots of men began to gather on the
streets discussing one topic--and one only.

Standing at the Richland House corner and addressing an entirely
congenial gathering of fifteen or so who had just emerged from the
Richland House bar, wiping their mouths and their moustaches, a
self-appointed spokesman ventured the suggestion that it had been a long
time between lynchings. Maybe if people just turned in and mobbed a
few of these bloodthirsty Dagos it would give the rest of them a little
respect for law and order? What if they didn't get the one that did the
cutting? They could get a few of his friends, couldn't they--and chase
all the others out of the country, and out of the state? Well, then,
what more could a fair-minded citizen ask? And if the police force
could not or would not do its duty in the premises, was it not up to the
people themselves to act?--or words to that general effect. In the act
of going back inside for another round of drinks the audience agreed
with the orator unanimously, and invited him to join them; which he did.

Serenely unaware of these things, Judge Priest spent his day at Soule's
Drug Store, beat Squire Roundtree at checkers, went trudging home at
dusk for supper and, when supper was eaten, came trudging back downtown
again, still hap-pily ignorant of the feeling that was in the icy
air. Eight o'clock found him in the seat of honour on the platform at
Kamleiter's Hall, presiding over the regular semi-monthly meeting of
Gideon K. Irons Camp.

Considering weather conditions, the judge, as commandant, felt a throb
of pride at the size of the attendance. Twenty-two elderly gentlemen
answered to their names when the adjutant, old Professor Reese, of the
graded school, called the roll. Two or three more straggled in, bundled
up out of all their proper proportions, in time to take part in the
subsequent discussion of new business. Under that elastic heading the
Camp agreed to co-operate with the Daughters in a campaign to raise
funds for a monument to the memory of General Meriwether Grider, dead
these many years; voted fifty dollars out of the Camp treasury for the
relief of a dead comrade's widow; and listened to a reminiscence of the
retreat from Atlanta by Sergeant Jimmy Bagby.

One overhearing might have gathered from the tenor of the sergeant's
remarks that, if King's Hell Hounds had been given but the proper
support in that campaign, the story of Sherman's March to the Sea would
have a vastly different ending from the one set forth in the schoolbooks
and the histories. In conclusion, and by way of a diversion from the
main topic, Sergeant Bagby was launching on a circumstantial recital of
a certain never-to-be-forgotten passage of words between General Buckner
and General Breckenridge on a certain momentous and historic occasion,
when an interruption occurred, causing him to break off in the middle of
his opening sentence.

Old Press Harper, from three miles out in the county, was sitting
well back toward the rear of the little hall. It is possible that his
attention wandered from the subject in hand. He chanced to glance over
his shoulder and, through the frosted panes of a back window, he caught
a suffused reflection. Instantly he was on his feet.

"Hey, boys!" called out Mr. Harper. "Somethin's on fire--looky yander!"

He ran to the window. With his sleeve he rubbed a patch clear on the
sweated pane and peered out. Others followed _him_. Sashes were hoist,
and through each of the three window openings in the back wall protruded
a cluster of heads--heads that were pinky-bald, grey-grizzled or
cottony-white, as the case might be.

"You bet there's a fire, and a good hot one! See them blazes shootin'
up."

"Must be down by the Old Fort. D'ye reckin it could be the old plough
factory bumin' up?"

"Couldn't be that far away, could it, Bony? Looks closer'n that to me."

"Fires always seem closer than what they really are--that's been my
experience."

"Listen, boys, for the engines--they ought to be startin' now in a
minute."

They listened; but, though the fire bell in the City Hall tower, two
blocks away, was sounding in measured beats, no clatter of hoofs, no
clamour of fast-turning wheels, rose in the street below or in any
neighbouring street. Only the red flare widened across the northern
horizon, deepening and brightening, and shot through in its centre with
lacings of flame.

"That's funny! I don't hear 'em. Well, anyway, I'm a-goin'."

"Me, too, Press."

The windows were abandoned. There was a rush for the corner where
overcoats had been swung on hooks and overshoes had been kicked back
against the baseboard. Various elderly gentlemen began adjusting
earmuffs and mufflers, and spearing with their arms at elusive sleeve
openings. The meeting stood adjourned without having been adjourned.

"Coming, Billy?" inquired Mr. Nap. B. Crump in the act of hastily
winding two yards of red knitted worsted about his throat.

"No; I reckin not," said Judge Priest. "It's a mighty bitter night fur
folks to be driv' out of their homes in this weather. I'm sorry fur
'em, whoever they are--but I reckin I couldn't do no good ef I went. You
young fellers jest go ahead without me--I'm sort of gittin' along too
fur in years to be runnin' to other people's fires. I've got one of my
own to go to--out there in my old settin' room on Clay Street."

He rose slowly from his chair and stepped round from behind the table,
then halted, cant-ing his head to one side.

"Listen, boys! Ain't that somebody runnin' up the steps?"

It surely was. There was a thud of booted feet on the creaking boards.
Somebody was coming three stairs at a jump. The door flew open and
Circuit Clerk Elisha Milam staggered in, gasping for breath. They
assailed him with questions.

"Hey, Lisha, where's the fire?"

"It's that construction camp down below town burning up," he answered
between pants. "How did it get started?"

"It didn't get started--somebody started it. Gentlemen, there's trouble
beginning down yonder. Where's Judge Priest?... Oh, yes, there he is!"

He made for Judge Priest where the judge still stood on the little
platform, and all the rest trailed behind him, scrouging up to form a
close circle about those two, with hands stirruped behind faulty ears
and necks craned forward to hear what Mr. Milam had to say. His story
wasn't long, the blurting way he told it, but it carried an abundant
thrill. Acting apparently in concert with others, divers unknown
persons, creeping up behind the barracks of the construction crew, had
fired the building and fled safely away without being detected by its
dwellers or by the half-frozen watchers of the police force on the
hillock above. At least that was the presumption in Mr. Milam's mind,
based on what he had just heard.

The fire, spreading fast, had driven the Sicilians forth, and they were
now massed under the bluff with their weapons. The police force--eight
men, all told, constituted the night shift--hesitated to act, inasmuch
as the site of the burning camp lay fifty yards over the town line,
outside of town limits. The fire department was helpless. Notice had
been served at both the engine houses, in the first moment of the alarm,
that if the firemen unreeled so much as a single foot of hose it would
be cut with knives--a vain threat, since all the water plugs were frozen
up hard and fast anyhow. The sheriff and his only able-bodied deputy
were in Hopkinsburg, eighty miles away; and an armed mob of hundreds was
reported as being on the way from its rendezvous in the abandoned plough
factory to attack the foreigners.

Mr. Milam, essentially a man of peace, had learned these things at first
hand, or at second, and had hastened hotfoot to Kamleiter's Hall for
the one man to whom, in times of emergency, he always looked--his
circuit-court judge. He didn't know what Judge Priest could do or would
do in the face of a situation so grave; but at least he had done his
duty--he had borne the word. In a dozen hasty gulping sentences he
told his tale and finished it; and then, by way of final punctuation, a
chorus of exclamatory sounds--whistled, grunted and wheezed--rose from
his auditors.

As for Judge Priest, he, for a space of seconds after Mr. Milam had
concluded, said nothing at all. The rapping of his knuckled fist on the
tabletop alongside him broke in sharply on the clamour. They faced him
then and he faced them; and it is possible that, even in the excitement
of the time, some among them marked how his plump jaws had socketed
themselves into a hard, square-mortise shape, and how his tuft of white
chin beard bristled out at them, and how his old blue eyes blazed into
their eyes. And then Judge Priest made a speech to them--a short, quick
speech, but the best speech, so his audience afterward agreed, that ever
they heard him make.

"Boys," he cried, lifting his high, shrill voice yet higher and yet
shriller, "I'm about to put a motion to you and I want a vote on it
purty dam' quick! They've been sayin' in this town that us old soldiers
was gittin' too old to take an active hand in the affairs of this
community any longer; and at the last election, ez you all know, they
tried fur to prove it by retirin' most of the veterans that offered
themselves ez candidates fur re-election back to private life.

"I ain't sayin' they wasn't partly right neither; fur here we've been
sittin' this night, like a passel of old moo-cows, chewin' the cud of
things that happened forty-odd year' ago, and never suspicionin' nothin'
of what was goin' on, whilst all round us men, carried away by passion
and race prejudice, have been plottin' to break the laws and shed blood
and bring an everlastin' disgrace on the reppitation fur peace and good
order of this fair little city of ourn. But maybe it ain't too late yit
fur us to do our duty ez citizens and ez veterans. Oncet on a time--a
mighty long while ago--we turned out to pertect our people ag'inst an
armed invader. Let's show 'em we ain't too old or too feeble to turn out
oncet more to pertect them ag'inst themselves."

He reared back, and visibly, before their eyes, his short fat figure
seemed to lengthen by cubits.

"I move that Gideon K. Irons Camp of United Confederate Veterans, here
assembled, march in a body right now to save--ef we can--these poor
Eyetalians who are strangers in a strange and a hosstil land from bein'
mistreated, and to save--ef we can--our misguided fellow townsmen from
sufferin' the consequences of their own folly and their own foolishness.
Do I hear a second to that motion?"

Did he hear a second to his motion? He heard twenty-five seconds to it,
all heaved at him together, with all the blaring strength of twenty-five
pairs of elderly lungs. Sergeant Jimmy Bagby forgot parliamentary usage.

"Will we go?" whooped Sergeant Bagby, waving his pudgy arms aloft so
that his mittened hands described whizzing red circles in the air. "You
betcher sweet life we'll go! We'll go through hell and high water--with'
you as our commandin' officer, Billy Priest."

"You betcher! That's the ticket!" A whoop of approval went up.

"Well, then, ef that's the way you feel about it--come on!" their leader
bade them; and they rushed for the door, sweeping the circuit clerk
aside. "No; wait jest a minute!" He singled out the jostled Mr. Milam.
"Lishy, you've got the youngest, spriest legs of anybody here. Run on
ahead--won't you?--and find Father Minor. He'll be at the priest house
back of his church. Tell him to jine up with us as quick as ever the
Lord'll let him. We'll head down Harrison Street."

Mr. Milam vanished. With a wave of his arm, the judge comprehended those
who remained.

"Nearly everybody here served one time or another under old Nathan
Bedford Forrest. The rest would 'a' liked to. I reckin this here is
goin' to be the last raid and the last charge that Forrest's Cavalry,
mounted or dismounted, ever will make! Let's do it regular--open up that
there wardrobe-chist yonder, some of you, and git what's inside!"

Hurried old hands fumbled at the catches of a weather-beaten oaken
cabinet on the platform and plucked forth the treasured possessions of
the Camp--the dented bugle; the drum; the slender, shiny, little fife;
the silken flag, on its short polished staff.

"Fall in--by twos!" commanded Judge Priest. "_Forward--march!_"

Half a minute later the gasjets that lighted Kamleiter's Hall lighted
only emptiness--an empty chest in a corner; empty chairs, some
overturned on their sides, some upright on their legs; an empty hall
doorway opening on an empty patch of darkness; and one of Judge Priest's
flannel-lined galoshes, gaping emptily where it had been forgotten.

From the street below rose a measured thud of feet on the hard-packed
snow. Forrest's Cavalry was on the march!

With bent backs straightening to the call of a high, strong impulse;
with gimpy, gnarled legs rising and falling in brisk unison; with heads
held high and chests puffed out; with their leader in front of them and
their flag going before them--Forrest's Cavalry went forward. Once and
once only the double line stopped as it traversed the town, lying snug
and for the most part still under its blanketing, of snow.

As the little column of old men swung round the first corner below
Kamleiter's Hall, the lights coming through the windows of Tony
Palassi's fruit shop made bright yellow patches on the white path they
trod.

"Halt!" ordered Judge Priest suddenly; and he quit his place in the lead
and made for the doorway.

"If you're looking for Tony to go along and translate you're wasting
time, Judge," sang' out Mr. Crump. "He's out-of town."

"Is he?" said Judge Priest. "Well, that's too bad!"

As though to make sure, he peered in through the glassed upper half of
the fruitshop door. Within might be seen Mrs. Delia Callahan Palassi,
wife of the proprietor, putting the place to rights before locking it
up for the night; and at her skirts tagged Master Antonio Wolfe
Tone Palassi, aged seven, only son and sole heir of the same, a
round-bellied, red-cheeked little Italian-Irish-American. The judge put
his hand on the latch and jiggled it.

"I tell you Tony's not there," repeated Mr. Crump impatiently.

If the judge heard him he paid no heed. He went through that door,
leaving his command outside, as one might go who knew exactly what he
was about. Little Tony Wolfe Tone recognised an old friend and came,
gurgling a welcome, to greet him. Most of the children in town knew
Judge Priest intimately, but little Tony Wolfe Tone was a particular
favourite of his; and by the same token he was a particular favourite of
Tony's.

Whatever Judge Priest said to Mrs. Palassi didn't take long for the
saying of it; yet it must have been an argument powerfully persuading
and powerfully potent. It is possible--mind you, I don't make the
positive assertion, but it is possible--he reminded her that the blood
of a race of fighting kings ran in her veins; for in less than no time
at all, when Judge Priest reissued from the fruit shop, there rode
pack-fashion on his back a little figure so well bundled up against the
cold that only a pair of big brown Italian eyes and a small, tiptilted
Irish nose showed themselves, to prove that Judge Priest's burden was
not a woolly Teddy-bear, but a veritable small boy. No; I'm wrong there.
One other thing proved it--a woman standing in the doorway, wringing her
apron in her hands, her face ablaze with mother love and mother pride
and mother fear, watching the hurrying procession as it moved down the
wintry street straight into the red glare on ahead.

The flimsy framework of resiny pine burned fast, considering that much
snow had lain on the roof and much snow had melted and run down the
sides all day, to freeze again with the coming of nighttime. One end of
the barracks had fallen into a muddle of black-charred ruination. The
fire ate its way along steadily, purring and crackling and spitting
as its red teeth bit into the wetted boards. Above, the whole sky
was aglare with its wavering red reflections. The outlines of the
bowl-shaped flat stood forth distinctly revealed in the glow of that
great wooden brazier, and the snow that covered the earth was channelled
across with red streaks, like spilt blood.

Here, against the nearermost bank, the foreigners were clumped in a
tight, compact black huddle, all scared, but not so badly scared that
they would not fight. Yonder, across the snow, through the gap where
a side street debouched at a gentle slope into the hollow, the mob
advanced--men and half-grown boys--to the number of perhaps four
hundred, coming to get the man who had stabbed Beaver Yancy and string
him up on the spot--and maybe to get a few of his friends and string
them up as an added warning to all Dagos. They came on and came on until
a space of not more than seventy-five yards separated the mob and the
mob's prospective victims. From the advancing mass a growling of many
voices rose. Rampant, unloosed mischief was in the sound.

