THERE was no need for the noise or for the expense of an alarm clock in the house of Anthony Hazzard. For a full forty years, now, he had never failed to waken promptly at five in the morning. The bright summer season and the dark winter mornings made no difference to him. His eyes opened punctually at that hour.
Neither did he waken with a clouded brain like those of the riotous indulgers who fall asleep with heavily filled stomachs. But when his eyes opened, his brain opened, also, and all his senses were keen as the nose of a hungry wolf.
For an instant he remained in bed without stirring, feeling the house quiver and moan under the strength of that December wind. And on the windowpanes the sleet, blown into level streaks by the gale, kept up a continual small musketry. Anthony Hazzard listened, well content. That gale was icing the hills and the lower mountains; the upper peaks, of course, had been gathered in an Arctic whiteness for a month. But it was early for such weather as this on the lowlands. It was early, and being early it would be unexpected by fools who were not armed, as he was, against all calamities. And every buffet the wind struck against his house was a blow struck at folly.
Moreover, it was a profitable storm—to him. For this sharp fall of the thermometer and this whipping storm meant hundreds or thousands of dead cattle on the range. He could see them now, head down, backs covered with ice, wandering helplessly before the wind until some fence line stopped them, where they would stand leaning against the fence, leaning against one another, while the snow piled on their backs, melted, froze again, and gradually sank the deadly chill deeper and deeper toward their vitals.
When those cows died, whose would be the profit? Those whose warm barns and provident supplies of hay afforded food and shelter for their herds. But most of all, the advantage was to the money-lender. Not so much to the banks, for their rates of interest were more or less fixed. But Anthony Hazzard had no fixed rates. He was a free adventurer in finance. He dealt with lost causes and with sinking ships. No paltry five or six percent for him! But when a man in vast need came to him and begged for money, he would always listen. Yes, there was money in his coffers for those in want. Even without security he had been known to advance it. But, at twenty percent interest the men he had "saved" slaved for him the rest of their days. Such a storm as this was sure to coin more desperadoes, men faced with ruin, men willing to sell their souls for a little ready cash. And that was why he smiled into the blanketing darkness of that December morning as he listened to the beat of the storm.
He saw himself as a grand figure, clothed with thunder, one who made calamity his very companion and table mate. Such was the inward picture of himself with which he filled his brain before he rose.
He fumbled first for his boots, which he always left near the head of his bed. And a thrill of warm satisfaction passed through him as he thumbed the leather. It was good, honest cowhide, strong as steel, and as uncomfortable. But how enduring. Eighteen months before he had bought them from a foolish store where they were unprized merely because a customer had worn them for a single day.
Pride ate the country down, he decided. Because of pride he had been able to buy those boots for less than a third of their nominal cost. And so he furnished himself with the first brand-new pair of shoes that he had had in ten years. Well oiled once a week, they might last as much as three years more, considering proper resoling.
All of this went through his mind as he touched the boots. He beat with them on the floor and shouted: "Anne! Hey, Anne!"
He did not hear a response at first. He beat again on the floor: "Anne! Anne! The devil, girl... ain't you got ears?"
It floated up to him faintly and sweetly from downstairs: "Yes, Uncle Anthony."
That staggered him. For it was very odd indeed that she should be up at this time in the morning. She must have been sick. That was it. She had got up sick. In fact, at dinner the day before she had complained that the beef they ate was not fresh. He shrugged his shoulders. If animals can eat and prefer to eat tainted flesh, why should not humans, also, except for certain foolish prejudices? Besides, it cost half as much as the ordinary red steaks.
Prejudice, prejudice ruled the world. Prejudice made men believe that they must have lights whatever they did. That was another folly. For instance, yonder on his table stood a lamp well filled with oil, with close-trimmed wick. He could, if he wished, scratch a match and light that lamp. But why waste a match and burn up the good oil when there was no need? He knew the place of every article in the room. He found his way about on this morning without a single mistake except that he miscalculated the position of the table, which he had moved the evening before. As a result, he stumbled and barked his shins, but that was a small catastrophe.
He went on with his dressing; since the weather was cold, he put on a pair of corduroy trousers, which he located readily enough in the dark of his closet by the stiffness of the grease-filled cloth. He put on for a coat the old Mackinaw that the tramp had left at his house five years before. Another would have burned the thing in disgust. But Anthony Hazzard, with his own hands, cleaned it, and here it had been serving him as good as new for five seasons, except where the elbows had been worn through.
At length he was dressed. He opened his door and started down for the first floor of the house. He rarely moved through it without being struck with the thought that it was much too large for a family so small as himself and his niece. There were as many as six rooms in it. Whereas three or four, or even merely two, would have been ample. He would have been glad to sleep in the kitchen. Anne could have a couch in the parlor. There was only one thing to do with such an ample house as this one, and that was to take in roomers. But whenever he suggested that sensible scheme to Anne, she evinced the most irresistible repugnance for the idea. This, he told himself, was because she had been with him only three years. Another season or two, and she would be reduced to a perfect obedience.
He had passed below the upper floor. There he paused, struck with dismay. From the lower floor there rolled up to him a rich warmth that penetrated through the chill that was congealing his flesh. It was almost as though the house were on fire.
He hurried down and cast open the door to the front room. A magnificent sight met his eyes. First of all, the great, old-fashioned hearth was heaped with logs aflame. Enough good fuel was at that moment embraced in the conflagration to have cooked 500 dinners—of a reasonable size! The chill that had made his body shake was replaced by another that struck him to the very heart. Nor was this, alas, all of the damage. Here in the corner stood a young fir tree that, in time, might have grown into a valuable tree. But, cut down in its early prime, it was now planted in a deep box, a poor, dead, useless thing. It would never know another day of growth. From its dark green branches hung glistening showers of tinsel things that sparkled and shone in the blaze of the firelight. And every ornament must have cost something. A penny here, a penny there, and soon the dollar is spent. He moistened his dry lips and looked wildly about him. There was more, much more. Woven wreaths of evergreen, made in time that might have been used with the darning needle to such profit, hung at the windows, and over the door there was a veritable triumphal arch of greenery. At the base of the tree lay three packages.
And fully in front of the fire stood Anne, the worker of all these misdeeds. She looked, at that moment, almost like the girl who had been thrust upon him three years before, with rosy cheeks and shining eyes, the very picture of over-eating and idleness. Since that gloomy day, a change had been worked in her. She had grown leaner, more sober, and she shocked his ears less often with laughter. In truth, he had often been proud of his work with Anne. He had looked upon her, at the first, as a thorough-going outlay of money with no return, but in due time he had actually made her an economy. He no longer had to employ a cook for the harvest hands or the haying or the plowing crews. And clothes, which with all his care might have fallen to pieces, were renewed as through magic by her deft needles. To be sure, it meant food for two, but there were few other expenses since he had told her that she must make her own clothes. So, by the time she was twenty, he had produced instead of a bundle of uselessness, a thrifty, neat, hard-working girl who almost satisfied him.
But now it seemed that all the good work was undone. The dam was broken; the dammed waters of spend-thrift recklessness had burst through with an overwhelming violence!
Here she was crying gaily, like a sinner unaware of her sin: "Uncle Anthony, merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" And she danced up to him and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him upon each weather-beaten cheek.
He was so startled, so taken off his feet, so bitterly humiliated and shamed by this revelation that he could not answer at once. Before he could speak the proper stinging word to recall her to herself, she had run to the tree and brought him the three packages.
"Santa Claus must have been here!" she cried to him. "And he left these things for you, Uncle Anthony." She stood back, nodding, covered with smiles, and he opened the packages, one by one.
"Slippers?" he said. "Slippers? For what?"
"Why, when you sit by the fire on cold evenings, I suppose, Uncle Anthony. Santa Claus must have meant them for that."
"When do I sit by the fire?" he asked grimly, and, eager to know the full extent of the damage, he opened the next package. "A sweater! Good heavens, Anne... what's this for?"
"For biting cold mornings, like this one," she answered with some of the joy leaving her voice.
He threw it in the corner of the room, then, remembering that the garment had been pure wool to the touch, he hastily gathered it up again and folded it with anxious hands. There was such a thing as returning articles, in this day of reckless storekeepers. There was such a thing as getting refunds of money. Heaven be praised!
He turned to the last of the three. It was smaller than the others. He had hopes, after all, that it might be less expensive. But when he opened it, he was staggered to find lying in his hand, in a neat leather case, a meerschaum pipe. Up to this point, he had managed to maintain a faint smile upon his lips, feeling that smiles, after all, are the proper order of the day for these festival occasions, such as Christmas. However, his spirit now quite failed him. He stared at the wretched pipe. He stared at the girl.
"My heavens," he broke out at last. "I have two pipes already!"
He saw her wince beneath the blow. All the color and the joy was struck from her face on the instant.
"But one of them had a cracked bowl, Uncle Anthony. And the stem of the other one is so short now that you have to keep holding the bowl in your hand."
He fumbled in his coat pocket and brought forth the second of these maligned pipes. In truth, it was an antique. He himself would never have been guilty of purchasing a brier. Cherry wood or even cheaper stuff was amply good enough for him. But this had been given to him by a rich rancher who, for a few months, had been a client of his to the tune of some thousands. That was many and many a year gone. Now that stout stem, having successively been tooth-worn and the new mouth pieces whittled in it, was so short that he could not venture to hold the pipe in his teeth without burning his nose. He had to keep the pipe in his hand. However, he did not mind that so much. Or, if there were objections to the inconvenience, he told himself that men who smoked cigars, for instance, kept the tobacco in their hands most of the time. However, looking down at this wreck of a pipe, he decided that there was not much of an argument that could be advanced against his niece. He fell back upon the coward's chief reliance—sarcasm.
"Ah," he said, shaking his head, "it's not hard to find reasons for the spending of money, girl. That's something that most folks can find mighty easy... particularly fools!"
"It was my own money, Uncle Anthony," she said very faintly.
"Anne," groaned Anthony Hazzard, "d'you think I'm grievin' for the money these here cost? Lord, Lord, no! It ain't that. It's the terrible habit of waste that it shows settlin' on you. It's the terrible habit of extravagance. God forgive you for it. God forgive you for it. It ain't an encouragement to me to leave no great big legacy to you. It'd all be spent on fancy wool sweaters... not cotton, mind you, but real wool, fit for a millionaire or for a king."
She was too stricken to answer his spirit, but from her numb lips came some sort of reply as he glowered at her. "But, Uncle Anthony, aren't you really a millionaire?"
Suppose a blind old man beset with assailants young and strong; he shrinks into a corner; he fumbles about him and clutches a chance-found stick; he strikes out without aim—and fells the leader of the enemy senseless at his feet and puts the others to flight. So it was with the girl. She had not even tried to strike, and yet she found that she had paralyzed all the faculties of Uncle Anthony. He could only gape at her for a time, looking immensely old and very cadaverously wan.
He muttered at last: "Who might've been fillin' your head full of nonsense like that? Or are you jokin' at me, Anne? A poor old miserable man like me? Millionaire? Why... why, Anne, it's mighty funny. I'd ought to laugh at it, but I can't. The beggarly poor savin's of my life of labor... the little mite that I've scraped up together..." Here his voice changed and grew almost to a scream: "Anne, Anne, if you go spreadin' talk like this around, you'll be bringin' robbers on us that'll kill me for the sake of my money! Yes, yes, you're bringin' murder and robbery into this house. I curse the day that ever brung you into it!"
HE stumbled off into the kitchen, noting that here, also, the fire had been kindled for some time and was burning hotly, so that the room was well warmed even to the farthest corner. Only between the foot-worn doorsill and the door the wind whirred through in a steady stream of ice. He held his hands above the rising heat. They trembled and wavered like hawks riding a storm wind. Sometimes he closed his eyes. When he did, faces peered in at him through the windows. Forms lurked in the hall. Out yonder the sea of darkness was a sea of danger.
A millionaire! Was that what men said of him? Was that really what had come to the ear of the girl?
He turned, shouting: "Anne! Anne! Come here!"
There was a little rush of footfalls; the door snapped open; there she stood, white-faced, before him.
"Uncle Anthony, what's happened? Are you sick?"
"You're talkin' like a fool," he told her sharply. "Now get your wits about you. Lemme know, Anne, who put that nonsense into your head. Who told you that I was a millionaire?"
"Why, Uncle Anthony, I guess most folks think that you must be pretty rich."
His smile was like the grin of a tortured beast. "Pretty rich, eh? Pretty rich? What might they think would be the reason for me livin' here in a poverty-stricken household, eh?"
"They think it's just your way, Uncle Anthony."
"They think that I got money buried on this here place, maybe? Is that it?"
"No, no! I never heard anything like that. But they say that you have a lot loaned out..."
"Not my money! Not my money! But friends of mine that got a trust in me. They gimme the money to loan out for 'em. D'you see, Anne?"
She nodded, but she looked down at the floor. Suddenly he ran to her and caught her, and drew her toward the light, and pushed her face with his hard, bony hand.
"D'you see, Anne?"
But all that looked back at him out of her eyes was abject fear.
"I see," she said.
She was lying. He knew that. She was deceiving him. Perhaps, at that moment, she was in league with cruel-handed robbers who would spill his blood for the sheer joy of slaughter—and afterward roll and revel in his money. She was lying, then. She did not believe. Perhaps everyday she was spreading abroad reports of his vast wealth. Every day she was gathering danger upon his head. What was to be done about it? He had looked upon her as an encumbrance before. He began to see in her, now, a most terrible and staring danger.
He went to his corner chair and picked up his last bit of work—the mending of a leather tug that had broken the winter before when he was driving a team over the muddy road to town. He began to carry on that work, forcing the stout needle through with all his might and drawing the waxed twine after. But he did not see his work. He saw only the new face of his life as his niece had made him see it in the past few moments. And what he saw made him ill at ease indeed.
In the meantime, she began to make preparations for the cooking of breakfast. She cracked one egg into a saucer; she reached out for another. This enormity shocked him out of his old troubles.
"Have you took to eatin' two eggs for your breakfast, Anne?" he rasped out at her.
"One for each of us, that's all," she explained.
"One for each of us? One for each of us? Who is us? Not me, Anne. I ain't wastin' them good eggs that got a price in the market. Not while there's other food in the pantry just as good or better... maybe better... maybe more lastin' in the stomach!" He went to the cupboard and brought out an earthen dish with a few spoonfuls of baked beans in the bottom of it.
So he sat in the corner chair, with his work laid aside. And he began to eat the beans with a pewter spoon that he had taken out of the drawer of the kitchen table. His good spirits rose in him when he thought of what his economy was saving him. Reckless young men in the town, at this very moment, were doubtless rising sluggishly out of their beds and contemplating a breakfast for which they would pay almost anything—250¢, 400¢, even 500¢ for the smallest meal of their day!
While he thought of this, the spoon sounded hollow against the bottom of the dish. He looked down and found that he had cleaned them up and still, in fact, he was hungry. He looked at the fresh bread on the table. A slice was newly cut, and exposed an inner flank as white as snow. How delicious would be the aroma when that slice was toasted. But the girl seemed in no haste to go on with the preparations for the breakfast. She idled over her work, and finally she sat, looking wistfully at the steam that whirred out of the muzzle of the kettle and rose until it curled like an opening lotus flower against the ceiling, then disappeared.
He felt that, if he remained too long within the kitchen, the pangs of his hunger would overcome him. He stood up, tightened his belt, and turned away. At the door he paused without looking back to her.
"Ain't you happy here, Anne?" he asked her.
There was no reply for a moment, and then a startled voice replied: "Happy? Me? Oh, I s'pose so. Of course, I s'pose I am."
He turned, now, and pointed a finger at her. "Rememberin' that if it hadn't been for me, girl, you might've been turned out to die in a snowdrift? Rememberin' that all the time, I hope?"
He had spoken in somewhat this fashion many times before, and always there had been some sort of shivering response, but now she merely sat in the chair with her head raised and her dulled eyes fixed upon him, silent, blank, immobile. It became impossible for him to look any longer into that weary young face. He hastily left the room and went into his office. It was hardly more than a great closet, but he sometimes felt that he would neither be able to live nor to think if he were separated from it.
