Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Tales From Bohemia by Robert Neilson Stephens

Part 2 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

hilarious applause.

"Good for the kid," said the well-known actor. "What are you going to do
with him, Lil?"

"I'm going to try to get an engagement for us together in Rose St. Glair's
Burlesque Company."

"I'll help you," said the actor. "I know Rose. I'll go and see her right
away, and you come there with the kid about 11 o'clock."

When the girl and her protege arrived at the boarding-house of the fat
manageress they found that the actor had so far kept his promise as to have
inveigled her into a condition of alcoholic amiability. She asked them what
they could do. Each one sang and danced, and the girl, who also whistled,
outlined to the manageress her idea of an "act" in which the two should
appear. There was a hitch when the question of salary arose. The girl fixed
upon $40. Rose thought that amount was too large. Lil adhered to her
terms, and was about to leave without having made an agreement, when the
manageress called her back, and a contract for a three weeks' engagement
was signed at once.

The period between that day and the beginning of the engagement, which
subsequently opened at Miner's Theatre, was spent by the girl in coaching
her protege. He was a year younger than she, a fact which tended to
increase the influence that she promptly obtained over him. His sullenness
having been overcome, he became a devoted and apt pupil. Having beheld
himself in neat clothes and acquired habits of cleanliness, he speedily
developed into a handsome youth of soft disposition and good behaviour.

The new song and dance "team" was successful. The boy quickly gained
applause, and especially did he easily win the liking of such women as he
met or appeared before. A new world was open to him. Naturally he enjoyed
the easy conquests that he made in the curious, careless circle into which
he had been brought.

He is still having his "fling." But he has been from the first most
obedient and unquestioning to his benefactress. He goes nowhere, does
nothing, without previously obtaining permission from her.

She is proud of the advancement that he has accomplished already, and she
is determined to make him a conspicuous figure upon the stage.

What is it that actuates this girl in her endeavour to elevate this boy in
the world? What the mystery that brought to the gamin this guardian angel
in the form of a variety actress who mingles bright sayings with lack of
grammar, who tells Rabelaisian anecdotes in one minute and philosophizes in
slang about the issues of life the next?

"You're in love with him, aren't you?" I said, as the train plunged on
through the darkness.

"I don't know whether I am or not. He's just a kid, you know. I suppose the
proper end of such a romance is that we should marry. But then I wouldn't
be married to a man that I couldn't look up to."

"But women don't invariably love that way. I'm sure you're in love with the
boy. Have you never thought as to whether you were or not?"

"Have I? I should smile! I thought of it even on the first night, after I
picked him up, when I locked him in his room. But I have always regarded
him in a sort of motherly way, although only a year older. It seems kind of
unnatural for me to love him as a woman loves a man. If he was only older!"

"Ah, that wish is sure evidence that you love him!"

"One thing I do know is that, though he always obeys me, he doesn't care as
much for me as I do for him."

"How do you know that?"

"He wouldn't think so much of other girls if he did. He doesn't look upon
me as a woman for him to fall in love with. He regards me as an older
sister. Why, he never even takes a girl to supper after the performance
without asking my permission."

"And you give it?"

"Yes; but he never knows how I feel when I do."

"And how do you feel then?"

"The first time he asked me, it was like a knife going through me. I
haven't got used to it yet."

She paused for a time before adding:

"But, anyhow, he's going to make a name for himself some day. He has it in
him. I'm not the only one that thinks so. I'm trying now to get him to go
to a school of acting, but he thinks variety is good enough for him. He'll
get over that, though."

She spoke so tenderly and yet so proudly of him, that I could not without a
pang of pity meditate upon the probable outcome of this attachment, which,
according to the logic of realists, will be the boy's eventual success in
life, long after he will have forgotten the hand that lifted him out of the
depth in which he first opened his eyes.

He knows nothing of his parentage. His benefactress once sought, by means
of Inspector Byrnes's penetrating eye, to pierce the clouds surrounding his
origin, but the inspector smiled at the hopelessness of the attempt.

"Where is he now?" I asked.

"I left him in New York," she said. "I suppose he'll blow in all his money
as soon as he can possibly manage to do so."

And she laughed and did another "shuffle" with her feet upon the floor of
the car.

VII

THE NEEDY OUTSIDER

There was animation at the Nocturnal Club at three o'clock in the morning.
The city reporters who had been dropping in since midnight were now
reinforced by telegraph editors, for the country editions of the big
dailies were already being rushed in light wagons over the sounding stones
to the railroad stations.

The cheery and urbane African--naturally called Delmonico by the habitues
of the Nocturnal Club--found his time crowded in serving bottled beer,
sandwiches, or boiled eggs to the groups around the tables.

To a large group in the back room Fetterson related how he had once missed
the last car at the distant extremity of West Philadelphia, and, failing to
find a cab west of Broad Street, had walked fifty blocks after midnight and
had still succeeded in getting his report in the second edition and thus
making a "beat on the town."

Then spoke up a needy outsider whom Fetterson had brought in at one
o'clock.

I neglected to mention Fetterson's penchant for queer company. It is quite
right that reporters know policemen, are on chaffing terms with night
cabmen, and have large acquaintance with pugilists and even with "crooks."
But Fetterson picks up the most remarkable and out-of-the-way--not to speak
of out-at-elbows--specimens of mankind, craft in distress on the sea of
humanity. The needy outsider was his latest acquisition.

It is enough to say of this destitute acquaintance of Fetterson's that he
was a ragged man needing a shave. In daylight, in the country, you would
have termed him a tramp. Hitherto he had sat in our group in silence. When
he opened his mouth to discourse, it was natural that he should have a
prompt and somewhat curious hearing.

"Speaking of walking," he said, "I have walked a bit in my time. Mostly,
though, I've rode--on freight-cars. The longest straight tramp I ever made
was from Harrisburg to Philadelphia once when the trains weren't running.
The cold weather made walking unpleasant. But what do you think of
a woman--no tramp woman, either--starting from Pittsburg to walk to
Philadelphia?"

"Oh, there is a so-called actress who recently walked from San Francisco to
New York," put in some one.

"Yes, but she took her time, and had all the necessaries of life on, the
way. She walked for an advertisement. The woman I speak of walked in order
to get there. She walked because she hadn't the money to pay her fare. Her
husband was with her, to be sure. He was a pal o' mine. You see, it was
a hard winter, years ago, and work was so scarce in Pittsburg that the
husband had to remain idle until the two had begun to starve. He had some
education, and had been an office clerk. At that time of his life he
couldn't have stood manual labour. Still he tried to get it, for he was
willing to do anything to keep a lining to his skin. If you've never been
in his predicament, you can't realize how it is and you won't believe it
possible. But I've known more than one man to starve because he couldn't
get work and wouldn't take public charity. Starvation was the prospect of
this young fellow and his wife. So they decided to leave Pittsburg and come
to Philadelphia, where they thought it would be easier for the husband to
get work.

"'But how can we get there?' the husband asked.

"She was a plucky girl and had known hardship, although she was frail to
look at."

"'Walk,' she replied."

"And two days later they started."

The outsider paused and lighted a forbidding-looking pipe.

When he resumed his narrative he spoke in a lower tone. The recollections
that he called up seemed to stir him within, although he was calm enough of
exterior.

"I won't describe the experience of my pal on that trip. It was his first
tramp. He knew nothing of the art of vagabondage. Of course they had to
beg. That was tough, although he got used to it and to many tricks in the
trade. They slept in barns and they ate when and where they could. It
cut him to the heart to see his wife in such hunger and fatigue. But her
spirits kept up better than his--or at least they seemed to. Often he
repented of having started upon such a trip. But he kept that to himself.

"When the wife did at last give in to the cold, the hunger, and the
weariness, it was to collapse all at once. It happened in the mountain
country. In the evening of a cold, dull day they were trudging along on
the railroad ties, keeping on the west-bound track so they could face
approaching trains and get off the track in time to avoid being run down.

"'We'll stop in the town ahead,' the husband said. 'We can get warm in the
station, and you shall have supper if we have to knock at every door in the
town.'

"And the wife said:

"'Yes, we'll stop, for I feel, Harry, as if--as if I couldn't--go any
fur--Harry, where are you?'

"She fell forward on the track. When the man picked her up she was
unconscious. Clasping her in his arms, he set his teeth and fixed his eyes
on the lights of the town ahead and hurried forward.

"But before he reached the town, he found it was a dead body he was
carrying.

"You see she had kept up until the very last moment, in the hope of
reaching the town before dark.

"What the man did, how he felt when he discovered that her heart had ceased
to beat, there in the solitude upon the mountains, with the town in sight
at the foot of the slope in the gathering night, I can leave to the vivid
imaginations of you newspaper men. For four hours he mourned over her body
by the side of the track, and those in the train that passed could not see
him for the darkness.

"Then my pal took the body in his arms and started up the mountain, for the
track at that point passed through what they call a cut, and the hills rise
steep on each side of it. He had his prejudices against pauper burial, my
pal had, and he shrunk from going to the town and begging a grave for her.
He didn't need a doctor's certificate to tell him that life had gone
for ever from her fragile body. He knew that she had died of cold and
exhaustion.

"As he turned the base of the hill to begin to descend it, he saw in the
clouded moonlight a deserted railroad tool-house by the track. In front
of it lay a broken, rusty spade. He shouldered this and proceeded up the
mountain. It was a long walk, and he had to stop more than once to rest,
but he got to the top at last. There was a little clearing in the woods
here, where some one had camped. The ruins of a shanty still remained.

