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Light in Darkness


LIGHT IN DARKNESS


BY PETER B. KYNE

ANYONE seeking a metaphor to fit the Ingleside District would be very apt to allude to it as the back yard of San Francisco. Most back yards are unlovely, containing much that would not charm the eye if displayed on a front lawn. And this is true of Ingleside. There one may find, for instance, truck gardens tilled by immigrants from southern Italy—untidy folks who dwell in untidy houses of peculiar architecture; tumble-down fences, flocks of geese, belligerent goats, and a hog ranch or two existing in defiance of an ordinance made and provided; and lastly, perched on the slope of the hill, the scarlet geraniums in the well-kept grounds before its portals giving the lie to its apparent superiority over the remainder of the district, there is a large stone building which certain esthetic persons are wont to designate the House of Correction, but which the hoi polloi refer to bluntly as the county jail.

This public institution, however, has little to do with our story, and is mentioned merely because this tale, being a short story, must of necessity begin there. If it began elsewhere the necessity for long explanations might be productive of a novel. Also, on the day the story begins, there was a deal of excitement around the county jail, and this also must be explained, for had it not been for this excitement and the conditions arising out of it, quite probably there would not have been any story to relate!

We will commence, therefore, with the arrival in San Francisco of Deputy Sheriff Bradley (Brad for short) Milligan of Santa Paula, convoying a convicted felon en route to the State Penitentiary at San Quentin. Brad Milligan was new to his job, and this was his first visit to what the newspapers down his way called "the metropolis"; hence, when he arrived late in the afternoon and learned that it would not be possible for him to continue on to San Quentin and deliver his prisoner to the warden there the same day, he did not (as he learned to do subsequently) betake himself and his unwilling charge to the chief of police and request the official courtesy of a night's board and lodging for his prisoner in the city prison. For there is but one small mail-order calaboose in Santa Paula, the county seat; the county accords free lodging to the prisoners of the municipality, and the municipality, not to be outdone in decency, pays the county board for its prisoners. It is doubtful if Brad Milligan had ever heard of a city prison; consequently when he approached a policeman in the nave of the ferry depot with the idea of learning where he could put his prisoner up safely for the night, quite naturally he asked the location of the county jail, and was promptly directed to Ingleside, where he arrived with his prisoner about dark and requested the sheriff of San Francisco County to relieve him of the incubus overnight. The sheriff damned the chief of police and granted the request.

Early the following morning two prisoners, of no particular importance to society or themselves, escaped from the quarry gang, and in a hail of buckshot fled over the Ingleside hills to the shelter of the eucalyptus forest that lies beyond. Ordinarily the sheriff of the city and county of San Francisco would not have worried greatly over the abrupt departure of these fellows, but the fall campaign was approaching, and of late the sheriff had noticed that one of the morning papers appeared unable to go to press unless it carried a front-page story derogatory to the sheriff and his office.

Under these circumstances, therefore, to permit two prisoners to escape would savor so strongly of giving aid and comfort to the enemy that the sheriff had promptly ordered out all of his deputies with a posse to encircle the belt of woods in which the escaped prisoners had secreted themselves.

To the bedeviled sheriff the recapture of these two men was an absolute necessity; due deference to his job dictated that he should remain on it until this worthy ambition should be achieved. And yet, by some infernal combination of circumstances, it was his duty to-day, of all days, to send a deputy to San Quentin with two prisoners lately convicted in the Superior Court and sentenced to ten years' penal servitude. True, the transportation of these felons from the county jail to the penitentiary might be delayed a day or two without serious affront to the said felons (who would gladly have delayed the journey indefinitely), and in the case of one of the prisoners the sheriff would have risked the delay. In the case of the other, however, he dared not, for if he did his editorial Nemesis would be almost certain to query in heavy black type, boxed, why the sheriff was disregarding an order of the court and showing favoritism to a wealthy prisoner.

 

IN this dilemma the unfortunate man suddenly bethought himself of Deputy Sheriff Brad Milligan of Santa Paula—and the problem was solved. Thus it came to pass that when Deputy Sheriff Milligan arrived a few minutes later for his prisoner, preparatory to continuing his journey, the sheriff explained to him the predicament in which the former found himself.

"You've got to go over with your man," he pleaded, "and it wouldn't be much of an extra strain on you to take a man over for me, would it?"

"Well, if he ain't too much man, I'd be mighty happy to oblige you," Brad Milligan answered, "although I want to tell you this feller I've got under my wing now is mos' certainly a wild mustang. He ain't halter-broke yet, an' I dassen't take my eye off'n him. Another one like him would about make me step lively to keep up. Still, I s'pose I could cuff 'em together," he added.

"No need of it, Milligan. My prisoner is a very decent sort of chap, and I'd hate to couple him with the mongrel you brought in here last night. I'll loan you a hobble for that train robber of yours; you can leave it with the turnkey at San Quentin, and the next time one of my deputies has to make a trip over there he'll bring it back. All you'll have to do will be to deliver the prisoner and mail me the warden's receipt for him. Just put a pair of cuffs on him—in fact, if I was taking him over myself I wouldn't even do that—but he's such a mighty important prisoner I can't afford to take chances now, with the election coming on."

"All right, I guess I can handle 'em both," Brad Milligan replied good-naturedly.

The sheriff thanked him and handed him a key. "That's for the padlock on the van," he explained. "We always take our prisoners from the county jail to the ferry depot in the Black Maria. Just lock 'em both in the van and they'll be as snug as bugs in a rug. When the van arrives at the ferry depot you can meet it there. Give the key back to the driver. I'll speak to my assistant jailer and tell him to get my prisoner ready for you."

