"What's the sense of doing that?" argued one middle-aged widow of a practical turn of mind. "You can save funeral expenses by letting the Germans do it for you."
The next day the merchants of Tinkletown—notably the Five and Ten Cent Store and Fisher's Queensware Store—did a thriving business. From one end of the town to the other came people returning presents that fortunately had not been delivered, and others asking to have their accounts credited with presents already received.
Of the twenty-odd weddings announced for the week ending June 3, 1917, only one took place.
Mr. Otto Schultz was married on Saturday to Miss Bumbelburg. He was the only candidate in town who was worth suing for breach of promise. Miss Bumbelburg, having waited many years for her chance, was not to be frightened by a Presidential proclamation. The duration of the war meant nothing to her. She had unlimited faith in the Kaiser. When the war was over he would come over to the United States and revoke all the silly old laws. And she was so positive about it that, after a rather heated interview in the home of Mr. Schultz, senior, that gentleman admitted it would be cheaper for her to come and live with them after the wedding than to present her with the thousand dollars she demanded in case Otto preferred war to peace.
Mr. Crow, on the 5th of June, strode proudly, efficiently, up and down Main Street, always stopping at the registration booth to slap former fiances on the back and encourage them with such remarks as this:
"That's right, son. If you've got to fight, fight for your country."
To Mr. Alf Reesling he confided:
"I tell you what, Alf, when this here Kaiser comes up ag'inst me he strikes a snag. He couldn't 'a' started his plot in a worse place than here in Tinkletown. Gosh, with all you hear about German efficiency, you'd 'a' thought he'd 'a' knowed better, wouldn't you?"
THE PERFECT END OF A DAY
ANDERSON CROW GETS ONE ON THE KAISER
A long, low-lying bank of almost inky-black clouds hung over a blood-red horizon. The sun of a warm, drowsy September day was going to bed beyond the scallop of hills.
Suddenly the red in the sky, as if fanned by an angry wind, blazed into a rigid flame; catching the base of the coal-black cloud it turned its edges into fire; and as the flame burnt itself out, the rich yellow of gold came to glorify the triumphant cloud. The nether edge seemed to dip into a lake, the shores of which were molten gold and upon whose surface craft of ever-changing colours lay moored for the coming night.
Anderson Crow, Marshal of Tinkletown, leaned upon his front-yard fence and listened to the rhapsodic comments of Miss Sue Becker on the passing panorama. Miss Becker, who had contributed several poems to the columns of the Tinkletown Banner, and more than once had exhibited encouraging letters from the editors of McClure's, Scribner's, Harper's, and other magazines, was always worth listening to, for, as every one knows, she was the first, and, so far as revealed, the only literary genius ever created within the precincts of Tinkletown.
"You'll have to write a piece about it, Sue," said Anderson, shifting his spare frame slightly.
"No mortal pen, Mr. Crow, could do justice to the grandeur, the overpowering splendour of that vista," said she.
Anderson took another look at the sunset,—a more or less stealthy one, it must be confessed, out of the corner of his eye. Sunsets were not much in his line.
"It's a great vister," he acknowledged. "I don't know as I can think of a word that will rhyme with it, though."
"There is such a thing as blank verse, Mr. Crow," said Miss Becker, smiling in a most superior way.
Mr. Crow was thinking. "Blister wouldn't be bad," he announced. "Something about the vister causin' a blister. I don't know as you are aware of the fact, Sue, but I wrote consider'ble poetry when I was a young feller. Mrs. Crow's got 'em all tied up in a pink ribbon. It's a mighty funny thing that she won't even show 'em to anybody."
"Oh, but they are sacred," said Miss Becker feelingly, as she looked over the rims of her spectacles at a spot in the sky some forty-five degrees above the steeple of the Congregational Church down the street.
"I don't know as I meant 'em to be sacred at the time," said he; "but there wasn't anything in 'em that was unfittin' for a young lady to read."
"You don't understand. What could be more sacred than the outpourings of love? What more—"
"'Course it was a good many years ago," Mr. Crow was quick to explain.
"Love's young dream," chided Miss Becker coyly.
Mr. Crow twisted his sparse grey beard with unusual tenderness. "Beats all, don't it, Sue, what a poet'll do when he's tryin' to raise a moustache?"
"I am sure I don't know," said Miss Becker stiffly.
"Speakin' about sunsets," said he hastily, after a quick glance at her shaded upper lip, "how's your pa? I heard he had a sinkin' spell yestiday."
"He's better." A moment later, with fine scorn: "His sun hasn't set yet, Mr. Crow."
"Beats all how he hangs on, don't it? Eighty-seven last birthday, an' spry as a man o' fifty up to—" He broke off to devote his attention to a couple of strangers farther down the tree-lined street: two men who approached slowly on the plank sidewalk, pausing every now and then to peer inquiringly at the front doors of houses along the way.
