Edward Joseph Harrington O'Brien.

The Best short stories of ... and the yearbook of the American short story online

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masons raising foundations. By building in from the north
I have not called my enemies' attention to the Suburban,
which enters from the southeast ; nobody has even thought
of it as my means of breaking in. But if you will carry
out the deal you made with me," says Regan, " I will own
the Suburban and throw my rails from the present end of
track to the Suburban right of way and into this town in



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264 MESSENGERS

a iiagle night I Think over it well; on this spot where
you sit among tumbledown walls you will raise up" —
tke man's tones thrilled like a prophecy — " you will raise
up a station of stone and glass. The sounds in here, in-
stead of running mice and the pawing of the old horse and
your own curses on poverty, will be the footsteps of hurry-
ing people, their laughs and cries of welcome and god-
speed. Ah, Timothy," breathes Regan, " think well ! "

But Timothy, wilder and gaunter than ever, sets his
teeth. " T would be walkin' off the duty."

Dan Regan grinds out the word after him. " Duty !
What is this, I ask of you, but duty? The duty to thou-
sands of people who want this road in Barlow, instead of
duty to one man, Craney, who has set you to guard a
thing he does not want and has deserted himself? He
will never come back. Now ask what you want of me.
The price, whatever it is! And where do you come by
this false notion of duty ? " he demands with an inspira-
tion.

" 'T was an old woman — she was the wise one," says
Tim, and explains, as in confidence, about his visit to the
cottage on that snowy night. " She was putting it into
a message," he says, " but her hand was too old and shaky
— and I did not know my letters to write it for her. She
had a beginning all blotted and scratched — I brought it
away, and tore it up the first night you came here. The
Farthest Lantern, it was. Here is the pen she broke by
stabbing into the table, she was that mad ! "

The Farthest Lantern I

Remotely Dan Regan hears the word, with a little shock,
as a challenge whispered in darkness; he shrugs his shoul-
ders.

" Come, Timothy," he urges.

Now memory has seized on the word, sending it echo-
ing through his brain; but he goes on, impatient of the
start which Tim has given him, and not yet realizing how
it was done.

" Will you help those crooks of Barlow against myself
and all the good people of the town? Will you cheat
Craney of the price of his road in case he ever comes
back? Is this duty? I tell you, bo!" And in a flash



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CALVIN JOHNSTON 265

of afterthought: "The wise old woman herself would
cry ' No ' from the grave of her. I tell you as one who
knows. For she was Regan's mother, and her message of
the things she saw beyond the day's work at Turntable —
was to me ! "

With terrible fascination Tim gazes at the man racket!
by the old powers of pull-down and trample-under, which
Tim himself holds imprisoned in Regan's breast. * Amd as
the last words drive home the vagabond answers, high and
clear : " Sure, you must know then. Tell me true, Mr.
Regan — 't will not be breaking the promise? "

Through the dingy panes in the corner wink the lights as
did those of Turntable long ago ; but they do not beckon.

" I will ditch the car now," says Tim.

"I might be mistaken — " Regan's voice is hollow;
the memories of a lifetime cloud his vision. " Perhaps
you would do well not to trust me," he says ; the warning
of a hypocrite to satisfy his startled conscience as once
more his gaze lifts bold and far along the road which lies
through the corner guarded by this scarecrow of a boy.

" Sure, I trust you," answers Tim in that singing voice
the likes of which was never heard out of him before, and
ties his tatters round him against the cold outside. The
promise has been kept, the duty done, he is at last on the
road with Regan.

The man holds the pen in his hand — the pen his mother
had tried to write her last, her life's message with, and
failed. Fearfully he gazes on this gaunt campaigner of
destiny, delivering his unspoken message by deed and bear-
ing and duty done, through storm and danger, indifferent
to bribe and threat.

But now this Tim Cannon nods and is on his way like
any credulous boy to clear the highway of fortune for
Regan, by the wreck of the Suburban car.

" Hold ! " Regan's head is bowed and he is listening.
" No, I cannot pass here," he answers in thought, and in a
strained, quiet voice tells Tim : " You trust me too late."

The miracle of Molly's messenger has not been worked
in vain.

Light had broken in flashes from the vagabond's coun-
tenance since the great things within him were set free to



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266 MESSENGERS

J'oin this mighty partnership. Halted now in his tracks
le listens too, gloomily, wrathfully hearing in fact what
Regan does not — a quickening footfall, the tug at the
latch, the rumble of the door. Craney comes in.

