Miss Eunice's Glove by Albert Webster
For a long time blithe and fragile Miss Eunice, demure, correct in deportment, and yet not wholly without enthusiasm, thought that day the unluckiest in her life on which she first took into her hands that unobtrusive yet dramatic book, "Miss Crofutt's Missionary Labors in the English Prisons."
It came to her notice by mere accident, not by favor of proselyting friends; and such was its singular material, that she at once devoured it with avidity. As its title suggests, it was the history of the ameliorating endeavors of a woman in criminal society, and it contained, perforce, a large amount of tragic and pathetic incident. But this last was so blended and involved with what Miss Eunice would have skipped as commonplace, that she was led to digest the whole volume--statistics, philosophy, comments, and all. She studied the analysis of the atmosphere of cells, the properties and waste of wheaten flour, the cost of clothing to the general government, the whys and wherefores of crime and evil-doing; and it was not long before there was generated within her bosom a fine and healthy ardor to emulate this practical and courageous pattern.
She was profoundly moved by the tales of missionary labors proper. She was filled with joy to read that Miss Crofutt and her lieutenants sometimes cracked and broke away the formidable husks which enveloped divine kernels in the hearts of some of the wretches, and she frequently wept at the stories of victories gained over monsters whose defences of silence and stolidity had suddenly fallen into ruin above the slow but persistent sapping of constant kindness. Acute tinglings and chilling thrills would pervade her entire body when she read that on Christmas every wretch seemed to become for that day, at least, a gracious man; that the sight of a few penny tapers, or the possession of a handful of sweet stuff, or a spray of holly, or a hot-house bloom, would appear to convert the worst of them into children. Her heart would swell to learn how they acted during the one poor hour of yearly freedom in the prison-yards; that they swelled their chests; that they ran; that they took long strides; that the singers anxiously tried their voices, now grown husky; that the athletes wrestled only to find their limbs stiff and their arts forgotten; that the gentlest of them lifted their faces to the broad sky and spent the sixty minutes in a dreadful gazing at the clouds.
The pretty student gradually became possessed with a rage. She desired to convert some one, to recover some estray, to reform some wretch.
She regretted that she lived in America, and not in England, where the most perfect rascals were to be found; she was sorry that the gloomy, sin-saturated prisons which were the scenes of Miss Crofutt's labors must always be beyond her ken.
There was no crime in the family or the neighborhood against which she might strive; no one whom she knew was even austere; she had never met a brute; all her rascals were newspaper rascals. For aught she knew, this tranquillity and good-will might go on forever, without affording her an opportunity. She must be denied the smallest contact with these frightful faces and figures, these bars and cages, these deformities of the mind and heart, these curiosities of conscience, shyness, skill, and daring; all these dramas of reclamation, all these scenes of fervent gratitude, thankfulness, and intoxicating liberty--all or any of these things must never come to be the lot of her eyes; and she gave herself up to the most poignant regret.
But one day she was astonished to discover that all of these delights lay within half an hour's journey of her home; and moreover, that there was approaching an hour which was annually set apart for the indulgence of the inmates of the prison in question. She did not stop to ask herself, as she might well have done, how it was that she had so completely ignored this particular institution, which was one of the largest and best conducted in the country, especially when her desire to visit one was so keen; but she straightway set about preparing for her intended visit in a manner which she fancied Miss Crofutt would have approved, had she been present.
She resolved, in the most radical sense of the word, to be alive. She jotted on some ivory tablets, with a gold pencil, a number of hints to assist her in her observations. For example: "Phrenological development; size of cells; ounces of solid and liquid; tissue-producing food; were mirrors allowed? if so, what was the effect? jimmy and skeleton-key, character of; canary birds: query, would not their admission into every cell animate in the human prisoners a similar buoyancy? to urge upon the turnkeys the use of the Spanish garrote in place of the present distressing gallows; to find the proportion of Orthodox and Unitarian prisoners to those of other persuasions." But beside these and fifty other similar memoranda, the enthusiast cast about her for something practical to do.
She hit upon the capital idea of flowers. She at once ordered from a gardener of taste two hundred bouquets, or rather nosegays, which she intended for distribution among the prisoners she was about to visit, and she called upon her father for the money.
Then she began to prepare her mind. She wished to define the plan from which she was to make her contemplations. She settled that she would be grave and gentle. She would be exquisitely careful not to hold herself too much aloof, and yet not to step beyond the bounds of that sweet reserve that she conceived must have been at once Miss Crofutt's sword and buckler.
