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"In Our Town"

Started by Mechanic, May 19, 2012, 11:42:01 PM

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Printle: A Printing Word Game from Metal Type


"In Our Town"  is the story of a small town newspaper. Chapter 4 "As a Breath into the Wind", tells the story of  David Lewis and his relationship to the linotypes and the printing presses.

QuoteWe are proud of the machinery in our office—the two linotypes, the big perfecting press and the little jobbers. They are endowed by office traditions with certain human attributes—having their moods and vagaries and tantrums—so we love them as men love children. And this is a queer thing about them: though our building is pocked with windows that are open by day seven months in the year, and though the air of the building is clean enough, save for the smell of the ink, yet at night, after the machines have been idle for many hours and are probably asleep, the place smells like the lair of wild animals. By day they are as clean as machines may be kept. And even in the days when David Lewis petted them and coddled them and gave them the core of his heart, they were speckless, and bright as his big, brown, Welsh eyes, but the night stinks of them were rank and beastly.

If you wish to read the chapter or the complete book, it can be found on:-
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Dave Hughes

It would seem that it is OK to reproduce the book here, I've copied Chapter Four here:


"As a Breath into the Wind"

We are proud of the machinery in our office—the two linotypes, the big perfecting press and the little jobbers. They are endowed by office traditions with certain human attributes—having their moods and vagaries and tantrums—so we love them as men love children. And this is a queer thing about them: though our building is pocked with windows that are open by day seven months in the year, and though the air of the building is clean enough, save for the smell of the ink, yet at night, after the machines have been idle for many hours and are probably asleep, the place smells like the lair of wild animals. By day they are as clean as machines may be kept. And even in the days when David Lewis petted them and coddled them and gave them the core of his heart, they were speckless, and bright as his big, brown, Welsh eyes, but the night stinks of them were rank and beastly.

David came to us, a stray cat, fifteen years ago. He was too small to wrestle with the forms—being cast in the nonpareil mould of his race—and so we put him to carrying papers. In school season he seemed to go to school, and in summer it is certain that he put a box on a high stool in the back room, and learned the printer's case, and fed the job presses at odd times, and edged on to the pay-roll without ever having been formally hired. In the same surreptitious manner he slipped a cot into the stockroom upstairs and slept there, and finally had it fitted up as a bedroom, and so became an office fixture.

By the time his voice had stopped squeaking he was a good printer, and what with using the front office for a study at night, and the New York papers and the magazines for textbooks, he had acquired a good working education. Whereupon he fell in love with two divinities at once—the blonde one working in the Racket Store, on Main Street, and the other, a new linotype that we installed the year before McKinley's first election. His heart was sadly torn between them. He never went to bed under midnight after calling on either of them, and, having the Celt's natural aptitude to get at the soul of either women or intricate mechanism, in a year he was engaged to both; but naturally enough a brain fever overtook him, and he lay on a cot at the Sisters' Hospital and jabbered strange things.

Among other things the priest who sat beside him one day heard Latin verse; whereat the father addressed David in the language of the Church and received reply in kind. And they talked solemnly about matters theological for five minutes, David's voice changing to the drone of the liturgist's and his face flushing with uncaged joy. In an hour there were three priests with the boy, and he spoke in Latin to them without faltering. He discussed abstruse ecclesiastical questions and claimed incidentally to be an Italian priest dead a score of years, and, to prove his claim, described Rome and the Vatican as it was before Leo's day. Then he fell asleep and the next day was better and knew no Latin, but insisted on reading the note under his pillow which his girl had sent him. After that he wanted to know how New York stood in the National League and how Hans Wagner's batting record was, and proceeded to get well in short order.

David resumed his place in the office, and when we put in the perfecting press he added another string to his bow. The press and the linotype and his girl were his life's passions, and his position as short-stop in the Maroons, and as snare-drummer in the Second Regiment band, were his diversions. He wore clothes well and became president of the Imperial Dancing Club—chiefly to please his girl, who desired social position. A boy with twelve dollars a week in a country town, who will spend a dollar or two a month to have his clothes pressed, can accomplish any social heights which rise before him, and there is no barrier in our town to a girl merely because she presides at the ribbon-counter; which, of course, is as it should be.

