Clarence Budington Kelland
Part 6 out of 6
"You wouldn't b'lieve the things I seen in that show," said Bogle,
waggling his head.
"Don't intend to be called on to b'lieve 'em," said the deacon.
"Look.... Comin' acrost the bridge. There's Locker's boy and that there
Wife-ette, and him lookin' like he'd enjoy divin' down her throat."
"Poor Jason," said the elder, "he's reapin' the whirlwind."
"Kin he be blind?"
"Somebody ought to take Jason off to one side and give him warnin'."
The deacon considered, puckering his thin lips and cocking a hard old
eye. "'Tain't fer us to meddle," he said, righteously. "They's a divine
plan in ever'thing, and we hain't able to see what's behind all this
here. We'll jest set and wait the outcome."
That is what all Coldriver did: it sat and awaited the outcome with
ill-restrained enthusiasm, and while it waited it talked. No word or
gesture or movement of young Homer Locker and Yvette Hinchbrooke went
undiscussed. Nobody in town was unaware of Homer's infatuation for the
coffee demonstrator--with the one exception of Homer's father, who was
too busy waiting upon the unaccustomed rush of trade to notice anything
On the fourth evening of Yvette's stay in Coldriver there was a dance in
the town hall. Especial interest immediately, attached to this affair
because of the speculations as to whether Homer would be so rash as to
invite Yvette as his partner. The village refused to believe the young
man would fail them and remain away. That would be a calamity not easily
endured, so it set itself to plan its actions in case she made her
appearance. It wondered, how she would dress and how she would behave.
Every girl in the village who possessed clear title to a young man knew
exactly how _she_ would deport herself. The night before the dance no
less than a score of young men were informed with finality that they
were not to dance with the stranger, nor to be seen in her vicinity.
Norma Grainger expressed the will of all when she told Will Peasley that
if he danced one dance with that coffee girl she would up and go home
alone. In the beginning there was no definite concerted action; it was
assured, however, that Yvette would have few partners.
Homer did not disappoint his friends. During the first dance he entered
the hall with Yvette, and the music all but stopped to stare. Undeniably
she was pretty. It was not her prettiness the women resented, however,
but her air and her clothes. Actually she wore a dress cut low at the
neck, and sleeveless. Coldriver had heard of such garments, and there
were those who actually believed them to exist and to be worn by certain
women in European society among kings and dukes and other frightfully
immoral people. But that one should ever make its appearance in
Coldriver, under their very eyes, was a thing so startling, so
outrageous, as almost to demand the spontaneous formation of a vigilance
Even yet there was no concerted action, but sentiment was crystallizing.
Homer and Yvette danced three dances, and Homer's face began to wear a
scowl. No less than five young men approached by him with the purpose of
securing them as partners for Yvette declined with brevity.
"What's the matter with you??" he demanded, belligerently. "There hain't
no pertier girl nor no better dancer on the floor."
"Mebby so. Hain't noticed. Got all _my_ dances took."
"Me too. My girl she says--"
"She says what?" snapped Homer.
"She says she'll go home if I dance with yourn."
"And _I_ say," said Homer, with set jaw, "that you fellers is goin' to
dance with Yvette, or there's goin' to be more fights in Coldriver 'n
Coldriver ever see before. That's _my_ say."
He announced he would be back after the next dance, and that _somebody_
would dance with Yvette. "The feller that refuses," said he, "goes
outside with me."
He went back to Yvette, who, not lacking in shrewdness, sensed something
of the situation.
"I wish I hadn't come," she said, uneasily.
"I don't ... if you hain't got no objection to dancin' jest with me."
"It'll look queer if I dance all of them with you."
"Jest ask me, and see if I care," he said, desperately. "It's like I'd
want to have it. I couldn't never dance more'n I want to with you. I
wisht I could dance all the dances there'll be in your life with
you.... Come on. This here's a quadrille."
Pliny Pickett, self-appointed caller of square dances, was arranging the
floor. "One more couple wanted to this end," he bellowed. "Here's two
couples a-waitin'. Don't hang back. Music's a-waitin'.... Right there.
All ready?... Nope. One couple needed in the middle."
Homer and Yvette approached that square where three couples awaited the
fourth to complete their set. They took their places, to the manifest
embarrassment of the other six. Suddenly Norma Grainger whispered
something to her young man and tugged at his arm. He looked sidewise,
sheepishly, at Homer, and hung back.
"You come right along," said Norma. "I hain't goin' to have it said of
me that I danced in no set with her."
"Nor me," said Marion Towne, also tugging at her escort.
The young men were forced to give way, and, not too proud to cast
glances of placating nature at Homer, they fell from their places and
walked to the benches around the hall. Yvette and Homer were left
standing alone, conspicuous, the center of all eyes.
Homer clenched his fists and glared about him; then--for in his ungainly
body there resided something that is essential to manhood, and without
which none may be called a gentleman--he offered his arm to Yvette. "I
guess we better go," he said, softly. Then squaring his powerful
shoulders and glancing about him with a real dignity which Scattergood
Baines, sitting in one corner, noted and applauded, he led the girl from
"I'll see you home," he said, formally. "I hain't got nothin' to say."
"It--it's not your fault," she said, tremulously.
"Somebody'll wisht it wa'n't their fault 'fore mornin'," he answered.
"I shouldn't have gone."
"Why? Hain't you as good as any of them, and better? Hain't you the
pertiest girl I ever see?... You hain't mad with _me_, be you?"
"'No.... Not with anybody, I guess. I--I ought to be used to it. I--"
She began to cry.
It was a dark spot there on the bridge. Homer was not apt at words, but
he could feel and he did feel. It was no mere impulse to comfort a
pretty girl that moved him to inclose her with his muscular arms and to
press her to him none too gently.
"I kin lick the hull world fer you," he said, huskily, and then he
kissed her wet cheek again and again, and repeated his ability to thrash
all comers in her cause, and stated his desire to undertake exactly that
task for the term of her natural life. "If you was to marry me," he
said, "they wouldn't nobody dast trample on you.... You're a-goin' to
marry me, hain't you?"
"I--I don't know.... You--you don't know anything about me."
"Calc'late I know enough," he said.
"Your folks wouldn't put up with it."
There was a silence. Then she said, brokenly: "I must go away. I can't
ever go back to the store to-morrow to have everybody staring at me and
talking about me.... I want to go away to-night."
"You sha'n't. Nor no other time, neither."
And then, out of the darkness behind, spoke Scattergood Baines's voice.
"Hain't calc'latin' to bust the gal, be you?... Jest happened along to
say the deacon's been talkin' to your pa about you 'n' her, and your
pa's het up consid'able. He's startin' out to look fer you. Lucky I come
along, wa'n't it?"
"I'm of age," said Homer, aggressively.
"Lots is," said Scattergood. "'Tain't nothin' to take special pride
in.... Homer, I've watched you raised from a colt, hain't I? Be you
willin' to kind of leave this here to me a spell? I sort of want to look
into things. You go along about your business and leave me talk to
Wife-ette here.... Made up your mind you want her?"
"She want you?"
"I--What business is it of yours?" Yvette demanded, angrily. "Who are
you? What are you interfering for?"
"Kind of a habit with me," said Scattergood, "and my wife hain't ever
been able to cure me, even puttin' things in my coffee on the sly....
G'-by, Homer. And don't go lickin' nobody. G'-by."
The habit of obedience to Scattergood's customary dismissal was strong
in Coldriver. For more than a generation the town had been trained to
heed it and to trust its affairs to the old hardware merchant. Homer
hesitated, coughed, mumbled good night to Yvette, and slouched away.
