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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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chump back there sows his wheat they watch him with their keen eyes from
their nests in the trees, and when his hulking back is turned they chirp
with glee and pounce down on his seed and take it and flutter away with
it in the sunshine.”

“Dick, you are a bloody anarchist!” Walton laughed gently as he placed
his hand affectionately on the boy’s shoulder.

“I don’t know whether I am or not,” Warren retorted, still ruffled. “But
the blamed bucket of grub may stay where it is. I wanted it for your
sake as much as mine, but I sha’n’t ask you to sit down to other men’s
dinner if you are going to ask the blessing over it. But you are too
dang particular. At least, I’ve got as much right to the stuff as they
have, for they can go home and get more, and I can’t.”

“That is _one_ way to look at it,” Walton said, quietly, “and I thought
as you do once, but I don’t now.” After this they trudged along for
several minutes in silence. The boy did not raise his eyes from the
dusty ground, but he put his hand on Walton’s arm, and there was a catch
in his young throat as he said:

“Fred, somehow you make me think of my mother, When she was alive she
was always wanting me to be good. She used to talk to me when I was
a little tiny fellow. It was always that one thing over and over: ‘My
little boy is not going to be a bad man when he grows up, is he?’ That’s
what she said time after time, and in a thousand ways she tried to
impress it on me. She worried a lot about me just before she died. You
see, my father - well, he didn’t care what became of me, or her,
either. He drank like a fish, and went with idle men about the
loafing-places - in fact, he was shot and killed in a bar-room. I’ve
tried pretty hard to have faith in what my mother used to say about
God’s mercy and all that stuff, but, Fred, God never answered her
prayers to look after _me_. If I haven’t had to go it blind, I don’t
want a cent. Selling papers on the street at night till nearly morning,
sometimes sleeping in a stairway, outhouse, or stable. Then I was a
messenger boy, for a little better wages, in a dead boy’s uniform, and
finally became a tramp telegraph operator. But, Fred, you are true blue.
I don’t want a better pal. The way you yanked out that watch and offered
it to keep me out of jail when it was the last thing you had in your
pocket - well, you can count on me, that’s all. I won’t try to stuff
another man’s grub down your throat, either.”

A man was coming toward them on horseback, and as he drew near he reined
in and leaned forward on the neck of his horse. “Gentleman,” he began,
as he pulled at his scraggy beard and kicked his feet more firmly into
his wooden stirrups, “I don’t know whether you fellows are interested
in the like or not, but I’m riding round here and yon trying to drum up
hands to gather and crate and ship my crop of early peaches. There is
such a demand for labor of that sort all through the peach section that
we are powerful short on help.”

The two pedestrians exchanged eager glances.

“Where is your place?” Fred asked.

“Why, it’s a few miles to the right, over them hills,” the rider said.
“It’s the Womack farm. That’s my name. I’ve got a hundred acres of
dandy Elbertas, and they are ripening as fast as chickens in a
hatching-machine. They are a thing that has to be picked an’ got off in
cold-storage cars at exactly the right minute or they ain’t worth the
nails in the crates when they get to market. They say if all us early
fellows can manage to hit New York just right this year, we’ll get three
dollars a crate, an’ that will pay big, as times are now.”

“How far is it to your place?” Walton asked.

“Why, it’s a little better than seven mile - on a beeline; but I reckon
by the nighest road it’s a matter of ten or thereabouts. You fellers
look a little mite tired, but by stiff walking you could get there by
sundown. You can make good wages in a pinch like this if you will buck
down to it - I calculate three plunks a day for each of you.”

“And how long would the work last?” inquired Fred, as he and Warren
looked at each other, their pulses quickening, their eyes beginning to
glow.

“Well, I could hold you down for two weeks at least, for mine don’t all
ripen at once; but after you was through on my land you could go farther
north and get more to do.”

“I think we’d better take you up,” Warren said. “I’d like that sort of
work.” He winked at his friend and rubbed his stomach. “I see myself
_packing_ good, ripe, juicy peaches right now, but not in crates. The
truth is, farmer, we are mighty hungry, and that is a long walk. Now,
if you had fifty cents about you that you’d be willing to let go in an
advance, why we’ll buy a snack at some farm-house, and go right on to
you.”

