And he proceeded to make use of crushed ice and lemon juice.
"Oh, blow all that," said Havelock the Dane finally, over the top of his glass. "I'm going to tell you, anyhow. Only I wish you would forget your prejudices. I want an opinion."
Chantry made himself comfortable.
"You remember the time when Ferguson didn't go down on the Argentina?"
"I do. Ferguson just wouldn't go down, you know. He'd turn up smiling, without even a chill, and meanwhile lots of good fellows would be at the bottom of the sea."
"Prejudice again," barked Havelock. "Yet in point of fact, it's perfectly true. And you would have preferred him to drown."
"I was very glad he was saved." Chantry said it in a stilted manner.
"Because his life was really important to the world."
Chantry might have been distributing tracts. His very voice sounded falsetto.
"Exactly. Well, that is what Ferguson thought."
"How do you know?"
"He told me."
"You must have known him well. Thank heaven, I never did."
Havelock flung out a huge hand. "Oh, get off that ridiculous animal you're riding, Chantry, and come to the point. You mean you don't think Ferguson should have admitted it?"
Chantry's tone changed. "Well, one doesn't."
The huge hand, clenched into a fist, came down on the table. The crystal bottle was too heavy to rock, but the glasses jingled and a spoon slid over the edge of its saucer.
"There it is—what I was looking for."
"What were you looking for?" Chantry's wonder was not feigned.
"For your hydra-headed prejudice. Makes me want to play Hercules."
"Oh, drop your metaphors, Havelock. Get into the game. What is it?"
"It's this: that you don't think—or affect not to think—that it's decent for a man to recognize his own worth."
Chantry did not retort. He dropped his chin on his chest and thought for a moment. Then he spoke, very quietly and apologetically.
"Well—I don't see you telling another man how wonderful you are. It isn't immoral, it simply isn't manners. And if Ferguson boasted to you that he was saved when so many went down, it was worse than bad manners. He ought to have been kicked for it. It's the kind of phenomenal luck that it would have been decent to regret."
Havelock set his massive lips firmly together. You could not say that he pursed that Cyclopean mouth.
"Ferguson did not boast. He merely told me. He was, I think, a modest man."
Incredulity beyond any power of laughter to express settled on Chantry's countenance. "Modest? And he told you?"
"The whole thing." Havelock's voice was heavy enough for tragedy. "Listen. Don't interrupt me once. Ferguson told me that, when the explosion came, he looked round—considered, for fully a minute, his duty. He never lost control of himself once, he said, and I believe him. The Argentina was a small boat, making a winter passage. There were very few cabin passengers. No second cabin, but plenty of steerage. She sailed, you remember, from Naples. He had been doing some work, some very important work, in the Aquarium. The only other person of consequence—I am speaking in the most literal and un-snobbish sense—in the first cabin, was Benson. No" (with a lifted hand), "don't interrupt me. Benson, as we all know, was an international figure. But Benson was getting old. His son could be trusted to carry on the House of Benson. In fact, every one suspected that the son had become more important than the old man. He had put through the last big loan while his father was taking a rest-cure in Italy. That is how Benson pere happened to be on the Argentina. The newspapers never sufficiently accounted for that. A private deck on the Schrecklichkeit would have been more his size. Ferguson made it out: the old man got wild, suddenly, at the notion of their putting anything through without him. He trusted his gouty bones to the Argentina."
"Sounds plausible, but—" Chantry broke in.
"If you interrupt again," said Havelock, "I'll hit you, with all the strength I've got."
Chantry grunted. You had to take Havelock the Dane as you found him.
"Ferguson saw the whole thing clear. Old Benson had just gone into the smoking-room. Ferguson was on the deck outside his own stateroom. The only person on board who could possibly be considered as important as Ferguson was Benson; and he had good reason to believe that every one would get on well enough without Benson. He had just time, then, to put on a life-preserver, melt into his stateroom, and get a little pile of notes, very important ones, and drop into a boat. No, don't interrupt. I know what you are going to say. 'Women and children.' What do you suppose a lot of Neapolitan peasants meant to Ferguson—or to you and me, either? He didn't do anything outrageous; he just dropped into a boat. As a result, we had the big book a year later. No" (again crushing down a gesture of Chantry's), "don't say anything about the instincts of a gentleman. If Ferguson hadn't been perfectly cool, his instincts would have governed him. He would have dashed about trying to save people, and then met the waves with a noble gesture. He had time to be reasonable; not instinctive. The world was the gainer, as he jolly well knew it would be—or where would have been the reasonableness? I don't believe Ferguson cared a hang about keeping his individual machine going for its own sake. But he knew he was a valuable person. His mind was a Kohinoor among minds. It stands to reason that you save the Kohinoor and let the little stones go. Well, that's not the story. Only I wanted to get that out of the way first, or the story wouldn't have meant anything. Did you wish," he finished graciously, "to ask a question?"
Chantry made a violent gesture of denial. "Ask a question about a hog like that? God forbid!"
"Um-m-m." Havelock seemed to muse within himself. "You will admit that if a jury of impartial men of sense could have sat, just then, on that slanting deck, they would have agreed that Ferguson's life was worth more to the world than all the rest of the boiling put together?"
"Well, there wasn't any jury. Ferguson had to be it. I am perfectly sure that if there had been a super-Ferguson on board, our Ferguson would have turned his hand to saving him first. In fact, I honestly believe he was sorry there hadn't been a super-Ferguson. For he had all the instincts of a gentleman; and it's never a pleasant job making your reason inhibit your instincts. You can't look at this thing perfectly straight, probably. But if you can't, who can? I don't happen to want an enlightened opinion; I've got one, right here at home. You don't care about the State: you want to put it into white petticoats and see it cross a muddy street."
"I don't wonder the socialists won't have anything to do with you."
"Because I'm not a feminist? I know. Just as the feminists won't have anything to do with you because you're so reactionary. We're both out of it. Fifty years ago; either of us could have been a real prophet, for the price of a hall and cleaning the rotten eggs off our clothes. Now we're too timid for any use. But this is a digression."
"Distinctly. Is there anything more about Ferguson?"
"I should say there was. About a year ago, he became engaged. She's a very nice girl, and I am sure you never heard of her. The engagement wasn't to be announced until just before the marriage, for family reasons of some sort—cockering the older generation somehow. I've forgotten; it's not important. But they would have been married by now, if Ferguson hadn't stepped out."
"You seem to have been very intimate with Ferguson."
"He talked to me once—just once. The girl was a distant connection of my own. I think that was why. Now I've got some more things to tell you. I've let you interrupt a good lot, and if you're through, I'd like to start in on the next lap. It isn't easy for me to tell this thing in bits. It's an effort."
Havelock the Dane set down his second emptied glass and drew a long breath. He proceeded, with quickened pace.
"He didn't see the girl very often. She lives at some little distance. He was busy,—you know how he worked,—and she was chained at home, more or less. Occasionally he slipped away for a week-end, to see her. One time—the last time, about two months ago—he managed to get in a whole week. It was as near happiness as Ferguson ever got, I imagine; for they were able to fix a date. Good heaven, how he loved that girl! Just before he went, he told me of the engagement. I barely knew her, but, as I said, she's some sort of kin. Then, after he came back, he sent for me to come and see him. I didn't like his cheek, but I went as though I had been a laboratory boy. I'm not like you. Ferguson always did get me. He wanted the greatest good of the greatest number. Nothing petty about him. He was a big man.
"I went, as I say. And Ferguson told me, the very first thing, that the engagement was off. He began by cocking his hair a good deal. But he almost lost control of himself. He didn't cock it long: he ruffled it instead, with his hands. I thought he was in a queer state, for he seemed to want to give me, with his beautiful scientific precision—as if he'd been preparing a slide—the details of a country walk he and she had taken the day before he left. It began with grade-crossings, and I simply couldn't imagine what he was getting at. It wasn't his business to fight grade-crossings—though they might be a very pretty symbol for the kind of thing he was fighting, tooth and nail, all the time. I couldn't seem to see it, at first; but finally it came out. There was a grade-crossing, with a 'Look out for the Engine' sign, and there was a tow-headed infant in rags. They had noticed the infant before. It had bandy legs and granulated eyelids, and seemed to be dumb. It had started them off on eugenics. She was very keen on the subject; Ferguson, being a big scientist, had some reserves. It was a real argument.
"Then everything happened at once. Tow-head with the sore eyes rocked onto the track simultaneously with the whistle. They were about fifty yards off. Ferguson sprinted back down the hill, the girl screaming pointlessly meanwhile. There was just time—you'll have to take my word for this; Ferguson explained it all to me in the most meticulous detail, but I can't repeat that masterpiece of exposition—for Ferguson to decide. To decide again, you understand, precisely as he had decided on the Argentina. Rotten luck, wasn't it? He could just have flung tow-head out of the way by getting under the engine himself. He grabbed for tow-head, but he didn't roll onto the track. So tow-head was killed. If he had got there ten seconds earlier, he could have done the trick. He was ten seconds too late to save both Ferguson and tow-head. So—once more—he saved Ferguson. Do you get the situation?"
"I should say I did!" shouted Chantry. "Twice in a man's life—good Lord! I hope you walked out of his house at that point."
