Three Bridges by George Parsons Lathrop

I.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A HAT.

Within a distance of about ten miles Shagford River makes three long curves, each of which is crossed by a bridge.

The first is for the railroad. The second, thrown across at a point where the ground is lower, carries a country road from bank to bank. Still further down is the third, which is of stone, and forms a paved street connecting the two parts of the factory town of Shagford.

On the afternoon of a superb summer day a fast train from the north-west swept around the curve leading to the bridge-head, and emerged upon the open iron-work structure which bore the double track above the water. The fireman was shovelling coal, and the engineer had just withdrawn his hand from a cord which blew the whistle when he caught sight of a man, in a round Bombay hat, half way across and walking in the same direction the train was taking. Again he pulled the string, sending out four hoarse notes: "Lo-ook oout, a-head!" But the man did not step aside, as would have been expected, on to the line of plank provided for foot passengers between the tracks. The engineer turned on the air-brake and shouted; but there was a strong breeze blowing against him; and at best a voice could hardly rouse a traveller deaf to the steam notes. The last chance of escape appeared to have passed when the stranger, moved by an instinct of danger, though hearing nothing, turned his head.

For the space of a second he confronted the swift, trembling glitter of steel and brass and the pallid face of the engineer at the cab-window. A look of unutterable horror convulsed his own features, and he sprang wildly into the air. Falling again, without being hit by the engine, he went tumbling down through an interstice of the iron beams into the muddy water below. The train was soon stopped and reversed. Slowly the wheels revolved backward—with a solemn, funereal movement, as if conscious of the inanimate body that might soon be added to their freight.

But to the amazement of every one on board, staring frightened into the river, the hurt man was seen to be already struggling out of the current, and clambering—wet, hatless, with dripping hair—up the steep bank they had just left. On reaching the top he began to walk aimlessly away from the train, as if nothing had happened, but presently sat down on the ground looking weak and bewildered.

"Well, if he ain't the coolest hand!" exclaimed the brakeman. "Must be a new sort of water-rat." This same brakeman, however, was prompt to go with the conductor to the aid of the stranger. They found him conscious, but stupefied, and so helped him into the train, which then continued on its way, bearing him off to Shagford.

"Where are you bound?" asked the conductor.

The man, who was of middle age, with a sun-browned face and close iron-gray whiskers along the upper jaws, felt for his hat and, not finding it, looked uneasy. "There must be no delay," he said, half to himself. "I'll tell you in a moment," he added.

But he sat for some time without speaking; and it was evident that the shock of his terrible fall had worked confusion in his brain. Even on reaching Shagford he was unable to collect himself. But they persuaded him to consult the nearest physician, whom he sought under care of the young brakeman. This resulted in his being taken temporarily to the hospital, for, though seemingly without physical injury, he had suffered so peculiar a mental effect that rest and proper care were thought advisable.

Shortly after the occurrence of this singular accident a vehicle crossed the turnpike bridge, of which mention has been made. The vehicle was a buggy, occupied by a single figure—that of a man say about thirty-eight, clothed in a close-fitting suit of mixed brown. He was of prosperous but not portly aspect, and what was most noticeable in him was that his eyes scanned the river in a sudden, peculiar way. One might have said that, emerging from the softly massed trees upon the bank, he had an uneasy sense of being exposed to unexpected observation on the open stretch of the bridge. But perhaps the more likely explanation would be that he was an inquiring, energetic person, who habitually looked everywhere. Habit or chance, whichever it might be, his alert vision was not exercised in vain that day. He saw on the river, floating toward his point of vantage, an upturned hat. Now, this hat was the identical one which had quitted the head of the unlucky man at the railroad bridge; for, being made of cork, it was perfectly adapted to navigation.

"That's what comes of sharp eyes," said the driver of the buggy aloud, much as though he were stating a moral maxim which it did him good to hear. "Who knows but this may turn out important? If anybody's been drowned, or—" The alternative was lost in a clucking sound with which he accompanied the urging of his horse; for he had formed a plan.

The bridge was low; the hat was drifting toward one of the numerous rows of spiles, hence he believed he could fish it up with his long-handled whip. Dismounting, and watching his opportunity, he succeeded after a few moment's novel angling in bringing up, by a noose made of the lash-end, his piece of flotsam.

