"Do you recognize this cloak?" he asked.
A sudden pallor overspread her face. She could not speak. She was holding the cloak up before her eyes, gazing on it in mute astonishment.
"Do you recognize it, madam?" repeated Sharpman.
"Why, sir!" she said, at last, "it is—it was Ralph's. He wore it the night of the disaster." She was caressing the faded ribbons with her hand; the color was returning to her face.
"And this, Mrs. Burnham, do you recognize this?" inquired the lawyer, advancing with the cap.
"It was Ralph's!" she exclaimed, holding out her hands eagerly to grasp it. "It was his cap. May I have it, sir? May I have them both? I have nothing, you know, that he wore that night."
She was bending forward, looking eagerly at Sharpman, with flushed face and eyes swimming in tears.
"Perhaps so, madam," he said, "perhaps; they go with the boy. If we succeed in restoring your son to you, we shall give you these things also."
"What else have you that he wore?" she asked, impatiently. "Oh! did you find the locket, a little gold locket? He wore it with a chain round his neck; it had his—his father's portrait in it."
Without a word, Sharpman placed the locket in her hands. Her fingers trembled so that she could hardly open it. Then the gold covers parted and revealed to her the pictured face of her dead husband. The eyes looked up at her kindly, gently, lovingly, as they had always looked on her in life. After a moment her lips trembled, her eyes filled with tears, she drew the veil across her face, and her frame grew tremulous with deep emotion.
"I do not think it is necessary," said Sharpman, courteously, "to pain the witness with other questions. I regard the identification of these articles, by her, as sufficiently complete. We will excuse her from further examination."
The lady left the stand with bowed head and veiled face, and Conductor Merrick was recalled.
"Look at that cloak and the cap," said Sharpman, "and tell me if they are the articles worn by the child who was going to the city with this old man after the accident."
"To the best of my recollection," said the witness, "they are the same. I noticed the cloak particularly on account of the hole burned out of the front of it. I considered it an indication of a very narrow escape."
The witness was turned over to the defence for cross-examination.
"No questions," said Goodlaw, shortly, gathering up his papers as if his defeat was already an accomplished fact.
"Mr. Craft," said Sharpman, "stand up right where you are. I want to ask you one question. Did the child whom you rescued from the wreck have on, when you found him, this cap, cloak, and locket?"
"And is the child whom you rescued that night from the burning car this boy who is sitting beside you here to-day?"
"They are one and the same."
Mrs. Burnham threw back her veil, looked steadily across at Ralph, then started to her feet, and moved slightly toward him as if to clasp him in her arms. For a moment it seemed as though there was to be a scene. The people in the audience bent forward eagerly to look into the bar, those in the rear of the room rising to their feet.
The noise seemed to startle her, and she sank back into her chair and sat there white and motionless during the remainder of the session.
Sharpman arose. "I believe that is our case," he said.
"Then you rest here?" asked the judge.
His Honor continued: "It is now adjourning time and Saturday night. I think it would be impossible to conclude this case, even by holding an evening session; but perhaps we can get through with the testimony so that witnesses may be excused. What do you say, Mr. Goodlaw?"
Goodlaw arose. "It may have been apparent to the court," he said, "that the only effort being put forth by the defence in this case is an effort to learn as much of the truth as possible. We have called no witnesses to contradict the testimony offered, and we expect to call none. But, lest something should occur of which we might wish to take advantage, we ask that the evidence be not closed until the meeting of court on Monday next."
"Is that agreeable to you, Mr. Sharpman?" inquired the judge.
"Perfectly," replied that lawyer, his face beaming with good nature. He knew that Goodlaw had given up the case and that his path was now clear.
"Then, crier," said the judge, "you may adjourn the court until Monday next, at two o'clock in the afternoon."
AT THE GATES OF PARADISE.
The result of the trial seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Every one said there was no doubt, now, that Ralph was really Robert Burnham's son. People even wondered why Mrs. Burnham did not end the matter by acknowledging the boy and taking him to her home.
And, indeed, this was her impulse and inclination, but Goodlaw, in whose wisdom she put much confidence, had advised her not to be in haste. They had had a long consultation after the adjournment of court on Saturday evening, and had agreed that the evidence pointed, almost conclusively, to the fact that Ralph was Mrs. Burnham's son. But the lawyer said that the only safe way was to wait until the verdict of the jury should fix the status of the boy beyond question. It would be but a day or two at the most.
Then Ralph might be taken by his mother, and proceedings could be at once begun to have Simon Craft dismissed from the post of guardian. Indeed, it had been with this end in view that Goodlaw had made his cross-examination of Craft so thorough and severe. He had shown, as he intended to, from the man's own lips that he was unfit to have possession either of the child or of his property.
This danger was now making itself more and more apparent to Sharpman. In the excitement of the trial, he had not fully realized the probable effect which the testimony elicited from his client by the opposing counsel might have.
Now he saw what it could lead to; but he had sufficient confidence in himself to believe that, in the time before action in that phase of the case should become necessary, he could perfect a plan by which to avert disaster. The first and best thing to be done, however, under any circumstances, was to keep the confidence and friendship of Ralph. With this thought in mind, he occupied a seat with the boy as they rode up from Wilkesbarre on the train that night, and kept him interested and amused until they reached the station at Scranton.
He said to him that he, Sharpman, should go down to Wilkesbarre early on Monday morning, and that, as it might be necessary to see Ralph before going, the boy had better call at his office for a few moments on Sunday evening. Ralph promised to do so, and, with a cordial handshake, the lawyer hurried away.
It is seldom that the probable outcome of a suit at law gives so great satisfaction to all the parties concerned in it as this had done. Simon Craft was jubilant. At last his watching and waiting, his hoping and scheming, were about to be rewarded. It came in the evening of his life to be sure, but—better late than never. He had remained in Wilkesbarre Saturday night. He thought it useless to go up to Scranton simply to come back again on Monday morning. He spent the entire day on Sunday planning for the investment of the money he should receive, counting it over and over again in anticipation, chuckling with true miserly glee at the prospect of coming wealth.
But Ralph was the happiest one of all. He knew that on the coming Monday the jury would declare him to be Robert Burnham's son.
After that, there would be nothing to prevent his mother from taking him to her home, and that she would do so there was no longer any doubt. When he awoke Sunday morning and thought it all over, it seemed to him that he had never been so near to perfect happiness in all his life before.
The little birds that came and sang in the elm-tree by his window repeated in their songs the story of his fortune. The kind old sun beamed in upon him with warmest greeting and heartiest approval.
Out-of-doors, the very atmosphere of the May day was redolent with all good cheer, and Ralph took great draughts of it into his lungs as he walked with Bachelor Billy to the little chapel at the foot of the hill, where they were used to going to attend the Sunday morning service. In the afternoon they went, these two, out by the long way to the breaker. Ralph looked up at the grim, black monster, and thought of the days gone by; the days of watchfulness, of weariness, of hopeless toil that he had spent shut up within its jarring walls.
But they were over now. He should never again climb the narrow steps to the screen-room in the darkness of the early morning. He should never again take his seat on the black bench to bend above the stream of flowing coal, to breathe the thick dust, and listen to the rattling and the roaring all day long. That time had passed, there was to be no more grinding toil, no more harsh confinement in the heat and dust, no more longing for the bright sunlight and the open air, nor for the things of life that lay beyond his reach. The night was gone, the morning was come, the May day of his life was dawning, wealth was lying at his feet, rich love was overshadowing him; why should he not be happy?
"Seems jest as though I hadn't never had any trouble, Uncle Billy," he said, "as though I'd been kind o' waitin' an' waitin' all along for jest this, an' now it's here, ain't it?"
"An' some way it's all so quiet an' smooth like, so peaceful, don't you know. She—she seems to be so glad 'at she needn't keep me away from her no longer after the trial's over. I think she wants me to come, don't you? It ain't like most law-suits, is it?"
"She's a lovin' lady, an' I'm a-thinkin' they're a-meanin' to deal rightly by ye, Ralph."
There was a pause. They were sitting on the bank in the shadow of the breaker, and the soft wind was bringing up to them the perfume of apple-blossoms from the orchard down by the road-side. Silence, indeed, was the only means of giving fitting expression to such quiet joy as pervaded the boy's heart.
A man, driving along the turnpike with a horse and buggy, turned up the road to the breaker, and stopped in front of Bachelor Billy and the boy.
"Is this Ralph?" he asked.
"Yes," said the boy, "that's me."
"Well, Mrs. Burnham would like to see you. She sent me over to bring you. I went to your house, and they said most likely I'd find you up here. Just jump in and we'll drive right down."
Ralph looked up inquiringly at Bachelor Billy.
"Go on, lad," he said; "when the mither sen's for ye, ye mus' go." Ralph climbed up into the buggy.
"Good-by, Uncle Billy," he called out, as they started away down the hill.
Bachelor Billy did not answer. A sudden thought had come to him; a sudden fear had seized him. He stood for a moment motionless; then he started to run after the retreating carriage, calling as he ran. They heard him and stopped. In a minute he had reached them.
"Ralph," he said, hastily, "ye're not goin' now for gude? Ye'll coom back the nicht, won't ye, Ralph? I couldn't—I couldn't abide to have ye go this way, not for gude. It's—it's too sudden, d'ye see."
His voice was trembling with emotion, and the pallor about his lips was heightened by the forced smile that parted them. Ralph reached out from the buggy and grasped the man's rough hand.
"I ain't leavin' you for good, Uncle Billy," he said. "I'm comin' back agin, sure; I promise I will. Would you ruther I wouldn't go, Uncle Billy?"
"Oh, no! ye mus' go. I shouldn't 'a' stoppit ye. It was verra fulish in me. But ye see," turning to the driver apologetically, "the lad's been so long wi' me it's hard to part wi' 'im. An' it cam' ower me so sudden like, that mayhap he'd not be a-comin' back, that I—that I—wull, wull! it's a' richt, ye need na min' me go on; go on, lad, an' rich blessin's go wi' ye!" and Bachelor Billy turned and walked rapidly away.
