"Can you tell me where Joe is, please?" he asked of the bar-tender.
"Joe? Oh, he went out a half-an-hour ago. I don't know where he went, sonny." And the man went on filling the glasses, and talking to the other men. Ralph stood for a moment, in deep thought, then he asked:—
"Did Joe say when he would be back?"
The bar-tender paid no attention to him, and, after a few moments, the boy repeated the question.
"Mr. Bummerton, did Joe say when he would be back?"
"No, he didn't," responded the man, in a surly tone; "I don't know nothing about him."
Ralph went back, and stood by the stove to consider the matter. He thought it was very strange. He could hardly believe that Rhyming Toe had intended to desert him in this way. He preferred to think that the fellow had become helpless, and that Bummerton had dragged him into some other room. He knew that Joe used to get that way, years before, in Philadelphia. He had seen much of him during the wretched period of his life with Simon Craft. Joe and the old man were together a great deal during that time. They were engaged jointly in an occupation which was not strictly within the limit of the law, and which, therefore, required mutual confidence. The young fellow had, apparently, taken a great liking to Ralph, had made much of him in a jovial way, and, indeed, in several instances, had successfully defended him against the results of Old Simon's wrath. The child had come to regard him as a friend, and had not been displeased to meet him, after all these years, in this unexpected manner. He had had a general idea that the young man's character was not good, and that his life was not moral, but he had not expected to be badly treated by him. Now, however, he felt compelled to believe that Joe had abused the privileges of friendship. The more he thought of it, the more sure he became that he had been deceived and deserted. He was alone in a strange city, without money or friends. What was to be done?
Perhaps the bar-tender, understanding the difficulty, would help him out of it. He resolved to apply to him.
"Mr. Bummerton," he said, approaching the bar again, "now't Joe's gone, an' I ain't got no money, I don't see how I'm goin' to git home. Could—could you lend me enough to pay my fare up? I'll send it back to you right away. I will,—honest!"
The man pushed both his hands into the pockets of his pantaloons, and stood for a minute staring at the boy, in feigned astonishment.
"Why, my little innocent!" he exclaimed, "what do ye take me for; a reg'lar home for the friendless? No, I ain't in the charitable business jist now. By the way, did ye know that the law don't allow hotel-keepers to let boys stay in the bar-room? Fust thing I know they'll be a constable a-swoopin' down on me here with a warrant. Don't ye think ye'd better excuse yourself? That's the door over yonder, young feller."
Ralph turned, without a word, went to the door, opened it, and stepped into the street. It was very dark outside, and a cold wind was blowing up. He stood, for a few minutes, on the corner, shivering, and wondering which way to go. He felt very wretched indeed; not so much because he was penniless and lost, as because he had been deceived, abused, and mocked. He saw through the whole scheme now, and wondered how he had fallen so easily into it.
On a distant corner there was a street-lamp, burning dimly, and, without much thought of where he was going, the boy started toward it.
There were other drinking-saloons along the street, and he could hear loud talking and quarrelling in them as he passed by. A man came out from one of them and hailed him gruffly. It frightened him, and he started to run. The man followed him for a little way, shouting savagely, and then turned back; but Ralph ran on. He stumbled, finally, on the uneven pavement, and fell headlong, bruising his side and hurting his wrist. His cap had rolled off, and it took him a long time to find it. Then he crossed the street to avoid a party of drunken revellers, and limped along until he came to the lamp that he had seen from the distance. Down another street there were a number of lights, and it looked more inviting; so he turned in that way. After he had gone two or three blocks in this direction, avoiding carefully the few persons whom he met, he turned again. The streets were growing lighter and wider now, and there were more people on them, and that was something to be thankful for. Finally he reached a busy, well-lighted thoroughfare, and turned into it, with a sigh of relief. He had not walked very far along it before he saw, over to the right, surrounded by lights, a long, low building, in the middle of an open square. It occurred to him, suddenly, that this was the railroad station, and he hurried toward it. When he reached the door he remembered that he was without money, but he thought he would go in at any rate. He was very tired, and he knew of no better place in which to stop and rest. So he went into the waiting-room, and sat down on a bench, and looked around him.
There were not many people there, but they began to come very soon, and kept coming until the room was nearly full. Finally, there was a puffing of a locomotive out on the track, and a ringing of an engine bell, and the door-keeper called out:—
"All aboard for Pittston, Scranton, and Carbondale!"
The people crowded toward the door, and just then a carriage drove up to the other side of the station, and a gentleman and a lady and a little girl came into the waiting-room from the street entrance. The lady was in deep mourning; but, as she threw aside her veil for a moment, Ralph recognized her as Mrs. Burnham, and the little girl as her child. His heart gave a great throb, and he started to his feet.
The gentleman was saying: "I trust you will reach home safely and comfortably."
And Mrs. Burnham replied: "Oh, there is no doubt of it, Mr. Goodlaw! I have telegraphed to James to meet us at the station; we shall be there before nine o'clock."
"I will see that you are comfortably settled," he said, as they crossed the room toward the waiting train.
For a moment Ralph stood, wondering and uncertain. Then there came into his mind a sudden resolution to speak to them, to tell them who he was, and why and how he was here, and ask them to help him. He started forward, but they were already passing out at the door. He pushed hurriedly by several people in his effort to overtake them, but the man who stood there punching tickets stopped him.
"Where's your ticket, sonny?" he asked.
"I ain't got any," replied Ralph.
"Then you can't get out here."
"But I want to find Mrs. Burnham."
"Who's Mrs. Burnham?"
"The lady't just went out."
"Has she got a ticket for you?"
"No, but she'd give me money to get one—I think."
"Well, I can't help that; you can't go out Come, stand aside! you're blocking up the way."
The people, crowding by, pushed Ralph back, and he went and sat down on the bench again.
The bell rang, the conductor shouted "All aboard!" and the train moved off.
Ralph's eyes were full of tears, and his heart was very heavy. It was not so much because he was friendless and without money that he grieved, but because his mother,—his own mother,—had passed him by in his distress and had not helped him. She had been so close to him that he could almost have put out his hand and touched her dress, and yet she had swept by, in her haste, oblivious of his presence. He knew, of course, that, if he had spoken to her, or if she had seen and known him, she would gladly have befriended him. But it was not her assistance that he wanted so much as it was her love. It was the absence of that sympathy, that devotion, that watchful care over every step he might take, that motherly instinct that ought to have felt his presence though her eyes had been blinded; it was the absence of all this that filled his heart with heaviness.
But he did not linger long in despair; he dashed the tears from his eyes, and began to consider what he should do. He thought it probable that there would be a later train; and it was barely possible that some one whom he knew might be going up on it. It occurred to him that Sharpman had said he would be busy in Wilkesbarre all day. Perhaps he had not gone home yet; if not, he might go on the next train, if there was one. It was worth while to inquire, at any rate.
"Yes," said the door-keeper, in answer to Ralph's question, "there'll be another train going up at eleven thirty-five."
"Do you know Mr. Sharpman?" asked the boy, timidly.
"Mr. Sharpman, the lawyer from Scranton."
"No, I don't know him,—why?"
"Oh, I didn't know but you might know w'ether he'd gone home or not; but, of course, if you don't know 'im you couldn't tell."
"No, I don't know anything about him," said the man, stretching himself on the bench for a nap.
Ralph thought he would wait. Indeed, there was nothing better for him to do. It was warm here, and he had a seat, and he knew of no other place in the city where he could be so comfortable. The clock on the wall informed him that it was eight in the evening. He began to feel hungry. He could see, through a half-opened door, the tempting array of food on the lunch-counter in another room; but he knew that he could get none, and he tried not to think of eating. It was very quiet now in the waiting-room, and it was not very long before Ralph fell to dozing and dreaming. He dreamed that he was somewhere in deep distress, and that his mother came, looking for him, but unable to see him; that she passed so close to him he put out his hand and touched her; that he tried to speak to her and could not, and so, unaware of his presence, she went on, leaving him alone in his misery.
The noise of persons coming into the room awoke him, finally, and he sat up and rubbed his eyes and looked around him. He saw, by the clock on the wall, that it was nearly train time. The escaping steam from the waiting engine could already be heard outside. People were buying tickets and making their way hurriedly to the platform; but, among all those who came in and went out, Ralph could not discover the familiar face and figure of Sharpman, nor, indeed, could he see any one whom he knew.
After the passengers had all gone out, the door-keeper called Ralph to him.
"Find your man?" he asked.
"Do you mean Mr. Sharpman?"
"No, he didn't come in. I guess he went home before."
The door-keeper paused and looked thoughtful. Finally he said:—
"You want to go to Scranton?"
"Yes, that's where I live."
"Well, I'll tell you what you do. You git onto that train, and when Jim Coleman—he's the conductor—when he comes around to punch your ticket, you tell him I said you were to be passed. Now you'll have to hurry; run!"
The kind-hearted door-keeper saw Ralph leap on to the train as it moved slowly out, and then he turned back into the waiting-room. "Might as well give the lad a lift," he said to a man who stood by, smiling; "he looked awful solemn when the last train before went and left him. Jim won't put him off till he gits to Pittston, anyway."
