—THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED
BEN AMES WILLIAMS
THE coming of the stranger was remarked, as such things always are
in a small town. The station agent noticed him, when he got off the train; the ’bus driver who bore him up the hill to the Johnson House gave the man more than his share of attention; and at the hotel itself the clerk watched him with an eye unusually keen while the newcomer registered.
It is difficult to put a finger upon the quality in the man which thus attracted their attention He seemed of middle age; he looked like a decent, gentle, able citizen. His hands were hard, and the skin upon his face and neck was roughened and tanned as though by much exposure to the elements.
It was, perhaps, his eyes that puzzled them. They were blue, and calm, yet there was in them a certain controlled sobriety, and a certain candour which suggested that they had looked upon long grief, and, found it hard to bear. This expression in a man’s eyes is a pitiable
thing to see. It awakened a kindly feeling toward this stranger, in those whom he encountered.
He registered as Joseph Winter, and the clerk assigned him to a room. Next morning he went in a perfectly matter-offact fashion to Ripley Howes, who did some small business in real estate, and asked if there were available in the surrounding countryside, any attractive and productive farms. Two days later he departed as he had come; and when he was gone, someone reported that he had bought the old Walden place, west of town. Rip Howes, when he was questioned, confirmed this rumor.
“I showed him two-three places,” he explained, “and when he came to that, he liked it. That’s all. You could see he was a farmer. Walked all around, crumbling up the dirt in his hands and smelling it and asking questions. Asked the price, and when I told him, said he’d take it. That’s the whole business.”
Mrs. Howes asked Rip that evening; “Did you tell him about the place?”
Rip shook his head, something like guilt in his tone. “I don’t know as it was my business to tell hint unless he asked,” he replied. “I sort of hated not to. I kind of liked the man. But he didn’t ask, and it was my business to sell it if I could.”
She was darning socks; and: “What’s he like, any-
how?” she asked, threading her needle afresh.
Rip was an inarticulate man. “Why, all right, I guess,” he replied. “There’s something funny about him, of course. Sort of a look in his face as though he’d had a hard time. Reminded me of the way old Dave Jones looked, after he’d been sick with that cancer for so long. Don’t talk much about himself, either.”
“Where’s he from?” she asked; and her husband shook his head.
“I asked him,” he admitted. “He said he’d been sort of moving around. Acted like he didn’t want to tell anything about' it.”
His wife tossed her head. “Well, if I had a secret I was ashamed of, I wouldn’t want to live in that old Walden house," 6he declared, and Rip nodded in sober assent.
“That’s what they say,” he agreed.
It was three weeks before Winter came to Hamilton again. Came first in a nondescript automobile, loaded with household goods; made bimeelf at home in the Wal-
den house; busied himself there for a day or two before he drove away. When he returned this time, it was with a woman and two children in the car. A boy perhaps fifteen years old; a girl a little younger. Dave Pool was the first man to see the woman face to face: he had stonped at the farm to deliver meat from his store. “Looks like a right nice woman,” was his judgment.
And this became, in the succeeding weeks, the verdict of the town. There was a dignity about Winter which held them at a distance: but his wife was a friendly and appealing soul, and the neighbor women liked her from the beginning.
HAMILTON is one of those middle-western communities, on the border line between the status of town and the status of city, in which lies so much of the strength of the land. Just a town of four or five thousand people, with rich farms in the surrounding country side, some coal and iron in the hills, and good orchard land upon the hill tops. No better and no worse than other towns, large or small. The great difference between a little town and a big town is that in a little town people are interested in each other, and in a big town, people are not. In New York, you do not know the name of your neighbor, unless you have noticed it upon the card above the bell at the door; in a small town, you know—or wish to know—the intimate affairs of every family within a score of miles. Winter and his family would have excited no comment in a larger community. In Hamilton, people wondered, and people talked.
They were the more interesting 1 «'cause of the reputation of the farm which they had bought. The old Walden house stood upon a hilltop at the town’s western border, just beyond the corporation line. It was in some degree a landmark. A large, square house, completely unadorned, and with a barn and an outbuilding or two in the rear. Along the driveway that led down the hill to the road, and about the house itself, old Enoch Walden had planted cedar trees which had now a goodly growth. These trees were black against the sky; they cloaked the house so deeply as to give it a certain atmosphere of mystery and
A A/T ^ gloom that had given it an evil reputation
*■ O in the neighborhood.
