The Boot by
Mary Rex was more particularly my nurse, for my sister Ellen, a
thoughtful, dependable child of eight, was her own mistress in
This was in the days when we got our servants from neighborhood
families; before the Swedish and Irish invasion had made servants of us
in turn. Mary was the youngest of an ancestored county family. Her
great-grandfather had fought in the Revolution, as you might know by the
great flint-lock musket over the Rexes' fireplace. A brother of his had
formed part of a British square at Waterloo; and if Mary's own father
had not lost his right hand at Gettysburg he would never have let his
children go out to service. Poor soul, he bore the whole of his
afflictions, those to his body and those to his pride, with a dignity
not often seen in these degenerate days. He was by trade a blacksmith,
and it was for that reason, I suppose, that Providence, who loves a
little joke, elected for amputation his right hand rather than one or
both of his feet. Since, even in these degenerate days, many a footless
blacksmith makes an honest living.
Mary was a smart, comely, upstanding young woman. Even my father, a
dismal sceptic anent human frailty, said that he would freely trust her
around the farthest corner in Christendom. And I gathered from the talk
of my elders and betters that Mary was very pretty. People said it was a
real joy to see a creature so young, so smiling, so pink and white, so
graciously happy—in those degenerate days. I myself can see now that
she must have been very pretty indeed. Her eyes, for instance, so blue
in the blue, so white in the white, can't have changed at all—unless,
perhaps, the shadows deep within the blue are deeper than they were when
she was a girl. But even to-day you would have to travel far to see
another middle-aged woman so smooth of forehead, so cleanly-cut of
feature, so generally comely.
But if there was one thing in the world that I had formed no conclusions
upon at the age of six it was female loveliness. To cuddle against a
gentle mother when bogies were about had nothing whatsoever to do with
that gentle mother's personal appearance. To strike valiantly at Mary's
face when the hot water and the scrubbing-brush were going had nothing
to do with the prettiness thereof. Nor did I consider my sister the less
presentable by a black eye given and taken in the game of Little John
and Robin Hood upon a log in the Baychester woods. And indeed I have
been told, and believe it to be a fact, that the beauty before whom
swelled my very earliest tides of affection was a pug-nosed,
snaggle-toothed, freckled-faced tomboy, who if she had been but a jot
uglier might have been exhibited to advantage in a dime museum. Peace,
old agitations, peace!
Everybody knew the Rexes, as in any part of the world, for many years
stable, everybody knows everybody else. In Westchester, before great
strips of woodland and water became Pelham Bay Park, before the Swedes
came, and the Irish, and the Italians, and the Germans—in other words,
before land boomed—there had always been an amiable and
uninjunctionable stability. Families had lived, for well or ill, in the
same houses for years and years. So long had the portraits hung in the
rich men's houses that if you moved them it was to disclose a
brightly-fresh rectangle upon the wall behind. The box in the poor man's
yard had been tended by the poor man's great-grand female relatives.
Ours was a vicinage of memory and proper pride. We would no more have
thought of inquiring into the morals of this public house or that than
of expunging the sun from the heavens. They had always been there.
There was a man who left his wife and little children to fight against
King George. He could think of but one thing to protect them against
vagrant soldiers of either side, and that was to carve upon certain
boards (which he nailed to the trees here and there along the boundaries
of his farm):
BEWARR OF THE BOOLE DOGGES
When I was a child one of these signs still remained—at the left, just
beyond Pelham Bridge. And people used to laugh and point at the great
trees and say that because of the sign the British had never dared to
trespass and cut down the timber. Now the man had never owned a Boole
Dogge, nor had any of his descendants. I doubt if there was ever one on
the premises, unless latterly, perhaps, there has been a French bulldog
or so let out of a passing automobile to enjoy a few moments of
unconventional liberty. But the bluff had always held good. As my mother
used to say: "I know—but then there may be a bulldog now." And that
farm was always out of bounds. I relate this for two reasons—to show
how stable and conservative a neighborhood was ours, and because on that
very farm, and chosen for the very reason which I have related, stood
the hollow oak which is to play its majestic part in this modest
The apple orchards of the Boole Dogge Farm ran southerly to a hickory
wood, the hickory wood to an oak wood, the oak wood to thick scrub of
all sorts, the scrub to the sedge, and the sedge to the salt mud at low
tide, and at high to the bassy waters themselves of inmost Pelham Bay.
