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"There's a little thing I minded just now that Yes, Martha kept her word.
He tapped with his fingers thoughtfully on the mantel-shelf, the smile lingering yet on his face. The woman's woollen sewing fell from her hand, and she spoke for the first time. Her tone had a harsh, metallic twang in it: Yarrow turned curiously, as he heard it.
"What could they be to you, if you found them? They have forgotten you. In five years they have not sent you a message."
"No, I know, madam,"
Even that did not hurt him. His face kindled slowly, still turned to the fire, as if it were telling him some old story: looking to her at last, steadfast and manly, like a man who has healthy common-sense dominant in his head, and an unselfish love at work in his heart. Such a one is not far from the kingdom of heaven.
"It seems to me as if there might be a chance —yet. It's a long time. But Martha loved me, madam. You don't kno I think I'll go, John. It's close here, I said. I'll meet you at the far bridge by dawn, and let you know."
"It's your only chance," said Souk', roughly, as he followed him to the door.
He was a ruined man, if he were balked in this.
"You do not know how the world meets a returned felon, Stephen; you"
"Let me go," feebly, putting his hand up to his chin in the old fashion.
"I think I know that. I—I've thought of that a good deal. But it seemed to me as if there might be a chance;" and so, without a word of farewell, went stumbling down the stairs.
He had given a wistful look at the fire, as he turned away. Perhaps that would comfort him. God surely has "many voices in the world, and none of them is without its signification."
An hour before dawn, Yarrow found the place in which he had appointed to meet his brother. The night had been dark, hailing at intervals; he had gone tramping up and down the hills and stubble-fields, through snow and half-frozen mud-gullies, hardly conscious of what he did. The night seemed long to him now, looking back. He found a burnt sycamore-stump and got up on it, shivered awhile, felt his shirt, which was wet to the skin, then took off his shoes and cleared the lumps of slush out of them. There was something horrible to him in this unbroken silence and dark and wet cold: he had been in his hot cell so long, the frost stung him differently from other men, the icy thaw was wetter. It was a narrow cut in the hills where he was, a bridle-road leading back and running zigzag for some miles until it returned to the rail-road track. A lonely, unfrequented place: Frazier would take this bypath; Souk' had chosen it well to meet him. There was a rickety bridge crossing a hillstream a few rods beyond. Yarrow pushed the dripping cap off his forehead, and looked around.
No light nor life on any side: even in the heavens yawned that breathless, uncoloured silence that precedes a winter's dawn. He could see the Ohio through the gully : why, it used to be a broad, full-breasted river, glancing all over with light, loaded with steamers and rafts going down to the Mississippi. He had gone down once, rafting, with lumber, and a jolly three weeks' float they had of it. Now it was a solid, shapeless mass of blocks of ice and mud. Winter? yes, but the world was altered somehow, the very river seemed struck with death. His teeth chattered; he began to try to rub some warmth into his rheumatic legs and arms; tried to bring back the fancy of last night about Martha and the fire. But that was a long way off: there were all these years' mastering memories to fade it out, you know, and besides, a diseased habit of desponding. The world was wide to him, cowering out from a cell: where were Martha and the little chaps—lost in it? John said they were dead. Where should he turn now? There was an anguish-pain in his spine that blinded him: since yesterday he bad eaten nothing, he had no money to buy a meal; he was a felon, who would give him work r "There's some things certain in the world," he muttered.
"That was silly last night, silly. And yet, if there could have been a chance!"
He looked up steadily into the sickly, discoloured sky: nothing there but the fog from these swamps. He had not wished so much that he could hear of Martha and the children, when he looked up, as of something else that he needed more. Even the foulest and most careless soul that God ever made has some moments when it grows homesick, conscious of the awful vacuum below its life, the Eternal Arm not being there. Yarrow was neither foul nor careless. All his life, most in those years in the prison, he had been hungry for Something to rest on, to own him. Sometimes, when his evil behaviour had seemed vilest to him, he had felt himself trembling on the verge of a great forgiveness. But he could see so little of the sky in the cell there, only that three-cornered patch: he bad a fancy, that, if once he were out in the world that He made, in the free air, that, if there were a God, he would find Him out. He had not found Him.
He sat on the stump awhile, his hands over his eyes, then got down slowly, buttoning his damp waistcoat and coat.
"I don't see as there's a chance," he said, dully. "I was a fool to think there was" digging his toe into the frozen pools. "It's all ruled. I'm not one of the elect."
That was all. After that, he stood waiting for his brother.