He shook hands and hurried away. Presently the assistant jailer came and escorted Milligan down the corridor to the cell occupied by the latter's prisoner. Here he expeditiously fitted to the "wild mustang's" off fetlock a hobble known as an Oregon boot, a contrivance ingeniously devised to discourage foot racing among felons. "I'm sorry, Bill," said Deputy Sheriff Milligan sympathetically. "An' I wouldn't try to drag the durned thing if I was you. Just pick it up an' carry it—there's chain enough so you can walk if you take short steps."

"I'll get the other fellow for you," the jailer announced as he darted down another corridor. "Take his nibs out that door an' you'll find the carriage waitin' in the court."


 

BRAD MILLIGAN escorted his train robber to the prison van, deposited him therein, and was standing by the steps when the jailer appeared with the other prisoner—a man of perhaps thirty, handsome, faultlessly dressed, athletic. His glance as it met Milligan's was fearless and direct.

"This is the gentleman you're to take over to the Big House," the jailer announced respectfully. "Mr. Milligan, shake hands with Mr. Ramsey Latham."

Milligan thrust out a great hand. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Latham," he said simply and with all the warmth and bigness of his Santa Paula horizon, "but right sorry it ain't under pleasanter circumstances."

Ramsey Latham extended his hand gratefully. "At least I shall be escorted to my disgrace by a human being," he replied; "and so I am truly delighted to meet you, Mr. Milligan, even under the distressing circumstances."

"I dunno about that," Milligan replied, a trifle embarrassed, and drew out his handcuffs.

Latham started slightly. "Surely," he said, "you realize you do not have to manacle me. I give you my word of honor I shall not try to escape."

"Friend," said Brad Milligan earnestly, "if I was the boss your word of honor would be good enough for me. But the fact is I've got to put these things on you. The sheriff told me to. He ain't takin' any chances on losin' another prisoner to-day. I'm sure sorry, old-timer, but I guess—thank you."

He snapped the handcuffs over Latham's wrists and indicated the interior of the van. But the prisoner hesitated; his gaze wandered to Milligan's face, long, kindly, and honest, like that of a horse, but, seeing no hope there, he turned for a glimpse of the wide, free country around him. Over the west wall he could see the Ingleside hills, and across the crest of them the fog was roiling seaward again before the morning sun; through the barred gate he could look into the green valley below, where a dozen Italians knelt in a truck patch picking peas; the morning breeze brought to him the mellow cadence of the opera they sang in chorus. Afar a cow lowed, and the tang of tarweed and lupine and sage came to him from the bleak, brown hills, bringing with it poignant memories of other and happier days before Fate had marked him for that dreadful place where all who enter must leave hope behind.

Brad Milligan watched with grim sympathy as Latham stepped down to the gate and turned for a long look eastward toward the city. The deputy sheriff made no motion to restrain him, for Milligan was from Santa Paula, and already the city had gotten on his nerves; he had not slept all night because of the noise of it, and he could sympathize with that dumb yearning for a free range. He followed his prisoner to the gate, opened it, and bade Latham step outside.

"Take a good look, young feller," he suggested. "We ain't in no tearin' hurry, I guess." He signaled to the driver of the van, who whipped up his horses and followed, coming to a halt just outside the jail gate and patiently awaiting Milligan's pleasure.

Two women emerged from the sheriff's office and walked toward them. To Latham's quick, appraising glance one of them appeared to be about forty years of age, a kind, motherly looking person, perhaps the wife of a well-to-do tradesman. The other was a girl in her early twenties, and as she drew near with her companion Latham saw that she had, at no very distant period, been weeping.

He could not restrain the glance of frank admiration and curiosity he bent upon her. In that prison atmosphere, even though she walked free outside the walls, she seemed like a lovely little forget-me-not blooming on a garbage heap. Her face was not beautiful, but rather sweet and wistful, and Latham, trained judge of character, knew that she was intelligent, tender, and affectionate; despite the all-absorbing knowledge of his own tragedy, he found himself wondering what calamity had cast its cloud upon that alert yet pensive face.

He stepped aside to let her pass, and her moist, brown eyes looked straight into his for an instant; then the glance drooped until it rested on his manacled hands, clung there an instant, and traveled back to Ramsey Latham's face, bearing him a silent message of sympathy and understanding.

 

HE burned with the swift rush of shame that suffused him; in the presence of this girl he felt a terrible degradation that he should be seen wearing the badge of infamy, and he turned swiftly toward the welcome haven of the sheriff's van. His foot was on the lower step when a hand was laid detainingly on his arm; he turned, and through sudden tears of shame and heartbreak looked into the girl's face.

"You must be braver than that," she said in a low voice, and patted his arm with a little friendly air of camaraderie. "You mustn't lose heart now when your trial is just commencing; you must conserve your courage to make the fight all over again after you come out of prison. How long?" she queried.

"Ten years," his choked voice answered her. "The ten best years of my life—and what will life mean to me when I leave San Quentin? From a convict I shall emerge from my stripes into civilian clothes and be—an ex-convict."

"Good behavior will shorten your sentence, you know," she reminded him, "and when you have served half of it you will be eligible for parole. That means a trifle over four years of confinement for you—and the years pass quickly."

"Not in San Quentin," he answered. "Nevertheless the memory of you will help. I shall never, never forget that on the dark day of my disgrace a gentle and lovely lady gave me of her sweet sympathy when all the world denied me," and he took her soft little hand in both of his, manacled, and kissed it reverently. Then he stepped into the prison van, the heavy door closed behind him, and Brad Milligan made fast the padlock in the hasp outside.

