RELATES TO THE YOUNG LADY WITH THE PRETTY CRUTCHES.
SINCE the day Mugby Junction was given to the world, railway stories have grown remarkably fashionable, so that not to put myself out of the world, by omission, I must tell my story. I am neither an engineer, however, nor a baggage-man, nor a switch-tender, nor any other kind of tender belonging to an engine or a railroad. I desire so much to be understood at the start. I am not and do not wish to be railroad property in any event, and as to driving an engine, that is something I am not up to. I 'm too absent-minded for that. I would forget to stop when I should, and go on when I should n’t. I would forget to whistle down the brakes, or whistle them off at proper times, or reverse the engine in contemplation of the dangerous and exciting perspective. An approaching train on the same track would become an object of study rather than terror. The idea of a smash-up, too, would be attractive. Injury to myself or the passengers would be unthought of. The sight would be too grand not to lend it all the attraction in my power. No, no, I should whistle the breaks off, I know I should, — that is, if I did anything. So I would never answer for a driver. Smash-ups would be sure to come when they were not expected, very much, though, as most smash-ups do come. Neither would I do for a switchtender. There would be something too jolly and exciting in the approach of a lightning expresser to think of switching. The idea, too, of surprising the passengers by running them down a bank ; only think of it! Really, it is a wonder that so few do run off, after all. But neither could I be a fireman. The fires would go out, or burn too fast, or do something wrong for which I would receive nothing but kicks and curses. And as for being a conductor or a baggage-man or an expressman, or anything of the sort, it is entirely out of the question. If I was conductor, passengers would ride free, pay twice, or go off at the next station. If I was a baggage-man, the office for lost baggage would surely become an important one ; and as for express running, I should be charged with theft every day of my life, for losing packages which nobody would believe to be lost. Yes, yes, I am very thankful that I don't belong to the railroad ; and as I know the railroad don’t want me, we are so far quits.
Of course I would not do wrong intentionally ; my heart is soft enough for practical purposes, all my acquaintances know to my sorrow, or rather to the sorrow of my pockets, which is not the same thing. Speaking of my pocket, reminds me that a client has been waiting to see me for the past twenty minutes. He no doubt thinks, poor innocent soul ! that I am drawing up a brief, which I ought to be drawing up, to be sure. Thus you see how it is this story comes into my head, and nothing will do but I must tell it. I forget my client, then, or I at least think he can wait; and, bless you ! so he can. Or, if he gets tired in the mean time, he can go and come again ; my story must be told at all hazards. So my unsophisticated client — nearly all my clients are unsophisticated— watches me attentively, and, as I imagine, says to himself as he waits: “ How fast he writes; what a lawyer he is ! What a nest of business ! He must have time to write his cases out. I will go and call again.” Whereupon he does actually rise, saying respectfully, with hat in hand, " I will call again, sir.”
“Do,” I answer abstractedly ; the gentleman, in the mean time, bowing himself out, with a look of wonder and admiration for the individual who manages so much intricate business. And really, I feel, sometimes, that it is a matter of wonderment that lawyers get through so many circuits. Yet they are always blamed for mistakes. If they fail to see a point, they make for themselves a point at which everybody else pokes fun. Abstractedly I answered the query of an old gentleman only yesterday,— he, alas! was n’t altogether unsophisticated, — for which I expect a dismissal. He desired to get absolute title to certain real estate in which he already possessed a life-interest. My advice was, that he should make a contract with the heirs to convey to him when his life-estate had terminated; no wonder the old fellow went off scratching his head. So you see I did n’t have my wits about me, much as usual.
The thought that never wanders, it has been said, is one of the masters of victory, and that is the idea that accounts for my ill successes. I can’t keep my thoughts on hand, and there’s no use trying ; I forget to go to market, and go without meat for dinner in consequence, but that don’t cure me, — all of which causes me to believe I have no business on the railways, when like a poor clock, I should, to say the least, be forever getting out of time. These shortcomings will of course be to my disadvantage in story telling, where so much depends upon time. But as my story is no fiction, but a veritable fact, — I believe a lawyer is expected to vouch for the truth of all he says, — I have an advantage too, as just telling in plain terms a little personal experience, much will not be expected, and for that reason nobody will, I trust, be disappointed. With this preface, which will account for the errors, if there be found any in what follows, as I doubt not there will be, I make bold to go ahead.
