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"Aw, well, I'd tell, on'y I'm afeared you'd let out."
"Not me. "T a'n't like me to blab." "Well, I don' mine tellin' you, S'manthy, 'f yeh won't tell the ole man tell mornin'."
"Oh! I'd never tell him. He'd go potterin' all over Broad Run Holler weth it, fust thing." "'S the bes' joke," said Bob, rubbing his knees exultingly; "but I'm afeared you'll tell," he added, rousing himself.
"'Pon my word 'n' honor, I won't. Nobody 'll ever git 't out uh me." And S'manthy emphasized this assurance by a boastful nodding of the head forward and to one side. "Well, 'f you think you kin keep the sekert overnight Don' choo tell no livin' critter
"I hain't no hand to tell sekerts, an' you'd orter know that, Bob."
"Well, you jes let Jake 'n' his crowd go to Moscow to-night," said Bob, chuckling in a semi-tipsy, soliloquizing tone. "I come over to make shore they wuz a-goin', un I wuz to let the sher'f know ef they had got wind uv anything. I saw Markham, the deppitty, about I o'clock this mornin', un he tole me he 'd look arter the eenques un I mus' keep a lookout over h-yer. Jake 'll have a rousin' time, un no mistake."
"Shootin'?" queried S'manthy with eager
"You al'ays wuz some at guessin'. But I sha'n't say nary nuther word, on'y he 's whar Jake won't find him ef he goes to Moscow. They went some'ers, un that 's anough. Perrysburg jail 's ruther stronger 'n ourn, I 'll say that. 'T wuz all fixed, 'fore I lef' home, to run him off afore the verdick wuz in, un not to keep to the big road nuther, so 's Jake would n' git wind uv 'em. Don't you whisper Perrysburg to a livin' soul. You jes let Jake go down to Moscow! I'm comin' over 'n the mornin' to fetch your mare home un git my little Seizer that 's got to stay h-yer to-night, un then I'll fine out how they come out." And Bob chuckled as he left the house, only turning back to say:
"You keep mum, S'manthy, ur you'll spile it all. 'F you do tell, I won't never forgive yeh."
Bob now went to the brookside and cut up and stripped three or four leatherwood bushes, and tied the tough, fibrous bark into one rope. With this he girded the bear to the horse's back, meantime resisting all of Old Lazar's inquiries about the reason for his coming. At length he walked off in the darkness, unsteadily leaning against the horse on which the bear-meat was tied; and was soon out of sight.
Bob won't tell me," said the old man plaintively, as he came into the house.
"He won't, won't he?" demanded S'manthy, with exultation in her voice. “You don' know how. Takes me to git at a sekert."
"Did he tell you, S'manthy?" Uncle Lazar looked a little crest-fallen.
"In course he did. Think I could n' make him tell? W'y, I kin thes twis' Big Bob 'roun' my little finger."
"Well, what on yerth did he come over yer fer, S'manthy?"
"I promised not to tell you."
"To be shore you did. But you 're a-goin' to."
"Yes; but you'll let it out, un then what 'll Bob say to me?
"What'll Jake say to you fer lettin' yer hoss go off, when one uv his boys had the promise? Un what 'll the folks say when they find out you knowed, un let 'em be fooled by Big Bob? You've got to tell, S'manthy, ur else have all the Holler down on yeh. Besides, you could n' keep that sekert tell bed-time, noways, un you know you could n'. 'T ain't in you to keep it, un you might thes ez well out weth it now ez arter awhile."
"Aw, well, Daddy, Bob did n' say much, on'y ut Jake would n' fine the feller that done the shootin' when he got to Moscow."
"Tuh law!" exclaimed the old man, waiting with open eyes for more.
"He wuz tuck off, afore the eenques wuz over, to Perrysburg, un Bob come over to see 't Jake did n'git no wind uv it. That's all they is to it. Un you need n' go un tell it, h-yer un yan, nuther."
S'manthy knew well that this caution was of no avail. But by tacking the provision to the information, she washed her hands of responsibility, and convinced herself that she had not betrayed a secret. It was an offering that she felt bound to make to her own complacency.
Uncle Lazar, for his part, made no bones. He only tarried long enough to set his pipe to smoking.
Bob McCord had stopped in the darkness under the shade of a box elder, a little beyond the forks of the road. He presently had the satisfaction of seeing the old man trotting
away through the cornfield towards a little grocery, which was located where the big road crossed Broad Run Hollow, and which was the common center of resort and intelligence for the neighborhood.
HIRAM MASON managed with difficulty to drive the first two miles of forest road-over roots and stumps, through ruts and mud-holes, and with no light but that of a waning moon. When he reached Timber Creek bridge he got down and led the horse on its unsteady floor. Then came, like a dark spot in the moonlight, the log school-house, which reminded him that he was running away from his day's work. He stopped at the new log-house of John Buchanan, a Scotch farmer who had been one of his predecessors, and called him up to beg him to take his place. Buchanan, whose knowledge was of the rudimentary kind, had ceased to teach because the increased demands of the patrons of the school had left him behind; it was a sort of consolation to his thwarted ambition to resume the beech-scepter if only h-scepter for a day.
