It was with much caution that Whistling Dick slid back the door of the
box-car, for Article 5716, City Ordinances, authorized (perhaps
unconstitutionally) arrest on suspicion, and he was familiar of old
with this ordinance. So, before climbing out, he surveyed the field
with all the care of a good general.
He saw no change since his last visit to this big, alms-giving, long-
suffering city of the South, the cold weather paradise of the tramps.
The levee where his freight-car stood was pimpled with dark bulks of
merchandise. The breeze reeked with the well-remembered, sickening
smell of the old tarpaulins that covered bales and barrels. The dun
river slipped along among the shipping with an oily gurgle. Far down
toward Chalmette he could see the great bend in the stream outlined by
the row of electric lights. Across the river Algiers lay, a long,
irregular blot, made darker by the dawn which lightened the sky
beyond. An industrious tug or two, coming for some early sailing ship,
gave a few appalling toots, that seemed to be the signal for breaking
day. The Italian luggers were creeping nearer their landing, laden
with early vegetables and shellfish. A vague roar, subterranean in
quality, from dray wheels and street cars, began to make itself heard
and felt; and the ferryboats, the Mary Anns of water craft, stirred
sullenly to their menial morning tasks.
Whistling Dick's red head popped suddenly back into the car. A sight
too imposing and magnificent for his gaze had been added to the scene.
A vast, incomparable policeman rounded a pile of rice sacks and stood
within twenty yards of the car. The daily miracle of the dawn, now
being performed above Algiers, received the flattering attention of
this specimen of municipal official splendour. He gazed with unbiased
dignity at the faintly glowing colours until, at last, he turned to
them his broad back, as if convinced that legal interference was not
needed, and the sunrise might proceed unchecked. So he turned his face
to the rice bags, and, drawing a flat flask from an inside pocket, he
placed it to his lips and regarded the firmament.
Whistling Dick, professional tramp, possessed a half-friendly
acquaintance with this officer. They had met several times before on
the levee at night, for the officer, himself a lover of music, had
been attracted by the exquisite whistling of the shiftless vagabond.
Still, he did not care, under the present circumstances, to renew the
acquaintance. There is a difference between meeting a policeman on a
lonely wharf and whistling a few operatic airs with him, and being
caught by him crawling out of a freight-car. So Dick waited, as even a
New Orleans policeman must move on some time--perhaps it is a
retributive law of nature--and before long "Big Fritz" majestically
disappeared between the trains of cars.
Whistling Dick waited as long as his judgment advised, and then slid
swiftly to the ground. Assuming as far as possible the air of an
honest labourer who seeks his daily toil, he moved across the network
of railway lines, with the intention of making his way by quiet Girod
Street to a certain bench in Lafayette Square, where, according to
appointment, he hoped to rejoin a pal known as "Slick," this
adventurous pilgrim having preceded him by one day in a cattle-car
into which a loose slat had enticed him.
As Whistling Dick picked his way where night still lingered among the
big, reeking, musty warehouses, he gave way to the habit that had won
for him his title. Subdued, yet clear, with each note as true and
liquid as a bobolink's, his whistle tinkled about the dim, cold
mountains of brick like drops of rain falling into a hidden pool. He
followed an air, but it swam mistily into a swirling current of
improvisation. You could cull out the trill of mountain brooks, the
staccato of green rushes shivering above chilly lagoons, the pipe of
Rounding a corner, the whistler collided with a mountain of blue and
"So," observed the mountain calmly, "You are already pack. Und dere
vill not pe frost before two veeks yet! Und you haf forgotten how to
vistle. Dere was a valse note in dot last bar."
"Watcher know about it?" said Whistling Dick, with tentative
familiarity; "you wit yer little Gherman-band nixcumrous chunes.
Watcher know about music? Pick yer ears, and listen agin. Here's de
way I whistled it--see?"
He puckered his lips, but the big policeman held up his hand.
"Shtop," he said, "und learn der right way. Und learn also dot a
rolling shtone can't vistle for a cent."