Somebody who was drunk yelled out shrill profanity and then laughed a
maudlin laugh. The group against the bank kept silent. Theirs was the
silence of a grim and desperate resolution. Their only shelter had been
fired over their heads; they were beleaguered and ringed about with
enemies; they had nowhere to run for safety, even had they been minded
to run. So they would fight. They made ready with their weapons of
defence--such weapons as they had.

A man who appeared to hold some manner of leadership over the rest
advanced a step from the front row of them. In his hand he held an
old-fashioned cap-and-ball pistol at full cock. He raised his right arm
and sighted along the levelled barrel at a spot midway between him and
the oncoming crowd. Plainly he meant to fire when the first of his foes
crossed an imaginary line. He squinted up his-eye, taking a careful aim;
and he let his trigger finger slip gently inside the trigger guard--but
he never fired.

On top of the hill, almost above his head, a bugle blared out. A fife
and a drum cut in, playing something jiggy and brisk; and over the crest
and down into the flat, two by two, marched a little column of old men,
following after a small silken flag which flicked and whispered in the
wind, and led by a short, round-bodied commander, who held by the hand a
little briskly trotting figure of a child. Tony Wolfe Tone had grown too
heavy for the judge to carry him all the way.

Out across the narrow space between the closing-in mob and the closed-in
foreigners the marchers passed, their feet sinking ankle-deep into the
crusted snow. Their leader gave a command; the music broke off and they
spread out in single file, taking station, five feet apart from one
another, so that between the two hostile groups a living hedge was
interposed. And so they stood, with their hands down at their sides,
some facing to the west, where the Italians were herded together, some
facing toward the east, where the would-be lynchers, stricken with a
great amazement, had come to a dead stand.

Judge Priest, still holding little Tony Wolfe Tone's small mittened
hand fast in his, spoke up, addressing the mob. His familiar figure was
outlined against the burning barracks beyond him and behind him. His
familiar whiny voice he lifted to so high a pitch that every man and boy
there heard him.

"Feller citizens," he stated, "this is part of Forrest's Cavalry you see
here. We done soldierin' oncet and we've turned soldiers ag'in; but we
ain't armed--none of us. We've only got our bare hands. Ef you come on
we can't stop you with guns; but we ain't agoin' to budge, and ef you
start shootin' you'll shorely git some of us. So ez a personal favour
to me and these other gentlemen, I'd like to ast you jest to stand still
where you are and not to shoot till after you see what we're fixrin' to
try to do. That's agreeable to you-all, ain't it? You've got the whole
night ahead of you--there's no hurry, is there, boys?"

He did not wait for any answer from anyone. By name he knew a good half
of them; by sight he knew the other half. And they all knew him; and
they knew Tony Palassi's boy; and they knew Father Minor, who stood
at his right hand; and they knew the lame blacksmith and the little
bench-legged Jewish merchant, and the rich banker and the poor
carpenter, and the leading wholesaler, and all the other old men who
stretched away from the judge in an uneven line, like fence posts for a
fence that had not been built. They would not shoot yet; and, as though
fully convinced in his own mind they would bide where they were until he
was done, and relying completely on them to keep their unspoken promise,
Judge Priest half-turned his back on the members of the mob and bent
over little Tony.

"Little feller," he said, "you ain't skeered, are you?"

Tony looked up at his friend and shook his head stoutly. Tony was not
scared. It was as good as play to Tony--all this was.

"That's my sandy little pardner," said Judge Priest; and he put his
hands under Tony's arms and heaved the child back up on his shoulders,
and swung himself about so that he and Tony faced the huddle of silent
figures in the shadow of the bank.

"You see all them men yonder, don't you, boy?" he prompted. "Well, now
you speak up ez loud ez you can, and you tell 'em whut I've been tellin'
you to say all the way down the street ever since we left your mammy.
You tell 'em I'm the big judge of the big court. Tell 'em there's one
man among 'em who must come on and go with me. He'll know and they'll
know which man I mean. Tell 'em that man ain't goin' to be hurt ef he
comes now. Tell 'em that they ain't none of 'em goin' to be hurt ef they
all do what I say. Tell 'em Father Minor is here to show 'em to a safe,
warm place where they kin spend the night. Kin you remember all that,
sonny-boy? Then tell 'em in Eyetalian--quick and loud."

And Tony Wolfe Tone told them. Unmindful of the hundreds of eyes that
were upon him, even forgetting for a minute to watch the fire--Tony opened
wide his small mouth and in the tongue of his father's people, richened
perhaps by the sweet brogue of his mother's land, and spiced here and
there with a word or two of savoury good American slang, he gave the
message a piping utterance.

They hearkened and they understood. This baby, this _bambino_, speaking
to them in a polyglot tongue they, nevertheless, could make out--surely
he did not lie to them! And the priest of their own faith, standing in
the snow close by the child, would not betray them. They knew better
than that. Perhaps to them the flag, the drum, the fife, the bugle,
the faint semblance of military formation maintained by these volunteer
rescuers who had appeared so opportunely, promising succour and security
and a habitation for the night--perhaps all this symbolised to them
organised authority and organised protection, just as Judge Priest, in
a flash of inspiration back in Kamleiter's Hall, had guessed that it
might.

Their leader, the man who held the pistol, advanced a pace or two and
called out something; and when Tony Wolfe, from his perch on the old
judge's shoulders, had answered back, the man, as though satisfied,
turned and might be seen busily confabbing with certain of his mates who
clustered about him, gesticulating.

"Whut did he say, boy?" asked Judge Priest, craning his neck to look up.

"He say, Mister Judge, they wants to talk it over," replied Tony,
craning his neck to look down.

"And whut did you say to him then?"

"I say to him: 'Go to it, kiddo!'"

In the sheltering crotch of little Tony's two plump bestraddling legs,
which encircled his neck, the old judge chuckled to himself. A wave
of laughter ran through the ranks of the halted mob--Tony's voice had
carried so far as that, and Tony's mode of speech apparently had met
with favour. Mob psychology, according to some students, is hard to
fathom; according to others, easy.

From the midst of the knot of Sicilians a man stepped forth--not the
tall man with the gun, but a little stumpy man who moved with a limp.
Alone, he walked through the crispened snow until he came up to where
the veterans stood, waiting and watching. The mob, all intently quiet
once more, waited and watched too.

With a touch of the dramatic instinct that belongs to his race, he flung
down a dirk knife at Judge Priest's feet and held out both his hands in
token of surrender. To the men who came there to take his life he gave
no heed--not so much as a sidewise glance over his shoulder did he give
them. He looked into the judge's face and into the face of little Tony,
and into the earnest face of the old priest alongside these two.

"Boys"--the judge lifted Tony down and, with a gesture, was invoking
the attention of his townsmen--"boys, here's the man who did the knifin'
this mornin', givin' himself up to my pertection--and yours. He's goin'
along with me now to the county jail, to be locked up ez a prisoner.
I've passed my word and the word of this whole town that he shan't be
teched nor molested whilst he's on his way there, nor after he gits
there. I know there ain't a single one of you but stands ready to help
me keep that promise. I'm right, ain't I, boys?"

"Oh, hell, judge--you win!" sang out a member of the mob, afterward
identified as one of Beaver Yancy's close friends, in a humorously
creditable imitation of the judge's own earnest whine. And at that
everybody laughed again and somebody started a cheer.

"I thought so," replied the judge. "And now, boys, I've got an idea.
I reckin, after trampin' all the way down here in the snow, none of us
want to tramp back home ag'in without doin' somethin'--we don't feel
like ez ef we want to waste the whole evenin', do we? See that shack
burnin' down? Well, it's railroad property; and we don't want
the railroad to suffer. Let's put her out--let's put her out with
snowballs!" Illustrating his suggestion, he stooped, scooped up a double
handful of snow, squeezed it into a pellet and awkwardly tossed it in
the general direction of the blazing barracks. It flew wide of the mark
and fell short of it; but his intention was good, that being conceded.
Whooping joyously, four hundred men and half-grown boys, or thereabouts
such a number, pouched their weapons and dug into the drifted whiteness.

"Hold on a minute--we'll do it to soldier music!" shouted the judge, and
he gave a signal. The drum beat then; and old Mr. Harrison Treese buried
the fife in his white whiskers and ripped loose on the air the first
bars of Yankee Doodle. The judge molded another snowball for himself.

"All set? Then, ready!--aim!--fire!"

Approximately two hundred snowballs battered and splashed the flaming
red target. A great sizzling sound rose.

Just after this first volley the only gun-powder shot of the evening was
fired. It came out afterward that as a man named Ike Bowers stooped over
to gather up some snow his pistol, which he had forgotten to uncock,
slipped out of his pocket and fell on a broken bit of planking. There
was a darting needle of fire and a smart crack. The Sicilians wavered
for a minute, swaying back and forth, then steadied themselves as Father
Minor stepped in among them with his arms uplifted; but Sergeant Jimmy
Bagby put his hand to his head in a puzzled sort of way, spun round, and
laid himself down full length in the snow.

It was nearly midnight. The half-burned hull of the barracks in the
deserted bottom below the Old Fort still smoked a little, but it no
longer blazed. Its late occupants--all save one--slept in the P. A. & O.
V. roundhouse, half a mile away, under police and clerical protection;
this one was in a cell in the county jail, safe and sound, and it is
probable that he slept also. That linguistic prodigy, Master Tony Wolfe
Tone Palassi, being excessively awearied, snored in soft, little-boy
snores at his mother's side; and over him she cried tears of pride and
visited soft kisses on his flushed, upturned face. To the family of the
Palassis much honour had accrued--not forgetting the Callahans. At
eleven o'clock the local correspondent of the _Courier-Journal_ and
other city papers had called up to know where he might get copies of her
son's latest photograph for widespread publication abroad.

The rest of the town, generally speaking, was at this late hour of
midnight, also abed; but in the windows of Doctor Lake's office, on the
second floor of the Planters' Bank building, lights burned, and on the
leather couch in Doctor Lake's inner room a pudgy figure, which breathed
heavily, was stretched at full length, its hands passively flat on its
breast, its head done up in many windings of cotton batting and surgical
bandages. Above this figure stood old Doctor Lake, holding in the open
palm of his left hand a small, black, flattened object. The door leading
to the outer office opened a foot and the woe-begone face and dripping
eyes of Judge Priest appeared through the slit.

"Get out!" snapped Doctor Lake without turning his head.

"Lew, it's me!" said Judge Priest in the whisper that any civilised
being other than a physician or a trained nurse instinctively assumes in
the presence of a certain dread visitation. "I jest natchelly couldn't
wait no longer--not another minute! I wouldn't 'a' traded one hair off
of Jimmy Bagby's old grey head fur all the Beaver Yancys that ever was
whelped. Lew, is there a chance?"

"Billy Priest," said Doctor Lake severely, "the main trouble with you is
that you're so liable to go off half-cocked. Beaver Yancy's not going to
die--you couldn't kill him with an ax. I don't know how that story got
round to-night. And Jim Bagby's all right too, except he's going to have
one whale of a headache tomorrow. The bullet glanced round his skull and
stopped under the scalp. Here 'tis--I just got it out.... Oh, Lord! Now
look what you've done, bursting in here and blubbering all around the
place!"

The swathed form on the couch sat up and cocked an eye out from beneath
a low-drawn fold of cheesecloth.

"Is that you, Judge?" demanded Sergeant Bagby in his usual voice and in
almost his usual manner.

"Yes, Jimmy; it's me."

Judge Priest projected himself across the room toward his friend. He
didn't run; he didn't jump; he didn't waddle--he projected himself.

"Yes, Jimmy, it's me."

"Are any of the other boys out there in the other room?"

"Yes, Jimmy; they're all out there, waitin'."

"Well, quit snifflin' and call 'em right in!" said Sergeant Bagby
crisply. "I've been tryin' fur years to git somebody to set still long
enough fur me to tell 'em that there story about Gin'ral John C.
Breckenridge and Gin'ral Simon Bolivar Buckner; and it seems like
somethin' always comes up to interrupt me. This looks like my chance to
finish it, fur oncet. Call them boys all in!"



VIII. DOUBLE-BARRELLED JUSTICE


A LONG and limber man leaned against a doorjamb of the Blue Jug Saloon
and Short Order Restaurant, inhaling the mild dear air of the autumnal
day and, with the air of a man who amply is satisfied by the aspect
of things, contemplating creation at large as it revealed itself along
Franklin Street. In such posture he suggested more than anything else a
pair of callipers endowed with reason. For this, our disesteemed
fellow citizen of the good old days which are gone, was probably the
shortest-waisted man in the known world. In my time I have seen other
men who might be deemed to be excessively short waisted, but never one
to equal in this unique regard Old King Highpockets. A short span less
of torso, and a dime museum would have claimed him, sure.

You would think me a gross exaggerator did I attempt to tell you how
high up his legs forked; suffice it to say that, as to his suspenders,
they crossed the spine just below his back collar button. Wherefore,
although born a Magee and baptised an Elmer, it was inevitable in this
community that from the days of his youth onward he should have been
called what they did call him. To his six feet five and a half inches of
lank structural design he owed the more descriptive part of his
customary title. The rest of it--the regal-sounding part of it--had been
bestowed upon him in his ripened maturity after he achieved for himself
local dominance in an unhallowed but a lucrative calling.

Sitting down the above-named seemed a person of no more than ordinary
height, this being by reason of the architectural peculiarities just
referred to. But standing up, as at the present moment, he reared head
and gander neck above the run of humanity. From this personal eminence
he now looked about him and below him as he took the gun. There was
not a cloud in the general sky; none in his private and individual sky
either. He had done well the night before and likewise the night before
that; he expected to do as well or better the coming night. Upstairs
over the Blue Jug King Highpockets took in gambling--both plain and
fancy gambling.

There passed upon the opposite side of the street one Beck Giltner. With
him the tall man in the doorway exchanged a distant and formal
greeting expressed in short nods. Between these two no great amount of
friendliness was lost. Professionally speaking they were opponents. Beck
Giltner was by way of being in the card and dicing line himself, but he
was known as a square gambler, meaning by that, to most of mankind
he presented a plane surface of ostensible honesty and fair dealing,
whereas within an initiated circle rumour had it that his rival of the
Blue Jug was so crooked he threw a shadow like a brace and bit. Beck
Giltner made it a rule of business to strip only those who could afford
to lose their pecuniary peltries. Minors, drunkards, half-wits and
chronic losers were barred from his tables. But all was fish--I use the
word advisedly--all was fish that came to the net of Highpockets.