"My pal laid down the body of her who had been his wife, with the dead face
turned toward the sky, which was beginning to be cleared of its clouds.
Then he started to dig.

"It was a longer job than he had expected it to be, for my pal was tired
and numb. But the grave was made at last, upon the very summit of the
mountain.

"He lifted up the body of that brave girl, he kissed the cold lips, and he
took off his coat and wrapped it carefully about the head, so that the face
would be protected from the earth. He stooped and laid the body in the
shallow grave, and he knelt down there and prayed.

"He filled the grave up with earth with the broken spade that he had used
in digging it. All these things required a long time. He didn't observe how
the night was passing, nor that the sky became clear and the stars shone
and the moon crossed the zenith and began to descend in the west. He
didn't notice that the stars began to pale. But he worked on until he had
finished, and then he stopped and prayed again.

"When he arose, his face was toward the east, and over the distant hilltops
he saw the purple of the dawn."

The outsider ceased to speak.

"What then?"

"That's all. My pal walked down the mountain, jumped upon the first
freight-train that passed, and has been a wanderer on the face of the earth
ever since."

There were various opinions expressed of this narrative. I quietly asked
the needy outsider as we left the club at sunrise:

"Will you tell me who your pal was--the man who buried his wife on the
mountain-top?"

There was contemptuous pity in the outsider's look as it dwelt a moment
upon me before he replied: "The man was myself."

And then he condescended to borrow a quarter from me.

VIII

TIME AND THE TOMBSTONE

Tommy McGuffy was growing old. The skin of his attenuated face was so
shrunk and so stretched from wrinkle to wrinkle that it seemed narrowly
to escape breaking. About the pointed chin and the cheekbones it had the
colour of faded brick.

Old Tommy had become so thin that he dared not venture to the top of the
hill above his native village of Rearward on a windy day.

His knees bent comically when he walked.

For some years the villagers had been counting the nephews and nieces to
whom the savings of the old retired dealer in dry-goods would eventually
descend.

Ten thousand dollars and a house and lot constituted a heritage worth
anticipating in Rearward.

The innocent old man was not upon terms of intimacy with his prospective
heirs. Having remained unmarried, his only close associates were two who
had been his companions in that remote period which had been his boyhood.
One of these, Jerry Hurley, was a childless widower, a very estimable
and highly respected man who owned two farms. The other, like himself a
bachelor, was Billy Skidmore, the sexton of the church, and, therefore, the
regulator of the town clock upon the steeple.

There came a great shock to Tommy one day. As old Mrs. Sparks said, Jerry
Hurley, "all sudden-like, just took a notion and died."

The wealth and standing of Jerry Hurley insured him an imposing funeral.
They laid his body beside that which had once been his wife in Rearward
cemetery. His heirs possessed his farm, and time went on--slowly as it
always does at Rearward. Tommy went frequently to Hurley's grave and
wondered when his heirs would erect a monument to his memory. It is
necessary that your grave be marked with a monument if you would stand high
in that still society that holds eternal assembly beneath the pines and
willows, where only the breezes speak, and they in subdued voices.

Years passed, and the grave of Tommy's old friend, Jerry, remained
unmarked. Jerry's relatives had postponed the duty so long that they had
grown callous to public opinion. Besides, they had other purposes to which
to apply Jerry's money. It was easy enough to avoid reproach; they had only
to refrain from visiting the graveyard.

"Jerry never deserved such treatment," Tommy would say to Billy the sexton,
as the two met to talk it over every sunny afternoon.

"It's an outrage, that's what it is!" Billy would reply, for the hundredth
time.

It was, in their eyes, an omission almost equal to that of baptism or that
of the funeral service.

One day, as Tommy was aiding himself along the main street of Rearward by
means of a hickory stick, a frightful thought came to him. He turned cold.

What if his own heirs should neglect to mark his own grave?

"I'll hurry home at once, and put the money for it in a stocking foot,"
thought Tommy, and his knees bent more than usually as he accelerated his
pace.

But as he tied a knot in the stocking, came the fear that even this money
might be misapplied; even his will might be ignored, through repeated
postponement and the law's indifference.

Who, save old Billy Skidmore, would care whether old Tommy McGuffy's last
resting-place were designated or not? Once let the worms begin operations
upon this antique morsel, what would it matter to Rearward folks where the
banquet was taking place?

Tommy now underwent a second attack of horror, from which he came
victorious, a gleeful smile momentarily lifting the dimness from his
excessively lachrymal eyes.

"I'll fix 'em," he said to himself. "I'll go to-day to Ricketts, the
marble-cutter, and order my own tombstone."

Three months thereafter, Ricketts, the marble-cutter, untied the knot in
the stocking that had been Billy's and deposited the contents in the local
savings-bank.

In the cemetery stood a monument very lofty and elaborate. Around it was an
iron fence. Within the enclosure there was no grave as yet.

"Here," said the monument, in deep-cut-letters, but bad English, "lies all
that remains of Thomas McGuffy, born in Rearward, November 11, 1820; died
----. Gone whither the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at
rest."

This supplementary information was framed in the words of Tommy's favourite
passage in his favourite hymn. His liking for this was mainly on account of
its tune.

He had left the date of his death to be inserted by the marble cutter after
its occurrence.

Rearward folks were amused at sight of the monument, and they ascribed the
placing of it there to the eccentricity of a taciturn old man.

Tommy seemed to derive much pleasure from visiting his tombstone on mild
days. He spent many hours contemplating it. He would enter the iron
enclosure, lock the gate after him, and sit upon the ground that was
intended some day to cover his body.

He was a familiar sight to people riding or walking past the
graveyard,--this thin old man leaning upon his cane, contentedly pondering
over the inscription on his own tombstone.

He undoubtedly found much innocent pleasure in it.

One afternoon, as he was so engaged, he was assailed by a new apprehension.

Suppose that Ricketts, the marble-cutter, should fail to inscribe the date
of his death in the space left vacant for it!

There was almost no likelihood of such an omission, but there was at least
a possibility of it.

He glanced across the cemetery to Jerry Hurley's unmarked mound, and
shuddered.

Then he thought laboriously.

When he left the cemetery in such time as to avoid a delay of his evening
meal and a consequent outburst of anger on the part of his old housekeeper,
he had taken a resolution.

"Threescore years and ten, says the Bible," he muttered to himself as he
walked homeward. "The scriptural lifetime'll do for me."

A week thereafter old Tommy gazed proudly upon the finished inscription.

"Died November 11, 1890," was the newest bit of biography there engraved.

"But it's two years and more till November 11, 1890," said a voice at his
side.

Tommy merely cast an indifferent look upon the speaker and walked off
without a word.

The whole village now thought that Tommy had become a monomaniac upon the
subject of his tombstone. Perhaps he had. No one has been able to learn
from his friend, Billy Skidmore, what thoughts he may have communicated to
the latter upon the matter.

Tommy now lived for no other apparent purpose than to visit his tombstone
daily. He no longer confined his walks thither to the pleasant days. He
went in weather most perilous to so old and frail a man.

One of his prospective heirs took sufficient interest in him to advise more
care of his health.

"I can easily keep alive till the time comes," returned the antique;
"there's only a year left."

Rapidly his hold upon life relaxed. A week before November 11, 1890, he
went to bed and stayed there. People began to speculate as to whether his
unique prediction--or I should say, his decree--would be fulfilled to the
very day.

Upon the fifth day of his illness Death threatened to come before the time
that had been set for receiving him.

"Isn't this the tenth?" the old man mumbled.

"No," said his housekeeper, who with one of his nieces, the doctor, and
Billy Skidmore, attended the ill man, "it's only the 9th."

"Then I must fight for two days more; the tombstone must not lie."

And he rallied so well that it seemed as if the tombstone would lie,
nevertheless, for Tommy was still alive at eleven-thirty on the night of
November 11. Moreover he had been in his senses when last awake, and there
was every likelihood that he would look at the clock whenever his eyes
should next open.

"He can't live till morning, that's sure," said the doctor.

"But, good Lord! you don't mean to say that he'll hold out till after
twelve o'clock," said Billy Skidmore, whose anxiety only had sustained him
in his grief at the approaching dissolution of his friend.

"Quite probably," replied the doctor.

"Good heavens! Tommy won't rest easy in his grave if he don't die on the
11th. The monument will be wrong."

"Oh, that won't matter," said the niece.

Billy looked at her in amazement. Was his old friend's sacred wish to
miscarry thus?

"Yes, 'twill matter," he said, in a loud whisper. "And if time won't wait
for Tommy of its own accord, we'll make it. When did he last see the
clock?"

"Half-past nine," said the housekeeper.

"Then we'll turn it back to ten," said Skidmore, acting as he spoke.

"But he may hear the town clock strike."

Billy said never a word, but plunged into his overcoat, threw on his hat,
and hurried on into the cold night.

"Ten minutes to midnight," he said, as he looked up at the town clock upon
the church steeple. "Can I skin up them ladders in time?"

Tommy awoke once before the last slumber. Billy was by his bedside, as were
the doctor, the housekeeper, and the niece. The old man's eyes sought the
clock.

"Eleven," he murmured. Then he was silent, for the town clock had begun to
strike. He counted the strokes--eleven. Then he smiled and tried to speak
again.

"Almost--live out--birthday--seventy--tombstone--all right."