In most communities there is some one l'1 trl l house about which stories linger. It
was so with the Walden farm in Hamilton. It was ' one of those spots upon which God seems to keep a watchful eye; one of those places where at times you may almost see His finger stirring in the affairs of men. At the least excuse, the place would have been called haunted. There were many little matters that gave it this repute, that made men say it was under the hand of God; but two circumstances were particularly striking.
The first had to do with old Enoch Walden’s only son. Jim Walden was his name. A cruel man. He had married him a wife and brought the girl home to dwell in the house among the cedars. This wife bore him a son; and at times, when she had displeased him, it tickled his fancy to abuse the boy. On one such occasion, the child’s mother, driven
frantic by the baby’s cries, cursed Jim Walden, root and branch, and called on God to destroy him.
Her husband laughed at her—and went out to chop wood. He was an expert axeman; yet at his first stroke, his axe on the downward swing struck an overhanging branch of the cedar tree beside the woodpile and was so cunningly diverted that the blade entered his head above the ear and split his skull almost to the chin. And the story of his wife’s curse went abroad....
Old Enoch Walden himself had furnished the other circumstance. Enoch had amassed more than his share of worldly goods, and vaunted himself upon this fact. His arrogance irked his neighbors. One day a man who owed him money came to beg delay in the day of payment, and Enoch would not yield to him. The man cried weakly: “I’d like to see you hard up once. You’d see w’hat it was like, then.”
And Enoch said, in the shrill, high voice that was his habit: “I’d like to see God Almighty get my money away
Whether or no the Almighty had a hand in the matter, old Enoch died, some eight years later, in the county poor farm; and the Walden farm became a place the very name of which possessed an ugly fascination. Since Enoch’s death, a dozen years before, ill luck had pursued those who dwelt in the house he had built; it had passed through five separate pairs of hands before it came at length into those of Joseph Winter, and new legends had grown up about it. Most people in Hamilton were ready to concede that God seemed to take a hand in the affairs of dwellers there. The house had acquired a personality. Men spoke of it with
ASTRANGER in a small town is always an object of ’ curiosity; and when that stranger buys a farm and brings his family to live upon that farm, the curiosity is intensified. Even if this had not been true. Winter was a man to inspire questionings; those he met desired to solve the puzzle that lay behind his grief-weary eyes. And almost at once it became clear that there was a mystery in Winter.
He had registered at the hotel as from Toledo. Yet Mrs. Winter one day spoke casually of "Richmond, where we used to live,” And the children, who came to town
to school, said they had gone to school before in Salem, Illinois. Hamilton folk as a whole hesitated to question Mrs. Winter. She was a pleasant, comely woman with a countenance upon which some hidden trouble had laid its hand. When she smiled, she was beautiful; but when she was unsmiling, there was a sombre shadow in her eyes. She was cordial to those who came to see her, yet there was always a reserve in her bearing which forbade too open catechizing.
Winter himself pleasantly evaded the indirect inquiries of his neighbors. No man questioned him directly— save one.
This questioner was Thacher Eades, one of those officious men whom you will find in every small town, and who take upon their own shoulders the moral welfare and the material concerns of their neighbors. Eades liked to think of himself as a pillar of righteousness; he was an elder of the church which Winter and his family from the first attended; and he was accustomed to pre-empt some of the social duties of the minister. Thus, encountering Winter on the street before Charlie Steele’s store one day, he said to the man:
“We’re mighty glad to have you in our congregation, Mr. Winter. It is pleasant to have a new companion in the worship of our Lord.”
Winter hesitated for a moment before replying; and he eyed the other with some of that instinctive antagonism a stranger may arouse. “Why—that’s nice of you, sir,” he said guardedly.
There may have been a suggestion of the softened syllables of the South in his slow tones; because Eades remarked: “You speak like a souther-
ner,” and Winter nodded. “I guess I do,” he agreed.
Eades had a smooth and oily tongue. “Then that was not your home?” he suggested.
“Why I’ve called a good many places ‘home’,” Winter told him reluctantly.
