THE LAW'S VINDICATION
C. W. STEPHENS
THE hour was five. Shalor sat at his office desk putting his papers in order, preparatory to leaving for the night. He was the assistant county crown attorney. In his early thirties, keen, alert, aggressive, his well-groomed appearance suggested prosperity. His official position he owed to his political prominence, though his abilities were exceptional. He was a man with few friends, had been too busy and self-centred to spend time in making them, and rather prided himself on his independence in such matters.
Shalor had an excellent opinion of himself, and even those who disliked him conceded that he was likely to go far in his profession; there is usually a prominent place at the Bar for the aggressively pushful person. A few years before he had been a clerk in the office of the Jordan department store,
Bridgeton’s largest retail establishment; while there he had attended a night school, and later had succeeded in passing the Bar examinations and gaining admittance to the ranks of those certified to practise the more or less distinguished profession of the law. Bridgeton knew him as a hustler, with a pair of eyes fixed on John Shalor and his interests. Only once had he been known to wander from the narrow way of business ambition, and display the average instincts of young male humanity. He fell in love with Ethel Millman, an attractive girl who worked in the cashiers’ department of Jordan's store. He was unfortunate in that she preferred another man, one Frank Hardy, who worked in the same office. She married Hardy, and it was characteristic of Shalor that he never spoke to either of them, after their engagement, for many years. That was Shalor—it was almost a penal offence to cross his ambition, certainly an unforgivable one.
He had finished sorting papers, and was about to close his desk when there* was a tap on the door, and a stout elderly man entered. His blue clothes, brass buttoned, indicated that he was a county constable. He dropped into a chair as a privileged person, mopped his heated forehead with a not over-clean bandana handkerchief, then produced a plug of tobacco and bit off a large chunk. Bill Cardwell was very much at home with law men generally. “Well, what’s the news?” asked Shalor crisply.
“Then you aint heard?” Bill responded, resorting to his handkerchief again. He seemed to be somewhat agitated. .“Just had the toughest job I’ve ever handled, and I’ve had some tough ones in my thirty-five years as county officer. I’ve arrested Frank Hardy for embezzlement, and he’s back of the bars over in the lock-up.”
HALOR swung his chair about with roused interest.
( ‘Hardy, eh?” he commented. “That’s surely news.” Got away with six hundred dollars; of course he’s bonded, and between Jordan and Moorehouse, the bond representative, they had him pulled in, though both of ’em felt as bad about it as I did. Frank’s been with the firm ever since he left high school.
Got into some kind of a fix, I guess. You know how it’s been with them this while back; ever since Ethel lost her little boy she’s been all broken up and sickly. There have been big doctor’s bills to pay and Frank had to send her south for the last winter or two, and what with one thing and another he got into a tight fix and helped himself to some collections. You know the hellish game; a fellow gets into a hole, there’s money he can use for a few days. He never doubts but he’ll be able to put it back, and then he’s nicked before he can do it. It broke me all up. Why, Ethel’s been used to run in and out of my house like one of our own ever since she could toddle.”
“You’re mushier than I’d thought, Bill,” responded Shalor. “If a fellow’s caught picking pockets on the street, or holding up his neighbor and frisking his pocket book, there’s no slopping over him; he just gets what’s coming to him, and folks say what a good thing it is for the community. Where’s the difference? Hardy was a trusted man, and took advantage of the trust reposed in him to run crooked. Most thieves and burglars have got relatives, and there are barrels of tears when they’re sent up. I’ye no patience
with that kind of stuff, it’s like the sentimentalism that makes women you’d think decent and level-headed send roses to condemned murderers. Hardy had every incentive to run straight, and if he chose to go crooked so much the worse for him, and the woman who took him for better or for worse has to stand it when it turns out to have been for the worse.”
Cardwell looked at him intently. He knew all about Shalor’s courtship of Ethel Millman in the old time. The old fellow was sentimental, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. He had no fear of Shalor before his eyes, and spoke as he thought.
“I guess when the good Lord made you, Shalor, he forgot to put the soul in,” he said bluntly.
The other did not take offence; he was in an exceptionally good humor, so he laughed heartily.
“Maybe that’s so,” he replied. “Anyway, I’m glad he put brains instead of the putty that stands for them in some people.”
npHE Hardy case was assigned by the head of the department to Shalor. When the time drew near for it to come into court for final disposition Hinksman, the crown attorney, discussed it with him.
