Little Jim was, for the time, engine Number 36, and he was making the run between Syracuse and Rochester. He was fourteen minutes behind time, and the throttle was wide open. In consequence, when he swung around the curve at the flower-bed, a wheel of his cart destroyed a peony. Number 36 slowed down at once and looked guiltily at his father, who was mowing the lawn. The doctor had his back to this accident, and he continued to pace slowly to and fro, pushing the mower.
Jim dropped the tongue of the cart. He looked at his father and at the broken flower. Finally he went to the peony and tried to stand it on its pins, resuscitated, but the spine of it was hurt, and it would only hang limply from his hand. Jim could do no reparation. He looked again towards his father.
He went on to the lawn, very slowly, and kicking wretchedly at the turf. Presently his father came along with the whirring machine, while the sweet, new grass blades spun from the knives. In a low voice, Jim said, “Pa!”
The doctor was shaving this lawn as if it were a priest’s chin. All during the season he had worked at it in the coolness and peace of the evenings after supper. Even in the shadow of the cherry-trees the grass was strong and healthy. Jim raised his voice a trifle. “Pa!”
The doctor paused, and with the howl of the machine no longer occupying the sense, one could hear the robins in the cherry-trees arranging their affairs. Jim’s hands were behind his back, and sometimes his fingers clasped and unclasped. Again he said, “Pa!” The child’s fresh and rosy lip was lowered.
The doctor stared down at his son, thrusting his head forward and frowning attentively. “What is it, Jimmie?”
“Pa!” repeated the child at length. Then he raised his finger and pointed at the flowerbed. “There!”
“What?” said the doctor, frowning more. “What is it, Jim?”
After a period of silence, during which the child may have undergone a severe mental tumult, he raised his finger and repeated his former word—”There!” The father had respected this silence with perfect courtesy. Afterwards his glance carefully followed the direction indicated by the child’s finger, but he could see nothing which explained to him. “I don’t understand what you mean, Jimmie,” he said.
It seemed that the importance of the whole thing had taken away the boy’s vocabulary, He could only reiterate, “There!”
The doctor mused upon the situation, but he could make nothing of it. At last he said, “Come, show me.”
Together they crossed the lawn towards the flower-bed. At some yards from the broken peony Jimmie began to lag. “There!” The word came almost breathlessly.
“Where?” said the doctor.
Jimmie kicked at the grass. “There!” he replied.
The doctor was obliged to go forward alone. After some trouble he found the subject of the incident, the broken flower. Turning then, he saw the child lurking at the rear and scanning his countenance.
The father reflected. After a time he said, “Jimmie, come here.” With an infinite modesty of demeanor the child came forward. “Jimmie, how did this happen?”
The child answered, “Now—I was playin’ train—and—now—I runned over it.”
“You were doing what?”
“I was playin’ train.”
The father reflected again. “Well, Jimmie,” he said, slowly, “I guess you had better not play train any more to-day. Do you think you had better?”
“No, sir,” said Jimmie.
During the delivery of the judgment the child had not faced his father, and afterwards he went away, with his head lowered, shuffling his feet.
It was apparent from Jimmie’s manner that he felt some kind of desire to efface himself. He went down to the stable. Henry Johnson, the negro who cared for the doctor’s horses, was sponging the buggy. He grinned fraternally when he saw Jimmie coming. These two were pals. In regard to almost everything in life they seemed to have minds precisely alike. Of course there were points of emphatic divergence. For instance, it was plain from Henry’s talk that he was a very handsome negro, and he was known to be a light, a weight, and an eminence in the suburb of the town, where lived the larger number of the negroes, and obviously this glory was over Jimmie’s horizon; but he vaguely appreciated it and paid deference to Henry for it mainly because Henry appreciated it and deferred to himself. However, on all points of conduct as related to the doctor, who was the moon, they were in complete but unexpressed understanding. Whenever Jimmie became the victim of an eclipse he went to the stable to solace himself with Henry’s crimes. Henry, with the elasticity of his race, could usually provide a sin to place himself on a footing with the disgraced one. Perhaps he would remember that he had forgotten to put the hitching-strap in the back of the buggy on some recent occasion, and had been reprimanded by the doctor. Then these two would commune subtly and without words concerning their moon, holding themselves sympathetically as people who had committed similar treasons. On the other hand, Henry would sometimes choose to absolutely repudiate this idea, and when Jimmie appeared in his shame would bully him most virtuously, preaching with assurance the precepts of the doctor’s creed, and pointing out to Jimmie all his abominations. Jimmie did not discover that this was odious in his comrade. He accepted it and lived in its shadow with humility, merely trying to conciliate the saintly Henry with acts of deference. Won by this attitude, Henry would sometimes allow the child to enjoy the felicity of squeezing the sponge over a buggy-wheel, even when Jimmie was still gory from unspeakable deeds.
Whenever Henry dwelt for a time in sackcloth, Jimmie did not patronize him at all. This was a justice of his age, his condition. He did not know. Besides, Henry could drive a horse, and Jimmie had a full sense of this sublimity. Henry personally conducted the moon during the splendid journeys through the country roads, where farms spread on all sides, with sheep, cows, and other marvels abounding.
“Hello, Jim!” said Henry, poising his sponge. Water was dripping from the buggy. Sometimes the horses in the stalls stamped thunderingly on the pine floor. There was an atmosphere of hay and of harness.
For a minute Jimmie refused to take an interest in anything. He was very downcast. He could not even feel the wonders of wagon washing. Henry, while at his work, narrowly observed him.
“Your pop done wallop yer, didn’t he?” he said at last.
“No,” said Jimmie, defensively; “he didn’t.”
After this casual remark Henry continued his labor, with a scowl of occupation. Presently he said: “I done tol’ yer many’s th’ time not to go a-foolin’ an’ a-projjeckin’ with them flowers. Yer pop don’ like it nohow.” As a matter of fact, Henry had never mentioned flowers to the boy.
Jimmie preserved a gloomy silence, so Henry began to use seductive wiles in this affair of washing a wagon. It was not until he began to spin a wheel on the tree, and the sprinkling water flew everywhere, that the boy was visibly moved. He had been seated on the sill of the carriage-house door, but at the beginning of this ceremony he arose and circled towards the buggy, with an interest that slowly consumed the remembrance of a late disgrace.
Johnson could then display all the dignity of a man whose duty it was to protect Jimmie from a splashing. “Look out, boy! look out! You done gwi’ spile yer pants. I raikon your mommer don’t ‘low this foolishness, she know it. I ain’t gwi’ have you round yere spilin’ yer pants, an’ have Mis’ Trescott light on me pressen’ly. ‘Deed I ain’t.” He spoke with an air of great irritation, but he was not annoyed at all. This tone was merely a part of his importance. In reality he was always delighted to have the child there to witness the business of the stable. For one thing, Jimmie was invariably overcome with reverence when he was told how beautifully a harness was polished or a horse groomed. Henry explained each detail of this kind with unction, procuring great joy from the child’s admiration.
After Johnson had taken his supper in the kitchen, he went to his loft in the carriage house and dressed himself with much care. No belle of a court circle could bestow more mind on a toilet than did Johnson. On second thought, he was more like a priest arraying himself for some parade of the church. As he emerged from his room and sauntered down the carriage-drive, no one would have suspected him of ever having washed a buggy.
It was not altogether a matter of the lavender trousers, nor yet the straw hat with its bright silk band. The change was somewhere, far in the interior of Henry. But there was no cake-walk hyperbole in it. He was simply a quiet, well-bred gentleman of position, wealth, and other necessary achievements out for an evening stroll, and he had never washed a wagon in his life.
In the morning, when in his working-clothes, he had met a friend—”Hello, Pete!” “Hello, Henry!” Now, in his effulgence, he encountered this same friend. His bow was not at all haughty. If it expressed anything, it expressed consummate generosity—”Good-evenin’, Misteh Washington.” Pete, who was very dirty, being at work in a potato-patch, responded in a mixture of abasement and appreciation—Good-evenin’, Misteh Johnsing.”
The shimmering blue of the electric arc lamps was strong in the main street of the town. At numerous points it was conquered by the orange glare of the outnumbering gaslights in the windows of shops. Through this radiant lane moved a crowd, which culminated in a throng before the post-office, awaiting the distribution of the evening mails. Occasionally there came into it a shrill electric street-car, the motor singing like a cageful of grasshoppers, and possessing a great gong that clanged forth both warnings and simple noise. At the little theatre, which was a varnish and red plush miniature of one of the famous New York theatres, a company of strollers was to play “East Lynne.” The young men of the town were mainly gathered at the corners, in distinctive groups, which expressed various shades and lines of chumship, and had little to do with any social gradations. There they discussed everything with critical insight, passing the whole town in review as it swarmed in the street. When the gongs of the electric cars ceased for a moment to harry the ears, there could be heard the sound of the feet of the leisurely crowd on the bluestone pavement, and it was like the peaceful evening lashing at the shore of a lake. At the foot of the hill, where two lines of maples sentinelled the way, an electric lamp glowed high among the embowering branches, and made most wonderful shadow-etchings on the road below it.
When Johnson appeared amid the throng a member of one of the profane groups at a corner instantly telegraphed news of this extraordinary arrival to his companions. They hailed him. “Hello, Henry! Going to walk for a cake to-night?”
“Ain’t he smooth?”
“Why, you’ve got that cake right in your pocket, Henry!”
“Throw out your chest a little more.”
Henry was not ruffled in any way by these quiet admonitions and compliments. In reply he laughed a supremely good-natured, chuckling laugh, which nevertheless expressed an underground complacency of superior metal.
Young Griscom, the lawyer, was just emerging from Reifsnyder’s barber shop, rubbing his chin contentedly. On the steps he dropped his hand and looked with wide eyes into the crowd. Suddenly he bolted back into the shop. “Wow!” he cried to the parliament; “you ought to see the coon that’s coming!”
Reifsnyder and his assistant instantly poised their razors high and turned towards the window. Two belathered heads reared from the chairs. The electric shine in the street caused an effect like water to them who looked through the glass from the yellow glamour of Reifsnyder’s shop. In fact, the people without resembled the inhabitants of a great aquarium that here had a square pane in it. Presently into this frame swam the graceful form of Henry Johnson.
“Chee!” said Reifsnyder. He and his assistant with one accord threw their obligations to the winds, and leaving their lathered victims helpless, advanced to the window. “Ain’t he a taisy?” said Reifsnyder, marvelling.
But the man in the first chair, with a grievance in his mind, had found a weapon. “Why, that’s only Henry Johnson, you blamed idiots! Come on now, Reif, and shave me. What do you think I am—a mummy?”
Reifsnyder turned, in a great excitement. “I bait you any money that vas not Henry Johnson! Henry Johnson! Rats!” The scorn put into this last word made it an explosion. “That man was a Pullman-car porter or someding. How could that be Henry Johnson?” he demanded, turbulently. “You vas crazy.”
The man in the first chair faced the barber in a storm of indignation. “Didn’t I give him those lavender trousers?” he roared.
And young Griscom, who had remained attentively at the window, said: “Yes, I guess that was Henry. It looked like him.”
“Oh, vell,” said Reifsnyder, returning to his business, “if you think so! Oh, vell!” He implied that he was submitting for the sake of amiability.
Finally the man in the second chair, mumbling from a mouth made timid by adjacent lather, said: “That was Henry Johnson all right. Why, he always dresses like that when he wants to make a front! He’s the biggest dude in town—anybody knows that.”
“Chinger!” said Reifsnyder.
Henry was not at all oblivious of the wake of wondering ejaculation that streamed out behind him. On other occasions he had reaped this same joy, and he always had an eye for the demonstration. With a face beaming with happiness he turned away from the scene of his victories into a narrow side street, where the electric light still hung high, but only to exhibit a row of tumble-down houses leaning together like paralytics.
The saffron Miss Bella Farragut, in a calico frock, had been crouched on the front stoop, gossiping at long range, but she espied her approaching caller at a distance. She dashed around the corner of the house, galloping like a horse. Henry saw it all, but he preserved the polite demeanor of a guest when a waiter spills claret down his cuff. In this awkward situation he was simply perfect.
The duty of receiving Mr. Johnson fell upon Mrs. Farragut, because Bella, in another room, was scrambling wildly into her best gown. The fat old woman met him with a great ivory smile, sweeping back with the door, and bowing low. “Walk in, Misteh Johnson, walk in. How is you dis ebenin’, Misteh Johnson—how is you?”
