The Quaker (Roy Norton)
I can remember when Torinda was small and railways were a long way off. We used to get in and out of it on a rattling old caravan called a stagecoach, driven by Sam Patch, who jolted us across the prairie at his own sweet will because the roads were just about as he made them, and were usually where he considered the “best going.” But I can’t remember exactly when Brother William came among us. We always called him Brother William because he was the only Quaker and the only avowed advocate of peace in Torinda, which squatted on the borders of Iowa and Missouri, and existed for two or three years before it knew to which State it belonged.
Most of us who made it were old soldiers, who had stopped there at the end of the Civil War because it was the handiest place on what was then the frontier. We were from both sides, and in that first winter there was scarcely a man who could boast an overcoat that was not either blue or gray and adorned with brass buttons. Sometimes, forgetting that the war was over, we fought among ourselves, still trying to decide that stubbornly contested dispute; but Brother William never fought, and was the greatest peacemaker that ever lived since Lincoln died.
He prospered amazingly. He had a freighting outfit, and when business offered crossed the Missouri River and camped with the buffalo hunters on the Nebraska side. He tried sawmilling, and, the first thing we knew, opened up a general store. He prospered in that too, prospered so much indeed that he became round and fat, a perfect mountain of a man, because when he was in lean condition he stood at a nice, fair, six-foot mark and weighed somewhere near two hundred pounds.
There was many a battle refought around Brother William’s stove on winter nights, the big iron box offering plenty of gratuitous heat and its sawdust pit seeming most hospitable. Besides, there used to be cracker eases to sit on, and William always had an open box of tobacco on the counter, to say nothing of the occasional coverless dried apple barrel. There are many renowned historians who could have gathered much more accurate information of certain battles of the Civil War than their books show, had they passed a winter at Brother William’s, where we men of the North and the South fought them over again; but Brother William never took part in the conversation, ami when the arguments became too heated usually declared he didn't believe in war. Hence, in time, his place became admitted neutral ground, although some of us felt either pity or contempt for him because he had not taken part in that splendid struggle for principle on no matter which side.
Looking back over those years, it seems odd to me that I cannot remember a single public question, or single argument, political or otherwise, in which Brother William took part, until the day when it was decided that we would advance in law and order, and that meant the building of a calaboose. I'm not sure that there would have been any calaboose but for Hank Jones, known as Hanky Pank, who became the most conspicuous figure in Torinda because he had the doubtful honor of being the only town drunk.
Iowa had become a State and was indulging in politics. Somebody, wanting to be elected to Congress, sent down a delegation and a brass band, and one of the delegates in his speech lauded the orderliness of the citizens “of this great and prosperous young city which is destined, under our party rule, to become the great metropolis of this corner of the Hawkeye State.” We all felt flattered until the speaker had his little joke.
“I have seen,” he said, “but one intoxicated man since we came here, and perhaps his hilarity was due to the salubriousness of your remarkable climate.”
The joke didn’t take— didn’t get across, as they say nowadays. It rankled with us, until some of our best citizens declared for the limit of the law and order and refinement, and shrieked for a calaboose in which the unfortunate Hanky Pank could be locked when the streets were no longer wide enough to hold his wandering footsteps.
It was then that Brother William came to the fore. “I have always been proud,” he said, “to write back to Pennsylvania that I lived in a town where the Marshal had to make his living by blacksmithing, and that his fees of office had never exceeded one dollar a year. Brother Jones is merely wayward. What he needs more than a jail is charity and kindness. If he falls in the street, it is our duty to pick him up — yea, though it be a hundred times! — and take him home. Torinda needs no place of incarceration. A calaboose would be a blot on our town. Thee does not need one, nor do I,” he ended, addressing the man perched on the nearest crackerbox, “and a forgiving leniency is better for Brother Jones than iron bars.”
It was a long speech for the Quaker; but the town insisted on a calaboose. It was built of heavy logs with strong iron bars welded over the forge of the town Marshal, Tom Brooks, who had been a Confederate soldier, and, for the most of his life, a frontiersman.
