Ollie sat beside her mother, strangely downcast for all the brightening of her affairs. Joe had passed through the fire and come out true, although he might have faltered and betrayed her if it had not been for the sharp warning of Alice Price, cast to him like a rope to a drowning man. Like Hammer, like a thousand others, she wondered why Alice had uttered that warning. What did she know? What did she suspect? It was certain, above everything else, that she knew Joe was guiltless. She knew that he was not maintaining silence on his own account.
How did she know? Had Joe told her? Ollie struggled with the doubt and perplexity of it, and the fear which lay deep in her being made her long to cringe there, and shield her face as from fire. She could not do that, any more than she had succeeded in her desire to remain away from court that morning. There was no need for her there, her testimony was in, they were through with her. Yet she could not stay away. She must be there for the final word, for the last sight of Joe's prison-white face.
She must whip herself to sit there as boldly as innocence and cheat the public into accepting the blanched cheek of fear for the wearing strain of sorrow; she must sit there until the end. Then she could rise up and go her way, no matter how it turned out for Joe. She could leave there with her guilty secret in her heart and the shame of her cowardice burning like a smothered coal in her breast.
It would hurt to know that Joe had gone to prison for her sake, even though he once had stepped into the doorway of her freedom and cut off her light. The knowledge that Alice Price loved him, and that Joe loved her, for she had read the secret in their burning eyes, would make it doubly hard. She would be cheating him of liberty and robbing him of love. Still, they would be no more than even, at that, said she, with a recurring sweep of bitterness. Had Joe not denied them both to her? All of this she turned in her mind as she sat waiting for court to open that somber morning.
The rain in yesterday's threat had come; it was streaking the windows gray, and the sound of the wind was in the trees, waving their bare limbs as in fantastic grief against the dull clouds. There was no comfort in youth and health and prettiness of face and form; no pride in possession of lands and money, when a hot and tortuous thing like conscience was lying so ill-concealed behind the thin wall of her breast.
She thought bitterly of Curtis Morgan, who had failed her so completely. Never again in the march of her years would she need the support of his hand and comforting affection as she needed it then. But he had gone away and forgotten, like a careless hunter who leaves his uncovered fire after him to spring in the wind and go raging with destructive curse through the forest. He had struck the spark to warm himself a night in its pleasurable glow; the hands of ten thousand men could not quench its flame today.
Judge Maxwell had been conferring with the lawyers in the case these few minutes, setting a limit to their periods of oration before the jury, to which both sides agreed after the usual protestations. The court-room was very quiet; expectancy sat upon the faces of all who waited when Sam Lucas, prosecuting attorney, rose and began his address to the jury.
He began by calling attention to what he termed the "peculiar atrocity of this crime," and the circumstances surrounding it. He pointed out that there could have been no motive of revenge behind the act, for the evidence had shown, even the testimony of the defendant himself had shown, that the relations between Chase and his bondman were friendly. Isom Chase had been kind to him; he had reposed his entire trust in him, and had gone away to serve his country as a juryman, leaving everything in his hands.
"And he returned from that duty, gentlemen," said he, "to meet death at the treacherous hands of the man whom he had trusted, there upon his own threshold.
"When Isom Chase was found there by his neighbor, Sol Greening, gentlemen, this bag of money was clasped to his lifeless breast. Where did it come from? What was Isom Chase doing with it there at that hour of the night? This defendant has testified that he does not know. Did Isom Chase carry it with him when he entered the house? Not likely.
"You have heard the testimony of the bankers of this city to the effect that he carried no deposit with any of them. Isom Chase had returned to his home that fatal night from serving on a jury in this court-house. That duty held him there until past ten o'clock, as the records show. Where did that bag of gold come from? What was it doing there? This defendant has sworn that he never saw it before, that he knows nothing at all about it. Yet he admits that 'words' passed between him and Isom Chase that night.
"What those words were he has locked up in the secret darkness of his guilty breast. He has refused to tell you what they were, refused against the kindly counsel of the court, the prayers of his aged mother, the advice of his own attorney, and of his best friends. Joe Newbolt has refused to repeat those words to you, gentlemen of the jury, but I will tell you what the substance of them was."
The prosecutor made a dramatic pause; he flung his long, fair locks back from his forehead; he leveled his finger at Joe as if he held a weapon aimed to shoot him through the heart.
Mrs. Newbolt looked at the prosecutor searchingly. She could not understand why the judge allowed him to say a thing like that. Joe displayed no indication of the turmoil of his heart. But the light was fading out of his face, the gray mist of pain was sweeping over it again.
"Those words, gentlemen of the jury," resumed the prosecutor, "were words of accusation from the lips of Isom Chase when he entered that door and saw this man, his trusted servant, making away with that bag of money, the hoarded savings of Isom Chase through many an industrious year.
"I tell you, gentlemen of the jury, that this defendant, afraid of the consequences of his act when he found himself discovered in the theft, and was compelled to surrender the money to its lawful owner—I tell you then, in that evil moment of passion and disappointment, this defendant snatched that rifle from the wall and shot honest, hardworking old Isom Chase down like a dog!"
"No, no!" cried Mrs. Newbolt, casting out her hands in passionate denial. "Joe didn't do it!"
"Your honor," began the prosecutor, turning to the court with an expression of injury in his voice which was almost tearful, "am I to be interrupted——"
"Madam, you must not speak again," admonished the judge. "Mr. Sheriff, see that the order is obeyed."
The sheriff leaned over.
"Ma'am, I'll have to put you out of here if you do that agin," said he.
Joe placed his hand on his mother's shoulder and whispered to her. She nodded, as if in obedience to his wish, but she sat straight and alert, her dark eyes glowing with anger as she looked at the prosecutor.
The prosecutor was composing himself to proceed.
"This defendant had robbed old Isom Chase of his hoarded gold, gentlemen of the jury, and that was not all. I tell you, gentlemen, Joe Newbolt had robbed that trusting old man of more than his gold. He had robbed him of his sacred honor!"
Hammer entered vociferous objections. Nothing to maintain this charge had been proved by the state, said he. He insisted that the jury be instructed to disregard what had been said, and the prosecutor admonished by the court to confine himself to the evidence.
The court ruled accordingly.
"There has been ample evidence on this point," contended the prosecutor. "The conspiracy of silence entered into between this defendant and the widow of Isom Chase—entered into and maintained throughout this trial—is sufficient to brand them guilty of this charge before the world. More; when Sol Greening's wife arrived a few minutes after the shooting, Mrs. Chase was fully dressed, in a dress, gentlemen of the jury, that it would have taken her longer to put on——"
Merely surmises, said Hammer. If surmises were to be admitted before that court and that jury, said he, he could surmise his client out of there in two minutes. But the court was of the opinion that the evidence warranted the prosecutor there. He was allowed to proceed.
"Ollie Chase could not have dressed herself that way in those few intervening minutes. She had made her preparations long before that tragic hour; she was ready and waiting—waiting for what?
"Gentlemen, I will tell you. Joe Newbolt had discovered the hiding-place of his employer's money. He had stolen it, and was preparing to depart in secrecy in the dead of night; and I tell you, gentlemen of the jury, he was not going alone!"
"Oh, what a scandalous lie!" said Mrs. Newbolt in a horrified voice which, low-pitched and groaning that it was carried to the farthest corner of that big, solemn room.
The outburst caused a little movement in the room, attended by considerable noise and some shifting of feet. Some laughed, for there are some to laugh everywhere at the most sincere emotions of the human breast. The judge rapped for order. A flush of anger mounted to his usually passive face; he turned to the sheriff with a gesture of command.
"Remove that woman from the room, Mr. Sheriff, and retain her in custody!" said he.
The sheriff came forward hastily and took Mrs. Newbolt by the arm. She stood at his touch and stretched out her hands to the judge.
"I didn't mean to say it out loud, Judge Maxwell, but I thought it so hard, I reckon, sir, that it got away. Anybody that knows my Joe——"
"Come on, ma'am," the sheriff ordered.
Joe was on his feet. The sheriff's special deputy put his hands on the prisoner's shoulders and tried to force him down into his seat. The deputy was a little man, sandy, freckled, and frail, and his efforts, ludicrously eager, threw the court-room into a fit of unseemly laughter. The little man might as well have attempted to bend one of the oak columns which supported the court-house portico.
Judge Maxwell was properly angry now. He rapped loudly, and threatened penalties for contempt. When the mirth quieted, which it did with a suddenness almost tragic, Joe spoke. "I wish to apologize to you for mother's words, sir," said he, addressing the judge, inclining his head slightly to the prosecuting attorney afterward, as if to include him, upon second thought. "She was moved out of her calm and dignity by the statement of Mr. Lucas, sir, and I give you my word of honor that she'll say no more. I'd like to have her here by me, sir, if you'd grant me that favor. You can understand, sir, that a man needs a friend at his side in an hour like this."
Judge Maxwell's face was losing its redness of wrath; the hard lines were melting out of it. He pondered a moment, looking with gathered brows at Joe. The little deputy had given over his struggle, and now stood with one hand twisted in the back of Joe's coat. The sheriff kept his hold on Mrs. Newbolt's arm. She lifted her contrite face to the judge, tears in her eyes.
"Very well," said the judge, "the court will accept your apology, and hold you responsible for her future behavior. Madam, resume your seat, and do not interrupt the prosecuting attorney again."
Mrs. Newbolt justified Joe's plea by sitting quietly while the prosecutor continued. But her interruption had acted like an explosion in the train of his ideas; he was so much disconcerted by it that he finished rather tamely, reserving his force, as people understood, for his closing speech.
Hammer rose in consequence, and plunged into the effort of his life. He painted the character of Isom Chase in horrible guise; he pointed out his narrowness, his wickedness, his cruelty, his quickness to lift his hand. He wept and he sobbed, and splashed tears all around him.
