Part 1 out of 7
Mike Greene and the Little Greene Schoolhouse
(http://www.users.nac.net/mgreene/Homer_Greene_Museum.php) for supplying
missing pages for this rare book.
AUTHOR OF "THE BLIND BROTHER"
TO MY FATHER,
WHOSE GRAY HAIRS I HONOR, AND WHOSE PERFECT MANHOOD I REVERE,
THIS VOLUME IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR.
HONESDALE, PENN., SEPT. 29, 1887.
I. A SURPRISE IN THE SCREEN-ROOM
II. A STRANGE VISITOR
III. A BRILLIANT SCHEME
IV. A SET OF RESOLUTIONS
V. IN SEARCH OF A MOTHER
VI. BREAKING THE NEWS
VII. RHYMING JOE
VIII. A FRIEND IN NEED
IX. A FRIEND INDEED
X. AT THE BAR OF THE COURT
XI. THE EVIDENCE IN THE CASE
XII. AT THE GATES OF PARADISE
XIII. THE PURCHASE OF A LIE
XIV. THE ANGEL WITH THE SWORD
XV. AN EVENTFUL JOURNEY
XVI. A BLOCK IN THE WHEEL
XVII. GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY
XVIII. A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
XIX. BACK TO THE BREAKER
XX. THE FIRE IN THE SHAFT
XXI. A PERILOUS PASSAGE
XXII. IN THE POWER OF DARKNESS
XXIII. A STROKE OF LIGHTNING
XXIV. AT THE DAWN OF DAY
A SURPRISE IN THE SCREEN-ROOM.
The city of Scranton lies in the centre of the Lackawanna coal-field,
in the State of Pennsylvania. Year by year the suburbs of the city
creep up the sides of the surrounding hills, like the waters of a
Standing at any point on this shore line of human habitations, you can
look out across the wide landscape and count a score of coal-breakers
within the limits of your first glance. These breakers are huge, dark
buildings that remind you of castles of the olden time. They are
many-winged and many-windowed, and their shaft-towers rise high up
toward the clouds and the stars. About the feet of those in the valley
the waves of the out-reaching city beat and break, and out on the
hill-sides they stand like mighty fortresses built to guard the lives
and fortunes of the multitudes who toil beneath them. But they are not
long-lived. Like human beings, they rise, they flourish, they die and
are forgotten. Not one in hundreds of the people who walk the streets
of Scranton to-day, or who dig the coal from its surrounding hills,
can tell you where Burnham Breaker stood a quarter of a century ago.
Yet there are men still living, and boys who have grown to manhood,
scores of them, who toiled for years in the black dust breathed out
from its throats of iron, and listened to the thunder of its grinding
jaws from dawn to dark of many and many a day.
These will surely tell you where the breaker stood. They are proud to
have labored there in other years. They will speak to you of that time
with pleasant memories. It was thought to be a stroke of fortune to
obtain work at Burnham Breaker. It was just beyond the suburbs of the
city as they then were, and near to the homes of all the workmen. The
vein of coal at this point was of more than ordinary thickness, and of
excellent quality, and these were matters of much moment to the miners
who worked there. Then, the wages were always paid according to the
highest rate, promptly and in full.
But there was something more, and more important than all this, to be
considered. Robert Burnham, the chief power in the company, and the
manager of its interests, was a man whose energetic business qualities
and methods did not interfere with his concern for the welfare of his
employees. He was not only just, but liberal and kind. He held not
only the confidence but the good-will, even the affection, of those
who labored under him. There were never any strikes at the Burnham
mines. The men would have considered it high treason in any one to
advocate a strike against the interests of Robert Burnham.
Yet it was no place for idling. There were, no laggards there. Men
had to work, and work hard too, for the wages that bought their daily
bread. Even the boys in the screen-room were held as closely to their
tasks as care and vigilance could hold them. Theirs were no light
tasks, either. They sat all day on their little benches, high up in
the great black building, with their eyes fixed always on the shallow
streams of broken coal passing down the iron-sheathed chutes, and
falling out of sight below them; and it was their duty to pick the
particles of slate and stone from out these moving masses, bending
constantly above them as they worked. It was not the physical exertion
that made their task a hard one; there was not much straining of the
joints or muscles, not even in the constant bending of the body to
that one position.
Neither was it that their tender hands were often cut and bruised by
the sharp pieces of the coal or the heavy ones of slate. But it was
hard because they were boys; young boys, with bounding pulses, chafing
at restraint, full to the brim with life and spirit, longing for the
fresh air, the bright sunlight, the fields, the woods, the waters, the
birds, the flowers, all things beautiful and wonderful that nature
spreads upon the earth to make of it a paradise for boys. To think of
all these things, to catch brief glimpses of the happiness of children
who were not born to toil, and then to sit, from dawn to mid-day and
from mid-day till the sun went down, and listen to the ceaseless
thunder of moving wheels and the constant sliding of the streams of
coal across their iron beds,--it was this that wearied them.
To know that in the woods the brooks were singing over pebbly bottoms,
that in the fields the air was filled with the fragrance of blossoming
flowers, that everywhere the free wind rioted at will, and then to
sit in such a prison-house as this all day, and breathe an atmosphere
so thick with dust that even the bits of blue sky framed in by
the open windows in the summer time were like strips of some dark
thunder-cloud,--it was this, this dull monotony of dizzy sight and
doleful sound and changeless post of duty, that made their task a hard
There came a certain summer day at Burnham Breaker when the labor and
confinement fell with double weight upon the slate-pickers in the
screen-room. It was circus day. The dead-walls and bill-boards of the
city had been gorgeous for weeks and weeks with pictures heralding the
wonders of the coming show. By the turnpike road, not forty rods from
where the breaker stood, there was a wide barn the whole side of which
had been covered with brightly colored prints of beasts and birds, of
long processions, of men turning marvellous somersaults, of ladies
riding, poised on one foot, on the backs of flying horses, of a
hundred other things to charm the eyes and rouse anticipation in the
breasts of boys.
Every day, when the whistle blew at noon, the boys ran, shouting, from
the breaker, and hurried, with their dinner-pails, to the roadside
barn, to eat and gaze alternately, and discuss the pictured wonders.
And now it was all here; beasts, birds, vaulting men, flying women,
racing horses and all. They had seen the great white tents gleaming
in the sunlight up in the open fields, a mile away, and had heard the
distant music of the band and caught glimpses of the long procession
as it wound through the city streets below them. This was at the noon
hour, while they were waiting for the signal that should call them
back into the dust and din of the screen-room, where they might dream,
indeed, of circus joys while bending to their tasks, but that was all.
There was much wishing and longing. There was some murmuring. There
was even a rash suggestion from one boy that they should go, in spite
of the breaker and the bosses, and revel for a good half-day in the
pleasures of the show. But this treasonable proposition was frowned
down without delay. These boys had caught the spirit of loyalty
from the men who worked at Burnham Breaker, and not even so great a
temptation as this could keep them from the path of duty.
When the bell rang for them to return to work, not one was missing,
each bench had its accustomed occupant, and the coal that was poured
into the cars at the loading-place was never more free from slate and
stone than it was that afternoon.
But it was hot up in the screen-room. The air was close and stifling,
and heavy with the choking dust. The noise of the iron-teethed rollers
crunching the lumps of coal, and the bang and rattle of ponderous
machinery were never before so loud and discordant, and the black
streams moving down their narrow channels never passed beneath these
dizzy boys in monotony quite so dull and ceaseless as they were
passing this day.
Suddenly the machinery stopped. The grinding and the roaring ceased.
The frame-work of the giant building was quiet from its trembling. The
iron gates that held back the broken coal were quickly shut and the
long chutes were empty.
The unexpected stillness was almost startling. The boys looked up in
Through the dust, in the door-way at the end of the room, they saw the
breaker boss and the screen-room boss talking with Robert Burnham.
Then Mr. Burnham advanced a step or two and said:--
"Boys, Mr. Curtis tells me you are all here. I am pleased with your
loyalty. I had rather have the good-will and confidence of the boys
who work for me than to have the money that they earn. Now, I intend
that you shall see the circus if you wish to, and you will be provided
with the means of admission to it. Mr. Curtis will dismiss you for the
rest of the day, and as you pass out you will each receive a silver
quarter as a gift for good behavior."
For a minute the boys were silent. It was too sudden a vision of
happiness to be realized at once. Then one little fellow stood up on
his bench and shouted:--
"Hooray for Mr. Burnham!" The next moment the air was filled with
shouts and hurrahs so loud and vigorous that they went echoing
through every dust-laden apartment of the huge building from head to
Then the boys filed out. One by one they went through the door-way,
each, as he passed, receiving from Mr. Burnham's own hand the shining
piece of silver that should admit him to the wonders of the "greatest
show on earth."
They spoke their thanks, rudely indeed, and in voices that were almost
too much burdened with happiness for quiet speech.
But their eyes were sparkling with anticipation; their lips were
parted in smiles, their white teeth were gleaming from their
dust-black faces, each look and action was eloquent with thoughts of
coming pleasure. And the one who enjoyed it more than all the others
was Robert Burnham.
It is so old that it was trite and tiresome centuries ago, that saying
about one finding one's greatest happiness in making others happy. But
it has never ceased to be true; it never will cease to be true; it is
one of those primal principles of humanity that no use nor law nor
logic can ever hope to falsify.
