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"So you've let them turn you into a mission stiff!" said Charlie Swift, when the two were seated in his room.
"A what?" exclaimed Samuel perplexed.
"A mission stiff," repeated the other. "One of the guys that gets repentance!"
Samuel experienced a sudden chilling of the ardor with which he had come into the room. The old grin was upon the other's face; and the boy realized with a sudden sinking of the heart how hard and savage he was. Finnegan was a babe in arms compared with Charlie Swift.
To convert him would be a real task, a test of one's fervor and vision. Samuel resolved suddenly upon diplomacy.
"They've been very good to me," he said.
"I dare say," responded the other indifferently.
"And Dr. Vince is really a very good man," he went on.
"Humph!" commented the burglar; and then he added quickly, "You haven't been telling him anything about me?"
Oh, no!" exclaimed the boy.
"Not a word?"
"Have you forgotten that I promised you?"
"That's all right," said Charlie, "only I just wanted to warn you. You can tie up with the church guys if you feel like it--only don't mention your lost brothers down in the pit. Just you remember that I got some of the doctor's silver."
The boy gave a start. "Oh!" he exclaimed.
"Didn't you know that?" laughed the other.
"No, I didn't know it."
"What did you suppose I was doing all that time while you were watching?"
Samuel said nothing for a minute. "Why did you pick out Dr. Vince?" he asked suddenly.
"Him? Why not? I knew his house."
"But a clergyman! Does it seem quite fair?"
"Oh, that's all right," laughed the other. "He's got a-plenty. It don't have to come out of his salary, you know."
"Because, he's got a rich wife. You didn't suppose he lived in that palace of a house on his own salary, did you?"
"I hadn't thought anything about it."
"Well, he's all right--he married one of the richest girls in town. And she'll keep his nest feathered."
There was a pause. "Don't you think that Dr. Vince is a good man?" asked Samuel.
"I don't know," said the other. "I've got no quarrel with him. But I don't like his trade."
"Doesn't he do a great deal of good to people?"
"Maybe," said the other, shrugging his shoulders.
"To poor people?" persisted Samuel.
"I dare say," admitted Charlie. "But you'll notice it takes all the sand out of them--makes them into beggars. And I ain't that sort."
"Why do you think he tries to help them?"
"Well, he gets paid for it, don't he?"
"But the other people in the church--the ones who pay the money. Why do you think they do it?"
The burglar thought for a moment. "I reckon they do it to make themselves feel good," he said.
"To make themselves feel good," repeated the other perplexed.
"Sure!" said the man. "You take one of those rich women--she's got a lot of money that she never earned, and she spends all her life amusing herself and ordering servants about. And all the time she knows that most of the people--the people that do the work--are suffering and dying. And she don't want to let that make her feel bad, so she hires some fellow like your friend, the doctor, to preach to 'em--and maybe give 'em a turkey at Christmas. And that takes the trouble off her mind. Don't you see?"
"Yes," said the other weakly. "I see."
"Or else," added Charlie, "take some of those smooth grafters they've got up there--the men, I mean. They spend six days in the week cutting other people's throats, and robbing the public. Don't you think it's handy for them to know they can come on Sunday and drop a five-dollar- bill in the plate, and square the whole account?"
Samuel sought for a reply to these cruel taunts. "I don't think you put it quite fairly," he protested.
"Why not?" demanded the other.
"In the first place, men like that wouldn't go to church--"
Charlie stared at him. "What!" he exclaimed.
"No," said the boy.
"Well, why should they care to go? And they wouldn't be welcome--"
Charlie burst into laughter. "You poor kid!" he exclaimed. "What have you been doing up there at St. Matthew's, anyhow?"
"I'm the sexton's assistant," said Samuel gravely.
"Yes," said the other. "Evidently a sexton's assistant doesn't see much of the congregation."
"I wish you'd explain," remarked the boy after a pause.
"I hardly know where to begin," replied the other. "They've such a choice collection of crooks up there. Did you ever notice a little pot-bellied fellow with mutton-chop whiskers--looks as if he was eating persimmons all the time?"