"I didn't. I was very much interested. And by the way, Chantry, if Ferguson had given his life for tow-head, you would have been the first man to write a pleasant little article for some damned highbrow review, to prove that it was utterly wrong that Ferguson should have exchanged his life for that of a little Polish defective. I can even see you talking about the greatest good of the greatest number. You would have loved the paradox of it; the mistaken martyr, self-preservation the greatest altruism, and all the rest of it. But because Ferguson did exactly what you would have said in your article that he ought to have done, you are in a state of virtuous chill."
"I should have written no such article. I don't see how you can be so flippant."
"Flippant—I? Have I the figure of a flippant man? Can't you see—honestly, now, can't you see?—that it was a hideous misfortune for that situation to come to Ferguson twice? Can't you see that it was about as hard luck as a man ever had? Look at it just once from his point of view."
"I can't," said Chantry frankly. "I can understand a man's being a coward, saving his own skin because he wants to. But to save his own skin on principle—humph! Talk of paradoxes: there's one for you. There's not a principle on earth that tells you to save your own life at some one's else expense. If he thought it was principle, he was the bigger defective of the two. Of course it would have been a pity; of course we should all have regretted it; but there's not a human being in this town, high or low, who wouldn't have applauded, with whatever regret—who wouldn't have said he did the only thing a self-respecting man could do. Of course it's a shame; but that is the only way the race has ever got on: by the strong, because they were strong, going under for the weak, because they were weak. Otherwise we'd all be living, to this day, in hell."
"I know; I know." Havelock's voice was touched with emotion. "That's the convention—invented by individualists, for individualists. All sorts of people would see it that way, still. But you've got more sense than most; and I will make you at least see the other point of view. Suppose Ferguson to have been a good Catholic—or a soldier in the ranks. If his confessor or his commanding officer had told him to save his own skin, you'd consider Ferguson justified; you might even consider the priest or the officer justified. The one thing you can't stand is the man's giving himself those orders. But let's not argue over it now—let's go back to the story. I'll make you 'get' Ferguson, anyhow—even if I can't make him 'get' you.
"Well, here comes in the girl."
"And you said there was no girl in it!"
Chantry could not resist that. He believed that Havelock's assertion had been made only because he didn't want the girl in it—resented her being there.
"There isn't, as I see it," replied Havelock the Dane quietly. "From my point of view, the story is over. Ferguson's decision: that is the whole thing—made more interesting, more valuable, because the repetition of the thing proves beyond a doubt that he acted on principle, not on impulse. If he had flung himself into the life-boat because he was a coward, he would have been ashamed of it; and whatever he might have done afterwards, he would never have done that thing again. He would have been sensitive: not saving his own life would have turned into an obsession with him. But there is left, I admit, the murder. And murders always take the public. So I'll give you the murder—though it throws no light on Ferguson, who is the only thing in the whole accursed affair that really counts."
"The murder? I don't see—unless you mean the murdering of the tow-headed child."
"I mean the murder of Ferguson by the girl he loved."
"You said 'suicide' a little while ago," panted Chantry.
"Technically, yes. She was a hundred miles away when it happened. But she did it just the same. Oh, I suppose I've got to tell you, as Ferguson told me."
"Did he tell you he was going to kill himself?" Chantry's voice was sharp.
"He did not. Ferguson wasn't a fool. But it was plain as day to me after it happened, that he had done it himself."
"I'm telling you this, am I not? Let me tell it, then. The thing happened in no time, of course. The girl got over screaming, and ran down to the track, frightened out of her wits. The train managed to stop, about twice its own length farther down, round a bend in the track, and the conductor and brakeman came running back. The mother came out of her hovel, carrying twins. The—the—thing was on the track, across the rails. It was a beastly mess, and Ferguson got the girl away; set her down to cry in a pasture, and then went back and helped out, and gave his testimony, and left money, a lot of it, with the mother, and—all the rest. You can imagine it. No one there considered that Ferguson ought to have saved the child; no one but Ferguson dreamed that he could have. Indeed, an ordinary man, in Ferguson's place, wouldn't have supposed he could. It was only that brain, working like lightning, working as no plain man's could, that had made the calculation and seen. There were no preliminary seconds lost in surprise or shock, you see. Ferguson's mind hadn't been jarred from its pace for an instant. The thing had happened too quickly for any one—except Ferguson—to understand what was going on. Therefore he ought to have laid that super-normal brain under the wheels, of course!
"Ferguson was so sane, himself, that he couldn't understand, even after he had been engaged six months, our little everyday madnesses. It never occurred to him, when he got back to the girl and she began all sorts of hysterical questions, not to answer them straight. It was by way of describing the event simply, that he informed her that he would just have had time to pull the creature out, but not enough to pull himself back afterwards. Ferguson was used to calculating things in millionths of an inch; she wasn't. I dare say the single second that had given Ferguson time to turn round in his mind, she conceived of as a minute, at least. It would have taken her a week to turn round in her own mind, no doubt—a month, a year, perhaps. How do I know? But she got the essential fact: that Ferguson had made a choice. Then she rounded on him. It would have killed her to lose him, but she would rather have lost him than to see him standing before her, etc., etc. Ferguson quoted a lot of her talk straight to me, and I can remember it; but you needn't ask me to soil my mouth with it. 'And half an hour before, she had been saying with a good deal of heat that that little runt ought never to have been born, and that if we had decent laws it never would have been allowed to live." Ferguson said that to me, with a kind of bewilderment. You see, he had made the mistake of taking that little fool seriously. Well, he loved her. You can't go below that: that's rock-bottom. Ferguson couldn't dig any deeper down for his way out. There was no deeper down.
"Apparently Ferguson still thought he could argue it out with her. She so believed in eugenics, you see—a very radical, compared with Ferguson. It was she who had had no doubt about tow-head. And the love-part of it seemed to him fixed: it didn't occur to him that that was debatable. So he stuck to something that could be discussed. Then—and this was his moment of exceeding folly—he caught at the old episode of the Argentina. That had nothing to do with her present state of shock. She had seen tow-head; but she hadn't seen the sprinkled Mediterranean. And she had accepted that. At least, she had spoken of his survival as though it had been one of the few times when God had done precisely the right thing. So he took that to explain with. The fool! The reasonable fool!
"Then—oh, then she went wild. (Yet she must have known there were a thousand chances on the Argentina for him to throw his life away, and precious few to save it.) She backed up against a tree and stretched her arms out like this"—Havelock made a clumsy stage-gesture of aversion from Chantry, the villain. "And for an instant he thought she was afraid of a Jersey cow that had come up to take part in the discussion. So he threw a twig at its nose."
Chantry's wonder grew, swelled, and burst.
"Do you mean to say that that safety-deposit vault of a Ferguson told you all this?"
"As I am telling it to you. Only much more detail, of course—and much, much faster. It wasn't like a story at all: it was like—like a hemorrhage. I didn't interrupt him as you've been interrupting me. Well, the upshot of it was that she spurned him quite in the grand manner. She found the opposites of all the nice things she had been saying for six months, and said them. And Ferguson—your cocky Ferguson—stood and listened, until she had talked herself out, and then went away. He never saw her again; and when he sent for me, he had made up his mind that she never intended to take any of it back. So he stepped out, I tell you."
"As hard hit as that," Chantry mused.
"Just as hard hit as that. Ferguson had had no previous affairs; she was very literally the one woman; and he managed, at forty, to combine the illusions of the boy of twenty and the man of sixty."
"But if he thought he was so precious to the world, wasn't it more than ever his duty to preserve his existence? He could see other people die in his place, but he couldn't see himself bucking up against a broken heart. Isn't that what the strong man does? Lives out his life when he doesn't at all like the look of it? Say what you like, he was a coward, Havelock—at the last, anyhow."
"I won't ask for your opinion just yet, thank you. Perhaps if Ferguson had been sure he would ever do good work again, he wouldn't have taken himself off. That might have held him. He might have stuck by on the chance. But I doubt it. Don't you see? He loved the girl too much."
"Thought he couldn't live without her," snorted Chantry.
"Oh, no—not that. But if she was right, he was the meanest skunk alive. He owed the world at least two deaths, so to speak. The only approach you can make to dying twice is to die in your prime, of your own volition." Havelock spoke very slowly. "At least, that's the way I've worked it out. He didn't say so. He was careful as a cat."
"You think"—Chantry leaned forward, very eager at last—"that he decided she was right? That I'm right—that we're all of us right?"
Havelock the Dane bowed his head in his huge hands. "No. If you ask me, I think he kept his own opinion untarnished to the end. When I told him I thought he was right, he just nodded, as if one took that for granted. But it didn't matter to him. I am pretty sure that he cared only what she thought."
"If he didn't agree with her? And if she had treated him like a criminal? He must have despised her, in that case."
"He never said one word of her—bar quoting some of her words—that wasn't utterly gentle. You could see that he loved her with his whole soul. And—it's my belief—he gave her the benefit of the doubt. In killing himself, he acted on the hypothesis that she had been right. It was the one thing he could do for her."
