Twice, Judge Kendrick Brandroth laid down the paper he was reading, led by an impulse never known before, and for which he could account.
It was near midnight or "Low 12," and the soft sighing of the autumn wind through the oaks, maples, and poplars, where the brown leaves fluttered With every ripple of the air, came to his ears through the partly lowered sash like the stirring of the spirits of the night. It was one of those dear, cool nights so common in October. The stillness was profound, for the faint murmur that reached him was the "voice of the silence" such as one hears when he holds a sea shell to his ear.
The Judge was alone in his big roomy house, which stood on the outskirts of the little town of Brayton. His wife had gone to spend the day and night with their married son, and Molly, the single house servant, had been given permission to visit her sister who lived half a mile away. She was a faithful serving woman who was permitted many privileges and never abused the trust placed in her. She was sure to be back and busy with her duties long before the Judge opened his eyes in the morning.
The old gentleman made an attractive picture
as, in his slippers, he sat reading by the lamp, with the dowsy
embers glowing in the fire-place and diffusing enough soft warmth
through his study to warrant the lowering of the sash. The Judge
had been fond of fresh air ever since his army days, and no winter
night was cold enough to force him to sleep with closed windows
He was tall, thin and spare of frame, with scant gray hair and
mustache and a pair of keen gray eyes gleamed behind his glasses.
An imperial personage was he, you could well believe that he had
been the dashing Colonel of the -- Arkansas Regiment and that
he had won the reputation of being one of the most intrepid leaders
who fought under the Stars and Bars. He had been an
honored Federal Judge for years and commanded the respect of friends whose number it would be hard to estimate. He had been Master of Ashlar Lodge, F. & A. M. for twenty-three years, and not a member dreamed of putting forward another candidate so long as he was willing to accept the unanimous vote which had always been given him. Senior and Junior Wardens, Deacons, Treasurers and Secretaries came and went, but Worshipful Master Brandroth remained, as he was certain to remain while physical vigor and inclination stayed with him.
But we must return to the memorable night in the life of Judge Kendrick Brandroth. The feeling that twice caused him to lay down the journal on his crossed knees, was that he was not alone in the big house; it seemed as if a second person entered somewhere, or possibly was trying to force an entrance.
It's confoundedly strange," he muttered, as he sat listening, "can it be that my age is beginning to tell upon me? Pshaw! Such a notion is foolishness itself." He raised the rustling paper again, adjusted his glasses and fixed his thoughts upon the article he had tried to read, though for the life of him he could not tell the point at which he had stopped perusal a few moments before. It was useless, the impression came back more strongly than ever. He tossed the journal on the stand beside him and sat upright.
The singular part of it all was that the
Judge had heard absolutely nothing, that is beyond the usual noises
of the night. The sighing among the trees, the faint rattle of
a window sash,
the almost inaudible cock-crow in the distance; the soft of one of the hickory embers as it fell apart; these were the actual sounds that impressed themselves upon a hearing as acutely sensitive as when he was scouting in the lowlands of Arkansas or the swamps of Virginia forty years before.
This time he heard something; it was a noise such as might be made by a person cautiously raising a window. Without the least excitement the Judge stepped softly across the library, which was on the ground floor, to his open round top desk and took his revolver from one of the pigeon holes. He glanced quickly at the weapon to make sure it was loaded, and then with the same noiseless tread drew back the door leading into the hall.
He closed the door silently behind him, remembering the common and too often fatal error made by housekeepers searching for a burglar. Carrying a lamp or candle and peering into the gloom, they make the best target in the world for the miscreant crouching in the dark; in fact, invite their own death, and the Judge did not mean to have a background of his library lamp and fire behind him.
Half way down the hall he heard the noise again, it came from the dining room, and beyond question, was caused by the stealthy raising of a window sash. Grasping the knob of the door he turned and shoved quickly, to avoid the creaking which a slower movement might have caused.
The autumn moon, nearly full, was directly beyond the gently swaying, almost lifeless branches and cast its light into the dining room, revealing the table, several chairs and a couple of pictures on the wall. The Judge stood well back in the shadow of the hall where the moonlight could not reach him. He knew he was well screened from sight, but where was the intruder?
