Part 5 out of 7
to wait. He began to mark out in his mind the course he should pursue
on reaching Wilkesbarre. He thought he would inquire the way to Mr.
Goodlaw's office, and go directly to it and tell the whole story to
him. Perhaps Mrs. Burnham would be there too, that would be better
yet, more painful but better. Then he should follow their advice as
to the course to be pursued. It was more than likely that they would
want him to testify as a witness. That would be strange, too, that
he should give such evidence voluntarily as would deprive him of a
beautiful home, of a loving mother, and of an honored name. But he was
ready to do it; he was ready to do anything now that seemed right and
best, anything that would meet the approval of his Uncle Billy and of
his own conscience.
When the train was ready he found a seat in the cars and waited
impatiently for them to start. For some reason they were late in
getting away, but, once started, they seemed to be going fast enough
to make up for lost time.
In the seats behind Ralph was a merry party of young girls. Their
incessant chatter and musical laughter came to his ears as from a long
distance. At any former time he would have listened to them with great
pleasure; such sounds had an unspeakable charm for him; but to-day his
brain was busied with weightier matters.
He looked from the car window and saw the river glancing in the
sunlight, winding under shaded banks, rippling over stony bottoms.
He saw the wooded hill-sides, with the delicate green of spring upon
them fast deepening into the darker tints of summer. He saw the giant
breakers looming up, black and massive, in the foreground of almost
every scene. And yet it was all scarcely more to him than a shadowy
dream. The strong reality in his mind was the trying task that lay
before him yet, and the bitter outcome, so soon to be, of all his
hopes and fancies.
At Pittston Junction there was another long delay. Ralph grew very
nervous and impatient.
If the train could have reached Wilkesbarre on time he would have had
only an hour to spare before the sitting of the court. Now he could
hope for only a half-hour at the best. And if anything should happen
to deprive him of that time; if anything _should_ happen so that he
should not get to court until after the case was closed, until after
the verdict of the jury had been rendered, until after the law had
declared him to be Robert Burnham's son; if anything _should_ happen!
His face flushed, his heart began to beat wildly, his breath came in
gasps. If such a thing were to occur, without his fault, against his
will and effort, what then? It was only for a moment that he gave way
to this insidious and undermining thought. Then he fought it back,
crushed it, trampled on it, and set his face again sternly to the
At last the train came, the impatient passengers entered it, and they
were once more on their way.
It was a relief at least to be going, and for the moment Ralph had a
faint sense of enjoyment in looking out across the placid bosom of the
Susquehanna, over into the tree-girt, garden-decked expanse of the
valley of Wyoming. Off the nearer shore of a green-walled island in
the river, a group of cattle stood knee-deep in the shaded water, a
picture of perfect comfort and content.
Then the train swept around a curve, away from the shore, and back
among the low hills to the east. Suddenly there was a bumping together
of the cars, an apparently powerful effort to check their impetus, a
grinding of the brakes on the wheels, a rapid slowing of the train,
and a slight shock at stopping.
The party of girls had grown silent, and their eyes were wide and
their faces blanched with fear.
The men in the car arose from their seats and went out to discover the
cause of the alarm. Ralph went also. The train had narrowly escaped
plunging into a mass of wrecked coal cars, thrown together by a
collision which had just occurred, and half buried in the scattered
To make the matter still worse the collision had taken place in a deep
and narrow cut, and had filled it from side to side with twisted and
What was to be done? the passengers asked. The conductor replied
that a man would be sent back to the next station, a few miles away,
to telegraph for a special train from Wilkesbarre, and that the
passengers would take the train from the other side of the wreck. And
how long would they be obliged to wait here?
"Well, an hour at any rate, perhaps longer."
"That means two hours," said an impatient traveller, bitterly.
Ralph heard it all. An hour would make him very late, two hours would
be fatal to his mission. He went up to the conductor and asked,--
"How long'd it take to walk to Wilkesbarre?"
"That depends on how fast you can walk, sonny. Some men might do it in
half or three quarters of an hour: you couldn't." And the man looked
down, slightingly, on the boyish figure beside him.
Ralph turned away in deep thought. If he could walk it in
three-quarters of an hour, he might yet be in time; time to do
something at least. Should he try?
But this accident, this delay, might it not be providential? Must he
always be striving against fate? against every circumstance that would
tend to relieve him? against every obstacle thrown into his path to
prevent him from bringing calamity on his own head? Must he?--but the
query went no further. The angel with the flaming sword came back to
guard the gates of thought, and conscience still was king. He would do
all that lay in his human power, with every moment and every muscle
that he had, to fulfil the stern command of duty, and then if he
should fail, it would be with no shame in his heart, no blot upon his
Already he was making his way through the thick underbrush along the
steep hill-side above the wreck, stumbling, falling, bruising his
hands and knees, and finally leaping down into the railroad track on
the other side of the piled-up cars. From there he ran along smoothly
on the ties, turning out once for a train of coal cars to pass him,
but stopping for nothing. A man at work in a field by the track asked
him what the matter was up the line; the boy answered him in as few
words as possible, walking while he talked, and then ran on again.
After he had gone a mile or more he came to a wagon-road crossing, and
wondered if, by following it, he would not sooner reach his journey's
end. He could see, in the distance, the smoke arising from a hundred
chimneys where the city lay, and the road looked as though it would
take him more directly there. He did not stop long to consider. He
plunged ahead down a little hill, and then along on a foot-path by the
side of the wagon-track. The day had grown to be very warm, and Ralph
removed his jacket and carried it on his arm or across his shoulder.
He became thirsty after a while, but he dared not stop at the houses
along the way to ask for water; it would take too much time. He met
many wagons coming toward him, but there seemed to be few going in to
the city. He had hoped to get a ride. He had overtaken a farmer with
a wagon-load of produce going to the town and had passed him. Two or
three fast teams whirled by, leaving a cloud of dust to envelop him.
Then a man, riding in a buggy, drove slowly down the road. Ralph
shouted at him as he passed:--
"Please, sir, may I have a ride? I'm in a desp'ate hurry!"
But the man looked back at him contemptuously. "I don't run a stage
for the benefit of tramps," he said, and drove on.
Ralph was discouraged and did not dare to ask any one else for a ride,
though there seemed to be several opportunities to get one.
But he came to a place, at last, where a little creek crossed the
road, a cool spring run, and he knelt down by it and quenched his
thirst, and considered that if he had been in a wagon he would have
missed the drink. The road was somewhat disappointing to him, too. It
seemed to turn away, after a little distance, from the direct line to
the city, and to bear to the west, toward the river. He feared that
he had made a mistake in leaving the railroad, but he only walked the
faster. Now and then he would break into a run and keep running until
his breath gave out, then he would drop back into a walk.
His feet began to hurt him. One shoe rubbed his heel until the pain
became so intense that he could not bear it, and he sat down by the
roadside and removed his shoes and stockings, and then ran on in his
bare feet. The sunlight grew hotter; no air was stirring; the dust
hung above the road in clouds. Deep thirst came back upon the boy;
his limbs grew weak and tired; his bared feet were bruised upon the
But he scarcely thought of these things; his only anxiety was that the
moments were passing, that the road was long, that unless he reached
his journey's end in time injustice would be done and wrong prevail.
So he pressed on; abating not one jot of his swiftness, falling
not one hair's breadth from his height of resolution, on and on,
foot-sore, thirsty, in deep distress; but with a heart unyielding
as the flint, with a purpose strong as steel, with a heroism more
magnificent than that which meets the points of glittering bayonets
or the mouths of belching cannon.
A BLOCK IN THE WHEEL.
At half-past one o'clock people began to loiter into the court-house
at Wilkesbarre; at two the court-room was full. They were there, the
most of them, to hear the close of the now celebrated Burnham case.
The judge came in from a side door and took his seat on the bench.
Beneath him the prothonotary was busy writing in a big book. Down in
the bar the attorneys sat chatting familiarly and pleasantly with one
another. Sharpman was there, and Craft was at his elbow.
Goodlaw was there, and Mrs. Burnham sat in her accustomed place. The
crier opened court in a voice that could be heard to the farthest end
of the room, though few of the listeners understood what his "Oyez!
oyez! oyez!" was all about.
Some opinions of the court were read and handed down by the judge. The
prothonotary called the jury list for the week. Two or three jurors
presented applications for discharge which were patiently considered
and acted on by the court.
The sheriff arose and acknowledged a bunch of deeds, the title-pages
of which had been read aloud by the judge.
An attorney stepped up to the railing and presented a petition to the
court; another attorney arose and objected to it, and quite a little
discussion ensued over the matter. It finally ended by a rule being
granted to show cause why the petition should not be allowed. Then
there were several motions made by as many lawyers. All this took much
time; a good half-hour at least, perhaps longer.
Finally there was a lull. The judge was busily engaged in writing. The
attorneys seemed to have exhausted their topics for conversation and
to be waiting for new ones.
The jury in the Burnham case sat listlessly in their chairs, glad that
their work in the matter at issue was nearly done, yet regretful that
a case had not been made out which might have called for the exercise
of that large intelligence, that critical acumen, that capacity
for close reasoning, of which the members of the average jury
feel themselves to be severally and collectively possessed. As it
was, there would be little for them to do. The case was extremely
one-sided, "like the handle on a jug," as one of them sententiously
and somewhat scornfully remarked.
The judge looked up from his writing. "Well, gentlemen," he said, "are
you ready to proceed in the case of 'Craft against Burnham'?"
"We are ready on the part of the plaintiff," replied Sharpman.
Goodlaw arose. "If it please the court," he said, "we are in the same
position to-day that we were in on Saturday night at the adjournment.