"But if no one except you thinks it was suicide—and you can't prove it—"
"Oh, he had to take that chance—the chance of her never knowing—or else create a scandal. And that would have been very hard on her and on his family. But there were straws she could easily clutch at—as I have clutched at them. The perfect order in which everything happened to be left—even the last notes he had made. His laboratory was a scientist's paradise, they tell me. And the will, made after she threw him over, leaving everything to her. Not a letter unanswered, all little bills paid, and little debts liquidated. He came as near suggesting it as he could, in decency. But I dare say she will never guess it."
"Then what did it profit him?"
"It didn't profit him, in your sense. He took a very long chance on her guessing. That wasn't what concerned him."
"I hope she will never guess, anyhow. It would ruin her life, to no good end."
"Oh, no." Havelock was firm. "I doubt if she would take it that way. If she grasped it at all, she'd believe he thought her right. And if he thought her right, of course he wouldn't want to live, would he? She would never think he killed himself simply for love of her."
"Well, she wouldn't? She wouldn't be able to conceive of Ferguson's killing himself merely for that—with his notions about survival."
"As he did."
"As he did—and didn't."
"Ah, she'd scarcely refine on it as you are doing, Havelock. You're amazing."
"Well, he certainly never expected her to know that he did it himself. If he had been the sort of weakling that dies because he can't have a particular woman, he'd have been also the sort of weakling that leaves a letter explaining."
"What then did he die for? You'll have to explain to me. Not because he couldn't have her; not because he felt guilty. Why, then? You haven't left him a motive."
"Oh, haven't I? The most beautiful motive in the whole world, my dear fellow. A motive that puts all your little simple motives in the shade."
"Don't you see? Why, I told you. He simply assumed, for all practical purposes, that she had been right. He gave himself the fate he knew she considered him to deserve. He preferred—loving her as he did—to do what she would have had him do. He knew she was wrong; but he knew also that she was made that way, that she would never be right. And he took her for what she was, and loved her as she was. His love—don't you see?—was too big. He couldn't revolt from her: she had the whole of him—except, perhaps, his excellent judgment. He couldn't drag about a life which she felt that way about. He destroyed it, as he would have destroyed anything she found loathsome. He was merely justifying himself to his love. He couldn't hope she would know. Nor, I believe, could he have lied to her. That is, he couldn't have admitted in words that she was right, when he felt her so absolutely wrong; but he could make that magnificent silent act of faith."
Chantry still held out. "I don't believe he did it. I hold with the coroner."
"I don't. He came as near telling me as he could without making me an accessory before the fact. There were none of the loose ends that the most orderly man would leave if he died suddenly. Take my word for it, old man."
A long look passed between them. Each seemed to be trying to find out with his eyes something that words had not helped him to.
Finally Chantry protested once more. "But Ferguson couldn't love like that."
Havelock the Dane laid one hand on the arm of Chantry's chair and spoke sternly. "He not only could, but did. And there I am a better authority than you. Think what you please, but I will not have that fact challenged. Perhaps you could count up on your fingers the women who are loved like that; but, anyhow, she was. My second cousin once removed, damn her!" He ended with a vicious twang.
"And now"—Havelock rose—"I'd like your opinion."
"Well, can't you see the beautiful sanity of Ferguson?"
"No, I can't," snapped Chantry. "I think he was wrong, both in the beginning and in the end. But I will admit he was not a coward. I respect him, but I do not think, at any point, he was right—except perhaps in 'doing' the coroner."
"That settles it, then," said Havelock. And he started towards the door.
"Settles what, in heaven's name?"
"What I came to have settled. I shan't tell her. If I could have got one other decent citizen—and I confess you were my only chance—to agree with me that Ferguson was right,—right about his fellow passengers on the Argentina, right about tow-head on the track,—I'd have gone to her, I think. I'd rather like to ruin her life, if I could."
A great conviction approached Chantry just then. He felt the rush of it through his brain.
"No," he cried. "Ferguson loved her too much. He wouldn't like that—not as you'd put it to her."
Havelock thought a moment. "No," he said in turn; but his "no" was very humble. "He wouldn't. I shall never do it. But, my God, how I wanted to!"
"And I'll tell you another thing, too." Chantry's tone was curious. "You may agree with Ferguson all you like; you may admire him as much as you say; but you, Havelock, would never have done what he did. Not even"—he lifted a hand against interruption—"if you knew you had the brain you think Ferguson had. You'd have been at the bottom of the sea, or under the engine wheels, and you know it."
He folded his arms with a hint of truculence.
But Havelock the Dane, to Chantry's surprise, was meek. "Yes," he said, "I know it. Now let me out of here."
"Well, then,"—Chantry's voice rang out triumphant,—"what does that prove?"
"Prove?" Havelock's great fist crashed down on the table. "It proves that Ferguson's a better man than either of us. I can think straight, but he had the sand to act straight. You haven't even the sand to think straight. You and your reactionary rot! The world's moving, Chantry. Ferguson was ahead of it, beckoning. You're an ant that got caught in the machinery, I shouldn't wonder."
"Oh, stow the rhetoric! We simply don't agree. It's happened before." Chantry laughed scornfully. "I tell you I respect him; but God Almighty wouldn't make me agree with him."
"You're too mediaeval by half," Havelock mused. "Now, Ferguson was a knight of the future—a knight of Humanity."
"Don't!" shouted Chantry. His nerves were beginning to feel the strain. "Leave chivalry out of it. The Argentina business may or may not have been wisdom, but it certainly wasn't cricket."
"No," said Havelock. "Chess, rather. The game where chance hasn't a show—the game of the intelligent future. That very irregular and disconcerting move of his.... And he got taken, you might say. She's an irresponsible beast, your queen."
"Drop it, will you!" Then Chantry pulled himself together, a little ashamed. "It's fearfully late. Better stop and dine."
"No, thanks." The big man opened the door of the room and rested a foot on the threshold. "I feel like dining with some one who appreciates Ferguson."
"I don't know where you'll find him." Chantry smiled and shook hands.
"Oh, I carry him about with me. Good-night," said Havelock the Dane.
A JURY OF HER PEERS
[Note 11: Copyright, 1917, by The Crowell Publishing Company. Copyright, 1918, by Susan Glaspell Cook.]
BY SUSAN GLASPELL
From Every Week
When Martha Hale opened the storm-door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away—it was probably farther from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.
She hated to see things half done; but she had been at that when the team from town stopped to get Mr. Hale, and then the sheriff came running in to say his wife wished Mrs. Hale would come too—adding, with a grin, that he guessed she was getting scarey and wanted another woman along. So she had dropped everything right where it was.
"Martha!" now came her husband's impatient voice. "Don't keep folks waiting out here in the cold."
She again opened the storm-door, and this time joined the three men and the one woman waiting for her in the big two-seated buggy.
After she had the robes tucked around her she took another look at the woman who sat beside her on the back seat. She had met Mrs. Peters the year before at the county fair, and the thing she remembered about her was that she didn't seem like a sheriff's wife. She was small and thin and didn't have a strong voice. Mrs. Gorman, sheriff's wife before Gorman went out and Peters came in, had a voice that somehow seemed to be backing up the law with every word. But if Mrs. Peters didn't look like a sheriff's wife, Peters made it up in looking like a sheriff. He was to a dot the kind of man who could get himself elected sheriff—a heavy man with a big voice, who was particularly genial with the law-abiding, as if to make it plain that he knew the difference between criminals and non-criminals. And right there it came into Mrs. Hale's mind, with a stab, that this man who was so pleasant and lively with all of them was going to the Wrights' now as a sheriff.
"The country's not very pleasant this time of year," Mrs. Peters at last ventured, as if she felt they ought to be talking as well as the men.
Mrs. Hale scarcely finished her reply, for they had gone up a little hill and could see the Wright place now, and seeing it did not make her feel like talking. It looked very lonesome this cold March morning. It had always been a lonesome-looking place. It was down in a hollow, and the poplar trees around it were lonesome-looking trees. The men were looking at it and talking about what had happened. The county attorney was bending to one side of the buggy, and kept looking steadily at the place as they drew up to it.
"I'm glad you came with me," Mrs. Peters said nervously, as the two women were about to follow the men in through the kitchen door.
Even after she had her foot on the door-step, her hand on the knob, Martha Hale had a moment of feeling she could not cross that threshold. And the reason it seemed she couldn't cross it now was simply because she hadn't crossed it before. Time and time again it had been in her mind, "I ought to go over and see Minnie Foster"—she still thought of her as Minnie Foster, though for twenty years she had been Mrs. Wright. And then there was always something to do and Minnie Foster would go from her mind. But now she could come.
* * *
The men went over to the stove. The women stood close together by the door. Young Henderson, the county attorney, turned around and said, "Come up to the fire, ladies."
Mrs. Peters took a step forward, then stopped. "I'm not—cold," she said.
And so the two women stood by the door, at first not even so much as looking around the kitchen.
The men talked for a minute about what a good thing it was the sheriff had sent his deputy out that morning to make a fire for them, and then Sheriff Peters stepped back from the stove, unbuttoned his outer coat, and leaned his hands on the kitchen table in a way that seemed to mark the beginning of official business. "Now, Mr. Hale," he said in a sort of semi-official voice, "before we move things about, you tell Mr. Henderson just what it was you saw when you came here yesterday morning."
The county attorney was looking around the kitchen.