The horseman’s shrewd face fell. He leaned forward and ran his gnarled
fingers through the mane of his horse, and avoided the pair of anxious
eyes fixed on his. “I don’t want to be blunt and hurt your feelings,
fellers,” he said. “But we never come together before - we are plumb
strangers, I might say; and, well, to tell the truth, last year I
started out on this same business, and to my certain knowledge not a
man, woman, gal, boy, nor baby that I advanced money to ever got to my
place, while all the others who wasn’t paid was there bright and early.”

“But we are hungry and weak!” Dick Warren protested.

“Well, some o’ them that I failed to get told the selfsame tale. One
said if I’d pay off the mortgage on his land, he’d bring his entire
family; but that wasn’t _business_, and I refused. I’m making you
fellows a fair open-and-shut proposition. You hit my place before dark
to-night and tell my wife to give you a square meal - tell her I’ve hired
you to pick and pack, and that I said to stow you away somewhere for
the night. She will make room for you. Now, I hope I’ll see you there.
That’s as good as I can offer, as I look at it.”

“All right, we’ll be there,” Walton promised. “And we will do the best
we can for your interests.”

“Very well, gentlemen, I’ll expect to see you there when I get back.
So long.” And with his legs jogging the flanks of his mount, the farmer
rode away.

“We can make it, Dick,” Walton said, encouragingly. “Let’s bend down to
it.”

“The thought of that meal is enough to keep me going,” the boy replied.
“What do you reckon she will give us? But stop! My mouth is watering at
such a rate that I believe I’ll try not to think of it.”

It was long after sundown when the wayfarers reached the farm in
question. The house was a rambling, one-story, frame structure which
originally had been painted, afterward whitewashed, and rain and storm
beaten till not a trace of any sort of coating remained on the bare,
fuzzy, gray boards. At the gate, or bars, of the snake-fence, in front,
they paused, faint and exhausted, wondering if they would be bitten by
watch-dogs if they entered unannounced. On the grass under the trees in
the front yard a group of twenty or more young women and young men were
singing plantation melodies, and here and there couples were sitting
alone or strolling about, their heads close together.

“They are peach-gatherers,” Walton surmised. “Come on; there are no dogs
that I can see.”

Crawling through the bars, they went to the house. There was no light in
the front part, but a yellow glow shone from a window against the dark
foliage of the trees in the rear, and thither the wanderers directed
their lagging steps. Looking in at the open door of the kitchen, they
saw the portly form of the farmer’s wife at a table washing dishes in
the light of a smoking brass lamp which had no chimney.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, as her kindly eyes fell on them. “Not more pickers,
surely?”

“That’s what we are, and as good as you ever laid eyes on,” Dick told
her. “Mr. Womack said you’d give us something to eat. We haven’t had a
bite since yesterday.”

“Well!” The woman drew her hands from the big dish-pan and dried them
on her apron as she looked them over doubtfully. “Pete Womack goes crazy
every year at picking-time. He’s filled the house, barn, and yard with
hooting and singing gals and boys, and furnished nobody to wait on ‘em
but me. The gals all say they are too fagged out at night to lay their
hands to cooking or dish-washing, and yet, if you’ll just listen and
watch, you’ll see that they are all able to gallivant with the men about
the yard. Six couples met here for the first time last summer and got
married. They say there’s some progress being made right now between
three or four, an’ picking’s just set in. I tell Pete he ought to start
a marrying-agency and take out a license to preach, so he can tie ‘em on
the spot and collect two fees. Some of ‘em are respectable and mean all
right, but Pete is so anxious to get his crop off on time that he’s got
women in that bunch that - to _look_ at ‘em - Well, it ain’t any of _my_
business! I ain’t set up as a judge, and as the saying is, I won’t throw
no stones. But you say you are hungry, and I don’t see how I could give
you a thing hot at this time of night. My fires are out, and - ”

“Hot!” Dick shouted. “Why, I’ve got such a big storage capacity that I’d
be afraid to take it hot. It might generate steam and explode.”