Ralph found a vacant seat in the car and dropped into it, breathless and excited. His good luck had come to him all in a moment so, that it had quite upset him.
He did not just understand why the door-keeper's word should be good for his passage, but the conductor would know, and doubtless it was all right.
The train went rumbling on through the darkness; the lamps, hanging from the ceiling, swayed back and forth; the people in the car were very quiet,—some of them, indeed, were already asleep.
By and by, the conductor came in, a slender, young-looking man, with a good-natured face. He greeted several of the passengers pleasantly, and came down the aisle, punching tickets to the right and left, till he reached the seat where Ralph was.
"Ticket?" he asked.
"I ain't got any," said the boy.
"What's the reason?"
"W'y, I lost all my money, an' I couldn't buy one, an' I couldn't see nobody't I knew, an' the man't tended door, he said tell you to pass me up."
The conductor smiled, as he recognized a familiar scheme of the kind-hearted door-keeper, but he said, trying to speak sternly:—
"The man had no right to tell you that. Our rules are very strict. No one can ride without a ticket or a pass. Where do you want to go?"
"To Scranton; I live there," said Ralph, his voice faltering with apprehension.
"Well, I suppose I ought to stop the train and put you off."
Ralph looked out through the car window, at the blackness outside, and his face took on a look of fear.
"I'm very sorry," he said, "I'm awful sorry. I wouldn't 'a' got on if I'd 'a' known it. Do you think you've got to put me off—right away?"
The conductor looked out through the window, too.
"Well," he said, "it's pretty dark, and I hate to stop the train between stations. I guess I'll have to let you ride to Pittston, anyway. You'll get out there, won't you? it's the first stop."
"Oh, yes! I'll get out there," said Ralph, much relieved, settling back into his seat as the conductor left.
The train dashed on through the night, rumbling, rocking, waking the echoes now and then with its screaming whistle, and finally it pulled into the station at Pittston.
True to his bargain, Ralph stepped from the train. Two or three other people left it at the same time and hurried away up the street; then the puffing engine pulled the cars out again into the darkness.
The boy stood, for a moment or two, wondering what he should do now. The chill night air made him shiver, and he turned toward the waiting-room. But the lights were already out there, and the station-master had locked himself into his office. Off to the left he saw the street lamps of West Pittston, dotting the blackness here and there like dim, round stars; and between them and him the dark water of the river reflected the few lights that shone on it. Finally, Ralph walked down the length of the platform and turned up the street at the end of it.
In a minute or two he had reached Main Street, and stood looking up and down it, trying to decide which way to go. On the other side, and a little to the right, he saw a man standing on the corner, under a street lamp, and looking at him.
He was an honest-looking man, Ralph thought; may be he would tell him what to do. He crossed over and went down to where the man stood.
"Please, mister," he said, "I'd like to find a place to stay all night."
The man looked down on him wonderingly, but not unkindly.
"Is it a hotel ye're after?" he asked.
"Well, not hardly. I ain't got any money. I only want a place to stay where I won't be in the dark an' cold alone all night."
"Do ye belong in Pittston, I don' no'?"
"No, I live in Scranton."
"Sure, the train jist wint for there. Why didn't ye go with it?"
"Well, you see, I didn't have any ticket, an' the conductor, he told me to—to—he asked me if I wouldn't jest as lieve git off here."
The man gave a low whistle.
"Come along with me," he said, "it's little I can do for yez, but it's better nor the strate." He led the way up the pavement of the side street a few steps, unlocked a door and entered a building, and Ralph followed him.
They seemed to be in a sort of retiring room for the use of the adjoining offices. A gas light was burning dimly. There was a table in the room, and there were some chairs. Some engineering tools stood in one corner, some mining tools in another; caps were hanging on the wall, and odds and ends of many kinds were scattered about.
The man took down a heavy overcoat, and spread it on the table.
"There," he said, "ye can slape on that."
"That'll be very nice," said Ralph; "it'll be a sight better'n stayin' out in the street all night."
"Right ye are, me lad! Compose yoursilf now. Good-night, an' swate drames to yez! I'm the watchman; I'll be out an' in; it's nothing here that'll hurt ye, sure; good-night!" and the man went out, and locked the door after him.
It was warm in the room, and very comfortable, and it was not long after the boy laid down on the improvised bed before he was sound asleep. He did not wake until the day began to dawn, and the watchman came in and shook him; and it was some moments after he was roused before he could make out just where he was. But he remembered the situation, finally, and jumped down on to the floor.
"I've had a good sleep," he said. "I'm a great deal obliged to you."
"Don't shpake of it, lad," said the man; "don't shpake of it. Will ye wash up a bit?"
"Yes, I would like to," replied Ralph, "very much."
He was shown the way to the basin and water, and after a few moments he came back fresh and clean.
"Ye wouldn't like a bit to ate now, would ye?" asked the watchman, who had been busying himself about the room.
"Oh, I can get along very well without it," replied the boy; "you've done enough for me."
"Whin did ye ate last?"
"Well, it must 'a' been some after noon yestaday."
The man went to a closet and took down a dinner-pail.
"I've a bit left o' me last-night's dinner," said he; "an' av ye're the laste bit hungry ye'll not be makin' me carry it home with me." He had spread a newspaper on the table, and had laid out the pieces of food upon it.
"Oh, I am hungry!" responded Ralph, looking eagerly over the tempting array. "I'm very hungry; but you've been too good to me already, an' you don't know me, either."
The man turned his face toward the door, and stood for a minute without speaking. Then he said, huskily:—
"Ate it lad, ate it. Bless your sowl, there's a plinty more where that come from."
The boy needed no further urging. He ate the food with great relish, while the watchman stood by and looked on approvingly. When the meal was finished, Ralph said:—
"Now, I'll be a-goin'. I can't never thank you enough. Maybe I can do sumpthin' for you, some time, but—"
"Howld your tongue, now! Didn't I tell ye not to shpake of it?"
The boy opened the door and looked out upon the dawning day.
"Ain't it nice!" he said. "I can git along splendid in the daylight. I ain't afraid, but it's awful lonesome in the dark, 'specially when you're away from home this way."
"An' where do ye be goin' now?" inquired the watchman.
"Home; to Scranton. I can walk there, so long as it's daylight. Oh! I can git along beautiful now. Which is the bes' way to go?"
The man looked down at him wonderingly for a moment. "Well, ye do bate the—the—the prisidint!" he said, going with him to the corner of the street. "Now, thin, go up the strate straight,—I mean straight up the strate,—turn nayther to the right nor the lift, an whin the strate inds, follow the road up the river, an' be it soon or late ye'll come to Scranton."
"Thank you! Good-by. I'll al'ays remember you."
"Good-by, me lad! an' the saints attind ye!"
They shook hands cordially, and Ralph started up the street on his long journey toward home, while the watchman turned back to his duties, with his heart full of kindness and his eyes full of tears. But he never, never forgot the homeless lad whom he fed and sheltered that autumn night.
A FRIEND INDEED.
It had been understood, when Ralph went to Wilkesbarre that morning, that he should return in the afternoon. Bachelor Billy was very much surprised, therefore, when he returned from his work, not to find the boy waiting for him. Indeed, he had more than half expected that Ralph would come up to the breaker to walk home with him, or would, at least, meet him on the way. The Widow Maloney had not seen him, she said; and when supper was ready she sent her little girl down the road to look for him, and to tell him to hurry home.
Before they had finished eating, the child came back, saying that she could not find him. They were not worried about him, though; they thought he had been delayed at court, and would come in on one of the later trains. So, after supper, Billy lighted his pipe and walked down toward the city, hoping to meet the lad. He went on until he reached the railroad station. They told him there that the next train would be in from Wilkesbarre in about an hour. He concluded to wait for it, so he sat on one of the benches, and watched the people coming and going, and smoked his clay-pipe in comparative comfort. The train came at last, and the passengers from it crowded through the hall-way, and out into the street. But among them all Bachelor Billy could not discover Ralph. He saw Mrs. Burnham coming from the cars, though, and it occurred to him that possibly she might know something about the boy. She had doubtless come from Wilkesbarre; indeed it was not unlikely that she had been in court. He did not hesitate to inquire of her; she knew him very well, and always had a kind word for him when she came to see Ralph.
He took off his cap and approached her. "Beggin' your pardon, Mistress Burnham," he said, "but ha' ye seen aught o' Ralph?"
The lady stopped in surprise, but in a moment she recognized the man, and, throwing aside her veil, she replied: "Oh, Billy, is that you? Ralph, did you say? I have not seen him. Why?"
"He went to Wilkesbarre the day, ma'am, an' he s'ould 'a' comit hame sooner, an' I thocht mayhap ye might 'a' rin across the lad, d'ye see. Pardon me for a-stoppin' o' ye."
The lady still stood, holding her child by the hand.
"Did he go alone?" she asked.
"No, he went doon wi' Muster Sharpman."
"And has Mr. Sharpman returned?"
"I did na thenk to ask; that was fulish in me,—I s'ould 'a' gone there first."