He closed his eyes, and, inasmuch as the town clock furnishes the official
time for Rearward, the published report of Tommy McGuffy's going records
that he passed at twenty-five minutes after eleven P.M., November 11, 1890.

Very few people know that time turned back one hour and a half in order
that the reputation of Tommy McGuffy's tombstone for veracity might be
spotless in the eyes of future generations.

Billy Skidmore, the sexton, arranged to have Rearward time ready for the
sun when it rose upon the following morning.

IX

HE BELIEVED THEM

He was a bachelor, and he owned a little tobacco store in the suburbs.
All the labour, manual and mental, requisite to the continuance of the
establishment, however, was done by the ex-newsboy, to whom the old soldier
paid $4 per week and allowed free tobacco.

He had come into the neighbourhood from the interior of the state shortly
after the war, and for a time there were not ten houses within a block of
his shop. The shop is now the one architectural blemish in a long row of
handsome stores. Miles of streets have been built up around it.

The old soldier used to sit in an antique armchair in the rear of his shop,
smoking, from meal to meal.

"I l'arnt the habit in the army," he would say. "I never teched tobacker
till I went to the war."

People would look inquiringly at his empty sleeve.

"I got that at Gettysburg in the second day's fight," he would explain,
complacently.

He was often asked whether he was a member of the Grand Army of the
Republic.

"No; 'tain't worth while. I done my fightin' in '63 and '64--them times. I
don't care about doin' it over again in talk. Talk's cheap."

This made folks smile, for he was continually fighting his battles over
again in conversation. Every regular customer had been made acquainted with
the part that he had taken in each contest, where he had stood when he
received his wound, what regiment had the honour of possessing him, and how
promptly he had enlisted against the wishes of parents and sweetheart.

"Of course you get a pension," many would observe.

He would shake his head and answer, in a mild tone of a man consciously
repressing a pardonable pride.

"I never 'plied, and as long as the retail tobacker trade keeps up like
this, I reckon I won't make no pull on the gover'ment treash'ry."

And he would puff at his cigar vigorously, beam upon the group that
surrounded his chair, and start on one of his long trains of reminiscences.

He was an amiable old fellow, with gray hair carefully combed back from his
curved forehead, a florid countenance, boyish blue eyes, puffed cheeks, a
smooth chin, and very military-looking gray moustache. He was manifestly
a man who ate ample dinners and amply digested them. He would glance
contentedly downward at his broad, round body, and smilingly remark:

"I didn't have that girth in my fightin' days. I got it after the war was
over."

All who knew him admired him. He would tell with simple frankness how,
after distinguishing himself at Antietam, he chose to remain a private
rather than take the lieutenancy that was placed within his reach. He would
frequently say:

"I ain't none o' them that thinks the country belongs to the soldiers
because they saved it. No, sir! If they want the country as a reward,
where's the credit in savin' it?"

How could one help exclaiming: "What a really noble old man!"

Finally some of the young men who received daily inspiration from his
autobiographical narratives arranged a surprise for the old soldier. They
presented him with a finely framed picture of the battle of Gettysburg,
under which was the inscription:

"To a True Patriot. Who Fought and Suffered Not for Self-Interest or Glory,
but for Love of His Country."

This hung in his shop until the day of his death. Then his brother came
from his native village to attend to his burial. The brother stared at the
picture, inquired as to the meaning of the inscription, and then laughed
vociferously.

In the old soldier's trunk was found a faded newspaper that had been
published in his village in 1865. It contained an account of an accident
by which a grocer's clerk had lost his arm in a thrashing-machine. The
grocer's clerk and the old soldier were one person.

He had never seen a battle, but so often had he told his war stories that
in his last days he believed them.

X

A VAGRANT

On a July evening at dusk, two boys sat near the crest of a grass-grown
embankment by the railroad at the western side of a Pennsylvania town. They
talked in low tones of the sky's glow above where the sun had set beyond
the low hills across the river, and also of the stars, and of the moon,
which was over the housetop behind them. Then there was noise of insects
chirping in the grass and of steam escaping from the locomotive boilers in
the engine shed.

A rumble sounded as from the north, and in that direction a locomotive
headlight came into view. It neared 'as the rumble grew louder, and soon a
freight-train appeared. This rolled past at the foot of the embankment.

From between two grain cars leaped a man, and after him another. So rapidly
was the train moving that they seemed to be hurled from it. Both alighted
upon their feet. One tall and lithe, led the way up the embankment,
followed by the other, who was short and stocky.

"Bums," whispered one of the boys at the top of the embankment.

The tramps stood still when they reached the top. Even in the half-light it
could be seen that their clothes were ill-fitting, frayed, and torn. They
wore cast-off hats. The tall man, whose face was clean-cut and made a
pretence of being smooth-shaven, had a pliable one; the other was capped by
a dented derby.

"Here's yer town at last! And it looks like a very jay place at that," said
the short tramp to the tall one, casting his eyes toward the house roofs
eastward.

The boys sitting twenty feet away became silent and cautiously watched the
newcomers.

"Yep," replied the tall tramp, in a deep but serious and quiet voice, "and
right about here is the spot where I jumped on a freight-train fifteen
years ago, the night I ran away from home. That seems like yesterday,
though I've not been here since."

"Skipped a good home because the old lady brought you a new dad! You
wouldn't catch me being run out by no stepfather. Billy, you was rash."

"Mebby I was. But, on the dead, Pete, it was mostly jealousy. I thought my
mother couldn't care for me any more if she could take a second husband. My
sister thought so too, but she wasn't able to get away like me. Of course I
was strong. It was boyish pique that drove me away. I didn't fancy having
another man in my dead father's place, either. And I wanted to get around
and see the world a bit. After I'd gone I often wished I hadn't. I'd never
imagined how much I loved mother and sis. But I was tougher and prouder in
some ways than most kids. You can't understand that sort of thing, Pete.
And you can't guess how I feel, bein' back here for the first time in
fifteen years. Think of it, I was just fifteen when I came away. Why, I
spent half my life here, Petie!"

"Oh, I've read somewhere about that,--the way great men feel when they
visit their native town."

The short tramp took a clay pipe from his coat pocket and stuffed into it a
cigar-end fished from another pocket. Then he inquired:

"And now you're here, Billy, what are you go'n to do?"

"Only ask around what's become o' my folks, then go away. It won't take me
long."

"There'll be a through coal-train along in about an hour, 'cordin' to what
the flagmen told us at that last town. Will you be back in time to bounce
that?"

"Yes. We needn't stay here. There's little to be picked up in a place like
this."

"Then skin along and make your investigations. I'll sit here and smoke till
you come back. If you could pinch a bit of bread and meat, by the way, it
wouldn't hurt."

"I'll try," answered the tall tramp. "I'm goin' to ask the kids yonder,
first, if any o' my people still live here."

The tall tramp strode over to the two boys. His companion shambled down the
embankment to obtain, at the turntable near the locomotive shed across the
railroad, a red-hot cinder with which to light his pipe.

"Do you youngsters know people here by the name of Kershaw?" began the tall
tramp, standing beside the two boys.

Both remained sitting on the grass. One shook his head. The other said,
"No."

The tramp was silent for a moment. Then it occurred to him that his mother
had taken his stepfather's name and his sister might be married. Therefore
he asked:

"How about a family named Coates?"

"None here," replied one of the boys.

But the other said, "Coates? That's the name of Tommy Hackett's
grandmother."

The tramp drew and expelled a quick, audible breath.

"Then," he said, "this Mrs. Coates must be the mother of Tommy's mother. Do
you know what Tommy's mother's first name is?"

"I heard Tom call her Alice once."

The tramp's eyes glistened.

"And Mr. Coates?" he inquired.

"Oh, I never heard of him. I guess he died long ago."

"And Tommy Hackett's father, who's he?"

"He's the boss down at the freight station. Agent, I think they call him."

"Where does this Mrs. Coates live?"

"She lives with the Hacketts. Would you like to see the house? Me and Dick
has to go past it on the way home. We'll show you."

"Yes, I would like to see the house."

The boys arose, one of them rather sleepily. They led the way across the
railway company's lot, then along a sparsely built up street, and around
the corner into a more populous but quiet highway. At the corner was a
grocery and dry-goods store; beyond that were neat and airy two-story
houses, fronted by a yard closed in by iron fences. One of these houses had
a little piazza, on which sat two children. From the open half-door and
from two windows came light.

"That's Hackett's house," said one of the boys.

"Thanks, very much," replied the tramp, continuing to walk with them.

The boys looked surprised at his not stopping at the house, but they said
nothing.

At the next corner the tramp spoke up:

"I think I'll go back now. Good night, youngsters."

The boys trudged on, and the tramp retraced his steps. When he reached the
Hacketts' house, he paused at the gate. The children, a boy of eight and a
girl of six, looked at him curiously from the piazza.

"Are you Mr. Hackett's little boy and girl?" he asked.

The girl stepped back to the hall door and stood there. The boy looked up
at the tramp and answered, "Yes, sir."

"Is your mother in?"

"No, she's across the street at Mrs. Johnson's."

"Grandmother's in, though," continued the boy. "Would you like to see her?"

"No, no! Don't call her. I just wanted to see your mother."

"Do you know mamma?" inquired the girl.

"Well--no. I knew her brother, your uncle."

"We haven't any uncle--except Uncle George, and he's papa's brother," said
the boy.

"What! Not an uncle Will--Uncle Will Kershaw?"

