Durgan took the terrier and led him up and down through the bit of
sequestered woodland; but the animal, beyond enjoying the unusual
festivity of a night walk, exhibited no sense of the situation. It
stopped to bark at no tree-foot, and altho it resented the intrusion of
the driver, discovered nothing else to resent.
The slow-tongued driver made another remark. “That’s a queer thing, too.
I’d have thought he’d have barked at a cat in a tree, I would.”
Durgan had despised Alden in the vicious snap of his pitiless anger
against the fugitive; but as the night wore on, and he saw his face grow
more and more haggard, as if he were aged by a decade since the last sun
shone, he was glad to procure him rest or relief of any sort.
Confident that the dog would give warning if the prisoner climbed down,
Alden accepted the use of Durgan’s bed; but it was easy to see that he
could not rest. There was the constant secret movement of one who was
pretending to be still.
“Perhaps you would rather talk,” said Durgan. “I wish you would tell me
all you know about Miss Claxton’s father. Is she like him?”
“Not at all. I found little to respect in his character.”
“I suppose you dug up his past very thoroughly.”
“There was nothing in it but selfishness and vanity. He was of old
colonial stock, but had been ill-reared to leisure and luxury–the worst
training in a new country, where these things involve no corresponding
responsibilities. He married into a plain New England family for the
sake of money. The mother of Hermione, I need not say, was immensely his
superior; but she died at the birth of the second daughter. There is
some disparity of age between them–Hermione—-”
Durgan had to bring him back from reminiscences of his love.
“Ah–as to Claxton’s ill health, if it interests you, I judge that it
dated from a blow to his vanity. He was very worldly, and, when a
widower, did a good deal of amateur acting, and became engaged to marry
a young beauty who had just come out as a public singer. Society took
her up. She was the belle of the season, and jilted Claxton. It was a
matter of talk; but I don’t suppose his daughters ever heard of
it–daughters don’t hear such things, you know. He kept them in a
country boarding-school, where, I am happy to say, Hermione got
Durgan smiled to himself over the quaint phrase used so seriously. “But
“He married in pique a dull pink and white society woman, with more
money; and then became a chronic invalid. When he was tired of his wife
he sent for his daughters. I never heard that he was unkind to them, or
to his wife; but it seemed to me he only cared for them as they devoted
themselves to his comfort. Hermione–often has she discussed it with
me–was very anxious as to his spiritual state. It was her great desire
that he should seek salvation. It was that desire that caused her always
such distress when her father finally dabbled in spiritualism. His
death, in a still ungodly state, was, I can aver, her worst trouble in
all that terrible chain of events. She felt so much that she never
mentioned her concern about him again.”
Alden had been speaking in a sleepy way, as if his recent distrust of
his chosen lady was obliterated by some fragrance from the poppy beds
of weariness and love and night.
He slept at last. The bleakness of the mountain night had given place to
a balmy rain.
Durgan pondered. He knew that his wife would bow down to one like
Claxton, who had had the social ball at his feet; she would regard his
intimate knowledge of the society she desired to cajole as a most
valuable property, and would risk much to retain it.
When the gray morning came they went out to the trees again, but no one
was hiding among them.
Then they went down by the road, and climbed along to the foot of the
precipice; but, making the closest search along its base, they found
Alden became racked by a new fear: the unknown had perhaps cheated them,
and recrossed the road. The desperate condition of the man, the women
unprotected–these thoughts were so terrible that he ran up the hill to
protect them, unconscious that his valor was out of all proportion to
When he was gone the driver said, “Forty dollars didn’t get the better
of me crossin’ that road while I kep’ an eye on it, I reckon.”
The mountain forest dripped and trickled, the dry ground soaking in the
moisture with almost audible expansion of each atom of earth, each pore
of fern and leaf, and the swelling of twigs. The wet and glisten
everywhere deepened the color of rock and wood, moss, lichen, and weed.
The driver stood considering the face of the rock; the terrier began
nosing among some fallen leaves; Durgan was looking this way and that,
to see which might have invited the nearest temporary hiding. Alden had
believed the stranger’s weakness a pretence; Durgan believed the
strength he had shown to be the transient effect of fear.
The driver at length said, “Hi! Look here. What’s that?”
He pointed to a black bundle in a fissure of the precipice.
“That there fur coat! I’ll be blowed! He got down here, sir; and he had
the devil to help him–leastwise, reckoning from all I have seen this
night, I conclude that Satan was in the concern. He climbed down that
crack in the rock, sir, and caught on by the bushes on the way, and
scrambled along that slantwise bit, and then he got hold of the tree. He
warn’t killed or maimed or he’d be here.”
“Then we’ve lost him.”
“Mr. Bantam Cock will perhaps be sending despatches for to apprehend him
at the different steam-car depôts, for to get my forty dollars.”
“Say we make it fifty?”
“Well, sir; I would say, ‘thank you.'”
“And that would be all you would say, mind you, or I’ll have you turned
off at the hotel.”