The last boy in the line differed apparently in no respect from
those who had preceded him. The faces of all of them were black with
coal-dust, and their clothes were patched and soiled. But this one had
just cut his hand, and, as he held it up to let the blood drip from it
you noticed that it was small and delicate in shape.
"Why, my boy!" exclaimed Mr. Burnham, "you have cut your hand. Let me
"'Taint much, sir," the lad replied; "I often cut 'em a little. You're
apt to, a-handlin' the coal that way." The man had the little hand in
his and bent to examine the wound. "That's quite a cut," he said, "as
clean as though it had been made with a knife. Come, let's wash it off
and fix it up a little."
He led the way to the corner of the room, uncovered the water-pail,
dipped out a cup of water, and began to bathe the bleeding hand.
"That shows it's good coal, sir," said the boy, "Poor coal wouldn't
make such a clean cut as that. The better the coal the sharper 'tis."
"Thank you," said Mr. Burnham, smiling. "Taking the circumstances into
consideration, I regard that as the best compliment for our coal that
I have ever received."
The hand had been washed off as well as water without soap could do
"I guess that's as clean as it'll come," said the boy. "It's pirty
hard work to git 'em real clean. The dirt gits into the corners so,
an' into the chaps an' cuts, an' you can't git it all out, not even
The man was looking around for something to bind up the wound with.
"Have you a handkerchief?" he asked.
The boy drew from an inner pocket what had once been a red bandanna
handkerchief of the old style, but alas! it was sadly soiled, it was
worn beyond repair and crumpled beyond belief.
"'Taint very clean," he said, apologetically. "You can't keep a
han'kerchy very clean a-workin' in the breaker, it's so dusty here."
"Oh! it's good enough," replied the man, noticing the boy's
embarrassment, and trying to reassure him, "it's plenty good enough,
but it's red you see, and red won't do. Here, I have a white one. This
is just the thing," he added, tearing his own handkerchief into strips
and binding them carefully about the wounded hand. "There!" giving the
bandage a final adjustment; "that will be better for it. Now, then,
you're off to the circus; good-by."
The lad took a step or two forward, hesitated a moment, and then
turned back. The breaker boss and the screen-room boss were already
gone and he was alone with Mr. Burnham.
"Would it make any dif'rence to you," he asked, holding up the silver
coin, "if I spent this money for sumpthin' else, an' didn't go to the
circus with it?"
"Why, no!" said the man, wonderingly, "I suppose not; but I thought
you boys would rather spend your money at the circus than to spend it
in almost any other way."
"Oh! I'd like to go well enough. I al'ays did like a circus, an' I
wanted to go to this one, 'cause it's a big one; but they's sumpthin'
else I want worse'n that, an' I'm a-tryin' to save up a little money
Robert Burnham's curiosity was aroused. Here was a boy who was willing
to forego the pleasures of the circus that he might gratify some
greater desire; a strong and noble one, the man felt sure, to call for
such a sacrifice. Visions of a worn-out mother, an invalid sister, a
mortgaged home, passed through his mind as he said: "And what is it
you are saving your money for, my boy, if I am at liberty to ask?"
"To'stablish my'dentity, sir."
"To do what?"
"To'stablish my'dentity; that's what Uncle Billy calls it."
"Why, what's the matter with your identity?"
"I ain't got any; I'm a stranger; I don't know who my 'lations are."
"Don't know--who--your relations are! Why, what's your name?"
"Ralph, that's all; I ain't got any other name. They call me Ralph
Buckley sometimes, 'cause I live with Uncle Billy; but he ain't my
uncle, you know,--I only call him Uncle Billy 'cause I live with him,
an'--an' he's good to me, that's all."
At the name "Ralph," coming so suddenly from the lad's lips, the man
had started, turned pale, and then his face flushed deeply. He drew
the boy down tenderly on the bench beside him, and said:--
"Tell me about yourself, Ralph; where do you say you live?"
"With Uncle Billy,--Bachelor Billy they call him; him that dumps at
the head, pushes the cars out from the carriage an' dumps 'em; don't
you know Billy Buckley?"
The man nodded assent and the boy went on:--
"He's been awful good to me, Uncle Billy has; you don't know how good
he's been to me; but he ain't my uncle, he ain't no 'lation to me; I
ain't got no 'lations 'at I know of; I wish't I had."
The lad looked wistfully out through the open window to the far line
of hills with their summits veiled in a delicate mist of blue.
"But where did Billy get you?" asked Mr. Burnham.
"He foun' me; he foun' me on the road, an' he took me in an' took care
o' me, and he didn't know me at all; that's where he's so good. I was
sick, an' he hired Widow Maloney to tend me while he was a-workin',
and when I got well he got me this place a-pickin' slate in the
"But, Ralph, where had you come from when Billy found you?"
"Well, now, I'll tell you all I know about it. The first thing 'at I
'member is 'at I was a-livin' with Gran'pa Simon in Philadelphy. He
wasn't my gran'pa, though; if he had 'a' been he wouldn't 'a' 'bused
me so. I don't know where he got me, but he treated me very bad; an'
when I wouldn't do bad things for him, he whipped me, he whipped me
awful, an' he shet me up in the dark all day an' all night, 'an didn't
give me nothin' to eat; an' I'm dreadful 'fraid o' the dark; an' I
wasn't more'n jest about so high, neither. Well, you see, I couldn't
stan' it, an' one day I run away. I wouldn't 'a' run away if I could
'a' stood it, but I _couldn't_ stan' it no longer. Gran'pa Simon
wasn't there when I run away. He used to go off an' leave me with Ole
Sally, an' she wasn't much better'n him, only she couldn't see very
well, an' she couldn't follow me. I slep' with Buck the bootblack that
night, an' nex' mornin', early, I started out in the country. I was
'fraid they'd find me if I stayed aroun' the city. It was pirty near
afternoon 'fore I got out where the fields is, an' then a woman, she
give me sumpthin' to eat. I wanted to git away from the city fur's I
could, an' day-times I walked fast, an' nights I slep' under the big
trees, an' folks in the houses along the road, they give me things
to eat. An' then a circus came along, an' the man on the tiger wagon
he give me a ride, an' then I went everywhere with the circus, an'
I worked for 'em, oh! for a good many days; I worked real hard too,
a-doin' everything, an' they never let me go into their show but once,
only jest once. Well, w'en we got here to Scranton I got sick, an'
they wouldn't take me no furder 'cause I wasn't any good to 'em, an'
they went off an' lef me, an' nex' mornin' I laid down up there along
the road a-cryin' an' a-feelin' awful bad, an' then Uncle Billy, he
happened to come that way, an' he foun' me an' took me home with him.
He lives in part o' Widow Maloney's house, you know, an' he ain't got
nobody but me, an' I ain't got nobody but him, an' we live together.
That's why they call him Bachelor Billy, 'cause he ain't never got
married. Oh! he's been awful good to me, Uncle Billy has, awful good!"
And the boy looked out again musingly into the blue distance.
The man had not once stirred during this recital. His eyes had been
fixed on the boy's face, and he had listened with intense interest.
"Well, Ralph," he said, "that is indeed a strange story. And is that
all you know about yourself? Have you no clew to your parentage or
"No, sir; not any. That's what I want to find out when I git money
"How much money have you now?"
"About nine dollars, countin' what I'll save from nex' pay day."
"And how do you propose to proceed when you have money enough?"
"Hire a lawyer to 'vestigate. The lawyer he keeps half the money, an'
gives the other half of it to a 'tective, an' then the 'tective, he
finds out all about you. Uncle Billy says that's the way. He says if
you git a good smart lawyer you can find out 'most anything."
"And suppose you should find your parents, and they should be rich and
give you a great deal of money, how would you spend it?"
"Well, I don't know; I'd give a lot of it to Uncle Billy, I guess,
an' some to Widow Maloney, an'--an' I'd go to the circus, an'--but I
wouldn't care so much about the money, sir, if I could have folks like
other boys have. If I could only have a mother, that's what I want
worst, a mother to kiss me every day, an' be good to me that way, like
mothers are, you know; if I could only jest have that, I wouldn't want
nothin' else, not never any more."
The man turned his face away.
"And wouldn't you like to have a father too?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, I would; but I _could_ git along without a father, a real
father. Uncle Billy's been a kind o' father to me; but I ain't never
had no mother, nor no sister; an' that's what I want now, an" I want
'em very bad. Seems, sometimes, jes' as if I _couldn't_ wait; jes' as
if I couldn't stan' it no longer 'thout 'em. Don't--don't you s'pose
the things we can't have is the things we want worst?"
"Yes, my boy: yes. You've spoken a truth as old as the ages. That
which I myself would give my fortune for I can never have. I mean my
little boy who--who died. I cannot have him back. His name too was
For a few moments there was silence in the screen-room. The child was
awed by the man's effort to suppress his deep emotion.
At last Ralph said, rising:--
"Well, I mus' go now an' tell Uncle Billy."
Mr. Burnham rose in his turn.
"Yes," he said, "you'll be late for the circus if you don't hurry.
What! you're not going? Oh! yes, you _must_ go. Here, here's a silver
dollar to add to your identity fund; now you can afford to spend the
quarter. Yes," as the boy hesitated to accept the proffered money,
"yes, you _must_ take it; you can pay it back, you know, when--when
you come to your own. And wait! I want to help you in that matter of
establishing your identity. Come to my office, and we'll talk it over.