The woman laughed. “Well, you _must_ be hungry,” she said. “Come on in
the dining-room and I’ll lay it out in a minute. There is plenty of cold
stuff. I cook a lot ahead. You have to feed pickers like kings or they
won’t stay. It won’t take long to heat the coffee. But I reckon you want
to wash and wipe. You’ll find pans and water on the shelf in the entry,
and a clean towel on the roller. I’ll be ready when you are.”

“I’ll see about that, old lady,” Dick challenged her, as he made a dash
for the near-by water-shelf.

Two minutes later the two wanderers sat down at a long, improvised
table, made of unplaned planks, in the dining-room. In the light of a
guttering home-made tallow dip the farmer’s wife spread before them the
best meal that famished men ever feasted on. They saw roast chicken with
dressing, fried chicken with cream gravy, country-smoked ham in a great
platter of eggs; butter, hard and cold, from the spring-house; great,
snow-capped pound-cakes, biscuits, apple-sauce, jellies, jams, cold
buttermilk, and hot coffee.

“I don’t know where I’m going to bunk you boys,” Mrs. Womack said, in a
motherly tone, as she stood behind their chairs, and, with unsuppressed
delight, watched them eat. “The women and gals have got every bed in the
house; and every spot on the floor, even to the kitchen, has been staked
off by the men.”

“What’s the matter with the barn?” Dick mumbled, with his mouth full. “I
wouldn’t want a better place this time of year than a sweet-smelling bed
of fresh hay or fodder.”

“There’s plenty of room in the loft down there,” the woman replied; “but
somehow I hate to see nice-looking young men like you put in a place
like that.”

“It will do very well,” Fred assured her. “In fact, we would rather like
it.”

“Well, a little later, if you decide to stay, I may fix you a place in
the house,” the woman said; “but you got in too late to-night.”

“I’m dead tired and sleepy, Fred,” Dick said, when they had left the
table. “Let’s turn in.”

Directed by Mrs. Womack, they went down to the barn, and from the big
cattle-room on the ground they climbed a ladder to the loft above. A
startled hen flew from her nest with a loud cackling as they crawled
through the hay and husks and leaves of corn to a square, shutterless
door, through which the hay was loaded to wagons below. They threw off
their coats and vests, and made pillows of them; then took off their
shoes, and lay down and stretched out their tired limbs.

Through the doorway they saw the fathomless sky filled with mysterious
stars. The chirping of some chickens, as they jostled one another on the
roost below, came up to them; the champing of the teeth of a horse, as
he gnawed his wooden trough; the snarling of a tree-frog; the far-off
and dismal howling of a dog, and - they were asleep.




CHAPTER XVI

|IT was not till early autumn that the two friends reached their far-off
destination. Fred’s watch had been sold; they had saved the greater part
of their earnings from the various odd jobs at which they had worked,
and had made of their journey by rail. It was Walton’s idea that they
must put their best foot to the front in Gate City, and start out with
a good appearance in their new home, and so the most of their funds were
promptly invested in new clothing. Notwithstanding their spick-and-span
appearance, however, luck seemed against them, for every application
they made for work - Dick as a telegraph operator and Fred as an
accountant - was refused them.

The city was a bustling new place with prosperity and activity in its
very air. There were great railway-shops, factories of several kinds,
and various other enterprises. It was a typical Western “boom” town.
Its buildings were modern, its streets regular and well-paved. Men and
women, as they drove through the streets in their carriages, thought
nothing of it if a mounted horde of yelling cow-boys galloped past with
their revolvers playfully flourished, nor saw anything unusual in
the gangs of blanket-draped Indians who hung about the bar-rooms,
dance-halls, or gambling-houses. The new-comers liked the place; Dick
believed they would eventually secure work, and Fred had the first sense
of security which had come to him since leaving Stafford. Here, under
his new name, in this remote place, he was sure he would meet with no
familiar face, nor catch any discordant echoes of the life he had left
behind him, and which he was trying to banish from his memory.

There was in the town a certain Stephen Whipple, a man about sixty-five
years of age, who had come from one of the Southern States shortly after
the Civil War. He had established himself, first, as a small grocer,
but, having acquired considerable wealth, he was now the owner of the
only wholesale grocery store in the place, an establishment which was
known for miles around.

He was an earnest member of the Presbyterian church of the town, and its
chief pride, owing to his influence in the community. It had been his
money which had built the church to which he belonged, and it was said
that he practically paid the salary of its eloquent young preacher.