Here he kept his office files. Here were his little cabinets filled with papers that were covered with notations in a cramped hand. But they did not contain the full record of his career. That record was in his brain only. These supplied only the notes, now and again, not to correct, but to verify his questions of himself. For he forgot nothing. All that had ever come into his life in the way of money remained in his thoughts.
In this closet he seated himself and folded his hands across his breast. It was still, for a half hour or so, too dark to start forth on the day's business. He devoted that time to meditating upon what lay before him. Not that he needed to refresh his memory, but because he loved to review his actions in the first place, like a general, overseeing the march of his men before battle. So it was with Anthony Hazzard.
When the picture of the day's work was completed, he got up, settled a battered felt hat on his head, and started out for the barn. There was already a streak of gray in the eastern sky, but in the barn all was so dark that he was forced to light the lantern that hung beside the sliding door. That illumination enabled him to see the old gray mare. She stood with hanging head, her lean withers and hips sticking up like three scalped mountains above her back. And Mr. Hazzard, regarding her, considered her not uninteresting history. She had been a wild mustang, in the beginning. Then some reckless cowpuncher had managed to tame her enough to sit in the saddle. She had become an expert cutting horse until she developed such a streak of vicious temper that her master sold her to a peddler who made the round of the mountain cow camps winter and summer. Lugging the heavy wagon behind her, she had lasted ten ghastly years at that work and, finally, even the peddler was ready to destroy her as one who has accomplished her share of work in life. At this moment, it was the good fortune of Anthony Hazzard to happen by.
He considered that she was only eighteen years old, that she was neither blind nor deaf, and that her hoofs were sound. He bought her for $2 and put her in his pasture. In two weeks she was able to move at a trot. At the end of the third week she even made a feeble attempt to buck the harness off her back. These things had happened five years before. Now, in her twenty-third year, her eyes were glazing, but she was still able to totter down the road at a shuffle that was fast enough to suit Anthony Hazzard. Speed, in fact, he did not like. Most of all, she performed her work on rations that would have starved a pony. In the summer, a slight chance to graze in the pasture was all that she needed. In the winter, however, he put her up in the barn and gave her a modicum of hay from time to time. Grain was a luxury she had quite forgotten.
He climbed into the mow, therefore, and worked loose a forkful of hay. This he weighed with care. He knew to an ounce how much nutriment she needed to keep body and soul together. When he had shaken off some of the fork load, he threw the rest into her manger, and at once she was greedily eating it. He looked down upon her, nodding his head with satisfaction. He felt a vague warmth of heart. Not because he was giving her happiness, but because the wrecked machine could still use fuel—which promised that it could still run. And, if she had to be destroyed in the next summer, he had a good chance of getting for her hide as much, at least, as he had originally paid for her.
This was a small thing. But out of such minutiae, in the beginning, he had built up his fortune. Still it was the little things that gave him his greatest pleasure in life, and not those bold business strokes by which he had made thousands and tens of thousands. Money, to Anthony Hazzard, was an abstract thing, like a philosophical concept, a power to be played with, loved, enjoyed in the distance. It was a mental speculation. But it was not a thing to be put to mundane use. As for life and the facts of life, they had no relation whatsoever to his fortune in hard cash.
He was climbing out of the haymow, when he stumbled against one of the stalls, and the noise he made received a strange echo from beneath the floor, a small, shrill noise, full of a whining complaint.
It came from the cellar, no doubt. A house had stood here, once, and the barn had been built over its foundations. So he opened the trap door and passed down into the damp, cold atmosphere beneath. There, almost instantly, the lantern light fell upon a pool of white in the corner, where, in a heap of yellow old straw made into a nest, a snowy pup was curled.
ITS head was raised; its mouth was open, protesting that it was hungry, very hungry. He brought the lantern closer. What the breed was, he did not know, but it was a short-haired sleek thing, with wide-open eyes filmed across with blue. It blinked at the lantern light, and still it howled with piercing, dreary voice, its weak head wobbling from side to side.
He was of two minds. It was barely possible that this creature, raised for a few weeks, might be sold for a dollar or two. But it was more probable that it would consume more food than its selling price. No, it was decidedly best to remove it from the world. He dropped it into his hat and carried it up the steps. From the corner hydrant he filled a bucket with water. Then he dropped it in and placed a quantity of compacted hay in the mouth of the bucket to be sure that the pup would be forced down under the surface. After a time he removed the hay and lifted the bucket with its dimly floating shape, and went outside. Water and the dead body he flung far out on the sleet-covered corral. The coyotes would find it the next night, no doubt.
He went back to the barn and took the curry-comb and brush. Not that he cared to improve the appearance of the old gray, but he had been told—and he believed it—that a thorough grooming was as good for a horse as a heavy feed. So, if he diminished the rations, he increased the grooming, and, if the bones thrust out farther and farther through the hide of the old mare, he attributed it to old age, not to famine—just as he attributed his own physical feebleness and gaunt body to the same reason.
He had finished the grooming and the harnessing, when he heard again, from the cellar, a sharp, wailing, small voice. Sharp prickles of cold ran through the flesh of Anthony Hazzard. He bent his ear and made sure of the sound. The first premonition went thrillingly through him that the ghost of the murdered little creature had come back to its home to haunt him.
Superstition, however, had small place in the life of Hazzard. He picked up the lantern and went down dauntlessly to explore. When he reached the lower floor again, he saw one little puppy standing in the middle of the damp, hard-beaten ground, staggering with weakness, putting all its strength in the work of its lungs.
What had become of the mother, he wondered as he looked at the other pup. It had not been fed for a long time. That was obvious from the fallen sides of this youngster. But, after all, there were many reasons for a quick end to her life. Hardly a night passed without one or more of the timber wolves stealing down into the village to kill what they could. A champ of those bone-breaking jaws might have killed her. Or the hurricane itself was reason enough, if she had been caught out in it while she was hunting.
Here was one stroke remaining to be done to finish the history of this family. He picked up the small animal and carried it up to the barn floor. The moment it felt the warmth of his hand, it snuggled closer.
He put it down on the floor. It not only stood securely on its legs, but it even toddled awkwardly toward him, making little mewing noises, like a kitten. He did not like the idea of dropping that puppy into the water. For, thinking of drowning, it seemed a black and dismal death. The wind struck at the barn and made it shudder to the heel. That was the better way. Through every crevice in the wall of the barn the cold reached a hand at him. In a thrice, if it were exposed to the blast, the puppy would be cut to the heart by the cold, grow numb, and die. And must not death come, sooner or later, to all things? It must! He could not be called cruel, he decided, for sending this small life to follow its brothers and its sisters. So he stepped out into the brightening, bitter morning and dropped the puppy into a drift of snow. A quick extinction. It broke through the upper crust instantly. All that surprised him was that there had been no wail of complaint. Then, from the outer edge of the drift, the snow gave way and the puppy came waddling forth, staggering, gasping, but victorious. It came to him and climbed up until its forepaws rested upon the cuff of his trousers and so, shuddering with the bitterness of the cold, it locked up to him and wagged its ridiculous tail, as though, indeed, this had been merely a prank played upon him, a sort of cruel game. The miracle that struck Anthony Hazzard was that it did not wail with the cold, the pain, the strangeness, the terror of this broad blank world that had been so suddenly revealed to it. Neither did Hazzard whine when fortune, at various times in his life, had struck him down. He had risen again without a murmur. He loved courage more than anything in the world.
He picked up the puppy, therefore, and went back with it into the barn. He was troubled, disgusted with himself. To change one's mind seemed to him the most shameful thing in the world. Here he needed only a pinch of his fingers, and this work would be done.
But suppose that this puppy grew, and the legs grew strong, and the jaws powerful, and the eyes keen and the heart great—that would be a different thing. Even he could not have killed such a mature dog without forethought—and afterthought. For the afterthought is what we dread. Moreover, since it had escaped death, even at his own hands, he could not help regarding the tiny creature with a renewed interest, a greater respect. It seemed that there must be something more than chance that had kept it safe—something more than chance that had kept it alive through the peril of the snowdrift and the cold. Even now it was so perfectly recovered that it was trying to crawl up his sleeve on the inside, wagging that tireless tail all the time and snuffling at his skin in search of food. Hazzard felt relieved. He had put the matter on such a plane that he could excuse himself, now, for changing that resolute mind of his. Moreover, a new use for the puppy had occurred to him.
There was little doubt, after this morning, that Anne was not as much altered as he had hoped she was after her three years with him. There were still girlish, foolish impulses in her. He would have banished her from his house at once, but when he thought what he would have to pay a cook to come for the working seasons on the farm, and when he thought how weary would be the work of cookery for himself which had been lifted from his hands during these three years, and of all the dollars she saved him in the course of time by her expert repairing of socks and clothes—those eternal perishables—he groaned. He must keep her if he could. He must make her contented. But what makes a girl contented? The gift of something that can be wholly hers to love, mother, guard, and to nourish.
That was why they hungered for children. Perhaps that hunger was working now in the breast of Anne. And might it not be appeased by the gift of the puppy?
Suddenly, as he appreciated how deep his intelligence had struck, he smote his hands together and chuckled aloud, a sound of mirth that had not passed through his throat for many a year, perhaps.
It was not the pretext for saving the puppy, of course, that warmed his heart. It was the immense satisfaction of overreaching the girl. So he carried the puppy to the kitchen door. He peered through the window, first, and there he saw Anne Hazzard sitting in exactly the same position in which he had left her, with her head a little raised, her eyes dead. It made him very serious. For, as a rule, she was an active girl, as quick-handed as she was silent—since he had broken her to his wishes in all things. He opened the door.
"Well, Anne," he said, "turn and turn about is fair play. You give me some Christmas presents. Here's one for you." So he took the puppy out of his pocket and put it on the floor. It set up a loud wailing, at once. "That's its way of saying 'Merry Christmas,'" he said. And he waited, anxious.
There was only a moment during which the girl recovered from her absolute astonishment. Then the blank look left her and she ran to the tiny, wobbling creature with such a cry that the heart of Hazzard stopped. He had not dreamed that there was such emotional strength in her.
Now she had it in her lap, cuddling it, laughing over it, crying over it, and looking up to Hazzard with a face flushed and tear wet, and with eyes full of love for the whole world.
"Can it stand?" she asked him. And she put it on the floor.
Behold! It made straight for the legs of Anthony Hazzard with an uncanny speed.
"It loves you already, Uncle Anthony! Oh, a dog can tell its master. Isn't it a darling? Isn't it...?"
He fled through the door and hurried back to the barn. The morning was bright now. But what disturbed him the most was not the lateness of his start, nor the finding of the puppy. It was the transfused, transfigured face of Anne Hazzard. For, in an instant, at a touch, she had left stiff, cold, angular girlhood behind her and become a woman full of loveliness. What would this lead to? What changes? And he hated change.
"I figgered on openin' the gate and letting out one cow, but the whole dog-gone' herd come busting through on me," said Anthony Hazzard to himself.
IT had been a black, bleak world the night before, with all the trees naked except the night-dark evergreens herding thickly up the mountainsides; now all was white. From top to toe, where its mighty foot was planted in the heart of the valley, old Mount Matthew was purest, glistening white, pushing its head into the black storm clouds. Every bush and every twig of every tree was loaded with snow or shining with a thin coat of ice. Men went up and down the village street muffled to the eyes, and the frosted windowpanes shut out all inquiry of what went on within.
The gait of the gray was ideally suited for the icy surfaces of the road, for she moved at such a slow trot that her hoofs had time to take a firm grip before they were lifted, one by one. Ordinarily she traveled at the rate of four miles to the hour. Today, she made about three, an easy walking pace for a man. But not easy for Anthony Hazzard. All his strength was in his brain; his body had been long since wasted to a child's might. But his will was the will of a giant. Now as the cold struck him fully in the face on leaving the sheltered street of the town, he even scorned to turn up his collar. The flesh was no more to him than to some hermit of the woods. If it were mortified, he was only the better prepared for the hardships of the life that lay before him, and penury meant bitter days. These others, poor fools, lived each day for the joy they could get out of it. His course was how much wiser.
He looked back to the village. Every chimney gave forth great columns of smoke, and the storm tore them away from the mouths of stone and flung them heavily across the countryside. Each pouring funnel of smoke meant a fire raging through the day, beginning even so early, for the sake of cooking great feasts for those who were behind the walls. Anthony Hazzard regarded them with a sort of sad contempt. They were flinging away their substance for the sake of a filled stomach that would be empty a dozen hours later. They were pouring forth money from their pocketbooks for the sake of bewildering and stupefying their brains. And, at the end of all of this, they were roused at the end of the week by the fat bills coming from the grocer, the butcher, even from the dressmaker.
Anthony Hazzard sighed. Nine tenths of the money in the world is spent by fools on their folly, he decided. But for every mistake they made, somewhere stood some grim-handed genius to make a profit of their errors. Such a one was he. All those feasters in the village, all those pouring chimneys in the ranch houses through that range of mountains, were laboring, in the end, for him. The money that went to the butcher should have gone to pay the interest. But the butcher's bill was new; the mortgage was an old affair. Surely, when they had made all of the other payments so promptly, they should be able to dodge the moneylender for a few days or perhaps even for weeks.
They knew him not! They knew him not! Better attempt to dodge fate than to try to avoid him. Mercy was not in his heart. Tenderness was not in his soul. When the tears rose in their eyes and the quiver came into their voices, he only scorned them the more bitterly. For this was the chief article of his creed—that a fool must digest the fruits of his folly.
These thoughts so warmed him that he did not notice that the snow was beginning to fall once more and the wind rise until a small handful dropped from the brim of his hat down his neck. He turned up his collar, after that, and still the increasing wind drove the sharp edge of the cold through his bones. He had an old sheepskin robe in the buckboard for such times as this. It was a yellow, worn, tattered thing, but it was thrice as warm as blankets. In this he wrapped himself to the neck and drove on in comfort. The snow blew thicker. It made a blinding sheet before him, ever falling, ever renewed, but he paid not the slightest heed to that. The gray mare would keep to the correct way. She had an extra sense that made it impossible for her to go astray. So he plodded on at a walking pace, although the mare was at her dog-trot, until half a dozen forms, clotted with snow, came up through the storm behind him.
It was the sheriff and five of the young men of the town at his side. They shook off the snow and beat their hands together to restore the circulation while the sheriff came closer to the buckboard and mumbled through frost-stiffened lips.
"Have you seen a rider go down this road, Hazzard?"
"Is there trouble up?" asked Hazzard. He reached under the seat to make sure that his double-barreled shotgun with the sawed-off barrels was with him. Time had been when a revolver would have been sure enough for him. But since gathering weakness had unsteadied his hands, he needed a weapon with a broader cast. The shotgun was made to order for his purposes. As well might a highwayman face a cannon as that blunderbuss. He kept it constantly in good condition and heavily loaded. Twice he had had cause to use it, and on both occasions it had served him well.
"Harry Fortune has busted out of prison and come back," said the sheriff.
Anthony Hazzard nodded. He remembered the Fortune boy well. First, he had been one of those freckle-faced mischiefs who are the cause of broken windows in houses. He had grown up with a saucy grin on his face and his hand doubled into a fist. All of this was very well in childhood. But when he reached manhood, he was still filled with the same spirit, and, as a result, he was brought to trial accused with the killing of Sam Marberry. The trial was a mere formality. People were ready and willing to believe that such a fellow as Harry Fortune, constantly hunting for trouble, had finally scared up trouble that was big enough to suit the ambitions of any man. The judge gave him fifteen years in prison. All that had happened some four years before. No, it was in the same year in which he had acquired the Mackinaw that at present helped protect him from the cold.
"Did he drop anybody while he was comin' out of prison?" asked Hazzard.
"He got out without bein' seen. But he was sighted a couple of times yesterday and this morning around these parts. I figgered that he might be makin' out for his chum's house... young Crawford, you know?"
"Was Crawford his chum?" murmured Hazzard.
"They were pretty thick. You've seen no trace of him out this way?"