It was one of the most satisfying pieces of public oratory ever heard in Shelbyville, from the standpoint of sentiment, and the view of the unschooled. But as a legal and logical argument it was as foolish and futile as Hammer's own fat tears. He kept it up for an hour, and he might have gone on for another if his tears had not given out. Without tears, Hammer's eloquence dwindled and his oratory dried.
Mrs. Newbolt blessed him in her heart, and the irresponsible and vacillating public wiped its cheeks clean of its tears and settled down to have its emotions warped the other way. Everybody said that Hammer had done well. He had made a fine effort, it showed what they had contended for all along, that Hammer had it naturally in him, and was bound to land in congress yet.
When the prosecutor resumed for the last word he seemed to be in a vicious temper. He seemed to be prompted by motives of revenge, rather than justice. If he had been a near relative of the deceased, under the obligation of exacting life for life with his own hands, he could not have shown more vindictive personal resentment against the accused. He reverted to Joe's reservation in his testimony.
"There is no question in my mind, gentlemen of the jury," said he, "that the silence behind which this defendant hides is the silence of guilt, and that silence brands him blacker than any confession that his tongue could make.
"'Words passed between us,' and 'it was between him and me.' That, gentlemen of the jury, is the explanation this defendant gives, the only, the weak, the obviously dishonest explanation, that he ever has offered, or that the kindly admonishment of this court could draw from his lips. Guilt sits on his face; every line of his base countenance is a confession; every brutal snarl from his reluctant tongue is testimony of his evil heart. He was a thief, and, when he was caught, he murdered. 'Out of his own mouth he has uttered his condemnation,' and there is but one penalty fitting this hideous crime—the penalty of death!
"Never before has the fair name of our county been stained by such an atrocious crime; never before has there been such a conspiracy between the guilty to defeat the ends of justice in this moral and respected community. I call upon you, gentlemen of the jury, for the safety of our households and the sanctity of our hearths, to bring in your verdict of guilty under the indictment.
"It is a solemn and awful thing to stand here in the presence of the Almighty and ask the life of one of his creatures, made by Him in His own image and endowed by Him with reason and superiority above all else that moves on the earth or in the waters under it. But this man, Joe Newbolt, has debased that image and abused that reason and superiority which raises him above the beasts of the field. He has murdered a defenseless old man; he has, by that act and deed, forfeited his right to life and liberty under the law."
The prosecutor made one of his effective pauses. There was the stillness of midnight in the crowded court-room. The sound of dashing rain was loud on the window-panes, the hoarse voice of the gray old elm which combed the wind with its high-flung branches, was like the distant groan of the sea.
In that aching silence Ollie Chase turned suddenly, as if she had heard someone call her name. She started, her white face grew whiter. But nobody seemed conscious of her presence, except the prosecutor, who wheeled upon her and leveled his accusing finger at her where she sat.
There was the bearing of sudden and reckless impulse in his act. He surely had not meditated that bold challenge of one who had passed under his merciless hand, and was now, according to all accepted procedure, beyond his reach and his concern. But Sam Lucas did that unusual thing. He stood pointing at her, his jaw trembling as if the intensity of his passion had palsied his tongue.
"Gentlemen of the jury, what part this woman played in that dark night's work the world may never know," said he. "But the world is not blind, and its judgments are usually justified by time. This woman, Ollie Chase, and this defendant have conspired to hold silence between them, in what hope, to what unholy end, God alone knows. But who will believe the weak and improbable story this woman has told on the witness-stand? Who is so blind that he cannot see the stain of her infidelity and the ghastly blight of that midnight shadow upon her quaking soul?"
He turned from her abruptly. Hammer partly rose, as if to enter an objection. He seemed to reconsider it, and sat down. Ollie shrank against her mother's shoulders, trembling. The older woman, fierce as a dragon in the sudden focus of the crowd's attention and eyes, fixed in one shifting sweep from the prosecuting attorney to her daughter, put her arm about Ollie and comforted her with whispered words.
The prosecutor proceeded, solemnly:
"I tell you, gentlemen, that these two people, Ollie Chase and Joseph Newbolt, alone in that house that night, alone in that house for two days before this tragedy darkened it, before the blood of gray old Isom Chase ran down upon its threshold, these two conspired in their guilt to hide the truth.
"If this woman would open her lips, if this woman would break the seal of this guilty compact and speak, the mystery of this case would dissolve, and the heroic romance which this defendant is trying to put over the squalid facts of his guilt would turn out only a sordid story of midnight lust and robbery. If conscience would trouble this woman to speak, gentlemen of the jury—but she has no conscience, and she has no heart!"
He turned again to Ollie, savagely; her mother covered her with her arm, as if to protect her from a blow.
"There she cowers in her guilty silence, in what hope God alone knows, but if she would speak——"
"I will speak!" Ollie cried.
Ollie's voice, low and steady in earnest determination, broke the current of his denunciation as a knife severs a straining cord. The suddenness of her declaration almost made the prosecutor reel. She was sitting up, straight and outwardly calm, pushing her cloak and other detached belongings away from her with an unconscious movement of disencumbering herself for some desperate leap.
"I'll tell everything—if you'll let me—now," said she, rising to her feet.
She was white and cold, but steady, and sternly resolute. The prosecutor had not expected that; his challenge had been only a spectacular play for effect. Her offer to speak left him mentally groping behind himself for a support. It would have been different if he had been certain of what she desired to say. As she stood before him there, bloodless, and in such calm of outward aspect that it was almost hysterical, he did not know whether she was friend or foe.
Joe had not expected it; the hundreds of spectators had not looked for that, and Hammer was as much surprised as a ponderous, barber-minded man could be. Yet he was the first, of all of them there, to get his wits in hand. The prosecutor had challenged her, and, he argued, what she had to say must be in justification of both herself and Joe. He stood up quickly, and demanded that Ollie Chase be put under oath and brought to the witness-stand.
Ollie's mother had hold of her hand, looking up into her face in great consternation, begging her to sit down and keep still. In general, people were standing, and Uncle Posen Spratt was worming the big end of his steer-horn trumpet between shoulders of men and headgear of women to hear what he could not see.
Judge Maxwell commanded order. The prosecuting attorney began to protest against the fulfilment of the very thing that, with so much feeling and earnestness, he had demanded but a minute before.
"Considering this late hour in the proceedings, your honor——" he began.
Judge Maxwell silenced him with a stern and reproving look.
"It is never too late for justice, Mr. Prosecutor," said he. "Let that woman come forward and be sworn."
Hammer went eagerly to the assistance of Ollie, opening the little gate in the railing for her officiously, putting his palm under her elbow in his sustaining fashion. The clerk administered the oath; Ollie dropped her hand wearily at her side.
"I lied the other day," said she, as one surrendering at the end of a hopeless defense, "and I'm tired of hiding the truth any more."
Joe Newbolt was moved by a strange feeling of mingled thankfulness and regret. Tears had started to his eyes, and were coursing down his face, unheeded and unchecked. The torture of the past days and weeks, the challenge of his honor, the doubt of his sincerity; the rough assaults of the prosecuting attorney, the palpable unfriendliness of the people—none of these things ever had drawn from him a tear. But this simple act of justice on the part of Ollie Chase moved the deep waters of his soul.
His mother had taken his hand between her rough palms, and was chafing it, as if to call back its warmth and life. She was not looking at her son, for her faith had not departed from him for one moment, and would not have diminished if they had condemned him under the accusation. Her eyes were on Ollie's face, her lips were murmuring beneath her breath:
"Thank the Lord for His justice and mercy! Thank the Lord, thank the Lord!"
Ollie had settled in the witness-chair again, in the midst of her wide-skirted mourning habit, as on that other day. Joe Newbolt prayed in his heart for the mitigation of public censure, and for strength to sustain her in her hour of sacrifice.
That Ollie had come forward to save him—unasked, unexpected—was like the comfort of a cloak against the wintry wind. The public believed that she was going to "own up" to it now, and to clinch the case against Joe. Some of them began to make mental calculations on the capacity of the jail yard, and to lay plans for securing passes to the hanging.
Hammer stepped forward to question the witness, and the prosecuting attorney sat down, alert and ready to interpose in case things should start the wrong way. He had lost sight of justice completely, after the fixed habit of his kind, in his eagerness to advance his own prospects by securing the conviction of the accused.
Ollie sat facing Judge Maxwell, who had turned in his swivel-chair; moved out of his bearing of studious concentration, which was his usual characteristic on the bench.
"Now, Mrs. Chase, tell your story in your own way, and take your own time for it," said Hammer, kindly patronizing.
"I don't want Joe to suffer for me," she said, letting her sad eyes rest on him for a moment. "What he kept back wasn't for his own sake. It was for mine."
"Yes; go on, Mrs. Chase," said Hammer as she hesitated there.
"Joe didn't shoot Isom. That happened just the way he's said. I know all about it, for I was there. Joe didn't know anything about that money. I'll tell you about that, too."
"Now, your honor," began the prosecutor complainingly, "it seems to me that the time and place for evidence of this nature has gone by. This witness has testified already, and to an entirely different set of facts. I don't know what influences have been at work to induce her to frame up a new story, but——"
"Your zeal is commendable, Mr. Prosecutor," said the judge, "but it must not be allowed to obscure the human rights at hazard in this case. Let the witness proceed."
Ollie shuddered like one entering cold water as she let her eyes take a flight out over the crowd. Perhaps she saw something in it that appalled her, or perhaps she realized only then that she was about to expose the nakedness of her soul before the world.
"Go ahead, Mrs. Chase," prompted Hammer. "You say you know about that sack of money?"
"I was taking it away with me," said she, drawing a long breath and expelling it with an audible sigh.
She seemed very tired, and she looked most hopeless, pitiable, and forlorn; still there was no wavering from the task that she had set for herself, no shrinking from its pain. "I was going to meet Curtis Morgan, the book-agent man that you've asked me about before. We intended to run off to the city together. Joe knew about it; he stopped me that night."
