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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 transparent 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 before his wandering mind one day, when
THE RECTOR'S HAT
he was surprised by a visit from Judge Barnwell. The Judge, neighbor and friend, had often called to inquire after the Rector's state, during the critical stages of his long confinement; but, so
"I think I may venture," the invalid said, with a faint smile. "The Judge is a gentleman; he will not agitate or shock me, I am sure. You may bring him in with my compliments, although the doctors may object when they find it out."
rigorous were the orders of the physician in charge, not even Judge Barnwell had been permitted to cross the threshold of the door that opened into the sick man's chamber.
"Says he must see me at once on business of importance?" said the Rector, feebly, when the housekeeper told him that Judge Barnwell was imperative in his demand to see him. The giving of his deposition to a man learned in the law, but unlearned in the art of caring for the sick, had been a severe ordeal to the Rector, when the trial of the dissolute and idle apprentice, Jack Dunning, was going on; and since then, no man without the approval of the doctor had been brought to his bedside.
But it was the Judge, and not the Rector, who was agitated when the two men met. The sick man was startled, but his good breeding stood him well, and he suppressed from his face the surprise he felt in his mind as he looked at the haggard and drawn countenance of the Judge, once so full and rubicund, so suggestive of good living and an occasional bottle of sound old wine, but now cleared of color.
"You look as if you had had a fit of sickness," said the Rector, when the two men were left together.
"I have," replied the Judge, sententiously. Then rising and carefully locking the door to guard against intrusion, Judge Barnwell said: "My dear doctor, I have a terrible and sorrowful communication to make." He paused and gulped down what seemed to be a sob. The Rector, dazed and speechless, waited in silence.
Slowly unbuttoning his overcoat, the Judge drew forth from its concealment a soft, black hat which the Rector instantly recognized as his own. Even in his excitement at seeing again the head-covering which he had worn on that fatal night, Dr. Littlefield noticed trifles. He saw that the Judge's hands were white and fine; he looked at the seal ring on the third finger of his left hand, and vaguely wondered if that ring did not have some reference to the Judge's dead wife. He took note of the card which the Judge drew from the lining of the hat and laid on the coverlet. He knew that that card bore his name and title: "The Reverend Justinian Littlefield, Trinity Parish, Millbrook, Mass." To be sure it was his hat; but what of it?
Suddenly he heard, as if from afar, a
familiar voice cry, "Oh, you'll damn my father, the Judge, will you?
"I found this hat in my son's private locker, this morning," said Judge Barnwell, huskily, his cold blue eyes fixed on the face of the broken man there lying, a hopeless and helpless cripple. "Found it in his private locker, where he had unwittingly directed me, by letter, to look for garments to be sent to him.
The Rector's brain reeled in a vain endeavor to comprehend what this should mean to the Judge, and why his face was so aged all at once by this discovery. He feebly tried to grasp the situation; even men who are in full possession of all their faculties are of ten bothered to see what relation to a crime some trivial fact may have, although the fact is the key of an intricate puzzle. The Rector's mind was weak and enfeebled. He was never again the strong, sane man he had been before his fall.
The Judge remorselessly went on with his story, in spite of the Rector's evident weakness and inability to understand what was said. My son," and here the Judge gulped down another sob; "my son,wore this hat on the night when you were assaulted in Red Lane. I saw him come into the house with it on his head, and marvelled much that he should have a hat so different from that which he customarily wore. He never, to my knowledge, wore it after that night. It is not my habit to inquire of George concerning his wearing apparel; and I never asked of him why he procured this hat, nor why he never wore it after that fatal night.'
Still the Rector was unable to take in the meaning of Judge Barnwell's revelation. He regarded his visitor with silent surprise. Noticing this, the Judge patiently added: "My dear doctor, my unfortunate and misguided son was your assailant in Red Lane. He may have been an accessory only, or he may have been so far gone in his cups that he assaulted you blindly and alone. But he was in the fracas that so nearly cost you your life. He wore home your hat without noticing that it was not his, I presume, having lost his own. If he were wholly guiltless of
this crime, he would have mentioned the fact that he was present, but innocent of any evil intent. In this case, silence is confession. My poor boy was ashamed to let me know that he was that night frequenting the odious places in Red Lane.' The Senior Warden of Trinity bowed his head in his hands and sobbed aloud; and in his mental hearing rung the sad refrain of King David, "My son! my son!"
"My poor friend," said the Rector, at last, touched by the emotion of a strong man in his grief, "do not take this thing so hard. There is some dreadful mistake here. I gave nobody any provocation on that night, nor indeed on any other night. It could not have been George who threw me from the bridge. He had no reason.”
"He was not himself that night. He shut himself in his room when he returned home, and saw no one. If he assaulted you, he did it while in temporary delirium, ignorant of the person assaulted."
Judge Barnwell, Senior Warden of Trinity, was a stern man, a citizen of dignity and standing in Millbrook; he was one of the pillars of society. His son's waywardness had often humiliated him. Could it be possible that the son should now be justly the inmate of a cell in the penitentiary in the place of Jack Dunning? Jack Dunning, the idle apprentice whose illrepute was wide, though Jack too had his friends and boon companions?
"Was nothing said in the darkness, no word to indicate why you were so grievously assaulted?" asked the Judge, knitting his brows.
The Rector hesitated for a moment, then, with an effort of the memory, he said, in an unnatural voice, that seemed like the voice of some other man, Oh, you'll damn my father, the Judge, will you?" Then he stopped and with an appealing look at his Senior Warden, seemed to ask that he might be spared further questions. He had great respect for the Judge who was also Senior Warden.
The upright Judge covered his eyes with the Rector's hat and bitterly thought. His mind was occupied with a single-minded sentiment, his dignity.