"O--h, yes," assented the boy. "Did you know him before he died? That was a
long time ago."

The tramp made no other outward manifestation of his surprise than to be
silent and motionless for a time. Presently he said, in a trembling voice:

"Yes, before he died. Do you remember when he died?"

"Oh, no. That was when mamma was a girl. She and grandmother often talk
about it, though. Uncle Will started West, you know, when he was fifteen
years old. He was standing on a bridge out near Pittsburg one day, and he
saw a little girl fall into the river. He jumped in to save her, but he was
drowned, 'cause his head hit a stone and that stunned him. They didn't know
it was Uncle Will or who it was, at first, but mamma read about it in the
papers and Grandpa Coates went out to see if it wasn't Uncle Will. Grandpa
'dentified him and they brought him back here, but, what do you think, the
doctor wouldn't allow them to open his coffin, and so grandma and mamma
couldn't see him. He's buried up in the graveyard next Grandpa Kershaw, and
there's a little monument there that tells all about how he died trying to
save a little girl from drownin'. I can read it, but Mamie can't. She's my
little sister there."

The tramp had seated himself on the piazza step. He was looking vacantly
before him. He remained so until the boy, frightened at his silence, moved
further from him, toward the door. Then the tramp arose suddenly.

"Well," he said, huskily, "I won't wait to see your mamma. You needn't tell
her about me bein' here. But, say--could I just get a look at--at your
grandma, without her knowing anythin about it?"

The boy took his sister's hand and withdrew into the doorway. Then he said,
"Why, of course. You can see her through the window."

The tramp stood against the edge of the piazza upon his toes, and craned
his neck to see through one of the lighted windows. So he remained for
several seconds. Once during that time he closed his eyes, and the muscles
of his face contracted. Then he opened his eyes again. They were moist.

He could see a gentle old lady, with smooth gray hair, and an expression of
calm and not unhappy melancholy. She was sitting in a rocking-chair, her
hands resting on the arms, her look fixed unconsciously on the paper on the
wall. She was thinking, and evidently her thoughts, though sad, perhaps,
were not keenly painful.

The tramp read that much upon her face. Presently, without a word, he
turned quickly about and hurried away, closing the gate after him.

When the two children told about their visitor later, their mother said:

"You mustn't talk to strange men, Tommy. You and Mamie should have come
right in to grandma."

Their father said: "He was probably looking for a chance to steal
something. I'll let the dog out in the yard to-night."

And their grandmother: "I suppose he was only a man who likes to hear
children talk, and perhaps, poor fellow, he has no little ones of his own."

The tramp knew the way to the cemetery. But first he found the house where
he had lived as a boy. It looked painfully rickety and surprisingly small.
So he hastened from before it and went up by a back street across the town
creek and up a hill, where at last he stood before the cemetery gate. It
was locked; so he climbed over the wall. He went still further up the hill,
past tombstones that looked very white, and trees that looked very green in
the moonlight. At the top of the hill he found his father's grave. Beside
it was another mound, and at the head of this, a plain little pillar. The
moon was high now and the tramp was used to seeing in the night. Word by
word he could slowly read upon the marble this inscription:

"William Albert, beloved son of the late Thomas Kershaw and his wife
Rachel; born in Brickville, August 2, 1862; drowned in the Allegheny River
near Pittsburg, July 27, 1877, while heroically endeavouring to save the
life of a child."

The tramp laughed, and then uttered a sigh.

"I wonder," he said, aloud, "what poor bloke it is that's doin' duty for me
under the ground here."

And at the thought that he owed an excellent posthumous reputation to the
unknown who had happened to resemble him fifteen years before, he laughed
louder. Having no one near to share his mirth, he looked up at the amiable
moon, and nodded knowingly thereat, as if to say:

"This is a fine joke we're enjoying between ourselves, isn't it?"

And by and by he remembered that he was being waited for, and he strode
from the grave and from the cemetery.

By the railroad the short tramp, having smoked all the refuse tobacco in
his possession, was growing impatient. Already the expected coal-train had
heralded its advent by whistle and puff and roar when his associate had
joined him.

"Found out all you wanted to know?" queried the stout little vagabond,
starting down the embankment to mount the train.

"Yep," answered the tall vagrant, contentedly.

The small man grasped the iron rod attached to the side of one of the
moving coal-cars and swung his foot into the iron stirrup beneath. His
companion mounted the next car in the same way.

"Are you all right, Kersh?" shouted back the small tramp, standing safe
above the "bumpers."

"All right," replied the tall tramp, climbing upon the end of a car. "But
don't ever call me Kersh any more. After this I'm always Bill the Bum. Bill
Kershaw's dead--" and he added to himself, "and decently buried on the hill
over there under the moon."

XI

UNDER AN AWNING

For ten minutes we had been standing under the awning, driven there at two
o'clock at night by a shower that had arisen suddenly.

"A pocket umbrella is one of the unsupplied necessities of the age," said
my companion.

"Yes, and the peculiarity of the age is that while such luxuries as the
phonograph and the kinetograph multiply day by day, important necessities
remain unsupplied."

My friend mused for a time, while he watched the reflection of the electric
light in the little street pools that were agitated by the falling fine
drops of rain.

He looked from the reflection to the light itself, and thus his eyes turned
upward.

An expression of surprise changed to mirth, and then dropping his glance
until it met mine, he said:

"Have you noticed anything peculiar about this awning?"

"No, what is it?"

"Simply that there is no awning. Look up and see. Here are the posts and
there is the framework, but only the sky is above, and we've been getting
rained upon for the past ten minutes in blissful ignorance."

It was as he said, so we ran to the next awning, which was a fact, not a
figment of fancy.

"That reminds me," resumed my friend, "of Simpkins. He was a young man who
used to catch cold at the slightest dampness. His being out in the rain
without an umbrella never failed to result in his remaining in the house
for two or three subsequent days.

"One night, Simpkins, surprised by an unexpected shower, took refuge
beneath the framework of an awning, which framework lacked the awning
itself. He waited for an hour, until the shower had passed, and then
joyously took up again his homeward way, without having observed his
mistake. He told me on the next day of his narrow escape from the rain. I
happened to know that the awning to which he alluded had been removed a few
weeks before. But I did not tell him so until there no longer seemed to
exist any likelihood of his catching cold from that wetting. You see, his
imagination had saved him."

"That tale is singularly reminiscent of those dear old stories about the
man who took cold through sitting at a window that was composed of one
solid sheet of glass, so clean that he thought it was no glass at all; and
the men who, awaking in the night, stifling for want of fresh air, broke
open the door of a bookcase which they took to be a window, and immediately
noticed a pleasant draught of pure outside air."

"There is a likeness, which simply goes toward proving the truth of all
three accounts. But the remarkable thing about Simpkins' case is that when
he once learned that there had been nothing over his head during that rain,
he immediately caught cold, although two weeks had passed since the night
of the shower. Wonderful, wasn't it?"

"Astonishing, indeed."

Silence ensued and we meditated for awhile. Evidently the same thought
came simultaneously into the minds of both of us, for while I was mentally
commenting upon the deserted and lonely condition of the city streets at
two o'clock on a rainy night, my friend spoke:

"A man is alone with his conscience, the electric lights, the shadows of
the houses, and the sound of the rain at a time and place like this,
isn't he? Standing as we stand now, under an awning, during a persistent
rainfall, at this hour, with no other human being in sight, a man is for
the time upon a desert island. Which reminds me:

"One night, at a later hour than this, when the rain was heavier than this,
I was alone under an awning that was smaller than this. Being without
umbrella and overcoat, I saw at least a quarter of an hour waiting for me.
The thought was dismal.

"Happy idea! I would smoke. I had a cigar in my mouth in an instant.

"Horrors! I had no matches.

"The desire to smoke instantly increased tenfold. I puffed despairingly at
my unlit cigar. No miracle occurred to ignite it. I looked longingly at the
electric lights and the gas-lamps in the distance.

"Like a sailor cast upon an island and straining his eyes on the lookout
for a ship, I stood there scanning the prospect in search of a man with a
light. I was Enoch Arden; the awning was my palm-tree.

"Ten minutes passed. No craft hove in sight.

"Suddenly uncertain footsteps were heard. I looked. Some one came that way.
It was a squalid-looking personage--a professional beggar, half-drunk. He
landed upon my island, beneath my awning.

"'For charity's sake, give me a match!' I cried.

"He looked at me--'sized me up,' in the technical terminology of his trade.
Intelligence began to illumine his countenance. He saw that the opportunity
of his life had come. He held out a match.

"'I'll sell it to you for fifty cents,' he said, with a grin.

"I had erred in revealing the depth of my want, the extent of my distress.

"I compromised by promising to give him a half-dollar if I should succeed
in lighting my cigar with his solitary match. We did succeed. He took the
fifty and started back for the saloon from whence he had come.

"Oh, my boy, the irony of fate--that same old oft-quoted irony!

"I hadn't blown three mouthfuls of smoke from that cigar when a friend came
along with a lighted cigar, an umbrella, and a box full of matches.

"The whole effect of this story lies in the value that fifty cents
possessed for me at that time. It was my last fifty cents, and two days
stood between that night and salary day.

"I had another experience--"

But a night car came in view from around a corner, my friend ran for it,
and his third tale remains untold.

