Richard Harding Davis.

Van Bibber and Others online

. (page 10 of 12)
Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 10 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and Bronson smiled sheepishly, and peace was restored between them.

But as Bronson capitulated, he tried to make conditions. "Can I take a
cab?" he asked.

The city editor looked at his watch. "Yes," he said; "you'd better;
it's late, and we go to press early to-night, remember."

"And can I send my stuff down by the driver and go home?" Bronson went
on. "I can write it up there, and leave the cab at Fifteenth Street,
near our house. I don't want to come all the way down-town again."

"No," said the chief; "the driver might lose it, or get drunk, or
something."

"Then can I take Gallegher with me to bring it back?" asked Bronson.
Gallegher was one of the office-boys.

The city editor stared at him grimly. "Wouldn't you like a
type-writer, and Conway to write the story for you, and a hot supper
sent after you?" he asked.

"No; Gallegher will do," Bronson said.

Gallegher had his overcoat on and a night-hawk at the door when
Bronson came down the stairs and stopped to light a cigar in the
hallway.

"Go to Moyamensing," said Gallegher to the driver.

Gallegher looked at the man to see if he would show himself
sufficiently human to express surprise at their visiting such a place
on such a night, but the man only gathered up his reins impassively,
and Gallegher stepped into the cab, with a feeling of disappointment
at having missed a point. He rubbed the frosted panes and looked out
with boyish interest at the passing holiday-makers. The pavements were
full of them and their bundles, and the street as well, with wavering
lines of medical students and clerks blowing joyfully on the horns,
and pushing through the crowd with one hand on the shoulder of the man
in front. The Christmas greens hung in long lines, and only stopped
where a street crossed, and the shop fronts were so brilliant that the
street was as light as day.

It was so light that Bronson could read the clipping the city editor
had given him.

"What is it we are going on?" asked Gallegher.

Gallegher enjoyed many privileges; they were given him principally, I
think, because if they had not been given him he would have taken
them. He was very young and small, but sturdily built, and he had a
general knowledge which was entertaining, except when he happened to
know more about anything than you did. It was impossible to force him
to respect your years, for he knew all about you, from the number of
lines that had been cut off your last story to the amount of your
very small salary; and there was an awful simplicity about him, and a
certain sympathy, or it may have been merely curiosity, which showed
itself towards every one with whom he came in contact. So when he
asked Bronson what he was going to do, Bronson read the clipping in
his hand aloud.

"'Henry Quinn,'" Bronson read, "'who was sentenced to six years in
Moyamensing Prison for the robbery of the Second National Bank at
Tacony, will be liberated to-night. His sentence has been commuted,
owing to good conduct and to the fact that for the last year he has
been in very ill health. Quinn was night watchman at the Tacony bank
at the time of the robbery, and, as was shown at the trial, was in
reality merely the tool of the robbers. He confessed to complicity in
the robbery, but disclaimed having any knowledge of the later
whereabouts of the money, which has never been recovered. This was his
first offence, and he had, up to the time of the robbery, borne a very
excellent reputation. Although but lately married, his married life
had been a most unhappy one, his friends claiming that his wife and
her mother were the most to blame. Quinn took to spending his evenings
away from home, and saw a great deal of a young woman who was supposed
to have been the direct cause of his dishonesty. He admitted, in fact,
that it was to get money to enable him to leave the country with her
that he agreed to assist the bank-robbers. The paper acknowledges the
receipt of ten dollars from M.J.C. to be given to Quinn on his
release, also two dollars from Cash and three from Mary."

Gallegher's comment on this was one of disdain. "There isn't much in
that," he said, "is there? Just a man that's done time once, and
they're letting him out. Now, if it was Kid McCoy, or Billy Porter, or
some one like that - eh?" Gallegher had as high a regard for a string
of aliases after a name as others have for a double line of K.C.B.'s
and C.S.L.'s, and a man who had offended but once was not worthy of
his consideration. "And you will work in those bloodhounds again, too,
I suppose," he said, gloomily.

The reporter pretended not to hear this, and to doze in the corner,
and Gallegher whistled softly to himself and twisted luxuriously on
the cushions. It was a half-hour later when Bronson awoke to find he
had dozed in all seriousness, as a sudden current of cold air cut in
his face, and he saw Gallegher standing with his hand on the open
door, with the gray wall of the prison rising behind him.