Big Fritz's heavy moustache rounded into a circle, and from its depths
came a sound deep and mellow as that from a flute. He repeated a few
bars of the air the tramp had been whistling. The rendition was cold,
but correct, and he emphasized the note he had taken exception to.
"Dot p is p natural, und not p vlat. Py der vay, you petter pe glad I
meet you. Von hour later, und I vould half to put you in a gage to
vistle mit der chail pirds. Der orders are to bull all der pums after
"To bull der pums--eferybody mitout fisible means. Dirty days is der
price, or fifteen tollars."
"Is dat straight, or a game you givin' me?"
"It's der pest tip you efer had. I gif it to you pecause I pelief you
are not so bad as der rest. Und pecause you gan visl 'Der Freisechutz'
bezzer dan I myself gan. Don't run against any more bolicemans aroundt
der corners, but go away from town a few tays. Good-pye."
So Madame Orleans had at last grown weary of the strange and ruffled
brood that came yearly to nestle beneath her charitable pinions.
After the big policeman had departed, Whistling Dick stood for an
irresolute minute, feeling all the outraged indignation of a
delinquent tenant who is ordered to vacate his premises. He had
pictured to himself a day of dreamful ease when he should have joined
his pal; a day of lounging on the wharf, munching the bananas and
cocoanuts scattered in unloading the fruit steamers; and then a feast
along the free-lunch counters from which the easy-going owners were
too good-natured or too generous to drive him away, and afterward a
pipe in one of the little flowery parks and a snooze in some shady
corner of the wharf. But here was a stern order to exile, and one that
he knew must be obeyed. So, with a wary eye open from the gleam of
brass buttons, he began his retreat toward a rural refuge. A few days
in the country need not necessarily prove disastrous. Beyond the
possibility of a slight nip of frost, there was no formidable evil to
be looked for.
However, it was with a depressed spirit that Whistling Dick passed the
old French market on his chosen route down the river. For safety's
sake he still presented to the world his portrayal of the part of the
worthy artisan on his way to labour. A stall-keeper in the market,
undeceived, hailed him by the generic name of his ilk, and "Jack"
halted, taken by surprise. The vender, melted by this proof of his own
acuteness, bestowed a foot of Frankfurter and half a loaf, and thus
the problem of breakfast was solved.
When the streets, from topographical reasons, began to shun the river
bank the exile mounted to the top of the levee, and on its well-
trodden path pursued his way. The suburban eye regarded him with cold
suspicion, individuals reflected the stern spirit of the city's
heartless edict. He missed the seclusion of the crowded town and the
safety he could always find in the multitude.
At Chalmette, six miles upon his desultory way, there suddenly menaced
him a vast and bewildering industry. A new port was being established;
the dock was being built, compresses were going up; picks and shovels
and barrows struck at him like serpents from every side. An arrogant
foreman bore down upon him, estimating his muscles with the eye of a
recruiting-sergeant. Brown men and black men all about him were
toiling away. He fled in terror.
By noon he had reached the country of the plantations, the great, sad,
silent levels bordering the mighty river. He overlooked fields of
sugar-cane so vast that their farthest limits melted into the sky. The
sugar-making season was well advanced, and the cutters were at work;
the waggons creaked drearily after them; the Negro teamsters inspired
the mules to greater speed with mellow and sonorous imprecations.
Dark-green groves, blurred by the blue of distance, showed where the
plantation-houses stood. The tall chimneys of the sugar-mills caught
the eye miles distant, like lighthouses at sea.
At a certain point Whistling Dick's unerring nose caught the scent of
frying fish. Like a pointer to a quail, he made his way down the levee
side straight to the camp of a credulous and ancient fisherman, whom
he charmed with song and story, so that he dined like an admiral, and
then like a philosopher annihilated the worst three hours of the day
by a nap under the trees.