A certain gleam came into the other’s eye; yet still he clung to indirection. “We’ve been hoping you would present your letters and become an active member of the congregation,” he said. “There is a glorious sense of unity in being one of a group of Christian men and women joined together for the worship of God. We should be glad to welcome you.”
Winter shook his head. “I’ve always found I could go to church without a ticket.” he replied. “Do you run things different, here?”
Eades was becoming angry. He was a man not used to being put off; he was, besides, a man inordinately curious. The mystery in Winter seemed to him an affront; and Winter’s insistence on keeping his secret, an insult. He harshly demanded:
“Have you been a church member elsewhere?”
Winter flushed a little, slowly; yet always his tone was even and controlled. “This is getting to sound like you were cross-examining me, Mr. Eades,” he said.
I am an elder of the church,” said Thacher Eades severely. “Our minister is still a young man. It is a part of my duties to hold up his hands, and to protect our congregation. Hamilton is a small town. We don’t like riddles, and there s a riddle about you. No one knows where you come from, nor why; no one is even sure of your name.” “You know my name,” Winter told him.
Eades lifted a stern hand. “Perhaps. The rest is mystery.”
Winter looked down, studying the backs of his strong hands. ^Lifted his eyes at last and met those of the other man. Yes,” he said. “That’s so. But most people, seeing I wanted to keep something to myself, have been nice enough to let me alone. Nobody’s put it as straight ^ guess n°body else felt they had any business to.
I don’t know why you think it is your concern. I don’t aim to be mulish. Mr. Eades. But—where I’ve lived, and what I’ve done is my own affair. No need of anyone knowing. And I don’t aim to tell.”
There was a bleak finality in his tone which whipped to passionate anger the curiosity in Thacher Eades. He flung up both hands, said in an oracular voice: “Peo-
ple in Hamilton believe the old Walden house is a bad place for a man to dwell, who is not at peace with God.”
And Winter answered steadily: “There are a lot of
things I’d rather men didn’t know; but I’ve no reason to be afraid of God.” So turned and walked away and left him there.
IT IS necessary, though the task be unpleasant, to beA come somewhat better acquainted with Thacher Eades; for the thing was to come to an issue between him and Joseph Winter in the end. Eades was not a man who might safely be defied; he accepted Winter’s attitude as a defiance, and sought thereafter every opportunity to do him harm.
There can be no question that Eades was a leader in the town; a leader, even though it were by his own election. He spoke or presided at all public meetings; he had a
hand in all well-advertised good causes; he could be as violent as any man in denouncing wrong-doing when all the world agreed with him, and he could find as many palliations as any man for venial and unconsidered little sins. Had led the prohibition forces; was chairman of the local board that censored moving pictures; and when the Smoke House displayed in its windows certain picture post cards bearing the painted representations of impossible bathing girls, it was he who commanded the town mar-
shal to interfere. There are few people who will seek out a quarrel; and for the most part Eades was allowed to go his way unchallenged. The man had come to feel that he bore the morality of the town like a burden upon his shoulders.
On the Decalogue
Of course you read “Judgment” in the previous issue—one of the most searching pieces of psychological fiction ever written. This story of Eades and Winter and the woman is the second of a series of five by Ben Ames Williams, each based on one of the last five commandmentsEach is complete in itself, graphic, purposeful. Don’t fail to read the next one, with the eighth commandment as the theme. It is an unusual interpretation. These stories are being used as texts by ministers throughout Canada. Every one is a sermon—plus a compelling, absorbing tale.
Furthermore, men of his ilk hate mysteries, hate riddles, hate anything they cannot understand. So Eades came to hate Joseph Winter; and by the same token, he began to devote his energies to reading the riddle which the newcomer presented.
There is probably no unanswerable question, no mystery that is insoluble; and in due time all secrets have a way of coming to light. There may be exceptions to the rule; but the riddle of Joseph Winter was not to prove one of these exceptions. It was, as a matter of fact, when Eades bent his energies to the task, a puzzle ridiculously easy to solve.
The man wrote to Toledo, since Winter had registered from that city, and found that he was unknown there. He wrote to the pastor of the church in Salem, Illinois. This minister replied that Winter and his wife and children had attended his services. “But I have only occupied the pulpit a matter of months,” he added. “I knew him simply as one of the congregation. Not a sociable man. He had a farm outside of town. I never called there. I am told they came to Salem seven or eight years ago from Richmond.”
