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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWest Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 9
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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 9 Post by :rankwarforum Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :2203

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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 9

BOOK II CHAPTER IX

Just before sunset that evening, Sancho Mendez was publicly hanged. Confessing the crime, he was carried to the rude gibbet at the far edge of the wheat field and paid the price in full. He had been tried by a jury of twelve; and there was absolutely no question as to his guilt. His companion, a lad named Dominic, callously betrayed by the older man, fled to the forest and it was not until the second day after the hanging that he was found by a party of man-hunters, half-starved and half-demented. He was hanged at sunrise on the following day.

Manuel Crust considered himself glorified. After a fashion, he posed as a martyr. Some sort of cunning, as insidious as it was unexpected, caused him to assume an air of humility. He went about shaking his head sorrowfully, as if cut to the quick by the unjust suspicions that had been heaped upon him by the ignorant, easily-persuaded populace.

Sentiment began to swing toward him. He and his so-called followers were vindicated. It was his gloomy, dejected contention that if Providence had not intervened he and his honest fellows undoubtedly would have been placed in the most direful position, so strong and so bitter was the prejudice that conspired against him. He was constantly thanking Providence. And presently other people undertook to thank Providence too. They began to regard Manuel as a much-abused man.

The burly "Portugee" haunted the cabin of Pedro the farmer. He was the most solicitous and the most active of all who strove to befriend and encourage the unhappy father, and no one was more devoted than he to the slowly-recovering girl. He carried flowers to Pedro's hut; he did many chores for Pedro's wife; he went out into the woods and killed the plumpest birds he could find and cooked them himself for Pedro's daughter.

Presently he began to assert a more or less proprietary interest in the family. It was no uncommon thing for him to issue orders to the nurses; he hectored the Doctor; and on several occasions he went so far as to offend such well-meaning ladies as Mrs. Spofford, Madame Careni-Amori, Mrs. Block and others when they appeared at Pedro's cabin with delicacies for the girl. And finally the people in that end of the camp began to speak of Manuel Crust as a good fellow and a gentleman!

On Easter Sunday he stood guard over Pedro's cabin while that worthy and his family went to the "Tabernacle" to attend the special services. Two of the nurses were inside with the girl, but outside sat Manuel, a grim watch-dog that growled when any one approached.

The horror of that black night and the days that witnessed the wiping out of Sancho Mendez and Dominic hung like a pall over the camp. Both executions had been witnessed by practically all of the inhabitants. Captain Trigger came ashore.

With set, relentless faces the people watched two men go to their doom. The women were as stony-faced, as repressed, as the men. Save for the involuntary groans, and the queer hissing sound of long-pent breath as the black-capped figures swung off into space, the tremulous hush of intense restraint rested upon the staring crowd.

Twice they came out to see men they had known and respected "hanged by the neck until dead," and on neither occasion was there the slightest manifestation of pity, nor was there a single word of gloating. They watched and then they went away, leaving the victims to be disposed of by the men selected for the purpose. No shouts, no execrations, no hysterical cries or sobs,--nothing save the grim silence of awe. For these people, even to the tiniest child, had ceased to live in the light of other days.

Peter Snipe, in his journal, wrote of that silent, subdued throng as other historians have written of the rock-hearted people of Salem, and of the soulful Puritans who grew heartless in the service of the Lord.

They stood afar-off and watched the small detachment of sailors carry the bodies down to the basin, and every one knew that Sancho Mendez and Dominic, heavily weighted, were rowed out to the middle and dumped into a bottomless grave. Some there were who declared that their bodies would sink for ages before reaching the bottom,--and no one thought of Sancho Mendez and Dominic without picturing them as gliding deeper and deeper into the endless abyss of water.

Michael Malone's speech to the multitude on the shorn edge of the wheat field was brief. He spoke from the scaffold on which Sancho Mendez, the blacksmith, sat with a noose around his neck.

"This man has been fairly tried and he is being fairly punished. There is no way to circumvent the laws of God or the laws of man on this island, my friends. The guilty cannot escape. If we transgress the law, we must pay in proportion to our transgression. This man is to die. The laws of our homeland would not have demanded the life of such as he,--but they should, my friends, they should. This island is small. It will be easy for us to keep it clean,--and we must keep it clean. We must not live in fear of each other. The lion and the lamb lie down together here; the thief and the honest man walk hand in hand. Our sins will find us out. We cannot hide them. Remember that. In this little land of ours there is nothing to stand in the way of the soundest principle ever laid down for man. 'Do unto others as ye would have others do unto you.' That is the Golden Rule. All we have to do is to observe that rule and there will be no use for the Ten Commandments, nor the laws of Moses, nor all the laws that man has made. We don't even have to be Christians. 'Do unto others as ye would have others do unto you.' That, my friends, is the law of laws. It is the religion of religions."

