A Darling Of Misfortune by Alice Hegan Rice
A shabby but joyous citizen of the world at large was
Mr. Phelan Harrihan, as, with a soul wholly in tune with
the finite, he half sat and half reclined on a
baggage-truck at Lebanon Junction. He wag relieving the
tedium of his waiting moments by entertaining a critical
if not fastidious audience of three.
Beside him, with head thrust under his ragged sleeve,
sat a small and unlovely bull-terrier, who, at each
fresh burst of laughter, lifted a pair of languishing
eyes to the face of his master, and then manifested his
surplus affection by ardently licking the buttons on the
sleeve of the arm that encircled him.
It was a moot question whether Mr. Harrihan resembled
his dog, or whether his dog resembled him. That there
was a marked similarity admitted of no discussion. If
Corp's nose had been encouraged and his lower jaw
suppressed, if his intensely emotional nature had been
under better control, and his sentimentality tempered
with humor, the analogy would have been more complete.
In taste, they were one. By birth, predilection, and
instinct both were philosophers of the open, preferring
an untrammeled life in Vagabondia to the collars and
conventions of society. Both delighted in exquisite
leisure, and spent it in pleased acquiescence with
things as they are.
Some twenty-five years before, Phelan had opened his
eyes upon a half-circle of blue sky, seen through the
end of a canvas-covered wagon on a Western prairie, and
having first conceived life to be a free-and-easy affair
on a long, open road, he thereafter declined to consider
it in any other light.
The only break in his nomadic existence was when a
benevolent old gentleman found him, a friendless lad in
a Nashville hospital, cursed him through a fever, and
elected to educate him. Those were years of black
captivity for Phelan, and after being crammed and
coached for what seemed an interminable time, he was
proudly entered at the University, where he promptly
failed in every subject and was dropped at the mid-year
The old gentleman, fortunately, was spared all
disappointment in regard to his irresponsible protégé,
for he died before the catastrophe, leaving Phelan
Harrihan a legacy of fifteen dollars a month and the
memory of a kind, but misguided, old man who was not
quite right in his head.
Being thus provided with a sum more than adequate to
meet all his earthly needs, Phelan joyously abandoned
the straight and narrow path of learning, and once more
betook himself to the open road.
The call of blue skies and green fields, the excitement
of each day's encounter, the dramatic possibilities of
every passing incident, the opportunity for quick and
intimate fellowship, and above all an inherited and
chronic disinclination for work, made Phelan an easy
victim to that malady called by the casual tourist
"wanderlust," but known in Hoboland as "railroad fever."
Only once a year did he return to civilization, don a
stiff collar, and recognize an institution. During his
meteoric career at the University he had been made a
member of the Alpha Delta fraternity, in recognition of
his varied accomplishments. Not only could he sing and
dance and tell a tale with the best, but he was also a
mimic and a ventriloquist, gifts which had proven
invaluable in crucial conflicts with the faculty, and
had constituted him a hero in several escapades. Of such
material is college history made, and the Alpha Delta,
recognizing the distinction of possessing this unique
member, refused to accept his resignation, but
unanimously demanded his presence at each annual
On June second, for five consecutive years, the ends of
the earth had yielded up Phelan Harrihan; by a miracle
of grace he had arrived in Nashville, decently
appareled, ready to respond to his toast, to bask for
his brief hour in the full glare of the calcium, then to
depart again into oblivion.
It was now the first day of June and as Phelan concluded
his tale, which was in fact an undress rehearsal of what
he intended to tell on the morrow, he looked forward
with modest satisfaction to the triumph that was sure to
be his. For the hundredth time he made certain that the
small brown purse, so unused to its present obesity, was
safe and sound in his inside pocket.
During the pause that followed his recital, his audience
"Go on, do it again," urged the ragged boy who sold the
sandwiches, "show us how Forty Fathom Dan looked when he
thought he was sinking.
"I don't dare trifle with me features," said Phelan
solemnly. "How much are those sandwiches. One for five,
is it? Two for fifteen, I suppose. Well, here's one for
me, and one for Corp, and keep the change, kid. Ain't
that the train coming?"
