The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter IV. Who Are They?
"And the old man pointed out to Dan his room across the way--the room that looked out upon the garden and the monument."
Jud Hardy, who lives at Windy Cove on the river some eighteen miles "back" from Corinth, had been looking forward to Fair time for months. Not that Jud had either things to exhibit or money to buy things exhibited. For while Jud professed to own, and ostensibly to cultivate a forty, he gained his living mostly by occasional "spells of work" on the farms of his neighbors. In lieu of products of his hand or fields for exhibition at the annual fair, Jud invariably makes an exhibition of himself, never failing thus to contribute his full share to the "other amusements," announced on the circulars and in the Daily Corinthian, as "too numerous to mention."
The citizens of the Windy Cove country have a saying that when Jud is sober and in a good humor and has money, he is a fairly good fellow, if he is not crossed in any way. The meat of which saying is in the well known fact, that Jud is never in a good humor when he is not sober, that he is never sober when he has money; and that with the exception of three or four kindred spirits, whose admiration for the bad man is equalled only by their fear of him, no one has ever been able to devise a way to avoid crossing him when he is in his normal condition.
With three of the kindred spirits, Jud arrived in Corinth that day, with the earliest of the visitors, and the quartette proceeded, at once, to warm up after their long ride. By ten o'clock they were well warmed. Just as the ten-forty train was slowing up at the depot, Jud began his exhibition. It took place at the post office where the crowd was greatest, because of the incoming mail. Stationing himself near the door, the man from Windy Cove blocked the way for everyone who wanted to pass either in or out of the building. For the women and young girls he stepped aside with elaborate, drunken politeness and maudlin, complimentary remarks. For the men who brushed him he had a scowling curse and a muttered threat. Meanwhile, his followers nearby looked on in tipsy admiration and "'lowed that there was bound to be somethin' doin', for Jud was sure a-huntin' trouble."
Then came one who politely asked Jud to move. He was an inoffensive little man, with a big star on his breast, and a big walking stick in his hand--the town marshal. Jud saw an opportunity to give an exhibition worth while. There were a few opening remarks--mostly profane--and then the representative of the law lay in a huddled heap on the floor, while the man from the river rushed from the building into the street.
The passing crowd stopped instantly. Scattered individuals from every side came running to push their way into the mass of men and women, until for a block on either side of the thoroughfare there was a solid wall of breathless humanity. Between these walls strolled Jud, roaring his opinion and defiance of every one in general, and the citizens of Corinth in particular.
It could not last long, of course. There were many men in the crowd who did not fear to challenge Jud, but there was that inevitable hesitation, while each man was muttering to his neighbor that this thing ought to be stopped, and they were waiting to see if someone else would not start first to stop it.
Nearly the length of the block, Jud made his triumphant way; then, at the corner where the crowd was not so dense, he saw a figure starting across the street.
"Hey there," he roared, "get back there where you belong! What th' hell do you mean? Don't you see the procession's a comin'?"
It was Denny. He had left his garden to go to the butcher's for a bit of meat for dinner. The crippled lad had just rounded the corner, and, forced to give all his attention to his own halting steps, did not grasp the situation but continued his dragging way across the path of the drunken and enraged bully. The ruffian, seeing the lad ignore his loud commands, strode heavily forward with menacing fists, heaping foul epithets upon the head of the helpless Irish boy.
The crowd gasped.
"Oh, why does someone not do something!" moaned a woman. A girl screamed.
Several men started, but before they could force their way through the press, the people saw a stranger, a well-dressed young giant, spring from the sidewalk, and run toward the two figures in the middle of the street. But Dan had not arrived upon the scene soon enough. Almost as he left the pavement the blow fell, and Denny lay still--a crumpled, pitiful heap in the dirt.
Jud, flushed with this second triumph, turned to face the approaching stranger.
"Come on, you pink-eyed dude! I've got some fer you too. Come git your medicine, you--"
Dan was coming--coming so quickly that Jud's curses had not left his lips when the big fellow reached him. With one clean, swinging blow the man from Windy Cove was lifted fairly off the ground to fall several feet away from his senseless victim.
