The Yankee Tramp by Francis Clement Kelley

THEY were old cronies, M. le Cure de St. Eustace and M. le Cure de Ste. Agatha, though the priestly calling seemed all they had in common. The first was small of stature, thin of face, looking like a mediæval, though he was a modern, saint; the other tall, well filled out like an epicure, yet not even Bonhomme Careau, the nearest approach to a scoffer in the two parishes, ever went so far as to call the Cure of Ste. Agatha by such an undeserved name, since the good, fat priest had the glaring fault of stinginess which all the country knew but never mentioned. They loved him too much to mention his faults. He was good to the sick and faithful to their interests, though—"Il etait fort tendu, lui, mais bien gentil, tout de meme." Besides, the Cure of St. Eustace was too generous. Every beggar got a meal from him and some of them money, till he spoiled the whole tribe of them and they became so bold—well there was serious talk of protesting to the Cure of St. Eustace about his charities.

The garden of St. Eustace was the pleasantest place on earth for both the cronies after Vespers had been sung in their parishes on Sunday afternoons,  and the three miles covered from the Presbytery of Ste. Agatha to the Presbytery of St. Eustace. On a fine day it was delightful to sit under the great trees and see the flowers and chat and smoke, with just the faint smell of the evening meal stealing out of Margot's kingdom. It was a standing rule that this meal was to be taken together on Sunday and the visit prolonged far into the night—until old Pierre came with the worn-looking buggy and carried his master off about half-past ten. "Grand Dieu. Quelle dissipation!" Only on this night did either one stay up after nine.

What experiences were told these Sunday nights! Big and authoritative were the words of M. le Cure de Ste. Agatha. Stern and unbending were his comments and the accounts of his week's doings. And his friend's? Bien, they were not much, but "they made him a little pleasure to narrate"—what he would tell of them.

This night they were talking of beggars, a new phase of the old question. They had only beggars in Quebec, mild old fellows mostly. A few pennies would suffice for them, and when they got old there were always the good Sisters of the Poor to care for them. There were no tramps.

"This fellow was different, mon ami," the Cure de St. Eustace was saying, "he would almost bother you yourself with all your experience. He came  from over the line—from the States, and he had a remarkable story."

"Bien oui, they all have," broke in his friend, "but I send them to Marie and she feeds them—nothing more. They can not trap me with any of their foolish tales. It is not charity to give to them. I am hard of heart about such things, and very sensible."

"Well, I will tell you about him. It will pass the time till dinner. I found the man seated on the gallery in front. He spoke only English. When I came up he arose and took off his cap, very politely for a Yankee too. But, God forgive me, I had no right to say that, for the Yankees are as the bon Dieu made them and they are too busy to be polite.

"'You are the priest?' he asked me.

"'Yes, Monsieur, I am.'

"'You speak English?'

"'Enough to understand. What is it?'

"'I am not a tramp, Father,'—he looked very weary and sad—'and it is not money; though I am very hungry. You will give me something? Thanks, but I want you to hear my story first. Yes, you can help—very much.'

"I gave him a seat and he dropped into it.

"'Father, do not be shocked if I tell you that I am just out of prison. I was discharged yesterday in New York and I lost no time in coming here. This is not my first visit. I was here ten years ago with  my chum. We were burglars and we were running away after a big operation in New York. We had stolen $8,000 in money and valuables, and we had it all with us. We wanted to rest here in this quiet village till the storm would blow over. Among the valuables was a strange ring. I had never seen anything like it and my chum wanted it for himself, but we were afraid and took it to one of your jewelers—right down the street to the left—Nadeau was his name—to have it altered a little and made safe to wear. That little jeweler suspected us. I saw it at once and we were alarmed. He informed the constable of the ring matter. We were watched and then we saw that it would be better to go. We feared that the New York police would learn of us, so we took the stuff out three miles in the country one dark night and buried it. I know the spot, for it is near the old school where the road turns for Sherbrooke. Then we went West, to Michigan. We broke into a store there and we were arrested, but New York heard of the capture and the Michigan authorities gave us up. We were tried and a lawyer defended us by the Judge's order. He got us off with ten years in Sing Sing. I have been there till yesterday, as I told you. My chum? Well, that brings me to it. Pardon me. I did not intend to break down. He is dead. He died well. A priest converted him, and my chum repented of his life and begged me to change mine when I got out. I am  going to do it, Father. I am, so help me God. I'll never forget his death. He called me and said: 'Bunky, that loot is worrying me. The priest says that it must be returned if the owner or his heirs can be found. If they can not it must be spent in works of charity. Promise me that you will go to St. Eustace and get it, Bunky, and give it back. Promise!'