He is almost as gaunt as Tim and covered with the
grime on the road.

" What ? Are you not yet swallowed up by the cursed
Suburban?" he asks, astonished. "Then you will give
me word of Katy O'Hare, and I am gone by the through
freight. Fortune was not in the direction I took," he
adds by way of explaining ; " so I am beating up west and
south ; 't is a far search and leaves me little time between
trains."

" There is time enough ! " Regan has him by the arm.
" You are Craney of the Suburban. Come ! "

And so terrible is the grip he is fallen into that Mr.
Craney is dragged out and through the 'dark with hardly
perceptible struggle.

Tim Cannon watches them out with ghastly nonchalance;
once more fortune has declared against him and he takes
his loss, biding only Craney's return to throw up his job
and be gone.

The night passes and a faint iron rumor drifts down
from the northern sky where the P. D. construction gangs
are breaking camp ; then a boom of dynamite. The cam-
paign is on again ; no need of concealment now, the Sub-
urban has passed safely into Regan's hands.

The red coal in the rusty stove crumbles, the lantern
smokes out.

" I was just too late ; 't is little I know," thinks Tim Can-
non.

A burly battered man enters the door and lealds out the
horse; the gang at his heels attack the old building with
pick and bar ; to a ripping of shingles the dawn twinkles
through; the battle which the outcast had halted so long
is passing over his body.

The battered man shakes the iron bar in his hand, point-
ing it significantly at walls and roof tumbling about ; Tim
looks at him scornfully, and the gang tear at the flooring
with picks and axes.

Why it is so, I cannot say, who make no pretense of sor-



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CALVIN JOHNSTON 267

eery, but 't is certain that the mice linger and spiders swing
low from the rafters with presentiment of tragedy as Tim
Cannon stands his last guard in the corner of the doomed
old terminal. Twice he catches glimpses of Regan with-
out, compelling this storm of men and steel.

The floor is now torn up to his very feet ; the far end of
the building, roof and walls, has been scattered like chaff.
Indifferently Tim watches the battered man point to him
with the iron bar and /waits calmly to be dragged away by
the gang.

Mr. Craney running lightly along the last remaining
girder to Tim's corner presses some folded bills and a
paper into his hand.

" Salary and honorable discharge," he explains ; " and
invitation to the wed "

And his voice being smothered by a great crash within
and without he signals with his hands that not a moment is
to be lost in saving themselves alive.

Above all the uproar is a shriller yell, a rush of stagger-
ing men past the end of the terminal, a heavy clang of
steel ; fighting. " Regan is crossing the Great Southwest
main ! " shrieks Mr. Craney over his shoulder.

In fact the P. D. frog for the main-line crossing is set
in only after a sharp skirmish with a G. S. force rushed
up to prevent it. And then Regan, threatened with police
and military by his gathering enemies, passes them the
court order obtained during the night. By this order they
are enjoined from tearing up the frog,* even before it has
been laid down ! Such is the forethought of genius.

Regan's special, ordered out since midnight, stands
drumming up the line, and Tim lurking in his corner sees
the signal he gives as~he crosses the track. The special
glides down between them, and once more the vagabond
watches through the flying dust clouds the flash of Regan's
car, signaling farewell.

Now he is free to pick and choose where he will, but
Tim Cannon girtfs his rags with fierce regret; the great
things within him cling to this spot ; he cannot break away,
an'd he curses in a cold agony of disappointment.

"I was too late. Never again will I promise the
duty."



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268 MESSENGERS

" You gang boss ! " crashes a voice behind him ; " breach
me the wall at the corner."

And the battered man and his crew fly at it with pick
and bar.

With twisted face and hand clenched on his breast
the boy stares at Regan, who has just sent his car home
without boarding it at all.

" My path lies through this corner ; last night you
blocked it ; to-day I will pass."

'T is a poor sort of triumph over the vagabond, whose
body straightens and stiffens proudly.

" Which I never could do with you on guard ! Come ;
first through the breach, Timothy! Tis your right.
Now we are through — catch stride here in fortune's high-
way. You are on duty with Dan Regan ! "

This queer sentimental thing the man does in honor of
his mother's messenger, and never again through all the
years is the spell broken which draws the man of pull-down
and trample-under away and upward to the things which
the pretty colleen of long agone saw beyond the day's work
at Turntable. T is little we know.