She paused again, picking at her fingers nervously.
"You say that Joe stopped you—" Hammer began. She cut him off, taking up her suspended narrative without spirit, as one resumes a burden.
"Yes, but let me tell you first." She looked frankly into Judge Maxwell's eyes.
"Address the jury, Mrs. Chase," admonished Hammer. She turned and looked steadily into the foreman's bearded face.
"There never was a thing out of the way between me and Joe. Joe never made love to me; he never kissed me, he never seemed to want to. When Curtis Morgan came to board with us I was about ready to die, I was so tired and lonesome and starved for a kind word.
"Isom was a hard man—harder than anybody knows that never worked for him. He worked me like I was only a plow or a hoe, without any feeling or any heart. Morgan and me—Mr. Morgan, he—well, we fell in love. We didn't act right, and Joe found it out. That was the day that Mr. Morgan and I planned to run away together. He was coming back for me that night."
"You say that you and Morgan didn't act right," said Hammer, not satisfied with a statement that might leave the jurymen the labor of conjecture. "Do you mean to say that there were improper relations between you? that you were, in a word, unfaithful to your husband, Isom Chase?"
Ollie's pale face grew scarlet; she hung her head.
"Yes," she answered, in voice shamed and low.
Her mother, shocked and astounded by this public revelation, sat as if crouching in the place where Ollie had left her. Judge Maxwell nodded encouragingly to the woman who was making her open confession.
"Go on," said he.
His eyes shifted from her to Joe Newbolt, who was looking at Ollie with every evidence of acute suffering and sympathy in his face. The judge studied him intently; Joe, his attention centered on Ollie, was insensible to the scrutiny.
Ollie told how she and Morgan had made their plans in the orchard that afternoon, and how she had gone to the house and prepared to carry out the compact that night, not knowing that Joe had overheard them and sent Morgan away. She had a most attentive and appreciative audience. She spoke in a low voice, her face turned toward the jury, according to Hammer's directions. He could not afford to have them lose one word of that belated evidence.
"I knew where Isom hid his money," said she, "and that night when I thought Joe was asleep I took up the loose board in the closet of the room where Isom and I slept and took out that little sack. There was another one like it, but I only took my share. I'd worked for it, and starved and suffered, and it was mine. I didn't consider that I was robbing him."
"You were not," Hammer assured her. "A wife cannot rob her husband, Mrs. Chase. And then what did you do?"
"I went downstairs with that money in my hand and laid it on the kitchen table while I fixed my hat. It was dark in the kitchen, and when I was ready to go to meet Mr. Morgan in the place agreed on between us, I struck a match to find my way to the door without bumpin' into a chair or something and making a noise that would wake up Joe.
"I didn't know he was already up and watching for me to start. He was at the door when I opened it, and he told me to light the lamp. I wouldn't do it. I didn't want him to see me all dressed and ready to leave, and I wanted to try to slip that sack of money off the table before he saw it, too. He came in; I guess he put his hat down on the table in the dark, and it fell on top of the sack.
"When he lit the lamp in a minute you couldn't have told there was anything under the hat unless you stood in a certain place, where it showed a little under the brim. Joe told me he knew all about Morgan and me, and that he'd sent him away. He said it was wrong for me to leave Isom; he said that Isom was better than Morgan, bad as he was.
"I flared up and got mad at Joe, but he was gentle and kind, and talked to me and showed me where I was wrong. I'd kind of tried to make love to Joe a little before that," she confessed, her face flushing hotly again, "before Mr. Morgan came, that was. I'll tell you this so you'll know that there was nothing out of the way between me and Joe.
"Joe didn't seem to understand such things. He was nothing but a boy till the night Isom was killed. He didn't take me up on it like Morgan did. I know it was wrong in me; but Isom drove me to it, and I've suffered for it—more than I can ever make you understand."
She appealed to the judge in her manner of saying that; appealed as for the absolution which she had earned by a cruel penance. He nodded kindly, his face very grave.
"Yes, Mrs. Chase," said Hammer. "And then what did you do next?"
"Well, while Joe was persuading me to go back to bed I put my arms around his neck. I wanted to smooth it over with him, so he'd go to bed first and I could take the money and put it back, for one thing; and because I really was sorry for what I'd done, and was ashamed of it, and felt lonesome and kicked out, and like nobody didn't care.
"Isom came in and saw us standing there that way, with my hands on Joe's shoulders, and he rushed up and said: 'I'll kill you!' He said we was standing there hugging each other, and that we'd disgraced him; but that wasn't so. It was all my fault, but Joe didn't tell him that."
"And what did Joe tell him, Mrs. Chase?" asked Hammer, aglow with the victory which he felt to be already in his hand. He looked with gloating triumph at the prosecuting attorney, who sat at the table twirling a pencil in his fingers, and did not lift his eyes.
"Joe told Isom he was making a mistake, and then Isom ripped and swore and threatened to kill us both. He looked around for something to do it with, and he saw that sack of money under Joe's hat. He jumped for the table and grabbed it, and then he made for the gun. I told Joe to stop him, and Joe tried. But he was too late. The rest of it happened just like Joe's already told you."
Ollie's head drooped forward wearily, and her hands lay passively in her lap. It seemed that she considered the story concluded, but Hammer was not of that mind.
"After Isom fell—after the gun went off and Isom fell—what did you and Joe do?" he asked.
"We heard somebody coming in a minute. We didn't know who it could be, but I was afraid. I knew if it got out on me about my start to run off with Morgan, and all the rest of it, I'd be ruined and disgraced forever.
"Joe knew it too, better than I did. I didn't have to tell him, and I never even hinted for him to do what he did. I never even thought of that. I asked him what we'd do, and he told me to go upstairs and leave him to do the talking. I went. I was coward enough to go and leave him to bear the blame. When Joe lied at the inquest to save me, I backed him up in it, and I stuck to it up till now. Maybe I was a little mad at him for coming between me and Mr. Morgan, but that was just a streak. That's the only lie Joe's told, and you can see he never would have told that to save himself. I don't want to see him suffer any more for me."
Ollie concluded her recital in the same low, dragging and spiritless voice in which she had begun it. Conscience whipped her through, but it could not make her unafraid. Hammer turned to the prosecutor with questioning eyes. Lucas announced that he did not desire to cross-examine the witness, and the judge dismissed her.
Ollie went back to her mother. No demonstration accompanied her passing, but a great sigh sounded over the room as the tenseness of the listening strain relaxed, and the fulness of satisfaction came in its place.
Mrs. Newbolt still clung to her son's hand. She nodded at the prosecuting attorney with glowing eyes, as if glorying over him in the moment of his defeat. Alice Price smiled joyously, and leaned back from her posture of concentration. The colonel whispered to her, bringing the palms of his hands together in silent but expressive applause. The prosecuting attorney stood.
"Your honor—" he began, but Judge Maxwell, lifting his head from the reflecting pose into which he had fallen when Ollie left the stand, silenced him with an impatient gesture.
"One moment, Mr. Prosecutor," said he.
The prosecutor flushed, and sat down in ruffled dignity.
"I merely wanted to make a motion for dismissal," said he, sarcastically, as if it was only the merest incidental in the day's proceedings.
"That is not the procedure," said the judge. "The state owes it to this defendant to absolve him before the public of the obloquy of this unfounded and cruel accusation."
"Vindication is what we demand, your honor," said Hammer grandly; "vindication before the world!"
He spread his arms wide, as if the world stood before him, fat and big of girth like himself, and he meant to embrace it with the next breath.
"You shall have it, Mr. Hammer," said the judge. He turned to the jury. "Gentlemen of the jury, this case has come to a sudden and unexpected end. The state's case, prosecuted with such worthy energy and honorable intention, has collapsed. Your one duty now, gentlemen, is to return a verdict of not guilty. Will it be necessary for you to retire to the jury room?"
The jurymen had been exchanging glances. Now the foreman rose, tall and solemn, with beard upon his breast.
"Your honor, it will not be necessary for the jury to retire," said he. "We are ready to return our verdict."
According to the form, the foreman wrote out the verdict on the blank provided by statute; he stood with his fellows while the clerk of the court read it aloud:
"We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty."
The judge looked down at Joe, who had turned to his mother, smiling through his tears.
"You are free, God bless you!" said he.
When a judge says so much more upon the bench than precedent, form, and custom prescribe for him to say; when he puts down the hard mask of the law and discovers his human face behind it, and his human heart moving his warm, human blood; when a judge on the bench does that, what can be expected of the unsanctified mob in front of him?
It was said by many that Captain Taylor led the applause himself, but there were others who claimed that distinction for Colonel Price. No matter.
While the house did not rise as one man—for in every house there are old joints and young ones, which do not unlimber with the same degree of alacrity, no matter what the incitement—it got to its feet in surprising order, with a great tossing of arms and waving of hats and coats. In the midst of this glad turmoil stood Uncle Posen Spratt, head and shoulders above the crowd, mounted on a bench, his steer's horn ear-trumpet to his whiskered lips, like an Israelitish priest, blowing his famous fox-hound blast, which had been heard five miles on a still autumn night.
Less than half an hour before, the public would have attended Joe Newbolt's hanging with all the pleasurable and satisfactory thrills which men draw from such melancholy events. Now it was clamoring to lift him to its shoulders and bear him in triumph through the town.
Judge Maxwell smiled, and adjourned court, which order nobody but his clerk heard, and let them have their noisy way. When the people saw him come down from the bench they quieted, not understanding his purpose; and when he reached out his hand to Joe, who rose to meet him, silence settled over the house. Judge Maxwell put his arm around Joe's shoulder in fatherly way while he shook hands with Mrs. Newbolt. What he said, nobody but those within the bar heard, but he gave Joe's back an expressive slap of approval as he turned to the prosecuting attorney.