As I have said, this man wore a comfortable mien; his face was smooth, rosy, firm and beardless, and though the structure of his lips was rather hard and determined, the corners of the lips indicated constant readiness for a smile which, however, never culminated when he was alone. Still, at this moment, a beam of satisfaction rested on his features. The recovery of the hat presented itself to him in the light of a virtuous action. Looking into it he saw the owner's name written on the leather band: "Simeon Piper." As this conveyed no impression, he turned his attention to a small folded paper stuffed inside of the band and making a slight bulge in it. On examining what was inscribed upon the sheet, his countenance changed; the beaming look vanished, and his eyebrows, always describing an acute angle to the temples, grew sharper than ever. It was a movement analogous to that of an animal drawing back its lips before biting, or darting a fang out. His expression, in fact, had become wolfish.

What did it mean? Merely that the name he had seen this time was his own. "Martin E. Hounshell," he read, in a half voice, finding it for an instant even stranger than the strange name he had encountered just before. But he had seen other things on the page with his name; things which he would not articulate even here; certain names and dates for which he deemed silence the fittest atmosphere.

Hounshell's next act was to toss the hat back into the river, and he was about to tear up the paper scrap and send it after the hat, when he changed his mind. He put the memorandum into an inside pocket and buttoned up his coat, tapped the surface of the coat snugly, then got into his buggy and drove on—thoughtful and puzzled, but with equanimity returning and ready to spring his patent smile in a moment, should he meet an acquaintance.

Nevertheless, what had just happened was startling. If the paper which now lay over his heart had possessed the power of receiving a photograph from his brain he could not have been more astonished. The invisible had become visible; what had lain concealed for years in his own mind now confronted him from without. And who was Simeon Piper—a total stranger—in whose hat so mysterious a revelation had taken place? Hounshell's horse dragged that question along unconsciously to the end of the bridge, where, for the moment, it disappears from our pen unanswered.

The small waves flashed lightly around the spiles; a breeze rustled in the woods, perhaps looking for something it had lost there and never could find again. The two bridges were deserted; all was silent, dreamy. Then from the unseen bridge lower down a shrill clamor arose to break the serenity of the evening; a chorused shriek of twenty unearthly voices blended together. Unexpected and wild, loudly startling it was, so that there seemed something uncanny about it. One might have thought it the cry of monsters discovering human prey, or a mob of witches revelling in some crime that had been found out there. But as a matter of fact no one indulged in either of these impossible fancies. Everybody knew that the uproar came from the mills of Shagford, blowing the hour of release from work.


II.

FATHER, DAUGHTER, AND—WHO ELSE?

At this signal the operatives streamed forth like school-children; and from Hounshell's flannel-mill in particular came one elderly man, who threw himself with all the energy of a boy into a row-boat that lay at the waterside, and began oaring his way lustily up-stream. He had not gone far before he turned the bow into a secluded bay where water-lilies grew thickly. Here, paddling about and causing the boat to lurch violently as he stooped over the side, he pulled a few of the flowers. He looked tired and hard-worked; there was something indescribably pathetic in his making so much effort after the day's labor. But he did not seem to see this; and so, after getting a bunch of lilies, he continued up the river with a business-like stroke that implied some past familiarity with life on the water. The end of the course was soon reached; he moored the boat close to a little cottage that stood apart from the houses of the other working-people, and wore a peculiarly well-cared-for aspect.

On one side of the path was a tomato-patch; on the other a minute flower-garden; a grape-vine laid its flat leaves by one of the windows, and everything about the place was neat, cosey, sheltered. As the weaver came up toward it, however, he saw that there were two persons in the room behind the vine, instead of only one, as he had expected. He paused, looking in, and saw that it was Hounshell with his daughter. The mill-owner at that moment took her hand in a somewhat fervent way, addressing her eagerly, and led her toward the window. Instantly the girl withdrew her hand and came running out.

"Oh, father, dear, how lovely! Did you bring them for me?"

"Who else d'you s'pose, Addie? I'm not courting any one."

He looked at her quizzically as she received the lilies, his weather-worn face glowing mildly at the same time, with pride in her beauty and delight at having pleased her.

"That's mean of you, father," she said, half offended, yet smiling as she inhaled the delicate, sweet-almond scent of the blossoms.

"What? Not to be courting?" he asked, putting his arm fondly around her. "I can do better than that, lass, by coming home. Four bells have struck; time for a kiss, you know." Whereupon she put her lips to his faded, fatherly check.

