The Complicity of Enoch Embody

by Margaret Collier Graham

I.

The afternoon train wound through the waving barley-fields of the Temecula Valley and shrieked its approach to the town of Muscatel. It was a mixed train, and half a dozen passengers alighted from the rear coach to stretch their legs while the freight was being unloaded.

Enoch Embody stood on the platform with the mail-bag in his hand, and listened to their time-worn pleasantries concerning the population of the city and the probable cause of the failure of the electric cars to connect with the train.

Enoch was an orthodox Friend. There was a hint of orthodoxy all over his thin, shaven countenance, except at the corners of his mouth, where it melted into the laxest liberality.

A swarthy young man, with a deep scar across his cheek, swung himself from the platform of the smoking-car, and came toward him.

"Is there a stopping-place in this burg?" he called out gayly.

"Thee'll find a hotel up the street on thy right," said Enoch.

The stranger looked at him curiously.

"By gum, you're a Quaker," he broke out, slapping Enoch's thin, high shoulder. "I haven't heard a 'thee' or a 'thou' since I was a kid. It's good for earache. Wait till I get my grip."

He darted into the little group of men and boys, who were listening with the grim appreciation of the rural American to the badinage of the conductor and the station agent, and emerged with a satchel and a roll of blankets.

"Now, uncle, I'm ready. Shall we take the elevated up to the city?" he asked, smiling with gay goodfellowship up into Enoch's mild, austere face.

The old man threw the mail-bag across his shoulder.

"I'll take thee as far as the store. Thee can see most of the city from there."

The young fellow laughed noisily, and hooked his arm through his companion's gaunt elbow. Enoch glanced down at the grimy, broken-nailed, disreputable hand on his arm, and a faint flush showed itself under the silvery stubble on his cheeks.

"By gum, this town's a daisy," said the stranger, sniffing the honey-laden breeze appreciatively and glancing out over the sea of wild flowers that waved and shimmered under the California sun; "nice quiet little place—eh?"

"Thee hears all the noise there is," answered Enoch gravely.

The young fellow gave a yell of delight and bent over as if the shaft of Enoch's wit had struck him in some vital part. Then he disengaged his arm and writhed in an agony of mirth.

"Holy Moses!" he gasped, "that's good. Hit 'im again, uncle."

Enoch stood still and looked at him, a mild, contemptuous sympathy twinkling in his blue eyes.

"Is thee looking for a quiet place?" he asked.

The newcomer reduced his hilarity to an intermittent chuckle, and resumed his affectionate grasp on Enoch's arm.

"That's about the size of it, uncle. I've knocked around a good deal, and I'm suffering from religious prostration. I'm looking for a nice, quiet, healthy place to take a rest—to recooperate my morals, so to speak. Good climate, good water, good society. Everything they don't have in—some places. What's the city tax on first-class residence property close in?"

"I think thee'll find it within thy means," said Enoch dryly. "Has thee a family?"

"Well, you might say—yes," rejoined the stranger, "that is, I'm married. My wife's not very well. I want to build a seven by nine residence on a fashionable street and send for her. I'm going to draw up the plans and specifications and bid on the contract myself, and I think by rustling the foreman I can get everything but the telephone and the hot water in before she gets here. Relic of the ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay?" he asked, pointing to a vacant store building across the grass-grown street; "or bought up by the government, maybe, to keep out competition in the post-office business—hello, is this where you hang out?"

Enoch turned into the combined store and post-office, and the stranger stood on the platform, bestowing his tobacco-stained smile generously upon the bystanders.

"Thee'll find the hotel a little further up the street," said Enoch; "there may be no one about; I think I saw Isaac and Esther Penthorn driving toward Maravilla this afternoon. But they'll be back before dark. Thee can make thyself at home."

"You're right I can," assented the newcomer with emphasis; "I see you've caught on to my disposition. Isaac and Esther will find me as domestic as a lame cat. Be it ever so homely there's no place like hum. By-by, uncle; see you later."