When he awoke and again continued his hegira, a frosty sparkle in the
air had succeeded the drowsy warmth of the day, and as this portent of
a chilly night translated itself to the brain of Sir Peregrine, he
lengthened his stride and bethought him of shelter. He travelled a
road that faithfully followed the convolutions of the levee, running
along its base, but whither he knew not. Bushes and rank grass crowded
it to the wheel ruts, and out of this ambuscade the pests of the
lowlands swarmed after him, humming a keen, vicious soprano. And as
the night grew nearer, although colder, the whine of the mosquitoes
became a greedy, petulant snarl that shut out all other sounds. To his
right, against the heavens, he saw a green light moving, and,
accompanying it, the masts and funnels of a big incoming steamer,
moving as upon a screen at a magic-lantern show. And there were
mysterious marshes at his left, out of which came queer gurgling cries
and a choked croaking. The whistling vagrant struck up a merry warble
to offset these melancholy influences, and it is likely that never
before, since Pan himself jigged it on his reeds, had such sounds been
heard in those depressing solitudes.
A distant clatter in the rear quickly developed into the swift beat of
horses' hoofs, and Whistling Dick stepped aside into the dew-wet grass
to clear the track. Turning his head, he saw approaching a fine team
of stylish grays drawing a double surrey. A stout man with a white
moustache occupied the front seat, giving all his attention to the
rigid lines in his hands. Behind him sat a placid, middle-aged lady
and a brilliant-looking girl hardly arrived at young ladyhood. The
lap-robe had slipped partly from the knees of the gentleman driving,
and Whistling Dick saw two stout canvas bags between his feet--bags
such as, while loafing in cities, he had seen warily transferred
between express waggons and bank doors. The remaining space in the
vehicle was filled with parcels of various sizes and shapes.
As the surrey swept even with the sidetracked tramp, the bright-eyed
girl, seized by some merry, madcap impulse, leaned out toward him with
a sweet, dazzling smile, and cried, "Mer-ry Christ-mas!" in a shrill,
Such a thing had not often happened to Whistling Dick, and he felt
handicapped in devising the correct response. But lacking time for
reflection, he let his instinct decide, and snatching off his battered
derby, he rapidly extended it at arm's length, and drew it back with a
continuous motion, and shouted a loud, but ceremonious, "Ah, there!"
after the flying surrey.
The sudden movement of the girl had caused one of the parcels to
become unwrapped, and something limp and black fell from it into the
road. The tramp picked it up, and found it to be a new black silk
stocking, long and fine and slender. It crunched crisply, and yet with
a luxurious softness, between his fingers.
"Ther bloomin' little skeezicks!" said Whistling Dick, with a broad
grin bisecting his freckled face. "W't d' yer think of dat, now!
Mer-ry Chris-mus! Sounded like a cuckoo clock, da'ts what she did. Dem
guys is swells, too, bet yer life, an' der old 'un stacks dem sacks of
dough down under his trotters like dey was common as dried apples.
Been shoppin' for Chrismus, and de kid's lost one of her new socks
w'ot she was goin' to hold up Santy wid. De bloomin' little skeezicks!
Wit' her 'Mer-ry Chris-mus!' W'ot d' yer t'ink! Same as to say,
'Hello, Jack, how goes it?' and as swell as Fift' Av'noo, and as easy
as a blowout in Cincinnat."
Whistling Dick folded the stocking carefully, and stuffed it into his
It was nearly two hours later when he came upon signs of habitation.
The buildings of an extensive plantation were brought into view by a
turn in the road. He easily selected the planter's residence in a
large square building with two wings, with numerous good-sized, well-
lighted windows, and broad verandas running around its full extent. it
was set upon a smooth lawn, which was faintly lit by the far-reaching
rays of the lamps within. A noble grove surrounded it, and old-
fashioned shrubbery grew thickly about the walks and fences. The
quarters of the hands and the mill buildings were situated at a
distance in the rear.
The road was now enclosed on each side by a fence, and presently, as
Whistling Dick drew nearer the house, he suddenly stopped and sniffed
"If dere ain't a hobo stew cookin' somewhere in dis immediate
precint," he said to himself, "me nose as quit tellin' de trut'."
