Burnham Breaker by Homer Greene

Mike Greene and the Little Greene Schoolhouse (http://www.users.nac.net/mgreene/Homer_Greene_Museum.php) for supplying missing pages for this rare book. BURNHAM BREAKER BY HOMER GREENE AUTHOR OF “THE BLIND BROTHER” TO MY FATHER, WHOSE GRAY HAIRS I HONOR, AND WHOSE PERFECT MANHOOD I REVERE, THIS VOLUME IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR. HONESDALE, PENN., SEPT. 29, 1887. CONTENTS. CHAPTER
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Mike Greene and the Little Greene Schoolhouse (http://www.users.nac.net/mgreene/Homer_Greene_Museum.php) for supplying missing pages for this rare book.





































The city of Scranton lies in the centre of the Lackawanna coal-field, in the State of Pennsylvania. Year by year the suburbs of the city creep up the sides of the surrounding hills, like the waters of a rising lake.

Standing at any point on this shore line of human habitations, you can look out across the wide landscape and count a score of coal-breakers within the limits of your first glance. These breakers are huge, dark buildings that remind you of castles of the olden time. They are many-winged and many-windowed, and their shaft-towers rise high up toward the clouds and the stars. About the feet of those in the valley the waves of the out-reaching city beat and break, and out on the hill-sides they stand like mighty fortresses built to guard the lives and fortunes of the multitudes who toil beneath them. But they are not long-lived. Like human beings, they rise, they flourish, they die and are forgotten. Not one in hundreds of the people who walk the streets of Scranton to-day, or who dig the coal from its surrounding hills, can tell you where Burnham Breaker stood a quarter of a century ago. Yet there are men still living, and boys who have grown to manhood, scores of them, who toiled for years in the black dust breathed out from its throats of iron, and listened to the thunder of its grinding jaws from dawn to dark of many and many a day.

These will surely tell you where the breaker stood. They are proud to have labored there in other years. They will speak to you of that time with pleasant memories. It was thought to be a stroke of fortune to obtain work at Burnham Breaker. It was just beyond the suburbs of the city as they then were, and near to the homes of all the workmen. The vein of coal at this point was of more than ordinary thickness, and of excellent quality, and these were matters of much moment to the miners who worked there. Then, the wages were always paid according to the highest rate, promptly and in full.

But there was something more, and more important than all this, to be considered. Robert Burnham, the chief power in the company, and the manager of its interests, was a man whose energetic business qualities and methods did not interfere with his concern for the welfare of his employees. He was not only just, but liberal and kind. He held not only the confidence but the good-will, even the affection, of those who labored under him. There were never any strikes at the Burnham mines. The men would have considered it high treason in any one to advocate a strike against the interests of Robert Burnham.

Yet it was no place for idling. There were, no laggards there. Men had to work, and work hard too, for the wages that bought their daily bread. Even the boys in the screen-room were held as closely to their tasks as care and vigilance could hold them. Theirs were no light tasks, either. They sat all day on their little benches, high up in the great black building, with their eyes fixed always on the shallow streams of broken coal passing down the iron-sheathed chutes, and falling out of sight below them; and it was their duty to pick the particles of slate and stone from out these moving masses, bending constantly above them as they worked. It was not the physical exertion that made their task a hard one; there was not much straining of the joints or muscles, not even in the constant bending of the body to that one position.

Neither was it that their tender hands were often cut and bruised by the sharp pieces of the coal or the heavy ones of slate. But it was hard because they were boys; young boys, with bounding pulses, chafing at restraint, full to the brim with life and spirit, longing for the fresh air, the bright sunlight, the fields, the woods, the waters, the birds, the flowers, all things beautiful and wonderful that nature spreads upon the earth to make of it a paradise for boys. To think of all these things, to catch brief glimpses of the happiness of children who were not born to toil, and then to sit, from dawn to mid-day and from mid-day till the sun went down, and listen to the ceaseless thunder of moving wheels and the constant sliding of the streams of coal across their iron beds,–it was this that wearied them.

To know that in the woods the brooks were singing over pebbly bottoms, that in the fields the air was filled with the fragrance of blossoming flowers, that everywhere the free wind rioted at will, and then to sit in such a prison-house as this all day, and breathe an atmosphere so thick with dust that even the bits of blue sky framed in by the open windows in the summer time were like strips of some dark thunder-cloud,–it was this, this dull monotony of dizzy sight and doleful sound and changeless post of duty, that made their task a hard one.

There came a certain summer day at Burnham Breaker when the labor and confinement fell with double weight upon the slate-pickers in the screen-room. It was circus day. The dead-walls and bill-boards of the city had been gorgeous for weeks and weeks with pictures heralding the wonders of the coming show. By the turnpike road, not forty rods from where the breaker stood, there was a wide barn the whole side of which had been covered with brightly colored prints of beasts and birds, of long processions, of men turning marvellous somersaults, of ladies riding, poised on one foot, on the backs of flying horses, of a hundred other things to charm the eyes and rouse anticipation in the breasts of boys.

Every day, when the whistle blew at noon, the boys ran, shouting, from the breaker, and hurried, with their dinner-pails, to the roadside barn, to eat and gaze alternately, and discuss the pictured wonders.

And now it was all here; beasts, birds, vaulting men, flying women, racing horses and all. They had seen the great white tents gleaming in the sunlight up in the open fields, a mile away, and had heard the distant music of the band and caught glimpses of the long procession as it wound through the city streets below them. This was at the noon hour, while they were waiting for the signal that should call them back into the dust and din of the screen-room, where they might dream, indeed, of circus joys while bending to their tasks, but that was all. There was much wishing and longing. There was some murmuring. There was even a rash suggestion from one boy that they should go, in spite of the breaker and the bosses, and revel for a good half-day in the pleasures of the show. But this treasonable proposition was frowned down without delay. These boys had caught the spirit of loyalty from the men who worked at Burnham Breaker, and not even so great a temptation as this could keep them from the path of duty.

When the bell rang for them to return to work, not one was missing, each bench had its accustomed occupant, and the coal that was poured into the cars at the loading-place was never more free from slate and stone than it was that afternoon.

But it was hot up in the screen-room. The air was close and stifling, and heavy with the choking dust. The noise of the iron-teethed rollers crunching the lumps of coal, and the bang and rattle of ponderous machinery were never before so loud and discordant, and the black streams moving down their narrow channels never passed beneath these dizzy boys in monotony quite so dull and ceaseless as they were passing this day.

Suddenly the machinery stopped. The grinding and the roaring ceased. The frame-work of the giant building was quiet from its trembling. The iron gates that held back the broken coal were quickly shut and the long chutes were empty.

The unexpected stillness was almost startling. The boys looked up in mute astonishment.

Through the dust, in the door-way at the end of the room, they saw the breaker boss and the screen-room boss talking with Robert Burnham. Then Mr. Burnham advanced a step or two and said:–

“Boys, Mr. Curtis tells me you are all here. I am pleased with your loyalty. I had rather have the good-will and confidence of the boys who work for me than to have the money that they earn. Now, I intend that you shall see the circus if you wish to, and you will be provided with the means of admission to it. Mr. Curtis will dismiss you for the rest of the day, and as you pass out you will each receive a silver quarter as a gift for good behavior.”

For a minute the boys were silent. It was too sudden a vision of happiness to be realized at once. Then one little fellow stood up on his bench and shouted:–

“Hooray for Mr. Burnham!” The next moment the air was filled with shouts and hurrahs so loud and vigorous that they went echoing through every dust-laden apartment of the huge building from head to loading-place.

Then the boys filed out. One by one they went through the door-way, each, as he passed, receiving from Mr. Burnham’s own hand the shining piece of silver that should admit him to the wonders of the “greatest show on earth.”

They spoke their thanks, rudely indeed, and in voices that were almost too much burdened with happiness for quiet speech.

But their eyes were sparkling with anticipation; their lips were parted in smiles, their white teeth were gleaming from their dust-black faces, each look and action was eloquent with thoughts of coming pleasure. And the one who enjoyed it more than all the others was Robert Burnham.

It is so old that it was trite and tiresome centuries ago, that saying about one finding one’s greatest happiness in making others happy. But it has never ceased to be true; it never will cease to be true; it is one of those primal principles of humanity that no use nor law nor logic can ever hope to falsify.

The last boy in the line differed apparently in no respect from those who had preceded him. The faces of all of them were black with coal-dust, and their clothes were patched and soiled. But this one had just cut his hand, and, as he held it up to let the blood drip from it you noticed that it was small and delicate in shape.

“Why, my boy!” exclaimed Mr. Burnham, “you have cut your hand. Let me see.”

“‘Taint much, sir,” the lad replied; “I often cut ’em a little. You’re apt to, a-handlin’ the coal that way.” The man had the little hand in his and bent to examine the wound. “That’s quite a cut,” he said, “as clean as though it had been made with a knife. Come, let’s wash it off and fix it up a little.”

He led the way to the corner of the room, uncovered the water-pail, dipped out a cup of water, and began to bathe the bleeding hand.

“That shows it’s good coal, sir,” said the boy, “Poor coal wouldn’t make such a clean cut as that. The better the coal the sharper ’tis.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Burnham, smiling. “Taking the circumstances into consideration, I regard that as the best compliment for our coal that I have ever received.”