"There," said Scattergood, "now you and me kin talk. We'll go up to your
room, where nobody kin disturb us." The conventions nor the tongue of
gossip was non-existent to Scattergood Baines, and Yvette, not reared in
a school where trust in men is easily learned, was shrewd enough to
recognize Scattergood's purpose and her own safety.
"I s'pose you're the local Mr. Fix-it," she said, with sarcasm.
"I s'pose," said Scattergood, "that I've knowed Homer sence he was knee
high to a mouse's kitten, and I don't know nothin' about you a-tall. I
gather you're calc'latin' on marryin' Homer.... Mebby you be and mebby
you hain't.... Depends. Come along."
He led the way to the hotel and allowed Yvette to precede him up the
stairs to her room, which she unlocked and stood aside for him to enter.
He looked about him in the sharp-eyed way characteristic of him, not
omitting to include in his survey the toilet articles on the dresser.
"Hain't you perty enough without them?" he asked, indicating the lip
stick and rice powder. "Us folks hain't used to 'em, much.... Wunst we
give a home-talent play here, and there come a feller from Boston to
help out. Mis' Blossom was into it, and he come around to paint her up.
She jest give him one look, and says, says she, 'I hain't never painted
my face yit, and I don't calc'late to start in now.' ... I got to admit
she looked kind of pale and peeked amongst the rest, but she stuck to
Yvette stared at Scattergood, nonplused for the first time. What did he
mean? How was she to take him? His face was serene and there was no
glint of humor in his eye.... Yet, somehow, she gathered the idea he was
chuckling inwardly and that there resided in him a broad and tender
toleration for the little antics and makeshifts of mankind. Possibly he
was holding Mrs. Blossom up to her as a model of rectitude; perhaps he
was asking her to laugh with him at a foible of one of his own people.
She wished she knew which.
"Calc'late on marryin' Homer?" he asked.
"Yes or no--quick."
"Yes," she said, lifting her chin bravely.
"Um!... Knowed him four days, hain't you? Think it's long enough? Plenty
of time to figger it all out?"
She sat down on the bed, drooping wearily. "I'm tired," she said, "awful
tired. I can't stand this life any longer. I've got to have a place to
"Hain't goin' to have Homer used for no sanitorium," said Scattergood.
"I like him," said Yvette.
"'Tain't enough. Up this way folks mostly loves when they git
married--or owns adjoinin' timber."
Again she was at a loss. What did he mean? If he would only smile!
"I--I've got a feeling I could _trust_ him," she said, "and he'd be good
"_He_ would," said Scattergood. "I hain't worritin' about his dealin'
with you; it's your dealin' with him I'm questionin' into."
"I'd--. He wouldn't be sorry."
"Um!... Nate Weaver, back country a spell, is lookin' fer a wife. Hain't
young. Got lots of money, and the right woman could weasel it out of
him. Lots of it.... He'd like you fine. Homer won't have much, and if
his pa keeps on feelin' like he does, he won't have none.... If you're
lookin' fer a restin' place, you might consider Nate. I could fix it."
Her eyes flashed. "I haven't come to that yet," she said, sharply, and
then began to cry quietly.
"Um!..." Scattergood gripped his pudgy hands together so that each might
restrain the other from patting her head comfortingly. "Um!... What's
"Yes.... 'Tain't Wife-ette Hinchbrooke. They hain't no sich name.
'Tain't human.... What's your real one?"
"How'd you come to change?"
"A girl's got a right to call herself anything she wants to," she said,
"Except Mrs. Homer Locker," said Scattergood, dryly. "Now jest come
off'n your high boss, and we'll talk. When we git through, we'll
_do_.... Either you'll take the mornin' train out of Coldriver, or
you'll stay and well see. Depends on what I hear."
"I could lie," she said.
"Folks don't gen'ally lie to _me_," said Scattergood, gently. "They
found out it didn't pay--and I hain't much give to believin' nothin' but
the truth. We deal in it a lot up this here way."
"I hate your people and their dealings."
"Don't wonder at it. I seen what they done to you to-night.... But you
don't know 'em like I do. They's times when they act cold and ha'sh and
nigh to cruel, but that hain't when they're real. Them times they're
jest makin' b'lieve, 'cause they hain't got no idee what they ought to
do.... I've knowed 'em these thirty year--right down _knowed_ 'em. Lemme
tell you they hain't a finer folks on earth, bar nobody. They don't show
much outside, but the insides is right. You kin find more kindness and
charity and long-sufferin' and tenderness and goodness right here
amongst the cantankerous-seemin' of Coldriver 'n you kin find anywheres
else on earth.... They're narrer, Eva, and they got sot notions, but
they got a power to do kindness, once you git 'em started at it, that
hain't to be beat.... I kind of calculate God hain't so disapp'inted
with the folks of Coldriver as a stranger might git the idee he is....
Now we'll go ahead."
When Scattergood had done asking questions and receiving answers, he sat
silent for a matter of moments. Automatically his hands strayed to the
lacing of his shoes, for his pudgy toes itched for freedom to wiggle. He
dealt with a problem whose complex elements were human emotions and
prejudices, and at such times he found his brain to act more clearly and
efficiently with shoes removed. He detected himself, however, in the act
of untying the laces, and sat upright with ludicrous suddenness.
"Um!..." he said, in some confusion. "Mandy says I hain't never to do it
when wimmin is around. Dunno why.... Now they's some p'ints I got to
impress on you."
"Yes, Mr. Baines," said Yvette, who had reached a condition of respect
and confidence in Scattergood--as most people did upon meeting him face
"Fust, Homer hain't no sanitorium for weary wimmin. When you kin come
and say, meanin' it from your heart, 'I love Homer,' then we'll see."
She nodded acquiescence.
"Second, it won't never and noways be possible fer you and Homer to live
here onless the folks takes to you. You got to win yourself a welcome in
"That means," she said, dully, "that I'd better go."
"Huh!... Hain't you got no backbone? You do like you're told. You stay
where you be. 'Tain't possible fer you to go back to Locker's store, and
that puts you out of a job, don't it?"
"I can live a few days--but--"
"Hain't no buts. You kin live as long as I say so. You stay hitched to
this here hitchin' post, and I'll 'tend to the money. Jest don't do
nothin' but be where you be--and be makin' up your mind if Homer's the
boy you kin love and cherish, or if he's nothin' but a sort of shady
restin' place.... G'-by."
He got up abruptly and went out. On the bridge he encountered three dark
figures, which, upon inspection, resolved themselves into Old Man Bogle,
Deacon Pettybone, and Elder Hooper.
"Scattergood," said the elder, "somethin's happened."
"Somethin' 'most allus does."
"This here's special and horrifyin'."
"Havin' to do with what?"
"That coffee gal, that baggage, that hussy!"
"Um!... Sich as?"
"Recall that show Bogle was took to in Boston?"
"Where the wimmin wore tights--that's been on his mind ever since?
Calc'late I do. Kind of a high spot in Bogle's life. Come nigh bein' the
makin' of him."
"He claims he recognizes this here gal as one of them dancin' wimmin
that stood in a row with less on to them than any woman ever ought to
have with the lights turned on."
"No!" exclaimed Scattergood.
"Yep!" said all three of them in chorus.
"Stood right in front, as I recall it, a-makin' eyes and kickin' up her
heels that immodest you wouldn't b'lieve. Looked right at me, too. I
"Got your money's wuth, then, didn't ye? Wa-al?"
"Suthin's got to be done."
"Riddin' the town of her."
"Go ahead and rid it, then.... G'-by."
"But we want you sh'u'd help us."
"G'-by," said Scattergood again, as he moved off ponderously into the
The elder moved nearer Bogle and endeavored to peer into his face. "Be
you sure she's the same one?" he asked, in a confidential whisper.