Moyamensing looks like a prison. It is solidly, awfully suggestive of
the sternness of its duty and of the hopelessness of its failing in
it. It stands like a great fortress of the Middle Ages in a quadrangle
of cheap brick and white dwelling-houses, and a few mean shops and
tawdry saloons. It has the towers of a fortress, the pillars of an
Egyptian temple; but more impressive than either of these is the
awful simplicity of the bare, uncompromising wall that shuts out the
prying eyes of the world and encloses those who are no longer of the
world. It is hard to imagine what effect it has on those who remain in
the houses about it. One would think they would sooner live
overlooking a graveyard than such a place, with its mystery and
hopelessness and unending silence, its hundreds of human inmates whom
no one can see or hear, but who, one feels, are there.

Bronson, as he looked up at the prison, familiar as it was to him,
admitted that he felt all this, by a frown and a slight shrug of the
shoulders. "You are to wait here until twelve," he said to the driver
of the nighthawk. "Don't go far away."

Bronson and the boy walked to an oyster-saloon that made one of the
line of houses facing the gates of the prison on the opposite side of
the street, and seated themselves at one of the tables from which
Bronson could see out towards the northern entrance of the jail. He
told Gallegher to eat something, so that the saloon-keeper would make
them welcome and allow them to remain, and Gallegher climbed up on a
high chair, and heard the man shout back his order to the kitchen with
a faint smile of anticipation. It was eleven o'clock, but it was even
then necessary to begin to watch, as there was a tradition in the
office that prisoners with influence were sometimes released before
their sentence was quite fulfilled, and Bronson eyed the "released
prisoners' gate" from across the top of his paper. The electric lights
before the prison showed every stone in its wall, and turned the icy
pavements into black mirrors of light. On a church steeple a block
away a round clock-face told the minutes, and Bronson wondered, if
they dragged so slowly to him, how tardily they must follow one
another to the men in the prison, who could not see the clock's face.
The office-boy finished his supper, and went out to explore the
neighborhood, and came back later to say that it was growing colder,
and that he had found the driver in a saloon, but that he was, to all
appearances, still sober. Bronson suggested that he had better
sacrifice himself once again and eat something for the good of the
house, and Gallegher assented listlessly, with the comment that one
"might as well be eatin' as doin' nothin'." He went out again
restlessly, and was gone for a quarter of an hour, and Bronson had
re-read the day's paper and the signs on the wall and the clipping he
had read before, and was thinking of going out to find him, when
Gallegher put his head and arm through the door and beckoned to him
from the outside. Bronson wrapped his coat up around his throat and
followed him leisurely to the street. Gallegher halted at the curb,
and pointed across to the figure of a woman pacing up and down in the
glare of the electric lights, and making a conspicuous shadow on the
white surface of the snow.

"That lady," said Gallegher, "asked me what door they let the
released prisoners out of, an' I said I didn't know, but that I knew a
young fellow who did."

Bronson stood considering the possible value of this for a moment, and
then crossed the street slowly. The woman looked up sharply as he
approached, but stood still.

"If you are waiting to see Quinn," Bronson said, abruptly, "he will
come out of that upper gate, the green one with the iron spikes over
it."

The woman stood motionless, and looked at him doubtfully. She was
quite young and pretty, but her face was drawn and wearied-looking, as
though she were a convalescent or one who was in trouble. She was of
the working class.

"I am waiting for him myself," Bronson said, to reassure her.

"Are you?" the girl answered, vaguely. "Did you try to see him?" She
did not wait for an answer, but went on, nervously: "They wouldn't let
me see him. I have been here since noon. I thought maybe he might get
out before that, and I'd be too late. You are sure that is the gate,
are you? Some of them told me there was another, and I was afraid I'd
miss him. I've waited so long," she added. Then she asked, "You're a
friend of his, ain't you?"

"Yes, I suppose so," Bronson said. "I am waiting to give him some
money."

"Yes? I have some money, too," the girl said, slowly. "Not much."
Then she looked at Bronson eagerly and with a touch of suspicion, and
took a step backward. "You're no friend of hern, are you?" she asked,
sharply.

