Little Si Berrybush

The Chronic Loafer held in his hand a single sheet of a Philadelphia
paper nine days old. The other pages had long since left the store in
service as wrappings. This treasure he had rescued from such ignominious
use and now was poring over it letter by letter. The center of the page
was within three inches of the end of his nose. His brow was furrowed
and his lips moved. At intervals he lifted his right hand and with the
forefinger beat time to his reading. He was comfortably fixed on an
egg-crate close by the stove. The paper hid him from the view of his
companions. They could not see the earnest workings of his features but
they could hear a steady, sonorous mumble and were curious. They knew
better than to interrupt him in his arduous task, however, and awaited
with commendable patience the time when he should choose to come forth
from his seclusion and tell them all about it.

They had not long to wait. Suddenly he jerked his head forward three
times, viciously butting the paper, simultaneously emitting a burring
sound not unlike that of an angry bull when he tears up the sod with
his horns. The curtain fell to show him calm again but with a puzzled
expression on his countenance.

“Teacher,” he said, “what does _h-a-b-e-a-s_ spell?”

“Hab-by-ace,” replied the pedagogue promptly. He threw out his chest and
fixed his thumbs in their favorite resting-place, the arm-holes of his
waistcoat. His attitude was that of a man who was full to the neck with
general information and only needed uncorking.

“Habbyace,” said the Loafer. “Habbyace–habbyace–that’s a new un on me.”

“Doubtless it is,” the other retorted, “if you have never studied Latin.
It means _have_.”

“Have–have,” muttered the Loafer, more puzzled than ever. “Then what’s
_c-o-r-p-u-s_ spell?”

“Corpuse,” replied the pedagogue, “being the Latin for body.”

“Then I’m stumped.” The Loafer crumpled up his paper in one hand and
shook the other at the assembled company. “Them ceety lawyers certainly
beat the band.”

“What’s all the trouble now?” inquired the Tinsmith.

The Loafer unfolded the sheet again and smoothed it out on his knees.
Then he leaned over it and eyed it intently.

“I was jest readin’ a piece about a man called Jawhn O’Brien,” he said
slowly. “He was ’rested fer killin’ his wife an’ two young uns. It sais
the evydence is dead agin him an’ he is sure to hang. He has hired J.
Montgomery Cole to defend him. The first thing the lawyer does is to go
inter court an’ ast fer a habbyace corpuse. Mighty souls! The idee! How’s
that to defend a man–jest to ast fer his dead body.”

The Patriarch shook his head solemnly. “Terrible–terrible,” he said.
“Sech men ought never git diplomys.”

“Yit, Gran’pap,” suggested the Tinsmith, “don’t ye think after all it’s
best they is some sech lawyers? Why, ef it wasn’t fer the dumb lawyers
they’d never be no murderers brought to jestice.”

“True–true,” said the old man. “Now it used to be that ’hen a man
committed murder he was tried, an’ ef the evydence was agin him, he was
hung. Nowadays a felly commits murder an’ a year is spent hevin’ him
indickted. After he’s indickted a year is ockypied with these habbyace
corpuse proceedin’s. They settles who gits the body in caset he’s hung
an’ then they finds what they calls a ‘flaw in the indicktment.’ They
indickts him agin. Next comes the question of a ‘change in vendue.’ It
takes a year to argy that pint an’ after it the trial begins. Ef he’s
found innercent it means he’s ben livin’ th’ee years doin’ nawthin’ at
the county’s expense. Ef he’s found guilty his lawyer takes what they
calls an ‘exception,’ meanin’ he objects to him bein’ hung. It takes a
year to—-”

“But, Gran’pap,” interrupted the Loafer, “ye must remember that the
principle o’ the law is that because a man commits murder is no sign he’s
guilty.”

“I know–I know,” the Patriarch said. “Ye can’t catch me on law. I thot
o’ stedyin’ it oncet. But ez I was sayin’–where was it I left off?”

“What’s a ‘change o’ vendue,’ Gran’pap?” inquired the Miller.

The old man glared at the speaker.

“That wasn’t the pint where I left off,” he snapped.

“Yes, but what is it, Gran’pap?” the Tinsmith asked.