"I ain't passed a soul."
"Well," said the sheriff, grinning "an eagle might miss something, but I guess you ain't begun to overlook nothin', Hazzard. We're on the wrong trail, boys. Harry Fortune ain't out this way."
They turned back. In another moment the falling snow had curtained them away, and Anthony Hazzard drove on. He thought of young Harry Fortune blundering through the snow, frozen, starved, but still like a foolish moth fluttering back to the flame that had burned it. After all, Harry was not so young now. He must be close to thirty. Certainly, if he had brains, he had need to show them. Usually the careers of criminals impressed Hazzard in that way—he was amused, not horrified. Often he had said to himself that, if he had chosen the pathway of crime to high fortune, he would have given all the sheriffs and the marshals in the West something to think about before he was captured.
These lawbreakers were, almost all of them, totally unfitted for their work. They were passionate men; their crimes were the result of their passions let loose. Whereas it was obvious that the only successful criminal must be one who acts in the coldest blood. He who professes to be a gunfighter should never taste alcohol or any other stimulant. Tobacco and coffee and all other nerve poisons should be taboo. He should work with his guns every day, not for a few moments, but for hours. A pianist must have certain hours of practice every day. But only his living depends upon his skill, whereas the very life of the gunfighter hangs on a thread. He must always be perfect. Anthony Hazzard, if he had chosen, could have been a gunfighter whose deeds would have filled a great space. However, there were few or none like him. The others were of the nature of this poor Harry Fortune who, the moment he escaped from prison, headed straight back for the district where his face and form were sure to be instantly recognized.
Whereas he, Anthony Hazzard, loved nothing in the world so much that he would care to return to it. He could never have been betrayed by friends, because he had none. As he thought of the invincibility of his nature, a spirit of thankfulness rolled through his heart, thankfulness to God and admiration of the Creator who had, at the last, made one perfect man.
With these pleasant thoughts the miles had been drifting slowly behind him and now he found himself at the Crawford place, which was his destination. He drove into the shed where the gray mare would be sheltered from the wind. Instantly her head was buried in the hay with which the manger was filled on this Christmas Day. But for that matter, the Crawfords were always the same. Their foolish liberality every day of the year hung out a sign that made all men welcome. Well, there would soon be an end to their career. Before the morrow ended, they would be known through the world for what they were—fools.
When he attempted to get out of the buckboard, his legs failed him. The cold had eaten far deeper into his body than he had suspected. He had to remain there for a moment, kneading the stiff muscles before he could clamber out. Then he brushed the snow from the back of the gray and grinned as he pushed an extra feed of hay closer to her. She was making such good use of her time that he decided that this day and all of tomorrow he would not need to give her fodder at home.
Then he went to the house, reeling and staggering in the force of the wind. He was met at the door by young Sue Crawford, her sleeves rolled up to the elbows, her face crimson with Christmas cheer. She caught him in her strong young arms and drew him into the house. She closed the door behind him. She drew off the great sheepskin. She took off his hat and knocked the snow from it.
"Lord, Lord! Mister Hazzard!" she said. "Your age and comin' out in weather like this!" She cast open a door into the great living room, where the fire roared loudly on the hearth.
"Ma! Dad!" she called. "Here's Mister Hazzard come out to wish us Merry Christmas. Think of that!"
Perhaps Mr. Crawford would think of something else, also. No, he came with his broad red face covered with smiles. He would have put his guest into a chair near the fire, but Hazzard asked him for a private word. So they went together out of the living room.
In the hall they encountered Sam Crawford, taller than his father, a lean fellow with a gloomy face. He started at the sight of them, and drew back against the wall to let them pass.
"I been hearin' news about your old chum," said Hazzard.
"Chum?" snapped out Sam. "What chum?"
"Why, who but Harry Fortune? Don't you know that he's loose?"
"Aye," said Sam. "I know about that. And I know that they's fifteen hundred dollars' reward offered for him. Who's gonna get the money? That's the next question." And he shouldered off down the hall.
"He seems sort of excited," said the money-lender.
"Him?" answered the father. "Oh, that's just Sam's way. There ain't much content in Sam. He don't see nothin' but trouble in this here world. He's been up in his room all day foolin' around with his guns like he was gettin' ready for a fight."
"Well," said Hazzard, "he's a fightin' man, they tell me."
"Tolerable." said John Crawford. "It ain't the sort of thing that I like. But here we are, Hazzard," he went on, opening the door of a smaller room. "Here we are. It's a mite chilly here, but we can talk private. I'm glad you come. Partly to see you, partly because I got good news for you."
"Yes, I can pay."
IT was a staggering blow to Anthony Hazzard. He had already seen the big Crawford place, with all of its acres, all of its buildings, all of its horses and cows and sheep, passing into his hands. Not that he wished to live in it. No, but as he had done before with other estates, he would have managed it carefully for a year or two, put all in good order, and then sold for a cracking price. Such was the picture that had just been blotted out by the words of John Crawford.
"You can pay, eh?" he muttered. "Maybe you've struck a gold mine on the place, Crawford?"
"Not that. But I was in to see the bank yesterday. It was a pretty long fight. Young Hallett is a bit sweet on Sue. Otherwise, maybe it wouldn't've gone through."
"And the bank," breathed Hazzard, "has give you enough to clear off the mortgage?"
The other turned a startled glance upon him. "Clear it off, man? Of course not! But they've advanced enough to pay off this year's interest."
Dancing lights of joy appeared before the brain of Anthony Hazzard. He was able to breathe deeply again.
"Interest is interest," he said dryly, "but principal is principal. This here was a five-year mortgage, Crawford, and the time is up, and the grace is up. I just dropped out here today to sort of remind you that tomorrow is the day."
Mr. Crawford had been smoking a cigar, and a good one. Now he removed it from his mouth and began to turn it around between thumb and forefinger—that had turned to iron and ground the tobacco leaf to a shapeless pulp. He stared at his guest.
"Look here, Hazzard." he said faintly, "I don't hear you right. You don't mean that you're gonna come out here on Christmas Day and hold a gun to my head like this here?"
"There is three hundred and sixty-five days in the year," said Hazzard, falling back comfortably upon an old doctrine of his. "Some folks splits them days up and says that here is a day for rest, and here is a day for work. Well, sir, I don't see no reason at all in that. I never seen a Sunday come along when I wasn't as strong as I am on Saturday or on Monday. Sunday is a mighty long, mighty tiresome day. These here extras, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, don't bother me none. The earth is still turnin' around. Men and women are gettin' older, folks is dyin' and bein' born, just the same on Christmas as on any other day. So I've come out here mighty punctual to let you know that tomorrow is the last day. You can make your plans better, maybe, with that in your mind."
The glance of Crawford wandered vacantly around the room. The color was dying from his face, and the light from his eyes. The gray mare was eating the hay in the Crawford barn, and the heart of Anthony Hazzard was at peace with the world.
"Hazzard," said the rancher in a husky voice, "this here is death to me."
Anthony Hazzard, shrugging his shoulders, said not a word in reply, but he fixed his glance steadily upon the other. He was not averse from scenes like this. They were his comfort. For, every time he saw a man stricken down, it was a surety to him that his own way of living was the right way. Here was big Crawford, for example. If anyone had been asked, that day, who was the happiest man, whose lot he would prefer, that of Crawford with his big ranch, his big happy family, or the moneylender in his starved household, would they have hesitated to choose Crawford and his destiny? But they were wrong, wrong. Here, in a word, he had crushed the rancher utterly.
"I mean," said Crawford, "that you ain't looked into this here, or you wouldn't talk this way. I've put out a lot of money into the ranch this year. It ain't payin' me back right away. But next spring I'll get the harvest of it. I've got hay in the barns. I got extra sheds built. Hazzard, maybe you don't know it, but, with this here hard winter comin' on, I got enough to hand feed every one of my steers right through to the time of the thaw. I can keep 'em all in good shape, while there's thousands that are dyin' out on the range. What's the result? Next spring, when beef is short and prices is high, I can sell early and sell fat beef that'll bring the luxury prices in Chicago. Well, Hazzard, I'll make enough in May to clear off this whole dog-gone' mortgage. Y'understand? Meantime, I got enough to pay this year's interest. The bank seen that I was really in good shape, or it would never have loaned me the money. I'll tell you what I'll do. Take the interest... I got it ready for you now. Then let the mortgage ride till May. I'll pay off the mortgage then and pay you a whole year's interest for the five months. Ain't that fair to you?"
It was all Anthony Hazzard could do to keep from smiling. Here, indeed, was the very king of fools. Here was a man who showed him beforehand how much he could gain by seizing the property at that moment. The idiot expected him to hold off. However, he managed to maintain a decently grave expression.
"I hear what you say, and I believe you, Crawford," he answered. "The only trouble is that it's a gamble. I ain't a young man. I've been in this here business for quite a while. I've watched cattle and I've watched the cattle market. It'll take a wiser man than Solomon ever was to know in December what the price of beef is gonna be in May. A mighty sight wiser man. They got millions of tons of beef on ice, the packers have. Because we got some blizzards down here in this little corner of the country, d'you think that it's gonna make much difference to them? No, sir, I don't.
"They're preparin' for May, right now. But that ain't the main thing. If it was my own money that I loaned to you, it would be different. But it ain't my own. How could a beggar like me go around lendin' money in lumps of twenty thousand at a time? I couldn't do it. That stands to be reasonable. No, sir, what I told you when I give you the money is true. This here coin come from friends of mine that trust in my business judgment. They give me a mighty small commission to work on for 'em. Hardly enough to think about.
"Well, sir, can I gamble on price with their money? Suppose that a fire was to come hoppin' along and burn up some of your sheds? Where would you be then? Suppose that you've made a mistake on how much hay you need to carry them cows through? I got to think of all those things, Crawford. It ain't what I want to do. I'm a tender-hearted man, Crawford. I wouldn't spoil your happiness. It's the friends that have trusted me that I got to look out for."
A dark flush passed over the face of the rancher. His jaw set. "Is this final, Hazzard?" he snapped out.
"I'm mighty sorry. It's got to be final. You can pay that interest tomorrow. If the principal ain't ready, I got to foreclose, Crawford. But, if things is as good as you say, you'll get a buyer who'll pay you the full value of the place."
"At this here season of the year?" said the other bitterly. "With the blizzard blowin', with everybody pinched, with the ranchers runnin' to the banks for help? With all the money loaned out and none comin' in? Who's gonna buck this weather and these roads to even come out and look at what I got?"
"Weather," said Hazzard, "ain't made to order for no man."
"How much would you offer yourself?" asked the other sharply.
"I might talk to the friends that made that loan. I dunno that they'd be willin' to take the place at much more'n the mortgage they got ridin' on it now. They don't want it. They don't want to own land."
There was a groan from Crawford. "That," he said, "is ruin." He took a turn through the room, then came back and faced his companion. "Well, Hazzard," he said, "five years ago, when I went to you, I laughed at them that told me that I'd gone to a wolf that would eat me. But they were right. I'm down, and now you're putting your teeth in my throat the same as you've drunk the blood of a pile of folks before me."
Hazzard drew back a little, not from fear, but rather to view the other more carefully. Anger, to him, was only less ridiculous than cowardice itself. But it was an infinite enjoyment to see this big fellow shaken and crumbling with shame and rage and grief. It was a proof, again, of Hazzard's greater wisdom, his greater strength.
"That's savage talk," he said. "But it ain't me that you're aimin' at, Crawford. I'm only a poor man... the same as you'll be after tomorrow."
"Poor?" thundered the other. "Why, you infernal hypocrite, d'you suppose that you've pulled the wool over the eyes of anybody that wants to see what the truth is? Not a bit! Everybody in the range knows about you, Hazzard. They know that you're worth a cool million, at least. Or maybe more than that. Maybe millions! Off the Steele place you cleaned up a hundred and fifty thousand flat. Off poor old Emmett you got a quarter of a million. And there's a pile of others too many to mention. Wherever there was bad luck, you've come like a buzzard and got fat!"
"You got a pile of language," said Hazzard without the slightest emotion. "But words don't mean much when you need dollars."
"Dollars? The devil, man... d'you think that dollars is the only thing in the world worth livin' for? Right now, would I trade the life that I got ahead of me for the life that you got? Here we are the same age to a month. You're half a step from dyin'. And I'm still young enough to make a new start. And when I make the new start, no matter how small it is, I'll be happier in a day than you are in a year."
"It ain't you that I pity," said the other coldly. "An old fool deserves what he gets. But your kids I'm sort of sorry for."
"Bah!" sneered Crawford. "We don't need your pity. They'll stick by me to the last of 'em. And they'll be happy, too, doin' their bit to help out."
"Sam," said Hazzard in his acid voice, "might be kind of missin' the money to pay his gamblin' debts, don't you think?"
He had touched the sore point, and Crawford winced. "Leave Sam be," he said. "You've stayed long enough here on Christmas Day. I'll be forgettin' myself if you hang around much longer." He followed his departing guest to the front door. "Mind you this!" he thundered as old Hazzard staggered out into the gale. "There'll be more happiness in this here house between now and night than there ever was with you in a whole life! Mind you that, Hazzard, and... Merry Christmas!"
HE could not help feeling that, on the whole, his Christmas morning visit had been a failure. However, although the courage of John Crawford had sustained him under the first blow, it might be a different tale on the morrow. Still, the heart of Hazzard was a little warmed by the courage with which the veteran had faced his fortune. Even of young men, few could have withstood the shock so well. He went out to the gray mare and found her still gorging herself, so he made his preparations for departure slowly, spending a full fifteen minutes wrapping himself in the sheepskins and gathering up the reins before, reluctantly, he drew her from the manger and backed her out into the storm once more.
It cut him from the side now, instead of straight before his face, and the mare, warmed and strong with food, set off at her best gait. It was a storm that came in gusts, like a spring wind. One moment it howled and tore at him and sent an Arctic chill to the very marrow of his bones. The next moment it eased away until he could hear the crunching of the wheels through the snow and the rattle of the thousand loose boards and bolts in the wagon. However, no matter for the weather. Tomorrow, unless a miracle happened, he would be the master of the Crawford ranch. Yes, and more than that, he would make the very brains of John Crawford work for him. A masterful rancher John Crawford had ever been. His frailty had been in the spending of money, not the making of it. And all of his ideas about fattening his cows through the winter and selling them in the spring seemed perfectly sound to the money-lender.
When May came, two things would be chiefly needed—hard cash and fat cattle. And Anthony Hazzard would have both. Before all was done, what with the cattle sales, and then the sale of the Crawford place itself in the summer, together with what he would be able to make as premiums on short loans, he would clear a clean half million at the very least.
It was a shock to find, for the second time that day, that the world was not quite so blind as he had given it the credit of being. They could at least see the length of their own noses. Which meant, in the figures of Crawford, that they suspected him of being worth a million. Even then, how vastly their imaginings lagged behind the truth. Stored away here and there in small sums, but on the whole, working steadily for him at immense rates of interest, he had between $8,000,000 and $9,000,000. Every morning when he rose, it was that beautiful thought that warmed him. Three times a day when he sat down to his naked board, it was the knowledge of his working millions that fed him fat. $9,000,000 in round figures before the spring was over. Another year, and the sum might be $10,000,000!
At this, he forgot even the storm itself, and smiled at the ears of the mare pressed flat back along her neck as she forged down the road. She hated him, but he compelled her to his will. She was a symbol of the world in which he lived. All hated him, but all were compelled to do his will. As for applause, approbation, whose did he wish for except his own? Shall a wise man ask for the praise of fools?
He crossed a bridge that, in a lull of the wind, sounded hollow beneath the hoofs of the mare. On the farther side of the bridge the mare shied and snorted. There, barely perceptible through a drift of snow, he made out the outlines of a downed horse. Anthony Hazzard drove on with a melancholy mind. This thing alone, in all the world, had the power to make him sad. For, when his own life came to an end, who would be able to carry on his work? Aye, or who would be able to enjoy the benefits of it? Who, in all the world?