The hand had been washed off as well as water without soap could do it.

“I guess that’s as clean as it’ll come,” said the boy. “It’s pirty hard work to git ’em real clean. The dirt gits into the corners so, an’ into the chaps an’ cuts, an’ you can’t git it all out, not even for Sunday.”

The man was looking around for something to bind up the wound with. “Have you a handkerchief?” he asked.

The boy drew from an inner pocket what had once been a red bandanna handkerchief of the old style, but alas! it was sadly soiled, it was worn beyond repair and crumpled beyond belief.

“‘Taint very clean,” he said, apologetically. “You can’t keep a han’kerchy very clean a-workin’ in the breaker, it’s so dusty here.”

“Oh! it’s good enough,” replied the man, noticing the boy’s embarrassment, and trying to reassure him, “it’s plenty good enough, but it’s red you see, and red won’t do. Here, I have a white one. This is just the thing,” he added, tearing his own handkerchief into strips and binding them carefully about the wounded hand. “There!” giving the bandage a final adjustment; “that will be better for it. Now, then, you’re off to the circus; good-by.”

The lad took a step or two forward, hesitated a moment, and then turned back. The breaker boss and the screen-room boss were already gone and he was alone with Mr. Burnham.

“Would it make any dif’rence to you,” he asked, holding up the silver coin, “if I spent this money for sumpthin’ else, an’ didn’t go to the circus with it?”

“Why, no!” said the man, wonderingly, “I suppose not; but I thought you boys would rather spend your money at the circus than to spend it in almost any other way.”

“Oh! I’d like to go well enough. I al’ays did like a circus, an’ I wanted to go to this one, ’cause it’s a big one; but they’s sumpthin’ else I want worse’n that, an’ I’m a-tryin’ to save up a little money for it.”

Robert Burnham’s curiosity was aroused. Here was a boy who was willing to forego the pleasures of the circus that he might gratify some greater desire; a strong and noble one, the man felt sure, to call for such a sacrifice. Visions of a worn-out mother, an invalid sister, a mortgaged home, passed through his mind as he said: “And what is it you are saving your money for, my boy, if I am at liberty to ask?”

“To’stablish my’dentity, sir.”

“To do what?”

“To’stablish my’dentity; that’s what Uncle Billy calls it.”

“Why, what’s the matter with your identity?”

“I ain’t got any; I’m a stranger; I don’t know who my ‘lations are.”

“Don’t know–who–your relations are! Why, what’s your name?”

“Ralph, that’s all; I ain’t got any other name. They call me Ralph Buckley sometimes, ’cause I live with Uncle Billy; but he ain’t my uncle, you know,–I only call him Uncle Billy ’cause I live with him, an’–an’ he’s good to me, that’s all.”

At the name “Ralph,” coming so suddenly from the lad’s lips, the man had started, turned pale, and then his face flushed deeply. He drew the boy down tenderly on the bench beside him, and said:–

“Tell me about yourself, Ralph; where do you say you live?”

“With Uncle Billy,–Bachelor Billy they call him; him that dumps at the head, pushes the cars out from the carriage an’ dumps ’em; don’t you know Billy Buckley?”

The man nodded assent and the boy went on:–

“He’s been awful good to me, Uncle Billy has; you don’t know how good he’s been to me; but he ain’t my uncle, he ain’t no ‘lation to me; I ain’t got no ‘lations ‘at I know of; I wish’t I had.”

The lad looked wistfully out through the open window to the far line of hills with their summits veiled in a delicate mist of blue.

“But where did Billy get you?” asked Mr. Burnham.

“He foun’ me; he foun’ me on the road, an’ he took me in an’ took care o’ me, and he didn’t know me at all; that’s where he’s so good. I was sick, an’ he hired Widow Maloney to tend me while he was a-workin’, and when I got well he got me this place a-pickin’ slate in the breaker.”

“But, Ralph, where had you come from when Billy found you?”

“Well, now, I’ll tell you all I know about it. The first thing ‘at I ‘member is ‘at I was a-livin’ with Gran’pa Simon in Philadelphy. He wasn’t my gran’pa, though; if he had ‘a’ been he wouldn’t ‘a’ ‘bused me so. I don’t know where he got me, but he treated me very bad; an’ when I wouldn’t do bad things for him, he whipped me, he whipped me awful, an’ he shet me up in the dark all day an’ all night, ‘an didn’t give me nothin’ to eat; an’ I’m dreadful ‘fraid o’ the dark; an’ I wasn’t more’n jest about so high, neither. Well, you see, I couldn’t stan’ it, an’ one day I run away. I wouldn’t ‘a’ run away if I could ‘a’ stood it, but I _couldn’t_ stan’ it no longer. Gran’pa Simon wasn’t there when I run away. He used to go off an’ leave me with Ole Sally, an’ she wasn’t much better’n him, only she couldn’t see very well, an’ she couldn’t follow me. I slep’ with Buck the bootblack that night, an’ nex’ mornin’, early, I started out in the country. I was ‘fraid they’d find me if I stayed aroun’ the city. It was pirty near afternoon ‘fore I got out where the fields is, an’ then a woman, she give me sumpthin’ to eat. I wanted to git away from the city fur’s I could, an’ day-times I walked fast, an’ nights I slep’ under the big trees, an’ folks in the houses along the road, they give me things to eat. An’ then a circus came along, an’ the man on the tiger wagon he give me a ride, an’ then I went everywhere with the circus, an’ I worked for ’em, oh! for a good many days; I worked real hard too, a-doin’ everything, an’ they never let me go into their show but once, only jest once. Well, w’en we got here to Scranton I got sick, an’ they wouldn’t take me no furder ’cause I wasn’t any good to ’em, an’ they went off an’ lef me, an’ nex’ mornin’ I laid down up there along the road a-cryin’ an’ a-feelin’ awful bad, an’ then Uncle Billy, he happened to come that way, an’ he foun’ me an’ took me home with him. He lives in part o’ Widow Maloney’s house, you know, an’ he ain’t got nobody but me, an’ I ain’t got nobody but him, an’ we live together. That’s why they call him Bachelor Billy, ’cause he ain’t never got married. Oh! he’s been awful good to me, Uncle Billy has, awful good!” And the boy looked out again musingly into the blue distance.

The man had not once stirred during this recital. His eyes had been fixed on the boy’s face, and he had listened with intense interest.

“Well, Ralph,” he said, “that is indeed a strange story. And is that all you know about yourself? Have you no clew to your parentage or birthplace?”

“No, sir; not any. That’s what I want to find out when I git money enough.”

“How much money have you now?”

“About nine dollars, countin’ what I’ll save from nex’ pay day.”

“And how do you propose to proceed when you have money enough?”

“Hire a lawyer to ‘vestigate. The lawyer he keeps half the money, an’ gives the other half of it to a ‘tective, an’ then the ‘tective, he finds out all about you. Uncle Billy says that’s the way. He says if you git a good smart lawyer you can find out ‘most anything.”

“And suppose you should find your parents, and they should be rich and give you a great deal of money, how would you spend it?”

“Well, I don’t know; I’d give a lot of it to Uncle Billy, I guess, an’ some to Widow Maloney, an’–an’ I’d go to the circus, an’–but I wouldn’t care so much about the money, sir, if I could have folks like other boys have. If I could only have a mother, that’s what I want worst, a mother to kiss me every day, an’ be good to me that way, like mothers are, you know; if I could only jest have that, I wouldn’t want nothin’ else, not never any more.”

The man turned his face away.

“And wouldn’t you like to have a father too?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, I would; but I _could_ git along without a father, a real father. Uncle Billy’s been a kind o’ father to me; but I ain’t never had no mother, nor no sister; an’ that’s what I want now, an” I want ’em very bad. Seems, sometimes, jes’ as if I _couldn’t_ wait; jes’ as if I couldn’t stan’ it no longer ‘thout ’em. Don’t–don’t you s’pose the things we can’t have is the things we want worst?”

“Yes, my boy: yes. You’ve spoken a truth as old as the ages. That which I myself would give my fortune for I can never have. I mean my little boy who–who died. I cannot have him back. His name too was Ralph.”

For a few moments there was silence in the screen-room. The child was awed by the man’s effort to suppress his deep emotion.

At last Ralph said, rising:–

“Well, I mus’ go now an’ tell Uncle Billy.”

Mr. Burnham rose in his turn.

“Yes,” he said, “you’ll be late for the circus if you don’t hurry. What! you’re not going? Oh! yes, you _must_ go. Here, here’s a silver dollar to add to your identity fund; now you can afford to spend the quarter. Yes,” as the boy hesitated to accept the proffered money, “yes, you _must_ take it; you can pay it back, you know, when–when you come to your own. And wait! I want to help you in that matter of establishing your identity. Come to my office, and we’ll talk it over. Let me see; to-day is Tuesday. Friday we shall shut down the screens a half-day for repairs. Come on Friday afternoon.”

“Thank you, sir; yes, sir, I will.”

“All right; good-by!”

“Good-by, sir!”

When Ralph reached the circus grounds the crowds were still pushing in through the gate at the front of the big tent, and he had to take his place far back in the line and move slowly along with the others.

