O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920
Part 7 out of 8
Tell the gentlemen who made those tracks."
She turned to Munn desperately. "What do you want to know for?" she
The sharpness of her voice roused old Mrs. Brenner, drowsing in her
"Blood!" she cried suddenly. "Blood on his hands!"
In the silence that followed, the eyes of the men turned curiously
toward the old woman and then sought each other with speculative
stares. Mrs. Brenner, tortured by those long significant glances,
said roughly. "That's Mart's mother. She ain't right! What are you
bothering us for?"
Dick Roamer put out a hand to plead for her, and tapped Munn on the
arm. There was something touching in her frightened old face.
"A man--a stranger was killed up on the hill," Munn told her.
"What's that got to do with us?" she countered.
"Not a thing, Mrs. Brenner, probably, but I've just to make sure
where every man in the village was this afternoon."
Mrs. Brenner's lids flickered. She felt the questioning intentness
of Sheriff Munn's eyes on her stolid face and she felt that he did
not miss the tremor in her eyes.
"Where was your son this afternoon?"
She smiled defiance. "I told you, on the beach."
"Whose room is that?" Munn's forefinger pointed to Tobey's closed
"That's Tobey's room," said his mother.
"The mud tracks go into that room. Did he make those tracks,
"No! Oh, no! No!" she cried desperately. "Mart made those when he
came in. He went into Tobey's room!"
"How about it, Brenner?"
Mart smiled with an indulgent air. "Heard what she said, didn't you?"
"Is it true?"
Mart smiled more broadly. "Olga'll take my hair off if I don't agree
with her," he said.
"Let's see your shoes, Brenner?"
Without hesitation Mart lifted one heavy boot and then the other for
Munn's inspection. The other silent men leaned forward to examine
"Nothing but pieces of seaweed," said Cottrell Hampstead,
Munn eyed them. Then he turned to look at the floor.
"Those are about the size of your tracks, Brenner. But they were
made in red clay. How do you account for that?"
"Tobey wears my shoes,'" said Brenner.
Mrs. Brenner gasped. She advanced to Munn.
"What you asking all these questions for?" she pleaded.
Munn did not answer her. After a moment he asked. "Did you hear a
scream this afternoon?"
"Yes," she answered.
"How long after the screaming did your son come in?"
She hesitated. What was the best answer to make? Bewildered, she
tried to decide. "Ten minutes or so," she said.
"Just so," agreed Munn. "Brenner, when did you come in?"
A trace of Mart's sullenness rose in his face. "I told you that once,"
"I mean how long after Tobey?"
"I dunno," said Mart.
"How long, Mrs. Brenner?"
She hesitated again. She scented a trap. "Oh, 'bout ten to fifteen
minutes, I guess," she said.
Suddenly she burst out passionately. "What you hounding us for? We
don't know nothing about the man on the hill. You ain't after the
rest of the folks in the village like you are after us. Why you
doing it? We ain't done nothing."
Munn made a slight gesture to Roamer, who rose and went to the door,
and opened it. He reached out into the darkness. Then he turned. He
was holding something in his hand, but Mrs. Brenner could not see
what it was.
"You chop your wood with a short, heavy axe, don't you, Brenner?"
"It's marked with your name, isn't it?"
Brenner nodded again.
"_Is this the axe_?"
Mrs. Brenner gave a short, sharp scream. Red and clotted, even the
handle marked with bloody spots, the axe was theirs.
Brenner started to his feet. "God!" he yelped, "that's where that
axe went! Tobey took it!" More calmly he proceeded, "This afternoon
before I went down on the beach I thought I'd chop some wood on the
hill. But the axe was gone. So after I'd looked sharp for it and
couldn't find it, I gave it up."
"Tobey didn't do it!" Mrs. Brenner cried thinly. "He's as harmless
as a baby! He didn't do it! He didn't do it!"
"How about those clay tracks, Mrs. Brenner? There is red clay on the
hill where the man was killed. There is red clay on your floor."
Munn spoke kindly.
"Mart tracked in that clay. He changed shoes with Tobey. I tell you
that's the truth." She was past caring for any harm that might
Brenner smiled with a wide tolerance. "It's likely, ain't it, that
I'd change into shoes as wet as these?"
"Those tracks are Mart's!" Olga reiterated hysterically.
"They lead into your son's room, Mrs. Brenner. And we find your axe
not far from your door, just where the path starts for the hill."
Munn's eyes were grave.
The old woman in the corner began to whimper, "Blood and trouble!
Blood and trouble all my days! Red on his hands! Dripping! Olga!
"But the road to the beach begins there too," Mrs. Brenner cried,
above the cracked voice, "and Tobey saw his pa before he came home.
He said he did. I tell you, Mart was on the hill. He put on Tobey's
shoes. Before God I'm telling you the truth."
Dick Roamer spoke hesitatingly, "Mebbe the old woman's right, Munn.
Mebbe those tracks are Brenner's."
Mrs. Brenner turned to him in wild gratitude.
"You believe me, don't you?" she cried. The tears dribbled down her
face. She saw the balance turning on a hair. A moment more and it
might swing back. She turned and hobbled swiftly to the shelf. Proof!
More proof! She must bring more proof of Tobey's innocence!
She snatched up his box of butterflies and came back to Munn.
"This is what Tobey was doin' this afternoon!" she cried in triumph.
"He was catchin' butterflies! That ain't murder, is it?"
"Nobody catches butterflies in a fog," said Munn.
"Well, Tobey did. Here they are," Mrs. Brenner held out the box.
Munn took it from her shaking hand. He looked at it. After a moment
he turned it over. His eyes narrowed. Mrs. Brenner turned sick. The
room went swimming around before her in a bluish haze. She had
forgotten the blood on her hand that she had wiped off before Mart
came home. Suppose the blood had been on the box.
The sheriff opened the box. A bruised butterfly, big, golden,
fluttered up out of it. Very quietly the sheriff closed the box, and
turned to Mrs. Brenner.
"Call your son," he said.
"What do you want of him? Tobey ain't done nothing. What you tryin'
to do to him?"
"There is blood on this box, Mrs. Brenner."
"Mebbe he cut himself." Mrs. Brenner was fighting. Her face was
"In the box, Mrs. Brenner, _is a gold watch and chain_. The man who
was killed, Mrs. Brenner, had a piece of gold chain to match this in
his buttonhole. _The rest of it had been torn off_"
Olga made no sound. Her burning eyes turned toward Mart. In them was
all of a heart's anguish and despair.
"Tell 'em, Mart! Tell 'em he didn't do it!" she finally pleaded.
Mart's face was inscrutable.
Munn rose. The other men got to their feet.
"Will you get the boy or shall I?" the sheriff said directly to
With a rush Mrs. Brenner was on her knees before Munn, clutching him
about the legs with twining arms. Tears of agony dripped over her
"He didn't do it! Don't take him! He's my baby! He never harmed
anybody! He's my baby!" Then with a shriek, as Munn unclasped her
arms, "Oh, my God! My God!"
Munn helped her to her feet. "Now, now, Mrs. Brenner, don't take on
so," he said awkwardly. "There ain't going to be no harm come to
your boy. It's to keep him from getting into harm that I'm taking him.
The village is a mite worked up over this murder and they might get
kind of upset if they thought Tobey was still loose. Better go and
get him, Mrs. Brenner."
As she stood unheeding, he went on, "Now, don't be afraid.
Nothing'll happen to him. No jedge would sentence him like a regular
criminal. The most that'll happen will be to put him some safe place
where he can't do himself nor no one else any more harm."
But still Mrs. Brenner's set expression did not change.
After a moment she shook off his aiding arm and moved slowly to
Tobey's door. She paused there a moment, resting her hand on the
latch, her eyes searching the faces of the men in the room. With a
gesture of dreary resignation she opened the door and entered,
closing it behind her.
Tobey lay in his bed, asleep. His rumpled hair was still damp from
the fog. His mother stroked it softly while her slow tears dropped
down on his face with its expression of peaceful childhood.
"Tobey!" she called. Her voice broke in her throat. The tears fell
"Huh!" He sat up, blinking at her.
"Get into your clothes, now! Right away!" she said.
He stared at her tears. A dismal sort of foreboding seemed to seize
upon him. His face began to pucker. But he crawled out of his bed
and began to dress himself in his awkward fashion, casting wistful
and wondering glances in her direction.
She watched him, her heart growing heavier and heavier. There was no
one to protect Tobey. She could not make those strangers believe
that Mart had changed shoes with Tobey. Neither could she account
for the blood-stained box and the watch with its length of broken
chain. But if Tobey had been on the beach he had not been on the hill,
and if he hadn't been on the hill he couldn't have killed the man
they claimed he had killed. Mart had been on the hill. Her head
whirled. Some place fate, destiny, something had blundered. She
wrung her knotted hands together.
Presently Tobey was dressed. She took him by the hand. Her own hand
was shaking, and very cold and clammy. Her knees were weak as she
led him toward the door. She could feel them trembling so that every
step was an effort. And her hand on the knob had barely strength to
turn it. But turn it she did and opened the door.
"Here he is!" she cried chokingly. She freed her hand and laid it on
"Look at him," she moaned. "He couldn't 'a' done it. He's--he's just
Sheriff Munn rose. His men rose with him.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Brenner," he said. "Terrible sorry. But you can see
how it is. Things look pretty black for him."
He paused, looked around, hesitated for a moment. Finally he said,
"Well, I guess we'd better be getting along."
Mrs. Brenner's hand closed with convulsive force on Tobey's shoulder.
"Tobey!" she screamed desperately, "where was you this afternoon?
"On the beach," mumbled Tobey, shrinking into himself.
"Tobey! Tobey! Where'd you get blood on the box?"
He looked around. His cloudy eyes rested on her face helplessly.
"I dunno," he said.
Her teeth were chattering now; she laid her hand on his other
"Try to remember, Tobey. Try to remember. Where'd you get the watch,
the pretty watch that was in your box?"