They reached a hill and went up it at a walk. From the top, he looked over the crystal-white countryside, all closely powdered. For as fast as the wind shook the snow from the trees, fresh showers of the flakes piled every branch full. A small whirlpool of snow was going down the farther slope, not on the road, but cross country. No, it was not a whirlpool in the storm, for it was traveling against the wind. He strained his eyes. It was a man on foot, struggling against the cyclone.
Anthony Hazzard watched with a dull interest. Another fool, challenging the elements as John Crawford had just challenged him. Retribution was not far away. He saw the man pause, then fall. Was he to die there? No, he was up again and struggling ahead. Perhaps that horse by the roadside had been his. Once more he went down.
They would not find him until the spring of the year. Some people, perhaps, would have ventured forth through the snows to save the man. But why should he, hated by all things in the world, lift a hand to save another? Indeed, among all living things, what was there that did not dread and shun him? Only one, a feeble, dim-eyed, foolish puppy a few weeks old.
The traveler came to his feet for yet a third time. It was very strange. Anthony Hazzard, in his excitement, actually stood up in the seat to watch, for when men went down in the cold and the snow from exhaustion, they rarely stood up again. And, if they did, the second fall was the end of them. But yonder was an indomitable will that struggled forward still. Such a man, indeed, might be worth saving; it appealed to the one weakness in the invincible heart of Anthony Hazzard—his admiration for courage and for physical endurance.
He made sure that the brandy flask was in his pocket. Then he jumped from the wagon and started across the field. It was bad going, but he was too interested to mind that. Just as he reached the man, the latter went down again and lay in a heap as Hazzard came to him and lifted his head to pour the brandy between his lips. Anthony Hazzard saw that it was the hunted man, Harry Fortune himself—and very changed from the joyous and mischievous youth who had been sent to prison for murder. Here was a strong-faced man, pale with the prison pallor, strong-jawed, deep-browed, a handsome and arresting face.
The money-lender stared down at him bewildered, and then a picture in his own mind crossed the face before him. There was a reward—a $1,500 reward for the body of Harry Fortune, alive or dead.
$1,500, at ten percent—and he never made loans for a smaller interest—meant a $150 a year. Why, when he was a young man he had worked for less money than that. $1,500!
He fumbled through the pockets of the senseless man. There were two revolvers, new, well kept. He transferred them to his own pockets. Now he was master of the situation. How fate and fortune favor the strong-minded, the keen of eye. But to the soft, maudlin heart, whatever comes, except calamity, in the end? Wherein was Achilles merciful? Wherein was Alexander kind? Wherein except in nothing. And so with Anthony Hazzard. The same great spirit breathed in him, he felt.
He had two alternatives, or three. He could wait for the cold to kill this man, which it would do in a very few moments, or he could put a bullet through his head, which would be the simplest way. But there was a better thing, and that was to take the living prisoner to the town. The living prisoner, when the sheriff and the young warriors had been battling with the elements all the day in the search for this man. Exhaustion would make him helpless. If not, his guns were in the hands of Hazzard.
So he put the flask to the lips of his captive and poured down a generous dram. A small investment for the sake of $1,500, one would say, but Anthony Hazzard muttered as he saw the precious liquid flow. It was the only medicine he would keep in his house. For he who uses medicines, in the end uses doctors, and doctors cost money.
The effect of the stimulant was almost instant. The fugitive staggered, and with the aid of Hazzard was drawn to his feet.
"A friend, young man, a friend," Hazzard kept saying as though he were speaking to a drunkard.
And the other, staggering, sinking: "Do you know me?"
"I never seen you before," lied Hazzard with perfect calm.
"Thank heaven... that you've come. Get me to a house. I've got money to repay you for your trouble. Get me to a house and food. I haven't eaten for..."
His voice thickened and fell away to a mumble. But Hazzard was already supporting him toward the road. It was a fearful struggle, for the meager strength of the old man gave way under the burden. Only the thought of that reward sustained him. Even so, twice he had to pause and administer more brandy, but at last they reached the wagon and by a mighty effort, with Harry Fortune struggling to help, the fugitive was hoisted into the buckboard.
There, Hazzard wrapped the sheepskin around him. For himself he needed no extra covering. Over the sheepskin he heaped the snow with which the bed of the buckboard was filled. Then he drove on toward the town.
He needed to give no attention to the gray mare. She would find the way home with a flawless instinct. He could keep his eye on the exhausted man, for fear lest his senses and his strength returned under the influence of the brandy. But he hardly stirred. Only his voice raved of the wind, the cold, and of Sam Crawford.
Why was young Crawford so fixed in his mind? Perhaps, since they had been old friends, because he had been traveling to the house of Crawford in the hope of assistance. Yet, when Hazzard discovered him, he had been traveling in the opposite direction. This, however, was a question that did not matter. The $1,500 was all that counted, not what went on in the brain of the fugitive.
They reached the town. What if someone should see the bundle lying in the back of the wagon? No, not a soul looked forth. The houses were half buried in white heaps. The windows were curtained across with congealed steam and frost. He would go to the sheriff's house—and yet that might not be wise. When he left the wagon to get the sheriff, the fugitive, warmed and rested, might escape. It was better to take him home and guard him while he sent Anne Hazzard for the man of the law. So he let the gray mare amble down the street and turn in at the familiar entrance.
IN the back yard he restrained the gray mare from tugging on toward the barn and shouted: "Anne! Oh, Anne!" After a time her voice answered. The kitchen door dashed open and she stood above him. So very dark was that Christmas Day with all the army of black clouds massed across the sky, that Anthony Hazzard noticed how the lamplight from the kitchen followed Anne and clung about her like a soft yellow mist.
"Anne," he said. "Come quick."
She seemed to fly down the steps and was instantly beside him, holding one of his hands. "Uncle Anthony, dear Uncle Anthony!" she cried. "You've frozen yourself, driving out on this terrible day."
There was something caressing in her voice that he had never heard in it before and he analyzed it quickly. She had decided that he was very angered by her absurd purchase of Christmas gifts. Therefore, she was determined to make up all of her lost ground with him, in the desperate hope that, in the end, she would receive a legacy that would be worth her while. He felt that he saw this with a perfect clearness. And he said dryly: "I'm doing smart enough. But I got something in the rig, here, that I might need your help with. Look here." He raked away the snow and tugged off the sheepskin robe. The form of the fugitive was exposed.
She was full of excitement. Who was he? Why was he there? Had her uncle picked him up on the road?
He made no reply to any of these questions. It was rather a habit with him to overlook ordinary questions in a perfect silence. He and the girl now had their hands full. Harry Fortune was completely collapsed on the floor of the wagon. He lay on his back, with his head fallen to one side, incapable of stirring. Yet it seemed a deep sleep rather than a faint, because he mumbled and murmured an attempt at an answer when they spoke to him.
"Poor fellow." The girl sighed. "Oh, Uncle Anthony, you've saved one poor little life today. And now here is another. Where did you find him?"
Uncle Anthony was silent still. He waved the girl to the head of Harry Fortune. He himself took the sleeper's feet. So they worked him out of the buckboard and into a standing position in the snow. Whenever his feet were under him, Fortune seemed to recover some of his strength. So he did now, and bore most of his own weight going up the back steps into the kitchen, with one arm flung over the strong young shoulders of Anne.
They laid him down on the kitchen floor beside the stove, in which Anne built up a rousing fire. As the fire roared and the chimney began to turn red, a strong glow of heat rolled across the room. Harry Fortune was swathed in blankets after they had torn off his boots and his soaking coat. He was wrapped in thick blankets and a pair of pillows placed under his head. Over him hung Anne Hazzard.
"Is he going to die? Is he going to die?" she kept moaning. "Will he die, Uncle Anthony?"
"You talk plumb foolish," Uncle Anthony said at last. "Of course he ain't going to die. He's more exhausted than anything else. Must've been going days and days without no sleep."
"What in the world could make him do that?"
"Girl," he said, "don't you know who that is?"
"No, no. Ah," she whispered, drawing back a little. "He who killed..."
"No matter who he killed," said her uncle, "there lies Harry Fortune. Or, take it another way," he said, grinning at her. "There lies fifteen hundred dollars ready to be gathered in by somebody. Fifteen hundred dollars... that's wages for a cowpuncher for two years and a half, easy. All for a part of a day's work."
"As if you would, dear Uncle Anthony," said the girl, looking at him with the same new, bright caress in her eyes that he had first noticed when she had run down to the wagon. Yes, an expression of actual fondness and tenderness. Could it, indeed, be hypocrisy, or had something brought to light in her a great well of real love for him?
He put aside that second surmise the instant it popped into his head, and still it returned again, persistent as a ferret. For there was a genuine ring to her voice. There was a real light in her eyes. He could not deny such things as these. But what had worked the change? Certainly his crisp treatment of her that morning could not account for it. It was as though the spirit of this Christmas Day had possessed her with invincible good humor, invincible love for all the world.
A fear passed through Anthony Hazzard, the same fear that sweeps over a brave man at the very thought of a ghost.
"As if you would take a reward and turn over that poor man to the law. But I know you better."
"You do, eh?" he growled out at her. "You know me better? Since when did you start readin' me like a book?"
She merely laughed in his face, and all the while her eyes were swimming with tenderness. "Jerry and I know all about you, dear Uncle Anthony," she said.
On a chair by the stove stood a basket. Out of the cloth with which it was turned into a nest, she lifted a morsel of white puppyhood and placed it on the floor. It blinked and yawned. Then it made straight for Anthony Hazzard and planted its forepaws on his instep and looked up to his face, towering high above, and wagged its tail.
"You see?" cried the girl. "Jerry knows. You can't fool a dog, Uncle Anthony. But, oh, how you've fooled me until today."
He thrust the puppy away from his foot. Then he hurried outdoors, muttering. But the fear in his heart was colder than the wind and the snow that whirled up into his face. He had denied resolutely, forever, that there was any reality in these festivals, these holidays. They were mere names that men erected so that they might devote certain times to indolent folly. Yet it seemed, indeed, that some inner spirit of this day had crept into the girl just as it had crept into the household and the heart of John Crawford. It was not the mere personal courage of John Crawford that had sent him singing back to his family after Hazzard dealt the blow, but it was the irresistible determination to keep this day merry. And there is a holiness in merriment. He had never thought of that before. What gives the sacred touch to childhood except that innocent joy in the world? What makes manhood a stained thing except the solemn gravity of the man's face and the man's mind? Gloom and sorrow, like hatred, are poisons. One stroke of laughter is the antidote.
The laughter of the girl haunted Uncle Anthony. He found the gray mare standing shivering in front of the barn door. So he unhitched her and led her in, and, while he was unharnessing her in front of her stall, he was truly delighted because she made a clumsy attempt to kick him. That was the world in which he believed, in which he had lived—a world in which the horse hated the man and the man hated the horse. Fear ruled the one and necessity ruled the other. Except for that, they would have destroyed one another. And so it was among men.
But if he were wrong—if there were truly such a thing as selfless love and devotion from one human heart to another—then how vast a desert was his life. And all that seeming pleasantness in the lives of other men, which he had ever looked upon as a mirage, was no illusion, but a truth, the greatest and the most beautiful truth in the world. If this day of Christmas were set apart not for indolence and self-gratification, but because of deep human kindness and a desire to make one another happy, then it meant that he had scaled the wrong mountain with his life's work.
It is not to be thought that Anthony Hazzard reasoned these things out so carefully as this. Brave as he was, he had not the courage to face such facts. But, growling, muttering, damning the hypocrisy of the world, he finished the unharnessing. He was so gratified by the viciousness of the gray mare that he reached for her another portion of hay in spite of all she had eaten in the Crawfords' shed.
Turning away, he reasoned further. There might be hypocrisy in everything and everyone. There might be sham in John Crawford, and folly and hypocrisy in Anne Hazzard, but little Jerry, as she called the dog, was not wise enough to attempt deceit. And little Jerry had crawled to his feet. If there were selfless love in the beast, why not in the human being? The gentle light that had been in the eyes of Anne Hazzard haunted him and drove him fiercely forward through the snow. He would, at least, deal her belief in him a death blow. When the sheriff came for Harry Fortune, that would be sufficient to waken her from her idle dream of his goodness.
He hurried on through the dull twilight of that stormy mid-afternoon. The wind, for the moment, was not touching the village. Although the storm clouds rolled in a vast procession, massed a mile deep across the sky, not a breath of the gale disturbed the little town. A waiting silence hung around it through which there was nothing so loud as the crunching of his feet through the brittle snow. Behind the frosted white windows, the lights gleamed yellow and a happy stir of voices was everywhere. Children were beating drums and blowing new tin horns that would be broken and useless and scarred before the nightfall. And the fragrance of mint and of roasted turkey and of candied sweet potatoes escaped from chimney and window and floated around him. Children, for one day, ruled the world. And why?
A step approached. Around the corner came Tom Lawrence, a man who he did not care to meet on this or any day, since, three years before, he had broken Tom Lawrence and then gathered in the fragments of his broken fortune. Big Tom paused in going by, then turned and put out a hand. Hazzard met him with a scowl, but he found the other smiling.
"Well, Hazzard," he said, "after all, maybe I was a fool and deserved what I got. Besides, old-timer, I'm a pile happier right now than I ever was when I had coin."
This was as great a shock as any that had befallen Hazzard on that day of days. He gaped at his companion. "I dunno that I heard you right," he managed to say at length. "You mean that you are really happy?"
"I am. The farm that I got ain't much after the ranch that I was used to. But I get along on it. I do my own plowin'. I cut my own hay. I sow my own grain and watch her grow."
"Maybe them things make you happy," said Hazzard. "But how about Missus Tom?"
"You're a queer gent," said Tom Lawrence, shaking his head. "Man would think that you don't want us to be happy. Missus Tom is better'n you ever seen her. Them nerves of hers is plumb forgot. She's too busy milkin' the cows and runnin' her creamery to think about nerves. She does that all by herself and keeps house and does the cookin' on the side. She's a real cook, Hazzard. If you don't believe, drop in, someday, and try us."
"But your boy, Jack. I suppose it hit him pretty hard?"
"It was better for him than for any of the rest of us. All he'd learned was how to spend. Now he's startin' to learn how to make. He's got a plan for irrigatin' that southeast forty..."
"Even Jack?" murmured the money-lender. He stared at Tom Lawrence as at some hydra whose heads have been struck off, but that spring back redoubled in number.
"I've give up having rheumatism, lost thirty pounds, told the doctor to go to the devil, and I'm livin' a real life, old-timer. I've got to hurry along. Merry Christmas, Hazzard!"
He strode on up the street and left Hazzard too dazed to make a last response. Truly, many deadly years had been stripped from the face and the shoulders of Tom Lawrence. But what stung Anthony Hazzard the most was a ringing note of cordiality in the voice that had bade him Merry Christmas.
Here, however, was the sheriff's house at hand.
HE stood on the porch for a moment, knocking the snow from his clothes, and, while he stood there, he heard the sheriff talking in the front room with some man with a piercing, disagreeable nasal voice.
"Why didn't you take him, then?" the sheriff was asking.
"I didn't have no gun on me," said the other.
"Well," said the sheriff, "I dunno that anybody would like to start about takin' Harry Fortune without a gun in his hand. I wouldn't, Sam."
It was Sam Crawford, then, who had ridden to town to give information about his former chum. Mr. Hazzard grew rigid with interest.
"Besides," said the sheriff, "I s'pose it wouldn't've looked very well, if you'd come in with your old partner..."
"Looks don't make a bit of difference," said Sam Crawford. "What I need is that money. Fifteen hundred is a stack of the long green."
"It's eighteen hundred now," said the sheriff. "It'll be two thousand, I suppose... before tomorrow. Folks are sort of wrought up about the way that he busted out of prison."
Anthony Hazzard started. What a fool he would have been to turn in his prisoner before the ultimate reward had been offered!
"He wanted food," said Sam Crawford. "He looked mighty spent, and said that he hadn't had a meal for a long time, and that he hadn't slept for a long time, neither. He wanted a place where he could sleep. I told him to go into one of the sheds and bed himself down in the hay... that I'd bring out the chuck to him that he wanted. I seen him get fixed in the hay in a warm place. Then I went to the house for a gun. When I come back, he was gone. He must've smelled a rat."