Leaning wearily against a post near the entrance, and watching the people as they passed in, stood an old man. He was shabbily dressed, his clothes’ were very dusty, and an old felt hat was pulled low on his forehead. He was pale and gaunt, and an occasional hollow cough gave conclusive evidence of his disease. But ‘he had a pair of sharp gray eyes that looked out from under the brim of his hat, and gave close scrutiny to every one who passed by. The breaker boys, who had gone into the tent in a body some minutes earlier, had attracted his attention and aroused his interest. By and by his eyes rested upon Ralph, who stood back in the line, awaiting the forward movement of the crowd. The old man started perceptibly at sight of the boy, and uttered an ejaculation of surprise, which ended in a cough. He moved forward as if to meet him; then, apparently on second thought, he retreated to his post. But he kept his eyes fixed on the lad, who was coming slowly nearer, and his thin face took on an expression of the deepest satisfaction. He turned partly aside, however, as the boy approached him, and stood with averted countenance until the lad had passed through the gate.

Ralph was just in time. He had no sooner got in and found a seat, with the other breaker boys, away up under the edge of the tent, than the grand procession made its entrance. There were golden chariots, there were ladies in elegant riding habits and men in knightly costumes, there were prancing steeds and gorgeous banners, elephants, camels, monkeys, clowns, a moving mass of dazzling beauty and bright colors that almost made one dizzy to look upon it; and through it all the great band across the arena poured its stirring music in a way to make the pulses leap and the hands and feet keep time to its sounding rhythm.

Then came the athletes and the jugglers, the tight-rope walkers and the trapeze performers, the trained dogs and horses, the clowns and the monkeys, the riding and the races; all of it too wonderful, too mirthful, too complete to be adequately described. At least, this was what the breaker boys thought.

After the performance was ended, they went out to the menagerie tent, in a body, to look at the animals.

One of the boys became separated from the others, and stood watching the antics of the monkeys, and laughing gleefully at each comical trick performed by the grave-faced little creatures. Looking up, he saw an old man standing by him; an old man with sharp gray eyes and dusty clothes, who leaned heavily upon a cane.

“Curious things, these monkeys,” said the old man.

“Ain’t they, though!” replied the boy. “Luk at that un, now!–don’t he beat all? ain’t he funny?”

“Very!” responded the old man, gazing across the open space to where Ralph stood chattering with his companions.

“Sonny,” said he, “can you tell me who that boy is, over yonder, with his hand done up in a white cloth?”

“That boy w’ats a-talkin’ to Jimmy Dooley, you mean?”

“Yes, the one there by the lion’s cage.”

“You mean that boy there with the blue patch on his pants?”

“Yes, yes! the one with his hand bandaged; don’t you see?”

“Oh, that’s Ralph.”

“Ralph who?”

“Ralph nobody. He ain’t got no other name. He lives with Bachelor Billy.”

“Is–is Bachelor Billy his father?”

“Naw; he ain’t got no father.”

“Does he work with you in the mines?”

“In the mines? naw; we don’t work in the mines; we work in the screen-room up t’ the breaker, a-pickin’ slate. He sets nex’ to me.”

“How long has he been working there?”

“Oh, I donno; couple o’ years, I guess. You want to see ‘im? I’ll go call ‘im.”

“No; I don’t care to see him. Don’t call him; he isn’t the boy I’m looking for, any way.”

“There! he’s a-turnin’ this way now. I’ll have ‘im here in a minute; hey, Ralph! Ralph! here he comes.”

But the old man was gone. He had disappeared suddenly and mysteriously. A little later he was trudging slowly along the dusty road, through the crowds of people, up toward the city. He was smiling, and muttering to himself. “Found him at last!” he exclaimed, in a whisper, “found him at last! It’ll be all right now; only be cautious, Simon! be cautious!”



It was the day after the circus. Robert Burnham sat in his office on Lackawanna Avenue, busy with his afternoon mail. As he laid the last letter aside the incidents of the previous day recurred to him, and he saw again, in imagination, the long line of breaker-boys, with happy, dusty faces, filing slowly by him, grateful for his gifts, eager for the joys to come. The pleasure he had found in his generous deed stayed with him, as such pleasures always do, and was manifest even now in the light of his kindly face.

He had pondered, too, upon the strange story of the boy Ralph. It had awakened his interest and aroused his sympathy. He had spoken to his wife about the lad when he went home at night; and he had taken his little daughter on his knee and told to her the story of the boy who worked all day in the breaker, who had no father and no mother, and whose name was–Ralph! Both wife and daughter had listened eagerly to the tale, and had made him promise to look carefully to the lad and help him to some better occupation than the drudgery of the screen-room.

But he had already resolved to do this, and more. The mystery surrounding the child’s life should be unravelled. Obscure and humble though his origin might be, he should, at least, bear the name to which his parentage entitled him. The more he thought on this subject, the wider grew his intentions concerning the child. His fatherly nature was aroused and eager for action.

There was something about the lad, too, that reminded him, not so much of what his own child had been as of what he might have been had he lived to this boy’s age. It was not alone in the name, but something also in the tone of voice, in the turn of the head, in the look of the brown eyes; something which struck a chord of memory or hope, and brought no unfamiliar sound.

The thought pleased him, and he dwelt upon it, and, turning away from his table with its accumulation of letters and papers, he looked absently out into the busy street and laid plans for the future of this boy who had dropped so suddenly into the current of his life.

By and by he heard some one in the outer office inquiring for him. Then his door was opened, and a stranger entered, an old man in shabby clothes, leaning on a cane. He was breathing heavily, apparently from the exertion of climbing the steps at the entrance, and he was no sooner in the room than he fell into a violent fit of coughing.

He seated himself carefully in a chair at the other side of the table from Mr. Burnham, placed a well worn leather satchel on the floor by his side, and laid his cane across it.

When he had recovered somewhat from his shortness of breath, he said: “Excuse me. A little unusual exertion always brings on a fit of coughing. This is Mr. Robert Burnham, I suppose?”

“That is my name,” answered Burnham, regarding his visitor with some curiosity.

“Ah! just so; you don’t know me, I presume?”

“No, I don’t remember to have met you before.”

“It’s not likely that you have, not at all likely. My name is Craft, Simon Craft. I live in Philadelphia when I’m at home.”

“Ah! Philadelphia is a fine city. What can I do for you, Mr. Craft?”

“That isn’t the question, sir. The question is, what can _I_ do for _you_?”

The old man looked carefully around the room, rose, went to the door, which had been left ajar, closed it noiselessly, and resumed his seat.

“Well,” said Mr. Burnham, calmly, “what can you do for me?”

“Much,” responded the old man, resting his elbows on the table in front of him; “very much if you will give me your time and attention for a few moments.”

“My time is at your disposal,” replied Burnham, smiling, and leaning back in his chair somewhat wearily, “and I am all attention; proceed.”

Thus far the old man had succeeded in arousing in his listener only a languid curiosity. This coal magnate was accustomed to being interrupted by “cranks” of all kinds, as are most rich men, and often enjoyed short interviews with them. This one had opened the conversation in much the usual manner, and the probability seemed to be that he would now go on to unfold the usual scheme by which his listener’s thousands could be converted into millions in an incredibly short time, under the skilful management of the schemer. But his very next words dispelled this idea and aroused Robert Burnham to serious attention.

“Do you remember,” the old man asked, “the Cherry Brook bridge disaster that occurred near Philadelphia some eight years ago?”

“Yes,” replied Burnham, straightening up in his chair, “I do; I have good reason to remember it. Were you on that train?”

“I was on that train. Terrible accident, wasn’t it?”

“Terrible; yes, it was terrible indeed.”

“Wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the cars hadn’t taken fire and burned up after they went down, would it?”

“The fire was the most distressing part of it; but why do you ask me these questions?”

“You were on board, I believe, you and your wife and your child, and all went down. Isn’t that so?”

“Yes, it is so. But why, I repeat, are you asking me these questions? It is no pleasure to me to talk about this matter, I assure you.”

Craft gave no heed to this protest, but kept on:–

“You and your wife were rescued in an unconscious state, were you not, just as the fire was creeping up to you?”

The old man seemed to take delight in torturing his hearer by calling up painful memories. Receiving no answer to his question, he continued:–

“But the boy, the boy Ralph, he perished, didn’t he? Was burned up in the wreck, wasn’t he?”

“Stop!” exclaimed Burnham. “You have said enough. If you have any object in repeating this harrowing story, let me know what it is at once; if not, I have no time to listen to you further.”

“I have an object,” replied Craft, deliberately, “a most important object, which I will disclose to you if you will be good enough to answer my question. Your boy Ralph was burned up in the wreck at Cherry Bridge, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was. That is our firm belief; what then?”

“Simply this, that you are mistaken.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your boy is not dead.”

Burnham started to his feet, unable for the moment to speak. His face took on a sudden pallor, then a smile of incredulity settled on his lips.

“You are wild,” he said; “the child perished; we have abundant proof of it.”

“I say the child is not dead,” persisted the old man; “I saw him–yesterday.”

“Then, bring him to me. Bring him to me and I will believe you.”

Burnham had settled down into his chair with a look of weary hopelessness on his face.

“You have no faith in me,” said Craft. “Mere perversity might make you fail to recognize the child. Suppose I show you further proofs of the truth of what I say.”

“Very well; produce them.”

