Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

"THE BRAVEST DEED I EVER KNEW”

N

THE OUTCAST OF RUTLEDGE

BY JEAN PARKMAN

TESTLING among the hills of western New York lies a little village of a thousand inhabitants, which for convenience I will call Rutledge. The Empire State has many small towns like it, quiet, sleepy places, where the world. moves on with scarcely a ripple, and the people are well-to-do, with a few rich families, such as are usually found in small towns.

The village contained three licensed hotels; namely, the Ardmore, the Newbury, and the Riverside. The Ardmore was called the "up-to-date" house, and was frequented by people making pretension to fashion; the Newbury catered to the traveling public, and was patronized by politicians; while the Riverside took what was left. It was a quaint, old-fashioned inn, the proprietor an old man, good-natured and kindly. He was everybody's friend, and here congregated the male population of Rutledge. For there was a large, old-fashioned bar-room, with a little office back of it, where a man could take a friend for a private talk, and to the left a large, sunny parlor, always open, where every one was welcome. There every one met on an equal footing, and such a thing as caste was not thought of. There, too, everybody's affairs were discussed, for while in general peace and harmony prevailed, the town was by no means exempt from gossip.

Among the prominent men in the community was Philip Wendall, whose farm lay so close to the village that his house stood at the end of Main Street. It was a fine property, with a spacious, old brick house of Revolutionary date. At the time of the event which I am about to narrate the farm was owned by Jonathan Wendall, Philip's father, who made his

home with Philip's family. He was a strange, quiet man who seemed to shun everybody. He was respected and feared by the community. Men said that Jonathan Wendall's word was as good as his note, but they never sought his company. A girl once laughingly said of him that he was Justice personified-astride a tombstone, and the word tombstone clung to him for ever after.

In 1880, Rutledge celebrated its hundredth anniversary, everybody joining heart and hand to make it a success. Newspapers advertised it far and wide, and invitations to come and bring their friends were issued to former residents of the town, wherever they could be found.

The result was most gratifying. All summer long people were coming and going. It was one long holiday, and scarcely a home in the village was without guests.

A great time of rejoicing it was, too, as friend greeted friend, and at every turn one would meet some one not looked for, and perhaps not seen for years. Old men sat in shady places and laughed over boyish pranks of fifty years before, and old ladies talked softly together of the changes the intervening years had wrought since they were girls together. Graves almost forgotten in the old cemetery were visited and covered with flowers.

Among the strangers came an old woman. Who she was or where she came from, none could tell. She was just a vile, drunken old hag, wearing a tattered, bluecalico dress, a dirty, gray jacket, heavy calfskin shoes tied at the top with a white cord. Over her white, unkempt locks, which seemed to be of all lengths, was tied a dirty, torn, blue veil. Her face was weather-beaten and hard from exposure,

the blue eyes were bleared and of evil expression, the teeth broken and unevenaltogether a picture that people shrank from looking at the second time. She was vicious to the last degree, and carried an old leather hand-bag, from which she was repeatedly seen to take a bottle and drink. She slept under sheds, and begged her food at back doors, and when refused, broke into such a volley of oaths that people were afraid, and nearly always called her back and gave her something to eat.

After a month had passed, and she seemed in no way ready to leave town, people grew afraid of her, and were about to see what could be done to rid the town of her presence, when one day late in September a terrific wind-storm, accompanied by hail and rain, struck the village. It was one of the heaviest storms Rutledge had ever experienced. It came so suddenly that people were unprepared for it, and there was much scurrying to reach home before the full force of the storm broke. Almost the first blast caught the shed under which the old woman was lying, turning it completely over, and giving her such a shock that she ran up Main Street in great fright.

Struggling against the wind, she at last reached the Ardmore, and tried to gain entrance to the bar-room, but was promptly ejected. She then tried the Newbury, but was turned out there also. She staggered down the street, the wind taking her almost off her feet, and sat down on the curbstone in front of the Riverside, while the rain fell in torrents on her back. When the proprietor noticed her, he beckoned her to come in, and helped her up the steps and across the wide porch. Noticing the smiles as he entered the bar-room with her, he said: “Gentlemen, my mother was a woman. For her sake, you will please omit remarks." The smiles died away as he took her to the kitchen, and told his wife to make her comfortable, and try to learn who she was and where she might be going; but in her drunken condition nothing could be learned, so she was given a cot, where she slept heavily all night.