"I'll help him. He's the best I know."
Even the faint sigh choked before it rose to bis lips, both manhood and hope were so dead with inanition, yet a life's failure went in it
While he stood waiting, Martha Yarrow sat by her kitchen-fire crying to God to help him; but He knew what things were needed before she asked Him.
Soule, with his gun and game-bag, had been coursing over the hills three miles back, since four o'clock. He had bagged a squirrel or two, enough to suffice for his morning s work, and now, his piece unloaded, came stealthily towards the place of rendezvous. He had little hope that Stephen would help him: he had made up his mind to go through the affair alone. If he
did it, that involved Pah! what was in a
word? Men died every day. He had quite resolved: Judith and he had talked the matter over all night. But if Frazier were a younger man, and could fight for it! Perhaps he was armed: Soule's face flashed: he stooped and broke the trigger of his gun, and then went on with a much less heavy step. They would be more even now. He wanted to reach the bridge by dawn, and meet his brother. If he refused to help him, he would send him away, and wait for Frazier alone. About nine o'clock he might expect him.
Frazier, however, had changed his plan. He told Starr the night before, that, as M. Soule would not breakfast with him, he had concluded to rise early, and be off by dawn. "If there's nothing to be done about the Miami shares, there is no use wasting time here," he thought. So, while Stephen Yarrow waited near the bridge, the smoke was curling out of the kitcken-chimney where the cook was makingready the cashier's beefsteak, and the old man was crawling out of bed. He could hear Starr's children in the room overhead making an uproar over their stockings. "Christmas morning, by the way! I must take some knick-knack back to Totty." (As if his trunk Were not always filled with things for Totty, and his shirts crammed into the lid, when he came home!) "Something for mother, too," as he pulled on his socks. "Gloves, now, hey? A dozen pair. I wish I had asked Madame Soule what size she wore, last night. Their hands are about the same size. Mother always had a tidy little paw. So will Totty, eh?" And so finished dressing, thinking Soule had a neat little wife, but insipid.
So Christmas morning came to all of them— the day when, a long time ago, One who had made a good happy world came back to find and save that which was lost in it. In these few hundred years had He forgotten the way of finding?
Stephen Yarrow had fallen into an uneasy doze by the road-side. He had done with thinking, when he said, "I'll go with John." The way through life seemed to open clear, exactly the same as it had been before. There was an end of it. There might have been a chance, but there was none. He drowsed off into a brutish slumber. Something like a kiss woke him. It was only the morning air. A clear, sweet-breathed dawn, as we said, that seemed somehow to have caught a scent of faroff harvest-farms, in lands where it was not winter. Warm brown clouds yonder with a
glow like wine in them, the splendour of the coming day hinting of itself through.
"I must have slept," said Yarrow, taking off his cap to shake it dry.
There were a thousand shining points on the dingy fur. He rubbed his heavy eyes and looked about him. The misty rime of the night had frozen on hills and woods and river, frosted the whole earth in one glittering, delicate sheath. The first level bar of sunlight put into the nostrils of the dead world of the night before the breath of life. Once in a lifetime, maybe, the sight meets a man's eyes which Yarrow saw that morning. The very clear blue of the air thrilled with electric vigour; from the rounded rose-coloured summits of the western hills to the tiniest ice-cased grass-spear at his feet, the land flashed back unnumbered soft and splendid dyes to heaven; the hemlock-forests near had grouped themselves into glittering temples, mosques, churches, whatever form in which men nave tried to please God by worshipping Him; the smoke from the distant village floated up in a constant silver-and-violet vapour like an incense-breath. Neither was it a dead morning. The far-off tinkle of cow-bells reached him now and then, the cheery crow from one farm-yard to another, even children's voices calling, and at last a slow, sweet chime of church-bells.
"They told me it was Christmas morning," he said, pulling off the old cap again.
Yarrow's chin had sunk on his breast, as his eager eyes drank all this morning in. He breathed short and quick, like a child before whom some incredible pleasure flashes open.
"Well," with a long breath, putting on his cap, "I didn't think of aught like this, yonder. God help us!"
He didn't know why he smiled or rubbed his hands cheerfully. His sleep had refreshed him, maybe. But it seemed as if the great beauty and tenderness of the world were for bim, this morning, as if some great Power stretched out its arms to him, and spoke through it.
"I'll not be silly again," straightening himself, and buttoning his coat; but before the words were spoken, his head had sunk again, and he stood quiet.
Something in all this brought Martha and the little chaps before him, he did not know why, but his heart ached with a sharper pain than ever, that made his eyes wet with tears.