The old man bent down, took his leather hand-bag from the floor, and placed it on the table before him. The exertion brought on a spasm of coughing. When he had recovered from this, he drew an old wallet from his pocket and took from it a key, with which he unlocked the satchel. Then, drawing forth a package and untying and unrolling it, he shook it out and held it up for Robert Burnham to look at. It was a little flannel cloak. It had once been white, but it was sadly stained and soiled now. The delicate ribbons that had ornamented it were completely faded, and out of the front a great hole had been burned, the edges of which were still black and crumbling.

“Do you recognize it?” asked the old man.

Burnham seized it with both hands.

“It is his!” he exclaimed. “It is Ralph’s! He wore it that day. Where did you get it? Where did you get it, I say?”

Craft did not reply. He was searching in his hand-bag for something else. Finally he drew out a child’s cap, a quaint little thing of velvet and lace, and laid it on the table.

This, too, was grasped by Burnham with eager fingers, and looked upon with loving eyes.

“Do you still think me wild?” said the old man, “or do you believe now that I have some knowledge of what I am talking about?”

His listener did not answer the question. His mind seemed to be far away. He said, finally:–

“There–there was a locket, a little gold locket. It had his father’s picture in it. Did–did you find that?”

The visitor smiled, opened the wallet again, and produced the locket. The father took it in his trembling hands, looked on it very tenderly for a moment, and then his eyes became flooded with tears.

“It was his,” he said at last, very gently; “they were all his; tell me now–where did you get them?”

“I came by them honestly, Mr. Burnham, honestly; and I have kept them faithfully. But I will tell you the whole story. I think you are ready now to hear it with attention, and to consider it fairly.”

The old man pushed his satchel aside, pulled his chair closer to the table, cleared his throat, and began:–

“It was May 13, 1859. I’d been out in the country at my son’s, and was riding into the city in the evening. I was in the smoking-car. Along about nine o’clock there was a sudden jerk, then half a dozen more jerks, and the train came to a dead stop. I got up and went out with the rest, and we then saw that the bridge had broken down, and the three cars behind the smoker had tumbled into the creek. I hurried down the bank and did what I could to help those in the wreck, but it was very dark and the cars were piled up in a heap, and it was hard to do anything. Then the fire broke out and we had to stand back. But I heard a child crying by a broken window, just where the middle car had struck across the rear one, and I climbed up there at the risk of my life and looked in. The fire gave some light by this time, and I saw a young woman lying there, caught between the timbers and perfectly still. A sudden blaze showed me that she was dead. Then the child cried again; I saw where he was, and reached in and pulled him out just as the fire caught in his cloak. I jumped down into the water with him, and put out the fire and saved him. He wasn’t hurt much. It was your boy Ralph. By this time the wreck was all ablaze and we had to get up on the bank.

“I took the child around among the people there, and tried to find out who he belonged to, but no one seemed to know anything about him. He wasn’t old enough to talk distinctly, so he couldn’t tell me much about himself; not anything, in fact, except that his name was Ralph. I took him home with me to my lodgings in the city that night, and the next morning I went out to the scene of the accident to try to discover some clew to his identity. But I couldn’t find out anything about him; nothing at all. The day after that I was taken sick. The exertion, the exposure, and the wetting I had got in the water of the brook, brought on a severe attack of pneumonia. It was several months before I got around again as usual, and I am still suffering, you see, from the results of that sickness. After that, as my time and means and business would permit, I went out and searched for the boy’s friends. It is useless for me to go into the details of that search, but I will say that I made every effort and every sacrifice possible during five years, without the slightest success. In the meantime the child remained with me, and I clothed him and fed him and cared for him the very best I could, considering the circumstances in which I was placed.

“About three years ago I happened to be in Scranton on business, and, by the merest chance, I learned that you had been in the Cherry Brook disaster, that you had lost your child there, and that the child’s name was Ralph. Following up the clew, I became convinced that this boy was your son. I thought the best way to break the news to you was to bring you the child himself. With that end in view, I returned immediately to Philadelphia, only to find Ralph–missing. He had either run away or been stolen, I could not tell which. I was not able to trace him. Three months later I heard that he had been with a travelling circus company, but had left them after a few days. After that I lost track of him entirely for about three years. Now, however, I have found him. I saw him so lately as yesterday. He is alive and well.”

Several times during the recital of this narrative, the old man had been interrupted by spasms of coughing, and, now that he was done, he gave himself up to a violent and prolonged fit of it.

Robert Burnham had listened intently enough, there was no doubt of that; but he did not yet seem quite ready to believe that his boy was really alive.

“Why did you not tell me,” he asked, “when the child left you, so that I might have assisted you in the search for him?”

Craft hesitated a moment.

“I did not dare to,” he said. I was afraid you would blame me too severely for not taking better care of him, and I was hoping every day to find him myself.”

“Well, let that pass. Where is he now? Where is the boy who, you say, is my son?”

“Pardon me, sir, but I cannot tell you that just yet. I know where he is. I can bring him to you on two days’ notice. But, before I do that, I feel that, in justice to myself, I should receive some compensation, not only for the care of the child through five years of his life, but also for the time, toil, and money spent in restoring him to you.”

Burnham’s brow darkened.

“Ah! I see,” he said. “This is to be a money transaction. Your object is to get gain from it. Am I right?”

“Exactly. My motive is not wholly an unselfish one, I assure you.”

“Still, you insist upon the absolute truth of your story?”

“I do, certainly.”

“Well, then, what is your proposition? name it.”

“Yes, sir. After mature consideration, I have concluded that three thousand dollars is not too large a sum.”

“Well, what then?”

“I am to receive that amount when I bring your son to you.”

“But suppose I should not recognize nor acknowledge as my son the person whom you will bring?”

“Then you will pay me no money, and the boy will return home with me.”

Burnham wheeled suddenly in his chair and rose to his feet. “Listen!” he exclaimed, earnestly. “If you will bring my boy to me, alive, unharmed, my own boy Ralph, I will give you twice three thousand dollars.”

“In cash?”

“In cash.”

“It’s a bargain. You shall see him within two days. But–you may change your mind in the meantime; will you give me a writing to secure me?”


Mr. Burnham resumed his seat and wrote hurriedly, the following contract:–

“This agreement, made and executed this thirtieth day of June, 1867, between Simon Craft of the city of Philadelphia, party of the first part, and Robert Burnham of the city of Scranton, party of the second part, both of the state of Pennsylvania, witnesseth that the said Craft agrees to produce to the said Burnham, within two days from this date, the son of the said Robert Burnham, named Ralph, in full life, and in good health of body and mind. And thereupon the said Burnham, provided he recognizes as his said son Ralph the person so produced, agrees to pay to the said Craft, in cash, the sum of six thousand dollars. Witness our hands and seals the day and year aforesaid.


“There!” said Burnham, handing the paper to Craft; “that will secure you in the payment of the money, provided you fulfil your agreement. But let me be plain with you. If you are deceiving me or trying to deceive me, or if you should practise fraud on me, or attempt to do so, you will surely regret it. And if that child be really in life, and you have been guilty of any cruelty toward him, of any kind whatever, you will look upon the world through prison bars, I promise you, in spite of the money you may obtain from me. Now you understand; go bring the boy.”

The old man did not answer. He was holding the paper close to his eyes, and going over it word by word.

“Yes,” he said, finally; “I suppose it’s all right. I’m not very familiar with written contracts, but I’ll venture it.”

Burnham had risen again from his chair, and was striding up and down the floor.

“When will you bring him?” he asked; “to-morrow?”

“My dear sir, do not be in too great haste; I am not gifted with miraculous powers. I will bring the boy here or take you to him within two days, as I have agreed.”

“Well, then, to-day is Tuesday. Will you have him here by Friday? Friday morning?”

“By Friday afternoon, at any rate.”

The old man was carefully wrapping up the articles he had exhibited, and putting them back into his hand-bag. Finally, Burnham’s attention was attracted to this proceeding.

“Why,” he exclaimed, “what are you doing? You have no right to those things; they are mine.”

“Oh no! they are mine. They shall be given to you some time perhaps; but, for the present, they are mine.”

“Stop! you shall not have them. Those things are very precious to me. Put them down, I say; put them down!”

“Very well. You may have these or–your boy. If you force these things from me, you go without your child. Now take your choice.”

Old Simon was very calm and firm. He knew his ground, and knew that he could afford to be domineering. His long experience in sharp practice had not failed to teach him that the man who holds his temper, in a contest like this, always has the best of it. And he was too shrewd not to see that his listener was laboring under an excitement that was liable at any moment to break forth in passionate speech. He was, therefore, not surprised nor greatly disturbed when Burnham exclaimed, vehemently:–

“I’ll have you arrested, sir! I’ll force you to disclose your secret! I’ll have you punished by the hand of the law!”

“The hand of the law is not laid in punishment on people who are guilty of no crime,” responded Craft, coolly; “and there is no criminal charge that you can fairly bring against me. Poverty is my worst crime. I have done nothing except for your benefit. Now, Mr. Burnham you are excited. Calm yourself and listen to reason. Don’t you see that if I were to give those things to you I would be putting out of my hands the best evidence I have of the truth of my assertions?”

“But I have seen you produce them. I will not deny that you gave them to me.”