This was the only cloud in the otherwise clear sky of Ralph's happiness. He would have to leave Bachelor Billy alone. But he had fully resolved that the man who had so befriended him in the dark days of his adversity should not fail of sharing in the blessings that were now at hand.
His mind was full of plans for his Uncle Billy's happiness and welfare, as they rode along through the green suburban streets, with the Sunday quiet resting on them, to the House where Ralph's mother waited, with a full heart, to receive and welcome her son.
She had promised Goodlaw that she would not take the boy to her home until after the conclusion of the trial. He had explained to her that to anticipate the verdict of the jury in this way might, in a certain event, prejudice not only her interests but her son's also. And the time would be so short now that she thought surely she could wait. She had resolved, indeed, not to see nor to speak to the lad, out of court, until full permission had been granted to her to do so. Then, when the time came, she would revel in the brightness of his presence.
That there still lingered in her mind a doubt as to his identity was nothing. She would not think of that. It was only a prejudice fixed by long years of belief in her child's death, a prejudice so firmly rooted now that it required an effort to cast it out.
But it would not greatly matter, she thought, if it should chance that Ralph was not her son. He was a brave, good boy, worthy of the best that could come to him, and she loved him. Indeed, during these last few days her heart had gone out to him with an affection so strange and a desire so strong that she felt that only his presence could satisfy it. She could not be glad enough that the trial, now so nearly to its close, would result in giving to her a son. It was a strange defeat, indeed, to cause her such rejoicing. On this peaceful Sunday morning her mind was full with plans for the lad's comfort, for his happiness and his education. But the more she thought upon him the greater grew her longing to have him with her, the harder it became to repress her strong desire to see him, to speak to him, to kiss his face, to hold him in her arms. In the quiet of the afternoon this longing became more intense. She tried to put it away from her, but it would not go; she tried to reason it down, but the boy's face, rising always in her thought, refuted all her logic. She felt that he must come to her, that she must see him, if only long enough to look into his eyes, to touch his hand, to welcome him and say good-by. She called the coachmen then, and sent him for the boy, and waited at the window to catch the first glimpse of him when he should appear.
He came at last, and she met him in the hall. It was a welcome such as he had never dreamed of. They went into a beautiful room, and she drew his chair so close to hers that she could hold his hands, and smooth his hair back now and then, and look down into his eyes as she talked with him. She made him repeat to her the whole story of his life from the time he could remember, and when he told about Bachelor Billy and all his kindness and goodness, he saw that her eyes were filled with tears.
"We'll remember him," she said; "we'll be very good to him always."
"Mrs. Burnham," asked Ralph, "do you really an' truly believe 'at I'm your son?"
She evaded the question skilfully.
"I'm not Mrs. Burnham to you any more," she said. "You are my little boy now and I am your mother. But wait! no; you must not call me 'mother' yet, not until the trial is over, then we shall call each other the names we like best, shall we not?"
"Yes; an' will the trial be over to-morrow, do you think?"
"I hope so. I shall be glad to have it done; shall not you?"
"Oh, yes; but so long as it's comin' out so nice, I don't care so very much. It's all so good now 'at it couldn't be much better. I could stan' it another day or two, I guess."
"Well, my dear, we will be patient. It cannot but come out right. Are you glad you are coming here to live with me, Ralph?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am; I'm very much delighted. I've always wanted a mother; you don't know how much I've wanted a mother; but I never 'xpected—not till Gran'pa Simon come—I never 'xpected to get such a lovely one. You don't know; I wisht I could tell you; I wisht I could do sumpthin' so 'at you'd know how glad I am."
She leaned over and kissed him.
"There's only one thing you can do, Ralph, to show me that; you can come back here when the trial is over and be my boy and live with me always."
"Oh, I'll come!"
"And then we'll see what you shall do. Would you like to go to school and study?"
"Oh, may I?"
"Certainly! what would you like to study?"
"Readin'. If I could only study readin' so as to learn to read real good. I can read some now; but you know they's such lots o' things to read 'at I can't do it fast enough."
"Yes, you shall learn to read fast, and you shall read to me. You shall read books to me."
"What! whole books?—through?"
"Yes, would you like that?"
"Oh!" and the boy clasped his hands together in unspeakable delight.
"Yes, and you shall read stories to Mildred, your little sister. I wonder where she is; wouldn't you like to see her?"
"Yes, ma'am, I would, very much."
"I'll send for her."
"You'll have books of your own, you know," continued the lady, as she returned across the room, "and playthings of your own, and a room of your own, near mine, and every night you'll kiss me good-night, will you not, and every morning you will kiss me good-morning?"
"Oh, indeed I will! indeed!"
In through the curtained door-way came little Mildred, her blond curls tossing about her face, her cheeks rosy with health, her eyes sparkling with anticipation.
She had seen Ralph and knew him, but as yet she had not understood that he was her brother. She could not comprehend it at once, there were many explanations to be made, and Ralph's story was retold; but when the fact of his relation to her became fixed in her mind, it was to her a truth that could never afterward be shaken.
"And will you come to live with us?" she asked him.
"Yes," said Ralph, "I 'xpect to."
"And will you play with me?"
"Well, I—I don't know how to play girl's plays, but I guess I can learn," he said, looking inquiringly up into his mother's face.
"You shall both learn whatever you like that is innocent and healthful and pretty to play, my children."
The house-maid, at the door, announced dinner.
"Come," said the lady, placing an arm about each child, "come, let us eat together and see how it seems."
She drew them gently to the dining-room and placed them at the table, and sat where she could look from one to the other and drink in the joy of their presence.
But Ralph had grown more quiet. It was all so new and strange to him and so very beautiful that he could do little more than eat his food, and answer questions, and look about him in admiring wonder.
When dinner was finished the afternoon had grown late, and Ralph, remembering Bachelor Billy's fear, said that he ought to go. They did not try to detain him; but, with many kind words and good-wishes and bright hopes for the morrow, they kissed him good-night and he went his way. The sky was still cloudless; the cool of the coming evening refreshed the air, the birds that sing at twilight were already breaking forth into melody as if impatient for the night, and Ralph walked out through it all like one in a dream.
It was so much sweeter than anything he had ever heard of or thought of, this taste of home, so much, so very much! His heart was like a thistle bloom floating in the air, his feet seemed not to touch the ground; he was walking as a spirit might have walked, buoyed up by thoughts of all things beautiful. He reached the cottage that for years had been his home, and entered it with a cry of gladness on his lips.
"Oh, Uncle Billy! it was—it was just like heaven!" He had thrown himself upon a stool at the man's feet, and sat looking up into the kindly face.
Bachelor Billy did not answer. He only placed his hand tenderly on the boy's head, and they both sat, in silence, looking out through the open door, until the pink clouds in the western sky had faded into gray, and the deepening twilight wrapped the landscape, fold on fold, in an ever thickening veil.
By and by Ralph's tongue was loosened, and he told the story of his visit to Mrs. Burnham. He gave it with all fulness; he dwelt long and lovingly on his mother's beauty and affection, on his sister's pretty ways, on the splendors of their home, on the plans marked out for him.
"An' just to think of it!" he exclaimed, "after to-morrow, I'll be there ev'ry day, ev'ry day. It's too beautiful to think of, Uncle Billy; I can't help lookin' at myself an' wonderin' if it's me."
"It's verra fine, but ye've a richt to it, lad, an' ye desarve it, an' it's a blessin' to all o' ye."
Again they fell into silence. The blue smoke from Billy's pipe went floating into the darkness, and up to their ears came the sound of distant church bells ringing out their music to the night.
Finally, Ralph thought of the appointed meeting at Sharpman's office, and started to his feet.
"I mus' hurry now," he said, "or he'll think I ain't a-comin'."
The proposed visit seemed to worry Bachelor Billy somewhat. He did not like Sharpman. He had not had full confidence in him from the beginning. And since the interview on the day of Ralph's return from Wilkesbarre, his faith in the pureness of the lawyer's motives had been greatly shaken. He had watched the proceedings in Ralph's case as well as his limited knowledge of the law would allow, and, though he had discovered nothing, thus far, that would injure or compromise the boy, he was in constant fear lest some plan should be developed by which Ralph would be wronged, either in reputation or estate.
He hesitated, therefore, to have the lad fulfil this appointment.
"I guess I'd better go wi' ye," he said, "mayhap an' ye'll be afeared a-comin' hame i' the dark."
"Oh, no, Uncle Billy!" exclaimed the boy, "they ain't no use in your walkin' way down there. I ain't a bit afraid, an' I'll get home early. Mr. Sharpman said maybe it wouldn't be any use for me to go to Wilkesbarre to-morrow at all, and he'd let me know to-night. No, don't you go! I'm a-goin' to run down the hill so's to get there quicker; good-by!"
The boy started off at a rapid pace, and broke into a run as he reached the brow of the hill, while Bachelor Billy unwillingly resumed his seat, and watched the retreating form of the lad until it was swallowed up in the darkness.
Ralph thought that the night air was very sweet, and he slackened his pace at the foot of the hill, in order to enjoy breathing it.
He was passing along a street lined with pretty, suburban dwellings. Out from one yard floated the rich perfume of some early flowering shrub. The delicious odor lingered in the air along the whole length of the block, and Ralph pleased his fancy by saying that it was following him.
Farther on there was a little family group gathered on the porch, parents and children, talking and laughing, but gently as became the day. Very happy they seemed, very peaceful, untroubled and content. It was beautiful, Ralph thought, very beautiful, this picture of home, but he was no longer envious, his heart did not now grow bitter nor his eyes fill full with tears. His own exceeding hope was too great for that to-night, his own home joys too near and dear.
Still farther on there was music. He could look into the lighted parlor and see the peaceful faces of those who stood or sat there. A girl was at the piano playing; a young, fair girl with a face like the faces of the pictured angels. They were all singing, a familiar sacred song, and the words came floating out so sweetly to the boy's ears that he stopped to listen:—
"O Paradise! O Paradise! Who doth not crave for rest? Who would not seek the happy land, Where they that loved are blest; Where loyal hearts and true Stand ever in the light, All rapture through and through, In God's most holy sight?"