But the Patriarch had forgotten all about the defects of the law. He had
leaned forward, resting his hands on his cane and his head on his hands,
and was studying the floor intently.

“Buttonporgie stood six feet two in his stockin’s,” he said half aloud,
after a long silence. “That there was the way to do ’em. Now ef Si
Berrybush hed ben livin’ to-day, he’d be fussin’ with indicktments an’
changes of vendues an’ all them things an’—-”

“Who air you talkin’ to now?” exclaimed the Loafer.

The old man looked up. “Oh!” he said. “I forgot. Sure, I forgot. Ye never
heard o’ Tom Buttonporgie did ye, or Si Berrybush?”

None of the company had heard of the pair, so the Patriarch consented to
enlighten them.

“I got the main pints o’ the story from Tom himself,” he began. “He used
to tell it ’hen he stayed at my pap’s place ’hen I was a bit of a boy.
He allus told it the same way, too, which was evydence of it bein’ true.
I wish all you uns could ’a’ heard him. Mighty, but it was a treat! Why,
he was never in our house two minutes till us children was runnin’ ’round
him callin’ to him to tell us how he done Si Berrybush. But he’d never
give us a word till he’d opened his pedler’s pack an’ sold somethin’ to
Ma an’ the girls. Next it was his supper an’ a pipe. Then I’d climb on
his one knee an’ my sister Solly on the other. Ed an’ May ’ud git on
the wood-box an’ Pap an’ Ma on the settee. It took th’ee pipes to wind
Tom up. Then he’d go beautiful. The words ’ud role out like music an’
you’d fergit the kitchen an’ the folks around. You’d be out in the woods
with him, steppin’ along with him hour after hour ez he was carryin’ Si
Berrybush to freedom. You’d see the things ez he saw, an’ you’d feel
the things ez he felt. Now ye was low down an’ discouraged. Everything
was dark ez ye stumbled on an’ on, achin’ in every limb, expectin’ each
minute ’ud be your last. Now ye was hopin’. They was a chance fer ye yit.
The light broke. The load was gone. Si Berrybush was gone, an’ ye was
back in the ole kitchen agin, with Pap an’ Ma sound asleep on the settee.

“Ez I was sayin’, Tom Buttonporgie stood six feet two in his stockin’s
an’ was a most powerful man, fer walkin’ day after day, luggin’ a great
pack on his back, hed give him the muscles of an ox. He used to come to
this walley oncet every summer so he knowd well o’ Si Berrybush, who
was the desperatest man ever seen in these parts. Si’s ockypation was
robbin’. He made his headquarters in the mo’ntain acrosst the river. His
hand was agin everybody an’ everybody knowd it, yit he never was catched.
Oncet a pedler was found dead in the bushes with a bullet hole in his
head an’ his pack turned inside out. They sayd Berrybush did it, so he
went down to the Sheriff’s an’ give himself up. They was no evydence an’
he walked home agin. A couple o’ times things like that happened an’ yit
they was never an ioty o’ proof. He’d ’a’ died a nat’ral death, I guess,
ef he hedn’t forgot himself one night in the willage an’ shot Joe Hyde.
They was too many fellys handy who hed grudges agin him to let him git
away, an’ they clapped him in jail, tried him an’ sentenced him to be
hung.

“Now, about this time, Tom Buttonporgie come over the mo’ntain inter the
walley. Late in the afternoon he reached Ben Clock’s place near Eden, an’
ez they knowd him well they ast him to spend the night. After supper the
family hed a game o’ cards an’ about nine o’clock Tom tuk up his pack
an’ started fer the barn where he was to sleep, fer the house was full.
Clock lighted the way with a lantern an’ saw him comfortable fixed. The
pack was stowed away in a corner o’ the barn-floor, while the pedler was
settled nice ez ye please on a horse-blanket in the hay-mow.

“Tom Buttonporgie slept sound an’ hard. Everything in this world was
pleasant fer him. Things was goin’ his way. It’s strange that it should
be so, boys, but yit it is true that sleep comes easiest an’ quickest to
them ez hes nawthin’ but good things to forget in it. So from the time he
laid his head down on the hay till a kick awoke him, Tom knowd nawthin’.
He opened his eyes with a jerk an’ set up an’ rubbed ’em. The airly
mornin’ light was jest creepin’ inter the barn, but he could make out
only a small, dark figure a few feet away.