Without hesitation he climbed the fence to windward. He found himself
in an apparently disused lot, where piles of old bricks were stacked,
and rejected, decaying lumber. In a corner he saw the faint glow of a
fire that had become little more than a bed of living coals, and he
thought he could see some dim human forms sitting or lying about it.
He drew nearer, and by the light of a little blaze that suddenly
flared up he saw plainly the fat figure of a ragged man in an old
brown sweater and cap.
"Dat man," said Whistling Dick to himself softly, "is a dead ringer
for Boston Harry. I'll try him wit de high sign."
He whistled one or two bars of a rag-time melody, and the air was
immediately taken up, and then quickly ended with a peculiar run. The
first whistler walked confidently up to the fire. The fat man looked
up, and spake in a loud, asthmatic wheeze:
"Gents, the unexpected but welcome addition to our circle is Mr.
Whistling Dick, an old friend of mine for whom I fully vouches. The
waiter will lay another cover at once. Mr. W. D. will join us at
supper, during which function he will enlighten us in regard to the
circumstances that gave us the pleasure of his company."
"Chewin' de stuffin' out 'n de dictionary, as usual, Boston," said
Whistling Dick; "but t'anks all de same for de invitashun. I guess I
finds meself here about de same way as yous guys. A cop gimme de tip
dis mornin'. Yous workin' on dis farm?"
"A guest," said Boston, sternly, "shouldn't never insult his
entertainers until he's filled up wid grub. 'Tain't good business
sense. Workin'!--but I will restrain myself. We five--me, Deaf Pete,
Blinky, Goggles, and Indiana Tom--got put on to this scheme of Noo
Orleans to work visiting gentlemen upon her dirty streets, and we hit
the road last evening just as the tender hues of twilight had flopped
down upon the daisies and things. Blinky, pass the empty oyster-can at
your left to the empty gentleman at your right."
For the next ten minutes the gang of roadsters paid their undivided
attention to the supper. In an old five-gallon kerosene can they had
cooked a stew of potatoes, meat, and onions, which they partook of
from smaller cans they had found scattered about the vacant lot.
Whistling Dick had known Boston Harry of old, and knew him to be one
of the shrewdest and most successful of his brotherhood. He looked
like a prosperous stock-drover or solid merchant from some country
village. He was stout and hale, with a ruddy, always smoothly shaven
face. His clothes were strong and neat, and he gave special attention
to his decent-appearing shoes. During the past ten years he had
acquired a reputation for working a larger number of successfully
managed confidence games than any of his acquaintances, and he had not
a day's work to be counted against him. It was rumoured among his
associates that he had saved a considerable amount of money. The four
other men were fair specimens of the slinking, ill-clad, noisome genus
who carried their labels of "suspicious" in plain view.
After the bottom of the large can had been scraped, and pipes lit at
the coals, two of the men called Boston aside and spake with him lowly
and mysteriously. He nodded decisively, and then said aloud to
"Listen, sonny, to some plain talky-talk. We five are on a lay. I've
guaranteed you to be square, and you're to come in on the profits
equal with the boys, and you've got to help. Two hundred hands on this
plantation are expecting to be paid a week's wages to-morrow morning.
To-morrow's Christmas, and they want to lay off. Says the boss: 'Work
from five to nine in the morning to get a train load of sugar off, and
I'll pay every man cash down for the week and a day extra.' They say:
'Hooray for the boss! It goes.' He drives to Noo Orleans to-day, and
fetches back the cold dollars. Two thousand and seventy-four fifty is
the amount. I got the figures from a man who talks too much, who got
'em from the bookkeeper. The boss of this plantation thinks he's going
to pay this wealth to the hands. He's got it down wrong; he's going to
pay it to us. It's going to stay in the leisure class, where it
belongs. Now, half of this haul goes to me, and the other half the
rest of you may divide. Why the difference? I represent the brains.