"Wa-al--they was about the same heft," said Bogle, "and if this hain't
her, it ought to be. I kin b'lieve it, can't I? Got a right to b'lieve
it, hain't I? Good fer the town to b'lieve it, hain't it?"
"All right, then. I aim to keep on b'lievin' it."
Next day Homer Locker abandoned his work and with the utmost brazenness
hired a rig at the livery and drove to the hotel. A group of notables
assembled upon the bridge to watch the event. They saw him emerge from
the inn with Yvette, help her into the buggy with great solicitude, and
drive away. They did not return until supper time was long past.
"I'm determined to git this settled one way or t'other," said Homer,
after a long pause. "Be you goin' to marry me?"
"Why do you want me?" Yvette asked, fixing her eyes on his face. "Is it
just because you think I'm pretty?"
He considered. It was a hard question for a young man not adept in the
use of words to answer. "'Tain't jest that," he said, finally. "I like
you bein' perty. But it's somethin' else. I hain't able to explain it,
exceptin' that I want you more'n I ever wanted anythin' in my life."
"Maybe, when I tell you about myself, you won't want me at all."
He paused again, while she studied his face anxiously.
"I dunno.... I--. Tell ye what. I want you like I know you. I'm
satisfied. I don't want you to tell me nothin'. I don't want to know
nothin'." He turned and looked with clumsy gravity into her eyes, which
did not waver. "Besides," he said, "I don't believe you got anythin'
discreditable to tell."
"I want to tell you."
"I don't want to hear," he said, simply. "I'd rather take you, jest
trustin' you and knowin' in my heart that you're good. Somehow I _know_
She bit her lip, her eyes were moist, and she sat very still for a long
time; then she said, softly: "I didn't know men like that lived.... I
Then again, after the passage of minutes: "I was going to marry you,
Homer, just for a home and a good man and to get peace.... But I sha'n't
do it now. I can't come between you and all your folks--and they
wouldn't have me."
"You're more to me than everybody else throwed together."
"No, Homer. Before I didn't think I cared.... I do care, Homer. I--I
love you. I don't mind saying it now.... I'm going away in the morning."
It was a point they argued all the day, but Yvette was not to be moved,
and Homer was in despair. As he drove into the village that evening,
glum and unhappy, Yvette said: "Stop at Mr. Baines's, please, Homer. I
want to speak to him."
Scattergood was in his accustomed place before his store, shoes on the
piazza beside him, and his feet, guiltless of socks, reveling in their
"Mr. Baines," said Yvette, "I've made up my mind to go away to-morrow."
"Um!... To-morrer, eh? Made up your mind you don't want Homer, have ye?
Don't blame ye. He's a mighty humble critter."
"He's the best man in the world," said Yvette, softly, "and I love
him ... and that--that's why I'm going. I can't stay and make him
Scattergood studied her face a moment, and cleared his throat noisily.
"Hum!... I swan to man! Goin', be ye?... Mebby that's best.... But they
hain't no sich hurry. Be out of a job, won't ye? Uh-huh! Wa-al, you stay
till Thursday mornin' and kind of visit with Homer, and say good-by, and
then you kin go. Thursday mornin'.... Not a minute before."
"Thursday mornin's the time, I said.... G'-by."
Next morning Scattergood was absent. He had taken the early train out of
town, as Pliny Pickett reported, on a "whoppin' big deal that come up
suddin in the night." It appeared that for once Scattergood had allowed
business to distract him wholly from his favorite occupation of meddling
in other folks' affairs.... Nobody saw him return, for he drove into
town late Wednesday afternoon and went directly to his home.
For forty-eight hours during his absence rumor had spread and increased
its girth to astounding dimensions. Old Man Bogle had released his
story. He now recollected Yvette perfectly, and when not restrained by
the modesty of some person of the opposite sex, he described her costume
in the play with minute detail. Hourly he remembered more and more, and
the mouth-to-ear repetitions of his tale embellished it with details
even Old Man Bogle's imagination could not have encompassed.... Before
Wednesday night Yvette had arisen in the estimation of the village to an
eminence of evil never before attained by any visitor to Coldriver.
Jason Locker forbade his son his home if ever he were seen in the
hussy's company again, and Homer left by the front door.... He announced
his purpose of journeying to the South Seas or New York, or some other
equally strange and dangerous shore. The town seethed. It had been
years since any local sensation approached this high moment.... At half
past six Pliny Pickett, Scattergood's right-hand man and general errand
boy, was seen to approach Homer on the street and to whisper to him.
Pliny always enshrouded his most matter-of-fact errands with voluminous
mystery. "Scattergood wants you sh'u'd see him right off," he said, and
Another sensation occurred that evening. Scattergood Baines went to
prayer meeting in the Methodist church. When word of this was passed
about, the Baptists and Congos deserted their places of worship in
whispering groups and invaded the rival edifice until it was crowded as
it had seldom been before. Scattergood in prayer meeting! Scattergood,
who had never been inside a church since the day of his arrival in
Coldriver, forty years before.... Even Yvette Hinchbrooke and her
affairs sank into insignificance.
But the amazing presence of Scattergood in church was as nothing to the
epochal fact that, after the prayer and hymn, he was seen slowly to get
to his feet. Scattergood Baines was going to lift up his voice in
"Folks," he said, "I've knowed Coldriver for quite a spell. I've knowed
its good and its bad, but the good outweighs the bad by a darn sight."
The congregation gasped.
"I run on to a case to-day," he said, and then paused, apparently
thinking better of what he was going to say and taking another course.
"They's one great way to reach folks's hearts and that's through their
sympathy. All of you give up to furrin missions to rescue naked fellers
with rings in their noses. That's sympathy, hain't it? Mebby they hain't
needin' sympathy and cast-off pants, but that's neither here nor there.
You _think_ they do.... Coldriver's great on sympathy, and it's a
doggone upstandin' quality." Again the audience sucked in its breath at
this approach to the language of everyday life.
"If I was wantin' to stir up your sympathy, I'd tell you about a leetle
feller I seen yestiddy. Mebby I will. He wa'n't no naked heathen, and he
didn't have no ring into his nose. He was jest a boy. Uh-huh! Calculate
he might 'a' been ten year old. Couldn't walk a step. Suthin' ailed his
laigs, and he had to lay around in a chair in one of these here kind of
cheap horspittles. Alone he was. Didn't have no pa nor ma.... But he had
to be looked after by somebody, didn't he? Somebody had to pay them
Scattergood blew his nose gustily. "Mebby he could 'a' been cured if
they was money to pay for costly doctorin', but they wa'n't. It took all
that could be got jest to pay for his food and keep.... Patient leetle
feller, too, and gentlelike and cheerful. Kind of took to him, I did."
He paused, turned slowly, and surveyed the congregation, and frowned at
the door of the church. He coughed. He waited. The congregation turned,
following his eyes, and saw Mandy, Scattergood's ample-bosomed wife,
enter, bearing in her arms the form of a child. She walked to
Scattergood's pew and handed the boy to him. Scattergood held the child
high, so all could see.
He was a red-haired little fellow, white and thin of face, with
pipe-stem legs that dangled pitifully.
"I fetched him along," said Scattergood. "I wisht you'd look him over."
The audience craned its neck, exclaiming, dropping tears. The heart of
Coldriver was well protected, it fancied, by an exterior of harshness
and suspicion, but Coldriver was wrong. Its heart lay near the surface,
easy of access, warm, tender, sympathetic. "This is him," said
He turned his face to the child. "Sonny," he said, kindly, "you hain't
got no pa nor ma?" "No, sir," said the little fellow.
"And you live in one of them horspittles?"
"It costs money?"
"How do you git it, sonny? Tell the folks."