Addie was certainly beautiful in her way, and Scofield thought there was no way to compare with it. She was tall, fresh, dark-eyed; her complexion was rich with the soft, clear brown which our American sun so deftly diffuses over a healthy face that ripens in its warmth; and she always looked as cool, as sparkling and lithe as if she had just stepped from a bath in the river. You felt that, were you to place your hand on her shoulder, she would resist springily, like a young bough in the woods.

"And you can do a good deal better than I can; that's certain," said Hounshell to Scofield, breaking in. He had come to the threshold and witnessed this little passage.

"You ought not to talk about it before me, anyway," declared Addie, whose code of propriety never allowed ceremony to stand in the way of truthfulness. And, having administered this rebuke, she blushed as if it were she who had offended modesty.

"Oh, well, don't take on about it!" said the mill-owner, apologetically. "I don't know how to talk when I get down here. Different up to the mill; ain't it, Scofield?" Here he winked at the father with humorous comradeship. Then, turning again to Addie: "All is, I want you to be my wife, and you know it, and so does the old man. So where's the harm, talking about? Lord! there ain't nothing high daddy about me. I worked my way up, and I like working-people; so, 'stid of going round among the high daddies, I come to you and say I want to marry you. I've seen you grow into a woman, just like"—the speaker, embarrassed, gazed helplessly round the garden for a comparison, and proceeded:—"Like one of those tomaytoes there, when it comes to fruit. And I know all about you."

"I don't believe I'm like a tomayto one bit," said Addie, with conviction. The next moment, allowing herself a saucy smile: "And I don't know all about you, you see. So there!"

Her mature admirer did not resent this, but stood really abashed and disconcerted. "What am I to do, Scofield?" he asked, stepping out on to the walk. "You see how it goes."

Addie seized the moment for escaping into the house, while her father, regarding his employer meditatively, replied: "Take soundings, and then try again. That's all I can say."

"I don't know," observed Hounshell, shaking his head. He tried to bring his regulation smile into play, but the springs would not work. He was really attached to the girl; and there was a painful longing in his mind, besides another motive, of which he could not speak. He was unnerved.

Presently they went into the house. "Won't you stay to supper?" suggested Scofield.

"No, thank'ee. I'm going. Addie!"

"Yes, sir." She looked at him from her cool, liquid eyes as steadily and with as much unconsciousness in her clear-lined face as if she had never heard him speak of marriage.

"I've a word to say, if you'll come out to the gate."

"All right." Addie put the cups on the table for her father and herself, and then followed Hounshell, who bade the weaver good-night.

"I want you to treat me differently," said the miller, when they were alone. "This is a very serious matter, and there's more in it than you think. You ought to consider your father."

The girl's eyes flashed. "You don't mean," she began, "that you—"

"No, I don't mean any harm to him, of course. Take me or leave me, he'll be all right. But if you take me, my father-in-law don't remain in the weaving-room, by a long shot. I'll make him my partner instid."

Addie appeared to weigh this.

"Well, that's right," she said. "He ought to be." Hesitatingly, she went on: "I know it's generous of you, but—but—"

"There's another reason, too," the suitor hastened to explain. "I can't tell you now, but I might afterward. It's very serious. Oh, I can't stand it, if you don't consent!" he almost groaned.

She was startled by his strenuous manner.

"What reason can it be?" she asked, quivering a little.

"It's been on my heart so long," Hounshell said, pressing both hands on his chest. "It's there now," he continued, sinking his voice. At the precise instant of speaking his fingers felt beneath the coat that fateful fold of paper which the river had brought him, and both arms fell as if he had been struck.

"Good God!" he exclaimed, staring at her.

It seemed to him that she, too, must have felt the paper and its tell-tale words.

"What have I been saying?" he asked, in a bewildered tone.

The change in him within a few moments had been extraordinary, and Addie experienced a shock. Any one who had seen the wolfish glare of his eyes on the bridge would have been surprised at the human emotion he now betrayed.

"You frighten me," said the girl, shrinking; but she was conscious of feeling more pity than fright.

"Don't be frightened," urged Hounshell, trying to speak gently; but his voice broke. It sounded abject rather than soothing. "I s'pose I'm making mistakes again. You can't understand me. Only this—think of this: I shall never get over it if you don't have me. You may do me a great wrong by turning me off. Can't you consider about this a little more?"

"I—I will try to consider, Mr. Hounshell," faltered Addie.

"Then I'll go; I'll bid you good-night," he said, regaining some of his customary stiffness.