Oh, it was all so beautiful! so peaceful! so calm and holy!
Ralph tried to think, as he started on, whether there was anything that he could have, or see, or do, that would increase his happiness. But there was nothing in the whole world now, nothing more, he said to himself, that he could think to ask for.
"Where loyal hearts and true, Stand ever in the light."
The words came faintly from the distance to his ears as the music died away, the gentle wind brought perfumed air from out the shadows of the night to touch his face. The quiet stars looked down in peace upon him, the heart that beat within his breast was full with hope, with happiness, with calm content.
THE PURCHASE OF A LIE.
Lawyer Sharpman sat in his office on Sunday evening, meditating on his success in the Burnham suit and planning to avert the dangers that still lay in his path.
Old Simon's disclosures in court were a source of much anxiety to him. Goodlaw's design in bringing them out was apparent, and he felt that it must in some way be thwarted. Of what use was it to establish the boy's identity if he could not control the boy's fortune? He was glad he had asked Ralph to call. He intended, when he should come, to have a long talk with him concerning his guardian. He hoped to be able to work into the boy's mind a theory that he had been as well treated during his stay with Simon Craft as circumstances would permit. He would remind him, in the most persuasive manner possible, that Craft was old and ill and easily annoyed, that he was poor and unable to work, that his care for and maintenance of Ralph were deeds of the purest generosity, and that the old man's entire connection with the matter was very creditable to him, when all the adverse circumstances against which he had to struggle were taken into account. If he could impress this view of the case strongly enough upon Ralph's mind, he should not greatly fear the result of possible proceedings for the dismissal of the guardian. This, at any rate, was the first thing to be done, and to-night was the time to do it.
He had been lying back in his chair, with his hands locked behind his head. He now straightened himself, drew closer to the table, turned up the gas, looked over some notes of evidence, and began to mark out a plan for his address to the jury on the morrow. He was sitting in the inner room, the door between that and the outer room being open, but the street door closed.
After a little he heard some one enter and walk across the floor. He thought it must be Ralph, and he looked up to welcome him. But it was dark in the outer office, and he could not see who came, until his visitor was fairly standing in the door-way of his room.
It was not Ralph. It was a young man, a stranger. He wore a pair of light corduroy pantaloons, a checked vest, a double-breasted sack coat, and a flowing red cravat.
He bowed low and said:—
"Have I the honor of addressing Mr. Sharpman, attorney at law?"
"That is my name," said the lawyer, regarding his visitor with some curiosity, "will you walk in?"
"With pleasure, sir."
The young man entered the room, removed his high silk hat from his head, and laid it on the table, top down. Then he drew a card case from an inner pocket, and produced and handed to the lawyer a soiled card on which was printed in elaborate letters the following name and address:—
L. JOSEPH CHEEKERTON,
While Sharpman was examining the card, his visitor was forming in his mind a plan of procedure. He had come there with a carefully concocted lie on his tongue to swindle the sharpest lawyer in Scranton out of enough money to fill an empty purse.
"Will you be seated, Mr. Cheekerton?" said the lawyer, looking up from the card.
"Thank you, sir!"
The young man drew the chair indicated by Sharpman closer to the table, and settled himself comfortably into it.
"It is somewhat unusual, I presume," he said, "for attorneys to receive calls on Sunday evening:—
"But this motto I hold as a part of my creed, The better the day, why, the better the deed.
"Excuse me! Oh, no; it doesn't hurt. I've been composing extemporaneous verse like that for fifteen years. Philosophy and rhyme are my forte. I've had some narrow escapes to be sure, but I've never been deserted by the muses. Now, as to my Sunday evening call. It seemed to be somewhat of a necessity, as I understand that the evidence will be closed in the Burnham case at the opening of court to-morrow. Am I right?"
"It may be, and it may not be," said Sharpman, somewhat curtly. "I am not acquainted with the plans of the defence. Are you interested in the case?"
"Indirectly, yes. You see, Craft and I have been friends for a good many years, we have exchanged confidences, and have matured plans together. I am pretty well acquainted with the history of his successes and his failures."
"Then it will please you to know that he is pretty certain to meet with success in the Burnham suit."
"Yes? I am quite delighted to hear it:—
"Glad to know that wit and pluck Bring their owner such good-luck.
"But, between you and me, the old gentleman has brought some faculties to bear on this case besides wit and pluck."
"Yes, indeed! You see, I knew all about this matter up to the time the boy ran away. To tell the truth, the old man didn't treat the lad just right, and I gave the little fellow a pointer on getting off. Old Simon hasn't been so friendly to me since, for some reason.
"Strange what trifles oft will tend To cool the friendship of a friend.
"In fact, I was not aware that the boy had been found, until I heard that fact from his own lips one day last fall, in Wilkesbarre. We met by a happy chance, and I entertained him on account of old acquaintance's sake."
In a moment the story of Ralph's adventure in Wilkesbarre returned to Sharpman, and he recognized Rhyming Joe as the person who had swindled the lad out of his money. He looked at the young man sternly, and said:—
"Yes; I have heard the story of that chance meeting. You were very liberal on account of old acquaintance's sake, were you not? entertained the boy till his pocket was empty, didn't you?" and the lawyer cast a look of withering contempt on his visitor.
But Rhyming Joe did not wither. On the contrary, he broke into a merry fit of laughter.
"Good joke on the lad, wasn't it?" he replied. "A little rough, perhaps, but you see I was pretty hard up just then; hadn't had a square meal before in two days. I'll not forget the boy's generosity, though; I'll call and see him when he comes into his fortune; he'll be delighted to receive me, I've no doubt.
"For a trifle like that he'll remember no more, In the calm contemplation of favors of yore."
But, let that pass. That's a pretty shrewd scheme Old Simon has on foot just now, isn't it? Did he get that up alone or did he have a little legal advice? I wouldn't have said that he was quite up to it all, himself. It's a big thing.
"A man may work hard with his hands and his feet And find but poor lodging and little to eat. But if he would gather the princeliest gains He must smother his conscience and cudgel his brains."
Sharpman looked sternly across at his visitor. "Have you any business with me?" he said; "if not, my time is very valuable, and I desire to utilize it."
"I beg pardon, sir, if I have occupied time that is precious to you. I had no particular object in calling except to gratify a slight curiosity. I had a desire to know whether it was really understood between you—that is whether the old man had enlightened you as to who this boy actually is—that's all."
"There's no doubt as to who the boy is. If you've come here to give me any information on that point, your visit will have been useless. His identity is well established."
"Yes? Well, now I have the good-fortune to know all about that child, and if you are laboring under the impression that he is a son of Robert Burnham, you are very greatly mistaken. He is not a Burnham at all."
Sharpman looked at the young man incredulously. "You do not expect me to believe that?" he said. "You certainly do not mean what you are saying?"
There was a noise in the outer room as of some one entering from the street. Sharpman did not hear it; he was too busily engaged in thinking. Rhyming Joe gave a quick glance at the room door, which stood slightly ajar, then, turning in his chair to face the lawyer, he said deliberately and with emphasis:—
"I say the boy Ralph is not Robert Burnham's son."
For a moment Sharpman sat quietly staring at his visitor; then, in a voice which betrayed his effort to remain calm, he said:—
"What right have you to make such a statement as this? How can you prove it?"
"Well, in the first place I knew the boy's father, and he was not Robert Burnham, I assure you."
"Who was he?"
"Simon Craft's son."
"Then Ralph is—?"
"Old Simon's grandchild."
"How do you happen to know all this?"
"Well, I saw the child frequently before he was taken into the country, and I saw him the night Old Simon brought him back. He was the same child. The young fellow and his wife separated, and the old man had to take the baby. I was on confidential terms with the old fellow at that time, and he told me all about it."
"Then he probably deceived you. The evidence concerning the railroad disaster and the rescue of Robert Burnham's child from the wreck is too well established by the testimony to be upset now by such a story as yours."
"Ah! let me explain that matter to you. The train that went through the bridge was the express. The local was twenty minutes behind it. Old Simon and his grandchild were on the local to the bridge. An hour later they came down to the city on the train which brought the wounded passengers. I had this that night from the old man's own lips. I repeat to you, sir, the boy Ralph is Simon Craft's grandson, and I know it."
In the outer room there was a slight noise as of some person drawing in his breath sharply and with pain. Neither of the men heard it. Rhyming Joe was too intent on giving due weight to his pretended disclosure; Lawyer Sharpman was too busy studying the chances of that disclosure being true. It was evident that the young man was acquainted with his subject. If his story were false he had it too well learned to admit of successful contradiction. It was therefore of no use to argue with him, but Sharpman thought he would see what was lying back of this.
"Well," he said, calmly, "I don't see how this affects our case. Suppose you can prove your story to be true; what then?"
The young man did not answer immediately. He took a package of cigarettes from his pocket and offered one to Sharpman. It was declined. He lighted one for himself, leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and began to study the ceiling through the rings of blue smoke which came curling from his nostrils. Finally he said: "What would you consider my silence on this subject worth, for a period of say twenty-four hours?"
"I do not know that your silence will be of material benefit to us."
"Well, perhaps not. My knowledge, however, may be of material injury to you."
"In what way?"
"By the disclosure of it to your opponent."
"What would he do with it?"
"Use it as evidence in this case."
"Well, had you not better go to him?"
Rhyming Joe laid his cigarette aside, straightened up in his chair, and again faced the lawyer squarely.
"Look here, Mr. Sharpman," he said, "you know, as well as I do, that the knowledge I hold is extremely dangerous to you. I can back up my assertion by any amount of corroborative detail. I am thoroughly familiar with the facts, and if I were to go on the witness-stand to-morrow for the defendant in this suit, your hopes and schemes would vanish into thin air. Now, I have no great desire to do this; I have still a friendly feeling left for Old Simon, and as for the boy, he is a nice fellow, and I would like to see him prosper. But in my circumstances, as they are at present, I do not feel that I can afford to let slip an opportunity to turn an honest penny.
