Eli by C. H. White
Under a boat, high and dry, at low tide, on the beach, John Wood was
seated in the sand, sheltered from the sun in the boat’s shadow,
absorbed in the laying on of verdigris. The dull, worn color was
rapidly giving place to a brilliant, shining green. Occasionally a
scraper, which lay by, was taken up to remove the last trace of a
It was Wood’s boat, but he was not a boatman; he painted cleverly, but
he was not a painter. He kept the brown store under the elms of the
main street, now hot and still, where at this moment his blushing
sister was captivating the heart of an awkward farmer’s boy, as she
sold him a pair of striped suspenders.
As the church-clock struck the last of twelve decided blows, three
children came rushing out of the house on the bank above the beach. It
was one of those deceptive New England cottages, weather-worn without,
but bright and bountifully home-like within—with its trim parlor,
proud of a cabinet organ; with its front hall, now cooled by the light
sea-breeze drifting through the blind-door, where a tall clock issued
its monotonous call to a siesta on the rattan lounge; with its spare
room, open now, opposite the parlor, and now, too, drawing in the salt
air through close-shut blinds, in anticipation of the joyful arrival
this evening of Sister Sarah, with her little brood, from the city.
The children scampered across the road, and then the eldest hushed the
others and sent a little brother ahead to steal, barefoot, along the
shining sea-weed to his father.
The plotted surprise appeared to succeed completely. The painter was
seized by the ears from behind, and captured.
“Guess who’s here, or you can’t get up,” said the infant captor.
“It’s Napoleon Bonaparte; don’t joggle,” said his father, running a
brush steadily along the water-line.
“No! no! no!” with shouts of laughter from the whole attacking party.
“Then it’s Captain Ezekiel?”
This excited great merriment: Captain Ezekiel was an aged, purblind
man, who leaned on a cane.
After attempts to identify the invader—with the tax-collector come
for taxes, then with the elderly minister making a pastoral call, with
the formal schoolmaster, and with Samuel J. Tilden—the victim reached
over his shoulder, and, seizing the assailant by a handful of calico
jacket, brought him around, squirming, before him.
“Now,” he said, “I’ll give you a coat of verdigris.”
(Great applause from the reserve force behind.)
“I suppose Mother sent you to say dinner’s ready,” said the father,
rising and surveying the green bottom of the boat. “I must eat quick,
so as to do the other side before half-flood.”
And with a child on each shoulder, and the third pushing him from
behind with her head, he marched toward the vine-covered kitchen,
where, between two opposite netted doors, the table was trimly set.
“Father, you look like a mermaid, with your green hands,” said his
wife, laughing, as she handed him the spirits of turpentine. “A woman
could paint that boat, in a light dress, and not get a spot on her.”
He smiled good-naturedly: he never spoke much.
“I guess Louise won’t have much trade to-day,” said his wife, as they
all sat down; “it’s so hot in the sun that everybody’ll wait till
night. But she has her tatting-work to do, and she’s got a book, too,
that she wanted to finish.”
Her husband nodded, and ate away.
“Oh, can’t we go up street and see her, this afternoon?” said one of
“Who can that be?” said the mother, as an elderly,
half-official-looking man stopped his horse at the front gate and
alighted. The man left the horse unchecked to browse by the road-side,
and came to the door.
“Oh, it’s you, Captain Nourse,” said Wood, rising to open the netting
door, and holding out his hand. “Come to summons me as a witness in
something about the bank case, I suppose. Let me introduce Captain
Nourse, Mary,” he said, “deputy sheriff. Sit down, Captain, and have
some dinner with us.”
“No, I guess I won’t set,” said the captain. “I cal’lated not to eat
till I got home, in the middle o’ the arternoon. No, I’ll set down in
eye-shot of the mare, and read the paper while you eat.”
“I hope they don’t want me to testify anywhere to-day,” said Wood;
“because my boat’s half verdigris’d, and I want to finish her this
“No testimony to-day,” said the captain. “Hi! hi! Kitty!” he called to
the mare, as she began to meander across the road; and he went out to
a tree by the front fence, and sat down on a green bench, beside a
work-basket and a half-finished child’s dress, and read the country
paper which he had taken from the office as he came along.
After dinner Wood went out bare-headed, and leaned on the fence by the
captain. His wife stood just inside the door, looking out at them.
The “bank case” was the great sensation of the town, and Wood was one
of the main witnesses, for he had been taking the place of the absent
cashier when the safe was broken open and rifled, to the widespread
distress of depositors and stock-holders and the ruin of Hon. Edward
Clark, the president. Wood had locked the safe on the afternoon before
the eventful night, and had carried home the key with him, and he was
to testify to the contents of the safe as he had left it.
“I guess they’re glad they’ve got such a witness as John,” said his
wife to herself, as she looked at him fondly, “and I guess they think
there won’t be much doubt about what he says.”
“Well, Captain,” said Wood, jocosely, breaking a spear of grass to
bits in his fingers, “I didn’t know but you’d come to arrest me.”
The captain calmly smiled as only a man can smile who has been
accosted with the same humorous remark a dozen times a day for twenty
years. He folded his paper carefully, put it in his pocket, took off
his spectacles and put them in their silver case, took a red silk
handkerchief from his hat, wiped his face, and put the handkerchief
back. Then he said, shortly:
“That’s what I have come for.”
Wood, still leaning on the fence, looked at him, and said nothing.
“That’s just what I’ve come for,” said Captain Nourse. “I’ve got to
arrest you; here’s the warrant.” And he handed it to him.
