One Not Down on the Bills.
[St. Louis Globe-Democrat.]
ON the side of a warehouse across the track from the station in Oklahoma, where the train had paused for a moment, appeared this announcement in red letters: "One night only. The original Uncle Tom's Cabin Company. Genuine Bloodhounds. Jackson's Opera House. Admission 25 cents."
"My, my, my!" murmured the passenger from Albany. "I thought Uncle Tom was dead and buried long ago."
"Don't you believe it," said the red-headed man in the corner. "Uncle Tom's Cabin is as popular to-day, outside the cities, as ever it was, although its political significance is entirely forgotten. I'll bet there's at least 50 companies on the road playing it and nothing else year in and year out. You don't hear much about them, for they're not in the theatrical trust and their routes don't figure in the theatrical papers, but they play their territories as regularly as any of the big metropolitan companies. Most of them travel from town to town in wagons and some of them have circuits that stretch from Texas up through Oklahoma and Kansas clear to North Dakota and back again."
"And if you want to live a care-free, gypsy sort of life, just travel with them for a while," put in the passenger from Buffalo. "I spent two years with a caravan of that kind, and it was the happiest time of my life. It wasn't so quiet as you might think, either. There was enough excitement about it to keep it from getting monotonous, and one time, I remember—I will always remember—the old play turned a tragedy that was the real thing.
"The Eliza of our company was a rather pretty Ohio girl, whose real name was Edna Holt. She wasn't any great shakes as an actress, but she was as fine a little lady as ever walked back of the footlights. She nursed us when we were sick, she cheered us up when we were blue, and all the time she was the same good fellow, with a good fellowship that wouldn't stand for any nonsense. She had been married to a worthless scamp who had beat her when he was drunk and neglected her when he was sober. She stood it for two years and then she ran away; worked at one thing or another until by accident she got into the show business. But she was scared half to death all the time, fearing that husband of hers would turn up. In her imagination he was the devil's own half-brother, and every night before the curtain went up she'd put in a minute or two looking through the peephole at the audience. She never told us, but we knew she was looking for him.
"Our Simon Legree was as mild a villain as ever cut a stage throat. His name was Martin, and he was a gentleman from his toes up. He came from a good family in New York State, and had been educated for the law. I never did find out why he was traveling around the country with a wagon show. He said he liked the life, but there must have been a stronger reason than that at the beginning. It was easy enough to understand, though, why he stayed with it, for everybody in the company knew that he was in love with Edna Holt. We knew, too, that she was in love with him, and, if it hadn't been for that specter of a husband, they'd have been married. She could have got a divorce easy enough, of course, but she would have had to leave the show and establish residence somewhere, which she couldn't afford to do; and, besides, she was afraid to make a move that might put her husband on her track. 'If he ever finds me he'll kill me!' she'd say. And she believed it.
"One night we were playing at a little town in West Virginia when Edna went down to the curtain to take her usual peep at the crowd. A minute later she came back into the wings, her face as white as paper. 'He's out there,' she says to Martin, and then she stood there looking at him with staring eyes and shaking all over like she had a chill. 'There, there, there,' says Martin, patting her on the shoulder as if she'd been a child; 'don't you worry about him. We'll take care of you—and of him, too, if he troubles you.'
"It took a lot of persuading to get her to take her part that night. She was so scared she could hardly close her mouth without rattling her teeth, but Martin got her a little wine and that helped her to go through with it after a fashion. We did not carry any understudy with us, and it was a case of play or call off the performance. There was an unusually good house, and the boss couldn't afford to lost it, and, anyway, there was no good reason why he should give it up just because one of his actors had an imaginary and no doubt greatly exaggerated notion of danger. So the play went on —and nothing happened. The man behaved himself, went out with the rest of the audience, and we didn't see or hear anything more of him for a week. The he showed up at another town, watched the play and disappeared in the same way.
"For three months he kept this up, coming in about once every week or ten days, sitting quietly through each performance, his eyes fixed all the time on Eliza. The girl literally wasted away under the strain. She got so thin you could almost see through her, and her eyes took on a wild, haunted look that give us all a heartache. And yet we couldn't do anything. 'I can't keep him out,' said the boss. 'The man isn't making a disturbance, and I can't make any charge against him.' But Martin never let her get out of his sight. Outside of the hall he was her constant escort and he was always prepared for trouble.
"Well, after about three months the man stopped coming. For six weeks or so he didn't show up and we began to think he'd given up his game, whatever it was. Eliza brightened up and the color began to come back to her cheeks. Then one night at a little town in Western Pennsylvania the end came. After the show Martin started out with Edna as usual to take her to the hotel. The boss called him back for something and she strolled on. It wasn't more than ten minutes before Martin followed her.
"About half an hour later the boss came into the hotel where the rest of the company had already gathered. 'Where's Miss Holt and Martin?' one of us asked. 'Why,' said he, 'ain't they here? They started some time before I did. Guess we'd better look them up.' Back over the route we went, but no sign of either. Then, up a side street, not a hundred feet away from the hall, I noticed something white, and there, crumpled up in the roadway, lay the body of our girl. There was a red stain on the front of her waist marking the place where a knife had gone in her breast. But she was not dead. We carried her to the hotel, called in a doctor, aroused the officers of the town, and then we looked for Martin. We searched every foot of that village, but he was not to be found.
"We had with us three genuine bloodhounds of which the boss was prouder than of any of the other members of his company. Before daylight we had the dogs brought out, put them on the scent and with a dozen armed and mounted men started on the trail. It was a crooked course the led us, now to the right, now to the left, now around in a circle—no fugitive was ever so uncertain as to his route as this one seemed to have been. But the hounds never once hesitated. The trail was so fresh that the went forward at a lope and in their turnings and twistings frequently got out of our sight. It was along about 10 o'clock in the morning that they disappeared over the top of a rise some distance ahead of us and a minute later we heard them bark. 'They've got him!' we said and spurred out horses.
"From the hill top we looked down into a little valley and saw a man, bareheaded, seated on a stump. he was holding a long knife in his hand and was looking down at the ground as if in deep thought, while the hounds stood around him wagging their tails. It was Martin, and the thing he was looking at was what had once been the husband of Edna Holt. There were a dozen wounds in the body, anyone of which would have killed him. But Martin was unhurt.
"He had come upon the scoundrel just as he had driven the knife into the woman's breast. Believing her to be dead, and half mad with grief, Martin had started in pursuit. For the first time in months he had forgotten his revolver and had no weapon of any kind. But he didn't think about that. He would tear him to pieces with his bare hands if he could get hold of him. He was a good runner, and although the fugitive zigzagged and circled to get him off the track, Martin kept right behind him and never allowed him to get out of his sight, the moonlight helping him. For hours they went on and then Martin caught him, tore the knife from his grasp and—well, you already know the result. Martin was tried and acquitted; Edna got well and he and she were married. Now they are living in New York State as happy a couple as you ever looked at."