I was booked to take a business trip ; that is, in my diary under date of April 20 it was noted that I should leave the city, for and on account of certain matters of business, at this time unnecessary to be mentioned. Keeping an eye out to pleasure at all times, the idea of a business trip was by no means displeasing. Indeed, it was so attractive that I had induced my partner to forego his claim to this trip, giving my health and the greater confidence of one mutual client in me as an excuse. To be sure, the season was not propitious. But staying at home was about as disagreeable as travelling, if travelling was about as disagreeable as staying at home. At such season we expect to witness the weather one thing and feel our comfort another, just because we are in a period of collapse between the frigidities of winter and the relaxations of summer.
The day came, however, and found the streets wearing their usual spring apparel, consisting of a great-coat of mud, and undergarments of salmagundian characteristics. This induced me to forego my usual custom of walking to the depot with my satchel, and hire a hack (I hope to have the pleasure of riding in a hansom some day), wherewith self and trunk might be conveyed without discomfort. Having arrived at the depot I paid the hackman more than he was entitled to, checked my trunk, lit a cigar, and strolled leisurely up and down the outside platform, where the sun was shining as only an April sun on or about the forty-first parallel of latitude can shine. Here I walked back and forth, waiting for the “allaboard ” whistle, but in the mean time congratulating myself on my escape from office duties, to the round of pleasures I saw before me, until my attention was directed to my old friend and client, Mr. Sniffins. That gentleman was exhibiting a more than ordinary degree of nervousness and anxiety, which was a very remarkable incident, as under ordinary circumstances his nervousness was considered the very perfection of that distressing disease, if his manner was to be taken as an evidence of its internal workings. Mr. Sniffins, however, was a rosy-faced little man, wearing an eye-glass and flourishing a cane; whose eye-glass never seemed to be adjusted satisfactorily, and whose cane was always getting in the way, like the sword of an unpractised courtier. He was fifty-five, more or less, probably more, with gray eyes, gray hair, and little tufts of white whiskers at the sides of his shining cheeks. He was by no means a badly disposed looking individual, but, on the contrary, was quite lovable and benevolent looking, as he really was, for aught I then knew, a very benevolent kind-hearted old gentleman, who thought nothing of doing a favor, and just as little of asking one against the will.
Mr. Sniffins, after running about hither and thither into the railway carriages, which we Americans call cars, then out upon the platform, then in upon the platform, then in the cars and out again, finally took a seat upon a dry-goods box, and, as if to appear unconcerned, began to twirl his goldheaded cane, in a manner, though, which really denoted a very great concern. His clean white stockings, which he always wore, looked the while very comfortable between trousers and shoetops, as his dumpy little feet upon his dumpy little legs swung nervously to and fro. He could sit there but a moment, however. So he jumped down hurriedly and began a peculiar motion, which at each step began as a run and ended as a walk, reminding one of the little wooden balls with india-rubber strings attached, which the little boys throw at you nowadays, and which, to your great surprise, halt, and go back again just as you begin to dodge. He had this time, as a dozen times before, supposed the cars to be on the very point of starting, although it was still twenty minutes of the regular time. But being a constitutionally nervous man, — one of that numerous class who are unable through constitutional defect to depend upon their own watches or the company clocks, and who never feel safe until they get in the cars, and when they are in never feel safe until they get out and off again,— he jumped upon one of the platforms, disappeared within one of the coaches, and presently passed his head out of one of the windows. This time seeing his attorney, he passed his head in again, and presently came toward me at more than his usual speed.
“ Are you going travelling, Mr. Joe ? ” (I am called Mr. Joe by my friends and neighbors, and you must n't be vexed if I retain the title my friends and neighbors have given me.)
“ Mr. Sniffins,” I replied, bowing deferentially, “ I am going travelling.”
“ Would you be so kind, Mr. Joe, as to do me a favor ? ”
“ Mr. Sniffins,” I replied, with something of the air of an upstart, I dare say, “ I shall be most happy.”
“Thank you, Mr. Joe. Mrs. Sniffins will thank you too, Mr. Joe. You have taken a great weight from my mind, sir. But which way do you travel, sir ? That may be important.”
“West and north, Mr. Sniffins.”
“ West and north with this train is the right way, sir. Thank you, Mr. Joe. My niece goes west and north. She is in the car second to the baggage. I was to have gone a short distance with her myself, but Mrs. Sniffins will be glad to have me back at dinner-time. You will take my place, Mr. Joe, you will accompany my niece to Bolton.”
