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his long, bony fingers absent-mindedly through his thin locks for the last time, completed his work to his satisfaction, shut his ledger up with a snap, and looked up. "Evenin', gents," he said shortly; "heard the news?"
"Naw," drawled a long, lanky fellow with close-cropped iron-gray hair, who sat sprawled out in front of the stove. "Drive ahead, Bert."
"Jim Long's comin' back to-night."
"Fact, though," responded the postmaster.
said she expected him on to-night's stage.'
"His mother was down 'ere this aft'noon 'n she
"Wonder how his mother 'll feel to have him back," queried Deacon Jones, a pinched-up, miserly-looking fellow on the further side of the stove. "'F I had a son comin' back hum that had just served two years for robbery, strikes me I should n't feel happy over it."
"Darned cur'us your son ain't in prison," muttered the first speaker under his breath.
"What's that, Bill Watkins?" asked Jones, sharply.
"Nuthin' much. I was thinkin' that Jim was darned lucky to get off as easy as he did." "Waal, I dunno," said a man who had not spoken as yet. "I'm thinkin' there was others
in that scrape besides Jim Long, 'n 't was their luck that they got off."
"You're older 'n most of us, Deacon Brown," answered Jones, " but it don't foller because
a man's hair 's white thet he 'll always hit a thing right; 'n I tell you, Jim Long was the only feller mixed up in that business, 'n thet he war n't punished 's hard 's he orter been."
"I wonder," said Bill Watkins, as he accurately squirted a stream of tobacco juice through the open draft of the stove," what Jim lays to do when he gets back." "Callates to work out, I presume," said some one of the group.
"Waal, he won't get no work from me," snapped Deacon Jones.
"Hain't no farm of his own
"I should n't be surprised if I sh'ld give him a job if he came to me open 'n square-like 'n acted 's if he wanted to do better," said Deacon Brown, mildly.
“N'r I, neither," assented two or three others.
Here the sound of wheels outside interrupted the conversation, and the group about the stove adjourned outdoors as the old stage turned the corner and rolled heavily down the street, until Bob Marshall, the stage-driver, pulled up his horses in front of the post-office and flung down the mail-bag with a flourish worthy of a royal mail-carrier in King George's day. The on-lookers watched eagerly as Bob stepped around and opened the door of the coach, but the disappointment they felt was manifest in their faces as the only person to step out was old Mrs. Gregory, who had been for a two weeks' visit at her son-in-law's in the next county.
"Thought Jim Long was comin' to-night, Bob."
"Waal, he did come part way," replied the stage-driver, clambering back into the seat and gathering up the reins; "but he said he reckoned he'd walk over from the Centre, so I dropped him back there." The old stage lumbered away, and the farmers, after getting their mail, separated and went home in the fast-gathering twilight.
The last rays of the setting sun touched the golden vane on the Hammond Centre church spire as a young man walked musingly out of the town along the country road toward Turner's Corner. After he had gone some distance, he suddenly turned aside, and seating himself in the corner of a stone wall, pulled his slouch hat down over his eyes and buried his face in his hands. Twilight deepens into darkness, the line of golden light along the western hills fades away, the stars come out, a dark bank of clouds comes up in the west, and a chill wind begins to blow, yet the young man does not notice any of these things, but, with his head bowed, remains motionless. At length, however, he becomes so cold that he realizes that he must move to get warm, and rising, he pushes up his hat, shakes himself, and starts off down the road in a brisk, swinging walk. At first he seems to have come out of his lethargy, for he notes the objects along the road with an interested air, and now and then his eye lights as he sees indistinctly in the darkness something dear to his memory. Presently he falls to musing again, and his thoughts run something like this: "Strange, that I should have such a longing to get my fingers on money when I see it;
and yet, I don't know. Is it justice that my mother who is about as near a saint as there is on earth is it right that she should have to pinch and scrape to make the ends meet, when some mean skinflint who makes his pile by grinding down his fellow-men has all the good things of earth at his disposal? It makes my blood boil to think of it; and yet, although I believe that my mother has just as much right to her share of the world's wealth as any one, I must admit that I have no right to get for her by - - well, by stealing, that portion of her share which she has not. If father were only alive, we two might be able to support mother somehow; but as it is now, what with the mortgage on the place—and I know that mother has had to mortgage it more heavily, for she never could have kept the interest paid up the two years that I have been away what with the mortgage on the place, and mother's not being very strong, and likely to have a doctor's bill any time, what am I going to do to keep things going? Yet this I will do: whatever money I do get, I will get honestly, God helping me." Reflecting in this manner James Long reached the foot of the long hill from Hammond Centre, crossed the little valley, ascended the hill on the other side, and at the "Four Corners" turned off to the left down Narrow Lane. He passed by the Town Hall, and along by most of the houses, finally stopping in front of a humble cottage set well back from the road. As he turned in at the gate, the door of the cottage was flung open, and a frail, silver-haired woman, with a face full of love and joy, stood in the door-way, waiting to receive him. When he saw her, he bounded forward, leaped up the steps, and clasped her in his arms. "Mother!" "My son!" Then they went in and the door closed behind them.