"Sister," said the child. "She's awful good to me. When she kin, she
stays whole days with me, but she can't stay much on account of havin'
to earn money to pay for me. It takes 'most all she earns.... She's had
to do kinds of work she don't like, on account of it earnin' more money
than nice jobs. We're savin' to have me cured, and then I'm goin' to go
to work and keep _her._ I got it all planned out while I was layin'
"Is your sister a bad woman?"
"Nobody dast say that, even if I hain't got legs. I'd grab somethin' and
throw it at 'em."
"Was this here sister ever one of them actoresses?"
"Once, when I was sicker 'n usual ... it was awful costly. That time she
was in a show, 'cause she got more money there. She got enough to pay
for what I needed."
"Wear tights, sonny? Calc'late she wore tights?"
"Sure. She told me. She said to me it wasn't wearin' tights that done
harm, and she could be jest as good in tights as wearin' a fur coat if
her heart wasn't bad. That's what she said. Yes, sir, she said she
wouldn't wear nothin' if it had to be done to git me medicine."
"Um!... What's this here sister's name?"
Scattergood turned again toward the door. "Homer," he called, and Homer
Locker entered, almost dragging Yvette by the arm.... The congregation
heard one sound. It was a glad, childish cry. "Eva!... Eva!... Here I
Then it saw Yvette Hinchbrooke wrench free from Homer and run down the
aisle to snatch the child from Scattergood's arms into her own.
Scattergood stood erect, looking from face to face in silence. It was a
full minute before he spoke.
"There ..." he said. "You kin see the evil of passin' jedgments. You kin
see the evil of old coots traffickin' in rumors.... What you've heard
the boy tell is all true.... That's the girl you was ready to tar and
feather and run out of town.... Now what you think of yourselves?"
It was Deacon Pettybone, blinking a mist from his watery blue eyes, who
arose to the moment. "Folks," he said, huskily, "I'm goin' to pass among
you directly, carryin' the collection plate. 'Tain't fer furrin
missions. It's fer that child yonder--to git them legs fixed.... And
standin' here I want to acknowledge to sin in public. I been hard, and
lackin' in charity. I been passin' jedgments, contrairy to God's word. I
been stiff-backed and obdurate, and I calc'late they's others a-sittin'
here that needs prayers for forgiveness.... Now I'm a-comin' with the
plate. Them that hain't prepared to give to-night kin whisper to me what
they'll give to-morrer--and have no fear of my forgittin' the amounts
they pledge.... And I'm askin' forgiveness of the young woman and hopin'
she won't hold it ag'in' an old man--when she settles down here amongst
us, like I hope she'll do."
"Like she's a-goin' to do," said Jason Locker, with a voice and air of
pride. "Why, folks, that there gal is goin' to be my daughter-in-law!"
Scattergood patted Yvette on the back heavily, but jubilantly. "I've
diskivered," he said, "that if you can't crack a hick'ry nut with a pad
of butter, you better use a hammer.... Sometimes Coldriver's a nut
needin' a sledge--but when it cracks it's full of meat."
HE TREATS AN ATTACK OF LIFE
Scattergood Baines lounged back in his armchair, reinforced by iron
crosspieces to sustain his weight, and basked in the warmth from the
Round Oak stove, heated to redness by the clean, dry maple within. He
was drowsy. For the time he had ceased even to search for a scheme
whereby he could rid his hardware stock of one dozen sixteen-pound
sledge hammers acquired by him at a recent auction down in Tupper Falls.
His eyes were closed and his soul was at peace.
Somebody rattled the door knob and then rapped on the door. This was so
unusual a method of seeking entrance to a hardware store that
Scattergood sat up abruptly, blinking.
"Wa-al," he said, tartly, "be you comin' in, or be you goin' to stand
out there wagglin' that door knob all day?"
"I'm coming in, Mr. Baines, as soon as I can contrive to open the door,"
replied a male voice, a voice that appeared incapable of expressing
impatience; a gentle voice; the voice of a man who would dream dreams
but perform few actions.
"Um!... It's you, hey? What d'you allus carry books under your arm for?
How d'you calculate to be able to open doors, with both hands full?"
The knob turned at last, and Nahum Pound, long schoolmaster in the
little district school on Hiper Hill, came in hesitatingly, clutching
with each arm half a dozen books which struggled to escape with the
ingenuity of inanimate objects. Nahum's hair was white; his face was
vague--lovably vague.... A man of considerable, if confused, learning,
"Well?" said Scattergood. "Got suthin' on to your mind? Commence
unloadin' it before it busts your back."
"It's Sarah," said Nahum, helplessly.
"Um!... Sairy, eh? What's Sairy up to?"
"I don't seem to gather, Mr. Baines. She's--she's difficult. Something
seems to be working in her head."
"Twenty-two, hain't she? Twenty-two?... Prob'ly a number of things
a-workin' in her head. Got any special symptoms?"
"She--she wants to leave home, Mr. Baines." Nahum said this with mild
amazement. His amazement would have been no greater--and not a whit less
mild--had his daughter announced her intention to swim from New York to
Liverpool, or to marry the chef of the Czar of Russia.
"Um!... Can't say's that's onnatural--so's to require callin' in a
doctor. Live five mile from town, don't you? Nearest neighbor nigh on to
a mile. Sairy gits to see company only about so often or not so seldom
as that, eh?" Scattergood shut his eyes until there appeared at the
corners of them a network of little wrinkles. "I'm a-goin' to astonish
you, Nahum. This here hain't the first girl that ever come down with the
complaint Sairy's got!... They's been sev'ral. Complaint's older 'n you
or me.... Dum near as old as Deacon Pettybone. Uh-huh!... She's got a
attack of life, Nahum, and the only cure for it ever discovered is to
let her live.... Sairy's woke up out of childhood, Nahum. She's jest
openin' her eyes. Perty soon she'll be stirrin' around brisk.... When
you goin' to drive her in, Nahum? To-morrer?"
"You--you advise letting her do this thing?"
"When you goin' to fetch her in, Nahum?" Scattergood repeated.
"She said she was coming Monday."
"Um!... G'-by, Nahum." This was Scattergood's invariable phrase of
dismissal, given to friend or enemy alike. It was characteristic of him
that when he was through with a conversation he ended it--and left no
doubt in anybody's mind that it _was_ ended. Nahum withdrew
apologetically. Scattergood called after him, "Fetch her here--to me,"
he said, and, automatically, it seemed, reached for the laces of his
shoes. A problem had been presented to him which required a deal of
solving, and Scattergood could not concentrate with toes imprisoned in
leather. He even removed the white woolen socks which Mandy, his wife,
compelled him to wear in the winter season. Presently he was twiddling
his pudgy toes and concentrating on Sarah Pound. He waggled his head.
"After livin' out there," he said to himself, "she'll think Coldriver's
livin'--and so 'tis, so 'tis.... More sometimes 'n 'tis others.
Calculate this is like to be one of 'em...."
Scattergood was just thinking about dinner on Monday when Nahum Pound
brought his daughter Sarah into the store. One glance at Sarah's face
taught Scattergood that she was in suspicious, if not defiant, mood. If
he had a doubt of the correctness of his observation, Sarah removed it
"Scattergood Baines," she said, "if you think you're going to boss me
like you do father, and everybody else in this town, you're mistaken. I
won't have it.... Understand that, I won't have it."
Scattergood rubbed his chin and puffed out his fat cheeks, and smiled
with deceiving mildness. "Sairy," he said, "you needn't to be scairt of
my interferin' with you in your goin's and comin's. I'd sooner stick my
hand into a kittle of b'ilin' pitch than to meddle with a young woman
in your state of mind.... I hain't hankerin' to raise no blisters."