Her object was to awaken in the most abandoned criminals a realization that the world, in its most benignant phase, was still open to them; that society, having obtained a requital for their wickedness, was ready to embrace them again on proof of their repentance.
She determined to select at the outset two or three of the most remarkable monsters, and turn the full head of her persuasions exclusively upon them, instead of sprinkling (as it were) the whole community with her grace. She would arouse at first a very few, and then a few more, and a few more, and so on ad infinitum.
It was on a hot July morning that she journeyed on foot over the bridge which led to the prison, and there walked a man behind her carrying the flowers.
Her eyes were cast down, this being the position most significant of her spirit. Her pace was equal, firm, and rapid: she made herself oblivious of the bustle of the streets, and she repented that her vanity had permitted her to wear white and lavender these making a combination in her dress which she had been told became her well. She had no right to embellish herself. Was she going to the races or a match, or a kettle-drum, that she must dandify herself with particular shades of color? She stopped short, blushing. Would Miss Cro----. But there was no help for it now. It was too late to turn back. She proceeded, feeling that the odds were against her.
She approached her destination in such a way that the prison came into view suddenly. She paused, with a feeling of terror. The enormous gray building rose far above a lofty white wall of stone, and a sense of its prodigious strength and awful gloom overwhelmed her. On the top of the wall, holding by an iron railing, there stood a man with a rifle trailing behind him. He was looking down into the yard inside. His attitude of watchfulness, his weapon, the unseen thing that was being thus fiercely guarded, provoked in her such a revulsion that she came to a standstill.
What in the name of mercy had she come here for? She began to tremble. The man with the flowers came up to her and halted. From the prison there came at this instant the loud clang of a bell, and succeeding this a prolonged and resonant murmur which seemed to increase. Miss Eunice looked hastily around her. There were several people who must have heard the same sounds that reached her ears, but they were not alarmed. In fact, one or two of them seemed to be going to the prison direct. The courage of our philanthropist began to revive. A woman in a brick house opposite suddenly pulled up a window-curtain and fixed an amused and inquisitive look upon her.
This would have sent her into a thrice-heated furnace. "Come, if you please," she commanded the man, and she marched upon the jail.
She entered at first a series of neat offices in a wing of the structure, and then she came to a small door made of black bars of iron. A man stood on the farther side of this, with a bunch of large keys. When he saw Miss Eunice he unlocked and opened the door, and she passed through.
She found that she had entered a vast, cool, and lofty cage, one hundred feet in diameter; it had an iron floor, and there were several people strolling about here and there. Through several grated apertures the sunlight streamed with strong effect, and a soft breeze swept around the cavernous apartment.
Without the cage, before her and on either hand, were three more wings of the building, and in these were the prisoners' corridors.
At the moment she entered, the men were leaving their cells, and mounting the stone stairs in regular order, on their way to the chapel above. The noisy files went up and down and to the right and to the left, shuffling and scraping and making a great tumult. The men were dressed in blue, and were seen indistinctly through the lofty gratings. From above and below and all around her there came the metallic snapping of bolts and the rattle of moving bars; and so significant was everything of savage repression and impending violence, that Miss Eunice was compelled to say faintly to herself "I am afraid it will take a little time to get used to all this."
She rested upon one of the seats in the rotunda while the chapel services were being conducted, and she thus had an opportunity to regain a portion of her lost heart. She felt wonderfully dwarfed and belittled, and her plan of recovering souls had, in some way or other, lost much of its feasibility. A glance at her bright flowers revived her a little, as did also a surprising, long-drawn roar from over her head, to the tune of "America." The prisoners were singing.
Miss Eunice was not alone in her intended work, for there were several other ladies, also with supplies of flowers, who with her awaited until the prisoners should descend into the yard and be let loose before presenting them with what they had brought. Their common purpose made them acquainted, and by the aid of chat and sympathy they fortified each other.
Half an hour later the five hundred men descended from the chapel to the yard, rushing out upon its bare broad surface as you have seen a burst of water suddenly irrigate a road-bed. A hoarse and tremendous shout at once filled the air, and echoed against the walls like the threat of a volcano. Some of the wretches waltzed and spun around like dervishes, some threw somersaults, some folded their arms gravely and marched up and down, some fraternized, some walked away pondering, some took off their tall caps and sat down in the shade, some looked toward the rotunda with expectation, and there were those who looked toward it with contempt.