There was a little pause. "Maybe he did," said the sheriff coldly. "Would you've fought him, Sam?"
"A bullet through the head would've been the best way with him. I'm tired of havin' folks tie up my name with a murderer like him. Because we played around together when we was kids don't mean that him and me are the same sort."
"No, it doesn't mean you're that sort," said the sheriff in the same odd intonation.
"I want you to write that down in your memory so's you won't forget," declared the young man. "If it comes to hunting down this here Harry Fortune, I'm with you as much as any man. But the main thing is that, when I follered the back tracks of his hoss, I seen that they headed back toward the town."
"They did!" cried the sheriff.
"If he aimed back this way, where'd he go? I tell you, by the looks of him, he couldn't've lasted long. He's just about spent. Sheriff, some place in this here town is where he's hid. If I was you, I'd rouse the town and start a search for him."
"He was far gone?"
"Any kid could've handled him... except for his guns."
"Why, Crawford, it looks to me like you hate him."
"Why shouldn't I? They been calling me his friend these years since the murder. Folks have sort of shunned me on account of me knowin' him, once."
Mr. Hazzard waited to hear no more. There was a storm of perplexity in his mind. In the first place, to give up his man before the maximum reward had been offered, seemed the height of insanity to him. But, on the other hand, to have his house searched and to have the fugitive found in it, might be construed in a dangerous sense, as though he were giving shelter to an outlawed man and protecting him from the vengeance of the law. However, cowardice was not one of the faults of old Anthony Hazzard.
He shrugged his lean shoulders and walked briskly back toward his house. He went at once to the kitchen door, and looked through the little window beside it. There he found a strange spectacle, for the wanderer had recovered so tremendously by being thoroughly warmed that he was able to sit up, and now he was at the table, finishing the remnants of what had once been a vast platter of ham and eggs.
Yes, there was no doubt about it. From the traces on the platter, two, three, even four eggs must have been cooked for him by that wastrel niece of his. In addition, the last of a slab of ham was now poised on the end of his fork. The money-lender took acute interest in the thickness of that slice. It had the ample dimensions of a steak, rather than one of those papery slices of ham to which Anthony Hazzard was accustomed. Before Fortune stood a pitcher of milk, more than half emptied, while beside the plate there was a steaming cup that the mad spendthrift, Anne, was at this moment replenishing with coffee.
Hazzard felt a mist of rage cross his eyes. Here was a total of some 40¢ or even 50¢ in raw food products poured into the insatiable maw of this young man. Here was given to him fuel that he would convert, instantly, into tremendous strength for immediate action. A few minutes before, he had been a helpless hulk. Now he was again capable of acting the part of a fighting man.
Hazzard opened the door and looked in upon an ominous tableau. The fugitive, at the first sound of a hand upon the doorknob, had caught into his hand a revolver—one of the old guns that Hazzard kept in the house. Now he faced the door, not with the weapon aimed and leveled, but holding it negligently upon his knee, as one who could shoot accurately by the mere pointing of the gun—the carelessness of a sure and desperate man to whom the rest of life is a brief and uninteresting story, at the best.
"Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" cried the girl. "It's Uncle Anthony!"
Harry Fortune cast the pistol aside upon the table and stood up. He seemed much larger now than he had been when he was helpless in the hands of Hazzard. He stepped forward with a firm stride—no symptom of wobbling or uncertainty. He took the icy hands of Hazzard in a great warm grip. And what a smile he gave the old man.
"Mister Hazzard," he said, "what I feel about you ain't easy to put down into words. I'm not going to try. I owe you my life. That's all. If I live long enough, I'll make you know that I put some value on what you've saved for me."
"Ah," said Hazzard, and, turning his back, he shuffled across the room to hang his hat and his wet coat on the wall. But, chiefly, because he wanted to hide his face from young Harry Fortune, for he felt that if he met the eyes of the man, the fugitive would read grim things that he should not guess, as yet.
"When I'm cleared of this here mess," said Harry Fortune, "I'm going to let folks know what you've done for me. They call you a tolerable hard man, Mister Hazzard. I'll show 'em how you took me in when I was worth about fifteen hundred in cash."
"Nigher to two thousand," Hazzard said dryly, managing to turn to him again.
"Harry Fortune, Harry Fortune!" breathed the girl. "Have the brutes dared to put a price on your head?"
"They got no sense of humor," said Harry Fortune with a wan smile. "They put a pretty high value on what ain't worth so much. I ought to feel that they've done me a great honor, I s'pose."
"But it means," said Anne Hazzard, "that the first man who sees you can shoot you down... shoot you through the back, Harry Fortune, and no one can harm him for it."
Hazzard crossed to the stove and stood warming his hands over it, twisting them rapidly back and forth over one another.
"You've got a gun, Harry."
"It's a pure bluff, Mister Hazzard. I've never used a gun on any man. I'll never begin. It ain't worth the risk."
Hazzard's opinion of the intelligence of this young man waxed apace. Your cheap crook tries to bluster his way out of trouble by assuming a loud voice to proclaim his innocence, but Harry Fortune spoke quietly, as one sure of himself. He was certainly of the superior order of criminal.
"Then they're wrong when they lay Marberry's death to you?" asked Hazzard, still without turning his head.
"Uncle Anthony!" cried the girl in indignant protest.
"Of course they're wrong," said Fortune.
"You'll clear yourself?"
"Do you think that I'd've broke out of prison if I hadn't felt that I had a ghost of a show to clear myself?"
"Why not? Most men would bust out of prison if they could... I suppose."
"Not me! Why, man, I was in for fifteen years. Good behavior and that sort of thing would shorten the time to nine or ten. I've served four long years... the longest years of the lot. I was a trusty. They gave me a lot of liberty. I was managing to live. Five or six more years, and the thing would have been over with, and I'd still be not much more'n thirty. No, sir, if I hadn't felt that I could clear myself up, I'd have stayed in the prison. I would have been a fool to do anything else."
Hazzard turned this time and looked the young man over. He felt, again, that there was decidedly stuff in this youth. Even if this were a sham. He could not help saying: "You've got sense, young man. But how'll you prove it?"
"By the help you'll give me."
Harry Fortune nodded. "All I want is some sort of a place to work from. As long as you'll let me stay in this house, I can get out secretly into the town."
"Suppose they trace you here? Sort of a mess for an old man, I'd say."
"I'd blow my head off, Mister Hazzard, before I'd let a harm come to you through me."
Hazzard yawned. These violent protestations were not to his liking. Nothing is so easy or so cheap in the world as words. He nodded amiably. But the essential thing, of course, was to make the youth feel that every word he spoke was believed. Put all his apprehensions to rest, and let him use this house as a hiding place. Hazzard, by a single word to the sheriff, could convert the house from a shelter to a trap.
"I'm gonna go up and lie down for a minute," he said. "I'm fagged." He passed through the door, but, the moment it had closed behind him, he dropped to his knees and pressed his ear to the keyhole.
SUCH methods did not appear shameful to Anthony Hazzard. Wherever one can get at the inner mind of another man, he felt, there is a reward for the effort. Feeling that Harry Fortune was about to tell his story, Hazzard particularly wished to be apparently absent from the scene. When the coldly critical ear of another mature man is listening, a liar will tell his tale with more accurate care. But to the credulous ear of a woman, he is apt to let his fancy run more easily at large.
In fact, Mr. Hazzard had not been in his place of concealment for two minutes before the story began. And Anne was directly asking for it.
She said: "Ever since I came to town to Uncle Anthony, I've heard about you and what they accuse you of doing. Oh, Harry Fortune, I'd give a great deal to know the truth."
"There's no use talking," answered young Fortune. "It's a queer-sounding story, you see. No use telling it until I have some sort of a proof to back myself up. When I get the facts... and God help me to them... then I'll be ready to talk to a judge, and you can hear along with the rest."
"You don't understand," she answered. "It won't be hard for me to believe you."
After that, there followed a little pause, and Anthony Hazzard could feel the eyes of the youngsters fixed on one another.
"That's a kind thing to say," murmured Harry Fortune. "But although it is a queer-sounding yarn, I'll try to tell it exactly as things were. Four years in a prison," he went on gravely, "make a mighty lot of difference in the way a man looks at things. The first week in the penitentiary was seven years of hell boiled down small. I hated the world, because it had done me a wrong. I wanted to get out and make trouble. If all the people in the world had been living in one house, about that time, I think I'd have put a match to it, if I could. You know?"
"I know," said the girl. "Sometimes we don't understand things. That's the worst. Think what a truly kind, good man Uncle Anthony is. And yet I've gone for three years thinking that he was only a cruel old miser."
"Everybody thought that," said the youth. "But God knows what I think of him now. And there's the pup... look yonder. He's scratching at the door, trying to get out and follow Mister Hazzard. An animal like that can tell a good man. They've got an instinct for it, my mother used to say."
His heavy steps approached the door behind where Anthony Hazzard was crouched; there was a faint squeal from the puppy, then the steps retreated.
"Give him to me, Harry," said the girl's voice. "A man doesn't know how to handle such weak little things. See him kick and struggle now. Why, he's like a grown-up dog already. He wants to be on the floor hunting mice, I suppose."
There was laughter from Fortune. There was laughter from the girl.
"Please go on," she said. "Be quiet, silly Jerry."
"I was saying," went on the fugitive, "that I took it pretty hard at first. But after a while I had so much time to myself that I started to do a little thinking, and I figured out that maybe it was a pretty good thing for me, that trip to the prison."
"Oh!" cried the girl.
"You see, Anne," he went on, "I'd been one of these troublemakers all of my life, and I fought because I liked fighting. I used to like to get another boy against a wall and beat him till he yelled. I used to like to ride a horse with the spurs. There ain't much in way of trouble that I didn't make. I was pretty big when I grew up. And strong by nature. I'm not boasting, Anne. But some men are big without being strong. And some men are strong in spite of the fact that they're little. Well, I was naturally strong. I could always do things that other fellows couldn't manage. I'm still pretty hard. Take this poker, for instance..."
There was a pause.
Then: "Harry, Uncle Anthony will be furious!"
"No, he won't. There... it is straight again."
A cry of admiration came from Anne.
Hazzard, behind the door, felt as though the hands that had bent that stout poker were buried in his own throat. He drew a breath.
"That looks like showing off," went on Harry Fortune. "But I don't mean it that way. Suppose a boy gets a lot of money for a gift. First thing he does is to go out and make a fool of himself trying to spend it for things that don't count a little bit later. That was the way with me. I found myself grown up, one day, and a lot stronger than other men. And I wanted to use that strength. I liked hard work... but mostly I liked hard fights. Well, people got to be afraid of me. I suppose there weren't many men in the town that wanted to stand up to me.
"Then Marberry came along. He was a fellow from Montana. He was about my age, I suppose, but he looked older and he acted older and he talked older. He'd been on the range since he was a little kid. He was hard as nails, quick as a flash, and he had a reputation for being a gunfighter. He was good-looking, mighty straight standing, had a good eye in his head, and knew how to get along with men and girls, too. Sort of a man you'd pick out from a crowd pretty quick. That was the face of him, you might say. Behind the face I guess that he wasn't much good. Not the sort of a thing you want to say about a dead man, but I had ways of knowing. He was a gambler, and he was a crooked gambler. He got what he wanted, and he didn't care how he managed it. But he had such a frank sort of hearty way of talking, that people didn't suspect him... at first. The only trouble with him was that he couldn't stay very long in any one place.
"Well, Marberry and I had our hatchets out for each other's scalps right away. You might say that I was the town bully, and that he was the new boy in the school and mighty sure of himself. Sooner or later we was sure to have trouble. It come at last over the cards. Playing at the same table in back of the old Carson saloon, I thought I saw him make a queer pass with a pack of cards, and I grabbed for his wrist and turned his hand up. It happened that I was wrong. But, of course, it couldn't go at that. He hit me, and I hit back, and he went down. When he got up, I mopped the place with him. He tried to get out his gun, but I got it away from him, and pretty near broke him in two. When I finished, he was willing to admit that I was the better man of the two, but he swore that he'd put a bullet through my head the next time we two met up.
"Well, I was pretty handy with a Colt, but I supposed that I wasn't in the same class with him. I left town quick and went out on the range. I decided that I'd spend about a week practicing and getting my hand in. Then I'd come back to town and have it out with him."
"That's it. I deserved all the prison that I got. Nothing but luck kept me from doing a killing... or getting killed. I went out on the range, all right, but, after I'd fired about a couple of hundred cartridges, I'd used up my supply, pretty near, and I figgered, besides, that I was good enough to beat any man to the draw and then shoot him dead. I sat down and cleaned my guns, shoved 'em into the holsters, hopped on my horse, and came back to town. It was night, and pretty late when I came. I went to the house of Marberry and asked for him. They said that he was away at a dance. He was that sort. I'd given him some pretty bad bruises in that fight, but he'd go to the dance, anyway, and, if anyone dared to laugh at him, he'd've made them wish that they never knew how to laugh.
"I waited around the house for a while for him. Then I went home, had a nap, and started back. It was about one in the morning, and I was afraid that I'd miss Marberry on his way back from the dance. But when I was about three hundred yards from the Keene house, I seen a girl... I suppose it was Nora... standing in front of the house, and a couple of men along with her. She went into the house... or, rather, she went up on the porch. One of the men started away, and the one who was behind him must have pulled a gun, for there was a shot, and one of the two dropped. The other ran away behind the line of the house. I got there as fast as I could, and found Marberry lying on his face, dead. While I was calling to him, a couple of folks that had heard the shot came up to me.
"Well, I forgot to say that on my way in from the range, after my practice with the guns, I'd seen a rabbit jump across the trail, and had taken a flyer at it... and dropped it, too. That gave me an empty chamber in my gun.
"That made the case perfect against me. Everybody knew that I'd had a fight with Marberry, that he'd promised to shoot me on sight, and someone had seen me off in the hills practicing. Then they find Marberry dead, me leaning over his body, and an empty chamber in a revolver, the same caliber as mine. What could be clearer than that? All I could do was to talk about a shadowy-lookin' gent who had run away after the shooting. That wouldn't wash. The jury, when the time came, just smiled."
"But what did the girl say? What did Nora Keene say? She could've told them that another man had been with Marberry and with her."
"Aye," muttered Harry Fortune, "and that's just what she didn't say. When she was called upon the witness stand, she said that she'd come home from the dance alone with Marberry. She said that nobody had joined them. And there it rested. What could I do?"
"She would have let you hang?"
"No, it was sort of queer. She came to see me in jail. She whispered to me, after I'd been found guilty... 'Harry, I won't let you hang. But if it's anything less than hanging...' And then she left me. Of course, I didn't have no defense. I went to prison. And I think that I've stayed there long enough to get some sort of sense in my head."
"But how can you prove that you're innocent? Unless she'll talk?"
"I have some ideas. I'm going to see how they pan out."
"And if you...?"
Here a heavy knock sounded at the back door of the house. The voices in the kitchen ceased.
ANTHONY HAZZARD went up the stairs as fast as his lean old legs could carry him, and in his own room he sat down with a beating heart. He had not felt such excitement since, some years before, a stealthy creaking on the stairs had apprised him that someone was in the house. He had blown a double charge of heavy shot into the head of that would-be thief and housebreaker. He had gone out dauntlessly through the darkness and stood in front of the door of his room until he made out the shadow of the interloper against a distant window. He had been wonderfully excited, but he had not been afraid. Now it was otherwise. He was both excited and afraid. For in the other case he had had the stalwart bulwark of the law behind him, and in the present time the law was the weapon that was raised against him, but now he had no resort. He could not take a gun to the invaders of his house. They came with authority behind them. What would they do?
He had long known that he was hated with a consummate hatred. But it had been his care through his life to give no enemy a possible loophole through which he could be shot at. Whatever they cursed him for, they could find no illegal action as the merest finger hold through which to seize him. He had gone safe, he would never have gone safe, if it had not been for his encounter with young Harry Fortune. He told himself that it was because, in this instance, he had attempted to get something for nothing. $1,500 for nothing.