"I won't stay penned up 'way out there in the country another day. I've
got a right to live. I've got a right to see folks and to go places,
"To be sure.... To be sure. Jest itchin' to kick the top bar off'n the
pasture fence. Most certain you got a right to live, and nobody hain't
goin' to hender you ... least of all me. But there's jest one
observation I'd sort of like to let loose of, and that's this: Your
life's a whole lot like one of your arms and legs--easy busted. To be
sure, it kin be put in splints and mended up ag'in, but maybe you'll go
limpy or knit crooked so's nothin' kin keep the busted place from
showin'. Bearin' that in mind, if I was you, I wouldn't be too careless
about scramblin' up into places where you was apt to git a fall.... I
calc'late, Sairy, that it's better to miss the view than to fall out of
"I'm going to see the view if I fall out of every tree I climb," Sarah
"Don't object if I find you a boardin' house?"
"I'm going to board with Grandma Penny that was--Mrs. Spackles."
Scattergood nodded. "G'-by, Sairy.... G'-by, Nahum." He watched father
and daughter leave the store with a twinkle in his eyes, not a twinkle
of humor, but the twinkle that always came when his interest in life,
always keen, was aroused to a point where it tingled. "Calc'late to be
kep' busy--more 'n ordinary busy," he offered as an opinion to be
digested by the Round Oak stove. Presently he added: "She's perty ...
and bein' perty is kind of a remarkable thing ... bein' perty and
young.... Don't seem like God ought to hold folks accountable fer bein'
young, nor yet fer bein' good to look at ... but they's times when it
seems like He does...." On his way back to the store after dinner,
Scattergood stopped at the bank corner, hesitated a moment, and then
mounted the stairs to the offices above. A door bearing the legend,
"Robert Allen, Attorney at Law," admitted him to a large, bare office,
such as one finds in such towns as Coldriver.
"Howdy, Bob?" said Scattergood.
"Good day, Mr. Baines," said the young man behind the desk, who had
suddenly pretended to be very much occupied with important matters as
his door opened.
"Um!... Busy time, eh? Better come back later."
"No. No, indeed. Take this chair right here, Mr. Baines. What can I do
"Depends. Uh-huh! Depends.... Calc'late to make a perty good livin',
"Studied it yourself, didn't you--out of books? No college?"
"Hard work, wasn't it? Mighty hard work?"
"It might have been easier," said Bob, wondering what Scattergood was
"Like to be prosecutin' attorney for this county, Bob?"
Prosecuting attorney! With a salary of twenty-five hundred dollars a
year--and the prestige! Bob strove valiantly to maintain a look of
dignified interest, but with ill success.
"I--I might consider it. Yes, I would consider it."
"Um!... Figgered you would," said Scattergood, dryly. "Hain't got no
help in the office," he observed. "Need some, don't you? Somebody to
write letters and sort of look after things, eh?"
"Why--er--I've never thought about it."
"If you was to think about it, you'd calc'late on payin' about six
dollars a week, wouldn't you?" Bob swallowed hard. Six dollars a week
was a great deal of money to this young man, just embarking on the
practice of his profession. "Guess that would be about right," he said.
"Got anybody in mind, Bob? Thinkin' of anybody specific for the place?"
Bob shook his head.
"Um!... Nahum Pound's daughter's boardin' with Grandma Penny, that's now
Mis' Spackles. All-fired perty girl, Bob. Don't call to mind no pertier.
Sairy's her name.... G'-by, Bob. G'-by."
He walked to the door, but paused. "About that six dollars, Bob--I was
figgerin' on payin' that out of my own pocket."
Bob Allen was not accustomed to the oversight of employees--least of all
to an employee who was very satisfying to look at, who was winsomely
young, whose mere presence distracted his thoughts from that rigorous
concentration upon the logical principles of the law.... He did not know
what to do with Sarah once he had hired her, and it required so much of
his time and brain power to think up something for her to do that it is
fortunate his practice was neither large nor arduous. It is no mean
tribute to the young man that he kept Sarah so busy with apparently
necessary matters that she had no occasion to doubt the authenticity of
Bob faced a second difficulty, due to his inexperience, and that was
that he was at a loss how to comport himself toward Sarah, as to how
friendly he should be, and as to how much he should maintain a certain
grave dignity and reserve in his dealings with her. This was a matter
which need not have troubled him, for Nature has a way of taking into
her own keeping the bearing of young men toward young women when the two
are thrown much into each other's company. Propinquity is a tremendous
force in the life of humanity. It has caused as many love affairs as
the kicking of other men's dogs has caused street fights--which numbers
into infinity. Consequently, while Bob worried much and selected a
number of widely differing attitudes--a thing which caused Sarah some
uneasiness and no little speculation as to what sort of disposition her
employer possessed--the solution lay not with him at all. It took care
Scattergood noted the significance of symptoms. He made a mental
memorandum of the fact that Bob Allen was seldom to be seen among the
post-office loafers; that Bob preferred his office to any other spot;
that Bob had ordered a new suit from a city tailor; that Bob wore a
constant air of anxiety and excitement, and--most expressive symptom of
all for a Coldriver young man--he became interested in residence
property, in lots, and in the cost of erecting dwellings.... Scattergood
looked in vain for reciprocal symptoms to be shown by Sarah. But Sarah
was a woman. What symptoms she exhibited were meaningless even to
"Bob," said Scattergood, one auspicious day, "got any pref'rence for
prosecutin' attorneys--married or single?"
"It depends," said Bob, cautiously.
"Um!... How's Sairy behavin', Bob?"
"She's--she's--" Bob became incoherent, and then speechless.
"Calc'late I foller you, Bob.... Git your point of view exact.... About
prosecutin' attorneys, Bob, I prefer 'em married."
"Mr. Baines," said Bob, "if I could get Sarah Pound to marry me, I
wouldn't give a tinker's dam who was prosecutor."
"Mishandlin' of fact sim'lar to that," said Scattergood, dryly, "has
been done nigh on to a billion times.... Any idee how Sairy stands on
sich a proposition?"
"She's about equally fond of me and the letter press," said Bob,
"Good sign," said Scattergood. Then after a short pause: "Say, Bob,
still rent out drivin' bosses at the livery?... G'-by, Bob."
Bob was astonished to find how easy it is to ask a girl to go driving
the second time--after you have spent an anxious, dubious, fearsome day
screwing up your courage to ask her the first time. He was delighted,
too, because he even fancied Sarah now discriminated between him and the
letter press--in his favor. Bob came fresh and unsophisticated to the
business in hand, which was courtship. Sarah had never before been
courted, but she recognized a courtship when she saw it at such close
range, and found it delightfully exciting. Bob did his clumsy, earnest,
honest best, and Sarah, somewhat to her surprise, became more satisfied
with the universe and with her share in its destinies.... In short,
matters were progressing as nature intended they should progress, and
Scattergood felt almost that they might be trusted to go forward to a
satisfactory denouement without his interference.
Then old Solon Beatty died!
This solved one of Bob Allen's problems; it furnished plenty of
authentic work for Sarah Pound--for Bob was retained as attorney for old
Solon's estate, which he found to be in an amazing state of confusion.
Old Solon left behind him, reluctantly, property of divers kinds, and in
numerous localities, valued at upward of a hundred thousand dollars,
split and invested into as many enterprises and mortgages and savings
accounts as there were dollars! This made work. There were papers to
sort and list, to file and to schedule--clerical work in abundance. It
interfered with the more important business of courtship, but even in
this respect it was not without a certain value.
"Who's going to get all this money?" Sarah asked, one morning after she
had been listing mortgages until her head ached with the sight of
figures and descriptions. "Does Mary Beatty get it all?"