He blinked at her.
"The pretty bright thing? Where did you get it?"
His eyes brightened. His lips trembled into a smile.
"I found it some place," he said. Eagerness to please her shone on
"But where? What place?" The tears again made rivulets on her cheeks.
He shook his head. "I dunno."
Mrs. Brenner would not give up.
"You saw your pa this afternoon, Tobey?" she coached him softly.
"Where'd you see him?" she breathed.
He frowned. "I--saw pa----" he began, straining to pierce the cloud
that covered him.
"Blood! Blood!" shrieked old Mrs. Brenner. She half rose, her head
thrust forward on her shrivelled neck.
Tobey paused, confused. "I dunno," he said.
"Did he give you the pretty bright thing? And did he give you the
axe--" she paused and repeated the word loudly--"the axe to bring
Tobey caught at the word. "The axe?" he cried. "The axe! Ugh! It
was all sticky!" He shuddered.
"Did pa give you the axe?"
But the cloud had settled. Tobey shook his head. "I dunno," he
repeated his feeble denial.
Munn advanced. "No use, Mrs. Brenner, you see. Tobey, you'll have to
come along with us."
Even to Tobey's brain some of the strain in the atmosphere must have
penetrated, for he drew back. "Naw," he protested sulkily, "I don't
Dick Roamer stepped to his side. He laid his hand on Tobey's arm.
"Come along," he urged.
Mrs. Brenner gave a smothered gasp. Tobey woke to terror. He turned
to run. In an instant the men surrounded him. Trapped, he stood still,
his head lowered in his shoulders.
"Ma!" he screamed suddenly. "Ma! I don't want to go! Ma!"
He fell on his knees. Heavy childish sobs racked him. Deserted,
terrified, he called upon the only friend he knew.
"Ma! Please, Ma!"
Munn lifted him up. Dick Roamer helped him, and between them they
drew him to the door, his heart-broken calls and cries piercing
every corner of the room.
They whisked him out of Mrs. Brenner's sight as quickly as they could.
The other men piled out of the door, blocking the last vision of her
son, but his bleating cries came shrilling back on the foggy air.
Mart closed the door. Mrs. Brenner stood where she had been when
Tobey had first felt the closing of the trap and had started to run.
She looked as though she might have been carved there. Her light
breath seemed to do little more than lift her flat chest.
Mart turned from the door. His eyes glittered. He advanced upon her
hungrily like a huge cat upon an enchanted mouse.
"So you thought you'd yelp on me, did you?" he snarled, licking his
lips. "Thought you'd put me away, didn't you? Get me behind the bars,
"Blood!" moaned the old woman in the corner. "Blood!"
Mart strode to the table, pulling out from the bosom of his shirt a
lumpy package wrapped in his handkerchief. He threw it down on the
table. It fell heavily with a sharp ringing of coins.
"But I fooled you this time! Mart wasn't so dull this time, eh?" He
turned toward her again.
Between them, disturbed in his resting-place on the table, the big
bruised yellow butterfly raised himself on his sweeping wings.
Mart drew back a little. The butterfly flew toward Olga and brushed
her face with a velvety softness.
Then Brenner lurched toward her, his face black with fury, his arm
upraised. She stood still, looking at him with wide eyes in which a
gleam of light showed.
"You devil!" she said, in a whispering voice. "You killed that man!
You gave Tobey the watch and the axe! You changed shoes with him!
You devil! You devil!"
He drew back for a blow. She did not move. Instead she mocked him,
trying to smile.
"You whelp!" she taunted him. "Go on and hit me! I ain't running!
And if you don't break me to bits I'm going to the sheriff and I'll
tell him what you said to me just now. And he'll wonder how you got
all that money in your pockets. He knows we're as poor as church mice.
How you going to explain what you got?"
"I ain't going to be such a fool as to keep it on me!" Mart crowed
with venomous mirth. "You nor the sheriff nor any one won't find it
where I'm going to put it!"
The broken woman leaned forward, baiting him. The strange look of
exaltation and sacrifice burned in her faded eyes. "I've got you,
Mart!" she jeered. "You're going to swing yet! I'll even up with you
for Tobey! You didn't think I could do it, did you? I'll show you!
You're trapped, I tell you! And I done it!"
She watched Mart swing around to search the room and the blank
window with apprehensive eyes. She sensed his eerie dread of the
unseen. He couldn't see any one. He couldn't hear a sound. She saw
that he was wet with the cold perspiration of fear. It would enrage
him. She counted on that. He turned back to his wife in a white fury.
She leaned toward him, inviting his blows as martyrs welcome the
torch that will make their pile of fagots a blazing bier.
He struck her. Once. Twice. A rain of blows given in a blind passion
that drove her to her knees, but she clung stubbornly, with rigid
fingers to the table-edge. Although she was dazed she retained
consciousness by a sharp effort of her failing will. She had not yet
achieved that for which she was fighting.
The dull thud of the blows, the confusion, the sight of the blood
drove the old woman in the corner suddenly upright on her tottering
feet. Her rheumy eyes glared affrighted at the sight of the only
friend she recognized in all her mad, black world lying there across
the table. She stood swaying in a petrified terror for a moment.
Then with a thin wail, "He's killing her!" she ran around them and
gained the door.
With a mighty effort Olga Brenner lifted her head so that her face,
swollen beyond recognition, was turned toward her mother-in-law. Her
almost sightless eyes fastened themselves on the old woman.
"Run!" she cried. "Run to the village!"
The mad woman, obedient to that commanding voice, flung open the
door and lurched over the threshold and disappeared in the fog. It
came to Mart that the woman running through the night with the wail
of terror was the greatest danger he would know. Olga Brenner saw
his look of sick terror. He started to spring after the mad woman,
forgetful of the half-conscious creature on her knees before him.
But as he turned, Olga, moved by the greatness of her passion,
forced strength into her maimed body. With a straining leap she
sprawled herself before him on the floor. He stumbled, caught for
the table, and fell with a heavy crash, striking his head on a
near-by chair. Olga raised herself on her shaking arms and looked at
him. Minute after minute passed, and yet he lay still. A second long
ten minutes ticked itself off on the clock, which Olga could barely
see. Then Mart opened his eyes, sat up, and staggered to his feet.
Before full consciousness could come to him again, his wife crawled
forward painfully and swiftly coiled herself about his legs. He
struggled, still dizzy from his fall, bent over and tore at her
twining arms, but the more he pulled the tighter she clung,
fastening her misshapen fingers in the lacing of his shoes. He swore!
And he became panic-stricken. He began to kick at her, to make
lunges toward the distant door. Kicking and fighting, dragging her
clinging body with him at every move, that body which drew him back
one step for every two forward steps he took, at last he reached the
wall. He clutched it, and as his hand slipped along trying to find a
more secure hold he touched the cold iron of a long-handled pan
With a snarl he snatched it down, raised it over his head, and
brought it down upon his wife's back. Her hands opened spasmodically
and fell flat at her sides. Her body rolled over, limp and broken.
And a low whimper came from her bleeding lips.
Satisfied, Mart paused to regain his breath. He had no way of
knowing how long this unequal fight had been going on.
But he was free. The way of escape was open. He laid his hand on the
There were voices. He cowered, cast hunted glances at the bloody
figure on the floor, bit his knuckles in a frenzy.
As he looked, the eyes opened in his wife's swollen face, eyes aglow
with triumph. "You'll swing for it, Mart!" she whispered faintly.
"And the money's on the table! Tobey's saved!"
Rough hands were on the door. A flutter of breath like a sigh of
relief crossed her lips and her lids dropped as the door burst open
to a tide of men.
The big yellow butterfly swung low on his golden wings and came to
rest on her narrow, sunken breast.
BY GORDON ARTHUR SMITH
From _Harper's Monthly Magazine_
Steve Dempsey was a conspicuously ingenious chief machinist's
mate--one of the most ingenious in the Naval Aviation Forces,
Foreign Service, and he was ingenious not only with his hands, but
with his tongue. That is why I cannot guarantee the veracity of what
follows; I can but guarantee that he guaranteed it.
Steve had had a varied and highly coloured career, and I think that
the war, or so much of it as he was permitted to see, seemed to him
a comparatively tame affair--something all in the year's work. When
he was fifteen years old he was conducting his father's public
garage in a town not far from Denver; at that age he knew as much
about motors as the men who built them, and he had, moreover, the
invaluable knack of putting his finger immediately on a piece of
erring mechanism and, with the aid of a bit of wire and a pair of
pliers, setting it to rights. Given enough wire and a pair of pliers,
I believe that he could have built the Eiffel Tower.
Becoming restless in the garage, he determined to make his fortune
quickly, and accordingly went out prospecting in the vicinity of the
Little Annie mine. He bought himself a small patch of promising
ground and he and another fellow shovelled away until they had no
money left. So then he took up aviation.
He was one of the pioneers of the flying-men in this country. He
used to fly at country fairs in an old ramshackle bus of the Wright
model--a thing of sticks and canvas and wires precariously hung
together. But he flew it. And he rehabilitated his finances.
When war was declared he enlisted as a gob and was sent on sea duty.
He knew, of course, nothing of sea duty, but lack of knowledge of a
subject had never daunted him, for he had the faculty of learning
things quickly by himself and for himself. His mechanical ability
asserting itself, he was made a machinist's mate, second class, and
transferred over to the Aviation. When I knew him he had proved so
valuable at the various air stations that he had been advanced to
chief machinist's mate and was an assistant in the Technical Division
at Paris headquarters.