On the right was the long, black trestle of the Harlem River Branch
Railroad, on the left the long-curved ironwork of Pelham Bridge. And the
farm, promontoried with its woods and thick cover between these
boundaries and more woods to the north, was an overgrown, run-down,
desolate, lonely, deserted old place. Had it not been for the old sign
that said "Bewarr," it must have been a great playground for
children—for their picnics, and their hide-and-seeks, and their games
at Indians. But the ferocious animals imagined by the old Revolutionary
were as efficacious against trespassers as a cordon of police. And I
remember to this day, I can feel still, the very-thrill of that wild
surmise with which I followed Mary and my sister over the stone wall and
into those forbidden and forbidding acres for the first time. But that
It was my sister who told me that Mary was engaged to be married. But I
had noticed for some days how the neighbors went out of their way to
accost her upon our walks; to banter her kindly, to shake hands with
her, to wag their heads and look chin-chucks even if they gave none. Her
face wore a beautiful mantling red for hours at a time. And instead of
being made more sedate by her responsible and settling prospects she
shed the half of her years, which were not many, and became the most
delightful romp, a furious runner of races, swiftest of pursuers at tag,
most subtle and sudden of hiders and poppers out, and full to the arch,
scarlet brim of loud, clear laughter.
It was late spring now, lilacs in all the dooryards, all the houses
being cleaned inside out, and they were to be married in the fall. They
had picked the little house on the outskirts of Skinnertown not far from
the Tory oak, in which they were to live. And often we made it the end
of an excursion, and played at games devised by Mary to improve the
appearance of the little yard. We gathered up in emulation old, broken
china and bottles, and made them into a heap at the back; we cleared the
yard of brush and dead wood, and pulled up weeds by the hundred-weight,
and set out a wild rose or two and more valuable, if less lovely, plants
that people gave Mary out of real gardens.
Will Braddish, a painter by trade, met us one day with brushes and a
great bucket of white paint, and, while he and Mary sat upon the
doorstep talking in low tones or directing in high, Ellen and I made
shift to paint the little picket-fence until it was white as new snow.
At odd times Braddish himself painted the little house (it was all of
old-fashioned, long shingles) inside and out, and a friend of his got up
on the roof with mortar and a trowel, and pointed-up the brick chimney;
and my father and Mr. Sturtevant contributed a load of beautiful, sleek,
rich pasture sod and the labor to lay it; so that by midsummer the
little domain was the spickest, spannest little dream of a home in the
whole county. The young couple bought furniture, and received gifts of
furniture, prints, an A1 range, a tiny, shiny, desirable thing; and the
whole world and all things in it smiled them in the face. Braddish, as
you will have guessed, was a prosperous young man. He was popular, too,
and of good habits. People said only against him that he was impulsive
and had sudden fits of the devil's own temper, but that he recovered
from these in a twinkling and before anything came of them. And even the
merest child could see that he thought the world of Mary. I have seen
him show her little attentions such as my sister retailed me of
personages in fairy stories and chivalric histories. Once when there was
a puddle to cross he made a causeway of his coat, like another Raleigh,
and Mary crossed upon it, like one in a trance of tender happiness,
oblivious of the fact that she might easily have gone around and saved
the coat. His skin and his eyes were almost as clear as Mary's own, and
he had a bold, dashing, independent way with him.
But it wasn't often that Braddish could get free of his manifold
occupations: his painting contracts and his political engagements. He
was by way of growing very influential in local politics, and people
predicted an unstintedly successful life for him. He was considered
unusually clever and able. His manners were superior to his station, and
he had done a deal of heterogeneous reading. But, of course, whenever it
was possible he was with Mary and helped her out with looking after
Ellen and me. My mother, who was very timid about tramps, looked upon
these occasions as in the nature of real blessings. There was nowhere in
the countryside that we children might not safely venture with Will
Braddish strolling behind. He loved children—he really did, a rare,
rare thing—and he was big, and courageous, and strong, and quick. He
was very tactful, too, on these excursions and talked a good part of the
time for the three of us, instead of for Mary alone. Nice, honest talk
it was, too, with just enough robbers, and highwaymen, and lions, and
Indians to give it spice. But all the adventures through which he passed
us were open and honest. How the noble heroes did get on in life, and
how the wicked villains did catch it!
I remember once we were returning home past the Boole Dogge Farm, and
Braddish, wiping his brow, for it was cruelly hot, seated himself as
bold as could be on the boundary wall. The conversation had been upon
robbers, and how they always, always got caught.