"Not unless we find a will somewhere. Everybody thought Solon's
niece--which is Mary Beatty--would get the whole estate. Solon intended
it should go that way, and the Lord knows she's worked for him and
nursed him and coddled him enough to deserve it. Gave her whole life up
to the old codger ... But we can't find a will, and so she won't get but
half. The rest goes to Solon's nephew, Farley Curtis ... under the
statute of descent and distribution, you know," he finished, learnedly.
"Farley Curtis.... I never heard of him."
"He's never been here--at least not for years. But he'll be along now.
We're due to see him soon."
"Correct," said a voice from the door, which had opened silently. In it
stood a young man of dress and demeanor not indigenous to Coldriver.
"You're due to see Farley Curtis--so you behold him. Look me over
carefully. I was due--therefore I arrive." The young man laughed
pleasantly, as if he intended his words to be regarded as whimsical,
yet, somehow, Bob felt the whimsicality to be surface deep; that Curtis
was a young man with much confidence in himself, who felt that if he
were due he would inevitably arrive.
"Mr. Allen, I suppose," said Curtis, extending his hand. "I am told you
are handling the legal affairs of my late uncle's estate."
Sarah Pound eyed the newcomer, and as the young men shook hands compared
them, to Bob Allen's disadvantage. To inexperience any comparison must
be to Bob's disadvantage, for Curtis was handsome, dressed with taste,
and gifted with a worldly certainty of manner and an undeniable charm.
Sarah had never encountered all these attributes in a single individual.
She drew on her reading of fiction and knew at once that she was in the
presence of that wonderful creature she had seen described so
frequently--a gentleman. As for Bob Allen, he was big, rugged, careless
of dress, kindly, without pretense of polish.... And besides, to
Curtis's advantage there attached to him a certain literary glamour--of
heirship--and a mystery due to his sudden appearance out of the great
unknown that lay beyond the confines of Coldriver.
"I am in the dark," said Curtis. "All I know is that Uncle Solon is
dead. It is proper I should come to you for information, is it not? For
instance, there is no harm in asking if there is a will?"
"None has been found," said Bob, not graciously. He had taken a dislike
to this stranger instinctively, a dislike which increased at an amazing
pace as he noted Curtis's eyes cast admiring glances upon Sarah Pound.
"In which case," said the young man, "I suppose I may regard myself as
an interested party."
"Yourself and Miss Beatty are the heirs--so far as has been determined."
"You have searched all my uncle's papers?"
"We have gone through them, but not so thoroughly as to reach a final
conclusion. He was a peculiar old man."
"And no will has been found? No--other papers--" Curtis smiled
deprecatingly. "It is only natural I should be interested," he said, and
smiled at Sarah.
"Was there anything special you wanted to ask?"
"Only if there was a will--or other paper." There was a curious
hesitation in Farley Curtis's voice as he spoke the last two words. "I'm
glad, of course, there's not.... Thank you. Think I'll stay in town till
the thing is settled up. Probably see you often. Pleased to have met
you." He included Sarah in the bow with which he took his leave.
For a few days Farley Curtis lived at the Coldriver House, then moved
to Grandmother Penny's, where Sarah Pound boarded. Secretly Bob Allen
was furious, without apparent cause. He had no reason to draw
conclusions, for boarding houses were scarce in Coldriver. What Sarah
thought of the event was not so easily discovered.
Bob would naturally have discussed immediately the significance of
Farley Curtis's arrival in Coldriver, with Scattergood, for everybody in
Coldriver went to Scattergood with whatever important occurrence that
befell, but Scattergood was absent on a political mission. When he
returned Bob lost no time in laying the matter before him.
"Um!... Calculated he'd turn up. Natural.... Acted kind of anxious, eh?
What was it he said about a will--or somethin'?"
Bob repeated Curtis's conversation minutely.
"Um!... That young man didn't suspect--he _knew_," said Scattergood,
reaching automatically for his shoes. "What he wanted to know was--has
it been found?... Um!... Not a will. Somethin'. Somethin' he's afraid of
bein' found.... Hain't the kind of feller I'd like to see spendin' old
Solon's money.... Guess you and me'll go through them papers ag'in."
So with minute care Bob and Scattergood examined the documents and
memoranda and receipts and accounts of Solon Beatty, but no will, no
minute reference to Farley Curtis, was discovered. They went again to
Solon's house to question Mary and to rummage there with the hope of
falling upon some such hiding place as the queer old man might have
chosen as the safe depository of his will. Mary Beatty was not helpful;
middle-aged, with wasted youth behind her; she was even resentful that
her meticulous housekeeping should be disturbed.
Scattergood and Bob sat down in the parlor, discouraged. It was evident
there was no will. Solon had neglected to attend to that matter until
it was too late.... Scattergood wiggled his feet uneasily and stared at
the motto over the door.
"Solon didn't run much to religion," he observed.
"No," said Mary Beatty.
"Um!... Have a Bible, maybe? One of them big ones?"
"Up in his room, Mr. Baines. It always laid on the table
"Opened it yourself lately, Mary? Been readin' the Scriptures out of
that p'tic'lar book?"
"Um!... Got a kind of a hankerin' to read a verse or two," said
Scattergood. "Come on, Bob. You 'n' me'll peruse Solon's Bible some."
The huge Bible with its Dore illustrations lay on the marble-topped
table in old Solon's bedroom. Scattergood opened it--found it stiff with
lack of use, its pages clinging together as if their gilt edging had
never been broken.... Bob leaned over Scattergood while the old man
rapidly thumbed the pages.... He brought to light a pressed flower, and
shrugged his shoulders. What moment of softness in the life of a hard
old man did this flower commemorate?... A letter whose ink was faded to
illegibility! Even Solon Beatty had once known the rose-leaf scent of
"Nothing there," said Bob.
"The reason folks seldom find things," said Scattergood, "is that they
say 'Nothin' there' before they've half looked.... They might be any
quantity of things in this Bible that we hain't overhauled yet." The old
man stood a moment frowning down at the book. "Births and deaths," he
said to himself. "Births and deaths--and marryin's...." Rapidly he
turned to the illumined pages on which were set down the family records
of the Beattys. "Um!... Jest sich a place as he'd pick out.... What you
make of this, Bob?"
Scattergood loosened a sheet of paper which had been lightly glued to
the page. "Hain't got my specs, Bob."
The young lawyer read it, re-read it aloud. "I, Farley Curtis, one of
the two legal heirs of Solon Beatty, of Coldriver Township, do hereby
acknowledge the receipt of ten thousand dollars, the same to be
considered an advance of my share of the said Solon Beatty's estate.
For, and in consideration of the said ten thousand dollars I hereby
waive all claims to any further participation in the said estate, and
agree that I will not, whether the said Solon Beatty dies testate or
intestate, make any claim against the said estate, nor upon Mary Beatty,
who, by this advance to me, becomes sole heir to the said estate.'"
Bob drew a long breath. Scattergood stared owlishly at Mary Beatty.
"Now, what d'you think of that, eh? Shouldn't be s'prised if that was
the i-dentical paper that was weighin' on the mind of young Mr. Curtis.
Shouldn't be a mite s'prised if 'twas."
"What is it, Mr. Baines?" asked Mary Beatty. "A will?"
"Wa-al, offhand I'd say it was consid'able better 'n a will. Ya-as....
Wills kin be busted, but this here docyment--I calc'late it would take
mighty powerful hammerin' to knock it apart."
"And, Mary," said Bob, "if I were you I shouldn't mention the finding of
"Not to a soul," said Scattergood. "We'll take it mighty soft and spry
and shet it up in Bob's safe.... Anybody know the combination to it
besides you, Bob?"
"Nobody but you, Mr. Baines."
"Oh, me!... To be sure, me."
"And Miss Pound." "Um!... Sairy, eh? Course.... Sairy."