Henry’s face showed like a reflector as he bowed and bowed, bending almost from his head to his ankles, “Good-evenin’, Mis’ Fa’gut; good-evenin’. How is you dis evenin’? Is all you’ folks well, Mis’ Fa’gut?”
After a great deal of kowtow, they were planted in two chairs opposite each other in the living-room. Here they exchanged the most tremendous civilities, until Miss Bella swept into the room, when there was more kowtow on all sides, and a smiling show of teeth that was like an illumination.
The cooking-stove was of course in this drawing-room, and on the fire was some kind of a long-winded stew. Mrs. Farragut was obliged to arise and attend to it from time to time. Also young Sim came in and went to bed on his pallet in the corner. But to all these domesticities the three maintained an absolute dumbness. They bowed and smiled and ignored and imitated until a late hour, and if they had been the occupants of the most gorgeous salon in the world they could not have been more like three monkeys.
After Henry had gone, Bella, who encouraged herself in the appropriation of phrases, said, “Oh, ma, isn’t he divine?”
A Saturday evening was a sign always for a larger crowd to parade the thoroughfare. In summer the band played until ten o’clock in the little park. Most of the young men of the town affected to be superior to this band, even to despise it; but in the still and fragrant evenings they invariably turned out in force, because the girls were sure to attend this concert, strolling slowly over the grass, linked closely in pairs, or preferably in threes, in the curious public dependence upon one another which was their inheritance. There was no particular social aspect to this gathering, save that group regarded group with interest, but mainly in silence. Perhaps one girl would nudge another girl and suddenly say, “Look! there goes Gertie Hodgson and her sister!” And they would appear to regard this as an event of importance.
On a particular evening a rather large company of young men were gathered on the sidewalk that edged the park. They remained thus beyond the borders of the festivities because of their dignity, which would not exactly allow them to appear in anything which was so much fun for the younger lads. These latter were careering madly through the crowd, precipitating minor accidents from time to time, but usually fleeing like mist swept by the wind before retribution could lay hands upon them.
The band played a waltz which involved a gift of prominence to the bass horn, and one of the young men on the sidewalk said that the music reminded him of the new engines on the hill pumping water into the reservoir. A similarity of this kind was not inconceivable, but the young man did not say it because he disliked the band’s playing. He said it because it was fashionable to say that manner of thing concerning the band. However, over in the stand, Billie Harris, who played the snare-drum, was always surrounded by a throng of boys, who adored his every whack.
After the mails from New York and Rochester had been finally distributed, the crowd from the post-office added to the mass already in the park. The wind waved the leaves of the maples, and, high in the air, the blue-burning globes of the arc lamps caused the wonderful traceries of leaf shadows on the ground. When the light fell upon the upturned face of a girl, it caused it to glow with a wonderful pallor. A policeman came suddenly from the darkness and chased a gang of obstreperous little boys. They hooted him from a distance. The leader of the band had some of the mannerisms of the great musicians, and during a period of silence the crowd smiled when they saw him raise his hand to his brow, stroke it sentimentally, and glance upward with a look of poetic anguish. In the shivering light, which gave to the park an effect like a great vaulted hall, the throng swarmed, with a gentle murmur of dresses switching the turf, and with a steady hum of voices.
Suddenly, without preliminary bars, there arose from afar the great hoarse roar of a factory whistle. It raised and swelled to a sinister note, and then it sang on the night wind one long call that held the crowd in the park immovable, speechless. The band-master had been about to vehemently let fall his hand to start the band on a thundering career through a popular march, but, smitten by this giant voice from the night, his hand dropped slowly to his knee, and, his mouth agape, he looked at his men in silence. The cry died away to a wail and then to stillness. It released the muscles of the company of young men on the sidewalk, who had been like statues, posed eagerly, lithely, their ears turned. And then they wheeled upon each other simultaneously, and, in a single explosion, they shouted, “One!”
Again the sound swelled in the night and roared its long ominous cry, and as it died away the crowd of young men wheeled upon each other and, in chorus, yelled, “Two!”
There was a moment of breathless waiting. Then they bawled, “Second district!” In a flash the company of indolent and cynical young men had vanished like a snowball disrupted by dynamite.
Jake Rogers was the first man to reach the home of Tuscarora Hose Company Number Six. He had wrenched his key from his pocket as he tore down the street, and he jumped at the spring-lock like a demon. As the doors flew back before his hands he leaped and kicked the wedges from a pair of wheels, loosened a tongue from its clasp, and in the glare of the electric light which the town placed before each of its hose-houses the next comers beheld the spectacle of Jake Rogers bent like hickory in the manfulness of his pulling, and the heavy cart was moving slowly towards the doors. Four men joined him at the time, and as they swung with the cart out into the street, dark figures sped towards them from the ponderous shadows back of the electric lamps. Some set up the inevitable question, “What district?”
“Second,” was replied to them in a compact howl. Tuscarora Hose Company Number Six swept on a perilous wheel into Niagara Avenue, and as the men, attached to the cart by the rope which had been paid out from the windlass under the tongue, pulled madly in their fervor and abandon, the gong under the axle clanged incitingly. And sometimes the same cry was heard, “What district?”
On a grade Johnnie Thorpe fell, and exercising a singular muscular ability, rolled out in time from the track of the on-coming wheel, and arose, dishevelled and aggrieved, casting a look of mournful disenchantment upon the black crowd that poured after the machine. The cart seemed to be the apex of a dark wave that was whirling as if it had been a broken dam. Back of the lad were stretches of lawn, and in that direction front-doors were banged by men who hoarsely shouted out into the clamorous avenue, “What district?”
At one of these houses a woman came to the door bearing a lamp, shielding her face from its rays with her hands. Across the cropped grass the avenue represented to her a kind of black torrent, upon which, nevertheless, fled numerous miraculous figures upon bicycles. She did not know that the towering light at the corner was continuing its nightly whine.
Suddenly a little boy somersaulted around the corner of the house as if he had been projected down a flight of stairs by a catapultian boot. He halted himself in front of the house by dint of a rather extraordinary evolution with his legs. “Oh, ma,” he gasped, “can I go? Can I, ma?”
She straightened with the coldness of the exterior mother-judgment, although the hand that held the lamp trembled slightly. “No, Willie; you had better come to bed.”
Instantly he began to buck and fume like a mustang. “Oh, ma,” he cried, contorting himself—”oh, ma, can’t I go? Please, ma, can’t I go? Can’t I go, ma?”
“It’s half-past nine now, Willie.”
He ended by wailing out a compromise: “Well, just down to the corner, ma? Just down to the corner?”
From the avenue came the sound of rushing men who wildly shouted. Somebody had grappled the bell-rope in the Methodist church, and now over the town rang this solemn and terrible voice, speaking from the clouds. Moved from its peaceful business, this bell gained a new spirit in the portentous night, and it swung the heart to and fro, up and down, with each peal of it.
“Just down to the corner, ma?”
“Willie, it’s half-past nine now.”
The outlines of the house of Dr. Trescott had faded quietly into the evening, hiding a shape such as we call Queen Anne against the pall of the blackened sky. The neighborhood was at this time so quiet, and seemed so devoid of obstructions, that Hannigan’s dog thought it a good opportunity to prowl in forbidden precincts, and so came and pawed Trescott’s lawn, growling, and considering himself a formidable beast. Later, Peter Washington strolled past the house and whistled, but there was no dim light shining from Henry’s loft, and presently Peter went his way. The rays from the street, creeping in silvery waves over the grass, caused the row of shrubs along the drive to throw a clear, bold shade.
A wisp of smoke came from one of the windows at the end of the house and drifted quietly into the branches of a cherry-tree. Its companions followed it in slowly increasing numbers, and finally there was a current controlled by invisible banks which poured into the fruit-laden boughs of the cherry-tree. It was no more to be noted than if a troop of dim and silent gray monkeys had been climbing a grapevine into the clouds.
After a moment the window brightened as if the four panes of it had been stained with blood, and a quick ear might have been led to imagine the fire-imps calling and calling, clan joining clan, gathering to the colors. From the street, however, the house maintained its dark quiet, insisting to a passer-by that it was the safe dwelling of people who chose to retire early to tranquil dreams. No one could have heard this low droning of the gathering clans.
Suddenly the panes of the red window tinkled and crashed to the ground, and at other windows there suddenly reared other flames, like bloody spectres at the apertures of a haunted house. This outbreak had been well planned, as if by professional revolutionists.
A man’s voice suddenly shouted: “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Hannigan had flung his pipe frenziedly from him because his lungs demanded room. He tumbled down from his perch, swung over the fence, and ran shouting towards the front-door of the Trescotts’. Then he hammered on the door, using his fists as if they were mallets. Mrs. Trescott instantly came to one of the windows on the second floor. Afterwards she knew she had been about to say, “The doctor is not at home, but if you will leave your name, I will let him know as soon as he comes.”
Hannigan’s bawling was for a minute incoherent, but she understood that it was not about croup.
“What?” she said, raising the window swiftly.
“Your house is on fire! You’re all ablaze! Move quick if—” His cries were resounding, in the street as if it were a cave of echoes. Many feet pattered swiftly on the stones. There was one man who ran with an almost fabulous speed. He wore lavender trousers. A straw hat with a bright silk band was held half crumpled in his hand.
As Henry reached the front-door, Hannigan had just broken the lock with a kick. A thick cloud of smoke poured over them, and Henry, ducking his head, rushed into it. From Hannigan’s clamor he knew only one thing, but it turned him blue with horror. In the hall a lick of flame had found the cord that supported “Signing the Declaration.” The engraving slumped suddenly down at one end, and then dropped to the floor, where it burst with the sound of a bomb. The fire was already roaring like a winter wind among the pines.
At the head of the stairs Mrs. Trescott was waving her arms as if they were two reeds.
“Jimmie! Save Jimmie!” she screamed in Henry’s face. He plunged past her and disappeared, taking the long-familiar routes among these upper chambers, where he had once held office as a sort of second assistant house-maid.
Hannigan had followed him up the stairs, and grappled the arm of the maniacal woman there. His face was black with rage. “You must come down,” he bellowed.
She would only scream at him in reply: “Jimmie! Jimmie! Save Jimmie!” But he dragged her forth while she babbled at him.
As they swung out into the open air a man ran across the lawn, and seizing a shutter, pulled it from its hinges and flung it far out upon the grass. Then he frantically attacked the other shutters one by one. It was a kind of temporary insanity.
“Here, you,” howled Hannigan, “hold Mrs. Trescott—And stop—”
The news had been telegraphed by a twist of the wrist of a neighbor who had gone to the fire-box at the corner, and the time when Hannigan and his charge struggled out of the house was the time when the whistle roared its hoarse night call, smiting the crowd in the park, causing the leader of the band, who was about to order the first triumphal clang of a military march, to let his hand drop slowly to his knees.
Henry pawed awkwardly through the smoke in the upper halls. He had attempted to guide himself by the walls, but they were too hot. The paper was crimpling, and he expected at any moment to have a flame burst from under his hands.
He did not call very loud, as if in fear that the humming flames below would overhear him.
“Jimmie! Oh, Jimmie!”
Stumbling and panting, he speedily reached the entrance to Jimmie’s room and flung open the door. The little chamber had no smoke in it at all. It was faintly illuminated by a beautiful rosy light reflected circuitously from the flames that were consuming the house. The boy had apparently just been aroused by the noise. He sat in his bed, his lips apart, his eyes wide, while upon his little white-robed figure played caressingly the light from the fire. As the door flew open he had before him this apparition of his pal, a terror-stricken negro, all tousled and with wool scorching, who leaped upon him and bore him up in a blanket as if the whole affair were a case of kidnapping by a dreadful robber chief. Without waiting to go through the usual short but complete process of wrinkling up his face, Jimmie let out a gorgeous bawl, which resembled the expression of a calf’s deepest terror. As Johnson, bearing him, reeled into the smoke of the hall, he flung his arms about his neck and buried his face in the blanket. He called twice in muffled tones: “Mam-ma! Mam-ma!” When Johnson came to the top of the stairs with his burden, he took a quick step backward. Through the smoke that rolled to him he could see that the lower hall was all ablaze. He cried out then in a howl that resembled Jimmie’s former achievement. His legs gained a frightful faculty of bending sideways. Swinging about precariously on these reedy legs, he made his way back slowly, back along the upper hall. From the way of him then, he had given up almost all idea of escaping from the burning house, and with it the desire. He was submitting, submitting because of his fathers, bending his mind in a most perfect slavery to this conflagration.
He now clutched Jimmie as unconsciously as when, running toward the house, he had clutched the hat with the bright silk band.