“About this Hardy embezzlement case,” he said, “it’s on your docket so I don’t want to interfere, but there seems to be a quite unusual amount of public interest in the matter. It seems that Hardy has borne a very high character, and that there are circumstances bearing upon the offence that have created a great deal of sympathy for him. The money has been replaced; it was not taken for selfish extravagance but in a moment of very severe temptation, when the man was harassed about money to give medical attention to an invalid wife. Perhaps you know him?”
“Yes, I know Hardy,” replied Shalor.
“Well, that simplifies matters,” said Hinksman. “As I said just now I don’t want to interfere with your handling of the case; there have been representations made to me, but I referred those who made them to you. If you think as I do, perhaps we can get the judge to let the matter go by with a suspended sentence, or something like that. Jordan will take the man back as soon as he is free; that should count. However, the deputation that waited on me will be in to see you. All I wanted you to know was that I’d support you in a lenient attitude.”
Hinksman was a gentleman of the old school, not very brilliant but greatly liked for his big heart. For such a man Shalor had no use whatever.
“Lump of mush!” he sneered, when the door closed on his superior.
A couple of days later the deputation waited on Shalor. It embraced half a dozen of Bridgeton’s leading men— clergyman, banker, business men, together with Jordan and Moorehouse. They set the facts before Shalor as he knew them and said they represented the general feeling of the town in asking for clemency. They dwelt on the sickness of the accused man’s wife, and pointed out the dangerous results that severity in punishment might bring about. Few
things had ever given Shalor more gratification than the sense of power that the pleaders gave to him. He replied to them with unusual suavity, for they were men of high standing. He would give his most careful consideration to everything they had stated, and with that assurance they were quite satisfied. It was not their purpose to bargain with the law, or exact from its ministers definite promises. It was enough that Shalor would give consideration to the matter, and it was generally assumed that the law would temper justice withmercy, and give this over-tempted young man, heavily burdened as he was, a chance. Shalor grinned when they had taken their departure.
“Slop! Sentimental slop!” he muttered when alone again.
The day before the trial he called at Jordan’s store on some private matter. When he entered the private office of Mr. Jordan he saw Ethel Hardy there. He did not withdraw, that was not Shalor’s way. It might have implied, had he done so, that he was afraid of meeting her. It was some time since he had last seen her, and the change in her astonished him; he wondered he could ever have thought her pretty or desirable. She was thin, pale, haggard; only, it seemed to him, in his swift glance, her eyes remained as they had been, deep, lustrous, brilliant. He gave her no greeting, covering the omission deftly in his salutation to Jordan. For an instant he thought she was going to speak to him, she leaned forward a little impulsively. There was an appealing tenderness in her eyes and on her lips. He wondered what she now thought of her choice of Hardy in preference to himself.
“I’m glad you looked in, Shalor,” said Jordan smilingly. “The little girl here has been terribly troubled, but I was explaining to her that the law and its administrators have hearts, and that things may turn out better than she has feared.”
“I think I made myself clear w hen the deputation waited on me,” replied Shalor stiffly. “We don’t make over-thecounter bargains in legal matters of the kind.”
“Just so,” said Jordan, somewhat abashed. He would have liked to say just what he thought of the rebuke coming from the upstart snob, but he was a diplomatic man, disliking Shalor but fearing his power in the Hardy case. He promised himself that when this was disposed of he’d let him know what he thought of this tail-horse riding.
“Don’t you worry, Ethel,” he said, after Shalor had left. “He can’t forget he’s a lawyer and assistant crown attorney; you know what they say of putting beggars on horses, and he is mighty touchy about the precious dignity of John Shalor. But he’ll do what’s wanted, Hinksman has given him his line, and he’ll only be glad to do what the public wants. He’s for Shalor every minute of every day, and has his money to make from the public. Now you go home, my dear, sleep easy to-night, and by this time to-morrow you’ll have Frank with you, the clouds blown away, and everything even better than before.”
She hesitated, doubt in her eyes, her lips trembling.
“I’m afraid of him, Mr. Jordan—afraid of him. He hates Frank, he hates me; he never forgets and never forgives,” she said.
“You’re nervous, my dear,” he soothed gently. “The law’s no bully, it does not persecute. It’s got an ear for reason. Now don’t fret any more, you’ll see I am right within a few hours. Now I’m going to send you home in my car. Not a word—I’ll have my own way.”