Beck Giltner passed upon his business. So did other and more reputable
members of society. A short straggling procession of gentlemen went by,
all headed westward, and each followed at a suitable interval by his
negro "boy," who might be anywhere between seventeen and seventy years
of age. An hour or two later these travellers would return, bound for
their offices downtown. Going back they would mainly travel in pairs,
and their trailing black servitors would be burdened, front and back,
with "samples"--sheafs of tobacco bound together and sealed with blobs
of red sealing wax and tagged. For this was in the time before the Trust
and the Night Riders had between them disrupted the trade down in the
historic Black Patch, and the mode of marketing the weed by loose leaf
was a thing as yet undreamed of. They would be prizing on the breaks in
Key & Buckner's long warehouse pretty soon. The official auctioneer had
already reported himself, and to the ear for blocks round came distantly
a sharp rifle-fire clatter as the warehouse hands knocked the hoops off
the big hogsheads and the freed staves rattled down in windrows upon the
uneven floor.

A locomotive whistled at the crossing two squares up the street, and the
King smiled a little smile and rasped a lean and avaricious chin with
a fabulously bony hand. He opined that locomotive would be drawing the
monthly pay car which was due. The coming of the pay car meant many
sportive railroad men--shopmen, yardmen, trainmen--abroad that evening
with the good new money burning holes in the linings of their pockets.

Close by him, just behind him, a voice spoke his name--his proper name
which he seldom heard--and the sound of it rubbed the smile off his face
and turned it on the instant into a grim, long war-mask of a face.

"Mister Magee--Elmer--just a minute, please!"

Without shifting his body he turned his head and over the peak of one
shoulder he regarded her dourly. She was a small woman and she was
verging on middle age, and she was an exceedingly shabby little woman.
Whatever of comeliness she might ever have had was now and forever gone
from her. Hard years and the strain of them had ground the colour in and
rubbed the plumpness out of her face, leaving in payment therefor deep
lines and a loose skin-sac under the chin and hollows in the cheeks. The
shapeless, sleazy black garments that she wore effectually concealed
any remnant of grace that might yet abide in her body. Only her eyes
testified she had ever been anything except a forlorn and drooping
slattern. They were big bright black eyes.

This briefly was the aspect of the woman who stood alongside him,
speaking his name. She had come up so quietly that he never heard her.
But then her shoes were old and worn and had lasted long past the age
when shoes will squeak.

He made no move to raise his hat. Slantwise across the high ridge of his
twisted shoulder he looked at her long and contemptuously.

"Well," he said at length, "back ag'in, huh? Well, whut is it now, huh?"

She put up a little work-gnarled hand to a tight skew of brown hair
streaked thickly with grey. In the gesture was something essentially
feminine--something pathetic too.

"I reckon you know already what it is, Elmer," she said. "It's about my
boy--it's about Eddie."

"I told you before and I tell you ag'in I ain't your boy's guardeen," he
answered her.

"How comes you keep on pesterin' me--I ain't got that boy of yourn?"

"Yes, you have got him," she said, her voice shaking and threatening to
break. "You've got him body and soul. And I want him--me, his mother. I
want you to give him back to me."

His gaze lifted until he considered empty space a foot above her head.
Slowly he reached an angular arm back under his right shoulder blade
and fished about there until he had extracted from a hip pocket a long,
black rectangle of navy chewing tobacco that was like a shingle newly
dipped in creosote. It was a virgin plug--he bought a fresh one every
morning and by night would make a ragged remnant of it. With the
deliberation of a man who has plenty of time to spare, he set his
stained front teeth in a corner of it and gnawed off a big scallop of
the rank stuff. His tongue herded it back into his jaw, where it made
a lump. He put the plug away. She stood silently through this, kneading
her hands together, a most humble suppliant awaiting this monarch's
pleasure.

"You told me all that there foolishness the other time," he said. "Ain't
you got no new song to sing this time? Ef you have I'll listen, mebbe.
Ef you ain't I'll tell you good-by."

"Elmer," she said, "what kind of a man are you? Haven't you got any
compassions at all? Why, Elmer, your pa and my pa were soldiers together
in the same regiment. You and me were raised together right here in this
town. We went to the same schoolhouse together as children--don't you
remember? You weren't a mean boy then. Why, I used to think you was
right good-hearted. For the sake of those old days won't you do
something about Eddie? It's wrong and it's sinful--what you're doing to
him and the rest of the young boys in this town."

"Ef you think that why come to me?" he demanded. "Why not go to the
police with your troubles?" He split his lips back, and a double row
of discoloured snags that projected from the gums like little chisels
showed between them.

"And have 'em laugh in my face, same as you're doing now? Have 'em tell
me to go and get the evidence? Oh, I know you're safe enough there. I
reckon you know who your friends are. You shut up when the Grand Jury
meets; and once in a while when things get hot for you, like they did
when that Law and Order League was so busy, you close up your place;
and once in a while you go up to court and pay a fine and then you keep
right on. But it's not you that's paying the fine--I know that mighty
good and well. The money to pay it comes out of the pockets of poor
women in this town--wives and mothers and sisters.

"Oh, there's others besides me that are suffering this minute. There's
that poor, little, broken-hearted Mrs. Shetler, out there on Wheelis
Street--the one whose husband had to run away because he fell short
in his accounts with the brickyard. And there's that poor, old Mrs.
Postelwaite, that's about to lose the home that she's worked her fingers
to the bone, mighty near, to help pay for, and she'll be left without
a roof over her head in her old age because her husband's went and lost
every cent he can get his hands on playing cards in your place, and
so now they can't meet their mortgage payments. And there's plenty of
others if the truth was only known. And oh, there's me and my boy--the
only boy I've got. Elmer Magee, how you can sleep nights I don't see!"
"I don't," he said. "I work nights." His wit appealed to him, for he
grinned again. "Say, listen here!" His mood had changed and he spat the
next words out. "Ef you think I ain't good company for that son of yourn,
why don't you make him stay away from me? I ain't hankerin' none fur his
society."

"I've tried to, Elmer--God knows I've tried to, time and time again.
That's why I've come back to you once more to ask you if you won't help
me. I've gone down on my knees alone and prayed for help and I've prayed
with Eddie, too, and I've pleaded with him. He don't run round town
carousing like some boys his age do. He don't drink and he's not wild,
except it just seems like he can't leave gambling alone. Oh, he's
promised me and promised me he'd quit, but he's weak--and he's only a
boy. I've kept track of his losings as well as I could, and I know that
first and last he's lost nearly two hundred dollars playing cards with
you and your crowd. That may not be much to you, Elmer--I reckon you're
rich--but it's a lot to a lone woman like me. It means bread and meat
and house rent and clothes to go on my back--that's what it means to me.
My feet are mighty near out of these shoes I've got on, and right this
minute there's not a cent in the house. I don't say you cheated him, but
the money's gone and you got it. And it's ruining my boy. He's only a
boy--he won't be twenty-one till the twelfth day of next April. If only
you wouldn't let him come inside your place he'd behave himself--I know
he would.

"So you see, Elmer, you're the only one that can make him go
straight--that's why I've come back to you this second time. I reckon he
ain't so much to blame. You know--yes, you've got reason to know better
than anybody else--that his father before him couldn't leave playing
cards alone. I hoped I could raise Eddie different. As a little thing I
used to tell him playing cards were the devil's own playthings. But it
seems like he can't just help it. I reckon it's in his blood."

"Whut you need then is a blood purifier," mocked the gamester. He
pointed a long forefinger toward the drug store across the street.
"You'd better go on over yonder to Hinkle's and git him some. I see
they're advertisn' a new brand in their window--a dollar a bottle and a
cure guaranteed or else you gits your money back. Better invest!"

He showed her his back as he turned to enter the Blue Jug. Pausing
halfway through the swinging doors he spoke again, and since he still
looked over her head perhaps he did not see the look that had come into
her eyes or mark how her hands were clenching and unclenching. Or if he
did see these things perhaps he did not care.

"That's all I've got to say to you," he added, "exceptin' this--I want
this here to be the last time you come pesterin' me on the street."

"It will be," she said slowly, and her voice was steady although her
meagre frame shook. "It's the last time I'm coming to you on the
street, Elmer, for what's mine by rights."

"Then good-day to you." He disappeared. She turned and went away,
walking fast. Her name was Norfleet and she was a widow and alone in the
world. Except for her son, who worked at Kattersmith Brothers'
brickyards as a helper for twelve dollars and a half a week, she had no
kith or kin. She lived mainly by her needle, being a seamstress of
sorts.

King Highpockets' establishment was the nearest approach to a gilded
gambling hell--to quote a phrase current--that we had. But certainly it
was not gilded, although possibly by some it might have been likened to
a hell. Under the friendly cover of darkness you ascended a steep flight
of creaky wooden steps and when you had reached the first landing you
knocked at a locked wooden door. The lock slid back and the door opened
a cautious inch or two and a little grinning negro, whose name was Babe
Givens, peeped out at you through the opening. If you were the right
person, or if you looked as though you might be the right person, Babe
Givens opened the door wider and made way for you to enter.

Entering then, you found yourself in a big room furnished most simply
with two tables and some chairs and several spittoons upon the floor,
and a portable rack for poker checks and a dumbwaiter in a corner--and
that was all. There was no safe, the proprietor deeming it the part
of safety to carry his cash capital on his person. There was no
white-uniformed attendant to bring you wine, should you thirst, and
turkey sandwiches, if you hungered while at play. I have read that such
as these are provided in all properly conducted gambling hells in
the great city, but King Highpockets ran a sure-thing shop, not a
restaurant. Drinks, when desired, were paid for in advance, and came
from the bar below on the shelf of the creaking dumbwaiter, after Babe
Givens had called the order down a tin speaking tube. There were no rugs
upon the floor, no pictures against the walls. Except for the decks of
cards, opened fresh at each sitting, there was nothing new or bright
about the place. The King might move his entire outfit in one two-horse
wagon and put no great strain upon the team. He might lose it altogether
and be out of pocket not more than seventy-five dollars. In him the
utilitarian triumphed above the purely artistic; himself, he was not
pretty to look upon.

Of the two tables, one ordinarily was for poker and the other was for
craps. The King banked both games, and sometimes took a hand in the
poker game if conditions seemed propitious. Whether he played though or
whether he didn't, he stood by always to lift a white chip out of each
jackpot for a greedy and omnivorous kitty, whose mouth showed as a
brassbound slot in the middle of the circular cover of dirty green
baize. Trust him to minister to his kitty every pop. She was his pet and
he loved her, and he never forgot her and her needs.

This night, though, the poker table lacked for tenants. The pay car had
come and had dispensed of its delectable contents and had gone on south,
and on this particular night most of the King's guests were railroad
men. Railroad men being proverbially fond of quick action and plenty of
it, the crap table had been drawn out into the middle of the room and
here all activities centred. Here, too, the King presided, making change
as occasion demanded cards, opened fresh at each turn.

While he did this his assistant, an alert individual called Grimes--or
Jay Bird Grimes, for short--kept track of the swift-travelling dice and
of the betting, which like the dice moved from left to right, round and
round and round again.

Jay Bird had need to keep both his eyes wide open, for present players
and prospective players were ringed four deep about the table. The
smoke of their cigars and their cigarettes went upward to add stratified
richness to the thick blue clouds that crawled in layers against the
ceiling, and the sweat of their brows ran down their faces to drip in
drops upon the table as one after another they claimed the dotted
cubes and shook, rattled and rolled 'em, and snapped their finger in
importunity, calling upon Big Dick or Phoebe Dice to come and to come
right away. And then this one would fail to make his point and would
lose his turn, and the overworked ivories would go into the snatching
eager hand of that one who stood next him, and all the rest, waiting
for their chance, would breathe hard, grunting in fancied imitation of
negroes, and shouting out in a semi-hysterical fashion as the player
passed or didn't pass.

A young freight conductor laid down a ten-dollar bill and the King
covered it with another. The freight conductor ran that ten up to one
hundred and eighty dollars, ten or twenty at a dip, then shot the whole
amount and lost it; then lost ninety more on top of that, and with a
white face and a quite empty pay envelope, still held fast in a shaking
left hand, fell back out of the hunched-in, scrouging circle. But he
didn't go away; he stayed to watch the others, envious of those who
temporarily beat the game, dismally sympathetic, with an unspoken
fellow feeling, for those who, like him, went broke. Josh Herron, the
roundhouse foreman, dropped half his month's wages before he decided
that, since luck plainly was not with him, he had had about enough. A
clerk from the timekeeper's office shoved in, taking his place.

When he wasn't answering knocks at the door Babe Givens circulated about
the outskirts of the tightened group like a small, black rabbit dog
about a brush pile harbouring hares, his eyes all china and his mouth
all ivory. The sound of those small squared bones dashing together in
their worn leather cup was music to his Afric ears. The white man in the
first place stole this game from Babe's race, you know.

Babe had to answer knocks a good many times. Newcomers kept on climbing
the stair and knuckling the door.

"Game's mighty full, genelmens--but they's always room fur one mo'.
Step right in and wait yo' turn," Babe would say, ushering in the latest
arrival. Babe was almost as happy as if he had been shooting himself.

As I say, they kept coming. At length, a few minutes before midnight,
when the pile of silver under the King's hands had grown from a
molehill to a mountain and the wadded paper money made a small shock of
yellow-and-green fodder upon the green pasture of the table-top, came
still another, and this one most strangely burdened. Very mousily indeed
this eleventh-hour visitor ascended the steps, and first trying the
doorknob, knocked with a fumbling knock against the pine panels.

Babe drew back the bolt and peered out into the darkness at the solitary
figure dimly seen. "Game's mighty full, genelmen," he began the formula
of greeting, "but you kin----"

Babe began it but he never finished it. Some-. thing long and black,
something slim and fearsome--yes, most fearsome--slid through the
opening, and grazed his nose so that the little darky, stricken limp,
fell back.

"Please, suh, boss," he begged, "fur Gawd's sake don't shoot--don't
shoot!"

Babe started his prayer in a babble but he ended it with a shriek--a
shriek so imploringly loud that all there, however intent they might
be, were bound to hear and take notice. Over the heads of his patrons
Highpockets looked, and he stiffened where he stood. They all looked;
they all stiffened.