So David became a town personage. When the linotype operator left, we gave David the place. Now he courted only one of his sweethearts by night, and found time for other things. Also we gave him three dollars a week more to spend, and the Imperial Club got most of it—generally through the medium of the blonde in the Racket Store, who was cultivating a taste for diamonds, and liked to wear flowers at the more formal dances.

Now, unless they are about to be married, a boy of twenty may not call on a girl of nineteen in a respectable family, a member of the Plymouth Daughters, and a graduate of the High School, oftener than four nights in the week, without exciting more or less neighbourly comment; but David and the girl were merely going together—as the parlance of our town has it—and though they were engaged they had no idea of getting married at any definite time. David thus had three nights in the seven which might be called open. The big press would not receive him by night, and he spent his love on his linotype by day; so he was lonesome and longed for the society of his kind. The billiard-hall did not tempt him; but at the cigar-store he met and fell under the spell of Henry Larmy—known of the town as "Old Hen," though he was not two score years gone—and the two began chumming together.

"Old Hen" worked in a tin-shop, read Ruskin, regarded Debs as a prophet, received many papers devoted to socialism and the New Thought, and believed that he believed in no man, no God and no devil. Also he was a woman-hater, and though he never turned his head for a petticoat, preached free-love and bought many books which promised to tell him how to become a hypnotist. At various times, Larmy's category of beliefs included the single-tax, Buddhism, spiritualism, and a faith in the curative properties of blue glass. David and Henry Larmy would sit in the office of evenings discussing these things when honest people should be in bed.

Henry never could tell us just how the talk drifted to hypnotism and the occult, nor when the current started that way. But one of the reporters who happened to be driven off the street by the rain one night found Henry and David in the office with a homemade planchette doing queer things. They made it tell words in the middle of pages of newspapers that neither had opened. They made it write answers to sums that neither had calculated, and they made it give the names of Henry's relatives dead and gone—also those that were living, whom David, who was operating it, did not know. The thing would not move for the man, but the boy's fingers on it made it fly. Some way the triangular board broke, and the reporter and Henry were pop-eyed with wonder to see David hold his hands above the pencil and make it write, dragging a splinter of board behind it. David yawned five or six times and lay down on the office couch, and when he got up a moment later his hands were fingering the air, his lips fluttering like the wings of fledglings, and he seemed to be trying some new kind of lingo. He did not look about him, but went straight to the table, gripped the air above the pencil with the broken board upon it, and the pencil came up and began writing something, evidently in verse. David's face was shiny and smiling the while, but his eyes were fixed, though his lips moved as they do when one writes and is unused to it. Larmy stared at the boy with open mouth, clearly afraid of the spectacle that was before him. A night creaking of the building made him jump, and he moistened his lips as the pencil wrote on. When the sheet was filled, the pencil fell and David looked about him with a smile and dropping his head on the desk began to yawn. He seemed to be coming out of a deep sleep, and grinned up blinking: "Gee, I must 'a' gone to sleep on you fellows. I was up late last night."

Larmy told the boy what had happened, and the three of them looked at the paper, but could make nothing of it. David shook his head.

"Not on your life," he laughed. "What do you fellers take me for—a phonograph having the D. T.'s, or a mimeograph with a past? Uh-huh! Not for little David! Why—say, that is some kind of Dutch!"

The reporter knew enough to know that it was Latin, but his High School days were five years behind him, and he could not translate it. The Latin professor at the college, however, said that it seemed to be an imitation of Ovid.

And the next time the reporter saw a light in the office window he broke into the seance. When the boy and his girl were not holding down the sofa at her father's home, or when there was no dance at the Imperial Club hall, nor any other social diversion, David and Larmy and the reporter would meet at the office and dive into things too deep for Horatio's philosophy.