"I think Mr. Sharpman will look after him. I do not think you need to worry; perhaps it was necessary for them to remain overnight. But, if Ralph does not come in the morning, you must let me know, and I shall assist you in searching for him."
"Thank ye, Mistress Burnham, thank ye, kindly! I canna feel greatly concernit ower the lad, sin' he's verra gude at carin' for himsel'. But, gin he does na come i' the mornin', I s'all mak' search for 'im. Here's James a-waitin' for ye"; going ahead, as he spoke, to stand by the fretting horses while James held open the carriage door.
"Good-night, Billy!" came from inside the coach as it rolled away; and "Good-night, Billy!" echoed the sweet voice of the child.
"Good-nicht to both o' ye!" he shouted, standing to watch them until the carriage disappeared into the darkness.
"She's verra kin'," he said to himself, as he walked up the street toward home, "verra kin', but it's no' sic a care as the lad's ane mither s'ould ha' ower 'im, an' he awa' fra hame i' the darkness o' the nicht so. But she dinna ken, she dinna ken as he be her son. Coom a day when that's plain to her, an' she'd spare naught to save 'im fra the ghost o' danger."
When Bachelor Billy reached home, Mrs. Maloney was at the door to ask about Ralph. The man told her what Mrs. Burnham had said, and expressed an earnest hope that the boy would come safely back in the morning. Then' he went to his room, started a fire in the grate, and sat down, by it to smoke.
It was already past his customary bed-time, but he could not quite make up his mind to go to bed without Ralph. It seemed a very lonely and awkward thing for him to do. They had gone to bed together every night for nearly three years, and it is not easy to break in upon such a habit as that.
So Billy sat by the fire and smoked his pipe and thought about the boy. He was thoroughly convinced that the child was Robert Burnham's son, and all of his hopes and plans and ambitions, during these days, were centred in the effort to have Ralph restored his family, and to his rights as a member of that family. It would be such a fine thing for the boy, he thought. In the first place, he could have an education. Bachelor Billy reverenced an education. To him, it was almost a personality. He held that, with an education, a man could do anything short of performing miracles; that all possibilities of goodness or greatness that the world holds were open to him. The very first thing he would choose for Ralph would be an education. Then the child would have wealth; that, too, would be a great thing for him and, through him, for society. The poor would be fed, and the homeless would be sheltered. He was so sure of the boy's honest heart and moral firmness that he knew wealth would be a blessing to him and not a curse.
And a beautiful home! Once he had been in Robert Burnham's house; and, for days thereafter, its richness and beauty and its homelike air had haunted him wherever he went. Yes, the boy would have a beautiful home. He looked around on the bare walls and scanty furniture of his own poor dwelling-place as if comparing them with the comforts and luxuries of the Burnham mansion. The contrast was a sharp one, the change would be great. But Ralph was so delicate in taste and fancy, so high-minded, so pure-souled, that nothing would be too beautiful for him, no luxury would seem strange, no life would be so exalted that he could not hold himself at its level. The home that had haunted Bachelor Billy's fancy was the home for Ralph, and there he should dwell. But then—and the thought came suddenly and for the first time into the man's mind—when the boy went there to live, he, Billy, would be alone, alone. He would have no one to chatter brightly to him at the dawn of day, no one to walk with him to their daily tasks at Burnham Breaker, to eat from the same pail with him the dinner that had been prepared for both, to come home with him at night, and fill the bare room in which they lived with light and cheer enough to flood a palace. Instead of that, every day would be like this day had been, every night would be as dull and lonely as the night now passing.
How could he ever endure them?
He was staring intently into the fire, clutching his pipe in his hand, and spilling from it the tobacco he had forgotten to smoke.
The lad would have a mother, too,—a kind, good, beautiful mother to love him, to caress him, to do a million more things for him than his Uncle Billy had ever done or ever could do. And the boy would love his mother, he would love her very tenderly; he ought to; it was right that he should; but in the beauty and sweetness of such a life as that would Ralph remember him? How could he hope it? Yet, how could he bear to be forgotten by the child? How could he ever bear it?
In his intensity of thought the man had risen to his feet, grasping his clay pipe so closely that it broke and fell in fragments to the hearth.
He looked around again on the bare walls of his home, down on his own bent form, on his patched, soiled clothing and his clumsy shoes, then he sank back into his chair, covered his face with his hands, and gave way to tears. He had lived in this world too long not to know that prosperity breeds forgetfulness, and he felt already in his heart a foretaste of the bitterness that should overwhelm him when this boy, whom he loved as his own child, should leave him alone, forgotten.
But after a time he looked up again. Pleasanter thoughts were in his mind. They were thoughts of the days and nights that he and the boy had spent together, from the time when he had found him, sick, helpless, and alone, on the dusty highway, in the heat of the midsummer sun, to these days that were now passing, with their strange revelations, their bright hopes, their shadowy fears.
But in all his thought there was no touch of disappointment, no trace of regret. It was worth it all, he told himself,—worth all the care he had given to the boy, all the money he had spent to restore him to health, worth all he had ever done or ever could do for him, just to have had the lad with him for a year, a month, a week: why it was worth it all and more, yes, vastly more, just to have felt the small hand laid once on his arm, to have seen the loving eyes look up once into his, and to have heard the clear voice say, "Dear Uncle Billy" in the confiding way he knew so well.
It was nearly midnight when Bachelor Billy went to bed, and long after that hour before he fell asleep.
He awoke several times during the night with a sense of loneliness and desolation pressing down upon him, and he arose early to prepare for his day's work. It was arranged at the breakfast-table that Mrs. Maloney's oldest girl should go down to Lawyer Sharpman's office to inquire about Ralph, and Billy was to come home at noon, contrary to his custom, to hear her report.
Daylight is a great promoter of natural cheer, and the man went away to his work with a strong hope in his heart of Ralph's speedy return; and when the long morning had passed and he hurried back to his home, he half expected that the boy would meet him on the way. But he was disappointed; even Mrs. Maloney's girl had no news for him. She had been to Sharpman's office twice, she said, and had not found him in, though the clerk had told her that Mr. Sharpman had returned from Wilkesbarre the day before.
Billy decided then that it was time to make active search for the boy, and when he had finished a hurried dinner, he put on his best clothes and started for the city. He thought it would be wise for him to go first to Sharpman's office and learn what he could there. The lawyer had not yet returned from lunch, but the clerk said he would positively be in at half-past one, so Billy took the proffered chair, and waited. Sharpman came promptly at the time, greeted his visitor cordially, and took him into his private office.
"Well, my friend; what can I do for you?" he asked.
"I cam' to see aboot Ralph, sir; Ralph as lives wi' me."
"Oh! are you Buckley? William Buckley?"
"I am, sir. I want to know when saw ye the lad last?"
"Why, about eleven o'clock yesterday. He came up on the noon train, didn't he?"
"I ha' no' seen 'im."
"Haven't seen him!" exclaimed Sharpman, in a voice expressive of much alarm. "Haven't seen him since when, man?"
"Not sin' yester-mornin', when I said 'good-by' till the lad, an' went t' the breaker. I got scared aboot 'im, an' cam' to look 'im oop."
Bachelor Billy had become infected with Sharpman's alarm.
"Well, we must look him up," said the lawyer, putting on his hat, which he had just laid aside, and taking up a light overcoat. "Come, we'll go down to the station and see if we can learn anything of him there."
Sharpman was really very anxious about the boy; it would interfere sadly with his scheme to have Ralph disappear again, now. The two men went out from the door together and down the street at a rapid pace. But they had not taken two steps around the corner into Lackawanna Avenue, when they came face to face with the missing boy. He was a sorry sight, limping slowly along, covered with dust, exhausted from his journey. He was no less surprised to meet Bachelor Billy and the lawyer, than they were to meet him, and all three stood speechless, for a moment, with astonishment.
"Why, Ralph!" exclaimed Billy, "Ralph, lad, whaur ye been?"
But Ralph did not know what to say. An overwhelming sense of shame at his unfortunate adventure and at his wretched condition had come suddenly to him, and the lawyer's sharp eyes, fixed steadily upon him, increased his embarrassment not a little.
"Why don' ye speak, lad? Tell Uncle Billy what's happenit to ye; coom noo!" and the man took the child's hands affectionately into his.
Then Ralph spoke. From a full heart, poor lad, he made his confession.
"Well, Uncle Billy, I got lost in Wilkesbarre; I wasn't used to it, an' I went into a saloon there, an' they got all my money, an' I got onto the train 'ithout a ticket, an' the conductor put me off, an' I had to walk the rest o' the way home; an' I'm pirty tired, an' dirty, an' 'shamed."
Sharpman laughed aloud.
"Ah! that's Wilkesbarre charity," he said; "you were a stranger, and they took you in. But come, let's go back to my office and talk it over."
Secluded in the lawyer's private room Ralph told the whole story of his adventures from the time he left Sharpman at the court-house door.
When he had finished, Bachelor Billy said, "Puir lad!" then, turning to Sharpman, "it was no' his fau't, thenk ye?"
"Oh, no!" said the lawyer, smiling, "any one might have met with the same fate: dreadful town, Wilkesbarre is, dreadful! Have you had any dinner, Ralph?"