He was a very friendly soul, always respectful enough, even when
outspoken, and no more in fear of an admiral than of--well, he
would have said than of a marine. During his year of service, you see,
he had absorbed most of the navy traditions. He spoke the navy
speech like an old-timer, and undoubtedly amplified the regular navy
vocabulary with picturesque expressions of his own. Of course he was
Sunday morning at headquarters was apt to be a slack morning, with
not much work to do; but in intervals of idleness one could always
be certain of finding something of interest to see or hear in
Steve's office. Usually he would be in front of his drafting-board
working on a new design for a muffler or a machine-gun turret or a
self-starter, or figuring out the possibility of flying _through_
the Arc de Triomphe, which, he claimed could be done with six feet
to spare at each wing-tip. This, and climbing the Eiffel Tower on
its girders, were two of his pet projects.
On a Sunday in August of 1918 there were assembled around his
drafting-board an interested and receptive audience of four--Peters,
an ensign attached to the "lighter-than-air" section; Madden, a
pilot on his way up from Italy to the Northern Bombing Group; Erskine,
a lieutenant in the Operations Division; and Matthews, a chief yeoman.
"Yes," Dempsey was saying, "I'm _beaucoup_ sorry for these here
frawgs. They're just bein' massacred--that's all it is--_massacred_.
And there don't anybody take much notice, either. Say, somebody was
tellin' me the other day just how many the French has lost since the
beginnin' of the war. Just about one million. I wouldn't believe it,
but it's straight. It was a French colonel that was tellin' me out
to the Hispano factory day before yesterday, and he'd oughta know
because he was through the battle of the Marne and the Soam, and
"Did he tell you in French?" inquired Ensign Peters, meaningly, for
Dempsey's French was admittedly limited.
"Pardon?" said Dempsey, and then, grasping the innuendo: "No, sir,
he did _not_. Why, he talks English as good as you and me. That's
another thing about these frawgs--they can all _parlez-vous_ any
language. I never yet seen a Frenchie I couldn't talk to yet."
"Did you ever see anybody you couldn't talk to yet, Steve?"
suggested the chief yeoman.
"Here, you, how d'ya get that way? Who was it I seen th' other night
out walking in the Boy de Bullone with a skirt? And I guess you
wasn't talkin'--why, you was talkin' so fast you had to help out
with your hands, just like a frawg.... No, as I say, I feel sorry
for these French in more ways than one."
"Just how do you display that sorrow?" asked Ensign Madden.
Dempsey hesitated an instant, scratched his head, and very carefully
drew a line on the tracing-paper in front of him.
"Well, sir," he said, finally, "I displayed it last Sunday."
Then he relapsed into silence, and resumed work on the drawing. But
as he worked he grinned quietly--a provocative grin which inspired
"What did you do last Sunday?" prodded Peters.
The grin widened as Steve glanced up from the board. He laid aside
his instruments, tilted back in his chair, and said: "Well, it
wasn't very regular, what I done last Sunday, but I'll tell you if
you don't have me up before a court.... You remember last Sunday
was a swell day? Spring in the air, I guess, and everything, and
everybody was out walking like Matthews, here, with a Jane. I 'ain't
got a Jane, of course----"
"What!" roared Matthews.
"I 'ain't got a Jane, of course, so I decides to take a little look
around all by myself. Well, I goes down the Chomps-Eleezy feelin'
pretty good and sorta peppy and lookin' for trouble. I see all them
army heroes--the vets and the dentists and the S O S--each with a
skirt, and I passes Matthews, here, with _his_ skirt clingin' to him
like a cootie."
"Cut it out, you big stiff," interposed Matthews.
"Like a cootie," continued Steve, "and I got sorta de-pressed. So I
sez, me for the quiet, unfrequented streets over acrost the river.
Well, sir, I was just passin' the Loover--that big museum, or
whatever it is--when I see a hearse comin' in the opposite direction.
It was a pretty sick-lookin' hearse, too. It had a coupla animals
hitched to it that was probably called horses when they was young,
and that didn't have a steak minoot left on 'em. But they was all
covered with mangy black plumes and tassels and things--you know, the
way they rig 'em up when the corpse is takin' his last drive. And
there was an old bird sittin' up on the box-seat with a hat like
"Well, at first it looked to me like it was just the regular frawg
funeral, and I didn't pay no special attention, only I give it the
salute when I got opposite. Then I see that there weren't no flowers
nor tin wreaths on the coffin--except there was one little buncha
pinks, and they was a pretty sad-lookin' buncha pinks, too, sir.
Then I see that there weren't no procession walkin' along
behind--except there was one little old woman all in black and
lookin' sorta sick and scared. Yes, sir, there she was walkin' all
by herself and lookin' lonelier 'n hell.
"So I sez to myself: 'It's all wrong, Steve, it's all wrong. Here's
a poor dead frawg, the only son of his mother and her a
widow'--that's Bible stuff, sir--'goin' out to be planted with none
of the gang around. It's tough,' I sez. 'I'll say it is.' Well, I
told you I didn't have nothin' much to do, so I sez, 'Laffyette,
cheeri-o,' and steps up beside the old lady. That makes two mourners,
"Well, the old lady give me the once over and seen Mr. Daniels's
uniform and the rooster on my sleeve, and I guess decides that I'm
eligible to the club. Anyway, she sorta nodded at me and pretty soon
begun to snuffle and look for her handkerchief. It wasn't no use,
though, for she didn't have any.
"Meanwhile we was crossin' one of them bridges--just crawlin' along
like one of the motors had quit and the other was hittin' only on
three. If we'd been in the air we'd stalled sure and gone into a
tail-spin. All the time I was thinkin' how to say 'Cheer up' to the
old dame in French, but all I could think of at first was 'Bravo'
and '_Vous-ate tray jolee_!' Still it was sorta stupid walkin' along
and no conversation, so I guess I musta had an inspiration or
something, and I sez, pointing ahead at the coffin, '_Mort avec mon
Dieu_.' The old lady lost her step at that, because I suppose she
was surprised by a Yank speakin' good French, most of 'em relyin',
like Matthews here, on the sign language, although I'll say that
Matthews gets plenty far enough with that. Why, they're four girls
and a widow at home that if they knew how far Matthews was gettin'
with the sign language they'd be gray-headed to-day.... Aw, well,
Matthews, quit spoilin' this drawin'. Do you wanta get me and
Admiral Sims into trouble with the department?"
"Go ahead with your funeral, Steve," said Lieutenant Erskine--"unless
your power of invention has failed you."
Dempsey looked up with a hurt and innocent expression on his face.
"Oh, lootenant," he exclaimed, "what I'm tellin' is gospel. It's as
true--it's as true as the communikays."
"All right," said Erskine, "issue another, then."
"Well," Steve continued, "where was I? Oh yes, we was on the bridge
and I'd just told the old lady that the dead soldier was in heaven
"Soldier?" repeated Erskine. "What made you believe he was a soldier?"
"Why, ain't every frawg a soldier now, sir."
"How did you know, even, that it was a male frog?"
"I'm comin' to that, sir," replied Steve. "That comes next. You see,
once the old lady knew I could _parlez-vous_ with the best of 'em,
she continued the conversation and sez, '_Mon pover fees_.' Get that?
'_Mon pover fees_.' Well, that means, translated, 'My poor son.'"
At this revelation of startling linguistic ability Steve paused to
receive felicitations. When they were forthcoming he proceeded.
"So, of course, I know then that the corpse is a dead soldier, and I
decides to see him through until he's made a safe landing somewhere.
Well, just as we was acrost the bridge, the two ex-horses doin' fine
on the down grade, I seen a marine standin' on the corner tellin' a
buncha girls all about Chateau-Teery. Well, I thought that maybe it
'ud be a good thing if he joined the funeral, because, anyway, the
girls could hear all about Chateau-Teery the next marine they saw.
So I yell out at him: 'Hey, you! Come and join the navy and see the
"Well, he looks around, and, although I guess he didn't much wanta
leave them girls, he decides that he'll come and see what the big
game is. So he salutes the corpse and steps in beside me and whispers,
'Say, chief, what's the idea?'
"'Whadd 'ya think, you poor cheese?' I sez. 'D'ya think it's a
weddin'? Get in step. We're goin' to bury a French _poiloo_.'
"'Is that so?' he sez."
"'Yes, that's so,' I sez. 'Get over acrost on the other side of the
widowed mother and say somethin' cheerful to her in French--if you
"'If I know any!' sez he. 'Wasn't I at Chateau-Teery?'"
"'Well,' I sez, 'don't tell her about that. Tell her somethin' she
ain't heard already.'"
"'You go to blazes!' he sez, and crosses over like I told him. And
pretty soon I seen him gettin' all red and I knew he was goin' to
shoot some French at the old lady, and, sure enough, out he come with,
'_Madame je swee enchantay_.'"
"Well, sir, I like to 've died tryin' to keep from laughin' at that,
because what it means translated is, 'Madam, I'm deelighted.' Trust
them marines to say the right thing at the wrong time--I'll say they
"By the time I get under control we're opposite the French Aviation
Headquarters--you know, the Service Technique on the Bullyvard
Saint-Germain. Well, there was a lot of doughboys hangin' around
there wastin' time, and I see one on a motor-cycle with a sergeant
sittin' in the side-car. So I step out of the ranks and sez to the
sergeant, 'What ya doin'?' And he sez, 'Waitin'--but there's nobody
home at all, at all.' So I sez: 'Well, you and your side-car is
commandeered for this funeral. We're buryin' a frawg and we need
some more mourners. The old lady is his widowed mother, and the
corpse, he's her only son and her a widow.' He sez: 'Shure, Oi'll
come, an' Oi'll be afther gettin' some o' thim other divvles to jine.
Me name is Roilly.' 'Right-o, old dear,' I sez. 'I didn't think it
was Moses and Straus.'"
"Well, sir, Reilly was a good scout, and inside of a minute he had
six doughboys lined up behind the hearse and him bringin' up the
rear in the side-car. The side-car kept backfirin', and it sounded
like we was firin' salutes to the dead all the way to the park.