There led from the rotunda to the yard a flight of steps. Miss Eunice descended these steps with a quaking heart, and a turnkey shouted to the prisoners over her head that she and others had flowers for them.
No sooner had the words left his lips, than the men rushed up pell-mell.
This was a crucial moment.
There thronged upon Miss Eunice an army of men who were being punished for all the crimes in the calendar. Each individual here had been caged because he was either a highwayman, or a forger, or a burglar, or a ruffian, or a thief, or a murderer. The unclean and frightful tide bore down upon our terrified missionary, shrieking and whooping. Every prisoner thrust out his hand over the head of the one in front of him, and the foremost plucked at her dress.
She had need of courage. A sense of danger and contamination impelled her to fly, but a gleam of reason in the midst of her distraction enabled her to stand her ground. She forced herself to smile though she knew her face had grown pale.
She placed a bunch of flowers into an immense hand which projected from a coarse blue sleeve in front of her; the owner of the hand was pushed away so quickly by those who came after him that Miss Eunice failed to see his face. Her tortured ear caught a rough "Thank y', miss!" The spirit of Miss Crofutt revived in a flash, and her disciple thereafter possessed no lack of nerve.
She plied the crowd with flowers as long as they lasted, and a jaunty self possession enabled her finally to gaze without flinching at the mass of depraved and wicked faces with which she was surrounded. Instead of retaining her position upon the steps, she gradually descended into the yard, as did several other visitors. She began to feel at home; she found her tongue, and her color came back again. She felt a warm pride in noticing with what care and respect the prisoners treated her gifts; they carried them about with great tenderness, and some compared them with those of their friends.
Presently she began to recall her plans. It occurred to her to select her two or three villains. For one, she immediately pitched upon a lean-faced wretch in front of her. He seemed to be old, for his back was bent and he leaned upon a cane. His features were large, and they bore an expression of profound gloom. His head was sunk upon his breast, his lofty conical cap was pulled over his ears, and his shapeless uniform seemed to weigh him down, so infirm was he.
Miss Eunice spoke to him. He did not hear; she spoke again. He glanced at her like a flash, but without moving; this was at once followed by a scrutinizing look. He raised his head, and then he turned toward her gravely.
The solemnity of his demeanor nearly threw Miss Eunice off her balance, but she mastered herself by beginning to talk rapidly. The prisoner leaned over a little to hear better. Another came up, and two or three turned around to look. She bethought herself of an incident related in Miss Crofutt's book, and she essayed its recital. It concerned a lawyer who was once pleading in a French criminal court in behalf of a man whose crime had been committed under the influence of dire want. In his plea he described the case of another whom he knew who had been punished with a just but short imprisonment instead of a long one, which the judge had been at liberty to impose, but from which he humanely refrained. Miss Eunice happily remembered the words of the lawyer: "That man suffered like the wrong-doer that he was. He knew his punishment was just. Therefore there lived perpetually in his breast an impulse toward a better life which was not suppressed and stifled by the five years he passed within the walls of the jail. He came forth and began to labor. He toiled hard. He struggled against averted faces and cold words, and he began to rise. He secreted nothing, faltered at nothing, and never stumbled. He succeeded; men took off their hats to him once more; he became wealthy, honorable, God-fearing. I, gentlemen, am that man, that criminal." As she quoted this last declaration Miss Eunice erected herself with burning eyes and touched herself proudly upon the breast. A flush crept into her cheeks, and her nostrils dilated, and she grew tall.
She came back to earth again, and found herself surrounded with the prisoners. She was a little startled.
"Ah, that was good!" ejaculated the old man upon whom she had fixed her eyes. Miss Eunice felt an inexpressible sense of delight.
Murmurs of approbation came from all of her listeners, especially from one on her right hand. She looked around at him pleasantly.
But the smile faded from her lips on beholding him. He was extremely tall and very powerful. He overshadowed her. His face was large, ugly, and forbidding; his gray hair and beard were cropped close, his eyebrows met at the bridge of his nose and overhung his large eyes like a screen. His lips were very wide, and, being turned downward at the corners, they gave him a dolorous expression. His lower jaw was square and protruding, and a pair of prodigious white ears projected from beneath his sugar-loaf cap. He seemed to take his cue from the old man, for he repeated his sentiment.
