Зображення сторінки

“ Perhaps not; but some men give it without meaning to. Goodmorning."

"I guess the coat fits him," murmured the judge to himself, as he sauntered homeward.


CHAPTER II. Sam KIMPER hurried through a new street, sparsely settled, crossed a large vacant lot, tramped over the grounds of an unused foundry, and finally went through a vacancy in a fence on which there were only enough boards to show what the original plan had been. A heap of ashes, a dilapidated chicken-coop, and a forest of tall dingy weeds were the principal contents of the garden, which had for background a small unpainted house in which were several windows which had been repaired with old hats and masses of newspaper. As he neared the house he saw in a cove in the weeds a barrel lying on its side, and seated in the mouth of the barrel was a child with a thin, sallow, dirty, precocious face and with a cat in her arms. The child stared at the intruder, who stopped and pushed his hat to the back of his head.

“ Pop !” exclaimed the child, suddenly, without moving.

“Mary !” exclaimed the man, dropping upon his knees and kissing the dirty face again and again. “What are you doin' here ?"

Playin' house," said the child, as impassively as if to have had her father absent two years was so common an experience that his return did not call for any manifestation of surprise or affection.

“Stand up a minute, dear, and let me look at you. Let's see,– you're twelve years old now, ain't you? You don't seem to have growed a bit. How's the rest ?

“Mam's crosser an' crosser," said the child; “ Joe's run away, 'cause the constable was after him for stealin' meat from

“My boy a thief! Oh, Lord !”
“Well, we didn't have nothin' to eat; he had to do it."

The father dropped his head and shuddered. The child continued : “Billy's goin' to school now; Jane's servant-gal at the hotel ; Tom plays hookey all the time, an' the baby squalls so much that nobody likes her but Billy."

The man looked sad, then thoughtful ; finally he put his arm around his child, and said, as he kissed and caressed her,

“ You're to have a better dad after this, darlin'; then maybe the mother'll feel pleasanter, an' the baby'll be happier, an' Tom'll be a good boy, an' we'll get Joe back somehow." “How's you goin' to be better ?” asked the child.

"Goin' to give us money to buy candy an' go to all the circuses ?”

“Maybe," said the father. “I must go see the mother now."

The child followed her father to the house; there was not much excitement in the life of the Kimper family, except when there was a quarrel, and Mary seemed to anticipate some now, for she drawled, as she walked along,

“Mam's got it in for you; I heerd her say so many a time sence you war took away.”

" The poor thing's had reason enough to say it, the Lord knows," said the man.

“An',” he continued, after a moment, "I guess I've learned to take whatever I'm deservin' of.

As Sam entered his house, a shabbily-dressed, unkempt, forlornlooking woman sat at a bare pine table, handling some dirty cards. When she looked up, startled by the heavy tread upon the floor, she exclaimed,

“I declare! I didn't expect you till"

Wife!" shouted Sam, snatching the woman into his arms and covering her face with kisses. “Wife,” he murmured, bursting into tears, and pressing the unsightly head to his breast,-—" wife, wife, wife, I'm goin' to make you proud of bein' my wife, now that I'm a man once more.”

The woman did not return any of the caresses that had been showered upon her; neither did she repel them. Finally she said,

“ You do appear to think somethin' of me, Sam.”

“Think somethin' of you? I always did, Nan, though I didn't show it like I ought. I've had lots of time to think since then, though, an' I've had somethin' else, too, that I want to tell you about. Things is goin' to be different, the Lord willin', Nan; dearwife.”

Mrs. Kimper was human; she was a woman, and she finally rose to the occasion to the extent of kissing her busband, though immediately afterwards she said, apparently by way of apology,

“ I don't know how. I come to do that."

“Neither do I, Nan; I don't know how you can do anythin' but bate me. But you ain't goin' to have no new reason for doin' it. I'm goin' to be different ev'ry way from what I was.”

“I hope so," said Mrs. Kimper, releasing herself from her husband's arms and taking the cards again. "I was just tellin' my fortune by the keerds, havin' nothin' else to do, an' they showed a new man an' some money,—though not much.”

“They showed right both times, though keerds ain't been friends to this family, confound 'em, when I've fooled with 'em at the saloon. Where's the baby, though, that I ain't ever seen ?”

