The Bread Of Affliction

: The Doomsman

Two miles from the keep was a cave that Constans had discovered on one

of his hunting-trips, and which, boylike, he had proceeded to fit up

with some rude furniture for lodging and cooking, little dreaming that

he should ever stand in actual need of these necessities.

Thither he betook himself, impelled primarily by the mere instinct for

refuge and shelter. Fortunately, the larder had been replenished within

/> the past week, there was an abundance of dry fuel stacked up in the

interior of the cavern, and the woods were full of game. But during

those first two or three days it is doubtful if Constans would have

remarked either the presence or the absence of these creature comforts;

he ate when he was hungry and went to sleep when it grew dark. The rest

of the time he sat motionless, thinking, thinking--living for the most

part in that past that now seemed so infinitely far away.

Of course, the cavern had been the storehouse of his treasures. Here he

kept a spare hunting-bow and a full stock of arrows, together with his

fishing lines and nets and a miscellaneous assortment of traps and

tools. Here, too, was the secret depository of his cherished

spying-glasses and of another equally marvellous but unfortunately

valueless piece of mechanism--a revolver of large caliber. This latter

had belonged to his grandfather (for whom he had been named), and upon

his death Constans had claimed and taken possession of it. The weapon

was in perfect order, for its former owner had been careful to keep it

well cleaned and oiled; an absurd whim, of course, since without its

ammunition it was useless. The boy used to puzzle mightily over it,

setting the hammer and watching the cylinder as it revolved, then

pulling the trigger and listening to its fascinating click. But he never

got any nearer to the secret.

Even more precious than the pistol and binoculars were his books, an

oddly assorted library that included the child's pictorial history

already mentioned, Dryden's translation of the Iliad, an imperfect

copy of The Three Musketeers, and The Descent of Man. These, indeed,

made up the full list of books belonging to the keep, and Constans had

been permitted to appropriate them, nobody else caring to waste time

over their stained and worm-eaten pages.

With Constans, however, it had been different. In company with the other

children he had been set at the task of learning his letters, and at

first he, too, had rebelled at the uncongenial labor. What possible use

could these ugly, crooked characters ever be to him? And then, suddenly,

he found in them a magic key unlocking a door that opened upon an

undiscovered country--that of the mighty past.

Naturally he experienced some difficulty in viewing this new old world

in anything like its proper proportions, and it was the literal baldness

of the child's school-book that first gave him anything like a true

perspective. Here was both the written story and the visible picture of

the world as it once was, as it might be again. Studying these records

and achievements of the ancient civilization, Constans found himself

possessed of the knowledge of many things and consumed by the desire to

lay hold of many more.

But all this lay in the past--ages ago, when as yet no Doomsman had

landed at the Golden Cove, and the pine-tree banner still flew from the

fighting platform of the Greenwood Keep. Now nothing mattered to the boy

sitting dull-eyed and inert in the darkest corner of his miserable

refuge, while outside it was raining in torrents. But on the third day

it cleared, and the rays of the morning sun, striking level with the

mouth of the cave, fell full upon the lad's face, rousing him in a

double sense. He sprang to his feet and drew in a deep breath of the

morning air. How blue the sky! How golden the sun! As he sat eating his

frugal breakfast of oat-cake and honey he rapidly reviewed his present

condition and future prospects, coming at last to the decision that he

would go to Croye and see what his uncle Hugolin might be inclined to do

for him.

It was inspiriting, the mere fact that he had determined upon a course

of action, and Constans immediately began his preparations for

departure. It did not take long to put together his worldly wealth--the

four books, the binoculars, the pistol, and the chief of his other

possessions; now he had everything compactly stowed away in a shoulder

pack and was ready for the journey.

The town of Croye was situated on the Greater river (formerly the

Hudson) and some ten miles north of the ancient city of New York. It

boasted a population of quite fifteen hundred souls, and this, with its

importance as a trading centre, made it a notable municipality for these

latter days. Its appearance, however, does not call for any extended

description; assuredly, it was not imposing. A heterogeneous jumble of

low, half-timbered houses and mud-plastered hovels; dirty, unpaved

streets, a mean-looking market-place, where the shrill clamor of

huckstering never seemed to cease; some pretentious-looking public

buildings, with stuccoed fronts; outside of all, the inevitable earth

rampart, topped by a palisade and pierced by sally-ports at the cardinal

points--such was Croye, the principal city of this western hemisphere in

the year 2015, or ninety since the Great Change.

Constans frowned as he gazed upon this unlovely picture. Yet he

determined that he would find something of good in it, and as though

answering his thought, the sun reappeared at that very moment from

behind a passing cloud, its rays lighting up the red tiling used as

roofing in the houses of the better class--the one note of cheerful

color among these dingy browns and grays. It was an omen, and he

accepted it as such.

