Tom Grogan/Chapter 17
A DANIEL COME TO JUDGMENT
WHEN Judge Bowker entered his office adjoining the village bank, Justice Rowan had already arrived. So had McGaw, Dempsey, Crimmins, Quigg, the president of the board, and one or two of the trustees. The judge had sent for McGaw and the president, and they had notified the others.
McGaw sat next to Dempsey. His extreme nervousness of a few days ago—starting almost at the sound of his own footstep—had given place to a certain air of bravado, now that everybody in the village believed the horse had kicked Tom.
Babcock and Tom were by the window, she listless and weary, he alert and watchful for the slightest point in her favor. She had on her brown dress, washed clean of the blood-stains, and the silk hood, which better concealed the bruises. All her old fire and energy were gone. It was not from the shock of her wound,—her splendid constitution was fast healing that,—but from this deeper hurt, this last thrust of McGaw's which seemed to have broken her indomitable spirit.
Babcock, although he did not betray his misgivings, was greatly worried over the outcome of McGaw's latest scheme. He wished in his secret heart that Tom had signed her own name to the contract. He was afraid so punctilious a man as the judge might decide against her. He had never seen him; he only knew that no other judge in his district had so great a reputation for technical rulings.
When the judge entered—a small, gray-haired, keen-eyed man in a black suit, with gold spectacles, spotless linen, and clean-shaven face—Babcock's fears were confirmed. This man, he felt, would be legally exact, no matter who suffered by his decision.
Rowan opened the case, the judge listening attentively, looking over his glasses. Rowan recounted the details of the advertisement, the opening of the bids, the award of the contract, the signing of “Thomas Grogan” in the presence of the full board, and the discovery by his “honored client that no such man existed, had not existed for years, and did not now exist.”
“Dead, your Honor”—throwing out his chest impressively, his voice swelling—“dead in his grave these siven years, this Mr. Thomas Grogan; and yet this woman has the bald and impudent effrontery to”—
“That will do, Mr. Rowan.”
Police justices—justices like Rowan—did not count much with Judge Bowker, and then he never permitted any one to abuse a woman in his presence.
“The point you make is that Mrs. Grogan had no right to sign her name to a contract made out in the name of her dead husband.”
“I do, your Honor,” said Rowan, resuming his seat.
“Why did you sign it?” asked Judge Bowker, turning to Tom.
She looked at Babcock. He nodded assent, and then she answered:—
“I allus signed it so since he left me.”
There was a pleading, tender pathos in her words that startled Babcock. He could hardly believe the voice to be Tom's.
The judge looked at her with a quick, penetrating glance, which broadened into an expression of kindly interest when he read her entire honesty in her face. Then he turned to the president of the board.
“When you awarded this contract, whom did you expect to do the work, Mrs. Grogan or her husband?”
“Mrs. Grogan, of course. She has done her own work for years,” answered the president.
The judge tapped the arm of his chair with his pencil. The taps could be heard all over the room. Most men kept quiet in Bowker's presence, even men like Rowan. For some moments his Honor bent over the desk and carefully examined the signed contract spread out before him; then he pushed it back, and glanced about the room.
“Is Mr. Crane, the bondsman, present?”
“Mr. Crane has gone West, sir,” said Babcock, rising. “I represent Mrs. Grogan in this matter.”
“Did Mr. Crane sign this bond knowing that Mrs. Grogan would haul the stone?”
“He did; and I can add that all her checks, receipts, and correspondence are signed in the same way, and have been for years. She is known everywhere as Tom Grogan. She has never had any other name—in her business.”
“Who else objects to this award?” said the judge calmly.
Rowan sprang to his feet. The judge looked at him.
“Please sit down, Justice Rowan. I said 'who else.' I have heard you.” He knew Rowan.
Dempsey jumped from his chair.
“I'm opposed to it, yer Honor, an' so is all me fri'nds here. This woman has been invited into the Union, and treats us as if we was dogs. She”—
“Are you a bidder for this work?” asked the judge.
“No, sir; but the Union has rights, and”—
“Please take your seat; only bidders can be heard now.”
“But who's to stand up for the rights of the laborin' man if”—
“You can, if you choose; but not here. This is a question of evidence.”
“Who's Bowker anyhow?” said Dempsey behind his hand to Quigg. “Ridin' 'round in his carriage and chokin' off free speech?” After some moments of thought the judge turned to the president of the board, and said in a measured, deliberate voice:—
“This signature, in my opinion, is a proper one. No fraud is charged, and under the testimony none was intended. The law gives Mrs. Grogan the right to use any title she chooses in conducting her business—her husband's name, or any other. The contract must stand as it is.”
Here the judge arose and entered his private office, shutting the door behind him.