"Yes," said he, with a voice which broke alternately into a roar and a whisper, "that was a good story."
"Y-yes," faltered Miss Eunice, "and it has the merit of being t-rue."
He replied with a nod, and looked absently over her head while he rubbed the nap upon his chin with his hand. Miss Eunice discovered that his knee touched the skirt of her dress, and she was about to move in order to destroy this contact, when she remembered that Miss Crofutt would probably have cherished the accident as a promoter of a valuable personal influence, so she allowed it to remain. The lean-faced man was not to be mentioned in the same breath with this one, therefore she adopted the superior villain out of hand.
She began to approach him. She asked him where he lived, meaning to discover whence he had come. He replied in the same mixture of roar and whisper, "Six undered un one, North Wing."
Miss Eunice grew scarlet. Presently she recovered sufficiently to pursue some inquiries respecting the rules and customs of the prison. She did not feel that she was interesting her friend, yet it seemed clear that he did not wish to go away. His answers were curt, yet he swept his cap off his head, implying by the act a certain reverence, which Miss Eunice's vanity permitted her to exult at. Therefore she became more loquacious than ever. Some men came up to speak with the prisoner, but he shook them off, and remained in an attitude of strict attention, with his chin on his hand, looking now at the sky, now at the ground and now at Miss Eunice.
In handling the flowers her gloves had been stained, and she now held them in her fingers nervously twisting them as she talked. In the course of time she grew short of subjects, and as her listener suggested nothing, several lapses occurred; in one of them she absently spread her gloves out in her palms, meanwhile wondering how the English girl acted under similar circumstances.
Suddenly a large hand slowly interposed itself between her eyes and her gloves, and then withdrew, taking one of the soiled trifles with it.
She was surprised, but the surprise was pleasurable. She said nothing at first. The prisoner gravely spread his prize out upon his own palm, and after looking at it carefully, he rolled it up into a tight ball and thrust it deep in an inner pocket.
This act made the philanthropist aware that she had made progress. She rose insensibly to the elevation of patron, and she made promises to come frequently and visit her ward and to look in upon him when he was at work; while saying this she withdrew a little from the shade his huge figure had supplied her with.
He thrust his hands into his pockets, but he hastily took them out again. Still he said nothing and hung his head. It was while she was in the mood of a conqueror that Miss Eunice went away. She felt a touch of repugnance at stepping from before his eyes a free woman, therefore she took pains to go when she thought he was not looking.
She pointed him out to a turnkey, who told her he was expiating the sins of assault and burglarious entry. Outwardly Miss Eunice looked grieved, but within she exulted that he was so emphatically a rascal.
When she emerged from the cool, shadowy, and frowning prison into the gay sunlight, she experienced a sense of bewilderment. The significance of a lock and a bar seemed greater on quitting them than it had when she had perceived them first. The drama of imprisonment and punishment oppressed her spirit with tenfold gloom now that she gazed upon the brilliancy and freedom of the outer world. That she and everybody around her were permitted to walk here and there at will, without question and limit, generated within her an indefinite feeling of gratitude; and the noise, the colors, the creaking wagons, the myriad voices, the splendid variety and change of all things excited a profound but at the same time a mournful satisfaction.
Midway in her return journey she was shrieked at from a carriage, which at once approached the sidewalk. Within it were four gay maidens bound to the Navy-Yard, from whence they were to sail, with a large party of people of nice assortment, in an experimental steamer, which was to be made to go with kerosene lamps, in some way. They seized upon her hands and cajoled her. Wouldn't she go? They were to sail down among the islands (provided the oil made the wheels and things go round), they were to lunch at Fort Warren, dine at Fort Independence, and dance at Fort Winthrop Come, please go. Oh, do! The Germanians were to furnish the music.
Miss Eunice sighed, but shook her head. She had not yet got the air of the prison out of her lungs, nor the figure of her robber out of her eyes, nor the sense of horror and repulsion out of her sympathies.
At another time she would have gone to the ends of the earth with such a happy crew, but now she only shook her head again and was resolute. No one could wring a reason from her, and the wondering quartet drove away.
Before the day went, Miss Eunice awoke to the disagreeable fact that her plans had become shrunken and contracted, that a certain something had curdled her spontaneity, and that her ardor had flown out at some crevice and had left her with the dry husk of an intent.