Their favourite theme was the immortality of the soul, and when they were on this theme David would get nervous, pace up and down the office, and finally throw himself on the lounge and begin to yawn. Whereupon a control, or state of mind, or personality that called itself Fra Guiseppi would rise to consciousness and dominate the boy. Larmy and the reporter called it "father," and talked to it with considerable jocularity, considering that the father claimed they were talking to a ghost. It would do odd things for them; go into rooms where David had never been: describe their furnishings and occupants accurately; read the numbers on watches of prominent citizens, which the reporter would verify the next day; and pretend to bring other departed spirits into the room to discuss various matters. Larmy had a pleasant social chat with Karl Marx, and had the spirits hunting all over the kingdom-come for Tom Paine and Murat. But the messenger either could not find them, or the line was busy with someone else, so these worthies never appeared.

Still, this must be said of the "father," that it had a philosophy of life, and a distinct personality far deeper and more charming and in some way sweeter than David's; that it talked with an accent, which to the hearers seemed Italian, and in a voice that certainly could not have been the boy's by any trick of ventriloquism. One night in their talks Larmy said:

"'Father,' you say you believe that the judgments of God are just—how do you account for the sufferings, the heartaches, the sorrows, the misery that come in the wake of those judgments? Here is a great railway accident that strikes down twenty people, renders some cripples for life, kills others. Here is a flood that sweeps away the property of good men and bad men. Is that just? What compensation is there for it?"

The "father" put his chin in one hand and remained silent for a time, as one deep in thought; then he replied:

"That is—what you call—life. That is what makes life, life; what makes it different from the existence we know now. All your misfortunes, your hardships, your joys, all your miseries and failures and triumphs—these are the school of the soul which you call life. It is a preparation for the hereafter."

And David waking knew nothing of the thing that possessed him sleeping. When they told him, he would smoke his cigarette, and make reply that he must have had 'em pretty bad this time, or that he was glad he wasn't that "buggy" when he was awake.

David's talent soon became known in the office. We used to call it his spook, but only once did we harness it to practical business and that was when old Charley Hedrick, the local boss, was picking a candidate for the Legislature. The reporter and Larmy asked the "father" one night if it could get us connected with Mr. Hedrick. It said it would try; it needed help. And there appeared another personality with which they were more or less familiar, called the Jew. The Jew claimed to be a literary man, and said it would act as receiver while the father acted as transmitter on Hedrick. Then they got this one-sided telephonic conversation in a thick, wheezy voice that was astonishingly like Hedrick's:

"Harmony—hell, yes; we're always getting the harmony and the Worthington state bank gets the offices." Then a pause ensued. "Well, let'em bolt. I'm getting tired of giving up the whole county ticket to them fellows to keep 'em from bolting." After another pause, he seemed to answer someone: "Oh, Bill?—you can't trust him! He's played both sides in this town for ten years. What I want isn't a man to satisfy them, but just this once I want a man who won't be even under the suspicion of satisfying them. I want a fellow to satisfy me." The other side of the telephone must have spoken, for this came: "Well, then, we'll bust their damn bank! Did you see their last statement: cash down to fifteen per cent. and no dividends on half a million assets for a year and a half? Something's rotten there. They're a lot of 'toads in a poisoned tank,' as old Browning says. If they want a fight, they can have it." After the silence he replied: "I tell you fellows they can't afford a fight. And, anyway, there'll never be peace in this town till we get things on the basis of one bank, one newspaper, one wife and one country, and the way to do that is to get out in the open and fight. If I've got as much sense as a rabbit I say that Ab Handy is the man, and whether I'm right or wrong I'm going to run him." He seemed to retort to some objector: "Yes, and the first thing you know he'd come charging up to the Speaker's desk with a maximum freight-rate bill, or a stock-yards bill—and where would I be? I tell you he won't stand hitched. He'll swell up like a pizened pup, and you couldn't handle him. Where'd any of us be, if the Representative from this county got to pawing the air for reform? I know Jake as though I'd been through him with a lantern." There must have been a discussion of some kind among the others, for a lengthy interim followed; then the voice continued: "Elect him?—of course we can elect him. I can get five hundred from the State Committee and we can raise that much down here. This is a Republican year, and we could elect Judas Iscariot against any of the eleven brethren this year on the Republican ticket, and I tell you it's Ab. You fellows can do as you please, but I'm going to run Ab."