"Good-night," she returned.

He got into the waiting buggy; there was a grinding of wheels, a puff of whitish dust from them, and then the dusk obliterated him, much to her relief. She went back into the house slightly paler than when she had left it.

"Father," she declared, "I never can marry that man."

"What! Hounshell?"

"Yes. There's something strange about him—and wrong."

"Careful! He's been our best friend, lass; there can't be anything wrong."

"All the same, I shall not marry him."

The old man was hurt.

"Have you thought over all?" he asked. "You wouldn't be the only gainer."

He glanced down at his arm, which still bore marks of sailor's tattooing, and at his hard hands all day in service at the loom; and then he sighed, as if despairing of rest.

"I know, dear father," said his daughter. "Mr. Hounshell would be very generous to you, so I wish I could do it. But oh, I can't, I can't!"

She put one hand on his arm and looked piteously into his face.

"I see how it is," said Scofield. "You have fixed your fancy on Jonah."

Addie softly moved away. All her color had returned, but she said nothing. They had barely seated themselves at the table when a knock was heard.

"Come in!" cried Addie, and on the entrance of the new-comer, "Oh—Jonah!"

"Did you think it was—well, never mind who."

Jonah, in whose spruce attire, as he now presented himself, it was not easy to recognize the brakeman of the afternoon train, made this enigmatical remark rather uneasily, and subsided into regretful silence.

"Sit down, Jonah, and have some supper," said old Scofield, with a slight lingering gruffness.

The young man, however, accepted without compunction; and in a twinkling Addie had spirited on to the table an extra cup, plate, knife and fork, which were suspiciously ready to her hand.

"We had a queer thing happen on the train this afternoon," said Jonah, as the hot tea roused him into talkativeness again. And he proceeded to relate the occurrence with which our narrative of these events began. "Man's name is Piper," he continued—"Simeon Piper. No one knows anything about him, and he can't tell why he was there or where he was going. The shock put a screw loose in his brain somewhere, the doctor says. May get over it, and may not. But they won't keep him at the hospital long, because there's nothing the matter with him much, except that."

"Poor fellow!" Addie murmured. "What will he do when they send him away, if he doesn't know where he wants to go?"

"Can't make it out," was Jonah's answer. "Some one ought to take hold and help him till he gets well."

Addie made a prompt resolution.

"We'll take hold; won't we, father? Couldn't you bring him out here, Jonah?"

The brakeman reflected a moment. Piper was not young; so there was no objection on that score.

"Yes," he said, "I'll bring him out when I get back from my run to-morrow. They say he seems pretty well-to-do, too. He'll pay board."

"Never mind if he does," said Miss Scofield, artlessly. "We can be kind to him just the same."

It was settled accordingly.

After supper the two men went out into the garden. They had a serious subject to talk over, and Jonah began it by saying:

"The men are pretty near all agreed, Mr. Scofield, and we've got to do something soon. How is it in your mill?"

"Hounshell's, you mean," corrected the ex-sailor and weaver, cutting a piece of tobacco. "Well, I suppose a good many of our hands will go with you, if it comes to a strike. But I can control a number, I guess; and I'm bound to tell you that we shall stick to work and stand out ag'in you."

"That's bad—bad," mumbled the young railroader, with a troubled air. He plucked a spear of tall grass and began biting it. "I can't see, Scofield," he burst out (dropping the "Mr." this time), "why you stick to that man against all your own interests and the interests of your fellow-workmen. What's Hounshell compared with them?"

"He's my friend and benefactor; that's all. Didn't he take care o' my poor wife the day she died? And when I come back from sea, after a long cruise and a shipwreck, and my wife was dead, didn't I find that he had taken my little girl in tow, and was eddicating her? Look here," Scofield pushed up the sleeve of his coat and shirt and displayed the dim blue anchor on his fore-arm; "as long as that stays there I'm going to be true to the man as was true to me," he said.

"I know all that," said Jonah. "He's done a lot. The others are a little jealous of you, sometimes; and that's one reason I want you to be with us. If you ain't, they'll say: 'Oh, yes, it's very fine for Scofield to stay out! The boss helped him to a nice cottage, and give his daughter a pianna. But the rest of us have got to look out for ourselves.' That's what they'll say. And as for me, I say it's barter and trade; that's what! Hounshell give Addie an education and a pianna, and now he wants her to give herself in exchange."