"If there should be a chance 1" lifting his hands to the deep of blue in the east.
This was the free air in which he used to think he could find God.
"What if it were true that He was there, loving, not hating, taking care of Martha, and"
He stopped, catching the word.
"No. I've slipped. I don't forget."
He did forget. He did not remember that he was a thief, standing there. Whatever substance had been in him at his birth trustworthy rose up now to meet the voice of God that called to him aloud. His lank jaws grew red, his eyes a deeper blue, a look in them which his mother may have seen the like of, years and years ago; he beat with his knuckles on his breast nervously.
"If there could be a chance!" he said, unceasingly; "if I might try again!"
There was a crackling in the snow-laden bushes upon the hill; he looked back, and saw his brother coining from the other side, his gamebag over his shoulder, stooping to avoid notice, his eyes fixed intently on some object on the road beyond. It was an old man on horseback, jogging slowly up the path, whistling as he came. Yarrow shuddered with a sudden horror.
"He means murder! That is Frazier. You could not do it to-day, John! To-day I" as if Soule could hear him.
He was between his brother and his victim. The old man came slower, the hill being steep, looking at the frosted trees, and seeing neither Yarrow nor the burly figure crouching, tiger-like, among the bushes. One moment, and he would have passed the bend of the hill, Soule* could reach him.
"God help me 1" whispered Yarrow, and threw himself forward, pushing the horse back on his haunches. "Go back I Ten steps farther, and it's too late! Back, I say 1"
The old man gasped.
"Why! what 1 a slip? an' water-gully?"
"No matter," leading the horse, trembling from head to foot.
Up on the hill there was a sharp break, a heavy footstep on a dead root. Would John go back or come on? he was strong enough to master both. Yarrow's throat choked, but he led the horse steadily down the path, deaf to Frazier's questions.
"Do not draw rein until you reach the station," giving him the bridle at last.
The old man looked back: he had seen the figure dimly.
"If there's danger, I'll not leave you to meet it alone, my friend," fumbling in his breast for a weapon.
Yarrow stamped impatiently.
"Put spurs to your horse!" wipingfcis mouth; "it will be yet too late!"
Frazier gave a glance at his face, and obeyed him. A moment more and he was out sight. Yarrow watched him, and then slowly turned and raised his head. Soule" had come down, and was standing close beside him, leaning on his gun. It was the last time the brothers ever faced each other, and their natures, as God made them, came out bare in that look: Yarrow's, under all, was the tougher-fibred of the two. John's eyes fell.
"Stephen, this will hurt me. I"
"I thought it was well done," his hand going uncertainly to his mouth.
"Well, well! you have chosen," after a pause.
"Good bye, boy."
They held each other's hands for a minute; then Soule turned off, and strode down the hill.
He loosened his cravat as he went, and took a long breath of relief.
"It was a vile job! But"— his face much troubled. But his wife heard the story without a word, nor ever alluded to it afterwards. She was human, like the rest of us.
A moment after he was gone, a curious change took place in the convict, a reaction, the excitement being gone. The pain and exposure and hunger had room to tell now on body and soul. He stretched himself out on a drift of snow, drunken with sleep, yet every nerve quivering and conscious, trying to catch another echo of Soule'9 step. He was his brother, he was all he had; it was terrible to be thus alone in the world; going back to the time when they worked in the shop together. He raised his head even, and called him—" Jack I"—once or twice, as he used to then. It was too late. Such a generous, bull-headed fellow he was then, taking his own way, and being led at last. He was gone now, and forever. He was all he had.
The day was out broadly now, a thorough winter's day, cold and clear, the frosty air sending a glow through your blood. It sent none into Yarrow's thinned veins: he was too far gone with all these many years. The place, as I said, was a lonely one, niched between hills, yet near enough main roads for him to hear sounds from them: people calling to each other, about Christmas often; carriages rolling by; great Conestoga waggons, with their dozens of tinkling bells, and the driver singing; dogs and children chasing each other through the snow. The big world was awake and busy and glad, but it passed him by.
"For this man that might have been it has as much use as for a bit of cold victuals thrown into the street. And the worst is," with a bitter smile, "I know it, to my heart's core."
The morning passed by, as he lay there, growing colder, his brain duller.
"I did not think this coat was so thin," he would mutter, as he tried to pull it over him.