"If a penny saved is a penny earned, Then a penny found is a penny turned."
Sharpman was still looking calmly at his visitor. "Well?" he said, inquiringly.
"Well, to make a long story short, if I get two hundred dollars to-night, I keep my knowledge of Simon Craft and his grandson to myself. If I don't get two hundred dollars to-night, I go to Goodlaw the first thing to-morrow morning and offer my services to the defence. I propose to make the amount of a witness fee out of this case, at any rate."
"You are attempting a game that will hardly work here," said Sharpman, severely. "You will find yourself earning two hundred dollars for the state in the penitentiary of your native city if you persist in that course."
"Very well, sir; you have heard my story, you have my ultimatum. You are at liberty to act or not to act as you see fit. If you do not choose to act it will be unnecessary for me to prolong my visit. I will have to rise early in the morning, in order to get the first Wilkesbarre train, and I must retire without delay.
"The adage of the early bird, My soul from infancy has stirred, And since the worm I sorely need I'll practise, now, that thrifty creed."
Rhyming Joe reached for his hat.
Sharpman was growing anxious. There was no doubt that the fellow might hurt them greatly if he chose to do so. His story was not an improbable one. Indeed, there was good reason to believe that it might be true. His manner tended to impress one with its truth. But, true or false, it would not do to have the statement get before that jury. The man must be detained, to give time for further thought.
"Don't be in a hurry," said Sharpman, mildly; "let's talk this matter over a little more. Perhaps we can reach an amicable understanding."
Rhyming Joe detected, in an instant, the weakening on the lawyer's part, and increased his audacity accordingly.
"You have heard my proposition, Mr. Sharpman," he said; "it is the only one I shall make, and I must decline to discuss the matter further. My time, as I have already intimated, is of considerable value to me."
"But how can you expect me to decide on your proposition without first consulting my client? He is in Wilkesbarre. Give us time. Wait until morning; I'll go down on the first train with you."
"No, I don't care to have Old Simon consulted in this matter; if I had cared to, I should have consulted him myself; I know where he is. Besides, his interest in the case is very small compared with yours. You are to get the lion's share, that is apparent, and you, of course, are the one to pay the cost. It is necessary that I should have the money to-night; after to-night it will be too late."
Sharpman arose and began pacing up and down the room. He was inclined to yield to the man's demand. The Burnham suit was drawing rapidly to a successful close. If this fellow should go on the witness-stand and tell his plausible story, the entire scheme might be wrecked beyond retrieval. But it was very annoying to be bulldozed into a thing in this way. The lawyer's stubborn nature rebelled against it powerfully. It would be a great pleasure, he thought, to defy the fellow and turn him into the street. Then a new fear came to him. What would be the effect of this man's story, with its air of genuineness, on the mind of so conscientious a boy as Ralph? He surely could not afford to have Ralph's faith interfered with; that would be certain to bring disaster.
He made up his mind at once. Turning quickly on his heel to face his visitor, he said:—
"I want you to understand that I'm not afraid of you nor of your story, but I don't want to be bothered with you. Now, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you one hundred dollars in cash to-night, on condition that you will leave this town by the first train in the morning, that you'll not go to Wilkesbarre, that you'll not come back here inside of a year, and that you'll not mention a word of this matter to any one so long as you shall live."
The lawyer spoke with determined earnestness. Rhyming Joe looked up at the ceiling as if in doubt.
Finally, he said:—
"Split the difference and call it even, A hundred and fifty and I'll be leavin'."
Sharpman was whirling the knob of his safe back and forth. At last he flung open the safe-door.
"I don't care," he said, looking around at his visitor, "whether your story is true or false. We'll call it true if that will please you. But if I ever hear of your lisping it again to any living person, I give you my word for it you shall be sorry. I pay you your own price for your silence; now I want you to understand that I've bought it and it's mine."
He had taken a package of bank-notes from a drawer in his safe, had counted out a portion of them, and now handed them to Rhyming Joe.
"Certainly," said the young man, "certainly; no one can say that I have ever failed to keep an honest obligation; and between you and me there shall be the utmost confidence and good faith.
"Though woman's vain, and man deceives, There's always honor among—gentlemen.
"I beg your pardon! it's the first time in fifteen years that I have failed to find an appropriate rhyming word; but the exigencies of a moment, you will understand, may destroy both rhyme and reason."
He was folding the bills carefully and placing them in a shabby purse while Sharpman looked down on him with undisguised ill will.
"Now," said the lawyer, "I expect that you will leave the city on the first train in the morning, and that you will not stop until you have gone at least a hundred miles. Here! here's enough more money to pay your fare that far, and buy your dinner"; and he held out, scornfully, toward the young man, another bank-bill.
Rhyming Joe declined it with a courteous wave of his hand, and, rising, began, with much dignity, to button his coat.
"I have already received," he said, "the quid pro quo of the bargain. I do not sue for charity nor accept it. Reserve your financial favors for the poor and needy.
"Go find the beggar crawling in the sun, Or him that's worse; But don't inflict your charity on one With well filled purse."
Sharpman looked amused and put the money back into his pocket. Then a bit of his customary politeness returned to him.
"I shall not expect to see you in Scranton again for some time, Mr. Cheekerton," he said, "but when you do come this way, I trust you will honor me with a visit."
"Thank you, sir. When I return I shall expect to find that your brilliant scheme has met with deserved success; that old Craft has chuckled himself to death over his riches; and that my young friend Ralph is happy in his new home, and contented with such slight remnant of his fortune as may be left to him after you two are through with it. By the way, let me ask just one favor of you on leaving, and that is that the boy may never know what a narrow escape he has had to-night, and may never know that he is not really the son of Robert Burnham. It would be an awful blow to him to know that Old Simon is actually his grandfather; and there's no need, now, to tell him.
"'Where ignorance is bliss,' you know the rest, And a still tongue is generally the best."
"Oh, no, indeed! the boy shall hear nothing of the kind from me. I am very much obliged to you, however, for the true story of the matter."
Under the circumstances Sharpman was outdoing himself in politeness, but he could not well outdo Rhyming Joe. The young man extended his hand to the lawyer with a respectful bow.
"I shall long remember your extreme kindness and courtesy," he said.
"Henceforth the spider of a friendship true, Shall weave its silken web twixt me and you."
My dear sir, I wish you a very good night!"
The young man placed his silk hat jauntily on his head, and passed through the outer office, whistling a low tune; out at the street door and down the walk; out into the gay world of dissipation, down into the treacherous depths of crime; one more of the many who have chained bright intellects to the chariot wheels of vice, and have been dragged through dust and mire to final and to irretrievable disaster.
A moment later a boy arose from a chair in the outer office and staggered out into the street. It was Ralph. He had heard it all.
THE ANGEL WITH THE SWORD.
Ralph had entered the office just as Rhyming Joe reached the point of his disclosure. He had heard him declare, in emphatic tones: "I say the boy Ralph is not Robert Burnham's son."
It was as though some one had struck him. He dropped into a chair and sat as if under a spell, listening to every word that was uttered. He was powerless to move or to speak until the man who had told the cruel story had passed by him in the dark and gone down the walk into the street.
Then he arose and followed him; he did not know just why, but it seemed as if he must see him, if only to beg him to declare that the story he had just heard him tell was all a lie. And yet Ralph believed that Rhyming Joe had told the truth. Why should he not believe him when Sharpman himself had put such faith in the tale as to purchase the man's silence with money. But if the story were true, if it were true, then it should be known; Mrs. Burnham should know it, Mr. Goodlaw should know it, Mr. Sharpman should not conceal it, Rhyming Joe must not be allowed to depart until he had told it on the witness-stand, in open court. He must see him, Ralph thought; he must find him, he must, in some way, compel him to remain. The sound of the man's footsteps had not yet died away as the boy ran after him along the street, but half-way down the block his breath grew short, his heart began to pound against his breast, he pressed his hand to his side as if in pain, and staggered up to a lamp-post for support.
When he recovered sufficiently to start on, Rhyming Joe had passed out of both sight and hearing. Ralph hurried down the street until he reached Lackawanna Avenue, and there he stopped, wondering which way to turn. But there was no time to lose. If the man should escape him now he might never see him again, he might never hear from his lips whether the dreadful story was really and positively true. He felt that Rhyming Joe would not lie to him to-night, nor deceive him, nor deny his request to make the truth known to those who ought to know it, if he could only find him and speak to him, and if the man could only see how utterly miserable he was. He plunged in among the Sunday evening saunterers, and hurried up the street, looking to the right and to the left, before and behind him, hastening on as he could. Once he thought he saw, just ahead, the object of his search. He ran up to speak to him, looked into his face, and—it was some one else.
Finally he reached the head of the avenue and turned up toward the Dunmore road. Then he came back, crossed over, and went down on the other side of the street. Block after block he traversed, looking into the face of every man he met, glancing into doorways and dark corners, making short excursions into side streets; block after block, until he reached the Hyde Park bridge. He was tired and disheartened as he turned back and wondered what he should do next. Then it occurred to him that he had promised to meet Mr. Sharpman that night. Perhaps the lawyer was still waiting for him. Perhaps, if he should appeal to him, the lawyer would help him to find Rhyming Joe, and to make the truth known before injustice should be done.
He turned his steps in the direction of Sharpman's office, reached it finally, went up the little walk, tried to open the door, and found it locked. The lights were out, the lawyer had gone. Ralph was very tired, and he sat down on the door-step to rest and to try to think. He felt that he had made every effort to find Rhyming Joe and had failed. To-morrow the man would be gone. Sharpman would go to Wilkesbarre. The evidence in the Burnham case would be closed. The jury would come into court and declare that he, Ralph, was Robert Burnham's son—and it would be all a lie. Oh, no! he could not let that be done. His whole moral nature cried out against it. He must see Sharpman to-night and beg him to put a stop to so unjust a cause. To-morrow it might be too late. He rose and started down the walk to find the lawyer's dwelling. But he did not know in which direction to turn. A man was passing along the street, and Ralph accosted him:—
"Please, can you tell me where Mr. Sharpman lives?" he asked.