When the van had rumbled on for half a minute Latham rose and stood with his face pressed to the little barred window in the door of the vehicle. The train robber sat smiling sneeringly at him. The girl and her traveling companion were slowly walking away from the jail, downhill toward the trolley line. Brad Milligan lingered to roll and light a cigarette, then he too followed toward the trolley line, for, with his prisoners manacled and securely locked within that strong van, he saw no reason why he should accompany the slower-moving, horse-drawn vehicle on its rough, eight-mile journey to the ferry depot. He much preferred to travel in the street car, meet the van upon arrival, and again take charge of his prisoners.

 

UPON arrival at the ferry depot the van backed up to the curb, and Milligan appeared and unlocked the door. "Out you come, boys," he called cheerfully. "I've waited until we've just got a minute to catch the boat. 'Tain't no sense hangin' around in the waitin' room, with the crowd starin' an' speculatin'."

Latham and the train robber descended and instantly were surrounded by a morbidly curious crowd. One young man pressed forward and almost thrust his pert face into Latham's, so Brad Milligan smote the intruder smartly across the mouth with the back of his great hand. "Cattle!" he murmured sententiously.

Latham bowed his head, waiting for the train robber to pick up his impedimenta and start for the boat. While he waited his face was aflame; then, suddenly recalling the girl at the gate of the county jail, he raised his head defiantly, squared his shoulders, and bent upon the crowd a glance that strove to be cool and calm and unabashed—and at that instant he saw the girl again. Still accompanied by her companion, who Latham guessed was her mother, she was passing around the flank of the crowd, across the shoulders of which her calm glance now met his. She favored him with a little sad, wistful smile and a nod of approval that was scarcely perceptible ere she passed on through the ticket gate and disappeared in the crowd surging through the waiting room to the pier.

In the meantime Brad Milligan had thoughtfully removed his overcoat, folded it, and drawn it up between and over Latham's manacled hands. "There," he said, "you can make a bluff at carryin' the overcoat in front o' you with both hands an' that'll hide the bracelets. Now walk a little bit ahead o' me, an' don't look back; don't pay no attention to me all the way over; sit in the seat ahead o' me, an' nobody'll ever know you belong in my party. Bill here's got so much hardware on him I reckon it's embarrassin' to be seen with him; he's used to it an' you ain't."

At Sausalito, just before they boarded the train for Greenbrae, Latham saw the girl again. She was taking leave of her companion, who clasped her in a motherly embrace and kissed her. Latham could see the girl's mouth quiver a little as she forced back the tears, and so interested was he that unconsciously he paused to stare at her. Milligan, too, was guilty of a similar breach of good manners, for not until she had parted with her companion and boarded the train did he nudge Latham and bid him move on. They followed the girl up the steps and watched her take a seat a few sections in front of them. Apparently she was oblivious of their presence on the train, for throughout the entire trip she continued to gaze pensively out the window.

 

THE brakeman came through the car calling the next station. "We pile off here," said Milligan as the train slid to a halt, and Latham's heart leaped in the knowledge that the girl was leaving the train at Greenbrae also. He longed for one more sympathetic glance from those tender brown eyes; he felt that it would be a priceless jewel he could treasure in his heart through all the weary years behind San Quentin's grim, gray walls.

The open bus that operates between the penitentiary and Greenbrae was waiting for them. A common carrier is this same bus, by the way, making no distinction whatever in the social status of its passengers. Murderers en route to the penitentiary to be hanged, mothers visiting their wayward boys, the prison reformer, the investigating committee from the State Legislature, the warden's latest cook sent up by a San Francisco employment agency—all these have ridden in that bus, either singly or together. In happier days Latham had once visited San Quentin as a luncheon guest of the warden under a previous administration; hence he was aware of this incongruity and was not surprised when the girl climbed up on the seat beside the driver.

"Engaged in prison reform work, I suppose," he whispered to Milligan. The latter shrugged.

The short trip up to the prison was made in silence, the girl not deigning to look back once at the other occupants of the vehicle. Arrived at the penitentiary, Milligan alighted with his two charges, saw a door with a sign on it, "Turnkey's Office," and started toward it. The girl followed, and the four entered the office together. The turnkey from his desk looked up interrogatively, for he had never seen Brad Milligan before.

"I'm Brad Milligan, deputy sheriff of Santa Paula," the latter announced quietly, and laid a sheaf of commitment papers on the turnkey's desk. "I've brought one prisoner from Santa Paula, but the sheriff over in San Francisco was busy, on account o' havin' two prisoners get away on him this mornin', so he asked me to help him out."

The turnkey nodded, looked through the commitment papers, and cast a cold eye over the little company. He pressed a button. Milligan unlocked the Oregon boot from the ankle of the train robber and tossed it in a corner; then he unlocked the handcuffs on Latham's wrists and tucked them in his pistol pocket, for he carried his gun in a holster under his left arm.

"Nice growin' weather we're havin'," he said with the amiability of the country dweller. "That heavy rain we had last week didn't do the cherry crop no good—"

The door opened, and a large, aggressive woman, in starched white linen, bustled in. Latham concluded she must be the matron in charge of the women convicts. The turnkey nodded toward the girl, standing quietly behind Brad Milligan.

"Make a search, Mrs. Grant," he ordered. Milligan lifted his sombrero as the matron nodded to him. "Mrs. Grant," he said, "the sheriff over in San Francisco told me to tell you that he wanted to put in a good word for the little gal here. He says to give her all the best of it whenever you can, because she ain't had nothin' but the worst of it so far. An' he says she's a good girl too. He wouldn't send her down in the van—just let her go quietlike with the matron an' me on the street car; at Sausalito the matron turned back, an' the little girl come up here all by herself, just as brave as they make 'em. I don't so much as have to keep an eye on her."

