« PreviousContinue »
George, flushed with anger, threw away his glass, and, seizing the little agitator by the scruff of his neck, tossed him into a corner; then, after sparring confusedly in the midst of a knot of the anarchist's sympathizers, he threw a banknote on the bar and rushed from the place. This was an unexpected and sorry farewell to Millbrook, he thought, as he fled from the riot behind him. The wildness of the dying day and the tumult of the sky were in consonance with the rage that suddenly sprang up within his heart.
Plunging into the dusty twilight, he ran against a man who seemed to approach obliquely on his right, and who struck him lightly but firmly full in the face. Fancying that the wild-eyed anarchist and his friends had pursued him, George Barnwell, with an imprecation and a threat, lifted his antagonist by the collar and flung him from him into the gathering darkness, losing his hat and stick as he threw the man, with tremendous strength, into the void. Stooping to pick up his hat, he was again attacked, as if by a halfdozen foes, and in the belief that the whole pack was upon him, he set his arms in motion like a wind-mill, or a farmer's flail, and with savage joy he thought he heard the fall of many a victim as he rained his blows indiscrim. inately in the gloom. Suddenly he was left alone, and, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, his muscles tremulous with excitement and strain, he took his way homeward, cursing as he
THE IDLE APPRENTICE
As the Burnt Rag was the least vile of all the ill resorts in Red Lane, so the Rialto was the lowest and most noisome. It was there that the burglary of the Wendover Mills was planned; and when Danny Rafferty was tried for the murder of the mill watchman, which took place on the night of the robbery, the character of the place was so fully brought out in the testimony of witnesses that the excise officers were compelled, in deference to an excited public opinion, to take away the license of the keeper of the den.
Now, however, a year having elapsed since this exposure, public opinion had had its attention drawn to other things, and while the comparative merits of the trolley and horse-power, as applied to street-car traffic, were engaging the thoughts of the law makers of the town, the Rialto was in full blast. On this evening, Jack Dunning, a strapping youth of nineteen years, who had thrown up his job of learning the trade of harness-making in the neighboring town of Riverbank, stood at the bar of the Rialto shaking dice with the proprietor of that resort, several choice companions assisting with advice and occasional hands at the dice - box. When a bout with the dice was concluded, the loser in the game ordered a round of drinks for his associate gamblers; the bartender judiciously refrained from drinking, preferring cash to his own beverages. There was much wild hilarity and profanity at the expense of the loser.
Three feeble kerosene lamps shed their rays over the dark and dingy room. Rows of bottles, mostly empty, stood in front of the mirror behind the bar. A stuffed snake skin was festooned across the top of the bottledecorated looking-glass, thereby affording frequenters of the place and their host much innocent amusement when occasion offered in the appearance of a bibulous but chance customer who asked concerning the reptile. "There ain't no snake, and you've got 'em ag'in," was the formula usually adopted by the jocose bartender. Jack Dunning had hurried in this answer to a stranger's inquiry, that night, greatly to the mortification and wrath of the keeper of the bar, whose favorite joke was thus anticipated.
Around the long, narrow room were ranged a few rickety tables, some of them unoccupied save for the flies that gathered about little pools of beer, and sipped eagerly at the leavings of customers who had drank and gone their way; and at other tables sat groups of coarse, hard-featured men, talking loudly and disputatiously, pounding with their beer-glasses the while; and here and there a guest, unkempt and forlorn, overcome with potations or
with the sleepiness that follows nights spent in hay-mows, or under farmer's wagons, dozed until wrenched from slumber by the angry "bouncer" of this house of entertainment, in which everything but sleep was allowed unchecked.
Jack Dunning, who was only just beginning his career of idleness and dissoluteness, occasionally turned and regarded the scene with repulsion and disgust. He watched the avaricious look of the bartender as the dice rolled out their tale of loss and gain on the counter. He noted that the liquor was oftener paid for by the gamblers than drank at the expense of the house; and he was sore over the discovery that no man paid for the vile stuff so many times as Jack Dunning paid. He was playing a losing game; and he had no more money in his pocket, although, with a gambler's desperation, he still played on.
The good-looking and rosy face of Jack was white with rage when, the suave bartender, having hurriedly brushed the dice aside, said, "Well, gents, what shall it be? Jack's lost ag'in, as usual."