XII

SHANDY'S REVENGE

He was old enough to know better, and a superficial observer might have
thought that he did. But a severe and haughty manner in repose is not any
indication of knowledge, nor is a well-kept beard, even when it is turning
gray. Melrose Welty, the possessor of these and other ways and features
symbolical of wisdom, had no higher occupation in life than to sit in
club-houses and cafes, telling of conquests won by him over women, chiefly
over soubrettes and chorus girls.

Of his means of livelihood, no one had certain knowledge. He always dressed
well, but he abode in a lodging-house, to which he never invited any of
his associates. He affected the society of newspaper men, some of whom
pronounced him a good fellow until they discovered that he was an ass; and
he never refused an invitation to have a drink.

When he had you at a table in a quiet corner of a cafe, or in front of
a bar, or in the lobby of a theatre between the acts, no matter how the
conversation began, he would invariably turn it into that realm to which
his thoughts were confined.

"I've got a supper on hand to-night after the performance," he would
probably say, "with a blonde in the ---- Company. A lovely girl, too! It's
curious, old man, how I happened to meet her. I've talked to her only
twice, but I made a hit with her in the first five minutes. I'll tell you
how it was--"

Whereupon, if you were polite, and did not know Welty sufficiently to
flee on a pretext, he would tell you how it was, inflicting upon you the
wearisome minute details of the most commonplace thing in the world, the
birth and growth of an acquaintance between a man about town and a silly
young woman, not fastidious as to who pays for her food and drink as long
as the food and drink are adequate.

If you were a newspaper man, Welty was apt to supplement his story with
something like this:

"By the way, old fellow, if you have any pull with your dramatic editor,
can't you give her a line or two? She hasn't much to do in the piece, but
she does it well, and she's clever. She may get a good part one of these
days. Have something nice said about her, won't you?"

And if you ever gave another thought to this plea, you determined to use
whatever influence you had with the dramatic editor to this effect, that
the young woman would have to exhibit very decided cleverness indeed ere
she should have "something nice" said about her in the paper.

Welty was not wont to retain one divinity on the altar of his conversation
longer than a week. But he did so once. He talked about the same girl every
day for a month. And thereby came his undoing.

She was a slender little girl who was singing badly a small role in a
certain comic opera at the time of these occurrences. She had a babyish
manner across the footlights, and she was thought to be a blonde, for she
was wearing a yellow wig over her own short black hair that season. Her
first name was Emily.

Welty managed to be introduced to her by thrusting himself upon a little
party of which she was a member, and in which was one acquaintance of his,
at a restaurant one night. He called upon her at her boarding house the
next day, where she received him with some surprise, and left most of the
conversation to him. When he visited there again, she caused him to be
told that she was out, and this took place a half dozen times. Their real
acquaintance never went any further, but an imaginary acquaintance between
them, growing from Welty's wish, made great progress in his fancy and in
the stories told by him at his club to groups of men, some of whom doubted
and looked bored, while others believed and grinned and envied.

It was at the point where Emily had quite forgotten Welty, and Welty's
stories portrayed her as recklessly adoring him and seeking him in cabs
at all hours, that Barry McGettigan, a despised young reporter, "doing
police," heard one of Welty's accounts of an alleged interview with Emily;
and Barry, who had a way of knowing human nature and observing people,
suspected.

Now Barry cherished a deep-rooted grudge against Welty, all the more
dangerous because Welty was unaware of it. Its exact cause has never been
torn from Barry's breast. Some have ascribed it to Welty's having mimicked
Barry's brogue before a crowd in a saloon one night. Others have laid it to
the following passage of words, which is now a part of the ancient history
of the Nocturnal Club.

"Spakin' of ancestors," Barry began, "I'd loike to bet--"

"I'd like to bet," broke in Welty, "that your own ancestry leads directly
to the Shandy family."

There was a general laugh, which Barry, whose nose was as flat as any
Shandy's could have been but who had never read Sterne, did not understand.

"What did he mane?" Barry asked a friend. The friend told him to read
"Tristram Shandy." He spent two hours in a public library next day and
learned how his facial peculiarity had been used by Welty to create a laugh
and incidentally to insult him.

This he never forgave. And he bided his time.

Now, having heard Welty boast of being the object of this Emily's
infatuation, Barry McGettigan deflected his mind from the contemplation of
murders, infanticides, fires, and other matters of general interest, and
gave his best thoughts and skill to investigating this talked-of love
affair of Welty's.

He discovered the true situation within three days. He found that Emily was
engaged to be married to a college football player who came to the city
once a week to see her.

He borrowed money, made himself very agreeable to Welty, and also got
himself introduced to the football player. The latter was a tall, lithe,
heavy-shouldered, brown-faced, thick-knuckled youth, who practiced all
kinds of athletic diversions.

Barry McGettigan sounded the football man in one brief interview one night,
between the acts of the comic opera, at the saloon next door. He found a
means of fastening himself upon the football player's esteem. The collegian
expressed a mild desire to see something of police-station life. Barry
invited him to spend an evening with him on duty at Central Station. The
collegian accepted. Barry appointed a time and named a certain cafe as a
meeting place.

Then Barry invited Welty to dine with him at the same cafe on the same
evening at the same hour. By means of his borrowed money, he had lavished
costly drinks upon Welty of late, and Welty had reason to anticipate a
dinner worth the accepting. Barry told Welty nothing of the collegian and
he told the collegian nothing more of Welty.

When the evening came, Barry found Welty awaiting him at the cafe. The two
sat down at a table. The preliminary cocktail had only arrived when in
walked the collegian. Barry saluted him as if the meeting had only occurred
by chance. He made the collegian and Welty known to each other by name
only. And then he ordered dinner.

When a bottle had been drunk, Barry innocently turned the current of the
conversation to women. He spoke modestly of a mythical conquest he had
recently made. The football player listened without showing much interest.
Presently Barry paused.

Welty took a drink and began:

"No, my boy," said he to Barry, "you're wrong there. It's like you
youngsters to think you know all about the sex, but the older you grow the
less you think you know about them, until you get to my age."

Barry made no answer, but looked at Welty with becoming deference.

The football man's eyes were wandering about the cafe, showing him to be
indifferent to the theme of discussion.

"I know," continued Welty, "that many more or less writers have said, as
you say, that women must be sought and pursued to be won. They deduce that
theory from the habits of lower animals and of barbarous nations, in which
the man obtains the woman by chase and force. But it's all a theory, and
simply shows that the learned writers study their books instead of their
fellow men and women."

The collegian looked restless, as if the conversation had gotten beyond his
depth.

Barry remained silent, and with a flattering aspect of great interest in
Welty's observations.

"Now," went on Welty, striking the table with the bottom of his glass,
"I've had a little experience of this sort of thing in my time, and I can
say that in nine cases out of ten, once you've attracted the attention of
your game, let it alone and it will chase you. That's how to win women."

The collegian looked bored.

"Just to illustrate," said Welty, "I'll tell of a little conquest of my
own. I use it because it is the first that comes to my mind, not that I'm
given to bragging about my success in these matters. I suppose you've seen
the opera at the ---- Theatre?"

The collegian ceased looking bored. Barry McGettigan sat perfectly,
unnaturally still.

"And," pursued Welty, "you've doubtless noticed the three girls who appear
as the queen's maids of honour?"

The collegian looked somewhat concerned. Barry stopped breathing.

"Well," continued Welty, "you mayn't believe it, for we've kept it really
quiet, one of them girls is really dead gone on me."

The collegian opened his mouth wide, and Barry began to nervously tap his
hand upon the table.

"It's the one," said Welty, "who wears the big blond wig. Her name's Emi--"

There was the noise of upsetting plates, bottles, and glasses, of a man's
feet rapping up against the bottom of a table and his head thumping down
against the floor. There was the sight of an agile youth leaping across an
overturned table and alighting with one foot at each side of the prostrate
form of an astonished man, whose gray whiskers were spattered with blood.
There was the quick gathering of a crowd, an excited explanation on the
part of the collegian, a slow recovery on the part of the man on the floor,
and Barry McGettigan's vengeance was complete.

For, by one of those incredible coincidences that have the semblance of
fatality, the football player's fist had reduced Melrose Welty's nose to a
flatness which the nose of no imaginable Shandy ever has surpassed.

XIII

THE WHISTLE

She was the wife of a railway locomotive engineer, and the two lived in the
newly built house to which he had taken her as a bride a year before.

Many other people in the country railroad town used to laugh at a thing
which she had once said to a gossiping neighbour:

"I can tell the sound of the whistle on Tom's engine from all other
whistles. Every afternoon when his train gets to the crossing at the
planing-mill, I hear that whistle, and then I know it's time to get Tom's
supper."

The gossips found something humourous in the fact that the engineer's wife
recognized the whistle of her husband's engine and knew by it when to begin
to prepare his supper. So are the small manifestations of love and devotion
regarded by coarse minds. You frequently observe this in the conduct of
certain people at the theatre when tender sentiments are uttered upon the
stage.

Perhaps the men were envious of the engineer. He had a prettier wife,
they said, when he was not present, than was deserved by a mere freight
engineer, very recently elevated from the post of fireman. Perhaps,
also, the petty malevolence of the women was due to the wife's superior
comeliness. Be that as it may, each afternoon at half-past four or
thereabouts, when Tom's whistle was blown at the crossing by the
planing-mill, loungers in the grocery store and wives in their kitchens
smiled knowingly and said:

"Time to begin to get Tom's supper, now."