'T'HERE was no defence. Hardy pleaded guilty and the -*■ only matter before the court was in respect of the senence to be imposed. The spacious room was crowded when the case was called, for it was the burning topic for the moment in Bridgeton’s life.
Seated on one side of the room, on the judge’s right hand, were the witnesses as to the reputation the accused had hitherto borne in the community. Hardy sat with his lawyer a few steps from Shalor, his wife by his side. They were there when Shalor, who had an eye for dramatic entries, made his appearance, bustling in importantly when the room was full and the scene set. One by one the townsmen were called by Hardy’s lawyer, and gave their testimonies, which were really pleas for mercy. The old judge on the bench was visibly impressed, and so far relaxed his attitude of impartiality as to nod his head suggesting agreement with the speaker. Shalor had no high opinion either of his backbone or legal attainments. It would have been extremely difficult to find a man of whom Shalor had a high opinion. They were mostly mush, or slush, or putty— three of his favorite epithets in mood of high contempt.
He listened, a smile on his well-satisfied face, to the sentimental tributes, the teary plea offered by Hardy’s counsel, and then, when it had ended, he rose. He had the dramatic instinct very acutely developed, and did not rush into his speech. He knew the great values of pause and silence. For a minute or two he played with his papers, then straightened up, glanced round the court at the crane-necked crowd, swept the faces of the pleaders for Hardy, looked the accused in the face and let his eyes rest on the flushed eager face of the sick woman he had once professed to love. He saw no appeal in Hardy’s eyes—the man was far from being broken yet. In those of the woman—they seemed more hauntingly brilliant and searching than ever—there was imploration. It seemed to Shalor that she asked for mercy by the right of the love he had once declared for her. He wondered if she were sorry now that she had married that criminal before the court instead of him —■ Shalor — who was master of this impressive situation. He did not think she was sorry—women were obstinate that way, he told himself.
He spoke slowly at first, very deliberately choosing his words, fashioning his sentences into the curt, decisive, telling form that he cultivated. None could listen, he said, to the appeals of the eminent and highly respected gentlemen who had testified to the previous character of the accused, without being deeply impressed. It was a not unpleasing trait in human nature that even where the culprit deserved condemnation, tender sympathy out-flowed. There was a divineness in pity that made one think well of one’s kind. This was Shalor stump-speaking. He lied in every word of it, knew he was lying, but it was part of the paint and grease-pot stuff of legal play-acting. He played with this for a little time, and so skilfully that not a person in court but decided—perhaps with the exception of the accused himself—that when he had finished showing off he’d ask for a suspended sentence. Then he suddenly turned. There were facts that were not to be ignored, the law declared the wrongdoer must be punished. Neither he nor the learned judge on the bench had made the law. It was their business to declare and administer it; did it mean what it said? If a man was a thief—stole—the law demanded his punishment. If a man, who had been highly respected, greatly trusted, stole, was his offence to be regarded as less than the crime of the footpad? There were hundreds of boys and young men in that city of Bridgeton entering business daily. Would it be helpful to them, in the hour of temptation that would possibly come to them, to know that this man Hardy, with so much at stake to compel him to keep straight, had stolen his employer’s money and been allowed to escape without adequate punish-
The law demanded vindication. Theofficers charged with its administration had a sacred duty imposed upon them; on him as prosecutor to present its demands, on the learned judge to pronounce what the statute-books said he should pronounce.
There should be no evasion because the duty was an unpleasant one.
He was now directing all his impressive power on the judge, and fancied he could see the soft putty, as he mentally regarded him, hardening under the icy stream of eloquence.
Whether their duty harmonized with the kindly emotion of the public for the moment, or not, he contended mattered little ; they were pledged to do their duty, even when it was distasteful and unpopular.
Then the judge took up the spotlight. Hardy stood before him. There was compliment to the kindly-hearted citizens, there was a quotation from Shakespeare about mercy and some platitudinous comments on the general theme, and then came the dissertation
on the law, its divinity, its majesty, its impartiality.
Back and forth he droned, one minute making the throng think that he’d free the man, the next that he’d hang him. Finally he pronounced sentence, his eye now resting on Shalor, of whose sharp and disrespectful tongue he was secretly afraid.
Two years’ imprisonment at hard labor was the doom.