'You lie, you scamp! You lie !" shouted Jack. "I threw fives and you threw three threes, a deuce, and an ace." For reply, the bartender sprung over the counter, but before he could grab Jack Dunning, that worthy young man was hustled by his friends toward the door, Sim Ray whispering in his ear, hoarsely, "Let him alone, you fool, he carries a knife under his vest! Get out quick!"
So saying, Simeon ran Jack out of the dive into the street, but from the hurly-burly and confusion within, it seemed to the angry apprentice that he was pursued by a yet more angry man who carried a knife.
In this belief, encountering a blinding storm of dust and wind, he stumbled upon some one who in the darkness punched him in the face with an upward motion of his elbow. For a moment it seemed to Jack as if he were surrounded by a dozen men, all struggling to get at him, although not a word was spoken. With a wild sweep of his arms in the obscurity he felt free
dom around him, as if he had laid his assailants low in the dust. Turning to fly from the place, his foot struck some object; he stooped and picked up a hat and a short bludgeon, dropped in the confusion of the mêlée.
"I've lost my hat, and this stick may be needed if the hounds chase me across the field," was the thought that flashed through Jack's mind as he dashed out of Red Lane, down a side street, through a stable-yard, over a fence, and so through the short brown grass of Stimpson's field.
The sight of a man racing across a field, carrying a hat in one hand and a thick stick in another, would have roused the suspicions of any observer; but the darkening skies shut out the light, and in the dusky twilight Jack Dunning might have escaped unseen. As he ran, the five-forty-five train from Millbrook for Riverbank was gathering speed; it had just left the station, and Mike Redmond, the alert young brakeman, standing at his post on the rear platform of the last car, leaning forward and grasping the hand-rail, noted the flying, hatless figure as it rushed through the grass in a direction oblique to the moving train. Mike watched with interest the fleetness of the man, and when Jack Dunning, breathless and still hatless, snatched at the handrail of the car and swung lightly up to the step so difficult to reach from the ground, Mike gave him a lift and said, "That's a close call for you, young feller."
"And I'm well out of that hole," was Jack's reply, as he put the hat on his head and flung the bludgeon out into the grass now beaten down with the falling rain and swirling wind. But whether Jack referred to the village from which he had run, or to the wet and boggy field through which he had fled, Mike could never tell. Later, when the engine was whistling at the crossing on the edge of Wakefield's Meadows, Mike Redmond, looking through the rear window of the car, saw Jack take off his hat, which seemed too small for his round head, covered with a thick growth of red hair, look curiously into the lining where two gilt letters marked the owner's name, tear out the silk with a smile and toss
it into the sheet of slanting rain that whizzed by the car-window. The fugitive running across the field, the strange hat, the bludgeon, the narrow chance of catching the train, and the tearing of the marked lining from the hat were trifles light as air. But when they were afterward considered in the cold light of a judicial inquiry, they were conclusive evidence; they were proof positive of crime, when it was found that the fugitive had flung himself desperately on to the train without having so much as a penny in his pocket toward paying his fare.
THE RECTOR OF TRINITY
THE Reverend Justinian Littlefield lay tranquilly on his broad back among the stones and rubbish of the ravine, under the bridge of Red Lane. Twilight darkened into evening and yet he lay there, still and moveless. The rain, having soaked the parched earth, filled the bed of the ravine and rose in caressing currents about his comfortable shape. His bare head rested on a cluster of pebbles; the rain fell full in his face and aided the flowing stream to drench the sacerdotal garb of the prostrate Rector of Trinity parish.
The Rector's housekeeper (the Reverend Justinian was a bachelor), having hurriedly closed the rectory windows and made all snug against the storm, bethought herself of the absent master of the house. "The parson will shorely get wet," she mused. "He didn't take any umberill, and he won't stay anywheres to tea; he always likes to have his own tea to home, the parson does."
Still the Rector did not return, although the rain continued to fall in sheets, and the good woman fretted and wondered if the parson didn't have sense enough to borrow an umberill from some of his parishioners on whom he was calling that afternoon. Finally, thinking of the short cut through Red Lane, and the probability that the Rector might return that way, Mrs. Fitts, careful soul! sent forth her small maid-servant equipped for rainy weather, with an umbrella for the Rector, if he should chance to be met hurry
ing home through the now slackening shower. Mrs. Fitts stood on the portico in the rear of the rectory and watched the girl trip lightly down the steps to the wall and disappear into the darkness of Red Lane. Muttering a prayer that all might be well with the parson, and that no harm should come to the little Dorcas, sent into Red Lane like a lamb into the wilderness, the Rector's housekeeper closed the door and made ready the tea-table.