Having roared these words at me, to the amusement of attentive listeners, all the while urging me forward unnecessarily fast for an individual prizing his dignity, he gave me an opportunity to reply.
“ Mr. Sniffins,” said I, feeling a little bit ruffled, and blowing a volume of smoke into his face, both as an evidence of indifference for the eyes of lookers-on and as an escape to my pentup feelings, — “ Mr. Sniffins, I will ; we will find the fair creature at once.”
“ But, Mr. Joe, have we time ? Won’t the train start ? ”
“Mr. Sniffins,” said I, again blowing the smoke into his eyes, “what if it does ? ”
“ I could n’t get off, Mr. Joe. Don’t, don’t speak of it, I pray, don’t.”
“ But how shall I be able to distinguish your niece ? — from resemblance to her good uncle ? ”
“No! no! no, sir!” ejaculated the old gentleman, as the idea took possession of his mind. “ We must find her, Mr. Joe.”
Whereupon he seized my arm frantically, and hurried me along to the second car from the baggage. Stopping suddenly when he had reached this car, he looked up and rapped one of the windows so violently that I thought he was really going to knock it in. Thereupon, as he did no perceptible damage, a woman I judged to be a maiden lady of fifty summers, wearing green goggles and looking desperately long in the neck, very dark of complexion, and very much wrinkled, looked out in alarm. Whereat I was somewhat alarmed myself. But I regained my composure when Mr. Sniffins took off his hat, and, having asked madam’s pardon with his usual politeness, rapped at the next window. But an ugly-looking scamp of a fellow, who seemed to be more disposed to come out and make the old gentleman apologize than to accept the already proffered apology, looked fiercely from this window, and we went on, of course. The next time, at the presentation of two black, saucy-looking eyes and a laughing face, I was sure we were right, until I saw Mr. Sniffins raise his hat again, when the smile with which I had decked my face subsided into a melancholy grin, and we passed on once more. Mr. Sniffins came to rap at the right window at last, and a very sweet but what I then thought a rather dove-like looking face presented itself and smiled very prettily. There could be no mistake this time. There was too much of the good Mr. Sniffins in that face; so I took off my hat, and bowed politely.
“Julie,” said the old gentleman, all out of breath, “ I have found you a guardian at last. This is Mr. Joe. He will accompany you to Bolton, as he goes that way on business, on this very train. He is a young lawyer, and I doubt not you will find him a pleasant companion. He’s quite respectable, too, my dear, which can’t be said of all lawyers you know, eh ? ”
Then the little woman, smiling very prettily, as if almost inclined to laugh outright, beckoned to the little man, who accordingly stood upon tiptoe, while the little woman stooped, and at once entered into a spirited but very private and quiet little conversation by themselves ; after which she offered me a very small and a very white hand, which I shook with a gentle pressure, as my wont is. But as the old gentleman seemed to have something to say at that particular moment, I held my own peace until he should have finished. The next conversation, however, was an exceedingly short one, and to my own mind, at least, an exceedingly sweet one. The fact is, he just stood upon tiptoe again, and she just stooped again, when Mr. Sniffins just kissed Julie, and Julie just kissed Mr. Sniffins, just as if nobody was looking on all the while. Then the little gentleman stood down again, took me by the hand, wished me a successful journey, waved his own hand gallantly, nearly knocking his wig off in doing so, and departed.
The cars, by which we mean a train of cars or coaches, being in motion by this time, and having received an invitation from my ward to get aboard, I threw away the last and as usual the best portion of my cigar, and entering the car as per invitation, found at last, — ah ! I could not believe it at first, but really I did find, — occupying two seats, and propped up with pillows, (two prettily carved crutches lying by her side,) the little woman over whom I had so recently assumed the appointment of guardian. Taught, however, to believe every person possessed of at least one infirmity, and that a patent infirmity is more endurable than a latent one, — which is, perhaps, a legal way of putting it, — I presented myself not quite overpowered by the unexpected discovery. But when she took up the pretty crutches to give me room, with a look that was not altogether melancholy, but which I chose to consider so, I felt it a duty to look upon them and the owner compassionately.
“ Ah, you are disappointed,” she said, looking up and laying her little hand upon the crutches ; “ you were not prepared for it.”
“ Well, no, I was not; but then,” said I, “ I can’t say I am disappointed.”
“ Can’t you ? I could if I were you. And if I were you I should find some fault. Are you quite sure you are not disappointed ? ”
“ Quite sure. I am sure you can’t fly away, you know.”