This matter has been, with us, one of investigation rather than of
"Though we hesitate to accept a statement of fact from a man of Simon
Craft's self-confessed character, yet the corroborative evidence seems
to warrant a belief in the general truth of his story.
"We do not wish to offer any further contradictory evidence than that
already elicited from the plaintiff's witnesses. I may say, however,
that this decision on our part is due not so much to my own sense of
the legal barrenness of our case as to my client's deep conviction
that the boy Ralph is her son, and to her great desire that justice
shall be done to him."
"In that case," said the judge, "I presume you will have nothing
further to offer on the part of the plaintiff, Mr. Sharpman?"
"Nothing," replied that gentleman, with an involuntary, smile of
satisfaction on his lips.
"Then," said Goodlaw, who was still standing, "I suppose the evidence
may be declared closed. I know of no--" He stopped and turned to see
what the noise and confusion back by the entrance was about. The eyes
of every one else in the room were turned in that direction also. A
tipstaff was trying to detain Ralph at the door; he had not recognized
him. But the boy broke away from him and hurried down the central
aisle to the railing of the bar. In the struggle with the officer he
had lost his hat, and his hair was tumbled over his forehead. His face
was grimy and streaked with perspiration; his clothes were torn and
dusty, and in his hand he still carried his shoes and stockings.
"Mr. Goodlaw!" he exclaimed in a loud whisper as he hastened across
the bar, "Mr. Goodlaw, wait a minute! I ain't Robert Burnham's son! I
didn't know it till yestaday; but I ain't--I ain't his son!"
The boy dropped, panting, into a chair. Goodlaw looked down on him
in astonishment. Old Simon clutched his cane and leaned forward with
his eyes flashing fire. Mrs. Burnham, her face pale with surprise and
compassion, began to smooth back the hair from the lad's wet forehead.
The people back in the court-room had risen to their feet, to look
down into the bar, and the constables were trying to restore order.
It all took place in a minute.
Then Ralph began to talk again:--
"Rhymin' Joe said so; he said I was Simon Craft's grandson; he told--"
Sharpman interrupted him. "Come with me, Ralph," he said, "I want to
speak with you a minute." He reached out his hand, as if to lead him
away; but Goodlaw stepped between them, saying, sternly:--
"He shall not go! The boy shall tell his story unhampered; you shall
not crowd it back down his throat in private!"
"I say the boy shall go," replied Sharpman, angrily. "He is my client,
and I have a right to consult with him."
This was true. For a moment Goodlaw was at his wit's end. Then, a
bright idea came to him.
"Ralph," he said, "take the witness-stand."
Sharpman saw that he was foiled.
He turned to the court, white with passion.
"I protest," he exclaimed, "against this proceeding! It is contrary
to both law and courtesy. I demand the privilege of consulting with
"Counsel has a right to call the boy as a witness," said the judge,
dispassionately, "and to put him on the stand at once. Let him be
Ralph pushed his way up to the witness-stand, and the officer
administered the oath. He was a sorry-looking witness indeed.
At any other time or in any other place, his appearance would have
been ludicrous. But now no one laughed. The people in the court-room
began to whisper, "Hush!" fearing lest the noise of moving bodies
might cause them to lose the boy's words.
To Goodlaw it was all a mystery. He did not know how to begin the
examination. He started at a venture.
"Are you Robert Burnham's son?"
"No, sir," replied Ralph, firmly. "I ain't."
There was a buzz of excitement in the room. Old Simon sat staring
at the boy incredulously. His anger had changed for the moment into
wonder. He could not understand the cause of Ralph's action. Sharpman
had not told him of the interview with Rhyming Joe--he had not thought
"Who are you, then?" inquired Goodlaw.
"I'm Simon Craft's grandson." The excitement in the room ran higher.
Craft raised himself on his cane to lean toward Sharpman. "He lies!"
whispered the old man, hoarsely; "the boy lies!"
Sharpman paid no attention to him.
"When did you first learn that you are Mr. Craft's grandson?"
continued the counsel for the defence.
"Last night," responded Ralph.
"At Mr. Sharpman's office."
The blood rushed suddenly into Sharpman's face. He understood it all
now; Ralph had overheard.
"Who told you?" asked Goodlaw.
"No one told me, I heard Rhymin' Joe--"
Sharpman interrupted him.
"I don't know," he said, "if the court please, what this boy is trying
to tell nor what wild idea has found lodgement in his brain; but I
certainly object to the introduction of such hearsay evidence as
counsel seems trying to bring out. Let us at least know whether the
responsible plaintiff in this case was present or was a party to this
"Was Mr. Craft present?" asked Goodlaw of the witness.
"No, sir; I guess not, I didn't hear 'im, any way."
"Did you see him?"
"No, sir; I didn't see 'im. I didn't see either of 'em."
"Where were you?"
"In the room nex' to the street."
"Where did this conversation take place?"
"In the back room."
"Was the door open?"
"Just a little."
"Who were in the back room?"
"Mr. Sharpman an' Rhymin' Joe."
"Who is Rhyming Joe?"
"He's a man I used to know in Philadelphy."
"When you lived with Craft?"
"What was his business?"
"I don't know as anything. He used to bring things to the house
sometimes, watches an' things."
"How long have you known Rhyming Joe?"
"Ever since I can remember."
"Was he at Craft's house frequently?"
"Yes, sir; most all the time."
An idea of the true situation of affairs was dawning upon Goodlaw's
mind. That Ralph had overheard Rhyming Joe say to Sharpman that the
boy was Simon Craft's grandson was evident. But how to get that fact
before the jury in the face of the rules of evidence--that was the
question. It seemed to him that there should be some way to do it, and
he kept on with the examination in order to gain time for thought and
to lead up to the point.
"Did Mr. Sharpman know that you were in his office when this
conversation took place?"
"No, sir; I guess not."
"Did Rhyming Joe know you were there?"
"No, sir; I don't believe he did."
"From the conversation overheard by you, have you reason to believe
that Rhyming Joe is acquainted with the facts relating to your
"Yes, sir; he must know."
"And, from hearing that conversation, did you become convinced that
you are Simon Craft's grandson and not Robert Burnham's son?"
"Yes, sir, I did. Rhymin' Joe said so, an' he knows."
"Did you see Rhyming Joe last night?"
"No, sir. Only as he passed by me in the dark."
"Have you seen him to-day?"
"No, sir; he promised to go away this mornin'."
"To whom did he make that promise?"
Sharpman was on his feet in an instant, calling on Ralph to stop, and
appealing to the court to have the counsel and witness restricted to
a line of evidence that was legal and proper. He saw open before him
the pit of bribery, and this fearless boy was pushing him dangerously
close to the brink of it.
The judge admonished the defendant's attorney to hold the witness
within proper bounds and to proceed with the examination.
In the meantime, Goodlaw had been thinking. He felt that it was of the
highest importance that this occurrence in Sharpman's office should be
made known to the court and the jury, and that without delay. There
was but one theory, however, on which he could hope to introduce
evidence of all that had taken place there, and he feared that that
was not a sound one. But he determined to put on a bold face and make
"Ralph," he said, calmly, "you may go on now and give the entire
conversation as you heard it last night between Mr. Sharpman and
The very boldness of the question brought a smile to Sharpman's face
as he arose and objected to the legality of the evidence asked for.
"We contend," said Goodlaw, in support of his offer, "that neither the
trustee-plaintiff nor his attorney are persons whom the law recognizes
as having any vital interest in this suit. The witness on the stand is
the real plaintiff here, his are the interests that are at stake, and
if he chooses to give evidence adverse to those interests, evidence
relevant to the matter at issue, although it may be hearsay evidence,
he has a perfect right to do so. His privilege as a witness is as high
as that of any other plaintiff."
But Sharpman was on the alert. He arose to reply.
"Counsel forgets," he said, "or else is ignorant of the fact, that
the very object of the appointment of a guardian is because the law
considers that a minor is incapable of acting for himself. He has no
discretionary power in connection with his estate. He has no more
right to go on the witness-stand and give voluntary hearsay evidence
which shall be adverse to his own interests than he has to give away
any part of his estate which may be under the control of his trustee.
A guardian who will allow him to do either of these things without
objection will be liable for damages at the hands of his ward when
that ward shall have reached his majority. We insist on the rejection
of the offer."
The judge sat for a minute in silence, as if weighing the matter
carefully. Finally he said:--
"We do not think the testimony is competent, Mr. Goodlaw. Although the
point is a new one to us, we are inclined to look upon the law of the
case as Mr. Sharpman looks on it. We shall be obliged to refuse your
offer. We will seal you a bill of exceptions."
Goodlaw had hardly dared to expect anything else. There was nothing
for him to do but to acquiesce in the ruling of the court.
Ralph turned to face him with a question on his lips.
"Mr. Goodlaw," he said, "ain't they goin' to let me tell what I heard
Rhymin' Joe say?"
"I am afraid not, Ralph; the court has ruled that conversation out."
"But they won't never know the right of it unless I tell that. I've
got to tell it; that's what I come here for."
The judge turned to the witness and spoke to him, not unkindly:--
"Ralph, suppose you refrain from interrogating your counsel, and let
him ask questions of you; that is the way we do here."
"Yes, sir, I will," said the boy, innocently, "only it seems too bad
'at I can't tell what Rhymin' Joe said."
The lawyers in the bar were smiling, Sharpman had recovered his
apparent good-nature, and Goodlaw began again to interrogate the
"Are you aware, Ralph," he asked, "that your testimony here to-day
may have the effect of excluding you from all rights in the estate
of Robert Burnham?"
"Yes, sir, I know it."
"And do you know that you are probably denying yourself the right to
bear one of the most honored names, and to live in one of the most
beautiful homes in this community?"