People rushed forward with the suddenness of water released, to shake hands with Joe when they understood that the court was in adjournment. They crowded inside the rail, almost overwhelming him, exclaiming in loud terms of admiration, addressing him familiarly, to his excessive embarrassment, pressing upon him their assurances that they knew, all the time, that he didn't do it, and that he would come out of it with head and tail both up, as he had come through.
Men who would have passed him yesterday without a second thought, and who would no more have given their hands to him on the footing of equality—unless they had chanced to be running for office—than they would have thrust them into the fire, now stood there smiling and jostling and waiting their turns to reach him, all of them chattering and mouthing and nodding heads until one would have thought that each of them was a prophet, and had predicted this very thing.
The old generals, colonels, majors, and captains—that was the lowest rank in Shelbyville—and the noncommissioned substantial first citizens of the county, were shaking hands among themselves, and nodding and smiling, full of the fine feeling of that moment. It was a triumph of chivalry, they said; they had witnessed the renaissance of the old spirit, the passing of which, and the dying out and dwindling of it in the rising generation, they had so long and lamentably deplored.
There, before their eyes, they had seen this uncouth grub transformed into a glorious and noble thing, and the only discord in the miraculous harmony of it was the deep-lying regret that it was not a son of Shelbyville who had thus proved himself a man. And then the colonels and others broke off their self-felicitation to join the forward mob in the front of the room, and press their congratulations upon Joe.
Joe, embarrassed and awkward, tried to be genial, but hardly succeeded in being civil, for his heart was not with them in what he felt to be nothing but a cheap emotion. He was looking over their heads, and peering between their shoulders, watching the progress of a little red feather in a Highland bonnet, which was making its way toward him through the confusion like a bold pennant upon the crest of battle. Joe pushed through the wedging mass of people around, and went to the bar to meet her.
In the time of his distress, these who now clamored around him with professions of friendliness had not held up a hand to sustain him, nor given him one good word to shore up his sinking soul. But there was one who had known and understood; one whose faith had held him up to the heights of honor, and his soul stood in his eyes to greet her as he waited for her to come. He did not know what he would say when hand touched hand, but he felt that he could fall down upon his knees as a subject sinks before a queen.
Behind him he heard his mother's voice, thanking the people who offered their congratulations. It was a great day for her when the foremost citizens of the county came forward, their hats in their hands, to pay their respects to her Joe. She felt that he was rising up to his place at last, and coming into his own.
Joe heard his mother's voice, but it was sound to him now without words. Alice was coming. She was now just a little way beyond the reach of his arm, and her presence filled the world.
The people had their quick eyes on Alice, also, and they fell apart to let her pass, the flame of a new expectation in their keen faces. After yesterday's strange act, which seemed so prophetic of today's climax in the case, what was she going to do? Joe wondered in his heart with them; he trembled in his eagerness to know.
She was now at the last row of benches, not five feet distant from him, where she stood a second, while she looked up into his face and smiled, lifting her hand in a little expressive gesture. Then she turned aside to the place where Ollie Chase sat, shame-stricken and stunned, beside her mother.
The women who had been sitting near Ollie had withdrawn from her, as if she had become unclean with her confession. And now, as Alice approached, Ollie's mother gave her a hard, resentful look, and put her arm about her daughter as if to protect her from any physical indignities which Alice might be bent on offering.
Ollie shrank against her mother, her hair bright above her somber garb, as if it was the one spot in her where any of the sunshine of her past remained. Alice went to her with determined directness. She bent over her, and took her by the hand.
"Thank you! You're the bravest woman in the world!" she said.
Ollie looked up, wonder and disbelief struggling against the pathetic hopelessness in her eyes. Alice bent lower. She kissed the young widow's pale forehead.
Joe was ashamed that he had forgotten Ollie. He saw tears come into Ollie's eyes as she clung closer to Alice's hand, and he heard the shocked gasping of women, and the grunts of men, and the stirring murmur of surprise which shook the crowd. He opened the little gate in the railing and went out.
"You didn't have to do that for me, Ollie," said he, kindly; "I could have got on, somehow, without that."
"Both of you—" said Ollie, a sob shaking her breath; "it was for both of you!"
There was a churchlike stillness around them. Colonel Price had advanced, and now stood near the little group, a look of understanding in his kind old face. Ollie mastered her sudden gust of weeping, and shook her disordered hair back from her forehead, a defiant light in her eyes.
"I don't care now, I don't care what anybody says!" said she.
Her mother glanced around with the fire of battle in her eyes. In that look she defied the public, and uttered her contempt for its valuation and opinion. Alice Price had lifted her crushed and broken daughter up. She had taken her by the hand, and she had kissed her, to show the world that she did not hold her as one defiled. Judge Maxwell and all of them had seen her do it. She had given Ollie absolution before all men.
Ollie drew her cloak around her shoulders and rose to her feet.
"Remember that; for both of you, for one as much as the other," said she, looking into Alice's eyes. "Come on, Mother; we'll go home now."
Ollie walked out of the court-room with her head up, looking the world in the face. In place of the mark of the beast on her forehead, she was carrying the cool benediction of a virtuous kiss. Joe and Alice stood looking after her until she reached the door; even the most careless there waited her exit as if it was part of some solemn ceremony. When she had passed out of sight beyond the door, the crowd moved suddenly and noisily after her. For the public, the show was over.
Alice looked up into Joe's face. There was uncertainty in his eyes still, for he was no wiser than those in their generations before him who had failed to read a woman's heart. Alice saw that cloud hovering before the sun of his felicity. She lifted her hands and gave them to him, as one restoring to its owner something that cannot be denied.
Face to face for a moment they stood thus, hands clasped in hands. For them the world was empty of prying eyes, wondering minds, impertinent faces. For a moment they were alone.
The jurors had come out of the box, and were following the crowd. Hammer was gathering up his books and papers, Judge Maxwell and the prosecuting attorney were talking with Mrs. Newbolt. The sheriff was waiting near the bar, as if he had some duty yet before him to discharge. A smile had come over Colonel Price's face, where it spread like a benediction as Joe and Alice turned to enter the world again.
"I want to shake hands with you, Joe," said the sheriff, "and wish you good luck. I always knowed you was as innercent as a child."
Joe obliged him, and thanked him for his expression, but there were things in the past which were not so easily wiped from the memory—especially a chafed ring around his left wrist, where the sheriff's iron had galled him when he had fretted against it during the tense moments of those past days.
Sam Lucas offered Joe his hand.
"No hard feeling, Joe, I hope?" said he.
"Well, not in particular—oh, well, you were only doing your duty, as you saw it," said Joe.
"You could have saved the county a lot of money, and yourself and your friends a lot of trouble and anxiety, if you'd told us all about this thing at the beginning," complained Lucas, with lingering severity.
"As for that—" began Colonel Price.
"You knew it, Miss Price," Lucas cut in. "Why didn't you make him tell?"
"No," said Alice, quietly, "I didn't know, Mr. Lucas. I only believed in him. Besides that, there are some things that you can't make a gentleman tell!"
"Just so," said Judge Maxwell, coming down from the bench with his books under his arm.
"Bless your heart, honey," said Mrs. Newbolt, touching Alice's hair with gentle, almost reverent hand, "you knew him better than his old mother did!"
Colonel Price bowed ceremoniously to Mrs. Newbolt.
"I want you and Joe to come home with us for some refreshment," said he, "after which the boy and I must have a long, long talk. Mr. Hammer, sir," said he, giving that astonished lawyer his hand, "I beg the honor of shaking hands with a rising gentleman, sir!"
A SUMMONS OF THE NIGHT
There was a voice of moaning abroad in the night. It sounded as the rain swept through the rocking trees and bent its spears against Judge Maxwell's study windows; it sighed in his chimney like an old man turning the ashes of spent dreams. It was an unkind night for one to be abroad, for the rain seemed as penetrating as sorrow. Few passed upon the street beneath the judge's windows where his dim light glowed.
Now and then the sound of hoofs and wheels rose above the wail of the storm, sharp for a moment as it passed, quickly dimmed, quickly lost. It was a night to be beneath one's own roof, beside one's own fire, feeling the thankfulness for such plain comforts which one passes over in the sunny days.
Judge Maxwell had a fire of hickory wood in his chimney, and a tall, dark bottle on the small stand at his elbow. On the long table at his other hand stood his shaded lamp, pouring its concentrated beams upon his papers and books, leaving the corners of the room in shadows. The judge sat with his glass in his hand, studying the fire.
All day, since the adjournment of court, the remarkable termination of and disclosures in the case of State against Newbolt had been flowing through his mind; all day, all evening, the white, strong face of the defendant youth had stood before his eyes. He could not turn from it, nor forget the appeal of those grave, gray eyes.
Never before, in his long and honorable life, had the judge been moved by a case as this had moved him. There was nothing in all his rich experience to equal it. In all his reading——
"Hum-m-m," said the judge, reflectively, remembering. He rose slowly and went to the bookcase nearest the fire. He took down a leather-bound volume and returned to his chair, where he sat with his legs crossed, supporting the heavy book upon his knee. Reflectively he turned the pages, reflectively he read, shaking his head when he had done.
"No, it is not a parallel," said he. "The matter involved has only a remote similitude. I do not believe the annals of jurisprudence contain another case to compare with that of our own Joe Newbolt."
The judge put the volume back in its place, pausing at the table as he returned to his chair to turn down the flame of the lamp. It was too bright for the judge's mood; it was inharmonious with the penitential night. Almost like a voice, strident and in discord above the sobbing music of an orchestra, thought the judge. The firelight was better for a mood such as his.
One can see farther back by the soft glow of wood coals, leaning over and looking into them, than under the gleam of the strongest lamp. Judge Maxwell had a long vista behind him to review, and it seemed to him that night that it was a picture with more shadow than gleam. This day's events had set him upon the train of retrospection, of moody thought.