When Buchanan's house had been left behind, the road passed into an outskirt of small poplars and then finally shook off the woods and lay straight away over the dead level of the great prairie. By the time the wagon reached this point the dawn was beginning to reveal the landscape, though as yet the world consisted only of masses of shadow interspersed with patches of a somber gray. But the smooth road was sufficiently discernible for Hiram to put the horse into a trot, which afforded no little relief to the impatient Barbara. Up to this time they had traveled in silence, except for the groans and sighs of Mrs. Grayson. But at length Barbara took the lead.
"I can't believe that Tom did that shooting," she said to Mason. "He promised me after supper last night that he would put all hard feelings against George Lockwood out of his mind. Tom is n't the kind of a fellow to play the hypocrite. Oh, I do hope he is innocent!"
"So do I," said Mason.
"To be sure, he is," said Mrs. Grayson, with a touch of protest in her voice.
Barbara had detected a note of effort in Hiram's reply, that indicated a prevailing doubt of Tom's innocence, and she did not speak again during the whole ride. When they entered the village, Mason drove first to the sheriff's house, and went in, leaving Barbara and her mother in the wagon. Sheriff VOL. XXXV.-93.
Plunkett had not yet had his breakfast. He was a well-built man, of obliging manners, but with a look of superfluous discreetness in his face. Mason explained in few words that the mother and sister of Tom Grayson, who had not seen him since the shooting of Lockwood, were at the door in a wagon and wished to be admitted to the jail. The sheriff regarded Mason awhile in silence; it was his habit to examine the possible results of the simplest action before embarking in it. He presently went up-stairs and came down bringing with him the jail keys. Mason drove the wagon to the jail, tied the horse to a tree, and suggested to Mrs. Grayson and Barbara that it would be better for him to go in first. He had a vague fear that there might be something in Tom's situation to shock the feelings of his mother and sister. The sheriff had walked briskly along the wagon track in the middle of the street to avoid the dew-laden grass on either side of the road. When he came to the door of the jail he said in an undertone as he shoved the great iron key into the door : "Tom 's in the dungeon."
"Why did you put him in the dungeon ? " asked Mason.
"We always put prisoners accused of murder in there."
"You might put an innocent man in that place," said Mason.
"Well, there ain't much doubt about Tom's being guilty; and anyways the jail 's so weak that we have to put anybody accused of murder in the dungeon, where there ain't any outside windows."
By the time he had finished this speech, Plunkett had admitted Mason and himself to the jail and locked the outside door behind them. The prison was divided into two apartments by a hall-way through the middle. The room to the left, as one entered, was called the dungeon: it was without any light except the little that came through at second-hand from the dusky hall by means of a small grating in the door; the hall itself had a simple grated window at the end farthest from the outside door.
When the sheriff had with difficulty opened the door of the dungeon, he could not see anything inside.
"Tom, come out," he called.
Mason was barely acquainted with Tom, but he was shocked to see the fine-looking fellow in handcuffs as he came to the door, blinking his eyes at the light, and showing a face which wounded pride and anxiety had already begun to make haggard.
"Mr. Mason, I did n't expect to see you," said Tom. "Did you hear anything from mother and Barbara?"
"They 're outside," said Mason. "I thought I'd just take your place at home for a few days."
The sheriff had gone along the hall to open the door leading into the room on the side opposite the dungeon. Tom regarded Mason a moment in silence, and presently said with emotion:
"How can I make anybody believe the truth? They'll say that a man who 'd kill another would lie about it. I believe I should n't care so much about the danger of being hung, if I could only make a few people know that I did n't kill George Lockwood. I
can't make you believe it, but I'm not guilty." As he said this, Tom dropped his eyes from Mason's face, and an expression of discouragement overspread his own.
"You certainly don't seem like a guilty man," said Hiram.
"The worst of it is," said Tom, as they followed the sheriff into the eastern room of the jail, "I can't think, to save my life, who 't was that could have done the shooting. I don't know of any enemy that Lockwood had, unless you might have called me one. I hated him and talked like a fool about shooting, but I never seriously thought of such a thing."
The eastern room of the wretched little jail was about fifteen feet wide and twenty feet long. In it were confined from time to time ordinary prisoners, and occasionally lunatics, without separation on account of character or sex. Fortunately Tom had the jail now to himself.
The sheriff, who in those days was also the jailer, locked Mason and Tom in the eastern room while he opened the outside door and admitted Mrs. Grayson and Barbara to the hall. Then he locked the front door behind them and proceeded to unlock the door of the eastern room. Barbara ran in eagerly and threw her arms about Tom.
"Tell me truly, Tom," she whispered in his ear, "did you do it? Tell me the solemn truth, between you and me."