Guarded as had been the Judge in his movements, he knew the criminal had had his suspicions aroused and was awaiting developments before venturing farther. The lower part of the window sash had been lifted to its full height, but the Knight of the Jimmy had not entered, for assuredly the moonlight would have disclosed him. He was still outside, stooping below the window and waiting for assurance that the coast was clear.
Such was the reasoning of Judge Brandroth,
but for once he was wrong. He was still standing motionless, with
his revolver at his side when, as noiselessly as a shadow, a man
stepped from behind the looped curtain of the window and stood
revealed in the moonlight, which, falling upon his back, failed
to reveal his face and features, or little more than his slouch
hat and the contour of his shoulder. They were silhouetted as
in ink against the silvery glow behind
The jurist moved only the muscles of his right arm, as he brought the weapon to a level and said in the crisp military voice so familiar to his soldiers:
"Hands up! I've got you dead to rights!"
The burglar, who had taken a single step forward, stopped as if from an electric shock, but both hands flashed upward and he stood helpless.
"It looks as if you're right, Judge!" he said; "I'm yours to command."
"Come forward into the hall; no doubt you have taken your bearings and know the way; I'll keep my revolver pointed and at the first break will fire."
As he spoke, the Judge stepped into the room, where the moonlight confirmed the truth of his words. The burglar shuffled along meekly, arms still held aloft. In the door, he halted in doubt.
Which way, Judge?"
Along the hall towards the front; you'll see the light of the library lamp under the door; turn in there; I shall be right behind you.
None could have known better than the Judge that he was taking desperate chances, for in the hall, each was invisible to the other. A quick, athletic man might, by a sudden leap, seize and overcome him. To guard against such peril, the Judge moved back a couple of paces and stepped slightly to one side. The bound that perhaps was contemplated would miscarry at first, and before the burglar could recover, his master would get in his work.
But the shuffling step was regular and suddenly the library door was pushed back and the yellow glow of the lamp within showed the nocturnal visitor with hands lowered in the act of passing into the room. Still there remained the danger of his snatching at a weapon, wheeling and confronting the master of the house, as he followed him. Whether such an attempt was indeed meditated cannot be known: if it were the fact, it was defeated by the jurist's quick wit, for in an instant he was literally upon the heels of the other, who looked around in amazement.
Standing there for a moment face to face something of the humor of the situation struck both at the same instant.
"I took the liberty of lowering my hands, Judge; I assume you have no objections."
"None at all, and I shall lower my weapon, but perhaps it will be well to hold it at instant command."
With such remark, he shoved the pistol into his hip pocket; then with a courteous wave of his hand, he added.
"I beg you to be seated."
"Thanks, you are very kind;" replied the visitor, doffing his slouch hat and sinking into the luxurious Morris chair at the other side of the table. Resting his elbows on his arms, he loosely folded his hands and looked into the face of Judge Brandroth, who studied him with a keen interest.
The fellow was apparently about the same age as the jurist, for there were more gray hairs than black in the full beard and on the crown and temples. He wore a coarse, cheap and tattered sack coat, no waistcoat, and a soiled handkerchief was knotted around his neck. The shabby trousers were held in place by a buckled leather strap at the waist and thrust into cavalry boots whose front laps covered the knees.
Judge Brandroth's long experience with criminals instantly told him a significant fact. The man was a heavy drinker and was suffering at that moment from excessive indulgence.
Although he crossed his shapely legs with an attempt at indifference, he could not hide the tremor of his hands, nor a nervousness that was continually with him. In short his condition was that of a man so accustomed to liquor that he was feeling acutely the deprivation of it.
With scarcely a moment's hesitation, the Judge stepped to the side of the room, where stood a cellarette and brought out a decanter and a couple of glasses, which he placed on the table together with a pitcher of water.
You will join me in drinking each other's health. Colonel Davy Crockett said the politest man he ever knew, turned his head when he invited him to drink, so as not to embarrass him by noting the extent of his indulgence.
You will, therefore, excuse me."
And the Judge deliberately turned his back upon his strange guest, who with an odd chuckle poured out only a couple of fingers of whiskey, rose to his feet and waited for his host to join him. The jurist was a moderate drinker and turned a small quantity into his own glass.