“What does this mean?” said Wood. “I can’t make head nor tail of
“Well,” said the captain, “the long and short is: these high-toned
detectives that they’ve had down from town, seein’ as our own force
wasn’t good enough, allow that the safe was unlocked with a key, in
due form, and then the lock was broke afterward, to look as if it had
been forced open. They’ve had the foreman of the safe-men down, too,
and he says the same thing. Naturally, the argument is: there were
only two keys in existence; one was safe with the president of the
bank, and is about all he’s got to show out of forty years’ savings;
the only other one you had: consequently it heaves it on to you.”
“I see,” said Wood. “I will go with you. Do you want to come into the
house with me while I get my coat?”
“Well, I suppose I must keep you in sight—now, you know.”
And they went into the house.
“Mary,” said her husband, “the folks that lost by Clark when the bank
broke have been at him until he’s felt obliged to pitch on somebody,
and he’s pitched on me; and Captain Nourse has come to arrest me. I
shall get bail before long.”
She said nothing, and did not shed a tear till he was gone.
Wide wastes of salt marsh to the right, imprisoning the upland with a
vain promise of infinite liberty, and, between low, distant
sand-hills, a rim of sea. Stretches of pine woods behind, shutting in
from the great outer world, and soon to darken into evening gloom.
Ploughed fields and elm-dotted pastures to the left, and birch-lined
roads leading by white farm-houses to the village, all speaking of
cheer and freedom to the prosperous and the happy, but to the
unfortunate and the indebted, of meshes invisible but strong as steel.
But, before, no lonesome marshes, no desolate forest, no farm or
village street, but the free blue ocean, rolling and tumbling still
from the force of an expended gale.
In the open door-way of a little cottage, warmed by the soft slanting
rays of the September sun, a rough man, burnt and freckled, was
sitting, at his feet a net, engaged upon some handiwork which two
little girls were watching. Close by him lay a setter, his nose
between his paws. Occasionally the man raised his eyes to scan the
“There’s Joel,” he said, “comin’ in around the Bar. Not much air
Then he turned to his work again.
“First, you go so fash’,” he said to the children, as he drew a
thread; “then you go so fash’.”
And as he worked he made a great show of labor, much to their
But the sight of Joel’s broad white sail had not brought pleasant
thoughts to his mind. For Joel had hailed him, off the Shoal, the
afternoon before, and had obligingly offered to buy his fish, right
there, and so let him go directly home, omitting to mention that
sudden jump of price due to an empty market.
“Wonder what poor man he’s took a dollar out of to-day! Well, I s’pose
it’s all right: those that’s got money, want money.”
“What be you, Eli—ganging on hooks?” said Aunt Patience, as she
tip-toed into the kitchen behind him, from his wife’s sick-room, and
softly closed the door after her.
“No,” said the elder of the children; “he’s mending our stockings, and
showing me how.”
“Well, you do have a hard time, don’t you?” said Aunt Patience,
looking down over his shoulder; “to slave and tug and scrape to get a
house over your head, and then to have to turn square ’round, and stay
to home with a sick woman, and eat all into it with mortgages!”
“Oh, well,” he said, “we’ll fetch, somehow.”
Aunt Patience went to the glass, and holding a black pin in her mouth,
carefully tied the strings of her sun-bonnet.
“Anyway,” she says, “you take it good-natured. Though if there is one
thing that’s harder than another, it is to be good-natured all the
time, without being aggravating. I have known men that was so awfully
good-natured that they was harder to live with than if they was
And without specifying further, she opened her plaid parasol, and
stepped out at the porch.
Though, on this quiet afternoon of Saturday, the peace of the
approaching Sabbath seemed already brooding over the little dwelling,
peace had not lent her hand to the building of the home. Every foot of
land, every shingle, every nail, had been wrung from the reluctant
sea. Every voyage had contributed something. It was a great day when
Eli was able to buy the land. Then, between two voyages, he dug a
cellar and laid a foundation; then he saved enough to build the main
part of the cottage and to finish the front room, lending his own hand
to the work. Then he used to get letters at every port, telling of
progress—how Lizzie, his wife, had adorned the front room with a
bright nine-penny paper, of which a little piece was inclosed, which
he kept as a sort of charm about him and exhibited to his friends; how
she and her little brother had lathed the entry and the kitchen, and
how they had set out blackberry vines from the woods. Then another
letter told of a surprise awaiting him on his return; and, in due
time, coming home as third mate from Hong Kong to a seaman’s
tumultuous welcome, he had found that a great, good-natured mason,
with whose sick child his wife had watched, night after night, had
appeared one day with lime and hair and sand, and in white raiment,
and had plastered the entry and the kitchen, and finished a room
And so, for years, at home and on the sea, at New York, and at
Valparaiso, and in the Straits of Malacca, the little house and the
little family within it had grown into the fibre of Eli’s heart.
Nothing had given him more delight than to meet, in the strange
streets of Calcutta or before the Mosque of Omar, some practical
Yankee from Stonington or Machias, and, whittling, to discuss with
him, among the turbans of the Orient, the comparative value of shaved
and of sawed shingles, or the economy of “Swedes-iron” nails, and to
go over with him the estimates and plans which he had worked out in
his head under all the constellations of the skies.
The supper things were cleared away. The children had said good-night
and gone to bed, and Eli had been sitting for an hour by his wife’s
bedside. He had had to tax his patience and ingenuity heavily during
the long months that she had lain there to entertain her for a little
while in the evening, after his hard, wet day’s work. He had been
talking now of the coming week, when he was to serve upon the jury in
the adjoining county-town.
“I cal’late I can come home about every night,” he said, “and it’ll be
quite a change, at any rate.”
“But you don’t seem so cheerful about it as I counted you would be,”
said his wife. “Are you afraid you’ll have to be on the bank-case?”
