Imágenes de páginas

Lockwood got down off the ledge in a sluggish way, and walked around the end of the counter to the stove-pipe which ran from the box-stove in the store up through the office above. "I say, Tom!" he called. "What?" came out of the pipe.

"Dave Sovine says he can beat you at any game you choose. Come down and try him." Grayson was bending over a law-book with only a tallow candle for light. Studying the law of common carriers was, in his opinion, dull business for a fellow with good red blood in his veins. He heard the murmur of conversation below, and for the last half-hour he had longed to put the book up beside its sheepskin companions on the shelves and join the company in the store. This banter decided him.

pursuit or inquiry was made by his family, and his eye significantly, and involuntarily disthe neighbors suspected that his departure closing a vein of exultant deviltry which made was not a source of regret. At Shawneetown the cool-blooded Lockwood recoil a little; the flat-boat was suddenly left without a cook. however, George felt that it would be a satisDave had been sent up in the town with a faction to see Tom's pride reduced. little money to lay in supplies of coffee and sugar; instead of coming back, he surreptitiously shipped as cabin-boy on the steamboat Queen of the West, which was just leaving the landing, bound also for the "lower country." Sovine had afterward been in the Gulf, he had had adventures in Mexico, and he had contrived to pick up whatever of evil was to be learned in every place he visited. He had now come home ostensibly "to see the folks," but really to gratify his vanity in astonishing his old acquaintances by an admirable proficiency in deviltry. His tales of adventure were strange and exciting, and not likely to shrink in the telling. The youth of Moscow listened with open-mouthed admiration to one who, though born in their village, had seen so much of the world and broken every one of the commandments. For his skill at cards they soon had not only admiration but dread. He had emptied the pockets of his companions by a kind of prestidigitation quite incomprehensible to them. He seemed to play fairly, but there was not a loafer in Moscow who had not become timid about playing with Dave; the long run of luck was ever on his side. It was much more amusing to his companions to hear him, with ugly winks and the complacent airs of a man who feels sure that he had cut his eyeteeth, tell how he had plucked others in gambling than to furnish him with new laurels at their own expense.

On this particular evening Dave Sovine lounged on one of the counters, with a stack of unbleached "domestic," cloth for a bolster, while his bright patent-leather shoes were posed so as to be in plain view. Thus comfortably fixed, he bantered the now wary and rather impecunious "boys" for a game of poker, euchre, seven-up, or anything to pass away the time. George Lockwood, as representing the proprietors of the store, sat on a ledge below the shelves with his feet braced on a box under the counter. He was still smarting from his discomfiture with Rachel Albaugh, and he was also desirous of investigating Dave Sovine's play without risking his own "fips" and "bits" in the game. So, after revolving the matter in his mind as he did every matter, he said to Dave, with a half-sinister smile :

"Tom Grayson's upstairs in Blackman's office. Maybe you might get up a game with him. He plays a stiff hand, and he a'n't afraid of the Ole Boy at cards, or anything else, for that matter."

"You call him down," said Dave, winking

"I'll come down a little minute and try just three games and no more," he said. Then he closed the book with a thump and went down the outside stairway, which was the only means of egress from the law-office, and was let into the back door of the store by George Lockwood. He got an empty soap-box and set it facing the nail-keg on which Dave Sovine had placed himself for the encounter. A half-barrel with a board on top was put between the players, and served for table on which to deal and throw the cards; the candle rested on the rusty box-stove which stood, winter and summer, midway between the counters. Lockwood snuffed the candle and then, with an affectation of overlistlessness, placed himself behind Sovine, so as to command a view of his cards and of all his motions.

Tom had prudence enough to insist on playing for small stakes of a twelve-and-a-half-cent bit at a game; - his purse was not heavy enough for him to venture greater ones. At first the larger number of games fell to Grayson, and his winnings were considerable to one who had never had more than money enough for his bare necessities. He naturally forgot all about the law of common carriers and the limit of three games he had prescribed himself.