"I wanta tell ya, that old lady was tickled. Why, there we was
already ten strong, with more to come, because I drafted three gobs
at the Bullyvard Raspail. They wasn't quite sober, but I kep' my eye
on 'em and they behaved fine. I sez to them: 'You drunken bums, you!
You join this funeral or I'll see you're put in the brig to-night.'
But to make sure they'd not disgrace Mr. Daniels's uniform I put 'em
right behind the widow and the marine and me.
"Well, it appears that one of 'em talks French good--real good, I
mean, sir--like a frawg waiter or a coacher."
"Or a what?" interjected Erskine.
"Or a coacher," repeated Steve, with dignity. "The fact is, he
talked it so good that--well, never mind that yet. He's a smart
fellow, though, Mr. Erskine, by the name of Rathbone. Well, never
mind--only he's a good fellow and 'ud be pretty useful here, with
his French and everything.
"Well, anyway, I begun to wonder after a while where that fellow
driving the hearse was takin' us to. We'd gone out the old Bullyvard
Raspail a deuce of a way, and Napoleon One showed no signs of
stoppin' them horses, and I didn't see no cemetery.
"I sez to the marine, 'I guess we're not goin' to stop till we get
to Chateau-Teery,' and he sez, 'You go to hell and stop _there_.' So
I sez, 'I hope the poor old lady don't understand your English.'
"The old dame, I could see, was beginnin' to get weak in the knees
and was walkin' about as unsteady as the three gobs behind us. So me
and the marine each grabbed an arm and she sez, '_Mercy_,' and tried
to start a smile. I guess it was pretty hard goin', because the
smile didn't get far.
"Well, anyway, we kep' right on and passed that stone lion out there
and went right through the gates, the boys all marchin' strong and
the motor-bike makin' one hell of a noise aft. When we get through
the gates I fall back and I sez to the gob, 'Rathbone,' I sez, 'ask
the lady where we're headed and if she trusts the driver.' So
Rathbone moves up and has quite a _parlez-vous_ with her.
"'Well,' I sez, 'what's she say?'
"'She sez,' sez Rathbone, 'that we're goin' to bury him in a field
out here, and that there ain't no priest will bury him and there
ain't no cemetery she can bury him in.'
"'That's funny,' I sez--'too poor, I guess. Well, anyway, it's a
shame--I'll say it is--it's a shame.'
"'Yes,' sez Rathbone, slowly, as if he was thinkin'--'yes, it's a
"And the other two gobs who wasn't as sober as Rathbone, they sez,
too, 'Yes, it's a damn shame.'"
"'That makes the navy unanimous,' I sez, and then I begin to work my
bean. I was still workin' it and it was respondin' about as well as
one of them black Kabyles that are pretendin' to help build our
station at Lacanau--I was still workin' it, when the old hearse
swings to the right through a gate in a stone wall and brings up
short in a field. There was grass in the field and daisies and things,
and a lotta tin crosses stuck on mounds that I guessed was graves.
It woulda been a pretty cheerful old field, I guess, if they'd let
it alone, but them tin crosses looked pretty sick and the paint was
peelin' off the tin flowers that people had stuck on the graves, and
I guess the head gardener wasn't much of a hand at weedin'."
"Well, anyway, we all line up in a sorta circle and every one looks
pretty downhearted and the three gobs gets perfectly sober, which
was a relief. Then Napoleon One climbs down from his box and says
somethin' in French to the old widow and points to two birds who're
diggin' a hole half-way acrost the field. Rathbone sez that he sez
that that is the grave and that the two birds is the grave-diggers
and pall-bearers combined."
"'They are, are they?' I sez. 'This is a military funeral, ain't it?
A military funeral conducted by the navy with the army for
pall-bearers. And I call on Sergeant Reilly to back me up.'
"'Shure,' sez Reilly, 'but who'll be providin' the priest?'
"Well, when he sez that my old bean give a sort of throb, and I sez:
'Don't bother your nut about the priest. He'll be forthcomin' when
and if needed.'
"So, while Reilly was explainin' to his six doughboys and Rathbone
was bringin' Napoleon One up to date, me and the widow and the
marine goes over to superintend the two birds diggin' the grave.
They was two funny-lookin' old birds, too--I'll say they was. They
was about a hundred years old apiece and had long white whiskers
like St. Peter, and, say, they talked a whole lot more than they dug.
I guess they musta been workin' on that grave for a coupla weeks--you
know, ten minutes _parlez-vous_ and then one shovela dirt. Me and
the marine had to grab their shovels and finish the job or there
wouldn't 'a' been no funeral _that_ day.
"When we get back the six doughboys is all ready to give first aid
to the coffin, and Rathbone is talkin' to Napoleon One like they was
brothers. So I go up to them and I sez to Rathbone:
"'Looka here, Rathbone. I'm the priest at this party. See?'
"'What's that?' sez Rathbone. 'Come again.'
"'I say I'm the priest. This dead _poiloo_ ain't gotta priest nor
nothin' and there's his poor mother and her a widow. So I'm that
missin' priest, and I'm not too proud to perform free and gratis.
"'Hold on, chief,' sez Rathbone. 'You ain't got nothin' to wear.'
"'Nothin' to wear!' I sez. 'You poor cheese, I'm a navy chaplain.'
"'You look more like a Charlie Chaplin,' sez Rathbone.
"I guess that bird wasn't sober yet, after all, because he thought
he was funny.
"'Can the comedy,' I sez, 'and you go tell the widow that Father
Dempsey, the head chaplain of the U.S. Navy, has consented to
perform this afternoon. Now, get it straight, and for Gawd's sake
don't go and laugh or I'll put you in the brig.'
"Well, Rathbone looks at me like I was goin' to my death.
"'Good-by, chief,' he sez. 'Wait till the admiral hears of this.'
"'Haw,' I sez--'if he does I'll get decorated.'
"Well, I give Reilly the high sign and out comes the coffin on the
doughboys' shoulders. Napoleon One leads the way, and Rathbone and
the widow step in after the coffin, and I see that they is talkin'
together _beaucoup_ earnestly.
"When we get to the grave the doughboys set down the coffin beside
it and all forms in a circle with me and the widow facin' each other.
And then there's an anxious silence. I'll say right here that I was
the most anxious, and I was sweatin' more than I guess any chaplain
oughta sweat. But, by luck, I happen to think that I have my old
logarithm-book in my pocket--you know, the one that's bound in black
patent-leather. Looks sorta as if it might be a prayer-book or
somethin' like that. Anyway, the widow, bein' a frawg widow, I
figgered how she'd think maybe it was a Yank Bible issued special to
the A.E.F. and condensed like malted milk or somethin'.
"So I draw the old logarithm-book outa my coat and ease up gently to
the edge of the grave. The doughboys and the gobs, all except
Rathbone, who is wise, acourse, begin to nudge each other and snicker.
I oughta warned 'em what was comin', but I didn't have no time, it
come to me so quick. So I pretended to read from the book, and sez,
in a low voice and very solemn, like I was openin' the funeral, 'If
any you birds here starts laughin' I'll see him after the show and
I'll knock the daylight outa him.'
"'Amen,' sez Rathbone, very piously.
"'We've come here to-day,' I sez, always like I was readin' from the
book--'we've come here to-day to plant a frawg soldier who's the
only son of his mother and her a widow. And she's so broke that
there ain't no regular priest or no regular cemetery that'll offer
their services. So I'm the priest, and it's goin' to make a lotta
difference to that poor widow's feelin's when she thinks her son's
got a swell U. S. Navy priest administering the rites. Now, get that
straight and don't start whinnyin' like a buncha horses and gum the
"Well, I stop there for breath, and Rathbone, who's right on the job,
comes across with another 'Amen,' and Reilly, who's a good Catholic,
sez, _'Pax vobiscum_.'
"So that's all right, and I give her the gun and go ahead.
"'This here _poiloo_,' I sez, 'I don't know much about him, but he
was a regular fellow and a good old bird and treated his mother
swell and everything, and I guess if we was wise to everything he'd
done we'd be proud to be here and we'd 'a' brung a lotta flowers and
things. He most likely was at the battle of the Marne and the Soam
and Verdun, and maybe he was at Chateau-Teery. Anyway, he was a
grand fighter, and done his bit all the time and kep' the Huns from
'And I wanta tell you that we gotta hand it to these French, because
they may be little guys, but they carry the longest bayonets I ever
see in any man's army.'
"'Amen,' sez all the doughboys and the gobs, except one that yells,
'Alleluia!' He musta been from the South or somewheres.
"'And so,' I sez, 'we're proud to give this frawg a good send-off,
and even if we ain't got a real chaplain and the guns to fire a
salute with, we're doin' the poor widow a lotta good, and that's
somethin'--I'll say it is.'
"'Amen,' sez the audience.
"Then I sez, 'Glory be,' and cross myself and signal the doughboys
to lower away on the coffin, and I flung a handfula dirt in on top
like I see 'em do always.
"Well, the poor old widow near collapsed and Rathbone and the marine
had to hold hard to keep her on her pins. But Reilly created a
diversion by startin' up the motor-bike, and it back-fired like a
buncha rookies tryin' to fire a volley. If we'd hadda bugle we
coulda sounded taps, and the musical accompaniment woulda been
"Napoleon One come up and shake hands with me like I'd won the
Medeye Militaire, and, before I could side-step, the widow had her
arms round my neck and was kissin' me on both cheeks. Napoleon sez
it was a '_Beau geste_' which I thought meant a fine joke, and I was
afraid the bird was wise, but Rathbone sez no, that it meant a swell
action; and the widow sez, over and over again, '_Ces braves
Americains--ces braves Americains_!' The cordial entente was pretty
cordial on the whole! I'll say it was."
At this point Steve Dempsey paused and glanced about as who should
say, "Are there any comments or questions?" For a while there was
none forthcoming, but finally Lieutenant Erskine ventured a remark.
"This occurred last Sunday?" he inquired, mildly.
"Yes, sir," said Steve--"last Sunday."