There was a rustling in the courtroom, an indistinct buzz as of an indignant hive. Hardy stood some moments, not a muscle of his face moving; Shalor saw that he was not broken yet. And then sounded a cry —a cry that pierced the heart of every person in the room, save perhaps one. It was the bitter wail of infinite, utmost sorrow, and looking in the direction whence it came Shalor saw Ethel Hardy, as one dead, broken, in the care of kindly attendants.
Hardy rushed to her, took her from their hands, and as Shalor saw the look in his eyes, he knew that the man was broken at last.
A week later Ethel Hardy was dead and Frank Hardy in jail.
SHALOR saw Hardy shortly after his incarceration. He was in the jail governor’s office on other business and expressed a wish to see Hardy. It would be interesting to have a look at him under prison conditions. He saw him, going quite close to him and nodding agreeably. The man had changed. He hissed into Shalor’s ear as they were close together.
“I’ll get you yet, Shalor.”
Shalor laughed. He wasn’t at all hurt by the threat. The fellow had always been slush—and this cheap threat was on a par with the rest. He knew that his popularity in Bridgeton had not been enhanced by his attitude to Hardy, or rather his unpopularity had not been lessened, but that did not worry him. He could take care of himself; a man who had to depend on others and what they thought of him was mush—poor stuff. He had vindicated the law, done his duty. A voice sounded within him, a voice that had rarely disturbed his self-complacency.
“You’re a liar, Shalor! You didn’t care a cent’s worth for the law and its vindication; you’ve nolprossed, or let go with suspended sentence, fifty cases infinitely worse than Hardy’s. You drove Hardy to jail for reasons of private vengeance, because he crossed your path. You struck a blow right to the heart of a woman because she loved another man rather than you.”
“Well, let it go at that,” said Shalor mentally, seeking to dismiss the case.
But one thing impressed him, and, in a way, troubled him. Often during the day, in broad light, he would see a pale face, and despite its pallor there was the beauty and sweetness in it of the Ethel Millman he had known and loved as a girl; and the eyes, especially, would turn their brilliance on him, without anger, tender, appealing, wistful eyes. And often in the night they would look out at him, piercing the blackness, and seeming to search into the remotest corners of his soul.
Shortly after Hardy’s case was disposed of, Shalor sent in his resignation as assistant crown attorney. He had taken
the position only as a platform from which to clifiab to something higher. It had been irksome to be, even to a limited extent, under the authority of a spineless bluff like Hinksman There were big corporations in Bridgeton and the vicinity who were desirous of availing themselves of the militant powers of a battler at the bar like Shalor. Negligence suits were often brought against them, and needed fighting by a man who wasn’t too particular about ring rules, and would sneak a horseshoe into his glove if he got the chance. Shalor was a battler, had respect for none, though when it was advisable he could play at being respectful as well as the most obsequious. He would dispute the law of gravitation if it would help his case to do so, and such a man at the bar is invaluable. Often he awes an opponent by his truculence; not infrequently is able to browbeat judge or jury, and is held in dread by a timid plaintiff or his witness. Offers were made to Shalor by corporate interests, and a salary half a dozen times what he had been earning tendered to him. He accepted without hesitation. It was as easy to make fifty thousand a year as five hundred if you knew the game, and had the nerve to play it. He resigned at the end of August although his new appointments did not take effect until the first of January.
CHALOR had never had what he called a real holiday.
In early days he had had no money for holidaying more than a few days now and then, and later he had been too busy. He decided that he would step aside from everything for the rest of the year. He would seek some quiet, out of the way place, where he could ease up, fish while the fishing lasted, hunt and do a good deal of reading. He found a place that just suited him. It was a furnished camp far back from civilization, on the shores of a remote lake, in the heart of the deep woods. It was a dozen miles from the nearest town. He hired it at once and went up.
Woodsmen, on their way into the deeper bush, carried his impedimenta the fifteen miles from railway to camp. It was an ideal spot, matching the man and his mood; here he could step aside from life’s beaten track, review the way he had come, plan the future that promised so abundantly. There was no other camp on the lake, no habitation, so far as he knew, within a dozen miles. He wanted no society, being a self-sufficient man. September was half gone when he entered his camp-home and settled down. The woods were beginning to change color; here and there brilliant patches of vivid scarlet and gold splashed manificently the green canvas of Nature, spreading, as the days wore by, until the vast woodland was a bewildering riot of intoxicating splendors, reflecting their beauty in the mirror of the lake. In one respect Shalor did not find it as solitary as he had first imagined it would be.