Let me see; to-day is Tuesday. Friday we shall shut down the screens a
half-day for repairs. Come on Friday afternoon."
"Thank you, sir; yes, sir, I will."
"All right; good-by!"
When Ralph reached the circus grounds the crowds were still pushing in
through the gate at the front of the big tent, and he had to take his
place far back in the line and move slowly along with the others.
Leaning wearily against a post near the entrance, and watching the
people as they passed in, stood an old man. He was shabbily dressed,
his clothes' were very dusty, and an old felt hat was pulled low on
his forehead. He was pale and gaunt, and an occasional hollow cough
gave conclusive evidence of his disease. But 'he had a pair of sharp
gray eyes that looked out from under the brim of his hat, and gave
close scrutiny to every one who passed by. The breaker boys, who had
gone into the tent in a body some minutes earlier, had attracted his
attention and aroused his interest. By and by his eyes rested upon
Ralph, who stood back in the line, awaiting the forward movement of
the crowd. The old man started perceptibly at sight of the boy, and
uttered an ejaculation of surprise, which ended in a cough. He moved
forward as if to meet him; then, apparently on second thought, he
retreated to his post. But he kept his eyes fixed on the lad, who was
coming slowly nearer, and his thin face took on an expression of the
deepest satisfaction. He turned partly aside, however, as the boy
approached him, and stood with averted countenance until the lad had
passed through the gate.
Ralph was just in time. He had no sooner got in and found a seat, with
the other breaker boys, away up under the edge of the tent, than the
grand procession made its entrance. There were golden chariots, there
were ladies in elegant riding habits and men in knightly costumes,
there were prancing steeds and gorgeous banners, elephants, camels,
monkeys, clowns, a moving mass of dazzling beauty and bright colors
that almost made one dizzy to look upon it; and through it all the
great band across the arena poured its stirring music in a way to
make the pulses leap and the hands and feet keep time to its sounding
Then came the athletes and the jugglers, the tight-rope walkers and
the trapeze performers, the trained dogs and horses, the clowns and
the monkeys, the riding and the races; all of it too wonderful, too
mirthful, too complete to be adequately described. At least, this was
what the breaker boys thought.
After the performance was ended, they went out to the menagerie tent,
in a body, to look at the animals.
One of the boys became separated from the others, and stood watching
the antics of the monkeys, and laughing gleefully at each comical
trick performed by the grave-faced little creatures. Looking up, he
saw an old man standing by him; an old man with sharp gray eyes and
dusty clothes, who leaned heavily upon a cane.
"Curious things, these monkeys," said the old man.
"Ain't they, though!" replied the boy. "Luk at that un, now!--don't he
beat all? ain't he funny?"
"Very!" responded the old man, gazing across the open space to where
Ralph stood chattering with his companions.
"Sonny," said he, "can you tell me who that boy is, over yonder, with
his hand done up in a white cloth?"
"That boy w'ats a-talkin' to Jimmy Dooley, you mean?"
"Yes, the one there by the lion's cage."
"You mean that boy there with the blue patch on his pants?"
"Yes, yes! the one with his hand bandaged; don't you see?"
"Oh, that's Ralph."
"Ralph nobody. He ain't got no other name. He lives with Bachelor
"Is--is Bachelor Billy his father?"
"Naw; he ain't got no father."
"Does he work with you in the mines?"
"In the mines? naw; we don't work in the mines; we work in the
screen-room up t' the breaker, a-pickin' slate. He sets nex' to me."
"How long has he been working there?"
"Oh, I donno; couple o' years, I guess. You want to see 'im? I'll go
"No; I don't care to see him. Don't call him; he isn't the boy I'm
looking for, any way."
"There! he's a-turnin' this way now. I'll have 'im here in a minute;
hey, Ralph! Ralph! here he comes."
But the old man was gone. He had disappeared suddenly and
mysteriously. A little later he was trudging slowly along the dusty
road, through the crowds of people, up toward the city. He was
smiling, and muttering to himself. "Found him at last!" he exclaimed,
in a whisper, "found him at last! It'll be all right now; only be
cautious, Simon! be cautious!"
A STRANGE VISITOR.
It was the day after the circus. Robert Burnham sat in his office on
Lackawanna Avenue, busy with his afternoon mail. As he laid the last
letter aside the incidents of the previous day recurred to him, and he
saw again, in imagination, the long line of breaker-boys, with happy,
dusty faces, filing slowly by him, grateful for his gifts, eager for
the joys to come. The pleasure he had found in his generous deed
stayed with him, as such pleasures always do, and was manifest even
now in the light of his kindly face.
He had pondered, too, upon the strange story of the boy Ralph. It had
awakened his interest and aroused his sympathy. He had spoken to his
wife about the lad when he went home at night; and he had taken his
little daughter on his knee and told to her the story of the boy who
worked all day in the breaker, who had no father and no mother, and
whose name was--Ralph! Both wife and daughter had listened eagerly
to the tale, and had made him promise to look carefully to the lad
and help him to some better occupation than the drudgery of the
But he had already resolved to do this, and more. The mystery
surrounding the child's life should be unravelled. Obscure and humble
though his origin might be, he should, at least, bear the name to
which his parentage entitled him. The more he thought on this subject,
the wider grew his intentions concerning the child. His fatherly
nature was aroused and eager for action.
There was something about the lad, too, that reminded him, not so much
of what his own child had been as of what he might have been had he
lived to this boy's age. It was not alone in the name, but something
also in the tone of voice, in the turn of the head, in the look of
the brown eyes; something which struck a chord of memory or hope, and
brought no unfamiliar sound.
The thought pleased him, and he dwelt upon it, and, turning away from
his table with its accumulation of letters and papers, he looked
absently out into the busy street and laid plans for the future of
this boy who had dropped so suddenly into the current of his life.
By and by he heard some one in the outer office inquiring for him.
Then his door was opened, and a stranger entered, an old man in shabby
clothes, leaning on a cane. He was breathing heavily, apparently from
the exertion of climbing the steps at the entrance, and he was no
sooner in the room than he fell into a violent fit of coughing.
He seated himself carefully in a chair at the other side of the table
from Mr. Burnham, placed a well worn leather satchel on the floor by
his side, and laid his cane across it.
When he had recovered somewhat from his shortness of breath, he said:
"Excuse me. A little unusual exertion always brings on a fit of
coughing. This is Mr. Robert Burnham, I suppose?"
"That is my name," answered Burnham, regarding his visitor with some
"Ah! just so; you don't know me, I presume?"
"No, I don't remember to have met you before."
"It's not likely that you have, not at all likely. My name is Craft,
Simon Craft. I live in Philadelphia when I'm at home."
"Ah! Philadelphia is a fine city. What can I do for you, Mr. Craft?"
"That isn't the question, sir. The question is, what can _I_ do for
The old man looked carefully around the room, rose, went to the door,
which had been left ajar, closed it noiselessly, and resumed his seat.
"Well," said Mr. Burnham, calmly, "what can you do for me?"
"Much," responded the old man, resting his elbows on the table in
front of him; "very much if you will give me your time and attention
for a few moments."
"My time is at your disposal," replied Burnham, smiling, and leaning
back in his chair somewhat wearily, "and I am all attention; proceed."
Thus far the old man had succeeded in arousing in his listener only
a languid curiosity. This coal magnate was accustomed to being
interrupted by "cranks" of all kinds, as are most rich men, and
often enjoyed short interviews with them. This one had opened the
conversation in much the usual manner, and the probability seemed to
be that he would now go on to unfold the usual scheme by which his
listener's thousands could be converted into millions in an incredibly
short time, under the skilful management of the schemer. But his very
next words dispelled this idea and aroused Robert Burnham to serious
"Do you remember," the old man asked, "the Cherry Brook bridge
disaster that occurred near Philadelphia some eight years ago?"
"Yes," replied Burnham, straightening up in his chair, "I do; I have
good reason to remember it. Were you on that train?"
"I was on that train. Terrible accident, wasn't it?"
"Terrible; yes, it was terrible indeed."
"Wouldn't have been quite so bad if the cars hadn't taken fire and
burned up after they went down, would it?"
"The fire was the most distressing part of it; but why do you ask me
"You were on board, I believe, you and your wife and your child, and
all went down. Isn't that so?"
"Yes, it is so. But why, I repeat, are you asking me these questions?
It is no pleasure to me to talk about this matter, I assure you."
Craft gave no heed to this protest, but kept on:--
"You and your wife were rescued in an unconscious state, were you not,
just as the fire was creeping up to you?"
The old man seemed to take delight in torturing his hearer by
calling up painful memories. Receiving no answer to his question, he
"But the boy, the boy Ralph, he perished, didn't he? Was burned up in
the wreck, wasn't he?"
"Stop!" exclaimed Burnham. "You have said enough. If you have any
object in repeating this harrowing story, let me know what it is at
once; if not, I have no time to listen to you further."
"I have an object," replied Craft, deliberately, "a most important
object, which I will disclose to you if you will be good enough to
answer my question. Your boy Ralph was burned up in the wreck at
Cherry Bridge, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he was. That is our firm belief; what then?"
"Simply this, that you are mistaken."
"What do you mean?"
"Your boy is not dead."