Within twenty-four hours everybody in Coldriver knew a paper of great
significance had been discovered affecting the heirs to Solon Beatty's
estate, and that the paper was locked in Bob Allen's safe. Bob had not
talked; Scattergood certainly had been silent, and Mary Beatty solemnly
averred that no word had passed her lips. Yet the fact was there for all
to contemplate.... Farley Curtis devoted an entire day to the
contemplation of it in his room at Grandmother Penny's.... That evening
he invited Sarah Pound to drive with him. She found him a delightful and
Sunday was still two days away when Bob looked up from his desk to say
to Sarah: "This Beatty matter has kept us so busy there hasn't been any
time for pleasure. You must be tired out, Miss Pound. Wouldn't you like
to start early Sunday and drive over to White Pine for dinner--and come
back after the sun goes down? It's a beautiful drive."
"I'm sorry," said Sarah, flushing with a feeling that was akin to guilt,
"but I am engaged Sunday."
Bob turned again to his work, cast into sudden gloom, and wondering
jealously what was Sarah's engagement. Sarah, not altogether easy in her
mind, nor wholly pleased with herself, endeavored to justify herself for
being so lightly off with the old and on with the new.... She compared
Bob to Farley Curtis, and found the comparison not in Bob's favor. Not
that this was exactly a justification, but it was a salve. Sarah was in
the shopping period of her life--shopping for a husband, so to speak.
She was entitled to the best she could get ... and Bob did not seem to
be the best. Farley was sprightly, interesting, with the manners of a
more effete world than Coldriver; Bob was awkward, ofttimes silent,
lacking polish. Farley was solicitous in small matters that Bob failed
utterly to perceive; Farley was always skilled in minute points of
decorum, whose very existence was unknown to Bob. In short, Farley was
altogether fascinating, while Bob, at best, was commonplace. Yet, not in
her objective mind, but deep in her centers of intuition, she was
conscious of a hesitancy, conscious of something that urged her toward
Bob and warned her against Farley Curtis.
On Sunday Bob saw Sarah drive away with Curtis--and spent a black day of
jealousy and heartburning. During the succeeding two weeks he spent many
black days and sleepless nights, for Curtis monopolized Sarah's leisure,
and Sarah seemed to have thrown discretion to the winds and clothed
herself against fear of Coldriver's gossip, for she seemed to give her
company almost eagerly to the stranger.... And Coldriver talked.
Bob spoke bitterly of the matter to Scattergood.
"Um!..." grunted Scattergood, "don't seem to recall any statute
forbiddin' any young feller to git him any gal he kin. Eh?"
"No. But this Curtis--there's something wrong there. He isn't intending
to play fair.... I--He's got some kind of a purpose, Mr. Baines."
"Think so, eh? What kind of a purpose?" Scattergood had his own ideas on
this subject, but did not disclose them. It was in his mind that Curtis
cultivated Sarah because of Sarah's propinquity of a certain paper which
the man had reason to believe was in Bob Allen's safe.
Bob's face was set and stern, granite as the hills among which he had
been born and which had become a part of his nature. "If he doesn't play
fair ... if he should--hurt her ... I'd take him apart, Mr. Baines."
"Calc'late you would," said Scattergood, tranquilly, "but there's a law
in sich case, made and pervided, callin' that kind of amusement
It was not Scattergood's custom to publish his emotions; nevertheless
he was worried. He appreciated the state of mind which had brought Sarah
to Coldriver--the spirit of restless, resentful youth, demanding the
world for its plaything. He knew Sarah's high temper, her eagerness for
adventure.... He knew that thousands of girls before her had been
fascinated by well-told tales of the life to be lived out in the world
of cities, of wealth, of artificial gayeties ... the lure of travel, of
excitement.... And Scattergood did not covet the duty of carrying a
woeful story to old Nahum Pound, the gentle schoolmaster.
His uneasiness was not decreased by a bit of unpremeditated
eavesdropping that fell in his way the next evening.... Farley Curtis
was talking, Sarah Pound was listening--eagerly.
"You can't understand what living is," the man was saying, "How could
you? You haven't lived. Here in this backwater you will never live....
You move around in a fog of monotony. Every day the same. But out
there.... Everything! Everything you want and can imagine is there for
the taking. A beautiful woman can take what she wants--that's what it's
all for--for her to help herself to. Life and excitement and
pleasure--and love ... they are all out there waiting."
"Did you ever try to imagine Paris, London, Madrid, Rome?" he went on.
"You can't do it.... But you can see them. I--I would take you if you
would let me ... if things fall out right. I'm poor ...but with this
Beatty money I could take you anywhere. It would give us everything we
want.... Half of that money belongs to me rightfully, doesn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"But I may not get it."
She was silent.
"There is a paper," he said, "and that paper may stand between you and
me--and Paris and Rome and the world...." He paused, and then said,
carelessly: "Won't you go with me, Sarah--away from this? Won't you let
me take you, to love and to make happy?"
Presently she spoke, so low her voice was scarcely audible to
Scattergood. "I don't know.... I don't know," she said.
Scattergood had heard enough. He stole away silently. The time had come
to act, if he were going to act ... if no woeful story were to be
carried to old Nahum Pound concerning his daughter. He might even be too
late.... The lure of great cities and foreign shores might have done its
work, and Farley Curtis's eloquence have served its purpose.
In the morning Bob Allen was early at his office. His first act was to
open the safe to take out a packet of papers he had been laboring over
the afternoon before.... The packet was not where he had placed it the
night before. He remembered distinctly how he had shoved it into a
certain pigeonhole.... It was not there. He found it in the compartment
below.... Bob was not easily startled or frightened, so now he paused
and took his memory to account. No.... The fault was not with his
memory. He had done exactly as he remembered doing.... Somebody had
opened that safe since he closed it; somebody had fingered its
contents.... He caught his breath, not at the fear of loss, but in
sudden terror of the means by which that loss had been brought about,
the person who might have been the instrument.... Furiously he began
going over the contents of the safe--money, securities, papers.
Everything seemed intact. But one thing remained--the little drawer. He
had put off opening that, because he dreaded to open it, for it
contained the paper that excluded Farley Curtis from a share in his
uncle's estate.... Bob compelled himself to turn the little key, to
open the drawer.... It was empty!...
Bob walked slowly to his desk and sat down, his eyes fixed upon the safe
as if it fascinated him.... Facts, facts! His soul demanded facts. Those
at hand were few, simple. First, the safe had been opened by some one
who knew the combination. Three persons existed who might have opened
it--or betrayed its combination: Scattergood, himself, Sarah Pound....
Second, he knew he had not opened it nor betrayed the combination.
Third, he was equally certain Scattergood had not done so.... Fourth--he
Bob comprehended what had happened; why Farley Curtis had wooed so
persistently Sarah Pound. It was not out of love nor desire, but for a
more sordid purpose ... it was to win her love, to blind her to honor,
to make a tool of her, and through her to secure possession of that bit
of paper which stood between him and riches.
Presently Sarah Pound entered. Bob could not force himself to look at
her; did not speak. She gazed at him curiously, and when she saw the
grayness of his face, the lines about his mouth, and eyes that advanced
his age by twenty years, she felt a little catch at her heart, a
breathlessness, a sudden alarm.
"Miss Pound," he said, in a voice which he himself could not recognize
as his own, "you needn't take off your hat.... You--you actually came
back here! You were bold enough to come again to this office.... I
fancied you would be gone--from Coldriver." His voice broke queerly. "I
suppose you realize what you have done--and are satisfied with the
price--the price of forfeiting the respect of every honest man and woman
you know! That is a great deal to give up. It ought to command a high
price--treachery.... I hope you are getting a sufficient return.... It
means nothing to you, of course, but--I loved you. I thought about you
as a man thinks about the woman he hopes will be his wife ... and his
children's mother ... so it--pains--to find you despicable...."