"Yes, sir, I know it all. I wouldn't mind all that so much though if
it wasn't for my mother. I've got to give her up now, that's the worst
of it; I don't know how I'm goin' to stan' that."
Mrs. Burnham, sitting by her counsel, bent her head above the table
and wept silently.
"Was your decision to disclose your knowledge reached with a fair
understanding of the probable result of such a disclosure?"
"Yes, sir, it was. I knew what the end of it'd be, an' I had a pirty
hard time to bring myself to it, but I done it, an' I'm glad now 'at
"Did you reach this decision alone or did some one help you to it?"
"Well, I'll tell you how that was. All't I decided in the first place
was to tell Uncle Billy,--he's the man't I live with. So I told him,
an' he said I ought to tell Mrs. Burnham right away. But she wasn't
home when I got to her house, so I started right down here; an' they
was an accident up on the road, an' the train couldn't go no further,
an' so I walked in--I was afraid I wouldn't get here in time 'less
"Your long walk accounts for your dusty and shoeless condition, I
"Yes, sir; it was pirty dusty an' hot, an' I had to walk a good ways,
an' my shoes hurt me so't I had to take 'em off, an' I didn't have
time to put 'em on again after I got here. Besides," continued the
boy, looking down apologetically at his bruised and dusty feet, "I
hurt my feet a-knockin' 'em against the stones when I was a-runnin',
an' they've got swelled up so 'at I don't believe I could git my shoes
on now, any way."
Many people in the room besides Mrs. Burnham had tears in their eyes
at the conclusion of this simple statement.
Then Ralph grew white about the lips and looked around him uneasily.
The judge saw that the lad was faint, and ordered a tipstaff to bring
him a glass of water. Ralph drank the water and it refreshed him.
"You may cross-examine the witness," said Goodlaw to the plaintiff's
Sharpman hardly knew how to begin. But he felt that he must make an
effort to break in some way the force of Ralph's testimony. He knew
that from a strictly legal point of view, the evidence was of little
value, but he feared that the boy's apparent honesty, coupled with his
dramatic entrance, would create an impression on the minds of the jury
which might carry them to a disastrous verdict. He leaned back in his
chair with an assumed calmness, placed the tips of his fingers against
each other, and cast his eyes toward the ceiling.
"Ralph," he said, "you considered up to yesterday that Mr. Craft and I
were acting in your interest in this case, did you not?"
"Yes, sir; I thought so."
"And you have consulted with us and followed our advice until
yesterday, have you not?"
"And last night you came to the conclusion that we were deceiving
"Yes, sir; I did."
"Have you any reason for this opinion aside from the conversation you
allege that you heard?"
"I don't know as I have."
"At what hour did you reach my office last evening?"
"I don't know, I guess it must 'a' been after eight o'clock."
"Was it dark?"
"It was jest dark."
"Was there a light in the office when you came in?"
"They was in the back room where you an' Rhymin' Joe were."
"Did you think that I knew when you came into the office?"
"I don't believe you did."
"Why did you not make your presence known?"
"Come, out with it! If you had any reason for playing the spy, let's
hear what it was."
"I didn't play the spy. I didn't think o' bein' mean that way, but
when I heard Rhymin' Joe tell you 'at I wasn't Robert Burnham's son,
I was so s'prised, an' scart-like 'at I couldn't speak."
This was a little more than Sharpman wanted, but he kept on:--
"How long were you under the control of this spirit of muteness?"
"How long was it before the power to speak returned to you?"
"Oh! not till Rhymin' Joe went out, I guess. I felt so bad I didn't
want to speak to anybody."
"Did you see this person whom you call Rhyming Joe?"
"Only in the dark."
"Not so as to recognize him by sight?"
"How did you know it was he?"
"By the way he talked."
"How long is it since you have been accustomed to hearing him talk?"
"About three years."
"Did you see me last night?"
"I caught a glimpse of you jest once."
"When you went across the room an' gave Rhymin' Joe the money."
Sharpman flushed angrily. He felt that he was treading on dangerous
ground in this line of examination. He went on more cautiously.
"At what time did you leave my office last night?"
"Right after Rhymin' Joe did. I went out to find him."
"Then you went away without letting me know of your presence there,
"Did you find this Rhyming Joe?"
"No, sir, I couldn't find 'im."
"Now, Ralph, when you left me at the Scranton station on Saturday
night, did you go straight home?"
"Did you see any one to talk with except Bachelor Billy that night
after you left me?"
"Where did you go on Sunday morning?"
"Uncle Billy an' me went down to the chapel to meetin'."
"From there where did you go?"
"And had your dinner?"
"What did you do after that?"
"Me an' Uncle Billy went up to the breaker."
"Why did you go there?"
"Jest for a walk, an' to see how it looked."
"How long did you stay there?"
"Oh, we hadn't been there more'n fifteen or twenty minutes 'fore Mrs.
Burnham's man came for me an' took me to her house."
Sharpman straightened up in his chair. His drag-net had brought up
something at last. It might be of value to him and it might not be.
"Ah!" he said, "so you spent a portion of yesterday afternoon at Mrs.
Burnham's house, did you?"
"Yes, sir, I did."
"How long did you stay there?"
"Oh! I shouldn't wonder if it was two or three hours."
"Did you see Mrs. Burnham alone?"
"Have a long talk together?"
"Yes, sir, a very nice long talk."
Sharpman thought that if he could only lead the jury, by inference,
to the presumption that what had taken place to-day was understood
between Ralph and Mrs. Burnham yesterday it would be a strong point,
but he knew that he must go cautiously.
"She was very kind to you, wasn't she?"
"Yes, sir; she was lovely. I never had so good a time before in all my
"You took dinner with her, I suppose?"
"Have a good dinner?"
"It was splendid."
"Did you eat a good deal?"
"Yes, sir, I think I eat a great deal."
"Had a good many things that were new to you, I presume?"
"Yes, sir, quite a good many."
"Did you think you would like to go there to live?"
"Oh, yes! I did. It's beautiful there, it's very beautiful. You don't
know how lovely it is till you get there. I couldn't help bein' happy
in a home like that, an' they couldn't be no nicer mother'n Mrs.
Burnham is, nor no pirtier little sister. An' everybody was jest as
good to me there! Why, you don't know what a--"
The glow suddenly left the boy's face, and the rapture fled from his
eyes. In the enthusiasm of his description he had forgotten, for the
moment, that it was not all to be his, and when the memory of his loss
came back to him, it was like a plunge into outer darkness. He stopped
so unexpectedly, and in such apparent mental distress that people
stared at him in astonishment, wondering what had happened.
After a moment of silence he spoke again: "But it ain't mine any
longer; I can't have any of it now; I've got no right to go there at
all any more." The sadness in his broken voice was pitiful. Those who
were looking on him saw his under lip tremble and his eyes fill with
tears. But it was only for a moment. Then he drew himself up until
he sat rigidly in his chair, his little hands were tightly clenched,
his lips were set in desperate firmness, every muscle of his face
grew tense and hard with sudden resolution. It was a magnificently
successful effort of the will to hold back almost overpowering
emotion, and to keep both mind and body strong and steady for any
ordeal through which he might have yet to pass.
It came upon those who saw it like an electric flash, and in another
moment the crowded room was ringing with applause.
GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY.
Sharpman had not seen Ralph's expression and did not know what the
noise was all about. He looked around at the audience uneasily,
whispered to Craft for a moment, and then announced that he was done
with the witness. He was really afraid to carry the examination
further; there were too many pit-falls along the way.
Goodlaw, too, was wise enough to ask no additional questions. He
did not care to lay grounds for the possible reversal of a judgment
in favor of the defendant, by introducing questionable evidence.
But he felt that the case, in its present aspect, needed farther
investigation, and he moved for a continuance of the cause for two
days. He desired, he said, to find the person known as Rhyming Joe,
and to produce such other evidence as this new and startling turn of
affairs might make necessary.
Craft whispered to Sharpman that the request should be agreed to,
saying that he could bring plenty of witnesses to prove that Rhyming
Joe was a worthless adventurer, notorious for his habits of lying;
and stoutly asserting that the boy was positively Ralph Burnham. But
Sharpman's great fear was that if Rhyming Joe should be brought back,
the story of the bribery could no longer be hushed; and he therefore
opposed the application for a continuance with all his energy.
The court ruled that the reasons presented were not sufficient to
warrant the holding of a jury at this stage of the case for so long a
time, but intimated that in the event of a verdict for the plaintiff a
motion for a new trial might be favorably considered by the court.
"Then we have nothing further to offer," said Goodlaw.
Sharpman resumed his seat with an air of satisfaction, and sat for
full five minutes, with his face in his hand, in deep thought.
"I think," he said, finally, looking up, "that we shall present
nothing in rebuttal. The case, as it now stands, doesn't seem to call
for it." He had been considering whether it would be safe and wise for
him to go on the witness-stand and deny any portion of Ralph's story.
He had reached the conclusion that it would not. The risk was too
"Very well," said the judge, taking up his pen, "then the evidence is
closed. Mr. Goodlaw, are you ready to go to the jury?"
Goodlaw, who had been, during this time, holding a whispered
conversation with Ralph, arose, bowed to the court, and turned to
face the jurors. He began his speech by saying that, until the recent
testimony given by the boy Ralph had been produced in court, he had
not expected to address the jury at all; but that that testimony had
so changed the whole tenor of the case as to make a brief argument for
the defence an apparent necessity.
Fortified by the knowledge of the story that Rhyming Joe had told, as
Ralph had just whispered it to him, Goodlaw was able to dissipate,
greatly, the force of the plaintiff's evidence, and to show how
Craft's whole story might easily be a cleverly concocted falsehood
built upon a foundation of truth. He opened up to the wondering minds
of the jurors the probable scheme which had been originated by these
two plotters, Craft and Sharpman, to raise up an heir to the estates
of Robert Burnham, an heir of whom Craft could be guardian, and a
guardian of whom Sharpman could be attorney. He explained how the
property and the funds that would thus come into their hands could be
so managed as to leave a fortune in the pocket of each of them before
they should have done with the estate.
