The Cold Jingle of Money
THERE was no cozier corner of the city that night of wild northeaster, than the lounge of the Engineers The group of smokers before the great open fire winced pleasurably when a splinter of sleet broke amid the giant black catspaw covering the broad window.
“Sounds like the cold jingle of money,” commented one, and a spidery, silver-haired old gentleman repeated the figure.
“It does, or my name is not Con O’Connel; but the phrase is not your own, having been used by Superintendent O’Hanon of the old P. D. Railroad in one of the queerest stories I remember.”
Observing the smokers to turn to him expectantly at this of reminiscence, Con O’Connel, builder and railroader of early days, answered in a voice rolling and sweet as the bells of Shandon.
“TpIS giving a false man unmerited distinction to open a tale with Cassius Barker, whose name comes bitterly to my tongue; but he was at the bottom of these exper-* iences and so gets credit for the tale if for nothing else. At first glance you would have said he was a handsome man, though his blue eyes were flinty, his fine countenance faintly disfigured by the tracery of crafty lines. But so faintly that even Superintendent O’Hanon, his fellow official and associate, did not suspect the guile of him, till the death of trainman Jerry Monahan by wreck required that the officials make a settlement with his mother, Molly.
Barker was the district claims attorney of the P.D., with headquarters at Barlow, the division town, where he had a criminal practice of his own as well; he dabbled, too, in mining property. In personal habit he was abstemious, neither drinking nor smoking, and though a single man of only thirty-five, too cautious or indifferent to attach himself to women. But like many a man withput physical vices, he had an unstinted craving for mental pxcitement; in short, was an unreasoning, dogged gambler at cards.
Well, now, Jerry Monahan, being dead in the wreck— and a prime favorite he had been with Superintendent O’Hanon, a great hearty, swearing man—and the funeral attended to by the company, Barker was due to settle with his mother, a lone widow and dependent.
“I believe I’ll be making the call with you as a matter of sympathy,” said O’Hanon, with a hideous oath, and on a bright August morning they left the offices to cross town to the widow’s cottage. Nothing more momentous happened in crossing town than that they met a sort of
mining partner of Barker’s;—so quiet and smiling a man that he made a good impression on the gruff O’Hanon.
“Mr. Harry Collins,” introduced Barker. “Gentleman and scholar, and I hope a good mining man since he’s got me up to my neck in a deal back in the copper range.” They chatted only a moment, but O’Hanon could see that Mr. Collins admired the talkative, brilliant Barker excessively, paying closest attention to his every word. After making an appointment at the attorney’s office, Collins left them and a ten-minute walk brought them to Mrs. Monahan’s.
SHE was a woman of about sixty, unwrinkled and light moving, dressed of course in the black which she never afterward laid aside. O’Hanon gruffed his sympathy but Barker spoke with deep feeling, then, after letting the subject rest decently a moment began on his business. Mrs. Monahan treated them with the greatest politeness, listening to and eyeing them intently; but she did not appear to be seeing them or quite understand what the sympathy and business was all about.
Barker was explaining to her; “Y’understand we officials and the P. D. Railroad Company were all strong friends of poor Jerry—” as Molly continued to listen and peer politely, he added; “Jerry, your son, who was killed in the wreck.”
The terror leaped into Molly’s eyes. “Oh,” she whispered, “oh,” and laid her hand on her heart.
O’Hanon was surprised that the claims attorney showed no signs of postponing an interview that was now so painful, and made the suggestion himself. And was more than astonished by the expression that flitted across Cassius’ face—an expression which brought out the tracery of craft and cruelty, y’understand, though O’Hanon could not quite read it at the time.
Then Barker, his natural sympathetic, engaging self, continued: “We were friends of your son Jerry—•” Molly nodded eagerly—-“and it was a duty and privilege to give him a grand funeral. We would be glad to go further, Mrs. Monahan, but dare not do that without your permission. The P. D. Railroad is that tender hearted for Jerry’s mother that it would not for worlds risk hurting your feelings.”
“What the divil,” thought O’Hanon, scowling an oath, “is he driving at?”
“’Tis kind of them to remember me so,” said Molly. “We would be glad, Mrs. Monahan, to pay yourself money—if,” said Barker, “if you put a money price on the loss of Jerry—”
“A money price!” burst from the old woman; “not all the gold in the world could pay for him.”