Perhaps, after all, it was Tom’s fault that Torinda built one. I'm not quite sure whether to lay the blame on him or on Hanky Pank. It may be the vanity of office gave Tom the longing to carry a big iron key. Aside from a very large star, it was the only emblem to show that Torinda had a Marshal.
And, because Torn was the foremost advocate for a calaboose, Brother William seemed to form a grave, dispassionate dislike for him as a public official.
“Brother Tom,” he would say, “thee will make a mistake some day owing to thy vanity, and put some one in thy little loghouse for the damnation of their souls. There should be no prisons in a land where men have failings and weaknesses. Be careful of thy trust and let it not lead thee astray through overzealousness. Remember that a kindly word, well spoken, bears more admonition than all thy force or bars of iron.”
It is a fact that Brother William lost weight after the calaboose was built through staying awake nights for the redemption of Hanky Pank, and that recalcitrant was not put into the house of ill repute. Tom Brooks asserted that it was fear of the calaboose that worked Hanky's reformation; but Brother William retorted with quiet fervor that it was the helping hand, for Hanky Pank was given a job driving one of the freight wagons the Quaker owned, and thereafter eschewed the wine when it was red.
Almost everyone in Torinda had come to regard Brother William as the personification of peace and judicial fairness. In the absence of a church of his own faith, he regularly divided his attendance among all others as represented in the village. There were four of them, including the United Presbyterian denomination, and thus the benevolent Quaker was like a human calendar for that embryo city of ours. Beginning with the New Year, he devoted three months to the Methodist Episcopal, and therefore April found him a Presbyterian. The first Sunday in July saw him entering, for a three months' visit, the Baptist church, in time for the warm days and the baptizing ceremonies in the turgid Nodaway River that ran between the hills at the town's feet. October, mellow and red, began his attendance on the United Presbyterian, for which he had a sneaking fondness because it refused to have an organ and adhered strictly to the psalms of that master poet David.
There came a time when Horace Greeley began to preach the doctrine of emigration from Atlantic shores; and there were several persons who obediently took his advice and started toward the setting sun merely because somebody remarked that “Westward the star of Empire takes its way."
The original course of many of our railways was directed by town bonuses, and one of them promised to come our way if we put up enough money, and also threatened to make the very name of our Torinda forgotten by future mappers if we did not. The gentlemen who came in advance were smooth, flowery talkers hired by New Yorkers, who, we afterward learned, got a percentage of all contributions.
Brother William, being for progress, made the biggest donation and paid in cash. Tom Brooks, wanting the town to grow, came second, and we all dug down more or less under the persuasive eloquence of the advance empire builders, and buoyed by our own dreams of how Torinda would look with a red station at which the real railroad trains sometimes stopped. Sam Patch was the only man against it. and we thought him prejudiced. We went railway mad, and that is worse for the average frontier town than plain hydrophobia.
There was much of a celebration on the day it was announced that the road was to pass through Torinda. The blue and the gray fought nobly to see which could make the most noise with anvils and powder, there being no cannon convenient. The blues were on one side of the huge bonfire in the square, and the grays on the other. Every time an anvil was fired its servitors cheered. Most of us thought the grays had a little the best of it, on account of having so many of Mosby’s Raiders, who certainly had a more terrifying yell than any Eastern university can now boast. But, taken altogether, and considering the hilarity of the occasion, it passed quite orderly and decorous. Even Brother William, who waddled his three hundred pounds round the outskirts of the fire, admitted this.
Brother William was an extraordinarily early riser. His house was on what were then the outskirts of Torinda, and as he came down the trail the next morning he heard a wail from the calaboose.
"Let me out of this!" a voice roared through the grating. "Come and unlock this jug, Mr. — whatever your name is. How in tarnation is the stage goin’ to git out on time with me shut in here? Open this blankety blank blank door! How the blankety blank blank did I ever git in here’s what I'd like to know!"
Brother William paused as if arrested by a voice from the tomb. His round face grew very stern, and he strode energetically round to the rear, got a section of a log, propped it up against the wall under the grating, and thus got to where he could look inside. Below him he beheld old Sam Patch, with his gray hair ruffled, in the act of trying to kick the door down. Over in the other comer a dark figure industriously snored.