Sarah's little fists clenched, her eyes glinted.
"How dare you?" she cried. "What affair is it of yours what I do?...
You're a silly, jealous idiot." With which childish invective she flung
out of the office.
In an hour Bob Allen was calmer, and so the more unhappy. His mind
cleared, and, being cleared, it directed him to carry his trouble to
"Um!... Gone, eh?" said Scattergood. "Sure it's gone?... Um!..."
"Yes, and Sarah Pound will be gone, too. How dared she come back to my
office?... Now she'll go with Curtis."
"Shouldn't be s'prised," said Scattergood, waggling his head. "I heard
Farley a-pointin' out to her the _dee_-sirability of Paris and Rome and
sich European p'ints last night.... You calculate Sairy took the paper?"
"What else can I think?"
"To be sure.... Um!... Paris, Rome, London--might be argued into
stealin' it myself, if I was a gal. Um!... Ever see a toad ketch flies,
Bob? Does it with his tongue. There's toad men, Bob, that goes huntin'
wimmin the same way--with their tongues. Su'prisin' the number and
quality they ketch, too. What was you plannin' on doin', Bob? Goin' back
to your office, wasn't you? And keepin' your mouth shet? Was that the
"I don't know what to do, Mr. Baines."
"Didn't figger on droppin' around to Grandma Penny's boardin' house
about eight sharp, did you? Eight sharp.... And kind of settin' down
quiet on the front porch? Jest settin'? Eh?... G'-by, Bob."
After Bob left the store Scattergood sat half an hour staring at the
stove; then he left the store to its own devices and wandered up the
street toward Grandmother Penny's. He encountered Sarah Pound as she
came out through the gate.
"Howdy, Sairy?" he said, cheerfully. "Havin' consid'able amusement with
"I've been enjoying myself, Mr. Baines," Sarah said, making an effort at
coldness and dignity.
"Bet you hain't enjoyin' yourself enough to warrant your doin' a favor
for an old feller like me, eh?... This evenin', for instance?"
"I--I'm going away this evening."
"Um!... Goin' away, eh? Alone? Or along with somebody?"
"That's my own affair."
"To be sure.... To be sure, but the train don't leave till nine, does
it? Couldn't manage to do me a favor at eight?"
"What is the favor, Mr. Baines?"
"'Tain't much. Sca'cely anythin' a-tall. I calc'late to be a-settin' in
Grandma Penny's parlor at eight sharp. I won't keep you waitin' more 'n
a second--unless somebody happens to be with me a-talkin' my arm off. If
they hain't nobody with me, why, you walk right in. If they is somebody,
why, you jest stand outside of the door a second, and they'll be gone.
Then you come in. But don't come rompin' in if you hear voices. It's a
mite of business, and 'twon't take but a second. Calc'late you kin
manage that, eh?"
"Yes," she said, shortly.
At five minutes before eight Scattergood Baines rapped at Grandmother
Penny's door and asked to speak to Farley Curtis, "Tell him it's
somethin' p'tic'lar reegardin' the Beatty estate," he said, and stepped
into the parlor. Farley appeared almost instantly; dapper, his usual
courteous, self-possessed self. Scattergood began a peculiar and
roundabout conversation after the manner of a man who fears to broach a
subject plainly. Farley showed his irritation.
"Mr. Baines," he said, "suppose you get down to business. I'm going away
"To be sure.... To be sure. It's overlappin' eight now, hain't it?"
Scattergood paused, listening. He fancied he heard some one approach and
halt just outside the door. He was certain that a chair creaked on the
porch outside the window.... He cleared his throat and drew a big yellow
envelope from his pocket.
"Calculate I'm ready for business, if you be.... Which d'you calc'late
is most desirable--havin' half a loaf, or no bread?"
"What do you mean?"
"You come to Coldriver on business, didn't you? Money business?"
"Why I came is my own affair."
"Certain.... Certain.... But things gets noised about. Things has got
noised about concernin' a paper that stands betwixt you and half of the
Beatty estate. Heard 'em myself." Scattergood waggled the envelope. "I
hain't exactly objectin' to makin' a leetle quick money
myself--supposin' it kin be done safe, and the blame, if they is any,
throwed somewheres else.... Now, Mr. Curtis, what kind of a course would
you foller if that paper we been talkin' about was to fall into the
hands of a feller that felt like I do about makin' money?"
"What do you mean?" Farley demanded, moving forward eagerly in his
"Hain't good at guessin', be you?"
"That paper doesn't worry me," said Farley. "Calc'lated on havin' it
before you took the train to-night, eh?"
"Uh-huh!... Wa-al, I wasn't seein' sich a chance to make a dollar slip
by. The way you was figgerin' on gittin' that paper, Mr. Curtis, won't
work. I know. Uh-huh! I know, because I got ahead of you. I got that
paper myself.... And we kin deal if I kin be made to feel safe.... Most
things leaks out through wimmin.... Hain't mixin' any wimmin into this,
"Um!... How about Sairy Pound?"
Curtis shrugged his shoulders.
"Calc'latin' on takin' her away with you to-night?"
"Not now," said Farley.
"Seein's how you can't use her to git this paper for you, eh? That it?"
"Calc'lated on marryin' her, didn't you?"
"Fiddlesticks!" said Mr. Curtis, harshly.
"Understand me, I hain't takin' chances.... If this gal's mixed up in
this, I don't deal."
"Do I look like a man who would let a silly, backwoods idiot of a girl
stand between me and money? I'm through with her. She's no use to me
now. You've said that yourself.... She's nothing to me."
"Good.... I got the paper right here, and I'm a-listenin' to your offer
"Ten thous--" began Farley, but a swift, furious thrusting open of the
parlor door interrupted, as Sarah Pound flung herself into the room. For
a moment she was speechless with rage.... Shame would come later....
"You contemptible--contemptible--contemptible--" she cried,
breathlessly. "It was a thing like you I--I could choose!... I could
throw away a man for you!... For a suit of clothes, and manners, and a
lying tongue.... I could compare Bob Allen with you--and choose you!...
"Sairy," said Scattergood.
"But I never would have done it--not that. I'd never have taken that
paper.... You know I wouldn't, Mr. Baines. Say you know that...."
"Wa-al," said Scattergood, dryly, "they hain't no tellin' how fur a
woman'll go when she's bein' bamboozled by a scamp--so I kind of insured
ag'in' your takin' it by takin' it myself.... Er--Mr. Curtis, if I was
you, I'd sort of slip out soft by the back door. Bob Allen's a-waitin'
for you on the front porch.... There's a train at nine."
Scattergood put a clumsy arm about Sarah, who, the moment her wrathful
energy ebbed away, sobbed and sobbed and sobbed with shame and fear.
"Hey, out there," shouted Scattergood, "git a move on you!"
Bob Allen needed no urging. His arm was substituted for Scattergood's,
his breast for Scattergood's--and Sarah made no complaint. "I
wouldn't.... I wouldn't.... You thought I did," she murmured.
"I thought that," said Bob, brokenly. "How can you ever forgive me?...
I--But I love you, Sarah. Won't that make up for it?"
"You--believed it," she repeated, and Scattergood grinned.
"Dummed if she hain't managed to put him in the wrong.... You can't beat
wimmin.... She's put him in the wrong."
Scattergood peered at them a moment, saw what filled him with perfect
satisfaction, and discreetly withdrew. He went out and sat on the porch
and beamed up at the stars.... He sat there a long, long time, and
nobody called him in. He got up, pressed his nose against the window,
and rapped on the glass.
"Everybody forgiv' and fixed up," he called, "so's I kin git to bed with
an easy mind?"
There was no answer. He had not been heard--but what he saw was answer
sufficient for any man.
Back to Full Books