Then, being full of political curiosity rather than impelled by a desire for psychological research, the reporter slipped out and waited in a stairway opposite the Exchange National Bank building until the light in Hedrick's law office was extinguished. Then he saw old Charley and his henchmen come out, one at a time, look cautiously up and down the street and go forth in different, devious ways. The story in our paper the next day of the candidacy of Ab Handy threw consternation into the ranks of the enemy. We had printed the conversation as it had occurred, after which five men publicly contended that one of their number was a traitor.

The summer browned the pastures, and the coming of autumn brought trouble for David Lewis, president of the Imperial Dancing Club, short-stop for the Maroons, snare-drummer in the band, and operator of linotypes. We who are at the period of life where love is a harvest forget the days of the harrow, and are prone to smile at the season of the seeding. We do not know that the heaviest burden God puts on a young soul is a burden of the heart. A travelling silk-salesman, with a haughty manner and a two-hundred-dollar job, saw the blonde in the Racket Store and began calling at her father's home like the captain of an army with banners. David, being only an armour-bearer at fifteen dollars a week, found heartbreak in it all for him. A girl of twenty is so much older than a boy of twenty-one that the blonde began to assume a maternal attitude toward the boy, and he took to walking afield on Sundays, looking at the sky in agony and asking his little "now-I-lay-me" God, what life was given to him for. He fabricated a legend that she was selling herself for gold, and when the haughty manner and the blonde sped by David's window behind jingling sleigh-bells that winter, David, sitting at the machine, got back proofs from the front office that looked like war-maps of a strange country. Moreover he let his matrices go uncleaned until they were beardy as wheat and the bill of repairs on the machine had begun to rise like a cat's back.

All of this may seem funny in the telling, but to see the little Welshman's heart breaking in him was no pleasant matter. The girls in the office pitied the boy, and hoped the silk-drummer would break her heart. The town and the Imperial Club, whereof David was much beloved, took sides with him, and knew his sorrow for their own. As for the blonde, it was only nature asserting itself in her; so David got back his little chip diamonds, and his bangle bracelet, and his copy of "Riley's Love Songs," and there was the "mist and the blinding rain" for him, and the snow of winter hardened on the sidewalks.

To console himself, the boy traded for a music-box, which he set going with a long brass lever. Its various tunes were picked in holes on circular steel sheets, which were fed into the box and set whirling with the lever. At night when Larmy wasn't enjoying what David called a spook-fest, the boy would sit in the office by the hour and listen to his music-box. He must have played "Love's Golden Dream Is Past" a hundred lonesome times that winter (it had been their favourite waltz—his and the girl's—at the Imperial Club), and it was a safe guess that if the boys in the office, as they passed the box at noon, would give the lever a yank, from the abdomen of the contrivance the waltz song would begin deep and low to rumble and swell out with all the simulation of sorrow that a mechanical soul may express.

As the winter deepened, Larmy and the reporter and the "father" had more and more converse. The "father" explained a theory of immortality which did not interest the reporter, but which Larmy heard eagerly. It said that science would resolve matter into mere forms of motion, which are expressions of divine will, and that the only place where this divine will exists in its pure state, eluding the so-called material state, is in the human soul. Further, the "father" explained that this soul, or divine will, exists without the brain, independent of brain tissue, as may be proved by the accepted phenomena of hypnotism, where the soul is commanded to leave the body and see and hear and feel and know things which the mere physical organs can not experience, owing to the interposition of space. The "father" said that at death the Divine Will commands the ripened seed of life to leave the body and assume immortality, just as that Will commands the seeds of plants and the sperm of animals to assume their natural functions. The Thing that talked through David's lips said that the body is the seed-pod of the soul, and that souls grow little or much as they are planted and environed and nurtured by life. All this it said in many nights, while Larmy wondered and the reporter scoffed and stuck pins in David to see if he could feel them. And the boy wakened from his dreams always to say: "Gimme a cigarette!" and to reach over and pull the lever of his music-box, and add: "Perfessor, give us a tune! Hen, the professor says he won't play unless you give me a cigarette for him."