“Brother Sam," the Quaker called, “how did thee ever get in here?”
“That’s jest what I want to know!” Sam answered, pausing in his labors. “Must have been Tom. Drat im! He cain’t shoe no hoss of mine any more, the gol durn rebel! The idea of treatin’ me this a way!”
“Who is that in the comer favoring thee with his company?” Brother William asked, peering through the grating.
“That,” said Sam Patch, “is what’s left of your man Hanky Pank."
Brother William promptly fell off his perch in astonishment, and when he got up divided his time for a full minute between rubbing himself and exclaiming, “Bless my soul! Poor, misguided Brother Hanky!”
Then indignation seemed to supplant sorrow, and he hurried up the street with a much faster walk than usual, muttering to himself, as angry as anyone ever knew him to get. He passed his store and on to Tom Brooks' house, and routed out the Marshal, who came to an upper window with a musket in his hands as if fearing a mob.
“Tom Brooks, thee had better dress thyself and come down here right away!" the Quaker said, and for the first time since they had known each other he refused to “Brother" the Marshal. “Thee hast made a great mistake. Thee hast allowed thy official desire to arrest somebody to lead thee astray. Come down, I say, and release Brothers Patch and Hanky!”
“Had to do it,” Tom asserted belligerently. “They were disturbin' the peace of the community, against all law an' order. Had to make examples of 'em. Besides, they wouldn't get out of the way when the boys fired the anvil. Hanky wanted to light one with a match, and would have sure got himself blowed up like as if he'd been hit by a twenty-pound shell.”
Brother William was seen to waver a little, and sadly. The Marshal's argument sounded rather plausible. Then he bucked up. “But that was no reason for thee arresting Brother Sam,” he declared hopefully. “What did he do?"
“Him? He yelled out of time and disturbed the other boys." Tom replied, as if the whole town had not been doing more or less yelling on the previous memorable night. “More’n that, he got a notion the war was on again, and said he could lick every ex-Confederate within forty miles, and started in to do it too!”
Brother William shook his head and, in another tone of voice, asked Tom to come down and get them out.
“Got to take ’em before the cote," Tom insisted with official austerity; but compromised by saying they could do it then just as well as not, and proceeded to dress.
Torinda was not awake to see the pitiful first examples of law and order when Tom, Brother William, and the two culprits walked up to Judge Simon’s house and woke him up, he being the Justice of Peace and the “cote." He was quite inclined to be lenient, as unofficially he was the proprietor of the Rancher’s Delight, and “reckoned" a dollar and costs ought to be about right, inasmuch as nothing had been broken but the peace, which was cheap. Brother William paid the fine and saw to it that Hanky had to start on a long trip that very morning; so the freight wagon and the stage rattled away in each other’s dust as the sun came up over the hills on the other side of the sleepy Nodaway. And Torinda laughed in its coat sleeve when it heard about it in the Judge's inimitable way.
“Tom was tryin’ to look like the President of the Confederate States of America,” he said, “Brother William looked as if he was so sorrerful he could about cry, and Sam Patch was sure some sore; but Hanky Pank—he was the worst. He just sat around until cote was ovah, then he leaned on my desk and says, ‘Jedge, how much does it cost to put this whole town under bonds to keep the peace? I'd like to have you do that,’ says he, ‘because I give you fair warnin’ that if I ever get thrown in again the fust thing I do when I get out will be to kill the man that bought and the man that sold me the fust drink. So it’ll be the town that breaks the peace when that happens, an’ not me, won’t it? Better put ’em under bonds, I'm tellin’ you!’ And then he walked out grittin' his teeth, with Brother William aftah him tryin’ to cool him off a few.”
And thus ended the incident of the fall from grace of Hanky Pank and Sam Patch; but it is a well known fact in Torinda that Hanky Pank, from that day until the Sioux got him, with Custer’s men, never took anything stronger than Arbuckle’s; also that Sam Patch drove straighter; also that the arrests were the cause for Brother William's forming a distinct dislike for Tom.