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MRS. DRAINGER/S VEIL 1

By HOWARD MUMFORD JONES
From The Smart Set

IF the house had been merely shabby I doubt whether
I would have been interested. Every residence sec-
tion has its shabby houses, monuments to departed aspira-
tions, falling into slow decay in the midst of weedy yards,
sometimes uninhabited and sometimes sheltering one or
two members of the family who apparently have been
left, like the ancient furniture, to be forgotten. The paint
cracks and peels, the windows fall into impossible angles
or are boarded up, the porches sag, the chimneys lose a
brick or two and come in time to look like stumps of
teeth. By and by the whole structure seems to sink into
the grass under the burden of its neglect, and only a faint
tenacity, a melancholy inertia keeps it from crumbling al-
together. Then suddenly the inhabitants die, the neigh-
bors awake to a sudden sense of change, and that is all.

The Drainger house was such a house, but it was more.
It was mysterious, uncommunicative. In the midst of the
commonplace residence block, with its white cottages, its
monotonous lawns and uninteresting gardens, the con-
trast was startling, secretive, contemptuous. The tall
grass waved ironically at the neat grassplots which flanked
it. The great untrimmed elms sent branches to beat
against the decaying shingles, or downward into the faces
of passers-by, with patrician indifference to the law.
They had, indeed, the air of ragged retainers, haughty
and starving, and yet crowding about the house as if to
hide the poverty of their master from the eyes of the vul-
gar. City ordinances required the laying of cement
1 Copyright, 1918, by Smart Set Company, Inc.
Copyright, 1920, by Howard Mumford Jones.
969

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*7o MRS. DRAINGER'S VEIL

walks; the rotting boardwalk in front of the Drainger
mansion was already treacherous, and no one complained.

The building itself was extraordinary. Built in the
days when Crosby had been a lumber town and building
material had consequently been cheap, its pretensions were
immense. A tall, six-sided tower occupied two-thirds of
the front, an elaborate affair, crowned by rusty ironwork
in lieu of battlements. Windows were inserted at appro-
priate intervals, suggesting a donjon keep or a page from
Walter Scott. The heavy brown shutters were never
opened. There was a grim angularity to the deep porch
below, a military cut to the bare front door which added
to the forbidding character of the place. Behind this
imposing front the rest of the building lay like the parts
of a castle, each portion a little lower than the preceding.
There were four of these sections, like four platforms,
their flat roofs crowned with further rusty ironwork.
The windows were infrequent and all barred, and a mas-
sive elm to the east of the house threw over them a
gloomy and impenetrable shade. Although the whole
building had been painted brown, time and the weather
had combined to make it almost black, the only patch of
color being the rich green of the mossy shingles on the
roof of the porch.

I had first noticed the Drainger house because of its
oddity. Then I was impressed by its air of speechless
and implacable resentment. So far as I could observe it
was empty ; no foot disturbed the rank grass or troubled
the dismal porches. The windows were never thrown
open to the sunlight. The front door, in the month I had
spent in Crosby, remained locked. I had once observed a
grocery wagon standing in front of the house, but this, I
assumed, was because the driver wished to leave his horse
in the shade.

Proceeding homeward one night to my cousin's, Mark
Jedfrey, with whom I was spending the summer, I was
startled, when I came in front of the Drainger place, to
see a light in the front window of the tower on the
ground floor. It was moonlight, and the heavy shadows
sculptured the old mansion into fantastic shapes, revealing
a barred window inscrutably facing the moon, carving



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HOWARD MUMFORD JONES 271

the top of the house into gargoyles of light and throwing
the porch into Egyptian darkness. The light through
the shutter of the window was therefore as unexpected
as a stab. I paused without knowing it. Apparently I
was observed ; there was a light sound of footsteps from
the invisible porch and the creaking, followed by the
shutting, of the front door. Immediately afterwards the
light was extinguished.

The person who had been on the porch had moved so
quickly and so quietly, and the street, drenched in the
July moonlight, seemed so still, that I wondered a moment
later whether to credit my senses. At any rate, it was
not my business, I concluded, to stand staring at a strange
house at one o'clock in the morning, and I resumed my
walk home.