He had seen that boy, Joe Newbolt, leap out of the obscurity of his life into the place of heroes, as he would have had his own son do, if he could have kept him by his side and fashioned his life. But that boy was gone; long years ago he had left him, and none had come after him to stand in his place. His little, worn books, which he used to sprawl upon the floor and read, were treasured there on their sacred shelf behind the bookcase glass. The light had failed out of the eyes which had found wonders in them, more than thirty years ago.
The lad's mother had followed him; nobody remained to the judge now out of those days of his struggle and slow-mounting hope, save old Hiram, his negro man, a family servitor since the times of slavery, and he was trembling on the limb to fall.
Yes, that was the way that he would have had his own boy stand, true to a trust, faithful in his honor, even under the beam of the gallows-tree; stand as that lad Joe Newbolt had stood, unschooled though he was in everything but that deep sense of duty devolving on one born free. Such nobility was the peculiar birthright of the true American.
Scarcely behind Joe Newbolt stood that hitherto weak woman, Ollie Chase. It called for courage to do what she had done. She had only to keep her peace, and hide whatever pity she felt and pain she suffered on account of the lad who stood ready to sacrifice his life for her, to proceed upon her way clean in the eyes of men. She must have endured the tortures of hidden fires through those weeks of uncertainty and suspense, thought he.
Yes, Ollie Chase had her own nobility; the laurel was due her poor, smirched brow, just as much as it was to Joe Newbolt's lofty forehead. Contrition doubtless played its part in driving her to open confession, and the pain of concealment must have been hard to bear. But there was an underlying nobility in that woman's heart which had urged her on stronger than all. It is a spark in the breast of even the most debased, thought the judge, which abnegation and sacrifice often kindle into a beautiful flame.
And there was Alice Price, with her fine intuition and sublime faith. What a white soul that strong young woman had, said he; what a beautiful and spotless heart. In that kiss which she had stooped to press on the young widow's forehead she had wiped away the difference which Ollie's sin had set between her and other women. It was an act of generosity without ostentation, which he doubted whether Alice Price herself was aware of in its farthest significance. It was the spontaneous act of womanly sympathy and unconscious charity.
What Ollie Chase had said to them as they stood before her, Judge Maxwell did not know, but what was written in their young faces as they turned from watching her go, the whole world might have read—if it had been as watchful and wise as he. What a fitting mate she was for that young lion, Joe Newbolt, thought the judge; such a mate, indeed, as he would have chosen for his own son if God had seen fit to give him that transcendent joy.
Judge Maxwell found himself greatly concerned about Joe Newbolt's future. He wondered what he would make of it if left to go about it in his own way; what he would make of it if properly armed and encouraged. He followed that speculation a long way down the future, building dimly, but pleasantly, in his dream.
A ring sounded at the front door.
Judge Maxwell did not even withdraw his eyes from the fire. Some lawyer over in one of the other two counties embraced in that circuit telegraphing to ask some favor of delay, or favor of something else. To ask a favor, certainly; lawyers never telegraphed to confer favors. Old Hiram, dozing by the kitchen stove, would hear.
Presently old Hiram's shuffling feet sounded along the hall outside Judge Maxwell's study door. The outer door opened and closed. Old Hiram came into the judge's room, a candle in his hand.
"There's a man wishin' to see you, judge, sah," he announced.
Judge Maxwell started from his reverie. In the minute that had passed between the ring at the door and the entry of Hiram, he had put the visitor out of his head.
"A gentleman to see me, Hiram? Who is it?"
"No, sah; I don't think he's 'zactly a gentleman, sah. I don't know who he is; he nevah give me no card, sah, but he's moughty sploshed and blustery lookin'."
"Well—" the judge rose, halting his speech as if thinking of one thing and speaking of another—"fetch him in here, Hiram."
"He's drippin' and drappin' like a leaky pail, sah," said Hiram, shaking his cottony old head.
"No matter; he'll do no harm, Hiram."
Hiram brought the visitor in. The judge advanced to meet him.
The stranger's rubber coat glistened in the light, and the hat that he carried in his hand trickled a little stream on the carpet as he crossed the room. Old Hiram lingered at the door, holding his candle aloft.
The stranger stopped midway between Judge Maxwell and the door, as if uncertain of his welcome, or conscious just at that moment of his drenched and dripping state. He was a tall man and sparely built, and his light-colored wet hair lay in little ringlets against his temples. His mustache was short and stubby. His garments were splashed with mud, as if he had come a long distance over rough roads. There was a haggard and harried look in the man's eyes; he seemed at the highest pitch of nervous tension. His lips were set in a grim line, as if he struggled to hold something from utterance. His eyes were wide and wild.
"Judge Maxwell," he began, looking around him from side to side in quick starts, "I must apologize to you for coming into your house in this condition, and for this late call. But I'm here on important business; I ask you to give me a few minutes of your time alone."
The judge nodded to Hiram, who closed the door after him.
"Take off that wet coat—give me your hat, and sit here," said the judge, pulling a chair around to the fire.
The visitor drew off his rubber garment.
"Thank you, sir," said he. "My name is Morgan, and I've come over hell's highway, as the man said, to get to Shelbyville tonight."
"Not Curtis Morgan?" said Judge Maxwell, lifting his eyes in startled surprise, staying the stream of liquor that he was decanting into a glass.
"Yes. You've heard my name before tonight, I see," the visitor said.
"Just so," replied the judge, in his studious way. "Drink this, unless you have scruples?"
"It looks to me like a life-preserver to a drowning man," said Morgan, with a glimmer of his every-day facetiousness. He drained the glass; the judge motioned for him to sit down. Morgan did so, and stretched his wet feet to the fire.
"I've got a story to tell you, Judge Maxwell," said he, again casting his quick, almost fearful look around, "that will sound to you, maybe, like a wild-eyed dream. But I want to tell you right now, it ain't no dream—not by a million miles! I wish it was," he added, with a serious twist of the head.
"Go on," said the judge.
"I've hurried here, Judge Maxwell, to do what I can in the name of justice and humanity," Morgan said. "That boy, Joe Newbolt, on trial here before you for the murder of old man Chase, is innocent. That boy is telling the truth, Judge, and I'll stake my neck on that. I've got a story to tell you that will clear up all he's holding back, and I'll tell it, if I swing for it!"
Morgan was greatly agitated. He stopped there, looking earnestly into the judge's face.
"Why have you waited so long?" asked the judge, sternly.
Morgan leaned over, clutching at the judge's arm.
"Am I too late—is it over—have they convicted him?" he asked.
"Yes, it's over," nodded the judge, studying Morgan's face narrowly.
"Merciful heavens!" said Morgan, springing to his feet, looking around for his coat and hat. "We must stop this thing before it's too late, Judge—I tell you we must stop it! Isn't there some way—have they convicted Joe?"
"Sit down, Morgan, and calm yourself. Hold your feet out to the blaze and dry them," the judge admonished, kindly.
"What's happened?" asked Morgan, wildly, not heeding the command.
"You shall hear it all in time," promised the judge. "Sit down here and tell me what you've been doing all these weeks. Where have you been?"
"Judge, I've been over in Saint Joe selling books," said Morgan, "and I'll tell you the truth, Judge, I never intended to come back here." He turned and faced the judge, leaning forward earnestly, his face white. He lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper. "But I had to come back—I was sent back by—by a voice!"
"Just so," nodded Judge Maxwell.
"You may think it's a pipe-dream, Judge, but it ain't. It's the solemn truth, if I ever told it in my life. I intended to let Joe Newbolt go on and carry what he'd picked up, and then when he was out of the way in the pen, or worse, maybe, I intended to hunt Ollie up and marry her. I didn't want that business that Joe Newbolt's been keeping back let out on her, don't you see, Judge? It concerns her and me, Judge; it ain't the kind of a story a man's folks would want told around about his wife, you understand?"
The judge nodded.
"All right," said Morgan, wiping his forehead, which was beaded with sweat, "Last night along about ten o'clock I was in my room reading the account in the paper of how Joe had refused on the stand yesterday to tell anything, and how a young woman had stood up in the court-room and backed him up and encouraged him in his stand. I was reading along comfortable and all right, when I seemed to hear somebody call me by my name.
"I tell you I seemed to hear it, for there wasn't a soul in that room but myself, Judge. But that voice seemed to sound as close to my ear as if it come out of a telephone. And it was a woman's voice, too, believe me or not, Judge!"
"Yes?" said the judge, encouragingly, still studying Morgan's face, curiously.
"Yes, sir. She repeated my name, 'Curtis Morgan,' just that way. And then that voice seemed to say to me, 'Come to Shelbyville; start now, start now!'
"Say, I got out of my chair, all in a cold sweat, for I thought it was a call, and I was slated to pass in my checks right there. I looked under everything, back of everything in that room, and opened the door and took a dive down the hall, thinkin' maybe some swift guy was tryin' to put one over. Nobody there. As empty, Judge, I tell you, as the pa'm of my hand! But it's no stall about that voice. I heard it, as plain as I ever heard my mother call me, or the teacher speak to me in school.
"I stood there holding onto the back of my chair, my legs as weak under me as if I'd stayed in swimmin' too long. I didn't think anything about going to Shelbyville, or anywhere else, but hell, I guess, for a minute or two. I tell you, Judge, I thought it was a call!"
Morgan was sweating again in the recollection of that terrible experience. He wiped his face, and looked around the room, listened as the rain splashed against the window, and the wind bent the branches of the great trees beside the wall.
"Well?" said Judge Maxwell, leaning forward in his turn, waiting for Morgan's next word.
"I tell you, Judge, I kept hearing that thing in my ear that way, every little while, till I threw some things in my grip and started for the depot. There wasn't any train out last night that'd fetch me within fifty miles of here. I went back to my room and went to bed. But it didn't let up on me. Off and on, all night, just about the time I'd doze off a little, I'd seem to hear that voice. I went to the depot this morning, and caught the eight o'clock train out. I'd 'a' made it in here at two this afternoon if it hadn't been for a washout between here and the junction that put the trains on this branch out of service.