“’Tis as I thought—it would be a monstrous thing for you to decide otherwise—if you will sign here the paper which says as much—” As he said this Barker looked not at Molly but at O’Hanon whose great body had towered up with a shudder.
Barker made no motion, spoke no word to silence O’Hanon; but his eyes burned coldly, warningly, threateningly, and his face set in the grin of the fiend.
As you know, any man on a railroad who meddles with the law department is merely stretching out his neck for the axe, and O’Hanon, reading the promise to start the blade swinging if he interfered, was obliged to look on silently as Mrs. Monahan signed.
Then with that absent politeness and far-off look, as if searching incredible distances for Jerry, Mrs. Monahan showed them out and thanked them for coming.
“And she thanked us for coming,” said O’Hanon, when they had gone a ways; “thanked us! ’Tis not for me, Cassius Barker, to criticize the railroad organization which makes such a department as yours possible.”
“You would be a waster of company money,” laughed Barker.
“Night and day I work to save company money,” said O’Hanon, “and sometimes in ways that does not make for an easy conscience. But this! Cassius Barker, judgment will strike you from on high for it!” A prophecy not without merit as it turned out, but now such a joke to Cassius that he shook his fist on high in a blasphemy which shocked O’Hanon out of swearing for nearly a day.
And yet it may be said for Barker: if he robbed old Molly in one way he compensated her most generously in another, O’Hanon picking up unknowingly the end to this thread of the story that same night.
npHE incident only amounted to this. The superinten-*■ dent worked late that night and, coming down out of the headquarters building, saw a man slowly pacing the platform, carrying his hat in his hand. And O’Hanon heard the mutter of words, in a queer tone, hollow and deep as the sepulchre. When a train blew far across the sandy plain, the man stood still as if hypnotized; then laughed and stepped on to the track with folded arms.
O’Hanon came up behind him softly, but the man suddenly exclaiming, “That’s not the way out,” put on his hat and passed O’Hanon without knowing or noticing him. By the distant glare of the switch engine headlight.
he recognized the muttering man of strange actions as Mr. Harry Collins, scholar and gentleman, whom Barker hoped was a mining man.
“He was sane and sober enough this morning,” thought O’Hanon. He decided to mention the incident to Barker, but later reflected that it was none of his business. As it chanced, he learned, long after, the cause of Collins’ behavior without mentioning it to anybody.
Now, Molly Monahan, hurt and dazed as she was, soon realized that the support of her old age had left her in Jerry and, being a woman of too much pride to seek aid, sold her cottage to serve present needs and took a cabin on the edge of town. There she made her living by doing laundry of the finer sort, and as only by work could she relieve the loneliness, the little cabin window shone deep into many a long night.
Even then, or when she should be sleeping, her eyes never lost that far look; search always, she did for Jerry, in what she called the fastness of the beyond, and the wild copper range being visible across a sandy desert stretch, she vaguely fixed his abode in that direction.
She would at evening walk out to a hillock or dune to gaze at the mountain against the sunset, and becoming acquainted with a local artist who sometimes painted there, began to make pictures in her own mind of the scene of Jerry’s exile.
“It is a great comfort to me to know,” she would say, “that he dwells in so grand a neighborhood.” But though she would imagine the scenes, she could never quite fit Jerry into them, and envied the artist who could paint in whoever he wanted to, any place at all.
Now, considering what was going on among those sunset splendors beyond the mountains, many good people would say that the saints were taking an interest in the lonely lookout whose spare, stooped figure in neat black appeared on the dune at evening. Others would lay the whole business to Cassius Barker; ’tis little we know.
Howbeit, Harry Collins, late on that night when his actions had attracted the attention of O’Hanon, got his horse out'the stable and without waiting to consult further with his partner struck across the plain for the copper range.
His mind had been somewhat dazed for hours, which, if he had known it, was not an unusual accident to the minds of those holding conferences with Barker. But as he rode, it cleared, and twice he pulled his horse with the intention of starting back, and even examined a heavy powder and ball Colt’s, which he carried during these journeys. But remembering what waited for him at the mine, he said:1 “No; this is not the way out, either.”