“Not much!” he answered. “No trouble ’n that case! Jury won’t leave
their seats. These city fellers’ll find they’ve bit off more’n they
can chew when they try to figure out John Wood done that. I only hope
I’ll have the luck to be on that case—all hands on the jury whisper
together a minute, and then clear him, right on the spot, and then
shake hands with him all ’round!”
“But something is worrying you,” she said. “What is it? You have
looked it since noon.”
“Oh, nothin’,” he replied—“only George Cahoon came up to-noon to say
that he was goin’ West next week, and that he would have to have that
money he let me have a while ago. And where to get it—I don’t know.”
The court-room was packed. John Wood’s trial was drawing to its close.
Eli was on the jury. Some one had advised the prosecuting attorney, in
a whisper, to challenge him, but he had shaken his head and said:
“Oh, I couldn’t afford to challenge him for that; it would only leak
out, and set the jury against me. I’ll risk his standing out against
The trial had been short. It had been shown how the little building
of the bank had been entered. Skilled locksmiths from the city had
testified that the safe was opened with a key, and that the lock was
broken afterward, from the inside—plainly to raise the theory of a
forcible entry by strangers.
It had been proved that the only key in existence, not counting that
kept by the president, was in the possession of Wood, who was filling,
for a few days, the place of the cashier—the president’s brother—in
his absence. It had been shown that Wood was met, at one o’clock of
the night in question, crossing the fields toward his home, from the
direction of the bank, with a large wicker basket slung over his
shoulders, returning, as he had said, from eel-spearing in Harlow’s
Creek; and there was other circumstantial evidence.
Mr. Clark, the president of the bank, had won the sympathy of every
one by the modest way in which, with eye-glasses in hand, he had
testified to the particulars of the loss which had left him penniless,
and had ruined others whose little all was in his hands. And then, in
reply to the formal question, he had testified, amid roars of laughter
from the court-room, that it was not he who robbed the safe. At this,
even the judge and Wood’s lawyer had not restrained a smile.
This had left the guilt with Wood. His lawyer, an inexperienced young
attorney—who had done more or less business for the bank, and would
hardly have ventured to defend this case but that the president had
kindly expressed his entire willingness that he should do so—had, of
course, not thought it worthwhile to cross-examine Mr. Clark, and had
directed his whole argument against the theory that the safe had been
opened with a key, and not by strangers. But he had felt all through
that, as a man politely remarked to him when he finished, he was only
butting his “head ag’in a stone wall.”
And while he was arguing, a jolly-looking old lawyer had written, in
the fly-leaf of a law-book on his knee, and passed with a wink to a
young man near him who had that very morning been admitted to the bar,
“When callow Blackstones soar too high,
Quit common-sense, and reckless fly,
Soon, Icarus-like, they headlong fall,
And down come client, case, and all.”
The district-attorney had not thought it worth while to expend much
strength upon his closing argument; but being a jovial stump-speaker,
of a wide reputation within narrow limits, he had not been able to
refrain from making merry over Wood’s statement that the basket which
he had been seen bearing home, on the eventful night, was a basket of
“Fine eels those, gentlemen! We have seen gold-fish and silver-fish,
but golden eels are first discovered by this defendant. The apostle,
in Holy Writ, caught a fish with a coin in its mouth; but this man
leaves the apostle in the dim distance when he finds eels that are
all money. No storied fisherman of Bagdad, catching enchanted princes
disguised as fishes in the sea, ever hooked such a treasure as this
defendant hooked when he hooked that basket of eels! [Rustling
appreciation of the pun among the jury.] If a squirming, twisting,
winding, wriggling eel, gentlemen, can be said at any given moment to
have a back, we may distinguish this new-found species as the
green-back eel. It is a common saying that no man can hold an eel and
remain a Christian. I should like to have viewed the pious equanimity
of this church-member when he laid his hands on that whole bed of
eels. In happy, barefoot boyhood, gentlemen, we used to find
mud-turtles marked with initials or devices cut in their shells; but
what must have been our friend’s surprise to find, in the muddy bed of
Harlow’s Creek, eels marked with a steel-engraving of the landing of
Columbus, and the signature of the Register of the Treasury! I hear
that a corporation is now being formed by the title of The Harlow’s
Creek Greenback National Bank-bill Eel-fishing Company, to follow up,
with seines and spears, our worthy friend’s discovery! I learn that
the news of this rich placer has spread to the golden mountains of the
West, and that the exhausted intellects which have been reduced to
such names for their mines as ‘The Tombstone,’ ‘The Red Dog,’ the
‘Mrs. E. J. Parkhurst,’ are likely now to flood us with prospectuses
of the ‘Eel Mine,’ ‘The Flat Eel,’ ‘The Double Eel,’ and then, when
they get ready to burst upon confiding friends, ‘The Consolidated
It takes but little to make a school or a court-room laugh, and the
speech had appeared to give a good deal of amusement to the listeners.
Did it amuse that man who sat, with folded arms, harsh and rigid, at
the dock? Did it divert that white-faced woman, cowering in a corner,
listening as in a dream?
The judge now charged the jury briefly. It was unnecessary for him, he
said, to recapitulate evidence of so simple a character. The chief
question for the jury was as to the credibility of the witnesses. If
the witnesses for the prosecution were truthful and were not mistaken,
the inference of guilt seemed inevitable; this the defendant’s counsel
had conceded. The defendant had proved a good reputation; upon that
point there was only this to be said: that, while such evidence was
entitled to weight, yet, on the other hand, crimes involving a breach
of trust could, from their very nature, be committed only by persons
whose good reputations secured them positions of trust.