Burnham started to his feet, unable for the moment to speak. His face
took on a sudden pallor, then a smile of incredulity settled on his
"You are wild," he said; "the child perished; we have abundant proof
"I say the child is not dead," persisted the old man; "I saw
"Then, bring him to me. Bring him to me and I will believe you."
Burnham had settled down into his chair with a look of weary
hopelessness on his face.
"You have no faith in me," said Craft. "Mere perversity might make you
fail to recognize the child. Suppose I show you further proofs of the
truth of what I say."
"Very well; produce them."
The old man bent down, took his leather hand-bag from the floor, and
placed it on the table before him. The exertion brought on a spasm of
coughing. When he had recovered from this, he drew an old wallet from
his pocket and took from it a key, with which he unlocked the satchel.
Then, drawing forth a package and untying and unrolling it, he shook
it out and held it up for Robert Burnham to look at. It was a little
flannel cloak. It had once been white, but it was sadly stained
and soiled now. The delicate ribbons that had ornamented it were
completely faded, and out of the front a great hole had been burned,
the edges of which were still black and crumbling.
"Do you recognize it?" asked the old man.
Burnham seized it with both hands.
"It is his!" he exclaimed. "It is Ralph's! He wore it that day. Where
did you get it? Where did you get it, I say?"
Craft did not reply. He was searching in his hand-bag for something
else. Finally he drew out a child's cap, a quaint little thing of
velvet and lace, and laid it on the table.
This, too, was grasped by Burnham with eager fingers, and looked upon
with loving eyes.
"Do you still think me wild?" said the old man, "or do you believe now
that I have some knowledge of what I am talking about?"
His listener did not answer the question. His mind seemed to be far
away. He said, finally:--
"There--there was a locket, a little gold locket. It had his father's
picture in it. Did--did you find that?"
The visitor smiled, opened the wallet again, and produced the locket.
The father took it in his trembling hands, looked on it very tenderly
for a moment, and then his eyes became flooded with tears.
"It was his," he said at last, very gently; "they were all his; tell
me now--where did you get them?"
"I came by them honestly, Mr. Burnham, honestly; and I have kept them
faithfully. But I will tell you the whole story. I think you are ready
now to hear it with attention, and to consider it fairly."
The old man pushed his satchel aside, pulled his chair closer to the
table, cleared his throat, and began:--
"It was May 13, 1859. I'd been out in the country at my son's, and was
riding into the city in the evening. I was in the smoking-car. Along
about nine o'clock there was a sudden jerk, then half a dozen more
jerks, and the train came to a dead stop. I got up and went out with
the rest, and we then saw that the bridge had broken down, and the
three cars behind the smoker had tumbled into the creek. I hurried
down the bank and did what I could to help those in the wreck, but it
was very dark and the cars were piled up in a heap, and it was hard to
do anything. Then the fire broke out and we had to stand back. But I
heard a child crying by a broken window, just where the middle car had
struck across the rear one, and I climbed up there at the risk of my
life and looked in. The fire gave some light by this time, and I saw
a young woman lying there, caught between the timbers and perfectly
still. A sudden blaze showed me that she was dead. Then the child
cried again; I saw where he was, and reached in and pulled him out
just as the fire caught in his cloak. I jumped down into the water
with him, and put out the fire and saved him. He wasn't hurt much. It
was your boy Ralph. By this time the wreck was all ablaze and we had
to get up on the bank.
"I took the child around among the people there, and tried to find
out who he belonged to, but no one seemed to know anything about him.
He wasn't old enough to talk distinctly, so he couldn't tell me much
about himself; not anything, in fact, except that his name was Ralph.
I took him home with me to my lodgings in the city that night, and
the next morning I went out to the scene of the accident to try to
discover some clew to his identity. But I couldn't find out anything
about him; nothing at all. The day after that I was taken sick. The
exertion, the exposure, and the wetting I had got in the water of the
brook, brought on a severe attack of pneumonia. It was several months
before I got around again as usual, and I am still suffering, you see,
from the results of that sickness. After that, as my time and means
and business would permit, I went out and searched for the boy's
friends. It is useless for me to go into the details of that search,
but I will say that I made every effort and every sacrifice possible
during five years, without the slightest success. In the meantime the
child remained with me, and I clothed him and fed him and cared for
him the very best I could, considering the circumstances in which I
"About three years ago I happened to be in Scranton on business, and,
by the merest chance, I learned that you had been in the Cherry Brook
disaster, that you had lost your child there, and that the child's
name was Ralph. Following up the clew, I became convinced that this
boy was your son. I thought the best way to break the news to you was
to bring you the child himself. With that end in view, I returned
immediately to Philadelphia, only to find Ralph--missing. He had
either run away or been stolen, I could not tell which. I was not
able to trace him. Three months later I heard that he had been with a
travelling circus company, but had left them after a few days. After
that I lost track of him entirely for about three years. Now, however,
I have found him. I saw him so lately as yesterday. He is alive and
Several times during the recital of this narrative, the old man had
been interrupted by spasms of coughing, and, now that he was done, he
gave himself up to a violent and prolonged fit of it.
Robert Burnham had listened intently enough, there was no doubt of
that; but he did not yet seem quite ready to believe that his boy was
"Why did you not tell me," he asked, "when the child left you, so that
I might have assisted you in the search for him?"
Craft hesitated a moment.
"I did not dare to," he said. I was afraid you would blame me too
severely for not taking better care of him, and I was hoping every day
to find him myself."
"Well, let that pass. Where is he now? Where is the boy who, you say,
is my son?"
"Pardon me, sir, but I cannot tell you that just yet. I know where he
is. I can bring him to you on two days' notice. But, before I do that,
I feel that, in justice to myself, I should receive some compensation,
not only for the care of the child through five years of his life, but
also for the time, toil, and money spent in restoring him to you."
Burnham's brow darkened.
"Ah! I see," he said. "This is to be a money transaction. Your object
is to get gain from it. Am I right?"
"Exactly. My motive is not wholly an unselfish one, I assure you."
"Still, you insist upon the absolute truth of your story?"
"I do, certainly."
"Well, then, what is your proposition? name it."
"Yes, sir. After mature consideration, I have concluded that three
thousand dollars is not too large a sum."
"Well, what then?"
"I am to receive that amount when I bring your son to you."
"But suppose I should not recognize nor acknowledge as my son the
person whom you will bring?"
"Then you will pay me no money, and the boy will return home with me."
Burnham wheeled suddenly in his chair and rose to his feet. "Listen!"
he exclaimed, earnestly. "If you will bring my boy to me, alive,
unharmed, my own boy Ralph, I will give you twice three thousand
"It's a bargain. You shall see him within two days. But--you may
change your mind in the meantime; will you give me a writing to secure
Mr. Burnham resumed his seat and wrote hurriedly, the following
"This agreement, made and executed this thirtieth day of June, 1867,
between Simon Craft of the city of Philadelphia, party of the first
part, and Robert Burnham of the city of Scranton, party of the second
part, both of the state of Pennsylvania, witnesseth that the said
Craft agrees to produce to the said Burnham, within two days from this
date, the son of the said Robert Burnham, named Ralph, in full life,
and in good health of body and mind. And thereupon the said Burnham,
provided he recognizes as his said son Ralph the person so produced,
agrees to pay to the said Craft, in cash, the sum of six thousand
dollars. Witness our hands and seals the day and year aforesaid.
"ROBERT BURNHAM." [L.S.]
"There!" said Burnham, handing the paper to Craft; "that will secure
you in the payment of the money, provided you fulfil your agreement.
But let me be plain with you. If you are deceiving me or trying to
deceive me, or if you should practise fraud on me, or attempt to do
so, you will surely regret it. And if that child be really in life,
and you have been guilty of any cruelty toward him, of any kind
whatever, you will look upon the world through prison bars, I promise
you, in spite of the money you may obtain from me. Now you understand;
go bring the boy."
The old man did not answer. He was holding the paper close to his
eyes, and going over it word by word.
"Yes," he said, finally; "I suppose it's all right. I'm not very
familiar with written contracts, but I'll venture it."
Burnham had risen again from his chair, and was striding up and down
"When will you bring him?" he asked; "to-morrow?"
"My dear sir, do not be in too great haste; I am not gifted with
miraculous powers. I will bring the boy here or take you to him within
two days, as I have agreed."
"Well, then, to-day is Tuesday. Will you have him here by Friday?
"By Friday afternoon, at any rate."
The old man was carefully wrapping up the articles he had exhibited,
and putting them back into his hand-bag. Finally, Burnham's attention
was attracted to this proceeding.
"Why," he exclaimed, "what are you doing? You have no right to those
things; they are mine."
"Oh no! they are mine. They shall be given to you some time perhaps;
but, for the present, they are mine."
"Stop! you shall not have them. Those things are very precious to me.
Put them down, I say; put them down!"
"Very well. You may have these or--your boy. If you force these things
from me, you go without your child. Now take your choice."
Old Simon was very calm and firm. He knew his ground, and knew that he
could afford to be domineering. His long experience in sharp practice
had not failed to teach him that the man who holds his temper, in a
contest like this, always has the best of it. And he was too shrewd
not to see that his listener was laboring under an excitement that
was liable at any moment to break forth in passionate speech. He was,
therefore, not surprised nor greatly disturbed when Burnham exclaimed,
"I'll have you arrested, sir! I'll force you to disclose your secret!
I'll have you punished by the hand of the law!"