“‘Good morning, Mr. Clock,’ sais he wery pleasant, tho’ he was a leetle
put out at the rough way he’d ben woke.

“‘Good mornin’, Tom,’ sais the figure wery cheerful. ‘You’ve mistook me,
fer my name is Berrybush.’

“‘Hen the pedler hear that he made a grab fer his pistol. He’d laid it in
the hay close to him, but now it was gone. He started to rise but he felt
a steel bawrel pressed agin his head. Buttonporgie was big an’ full o’
grit, but he knowd that ye can’t argy with lead. So he set down.

“‘Well,’ sais he, ‘I guess you’ve got me, Mr. Berrybush.’

“‘I think I hev,’ the murderer answers, ‘an’ I’ve got ye good,’ he sais.
‘I intend to keep ye, too, fer I’m right fresh out o’ jail an’ soon the
whole country’ll be lookin’ fer me. Excuse the familiarity,’ he goes on
polite like, ‘but we’ll be Tom an’ Si fer some hours to come, fer you’re
to carry me outen these parts in your pack.’

“That idee made Buttonporgie gasp. He tried to git up but bumped agin the
pistol.

“Si Berrybush laughed an’ went on in that pleasant way o’ his: ‘I notice
the plan ain’t takin’ well with ye, Tom, but you’ll see how nice it
works. While you slept,’ he sais, ‘I fixed the pack. The goods is all
stowed away here in the hay an’ I find I fit the leather box to a T. I
git in it; you put it on your back an’ go th’ee mile an hour. Nawthin’s
easier.’

“Then he laughed like he’d die.

“Be this time they was quite some light in the barn an’ the pedler was
able to see who he hed to deal with. The first sight was encouragin’, fer
he was but a bit of a man, not more than five feet th’ee. He’d a wery
small body set on crooked spindle legs. His face was pleasant enough,
fer they was nawthin’ in his leetle, black eyes an’ heavy, red beard to
mark him ez a desperaydo. The only real onlikely thing about him was the
pedler’s pistol.

“Tom kind o’ cheers up now an’ sais, sais he, ‘Si, you’ve mistook the
whole thing. Don’t ye see I’ll turn ye over to the first men we meet?’

“At that Si th’owed back his head an’ laughed.

“‘Will ye?’ he sais. ‘Well I guess ye would, only this pistol’ll be
stickin’ th’oo a hole in the back o’ the pack. Ef you go to carry out
sech an idee two bullets’ll end the both of us, an’ that’s a sight better
than hangin’. So come on,’ he sais. ‘We must be movin’.’

“Tom wasn’t in fer undertakin’ sech a job without objectin’.

“‘See here, Si!’ he sais. ‘I appeals to you ez a gentleman,’ he sais.
‘I’ve allus heard you was a gentleman in spite o’ your faults–I appeal
to you to tell me what good it would do you to kill yourself an’ me too.
You hain’t no particular spite agin me,’ Tom goes on, ‘an’ I hain’t no
particular spite agin you. I’m willin’ fer you to stay in this barn an’
me git out, or fer you to git out an’ me stay, both of us keepin’ quiet.’

“Si’s eyes kind o’ twinkled an’ he pulled his beard like he was thinkin’
wery hard.

“‘Shake me, Tom!’ he sais at last, ‘ef I don’t like a man o’ your
sperrit. Ef I wasn’t in sech a bad hole I’d be tempted to accept your
offer. But onfortunate fer both of us,’ he sais, ‘this whole walley will
be overrun with searchin’ parties in a few hours. They’ve got a chancet
to hang Si Berrybush an’ they ain’t goin’ to lose it ef they can help it.’

“Buttonporgie was a nice man an’ a smart man at his business, but they
was some things that it was a leetle hard to git into his head.

“‘See here!’ he sais, not satisfied. ‘I can’t see what good it ’ud do
you to shoot me ef I was to call one o’ them searchin’ parties to take
a look in my pack. You’d hev to hang anyway. Why couldn’t ye jest shoot
yourself?’