In time the first railway surveyors appeared on horseback. Then more came with a gang, driving stakes. And at last the first rails reached the east side of the hills and a big gang started to cut. As the big work increased, more men arrived, until there was an army of the toughest laborers I ever saw camped out on the hill about three miles from town.
When railways were built in those days and the construction had to stop any place for more than a week or ten days, there was a regular following of sharks who prowled about the outskirts, opening up saloons in tents and all sorts of trouble shops. The laborers did most of their fighting in their own camp, and, as far as anyone knew, were allowed to fight it out unless it got too strong, and then some of the bosses went at them and persuaded them to peace—with pick handles. It got so bad out on the cut that the superintendent of the works, acting for the contractors, searched the camp and confiscated every knife and shooting iron for fear that some one would get too strenuous.
By and by some of the men found that they could come to Torinda on payday and buy what clothing they needed from Brother William, who, unlike many merchants so situated, never raised his prices and was cheaper than the camp traders. Once a week his store had to keep open until midnight, and it was a busy season for him.
But it was also a busy season for Tom Brooks. I am pretty sure that it was not because he wanted the fees, so much as that he was conscientious and bound to preserve order, that Tom broke the records. He kept the log calaboose pretty well crowded on paydays, and Judge Simon used to fine the disorderlies in batches of five, to save time and to get back to his pool tables. It kept getting worse and worse, and the men out on the cut began to pass word as to what they intended to do to Tom before they traveled westward for the next big work.
It came along to election time, and then Torinda had a surprise. Brother William plunged boldly into politics, and all for the purpose of defeating Tom for the marshalship. He even went so far as to call a mass meeting on his own responsibility, and stood up on a box—a good strong one—in front of his store and made a speech against Brooks. He had two torches on the sides and hired the town band, which consisted of two fifes, two drums, and a bugle, to parade round the square and gather the voters.
“I’m for peace. Brothers,” he said, after he had urged the crowd to elect the opposition candidate, who was neither very well known nor very popular. “Who wanted a calaboose in the first place? Brother Thomas Brooks! Who always walked with the key sticking out, as if anxious to arrest some wayward brother? Tom Brooks! Did we ever miss a calaboose until he wanted one? No! I tell thee it is a grave mistake to arrest men so frequently, when kind words could induce them to keep law and order. What we need is a man who would use persuasion, rather than a club. Brother Brooks is a good smith and an estimable man; but he does not understand how to handle the wayward.”
It was just four nights later that a messenger from one of the bosses on the cut came into Torinda at about eleven o’clock in the night, and the mule he rode was lathering. A fellow named Bill Sawyer had hit a Hungarian over the head with a number two shovel, and it was expected that the man would die.
Tom never hesitated for a minute. He just told the fellow to wait until he could hitch his horses to his buckboard, took his old army pistol down off the wall, and they rode away. The man thought Tom should have at least twenty men with him.
“Oh, no,” Tom said. “If I took twenty men, it would look as if I had come for a fight; if I go alone, I’ll get my man.”
They went over the bridge across the river, and on up into the hills until they came to the camp, which was wild with excitement. The bosses were trying to keep the rival camps from fighting. Tom stopped at one of the saloon tents, where there was a sort of dance hall in the rear and a bar in the front: but the man with him was afraid to go inside. He looked through a crack of the door. The place was crowded, and at the very middle of the bar stood the man Sawyer who was wanted for attempted murder. He was a big, rough, swearing bully, a sort of leader in his own camp, and from the way he talked it appeared he wanted more trouble. Tom’s conductor pointed him out and then advised Tom to postpone the arrest until morning.
“They’d kill you in there quicker than a wink. Mr. Marshal,” he said. “A hundred men couldn't take Bill Sawyer out of there tonight. Give it up. Slip away and go back home. There’s no use in your gettin’ your topworks caved in."
Tom told him that if he was afraid to tear out for the brush, and the man went like a jack rabbit. Tom waited till he was well out of the way, then turned his horses with their heads toward town, and stopped them by the door.
Sawyer was just telling what he would do to anybody who tried to take him, when the door opened, and in it stood a lean man, crouched, with a pair of eyes that blazed, and in his hand was a big heavy gun held close to his side in a clenched fist with the muzzle pointed at the crowd.
