The Light in the Clearing
By Irving Bacheller

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Public Domain Books

Chapter XVI


Swiftly now I move across the border into manhood–a serious, eager, restless manhood. It was the fashion of the young those days.

I spent a summer of hard work in the fields. Evenings I read the books which Mr. Wright had loaned to me, Blackstone’s Commentaries and Greenleaf on Evidence and a translation by Doctor Bowditch of LaPlace’s Mécanique Celeste. The latter I read aloud. I mention it because in a way it served as an antidote for that growing sense of expansion in my intellect. In the vastness of infinite space I found the littleness of man and his best accomplishments.

Mr. Wright came up for a day’s fishing in July. My uncle and I took him up the river. I remember that after he had landed a big trout he sat down and held the fish up before him and looked proudly at the graceful, glowing, arrowy shape.

“I never did anything in the Senate that seemed half so important as this,” he remarked thoughtfully.

While we ate our luncheon he described Jackson and spoke of the famous cheese which he had kept on a table in the vestibule of the White House for his callers. He described his fellow senators–Webster, Clay, Rives, Calhoun and Benton. I remember that Webster was, in his view, the least of them, although at his best the greatest orator. We had a delightful day, and when I drove back to the village with him that night he told me that I could go into the office of Wright and Baldwin after harvesting.

“It will do for a start,” he said. “A little later I shall try to find a better place for you.”

I began my work taking only the studies at school which would qualify me for surveying. I had not been in Canton a week when I received a rude shock which was my first lesson in the ungentle art of politics. Rodney Barnes and Uncle Peabody were standing with me in front of a store. A man came out with Colonel Hand and said in a loud voice that Sile Wright was a spoilsman and a drunkard–in politics for what he could get out of it.

My uncle turned toward the stranger with a look of amazement. Rodney Barnes dropped the knife with which he had been whittling. I felt my face turning red.

“What’s that, mister?” asked Rodney Barnes.

The stranger repeated his statement and added that he could prove it.

“Le’s see ye,” said Barnes as he approached him.

There was a half moment of silence.

“Go on with yer proof,” Rodney insisted, his great right hand trembling as he whittled.

“There are plenty of men in Albany that know the facts,” said the stranger.

“Any other proof to offer?”

“That’s enough.”

“Oh, I see, ye can’t prove it to-day, but ye don’t mind sayin’ it to-day. Say, mister, where do you live?”

“None o’ your dam’ business.”

Swift as a cat’s paw the big, right hand of Rodney caught the man by his shoulder and threw him down. Seizing him by the collar and the seat of his trousers our giant friend lifted the slanderer and flung him to the roof of a wooden awning in front of the grocer’s shop near which we stood.

“Now you stay there ’til I git cooled off or you’ll be hurt,” said Rodney. “You better be out o’ my reach for a few minutes.”

A crowd had begun to gather.

“I want you all to take a look at that man,” Rodney shouted. “He says Sile Wright is a drunkard an’ a thief.”

Loud jeers followed the statement, then a volley of oaths and a moment of danger, for somebody shouted:

“Le’s tar an’ feather him.”

“No, we’ll just look at him a few minutes,” Rodney Barnes shouted. “He’s one o’ the greatest curiosities that ever came to this town.”

The slanderer, thoroughly frightened, stood silent a few moments like a prisoner in the stocks. Soon the grocer let him in at an upper window.

Then the loud voice of Rodney Barnes rang like a trumpet in the words:

“Any man who says a mean thing of another when he can’t prove it ought to be treated in the same way.”

“That’s so,” a number of voices answered.

The slanderer stayed in retirement the rest of the day and the incident passed into history, not without leaving its impression on the people of the two towns.