“‘You’re wastin’ walable time,’ Si answers. ‘I’ll kill myself sooner than
be catched. Ez long ez you know that you’ll be killed ef I am catched,
you won’t bother callin’ folks to see what you are carryin’. An’, Tom,’
he went on, ‘I might jest ez well tell you now that ’hen we git well out
o’ harm’s way, I’m goin’ to shoot ye anyhow. I don’t want to leave no one
’round to blab.’

“Si Berrybush smiled the innercentest smile you uns ever see, an’ the
pedler chewed a straw a spell.

“Then he looks up an’ sais, ‘You must take me for a dummy?’

“‘Why?’ Si asts.

“‘Do you think I’ll lug you thirty or forty mile jest so you can shoot
me?’ answers Buttonporgie. ‘I might ez well call it up now!’ he sais.

“Si cocked his pistol careless-like an’ pinted it at the other man’s
head ez tho’ it was his finger an’ he was jest makin’ a good argyment on
religion.

“‘You are a dummy,’ he sais, laughin’. ‘Now don’t you s’pose that ez long
ez you think there’s hope, a chancet o’ your comin’ out alive, you’ll
carry me. Of course ye will,’ he sais. ‘Not till there’s not an ioty of a
possibility o’ your doin’ me, will you let me finish you.’”

“Mighty souls, but that Si was an argyer, now wasn’t he!” the Miller
interrupted.

“He’d ’a’ looked like small potatys ’long side o’ my Missus. I mind the
time ’hen jest fer fun I—-”

The Patriarch tapped the Loafer gently on the knee with his cane.

“My dear man,” he said gently, “never interrupt a good story. It ain’t
polite. There is some peculiarly minded folks ez is never happy ’less
they is doin’ all the talkin’. Now where did I leave off?”

“Where there was hope–some hope,” the Miller answered.

“Hope–oh, yes–hope,” the old man continued. “Mighty! Why I’ve knowd
a sensible hen to set four weeks on a chiny egg, jest in hope that
she might be mistaken. Si Berrybush knowd human natur’ well, fer it
didn’t need but a wiggle or two o’ the pistol to bring Buttonporgie to
takin’ his view o’ the sensibleness o’ hopin’. The pedler looked kind o’
sheepish an’ ’lowed he guesst Si was right. Si sayd he guesst he was, an’
climbed into the pack, an’ most mighty snug he fit it. Then Buttonporgie
knelt down, put his arms th’oo the straps an’ lifted the load high on his
back. Si closed down the flap. A second later Tom felt the muzzle o’ the
pistol pressin’ him gentle like atween the shoulders.

“‘Now we’re off,’ sais Si, ‘over the mo’ntains th’oo Windy Gap. Step
light, ole hoss,’ he sais, ‘fer the gun’s cocked an’ too much joltin’ll
send it off.’”




“Mighty souls!” interrupted the Loafer. “An’ how fur did he hev to carry
him, Gran’pap? A mile?”

“A mile!” exclaimed the Patriarch. “Pshaw! Does you uns think a mile ’ud
’a’ put Si Berrybush outen the way o’ the sheriff’s posse. Why, the whole
county was alive that mornin’. It was hardly sun-up ’hen Tom Buttonporgie
stepped outen Clock’s barn an’ went ploddin’ up the big road with his
pack, yit at the eend o’ the first mile he met th’ee men on horseback,
an’ they pulled up an’ told him all about Berrybush an’ warned him to
keep out a sharp eye. Tom felt the pistol bawrel kind o’ nosin’ ’round
his shoulders, so he laughed wery pleasant an’ ’lowed it was all right;
he was obliged fer the warnin’ but there was no help fer Si Berrybush ef
he ever come within the length o’ his arm. On he went agin. Ez the last
o’ the horses’ hoofs died away down the road he hear a gentle chucklin’
coming from his pack.

“‘Wery good,’ sais Si, ‘most a mighty good.’

“The pedler was a religious man yit he swore. At that he could feel his
pack palpitatin’, fer his load was laughin’ an’ laughin’ to beat all. Tom
swore some more, but he kept up his walkin’.

“Si ’lowed it wasn’t nice fer Tom to carry on so.

