Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

. (page 30 of 163)
Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 30 of 163)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

room, and threw the record of his crime
and shame out of the port-hole. Then,
placing the litUe excerpt in the pocket of his
waistcoat, he went on deck.

There sat the happy passengers, wrapped
in shawls, watching the setting sim, thinking
of the friends and scenes they had left
behind them, and dreaming of the unknown
world that lay before. Three or four elderly
gendemen were gathered in a group, discuss-
ing Mr. Belcher himself, but none of them
knew him. He had no part in the world
of honor and of innocence in which all these
lived. He was an outlaw. He groaned
when the overwhelming consciousness of
his disgrace came upon him — groaned to
think that not one of all the pleasant people
around him could know him without shrink-
ing fix>m him as a monster.

He was looking for some one. A sailor
engaged in service passed near him. Step-
ping to his side, Mr. Belcher asked him to

Digitized by




show him the Captain. The man pointed to
the bridge.

" There's the Cap'n, sir — ^the man in the
blue coat and brass buttons."

Then he went along.

Mr. Belcher immediately made his way
to the bridge. He touched his hat to the
gruff old officer, and begged his pardon for
obtruding himself upon him, but he was in
trouble, and wanted advice.

" Very well, out with it; what's the mat-
ter ? " said the Captain.

Mr. Belcher drew out the little item he
bad saved, and said :

'' C^>tain, I have seen this bit of news
for the first time since I started. This firm
held all the money I have in the world. Is
there any possible way for me to get back
to my home?'*

^ I don't know of any," said the Captain.

" But I must go back."

" You'll have to swim for it, then."

Mr. Belcher was just turning away in
deq>air, with a thought of suicide in his
mind, when the Captain said :

"There's Pilot-boat Number 10. ae's
coming round to get some papers. Perhaps
I can get you aboard of her, but you are
radier b^vy for a jump."

The wind was blowing briskly d& shore,
and the beautifiil pilot-boat, with her won-
derful ^read of canvas, was cutting the
water as a bird cleaves the air. She had
been beating toward land, but, as she saw
the steamer, she rounded to, gave way
before the wind, worked toward the steam-
er's track on the windward side, and would
soon run keel to keel with her.

"Fetch your traps," said the Captain.
^I can get you on board, if you are in

Mr. Belcher ran to his state-room, seized
his valise, and was soon again on deck.
The pilot-boat was within ten rods of the
steamer, curving in gracefully toward the
monster, and running like a race-horse.
The Captain had a bundle of papers in his
hand. He held them while Mr. Belcher
went over the side of the vessel, down the
ladder, and turned himl^f for his jump.
There was peril in the venture, but despera-
tion had strung his nerves. The Captain
shouted, and asked the bluff fellows on the
litde craft to do him the personal favor to
take his passenger on shore, at their conven-
ience. Then a sailor tossed them the
valise, and the Captain tossed them the
papers. Qose in came the little boat It
was almost under Mr. Belcher. ''Jump!"

shouted half a dozen voices together, and
the heavy man lay sprawling upon the deck
among the laughing crew. A shout and a
clapping of hands was heard fix>m the
steamer. "Number 10" sheered off and
continued her cruise, and, stunned and
bruised, the General crawled into the little
cabin, where it took only ten minutes of the
new motion to make him so sick that his
hunger depajrted, and he was glad to lie
where, durmg the week that he tossed about
in the cruise for incoming vessels, he would
have been glad to die.

One, two, three, four steamers were sup-
plied with pilots, and an opportunity was
given him on each occasion to go into port,
but he would wait He had told the story
of his brokers, given a fictitious name to
himself^ and managed to win the good-will
of the simple men aroimd him. His bottle
of brandy and his box of cigars were at
their service, and his dress was that of a
gentleman. His natural drollery took on a
very amusing form during his sickness, and
the men found him a source of pleasure
rather than an encumbrance.

At length the last pilot was disposed of,
and "Number 10" made for home; and
on a dark midnight she ran in among the
shipping above the Battery, on the North
River, and was still.