There is in every man the subtle link that connects him to his kind. Even the most secluded of hermits must realize it, and when visible, tangible contact has been broken, memory supplies what is missing. So Shalor found it in the quiet solitary days.
There was a world of living creatures about him, men and women he had known, a world that he carried about with him, with whose members he consorted and talked, whom he saw moving about before his eyes. Hardy and his wife he sought to dismiss; he had done with them. One was in jail, the other in the grave. They belonged to a closed volume in his diary of life. Hardy was not very difficult to dismiss, but it was not so easy to seal the woman down within the covers of the book, and, strange as it appeared to him, as time went by, he had less and less desire to forget her. He had not much faith in a future life blossoming out of this— mostly sentimental parsons’ and weak women’s notions, he held such faith but he remembered that in the Bible there was something said about there being no marrying nor giving in marriage in heaven. If there was a Heaven, and Ethel Millman, as he now always thought of her, was in it, the link between her and Hardy had been snapped by death. Again and again he wondered if she had repented of her folly in choosing Hardy instead of himself. And often when he was on the lake idly fishing, or in the quieter evenings before the stove he saw her face, the face of the girl he had first known, not that of the broken woman, sweet and tender, with the laughing kindliness and the deep soft eyes that seemed to reach the very heart of him.
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And he grew softer toward her. She must have been sorry that she crossed him, hurt him. He felt almost that he could forgive. And as he moved about in the thick woods, in the rooms of the little house, he fancied that she was there, at his shoulder, and that if he turned his head he would see her. Sometimes he talked to her after the fashion one gets, in the solitudes, of communing audibly with self or the people of the memory world.
Then winter fell, and he found his camp no less pleasant. The nights were often bitter, but he was snug and warm. The snows fell and the waters of the lake were
clamped down and locked fast. He liked the long evenings, when the lamp shone brightly, the wood in the stove crackled merrily, and outside, in the blackness, the snow beat upon the little house, and the winds roared through the trees. He liked the long-drawn out clanking sound, when the contracting ice cracked, and the note of its music travelled from shore to shore. There were birds in the bush for his gun, and with the sharp weather the duck and geese came down from the farther North and gave him sport. He got his deer, and many an hour he spent on the lake, icefishing, but, best of all were the evenings with his books and papers and his vast content with life as it was and would be. At irregular intervals one of the woodsmen, passing down the rough trail to the distant village would halt his team, plunge through the bush to Shalor’s camp to ask if he could do any errand for the city man. Shalor's drinks were excellent, his smoking stuff of the best, and the woodsman was a neighborly chap. Coming back the man would bring the lawyer’s mail and papers from 1 the post-office.
THE man had not called for nearly three weeks, and when he appeared, on his return trip, late one afternoon, Shalor was unusually glad to see him. To be nearly three weeks out of the world was more than he desired, and he welcomed the great pile of papers the man dumped on the table. The drinks absorbed, the handful of cigars and package of real-stuff tobacco shoved into his pockets, the woodsman went off. Shalor prepared an early supper, ate it, washed the dishes, then sat down before the stove, under the lamplight, for a long agreeable night. He admitted to himself that now and again, lately, he had felt the least bit lonely: books and magazines were all right, but seeing no one for such long periods—no flesh and blood people—he had desire to know what was doing in his live world, the Bridgeton world, among the people he knew—his townsfolks.
He was a methodical man, so carefully arranged his papers for the journalistic feast, the oldest one at the top so that he might read local history in chronological order. With pipe drawing admirably he opened the first paper, its date was three weeks before. His eye swept the headlines, then one in heavy type arrested his attention. He put down his pipe, and read it again, as if scarce believing the testimony of his eyes.
“Frank Hardy Escapes From Jail!— No trace discovered of the dangerous prisoner!”
Eagerly Shalor read the account of the escape. There was a recapitulation of the case; the offence, the home troubles, the wife’s death, the popular sympathy with the man, the exemplary sentence demanded by the prosecuting authorities.
“Slush!” said Shalor irritably, reading it. What interested him more was the story of Hardy in jail. It said that his misfortunes had changed him into a morose, vindictive man; a difficult prisoner. What interested Shalor still more was the mention of a rumor that Hardy had been seen in Bridgeton the night of his escape. The paper assumed he had taken the risk in desperate need of clothes and money, and knew he had friends there who would supply him with what he wanted to make his get-away. Shalor knew better. He knew what Hardy had gone to Bridgeton for, taking the big risk in a town where everybody knew him. He remembered the threat in the jail. He flung down the paper and turned to the later ones, eagerly turning the pages till he found news of the escape. The man, he thought, would certainly be caught, but paper after paper gave no tidings of this, and then, apparently, the matter had ceased to be of live interest and had been almost dropped. In the very latest was a short reference to the escape; Hardy had not been found, and it was assumed that he had got away into the States, and that would be the last Bridgeton would hear of him.