"It doesn't matter," Braddish said, "where they hide. Take this old
farm. It's the best hiding-place in this end of the county—woods, and
marshes, and old wells, and bushes, and hollows—"
We asked him in much awe if he had ever actually set foot on the place.
"Yes, indeed," he said; "when I was a boy I knew every inch of it; I was
always hunting and trapping, and looking for arrowheads. And that was
the best country. Once I spent a night in the woods yonder. The bridge
was open to let a tugboat through and got stuck so they couldn't shut
it, and there was no way back to Westchester except over the railroad
trestle, and my father had said that I could go anywhere I pleased
except on that trestle. And so here I was caught, and it came on to
blither and blow, and I found an oak tree, all hollow like a little
house, and I crept in and fell asleep and never woke till daylight. My
father said next time I could come home by the trestle, or he'd know the
"But," said I, "weren't you afraid the bulldogs would get you?"
"Now, if they'd said bull-terriers," he said, "I might have had my
doubts, but a bulldog's no more dangerous than a toadfish. He's like my
old grandma. What teeth he has don't meet. And besides," he said, "there
weren't any bulldogs on that farm. And I don't believe there ever were.
Now, I'm not sure, sonny," he said, "but you climb up here—"
I climbed upon the wall, and he held me so that I should not fall.
"Do you see," said he, "way down yonder over the tops of the trees a
dead limb sticking up?"
I saw it finally.
"Well," he said, "I'd stake something that that's a part of the old
hollow oak. Shall we go and see?"
But Mary told him that the farm was out of bounds. And he thought a
moment, and then swung his legs over the wall.
"I won't be two minutes," he said. "I'd like to see if I'm right—it's
fifteen years ago—" And he strode off across the forbidden farm to the
woods. When he came back he said that he had been right, and that
nothing had changed much. He tossed me a flint arrowhead that he had
picked up—he was always finding things, and we went on again.
When we got to the middle of Pelham Bridge we all stopped and leaned
against the railing and looked down into the swift, swirling current.
Braddish tore an old envelop into little pieces and dropped them
overboard by pairs, so that we might see which would beat the other to a
But the shadows began to grow long now and presently Braddish had to
leave us to attend a meeting in Westchester, and I remember how he
turned and waved, just before the Boulevard dips to the causeway, and
how Mary recollected something that she had meant to say and ran after
him a little way calling, and he did not hear. And she came back
laughing, and red in the face, and breathing quick.
Two days later my father, who had started for the early train, came
driving back to the house as if he had missed it. But he said, no, and
his face was very grave—he had heard a piece of news that greatly
concerned Mary, and he had come back to tell her. He went into the study
with my mother, and presently they sent for Mary and she went in
A few minutes later, through the closed door, Ellen and I heard a
sudden, wailing cry.
Poor Braddish, it seems, in one of his ungovernable tempers had shot a
man to death, and fled away no one knew whither.
The man killed was named Hagan. He was a red-faced, hard-drinking brute,
not without sharp wits and a following—or better, a heeling. There had
been bad blood between him and Braddish for some time over political
differences of opinion and advancement. But into these Hagan had carried
a circumstantial, if degenerate, imagination that had grown into and
worried Braddish's peace of mind like a cancer. Details of the actual
killing were kept from us children. But I gathered, since the only
witnesses of the shooting were heelers of Hagan's, that it could in no
wise be construed into an out-and-out act of self-defence, and so far as
the law lay things looked bad for Braddish.
That he had not walked into the sheriff's office to give himself up made
it look as if he himself felt the unjustifiability of his act, and it
was predicted that when he was finally captured it would be to serve a
life sentence at the very least. The friends of the late Hagan would
hear of nothing less than hanging. It was a great pity (this was my
father's attitude): Hagan was a bad lot and a good riddance; Braddish
was an excellent young man, except for a bit of a temper, and here the
law proposed to revenge the bad man upon the other forever and ever. And
it was right and proper for the law so to do, more's the pity. But it
was not Braddish that would be hit hardest, said my father, and here
came in the inscrutable hand of Providence—it was Mary.