"By the way," he said, "has anything been moved?" He turned to the sheriff. "Are things just as you left them yesterday?"
Peters looked from cupboard to sink; from that to a small worn rocker a little to one side of the kitchen table.
"It's just the same."
"Somebody should have been left here yesterday," said the county attorney.
"Oh—yesterday," returned the sheriff, with a little gesture as of yesterday having been more than he could bear to think of. "When I had to send Frank to Morris Center for that man who went crazy—let me tell you, I had my hands full yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by to-day, George, and as long as I went over everything here myself—"
"Well, Mr. Hale," said the county attorney, in a way of letting what was past and gone go, "tell just what happened when you came here yesterday morning."
Mrs. Hale, still leaning against the door, had that sinking feeling of the mother whose child is about to speak a piece. Lewis often wandered along and got things mixed up in a story. She hoped he would tell this straight and plain, and not say unnecessary things that would just make things harder for Minnie Foster. He didn't begin at once, and she noticed that he looked queer—as if standing in that kitchen and having to tell what he had seen there yesterday morning made him almost sick.
"Yes, Mr. Hale?" the county attorney reminded.
"Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes," Mrs. Hale's husband began.
Harry was Mrs. Hale's oldest boy. He wasn't with them now, for the very good reason that those potatoes never got to town yesterday and he was taking them this morning, so he hadn't been home when the sheriff stopped to say he wanted Mr. Hale to come over to the Wright place and tell the county attorney his story there, where he could point it all out. With all Mrs. Hale's other emotions came the fear now that maybe Harry wasn't dressed warm enough—they hadn't any of them realized how that north wind did bite.
"We come along this road," Hale was going on, with a motion of his hand to the road over which they had just come, "and as we got in sight of the house I says to Harry, 'I'm goin' to see if I can't get John Wright to take a telephone.' You see," he explained to Henderson, "unless I can get somebody to go in with me they won't come out this branch road except for a price I can't pay. I'd spoke to Wright about it once before; but he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet—guess you know about how much he talked himself. But I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, and said all the women-folks liked the telephones, and that in this lonesome stretch of road it would be a good thing—well, I said to Harry that that was what I was going to say—though I said at the same time that I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John—"
Now, there he was!—saying things he didn't need to say. Mrs. Hale tried to catch her husband's eye, but fortunately the county attorney interrupted with:
"Let's talk about that a little later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that, but I'm anxious now to get along to just what happened when you got here."
When he began this time, it was very deliberately and carefully:
"I didn't see or hear anything. I knocked at the door. And still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up—it was past eight o'clock. So I knocked again, louder, and I thought I heard somebody say, 'Come in.' I wasn't sure—I'm not sure yet. But I opened the door—this door," jerking a hand toward the door by which the two women stood, "and there, in that rocker"—pointing to it—"sat Mrs. Wright."
Every one in the kitchen looked at the rocker. It came into Mrs. Hale's mind that that rocker didn't look in the least like Minnie Foster—the Minnie Foster of twenty years before. It was a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side.
"How did she—look?" the county attorney was inquiring.
"Well," said Hale, "she looked—queer."
"How do you mean—queer?"
As he asked it he took out a note-book and pencil. Mrs. Hale did not like the sight of that pencil. She kept her eye fixed on her husband, as if to keep him from saying unnecessary things that would go into that note-book and make trouble.
Hale did speak guardedly, as if the pencil had affected him too.
"Well, as if she didn't know what she was going to do next. And kind of—done up."
"How did she seem to feel about your coming?"
"Why, I don't think she minded—one way or other. She didn't pay much attention. I said, 'Ho' do, Mrs. Wright? It's cold, ain't it?' And she said, 'Is it?'—and went on pleatin' at her apron.
"Well, I was surprised. She didn't ask me to come up to the stove, or to sit down, but just set there, not even lookin' at me. And so I said: 'I want to see John.'
"And then she—laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh.
"I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said, a little sharp, 'Can I see John?' 'No,' says she—kind of dull like. 'Ain't he home?' says I. Then she looked at me. 'Yes,' says she, 'he's home.' 'Then why can't I see him?' I asked her, out of patience with her now. ''Cause he's dead,' says she, just as quiet and dull—and fell to pleatin' her apron. 'Dead?' says I, like you do when you can't take in what you've heard.
"She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin' back and forth.
"'Why—where is he?' says I, not knowing what to say.
"She just pointed upstairs—like this"—pointing to the room above.
"I got up, with the idea of going up there myself. By this time I—didn't know what to do. I walked from there to here; then I says: 'Why, what did he die of?'
"'He died of a rope round his neck,' says she; and just went on pleatin' at her apron."
* * *
Hale stopped speaking, and stood staring at the rocker, as if he were still seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before. Nobody spoke; it was as if every one were seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before.
"And what did you do then?" the county attorney at last broke the silence.
"I went out and called Harry. I thought I might—need help. I got Harry in, and we went upstairs." His voice fell almost to a whisper. "There he was—lying over the—"
"I think I'd rather have you go into that upstairs," the county attorney interrupted, "where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story."
"Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked—"
He stopped, his face twitching.
"But Harry, he went up to him, and he said, 'No, he's dead all right, and we'd better not touch anything.' So we went downstairs.
"She was still sitting that same way. 'Has anybody been notified?' I asked. 'No,' says she, unconcerned.
"'Who did this, Mrs. Wright?' said Harry. He said it businesslike, and she stopped pleatin' at her apron. 'I don't know,' she says. 'You don't know?' says Harry. 'Weren't you sleepin' in the bed with him?' 'Yes,' says she, 'but I was on the inside.' 'Somebody slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him, and you didn't wake up?' says Harry. 'I didn't wake up,' she said after him.
"We may have looked as if we didn't see how that could be, for after a minute she said, 'I sleep sound.'
"Harry was going to ask her more questions, but I said maybe that weren't our business; maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner or the sheriff. So Harry went fast as he could over to High Road—the Rivers' place, where there's a telephone."
"And what did she do when she knew you had gone for the coroner?" The attorney got his pencil in his hand all ready for writing.
"She moved from that chair to this one over here"—Hale pointed to a small chair in the corner—"and just sat there with her hands held together and looking down. I got a feeling that I ought to make some conversation, so I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone; and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me—scared."
At sound of a moving pencil the man who was telling the story looked up.
"I dunno—maybe it wasn't scared," he hastened; "I wouldn't like to say it was. Soon Harry got back, and then Dr. Lloyd came, and you, Mr. Peters, and so I guess that's all I know that you don't."
* * *
He said that last with relief, and moved a little, as if relaxing. Every one moved a little. The county attorney walked toward the stair door.
"I guess we'll go upstairs first—then out to the barn and around there."
He paused and looked around the kitchen.
"You're convinced there was nothing important here?" he asked the sheriff. "Nothing that would—point to any motive?"
The sheriff too looked all around, as if to re-convince himself.
"Nothing here but kitchen things," he said, with a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things.
The county attorney was looking at the cupboard—a peculiar, ungainly structure, half closet and half cupboard, the upper part of it being built in the wall, and the lower part just the old-fashioned kitchen cupboard. As if its queerness attracted him, he got a chair and opened the upper part and looked in. After a moment he drew his hand away sticky.
"Here's a nice mess," he said resentfully.
The two women had drawn nearer, and now the sheriff's wife spoke.
"Oh—her fruit," she said, looking to Mrs. Hale for sympathetic understanding. She turned back to the county attorney and explained: "She worried about that when it turned so cold last night. She said the fire would go out and her jars might burst."
Mrs. Peters' husband broke into a laugh.
"Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worrying about her preserves!"
The young attorney set his lips.
"I guess before we're through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about."
"Oh, well," said Mrs. Hale's husband, with good-natured superiority, "women are used to worrying over trifles."
The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke. The county attorney seemed suddenly to remember his manners—and think of his future.
"And yet," said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, "for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?"
The women did not speak, did not unbend. He went to the sink and began washing his hands. He turned to wipe them on the roller towel—whirled it for a cleaner place.
"Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?"
He kicked his foot against some dirty pans under the sink.
"There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm," said Mrs. Hale stiffly.
"To be sure. And yet"—with a little bow to her—"I know there are some Dickson County farm-houses that do not have such roller towels." He gave it a pull to expose its full length again.
"Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be."
"Ah, loyal to your sex, I see," he laughed. He stopped and gave her a keen look. "But you and Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too."
Martha Hale shook her head.
"I've seen little enough of her of late years. I've not been in this house—it's more than a year."
"And why was that? You didn't like her?"
"I liked her well enough," she replied with spirit. "Farmers' wives have their hands full, Mr. Henderson. And then—" She looked around the kitchen.
"Yes?" he encouraged.
"It never seemed a very cheerful place," said she, more to herself than to him.
"No," he agreed; "I don't think any one would call it cheerful. I shouldn't say she had the home-making instinct."
"Well, I don't know as Wright had, either," she muttered.
"You mean they didn't get on very well?" he was quick to ask.
"No; I don't mean anything," she answered, with decision. As she turned a little away from him, she added: "But I don't think a place would be any the cheerfuler for John Wright's bein' in it."
"I'd like to talk to you about that a little later, Mrs. Hale," he said. "I'm anxious to get the lay of things upstairs now."