He went up the street, walking as jauntily as his burden would permit, and Enoch looked after with a lean, whimsical smile.

"Thee seems to have a good deal of cheek," he reflected, as he emptied the mail-bag, "but thee's certainly cheerful."

II.

Within a week every resident of Muscatel had heard the sound of Jerry Sullivan's voice. It arose above the ring of his hammer as he worked at the pine skeleton of his shanty, and the sage-laden breeze from the mountains seemed a strange enough vehicle for the questionable sentiments of his song. New and startling variations of street songs, and other unfamiliar melodies came to Enoch's ears as he distributed the mail, or held the quart measure under the molasses barrel, and occasionally the singer himself dropped in to make a purchase and chat a few moments with the postmaster concerning the progress of his house.

"The architect has rather slopped over on the plans," he said, when the frame was up, "so I'm putting up a Queen Anne wood-shed for the present, while he knocks a few bay windows out of the conservatory. 'A penny saved 's a penny earned,' you know. That's the way I came to be a millionaire—stopped drinking in my infancy and learned to chew, saved a rattleful of nickels before I could walk—got any eighteen-carat nails, uncle? I want to do a little finishing-work in the bath-room."

Enoch met his new friend's trifling, always with the same gentle gravity; but something, perhaps that lurking liberality about the corners of his mouth, seemed to inspire the young fellow with implicit confidence in the old man's sympathy.

After the frame of Jerry's domicile was inclosed, a prodigious sawing and hammering went on inside the redwood walls, and the bursts of music were spasmodic, indicating a closer attention on the part of the workman to nicety of detail in his work. He called to Enoch as he was passing one day, and drew him inside the door mysteriously.

"Take a divan, uncle," he said airily, pushing a three-legged stool toward his guest. "I've got something to show you,—something that's been handed up to me from posterity. How does that strike you for a starter in the domestic business?"

He drew forward an empty soap-box, fashioned into an old-time cradle, and fitted with rude rockers at the ends.

"Happy thought—eh?" he rattled on, gleefully pointing to the stenciled end, where everything but "Pride of the Family" had been carefully erased. "How's this for a proud prospective paternal?"

He balanced himself on one foot and rocked the little craft, with all its cargo of pathetic emptiness, gently to and fro.

Enoch's face quivered as if he had been stabbed.

The young fellow stepped back and surveyed his handiwork with jaunty satisfaction.

"I made that thing just as a bird builds its nest—by paternal instinct. It's a little previous, and I'd just as soon you wouldn't mention it; but I had to show it to somebody. Got any children?" he turned upon Enoch suddenly.

"No. Not any—living."

The old man's voice wavered, and caught itself on the last word.

Jerry thrust the cradle aside hastily.

"Neither have I, uncle, neither have I," he said; "not chick nor child. If you ain't too tired, let me show you over the house. I'm sorry the elevator isn't running, so you could go up to the cupolo. This room's a sort of e pluribus unum, many in one; kind of a boodwar and kitchen combined. The other rooms ain't inclosed yet, but they're safe enough outside. That's the advantage of this climate, you don't have to put everything under cover. Ground-plan suit you pretty well?"

"I think thee's very cosy," Enoch said, smiling gravely; "when does thee look for thy wife?"

"Just as soon as she's able," said Jerry, drawing an empty nail-keg confidentially toward Enoch and seating himself; "you see"—

He stopped short. The cradle behind the old man was still rocking gently.

"I guess it won't be very long," he added indifferently.

III.

The south-bound train was late, and the few loafers who found their daily excitement in its arrival had drifted away as it grew dark, leaving no one but Enoch on the platform. When the train whistled the station agent opened the office door and his kerosene lamp sent a shaft of light out into the darkness.

There was the usual noisy banter among the trainmen, and none of them seemed to notice the woman who alighted from the platform of the passenger coach and came toward Enoch.

She stood in the light of the doorway, so that the old man could see her tawdry dress and the travel-dimmed red and white of her painted face.