After the first outburst of feeling she had accepted her fate with a
stanch reserve and went on with her duties much as usual. One ear was
always close to the ground, you might say, to hear the first rumor of
Braddish, either his capture or his whereabouts, that she might fly to
him and comfort him, but the rest of her faculties remained in devoted
attendance on my sister and me. Only there showed in them now and then a
kind of tigerish passionateness, as when I fell off the sea-wall among
the boulders and howled so dismally. She leaped down after and caught me
to her in the wildest distress, and even when I stopped howling could
not seem to put me down. Indeed, she held me so tight that if any of my
bones had been cracked by the tumble she must have finished by breaking
them. The pathos of her efforts to romp with us as in happier days was
lost upon me, I am happy to say. Nor did I, recalling to her what
Braddish had said of robbers being inevitably caught, realize that I was
stabbing her most cruelly. For she was, or tried to be, firm in the
belief that Braddish would succeed where all others had failed. She had
asked my father what would happen if Braddish got clean out of the
United States, and he, hoping, I suppose, to be of indirect use to the
young couple for whom he was heartily sorry, made her out a list of
countries, so far as he knew them, wherein there was no extradition. My
father hoped, I fondly believe, that she would get the list to Braddish
for his guidance, conjecturing rightly that if Braddish made his
whereabouts known to anybody it would be to Mary. But as to that, ten
days passed before Mary knew a jot more of it than another. And I must
believe that it came to her then entirely by inspiration.
We were passing the Boole Dogge Farm, my sister and I, intent upon
seeing which of us could take the most hops without putting the held-up
foot to the ground, when suddenly Mary, who had been strolling along
laughing at us, stopped short in her tracks and turned, and stood
looking over the green treetops to where the gaunt, dead limb of the
hollow oak thrust sharply up from among them. But we had hopped on for
quite a piece before we noticed that she no longer went alongside. So we
stopped that game and ran back to her. What was it? Had she seen a
rabbit? She laughed and looked very wistful. She was just thinking,
children, that she would like to see the hollow tree where Will had
passed the night. She was not excited—I can swear to that. She guessed
nothing as yet. Her desire was really to the tree—as she might have
coveted one of Will's baby shoes, or anything that had been his. She had
already, poor girl, begun to draw, here and there, upon the past for
First, she charged Ellen and me to wait for her in the road. But we
rebelled. We swore (most falsely) that we were afeard. Since the teeth
of bulldogs no longer met, we desired passionately to explore the
forbidden farm, and had, indeed, extracted a free commission from my
father so to do, but my mother had procrastinated and put us off. We
laid these facts before Mary, and she said, very well, if our father had
said we might go on the farm, go we might. He would, could and must make
it right with our mother. And so, Mary leading, we climbed the wall.
Bulldogs' teeth or no bulldogs' teeth, my ancient fear of the place
descended upon me, and had a rabbit leaped or a cat scuttled among the
bushes I must have been palsied. The going across to the woods was waist
high with weeds and brambles, damp and rank under foot. Whole squadrons
of mosquitoes arose and hung about us in clouds, with a humming sound as
of sawmills far away. But this was long before you took your malaria of
mosquitoes, and we minded them no more than little children mind them
to-day. Indeed, I can keep peacefully still even now to watch a mosquito
batten and fatten upon my hand, to see his ravenous, pale abdomen swell
to a vast smug redness—that physiological, or psychological, moment for
which you wait ere you burst him.
The forbidden farm had, of course, its thousand novelties. I saw prickly
pears in blossom upon a ledge of rock; a great lunar-moth resting
drowsily, almost drunkenly, in the parasol shade of a wild-carrot
blossom; here was the half of a wagon wheel, the wood rotted away, and
there in the tangle an ancient cistern mouth of brick, the cistern
filled to the brim with alluring rubbish. My sister sprang with a
gurgle of delight to catch a garter snake, which eluded her; and a last
year's brier, tough and humorously inclined, seized upon Mary by the
skirts and legs, so that it was a matter of five minutes and piercing
screams of merriment to cast her loose again. But soon we drew out of
the hot sunshine into the old orchard with its paltry display of
deformed, green, runt apples, and its magnificent columns and canopies
of poison ivy—that most beautiful and least amiable of our indigenous
plants; and then we got among scale-bark hickories, and there was one
that had been fluted from top to bottom by a stroke of lightning; and
here the little red squirrels were most unusually abundant and
indignant; and there was a catbird that miauled exactly like a cat; and
there was a spring among the roots of one great tree, and a broken
teacup half buried in the sand at the bottom.