“ Ah ! you must n’t be too sure of that. I can fly better than you imagine. And I feel sometimes very much like flying, too, I get restless so much. But you must look sharp, or I will fly away really.”
“ You fly ! what with ? ” said I, looking at her bright blue eyes.
“What with? With my crutches, to be sure. You see I have a strong will, and ‘ where there’s a will,’ you know.”
I was going to say something, just for the saying, but before I had time to begin she went on again, changing the subject: —
“ How lovely this spring weather is ! How cheering it is ! How I love this new life of things, so fresh ! All the old things done away. A new heaven and a new earth.”
We were driving over the iron rail furiously.
“ I would like to ride on the train when I could feel the wind sometimes,” she continued. “ I think it would do my nerves good to feel the fresh air. How exhilarating it must be ! ”
After a while there came a few moments of thoughtful silence, and then she turned about quickly and brightly, as if certain old thoughts had been rudely ostracized as too dangerous, because exerting too much influence.
“ Do you know uncle never told me your name ? Did he tell you mine ? ” she inquired.
Really I had n’t thought of it before, but he had certainly neglected to do so.
“That’s lucky,” she went on again. “You can’t call me Miss So-and-so; but you must call me Julie, if anything. There, I have written it on this card, so. Please write the name I may call you beneath. Anything you like.”
She handed me the card, and I wrote simply, “ Joe.”
“ There, Mr. Joe, you don’t know my name, and I dare say you will never care to. And now, Mr. Joe, uncle said you were a lawyer.”
I admitted myself a poor one.
“Uncle did not tell you I was ill and lame ? ”
Strange old Mr. Sniffins! Of course he did not; and why should he ? “ But then,” I added, “ he did not tell me of your accomplishments, Miss Julie.”
“ Ah ! some people have too many accomplishments, Mr. Joe. You may lose your money before we reach Bolton. But at all events he did not tell you of my complaints. Now do you know I distrust you ? ”
Of course I was sorry to hear it, and said as much.
“ I distrust all of you,” she continued. “ You have no patience.”
“All of us?” I suggested, desirous of having the names or the calling, at least, of those included in the sweeping condemnation.
“Well, it don't matter,” she said, smiling, and getting at my meaning very quickly. “ You tire too soon, that’s all. By to-morrow you will be sorry you ever saw me, Mr. Joe.”
“ Will I, Miss Julie ?”
“Don’t you think you will, Mr. Joe ? ”
Of course I knew I should not.
“ But what if you should be sorry ? ” she continued.
“ Ah ! but I won’t be,” I persisted. “You are not sure of that. What if you should be, Mr. Joe ?”
“ I can’t imagine, really.”
“ Do you ever get angry, Mr. Joe ? ”
“ Sometimes ; but I am always sorry when I do.”
“ Would n’t you get angry with me if I became a burden and an injury to you ; an injury, that is, in some unaccountable way ? ”
I agreed that I would not in any event.
“ And not at my uncle either ? ” she asked.
“ Angry at good old Mr. Sniffins, Julie ? No indeed. I owe him a blessing.”
“ You are forgetful, are you not ? ” she asked.
I was obliged to own up to that fact. “Then you must agree to it in writing,”she said, taking from her little travelling - bag a sheet of paper, upon which I wrote articles of agreement all in due form, whereby I agreed to much more than I had stipulated beforehand, which, however, was all for the joke and amusement and anticipation the little transaction promised.
But when she read it she laughed a merry laugh, and the merry laugh brought tears to her blue eyes, so that I felt just a little bit doubtful.
“Mr. Joe,”said she, then, “ I am a lawyer, too. There is no consideration to this agreement.”
So I wrote a consideration, and the consideration was that she should not fly away upon her crutches, or go ahead to ride upon the locomotive, but would just stay and keep me company as we journeyed on our way to Bolton. Then we dated our contract, signed it, and placed it in the travelling-bag again ; and then she looked up again, and tears were shining in her lashes, which so puzzled me that I was led to ask seriously what I might expect from the contract.
“ You must expect I will do all I can to make our contract on your part better than on my own. I have something to labor for, that’s all, Mr. Joe ” ; and she looked up very much as if she had said, “ I would n’t injure you, Mr. Joe. I am just unfortunate and want you to help me.”