It seemed there was no way out. Having taken Barker in as a partner to develop a copper vein, they had soon run out of the money which the attorney had guaranteed to furnish. But Barker knew where they could borrow more, which they did. Then Barker personally borrowed the borrowing—that is, gave his note to Collins, scholar and gentleman, for the development money which he was to return as needed. Unfortunately, he lost it gambling. He proved it by the gambler himself who also held the mortgage about due.
Collins, remembering the pallid gambler with his glimmering black eyes and still white hands, cursed in a very unscholarly, ungentlemanly fashion.
“I was whipsawed, that’s what I was, double damn them,” he swore. Then he cursed the bank and the few timid moneymen from whom he had tried vainly to borrow enough to clear the mortgage. “I ought to have shot both the sharks,” he said; “but what then of Dan? But what of him now—his schooling, his inheritance —” Once more he carried his hat in his hand and was muttering and staring blankly when he reached the camp.
There Dan awaited him; Dan, grayeyed, bronze-headed stripling of nine who had been three years in the mountains with Collins, his father. The latter, a civil engineer, had come to the mountains for his health after his wife died, and turned prospector, struck it, used up his money— and taken a partner with this result.
Luckily there was plenty of whiskey at camp and more to be had; it is doubtful if Collins ever drew a sober breath during the three following years when the last friend he could draw on failed him. Long after the mine had passed ownership he and Dan lived in their cabin, which rang night and day to imprecations on his undoer, with dreadful apostrophes to
despair. “I would have shot him, Dan, if it hadn’t beenfor you,” he would say; “God’s curse on him, he has murdered me.” Sometimes when drunk he recited tragic lines which the boy listened to attentively; sometimes he struck with his fist, which the boy took stoically. But every recitation, every fit of temper, was interrupted by a dreadful silence, prefatory to the imprecations and apostrophes.
When the last friend failed, Collins came to a trembling, frightened sobriety during which he composed his epitaph, and carved it on an oak board. “The dead man below hopes for a resurrection which will be glorious if he can meet Cassius Barker there.”
He did die on a stormy night, and one of the miners helped Dan bury him. The boy was left alone with the old powder and ball and legacy of hate.
”~pWAS in the late, yellowing afternoon of an October A Sunday, with the artist at work near the big dune. The sun dipped between the peaks of the range, the shadows softened; a spare, stooped figure in neat black stood with clasped hands watching by turns the artist and the sunset, and envying the skill which could paint in any figure, any place.
Cassius Barker, playing faro that Sunday afternoon, had long since forgotten Mrs. Monahan, whose hair was now quite white, whose hands knotted and shoulders stooped. But that was all because she would not take a money payment to make up Jerry’s loss; to have decided otherwise would have been monstrous.
Barker had also forgotten Collins, and Collins’ boy.
Yet into Barker’s life, and Molly’s empty picture, Dan Collins was marching that Sunday afternoon.
“Look,” said the artist, pointing.
Over a hillock just ahead of the indigo shadow came a small figure which they watched without stirring; on it came steadily and stood before them, a boy of thirteen with a mop of bronze hair and moody gray eyes. A refugee from the frowning mountains whose shadow pursued him, he had stepped into the sunset picture which
was Molly’s own. His battered hat dropped on the sand, his head was wrapped in a flame of bronze hair; the evening gust fluttered the dusty rags on his straight lean body, which carried a huge powder and ball Colt’s roped to its waist.
“You go heavily armed,” said the artist.
“ ’Tis the revolver my father willed to me,” said Dan. “Good; stand as you are and I’ll paint you into this picture.”
Molly, with her head on one side, laughed softly. “Faith, he is from the fastness of the beyond and is already in my picture,” she said, and beamed on Dan with a friendliness he did not know was in the world.
“Yours is a greater picture than mine,” said the artist, who knew her queer notion, “and the boy is better off in it.” So to please her he introduced himself, and was astonished when the boy gave his name with the fine manner which had been taught him by a drunkard’s fist. Then he packed up his belongings and went home.
The others stood there a moment longer in the gathering dusk, Dan listening puzzled to a hinting regarding one mysterious Jerry who also lived out sunset way. “And you’ll be telling me of the way they live there,” said Molly, “while we walk back home where I will entertain, you in memory of him.”