"I took a rig and I started to drive over. I got caught in the rain and lost the road. I've been miles out of my way, and used up three horses, but I was bound to come. And I'm here to take my medicine."
"I see," said the judge. "Well, Morgan, I think it was the voice of conscience that you heard, but you're no more to blame than any of us, I suppose, because you failed to recognize it. Few of us pay enough attention to it to let it bother us that way."
"Believe me or not, it wasn't any pipe-dream!" said Morgan, so earnestly that the flippancy of his slangy speech did not seem out of place. "It was a woman's voice, but it wasn't the voice of any woman in this world!"
"It's a strange experience," said the judge.
"You can call it that!" shuddered Morgan, expressive of the inadequacy of the words. "Anyhow, I don't want to hear it again, and I'm here to take my medicine, and go to the pen if I've got to, Judge."
Judge Maxwell put out his hand, impatiently.
"Don't try to make yourself out a martyr, Morgan," said he. "You knew—and you know—very well that you hadn't done anything for which you could be punished, at least not by a prison sentence."
"Well, I don't know," said Morgan, twisting his head argumentatively, as if to imply that there was more behind his villainy than the judge supposed, "but I thought when a feller got to foolin' with another man's wife——"
"Oh, pshaw!" cut in the judge. "You're thinking of it as it should be, not as it is. The thing that you're guilty of, let me tell you for your future guidance and peace, is only a misdemeanor in this state, not a felony. In a case like this it ought to be a capital offense. You've shown that there's something in you by coming back to take your medicine, as you say, and voice or no voice, Morgan, I'm going to give you credit for that."
"If the devil ever rode a man!" said Morgan.
"No, it was far from that," reproved the judge.
"It got me goin', Judge," said Morgan, scaring up a little jerky laugh, "and it got me goin' right! It stuck to me till I got on that train and headed for this town, and I'll hear the ring of it in my ear to my last—what's that?"
Morgan started to his feet, pale and shaking.
"It was the wind," said the judge.
"Well, I'm here, anyhow, and I came fast as I could," said Morgan, appealingly. "Do you think it'll stick to me, and keep it up?"
"Why should it?" said the judge. "You've done your duty, even though whipped to it."
"If the devil ever whipped a man!" breathed Morgan, "I'm that man."
Judge Maxwell had doubted the man's sanity at first, when he began to talk about the voice. Now he only marveled at this thing, so elusive of all human science to explain, or human philosophy to define. He recalled an experience of a friend—one who had been for many years court stenographer—who, in a distant city, had been impelled to seize his pencil on a certain night, and write a message which he seemed to hear plainly dictated into his ear by one in Shelbyville. As soon as the post could carry a message to the man whose voice the stenographer had heard, he was asked about the telepathic communication. He at once mailed to the man who had taken it down, more than two thousand miles away, the identical message, word for word. It had been an experiment, he said.
Perhaps something like that had occurred in Morgan's case, or perhaps the man merely had dreamed, a recurring dream such as everybody has experienced, and the strong impression of his vision had haunted him, and driven him to the act. And perhaps someone of vigorous intellect and strong will had commanded him. Perhaps—no matter. It was done.
Morgan was there, and the record of justice in the case of state against Newbolt was about to be made final and complete.
"You say it's all over, Judge," spoke Morgan. "What did they do with Joe?"
"What happened in court today," said Judge Maxwell, rising to his feet, "you would have heard if you had been there. But as you were not, it is not for me to relate. That is the privilege of another, as the matter of your condemnation or acquittal is in other hands than mine."
"I know I acted like a dog," admitted Morgan, sincerely contrite, "both to Ollie and to Joe. But I'm here to take my medicine, Judge. I thought a lot of that little woman, and I'd 'a' made a lady of her, too. That was it. Judge; that was at the bottom of this whole business. Ollie and I planned to skip out together, and Joe put his foot in the mess and upset it. That's what the fuss between him and old Isom was over, you can put that down in your book, Judge. I've got it all lined out, and I can tell you just——"
"Never mind; I think I understand. You'd have made a lady of her, would you? But that was when she was clean, and unsuspected in the eyes of the world. How far would your heroism go, Morgan, if you met her in the street tonight, bespattered with public scorn, bedraggled with public contempt, crushed by the discovery of your mutual sin against that old man, Isom Chase? Would you take her to your heart then, Morgan? Would you be man enough to step out into the storm of scorn, and shoulder your part of the load like a man?"
"If I found her in the lowest ditch I'd take her up, Judge, and I'd marry her—if she'd have me then!" said Morgan, earnestly. "When a man's careless and free, Judge, he sees things one way; when he comes up on a short rope like this, he sees them another."
"You are right, Morgan," said the judge.
He walked the length of the room, hands clasped behind his back, his head bent in thought. When he came back to the fire he stood a little while before Morgan, looking at him with intent directness, like a physician sounding for a baffling vagary which lies hidden in the brain.
There was a question in his face which Morgan could not grasp. It gave him a feeling of impending trouble. He shifted uneasily in his chair.
"Stay here until I return," commanded the judge. "I shall not be long."
"I'm here to take my medicine," reiterated Morgan, weakly. "I wouldn't leave if the road was open to me, Judge."
Judge Maxwell went to the door, calling for Hiram. Hiram was not far away. His candle was still burning; he came bobbing along the hall with it held high so he could look under it, after the manner of one who had been using candles all his life.
"My overcoat, Hiram, and my neck shawl," ordered the judge. He turned to Morgan, who was standing on the hearth.
"Wait for me, I'll not be long away."
"It's a blusterin' and a blowin' mighty bad, Judge. I'll get my coat——"
"No, no, Hiram; there's something for you to do here. Watch that man; don't let him leave."
"He ain't gwine a-leave, Judge, sah," said Hiram with calm significance.
Hiram held up the great frieze coat, and the judge plunged his arms into it. Then the old negro adjusted the shawl about his master's shoulders, and tucked the ends of it inside the coat, buttoning that garment over them, to shield the judge's neck from the driving rain.
The judge turned back into the room to throw another stick on the fire. The lamp was burning low; he reached over to turn up the wick. The flame jumped, faltered, went out.
"Hah, I've turned it out, Morgan. Well, no matter. You'll not need more light than the fire throws. Make yourself comfortable, Morgan."
With a word to Hiram, the judge opened the door and stepped out into the night.
On the pavement the wind met him rudely, and the rain drove its cold arrows against his kind old face. Wonderful are the ways of Providence, thought Judge Maxwell, bending his head to bring his broad hat-brim to shield his face, and complete are the accounts of justice when it is given that men may see them down to the final word.
The wind laid hold of the judge's coat, and tugged at it like a vicious dog; it raged in the gaunt trees, and split in long sighs upon the gable-ends and eaves. There was nobody abroad. For Shelbyville the hour was late; Judge Maxwell had the street to himself as he held on his way.
Past the court-house he fought the wind, and a square beyond that. There he turned down a small street, where the force of the blast was broken, looking narrowly about him to right and left at the fronts of houses as he passed.
Simeon Harrison, Ollie Chase's father, lately had given over his unprofitable struggle with the soil. He had taken a house near the Methodist church and gone into the business of teaming. He hauled the merchants' goods up from the railroad station, and moved such inhabitants of Shelbyville as once in a while made a change from one abode to another.
Sim had come to Shelbyville with a plan for setting up a general livery business, in which ambition he had been encouraged by Ollie's marriage to Isom Chase, to whom he looked, remotely, for financial backing. But that had turned out a lean and unprofitable dream.
Since Isom's death Ollie had returned to live with her parents, and Sim's prospects had brightened. He had put a big sign in front of his house, upon which he had listed the many services which he stood ready to perform for mankind, in consideration of payment therefor. They ranged from moving trunks to cleaning cisterns, and, by grace of all of them, Sim was doing very well.
When Sim Harrison heard of his daughter's public confession of shameful conduct with her book-agent boarder, he was a highly scornful man. He scorned her for her weakness in yielding to what he termed the "dally-faddle" of the book-agent, and he doubly scorned her for repudiating her former testimony. The moral side of the matter was obscure to him; it made no appeal.
His sense of personal pride and family honor was not touched by his daughter's confession of shame, any more than his soul was moved to tenderness and warmth for her honest rescue of Joe Newbolt from his overhanging peril. He was voluble in his declarations that they would "put the screws" to Ollie on the charge of perjury. Sim would have kept his own mouth sealed under like circumstances, and it was beyond him to understand why his daughter had less discretion than her parent. So he bore down on the solemn declaration that she stood face to face with a prison term for perjury.
Sim had made so much of this that Ollie and her mother were watching that night out in fear and trembling, sitting huddled together in a little room with the peak of the roof in the ceiling, a lamp burning between them on the stand. Their arms lay listlessly in their laps, they turned their heads in quick starts at the sound of every footfall on the board walk, or when the wind swung the loose-jointed gate and flung it against its anchorings. They were waiting for the sheriff to come and carry Ollie away to jail.
In front of Sim Harrison's house there was a little porch, not much bigger than a hand held slantingly against its weathered side, and in the shadow of it one who had approached unheard by the anxious watchers through the blustering night, stood fumbling for the handle of a bell. But Sim Harrison's door was bald of a bell handle, as it was bare of paint, and now a summons sounded on its thin panel, and went roaring through the house like a blow on a drum.
Mrs. Harrison looked meaningly at Ollie; Ollie nodded, understandingly. The summons for which they had waited had come. The older woman rose in resigned determination, went below and opened the door.
"It is Judge Maxwell," said the dark figure which stood large and fearful in Mrs. Harrison's sight. "I have come to see Mrs. Chase."
"Yes, sir; I'll call her," said the trembling woman.
Ollie had heard from the top of the stairs. She was descending in the darkness, softly. She spoke as her mother turned from the door.
"I was expecting you—some of you," said she.
"Very well, then," said Judge Maxwell, wondering if that mysterious voice had worked another miracle. "Get your wraps and come with me."