It's my scheme. Here's the way we're going to get it. There's some
company at supper in the house, but they'll leave about nine. They've
just happened in for an hour or so. If they don't go pretty soon,
we'll work the scheme anyhow. We want all night to get away good with
the dollars. They're heavy. About nine o'clock Deaf Pete and Blinky'll
go down the road about a quarter beyond the house, and set fire to a
big cane-field there that the cutters haven't touched yet. The wind's
just right to have it roaring in two minutes. The alarm'll be given,
and every man Jack about the place will be down there in ten minutes,
fighting fire. That'll leave the money sacks and the women alone in
the house for us to handle. You've heard cane burn? Well, there's
mighty few women can screech loud enough to be heard above its
crackling. The thing's dead safe. The only danger is in being caught
before we can get far enough away with the money. Now, if you--"
"Boston," interrupted Whistling Dick, rising to his feet, "T'anks for
the grub yous fellers has given me, but I'll be movin' on now."
"What do you mean?" asked Boston, also rising.
"W'y, you can count me outer dis deal. You oughter know that. I'm on
de bum all right enough, but dat other t'ing don't go wit' me.
Burglary is no good. I'll say good night and many t'anks fer--"
Whistling Dick had moved away a few steps as he spoke, but he stopped
very suddenly. Boston had covered him with a short revolver of roomy
"Take your seat," said the tramp leader. "I'd feel mighty proud of
myself if I let you go and spoil the game. You'll stick right in this
camp until we finish the job. The end of that brick pile is your
limit. You go two inches beyond that, and I'll have to shoot. Better
take it easy, now."
"It's my way of doin'," said Whistling Dick. "Easy goes. You can
depress de muzzle of dat twelve-incher, and run 'er back on de trucks.
I remains, as de newspapers says, 'in yer midst.'"
"All right," said Boston, lowering his piece, as the other returned
and took his seat again on a projecting plank in a pile of timber.
"Don't try to leave; that's all. I wouldn't miss this chance even if I
had to shoot an old acquaintance to make it go. I don't want to hurt
anybody specially, but this thousand dollars I'm going to get will fix
me for fair. I'm going to drop the road, and start a saloon in a
little town I know about. I'm tired of being kicked around."
Boston Harry took from his pocket a cheap silver watch, and held it
near the fire.
"It's a quarter to nine," he said. "Pete, you and Blinky start. Go
down the road past the house, and fire the cane in a dozen places.
Then strike for the levee, and come back on it, instead of the road,
so you won't meet anybody. By the time you get back the men will all
be striking out for the fire, and we'll break for the house and collar
the dollars. Everybody cough up what matches he's got."
The two surly tramps made a collection of all the matches in the
party, Whistling Dick contributing his quota with propitiatory
alacrity, and then they departed in the dim starlight in the direction
of the road.
Of the three remaining vagrants, two, Goggles and Indiana Tom,
reclined lazily upon convenient lumber and regarded Whistling Dick
with undisguised disfavour. Boston, observing that the dissenting
recruit was disposed to remain peaceably, relaxed a little of his
vigilance. Whistling Dick arose presently and strolled leisurely up
and down keeping carefully within the territory assigned him.
"Dis planter chap," he said, pausing before Boston Harry, "w'ot makes
yer t'ink he's got de tin in de house wit' 'im?"
"I'm advised of the facts in the case," said Boston. "He drove to Noo
Orleans and got it, I say, to-day. Want to change your mind now and
"Naw, I was just askin'. Wot kind o' team did de boss drive?"
"Pair of grays."
"Women folks along?"
"Wife and kid. Say, what morning paper are you trying to pump news
"I was just conversin' to pass de time away. I guess dat team passed
me in de road dis evenin'. Dat's all."
As Whistling Dick put his hands in his pockets and continued his
curtailed beat up and down by the fire, he felt the silk stocking he
had picked up in the road.
"Ther bloomin' little skeezicks," he muttered, with a grin.
As he walked up and down he could see, through a sort of natural
opening or lane among the trees, the planter's residence some seventy-
five yards distant. The side of the house toward him exhibited
spacious, well-lighted windows through which a soft radiance streamed,
illuminating the broad veranda and some extent of the lawn beneath.