The jury-room had evidently not been furnished by a ring. There was a
long table for debate, twelve hard chairs for repose, twelve spittoons
for luxury, and a clock.
The jury sat in silence for a few moments, as old Captain Nourse, who
had them in his keeping, and eyed them as if he was afraid that he
might lose one of them in a crack and be held accountable on his bond,
rattled away at the unruly lock. Looking at them then, you would have
seen faces all of a New England cast but one. There was a tall,
powerful negro called George Washington, a man well known in this
county town, to which he had come, as driftwood from the storm of war,
in ’65. Some of the “boys” had heard him, in a great prayer-meeting in
Washington—a city which he always spoke of as his “namesake”—at the
time of the great review, say, in his strong voice, with that pathetic
quaver in it: “Like as de parched an’ weary traveller hangs his harp
upon de winder, an’ sighs for oysters in de desert, so I longs to res’
my soul an’ my foot in Mass’chusetts;” and they were so delighted with
him that they invited him on the spot to go home with them, and took
up a collection to pay his fare, and so he was a public character. As
for his occupation—when the census-taker, with a wink to the boys in
the store, had asked him what it was, he had said, in that same odd
tone: “Putties up glass a little—white-washes a little—” and, when
the man had made a show of writing all that down, “preaches a little.”
He might have said “preaches a big,” for you could hear him half a
The foreman was a retired sea-captain. “Good cap’n—Cap’n Thomas,” one
of his neighbors had said of him. “Allers gits good ships—never hez to go huntin’ ’round for a vessel. But it is astonishin’ what
differences they is! Now there’s Cap’n A. K. P. Bassett, down to the
West Harbor. You let it git ’round that Cap’n A. K. P. is goin’ off on
a Chiny voyage, and you’ll see half a dozen old shays to onct, hitched
all along his fence of an arternoon, and wimmen inside the house, to
git Cap’n A. K. P. to take their boys. But you let Cap’n Thomas give
out that he wants boys, and he hez to glean ’em—from the poor-house,
and from step-mothers, and where he can: the wimmen knows! Still,” he
added, “Cap’n Thomas’s a good cap’n. I’ve nothin’ to say ag’in him.
“Gentlemen,” said the foreman, when the officer, at last, had securely
locked them in, “shall we go through the formality of a ballot? If the
case were a less serious one, we might have rendered a verdict in our
“What’s the use foolin’ ’round ballotin’?” said a thick-set butcher.
“Ain’t we all o’ one mind?”
“It is for you to say, gentlemen,” said the foreman. “I shouldn’t want
to have it go abroad that we had not acted formally, if there was any
one disposed to cavil.”
“Mr. Speaker,” said George Washington, rising and standing in the
attitude of Webster, “I rises to appoint to order. We took ballast in
de prior cases, and why make flesh of one man an’ a fowl of another?”
“Very well,” said the foreman, a trifle sharply. “‘The longest way
round is the shortest way home.’”
Twelve slips of paper were handed out, to be indorsed guilty, “for
form.” They were collected in a hat and the foreman told them
over—“just for form.” “‘Guilty,’ ‘guilty,’ ‘guilty,’ ‘guilty’;—wait
a minute,” he said, “here is a mistake. Here is one ‘not
guilty’—whose is this?”
There was a pause.
“Whose is it?” said the foreman, sharply.
Eli turned a little red.
“It’s mine,” he said.
“Do you mean it?” said the foreman.
“Of course I mean it,” he answered.
“Whew!” whistled the foreman. “Very well, sir; we’ll have an
understanding, then. This case is proved to the satisfaction of every
man who heard it, I may safely say, but one. Will that one please
state the grounds of his opinion?”
“I ain’t no talker,” said Eli, “but I ain’t satisfied he’s
“Don’t you believe the witnesses?”
“Which one don’t you believe?”
“I can’t say. I don’t believe he’s guilty.”
“Is there one that you think lied?”
“Now it seems to me——” said a third juryman.
“One thing at a time, gentlemen,” said the foreman. “Let us wait for
an answer from Mr. Smith. Is there any one that you think lied? We
will wait, gentlemen, for an answer.”
There was a long pause. The trial seemed to Eli Smith to have shifted
from the court to this shabby room, and he was now the culprit.
All waited for him; all eyes were fixed upon him.
The clock ticked loud! Eli counted the seconds. He knew the
determination of the foreman.
The silence became intense.
“I want to say my say,” said a short man in a pea-jacket—a retired
San Francisco pilot, named Eldridge. “I entertain no doubt the man is
guilty. At the same time, I allow for differences of opinion. I don’t
know this man that’s voted ‘not guilty,’ but he seems to be a
well-meaning man. I don’t know his reasons; probably he don’t
understand the case. I should like to have the foreman tell the
evidence over, so as if he don’t see it clear, he can ask questions,
and we can explain.”
“I second de motion,” said George Washington.
There was a general rustle of approval.
“I move it,” said the pilot, encouraged.
“Very well, Mr. Eldridge,” said the foreman. “If there is no
objection, I will state the evidence, and if there is any loop-hole, I
will trouble Mr. Smith to suggest it as I go along,” and he proceeded
to give a summary of the testimony, with homely force.
“Now, sir?” he said, when he had finished.
“I move for another ballot,” said Mr. Eldridge.
The result was the same. Eli had voted “not guilty.”
“Mr. Smith,” said the foreman, “this must be settled in some way. This
is no child’s play. You can’t keep eleven men here, trifling with
them, giving no pretence of a reason.”
“I haven’t any reasons, only that I don’t believe he’s guilty,” said
Eli. “I’m not goin’ to vote a man into states-prison, when I don’t
believe he done it,” and he rose and walked to the window, and looked
out. It was low tide. There was a broad stretch of mud in the
distance, covered with boats lying over disconsolate. A driving storm
had emptied the streets. He beat upon the rain-dashed glass a moment
with his fingers, and then he sat down again.