Mind, now, I am saying she looked as if she had said so, but really I think she did say so, for I do believe that eyes sometimes say a great many things if we were only able to interpret their language ; a great many things we have no idea of, and a great many very pretty things, too. But be that as it may, we afterwards read and talked and laughed as we sped over the iron rail. And as we journeyed westward the sun overtook us, and the long train stopped half an hour for refreshments. Of course I got out and walked about in the warm sun, smoking a cigar, and throwing through the open window oranges and soft words, alternately, under the influence of which poor Julie (I don't know how I came to call her poor Julie) rallied wonderfully. Indeed, as she threw back at me her orangepeel and quick replies with such astonishing dexterity, I thought her bodily infirmities had been cured and she was using all her limbs again. But when “ Off brakes ! ” was whistled, and I entered the car again, the little crutches looked like necessary companions. I wanted to ask about her infirmities, but feared it would be indelicate, and held my peace. Then, as we hurried along again, she looked out of the window, and I began to wonder at her conversation.
At four o'clock the afternoon papers came aboard, and I purchased a third edition, and the gentleman opposite me purchased a third edition too. Then I read the third edition, and the gentleman opposite read the third edition. Then my eye fell upon a news item, and the eye of the gentleman opposite fell upon exactly the same item, for, without being invited to speak, he turned to me and said, “ I see they are to sell the Oldham property at Bolton to-morrow.”
“ Yes, sir,” I answered ; but I did n’t tell him I was going up expressly to bid on the premises for a client, which would have been unwise, to say the least.
“ Property’s immense, I understand ? ” he continued.
I was not inclined to be communicative, however, and the individual again suggested, “ Said to work great hardship to the heirs ? ”
“ Yes.” I turned my back to him this time, and no more was said on that subject.
Then it began to grow dark; and, as I could not read my paper any more, I threw it down and turned to my companion, who was looking out at the sparks which were already visible flying by from the locomotive. It had got to be a cloudy night, and the air was growing cold, as it so frequently does in early spring. Still, good fires built in the stoves, and the lamps lighted, though burning dimly, cheered us up again and kept out the chilliness. But for all the lights and fires, I found it more comfortable to sit a little closer; and then we began to talk about many things, so that I found my companion half a politician and more than half a lawyer. Thus the time and the miles passed swiftly, and as the time and the miles were passing we somehow or other forgot to talk about law and politics ; and as we left these subjects further and further behind, we spoke lower and lower, so that we had to sit nearer and nearer in order to make ourselves heard. And so we came, at last, to talk of the poets and poetry, and — ever so many other things besides.
We were riding in the “lightning expresser,” stopping only at important stations, except for wood and water. At this time, however, we were in want of neither, because we were running down an incline where the brakes are touched lightly and the steam shut off. But for all that it was a straight line and a safe line, when the engineer could bite his bread and cheese, and when the fireman could light his pipe and have a jolly good smoke.
“ Please, Mr. Joe, what station comes next?” said my companion, starting with a start that startled me as well.
The railway guide said it was HalfWay.
“So soon?” she said with another start.
“ What is it, Julie ?” I inquired with, I dare say, a tender look.
“ Only a little pain,” she answered ; “that’s all. Only a sudden thought, Mr. Joe. But — ”
“ But what ? ” I asked, uneasily.
“ I fear,” she answered, “ I must wait at Half-Way for the next train.” She was playing nervously with a ring upon her finger, turning it about and taking it off, and putting it on again, abstractedly.
But the next train would answer me just as well, so that I determined to wait too. Of course I would not hear of her staying alone at a strange place, when I should lose nothing but a few hours at the most. Wherefore we both alighted at Half-Way. When, having seated my companion in the depot where a lamp was burning dimly, I proceeded to make inquiries of an officiallike looking individual, relative to lodging accommodations.
“ Have you a good hotel here ? ” I inquired.
“ That depends upon what you call a good one,” was the answer. “ What’s good for me may be poor for you, perhaps — ”
He waved his lantern, and away went the train.
“ How many have you here ? ” I again inquired.
“ Two, and a saloon which pretends to be a hotel, too. So’s to evade the excise law for a license.”
“ Are your hotels named ? ” I asked.
“ Lord bless you, sir. Was there ever a hotel in these United States that did n’t have a name, and a great big name, too ? Why, over this way you’ll find the International, and over yonder’s the Metropolitan. And their name’s the biggest things about ’em, or I’m mistaken.”
“ Which of the two is the better ? ” I persisted, feeling that I must make a choice of one at all events.