"You mean Mr. Hickman?"
"Yes, that's the chap. He's one of the pillars of the church, isn't he?"
"I suppose so," said Samuel. "He's one of the vestrymen."
"And did you ever hear of Henry Hickman before?"
"I know he's a famous lawyer; and I was told that he managed the Lockman estate."
"Yes," said Charlie, "and I suppose you don't know what that means!"
"No," admitted Samuel, "I don't."
"It means," went on the other, "that he was old Lockman's right-hand man, and had his finger in every dirty job that the old fellow ever did for thirty years. And it means that he runs the business now, and does all the crooked work that has to be done for it."
There was a pause. "For instance, what?" asked Samuel in a low voice.
"For instance, politics," said the other. "Steering the grafters off the Lockman preserve. Getting the right men named by the machine, and putting up the dough to elect them. Last year the Democrats got in, in spite of all he could do; and he had to buy the city council outright."
"What!" gasped the boy in horror.
"Sure thing," laughed Charlie--"there was an independent water company trying to break in, and the Democrats were pledged to them. They say it cost Hickman forty-five thousand dollars."
"But do you KNOW that?" cried the other.
"Know it, Sammy? Why everybody in town knows it. It was a rotten steal, on the face of it."
Samuel was staring at him. "I can't believe it!" he exclaimed.
"Nonsense!" laughed the other. "Ask round a bit!" And then he added quickly, "Why, see here--didn't you tell me you knew Billy Finnegan-- the barkeeper?"
"Yes, I know him."
"Well, then, you can go right to headquarters and find out. His boss, John Callahan, was one of the supervisors--he got the dough. Go and ask Finnegan."
"But will he tell?" exclaimed Samuel.
"I guess he'll tell," said Charlie, "if you go at him right. It's no great secret--the whole town's been laughing about it."
Samuel was almost too shocked for words. "Do you suppose Dr. Vince knows it?" he cried.
"He don't know much if he doesn't," was the other's reply.
"A member of his church!" gasped the boy.
"Oh, pshaw!" laughed the other. "You're too green, Sammy! What's the church got to do with business? Why, look--there's old Wygant--another of the vestrymen!"
"Miss Gladys' father, you mean?"
"Yes; old Lockman's brother-in-law. He's the other trustee of the estate. And do you suppose there's any rascality he doesn't know about?"
"But he's a reformer!" cried the boy wildly.
"Sure!" laughed Charlie. "He made a speech at the college commencement about representative government; I suppose you read it in the Express. But all the same, when the Democrats got in, his nibs came round and made his terms with Slattery, the new boss; and they get along so well it'll be his money that will put them in again next year."
"But WHY?" cried Samuel dazed.
"For one thing," said Charlie, "because he's got to have his man in the State legislature, to beat the child-labor bill."
"The child-labor bill!"
"Surely. You knew he was fighting it, didn't you? They wanted to prevent children under fourteen from working in the cotton mills. Wygant sent Jack Pemberton up to the Capital for nothing at all but to beat that law." Samuel sat with his hands clenched tightly. Before him there had come the vision of little Sophie Stedman with her wan and haggard face! "But why does he want the children in his mill?" he cried.
"Why?" echoed Charlie. "Good God! Because he can pay them less and work them harder. Did you suppose he wanted them there for their health?"
There was a long pause. The boy was wrestling with the most terrible specter that had yet laid hold upon him. "I don't believe he knows it!" he whispered half to himself. "I don't believe it!"
"Who?" asked the other.
"Dr. Vince!" said the boy. And he rose suddenly to his feet. "I will go and see him about it," he said.
"Go and see him!" echoed Charlie.
"Yes. He will tell me!"
Charlie was gazing at him with a broad grin. "I dare you!" he cried.
"I am going," said the boy simply; and the burglar slapped his thigh in delight.
"Go on!" he chuckled. "Sock it to him, Sammy! And come back and tell me about it!"
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