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Dave Hughes

One night, after a long wrangle which ended in a discourse by the "father," a strange thing happened. Larmy and It were contending as to whether It was merely a hypnotic influence on the boy, of someone living whom they did not know, or what It claimed to be, a disembodied spirit. By way of diversion, the reporter had just run a binder's needle under one of the boy's finger-nails to see whether he would flinch. Then the Voice that was coming from David's mouth spoke and said: "I will show you something to prove it;" and the entranced boy rose and went to the back room, while the two others followed him.

He turned the lever that flashed the light on his linotype, and set the little motor going. He lifted up the lid of the metal-pot, to see if the fire was keeping it molten. Then the boy sat at the machine with his hands folded in his lap, gazing at the empty copy-holder out of dead eyes. In a minute—perhaps it was a little longer—a brass matrix slipped from the magazine and clicked down into the assembler; in a second or two another fell, and then, very slowly, like the ticks of a great clock, the brasses slipped—slipped—slipped into their places, and the steel spaces dropped into theirs. A line was formed, while the boy's hands lay in his lap. When it was a full line he grabbed the lever, that sent the line over to the metal-pot to be cast, and his hand fell back in his lap, while the dripping of the brasses continued and the blue and white keys on the board sank and rose, although no finger touched them.

Larmy squinted at the thing, and held his long, fuzzy, unshaven chin in his hand. When the second line was cast the reporter broke the silence with: "Well, I'll be damned!" And the Voice from David's mouth replied: "Very likely." And the clicking of the brasses grew quicker.

Seven lines were cast and then the boy got up and went back to the couch in the front room, where he yawned himself, apparently, through three strata of consciousness, into his normal self. They took a proof of what had been cast, but it was in Latin and they could not translate it. David himself forgot about it the next day, but the reporter, being impressed and curious, took the proof to the teacher of Latin at the college, who translated it thus: "He shall go away on a long journey across the ocean, and he shall not return, yet the whole town shall see him again and know him—and he shall bring back the song that is in his heart, and you shall hear it."

The next week the "Maine" was blown up, and in the excitement the troubles of David were forgotten in the office. Moreover, as he had to work overtime he put his soul deeper into the machine, and his nerves took on something of the steel in which he lived. The Associated Press report was long in those days, and the paper was filled with local news of wars and rumours of wars, so that when the call for troops came in the early spring, the town was eager for it, and David could not wait for the local company to form, but went to Lawrence and enlisted with the Twentieth Kansas. He was our first war-hero for thirty years, and the town was proud of him. Most of the town knew why he went, and there was reproach for the blonde in the Racket Store, who had told the girls it would be in June and that they were going East for a wedding trip.

When David came back from Lawrence an enlisted man, with a week in which to prepare for the fray, the Imperial Club gave him a farewell dance of great pride, in that one end of Imperial Hall was decorated for the occasion with all the Turkish rugs, and palms, and ferns, and piano-lamps with red shades, and American flags draped from the electric fixtures, and all the cut-glass and hand-painted punch-bowls that the girls of the T. T. T. Club could beg or borrow; and red lemonade and raspberry sherbet flowed like water. Whereat David Lewis was so pleased that he grew tearful when he came into the hall and saw the splendour that had been made for him. But his soul, despite his gratitude to the boys and girls who gave the party, was filled with an unutterable sadness; and he sat out many dances under the red lamp-shades with the various girls who had been playing sister to him; and the boys to whom the girls were more than sisters were not jealous.

As for the blonde, she beamed and preened and smiled on David, but her name was not on his card, and as the silk-salesman was on the road, she had many vacant lines on her programme, and she often sat alone by a card-table shuffling the deck that lay there. The boy's eyes were dead when they looked at her and her smile did not coax him to her. Once when the others were dancing an extra David sat across the room from her, and she went to him and sat by him, and said under the music:

"I thought we were always going to be friends—David?" And after he had parried her for a while, he rose to go away, and she said: "Won't you dance just once with me, Dave, just for old sake's sake before you go?" And he put down his name for the next extra and thought of how long it had been since the last June dance. Old sake's sake with youth may mean something that happened only day before yesterday.

