The Girl from Farris's/Chapter XII
THE coroner's jury exonerated Secor. He was never brought to trial. For two weeks he remained in jail waiting the action of the grand jury. That body returned a no bill, and Ogden Secor stepped once more into the world of freedom.
During the period of his incarceration June had visited hirn daily. She felt, in a measure, a certain sense of obligation. This man, by a smile and a pleasant word, had set her feet back into the path of rectitude at a time when hope was gone from her life. She could do no laess than exert what small influence she might wield to lead him from the path toward which he was straying.
She was glad that he had not remembered her, or at least that he had pretended that he did not. She was not sure which was the true explanation of his non-recognition. As yet she had not guessed the serious nature of the results that had followed his slugging at the hands of the cracksmen.
Between the noon and evening meals June had a couple of hours to herself, and it was at this period that she visited Secor in his cell. He came to look forward eagerly to her coming--except for a few of the Q. P.'s hangers-on, she was his only visitor.
It was June who brought him word of the grand jury's action. The kindly sheriff, meeting her at the jail's door, as he himself was bearing the news to the prisoner, told her that Secor was a free man, and that she might carry the cheering message to him.
"I reckon he'd rather hear it from them pretty lips, anyway," he added, winking knowingly.
June flushed. It had never occurred to her that any one might find foundation for imagining the existence of tender sentiments between herself and Ogden Secor in her daily visits to the prisoner. So it was with an emotion akin to diffidence that she approached his cell that day.
Secor received the news of his final exoneration without any show of elation. June looked at him in surprise.
"Doesn't it make you happy" she exclaimed. "Why, I wanted to throw up my hat and shout when the sheriff told me."
He shook his head. "Why should it make me happy?" he asked. "What am I coming out to? Who cares whether I am in or out?" And then at the hurt look which she could not hide, he exclaimed, regretfully: "Oh, I didn't mean that exactly--I know that you care, and it means everything to me to know that there is one good, kind heart in the world; but, Miss Lathrop, your generosity would go out the same to a yellow dog--but not your respect.
"You can't help being kind and sweet, for your soul is pure and true--I can read it in your eyes; but even that can't blind you to the bald and brutal fact of what I am--a drunken bum."
The bitterness of his tone turned the girl cold.
"And what am I coming out to" he went on. "I'm coming out to the Q. P.--that 'll be the first place I'll head for. There is no other place that I may go, and tonight I'll be drunk again."
She stretched her hand between the iron bars and laid her slim fingers on the man's arm. Her eyes were dim with tears as she raised them to his.
"Oh, don't," she pleaded, "please don't! You mustn't throw your life away. Remember who you are--what you have been--what you may be again. Oh, won't you promise me that you'll never touch it again?"
The tear-filled eyes, the pleading voice, the touch upon his arm, sent a sudden thrill through every fiber of Ogden Secor's being. Never before had he realized half the beauties of the girl's face and soul as revealed that instant as she pleaded with him for his own honor.
He forgot that he was Ogden Secor--that she was a waitress in a cheap lunchroom. Slowly his hand crept up until his fingers closed upon hers. He leaned forward close to the intervening bars. There was a light in his eyes that had never shone upon Sophia Weekes.
"June!" he whispered, his voice now husky with emotion. "I can stop--I can do anything for your sake. June, I l--"
Like a flash the girl snatched her hand from his. Her fingers flew across his lips as though to smother the word that he would have spoken--it seemed almost like a blow.
"No!" she fairly shouted. "Oh, God, you don't know what you are saying! Don't say it--don't think it. It is too awful*" and pressing her clenched hands to her face she turned and almost ran from the jail.
For a moment Secor stood as though stunned. He had seen the horror mirrored in the girl's eyes--and he had placed the only interpretation upon it that he could.
"God," he muttered as he sank to his hard bench, "have I sunk so low as that?"
A few minutes later he was released from jail. He did not hesitate. With long, eager strides he made straight for the Q. P.
For a month he scarce drew a sober breath. Then he landed in jail again--this time as a plain "drunk"--he had been picked up from the gutter by a town policeman.