"No, sir," said Ralph, "I haven't."
"Well, come into my wash-room and brighten yourself up a little. You're somewhat travel-stained, as it were."
In ten minutes Ralph reappeared, looking clean and comparatively fresh.
"Now," said Sharpman, "you don't resemble quite so strongly the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Here, take this," reaching out some money, "and go down to the restaurant on the corner and surprise yourself with the best dinner you can buy. Oh, you can pay it back," as the boy hesitated about accepting the money; "we'll call it a loan if you like. Come, you agreed to obey my instructions, you know. Buckley will wait here for you till you get back. Now, don't hurry!" he said, as Ralph passed out at the door, "there's plenty of time."
For some minutes after the boy's departure, Sharpman and Bachelor Billy sat talking over Ralph's recent adventure. Then the conversation turned to the prospect for the future, and they agreed that it was very bright. Finally, the lawyer said:—
"He was pretty sick when you first found him, wasn't he?"
"He was that, verra bad indeed."
"Called a doctor for him, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes! Dr. Gunther. He comed every day for a for'night, an' often he comed twice i' the same day. He was awfu' sick, the chil' was."
"Footed the doctor's bill, I suppose, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes, yes; but I did na min' that so long's the lad got well."
"Had to pay the woman to nurse him and look after him, I take it?"
"Oh! well, yes; but she needit the money, mon, an' the lad he needit the noorsin', an' it was doin' a bit double good wi' ma siller, do ye see?"
"Well, you've housed and clothed and fed the boy for a matter of three years or thereabouts, haven't you?"
"Why, the lad's lived wi' me; he had a right to't. He's the same as my own son'd be, min' ye."
"You collect his wages, I presume?"
"Oh, now! what'd I be doin' wi' the wee bit money that a baby like him'd earn? He's a-savin' o' it. It ain't much, but mayhap it'll buy a bit o' schoolin' for the lad some day. Ye s'ould see the braw way he'll read an' write now, sir."
Sharpman sat for some time as if in deep thought. Finally, he said:—
"Look here, Buckley! You're a poor man; you can't afford to throw away what little money you earn, nor to let an opportunity slip for turning an honest penny. You have done a good deal for the boy; I don't see why you shouldn't be rewarded."
"I've had ma reward, sir, i' the blessin' o' the lad's company."
"Yes, that's all very true, but a man must not rob himself; it's not right. You are getting along in years; you should have a little something to lay by for old age. We are sure to establish Ralph's identity, and to recover his interest in his father's estate. I know that the boy would be delighted to have you paid out of the funds that would come into our hands, and I am very certain that Mrs. Burnham would be proud to have your services acknowledged in that way. The basis of compensation would not be so much the time, labor, and money actually expended by you, as it would be the value of the property rescued and cared for. That would figure into a very nice sum. I think you had better let me manage it, and secure for you something to lay by for a rainy day, or for old age that is sure to fall on you. What do you say?"
But Bachelor Billy had risen to his feet, excited, and in earnest.
"I'm a poor mon, Muster Sharpman," he said, "an' money's worth a deal to me, but I could na tak' it for a-doin' what I ha' for Ralph."
"Why, I am sure your services have been of infinite value, both to the boy and to his mother."
"Mayhap! mayhap! that's no' for me to say. But I canna do it. I could na look ony mon i' the eye wi' a cent o' the lad's money i' ma purse. It'd seem as though I'd been a-doin' for 'im a' these years wi' a purpose to get it back in siller some day, an' I never did; I never thocht o' it, sir. The chil's been as free an' welcome as the sunshine wi' me. The bit money I ha' spent, the bit care I ha' had wi' 'im, why that was paid back wi' dooble interest the first week he could sit oop i' the bed an' talk. It's a blessin' to hear the lad talk to ye. Na, na! do what ye can for Ralph. Spare naught to get his rightfu' dues; but me, there's not a penny comin' to me. I've had ma pay, an' that lang sin', lang sin', do ye mind."
The lawyer waved his hand, as much as to say: "Very well, you're a fool, but it's not my fault. I have placed the opportunity within your reach; if you do not choose to grasp it, you're the loser, not I." But Sharpman felt that he was the loser, nevertheless.
He knew that his shrewd scheme to use this honest man as a tool for the furtherance of his own ends had fallen through, and that the modest sum which he had expected to gain for himself in this way would never be his.
He was not quite so cordial when Ralph returned from his dinner; and, after a few words of admonition to the boy, he dismissed the pair, and set himself diligently to the task of preparing a new scheme to take the place of the one that had just vanished.
AT THE BAR OF THE COURT.
When Ralph went to his work at the breaker on the morning after his return from Wilkesbarre, he was met with curious glances from the men, and wondering looks and abrupt questions from the boys. It had become generally known that he claimed to be Robert Burnham's son, and that he was about to institute proceedings, through his guardian, to recover possession of his share of the estate. There was but little opportunity to interrogate him through the morning hours: the flow of coal through the chutes was too rapid and constant, and the grinding and crunching of the rollers, and the rumbling and hammering of the machinery, were too loud and incessant.
Ralph worked very diligently too; he was in the mood for work. He was glad to be at home again and able to work. It was much better than wandering through the streets of strange towns, without money or friends. Nor were his hands and eyes less vigilant because of the bright future that lay before him. He was so certain of the promised luxuries, the beautiful home, the love of mother and sister, the means for education,—so sure of them all that he felt he could well afford to wait, and to work while waiting. This toil and poverty would last but a few weeks, or a few months at the longest; after that there would be a lifetime of pleasure and of peace and of satisfied ambitions.
So hope nerved his muscles, and anticipation brought color to his cheeks and fire to his eyes, and the thought of his mother's kiss lent inspiration to his labor, and no boy that ever worked in Burnham Breaker performed his task with more skill and diligence than he.
When the noon hour came the boys took their dinner-pails and ran down out of the building and over on the hill-side, where they could lie on the clean grass in the warm September sunshine, and eat and talk until the bell should call them again to work.
Here, before the recess was over, Ralph joined them, feeling very conscious, indeed, of his embarrassing position, but determined to brave it out.
Joe Foster set the, ball rolling by asking Ralph how much he had to pay his lawyer. Some one else followed it up with a question relating to his expectations for the future, and in a very few minutes the boy was the object of a perfect broadside of interrogations.
"Will you have a hoss of your own?" asked Patsey Welch.
"I don't know," was the reply; "that depen's on what my mother'll think."
"Oh! she'll give you one if you want 'im, Mrs. Burnham will," said another boy; "she'll give you everything you want; she's ter'ble good that way, they say."
"Will you own the breaker, an' boss us boys?" came a query from another quarter.
Before Ralph could reply to this startling and embarrassing question, some one else asked:—
"How'd you find out who you was, anyway?"
"Why, my lawyer told me," was the reply.
"How'd he find out?"
"Well, a man told him."
"Now, look here, fellows!" said Ralph, "I ain't goin' to tell you everything. It'd predujuice my case too much. I can't do it, I got no right to."
Then a doubting Thomas arose.
"I ain't got nothin' agin him," he began, referring to Ralph, "he's a good enough feller—for a slate-picker, for w'at I know; but that's all he is; he ain't a Burnham, no more'n I be, if he was he wouldn't be a-workin' here in the dirt; it ain't reason'ble."
Before Ralph could reply, some one took up the cudgel for him.
"Yes, he is too,—a Burnham. My father says he is, an' Lawyer Sharpman says he is, an' you don't know nothin' 'bout it."
Whereupon a great confusion of voices arose, some of the boys denying Ralph's claim of a right to participate in the privileges allotted to the Burnham family, while most of them vigorously upheld it.
Finally, Ralph made his voice heard above the uproar:—
"Boys," he said, "they ain't no use o' quarrellin'; we'll all find out the truth about it 'fore very long. I'm a-goin' to stay here an' work in the breaker till the thing's settled, an' I want you boys to use me jest as well as ever you did, an' I'll treat you jest the same as I al'ays have; now, ain't that fair?"
"Yes, that's fair!" shouted a dozen boys at a time. "Hooray for Ralph Burnham!" added another; "hooray!"
The cheers were given with a will, then the breaker bell rang, and the boys flocked back to their work.
Ralph was as good as his word. Every morning he came and took his place on the bench, and picked slate ten hours a day, just as the other boys did; and though the subject of his coming prosperity was often discussed among them, there was never again any malice or bitterness in the discussion.
But the days and weeks and months went by. The snows of winter came, and the north winds howled furiously about the towering heights of Burnham Breaker. Morning after morning, before it was fairly light, Ralph and Bachelor Billy trudged through the deep snow on their way to their work, or faced the driving storms as they plodded home at night. And still, so far as these two could see, and they talked the matter over very often, no progress was being made toward the restoration of Ralph to his family and family rights.
Sharpman had explained why the delay was expedient, not to say necessary; and, though the boy tried to be patient, and was very patient indeed, yet the unquiet feeling remained in his heart, and grew.