"What's that you said?" asked Boston, sharply.
"Oh, nuttin' 't all," said Whistling Dick, lounging carelessly, and
kicking meditatively at a little stone on the ground.
"Just as easy," continued the warbling vagrant softly to himself, "an'
sociable an' swell an' sassy, wit' her 'Mer-ry Chris-mus,' Wot d'yer
* * * * *
Dinner, two hours late, was being served in the Bellemeade plantation
The dining-room and all its appurtenances spoke of an old regime that
was here continued rather than suggested to the memory. The plate was
rich to the extent that its age and quaintness alone saved it from
being showy; there were interesting names signed in the corners of the
pictures on the walls; the viands were of the kind that bring a shine
into the eyes of gourmets. The service was swift, silent, lavish, as
in the days when the waiters were assets like the plate. The names by
which the planter's family and their visitors addressed one another
were historic in the annals of two nations. Their manners and
conversation had that most difficult kind of ease--the kind that still
preserves punctilio. The planter himself seemed to be the dynamo that
generated the larger portion of the gaiety and wit. The younger ones
at the board found it more than difficult to turn back on him his guns
of raillery and banter. It is true, the young men attempted to storm
his works repeatedly, incited by the hope of gaining the approbation
of their fair companions; but even when they sped a well-aimed shaft,
the planter forced them to feel defeat by the tremendous discomfiting
thunder of the laughter with which he accompanied his retorts. At the
head of the table, serene, matronly, benevolent, reigned the mistress
of the house, placing here and there the right smile, the right word,
the encouraging glance.
The talk of the party was too desultory, too evanescent to follow, but
at last they came to the subject of the tramp nuisance, one that had
of late vexed the plantations for many miles around. The planter
seized the occasion to direct his good-natured fire of raillery at the
mistress, accusing her of encouraging the plague. "They swarm up and
down the river every winter," he said. "They overrun New Orleans, and
we catch the surplus, which is generally the worst part. And, a day or
two ago, Madame New Orleans, suddenly discovering that she can't go
shopping without brushing her skirts against great rows of the
vagabonds sunning themselves on the banquettes, says to the police:
'Catch 'em all,' and the police catch a dozen or two, and the
remaining three or four thousand overflow up and down the levee, and
madame there,"--pointing tragically with the carving-knife at her--
"feeds them. They won't work; they defy my overseers, and they make
friends with my dogs; and you, madame, feed them before my eyes, and
intimidate me when I would interfere. Tell us, please, how many to-day
did you thus incite to future laziness and depredation?"
"Six, I think," said madame, with a reflective smile; "but you know
two of them offered to work, for you heard them yourself."
The planter's disconcerting laugh rang out again.
"Yes, at their own trades. And one was an artificial-flower maker, and
the other a glass-blower. Oh, they were looking for work! Not a hand
would they consent to lift to labour of any other kind."
"And another one," continued the soft-hearted mistress, "used quite
good language. It was really extraordinary for one of his class. And
he carried a watch. And had lived in Boston. I don't believe they are
all bad. They have always seemed to me to rather lack development. I
always look upon them as children with whom wisdom has remained at a
standstill while whiskers have continued to grow. We passed one this
evening as we were driving home who had a face as good as it was
incompetent. He was whistling the intermezzo from 'Cavalleria' and
blowing the spirit of Mascagni himself into it."
A bright eyed young girl who sat at the left of the mistress leaned
over, and said in a confidential undertone:
"I wonder, mamma, if that tramp we passed on the road found my
stocking, and do you think he will hang it up to-night? Now I can hang
up but one. Do you know why I wanted a new pair of silk stockings when
I have plenty? Well, old Aunt Judy says, if you hang up two that have
never been worn, Santa Claus will fill one with good things, and
Monsieur Pambe will place in the other payment for all the words you
have spoken--good or bad--on the day before Christmas. That's why I've
been unusually nice and polite to everyone to-day. Monsieur Pambe, you
know, is a witch gentleman; he--"
The words of the young girl were interrupted by a startling thing.