Suddenly he remembered a little private staircase which led from a bedroom to an apartment which the doctor had fitted up as a laboratory and work-house, where he used some of his leisure, and also hours when he might have been sleeping, in devoting himself to experiments which came in the way of his study and interest.
When Johnson recalled this stairway the submission to the blaze departed instantly. He had been perfectly familiar with it, but his confusion had destroyed the memory of it.
In his sudden momentary apathy there had been little that resembled fear, but now, as a way of safety came to him, the old frantic terror caught him. He was no longer creature to the flames, and he was afraid of the battle with them. It was a singular and swift set of alternations in which he feared twice without submission, and submitted once without fear.
“Jimmie!” he wailed, as he staggered on his way. He wished this little inanimate body at his breast to participate in his tremblings. But the child had lain limp and still during these headlong charges and countercharges, and no sign came from him.
Johnson passed through two rooms and came to the head of the stairs. As he opened the door great billows of smoke poured out, but gripping Jimmie closer, he plunged down through them. All manner of odors assailed him during this flight. They seemed to be alive with envy, hatred, and malice. At the entrance to the laboratory he confronted a strange spectacle. The room was like a garden in the region where might be burning flowers. Flames of violet, crimson, green, blue, orange, and purple were blooming everywhere. There was one blaze that was precisely the hue of a delicate coral. In another place was a mass that lay merely in phosphorescent inaction like a pile of emeralds. But all these marvels were to be seen dimly through clouds of heaving, turning, deadly smoke.
Johnson halted for a moment on the threshold. He cried out again in the negro wail that had in it the sadness of the swamps. Then he rushed across the room. An orange-colored flame leaped like a panther at the lavender trousers. This animal bit deeply into Johnson. There was an explosion at one side, and suddenly before him there reared a delicate, trembling sapphire shape like a fairy lady. With a quiet smile she blocked his path and doomed him and Jimmie. Johnson shrieked, and then ducked in the manner of his race in fights. He aimed to pass under the left guard of the sapphire lady. But she was swifter than eagles, and her talons caught in him as he plunged past her. Bowing his head as if his neck had been struck, Johnson lurched forward, twisting this way and that way. He fell on his back. The still form in the blanket flung from his arms, rolled to the edge of the floor and beneath the window.
Johnson had fallen with his head at the base of an old-fashioned desk. There was a row of jars upon the top of this desk. For the most part, they were silent amid this rioting, but there was one which seemed to hold a scintillant and writhing serpent.
Suddenly the glass splintered, and a ruby-red snakelike thing poured its thick length out upon the top of the old desk. It coiled and hesitated, and then began to swim a languorous way down the mahogany slant. At the angle it waved its sizzling molten head to and fro over the closed eyes of the man beneath it. Then, in a moment, with a mystic impulse, it moved again, and the red snake flowed directly down into Johnson’s upturned face.
Afterwards the trail of this creature seemed to reek, and amid flames and low explosions drops like red-hot jewels pattered softly down it at leisurely intervals.
Suddenly all roads led to Dr. Trescott’s. The whole town flowed towards one point. Chippeway Hose Company Number One toiled desperately up Bridge Street Hill even as the Tuscaroras came in an impetuous sweep down Niagara Avenue. Meanwhile the machine of the hook-and-ladder experts from across the creek was spinning on its way. The chief of the fire department had been playing poker in the rear room of Whiteley’s cigar-store, but at the first breath of the alarm he sprang through the door like a man escaping with the kitty.
In Whilomville, on these occasions, there was always a number of people who instantly turned their attention to the bells in the churches and school-houses. The bells not only emphasized the alarm, but it was the habit to send these sounds rolling across the sky in a stirring brazen uproar until the flames were practically vanquished. There was also a kind of rivalry as to which bell should be made to produce the greatest din. Even the Valley Church, four miles away among the farms, had heard the voices of its brethren, and immediately added a quaint little yelp.
Dr. Trescott had been driving homeward, slowly smoking a cigar, and feeling glad that this last case was now in complete obedience to him, like a wild animal that he had subdued, when he heard the long whistle, and chirped to his horse under the unlicensed but perfectly distinct impression that a fire had broken out in Oakhurst, a new and rather high-flying suburb of the town which was at least two miles from his own home. But in the second blast and in the ensuing silence he read the designation of his own district. He was then only a few blocks from his house. He took out the whip and laid it lightly on the mare. Surprised and frightened at this extraordinary action, she leaped forward, and as the reins straightened like steel bands, the doctor leaned backward a trifle. When the mare whirled him up to the closed gate he was wondering whose house could be afire. The man who had rung the signal-box yelled something at him, but he already knew. He left the mare to her will.
In front of his door was a maniacal woman in a wrapper. “Ned!” she screamed at sight of him. “Jimmie! Save Jimmie!”
Trescott had grown hard and chill. “Where?” he said. “Where?”
Mrs. Trescott’s voice began to bubble. “Up—up—up—” She pointed at the second-story windows.
Hannigan was already shouting: “Don’t go in that way! You can’t go in that way!”
Trescott ran around the corner of the house and disappeared from them. He knew from the view he had taken of the main hall that it would be impossible to ascend from there. His hopes were fastened now to the stairway which led from the laboratory. The door which opened from this room out upon the lawn was fastened with a bolt and lock, but he kicked close to the lock and then close to the bolt. The door with a loud crash flew back. The doctor recoiled from the roll of smoke, and then bending low, he stepped into the garden of burning flowers. On the floor his stinging eyes could make out a form in a smouldering blanket near the window. Then, as he carried his son towards the door, he saw that the whole lawn seemed now alive with men and boys, the leaders in the great charge that the whole town was making. They seized him and his burden, and overpowered him in wet blankets and water.
But Hannigan was howling: “Johnson is in there yet! Henry Johnson is in there yet! He went in after the kid! Johnson is in there yet!”
These cries penetrated to the sleepy senses of Trescott, and he struggled with his captors, swearing, unknown to him and to them, all the deep blasphemies of his medical-student days. He rose to his feet and went again towards the door of the laboratory. They endeavored to restrain him, although they were much affrighted at him.
But a young man who was a brakeman on the railway, and lived in one of the rear streets near the Trescotts, had gone into the laboratory and brought forth a thing which he laid on the grass.
There were hoarse commands from in front of the house. “Turn on your water, Five!” “Let ‘er go, One!” The gathering crowd swayed this way and that way. The flames, towering high, cast a wild red light on their faces. There came the clangor of a gong from along some adjacent street. The crowd exclaimed at it. “Here comes Number Three!” “That’s Three a-comin’!” A panting and irregular mob dashed into view, dragging a hose-cart. A cry of exultation arose from the little boys. “Here’s Three!” The lads welcomed Never-Die Hose Company Number Three as if it was composed of a chariot dragged by a band of gods. The perspiring citizens flung themselves into the fray. The boys danced in impish joy at the displays of prowess. They acclaimed the approach of Number Two. They welcomed Number Four with cheers. They were so deeply moved by this whole affair that they bitterly guyed the late appearance of the hook and ladder company, whose heavy apparatus had almost stalled them on the Bridge Street hill. The lads hated and feared a fire, of course. They did not particularly want to have anybody’s house burn, but still it was fine to see the gathering of the companies, and amid a great noise to watch their heroes perform all manner of prodigies.
They were divided into parties over the worth of different companies, and supported their creeds with no small violence. For instance, in that part of the little city where Number Four had its home it would be most daring for a boy to contend the superiority of any other company. Likewise, in another quarter, where a strange boy was asked which fire company was the best in Whilomville, he was expected to answer “Number One.” Feuds, which the boys forgot and remembered according to chance or the importance of some recent event, existed all through the town.
They did not care much for John Shipley, the chief of the department. It was true that he went to a fire with the speed of a falling angel, but when there he invariably lapsed into a certain still mood, which was almost a preoccupation, moving leisurely around the burning structure and surveying it, putting meanwhile at a cigar. This quiet man, who even when life was in danger seldom raised his voice, was not much to their fancy. Now old Sykes Huntington, when he was chief, used to bellow continually like a bull and gesticulate in a sort of delirium. He was much finer as a spectacle than this Shipley, who viewed a fire with the same steadiness that he viewed a raise in a large jack-pot. The greater number of the boys could never understand why the members of these companies persisted in re-electing Shipley, although they often pretended to understand it, because “My father says” was a very formidable phrase in argument, and the fathers seemed almost unanimous in advocating Shipley.
At this time there was considerable discussion as to which company had gotten the first stream of water on the fire. Most of the boys claimed that Number Five owned that distinction, but there was a determined minority who contended for Number One. Boys who were the blood adherents of other companies were obliged to choose between the two on this occasion, and the talk waxed warm.
But a great rumor went among the crowds. It was told with hushed voices. Afterwards a reverent silence fell even upon the boys. Jimmie Trescott and Henry Johnson had been burned to death, and Dr. Trescott himself had been most savagely hurt. The crowd did not even feel the police pushing at them. They raised their eyes, shining now with awe, towards the high flames.
The man who had information was at his best. In low tones he described the whole affair. “That was the kid’s room—in the corner there. He had measles or somethin’, and this coon—Johnson—was a-settin’ up with ‘im, and Johnson got sleepy or somethin’ and upset the lamp, and the doctor he was down in his office, and he came running up, and they all got burned together till they dragged ’em out.”
Another man, always preserved for the deliverance of the final judgment, was saying: “Oh, they’ll die sure. Burned to flinders. No chance. Hull lot of ’em. Anybody can see.” The crowd concentrated its gaze still more closely upon these flags of fire which waved joyfully against the black sky. The bells of the town were clashing unceasingly.
A little procession moved across the lawn and towards the street. There were three cots, borne by twelve of the firemen. The police moved sternly, but it needed no effort of theirs to open a lane for this slow cortege. The men who bore the cots were well known to the crowd, but in this solemn parade during the ringing of the bells and the shouting, and with the red glare upon the sky, they seemed utterly foreign, and Whilomville paid them a deep respect. Each man in this stretcher party had gained a reflected majesty. They were footmen to death, and the crowd made subtle obeisance to this august dignity derived from three prospective graves. One woman turned away with a shriek at sight of the covered body on the first stretcher, and people faced her suddenly in silent and mournful indignation. Otherwise there was barely a sound as these twelve important men with measured tread carried their burdens through the throng.
The little boys no longer discussed the merits of the different fire companies. For the greater part they had been routed. Only the more courageous viewed closely the three figures veiled in yellow blankets.
Old Judge Denning Hagenthorpe, who lived nearly opposite the Trescotts, had thrown his door wide open to receive the afflicted family. When it was publicly learned that the doctor and his son and the negro were still alive, it required a specially detailed policeman to prevent people from scaling the front porch and interviewing these sorely wounded. One old lady appeared with a miraculous poultice, and she quoted most damning Scripture to the officer when he said that she could not pass him. Throughout the night some lads old enough to be given privileges or to compel them from their mothers remained vigilantly upon the kerb in anticipation of a death or some such event. The reporter of the Morning Tribune rode thither on his bicycle every hour until three o’clock.
Six of the ten doctors in Whilomville attended at Judge Hagenthorpe’s house.
Almost at once they were able to know that Trescott’s burns were not vitally important. The child would possibly be scarred badly, but his life was undoubtedly safe. As for the negro Henry Johnson, he could not live. His body was frightfully seared, but more than that, he now had no face. His face had simply been burned away.
Trescott was always asking news of the two other patients. In the morning he seemed fresh and strong, so they told him that Johnson was doomed. They then saw him stir on the bed, and sprang quickly to see if the bandages needed readjusting. In the sudden glance he threw from one to another he impressed them as being both leonine and impracticable.
The morning paper announced the death of Henry Johnson. It contained a long interview with Edward J. Hannigan, in which the latter described in full the performance of Johnson at the fire. There was also an editorial built from all the best words in the vocabulary of the staff. The town halted in its accustomed road of thought, and turned a reverent attention to the memory of this hostler. In the breasts of many people was the regret that they had not known enough to give him a hand and a lift when he was alive, and they judged themselves stupid and ungenerous for this failure.
The name of Henry Johnson became suddenly the title of a saint to the little boys. The one who thought of it first could, by quoting it in an argument, at once overthrow his antagonist, whether it applied to the subject or whether it did not.
“Nigger, nigger, never die.Black face and shiny eye.”
Boys who had called this odious couplet in the rear of Johnson’s march buried the fact at the bottom of their hearts.