We left the hickories and entered among the oaks, and here was the
greatest to-do imaginable to find the one that was hollow. Ellen went to
the left, I to the right, and Mary down the middle. Whenever I came to
an unusually big tree I tiptoed around the trunk, goggle-eyed, expecting
the vasty hollow to open before me. And I am sure that Ellen, whom I had
presently lost sight of, behaved in the same way. Mary also had
disappeared, and feeling lonely all of a sudden I called to her. She
answered a moment later in a strange voice. I thought that she must have
fallen and hurt herself; but when I found her she was cheerful and
smiling. She was standing with her back to a snug hollow in the vast
stem of the very oak we had been looking for.
"This is it," she said, and turned and pointed to the hollow. "Where's
"Here, Ellen," I called, "here—we've found it!"
Then Ellen came scampering through the wood; and first I climbed into
the hollow and curled up to see what sort of a night I might have of it,
and then I climbed out and Ellen climbed in—and then both in at once,
and we kept house for a while and gave a couple of dinners and tea
parties. And then quarreled about the probable size of Friar Tuck, and
Ellen drew the line at further imaginings and left me alone in
This extended all the way up the main trunk and all but out through the
top. Here and there it pierced through the outer bark, so that slants of
pale light served to carry the eye up and up until it became lost in
inky blackness. Now and then dust and little showers of dry rot
descended softly upon the upturned face; and if you put your ear close
to the wood you could hear, as through the receiver of a telephone,
things that were going on among the upper branches; as when the breeze
puffed up and they sighed and creaked together. I could hear a squirrel
scampering and a woodpecker at work—or so I guessed, though it sounded
more like a watch ticking. I made several essays to climb up the hollow,
but the knotholes and crevices, and odds and ends of support, were too
far removed from each other for the length of my limbs, and,
furthermore, my efforts seemed to shake the whole tree and bring down
whole smarting showers of dust and dry rot and even good-sized
fragments. I got up a few feet, lost my hold, and fell into the soft,
punky nest at the bottom.
"Can't you climb up?" said Ellen, who had recovered her temper by now.
"Because somebody has climbed up and stuck an ol' shoe out of a
knothole way up."
I climbed out of the hollow and followed her point. Sure enough—thirty
feet or so from the ground the toe of a much-used leather boot stuck out
through a knothole.
Mary refused to take an interest in the boot. It was high time we went
home. She herself had a headache. Our mother would be angry with her for
taking us on the forbidden farm. She was sorry she had done so. No, she
wasn't angry. We were good children; she loved us. Wouldn't we come?
"I'll tell you," said she, and her face, which looked sick and pale,
colored, "if you'll come now, and hurry, we'll just have time to stop on
the bridge and have some races."
And sure enough, when we got to the bridge Mary produced a stained sheet
of paper, and tore it quickly into little bits of pieces (we were
pressed for time) and launched pair after pair of sea-going racers upon
the swirling tide.
When the last pair were gone upon their merry career she drew a long
breath, and seemed as one relieved of a weight.
"Perhaps," she said, "you needn't tell your mother where you've
been—unless she asks you. Do you think that would be wrong?"
I had never known Mary to suggest deceit of any kind.
"If you think it would get you into trouble," said my sister, aged
eight, very stiffly, "why, of course, we won't say anything."
Mary was troubled. Finally she drew a deep breath and flung out her
"Of course, it would be wrong not to tell," she said. "You must tell
But by good fortune we met my father first and told him.
"And papa," said Ellen, she had been swung to his shoulder and there
rode like a princess upon a genii, "what do you think, way up the trunk
there was an old shoe sticking out of a knothole, and we all thought
that somebody must have climbed up inside and put it there. But brother
couldn't climb up because he's too little, and Mary wouldn't try, and we
thought maybe Sunday you'd go with us and see if you could climb up."
I don't know why my father happened to take the line that he did; he may
have seen something in Mary's face that we children would not be likely
to see. He laughed first, and told us a story.
It was about some children that he had once known, who had seen a boot
sticking out of a tree, just as we had done, and how a frightful old
witch had come along, and told them that if they went away for a year
and a day and didn't say a word about the boot to any one, and then went
back, they would by that time have grown sufficiently to climb up and
get the boot, and that they would find it full of gold pieces. But if,
during the year and the day, they so much as mentioned the boot to any
one but their father, they would find it full of the most dreadful black
and yellow spiders which would chase them all the way to Jericho, and
bite their fat calves every few steps.