Mr. Belcher was not without ready money.
He was in the habit of canying a consider-
able sum, and, before leaving Talbot, he
had drained that gentleman's purse. He
gave a handsome fee to the men, and, tak-
ing his satchel in his hand, went on shore.
He was weak and wretched' with long sea-
sickness and loss of sleep, and staggered as
he walked along the wharf like a drunken
man. He tried to get one of the men to go
with him and carry his burden, but each
wanted the time with his family, and declined
to serve him at any price. So he followed
up the line of shipping for a few blocks,
went by the dens where drunken sailors and
river thieves were carotising, and then turned
up Fulton street toward Broadway. He
knew that the city cars ran all night, but he
did not dare to enter one of them. Reach-
ing the Astor, he crossed over, and, seeing
an up-town car starting off without a passen-
ger, he stepped upon the fiont platform,
where he deposited his satchel, and sat
down upon it People came into the car
and stepped off, but they could not see him.
He was oppressed with drowsiness, yet he
was painfully wide awake.

At length he reached the vicinity of his

Digitized by




old si)lendo]:s. The car was stopped, and,
resuming his burden, he crossed over to
Fifth Avenue, and stood in front of the pal-
ace which had been his home. It was dark
at every window. Where were his wife and
children ? Who had the house in keeping?
He was tired and sat down on the curb-
stone, under the very window where Mr.
Balfour was at that moment sleeping. He
put his dizzy head between his hands, and
whimpered Hke a boy.

•* Played out I " said he ; " played out I "

He heard a measured step in the distance.
He must not be seen by the watch ; so he
rose and bent his steps toward Mrs. Dilling-
ham's. Opposite to her house, he sat down
upon the curb-stone again, and recalled his
old passion for her. The thought of her
treachery and of his own fatuitous vanity —
the reflection that he had been so blind in
his self-conceit that she had led him to his
ruin, stun^ him to the quick. He saw a
stone at his feet. He picked it up, and, tak-
ing his satchel in one hand, went half across
the street, and hurled the litde missile at her
window. He heard the crash of glass and
a shrill scream, and then walked rapidly off
Then he heard a watchman running from a
distance; for the noise was peculiar, and
resounded along the street. The watchman
met him and made an inquiry, but passed
on without suspecting the fugitive's connec-
tion with the alarm.

As soon as he was out of the street, he
quickened his pace, and went du^ctiy to
Talbot's. There he rang the door-bell, once,
twice, thrice. Mr. Talbot put his head out
of the window, looked down, and, in the
light of a street lamp, discovered the familiar
figure of his old principal.

"I'll come down," he said, "and let
you in."

The conference was a long one, and it
ended in both going into the street, and
making their way to Talbot's stable, two or
three blocks distant. There the coachman
was roused, and there Talbot gave Mr.
Belcher the privilege of sleeping until he
was wanted.

Mr. Talbot had assured Mr. Belcher that
he would not be safe in his house, that the
whole town was alive with rumors about
him, and that while some believed he had
escaped and was on his way to Europe,
others felt certain that he had not left the

Mr. Belcher had been a railroad man,
and Mr. Talbot was sure that the raibroad
pien would help him. He would secure a

special car at his own cost, on a train that
would leave on the following night He
would see that the train should stop before
crossing Harlem Bridge. At that moment
the General must be there. Mr. Talbot
would send him up, to sit in his cab until
the train should stop, and then to take the
last car, which shoidd be locked after him ;
and he could go through in it without ob-

A breakfast was smuggled into the stable
early, where Mr. Belcher lay concealed, of
which he ate greedily. Then he was locked
into the room, where he slept all day. At
eight o'clock in the evening, a cab stood
in the stable, ready to issue forth on the
opening of the doors. Mr. Belcher took
his seat in it, in the darkness, and then the
vehicle was rapidly driven to Harlem. After
ten minutes of waiting, the dazzling head-
light of a great train, crawling out of the
city, showed down the avenue. He un-
latched the door of the cab, took his satchel
in his hand, and, as the last car on the train
came up to him, he leaped out, mounted
the platform, and vanished in the car, closing
the door behind him. "All right I" was
shouted from the rear ; the conductor swung
his lantern, and the train thundered over
the bridge and went roaring off into the

The General had escaped. All night he
traveled on, and, some time during the
forenoon, his car was shifted from the
trunk line upon the branch that led toward
Sevenoaks. It was nearly sunset when he
reached the terminus. The railroad s)m[i-
pathy had helped and shielded him Uius
far, but the railroad ended there, and its

rpathy and help were cut off short with
last rail.