True, he had made a hundred times that amount at a single stroke, but always that had been some investment of sums of money. He felt that he had been guilty of the sin of illogic; no, it had been the sin of blind greed. For, had he simply walked on into the sheriff's house when he heard the man talking with Sam Crawford, he would by this time have lodged the criminal in jail, and Anthony Hazzard would have almost $2,000 to add to his hoard.
He wandered gloomily to the chest of drawers in the corner of the room. In the biggest drawer, in the very center of the chest, secured in a little wooden box with a tiny lock that a child could have broken, was his store of ready cash. He never looked at it without smiling to himself. Ten times, in his absences, his house had been searched by curious thieves keen to get on the trail of some store of hidden treasure. But they never yet had suspected that the treasure of the money-lender would be secured in so easily found and frail a hiding place. They could not imagine that. They had combed the attic and dug up the cellar. But they had never looked under their noses. Once he found nearly all the floors in the house torn up when he returned home. But the money had not been secured. And if he had acted otherwise than as a fool, the reward money for the capture of the murderer should have gone into that box, also.
It was his standing joy, his standing agony. His joy because sometimes it seemed to him that the few thousands he had here to look at, to touch, to examine as though reading a book, meant more to him than the large millions that he had invested in greater concerns across the countryside; his terror because every hour of the day and in his dreams at night he beheld an eager hand snatching up the box and dashing it to pieces against the floor while the heaps of greenbacks, neatly and closely compressed, spilled forth. This thought was a poison-pointed dagger ever striking him to the heart. Yet he could not give up that habit of keeping a little hard cash near him at all times—the greenbacks above—sometimes as many as $20,000 worth when he was feeling recklessly self-confident. Sometimes the sum shrank to a few hundred when terror had gained the upper hand. It was a sum ever in fluctuation. But in the little tray at the bottom of the box was a sum that never changed. There, bedded in softest cotton that permitted no jostling or jarring, he had fifty double eagles, fifty $20 gold pieces, fresh, bright-faced as when they came from the mint thirty years before. If he looked at the greenbacks until with an inward qualm he said to himself—"This is mere paper."—then he could take out the tray and unfold, with delicate touches, the deep cotton, and look in on the broad, smiling face of gold itself. It was the point of the story that the paper money told.
But now, if they seized him and threw him into prison for sheltering an outlawed man, what would become of this long-hidden treasure? Could he take it with him? No. Could he leave it behind? No, he would perish of anxiety within twenty-four hours if the money had to be left to the security of chance.
Aye, he might die in prison. There was no end to the malignity with which the world at large regarded him. There was no end at all. They would hound him to the death. If the maximum penalty in the law were fifteen years, the judge would be sure to give it to him, and the decision would be received with applause. So, in a prison cell, he would end his days, and the priceless joy of all his fortune would be lost to him.
Such were the thoughts in the bitter mind of the moneylender as he sat crouched on his bed and cursed the folly that had not made him put a bullet through the head of the fugitive, or, at the least, leave him to die of the cold before he brought him in for the reward money.
The sound of loud voices from the kitchen interrupted these thoughts. Then a quick, light step on the stairs, and his door was thrown open. He started up with the shotgun in his hand. It was Harry Fortune who stood before him.
"I've tried the windows. They're frozen solid. I can't budge 'em," said Harry Fortune. "Is this the way to the attic? Through your room?"
A wild impulse formed in the mind of the money-lender and swept across it like a wave. A touch upon those double triggers and Mr. Fortune would be sent into the other world. Then he could simply declare that he encountered the fellow in his house, perhaps in the act of robbery. Aye, at a stroke, he would free himself from his difficulties and regain the reward money that was slipping through his fingers.
How beautiful, how simple in its beauty, was that thought. But hard common sense prevented. As well attempt to outspeed the snaky head of a weasel. As well strive to trick the watching eye of the lynx as to attempt to baffle this man, calm, grim, alert. His hand would be the lightning flash, unavoidable, and sure. So Anthony Hazzard banished the cat look from his eyes.
"Don't go to the attic," he said. "Nobody but a fool hides in corners. Corners are the first place they'll search. Get out of sight in that closet, yonder."
"You said corners..."
"They'll never search my room," said the money-lender grimly.
A boom of voices coming up the stairs decided the fugitive. He cast one wistful glance at the window—then he stepped into the closet. And the fall of the foot, as Hazzard noted with admiration, made no sound on the floor—no sound, although it creaked dolefully even under the light tread of the old man. To be sure, if such a devil as Harry Fortune came to search his house that money would never be safe. He must get rid of it at once—on the morrow. He must put it in a safe in the bank, much as he hated all banks with their six-percent loans that encroached upon his business.
Fortune had hardly disappeared when a heavy hand knocked at the door. He had barely time to lie down on the bed and call to them to enter when the sheriff stepped inside with three men shouldering close behind him. Each had a drawn Colt in his hand.
Danger brought to the money-lender a vague sense of humor.
"Have you turned into a robber, Sheriff?" he asked.
"Harry Fortune is loose in town, we think," said the sheriff, his eyes flicking about the room restlessly. "We're searching every house. This was your turn."
"I've heard about him," said Hazzard. "That there door leads up to the attic. Go ahead."
They went up the stairs with a rush, the sheriff giving directions. For a time they stamped about, pulling discarded furniture here and there, dragging trunks away from corners. A thin shower of dust fell from the shaken ceiling.
Then they came trooping back. "We ain't had a look through this room," suggested someone.
"Take a look now, then," said the sheriff dryly. "You can see for yourself, I guess. It's as clear as the palm of your hand, unless you think that he's in one of them drawers, yonder."
For once, Mr. Hazzard loved stupidity. His heart warmed to the sheriff.
"That door... where does it go?" asked the sheriff's man.
"A closet," said Anthony Hazzard.
"Can I have a look?"
The heart of Anthony Hazzard stopped in his breast. "Sure," he said lightly.
The other stepped forward. His hand fell on the door.
"Wait a minute!" shouted Anthony Hazzard. "Sheriff, ain't you got any wits about you?"
They all faced him, startled.
"Ain't there a price on the head of the murderer?" asked Hazzard.
"Nigh to two thousand."
"Two thousand? Well, there you are," said Hazzard. "Does it stand to reason that I'd keep this here gent secret when I could scoop in two thousand by sayin' one word?"
The sheriff smiled at his men.
"You're right, Mister Hazzard," he said. And his glance wandered rather insolently over the threadbare clothes of the old man. "You're right. Not if he was your own blood, I s'pose. Boys, come along. It was just a matter of makin' a clean search," he explained to the owner of the house. "We're makin' a sweep through everything."
"Bah!" sneered Hazzard, and then closed his eyes as though to sleep. But, really, because he feared lest the immense relief he felt might show in them like two signals.
The sheriff and the three disappeared. Their heavy steps, their heavy voices went down the stairs. Then Harry Fortune came out and looked at his preserver. His face was a little pale, but his eyes were shining.
"By the heavens, Mister Hazzard," he said, "you're true blue. When I get cleared of this mess, I'll do something that'll make you know what I think of you."
"I'll wait till that times comes," Hazzard said a little feebly. "Hold back till they're out of the house before you go down."
Fortune began to pace up and down the room. Still his step made not a sound more than the fall of a cat's paw, padded with velvet.
"I thought she'd crumple when they talked to her," he said more to himself than to the money-lender. "But she didn't. She's like you. All steel inside, no fear. Calm as oak, she was, Mister Hazzard. I wish you could've heard her talkin' to them. She offered them coffee and said that she was sorry they had to work in such cold weather."
"And coffee twenty-eight cents a pound," groaned Hazzard.
"They came near not going ahead with the search. But the sheriff made 'em go ahead. Then I slid upstairs. Mister Hazzard, it was a lucky thing for young Cochrane that he didn't open the door. Better for him to have turned loose a wildcat." He said it through his teeth, but quietly.
There was a snarl of determination in his voice that made Hazzard look at him again. Yes, this was the stuff of which murderers must be made, and, remembering the story that he had overheard the fugitive telling to Anne, he could not help smiling to himself. There was wit in this fellow, also. Wit enough to pull the wool over the eyes of a girl, at least. But he, Anthony Hazzard, was not made to think like a fool.
"They're gone," said the younger man suddenly, although the ear of Hazzard had not caught a sound of a closing door. "I'm going down to Anne to see how she's bucked up through it all. Ah, she's an ace of trumps."
ANTHONY HAZZARD roused himself, at that, and followed down in the wake of Harry Fortune. He was in time through the door to see what Harry Fortune saw—that is to say—a picture of the girl lying collapsed in the chair with her head fallen back against the wall and her face white, her eyes half closed in exhaustion. Harry Fortune sprang to her.
"Anne! Anne!" he cried softly to her. "Are you ill?"
She smiled up to him with a sort of contentment, like a child in a sick bed. "They're gone at last," she said. "While they were upstairs, I more than died every five minutes. It was a fearful thing, Harry."
Hazzard went gloomily to the stove and stretched his hands over the warmth. Even if this man Fortune escaped and cleared himself of guilt, as he hoped to do, he would still be a burden in the mind of the money-lender, for he could undo great hopes by marrying the girl. Already there was love between them. Anthony Hazzard was too experienced a man not to understand the meaning of the foolish smiles that they gave to one another, the changing color, the trembling hands when they were near. It was love, and love portends mischief. What greater mischief could happen to Hazzard than the loss of his cook who worked for nothing?
He began to listen to their talk again.
"I am going out to do my best now," said Fortune. "Will you give me good luck, Anne?"
"The best there is in the world. The very best, Harry. But you must wait until they've ended the hunt."
"I'll go now. They've gone on with their hunt. Good bye, Anne."
She could not speak. She could only wring his hand. So he waved to the money-lender and was gone, clapping his hat on his head, huddling the coat around his shoulders. When he opened the kitchen door, the gale stopped and staggered him, but he leaned into it at once and strode away, like a man strong in body and in mind.
When he reached the woodshed, he paused to survey his position. He was behind the line of houses on that side of the village. From the kitchen windows, hazy lamplight showed behind the whitened glass, like so many glazed, blind eyes. He need fear no outlook from these. In fact, even if they caught a glimpse of him with his wide-brimmed hat pulled down over his face and with the snow spotting him, how could they know him? He might even be taken for one of the hunters who searched for him at this time.
So he held down behind the houses until he came to an old, low-shouldered house surrounded by naked poplars whose stems and pointing branches were strongly outlined in white. Here he turned in. At the kitchen door he bowed his head to listen. What he heard first was the familiar, deep voice of Mrs. Keene, and then the clattering of pans at the sink and the rush of water from a groaning hot-water faucet. But presently:
"I'm goin' upstairs," said Mrs. Keene. "You watch the oven. You'd better baste the turkey in about ten minutes."
He heard the cheerful voice of Nora Keene answer, and then the heavy step of the mother of the household departing. After that, he risked what chance there was that still another person might be there and tapped at the kitchen door. He heard Nora come singing to answer that knock. When she opened it, it was as though a midday ghost stood before her. He had to take her under the elbows and hold her firmly to keep her from falling, saying all the time, softly and rapidly: "I've not come to do you harm, Nora. There's nothing to be afraid about."
Her strength came back to her as suddenly as it had gone. She backed away from him toward the door, step by faltering step, watching him with hunted eyes.
"I won't keep you from goin'," he told her. "And I can't make you stay, unless you stay of your own free will."
So, with her hand on the knob of the door that led to the next room, she paused, with the question fighting in her eyes. Fear made her clutch the knob, but curiosity and the imp of the perverse would not let her turn it. Then, suddenly, she came back to him and stood squarely in front of him.
"I'm not afraid," she said, more as though she wished to convince herself than to assure him.
He smiled a little at that. "You see, Nora, I'm not the same man you sent away to prison. I'm not so wild, eh?"
"I think you're not, Harry," she said. "You look a lot different. You look sadder... heaven forgive me. And... and wiser, Harry."
"I hope I am, a mite."
"Oh, Harry, how you must have been hating me all of these years."
He was able to shake his head and smile again. "Only at first."
"Really?" she asked.
"When I first got inside the walls, every time I seen stone instead of sky over me, I used to hate you pretty hot, Nora. Afterwards, when I got some sense, I began to understand."
"That second man... whoever he was... was a gent you was pretty fond of at that time. You couldn't tell the truth without hangin' him. That was it, wasn't it?"
She did not answer. She merely grew a little whiter, staring at him. "Maybe it was, Harry," she said at last. "I'm... I'm not talking before a judge, now."
"What you say to me would never be believed by anybody else. Not if I was to tell it. Well, Nora, if that gent had really cared a pile for you, he'd've married you, wouldn't he? He wouldn't've waited all of these here years?"
She flushed, at that, and bit her lip.
"He does love me, Harry Fortune. But he's had a lot of bad luck. And just when he was about to set the day, lately, his father had bad luck..."
"Does his father keep him?"
He went on readily, to make the way easier for her: "I understand. He's one of these educated gents. A doctor, or something like that. Their work starts late. They don't make money at first. Is that it?"
She shook her head.
"I can't talk about him, Harry. If I was to put you on his trail..."
"No, no," he protested. "Do you think that I'm out to do a murder? Not a bit. I'm not out for revenge, either. I've got no bitterness inside of me. All that I want is to have a chance to live my life. You see?"
She nodded. Still she watched him with fascinated eyes, as though she were seeing more than she could understand easily at a glance, as though her eyes were reading in a strange and fascinating book.
"Now," he said, "I've got a proposition to make to you, and to him, through you. Let him go right down to the sheriff and say... 'I'm the gent that done the killing. It wasn't Harry Fortune at all.' Let him do that. What d'you think will happen? Well, that killing took place a long time ago. The folks that were worked up about it then have near forgot it now. If the man steps out and takes the blame because he says that he doesn't want an innocent man to be hunted for a crime that he did, why, it'll stand pretty much in his favor. If he went to prison, it would only be for a short time."
"Two or three years... in prison... to come out as a... a convict!" cried Nora Keene. "How can you say only a short time in prison? I'd rather die than be in a penitentiary."
"That's what I thought," he admitted to her. "But right now I'm glad that I went. It was better than school. You have to learn there or else you got to go mad or die. But, Nora, there won't be trouble for him if he'd confess."
"Oh, Harry," she said, "I have no influence over him. I could never get him to do such a thing. He might except for..." She paused.
"Except for what?" he urged.
"Except that... the shooting was done from behind. He'd be ashamed to stand up and say that he shot from behind."
A faint flush spread over the face of Harry Fortune. "I'd been around this here town all of my life," he said heavily. "Folks knew that I didn't turn my back on a gent that was makin' trouble for me. I mostly went up and knocked at their front door and asked 'em out to a finish fight. But when the time come, there was twelve men and a judge to say nothing of the rest, that believed that I was a sneakin' murderer that shot a man in the back. But if I was out of prison, I wouldn't keep no malice. It ain't worthwhile to hate a man. Just to know him is enough. Well, I know a few folks better because I was tried for 'em or in front of 'em. Nora, I tell you that a man good enough for you to love is good enough to have sweated because I was servin' his time in jail for him. And that man, when you put it up to him, will be mighty glad to do that much for you and for himself and for me. He'll be willing to risk a few years behind the bars for the sake of being able to call himself a white man the rest of his life. After it's over, you'll thank heaven that you got him to do it."
She would only shake her head.
"You're not going to even try it, Nora?"
"Oh, I'm going to try," she said almost wearily. "I'm going to try, but it won't be no good. He won't listen to me. He goes his own way... he goes his own way and runs things to suit himself."
"By the heavens!" he cried with a little start of anger. "What sort of a gent are you aimin' to marry, Nora? A spunk that would shoot another man in the back and that would let another man hang for it?"
She bit her lip.
"I'm sorry, Nora," he said at last. He even was able to smile, finally, as he went to her and took her hand. "Oh, it's all right," he said cheerfully. "I trusted a lot to this last throw of the dice. But now I've lost, I'll forget it."