"This," said he, "may be that kind of a boot. Now promise not to talk
about it for a year and a day—not even to me—and at the end of that
time, why we'll all go and see what's in it. No," he said, "you mustn't
go to look at it every now and then—that would spoil the charm. Let me
see. This is the twenty-eighth—a year and a day—hum." And he made his
calculations. Then he said: "By the way, Mary, don't you and the
children ever get hungry between meals? If you were to take bread and
meat, and make up sandwiches to take on your excursions, they'd never be
missed. I'd see to it," he said, "that they weren't missed. Growing
children, you know." And he strode on, Ellen riding on his shoulder like
a princess on her genii.
Ellen and I were very firm to have nothing to do with the boot in the
oak tree; and we had two picnics in the hollow and played for hours in
the adjoining woods without once looking up. Mary had become very strict
with us about scattering papers and eggshells at our out-of-door
spreads; and whatever fragments of food were left over she would make
into a neat package and hide away under a stone; but in other matters
she became less and less precise: as, for instance, she left Ellen's
best doll somewhere in the neighborhood of the hollow oak, and had to go
all the way back for it in the dusk; and another time (we had also been
to the store at Bartow for yeast) she left her purse that had two
months' wages in it and more, but wasn't lucky enough to find that.
It was considered remarkable on all hands that Braddish had not yet been
caught. Hagan's heelers, who swung many votes, had grown very sharp with
the authorities, and no efforts were spared to locate the criminal (he
was usually referred to as the "murderer") and round him up. Almost
daily, for a time, we were constantly meeting parties of strange men,
strolling innocently about the country at large or private estates as if
they were looking things over with a view to purchase. And now and then
we met pairs of huntsmen, though there was no game in season, very
citified, with brand-new shotguns, and knickerbockers, and English
deer-stalker caps. And these were accompanied by dogs, neither well
suited nor broken to the business of finding birds and holding them.
There was one pair of sportsmen whose makeshift was a dropsical coach
dog, very much spotted. And, I must be forgiven for telling the truth,
one was followed, ventre a terre, by a dachshund. My father, a very
grave man with his jest, said that these were famous detectives, so
accoutred as not to excite comment. And their mere presence in it was
enough to assure the least rational that Braddish must by now have fled
the country. "Their business," he said, "is to close the stable door,
if they can find it, and meanwhile to spend the money of the many in the
roadhouses of the few."
But I have sometimes thought that the pseudo-sportsmen were used to give
Braddish a foolhardy sense of security, so that other secret-service
men, less open in method and less comic in aspect, might work
unobserved. Indeed, it turned out that an under-gardener employed by
Mrs. Kirkbride, our neighbor, about this time, a shambling, peaceful,
half-witted goat of a man, was one such; and a perfect red-Indian upon a
trail. It was Mary who spotted him. He hung about our kitchen door a
good deal; and tried to make friends with her and sympathize with her.
But he showed himself a jot too eager, and then a jot too peppery when
she did not fall into his nets. Mary told my father, and my father told
Mrs. Kirkbride. Mrs. Kirkbride had had a very satisfactory job at
painting done for her by Braddish; and although a law-abiding woman, she
did not propose personally to assist the law—even by holding her
tongue. So she approached the under-gardener, at a time when the
head-gardener and the coachman were in hearing, and she said, plenty
loud enough to be heard: "Well, officer, have you found a clew yet? Have
you pumped my coachman? He was friends with Braddish," and so on, so
that she destroyed that man's utility for that place and time. But
others were more fortunate. And all of a sudden the country was
convulsed with excitement at hearing that Braddish had been seen on the
Bartow Road at night, and had been fired at, but had made good his
escape into the Boole Dogge Farm.
Bloodhounds were at once sent for. I remember that my father stayed up
from town that thrilling morning, and walked up and down in front of the
house looking up at the sky. I now know that he was conjuring it to rain
with all his power of pity—prayer maybe—though I think, like most
commuters, he was weak on prayer. Anyhow, rain it did. The sky had been
overcast for two days, drawing slowly at the great beds of moisture in
the northeast, and that morning, accompanied by high winds, the first
drops fell and became presently a deluging northeaster, very cold for
As chance would have it, there had been a false scent down on Throgg's
Neck, upon which the nearest accessible bloodhounds had been employed.
So that there was a delay in locating them, and fetching them to the
Boole Dogge Farm. We went over to the Boulevard—my father, Ellen, and
I—all under umbrellas, to see them go by. They were a sorry pair of
animals, and very weary with having been out all night, in all sorts of
country, upon feet more accustomed to the smooth asphalt of a kennel.