"The scheme was a clever one," he said, "and worked well, and no
obstacle stood in the way of these conspirators until a person known
as Rhyming Joe came on the scene. This person knew the history of
Ralph's parentage and saw through Craft's duplicity; and, in an
unguarded moment, the attorney for the plaintiff closed this man's
mouth by means which we can only guess at, and sent him forth to hide
among the moral and the social wrecks that constitute the flotsam and
the jetsam of society. But his words, declaring Simon Craft's bold
scheme a fabric built upon a lie, had already struck upon the ears and
pierced into the heart of one whose tender conscience would not let
him rest with the burden of this knowledge weighing down upon it. What
was it that he heard, gentlemen? We can only conjecture. The laws of
evidence drop down upon us here and forbid that we should fully know.
But that it was a tale that brought conviction to the mind of this
brave boy you cannot doubt. It is for no light cause that he comes
here to publicly renounce his right and title to the name, the wealth,
the high maternal love that yesterday was lying at his feet and
smiling in his face. The counsel for the plaintiff tries to throw
upon him the mantle of the eavesdropper, but the breath of this boy's
lightest word lifts such a covering from him, and reveals his purity
of purpose and his agony of mind in listening to the revelation that
was made. I do not wonder that he should lose the power to move on
hearing it. I do not wonder that he should be compelled, as if by
some strange force, to sit and listen quietly to every piercing word.
I can well conceive how terrible the shock would be to one who came,
as he did, fresh from a home where love had made the hours so sweet
to him that he thought them fairer than any he had ever known before.
I can well conceive what bitter disappointment and what deep emotion
filled his breast. But the struggle that began there then between
his boyish sense of honor and his desire for home, for wealth, for
fond affection, I cannot fathom that;--it is too deep, too high,
too terrible for me to fully understand. I only know that honor was
triumphant; that he bade farewell to love, to hope, to home, to the
brightest, sweetest things in all this world of beauty, and turned his
face manfully, steadfastly, unflinchingly to the right. With the help
and counsel of one honest man, he set about to check the progress of a
mighty wrong. No disappointment discouraged him, no fear found place
in his heart, no distance was too great for him to traverse. He knew
that here, to-day, without his presence, injustice would be done,
dishonesty would be rewarded, and shameless fraud prevail. It was
for him, and him alone, to stop it, and he set out upon his journey
hither. The powers of darkness were arrayed against him, fate scowled
savagely upon him, disaster blocked his path, the iron horse refused
to draw him, but he remained undaunted and determined. He had no time
to lose; he left the conquered power of steam behind him, and started
out alone through heat and dust to reach the place of justice. With
bared, bruised feet and aching limbs and parched tongue he hurried,
on, walking, running, as he could, dragging himself at last into the
presence of the court at the very moment when the scales of justice
were trembling for the downward plunge, and spoke the words that
checked the course of legal crime, that placed the chains of hopeless
toil upon his own weak limbs, but that gave the world--another hero!
"Gentlemen of the jury, I have labored at the bar of this court for
more than thirty years, but I never saw before a specimen of moral
courage fit to bear comparison with this; I never in my life before
saw such a lofty deed of heroism so magnificently done. And do you
think that such a boy as this would lie? Do you think that such a boy
as this would say to you one word that did not rise from the deep
conviction of an honest heart?
"I leave the case in your hands, gentlemen; you are to choose between
selfish greed and honest sacrifice, between the force of cunning craft
and the mighty power of truth. See to it that you choose rightly and
The rumble of applause from the court-room as Goodlaw resumed his seat
was quickly suppressed by the officers, and Sharpman arose to speak.
He was calm and courteous, and seemed sanguine of success. But his
mind was filled with the darkness of disappointment and the dread of
disaster; and his heart was heavy with its bitterness toward those who
had blocked his path. He knew that Ralph's testimony ought to bear but
lightly on the case, but he feared that it would weigh heavily with
the jury, and that his own character would not come out stainless. He
hardly hoped to save both case and character, but he determined to
make the strongest effort of which he was capable. He reviewed the
testimony given by Mrs. Burnham concerning her child and his supposed
tragic death; he recalled all the circumstances connected with the
railroad accident, and repeated the statements of the witnesses
concerning the old man and the child; he gave again the history of
Ralph's life, and of Simon Craft's searching and failures and success;
he contended, with all the powers of logic and oratory at his command,
that Ralph Burnham was saved from the wreck at Cherry Brook, and Was
that moment sitting by his mother before the faces and eyes of the
court and jury.
"Until to-day," he said, "every one who has heard this evidence, and
taken interest in this case, has believed, as I do, that this boy is
Robert Burnham's son. The boy's mother believed it, the counsel for
the defence believed it, the lad himself believed it, his Honor on the
bench, and you, gentlemen in the jury-box, I doubt not, all believed
it; indeed it was agreed by all parties that nothing remained to be
done but to take your verdict for the plaintiff. But, lo! this child
makes his dramatic entrance into the presence of the court, and, under
the inspired guidance of defendant's counsel, tells his story of
eavesdropping, and when it is done my learned friend has the temerity
to ask you to throw away your reason, to dismiss logic from your
minds, to trample law under your feet, to scatter the evidence to the
four winds of heaven, and to believe what? Why, a boy's silly story of
an absurd and palpable lie?
"I did not go upon the witness-stand to contradict this fairy tale; it
did not seem to be worth the while.
"Consider it for a moment. This youth says he came to my office last
night and found me in the inner room in conversation with another
person. I shall not deny that. Supposing it to be true, there was
nothing strange or wrong in it, was there? But what does this boy whom
my learned friend has lauded to the skies for his manliness and honor
do next? Why, according to his own story, he steals into the darkness
of the outer office and seats himself to listen to the conversation
in the inner room, and hears--what? No good of himself certainly.
Eavesdroppers never do hear good of themselves. But he thinks he hears
the voice of a person whom no one in this court-room ever heard of or
thought of before, nor has seen or heard of since--a person who, I
daresay, has existence only in this child's imagination; he thinks
he hears this person declare that he, Ralph, is not Robert Burnham's
son, and, by way of embellishing his tale, he adds statements which
are still more absurd, statements on the strength of which my learned
friend hopes to darken in your eyes the character of the counsel for
the plaintiff. I trust, gentlemen, that I am too well known at the bar
of this court and in this community to have my moral standing swept
away by such a flimsy falsehood as you see this to be. And so, to-day,
this child comes into court and declares, with solemn asseveration,
that the evidence fixing his identity beyond dispute or question is
all a lie; and what is this declaration worth? His Honor will tell
you, in his charge, I have no doubt, that this boy's statement,
founded, as he himself says, on hearsay, is valueless in law, and
should have no weight in your minds. But I do not ask you to base your
judgment on technicalities of law. I ask you to base it simply on the
reasonable evidence in this case.
"What explanation there can be of this lad's conduct, I have not, as
yet, been ably, fully, to determine.
"I have tried, in my own mind, to throw the mantle of charity across
him. I have tried to think that, coming from an unaccustomed meal, his
stomach loaded with rich food, he no sooner sank into the office chair
than he fell asleep and dreamed. It is not improbable. The power of
dreams is great on children's minds, as all of you may know. But in
the face of these developments I can hardly bring myself to accept
this theory. There is too much method in the child's madness. It
looks more like the outcome of some desperate move on the part of
this defence to win the game which they have seen slipping from their
control. It looks like a deep-laid plan to rob my aged and honored
client of the credit to which he is entitled for rescuing this boy at
the risk of his life, for caring for him through poverty and disease,
for finding him when his own mother had given him up for dead, and
restoring him to the bosom of his family. It looks as though they
feared that this old man, already trembling on the brink of the grave,
would snatch some comfort for his remaining days out of the pittance
that he might hope to collect from this vast estate for services that
ought to be beyond price. It looks as though hatred and jealousy were
combined in a desperate effort to crush the counsel for the plaintiff.
The counsel for the plaintiff can afford to laugh at their animosity
toward himself, but he cannot help his indignation at their plot. Now,
let us see.
"It is acknowledged that the boy Ralph spent the larger part of
yesterday afternoon at the house of this defendant, and was fed and
flattered till he nearly lost his head in telling of it. That is a
strange circumstance, to begin with. How many private consultations
he has had with counsel for defence, I know not. Neither do I know
what tempting inducements have been held out to him to turn traitor
to those who have been his truest friends. These things I can only
imagine. But that fine promises have been made to him, that pictures
of plenty have been unfolded to his gaze, that the glitter of gold and
the sheen of silver have dazzled his young eyes, there can be little
doubt. So he has seen visions and dreamed dreams, at will; he has
endured terrible temptations, and fought great moral battles, by
special request, and has come off more than victor, in the counsel's
mind. To-day everything is ready for the carrying-out of their skilful
scheme. At the right moment the counsel gives the signal, and the boy
darts in, hatless, shoeless, ragged, and dusty, for the occasion, and
tragic to the counsel's heart's content, and is put at once upon the
stand to tell his made-up tale, and--"
Sharpman heard a slight noise behind him, and some one exclaimed:--
"He has fainted!"
The lawyer stopped in his harangue and turned in time to see Ralph
lying in a heap on the floor, just as he had slipped that moment from
his chair. The boy had listened to Goodlaw's praises of his conduct
with a vague feeling that he was undeserving of so much credit for it.