“Well, sir,” said the foreman, “this is singular conduct. What do you
propose to do?”
“I suppose you realize that the rest of us are pretty rapidly forming
a conclusion on this matter,” said the foreman.
“Come! come!” said Mr. Eldridge; “don’t be quite so hard on him,
Captain. Now, Mr. Smith,” he said, standing up with his hands in his
coat-pockets, and looking at Eli, “we know that there often is crooked
sticks on juries, that hold out alone—that’s to be expected; but they
always argue, and stand to it the rest are fools, and all that. Now,
all is, we don’t see why you don’t sort of argue, if you’ve got
reasons satisfactory to you. Come, now,” he added, walking up to Eli,
and resting one foot on the seat of his chair, “why don’t you tell it
over? and if we’re wrong, I’m ready to join you.”
Eli looked up at him.
“Didn’t you ever know,” he said, “of a man’s takin’ a cat off, to
lose, that his little girl didn’t want drownded, and leavin’ him
ashore, twenty or thirty miles, bee-line, from home, and that cat’s
bein’ back again the next day, purrin’ ’round ’s if nothin’ had
“Yes,” said Mr. Eldridge—“knew of just such a case.”
“Very well,” said Eli; “how does he find his way home?”
“Don’t know,” said Mr. Eldridge; “always has been a standing mystery
“Well,” said Eli, “mark my words. There’s such a thing as arguin’, and
there’s such a thing as knowin’ outright; and when you’ll tell me how
that cat inquires his way home, I’ll tell you how I know John Wood
This made a certain sensation, and Eli’s stock went up.
An old, withered man rapped on the table.
“That’s so!” he said; “and there’s other sing’lar things! How is it
that a sea-farin’ man, that’s dyin’ to home, will allers die on the
ebb-tide? It never fails, but how does it happen? Tell me that! And
there’s more ways than one of knowin’ things, too!”
“I know that man ain’t guilty,” said Eli.
“Hark ye!” said a dark old man with a troubled face, rising and
pointing his finger toward Eli. “Know, you say? I knew, wunst. I
knew that my girl, my only child, was good. One night she went off
with a married man that worked in my store, and stole my money—and
where is she now?” And then he added, “What I know is, that every
man hes his price. I hev mine, and you hev yourn!”
The impugnment of Eli’s motives was evident to all.
“’Xcuse me, Mr. Speaker,” said George Washington, rising with his hand
in his bosom; “as de question is befo’ us, I wish to say that de las’
bro’ mus’ have spoken under ’xcitement. Every man don’ have his
price! An’ I hope de bro’ will recant—like as de Psalmist goes out o’
his way to say ‘In my haste I said, All men are liars.’ He was a
very busy man, de Psalmist—writin’ down hymns all day, sharpen’n’ his
lead-pencil, bossin’ ’roun’ de choir—callin’ Selah! Well, bro’n an’
sisters”—both arms going out, and his voice going up—“one day, seems
like, he was in gre’t haste—got to finish a psalm for a monthly
concert, or such—and some man incorrupted him, and lied; and bein’ in
gre’t haste—and a little old Adam in him—he says, right off, quick:
‘All men are liars!’ But see—when he gets a little time to set back
and meditate, he says: ‘Dis won’ do—dere’s Moses, an’ Job, an’
Paul—dey ain’t liars!’ An’ den he don’ sneak out, and ’low he said,
‘All men is lions,’ or such. No! de Psalmist ain’t no such man; but he
owns up, an’ ’xplains: ‘In my haste,’ he says, ‘I said it.’”
The foreman rose and rapped.
“I await a motion,” said he, “if our friend will allow me the
privilege of speaking.”
Mr. Washington calmly bowed.
Then the foreman, when nobody seemed disposed to move, speaking
slowly, at first, and piece-meal, alternating language with smoke,
gradually edged into the current of the evidence, and ended by going
all over it again, with fresh force and point. His cigar glowed and
chilled in the darkening room as he talked.
“Now,” he said, when he had drawn all the threads together to the
point of guilt, “what are we going to do upon this evidence?”
“I’ll tell you something,” said Eli. “I didn’t want to say it because
I know what you’ll all think, but I’ll tell you, all the same.”
“Ah!” said the foreman.
Eli stood up and faced the others.
“’Most all o’ you know what our Bar is in a south-east gale. They
ain’t a man here that ’uld dare to try and cross it when the sea’s
breakin’ on it. The man that says he would, lies!” And he looked at
the foreman, and waited a moment.
“When my wife took sick, and I stopped goin’ to sea, two year ago, and
took up boat-fishin’, I didn’t know half as much about the coast as
the young boys do, and one afternoon it was blowin’ a gale, and we
was all hands comin’ in, and passin’ along the Bar to go sheer ’round
it to the west’ard, and Captain Fred Cook—he’s short-sighted—got on
to the Bar before he knew it, and then he had to go ahead, whether or
no; and I was right after him, and I s’posed he knew, and I followed
him. Well, he was floated over, as luck was, all right; but when I’d
just got on the Bar, a roller dropped back and let my bowsprit down
into the sand, and then come up quicker’n lightnin’ and shouldered the
boat over, t’other end first, and slung me into the water; and when I
come up, I see somethin’ black, and there was John Wood’s boat runnin’
by me before the wind with a rush—and ’fore I knew an’thing he had me
by the hair by one hand and in his boat, and we was over the Bar. Now,
I tell you, a man that looks the way I saw him look when I come over
the gunwale, face up, don’t go ’round breakin’ in and hookin’ things.