But there was a crowd of men with them, some in uniform, one I remember
in a great coat, who rode upon one of the old-fashioned, high bicycles,
and there was a show of clubs and bludgeons, and one man wore openly
upon his hip a rusty, blued revolver, and on the whole the little
procession had a look of determination and of power to injure that was
rather terrible. I have sometimes thought that if I had been my father I
would not have taken Ellen and me to see them go by. But why not? I
would not have missed it for kingdoms.
By the time the pursuit had reached the Boole Dogge Farm so much rain
had fallen as to render the bloodhounds' noses of no account. Still the
police were not deterred from beating that neck of land with great
thoroughness and energy. But it proved to be the old story of the needle
in the haystack. Either they could not find the needle or there was no
needle to be found. Of course, they discovered the spring with the
broken cup, and the hollow oak, and made sure that it was here that
Braddish slept at night, and they found other traces of his recent
habitation—an ingenious snare with a catbird in it, still warm; the
deep, inadvertent track of a foot in a spot of bog; but of the man
himself neither sight nor sound.
In the afternoon, the rain having held up for a while, nay father walked
over to the farm to see how the hunt was progressing. This, I think,
was for Mary's sake, who had been all the morning in so terrible a state
of agitation that it seemed as if she must have news for better or
worse, or die of suspense. My father was not away longer than necessary.
He returned as he had gone, wearing a cheerful, incisive look very
characteristic of him, and whistling short snatches of tunes.
He said that the beaters were still at work; but that they were wet to
the skin and the heart was out of them. Yes. They would keep an eye on
the place, but they were pretty well convinced that the bird had flown.
If, however, the bird had not flown, said my father, he should be quick
about it. We were on the front porch to meet my father, and I remember
he paused and looked out over the bay for some time. It was roughish
with occasional white caps, and had a dreary, stormy look. Our rowboat,
moored to a landing stage or float, just off our place, was straining
and tugging at her rope.
"That boat will blow loose," said my father, "if she isn't pulled up.
But I'm not going to do it. I'm wet enough as it is.
"Would you like me to try, sir?" Mary called.
"What's the use?" said my father. "You'll only spoil your clothes. And,
besides, the boat's old and rotten. She's not worth two dollars for
kindling wood. I rather hope she does blow away, so as to provide me
with a much-needed excuse to buy a better one. The oars, I see, are in
her. Never mind, they're too heavy. I never liked them."
Then he put his arm around Ellen.
"By the way, Teenchy," said he, "your old boot is still sticking out of
the oak tree."
"Oh, papa," cried Ellen, "you said we mustn't talk about it—or it would
be full of spiders."
"I said you mustn't talk about it," said he. "So don't. Anyhow"—and
he included Mary in his playful smile—"it's still there—so make the
most of that."
He turned to go into the house, and then:
"Oh, by the way, Mary," said he, "you have not asked for your wages
recently, and I think you are owed for three months. If you will come to
the study in a little while I will give them to you." He was always
somewhat quizzical. "Would you rather have cash or a check?"
Personally I didn't know the difference, and, at the time, I admired
Mary exceedingly for being able to make a choice. She chose cash.
But till some years later I thought she must have repented this
decision, for not long after she went into a kind of mild hysterics, and
cried a good deal, and said something about "such kindness—this—side
Heaven." And was heard to make certain comparisons between the
thoughtfulness and pitifulness of a certain commuter and the Christ.
But these recollections are a little vague in my head as to actual
number of tears shed, cries uttered and words spoken. But I do know for
an incontestable fact that during the night, just as my father had
prophesied, our rowboat was blown loose by the northeast gale, and has
not been seen from that day to this. And I know that when I woke up in
the morning and called to Mary she was not in her bed, and I found in
mine, under the pillow, a ridiculous old-fashioned brooch, that I had
ever loved to play with, and that had been Mary's mother's.
My father was very angry about Mary's going.
"Good Lord!" he said; "we can't pretend to conceal it!" But then he
looked out over Pelham Bay, and it had swollen and waxed wrathful during
the night, and was as a small ocean—with great waves and billows that
came roaring over docks and sea-walls. And then his temper abated and he
said: "Of course she would—any woman would—sense or no sense."