The matron nodded again and advanced upon the girl. She smiled a professional smile. "Come, my dear," she said, and led the girl toward the door. As they passed out the girl looked back through her tears at Ramsey Latham, and as their glances met he bowed to her gravely and with old-fashioned courtesy. Then the door closed. Like some bright celestial visitor, she had flashed across his horizon ere she too vanished, like him, into the abyss.

 

AS he had anticipated, the years were long before Ramsey Latham emerged from the turnkey's office. His figure still was that of a young man, but his face was lined and serious, and the light of youth had gone from his eyes; his black hair was plentifully besprinkled with gray. With these exceptions, however, he was still the same handsome, well-dressed man that had entered San Quentin five years before. By permission of the warden he had been granted, in anticipation of his release on parole, a visit from a San Francisco tailor, who had measured him for a natty suit of the latest cut; he had been supplied with shoes and haberdashery and a jaunty cloth hat, and as he stepped forth from the turnkey's office, with the latter's "Good-by, Latham, and good luck!" still ringing in his ears, he looked in every particular that which once he had been—a smart, brisk, care-free, well-dressed business man.

It lacked an hour of the departure of the prison bus for Greenbrae, but Latham would not wait. He struck out down the road at a brisk walk. It was late spring—a season that decks northern and central California in a blaze of glory, and the vivid green Marin County hills were aflame with California poppies and buttercups, relieved at intervals by patches of blue-flag lilies and early-blooming purple lupines. It had rained a little the night before—just sufficient to level the dust in the road and cleanse the atmosphere—and suddenly Latham realized that at last he was out of prison. The air no longer was burdened with the odor of disinfectant. A lilt that was closely akin to pain rose in his heart; the future stretched before him, as glorious in prospect as any golden-tinted dream of youth, and he paused and gazed around him.

From the wet fields on both sides of the road rose that pungent, earthy aroma peculiar to the season of the year when Mother Nature rouses from her winter somnolence to strew with lavish hand her gold across the landscape. In the cloudless blue above a long wedge of wild geese sailed, honking, into the south; the burbling trills of meadow larks came from grass and fence rail; in the chaparral far up the hillside a cock quail called to his mate—and lo, it was spring again in Ramsey Latham's wintry heart! He thrilled with the joy of living, with anticipation of the conflict of rehabilitation, for on such a day it did not seem futile or pitiful for a man to dream of a lost world reconquered. He turned and glanced across the bay where San Francisco lay hidden in the morning mist; in his mind's eye he saw "the Mag's parade" passing down Market Street after the Saturday matinée; he tasted again the cuisine of his favorite restaurant, and, because of the lilt in his heart and the fact that he had been silent five years, he raised his voice in a ballad that had been popular in the world before he had left it.

Presently he turned a bend in the road and paused. In the lush grass below the road a woman sat on the trunk of a fallen scrub oak. She had heard him coming, sensed the swift rush of joyous vitality back of his song, and she was watching for the singer. Latham ceased abruptly when he saw her glance fixed upon him; then her eyelashes dropped modestly, and she devoted her attention to a bouquet of wild flowers in her lap.

Latham stepped down off the road and paused beside her, hat in hand. "You do not remember me," he said; "but we have met before—"

She did not even glance at him, but shook her head with something of the weariness and hopelessness of a sad little child. "Please go away," she answered drearily. "I do not know you, and I do not care to know you. We have never met before."

"I realize that I employed the banal language of the professional masher," he replied, smiling; "but still I decline to go away. I insist that we have met before, although we never were introduced. Nevertheless, despite that fact, the last time we met you were gracious enough to speak to me. That was the day I was leaving the county jail in the prison van;, you will remember the matron took you down to the ferry depot in the street car and had you in charge as far as Sausalito. The deputy sheriff kept his eye on you after that. You were kind to me that day. I told you I'd never forget you for it—and I never shall."

"Oh, forgive me," she pleaded and held up both hands to him. "I had forgotten you—"

"I understand. Ours was a very brief meeting five years ago; naturally your thoughts were distracted that day so you couldn't be presumed to carry a very clear picture of me in your mind if, indeed, you graciously condescended to remember me at all."

They shook hands as old friends. His smile was boyish; hers had lost none of its wistfulness: it leaped to her brown eyes as Latham stooped and again kissed her hand before relinquishing it.

"This is the happiest day of my life," he declared. "First the Board of Prison Directors has paroled me, and now I've found you again. Are you waiting here for friends and am I intruding?"

"I have no friends to wait for me, Mr.—"

"Latham is my name, Ramsey Latham."

"Thank you. My name is Hilary Kenyon. They paroled me this morning too."

"And you haven't any friends?"

"No. Have you?"

"Well, I know a lot of people, and I have one friend in the strict sense of the word. Have you any relatives, Miss Kenyon?"

"None. Nobody cares," she answered.

"I do," he retorted. "I've always cared, from the moment you spoke to me that day at the county jail. And, moreover, somebody must have cared, else how did you manage your parole? You had to have a guarantee of employment before they would release you."

"The Salvation Army attended to that. I have a position as a domestic—upstairs work and two children. I hope you are going to a nice position, Mr. Latham."

"While I was in prison my attorney purchased a ranch for me down near Santa Paula. I'm going down there. Under the rules of the parole office I cannot engage in business for myself until my sentence expires, and I have sufficient of the world's goods to obviate the necessity of a clerkship. So I'm going to be a rancher—alfalfa and beef cattle, you know."