“Sawyer,” said Brooks, in the stillness that seemed to settle over the place as if every man there was holding his breath in astonishment, “you come out here, and come quick! And don’t any of you others make a move, because I’ll kill the first man that winks an eyelash!”
He appeared to cover the space intervening between the big ruffian and the door in about three steps, and with a vicious, metallic click the trigger of the gun came to full cock. He moved so fast and so determinedly that all in an instant he had leaped behind Sawyer, caught him by the coat collar, and was pressing the black steel against the base of his brain.
“Move!” he commanded. “And if any of your friends interfere, you die!”
Before Bill Sawyer could recover from his astonishment he was shoved out to the buckboard and into it, and at the last instant after he climbed in a pair of steel handcuffs caught over one wrist, and he was made to hold the other back until it also was pinioned behind him. Tom grabbed the reins and shouted at his horses, and they went away on the jump. Behind them the camp belched out men, storming, raying, and cursing, and the night was a pandemonium. Tom's horses raced that three miles in record time. They clattered across the Nodaway bridge, and then pelted on, to halt before the calaboose door, and in all that time Bill Sawyer was too surprised and cowed to say anything. He knew that a man who would dare to take him from the midst of his gang would kill him if he resisted.
Tom took the handcuffs off and locked him in. Then he drove his horses away to put them out.
The moon had come up, and everything was light as day, a dim day. Torinda was asleep, with the exception of Brother William, who, about an hour later, methodically plodded homeward, after methodically making up a trial balance of his methodical books.
The Quaker had the unbroken habit of reading a chapter from the Bible before he went to bed. He had shut the Holy Book, and removed his coat and vest, shoes and stockings, when he heard a dull, murmuring rumble out in the night, and leaned from the window to look into the road. It was filled with dark figures which ran along heavily and with an air of deadly menace. They paused almost in front of his house to gather up a big log that lay beside the road. At least twenty of them caught it up, and then they hurried on down the street toward that bane of Brother William’s happiness, the calaboose.
Brother William blew out his light and ran out into the street and after them as fast as his big weight would permit.
There was scarcely an instant's halt at the calaboose door, and then came two shots, one after the other. The mob had found faithful Tom quietly sitting on the doorstep keeping guard. Two men went down; but the others had him before he could pull the trigger again, and now the mutterings rose to fierce shouts of “Hang him! Take him to the flagpole in the square and pull him up by the lanyards!”
There was a little swirling clump, striking and dragging, as they overpowered the Marshal, and then the men carrying the log drew back, took a run, and—"Smash!" the improvised battering ram struck the door. Back they went again, and this time the door splintered inward with a crash, and Bill Sawyer stepped out to help lynch Tom Brooks.
Brother William ran with astonishing agility for a man of his weight, skirted the crowd, and panted up to his store door. He took no time to unlock it, but put his big shoulder against it and burst it wide open. He fumbled round in the darkness for a moment, seemed to find what he wanted, and was out in the square again as the vanguard of the mob, holding Tom Brooks, approached the flagpole. He never paused, but shouldered men right and left. Some of them, recognizing in him a townsman, struck and tried to drag him down; but he was earnest and resistless. Ilis bulk and strength were overwhelming. He fought like a professional, his huge arms thrusting, shoving, and striking with astonishing quickness and force. He fairly mowed his way through his opponents. Suddenly he gained up to Brooks, and then something flashed in his hands. A pair of guns were there which he held on the men clinging to the Marshal.
“Let go!" he commanded, and they, surprised for the instant, wavered and at his threatening advance drew back. “Here, Brother Tom, take these!” he said, shoving the wicked looking pistols into Tom's hands. Then he fished down into his pockets and pulled out two more.
“Brothers,” lie said, addressing the mob as he shifted round until he and the Marshal stood back to back, “I'm a man of peace. Let us have no trouble.”