"The hand of the law is not laid in punishment on people who are
guilty of no crime," responded Craft, coolly; "and there is no
criminal charge that you can fairly bring against me. Poverty is my
worst crime. I have done nothing except for your benefit. Now, Mr.
Burnham you are excited. Calm yourself and listen to reason. Don't you
see that if I were to give those things to you I would be putting out
of my hands the best evidence I have of the truth of my assertions?"
"But I have seen you produce them. I will not deny that you gave them
"Ah! very good; but you may die before night! What then?"
"Die before night! Absurd! But keep the things; keep them. I can do
without them if you will restore the child himself to me. When did you
say you would bring him?"
"Until Friday afternoon, then, I wait."
"Very well, sir; good day!"
The old man picked up his cane, rose slowly from his chair, and, with
his satchel in his hand, walked softly out, closing the door carefully
Robert Burnham continued his walk up and down the room, his flushed
face showing alternately the signs of the hope and the doubt that were
striving for the mastery within him.
For eight years he had believed his boy to be dead. The terrible
wreck at Cherry Brook had yielded up to him from its ashes only a few
formless trinkets of all that had once been his child's, only a few
unrecognizable bones, to be interred, long afterward, where flowers
might bloom above them. The last search had been made, the last clew
followed, the last resources of wealth and skill were at an end, and
these, these bones and trinkets were all that could be found. Still,
the fact of the child's death had not been established beyond all
question, and among the millions of remote possibilities that this
world always holds in reserve lingered yet the one that he might after
all be living.
And now came this old man with his strange story, and the cap and the
cloak and the locket. Did it mean simply a renewal of the old hope,
destined to fade away again into a hopelessness duller than the last?
But what if the man's story were true? What if the boy were really in
life? What if in two days' time the father should clasp his living
child in his arms, and bear him to his mother! Ah! his mother. She
would have given her life any time to have had her child restored to
her, if only for a day. But she had been taught early to believe that
he was dead It was better than to torture her heart with hopes that
could only by the rarest possibility be fulfilled. Now, now, if he
dared to go home to her this night, and tell her that their son was
alive, was found, was coming back to them! Ah! if he only dared!
The sunlight, streaming through the western window, fell upon him as
he walked. It was that golden light that conies from a sun low in the
west, when the days are long, and it illumined his face with a glow
that revealed there the hope, the courage, the honor, the manly
strength that held mastery in his heart.
There was a sudden commotion in the outer office. Men were talking in
an excited manner; some one opened the door, and said:--
"There's been an accident in the breaker mine, Mr. Burnham."
"What kind of an accident?"
"Explosion of fire-damp."
"What about the men?"
"It is not known yet how many are injured."
"Tell James to bring the horses immediately; I will go there."
"James is waiting at the door now with the team, sir."
Mr. Burnham put away a few papers, wrote a hurried letter to his wife,
took his hat and went out and down the steps.
"Send Dr. Gunther up to the breaker at once," he said, as he made
ready to start.
The fleet horses drew him rapidly out through the suburbs and up the
hill, and in less than twenty minutes he had reached the breaker, and
stopped at the mouth of the shaft.
Many people had already assembled, and others were coming from all
directions. Women whose husbands and sons worked in the mine were
there, with pale faces and beseeching words. There was much confusion.
It was difficult to keep the crowd from pressing in against the mouth
of the shaft. Men were busy clearing a space about the opening when
Robert Burnham arrived.
"How did it happen?" he said to the mine boss as he stepped from his
wagon. "Where was it?"
"Up in the north tier, sir. We don't know how it happened. Some one
must 'a' gone in below, where the fire-damp was, with a naked lamp,
an' touched it off; an' then, most like, it run along the roof to the
chambers where the men was a-workin'. I can't account for it in no
"Has any one come out from there?"
"Yes, Billy Williams. He was a-comin' out when it went off. We found
him up in the headin', senseless. He ain't come to yet."
"And the others?"
"We've tried to git to 'em, sir, but the after-damp is awful, an' we
couldn't stan' it; we had to come out."
"How many men are up there?"
"Five, as we count 'em; the rest are all out."
The carriage came up the shaft, and a half-dozen miners, with dull
eyes and drawn faces, staggered from it, out into the sunlight. It
was a rescuing party, just come from a vain attempt to save their
unfortunate comrades. They were almost choked to death themselves,
with the foul air of the mine. One of them recovered sufficiently to
"We got a'most there," he gasped; "we could hear 'em a-groanin'; but
the after-damp got--so bad--we--" He reeled and fell, speechless and
The crowd had surged up, trying to hear what the man was saying.
People were getting dangerously near to the mouth of the shaft. Women
whose husbands were below were wringing their hands and crying out
desperately that some one should go down to the rescue.
"Stand back, my friends," said Burnham, facing the people, "stand back
and give these men air, and leave us room to work. We shall do all in
our power to help those who are below. If they can be saved, we shall
save them. Trust us and give us opportunity to do it. Now, men, who
will go down? I feel that we shall get to them this time and bring
them out. Who volunteers?"
A dozen miners stepped forward from the crowd; sturdy, strong-limbed
men, with courage stamped on their dust-soiled faces, and heroic
resolution gleaming from their eyes.
"Good! we want but eight. Take the aprons of the women; give us the
safety-lamps, the oil, the brandy; there, ready; slack off!"
Burnham had stepped on to the carriage with the men who were going
down. One of them cried out to him:--
"Don't ye go, sir! don't ye go! it'll be worth the life o' ye!"
"I'll not ask men to go where I dare not go myself," he said; "slack
For an instant the carriage trembled in the slight rise that preceded
its descent, and in that instant a boy, a young slender boy, pushed
his way through the encircling crowd, leaped in among the men of the
rescuing party, and with them went speeding down into the blackness.
It was Ralph. After the first moment of surprise his employer
"Ralph!" he exclaimed, "Ralph, why have you done this?"
"I couldn't help it, sir," replied the boy; "I had to come. Please
don't send me back."
"But it's a desperate trip. These men are taking their lives in their
"I know it, sir; but they ain't one o' them whose life is worth so
little as mine. They've all got folks to live an' work for, an' I
ain't. I'll go where they don't dare. Please let me help!"
The men who were clustered on the carriage looked down on the boy in
mute astonishment. His slight figure was drawn up to its full height;
his little hands were tightly clenched; out from his brown eyes
shone the fire of resolution. Some latent spirit of true knighthood
had risen in his breast, had quenched all the coward in his nature,
and impelled him, in that one moment that called for sacrifice and
courage, to a deed as daring and heroic as any that the knights of old
were ever prompted to perform. To those who looked upon him thus, the
dust and rags that covered him were blotted out, the marks of pain and
poverty and all his childish weaknesses had disappeared, and it seemed
to them almost as though a messenger from God were standing in their
But Robert Burnham saw something besides this in the child's face; he
saw a likeness to himself that startled him. Men see things in moments
of sublimity to which at all other times their eyes are blinded. He
thought of Craft's story; he thought of the boy's story; he compared
them; a sudden hope seized him, a conviction broke upon his mind like
a flash of light.
This boy was his son. For the moment, all other thoughts, motives,
desires were blotted from his mind. His desperate errand was lost to
sight. The imperilled miners were forgotten.
"Ralph!" he cried, seizing the boy's hand in both of his; "Ralph, I
have found you!"
But the child looked up in wonder, and the men who stood by did not
know what it meant.
The carriage struck the floor of the mine and they all stepped off.
The shock at stopping brought Burnham to himself. This was no time,
no place to recognize the lad and take him to his heart. He would do
that--afterward. Duty, with a stern voice, was calling to him now.
"Men," he said, "are you ready? Here, soak the aprons; Ralph, take
this; now then, come on!"
Up the heading, in single file, they walked swiftly, swinging their
safety-lamps in their hands, or holding them against their breasts.
They knew that up in the chambers their comrades were lying prostrate
and in pain. They knew that the spaces through which they must pass to
reach them were filled with poisonous gases, and that in those regions
death lurked in every "entrance" and behind every "pillar." But they
hurried on, saying little, fearing little, hoping much, as they
plunged ahead into the blackness, on their humane but desperate
A half-hour later the bell in the engine-room tinkled softly once, and
then rang savagely again and again to "hoist away." The great wheel
turned fast and faster; the piston-rods flew in and out; the iron
ropes hummed as they cut the air; and the people at the shaft's mouth
waited, breathless with suspense, to see what the blackness would
yield up to them. The carriage rose swiftly to the surface. On it four
men, tottering and exhausted, were supporting an insensible body in
their midst. The body was taken into strong arms, and borne hurriedly
to the office of the breaker, a little distance away. Then a boy
staggered off the carriage and fell fainting into the outstretched
arms of Bachelor Billy.
"Ralph!" cried the man, "Ralph, lad! here! brandy for the child!
After a little the boy opened his eyes, and gazed wonderingly at the
people who were looking down on him. Then he remembered what had
"Mr. Burnham," he whispered, "is--is he alive?"
"Yes, lad; they've took 'im to the office; the doctor's in wi' 'im.
Did ye fin' the air bad?"
The child lay back with a sigh of relief.
