Stories by American Authors, Volume 6

by: Various

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
ISBN: N/A
Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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THE VILLAGE CONVICT.

"Wonder 'f Eph's got back; they say his sentence run out yisterday."

The speaker, John Doane, was a sunburnt fisherman, one of a circle of well-salted individuals who sat, some on chairs, some on boxes and barrels, around the stove in a country store.

"Yes," said Captain Seth, a middle-aged little man with earrings; "he come on the stage to-noon. Wouldn't hardly speak a word, Jim says. Looked kind o' sot and sober."

"Wall," said the first speaker, "I only hope he won't go to burnin' us out of house and home, same as he burnt up Eliphalet's barn. I was ruther in hopes he'd 'a' made off West. Seems to me I should, in his place, hevin' ben in State's-prison."

"Now, I allers bed quite a parcel o' sympathy for Eph," said a short, thickset coasting captain, who sat tilted back in a three-legged chair, smoking lazily. "You see, he wa'n't but about twenty-one or two then, and he was allus a mighty high-strung boy; and then Eliphalet did act putty ha'sh, foreclosin' on Eph's mother, and turnin' her out o' the farm, in winter, when everybody knew she could ha' pulled through by waitin'. Eph sot great store by the old lady, and I expect he was putty mad with Eliphalet that night."

"I allers," said Doane, "approved o' his plan o' leadin' out all the critters, 'fore he touched off the barn. 'Taint everybody 't would hev taken pains to do that. But all the same, I tell Sarai't I feel kind o' skittish, nights, to hev to turn in, feelin' 't there's a convict in the place."

"I hain't got no barn to burn," said Captain Seth; "but if he allots my henhouse to the flames, I hope he'll lead out the hens, and hitch 'em to the apple trees, same's he did Eliphalet's critters. Think he ought to deal ekally by all."

A mild general chuckle greeted this sally, cheered by which the speaker added:

"Thought some o' takin' out a policy o' insurance on my cockerel."

"Trade's lookin' up, William," said Captain Seth to the storekeeper, as some one was heard to kick the snow off his boots on the door-step. "Somebody's found he's got to hev a shoestring 'fore mornin'."

The door opened, and closed behind a strongly made fellow of twenty-six or seven, of homely features, with black hair, in clothes which he had outgrown. It was a bitter night, but he had no coat over his flannel jacket. He walked straight down the store, between the dry-goods counters, to the snug corner at the rear, where the knot of talkers sat; nodded, without a smile, to each of them, and then asked the storekeeper for some simple articles of food, which he wished to buy. It was Eph.

While the purchases were being put up, an awkward silence prevailed, which the oil-suits hanging on the walls, broadly displaying their arms and legs, seemed to mock, in dumb show.

Nothing was changed, to Eph's eyes, as he looked about. Even the handbill of familiar pattern:

"STANDING WOOD FOR SALE.
APPLY TO J. CARTER, ADMIN'R,"

seemed to have always been there.

The village parliament remained spellbound. Mr. Adams tied up the purchases and mildly inquired:

"Shall I charge this?"

Not that he was anxious to open an account, but that he would probably have gone to the length of selling Eph a barrel of molasses "on tick" rather than run any risk of offending so formidable a character....