"It's the up train," said the station-master, rising
reluctantly; "it meets yours here. I've got to be
Phelan, left without an audience, strolled up and down
the platform, closely followed by Corporal Harrihan.
As the train slowed up at the little Junction, there was
manifestly some commotion on board. Standing in the
doorway of the rear car a small, white-faced woman
argued excitedly with the conductor.
"I didn't have no ticket, I tell you!" she was saying as
the train came to a stop. "I 'lowed I'd pay my way, but
I lost my pocket-book. I lost it somewheres on the train
here, I don't know where it is!"
"I've seen your kind before," said the conductor
wearily; "what did you get on for when you didn't have
anything to pay your fare with?"
"I tell you I lost my pocket-book after I got on!" she
said doggedly; "I ain't going to get off, you daren't
put me off!"
Phelan, who had sauntered up, grew sympathetic. He, too,
had experienced the annoyance of being pressed for his
fare when it was inconvenient to produce it.
"Go ahead," demanded the conductor firmly, "I don't want
to push you off, but if you don't step down and out
right away, I'll have it to do."
The woman's expression changed from defiance to terror.
She clung to the brake with both hands and looked at him
"No, no, don't touch me!" she cried. "Don't make me get
off! I've got to get to Cincinnati. My man's there. He's
been hurt in the foundry. He's—maybe he's dying now."
"I can't help that, maybe it's so and maybe it ain't.
You never had any money when you got on this train and
you know it. Go on, step off!"
"But I did!" she cried wildly; "I did. Oh, God! don't
put me off."
The train began to move, and the conductor seized the
woman's arms from behind and forced her forward. A
moment more and she would be pushed off the lowest step.
She turned beseeching eyes on the little group of
spectators, and as she did so Phelan Harrihan sprang
forward and with his hand on the railing, ran along with
the slow-moving train.
With a deft movement he bent forward and apparently
snatched something from the folds of her skirt.
"Get on to your luck now," he said with an encouraging
smile that played havoc with the position of his
features; "if here ain't your pocket-book all the time!"
The hysterical woman looked from the unfamiliar little
brown purse in her hand, to the snub-nosed, grimy face
of the young man running along the track, then she
caught her breath.
"Why,—" she cried unsteadily, "yes—yes, it's my purse."
Phelan loosened his hold on the railing and had only
time to scramble breathlessly up the bank before the
down train, the train for Nashville which was to have
been his, whizzed past.
He watched it regretfully as it slowed up at the
station, then almost immediately pulled out again for
the south, carrying his hopes with it.
"Corporal," said Phelan, to the dog, who had looked upon
the whole episode as a physical-culture exercise
indulged in for his special benefit, "a noble act of
charity is never to be regretted, but wasn't I the
original gun, not to wait for the change?"
His lack of business method seemed to weigh upon him,
and he continued to apologize to Corporal:
"It was so sudden, you know, Corp. Couldn't see a lady
ditched, when I had a bit of stuffed leather in my
pocket. And two hundred miles to Nashville! Well
He searched in his trousers pockets and found a dime in
one and a hole in the other. It was an old trick of his
to hide a piece of money in time of prosperity, and then
discover it in the blackness of adversity.
He held the dime out ruefully: "That's punk and plaster
for supper, but we'll have to depend on a hand-out for
breakfast. And, Corp," he added apologetically, "you
know I told you we was going to ride regular like
gentlemen? Well, I've been compelled to change my plans.
We are going to turf it twelve miles down to the
watering tank, and sit out a couple of dances till the
midnight freight comes along. If a side door Pullman
ain't convenient, I'll have to go on the bumpers, then
what'll become of you, Mr. Corporal Harrihan?"
The coming ordeal cast no shadow over Corporal. He was
declaring his passionate devotion, by wild tense springs
at Phelan's face, seeking in vain to overcome the cruel
limitation of a physiognomy that made kissing well-nigh
Phelan picked up his small bundle and started down the
track with the easy, regular swing of one who has long
since gaged the distance of railroad ties. But his step
lacked its usual buoyancy, and he forgot to whistle, Mr.