It was to one of these red-topped mansions that Constans finally found

his way, after experiencing several rebuffs from churlish citizens of

whom he had ventured to inquire for the whereabouts of his uncle. Now,

as he laid his hand upon the knocker, he was conscious that the feeling

of despondency had again fallen upon him; he recalled the old story of

Messer Hugolin's bitter opposition to the marriage of his sister Rayne

and Gavan of the keep, of how he had refused to attend the wedding and

had sent no gift. Since then there had been no real intimacy between the

families, although the breach had been outwardly healed and formal

civilities infrequently passed. A poor prospect, it would seem, for the

success of Constans's appeal. But blood is blood, and there was

literally no one else to whom he could turn in this his extremity. He

let the knocker fall.

Messer Hugolin, a stout man, with crafty lines creased in his broad

face, received his nephew with nominal cordiality and listened

attentively to his story. But he was not over-prompt with either advice

or offer of assistance, and Constans, with a sore heart, finally rose to


"Don't be in a hurry," said his uncle, coolly. "Let me think this over

again. After all, we are of the same stock, although your father always

flouted me for a mean-spirited churl. Poor Gavan, we may forgive him


After another period of cogitation and incidental homilies upon the

sinfulness of pride and free living, Messer Hugolin came to the point;

he offered to take Constans into his employ as an apprentice in the

tannery. Of course, Constans would have no wages until his indenture was

out, but he would, at least, be assured of lodging, food, and clothes,

the bare necessities of existence. Not an especially attractive

proposition, but Constans, after a short consideration, concluded to

accept it. He had a purpose in remaining here in Croye, almost within

sight of Doom the Forbidden; he had not forgotten that therein dwelt one

Quinton Edge.

And now a new life began for the boy, and a hard one. Lodged in a corner

of the garret, clad in the meanest garments, fed on the coarsest fare,

his lot was little better than that of the actual serf, and in some

respects inferior to it, for it was good policy to treat the slave with

some decency and so secure a full life's work from the human machine.

Constans, on the other hand, was bound for four years only, and it was

policy to drive him at full speed.

Messer Hugolin's business was of a general nature. He bought and sold

everything in the way of raw product and finished goods, but cloth and

leather formed the staple of his trade. The latter he manufactured

himself, and his tannery was the largest in Croye. It occupied extensive

yards along the river-front, and Constans entered upon the agreeable

occupation of unloading stinking hides from the barges which came down

from the upper river twice in the week, a routine varied only by long

hours of pounding at interminable lengths of white-oak bark, preparing

it for use in the tan-pits. Hard, dirty, malodorous work it was, but he

kept at it steadily, his purpose always in view.

Little by little his plans had been taking shape, and now at last he had

arrived at something definite. A secret, of course, and fortunately

opportunity had been given him in which to develop his idea. To explain

more particularly:

On ordinary days the working-hours were from dawn to dark, but Sunday

was his own, save for the hour immediately following sunrise and that

preceding sunset, when everybody was required to attend upon public


Every Sunday, then, Constans made his way through the town barriers

immediately upon their unclosing, and betook himself to a wooded

river-cove about a mile south of the town. For three months he had been

working on a canoe, shaping it with fire and adze from a poplar log, and

now, after infinite difficulty, the task approached completion. Could he

have had a confidant, a helper, the work might have been done in a third

of the time, for Constans was not much of a mechanic. But there was no

one among his fellow-workmen whom he dared trust, and so he toiled on


The canoe had been launched, and, to Constans's delight, she was but

slightly lopsided. A few stones brought her to trim, and she paddled


He had fixed upon the third Sunday in August for the great trial, for

the Monday following was a civic holiday, the anniversary of the

founding of the city. The double event would give him abundant time in

which to make a reconnoissance of his enemy's position and then return

to Croye to resume his position in Messer Hugolin's tanyard. For his

foothold there must not be endangered; if he returned at all, he would

find it more necessary than ever.

Permission to absent himself from Saturday night to Tuesday morning had

to be obtained from the city authorities. They objected at first, but

finally accorded their consent. With his uncle, the matter was quickly

settled. Messer Hugolin did not approve of holidays for apprentices, but

he dared not controvert the law, and Constans was already in possession

of the blue ticket which would enable him to pass the city barriers

after sunset on Saturday. So Messer Hugolin contented himself with

black looks and an acid jibe at the vanity of his civic associates, who

multiplied holidays that they might have opportunity to display

themselves in their gold chains and red robes of office.

"And harkee, boy!" he concluded, harshly. "Let me see you at roll-call

Tuesday morning or not at all. With flour at ten tokens the quarter,

there is no bread of idleness to be eaten in my house." And thereupon

they parted without further speaking.

It was a warm August evening when he finally pushed out from shore and

laid his course down-stream. He had not ventured upon the experiment of a

sail, but the tide was beginning to run out, and that, with the current,

should carry him to his destination without the dipping of an oar. But

he reflected that the moon would rise at nine o'clock, and as it was

barely past the full the light might betray him to watching eyes. He

could take no risks, and so must reach the city under cover of darkness.

Accordingly, he bent to his paddle, taking it easy at first, and then

lengthening out the stroke as he gained confidence in this hitherto

untried art.