She clung to his hand with both of hers. "But what'll you do? Will you go on south? Will you go into Mexico, Harry?"
He shook his head, saying: "There's something that means more than my life. I've got to stay near this town."
"But that... oh, Harry, my heart it breaking for you... I hate myself... I'm a bad woman. But I love him, Harry. Will you try to forgive me?"
"I've forgiven you already," he said gently. "I've learned to face the music. If I have to go back to it... I'm going to manage to stand it."
A step came down the back stair, and, waving a hasty farewell to her, he slipped through the door and closed it after him, in time to hear the strong voice of Mrs. Keene crying: "Nora, Nora! Ain't I been smelling something burning? It can't be that turkey!" Then: "Why, child, what are you crying about?"
Harry Fortune waited to hear no more. He blundered from the door through a thick drift of snow, waded into better going, and turned the corner of the house in time to meet a whirl of snow dust borne on the arms of a hurricane of wind. So thick was that driving cloud that he did not see a man who, struggling down the street toward the Keene house, marked Fortune at the back of the building. Neither did he know that, as he went on, the other was following stealthily, from covert to covert, until the trailer saw Harry Fortune come, at last, to the back door of the moneylender's house, saw it opened instantly in answer to his knock, and saw him disappear in the lamp-lit interior of the kitchen.
WHEN the outlaw had left the house of the money-lender, his late host drew a breath of the most profound relief.
"Oh, Uncle Anthony," he heard his niece say, "how I pray that Harry Fortune will get what he wants."
Uncle Anthony merely grinned.
"When they saw him... when they looked into his honest, brave eyes," said Anne Hazzard, "how could the judge and the jury ever dream that he had shot a man in the back?"
"Judges and juries have a fair amount of sense," her uncle said without emotion.
"But you think Harry will win?"
"I think nothin'," said the money-lender, "about what don't concern me, and, if you got a head on your shoulders, you'll do the same thing. All I know is that he's gone... and that, if he'd been found here, they'd've sent me to prison for protecting an outlawed man. That's what I know. And if he..."
She broke in upon him. "If you knew how he felt about you, Uncle Anthony," she declared. "He says that he'd die for you... and he means it. He says that in the whole world there was only one man who has been kind to him... not any of his old friends or the people he knew well... but a stern man saved his life from the snow, and brought him home, and gave him..."
"Bah!" exclaimed Hazzard.
He expected to see her cringe under this explosion of bitter scorn and contempt. To his vast astonishment, she lifted her head and laughed in his face.
The money-lender recoiled a little. It was as though a lamb had put forth the claw of a tiger. His head fairly swam with bewilderment, and then rage began to grow hot in his heart. To be held lightly by a chit of a girl.
She went on: "Oh, Uncle Anthony, I've thought you were a grim man and a cruel man... really. But I don't think so any more. I know you, and poor Harry Fortune knows you."
Here there sounded a shrill, by no means uncertain voice from a basket in the corner of the room nearest to the stove. She ran to it and lifted out the white puppy—new washed, sparkling like snow—and straightway Jerry ambled across the room and strove vainly to crawl up the leg of Anthony Hazzard.
"You see? You see?" said the girl. "Jerry knows best of all. It was Jerry who showed us the truth about you. Jerry wasn't afraid. God bless him, he knew how much kindness there was in you and..."
"Damnation!" growled out Anthony Hazzard. "D'you expect me to stand here and listen to such tommyrot, while...?"
Behold, she laughed again, happily. "It doesn't make a bit of difference what you say," she declared. "The proofs are all against you. Uncle Anthony. They're all against you. Oh, you may pretend that you don't care a whit for Christmas, and such things, but I've seen today that your heart is full of Christmas every day of the year, and full of kindness and trueness and tenderness... and... and... it makes my whole soul ache to think that other people don't understand as Harry and Jerry and I do."
He reeled before this flood of bewildering nonsense. But there was still more. She ran to him and threw her soft arms around his neck. Her kiss touched each of his hard, weather-drawn cheeks.
"Dear Uncle Anthony," she said.
Dear Uncle Anthony was speechless. He felt that his dignity had fled. He felt that the armor of his grimness had been pierced in many mortal places. He turned on his heel, shook her off, and fairly fled from the room. And upstairs he went and began to pace back and forth.
After all, perhaps it was better this way; anything that might lull the suspicions of the outlaw so that, when he returned, he would be sure to stay while Hazzard hurried to the sheriff and brought that worthy. Truly there would be no delay after Harry Fortune came again. Straight to the sheriff with the tidings—afterward the reward money would pass into his treasure trove. It would be a happy day, after all. This Christmas he would remember. But, in the meantime, he had better go back to the kitchen so as to know the instant that Fortune came.
He acted on the thought and hastened back—hastened back to arrive at the very instant that Harry Fortune opened the back door and stood there in a flurry of snow, looking like a giant spirit of the storm. Then the outlaw strode in, took off his hat, and shook the snow from it on the floor.
"Oh, Harry..." began the girl hopefully.
But there needed only a single glance at his face to understand that he had failed. Her voice died away. She made a hopeless gesture while she stared at him. Yes, it was very apparent that she loved this man, very apparent that, if Uncle Anthony wished to keep his free cook, he had better remove Fortune to the safety of steel bars and a world of stone cells.
"I missed," said Fortune calmly. "I've come to say good bye."
"Harry, Harry!" cried the girl in a broken voice. "You can't have tried everything in these few minutes. There must be some other hope."
"There's no other hope," he said. "When I... ah, what's that?"
The wind had been shrieking and raging and beating at the window with great soft white-moth wings of snow; now it fell away, leaving the window heavily clotted. Through the momentary lull in the noise they heard a voice outside saying: "This way! He went in here! I saw him!"
Other voices murmured an answer—many voices of men.
"Ten thousand damnations!" gasped out the moneylender. "They've come again. If they search this time... Fortune, get out of the room... hide... hide... for heaven's sake..."
A heavy hand fell on the door. Fortune vanished into the front of the house.
"Who's there?" asked Hazzard.
"In the name of the law," called the voice of the sheriff, "open this door, Hazzard!"
He cast a glance at the girl. She was white and stricken in the corner.
"Get that fool look off your face!" snarled out Hazzard to her. "They're not going to get in. Not till I've given Harry Fortune time to get out of the house." He set the door ajar, and, stepping back, he placed himself near the double-barreled shotgun that leaned against the wall.
The sheriff pressed in. Half a dozen keen-eyed men followed him.
"Hazzard." said the sheriff, "you have Harry Fortune in this house. The door was opened to him... he was seen to come in."
When lies and reason fail us, we fall back upon passion.
"By the heavens!" cried Hazzard. "I've had enough of this fooling. Do you think that I'll have my house searched a dozen times a day for a gent that I never seen in my life?" He caught the shotgun from the wall. His lean right hand gripped the trigger guard and the triggers. The barrel rested in the hollow of his left arm. So he swung the muzzles and controlled them. "Keep back and get out of the house!" he thundered at them. "I been bothered enough. Ain't a man got a right to a little privacy... on Christmas Day?"
The others shrank a little. But the sheriff was too accustomed to looking death in the face even on sterner occasions than this. He merely shook his head and smiled. "That's a good bluff, Hazzard," he said. "Lemme tell you that, if you give up the man now, maybe it won't go so hard with you, but if..."
"Man? What man?" shouted Hazzard. "I'll give you till I count ten before..."
"You old hard-faced rat!" snarled out the sheriff, his fighting blood getting the better of his calm. "Put down that gun or I'll sink a chunk of lead into you. Put it down! If the man ain't here, why is the girl sittin' in a corner lookin' as white as a sheet?"
"Keep your hand away from your gun!" answered Hazzard. "I give you warning, Sheriff, keep your hand away from your gun, or I'll..."
A door yanked behind him. A draft of wind played coldly on his back.
"It's no use, Mister Hazzard," said Harry Fortune. "I'm not worth it. Sheriff, I surrender freely. This is no fault of Hazzard's. I forced him at the point of a gun to give me shelter."
"You forced him to take a shotgun and stand us off, eh?" growled out the sheriff. "What the devil has got into the old man? I'll have both of you along with me. You can think this here over in the jail, Hazzard. Grab them, boys!"
They tore the shotgun from the numbed fingers of Hazzard. He could only groan to his unwelcome guest: "You coward, Fortune."
But Fortune merely smiled at him. "Do you think that I'd turn man killer for the sake of getting free, Mister Hazzard?"
"Harry!" cried a wailing voice from the corner of the room. "Harry!"
"Steady, Anne," answered the fugitive quietly. "It's all in the day's work. I took my chance and lost it. It had to be this way, in the end. Maybe the sooner the better."
"Busy with the womenfolks, Fortune?" asked the sheriff sneeringly. "Watch old Hazzard, boys. He's got the devil in his eyes."
"We'll mind him," they said.
Another voice rose in the room—the voice of Jerry, high and piping with wrath and grief, for a careless hand had overturned his basket and spilled him out on the floor. The last that Anthony Hazzard saw as he was pushed through the doorway was the picture of Anne lifting the little dog and cradling it in her arms, weeping over it, still striving to comfort it out of the excess of her own grief. Until, at the last, it thrust its cold nose under her chin and against the warmth of her throat and hushed its crying.
Then Hazzard was in the outer cold of the storm. He went as one in a daze. Ah, what fools were all the men of the world that they should presume that he, Anthony Hazzard, would defend an outlawed man with a price on his head against the arms of justice. Yet they believed it. How could he explain to them that what they considered a defense had been merely a trap to catch the very man they wanted?
Ah, he said to himself, they do not wish to understand. All they know is that, at last, they have caught me.
FOR what could have been more logical than that, since he despised all other men, all other men should hate him? Hate him they did, as he had often received the proofs. Only one thing kept most of them from showing their utter detestation, and that was the fear that, someday, they might have a need of him—or rather, of his money. On account of this fear, they were forced to keep their anger within bounds. But now that he was helpless in a prison, they would show their rage.
He prepared for it with mingled rage and scorn—rage because it seemed that here in the end, for a mere nothing, the work of his life had been balked and brought to a small conclusion. Not that the millions of his fortune were really nothing, but they were as nothing compared to the giant thoughts that had been brooding in him, growing from year to year as his fortune grew. For every mile that he walked, he dreamed of a vaster journey stretching ahead. Now he had millions, indeed. His hand was everywhere along the range. His mortgages extended through some of the finest properties in the mountains. Lumber lands, cattle lands, mining properties were included in the varied extent of his interests. And here and there, when the proper times came, he was striking home, crushing the weak, drawing in their lands. Every $1,000 that he made made him greedy of $10,000. If God spared his life for a few more years, might not his millions stretch to tens and even hundreds of millions? Far cities might feel the force of his energy. The thought born in the barren little room in the wretched little house in this Western village might cause Wall Street on a day to quake to its nethermost foundations.
Such were the dreams of the good Anthony Hazzard as he sat bowed on his cot in the damp cell where he was confined. It was not a modern jail—one main cell room, with the cells partitioned off, merely, with tool-proofed steel. But each cell was a separate room, walled, floored, and ceilinged of massive rock. A little window, six inches square, pierced his outer wall and gave him a dull shaft of light that made the dank dreariness of his chamber visible—and no more.
After he had been there for a time, Tom Curtin, the jail-keeper and cook, combined, brought him food—a plate of stew, half cold, covered with congealed grease, a few thick slices of stale bread, and a big tin cup of coffee.
He was not hungry. But it occurred to him that if he did not eat, they of the outer world would attribute his loss of appetite to the effects of terror. He disdained such a thought. They were no more to him than so many terriers barking at his heels. The majestic striding of his thoughts they were incapable of following.
Here there was a sharp, small voice—it brought him out of his ponderings with a start. But it reminded him of the voice of Jerry, squeaking a sleepy protest. This, however, was only a rat. He began to eat his clammy dinner; after all, it would have been a shame to allow good food to go to waste. He might need strength. With proper care of himself he would outlast the prison term they imposed upon him. With proper care, men lived on to advanced ages. Yes, if he were now sixty-five, he might go on to an age of ninety. Then, suppose that he spent five years in prison—there still remained before him a glorious stretch of twenty years remaining. His fortune would have grown slowly while he was confined. When he issued forth, he would be equipped like a giant to multiply his millions. He would have evolved many great schemes in the five years of solitude and thought.
Another rat squeak came from the wall. But what would become of Anne? While her uncle and while Harry Fortune went to prison, the girl would be turned loose in the world with only a dog for her sole possession. She need expect no support from him. It would be good for her to find how the world treats single women with no fortune, saving their wits. But Jerry, in the meantime, would grow up and be a companion to her.
Very odd, though, how the little tike had from the first instant preferred his master to his mistress. Mr. Hazzard looked down to his boots up which the puppy had mainly striven to crawl. After all, beasts have wise instincts. They know strength where they see it—even strength of mind.
Tom Curtin came back for the dishes and found them eaten empty and cleaned with the bread. Not a scrap remained. "You ain't had much Christmas dinner at home," he commented. "Well, there's gonna be trouble on account of you this here day. I don't mind tellin' you that the boys are up, and the sheriff is mighty worried."
"Havin' a jail mobbed... is that good for a sheriff? Havin' a jail mobbed to get at you?"
He went on out, leaving Anthony Hazzard to reflect over this wonder. What had he done so evil that men should wish to take him out by mob force and lynch him? He began to reflect seriously.
After all, people took very much to heart certain things that he had accomplished. When widows and helpless children are beggared—yes, they take these things very much to heart. Now, in a passion, who could tell what they would not do? For a mob is a headless beast. It does not use reason.
He heard them gathering, after a time. Then voices came through the falling storm. The sheriff had gone out in front of the jail.
"I tell you, boys," Hazzard heard him saying, "you'll be trying a fool thing. And some of you will get hurt bad if you start it. Hurt mighty bad. I mean business pure and simple. I tell you to keep out and let the law take its course."
"I'll tell you, Sheriff," said a thunderous voice in reply, "that we want him and we're gonna have him. You can't keep him in there. Not on this day!"
"I will keep him," said the sheriff, "until he answers..."
"Bah!" exclaimed the other. "Boys, do you want old Hazzard?"
"We do!" they shouted.
That shout made even the stern soul of Anthony Hazzard quake, for it seemed to come from scores of voices, as though every man in the village had turned out for this occasion. How bitterly they hated him, then, to brave the rigors of the winter storm and leave their warm Christmas fires for the sake of their vengeance. No doubt, since his capture, they had been rehearsing all that they considered his crimes, his legal crimes, his cold acts of extortion, as they would call them.
He smiled to himself. After all, when the time came, they should find that he was not wanting in courage to meet whatever they should do to him. But, alas, that all his giant schemes should be stifled with his life by a crowd of ignorant yokels.
"Hal Stewart!" shouted the sheriff. "Keep back, or..."
"Damn keeping back! Boys, here's where we start!"
There was a wild yell of joy, the sound of rushing men, the curses of the sheriff, and then a storm of noise broke into the interior of the jail itself. Not a shot had been fired by the sheriff—by mere weight of human poundage Anthony Hazzard was to be lost. Not a blow in his behalf. Ah, he thought, to be young and free and armed again... then I would have taught them what it was to corner a lion. He would have made them run like whipped dogs.
Now the flood of the noise beat around an inner door. They had caught up something for a battering-ram. They dashed the door down—they crashed into his cell.
Big men loomed before him.
"Hey, Hazzard!" they shouted through the semi-dark. "Is this here you?"
"I am Anthony Hazzard," he said with the dignity befitting one who was about to die.
Large, mighty hands were laid upon him. The force of those cruel fingers crushed through his thin, soft muscles and ground his nerves against the bones. He was caught up, dragged forth, and brought to the outer light. There had not been room in the jail for all of the units of that crowd. Out yonder were all the men of the village. All the men, yes, and it seemed that most of the women were here, also, covered with coats, shawls wrapped around their heads. He had never dreamed that there was such fierceness in the feminine heart. Yet, after all, were they not secret tigers, selfish, relentless?
Those who had captured him forced him through the doorway.
"We've got him!" they called.