All night the storm raged, unroofing buildings, uprooting trees, and doing great damage to the town. The morning dawned bright and glorious, but the air was piercing. The landlady at the River

side had tried in various ways to make the old woman tell who she was, but unsuccessfully. Finally she said, if they wanted to help her, to send for Philip Wendall. He would know who her people were, and would give her money to go to Chicago, where she came from.

Accordingly a messenger was despatched, and in a short time Philip Wendall came. Crowds of people were out to see the damage done by the storm, and the word was passed from one to another that Wendall knew who the old woman was. When he asked that the old village doctor be summoned, curiosity was at its height, and standing on tiptoes. The ravages made by the storm were forgotten, and all interest was centered in the conjecture as to where the human wreck might belong.

To the astonishment of the crowd, the report passed from mouth to mouth that Philip Wendall's mother was not dead, as it had generally been thought, but many years before had deserted her husband and baby son for another man while on a trip to the West, and it was surmised that this was she; that she had come not to claim a home, but to beg for money, and go her way without letting the fact be made known.

The crowd about the Riverside dispersed as the Wendall carriage came slowly up the street, driven by the doctor, but only went a short distance, and, gathering into small groups, waited.

When at last the door of the inn opened, and Philip Wendall, aristocratic to the finger-tips, came out, leading the old woman, wrapped in shawls provided by the landlady, and, picking her up, placed her gently in the carriage, and seated himself beside her, drawing the robes around her and placing an arm about her shoulders to hold the wraps, people were not ashamed of the tears that coursed down their cheeks, and men stood with bared heads, bowing reverently to the nobility of the man who thus publicly acknowledged that degraded woman to be his mother.

In the thirty years that have passed since dear old Rutledge celebrated its hundredth anniversary, we have all witnessed deeds that were brave; but all those that I have ever met who witnessed that act say it was the bravest deed they ever saw.

THE AMBASSADOR

BY W. T. NICHOLS

IT might have been compared with many

things, none of them pleasant: a load of scrap-iron, for instance, trying to pass by, and never succeeding, or some merciless demon turned boiler-maker and pounding away with a heart full of malice and untiring arms, filling the room with a staccato, metallic clatter that as saulted the ear as with a swift series of blows.

Perhaps, to one pausing to listen, the idea of demoniac energy would have appealed more strongly; for there was hint of method in the madness. The racing rat-tat-tats, tat-tats, rat-tat-tat-tat-tats meant something; they were conveying a message. So much decided, the stranger might have strolled on, shrugging his shoulders, and happy that it was not his lot to toil as the slave of that brutally insistent disturber of the peace.

The slave, as it happened, was diverting himself with no fanciful notions. "Baldy" Sanderson was a practical young man of practical concerns, two of which chanced to be fighting for control. One was that the fastest sender at division headquarters of the great Amalgamated Press was trying to clear the wire before he gave the eleven o'clock luncheon signal; the other was that he, "Baldy" Sanderson, was afflicted by more than fevered thirst. Under the theory that every one of us has a dual personality, it might be said that the official "Baldy" heeded only the withering speed and style eccentricities of the sender, while the personal "Baldy" panted, if not for the water brooks, at least for the iced tank in the news-room across the corridor. "Nipper" Herron, night-trick operator, was ailing, and Sanderson, the day man on the wire, was doubling up; which, being interpreted, meant that he had worked twentynine hours out of the last thirty-nine, that

he had slept when he could, and had eaten where he might combine celerity of service with concentration of nutriment. At six o'clock, with ten minutes for dinner, he had hurled himself upon a quick-lunch stool and called for picked-up codfish. "Baldy" esteemed this dish highly: it was ready prepared; it was filling; it could be bolted. Unhappily, somebody had been too lavish of salt. Whether the fault lay with bronzed fisherman or careless cook, "Baldy" at eight o'clock was in keen discomfort; at a quarter of eleven his mouth and throat were as parched as the Sahara, and while he mechanically recorded on his type-writer the doings of umpires and empires, his soul's desire was that tank across the hall.