But the engineer was careless and his wife was disdainful of their
neighbours. She loved the sound of that whistle. In the earliest days of
their married life it even sent the crimson to her cheeks. The engineer
could make it as expressive as music. It began like a sudden glad cry; it
died away lingeringly, tenderly. Virtually it said to one pair of ears:

"My darling, I have come back to you."

Whenever the engineer pulled the rope for that particular signal, he
pictured his wife arising from her work-basket in their little parlour with
a thrill of pleasure and affection, and passing out to the kitchen.

She, likewise, at the signal, made a mental image of Tom, seated in the
engine cab, his one hand fixed upon the shining lever, his eyes fixed upon
the glistening tracks ahead.

At six o'clock, usually, supper was hot, and Tom arrived through the front
gateway, glancing at the flower-bed in the centre of the diminutive grass
plot, carrying his dinner-pail, having divested himself of his grimy,
greasy blouse and overalls at the great repair shops, where his engine had
already begun, with much panting, to spend the night.

In a small railroad town on the main line, one is continually hearing
locomotive whistles. All the inhabitants know that one long moan of the
steam is the signal of the train's swift approach; that two short shrieks
of the whistle direct the trainmen to tighten the brakes; that four, given
when the train is still, are intended for the flagman, who has gone away to
the rear to warn back the next train, and that they tell him to return to
his own train as it is about to start; that five whistles in succession
announce a wreck and command the immediate attendance of the wreck crew.

In the town many cheeks blanch when those five long, ominous wails of the
escaping steam cleave the air. A husband, a son, a father who has gone
forth blithely in the morning, with his dinner-pail full, may be brought
out of the wreck, mangled or dead. And until complete details are known
there is a tremor in the whole community. Some hearts beat faster, others
seem to stand still. People speak in hushed tones.

One afternoon, the engineer's wife, observing the altitude of the sun,
looked at the clock and saw that the time was a few minutes before five.

Tom's whistle had not yet blown.

At five-fifteen came the sound of another whistle. It was prolonged and
then repeated. The engineer's wife stood still and counted.

Five!

The most docile and apparently cheerful patient in the ---- Asylum for the
Insane is a widow, still young, who spends the greater time of each day
sewing and humming tunes softly to herself. Every afternoon at about
half-past four she assumes a listening attitude, suddenly hears an
inaudible whistle, smiles tenderly, starts up and places invisible dishes
and impalpable viands upon an imaginary table, and then loses herself in a
reverie which ends in slumber.

No striking clock is allowed within her hearing. It was long ago noticed
that the stroke of five or any series of five similar sounds would cause
her to moan piteously.

The people afar in the country town do not laugh now when they talk of Tom
and the whistle which was shrieking madly as he and his engine plunged
down the bank together on that day when the huge boulder rolled from the
hillside stone quarry and lay upon the tracks, just on this side of the
curve above the town.

XIV

WHISKERS

The facts about the man we called "Whiskers" linger in my mind, asking to
be recorded, and though they do not make much of a story, I am tempted to
unburden myself by putting them on paper. It was mentally noted as a sure
thing by everybody who saw him go into the managing editor's room, to ask
for a position on the staff of the paper, that if he should obtain a place
and become a fixture in the office, he would be generally known as Whiskers
within twenty-four hours after his instalment.

What tale he told the managing editor no one knew, but every one in the
editorial rooms deduced later that it must have been something a trifle out
of the common, for the managing editor, who had gone through the form of
taking the names of three previous applicants that afternoon and telling
them that he would let them know when a vacancy should occur on the staff,
told the man whom we eventually christened Whiskers that he might come
around the next day and write whatever he might choose to in the way of
Sunday "specials," comic verses, or editorial paragraphs, on the chance of
their being accepted.

The next day the hairy-faced man took possession of a desk in the room
occupied by the exchange editor and one of the editorial writers, and began
to grind out "copy."

He was a slim, figure, with what is commonly denominated a "slight stoop."
His trousers were none too long for his thin legs, his tightly fitting
frock coat, threadbare, shiny, and unduly creased, was hardly of a fit for
his slender body and his long arms. It was his face, however, that mostly
individualized his appearance.

The face was pale, the outlines symmetrical, but rather feeble, and the
countenance would have seemed rather lamblike but for the fact that it was
framed with thick, long hair and a luxuriant beard, which caressed his
waistcoat.

These made him impressive at first sight.

On the first day of his presence, he said little to the men with whom he
shared his room in the office. On the second day he grew communicative
and talked rather pompously to the exchange editor. He prated of his past
achievements as a newspaper man in other cities. He had a cheerful way of
talking in a voice that was high but not loud. His undaunted manner of
uttering self-praise caused the exchange editor to wink at the editorial
writer. It engendered, too, a small degree of dislike on the part of these
worthies; and the exchange editor made it a point to watch for some of the
new man's work in the paper, that he might be certain whether the new man's
ability was equal to the new man's opinion of it.

The exchange editor found that it was not. The new man had been in the
office four days before any of his contributions had gone through the
process of creation, acceptance, and publication. Some verses and some
alleged jokes were his first matter printed. They were below mediocrity.
The exchange editor ceased to dislike the whiskered man and thereafter
regarded him as quite harmless and mildly amusing.

This view of him was eventually accepted by every one who came to know him,
and he was made the object of a good deal of gentle chaffing.

He earned probably $15 or $20 at space rates, a lamentably small amount
for so intellectual looking a man, but a very large amount considering the
quality of work turned out by him.

Doubtless he would not have made nearly so much had not the managing editor
whispered something in the ears of the assistant editor-in-chief, whose
duty it was to judge of the acceptability of editorial matter offered, the
editor of the Sunday's supplement, and other members of the staff who might
have occasion to "turn down" the new man's contributions, or to wink at the
deficiencies in his work.

One day Whiskers, with many apologies and much embarrassment, asked the
exchange editor to lend him a quarter, which request having been complied
with, he put on his much rubbed high hat and hurried from the room.

"It's funny the old man's hard up so soon," the exchange editor said to the
editorial writer at the next desk, "It's only two days since pay-day."

"Where does he sink his money?" asked the editorial writer. "His
sleeping-room costs him only $3 a week, and, eating the way he does, at the
cheapest hash-houses, his whole expenses can't be more than $8. No one ever
sees him spend a cent. He must sink it away in a bank."

"Hasn't he any relatives?"

"He never spoke of any, and he lives alone. Wotherspoon, who lodges where
he does, says no one ever comes to see him."

"He certainly doesn't spend money on clothes."

"No; and he never drinks at his own expense."

"He's probably leading a double life," said the exchange editor, jestingly,
as he plunged his scissors into a Western paper, to cut out a poem by James
Whitcomb Riley.

Without making many acquaintances, Whiskers, by reason of his hirsute
peculiarity, became known throughout the building, from the business office
on the ground floor to the composing-room on the top. When he went into the
latter one day and passed down the long aisle between the long row of cases
and type-setting machines, with a corrected proof in his hand, a certain
printer, who was "setting" up a clothing-house advertisement, could not
resist the temptation to give labial imitation of the blowing of wind. The
bygone joke concerning whiskers and the wind was then current, and a score
of compositors took up the whistle, so that all varieties of breeze were
soon being simulated simultaneously. Whiskers coloured sightly, but, save a
dignified straightening of his shoulders, he showed no other sign that he
was conscious of the rude allusion to his copious beard.

Whiskers chose Tuesday for his day off.

It was on a certain Tuesday evening that one of the reporters came into the
exchange editor's room and casually remarked:

"I saw your anti-shaving friend, who sits at that desk, riding out to the
suburbs on a car to-day. He was all crushed up and carried a bouquet of
roses."

"That settles it," cried the editorial writer to the exchange editor, with
mock jubilation. "There can be no doubt the old man was leading a double
life. The bouquet means a woman in the case."

"And his money goes for flowers and presents," added the exchange editor.

"Some of it, of course," went on the editorial writer, "and the rest he's
saving to get married on. Who'd have thought it at his age?"

"Why, he's not over forty. It's only his whiskers that make him look old.
One can easily detect a sentimental vein in his composition."

"That accounts for his fits of abstraction, too. So he's found favour in
some fair one's eyes. I wonder what she's like."

"Young and pretty, I'll bet," said the exchange editor. "He's impressed
her by his dignified aspect. No doubt she thinks he's nothing less than an
editor-in-chief."

The next day Whiskers was taciturn, as his office associates now recalled
that he was wont to be after "his day off." Doubtless his thoughts dwelt
upon his visits to his divinity. He did not respond to their efforts to
involve him in conversation.

He was observed upon his next day off to take a car for the suburbs and
to have a bouquet in his hand and a package under his arm. The theory
originated by the editorial writer had general acceptance. It was passed
from man to man in the office.

"Have you heard about the queer old duck with the whiskers, who writes in
the exchange room? He's engaged to a young and pretty girl up-town, and
eats at fifteen-cent soup-shops so that he can buy her flowers and wine and
things."

"What! Old Whiskers in love! That's a good one!"

One day while Whiskers' pen was busily gliding across the paper, the
exchange editor broke the silence by asking him, in a careless tone:

"How was she, yesterday, Mr. Croydon?"

Whiskers looked up almost quickly, an expression of almost pained surprise
on his face.

"Who?" he inquired.

"Ah, you thought because you didn't tell us, it wouldn't out. But you've
been caught. I mean the lady to whom you take roses every week, of course."

Whiskers simply stared at the exchange editor, as if quite bewildered.