"Nonsense, man! You need more than that. You know it as well as I."
And he filled the other glass half full of the fiery stuff.
"It's from the Blue Grass and will do you good."
And the two clicked glasses and drank together.
With a smack of his lips and a sigh of enjoyment, the man sank down in his chair again, exclaiming:
"Heavens! You are the prince of good
You've saved my life!"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
All this time a belief had been growing
upon Judge Brandroth that this was not the first time he and his
visitor had met. Something in the voice, the manner, and the glint
of the black eyes was reminiscent' but strive as he might, he
could not place the man in his memory. Perhaps if the
heavy beard were gone, the identity would reassert itself.
Looking shrewdly across the table into the not displeasing face, the judge asked:
"What is your name?"
His caller made a humorous search through his pockets. "I regret that I haven't one of my visiting cards with me."
"It is not necessary: I did not hear your name, sir."
"Ted Girton, wanderer, vagabond, thief, drunkard, burglar, outcast, criminal-not fit to cumber the earth with his presence.
There is no describing the despairing self disgust with which these bitter words were spoken. The man locked his hands over the crown of his head and kicked out his feet, stretching his legs to the fullest extent. His eyes had a savage expression, as he glared into the fire which had sunk to a few dull embers. He seemed to forget that anyone else was present and to be communing mercilessly with himself.
As I have intimated, Judge Brandroth's long experience on the Bench had given him a wide knowledge of human nature. He had already discovered that "Ted Girton" (the jurist knew instinctively that that was not his real name) was a man of education and one who, in every sense of the word, had seen better days. The Judge felt peculiarly drawn to him.
"You are harsh in your judgment of yourself, Mr. Girton."
"No more than I deserve. I am a graduate of William and Mary, belong to a prominent Southern family, studied law, brilliant prospects, but threw them all away for the sake of the accursed drink."
"Have you a family?
I had a wife, but no children. She died of a broken heart years ago; I was her murderer; I ought to be hanged for the crime."
"Tut, man; no doubt you deserve all possible blame but you are not yet lost beyond redemption. You certainly have some friends left."
"Friends!" fairly thundered Girton, with a tigerish glare at the Judge. "I can only repeat the words of Edgar Allan Poe in his last debauch, "The best friend in the world I can have is he who will blow out these-brains!"
"Another drink-a moderate one will help soothe you. Then, as the hour is late, we shall go to our beds and talk things over in the morning."
The man stared at the jurist as if unable to believe he had heard aright. Then he said in a low husky voice.
"Judge Brandroth, I came here to-night to rob you."
"It does have that appearance, I'll admit' but we'll discuss that matter some other time. Come," added the host in his quiet manner, as he took the lamp from the table and led the way into the hall and up stairs to a rear room, which was sometimes used as spare quarters for servants. It could hardly be expected that even with his new interest in Ted Girton, the jurist would place such an untidy guest in a spare chamber. Having bidden him good-night, the Judge lowered and refastened the window in the dining room, saw that everything was secure and then returned to his own sleeping apartment commenting to himself: "It may be that I have made a mistake, but I think not."
In the morning the two had their long talk. Mrs. Brandroth was not expected home until later in the day. The Judge insisted after breakfast that his guest should don one of his suits, which because of their similarity of build, fitted well and improved his appearance wonderfully.
"I am about to make a proposal, without understanding why it is that I do so. Although something in your voice and figure recalls the past, yet I have decided that the resemblance is accidental. You are a man of education and versed in law. How would you like to become a partner of mine?"
"You can't mean it!" exclaimed the astonished Girton; "the idea is hardly thinkable."
"Bear in mind that I did not make the proposition: I don't know that you are qualified for such a duty: I don't know that I should wish you for an associate if you were qualified, yet the possibility exists, though very remote. Now, am I right in assuming that you wish to become a man again?"
"I would willingly sacrifice an arm or leg --"
"Enough, then you must give up drink: I allowed you t0 indulge last night because you were on the verge of delirium tremens; you are a little shaky this morning, but you shall not have a drop. You have one of those unfortunate temperaments which makes it impossible for you to drink like a gentleman. You must let it alone: are you willing to do so?"