“‘It makes me feel bad,’ he sayd, talkin’ th’oo a slit in the top o’ the
pack. ‘It makes me feel bad, Tom, to hear you behavin’ like that. I don’t
mind killin’ a good man, fer I knows he’ll git his reward in the next
world. But shootin’ a felly after he’s used sech language hurts me,’ he
sayd.

“With that he rubbed the nose o’ the pistol between Tom’s
shoulder-blades. The pedler jest bubbled.

“‘Keep on hopin’, Tom,’ he heard the woice at his back. ‘Mebbe
somethin’ll happen ’twixt now an’ to-morrow mornin’ that’ll let you free
o’ your pack!’

“The sun come out hot, an’ the road was dusty. The load was heavy an’
they was a good many long hills. Time an’ agin Tom ’ud slow down. ‘Git
up, ole hoss,’ he’d hear come from behind him. Then they’d be that
pistol jabbin’ him. He’d make a face an’ pick up his gait. Time an’ agin
he met parties ez was out huntin’ the murderer. Sometim’s he’d hurry by
them; others he stopped an’ talked to, askin’ all about Si Berrybush an’
his escape, thankin’ ’em fer their adwice an’ ’lowin’ over an’ over agin
he’d give his last cent jest to have the leetle man in his grasp.

“Be noon he’d covered nine mile an’ reached the foot o’ the mo’ntain.

“‘Now see here, Si,’ he sais, sais he, ‘you ain’t goin’ to kill your
horse be overwork, are ye? S’posn I drop down in the road!’

“‘Nobody’s sorrier than I am fer your trouble, Tom,’ come the answer.
‘It’s really pitiful. But I’ll risk your givin’ out–I’ll risk it.’

“Then there was the pistol agin.

“At the last house in the walley Tom stopped an’ got a loaf o’ bread
be special permission. The woman wanted to hev a look at his pack, but
he sayd no; what he had in it wasn’t worth lookin’ at. He was carryin’
low-down, mean, mis’able stock that wasn’t fit to show to no lady.
Besides–the pistol was jabbin’ him–he hed to hurry on to git over the
mo’ntain be sunset. An’ on he went.

“Si begin laughin’ so hard it set the pack joltin’ up an’ down on Tom’s
back an’ almost upset him.

“‘That was a mean undercut you give me, Thomas,’ sais the murderer. ‘A
gentleman should never abuse a gentleman behind his back!’ he sais. ‘Now
s’posn you pass that bread in here.’

“‘But I got it fer meself,’ Tom wentures.

“‘Did ye?’ answers Berrybush, pressin’ on the butt of the gun jest a
leetle. ‘Well, s’posn ye pass it in anyway an’ dewote the rest o’ the
afternoon to hopin’. Mebbe you’ll git it after all.’

“Tom passed it.

“The road was steep an’ the way was rough in the mo’ntain. Strong ez
he was an’ light ez was the murderer, the work begin to go heavy with
him. But the pistol was allus at his back proddin’ him on. Oncet he
stepped inter a chuckhole an pitched for’a’d, his hands jest savin’ him
from strikin’ his face to the ground. He thot that all was up with him,
fer the pack was jerked up on his head, wrenchin’ his shoulders most
dreadful. He closed his eyes expectin’ to hear the crack o’ the gun an’
then go plungin’ on agin fer ever an’ ever.

“Nawthin’ happened. He climbed to his feet kind o’ dissypinted, fer
instead o’ his journey bein’ ended he hed to go limpin’ ahead. Si was
a-cursin’ him dreadful. Tom walked like an ellyphant, he sayd, an’ was
joltin’ his bones all out o’ j’int. Next time he stumbled the gun ’ud be
cocked dead sure.

“The sun was settin’ ’hen they reached the edge o’ the woods on yon side
the mo’ntain. The murderer pushed up the lid o’ the pack an’ looked out
over Tom’s shoulder. He pinted acrosst the walley twenty mile to where
they could see the hills agin. There, he sayd, he’d be th’oo with his
mule.