But at last there was progress. A petition had been presented to the Orphans' Court, asking for a citation to Margaret Burnham, as administrator of her husband's estate, to appear and show cause why she should not pay over to Ralph's guardian a sufficient sum of money to educate and maintain the boy in a manner befitting his proper station in life. An answer had been put in by Mrs. Burnham's attorney, denying that Ralph was the son of Robert Burnham, and an issue had been asked for to try that disputed fact. The issue had been awarded, and the case certified to the Common Pleas for trial, and placed on the trial list for the May term of court.
As the time for the hearing approached, the preparations for it grew more active and incessant about Sharpman's office.
Old Simon had taken up his abode in Scranton for the time being, and was on hand frequently to inform and advise. Witnesses from distant points had been subpoenaed, and Ralph, himself, had been called on several occasions to the lawyer's office to be interrogated about matters lying within his knowledge or memory.
The question of the boy's identity had become one of the general topics of conversation in the city, and, as the time for the trial approached, public interest in the matter ran high.
In those days the courts were held at Wilkesbarre for the entire district. Lackawanna County had not yet been erected out of the northern part of Luzerne, with Scranton as its county seat.
There were several suits on the list for the May term that were to be tried before the Burnham case would come on, so that Ralph did not find it necessary to go to Wilkesbarre until Thursday of the first week of court.
Bachelor Billy accompanied him. He had been subpoenaed as a witness, and he was glad to be able to go and to have an opportunity to care for the boy during the time of the trial.
Spring comes early in the valley of the Susquehanna; and, as the train dashed along, Ralph, looking from the open window of the car, saw the whole country white with the blossoms of fruit-bearing trees. The rains had been frequent and warm, and the springing vegetation, rich and abundant, reflected its bright green in the waters of the river along all the miles of their journey. The spring air was warm and sweet, white clouds were floating in the sky, birds were darting here and there among the branches of the trees, wild flowers were unfolding their modest beauty in the very shadow of the iron rails. Ralph saw and felt it all, his spirit rose into accord with nature, and hope filled his heart more abundantly than it ever had before.
When he and Bachelor Billy went into the court-room that afternoon, Sharpman met them and told them that their case would probably not be reached that day, the one immediately preceding it having already taken much more time in the trial than had been expected. But he advised them not to leave the city. So they went out and walked about the streets a little, then they wandered down along the river bank, and sat there looking out upon the water and discussing the method and probable outcome of the trial.
When supper-time came, they went to their boarding-house, a cottage in the suburbs, kept by a man who had formerly known Bachelor Billy in Scranton.
The next morning when they went into court the lawyers were making their addresses to the jury in the case that had been heard on the previous day, and Ralph and Billy listened to the speeches with much interest. The judge's charge was a long one, and before it was concluded the noon-hour had come. But it was known, when court adjourned, that the Burnham case would be taken up at two o'clock. Long before that time, however, the benches in the court-room were filled with people, and even the precincts of the bar were invaded. The suit had aroused so much interest and excitement that hundreds of people came simply to see the parties and hear the evidence in the case.
At two o'clock Mr. Goodlaw entered, accompanied by Mrs. Burnham and her little daughter, and all three took seats by a table inside the bar.
Sharpman came in a few minutes later, and Simon Craft arose from his place near the railing and went with him to another table. Ralph, who was with Bachelor Billy down on a front bench, scarcely recognized the old man at first, there was so marked a change in his appearance. He had on a clean new suit of black broadcloth, his linen was white and well arranged, and he had been freshly shaven. Probably he had not presented so attractive an appearance before in many years. It was all due to Sharpman's money and wit. He knew how much it is worth to have a client look well in the eyes of a jury, and he had acted according to his knowledge.
So Old Simon had a very grandfatherly air as he took his seat by the side of his counsel and laid his cane on the floor beside him.
After arranging his papers on the table, Sharpman arose and looked back over the crowded court-room. Finally, catching sight of Ralph, he motioned to him to come inside the bar. The boy obeyed, but not without embarrassment. He saw that the eyes of all the people in the room were fixed on him as he crossed the open space and dropped into a chair by the side of Craft. But he had passed Mrs. Burnham on his way, and she had reached out her gloved hand and grasped his little one and held him by her for a moment to look searchingly and longingly into his face; and she had said to him some kind words to put him at his ease, so that the situation was not so very trying, after all.
The clerk began to call a jury into the box. One by one they answered to their names, and were scrutinized closely by the lawyers as they took their places. Then Sharpman examined, carefully, the list of jurors that was handed to him, and drew his pen through one of the names. It was that of a man who had once suffered by reason of the lawyer's shrewdness, and he thought it best to challenge him.
"Call another juror," he said, passing the list to Goodlaw, who also struck a name from it, added a new one, and passed it back.
The jury was finally settled, the challenged men were excused, and the remaining twelve were duly sworn.
Then Sharpman arose to open his case. With rapid detail he went over the history of Ralph's life from the time of the railroad accident to the day of the trial. He dwelt upon Simon Craft's kindness to the child, upon his energetic search for the unknown parents, and, later, for the boy himself; of his final success, of his constant effort in Ralph's behalf, and his great desire, now, to help him into the family and fortune to which his birth entitled him. "We shall show to you all of these facts, gentlemen of the jury," said Sharpman, in conclusion. "We shall prove to you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this boy is Margaret Burnham's son and an heir to Robert Burnham's estates; and, having done so, we shall expect a verdict at your hands."
The lawyer resumed his seat, spent a few moments looking over his papers, and then said, in a tone of mingled respect and firmness:—
"We desire, if your Honor please, to call Mrs. Burnham for the purpose of cross-examination."
"That is your privilege under the law," said the judge.
"Mrs. Burnham," continued Sharpman, "will you kindly take the stand?"
"Certainly," replied the lady.
She arose, advanced to the witness-stand, received the oath, and took her chair with a matronly dignity and kindly grace that aroused the sympathy and admiration of all who saw her. She gave her name, the date of her marriage to Robert Burnham, the fact of his death, and the names and ages of her children. In the course of the examination, she was asked to describe the railway journey which ended in the disaster at Cherry Brook, and to give the details of that disaster as she remembered them.
"Can you not spare me that recital, sir?" she said.
"No one would be more willing or glad to do so, madam," responded Sharpman, "than I, but the whole future of this fatherless boy is hanging upon this examination, and I dare not do it. I will try to make it easier for you, however, by interrogation."
She had hidden her face in her hands a moment before; now she raised it, pallid, but fixed with strong determination.
"Go on," she said, "I will answer you."
Sharpman stood for a moment as if collecting his thoughts, then he asked: "Did you and your husband, accompanied by your child Ralph and his nurse, leave your home in Scranton on the thirteenth day of May, 1859, to go by rail to the city of Philadelphia?"
"Was the car in which you were riding well filled?"
"It was not; no, sir."
"How many children were in that car besides your son?"
"About how old?"
"About Ralph's age, I should think."
"With whom was he travelling?"
"With an elderly gentleman whom he called, 'Grandpa.'"
"Before you reached Philadelphia, did the bridge over Cherry Creek give way and precipitate the car in which you were riding into the bed of the stream?"
"It did; yes, sir."
"Immediately before that occurred where was your child?"
"He was sitting with his nurse in the second seat ahead of us."
"And the other child, where was he?"
"Just across the aisle."
"Did you see that other child after the accident?"
"I did not; I only know that he survived it."
"How do you know it?"
"We learned, on inquiry, that the same old gentleman and little child went on to the city in the train which carried the rescued passengers."
"You and your husband were both injured in the disaster, were you not?"
"And the nurse lost her life?"
"How long was it after the accident before you began the search for your child?"
"It was nearly three days afterward before we were sufficiently recovered to be able to do anything."
"Did you find any trace of him?"
"Any clothing or jewelry?"
"Only a few trinkets in the ashes of the wreck."
"Is it your belief that Ralph perished in that disaster?"
"It is; yes, sir."
"Would it take strong evidence to convince you to the contrary?"
"I think it would."
"Ralph," said Sharpman, turning to the boy, "stand up!"
The lad arose.
"Have you seen this boy before?" continued the lawyer, addressing the witness again.
"I have," she replied, "on several occasions."
"Are you familiar with his face, his expression, his manner?"
"To a great extent—yes, sir."
"Do you recognize him as your son Ralph?"
She looked down, long and searchingly, into the boy's face, and then replied, deliberately, "No, sir, I do not."
"That is all, Mrs. Burnham."
Ralph was surprised and disappointed. He had not quite expected this. He had thought she would say, perhaps, that she would receive him as her son when his claim was duly proven. He would not have wondered at that, but that she should positively, under oath, deny their relationship to each other, had not been to him, before, within the range of possibility. His brightness and enthusiasm were quenched in a moment, and a chill crept up to his heart, as he saw the lady come down from the witness-stand, throw her widow's veil across her face, and resume her seat at the table. The case had taken on a new, strange, harsh aspect in his sight. It seemed to him that a barrier had been suddenly erected between him and the lady whom he had learned to love as his mother; a barrier which no verdict of the jury or judgment of the court, even though he should receive them, would help him to surmount.