“Ah! very good; but you may die before night! What then?”

“Die before night! Absurd! But keep the things; keep them. I can do without them if you will restore the child himself to me. When did you say you would bring him?”

“Friday afternoon.”

“Until Friday afternoon, then, I wait.”

“Very well, sir; good day!”

“Good day!”

The old man picked up his cane, rose slowly from his chair, and, with his satchel in his hand, walked softly out, closing the door carefully behind him.

Robert Burnham continued his walk up and down the room, his flushed face showing alternately the signs of the hope and the doubt that were striving for the mastery within him.

For eight years he had believed his boy to be dead. The terrible wreck at Cherry Brook had yielded up to him from its ashes only a few formless trinkets of all that had once been his child’s, only a few unrecognizable bones, to be interred, long afterward, where flowers might bloom above them. The last search had been made, the last clew followed, the last resources of wealth and skill were at an end, and these, these bones and trinkets were all that could be found. Still, the fact of the child’s death had not been established beyond all question, and among the millions of remote possibilities that this world always holds in reserve lingered yet the one that he might after all be living.

And now came this old man with his strange story, and the cap and the cloak and the locket. Did it mean simply a renewal of the old hope, destined to fade away again into a hopelessness duller than the last?

But what if the man’s story were true? What if the boy were really in life? What if in two days’ time the father should clasp his living child in his arms, and bear him to his mother! Ah! his mother. She would have given her life any time to have had her child restored to her, if only for a day. But she had been taught early to believe that he was dead It was better than to torture her heart with hopes that could only by the rarest possibility be fulfilled. Now, now, if he dared to go home to her this night, and tell her that their son was alive, was found, was coming back to them! Ah! if he only dared!

The sunlight, streaming through the western window, fell upon him as he walked. It was that golden light that conies from a sun low in the west, when the days are long, and it illumined his face with a glow that revealed there the hope, the courage, the honor, the manly strength that held mastery in his heart.

There was a sudden commotion in the outer office. Men were talking in an excited manner; some one opened the door, and said:–

“There’s been an accident in the breaker mine, Mr. Burnham.”

“What kind of an accident?”

“Explosion of fire-damp.”

“What about the men?”

“It is not known yet how many are injured.”

“Tell James to bring the horses immediately; I will go there.”

“James is waiting at the door now with the team, sir.”

Mr. Burnham put away a few papers, wrote a hurried letter to his wife, took his hat and went out and down the steps.

“Send Dr. Gunther up to the breaker at once,” he said, as he made ready to start.

The fleet horses drew him rapidly out through the suburbs and up the hill, and in less than twenty minutes he had reached the breaker, and stopped at the mouth of the shaft.

Many people had already assembled, and others were coming from all directions. Women whose husbands and sons worked in the mine were there, with pale faces and beseeching words. There was much confusion. It was difficult to keep the crowd from pressing in against the mouth of the shaft. Men were busy clearing a space about the opening when Robert Burnham arrived.

“How did it happen?” he said to the mine boss as he stepped from his wagon. “Where was it?”

“Up in the north tier, sir. We don’t know how it happened. Some one must ‘a’ gone in below, where the fire-damp was, with a naked lamp, an’ touched it off; an’ then, most like, it run along the roof to the chambers where the men was a-workin’. I can’t account for it in no other way.”

“Has any one come out from there?”

“Yes, Billy Williams. He was a-comin’ out when it went off. We found him up in the headin’, senseless. He ain’t come to yet.”

“And the others?”

“We’ve tried to git to ’em, sir, but the after-damp is awful, an’ we couldn’t stan’ it; we had to come out.”

“How many men are up there?”

“Five, as we count ’em; the rest are all out.”

The carriage came up the shaft, and a half-dozen miners, with dull eyes and drawn faces, staggered from it, out into the sunlight. It was a rescuing party, just come from a vain attempt to save their unfortunate comrades. They were almost choked to death themselves, with the foul air of the mine. One of them recovered sufficiently to speak.

“We got a’most there,” he gasped; “we could hear ’em a-groanin’; but the after-damp got–so bad–we–” He reeled and fell, speechless and exhausted.

The crowd had surged up, trying to hear what the man was saying. People were getting dangerously near to the mouth of the shaft. Women whose husbands were below were wringing their hands and crying out desperately that some one should go down to the rescue.

“Stand back, my friends,” said Burnham, facing the people, “stand back and give these men air, and leave us room to work. We shall do all in our power to help those who are below. If they can be saved, we shall save them. Trust us and give us opportunity to do it. Now, men, who will go down? I feel that we shall get to them this time and bring them out. Who volunteers?”

A dozen miners stepped forward from the crowd; sturdy, strong-limbed men, with courage stamped on their dust-soiled faces, and heroic resolution gleaming from their eyes.

“Good! we want but eight. Take the aprons of the women; give us the safety-lamps, the oil, the brandy; there, ready; slack off!”

Burnham had stepped on to the carriage with the men who were going down. One of them cried out to him:–

“Don’t ye go, sir! don’t ye go! it’ll be worth the life o’ ye!”

“I’ll not ask men to go where I dare not go myself,” he said; “slack off!”

For an instant the carriage trembled in the slight rise that preceded its descent, and in that instant a boy, a young slender boy, pushed his way through the encircling crowd, leaped in among the men of the rescuing party, and with them went speeding down into the blackness.

It was Ralph. After the first moment of surprise his employer recognized him.

“Ralph!” he exclaimed, “Ralph, why have you done this?”

“I couldn’t help it, sir,” replied the boy; “I had to come. Please don’t send me back.”

“But it’s a desperate trip. These men are taking their lives in their hands.”

“I know it, sir; but they ain’t one o’ them whose life is worth so little as mine. They’ve all got folks to live an’ work for, an’ I ain’t. I’ll go where they don’t dare. Please let me help!”

The men who were clustered on the carriage looked down on the boy in mute astonishment. His slight figure was drawn up to its full height; his little hands were tightly clenched; out from his brown eyes shone the fire of resolution. Some latent spirit of true knighthood had risen in his breast, had quenched all the coward in his nature, and impelled him, in that one moment that called for sacrifice and courage, to a deed as daring and heroic as any that the knights of old were ever prompted to perform. To those who looked upon him thus, the dust and rags that covered him were blotted out, the marks of pain and poverty and all his childish weaknesses had disappeared, and it seemed to them almost as though a messenger from God were standing in their midst.

But Robert Burnham saw something besides this in the child’s face; he saw a likeness to himself that startled him. Men see things in moments of sublimity to which at all other times their eyes are blinded. He thought of Craft’s story; he thought of the boy’s story; he compared them; a sudden hope seized him, a conviction broke upon his mind like a flash of light.

This boy was his son. For the moment, all other thoughts, motives, desires were blotted from his mind. His desperate errand was lost to sight. The imperilled miners were forgotten.

“Ralph!” he cried, seizing the boy’s hand in both of his; “Ralph, I have found you!”

But the child looked up in wonder, and the men who stood by did not know what it meant.

The carriage struck the floor of the mine and they all stepped off. The shock at stopping brought Burnham to himself. This was no time, no place to recognize the lad and take him to his heart. He would do that–afterward. Duty, with a stern voice, was calling to him now.

“Men,” he said, “are you ready? Here, soak the aprons; Ralph, take this; now then, come on!”

Up the heading, in single file, they walked swiftly, swinging their safety-lamps in their hands, or holding them against their breasts. They knew that up in the chambers their comrades were lying prostrate and in pain. They knew that the spaces through which they must pass to reach them were filled with poisonous gases, and that in those regions death lurked in every “entrance” and behind every “pillar.” But they hurried on, saying little, fearing little, hoping much, as they plunged ahead into the blackness, on their humane but desperate errand.

A half-hour later the bell in the engine-room tinkled softly once, and then rang savagely again and again to “hoist away.” The great wheel turned fast and faster; the piston-rods flew in and out; the iron ropes hummed as they cut the air; and the people at the shaft’s mouth waited, breathless with suspense, to see what the blackness would yield up to them. The carriage rose swiftly to the surface. On it four men, tottering and exhausted, were supporting an insensible body in their midst. The body was taken into strong arms, and borne hurriedly to the office of the breaker, a little distance away. Then a boy staggered off the carriage and fell fainting into the outstretched arms of Bachelor Billy.

“Ralph!” cried the man, “Ralph, lad! here! brandy for the child! brandy, quick!”

After a little the boy opened his eyes, and gazed wonderingly at the people who were looking down on him. Then he remembered what had happened.

“Mr. Burnham,” he whispered, “is–is he alive?”

“Yes, lad; they’ve took ‘im to the office; the doctor’s in wi’ ‘im. Did ye fin’ the air bad?”

The child lay back with a sigh of relief.

“Yes,” he said, “very bad. We got to ’em though; we found ’em an’ brought ’em out. I carried the things; they couldn’t ‘a’ got along ‘ithout me.”

The carriage had gone down again and brought up a load of those who had suffered from the fire. They were blackened, burned, disfigured, but living. One of them, in the midst of his agony, cried out:–

“Whaur is he? whaur’s Robert Burnham? I’ll gi’ ma life for his, an’ ye’ll save his to ‘im. Ye mus’ na let ‘im dee. Mon! he done the brawest thing ye ever kenned. He plungit through the belt o’ after-damp ahead o’ all o’ them, an’ draggit us back across it, mon by mon, an’ did na fa’ till he pullit the last one ayont it. Did ye ever hear the like? He’s worth a thousan’ o’ us. I say ye mus’ na let ‘im dee!”