Mrs. Harrison began to groan and wail. Couldn't they let the poor child stay there till morning, under her own mother's roof? It was a wild and terrible night, and Lord knew the poor, beaten, bruised, and weary bird would not fly away!
"Save your tears, madam, until they are needed," said the judge, not feeling that he was called upon to explain the purpose of his visit to her.
"I'm ready to go," announced Ollie, hooded and cloaked in the door.
Sim Harrison was stirring about overhead. He came to the top of the stairs with a lamp in his hand, and wanted to know what the rumpus was about.
"It's Judge Maxwell—he's come for Ollie!" said his wife, in a despairing wail.
"I knowed it, I knowed it!" declared Sim, with fatalistic resignation, above which there was perhaps a slight note of triumph in seeing his own prediction so speedily fulfilled.
To Harrison and his wife there was no distinction between the executive and judicial branches of the law. Judge or sheriff, it was all one to them, each being equally terrible in their eyes.
"When can she come home, Judge, when can she come back?" appealed Mrs. Harrison, in anguished pleading.
"It rests with her," returned the judge.
He gave Ollie his arm, and they passed together in silence up the street. They had proceeded a square before the judge spoke.
"I am calling you on an unusual mission, Mrs. Chase," he said, "but I did not know a better way than this to go about what I felt it my duty to do."
"Yes, sir," said she. He could feel her tremble as she lightly touched his arm.
They passed the court-house. There was a light in the sheriff's office, but they did not turn in there, and a sigh for that temporary respite, at least, escaped her. The judge spoke again.
"You left the court-room today before I had a chance to speak to you, Mrs. Chase. I wanted to tell you how much I admired your courage in coming forward with the statement that cleared away the doubt and tangles from Joe Newbolt's case. You deserve a great deal of credit, which I am certain the public will not withhold. You are a brave little woman, Ollie Chase."
There it was again! Twice in a day she had heard it, from eminent sources each time. The world was not a bleak desert, as she had thought, but a place of kindness and of gentle hearts.
"I'm glad you don't blame me," she faltered, not knowing what to make of this unexpected turn in the night's adventure.
"A brave little woman!" repeated the judge feelingly. "And I want you to know that I respect and admire you for what you have done."
Ollie was silent, but her heart was shouting, leaping, and bounding again in light freedom, as it had lifted that morning when Alice Price had spoken to her in her despair. At last, she said, with earnestness:
"I promise you I'll be a good woman, too, from now on, Judge Maxwell, and I'm thankful to you for your kind words."
"We turn in here—this is my door," said the judge.
Mystified, wondering what the next development of this strange excursion into the night would be, but satisfied in her mind that it meant no ill for her now, Ollie waited while the judge found the keyhole, for which he groped in the dark.
"And the matter of the will was all disposed of by the probate judge today, I hear," said the judge, his hand on the door.
"Then your life is all before you, to make of it what you will," said he, placing his hand on her shoulder, as she stood with him in the dim hall. He opened the study door. The wood on the grate was blazing brightly. Ollie saw someone standing before it, bending slightly forward in the pose of expectation. He was tall and of familiar figure, and the firelight was playing in the tossed curls of his short, fair hair.
"In there," said the judge, "if you care to go."
Ollie did not stir. Her feet felt rooted to the floor in the wonder and doubt of this strange occurrence.
"Ollie!" cried the man at the hearthstone, calling her name imploringly. He came forward, holding out pleading hands.
She stood a moment, as if gathering herself to a resolution. A sob rose in her throat, and broke from her lips transformed into a trembling, sharp, glad cry. It was as if she had cast the clot of sorrow from her heart. Then she passed into the room and met him.
Judge Maxwell closed the door.
LEST I FORGET
Mrs. Newbolt was cutting splints for her new sun-bonnet out of a pasteboard box. She hitched her chair back a little farther into the shadow of the porch, for the impertinent sun was winking on her bright scissors, dazzling her eyes.
It was past the turn of the afternoon; a soft wind was moving with indolence among the tender leaves, sleepy from the scents of lilac and apple bloom which it had drunk on its way. And now it loitered under the eaves of the porch to mix honeysuckle with its stream of drowsy sweets, like a chemist of Araby the Blest preparing a perfume for the harem's pride.
There was the gleam of fresh paint on the walls of the old house. The steps of the porch had been renewed with strong timber, the rotting siding had been replaced. Mrs. Newbolt's chair no longer drew squeaks and groans from the floor of the porch as she rocked, swaying gently as her quick shears shaped the board. New flooring had been laid there, and painted a handsome gray; the falling trellis between gate and door had been plumbed and renewed.
New life was everywhere about the old place, yet its old charm was undisturbed, its old homeliness was unchanged. Comfort had come to dejection, tidiness had been restored to beauty. The windows of the old house now looked upon the highway boldly, owing the world nothing in the way of glass.
Where the sprawling rail fence had lain for nearly forty years, renewed piecemeal from time to time as it rotted away, its corners full of brambles, its stakes and riders overrun with poison-vine; where this brown, jointed structure had stretched, like a fossil worm, a great transformation had come. The rails were gone, the brambles were cleared away, and a neat white fence of pickets stretched in front of the house. This was flanked on either hand by a high fence of woven wire, new to that country then, at once the wonder of the old inhabitants, the despair of prowling hogs and the bewilderment of hens. There was a gate now where the old gap had been; it swung shut behind one with an eager little spring, which startled agents and strangers with the sharpness of its click.
The shrubbery had been cleared of dead wood, and the underlying generations of withered honeysuckle vines which had spread under the green upon the old trellis, had been taken away. Freshness was there, the mark of an eager, vigorous hand. The matted blue grass which sodded the yard had been cut and trimmed to lines along the path. A great and happy change had come over the old place, so long under the shadow. People stopped to admire it as they passed.
"Well, well; it's the doin's of that boy, Joe Newbolt!" they said.
Mrs. Newbolt paused in her clipping of bonnet slats to make a menacing snip at a big white rooster which came picking around the steps. The fowl stretched his long neck and turned his bright eye up to his mistress with a slanting of the head.
"How did you git out of that pen, you old scalawag?" she demanded.
The rooster took a long and dignified step away from her, where he stood, with little appearance of alarm, turning his head, questioning her with his shining eye. She made a little lunge with her shears.
"Yes, I'm goin' to tell Joe on you, you scamp!" she threatened.
"Coo-doot-cut!" said the rooster, looking about him with a long stretching of the neck.
"Yes, you better begin to cackle over it," said she, speaking in solemn reproof, as if addressing a child, "for Joe he'll just about cut your sassy old head clean off! If he don't do that, he'll trim down that wing of yourn till you can't bat a skeeter off your nose with it, you redick-lous old critter!"
But it was not the threat of Joe that had drawn the cry of alarm from the fowl. The sound of steps was growing along the path from the front gate, and the fowl scampered off to the cover of the gooseberry vines, as Mrs. Newbolt turned to see who the visitor was. The scissors fell from her lap, and her spool trundled off across the porch.
"Laws, Sol Greening, you give me a start, sneakin' up like that!"
Sol laughed out of his whiskers, with a big, loose-rolling sound, and sat on the porch without waiting to be asked.
"I walked up over the grass," said he. "It's as soft under your feet as plowed ground. They say Joe's got one of them lawn-cutters to mow it with?"
"Well, what if he has?" she wanted to know. "He's got a good many things and improvements around here that you folks that's lived here for seventy years and more never seen before, I reckon."
"He sure is a great feller for steppin' out his own way!" marveled Sol. "I never seen such a change in a place inside of a year as Joe's made in this one—never in my mortal borned days. It was a lucky day for Joe when Judge Maxwell took a likin' to him that way."
Mrs. Newbolt was looking away toward the hills, a dreamy cast in her placid face.
"Yes," said she, "there's no denyin' that. But Joe he'd 'a' got along, Judge Maxwell or no Judge Maxwell. Only it'd 'a' been slower and harder for him."
"He would 'a'," nodded Sol, without reservation. "No discountin' on that. That boy beats anything this here country ever perduced, barrin' none, and I ain't sayin' that, either, ma'am, just to please you."
"Much thanks I owe you for what you think of Joe!" said she, scornfully. "You was ready enough, not so very long ago, to set the whole world ag'in' him if you could."
"Well, circumstantial evidence—" began Sol.
"Oh, circumstantial nest-eggs!" said she, impatiently. "You'd known Joe all his life, and you know very well he didn't shoot Isom Chase any more than you done it yourself!"
"Well, mistakes is humant," sighed Sol, taking advantage of that universal absolution. "They say Judge Maxwell's goin' to leave everything he's got to Joe, and he's got a considerable, I reckon."
"I don't know as Joe'd take it," said she, folding her hands in her lap. "Judge Maxwell had a hard time to git Joe to let him put in the money to do things around here, and send him to college over in Shelbyville last winter. Joe let him do it on the understandin' that it was a loan, to be paid interest on and paid back when he was able."
"Well, from the start he's makin' it don't look like the judge 'd have very long to wait for his money," said Sol. "Twenty acres of apple trees all in a orchard together, and twenty acres of strawberries set out betwixt and between the rows!"
He looked over the hillside and little apron of valley where Joe's young orchard spread. Each tiny tree was a plume of leaves; the rows stretched out to the hilltop, and over.
"I can figger out how twenty acres of apples can be picked and took care of," reflected Sol, as if going over with himself something which he had given thought to before, "but I'll be durned if I can figger out how any man's goin' to pick and take care of twenty acres of strawberries!"
"Joe knows," said his mother.
"Well, I hope he does," sighed Sol, the sigh being breathed to give expression of what remained unspoken. No matter what his hopes, his doubts were unshaken.
No man had ever taken care of twenty acres of strawberries—nor the twentieth part of one acre, for that matter—in that community. No man could do it, according to the bone-deep belief of Sol and his kind.