"I don't know anything about him," replied the man gruffly, starting on.
In a minute another man came by, and Ralph repeated his question.
"I don't know where he does live, sonny," said the man, "but I know where he would live if I had my choice as to his dwelling-place; he'd reside in the county jail," and this man, too, passed on.
Ralph went back and sat down on the steps again.
The sky had become covered with clouds, no stars were visible, and it was very dark.
What was to be done now? He had failed to find Rhyming Joe, he had failed to find Lawyer Sharpman. The early morning train would carry both of them beyond his reach. Suppose it should? Suppose the case at Wilkesbarre should go on to its predicted end, and the jury should bring in their expected verdict, what then?
Why, then the law would declare him to be Robert Burnham's son; the title, the position, the fortune would all be his; Mrs. Burnham would take him to her home, and lavish love and care upon him; all this unless—unless he should tell what he had heard. Ah! there was a thought. Suppose he should not tell, suppose he should let the case go on just as though he had not known the truth, just as though he had stayed at home that night instead of coming to the city; who would ever be the wiser? who would ever suspect him of knowing that the verdict was unjust? He might yet have it all, all, if only he would hold his tongue. His heart beat wildly with the thought, his breath came in gasps, something in his throat seemed choking him. But that would be wrong—he knew it would be wrong, and wicked; a sense of shame came over him, and he cast the tempting thought aside.
No, there was but one thing for him, as an honest boy, to do, and that was to tell what he had heard.
If he could tell it soon enough to hold the verdict back, so much the better, if he could not, still he had no right to keep his knowledge to himself—the story must be known. And then farewell to all his hopes, his plans, his high ambition. No beautiful home for him now, no loving mother nor winsome sister nor taste of any joy that he had thought to know. It was hard to give them up, it was terrible, but it must be done.
He fell to thinking of his visit to his mother. It seemed to him as though it were something that had taken place very long ago. It was like a sweet dream that he had dreamed as a little boy. He wondered if it was indeed only that afternoon that it had all occurred. It had been so beautiful, so very beautiful; and now! Could it be that this boy, sitting weak, wretched, disconsolate, on the steps of this deserted office, in the night-time, was the same boy whose feet had scarcely touched the ground that afternoon for buoyant happiness? Oh, it was dreadful! dreadful! He began to wonder why he did not cry. He put up his hands to see if there were any tears on his cheeks, but he found none. Did only people cry who had some gentler cause for tears?
But the thought of what would happen if he should keep his knowledge to himself came back again into his mind. He drove it out, but it returned. It had a fascination about it that was difficult to resist. It would be so easy simply to say nothing. And who would ever know that he was not Mrs. Burnham's son? Why, Old Simon would know, but he would not dare to tell; Lawyer Sharpman would know, but he would not dare to tell; Rhyming Joe would know, but he would not dare to tell, at least, not for a long time. And suppose it should be known after a year, after two years or longer, who would blame him? he would be supposed to have been ignorant of it all; he would be so established by that time in his new home that he would not have to leave it. They might take his property, his money, all things else, but he knew that if he could but live with Mrs. Burnham for a year she would never let him leave her, and that was all he cared for at any rate.
But then, he himself would know that he had no right there; he would have to live with this knowledge always with him, he would have to walk about with an ever present lie on his mind and in his heart. He could not do that, he would not do it; he must disclose his knowledge, and make some effort to see that justice was not mocked. But it was too late to do anything to-night. He wondered how late it was. He thought of Bachelor Billy waiting for him at home. He feared that the good man would be worried on account of his long absence. A clock in a church tower not far away struck ten. Ralph started to his feet, went out into the street again, and up toward home.
But Uncle Billy! what would Uncle Billy say when he should tell him what he had heard? Would he counsel him to hold his tongue? Ah, no! the boy knew well the course that Uncle Billy would mark out for him.
But it would be a great blow to the man; he would grieve much on account of the lad's misfortune; he would feel the pangs of disappointment as deeply as did Ralph himself. Ought he not to be spared this pain?
And then, a person holding the position of Robert Burnham's son could give much comfort to the man who had been his dearest friend, could place him beyond the reach of possible want, could provide well for the old age that was rapidly approaching, could make happy and peaceful the remnant of his days. Was it not the duty of a boy to do it?
But, ah! he would not have the good man look into his heart and see the lie there, not for worlds.
Ralph was passing along the same streets that he had traversed in coming to the city two hours before; but now the doors of the houses were closed, the curtains were drawn, the lights were out, there was no longer any sound of sweet voices at the steps, nor any laughter, nor any music in the air. A rising wind was stirring the foliage of the trees into a noise like the subdued sobbing of many people; the streets were deserted, a fine rain had begun to fall, and out on the road, after the lad had left the suburbs, it was very dark. Indeed, it was only by reason of long familiarity with the route that he could find his way at all.
But the storm and darkness outside were not to be compared with the tempest in his heart; that was terrible. He had about made up his mind to tell Bachelor Billy everything and to follow his advice when he chanced to think of Mrs. Burnham, and how great her pain and disappointment would be when she should know the truth. He knew that she believed him now to be her son; that she was ready to take him to her home, that she counted very greatly on his coming, and was impatient to bestow on him all the care and devotion that her mother's heart could conceive. It would be a bitter blow to her, oh, a very bitter blow. It would be like raising her son from the dead only to lay him back into his grave after the first day.
What right had he to inflict such torture as this on a lady who had been so kind to him? What right? Did not her love for him and his love for her demand that he should keep silence? But, oh! to hear the sound of loving words from her lips and know that he did not deserve them, to feel her mother's kisses on his cheek and know that his heart was dark with deep deceit. Could he endure that? could he?
As Ralph turned the corner of the village street, he saw the light from Bachelor Billy's window shining out into the darkness. There were no other lights to be seen. People went early to bed there; they must rise early in the morning.
The boy knew that his Uncle Billy was waiting for him, doubtless with much anxiety, but, now that he had reached the cottage, he stood motionless by the door. He was trying to decide what he should do and say on entering. To tell Uncle Billy or not to tell him, that was the question. He had never kept anything from him before; this would be the first secret he had not shared with him. And Uncle Billy had been so good to him, too, so very good! Yes, he thought he had better tell him; he would do it now, before his resolution failed. He raised his hand to lift the latch. Again he hesitated. If he should tell him, that would end it all. The good man would never allow him to act a falsehood. He would have to bid farewell to all his sweet dreams of home, and his high plans for life, and step back into the old routine of helpless poverty and hopeless toil. He felt that he was not quite ready to do that yet; heart, mind, body, all rebelled against it. He would wait and hope for some way out, without the sacrifice of all that he had longed for. His hand fell nerveless to his side. He still stood waiting on the step in the beating rain.
But then, it was wrong to keep silent, wrong! wrong! wrong!
The word went echoing through his mind like the stern sentence of some high court; conscience again pushed her way to the front, and the struggle in the boy's heart went on with a fierceness that was terrible.
Suddenly the door was opened from the inside, and Bachelor Billy stood there, shading his eyes with his hand and peering out into the darkness.
"Ralph," he said, "is that yo' a-stannin' there i' the rain? Coom in, lad; coom in wi' ye! Why!" he exclaimed, as the boy entered the room, "ye're a' drippin' wet!"
"Yes, Uncle Billy, it's a-rainin' pirty hard; I believe I—I believe I did git wet."
The boy's voice sounded strange and hard even to himself. Bachelor Billy looked down into his face questioningly.
"What's the matter wi' ye, Ralph? Soun's like as if ye'd been a-cryin'. Anything gone wrong?"
"Oh, no. Only I'm tired, that's all, an'—an' wet."
"Ye look bad i' the face. Mayhap an' ye're a bit sick?"
"No, I ain't sick."
"Wull, then, off wi' the wet duddies, an' we'll be a-creepin' awa' to bed."
As Ralph proceeded to remove his wet clothing, Bachelor Billy watched him with increasing concern. The boy's face was white and haggard, there were dark crescents under his eyes, his movements were heavy and confused, he seemed hardly to know what he was about.
"Has the lawyer said aught to mak' ye unhappy, Ralph?" inquired Billy at last.
"No, I ain't seen Mr. Sharpman. He wasn't in. He was in when I first went there, but somebody else was there a-talkin' to 'im, an' I went out to wait, an' w'en I got back again the office was locked, so I didn't see 'im."
"Ye've been a lang time gone, lad?"
"Yes, I waited aroun', thinkin' maybe he'd come back, but he didn't. I didn't git started for home" till just before it begun to rain."
"Mayhap ye got a bit frightened a-comin' up i' the dark?"
"No—well, I did git just a little scared a-comin' by old No. 10 shaft; I thought I heard a funny noise in there."
"Ye s'ould na be oot so late alone. Nex' time I'll go wi' ye mysel'!"
Ralph finished the removal of his wet clothing, and went to bed, glad to get where Bachelor Billy could not see his face, and where he need not talk.
"I'll wait up a bit an' finish ma pipe," said the man, and he leaned back in his chair and began again his slow puffing.
He knew that something had gone wrong with Ralph. He feared that he was either sick or in deep trouble. He did not like to question him too closely, but he thought he would wait a little before going to bed and see if there were any further developments.
Ralph could not sleep, but he tried to lie very still. A half-hour went by, and then Bachelor Billy stole softly to the bed and looked down into the lad's face. He was still awake.
"Have you got your pipe smoked out, Uncle Billy?" he asked.
"Yes, lad; I ha' just finished it."
"Then are you comin' to bed now?"
"I thocht to. Do ye want for anything?"
"Oh, no! I'm all right."
The man began to prepare for bed.
After a while Ralph spoke.