"Soapy" Shay, sitting before the fire in his cabin a few nights after the executions, held forth at some length and with peculiar emphasis on what he called an exploded theory.

"As I said before, and as I've always said,--not being a drinking man myself,--it's all bunk about booze being responsible for all the crimes that are committed. Now here were these two guys, Sancho and Dominic. Look at what they did,--and they hadn't touched a drop for months. I'm not saying that licker is a soothin' syrup for a man's morals, but what I am saying is that if a feller has got it in him to be ornery, he'll be ornery, drunk or sober. I was tellin' Parson Mackenzie only this morning that him and me both have good reason for not touchin' the stuff,--for different reasons, of course,--but I didn't see why other people oughtn't to have it if they want it.

"With me, in my former profession, it would have been criminal to touch the stuff. The worst crime a burglar can commit is to get drunk. No decent, bang-up burglar ever does it. I don't suppose there is a more self-respectin' sort of man in the world than a high-grade burglar. And it's the same with a preacher. He can't any more preach a good sermon when he is lit up than a burglar can crack a safe or jimmy a window if he tanks up beforehand. The parson seemed surprised when I put it right up to him like that. He said he'd never thought of it in that light before. Of course, says he, a minister of the gospel ain't even supposed to know what licker tastes like, and I says to him that's where we have the advantage of him. We know what it tastes like, and we like it, and we leave it alone because it cramps our style. He leaves it alone because it's the style for preachers to leave it alone, and because they'd go to hell if they drank like ordinary men. The only place a burglar goes to if he boozes is jail.

"Well, as I was sayin', this here Sancho wasn't soused when he committed that crime, and it all goes to prove that these temperance cranks are off their base. Most of the crime that's committed in this world is committed because the feller wants to commit it. When I was up in Sing Sing once,--sort of by accident, you might say,--there was a lot of talk about prison reform, and pattin' the crooks on the back, and tellin' them they could be just as good as anybody else if they had a chance. The only chance them guys want, and keep lookin' for night and day, is a chance to lift something when nobody's lookin'. That's all they're thinkin' about while they're in the pen, and God knows they're as sober as judges all the time they're there. Crime is crime and you can't always lay it to booze. It's human nature with some people. I'm not sayin' the world wouldn't be better off if there wasn't any licker to drink. It stands to reason that there wouldn't be half so much bunglin' if people kept sober, 'specially when it comes to crime. Now, if this guy Sancho had had a couple of pints in him, everybody would be going around preachin' about the horrible effects of booze, and--What say?"

"I said you make me tired," said Buck Chizler, repeating his remark. "I never did anything wrong in my life except when I was half-soused."

"Sure," agreed Soapy. "But you'd have done it right if you'd been sober, my boy. That's the principal trouble with booze. It never gives a feeler a chance to do anything right." Whereupon, with a slow wink for the other members of the group, he arose and passed out into the night.

"I can't make that feller out," grumbled Buck, uncomfortably.

Easter Sunday was bright and clear, following a fortnight of cold, penetrating winds and rain. The sun smiled, but it was a cold smile that mocked rather than cheered. The sky was the colour of thin, transparent ice; the vast white dome was unspotted by a single cloud; the rose tints of early morn, frightened away at birth by the chill, unfeeling glare, took with them every promise of tenderness that dawned with the new day. But, though the sky was hard, the air was soft; the tang of the salt-sea spice lay over everything.

Percival had no active part in the exercises arranged by Ruth. The song service was held in the open. A platform had been erected in front of the "tabernacle" (the meeting-house on occasion) for the choir and musicians. There were no seats for the congregation. Every one stood, bareheaded, in a wide semi-circle facing the platform. The "boss" took his place inconspicuously among those who formed the outer fringe of the assemblage. His gaze seldom left the face of the girl he loved. Once her eyes met his. She was on the platform discussing arrangements with the two clergymen when her roving, unsettled gaze chanced to fall upon him. For many seconds she stared at him fixedly,--so fixedly, in fact, that Father Francisco, after a moment, shot a look in the same direction. Even from his far-off post, Percival saw the colour mount to her cheeks as she hastily turned away to resume the conversation that had been so incontinently broken off. She was bare-headed. He had been watching the sun at play among the coils of her soft, dark hair,--a glint here as of bronze, a gleam there as of gold, ever changing under the caresses of that flaming lover a hundred million miles away.

The affable Mr. Nicklestick was standing beside Percival, carrying on a more or less one-sided conversation.

