It was with a feeling of relief that he reached the top floor of the last house in the street. By a faint light from a skylight above he read the last name on his book, "Lawrence Hogan, exconvict." He knocked at the door and waited. No answer came. There was some one inside, however; so, after another knock, he turned the knob. The door gave and he entered. A young man in his shirt sleeves was leaning half-way out of one of the windows and calling to some one in the street below.
"Look now, Jimmy," he cried. "Just run over to Garrity's for me. I'm dyin' with the drought that's on me."
"You can't buy beer without money," came the reply. "Give me the money and I'll go."
"Never mind the money," said the young man with dignity. " Never mind the money. Mr. Garrity knows me."
"To be sure he does, Lanty, and that's why he'll not give you a drop if he don't see the color of your dough first."
The young man uttered an oath and closed the window with a bang. Turning, he saw the Rev. Mr. Wilter, who stood hemming and hawing on the threshold.
"Sit down, won't you?" said the young man brusquely. He had a head of tangled black hair and a face as white as his shirt,— in fact, much whiter. He threw himself on a bed in a corner and listened to the clergyman, who had gained courage enough to speak. After a five minutes' rhapsody of exhortations came a dead pause. Then the young man said slowly:
"Of course, of course. That's all right sure enough. But what's the use of talking anyhow? You were born with cake in your mouth and I was born with hardtack in mine. You're livin' your life and I'm livin' mine. For, see now, a man has no more power to shape his course than a leaf has to decide where it shall fall."
The Rev. Mr. Wilter gave a little shudder and looked sharply at the young man. His manner had that readiness which is often mistaken for frankness, and if there had not been a certain peculiar expression about his mouth, one would have called his face an honest one.
"Look there!" he exclaimed, holding up his right arm. " What do you see ?"
"Eh? Oh!" said the clergyman, "I see that your right hand is missing—only the stump left."
"And would you like to know the reason of it? All through one of your sort. Here's my story for you, if you like."
The clergyman leaned forward with a nod of sympathy, and the young man, drawing his chair nearer, went on:
"It's in a prison I was born. My mother was doing time when she brought me into the world. I was the only creature in the place the law hadn't a mortgage on, but it wasn't long before I was sent there on my own account. You see I was nifty with my fingers."
"I beg pardon!"
"I was neat at pinching—a pick-pocket, you know. Well, for five years or more it was a case of in jail and out, till one day, when I was up on the same old charge, a clergyman like yourself came among us. He sat down in my cell and talked religion to me three hours straight, and when he left me I had salvation in my tapioca. I made up my mind I'd turn straight. But when I got out, my fingers itched to be at work again, just as my throat is itchin' now for the drink. Is it laughin' you are?"
"Not at all, I'm deeply interested."
"Well, I had hard work, sure, keeping down the longing, and no one to give me the word of encouragement either. My old pals all sneered and gave me the go-by, and decent people would have nothin' to do with me. 'Gorrah! you'd have thought I was a disease that was catchin', the way they turned from me, right and left. At last, I couldn't hold out any longer, and I'd just made up my mind to go back to my old trade of touchin' pockets, when I happened to be down on the dock watchin' a big pile driver. And as I saw the big hammer go sawin' up and down, a thought struck me. If the longing was too big for my fingers I'd put it out of my way forever. So, without stoppin' a minute, I put my hand under the hammer, and when it came down it crushed it to splinters. From that day to this I've been a straight man."
"It was noble of you," exclaimed the clergyman, all aglow with excitement.
"Ah, and what good did it do me, anyway? Here I am going to rot, for want of a drink even."
"I shall bring your case at once before the Society. Your resistance of your besetting sin was glorious!"
The clergyman shook the young man fervently by his left hand, and after some more eulogies on his splendid "sacrifice" took his leave. As the door closed behind him, he imagined he heard a smothered laugh from within, but he was too much affected to give it a thought.
"I have found at least one lily growing in this dung-hill of iniquity!" he exclaimed as he felt his way down the dark stairs. When he reached the street he looked up at the window and saw that the young man was watching him. He waved his hand to him and hurried on. After several blocks he stopped under an electric light.
"How late it must be," he said, feeling for his watch. It was gone. A terrible suspicion seized him. He hastened back to the tenement and once more climbed the crazy stairs. The young man's door stood open and his room was empty. Two women were passing through the hallway.
"If it's Lanty Hogan you want," said one of them, "I saw him go out this minute. Sure, what business would you have with him—you, a ministher? Don't you know what he is?"
"He used to be a pick-pocket, I know," said the Rev. Mr. Wilter. "But he told me how he conquered his sin by nobly sacrificing his right hand."
"Arrah, what gosther are you talkin'?" said the other woman contemptuously. "He was being chased by the coppers, he was, when he fell in the gutther and a truck passin' by took off his right hand. But he's as nate with his left as he ever was with the right. More betoken, they call him Lanty with the left hand."
The Rev. Mr. Wilter staggered in a daze against the wall.