Later in the day Miss Bella Farragut, of No. 7 Watermelon Alley, announced that she had been engaged to marry Mr. Henry Johnson.
The old judge had a cane with an ivory head. He could never think at his best until he was leaning slightly on this stick and smoothing the white top with slow movements of his hands. It was also to him a kind of narcotic. If by any chance he mislaid it, he grew at once very irritable, and was likely to speak sharply to his sister, whose mental incapacity he had patiently endured for thirty years in the old mansion on Ontario Street. She was not at all aware of her brother’s opinion of her endowments, and so it might be said that the judge had successfully dissembled for more than a quarter of a century, only risking the truth at the times when his cane was lost.
On a particular day the judge sat in his armchair on the porch. The sunshine sprinkled through the lilac-bushes and poured great coins on the boards. The sparrows disputed in the trees that lined the pavements. The judge mused deeply, while his hands gently caressed the ivory head of his cane.
Finally he arose and entered the house, his brow still furrowed in a thoughtful frown. His stick thumped solemnly in regular beats. On the second floor he entered a room where Dr. Trescott was working about the bedside of Henry Johnson. The bandages on the negro’s head allowed only one thing to appear, an eye, which unwinkingly stared at the judge. The later spoke to Trescott on the condition of the patient. Afterward he evidently had something further to say, but he seemed to be kept from it by the scrutiny of the unwinking eye, at which he furtively glanced from time to time.
When Jimmie Trescott was sufficiently recovered, his mother had taken him to pay a visit to his grandparents in Connecticut. The doctor had remained to take care of his patients, but as a matter of truth he spent most of his time at Judge Hagenthorpe’s house, where lay Henry Johnson. Here he slept and ate almost every meal in the long nights and days of his vigil.
At dinner, and away from the magic of the unwinking eye, the judge said, suddenly, “Trescott, do you think it is—” As Trescott paused expectantly, the judge fingered his knife. He said, thoughtfully, “No one wants to advance such ideas, but somehow I think that that poor fellow ought to die.”
There was in Trescott’s face at once a look of recognition, as if in this tangent of the judge he saw an old problem. He merely sighed and answered, “Who knows?” The words were spoken in a deep tone that gave them an elusive kind of significance.
The judge retreated to the cold manner of the bench. “Perhaps we may not talk with propriety of this kind of action, but I am induced to say that you are performing a questionable charity in preserving this negro’s life. As near as I can understand, he will hereafter be a monster, a perfect monster, and probably with an affected brain. No man can observe you as I have observed you and not know that it was a matter of conscience with you, but I am afraid, my friend, that it is one of the blunders of virtue.” The judge had delivered his views with his habitual oratory. The last three words he spoke with a particular emphasis, as if the phrase was his discovery.
The doctor made a weary gesture. “He saved my boy’s life.”
“Yes,” said the judge, swiftly—”yes, I know!”
“And what am I to do?” said Trescott, his eyes suddenly lighting like an outburst from smouldering peat. “What am I to do? He gave himself for—for Jimmie. What am I to do for him?”
The judge abased himself completely before these words. He lowered his eyes for a moment. He picked at his cucumbers.
Presently he braced himself straightly in his chair. “He will be your creation, you understand. He is purely your creation. Nature has very evidently given him up. He is dead. You are restoring him to life. You are making him, and he will be a monster, and with no mind.
“He will be what you like, judge,” cried Trescott, in sudden, polite fury. “He will be anything, but, by God! he saved my boy.”
The judge interrupted in a voice trembling with emotion: “Trescott! Trescott! Don’t I know?”
Trescott had subsided to a sullen mood. “Yes, you know,” he answered, acidly; “but you don’t know all about your own boy being saved from death.” This was a perfectly childish allusion to the judge’s bachelorhood. Trescott knew that the remark was infantile, but he seemed to take desperate delight in it.
But it passed the judge completely. It was not his spot.
“I am puzzled,” said he, in profound thought. “I don’t know what to say.”
Trescott had become repentant. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate what you say, judge. But—”
“Of course!” responded the judge, quickly. “Of course.”
“It—” began Trescott.
“Of course,” said the judge.
In silence they resumed their dinner.
“Well,” said the judge, ultimately, “it is hard for a man to know what to do.”
“It is,” said the doctor, fervidly.
There was another silence. It was broken by the judge:
“Look here, Trescott; I don’t want you to think—”
“No, certainly not,” answered the doctor, earnestly.
“Well, I don’t want you to think I would say anything to—It was only that I thought that I might be able to suggest to you that—perhaps—the affair was a little dubious.”
With an appearance of suddenly disclosing his real mental perturbation, the doctor said: “Well, what would you do? Would you kill him?” he asked, abruptly and sternly.
“Trescott, you fool,” said the old man, gently.
“Oh, well, I know, judge, but then—” He turned red, and spoke with new violence: “Say, he saved my boy—do you see? He saved my boy.”
“You bet he did,” cried the judge, with enthusiasm. “You bet he did.” And they remained for a time gazing at each other, their faces illuminated with memories of a certain deed.
After another silence, the judge said, “It is hard for a man to know what to do.”
Late one evening Trescott, returning from a professional call, paused his buggy at the Hagenthorpe gate. He tied the mare to the old tin-covered post, and entered the house. Ultimately he appeared with a companion—a man who walked slowly and carefully, as if he were learning. He was wrapped to the heels in an old-fashioned ulster. They entered the buggy and drove away.
After a silence only broken by the swift and musical humming of the wheels on the smooth road, Trescott spoke. “Henry,” he said, “I’ve got you a home here with old Alek Williams. You will have everything you want to eat and a good place to sleep, and I hope you will get along there all right. I will pay all your expenses, and come to see you as often as I can. If you don’t get along, I want you to let me know as soon as possible, and then we will do what we can to make it better.”
The dark figure at the doctor’s side answered with a cheerful laugh. “These buggy wheels don’ look like I washed ’em yesterday, docteh,” he said.
Trescott hesitated for a moment, and then went on insistently, “I am taking you to Alek Williams, Henry, and I—”
The figure chuckled again. “No, ‘deed! No, seh! Alek Williams don’ know a hoss! ‘Deed he don’t. He don’ know a hoss from a pig.” The laugh that followed was like the rattle of pebbles.
Trescott turned and looked sternly and coldly at the dim form in the gloom from the buggy-top. “Henry,” he said, “I didn’t say anything about horses. I was saying—”
“Hoss? Hoss?” said the quavering voice from these near shadows. “Hoss? ‘Deed I don’ know all erbout a boss! ‘Deed I don’t.” There was a satirical chuckle.
At the end of three miles the mare slackened and the doctor leaned forward, peering, while holding tight reins. The wheels of the buggy bumped often over out-cropping bowlders. A window shone forth, a simple square of topaz on a great black hill-side. Four dogs charged the buggy with ferocity, and when it did not promptly retreat, they circled courageously around the flanks, baying. A door opened near the window in the hill-side, and a man came and stood on a beach of yellow light.
“Yah! yah! You Roveh! You Susie! Come yah! Come yah this minit!”
Trescott called across the dark sea of grass, “Hello, Alek!”
“Come down here and show me where to drive.”
The man plunged from the beach into the surf, and Trescott could then only trace his course by the fervid and polite ejaculations of a host who was somewhere approaching. Presently Williams took the mare by the head, and uttering cries of welcome and scolding the swarming dogs, led the equipage towards the lights. When they halted at the door and Trescott was climbing out, Williams cried, “Will she stand, docteh?”
“She’ll stand all right, but you better hold her for a minute. Now, Henry.” The doctor turned and held both arms to the dark figure. It crawled to him painfully like a man going down a ladder. Williams took the mare away to be tied to a little tree, and when he returned he found them awaiting him in the gloom beyond the rays from the door.
He burst out then like a siphon pressed by a nervous thumb. “Hennery! Hennery, ma ol’ frien’. Well, if I ain’ glade. If I ain’ glade!”
Trescott had taken the silent shape by the arm and led it forward into the full revelation of the light. “Well, now, Alek, you can take Henry and put him to bed, and in the morning I will—”
Near the end of this sentence old Williams had come front to front with Johnson. He gasped for a second, and then yelled the yell of a man stabbed in the heart.
For a fraction of a moment Trescott seemed to be looking for epithets. Then he roared: “You old black chump! You old black—Shut up! Shut up! Do you hear?”
Williams obeyed instantly in the matter of his screams, but he continued in a lowered voice: “Ma Lode amassy! Who’d ever think? Ma Lode amassy!”
Trescott spoke again in the manner of a commander of a battalion. “Alek!”
The old negro again surrendered, but to himself he repeated in a whisper, “Ma Lode!” He was aghast and trembling.
As these three points of widening shadows approached the golden doorway a hale old negress appeared there, bowing. “Good-evenin’, docteh! Good-evenin’! Come in! come in!” She had evidently just retired from a tempestuous struggle to place the room in order, but she was now bowing rapidly. She made the effort of a person swimming.
“Don’t trouble yourself, Mary,” said Trescott, entering. “I’ve brought Henry for you to take care of, and all you’ve got to do is to carry out what I tell you.” Learning that he was not followed, he faced the door, and said, “Come in, Henry.”
Johnson entered. “Whee!” shrieked Mrs. Williams. She almost achieved a back somersault. Six young members of the tribe of Williams made a simultaneous plunge for a position behind the stove, and formed a wailing heap.
“You know very well that you and your family lived usually on less than three dollars a week, and now that Dr. Trescott pays you five dollars a week for Johnson’s board, you live like millionaires. You haven’t done a stroke of work since Johnson began to board with you—everybody knows that—and so what are you kicking about?”
The judge sat in his chair on the porch, fondling his cane, and gazing down at old Williams, who stood under the lilac-bushes. “Yes, I know, jedge,” said the negro, wagging his head in a puzzled manner. “Tain’t like as if I didn’t ‘preciate what the docteh done, but—but—well, yeh see, jedge,” he added, gaining a new impetus, “it’s—it’s hard wuk. This ol’ man nev’ did wuk so hard. Lode, no.”
“Don’t talk such nonsense, Alek,” spoke the judge, sharply. “You have never really worked in your life—anyhow, enough to support a family of sparrows, and now when you are in a more prosperous condition than ever before, you come around talking like an old fool.”
The negro began to scratch his head. “Yeh see, jedge,” he said at last, “my ol’ ‘ooman she cain’t ‘ceive no lady callahs, nohow.”
“Hang lady callers’” said the judge, irascibly. “If you have flour in the barrel and meat in the pot, your wife can get along without receiving lady callers, can’t she?”
“But they won’t come ainyhow, jedge,” replied Williams, with an air of still deeper stupefaction. “Noner ma wife’s frien’s ner noner ma frien’s ‘ll come near ma res’dence.”
“Well, let them stay home if they are such silly people.”
The old negro seemed to be seeking a way to elude this argument, but evidently finding none, he was about to shuffle meekly off. He halted, however. “Jedge,” said he, “ma ol’ ‘ooman’s near driv’ abstracted.”
“Your old woman is an idiot,” responded the judge.
Williams came very close and peered solemnly through a branch of lilac. “Judge,” he whispered, “the chillens.”
“What about them?”
Dropping his voice to funereal depths, Williams said, “They—they cain’t eat.”
“Can’t eat!” scoffed the judge, loudly. “Can’t eat! You must think I am as big an old fool as you are. Can’t eat—the little rascals! What’s to prevent them from eating?”
In answer, Williams said, with mournful emphasis, “Hennery.” Moved with a kind of satisfaction at his tragic use of the name, he remained staring at the judge for a sign of its effect.
The judge made a gesture of irritation. “Come, now, you old scoundrel, don’t beat around the bush any more. What are you up to? What do you want? Speak out like a man, and don’t give me any more of this tiresome rigamarole.”
“I ain’t er-beatin’ round ’bout nuffin, jedge,” replied Williams, indignantly. “No, seh; I say whatter got to say right out. ‘Deed I do.”
“Well, say it, then.”
“Jedge,” began the negro, taking off his hat and switching his knee with it, “Lode knows I’d do jes ’bout as much fer five dollehs er week as ainy cul’d man, but—but this yere business is awful, jedge. I raikon ‘ain’t been no sleep in—in my house sence docteh done fetch ‘im.”
“Well, what do you propose to do about it?”