“ Blessed if I know. Go to one, and you ’ll wish you’d gone to the other, and it does n’t make much difference which one you go to first, I reckon.”
At this point the official-like looking gentleman gave his lantern an impatient swing ; and, as if he thought something should start whenever he swung his lantern, he started himself and ran away incontinently.
When I returned Miss Julie was anxiously waiting. The coast was now all clear. No one was about, excepting ourselves ; not a solitary human being to ask a question of; not a depotmaster, not a ticket agent. The lights burnt, but nobody cared for them. The telegraph instruments ran races with each other, and made a galloping noisy race of it too, which seemed to be never ending. First one machine was ahead and then another, and while we listened the more furiously the racers raced. Really it was very disagreeable to think of getting off at such a station for rest. What nonsense ! Something, however, must be done. Here we were and it could n’t he helped. “O Mr. Joe,” said Miss Julie, compassionately, “what a place I ’ve brought to — ”
Then I went out in search of a hotel and found the Metropolitan, which was a story and a half frame structure, putting one exceedingly in mind of a den, and a kind of lion’s den, too. Nevertheless, I went in fearlessly and took a survey. They had n’t gone to bed down at the Metropolitan. In fact, they were just getting waked up to all appearances, as the noise was intolerable. Sitting on the bar was a fleshy individual of eighteen or twenty, who was endeavoring to perform the manly feat of rubbing his stomach with one hand and patting his head gently with the other, not performing either, by the way, so much to his own satisfaction as to that of his audience.
“No such word as fail, Dolder,” roared one.
“ Patience and perseverance, Dolder,” shouted another.
Don’t give up the ship,” suggested a third.
No chance of getting much rest here,
I thought; so I hurried back, having made up my mind that Miss Julie’s best course would be to try and rest in the depot, while I should keep watch on the outside with a cigar.
When I reached the depot the telegraph instruments were running more desperately than ever, but Miss Julie was—gone. Not only had she gone, but she had gone without the pretty crutches.
My first impulse was to rush back to the hotel for assistance. Of course she had been carried off. Else why the crutches left ? But wait ! There was a slip of paper pinned to one of the crutches, which I seized desperately and read by the dim lamplight of HalfWay Station ; and as I read, the clock struck twelve, as it seemed to me, in a very solemn manner. But the little billet, to my great surprise, read thus ; —
“ Mr. Joe must journey from hence alone. That he may live to forgive a great injury is the wish of his sincere but very unfortunate friend,
“ Ah, a great injury,” I thought to myself, thinking the while of my agreement in the cars, but smiling at what I could but think was an absurdity ; nevertheless, my smile, I dare say, was a wicked one, as I immediately lit a cigar to quiet my nerves. So I smoked one cigar and lighted another, and smoked that and then another and another, while I wandered about hither and thither until the hotels were closed and I grew more and more nervous. At length, however, a young man emerged from somewhere, and went into the telegraph office, tried the keys, and then strolled out again, and went to looking out of the windows and up the track. Then the official-like looking individual made his appearance with his lantern and spoke to the telegraph operator, asking “ whose crutches and things” those were.
“ They are mine,” I answered, I dare say a little sharply, and I took up the crutches and placed them under my arm. But fearing I had been too quick, I added, “ They belong to a young lady who came under my charge,” by way of qualification.
“Where’s the young lady, then?” said the man with the lantern. “ Gone off without legs ? ”
“ Really, my good friend,” said I then, a little inclined to come down, “ I can’t tell you. She came with me to this place this very night, a cripple, sir, on these very crutches, and now, sir, she’s gone off without ’em. Tell me, if you can, where she is.”
“ Queer,” said the individual, soliloquizing.
“ Devilish queer,” said the telegraph operator, likewise soliloquizing.
“ Were you related ? ” inquired the official-like looking individual.
“No. She was placed under my care to go to Bolton, by a respectable old gentleman she called her uncle. Before reaching this station she complained of illness, so we concluded to remain here a little while, thinking a short rest would do her good.”
“ Hum !” said the official-like looking individual.
“Ah!” echoed the telegraph operator.
“ Well,” said the individual with the lantern, musingly, after a pause, “ I don’t see but what you’ve earned them crutches. At any rate I ’m blessed if I ’ll have anything to do with ’em.”
“Was she really a cripple?” inquired the telegraph operator.
“ I thought so, most assuredly,” I answered, a little doubtfully.