"Her? Whom do you mean?" asked Bronson.

But Gallegher interrupted him. "Certainly not," he said. "Of course
not."

The girl gave a satisfied nod, and then turned to retrace her steps
over the beat she had laid out for herself.

"Whom do you think she means?" asked Bronson, in a whisper.

"His wife, I suppose," Gallegher answered, impatiently.

The girl came back, as if finding some comfort in their presence.
"_She's_ inside now," with a nod of her head towards the prison. "Her
and her mother. They come in a cab," she added, as if that
circumstance made it a little harder to bear. "And when I asked if I
could see him, the man at the gate said he had orders not. I suppose
she gave him them orders. Don't you think so?" She did not wait for a
reply, but went on as though she had been watching alone so long that
it was a relief to speak to some one. "How much money have you got?"
she asked.

Bronson told her.

"Fifty-five dollars!" The girl laughed, sadly. "I only got fifteen
dollars. That ain't much, is it? That's all I could make - I've been
sick - that and the fifteen I sent the paper."

"Was it you that - did you send any money to a paper?" asked Bronson.

"Yes; I sent fifteen dollars. I thought maybe I wouldn't get to speak
to him if she came out with him, and I wanted him to have the money,
so I sent it to the paper, and asked them to see he got it. I give it
under three names: I give my initials, and 'Cash,' and just my name -
'Mary.' I wanted him to know it was me give it. I suppose they'll send
it all right. Fifteen dollars don't look like much against fifty-five
dollars, does it?" She took a small roll of bills from her pocket and
smiled down at them. Her hands were bare, and Bronson saw that they
were chapped and rough. She rubbed them one over the other, and smiled
at him wearily.

Bronson could not place her in the story he was about to write; it was
a new and unlooked-for element, and one that promised to be of moment.
He took the roll of bills from his pocket and handed them to her. "You
might as well give him this too," he said. "I will be here until he
comes out, and it makes no difference who gives him the money, so long
as he gets it."

The girl smiled confusedly. The show of confidence seemed to please
her. But she said, "No, I'd rather not. You see, it isn't mine, and I
_did_ work for this," holding out her own roll of money. She looked up
at him steadily, and paused for a moment, and then said, almost
defiantly, "Do you know who I am?"

"I can guess," Bronson said.

"Yes, I suppose you can," the girl answered. "Well, you can believe it
or not, just as you please" - as though he had accused her of
something - "but, before God, it wasn't my doings." She pointed with a
wave of her hand towards the prison wall. "I did not know it was for
_me_ he helped them get the money until he said so on the stand. I
didn't know he was thinking of running off with me at all. I guess I'd
have gone if he had asked me. But I didn't put him up to it as they
said I'd done. I knew he cared for me a lot, but I didn't think he
cared as much as that. His wife" - she stopped, and seemed to consider
her words carefully, as if to be quite fair in what she said - "his
wife, I guess, didn't know just how to treat him. She was too fond of
going out, and having company at the house, when he was away nights
watching at the bank. When they was first married she used to go down
to the bank and sit up with him to keep him company; but it was
lonesome there in the dark, and she give it up. She was always fond of
company and having men around. Her and her mother are a good deal
alike. Henry used to grumble about it, and then she'd get mad, and
that's how it begun. And then the neighbors talked too. It was after
that that he got to coming to see me. I was living out in service
then, and he used to stop in to see me on his way back from the bank,
about seven in the morning, when I was up in the kitchen getting
breakfast. I'd give him a cup of coffee or something, and that's how
we got acquainted."