"That ain't the way to look at it," retorted Scofield. "It ain't fair. And if you mean to insult my daughter by your talk about barter and trade, why, you'd better—"

"You're the first to say 'insult,'" Jonah answered, in an angry, constrained tone. "I love Addie; and I don't believe she'd marry in any such way. And what's more, I—I kind of hope she'll marry me. There again, there's another reason why I wanted you to be on our side—now that we've got everything together, and the railroad hands and mill hands are ready to move at the same time. But I see it's no use; I've done my best."

"No; it's no use," assented the weaver. "I'm doing my best, too."

Thus it happened that the young man took his departure in some heat; but it was of her own accord that Addie followed this lover to the gate; and she did not let him go without a few sweet words to comfort him.


III.

LISTENING.

Martin Hounshell had three good causes for wishing to marry Addie Scofield. First, so far as in him lay, he loved her. Secondly, knowing that opposition was afoot among the men, he feared the influence that Jonah Brown might obtain over Scofield, should he succeed in his courtship of the daughter; for he relied much on the sailor-weaver's loyalty to fight off the trouble. Thirdly, he had some time since been guilty of a secret misdeed, which he hoped to repair by bestowing further benefits on the Scofields.

This evening, after going from the cottage and leaving his horse at home, he went down to the deserted mill, entered the office, locked himself in, and then spread out on his desk the discovered memorandum. The words with which it began were these: "Martin E. Hounshell. Property delivered, April 13th, 1877. Adelaide Scofield died same day. Husband returned—."

The date here was omitted. Below followed the names of certain persons in California, and two or three other brief notes.

To the mill-owner, sitting there in the dim candlelight, with a hand pressed nervously over his lips, this told the whole story. To any one it would at least suggest suspicion. Should he destroy the paper? He held it up toward the candle; then hesitated. It might be desirable first to find out who had written it, and to do this he would keep it as evidence. No place so unapproachable by others as his own pocket; so he put it away again.

The injury he had done to the unsuspecting Scofield had been crowned with success to himself, but it had tormented him, too. In spite of having given the man employment and having assisted the daughter, he could not escape his remorse. But when he should have wedded Addie, and lifted the weaver into a subordinate partnership, he felt sure that his mind would be at rest. "As it is," he muttered, "I have done more than most would have done, to make amends. I can't give up all—the whole thing. It ain't reasonable. And if I get to be his son-in-law, why, we're all together, and that squares it."

But who and where was this other man, this unknown Piper, who carried dangerous information which might at any moment, if disclosed, give a sudden check to the comforting plan thus formed? That must be learned without delay.

It was not until the next afternoon that, looking over the Shagford Minute-Hand more carefully than he had had time to do in the morning, he saw an account of the accident at the railroad bridge, which accounted for the floating hat. Simeon Piper, then, was in the very town, at the hospital—perhaps at this instant telling some one the tale which had come to his knowledge! Preposterous unkindness of fate, to deal such a blow at this late day! Hounshell only half believed it could be dealt him; yet when he rose from his chair he felt very weak, and the solid walls of the mill as he passed outside seemed decidedly rickety. He very nearly expected them to fall over upon him. As directly as he could he made his way to the hospital, and by the time he reached it was aware that his interest in the stranger might appear somewhat singular. To prevent this he began carelessly, to the attendant:

"Queer sort of case, that one you had yesterday from the railroad."

"Yes, a very narrow escape."

"I read about it in the Minute-Hand. How's he getting along?"

"Very well indeed. He's left us."

"Left a'ready!" Hounshell wondered if his face looked as white as it felt. "There's no chance, then—"

"No chance to see him now," said the attendant, far from suspecting the anxiety under that word "chance," as used by Hounshell.

"He's lucky to get off so soon," remarked the latter, a cold perspiration on his back. "Gone from town, I s'pose."

"I believe so."

Hounshell was afraid to ask anything more. He covered his retreat by discussing his ostensible errand, which was to make arrangements for possibly sending to the hospital the invalid wife of one of his men. He had no intention of actually sending her, but he went away leaving an impression of his remarkable kindness.

How dear to him was all this false reputation, which cost so little except in secret mental twinges! He doubted whether a respectability honestly worked for would have yielded him nearly so keen an enjoyment; and he was determined to hold on to that which he had gained. Where to look for Piper, and just how to dispose of him, was the problem now before him. But he began to feel easier, and his thoughts returned to the impending labor revolt.