If he got up, where should he go? What use, eh? It was warmer in the snow than walking about. Conscious at last only oft metallic taste in his mouth, a weakness creeping closer to his heart every moment, and a dull wonder if there could yet be a chance. It seemed very far away now. And Martha and the little chaps Oh, well 1
Some hours may have passed as he lay there, and sleep came; for I fancy it was a dream that brought the final sharp thought into his brain. He dragged himself up on one elbow, the old queer smile on his lips.
"I will try," he said.
It took him some time to make his way out into the main road, but he did it at last, straightening his wet hair under the old cap.
"It's so like a dog to die that way! I'll try, just once, how the world looks when I face it."
He sat down outside of a blacksmith's forge, the only building in sight, on the pump-trough, and looked wearily about. His head fell now and then on his breast from weakness.
"It won't be a very long trial. I'll not beg for food, and I'm not equal to much work just now," with the same grim half-smile.
No one was in sight but the blacksmith and some crony, looking over a newspaper, inside. They nodded, when they saw him, and said— "Hillo 1"
"Hillo!" said Yarrow. Then they went on with their paper. That was the only sound for a long time. Some farmers passed after a while, giving him good morning, in country-fashion. A trifle, but it was warm, heartsome: he had put the world on trial, you know, and he was not very far from death. Men more soured than Yarrow have been surprised to find it was God's world, with God's own heart, warm and kindly, speaking through every human heart in it, if they touched them right. About noon, the blacksmith's children brought him his dinner in a tin plate. When they came out, one freckled baby-girl came up to Yarrow.
"Tie my shoe," she said, putting up one foot, peremptorily. "Are you hungry i" looking at him curiously, after he had done it, at the same time holding up a warm seed-cake she was eating to his mouth. He was ashamed that the spicy smile tempted him to take it. He put it away, and seated her on his foot.
"Let me ride you plough-boy fashion," he said, trotting her gently for a minute. Her father passed them. "You must pardon me," said Yarrow, with a
bow. "I usea to ride my boy so, and"
"Eh? Yes. Sudy's a good girl. You've lost your little boy, now?" looking in Yarrow's face. "Yes, I've lost him."
The blacksmith stood silent a moment, then went in. Soon after a tall man rode up on a gray horse; it had cast a shoe, and while the smith went to work within, the rider sat down by Yarrow on the trough, and began to talk of the weather, politics, etc., in a quiet, pleasant way, making a joke now and then. He had a thin face, with a scraggy fringe of yellow hair and whisker about it, and a gray, penetrating eye. The shoe was on presently, and mounting, with a touch of his hat to Yarrow, he rode off. The convict hesitated a moment, then called to him.
"I have a word to say to you," coming up and putting his hand on the horse's mane. The man glanced at him, then jumped down. "Well, my friend i" "You're a clergyman i" "Yes."
"So was 1 once. If you had known, just now, that I was a felon two days ago released from the penitentiary, what would you have said to me? Guilty, when I went in, remember a thief."
The man was silent, looking in Yarrow's face. Then he put his hand on his arm, "Shall I tell you?"
"I would have said, that, if ever you preach God's truth again, you will have learned a deeper lesson than I."
If he meant to startle the man's soul into life, he had done it. He a teacher, who hardly knew if that good God lived!
"Let me go," he cried, breaking loose from the other's hand.
"No. I can help you. For God's sake tell me who you are."
But Yarrow left him, and went down the road, hiding, when he tried to pursue him, sitting close behind a pile of lumber. He was there when found: so tired that the last hour and the last years began to seem like dreams. Something cold roused him, nozzling at his throat. An old yellow dog, its eyes burning.
"Why, Ready," he said, faintly, "have you come V
"Come home," said the dog's eyes, speaking out what the whole day had tried to say: "they're waiting for you; they've been waiting always; home's there, and love's there, and the good God's there, and it's Christmas day. Come home!"
Yarrow struggled up, and put his arms about the dog's neck: kissed him with all the hunger for love smothered in these many years.
"He don't know I'm a thief," he thought.
Ready bit angrily at coat and trousers.
"Be a man, and come home."
Yarrow understood. He caught his breath, as he went along, holding by the fence now and then.
"It's the chance !" he said. "And Martha! It's Martha and the little chaps!"
But he was not sure. He was yet so near to the place where it would have been forever too late. If Ready saw that with his wary eye, turned now and then, as he trotted before, if he had any terror in his dumb soul, (or whatever you choose to call it,) or any mad joy, or desire to go clean daft with rollicking in the snow at what he had done, he put it off to another season, and kept a stern face on his captive. But Yarrow watched it; it was the first home-face of them all.