Dave cursed his infernal luck, as he called it, and when the twelfth round left Tom about a dollar ahead, he gave the cards a "Virginia poke" whenever it came his turn to cut them; that is to say, he pushed one card out of the middle of the pack, and put it at the back. By this means Dave proposed to "change the luck," as he said; but George Lockwood, who looked over Dave's shoulder, was not for a minute deceived by this manœuvre. He knew that this affectation of a superstition about luck

Tom's losses were relatively great; it was a kind of small ruin that had suddenly overtaken him. A month of writing, if he had it to do, would not have replaced the money, nor was his a nature that could easily brook defeat. The very courage and self-reliance that would have stood him in admirable stead in another kind of difficulty, and that in other circumstances would have been accounted a virtue, were a snare to him now.

"Look here, Dave," he said, with a voice choked by mortification, "give me a chance to win a little of that back," and he laid his pocket-knife on the table.

"Tom, you'd better quit," said three or four voices at once. But Dave rather eagerly laid a half-dollar by Tom's knife and won the knife. He liked this chance to give a certain completeness to the job. Then Tom laid out his silk handkerchief, which he also lost - for the games all went one way now. "Come, Tom, hold on now," said the chorus.

and the efficiency of poking the cards was only a blind to cover from inexpert eyes the real sleight by which Dave, when he chose, could deal himself strong hands. Even the Virginia poke did not immediately bring a change, and when Tom had won a dozen games more than Dave, and so was a dollar and a half ahead, and had got his pulses well warmed up, Dave manifested great vexation, and asked Grayson to increase the stakes to half a dollar, so as to give him a chance to recover some of his money before it was time to quit. Tom consented to this, and the proportion of winnings passed to the other side of the board. Dave won sometimes two games in three, sometimes three in five, and Tom soon found a serious inroad made in the small fund of thirteen dollars which he had earned by odd jobs writing and even by harder and homelier work. This money had been hoarded toward a new suit of clothes. He began to breathe hard; he put up his hard-earned half-dollars with a trembling hand; and he saw them pass into Sovine's pocket with a bitter regret; he took But Tom was in the torment of perdition. his few winnings with eagerness. Every lost He glared at those who advised him to desist. half-dollar represented a day's work, and after Then, in a mixture of stupor and desperation, every loss he resolved to venture but one more, he placed his hat on the board against a dolif the luck did not change. But how could he lar and lost that; then he stripped the coat endure to quit defeated? He saw before him from his back and lost it, and at last his boots weeks of regret and self-reproach; he felt a went the same way. When these were gone, desperate necessity for recovering his ground. having nothing further to wager without conAs the loss account mounted, his lips grew dry, signing himself to aboriginal nakedness, he the veins in his forehead visibly swelled, and sat in a kind of daze, his eyes looking swollen the perspiration trickled from his face. He and bloodshot with excitement. tried to hide his agitation under an affectation of indifference and amusement, but when he essayed to speak careless words for a disguise, his voice was husky and unsteady, and he kept swallowing, with an effort as though something in his throat threatened him with suffocation. Dave noted these signs of distress in his adversary with a sort of luxurious pleasure; he had in him the instincts of a panther, and the suffering inflicted on another gave an additional relish to his victory.

Lockwood watched the play with a sharp curiosity, hoping to penetrate the secret of Sovine's skill. He felt, also, a certain regret, for he had not expected to see Tom quite so severely punished. At length Tom's last dollar was reached; with a flushed face, he held the coin in his trembling hand for a moment, and then he said bravely: "It might as well go with the rest, if I lose this time," and he laid it down as a single stake, hoping that luck would favor him.

When Dave had pocketed this he leaned back and smiled with that sort of ruthless content that a beast of prey feels when he licks his chops after having enjoyed a meal from his lawful prey.

"Come, Dave," said Lockwood, "give him back his clothes. You 've won enough without taking the clothes off his back."

"That's all you know about it," said Dave, who noted every token of Tom's suffering as an additional element in his triumph. "That may be your Illinois way, but that is n't the way we play in New Orleans. Winnings is winnings where I learnt the game." And he proceeded to lay Tom's things in a neat pile convenient for transportation.

"Aw! come now, Dave," said one and another, "'t a'n't the fair thing to send a fellow home to his folks barefooted and in his shirtsleeves."