"Is there a man named Jerry Sullivan livin' in this town?" she asked.

Enoch was conscious of a vague disappointment.

"Yes," he said, half reluctantly, "he lives here. I suppose thee's his wife."

The woman looked at him curiously. Then she laughed.

"Yes, I suppose I am," she said; "can you show me where he lives?"

"I can't show thee very well in the dark, but it isn't far. If thee'll wait a minute, I'll take thy satchel and go with thee."

He brought the mail-bag and picked up the stranger's valise.

"Thy husband's been looking for thee," he said, as they went along the path that led across a vacant lot to the street.

The woman did not reply at once. She seemed intent upon gathering her showy skirts out of the dust. When she spoke, her voice trembled on the verge of a laugh.

"That so? I've been lookin' for him, too. Thought I'd give him a pleasant surprise."

"He's got his house about finished."

The woman stopped in the path.

"His house," she sneered; "he must be rattled if he thinks I'll live in a place like this—forty miles from nowhere."

They walked on in silence after that to the door of Jerry's shanty. There was a light inside, and the smell of cooking mingled with the resinous odor of the new lumber. Jerry was executing a difficult passage in a very light opera to the somewhat trying accompaniment of frying ham. The solo stopped abruptly when Enoch knocked.

"Come in," shouted the reckless voice of the singer, "let the good angels come in, come in!"

Enoch opened the door.

"Good-evening, Jerry," he said gravely; "here is thy wife."

The young fellow crossed the floor at a bound with a smile that stayed on his face after every vestige of joy had died out of it.

The woman gave him a coarse, triumphant stare.

"I heard you was lookin' for me," she said, with a chuckle, "but you seemed kind o' s'prised after all."

Jerry stood perfectly still, with his hands at his sides. Behind him, where the light fell full upon it, Enoch could see the cradle. The old man placed the satchel on the step.

"I must go back and attend to the mail," he said, disappearing in the darkness.

A few hours later, just as Enoch had fitted the key in the store door and turned down the kerosene lamp, preparatory to blowing it out, Jerry appeared in the doorway.

"I've got to go away on the early train," he said, in a dull, husky voice; "she's going with me. I don't know how long I'll be gone, and I thought I'd like to leave the key of the house with you, if it won't be too much trouble."

"It won't be any trouble, Jerry. I'll take care of it for thee," said Enoch.

The hand that held out the key seemed to Enoch to be stretched toward him across a chasm. He felt a yearning disgust for the man on the other side.

Jerry walked across the platform hesitatingly, and then came back.

"Would you mind locking up and coming outside, Mr. Embody?" he asked humbly; "I'd like to have a little talk with you."

Enoch blew out the lamp and closed the door and locked it. He felt a physical shrinking from the moral squalor into which he was being dragged.

"What is it, Jerry?" he asked kindly.

"I've been thinking," said the young man hurriedly, and in the same level, monotonous voice, "that families sometimes come to these new places without having any house ready, and of course it's a good deal of expense for them to board, and I just wanted to say to you that if any person—well, say a widow with a b—family—I wouldn't care to help a man that could rustle for himself—but a woman, you know, if she's not very strong, and has a—a—family—why, I'd just as soon you'd let her have the house, and you needn't say anything about the rent: I'll fix that when I come back. I haven't been to church and put anything in the collection since I've been here,"—his voice gave a suggestion of the old ring, and then fell back drearily,—"so I thought I'd hand you what I'd saved up, and you can use it for charitable purposes—groceries and little things that people might need, coming in without anything to start."

He handed Enoch a roll of money, and the old man put it into his pocket.

"I'll remember what thee says, Jerry. If any worthy family comes along, I'll see that they do not want."