He moved toward the stair door, followed by the two men.
"I suppose anything Mrs. Peters does'll be all right?" the sheriff inquired. "She was to take in some clothes for her, you know—and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday."
The county attorney looked at the two women whom they were leaving alone there among the kitchen things.
"Yes—Mrs. Peters," he said, his glance resting on the woman who was not Mrs. Peters, the big farmer woman who stood behind the sheriff's wife. "Of course Mrs. Peters is one of us," he said, in a manner of entrusting responsibility. "And keep your eye out Mrs. Peters, for anything that might be of use. No telling; you women might come upon a clue to the motive—and that's the thing we need."
Mr. Hale rubbed his face after the fashion of a show man getting ready for a pleasantry.
"But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?" he said; and, having delivered himself of this, he followed the others through the stair door.
* * *
The women stood motionless and silent, listening to the footsteps, first upon the stairs, then in the room above them.
Then, as if releasing herself from something strange, Mrs. Hale began to arrange the dirty pans under the sink, which the county attorney's disdainful push of the foot had deranged.
"I'd hate to have men comin' into my kitchen," she said testily—"snoopin' round and criticizin'."
"Of course it's no more than their duty," said the sheriff's wife, in her manner of timid acquiescence.
"Duty's all right," replied Mrs. Hale bluffly; "but I guess that deputy sheriff that come out to make the fire might have got a little of this on." She gave the roller towel a pull. "Wish I'd thought of that sooner! Seems mean to talk about her for not having things slicked up, when she had to come away in such a hurry."
She looked around the kitchen. Certainly it was not "slicked up." Her eye was held by a bucket of sugar on a low shelf. The cover was off the wooden bucket, and beside it was a paper bag—half full.
Mrs. Hale moved toward it.
"She was putting this in there," she said to herself—slowly.
She thought of the flour in her kitchen at home—half sifted, half not sifted. She had been interrupted, and had left things half done. What had interrupted Minnie Foster? Why had that work been left half done? She made a move as if to finish it,—unfinished things always bothered her,—and then she glanced around and saw that Mrs. Peters was watching her—and she didn't want Mrs. Peters to get that feeling she had got of work begun and then—for some reason—not finished.
"It's a shame about her fruit," she said, and walked toward the cupboard that the county attorney had opened, and got on the chair, murmuring: "I wonder if it's all gone."
It was a sorry enough looking sight, but "Here's one that's all right," she said at last. She held it toward the light. "This is cherries, too." She looked again. "I declare I believe that's the only one."
With a sigh, she got down from the chair, went to the sink, and wiped off the bottle.
"She'll feel awful bad, after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer."
She set the bottle on the table, and, with another sigh, started to sit down in the rocker. But she did not sit down. Something kept her from sitting down in that chair. She straightened—stepped back, and, half turned away, stood looking at it, seeing the woman who had sat there "pleatin' at her apron."
The thin voice of the sheriff's wife broke in upon her: "I must be getting those things from the front room closet." She opened the door into the other room, started in, stepped back. "You coming with me, Mrs. Hale?" she asked nervously. "You—you could help me get them."
They were soon back—the stark coldness of that shut-up room was not a thing to linger in.
"My!" said Mrs. Peters, dropping the things on the table and hurrying to the stove.
Mrs. Hale stood examining the clothes the woman who was being detained in town had said she wanted.
"Wright was close!" she exclaimed, holding up a shabby black skirt that bore the marks of much making over. "I think maybe that's why she kept so much to herself. I s'pose she felt she couldn't do her part; and then, you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively—when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that—oh, that was twenty years ago."
With a carefulness in which there was something tender, she folded the shabby clothes and piled them at one corner of the table. She looked up at Mrs. Peters and there was something in the other woman's look that irritated her.
"She don't care," she said to herself. "Much difference it makes to her whether Minnie Foster had pretty clothes when she was a girl."
Then she looked again, and she wasn't so sure; in fact, she hadn't at any time been perfectly sure about Mrs. Peters. She had that shrinking manner, and yet her eyes looked as if they could see a long way into things.
"This all you was to take in?" asked Mrs. Hale.
"No," said the sheriff's wife; "she said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want," she ventured in her nervous little way, "for there's not much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. If you're used to wearing an apron—. She said they were in the bottom drawer of this cupboard. Yes—here they are. And then her little shawl that always hung on the stair door."
She took the small gray shawl from behind the door leading upstairs, and stood a minute looking at it.
Suddenly Mrs. Hale took a quick step toward the other woman.
"Yes, Mrs. Hale?"
"Do you think she—did it?"
A frightened look blurred the other thing in Mrs. Peters' eyes.
"Oh, I don't know," she said, in a voice that seemed to shrink away from the subject.
"Well, I don't think she did," affirmed Mrs. Hale stoutly. "Asking for an apron, and her little shawl. Worryin' about her fruit."
"Mr. Peters says—." Footsteps were heard in the room above; she stopped, looked up, then went on in a lowered voice: "Mr. Peters says—it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech, and he's going to make fun of her saying she didn't—wake up."
For a moment Mrs. Hale had no answer. Then, "Well, I guess John Wright didn't wake up—when they was slippin' that rope under his neck," she muttered.
"No, it's strange," breathed Mrs. Peters. "They think it was such a—funny way to kill a man."
She began to laugh; at sound of the laugh, abruptly stopped.
"That's just what Mr. Hale said," said Mrs. Hale, in a resolutely natural voice. "There was a gun in the house. He says that's what he can't understand."
"Mr. Henderson said, coming out, that what was needed for the case was a motive. Something to show anger—or sudden feeling."
"Well, I don't see any signs of anger around here," said Mrs. Hale. "I don't—"
She stopped. It was as if her mind tripped on something. Her eye was caught by a dish-towel in the middle of the kitchen table. Slowly she moved toward the table. One half of it was wiped clean, the other half messy. Her eyes made a slow, almost unwilling turn to the bucket of sugar and the half empty bag beside it. Things begun—and not finished.
After a moment she stepped back, and said, in that manner of releasing herself:
"Wonder how they're finding things upstairs? I hope she had it a little more red up up there. You know,"—she paused, and feeling gathered,—"it seems kind of sneaking: locking her up in town and coming out here to get her own house to turn against her!"
"But, Mrs. Hale," said the sheriff's wife, "the law is the law."
"I s'pose 'tis," answered Mrs. Hale shortly.
She turned to the stove, saying something about that fire not being much to brag of. She worked with it a minute, and when she straightened up she said aggressively:
"The law is the law—and a bad stove is a bad stove. How'd you like to cook on this?"—pointing with the poker to the broken lining. She opened the oven door and started to express her opinion of the oven; but she was swept into her own thoughts, thinking of what it would mean, year after year, to have that stove to wrestle with. The thought of Minnie Foster trying to bake in that oven—and the thought of her never going over to see Minnie Foster—.
She was startled by hearing Mrs. Peters say: "A person gets discouraged—and loses heart."
The sheriff's wife had looked from the stove to the sink—to the pail of water which had been carried in from outside. The two women stood there silent, above them the footsteps of the men who were looking for evidence against the woman who had worked in that kitchen. That look of seeing into things, of seeing through a thing to something else, was in the eyes of the sheriff's wife now. When Mrs. Hale next spoke to her, it was gently:
"Better loosen up your things, Mrs. Peters. We'll not feel them when we go out."
Mrs. Peters went to the back of the room to hang up the fur tippet she was wearing. A moment later she exclaimed, "Why, she was piecing a quilt," and held up a large sewing basket piled high with quilt pieces.
Mrs. Hale spread some of the blocks out on the table.
"It's log-cabin pattern," she said, putting several of them together. "Pretty, isn't it?"
They were so engaged with the quilt that they did not hear the footsteps on the stairs. Just as the stair door opened Mrs. Hale was saying:
"Do you suppose she was going to quilt it or just knot it?"
The sheriff threw up his hands.
"They wonder whether she was going to quilt it or just knot it!"
There was a laugh for the ways of women, a warming of hands over the stove, and then the county attorney said briskly:
"Well, let's go right out to the barn and get that cleared up."
"I don't see as there's anything so strange," Mrs. Hale said resentfully, after the outside door had closed on the three men—"our taking up our time with little things while we're waiting for them to get the evidence. I don't see as it's anything to laugh about."
"Of course they've got awful important things on their minds," said the sheriff's wife apologetically.
They returned to an inspection of the block for the quilt. Mrs. Hale was looking at the fine, even sewing, and preoccupied with thoughts of the woman who had done that sewing, when she heard the sheriff's wife say, in a queer tone:
"Why, look at this one."
She turned to take the block held out to her.
"The sewing," said Mrs. Peters, in a troubled way. "All the rest of them have been so nice and even—but—this one. Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!"
Their eyes met—something flashed to life, passed between them; then, as if with an effort, they seemed to pull away from each other. A moment Mrs. Hale sat her hands folded over that sewing which was so unlike all the rest of the sewing. Then she had pulled a knot and drawn the threads.
"Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?" asked the sheriff's wife, startled.
"Just pulling out a stitch or two that's not sewed very good," said Mrs. Hale mildly.
"I don't think we ought to touch things," Mrs. Peters said, a little helplessly.