 

HE sat down on the tree trunk beside her. "It's a fine day," he remarked.

"Beautiful."

"It could be made a perfect day, Miss Kenyon."

"I doubt it, Mr. Latham."

"I do not. You know the old adage, Miss Kenyon. 'Birds of a feather flock together.' Well, I have an idea. Suppose you and I walk to Greenbrae and catch the down train to Sausalito. There, instead of boarding the ferryboat for San Francisco, we will ride up through Marin County on the electric local to San Anselmo. A mile up the road from San Anselmo, right under the lee of Mount Tamalpais, there used to be a little inn kept by an Italian. He served wonderful things to eat, and as he was doing well the last time I favored him with my patronage it is probable the inn is still in operation. On a week day at this period of the year we will be the only guests there, and we'll lunch out under the oak trees close to the bank of a beautiful stream—"

"But you don't know anything about me—what brought me to San Quentin."

"And I do not care. Moreover, I think there is a democracy to misery which should preclude snobocracy, and, contrary to your statement, I do know what brought you here. I remember your case very well. You were a stenographer in the office of a brute who persecuted you, and in a scuffle one day you stabbed him with a stiletto paper knife."

She nodded gravely. "It is hard to convict a woman of murder," she said. "The jury compromised, after an all-night session, on conviction of manslaughter. I suppose they were tired and wanted to go home, and that young lawyer the court appointed to defend me was no match for the district attorney."

"Why didn't you leave the man's employ?"

 

HILARY KENYON looked up at him with a slightly amused smile. "You lave never been hungry, have you?" she queried. "I was desperate when I went to work for that monster—and he knew I couldn't afford to resign. And I really didn't mean to kill him. I was protecting myself, blindly and furiously."

"You did a good job and you shouldn't worry over it. Miss Kenyon. And now for my tale of woe, for, of course, I have one, and you, being human, have a curiosity to hear it. Well, they sent me over here for violation of the State ranking laws. I was cashier, and I discovered our president had looted the bank and that it was insolvent. Instead of going to the State hank examiner, however, I went to the president. Of course he wept and promised restitution, and I believed him when he promised to come in at eleven o'clock next day and settle for his defalcation. I continued to accept deposits until eleven-thirty, when the bank examiner swooped down on me. The president had not yet arrived to make restitution, as per his promise to me, and I lost my head. I knew that detection of the insolvent condition of the bank was only a matter of a short time—they always look over the loans first, you know—so I ordered the receiving tellers to decline deposits.

"Then I realized that my order was infallible evidence that I had guilty knowledge of the condition of the bank, and I ordered them to continue to accept deposits. One of them refused and went to the bank examiner about it—and the crash followed. I admitted my technical guilt, and I really think I should have been acquitted had it not been for the fact that three days before I discovered the banks condition I had withdrawn all of my own funds from the bank. The district attorney made capital of that. He likened me to a rat deserting a sinking ship; pointed out to the jury that I had saved my own money, but left the depositors to shift for themselves, and, as the judge's mother had lost some money by the failure of the bank, I got ten years. I might have appealed the case to the Supreme Court, but it would have taken them two or three years to reach a decision—possibly longer—and as the Superior Court would have denied my application for bail I would have had to spend all of those years in the county jail. Then, if the Supreme Court sustained the verdict of the lower court, I would have had to go to the penitentiary to serve my ten years anyhow. I didn't have much hope—I was smirched as it was, so I concluded to save time and money by bowing to the inevitable. I was guilty, of course. Through my very efforts to prove myself a good man I convicted myself of being a bad man. Serves me right. I played the game like a fool. I had worked in a bank long enough to have known enough to smother my sentiment."

"And the president of the bank—?"

"Wrote a maudlin note to his wife and blew his brains out—of course. He didn't even take the trouble to square me before doing it. However, I've forgiven him—one learns to be charitable over yonder. Besides, God has been good to me. I invested in Steel common at the height of the panic of 1907—spraddled the market, you know, and made a killing. My attorney invested the proceeds judiciously for me in city realty; he's turned four deals while I've been over here, and now I have the ranch near Santa Paula and about fifty thousand in cash."

"I'm very happy to hear that," she answered.

"And we'll spend the day together," he continued. "We'll have luncheon and dinner at the little inn I spoke of, and we'll cross the bay in the twilight. Just think of coming home on the ferryboat when they're lighting the street lamps on Russian Hill and North Beach, eh? Won't it be glorious?"

He rose and assisted her to her feet; together they walked down the road into their Wonderland.

 

THE governor of the State of California looked up as his secretary ushered a visitor into the room. The visitor—a tall, rangy countryman with a long, kindly, honest face like a horse—advanced and tendered a horny hand for the governor's grasp.

"I'm Brad Milligan," he said; "I'm the sheriff at Santa Paula, Mr. Governor."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, sheriff. Pray be seated. What can I do to make you happy?"

"Well," said Brad Milligan humorously, "you might use your influence to revise the parole laws, I guess. Did you ever read them damned laws we're aworkin' under just now?"

The governor smiled. "I'm not aware that I have, Sheriff Milligan. The State Board of Prison Directors are good men in whom I have absolute confidence, otherwise I should not have appointed them. They make their own rules governing the conduct of paroled prisoners. I presume that is what you refer to, rather than the State law that provides for the paroling of prisoners."

"I guess that's what I'm driving at, Mr. Governor. And you ain't never read them rules?"

"No, I have not."