The boy did not speak to his partner during the next dance but went about debating something in his mind; and when the number was ended he tripped over to the leader of the orchestra, whom he had hired for dances a score of times, and asked for "Love's Golden Dream Is Past" as the next "extra." It was his waltz and he didn't care if the whole town knew it—they would dance it together. And so when the orchestra began he started away, a very heart-broken, brown-eyed, olive-skinned little Welshman, who barely touched the finger-tips of a radiant, overdeveloped blonde with roses in her cheeks and moonlight in her hair. She would have come closer to him but he danced away and only hunted for her soul with his brown Celtic eyes. And because David had asked for it and they loved the boy, the old men in the orchestra played the waltz over and over again, and at the end the dancers clapped their hands for an encore, and when the chorus began they sang it dancing, and the boy found the voice which cheered the "Men of Harlech," the sweet, cadent voice of his race, and let out his heart in the words.

When he led her to a seat, the blonde had tears on her eyelashes as she choked a "good-by, Dave" to him, but he turned away without answering her and went to find his next partner. It was growing late and the crowd soon went down the long, dark stairway leading from Imperial Hall, into the moonlight and down the street, singing and humming and whistling "Love's Golden Dream," and the next day they and the town and the band came down to the noon train to see the conquering hero go.

It was lonesome in the office after David went, and his music-box in the corner was dumb, for we couldn't find the brass lever for it, though the printers and the reporters hunted in his trunk and in every place they could think of. But the lonesomest things in the world for him were the machines. The big press grew sulky and kept breaking the web, and his linotype took to absorbing castor-oil as if it were a kind of hasheesh. The new operator could run the new machine, but David's seemed to resent familiarity. It was six months before we got things going straight after he left us.

He wrote us soldier letters from the Presidio, and from mid-ocean, and from the picket-line in front of Manila. One afternoon the messenger-boy came in snuffling with a sheet of the Press-report. David's name was among the killed. Then we turned the column rules on the first page and got out the paper early to give the town the news. Henry Larmy brought in an obituary, the next day, which needed much editing, and we printed it under the head "A Tribute from a Friend," and signed Larmy's name to it.

The boy had no kith or kin—which is most unusual for a Welshman—and so, except in our office, he seemed to be forgotten. A month went by, the season changed, and changed again, and a year was gone, when the Government sent word to Larmy—whom the boy seemed to have named for his next friend—that David's body would be brought back for burial if his friends desired it. So in the fall of 1900, when the Presidential campaign was at its height, the conquering hero came home, and we gave him a military funeral. The body came to us on Labor Day, and in our office we consecrated the day to David. The band and the militia company took him from the big stone church where sometimes he had gone to Sunday-school as a child, and a long procession of townsfolk wound around the hill to the cemetery, where David received a salute of guns, and the bugler played taps, and our eyes grew wet and our hearts were touched. Then we covered him with flowers, whipped up the horses and came back to the world.

That night, as it was at the end of a holiday, the Republican Committee had assigned to our town, for the benefit of the men in the shops, one of the picture-shows that Mark Hanna, like a heathen in his blindness, had sent to Kansas, thinking our State, after the war, needed a spur to its patriotism in the election. The crowd in front of the post-office was a hundred feet wide and two hundred feet long, looking at the pictures from the kinetoscope—pictures of men going to work in mills and factories; pictures of the troops unloading on the coast of Cuba; pictures of the big warships sailing by; pictures of Dewey's flagship coming up the Hudson to its glory; pictures of the Spanish ships lying crushed in Manila harbour.

Larmy and the reporter were sitting kicking their heels on the stone steps of the post-office opposite the screen on which the pictures were flickering. Some they saw and others they did not notice, for their talk was of David and of the strange things he had shown to them.