"Um," said Erskine, and without further remarks left the office.
On his return he bore a copy of _Le Matin_ in his hand. He sat down
and leisurely and silently unfolded the sheet. Steve had resumed his
work, but I noticed that he kept an eye on Erskine.
"I wonder," said Erskine, smoothing out the newspaper on his knees--
"I wonder, Steve, if you happened to see this very interesting
"No, sir," said Steve. "I don't read French like I speak it."
"Well," said Erskine, "I'll translate. This paper is dated last
Monday, and on page two occurs the following announcement:"
"_American soldiers, sailors, and marines attend funeral of
notorious apache. Jean the Rat, convicted murderer and suicide
and denied the offices of the Catholic Church, is buried by
Department of Foreign Affairs reluctant to file protest at
Strange demonstration believed to be unofficial and without U.S.
government sanction, although U. S. Navy chaplain delivers
eloquent peroration in English_."
Erskine put aside the paper in silence, and we all turned to watch
Steve. He was very red, even to his ears.
"Gawd!" he spluttered. "Does it really say that, sir? Honest?"
Erskine nodded. "Yes," he said. "We'll be lucky if we avoid
"An apache murderer," Steve groaned--"and me thinkin' it was a frawg
hero. Will I get a court martial for it, sir?"
"I doubt it," said Erskine, "but I don't think you'll get the
Congressional Medal or the Legion of Honour, either. Maybe, though,
the President, in recognition of your services toward cementing the
entente, will appoint you the next ambassador to France."
"Well, anyway," said Steve, still violently red about the face and
ears--"well, anyway, I don't care. Even if it weren't a first-class
corpse, it was a first-class funeral."
BY WILBUR DANIEL STEELE
From _The Pictorial Review_
This is not an easy story; not a road for tender or for casual feet.
Better the meadows. Let me warn you, it is as hard as that old man's
soul and as sunless as his eyes. It has its inception in catastrophe,
and its end in an act of almost incredible violence; between them it
tells barely how one long blind can become also deaf and dumb.
He lived in one of those old Puritan sea towns where the strain has
come down austere and moribund, so that his act would not be quite
unbelievable. Except that the town is no longer Puritan and Yankee.
It has been betrayed; it has become an outpost of the Portuguese
This man, this blind cobbler himself, was a Portuguese from St.
Michael, in the Western Islands, and his name was Boaz Negro.
He was happy. An unquenchable exuberance lived in him. When he arose
in the morning he made vast, as it were uncontrollable, gestures
with his stout arms. He came into his shop singing. His voice,
strong and deep as the chest from which it emanated, rolled out
through the doorway and along the street, and the fishermen, done
with their morning work and lounging and smoking along the wharfs,
said, "Boaz is to work already." Then they came up to sit in the shop.
In that town a cobbler's shop is a club. One sees the interior
always dimly thronged. They sit on the benches watching the artizan
at his work for hours, and they talk about everything in the world.
A cobbler is known by the company he keeps.
Boaz Negro kept young company. He would have nothing to do with the
old. On his own head the gray hairs set thickly.
He had a grown son. But the benches in his shop were for the lusty
and valiant young, men who could spend the night drinking, and then
at three o'clock in the morning turn out in the rain and dark to
pull at the weirs, sing songs, buffet one another among the slippery
fish in the boat's bottom, and make loud jokes about the fundamental
things, love and birth and death. Harkening to their boasts and
strong prophecies his breast heaved and his heart beat faster. He
was a large, full-blooded fellow, fashioned for exploits; the flame
in his darkness burned higher even to hear of them.
It is scarcely conceivable how Boaz Negro could have come through
this much of his life still possessed of that unquenchable and
priceless exuberance; how he would sing in the dawn; how, simply
listening to the recital of deeds in gale or brawl, he could easily
forget himself a blind man, tied to a shop and a last; easily make
of himself a lusty young fellow breasting the sunlit and adventurous
tide of life.
He had had a wife, whom he had loved. Fate, which had scourged him
with the initial scourge of blindness, had seen fit to take his
Angelina away. He had had four sons. Three, one after another, had
been removed, leaving only Manuel, the youngest. Recovering slowly,
with agony, from each of these recurrent blows, his unquenchable
exuberance had lived. And there was another thing quite as
extraordinary. He had never done anything but work, and that sort of
thing may kill the flame where an abrupt catastrophe fails. Work in
the dark. Work, work, work! And accompanied by privation; an almost
miserly scale of personal economy. Yes, indeed, he had "skinned his
fingers," especially in the earlier years. When it tells most.
How he had worked! Not alone in the daytime, but also sometimes,
when orders were heavy, far into the night. It was strange for one,
passing along that deserted street at midnight, to hear issuing from
the black shop of Boaz Negro the rhythmical tap-tap-tap of hammer on
Nor was that sound all: no man in town could get far past that shop
in his nocturnal wandering unobserved. No more than a dozen footfalls,
and from the darkness Boaz's voice rolled forth, fraternal,
stentorian, "Good night, Antone!" "Good night to you, Caleb Snow!"
To Boaz Negro it was still broad day.
Now, because of this, he was what might be called a substantial man.
He owned his place, his shop, opening on the sidewalk, and behind it
the dwelling-house with trellised galleries upstairs and down.
And there was always something for his son, a "piece for the pocket,"
a dollar-, five-, even a ten-dollar bill if he had "got to have it."
Manuel was "a good boy." Boaz not only said this, he felt that he
was assured of it in his understanding, to the infinite peace of his
It was curious that he should be ignorant only of the one nearest to
him. Not because he was physically blind. Be certain he knew more of
other men and of other men's sons than they or their neighbours did.
More, that is to say, of their hearts, their understandings, their
idiosyncrasies, and their ultimate weight in the balance-pan of
His simple explanation of Manuel was that Manuel "wasn't too stout."
To others he said this, and to himself. Manuel was not indeed too
robust. How should he be vigorous when he never did anything to make
him so? He never worked. Why should he work, when existence was
provided for, and when there was always that "piece for the pocket"?
Even a ten-dollar bill on a Saturday night! No, Manuel "wasn't too
In the shop they let it go at that. The missteps and frailties of
every one else in the world were canvassed there with the most
shameless publicity. But Boaz Negro was a blind man, and in a sense
their host. Those reckless, strong young fellows respected and loved
him. It was allowed to stand at that. Manuel was "a good boy." Which
did not prevent them, by the way, from joining later in the general
condemnation of that father's laxity--"the ruination of the boy!"
"He should have put him to work, that's what."
"He should have said to Manuel, 'Look here, if you want a dollar, go
earn it first.'"
As a matter of fact, only one man ever gave Boaz the advice direct.
That was Campbell Wood. And Wood never sat in that shop.
In every small town there is one young man who is spoken of as
"rising." As often as not he is not a native, but "from away."
In this town Campbell Wood was that man. He had come from another
part of the state to take a place in the bank. He lived in the upper
story of Boaz Negro's house, the ground floor now doing for Boaz and
the meagre remnant of his family. The old woman who came in to tidy
up for the cobbler looked after Wood's rooms as well.
Dealing with Wood, one had first of all the sense of his
incorruptibility. A little ruthless perhaps, as if one could imagine
him, in defence of his integrity, cutting off his friend, cutting
off his own hand, cutting off the very stream flowing out from the
wellsprings of human kindness. An exaggeration, perhaps.
He was by long odds the most eligible young man in town; good
looking in a spare, ruddy, sandy-haired Scottish fashion; important,
incorruptible, "rising." But he took good care of his heart.
Precisely that; like a sharp-eyed duenna to his own heart. One felt
that here was the man, if ever was the man, who held his destiny in
his own hand. Failing, of course, some quite gratuitous and
Not that he was not human, or even incapable of laughter or passion.
He was, in a way, immensely accessible. He never clapped one on the
shoulder; on the other hand, he never failed to speak. Not even to
Returning from the bank in the afternoon, he had always a word for
the cobbler. Passing out again to supper at his boarding-place, he
had another, about the weather, the prospects of rain. And if Boaz
were at work in the dark when he returned from an evening at the
Board of Trade, there was a "Good night, Mr. Negro!"
On Boaz's part, his attitude toward his lodger was curious and
paradoxical. He did not pretend to anything less than reverence for
the young man's position; precisely on account of that position he
was conscious toward Wood of a vague distrust. This was because he
was an uneducated fellow.
To the uneducated the idea of large finance is as uncomfortable as
the idea of the law. It must be said for Boaz that, responsive to
Wood's unfailing civility, he fought against this sensation of dim
and somehow shameful distrust.
Nevertheless his whole parental soul was in arms that evening, when,
returning from the bank and finding the shop empty of loungers, Wood
paused a moment to propose the bit of advice already referred to.
"Haven't you ever thought of having Manuel learn the trade?"
A suspicion, a kind of premonition, lighted the fires of defence.
"Shoemaking," said Boaz, "is good enough for a blind man."
"Oh, I don't know. At least it's better than doing nothing at all."
Boaz's hammer was still. He sat silent, monumental. Outwardly. For
once his unfailing response had failed him, "Manuel ain't too stout,
you know." Perhaps it had become suddenly inadequate.
He hated Wood; he despised Wood; more than ever before, a
hundredfold more, quite abruptly, he distrusted Wood.
How could a man say such things as Wood had said? And where Manuel
himself might hear!
Where Manuel _had_ heard! Boaz's other emotions--hatred and contempt
and distrust--were overshadowed. Sitting in darkness, no sound had
come to his ears, no footfall, no infinitesimal creaking of a
floor-plank. Yet by some sixth uncanny sense of the blind he was
aware that Manuel was standing in the dusk of the entry joining the
shop to the house.
Boaz made a Herculean effort. The voice came out of his throat, harsh,
bitter, and loud enough to have carried ten times the distance to
his son's ears.
"Manuel is a good boy!"
"Yes--h'm--yes--I suppose so."