My life went on with little in it worth recording until the letter came. I speak of it as “the letter,” because of its effect upon my career. It was from Sally, and it said:

     “DEAR BART–It’s all over for a long time, perhaps forever–that
     will depend on you. I shall be true to you, if you really love me,
     even if I have to wait many, many years. Mother and father saw and
     read your letter. They say we are too young to be thinking about
     love and that we have got to stop it. How can I stop it? I guess I
     would have to stop living. But we shall have to depend upon our
     memories now. I hope that yours is as good as mine. Father says no
     more letters without his permission, and he stamped his foot so
     hard that I think he must have made a dent in the floor. Talk about
     slavery–what do you think of that? Mother says that we must
     wait–that it would make father a great deal of trouble if it were
     known that I allowed you to write. I guess the soul of old Grimshaw
     is still following you. Well, we must stretch out that lovely day
     as far as we can. Its words and its sunshine are always in my
     heart. I am risking the salvation of my soul in writing this. But
     I’d rather burn forever than not tell you how happy your letter
     made me, dear Bart. It is that Grimshaw trouble that is keeping us
     apart. On the third of June, 1844, we shall both be twenty-one–and
     I suppose that we can do as we please then. The day is a long way
     off, but I will agree to meet you that day at eleven in the morning
     under the old pine on the river where I met you that day and you
     told me that you loved me. If either or both should die our souls
     will know where to find each other. If you will solemnly promise,
     write these words and only these to my mother–Amour omnia vincit,
     but do not sign your name.


What a serious matter it seemed to me then! I remember that it gave Time a rather slow foot. I wrote the words very neatly and plainly on a sheet of paper and mailed it to Mrs. Dunkelberg. I wondered if Sally would stand firm and longed to know the secrets of the future. More than ever I was resolved to be the principal witness in some great matter, as my friend in Ashery Lane had put it.

I was eight months with Wright and Baldwin when I was offered a clerkship in the office of Judge Westbrook, at Cobleskill, in Schoharie County, at two hundred a year and my board. I knew not then just how the offer had come, but knew that the Senator must have recommended me. I know now that he wanted a reliable witness of the rent troubles which were growing acute in Schoharie, Delaware and Columbia Counties.

It was a trial to go so far from home, as Aunt Deel put it, but both my aunt and uncle agreed that it was “for the best.”

“Mr. Purvis” had come to work for my uncle. In the midst of my preparations the man of gristle decided that he would like to go with me and see the world and try his fortune in another part of the country.

How it wrung my heart, when Mr. Purvis and I got into the stage at Canton, to see my aunt and uncle standing by the front wheel looking up at me. How old and lonely and forlorn they looked! Aunt Deel had her purse in her hand. I remember how she took a dollar bill out of it–I suppose it was the only dollar she had–and looked at it a moment and then handed it up to me.

“You better take it,” she said. “I’m ’fraid you won’t have enough.”

How her hand and lips trembled! I have always kept that dollar.

I couldn’t see them as we drove away.

I enjoyed the ride and the taverns and the talk of the passengers and the steamboat journey through the two lakes and down the river, but behind it all was a dark background. The shadows of my beloved friends fell every day upon my joys. However, I would be nearer Sally. It was a comfort when we were in Albany to reflect that she was somewhere in that noisy, bewildering spread of streets and buildings. I walked a few blocks from the landing, taking careful note of my way–mentally blazing a trail for fear of getting lost–and looked wistfully up a long street. There were many people, but no Sally.

The judge received me kindly and gave Purvis a job in his garden. I was able to take his dictation in sound-hand and spent most of my time in taking down contracts and correspondence and drafting them into proper form, which I had the knack of doing rather neatly. I was impressed by the immensity of certain towns in the neighborhood, and there were some temptations in my way. Many people, and especially the prominent men, indulged in ardent spirits.

One of my young friends induced me to go to dinner with him at Van Brocklin’s, the fashionable restaurant of a near city. We had a bottle of wine and some adventures and I was sick for a week after it. Every day of that week I attended a convention of my ancestors and received much good advice. Toward the end of it my friend came to see me.

“There’s no use of my trying to be a gentleman,” I said. “I fear that another effort would hang my pelt on the door. It’s a disgrace, probably, but I’ve got to be good. I’m driven to it.”

“The way I look at it is this,” said he. “We’re young fellows and making a good deal of money and we can’t tell when we’ll die and leave a lot that we’ll never get any good of.”