June heard of it, and came to his cell early the next morning. He met her look almost defiantly, but at the pain and sorrow in her face his eyes wavered and fell.
"I shouldn't think you want to sully your name by coming to see the town drunkard," he said; and then, bitterly, "I'd have stopped for your sake even without your love. I don't blame you for that; but you needn't have been so disgusted with the thought that I loved you."
"You didn't think that?" she exclaimed.
"What else could I think? I read it in your expression."
"Oh, it wasn't that," she cried. "You must know that I couldn't come to see you, or want so to help you, if I felt that way!"
"Then what is the reason? Why can't I tell you that I love you, June?" he insisted. "Tell me."
"I can't," she said, "and you mustn't ask me to tell you."
She was close to the bars now, and again she laid her hand upon his.
"I would do anything on earth for you, Ogden," she said, "except let you love me. Why can't you let me help you to win back the biggest thing you have lost--your self-respect? The rest will be easy then, and when you have it once more you'll want to get down on your knees and thank June Lathrop that she wouldn't let you fall in love with a--waitress."
"Would it make you any happier?" he asked.
"It would make me happier than I had ever expected that I could be again."
"I'll try," he said, "for your sake; but how am I to begin--what is there for me to do?"
"Your ranch," she returned promptly. You told me that you had a ranch down near the river."
Secor laughed. "I went to see it when I first came out. It's nothing but an unfenced sage-bush desert. No water, no fences, no house--nothing."
"There's the river," she urged.
"And what can I do with the river?"
"With a shovel and a pan, you can get a living wage out of the gravel anywhere along the river," she answered. "And you can live clean and decent. You're making nothing here, and you're living like a hog."
Ogden Secor flushed. The words stung him, and because they stung, they did more to crystalize the good intentions that the girl's pleas had aroused than would further pleading, for they awoke with him the fast-dying flame of his self-respect.
"I'll do it, June," he said, "for your sake; but give me something to hope for, if I succeed. Tell me that you may then listen to what you won't listen to now."
"When you are back where you should be," she said, "I mean physically, morally, and mentally, you won't care to have a waitress hear you tell her that you love her."
"I'm not in love with a waitress, June; I've dared aspire to an angel."
The police magistrate before whom Secor was arraigned had acquired local celebrity through the success he had made of keeping Goliath fairly free of bums and hoboes. The sheriff and the constabulary worked with him. They arrested every undesirable stranger upon the streets, and the judge forthwith put them back upon the streets, padlocked to a long chain. There they worked out their sentences until, released, they shook the dust of Goliath from their feet, nor ever thereafter ventured within her limits.
To this good judge Mr. Ogden Secor looked like any other drunken bum that was hailed before him. There was, it is true, that about the cut of his disheveled clothes which proclaimed a one-time smartness; but this rather militated against the defendant, for in it the judge saw more sinister signs than mere worthlessness--Eastern crooks, he knew, were ofttimes smartly clothed, or the man might have stolen the apparel, which was more likely.
"Three days in the chain-gang," said the judge. "Call the next case."
Before those three awful days were over, Ogden Secor was more thoroughly sober than ever he had been in all his life--even in the days that he did not drink. He worked with eyes bent upon the ground, never once raising them. Through his mind ran four words--the words of hope and encouragement that June Lathrop had spoken: " There's the river." But now it was a grim and sinister interpretation that he put upon them.
"There's the river! " He could scarce wait for the knocking of his galling fetters from his ankle. "There's the river!" Yes, and there, too, lay forgetfulness of the hideous humiliation of these frightful days.
June Lathrop saw him in the chain-gang, as the motley crew worked upon the streets of Goliath. She turned her head away lest he should see that she had seen, and hurrying to her room, threw herself face down upon the bed, sobbing. Her tears were for him, for the hideous laceration of his pride that she could read in the bent head and the stooping shoulders. He had looked like an old man, tottering to his grave beneath a hopeless load of shame.
God, how it had hurt her! Yet by all the age-old traits that are ascribed to humanity she, of all others in the world, should have found sinister rejoicing in the suffering of this man. But instead, there came to her for the first time a realization of the one thing above all others that might make her life even more miserable than it had been--she loved Ogden Secor.