Wood shifted his weight. He seemed uncomfortable.
"Well. I'll be running along, I----ugh! Heavens!"
Something was happening. Boaz heard exclamations, breathings, the
rustle of sleeve-cloth in large, frantic, and futile graspings--all
without understanding. Immediately there was an impact on the floor,
and with it the unmistakable clink of metal. Boaz even heard that
the metal was minted, and that the coins were gold. He understood. A
coin-sack, gripped not quite carefully enough for a moment under the
other's overcoat, had shifted, slipped, escaped, and fallen.
And Manuel had heard!
It was a dreadful moment for Boaz, dreadful in its native sense, as
full of dread. Why? It was a moment of horrid revelation, ruthless
clarification. His son, his link with the departed Angelina, that
"good boy"--Manuel, standing in the shadow of the entry, visible
alone to the blind, had heard the clink of falling gold, and--
_and Boaz wished that he had not_!
There, amazing, disconcerting, destroying, stood the sudden fact.
Sitting as impassive and monumental as ever, his strong, bleached
hands at rest on his work, round drops of sweat came out on Boaz's
forehead. He scarcely took the sense of what Wood was saying. Only
"Government money, understand--for the breakwater
workings--huge--too many people know here, everywhere--don't trust
the safe--tin safe--'Noah's Ark'--give you my word--Heavens, no!"
It boiled down to this--the money, more money than was good for that
antiquated "Noah's Ark" at the bank--and whose contemplated sojourn
there overnight was public to too many minds--in short, Wood was not
only incorruptible, he was canny. To what one of those minds, now,
would it occur that he should take away that money bodily, under
casual cover of his coat, to his own lodgings behind the
cobbler-shop of Boaz Negro? For this one, this important night!
He was sorry the coin-sack had slipped, because he did not like to
have the responsibility of secret sharer cast upon any one, even
upon Boaz, even by accident. On the other hand, how tremendously
fortunate that it had been Boaz and not another. So far as that went,
Wood had no more anxiety now than before. One incorruptible knows
"I'd trust you, Mr. Negro" (that was one of the fragments which came
and stuck in the cobbler's brain), "as far as I would myself. As
long as it's only you. I'm just going up here and throw it under the
bed. Oh, yes, certainly."
Boaz ate no supper. For the first time in his life food was dry in
his gullet. Even under those other successive crushing blows of Fate
the full and generous habit of his functionings had carried on
unabated; he had always eaten what was set before him. To-night,
over his untouched plate, he watched Manuel with his sightless eyes,
keeping track of his every mouthful, word, intonation, breath. What
profit he expected to extract from this catlike surveillance it is
impossible to say.
When they arose from the supper-table Boaz made another Herculean
effort. "Manuel, you're a good boy!"
The formula had a quality of appeal, of despair, and of command.
"Manuel, you should be short of money, maybe. Look, what's this? A
tenner? Well, there's a piece for the pocket; go and enjoy yourself."
He would have been frightened had Manuel, upsetting tradition,
declined the offering. With the morbid contrariness of the human
imagination, the boy's avid grasping gave him no comfort.
He went out into the shop, where it was already dark, drew to him
his last, his tools, mallets, cutters, pegs, leather. And having
prepared to work, he remained idle. He found himself listening.
It has been observed that the large phenomena of sunlight and
darkness were nothing to Boaz Negro. A busy night was broad day. Yet
there was a difference; he knew it with the blind man's eyes, the
Day was a vast confusion, or rather a wide fabric, of sounds; great
and little sounds all woven together, voices, footfalls, wheels,
far-off whistles and foghorns, flies buzzing in the sun. Night was
another thing. Still there were voices and footfalls, but rarer,
emerging from the large, pure body of silence as definite, surprising,
and yet familiar entities.
To-night there was an easterly wind, coming off the water and
carrying the sound of waves. So far as other fugitive sounds were
concerned it was the same as silence. The wind made little
difference to the ears. It nullified, from one direction at least,
the other two visual processes of the blind, the sense of touch and
the sense of smell. It blew away from the shop, toward the
As has been said, Boaz found himself listening, scrutinizing with an
extraordinary attention, this immense background of sound. He heard
footfalls. The story of that night was written, for him, in footfalls.
He heard them moving about the house, the lower floor, prowling here,
there, halting for long spaces, advancing, retreating softly on the
planks. About this aimless, interminable perambulation there was
something to twist the nerves, something led and at the same time
driven like a succession of frail and indecisive charges.
Boaz lifted himself from his chair. All his impulse called him to
make a stir, join battle, cast in the breach the re-enforcement of
his presence, authority, good will. He sank back again; his hands
fell down. The curious impotence of the spectator held him.
He heard footfalls, too, on the upper floor, a little fainter, borne
to the inner rather than the outer ear, along the solid causeway of
partitions and floor, the legs of his chair, the bony framework of
his body. Very faint indeed. Sinking back easily into the background
of the wind. They, too, came and went, this room, that, to the
passage, the stair-head, and away. About them too there was the same
quality of being led and at the same time of being driven.
Time went by. In his darkness it seemed to Boaz that hours must have
passed. He heard voices. Together with the footfalls, that abrupt,
brief, and (in view of Wood's position) astounding interchange of
sentences made up his history of the night. Wood must have opened the
door at the head of the stair; by the sound of his voice he would be
standing there, peering below perhaps; perhaps listening.
"What's wrong down there?" he called. "Why don't you go to bed?"
After a moment, came Manual's voice, "Ain't sleepy."
"Neither am I. Look here, do you like to play cards?"
"What kind? Euchre! I like euchre all right. Or pitch."
"Well, what would you say to coming up and having a game of euchre
then, Manuel? If you can't sleep?"
"That'd be all right."
The lower footfalls ascended to join the footfalls on the upper floor.
There was the sound of a door closing.
Boaz sat still. In the gloom he might have been taken for a piece of
furniture, of machinery, an extraordinary lay figure, perhaps, for
the trying on of the boots he made. He seemed scarcely to breathe,
only the sweat starting from his brow giving him an aspect of life.
He ought to have run, and leaped up that inner stair and pounded
with his fists on that door. He seemed unable to move. At rare
intervals feet passed on the sidewalk outside, just at his elbow, so
to say, and yet somehow, to-night, immeasurably far away. Beyond the
orbit of the moon. He heard Rugg, the policeman, noting the silence
of the shop, muttering, "Boaz is to bed to-night," as he passed.
The wind increased. It poured against the shop with its deep,
continuous sound of a river. Submerged in its body, Boaz caught the
note of the town bell striking midnight.
Once more, after a long time, he heard footfalls. He heard them
coming around the corner of the shop from the house, footfalls half
swallowed by the wind, passing discreetly, without haste, retreating,
merging step by step with the huge, incessant background of the wind.
Boaz's muscles tightened all over him. He had the impulse to start up,
to fling open the door, shout into the night, "What are you doing?
Stop there! Say! What are you doing and where are you going?"
And as before, the curious impotence of the spectator held him
motionless. He had not stirred in his chair. And those footfalls,
upon which hinged, as it were, that momentous decade of his life,
There was nothing to listen for now. Yet he continued to listen.
Once or twice, half arousing himself, he drew toward him his
unfinished work. And then relapsed into immobility.
As has been said, the wind, making little difference to the ears,
made all the difference in the world with the sense of feeling and
the sense of smell. From the one important direction of the house.
That is how it could come about that Boaz Negro could sit, waiting
and listening to nothing in the shop and remain ignorant of disaster
until the alarm had gone away and come back again, pounding, shouting,
"_Fire_!" he heard them bawling in the street. "_Fire! Fire_!"
Only slowly did he understand that the fire was in his own house.
There is nothing stiller in the world than the skeleton of a house
in the dawn after a fire. It is as if everything living, positive,
violent, had been completely drained in the one flaming act of
violence, leaving nothing but negation till the end of time. It is
worse than a tomb. A monstrous stillness! Even the footfalls of the
searchers can not disturb it, for they are separate and superficial.
In its presence they are almost frivolous.
Half an hour after dawn the searchers found the body, if what was
left from that consuming ordeal might be called a body. The
discovery came as a shock. It seemed incredible that the occupant of
that house, no cripple or invalid but an able man in the prime of
youth, should not have awakened and made good his escape. It was the
upper floor which had caught; the stairs had stood to the last. It
was beyond calculation. Even if he had been asleep!
And he had not been asleep. This second and infinitely more
appalling discovery began to be known. Slowly. By a hint, a breath
of rumour here; there an allusion, half taken back. The man, whose
incinerated body still lay curled in its bed of cinders, had been
dressed at the moment of disaster; even to the watch, the
cuff-buttons, the studs, the very scarf-pin. Fully clothed to the
last detail, precisely as those who had dealings at the bank might
have seen Campbell Wood any week-day morning for the past eight
months. A man does not sleep with his clothes on. The skull of the
man had been broken, as if with a blunt instrument of iron. On the
charred lacework of the floor lay the leg of an old andiron with
which Boaz Negro and his Angelina had set up housekeeping in that
It needed only Mr. Asa Whitelaw, coming up the street from that
gaping "Noah's Ark" at the bank, to round out the scandalous circle
"Where is Manuel?"
Boaz Negro still sat in his shop, impassive, monumental, his thick,
hairy arms resting on the arms of his chair. The tools and materials
of his work remained scattered about him, as his irresolute
gathering of the night before had left them. Into his eyes no change
could come. He had lost his house, the visible monument of all those
years of "skinning his fingers." It would seem that he had lost his
son. And he had lost something incalculably precious--that hitherto
unquenchable exuberance of the man.
"Where is Manuel?"
When he spoke his voice was unaccented and stale, like the voice of
a man already dead.
"Yes, where is Manuel?"
He had answered them with their own question.
"When did you last see him?"
Neither he nor they seemed to take note of that profound irony.
"Tell us, Boaz; you knew about this money?"
The cobbler nodded his head.