"If I can, I'll send you a little now and then," the young fellow went on more cheerfully, "but I'd just as soon you wouldn't mention it. I'll be back sometime, there's no doubt about that, but I can't say just when. You can tell the folks that my—my wife," he choked on the word, "didn't feel satisfied here. She thinks it won't agree with her. And I guess it won't, she's very bad off"—he turned away lingeringly, and then came back. "About the—the—crib," he faltered, "if they happen to have a baby, I wouldn't mind them using it. Babies are pretty generally respectable, no matter what their folks are. I was calculating," he went on wistfully, "to get another box and hunt up some wheels, and I thought maybe they could rig it up with a pink parasol and use it to cart the baby 'round; you know if a woman isn't very strong, it might save her a good deal—but then it's too late now;" he turned away hopelessly.

"I guess I can manage that for thee, Jerry," said Enoch; "I'm rather handy with tools. Thee needn't worry."

The two men stood still a moment in the moonlight.

"Good-by, Mr. Embody," said Jerry.

He did not put out his hand. Enoch hesitated a little.

"Farewell," he said, and his voice was not quite natural.

The next morning, when Enoch opened the outside letter-box to postmark the mail that had been dropped into it after the store was closed the night before, he found but one letter. It was addressed to Mrs. Josie Hart Sullivan, Pikeboro, Mo

IV.

"Are you the postmaster?"

Enoch dropped the tin scoop into the sugar-bin, and turned around. The voice was timid, almost appealing, and Enoch glanced from the pale, girlish face that confronted him to the bundle in her arms.

There was no mistaking the bundle. It was of that peculiar bulky shapelessness which betokens a very small infant.

"Yes, I'm the postmaster," answered Enoch kindly; "is there anything I can do for thee?"

The young creature looked down, and a faint color came into her transparent face.

"I've just come in on the train," she faltered. "I thought you might be able to tell me where to go. I haven't very much money. I was sick on the way, and spent more than I expected. I—I"—she hesitated, and glanced at Enoch with a little expectant gasp.

"Is thee alone?" inquired the old man.

"Yes. That is—only Baby. My husband has just—just"—her voice fluttered and died away helplessly.

"Oh, thee's a widow," said Enoch gently.

"Yes." The poor young thing looked up with a smile of wistful gratitude. "I'm not very strong. I heard this was a healthy place. They thought it would be good for us—Baby and me. I'm Mrs. Josie Hart. Baby's name is Gerald."

"Would thee be afraid to stay in a house alone?" inquired Enoch thoughtfully.

The stranger gave him a look of gentle surprise.

"Why, no, of course not—not with Baby; he's so much company."

There was a note of profound compassion for his masculine ignorance in her young voice.

The old man's mouth quivered into a smile. He went to the back of the room, and took a key from a nail.

"I think I can find thee a real cosy little place," he said; "shan't I carry the baby for thee?"

She hesitated, and looked up into his solemn, kindly face. Then she held the precious bundle toward him.

"I guess I'll have to let you. I didn't really know it till I got here, but I begin to feel, oh! so awful tired," she said, with a long, sighing breath, as Enoch folded his gaunt arms about the baby.

They went up the street together, and Enoch unlocked Jerry's house and showed the stranger in. She walked straight across the room to the cradle. When she turned around her eyes were swimming.

"Oh, I think it's just lovely here," she said; "I feel better already. This is such a nice little house, and so many wild flowers everywhere, and they smell so sweet—I know Baby will like it."

She relieved Enoch of his burden and laid it on the bed.

The old man lingered a little.

"Thee needn't worry about provisions or anything," he said hesitatingly; "some of the neighbors will come in and help thee get started. Thee'll want to rest now. I guess I'll be going."

"Oh, you mustn't go without seeing Baby!" insisted the young mother, beginning to unswathe the shapeless bundle on the bed.

Enoch moved nearer, and waited until the tiny crumpled bud of a face appeared among the wrappings.

"Isn't he sweet?" pleaded the girl rapturously.

Enoch bent over and gazed into the quaint little sleeping countenance.

"He's a very nice baby," he said, with gentle emphasis.