"With God's help and your encouragement."
"God helps them that help themselves. Very well, that's settled. You are in no condition now to do mental work; devote the next two or three days to light toil digging in the garden; it doesn't need it at this time of year, but the exercise will do you good. You can look after other odd chores and when your nerves are settled, we'll see what your brain is worth."
Girton, having expressed his gratitude, added: "Since you are a Judge in active service, you have no practice."
"Of course not, but I have an infernal lot of work to do. It is impossible for me to keep abreast of it. I have hundreds of pages of evidence that must be examined with the utmost care, weighted, sifted and given its true importance so far as it is possible to do so. There is where I hope you may be give me more or less help."
"I am afraid it will be less," said Cirton modestly, "but I shall do my best."
"There can be no doubt of that. The first step is to get this devilish poison out of your system. You know how it is to be done: go ahead and do it."
Without dwelling upon this part of the rigid discipline, let it be said that it was carried out in spirit and letter. There were hours when the deadly thirst to the poor fellow pulled like wild horses and he suffered agony such as no one can comprehend who has not passed through the same ordeal Judge Brandroth once suggested that Girton should take a moderate drink of Bourbon to tide him over.
"No sir," was the reply: "if it's to be a choice between life death, let me die."
And he conquered, as every son of Adam can conquer, if so minded. He emerged from the struggle disentitled, freed, with the shackles cast forever from him. Who shall picture the spiritual exultation of that moment when he realized that he indeed was Captain of his soul?
Mrs. Brandroth was sure she had never seen so thorough a gentleman as Mr. Girton. His true nature was of the finest grain, and he was as considerate and thoughtful as the Knights of the Crusades. It was a pleasure to have him in the household, and in this the callers agreed with her. He was shy, naturally reserved, but self possessed and at ease in the presence of either sex.
Judge Brandroth respected the man's moods. Until he chooses to tell more of his past life and to come out of the shell into which he had shrunk1 the jurist refrained from trying to make him do so.
"He shall have his own time to remove or decline to remove the mask. I shall have no objection."
Although the Judge had spoken of the reminiscent
nature of the man's voice and looks as one of those coincidences
that are often met with in life, he was not quite satisfied. At
times he was certain there was "something in it," but
as in the other instances, he was content to await what the
future should reveal.
"I have just concluded an interesting case of counterfeiting," he said one evening as he walked into his library after dinner and drew out several hundred pages of typewritten evidence. "I wish you would spend to-morrow, or several days, if necessary, my examining the facts and the arguments of counsel and put your conclusions on paper. If you wish to consult authorities, you will find them in the library."
For two days and part of the third Girton labored at this difficult task. When he placed his dozen pages of manuscript before the Judge, the latter put on his glasses and scanned the work.
"I must say you write the finest hand I ever saw. It is like copperplate."
"Many a schoolboy can beat me - but I am anxious to hear judgment upon my conclusions."
"You shall have it plainly and to the point."
"The next evening the two spent several hours in discussing the decision and logic by which Girton had reached his opinions. The Judge with all the ability which belonged to him, strove to show his friend his sophistry and errors of law but Girton stoutly held his ground, with such success that the jurist finally leaned back in his chair and smiled.
I have failed to overturn, a single argument of yours, because they are correct and I saw their clarity and irrefutable logic from the first. I tried to befog you, but could not. Your decision is exactly my own, and I am astonished and delighted. I knew from the first that you possessed a superior judicial mind and that you had been admirably trained, but your ability surpasses my expectations."
Girton attempted to speak, but his voice broke.
So the weeks grew into months and the months
passed, until a year had come and gone since that eventful first
call to Ted Girton upon Judge Brandroth. The regeneration of the
man seemed complete. There was a brightness of the eye, an elasticity
of step and alertness of manner which
showed the poison had been thoroughly eliminated from a system that had fully regained its former vigor.