There was just cause. Inside the door opening was a masked figure
levelling down a double-barrelled shotgun upon them. Lacking the mask
and the shotgun, and lacking, too, a certain rigid and purposeful pose
which was most clearly defined in all its lines, the figure would have
lacked all menace, indeed would have seemed to the casual eye a most
impotent and grotesque figure. For it was but little better than five
feet in stature and not overly broad. It wore garments too loose for it
by many inches. The sleeve ends covered the small hands to the finger
ends, and the trousers wrinkled, accordion fashion, to the tips of the
absurdly small toes. An old slouch hat threatened to slip all the
way down over the wearer's face. The mask was a flimsy thing of black
cambric, but the eyeholes, strange to say, were neatly worked with
buttonhole stitching. From beneath the hatbrim at the back a hank of
longish hair escaped. On the floor, a yard or so before the apparition
where it had been dropped, rested an ancient black handbag unlatched and
agape.

I am not meaning to claim that at the first instant of looking the
several astonished eyes of the gathering in King Highpockets' place
comprehended all these details; it was the general effect that they got;
and it was that shotgun which mainly made the difference in their point
of view. What they did note most clearly--every man of them--was that
the two hammers of the gun stood erect, ready to drop, and that a slim
trigger finger played nervously inside the trigger guard, and that the
twin muzzles, shifting and wavering like a pair, of round hard eyes
gazing every way at once, seemed to fix a threatening stare upon all of
them and upon each of them. If the heavy gun shook a bit in the grip of
its holder that but added to the common peril. Anyone there would have
taken his dying oath that the thing aimed for his shrinking vitals and
none other's. "Hands up--up high! And keep 'em up!" The command, given
in a high-pitched key, was practically unnecessary. Automatically, as
it were, all arms there had risen to full stretch, so that the clump
of their motionless bodies was fronded at the top with open palms and
tremulous outstretched fingers. But the arms of old King Highpockets
rose above all the rest and his fingers shook the shakiest.

"If anybody moves an inch I'll shoot."

"That don't go for me--I ain't aimin' to move," murmured Josh Herron.
Josh was scared all right, but he chuckled as he said it. "Now--boy--
you!"

The gun barrels dipped to the right an instant, including the detached
form of Babe Givens in their swing.

"Yas, suh, boss, yas!"

"You put all that money in this grip sack here at my feet."

"W-w-which money, boss?"

"All the money that's there on that table yonder--every cent of it."

The little darky feared the man who paid him his wages, but there were
things in this world he feared more--masked faces and shotguns, for
example. His knees smote together and his teeth became as castanets
which played in his jaws, as with rolling eyes and a skin like wet ashes
he moved shudderingly to obey. Between the table and the valise he made
two round trips, carrying the first time silver, the second time paper,
and then, his task accomplished, he collapsed against the wall because
his legs would no longer hold him up. For there was water in his knee
joints and his feet were very cold.

Through this nobody spoke; only the eyes of the armed one watched
vigilantly everywhere and the shotgun ranged the assemblage across
its front and back again. Under his breath some one made moan, as the
heaping double handful of green-and-yellow stuff was crumpled down into
the open-mawed bag. It might have been Highpockets who moaned.

"Now then," bade the robber, when the paper had gone to join the silver,
"anybody here who's lost his money to-night or any other night can
come and get it back. But come one at a time--and come mighty slow and
careful."

Curiously enough only two came--the young freight conductor and the
youth who was a clerk in the time-keeper's office at the yards.

Shamefacedly the freight conductor stooped, flinching away from the gun
muzzles which pointed almost in his right ear, and picked out certain
bills.

"I lost an even hundred--more'n I can afford to lose," he mumbled. "I'm
takin' just my own hundred." He retired rearward after the manner of a
crab.

The boy wore an apologetic air as he salvaged twenty-two dollars from
the cache. After he had crawfished back to the table where the others
were, none else offered to stir.

"Anybody else?" inquired the collector of loot.

"Well, I squandered a little coin here this evenin', but I'm satisfied,"
spoke Josh Herron, now grinning openly. "I'm gittin' my money's worth."
He glanced sidewise toward the suffering proprietor.

"All done?"

Nobody answered.

"Here, boy, come here then!"

Babe Givens came--upon his knees.

"Close that bag."

Babe fumbled the rusted claps shut.

"Now, shove it up close to me along the floor."

Babe, he shoved it.

"Now get back yonder where you were."

I leave it to you whether Babe got back yonder.

The figure swooped downward briskly, and two fingers of the hand which
gripped the forearm of the gun caught in the looped handles of the black
bag and brought it up dangling and heavy laden.

And now the custodian of these delectable spoils was backing toward the
door, but still with weapon poised and ready.

"Stay right where you are for five minutes," was the final warning from
behind the cambric mask. "Five minutes, remember! Anybody who tries to
come down those steps before that five minutes is up is going to get
shot."

The door slammed. Through the closed door the crap-shooters, each in his
place and all listening as intently as devout worshippers in a church,
heard the swift footsteps dying away. Josh Herron brought down his arms
and took two steps forward.

"Wait, Josh, the time limit ain't up yit," counselled a well-wisher.

"Oh, I ain't goin' nowheres jest yit--I'm very comfortable here," said
Josh. He stooped and seemed to pick up some small object from the bare
planks.

Five minutes later--or perhaps six--a procession moving cautiously,
silently and in single file passed down the creaky stairs. It was
noted--and commented upon--that the owner of the raided place, heaviest
loser and chief mourner though he was, tagged away back at the tail of
the line. Only Babe Givens was behind him, and Babe was well behind
him too. At the foot of the stairs the frontmost man projected his head
forth into the night, an inch at a time, ready to jerk it back again.
But to his inquiring vision Franklin Street under its gas lamps yawned
as empty as a new made grave.

For some unuttered and indefinable reason practically all of the present
company felt in a mood promptly to betake themselves home. On his
homeward way Josh Herron travelled in the company of a sorely shaken
grocery clerk, and between them they, going up the street, discussed the
startling episode in which they had just figured.

"Lookin' down that pair of barrels certainly made a true believer out of
old Highpockets, didn't it?" said the grocer's clerk, when the event had
been gone over verbally from its beginning to its end. "Did you happen
to see, Josh, how slow he poked his old head out past them doorjambs
even after Jasper Waller told him the coast was clear? Put me in mind of
one of these here old snappin'-turtles comin' out of his shell after
a skeer. Well, I had a little touch of the buck-ager myself," he
confessed.

"It was sorter up to our long-laiged friend to be a little bit careful,"
said Josh Herron. "Coupled up the way he is, one buckshot would be
liable to go through his gizzard and his lights at the same time."

A little later the grocery clerk spoke, in reference to a certain quite
natural curiosity which seemingly lay at the top of his thoughts, since
he had voiced it at least three times within the short space of one city
block:

"I wonder who that there runty hold-up could 'a' been?"

"Yes, I wonder?" repeated Josh Herron in a peculiar voice.

"He certainly took a long chance, whoever he was--doin' the whole job
single handed," continued the grocery clerk. "Well, I ain't begrudgin'
him the eight dollars of mine that he packed off with him, seein' as how
he stripped old Highpockets as clean as a whistle. And he couldn't 'a'
been nothin' but a half-grown boy neither, judgin' from his build."

"Boy--hell! Say, Oscar, are you as blind as the rest of that crowd?"'
asked Josh Herron, coming to a halt beneath a corner gas lamp. "Was you
so skeered, too, you couldn't see a thing that was right there before
your eyes as plain as day?"

"What you talkin' about?" demanded the other. "If it wasn't a boy, what
was it--a dwarf?"

"Oscar, kin you keep a secret?" asked Josh Herron, grinning happily.
"Yes? Then look here."

He opened his right hand. Across the palm of it lay a bent wire hairpin.

It is possible that Oscar, the grocer's clerk, did know how to keep a
secret. As to that I would not presume to speak. Conceding that he did,
it is equally certain that some persons did not possess the same gift of
reticence. By noon of the following day, practically all who had ears to
hear with had heard in one guise or another the story of those midnight
proceedings upstairs over the Blue Jug. It was inevitable that the
editor of the _Daily Evening News_ should hear it, too, which he
did--from a dozen different sources and by a dozen differing versions.
For publication at least the distressed Highpockets had nothing to say.
All things being considered, this was but natural, as you will concede.

Naturally, also, none might be found in all the width and breadth of
the municipality who would confess to having been an eye witness to the
despoiling operations, because if you admitted so much it followed in
the same breath you convicted yourself of being a frequenter of gaming
establishments, and, moreover, of being one of a considerable number
of large, strong men who had suffered themselves to be coerced by one
diminutive bandit. So, lacking authoritative facts to go upon, and names
of individuals with which to buttress his statements, Editor Tompkins,
employing his best humorous vein, wrote and caused to be printed an
account veiled and vague, but not so very heavily veiled at that and not
so vague but that one who knew a thing or two might guess out the riddle
of his tale.

Coincidentally, certain other things happened which might or might not
bear a relationship to the main event. Old Mrs. Postelwaite received by
mail, in an unmarked envelope and from an unknown donor, three hundred
and odd dollars--no great fortune in itself, but a sum amply sufficient
to pay off the mortgage on her small birdbox of a dwelling, and so save
the place which she called home from foreclosure at the instigation of
the Building & Loan Company. Since little Mrs. Shetler, who lived out
on Wheelis Street, had no present source of income other than what she
derived by taking subscription orders for literary works which nobody
cared to read and few, except through a spirit of compassion for
Mrs. Shetler, cared to buy, it seemed fair to assume that from like
mysterious agencies she acquired the exact amount of her husband's
shortage, then owing to Kattersmith Brothers, his recent employers.
This amount being duly turned over to that firm the fugitive was enabled
to return from his hiding and, rehabilitated, to assume his former place
in the community. For the first time in months little Mrs. Shetler wore
a smile upon her face and carried her head erect when she went abroad.
Seeing that smile you would have said yourself that it was worth every
cent of the money.

The Widow Norfleet, seamstress, squared up her indebtedness with divers
neighbourhood tradesmen, and paid up her back house rent, and after
doing all this still had enough ready cash left to provide winter
time garments for herself and a new suit for her threadbare son Eddie.
Finally, Mrs. Matilda Weeks, who constituted in herself an unofficial
but highly efficient local charity organisation, discovered on a certain
morning when she awoke that, during the night, some kindly soul had
shoved under her front door a plain Manila wrapper, containing merely a
line of writing on a sheet of cheap, blue-ruled notepaper: "For the poor
people," and nearly three hundred dollars in bills--merely that, and
nothing more. It was exactly in keeping with Mrs. Weeks' own peculiar
mode of philanthropy that she should accept this anonymous gift and make
use of it without asking any questions whatsoever.

"I think, by all accounts, it must be tainted money," said Mrs. Weeks,
"but I don't know any better way of making dirty money clean than by
doing a little good with it."

So she kept the donation intact against the coming of the Christmas, and
then she devoted it to filling many Christmas dinner baskets and many
Christmas stockings for the families of shanty-boaters, whose floating
domiciles clustered like a flock of very disreputable water fowl down
by the willows, below town, these shiftless river gypsies being included
among Mrs. Weeks' favourite wards.

Meanwhile, for upward of a week after the hold-up no steps of whatsoever
nature were taken by the members of the police force. For the matter
of that, no steps which might be called authoritative or in strict
accordance with the statutes made and provided were ever taken by them
or any one of them. But one evening the acting head of the department
went forth upon a private mission. Our regular chief, Gabe Henley, was
laid up that fall, bedfast with inflammatory rheumatism, and the fact
of his being for the time an invalid may possibly help to explain a good
deal, seeing that Gabe had the name for both honesty and earnestness in
the discharge of his duties, even if he did fall some degrees short of
the mental stature of an intellectual giant.

So it was the acting chief--he resigned shortly thereafter, as I
recall--who took it upon himself to pay a sort of domiciliary visit to
the three-room cottage where the Widow Norfleet lived with her son Eddie
and took in sewing. He bore no warrant qualifying him for violent entry,
search of the premises or seizure of the person, and perhaps that was
why he made no effort to force his way within the little house; or maybe
he desired only to put a few pointed questions to the head of the house.
So while he stood at the locked front door, knocking until his knuckles
stung him and his patience had become quite utterly exhausted, a woman
let herself out at the back of the house and ran bareheaded through an
alley which opened into Clay Street, Clay Street being the next street
to the west. When she returned home again at the end of perhaps half an
hour a peep through a hooded and shuttered front window revealed to her
that the brass-buttoned caller had departed.

It was the next morning, to follow with chronological exactitude the
sequence of this narrative, that our efficient young commonwealth's
attorney, Jerome G. Flournoy, let himself into the chambers of the
circuit judge. Mr. Flournoy wore between his brows a little V of
perplexity. But Judge Priest, whom he found sitting by a grate fire
stoking away at his cob pipe, appeared to have not a single care
concealed anywhere about his person. Certainly his forehead was free of
those wrinkles which are presumed to denote troublesomeness of thought
on the inside.

"Judge," began Mr. Flournoy, without any prolonged preliminaries, "I'm
afraid I'm going to have to take up that Blue Jug affair. And I do hate
mightily to do it, seeing what the consequences are liable to be. So I
thought I'd talk it over with you first, if you don't mind."

"Son," whined Judge Priest, and to Mr. Flournoy it seemed that the
phantom shadow of a wink rested for the twentieth part of a second on
the old judge's left eyelid, "speakin' officially, it's barely possible
that I don't know whut case you have reference to."

"Well, unofficially then, you're bound to have heard the talk that's
going round town," said Mr. Flournoy. "Nobody's talked of anything else
much this past week, so far as I've been able to notice. Just between
you and me, Judge, I made up my mind, right from the first, that unless
it was crowded on me I wasn't going to take cognisance of the thing at
all. That's the principal reason why I haven't mentioned the subject in
your presence before now. As a private citizen, it struck me that that
short-waisted crook got exactly what was coming to him, especially as
I never heard of bad money being put to better purposes. But aside from
what he lost in cash--and I reckon he doesn't think any more of a silver
dollar than you do of both your legs--it made him the laughing stock
of twenty thousand people, and more particularly after the true inside
facts began to circulate."

"Now that you mention it, son," remarked Judge Priest blandly, "it
strikes me that I did ketch the distant sound of gigglin' here and there
durin' the past few days."

"That's just it--the giggling must've got under the scoundrel's hide
finally. I gather that at the beginning Magee made up his mind to keep
his mouth shut and just take his medicine. But I figure him for the kind
that can't stand being laughed at very long--and his own gang have just
naturally been laughing him to death all week. Anyhow, he came to
my house today right after breakfast, and called on me as the
commonwealth's attorney to put the facts before the Grand Jury when it
convenes next Monday for the fall term. He's even willing to testify
himself, he says. And he says he can prove what went with the money that
he lost that night--or most of it--and what became of the rest of it.