Williams lifted his eyes from the ground and gazed off through the trees. “Raikon I got good appetite, an’ sleep jes like er dog, but he—he’s done broke me all up. ‘Tain’t no good, nohow. I wake up in the night; I hear ‘im, mebbe, er-whimperin’ an’ er-whimperin’, an’ I sneak an’ I sneak until I try th’ do’ to see if he locked in. An’ he keep me er-puzzlin’ an’ er-quakin’ all night long. Don’t know how’ll do in th’ winter. Can’t let ‘im out where th’ chillen is. He’ll done freeze where he is now.” Williams spoke these sentences as if he were talking to himself. After a silence of deep reflection he continued: “Folks go round sayin’ he ain’t Hennery Johnson at all. They say he’s er devil!”
“What?” cried the judge.
“Yesseh,” repeated Williams, in tones of injury, as if his veracity had been challenged. “Yesseh. I’m er-tellin’ it to yeh straight, jedge. Plenty cul’d people folks up my way say it is a devil.”
“Well, you don’t think so yourself, do you?”
“No. ‘Tain’t no devil. It’s Hennery Johnson.”
“Well, then, what is the matter with you? You don’t care what a lot of foolish people say. Go on ‘tending to your business, and pay no attention to such idle nonsense.”
“‘Tis nonsense, jedge; but he looks like er devil.”
“What do you care what he looks like?” demanded the judge.
“Ma rent is two dollehs and er half er month,” said Williams, slowly.
“It might just as well be ten thousand dollars a month,” responded the judge. “You never pay it, anyhow.”
“Then, anoth’ thing,” continued Williams, in his reflective tone. “If he was all right in his haid I could stan’ it; but, jedge, he’s crazier ‘n er loon. Then when he looks like er devil, an’ done skears all ma frien’s away, an’ ma chillens cain’t eat, an’ ma ole ‘ooman jes raisin’ Cain all the time, an’ ma rent two dollehs an’ er half er month, an’ him not right in his haid, it seems like five dollehs er week—”
The judge’s stick came down sharply and suddenly upon the floor of the porch. “There,” he said, “I thought that was what you were driving at.”
Williams began swinging his head from side to side in the strange racial mannerism. “Now hol’ on a minnet, jedge,” he said, defensively. “‘Tain’t like as if I didn’t ‘preciate what the docteh done. ‘Tain’t that. Docteh Trescott is er kind man, an’ ’tain’t like as if I didn’t ‘preciate what he done; but—but—”
“But what? You are getting painful, Alek. Now tell me this: did you ever have five dollars a week regularly before in your life?”
Williams at once drew himself up with great dignity, but in the pause after that question he drooped gradually to another attitude. In the end he answered, heroically: “No, jedge, I ‘ain’t. An’ ’tain’t like as if I was er-sayin’ five dollehs wasn’t er lot er money for a man like me. But, jedge, what er man oughter git fer this kinder wuk is er salary. Yesseh, jedge,” he repeated, with a great impressive gesture; “fer this kinder wuk er man oughter git er Salary.” He laid a terrible emphasis upon the final word.
The judge laughed. “I know Dr. Trescott’s mind concerning this affair, Alek; and if you are dissatisfied with your boarder, he is quite ready to move him to some other place; so, if you care to leave word with me that you are tired of the arrangement and wish it changed, he will come and take Johnson away.”
Williams scratched his head again in deep perplexity. “Five dollehs is er big price fer bo’d, but ’tain’t no big price fer the bo’d of er crazy man,” he said, finally.
“What do you think you ought to get?” asked the judge.
“Well,” answered Alek, in the manner of one deep in a balancing of the scales, “he looks like er devil, an’ done skears e’rybody, an’ ma chillens cain’t eat, an’ I cain’t sleep, an’ he ain’t right in his haid, an’—”
“You told me all those things.”
After scratching his wool, and beating his knee with his hat, and gazing off through the trees and down at the ground, Williams said, as he kicked nervously at the gravel, “Well, jedge, I think it is wuth—” He stuttered.
“Six dollehs,” answered Williams, in a desperate outburst.
The judge lay back in his great arm-chair and went through all the motions of a man laughing heartily, but he made no sound save a slight cough. Williams had been watching him with apprehension.
“Well,” said the judge, “do you call six dollars a salary?”
“No, seh,” promptly responded Williams. “‘Tain’t a salary. No, ‘deed! ‘Tain’t a salary.” He looked with some anger upon the man who questioned his intelligence in this way.
“Well, supposing your children can’t eat?”
“And supposing he looks like a devil? And supposing all those things continue? Would you be satisfied with six dollars a week?”
Recollections seemed to throng in Williams’s mind at these interrogations, and he answered dubiously. “Of co’se a man who ain’t right in his haid, an’ looks like er devil—But six dollehs—” After these two attempts at a sentence Williams suddenly appeared as an orator, with a great shiny palm waving in the air. “I tell yeh, jedge, six dollehs is six dollehs, but if I git six dollehs for bo’ding Hennery Johnson, I uhns it! I uhns it!”
“I don’t doubt that you earn six dollars for every week’s work you do,” said the judge.
“Well, if I bo’d Hennery Johnson fer six dollehs er week, I uhns it! I uhns it!” cried Williams, wildly.
Reifsnyder’s assistant had gone to his supper, and the owner of the shop was trying to placate four men who wished to be shaved at once. Reifsnyder was very garrulous—a fact which made him rather remarkable among barbers, who, as a class, are austerely speechless, having been taught silence by the hammering reiteration of a tradition. It is the customers who talk in the ordinary event.
As Reifsnyder waved his razor down the cheek of a man in the chair, he turned often to cool the impatience of the others with pleasant talk, which they did not particularly heed.
“Oh, he should have let him die,” said Bainbridge, a railway engineer, finally replying to one of the barber’s orations. “Shut up, Reif, and go on with your business!”
Instead, Reifsnyder paused shaving entirely, and turned to front the speaker. “Let him die?” he demanded. “How vas that? How can you let a man die?”
“By letting him die, you chump,” said the engineer. The others laughed a little, and Reifsnyder turned at once to his work, sullenly, as a man overwhelmed by the derision of numbers.
“How vas that?” he grumbled later. “How can you let a man die when he vas done so much for you?”
“‘When he vas done so much for you?’” repeated Bainbridge. “You better shave some people. How vas that? Maybe this ain’t a barber shop?”
A man hitherto silent now said, “If I had been the doctor, I would have done the same thing.”
“Of course,” said Reifsnyder. “Any man vould do it. Any man that vas not like you, you—old—flint-hearted—fish.” He had sought the final words with painful care, and he delivered the collection triumphantly at Bainbridge. The engineer laughed.
The man in the chair now lifted himself higher, while Reifsnyder began an elaborate ceremony of anointing and combing his hair. Now free to join comfortably in the talk, the man said: “They say he is the most terrible thing in the world. Young Johnnie Bernard—that drives the grocery wagon—saw him up at Alek Williams’s shanty, and he says he couldn’t eat anything for two days.”
“Chee!” said Reifsnyder.
“Well, what makes him so terrible?” asked another.
“Because he hasn’t got any face,” replied the barber and the engineer in duct.
“Hasn’t got any face!” repeated the man. “How can he do without any face?”
“He has no face in the front of his head.In the place where his face ought to grow.”
Bainbridge sang these lines pathetically as he arose and hung his hat on a hook. The man in the chair was about to abdicate in his favor. “Get a gait on you now,” he said to Reifsnyder. “I go out at 7.31.”
As the barber foamed the lather on the cheeks of the engineer he seemed to be thinking heavily. Then suddenly he burst out. “How would you like to be with no face?” he cried to the assemblage.
“Oh, if I had to have a face like yours—” answered one customer.
Bainbridge’s voice came from a sea of lather. “You’re kicking because if losing faces became popular, you’d have to go out of business.”
“I don’t think it will become so much popular,” said Reifsnyder.
“Not if it’s got to be taken off in the way his was taken off,” said another man. “I’d rather keep mine, if you don’t mind.”
“I guess so!” cried the barber. “Just think!”
The shaving of Bainbridge had arrived at a time of comparative liberty for him. “I wonder what the doctor says to himself?” he observed. “He may be sorry he made him live.”
“It was the only thing he could do,” replied a man. The others seemed to agree with him.
“Supposing you were in his place,” said one, “and Johnson had saved your kid. What would you do?”
“Of course! You would do anything on earth for him. You’d take all the trouble in the world for him. And spend your last dollar on him. Well, then?”
“I wonder how it feels to be without any face?” said Reifsnyder, musingly.
The man who had previously spoken, feeling that he had expressed himself well, repeated the whole thing. “You would do anything on earth for him. You’d take all the trouble in the world for him. And spend your last dollar on him. Well, then?”
“No, but look,” said Reifsnyder; “supposing you don’t got a face!”
As soon as Williams was hidden from the view of the old judge he began to gesture and talk to himself. An elation had evidently penetrated to his vitals, and caused him to dilate as if he had been filled with gas. He snapped his fingers in the air, and whistled fragments of triumphal music. At times, in his progress towards his shanty, he indulged in a shuffling movement that was really a dance. It was to be learned from the intermediate monologue that he had emerged from his trials laurelled and proud. He was the unconquerable Alexander Williams. Nothing could exceed the bold self-reliance of his manner. His kingly stride, his heroic song, the derisive flourish of his hands—all betokened a man who had successfully defied the world.
On his way he saw Zeke Paterson coming to town. They hailed each other at a distance of fifty yards.
“How do, Broth’ Paterson?”
“How do, Broth’ Williams?”
They were both deacons.
“Is you’ folks well, Broth’ Paterson?”
“Middlin’, middlin’. How’s you’ folks, Broth’ Williams?”
Neither of them had slowed his pace in the smallest degree. They had simply begun this talk when a considerable space separated them, continued it as they passed, and added polite questions as they drifted steadily apart. Williams’s mind seemed to be a balloon. He had been so inflated that he had not noticed that Paterson had definitely shied into the dry ditch as they came to the point of ordinary contact.
Afterwards, as he went a lonely way, he burst out again in song and pantomimic celebration of his estate. His feet moved in prancing steps.
When he came in sight of his cabin, the fields were bathed in a blue dusk, and the light in the window was pale. Cavorting and gesticulating, he gazed joyfully for some moments upon this light. Then suddenly another idea seemed to attack his mind, and he stopped, with an air of being suddenly dampened. In the end he approached his home as if it were the fortress of an enemy.
Some dogs disputed his advance for a loud moment, and then discovering their lord, slunk away embarrassed. His reproaches were addressed to them in muffled tones.
Arriving at the door, he pushed it open with the timidity of a new thief. He thrust his head cautiously sideways, and his eyes met the eyes of his wife, who sat by the table, the lamp-light defining a half of her face. ‘”Sh!” he said, uselessly. His glance travelled swiftly to the inner door which shielded the one bed-chamber. The pickaninnies, strewn upon the floor of the living-room, were softly snoring. After a hearty meal they had promptly dispersed themselves about the place and gone to sleep. “‘Sh!” said Williams again to his motionless and silent wife. He had allowed only his head to appear. His wife, with one hand upon the edge of the table and the other at her knee, was regarding him with wide eyes and parted lips as if he were a spectre. She looked to be one who was living in terror, and even the familiar face at the door had thrilled her because it had come suddenly.
Williams broke the tense silence. “Is he all right?” he whispered, waving his eyes towards the inner door. Following his glance timorously, his wife nodded, and in a low tone answered:
“I raikon he’s done gone t’ sleep.”
Williams then slunk noiselessly across his threshold.
He lifted a chair, and with infinite care placed it so that it faced the dreaded inner door. His wife moved slightly, so as to also squarely face it. A silence came upon them in which they seemed to be waiting for a calamity, pealing and deadly.
Williams finally coughed behind his hand. His wife started, and looked upon him in alarm. “Pears like he done gwine keep quiet ternight,” he breathed. They continually pointed their speech and their looks at the inner door, paying it the homage due to a corpse or a phantom. Another long stillness followed this sentence. Their eyes shone white and wide. A wagon rattled down the distant road. From their chairs they looked at the window, and the effect of the light in the cabin was a presentation of an intensely black and solemn night. The old woman adopted the attitude used always in church at funerals. At times she seemed to be upon the point of breaking out in prayer.
“He mighty quiet ter-night,” whispered Williams. “Was he good ter-day?” For answer his wife raised her eyes to the ceiling in the supplication of Job. Williams moved restlessly. Finally he tiptoed to the door. He knelt slowly and without a sound, and placed his ear near the key-hole. Hearing a noise behind him, he turned quickly. His wife was staring at him aghast. She stood in front of the stove, and her arms were spread out in the natural movement to protect all her sleeping ducklings.