It was a down-country, aristocratic view of the responsibilities of youth and quite new to me. Caligula was worried in a like manner, I believe. We had near us there a little section of the old world which was trying, in a half-hearted fashion, to maintain itself in the midst of a democracy. It was the manorial life of the patroons–a relic of ancient feudalism which had its beginning in 1629, when The West Indies Company issued its charter of Privileges and Exemptions. That charter offered to any member of the company who should, within four years, bring fifty adults to the New Netherlands and establish them along the Hudson, a liberal grant of land, to be called a manor, of which the owner or patroon should be full proprietor and chief magistrate. The settlers were to be exempt from taxation for ten years, but under bond to stay in one place and develop it. In the beginning the patroon built houses and barns and furnished cattle, seed and tools. The tenants for themselves and their heirs agreed to pay him a fixed rent forever in stock and produce and, further, to grind at the owner’s mill and neither to hunt nor fish.

Judge Westbrook, in whose office I worked, was counsel and collector for the patroons, notably for the manors of Livingston and Van Renssalaer–two little kingdoms in the heart of the great republic.

I spent two years at my work and studied in the office of the learned judge with an ever-present but diminishing sense of homesickness. I belonged to the bowling and athletic club and had many friends.

Mr. Louis Latour, of Jefferson County, whom I had met in the company of Mr. Dunkelberg, came during my last year there to study law in the office of the judge, a privilege for which he was indebted to the influence of Senator Wright, I understood. He was a gay Lothario, always boasting of his love affairs, and I had little to do with him.

One day in May near the end of my two years in Cobleskill Judge Westbrook gave me two writs to serve on settlers in the neighborhood of Baldwin Heights for non-payment of rent. He told me what I knew, that there was bitter feeling against the patroons in that vicinity and that I might encounter opposition to the service of the writs. If so I was not to press the matter, but bring them back and he would give them to the sheriff.

“I do not insist on your taking this task upon you,” he added. “I want a man of tact to go and talk with these people and get their point of view. If you don’t care to undertake it I’ll send another man.”

“I think that I would enjoy the task,” I said in ignorance of that hornet’s nest back in the hills.

“Take Purvis with you,” he said. “He can take care of the horses, and as those back-country folk are a little lawless it will be just as well to have a witness with you. They tell me that Purvis is a man of nerve and vigor.”

Thus very deftly and without alarming me he had given me a notion of the delicate nature of my task. He had great faith in me those days. Well, I had had remarkably good luck with every matter he had put into my hands. He used to say that I would make a diplomat and playfully called me “Lord Chesterfield"–perhaps because I had unconsciously acquired a dignity and courtesy of manner beyond my years a little.

“Mr. Purvis” had been busy building up a conversational reputation for frightfulness in the gardens. He was held in awe by a number of the simple-minded men with whom he worked. For him life had grown very pleasant again–a sweet, uninterrupted dream of physical power and fleeing enemies. I tremble to think what might have happened if his strength and courage had equaled his ambition. I smiled when the judge spoke of his nerve and vigor. Still I was glad of his company, for I enjoyed Purvis.

I had drafted my letters for the day and was about to close my desk and start on my journey when Louis Latour came in and announced that he had brought the writs from the judge and was going with me.

“You will need a sheriff’s deputy anyhow, and I have been appointed for just this kind of work,” he assured me.

“I don’t object to your going but you must remember that I am in command,” I said, a little taken back, for I had no good opinion either of his prudence or his company.

He was four years older than I but I had better judgment, poor as it was, and our chief knew it.

“The judge told me that I could go but that I should be under your orders,” he answered. “I’m not going to be a fool. I’m trying to establish a reputation for good sense myself.”

We got our dinners and set out soon after one o’clock. Louis wore a green velvet riding coat and handsome top boots and snug-fitting, gray trousers. He was a gallant figure on the high-headed chestnut mare which his father had sent to him. Purvis and I, in our working suits, were like a pair of orderlies following a general. We rode two of the best saddle horses in the judge’s stable and there were no better in that region.