THE boy, stalking at her shoulder like a savage, scowled, for having a bitter hatred of all things in the mountains he did not care to talk of them. Likely he would have said something which would have disappointed her sadly, but for the approach of an old friend of Molly’s who made it his business to call on her once or twice a year—rough, hard-swearing O’Hanon, whose conscience had never been quite easy because he had not raised his head in defense of her rights against the Company.
He bantered her now on looking as young as ever, though noting gloomily the effects of toil. “You have not forgotten the pass I promised when you get ready to ga live with your sisters, and nephews and nieces,” he said, such having long been one of her plans.
“That I have not,” answered Molly? “and during the past year I have saved over fifty dollars toward the moving. ’Tis not myself who will settle among them without a competence; and I will be wanting to leave the children a nest egg.” “Who is this young ruffian with thepowder and ball?” asked O’Hanon, whohad been eyeing Dan askance.
“Dan Collins,” answered the boy for himself, and giving eye for eye.
O’Hanon listened with doubt to thetale of Dan’s appearance out of the sunset, which Molly told in confidence and enthusiasm; then they were at the cabin and seated in the neatly kept yard, with Danmunching at sandwiches and cookies.
“Who is Jerry?” he asked suddenly, and O’Hanon gave him a warning frown.
“ ’Tis the son who was killed in the wreck,” said Molly, “a friend to Mr. O’Hanon and all the officials. And they were that tender of me, Danny, that they would not believe I would take money te pay for his loss. ’Twould have been monstrous not to have signed the paper prepared by Mr. Barker; though some of the neighbors have called me a fool, what did they know of the worth of my boy?” The boy had stopped eating and O’Hanon thought his face flared white in the dusk. “Barker! Cassius Barker?” he asked slowly.
“The same, Danny,” and Molly went on to speak highly of him, O’Hanon suddenly snapping his fingers at a remembrance.
“Collins,”he thought, “was the name of Barker’s partner whom I never saw nor heard of after that night on the platform.” The rough railroader, who had decided not to have Molly imposed upon by this young tramp, sat silent, meditating cautiously on what he would do. Slowly he tugged at this tangle of life threads until pretty well convinced how they ran. “The strangest part of the tangle,” he said, “is this Molly, cheated by Barker of compensation for Jerry, is sent the son of Barker’s enemy as compensation, for already I see the signs that he will stay. Something is working out here which it is not for O’Hanon to meddle with.”
In fact, all the hand he took in the whole business was to have Molly buy the boy a suit of clothes, and then he gave him the job of night call boy. On that first night he.had Dan walk with him a way Continued on page 5k
The Cold Jingle of Money
Continued from page 17
and cautioned him against destroying Molly’s illusion of the fastness in the sunset where Jerry dwelt.
“D’ye understand?” he asked.
“Yes, enough. Did Barker cheat her? He is a double damn scoundrel and cheated my father.”
“ ’Tis not for ycu to ask nor me to answer,” said O’Hanon sternly.
The boy asked no more questions, but had not been long on his job until he heard the straight of Molly’s case from a gossiping old flagman. He had learned to know Barker by sight, but held his tongue and bided his time for whatever reason. Till one day he saw the man enter O’Hanon’s private ofiice and followed boldly.
“I am Dan Collins, Barker,” he said facing him; “you robbed my father of his mine and murdered him by it.” Then he walked out and though Barker demanded his discharge O’Hanon laughed at him.
DAN liked to ride the trains; after his long imprisonment in the mountain cabin the deck of a box car seemed to float as smoothly along as the wings of the eaglçs he had often envied. Of course he could ride only as far as the end of the yards, but one afternoon a conductor invited him to journey to Butte siding, five miles out, where they were to pick up a car of ballast. “Freights coming this way slow up near there on account of the heavy grade,” said the conductor, “so you can easily jump one for home.” Another minute and Dan was pulling himself up the ladder of a box car. O’Hanon, who happened to be in the yard, saw him, but nobody else noticed, even the train crew forgot about him. But destiny, d’ye mind, remembered.