There was an instant's pause after a despatch from Paris dealing with the fall of a ministry. Then the sounder began to sputter. Rat-tat-tat, r'rat-tat-t't't, rat-tat it went more furiously than ever, then suddenly halted. Somebody down the line had "broken." "Baldy" approved that break; it was all very well to code freely, but there was a limit on arbitraries. Had he been less like an overtaxed machine, he would have grinned in sympathy with the protest of his colleague fifty miles away. For a moment he sat motionless, while the controversy was fought out, then fell to tapping the keys of his type-writer, while over the wire the message was repeated. Weary as he was, he caught the note of scorn in the just perceptible slackening of pace. It was as if the sender was saying: "The primary class will please give attention-no, the kindergarten! This, dear children, is in Morse, the telegraph-alphabet, you know, all spelled out nicely for beginners. Listen carefully, and see if you can't read it-now!"

As for the message, it was clicked off in this way:

"Washn 8. T pr thsv sent to t sa a num o diplomatic nmns incng tf"

All that was left for Sanderson to do was merely to transcribe it thus:

"WASHINGTON (in capital letters) comma Feb period 8 dash The President this evening sent to the Senate a number of diplomatic nominations comma including the following colon."

It was an important list, for it began Ambassadors." Also it was a terse recital, full of meaning-a name, a State, a foreign capital. One line told that the gentleman representing the United States at Rome was transferred to London; the next that a minister to a leading secondrate nation was promoted to Berlin. Then

came:

[ocr errors]

"Jerome H. Breelton of Vershire—” Another break! That man down the line demanded a repetition of the roster from the beginning. 'Baldy" reached for a match, and relighted the stub of cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth; then he straightened himself in his chair. The fellow at headquarters, nettled by the interruption, was growling instead of setting about honoring the request. "Baldy" reckoned the seconds. His tongue seemed to be cracking; relief was temptingly near. He sprang up, rushed into the hall, and hurled himself into the news-room; snatched a glass, filled it in two motions, and emptied it in one. Then he sped back, spurred by the call of his sounder, audible afar; for it was set at its loudest, and reenforced by a sheet of tin. Fate, however, had decreed that others beside the operator should move with haste that night; and as "Baldy" shot from the news-room door, a tall and preoccupied young man strode toward it. There was a collision, a gruff word of apology from the tall youth, a grunt from Sanderson. He had caught the repeated "Vershire," but in the confusion of the impact with the other man lost what immediately followed. Then "St Peters b" reached him, but after that the dots and dashes were not quite clear. The crack sender jumbled things now and then, as "Baldy" knew by dire experience; but "St. Petersb" was all any reasonable being should need to hear. He dropped into his chair, and recorded "at St. Petersburg" as the completion of the line which began "Jerome H. Breelton of Vershire."

Five minutes later Sanderson was at a quick-lunch counter clamoring for a second cup of black coffee. Back in the newspaper-office a man in shirt-sleeves, with a green shade over his eyes, was invading the managing editor's room. In his hand was a type-written sheet, which he laid on the other's desk.

"What you think of that, Mr. Shelby?" he asked, his finger pointing to the despatch from Washington.

The managing editor got upon his feet. "Have somebody see Breelton, of course," he said crisply. "Bring him here, if he 'll come. It's the story of the day fast enough. Let me keep this a minute or two."

The man in shirt-sleeves nodded and departed. Shelby, bearing the sheet of paper, hurried into the hall. Glancing in at an open door, he saw an elderly man donning an overcoat with much deliberation.

"I'm just in time, Mr. Graves," said he. "Here's something for a wearied vision."

The elderly man put on a pair of eyeglasses, read the despatch, and carefully replaced the glasses in their case.

"Mr. Shelby," he said solemnly, "words fail me. This is the most amazingly preposterous thing that has occurred in my experience in politics. You'll get a statement from him, naturally." "I've told the boys to bring him here, if possible." "Good!

upon them."

Better impress the urgency

Shelby started for the news-room, Graves following closely. They found the man in shirt-sleeves talking earnestly to a stout youth.

"I've 'phoned Mr. Breelton's house, but he 's out-the maid does n't know where," he reported. "So Mason will go there, and wait for him to come back. He understands what 's wanted."