"That's not all, Judge, either. Right on top of that, when I got down
to my office I found a letter from Mrs. Hetty Norfleet, saying she had
nothing to conceal from the duly sworn officers of the law, and that she
was perfectly willing to answer any charges that might be made against
her, and that she would come to me and make a full statement any time I
wanted her to come. Or substantially that," amended Mr. Flournoy, with
the lawyer's instinct.

"Is that possible?" quoth the judge in tones of a mild surprise. With
his thumb he tamped down the smoulder in his pipe. The job appeared to
require care; certainly it required full half a minute of time. When
next he spoke he had entirely departed from the main line of the topic
in hand.

"I reckin, son, you never knowed little Gil Nickolas, did you? No,
'taint in reason that you would. He died long before your time. Let's
see--he must've died way back yonder about eighteen-sixty-nine, or
maybe 'twas eighteen-seventy? He got hisself purty badly shot up at
Chickamauga and never did entirely git over it. Well, sir, that there
little Gil Nickolas wasn't much bigger than a cake of lye soap after a
hard day'; washin', but let me tell you, he was a mighty gallant soldier
of the late Southern Confederacy. I know he was because we both served
together in old Company B--the first company that went out of this town
after the fussin' started. Yes, suh, he shorely was a spunky little
raskil. |I reckin he belonged to a spunky outfit--I never knowed one
of his breed yit that didn't have more sand, when it come right down to
cases, than you could load onto a hoss and waggin." Again he paused to
minister to the spark of life in his pipe bowl. "I recall one time, the
first year of the war, me and Gil was out on a kind of a foragin' trip
together and----"

"I beg your pardon, Judge Priest," broke in Mr. Flournoy a trifle
stiffly, "but I was speaking of the trouble Mrs. Hetty Norfleet's gotten
herself into."

"I know you was," assented Judge Priest, "and that's whut put me in mind
of little Gil Nickolas. He was her paw. I ain't seen much of her here of
recent years, but I reckin she's had a purty toler'ble hard time of it.
Her husband wasn't much account ez I remember him in his lifetime."

"She has had a hard time of it---mighty hard," assented Mr. Flournoy,
"and that's one of the things that makes my job all the harder for me."

"How so?" inquired Judge Priest. "Because," expounded Mr. Flournoy,
"now, I suppose, I've got to put her under arrest and bring her to
trial. In a way of speaking Magee has got the law on his side. Certainly
he's got the right to call on me to act. On the surface of things the
police are keeping out of it--I reckon we both know why--and so it's
being put up to me. Magee points out, very truly, that it's a felony
charge anyhow, and that even if his dear friend, the acting chief,
should start the ball rolling, in the long run, sooner or later, the
case would be bound to land in circuit court."

"And whut then?" asked Judge Priest.

"Oh, nothing much," said Mr. Flournoy bitterly, "nothing much, except
that if that poor little woman confesses--and I judge by the tone of her
letter she's ready to do just that--anyway, everybody in town knows by
now that she was the one that held up that joint of Magee's at the point
of a shotgun--why the jurors, under their oaths, are bound to bring in
a verdict of guilty, no matter how they may feel about it personally.
Magee has about reached the point where he'd risk a jail term for
himself to see her sentenced to the penitentiary. Judge Priest, I'd
almost rather resign my office than be the means of seeing that poor,
little, plucky woman convicted for doing the thing she has done."

"Wait a minute, son! Hold your hosses and wait a minute!" put in the
judge. "Mebbe it won't be absolutely necessary fur you to up and resign
so abrupt. Your valuable services are needed round this courthouse."

"What's that you say, Judge?" asked the young prosecutor, straightening
his body out of the despondent curve into which he had looped it.

"I says, wait a minute and don't be so proneful to jump at conclusions,"
repeated and amplified the older man. "You go and jump at a conclusion
that-away and you're liable to skeer the poor thing half to death. I've
been lettin' you purceed ahead because I wanted to git your views on
this little matter before I stuck my own paddle into the kittle. But
now let's you and me see ef there ain't another side to this here
proposition."

"I'm listening, your Honour," said Flournoy, mystified but somehow
cheered.

"Well, then!" The judge raised his right arm ready to emphasise each
point he made with a wide swing of the hand which held the pipe. "Under
the laws of this state gamblin' in whatsoever form ain't permitted,
recognised, countenanced nor suffered. That's so, ain't it, son? To
be shore, the laws as they read at present sometimes seem insufficient
somehow to prevent the same, and I hope to see them corrected in that
reguard, but the intent is plain enough that, in the eye of the law,
public gamblin' es sech does not go on anywhere within the confines of
this commonwealth. You agree with me there, don't you?"

"May it please the court, I agree with you there," said Flournoy
happily, beginning, he thought, to see the light breaking through.

"All right then--so fur so good. Now then, sech bein' the situation,
we may safely assume, I reckin, that within the purview and the written
meanin' of the statute, gamblin'--common gamblin'--don't exist a-tall.
It jest natchally ain't.

"Understand me, I'm speaking accordin' to a strict legal construction of
the issue. And so, ef gamblin' don't exist there couldn't 'a' been no
gamblin' goin' on upstairs over the Blue Jug saloon and restauraw on the
night in question. In fact, ef you carry the point out to its logical
endin' there couldn't 'a' been no night in question neither. In any
event, ef the person Magee could by any chance prove he was there, in
the said place, on the said date, at the said time, it would appear that
he was present fur the purpose of evadin' and defyin' the law, and so
ef somebody ostensibly and apparently seemed to happen along and did by
threat and duress deprive him of somethin' of seemin' value, he still
wouldn't have no standin' in court because he couldn't come with clean
hands hisse'f to press the charge.

"But there ain't no need to go into that phase and aspect of the
proposition because we know now that, legally, he wasn't even there.
Not bein' there, of course he wasn't engaged in carryin' on a game of
chance. Not bein' so engaged, it stands to reason he didn't lose nothin'
of value. Ef he states otherwise we are bound to believe him to be a
victim of a diseased and an overwrought mind. And so there, I take it,
is the way it stands, so fur ez you are concerned, Mister Flournoy. You
can't ask a Grand Jury to return an indictment ag'inst a figment of the
imagination, kin you? Why, boy, they'd laugh at you."

"I certainly can't, Judge," agreed the young man blithely. "I don't know
how the venerable gentlemen composing the court of last resort in this
state would look upon the issue if it were carried up to them on appeal,
but for my purposes you've stated the law beautifully." He was grinning
broadly as he stood up and reached for his hat and his gloves. "I'm
going now to break the blow to our long-legged friend."

"Whilst you're about it you mout tell him somethin' else," stated
his superior. "In fact, you mout let the word seep round sort of
promiscuous-like that I'm aimin' to direct the special attention of the
next Grand Jury to the official conduct of certain members of the
police force of our fair little city. Ez regards the suppressin' and the
punishin' of common gamblers, the law appears to be sort of loopholey
at present; but mebbe ef we investigated the activities, or the lack of
same, on the part of divers of our sworn peace officers, we mout be
able to scotch the snake a little bit even ef we can't kill it outright.
Anyway, I'm willin' to try the experiment. I reckin there's quite a
number would be interested in hearin' them tidin's ef you're a mind to
put 'em into circulation. Personally, I'm impressed with the idea that
our civic atmosphere needs clarifyin' somewhut. All graftin' is hateful
but it seems to me the little cheap graftin' that goes on sometimes in a
small community is about the nastiest kind of graft there is. Don't you
agree with me there?"

"Judge Priest," stated Mr. Flournoy from the threshold, "I've about made
up my mind that I'm always going to agree with you." Inside of two hours
the commonwealth's attorney returned from his errand, apparently much
exalted of spirit.

"Say, Judge," he proclaimed as he came through the door, "I imagine it
won't be necessary for you to take the steps you were mentioning a while
ago."

"No?"

"No, siree. Once I'd started it I judge the news must've spread pretty
fast. Outside on the Square, as I was on my way back up here from
downtown, Beck Giltner waylaid me to ask me to tell you for him that
he was going to close down his game and try to make a living some
other way. I'm no deep admirer of the life, works and character of Beck
Giltner, but I'll say this much for him--he keeps his promise once he's
made it. I'd take his word before I'd take the word of a lot of people
who wouldn't speak to him on the street.

"And we're going to lose our uncrowned king. Yes, sir, Highpockets the
First is preparing to leave us flat. After hearing what I had to tell
him, he said in a passionate sort of way that a man might as well quit
a community where he can't get justice. I gather that he's figuring on
pulling his freight for some more populous spot where he can enjoy
a wider field of endeavour and escape the vulgar snickers of the
multitude. He spoke of Chicago."

"Ah, hah!" said Judge Priest; and then after a little pause: "Well,
Jerome, my son, ef I have to give up any member of this here community I
reckin Mister Highpockets Elmer Magee, Esquire, is probably the one I
kin spare the easiest. When is he aimin' to go from us?"

"Right away, I think, from what he said."

"Well," went on Judge Priest, "ef so be you should happen to run acros't
him ag'in before he takes his departure from amongst us you mout--in
strict confidence, of course--tell him somethin' else. He mout care to
ponder on it while he is on his way elsewhere. That there old
scattergun, which he looked down the barrels of it the other night,
wasn't loaded."

"Wasn't loaded? Whee!" chortled Mr. Flournoy. "Well, of all the good
jokes----"

He caught himself: "Say, Judge, how did you know it wasn't loaded?"

"Why, she told me, son--the Widder Norfleet told me so last night. You
see she come runnin' over the back way from her house to my place--I
glean somethin' had happened which made her think the time had arrived
to put herself in touch with sech of the authorities ez she felt she
could trust--and she detailed the whole circumstances to me. 'Twas me
suggested to her that she'd better write you that there letter. In fact,
you mout say I sort of dictated its gin'ral tenor. I told her that you
ez the prosecutor was the one that'd be most interested in hearin' any
formal statement she mout care to make, and so----"

Mr. Flournoy slumped down into a handy chair and ran some fingers
through his hair.

"Then part of the joke is on me too," he owned.

"I wouldn't go so fur ez to say that," spake Judge Priest soothingly.
"Frum where I'm settin' it looks to me like the joke is mainly on quite
a number of people."

"And the shotgun wasn't loaded?" Seemingly Mr. Flournoy found it hard to
credit his own ears.

"It didn't have nary charge in ary barrel," reaffirmed the old man.
"That little woman had the spunk to go up there all alone by herse'f and
bluff a whole roomful of grown men, but she didn't dare to load up her
old fusee--said she didn't know how, in the first place, and, in the
second place, she was skeered it mout go off and hurt somebody. Jerome,
ain't that fur all the world jest like a woman?"



IX. A BEAUTIFUL EVENING *


     * Publisher's Note--Under a different title this story was
     printed originally in another volume of Mr. Cobb's. It is
     included here in order to complete the chronicles of Judge
     Priest and his people as begun in the book called "Back
     Home" and continued in this book.


THERE was a sound, heard in the early hours of a Sunday morning, that
used to bother strangers until they got used to it. It started
usually along about half past five or six o'clock and it kept up
interminably--so it seemed to them--a monotonous, jarring thump-thump,
thump-thump that was like the far-off beating of African tomtoms; but at
breakfast, when the beaten biscuits came upon the table, throwing off a
steamy hot halo of their own goodness, the aliens knew what it was that
had roused them, and, unless they were dyspeptics by nature, felt amply
recompensed for those lost hours of beauty sleep.

In these degenerate days I believe there is a machine that accomplishes
the same purpose noiselessly by a process of rolling and crushing, which
no doubt is efficacious; but it seems somehow to take the poetry out
of the operation. Judge Priest, and the reigning black deity of his
kitchen, would have naught of it. So long as his digestion survived
and her good right arm held out to endure, there would be real beaten
biscuits for the judge's Sunday morning breakfast. And so, having risen
with the dawn, Aunt Dilsey, wielding a maul-headed tool of whittled
wood, would pound the dough with rhythmic strokes until it was as
plastic as sculptor's modelling clay and as light as eiderdown, full of
tiny hills and hollows, in which small yeasty bubbles rose and spread
and burst like foam globules on the flanks of gentle wavelets. Then,
with her master hand, she would roll it thin and cut out the small round
disks and delicately pink each one with a fork--and then, if you were
listening, you could hear the stove door slam like the smacking of an
iron lip.

On a Sunday morning I have in mind, Judge Priest woke with the first
premonitory thud from the kitchen, and he was up and dressed in his
white linens and out upon the wide front porch while the summer day was
young and unblemished. The sun was not up good yet. It made a red glow,
like a barn afire, through the treetops looking eastward. Lie-abed
blackbirds were still talking over family matters in the maples that
clustered round the house, and in the back yard Judge Priest's big red
rooster hoarsely circulated gossip in regard to a certain little brown
hen, first crowing out the news loudly and then listening, with his head
on one side, while the rooster in the next yard took it up and repeated
it to a rooster living farther along, as is the custom among male
scandalisers the world over. Upon the lawn the little gossamer hammocks
that the grass spiders had seamed together overnight were spangled with
dew, so that each out-thrown thread was a glittering rosary and the
centre of each web a silken, cushioned jewel casket. Likewise each web
was outlined in white mist, for the cottonwood trees were shedding down
their podded product so thickly that across open spaces the slanting
lines of drifting fibre looked like snow. It would be hot enough after a
while, but now the whole world was sweet and fresh and washed clean.

It impressed Judge Priest so. He lowered his bulk into a rustic chair
made of hickory withes that gave to his weight, and put his thoughts
upon breakfast and the goodness of the day; but presently, as he sat
there, he saw something that set a frown between his eyes.

He saw, coming down Clay Street, upon the opposite side, an old man--a
very feeble old man--who was tall and thin and dressed in sombre black.
The man was lame--he dragged one leg along with the hitching gait of the
paralytic. Travelling with painful slowness, he came on until he reached
the corner above.

Then automatically he turned at right angles and left the narrow wooden
sidewalk and crossed the dusty road. He passed Judge Priest's, looking
neither to the right nor the left, and so kept on until he reached the
corner below. Still following an invisible path in the deep-furrowed
dust, he crossed again to the far side. Just as he got there his halt
leg seemed to give out altogether and for a minute or two he stood
holding himself up by a fumbling grip upon the slats of a tree box
before he went laboriously on, a figure of pain and weakness in the
early sunshine that was now beginning to slant across his path and
dapple his back with checkerings of shadow and light.