He hadn’t one chance in five, and he was a married man, too, with
small children. And what’s more,” he added, incautiously, “he didn’t
stop there. When he found out, this last spring, that I was goin’ to
lose my place, he lent me money enough to pay the interest that was
overdue on the mortgage, of his own acord.”
And he stopped suddenly.
“You have certainly explained yourself,” said the foreman. “I think we
understand you distinctly.”
“There isn’t one word of truth in that idea,” said Eli, flushing up,
“and you know it. I’ve paid him back every cent. I know him better’n
any of you, that’s all, and when I know he ain’t guilty, I won’t say
he is; and I can set here as long as any other man.”
“Lively times some folks’ll hev, when they go home,” said a spare
tin-peddler, stroking his long yellow goatee. “Go into the store:
nobody speak to you; go to cattle-show: everybody follow you ’round;
go to the wharf: nobody weigh your fish; go to buy seed-cakes at the
cart: baker won’t give no tick.”
“How much does it cost, Mr. Foreman,” said the butcher, “for a man
’t’s obliged to leave town, to move a family out West? I only ask for
information. I have known a case where a man had to leave—couldn’t
live there no longer—wa’n’t wanted.”
There was a knock. An officer, sent by the judge, inquired whether the
jury were likely soon to agree.
“It rests with you, sir,” said the foreman, looking at Eli.
But Eli sat doggedly with his hands in his pockets, and did not look
up or speak.
“Say to the judge that I cannot tell,” said the foreman.
It was eight o’clock when the officer returned, with orders to take
the jury across the street to the hotel, to supper. They went out in
pairs, except that the juryman who was left to fall in with Eli made
three with the file ahead, and left Eli to walk alone. This was
noticed by the by standers. At the hotel, Eli could not eat a
mouthful. He was seated at one end of the table, and was left entirely
out of the conversation. When the jury were escorted back to the court
house, rumors had evidently begun to arise from his having walked
alone, for there was quite a little crowd at the hotel-door, to see
them. They went as before: four pairs, a file of three, and Eli alone.
Then the spectators understood it.
When the jury were locked into their room again for the night, Mr.
Eldridge sat down by Eli, and lit his pipe.
“I understand,” he said, “just how you feel. Now, between you and me,
there was a good-hearted fellow that kept me out of a bad mess once.
I’ve never told anybody just what it was, and I don’t mean to tell you
now, but it brought my blood up standing, to find how near I’d come to
putting a fine steamer and two hundred and forty passengers under
water. Well, one day, a year or so after that, this man had a chance
to get a good ship, only there was some talk against him, that he
drank a little. Well, the owners told him they wanted to see me, and
he come to me, and says he, ‘Mr. Eldridge, I hope you’ll speak a good
word for me; if you do, I’ll get the ship, but if they refuse me this
one, I’m dished everywhere.’ Well, the owners put me the square
question, and I had to tell ’em. Well, I met him that afternoon on
Sacramento Street, as white as a sheet, and he wouldn’t speak to me,
but passed right by, and that night he went and shipped before the
mast. That’s the last I ever heard of him. But I had to do it.
“Now,” he added, “this man’s been good to you; but the case is proved,
and you ought to vote with the rest of us.”
“It ain’t proved,” said Eli. “The judge said that if any man had a
reasonable doubt, he ought to hold out. Now, I ain’t convinced.”
“Well, that’s easy said,” replied Mr. Eldridge, a little hotly, and he
arose, and left him.
The jurymen broke up into little knots, tilted their chairs back, and
settled into the easiest positions that their cramped quarters
allowed. Most of them lit their pipes; the captain, and one or two
whom he honored, smoked fragrant cigars, and the room was soon filled
with a dense cloud.
Eli sat alone by the window.
“Sometimes sell two at one house,” said a lank book-agent, arousing
himself from a reverie; “once sold three.”
“I think the Early Rose is about as profitable as any,” said a little
farmer, with a large circular beard. “I used to favor Jacobs’s
Seedling, but they haven’t done so well with me of late years.”
“Sometimes,” said the book-agent, picking his teeth with a quill,
“you’ll go to a house, and they’ll say they can’t be induced to buy a
book of any kind, historical, fictitious, or religious; but you just
keep on talking, and show the pictures—‘Grant in Boyhood,’ ‘Grant a
Tanner,’ ‘Grant at Head-quarters,’ ‘Grant in the White House,’ ‘Grant
before Queen Victoria,’ and they warm up, I tell you, and not
“Do you sell de ‘Illustrated Bible,’” asked Washington, “wid de
“No; I have a more popular treatise—the ‘Illustrated History of the
Bible.’ Greater variety. Brings in the surrounding nations, in
costume. Cloth, three dollars; sheep, three-fifty; half calf,
five-seventy-five, full morocco, gilt edges, seven-fifty. Six hundred
and seven illustrations on wood and steel. Three different engravings
of Abraham alone. Four of Noah—‘Noah before the Flood,’ ‘Noah
Building the Ark,’ ‘Noah Welcoming the Dove,’ ‘Noah on Ararat.’ Steel
engraving of Ezekiel’s Wheel, explaining prophecy. Jonah under the
gourd, Nineveh in the distance.”
Mr. Eldridge and Captain Thomas had drifted into a discussion of
harbors, and the captain had drawn his chair up to the table, and,
with a cigar in his mouth, was explaining an ingeniously constructed
foreign harbor. He was making a rough sketch, with a pen.
“Here is north,” he said; “here is the coast-line; here are the flats;
here are the sluice-gates; they store the water here, in——”
Some of the younger men had their heads together, in a corner, about
the tin-peddler, who was telling stories of people he had met in his
journeys, which brought out repeated bursts of laughter.