"Then," said Brad Milligan, drawing a small slip of printed paper from his vest pocket, "help yourself to a liberal education," and he passed the paper to the governor, who proceeded to read aloud:

 

"RULES GOVERNING PRISONERS ON PAROLE

"To . . . . . . No . . . . . . at . . . . . . Prison, California.

"Sir: The State Board of Prison Directors of California, having confidence in you and desiring to afford you an opportunity to demonstrate your character and your determination to become a law-abiding citizen, do, by virtue of the authority conferred upon them by law, grant and order this parole, subject to the following conditions, restrictions, and regulations, viz.:

"Rule 1. You will proceed directly to your place of employment at . . . . . ., where you will report to . . . . . ., your employer, and there remain until permission be given you to go elsewhere.

"Rule 2. Should you desire to change your employment or your residence, or should you desire to leave the county in which you are employed, you must first obtain the written consent of the parole officer.

"Rule 3. Your civil rights are suspended by law until the expiration of your sentence. You cannot, therefore, lawfully enter into any contract, engage in business for yourself, or marry.

"Rule 4. You shall in all respects conduct yourself honestly, avoid evil associations, obey the law, abstain from the use of intoxicating liquors, opium in any form, or other noxious drugs. Under no circumstances must you enter any room or place where liquor is sold or given away.

"Rule 5. While on parole, and until the expiration of your sentence, you will continue to be in the legal custody and control of the State Board of Prison Directors; and should you fail at any time to live up to the requirements of the board or the parole officer you will be returned to prison.

"Rule 6. On the first day of each month, until your final release by law, you will forward by mail to the State parole officer, at Room 13, Ferry Building, San Francisco, Cal., a report of yourself in accordance with a blank form to be furnished you by the State parole officer This report must be carefully and completely made out, and it must be certified to by your employer and also by the peace officer or other person designated by the State Board of Prison Directors. Should your employer be absent so that you are unable to secure his certification of your report, you must, nevertheless, forward your report to the parole officer accompanied by a letter explaining fully why you have been unable to secure the certification of your report by your employer.

"Rule 7. In all matters not covered by the foregoing you will be governed by the instructions of the parole officer.

"Rule 8. The members of the State Board of Prison Directors are your friends. They want you to succeed. Through the parole officer they will do all they can to afford you the opportunity to succeed. With opportunity thus afforded you, and with the encouragement, counsel, and advice of the parole officer, we shall expect you to go forward to certain and lasting success

"Rule 9. One word more. The foregoing regulations are not mere meaningless words. They have been carefully prepared and must be precisely followed. We therefore admonish you to read them, to study them, and it every detail to follow them.

"State Board of Prison Directors."

 

"Well," the governor remarked when he had finished his perusal, "those look like sound, sensible rules to me. You realize, of course, that while some of them may appear very stringent, such stringency is necessary because of the class of men the parole officer has to deal with. Moreover, I believe it is left largely to the discretionary power of the parole officer and the board to condone or punish violations of these rules. For instance, a paroled prisoner who is known to have been a sober man would not be likely to suffer a return to prison for visiting a place where alcoholic liquor is sold or given away. If such a man were offered a position as porter in a wholesale liquor house provided the Board of Prison Directors would parole him, I feel quite confident the board would acquiesce in his acceptance of such a position, and parole him accordingly, provided his conduct in prison had been exemplary."

"How about gettin' married?" Brae Milligan queried.

"That point is covered in Rule 3," the governor reminded him.

"But what's wrong with a feller marryin'?" the sheriff demanded.

"Marriage is a civil contract, and a man whose civil rights are suspended cannot lawfully enter into any contract. For instance, if a paroled prisoner marries without informing his wife of the fact that he is a paroled prisoner, he places her in the position of thinking she is married, whereas she is not, and any children born to such a union are illegitimate. Moreover, after having entered into such a relationship, whether knowingly or in ignorance of the man's civil status, the woman faces the risk should the parole officer deem such action necessary, of having her pseudo husband returned to the penitentiary to complete his unexpired sentence, in which event she and her children may become public charges, or otherwise suffer."

 

BRAD MILLIGAN fingered his sombrero. "I see," he murmured "I never looked at it that way. They can't marry legally, an' if they marry illegally they ain't married but just livin' in defiance o' public morals."

"That's about the situation," the governor answered.

"But suppose they don't look at it the way the law does," the sheriff persisted. "Suppose they both believe marriage is pulled off under a higher law than the civil law, and that even if they ain't married in the sight of man, in the sight of God an' themselves they're just as much married as they're ever goin' to be. How about that?"

"Well, in that case, sheriff. I daresay it resolves itself into a question of personal privilege. If they can bring the parole officer around to that point of view, he can turn his blind side on them, I daresay."

 

SHERIFF BRAD MILLIGAN smote the governor's desk a mighty blow. "That's just the trouble with the parole officer," he half shouted; "he won't turn his blind side on them."

"Well, he's clearly within his rights, and I cannot interfere. Doubtless he has good and sufficient reasons for taking cognizance of the marriage. I presume you have reference to some specific case."

"I have," said Brad Milligan. "Listen. I'm settin' in my office in the county jail at Santa Paula here about a week ago, when in walks an elegant-lookin' feller in a cutaway suit. He's whirlin' a cane an' wearin' these yaller gloves peeled back from the wrists, like they're too warm for him, but he hates to take 'em off entirely. From his card I see he's J. Arthur Converse. He don't waste much time sparrin', but gets right down to business an' asks me if I'm aware that Mr. Ramsey Latham, a rancher in my section, is an ex-convict.