“Then I won’t even say that, sir. There ain’t anything comes easier to
me than shuttin’ up, I reckon.”
After this colloquy, which passed quickly, Durgan was turning upwards
when he heard a horse ascending the road. In a few minutes he had met
his two negro laborers coming to their work, and, behind them, the
doctor from Hilyard, riding, as he usually did, with saddle-bags, his
old buff clothes much bespattered.
“The yellow nigger is dead, Mr. Durgan. He died last night with the
change of the weather. You told me to keep him alive till you came, but
you didn’t come. He was a very curious fellow–not half bad; and his
last freak was to ask me to come and tell you to look sharp after the
visitor he sent you. So, as you’re not much out of my way to-day, I’ve
come at once.”
He got off his horse, and the two men talked together.
The doctor, whose ordinary round comprised anything within a radius of
thirty miles, had not been in Hilyard when the rich traveler from New
Orleans arrived and started again. His wealth and imperious airs had
impressed the little town, but beyond the fact that he had gained a
private interview with the dying prisoner, nothing was known about him.
“And the odd thing is,” said the doctor, “that ‘Dolphus sent the jailer
with every cent he had in the world–about fifteen dollars–to bribe the
driver. As to his health, he was decidedly better, and when this Mr.
Courthope turned up he seems to have acted like a well man, and made him
believe he was well. When I got home there was a report about that the
stranger was a wonder-worker, and had cured him. But when I went to him
the fever was up. After his last flash in the pan he burnt out in a few
Durgan supposed there might be something of greater importance to
justify the doctor’s ride. “Perhaps,” he said, “he asked you to bring a
message to Mr. Alden or Miss Smith?”
“He was a most extraordinary fellow,” said the other. “I never was quite
sure when he was talking sense and when nonsense. But the message was to
you; and it was that you were to keep this Courthope, and write to the
chief of police in New York and claim the reward offered in the Claxton
case. And you are to give as much of the money to Adam as you think
will pay for his wife. He said he’d die easy if I’d give you that tip;
and he did die easy.”
Durgan smiled sadly at the pathos of the dying nigger’s interest in his
fellows and his desire for justice to be done. “Did you reckon him
“That’s just as you choose to take it,” said the doctor. “I’m accustomed
to hearing secrets and forgetting them. My only business before I forget
this one is to ascertain that a dangerous character is not left at
large. If you cannot give me that assurance, I suppose I ought to tell
the police myself.”
Durgan felt that the case of the Claxton sisters had now reached
extremity, and, much against his will, he replied in a nonchalant tone,
“We must come and talk the matter over with Mr. Alden.” He saw no means
of securing the runaway or of hiding the scandal–he hardly desired to
hide it. He felt stunned at the shame that must fall on his wife.
As they turned the doctor said, “You think this yellow fellow and his
sort mere trash, Mr. Durgan; but I’m inclined to think he would have
made a good citizen with any sort of training. He had more public spirit
than ten of our corrupt politicians rolled into one.”
“Perhaps so,” said Durgan absently. “I may be prejudiced.”
He whistled the dog, and heard nothing at first, but then, from a nook
below the hill, came an answering yelp. The yelp was repeated.
The driver, who had been standing passive at a distance, sauntered
nearer. “There’s something queer about that dog. He’s been down there a
powerful while. If he’d found another shoe he’d bark like that. And
mebbe there’s another shoe still to find, sir, for if two fits out a
man, a man in conjunction with the devil might require two more.”
Durgan took the hint, and went down towards the dog. He was puzzled by
its peculiar call. It came a little way to meet him, crawling and
fawning, but returned swiftly whither it came.
In a few minutes more Durgan was looking down on the prostrate body of
the unknown traveler. He was lying straight and flat on his back; his
eyes were open, and they met Durgan’s with a mournful look of full
intelligence which, in that position, was more startling than the glazed
eye of death. The terrier licked the hand that lay nearest the face,
then licked the brow very gently just for a moment, and yelped again.
“Why don’t you get up?”
The stranger’s lips moved. Durgan had to kneel to hear the thick effort
The lips moved feebly to let Durgan know that, after his escape, the
seizure had come as he fled. The doctor came, and gently moved hand and
foot, testing the muscles and nerves. He confirmed the self-diagnosis.
The stricken man had probably lain unconscious half through the night,
but his mind was clear now.
The rain had washed the temporary dye and all the stiffness from his
hair. It lay gray and disheveled about his thin, brown face. The haggard
lines were partly gone; the dark eyes looked up steadily, sad as eyes
could be, but fearless.
The change was so great that Durgan spoke his involuntary sympathy.
“Guess you feel nothing worse can come to you now.” Then he added, “Keep
up your heart. I’ll take you where you will be well cared for.”
The driver had followed slowly, and looked on without query.
“You bet,” he said at length; “the devil’s gone out of him.”
Durgan wondered if that was actually what had happened when Bertha felt
the peace of God, and Hermione slept, and the wretched mulatto found
ease in death.
“He had over-exerted,” said the doctor, “and all the tonic went out of
the air when the rain fell.”