Mr. Belcher sent for the keeper of a public
stable whom he knew, and with whom he
had always been in S3rmpathy, through the
love of horse-flesh which they entertained
in common. As he had no personal fiiend-
ship to rely on in his hour of need, he re-
sorted to that which had grown up between
men who had done their best to cheat each
other by systematic l)ring in the trading of

" Old man Coates," for that was the name
by which the stable-keeper was known,
found his way to the car where Mr. Belcher
still remained hidden. The two men met
as old cronies, and Mr. Belcher said :

" Coates, I'm in trouble, and am bound
for Canada. How is * Old Calamity ? ' "

Now in all old and well-regulated stables

Digitized by




tiiere is one horse of exceptional renown for
endurance. "Old Calamity" was a roan,
with one wicked white eye, that in his best
da3rs had done a hundred miles in ten hours.
A great deal of money had been won and
lost on him, first and last, but he had grown
old, and had degenerated into a raw-boned,
tough beast, that was resorted to in great
emergencies, and relied upon for long
stretches of travel that involved extraordi-
nary hardship.

" Well, he's good yet," replied Old man

" You must sell him to me, with a light
wagon," said Mr. Belcher.

" I could make more money by telling a
man who is looking for you in the hotel
that you are here," said die old man. with
a wicked leer.

* ** But you won't do it," responded the
General. " You can't turn on a man who
has loved the same horse with you, old
man ; you know you can't"

"Well, I can, but in course I won't;"
and the stable-keeper went into a calcula-
tion of the value of the horse and harness,
widi a wagon <^that couldn't be broke

Old man Coates had Belcher at a disad-
vantage, and, of course, availed himself of
it, and had no difficulty in making a bar-
gain which reduced the fugitive's stock of
ready money in a fearful degree.

At half-past nine that night, " Old Ca-
lamity" was driven down to the side of the
car by Coates's own hand, and in a moment
the old man was out of the wagon and the
new owner was in it. The horse, the mo-
ment Mr. Belcher took the reins, had a
telegraphic communication concerning the
kind of man who was behind him, and the
nature of the task that lay before him, and
struck oflf up the road toward Sevenoaks
with a long, swinging trot that gave the
driver a sense of being lifted at every

It was a curious incident in the history
of Mr. Belcher's flight to Canada, which
practically began when he leaped upon the
deck of Pilot-Boat Number lo, that he
desired to see every spot that had been
connected with his previous life. A more
sensitive man would have shuimed the
scenes which had been associated with his
prosperous and nominally respectable career,
but he seemed possessed with a morbid
desire to look once more upon the localities
in which he had moved as a king.

He had not once returned to Sevenoaks

since he left the village for the metropolis ;
and although he was in bitter haste, with
men near him in pursuit, he was determined
to take the longer road to safety, in order
to revisit the scene of his early enterprise
and his first successes. He knew that " Old
Calamity" would take him to Sevenoaks in
two hours, and that then the whole village
would be in its first nap. The road was
familiar, and the night not too dark. Dogs
came out fi-om fium-houses as he rattled by,
and barked furiously. He found a cow
asleep in the road, and came near being
upset by her. He encountered one or two
tramps, who tried to speak to him, but he
flew on until the spires of die litde town,
where he had once held the supreme life,
defined themselves against the sky, far up
the river. Here he Inrought his horse down
to a walk. The moment he was still, for
he had not yet reached the roar of the fells,
he became conscious that a wagon was fol-
lowing him in the distance. Old man Coates
had not only sold him his horse, but he had
sold his secret !

" Old Calamity" was once more put into
a trot, and in ten minutes he was by the
side of his mill. Seeing the watchman in
firont, he pulled up, and, in a disguised
voice, inquired the way to the hotel. Hav-
ing received a rough answer, he inquired
of the man whose mill he was watching.

"I don't know," responded the man.
"It's stopped now. It was old Belcher's
once, but he's gone up, they say."