She turned her face away, and looked at the lights farther down the
street. "They said a good deal about me and him that wasn't true."
There was a pause, and then she looked at Bronson again. "I told him
he ought to stop coming to see me, and to make it up with his wife,
but he said he liked me best. I couldn't help his saying that, could
I, if he did? Then he - then this come," she nodded to the jail, "and
they blamed _me_ for it. They said that I stood in with the
bank-robbers, and was working with them; they said they used me for to
get him to help them." She lifted her face to the boy and the man, and
they saw that her eyes were wet and that her face was quivering.
"That's likely, isn't it?" she demanded, with a sob. She stood for a
moment looking at the great iron gate, and then at the clock-face
glowing dully through the falling snow: it showed a quarter to twelve.
"When he was put away," she went on, sadly, "I started in to wait for
him, and to save something against his coming out. I only got three
dollars a week and my keep, but I had saved one hundred and thirty
dollars up to last April, and then I took sick, and it all went to the
doctor and for medicines. I didn't want to spend it that way, but I
couldn't die and not see him. Sometimes I thought it would be better
if I did die and save the money for him, and then there wouldn't be
any more trouble, anyway. But I couldn't make up my mind to do it. I
did go without taking medicines they laid out for me for three days;
but I had to live - I just _had_ to. Sometimes I think I ought to have
given up, and not tried to get well. What do you think?"

Bronson shook his head, and cleared his throat as if he were going to
speak, but said nothing. Gallegher was looking up at the girl with
large, open eyes. Bronson wondered if any woman would ever love him as
much as that, or if he would ever love any woman so. It made him feel
lonesome, and he shook his head. "Well?" he said, impatiently.

"Well, that's all; that's how it is," she said. "She's been living on
there at Tacony with her mother. She kept seeing as many men as
before, and kept getting pitied all the time; everybody was so sorry
for her. When he was took so bad that time a year ago with his lungs,
they said in Tacony that if he died she'd marry Charley Oakes, the
conductor. He's always going to see her. Them that knew her knew me,
and I got word about how Henry was getting on. I couldn't see him,
because she told lies about me to the warden, and they wouldn't let
me. But I got word about him. He's been fearful sick just lately. He
caught a cold walking in the yard, and it got down to his lungs.
That's why they are letting him out. They say he's changed so. I
wonder if I'm changed much?" she said. "I've fallen off since I was
ill." She passed her hands slowly over her face, with a touch of
vanity that hurt Bronson somehow, and he wished he might tell her how
pretty she still was. "Do you think he'll know me?" she asked. "Do you
think she'll let me speak to him?"

"I don't know. How can I tell?" said the reporter, sharply. He was
strangely nervous and upset. He could see no way out of it. The girl
seemed to be telling the truth, and yet the man's wife was with him
and by his side, as she should be, and this woman had no place on the
scene, and could mean nothing but trouble to herself and to every one
else. "Come," he said, abruptly, "we had better be getting up there.
It's only five minutes of twelve."

The girl turned with a quick start, and walked on ahead of them up the
drive leading between the snow-covered grass-plots that stretched from
the pavement to the wall of the prison. She moved unsteadily and
slowly, and Bronson saw that she was shivering, either from excitement
or the cold.

"I guess," said Gallegher, in an awed whisper, "that there's going to
be a scrap."

"Shut up," said Bronson.

They stopped a few yards before the great green double gate, with a
smaller door cut in one of its halves, and with the light from a big
lantern shining down on them. They could not see the clock-face from
where they stood, and when Bronson took out his watch and looked at
it, the girl turned her face to his appealingly, but did not speak.

"It will be only a little while now," he said, gently. He thought he
had never seen so much trouble and fear and anxiety in so young a
face, and he moved towards her and said, in a whisper, as though those
inside could hear him, "Control yourself if you can," and then added,
doubtfully, and still in a whisper, "You can take my arm if you need
it." The girl shook her head dumbly, but took a step nearer him, as if
for protection, and turned her eyes fearfully towards the gate. The
minutes passed on slowly but with intense significance, and they stood
so still that they could hear the wind playing through the wires of
the electric light back of them, and the clicking of the icicles as
they dropped from the edge of the prison wall to the stones at their
feet.

And then slowly and laboriously, and like a knell, the great gong of
the prison sounded the first stroke of twelve; but before it had
counted three there came suddenly from all the city about them a great
chorus of clanging bells and the shrieks and tooting of whistles and
the booming of cannon. From far down town the big bell of the
State-house, with its prestige and historic dignity back of it, tried
to give the time, but the other bells raced past it, and beat out on
the cold crisp air joyously and uproariously from Kensington to the
Schuylkill; and from far across the Neck, over the marshes and frozen
ponds, came the dull roar of the guns at the navy-yard, and from the
Delaware the hoarse tootings of the ferry-boats, and the sharp shrieks
of the tugs, until the heavens seemed to rock and swing with the great
welcome.