This manoeuvre was inexplicable--a stranger would have puzzled to make
it out. The shade was as plentiful upon one side of Clay Street as
upon the other; each sagged wooden sidewalk was in as bad repair as
its brother over the way. The small, shabby frame house, buried in
honeysuckles and balsam vines, which stood close up to the pavement
line on the opposite side of Clay Street, facing Judge Priest's roomy,
rambling old home, had no flag of pestilence at its door or its window.
And surely to this lone pedestrian every added step must have been
an added labour. A stranger would never have understood it; but Judge
Priest understood it--he had seen that same thing repeated countless
times in the years that stretched behind him. Always it had distressed
him inwardly, but on this particular morning it distressed him more
than ever. The toiling grim figure in black had seemed so feeble and so
tottery and old.

Well, Judge Priest was not exactly what you would call young. With an
effort he heaved himself up out of the depths of his hickory chair and
stood at the edge of his porch, polishing a pink dome of forehead as
though trying to make up his mind to something. Jefferson Poindexter,
resplendent in starchy white jacket and white apron, came to the door.

"Breakfus' served, suh!" he said, giving to an announcement touching
on food that glamour of grandeur of which his race alone enjoys the
splendid secret.

"Hey?" asked the judge absently.

"Breakfus'--hit's on the table waitin', suh," stated Jeff. "Mizz
Polks sent over her house-boy with a dish of fresh razberries fur
yore breakfus'; and she say to tell you, with her and Mistah Polkses'
compliments, they is fresh picked out of her garden--specially fur you."

The lady and gentleman to whom Jeff had reference were named Polk, but
in speaking of white persons for whom he had a high regard Jeff always,
wherever possible within the limitations of our speech, tacked on
that final _s._ It was in the nature of a delicate verbal compliment,
implying that the person referred to was worthy of enlargement and
pluralisation.

Alone in the cool, high-ceiled, white-walled dining room, Judge Priest
ate his breakfast mechanically. The raspberries were pink beads of
sweetness; the young fried chicken a poem in delicate and flaky browns;
the spoon bread could not have been any better if it had tried; and the
beaten biscuits were as light as snowflakes and as ready to melt on the
tongue; as symmetrical too as poker-chips, and like poker-chips, subject
to a sudden disappearance from in front of one; but Judge Priest spoke
hardly a word all through the meal. Jeff, going out to the kitchen for
the last course, said to Aunt Dilsey:

"Ole boss-man seem lak he's got somethin' on his mind worryin' him this
mawnin'."

When Jeff returned, with a turn of crisp waffles in one hand and a
pitcher of cane sirup in the other, he stared in surprise, for the
dining room was empty and he could hear his employer creaking down the
hall. Jeff just naturally hated to see good hot waffles going to waste.
He ate them himself, standing up; and they gave him a zest for his
regular breakfast, which followed in due course of time.

From the old walnut hatrack, with its white-tipped knobs that stood just
inside the front door, the judge picked up a palmleaf fan; and he held
the fan slantwise as a shield for his eyes and his bare head against the
sun's glare as he went down the porch steps and passed out of his own
yard, traversed the empty street and strove with the stubborn gate latch
of the little house that faced his own. It was a poor-looking little
house, and its poorness had extended to its surroundings--as if poverty
was a contagion that spread. In Judge Priest's yard, now, the grass,
though uncared for, yet grew thick and lush; but here, in this small
yard, there were bare, shiny spots of earth showing through the'
grass--as though the soil itself was out at elbows and the nap worn off
its green-velvet coat; but the vines about the porch were thick enough
for an ambuscade and from behind their green screen came a voice in
hospitable recognition.

"Is that you, Judge? Well, suh, I'm glad to see you! Come right in; take
a seat and sit down and rest yourself."

The speaker showed himself in the arched opening of the vine barrier--an
old man--not quite so old, perhaps, as the judge. He was in his
shirtsleeves. There was a patch upon one of the sleeves. His shoes had
been newly shined, but the job was poorly done; the leather showed
a dulled black upon the toes and a weathered yellow at the sides and
heels. As he spoke his voice ran up and down--the voice of a deaf person
who cannot hear his own words clearly, so that he pitches them in
a false key. For added proof of this affliction he held a lean and
slightly tremulous hand cupped behind his ear.

The other hand he extended in greeting as the old judge mounted the step
of the low porch.

The visitor took one of two creaky wooden rockers that stood in the
narrow space behind the balsam vines, and for a minute or two he sat
without speech, fanning himself. Evidently these neighbourly calls
between these two old men were not uncommon; they could enjoy the
communion of silence together without embarrassment.

The town clocks struck--first the one on the city hall struck
eight times sedately, and then, farther away, the one on the county
courthouse. This one struck five times slowly, hesitated a moment,
struck eleven times with great vigour, hesitated again, struck once with
a big, final boom, and was through. No amount of repairing could cure
the courthouse clock of this peculiarity. It kept the time, but kept it
according to a private way of its own. Immediately after it ceased the
bell on the Catholic church, first and earliest of the Sunday bells,
began tolling briskly. Judge Priest waited until its clamouring had died
away.

"Goin' to be good and hot after 'while," he said, raising his voice.

"What say?"

"I say it's goin' to be mighty warm a little later on in the day,"
repeated Judge Priest.

"Yes, suh; I reckon you're right there," assented the host. "Just a
minute ago, before you came over, I was telling Liddie she'd find it
middlin' close in church this morning. She's going, though--runaway
horses wouldn't keep her away from church! I'm not going myself--seems
as though I'm getting more and more out of the church habit here
lately."

Judge Priest's eyes squinted in whimsical appreciation of this
admission. He remembered that the other man, during the lifetime of his
second wife, had been a regular attendant at services--going twice on
Sundays and to Wednesday night prayer meetings too; but the second wife
had been dead going on four years now--or was it five? Time sped so!

The deaf man spoke on:

"So I just thought I'd sit here and try to keep cool and wait for that
little Ledbetter boy to come round with the Sunday paper. Did you read
last Sunday's paper, Judge? Colonel Watterson certainly had a mighty
fine piece on those Northern money devils. It's round here somewhere--I
cut it out to keep it. I'd like to have you read it and pass your
opinion on it. These young fellows do pretty well, but there's none of
them can write like the colonel, in my judgment."

Judge Priest appeared not to have heard him. "Ed Tilghman," he said
abruptly in his high, fine voice, that seemed absurdly out of place,
coming from his round frame, "you and me have lived neighbours together
a good while, ain't we? We've been right acros't the street frum one
another all this time. It kind of jolts me sometimes when I git to
thinkin' how many years it's really been; because we're gittin' along
right smartly in years--all us old fellows are. Ten years frum now, say,
there won't be so many of us left." He glanced side-wise at the lean,
firm profile of his friend. "You're younger than some of us; but, even
so, you ain't exactly whut I'd call a young man yourse."

Avoiding the direct questioning gaze that his companion turned on him
at this, the judge reached forward and touched a ripe balsam apple that
dangled in front of him. Instantly it split, showing the gummed red
seeds clinging to the inner walls of the sensitive pod.

"I'm listening to you, Judge," said the deaf man.

For a moment the old judge waited. There was about him almost an air of
diffidence. Still considering the ruin of the balsam apple, he spoke,
and it was with a sort of hurried anxiety, as though he feared he might
be checked before he said what he had to say:

"Ed, I was settin' on my porch a while ago waitin' fur breakfast, and
your brother came by." He shot a quick, apprehensive glance at his
silent auditor. Except for a tautened flickering of the muscles about
the mouth, there was no sign that the other had heard him. "Your brother
Abner came by," repeated the judge, "and I set over yonder on my porch
and watched him pass. Ed, Abner's gittin' mighty feeble! He jest about
kin drag himself along--he's had another stroke lately, they tell me.
He had to hold on to that there treebox down yonder, stiddyin' himself
after he cross't back over to this side. Lord knows what he was doin'
draggin' downtown on a Sunday mornin'--force of habit, I reckin. Anyway
he certainly did look older and more poorly than ever I saw him before.
He's a failin' man ef I'm any judge. Do you hear me plain?" he asked.

"I hear you," said his neighbour in a curiously flat voice. It was
Tilghman's turn to avoid the glances of his friend. He stared straight
ahead of him through a rift in the vines.

"Well, then," went on Judge Priest, "here's whut I've got to say to you,
Ed Tilghman. You know as well as I do that I've never pried into your
private affairs, and it goes mightily ag'inst the grain fur me to be
doin' so now; but, Ed, when I think of how old we're all gittin' to be,
and when the Camp meets and I see you settin' there side by side almost,
and yit never seemin' to see each other--and this mornin' when I saw
Abner pass, lookin' so gaunted and sick--and it sech a sweet, ca'm
mornin' too, and everythin' so quiet and peaceful-" He broke off and
started anew. "I don't seem to know exactly how to put my thoughts into
words--and puttin' things into words is supposed to be my trade too.
Anyway I couldn't go to Abner. He's not my neighbour and you are; and
besides, you're the youngest of the two. So--so I came over here to you.
Ed, I'd like mightily to take some word frum you to your brother Abner.
I'd like to do it the best in the world! Can't I go to him with a
message frum you--to-day? To-morrow might be too late!"

He laid one of his pudgy hands on the bony knee of the deaf man; but the
hand slipped away as Tilghman stood up.

"Judge Priest," said Tilghman, looking down at him, "I've listened to
what you've had to say; and I didn't stop you, because you are my friend
and I know you mean well by it. Besides, you're my guest, under my own
roof."

He stumped back and forth in the narrow confines of the porch. Otherwise
he gave no sign of any emotion that might be astir within him, his face
being still set and his voice flat. "What's between me and my--what's
between me and that man you just named always will be between us. He's
satisfied to let things go on as they are. I'm satisfied to let them go
on. It's in our breed, I guess. Words--just words--wouldn't help mend
this thing. The reason for it would be there just the same, and neither
one of us is going to be able to forget that so long as we both live.
I'd just as lief you never brought this--this subject up again. If you
went to him I presume he'd tell you the same thing. Let it be, Judge
Priest--it's past mending. We two have gone on this way for fifty years
nearly. We'll keep on going on so. I appreciate your kindness, Judge
Priest; but let it be--let it be!"

There was finality miles deep and fixed as basalt in his tone. He
checked his walk and called in at a shuttered window.

"Laddie," he said in his natural up-and-down voice, "before you put
off for church, couldn't you mix up a couple of lemonades or something?
Judge Priest is out here on the porch with me."

"No," said Judge Priest, getting slowly up, "I've got to be gittin' back
before the sun's up too high. Ef I don't see you ag'in meanwhile be
shore to come to the next regular meetin' of the Camp--on Friday night,"
he added.

"I'll be there," said Tilghman. "And I'll try to find that piece of
Colonel Watterson's and send it over to you. I'd like mightily for you
to read it."

He stood at the opening in the vines, with one slightly palsied hand
fumbling at a loose tendril as the judge passed down the short yard-walk
and out at the gate. Then he went back to his chair and sat down again.
All the little muscles in his jowls were jumping.

Clay Street was no longer empty. Looking down its dusty length from
beneath the shelter of his palmleaf fan, Judge Priest saw here and there
groups of children--the little girls in prim and starchy white, the
little boys hobbling in the Sunday torment of shoes and stockings; and
all of them moving toward a common centre--Sunday school. Twice again
that day would the street show life--a little later when grown-ups went
their way to church, and again just after the noonday dinner, when young
people and servants, carrying trays and dishes under napkins, would
cross and recross from one house to another. The Sunday interchange of
special dainties between neighbours amounted to a ceremonial; but after
that, until the cool of the evening, the town would simmer in quiet,
while everybody took a Sunday nap.

With his fan, Judge Priest made an angry sawing motion in the air, as
though trying to fend off something disagreeable--a memory, perhaps, or
it might have been only a persistent midge. There were plenty of gnats
and midges about, for by now--even so soon--the dew was dried. The
leaves of the silver poplars were turning their white under sides
up like countless frog bellies, and the long, podded pendants of the
Injun-cigar trees hung dangling and still. It would be a hot day, sure
enough; already the judge felt wilted and worn out.

In our town we had our tragedies that endured for years and, in the
small-town way, finally became institutions. There was the case of the
Burnleys. For thirty-odd years old Major Burnley lived on one side of
his house and his wife lived on the other, neither of them ever crossing
an imaginary dividing line that ran down the middle of the hall, having
for their medium of intercourse all that time a lean, spinster daughter,
in whose grey and barren life churchwork and these strange home duties
took the place that Nature had intended to be filled by a husband and by
babies and grand-babies.

There was crazy Saul Vance, in his garb of a fantastic scarecrow, who
was forever starting somewhere and never going there--because, so sure
as he came to a place where two roads crossed, he could not make up his
mind which turn to take. In his youth a girl had jilted him, or a bank
had failed on him, or a colt had kicked him in the head--or maybe it
was all three of these things that had addled his poor brains. Anyhow
he went his pitiable, aimless way for years, taunted daily by small boys
who were more cruel than jungle beasts. How he lived nobody knew, but
when he died some of the men who as boys had jeered him turned out to be
his volunteer pallbearers.

There was Mr. H. Jackman--Brother Jackman to all the town--who had
been our leading hatter once and rich besides, and in the days of his
affluence had given the Baptist church its bells. In his old age, when
he was dog-poor, he lived on charity, only it was not known by that
word, which is at once the sweetest and the bitterest word in our
tongue; for Brother Jackman, always primped, always plump and well clad,
would go through the market to take his pick of what was there, and to
the Richland House bar for his toddies, and to Felsburg Brothers for new
garments when his old ones wore shabby--and yet never paid a cent for
anything; a kindly conspiracy on the part of the whole town enabling him
to maintain his self-respect to the last. Strangers in our town used to
take him for a retired banker--that's a fact!

And there was old man Stackpole, who had killed his man--killed him in
fair fight and was acquitted--and yet walked quiet back streets at all
hours, a grey, silent shadow, and never slept except with a bright light
burning in his room.

The tragedy of Mr. Edward Tilghman, though, and of Captain Abner G.
Tilghman, his elder brother, was both a tragedy and a mystery--the
biggest tragedy and the deepest mystery the town had ever known or ever
would know probably. All that anybody knew for certain was that for
upward of fifty years neither of them had spoken to the other, nor by
deed or look had given heed to the other. As boys, back in sixty-one,
they had gone out together. Side by side, each with his arm over the
other's shoulder, they had stood up with more than a hundred others to
be sworn into the service of the Confederate States of America; and on
the morning they went away Miss Sally May Ghoulson had given the older
brother her silk scarf off her shoulders to wear for a sash. Both the
brothers had liked her; but by this public act she made it plain which
of them was her choice.