Mr. Belcher started on. He crossed the
bridge, and drove up the steep hiU toward
his mansion. Arriving at the height, he
stood still by the side of the Seven Oaks,
which had once been the glory of his coun-
try home. Looking down into the town,
he saw lights at the litUe tavern, and, by
the revelations of the lantern that came to
the door, a horse and wagon. At this mo-
ment, his great Newfoundland dog came
bounding toward him, growling like a lion.
He had alighted to stretch his limbs, and
examine into the condition of his horse.
The dog came toward him faster and faster,
and more and more menacingly, till he
reached him, and heard his own name
called. Then he went down into the dust,
and fawned upon his old master pitifully.
Mr. Belcher caressed him. There was still
one creature living that recognized him, and
acknowledged him as his lord. He looked
up at his house and took a final survey
of the dim outiines of the village. Then
he mounted his wagon, turned his horse

Digitized by





around, and went slowly down the hill,
calling to his dog to follow. The huge
creature followed a few steps, then hesitated,
then, almost crawling, he turned and sneaked
away, and finally broke into a run and went
back to the house, where he stopped, and
with a short, gruff bark scouted his retiring

Mr. Belcher looked back. His last fiiend
had left him.

" Blast the brute ! " he exclaimed. " He
is like the rest of 'em."

As he came down the road to turn into
the main highway, a man stepped out from
the bushes and seized "Old Calamity" by
the bridle. Mr. Belcher struck his horse a
heavy blow, and the angry beast, by a single
leap, not onl^ shook himself clear of the
grasp upon his bit, but hurled the intercept-
ing figure upon the groimd. A second man
stood ready to deal with Mr. Belcher, but
the latter in passing gave him a fiirious cut
with his whip, and "Old Calamity" was, in
twenty seconds, as many rods away firom
both of them, sweeping up the long hill at
a trot that none but iron sinews could long

The huge pile that constituted the Seven-
oaks poor-house was left upon his right, and
in hdf an hour he began a long descent,
which so far relieved his laboring horse, that
when he reached the level he could hardly
hold him. The old fire of the brute was
burning at its hottest Mr. Belcher pulled
him in, to listen for the pursuit Half a
mile behind, he could hear wheels tearing
madly down the hill, and he laughed. The
race had, for the time, banished fix>m his
mind the history of the previous week,
banished the memory of his horrible losses,
of danger, banished his
was a stem chase, pro-
e, and he had the best
at he could not be over-
of the pursuing wheels
linter, until they ceased

wras breaking, he turned
into the woods, and as

a, cabin were -rising, he
for shelter and a break-

lere all day, and, just
d through the forest to
n the early morning was
ig a Canadian highway,
)pted country," and as-
er of a loyal subject of



Three months after Mr. Belcher's escape,
the great world hardly remembered that
such a man as he had ever lived. Other
rascals took his place, and absorbed the
public attention, having failed to learn —
what even their betters were slow to appre-
hend — that every strong, active, bad man is
systematically engaged in creating and shap-
ing the instruments for his own destruction.
Men continued to be dazzled by their own
success, imtil they could see neidier the truth
and right that lay along their way, nor the
tragic end that awaited them.

The execution in satisfaction of the judg-
ment obtained against Mr. Belcher was
promptly issued and levied ; claimants and
creditors of various sorts took all that the
execution left; Mrs. Belcher and her chil-
dren went to their fiiends in the country ; the
Sevenoaks property was bought for Mr. Ben-
edict, and a thousand lives were adjusted to
the new circumstances ; but narrative palls
when its details are anticipated. Let us
pass them, regarding them simply as mem-
ories coming up — sometimes faintly, some-
times fi-eshly — from the swiftly retiring years,
and close the book, as we began it, with a

Sevenoaks looks, in its main features, as
it looked when the^ reader first saw it The
river rolls through it with the old song that
the dwellers upon its banks have heard
through all these changing years. The
workmen and workwomen come and go in
the mill, in their daily round of duty, as they
did when Phipps, and the gray trotters, and
the great proprietor were daily visions of the
streets. The little tailoress returns twice a
year with her thrifty husband to revisit her
old firiends, and she brin^ at last a little
one, which she shows with great pride.
Sevenoaks has become a summer thorough-
fare to the woods, where Jim receives the
city-folk in incredible numbers.