"And did Manuel?"
He might have taken sanctuary in a legal doubt. How did he know what
Manuel knew? Precisely! As before, he nodded his head.
"After supper, Boaz, you were in the shop? But you heard something?"
He went on to tell them what he had heard: the footfalls, below and
above, the extraordinary conversation which had broken for a moment
the silence of the inner hall. The account was bare, the phrases
monosyllabic. He reported only what had been registered on the
sensitive tympanums of his ears, to the last whisper of footfalls
stealing past the dark wall of the shop. Of all the formless tangle
of thoughts, suspicions, interpretations, and the special and
personal knowledge given to the blind which moved in his brain, he
He shut his lips there. He felt himself on the defensive. Just as he
distrusted the higher ramifications of finance (his house had gone
down uninsured), so before the rites and processes of that
inscrutable creature, the Law, he felt himself menaced by the
invisible and the unknown, helpless, oppressed; in an abject sense,
"Keep clear of the Law!" they had told him in his youth. The monster
his imagination had summoned up then still stood beside him in his
Having exhausted his monosyllabic and superficial evidence, they
could move him no farther. He became deaf and dumb. He sat before
them, an image cast in some immensely heavy stuff, inanimate. His
lack of visible emotion impressed them. Remembering his exuberance,
it was only the stranger to see him unmoving and unmoved. Only once
did they catch sight of something beyond. As they were preparing to
leave he opened his mouth. What he said was like a swan-song to the
years of his exuberant happiness. Even now there was no colour of
expression in his words, which sounded mechanical.
"Now I have lost everything. My house. My last son. Even my honour.
You would not think I would like to live. But I go to live. I go to
work. That _cachorra_, one day he shall come back again, in the dark
night, to have a look. I shall go to show you all. That _cachorra_!"
(And from that time on, it was noted, he never referred to the
fugitive by any other name than _cachorra_, which is a kind of dog.
"That _cachorra_!" As if he had forfeited the relationship not only
of the family, but of the very genus, the very race! "That _cachorra_!")
He pronounced this resolution without passion. When they assured him
that the culprit would come back again indeed, much sooner than he
expected, "with a rope around his neck," he shook his head slowly.
"No, you shall not catch that _cachorra_ now. But one day--"
There was something about its very colourlessness which made it
sound oracular. It was at least prophetic. They searched, laid their
traps, proceeded with all their placards, descriptions, rewards,
clues, trails. But on Manuel Negro they never laid their hands.
Months passed and became years. Boaz Negro did not rebuild his house.
He might have done so, out of his earnings, for upon himself he
spent scarcely anything, reverting to his old habit of an almost
miserly economy. Yet perhaps it would have been harder after all.
For his earnings were less and less. In that town a cobbler who sits
in an empty shop is apt to want for trade. Folk take their boots to
mend where they take their bodies to rest and their minds to be
No longer did the walls of Boaz's shop resound to the boastful
recollections of young men. Boaz had changed. He had become not only
different, but opposite. A metaphor will do best. The spirit of Boaz
Negro had been a meadowed hillside giving upon the open sea, the sun,
the warm, wild winds from beyond the blue horizon. And covered with
flowers, always hungry and thirsty for the sun and the fabulous wind
and bright showers of rain. It had become an entrenched camp, lying
silent, sullen, verdureless, under a gray sky. He stood solitary
against the world. His approaches were closed. He was blind, and he
was also deaf and dumb.
Against that what can young fellows do who wish for nothing but to
rest themselves and talk about their friends and enemies? They had
come and they had tried. They had raised their voices even higher
than before. Their boasts had grown louder, more presumptuous, more
preposterous, until, before the cold separation of that unmoving and
as if contemptuous presence in the cobbler's chair, they burst of
their own air, like toy balloons. And they went and left Boaz alone.
There was another thing which served, if not to keep them away, at
least not to entice them back. That was the aspect of the place. It
was not cheerful. It invited no one. In its way that fire-bitten
ruin grew to be almost as great a scandal as the act itself had been.
It was plainly an eyesore. A valuable property, on the town's main
thoroughfare--and an eyesore! The neighbouring owners protested.
Their protestations might as well have gone against a stone wall.
That man was deaf and dumb. He had become, in a way, a kind of
vegetable, for the quality of a vegetable is that, while it is
endowed with life, it remains fixed in one spot. For years Boaz was
scarcely seen to move foot out of that shop that was left him, a
small square, blistered promontory on the shores of ruin.
He must indeed have carried out some rudimentary sort of domestic
programme under the debris at the rear (he certainly did not sleep
or eat in the shop). One or two lower rooms were left fairly intact.
The outward aspect of the place was formless; it grew to be no more
than a mound in time; the charred timbers, one or two still standing,
lean and naked against the sky, lost their blackness and faded to a
silvery gray. It would have seemed strange, had they not grown
accustomed to the thought, to imagine that blind man, like a mole,
or some slow slug, turning himself mysteriously in the bowels of
that gray mound--that time-silvered "eye-sore."
When they saw him, however, he was in the shop. They opened the door
to take in their work (when other cobblers turned them off), and
they saw him seated in his chair in the half darkness, his whole
person, legs, torso, neck, head, as motionless as the vegetable of
which we have spoken--only his hands and his bare arms endowed with
visible life. The gloom had bleached the skin to the colour of damp
ivory, and against the background of his immobility they moved with
a certain amazing monstrousness, interminably. No, they were never
still. One wondered what they could be at. Surely he could not have
had enough work now to keep those insatiable hands so monstrously in
motion. Even far into the night. Tap-tap-tap! Blows continuous and
powerful. On what? On nothing? On the bare iron last? And for what
purpose? To what conceivable end?
Well, one could imagine those arms, growing paler, also growing
thicker and more formidable with that unceasing labour; the muscles
feeding themselves omnivorously on their own waste, the cords
toughening, the bone-tissues revitalizing themselves without end.
One could imagine the whole aspiration of that mute and motionless
man pouring itself out into those pallid arms, and the arms taking it
up with a kind of blind greed. Storing it up. Against a day!
"That _cachorra_! One day--"
What were the thoughts of the man? What moved within that motionless
cranium covered with long hair? Who can say? Behind everything, of
course, stood that bitterness against the world--the blind
world--blinder than he would ever be. And against "that _cachorra_."
But this was no longer a thought; it was the man.
Just as all muscular aspiration flowed into his arms, so all the
energies of his senses turned to his ears. The man had become, you
might say, two arms and two ears. Can you imagine a man listening,
intently, through the waking hours of nine years?
Listening to footfalls. Marking with a special emphasis of
concentration the beginning, rise, full passage, falling away, and
dying of all the footfalls. By day, by night, winter and summer and
winter again. Unravelling the skein of footfalls passing up and down
For three years he wondered when they would come. For the next three
years he wondered if they would ever come. It was during the last
three that a doubt began to trouble him. It gnawed at his huge moral
strength. Like a hidden seepage of water, it undermined (in
anticipation) his terrible resolution. It was a sign perhaps of age,
a slipping away of the reckless infallibility of youth.
Supposing, after all, that his ears should fail him. Supposing they
were capable of being tricked, without his being able to know it.
Supposing that that _cachorra_ should come and go, and he, Boaz,
living in some vast delusion, some unrealized distortion of memory,
should let him pass unknown. Supposing precisely this thing had
Or the other way around. What if he should hear the footfalls coming,
even into the very shop itself? What if he should be as sure of them
as of his own soul? What, then, if he should strike? And what then,
if it were not that _cachorra_ after all? How many tens and hundreds
of millions of people were there in the world? Was it possible for
them all to have footfalls distinct and different?
Then they would take him and hang him. And that _cachorra_ might
then come and go at his own will, undisturbed.
As he sat there sometimes the sweat rolled down his nose, cold as
Sometimes, quite suddenly, in broad day, in the booming silence of
the night, he would start. Not outwardly. But beneath the pale
integument of his skin all his muscles tightened and his nerves sang.
His breathing stopped. It seemed almost as if his heart stopped.
Was that it? Were those the feet, there, emerging faintly from the
distance? Yes, there was something about them. Yes! Memory was in
travail. Yes, yes, yes! No! How could he be sure? Ice ran down into
his empty eyes. The footfalls were already passing. They were gone,
swallowed up already by time and space. Had that been that _cachorra_?
Nothing in his life had been so hard to meet as this insidious drain
of distrust in his own powers; this sense of a traitor within the
walls. His iron-gray hair had turned white. It was always this now,
from the beginning of the day to the end of the night: how was he to
know? How was he to be inevitably, unshakably, sure?
Curiously, after all this purgatory of doubts, he did know them. For
a moment at least, when he had heard them, he was unshakably sure.
It was on an evening of the winter holidays, the Portuguese festival
of _Menin' Jesus_. Christ was born again in a hundred mangers on a
hundred tiny altars; there was cake and wine; songs went shouting by
to the accompaniment of mandolins and tramping feet. The wind blew
cold under a clear sky. In all the houses there were lights; even in
Boaz Negro's shop a lamp was lit just now, for a man had been in for
a pair of boots which Boaz had patched. The man had gone out again.
Boaz was thinking of blowing out the light. It meant nothing to him.
He leaned forward, judging the position of the lamp-chimney by the
heat on his face, and puffed out his cheeks to blow. Then his cheeks
collapsed suddenly, and he sat back again.
It was not odd that he had failed to hear the footfalls until they
were actually within the door. A crowd of merry-makers was passing
just then; their songs and tramping almost shook the shop.
Boaz sat back. Beneath his passive exterior his nerves thrummed; his
muscles had grown as hard as wood. Yes! Yes! But no! He had heard
nothing; no more than a single step, a single foot-pressure on the
planks within the door. Dear God! He could not tell!
Going through the pain of an enormous effort, he opened his lips.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well, I--I don't know. To tell the truth--"
The voice was unfamiliar, but it might be assumed. Boaz held himself.