It was desirable to see Scofield in private, and with this end in view he drove out to the cottage again at evening.

On entering the little sitting-room he was annoyed to find a stranger there comfortably adjusted in a rocking-chair.

"I didn't know you had company here," he observed frigidly, eying Scofield.

"Oh, that won't interfere!" said Scofield. "It's only Mr. Piper; the man that—"

"Piper!" ejaculated Hounshell, in a voice harsh with horror.

The stranger looked up at him astonished.

"Yes," said the weaver. "Mr. Piper, this is our boss, Mr. Hounshell."

It was all over—so the miller thought. He stood staring, waiting for Simeon Piper to spring up with deadly denunciation on his lips. But that individual merely bowed and inspected his vis-à-vis with a good-natured air. The only thing worthy of remark about him was that there was a sort of pained blankness in his face; and as he met Hounshell's fixed gaze he lifted one hand and pressed his forehead vaguely for an instant. The other man was quick to take the respite offered.

"I'm glad to see you looking so well, Mr. Piper," he said, exhibiting his smile with great success. "I've heard about your escape."

Then he looked at Scofield imperiously, and they went out together.

"What is that man there for?" he demanded, taking the weaver's arm sharply.

"Why, he's come out to board; that's all. Do you know him? You seemed a good deal shaken up."

"No; I don't know him. I s'pose this labor combination is making me nervous. I kind of suspect people."

"Pshaw! This man's an outsider; comes from California. He was a rancheero, or something, out there, I believe. I can tell you how we happen to have him here." And the explanation was given. "He's dropped the bottom out of his memory, like, and wants to wait till he can fit a new one to it."

"Oh, that's it!" exclaimed Hounshell, once more secure. He saw that his name had not been recognized by his enemy; and perhaps the memorandum in his pocket was the only connecting link that would ever lead to such a recognition. "Still," he said, "I don't like Jonah's bringing him here. It won't hurt if you let him go his way this side of next week."

They then proceeded to a discussion of the state of things in the mill; and Hounshell went home without attempting an interview with Addie. But first, after driving a little way, he stopped, went back on foot, and stealthily looked through the vine-hung window. Addie was reading something to the robust-looking invalid, who still sat in the rocking-chair, his face as blank as ever. Her father occupied himself with carving a small piece of wood, twisting his lips in sympathy with the knife. Everything was placidly reassuring.

Hounshell wondered at the thinness of the partition that stood between him and ruin; but he did not care if it was only an egg-shell, so long as it did not break.

But while he was still gazing through the pane, the sound of a distant train on the railroad came through the night. The watcher was scarcely aware of it until he saw Piper start up in his chair, listening, with a roused, intent expression. The girl ceased from her reading; Scofield stopped his work and looked at their guest. No one spoke in the little room. The noise of the train grew louder; now it became a rumbling hum or a rattle—busy, swift, determined in character. It was as if a gigantic shuttle were being driven through the woof of the darkness, to carry one more strand into that great web of civilization, woven day and night continually. But there was something mysterious and warning in the sound besides. Under the general subdued roar could be heard the sharp click of the wheels from rail to rail, in definite pulsations; the sound thus grew so precise one might have suspected that it would break into speech. Had it not some message to deliver of which this was the vague prelude?

That at least was what Piper seemed to hope as he rose excited, finally gaining his feet, with a quicker intelligence in his face than had been there before. As if it would be possible to catch the message more distinctly should he look out, he turned his eyes toward the window. Hounshell barely missed betraying himself there, but slid away into the dark swiftly.

"Was that a face?" Simeon Piper demanded. "No; I see it must have been an illusion," he added, despondently, once more putting his hand to his head.

The father and daughter exchanged looks of pity.

By this time the cars had got farther off and were less audible. Piper's agitation died away proportionately, and he sank back into his seat.

But the same sort of thing happened on the following day when he heard the distant movement of a train.

"Listen!" he cried to Addie, who was with him. "Don't you hear? It's going to say something. I shall get hold of the idea and find out what is the matter. Listen! listen!"

Then, as before, the hollow rumble diminished, gradually softened to a stir no louder than a sigh, and finally was quite lost. Only the baffled breeze continued its hopeless search among the leafy boughs by the river.

"What is it you think you might hear?" asked Addie, gently.

The strong man looked at her with tears in his eyes.