I had read the deeds of the men we were to visit. They were brothers and lived on adjoining farms with leases which covered three hundred and fifty acres of land. Their great-grandfather had agreed to pay a yearly rent forever of sixty-two bushels of good, sweet, merchantable, winter wheat, eight yearling cattle and four sheep in good flesh and sixteen fat hens, all to be delivered in the city of Albany on the first day of January of each year. So, feeling that I was engaged in a just cause, I bravely determined to serve the writs if possible.

It was a delightful ride up into the highlands through woods just turning green. Full flowing noisy brooks cut the road here and there on their way to the great river. Latour rode along beside me for a few miles and began to tell of his sentimental adventures and conquests. His talk showed that he had the heart of a stone. It made me hate him and the more because he had told of meeting Sally on the street in Albany and that he was in love with her. It was while he was telling me how he had once fooled a country girl that I balked. He thought it a fine joke, for his father had cut his allowance two hundred a year so that the sum they had had to pay in damages had kept his nose “on the grindstone” for two years. Then I stopped my horse with an exclamation which would have astonished Lord Chesterfield, I am sure.

The young man drew rein and asked:

“What’s the matter?”

“Only this. I shall have to try to lick you before we go any further.”

“How’s that?”

I dismounted and tightened the girth of my saddle. My spirit was taking swift counsel with itself at the brink of the precipice. It was then that I seemed to see the angry face of old Kate–the Silent Woman–at my elbow, and it counseled me to speak out. Again her spirit was leading me. Calmly and slowly these words came from my lips:

“Because I think you are a low-lived, dirty-souled dog of a man and if you can stand that without fighting you are a coward to boot.”

This was not the language of diplomacy but at the time it seemed to me rather kind and flattering.

Latour flashed red and jumped off his horse and struck at me with his crop. I caught it in my hand and said:

“Hold on. Let’s proceed decently and in order. Purvis, you hold these horses while we fight it out.”

Purvis caught Latour’s horse and brought the others close to mine and gathered the reins in his hand. I shall never forget how pale he looked and how fast he was breathing and how his hands trembled.

I jumped off and ran for my man. He faced me bravely. I landed a stunning blow squarely on his nose and he fell to the ground. Long before, Hacket had told me that a swift attack was half the battle and I have found it so more than once, for I have never been slow to fight for a woman’s honor or a friend’s or my own–never, thank God! Latour lay so quietly for a moment that I was frightened. His face was covered with blood. He came to and I helped him up and he rushed at me like a tiger. I remember that we had a long round then with our fists. I knew how to take care of my face and stomach and that I did while he wore himself out in wild blows and desperate lunges.

We had dismounted near the end of a bridge. He fought me to the middle of it and when his speed slackened I took the offensive and with such energy that he clinched. I threw him on the planks and we went down together, he under me, in a fall so violent that it shook the bridge and knocked the breath out of him. This seemed to convince Latour that I was his master. His distress passed quickly and he got up and began brushing the dust from his pretty riding coat and trousers. I saw that he was winded and in no condition to resume the contest.

I felt as fresh as if I had mowed only once around the field, to quote a saying of my uncle.

“We’ll have to fight it out some other day,” he said. “I’m weak from the loss of blood. My nose feels as if it was turned wrong side out.”

“It ought to be used to the grindstone after two years of practise,” I remarked. “Come down to the brook and let me wash the blood off you.”

Without a word he followed me and I washed his face as gently as I could and did my best to clean his shirt and waistcoat with my handkerchief. His nose was badly swollen.

“Latour, women have been good to me,” I said. “I’ve been taught to think that a man who treats them badly is the basest of all men. I can’t help it. The feeling has gone into my bones. I’ll fight you as often as I hear you talk as you did.”

He reeled with weakness as he started toward his horse. I helped him into the saddle.

“I guess I’m not as bad as I talk,” he remarked.

If it were so he must have revised his view of that distinction which he had been lying to achieve. It was a curious type of vanity quite new to me then.

Young Mr. Latour fell behind me as we rode on. The silence was broken presently by “Mr. Purvis,” who said:

“You can hit like the hind leg of a horse. I never sees more speed an’ gristle in a feller o’ your age.”

“Nobody could swing the scythe and the ax as much as I have without getting some gristle, and the schoolmaster taught me how to use it,” I answered. “But there’s one thing that no man ought to be conceited about.”