There were four oil lamps burning above where they stood, accentuating the light of the moon and bringing out details as he stood there, a beruffled but formidable giant. His shirt and undershirt had been torn off in his progress, exposing his hairy chest and great bare arms. His white hair shone like silver, and drops of perspiration trickled down his face and over one bruised and puffed cheek; but his eyes were steady and calm. He felt that the Marshal at his back was beginning to regain his breath and to recover from the blows that had been dealt him, and went on: “You all know me; you know I am a man of peace. What does all this mean?”
“It's the Quaker storekeeper!” men began to say to one another, and some of them took time to curse him.
He made a plea for the Marshal, apparently still hoping to turn the mob from its purpose; but it began to writhe and twist, and from mere muttering its voice raised to angry shouts. Then he tried to talk, it seemed, against time; for he felt the back against his growing stiffer as Tom regained strength.
“Get out of the way or we’ll hang you with him!” Sawyer blustered, shoving toward them.
Brother William half turned his head. “Is thee all right now. Brother Tom?” he asked.
“You bet!” came the grim response.
“Then look out! We must fight till help comes."
Suddenly the Quaker stretched his hand up into the air and fired five shots as fast as he could pull the trigger, knowing that in the night this would arouse the last sleeping man in Torinda.
“Now we go. Brother Tom!” he shouted. “Thee must walk ahead slowly and I will go backward behind thee until we reach a place where we can get our backs against a wall.”
The crowd swarmed in toward them, to be met with pointed guns. Brother William had thrown the empty one away and pulled another one from his waistband, and they began a terrible march across the little square to a sheltering wall. Once Brother William fired, and Bill Sawyer, who had attempted to rush them, fell with a bullet hole through his chest. They were gaining foot by foot, and yet the mob harried them always. Always the determined little Marshal, a living menace, pressed forward, with the big, corpulent, half nude Quaker behind him, and with a ready gun facing the rioters whenever they came toward him.
The wall was almost reached, when from all sides came mad shouts. Torinda was awake. Her men were cheering as they came, and high and fierce came the old yell of Mosby's Raiders—the famous rebel yell that had rung out over many a sodden field. It was accompanied by that hoarse, unyielding shout of the men who had fought for the North, now combined into one little army, fighting veterans all, in defense of their town. The men from the cut, rough and hard as they were, were as pygmies confronted by giants, in the face of that terrific onslaught. They were brought against those who had fought where more than bruises was toll of the day; where to die was nothing, but victory everything. They broke into swirling eddies. They fell as they were stricken, and then—took to flight!
"At them. Boys, at them!” shouted Brother William, leading the way in pursuit of the fugitives. “Halt! Some of you go back and pick up a man named Sawyer. He is the one Brooks arrested. Take him to the calaboose and mount guard. Here, Patch, take twelve men and work as hospital corps relief! The rest of you follow with us! We must arrest them all! At the double! March!"
Daylight came as Brother William returned, with Tom Brooks by his side, and there plodded ahead of them more than forty prisoners, who, for safe keeping, were confined in the town hall until their bosses could come and pay the fines that Judge Simon imposed. Be sure he got enough to pave the town! The pavement is still there.
Sawyer was eventually taught a trade—in the State Penitentiary. The cut was finally finished, and maybe you have ridden through it. That was the last of the war in Torinda, and you couldn't stir up an argument there now over what happened in the '60s. But as the chastened rioters hurried away from the “coteroom” on that eventful day, and the Torindians were left alone, Brother William put an arm round the battered Marshal’s shoulder and declared himself.
“Brothers,” he said. “I have been mistaken. I have changed my belief. What we need in Torinda for Marshal is a man who can use a club rather than persuasion. I’m for Brother Brooks! This seems to be a place where peace doesn’t always work.”
“But, by the way. Brother William,” the “cote” interpolated, “you seem to know an all fired sight about handlin' men in a scrimmage. Was you evah to the wah?"
Brother William looked a trifle self conscious and embarrassed as he replied, “Yes, Judge, I was Colonel of what was known as the Pennsylvania 224th Volunteers—the Fighting Two and Two Dozen."
“My Lawd!" said the court, awestricken. “We fit you all at Shiloh. The bloody Two-Twenty-Foah was what we all called you. And you all sure went some!"