There was an excited yell from the crowd. But Jud, lean, loose-jointed and hard of sinew, had the physical toughness of his kind. Almost instantly he was on his feet again, reaching for his hip pocket with a familiar movement. And there was a wild scramble as those in front sought cover in the rear.
"Look out! Look out!"--came from the crowd.
But the mountain bred Dan needed no warning. With a leap, cat-like in its quickness, he was again upon the other. There was a short struggle, a sharp report, a wrenching twist, a smashing blow, and Jud was down once more, this time senseless. The weapon lay in the dust. The bullet had gone wide.
The crowd yelled their approval, and, even while they applauded, the people were asking each of his neighbor: "Who is he? Who is he?"
Several men rushed in, and Dan, seeing the bully safe in as many hands as could lay hold of him, turned to discover the young woman whom he had met at the depot kneeling in the street over the still unconscious Denny. With her handkerchief she was wiping the blood and dirt from the boy's forehead. Dan had only time to wonder at the calmness of her face and manner when the crowd closed in about them.
Then the Doctor pushed his way through the throng, and the people, at sight of the familiar figure, obeyed his energetic orders and drew aside. A carriage was brought and Dan lifted the unconscious lad in his arms. The Doctor spoke shortly to the young woman, "You come too." And with the Doctor the two strangers in Corinth took Denny to his home.
In the excitement no one thought of introductions, while the people seeing their hero driving in the carriage with a young woman, also a stranger, changed their question from, "Who is he?" to "Who are they?"
When Denny had regained consciousness, and everything possible for his comfort and for the assistance of his distracted mother, had been done; and the physician had assured them that the lad would be as good as ever in a day or two, the men crossed the street to the little white house.
"Well," ejaculated Martha when Dan had been presented, and the incident on the street briefly related, "I'm mighty glad I cooked them three roosters."
Dan laughed his big, hearty laugh, "I'm glad, too," he said. "Doctor used to drive me wild out in the woods with tales of your cooking."
The Doctor could see that Martha was pleased at this by the way she fussed with her apron.
"We always hoped that he would bring you with him on some of his trips," continued Dan, "we all wanted so much to meet you."
To the Doctor's astonishment, Martha stammered, "I--maybe I will go some day." Then her manner underwent a change as if she had suddenly remembered something. "You'll excuse me now while I put the dinner on," she said stiffly. "Just make yourself to home; preachers always do in this house, even if Doctor don't belong." She hurried away, and Dan looked at his host with his mother's questioning eyes. The Doctor knew what it was. Dan had felt it even in the house of his dearest friend. It was the preacher Martha had welcomed, welcomed him professionally because he was a preacher. And the Doctor felt again that something that had come between him and the lad.
"Martha doesn't care for fishing," he said gently.
Then they went out on the porch, and the old man pointed out to Dan his room across the way--the room that looked out upon the garden and the monument.
"Several of your congregation wanted to have you in their homes," he explained. "But I felt--I thought you might like to be--it was near me you see--and handy to the church." He pointed to the building up the street.
"Yes," Dan answered, looking at his old friend curiously--such broken speech was not natural to the Doctor--"You are quite right. It was very kind of you; you know how I will like it to be near you." Then looking at the monument he asked whose it was.
The Doctor hesitated again. Dan faced him waiting for an answer.
"That--oh, that's our statesman. You will need time to fully appreciate that work of art, and what it means to Corinth. It will grow on you. It's been growing on me for several years."
The young man was about to ask another question regarding the monument, when he paused. The girl who had gone to Denny in the street was coming from the little cottage. As she walked away under the great trees that lined the sidewalk, the two men stood watching her. Dan's question about the monument was forgotten.
"I wonder who she is," he said in a low voice.
The Doctor recalled the meeting at the depot and chuckled, and just then Martha called to dinner.
And the people on the street corners, at the ladies' bazaar, in the stores, the church booths and in the homes, were talking; talking of the exhibition of the man from Windy Cove, and asking each of his neighbor: "Who are they?"