Over at the breaker office there was silence. The doctor and his helpers were there with Robert Burnham, and the door was closed. Every one knew that, inside, a desperate struggle was going on between life and death. The story of Burnham’s bravery had gone out through the assembled crowds, and, with one instinct and one hope, all eyes were turned toward the little room wherein he lay. Men spoke in whispers; women were weeping softly; every face was set in pale expectancy. There were hundreds there who would have given all they had on earth to prolong this noble life for just one day. Still, there was silence at the office. It grew ominous. A great hush had fallen on the multitude. The sun dropped down behind the hills, obscured in mist, and the pallor that precedes the twilight overspread the earth.

Then the office door was opened, and the white-haired doctor came outside and stood upon the steps. His head was bared and his eyes were filled with tears. He turned to those who stood near by, and whispered, sadly:–

“He is dead.”



Lackawanna Avenue is the principal thoroughfare in the city of Scranton. Anthracite Avenue leads from it eastwardly at right angles.

Midway in the second block, on the right side of this last named street, there stood, twenty years ago, a small wooden building, but one story in height. It was set well back from the street, and a stone walk led up to the front door. On the door-post, at the left, was a sign, in rusty gilt letters, reading:–


On the morning following his interview with Robert Burnham, Simon Craft turned in from Anthracite Avenue, shuffled along the walk to the office door, and stood for a minute examining the sign, and comparing the name on it with the name on a bit of paper that he held in his hand.

“That’s the man,” he muttered; “he’s the one;” and he entered at the half-opened door.

Inside, a clerk sat, busily writing.

“Mr. Sharpman has not come down yet,” he said, in answer to Craft’s question. “Take a chair; he’ll be here in twenty minutes.”

The old man seated himself, and the clerk resumed his writing.

In less than half an hour Sharpman came in. He was a tall, well-built man, forty years of age, smooth-faced, with a clerical cast of countenance, easy and graceful in manner, and of pleasant address.

After a few words relating to a certain matter of business, the clerk said to his employer,–

“This man has been waiting some time to see you, Mr. Sharpman.”

The lawyer advanced to Craft, and shook hands with him in a very friendly way. “Good-morning, sir,” he said. “Will you step into my office, sir?”

He ushered the old man into an inner room, and gave him an easy, cushioned chair to sit in. Sharpman was nothing, if not gracious. Rich and poor, alike, were met by him with the utmost cordiality. He had a pleasant word for every one. His success at the bar was due, in no small degree, to his apparent frankness and friendliness toward all men. The fact that these qualities were indeed apparent rather than real, did not seem to matter; the general effect was the same. His personal character, so far as any one knew, was beyond reproach. But his reputation for shrewdness, for sharp practice, for concocting brilliant financial schemes, was general. It was this latter reputation that had brought Simon Graft to him.

This morning Sharpman was especially courteous. He regretted that his visitor had been obliged to wait so long. He spoke of the beautiful weather. He noticed that the old man was in ill health, and expressed much sorrow thereat. Finally he said: “Well, my friend, I am at your service for any favor I can do you.”

Craft was not displeased with the lawyer’s manner. On the contrary, he rather liked it. But he was too shrewd and far-sighted to allow himself to be carried away by it. He proceeded at once to business. He took from an inner pocket of his coat the paper that Robert Burnham had given to him the day before, unfolded it slowly, and handed it to Sharpman.

“I want your opinion of this paper,” he said. “Is it drawn up in legal shape? Is it binding on the man that signed it?”

Sharpman took the paper, and read it carefully through; then he looked up at Craft in unfeigned surprise.

“My dear sir!” he said, “did you know that Robert Burnham died last night?”

The old man started from his chair in sudden amazement.

“Died!” he exclaimed. “Robert Burnham–died!”

“Yes; suffocated by foul air in his own mine. It was a dreadful thing.”

Craft dropped into his chair again, his pale face growing each moment more pale and gaunt, and stared at the lawyer in silence. Finally he said: “There must be some mistake. I saw him only yesterday. He signed that paper in my presence as late as four o’clock.”

“Very likely,” responded Sharpman: “he did not die until after six. Oh, no! there is no mistake. It was this Robert Burnham. I know his signature.”

The old man sat for another minute in silence, keen disappointment written plainly on his face. Then a thought came to him.

“Don’t that agreement bind his heirs?” he gasped, “or his estate? Don’t somebody have to pay me that money, when I bring the boy?”

The lawyer took the paper up, and re-read it. “No;” he said. “The agreement was binding only on Burnham himself. It calls for the production of the boy to him personally; you can’t produce anything to a dead man.”

Old Simon settled back in his chair, a perfect picture of gaunt despair.

Sharpman continued: “This is a strange case, though. I thought that child of Burnham’s was dead. Do you mean to say that the boy is still living?”

“Yes; that’s it. He wasn’t even hurt. Of course he’s alive. I know it.”

“Can you prove it?”


The lawyer gazed at his visitor, apparently in doubt as to the man’s veracity or sanity, and again there was silence.

Finally Craft spoke. Another thought had come to him.

“The boy’s mother; she’s living, ain’t she?”

“Burnham’s widow? Yes; she’s living.”

“Then I’ll go to her! I’ll make a new contract with her. The money’ll be hers, now. I’ll raise on my price! She’ll pay it. I’ll warrant she’ll pay it! May be it’s lucky for me, after all, that I’ve got her to deal with instead of her husband!”

Even Sharpman was amazed and disgusted at this exhibition of cruel greed in the face of death.

“That’s it!” continued the old man in an exulting tone; “that’s the plan. I’ll go to her. I’ll get my money–I’ll get it in spite of death!”

He rose from his chair, and grasped his cane to go, but the excitement had brought on a severe fit of coughing, and he was obliged to resume his seat until it was over.

This delay gave Sharpman time to think.

“Wait!” he said, when the old man had finally recovered; “wait a little. I think I have a plan in mind that is better than yours–one that will bring you in more cash.”

“More cash?” Craft was quiet and attentive in a moment. The word “cash” had a magical influence over him.

Sharpman arose, closed the door between the two rooms tightly, and locked it. “Some one might chance to intrude,” he explained.

Then he came back, sat down in front of his visitor, and assumed an attitude of confidence.

“Yes,” he said, “more cash; ten times as much.”

“Well, what’s your plan?” asked the old man, somewhat incredulously.

“Let me tell you first what I know,” replied the lawyer. “I know that Mrs. Burnham believes this boy to be dead; believes it with her whole mind and heart. You would find it exceedingly difficult to convince her to the contrary. She would explain away your proofs: she would fail to recognize the child himself. Such an errand as you propose would be little better than useless.”

Sharpman paused.

“Well, what’s your plan?” repeated Craft, impatiently.

The lawyer assumed a still more confidential attitude.

“Listen! Burnham died rich. His wealth will mount well up into the hundreds of thousands. He leaves a widow and one daughter, a little girl. This boy, if he is really Burnham’s son, is entitled to one third of the personal property absolutely, to one third of the real estate at once, and to one fourth of the remainder at his mother’s death. Do you understand?” Old Simon nodded. This was worth listening to. He began to think that this shrewd lawyer was going to put him in the way of making a fortune after all. Sharpman continued: “Now, the boy is a minor. He must have a guardian. The mother would be the guardian preferred by law; but if, for any reason, she should fail to recognize the boy as her son, some one else must be appointed. It will be the duty of the guardian to establish his ward’s identity in case it should be disputed, to sue for his portion of the estate, if necessary, and to receive and care for it till the boy reaches his majority. The usual guardian’s commission is five per cent, retainable out of the funds of the estate. Do you see how the management of such an estate would be a fortune to a guardian, acting within the strict letter of the law?”

Craft nodded again, but this time with eagerness and excitement. He saw that a scheme was being opened up to him that outrivalled in splendid opportunities any he had ever thought of.

After a pause Sharpman asked, glancing furtively at his client:–

“Do you think, Mr. Craft, that you could take upon your shoulders the duties and responsibilities attendant upon such a trust? In short, could you act as this boy’s guardian?”

“Yes, no doubt of it”; responded the old man, eagerly. “Why, I would be the very person. I am his nearest friend.”

“Very well; that’s my opinion, too. Now, then, as to the boy’s identity. There must be no mistake in proving that. What proof have you? Tell me what you know about it.”

Thus requested, Craft gave to the lawyer a detailed account of the disaster at the bridge, of the finding and keeping of Ralph, of his mysterious disappearance, and of the prolonged search for him.

“Day before yesterday,” continued the old man, “I was watching the crowds at the circus,–I knew the boy was fond of circuses,–an who should go by me into the tent but this same Ralph. I made sure he was the identical person, and yesterday I went to Robert Burnham, and got that paper.”

“Indeed! Where does the boy live? what does he do?”

“Why, it seems that he works at picking slate, in Burnham’s own breaker, and lives with one Bachelor Billy, a simple-minded old fellow, without a family, who took the boy in when he was abandoned by the circus.”