"What is it, lad?"
"I've been thinkin', s'pose this suit should go against us, do you b'lieve Mrs. Burnham would do anything more for me?"
"She's a gude woman, Ralph. Na doot she'd care for ye; but ye could na hope to have her tak' ye to her hame, an they proved ye waur no' her son."
"An' then—an' then I'd stay right along with you, wouldn't I?"
"I hope so, lad, I hope so. I want ye s'ould stay wi' me till ye find a better place."
"Oh, I couldn't find a better place to stay, I know I couldn't, 'xcept with my—'xcept with Mrs. Burnham."
"Wull, ye need na worry aboot the matter. Ye'll ha' naught to fear fra the trial, I'm thinkin'. Gae to sleep noo; ye'll feel better i' the mornin', na doot."
Ralph was silent, but only for a minute. A new thought was working slowly into his mind.
"But, Uncle Billy," he said, "s'pose they should prove, to-morrow, 'at Simon Craft is my own gran'father, would I have to—Oh! Uncle Billy!"
The lad started up in bed, sat there for a moment with wildly staring eyes, and then sprang to the floor trembling with excitement and fear.
"Oh, don't!" he cried; "Uncle Billy, don't let him take me back there to live with him! I couldn't stan' it! I couldn't! I'd die! I can't go, Uncle Billy! I can't!"
"There, there, lad! ha' no fear; ye'll no' go back, I'll no' let ye."
The man had Ralph in his arms trying to quiet him.
"But," persisted the boy, "he'll come for me, he'll, make me go. If they find out I'm his gran'son there at the court, they'll tell him to take me, I know they will!"
"But ye're no' his gran'son, Ralph, ye've naught to do wi' 'im. Ye're Robert Burnham's son."
"Oh, no, Uncle Billy, I ain't, I—" He stopped suddenly. The certain result of disclosing his knowledge to his Uncle Billy flashed warningly across his mind. If Bachelor Billy knew it, Mrs. Burnham must know it; if Mrs. Burnham knew it, Goodlaw and the court must know it, the verdict would be against him, Simon Craft would come to take him back to the terrors of his wretched home, and he would have to go. The law that would deny his claim as Robert Burnham's son would stamp him as the grandson of Simon Craft, and place him again in his cruel keeping.
Oh, no! he must not tell. If there were reasons for keeping silence before, they were increased a hundred-fold by the shadow of this last danger. He felt that he had rather die than go back to live with Simon Craft.
Bachelor Billy was rocking the boy in his arms as he would have rocked a baby.
"There, noo, there, noo, quiet yoursel'," he said, and his voice was very soothing, "quiet yoursel'; ye've naught to dread; it'll a' coom oot richt. What's happenit to ye, Ralph, that ye s'ould be so fearfu'?"
"N—nothin'; I'm tired, that's all. I guess I'll go to bed again."
He went back to bed, but not to sleep. Hot and feverish, and with his mind in a tumult, he tossed about, restlessly, through the long hours of the night. He had decided at last that he could not tell what he had heard at Sharpman's office. The thought of having to return to Simon Craft had settled the matter in his mind. The other reasons for his silence he had lost sight of now; this last one outweighed them all, and placed a seal upon his tongue that he felt must not be broken.
Toward morning he fell into a troubled sleep and dreamed that Old Simon was holding him over the mouth of Burnham Shaft, threatening to drop him down into it, while Sharpman stood by, with his hands in his pockets, laughing heartily at his terror. He managed to cry out, and awoke both himself and Bachelor Billy. He started up in bed, clutching at the coverings in an attempt, to save himself from apparent disaster, trembling from head to foot, moaning hoarsely in his fright.
"What is it, Ralph, lad, what's ailin' ye?"
"Oh, don't! don't let him throw me—Uncle Billy, is that you?"
"It's me, Ralph. Waur ye dreamin'? There, never mind; no one s'all harm ye, ye're safe i' the bed at hame. Gae to sleep, lad, gae to sleep."
"I thought they was goin' to throw me down the shaft. I must 'a' been a-dreamin'."
"Yes, ye waur dreamin'. Gae to sleep."
But Ralph did not go to sleep again that night, and when the first gray light of the dawning day came in at the cottage window he arose. Bachelor Billy was still wrapped in heavy slumber, and the boy moved about cautiously so as not to waken him.
When he was dressed he went out and sat on a bench by the door. The storm of the night before had left the air cool and sweet, and it refreshed him to sit there and breathe it, and watch the sun as it came up from behind the long slanting roof of Burnham Breaker.
But he was very miserable, very miserable indeed. It was not so much the sense of fear, of pain, of disappointment that disturbed him now, it was the misery of a fettered conscience, the shadow of an ever present shame.
Finally the door was opened and Bachelor Billy stepped out.
"Good mornin', Uncle Billy," said the boy, trying to speak cheerfully.
"Gude mornin' till ye, Ralph! Ye're up airly the mornin'. I mak' free to say ye're a-feelin' better."
"Yes, I am. I didn't sleep very well, but I'm better this mornin'. I wisht it was all over with—the trial I mean; you see it's a-makin' me kind o' nervous an'—an' tired. I can't stan' much 'xcitement, some way."
"Wull, ye'll no' ha' lang to wait I'm a-thinkin'. It'll be ower the day. What aboot you're gaein' to Wilkesbarre?"
"I don't know. I guess I'll go down to Mr. Sharpman's office after a while, an' see if he's left any word for me."
Mrs. Maloney appeared at her door.
"The top o' the mornin' to yez!" she cried, cheerily. "It's a fine mornin' this!"
Both Bachelor Billy and Ralph responded to the woman's hearty greeting. She continued:
"Ye'll be afther gettin' out in the air, I mind, to sharpen up the appetites; an' a-boardin' with a widdy, too, bad 'cess to ye!"
Mrs. Maloney was inclined to be jovial, as well as kind-hearted. "Well, I've a bite on the table for yez, an ye don't come an' ate it, the griddle-cakes'll burn an' the coffee'll be cowld, an'—why, Ralph, is it sick ye are? sure, ye're not lookin' right well."
"I wasn't feelin' very good las' night, Mrs. Maloney, but I'm better this mornin'."
The sympathetic woman took the boy's hand and rubbed it gently, and, with many inquiries and much advice, she led him to the table. He forced himself to eat a little food and to drink something that the good woman had prepared for him, which, she declared emphatically, would drive off the "wakeness."
Bachelor Billy did not take his dinner with him that morning as usual. He said he would come back at noon to learn whether anything new had occurred in the matter of the lawsuit, and whether it would be necessary for Ralph to go to Wilkesbarre.
He was really much concerned about the boy. Ralph's conduct since the evening before had been a mystery to him. He knew that something was troubling the lad greatly; but, whatever it was, he had faith that Ralph would meet it manfully, the more manfully, perhaps, without his help. So he went away with cheering predictions concerning the suit, and with kindly admonition to the boy to remain as quiet as possible and try to sleep.
But Ralph could not sleep, nor could he rest. He was laboring under too much excitement still to do either. He walked nervously about the cottage for a while, then he started down toward the city. He went first to Sharpman's office, and the clerk told him that Mr. Sharpman had left word that Ralph need not go to Wilkesbarre that day. Then he went on to the heart of the city. He was trying to divert himself, trying to drown his thought, as people try who are suffering from the reproaches of conscience.
He walked down to the railroad station. He wondered if Rhyming Joe had gone. He supposed he had. He did not care to see him now, at any rate.
He sat on a bench in the waiting-room for a few minutes to rest, then he went out into the street again. But he was very wretched. It seemed to him as though all persons whom he met looked down on him disdainfully, as if they knew of his proposed deceit, and despised him for it. A lady coming toward him crossed to the other side of the walk before she reached him. He wondered if she saw disgrace in his face and was trying to avoid him.
After that he left the busy streets and walked back, by a less frequented route, toward home. The day was very bright and warm, but the brightness had a cold glare in Ralph's eyes, and he actually shivered as he walked on in the shade of the trees. He crossed to the sunny side of the street, and hurried along through the suburbs and up the hill.
Widow Maloney called to him as he reached the cottage door, to ask after his health; but he told her he was feeling better, and went on into his own room. He closed the door behind him, locked it, and threw himself down upon the bed. He was very wretched. Oh, very wretched, indeed.
He had decided to keep silent, and to let the case at Wilkesbarre go on to its expected end, but the decision had brought to him no peace; it had only made him more unhappy than he was before. But why should it do this? Was he not doing what was best? Would it not be better for Uncle Billy, for Mrs. Burnham, for himself? Must he, for the sake of some farfetched moral principle, throw himself into the merciless clutch of Simon Craft?
Thus the fight began again, and the battle in the boy's heart went on with renewed earnestness. He gave to his conscience, one by one, the reasons that he had for acting the part of Robert Burnham's son; good reasons they were too, overwhelmingly convincing they seemed to him; but his conscience, like an angel with a flaming sword, rejected all of them, declaring constantly that what he thought to do would be a grievous wrong.
But whom would it wrong? Not Ralph Burnham, for he was dead, and it could be no wrong to him; not Mrs. Burnham, for she would rejoice to have this boy with her, even though she knew he was not her son; not Bachelor Billy, for he would be helped to comfort and to happiness. And yet there stood the angel with the flaming sword crying out always that it was wrong.
But whom would it wrong? himself? Ah! there was a thought—would it be wronging himself?
Well, would it not? Had it not already made a coward of him? Was it not degrading him in his own eyes? Was it not trying to stifle the voice of conscience in his breast? Would it not make of him a living, walking lie? a thing to be shunned and scorned? Had he a right to place a burden so appalling on himself? Would it not be better to face the toil, the pain, the poverty, the fear? Would it not be better even to die than to live a life like that?