"Now, governor, I've been seein' this Ramsey Latham, off an' on, ever since I've been elected sheriff, an' every time I see him I have a notion I've met him some place before, but I can never remember his name. The minute this J. Arthur Converse mentions it, however, I remember. About six years ago when I'm deputy sheriff I have occasion to take a prisoner up to San Quentin. We arrive in San Francisco too late in the afternoon to finish the trip to San Quentin that day, so I put up at a hotel that night an' the sheriff houses my prisoner for me in the county jail. The next morning when I go to get my man, the San Francisco sheriff asks me to oblige him by takin' two prisoners over for him, a man an' a woman, he bein' specially busy with all o' his deputies that mornin' on account o' havin' two men escape. So I take his prisoners over to the pen for him an' mail him back the warden's receipt. The man is Ramsey Latham, an' he's in for wreckin' the Traders' Bank and Trust Company. The woman is Hilary Kenyon, in for manslaughter on account o' killin' a no-good skunk of a man."

"I remember the man's case very well," the governor announced; "I had $21.09 in that bank at the time. But proceed, sheriff."

"I looked at this J. Arthur Converse, an' I says: 'Well, supposin' he is? What's the use tellin' on him?'

"‘He's a paroled prisoner,' says Converse. 'Don't he report to you on the first of every month? Under the law he has to report to the local peace officer in his county, an' he can't leave the county every time he feels like it without permission of the parole officer.'

"‘Well, he don't report to me,' I says.

"‘He's been out o' the county three times in three months, an' he's gone to work an' got married. That's breakin' his parole on two counts, an' in view o' the fact that he don't report to you it looks like he's sort o' ripe for the attentions o' the parole officer.'

"‘What interest have you got in this case?' I says.

"‘Nothin' much, except the interest o' the common citizen who believes that such fellers in a community should be watched. An', remember, there's always a reward for the recapture o' convicts that's broken parole. If I was you, I'd arrest this Latham an' then wire the parole officer. I think it would be worth your while. At any rate, it can't do no harm to make him give an account o' himself.'

"‘Yes,' I says; 'an' it won't do no harm to look up your record, neither,' an' I take him by the neck, chuck him into a cell, mug him, an' send his picture to the wardens at San Quentin an' Folsom that same day. The followin' afternoon I get a wire from San Quentin informin' me the bird I've got in my cage is Gentleman Harry, who makes a good livin' marryin' light-headed widders an' swindlin' 'em out o' their first husband's life-insurance money."

 

THE governor threw back his head and laughed. "What did you do with the scaly scoundrel?" he demanded.

"Well, I didn't have a thing to hold him on, so I took him out in the Jail yard, snubbed him to a post, an' peeled enough hide off'n his back with a bullwhip to start a tannery. Then I took him down to the station, bought him a ticket, put him aboard a train, an' told him to get out o' my jurisdiction or I'd kill him. You see his game, don't you? He'd celled with Latham in San Quentin, an' when he got out an' run into Latham, livin' respectable an' prosperous an' married in a community where nobody knew his record, he tried a little blackmail. But this Latham is game; he won't be blackmailed, so Gentleman Harry comes to me an' peaches, figgerin' I'll fall for his game to get the reward of a hundred dollars for apprehendin' a parole violator.

"Well, governor, the day before yesterday I hear from Gentleman Harry again, indirectly. I get a telegram from the parole officer at San Francisco instructin' me to arrest Ramsey Latham an' hold him until an officer arrives to take him up to San Quentin. You know how they work it, don't you, governor? The parole officer just chucks him back in San Quentin again, an' there he stays until the next regular meetin' o' the Board o' Prison Directors, when they consider his case an' turn him loose again or make him finish his sentence.

"Well, governor, I see right off Gentleman Harry's squealed, an' the case havin' come to my notice officially, you understand, I just have to 'tend to business. So I mount into my automobile—we're all usin' 'em down our way now, although I keep two good saddle animals for mountain work—an' I go out to Latham's ranch. He's got a right pretty place, governor: a garden an' weepin' willer trees in front o' the house, which is bran'-new an' up-to-date—a big, low, ramblin' place with vines an' geraniums in winder boxes, an' a deep, cool porch with wicker chairs on it—everythin' comfortable an' first-class. It's the sort of a place I'd want to set down in an' rest if I was an ex-convict with nothin' much in common between me an' my neighbors. I can see with one eye that Latham has spent a deal o' thought an' some money on his place.

"Well, I ring the front door bell an' a Chink cook comes an' lets me in. 'Is that you, doctor?' says a man the minute I step inside (it's about dusk when I drive up, an' the light in the hall ain't lit yet). Then without waitin' he jumps to the conclusion I'm the doctor. 'Come right in,' he says. 'I'm sure it's nothin' to bother about, but Mrs. Latham was worried, so I thought best to telephone an' have you come out.'

"He walks ahead o' me down the hall an' turns in at the livin' room. I foller. 'My dear,' he says, 'the doctor's come,' an' just then I step into the room an' stop, like a setter frozen on point. Settin' by the fire is his wife with a baby boy in her lap; she looks up with a smile, an' then the smile fades an' her mouth opens a little an' she puts her hand up—this way—an' looks at me like I'm a devil.

"‘You!' she says in a whisper.

"Governor, if I'd 'a' been a dog, I'd 'a' hung my tail. I'm knocked silly. This here wife o' Ramsey Latham's is an ex-convict too. She's the same Hilary Kenyon I take over to San Quentin six years ago with Ramsey Latham, to oblige the sheriff o' San Francisco County. She don't know I'm from Santa Paula then, an' all she knows now is that I'm standin' there in the doorway; she connects me with the law, an' she realizes what I'm there for. Latham follers her glance, an' as soon as he sees my face he knows the jig is up. Right away he crosses over, kneels beside her, an' pulls her head down on his shoulder; he's pattin' her on the back an' whisperin' to her, an' she's crying now fit to break her heart. However, I'm glad o' this because it gives me a chance to think what my next move's goin' to be."