“Th’oo with him! Tom knowd what that meant. He knowd now Si Berrybush
’ud keep his word; that he’d never git out o’ that pack an’ leave a man
alive an’ runnin’ round to tell where he could be found. He was almost
willin’ to call the game up right there an’ lay down his load an’ his
life together, but still there was hope. It was precious leetle, to be
sure, but still some. Ez Si sayd, they was no tellin’ what might happen
agin they got to the end o’ that twenty mile.

“Berrybush pulled in his head an’ let the flap down over it. ‘Git up’, he
sais, ‘git up, ole Tom.’ An’ with that he give him a prod.

“On Buttonporgie went, down the slope inter the walley, each step takin’
him nearer an’ nearer the hills. The sun set an’ the darkness come to add
to his troubles. The lights went out in the houses ’long the way an’ they
wasn’t no sound to cheer him up, not a sound but the steady breathin’ in
his pack an’ the rattle o’ the gravel under his own shufflin’ feet. It
was awful travellin’ that way, straight on an’ on to the hills where he
was to die, feelin’ allus on his back the weight o’ the man who was to
kill him.

“Final he couldn’t stand the silence no more. ‘Si,’ he cried, ‘Si, won’t
ye talk to me!’

“They wasn’t no answer. He only heard a heavy breathin’ in the pack.

“The moon come up an’ lighted the road an’ the dogs begin to bay at it.
That might ’a’ cheered him up some had he ’a’ heard ’em, but he didn’t
hear nawthin’ now. Tom Buttonporgie was dazed like. He kept on a-walkin’
an’ a-walkin’, but the straps no longer cut his shoulders an’ he forgot
the load on his back. The road with the moonlight pourin’ over it seemed
like a broad white pavement crosst the walley, smooz ez marble. They was
no chuckholes now to stumble in, no thank-ye-ma’ams to jump over, no ruts
to twist his ankles. It was all smooz–smooz ez marble it was. On he
went, faster an’ faster. He wanted to git to the eend o’ the white road
now an’ lay down his pack an’ sleep. He was walkin’ mechanical.

“All o’ a sudden a queer sound woke him from his doze an’ he stopped
short. It all come back agin. He was in the road an’ the road was
rough, an’ the straps was cuttin’ dreadful, an’ his legs felt like they
was givin’ way under him. The pack was on his back an’ awful heavy
too. He reached up his hand an’ felt it. But a queer sound was comin’
from it–most a mighty queer. Tom didn’t dast breathe. He stood still
listenin’. Then it come louder–a soft purrin’, gentle ez a cat’s. An’
the peddler laughed. Natur’ hed tackled Si Berrybush an’ walloped him. He
was snorin’.

“There was an oneasy movement in the pack. Tom’s heart fell. He stepped
on wery cautious. Now agin come the sound, louder an’ louder.

“The road took a sudden turn ’round a thick clump o’ woods an’ crossed
a stream on a rickety timber bridge. There Buttonporgie stopped. An’ ez
he leaned agin the rail an’ looked down into the water there below him,
gleamin’ along in the moonlight, everything kind o’ passed away from his
mind. He only knowd that he was wery hot, an’ the pool looked so cool
an’ inwitin’. He only knowd that he was wery tired, an’ the pool looked
so soft an’ nice, ez ef it was jest intended for limbs achin’ like ez
his. He’d miles yit to go afore he reached the hills. Si was sleepin’.
Si wouldn’t mind. Si wouldn’t know. They’d be movin’ agin afore Si woke
up. So he climbed over the rail an’ stepped off. The wotter closed over
his head an’ he went down an’ down, the great weight on his back draggin’
him. But that wasn’t what he wanted. He was jest goin’ to lay there in
the cool stream an’ look up at the stars an’ rest. His feet struck the
bottom an’ he tore his arms free o’ the straps that held the awful weight
to him. In a second he was on the surface an’ swimmin’, fer he was wide
awake.

“He used to say that ez he stood there on the bank lookin’ at that quiet
pool it seemed ez tho’ it was all a dream; that he’d never met the
murderer an’ carried him thirty mile on his back, or felt the prod of his
pistol every time his steps lagged. But ef it was a dream, he thot, then
what was that he seen that rose to the surface an’ went bobbin’ away on
the current? It was Si Berrybush’s ole cloth cap.”