Like the wraith of some burned-out shooting star, a black streak came
crashing through the window-pane and upon the table, where it shivered
into fragments a dozen pieces of crystal and china ware, and then
glanced between the heads of the guests to the wall, imprinting
therein a deep, round indentation, at which, to-day, the visitor to
Bellemeade marvels as he gazes upon it and listens to this tale as it
The women screamed in many keys, and the men sprang to their feet, and
would have laid their hands upon their swords had not the verities of
The planter was the first to act; he sprang to the intruding missile,
and held it up to view.
"By Jupiter!" he cried. "A meteoric shower of hosiery! Has
communication at last been established with Mars?"
"I should say--ahem--Venus," ventured a young-gentleman visitor,
looking hopefully for approbation toward the unresponsive young-lady
The planter held at arm's length the unceremonious visitor--a long
dangling black stocking. "It's loaded," he announced.
As he spoke, he reversed the stocking, holding it by the toe, and down
from it dropped a roundish stone, wrapped about by a piece of
yellowish paper. "Now for the first interstellar message of the
century!" he cried; and nodding to the company, who had crowded about
him, he adjusted his glasses with provoking deliberation, and examined
it closely. When he finished, he had changed from the jolly host to
the practical, decisive man of business. He immediately struck a bell,
and said to the silent-footed mulatto man who responded: "Go and tell
Mr. Wesley to get Reeves and Maurice and about ten stout hands they
can rely upon, and come to the hall door at once. Tell him to have the
men arm themselves, and bring plenty of ropes and plough lines. Tell
him to hurry." And then he read aloud from the paper these words:
To the Gent of de Hous:
Dere is five tuff hoboes xcept meself in the vaken lot near de
road war de old brick piles is. Dey got me stuck up wid a gun see
and I taken dis means of communication. 2 of der lads is gone down
to set fire to de cain field below de hous and when yous fellers
goes to turn de hoes on it de hole gang is goin to rob de hous of
de money yoo gotto pay off wit say git a move on ye say de kid
dropt dis sock on der rode tel her mery crismus de same as she
told me. Ketch de bums down de rode first and den sen a relefe
core to get me out of soke youres truly,
There was some quiet, but rapid, mavoeuvring at Bellemeade during the
ensuring half hour, which ended in five disgusted and sullen tramps
being captured, and locked securely in an outhouse pending the coming
of the morning and retribution. For another result, the visiting young
gentlemen had secured the unqualified worship of the visiting young
ladies by their distinguished and heroic conduct. For still another,
behold Whistling Dick, the hero, seated at the planter's table,
feasting upon viands his experience had never before included, and
waited upon by admiring femininity in shapes of such beauty and
"swellness" that even his ever-full mouth could scarcely prevent him
from whistling. He was made to disclose in detail his adventure with
the evil gang of Boston Harry, and how he cunningly wrote the note and
wrapped it around the stone and placed it at the toe of the stocking,
and, watching his chance, sent it silently, with a wonderful
centrifugal momentum, like a comet, at one of the big lighted windows
of the dining-room.
The planter vowed that the wanderer should wander no more; that his
was a goodness and an honesty that should be rewarded, and that a debt
of gratitude had been made that must be paid; for had he not saved
them from a doubtless imminent loss, and maybe a greater calamity? He
assured Whistling Dick that he might consider himself a charge upon
the honour of Bellemeade; that a position suited to his powers would
be found for him at once, and hinted that the way would be heartily
smoothed for him to rise to as high places of emolument and trust as
the plantation afforded.
But now, they said, he must be weary, and the immediate thing to
consider was rest and sleep. So the mistress spoke to a servant, and
Whistling Dick was conducted to a room in the wing of the house
occupied by the servants. To this room, in a few minutes, was brought
a portable tin bathtub filled with water, which was placed on a piece
of oiled cloth upon the floor. There the vagrant was left to pass the
By the light of a candle he examined the room. A bed, with the covers
neatly turned back, revealed snowy pillows and sheets. A worn, but
clean, red carpet covered the floor. There was a dresser with a
beveled mirror, a washstand with a flowered bowl and pitcher; the two
or three chairs were softly upholstered. A little table held books,
papers, and a day-old cluster of roses in a jar. There were towels on
a rack and soap in a white dish.