But when Sharpman, advancing in his speech, charged him with having
dreamed his story, he was astounded. He thought it was the strangest
thing he had ever heard of. For was not Mr. Sharpman there, himself?
and did not he know that it was all real and true? He could not
understand the lawyer's allegation. Later on, when Sharpman declared
boldly that Ralph's statement on the witness-stand was a carefully
concocted falsehood, the bluntness of the charge was like a cruel
blow, and the boy's sensitive nerves shrank and quivered beneath it;
then his lips grew pale, his breath came in gasps, the room went
swimming round him, darkness came before his eyes, and his weak body,
enfeebled by prolonged fasting and excitement, slipped down to the
The people in the court-room scrambled to their feet again to look
over into the bar.
A man who had entered the room in time to hear Sharpman's brutal
speech pushed his way through the crowd, and hurried down to the place
where Ralph was lying. It was Bachelor Billy.
In a moment he was down on his knees by the boy's side, chafing the
small cold hands and wrists, while Mrs. Burnham, kneeling on the other
side, was dipping her handkerchief into a glass of water, and bathing
the lad's face.
Bachelor Billy turned on his knees and looked up angrily at Sharpman.
"Mayhap an' ye've killet 'im," he said, "wi' your traish an' your
lees!" Then he rose to his feet and continued: "Can ye no' tell when
a lad speaks the truth? Mon! he's as honest as the day is lang! But
what's the use o' tellin' ye? ye ken it yoursel'. Ye _wull_ be fause
His lips were white with passion as he knelt again by the side of the
"Ye're verra gude to the lad, ma'am," he said to Mrs. Burnham, who had
raised Ralph's head in her arms and was pressing her wet handkerchief
against it; "ye're verra gude, but ma mind is to tak' 'im hame an'
ten' till 'im mysel'. He was ower-tired, d'ye see, wi' the trooble an'
the toil, an' noo I fear me an they've broke the hert o' 'im."
Then Bachelor Billy, lifting the boy up in his arms, set his face
toward the door. The people pressed back and made way for him as he
passed up the aisle holding the drooping body very tenderly, looking
down at times with great compassion into the white face that lay
against his breast; and the eyes that watched his sturdy back until
it disappeared from view were wet with sympathetic tears.
When the doors had closed behind him, Sharpman turned again to the
jury, with a bitterly sarcastic smile upon his face.
"Another chapter in the made-up tragedy," he said, "performed with
marvellous skill as you can see. My learned friend has drilled his
people well. He has made consummate actors of them all. And yet he
would have you think that one is but an honest fool, and that the
other is as innocent as a babe in arms."
Up among the people some one hissed, then some one else joined in,
and, before the judge and officers could restore order in the room,
the indignant crowd had greeted Sharpman's words with a perfect
torrent of groans and hisses. Then the wily lawyer realized that he
was making a mistake. He knew that he could not afford to gain the
ill-will of the populace, and accordingly he changed the tenor of his
speech. He spoke generally of law and justice, and particularly of the
weight of evidence in the case at bar. He dwelt with much emphasis on
Simon Craft's bravery, self-sacrifice, poverty, toil, and suffering;
and, with a burst of oratory that made the walls re-echo with the
sound of his resonant voice, he closed his address and resumed his
Then the judge delivered the charge in a calm, dispassionate way. He
reviewed the evidence very briefly, warning the jury to reject from
their minds all improper declarations of any witness or other person,
and directing them to rest their decision only on the legal evidence
in the case. He instructed them that although the boy Ralph's
declaration that he was not Robert Burnham's son might be regarded by
them, yet they must also take into consideration the fact that his
opinion was founded partly, if not wholly, on hearsay, and, for that
reason, would be of little value to them in making up their decision.
Any evidence of the alleged conversation at Mr. Sharpman's office, he
said, must be rejected wholly. He warned them to dismiss from their
minds all prejudice or sympathy that might have been aroused by the
speeches of counsel, or the appearance of witnesses in court, and to
take into consideration and decide upon but one question, namely:
whether the boy Ralph is or is not the son of the late Robert Burnham:
that, laying aside all other questions, matters, and things, they must
decide that and that alone, according to the law and the evidence.
When the judge had finished his charge a constable was sworn, and,
followed by the twelve jurors, he marched from the court-room.
It was already after six o'clock, so the crier was directed to adjourn
the court, and, a few minutes later, the judge, the lawyers, the
witnesses, and the spectators had all disappeared, and the room
A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS.
Every one expected that the jury would come into court with a verdict
at the opening of the session on Tuesday morning. There was much
difference of opinion, however, as to what that verdict would be.
But the morning hours went by and the jury still remained in their
room. The constable who watched at the door shook his head and smiled
when asked about the probability of an early agreement. No one seemed
to know just how the jury stood.
Sharpman and his client had been greatly disheartened on Monday night,
and had confessed as much to each other; but the longer the jury
remained out the more hope they gathered. It was apparent that the
verdict would not be rendered under the impulses of the moment; and
that the jury were applying the principles of cold law and stern logic
to the case, there seemed to be little doubt.
But, as a matter of fact, the jury were doing no such thing.
They believed, to a man, that Ralph had told the truth, and that such
an event as he had described had actually taken place in Sharpman's
office; and, notwithstanding the judge's charge, they were trying to
harmonize Ralph's statement with the evidence of the witnesses who
had corroborated Simon Craft's story. This led them into so many
difficulties that they finally abandoned the effort, and the questions
before them were gradually reduced to just one. That question was not
whether Ralph was the son of Robert Burnham; but it was: which would
be better for the boy, to decide in favor of the plaintiff or of the
defendant. If they found for the plaintiff, they would throw the
boy's fortune into the hands of Craft and Sharpman, where they feared
the greater part of it would finally remain. If they found for the
defendant, they would practically consign the lad to a life of
homelessness and toil. It was to discuss and settle this question,
therefore, that the jury remained locked up in their room through so
The day wore on and no verdict was rendered. Sharpman's spirits
continued to rise, and Goodlaw feared that his case was lost.
At four o'clock the jury sent in word that they had agreed, and a few
minutes later they filed into the court-room. When their verdict had
been inspected by the judge it was given to the prothonotary to read.
He faced the jury, saying:--
"Gentlemen of the jury, listen to your verdict as the court has it
recorded. In the case wherein Simon Craft, guardian of the estate
of Ralph Burnham, a minor, is plaintiff, and Margaret Burnham,
administrator of the estate of Robert Burnham, deceased, is defendant,
you say you find for the defendant, and that the boy Ralph is _not_
the son of Robert Burnham. So say you all?"
The jury nodded assent, and the verdict was filed. That settled it.
Craft and Sharpman were beaten.
It was very strange that a solid truth, backed up by abundant and
irreproachable evidence, presented under the strict rules of law and
the solemn sanction of an oath, should be upset and shattered by a
flimsy falsehood told by an unknown adventurer, heard unawares by
a listening child, and denied a proper entrance into court. It was
strange but it was very true. Yet in that ruin was involved one of
the boldest schemes for legal plunder that was ever carried into the
courts of Luzerne County.
Sharpman felt that a fortune had slipped from his grasp, and that he
had lost it by reason of his own credulity and fear. He saw now the
mistake he had made in not defying Rhyming Joe. He knew now that the
fellow never would have dared to appear in court as a witness. He felt
that he had not only lost his money, but that he had come dangerously
near to losing what character he had, also. He knew that it was all
due to his own fault, and he was humiliated and angry with himself,
and bitter toward every one who had sided with the defendant.
But if Sharpman's disappointment was great, that of his client was
Simon Craft was in a most unenviable mood. At times, indeed, he grew
fairly desperate. The golden bubble that he had been chasing for eight
years had burst and vanished. He had told the truth, he had been
honest in his statements, he had sought to do the boy and the boy's
mother a great favor, and they had turned against him, and the verdict
of the jury had placed upon him the stigma of perjury. This was the
burden of his complaint. But aside from this he was filled with bitter
regret. If he had only closed his bargain with Robert Burnham on the
day it had been made! If he had only made his proposition to Mrs.
Burnham as he had intended doing, instead of going into this wild
scheme with this visionary lawyer! This was his silent sorrow. His
misery was deep and apparent. He had grown to be ten years older in a
day. This misfortune, he said, bitterly, was the result of trying to
be honest and to do good. This was the reward of virtue, these the
wages of charity.
Tired, at last, of railing at abstract principles of right, he turned
his attention to those who had been instrumental in his downfall. The
judge, the jury, and the attorney for the defence, all came in for a
share of his malignant hatred and abuse. For Mrs. Burnham he had only
silent contempt. Her honest desire to have right done had been too
apparent from the start. The only fault he had to find with her was
that she did not come to his rescue when the tide was turning against
him. But against Ralph the old man's wrath and indignation were
Had he not saved the child from death? Had he not fed and clothed and
cared for him during five years? Had he not rescued him from oblivion,
and made every effort to endow him with wealth and position and an
honored name? And then, to think that in the very moment when these
efforts were about to meet with just success, this boy had turned
against him, and brought ruin and disgrace upon him. Oh, it was too
much, too much!
If he could only have the lad in his possession for a week, he
thought, for a day, for an hour even, he would teach him the cost of
turning traitor to his friends. Oh, he would teach him!
Then it occurred to him that perhaps he might get possession of the
boy, and permanent possession at that. Had not Ralph sworn that he was
Simon Craft's grandson? Had not the jury accepted Ralph's testimony
as true? And had not the court ordered judgment to be entered on the
jury's verdict? Well, if the court had declared the boy to be his
grandson, he was entitled to him, was he not? If the boy was able to
earn anything, he was entitled to his earnings, was he not? If he was
the child's grandfather, then he had authority to take him, to govern
him, to punish him for disobedience--was not that true?