Harrihan was undergoing the novel experience of being
worried. Of course he would get to Nashville,—if the
train went, he could go,—but the prospect of
arriving without decent clothes and with no money to pay
for a lodging, did not in the least appeal to him. He
thought with regret of his well-laid plans: an early
arrival, a Turkish bath, the purchase of a new outfit,
instalment at a good hotel, then—presentation at the
fraternity headquarters of Mr. Phelan Harrihan,
Gentleman for a Night. He could picture it all, the
dramatic effect of his entrance, the yell of welcome,
the buzz of questions, and the evasive,
curiosity-enkindling answers which he meant to give.
Then the banquet, with its innumerable courses of
well-served food, the speeches and toasts, and the
personal ovation that always followed Mr. Harrihan's
Oh! he couldn't miss it! Providence would interfere in
his behalf, he knew it would, it always did. "Give me my
luck, and keep your lucre!" was a saying of Phelan's,
quoted by brother hoboes from Maine to the Gulf.
All the long afternoon he tramped the ties, with
Corporal at his heels. As dusk came on the clouds that
had been doing picket duty, joined the regiment on the
horizon which slowly wheeled and charged across the sky.
Phelan scanned the heavens with an experienced weather
eye, then began to look for a possible shelter from the
coming shower. On either side, the fields stretched away
in undulating lines, with no sign of a habitation in
sight. A dejected old scarecrow, and a tumble-down shed
in the distance were the only objects that presented
Turning up his coat-collar Phelan made a dash for the
shed, but the shower overtook him half-way. It was not
one of your gentle little summer showers, that patter on
the shingles waking echoes underneath; it was a large
and instantaneous breakage in the celestial plumbing
that let gallons of water down Phelan's back, filling
his pockets, hat brim, and shoes and sending a dashing
cascade down Corporal's oblique profile.
"Float on your back, Corp, and pull for the shore!"
laughed Phelan as he landed with a spring under the
dilapidated shed. "Cheer up, old pard; you look as if
all your past misdeeds had come before you in your
Corporal, shivering and unhappy, crept under cover, and
dumbly demanded of Phelan what he intended to do about
"Light a blaze, sure," said Phelan, "and linger here in
the air of the tropics till the midnight freight comes
Scraping together the old wood and débris in the rear of
the shed, and extricating with some difficulty a small
tin match-box from his saturated clothes, he knelt
before the pile and used all of his persuasive powers to
induce it to ignite.
At the first feeble blaze Corporal's spirits rose so
promptly that he had to be restrained.
"Easy there! Corp," cautioned Phelan. "A fire's like a
woman, you can't be sure of it too soon. And, dog alive,
stop wagging your tail, don't you see it makes a draft?"
The fire capriciously would, then it wouldn't. A tiny
flame played tantalizingly along the top of a stick only
to go sullenly out when it reached the end. Match after
match was sacrificed to the cause, but at last, down
deep under the surface, there was a steady, reassuring,
cheerful crackle that made Phelan sit back on his heels,
and remark complacently:
"They most generally come around, in the end!"
In five minutes the fire was burning bright, Corporal
was dreaming of meaty bones in far fence corners, and
Phelan, less free from the incumbrances of civilization,
was divesting himself of his rain-soaked garments.
From one of the innumerable pockets of his old cutaway
coat he took a comb and brush and clothes-brush, and
carefully deposited them before the fire. Then from
around his neck he removed a small leather case, hung by
a string and holding a razor. His treasured toilet
articles thus being cared for, he turned his attention
to the contents of his dripping bundle. A suit of
underwear and a battered old copy of Eli Perkins were
ruefully examined, and spread out to dry.
The fire, while it lasted, was doing admirable service,
but the wood supply was limited, and Phelan saw that he
must take immediate advantage of the heat. How to dry
the underwear which he wore was the question which
puzzled him, and he wrestled with it for several moments
before an inspiration came.