Gallegher looked up quickly with a queer, awed smile.

"It's Christmas," he said, and then he nodded doubtfully towards
Bronson and said, "Merry Christmas, sir."

It had come to the waiting holiday crowd down-town around the
State-house, to the captain of the tug, fog-bound on the river, to the
engineer sweeping across the white fields and sounding his welcome
with his hand on the bell-cord, to the prisoners beyond the walls, and
to the children all over the land, watching their stockings at the
foot of their beds.

And then the three were instantly drawn down to earth again by the
near, sharp click of opening bolts and locks, and the green gates
swung heavily in before them. The jail-yard was light with whitewash,
and two great lamps in front of round reflectors shone with blinding
force in their faces, and made them start suddenly backward, as though
they had been caught in the act and held in the circle of a
policeman's lantern. In the middle of the yard was the carriage in
which the prisoner's wife and her mother had come, and around it stood
the wardens and turnkeys in their blue and gold uniforms. They saw
them, dimly from behind the glare of the carriage lamps that shone in
their faces, and saw the horses moving slowly towards them, and the
driver holding up their heads as they slipped and slid on the icy
stones. The girl put her hand on Bronson's arm and clinched it with
her fingers, but her eyes were on the advancing carriage. The horses
slipped nearer to them and passed them, and the lights from the lamps
now showed their backs and the paving stones beyond them, and left the
cab in partial darkness. It was a four-seated carriage with a movable
top, opening into two halves at the centre. It had been closed when
the cab first entered the prison, a few hours before, but now its top
was thrown back, and they could see that it held the two women, who
sat facing each other on the farther side, and on the side nearer
them, stretching from the forward seat to the top of the back, was a
plain board coffin, prison-made and painted black.

The girl at Bronson's side gave something between a cry and a shriek
that turned him sick for an instant, and that made the office-boy drop
his head between his shoulders as though some one had struck at him
from above. Even the horses shied with sudden panic towards one
another, and the driver pulled them in with an oath of consternation,
and threw himself forward to look beneath their hoofs. And as the
carriage stopped the girl sprang in between the wheels and threw her
arms across the lid of the coffin, and laid her face down upon the
boards that were already damp with the falling snow.

"Henry! Henry! Henry!" she moaned.

The surgeon who attended the prisoner through the sickness that had
cheated the country of three hours of his sentence ran out from the
hurrying crowd of wardens and drew the girl slowly and gently away,
and the two women moved on triumphantly with their sorry victory.

* * * * *

Bronson gave his copy to Gallegher to take to the office, and
Gallegher laid it and the roll of money on the city editor's desk, and
then, so the chief related afterwards, moved off quickly to the door.
The chief looked up from his proofs and touched the roll of money with
his pencil. "Here! what's this?" he asked. "Wouldn't he take it?"

Gallegher stopped and straightened himself as though about to tell
with proper dramatic effect the story of the night's adventure, and
then, as though the awe of it still hung upon him, backed slowly to
the door, and said, confusedly, "No, sir; he was - he didn't need it."




AN UNFINISHED STORY


Mrs. Trevelyan, as she took her seat, shot a quick glance down the
length of her table and at the arrangement of her guests, and tried to
learn if her lord and master approved. But he was listening to
something Lady Arbuthnot, who sat on his right, was saying, and, being
a man, failed to catch her meaning, and only smiled unconcernedly and
cheerfully back at her. But the wife of the Austrian Minister, who was
her very dearest friend, saw and appreciated, and gave her a quick
little smile over her fan, which said that the table was perfect, the
people most interesting, and that she could possess her soul in peace.
So Mrs. Trevelyan pulled at the tips of her gloves and smiled upon her
guests. Mrs. Trevelyan was not used to questioning her powers, but
this dinner had been almost impromptu, and she had been in doubt. It
was quite unnecessary, for her dinner carried with it the added virtue
of being the last of the season, an encore to all that had gone
before - a special number by request on the social programme. It was
not one of many others stretching on for weeks, for the summer's
change and leisure began on the morrow, and there was nothing hanging
over her guests that they must go on to later. They knew that their
luggage stood ready locked and strapped at home; they could look


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12

Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 10 of 12)