He had become profoundly interested in the
law business of his kind patron, and spent hours in studying authorities
and working up opinions upon cases which. the jurist submitted
to him. His greatest and most satisfying triumph came when the
Judge brought to him the voluminous and complicated evidence in
a famous case involving a valuable copyright. All know how defective
or ambiguous is the law which bears upon this important subject,
and how conflicting are the opinions that have been delivered
by the different Courts. Girton examined scores of decisions and
delved deeply into authorities. Finally he crystallized them all
into an opinion that was a model of conciseness, clear logic and
straightforward common sense. Judge Brandroth read the
paper slowly and with closest attention while the anxious Girton kept his eyes upon the handsome face. When the reading was completed, the Judge took up his pen and wrote his signature at the bottom.
"It is a masterpiece," said he; "I am glad to accept it as my own, without the change of a sentence or a word."
From this time forward, the Judge insisted upon paying his assistant a generous salary.
"You needn't feel delicate about accepting it," was the grim remark, "I'm going to make you earn it."
That chivalrous delicacy, which was one of Judge Brandroth's most marked characteristics, prevented his learning facts about Girton, which he could have easily gathered had he been so disposed. He knew that his assistant walked to the Post Office every day or two to receive and send letters-proof that he was using his right name which he wished to keep secret from others. Once Girton, in I removing his coat dropped an envelope from his pocket on the rug between them. The Judge had but to glance down to read the superscription, but he instantly flashed his eyes away and thus maintained his ignorance. Had he but read the address he would have been astonished indeed.
Some weeks later Cirton asked the jurist's permission to be absent for several days which was granted.
At the next regular meeting of the Ashlar Lodge, Worshipful Brandroth9 as usual, occupied the chair. The business had not progressed far when the Tiler announced that a visitor asked admission and handed in his card to the junior Deacon who called out:
"Winfield H. Runyon of Hiram Lodge, No.11..."
A committee sent to make certain the applicant was a regular member of the Order soon returned with the report that they had found him a very bright Mason. His admission was ordered and the entrance and salutation with which we are all familiar followed. The visitor was invited to take a seat among the brethren, and with a courteous acknowledgement to the Master, he did so.
He was undeniably a handsome man with grizzled
hair and mustache, carefully dressed in black and possessing the
manner of a cultivated gentleman. From the first glance, the worshipful
Master studied him with keen interest. So after he beckoned Runyon
to approach the Chair. He
promptly saluted and complied, trying in vain to repress the smile that was tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"You can't deceive me, you rascal!"
said the presiding officer, as he shook his hand; if you had shaved
that beard off before, I should have known that Ted Girton was
Winfield H. Runyon, the bravest captain in the old Arkansas
the who saved me from being taken prisoner at Pea
Ridge. Be prepared to say something to the Lodge."
"I hope my old colonel will pardon my deception," said the flushed and pleased Runyon.
I shall reserve my decision until a more convenient sea son," was the reply given with pretended gravity.
Just before the dose of the Lodge, the Worshipful Master inquired whether any member or visiting brother had anything to offer for the good of Masonry. There was a moment's hush and no one responded. Holding the gavel suspended the Master looked at the visitor.
"I'm sure Brother Runyon has something interesting to say."
Thus appealed to, the man came to hip feet, and amid the breathless attention of every member, told his story Good taste forbade his giving the particulars of his midnight call upon Judge Brandroth: in fact, it might have proved embarrassing to the jurist as well as himself.
"A little more than a year ago brothers,"
said he, "I was a wanderer, outcast, tramp and thief, my
manhood gone: I was nothing more than a noxious weed. The only
speck of a sense of honor I showed was in voluntarily leaving
my home and friends and managing to keep my degradation
from the knowledge of the lodge of which I was a member. I succeeded, often by dishonest means, in paying my dues and thus preserved a membership, from which I should have been excluded as the most unworthy of mortals.
"In the very depth of my sin and wretchedness,
I met your Worshipful Master, Brother Brandroth, whose great heart
was touched with a pity akin to that of the Savior of man. He
took me, and like the Good Samaritan, healed my moral wounds,
fanned the dying spark of manhood in my nature and set me upon
my feet, clothed and in my right mind. In fact," added Brother
Runyon, his face aglow with a divine joy, "when he and I
came together, it was 'Low 12' with me; to-night, thank God, at
last it is 'High 12."'
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