Of what use were these things, if motherly recognition was to be denied him? He began to feel that it would be almost better to go back at once to the not unpleasant home with Bachelor Billy, than to try to grasp something which, it now seemed, was lying beyond his reach.
He was just considering the advisability of crossing over to Sharpman and suggesting to him that he was willing to drop the proceedings, when that person called another witness to the stand. This was a heavily built man, with close-cropped beard, bronzed face, and one sleeve empty of its arm. He gave his name as William B. Merrick, and said that he was conductor of the train that broke through the Cherry Brook bridge, on the night of May 13, 1859.
"Did you see, on your train that night," asked Sharpman, "the witness who has just left the stand?"
"I cannot be positive," the man replied, "but, to the best of my recollection, the lady was a passenger in the rear car."
"With whom was she travelling?"
"With a gentleman whom I afterward learned was her husband, a little boy some two or three years of age, and the child's nurse."
"Were there any other children on the train?"
"Yes, one, a boy of about the same age, riding in the same car in company with an elderly gentleman."
"Did you see either of these children after the disaster?"
"I saw one of them."
"I supposed, at the time, that it was the one who accompanied the old gentleman."
"Why did you suppose so?"
"Because I saw a child who bore marks of having been in the wreck riding in the car which carried the rescued passengers to the city, and he was in company with an elderly man."
"Was he the same elderly man whom you saw with the child before the accident?"
"I cannot say; my attention was not particularly called to him before the accident; but I supposed he was the one, from the fact of his having the child with him."
"Could you, at this time, recognize the man whom you saw with the child after the accident?"
"I think so. I took especial notice of him then."
"Look at this old gentleman, sitting by me," said Sharpman, waving his hand toward Craft, "and tell me whether he is the one."
The man turned his eyes on Old Simon, and looked at him closely for a full minute.
"Yes," he replied, "I believe he is the one. He has grown older and thinner, but I do not think I am mistaken."
Craft nodded his head mildly in assent, and Sharpman continued:—
"Did you take particular notice of the child's clothing as you saw it after the accident; could you recognize, at this time, the principal articles of outside wear that he had on?"
"I think I could."
Sharpman paused as if in thought.
After he had whispered for a moment with Craft, he said to the witness:—
"That is all, for the present, Mr. Merrick." Then he turned to the opposing counsel and said:—
"Mr. Goodlaw, you may take the witness."
Goodlaw fixed his glasses more firmly on his nose, consulted briefly with his client, and then began his cross-examination.
After drawing out much of the personal history of the witness, he went with him into the details of the Cherry Brook disaster.
Finally he asked:—
"Did you know Robert Burnham in his lifetime?"
"A gentleman by that name called on me a week after the accident to make inquiries about his son."
"Did you say to him, at that time, that the child must have perished in the wreck?"
"I think I did; yes, sir."
"On what did you base your opinion?"
"On several circumstances. The nurse with whom he was sitting was killed outright; it would seem to have been impossible for any one occupying that seat to have escaped instant death, since the other car struck and rested at just that point. Again, there were but two children on the train. It took it for granted that the old man and child whom I saw together after the accident were the same ones whom I had seen together before it occurred."
"Did you tell Mr. Burnham of seeing this old man and child after the accident?"
"I did; yes, sir."
"Did you not say to him positively, at that time, that they were the same persons who were sitting together across the aisle from him before the crash came?"
"It may be that I did."
"And did you not assure him that the child who went to the city, on the train that night after the accident was not his son?"
"I may have done so. I felt quite positive of it at that time."
"Has your opinion in that matter changed since then?"
"Not as to the facts; no, sir; but I feel that I may have taken too much for granted at that time, and have given Mr. Burnham a wrong impression."
"At which time, sir, would you be better able to form an opinion,—one week after this accident occurred, or ten years afterward?"
"My opinion is formed on the facts; and I assure you that they were not weighted with such light consequences for me that I have easily forgotten them. If there were any tendency to do so, I have here a constant reminder," holding up his empty sleeve as he spoke. "My judgment is better, to-day, than it was ten years ago. I have learned more; and, looking carefully over the facts in this case in the light I now have, I believe it possible that this son of Robert Burnham's may have been saved."
"That will do," said Goodlaw. The witness left the stand, and the judge, looking up at the clock on the wall, and then consulting his watch, said:—
"Gentlemen, it is nearly time to adjourn court. Mr. Sharpman, can you close your case before adjourning time?"
"That will be impossible, your Honor."
"Then, crier, you may adjourn the court until to-morrow morning at nine o'clock."
The crier made due proclamation, the spectators began to crowd out of the room, the judge left the bench, and the lawyers gathered up their papers. Ralph, on his way out, again passed by Mrs. Burnham, and she had for him a smile and a kind word. Bachelor Billy stood waiting at the door, and the boy went down with him to their humble lodgings in the suburbs, his mind filled with conflicting thoughts, and his heart with conflicting emotions.
THE EVIDENCE IN THE CASE.
When court opened on Saturday morning, all the persons interested in the Burnham suit were present, and the court-room was crowded to even a greater extent than it had been on the previous day. Sharpman began the proceedings by offering in evidence the files of the Register's court, showing the date of Robert Burnham's death, the issuing of letters of administration to his widow, and the inventory and appraisement of his personal estate.
Then he called Simon Craft to the witness-stand. There was a stir of excitement in the room; every one was curious to see this witness and to hear his evidence.
The old man did not present an unfavorable appearance, as he sat, leaning on his cane, dressed in his new black suit, waiting for the examination to begin. He looked across the bar into the faces of the people with the utmost calmness. He was perfectly at his ease. He knew that what he was about to tell was absolutely true in all material respects, and this fact inspired him with confidence in his ability to tell it effectually. It relieved him, also, of the necessity for that constant evasion and watchfulness which had characterized his efforts as a witness in other cases.
The formal questions relating to his residence, age, occupation, etc., were answered with alacrity.
Then Sharpman, pointing to Ralph, asked the witness:—
"Do you know this boy?"
"I do," answered Craft, unhesitatingly.
"What is his name?"
"When did you first see him?"
"On the night of May 13, 1859."
"Under what circumstances?"
This question, as by previous arrangement between attorney and witness, opened up the way for a narration of facts, and old Simon, clearing his throat, leaned across the railing of the witness-box and began.
He related in detail, and with much dramatic effect, the scenes at the accident, his rescue of the boy, his effort at the time to find some one to whom he belonged, and the ride into the city afterward. He corroborated conductor Merrick's story of the meeting on the train which carried the rescued passengers, and related the conversation which passed between them, as nearly as he could remember it.
He told of his attempts to find the child's friends during the few days that followed, then of the long and desperate illness from which he suffered as a result of his exertion and exposure on the night of the accident. From that point, he went on with an account of his continued care for the child, of his incessant search for clews to the lad's identity, of his final success, of Ralph's unaccountable disappearance, and of his own regret and disappointment thereat.
He said that the lad had grown into his affections to so great an extent, and his sympathy for the child's parents was such, that he could not let him go in that way, and so he started out to find him.
He told how he traced him from one point to another, until he was taken up by the circus wagon, how the scent was then lost, and how the boy's whereabouts remained a mystery to him, until the happy discovery at the tent in Scranton.
"Well," said Sharpman, "when you had found the boy, what did you do?"
"I went, the very next day," was the reply, "to Robert Burnham to tell him that his son was living."
"What conversation did you have with him?"
"I object," interposed Goodlaw, "to evidence of any alleged conversation between this witness and Robert Burnham. Counsel should know better than to ask for it."
"The question is not a proper one," said the judge.
"Well," continued Sharpman, "as a result of that meeting what were you to do?"
"I was to bring his son to him the following day."
"Did you bring him?"
"I did not."
"Mr. Burnham died that night."
"What did you do then?"
"I went to you for advice."
"In pursuance of that advice, did you have an interview with the boy Ralph?"
"At your office."
"Did you explain to him the facts concerning his parentage and history?"
"They were explained to him."
"What did he say he wished you to do for him?"
Goodlaw interrupted again, to object to the testimony offered as incompetent and thereupon ensued an argument between counsel, which was cut short by the judge ordering the testimony to be excluded, and directing a bill of exceptions to be sealed for the plaintiff.
The hour for the noon recess had now come, and court was adjourned to meet again at two o'clock.
When the afternoon session was called, Sharpman announced that he was through with the direct examination of Craft.
Then Goodlaw took the witness in hand. He asked many questions about Craft's personal history, about the wreck, and about the rescue of the child. He demanded a full account of the way in which Robert Burnham had been discovered, by the witness and found to be Ralph's father. He called for the explicit reason for every opinion given, but Old Simon was on safe ground, and his testimony remained unshaken.
Finally, Goodlaw asked:—
"What is your occupation, Mr. Craft?" and Craft answered: "I have no occupation at present, except to see that this boy gets his rights."
"What was your occupation during the time that this boy lived with you?"
"I was a travelling salesman."
"What did you sell?"
"For whom did you sell the jewelry?"
"For myself, and others who employed me."
"Where did you obtain the goods you sold?"
"Some of it I bought, some of it I sold on commission."
"Of whom did you buy it?"