"Excellent!" said Shelby. Mason, while not gifted as a news-writer, was of a bulldog tenacity of purpose, which endeared him to his superiors more than could many adjectives. Graves, however, looked disturbed.

"I must see Breelton," he said sharply. "Can't you find out where he is, and get hold of him at once?"

A reporter, writing at a near-by desk,

looked up from his work. He was the tall chap who had collided with Sanderson, and his manner was no less care-burdened than it had been at the time of that incident.

"You will find Mr. Breelton at Judge Meredith's house," he said with somewhat of an effort. “There's a bridge-club that meets there to-night."

"Much obliged, Mr. Hamilton," said Shelby, in a matter-of-fact way. The modern newspaper may be prying at times, but in some directions its managers can be singularly incurious; and to none of the group did it occur to inquire how and when a member of the staff had become so well acquainted with the doings of the next ambassador to Russia. "Take a carriage, Mr. Mason, drive to the Merediths', and bring Breelton to the office," the managing editor went on. "I think he 'll come willingly enough; he ought to. Do you imagine, Mr. Graves, it'll be news to him?"

[ocr errors]

The editor-in-chief scowled. "Umph! If Breelton 's possible as an ambassador, anything else is possible. I'm going to my room. When you 've done with him, bring him in."

"Very well, sir," Shelby said; and thereupon Graves departed, Mason vanished, and the news-room went back to commonplace affairs. Presently the noise of the telegraph-instrument was heard, lunch being over and "Baldy" Sanderson, refreshed and with thirst appeased, having returned to duty. Shelby, passing by, paused for a moment to watch the operator, and then went on to Graves's sanctum. He discovered the editor freed of his overcoat and at his desk, his air being that of a person confronted by a singularly mysterious problem.

"This is a most extraordinary piece of business, Shelby," he said. "You know "You know what the ambassadorship is, and you know the sort of man to whom it now seems to be given. Jerome Breelton to represent the greatest republic at one of the proudest courts of Europe! Oh, Lord!"

"As bad as that, sir?"

Graves tapped the desk with his glasses. "Worse! Vastly worse! Breelton 's ideally unfit. He's a fool, Shelby. That's his one talent, and he 's developed it to the limit. He's of decent family, and that makes him a snob; he has an in

herited income, and that makes him look down on anybody with brains enough to work; he has dabbled in local politics, and that makes him think he's a master of statecraft. He'll turn us into the laughing-stock of the civilized world."

Shelby perched himself on a table near the editor's desk. "Then how does he get the job?" he asked. "What 's the politics in the move?"

"Politics?" Graves's face was a study. "Politics? There 's only one possible explanation-Effingham."

"What, Senator Effingham?"

"The same. Effingham is the enfant terrible of the party. You know, in the present state of things, he 's unlikely to be reëlected to the senate, even if the other side does n't capture the next legislature. We had a close shave last time to hold the State, you remember. Now, if you 'll admit that Effingham believes his case hopeless, it is possible-just possible, mind you -that he has engineered this farce to throw discredit on the faction which is now in control of the machine. Of course the appointment will be chalked up to its account, for Breelton has been identified with it after a fashion. In fact, he 's one of Senator Worth's hangers-on."

"But Worth may have done this."
"Not he.

Worth has too much sense and too little imagination. But he 'll have to bear the odium. That's the one reason for believing even the fantastic scheming of Effingham could have evolved such a public disgrace and humiliation. theory 's far-fetched, I admit; I apologize for it; I can't ask its acceptance-bar Bedlam and Effingham.”

The

Shelby laughed, and swung himself down from the table. "I'll turn the hero over to you as soon as we 've extracted an interview," he said as he departed.

Graves, however, was to see Breelton before the very capable inquisitors of the news-department were privileged to question him. Mason's task, as the event proved, had made no demands upon his tenacity.

"Breelton 'd have come along in an aeroplane, if I'd had one handy," the stout youth explained to the man in shirtsleeves. "All he wanted, when he heard what was up, was to get where he could hear more. Oh, yes; I gave him his first tip. He 'most forgot his hat and coat, and

« AnkstesnisTęsti »