“Good!” exclaimed the lawyer; “good! we shall have a capital case. But wait; does Mrs. Burnham know of your interview with her husband, or about this paper?”

“I don’t know. I left the man at his office, alone.”

“At what hour?”

“Well, about half-past four, as nearly as I can judge.”

“Then it’s not at all probable that she knows. He went from his office directly to the breaker, and died before she could see him.”

“Well, how shall we begin?” said Craft, impatiently. “What’s the first thing to be done?” Visions of golden thousands were already floating before his greedy eyes.

“We shall not begin at all, just yet,” said Sharpman. “We’ll wait till the horror and excitement, consequent upon this disaster, have passed away. It wouldn’t do to proceed now; besides, all action should be postponed, at any rate, until an inventory of the estate shall have been filed.”

A look of disappointment came into old Simon’s face. The lawyer noticed it. “You mustn’t be in too much of a hurry,” he said. “All good things come slowly. Now, I’ll tell you what I propose to do. After this excitement has passed over, and the lady’s mind has become somewhat settled, I will go to her myself, and say to her frankly that you believe her son to be still alive. Of course, she’ll not believe me. Indeed, I shall be very careful to put the matter in such a shape that she will not believe me. I will say to her, however, that you have employed me to prosecute your claim for services to the child, and that it will be necessary to have a guardian appointed against whom such action may be taken. I will suggest to her that if she will acknowledge the boy to be her son, she will be the proper person to act as his guardian. Of course, she will refuse to do either. The rest is easy. We will go into court with a petition setting forth the facts in the case, stating that the boy’s mother has refused to act as his guardian, and asking for your appointment as such. Do you see?”

“Oh, yes! that’s good; that’s very good, indeed.”

“But, let me see, though; you’ll have to give bonds. There’s the trouble. Got any money, or any rich friends?”

“Neither; I’m very poor, very poor indeed, Mr. Sharpman.”

“Ah! that’s awkward. We can do nothing without bondsmen. The court wouldn’t let us touch a penny of that fund without first giving good bonds.”.

The look of disappointment and trouble had returned into the old man’s face. “Ain’t there some way you could get bonds for me?” he asked, appealingly.

“Well, yes, I suppose I might procure bondsmen for you; I suppose I might go on your bond myself. But you see no one cares to risk his fortune in the hands of a total stranger that way. We don’t know you; we don’t know what you might do.”

“Oh! I should be honest, Mr. Sharpman, perfectly honest and discreet; and you should not suffer to the value of a cent, not a single cent.”

“No doubt your intentions are good enough, my dear sir, but it requires great skill to handle so large an estate properly, and a single error in judgment on your part might cost thousands of dollars. Good intentions and promises are well enough in their way, but they are no security against misfortune, you see. I guess we’ll have to drop the scheme, after all.”

Sharpman arose and walked the floor in apparent perplexity, while Craft, resting his hands on his cane, and staring silently at the lawyer, tried to conceive some plan to prevent this golden opportunity from eluding his grasp. Finally Sharpman stopped.

“Craft,” he said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you will give me a power of attorney to hold and manage all the funds of the trust until the boy shall have attained his majority, I’ll get the necessary bonds for you.”

Craft thought a moment. The proposition did not strike him favorably. “That would be putting the whole thing out of my hands into yours,” he said.

“Ah! but you would still be the boy’s guardian, with right to use all the money that in your judgment should be necessary, to maintain and educate him according to his proper station in life. For this purpose I would agree to pay you three thousand dollars on receipt of the funds, and three thousand dollars each year thereafter, besides your guardian’s commission, which would amount to eight or ten thousand dollars at least. I would also agree to pay you a liberal sum for past services, say two or three thousand dollars. You would have no responsibility whatever in the matter. I would be liable for any mistakes you might make. You could use the money as you saw fit. What do you say?”

The scheme appeared to Simon Craft to be a very brilliant one. He saw a great fortune in it for himself, if he could only depend on the lawyer’s promises.

“Will you give me a writing to this effect?” he asked.

“Certainly; we shall have a mutual agreement.”

“Then I’ll do it. You’ll get the lion’s share I can see that easy enough; but if you’ll do what you say you will, I shan’t complain. Then will I have a right to take the boy again?”

“Yes, after your appointment; but I don’t think I would, if I were you. If he is contented and well off, you had better let him stay where he is. He might give you the slip again. How old is he now?”

“I don’t know exactly; somewhere between ten and twelve, I think.”

“Well, his consent to the choice of a guardian is not necessary; but I think it would be better, under the circumstances, if he would go into court with us, and agree to your appointment. Do you think he will?”

Old Simon frowned savagely.

“Yes, he will,” he exclaimed. “I’ll make him do it. I’ve made him do harder things than that; it’s a pity if I can’t make him do what’s for his own benefit now!” He struck the floor viciously with his cane.

“Easy,” said the lawyer, soothingly, “easy; I fear the boy has been his own master too long to be bullied. We shall have to work him in a different way now. I think I can manage it, though. I’ll have him come down here some day, after we get Mrs. Burnham’s refusal to acknowledge him, and I’ll explain matters to him, and show him why it’s necessary that you should take hold of the case. I’ll use logic with him, and I’ll wager that he’ll come around all right. You must treat boys as though they were men, Craft. They will listen to reason, and yield to persuasion, but they won’t be bullied, not even into a fortune. By the way, I don’t quite understand how it was, if Burnham was searching energetically for the boy, and you were searching with as much energy for the boy’s father all those years, that you didn’t meet each other sooner.”

Craft looked up slyly from under his shaggy eyebrows.

“May I speak confidentially?” he asked.


“Well, then, I didn’t wear myself out hunting for the boy’s friends, for the first year or two. Time increases the value of some things, you know–lost children, particularly. I knew there was money back of the boy by the looks of his clothes. I kept matters pretty well covered up for a while; allowed that he was my grandson; made him call me ‘Grandpa’; carried the scheme a little too far, and came near losing everything. Now, do you see?”

Sharpman nodded, and smiled knowingly. “You’re a shrewd man, Craft,” he said.

But the old man’s thought had returned to the wealth he believed to be in store for him. “What’s to be done now?” he asked. “Ain’t there something we can start on?”

“No; we can do nothing until after I have seen the widow, and that will be a couple of months yet at least. In the meantime, you must not say a word to any one about this matter. The boy, especially, must not know that you have been here. Come again about the first of September. In the meantime, get together the evidence necessary to establish the boy’s identity. We mustn’t fail in that when it comes to an issue.”

“I’ll have proof enough, no fear of that. The only thing I don’t like about the business is this waiting. I’m pretty bad here,” placing his bony hand on his chest; “no knowing how long I’ll last.”

“Oh! you’re good for twenty years yet,” said Sharpman, heartily, taking him by the hand, and walking with him to the door. “A–are you pretty well off for money? Would trifling loan be of any benefit to you?”

“Why, if you can spare it,” said the old man, trying to suppress his evident pleasure at the offer; “if you can spare it, it would come in very handy indeed.”

Sharpman drew a well-filled wallet from his pocket, took two bills from it, folded them together, and placed them into Craft’s trembling fingers. “There,” he said, “that’s all right; we won’t say anything about that till we come into our fortune.”

Old Simon pocketed the money, mumbling his thanks as he did so. The two men shook hands again at the outer door, and Craft trudged down the avenue, toward the railroad station, his mind filled with visions of enormous wealth, but his patience sorely tried by the long delay that he must suffer before his fingers should close upon the promised money.

Sharpman returned to his office to congratulate himself upon the happy chance that had placed so rich an opportunity within his grasp. If the old man’s story were true–he proposed to take steps immediately to satisfy himself upon that point–then he saw no reason why he should not have the management of a large estate. Of course there would be opposition, but if he could succeed so far as to get the funds and the property into his hands, he felt sure that, in one way or another, he could make a fortune out of the estate before he should be compelled to relinquish his hold. As for Simon Craft, he should use him so far as such use was necessary for the accomplishment of his object. After that he would or would not keep faith with him, as he chose. And as for Ralph, if he were really Robert Burnham’s son, he would be rich enough at any rate, and if he were not that son he would not be entitled to wealth. There was no use, therefore, in being over-conscientious on his account.

It was a brilliant scheme, worth risking a great deal on, both of money and reputation, Sharpman resolved to make the most of it.



It was the morning of the third day after the disaster at Burnham Shaft. The breaker boys were to go that morning, in a body, to the mansion of their dead employer to look for the last time on his face. They had asked that they might be permitted to do this, and the privilege had been granted.

Grief holds short reign in young hearts, it is true; but the sorrow in the hearts of these children of toil was none the less sincere. Had there been any tendency to forget their loss, the solemn faces and tearful eyes of those who were older than they would have been a constant reminder.