But Dave smiled in supercilious contempt at this provincial view of things, and cited the usages of the superior circles to which he had gained admission.

Lockwood at length lent Tom the money to redeem his garments, and the necessity which obliged him to borrow from the man who had got him into the scrape was the bitterest of all the bitter elements in Tom's defeat. He went out into the fresh air and walked home mechanically. His dashing, headlong ways had already partly alienated his uncle, and the

only hope of Tom's retaining his assistance long enough to complete his law studies lay in the chance that his relative might fail to hear of this last escapade. It was clear to Tom without much canvassing of the question that he could not borrow from him the money to replace what he had gotten from Lockwood to redeem his clothes. He entered the garden by the back gate, climbed up to the roof of the wood-shed by means of a partition fence, and thence managed to pull himself into the window of his own chamber as stealthily as possible, that his uncle's family might not know that he had come home at half-past twelve. He stood a long while in the breeze at the open window watching the shadows of clouds drift over the moonlit prairie, which stretched away like a shoreless sea from the back of his uncle's house. He could not endure to bring his thoughts all at once to bear on his affairs; he stood there uneasily and watched these flitting black shadows come and go, and he gnashed his teeth with vexation whenever a full sense of his present misery and his future perplexities drifted over him.

[ocr errors]

Tom sat looking out of the window. Ever since his gambling scrape he had imagined his mother's plaintive voice excusing him in this way. It was not the first time that he had had to be pulled out of disasters produced by his own rashness, and it seemed such an unmanly thing for him to come home with his troubles; but he must pay Lockwood quickly, lest any imprudent word of that not very friendly friend should reach his uncle's ears. Nothing but the fear of bringing on them greater evil could have scourged him into facing his mother and sister with the story of his gambling. Once in their presence, his wretched face had made it evident that he was in one of those tight places which were ever recurring in his life. He made a clean breast of it; your dashing, dare-devil fellow has less temptation to lie than the rest of us. And now he had told it all,— he made it a sort of atonement to keep back nothing,— and he sat there looking out of the window at the steady dropping of a summer rain which had pelted him ever since he had set out from Moscow. He looked into the rain and listened to the quivering voice of his disappointed mother as she rummaged her drawer to take enough to meet his debt from the dollars accumulated by her own and Barbara's toil and management - dollars put by as a sinking fund to clear the farm of debt.] But most of all he dreaded the time when Barbara should speak. She sat at the other window of the room with her face bent down over her sewing, which was pinned to her dress at the knee. She had listened to his story, but she had not uttered a word, and her silence filled him with foreboding. Tom watched the flock of bedraggled and down-hearted chickens creeping about under the eaves of the porch to escape the rain, and wondered whether it would not be better to kill himself to get rid of himself. His mother fumbled long and irresolutely in the drawer, looking up to talk every now and then, mostly in order to delay as long as possible the painful parting with her savings.

He shut the window and went to bed at last, and by the time daylight arrived he had turned over every conceivable expedient. There was nothing for him but to accept the most disagreeable of all of them. He would have to draw on the slender purse of his mother and Barbara, for Lockwood's was a debt that might not be put off, and he could see no present means of earning money. He purposed to make some excuse to go home again on Saturday. It would be dreadful to meet Barbara's reproaches, and to see his mother's troubled face. How often he had planned to be the support of these two, but he seemed doomed to be only a burden; he had dreamed of being a source of pride to them, but again and again he had brought them mortification. Had he been less generous or more callous he would not have minded it so much. But as it was, his intolerable misery drove him to castle-building. He comforted himself with the reflection that he could make it all right with the folks at home when once he should get into practice. Barbara should have an easier time then. How often had he drawn drafts on the imaginary future for consolation!


"You didn't mean no harm, Tommy," said Mrs. Grayson," I know you did n't." She was fumbling in the drawer of a clothes-press, built by the side of the chimney in the sitting-room of the Grayson farm-house in Hubbard township. She kept her money in this drawer concealed under a collection of miscellaneous articles.