"I'll just finish up this end," answered Mrs. Hale, still in that mild, matter-of-fact fashion.
She threaded a needle and started to replace bad sewing with good. For a little while she sewed in silence. Then, in that thin, timid voice, she heard:
"Yes, Mrs. Peters?"
"What do you suppose she was so—nervous about?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Mrs. Hale, as if dismissing a thing not important enough to spend much time on. "I don't know as she was—nervous. I sew awful queer sometimes when I'm just tired."
She cut a thread, and out of the corner of her eye looked up at Mrs. Peters. The small, lean face of the sheriff's wife seemed to have tightened up. Her eyes had that look of peering into something. But next moment she moved, and said in her thin, indecisive way:
"Well, I must get those clothes wrapped. They may be through sooner than we think. I wonder where I could find a piece of paper—and string."
"In that cupboard, maybe," suggested Mrs. Hale, after a glance around.
* * *
One piece of the crazy sewing remained unripped. Mrs. Peters' back turned, Martha Hale now scrutinized that piece, compared it with the dainty, accurate sewing of the other blocks. The difference was startling. Holding this block made her feel queer, as if the distracted thoughts of the woman who had perhaps turned to it to try and quiet herself were communicating themselves to her.
Mrs. Peters' voice roused her.
"Here's a bird-cage," she said. "Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale?"
"Why, I don't know whether she did or not." She turned to look at the cage Mrs. Peter was holding up. "I've not been here in so long." She sighed. "There was a man round last year selling canaries cheap—but I don't know as she took one. Maybe she did. She used to sing real pretty herself."
Mrs. Peters looked around the kitchen.
"Seems kind of funny to think of a bird here." She half laughed—an attempt to put up a barrier. "But she must have had one—or why would she have a cage? I wonder what happened to it."
"I suppose maybe the cat got it," suggested Mrs. Hale, resuming her sewing.
"No; she didn't have a cat. She's got that feeling some people have about cats—being afraid of them. When they brought her to our house yesterday, my cat got in the room, and she was real upset and asked me to take it out."
"My sister Bessie was like that," laughed Mrs. Hale.
The sheriff's wife did not reply. The silence made Mrs. Hale turn round. Mrs. Peters was examining the bird-cage.
"Look at this door," she said slowly. "It's broke. One hinge has been pulled apart."
Mrs. Hale came nearer.
"Looks as if some one must have been—rough with it."
Again their eyes met—startled, questioning, apprehensive. For a moment neither spoke nor stirred. Then Mrs. Hale, turning away, said brusquely:
"If they're going to find any evidence, I wish they'd be about it. I don't like this place."
"But I'm awful glad you came with me, Mrs. Hale," Mrs. Peters put the bird-cage on the table and sat down. "It would be lonesome for me—sitting here alone."
"Yes, it would, wouldn't it?" agreed Mrs. Hale, a certain determined naturalness in her voice. She had picked up the sewing, but now it dropped in her lap, and she murmured in a different voice: "But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I wish—I had."
"But of course you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale. Your house—and your children."
"I could've come," retorted Mrs. Hale shortly. "I stayed away because it weren't cheerful—and that's why I ought to have come. I"—she looked around—"I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road. I don't know what it is, but it's a lonesome place, and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now—" She did not put it into words.
"Well, you mustn't reproach yourself," counseled Mrs. Peters. "Somehow, we just don't see how it is with other folks till—something comes up."
"Not having children makes less work," mused Mrs. Hale, after a silence, "but it makes a quiet house—and Wright out to work all day—and no company when he did come in. Did you know John Wright, Mrs. Peters?"
"Not to know him. I've seen him in town. They say he was a good man."
"Yes—good," conceded John Wright's neighbor grimly. "He didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him—." She stopped, shivered a little. "Like a raw wind that gets to the bone." Her eye fell upon the cage on the table before her, and she added, almost bitterly: "I should think she would've wanted a bird!"
Suddenly she leaned forward, looking intently at the cage. "But what do you s'pose went wrong with it?"
"I don't know," returned Mrs. Peters; "unless it got sick and died."
But after she said it she reached over and swung the broken door. Both women watched it as if somehow held by it.
"You didn't know—her?" Mrs. Hale asked, a gentler note in her voice.
"Not till they brought her yesterday," said the sheriff's wife.
"She—come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery. How—she—did—change."
That held her for a long time. Finally, as if struck with a happy thought and relieved to get back to every-day things, she exclaimed:
"Tell you what, Mrs. Peters, why don't you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind."
"Why, I think that's a real nice idea, Mrs. Hale," agreed the sheriff's wife, as if she too were glad to come into the atmosphere of a simple kindness. "There couldn't possibly be any objection to that, could there? Now, just what will I take? I wonder if her patches are in here—and her things."
They turned to the sewing basket.
"Here's some red," said Mrs. Hale, bringing out a roll of cloth. Underneath that was a box. "Here, maybe her scissors are in here—and her things." She held it up. "What a pretty box! I'll warrant that was something she had a long time ago—when she was a girl."
She held it in her hand a moment; then, with a little sigh, opened it.
Instantly her hand went to her nose.
Mrs. Peters drew nearer—then turned away.
"There's something wrapped up in this piece of silk," faltered Mrs. Hale.
"This isn't her scissors," said Mrs. Peters, in a shrinking voice.
Her hand not steady, Mrs. Hale raised the piece of silk. "Oh, Mrs. Peters!" she cried. "It's—"
Mrs. Peters bent closer.
"It's the bird," she whispered.
"But, Mrs. Peters!" cried Mrs. Hale. "Look at it! Its neck—look at its neck! It's all—other side to."
She held the box away from her.
The sheriff's wife again bent closer.
"Somebody wrung its neck," said she, in a voice that was slow and deep.
And then again the eyes of the two women met—this time clung together in a look of dawning comprehension, of growing horror. Mrs. Peters looked from the dead bird to the broken door of the cage. Again their eyes met. And just then there was a sound at the outside door.
Mrs. Hale slipped the box under the quilt pieces in the basket, and sank into the chair before it. Mrs. Peters stood holding to the table. The county attorney and the sheriff came in from outside.
"Well, ladies," said the county attorney, as one turning from serious things to little pleasantries, "have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?"
"We think," began the sheriff's wife in a flurried voice, "that she was going to—knot it."
He was too preoccupied to notice the change that came in her voice on that last.
"Well, that's very interesting, I'm sure," he said tolerantly. He caught sight of the bird-cage. "Has the bird flown?"
"We think the cat got it," said Mrs. Hale in a voice curiously even.
He was walking up and down, as if thinking something out.
"Is there a cat?" he asked absently.
Mrs. Hale shot a look up at the sheriff's wife.
"Well, not now," said Mrs. Peters. "They're superstitious, you know; they leave."
She sank into her chair.
The county attorney did not heed her. "No sign at all of any one having come in from the outside," he said to Peters, in the manner of continuing an interrupted conversation. "Their own rope. Now let's go upstairs again and go over it, piece by piece. It would have to have been some one who knew just the—"
The stair door closed behind them and their voices were lost.
The two women sat motionless, not looking at each other, but as if peering into something and at the same time holding back. When they spoke now it was as if they were afraid of what they were saying, but as if they could not help saying it.
"She liked the bird," said Martha Hale, low and slowly. "She was going to bury it in that pretty box."
"When I was a girl," said Mrs. Peters, under her breath, "my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—before I could get there—" She covered her face an instant. "If they hadn't held me back I would have"—she caught herself, looked upstairs where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly—"hurt him."
Then they sat without speaking or moving.
"I wonder how it would seem," Mrs. Hale at last began, as if feeling her way over strange ground—"never to have had any children around?" Her eyes made a slow sweep of the kitchen, as if seeing what that kitchen had meant through all the years. "No, Wright wouldn't like the bird," she said after that—"a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that too." Her voice tightened.
Mrs. Peters moved uneasily.
"Of course we don't know who killed the bird."
"I knew John Wright," was Mrs. Hale's answer.
"It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale," said the sheriff's wife. "Killing a man while he slept—slipping a thing round his neck that choked the life out of him."
Mrs. Hale's hand went out to the bird-cage.
"His neck. Choked the life out of him."
"We don't know who killed him," whispered Mrs. Peters wildly. "We don't know."
Mrs. Hale had not moved. "If there had been years and years of—nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful—still—after the bird was still."
It was as if something within her not herself had spoken, and it found in Mrs. Peters something she did not know as herself.
"I know what stillness is," she said, in a queer, monotonous voice. "When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died—after he was two years old—and me with no other then—"
Mrs. Hale stirred.
"How soon do you suppose they'll be through looking for the evidence?"
"I know what stillness is," repeated Mrs. Peters, in just that same way. Then she too pulled back. "The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale," she said in her tight little way.
"I wish you'd seen Minnie Foster," was the answer, "when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons, and stood up there in the choir and sang."
The picture of that girl, the fact that she had lived neighbor to that girl for twenty years, and had let her die for lack of life, was suddenly more than she could bear.
"Oh, I wish I'd come over here once in a while!" she cried. "That was a crime! That was a crime! Who's going to punish that?"
"We mustn't take on," said Mrs. Peters, with a frightened look toward the stairs.
