“No, deacon, I ain’t. I’m a changed man.”
“That’s what they all say, Samuel,” the deacon replied, not unkindly, “but saying isn’t doing. Human nature’s pretty weak when it don’t lean on a stronger one.”
“That’s how I’m leanin’, deacon.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Samuel,” said the deacon, offering his hand, though in a rather conservative manner.
“Sam,” said the judge, “I sentenced you, but I don’t want you to think hard of me and take it out of my orchard and chicken-coop. It wasn’t your first offence, you know.”
“Nor the tenth, judge. You did just right. I hope ‘twas a warnin’ to others.”
“I think it was,” said the judge, thrusting both hands into his pockets and studying the wall of the station as if it were the record of his own court. “I think it was; and here’s my hand, Sam, and my best wishes for a square start in life.”
As the judge withdrew his hand he left behind a little wad of paper which Sam recognized by sense of touch as the customary American substitute for the coin of the realm. The poor fellow did not know what to say: so he said nothing.
“Hurry along to your family, Sam. I hope you’ll find them all well. I’ve told my wife to see to it that they didn’t suffer while you were away, and I guess she’s done it: she’s that kind of woman.”
Sam hurried away. The deacon followed him with his eyes, and finally said,—
“I wonder how much truth there was in him—about leaning on a higher power?”
“Oh, about as much as in the rest of us, I suppose.”
“What do you mean?” The deacon snapped out this question; his words sounded like a saw-file at work.
“Merely what I say,” the judge replied. “We all trust to our religion while things go to suit us, but as soon as there’s something unusual to be done—in the way of business—we fall back on our old friend the Devil, just as Sam Kimper used to do.”
“Speak for yourself, judge, and for Sam, if you want to,” said the deacon with fine dignity, “but don’t include me among ‘the rest of us.’ Good-morning, judge.”
“Good-morning, deacon. No offence meant.”
“Perhaps not; but some men give it without meaning to. Good-morning.”
“I guess the coat fits him,” murmured the judge to himself, as he sauntered homeward.
Sam Kimper hurried through a new street, sparsely settled, crossed a large vacant lot, tramped over the grounds of an unused foundry, and finally went through a vacancy in a fence on which there were only enough boards to show what the original plan had been. A heap of ashes, a dilapidated chicken-coop, and a forest of tall dingy weeds were the principal contents of the garden, which had for background a small unpainted house in which were several windows which had been repaired with old hats and masses of newspaper. As he neared the house he saw in a cove in the weeds a barrel lying on its side, and seated in the mouth of the barrel was a child with a thin, sallow, dirty, precocious face and with a cat in her arms. The child stared at the intruder, who stopped and pushed his hat to the back of his head.