"You see, it's this way," he was saying, contriving to reduce his far-reaching voice to a moderate undertone; "I'm not in the habit of attending Easter services. I'm not opposed to them, believe me, A. A.,--not in the slightest. Now at home in New York, I make it a habit to walk from the Metropolitan Museum down to the Waldorf-Astoria regularly every Easter. Between eleven and twelve-thirty. You get them going into certain churches and you get them coming out of others, don't you see? Oh, vat would I give to be on Fif' Avenue at this minute, A. A.! A hundred thousand dollars,--gladly, villingly,--yes, two hundred thousand! I vonder vat things are like on Fif Avenue now,--at this minute, I mean. I vonder what the vimmin are wearing this season. My God, don't you vish you were on Fif Avenue, A. A.?"

"What?"

"I say don't you vish you were on Fif Avenue now?"

"No, I don't," gruffly.

"You--you don't?" gasped Nicklestick. "My God, where do you wish you were?"

"Over in France,--or better still, in Germany,--that's where I'd like to be. Keep still! Can't you see Careni-Amori is singing?"

Nicklestick was silent for two minutes. Then he volunteered: "Do you know what that song vould cost if she vas to give it in the Metropolitan Opera House, A. A.? A thousand dollars, von thousand simoleons. And we get it for nothing. It ain't possible to realize that you can get something for nothing in these days, is it? I vas saying to Morrie Shine only this morning that--"

"Sh!" hissed an exasperated Brazilian in front of them.

"I guess we better not talk any more, A. A.," said Nicklestick, deprecatingly. Presently he leaned close to Percival's ear and whispered: "Miss Clinton is looking very fine today, isn't she?" Receiving no reply, he waited a moment and then went on: "Landover is a very lucky dog, eh?" Failing again, he was silent for some time. His next effort was along a totally different line. "I've been feeling some of the people out in regard to the election next week. I think it's a great idea. You got a cinch, A. A. Nobody vants anybody but you for governor. What seems to be--"

"Sh!"

"Oh, you go to the devil!" addressed the exasperated Mr. Nicklestick to the Brazilian. "Ain't we got freedom of speech here on this island? Veil, then! What seems to be troubling most every one, A. A., is who is the best man for clerk. Nobody vants to be treasurer, for why? Because there ain't anything to be treasurer about. Say, where are you going?"

"Nowhere," replied Percival, as he strode away.

Over against the line of trees on the opposite side of the wheat field still loomed the gibbet from which Sancho Mendez and Dominic had stepped blindfolded into another and darker world. While Pastor Mackenzie, leading up to the glorious resurrection, was repeating the story of the Crucifixion, Ruth Clinton, sitting behind him on the platform, stared wide-eyed at this gaunt object, and she saw not Christ on the Cross but the spectre of Sancho Mendez falling off into darkness. Percival's gaze followed hers, and his heart smote him,--for it was he who had demanded that the gruesome reminder be left standing as a warning to carrion. And he had laughed when Peter Snipe christened it "the scarecrow!"

"Leave it standing, A. A.," Peter had said, "and you can bet your boots no jailbird will ever roost on it if he thinks twice. And it's just that sort of thing that makes a man think twice."

But the look of dread in the eyes of this girl who could do no wrong, and yet was to be everlastingly tortured by the sight of the thing that stood as a silent accuser of all who looked, was more than Percival could stand. Easter Sunday,--and that gibbet pointing its long arm toward the little flock in the shadow of sanctuary,--mocking the good as it beckoned to the bad,--Easter Sunday and that!

He stole quietly away, circling the edge of the crowd, his head bent, his teeth set. Just as he was about to pass from view around the corner of the "tabernacle," he cast a quick glance at the girl on the platform. Their eyes met again. She turned her head quickly, but he was certain that she had followed his movements from the beginning.

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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 10 West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 10

West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 10
BOOK II CHAPTER XToward the close of the exercises, the congregation was startled by the sound of an ax smiting wood. The blows were rapid and vigorous. The surprised people looked at each other first in wonder and then in consternation. Who was guilty of this unseemly sacrilege? Finally those on the edge of the multitude discovered the wielder of the ax. Some one, not easily recognizable, was chopping away the supports of the scaffold. The crowd grew restless; angry mutterings were to be heard on all sides. Every eye was turned from the platform to glare at the lone chopper
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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 8 West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 8

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BOOK II CHAPTER VIIIPercival's blood was still in a tumult as he ran down the line of cabins. From every doorway men were now stumbling, half-dressed, half-asleep. Behind them, in many cabins, alarmed, agitated women appeared. Farther on there were lanterns and a chaotic mass of moving objects. Above the increasing clamour rose the horrible, uncanny wail of a woman. Percival's blood cooled, his brain cleared. Men shouted questions as he passed, and obeyed his command to follow. The ugly story is soon told. Philippa, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Pedro, the head-farmer, had gone out from her father's cabin at dusk
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