Whistling Dick set his candle on a chair and placed his hat carefully
under the table. After satisfying what we must suppose to have been
his curiosity by a sober scrutiny, he removed his coat, folded it, and
laid it upon the floor, near the wall, as far as possible from the
unused bathtub. Taking his coat for a pillow, he stretched himself
luxuriously upon the carpet.
When, on Christmas morning, the first streaks of dawn broke above the
marshes, Whistling Dick awoke, and reached instinctively for his hat.
Then he remembered that the skirts of Fortune had swept him into their
folds on the night previous, and he went to the window and raised it,
to let the fresh breath of the morning cool his brow and fix the yet
dream-like memory of his good luck within his brain.
As he stood there, certain dread and ominous sounds pierced the
fearful hollow of his ear.
The force of plantation workers, eager to complete the shortened task
allotted to them, were all astir. The mighty din of the ogre Labour
shook the earth, and the poor tattered and forever disguised Prince in
search of his fortune held tight to the window-sill even in the
enchanted castle, and trembled.
Already from the bosom of the mill came the thunder of rolling barrels
of sugar, and (prison-like sounds) there was a great rattling of
chains as the mules were harried with stimulant imprecations to their
places by the waggon-tongues. A little vicious "dummy" engine, with a
train of flat cars in tow, stewed and fumed on the plantation tap of
the narrow-gauge railroad, and a toiling, hurrying, hallooing stream
of workers were dimly seen in the half darkness loading the train with
the weekly output of sugar. Here was a poem; an epic--nay, a tragedy--
with work, the curse of the world, for its theme.
The December air was frosty, but the sweat broke out upon Whistling
Dick's face. He thrust his head out of the window, and looked down.
Fifteen feet below him, against the wall of the house, he could make
out that a border of flowers grew, and by that token he overhung a bed
of soft earth.
Softly as a burglar goes, he clambered out upon the sill, lowered
himself until he hung by his hands alone, and then dropped safely. No
one seemed to be about upon this side of the house. He dodged low, and
skimmed swiftly across the yard to the low fence. It was an easy
matter to vault this, for a terror urged him such as lifts the gazelle
over the thorn bush when the lion pursues. A crash through the dew-
drenched weeds on the roadside, a clutching, slippery rush up the
grassy side of the levee to the footpath at the summit, and--he was
The east was blushing and brightening. The wind, himself a vagrant
rover, saluted his brother upon the cheek. Some wild geese, high
above, gave cry. A rabbit skipped along the path before him, free to
turn to the right or to the left as his mood should send him. The
river slid past, and certainly no one could tell the ultimate abiding
place of its waters.
A small, ruffled, brown-breasted bird, sitting upon a dog-wood
sapling, began a soft, throaty, tender little piping in praise of the
dew which entices foolish worms from their holes; but suddenly he
stopped, and sat with his head turned sidewise, listening.
From the path along the levee there burst forth a jubilant, stirring,
buoyant, thrilling whistle, loud and keen and clear as the cleanest
notes of the piccolo. The soaring sound rippled and trilled and
arpeggioed as the songs of wild birds do not; but it had a wild free
grace that, in a way, reminded the small, brown bird of something
familiar, but exactly what he could not tell. There was in it the bird
call, or reveille, that all birds know; but a great waste of lavish,
unmeaning things that art had added and arranged, besides, and that
were quite puzzling and strange; and the little brown bird sat with
his head on one side until the sound died away in the distance.
The little bird did not know that the part of that strange warbling
that he understood was just what kept the warbler without his
breakfast; but he knew very well that the part he did not understand
did not concern him, so he gave a little flutter of his wings and
swooped down like a brown bullet upon a big fat worm that was
wriggling along the levee path.