We look in upon the village on a certain
summer evening, at five years' remove firom
the first occupation of the Belcher mansion
by Mr. Benedict. The mist above the falls
cools the air and bathes the trees as it did
when Robert Belcher looked upon it as the
incense which rose to his lordly enterprise.
The nestling cottages, the busy shops, the
firesh-looking spires, the distant woods, the
more distant mountain, the old Seven Oaks

Digitized by




upon the western plateau, and the beautiful
residence behind them, are the same to-day
that they were when we first looked upon
them ; but a new life and a new influence
inform them all. Nature holds her unvary-
ing frame, but the life upon the canvas is
what we paint from year to year. The river
sings to vice as it sings to virtue. The birds
carol the same, whether selfishness or love
be listening. The great moimtains rejoice in
the sun, or drape their brows in clouds, irre-
spective of the eyes that regard them.

This one fact remains good in Sevenoaks,
and the world over. The m^n who holds
the financial power and the social throne of
a town, makes that town, in a good degree,
what he is. If he is virtuous, noble, unself-
ish, good, the elements beneath him shape
thansdves, consciously or unconsciously, to
his character. Vice shrinks into disgrace,
or flies to more congenial haunts. The
greed for gold which grasps and overreaches,
becomes ashamed, or changes to neighborly
helpfiilness. The discontent that springs up
in die shadow of an unprincipled and lK>ast-
ful worldly success dies ; and men become
happy in the toil that wins a comfortable
shelter and daily bread, when he to whom
an look up, looks down upon them with
friendly and sympathetic eyes, and holds
his w^th and power in service of their

Paul Benedict is now the proprietor of
Sevenoaks; and fix>m the happy day in
which he, with his sister and child, came to
the occupation of the mansion which his old
peisecutor had built for himself, the fortunes
and character of the town have mended.
Even the poor-house has grown more com-
fortable in its appointments and administra-
tion, while year by year its population has
decreased. Through these first years, the
quiet man has moved around his mill and
his garden, his mind teeming with sugges-
tions, and filhng with new interest in ^eir
work the dull brains that had been worn
deep and dry with routine. All eyes turn
upon him with aflection. He is their brother
as well as their master.

In the great house there is a happy woman.
She has found something to love and some-
^ng to do. These were all she needed to
make her supremely self-respectful, happy,
and, in the best degree, womanly. Willfiil,
ambitious, sacrificing her young aflections to
gold at the first, and wasting years in idle-
ness and unworthy intrigue, for the lack of
aflection and the absence of motive to use-
fiilness and mdustty, she has found, at last,

the secret of her woman's life, and has
accepted it with genuine gratitude. In
ministering to her brother and her brother's
child, now a stalwart lad ; in watching with
untiring eyes and helping with ready wit
the unused proprietor in his new circum-
stances, and in assisting the poor around
her, she finds her days full of toil and signif-
icance, and her nights brief with gratefiil
sleep. She is the great lady of the village,
holding high consideration fix>m her rela-
tionship to the proprietor, and bestowing
importance upon him by her revelation of
his origin and his city associations.

The special summer evening to which we
allude is one which has long been looked
forward to by all the people in whom our
st<My has made the reader sympathetically
interested. It is an anniversary — ^the fifUi
since the new family took up their residence
in the grand house. Mr. and Mrs. Balfoiur
with their boy are there. Sam Yates is
there — now the agent of the miU — a trusty,
prosperous man ; and by a process of which
we have had no opportunity to note the
details, he has transformed Miss Snow into
Mrs. Vates. The matter was concluded
some years ago, and they seem quite wonted
to each other. The Rev. Mr. ftiow, grown
thinner and grayer, and a great desd hafh>
pier, is there with his wife and his two
unmarried daughters. He finds it easier to
"take things as they air," than formeriy,
and, by his old bridge, holds them against
all comers. And who is this, and who are
these ? Jim Fenton, very much smoothed
exteriorly, but jolly, acute, outspoken, pecu-
liar as ever. He walks around the garden
with a boy on his shoulder. The "little
feller " that originally appeared in Mr. Ben-
edict's plans of the new hotel is now in his
hands — veritable flesh and blood ; and " the
little woman," sitting with Mrs. Snow, while
Mrs. Dillingham directs the arrangement of
the banquet that is being spread in the
pagoda, watches the pair, and exclaims:
" Look at them I now isn't it ridiculous ! "

The warm sun hides himself behind the
western hill, though still an hour above his
setting. The roar of the falling river rises
to their ears, the sound of the factory bell
echoes among the hills, and the crowd of
grimy workmen and workwomen pours forth,
darkening the one street that leads fiom the
mill, and dissipating itself among the wait-

Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 30 of 163)