In the corner farthest from Eli, a delicate-looking man began to tell
the butcher about Eli’s wife.
“Twelve years ago this fall,” he said, “I taught district-school in
the parish where she lived. She was about fourteen then. Her father
was a poor farmer, without any faculty. Her mother was dead, and she
kept house. I stayed there one week, boarding ’round.”
“Prob’ly didn’t git not much of any fresh meat that week,” suggested
“She never said much, but it used to divert me to see her order around
her big brothers, just as if she was their mother. She and I got to be
great friends; but she was a queer piece. One day at school, the girls
in her row were communicating, and annoying me, while the third class
was reciting in ‘First Steps in Numbers,’ and I was so incensed that I
called Lizzie—that’s her name—right out, and had her stand up for
twenty minutes. She was a shy little thing, and set great store by
perfect marks. I saw that she was troubled a good deal, to have all of
them looking and laughing at her. But she stood there, with her hands
folded behind her, and not a smile or a word.”
“Look out for a sullen cow,” said the butcher.
“I felt afraid I had been too hasty with her, and I was rather sorry I
had been so decided—although, to be sure, she didn’t pretend to deny
that she had been communicating.”
“Of course,” said the butcher: “no use lyin’ when you’re caught in the
“Well, after school, she stayed at her desk, fixing her dinner-pail,
and putting her books in a strap, and all that, till all the rest had
gone, and then she came up to my desk, where I was correcting
“Now for music!” said the butcher.
“She had been crying a little. Well, she looked straight in my face,
and said she, ‘Mr. Pollard, I just wanted to say to you that I wasn’t
doing anything at all when you called me up;’ and off she went. Now,
that was just like her—too proud to say a word before the school.”
But here his listener’s attention was diverted by the voice of the
“The very best Bible for teachers, of course, is the limp-cover,
protected edges, full Levant morocco, Oxford, silk-sewed, kid-lined,
Bishop’s Divinity Circuit, with concordance, maps of the Holy Land,
weights, measures, and money-tables of the Jews. Nothing like having a
“And so,” said the captain, moving back his chair, “they let on the
whole head of water, and scour out the channel to a T.”
And then he rapped upon the table.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “please draw your chairs up, and let us take
The count resulted as before. The foreman muttered something which had
a scriptural sound.
In a few moments, he drew Mr. Eldridge and two others aside.
“Gentlemen,” he said to them, “I shall quietly divide the jury into
watches, under your charge: ten can sleep, while one wakes to keep Mr.
Smith discussing the question. I don’t propose to have the night
And, by one man or another, Eli was kept awake.
“I don’t see,” said the book-agent, “why you should feel obliged to
stick it out any longer. Of course, you are under obligations. But
you’ve done more than enough already, so as that he can’t complain of
you, and if you give in now, everybody’ll give you credit for trying
to save your friend, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, for
giving in to the evidence. So you’ll get credit both ways.”
An hour later, the tin-peddler came on duty. He had not followed
closely the story about John Wood’s loan, and had got it a little
“Now, how foolish you be,” he said, in a confidential tone. “Can’t you
see that if you cave in now, after stan’in’ out nine hours”—and he
looked at a silver watch with a brass chain, and stroked his
goatee—“nine hours and twenty-seven minutes—that you’ve made jest
rumpus enough so as’t he won’t dare to foreclose on you, for fear
they’ll say you went back on a trade. On t’other hand, if you hold
clear out, he’ll turn you out-o’-doors to-morrow, for a blind, so ’s
to look as if there wa’n’t no trade between you. Once he gits off, he
won’t know Joseph, you bet! That’s what I’d do,” he added, with a sly
laugh. “Take your uncle’s advice.”
“The only trouble with that,” said Eli, shortly, “is that I don’t owe
“Oh,” said the peddler; “that makes a difference. I understood you
Three o’clock came, and brought Mr. Eldridge. He found Eli worn out
“Now I don’t judge you the way the others do,” said Mr. Eldridge, in a
low tone, with his hand on Eli’s knee. “I know, as I told you, just
the way you feel. But we can’t help such things. Suppose, now, that I
had kept dark, and allowed to the owners that that man was always
sober, and I had heard, six months after, of thirty or forty men going
to the bottom because the captain was a little off his base; and then
to think of their wives and children at home. We have to do some hard
things; but I say, do the square thing, and let her slide.”
“But I can’t believe he’s guilty,” said Eli.
“But don’t you allow,” said Mr. Eldridge, “that eleven men are more
sure to hit it right than one man?”
“Yes,” said Eli, reluctantly, “as a general thing.”
“Well, there’s always got to be some give to a jury, just as in
everything else, and you ought to lay right down on the rest of us. It
isn’t as if we were at all squirmish. Now, you know that if you hold
out, he’ll be tried again.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Got to be—no other way,” said Mr Eldridge. “Now, the next time,
there won’t be anybody like you to stand out, and the judge’ll know of
this scrape, and he’ll just sock it to him.”
Eli turned uneasily in his chair.
“And then it won’t be understood in your place, and folks’ll turn
against you every way, and, what’s worse, let you alone.”
“I can stand it,” said Eli, angrily. “Let ’em do as they like. They
can’t kill me.”
“They can kill your wife and break down your children,” said Mr.
Eldridge. “Women and children can’t stand it. Now there’s that man
they were speaking of; he lived down my way. He sued a poor, shiftless
fellow that had come from Pennsylvania to his daughter’s funeral, and
had him arrested and taken off, crying, just before the funeral
begun—after they’d even set the flowers on the coffin; and nobody’d
speak to him after that—they just let him alone; and after a while
his wife took sick of it—she was a nice, kindly woman—and she had
sort of hysterics, and, finally, he moved off West. And ’twasn’t long
before the woman died. Now, you can’t undertake to do different from
“Well,” said Eli; “I know I wish it was done with.”