“ Queer ! ” again asserted the individual with the lantern.
“ Devilish queer ! ” again asserted the telegraph operator, who was none other than the applauded Dolder.
“ See if the train’s on time,” said the man with the lantern, changing the subject as if it was of no great consequence any way. “ She ’ll turn up some day, sir. How is it, Davy, all right ? ”
“ All right,” responded the operator, who had been talking with somebody thirty miles away.
“There they go!” said the officiallike looking individual, looking at his watch.
The long whistle sounded afar off, and I was heartily glad they were coming at last. Anything to get out of Half-Way Station. But I was determined to hold on to the pretty crutches, nevertheless. They might some day assist me in unravelling a mystery. So I placed them under my arm and stood waiting out upon the track for the train, which I could already hear, thundering down the incline. Now it came nearer, and the head light, shivering with the oscillation of the locomotive, was discernible. Then another and a nearer and a shriller blast was blown, and one could feel the very earth trembling, as it seemed, with the furious racing of the iron horse ; while the sparks were flying from the smokestack with the thick and heavy smoke, and underneath the hot coals of living fire fell upon the ground and were trampled out of sight.
“ They are running very fast, I should say ? ” I remarked carelessly to the man with the lantern, who was standing beside me.
“ They mostly do come on this run as if the Devil was after ’em,” he answered, as if it was really not uncommon.
“ Ah ! but they don’t seem to be holding up ? ” I suggested.
“ They generally goes the faster about here, I reckon.”
“ They stop, don’t they though ? ” I exclaimed, no doubt savagely, catching at his meaning.
I heard him say, “ They don't calculate to often, sir,” but what else he said was lost in the rushing wind and the clickety click, clickety click, of the passing train, which really seemed perfectly indifferent in regard to my own little and very miserable existence.
How long after that I stood listening to the rumbling of the train I can't say, for it kept rumbling and rumbling and rumbling in my ears as if it had made a special agreement to drive me mad. My good friend with the lantern came about this time, however, and saved me by tapping me lightly on the shoulder.
“Was you intending to have taken that train?” he asked, swinging his lantern in the direction it had gone.
“Was you told it stopped by any one belonging on the road ? ”
I shook my head a little doubtfully, as it did really seem as if some one had induced me to think so.
“ Had you business of importance to take you on ? ”
Again I nodded.
“ Was anybody you knows on interested about that same identical business ? ”
Again I shook my head doubtfully, and the individual gave his lantern another swing, and departed.
I had really never been so unpleasantly situated. But that, after all, was not the worst of it ; as in the cold gray of the morning I slowly plodded down to the Metropolitan, looking colder and more dismal than it did the night before, I thought of the business which I had undertaken with such alacrity, and how I should reach Bolton in time to bid at the sale of the Oldham property for my client. There was but one way left, and that to telegraph for a postponement of the sale. But those who sit up late get up late; in consequence whereof the Metropolitan was still wrapped in slumber when I was rapping at the door. To be sure, it was yet very early. Only the early birds were abroad, and the early birds were indeed very few and looked as if they needed all the worms they got. The old bar-room into which I ushered myself, with about half a dozen of the early birds, smelt exceedingly stale, and looked exceedingly dirty, and felt exceedingly uncomfortable. The landlord, however, who was a very prompt little fellow, seeming to have a realizing sense of the appearance of things, got himself behind the counter or the bar in a twinkling, and, without saying a word, looked at the early birds as if he had really said, “Well, gentlemen, what shall it be this morning ? ”
“A little cold water in a wash-basin is all at present, sir. I shall stay to breakfast with you.”
After breakfast I felt better and strolled leisurely back to the depot, but the operator having not yet arrived I sat down and smoked another cigar. After that I began to grow impatient, and asked the freight agent about the next train, and found it would not leave Half-Way until half an hour after the hour appointed for the sale of the Oldham property. Then I went and asked the ticket agent where the operator lived.
“ She lives in the brick house the top of which you just see over the hill.”
“She!” I exclaimed; “is your operator a woman ? ”
“ Our day operator is,” was the answer.
Then I ran over to the brick house ; but the matronly woman in charge of that establishment kindly informed me the operator was not at home, and I ran back to the depot.
“ Where can I find your night operator ? ” I asked.
“In the Metropolitan, fast asleep, I reckon.”
I hurried down to the Metropolitan.
“ Johnny,” said the landlord, in response to my question, “run up to room 44 and see if Dolder ’s in.”