But Williams arose without having touched the door. “I raikon he er-sleep,” he said, fingering his wool. He debated with himself for some time. During this interval his wife remained, a great fat statue of a mother shielding her children.
It was plain that his mind was swept suddenly by a wave of temerity. With a sounding step he moved towards the door. His fingers were almost upon the knob when he swiftly ducked and dodged away, clapping his hands to the back of his head. It was as if the portal had threatened him. There was a little tumult near the stove, where Mrs. Williams’s desperate retreat had involved her feet with the prostrate children.
After the panic Williams bore traces of a feeling of shame. He returned to the charge. He firmly grasped the knob with his left hand, and with his other hand turned the key in the lock. He pushed the door, and as it swung portentously open he sprang nimbly to one side like the fearful slave liberating the lion. Near the stove a group had formed, the terror stricken mother, with her arms stretched, and the aroused children clinging frenziedly to her skirts.
The light streamed after the swinging door, and disclosed a room six feet one way and six feet the other way. It was small enough to enable the radiance to lay it plain. Williams peered warily around the corner made by the door-post.
Suddenly he advanced, retired, and advanced again with a howl. His palsied family had expected him to spring backward, and at his howl they heaped themselves wondrously. But Williams simply stood in the little room emitting his howls before an open window. “He’s gone! He’s gone! He’s gone!” His eye and his hand had speedily proved the fact. He had even thrown open a little cupboard.
Presently he came flying out. He grabbed his hat, and hurled the outer door back upon its hinges. Then he tumbled headlong into the night. He was yelling: “Docteh Trescott! Docteh Trescott!” He ran wildly through the fields, and galloped in the direction of town. He continued to call to Trescott, as if the latter was within easy hearing. It was as if Trescott was poised in the contemplative sky over the running negro, and could heed this reaching voice—”Docteh Trescott!”
In the cabin, Mrs. Williams, supported by relays from the battalion of children, stood quaking watch until the truth of daylight came as a reinforcement and made the arrogant, strutting, swashbuckler children, and a mother who proclaimed her illimitable courage.
Theresa Page was giving a party. It was the outcome of a long series of arguments addressed to her mother, which had been overheard in part by her father. He had at last said five words, “Oh, let her have it.” The mother had then gladly capitulated.
Theresa had written nineteen invitations, and distributed them at recess to her schoolmates. Later her mother had composed five large cakes, and still later a vast amount of lemonade.
So the nine little girls and the ten little boys sat quite primly in the dining-room, while Theresa and her mother plied them with cake and lemonade, and also with ice-cream. This primness sat now quite strangely upon them. It was owing to the presence of Mrs. Page. Previously in the parlor alone with their games they had overturned a chair; the boys had let more or less of their hoodlum spirit shine forth. But when circumstances could be possibly magnified to warrant it, the girls made the boys victims of an insufferable pride, snubbing them mercilessly. So in the dining-room they resembled a class at Sunday-school, if it were not for the subterranean smiles, gestures, rebuffs, and poutings which stamped the affair as a children’s party.
Two little girls of this subdued gathering were planted in a settle with their backs to the broad window. They were beaming lovingly upon each other with an effect of scorning the boys.
Hearing a noise behind her at the window, one little girl turned to face it. Instantly she screamed and sprang away, covering her face with her hands. “What was it? What was it?” cried every one in a roar. Some slight movement of the eyes of the weeping and shuddering child informed the company that she had been frightened by an appearance at the window. At once they all faced the imperturbable window, and for a moment there was a silence. An astute lad made an immediate census of the other lads. The prank of slipping out and looming spectrally at a window was too venerable. But the little boys were all present and astonished.
As they recovered their minds they uttered warlike cries, and through a side door sallied rapidly out against the terror. They vied with each other in daring.
None wished particularly to encounter a dragon in the darkness of the garden, but there could be no faltering when the fair ones in the dining-room were present. Calling to each other in stern voices, they went dragooning over the lawn, attacking the shadows with ferocity, but still with the caution of reasonable beings. They found, however, nothing new to the peace of the night. Of course there was a lad who told a great lie. He described a grim figure, bending low and slinking off along the fence. He gave a number of details, rendering his lie more splendid by a repetition of certain forms which he recalled from romances. For instance, he insisted that he had heard the creature emit a hollow laugh.
Inside the house the little girl who had raised the alarm was still shuddering and weeping. With the utmost difficulty was she brought to a state approximating calmness by Mrs. Page. Then she wanted to go home at once.
Page entered the house at this time. He had exiled himself until he concluded that this children’s party was finished and gone. He was obliged to escort the little girl home because she screamed again when they opened the door and she saw the night.
She was not coherent even to her mother. Was it a man? She didn’t know. It was simply a thing, a dreadful thing.
In Watermelon Alley the Farraguts were spending their evening as usual on the little rickety porch. Sometimes they howled gossip to other people on other rickety porches. The thin wail of a baby arose from a near house. A man had a terrific altercation with his wife, to which the alley paid no attention at all.
There appeared suddenly before the Farraguts a monster making a low and sweeping bow. There was an instant’s pause, and then occurred something that resembled the effect of an upheaval of the earth’s surface. The old woman hurled herself backward with a dreadful cry. Young Sim had been perched gracefully on a railing. At sight of the monster he simply fell over it to the ground. He made no sound, his eyes stuck out, his nerveless hands tried to grapple the rail to prevent a tumble, and then he vanished. Bella, blubbering, and with her hair suddenly and mysteriously dishevelled, was crawling on her hands and knees fearsomely up the steps.
Standing before this wreck of a family gathering, the monster continued to bow. It even raised a deprecatory claw. “Doh’ make no botheration ’bout me, Miss Fa’gut,” it said, politely. “No, ‘deed. I jes drap in ter ax if yer well this evenin’, Miss Fa’gut. Don’ make no botheration. No, ‘deed. I gwine ax you to go to er daince with me, Miss Fa’gut. I ax you if I can have the magnifercent gratitude of you’ company on that ‘casion, Miss Fa’gut.”
The girl cast a miserable glance behind her. She was still crawling away. On the ground beside the porch young Sim raised a strange bleat, which expressed both his fright and his lack of wind. Presently the monster, with a fashionable amble, ascended the steps after the girl.
She grovelled in a corner of the room as the creature took a chair. It seated itself very elegantly on the edge. It held an old cap in both hands. “Don’ make no botheration, Miss Fa’gut. Don’ make no botherations. No, ‘deed. I jes drap in ter ax you if you won’ do me the proud of acceptin’ ma humble invitation to er daince, Miss Fa’gut.”
She shielded her eyes with her arms and tried to crawl past it, but the genial monster blocked the way. “I jes drap in ter ax you ’bout er daince, Miss Fa’gut. I ax you if I kin have the magnifercent gratitude of you’ company on that ‘casion, Miss Fa’gut.”
In a last outbreak of despair, the girl, shuddering and wailing, threw herself face downward on the floor, while the monster sat on the edge of the chair gabbling courteous invitations, and holding the old hat daintily to his stomach.
At the back of the house, Mrs. Farragut, who was of enormous weight, and who for eight years had done little more than sit in an armchair and describe her various ailments, had with speed and agility scaled a high board fence.
The black mass in the middle of Trescott’s property was hardly allowed to cool before the builders were at work on another house. It had sprung upward at a fabulous rate. It was like a magical composition born of the ashes. The doctor’s office was the first part to be completed, and he had already moved in his new books and instruments and medicines.
Trescott sat before his desk when the chief of police arrived. “Well, we found him,” said the latter.
“Did you?” cried the doctor. “Where?”
“Shambling around the streets at daylight this morning. I’ll be blamed if I can figure on where he passed the night.”
“Where is he now?”
“Oh, we jugged him. I didn’t know what else to do with him. That’s what I want you to tell me. Of course we can’t keep him. No charge could be made, you know.”
“I’ll come down and get him.”
The official grinned retrospectively. “Must say he had a fine career while he was out. First thing he did was to break up a children’s party at Page’s. Then he went to Watermelon Alley. Whoo! He stampeded the whole outfit. Men, women, and children running pell-mell, and yelling. They say one old woman broke her leg, or something, shinning over a fence. Then he went right out on the main street, and an Irish girl threw a fit, and there was a sort of a riot. He began to run, and a big crowd chased him, firing rocks. But he gave them the slip somehow down there by the foundry and in the railroad yard. We looked for him all night, but couldn’t find him.”
“Was he hurt any? Did anybody hit him with a stone?”
“Guess there isn’t much of him to hurt any more, is there? Guess he’s been hurt up to the limit. No. They never touched him. Of course nobody really wanted to hit him, but you know how a crowd gets. It’s like—it’s like—”
“Yes, I know.”
For a moment the chief of the police looked reflectively at the floor. Then he spoke hesitatingly. “You know Jake Winter’s little girl was the one that he scared at the party. She is pretty sick, they say.”
“Is she? Why, they didn’t call me. I always attend the Winter family.”
“No? Didn’t they?” asked the chief, slowly. “Well—you know—Winter is—well, Winter has gone clean crazy over this business. He wanted—he wanted to have you arrested.”
“Have me arrested? The idiot! What in the name of wonder could he have me arrested for?”
“Of course. He is a fool. I told him to keep his trap shut. But then you know how he’ll go all over town yapping about the thing. I thought I’d better tip you.”
“Oh, he is of no consequence; but then, of course, I’m obliged to you, Sam.”
“That’s all right. Well, you’ll be down tonight and take him out, eh? You’ll get a good welcome from the jailer. He don’t like his job for a cent. He says you can have your man whenever you want him. He’s got no use for him.”
“But what is this business of Winter’s about having me arrested?”
“Oh, it’s a lot of chin about your having no right to allow this—this—this man to be at large. But I told him to tend to his own business. Only I thought I’d better let you know. And I might as well say right now, doctor, that there is a good deal of talk about this thing. If I were you, I’d come to the jail pretty late at night, because there is likely to be a crowd around the door, and I’d bring a—er—mask, or some kind of a veil, anyhow.”
Martha Goodwin was single, and well along into the thin years. She lived with her married sister in Whilomville. She performed nearly all the house-work in exchange for the privilege of existence. Every one tacitly recognized her labor as a form of penance for the early end of her betrothed, who had died of small-pox, which he had not caught from her.
But despite the strenuous and unceasing workaday of her life, she was a woman of great mind. She had adamantine opinions upon the situation in Armenia, the condition of women in China, the flirtation between Mrs. Minster of Niagara Avenue and young Griscom, the conflict in the Bible class of the Baptist Sunday-school, the duty of the United States towards the Cuban insurgents, and many other colossal matters. Her fullest experience of violence was gained on an occasion when she had seen a hound clubbed, but in the plan which she had made for the reform of the world she advocated drastic measures. For instance, she contended that all the Turks should be pushed into the sea and drowned, and that Mrs. Minster and young Griscom should be hanged side by side on twin gallows. In fact, this woman of peace, who had seen only peace, argued constantly for a creed of illimitable ferocity. She was invulnerable on these questions, because eventually she overrode all opponents with a sniff. This sniff was an active force. It was to her antagonists like a bang over the head, and none was known to recover from this expression of exalted contempt. It left them windless and conquered. They never again came forward as candidates for suppression. And Martha walked her kitchen with a stern brow, an invincible being like Napoleon.
Nevertheless her acquaintances, from the pain of their defeats, had been long in secret revolt. It was in no wise a conspiracy, because they did not care to state their open rebellion, but nevertheless it was understood that any woman who could not coincide with one of Martha’s contentions was entitled to the support of others in the small circle. It amounted to an arrangement by which all were required to disbelieve any theory for which Martha fought. This, however, did not prevent them from speaking of her mind with profound respect.
Two people bore the brunt of her ability. Her sister Kate was visibly afraid of her, while Carrie Dungen sailed across from her kitchen to sit respectfully at Martha’s feet and learn the business of the world. To be sure, afterwards, under another sun, she always laughed at Martha and pretended to deride her ideas, but in the presence of the sovereign she always remained silent or admiring. Kate, the sister, was of no consequence at all. Her principal delusion was that she did all the work in the up-stairs rooms of the house, while Martha did it down-stairs. The truth was seen only by the husband, who treated Martha with a kindness that was half banter, half deference. Martha herself had no suspicion that she was the only pillar of the domestic edifice. The situation was without definitions. Martha made definitions, but she devoted them entirely to the Armenians and Griscom and the Chinese and other subjects. Her dreams, which in early days had been of love of meadows and the shade of trees, of the face of a man, were now involved otherwise, and they were companioned in the kitchen curiously, Cuba, the hot-water kettle, Armenia, the washing of the dishes, and the whole thing being jumbled. In regard to social misdemeanors, she who was simply the mausoleum of a dead passion was probably the most savage critic in town. This unknown woman, hidden in a kitchen as in a well, was sure to have a considerable effect of the one kind or the other in the life of the town. Every time it moved a yard, she had personally contributed an inch. She could hammer so stoutly upon the door of a proposition that it would break from its hinges and fall upon her, but at any rate it moved. She was an engine, and the fact that she did not know that she was an engine contributed largely to the effect. One reason that she was formidable was that she did not even imagine that she was formidable. She remained a weak, innocent, and pig-headed creature, who alone would defy the universe if she thought the universe merited this proceeding.