"How did you ever fix it up in your mind?" asked Larmy.

"I didn't fix it up. He was too many for me," was the reporter's answer.

"The little rooster couldn't have faked it up?" questioned Larmy.

"No—but he might have hypnotised us—or something."

"Yes—but still, he might have been hypnotised by something himself," suggested Larmy, and then added: "That thing he did with the linotype—say, wasn't that about the limit? And yet nothing has come of that prophecy. That's the trouble. I've seen dozens of those things, and they always just come up to the edge of proving themselves, but always jump back. There is always——"

"My God, Larmy, look—look!" cried the reporter.

And the two men looked at the screen before them, just as the backward sway of the crowd had ceased and horror was finding a gasping voice upon the lips of the women; for there, walking as naturally as life, out of the background of the picture, came David Lewis with his dark sleeves rolled up, his peaked army hat on the back of his head, a bucket in his hand, and as he stopped and grinned at the crowd—between the lightning-flashes of the kinetoscope—they could see him wave his free hand. He stood there while a laugh covered his features, and he put his hand in his pocket and drew out a key-ring, which he waved, holding it by some long, stemlike instrument. Then he snapped back into nothing.

And the operator of the machine, being in a hurry to catch the ten-thirty train, went on with his picture-show and gave us President McKinley and Mark Hanna sitting on the front steps of the home in Canton, then followed the photograph of the party around the big table signing the treaty of peace. As the crowd loosened and dissolved, Larmy and the reporter stood silently waiting. Then, when they could get away together, the reporter said:

"Come, let's go over to the shop and think about this thing."

When they opened the office door, the rank odour of the machinery came to them with sickening force. They left the front door open and raised the windows. The reporter began using a chisel on the top of a little box with a Government frank on it, that had been placed upon the music-box in the corner.

"We may as well see what David sent home," he grunted, as he jerked at the stubborn nails, "anyway, I've got a theory."

Larmy was smoking hard. "Yes," he replied after a time; "we might as well open it now as any time. The letter said all his things would be found there. I guess he didn't have a great deal. Poor little devil, there was no one much to get things for but you fellows and maybe me, if he thought of us."

By this time the box was opened, and the reporter was scooping things out upon the floor. There was an army uniform, that had something clinky in the pockets, and wrapped in a magenta silk handkerchief was a carved piece of ivory. In a camera plate-box was a rose, faded and crumbly, a chip-diamond ring, a bangle bracelet, a woman's glove and a photograph. These Larmy looked at as he smoked. They meant nothing to him, but the reporter dived into the clothes for the clinky things. He came up with a bunch of keys, and on it was the long brass lever which unlocked the music in the box.

"Here," he said as he jingled the keys, "is the last link in our chain." And he rose and went over to the box, uncovered it, and jabbed in the lever with a nervous hand. There was a rolling and clinking inside. Then, slowly, a harmony rose, and the tinkling that came from the box resolved itself into a melody that filled the room. It was strong and clear and powerful, and seemed to have a certain passion in it that may have been struck like flint fire from the time and the place and the spirit of the occasion. The two men stared dumbly as they listened. The sound rose stronger and stronger; over and over again the song repeated itself; then very gently its strength began to fail; and finally it sank into a ghostly tinkle that still carried the melody till it faded into silence.

"That," said the reporter, "is the song that was in his heart—'Love's Golden Dream.' I'm satisfied."

"The last link," shuddered Larmy. "That which seemed corporeal has melted 'as a breath into the wind.'"

The reporter shovelled the debris into the box, pushed it under a desk, and the two men hurried to close the office. As they stood on the threshold a moment, while the reporter clicked the key in the lock, a paper rustled and they heard a mouse scamper across the floor inside the empty room.

"Let's go home," shivered Larmy. They started north, which was the short way home, but Larmy took hold of his companion's arm and said: "No, let's go this way: there's an electric light here on the corner, and it's dark down there."

And so they turned into the white, sputtering glare and walked on without words.
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Printers' Tales - Over 30 stories from the pre-digital age. Buy now on Amazon/Apple Books

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