"I'll borrow some duds from the scarecrow!" he said half
aloud, and went forth immediately to execute his idea.
The rain had ceased, but the fields were still afloat,
and Phelan waded ankle deep through the slush grass, to
where the scarecrow raised his threatening arms against
the twilight sky.
"Beggars and borrowers shouldn't be choosers," said
Phelan, as he divested the figure of its ragged trousers
and coat, "but I have a strong feeling in my mind that
these habiliments ain't going to become me. Who's your
The scarecrow, reduced now to an old straw hat and a
necktie, maintained a dignified and oppressive silence.
"Well, he ain't on to the latest cut," continued Phelan,
wringing the water out of the coat. "But maybe these
here is your pajamas? Don't tell me I disturbed you
after you'd retired for the night? Very well then,
With the clothes under his arm he made his way back to
the shed, and divesting himself of his own raiment he
got into his borrowed property.
By this time the fire had died down, and the place was
in semi-darkness. Phelan threw on a handful of sticks
and, as the blaze flared up, he caught his first clear
sight of his newly acquired clothes. They were ragged
and weather-stained, and circled about with broad,
"Well, I'll be spiked!" said Phelan, vastly amused. "I
wouldn't 'a' thought it of a nice, friendly scarecrow
like that! Buncoed me, didn't he? Well, feathers don't
always make the jail-bird. Wonder what poor devil wore
'em last? Peeled out of 'em in this very shed, like as
not. Well, they'll serve my purpose all right, all
He took off his shoes, placed them under his head for a
pillow, lit a short cob pipe, threw on fresh wood, and
prepared to wait for his clothes to dry.
Meanwhile the question of the banquet revolved itself
continually in his mind. This time to-morrow night, the
preparations would be in full swing. Instead of being
hungry, half naked, and chilled, he might be in a
luxurious club-house dallying with caviar, stuffed
olives, and Benedictine. All that lay between him and
bliss were two hundred miles of railroad ties and a
decent suit of clothes!
"Wake up, Corp; for the love of Mike be sociable!" cried
Phelan when the situation became too gloomy to
contemplate. "Ain't that like a dog now? Hold your
tongue when I'm longing for a word of kindly sympathy
an' encouragement, and barking your fool head off once
we get on the freight. Much good it'll be doing us to
get to Nashville in this fix, but we'll take our
blessings as they come, Corp, and just trust to luck
that somebody will forget to turn 'em off. I know when I
get to the banquet there'll be one other man absent.
That's Bell of Terre Haute. Him and me is always in the
same boat, he gets ten thousand a year and ain't got the
nerve to spend it, and I get fifteen a month, and ain't
got the nerve to keep it! Poor old Bell."
Corporal, roused from his slumbers, sniffed inquiringly
at the many garments spread about the fire, yawned,
turned around several times in dog fashion, then curled
up beside Phelan, signifying by his bored expression
that he hadn't the slightest interest in the matter
Gradually the darkness closed in, and the fire died to
embers. It would be four hours before the night freight
slowed up at the water tank, and Phelan, tired from his
long tramp, and drowsy from the heat and the vapor
rising from the drying clothes, shifted the shoe-buttons
from under his left ear, and drifted into dreamland.
How long he slept undisturbed, only the scarecrow
outside knew. He was dimly aware, in his dreams, of
subdued sounds and, by and by, the sounds formed
themselves into whispered words and, still half asleep,
"I thought we'd find him along here. This is the road
they always take," a low voice was saying; "you and Sam
stand here, John and me'll tackle him from this side.
He'll put up a stiff fight, you bet."
Phelan opened his eyes, and tried to remember where he
"Gosh! look at that bulldog!" came another whisper, and
at the same moment Corporal jumped to his feet, growling
As he did so, four men sprang through the opening of the
shed, and seized Phelan by the arms and legs.
"Look out there," cried one excitedly; "don't let him
escape; here's the handcuffs."