Old Simon rose from his chair and began to walk up and down the room,
hammering his cane upon the floor at every step.
The idea was a good one, a very good one, and he resolved to act upon
it without delay. He would go the very next day and get the boy and
take him to Philadelphia.
But suppose Ralph should refuse to go, and suppose Bachelor Billy,
with his strong arms, should stand by to protect the lad from force,
what then? Well, there was a law to meet just such a case as that. He
knew of an instance where a child had been taken by its grandfather by
virtue of a writ of _habeas corpus_.
He would get such a writ, the sheriff should go with him, they would
bring Ralph to court again; and since the law had declared the boy to
be Simon Craft's grandson, the law could do nothing else than to place
him in Simon Craft's custody. Then the old man went to bed, thinking
that in the morning he would get Sharpman to prepare for him the
papers that would be necessary to carry his plan into execution.
He derived much pleasure from his dreams that night, for he dreamed
of torturing poor Ralph to his heart's content.
When Bachelor Billy left the court-room that Monday evening with his
unconscious burden in his arms, he remained only long enough in the
court-house square to revive the boy, then he took him to the railway
station, and they went together, by the earliest train, to Scranton.
The next morning Ralph felt very weak and miserable, and did not leave
the house; and Bachelor Billy came home at noon to see him and to
learn what news, if any, had been received from Wilkesbarre. Both he
and Ralph expected that a verdict would be rendered for the defendant,
in accordance with Ralph's testimony, and neither of them were
surprised, therefore, when Andy Gilgallon came up from the city after
supper and informed them that the jury had so found. That settled the
matter, at any rate. It was a relief to Ralph to know that it was at
an end; that he was through with courts and lawyers and judges and
juries, and that there need be no further effort on his part to escape
from unmerited fortune. The tumult that had raged in his mind through
many hours was at last stilled, and that night he slept. He wanted
to go back the next morning to his work at the breaker, but Bachelor
Billy would not allow him to do so. He still looked very pale and
weak, and the anxious man resolved to come home at noon again that day
to see to the lad's health.
Indeed, as the morning wore on, Ralph acknowledged to himself that he
did not feel so well. His head was very heavy, and there was a bruised
feeling over the entire surface of his body. It was a dull day, too;
it rained a little now and then, and was cloudy all the morning. He
sat indoors the most of the time, reading a little, sleeping a little,
and thinking a great deal. The sense of his loss was coming back upon
him very strongly. It was not so much the loss of wealth, or of name,
or of the power to do other and better things than he had ever done
before that grieved him now. But it was that the dear and gentle lady
who was to have been his mother, who had verily been a mother to him
for one sweet day, was a mother to him no longer. To feel that he was
nothing to her now, no more, indeed, than any other ragged, dust-black
boy in Burnham Breaker, this was what brought pain and sorrow to his
heart, and made the hot tears come into his eyes in spite of his
determined effort to hold them back.
He was sitting in his accustomed chair, facing the dying embers of a
little wood fire that he had built, for the morning was a chilly one.
Behind him the door was opened and some one entered the room from the
street. He thought it was Bachelor Billy, just come from work, and
he straightened up in his chair and tried to wipe away the traces of
tears from his face before he should turn to give him greeting.
"Is that you, Uncle Billy?" he said; "ain't you home early?"
He was still rubbing industriously at his eyes. Receiving no answer he
It was not Uncle Billy. It was Simon Craft.
Ralph uttered a cry of surprise and terror, and retreated into a
corner of the room. Old Simon, looking at him maliciously from under
his bushy brows, gradually extended his thin lips into a wicked smile.
"What!" he exclaimed, "is it possible that you are afraid of your
affectionate old grandfather? Why, I thought you desired nothing so
much as to go and live with him and be his pet."
The boy's worst fears were realized. Old Simon had come for him.
"I won't go back with you!" he cried. "I won't! I won't!" Then,
changing his tone to one of appealing, he continued: "You didn't come
for me, did you, gran'pa? you won't make me go back with you, will
"I'm afraid I can't do without you any longer," said Craft, coming
nearer and looking Ralph over carefully. "I'm getting old and sick,
and your presence will be a great comfort to me in my declining years.
Besides, my affection for you is so great that I feel that I couldn't
do without you; oh, I couldn't, I couldn't possibly!" And the old man
actually chuckled himself into a fit of coughing at his grim sarcasm.
"But I don't want to go," persisted the boy. "I'm very happy here.
Uncle Billy's very good to me, an' I'd ruther stay, a good deal
At the mention of Uncle Billy's name Old Simon's smile vanished and he
advanced threateningly toward the boy, striking his cane repeatedly on
"It don't matter what you want," he said, harshly; "you were crazy to
be my grandson; now the law says you are, and the law gives me the
right to take you and do what I choose with you. Oh, you've got to go!
so get your hat and come along, and don't let's have any more nonsense
"Gran'pa--Gran'pa Simon!" exclaimed the terrified boy, shrinking still
farther away, "I can't go back to Philadelphy, I can't! I couldn't
live, I'd die if I went back there! I'd--"
Craft interrupted him: "Well, if you do die, it won't be because
you're killed with kindness, I warrant you. You've cheated me out of
a living and yourself out of a fortune; you've made your own bed, now
you've got to lie in it. Come on, I say! get your hat and come along!"
The old man was working himself into a passion. There was danger in
his eyes. Ralph knew it, too, but the thought of going back to live
with Simon Craft was such a dreadful one to him that he could not
refrain from further pleading.
"I know I belong to you, Gran'pa Simon," he said, "an' I know I've got
to mind you; but please don't make me go back to live with you; please
don't! I'll do anything else in the world you want me to; I'll give
you ev'ry dollar I earn if you'll let me stay here, ev'ry dollar; an'
I'll work hard, too, ev'ry day. I'll--I'll give you--I'll give you--
"Well, what'll you give me? Out with it!"
It was a desperate chance; it called for sacrifice, but Ralph felt
that he would offer it gladly if he could thereby be saved.
"I'll give you," he said, "all the money I've got saved up."
"How much money have you got saved up?" The light of hatred in the
man's eyes gave place, for the time being, to the light of greed.
"About thirty-two dollars."
"Well, give it to me, then, and be quick about it!"
Ralph went to a small closet built into the wall over the chimney, and
took from it a little box.
That box contained his accumulated savings. With a large portion of
the money he had thought to buy new clothing for himself. He had
determined that he would not go to live with Mrs. Burnham, dressed
like a beggar. He would have clothes befitting his station in life.
Indeed, he and Uncle Billy were to have gone out the day before to
make the necessary purchases; but since the change came the matter had
not been thought of. Now he should pay it to Simon Craft as the price
of his freedom. He was willing and more than willing to do so. He
would have given all he ever hoped to earn to save himself from that
man's custody, and would have considered it a cheap release.
He took the money from the box,--it was all paper money,--and counted
it carefully out into Old Simon's trembling hand. There were just
"Is that all?" said Craft, folding the bills and putting them into an
inside pocket as he spoke.
"Yes, that's all."
"You haven't got any more hidden around the house anywhere, have you?
Don't lie to me, now!"
"Oh, no! I've given you ev'ry cent I had, ev'ry single cent."
"Well, then, get your hat and come along."
"Wh--what?" Ralph was staring at the man in astonishment. He thought
he had just bought his freedom, and that he need not go.
"Get your hat and come along, I say; and be quick about it? I can't
wait here all day."
"Why, home with me, of course. Where would I take you?"
"But I gave you the money to let me stay here with Uncle Billy; you
said you would take it for that."
"No, I didn't. I told you to give it to me. The money belongs to me
the same as you do. Now, are you coming, or do you want me to help
Ralph's face was white with indignation. He had been willing to do
what was right. He thought he had made a fair bargain; but now,
this--this was an outrage. His spirit rose against it. The old sense
of fearlessness took possession of him. He looked the man squarely
in the eyes. His voice was firm and his hands were clenched with
resolution. "I will not go with you," he said.
"What's that?" Craft looked down on the boy in astonishment.
"I say I will not go with you," repeated Ralph; "that's all--I won't
Then the old man's wrath was let loose.
"You beggar!" he shouted, "how dare you disobey me! I'll teach you!"
He raised his cane threateningly as he spoke.
"Hit me," said Ralph, "kill me if you want to; I'd ruther die than go
back to live with you."
Old Simon grasped his cane by its foot and raised it above his
head. In another instant it would have descended on the body of the
unfortunate boy; but in that instant some one seized it from behind,
wrenched it from Craft's weak grasp, and flung it into the street.
It was Bachelor Billy; He had entered at the open door unseen. He
seized Craft's shoulders and whirled him around till the two men stood
face to face.
"Mon!" he exclaimed, "mon! an' yon steck had a-fallen o' the lad's
head, I dinna ken what I s'ould 'a' done till ye. Ye're lucky to be
auld an' sick, or ye s'ould feel the weight o' ma han' as it is."
But Craft was not subdued. On the contrary his rage grew more fierce.
"What's the boy to you?" he shouted, savagely. "You leave us alone. He
belongs to me; he shall go with me."
It was a full half-minute before Bachelor Billy's dull mind grasped
the situation. Meanwhile he was looking down into Ralph's white face.
Then he turned again to Craft.
"Never!" he said, solemnly. "Ye s'all never tak' 'im. I'll see the lad
in his grave first." After a moment he continued, "It's no' safe for
ye to stay longer wi' us; it's better ye s'ould go."
Then another man entered at the open door. It was the sheriff of
Luzerne County. He held the writ of _habeas corpus_ in his hand.
"Why didn't you wait for me," he said, turning angrily to Craft,
"instead of coming here to pick a quarrel with these people?"
"That's none of your business," replied the old man. "You've got your
writ, now do your duty or I'll--" A fit of coughing attacked him, and
he dropped into a chair to give way to it.