"Your duty was plain," the governor observed.

"That's the way I figger it, governor," Brad Milligan replied. "As I stand there, lookin' at all the joy an' happiness I've come to bust up, just because two people want to be human bein's an' the law won't let 'em, I think back to the day this Hilary Kenyon an' Ramsey Latham meet for the first time. It's at the gate o' the county jail an' I have the bracelets on him when she comes by walkin' free with the matron outside the walls. He don't know she's bound for San Quentin with him; all he sees is a lady, an' he can't bear to have her look at him with the handcuffs on. But her—well, she knows just how he's feelin', so she goes up to him an' comforts him, an' he kisses her hand an' says as how he'll never forget her. Forget! I wish I could forget the look in his face when we get to the turnkey's office at San Quentin an' he wakes up to the fact that she's a convict too."

"How did he take it?" the governor demanded.

"Like a thoroughbred. Just bows to her like she's the finest lady in the land, when the matron comes to take her away."

"It would appear," said the governor, "that you have been playing understudy to Dan Cupid."

"I don't know nobody by that name," Brad Milligan replied respectfully. "What was he—a deputy sheriff or a prisoner?"

"A worthless little hound of no particular importance; he shot several people through the heart—always trying for a bull's-eye that way. But go on with your story, sheriff. What did you do next?"

"Well, pretty soon he gets her quieted an' then he looks over to me. 'Which one of us did you call to see, sheriff?' he says.

"‘Both,' I says.

"‘But Gentleman Harry didn't know about—her,' he says.

"‘Oh,' I says, 'I ain't been informed about her officially. The fact is, I don't recognize her until I come in, an' what in thunder she's cryin' at is more'n I know. I ain't goin' to steal the baby or nothin'.'

"‘Then what are you here for?' she says, her face lightin' up with hope.

"‘Why, ma'am,' I says, 'if it ain't presumption on my part, I come out to see the baby, an' congratulate your husband on makin' good. I don't figure none on renewin' acquaintance with you, but seein' as how we've met again I ain't objectin' to shakin' hands an' includin' you in them felicitations I'm just about bustin' to unload. Here I've drove out five miles, expectin' to be made welcome as the flowers in May, an' I find I'm as popular as a long-haired wet dog in a Chinese laundry. Whatever's the matter with you folks, anyhow? Did you figure, ma'am, as how I was come to take your husband away from you?'

"Governor, she can't answer; she's that happy. She just bends over an' kisses the baby an' cries over him for straight joy, an' her husband—say, if you want to fool that feller you'll have to get up right early in the mornin'. He winks at me, an' I wink back, an' then I come over an' salute Hilary Kenyon—yes, by George, I kiss her an' the kid, both—an' shake hands with him an' stay for supper. I tell 'em about Gentleman Harry callin' on me, which gives me the first news I've got of old friends livin' in the same township, an' hence I take the first opportunity to look in on 'em. An' when I tell 'em how I thank Gentleman Harry for his interest, Hilary swears she's goin' to name the baby Brad, after me."

The governor grunted and eyed Brad Milligan appraisingly. After a while the sheriff continued:

"When I leave, Ramsey Latham walks out to the front gate with me. 'You fooled Hilary all right, sheriff,' he says, 'but I know blamed well the parole officer wired you to come out an' get me. What are you goin' to do about it? I can't run away, an' I wouldn't if I could. You'll have to do your duty.'

"‘An' I'll do it,' I says. 'Don't you worry none about that parole officer.'

"‘I don't,' he says. 'What I'm worryin' about is the fact that two o' the five prison directors voted agin grantin' my parole, an' if I'm hauled up before 'em again they're liable to influence the other three an' throw me in again for a year or two. Both of 'em lost heavy in that bank deal.'

"‘I'll be out this way at six o'clock to-morrow morning, young feller,' I says, 'an' you an' the wife an' the kid be ready to come along with me then. You tell her that if she don't cry an' carry on I may be able to fix it with the governor.'

"‘Why,' he says, 'is the governor a personal friend of yours?'

"‘No,' I says, 'but I take it he's a human bein'.’"

"Sheriff Milligan," the governor interrupted with extreme dignity, "you took a great deal for granted."

"Which the same is a left-handed compliment, governor. About how long will it take you to legitimatize that there little baby?"

 

THE governor pressed a button, and his executive secretary entered. "Fix up two full pardons right away," he ordered. "The sheriff here will give you the data." He turned to Brad Milligan. "If you'll return in about half an hour, sheriff, I guess we can legitimatize that baby."

"Thank you, governor. I'll try to catch even some day. Down in my country quite a lot o' folks go a heap on my judgment o' the right kind o' man for governor, an' I'll remember this day's work when you're up for reelection. But we're not quite through with this little deal, governor—not quite. When we got into the capital this morning, we stopped by the county clerk's office an' Hilary an' Ramsey take out a marriage license; then I hunt up a preacher an' the party's waitin' out in the anteroom now. I'm agoin' to wed them two officially an' legally, an' I'd like mighty well if you'd be on hand, governor, to give 'em each their weddin' present. Then the preacher'll baptize the kid an'—er—"

"Well, what?"

"I forgot to say that Bradley's goin' to be his middle name. His ma would have it that his front name ought to be the same as yours; anyhow, the space has been left vacant."

"Brad," said the governor, "I'm on."

"I kinder thought you would be," said Brad Milligan.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1957, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.