Then the company had marched off to the camp below the Tennessee border,
where the new troops were drilling; and as they marched some watchers
wept and others cheered--but the cheering predominated, for it was to be
only a sort of picnic anyhow--so everybody agreed. As the orators--who
mainly stayed behind--pointed out, the Northern people would not
fight. And even if they should fight could not one Southerner whip four
Yankees? Certainly he could; any fool knew that much. In a month or two
months, or at most three months, they would all be tramping home again,
covered with glory and the spoils of war, and then--this by common
report and understanding--Miss Sally May Ghoulson and Abner Tilghman
would be married, with a big church wedding.

The Yankees, however, unaccountably fought, and it was not a ninety-day
picnic after all. It was not any kind of a picnic. And when it was over,
after four years and a month, Miss Sally May Ghoulson and Abner Tilghman
did not marry. It was just before the battle of Chickamauga when the
other men in the company first noticed that the two Tilghmans had
become as strangers, and worse than strangers, to each other. They quit
speaking to each other then and there, and to any man's knowledge they
never spoke again. They served the war out, Abner rising just before the
end to a captaincy, Edward serving always as a private in the ranks. In
a dour, grim silence they took the fortunes of those last hard, hopeless
days and after the surrender down in Mississippi they came back with the
limping handful that was left of the company; and in age they were all
boys still--but in experience, men, and in suffering, grandsires.

Two months alter they got back Miss Sally May Ghoulson was married to
Edward, the younger brother. Within a year she died, and after a decent
period of mourning Edward married a second time--only to be widowed
again after many years. His second wife bore him children and they
died--all except one, a daughter, who grew up and married badly; and
after her mother's death she came back to live with her deaf father
and to minister to him. As for Captain Abner Tilghman, he never
married--never, so far as the watching eyes of the town might tell,
looked with favour upon any woman. And he never spoke to his brother or
to any of his brother's family--or his brother to him.

With years the wall of silence they had builded up between them turned
to ice and the ice to stone. They lived on the same street, but never
did Edward enter Captain Abner's bank, never did Captain Abner pass
Edward's house--always he crossed over to the opposite side. They
belonged to the same Veterans' Camp--indeed there was only the one for
them to belong to; they voted the same ticket--straight Democratic; and
in the same church, the old Independent Presbyterian, they worshipped
the same God by the same creed, the older brother being an elder and the
younger a plain member--and yet never crossed looks.

The town had come to accept this dumb and bitter feud as unchangeable
and eternal; in time people ceased even to wonder what its cause had
been, and in all the long years only one man had tried, before now,
to heal it up. When old Doctor Henrickson died, a young and earnest
clergyman, fresh from a Virginia theological school, came out to take
the vacant pulpit; and he, being filled with a high sense of his
holy calling, thought it shameful that such a thing should be in the
congregation. He went to see Captain Tilghman about it. He never went
but once. Afterward it came out that Captain Tilghman had threatened to
walk out of church and never darken its doors again if the minister
ever dared to mention his brother's name in his presence. So the young
minister sorrowed, but obeyed, for the captain was rich and a generous
giver to the church.

And he had grown richer with the years, and as he grew richer his
brother grew poorer--another man owned the drug store where Edward
Tilghman had failed. They had grown from young to middle-aged men and
from middle-aged men to old, infirm men; and first the grace of
youth and then the solidness of maturity had gone out of them and the
gnarliness of age had come upon them; one was halt of step and the other
was dull of ear; and the town through half a century of schooling had
accustomed itself to the situation and took it as a matter of course.
So it was and so it always would be--a tragedy and a mystery. It had
not been of any use when the minister interfered; it was of no use now.
Judge Priest, with the gesture of a man who is beaten, dropped the
fan on the porch floor, went into his darkened sitting room, stretched
himself wearily on a creaking horsehide sofa and called out to Jeff to
make him a mild toddy--one with plenty of ice in it.

On this same Sunday--or, anyhow, I like to fancy it was on this same
Sunday--at a point distant approximately nine hundred and seventy miles
in a northeasterly direction from Judge Priest's town, Corporal Jacob
Speck, late of Sigel's command, sat at the kitchen window of the
combined Speck and Engel apartment on East Eighty-fifth Street in the
Borough of Manhattan, New York. He was in his shirtsleeves; his tender
feet were incased in a pair of red-and-green carpet slippers. In the
angle of his left arm he held his youngest grandchild, aged one and a
half years, while his right hand carefully poised a china pipe, with
a bowl like an egg-cup and a stem like a fishpole. The corporal's blue
Hanoverian eyes, behind their thick-lensed glasses, were fixed upon
a comprehensive vista of East Eighty-fifth Street back yards and
clothespoles and fire escapes; but his thoughts were elsewhere.

Reared back there at seeming ease, the corporal none the less was
distracted in his mind. It was not that he so much minded being left at
home to mind the youngest baby while the rest of the family spent
the afternoon amid the Teutonic splendours of Smeltzer's Harlem River
Casino, with its acres of gravel walks and its whitewashed tree trunks,
its straggly flower beds and its high-collared beers. He was used to
that sort of thing. Since a plague of multiplying infirmities of the
body had driven him out of his job in the tax office, the corporal had
not done much except nurse the babies that occurred in the Speck-Engel
establishment with such unerring regularity. Sometimes, it is true, he
did slip down to the corner for maybe zwei glasses of beer and a game
of pinocle; but then, likely as not, there would come inopportunely
a towheaded descendant to tell him Mommer needed him back at the flat
right away to mind the baby while she went marketing or to the movies.

He could endure that--he had to. What riled Corporal Jacob Speck on this
warm and sunny Sunday was a realisation that he was not doing his share
at making the history of the period. The week before had befallen the
fiftieth anniversary of the marching away of his old regiment to
the front; there had been articles in the papers about it. Also, in
patriotic commemoration of the great event there had been a parade of
the wrinkled survivors--ninety-odd of them--following their tattered,
faded battle flag down Fifth Avenue past apathetic crowds, nine-tenths
of whom had been born since the war--in foreign lands mainly; and at
least half, if one might judge by their looks, did not know what the
parading was all about, and did not particularly care either.

The corporal had not participated in the march of the veterans; he had
not even at-tended the banquet that followed it. True, his youngest
grandchild was at the moment cutting one of her largest jaw teeth and
so had required, for the time, an extraordinary and special amount of
minding; but the young lady's dental difficulty was not the sole reason
for his absence. Three weeks earlier the corporal had taken part in
Decoration Day, and certainly one parade a month was ample strain upon
underpinning such as he owned. He had returned home with his game
leg behaving more gamely then usual and his sound one full of new and
painful kinks. Also, in honour of the occasion, he had committed the
error of wearing a pair of stiff new shoes; wherefore he had favoured
carpet slippers ever since.

Missing the fiftieth anniversary was not the main point with the
corporal--that was merely the fortune of war, to be accepted with
fortitude and with no more than a proper and natural amount of grumbling
by one who had been a good soldier and was now a good citizen; but for
days before the event, and daily ever since, divers members of the old
regiment had been writing pieces to the papers--the German papers and
the English-printing papers too--long pieces, telling of the trip to
Washington, and then on into Virginia and across to Tennessee, speaking
of this campaign and that and this battle and that. And because there
was just now a passing wave of interest in Civil War matters, the papers
had printed these contributions, thereby reflecting much glory on the
writers thereof. But Corporal Speck, reading these things, had marvelled
deeply that sane men should have such disgustingly bad memories; for
his own recollection of these events differed most widely from the
reminiscent narration of each misguided chronicler.

It was, indeed, a shameful thing that the most important occurrences
of the whole war should be so shockingly mangled and mishandled in the
retelling. They were so grievously wrong, those other veterans, and he
was so absolutely right. He was always right in these matters. Only the
night before, during a merciful respite from nursing duties, he had,
in Otto Wittenpen's back barroom, spoken across the rim of a tall stein
with some bitterness regarding certain especially grievous misstatements
of plain fact on the part of faulty-minded comrades. In reply Otto had
said, in a rather sneering tone the corporal thought:

"Say, then, Jacob, why don't you yourself write a piece to the paper
telling about this regiment of yours--the way it was?"

"I will. To-morrow I will do so without fail," he had said, the ambition
of authorship suddenly stirring within him. Now, however, as he sat at
the kitchen window, he gloomed in his disappointment, for he had tried
and he knew he had not the gift of the written line. A good soldier he
had been--ja, none better--and a good citizen, and in his day a capable
and painstaking doorkeeper in the tax office; but he could not write
his own story. That morning, when the youngest grandbaby slept and
his daughter and his daughter's husband and the brood of his older
grandchildren were all at the Lutheran church over in the next block,
he sat himself down to compose his article to the paper; but the words
would not come--or, at least, after the first line or two they would not
come.

The mental pictures of those stirring great days when he marched off on
his two good legs--both good legs then--to fight for the country whose
language he could not yet speak were there in bright and living colours;
but the sorry part of it was he could not clothe them in language. In
the trash box under the sink a dozen crumpled sheets of paper testified
to his failure, and now, alone with the youngest Miss Engel, he brooded
over it and got low in his mind and let his pipe go smack out. And right
then and there, with absolutely no warning at all, there came to him, as
you might say from the clear sky, a great idea--an idea so magnificent
that he almost dropped little Miss Engel off his lap at the splendid
shock of it.

With solicitude he glanced down at the small, moist, pink, lumpy bundle
of prickly heat and sore gums. Despite the jostle the young lady slept
steadily on. Very carefully he laid his pipe aside and very carefully he
got upon his feet, jouncing his charge soothingly up and down, and with
deftness he committed her small person to the crib that stood handily
by. She stirred fretfully, but did not wake. The corporal steered his
gimpy leg and his rheumatic one out of the kitchen, which was white with
scouring and as clean as a new pin, into the rearmost and smallest of
the three sleeping rooms that mainly made up the Speck-Engel apartment.

The bed, whereon of nights Corporal Speck reposed with a bucking bronco
of an eight-year-old grandson for a bedmate, was jammed close against
the plastering, under the one small window set diagonally in a jog in
the wall, and opening out upon an airshaft, like a chimney. Time had
been when the corporal had a room and a bed all his own; that was before
the family began to grow so fast in its second generation and he still
held a place of lucrative employment at the tax office.

As he got down upon his knees beside the bed the old man uttered a
little groan of discomfort. He felt about in the space underneath and
drew out a small tin trunk, rusted on its corners and dented in its
sides. He made a laborious selection of keys from a key-ring he got out
of his pocket, unlocked the trunk and lifted out a heavy top tray. The
tray contained, among other things, such treasures as his naturalisation
papers, his pension papers, a photograph of his dead wife, and a small
bethumbed passbook of the East Side Germania Savings Bank. Underneath
was a black fatigue hat with a gold cord round its crown, a neatly
folded blue uniform coat, with the G. A. R. bronze showing in its
uppermost lapel, and below that, in turn, the suit of neat black the
corporal wore on high state occasions and would one day wear to be
buried in. Pawing and digging, he worked his hands to the very bottom,
and then, with a little grunt, he heaved out the thing he wanted--the
one trophy, except a stiffened kneecap and an honourable record, this
old man brought home from the South. It was a captured Confederate
knapsack, flattened and flabby. Its leather was dry-rotted with age and
the brass C. S. A. on the outer flap was gangrened and sunken in; the
flap curled up stiffly, like an old shoe sole.

The crooked old fingers undid a buckle fastening and from the musty and
odorous interior of the knapsack withdrew a letter, in a queer-looking
yellowed envelope, with a queer-looking stamp upon the upper right-hand
corner and a faint superscription upon its face. The three sheets of
paper he slid out of the envelope were too old even to rustle, but the
close writing upon them in a brownish, faded ink was still plainly to be
made out.

Corporal Speck replaced the knapsack in its place at the very bottom,
put the tray back in its place, closed the trunk and locked it and
shoved it under the bed. The trunk resisted slightly and he lost one
carpet slipper and considerable breath in the struggle. Limping back to
the kitchen and seeing little Miss Engel still slumbered, he eased his
frame into a chair and composed himself to literary composition, not in
the least disturbed by the shouts of roistering sidewalk comedians that
filtered up to him from down below in front of the house, or by the
distant clatter of intermittent traffic over the cobbly spine of Second
Avenue, half a block away. For some time he wrote, with a most scratchy
pen; and this is what he wrote:


"To the Editor of the 'Sun,' City,

"Dear Sir: The undersigned would state that he served two years and nine
months--until wounded in action--in the Fighting Two Hundred and Tenth
New York Infantry, and has been much interested to see what other
comrades wrote for the papers regarding same in connection with the
Rebellion War of North and South respectively. I would state that
during the battle of Chickamauga I was for a while lying near by to a
Confederate soldier--name unknown--who was dying on account of a
wound in the chest. By his request I gave him a drink of water from my
canteen, he dying shortly thereafter. Being myself wounded--right knee
shattered by a Minie ball--I was removed to a field hospital; but
before doing so I brought away this man's knapsack for a keepsake of
the occasion. Some years later I found in said knapsack a letter, which
previous to then was overlooked by me. I inclose herewith a copy of said
letter, which it may be interesting for reading purposes by surviving
comrades.

"Respectfully yours,

"Jacob Speck,

"Late Corporal L Company,

"Fighting Two Hundred and Tenth New York, U. S. A."


With deliberation and squeaky emphasis the pen progressed slowly across
the paper, while the corporal, with his left hand, held flat the dead
man's ancient letter before him, intent on copying it. Hard words
puzzled him and long words daunted him, and he was making a long job
of it when there were steps in the hall without. Entered breezily Miss
Hortense Engel, the eldest of all the multiplying Engels, pretty beyond
question and every inch American, having the gift of wearing Lower Sixth
Avenue's stock designs in a way to make them seem Upper Fifth Avenue's
imported models. Miss Engel's face was pleasantly flushed; she had just
parted lingeringly from her steady company, Mr. Lawrence J. McLaughlin,
plumber's helper, in the lower hallway, which is the trysting place and
courting place of tenement-dwelling sweethearts, and now she had come
to make ready the family's cold Sunday night tea. At sight of her the
corporal had another inspiration--his second within the hour. His brow
smoothed and he fetched a sigh of relief.

"'Lo, grosspops!" she said. "How's every little thing? The kiddo all
right?"

She unpinned a Sunday hat that was plumed like a hearse and slipped on a
long apron that covered her from high collar to hobble hem.

