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The Umbrella Man
IT was an insolent day. There are days which, to imaginative minds, at least, possess
strangely human qualities. Their atmospheres predispose people to crime or virtue, to the
calm of good will, to sneaking vice, or fierce, unprovoked aggression. The day was of the
last description. A beast, or a human being in whose veins coursed undisciplined blood,
might, as involuntarily as the boughs of trees lash before storms, perform wild and
wicked deeds after inhaling that hot air, evil with the sweat of sinevoked toil, with
nitrogen stored from festering sores of nature and the loathsome emanations of suffering
It had not rained for weeks, but the humidity was great. The clouds of dust which arose
beneath the man's feet had a horrible damp stickiness. His face and hands were grimy, as
were his shoes, his cheap, ready-made suit, and his straw hat. However, the man felt a
pride in his clothes, for they were at least the garb of freedom. He had come out of prison
the day before, and had scorned the suit proffered him by the officials. He had given it
away, and bought a new one with a goodly part of his small stock of money. This suit
was of a small-checked pattern. Nobody could tell from it that the wearer had just left
jail. He had been there for several years for one of the minor offenses against the law. His
term would probably have been shorter, but the judge had been careless, and he had no
friends. Stebbins had never been the sort to make many friends, although he had never
cherished animosity toward any human being. Even some injustice in his sentence had
not caused him to feel any rancor.
During his stay in the prison he had not been really unhappy. He had accepted the
inevitable -the yoke of the strong for the weak -- with a patience which brought almost a
sense of enjoyment. But, now that he was free, he had suddenly become alert, watchful of
chances for his betterment. From being a mere kenneled creature he had become as a
hound on the scent, the keenest on earth -- that of self-interest. He was changed, while yet
living, from a being outside the world to one with the world before him. He felt young,
although he was a middle-aged, almost elderly man. He had in his pocket only a few
dollars. He might have had more had he not purchased the checked suit and had he not
given much away. There was another man whose term would be up in a week, and he had
a sickly wife and several children. Stebbins, partly from native kindness and generosity,
partly from a sentiment which almost amounted to superstition, had given him of his
slender store. He had been deprived of his freedom because of money; he said to himself
that his return to it should be heralded by the music of it scattered abroad for the good of
Now and then as he walked Stebbins removed his new straw hat, wiped his forehead with
a stiff new handkerchief, looked with some concern at the grime left upon it, then felt
anxiously of his short crop of grizzled hair. He would be glad when it grew only a little,
for it was at present a telltale to observant eyes. Also now and then he took from another
pocket a small mirror which he had just purchased, and scrutinized his face. Every time
he did so he rubbed his cheeks violently, then viewed with satisfaction the hard glow