His face remained blank, interrogating, slightly helpless. "I am a
little deaf," he said. "Come nearer."
The footfalls came half way across the intervening floor, and there
appeared to hesitate. The voice, too, had a note of uncertainty.
"I was just looking around. I have a pair of--well, you mend shoes?"
Boaz nodded his head. It was not in response to the words, for they
meant nothing. What he had heard was the footfalls on the floor.
Now he was sure. As has been said, for a moment at least after he
had heard them he was unshakably sure. The congestion of his muscles
had passed. He was at peace.
The voice became audible once more. Before the massive preoccupation
of the blind man it became still less certain of itself.
"Well, I haven't got the shoes with me. I was--just looking around."
It was amazing to Boaz, this miraculous sensation of peace.
"Wait!" Then, bending his head as if listening to the winter wind,
"It's cold to-night. You've left the door open. But wait!" Leaning
down, his hand fell on a rope's end hanging by the chair. The
gesture was one continuous, undeviating movement of the hand. No
hesitation. No groping. How many hundreds, how many thousands of
times, had his hand schooled itself in that gesture!
A single strong pull. With a little _bang_ the front door had swung
to and latched itself. Not only the front door. The other door,
leading to the rear, had closed too and latched itself with a little
_bang_. And leaning forward from his chair, Boaz blew out the light.
There was not a sound in the shop. Outside, feet continued to go by,
ringing on the frozen road; voices were lifted; the wind hustled
about the corners of the wooden shell with a continuous, shrill note
of whistling. All of this outside, as on another planet. Within the
blackness of the shop the complete silence persisted,
Boaz listened. Sitting on the edge of his chair, half-crouching, his
head, with its long, unkempt, white hair, bent slightly to one side,
he concentrated upon this chambered silence the full powers of his
senses. He hardly breathed.
The other person in that room could not be breathing at all, it
No, there was not a breath, not the stirring of a sole on wood, not
the infinitesimal rustle of any fabric. It was as if in this utter
stoppage of sound, even the blood had ceased to flow in the veins
and arteries of that man, who was like a rat caught in a trap.
It was appalling even to Boaz; even to the cat. Listening became
more than a labour. He began to have to fight against a growing
impulse to shout out loud, to leap, sprawl forward without aim in
that unstirred darkness--do something. Sweat rolled down from behind
his ears, into his shirt-collar. He gripped the chair-arms. To keep
quiet he sank his teeth into his lower lip. He would not! He would
And of a sudden he heard before him, in the centre of the room, an
outburst of breath, an outrush from lungs in the extremity of pain,
thick, laborious, fearful. A coughing up of dammed air.
Pushing himself from the arms of the chair, Boaz leaped.
His fingers, passing swiftly through the air, closed on something.
It was a sheaf of hair, bristly and thick. It was a man's beard.
On the road outside, up and down the street for a hundred yards,
merry-making people turned to look at one another. With an abrupt
cessation of laughter, of speech. Inquiringly. Even with an
unconscious dilation of the pupils of their eyes.
"What was that?"
There had been a scream. There could be no doubt of that. A single,
long-drawn note. Immensely high-pitched. Not as if it were human.
"God's sake! What was that? Where'd it come from?"
Those nearest said it came from the cobbler-shop of Boaz Negro.
They went and tried the door. It was closed; even locked, as if for
the night. There was no light behind the window-shade. But Boaz
would not have a light. They beat on the door. No answer.
But from where, then, had that prolonged, as if animal, note come?
They ran about, penetrating into the side lanes, interrogating,
prying. Coming back at last, inevitably, to the neighbourhood of
Boaz Negro's shop.
The body lay on the floor at Boaz's feet, where it had tumbled down
slowly after a moment from the spasmodic embrace of his arms; those
ivory-coloured arms which had beaten so long upon the bare iron
surface of a last. Blows continuous and powerful. It seemed
incredible. They were so weak now. They could not have lifted the
But that beard! That bristly, thick, square beard of a stranger!
His hands remembered it. Standing with his shoulders fallen forward
and his weak arms hanging down, Boaz began to shiver. The whole
thing was incredible. What was on the floor there, upheld in the
vast gulf of darkness, he could not see. Neither could he hear it;
smell it. Nor (if he did not move his foot) could he feel it. What
he did not hear, smell, or touch did not exist. It was not there.
But that beard! All the accumulated doubtings of those years fell
down upon him. After all, the thing he had been so fearful of in his
weak imaginings had happened. He had killed a stranger. He, Boaz
Negro, had murdered an innocent man!
And all on account of that beard. His deep panic made him
light-headed. He began to confuse cause and effect. If it were not
for that beard, it would have been that _cachorra_.
On this basis he began to reason with a crazy directness. And to act.
He went and pried open the door into the entry. From a shelf he took
down his razor. A big, heavy-heeled strop. His hands began to hurry.
And the mug, half full of soap. And water. It would have to be cold
water. But after all, he thought (light-headedly), at this time of
Outside, they were at the shop again. The crowd's habit is to forget
a thing quickly, once it is out of sight and hearing. But there had
been something about that solitary cry which continued to bother them,
even in memory. Where had it been? Where had it come from? And those
who had stood nearest the cobbler-shop were heard again. They were
certain now, dead certain. They could swear!
In the end they broke down the door.
If Boaz heard them he gave no sign. An absorption as complete as it
was monstrous wrapped him. Kneeling in the glare of the lantern they
had brought, as impervious as his own shadow sprawling behind him,
he continued to shave the dead man on the floor.
No one touched him. Their minds and imaginations were arrested by
the gigantic proportions of the act. The unfathomable presumption of
the act. As throwing murder in their faces to the tune of a jig in a
barber-shop. It is a fact that none of them so much as thought of
touching him. No less than all of them, together with all other men,
shorn of their imaginations--that is to say, the expressionless and
imperturbable creature of the Law--would be sufficient to touch that
On the other hand, they could not leave him alone. They could not go
away. They watched. They saw the damp, lather-soaked beard of that
victimized stranger falling away, stroke by stroke of the flashing,
heavy razor. The dead denuded by the blind!
It was seen that Boaz was about to speak. It was something important
he was about to utter; something, one would say, fatal. The words
would not come all at once. They swelled his cheeks out. His razor
was arrested. Lifting his face, he encircled the watchers with a
gaze at once of imploration and of command. As if he could see them.
As if he could read his answer in the expressions of their faces.
"Tell me one thing now. Is it that _cachorra_?"
For the first time those men in the room made sounds. They shuffled
their feet. It was as if an uncontrollable impulse to ejaculation,
laughter, derision, forbidden by the presence of death, had gone
down into their boot-soles.
"Manuel?" one of them said. "You mean _Manuel_?"
Boaz laid the razor down on the floor beside its work. He got up
from his knees slowly, as if his joints hurt. He sat down in his
chair, rested his hands on the arms, and once more encircled the
company with his sightless gaze.
"Not Manuel. Manuel was a good boy. But tell me now, is it that
Here was something out of their calculations; something for them,
mentally, to chew on. Mystification is a good thing sometimes. It
gives the brain a fillip, stirs memory, puts the gears of
imagination in mesh. One man, an old, tobacco-chewing fellow, began
to stare harder at the face on the floor. Something moved in his
"No, but look here now, by God----"
He had even stopped chewing. But he was forestalled by another.
"Say now, if it don't look like that fellow Wood, himself. The bank
fellow--that was burned--remember? Himself."
"That _cachorra_ was not burned. Not that Wood. You darned fool!"
Boaz spoke from his chair. They hardly knew his voice, emerging from
its long silence; it was so didactic and arid.
"That _cachorra_ was not burned. It was my boy that was burned. It
was that _cachorra_ called my boy upstairs. That _cachorra_ killed
my boy. That _cachorra_ put his clothes on my boy, and he set my
house on fire. I knew that all the time. Because when I heard those
feet come out of my house and go away, I knew they were the feet of
that _cachorra_ from the bank. I did not know where he was going to.
Something said to me--you better ask him where he is going to. But
then I said, you are foolish. He had the money from the bank. I did
not know. And then my house was on fire. No, it was not my boy that
went away; it was that _cachorra_ all the time. You darned fools!
Did you think I was waiting for my own boy?"
"Now I show you all," he said at the end. "And now I can get hanged."
No one ever touched Boaz Negro for that murder. For murder it was in
the eye and letter of the Law. The Law in a small town is sometimes
a curious creature; it is sometimes blind only in one eye.
Their minds and imaginations in that town were arrested by the
romantic proportions of the act. Simply, no one took it up. I
believe the man, Wood, was understood to have died of heart-failure.
When they asked Boaz why he had not told what he knew as to the
identity of that fugitive in the night, he seemed to find it hard to
say exactly. How could a man of no education define for them his own
but half-denied misgivings about the Law, his sense of oppression,
constraint and awe, of being on the defensive, even, in an abject way,
his skepticism? About his wanting, come what might, to "keep clear
of the Law"?
He did say this, "You would have laughed at me."
And this, "If I told folk it was Wood went away, then I say he would
not dare come back again."
That was the last. Very shortly he began to refuse to talk about the
thing at all. The act was completed. Like the creature of fable, it
had consumed itself. Out of that old man's consciousness it had
departed. Amazingly. Like a dream dreamed out.
Slowly at first, in a makeshift, piece-at-a-time, poor man's way,
Boaz commenced to rebuild his house. That "eyesore" vanished.
And slowly at first, like the miracle of a green shoot pressing out
from the dead earth, that priceless and unquenchable exuberance of
the man was seen returning. Unquenchable, after all.
THE LAST ROOM OF ALL
BY STEPHEN FRENCH WHITMAN
From _Harper's Monthly Magazine_
In those days all Italy was in turmoil and Lombardy lay covered with
blood and fire. The emperor, the second Frederick of Swabia, was out
to conquer once for all. His man Salinguerra held the town of Ferrara.
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