She knew now that she had always loved him--since that day that he had met her in the antechamber of the grand jury room. She saw now why she had set herself the task of reclaiming him. She saw, too, why she had experienced such horror at the thought of his voicing words of love to her--it was because she had loved him, and because in all the world of men and women, he and she had the least right to love one another.
When Secor's time in the chain-gang was up, June was waiting for him outside the jail.
Love had given her the power to read in the humiliation of the man she loved something of the stern resolve that had found lodgment in his mind. Intuitively she sensed what would be the first impulse of a proud man weakened by dissipation and bowed down by humiliation.
She had been a "down-and-outer" herself. She had been on the verge of the very thing she had guessed Secor to be contemplating--it had come after that terrible morning at St. Luke's--but the memory of Ogden Secor's kindness to her had stayed her hand.
Now she would repay him.
With head still bowed and eyes upon the ground he emerged from the jail. When June fell in beside him, he did not look up, though he knew that it was she--who else was there in all the world who would be seen upon the public streets with him?
In silence they walked side by side through the little city, down the dusty road toward the cool shadows of the tree-bowered brook that winds along that pleasant valley.
Secor moved but with one thought in his mind--to get beyond the sight of his fellow men. They came at last to the brim of the little stream. There were no prying eyes about them.
June touched his hand gently where it hung at his side, and then her cool fingers closed upon his.
"Ogden," she whispered.
He turned dull eyes upon her, as though for the first time realizing her presence.
"What are you doing here?" he asked; and then, without waiting for her reply, went on: "And you walked at my side through the streets--through the hideous streets where I have worked with a chain upon my ankle, fastened to vagabonds and criminals, and to--to bums--to other bums like myself--drunken bums! Every one must have seen you--Oh, June, how could you have done it?"
His thoughts now were all for her. There could have been nothing better for his sick brain, nauseated with continual thinking of his own shame.
"I must have been mad to let you do it," he went on. "Your friends will jeer at you. They will link your name with that of Ogden Secor, the town drunkard--"
She clapped her hand over his lips.
"You mustn't say that!" she cried. "I won't let you say it! You are not that--you never could be that. You are making a mountain of a molehill. It is not the man who falls who receives the censure of his fellows; it's the man who falls and won't get up--who lies wallowing in the filth of his degradation. The world admires the man who can 'come back'--it hates a quitter.
"You have told me that you love me." She was speaking rapidly, as though everything in the world hinged upon the element of time. "You have asked me to love you. Do you expect me to love a quitter? You are thinking this minute of adding the final ignominy to your downfall; you are thinking this minute, Ogden Secor, of taking your own life. If I could love a quitter, do you think that I could love a--coward?"
Beneath the lash of her words, the man within him awakened. His shoulders straightened a bit. He looked her straight in the eyes for the first time that day. He was trying to fathom her interest in him. Presently he seemed to awaken; a sudden light dawned upon him. Hope lightened the lines of his tired and haggard face. Not for months had he looked so much like the Ogden Secor of the past.
He took the girl by the shoulders.
"June," he cried, "I have been trying to guess why you should have done for me all that you have done. There can be but one reason. You cannot deny it. Let me hear your lips speak what your acts have proclaimed. Tell me that you love me, June, and I can win back to any heights!"
She pushed him gently from her. Her heart ached to be pressed close in the arms of the man she loved; yet she knew that it could never be. If her love would save him, she had no right to deny it, though she knew that such an avowal could bring nothing but misery and shame to them both; there never could be any consummation of a love between Ogden Secor and June Lathrop.
"I could not deny it now," she said at last, "and if it will help you any to hear me say the thing I have no right to say, or that you have no right to hear, I can do it for your sake; but beyond the saying of it, Ogden, there can be nothing. That we must both understand. Why, I cannot tell you--I dare not. Do not ask me."
"It will be enough for now," he said, "to hear you say it. Afterward we shall find a way; love always does, you know."
And so she said the thing he wished to hear, nor never in all his life had words sounded sweeter to Ogden Secor than those three from the lips of the waitress from the Palace Lunch Room.