In his great red-brick, four-story business-house on the main street
Stephen Whipple had his private office. It was in the rear of the
counting-room and was of unusual size, and by many deemed a curious
place. Indeed, it was put to strange, unbusiness-like uses, for it was
here that the owner of the establishment personally received all sorts
of applications for aid. There were half a dozen plain chairs in the
bare, uncarpeted room, and the Rev. Luke Matthews, who had the entrée to
the office at any moment, often found a motley gathering of supplicants
on hand, each patiently awaiting his turn to be beckoned to the seat
close to the portly, shaggy-browed merchant. There were individuals who
called the old man a deep-dyed hypocrite, for they held that no really
self-sacrificing toiler in the Lord’s vineyard could have amassed the
great wealth old Whipple was known to possess. But this was disputed by
all the men in his employment, at least, for they were ready to attest
that Whipple had often held over important business matters till the
case of some suffering applicant could be investigated and relief
supplied. There were other uses to which this room was put. Old Whipple,
in order to render his pet church more attractive to the public,
selected and paid out of his own pocket the salaries of the best choir
in town. He was no expert musician, but he had them meet in his office
and practise on every Saturday afternoon, and he was always present,
seeing to it that refreshments were served and the singers made
comfortable.

It was one morning when Dick Warren and Fred Walton had been in the town
for a month, and had reached the lowest ebb of their resources, that the
minister dropped in to see the merchant. The Rev. Luke Matthews was of
unusual height, measuring six feet four, very slender in build, and of
markedly nervous temperament. He was under thirty, unmarried, wore his
black hair long enough to touch his shoulders, and had the thin-lipped,
unbearded face of an Edwin Booth. It was said of him that he couldn’t
keep a coin in his pocket - that it was promptly given to the first
beggar he met.

“Well, brother, how are your bones?” was the halfjesting greeting he
gave the old man, as he bustled in, buttoning and unbuttoning his long
black coat and swinging his broad-brimmed hat at his side. “Not holding
court this morning?” He laughed as he looked over the empty chairs.

“No; I sent the last prisoner up for life an hour ago,” the merchant
responded, jovially. “Set down, set down!”

The long-legged man with the poetic face complied. “Well,” he said,
“you’ll have to be a judge in that sort of tribunal so long as you
inhabit this globe.” He smiled, showing two fine rows of white teeth.
“It looks like the Lord is pushing you on to unlimited prosperity,
and your work for humanity will increase instead of letting up.
Say, brother, I know the sort of thing you glory in, and I’ve had
an experience - the sort of experience that makes a fellow feel like
preaching is worth while. It was exactly the kind of thing you are
interested in yourself.”

“What have you run across now?” Whipple asked, as he leaned his elbow on
his desk and rested his florid face on his hand.

“The genuine thing, brother - a genuine reformation in a young chap
hardly out of his teens. He’s been coming to my special meetings for
young men, and, as I’m a close observer, I was attracted by his face.
It interested me more than that of any boy’s I ever saw. Finally, I
ventured to approach him. I never scare them off if I can help it, but I
singled him out from the rest last Thursday evening and spoke to him. I
saw that he was greatly moved, and I invited him into my study, and we
had a good long heart-to-heart talk. Brother Whipple, I never felt the
glory of God bearing down on me in my life as I did while that boy was
talking - while he was telling me his past history. Crying like his heart
would break, he confessed to having been almost everything a boy could
be - a thief, a tramp, and an all-round, good-for-nothing idler, from his
childhood up to his sudden awakening to what was right.”

“Good, good!” Stephen Whipple ejaculated, his features working, his kind
old eyes twinkling.