James Long found it difficult for some time to secure work of any kind in his native place. No one seemed willing to trust to his care even the meanest kind of labor; but to his mother's suggestion that he seek work elsewhere, where he could start with a clean record, he replied, “ No, mother, I prefer to live down my disgrace here. I would rather earn the regard of the Turner's Corner people again than to begin anew in another place." So he stuck to his decision, and got what work he could in the neighborhood, at first doing odd jobs here and there, and gradually finding work for a longer time. Finally, about the first of January, Deacon Brown set him the task of clearing up a wood-lot about a mile from the village. The deacon said, "I reckon he won't find much to steal there. I guess he won't lug a hemlock-tree off a great way, and there ain't nuthin' else fer him to take, 'ceptin' the axe, 'n I'll resk that."
Thus it came about that James could be seen starting out from the village every morning with an axe on his shoulder and a tin dinner-pail in his hand. Although a reference to his past misdeed cut him keenly and often well-nigh discouraged him, yet he kept faithfully at work. Days when he felt particularly out of sorts with the world he would work off his anger by attacking a tree viciously, making the chips fly until both body and brain were tired. So thoroughly and well was the work in the wood-lot accomplished that Deacon Brown promised to give him permanent employment as a farm-hand when spring came. People began to cease to look askance at James Long, or to nod significantly when he passed.
It was a hot day in July. Not a breath of air was stirring. The flowers by the roadside, wilting, hung their drooping heads. The cows lay chewing their cud in the grateful shade of the trees. A loaded hay-cart, enveloped in a cloud of dust, crawled slowly up the long hill into Turner's Corner, the horses reeking with foam. The only active beings in sight were a little group of men who were hurriedly loading hay in a field near the road, about half-way up the long hill. The reason for their haste was apparent in a thunder-cap which was rising rapidly in the northwest. Suddenly a woman's cry broke the silence.
"What's that, Pete?" asked one of the men in the field to the man on top of the load. The fellow addressed looked keenly in the direction of the sound, but after a moment replied, "I don't see nuthin'. Guess Marm Gregory's spoiled a batch of pies," and returned to his work. A moment later, however, a piercing shriek was heard, and Pete looked up again. This time he saw something. Part way down the long hill, in the middle of the dusty highway, toddled a little flaxen-haired girl in a bright red dress, clasping in both her hands a big bunch of flowers and grasses. At some distance behind her was a large, black dog, coming along at a rapid trot. Still farther in the rear was a woman uttering agonized cries and waving her arms wildly.
Pete took it all in in a moment. "My Heavens, boys! Mad dog!" he shouted. In an instant every man in the field had started for the road, pitchfork in hand. The first to reach the highway was James Long. The little girl was meanwhile wandering aimlessly along, prattling to herself, heedless of the danger behind, heedless of her mother's cries, heedless of the warning shouts of the men. The dog was nearing the child, he was almost upon her but just then the little one, catching sight of a flower by the roadside that pleased her fancy, turned aside. The dog, not counting on that side movement, although he snapped at her, missed, and the next instant was impaled on the tines of the pitchfork in the hands of Jim Long. "Good man, Jim !” "Bully for you, Jim!" were the cries that sounded in Long's ears. Each one was music to his heart, which had so long yearned for words of approbation and praise; but when the mother, weeping for joy, clasped his hand and blessed him, Jim's cup of happiness overflowed, and he had to wink hard to keep back the tears. For one who has been a social outcast, even though he has been for some time partially restored to his former position, to suddenly be overwhelmed with favors by a whole community is a most gratifying experience. Thus thought James Long when, the next evening, the citizens of Turner's Corner had a mass-meeting in the Town Hall to express their return of confidence in him. After that night the man who dared to suggest that Jim Long had once been sent up for "robbery" would not have been tolerated at the Corner.