She exerted herself to glow a little, but she failed. She talked well at the tea-table, but she did not tell about the glove. This matter plagued her. She ran over in her mind the various doings of Miss Crofutt, and she could not conceal from herself that that lady had never given a glove to one of her wretches; no, nor had she ever permitted the smallest approach to familiarity.
Miss Eunice wept a little. She was on the eve of despairing.
In the silence of the night the idea presented itself to her with a disagreeable baldness. There was a thief over yonder that possessed a confidence with her.
They had found it necessary to shut this man up in iron and stone, and to guard him with a rifle with a large leaden ball in it.
This villain was a convict. That was a terrible word, one that made her blood chill.
She, the admired of hundreds and the beloved of a family, had done a secret and shameful thing of which she dared not tell. In these solemn hours the madness of her act appalled her.
She asked herself what might not the fellow do with the glove? Surely he would exhibit it among his brutal companions, and perhaps allow it to pass to and fro among them. They would laugh and joke with him, and he would laugh and joke in return, and no doubt he would kiss it to their great delight. Again, he might go to her friends, and, by working upon their fears and by threatening an exposure of her, extort large sums of money from them. Again, might he not harass her by constantly appearing to her at all times and all places and making all sorts of claims and demands? Again, might he not, with terrible ingenuity, use it in connection with some false key or some jack-in-the-box, or some dark-lantern, or something, in order to effect his escape; or might he not tell the story times without count to some wretched curiosity-hunters who would advertise her folly all over the country, to her perpetual misery?
She became harnessed to this train of thought. She could not escape from it. She reversed the relation that she had hoped to hold toward such a man, and she stood in his shadow, and not he in hers.
In consequence of these ever-present fears and sensations, there was one day, not very far in the future, that she came to have an intolerable dread of. This day was the one on which the sentence of the man was to expire. She felt that he would surely search for her; and that he would find her there could be no manner of doubt, for, in her surplus of confidence, she had told him her full name, inasmuch as he had told her his.
When she contemplated this new source of terror, her peace of mind fled directly. So did her plans for philanthropic labor. Not a shred remained. The anxiety began to tell upon her, and she took to peering out of a certain shaded window that commanded the square in front of her house. It was not long before she remembered that for good behavior certain days were deducted from the convicts' terms of imprisonment. Therefore, her ruffian might be released at a moment not anticipated by her. He might, in fact, be discharged on any day. He might be on his way toward her even now.
She was not very far from right, for suddenly the man did appear.
He one day turned the corner, as she was looking out at the window fearing that she should see him, and came in a diagonal direction across the hot, flagged square.
Miss Eunice's pulse leaped into the hundreds. She glued her eyes upon him. There was no mistake. There was the red face, the evil eyes, the large mouth, the gray hair, and the massive frame.
What should she do? Should she hide? Should she raise the sash and shriek to the police? Should she arm herself with a knife? or--what? In the name of mercy, what? She glared into the street. He came on steadily, and she lost him, for he passed beneath her. In a moment she heard the jangle of the bell. She was petrified. She heard his heavy step below. He had gone into the little reception-room beside the door. He crossed to a sofa opposite the mantel. She then heard him get up and go to a window, then he walked about, and then sat down; probably upon a red leather seat beside the window.
Meanwhile the servant was coming to announce him. From some impulse, which was a strange and sudden one, she eluded the maid, and rushed headlong upon her danger. She never remembered her descent of the stairs. She awoke to cool contemplation of matters only to find herself entering the room.
Had she made a mistake, after all? It was a question that was asked and answered in a flash. This man was pretty erect and self-assured, but she discerned in an instant that there was needed but the blue woollen jacket and the tall cap to make him the wretch of a month before.
He said nothing. Neither did she. He stood up and occupied himself by twisting a button upon his waistcoat. She, fearing a threat or a demand, stood bridling to receive it. She looked at him from top to toe with parted lips.
He glanced at her. She stepped back. He put the rim of his cap in his mouth and bit it once or twice, and then looked out at the window. Still neither spoke. A voice at this instant seemed impossible.
He glanced again like a flash. She shrank, and put her hands upon the bolt. Presently he began to stir. He put out one foot, and gradually moved forward. He made another step. He was going away. He had almost reached the door, when Miss Eunice articulated, in a confused whisper, "My--my glove; I wish you would give me my glove."