"Sometimes I bought it at auction, or at sheriff's sales; sometimes of private parties; sometimes of manufacturers and wholesalers."
Goodlaw rose to his feet. "Now, as a matter of fact, sir," he said, sternly, "did not you retail goods through the country that had been furnished to you by your confederates in crime? and was not your house in the city a place for the reception of stolen wares?"
Craft's cane came to the floor with a sharp rap. "No, sir!" he replied, with much indignation; "I have never harbored thieves, nor sold stolen goods to my knowledge. You insult me, sir!"
Goodlaw resumed his seat, looked at some notes in pencil on a slip of paper, and then resumed the examination.
"Did you send this boy out on the streets to beg?" he asked.
"Well, you see, we had pretty hard work sometimes to get along and get enough to eat, and—"
"I say, did you send this boy out on the streets to beg?"
"Well, I'm telling you that sometimes we had either to beg or to starve. Then the boy went out and asked aid from wealthy people."
"Did you send him?"
"Yes, I did; but not against his will."
"Did you sometimes whip him for not bringing back money to you from his begging excursions?"
"I punished him once or twice for telling falsehoods to me."
"Did you beat him for not bringing money to you when you sent him out to beg?"
"He came home once or twice when I had reason to believe that he had made no effort to procure assistance for us, and—"
Goodlaw rose to his feet again.
"Answer my question!" he exclaimed. "Did you beat this boy for not bringing back money to you when you had sent him out to beg?"
"Yes, I did," replied Craft, now thoroughly aroused, "and I'd do it again, too, under the same circumstances."
Then he was seized with a fit of coughing that racked his feeble body from head to foot. A tipstaff brought him a glass of water, and he finally recovered.
Goodlaw continued, sarcastically,—
"When you found it necessary to correct this boy by the gentle persuasion of force, what kind of a weapon did you use?"
The witness answered, mildly enough, "I had a little strip of leather that I used when it was unavoidably necessary."
"A rawhide, was it?"
"I said a little strip of leather. You can call it what you choose."
"Was it the kind of a strip of leather commonly known as a rawhide?"
"What other mode of punishment did you practise on this child besides rawhiding him?"
"I can't recall any."
"Did you pull his ears?"
"Pinch his flesh?"
"Pull his hair?"
"Oh, I shouldn't wonder."
"Knock him down with your fist?"
"No, sir! never, never!"
"Did you never strike him with the palm of your hand?"
"Well, I have slapped him when my patience with him has been exhausted."
"Did any of these slaps ever happen to push him over?"
"Why, he used to tumble onto the floor sometimes, to cry and pretend he was hurt."
"Well, what other means of grandfatherly persuasion did you use in correcting the child?"
"I don't know of any."
"Did you ever lock him up in a dark closet?"
"I think I did, once or twice; yes."
"For how long at a time?"
"Oh, not more than an hour or two."
"Now, didn't you lock him up that way once, and keep him locked up all day and all night?"
"I think not so long as that. He was unusually stubborn. I told him he could come out as soon as he would promise obedience. He remained in there of his own accord."
"Appeared to like it, did he?"
"I can't say as to that."
"For how long a time did you say he stayed there?"
"Oh, I think from one afternoon till the next."
"Did he have anything to eat during that time?"
"I promised him abundance if he would do as I told him."
"Did he have anything to eat?" emphatically.
"No!" just as emphatically.
"What was it he refused to do?"
"Simply to go on a little errand for me."
"To the house of a friend."
"For what purpose?"
"To get some jewelry."
"Was the jewelry yours?"
"I expected to purchase it."
"Had it been stolen?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Did the boy think it had been stolen?"
"He pretended to."
"Was that the reason he would not go?"
"It was the reason he gave."
"Have the city police found stolen goods on your premises?"
"They have confiscated goods that were innocently purchased by me; they have robbed me."
"Did you compel this boy to lie to the officers when they came?"
"I made him hold his tongue."
"Did you make him lie?"
"I ordered him not to tell where certain goods were stored in the house, on pain of being thrashed within an inch of his life. The goods were mine, bought with my money, and it was none of their business where they were."
"Did you not command the boy to say that there were no such goods in the house?"
"I don't know—perhaps; I was exasperated at the outrage they were perpetrating in the name of law."
"Then you did make him lie?"
"Yes, if you call it lying to protect your own property from robbers, I did make him lie!"
"More than once?"
"I don't know."
"Did you make him steal?"
"I made him take what belonged to us."
"Did you make him steal, I say!"
"Call it what you like!" shouted the angered and excited old man. He had become so annoyed and harassed by this persistent, searching cross-examination that he was growing reckless and telling the truth in spite of himself. Besides, it seemed to him that Goodlaw must know all about Ralph's life with him, and he dared not go far astray in his answers.
But the lawyer knew only what Craft himself was disclosing. He based each question on the answers that had preceded it, long practice having enabled him to estimate closely what was lying in the mind of the witness.
"And so," continued Goodlaw, "when you returned from one of your trips into the country you found that the boy had disappeared?"
"Were you surprised at that?"
"Yes, I was."
"Had you any idea why he went away?"
"None whatever. He was well fed and clothed and cared for."
"Did it ever occur to you that the Almighty made some boys with hearts so honest that they had rather starve and die by the roadside than be made to lie and steal at home?"
The old man did not answer, he was too greatly surprised and angered to reply.
"Well," said Sharpman, calmly, "I don't know, if your Honor please, that the witness is bound to be sufficiently versed in the subject of Christian ethics to answer questions of that kind."
"He need not answer it," said the judge.
Then Sharpman continued, more vehemently: "The cross-examination, as conducted by the eminent counsel, has, thus far, been simply an outrage on professional courtesy. I ask now that the gentleman be confined to questions which are germane to the issue and decently put."
"I have but a few more questions to ask," said Goodlaw.
Turning to the witness again, he continued: "If you succeed in establishing this boy's identity, you will have a bill to present for care and moneys expended and services performed on his account, will you not?"
"I expect so; yes, sir."
"As the service continued through a period of years, the bill will amount now to quite a large sum, I presume?"
"Yes, I nave done a good deal for the boy."
"You expect to retain the usual commission for your services as guardian, do you not?"
"And to control the moneys and properties that may come into your hands?"
"About how much money, all together, do you expect to make out of this estate?"
"I do not look on it in that light, sir; I am taking these proceedings simply to compel you and your client to give that boy his rights."
This impudent assertion angered Goodlaw, who well knew the object of the plot, and he rose from his chair, saying deliberately:—
"Do you mean to swear that this is not a deep-laid scheme on the part of you and your attorney to wrest from this estate enough to make a fortune for you both? Do you mean to say mat you care as much for this boy's rights as you do for the dust in your path?"
Craft's face paled, and Sharpman started to his feet, red with passion.
"This is the last straw!" he exclaimed, hoarsely; "now I intend"—
But the judge, fearing an uncontrollable outbreak of temper, interrupted him, saying:—
"Your witness need not answer the question in that form, Mr. Sharpman. Mr. Goodlaw, do you desire to cross-examine the witness further?"
Goodlaw had resumed his seat and was turning over his papers.
"I do not care to take up the time of the court any longer," he said, "with this witness."
"Then, Mr. Sharpman, you may proceed with further evidence."
But Sharpman was still smarting from the blow inflicted by his opponent. "I desire, first," he said, "that the court shall take measures to protect me and my client from the unfounded and insulting charges of counsel for the defence."
"We will see," said the judge, "that no harm comes to you or to your cause from irrelevant matter interjected by counsel. But let us get on with the case. We are taking too much time."
Sharpman turned again to his papers and called the name of "Anthony Henderson."
An old man arose in the audience, and made his way feebly to the witness-stand, which had just been vacated by Craft.
After he had been sworn, he said, in reply to questions by Sharpman, that he was a resident of St. Louis; that in May, 1859, he was on his way east with his little grandson, and went down with the train that broke through the bridge at Cherry Brook.
He said that before the crash came he had noticed a lady and gentleman sitting across the aisle from him, and a nurse and child a few seats further ahead; that his attention had been called to the child particularly, because he was a boy and about the age of his own little grandson.
He said he was on the train that carried the rescued passengers to Philadelphia after the accident, and that, passing through the car, he had seen the same child who had been with the nurse now sitting with an old man; he was sure the child was the same, as he stopped and looked at him closely. The features of the old man he could not remember. For two days he searched for his grandson, but being met, on every hand, by indisputable proof that the child had perished in the wreck, he then started on his return journey to St. Louis, and had not since been east until the week before the trial.
"How did the plaintiff in this case find you out?" asked Goodlaw, on cross-examination.
"I found him out," replied the witness. "I learned, from the newspapers, that the trial was to take place; and, seeing that it related to the Cherry Brook disaster, I came here to learn what little else I might in connection with my grandchild's death. I went, first, to see the counsel for the plaintiff and his client."
"Have you learned anything new about your grandson?"
"No, sir; nothing."
"Have you heard from him since the accident?"
"I have not."
"Are you sure he is dead?"
"I have no doubt of it."
"Can you recognize this boy," pointing to Ralph, "as the one whom you saw with the nurse and afterward with the old man on the night of the accident?"