"But here," cried Phelan, "what's up; what you doing to
By this time Corporal, thoroughly roused, made a vicious
lunge at the nearest man. The next minute there was a
sharp report of a pistol, and the bull-terrier went
yelping and limping out into the night.
"You coward!" cried Phelan, struggling to rise, "if you
killed that dog—"
"Get those shackles on his legs," shouted one of the
men. "Is the wagon ready, Sam? Take his legs there, I've
got his head. Leave the truck here, we've got to drive
like sand to catch that train!"
After being dragged to the road and thrown into a spring
wagon, Phelan found himself lying on his back, jolting
over a rough country road, his three vigilant captors
sitting beside him with pistols in hand.
Any effort on his part to explain or seek information
was promptly and emphatically discouraged. But in time
he gathered, from the bits let fall by his captors, that
he was an escaped convict, of a most desperate
character, for whom a reward was offered, and that he
had been at large twenty-four hours.
In vain did he struggle for a hearing. Only once did he
get a response to his oft-repeated plea of innocence. It
was when he told how he had come by the clothes he had
on. For once Phelan got a laugh when he did not relish
"Got 'em off a scarecrow, did you?" said the man at his
head, when the fun had subsided; "say, I want to be
'round when you tell that to the Superintendent of the
Penitentiary—I ain't heard him laugh in ten years!"
So, in the face of such unbelief, Phelan lapsed into
silence and gloom. What became of him concerned him
less, at the moment, than the fate of Corporal, and the
thought of the faithful little beast wounded and perhaps
dying out there in the fields, made him sick at heart.
Just as they came in sight of the lights of the station,
the whistle of the freight was heard down the track and
the horses were beaten to a gallop.
Phelan was hurried from the wagon into an empty box car,
with his full guard in attendance. As the train pulled
out he heard a little whimper beside him and there,
panting for breath after his long run, and with one ear
hanging limp and bloody, cowered Corporal. Phelan's
hands were not at his disposal, but even if they had
been it is doubtful if he would have denied Corp the joy
for once of kissing him.
Through the rest of the night the heavy cars rumbled
over the rails, and the men took turn about sleeping and
guarding the prisoner. Only once did Phelan venture
"Say, you sports, you don't mind telling me where you
are taking me, do you?"
"Listen at his gaff!" said one. "He'll know all right
when he gets to Nashville."
Phelan sent such a radiant smile into the darkness that
it threatened to reveal itself. Then he slipped his
encircled wrists about Corporal's body and giving him a
"It's better'n the bumpers, Corp."
At the Penitentiary next day there was consternation and
dismay when instead of the desperate criminal, who two
days before had scaled the walls and dropped to freedom,
an innocent little Irishman was presented, whose only
offense apparently was in having donned, temporarily,
the garb of crime.
As the investigation proceeded, Phelan found it
expedient, to become excessively indignant. That an
American citizen, strolling harmlessly through the
fields of a summer evening, and being caught in a
shower, should attempt to dry his clothes in an unused
shed, and find himself attacked and bound, and hurried
away without his belongings to a distant city, was an
inconceivable outrage. If a shadow of doubt remained as
to his identity, a score of prominent gentlemen in the
city would be able to identify him. He named them, and
added that he was totally unable to hazard a guess as to
what form their resentment of his treatment would
The authorities looked grave. Could Mr. Harrihan
remember just what articles he had left behind? Mr.
Harrihan could. A suit of clothes, a pair of shoes, a
hat, a toilet set, and a small sum of money; "the loss
of which," added Phelan with a fine air of indifference,
"are as nothing compared to the indignity offered to my
Would the gentleman be satisfied if the cost of these
articles, together with the railroad fare back to
Lebanon Junction be paid him? The gentleman, after an
injured pause, announced that he would.
And thus it was that Mr. Phelan Harrihan, in immaculate
raiment, presented himself at the Sixth Annual Reunion
of the Alpha Delta fraternity and, with a complacent
smile encircling a ten-cent cigar, won fresh laurels by
recounting, with many adornments, the adventures of the