The sheriff looked at him contemptuously for a moment, then he turned
to Bachelor Billy.
"This miserable old man," he said, "has had a writ of _habeas corpus_
issued, commanding you to produce immediately before the judge at
Wilkesbarre the body of the boy Ralph. It is my place to see that the
writ is properly executed. There's no help for it, so I think you had
better get ready, and we will go as soon as possible." And he handed
to Bachelor Billy a copy of the writ.
"I ha' no time to read it," said Billy, "but if the judge says as the
lad s'ould gae to court again, he s'all gae. We mus' obey the law. An'
I s'all gae wi' 'im. Whaur the lad gae's I s'all gae. I s'all stay by
'im nicht an' day. If the law says he mus' live wi' Seemon Craft, then
I s'all live wi' Seemon Craft also. I ha' nursit 'im too long, an'
lovit 'im too weel to turn 'im alone into the wolfs den noo."
In a minute or two Craft recovered, but the coughing had left him very
weak. He rose unsteadily to his feet and looked around for his cane.
He had grown calm. He thought that the game was his at any rate, and
that it was of no use for him to lose strength over it. "You'll walk
faster than I," he said, "so I'll be going. If I miss this train I
can't get started to Philadelphia with the boy before to-morrow." He
tottered out into the road, picked up his cane, and trudged on down
the hill toward the city.
It was not long before the two men and the boy were ready to go also.
"Keep up your courage, my son," said the sheriff kindly, for the sight
of Ralph's face aroused his sympathy. "Keep up your courage; the court
has got to pass on this matter yet. You don't have to go with the old
man till the judge says so."
"Tak' heart," added Bachelor Billy, "tak' heart, laddie. It's not all
ower wi' us yet. I canna thenk as any law'd put a lamb i' the wolf's
"I don't know," said the sheriff, as they stood on the step for a
moment before leaving the house. "I don't know how you'll make it. I
suppose, as far as the law's concerned, the old man's on the right
track. As near as I can make out, the way the law-suit turned, he has
a legal right to the custody of the child and to his earnings. But, if
I was the lad, he'd no sooner get me to Philadelphia than I'd give him
the slip. You've done it once, Ralph, you can do it again, can't you?"
"I don't know," answered the boy, weakly; "I don't believe I'd try. If
I have to go back with him I wouldn't live very long any way, an' it
wouldn't pay to run away again. It don't make much difference; I ain't
got anybody left now but Uncle Billy, an', if he goes with me, I guess
I can stan' it till it's through with."
It was the first time in his life that Ralph had ever spoken in so
despondent a way, and Bachelor Billy was alarmed. "Bear up, lad," he
said, "bear up. We'll mak' the best o' it; an' they canna do much harm
till ye wi' Uncle Billy a-stannin' by."
Mrs. Maloney had come to her door and stood there, looking at the trio
in sorrowful surprise.
"Good-by, Mrs. Maloney!" said Ralph going up to her. "It ain't likely
I'll ever come back here any more, an' you've been very good to me,
Mrs. Maloney, very good indeed, an'--an'--good-by!"
"An' where do ye be goin' Ralphy?"
"Back to Gran'pa Simon's, I s'pose. He's come for me and he's got a
right to take me."
The sheriff was looking uneasily at his watch. "Come," he said, "we'll
have to hurry to catch the train."
The good woman bent down and kissed the boy tenderly. "Good-by to ye,
darlin'," she said, "an' the saints protict ye." Then she burst into
tears, and, throwing her apron up before her face, she held it against
her eyes and went, backward, into the house.
Ralph laid hold of Bachelor Billy's rough hand affectionately, and
they walked rapidly away.
At the bend in the street, the boy turned to look back for the last
time upon the cottage which had been his home. A happy home it had
been to him, a very happy home indeed. He never knew before how dear
the old place was to him. The brow of the hill which they were now
descending hid the house at last from sight, and, with tear-blinded
eyes, Ralph turned his face again toward the city, toward the misery
of the court-room, toward the desolate and dreadful prospect of a life
with Simon Craft.
BACK TO THE BREAKER.
It was a dull day in the court-room at Wilkesbarre. The jury trials
had all been disposed of, and for the last hour or more the court
had been listening to an argument on a rule for a new trial in an
ejectment case. It was a very uninteresting matter. Every one had
left the court-room with the exception of the court officers, a few
lawyers, and a half-dozen spectators who seemed to be there for the
purpose of resting on the benches rather than with any desire to hear
the proceedings before the court.
The lawyers on both sides had concluded their arguments, and the judge
was bundling together the papers in the case and trying to encircle
the bulky package with a heavy rubber band.
Then the court-room door was opened, and the sheriff came down the
aisle, accompanied by Ralph and Bachelor Billy. A moment later, Simon
Craft followed them to the bar. Sharpman, who was sitting inside the
railing by a table, looked up with disgust plainly marked on his face
as the old man entered and sat down beside him.
He had prepared the petition for a writ of _habeas corpus_, at Craft's
request, and had agreed to appear in his behalf when the writ should
be returned. He shared, in some small degree, the old man's desire for
revenge on those who had been instrumental in destroying their scheme.
But, as the day wore on, the matter took on a slightly different
aspect in his mind. In the first place, he doubted whether the court
would order Ralph to be returned into Craft's custody. In the next
place, he had no love for his client. He had been using him simply
as a tool; it was time now to cast him aside since he could be of no
further benefit to him. Besides, the old man had come to be annoying
and repulsive, and he had no money to pay for legal services. Then,
there was still an opportunity to recover some of the personal
prestige he had lost in his bitter advocacy of Craft's cause before
the jury. In short, he had deliberately resolved to desert his client
at the first opportunity.
The sheriff endorsed his return on the writ and filed it.
The judge looked at the papers, and then he called Bachelor Billy
before him. "I see," he said, "that you have produced the body of the
boy Ralph as you were directed to do. Have you a lawyer?"
"I ha' none," answered the man. "I did na ken as I needit ony."
"We do not think you do, either, as we understand the case. The
prothonotary will endorse a simple return on the writ, setting forth
the production of the boy, and you may sign it. We think that is all
that will be necessary on your part. Now you may be seated."
The judge turned to Sharpman.
"Well, Mr. Sharpman," he said, "what have you to offer on the part of
Sharpman arose. "If the court please," he responded, "I would
respectfully ask to be allowed, at this juncture, to withdraw from
the case. I prepared and presented the petition as a matter of duty
to a client. I do not conceive it to be my duty to render any further
assistance. That client, either through ignorance or deception, has
been the means of placing me in a false and unenviable light before
the court and before this community, in the suit which has just
closed. I have neither the desire nor the opportunity to set myself
right in that matter, but I do wish and I have fully determined to
wash my hands of the whole affair. From this time forth I shall have
nothing to do with it."
Sharpman resumed his seat, while Craft stared at him in astonishment
and with growing anger.
He could hardly believe that the man who had led him into this scheme,
and whose unpardonable blunder had brought disaster on them both, was
now not only deserting him, but heaping ignominy on his head. Every
moment was adding to his bitterness and rage.
"Well, Mr. Craft," said the judge, "what have you to offer in this
matter? Your attorney seems to have left you to handle the case for
yourself; we will hear you."
"My attorney is a rascal," said Craft, white with passion, as he
arose. "His part and presence in that trial was a curse on it from the
beginning. He wasn't satisfied to ruin me, but he must now seek to
disgrace me as well. He is--"
The judge interrupted him:--
"We do not care to hear your opinion of Mr. Sharpman; we have neither
the time nor the disposition to listen to it. You caused this
defendant to produce before us the body of the boy Ralph. They are
both here; what further do you desire?"
"I desire to take the boy home with me. The judgment of this court
is that he is my grandson. In the absence of other persons legally
entitled to take charge of him, I claim that right. I ask the court to
order him into my custody."
The old man resumed his seat, and immediately fell into his customary
fit of coughing.
When he had recovered, the judge, who had in the meantime been writing
"We cannot agree with you, Mr. Craft, as to the law. Although the
presumption may be that the jury based their verdict on the boy's
testimony that he is your grandson, yet their verdict does not state
that fact specifically, and we have nothing on the record to show it.
It would be necessary for you to prove that relation here and now, by
new and independent evidence, before we could place the boy in your
custody under any circumstances. But we shall save you the trouble of
doing so by deciding the matter on other grounds. The court has heard
from your own lips, within a few days, that you are, or have been,
engaged in a business such as to make thieving and lying a common
occurrence in your life. The court has also heard from your own lips
that during the time this child was in your custody, you not only
treated him inhumanly as regarded his body, but that you put forth
every effort to destroy what has since proved itself to be a pure and
steadfast soul. A kind providence placed it in the child's power to
escape from you, and the same providence led him to the door of a man
whose tenderness, whose honor, and whose nobility of character, no
matter how humble his station in life, marks him as one eminently
worthy to care for the body and to minister to the spirit of a boy
"We feel that to take this lad now from his charge and to place him
in yours, would be to do an act so utterly repugnant to justice, to
humanity, and to law, that, if done, it ought to drag us from this
bench in disgrace. We have marked your petition dismissed; we have
ordered you to pay the cost of this proceeding, and we have remanded
the boy Ralph to the custody of William Buckley."
Simon Craft said not a word. He rose from his chair, steadied himself
for a moment on his cane, then shuffled up the aisle, out at the door
and down the hall into the street. Disappointment, anger, bitter
hatred, raged in his heart and distorted his face. The weight of
years, of disease, of a criminal life, sat heavily upon him as he
dragged himself miserably along the crowded thoroughfare, looking
neither to the right nor the left, thinking only of the evil burden of
his own misfortunes. Now and then some one who recognized him stopped,
turned, looked at him scornfully for a moment, and passed on. Then he
was lost to view. He was never seen in the city of Wilkesbarre again.