One day Carrie Dungen came across from her kitchen with speed. She had a great deal of grist. “Oh,” she cried, “Henry Johnson got away from where they was keeping him, and came to town last night, and scared everybody almost to death.”
Martha was shining a dish-pan, polishing madly. No reasonable person could see cause for this operation, because the pan already glistened like silver. “Well!” she ejaculated. She imparted to the word a deep meaning. “This, my prophecy, has come to pass.” It was a habit.
The overplus of information was choking Carrie. Before she could go on she was obliged to struggle for a moment. “And, oh, little Sadie Winter is awful sick, and they say Jake Winter was around this morning trying to get Doctor Trescott arrested. And poor old Mrs. Farragut sprained her ankle in trying to climb a fence. And there’s a crowd around the jail all the time. They put Henry in jail because they didn’t know what else to do with him, I guess. They say he is perfectly terrible.”
Martha finally released the dish-pan and confronted the headlong speaker. “Well!” she said again, poising a great brown rag. Kate had heard the excited new-comer, and drifted down from the novel in her room. She was a shivery little woman. Her shoulder-blades seemed to be two panes of ice, for she was constantly shrugging and shrugging. “Serves him right if he was to lose all his patients,” she said suddenly, in blood-thirsty tones. She snipped her words out as if her lips were scissors.
“Well, he’s likely to,” shouted Carrie Dungen. “Don’t a lot of people say that they won’t have him any more? If you’re sick and nervous, Doctor Trescott would scare the life out of you, wouldn’t he? He would me. I’d keep thinking.”
Martha, stalking to and fro, sometimes surveyed the two other women with a contemplative frown.
After the return from Connecticut, little Jimmie was at first much afraid of the monster who lived in the room over the carriage-house. He could not identify it in any way. Gradually, however, his fear dwindled under the influence of a weird fascination. He sidled into closer and closer relations with it.
One time the monster was seated on a box behind the stable basking in the rays of the afternoon sun. A heavy crepe veil was swathed about its head.
Little Jimmie and many companions came around the corner of the stable. They were all in what was popularly known as the baby class, and consequently escaped from school a half-hour before the other children. They halted abruptly at sight of the figure on the box. Jimmie waved his hand with the air of a proprietor.
“There he is,” he said.
“O-o-o!” murmured all the little boys—”o-o-o!” They shrank back, and grouped according to courage or experience, as at the sound the monster slowly turned its head. Jimmie had remained in the van alone. “Don’t be afraid! I won’t let him hurt you,” he said, delighted.
“Huh!” they replied, contemptuously. “We ain’t afraid.”
Jimmie seemed to reap all the joys of the owner and exhibitor of one of the world’s marvels, while his audience remained at a distance—awed and entranced, fearful and envious.
One of them addressed Jimmie gloomily. “Bet you dassent walk right up to him.” He was an older boy than Jimmie, and habitually oppressed him to a small degree. This new social elevation of the smaller lad probably seemed revolutionary to him.
“Huh!” said Jimmie, with deep scorn. “Dassent I? Dassent I, hey? Dassent I?”
The group was immensely excited. It turned its eyes upon the boy that Jimmie addressed. “No, you dassent,” he said, stolidly, facing a moral defeat. He could see that Jimmie was resolved. “No, you dassent,” he repeated, doggedly.
“Ho?” cried Jimmie. “You just watch!—you just watch!”
Amid a silence he turned and marched towards the monster. But possibly the palpable wariness of his companions had an effect upon him that weighed more than his previous experience, for suddenly, when near to the monster, he halted dubiously. But his playmates immediately uttered a derisive shout, and it seemed to force him forward. He went to the monster and laid his hand delicately on its shoulder. “Hello, Henry,” he said, in a voice that trembled a trifle. The monster was crooning a weird line of negro melody that was scarcely more than a thread of sound, and it paid no heed to the boy.
Jimmie: strutted back to his companions. They acclaimed him and hooted his opponent. Amid this clamor the larger boy with difficulty preserved a dignified attitude.
“I dassent, dassent I?” said Jimmie to him.
“Now, you’re so smart, let’s see you do it!”
This challenge brought forth renewed taunts from the others. The larger boy puffed out his checks. “Well, I ain’t afraid,” he explained, sullenly. He had made a mistake in diplomacy, and now his small enemies were tumbling his prestige all about his ears. They crowed like roosters and bleated like lambs, and made many other noises which were supposed to bury him in ridicule and dishonor. “Well, I ain’t afraid,” he continued to explain through the din.
Jimmie, the hero of the mob, was pitiless. “You ain’t afraid, hey?” he sneered. “If you ain’t afraid, go do it, then.”
“Well, I would if I wanted to,” the other retorted. His eyes wore an expression of profound misery, but he preserved steadily other portions of a pot-valiant air. He suddenly faced one of his persecutors. “If you’re so smart, why don’t you go do it?” This persecutor sank promptly through the group to the rear. The incident gave the badgered one a breathing-spell, and for a moment even turned the derision in another direction. He took advantage of his interval. “I’ll do it if anybody else will,” he announced, swaggering to and fro.
Candidates for the adventure did not come forward. To defend themselves from this counter-charge, the other boys again set up their crowing and bleating. For a while they would hear nothing from him. Each time he opened his lips their chorus of noises made oratory impossible. But at last he was able to repeat that he would volunteer to dare as much in the affair as any other boy.
“Well, you go first,” they shouted.
But Jimmie intervened to once more lead the populace against the large boy. “You’re mighty brave, ain’t you?” he said to him. “You dared me to do it, and I did—didn’t I? Now who’s afraid?” The others cheered this view loudly, and they instantly resumed the baiting of the large boy.
He shamefacedly scratched his left shin with his right foot. “Well, I ain’t afraid.” He cast an eye at the monster. “Well, I ain’t afraid.” With a glare of hatred at his squalling tormentors, he finally announced a grim intention. “Well, I’ll do it, then, since you’re so fresh. Now!”
The mob subsided as with a formidable countenance he turned towards the impassive figure on the box. The advance was also a regular progression from high daring to craven hesitation. At last, when some yards from the monster, the lad came to a full halt, as if he had encountered a stone wall. The observant little boys in the distance promptly hooted. Stung again by these cries, the lad sneaked two yards forward. He was crouched like a young cat ready for a backward spring. The crowd at the rear, beginning to respect this display, uttered some encouraging cries. Suddenly the lad gathered himself together, made a white and desperate rush forward, touched the monster’s shoulder with a far-outstretched finger, and sped away, while his laughter rang out wild, shrill, and exultant.
The crowd of boys reverenced him at once, and began to throng into his camp, and look at him, and be his admirers. Jimmie was discomfited for a moment, but he and the larger boy, without agreement or word of any kind, seemed to recognize a truce, and they swiftly combined and began to parade before the others.
“Why, it’s just as easy as nothing,” puffed the larger boy. “Ain’t it, Jim?”
“Course,” blew Jimmie. “Why, it’s as e-e-easy.”
They were people of another class. If they had been decorated for courage on twelve battle-fields, they could not have made the other boys more ashamed of the situation.
Meanwhile they condescended to explain the emotions of the excursion, expressing unqualified contempt for any one who could hang back. “Why, it ain’t nothin’. He won’t do nothin’ to you,” they told the others, in tones of exasperation.
One of the very smallest boys in the party showed signs of a wistful desire to distinguish himself, and they turned their attention to him, pushing at his shoulders while he swung away from them, and hesitated dreamily. He was eventually induced to make furtive expedition, but it was only for a few yards. Then he paused, motionless, gazing with open mouth. The vociferous entreaties of Jimmie and the large boy had no power over him.
Mrs. Hannigan had come out on her back porch with a pail of water. From this coign she had a view of the secluded portion of the Trescott grounds that was behind the stable. She perceived the group of boys, and the monster on the box. She shaded her eyes with her hand to benefit her vision. She screeched then as if she was being murdered. “Eddie! Eddie! You come home this minute!”
Her son querulously demanded, “Aw, what for?”
“You come home this minute. Do you hear?”
The other boys seemed to think this visitation upon one of their number required them to preserve for a time the hang-dog air of a collection of culprits, and they remained in guilty silence until the little Hannigan, wrathfully protesting, was pushed through the door of his home. Mrs. Hannigan cast a piercing glance over the group, stared with a bitter face at the Trescott house, as if this new and handsome edifice was insulting her, and then followed her son.
There was wavering in the party. An inroad by one mother always caused them to carefully sweep the horizon to see if there were more coming. “This is my yard,” said Jimmie, proudly. “We don’t have to go home.”
The monster on the box had turned its black crepe countenance towards the sky, and was waving its arms in time to a religious chant. “Look at him now,” cried a little boy. They turned, and were transfixed by the solemnity and mystery of the indefinable gestures. The wail of the melody was mournful and slow. They drew back. It seemed to spellbind them with the power of a funeral. They were so absorbed that they did not hear the doctor’s buggy drive up to the stable. Trescott got out, tied his horse, and approached the group. Jimmie saw him first, and at his look of dismay the others wheeled.
“What’s all this, Jimmie?” asked Trescott, in surprise.
The lad advanced to the front of his companions, halted, and said nothing. Trescott’s face gloomed slightly as he scanned the scene.
“What were you doing, Jimmie?”
“We was playin’,” answered Jimmie, huskily.
“Playing at what?”
Trescott looked gravely at the other boys, and asked them to please go home. They proceeded to the street much in the manner of frustrated and revealed assassins. The crime of trespass on another boy’s place was still a crime when they had only accepted the other boy’s cordial invitation, and they were used to being sent out of all manner of gardens upon the sudden appearance of a father or a mother. Jimmie had wretchedly watched the departure of his companions. It involved the loss of his position as a lad who controlled the privileges of his father’s grounds, but then he knew that in the beginning he had no right to ask so many boys to be his guests.
Once on the sidewalk, however, they speedily forgot their shame as trespassers, and the large boy launched forth in a description of his success in the late trial of courage. As they went rapidly up the street, the little boy who had made the furtive expedition cried out confidently from the rear, “Yes, and I went almost up to him, didn’t I, Willie?”
The large boy crushed him in a few words. “Huh!” he scoffed. “You only went a little way. I went clear up to him.”
The pace of the other boys was so manly that the tiny thing had to trot, and he remained at the rear, getting entangled in their legs in his attempts to reach the front rank and become of some importance, dodging this way and that way, and always piping out his little claim to glory.
“By-the-way, Grace,” said Trescott, looking into the dining-room from his office door, “I wish you would send Jimmie to me before school-time.”
When Jimmie came, he advanced so quietly that Trescott did not at first note him. “Oh,” he said, wheeling from a cabinet, “here you are, young man.”
Trescott dropped into his chair and tapped the desk with a thoughtful finger. “Jimmie, what were you doing in the back garden yesterday—you and the other boys—to Henry?”
“We weren’t doing anything, pa.”
Trescott looked sternly into the raised eyes of his son. “Are you sure you were not annoying him in any way? Now what were you doing, exactly?”
“Why, we—why, we—now—Willie Dalzel said I dassent go right up to him, and I did; and then he did; and then—the other boys were ‘fraid; and then—you comed.”
Trescott groaned deeply. His countenance was so clouded in sorrow that the lad, bewildered by the mystery of it, burst suddenly forth in dismal lamentations. “There, there. Don’t cry, Jim,” said Trescott, going round the desk. “Only—” He sat in a great leather reading-chair, and took the boy on his knee. “Only I want to explain to you—”
After Jimmie had gone to school, and as Trescott was about to start on his round of morning calls, a message arrived from Doctor Moser. It set forth that the latter’s sister was dying in the old homestead, twenty miles away up the valley, and asked Trescott to care for his patients for the day at least. There was also in the envelope a little history of each case and of what had already been done. Trescott replied to the messenger that he would gladly assent to the arrangement.