"Oh, pardon me," said the exchange editor, somewhat abashed. "I didn't mean
to offend you. One's affairs of the heart are sacred, I know, But we all
guy each other about each other's amours here. We're hardened to that sort
of pleasantry."

A look of enlightenment, a blush, a deep sigh, and an "Oh, I'm not
offended," were the only manifestations made by Whiskers after the exchange
editor's apology.

It was inferred from his manner that he did not wish to make confidences or
receive jests about his love-affairs.

A time came when Whiskers seemed to have something constantly on his mind.
Not content with one day's vacation each week, he would go off for periods
of three or four hours on other days.

"Do you notice how queerly the old man behaves?" said the editorial writer
to the exchange editor thereupon. "Things are coming to a crisis."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Why, the wedding, of course."

This inference received a show of confirmation afterward when Whiskers had
a private interview with the managing editor, received an order on the
cashier for all the money due him, and for a part of the managing editor's
salary as a loan, and quietly said to the exchange editor that he would be
away for a week or so. The editorial writer happened to be at the cashier's
window when Whiskers had his order cashed. So when the editorial writer
and the exchange editor compared notes a few minutes later, the latter
complimented the former upon the correctness of his prediction that
Whiskers' marriage was imminent.

"He didn't invite us," said the exchange editor, "but then I suppose the
affair is to be a very quiet one, and we can't take offence at that. The
old man's not a bad lot, by any means. Let's do something to please him
and to flatter his bride. What do you say to raising a fund to buy them a
present, in the name of the staff?"

"I'm in for it," said the editorial writer, producing a half-dollar.

They canvassed the office and found everybody willing to contribute. The
managing editor and the assistant editor-in-chief had gone home, but as
they had shown kindness to Whiskers, and were, in fact, the only two men on
the staff who knew anything about his private affairs, the exchange editor
took his chances and put in a dollar for each of them.

"And now, what shall we get--and where shall we send it?" said the exchange
editor.

"Not to his lodging-house, certainly. He'll probably be married at the
residence of his bride's parents, as the notices say. We'd better get it
quick, and rush it up there--wherever that is--somewhere up-town."

"But say," interposed the city editor, who was present at this
consultation, "maybe the ceremony has already come off. I saw the old man
giving in a notice for advertisement across the counter at the business
office an hour ago."

"Well, we may be able to learn from that where the bride lives, anyhow,
and some one can go there and find out something definite about the happy
pair's present and future whereabouts," suggested the editorial writer.

"That's so," said the city editor. "The notice is in the composing-room by
this time. I'll run up and find it."

The city editor left the editorial writer and the exchange editor alone
together in the room, each sitting at their own desk.

"What shall we get with this money?" queried the former, touching the bills
and silver dumped upon his desk.

"Something to please the woman. That'll give Whiskers the most pleasure.
He evidently loves her deeply. These constant visits and gifts speak the
greatest devotion."

"Of course, but what shall it be?"

The two were battling with this question when the city editor returned. He
came in and said quietly:

"I found the notice. At least, I suppose this is it. What is the old man's
full name?"

"Horace W. Croydon."

"This is it, then," said the city editor, standing with his back to the
door. "The notice reads: 'On March 3d, at the Arlington Hospital for
Incurables, Rachel, widow of the late Horace W. Croydon, Sr., in her 59th
year. Funeral services at the residence of Charles--'"

"Why," interrupted the editorial writer, in a hushed voice, "that is a
death notice."

"His mother," said the exchange editor. "The Hospital for Incurables--that
is where the flowers went."

The editorial writer's glance dropped to the desk, where the money lay for
the intended gift. The exchange editor sat perfectly still, gazing straight
in front of him. The city editor walked softly to the window and looked
out.

XV

THE BAD BREAK OF TOBIT MCSTENGER

"I'm a bad man," said Tobit McStenger, after three glasses of whiskey.
And he was. In making the declaration, he echoed the expression of the
community.

He looked it. Not only in the sneering mouth above the half-formed chin,
and in the lowering eyes of undecided colour beneath the receding brow, but
also in every shiftless attitude and movement of his great gaunt body, and
even in the torn coat and shapeless felt hat--both once black, but both now
a dirty gray--his aspect proclaimed him the preeminent rowdy of his town.

When out of jail he was engaged in oyster opening at Couch's saloon, or
selling fresh fish, caught in the river, or vagrancy in the streets of
Brickville. He lived in a log house containing two rooms, by Muddy Creek,
an intermittent stream that flowed--sometimes--through a corner of the
town. He was a widower and had a son nine years old, little Tobe, who
went to school occasionally, but gave most of his day to carrying a paper
flour-sack around the town and begging cold victuals, in obedience to
paternal commands, and throwing stones at other boys, who called him
"Patches," a nickname descended from his father.

Little Tobe's face was always black, from the dust of the bituminous coal
that he was compelled to steal at night from the railroad companies' yard.
His attire was in miniature what his father's was in the large, as his
character was in embryo what the elder Tobit's was in complete development.
With long, entangled hair, a thin, crafty face, and stealthy eyes, he was a
true type of malevolent gamin, all the more uncanny for the crudity due to
his semirustic environments.

Such were Tobit and little Tobe, the most conspicuous of the village
"characters" of Brickville, a Pennsylvania town deriving sustenance from
its brick-kiln, its railroads, and its contiguous farming interests.

It was town talk that Tobit McStenger was a hard father; drunk or sober, he
chastised little Tobe upon the slightest occasion.

"But," said Tobit McStenger, after admitting his severity as a parent
before the bar in Couch's saloon, "let any one else lay a finger on that
kid! Just let 'em! They'll find out, jail or no jail, I'm ugly!" And he
went on to repeat for the thousandth time that when he was ugly he was a
bad man.

Whereupon the other loungers in Couch's saloon, "Honesty Tom Yerkes," the
hauler, Sam Hatch, the bill-poster, and the rest, agreed that a man's
manner of governing his household was his own business.

Tobit McStenger had his word to say upon all village topics. When in
Couch's saloon one night he learned that the school directors had decided
to take the primary school from the tutorship of a woman and to put a man
over it as teacher, Tobit pricked up his ears and had many words to say. He
was working at the time, and he spoke in loud, coarse tones, as he wielded
his oyster-knife, having for an audience the usual dozen barroom tarriers.

"I know what that means," cried Tobit McStenger. "It means they ain't
satisfied with having our children ruled with kindness. It means Miss
Wiggins, who's kep' a good school, which I know all about, fer my son's one
of her scholars--it means she don't use the rod enough. They've made up
their minds to control the kids by force, and they went and hired a man to
lick book learnin' into 'em. Who is the feller, anyway?"

"Pap" Buckwalder read the answer to Tobit's question from the current
number of the Brickville _Weekly Gazette_.

"The new teacher is Aubrey Pilling, the adopted son of farmer Josiah
Pilling, of Blair Township. He has taught the school of that township for
three winters, and is a graduate of the Brickville Academy."

Sam Hatch, standing by the stove, remembered him.

"Why, that's the backward fellow," said he, "that the girls used to guy.
His hair and eyebrows is as white as tow, and when he'd blush his face
used to turn pink. He always walked in from the country, four miles, every
morning to school and back again at night. There ain't much use getting him
take a woman's place. He's about the same as a woman hisself. He hardly
talks above a whisper, and he's afraid to look a girl in the face."

"Ain't he the boy Josiah Pilling took out o' the Orphans' Home, here about
twenty years ago?" queried Pap Buckwalder.

"Yep," replied Hatch. "I heerd somethin' about that when he went to the
'cademy here. He was took out of a home by a farmer, who gave him his name
'cause the boy didn't know his own, nor no one else did, and so he was
brought up on the farm."

"So that's the sort o' people they've put the education of our children
into the hands uv!" exclaimed Tobit McStenger. "Well, all I got to say is,
let him keep his hands off my boy Tobe, or he'll find out the kind of a
tough customer I am."

Tobit McStenger, in the few weeks immediately following this change in the
primary school, remained continuously industrious, to the surprise of all
who knew him. As Tobit was an expeditious oyster-opener, Tony Couch,
the saloon-keeper who employed him, was much rejoiced. Tobit toiled at
oyster-opening and little Tobe became regular in his attendance at school.

The new school-teacher, a broad, awkward, bashful youth, painfully blond,
came to town and accomplished that for which he had been called. He brought
discipline to the primary school, an achievement none easier for the fact
that many of his pupils were in their teens, and incidentally he suspended
Tobit McStenger the younger.

When little Tobe, glad of the enforced return to the liberties of his
begging days, brought home his soiled first reader and told his father that
the teacher had sent him from school with orders not to return until he
could learn to keep his face clean, the father became swollen with an
overflowing wrath. He swore frightfully, and started off, vowing that
he would "show the white-faced foundling how to treat decent people's
children."

And he had two tall drinks of whiskey put on the slate against him at
Couch's and proceeded to carry out his threat.

It was a cold day in December. Pilling, the teacher, sat near the stove in
the little square school-room, listening to the irrepressible hum of his
restless pupils and the predominating monotonous sound of a small girl's
voice reciting multiplication tables.

"Three times three are nine," she whined, drawlingly; "three times four are
twelve, three times--"

The little girl with the braided hair stopped short. A loud knock fell upon
the door.

A boy looked through the window, evidently saw the one who had knocked,
then cast a curious look at Pilling, the teacher. Pilling observed this,
and asked the boy:

"Who is it?"

After a moment of hesitation, the boy replied:

"It's old Patchy--I mean, Tobe McStenger's father."