And, indeed, the more I know of women, which is to say, and I thank God
for it, the less I know of them, the convinceder am I that my father
In other words, if a woman's man has nine chances in ten of drowning by
himself she will go with him so as to make it ten chances, and a
certainty of her being there whatever happens. And so, naturally, man
cannot tolerate the thought of woman getting the right, based on
intelligence, to vote.
Twenty-five years later I paid Mary and Braddish a pleasant
Saturday-to-Monday visit in what foreign country it is not necessary to
state. The tiny Skinnertown house of their earlier ambition, with its
little yard, had now been succeeded by a great, roomy, rambling
habitation, surrounded by thousands of acres sprinkled with flocks of
fat, grazing sheep. It was a grand, rolling upland of a country that
they had fled to; cool, summer weather all the year round, and no
mosquitoes. Hospitable smoke curled from a dozen chimneys; shepherds
galloped up on wiry horses and away again; scarlet passion-vines poured
over roofs and verandas like cataracts of glory; and there was incessant
laughter and chatter of children at play.
Of their final flight from the Boole Dogge Farm in my father's boat,
across the bay to Long Island in the teeth of the northeaster, I now
first heard the details; and of their subsequent hiding among swamps and
woods; and how, when it had seemed that they must be captured and
Braddish go to jail forever and ever, Mary thought that she could face
the separation more cheerfully if she was his wife. And so one rainy
night they knocked upon the door of a clergyman, and told him their
story. They were starving, it seems, and it was necessary to look about
for mercy. And, as luck would have it, the clergyman, an old man, had
officiated at the wedding of Mary's parents; and he had had some trouble
in his day with the law about a boundary fence, and was down on the law.
And he fed them and married them, and said that he would square matters
with his conscience—if he could. And he kept them in his attic for two
days, which was their honeymoon—and then—a night of dogs and lanterns
and shouting—he smuggled them off to the swamps again, and presided
over their hiding until an opportunity came to get them aboard a tramp
ship—and that was all there was to it, except that they had prospered
and been happy ever since.
I asked Mary about my father's part in it. But she gave him a clean
"He put two and two together," she said, "and he dropped a hint or
two—and he paid me all my back wages in American money, and he made me
a handsome present in English gold, but he never talked things over,
never mentioned Will's name even."
"It was the toe of my boot," said Will, "sticking out of the tree that
made him guess where I was. You see, I'd climbed up in the hollow to
hide, and to keep there without moving I had to stick my foot out
through a knothole. I was up there all the day they tried to get the
bloodhounds after me, with my boot sticking out. And they were beating
around that tree for hours, but nobody looked up."
"I've always wondered," said I, "why, they didn't send a man up inside
"I've always thought," said Will, "that nobody liked to propose it for
fear he'd be elected to do it himself. But maybe it didn't enter
anybody's head. Anyhow, all's well that ends well."
"Mary," I said, "do you remember how my father told Ellen and me to go
back in a year and a day, and look in the boot?"
"Well," I said, "we went—hand in hand—and there was still a boot
sticking out. And I climbed up, after several failures, and got it. It
wasn't full of gold, but it did have two gold pieces in it. One each."
"What a memory your father had," said Mary: "he never forgot anything."
Later I was talking with Will alone, and I asked him why he had run away
in the first place.
"Why," he said, "I had no chance with the law. The only outsiders
who saw the shooting were friends of Hagan's; there was bad blood
between us. They'd sworn to do for me. And they would. I shot Hagan
with his own gun. He pulled it on me, and I turned it into him, by
the greatest piece of quickness and good luck that ever I had. And
somehow—somehow—I couldn't see myself swinging for that, or going to
prison for life. And I saw my chance and took it. I told the whole thing
to the minister that married us; he believed me, and so would any one
that knew me then—except Hagan's friends, and whatever they believed
they'd have sworn the opposite. Do you think your father thought I was a
bloody murderer? Look here," he said, "I don't know just how to put
it—it was twenty-five years ago, all that—Mary'll tell you, if you ask
her, that she's been absolutely happy every minute of all that
time—even when we were hiding in swamps and starving. Now that side of
it wouldn't have entered the law's head, would it?" He smiled very
peacefully. "Out here, of course," he said, "it's very different. Almost
everybody here has gotten away from something or other. And mostly we've
done well, and are happy and self-respecting. It's a big world," he
looked out affectionately over his rolling, upland acres, "and a funny
world. Did Mary tell you that I've just been re-elected sheriff?"