Mr. Eldridge stretched his arms and yawned. Then he began to walk up
and down, and hum, out of tune. Then he stopped at Captain Thomas’s
“Suppose we try a ballot,” he said. “He seems to give a little.”
In a moment the foreman rapped.
“It is time we were taking another ballot, gentlemen,” he said.
The sleepers rose, grumbling, from uneasy dreams.
“I will write ‘guilty’ on twelve ballots,” said the foreman, “and if
any one desires to write in ‘not,’ of course he can.”
When the hat came to Eli, he took one of the ballots and held it in
his hand a moment; and then he laid it on the table. There was a
general murmur. The picture which Mr. Eldridge had drawn loomed up
before him. But with a hasty hand he wrote in “not,” dropped in the
ballot, and going back to his chair by the window, sat down.
There was a cold wave of silence.
Then Eli suddenly walked up to the foreman and faced him.
“Now,” he said, “we’ll stop. The very next turn breaks ground. If you,
or any other man that you set on, tries to talk to me when I don’t
want to hear, to worry me to death—look out!”
How the long hours wore on! How easy, sometimes, to resist an open
pressure, and how hard, with the resistance gone, to fight, as one
that beats the air! How the prospect of a whole hostile town loomed
up, in a mirage, before Eli! And then the picture rose before him of a
long, stately bark, now building, whose owner had asked him yesterday
to be first mate. And if his wife were only well, and he were only
free from this night’s trouble, how soon, upon the long, green waves,
he could begin to redeem his little home!
And then came Mr. Eldridge, kind and friendly, to have another little
Morning came, cold and drizzly. An officer knocked at the door, and
called out, “Breakfast.” And, in a moment, unwashed, and all uncombed,
except the tin-peddler, who always carried a beard-comb in his pocket,
they were marched across the street to the hotel.
There were a number of men on the piazza waiting to see them—jurymen,
witnesses, and the accused himself, for he was on bail. He had seen
the procession the night before, and, like the others, had read its
“Eli knows I wouldn’t do it,” he had said to himself, “and he’s going
to hang out, sure.”
The jury began to turn from the court-house door. Everybody looked. A
file of two men, another file, another, another; would there come
three men, and then one? No; Eli no longer walked alone.
Everybody looked at Wood; he turned sharply away.
But this time the order of march in fact showed nothing, one way or
the other. It only meant that the judge, who had happened to see the
jury the night before returning from their supper, had sent for the
high sheriff in some temper—for judges are human—and had vigorously
intimated that if that statesman did not look after his fool of a
deputy, who let a jury parade secrets to the public view, he
The jury were in their room again. At nine o’clock came a rap, and a
summons from the court.
The prosecuting attorney was speaking with the judge when they went
in. In a moment he took his seat.
“John Wood!” called out the clerk, and the defendant arose. His
attorney was not there.
“Mr. Foreman!” said the judge, rising. The jury arose. The silence of
the crowded court-room was intense.
“Before the clerk asks you for a verdict, gentlemen,” said the judge,
“I have something of the first importance to say to you, which has but
this moment come to my knowledge.”
Eli changed color, and the whole court-room looked at him.
“There were some most singular rumors, after the case was given to
you, gentlemen, to the effect that there had been in this cause a
criminal abuse of justice. It is painful to suspect, and shocking to
know, that courts and juries are liable ever to suffer by such
unprincipled practices. After ten years upon the bench, I never
witness a conviction of crime without pain; but that pain is light,
compared with the distress of knowing of a wilful perversion of
justice. It is a relief to me to be able to say to you that such
instances are, in my judgment, exceedingly rare, and—so keen is the
awful searching power of truth—are almost invariably discovered.”
The foreman touched his neighbor with his elbow. Eli folded his arms.
“As I said,” continued the judge, “there were most singular rumors.
During the evening and the night, rumor, as is often the case, led to
evidence, and evidence has led to confession and to certainty. And the
district attorney now desires me to say to you that the chief officer
of the bank—who held the second key to the safe—is now under arrest
for a heavy defalcation, which a sham robbery was to conceal, and that
you may find the prisoner at the bar—not guilty. I congratulate you,
gentlemen, that you had not rendered an adverse verdict.”
“Your Honor!” said Eli; and he cleared his throat; “I desire it to be
known that, even as the case stood last night, this jury had not
agreed to convict, and never would have!”
There was a hush, while a loud scratching pen indorsed the record of
acquittal. Then Wood walked down to the jury-box and took Eli’s hand.
“Just what I told my wife all through,” he said. “I knew you’d hang
Eli’s jury was excused for the rest of the day, and by noon he was in
his own village, relieved, too, of his most pressing burden: for
George Cahoon had met him on the road, and told him that he was not
going to the West, after all, for the present, and should not need his
money. But, as he turned the bend of the road and neared his house, he
felt a rising fear that some disturbing rumor might have reached his
wife about his action on the jury. And, to his distress and amazement,
there she was, sitting in a chair at the door.
“Lizzie!” he said, “what does this mean? Are you crazy?”
“I’ll tell you what it means,” she said, as she stood up with a little
smile and clasped her hands behind her. “This morning, it got around
and came to me that you was standing out all alone for John Wood, and
that the talk was that they’d be down on you, and drive you out of
town, and that everybody pitied me—pitied me! And when I heard
that, I thought I’d see! And my strength seemed to come all back, and
I got right up, and dressed myself. And what’s more, I’m going to get
And she did.