"Before God Almighty, Barb," he answered, "I did n't shoot George Lockwood, and I did n't even see him on the camp-ground. I was n't in that part of the woods, and I had n't any pistol."
Tom, I believe you," said Barbara, sobbing on his shoulder. Wondering that her brother did not return her embrace, she looked down and saw his handcuffs, and felt, as she had not before, the horror of his situation.
Mrs. Grayson now gently pushed Barbara aside and approached Tom.
"I did n't do it, mother," said Tom; "I did n't do it."
"Of course you did n't, Tommy; I never thought you did - I just knew you could n't do it." And she put her trembling arms about him.
Hiram had gone into the corridor from motives of delicacy.
"Could n't you move him into the east room?" he said to the sheriff. "It's too bad to have to lie in that dungeon, without air, and in August too. And is it necessary to keep his handcuffs on?"
"Well, you see, it's the regular thing to put a man into the dungeon that 's up for murder, and to put handcuffs on. The jail's rather weak, you know; and if he should escape I'd be blamed."
Mason went into the dark room and examined the dirty, uncomfortable cot, and felt of the damp walls. Then he returned to the east room just as Tom was explaining his flight from the camp-ground.
"I saw a rush," he said, "and I went with the rest. A man was telling in the dark that George Lockwood had been shot, and that they were looking for a fellow named Grayson and were going to hang him to the first tree. I ran across the fields to our house, and by the time I got there I saw that I'd made a mistake. I ought to have come straight to
Moscow. I went into the house and came out to go to Moscow and give myself up, but I met the sheriff at the gate."
"The first thing is the inquest," said Mason. "Have you thought about a lawyer?"
"There's no use of a lawyer for that," said Tom. "My fool talk about killing Lockwood is circumstantial evidence against me, and I'll certainly be held for trial-unless the real murderer should turn up. And I don't know who that can be. I've puzzled over it all night."
"You studied with Mr. Blackman, I believe," said Mason. "Couldn't you get him to defend you?"
"I don't know that I want him. He's already prejudiced against me. He would n't believe that I was innocent, and so he could n't do any good."
"But you 've got to have somebody," said Barbara.
"I've been over the whole list," said Tom, "and I'd rather have Abra'm than anybody else."
"Abra'm 'll do it," said Mrs. Grayson; "1 kin git him to do it. He's a little beholden to me fer what I done fer him when he was little. But he 's purty new to the law-business, Tommy."
"Abra'm Lincoln's rather new, but he's got a long head for managing a case, and he's honest and friendly to us. The circuit court begins over at Perrysburg to-morrow, and he'll like as not stop at the tavern here for dinner to-day. You might see him, mother."
"Tom! Tom!" The voice was a child's, and it came from the outside of the windowgrating. A child's fingers were clutched upon the stones beyond the grating; and before Tom could answer, the brown head of Janet Grayson was lifted to the level of the high, square little window, and her blue eyes were peering into the obscurity of the prison.
"Tom, are you there? Did they give you any breakfast?" she faltered, startled and ready to cry at finding herself calling into a place so obscure and apparently so void.
"O Janet! is that you?" said Tom, putting his face to the grating. "You blessed little soul, you! But you must n't come to this dreadful place." And Tom tried to wipe his eyes with his sleeve.
"Yes, but I am sorry for you, Cousin Tom," she said, dropping to the ground again and turning her head on one side deprecatingly ; "and I was afraid they would n't give you enough to eat. Here's three biscuits." She pulled them out of her pocket with difficulty and pushed them through the grating.
"Thank you, thank you," said Tom. "You are a dear, loving little darling. But see here,
Janet, you'd better not come here any more; and don't call me cousin. It 's too bad you should have to be ashamed of your cousin." "But I will call you cousin, an' I don' care what they say. Are you in there too, Barbara? You did n't kill anybody, did you?"
"No; neither did Tom," said Barbara, leaning down to the window.
"Janet," said Tom, " d' you tell Uncle Tom and Aunt Charlotte that I did n't shoot anybody. They won't believe you, but it's a fact." Janet had heard the news at the breakfasttable. Sheriff Plunkett, wishing to conciliate so influential a person as Thomas Grayson the elder, had sent him word very early of the unfortunate predicament in which Tom found himself, and had offered to comply with any wishes Mr. Grayson might express concern
ing his nephew, so far as the rigor of the law allowed. To steady-going people like the Graysons the arrest of Tom on such a charge was a severe blow; and his execution would compromise for all time their hitherto unsullied respectability in their little world. They drank their breakfast coffee and ate their warm biscuit and butter and fried ham and eggs with rueful faces. The comments they made on Tom's career were embittered by their own share of the penalty. Janet had listened till she had made out that Tom was in jail for killing somebody. Then, after hearing some rather severe remarks from her parents about Tom, she burst into tears, rose up and stamped her feet in passion, and stormed in her impotent, infantile way at her father and mother and the people who had locked up