He stopped, fixed his eyes upon her, and after passing his fingers up and down upon the outside of his coat, said, with deliberation, in a husky voice, "No, mum. I'm goin' fur to keep it as long as I live, if it takes two thousand years."
"Keep it!" she stammered.
"Keep it," he replied.
He gave her an untranslatable look. It neither frightened her nor permitted her to demand the glove more emphatically. She felt her cheeks and temples and her hands grow cold, and midway in the process of fainting she saw him disappear. He vanished quietly. Deliberation and respect characterized his movements, and there was not so much as a jar of the outer door.
This incident nearly sent her to a sick-bed. She fully expected that her secret would appear in the newspapers in full, and she lived in dread of the onslaught of an angry and outraged society.
The more she reflected upon what her possibilities had been and how she had misused them, the iller and the more distressed she got. She grew thin and spare of flesh. Her friends became frightened. They began to dose her and to coddle her. She looked at them with eyes full of supreme melancholy, and she frequently wept upon their shoulders.
In spite of her precautions, however, a thunder-bolt slipped in.
One day her father read at the table an item that met his eye. He repeated it aloud, on account of the peculiar statement in the last line:
"Detained on suspicion.--A rough-looking fellow, who gave the name of Gorman, was arrested on the high-road to Tuxbridge Springs for suspected complicity in some recent robberies in the neighborhood. He was fortunately able to give a pretty clear account of his late whereabouts and he was permitted to depart with a caution from the justice. Nothing was found upon him but a few coppers and an old kid glove wrapped in a bit of paper."
Miss Eunice's soup spilled. This was too much, and she fainted this time in right good earnest; and she straightway became an invalid of the settled type. They put her to bed. The doctor told her plainly that he knew she had a secret, but she looked at him so imploringly that he refrained from telling his fancies; but he ordered an immediate change of air. It was settled at once that she should go to the "Springs"--to Tuxbridge Springs. The doctor knew there were young people there, also plenty of dancing. So she journeyed thither with her pa and her ma and with pillows and servants.
They were shown to their rooms, and strong porters followed with the luggage. One of them had her huge trunk upon his shoulder. He put it carefully upon the floor, and by so doing he disclosed the ex-prisoner to Miss Eunice and Miss Eunice to himself. He was astonished, but he remained silent. But she must needs be frightened and fall into another fit of trembling. After an awkward moment he went away, while she called to her father and begged piteously to be taken away from Tuxbridge Springs instantly. There was no appeal. She hated, hated, HATED Tuxbridge Springs, and she should die if she were forced to remain. She rained tears. She would give no reason, but she could not stay. No, millions on millions could not persuade her; go she must. There was no alternative. The party quitted the place within the hour, bag and baggage. Miss Eunice's father was perplexed and angry, and her mother would have been angry also if she had dared.
They went to other springs and stayed a month, but the patient's fright increased each day, and so did her fever. She was full of distractions. In her dreams everybody laughed at her as the one who had flirted with a convict. She would ever be pursued with the tale of her foolishness and stupidity. Should he ever recover her self-respect and confidence?
She had become radically selfish. She forgot the old ideas of noble-heartedness and self-denial, and her temper had become weak and childish. She did not meet her puzzle face to face, but she ran away from it with her hands over her ears. Miss Crofutt stared at her, and therefore she threw Miss Crofutt's book into the fire.
After two days of unceasing debate, she called her parents, and with the greatest agitation told them all.
It so happened, in this case, that events, to use a railroad phrase, made connection.
No sooner had Miss Eunice told her story than the man came again. This time he was accompanied by a woman.
"Only get my glove away from him," sobbed the unhappy one, "that is all I ask!" This was a fine admission! It was thought proper to bring an officer, and so a strong one was sent for.
Meanwhile the couple had been admitted to the parlor. Miss Eunice's father stationed the officer at one door, while he, with a pistol, stood at the other. Then Miss Eunice went into the apartment. She was wasted, weak, and nervous. The two villains got up as she came in, and bowed. She began to tremble as usual, and laid hold upon the mantelpiece. "How much do you want?" she gasped.
The man gave the woman a push with his forefinger. She stepped forward quickly with her crest up. Her eyes turned, and she fixed a vixenish look upon Miss Eunice. She suddenly shot her hand out from beneath her shawl and extended it at full length. Across it lay Miss Eunice's glove, very much soiled.