He left no friends behind him there. He was first ridiculed, then
despised, and then--forgotten.
* * * * *
It was two weeks after this before Ralph was able to return to his
work. So much excitement, so much mental distress and bodily fatigue
in so short a time, had occasioned a severe shock to his system, and
he rallied from it but slowly.
One Monday morning, however, he went back to his accustomed work at
He had thought that perhaps he might be ridiculed by the screen-room
boys as one who had tried to soar above his fellows and had fallen
ignominiously back to the earth. He expected to be greeted with
jeering words and with cutting remarks, not so much in the way of
malice as of fun. He resolved to take it calmly, however, and to give
way to no show of feeling, hoping that thus the boys would soon forget
to tease him.
But when he came among them that morning, looking so thin, and
pale, and old, there was not a boy in all the waiting crowd who had
the heart or hardihood to say an unpleasant word to him or to give
utterance to a jest at his expense.
They all spoke kindly to him, and welcomed him back. Some of them did
it very awkwardly indeed, and with much embarrassment, but they made
him to understand, somehow, that they were glad to see him, and that
he still held his place among them as a companion and a friend. It was
very good in them, Ralph thought, very good indeed; he could scarcely
keep the tears back for gratitude.
He took his accustomed bench in the screen-room, and bent to his task
in the old way; but not with the old, light heart and willing fingers.
He had thought never to do this again. He had thought that life held
for him some higher, brighter, less laborious work. He had thought to
gain knowledge, to win fame, to satisfy ambition. But the storm came
with its fierce blasts of disappointment and despair, and when it had
passed, hope and joy were engulfed in the ruins it left behind it.
Henceforth there remained nothing but this, this toilsome bending over
streams of flowing coal, to-day, to-morrow, next week, next year. And
in the remote future nothing better; nothing but the laborer's pick
and shovel, or, at best, the miner's drill and powder-can and fuse. In
all the coming years there was not one bright spot to which he could
look, this day, with hope. The day itself seemed very long to him,
very long indeed and very tiresome. The heat grew burdensome; the
black dust filled his throat and lungs, the ceaseless noise became
almost unendurable; the stream of coal ran down and down in a dull
monotony that made him faint and dizzy, and the bits of blue sky seen
from the open windows never yet had seemed to him to be so far and far
But the day had an end at last, as all days must have, and Ralph came
down from his seat in the dingy castle to walk with Bachelor Billy to
They went by a path that led through green fields, where the light of
the setting sun, falling on the grass and daisies, changed them to a
golden yellow as one looked on them from the distance.
When they turned the corner of the village street, they were surprised
to see horses and a carriage standing in front of Mrs. Maloney's
cottage. It was an unaccustomed sight. There was a lady there talking
to Mrs. Maloney, and she had a little girl by her side. At the second
look, Ralph recognized them as Mrs. Burnham and Mildred. Then the lady
descended from her carriage and stood at the door waiting for Bachelor
Billy and the boy to come to her. But Ralph, looking down at his black
hands and soiled clothing, hesitated and stopped in the middle of the
road. He knew that his face, too, was so covered with coal-dust as to
be almost unrecognizable. He felt that he ought not to appear before
Mrs. Burnham in this guise.
But she saw his embarrassment and called to him.
"I came to see you, Ralph," she said. "I want to talk to you both. May
I go into your house and find a chair?"
Both boy and man hurried forward then with kindly greetings, and
Bachelor Billy unlocked the door and bade her enter.
She went in and sat in the big rocking-chair, looking pale and weak,
while Ralph hurried away to wash the black dust from his face and
"Ye were verra kind, Mistress Burnham," said the man, "to sen' Ralph
the gude things to eat when he waur sick. An' the perty roses ye gie'd
'im,--he never tired o' watchin' 'em."
"I should have come myself to see him," she replied, "only that I too
have been ill. I thought to send such little delicacies as might tempt
his appetite. I knew that he must be quite exhausted after so great a
strain upon his nervous system. The excitement wore me out, and I had
no such struggle as he had. I am glad he has rallied from the shock."
"He's not ower strang yet; ye ken that by lukin' at 'im; but he's a
braw lad, a braw lad."
The lady turned and looked earnestly into Bachelor Billy's face.
"He's the bravest boy," she said, "the very bravest boy I ever knew
or heard, of, and the very best. I want him, Billy; I have come here
to-night to ask you if I may have him. Son or no son, he is very dear
to me, and I feel that I cannot do without him."
For a minute the man was silent. Down deep in his heart there had been
a spark of rejoicing at the probability that Ralph would stay with him
now indefinitely. He had pushed it as far out of sight as possible,
because it was a selfish rejoicing, and he felt that it was not right
since it came as a result of the boy's misfortune.
And now suddenly the fear of loss had quenched it entirely, and the
dread of being left alone came back upon him in full force.
He bit his lip before replying, to help hold back his mingled feeling
of pleasure at the bright prospect opening for Ralph, and of pain for
the separation which must follow.
"I dinna ken," he said at last, "how aught could be better for the
lad than bein' wi' ye. Ye're ower kin' to think o' it. It'll be hard
partin' wi' im, but, if the lad wishes it, he s'all gae. I ha'
no claim on 'im only to do what's best for 'im as I ken it. He's
a-comin'; he'll speak for 'imsel'."
Ralph came back into the room with face and hands as clean as a
hurried washing could make them. "What thenk ye," said Bachelor Billy
to him, "that the lady wants for ye to do?"
"I don't know," replied the boy, looking uneasily from one to the
other; "but she's been very good to me, an', whatever it is, I'll try
to do it."
"I want you to go home with me, Ralph," said Mrs. Burnham, "and live
with me and be my son. I am not sure yet that you are not my child. We
shall find that out. With the new light we have we shall make a new
search for proofs of your identity, but that may take weeks, perhaps
months. In the meantime I cannot do without you. I want you to come to
me now, and, whatever the result of this new investigation may be, I
want you to stay with me and be my son. Will you come?"
She had taken both the boy's hands and had drawn him to her, and was
looking up into his face with tenderness and longing.
Ralph could not speak. He was dumb with the joy of hearing her kindly
earnest words. A light of great gladness broke in upon his mind. The
world had become bright and beautiful once more. He was not to be
without home and love and learning after all. Then came second
thoughts, bringing doubt, hesitancy, mental struggling.
Still he was silent, looking out through the open door to the eastern
hills, where the sunlight lingered lovingly with golden radiance. On
the boy's face the lights and shadows, coming and going, marked the
progress of the conflict in his mind.
The lady put her arm around him and drew him closer to her, regardless
of his soiled and dusty clothing. She was still looking into his eyes.
"You will come, will you not, Ralph? We want you so much, so very
much; do we not, Mildred?" she asked, turning to her little daughter,
who stood at the other side of her chair.
"Indeed we do," answered the child. "Mamma wants you an' I want you.
I don't have anybody to play wiv me half the time, 'cept Towser; an'
yeste'day I asked Towser if he wanted you, an' Towser said 'bow,' an'
that means 'yes.'"
"There! you see we all want you, Ralph," said Mrs. Burnham, smiling;
"the entire family wants you. Now, you will come, won't you?"
The boy had looked across to the little girl, over to Bachelor Billy,
who stood leaning against the mantel, and then down again into the
lady's eyes. It was almost pitiful to look into his face and see the
strong emotion outlined there, marking the fierceness of the conflict
in his mind between a great desire for honest happiness and a stern
and manly sense of the right and proper thing for him to do. At last
"Mrs. Burnham," he said, in a sharp voice, "I can't, I can't!"
A look of surprise and pain came into the lady's face.
"Why, Ralph!" she exclaimed, "I thought,--I hoped you would be glad
to go. We would be very good to you; we would try to make you very
"An' I'll give you half of ev'ry nice thing I have!" spoke out the
"I know, I know!" responded Ralph, "it'd be beautiful, just as it was
that Sunday I was there; an' I'd like to go,--you don't know how I'd
like to,--but I can't! Oh, no! I can't!"
Bachelor Billy was leaning forward, watching the boy intently,
surprise and admiration marking his soiled face.
"Then, why will you not come?" persisted the lady. "What reason have
you, if we can all be happy?"
Ralph stood for a moment in deep thought.
"I can't tell you," he said, at last. "I don't know just how to
explain it, but, some way, after all this that's happened, it don't
seem to me as though I'd ought to go, it don't seem to me as though
it'd be just right; as though it'd be a-doin' what--what--Oh! I can't
tell you. I can't explain it to you so'st you can understand. But I
mus'n't go; indeed, I mus'n't!"
At last, however, the lady understood and was silent.
She had not thought before how this proposal, well meant though it
was, might jar upon the lad's fine sense of honor and of the fitness
of things. She had not realized, until this moment, how a boy,
possessing so delicate a nature as Ralph's, might feel to take a
position now, to which a court and jury had declared he was not
entitled, to which he himself had acknowledged, and to which every one
knew he was not entitled.
He had tried to gain the place by virtue of a suit at law, he had
called upon the highest power in the land to put him into it, and his
effort had not only ended in ignominious failure, but had left him
stamped as a lineal descendant of one whose very name had become a
by-word and a reproach. How could he now, with the remotest sense of
honor or of pride, step into the place that should have been occupied
by Robert Burnham's son?
The lady could not urge him any more, knowing what his thought was.
She could only say:--
"Yes, Ralph; I understand. I am very, very sorry. I love you just the
same, but I cannot ask you now to go with me. I can only hope for a
day when we shall know, and the world shall know, that you are my son.
You would come to me then, would you not, Ralph?"