“ He ain’t thar,” said the dirty-faced boy, returning after what seemed destined to be an eternity.
“ Do you know where he is ? ” I demanded.
“ No, sir, I don’t,” he answered, putting his hand to his head as if he expected me to cuff it; “but I heered him say as how he was a going a hunting.”
I turned from the Metropolitan and fled back to the depot again.
“ At what time does this operator usually reach her office ? ” I inquired.
“ About nine o’clock,” he answered ; “ but she is n’t obliged to get here only in time to report the train.”
“ And that’s 11.40 ? ” I asked.
“ Just twenty minutes, sir,” he answered, looking at the clock. And then he went into his little office, and, throwing up the window, began to sell tickets, while I thought to myself, it is too late now at any rate. But do what I would I could n’t help thinking of my unpleasant dilemma, and of that I was thinking when the train arrived. So I took up the little crutches and went to get aboard.
“ You wanted the operator,” I heard a gentleman say, as he laid a hand upon my shoulder ; “ there she comes, down the hill.”
I saw a womanly figure coming down the hill, reading a letter as she walked. But all the grace I witnessed in that figure could hardly restrain the resentment I felt toward her. Nevertheless, I turned my back without a word, and left Half-Way Station behind, as I devoutly hoped, forever.
Of course the first thing I did after my arrival at Bolton was to visit the attorney who had the selling of the Oldham property, in the hope that by some chance or mischance the sale had not yet taken place ; or if it had, that it had been purchased by some one ignorant of its value, of whom I might again purchase for a slight advance.
“ Has the sale been made yet ? ” was my first query.
“ Yes, sir,” said the attorney, “ it was made within one hour of the time advertised.”
“ Who was the purchaser ? ” I demanded eagerly.
“ Mr. Sniffins, sir, an elderly, respectable looking old gentleman from Down East somewhere.”
“ I know,” I interrupted, with a thundering voice.
“Was you interested?” he mildly inquired.
“Has the title been forfeited?” I again demanded, heedless of the question.
“ Yes, sir, everything complete, recording and all.”
I took up my hat, and with the unfortunate crutches rushed into the street and to the telegraph office, whence I sent a despatch to my partner announcing the failure of my trip, and promising to explain when I should reach home.
Well, when I did reach home I did explain ; and such an overhauling as I got from my client for forsaking business to run after the girls was astonishing, to say the least. But my client was a young man, and after a few weeks came to me with an apology and my fees. Of course I refused the latter; but as he insisted, I finally did accept them, although I really thought they were not deserved.
“ But,” said he, after his apology had been accepted, and his bill receipted,— “ but remember one thing, Joe, I’m a going up to that station myself to ferret out this whole affair, and bring somebody to account I surely will; and it is upon the understanding that you assist me, that I take you into my service again.”
These terms being agreed to, I took the pretty crutches and nailed them crosswise, like a pirate’s cross-bones, upon my office wall, just where I could see them when not engaged at my desk. This was to keep my memory upon the subject, Vicar of Wakefield like, so that during idle hours I might be studying the problem with a view to its solution. But when the spring-time had gone and the summer had come, instead of endeavoring to solve the problem I wished again to see a fair face, which — as often as my eyes fell upon the crutches —came to haunt me with an accusation I could not deny, for I recalled our little agreement, and part of the mystery was cleared away. Then I would say to myself, “ Poor Julie, there is something yet in the dark.” And then I would take from my pocketbook a little slip of paper on which she had written : —
“ Mr. Joe must journey from hence alone. That he may live to forgive a great injury is the wish of his sincere but very unfortunate friend,
So I came at last to displace the rusty nail which all along had held the little crutches against the wall, a piece of blue ribbon as near the color of her eyes as I could find being substituted therefor. And so, too, one evening at twilight it came to pass that my client came in, lit a cigar, and sat down as if he had something on his mind. But you know that was not a strange coincidence. It had occurred a hundred times before. When he looked up at the pretty crutches, however, with such a look of desperate resolution, I confess I did not like it ; and when he told me he was about to take a short trip into the country for his health, I inwardly rebelled against the proposition ; and when he said he would spend a few days at Half-Way, I was sorely tempted to take down one of the pretty crutches, and end my interest in the affair on the spot by rapping him over the head. But I held my peace, nevertheless, and he went on to develop his plans, like some hideous Guy Fawkes to some equally hideous associate.
G. S. Barrow.