Eades prosecuted his inquiry. From Richmond he got rumors and bits of gossip that made the man wet his lips with eagerness; and in the end he went in person to follow back the line. Followed it to a small town in central Indiana, and there learned all there was to know.
The story of an honest love, and of two tragic lives, and of the long sorrow of a woman and a man. A story fit to win from any man of lofty mind only respect and sympathy: yet it brought to Eades a mean triumph, an unholy exultation, and whetted in him an ugly, hankering curiosity. . He took his homeward way, fair bursting with the thing he had discovered; and sought the young minister of the church to drive with him to the old Walden
The young man, as it chanced, was in the country that day, officiating at a wedding. Thacher Eades could not endure delay. He set out, to glut his hate and to sate his incontinent curiosity, alone.
TT WAS a day in September. One of those stiflingly
hot days when the air is thick and heavy, surcharged with an irritating and electric force which awaits release.
The sky was unclouded, save in the northwest, where there were thunderheads upon the horizon. Farmers, casting wise eyes in that direction, predicted a shower. “A good thing, too,” they said. “ ’Twill clear the air.”
Thacher Eades drove his little car into the country, and stopped it across the road from the Walden farmhouse, in the shelter of an old oak tree. He went up the avenue between the cedars afoot, and saw Winter’s son in the yard,[and asked the boy, in a stern voice, where his father was. At the sound. Winter himself came to the side door, spoke to Eades and asked him in.
Eades went into the house, his eyes flickering this way and that, and into the front room that was called a parlor and that was seldom used except upon such occasions as this one was. Joseph Winter followed him in silence, sat down upon a chair. “Mrs. Winter is not at home,” he explained. “She’s gone over to Will Brown’s with May. I told Charlie to go tell her you were here.”
Eades spoke solemnly. “You call her ‘Mrs. Winter?’ ” he asked.
The other man looked at him, a quick alarm leaping into
his eyes. “Yes.”
“Winter,” said the elder of the church. “I’ve come upon an unpleasant errand. You are found out. There is no longer any use in lying.” His voice rose triumphantly. “You have lived in sin with that woman for twenty years.”
Joseph Winter uttered a low sound that was like the murmur of a man anguished with pain; and his face became as white as snow; and his head drooped a little forward, so that it seemed for a moment he would catch it in his hands. But he said protestingly: “She is my wife.”
“Married in February of this year,” said Eades implacably; and he licked his lips a little. “Before that you lived in shame with her for twenty-years.”
There was a little silence, and upon Winter’s face it was possible to watch the man’s struggle, as he gathered himself and shaped what he would say. When he spoke at last, it was soberly, and almost with relief, as though he were glad to be free of an intolerable burden.
“Your words are hard,” he said slowly. “I expect you think they are fair. If I were a hot-tempered man, I should—act hotly. But I have learned to be patient, and still, and to wait.
“I don’t know how much you have been told, or why. Probably you know all there is to know. Probably you think you are right in damning me. I’m not sure that you are right though. I think you are wrong.”
Eades cried: “Wrong! ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ Winter. You know that command.”
WINTER shook his head, slowly to and fro. “She had married a man that was no account,” he said, as though answering a question. “He was a lawyer, and a keen one. Shrewd. But they hadn’t been married very long before he got enough of her. A bloodless man , he was, and with an ugly streak in him. And she went away and left him. She had to do that. There was no living with that man.”
“He was her husband.” said Eades.
“He was a snake,” Winter replied evenly, and without any heat at all. “She left him. But he wouldn’t let her get clear away. He was cold, and watched himself, and there was no way she could be rid of him. He was a lawyer, you understand, and knew the law, and took Are to keep it.
“Maybe you don’t believe in divorce. I guess I do. Her marrying this man; it was not her doing. It shouldn’t ever have been done. It was one of those times when a girl lets her father and her mother overbear her. In the , end she gave in to them; and she tried to be a wife to him.
“But she couldn’t. Nobody could have stood what he put her through. The whole town thought she’d have to give it up,' a year before she did; and when she did leave him everybody was glad.