“What’s that?”

“His own gristle. I remember Mr. Hacket told me once that the worst kind of a fool was the man who was conceited over his fighting power and liked to talk about it. If I ever get that way I hope that I shall have it licked out of me.”

“I never git conceited–not that I ain’t some reason to be,” said Mr. Purvis with a highly serious countenance. He seemed to have been blind to that disparity between his acts and sayings which had distinguished him in Lickitysplit.

I turned my head away to hide my smiles and we rode on in silence.

“I guess I’ve got somethin’ here that is cocollated to please ye,” he said.

He took a letter from his pocket and gave it to me. My heart beat faster when I observed that the superscription on the envelope was in Sally’s handwriting. The letter, which bore neither signature nor date line, contained these words:

     “Will you please show this to Mr. Barton Baynes? I hope it will
     convince him that there is one who still thinks of the days of the
     past and of the days that are coming–especially one day.”

Tears dimmed my eyes as I read and re-read the message. More than two of those four years had passed and, as the weeks had dragged along I had thought more and more of Sally and the day that was coming. I had bought a suit of evening clothes and learned to dance and gone out to parties and met many beautiful young ladies but none of them had the charm of Sally. The memory of youth–true-hearted, romantic, wonder-working youth–had enthroned her in its golden castle and was defending her against the present commonplace herd of mere human beings. No one of them had played with me in the old garden or stood by the wheat-field with flying hair, as yellow as the grain, and delighted me with the sweetest words ever spoken. No one of them had been glorified with the light and color of a thousand dreams.

I rode in silence, thinking of her and of those beautiful days now receding into the past and of my aunt and uncle. I had written a letter to them every week and one or the other had answered it. Between the lines I had detected the note of loneliness. They had told me the small news of the countryside. How narrow and monotonous it all seemed to me then! Rodney Barnes had bought a new farm; John Axtell had been hurt in a runaway; my white mare had got a spavin!

“Hello, mister!”

I started out of my reverie with a little jump of surprise. A big, rough-dressed, bearded man stood in the middle of the road with a gun on his shoulder.

“Where ye goin’?”

“Up to the Van Heusen place.”

“Where do ye hail from?”


“On business for Judge Westbrook?”


“Writs to serve?”

“Yes,” I answered with no thought of my imprudence.

“Say, young man, by hokey nettie! I advise you to turn right around and go back.”


“’Cause if ye try to serve any writs ye’ll git into trouble.”

“That’s interesting,” I answered. “I am not seeking a quarrel, but I do want to see how the people feel about the payment of their rents.”

“Say mister, look down into that valley there,” the stranger began. “See all them houses–they’re the little houses o’ the poor. See how smooth the land is? Who built them houses? Who cleaned that land? Was it Mr. Livingston? By hokey nettie! I guess not. The men who live there built the houses an’ cleaned the land. We ain’t got nothin’ else–not a dollar! It’s all gone to the landlord. I am for the men who made every rod o’ that land an’ who own not a single rod of it. Years an’ years ago a king gave it to a man who never cut one tree or laid one stone on another. The deeds say that we must pay a rent o’ so many bushels o’ wheat a year but the land is no good for wheat, an’ ain’t been for a hundred years. Why, ye see, mister, a good many things have happened in three hundred years. The land was willin’ to give wheat then an’ a good many folks was willin’ to be slaves. By hokey nettie! they had got used to it. Kings an’ magistrates an’ slavery didn’t look so bad to ’em as they do now. Our brains have changed–that’s what’s the matter–same as the soil has changed. We want to be free like other folks in this country. America has growed up around us but here we are livin’ back in old Holland three hundred years ago. It don’t set good. We see lots o’ people that don’t have to be slaves. They own their land an’ they ain’t worked any harder than we have or been any more savin’. That’s why I say we can’t pay the rents no more an’ ye mustn’t try to make us. By hokey nettie! You’ll have trouble if ye do.”

