Armed with the governor's permission, the morning after Regenia left for Minton, Clement bade farewell to his kind friends at the parsonage and made his way a second time to the convict mines. His arrival was indeed opportune. Lotus, grown restless on account of the constant tumult kept up by the drunken citizen soldiers, had given away to a fretful impatience that had materially lessened his chances of recovery. Otherwise his condition was decidedly improved. The filthy straw in which Clement found him immured on the occasion of his first visit, had given way to a neat clear cot, and the dingy walls, whose dampness had emitted a stifling stench, were brightened and sweetened by a coat of whitewash. Clement noted with satisfaction that the orders of the self appointed governor's private secretary had been obeyed with a startling celerity. Clement knew that the first step necessary to his friend's complete convalescence was to get him away from the din of that camp. Once away from the memories of his condition, recovery would be only a matter of time.
As soon as he had arrived in the camp and made his presence known to Lotus, he repaired to the captain and presented the permit for the removal of Dr. Stone. The captain consented readily. His inhuman treatment of the convicts had received such a notorious airing that he was glad of an opportunity to show his clemency. He was under the watchful eye of the omnipresent press and knew full well that any lack of courtesy would be sent on the snowy wings of the morning news to every village and hamlet in the country.
Accordingly Clement hastened to a farm house near the camp and arranged with its Afro-American tenant to bring his friend there. The house and its location were all that could have been desired. A two story building made of hewed logs, and smooth floors, strangers alike to dirt and carpets. Lotus was domesticated in a large airy room upstairs. The first thing Clement did after seeing his friend comfortably situated was to send to town for a box of books and arrange to have the daily papers thrown from the cars at a point near the house.
Here, perched in a big old-fashioned split-bottom chair, you might have seen him day after day reading to Lotus, preparing his medicine or relating some droll story or incident calculated to interest or amuse the patient. Under such favorable circumstances and in the hands of such a nurse, it would have been strange if the improvement of the patient had not been marked. Clement received a letter from his wife informing him of Regenia's arrival and the shocking condition of her health. The doctor had advised a trip to the sea shore and insisted upon her accompanying Regenia. Clement sat down and wrote to his wife to go by all means. He said nothing to Lotus about this letter. He did not wish his friend's nerves disturbed by the additional foreboding.
In a week Lotus as so far recovered as to be able to sit up for hours each day. Clement was growing restless with anxiety at the delay of the pardon. He had kept his fears to himself, however, but Lotus could see that something was wrong.
On one thing Clement St. John had decided: Lotus Stone should never return to that convict camp. He would take him from the fires of that slow consuming hell, or lose his life in the attempt.
About two weeks after Clement left Grandville, the long-expected pardon came. Clement ran every step of the way from the station to the farm house. He burst in upon the astonished farmer and his wife, waving the precious paper over his head. "It has come at last," he exclaimed as soon as he could get breath enough to force the words through his lips.
"What's the matter down there?" a weak voice cried from the room above.
Clement cleared the steps three at a bound a rushing into the room, the big fellow nearly smothered Lotus in the mad exuberance of his expressions of joy. He took the emaciated doctor in his arms and pointing to the pardon in his hand, wept with uncontrolled joy. His feelings had been strung to such a high pitch in the weeks and weeks of hoping and waiting that when the object of his labor had culminated successfully, he could not refrain from weeping.
Dr. Stone wept with his friend. Men weeping! Yes, under the circumstances, who will say that in the expression of such joy as they felt it was unmanly to give vent to it in any way.
All that day the two friends talked over plans for the future. Lotus was first inclined to go back to Grandville and take up his work where he had so suddenly left off. Clement discouraged this. He had his reasons, but he wisely refrained from expressing them.
"As soon as you are well enough," said Clement, "we'll go over to the mines and bid farewell to the scenes which will no doubt linger with you all through life."
"No, thank you," said Lotus. "I think I have had those scenes engraved upon the tablets of my memory indelibly. I never want to look in that direction again, if I can help it."
"Now that you are free from its terrors, I would fancy you possessed with a morbid curiosity to study the subject from a different point of view," said Clement.
"I have gone through an experience in the past six months, my friend, from the effects of which I doubt that I shall every thoroughly be free. The world has no conception of the suffering attending the poor unfortunates driven to death in those mines. I have seen sights and experienced degrees of depravity that beggars my vocabulary to describe. I believe in total depravity. The men who goat, whip and starve the helpless wretches under them in that earthly hell, are totally depraved."
"Yet it is the law; it is so nominated in the bond," said Clement.
"I have read the lucid descriptions of George Kennan," said Lotus slowly; "I have studied the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition, but I unhesitatingly declare that the Convict Lease System, as practiced in our own land, is the most cruel, heartless and tyrannical the world has ever seen.
"Every system of punishment contemplates however remotely, the reformation of the culprit; this reckons only upon his death. How many more days can he stand before it kills him, enters into the cool calculation of those who perpetrate this villainous system."
"The system has received a breath of air from without in the last few days and I think the flood of light that will fall through the rent already made will be sufficient to institute an inquiry that must result in good," replied Clement.