"Yes," he said, "very bad. We got to 'em though; we found 'em an'
brought 'em out. I carried the things; they couldn't 'a' got along
The carriage had gone down again and brought up a load of those who
had suffered from the fire. They were blackened, burned, disfigured,
but living. One of them, in the midst of his agony, cried out:--
"Whaur is he? whaur's Robert Burnham? I'll gi' ma life for his,
an' ye'll save his to 'im. Ye mus' na let 'im dee. Mon! he done
the brawest thing ye ever kenned. He plungit through the belt o'
after-damp ahead o' all o' them, an' draggit us back across it, mon by
mon, an' did na fa' till he pullit the last one ayont it. Did ye ever
hear the like? He's worth a thousan' o' us. I say ye mus' na let 'im
Over at the breaker office there was silence. The doctor and his
helpers were there with Robert Burnham, and the door was closed. Every
one knew that, inside, a desperate struggle was going on between life
and death. The story of Burnham's bravery had gone out through the
assembled crowds, and, with one instinct and one hope, all eyes were
turned toward the little room wherein he lay. Men spoke in whispers;
women were weeping softly; every face was set in pale expectancy.
There were hundreds there who would have given all they had on earth
to prolong this noble life for just one day. Still, there was silence
at the office. It grew ominous. A great hush had fallen on the
multitude. The sun dropped down behind the hills, obscured in mist,
and the pallor that precedes the twilight overspread the earth.
Then the office door was opened, and the white-haired doctor came
outside and stood upon the steps. His head was bared and his eyes
were filled with tears. He turned to those who stood near by, and
"He is dead."
A BRILLIANT SCHEME.
Lackawanna Avenue is the principal thoroughfare in the city of
Scranton. Anthracite Avenue leads from it eastwardly at right angles.
Midway in the second block, on the right side of this last named
street, there stood, twenty years ago, a small wooden building, but
one story in height. It was set well back from the street, and a stone
walk led up to the front door. On the door-post, at the left, was a
sign, in rusty gilt letters, reading:--
JOHN R. SHARPMAN,
ATTORNEY AT LAW.
On the morning following his interview with Robert Burnham, Simon
Craft turned in from Anthracite Avenue, shuffled along the walk to the
office door, and stood for a minute examining the sign, and comparing
the name on it with the name on a bit of paper that he held in his
"That's the man," he muttered; "he's the one;" and he entered at the
Inside, a clerk sat, busily writing.
"Mr. Sharpman has not come down yet," he said, in answer to Craft's
question. "Take a chair; he'll be here in twenty minutes."
The old man seated himself, and the clerk resumed his writing.
In less than half an hour Sharpman came in. He was a tall, well-built
man, forty years of age, smooth-faced, with a clerical cast of
countenance, easy and graceful in manner, and of pleasant address.
After a few words relating to a certain matter of business, the clerk
said to his employer,--
"This man has been waiting some time to see you, Mr. Sharpman."
The lawyer advanced to Craft, and shook hands with him in a very
friendly way. "Good-morning, sir," he said. "Will you step into my
He ushered the old man into an inner room, and gave him an easy,
cushioned chair to sit in. Sharpman was nothing, if not gracious. Rich
and poor, alike, were met by him with the utmost cordiality. He had
a pleasant word for every one. His success at the bar was due, in no
small degree, to his apparent frankness and friendliness toward all
men. The fact that these qualities were indeed apparent rather than
real, did not seem to matter; the general effect was the same. His
personal character, so far as any one knew, was beyond reproach. But
his reputation for shrewdness, for sharp practice, for concocting
brilliant financial schemes, was general. It was this latter
reputation that had brought Simon Graft to him.
This morning Sharpman was especially courteous. He regretted that his
visitor had been obliged to wait so long. He spoke of the beautiful
weather. He noticed that the old man was in ill health, and expressed
much sorrow thereat. Finally he said: "Well, my friend, I am at your
service for any favor I can do you."
Craft was not displeased with the lawyer's manner. On the contrary,
he rather liked it. But he was too shrewd and far-sighted to allow
himself to be carried away by it. He proceeded at once to business. He
took from an inner pocket of his coat the paper that Robert Burnham
had given to him the day before, unfolded it slowly, and handed it to
"I want your opinion of this paper," he said. "Is it drawn up in legal
shape? Is it binding on the man that signed it?"
Sharpman took the paper, and read it carefully through; then he looked
up at Craft in unfeigned surprise.
"My dear sir!" he said, "did you know that Robert Burnham died last
The old man started from his chair in sudden amazement.
"Died!" he exclaimed. "Robert Burnham--died!"
"Yes; suffocated by foul air in his own mine. It was a dreadful
Craft dropped into his chair again, his pale face growing each moment
more pale and gaunt, and stared at the lawyer in silence. Finally he
said: "There must be some mistake. I saw him only yesterday. He signed
that paper in my presence as late as four o'clock."
"Very likely," responded Sharpman: "he did not die until after six.
Oh, no! there is no mistake. It was this Robert Burnham. I know his
The old man sat for another minute in silence, keen disappointment
written plainly on his face. Then a thought came to him.
"Don't that agreement bind his heirs?" he gasped, "or his estate?
Don't somebody have to pay me that money, when I bring the boy?"
The lawyer took the paper up, and re-read it. "No;" he said. "The
agreement was binding only on Burnham himself. It calls for the
production of the boy to him personally; you can't produce anything to
a dead man."
Old Simon settled back in his chair, a perfect picture of gaunt
Sharpman continued: "This is a strange case, though. I thought that
child of Burnham's was dead. Do you mean to say that the boy is still
"Yes; that's it. He wasn't even hurt. Of course he's alive. I know
"Can you prove it?"
The lawyer gazed at his visitor, apparently in doubt as to the man's
veracity or sanity, and again there was silence.
Finally Craft spoke. Another thought had come to him.
"The boy's mother; she's living, ain't she?"
"Burnham's widow? Yes; she's living."
"Then I'll go to her! I'll make a new contract with her. The money'll
be hers, now. I'll raise on my price! She'll pay it. I'll warrant
she'll pay it! May be it's lucky for me, after all, that I've got her
to deal with instead of her husband!"
Even Sharpman was amazed and disgusted at this exhibition of cruel
greed in the face of death.
"That's it!" continued the old man in an exulting tone; "that's the
plan. I'll go to her. I'll get my money--I'll get it in spite of
He rose from his chair, and grasped his cane to go, but the excitement
had brought on a severe fit of coughing, and he was obliged to resume
his seat until it was over.
This delay gave Sharpman time to think.
"Wait!" he said, when the old man had finally recovered; "wait a
little. I think I have a plan in mind that is better than yours--one
that will bring you in more cash."
"More cash?" Craft was quiet and attentive in a moment. The word
"cash" had a magical influence over him.
Sharpman arose, closed the door between the two rooms tightly, and
locked it. "Some one might chance to intrude," he explained.
Then he came back, sat down in front of his visitor, and assumed an
attitude of confidence.
"Yes," he said, "more cash; ten times as much."
"Well, what's your plan?" asked the old man, somewhat incredulously.
"Let me tell you first what I know," replied the lawyer. "I know that
Mrs. Burnham believes this boy to be dead; believes it with her whole
mind and heart. You would find it exceedingly difficult to convince
her to the contrary. She would explain away your proofs: she would
fail to recognize the child himself. Such an errand as you propose
would be little better than useless."
"Well, what's your plan?" repeated Craft, impatiently.
The lawyer assumed a still more confidential attitude.
"Listen! Burnham died rich. His wealth will mount well up into the
hundreds of thousands. He leaves a widow and one daughter, a little
girl. This boy, if he is really Burnham's son, is entitled to one
third of the personal property absolutely, to one third of the real
estate at once, and to one fourth of the remainder at his mother's
death. Do you understand?" Old Simon nodded. This was worth listening
to. He began to think that this shrewd lawyer was going to put him
in the way of making a fortune after all. Sharpman continued: "Now,
the boy is a minor. He must have a guardian. The mother would be the
guardian preferred by law; but if, for any reason, she should fail
to recognize the boy as her son, some one else must be appointed. It
will be the duty of the guardian to establish his ward's identity in
case it should be disputed, to sue for his portion of the estate, if
necessary, and to receive and care for it till the boy reaches his
majority. The usual guardian's commission is five per cent, retainable
out of the funds of the estate. Do you see how the management of such
an estate would be a fortune to a guardian, acting within the strict
letter of the law?"
Craft nodded again, but this time with eagerness and excitement. He
saw that a scheme was being opened up to him that outrivalled in
splendid opportunities any he had ever thought of.
After a pause Sharpman asked, glancing furtively at his client:--
"Do you think, Mr. Craft, that you could take upon your shoulders the
duties and responsibilities attendant upon such a trust? In short,
could you act as this boy's guardian?"
"Yes, no doubt of it"; responded the old man, eagerly. "Why, I would
be the very person. I am his nearest friend."
"Very well; that's my opinion, too. Now, then, as to the boy's
identity. There must be no mistake in proving that. What proof have
you? Tell me what you know about it."
Thus requested, Craft gave to the lawyer a detailed account of the
disaster at the bridge, of the finding and keeping of Ralph, of his
mysterious disappearance, and of the prolonged search for him.
"Day before yesterday," continued the old man, "I was watching the
crowds at the circus,--I knew the boy was fond of circuses,--an who
should go by me into the tent but this same Ralph. I made sure he was
the identical person, and yesterday I went to Robert Burnham, and got
"Indeed! Where does the boy live? what does he do?"