The truth had flashed upon me out of the words of this simple man. Until then I had heard only one side of the case. If I were to be the servant of justice, as Mr. Wright had advised, what was I to do? These tenants had been Grimshawed and were being Grimshawed out of the just fruits of their toil by the feudal chief whose remote ancestor had been a king’s favorite. For half a moment I watched the wavering needle of my compass and then:

“If what you say is true I think you are right,” I said.

“I don’t agree with you,” said young Latour. “The patroons have a clear title to this land. If the tenants don’t want to pay the rents they ought to get out and make way for others.”

“Look here, young man, my name is Josiah Curtis,” said the stranger. “I live in the first house on the right-hand side o’ the road. You may tell the judge that I won’t pay rent no more–not as long as I live–and I won’t git out, either.”

“Mr. Latour, you and Purvis may go on slowly–I’ll overtake you soon,” I said.

They went on and left me alone with Curtis. He was getting excited and I wished to allay his fears.

“Don’t let him try to serve no writs or there’ll be hell to pay in this valley,” said Curtis.

“In that case I shall not try to serve the writs. I don’t want to stir up the neighborhood, but I want to know the facts. I shall try to see other tenants and report what they say. It may lead to a settlement.”

We went on together to the top of the hill near which we had been standing. Far ahead I saw a cloud of dust but no other sign of Latour and Purvis. They must have spurred their horses into a run. The fear came to me that Latour would try to serve the writs in spite of me. They were in his pocket. What a fool I had been not to call for them. My companion saw the look of concern in my face.

“I don’t like that young feller,” said Curtis. “He’s in fer trouble.”

He ran toward his house, which was only a few rods beyond us, while I started on in pursuit of the two men at top speed. Before my horse had taken a dozen jumps I heard a horn blowing behind me and its echo in the hills. Within a half a moment a dozen horns were sounding in the valleys around me. What a contrast to the quiet in which we had been riding was this pandemonium which had broken loose in the countryside. A little ahead I could see men running out of the fields. My horse had begun to lather, for the sun was hot. My companions were far ahead. I could not see the dust of their heels now. I gave up trying to catch them and checked the speed of my horse and went on at a walk. The horns were still sounding. Some of them seemed to be miles away. About twenty rods ahead I saw three riders in strange costumes come out of a dooryard and take the road at a wild gallop in pursuit of Latour and Purvis. They had not discovered me. I kept as calm as I could in the midst of this excitement. I remember laughing when I thought of the mess in which “Mr. Purvis” would shortly find himself.

I passed the house from which the three riders had just turned into the road. A number of women and an old man and three or four children stood on the porch. They looked at me in silence as I was passing and then began to hiss and jeer. It gave me a feeling I have never known since that day. I jogged along over the brow of a hill when, at a white, frame house, I saw the center toward which all the men of the countryside were coming.

Suddenly I heard the hoof-beats of a horse behind me. I stopped, and looking over my shoulder saw a rider approaching me in the costume of an Indian chief. A red mask covered his face. A crest of eagle feathers circled the edge of his cap. Without a word he rode on at my side. I knew not then that he was the man Josiah Curtis–nor could I at any time have sworn that it was he.

A crowd had assembled around the house ahead. I could see a string of horsemen coming toward it from the other side. I wondered what was going to happen to me. What a shouting and jeering in the crowded dooryard! I could see the smoke of a fire. We reached the gate. Men in Indian masks and costumes gathered around us.

“Order! Sh-sh-sh,” was the loud command of the man beside me in whom I recognized–or thought that I did–the voice of Josiah Curtis.

“What has happened?”

“One o’ them tried to serve a writ an’ we have tarred an’ feathered him.”

Just then I heard the voice of Purvis shouting back in the crowd this impassioned plea:

“Bart, for God’s sake, come here.”

I turned to Curtis and said:

“If the gentleman tried to serve the writ he acted without orders and deserves what he has got. The other fellow is simply a hired man who came along to take care of the horses. He couldn’t tell the difference between a writ and a hole in the ground.”

“Men, you have gone fur enough,” said Curtis. “This man is all right. Bring the other men here and put ’em on their horses an’ I’ll escort ’em out o’ the town.”