He sprang from the bed with clenched hands and flashing eyes and swelling nostrils. A fire of moral courage had blazed up suddenly in his breast. His better nature rose to the help of the angel with the flaming sword, and together they fought, as the giants of old fought the dragons in their path. Then hope came back, and courage grew, and resolution found new footing. He stood there as he stood that day on the carriage that bore Robert Burnham to his death, the light of heroism in his eyes, the glow of splendid faith illuming his face. He could not help but conquer. He drove the spirit of temptation from his breast, and enthroned in its stead the principle of everlasting right. There was no thought now of yielding; he felt brave and strong to meet every trial, yes, every terror that might lie in his path, without flinching one hair's breadth from the stern line of duty.
But now that his decision was made, he must act, and that promptly. What was the first thing to be done? Why, the first thing always was to confide in Uncle Billy, and to ask for his advice.
He seized his hat and started up the village street and across the hill to Burnham Breaker There was no lagging now, no indecision in his step, no doubt within his mind.
He was once more brave, hopeful, free-hearted, ready to do anything or all things, that justice might be done and truth become established.
The sun shone down upon him tenderly, the birds sang carols to him on the way, the blossoming trees cast white flowers at his feet; but he never stayed his steps nor turned his thought until the black heights of Burnham Breaker threw their shadows on his head.
AN EVENTFUL JOURNEY.
The shaft-tower of Burnham Breaker reached up so high from the surface of the earth that it seemed, sometimes, as if the low-hanging clouds were only a foot or two above its head. In the winter time the wind swept wildly against it, the flying snow drifted in through the wide cracks and broken windows, and the men who worked there suffered from the piercing cold. But when summer came, and the cool breeze floated across through the open places at the head, and one could look down always on the green fields far below, and the blossoming gardens, and the gray-roofed city, and the shining waters of the Lackawanna, winding southward, and the wooded hills rising like green waves to touch the far blue line of mountain peaks, ah, then it was a pleasant place to work in. So Bachelor Billy thought, these warm spring days, as he pushed the dripping cars from the carriage, and dumped each load of coal into the slide, to be carried down between the iron-teethed rollers, to be crushed and divided and screened and re-screened, till it should pass beneath the sharp eyes and nimble fingers of the boys who cleansed it from its slate and stone.
Billy often thought, as he dumped a carload into the slide, and saw a huge lump of coal that glistened brightly, or glowed with iridescent tints, or was veined with fossil-marked or twisted slate, that perhaps, down below in the screen-room, Ralph's eyes would see the brightness of the broken lump, or Ralph's fingers pick the curious bits of slate from out the moving mass. And as he fastened up the swing-board and pushed the empty car to the carriage, he imagined how the boy's face would light up with pleasure, or his brown eyes gleam with wonder and delight in looking on these strange specimens of nature's handiwork.
But to-day Ralph was not there. In all probability he would never be there again to work. Another boy was sitting on his bench in the screen-room, another boy was watching rainbow coal and fern-marked slate. This thought in Bachelor Billy's mind was a sad one. He pushed the empty car on the carriage, and sat down on a bench by the window to consider the subject of Ralph's absence.
Something had gone wrong at the foot of the shaft. There were no cars ready for hoisting, and Billy and his co-laborer, Andy Gilgallon, were able to rest for many minutes from their toil.
As they sat looking down upon the green landscape below them, Bachelor Billy's attention was attracted to a boy who was hurrying along the turnpike road a quarter of a mile away. He came to the foot of the hill and turned up the path to the breaker, looking up to the men in the shaft-tower as he hastened on, and waving his hand to them.
"I believe it's Ralph," said Billy, "it surely is. An ye'll mind both carriages for a bit when they start up, Andy, I'll go t' the lad," and he hurried across the tracks and down the dark and devious way that led to the surface of the earth.
At the door of the pump-room he met Ralph. "Uncle Billy!" shouted the boy, "I want to see you; I've got sumpthin' to tell you."
Two or three men were standing by, watching the pair curiously, and Ralph continued: "Come up to the tree where they ain't so much noise; 'twon't take long."
He led the way across the level space, up the bank, and into the shadow of the tree beneath which the breaker boys had gathered a year before to pass resolutions of sympathy for Robert Burnham's widow;
They were no sooner seated on the rude bench than Ralph began:—
"I ought to 'a' told you before, I done very wrong not to tell you, but I couldn't raise the courage to do it till this mornin'. Here's what I want you to know."
Then Ralph told, with full detail, of his visit to Sharpman's office on Sunday evening, of what he had heard there, of his subsequent journey through the streets of the city, of his night of agony, of his morning of shame, of his final victory over himself.
Bachelor Billy listened with intense interest, and when he had heard the boy's story to the end he dashed the tears from his eyes and said: "Gie's your han' Ralph; gie's your twa han's! Ye're a braw lad. Son or no son o' Robert Burnham, ye're fit to stan' ony day in his shoes!"
He was looking down with strong admiration into the boy's pale face, holding the small hands affectionately in both of his.
"I come just as quick as I could," continued the boy, "after I got over thinkin' I'd keep still about it, just as quick as I could, to tell you an' ask you what to do. I'll do anything 'at you tell me it's right to do, Uncle Billy, anything. If you'll only say I must do it, I will. But it's awful hard to do it all alone, to let 'em know who I am, to give up everything so, an' not to have any mother any more, nor no sister, nor no home, nor no learnin', nor nothing; not anything at all, never, any more; it's terrible! Oh, Uncle Billy, it's terrible!"
Then, for the first time since the dreadful words of Rhyming Joe fell on his ears in the darkness of Sharpman's office, Ralph gave way to tears. He wept till his whole frame shook with the deep force of his sobs.
Bachelor Billy put his arm around the boy and drew him to his side. He smoothed back the tangled hair from the child's hot forehead and spoke rude words of comfort into his ears, and after a time Ralph grew quiet.
"Do you think, Uncle Billy," asked Ralph, "'at Rhymin' Joe was a-tellin' the truth? He used to lie, I know he did, I've heard 'im lie myself."
"It looks verra like, Ralph, as though he might 'a' been a-tellin' o' the truth; he must 'a' been knowin' to it all, or he could na tell it so plain."
"Oh! he was; he knew all about it. I remember him about the first thing. He was there most all the time. But I didn't know but he might just 'a' been lyin' to get that money."
"It's no' unlikely. But atween the twa, I'd sooner think it was the auld mon was a-tellin' o' the lee. He has more to make out o' it, do ye see?"
"Well, there's the evidence in court."
"True, but Lawyer Sharpman kens the worth o' that as well as ony o' us. An he was na fearfu' that the truth would owerbalance it, he wadna gi' a mon a hunderd an' fifty dollars to hold his tongue. I'm doubtfu' for ye, Ralph, I'm verra doubtfu'."
Ralph had believed Rhyming Joe's story from the beginning, but he felt that this belief must be confirmed by Uncle Billy in order to put it beyond question. Now he was satisfied. It only remained to act.
"It's all true," he said; "I know it's all true, an' sumpthin's got to be done. What shall I do, Uncle Billy?"
The troubled look deepened on the man's face.
"Whether it's fause or true," he replied, "ye s'ould na keep it to yoursel'. She ought to know. It's only fair to go an' tell the tale to her an' let her do what she thenks bes'."
"Must I tell Mrs. Burnham? Must I go an' tell her 'at I ain't her son, an' 'at I can't live with her, an' 'at we can't never be happy together the way we talked? Oh, Uncle Billy, I can't do that, I can't!"
He looked up beseechingly into the man's face. Something that he saw there—pain, disappointment, affection, something, inspired him with fresh courage, and he started to his feet and dashed the tears from his eyes.
"Yes, I can do it too!" he exclaimed. "I can do anything 'at's right, an' that's right. I won't wait; I'll go now."
"Don't haste, lad; wait a bit; listen! If the lady should be gone to court ye mus' gae there too. If ye canna find her, ye mus' find her lawyer. One or the ither ye s'ould tell, afoor the verdict comes; afterwards it might be too late."
"Yes, I'll do it, I'll do it just like that."
"Mos' like ye'll have to go to Wilkesbarre. An ye do I'll go mysel'. But dinna wait for me. I'll coom when I can get awa'. Ye s'ould go on the first train that leaves."
"Yes, I unnerstan'. I'll go now."
"Wait a bit! Keep up your courage, Ralph. Ye've done a braw thing, an' ye're through the worst o' it; but ye'll find a hard path yet, an' ye'll need a stout hert. Ralph," he had taken both the boy's hands into his again, and was looking tenderly into his haggard face and bloodshot eyes; the traces of the struggle were so very plain—"Ralph, I fear I'd cry ower ye a bit an we had the time, ye've sufferit so. An' it's gude for ye, I'm thinkin', that ye mus' go quick. I'd make ye weak, an' ye need to be strang. I canna fear for ye, laddie; ye ken the right an' ye'll do it. Good-by till ye; it'll not be lang till I s'all go to ye; good-by!"
He bent down and kissed the boy's forehead and turned him to face toward the city; and when Ralph had disappeared below the brow of the hill, the rough-handed, warm-hearted toiler of the breaker's head wiped the tears from his face, and climbed back up the steep steps, and the long walks of cleated plank, to engage in his accustomed task.
There was no shrinking on Ralph's part now. He was on fire with the determination to do the duty that lay so plainly in his sight. He did not stop to argue with himself, he scarcely saw a person or a thing along his path; he never rested from his rapid journey till he reached the door of Mrs. Burnham's house.
A servant came in answer to his ring at the bell, and gave him pleasant greeting. She said that Mrs. Burnham had gone to Wilkesbarre, that she had started an hour before, that she had said she would come back in the early evening and would doubtless bring her son with her.
Ralph looked up into the woman's face, and his eyes grew dim.
"Thank you," he said, repressing a sob, and he went down the steps with a choking in his throat and a pain at his heart.
He turned at the gate, and looked back through the half-opened door into the rich shadows that lay beyond it, with a ray of crimson light from the stained glass window cleaving them across, and then his eyes were blinded with tears, and he could see no more. The gates of his Eden were closed behind him; he felt that he should never enter them again.
But this was no time for sorrow and regret.