"A secret, young lady; a secret! I knew it, and now it is gone. It's strange that cars should excite me this way, but something has hurt my brain. You are very kind; and if you go on being so perhaps my mind will get right again."

A week passed. Piper listened each day to the passing trains; sometimes at night too, when he lay alone, and it seemed still more likely that through its relation with this sound the lost clew might disclose itself. But all in vain; he was unable to recover what had escaped him.

During these days Hounshell did not come out to the cottage, but the labor movement culminated, and all the railroad and mill employés demanded an advance of wages.


IV.

THE THIRD BRIDGE.

The employers met in conference, and agreed not to yield—so the strike began. Scofield, however, and a small group with him, stoutly refused to join the movement; and some work was still done at Hounshell's. This encouraged the other mill-owners and directors, and exasperated the men in revolt. At first everything was quiet and orderly; but as the success of the laborers grew more doubtful to them, anger and excitement gained sway.

"I feel almost afraid for father," said Addie to Simeon Piper, on the fourth day of the strike. For, in fact, there were now serious threats of riot.

"I don't believe they would do him any harm," said the Californian, easily. "The most they'll do will be to make him stop working, and then he'll have a holiday."

"But he won't stop," the girl affirmed, excitedly. "I know father better than you."

"Well, then," suggested Piper, still seeking an easy way out, "persuade your friend Brown—my friend, too—to come over to father's side."

Piper, with a Western taste for convenience and cordiality, had adopted this mode of referring to Scofield.

"But I—I don't want to," faltered Addie, with a soft blush.

"Hoity-toity!" cried Simeon. "What does that mean?"

"I want him—the strikers, that is—to win."

"Against father?" Piper raised his good-humored eyebrows.

"Oh dear, I wish they were on the same side! I only know I'm fearful. They'll hurt him; I know they will."

"Oh, look here," said Piper, "that's all foolishness! But I'll tell you what: we'll walk down to town and see how things are going."

"Shall we? Oh, how nice you are, Mr. Piper! Come on, then."

And they started.

A great many men were standing about the streets, looking ominous of ill; but as yet no disturbance was made. The mill stood at one end of the street-bridge; and as Piper and Addie came up to it they heard the noise of a crowd approaching around one corner of it. A moment after they had gained the entrance, this crowd, which numbered some twenty-five men, armed with thick sticks and some heavy stones, arrayed itself face to face with them.

"Where do you lot plan on going?" asked Piper, in a leisurely manner.

"In here," said some of the group, "to stop them working."

"I guess not," observed the Californian. His tone was even genial.

"We'll see," retorted a leader, moving forward.

The mill-door was fast, but at this moment the bolts were loosed, and Scofield made his appearance.

"Addie," he commanded, sternly, "come in, and out of the muss! and you, too, Piper."

"You can send daughter in," answered Piper, indicating Addie, who—far from quailing—looked as serene and fresh as ever. "But I'm going to stand in front of this door. Now," he continued, with determination, fronting the rioters, "you leave the old man and his girl alone. If you don't you've got to fight me. One of your locomotives run me off the bridge t'other day and didn't kill me; and I guess you can't, either. I promise to corral the whole herd, if you try to come in here."

Some of the men showed defiance, but those nearest were in no hurry to attack. It had suddenly become apparent to them that their antagonist's shoulders were particularly square and rugged. Scofield wondered whether his champion knew what he was about; the Piper certainly seemed to be in possession of all his faculties.

The leaders began to confer.

As luck would have it, the owner of the mill, who had been absent, and was not aware of the immediate danger, just then came up. He had not seen the crowd until within a few yards. At once a threatening cry arose:

"Hounshell!"

A strange sensation came over Piper; a loud, tumultuous noise following the word, filled his ears. Was it the rush of the river, or the thunder of a railroad train? He could not tell; but he shouted suddenly with fierce exultation:

"Hounshell—that's the name! Hounshell's the man!"

His memory had come back to him.

The strikers, diverted by this new object, turned as if to assault the "boss;" but Piper was before them. He had darted forward and toward Hounshell, who, blanched with fear, and thinking Piper in league with the men, took flight, making for the bridge; the Californian after him. The little mob, itself bewildered, followed; but Piper had already clutched the fugitive when it caught up with them.

"I've got him," he cried. "This man's a fraud. Do you want to know why? He took the money left to the other man—Scofield—hurrah! that's the other name. He stole the money, I tell you, and bought that mill, and it don't belong to him. The mill is Scofield's; d'you hear?"