"Joe says that's only a little dab of a start," said she.
"Cree-mo-nee!" said Sol, his mouth standing open like a mussel shell in the sun. "When'll they be ripe?"
"Which?" queried Sol, perking his head in puzzled and impertinent way, very much as the rooster had done a little while before him.
"Next spring, I said," she repeated, nodding over her bonnet, into which she was slipping the splints.
"No crop this year?"
"No; Joe says it weakens the plants to bear the first year they're set. It takes the strength away from the roots, he says. He goes through the field and snips off every bloom he sees when he's hoein' among 'em, and I help him between times. We don't git all of 'em, by a mighty sight, though."
Sol shook his head with wise depreciation.
"Throwin' away money," said he.
"Did you ever raise any strawberries?" she inquired, putting down the bonnet, bringing Sol up with a sharp look.
"Reckon I raised as many as Joe ever did, and them mainly with a spoon," said Sol.
The joke was not entirely new; it could not have been original with Sol by at least three hundred years. But it did very well as an excuse for Sol to laugh. He was always looking for excuses to laugh, that was the one virtue in him. Without his big laugh he would have been an empty sack without a bottom.
"Joe got them rows mighty purty and straight," said Sol, squinting along the apple trees.
"Yes, he set 'em out accordin' to geog'aphy," said she.
"Which?" said Sol.
"Ge-og'a-phy, I said. Didn't you never hear tell of that before neither, Sol Greening?"
"Oh," said Sol, lightly, as if that made it all as plain to him as his own cracked thumbs. "How much does Joe reckon he'll git off of that patch of berries when it begins to bear?"
"I never heard him say he expected to make anything," said she, "but I read in one of them fruit-growin' papers he takes that they make as much as three hundred dollars an acre from 'em back in Ellinoi."
Sol got up, slowly; took a backward step into the yard; filled his lungs, opened his mouth, made his eyes round. Under the internal pressure his whiskers stood on end and his face grew red. "Oh, you git out!" said he.
"I can show it to you in the paper," she offered, making as if to put aside her sewing.
Sol laid a finger on his palm and stood with his head bent. After a bit he looked up, his eyes still round.
"If he even makes a hundred, that'll be two thousand dollars a year!"
It was such a magnificent sum that Sol did not feel like taking the familiarity with it of mentioning it aloud. He whispered it, giving it large, rich sound.
"Why, I reckon it would be," said she, offhand and careless, just as if two thousand a year, more or less, mattered very little to Joe.
"That's more than I ever made in my whole dad-blame life," said Sol.
"Well, whose fault is it, Sol?" asked she.
"I don't believe it can be done!"
"You'll see," she assured him, comfortably.
"And Joe he went and stuck to the old place," reflected Sol. "He might 'a' got some better land for his sperimentin' and projeckin' if he'd 'a' looked around."
"He was offered land, all the land a man could want," said she. "Ollie wanted him to take over the Chase home place and farm it when she and Morgan married and left, but Joe he said no; the Newbolts had made their failures here, he said, and here they was goin' to make their success. He had to redeem the past, Joe said, and wipe out the mistakes, and show folks what a Newbolt can do when he gits his foot set right."
"He'll do it, too," said Sol, without a reserved grudge or jealousy; "he's doin' it already."
"Yes, I always knew Joe would," said she. "When he was nothing but a little shaver he'd read the Cottage Encyclopedy and the Imitation and the Bible, from back to back. I said then he'd be governor of this state, and he will."
She spoke confidently, nodding over her work.
"Shucks! How do you know he will?"
Sol's faith was not strong in this high-flying forecast. It seemed to him that it was crowding things a little too far.
"You'll live to see it," said she.
Sol sat with his back against a pillar of the porch, one foot on the ground, the other standing on the boards in front of him, his hands locked about his doubled knee. He sat there and looked up at the Widow Newbolt, raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes, but not lifting his head, which was slightly bent. "Well, what's to be's to be," said he. "When's he goin' to marry?"
"When he's through goin' to college."
"That'll be two or three years, maybe?"
"Hum; Alice Price she'll be gettin' purty well along by that time."
"She's not quite a year older than Joe," Mrs. Newbolt corrected him, with some asperity, "and she's one of the kind that'll keep. Well, I was married myself, and had a baby, when I was nineteen. But that's no sign."
"Joe'll build, I reckon, before then?" guessed Sol.
"No; Alice don't want him to. She wants to come here a bride, to this house, like I come to it long, long ago. We'll fix up and make ready for her, little by little, as we go along. It'll be bringin' back the pleasure of the old days, it'll be like livin' my courtship and marriage over. This was a fine house in the days that Peter brought me here, for Peter, he had money then, and he put the best there was goin' into it."
"It looks better than any house around here now, since you fixed it up and painted it," said Sol.
"It's better inside than outside," said she, with a woman's pride in a home, which justifies her warmth for it. "We had it all plastered and varnished. The doors and casin's and all the trimmin's are walnut, worth their weight in gold, now, almost, Judge Maxwell says."
"Yes, the curly walnut's all gone, years and years ago," said Sol.
"It passed away with the pioneers," sighed she.
"I suppose they'll build in time, though?" Sol said.
"I 'low they will, maybe, after I'm gone," said she.
"Well, well!" said Sol. He sat silent a little while. "Folks never have got over wonderin' on the way she took up with Joe," he said.
Mrs. Newbolt flashed up in a breath.
"Why should anybody wonder, I'd like for you to tell me?" she demanded. "Joe he's good enough for her, and too good for anybody else in this county! Who else was there for Joe, who else was there for Alice?"
Sol did not attempt to answer. It was beyond him, the way some people figgered, he thought in the back of his mind. There was his own girl, Tilda Bell. He considered her the equal to any Newbolt that ever straddled a horse and rode over from Kentucky. But then, you never could tell how tastes run.
"Well, reckon I'll have to be rackin' out home," said he, getting up, tiptoeing to take the cramp out of his legs.
"Yes, and I'll have to be stirrin' the pots to get supper for my boy Joe," she said.
The smoke from her kitchen fire rose white as she put in dry sumac to give it a start. It mounted straight as a plume for a little way, until it met the cool air of evening which was beginning to fall. There it spread, like a floating silken scarf, and settled over the roof. It draped down slowly over the walls, until it enveloped the old home like the benediction of a loving heart.
The sun was descending the ladder of the hills; low now it stood above them, the valley in shadow more than half its breadth, a tender flood of gold upon the slope where the new orchard waved its eager shoots; the blessing of a day was passing in the promise of a day to come.
Out of the kitchen came the cheerful sound of batter for the corn bread being beaten in the bowl, and with it Sarah Newbolt's voice in song:
Near the cross, O Lamb of God——
The beating of the batter dimmed the next line. Then it rose to the close——
Let me walk from day to day, With its shadow o'er me.
The clamp of the oven door was heard, and silence followed.
Sarah was standing on the porch again wiping her hands on her apron, looking away toward the fields. The sun was dipping now into the forest cresting the hills; the white rooster was pacing the outside of the wire enclosure from which he had escaped, in frantic search of an opening to admit him to his perch, his proud head all rumpled in his baffled eagerness, his dangling wattles fiery red.
The smoke had found the low places in garden and lawn, where it hovered; a dove wailed from the old orchard, where a pair of them nested year after year; a little child-wind came with soft fingers, and laid them on the waiting woman's hair.
Her face quickened with a smile. Joe was coming home from the field. Over his shoulder he carried his hoe, and as he came on toward her in yard-long strides his mother thought of the young soldiers she had seen march away to the war, carrying their guns in that same free confidence of careless strength. His hat was pushed back from his forehead, the collar of his blue flannel shirt was open. His boyish suspenders had been put away in favor of a belt, which was tight-drawn about his slim waist.
Very trim and strong, and confident he looked, with the glow of youth in his cheeks, and the spark of happiness in his gray eyes. He was well set in the form of a man now, the months since his imprisonment having brought him much to fasten upon and hold.
Joe made the same great splashing that he had made on that spring evening of a year gone by, when he came home from work to step into the shadow which so quickly grew into a storm. But there was no shadow ahead of him this night; there was no somber thing to bend down the high serenity of his happy heart.
He stood before the glass hung above the wash bench and smoothed his hair. Mrs. Newbolt was standing by the stove, one of the lids partly removed, some white thing in her hand which she seemed hesitating over consigning to the flames.
"What've you got there, Mother?" he asked cheerily as he turned to take his place at the waiting table.
"Laws," said she, in some perturbation, her face flushed, holding the thing in her hand up to his better view, "it's that old paper I got from Isom when I—a year ago! I mislaid it when the men was paintin' and plasterin', and I just now run across it stuck back of the coffee jar."
For a moment Joe stood behind her, silently, looking over her shoulder at the signature of Isom Chase.
"It's no use now," said she, her humiliation over being confronted with this reminder of her past perfidy against her beloved boy almost overwhelming her. "We might as well put it in the stove and git it out of sight."
Joe looked at her with a smile, his face still solemn and serious for all its youth and the fires of new-lit hope behind his eyes. He laid his hand upon her shoulder assuringly, and closed the stove.
"Give it to me, Mother," said he, reaching out his hand.
She placed the bond of his transference to Isom Chase in it, and those old heart-wrung tears of hers, which had been dry upon her cheeks now for many a happy day, welled, and flowed down silently.
Joe folded the paper.
"I'll keep it, Mother," said he, "so that it will stand as a reminder to me in prosperity that I was once poor and in bondage; and in my happiness that it may tell me of the days when I was forsaken and in prison, with only my mother's faithful hand to comfort me.
"I'll put it away and keep it, Mother, lest in my prosperity some day I may forget the Lord; forget that He giveth, and that He taketh away, also; that His hand chastiseth in the same measure that it bestows blessings upon us. I'll leave it up here, Mother, on the old shelf; right where I can see it every time I take down the Book."
W. B. C.