“The fools—-the stupid, incompetent fools!” spat Shalor, thinking of the prison authorities, and then he began to brood, leaning toward the stove, for the night was very cold and wild.
He knew that Hardy had not gone to the States; it was not freedom he was pining for, nor escape from prison life. The fiery hate that Shalor had seen in his eyes had burst its bounds; Hardy could not wait two years, he had gone straight to Bridgeton to find his enemy, his persecutor, the killer of his wife. He had gone to vindicate the law as he saw it. Not finding his man at home, he would surely learn his whereabouts. And that was full three weeks ago! Where was Hardy now—this night—this moment? he might be outside there in the storm and the screening blackness of the woods—watching with those hate-flaming ■eyes, waiting, waiting, for the appearance of the man he sought.
The sharp coldness roused Shalor; the fire was nearly out. He rose and went to the chip-box back of the stove where he usually kept pine chips and cones for fire kindling or reviving; there was not a chip in the box. He cursed irritably. There were plenty of chips in a bigger store-box on the
verandah, and he went to the door, but paused, his hand on the latch. He wondered where Hardy was this night. He turned back to the stove and tried to revive it with the bigger wood, the result was to quite extinguish it, and the cold was biting. The wind had risen, snow flurries beat sharply on the windows. He must have fire. As one shaking off a physical incubus he braced his shoulders, opened the door and went out. The night was pitchy black to his eyes at first, then a dim ghostly white where the snow lay, with the black shadows of the forest behind it. He stood there for some minutes, despite the storm, the beating, sleety snow. The woods, this night, were full of sounds, and ordinarily they were so still. The wind in thejbranches of the trees whined and moaned like human creatures in sore pain and buffeted weariness. Deeper in the forest one heard the crash as some weakling tree broke and was borne tumultuously to the ground by the tempest. And the stillness of the lulls, when the wind, as a shrill virago momentarily breathless, dropped its vehemence until it could fill its lungs again, was even worse than the clamor. Shalor peered into the gloom; there were instants when he was sure he could see some dark moving shadow stealing in the grim blackness across the snow patches from tree to tree, someone on deadly errand waiting—watching. Then he snatched up a handful of chips and went inside. He barred the door, a precaution he had never taken before. In a few moments the fire was burning cheerily; Shalor picked up a magazine and tried to read. Three minutes later he pitched the book into a far corner of the room.
“Bah! all mush and slush!” he said impatiently. Did the magazines never print live man-stuff these days? Nothing but love tales, or tales of some fellow who’d come a cropper, and had got right again; sentimental trash about slipping and seeming to lose out, and then helped to his feet and making good. The world was getting backboneless; the parsons no more preached hell. Justice even was getting sloppy, with all this yap about giving a fellow another chance, and punishment having amendment of the wrong-doer as its real purpose instead of making his back smart.
He looked at his watch, and found that it was only eight o’clock. Still—he’d go to bed, he’d be in better mood when the daylight came. He put out the light and got into his bed in a corner of the room. For half an hour he watched the rays of firelight that escaped the joints in the stove dancing on the ceiling, then they died out and left him in the blackness.
The wind seemed stiller, the blizzard had stopped; he wished it would begin again. He never remembered stillness so profound, so palpable. It seemed to weigh down on one like a suffocating pall. He could see on the blackness the face of Ethel Millman. Her eyes looked down on him, soft and deep and wistful as they had looked at him in Jordan’s office, and in the courtroom. He wondered where Hardy was this night. And then he slept.
HE COULD not have told whether he had been asleep hours or minutes when he woke with a start that drove him to his feet.