The Rector was stunned, not dead; and the sharp rain-drops falling in his face were grateful to his reviving senses, though they blinded his eyes as he lay there trying to think where he could possibly be. He was conscious only of bruises and pains all over his body; and when he attempted to rise, he involuntarily uttered a wail of anguish which sounded very like a cry. Vainly endeavoring to collect his scattered faculties, the Rector could only recollect his own name.
"I am the Reverend Justinian Littlefield, Rector of Trinity Parish, Millbrook, Massachusetts," he said over and over again. He fancied that some one was asking him where he had been, and he impatiently, and yet with dignified mildness, replied, "I am the Reverend Justinian Littlefield, Rector of Trinity Parish, Millbrook, Massachusetts." Beyond this poor, limited description of himself the parson's shattered mind could not go.
He lay there with his legs and the greater part of his body under what seemed to be the roof of a cavern, his head and shoulders exposed to the sky across which he could now see hurrying clouds; and he thought of the curtains of his bed at home through which he had sometimes seen the morning twilight breaking. Was he at home now? And was that the redness of the curtains that made everything wear the same ensanguined hue? Wherever he looked all was colored with some shade of red; even the darkness of the dungeon wall overhead was shot through with carmine, and the breaking light over his face was tinted with blood. Once more trying to rise and inspect these strange premises, he was conscious of an intolerable pain in his back; so keen a pang
rent his frame that he groaned aloud in agony and fainted dead away.
Little Dorcas, pattering along the bridge, her eyes scanning timorously the red lights of the Rialto and the dingy windows of the Burnt Rag on either hand, heard that groan and stood stock still with fear, her small person wrinkling all over with the "goosefleshy feeling" which she afterward described as something new and novel in her brief experience. The two rum-shops mentioned in this truthful tale are built so that a part of each structure projects over Dry Ravine; and each of these ill-famed houses guards one side of the bridge under which the Rector lay silent after his groaning. Partly because of her reluctance to pass these dens, and partly inspired by a courage beyond her years, little Dorcas turned back, and, leaning on the low rail of the bridge, peered terrifiedly into the darkness below.
In the dimness of the evening the child could discern the form of a man lying below among the stones and rubbish of the ravine, the subsiding waters leaving him wet and limp among the sharp rocks and ignoble litter of the bed of the stream. It looked like the Rector! The light was clearing in the sky and the stars were coming out. It was the Rector! With a half-smothered cry on her lips, Dorcas flew across the bridge, scrambled down the bank without once thinking (as she afterwards narrated with womanly pride) of the danger of her daring. Kneeling by the side of the fallen man, now so abject and so forlorn, yet clothed in what seemed to be the mystery of death, the child lifted up her feeble voice in shrieks for aid.
Comrades of George Barnwell and of Jack Dunning, now far gone in their drunkenness, heard the childish cries as they stood unsteadily around the pagan altars of the Burnt Rag and the Rialto, pouring libations.
"Help! help! help! the parson's killed!" was the startling cry on the air.
Wha's that?" broke from the lips of one of the bacchanalians, pausing with his shaking glass still in his hand. "Wha's that? Parson killed? No'sense! Parson don' drink."
But the hovels of Red Lane speedily emptied themselves as the thin cries of Dorcas pierced the stillness of the night, and a huddling crowd of people scrambled down the bank to the bottom of the ravine, where the child tearfully knelt and regarded the still form before her with respect, wonder, and dismay.
The Rector was tenderly lifted and carried up the bank by willing hands. He had not been loved by the habitants and habitués of Red Lane, but everybody held his cloth in reverence; and when he groaned in unconscious misery as he was lifted in their brawny arms, one man said, as if a weight of apprehension had been raised, "He hasn't croaked yet; there's life in him."
"Thank God for that," added the little anarchist, to the surprise of those who were not so occupied with their labor of love that they could not note the man's words.