"Oh, no! he was a mere baby at that time."
"Are you positive that the boy in court is not your grandson?"
"Perfectly positive, there is not the slightest resemblance."
"That will do."
The cross-examination had done little more than to strengthen the direct testimony. Mrs. Burnham had thrown aside her veil and gazed intently at the witness from the moment he went on the stand. She recognized him as the man who sat across the aisle from her, with his grandchild, on the night of the disaster, and she knew that he was telling the truth. There seemed to be no escape from the conclusion that it was her child who went down to the city that night with Simon Craft. Was it her child who escaped from him, and wandered, sick and destitute, almost to her own door? Her thought was interrupted by the voice of Sharpman, who had faced the crowded court-room and was calling the name of another witness: "Richard Lyon!"
A young man in short jacket and plaid trousers took the witness-stand.
"What is your occupation?" asked Sharpman, after the man had given his name and residence.
"I'm a driver for Farnum an' Furkison."
"Who are Farnum and Furkison?"
"They run the Great European Circus an' Menagerie."
"Have you ever seen this boy before?" pointing to Ralph.
"Three years ago this summer."
"Down in Pennsylvania. It was after we left Bloomsburg, I think, I picked 'im up along the road an' give 'im a ride on the tiger wagon."
"How long did he stay with you?"
"Oh, I don't remember; four or five days, maybe."
"What did he do?"
"Well, not much; chored around a little."
"Did he tell you where he came from?"
"No, nor he wouldn't tell his name. Seemed to be afraid somebody'd ketch 'im; I couldn't make out who. He talked about some one he called Gran'pa Craft two or three times w'en he was off his guard, an' I reckoned from what he said that he come from Philadelphy."
"Where did he leave you?"
"Didn't leave us at all. We left him; played the desertion act on 'im."
"Well, he wasn't much use to us, an' he got sick an' couldn't do anything, an' the boss wouldn't let us take 'im no further, so we left 'im there."
"Are you sure this is the boy?"
"Oh, yes! positive. He's bigger, an' looks better now, but he's the same boy, I know he is."
This last remark was addressed to the defendant's attorney.
"I have no questions to ask," said Goodlaw, "I have no doubt the witness tells the truth."
"That's all," said Sharpman, quickly; then, turning again toward the court-room, he called:
Bachelor Billy arose from among the crowds on the front benches, and made his way awkwardly around the aisle and up to the witness-stand. After the usual preliminary questions had been asked and answered, he waited, looking out over the multitude of faces turned toward him, while Sharpman consulted his notes.
"Do you know this boy?" the lawyer asked, pointing to Ralph.
"Do I know that boy?" repeated Billy, pointing also to Ralph, "'deed I do that. I ken 'im weel."
"When did you first see him?"
"An he's the son o' Robert Burnham, I seen 'im first i' the arms o' 'is mither a matter o' ten year back or so. She cam' t' the breaker on a day wi' her gude mon, an' she had the bairnie in her arms. Ye'll remember it, na doot, Mistress Burnham," turning to that lady as he spoke, "how ye said to me 'Billy,' said ye, 'saw ye ever so fine a baby as'"—
"Well, never mind that," interrupted Sharpman; "when did you next see the boy?"
"Never till I pickit 'im up o' the road."
"And when was that?"
"It'll be three year come the middle o' June. I canna tell ye the day."
"On what road was it?"
"I'll tell ye how it cam' aboot. It was the mornin' after the circus. I was a-comin' doon fra Providence, an' when I got along the ither side o' whaur the tents was I see a bit lad a-layin' by the roadside, sick. It was him," pointing to Ralph and smiling kindly on him, "it was Ralph yonner. I says to 'im, 'What's the matter wi' ye, laddie?' says I. 'I'm sick,' says 'e, 'an' they've goned an' lef me.' 'Who's lef' ye?' says I. 'The circus,' says he. 'An' ha' ye no place to go?' says I. 'No,' says 'e, 'I ain't; not any.' So I said t' the lad as he s'ould come along wi' me. He could na walk, he was too sick, I carried 'im, but he was no' much o' a load. I took 'im hame wi' me an' pit 'im i' the bed. He got warse, an' I bringit the doctor. Oh! but he was awfu' sick, the lad was, but he pullit through as cheerfu' as ye please. An' the Widow Maloney she 'tended 'im like a mither, she did."
"Did you find out where he came from?"
"Wull, he said little aboot 'imsel' at the first, he was a bit afraid to talk wi' strangers, but he tellit, later on, that he cam' fra Philadelphy. He tellit me, in fact," said Billy, in a burst of confidence, "that 'e rin awa' fra th'auld mon, Simon Craft, him that's a-settin' yonner. But it's small blame to the lad; ye s'ould na lay that up again' 'im. He had to do it, look ye! had ye not, eh, Ralph?"
Before Ralph could reply, Sharpman interrupted: "And has the boy been with you ever since?"
"He has that, an' I could na think o' his goin' awa' noo, an it would na be for his gret good."
"In your intercourse with the boy through three years, have you noticed in him any indications of higher birth than is usually found among the boys who work about the mines? I mean, do his manners, modes of thought, impulses, expressions, indicate, to your mind, better blood than ordinary?"
"Why, yes," replied the witness, slowly grasping the idea, "yes. He has a way wi' 'im, the lad has, that ye'd think he did na belong amang such as we. He's as gentle as a lass, an' that lovin', why, he's that lovin' that ye could na speak sharp till 'im an ye had need to. But ye'll no' need to, Mistress Burnham, ye'll no' need to."
The lady was sitting with her veil across her face, smiling now and then, wiping away a tear or two, listening carefully to catch every word.
Then the witness was turned over to the counsel for the defence, for cross-examination.
"What else has the boy done or said to make you think he is of gentler birth than his companions in the breaker?" asked Goodlaw, somewhat sarcastically.
"Why, the lad does na swear nor say bad words."
"He's tidy wi' the clothes, an' he wull be clean."
"What else? wull, they be times when he says things to ye so quick like, so bright like, so lofty like, 'at ye'd mos' think he was na human like the rest o' us. An' 'e fears naught, ye canna mak' 'im afeard o' doin' what's richt. D'ye min' the time 'e jumpit on the carriage an' went doon wi' the rest o' them to bring oot the burnit uns? an' cam' up alive when Robert Burnham met his death? Ah, mon! no coward chiel 'd 'a' done like that."
"Might not a child of very lowly birth do all the things you speak of under proper training and certain influences?"
"Mayhap, but it's no' likely, no' likely. Hold! wait a bit! I dinna mean but that a poor mon's childer can be bright, braw, guid boys an' girls; they be, I ken mony o' them mysel'. But gin the father an' the mither think high an' act gentle an' do noble, ye'll fin' it i' the blood an' bone o' the childer, sure as they're born. Now, look ye! I kenned Robert Burnham, I kenned 'im weel. He was kind an' gentle an' braw, a-thinkin' bright things an' a-doin' gret deeds. The lad's like 'im, mind ye; he thinks like 'im, he says like 'im, he does like 'im. Truth, I daur say, i' the face o' all o' ye, that no son was ever more like the father than the lad a-settin' yonner is like Robert Burnham was afoor the guid Lord took 'im to 'imsel'."
Bachelor Billy was leaning forward across the railing of the witness-stand, speaking in a voice that could be heard in the remotest corner of the room, emphasizing his words with forceful gesticulation. No one could for a moment doubt his candor and earnestness.
"You are very anxious that the plaintiff should succeed in this suit, are you not?" asked Goodlaw.
"I dinna unnerstan' ye, sir."
"You would like to have this boy declared to be a son of Robert Burnham, would you not?"
"For the lad's sake, yes. But I canna tell ye how it'll hurt me to lose 'im fra ma bit hame. He's verra dear to me, the lad is."
"Have you presented any bill to Ralph's guardian for services to the boy?"
"Bill! I ha' no bill."
"Do you not propose to present such a bill in case the plaintiff is successful in this suit?"
"I tell ye, mon, I ha' no bill. The child's richt welcome to all that I 'a' ever done for 'im. It's little eneuch to be sure, but he's welcome to it, an' so's 'is father an' 'is mother an' 'is gardeen; an' that's what I tellit Muster Sharpman 'imsel'. An the lad's as guid to them as 'e has been wi' me, they'll unnerstan' as how his company's a thing ye canna balance wi' gold an' siller."
Mrs. Burnham leaned over to Goodlaw and whispered something to him. He nodded, smiled and said to the witness: "That's all, Mr. Buckley," and Bachelor Billy came down from the stand and pushed his way back to a seat among the people.
There was a whispered conversation for a few moments between Sharpman and his client, and then the lawyer said:—
"We desire to recall Mrs. Burnham for one or two more questions. Will you be kind enough to take the stand, Mrs. Burnham?"
The lady arose and went again to the witness-stand.
Craft was busy with his leather hand-bag. He had taken a parcel therefrom, unwrapped it and laid it on the table. It was the cloak that Old Simon had shown to Robert Burnham on the day of the mine disaster. Sharpman took it up, shook it out, carried it to Mrs. Burnham, and placed it in her hands.