"Let go," gurgled Hounshell, trying to wrench himself free. But his captor shook him once, and he was quiet.

The workmen crowded up to get a clearer understanding of this extraordinary statement; and as it broke fully upon them, "Throw him over the bridge," became their watchword. But by this time several other persons had advanced over the street bridge, among whom were Jonah and Scofield.

"No violence, boys," said Jonah, lifting his voice, which had authority. "You're disgracing the cause."

The men became silent, but Scofield was indignant with his ally of a moment before.

"What are you doing to the boss?" he demanded, hotly. "You must be crazy."

"Yes; he's crazy," said Hounshell, trying to assume the air of a composed and meritorious person placed at a disadvantage.

"You must have been yourself," the Californian vehemently declared, "when you took that legacy to pay to Mrs. Scofield, and then stole it because she died and no one knew about it. The mill belongs to Scofield, I say, and I can prove it in a little time."

"You've got no evidence," asserted Hounshell, very pale and a trifle wolfish.

"Evidence! I've got you, and you're chock full of it. I believe I could shake it right out of you if I tried."

Piper glared at him, and then, without releasing his hold, made a dive with one hand at his captive's breast.

"It's gone," said Hounshell, huskily. "I've burned it."

"Burned what?"

"The paper," Hounshell muttered; "your memo—"

"Oh, you had it, then! You've convicted yourself by that, my fine scamp."

"I give up," said the wretched criminal. "Let's go. Take me away—the mill! Bring Scofield. I give up."

Seeing that this was best, Simeon acceded.

"Come along, Scofield," he said.

Jonah pressed up to Scofield and congratulated him as they went, but the older man scarcely responded. When they were again at the mill one striker renewed the idea of coercing the workers. But Jonah imposed his veto.

"Not now," he said.

And Scofield added:

"Boys, if the mill belongs to me it's settled beforehand. You get your advance."

This sent them off with a cheer and the prophecy that the rest of the bosses would have to follow suit.

The four men, left alone, entered the office.

"Is it true?" asked Scofield.

Hounshell winced, but replied steadily:

"It's all true."

The weaver went to the window and put his head on his arm. It was he, the innocent man, who was overwhelmed by the disgrace of the one who had wronged him.

"But how did you find it out?" Jonah asked of Piper.

"Roundabout," was the answer. "First off, from a man I was hiring on my ranche. He came from here and spoke about Scofield; said he was a weaver. I'd heard something about that rich brother in 'Frisco that hadn't seen the rest of the Scofields for years, and left 'em his money; so I saw there might be something wrong. I looked it up, and came on here."

Jonah took his hand.

"But you must have known the Scofields, or had some interest in them," he said, after a moment.

Simeon Piper looked down; then he looked away; finally he twirled his thumbs.

"I could afford the time," he said. "Got money enough. Well, yes, I suppose you might call it interest. Fact is, I knew Scofield's wife's sister when she was young. I—didn't marry her. But, then, I never married any one, you see."

And with this he faced his questioner, turning upon him a pair of eyes that beamed as if he had just set forth a remarkably cheerful circumstance.

On further inquiry it was understood how Piper had taken the wrong train for Shagford, and, finding that it branched off, had started foolishly to walk along the track when overtaken on the bridge. He was now convinced that a hat was not a good place in which to deposit important documents.

Finding that evidence for his conviction could soon be obtained, in addition to his confession, Hounshell executed a deed of the mill to Scofield.

"And what do you propose to do with me?" he asked. "Are you going to get me locked up?"

The others held a conference, before answering. Scofield was in favor of letting the malefactor go, but the decision was at last given to Piper, who said:

"I'm sorry for you, Hounshell. It would have been better for you if you had emigrated some time ago. But as it is, I guess the law'll have to decide where you're to locate."

And, subsequently, it did so.

"Well," said the deposed malefactor, when sentence had been passed, "I'm almost glad of it."

A soft summer rain was falling as they led him out of court to go to prison; and, strangely enough, he had not felt so happy for years. Once more he was open to the charm of the pattering drops, the sweetness of refreshed flowers, the cool air, as he had been in boyhood.

"It's only fair to you," Scofield remarked, forgivingly, "to say that you showed conscience."

"Yes—if I'd only followed it," Hounshell answered. "A man ought to trust his conscience instead of letting it trust him. I tell 'ee it's an awful sharp creditor when the time does come to pay up."