He wiped the tears from his eyes and turned his face resolutely toward the heart of the city.
At the railroad station he was told that the next train would leave for Wilkesbarre at twelve o'clock.
It lacked half an hour of that time now. There was nothing to do but to wait. He began to mark out in his mind the course he should pursue on reaching Wilkesbarre. He thought he would inquire the way to Mr. Goodlaw's office, and go directly to it and tell the whole story to him. Perhaps Mrs. Burnham would be there too, that would be better yet, more painful but better. Then he should follow their advice as to the course to be pursued. It was more than likely that they would want him to testify as a witness. That would be strange, too, that he should give such evidence voluntarily as would deprive him of a beautiful home, of a loving mother, and of an honored name. But he was ready to do it; he was ready to do anything now that seemed right and best, anything that would meet the approval of his Uncle Billy and of his own conscience.
When the train was ready he found a seat in the cars and waited impatiently for them to start. For some reason they were late in getting away, but, once started, they seemed to be going fast enough to make up for lost time.
In the seats behind Ralph was a merry party of young girls. Their incessant chatter and musical laughter came to his ears as from a long distance. At any former time he would have listened to them with great pleasure; such sounds had an unspeakable charm for him; but to-day his brain was busied with weightier matters.
He looked from the car window and saw the river glancing in the sunlight, winding under shaded banks, rippling over stony bottoms. He saw the wooded hill-sides, with the delicate green of spring upon them fast deepening into the darker tints of summer. He saw the giant breakers looming up, black and massive, in the foreground of almost every scene. And yet it was all scarcely more to him than a shadowy dream. The strong reality in his mind was the trying task that lay before him yet, and the bitter outcome, so soon to be, of all his hopes and fancies.
At Pittston Junction there was another long delay. Ralph grew very nervous and impatient.
If the train could have reached Wilkesbarre on time he would have had only an hour to spare before the sitting of the court. Now he could hope for only a half-hour at the best. And if anything should happen to deprive him of that time; if anything should happen so that he should not get to court until after the case was closed, until after the verdict of the jury had been rendered, until after the law had declared him to be Robert Burnham's son; if anything should happen! His face flushed, his heart began to beat wildly, his breath came in gasps. If such a thing were to occur, without his fault, against his will and effort, what then? It was only for a moment that he gave way to this insidious and undermining thought. Then he fought it back, crushed it, trampled on it, and set his face again sternly to the front.
At last the train came, the impatient passengers entered it, and they were once more on their way.
It was a relief at least to be going, and for the moment Ralph had a faint sense of enjoyment in looking out across the placid bosom of the Susquehanna, over into the tree-girt, garden-decked expanse of the valley of Wyoming. Off the nearer shore of a green-walled island in the river, a group of cattle stood knee-deep in the shaded water, a picture of perfect comfort and content.
Then the train swept around a curve, away from the shore, and back among the low hills to the east. Suddenly there was a bumping together of the cars, an apparently powerful effort to check their impetus, a grinding of the brakes on the wheels, a rapid slowing of the train, and a slight shock at stopping.
The party of girls had grown silent, and their eyes were wide and their faces blanched with fear.
The men in the car arose from their seats and went out to discover the cause of the alarm. Ralph went also. The train had narrowly escaped plunging into a mass of wrecked coal cars, thrown together by a collision which had just occurred, and half buried in the scattered coal.
To make the matter still worse the collision had taken place in a deep and narrow cut, and had filled it from side to side with twisted and splintered wreckage.
What was to be done? the passengers asked. The conductor replied that a man would be sent back to the next station, a few miles away, to telegraph for a special train from Wilkesbarre, and that the passengers would take the train from the other side of the wreck. And how long would they be obliged to wait here?
"Well, an hour at any rate, perhaps longer."
"That means two hours," said an impatient traveller, bitterly.
Ralph heard it all. An hour would make him very late, two hours would be fatal to his mission. He went up to the conductor and asked,—
"How long'd it take to walk to Wilkesbarre?"
"That depends on how fast you can walk, sonny. Some men might do it in half or three quarters of an hour: you couldn't." And the man looked down, slightingly, on the boyish figure beside him.
Ralph turned away in deep thought. If he could walk it in three-quarters of an hour, he might yet be in time; time to do something at least. Should he try?
But this accident, this delay, might it not be providential? Must he always be striving against fate? against every circumstance that would tend to relieve him? against every obstacle thrown into his path to prevent him from bringing calamity on his own head? Must he?—but the query went no further. The angel with the flaming sword came back to guard the gates of thought, and conscience still was king. He would do all that lay in his human power, with every moment and every muscle that he had, to fulfil the stern command of duty, and then if he should fail, it would be with no shame in his heart, no blot upon his soul.
Already he was making his way through the thick underbrush along the steep hill-side above the wreck, stumbling, falling, bruising his hands and knees, and finally leaping down into the railroad track on the other side of the piled-up cars. From there he ran along smoothly on the ties, turning out once for a train of coal cars to pass him, but stopping for nothing. A man at work in a field by the track asked him what the matter was up the line; the boy answered him in as few words as possible, walking while he talked, and then ran on again. After he had gone a mile or more he came to a wagon-road crossing, and wondered if, by following it, he would not sooner reach his journey's end. He could see, in the distance, the smoke arising from a hundred chimneys where the city lay, and the road looked as though it would take him more directly there. He did not stop long to consider. He plunged ahead down a little hill, and then along on a foot-path by the side of the wagon-track. The day had grown to be very warm, and Ralph removed his jacket and carried it on his arm or across his shoulder. He became thirsty after a while, but he dared not stop at the houses along the way to ask for water; it would take too much time. He met many wagons coming toward him, but there seemed to be few going in to the city. He had hoped to get a ride. He had overtaken a farmer with a wagon-load of produce going to the town and had passed him. Two or three fast teams whirled by, leaving a cloud of dust to envelop him. Then a man, riding in a buggy, drove slowly down the road. Ralph shouted at him as he passed:—
"Please, sir, may I have a ride? I'm in a desp'ate hurry!"
But the man looked back at him contemptuously. "I don't run a stage for the benefit of tramps," he said, and drove on.
Ralph was discouraged and did not dare to ask any one else for a ride, though there seemed to be several opportunities to get one.
But he came to a place, at last, where a little creek crossed the road, a cool spring run, and he knelt down by it and quenched his thirst, and considered that if he had been in a wagon he would have missed the drink. The road was somewhat disappointing to him, too. It seemed to turn away, after a little distance, from the direct line to the city, and to bear to the west, toward the river. He feared that he had made a mistake in leaving the railroad, but he only walked the faster. Now and then he would break into a run and keep running until his breath gave out, then he would drop back into a walk.
His feet began to hurt him. One shoe rubbed his heel until the pain became so intense that he could not bear it, and he sat down by the roadside and removed his shoes and stockings, and then ran on in his bare feet. The sunlight grew hotter; no air was stirring; the dust hung above the road in clouds. Deep thirst came back upon the boy; his limbs grew weak and tired; his bared feet were bruised upon the stones.
But he scarcely thought of these things; his only anxiety was that the moments were passing, that the road was long, that unless he reached his journey's end in time injustice would be done and wrong prevail.
So he pressed on; abating not one jot of his swiftness, falling not one hair's breadth from his height of resolution, on and on, foot-sore, thirsty, in deep distress; but with a heart unyielding as the flint, with a purpose strong as steel, with a heroism more magnificent than that which meets the points of glittering bayonets or the mouths of belching cannon.
A BLOCK IN THE WHEEL.
At half-past one o'clock people began to loiter into the court-house at Wilkesbarre; at two the court-room was full. They were there, the most of them, to hear the close of the now celebrated Burnham case.
The judge came in from a side door and took his seat on the bench. Beneath him the prothonotary was busy writing in a big book. Down in the bar the attorneys sat chatting familiarly and pleasantly with one another. Sharpman was there, and Craft was at his elbow.
Goodlaw was there, and Mrs. Burnham sat in her accustomed place. The crier opened court in a voice that could be heard to the farthest end of the room, though few of the listeners understood what his "Oyez! oyez! oyez!" was all about.
Some opinions of the court were read and handed down by the judge. The prothonotary called the jury list for the week. Two or three jurors presented applications for discharge which were patiently considered and acted on by the court.
The sheriff arose and acknowledged a bunch of deeds, the title-pages of which had been read aloud by the judge.
An attorney stepped up to the railing and presented a petition to the court; another attorney arose and objected to it, and quite a little discussion ensued over the matter. It finally ended by a rule being granted to show cause why the petition should not be allowed. Then there were several motions made by as many lawyers. All this took much time; a good half-hour at least, perhaps longer.
Finally there was a lull. The judge was busily engaged in writing. The attorneys seemed to have exhausted their topics for conversation and to be waiting for new ones.
The jury in the Burnham case sat listlessly in their chairs, glad that their work in the matter at issue was nearly done, yet regretful that a case had not been made out which might have called for the exercise of that large intelligence, that critical acumen, that capacity for close reasoning, of which the members of the average jury feel themselves to be severally and collectively possessed. As it was, there would be little for them to do. The case was extremely one-sided, "like the handle on a jug," as one of them sententiously and somewhat scornfully remarked.
The judge looked up from his writing. "Well, gentlemen," he said, "are you ready to proceed in the case of 'Craft against Burnham'?"
"We are ready on the part of the plaintiff," replied Sharpman.
Goodlaw arose. "If it please the court," he said, "we are in the same position to-day that we were in on Saturday night at the adjournment. This matter has been, with us, one of investigation rather than of defence.
"Though we hesitate to accept a statement of fact from a man of Simon Craft's self-confessed character, yet the corroborative evidence seems to warrant a belief in the general truth of his story.
"We do not wish to offer any further contradictory evidence than that already elicited from the plaintiff's witnesses. I may say, however, that this decision on our part is due not so much to my own sense of the legal barrenness of our case as to my client's deep conviction that the boy Ralph is her son, and to her great desire that justice shall be done to him."