Pilling, whose bashfulness was manifest only in the presence of women, had
the utmost calmness before his pupils. He walked quietly to the door and
locked it.

McStenger, furious without, heard the sound of the bolt being thrust into
place, whereupon he began to kick at the door. Pilling turned the chair
facing his class and told the girl with the braided hair to continue.

"Three times five are fifteen, three times six--"

A crashing sound was heard. McStenger had broken a window. Pilling looked
around, as if seeking some impromptu weapon. While he was doing so,
McStenger broke another window-pane with a club. Then McStenger went away.

That evening, Pilling had Tobit McStenger arrested for malicious mischief.
The oyster-opener was held pending trial until January court. He was then
sentenced to thirty days more in the county jail. Meanwhile little Tobe
mounted a freight-train one day to steal a ride, and Brickville has not
seen or heard of him since. He enlisted in the great army of vagabonds,
doubtless. Perhaps some city swallowed him.

Tobit McStenger felt at home in jail. It was not a bad place of residence
during the coldest months. But for one defect, jail life would have been
quite enviable; it forced upon him abstinence from alcoholic liquor.

Every period of thirty days has its termination, and Tobit McStenger became
a free man. He returned to his old life, opening oysters during part of
the time, idling and drinking during the other part. He made no attempt to
spoil the peace of Aubrey Pilling, and he only laughed when he heard of the
disappearance of Little Tobe.

Pilling, by his success in conducting the primary school, had won the
esteem of Brickville's citizens. His timidity had diminished, or, rather,
it had been discovered to be merely quietness, self-communion, instead
of timidity. He had shown himself less prudish than he had been thought.
Occasionally he drank whiskey or beer, which was looked upon as a good sign
in a man of his kind.

Tobit McStenger did not know this. He invariably evaded mention of Pilling.
People wondered what would happen when the two should meet. For Tobit was
known to be revengeful, and he was now, more than ever, in speech and look,
a bad man.

The expected and yet the unexpected happened one night in Couch's
saloon,--the scene of most of the eventful incidents in Tobit McStenger's
life since he had dawned upon Brickville. Tobit and Honesty Yerkes, Pap
Buckwalder, old Tony Couch himself, and half a score others were making a
conversational hubbub before the bar.

In walked Aubrey Pilling. He came quietly to an unoccupied spot at the
end of the bar and ordered a glass of beer, without looking at the
other drinkers. Some one nudged Tobit McStenger and pointed toward the
white-haired young pedagogue. The noise of talk broke off abruptly.

McStenger placed his back against the bar, resting his elbows upon it, and
turned a scornful gaze toward Pilling, who had taken one draught from his
glass of beer.

"Say, Tony," began McStenger, in his big, growling voice, "who's your
ladylike customer? Oh, it's him, is it? Well, he needn't be skeered of me.
I don't mix up with folks o' his sort. You see, people could only expect to
be insulted through their children by fellows of his birth--"

"Hush, Mack!" whispered Tony Couch, whose sense of deportment advised him
that McStenger was treading forbidden ground. Pilling had not looked up. He
stood quietly at some distance from the others, intent upon his glass of
beer on the bar before him, perfectly still.

But McStenger went on, more loudly than before:

"By fellows, as I said, who came from orphans' homes, and never knew who
their parents was, and whose mothers may have been God knows what--"

Pilling, without turning, had lifted his glass. With an easy motion he had
tossed its remaining contents of beer into the face of Tobit McStenger. The
latter drew back from the splash of the liquid as if stung. Then, with a
loud cry of rage, he leaped toward Pilling. The teacher turned and faced
him.

McStenger clapped one huge hand against Pilling's neck, and in an instant
thereafter his long, bony fingers were pressing upon the teacher's throat,
in what had the looks of a fatal clutch. But Pilling, with both his arms,
violently forced McStenger from him. The teacher took breath and McStenger
reached for a whiskey decanter. The others in the saloon looked on with
eager interest, fearing to come between such formidable combatants. Tony
Couch ran out in search of the town's only policeman. McStenger advanced
toward the teacher.

Pilling was farm bred. He had chopped down trees with his right arm alone
in his time. Pilling thrust forth his arm with unexpected suddenness. Upon
the floor, six feet behind his antagonist, was a cuspidor with jagged
edges.

And Tobit McStenger slept with his fathers.

The jury acquitted the teacher on the plea of self-defense. The loungers
in Couch's saloon judiciously said that it was a very bad break for Tobit
McStenger to have made.

XVI

THE SCARS

My friend the tune-maker has often unintentionally amused his acquaintances
by the gravity with which he attributes significance to the most trivial
occurrences.

He turns the most thoughtless speeches, uttered in jest, into prophecies.

"Very well," he used to say to us at a cafe table, "you may laugh. But it's
astonishing how things turn out sometimes."

"As for instance?" some one would inquire.

"Never mind. But I could give an instance if I wished to do so."

One evening, over a third bottle, he grew unusually communicative.

"Just to illustrate how things happen," he began, speaking so as to be
audible above the din of the cafe to the rest of us around the table, "I'll
tell you about a man I know. One February morning, about eight years ago,
he was hurrying to catch a train. There was ice on the sidewalks and people
had to walk cautiously or ride. As he was turning a corner he saw by a
clock that he had only five minutes in which to reach the station, three
blocks away. An instant later he saw a shapely figure in soft furs suddenly
describe a forward movement and drop in a heap to the sidewalk, ten feet
in front of him. A melodious light soprano scream arose from the heap.
A divinely turned ankle in a quite human black stocking was momentarily
visible. He was by the side of the mass of furs and skirts in three steps.

"He caught the pretty girl under the arms and elevated her to a standing
posture. She recovered her breath and her self-possession promptly and
glowed upon him with the brightest of smiles. He had never before seen her.

"'Oh, thank you,' she said; adding, with the unconscious exaggeration of a
schoolgirl, 'You've saved my life.'

"Realizing the absurdity of this speech, she blushed. Whereupon her
rescuer, feeling that the situation warranted him in turning the matter to
jest, replied:

"'That being the case, according to the rules of romance, I ought to marry
you, like all the men who rescue the heroines in stories.'

"'Oh,' she answered, quickly,' this isn't in a novel; it's real life.'

"'Yes; besides which, I see by the clock over there I have only four
minutes in which to catch a train. Good morning.'

"And he ran off without taking a second glance at her. He arrived at the
station in due time.

"Three years after that he married the most charming woman in the world,
after an acquaintance of only six months.

"This woman is as beautiful as she is amiable. Nature has not been guilty
of a single defect in her construction. A tiny scar upon her knee is all
the more noticeable because of its solitude.

"It is a peculiarity of scars that each has a history. The history of this
one has thus far, for no adequate reason, remained a family secret.

"Another noteworthy fact about scars is that they may be, and in many cases
they are, useful for purposes of identification.

"Of course you anticipate the dramatic climax of my story, gentlemen.
Nevertheless, let me give it, for the sake of completeness, in the form of
a dialogue between the husband and the wife.

"'How came the wound there?'

"'Oh, I fell against the corner of a paving-stone one icy morning three
years ago.'

"'And to think that I was not there to help you up!'

"'True; but another young man served the purpose, and I'm fraid he missed a
train on my account.'

"'What! It wasn't on the corner of ---- and ---- Streets?

"'It was just there. How did you know?'

"So you see, as they completely proved by comparing recollections, the
little speech uttered in merriment had been prophetic, a fact that they
probably would never have learned had it not been for the identifying
service of the scar."

"But if this has been kept a family secret, how do you happen to know it,
and by what right do you divulge it?" one of us asked.

The ballad composer blushed and clouded his face with tobacco smoke; and
then it recurred to us all that "the most charming woman in the world" is
his wife.

XVII

"LA GITANA"

This is not an attempt to palliate the foolishness of Billy Folsom. It is
not an essay in the emotional or the pathetic. You may pity him or reproach
him, if you like, but my purpose is not to evoke any feeling toward or
opinion of him. I do not seek to play upon your sympathies or to put you
into a mood, or to delineate a character. I simply tell the story of how
certain critical points in a man's life were accompanied by music; how a
destiny was affected by a tune. Anything aside from mere narrative in this
account will be incidental and accidental. The manifestations of love,
of wounded vanity, of recklessness; of even the death itself, are here
subsidiary in interest to the train of circumstance. He who underwent them
is not the hero of the recital; she who caused them is not the heroine. The
heroine is a melody, the waltz tune of "La Gitana."

Everybody remembers when the tune was regnant. Its notes leaped gaily from
the strings of every theatre orchestra; soubrettes in fluffy raiment and
silk stockings yelled it singly and in chorus; hand-organs blared it forth;
dancers kicked up their toes to it; it monopolized the atmosphere for its
dwelling-place; it was everywhere.

Until one night, however, it did not touch the ear of Billy Folsom. He had
stayed late in the country, under the delusion that he was hunting.
It seems there are a few shootable things yet in certain parts of
Pennsylvania, and Folsom had the time and money to linger in search of
them. He came back to town in fine, exhilarating November weather, and on
one of these evenings when the joy of living is keenest, he and I strolled
with the crowd. Why I strolled with Folsom I do not know, for he was not a
man of ideas. He was even so bad as to be vain of his personal appearance,
especially upon having resumed the dress of the city after months of
outing.

We passed one of these theatres whose stages are near the street. A musical
farce was current there. From an open window came the tune, waylaying us as

Book of the day: