Against His Judgment by Robert Grant
Three days had passed, and the excitement in the neighborhood was nearly
at an end. The apothecary's shop at the corner into which John Baker's
body and the living four-year-old child had been carried together
immediately after the catastrophe had lost most of its interest for the
curious, although the noses of a few idlers were still pressed against the
large pane in apparent search of something beyond the brilliant colored
bottles or the soda-water fountains. Now that the funeral was over, the
womenkind, whose windows commanded a view of the house where the dead man
had been lying, had taken their heads in and resumed their sweeping and
washing, and knots of their husbands and fathers no longer stood in gaping
conclave close to the very doorsill, rehearsing again and again the
details of the distressing incident. Even the little child who had been so
miraculously saved from the jaws of death, although still decked in the
dirty finery which its mother deemed appropriate to its having suddenly
become a public character, had ceased to be the recipient of the dimes of
the tender-hearted. Such is the capriciousness of the human temperament at
times of emotional excitement, the plan of a subscription for the victim's
family had not been mooted until what was to its parents a small fortune
had been bestowed on the rescued child; but the scale of justice had
gradually righted itself. Contributions were now pouring in, especially
since it was reported that the mayor and several other well-known persons
had headed the list with fifty dollars each; and there was reason to
believe that a lump sum of from fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars
would be collected for the benefit of the widow and seven children before
public generosity was exhausted.
Local interest was on the wane; but, thanks to the telegraph and the
press, the facts were being disseminated through the country, and every
leading newspaper in the land was chronicling, with more or less
prominence according to the character of its readers, the item that John
Baker, the gate-keeper at a railroad crossing in a Pennsylvania city, had
snatched a toddling child from the pathway of a swiftly moving locomotive
and been crushed to death.
A few days later a dinner-company of eight was gathered at a country house
several hundred miles distant from the scene of the calamity. The host and
hostess were people of wealth and leisure, who enjoyed inviting congenial
parties from their social acquaintance in the neighboring city to share
with them for two or three days at a time the charms of nature. The dinner
was appetizing, the wine good, and conversation turned lightly from one
subject to another.
They had talked on a variety of topics: of tarpon fishing in Florida; of
amateur photography, in which the hostess was proficient, and of gardens;
of the latest novels and some current inelegancies of speech. Some one
spoke of the growing habit of feeing employés to do their duty. Another
referred to certain breaches of trust by bank officers and treasurers,
which occurring within a short time of one another had startled the
community. This last subject begot a somewhat doleful train of commentary
and gave the lugubrious their cue. Complaints were made of our easygoing
standards of morality, and our disposition not to be severe on anybody; of
the decay of ideal considerations and the lack of enthusiasm for all but
"The gist is here," reiterated one of the speakers: "we insist on tangible
proof of everything, of being able to see and feel it—to get our
dollar's worth, in short. We weigh and measure and scrutinize, and discard
as fusty and outworn, conduct and guides to conduct that do not promise
six per cent per annum in full sight."
"What have you to say to John Baker?" said the host, breaking the pause
which followed these remarks. "I take for granted that you are all
familiar with his story: the newspapers have been full of it. There was a
man who did not stop to measure or scrutinize."
A murmur of approbation followed, which was interrupted by Mrs. Caspar
Green, a stout and rather languid lady, inquiring to whom he referred.
"You know I never read the newspapers," she added, with a decidedly
superior air, putting up her eye-glass.
"Except the deaths and marriages," exclaimed her husband, a lynx-eyed
little stockbroker, who was perpetually poking what he called fun at his
more ponderous half.
"Well, this was a death: so there was no excuse for her not seeing it,"
said Henry Lawford, the host. "No, seriously, Mrs. Green, it was a
splendid instance of personal heroism: a gate-keeper at a railway crossing
in Pennsylvania, perceiving a child of four on the track just in front of
the fast express, rushed forward and managed to snatch up the little
creature and threw it to one side before—poor fellow!—he was
struck and killed. There was no suggestion of counting upon six per cent
there, was there?"
"Unless in another sphere," interjected Caspar Green.
"Don't be sacrilegious, Caspar," pleaded his wife, though she added her
mite to the ripple of laughter that greeted the sally.
"It was superb!—superb!" exclaimed Miss Ann Newbury, a young woman
not far from thirty, with a long neck and a high-bred, pale, intellectual
face. "He is one of the men who make us proud of being men and women." She
spoke with sententious earnestness and looked across the table appealingly
at George Gorham.
"He left seven children, I believe?" said he, with precision.
"Yes, seven, Mr. Gorham—the eldest eleven," answered Mrs. Lawford,
who was herself the mother of five. "Poor little things!"
"I think he made a great mistake," remarked George, laconically.
For an instant there was complete silence. The company was evidently
making sure that it had understood his speech correctly. Then Miss Newbury
gave a gasp, and Henry Lawford, with a certain stern dignity that he knew
how to assume, said——
"A mistake? How so, pray?"
"In doing what he did—sacrificing his life to save the child."
"Why, Mr. Gorham!" exclaimed the hostess, while everybody turned toward
him. He was a young man between thirty and thirty-five, a lawyer beginning
to be well thought of in his profession, with a thoughtful, pleasant
expression and a vigorous physique.
"It seems to me," he continued, slowly, seeking his words, "if John Baker
had stopped to think, he would have acted differently. To be sure, he
saved the life of an innocent child; but, on the other hand, he robbed of
their sole means of support seven other no less innocent children and
their mother. He was a brave man, I agree; but I, for one, should have
admired him more if he had stopped to think."
"And let the child be killed?" exclaimed Mr. Carter, the gentleman who had
deplored so earnestly the decay of ideal considerations. He was a young
mill-treasurer, with aristocratic tendencies, and a strong interest in
"Yes, if need be. It was in danger through no fault of his. Its natural
guardians had neglected it."
"What a frightful view to take!" murmured Mrs. Green; and, although she
was very well acquainted with George Gorham's physiognomy, she examined
him disapprovingly through her glass, as if there must be something
compromising about it which had hitherto escaped detection.
"Well, I don't agree with you at all," said the host, emphatically.
"Nor I," said Mr. Carter.
"Nor I, Mr. Gorham," said Mrs. Lawford, plaintively conveying the
impression that if a woman so ready as she to accept new points of view
abandoned him there could be no chance of his being right.
"No, you're all wrong, my dear fellow," said Caspar Green. "Such ideas may
go down among your long-haired artistic and literary friends at the
Argonaut Club, but you can't expect civilized Christians to accept them.
Why, man, it's monstrous—monstrous, by Jove!—to depreciate
that noble fellow's action—a man we all ought to be proud of, as
Miss Newbury says. If we don't encourage such people, how can we expect
them to be willing to risk their lives?" Thereupon the little broker, as a
relief to his outraged feelings, emptied his champagne-glass at a draught
and scowled irascibly. His jesting equanimity was rarely disturbed;
consequently, everybody felt the importance of his testimony.
"I'm sorry to be so completely in the minority," said Gorham, "but that's
the way the matter strikes me. I don't think you quite catch my point,
though, Caspar," he added, glancing at Mr. Green. At a less heated moment
the company, with the possible exception of Mrs. Green, might have tacitly
agreed that this was extremely probable; but now Miss Newbury, who had
hitherto refrained from comment, in order to digest the problem thoroughly
before speaking, came to the broker's aid.
"It seems to me, Mr. Gorham," she said, "that your proposition is a very
plain one: you claim simply that John Baker had better not have saved the
child if, in order to do so, it was necessary to lose his own life."
"Precisely," exclaimed Mr. Green, in a tone of some contempt.
"Was not Mr. Gorham's meaning that, though it required very great courage
to do what Baker did, a man who stopped to think of his own wife and
children would have shown even greater courage?" asked Miss Emily Vincent.
She was the youngest of the party, a beautiful girl, of fine presence,
with a round face, dark eyes, and brilliant pink-and-white coloring. She
had been invited to stay by the Lawfords because George Gorham was
attentive to her; or, more properly speaking, George Gorham had been asked
because he was attentive to her.
"Thank you, Miss Vincent: you have expressed my meaning perfectly," said
Gorham; and his face gladdened. He was dead in love with her, and this was
the first civil word, so to speak, she had said to him during the visit.
"Do you agree with him?" inquired Miss Newbury, with intellectual
"And do you agree with Mr. Gorham?" asked Mrs. Lawford, at the same
All eyes were turned on Emily Vincent, and she let hers fall. She felt
that she would give worlds not to have spoken. Why had she spoken?
"I understand what he means; but I don't believe a man in John Baker's
place could help himself," she said quietly.
"Of course he couldn't!" cried Mrs. Lawford. "There, Mr. Gorham, you have
lost your champion. What have you to say now?" A murmur of approval went
round the table.
"I appreciate my loss, but I fear I have nothing to add to what has been
said already," he replied, with smiling firmness. "Although in a pitiful
minority, I shall have to stand or fall by that."
"Ah, but when it came to action we know that under all circumstances Mr.
Gorham would be his father's son!" said Mrs. Lawford, with less than her
usual tact, though she intended to be very ingratiating. Gorham's father,
who was conspicuous for gallantry, had been killed in the Civil War.
Gorham bowed a little stiffly, feeling that there was nothing for him to
say. There was a pause, which showed that the topic was getting
threadbare. This prompted the host to call his wife's attention to the
fact that one of the candles was flaring. So the current of conversation
was turned, and the subject was not alluded to again, thereby anticipating
Mr. Carter, who, having caught Miss Newbury's eye, was about to
philosophize further on the same lines.
During the twelve months following his visit at the Lawfords' the
attentions of George Gorham to Emily Vincent became noticeable. He had
loved her for three years in secret; but the consciousness that he was not
able to support a wife had hindered him from devoting himself to her. He
knew that she, or rather her father, had considerable property; but Gorham
was not willing to take this into consideration; he would never offer
himself until his own income was sufficient for both their needs. But, on
the other hand, his ideas of a sufficient income were not extravagant. He
looked forward to building a comfortable little house in the suburbs in
the midst of an acre or two of garden and lawn, so that his neighbors'
windows need not overlook his domesticity. He would have a horse and buggy
wherewith to drive his wife through the country on summer afternoons, and
later, if his bank-account warranted it, a saddle-horse for Emily and one
for himself. He would keep open house in the sense of encouraging his
friends to visit him; and, that they might like to come, he would have a
thoroughly good plain cook—thereby eschewing French kickashaws—and
his library should contain the best new books, and etchings and sketches
luring to the eye, done by men who were rising, rather than men who had
risen. There should be no formality; his guests should do what they
pleased, and wear what they pleased, and, above all, they should become
intimate with his wife, instead of merely tolerating her after the manner
of the bachelor friends of so many other men.
Thus he had been in the habit of depicting to himself the future, and at
last, by dint of undeviating attention to his business, he had got to the
point where he could afford to realize his project if his lady-love were
willing. His practice was increasing steadily, and he had laid by a few
thousand dollars to meet any unexpected emergency. His life was insured
for fifty thousand dollars, and the policies were now ten years old. He
had every reason to expect that in course of time as the older lawyers
died off he would either succeed to the lucrative conduct of large suits
or be made a judge of one of the higher tribunals. In this manner his
ambition would be amply satisfied. His aim was to progress slowly but
solidly, without splurge or notoriety, so that every one might regard him
as a man of sound dispassionate judgment, and solid, keen understanding.
His especial antipathy was for so-called cranks—people who went off
at half-cock, who thought nothing out, but were governed by the impulse of
the moment, shilly-shally and controlled by sentimentality.
It was with hope and yet with his heart in his mouth that he set out one
afternoon determined to ask Emily Vincent to become his wife. She lived in
the suburbs, within fifteen minutes by the train, or an hour's walk from
town. Gorham took the cars. It was a beautiful day, almost the counterpart
of that which they had passed together at the Lawfords' just a year
before. As he sat in the train he analyzed the situation once more for the
hundredth time, taking care not to give himself the advantage of any
ambiguous symptoms. Certainly she was not indifferent to him; she accepted
his attentions without demur, and seemed interested in his interests. But
was that love? Was it any more than esteem or cordial liking, which would
turn to pity at the first hint of affection on his part? But surely she
could not plead ignorance of his intentions; she must long ere this have
realized that he was seriously attentive to her. Still, girls were strange
creatures. He could not help feeling nervous, because so very much was
involved for him in the result. Should she refuse him, he would be and
remain for a long time excessively unhappy. He obliged himself to regard
this alternative, and his heart sank before the possibility. Not that the
idea of dying or doing anything desperate presented itself to him. Such
extravagance would have seemed out of keeping with respect either for her
or for himself. Doubtless he might recover some day, but the interim would
be terribly hard to endure. Rejection meant a dark, dreary bachelorhood;
success, the crowning of his dearest hopes.
He found his sweetheart at home, and she came down to greet him with roses
that he had sent her in her bosom. It was not easy for him to do or say
anything extravagant, and Emily Vincent, while she might have pardoned
unseemly effusiveness to his exceeding love for her, was well content with
the deeply earnest though unriotous expression of his passion. When
finally he had folded her in his arms she felt that the greatest happiness
existence can give was hers, and he knew himself to be an utterly blissful
lover. He had won the prize for which he had striven with a pertinacity
like Jacob's, and life looked very roseate.
The news was broken to her family that evening, and received delightedly,
though without the surprise which the lovers expected. They were left
alone for a little while before the hour of parting, and in the sweet
kisses given and taken Gorham redeemed himself in his mistress's
estimation for any lack of folly he had been guilty of when he had asked
her to be his wife. There was riot now in his eyes and in his embraces,
revealing that he had needed only to be sure of her encouragement to
become as ridiculous as she could desire. He stood disclosed to himself in
a new light; and when he had kissed her once more for the last time he
went tripping down the lawn radiantly happy, turning now and again to
throw back with his fingers a message from his lips to the one being in
all the world for him, who stood on the threshold, adding poetry and grace
to the beautiful June evening.
When out of sight of the house, Gorham sped fleetly along the road. He
intended to walk to town, for he felt like glorying in his happiness under
the full moon which was shedding her silver light from a clear heaven. The
air was not oppressive, and it was scented with the perfume of the lilacs
and apple-blossoms, so that Gorham was fain every now and then to draw a
deep breath in order to inhale their fragrance. There was no dust, and
nature looked spruce and trig, without a taint of the frowziness which is
observable in the foliage a month later.
Gorham took very little notice of the details; his eyes were busy rather
with mind-problems than with the particular beauties of the night; yet his
rapt gaze swept the brilliant heavens as though he felt their lustre to be
in harmony with the radiance in his own soul. He was imagining the future—his
hearth forever blessed by her sweet presence, their mutual joys and
sorrows sweetened and alleviated through being shared. His efforts to live
worthily would be fortified by her example and counsel. How the pleasures
of walking and riding and reading and travelling—of everything in
life—would be a hundredfold enhanced by being able to interchange
impressions with each other! He pictured to himself the cosey evenings
they would pass at home when the day's work was done, and the jolly trips
they would take together when vacation-time arrived. How he would watch
over her, and how he would guard her and tend her and comfort her if
misfortune came or ill health assailed her! There would be little ones,
perhaps, to claim their joint devotion, and bid him redouble his energies;
he smiled at the thought of baby fingers about his neck, and there arose
to his mind's eye a sweet vision of Emily sitting, pale but triumphant,
rocking her new-born child upon her breast.
He walked swiftly on the wings of transport. It was almost as light as
day, yet he met but few travellers along the country road. An occasional
vehicle passed him, breaking the silvery stillness with its rumble which
subsided at last into the distance. A pair of whispering lovers, arm in
arm, who slunk into the shadow as he came abreast of them, won from him a
glance of sympathy. Just after he had left them behind the shrill whistle
of a locomotive jarring upon the silence seemed to bring him a message
from the woman he adored. Had he not preferred to walk, this was the train
he would have taken, and it must have stopped not many hundred yards from
her door. As he listened to it thundering past almost parallel to him in
the cut below he breathed a prayer of blessing on her rest.
A little beyond this point the road curved and ran at a gradual incline so
as to cross the railroad track at grade about half a mile farther on. This
stretch was lined on each side by horse-chestnut trees set near to one
another, the spreading foliage of which darkened the gravelled foot-path,
so that Gorham, who was enjoying the moonlight, preferred to keep in the
middle of the road, which, by way of contrast, gleamed almost like a
river. He was pursuing his way with elastic steps, when of a sudden his
attention was arrested about a hundred and fifty yards from the crossing
by something lying at the foot of one of the trees on the right-hand side.
At a second glance he saw that it was a woman's figure. Probably she was
asleep: but she might be ill or injured. It was a lonely spot, so it
occurred to him that it was proper for him to investigate. Accordingly, he
stepped to her side and bent over her. From her calico dress, which was
her only covering, she evidently belonged to the laboring class. She was a
large, coarse-looking woman, and was lying, in what appeared to Gorham to
be drunken slumber, on her bonnet, the draggled strings of which caught
his eye. He hesitated a moment, and then shook her by the arm. She groaned
boozily, but after he had shaken her again two or three times she rolled
over and raised herself on her elbow, rubbing her eyes and staring at him
"Are you hurt, woman?" he asked.
She made a guttural response which might have meant anything, but she
proved that she was uninjured by getting on her feet. She stared at her
disturber bewilderedly, then, perceiving her bonnet, stooped to pick it
up, and stood for a moment trying sleepily to poke it into shape and
readjust its tawdry plumage. But all of a sudden she gave a start and
began looking around her with recovered energy. She missed something,
evidently. Gorham followed the direction of her gaze as it shifted, and as
his glance met the line of the road he perceived a little figure standing
in the middle of the railway crossing. It was a child—her child,
without doubt—and as he said so to himself the roar of an
approaching train, coupled with the sound of the whistle, made him start
with horror. The late express from town was due. Gorham remembered that
there was a considerable curve in the railroad at this point. The woman
had not perceived the situation—she was too far in the shade—but
Gorham from where he stood commanded a clear view of the track.
Without an instant's hesitation, he sprang forward and ran at full speed.
His first thought was that the train was very near. He ran with all his
might and main, his eyes fixed on the little white figure, and shouting to
warn it of its danger. Suddenly there flashed before his mind with
vividness the remembrance of John Baker, and he recalled his argument at
the Lawfords'. But he did not abate his speed. The child had plumped
itself down on one of the sleepers, and was apparently playing with some
pebbles. It was on the farther track, and, startled by his cries and by
the clang of the approaching train, looked up at him. He saw a pale,
besmeared little countenance; he heard behind him the agonizing screams of
the mother, who had realized her baby's peril; in his ears rang the shrill
warning of the engineer as the engine rounded the curve. Would he be in
As he reached the edge of the tracks, thought of Emily and a terrible
consciousness of the sorrow she would feel if anything were to happen to
him compressed his heart. But he did not falter. He was aware of the
jangle of a fiercely rung bell, the hiss of steam, and a blinding glare;
he could feel on his cheek the breath of the iron monster. With set teeth
he threw himself forward, stooped, and reached out over the rail: in
another instant he had tossed the child from the pathway of danger, and he
himself had been mangled to death by the powerful engine.