"Why, it seems that he works at picking slate, in Burnham's own
breaker, and lives with one Bachelor Billy, a simple-minded old
fellow, without a family, who took the boy in when he was abandoned by
"Good!" exclaimed the lawyer; "good! we shall have a capital case. But
wait; does Mrs. Burnham know of your interview with her husband, or
about this paper?"
"I don't know. I left the man at his office, alone."
"At what hour?"
"Well, about half-past four, as nearly as I can judge."
"Then it's not at all probable that she knows. He went from his office
directly to the breaker, and died before she could see him."
"Well, how shall we begin?" said Craft, impatiently. "What's the first
thing to be done?" Visions of golden thousands were already floating
before his greedy eyes.
"We shall not begin at all, just yet," said Sharpman. "We'll wait till
the horror and excitement, consequent upon this disaster, have passed
away. It wouldn't do to proceed now; besides, all action should be
postponed, at any rate, until an inventory of the estate shall have
A look of disappointment came into old Simon's face. The lawyer
noticed it. "You mustn't be in too much of a hurry," he said. "All
good things come slowly. Now, I'll tell you what I propose to do.
After this excitement has passed over, and the lady's mind has become
somewhat settled, I will go to her myself, and say to her frankly that
you believe her son to be still alive. Of course, she'll not believe
me. Indeed, I shall be very careful to put the matter in such a shape
that she will not believe me. I will say to her, however, that you
have employed me to prosecute your claim for services to the child,
and that it will be necessary to have a guardian appointed against
whom such action may be taken. I will suggest to her that if she will
acknowledge the boy to be her son, she will be the proper person to
act as his guardian. Of course, she will refuse to do either. The rest
is easy. We will go into court with a petition setting forth the facts
in the case, stating that the boy's mother has refused to act as his
guardian, and asking for your appointment as such. Do you see?"
"Oh, yes! that's good; that's very good, indeed."
"But, let me see, though; you'll have to give bonds. There's the
trouble. Got any money, or any rich friends?"
"Neither; I'm very poor, very poor indeed, Mr. Sharpman."
"Ah! that's awkward. We can do nothing without bondsmen. The court
wouldn't let us touch a penny of that fund without first giving good
The look of disappointment and trouble had returned into the old man's
face. "Ain't there some way you could get bonds for me?" he asked,
"Well, yes, I suppose I might procure bondsmen for you; I suppose I
might go on your bond myself. But you see no one cares to risk his
fortune in the hands of a total stranger that way. We don't know you;
we don't know what you might do."
"Oh! I should be honest, Mr. Sharpman, perfectly honest and discreet;
and you should not suffer to the value of a cent, not a single cent."
"No doubt your intentions are good enough, my dear sir, but it
requires great skill to handle so large an estate properly, and a
single error in judgment on your part might cost thousands of dollars.
Good intentions and promises are well enough in their way, but they
are no security against misfortune, you see. I guess we'll have to
drop the scheme, after all."
Sharpman arose and walked the floor in apparent perplexity, while
Craft, resting his hands on his cane, and staring silently at the
lawyer, tried to conceive some plan to prevent this golden opportunity
from eluding his grasp. Finally Sharpman stopped.
"Craft," he said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. If you will give me a
power of attorney to hold and manage all the funds of the trust until
the boy shall have attained his majority, I'll get the necessary bonds
Craft thought a moment. The proposition did not strike him favorably.
"That would be putting the whole thing out of my hands into yours," he
"Ah! but you would still be the boy's guardian, with right to use all
the money that in your judgment should be necessary, to maintain and
educate him according to his proper station in life. For this purpose
I would agree to pay you three thousand dollars on receipt of the
funds, and three thousand dollars each year thereafter, besides your
guardian's commission, which would amount to eight or ten thousand
dollars at least. I would also agree to pay you a liberal sum for
past services, say two or three thousand dollars. You would have no
responsibility whatever in the matter. I would be liable for any
mistakes you might make. You could use the money as you saw fit. What
do you say?"
The scheme appeared to Simon Craft to be a very brilliant one. He saw
a great fortune in it for himself, if he could only depend on the
"Will you give me a writing to this effect?" he asked.
"Certainly; we shall have a mutual agreement."
"Then I'll do it. You'll get the lion's share I can see that easy
enough; but if you'll do what you say you will, I shan't complain.
Then will I have a right to take the boy again?"
"Yes, after your appointment; but I don't think I would, if I were
you. If he is contented and well off, you had better let him stay
where he is. He might give you the slip again. How old is he now?"
"I don't know exactly; somewhere between ten and twelve, I think."
"Well, his consent to the choice of a guardian is not necessary; but I
think it would be better, under the circumstances, if he would go into
court with us, and agree to your appointment. Do you think he will?"
Old Simon frowned savagely.
"Yes, he will," he exclaimed. "I'll make him do it. I've made him do
harder things than that; it's a pity if I can't make him do what's for
his own benefit now!" He struck the floor viciously with his cane.
"Easy," said the lawyer, soothingly, "easy; I fear the boy has been
his own master too long to be bullied. We shall have to work him in a
different way now. I think I can manage it, though. I'll have him come
down here some day, after we get Mrs. Burnham's refusal to acknowledge
him, and I'll explain matters to him, and show him why it's necessary
that you should take hold of the case. I'll use logic with him, and
I'll wager that he'll come around all right. You must treat boys as
though they were men, Craft. They will listen to reason, and yield to
persuasion, but they won't be bullied, not even into a fortune. By the
way, I don't quite understand how it was, if Burnham was searching
energetically for the boy, and you were searching with as much energy
for the boy's father all those years, that you didn't meet each other
Craft looked up slyly from under his shaggy eyebrows.
"May I speak confidentially?" he asked.
"Well, then, I didn't wear myself out hunting for the boy's friends,
for the first year or two. Time increases the value of some things,
you know--lost children, particularly. I knew there was money back
of the boy by the looks of his clothes. I kept matters pretty well
covered up for a while; allowed that he was my grandson; made him
call me 'Grandpa'; carried the scheme a little too far, and came near
losing everything. Now, do you see?"
Sharpman nodded, and smiled knowingly. "You're a shrewd man, Craft,"
But the old man's thought had returned to the wealth he believed to
be in store for him. "What's to be done now?" he asked. "Ain't there
something we can start on?"
"No; we can do nothing until after I have seen the widow, and that
will be a couple of months yet at least. In the meantime, you must not
say a word to any one about this matter. The boy, especially, must not
know that you have been here. Come again about the first of September.
In the meantime, get together the evidence necessary to establish the
boy's identity. We mustn't fail in that when it comes to an issue."
"I'll have proof enough, no fear of that. The only thing I don't like
about the business is this waiting. I'm pretty bad here," placing his
bony hand on his chest; "no knowing how long I'll last."
"Oh! you're good for twenty years yet," said Sharpman, heartily,
taking him by the hand, and walking with him to the door. "A--are you
pretty well off for money? Would trifling loan be of any benefit to
"Why, if you can spare it," said the old man, trying to suppress his
evident pleasure at the offer; "if you can spare it, it would come in
very handy indeed."
Sharpman drew a well-filled wallet from his pocket, took two bills
from it, folded them together, and placed them into Craft's trembling
fingers. "There," he said, "that's all right; we won't say anything
about that till we come into our fortune."
Old Simon pocketed the money, mumbling his thanks as he did so. The
two men shook hands again at the outer door, and Craft trudged down
the avenue, toward the railroad station, his mind filled with visions
of enormous wealth, but his patience sorely tried by the long delay
that he must suffer before his fingers should close upon the promised
Sharpman returned to his office to congratulate himself upon the happy
chance that had placed so rich an opportunity within his grasp. If the
old man's story were true--he proposed to take steps immediately to
satisfy himself upon that point--then he saw no reason why he should
not have the management of a large estate. Of course there would be
opposition, but if he could succeed so far as to get the funds and the
property into his hands, he felt sure that, in one way or another, he
could make a fortune out of the estate before he should be compelled
to relinquish his hold. As for Simon Craft, he should use him so
far as such use was necessary for the accomplishment of his object.
After that he would or would not keep faith with him, as he chose.
And as for Ralph, if he were really Robert Burnham's son, he would
be rich enough at any rate, and if he were not that son he would
not be entitled to wealth. There was no use, therefore, in being
over-conscientious on his account.
It was a brilliant scheme, worth risking a great deal on, both of
money and reputation, Sharpman resolved to make the most of it.
A SET OF RESOLUTIONS.
It was the morning of the third day after the disaster at Burnham
Shaft. The breaker boys were to go that morning, in a body, to the
mansion of their dead employer to look for the last time on his face.
They had asked that they might be permitted to do this, and the
privilege had been granted.
Grief holds short reign in young hearts, it is true; but the sorrow
in the hearts of these children of toil was none the less sincere.
Had there been any tendency to forget their loss, the solemn faces
and tearful eyes of those who were older than they would have been
a constant reminder.