It was October again. The trees were resplendently decked out in dresses of red and gold, the farmers were at work harvesting their crops; the fog was heavy in the valley in the morning; the air was crisp and cool and a blue haze rested on the hills of the horizon through the day. Everybody in Turner's Corner declared that it was as "purty a fall as ever seed; an' as fer the air, 't was good enough for anybody, 'ceptin' mebbe the Widder Long." Mrs. Long had been growing noticeably feebler this fall. During the September rains she had caught a heavy cold, which had settled on her lungs and resulted in a hacking cough which all the local doctor's medicines did not seem to benefit. Her son watched her anxiously from day to day, noting with alarm the increasing slowness of her step, her growing fondness for the old stuffed rocker in the sunny corner of the kitchen, and the dry hack that was becoming almost constant. The doctor had told James that the best thing for his mother, perhaps the only thing that would save her life, would be a change of climate. "If you could only get her to Colorado, or California," he had said," she 'd come 'round all right." But the doctor knew when he said it that it would be impossible for the Longs to scrape together money enough to pay the fare to Colorado.
But the thought rankled in Long's mind. "If I only had money," he thought. "Oh, if I only had money! Must I see my mother die before my eyes, because I have n't the money to send her where she can get well?" and the old thoughts came back, and the old longing came back, and his fingers began to itch when he heard the chink of silver.
One day he was waiting in the post-office, talking and joking with the farmers who were waiting for the distribution of the mail which had just come in. As the farmers went up to collect their letters after the mail was opened, Long turned to walk away, for he or his mother seldom had anything. The postmaster called after him, " Hold on, Jim, here's a letter for your mother." Long turned back in surprise, took the letter mechanically, and turned it over and over in his hand. Yes, it was for his mother, there could be no mistake about that. It was addressed in a clear, bold hand to "Mrs. Elizabeth J. Long, Turner's Corner, Franklin Co., Mass.," and postmarked at some place in California. Long carried the letter in a wondering sort of way to his mother, who was fully as much surprised as he. She broke the seal and glancing at the signature affixed to the letter exclaimed, "Oh, it's from your Uncle Reuben, James. I had almost forgotten about him." Then she carefully read the letter aloud to her son. It was from a brother of James's father, who had settled some years before in Southern California, but who had never written his brother's widow since going West. The letter was given up to describing the beauties of Californian country and climate, and ended thus: "If you are still subject to those sick spells such as you used to have, Lizzie, nothing could be better for you than the climate out here; and if you can come on, we shall be glad to keep you here as long as you want to stay."
The letter set James to thinking again. Here was a chance, the chance for his mother. All
that was necessary was car-fare and money for the incidental expenses of a trip to California. Long was a little vague in his ideas about the fare to California, but he had an idea that a hundred dollars would cover all the expenses of the trip. He was unusually curt in his replies to his mother's comments on the letter and the country it described, and remained silent all through the evening, retiring much before his usual bedtime. In response to his mother's anxious question if he was feeling well, he only kissed her, and replied, "Yes, mother; a little tired, that's all." The next morning he had apparently recovered his usual spirits, and his mother was consequently much relieved.
Two or three days afterwards one of the villagers called out to Long, as he was coming home at night from work, " Say, Jim, don't you wish you was Deacon Brown?"
Why, what's up?” asked Long.
"The old man's just got paid off for some early apples 'n a lot of other truck he sent to the city."
"How much 'd he get?" asked Long.
"'Bout two hundred dollars, I guess. Enough to go on a six weeks' spree with." These words set James into the same old train of thought. Two hundred dollars! More than enough to get his mother to California. Easy to get, too. Did n't he know all about Deacon Brown's house? Had n't he and Joseph Brown been boon companions till Joe died? Had n't they explored every nook and cranny of the old house? Did n't he know where old Deacon Brown kept most of his money in the quaint, old, carved writing-desk in one corner of the living-room? Didn't he know that the catch on one of the windows of that living-room was broken, and the window never fastened, for the deacon said he'd lived nigh onto sixty year, and that catch had been broken a good twenty year, 'n he had n't been robbed so fur 'n did n't expect to be? Did n't he also know that the deacon always turned checks and money orders into cash as soon as possible, saying that he preferred Uncle Sam's checks? Yes, he must have that money, or enough to send his mother to California with, anyway.
In the midst of his thoughts he was interrupted by a cheery voice, calling, “ Well, Jim, my boy, how goes it?" and looking up he found himself in front of the deacon's orchard, and the deacon, who was gathering apples, calling to him. In the semi-darkness Jim perceived the old man's coat and vest hanging on a fence-picket in front of him. With a sudden start he remembered that the deacon carried his key-ring in his vest-pocket - a careless thing to do, his wife told him, but the deacon said he'd carried that key-ring thar for nigh onto forty year, 'n he had n't lost nuthin' so fur, 'n on the whole he guessed he would n't in futur'.