What it was he did not know—he could not be sure it was anything but this wretched new nervousness of his. He stood for minutes, his heart beating like a trip-hammer, and he tiying to summon all his power of will and intelligence to calm it. The wind now had ceased altogether. The thought of returning to bed was dismissed. Anything was better than that still darkness, with harassing, nervous, fretful thoughts. He lit the fire and lamp, and again tried to read. The hour, he discovered, was between twelve and one. He fought to rouse interest in what he was reading, and the minutes dragged along. At two o’clock he felt he was master of himself, but—he was not going to put up with another night of it. If his thoughts regarding Hardy were right, and not for an instant did he doubt them, this isolated spot was one of supreme danger. Safety was among his own kind, in the office and busy streets. Here—why a man might be shot from behind a tree, through the window there, and no one know he was dead, perhaps, for weeks. He rose from his chair and began hurriedly to pack his possessions. When he had finished he wrote a note for the woodsman, when he should come along, and laid it on top of the baggage. The note was dated, said that Shalor had gone back, and gave directions for the baggage to be shipped to Bridgeton. This done, and feeling better, Shalor put out the light, and, fully dressed, lay on the bed and drew the rugs over him.
Again he slept and again was waked by terror. He listened with an intensity that gave actual pain, it was no illusion—no fancy of a stillness-racked mind—this time. He could hear the step, stealthy, almost noiseless, in the soft new-fallen snow.
It came nearer—nearer -soft, horribly menacing as the foot of death itself. Now it was at the verandah edge, now a board creaked under the heavy but muffled foot. A shadow passed the window, dimly seen. The man was at the door. Shalor heard him try it carefully, firmly, almost silently. He was unutterably glad that he had barred it securely. Then the man turned away, took one step, and paused outside the window. And Shalor, in the blackness, saw a fur-hooded head indistinctly, and a face pressed against the pane. Then the man turned away again, and Shalor heard the soft crunch! crunch! of his feet on the
The man on the bed waited—waited— waited, then summoning up courage desperately, crept out of bed, and on hands and knees crawled to the window; it was not so dark now, for a late bit of moon was up, though mists obscured the light itself. So misty was it that Shalor was able to see but a hundred yards or so. There was the spot where he had cut the holes for icefishing. He had cut a hole in the ice one cold day for fresh water, and then had placed bushes about it lest the unwary, crossing the lake, should fall into it. It had seemed rather foolish at the time, for no one but himself went near it.
In the dim, hazy light the bushed place looked like a lone grave in some vast white-shrouded cemetery.
He turned from the window. What should he do? Out there in the bush, somewhere near-by, was Hardy, waiting, watching for daylight to come. Hitherto Shalor had longed for the light; now he dreaded it as Hardy’s aid.
Again he looked out; the mists were thicker, the ice-holes were no longer visible, twenty steps from the door he would be in safety,_ hidden by the fog. Instead of travelling the trail where death lurked, he would cross the lake and work his way round to the station—back to living things.
At the door he hesitated again. His appearance might be greeted by a shot from
the shadows, but—it was the lesser risk. He unbarred the door with infinite care, then paused again, and on the curtain of the gloom before him he seemed to see the woman’s face; it had always been at his shoulder before as he moved about. Now it was before him, as one beckoning him forth from this place of peril. He opened the door stopped and listened intently. The world was very still. He stepped out. A board creaked, and he halted—listened again, then swiftly and silently darted toward the deeper gloom of the dark mists. A score of steps, and he was within the shadows, free from the peril, exultant. And on and on he went—on and on into the thicker mists.
A WOODSMAN, reaching the lumber 2*camp, had a dismal tale to tell his
“I called at the shack of the city fellow going down, but it was early in the morning, and pretty dark. I tried the door, but everything was quiet, and I was ashamed to get the man up at that hour, so I went on down. I looked in again, with his mail, coming back, but he’d gone, his stuff was packed up, and a note on it asking for his traps to be taken down. I was one sore man, for I’d been banking on a drink or two, and some smoke stuff.”
“Tough luck!” commented his pal.
But Shalor never reached Bridgeton alive. There was search for him, but not until spring unlocked the ice fetters on the lake was he found. He had slipped into the ice-hole while crossing on his projected way to the station.
What the world did not know was that a few hours after he had gone another man, haggard and weary, came through the bush, with murder, that he called vindication of the law, in his heart, and when he found his quarry gone, he cursed the illluck that had balked him so narrowly. And as he raged, there came to him the loved face of the woman he had lost—as he had thought—and it seemed to him there was in it a great peace and gladness, the gladness of one whose love has passed through sharp perils, and has escaped them. And there came a great peace to the heart of Hardy. Later he returned to jail, after spending weeks in a distant lumber camp. He wanted to get square with the law, and after that go back to Bridgeton, where the body of his wife lay, and there rebuild life where her spirit lived.