"And so good," the girl-voice rippled on; "he never cried but once on the way out here, and that time I didn't blame him one bit; I wanted to cry myself,—we were so hot and tired and dusty. But he sleeps—oh, the way he does sleep. There! did you notice him smile? I think he knows my voice. He often smiles that way when I am talking to him."

She caught him out of his loosened sheath and held him against her breast with the look on her face that has baffled the art of so many centuries.

It was thus that Enoch remembered her as he went down the street to the store.

"I would have taken her right home to Rachel," he said to himself, "but women folks sometimes ask a good many unnecessary questions, and the poor thing is tired."

V.

So the little widow and her baby became the wards of the town of Muscatel. After one or two unsuccessful attempts to learn the particulars of her husband's last illness, the good women of the place decided that her bereavement was too recent to be made a subject of conversation.

The baby, on the contrary, being a topic all the more absorbing by reason of its newness, they held long and enthusiastic conferences with the young mother concerning his care, clothing, and diet. With that gentle receptivity which makes some natures the defenseless targets of advice, the inefficient little mother felt herself at times between the upper and the nether millstones of condensed milk and Caudle's food, but her weak, appealing face always brightened into tremulous delight when the rival factions united, as they invariably did, on the subject of the baby's undoubted precocity in the matter of "noticing."

Enoch was called in many times to give counsel which seemed to gain from his masculinity what it might be supposed to lack by reason of his ignorance concerning the ailments and accomplishments of the small stranger who held the heart of the community in his tiny purple fist. It was to Enoch that the young mother brought her small woes, and it was with Enoch that she left them.

The song of the hay-balers and the whir of the threshing-machine had died out of the valley, and the raisin-making had come on. The trays were spread in the vineyards, and the warm white air was filled with the fruity smell of the grapes, browning and sweetening beneath the October sun.

One drowsy afternoon Enoch was in the back room of the store, weighing barley and marking the weight on the sacks. Suddenly there was a quick step, and a voice in the outer room, and the old man turned slowly, with the brush in his hand, and confronted a man in the doorway.

"Jerry!"

"Yes, uncle, here I am; slightly disfigured, but still in the ring. How's the market? Long on barley, I see. I"—he broke off suddenly, and assumed an air of the deepest dejection. "I've had a great deal of trouble since I saw you, uncle. I've lost my wife."

He turned to the window and pretended to look through the cobwebbed glass.

"She went off very sudden, but she was conscious to the last."

Enoch stood still and slowly stirred the paint in the paint-pot until his companion turned and caught the glance of his keen blue eye.

"Does thee think she will stay lost, Jerry?" he asked quietly.

The young fellow came close to Enoch's side.

"You bet," he said, with low, husky intensity; "the law settled that. She was a cursed fraud anyway," he went on, with hurrying wrath; "she ran away with—I thought she was dead—I'll swear by"—

"Thee needn't swear, Jerry," interrupted Enoch quietly; "if thy word is good for nothing, thy blasphemy will not help it any."

The young man's face relaxed. There was a little silence.

"Has thee been up to thy house?" asked Enoch presently.

"Yes, yes," said Jerry lightly; "I dropped right in on the family circle. The widow seems to be a nice, tidy little person, and the kid—did you ever see anything to beat that kid, uncle?"

Enoch had been appealed to on this subject before.

"He's a very nice baby," he said gravely.

"They seem to be settled rather comfortably, and I guess I'll get a tent and pitch it on some of these vacant lots, and not disturb them. The little woman isn't really well enough to move, and besides, the kid might kick if he had to give up the cradle; perfect fit, isn't it?"


"Enoch," said Rachel Embody to her husband, as they drove their flea-bitten gray mare to the Friends' meeting on First Day, "what does thee think of Jerry Sullivan and the widow Hart marrying as they did? Doesn't thee think it was a little sudden for both of them?"

Enoch slapped the lines on the gray's callous back.

"I don't know, Rachel," he said; "there are some subjects which I do not find profitable for reflection."