“You may know the sort he was, since he wouldn’t let her go free. His cruelties to her were not the kind you can put your finger on. She tried to get a divorce, but the judge wouldn’t give it to her. And after that this man she had married took care she found no other cause. I said he was cold; cold as a snake. And he knew the law. He used to offer, regularly, to take her home; he used to offer her money she would never take. And watched himself always......A clever man can do it; and he was a clever
He fell silent for a little, twisting his heavy hands together helplessly, his eyes fixed upon the floor between his knees. Spoke at last in a tone of wistful tenderness.
“I’d loved her before she married him; and I loved her after she left him. And after a while she came to love me. When we decided what to do, we did it honest as we knew how. There was nothing hidden about it. You’ve use da hard word or two; but I’m used to hard words. She’s been my wife in spirit and in love for twenty years, and I her husband, before he died and let me go with her, and marry.”
Eades’ small eyes were turning from side to side, with
Continued on page 34
—T hat Ye Be Not Judged
Continued from page 18
something greedy in them, as though they relished the flavor of this house in which the man and the woman had lived. “Guilty men and women are always quick to find excuse,” he said. “But the ancient Word is absolute. ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ ‘He that committeth adultery is devoid of understanding; he doeth it that would destroy his own soul.’ ‘They shall both of them die.’ Thus, the Lord told the Jews, should Israel be cleansed.”
Winter looked down at his great hands, now lying still across his knees. “Words are easy found,” he agreed. “But it’s the spirit, not the body, that God meant. That’s what I’ve come to know. Studying it over. Oh, I’ve thought about it, Mr. Eades, I’ve read and thought about it all. You and I are grown men. There’s no harm in plain talk. I’m not a defiant man. But I say the women who go around the world to-day showing themselves to men, their skirts too high, and their waists too low, I say they’re guiltier than Mary and I have ever been, because they raise up the ugliest side of men. And the men that look at them are guiltier too. There’s been never any ugliness between Mary and me. Just a decent, loyal love.”
EADES had seemed to be listening for some sound without the room. He ignored the other’s words. “Do I hear her coming?” he asked. “I want to talk to her.”
“I don’t hear anything but the thunder,” Winter told him. “We’re going to have a thundershower. She hasn’t had time to come yet. And there’s no need your hurting her......”
“I am an elder of the church,” said Eades. “You and this woman have brought your corruption into this community, and I propose to be rid of you. The woman must suffer with the man.” Winter said heavily: “What do you mean by suffering! What do you know about suffering? I’ve lived with this, sir, for more than twenty years.”
“In sin,” Eades retorted, and there was something like unction in his tones.
_ “Have it so, if you want,” Winter told him. “But what do you aim to do?” His inquisitor did not seem quite sure. “ ‘T'-e wages of sin is death,’ ” he said oracularly.
Winter smiled a little, one of his rare smiles. “Those are words,” he said. “Anybody can say words, but a little thinking does more good. You’re not planning to kill us, I guess.”
Eades could no longer sit still. He rose and crossed to a window that looked
toward the road. It was insufferably hot in the closed room. Both men were flushed and sweating. The minister saw that the sky was blackening overhead, and there was a rumble of distant thunder, and after a moment another burst, a little nearer. He could see no one coming along the road from Will Brown’s farm. He swung back to face the other man. “There is a judgment upon you, and upon this woman,” he said, his voice rising to a higher pitch. “You have sneaked in here, cloaking your coming in mystery; and you did well to seek to hide yourselves. But sin has a way of coming to light. It may be too late for you to atone. But I see no repentance in you, only stubbornness in your crime.”
“The crime being that we loved each other before we were married?”
“That you dwelt together in shame, and without shame.”
“Before we were married?”
“For twenty years.”
“But,” said Winter slowly. “We are married now. The sin, by your lights, is done.”
“There has been no atonement.”
WINTER laughed, a laugh without mirth. “Atonement,” he echoed harshly. “What do you know about atonement, Mr. Eades? Do you think life has been easy for us? Twenty years of it; a sorrow and misery always. Never feeling ourselves as other men and women were. Always listening for the snicker behind our backs. Making no friends. Living solitary, with all the folks about us friendly each with each.