A week later, a change in the routine of my daily life
made me a regular visitant in the neighborhood. Twice
a day I passed the Drainger house. In the morning it
seemed to resist the genial sunlight, drawing its hedge of
shade trees closer about it and remaining impervious to all
suggestions of warmth. And on my return from the of-
fice in the evening it was as sealed, as autumnal as ever.
The pleasant sounds of human intercourse, the chatting
of women on the steps or the whirr of lawn-mowers
should, I fancied, at least unshutter a window or burst
open a frigid door. But the warm impulses of neighbor-
hood life, like the cries of the boys at their evening game
of baseball, broke unheeded against that clifflike impas-
sivity. No one stirred within ; no one, not even the paper
boy, dared to cut across the front yard; and a pile of
yellowing bills on the front steps testified to the unavailing
temerity of advertisers.

There was nothing to show I had not dreamed the epi-
sode of the light, as I had begun to think of it. I could
have made inquiries — Helen, Mark's wife, knows every-
body — but I did not. I could have consulted the direc-
tory. But I preferred to keep the house to myself. I
had a secret sense of proprietorship (I am, I suppose, a
romantic and imaginative soul) and I preferred that the
mystery should come to me. My alert devotion must, I
thought, have its reward. Indeed, my daily walks to and



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272 MRS. DRAINGER'S VEIL

from my work took on the character of a silent duel be-
tween the expressionless walls and my expressionless face,
and I was not going to be beaten in taciturnity.

One Friday morning, well into August, I was surprised
and curious to see a woman standing under die elms in
the front of the Drainger mansion. The neighborhood
was, for the moment, deserted. I concealed my eagerness
under a mask of impassivity. I thought myself masterly
as, pretending an interest in nothing, I yet watched the
place out of the tail of my eye. Imagine my increasing
surprise to observe that as I approached, the person in
question came slowly down to the junction of her walk
with the sidewalk, so that, as I drew near we were face
to face.

"You are Mr. Gillingham?" she asked.

I stopped mechanically and raised my hat. I visit
Crosby regularly, where I am well known, so that I was
not surprised to be thus accosted by one who was a
stranger to me. She was about forty, obviously a spin-
ster, and fclad in a costume not merely out-of-date, but so
far out-of-date as to possess a false air of theatricalism.
I can best describe her (I am not clever in matters ol
dress) by saying that, with the exception that she was not
wearing a hoopskirt, she appeared to have stepped out of
Godetfs Lady's Book. A Paisley shawl was wrapped
tightly around her head, although the morning was warm,
and its subdued brilliance clashed oddly with the faded
lemon of her dress. Her face was small, the features
regular, but her complexion was more than sallow, it was
yellow, the yellow of dying grass and sunless places. A
spot of rouge glared on either cheek, and, with her eyes,
which were black and brilliant, gave her face the look
of fever. Her dark hair, just visible under the shawl,
deepened the hectic quality of her features, although, as
a matter of fact, she was not ill.

" You are a lawyer ? " she continued, her brilliant eyes
searching my face, I thought with some boldness, and
without waiting for an answer she said, "Come," and
walked abruptly toward the house.

I followed her. On the porch we paused; my com-
panion turned and searched the street, which was still



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HOWARD MUMFORD JONES 273

empty, a fact which seemed to increase her satisfaction,
and without giving me a glance, unlocked the front door
with a key which she was carrying.

II

She led me into the house and through two of the rooms
into a third before we paused. The transition from sun-
light to darkness had been too rapid for my eyes, so that,
for some moments I could only stand ridiculously in the
middle of the room. I was conscious of the presence of
,a third person — intensely conscious — and exceedingly
uncomfortable. My conductor busied herself pushing
forward a chair which, fortunately, she placed under the
shuttered window. To this I stumbled.

" You are a lawyer? " asked a voice ffom the darkness.

I was startled.

The voice sprang from the corner I was facing as
though it were a live thing that had seized upon me.
It was the voice of a woman, of great age apparently,
and yet it possessed a fierce, biting energy that no amount
of years could weaken.

"This is Mr. Gillingham," said my conductor with, I
thought, a shade of asperity. " Of course he 9 s a lawyer."

To this there succeeded a silence, broken only by the
sibilant drawing in of the younger woman's breath.

"I am indeed a lawyer," I said at length. " In what
way can I be of service? "

"We see no one," said the imperious voice abruptly.
" You must therefore pardon the manner in which I have
had you called in."