As Robert Burnham had been universally beloved, so his death was universally mourned. The miners at Burnham Shaft felt that they had especial cause for grief. He had a way of coming to the mines and looking after them and their labor, personally, that they liked. He knew the names of all the men who worked there, and he had a word of kindly greeting for each one whom he met. When he came among them out of the darkness of heading or chamber, there seemed, somehow, to be more light in the mines, more light and better air, and a sense of cheeriness and comfort. And, after he had gone, you could hear these men whistling and singing at their tasks for hours; the mere fact of his presence had so lightened their labors. The bosses caught this spirit of friendliness, and there was always harmony at Burnham Breaker and in the Burnham mines, among all who labored there in any way whatever. But the screen-room boys had, somehow, come to look upon this man as their especial friend. He sympathized with them. He seemed to understand how hard it was for boys like they were to bend all day above those moving streams of coal. He always had kind words for them, and devised means to lessen, at times, the rigid monotony of their tasks. They regarded him with something of that affection which a child has for a firm, kind parent. Moreover, they looked upon him as a type of that perfect manhood toward which each, to the extent of his poor ability, should strive to climb. Even in his death he had set for them a shining mark of manly bravery. He had died to rescue others. If he had been a father to them before, he was a hero to them now. But he was dead. They had heard his gentle voice and seen his kindly smile and felt the searching tenderness of his brown eyes for the last time. They would see his face once more; it would not be like him as he was, but–they would see it.

They had gathered on the grass-plot, on the hill east of the breaker, under the shadow of a great oak-tree. There were forty of them. They were dressed in their best clothes; not very rich apparel to be sure, patched and worn and faded most of it was, but it was their very best. There was no loud talking among them. There were no tricks being played; there was no shouting, no laughter. They were all sober-faced, earnest, and sorrowful.

One of the boys spoke up and said: “Tell you what I think, fellows; I think we ought to pass res’lutions like what the miners they done.”

“Res’lutions,” said another, “w’at’s them?”

“W’y,” said a third, “it’s a little piece o’ black cloth, like a veil, w’at you wear on your arm w’en you go to a fun’al.”

Then some one proposed that the meeting should first be duly organized. Many of the boys had attended the miners’ meetings and knew something about parliamentary organization.

“I move’t Ralph Buckley, he be chairman,” said one.

“I second the move,” said another. The motion was put, and Ralph was unanimously elected as chairman.

“They ain’t no time to make any speech,” he said, backing up against the tree in order to face the assemblage. “We got jest time to ‘lect a sec’etary and draw out some res’lutions.”

“I move’t Jimmie Donnelly be sec’etary.”

“I second Jimmie Donnelly.”

“All you who want Jimmie Donnelly for sec’etary, hol’ up your right han’s an’ say yi.”

There was a chorus of yi’s.

“I move’t Ed. Williams be treasher.”

Then the objector rose. “Aw!” he said, “we don’t want no treasher. W’at we want a treasher for? we ain’t goin’ to spen’ no money.”

“You got to have a treasher,” broke in a youthful Gushing, “you got to have one, or less your meetin’ won’t be legal, nor your res’lutions, neither!”

The discussion was ended abruptly by some one seconding the nomination of Ed. Williams, and the motion was immediately put and carried.

“Now,” said another young parliamentarian, “I move’t the chairman pint out a committee of three fellows to write the res’lutions.”

This motion was also seconded, put, and carried, and Ralph designated three boys in the company, one of whom, Joe Foster, had more than an ordinary reputation for learning, as a committee on resolutions; and, while they went down to the breaker office for pen, ink, and paper, the meeting took a recess.

It was, indeed, a task for those three unlearned boys to express in writing, their grief consequent upon the death of their employer, and their sympathy for his living loved ones, but they performed it. There was some discussion concerning a proper form for beginning. One thought they should begin by saying, “Know all men by these presents.”

“But we ain’t got no presents to give ’em,” said another, “an’ if we had it ain’t no time to give any presents.”

Joe Foster had attended the meeting at which the resolutions by the miners were adopted, and after recalling, as nearly as possible, the language in which they were drawn, it was decided to begin:–“We, the breaker boys, of Burnham Breaker, in mass meeting met”–

After that, with the exception of an occasional dispute concerning the spelling of a word, they got on very well, and came, finally, to the end.

“You two write your names on to it,” said Jack Murphy; “I won’t put mine down; two’s enough.”

“Oh! we’ve all got to sign it,” said Joe Foster; “a majoriky ain’t enough to make a paper like this stan’ law.”

“Well, I don’t b’lieve I’ll sign it,” responded Jack; “I don’t like the res’lutions very well, anyway.”

“Why not? they’re jest as you wanted ’em–oh, I know! you can’t write your name.

“Well, I guess I could, maybe, if I wanted to, but I don’t want to; I’m ‘fraid I’d spile the looks o’ the paper. You’s fellows go ahead an’ sign it.”

“I’ll tell you what to do,” said Joe; “I’ll write your name jest as good as I can, an’ then you can put your solemn cross on top of it, an’ that’ll make it jest as legal as it can be got.”

So they arranged it in that way. Joe signed Jack Murphy’s name in his very best style, and then Jack took the pen and under Joe’s explicit directions, drew one line horizontally through the name and another line perpendicularly between the two words of it, and Joe wrote above it: “his solem mark.” This completed the resolutions, and the committee hurried back with them to the impatient assembly. The meeting was called to order again, and Joe Foster read the resolutions.

“That’s jest the way I feel about it,” said Ralph, “jest the way that paper reads. He couldn’t ‘a’ been no better to us, no way. Boys,” he continued, earnestly, forgetting for the time being his position, “do you ‘member ’bout his comin’ into the screen-room last Tuesday an’ givin’ us each a quarter to go t’ the circus with? Well, I’d cut my han’ that day on a piece o’ coal, an’ it was a-bleedin’ bad, an’ he see it, an’ he asked me what was the matter with it, an’ I told ‘im, an’ he took it an’ washed it off, he did, jest as nice an’ careful; an’ then what d’ye think he done? W’y he took ‘is own han’kerchy, his own han’kerchy, mind ye, an’ tore it into strips an’ wrapped it roun’ my han’ jest as nice–jest as nice–“

And here the memory of this kindness became so vivid in Ralph’s mind that he broke down and cried outright.

“It was jes’ like ‘im,” said one in the crowd; “he was always a-doin’ sumpthin’ jes’ like that. D’ye ‘member that time w’en I froze my ear, an’ he give me money to buy a new cap with ear-laps on to it?”

The recital of this incident called from another the statement of some generous deed, and, in the fund of kindly reminiscence thus aroused, the resolutions came near to being wholly forgotten. But they were remembered, finally, and were called up and adopted, and it was agreed that the chairman should carry them and present them to whoever should be found in charge at the house. Then, with Ralph and Joe Foster leading the procession, they started toward the city. Reaching Laburnum Avenue, they marched down that street in twos until they came to the Burnham residence. There was a short consultation there, and then they all passed in through the gate to the lawn, and Ralph and Joe went up the broad stone steps to the door. A kind-faced woman met them there, and Ralph said: “We’ve come, if you please, the breaker boys have come to–to–” The woman smiled sweetly, and said: “Yes, we’ve been expecting you; wait a moment and I will see what arrangements have been made for you.”

Joe Foster nudged Ralph with his elbow, and whispered:–

“The res’lutions, Ralph, the res’lutions; now’s the time; give ’em to her.”

But Ralph did not hear him. His mind was elsewhere. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light in the hall, and he saw the winding staircase with its richly carved posts, the beauty of the stained-glass windows, the graceful hangings, the broad doors, the pictures, and the flowers, there came upon him a sense of strange familiarity with the scene. It seemed to him as though sometime, somewhere, he had seen it, known it all before. The feeling was so sudden and so strong that it made him faint and dizzy.

The kind-featured woman saw the pallor on his face and the tremor on his lips, and led him to a chair. She ascribed his weakness to sorrow and excitement, and the dread of looking on a dead face.

“Poor boy!” she said. “I don’t wonder at it; he was more than generous to us all.”

But Joe, afraid that the resolutions he had labored on with so much diligence would be forgotten, spoke of them again to Ralph.

“Oh, yes,” said Ralph, with a wan smile, “oh, yes! here’s the res’lutions. That’s the way the breaker boys feel–the way it says in this paper; an’ we want Mrs. Burnham to know.”

“I’ll take it to her,” said the woman, receiving from Ralph’s hands the awkwardly folded and now sadly soiled paper. “You will wait here a moment, please.”

She passed up the broad staircase, by the richly colored window at the landing, and was lost to sight; while the two boys, sitting in the spacious hall, gazed, with wondering eyes, upon the beauty which surrounded them.

The widow of Robert Burnham sat in the morning-room of her desolated home, talking calmly with her friends.

After the first shock incident upon her husband’s death had passed away, she had made no outcry, she grew quiet and self-possessed, she was ready for any consultation, gave all necessary orders, spoke of her dead husband’s goodness to her with a smile on her face, and looked calmly forth into the future. The shock of that terrible message from the mines, two days ago, had paralyzed her emotional nature, and left her white-faced and tearless.

She had a smile and a kind word for every one as before; she had eaten mechanically; but she had lain with wide-open eyes all night, and still no one had seen a single tear upon her cheeks. This was why they feared for her; they said,

“She must weep, or she will die.”

Some one came into the room and spoke to her.

“The breaker boys, who asked to come this morning, are here.”

“Let them come in,” she said, “and pass through the parlors and look upon him; and let them be treated with all kindness and courtesy.”

“They have brought this paper, containing resolutions passed by them, which they would like to have you read.”

Mrs. Burnham took the paper, and asked the woman to wait while she read it. There was something in the fact that these boys had passed resolutions of sympathy that touched her heart. She unfolded the