There is reason to believe, as O’Hanon always did, that destiny also marked up Cassius Barker for a red letter day. As the superintendent went into his office after that walk down the yard, Barker followed him, and after pacing the floor a minute, pulled up abruptly in front of the desk.
His eyes were bloodshot and the tracery of lines on his face were etched boldly; he was under a terrific strain. “I might as well have it over with; how strong financially am I with you, Superintendent? Two thousand?” O’Hanon shook his head. “Fifteen hundred, then.” He struck the desk; “I must have fifteen hundred!”
“You mean the gamblers must have fifteen hundred,” said O’Hanon dryly.
“That’s none of your affair—but the fact is they’ve already got it. The obligation is, well, somewhere else.” That meant one thing, Company money.
“The pay train is coming in to-day,” said O’Hanon and the other cursed.
“How far will my pay go toward fifteen hundred!” He glared steadily at O’Hanon who met it squarely; read the Superintendent’s decision not to come across with a single dollar, and laughed.
“I might have known better,” he said. “Forget it,” and sauntered out.
This man had been no friend to the bluff, hard-swearing O’Hanon. who, however, showed no exultation, but instead sat with his chin on his breast brooding. “ ’Tis hard to pass up any man in trouble,” he thought, “though lending him money is only backing his hands at poker. And, too, there is the Powers giving a queer twist to his affairs which include Dan and Widow Monahan all unbeknownst to Barker. ’Tis wisdom fcr me to keep clear of them.”
AS HE sat wondering how the break would come, Barker was walking down the yard, deserted at the time, the switch car being busy at the other end. Cursing, desperate, he wanted to be alone to consider means to cover up his shortage of Company money and walked as far as the track foreman’s shed at the west end of the yard. A faint gleam and movement far above caused him to raise his eyes, where he saw the mirage of a train spinning around the base of a tall hill. ’Twas an interesting spectacle but the mirage is not so unusual in that country as to hold the attention of a man facing bankruptcy and exposure of
criminal acts. “The dom pay train.” he said bitterly, recognizing the make-up of engine and single coach. Then the engine reared up, leaped, and with the coach sank down, down; there was a puff of dust and steam! Such was the silent wreck in the smiling sky; Barker thought of the fat old paymaster, with his safe door swung open paying out checks and money in his car on a Barlow siding. For in those days out there certain employees were paid in cash.
He thought of Paymaster Seymour lying in the wreck at the bottom of the tall hill, which was known as the Butte; he thought of the safe with the door swung open, and money scattered on the ground for the picking up. “The first man there can help himself; ’tis providential,” whispered Barker—and it was. Not a soul was in this part of the yard to observe him; he set the foreman’s velocipede car on the rails and in ten seconds was out cf sight of yards and station. Nor did he see anybody en route, though a boy who had been exploring the country behind the tall hill saw the velocipede come speeding up and saw the wreck at the same time. He began making his way down toward the broken pile far below, and as he neared it recognized the man of the velocipede who was busying himself about the wreck.
When Barker came up he saw that the safe had torn out the side of the car and been thrown clear of the wreckage; the engine was on its side, the car a tangle of rods and splinters; there was not a sign of life anywhere. The safe lay almost as he had visioned it, tilted sideways, door wrenched askew, money and papers scattered about. Here was the killing he had always been looking for, at last. But lest there should still be a spark of life in the wreckage, some spying eye, he tied his handkerchief across the lower part of his face, pulled down his hat brim and, descending the embankment, began to pick up the money. As his pockets would not hold it, he spread his coat on the ground and was tossing the bills and coin upon it, when a feeble call came from the crushed end of the pay car not thirty feet away. “Help me out!”
Barker jumped, glared over his mask; “The old fool; not dead yet,” he gritted; with each fist clutched full of money and hounded by his necessities, he was ruthless as a wolf. He snarled his answer to the cry for help and tossed his handfuls on the coat. He dug into the safe.
Came a groan from the wreck, a shot and at the sear of a bullet across his shoulder Barker dodged behind the safe, and stood there for a moment bewildered.
Now indeed he was securely sheltered and had only to retreat, having escaped death by inches. But he was not thankful. On this side was physical safety— and bankruptcy and disgrace; on the other in thirty foot range of the wounded but determined paymaster, his salvation. And there was no time to lose in the hope that the old fool would faint or die. The wrecker would be showing up.