“There,” said the woman, pointing to a corner of the room. Sam looked, and saw on the floor a bundle of dingy clothes from one end of which protruded a head of which the face, eyes, and hair were of the same tint as the clothing. The little object was regarding the new arrival in a listless way, and she howled and averted her head as her father stooped to pick her up:

“She's afraid you're goin' to hit her, like most ev'ry one does when they go nigh her," said the mother. “If I'd knowed you was comin' to-day, I'd have washed her, I guess.”

“I'll do it myself, now," said the father. “I've got the time."

“Why, you ain't ever done such a thing in your life, Sam !” said Mrs. Kimper, with a feeble giggle.

“More's the shame to me; but it's never too late to mend. When'll Billy get home, an' Tom ?

“Goodness knows; Billy gets kep' in so much, an' Tom plays stop."

hookey so often, that I don't ever expect either of 'em much 'fore supper-time. They talk of sendin' Tom to the Reform School if he don't

“ I'll have to stop him, then. I'll try it, anyway."

“It needs somebody that can wollup him harder'n I can; he's gettin' too big for my stren'th. Well, if here they don't both come! I don't know when I've seen them two boys together before, 'less they was fightin'. I wonder what's got into 'em to-day ?”

The two boys came through the back yard, eying the house curiously, Billy with wide-open eyes and Tom with a hang-dog leer from under the brim of his hat. Their father met them at the door and put his arms around both.

“Don't do that,” said Tom, twitching away; "that sort o' thing's for women an' gals an' babies.”

“But I'm your dad, boy."
“Needn't make a baby of me, if you be,” growled the cub.

“I'd give a good deal, old as I am, if I had a dad to make a baby of me that way, if 'twas only for a minute."

Oh, don't be an old fool,' said Tom.

“I heerd in the village you'd been let out,” said Billy, “an' so I found Tom an' told him, an' he said I lied, an' so we come home to see. Did you bring us anythin'?"

“Yes,” said the father, his face brightening, as he thrust his hand into his pocket and took out the fig-box. “Here," as he gave a fig to each of the children and one to his wife, “how do you like that ?"

“Good enough,” growled Tom, "only I don't care for 'em unless I have a whole box. I lift one out of a train-boy's basket at the station once in a while."

“Don't ever do it again," said the father. “If you want 'em any time so bad you can't do without 'em, let me know, an' I'll find some way to get 'em for you."

“An' get sent up again for more'n two year?” sneered the boy.

“I don't mean to get 'em that way," said the father. “ But I've got somethin' else for you.” Here he took the circus-pictures from his breast, where they bad been much flattened during the several demonstrations of family affection in which they had been involved. “Here's a picture for each of you."

Billy seemed to approve of the monkey, but Tom scowled, and said,

“What do I care for an elephant's head, when I seen the whole animal at the show, ar' everythin' else besides ?”

“S’pose I might as well get supper; though there ain't much to get," said the wife. “There's nothin' in the house but corn-meal : so I'll bile some mush. An',” she continued, with a peculiar look at her husband, “there ain't anythin' else for breakfast, though Deacon Quickset's got lots of hens layin' eggs ev'ry day. I've told the boys about it again an' again, but they're worth less than nothin' at helpin' things along. The deacon don't keep no dog. Now you've got home, I hope we'll have somethin'."

“Not if we have to get it that way,” said Sam, gently. “No more stealin'; I'll die first."

[ocr errors]

you like.


“I guess we'll all die, then,” moaned Mrs. Kimper. "I didn't s'pose bein' sent up was goin' to skeer all the spirit out of you.”

“It didn't, Nan, but it's been the puttin' of a new kind of spirit into me. I've been converted, Nan."

“ What ?” gasped Mrs. Kimper.
“ Thunder !” exclaimed Tom, after a hard laugh. “You goin' to

“ be a shoutin' Methodist ? Won't that be bully to tell the fellers in the village ?"

“I'm not goin' to shout, or be anythin' I know of, except an honest man: you can tell that to all the fellers

“ An' be told I'm a blamed liar? Not much."

Mrs. Kimper seemed to be in a mournful revery, and when finally she spoke it was in the voice of a woman talking to herself, as she said,

“ After all I've been layin' up in my mind about places where there was potatoes, an' chickens, an' pigs, an' even turkeys, that could be got an' nobody'd be any the wiser! How will we ever get along through the winter ?”

