FORGIVE AND FORGET_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER FIFTEEN_
In the morning Joe put his plan into execution by applying for and receiving a month's leave of absence, and taking the first train, he arrived early on the second day at Denver. Here he hastened to the court house and had the city clerk search in musty records and when he came close to the date that Joe had calculated tallied with Kansas Shorty's story, they found James McDonald's name, and the sentence the judge had imposed which read: "Imprisonment in the Colorado State Reformatory at Buena Vista until of age."
This second step towards unravelling his missing brother's fate pleased Joe so well that before another hour had rolled around he was aboard a train bound for Buena Vista to continue the search there. At day break he arrived at this pretty mountain city and hired a livery rig and drove to the reformatory, situated upon the outskirts of Buena Vista. Here he called at the warden's office, and after stating his errand, again old records were searched, which showed that James McDonald had been received at the institution, but on account of exemplary behavior had soon after his arrival been paroled into the care of a rancher named Holmes. Then the warden recalled the case and explained to him that Jim not only had become Mr. Holmes' son-in-law by marrying his daughter, but that he was the proud father of a son and a daughter and was considered a respected member of the community. He also advised Joe to drive to Mr. Holmes' ranch, as it was only about ten miles down the valley.
It was almost dinner time when Joe arrived at Mr. Holmes' handsome home, and when he saw a man standing at the gate as he approached, he immediately knew that it was his long lost brother, as he still resembled Joe, as much as in the past.
"Jim," cried Joe, as he swung himself from the buggy, and "Brother Joe," came back the prompt reply, and then with tears of joy streaming from their eyes they embraced each other, and after their affectionate greeting they repaired to a nearby bench, and while holding his at-last-found brother's hands Joe remarked, not aware that his brother did not know that their mother and their eldest brother Donald had disappeared in Canada, a land almost as large as the United States: "Brother Jim, there is just one thing in this world that would add to our happiness and that is, I wish our mother were here to join us at this happy reunion," but hardly had he finished when Jim replied: "Joe, now that we have at last found each other, let us do what for so many years I have promised my wife and babies, should the good Lord answer my prayers and permit me to meet you again, and travel to Rugby and surprise our mother and plead for her forgiveness before she has passed from among the mortals, as she has no doubt suffered untold anguish in all the weary years since we ran away, as I have not dared during all this time to visit her nor write to her until I was assured that you were still among the living."
Joe merely nodded his head as if assenting, as he did not wish to spoil his brother's gladness at this moment by telling of the fateful letter across the face of which was written: "Moved to Canada. Present address unknown," nor of the many official letters he had in his trunk from the Governor of every Canadian Province and many other officials, all of whom had searched in vain for their missing mother, and, too, he recalled those long hours of fearful remorse behind the locked door of his room, and decided to withhold this knowledge from his brother as well he realized that it would cause heart wounds which would require years to heal.
Joe now gave his brother a brief review of his own career since they were separated, and finished by telling him that his present occupation was that of a railroad employee.
At this moment an elderly gentleman approached and Joe introduced him to his brother as Mr. Holmes, his father-in-law, who, while Jim left to arrange for Joe's dinner, told Joe that after he had engaged Jim, the latter had proven himself so reliable that when a few years later his only daughter, Dorothy, who had been sent east to finish her education, returned and had fallen head over heels in love with Jim, he not only gave his paternal blessing, but on their marriage day gave her for a wedding present a deed to the ranch.
Just then the dinner bell rang, and when they came to the house Mrs. James McDonald with her son, a lad of eight, and her daughter, a pretty girl of five, were waiting for them, and after Jim had introduced Joe he called his attention to the fact that his baby girl was named after her Aunt Helen who disappeared so mysteriously, and that the children had the McDonald family mark, the streak of white hair upon their heads.
After dinner Jim called Joe into his private office and pleaded with him to forsake the railroad and make his future home upon the ranch. But it was quite a while before Joe would even listen to his proposition, but when Jim assured his brother that he could not think of having to part with him again he finally consented to the change.
During the remainder of the afternoon Joe was busy writing his resignation and arranging to have his property transferred from Chicago, while Mr. Holmes and Jim were away from the house overseeing the work of the ranch. After Joe had finished his correspondence he took a seat in a rocking chair upon the porch from where he had a grand view of the fertile valley of the Arkansas and the snow capped mountain ranges beyond.
A little later his sister-in-law joined him, and although she sat in another rocker close to Joe's, he found it impossible to engage her in a conversation, try as he might, as she persisted in staring him in the face. Chagrined at what he thought to be an affront, he suddenly blurted out: "Mrs. McDonald, is there something about my face that interests you?" Instead of an answer the lady who had turned a ghastly pallor handed him a small, paper wrapped parcel. Joe opened the same, and then after he hastily scanned its contents he speechlessly stared at his hostess. "Great God in Heaven," exclaimed Joe, breaking the suspense and unable to better express his amazement at the singular turn affairs had taken, while with a trembling hand he drew forth from the paper a small leather purse. "Can it be possible that you, Mrs. McDonald, are 'Babe', the girl I met fifteen years ago in Chicago, and whose timely assistance gave me a start upon the narrow path?" "I am the same girl, Joe," she quietly replied, "and it was for the express purpose of getting a chance to tell you that I am 'Babe' that I stared so rudely into your face, because I knew that now or never had come the climax in the lives of those who had in former days known each other as 'Babe' and 'Dakota Joe'." Then she took the small leather purse out of Joe's trembling hand and again wrapped it in the paper, and after striking a match that she had brought for this purpose, she held the lighted splinter against the paper, and when the hungry flames leaped up she threw the burning parcel upon the lawn below, and while they both watched the fire consume the fateful purse, Mrs. McDonald took Joe's hand into her own and while they pressed a mute, but none the less oath-bound promise to each other, she solemnly said: "For the sake of Jim's happy home and our innocent children, for the sake of the name all of us bear, and the many years I have lived an honorable life to atone for what occurred before the day when I last saw you in Chicago, I plead with you, whom, to my horror, I later discovered to be my own husband's missing brother, to let the past be forgiven, to be buried in silence and be forever hereafter forgotten."