The maddened Barker peered around the corner of the safe and drew a bullet that zoomed off across his eyes; Seymour would certainly kill him if he stepped from cover, but he ran the risk of popping out his head, hoping the paymaster would empty his revolver. He drew no more shots, but a groaning curse warned him that the other was still alive and doubtless watchful. He had been annoyed by some brush under his feet, and now, kicking at it angrily, observed a long crooked stick. Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
With only hand and arm showing to the elbow, he managed to reach the coat, draw it slightly toward him, while Seymour was driven by the manoeuvre to take two more shots. They were very close, but Barker was exultant; standing a moment completely sheltered he drew his breath and then obliged to expose only his hand caught the coat securely by the armhole with the crooked end of the stick, drew it up—and was hurled stumbling into the open by a terrific impact from behind. And as he straightened, Seymour got him with his last shot.
DAN COLLINS, who had watched the proceedings from behind the brush screen at the edge of the ditch, called to the paymaster in the shelter of the safe. Receiving no answer, he walked out boldly to the wreck, where Seymour, gazing at him glassily, gave a last twist under the splinter which impaled him between the shoulders, and passed out.
“Dead,” said Dan. He looked at the crumpled Barker, at the money. “And that is the money,” he said, “that you cheated old Mother Monahan out of.” With the bundle containing nearly five thousand dollars under his arm, he struck across country, arriving at the cabin on the edge of town, about dark.
’Twas not long after that Molly had a caller; but the yard formerly so neat was littered, strangers were in the cabin. The old woman had gone to live with her relatives two hundred miles down the line, they said.
“You are Mr. O’Hanon,” said one of the family; “Mrs. Monahan wanted to get a pass from you and tell you good-bye but you were off on a long trip and she felt she must go, as her sister was ailing.” “And the boy went with her?”
“Her son Jerry’s friend; yes.”
The last O’Hanon had ever seen of him was on the deck of a box car, the day of the pay train wreck; next day he had been busy directing the wrecking crew, then had come the long trip to general headquarters, so that he had not learned for days that the boy had quit his job.
“Now I will not even try to put two and two together,” thought O’Hanon, after long calculation.
But a year later, being down the line one day, he dropped off at the station where Molly had gone and called on her. Molly with her stooped shoulders and knotted hands that had always been a reproach to O’Hanon. She and Dan had a cottage next door to her relatives.
“It’s old Mrs. Monahan who is having the time of her life,” she laughed, after welcoming him, “on the competence.” “So you saved enough at last!”
“No—-’tis a sacred thing and I do not talk about it; but of course I have no secrets from you,” she said. “Whist, Dan brought it as a present from Jerry; he did not tell me for a time until he was sure I was the right party.” With a delighted mystery she showed him her bank book, carrying a balance of nearly five thousand dollars.
A FIGURE darkened the door and they looked up as Dan came in, a taller, heavier Dan; but his bronze head was held high, his gray eyes did not evade the superintendent’s. He had a good job in the town, he said, and had a good time at home with Mother Monahan.
“Mother Monahan, indeed,” she said proudly, patting his shoulder; no longer she looked far off for the companionship of the heart, Dan having come to her from the fastness of the beyond, Jerry’s friend, Barker’s compensation.
“I have told Mr. O’Hanon, such a true friend, of the competence,” she said a bit guiltily, and never did the gruff old railroader swell up to the praise of headquarters as he did to the answer of Dan Collins.
“ ’Tis well,” said the boy with the glance of a young eagle; “he is true.” The superintendent on his way that evening reflected: “May the saints forgive me, but they shall keep that money if I have to grind down my division to get it back for the Company. Money will not jingle coldly in their hands. And Dan told the truth; it came from Jerry. As for Barker’s death—well, he did not stand where he fell while Seymour fired five shots—the Powers were in it all, I do well not to meddle.” He thought of the stooped shoulders and knotted hands so long condemned to the washtub.
“Nowadays she can lean her shoulders on cushions and fold her hands in rest,” he thought, and the trusted official, who was conspiring against the recovery of the lost Company money, laughed aloud at his conscience which was frolicking like Puck at a fair.