"Then he broke down, mon ami, and I fear that I cried just a little too. It was sad, for he was a great strong man.

"When he could, he looked up and continued: 'Well, Father, I am here to do it. I want your help. May I have it?'

"I told him I would do what I could. He wanted me to take the money and give it to the owner. He would tell me his name. I was glad to aid the poor man who was so repentant.

"'All I want is a pick and shovel and a reliable man to go with me to-night. I can find the place,' he said.

"I offered to send the sexton with him and let him have the pick and shovel from the cemetery. I gave him food and thanked God as I watched him eat, that grace was working in his heart again.

"'I will wait for the man at seven to-night, Father,' he said when he was leaving. 'Let him meet me with the horse and buggy just outside of the town. If there is danger I will not see him, and  he can return. I will take the pick and shovel now, and bring the stuff to you in a valise by 10 o'clock. Wait up for me.'

"He left and the sexton went to the road at seven, but did not see him. At 10 o'clock I heard him coming. It was very dark and he knocked sharply and quickly, as if afraid. I opened the door and he thrust a valise into my hand. It was heavy.

"'Here it is, Father. Keep it till morning when I will bring the key. The valise is locked. Give me something that I may buy a night's lodging and I will come back at seven.'

"I gave him the first note in my purse and he hurried away.

"Now I fear, mon ami, that I never quite overcame my childish curiosity, for I felt a burning desire to see all that treasure, especially the strange ring. I must root out that fault before I die or my purgatory will be long. I went to the kitchen where I had a good chisel, and I am sorry to confess that I opened the valise just a very little to see the heap of precious things. There was an old cigar-box and something heavy rolled in cotton. I thrust the chisel down till I opened the box. There was no treasure in it at all, but just a lot of iron-shavings. I felt that I had been fooled and I broke the valise open. The heavy stuff rolled in the cotton was only a lot of old coupling-pins from the railroad. I was disgusted with this sinner, this thief. But it was droll—it  was droll—and I could scarcely sleep with laughing at the whole farce. I know that was sinful. I should have cried. But he was clever, that Yankee tramp."

"Mon Dieu! It was mine."

"Mon Dieu! It was mine."

"And the valise? What did you do with it?" asked the hard-hearted Cure of Ste. Agatha, who must have felt sorry that the friend could be so easily duped. "What did you do with the valise?"

"I let it go. I knew that he had left it with me and I couldn't understand why. It was so good—almost new. I felt that the sight of it would make me hard to the poor who really were deserving. I wanted to forget how foolish I was, so I gave it to the good Sisters at the Hospital, to use when they must travel to Sherbrooke."

The Cure of Ste. Agatha was agitated. He plainly wanted to speak but choked back twice. Then he rose and looked at his friend with a face as red as fire, and started toward the gate. He took two steps, came back, and spoke rapidly. "Do you think the Sisters will bring it back, the valise? Mon Dieu! It was mine."

Ten miles from St. Eustace and thirteen miles from Ste. Agatha a Yankee tramp was hurrying toward the parish of Ste. Catherine. He had the money for one pick and one shovel in his pocket keeping company with one note from the purse of the generous Cure of St. Eustace and one of a much  larger denomination, from the wise but hard-hearted Cure of Ste. Agatha, who never gave to tramps.

And this is the lesson of the story as the Cure of St. Eustace saw it: that some gloomy and worried millionaires are lost to the States, to make a few irresponsible but happy rascals who live by their wits, and whose sins even are amusing. One must not blame them overmuch.

As to the Cure of Ste. Agatha. He has no opinions on the matter at all, for the Sisters gave him back his new valise.