I was now able to discern something through the gloom.

The speaker sat in extreme shadow. Her dress was a
blur in the darkness, faintly outlining her person, which
seemed to be of medium height, though in the great chair
she looked shrunken and huddled together. Her eyes,
faint points of light, were steadfastly fixed on mine, but
her face was, I thought, in such deep shadow that I could
not make it out.

But the concentration points, so to speak, were not her
eyes, but her hands. /They lay in her lap motionless, and yet



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274 MRS. DRAINGER'S VEIL

they were extraordinarily alive. Even in that light their
emaciated condition testified to her extreme age ; but they
were not decrepit, they seemed to glow with a steady light,
an inward and consuming energy.

" You may leave us, Emily," said the voice, and Emily,
who had been hovering with what I somehow felt to be a
hint of malice, unwillingly withdrew. The other closed
her eyes until the shutting of the door assured us of
privacy.

"I am dying," she began suddenly in her strange, im-
personal manner.

" Do not interrupt me," she added coldly as I was about
to utter some inanity. " I desire to be certain of one thing
while there is time, namely, that my wishes respecting the
disposition of my body shall be respected — in every par-
ticular/'

Her manner indicated nothing out of the ordinary. She
might have been speaking of the merest commonplace.

" You are a lawyer. How can I so arrange that the di-
rections I will leave must be carried out after my death? "

" Ordinarily," I managed to stammer, " directions in
such matters when given to the heirs, have the binding
force — "

There was a second's pause.

" That is not what I wish," continued the inflexible voice.
" I wish to compel attention to my instructions."

" A provision can be inserted in your will," I said at
length, " which would make the inheritance of your prop-
erty conditional upon the fulfillment of your wishes."

She seemed to consider this. Her hands moved slightly
in her lap.

" And if those conditions were not fulfilled? "

" Your estate would go elsewhere as you might direct."

There was prolonged pause. Her eyes disappeared,
and try as I would, I could not distinguish her face. Her
hands shifted, and she spoke.

" Step to the door and call my daughter. I am Mrs.
Drainger."

I might have been the servant. I arose and groped my
way toward the door. She neither offered me any direc-
tion as to its location, nor commented upon the gloom in
which I hesitated.



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HOWARD MUMFORD JONES 275

I reached the door and, opening it, was about to call,
when I was aware of Miss Drainger's presence ; she seemed
to have materialized, a pale specter, out of the dusk, and
I was again conscious of vague malice.

" Your mother wished me to call you," I said, holding
the door open.

Her strange eyes searched mine for a brief moment as
she entered the room.

Suddenly Miss Drainger, poised in the gloom over her
mother's chair, seemed to my startled sense like a mon-
strous pallid moth. The impression, though momentary,
was none the less vivid. I felt choked, uncomfortable.
An instant only, and Mrs. Drainger's voice recalled me to
my senses.

She gave directions for the bringing of a box containing
some documents she wished. Miss Drainger said nothing.
but turned abruptly, gave me another sidelong glance and
left the room.

In the time she was absent neither of us spoke. The
strange woman in the corner shrank, it seemed to me,
deeper into the dusk, until only her extraordinary hands
remained; and I sat in my uncomfortable and ancient
chair, the little streaks of sunlight from the blind making
odd patterns on my legs and hands.

The return of the daughter with a tin box which she
placed in my hands was followed by an extraordinary mo-
ment. I became, if I did not deceive myself, increasingly
conscious of a silent struggle going on between the two.
Mrs. Drainger, in her biting, inflexible voice, again re-
quested her daughter to leave us. Emily demurred and
in the interval that followed I had a sense of crisis. Nay,
I fancied more; upon hearing Emily's brief protest Mrs.
Drainger slowly clenched her hands, and the movement
was as though she were steadily bending her daughter's
will to her purpose. At length, with the same sibilant in-
taking of the breath I had observed before, Emily turned
and swept through the door, her face unusually yellow, the
little spots of rouge on her cheeks burning suddenly.

The box she had given me contained a will made by Mrs.
Drainger, together with a few securities totaling no great
value, and other less important documents. This will she



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276 MRS. DRAINGER'S VEIL

now directed me to modify so that the inheritance of the



Online LibraryEdward Joseph Harrington O'BrienThe Best short stories of ... and the yearbook of the American short story → online text (page 24 of 37)