"Girl," said her grandfather, "would you make to-morrow for me at the
office a copy of this letter on the typewriter machine?"

He spoke in German and she answered in New-Yorkese, while her nimble
fingers wrestled with the task of back-buttoning her apron.

"Sure thing! It won't take hardly a minute to rattle that off.
Funny-looking old thing!" she went on, taking up the creased and faded
original. "Who wrote it? And whatcher goin' to do with it, grosspops?"

"That," he told her, "is mine own business! It is for you, please, to
make the copy and bring both to me to-morrow, the letter and also the
copy."

So on Monday morning, when the rush of taking dictation at the offices
of the Great American Hosiery Company, in Broome Street, was well
abated, the competent Miss Hortense copied the letter, and that same
evening her grandfather mailed it to the _Sun_, accompanied by his own
introduction. The Sun straightway printed it without change and--what
was still better--with the sender's name spelled out in capital letters;
and that night, at the place down by the corner, Corporal Jacob Speck
was a prophet not without honour in his own country. Much honour, in
fact, accrued.

You may remember that, upon a memorable occasion, Judge Priest went on
a trip to New York and while there had dealings with a Mr. J. Hayden
Witherbee, a promoter of gas and other hot-air propositions; and that
during the course of his stay in the metropolis he made the acquaintance
of one Malley, a _Sun_ reporter. This had happened some years back, but
Malley was still on the staff of the _Sun_. It happened also that, going
through the paper to clip out and measure up his space, Malley came upon
the corporal's contribution. Glancing over it idly, he caught the name,
twice or thrice repeated, of the town where Judge Priest lived. So he
bundled together a couple of copies and sent them South with a short
letter; and therefore it came about in due season, through the good
offices of the United States Post-office Department, these enclosures
reached the judge on a showery Friday afternoon as he loafed upon his
wide front porch, waiting for his supper.

First, he read Malley's letter and was glad to hear from Malley. With a
quickened interest he ran a plump thumb under the wrappings of the two
close-rolled papers, opened out one of them at page ten and read the
opening statement of Corporal Jacob Speck, for whom instantly the judge
conceived a longdistance fondness. Next he came to the letter that Miss
Hortense Engel had so accurately transcribed, and at the very first
words of it he sat up straighter, with a surprised and gratified little
grunt; for he had known them both--the writer of that letter and its
recipient. One still lived in his memory as a red-haired girl with a
pert, malicious face, and the other as a stripling youth in a ragged
grey uniform. And he had known most of those whose names studded the
printed lines so thickly. Indeed, some of them he still knew--only now
they were old men and old women--faded, wrinkled bucks and belles of a
far-distant day.

As he read the first words it came back to the judge, almost with the
jolting emphasis of a new and fresh sensation, that in the days of his
own youth he had not liked the girl who wrote that letter nor the man
who received it. But she was dead this many and many a year--why, she
must have died soon after she wrote this very letter--the date proved
that--and he, the man, had fallen at Chickamauga, taking his death in
front like a soldier; and surely that settled everything and made all
things right! But the letter--that was the main thing. His old blue eyes
skipped nimbly behind the glasses that saddled the tip of his short pink
nose, and the old judge read it--just such a letter as he himself had
received many a time; just such a wartime letter as uncounted thousands
of soldiers North and South received from their sweethearts and read
and reread by the light of flickering campfires and carried afterward in
their knapsacks through weary miles of marching.

It was crammed with the small-town gossip of a small town that was
but little more than a memory now--telling how, because he would not
volunteer, a hapless youth had been waylaid by a dozen high-spirited
girls and overpowered, and dressed in a woman's skirt and a woman's poke
bonnet, so that he left town with his shame between two suns; how, since
the Yankees had come, sundry faithless females were friendly--actually
friendly, this being underscored--with the more personable of the young
Yankee officers; how half the town was in mourning for a son or brother
dead or wounded; how a new and sweetly sentimental song, called Rosalie,
the Prairie Flower, was being much sung at the time--and had it
reached the army yet?--how old Mrs. Hobbs had been exiled to Canada for
seditious acts and language and had departed northward between two files
of bluecoats, reviling the Yankees with an unbitted tongue at every
step; how So-and-So had died or married or gone refugeeing below the
enemy's line into safely Southern territory; how this thing had happened
and that thing had not.

The old judge read on and on, catching gladly at names that kindled a
tenderly warm glow of half-forgotten memories in his soul, until he came
to the last paragraph of all; and then, as he comprehended the intent of
it in all its barbed and venomed malice, he stood suddenly erect, with
the outspread paper shaking in his hard grip. For now, coming back
to him by so strange a way across fifty years of silence and
misunderstanding, he read there the answer to the town's oldest, biggest
tragedy and knew what it was that all this time had festered, like
buried thorns, in the flesh of those two men, his comrades and friends.
He dropped the paper, and up and down the wide, empty porch he stumped
on his short legs, shaking with the shock of revelation and with
indignation and with pity for the blind and bitter uselessness of it
all.

"Ah, hah!" he said to himself over and over again understandingly. "Ah,
hah!" And then: "Next to a mean man, a mean woman is the meanest thing
in this whole created world, I reckin. I ain't shore but whut she's the
meanest of the two. And to think of what them two did between 'em--she
writin' that hellish black lyin' tale to 'Lonzo Pike and he puttin' off
hotfoot to Abner Tilghman to poison his mind with it and set him like a
flint ag'inst his own flesh and blood! And wasn't it jest like Lon
Pike to go and git himself killed the next day after he got that there
letter! And wasn't it jest like her to up and die before the truth
could be brought home to her! And wasn't it like them two stubborn,
set, contrary, closemouthed Tilghman boys to go 'long through all these
years, without neither one of 'em ever offerin' to make or take an
explanation!" His tone changed. "Oh, ain't it been a pitiful thing! And
all so useless! But--oh, thank the Lord--it ain't too late to mend it
part way anyhow! Thank God, it ain't too late fur that!"

Exulting now, he caught up the paper he had dropped, and with it
crumpled in his pudgy fist was half-way down the gravel walk, bound
for the little cottage snuggled in its vine ambush across Clay Street,
before a better and a bigger inspiration caught up with him and halted
him midway of an onward stride.

Was not this the second Friday in the month? It certainly was. And
would not the Camp be meeting to-night in regular semimonthly session
at Kamleiter's Hall? It certainly would. For just a moment Judge Priest
considered the proposition. He slapped his linen clad flank gleefully,
and his round old face, which had been knotted with resolution, broke up
into a wrinkly, ample smile; he spun on his heel and hurried back into
the house and to the telephone in the hall. For half an hour, more
or less, Judge Priest was busy at that telephone, calling in a high,
excited voice, first for one number and then for another. While he did
this his supper grew cold on the table, and in the dining room Jeff, the
white-clad, fidgeted and out in the kitchen Aunt Dilsey, the tur-baned,
fumed--but, at Kamleiter's Hall that night at eight, Judge Priest's
industry was in abundant fulness rewarded.

Once upon a time Gideon K. Irons Camp claimed a full two hundred
members, but that had been when it was first organised. Now there were
in good standing less than twenty. Of these twenty, fifteen sat on the
hard wooden chairs when Judge Priest rapped with his metal spectacle
case for order, and that fifteen meant all who could travel out at
nights. Doctor Lake was there, and Sergeant Jimmy Bagby, the faithful
and inevitable. It was the biggest turnout the Camp had had in a year.

Far over on one side, cramped down in a chair, was Captain Abner
Tilghman, feeble and worn-looking. His buggy horse stood hitched by the
curb downstairs. Sergeant Jimmy Bagby had gone to his house for him
and on the plea of business of vital moment had made him come with him.
Almost directly across the middle aisle on the other side sat Mr. Edward
Tilghman. Nobody had to go for him. He always came to a regular meeting
of the Camp, even though he heard the proceedings only in broken bits.

The adjutant called the roll and those present answered, each one to his
name; and mainly the voices sounded bent and sagged, like the bodies
of their owners. But a keen onlooker might have noticed a sort of
tremulous, joyous impatience, which filled all save two of these old,
grey men, pushing the preliminaries forward with uncommon speed. They
fidgeted in their places.

Presently Judge Priest cleared his throat of a persistent huskiness and
stood up.

"Before we purceed to the regular routine," he piped, "I desire to
present a certain matter to a couple of our members." He came down off
the little platform, where the flags were draped, with a step that was
almost light, and into Captain Abner Tilghman's hand he put a copy of
a city paper, turned and folded at a certain place, where a column of
printed matter was scored about with heavy pencil bracketings. "Cap'n,"
he said, "ez a personal favour to me, suh, would you please read this
here article?--the one that's marked"--he pointed with his finger--"not
aloud--read it to yourself, please."

It was characteristic of the paralytic to say nothing. Without a word he
adjusted his glasses and without a word he began to read. So instantly
intent was he that he did not see what followed next--and that was Judge
Priest crossing over to Mr. Edward Tilghman's side with another copy of
the same paper in his hand.

"Ed," he bade him, "read this here article, won't you? Read it clear
through to the end--it mout interest you mebbe." The deaf man looked up
at him wonderingly, but took the paper in his slightly palsied hand and
bent his head close above the printed sheet.

Judge Priest stood in the middle aisle, making no move to go back to
his own place. He watched the two silent readers. All the others watched
them too. They read on, making slow progress, for the light was poor and
their eyes were poor. And the watchers could hardly contain themselves;
they could hardly wait. Sergeant Jimmy Bagby kept bobbing up and down
like a pudgy jack-in-the-box that is slightly stiff in its joints. A
small, restrained rustle of bodies accompanied the rustle of the folded
newspapers held in shaky hands.

Unconscious of all scrutiny, the brothers read on. Perhaps because he
had started first--perhaps because his glasses were the more expensive
and presumably therefore the more helpful--Captain Abner Tilghman came
to the concluding paragraph first. He read it through--and then Judge
Priest turned his head away, for a moment almost regretting he had
chosen so public a place for this thing.

He looked back again in time to see Captain Abner getting upon his feet.
Dragging his dead leg behind him, the paralytic crossed the bare floor
to where his brother's grey head was bent to his task. And at his side
he halted, making no sound or sign, but only waiting. He waited there,
trembling all over, until the sitter came to the end of the column and
read what was there--and lifted a face all glorified with a perfect
understanding.

"Eddie!" said the older man--"Eddie!" He uttered a name of boyhood
affection that none there had heard uttered for fifty years nearly; and
it was as though a stone had been rolled away from a tomb--as though out
of the grave of a dead past a voice had risen resurrected. "Eddie!"
he said a third time, pleadingly, abjectly, humbly, craving for
forgiveness.

"Brother Abner!" said the other man. "Oh, Brother Abner!" he said--and
that was all he did say--all he had need to say, for he was on his feet
now, reaching out with wide-spread, shaking arms.

Sergeant Jimmy Bagby tried to start a yell, but could not make it
come out of his throat--only a clicking, squeaking kind of sound came.
Considered as a yell it was a miserable failure.

Side by side, each with his inner arm tight gripped about the other,
the brothers, bareheaded, turned their backs upon their friends and went
away. Slowly they passed out through the doorway into the darkness of
the stair landing, and the members of the Gideon K. Irons Camp were all
up on their feet.

"Mind that top step, Abner!" they heard the younger man say. "Wait! I'll
help you down." And that was all except a scuffling sound of uncertainly
placed feet, growing fainter and fainter as the two brothers passed
down the long stairs of Kamleiter's Hall and out into the night
together--that was all, unless you would care to take cognisance of a
subdued little chorus such as might be produced by twelve or thirteen
elderly men snuffling in a large bare room. As commandant of the Camp it
was fitting, perhaps, that Judge Priest should speak first.

"The trouble with this here Camp is jest this," he said: "it's got a lot
of sniffln' old fools in it that don't know no better than to bust out
cryin' when they oughter be happy!" And then, as if to prove how deeply
he felt the shame of such weakness on the part of others, Judge
Priest blew his nose with great violence, and for a space of minutes
industriously mopped at his indignant eyes with an enormous pocket
handkerchief.

*****

In accordance with a rule, Jeff Poindexter waited up for his employer.
Jeff expected him by nine-thirty at the latest; but it was actually
getting along toward ten-thirty before Jeff, who had been dozing lightly
in the dim-lit hall, oblivious to the fanged attentions of some large
mosquitoes, roused as he heard the sound of a rambling but familiar
step clunking along the wooden sidewalk of Clay Street. The latch on the
front gate clicked, and as Jeff poked his nose out of the front door he
heard, down the aisle of trees that bordered the gravel walk, the voice
of his master uplifted in solitary song.

In the matter of song the judge had a peculiarity. It made no difference
what the words might be or the theme--he sang every song and all songs
to a fine, thin, tuneless little air of his own. At this moment Judge
Priest, as Jeff gathered, showed a wide range of selection. One second
he was announcing that his name it was Joe Bowers and he was all the way
from Pike, and the next, stating, for the benefit of all who might care
to hear these details, that they--presumably certain horses--were
bound to run all night--bound to run all day; so you could bet on the
bobtailed nag and he'd bet on the bay. Nearer to the porch steps it
boastingly transpired that somebody had jumped aboard the telegraf and
steered her by the triggers, whereat the lightnin' flew and 'lectri-fied
and killed ten thousand niggers! But even so general a catastrophe could
not weigh down the singer's spirits. As he put a fumbling foot upon
the lowermost step of the porch, he threw his head far back and shrilly
issued the following blanket invitation to ladies resident in a faraway
district:

"Oh, Bowery gals, won't you come out to-night? Won't you come out
to-night?

"Oh, Bowery gals, won't you come out to-night, And dance by the light of
the moon?

"I danced with a gal with a hole in her stockin'; And her heel it kep'
a-rockin'--kep' a-rockin'! She was the purtiest gal in the room!"

Jeff pulled the front door wide open. The song stopped and Judge Priest
stood in the opening, teetering a little on his heels. His face was all
a blushing pink glow--pinker even than common.

"Evenin', Jedge!" greeted Jeff. "You're late, suh!"

"Jeff," said Judge Priest slowly, "it's a beautiful evenin'."

Amazed, Jeff stared at him. As a matter of fact, the drizzle of the
afternoon had changed, soon after dark, to a steady downpour. The
judge's limpened hat brim dripped raindrops and his shoulders were
sopping wet, but Jeff had yet to knowingly and wilfully contradict a
prominent white citizen.

"Yas, suh!" he said, half affirmatively, half questioningly. "Is it?"

"It is so!" said Judge Priest. "Every star in the sky shines like a
diamond! Jeff, it's the most beautiful evenin' I ever remember!"





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