As Robert Burnham had been universally beloved, so his death was
universally mourned. The miners at Burnham Shaft felt that they had
especial cause for grief. He had a way of coming to the mines and
looking after them and their labor, personally, that they liked. He
knew the names of all the men who worked there, and he had a word of
kindly greeting for each one whom he met. When he came among them out
of the darkness of heading or chamber, there seemed, somehow, to be
more light in the mines, more light and better air, and a sense of
cheeriness and comfort. And, after he had gone, you could hear these
men whistling and singing at their tasks for hours; the mere fact of
his presence had so lightened their labors. The bosses caught this
spirit of friendliness, and there was always harmony at Burnham
Breaker and in the Burnham mines, among all who labored there in any
way whatever. But the screen-room boys had, somehow, come to look upon
this man as their especial friend. He sympathized with them. He seemed
to understand how hard it was for boys like they were to bend all day
above those moving streams of coal. He always had kind words for them,
and devised means to lessen, at times, the rigid monotony of their
tasks. They regarded him with something of that affection which a
child has for a firm, kind parent. Moreover, they looked upon him as a
type of that perfect manhood toward which each, to the extent of his
poor ability, should strive to climb. Even in his death he had set for
them a shining mark of manly bravery. He had died to rescue others. If
he had been a father to them before, he was a hero to them now. But he
was dead. They had heard his gentle voice and seen his kindly smile
and felt the searching tenderness of his brown eyes for the last time.
They would see his face once more; it would not be like him as he was,
but--they would see it.
They had gathered on the grass-plot, on the hill east of the breaker,
under the shadow of a great oak-tree. There were forty of them. They
were dressed in their best clothes; not very rich apparel to be sure,
patched and worn and faded most of it was, but it was their very best.
There was no loud talking among them. There were no tricks being
played; there was no shouting, no laughter. They were all sober-faced,
earnest, and sorrowful.
One of the boys spoke up and said: "Tell you what I think, fellows; I
think we ought to pass res'lutions like what the miners they done."
"Res'lutions," said another, "w'at's them?"
"W'y," said a third, "it's a little piece o' black cloth, like a veil,
w'at you wear on your arm w'en you go to a fun'al."
Then some one proposed that the meeting should first be duly
organized. Many of the boys had attended the miners' meetings and knew
something about parliamentary organization.
"I move't Ralph Buckley, he be chairman," said one.
"I second the move," said another. The motion was put, and Ralph was
unanimously elected as chairman.
"They ain't no time to make any speech," he said, backing up against
the tree in order to face the assemblage. "We got jest time to 'lect a
sec'etary and draw out some res'lutions."
"I move't Jimmie Donnelly be sec'etary."
"I second Jimmie Donnelly."
"All you who want Jimmie Donnelly for sec'etary, hol' up your right
han's an' say yi."
There was a chorus of yi's.
"I move't Ed. Williams be treasher."
Then the objector rose. "Aw!" he said, "we don't want no treasher.
W'at we want a treasher for? we ain't goin' to spen' no money."
"You got to have a treasher," broke in a youthful Gushing, "you got to
have one, or less your meetin' won't be legal, nor your res'lutions,
The discussion was ended abruptly by some one seconding the nomination
of Ed. Williams, and the motion was immediately put and carried.
"Now," said another young parliamentarian, "I move't the chairman pint
out a committee of three fellows to write the res'lutions."
This motion was also seconded, put, and carried, and Ralph designated
three boys in the company, one of whom, Joe Foster, had more than an
ordinary reputation for learning, as a committee on resolutions; and,
while they went down to the breaker office for pen, ink, and paper,
the meeting took a recess.
It was, indeed, a task for those three unlearned boys to express in
writing, their grief consequent upon the death of their employer,
and their sympathy for his living loved ones, but they performed it.
There was some discussion concerning a proper form for beginning. One
thought they should begin by saying, "Know all men by these presents."
"But we ain't got no presents to give 'em," said another, "an' if we
had it ain't no time to give any presents."
Joe Foster had attended the meeting at which the resolutions by the
miners were adopted, and after recalling, as nearly as possible, the
language in which they were drawn, it was decided to begin:--"We, the
breaker boys, of Burnham Breaker, in mass meeting met"--
After that, with the exception of an occasional dispute concerning the
spelling of a word, they got on very well, and came, finally, to the
"You two write your names on to it," said Jack Murphy; "I won't put
mine down; two's enough."
"Oh! we've all got to sign it," said Joe Foster; "a majoriky ain't
enough to make a paper like this stan' law."
"Well, I don't b'lieve I'll sign it," responded Jack; "I don't like
the res'lutions very well, anyway."
"Why not? they're jest as you wanted 'em--oh, I know! you can't write
"Well, I guess I could, maybe, if I wanted to, but I don't want to;
I'm 'fraid I'd spile the looks o' the paper. You's fellows go ahead
an' sign it."
"I'll tell you what to do," said Joe; "I'll write your name jest as
good as I can, an' then you can put your solemn cross on top of it,
an' that'll make it jest as legal as it can be got."
So they arranged it in that way. Joe signed Jack Murphy's name in his
very best style, and then Jack took the pen and under Joe's explicit
directions, drew one line horizontally through the name and another
line perpendicularly between the two words of it, and Joe wrote
above it: "his solem mark." This completed the resolutions, and
the committee hurried back with them to the impatient assembly.
The meeting was called to order again, and Joe Foster read the
"That's jest the way I feel about it," said Ralph, "jest the way that
paper reads. He couldn't 'a' been no better to us, no way. Boys," he
continued, earnestly, forgetting for the time being his position, "do
you 'member 'bout his comin' into the screen-room last Tuesday an'
givin' us each a quarter to go t' the circus with? Well, I'd cut my
han' that day on a piece o' coal, an' it was a-bleedin' bad, an' he
see it, an' he asked me what was the matter with it, an' I told 'im,
an' he took it an' washed it off, he did, jest as nice an' careful;
an' then what d'ye think he done? W'y he took 'is own han'kerchy, his
own han'kerchy, mind ye, an' tore it into strips an' wrapped it roun'
my han' jest as nice--jest as nice--"
And here the memory of this kindness became so vivid in Ralph's mind
that he broke down and cried outright.
"It was jes' like 'im," said one in the crowd; "he was always a-doin'
sumpthin' jes' like that. D'ye 'member that time w'en I froze my ear,
an' he give me money to buy a new cap with ear-laps on to it?"
The recital of this incident called from another the statement of some
generous deed, and, in the fund of kindly reminiscence thus aroused,
the resolutions came near to being wholly forgotten. But they were
remembered, finally, and were called up and adopted, and it was agreed
that the chairman should carry them and present them to whoever
should be found in charge at the house. Then, with Ralph and Joe
Foster leading the procession, they started toward the city. Reaching
Laburnum Avenue, they marched down that street in twos until they came
to the Burnham residence. There was a short consultation there, and
then they all passed in through the gate to the lawn, and Ralph and
Joe went up the broad stone steps to the door. A kind-faced woman
met them there, and Ralph said: "We've come, if you please, the
breaker boys have come to--to--" The woman smiled sweetly, and said:
"Yes, we've been expecting you; wait a moment and I will see what
arrangements have been made for you."
Joe Foster nudged Ralph with his elbow, and whispered:--
"The res'lutions, Ralph, the res'lutions; now's the time; give 'em to
But Ralph did not hear him. His mind was elsewhere. As his eyes
grew accustomed to the dim light in the hall, and he saw the
winding staircase with its richly carved posts, the beauty of the
stained-glass windows, the graceful hangings, the broad doors, the
pictures, and the flowers, there came upon him a sense of strange
familiarity with the scene. It seemed to him as though sometime,
somewhere, he had seen it, known it all before. The feeling was so
sudden and so strong that it made him faint and dizzy.
The kind-featured woman saw the pallor on his face and the tremor on
his lips, and led him to a chair. She ascribed his weakness to sorrow
and excitement, and the dread of looking on a dead face.
"Poor boy!" she said. "I don't wonder at it; he was more than generous
to us all."
But Joe, afraid that the resolutions he had labored on with so much
diligence would be forgotten, spoke of them again to Ralph.
"Oh, yes," said Ralph, with a wan smile, "oh, yes! here's the
res'lutions. That's the way the breaker boys feel--the way it says in
this paper; an' we want Mrs. Burnham to know."
"I'll take it to her," said the woman, receiving from Ralph's hands
the awkwardly folded and now sadly soiled paper. "You will wait here a
She passed up the broad staircase, by the richly colored window at the
landing, and was lost to sight; while the two boys, sitting in the
spacious hall, gazed, with wondering eyes, upon the beauty which
The widow of Robert Burnham sat in the morning-room of her desolated
home, talking calmly with her friends.
After the first shock incident upon her husband's death had passed
away, she had made no outcry, she grew quiet and self-possessed, she
was ready for any consultation, gave all necessary orders, spoke
of her dead husband's goodness to her with a smile on her face, and
looked calmly forth into the future. The shock of that terrible
message from the mines, two days ago, had paralyzed her emotional
nature, and left her white-faced and tearless.
She had a smile and a kind word for every one as before; she had eaten
mechanically; but she had lain with wide-open eyes all night, and
still no one had seen a single tear upon her cheeks. This was why they
feared for her; they said,
"She must weep, or she will die."
Some one came into the room and spoke to her.
"The breaker boys, who asked to come this morning, are here."
"Let them come in," she said, "and pass through the parlors and look
upon him; and let them be treated with all kindness and courtesy."
"They have brought this paper, containing resolutions passed by them,
which they would like to have you read."
Mrs. Burnham took the paper, and asked the woman to wait while she
read it. There was something in the fact that these boys had passed
resolutions of sympathy that touched her heart. She unfolded the