“ The Lord will provide,” croaked Tom, who had often sat under the church window during a revival-meeting.

“If He don't, we'll do without,” said Sam. “But I guess we won't suffer while I can work." “Dad converted,” muttered Tom. “Dad converted : d’ye hear

' that ?” said he, hitting his brother to attract attention. “I must go down to the hotel an' tell Jane; she'll steal me a glass of beer for it. Converted ! I'll be ashamed to look the boys in the face."

CHAPTER III. The Kimper family thinned out, numerically, as soon as the frugal evening meal was despatched. Tom and Billy disappeared separately without remark; Mary put on a small felt hat which added a rakish air to her precocious face, and said she was going to the hotel to see if sister Jane had any news. Half an hour later the cook, all the chambermaids, waiters, barkeepers, and stable-boys at the hostelry were laughing and jeering, in which they were led by Jane, as Mary told of her father's announcement that he had been converted and would have no more stealing done in the interest of the family larder. The fun became so fast and furious that it was obliged to end in sheer exhaustion : so when Tom came in an hour later he was unable to revive it sufficiently to secure the stolen glass of beer which he had coveted.

Sam Kimper did not seem to notice the disappearance of the more active portion of the family. Taking the baby in his arms, he sat with closed eyes while his wife cleared the table. Finally he said,

“Nan, ain't you got nothin' else to do ?
“Nothin', that I know of,” said the wife.

“Come an’ set down alongside o me, then, an' let me tell you about somethin' that come about while I was in the penitentiary. Nan, a man that used to come there Sundays found me a-cryin' in my


[ocr errors]

cell one Sunday; I couldn't help it, I felt so forlorn an' kind of gone like I'd felt that way lots o'times before, when I was out an' around, but then I could get over it by takin' a drink. There's always ways of gettin' a drink, -sweepin' out a saloon, or cuttin' wood ag'in' winter when the saloon 'll need it. But there wasn't no chance to get a drink in jail, an' I was feelin' as if the underpinnin' of me was gone.

"Well, the man said he knowed a friend that would stand by me an' cheer me up. His name was Jesus. I told him I'd heerd of 'Him before, 'cause I'd been to revival-meetin's and been preached to lots by one man an'another. He said that wasn't exactly the way he wanted me to think about Him,--said Jesus used to be alive an' go around bein' sorry for folks that was in trouble, an' He once comforted a thief that was bein' killed in a most uncomfortable way, though Jesus was havin' a hard time of it Himself about that time.

“That bit me where I lived, for I-well, you know what I was sent up for. He said Jesus was God, but He came here to show men how to live, an' he wanted me to think about Him only as a man, while I was in trouble. He said the worse off a man was, the more sorry Jesus was for him : so I said,

• "I wish He was here now, then.'

“ He is here, my friend,' said the man. 'He's here, though you can't see Him. He ain't got nothin' to make out of you: neither have I: so you needn't be afraid to take my word for it. I'll tell you some of the things He said.' Then he read me a lot of things that did make me feel lots better. Why, Nan, that man Jesus was so sorry for men in jail that He went back on some high-toned folks that didn't visit 'em : just think of that!

After a while the man said, 'You seem to be feelin' better.' “So I am,' said I. « « Then believe in Him,' says he,' an' you'll feel better always.' “I've been told that before,' says I, but I don't know how.' “ The man looked kind o' puzzled like, an' at last says he,« « What's yer politics ?' “I'm a Jackson Democrat,' says I. “ All right,' says he; 'but Andrew Jackson's dead, ain't he ?' “So I've heerd,' said I. “But you still believe in him ? says he.

' “Of course,' said I.

“Well,' says he, just believe in Jesus like you do in Andrew Jackson, an' you'll be all right in the course of time. Believe that what He said was true, an' get your mind full of what He said, an’ keep it full

, remindin' yourself over an' over again for fear you forget it or other things 'll put it out of your mind, an' you'll be happier while you're in jail, an' you won't get back here again, nor in any other jail, after you've been let out.'

“Well, that was encouragin', for I didn't want to get in no jails no more. When the man went away he left me a little book that didn't have nothin' in it but things that Jesus Himself said. I read it lots; some of it I didn't understand, an' I can't get it through my head yet, but what I did get done me so much good that I found niyself kind


« НазадПродовжити »