In spite of the strange dignity that clothes the dead and dying, there was a certain irony in the appearance of the bedraggled Rector, so lately pacing stately forth upon his errands of office, and now brought home, unbent, soiled, wet, and helpless, by the grimy hands of the men of the Street of Vice. Perhaps the men felt this as they gently stripped the wounded man's clothing from his sacred person, under the direction of the doctor who had happened in to call upon the Rector, just as his body was being carried across the back portico by the rescuers from Red Lane. They were all serious and sober now. Yet more than one of them smiled in his beard as he recalled the erect and uncompromising attitude of the now wrecked man before them.
For a day or two the Rector lay hovering between life and death. His heavy fall for so great a distance caused frightful injuries; and a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, and bruised back were not the least of the many hurts sustained by the hapless man. After he had recovered sufficiently to tell what had happened to him up to the hour when he was struck by somebody, opposite the Burnt Rag, his deposition was taken by a functionary of the law and the machinery of justice was set in motion to hunt out the mur
derous assailant who had nearly killed so good a man.
As he lay there, white and attenuated, day after day, looking up into the red canopy of his bed, so like the ochreous gloom of the roof of the dungeon where he had been mysteriously confined, the Reverend Justinian Littlefield, Rector of Trinity Parish, Millbrook, Mass., patiently endeavored to recall what had been said to him in the wild whirling of the dust-storm in Red Lane; what had next happened to him, and how he got home from that fatal bridge. But there was a great gulf of oblivion fixed betwixt the Street of Vice and the red-canopied bed where he lay. He had been surprised when he found himself there at home lying so stiffly and so devoid of feeling, while someone, he knew not who, softly bathed his head with something that smelled pleasantly and faintly, and somebody else whispered, "He's coming to."
Meanwhile, as incidental to this tale, it should be said that Jack Dunning, run down by those unerring sleuthhounds, the detectives, was arrested for the assault upon the unoffending parson and, after a short but apparently fair trial, was found guilty and was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in the State penitentiary. The evidence, although purely circumstantial, was overwhelming and conclusive-at least to the intelligent jury who, with indignant speed, brought in a verdict which, it was thought, should satisfy the worthy and foully injured Rector that justice could be meted out to the criminal, even though it did sometimes appear as if the foundations of society were broken up in Millbrook.
One thing greatly bothered the Rector, as he gazed upward into the warm darkness of his bed-curtains. His ecclesiastic hat, so like the soft, widebrimmed "wide-awake" of worldly minded people as to provoke their derision, had never been found. Diligent search during the night of the assault and early next morning did not discover the substantial, fine felt hat of the Rector. But the village detectives, big with importance, did find the derby hat worn by Jack Dunning. The
observant but sympathetic brakeman of the railway train that carried Jack from his scene of terror and crime, reluctantly testified to having seen the fugitive, when safely swung upon the train, put on a hat which evidently was not his own, first removing the marked lining therefrom.
But to the best knowledge and belief of the witness, the head-gear worn by Jack Dunning on that eventful evening was a stiff one, like that which Jack usually wore. It was too small for him and did not fit his shaggy head. Why did he tear out the marked lining and carefully throw it away? Jack, allowed to testify in his own behalf, could not explain why. He had even forgotten what were the letters marked on the silk lining. He had picked up the hat in a scuffle, he said, and, having lost his own, he wore this home; then, as it was a poor fit for him. he threw it away. So there were two missing hats, Jack Dunning's own and the Rector's. Nevertheless, as these points were deemed immaterial to the case, Jack was duly convicted and sentenced, as aforementioned.
THE FATHER AND JUDGE
AUTUMN had frozen into winter and the Rector was beginning to take hold of life once more, although visitors were yet denied access to his sickroom except under the strictest precautions of the doctor in attendance and the watchful vigilance of Mrs. Fitts. "Lie here, thou shadow of a man," the poor Rector was accustomed to say to himself, as he looked at his transpar ent hands or felt the rigid boniness of his frail tenement of clay. Propped among ample pillows, like a sick child. the Rector listened with dreary regu larity for the healing creak of the village doctor as he came up the stair; or he turned his face listlessly to see the door open and Mrs. Fitts come in, with dejected visage and lugubrious looks, to minister to his wants. Ages had passed, he thought, since he had been waylaid in Red Lane and nearly done to death.
The doleful tragedy came vividly be fore his wandering mind one day, when