Long gave an equally cheery reply to the deacon's greeting, and leaning over the fence he exchanged the news of the day with the deacon, while he fumbled in the vest-pocket for the keyring. The darkness concealed his action, and the search was successful. Jim readily told the key to the writing-desk by its peculiar shape, detached it from the ring, and replaced the others. Then after a little more talk he sauntered away home.
The next morning, at the breakfast table, James said to his mother, "Do you remember what Uncle Reuben said about your going to California ?”
"Yes, my son. Why?"
"Well, I've been thinking it over. I've been working pretty hard this past year and I've laid by quite a little money that I'd been thinking of using toward paying off the mortgage, but I think now that I'll use it to send you to California with."
"James, what are you talking about? It is utterly out of the question."
Nothing of the sort, mother. I've had it all planned for some time."
"But, my son, even if I should go, how would you get on without me?" said Mrs. Long, weakening a little.
"Oh, I should get along all right. The thought that you were getting strong and well would be enough alone to keep me going."
"Well, give me time to think it over," said Mrs. Long, and in the end she yielded to her son's wish and her own desire to become stronger. The whole population of the Corner turned out to see her off, and was heartily moved by the affecting parting between her and James.
It was two or three weeks before Deacon Brown missed his money. The key had been returned to its proper place before the deacon had noted its absence. When he did discover his loss he did not think the money had been stolen, for no signs of violence were discoverable on the writing-desk, and the deacon was firm in his belief that there was only one key "in the kentry” that would fit that desk. So the good man, who was very absent-minded, supposed that he had mislaid the amount somewhere, and lived in daily expectation of seeing it turn up in some unexpected place.
In the meantime, Turner's Corner was surprised at the change that had come over James Long. From being a hail-fellow-well-met, he became silent, taciturn, and gloomy. People set it down to his separation from his mother. "Jim always did set a heap of store by his mother," they said.
Had James Long not been by nature generous, open-hearted, with an almost abnormal sense of justice in regard to most matters, quick to feel and sympathize, his guilt would not have preyed on him so, and he would have been content at escaping without suspicion. As it was, after a vast amount of thinking, and figuring, and mental agony, he came to this conclusion: "No, I can never pay it back. Two hundred dollars might be easy for some people to repay, but for a man like me, a farm-hand, with a big mortgage on my house and land no, I cannot do it. I know, unless I confess, no one will ever know that I took the money; but I must confess. I can't stand it any longer; and yet -oh, how can I confess? Yet I must!" And this last thought clung in his mind.
About eight o'clock one evening the door-bell of Deacon Brown's house jangled sharply, and the deacon, going to the door, found James Long there with a note in his hand. "Good even
ing, Jim," said the deacon.
"Good evening, Deacon. Here is a note for Mrs. Brown, that mother enclosed in a letter to me." As a matter of fact, the envelope addressed to Mrs. Brown contained another addressed to the deacon, in which Jim confessed his theft.
"Oh yes. Won't you come in and stay awhile, Jim?”
"Good night." James Long turned away from the door and walked slowly down the gravel walk to the road. It was a splendid night. The air was crisp and bracing, the November moon rode high in the heavens, and in its soft radiance everything looked subdued and peaceful. Lights in the windows of the neighboring houses twinkled cheerily. The sound of a piano fell on the ear. It was a beautiful, happy world. And yet- and yet - James Long stood looking and listening for a time, then slowly moved on. In front of the Town Hall he paused again, and a mist came before his eyes, as he thought of the good times he had had there. He looked at the little schoolhouse, and the memories it conjured up brought a dry sob to his throat. He regained his composure, and walked on till he stood before his own house. Here he halted once more, and gazed long and earnestly at his home. Then he bowed his head on his hands and gave way to an uncontrollable burst of feeling. At length he recovered himself, and started off down Narrow Lane, at first at a brisk walk, and then he broke into a run. On and on he ran down Narrow Lane, until he came to an unbroken reach of forest, where he turned off abruptly and plunged into the woods, still rushing on and on, farther and farther from man, from home, and, he thought, from God.
In a little glade in a
The next morning the sun rose bright and clear on a smiling world. forest the woodland denizens discovered a new and unwelcome sight. chirped above the spot; a bright-eyed squirrel peered at it from behind a tree; the wind sang a requiem through the branches of the pines; but the birds and the squirrels kept their secret well, for not until the snow had come and gone, and come and gone again, did man discover, among the leaves, with a rusted revolver by its side, a ghastly form, which cleared up a great mystery. W. M. SMALL.