He noted that the first name on Moser’s list was Winter, but this did not seem to strike him as an important fact. When its turn came, he rang the Winter bell. “Good-morning, Mrs. Winter,” he said, cheerfully, as the door was opened. “Doctor Moser has been obliged to leave town to-day, and he has asked me to come in his stead. How is the little girl this morning?”
Mrs. Winter had regarded him in stony surprise. At last she said: “Come in! I’ll see my husband.” She bolted into the house. Trescott entered the hall, and turned to the left into the sitting-room.
Presently Winter shuffled through the door. His eyes flashed towards Trescott. He did not betray any desire to advance far into the room. “What do you want?” he said.
“What do I want? What do I want?” repeated Trescott, lifting his head suddenly. He had heard an utterly new challenge in the night of the jungle.
“Yes, that’s what I want to know,” snapped Winter. “What do you want?”
Trescott was silent for a moment. He consulted Moser’s memoranda. “I see that your little girl’s case is a trifle serious,” he remarked. “I would advise you to call a physician soon. I will leave you a copy of Dr. Moser’s record to give to any one you may call.” He paused to transcribe the record on a page of his note-book. Tearing out the leaf, he extended it to Winter as he moved towards the door. The latter shrunk against the wall. His head was hanging as he reached for the paper. This caused him to grasp air, and so Trescott simply let the paper flutter to the feet of the other man.
“Good-morning,” said Trescott from the hall. This placid retreat seemed to suddenly arouse Winter to ferocity. It was as if he had then recalled all the truths which he had formulated to hurl at Trescott. So he followed him into the hall, and down the hall to the door, and through the door to the porch, barking in fiery rage from a respectful distance. As Trescott imperturbably turned the mare’s head down the road, Winter stood on the porch, still yelping. He was like a little dog.
“Have you heard the news?” cried Carrie Dungen as she sped towards Martha’s kitchen. “Have you heard the news?” Her eyes were shining with delight.
“No,” answered Martha’s sister Kate, bending forward eagerly. “What was it? What was it?”
Carrie appeared triumphantly in the open door. “Oh, there’s been an awful scene between Doctor Trescott and Jake Winter. I never thought that Jake Winter had any pluck at all, but this morning he told the doctor just what he thought of him.”
“Well, what did he think of him?” asked Martha.
“Oh, he called him everything. Mrs. Howarth heard it through her front blinds. It was terrible, she says. It’s all over town now. Everybody knows it.”
“Didn’t the doctor answer back?”
“No! Mrs. Howarth—she says he never said a word. He just walked down to his buggy and got in, and drove off as co-o-o-l. But Jake gave him jinks, by all accounts.”
“But what did he say?” cried Kate, shrill and excited. She was evidently at some kind of a feast.
“Oh, he told him that Sadie had never been well since that night Henry Johnson frightened her at Theresa Page’s party, and he held him responsible, and how dared he cross his threshold—and—and—and—”
“And what?” said Martha.
“Did he swear at him?” said Kate, in fearsome glee.
“No—not much. He did swear at him a little, but not more than a man does anyhow when he is real mad, Mrs. Howarth says.”
“O-oh!” breathed Kate. “And did he call him any names?”
Martha, at her work, had been for a time in deep thought. She now interrupted the others. “It don’t seem as if Sadie Winter had been sick since that time Henry Johnson got loose. She’s been to school almost the whole time since then, hasn’t she?”
They combined upon her in immediate indignation. “School? School? I should say not. Don’t think for a moment. School!”
Martha wheeled from the sink. She held an iron spoon, and it seemed as if she was going to attack them. “Sadie Winter has passed here many a morning since then carrying her schoolbag. Where was she going? To a wedding?”
The others, long accustomed to a mental tyranny, speedily surrendered.
“Did she?” stammered Kate. “I never saw her.”
Carrie Dungen made a weak gesture.
“If I had been Doctor Trescott,” exclaimed Martha, loudly, “I’d have knocked that miserable Jake Winter’s head off.”
Kate and Carrie, exchanging glances, made an alliance in the air. “I don’t see why you say that, Martha,” replied Carrie, with considerable boldness, gaining support and sympathy from Kate’s smile. “I don’t see how anybody can be blamed for getting angry when their little girl gets almost scared to death and gets sick from it, and all that. Besides, everybody says—”
“Oh, I don’t care what everybody says,” said Martha.
“Well, you can’t go against the whole town,” answered Carrie, in sudden sharp defiance.
“No, Martha, you can’t go against the whole town,” piped Kate, following her leader rapidly.
“‘The whole town,’” cried Martha. “I’d like to know what you call ‘the whole town.’ Do you call these silly people who are scared of Henry Johnson ‘the whole town’?”
“Why, Martha,” said Carrie, in a reasoning tone, “you talk as if you wouldn’t be scared of him!”
“No more would I,” retorted Martha.
“O-oh, Martha, how you talk!” said Kate. “Why, the idea! Everybody’s afraid of him.”
Carrie was grinning. “You’ve never seen him, have you?” she asked, seductively.
“No,” admitted Martha.
“Well, then, how do you know that you wouldn’t be scared?”
Martha confronted her. “Have you ever seen him? No? Well, then, how do you know you would be scared?”
The allied forces broke out in chorus: “But, Martha, everybody says so. Everybody says so.”
“Everybody says what?”
“Everybody that’s seen him say they were frightened almost to death. Tisn’t only women, but it’s men too. It’s awful.”
Martha wagged her head solemnly. “I’d try not to be afraid of him.”
“But supposing you could not help it?” said Kate.
“Yes, and look here,” cried Carrie. “I’ll tell you another thing. The Hannigans are going to move out of the house next door.”
“On account of him?” demanded Martha.
Carrie nodded. “Mrs. Hannigan says so herself.”
“Well, of all things!” ejaculated Martha. “Going to move, eh? You don’t say so! Where they going to move to?”
“Down on Orchard Avenue.”
“Well, of all things! Nice house?”
“I don’t know about that. I haven’t heard. But there’s lots of nice houses on Orchard.”
“Yes, but they’re all taken,” said Kate. “There isn’t a vacant house on Orchard Avenue.”
“Oh yes, there is,” said Martha. “The old Hampstead house is vacant.”
“Oh, of course,” said Kate. “But then I don’t believe Mrs. Hannigan would like it there. I wonder where they can be going to move to?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” sighed Martha. “It must be to some place we don’t know about.”
“Well.” said Carrie Dungen, after a general reflective silence, “it’s easy enough to find out, anyhow.”
“Who knows—around here?” asked Kate.
“Why, Mrs. Smith, and there she is in her garden,” said Carrie, jumping to her feet. As she dashed out of the door, Kate and Martha crowded at the window. Carrie’s voice rang out from near the steps. “Mrs. Smith! Mrs. Smith! Do you know where the Hannigans are going to move to?”
The autumn smote the leaves, and the trees of Whilomville were panoplied in crimson and yellow. The winds grew stronger, and in the melancholy purple of the nights the home shine of a window became a finer thing. The little boys, watching the sear and sorrowful leaves drifting down from the maples, dreamed of the near time when they could heap bushels in the streets and burn them during the abrupt evenings.
Three men walked down the Niagara Avenue. As they approached Judge Hagenthorpe’s house he came down his walk to meet them in the manner of one who has been waiting.
“Are you ready, judge?” one said.
“All ready,” he answered.
The four then walked to Trescott’s house. He received them in his office, where he had been reading. He seemed surprised at this visit of four very active and influential citizens, but he had nothing to say of it.
After they were all seated, Trescott looked expectantly from one face to another. There was a little silence. It was broken by John Twelve, the wholesale grocer, who was worth $400,000, and reported to be worth over a million.
“Well, doctor,” he said, with a short laugh, “I suppose we might as well admit at once that we’ve come to interfere in something which is none of our business.”
“Why, what is it?” asked Trescott, again looking from one face to another. He seemed to appeal particularly to Judge Hagenthorpe, but the old man had his chin lowered musingly to his cane, and would not look at him.
“It’s about what nobody talks of—much,” said Twelve. “It’s about Henry Johnson.”
Trescott squared himself in his chair. “Yes?” he said.
Having delivered himself of the title, Twelve seemed to become more easy. “Yes,” he answered, blandly, “we wanted to talk to you about it.”
“Yes?” said Trescott.
Twelve abruptly advanced on the main attack. “Now see here, Trescott, we like you, and we have come to talk right out about this business. It may be none of our affairs and all that, and as for me, I don’t mind if you tell me so; but I am not going to keep quiet and see you ruin yourself. And that’s how we all feel.”
“I am not ruining myself,” answered Trescott.
“No, maybe you are not exactly ruining yourself,” said Twelve, slowly, “but you are doing yourself a great deal of harm. You have changed from being the leading doctor in town to about the last one. It is mainly because there are always a large number of people who are very thoughtless fools, of course, but then that doesn’t change the condition.”
A man who had not heretofore spoken said, solemnly, “It’s the women.”
“Well, what I want to say is this,” resumed Twelve: “Even if there are a lot of fools in the world, we can’t see any reason why you should ruin yourself by opposing them. You can’t teach them anything, you know.”
“I am not trying to teach them anything.” Trescott smiled wearily. “I—It is a matter of—well—”
“And there are a good many of us that admire you for it immensely,” interrupted Twelve; “but that isn’t going to change the minds of all those ninnies.”
“It’s the women,” stated the advocate of this view again.
“Well, what I want to say is this,” said Twelve. “We want you to get out of this trouble and strike your old gait again. You are simply killing your practice through your infernal pigheadedness. Now this thing is out of the ordinary, but there must be ways to—to beat the game somehow, you see. So we’ve talked it over—about a dozen of us—and, as I say, if you want to tell us to mind our own business, why, go ahead; but we’ve talked it over, and we’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to do is to get Johnson a place somewhere off up the valley, and—”
Trescott wearily gestured. “You don’t know, my friend. Everybody is so afraid of him, they can’t even give him good care. Nobody can attend to him as I do myself.”
“But I have a little no-good farm up beyond Clarence Mountain that I was going to give to Henry,” cried Twelve, aggrieved. “And if you—and if you—if you—through your house burning down, or anything—why, all the boys were prepared to take him right off your hands, and—and—”
Trescott arose and went to the window. He turned his back upon them. They sat waiting in silence. When he returned he kept his face in the shadow. “No, John Twelve,” he said, “it can’t be done.”
There was another stillness. Suddenly a man stirred on his chair.
“Well, then, a public institution—” he began.
“No,” said Trescott; “public institutions are all very good, but he is not going to one.”
In the background of the group old Judge Hagenthorpe was thoughtfully smoothing the polished ivory head of his cane.
Trescott loudly stamped the snow from his feet and shook the flakes from his shoulders. When he entered the house he went at once to the dining-room, and then to the sitting-room. Jimmie was there, reading painfully in a large book concerning giraffes and tigers and crocodiles.
“Where is your mother, Jimmie?” asked Trescott.
“I don’t know, pa,” answered the boy. “I think she is up-stairs.”
Trescott went to the foot of the stairs and called, but there came no answer. Seeing that the door of the little drawing-room was open, he entered. The room was bathed in the half-light that came from the four dull panes of mica in the front of the great stove. As his eyes grew used to the shadows he saw his wife curled in an arm-chair. He went to her. “Why, Grace.” he said, “didn’t you hear me calling you?”
She made no answer, and as he bent over the chair he heard her trying to smother a sob in the cushion.
“Grace!” he cried. “You’re crying!”
She raised her face. “I’ve got a headache, a dreadful headache, Ned.”
“A headache?” he repeated, in surprise and incredulity.
He pulled a chair close to hers. Later, as he cast his eye over the zone of light shed by the dull red panes, he saw that a low table had been drawn close to the stove, and that it was burdened with many small cups and plates of uncut tea-cake. He remembered that the day was Wednesday, and that his wife received on Wednesdays.
“Who was here to-day, Gracie?” he asked.
From his shoulder there came a mumble, “Mrs. Twelve.”
“Was she—um,” he said. “Why—didn’t Anna Hagenthorpe come over?”
The mumble from his shoulder continued, “She wasn’t well enough.”
Glancing down at the cups, Trescott mechanically counted them. There were fifteen of them. “There, there,” he said. “Don’t cry, Grace. Don’t cry.”
The wind was whining round the house, and the snow beat aslant upon the windows. Sometimes the coal in the stove settled with a crumbling sound, and the four panes of mica flashed a sudden new crimson. As he sat holding her head on his shoulder, Trescott found himself occasionally trying to count the cups. There were fifteen of them.