"I signed a petition once, circulated among the students at college, praying the Czar of all the Russians to take steps for the amelioration of the condition of his prisoners in the convict mines of Siberia. How often since, as I rolled on the hard boards, laden with chains, in the 'cell-house' at the mines, have I contemplated the grim irony of that petition. Physician heal thyself. We could give Russia points on convict tyranny her lictors never dreamed of. Ah!" he said, as if weary of the subject, "I have always been a conservative believer in the final triumph of liberty, an intense sympathizer with the oppressed of every land. When autocratic Russia confines in Siberia's dreary mines her noblest hearts, my heart in sorrow pities them. When haughty Britain grinds beneath her iron heel, the evicted tenants of conquered but not subjected Ireland, I feel with them the iron enter my own soul; but when America, our own native, God-blessed land, enters the list of oppressors and confines men in a hell more torturing than Siberia, more despotic than Turkey, more cruel than the grave, I weep for the sad degeneration of my own countrymen."
Clement, observing that his patient was growing more and more dispirited as his mind contemplated the scope of his wrongs, sought to divert the course of his thoughts by changing the conversation. "I have a letter to answer," he said, and as Lotus seemed indifferent to the implied question, he continued, "Why do you not ask to whom I am about to indite my epistle."
"You write so much that another letter, more or less, scarcely excites any special interest," Lotus replied.
"Well, I cam going to write to Lucile. Shall I send her your love?"
"Just as much of it as you can get inside of an envelope," replied Lotus.
"She is at Breeze Nook, spending a few months," he explained.
"At Breeze Nook, by the sad, sad sea? What could have taken her so far from home?" asked Lotus in some surprise.
"She went with Miss Underwood," Clement answered carelessly, at the same time narrowly observing the effect the information would have upon his friend.
Lotus was visibly affected at every mention of Regenia's name. He made no reply, but Clement discerned his color change and his face twitch in spite of his efforts at self-control. From considerations best known to himself, Clement had not told Lotus the part Regenia had played in securing executive clemency for him. Nor had he related how the young woman had day after day worn away to a shadow in sympathy with her lover.
Dr. Stone still believed her cold and unsympathizing. The fact that she was off to the seaside forgetful of his sorrows, confirmed him in the belief that she was entirely heartless. He was too proud to make a single inquiry of the cause of her leaving the South, and Clement decided that having opened the way to induce his friend to talk of the subject nearest to his heart, he must either show a desire for more knowledge or wait until circumstances pushed him in the right direction. Circumstances might kindly direct him in the right direction, but it is certain Lotus could not be led to evince an interest in one he thought lost to every proper womanly feeling.
Clement had not lost anything by his trip South. He had filled his paper, "The Events," with the freshest news from the seat of disturbance, while at the same time he had kept a glowing column of special correspondence in several daily papers, which had made his stay very remunerative.
Shortly after the pardon came, Clement concluded that his patient was so far advanced in the path of health that it would not be unsafe to remove him. About a month after his first visit, he turned his back on the convict mines forever. The threatened trouble had cleared away, the soldiers, after costing the state a large sum, had returned, and as most of the escaped convicts had been recaptured, the camp, with a few outward reforms, had dropped into its accustomed routine. The Convict Lease System, however, had been given a blow from which it would not soon recover. The illumination it had received had served to array against it a class of agitators who, it is hoped, in time will erase the foul blot from the escutcheon of civilization.
Rev. Simon Thomas and his wife gave a royal welcome to Lotus on his return from the mines. Many of his sunshine friends who had hid behind the clouds in the day of his trouble, fell over each other in their efforts to express their delight at his pardon. Their intense interest, months after it was needed, produced in the mind of Lotus an inexpressible weariness. He smiled as he remarked to Clement: "Having escaped from the water, is it not remarkable how many of your friends are waiting on the shore to save you?"
They left Grandville after a few days for Minton. Lotus had nothing to say about the car in which he was obliged to ride; the worst fare on earth was grateful after what he had just left.
It was near the middle of May, and as the two men sat in their shirt sleeves, Lotus noticed tangled in the lining of his coat a letter. He turned the coat up and took it out. It was the letter he had placed in his pocket unread the evening of his arrest. It had slipped down between the lining and cloth and remained there unnoticed for all these months. "It is from Mrs. Levitt," he said.
"You are jesting," said Clement.
"No; look for yourself." The letter was sent to Washington to the department and forwarded.
"Well, well, written on brown paper with charcoal."
"Read the explanation," said Lotus, passing that to Clement. The explanation disclosed the fact that the letter had been received the previous June, and being placed in the gentleman's hunting coat, had escaped his attention until the day it had been mailed. He had hung up his coat and had never thought of the letter until he needed the hunting jacket. He asked pardon for the delay and hoped the information would yet arrive in time to serve the end wished.
"What do you think of that? Why, it is providential," said Clement.
"I expect she is dead before this," said Lotus, thinking of his own fortunate delivery from a premature grave.
"No, never." She must be somewhere in Canada. We'll make it our first duty to find out," looking at Lotus, he continued, "I'll make it my first duty, you will hardly be strong enough to undertake such business."
"When you go I'll go with you. We need not go for a few days. By that time I shall be strong enough to accompany you."
When the two friends arrived at Minton, Lotus was surprised to see the Red Cross Commandery drawn up in line at the depot, to receive him. Clement had wired to his friends the day to expect them, and the notoriety that the case of Lotus had received through the papers, served to bring to the station hundreds of people curious to see the man who had escaped from the jaws of that living hell. Lotus was pushed into a carriage to escape the enthusiasm of his friends. The horses were taken from the carriage and escorted by the Red Cross Commandery, he was drawn to the home of Clement St. John. Nor was the brave editor of "The Events" forgotten. He came in for a large share of the glory that surrounded Lotus. Already popular, his conduct had served to make him an idol among the people he loved so well.
Chapter 29 -- Chapter 31