“But now comes the climax to my experience,” the minister went on.
“You and I meet a converted person now and then, but we don’t often run
across individuals in private life who are leading lives which convert.
The boy went on to tell me, brother, how he was rescued from arrest by
a young man who was a tramp like himself. They began searching for work
side by side. The boy told me how his new friend - without ever saying a
word that was preachy - gradually won him from his ingrained tendencies
and taught him the difference between right and wrong. He gave me scores
of touching and inspiring incidents that had happened between them
during their wanderings here and there, trying to get work. Somehow I
became even more deeply interested in the fellow I hadn’t met than the
one I had in tow, and so I asked the boy if he would introduce me to his
friend. He hesitated for a while, and then finally agreed to take me to
the room they had together. It was away over beyond the railroads, in
the slums of our ‘tenderloin’ district. It seemed to be the only room
whose price they could afford, and they were unwilling to contract for
what they could not pay. It was an awful place, brother, up a narrow
flight of shaky stairs, in the attic of a negro shoemaker’s house, in
the worst part of ‘Dive-town.’ The man, this Fred Spencer, when we came
in, was seated at the little dingy window reading a newspaper. He seemed
very much surprised, and flushed red as he stood up and shook hands. He
was fine-looking - strong and tall, well-clad and neat from his feet to
his carefully combed hair, but his great big sad eyes haunted me long
after I left him, and when he spoke his voice seemed to come from a
proud spirit that was crushed and broken. He began by saying that his
friend had spoken to him of my meetings, and that he was exceedingly
grateful for my interest and courtesy in calling. He tried to apologize
for the appearance of the room, and insisted on my taking the only chair
while he and his room-mate sat on the bed, which, by the way, was unfit
for a convict to sleep on. They used it together, and yet it was barely
wide enough for one. The straw in the mattress was crumbling to powder
and falling to the floor.”

“Poor chaps,” the merchant sighed, “and they have evidently seen better
days.”

“Spencer, the older one, has decidedly,” the minister answered. “He is
evidently Southern, for he has the soft accent of Virginia, I should
say, and the manner of the old aristocracy. I told him that I had heard
of his good influence over the boy, and he got redder than ever,
and tried to make light of what he had done, endeavored, in fact, to
convince me that the boy had only spoken as he had out of personal
friendship. Finally I offered my assistance toward finding employment
for them both, and Spencer showed real embarrassment - as if he did not
want to put me to any trouble in the matter.”

“He’s tried to find work here, then?” Stephen Whipple mused, aloud.

“Yes, and been turned down on all sides. He has tried till he has lost
hope. He likes Gate City, but is afraid they will be driven to the road
again.”

“And to think that a fellow like _that_ can’t find work,” Whipple
cried, indignantly, “when the world is full of grafters and panhandlers!
Brother Matthews, I am interested in those fellows, especially the
oldest one. My list is full, as you know, but I can manage to find
places for the right sort. Couldn’t you send him to me right away? I’ll
be here to-night after closing time. There won’t be anybody else about,
and me and him can talk undisturbed. I’d like to help a chap like that.
You have got me interested. The world is too full of bad men who are
prospering for his sort to go unrewarded.”

“Well, I’ll send him, Brother Whipple. God bless you, old man, you can
always be counted on!”

That evening the merchant sat in the light of his green-shaded gas-lamp
at his desk waiting for the expected caller. The outer door of the great
building, which opened on the main street, was ajar, and was plainly
visible to the merchant from his seat. Now, as he heard his visitor
coming, he rose to his feet, pushed his desk-chair back with his
ponderous calves, and stood smiling cordially. As the young man entered,
politely removing his hat, Whipple grasped Walton’s hand and shook it
warmly.

“I’m powerfully glad to know you, Mr. Spencer,” he said, “I am, indeed.
I’m told you are a newcomer to our brag town, and as I’m one of the
pioneers, so to speak, I take a personal pride in the place, and I
want to see everybody that drifts this way anchored here for life. It
certainly is the town for fresh young blood. Even old men can make money
here, and I. know the young can. Set down, set down! I’m glad you ran
across my long-legged jumping-jack of a preacher. He is a wheel-horse,
I am here to state. If all the churches in the world were led by men of
his stamp, infidelity would die of the dry rot or burn up with shame.

“I built Matthews’ meeting-house, and if I hadn’t found a man like him
to fill the pulpit I’d have turned the blamed thing into a warehouse to
store groceries in. But I found him, and he’s doing mighty well - mighty
well! He isn’t any of your ranting trance religionists; he’s practical,
and, in one way, the funniest cuss you ever laid eyes on. Me and him
have big times in our way. He looks after the souls of men while I
sometimes help a little in patching up their bodies. He tells me that
you and a friend of yours haven’t made any business connection yet. My



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