"I might 'a' known she needed help! I tell you, it's queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it's all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren't—why do you and I understand? Why do we know—what we know this minute?"
She dashed her hand across her eyes. Then, seeing the jar of fruit on the table, she reached for it and choked out:
"If I was you I wouldn't tell her her fruit was gone! Tell her it ain't. Tell her it's all right—all of it. Here—take this in to prove it to her! She—she may never know whether it was broke or not."
She turned away.
Mrs. Peters reached out for the bottle of fruit as if she were glad to take it—as if touching a familiar thing, having something to do, could keep her from something else. She got up, looked about for something to wrap the fruit in, took a petticoat from the pile of clothes she had brought from the front room, and nervously started winding that round the bottle.
"My!" she began, in a high, false voice, "it's a good thing the men couldn't hear us! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a—dead canary." She hurried over that. "As if that could have anything to do with—with—My, wouldn't they laugh?"
Footsteps were heard on the stairs.
"Maybe they would," muttered Mrs. Hale—"maybe they wouldn't."
"No, Peters," said the county attorney incisively; "it's all perfectly clear, except the reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing—something to show. Something to make a story about. A thing that would connect up with this clumsy way of doing it."
In a covert way Mrs. Hale looked at Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Peters was looking at her. Quickly they looked away from each other. The outer door opened and Mr. Hale came in.
"I've got the team round now," he said. "Pretty cold out there."
"I'm going to stay here awhile by myself," the county attorney suddenly announced. "You can send Frank out for me, can't you?" he asked the sheriff. "I want to go over everything. I'm not satisfied we can't do better."
Again, for one brief moment, the two women's eyes found one another.
The sheriff came up to the table.
"Did you want to see what Mrs. Peters was going to take in?"
The county attorney picked up the apron. He laughed.
"Oh, I guess they're not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out."
Mrs. Hale's hand was on the sewing basket in which the box was concealed. She felt that she ought to take her hand off the basket. She did not seem able to. He picked up one of the quilt blocks which she had piled on to cover the box. Her eyes felt like fire. She had a feeling that if he took up the basket she would snatch it from him.
But he did not take it up. With another little laugh, he turned away, saying:
"No; Mrs. Peters doesn't need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff's wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs. Peters?"
Mrs. Peters was standing beside the table. Mrs. Hale shot a look up at her; but she could not see her face. Mrs. Peters had turned away. When she spoke, her voice was muffled.
"Not—just that way," she said.
"Married to the law!" chuckled Mrs. Peters' husband. He moved toward the door into the front room, and said to the county attorney:
"I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows."
"Oh—windows," said the county attorney scoffingly.
"We'll be right out, Mr. Hale," said the sheriff to the farmer, who was still waiting by the door.
Hale went to look after the horses. The sheriff followed the county attorney into the other room. Again—for one final moment—the two women were alone in that kitchen.
Martha Hale sprang up, her hands tight together, looking at that other woman, with whom it rested. At first she could not see her eyes, for the sheriff's wife had not turned back since she turned away at that suggestion of being married to the law. But now Mrs. Hale made her turn back. Her eyes made her turn back. Slowly, unwillingly, Mrs. Peters turned her head until her eyes met the eyes of the other woman. There was a moment when they held each other in a steady, burning look in which there was no evasion nor flinching. Then Martha Hale's eyes pointed the way to the basket in which was hidden the thing that would make certain the conviction of the other woman—that woman who was not there and yet who had been there with them all through that hour.
For a moment Mrs. Peters did not move. And then she did it. With a rush forward, she threw back the quilt pieces, got the box, tried to put it in her handbag. It was too big. Desperately she opened it, started to take the bird out. But there she broke—she could not touch the bird. She stood there helpless, foolish.
There was the sound of a knob turning in the inner door. Martha Hale snatched the box from the sheriff's wife, and got it in the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and the county attorney came back into the kitchen.
"Well, Henry," said the county attorney facetiously, "at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to—what is it you call it, ladies?"
Mrs. Hale's hand was against the pocket of her coat.
"We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson."
THE BUNKER MOUSE
[Note 12: Copyright, 1917, by The Century Company. Copyright, 1918, by Frederick Stuart Greene.]
By FREDERICK STUART GREENE
From The Century Magazine
LARRY WALSH slowly climbed the stairs of a house near the waterfront, in a run-down quarter of old New York. He halted on the top floor, blinking in the dim light that struggled through the grime-coated window of the hallway. After a time he knocked timidly on the door before him.
There was nothing in the pleasant "Come in" to alarm the small man; he started to retreat, but stopped when the door was thrown wide.
"Then it's yourself, Mouse! It's good for the eyes just to look at you."
The woman who greeted Walsh was in striking contrast to her shabby surroundings. Everything about the old-fashioned house, one floor of which was her home, spoke of neglected age. This girl, from the heavy, black braids encircling her head to the soles of her shoes, vibrated youth. Her cheeks glowed with the color of splendid health; her blue Irish eyes were bright with it. Friendliness had rung in the tones of her rich brogue, and showed now in her smile as she waited for her visitor to answer.
Larry stood before her too shy to speak.
"Is it word from Dan you're bringin' me?" she encouraged. "But there, now, I'm forgettin' me manners! Come in, an' I'll be makin' you a cup of tea." She took his arm impulsively, with the frank comradeship of a young woman for a man much older than herself, and led him to a chair.
Larry sat ready for flight, his cap held stiffly across his knees. He watched every movement of the girl, a look of pathetic meekness in his eyes.
"You're right, Mrs. Sullivan," he said after an effort; "Dan was askin' me to step in on my way to the ship."
She turned quickly from the stove.
"You're not tellin' me now Dan ain't comin' himself, an' the boat leavin' this night?"
Larry was plainly uneasy.
"Well, you see—it's—now it's just like I'm tellin' you, Mrs. Sullivan; he's that important to the chief, is Dan, they can't get on without him to-day at all."
"Then bad luck, I say, to the chief! Look at the grand supper I'm after fixin' for Dan!"
"Oh, Mary—Mrs. Sullivan, don't be speakin' disrespectful' of the chief, an' him thinkin' so highly of Dan!"
Mary's blue eyes flashed.
"An' why wouldn't he! It's not every day he'll find the likes of Dan, with the strong arms an' the great legs of him, not to mention his grand looks." She crossed to Larry, her face aglow. "Rest easy now while you drink your tea," she urged kindly, "an' tell me what the chief be wantin' him for."
She drew her chair close to Larry, but the small man turned shyly from her searching gaze.
"Well, you see, Mrs.—"
"Call me Mary. It's a year an' more now since the first time you brought Dan home to me." A sudden smile lighted her face. "Well I remember how frightened you looked when first you set eyes on me. Was you thinkin' to find Dan's wife a slip of a girl?"
"No; he told me you was a fine, big lass." He looked from Mary to the picture of an older woman that hung above the mantel. "That'll be your mother, I'm thinkin'." Then, with abrupt change, "When did you leave the old country, Mary?"
"A little more'n a year before I married Dan. But tell me, Mouse, about the chief wantin' him."
"We'll you see, Dan's that handy-like—"
"That's the blessed truth you're speakin'," she interupted, her face lovely with its flush of pride. "But tell me more, that's a darlin'."
Larry thought rapidly before he spoke again.
"Only the last trip I was hearin' the chief say: 'Dan,' says he, 'it's not long now you'll be swingin' the shovel. I'll be makin' you water-tender soon.'"
Mary leaned nearer, and caught both of Larry's hands in hers.
"Them's grand words you're sayin'; they fair makes my heart jump." She paused; the gladness faded quickly from her look. "Then the chief don't know Dan sometimes takes a drop?"
"Ain't the chief Irish himself? Every man on the boilers takes his dram." Her wistful eyes spurred him on. "Sure's I'm sittin' here, Dan's the soberest of the lot."
Mary shook her head sadly.
"Good reason I have to fear the drink; 't was that spoiled my mother's life."
Larry rose quickly.
"Your mother never drank!"
"No; the saints preserve us!" She looked up in surprise at Larry's startled face. "It was my father. I don't remember only what mother told me; he left her one night, ravin' drunk, an' never come back."
Larry hastily took up his cap.
"I must be goin' back to the ship now," he said abruptly. "An' thank you, Mary, for the tea." He hurried from the room.
When Larry reached the ground floor he heard Mary's door open again.
"Can I be troublin' you, Mouse, to take something to Dan?" She came down the stairs, carrying a dinner-pail. "I'd thought to be eatin' this supper along with him," Mary said, disappointment in her tone. She followed Larry to the outer landing. "It's the true word you was sayin', he'll be makin' Dan water-tender?"
Larry forced himself to look into her anxious eyes.
"Sure; it's just as I said, Mary."
"Then I'll pray this night to the Mother of God for that chief; for soon"—Mary hesitated; a light came to her face that lifted the girl high above her squalid surroundings—"the extra pay'll be comin' handy soon," she ended, her voice as soft as a Killarney breeze.
Larry, as he looked at the young wife standing between the scarred columns of the old doorway, was stirred to the farthest corner of his heart.
"They only smile like that to the angels," he thought. Then aloud: "Bad cess to me! I was forgettin' entirely! Dan said to leave this with you." He pushed crumpled, coal-soiled money into her hand, and fled down the steps.