"I know you did n't mean no harm, Tommy; I know you did n't; but it's awful hard on Barb'ry an' me, partin' with this money. Dave Sovine 's a wicked wretch to bring such trouble on two women like us, that 's had such a hard time to git on, an' nobody left to work the place. Out uv six children, you an' Barb'ry 's all that's left alive. It's hard on a woman to be left without her husband, an' all but the two youngest children dead."

Here she stopped ransacking the drawer to wipe her eyes. She gave way to her grief the more easily because she still lacked resolution to devote her earnings to filling up the gap made by Tom's prodigality. And in every trouble her mind reverted involuntarily to the

greater sorrows of her life; all rills of disappointment and all rivers of grief led down to this great sea of her sorrows.

"You 're the only two 't 's left, you two. Ef you'd just keep out uv bad comp'ny, Tommy. But," she said, recovering herself, "I know you're feelin' awful bad, an' you 're a good boy only you 're so keerless an' ventersome. You did n't mean no harm, an' you won't do it no more, I know you won't."

By this time Mrs. Grayson's trembling hands, on whose hardened palms and slightly distorted fingers one might have read the history of a lifetime of work and hardship, had drawn out a cotton handkerchief in which were tied up thirty great round cumbersome Spanish and Mexican dollars, with some smaller silver. This she took to a table, where she proceeded slowly to count out for Tom the exact amount he had borrowed to redeem his clothes,-not a four-penny bit more did she spare him.

At this point Barbara began to speak. She raised her face from her work and drew her dark eyes to a sharp focus, as she always did when she was much in earnest.

"It don't matter much about us, Tom," she said, despondently. "Women are made to give up for men, I suppose. I've made up my mind a'ready to quit the school over at Timber Creek, though I do hate to."

"Yes," said her mother, " an' it 's too bad, fer you did like that new-fangled study of algebray, though I can't see the good of it."

"I don't want to hurt your feelings," Barbara went on, "but maybe it'll do you good, Tom, to remember that I 've got to give up the school, and it 's my very last chance, and I've got to spin and knit enough this winter to make up the money you 've thrown away in one night. You would n't make us trouble a-purpose for anything,-I know that. And, any way, we don't care much about ourselves; it don't matter about us. But we do care about you. What 'll happen if you go on in this heels-over-head way? Uncle Tom 'll never stand it, you know, and your only chance 'll be gone. That's what 'll hurt us all 'round-to give up all for you, and then you make a mess of it-in spite of all we 've done."

“You're awful hard on me, Barb," said Tom, writhing a little in his chair. "I wish I'd made an end of myself, as I thought of doing, when I was done playing that night."

"There you are again," said Barbara," without ever stopping to think. I suppose you

think it would have made mother and me feel better about it, for you to kill yourself!"

"Don't be so cuttin' with your tongue, Barb'ry," said her mother; "we can stand it, and poor Tom did n't mean to do it." "Pshaw!" said Barbara, giving herself a shake of impatience, "what a baby excuse that is for a grown-up man like Tom! Tom's no fool if he would only think; but he'll certainly spoil everything before he comes to his senses, and then we 'll all be here in the mud together; - the family 'll be disgraced, and there 'll be no chance of Tom's getting on. What makes me mad is that Tom 'll sit there and let you excuse him by saying that he did n't mean any harm, and then he 'll be just as gay as ever by day after to-morrow, and just as ready to run into some new scrape."

"Go on, Barb; that's hitting the sore spot," said Tom, leaning his head on his hand. "Maybe if you knew all I've gone through, you'd let up a little." Tom thought of telling her of the good resolutions he had made, but he had done that on other occasions like this, and he knew that his resolutions were by this time at a heavy discount in the home market. He would like to have told Barbara how he intended to make it all up to them whenever he should get into a lucrative practice, but he dreaded to expose his cherished dreams to the nipping frost of her deadly common sense.

He looked about for a change of subject. "Where 's Bob McCord?" he asked. "It was a rainy day, and he's gone off to the grocery, I guess," said Mrs. Grayson. "I'm afeard he won't come home in time to cut us wood to do over Sunday."