"Was that thing ever yours?" demanded the woman, shrilly.
"Y-yes," said Miss Eunice, faintly.
The woman seemed (if the apt word is to be excused) staggered. She withdrew her hand, and looked the glove over. The man shook his head, and began to laugh behind his hat.
"And did you ever give it to him?" pursued the woman, pointing over her shoulder with her thumb.
Miss Eunice nodded.
"Of your own free will?"
After a moment of silence she ejaculated, in a whisper, "Yes."
"Now wait," said the man, coming to the front; "'nough has been said by you." He then addressed himself to Miss Eunice with the remains of his laugh still illuminating his face.
"This is my wife's sister, and she's one of the jealous kind. I love my wife" (here he became grave), "and I never showed her any kind of slight that I know of. I've always been fair to her, and she's always been fair to me. Plain sailin' so far; I never kep' anything from her--but this." He reached out and took the glove from the woman, and spread it out upon his own palm, as Miss Eunice had seen him do once before. He looked at it thoughtfully. "I wouldn't tell her about this; no, never. She was never very particular to ask me; that's where her trust in me came in. She knowed I was above doing anything out of the way--that is--I mean--" He stammered and blushed, and then rushed on volubly. "But her sister here thought I paid too much attention to it; she thought I looked at it too much, and kep' it secret. So she nagged and nagged, and kept the pitch boilin' until I had to let it out: I told 'em" (Miss Eunice shivered). "'No,' says she, my wife's sister, 'that won't do, Gorman. That's chaff, and I'm too old a bird.' Ther'fore I fetched her straight to you, so she could put the question direct."
He stopped a moment as if in doubt how to go on. Miss Eunice began to open her eyes, and she released the mantel. The man resumed with something like impressiveness:
"When you last held that," said he, slowly, balancing the glove in his hand, "I was a wicked man with bad intentions through and through. When I first held it I became an honest man, with good intentions."
A burning blush of shame covered Miss Eunice's face and neck.
"An' as I kep' it my intentions went on improvin' and improvin', till I made up my mind to behave myself in future, forever. Do you understand?--forever. No backslidin', no hitchin', no slippin'-up. I take occasion to say, miss, that I was beset time and again; that the instant I set my foot outside them prison-gates, over there, my old chums got round me; but I shook my head. 'No,' says I, 'I won't go back on the glove.'"
Miss Eunice hung her head. The two had exchanged places, she thought; she was the criminal and he the judge.
"An' what is more," continued he, with the same weight in his tone, "I not only kep' sight of the glove, but I kep' sight of the generous sperrit that gave it. I didn't let that go. I never forgot what you meant. I knowed--I knowed," repeated he, lifting his forefinger--"I knowed a time would come when there wouldn't be any enthoosiasm, any 'hurrah,' and then perhaps you'd be sorry you was so kind to me; an' the time did come."
Miss Eunice buried her face in her hands and wept aloud.
"But did I quit the glove? No, mum. I held on to it. It was what I fought by. I wasn't going to give it up, because it was asked for. All the police-officers in the city couldn't have took it from me. I put it deep into my pocket, and I walked out. It was differcult, miss. But I come through. The glove did it. It helped me stand out against temptation when it was strong. If I looked at it, I remembered that once there was a pure heart that pitied me. It cheered me up. After a while I kinder got out of the mud. Then I got work. The glove again. Then a girl that knowed me before I took to bad ways married me, and no questions asked. Then I just took the glove into a dark corner and blessed it."
Miss Eunice was belittled.
A noise was heard in the hallway. Miss Eunice's father and the policeman were going away.
The awkwardness of the succeeding silence was relieved by the moving of the man and the woman They had done their errand, and were going.
Said Miss Eunice, with the faint idea of making a practical apology to her visitor, "I shall go to the prison once a week after this, I think."
"Then may God bless ye, miss," said the man. He came back with tears in his eyes and took her proffered hand for an instant. Then he and his wife's sister went away.
Miss Eunice's remaining spark of charity at once crackled and burst into a flame. There is sure to be a little something that is bad in everybody's philanthropy when it is first put to use; it requires to be filed down like a faulty casting before it will run without danger to anybody. Samaritanism that goes off with half a charge is sure to do great mischief somewhere; but Miss Eunice's, now properly corrected, henceforth shot off at the proper end, and inevitably hit the mark. She purchased a new Crofutt.