“And children growing up. And struggling not to let them know, so that they might not be burdened down by the heavy world. Children we loved. Always afraid, always weary, always sick with longing. Moving on like outcasts from town to town, when folks began to talk. Trying to keep ahead of the thing that always clung to us. If Mary and me were naturally bad folks, we wouldn’t have minded, Mr. Eades. But Mary’s a decent woman, and I’m a decent man. It’s
been like a long crucifying......”
He brushed one hand across the other. “I’m not trying to beg off. But—the man she married is dead; and she and I are man and wife now in law as well as in truth. We sort of hoped to get a new start
here; we’ve been right happy here......”
He hesitated, looked toward the other wearily. “What do you figure to ask me to do?”
Eades’ eyes were red. “Leave this woman to her shame,” he commanded
I “Repent. Humble yourself. Seek righteousness.”
Winter shook his head. “I see too straight for that,” he replied. "To leave her’d just be hard on Mary, and be hard on Charlie and May; and it wouldn’t do me a bit. of good. What’s the sense in that?"
“The justice of God,” said Eades inexorably. 'Of a just God, who does not condone sin.” He jerked at his watch chain, glanced at the dial impatiently. “She should be here,” he exclaimed.
Joseph Winter seemed suddenly to weary of the man. He got up from his chair. “Eades,” he said steadily. “You and I do not come together anywhere along the line. I’ve had a lifetime to serve long sorrow; and I can see some measure of peace ahead of me now. Mary and I have broken one of your laws; but I’ll not believe God’s as narrow as you. A lot of men follow the letter of the things, He said, and let the spirit go. Maybe you’re one of them. I don’t know. I’m not claiming any right to judge.
“But the way I serve Him is my affair; and the way Mary serves Him is hers. Not yours. We’re ready to take what He hands out to us, when the time does come. Not what you’d have us take, at all.”
“I’ll talk to the woman,” said the deacon, an ugly eagerness in his face.
“You’ll not talk to Mary,” said Winter. “I can read you, man. It’s not holiness, but just an evil curiosity has brought you here.” He touched the other’s arm. “It’s time,” he said, “for you to go.”
EADES would have answered, but Winter’s hand closed decisively upon his arm. For a moment, the deacon almost forgot his dignity, and there was something like a scuffle in progress when the door opened behind them, and they turned to see Mary Winter standing there.
It had begun, in the last moments, to rain; the water was pelting down behind her. “I had to run,” she cried, half-laughing, wiping her streaming face. Her calico dress, wet through, clung to her body, her soft hair was loose; her eyes were shining. She was a comely woman.....And
because of what she had done, there was
about her, for Eades, that which in the baser sort of men does always wake their baser side. He gaped at her.
Mary Winter caught the look in his eyes; and she shrank suddenly away from him, and flushed scarlet, and began to pluck the wet folds of her skirt from her limbs. At her low exclamation, Winter turned and saw the deacon’s face, and he saw Eades lick his wet, hot lips. Then Winter’s hand clamped again on the other’s arm, and without ceremony, he hustled the man through the door. “Go away from here,” he commanded.
Eades would have protested, but Winter’s bleak eyes frightened him; and he turned and scurried a little down the driveway, in the rain. When he was at a safe distance, he swung around and lifted up his hands toward them, and cried:
“ ‘The wages of sin is death’! ‘The wages of lust is death!’ ”
Winter stirred threateningly; and the man fled away. . Then the farmer turned back into the house, and found Mary Winter frightened and shaking. “He’s found out,” she whispered, trembling against him. “He knows.”
Her husband told her, comfortingly; “Yes, but no matter, dear.”
“No, no matter,” she echoed bravely. “Only I could not bear the way he looked at me. He made me feel—naked—and ashamed.”
Winter shook with stern anger. “Aye,” he cried. “That man came to judge us. With evil in his mind. To look at you! God knows, between him and us, I’m willing to be judged.”
His very word was shattered by the tremendous, splitting crash of the lightning bolt as it struck the oak across the road. It left them standing in each other’s arms, paralysed for a moment by the immensity of the sound. Then Winter flung open the door, and at what he saw, raced down the drive toward where Eades had left his car.
But when he reached the spot, he saw at once that the man was irrevocably dead.
The people at Hamilton were always accustomed to say that God seemed to take a hand in the affairs of men, out at the old Walden farm.