Tom had intended to ride back to Moscow and pay his debt this very evening. But here was a chance to show some little gratitude a chance to make a beginning of amendment. He did not want to stay at home, where the faces of his mother and Barbara and the pinching economy of the household arrangements would reproach him, but for this very reason he would remain until the next day; it would be a sort of penance, and any self-imposed suffering was a relief. The main use that men make of penitence and the wearing of sackcloth is to restore the balance of their complacency. Tom announced his intention to see to the Sunday wood himself; putting his uncle's horse in the stable, he went manfully to chopping wood in the rain and attending to everything else that would serve to make his mother and sister more comfortable.

(To be continued.)

Edward Eggleston.



MONG the first questions which arise in the mind of any dispassionate student of contemporary Russian history when he reviews the events of the last twenty years are the following: "What is the real nature and significance of the protest against authority which has recently taken so extreme and violent a form in Russia; what are its original causes, and what are the opinions, hopes, and aims of the party or class which manifests such an unconquerable spirit of rebellion and which acts with such fierce and destructive energy? Is the protesting party or class a homogeneous body, all of whose members are inspired by the same ideas, or is there a difference of opinion among its constituent units as to principles and methods of action? Is what the world calls Nihilism' a mere philosophy of negation and destruction, which does not look beyond the overthrow of existing institutions, or has it in view some ideal of social order which it hopes ultimately to realize? If the Nihilists are social reformers sincerely desirous of improving the condition of the people by changing the social and political order of things in the direction of greater freedom, how did it happen that they began their protest at the very time when such changes were being made with great rapidity, and why did they fiercely and vindictively pursue and finally murder Alexander II., the man who was granting, as fast as it seemed prudent or practicable to grant, the very reforms which they themselves demanded? In short, what do the phenomena of contemporary Russian history mean ?"

These questions must be answered before any intelligent idea can be formed of the existing situation in Russia, and before any prediction can be made as to the probable outcome of the struggle which is there going on. It has been my fortune, in the course of the last two years, to make the intimate personal acquaintance of more than five hundred members of this Russian protesting party, including not less than three hundred of the so-called "Nihilists" living in exile at the convict mines and in the penal settlements of Siberia. I can perhaps throw some light, therefore, upon the problems presented by recent Russian history, and answer some of the questions which necessarily suggest themselves to the attentive student of Russian affairs. The subject, however, is one of great extent and complexity, and it is not my purpose in the present paper to even make an attempt to deal with it

as a whole. I desire merely to correct some widely prevalent errors and then to present one phase of the Russian protest against authority; namely, the peaceful legal argumentative phase which preceded the appeal to force and out of which ultimately the appeal to force came, as the necessary and inevitable result of the failure of the peaceful protest.

There is a widely prevalent impression in America that the protesting party or class in Russia is essentially homogeneous; that its members are all "Nihilists"; that they prefer violence to any other means of redressing wrongs; that they aim simply at the destruction of existing institutions, and that there is in this so-called "Nihilistic" form of protest against authority something peculiar and mysterious-something which the Occidental mind cannot fully comprehend, owing to its ignorance of the Russian character. This impression, as I hope to show, is almost wholly an erroneous one. In the first place, the protesting party in Russia is not, in any sense of the word, homogeneous. Its members belong to all ranks, classes, and conditions of the Russian people; they hold all sorts of opinions with regard to social and political organization, and the methods by which they propose to improve the existing condition of things extend through all possible gradations-from peaceful remonstrance, in the form of collective petition, to "terroristic" activity, in the shape of bombthrowing and assassination. The one common bond which unites them is the feeling which they all have that the existing state of affairs has become insupportable and must be changed.

In the second place, there is no protesting party in Russia to which the term "Nihilistic can be properly applied. This may, perhaps, seem like a paradoxical statement in view of the fact that we have never heard of any other protesting party in Russia; but it is a true statement, nevertheless. There is no party in the empire which deliberately chooses violence and bloodshed as the best possible means of attaining its ends; there is no party which aims merely at the overthrow of existing institutions, and there is no party which preaches or practices a philosophy of negation and destruction. I make these assertions confidently, because my acquaintance with so-called "Nihilists" is probably more extensive and thorough than that of any other foreigner, and I have discussed these questions with them for many hundreds of hours. Liberals, reformers, socialistic theorists, revolutionists, and "ter

« AnteriorContinuar »