When Larry heard the door close creakily behind him, he looked back to where Mary had stood, his eyes blinking rapidly. After some moments he walked slowly on toward the wharves. In the distance before him the spars and funnels of ships loomed through the dusk, their outlines rapidly fading into the sky beyond—a late September sky, now fast turning to a burned-out sheet of dull gray.
Larry went aboard his ship, and, going to the forecastle, peered into an upper bunk.
"Your baby's not to home, Mouse," a voice jeered. "I saw him over to Flanagan's awhile ago."
A hopeless look crossed Larry's face.
"Give me a hand up the side, like a good lad, Jim, when I come aboard again."
A few minutes later the little man was making his way back to the steamer, every step of his journey harassed by derisive shouts as he dodged between the lines of belated trucks that jammed West Street from curb to string-piece. He pushed a wheelbarrow before him, his knees bending under the load it held. Across the barrow, legs and head dangling over the sides, lay an unconscious heap that when sober answered to the name of Dan Sullivan.
* * *
Larry Walsh, stoker on the coastwise freighter San Gardo, was the butt of the ship; every man of the crew imposed on his good nature. He was one of those persons "just fool enough to do what he's told to do." For thirty of his fifty years he had been a seaman, and the marks of a sailor's life were stamped hard on his face. His weathered cheeks were plowed by wrinkles that stretched, deep furrowed, from his red-gray hair to the corners of his mouth. From under scant brows he peered out on the world with near-sighted eyes; but whenever a smile broadened his wide mouth, his eyes would shine with a kindly light.
Larry's defective sight had led to his banishment as a sailor from the decks. During a storm off Hatteras a stoker had fallen and died on the boiler-room plates.
"It don't take no eyes at all to see clean to the back of a Scotch boiler," the boatswain had told the chief engineer. "I can give you that little squint-eyed feller." So, at the age of forty or thereabouts, Larry left the cool, wind-swept deck to take up work new to him in the superheated, gas-stifling air of the fire-room. Though entered on the ship's papers as a sailor, he had gone without complaint down the straight ladders to the very bottom of the hull. Bidden to take the dead stoker's place, "he was just fool enough to do what he was told to do."
Larry was made the coal-passer of that watch, and began at once the back-breaking task of shoveling fuel from the bunkers to the floor outside, ready for the stokers to heave into the boilers. He had been passing less than an hour during his first watch when the coal ran short in the lower bunker. He speared with a slice-bar in the bunker above. The fuel rested at a steeper angle than his weak eyes could see, and his bar dislodged a wedged lump; an instant later the new passer was half buried under a heap of sliding coal. Bewildered, but unhurt, he crawled to the boiler-room, shaking the coal from his back and shoulders. Through dust-filled ears he heard the general laugh at his plight.
"Look at the nigger Irishman!" a stoker called.
"Irishman!" came the answer. "It's no man at all; it's a mouse you're seein'—a bunker mouse."
From that moment the name Larry Walsh was forgotten.
* * *
The San Gardo was late getting away that night; two bells of the evening watch had sounded when at last she backed from her pier into the North River and began the first mile of her trip to Galveston. Though she showed a full six inches of the red paint below her water-line, the loading of her freight had caused the delay. In the hold lay many parts of sawmill machinery. When the last of this clumsy cargo had settled to its allotted place, there was left an unusual void of empty blackness below the deck hatches.
"It's up to you now, Matie," the stevedore had said to the impatient first officer. "My job's done right, but she'll roll her sticks out if it's rough outside."
"That's nice; hand me all the cheerful news you have when you know they hung out storm-warnings at noon," the officer had growled as the stevedore went ashore.
Signs that both the Government and the stevedore had predicted correctly began to show as soon as the vessel cleared the Hook. The wind was blowing half a gale from the southeast and had already kicked up a troublesome sea. The ship, resenting her half-filled hold, pitched with a viciousness new to the crew.
There was unusual activity on board the San Gardo that night. Long after the last hatch-cover had been placed the boatswain continued to inspect, going over the deck from bow to stern to see that every movable thing was lashed fast.
In the engine-room as well, extra precautions were taken. It was Robert Neville's watch below; he was the first of the three assistant engineers. Neville, a young man, was unique in that most undemocratic institution, a ship's crew, for he apparently considered the stokers under him as human beings. For one of his fire-room force he had an actual liking.
"Why do you keep that fellow they call Bunker Mouse in your watch?" the chief once asked.
"Because he's willing and the handiest man I have," Neville answered promptly.
"Well, suit yourself; but that brute Sullivan will kill him some day, I hear."
"I don't know about that, Chief. The Mouse is game."
"So's a trout; but it's got a damn poor show against a shark," the chief had added with a shrug.
Neville's watch went on duty shortly after the twin lights above Sandy Hook had dropped astern. The ship was then rolling heavily enough to make walking difficult on the oily floor of the engine-room; in the boiler-room, lower by three feet, to stand steady even for a moment was impossible. Here, in this badly lighted quarter of the ship, ill humor hung in the air thicker than the coal-gas.
Dan Sullivan, partly sobered, fired his boiler, showing ugly readiness for a fight. Larry, stoking next to him, kept a weather-eye constantly on his fellow-laborer.
Neville's men had been on duty only a few minutes when the engineer came to the end of the passage and called Larry.
"That's right," Dan growled; "run along, you engineer's pet, leavin' your work for me to do!"
Larry gave him no answer as he hurried away.
"Make fast any loose thing you see here," Neville ordered.
Larry went about the machinery-crowded room securing every object that a lurching ship might send flying from its place. When he returned to the fire-room he heard the water-tender shouting:
"Sullivan, you're loafin' on your job! Get more fire under that boiler!"
"An' ain't I doin' double work, with that damn Mouse forever sneakin' up to the engine-room?"
Larry, giving no sign that he had heard Dan's growling answer, drove his scoop into the coal, and with a swinging thrust spread its heaped load evenly over the glowing bed in the fire-box. He closed the fire-door with a quick slam, for in a pitching boiler-room burning coal can fall from an open furnace as suddenly as new coal can be thrown into it.
"So, you're back," Dan sneered. "It's a wonder you wouldn't stay the watch up there with your betters."
Larry went silently on with his work.
"Soft, ain't it, you jellyfish, havin' me do your job? You eel, you—." Dan poured out a stream of abusive oaths.
Still Larry did not answer.
"Dan's ravin' mad," a man on the port boilers said. "Will he soak the Mouse to-night, I wonder."
"Sure," the stoker beside him answered. "An' it's a dirty shame for a big devil like him to smash the little un."
"You're new on this ship; you don't know 'em. The Mouse is a regular mother to that booze-fighter, an' small thanks he gets. But wait, an' you'll see somethin' in a minute."
Dan's temper, however, was not yet at fighting heat. He glared a moment longer at Larry, then turned sullenly to his boiler. He was none too steady on his legs, and this, with the lurching of the ship, made his work ragged. After a few slipshod passes he struck the door-frame squarely with his scoop, spilling the coal to the floor.
"Damn your squint eyes!" he yelled. "You done that, Mouse! You shoved ag'in' me. Now scrape it all up, an' be quick about it!"
Without a word, while his tormentor jeered and cursed him, Larry did as he was told.
"Ain't you got no fight at all in your shriveled-up body?" Dan taunted as Larry finished. "You're a disgrace to Ireland, that's what you are."
Larry, still patient, turned away. Dan sprang to him and spun the little man about.
"Where's the tongue in your ugly mouth?" Dan was shaking with rage. "I'll not be havin' the likes of you followin' me from ship to ship, an' sniffin' at my heels ashore. I won't stand for it no longer, do you hear? Do you think I need a nurse? Now say you'll leave this ship when we makes port, or I'll break every bone in you."
Dan towered above Larry, his arm drawn back ready to strike. Every man in the room stopped work to watch the outcome of the row.
At the beginning of the tirade Larry's thin shoulders had straightened; he raised his head; his lower jaw, undershot, was set hard. The light from the boiler showed his near-sighted eyes steady on Sullivan, unafraid.
"Get on with your work, an' don't be a fool, Dan," he said quietly.
"A fool, am I!"
Dan's knotted fist flashed to within an inch of Larry's jaw. The Bunker Mouse did not flinch. For a moment the big stoker's arm quivered to strike, then slowly fell.
"You ain't worth smashin'," Sullivan snarled, and turned away.
"Well, what d'yer know about that!" the new stoker cried.
"It's that way all the time," he was answered; "there ain't a trip Dan don't ball the Mouse out to a fare-you-well; but he never lays hand to 'im. None of us knows why."
"You don't? Well, I do. The big slob's yeller, an' I'll show 'im up." The stoker crossed to Sullivan. "See here, Bo, why don't you take on a man your size?" He thrust his face close to Dan's and shouted the answer to his question: "I'll tell you why. You ain't got sand enough."
Dan's teeth snapped closed, then parted to grin at his challenger.
"Do you think you're big enough?" The joy of battle was in his growl.
"Yes, I do." The man put up his hands.
Instantly Dan's left broke down the guard; his right fist landed squarely on the stoker's jaw, sending him reeling to the bunker wall, where he fell. It was a clean knock-out.