"Be a man," it said. "Let the thief go. Home's before you, and love, and years of hard work for the God you did not know."
So they went on together. They came at last to the house, home. He grew blind then, and stopped at the gate; but the dog went slower, and waited for him to follow, pushed the door open softly, and, when he went in, lay down in his old place, and put his paws over his face.
When Martha Yarrow heard the step at last, she got up. But seeing how it was with him, she only put her arms quietly about his neck, and said—
"I've waited so long, my husband 1"
That was all.
He lay in his old bed that evening; he made her open the door, feeling strong enough to look at them now, Jem and Tom and Catty, in the warm well-lighted room, with all its little Christmas gaieties. They had known "many happy holidays, hut none like this: coming in on tiptoe to look at the white, sad face on the pillow, and to say, under their breath, "It's father." They had waited so long for him. When he heard them, the closed eyes always opened anxiously, and looked at them: kind eyes, full of a more tender, wishful love than even mother's. They came in only now and then; but Martha he would not let go from him, held her hand all day. Ready had made his way up on the bed, and lay over his feet.
"That's right, old Truepenny!" he said.
They laughed at that: he had not forgotten the old name. When Martha looked at the old yellow dog, she felt her eyes fill with tears.
"God did not want a messenger," she thought: as if He ever did!
That evening, while he lay with her head on his breast, as she sat by the bed, he watched the boys a long time.
"Martha," he said, at last, "you said that they should never know. Did you keep your word?"
"I kept it, Stephen."
He was quiet a long while after that, and then he said—
"Some day I will tell them. It's all clearer to me now. If ever I find the good God, I'll teach Him to my boys out of my own life. They'll not love me less."
He did not talk much that day; even to her he could not say that which was in his heart; but it seemed to him there was One who heard and understood, looking out, after all was quiet that night, into the far depth of the silent sky, and going over bis whole wretched life down to that bitterest word of all, as if he had found a hearer more patient, more tender than either wife or child.
"Is there any use to try}" he cried. "I was a thief."
Then, in the silence, came to him the memory of the old question—
"Hath no man condemned thee V
He put his hands over his face:
"No man, Lord!"
And the answer came for all time: "Neither do I condemn thee, Go, and sin no more,"
LOW LIFE IN THE EAST.
As I do not think it will be altogether uninteresting to the readers of this magazine to learn how their fellow-countrymen, albeit in a humble sphere of life, live in the East, I will briefly pourtray a scene, which it was my lot to witness some weeks ago, in one of the largest cities of the Western Presidency.
I am, if you please, one who takes a lively interest—possibly selfish, insomuch that it affords me some sort of excitement, I trust not unhealthy—in observing the habits of that class of society, of which I am not a member; and as I think there is much which ought to be done by Somebody, with a view to better the condition of the poorer class of Englishmen in India, I write this brief paper, not without a hope but that those especially concerned may see it. It ought not to startle them. Englishmen, who employ Englishmen in a foreign country, should, everyone will admit, look well after tho comfort of their poorer brethren. They are all aliens in a foreign land, some by choice, more by necessity; and it behoves those in authority, who have means and influence, to spare no pains to render the lot of their subordinates as happy as may be. Not for one moment let me be understood to infer that the higher caste of Englishmen are wantonly neglectful of the well-being of the lower: this is far from my meaning. The latter are better paid and are far more independent than they are in England. If they had but that restriction put upon the manner of their private life which they would
have at home, if they were made to feel the necessity of keeping up their respectability, it would be better.
Of the class of men which come out here, engaged in England, for, let me say, some railway company, I cannot but say they are well offj it is of the unoovenanted I wish to speak. The former, his passage being paid, proceeds by the P. and 0. steamer to the land of his adoption for three years. He leaves his wife (if be has one) behind him, to whom a certain sum is paid weekly at the Home-office, which sum is deducted from his wages in India.
I wonder what ideas these men have conceived of India r I wonder what they do for the first few days after their arrival, until they are settled? I suppose they reside in a hotel. I have several such places in my mind's eye, where the accommodation is very inferior, the fare indifferent, and the attendance, in some instances, simply insulting.
If I pay six rupees—twelve shillings is sapposed to be the equivalent in English money, but it is no such thing, for twelve shillings in England go much farther than six rupees in India—if, I say, I pay six rupees per day for my accommodation at sn hotel, I am, in my humble estimation, entitled to common civility. I do not look for cringing servility on the part of my host. No, far from it j but I expect, but don't get, common civility. I object, upon going into an hotel, to be received by the pro