[Shouts of "Right! right!"] I see your generous purpose in your face, but I cannot allow you to plead for these men--"
"But I was going to--"
"Please take your seat, Mr. Richards. We must examine the rest of these notes--simple fairness to the men who have already been exposed requires this. As soon as that has been done--I give you my word for this--you shall he heard."
Many voices. "Right!--the Chair is right--no interruption can be permitted at this stage! Go on!--the names! the names!--according to the terms of the motion!"
The old couple sat reluctantly down, and the husband whispered to the wife, "It is pitifully hard to have to wait; the shame will be greater than ever when they find we were only going to plead for OURSELVES."
Straightway the jollity broke loose again with the reading of the names.
"'You are far from being a bad man--' Signature, 'Robert J. Titmarsh.'"
'"You are far from being a bad man--' Signature, 'Eliphalet Weeks.'"
"'You are far from being a bad man--' Signature, 'Oscar B. Wilder.'"
At this point the house lit upon the idea of taking the eight words out of the Chairman's hands. He was not unthankful for that. Thenceforward he held up each note in its turn and waited. The house droned out the eight words in a massed and measured and musical deep volume of sound (with a daringly close resemblance to a well-known church chant)--"You are f-a-r from being a b-a-a-a-d man." Then the Chair said, "Signature, 'Archibald Wilcox.'" And so on, and so on, name after name, and everybody had an increasingly and gloriously good time except the wretched Nineteen. Now and then, when a particularly shining name was called, the house made the Chair wait while it chanted the whole of the test-remark from the beginning to the closing words, "And go to hell or Hadleyburg-- try and make it the for-or-m-e-r!" and in these special cases they added a grand and agonised and imposing "A-a-a-a-MEN!"
The list dwindled, dwindled, dwindled, poor old Richards keeping tally of the count, wincing when a name resembling his own was pronounced, and waiting in miserable suspense for the time to come when it would be his humiliating privilege to rise with Mary and finish his plea, which he was intending to word thus: ". . . for until now we have never done any wrong thing, but have gone our humble way unreproached. We are very poor, we are old, and, have no chick nor child to help us; we were sorely tempted, and we fell. It was my purpose when I got up before to make confession and beg that my name might not be read out in this public place, for it seemed to us that we could not bear it; but I was prevented. It was just; it was our place to suffer with the rest. It has been hard for us. It is the first time we have ever heard our name fall from any one's lips--sullied. Be merciful--for the sake or the better days; make our shame as light to bear as in your charity you can." At this point in his reverie Mary nudged him, perceiving that his mind was absent. The house was chanting, "You are f-a-r," etc.
"Be ready," Mary whispered. "Your name comes now; he has read eighteen."
The chant ended.
"Next! next! next!" came volleying from all over the house.
Burgess put his hand into his pocket. The old couple, trembling, began to rise. Burgess fumbled a moment, then said:
"I find I have read them all."
Faint with joy and surprise, the couple sank into their seats, and Mary whispered:
"Oh, bless God, we are saved!--he has lost ours--I wouldn't give this for a hundred of those sacks!"
The house burst out with its "Mikado" travesty, and sang it three times with ever-increasing enthusiasm, rising to its feet when it reached for the third time the closing line--
"But the Symbols are here, you bet!"
and finishing up with cheers and a tiger for "Hadleyburg purity and our eighteen immortal representatives of it."
Then Wingate, the saddler, got up and proposed cheers "for the cleanest man in town, the one solitary important citizen in it who didn't try to steal that money--Edward Richards."
They were given with great and moving heartiness; then somebody proposed that "Richards be elected sole Guardian and Symbol of the now Sacred Hadleyburg Tradition, with power and right to stand up and look the whole sarcastic world in the face."
Passed, by acclamation; then they sang the "Mikado" again, and ended it with--
"And there's ONE Symbol left, you bet!"
There was a pause; then--