The enormous throat of Lew Saylor opened wide and his vast voice thundered across the crowd above all their clamoring. "Gents and ladies," he said, "we been sittin' at home talkin' about Christmas, and thinkin' about Christmas, and givin' each other popguns and handkerchiefs, and, while we was gettin' ready to fill our stomachs, here was a gent that was ready to lay down his life for the sake of another man. While we was talkin' about gifts and kindness, we was tryin' to hunt down that other man for the sake of the price on his head. But Anthony Hazzard, he took him in out of the cold and brung back his life, and then he stood up for him with a gun in his hand. We got Christmas in our talk... Anthony Hazzard, he had it in his heart!"
They shouted again. They swarmed closer to Hazzard. They reached out their hands to him. And he saw, suddenly, through a golden haze of wonder, that there was no fierceness in those faces, but joy and kindness. This was no lynching party, but a Christmas frolic!
A voice of authority shouted: "We'll take him home! We'll take him back to his house! If the law would put a man like Hazzard in prison, we'll bust the law to pieces!"
Who was that who dared to speak thus? It was none other than that cold-faced man who had never given him so much as a kindly glance in his life. It was none other than the great Van Zant himself. So, shouting, waving their hats, regardless of the snow that whirled into their faces, they bore him down the street in high triumph.
"Here's the sheriff!" someone called.
He came hastily through their ranks.
"I'm with you, boys!" he cried to them. "This here is Christmas. I'll leave him in your custody for today, but tomorrow he must answer to the law."
Thereby, 10,000 votes were won for the sheriff on his next election day.
On they went. Women darted into their homes as they passed and came out again, bearing covered things in their hands. They poured on down the street, slowly, for everyone was jumping and dancing and shouting at once. They reached Hazzard's house. They surged around to the back door. They crashed the door open and there stood Anne Hazzard, white and frightened before them, with a whining little white dog in her arms that straightway stiffened and began to bark defiance.
To Anne Hazzard they gave her uncle. And they poured in behind him. Suddenly upon the tables and even on the window sills appeared great slabs of roast turkey, mince pies, dishes of fruit, and a score of dainties and scarlet cranberries in transparent molds.
What hands were these that reached to him, that wrung his cold, nerveless fingers, that beat upon his back? What beaming, happy faces were these? What voices that thundered good wishes to his ears?
The very end of the world had come to Anthony Hazzard. All his old opinions were falling dead and in ruins around him. For it seemed, after all, that these men of the outer world were more kind than stupid, more warm of heart than slow of brain.
THROUGH that crowded doorway another face and another voice came and made itself heard.
"I want the sheriff. Where is the sheriff?"
He struggled through the mass and came to her. It was Nora Keene, trembling with excitement, with anger, and with grief.
"What's wrong, Nora?" he asked her. "What's happened?"
"I don't know, yet," she answered. "I don't know. I hope to heaven that it ain't as bad as I suspect. But I want to know from you. Where's Sam Crawford? Is he here, too?"
"I'm here," Sam Crawford said from a far corner where he stood, taking no part in the festivities around him.
"Come here, Sam," said the girl. "Come here! I want you to stand in front of the sheriff. I want to have you hear me ask him some questions."
Sam came, reluctant, down-faced.
A sudden silence began to pass through the room, like a palpable wave. All faces turned to this new scene.
"Sheriff, you found Harry Fortune here."
"I sure did. No thanks to Hazzard, though, that I got him in the bag."
"But somebody came to you and told you that Harry was here?"
"That's right, of course. I can't be everywhere and see everything for myself."
"But I only want to know... was the man that told you this Sam Crawford?"
The sheriff looked down at her with a puzzled frown, and Sam Crawford suddenly changed color and slipped away through the crowd—unnoticed, so keen was the interest of the girl, so intense was her excitement, as she faced the sheriff.
"I dunno," said the man of the law, "what difference it makes who told me, because the main thing is that we got Mister Harry Fortune again. And we got him safe behind bars."
"You don't understand," she said. "Oh, it makes all the difference in the world... all the difference in the world. Sheriff, tell me quickly... who told you where you could find Harry Fortune?"
"Why," said the sheriff, bewildered, "I dunno that there's a fault in telling you that. The point is that we got Harry Fortune, so you might as well know who gave him to us. The gent that gets half of the reward is Sam Crawford, since you want to know."
She closed her eyes and, fumbling behind her, found the wall and leaned against it. "I knew it," she said, still with her eyes closed. "I guessed it. I guessed it. Oh, there was never such a sneak... such a traitor... such a coward in the world. And I'm done with him. I've cut my care for him out of my heart. I'll... I'll never look into his face again."
"Sam Crawford?" repeated the sheriff mildly. "Why, Nora, what makes such a difference to you because Sam told me?"
"I'll tell you, then!" she exclaimed. "Sam should have hung for the thing that sent poor Harry to prison. Sam should have hung for it. Oh, heaven forgive me for keeping back what I always knew. But when a man like Anthony Hazzard would risk his life for the sake of Harry, why should I care for the shame when people know that I've lied... and lied... and sent Harry to prison with my lie?"
Only two people moved in the room. One was the sheriff who started back a little, and the other was Anne Hazzard, who drew slowly forward, fascinated, toward the narrator.
"Nora," said the sheriff, and his voice was a mere gasp of breath, "don't you see what you're sayin'?"
"Tell me what, then?"
"You're practically sayin' that Sam Crawford killed young Marberry five years back when..."
"And I mean just that!"
The sheriff gaped at her.
"You all laughed... laughed like fools... when Harry Fortune told about another man that had run away after the shooting. Why, if you'd had brains, if you'd had sense, you'd have known that a man like Harry Fortune wouldn't've shot even a dog through the back. He'd face a lion... he would have faced a lion then. But there was another man that didn't have the heart. It was Sam. I'll tell you everything. I want everybody to see the shame in me. Oh, I want folks to know that I got the courage to do with my pride what Anthony Hazzard done with his life... throw it away willingly to keep poor Harry from harm. I sent him to prison. I'll take him out of it."
"Wait, Nora," said the sheriff. "This'll have to be wrote down... and we want Sam... where's Sam?"
He was gone. Some keen foresight had given him an intimation of what was coming. And he had fled. Half a dozen willing volunteers rushed in pursuit of him, but the sheriff was not among them. His duty kept him there to hear word by word the first of that strange confession of the girl.
"I was engaged to Sam," said Nora Keene, facing them with doubled hands as she strove to key up her courage to the sticking point. "And we kept it secret... then, and all these years. First, because we weren't ready for marrying. Afterward, because he didn't love me any more, I suppose, but he was afraid to break off the promise in case I'd afterward tell what I knew. But I'm telling it now, and I hope to heaven that justice comes on him." She paused for a moment, closing her eyes. Then: "That night there had been a dance and poor young Marberry had paid me a lot of attention. Sam sulked and told me I was cutting him. But I kept right on, and finally I told Marberry that he could take me home. He did, and, at my gate, Sam joined us. He had words with Marberry and me. I told him in a huff that I didn't care what he thought about me. Marberry would have hit him, but Sam backed down and showed yellow. But after I'd gone up to the porch, I looked back and saw Sam pull out a gun behind Marberry and shoot him through the head. Then Harry Fortune came running up... and... and afterward I couldn't tell the truth. That's all I have to say. But, oh, the coward, the cur, to have turned on Harry Fortune again today, and send him back for the thing he did himself. And heaven bless Anthony Hazzard for teaching us how to do something for other folks."
She turned back toward the door. They made way for her in silence. Then two older women came to her side and threw a cloak around her and so led her away toward her home. She left behind her a dull silence that was finally broken by the sheriff, saying: "Boys, it looks like this here mess was gonna turn out better than we thought. Looks like we owe a lot to poor Harry Fortune. And the first thing that we can do is to turn him free. I'm going back to the jail now. Does anybody go with me?"
They came instantly, in a swarm. The house was emptied from top to bottom. In the waves went Anthony Hazzard, drawn along against his will. But he could not be left out of the ceremony. He had become the most necessary man in it, for the nonce. The sheriff himself walked beside him.
"A good thing for Harry Fortune that you live in this here town, Mister Hazzard. That was a fine thing, as I'm here to state, when you stood off the bunch of us. I'll say, free and easy, that I wouldn't've chanced walkin' into the mouth of that shotgun... what's that?"
Someone crowding through the door had jarred against the kitchen stove, and there was a great rattling. But they came on through and out of the house and flooded in great excitement through the street.
"Mister Hazzard, now that I have the first chance to speak to you I want to..."
It was the Congressman, Mr. Alexander Elkin, a famous rancher, a famous fighter, a clean-lived, strong-minded politician. He had come up on the other side of Anthony Hazzard and was pouring forth what lay in his heart.
"I want to tell you what it has meant to me. The whole story that Harry Fortune told after he got to the jail... of how you found him in the snow... brought him home... fed and revived him... and what we know of how you would have fought for him... why, sir, one story such as that is enough to turn all of our young men into generous-minded heroes. Really. For my own part, I want to thank you, Mister Hazzard, for the way in which this thing has filled my heart. I hope that the lesson you have taught me and all of us on this Christmas Day will never leave me. I hope it brings some good action out of my life. And..."
But here a universal clamoring drowned his voice as the crowd's foremost ranks reached the jail. He could only take the already bruised hand of the money-lender and wring it.
Anthony Hazzard, looking down at his hand, looked down on his heart, also. And what he saw was stranger than all else that had happened. For he felt that all his money, multiplied 10,000 times, could never have bought for him a thing so precious as this overflowing of kindness and love from all about him. It had been strange food for his soul at first, and he had been moved to scorn and almost to laughter by it. But now that emotion changed. He felt, instead, that for the first time in many, many years—perhaps the first time in his life—his very soul had been awakened. Now that it was roused, now that it looked about through his eyes, like a new-created god in man, what did he desire most of all? Not that his millions should be increased, but only that he had a just claim upon the outpouring of affection that surrounded him.
The jail doors were opened again; arrangements would be made to secure Fortune's pardon. Here was Harry Fortune coming out with a radiant face. There was Anne Hazzard meeting her lover with unashamed joy in the face of all the crowd—ah, how merry a Christmas Day for all saving only Anthony Hazzard himself, who was looked upon by all the rest as the very mainspring of all the happiness. No time for meetings and congratulations now, but he felt one thrilling touch of joy. At least, out of the sham of this day's accomplishment, there would be one concrete termination—and that would be the marriage of Anne and Harry Fortune. God be praised for that one thing.
Then a rumor—then a loud, clear shouting rushed upon the crowd. "Fire! Fire! Fire!"
Whose house? It was Anthony Hazzard's house. He, and perhaps one other man, might have remembered the rattling noise of the jarred kitchen stove. From that accident, perhaps—but who could tell? The sweet nothings that had filled his brain suddenly vanished. The keen, cold wind of reality rushed over his soul. Yonder was the mounting cloud of smoke, every instant swelling, and within the grip of the flames lay $20,000 in hard cash! He began to run like a youthful athlete.
WHEN they reached the house it was plain that it was utterly doomed. No bucket line could ever feed water into the place fast enough to extinguish even a corner of the fire. Fanned by a thousand little drafts, the flames had already run over the lower floor of the building and every window was black with smoke or brilliant with leaping red tongues. Harry Fortune tried to run forward. Half a dozen strong men threw themselves upon him and nailed him to the snow.
"It's no use, Harry. We know what you'd like to do for Hazzard, so does he, but, whatever you do, don't throw yourself into the fire for nothing. Look there!"
The house was very old, built of dry wood, and the flames had scoured quickly along the rotten moldings. Now a stroke of the heavy wind, pressing against the door, tore it from the jamb that the fire had half rotted away. It fell in with a noise drowned in the yelling of the gale, and exposed a dark interior of the hallway, quivering with flames.
"Look what would have happened to you, Fortune."
"It's Anne's dog," said Harry Fortune, still struggling against those strong hands. "It'll break her heart if it's not gotten out."
"If there's a dog in there, it's dead already."
Dogs, dogs—they could talk of dogs when in his own room neatly stowed in the little case, $20,000! He broke into a run, skirted swiftly through the crowd, and, before his intention could be discerned and himself stopped, he had crossed the intervening space and was lost in the darkness of the hallway.
Not darkness, either, for the gloom was half deepened with smoke and half relieved with flickering lights from the flames. But the fire itself was not half so dreadful as he had expected. Outside, he heard the wild yell of the crowd.
"Come back, Hazzard! Come back!"
Cowards and fools—while a small fortune, worth the price of all their heads, consumed to ashes in his own room? He sped up the stairs. To his horror, the fire was already there. All up the way the red hands reached for him, seared his face, clutched at his body. If he had only had the foresight to dash water over himself.
But it was too late to pause for that. He reached his door and cast it open. A great cloud of smoke rolled sullenly forth into his face, like a great spirit beating him back. He sank, gasping to the floor, more than half throttled. But the air near the floor was fresher. He crawled ahead. He reached for the chest of drawers in which his treasure was secreted—and his hand encountered smooth, soft fur.
Jerry was there!
A stroke of awe and of terror fell upon Anthony Hazzard. For although he could understand that the flames and the smoke might have driven the little dog up the stairs, it was strange that it should have managed to get into his room. Suppose that, having reached the room, the wind had blown the door to behind him, still, what made Jerry crouch just before the treasure of Hazzard?
The puppy came crawling to him, gasping, but wagging its tail, and tried, again, to crawl up his leg. He sent it, head over heels, the length of the room away from him. His business was with $20,000, not with a morsel of dog flesh. He tore open the drawer and brought out the little box, but as he turned to flee with it, a staggering little white thing limped toward him across the floor.
Anthony Hazzard cast a hand before his eyes to shut out the sight of it and cried out in a wild voice. Then he dropped the box, he caught up Jerry, and ran to the window. A blow of his fist beat out the pane. He leaned above the crowd and what a shout rose and rang in his ears. He had a glimpse of a sky in fierce tumult, and one low-winging cloud that seemed to be driven straight toward his face. This he saw as he held the puppy straight out before him by the scruff of his neck. Half a dozen men instantly stripped off their coats and held them out like baskets to catch the prize. Yonder was Anne Hazzard, running swiftly toward the spot.
He dropped Jerry and saw it safely caught. Then he turned to find the box. But a great red arm of fire was flung out before him. He recoiled. A dozen teeth of flame sank into his flesh. He started again, and again the fire rose like a spirit before him. Still a third time he lunged forward and this time he managed to catch up the box and, whirling, started for the door. But as he turned, a part of the fire-crumbled ceiling sagged and fell.
He sprang away. He could see clearly by the flame lights; he could think clearly. He could hear the roar of the flames and the overtones of the winds that screamed, rejoicing, around the house. He seemed to know that it was the hand of God that was striking him down, after three warnings to leave the money behind him.
This was death; this was the end. Some men said that, in dying, they saw all their lives before them like pictures brightly painted. But his life had been money, and he saw nothing of that now. He saw only the face of Anne Hazzard and of Harry Fortune as they had been raised to him in the crowd, and the fall of Jerry to safety.
I am getting old and weak-minded, said Anthony Hazzard to himself. This is certainly no time for such nonsense. But in spite of himself, he smiled, and his heart was content. Jerry, he said to himself, will miss his first master. That was the last thought of Hazzard.
A groan from Hazzard, as he struggled back toward consciousness, was the guide for the sheriff and Harry Fortune. For, when the money-lender did not appear at once after Jerry had been dropped, they had made for the flame-choked door of the house together. Now they heaved the solid beams and the litter of slats and plaster aside. They reached Hazzard, and Harry Fortune lifted him like a child, then down the stairs and out into the sacred coldness of that day while the whole roof crashed in and cast out a huge circle of smoke, streaked through with flying sparks.
A flying timber knocked down Harry Fortune with his burden. It was the Congressman and the sheriff who picked it up. They carried Anthony Hazzard into the nearest house; they leaned above him like mothers over a sick child until he opened his eyes.
"How's Jerry?" asked the money-lender.
"I told you," whispered Anne Hazzard, and placed the dog in the hollow of his arm.