Tom had listened with eyes dilating, every nerve in her body at highest tension. Her contempt for Rowan in his abuse of her; her anger against Dempsey at his insults; her gratitude to Babcock as he stood up to defend her; her fears for the outcome, as she listened to the calm, judicial voice of the judge,—each producing a different sensation of heat and cold,—were all forgotten in the wild rush of joy that surged through her as the judge's words fell upon her ear. She shed no tears, as other women might have done. Every fibre of her being seemed to be turned to steel. She was herself again—she, Tom Grogan!—firm on her own feet, with her big arms ready to obey her, and her head as clear as a bell, master of herself, master of her rights, master of everything about her. And, above all, master of the dear name of her Tom that nothing could take from her now—not even the law!
With this tightening of her will power there quivered through her a sense of her own wrongs—the wrongs she had endured for years, the wrongs that had so nearly wrecked her life.
Then, forgetting the office, the still solemnity of the place—even Babcock—she walked straight up to McGaw, blocking his exit to the street door.
“Dan McGaw, there's a word I've got for ye before ye l'ave this place, an' I'm a-going to say it to ye now before ivery man in this room.”
McGaw shrank back in alarm.
“You an' I have known each other since the time I nursed yer wife when yer boy Jack was born, an' helped her through when she was near dyin' from a kick ye give her. Ye began yer dirty work on me one night when me Tom lay sick, an' I threw ye out o' me kitchen; an' since that time ye've”—
“Here! I ain't a-goin' ter stand here an' listen ter yer. Git out o' me way, or I'll”—
Tom stepped closer, her eyes flashing, every word ringing clear.
“Stand still, an' hear what I've got to say to ye, or I'll go into that room and make a statement to the judge that'll put ye where ye won't move for years. There was enough light for me to see. Look at this”—drawing back her hood, and showing the bandaged scar.
McGaw seemed to shrivel up; the crowd stood still in amazement.
“I thought ye would. Now, I'll go on. Since that night in me kitchen ye've tried to ruin me in ivery other way ye could. Ye've set these dead beats Crimmins and Quigg on to me to coax away me men; ye've stirred up the Union; ye burned me stable”—
“Ye lie! It's a tramp did it,” snarled McGaw.
“Ye better keep still till I get through, Dan McGaw. I've got the can that helt the ker'sene, an' I know where yer boy Billy bought it, an' who set him up to it,” she added, looking straight at Crimmins. “He might'a' been a dacent boy but for him.” Crimmins turned pale and bit his lip.
The situation became intense. Even the judge, who had come out of his private room at the attack, listened eagerly.
“Ye've been a sneak an' a coward to serve a woman so who never harmed ye. Now I give ye fair warnin', an' I want two or three other men in this room to listen; if this don't stop, ye'll all be behint bars where ye belong.—I mean you, too, Mr. Dempsey. As for you, Dan McGaw, if it warn't for yer wife Kate, who's a dacent woman, ye'd go to-day. Now, one thing more, an' I'll let ye go. I've bought yer chattel mortgage of Mr. Crane that's past due, an' I can do wid it as I pl'ase. You'll send to me in the mornin' two of yer horses to take the places of those ye burned up, an' if they're not in my stable by siven o'clock I'll be round yer way 'bout nine with the sheriff.”
Once outside in the sunlight, she became herself again. The outburst had cleared her soul like a thunder-clap. She felt as free as air. The secret that had weighed her down for years was off her mind. What she had whispered to her own heart she could now proclaim from the housetops. Even the law protected her.
Babcock walked beside her, silent and grave. She seemed to him like some Joan with flaming sword.
When they reached the road that led to her own house, her eyes fell upon Jennie and Carl. They had walked down behind them, and were waiting under the trees.
“There's one thing more ye can do for me, my friend,” she said, turning to Babcock. “All the old things Tom an' I did togither I can do by meself; but it's new things like Carl an' Jennie that trouble me—the new things I can't ask him about. Do ye see them two yonder! Am I free to do for 'em as I would? No; ye needn't answer. I see it in yer face. Come here, child; I want ye. Give me yer hand.”
For an instant she stood looking into their faces, her eyes brimming. Then she took Jennie's hand, slipped it into Carl's, and laying her big, strong palm over the two, said slowly:
“Now go home, both o' ye, to the house that'll shelter ye, pl'ase God, as long as ye live.”
Before the highway-work was finished, McGaw was dead and Billy and Crimmins in Sing Sing. The label on the empty can, Quigg's volunteered testimony, and Judge Bowker's charge, convinced the jury. Quigg had quarreled with Crimmins and the committee, and took that way of getting even.
When Tom heard the news, she left her teams standing in the road and went straight to McGaw's house. His widow sat on a broken chair in an almost empty room.
“Don't cry, Katy,” said Tom, bending over her. “I'm sorry for Billy. Seems to me, ye've had a lot o' trouble since Dan was drowned. It was not all Billy's fault. It was Crimmins that put him up to it. But ye've one thing left, and that's yer boy Jack. Let me take him—I'll make a man of him.”
Jack is still with her. Tom says he is the best man in her gang.