They brought Latour on a rail amidst roars of laughter. What a bear-like, poultrified, be-poodled object he was!–burred and sheathed in rumpled gray feathers from his hair to his heels. The sight and smell of him scared the horses. There were tufts of feathers over his ears and on his chin. They had found great joy in spoiling that aristocratic livery in which he had arrived.

Then came poor Purvis. They had just begun to apply the tar and feathers to him when Curtis had stopped the process. He had only a shaking ruff of long feathers around his neck. They lifted the runaways into their saddles. Purvis started off at a gallop, shouting “Come on, Bart,” but they stopped him.

“Don’t be in a hurry, young feller,” said one of the Indians, and then there was another roar of laughter.

“Go back to yer work now,” Curtis shouted, and turning to me added: “You ride along with me and let our feathered friends follow us.”

So we started up the road on our way back to Cobleskill. Soon Latour began to complain that he was hot and the feathers pricked him.

“You come alongside me here an’ raise up a little an’ I’ll pick the inside o’ yer legs an’ pull out yer tail feathers,” said Curtis. “If you got ’em stuck into yer skin you’d be a reg’lar chicken an’ no mistake.”

I helped in the process and got my fingers badly tarred.

“This is a dangerous man to touch–his soul is tarred,” said Curtis. “Keep away from him.”

“What a lookin’ skunk you be!” he laughed as he went on with the picking.

We resumed our journey. Our guide left us at the town line some three miles beyond.

“Thank God the danger is over,” said Purvis. “The tar on my neck has melted an’ run down an’ my shirt sticks like the bark on a tree. I’m sick o’ the smell o’ myself. If I could find a skunk I’d enjoy holdin’ him in my lap a while. I’m goin’ back to St. Lawrence County about as straight as I can go. I never did like this country anyway.”

He had picked the feathers out of his neck and Latour was now busy picking his arms and shoulders. Presently he took off his feathered coat and threw it away, saying:

“They’ll have to pay for this. Every one o’ those jackrabbits will have to settle with me.”

“You brought it on yourself,” I said. “You ran away from me and got us all into trouble by being too smart. You tried to be a fool and succeeded beyond your expectation. My testimony wouldn’t help you any.”

“You’re always against the capitalist,” he answered.

It was dark when I left my companions in Cobleskill. I changed my clothes and had my supper and found Judge Westbrook in his home and reported the talk of Curtis and our adventure and my view of the situation back in the hills. I observed that he gave the latter a cold welcome.

“I shall send the sheriff and a posse,” he said with a troubled look.

“Pardon me, but I think it will make a bad matter worse,” I answered.

“We must not forget that the patroons are our clients,” he remarked.

I yielded and went on with my work. In the next week or so I satisfied myself of the rectitude of my opinions. Then came the most critical point in my history–a conflict with Thrift and Fear on one side and Conscience on the other.

The judge raised my salary. I wanted the money, but every day I would have to lend my help, directly or indirectly, to the prosecution of claims which I could not believe to be just. My heart went out of my work. I began to fear myself. For weeks I had not the courage to take issue with the learned judge.

One evening I went to his home determined to put an end to my unhappiness. After a little talk I told him frankly that I thought the patroons should seek a friendly settlement with their tenants.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because their position is unjust, un-American and untenable,” was my answer.

He rose and gave me his hand and a smile of forbearance in consideration of my youth, as I took it.

I left much irritated and spent a sleepless night in the course of which I decided to cling to the ideals of David Hoffman and Silas Wright.

In the morning I resigned my place and asked to be relieved as soon as the convenience of the judge would allow it. He tried to keep me with gentle persuasion and higher pay, but I was firm. Then I wrote a long letter to my friend the Senator.

Again I had chosen my way and with due regard to the compass.


Foreword  •  Preface  •  Book One  •  Chapter II  •  Chapter III  •  Chapter IV  •  Chapter V  •  Chapter VI  •  Chapter VII  •  Chapter VIII  •  Chapter X  •  Chapter XI  •  Chapter XII  •  Chapter XIII  •  Chapter XIV  •  Chapter XVI  •  Chapter XVII  •  Chapter XVIII  •  Chapter XIX  •  Epilogue

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