Miss Sue Becker, whose back was toward the strangers, allowed her poetic mind to resume its interest in the sunset.
"Golden cloudlets float upon a coral—What did you say, Mr. Crow?"
"Ever see 'em before, Sue?"
"Hundreds of times. They remind me of the daintiest, fleeciest puffs of—"
"I'm talkin' about those men comin' up the street," said the old town marshal sharply.
Miss Becker abandoned the transient sunset for something more durable. Forty-odd summers had passed over her head.
For one professedly indifferent to the opposite sex, Miss Becker went far toward dislocating her neck when Anderson Crow mentioned the approach of a couple of strange men.
"I've never seen either of them before, Mr. Crow," she said, a little jump in her voice.
"That settles it," said Anderson, putting on his spectacles.
"Proves they ain't been in Tinkletown more'n twenty minutes," he replied, much too promptly to suit Miss Becker, who favoured him with a look he wouldn't have forgotten in a long time if he had had eyes in the back of his head. "They must be lookin' for some one," he went on, squinting narrowly. "Good-bye, Sue. See you tomorrer, I suppose."
"I'm not going yet, Mr. Crow," she said, moving a little closer to the fence. "You don't suppose I'm going to let those men pursue me all the way home, do you?"
"They don't look like kidnappers," he said. "Besides, it ain't dark enough yet."
"Just what do you mean by that, Anderson Crow?" she snapped.
"What do I mean by what?" he inquired in some surprise.
"By what you just said."
"I mean you're perfectly safe as long as it's daylight," he retorted. "What else could I mean?"
The two strangers were quite near by this time—near enough, in fact, to cause Miss Becker to lower her voice as she said:
"They're awfully nice looking gentlemen, ain't they?"
Evidently Mr. Crow's explanation had satisfied her, for she was smiling with considerable vivacity as she made the remark. Up to that instant she had neglected her back hair. Now she gracefully, lingeringly fingered it to see if it was properly in place. In doing so, she managed to drop her parasol.
To her chagrin, Marshal Crow took that occasion to behave in a most incredible manner. It is quite probable that he forgot himself. In any case, he picked up the parasol and returned it to her, snatching it, in fact, almost from beneath the foot of the nearest stranger.
"Oh, thank you—thank you kindly, Mr. Crow," she giggled, and proceeded to let it slip out of her fingers again. "Oh, how stupid! How perfectly clumsy—"
"Did I hear you addressed as Mr. Crow?" inquired the foremost of the two strangers, halting abruptly. He was a tall, florid man of forty or thereabouts, with a deep and not unpleasant voice. His companion was also tall but very gaunt and sallow. He wore huge round spectacles, hooked over his ears. Both were well dressed, one in grey flannel, the other in blue serge.
"You did," said the town marshal, straightening up. "You dropped your umbrell' ag'in, Sue," he added. "Yes, sir, my name's Crow."
Miss Becker waited a few seconds and then picked up the parasol.
"The celebrated Anderson Crow?" asked the man with the glasses, opening his eyes a little wider.
Mr. Crow suddenly remembered that he was in his shirt-sleeves. His faded blue sack-coat—"undress," he called it—hung limp and neglected on the gate-post.
"More or less," he admitted, wishing to goodness he had on his best pair of "galluses" instead of the ones he was wearing.
"Marshal of Tinkletown, I believe?" said the florid stranger, raising his eyebrows slightly.
"Excuse me," said Anderson, conscious of a certain disparaging note in the speaker's voice, which he quite naturally laid to the "galluses." Without turning his back toward them he retrieved his coat from the gate-post, remembering in time that those "plaguey" suspenders had played him false that day and Alf Reesling had volunteered to "tie a knot in 'em," somewhere in the back. "I could fine myself five dollars fer goin' without my uniform," said he, as he slipped an arm into one sleeve. "It's one of my hide-boundest rules," and his other arm went in—not without a slight twinge, for he had been experiencing a touch of rheumatism in that shoulder. "Yes, sir, I'm the Marshal o' Tinkletown," he added, indicating the bright nickel star that gleamed resplendent among an assortment of glittering and impressive dangling emblems.
The man with the spectacles peered intently at the collection on Mr. Crow's breast.
"You appear to be almost everything else as well, Mr. Crow," said he, respectfully.
"Well, I guess I'll have to be going," put in Miss Becker at this juncture. "Give my love to the girls, Mr. Crow."
She moved off up the board-walk, her back as stiff as a ramrod. Any one with half an eye could see that she was resolved not to drop the parasol again. No savage warrior on battle bent ever gripped his club with greater determination.
"So long," was all that Marshal Crow could spare the time to say. "Yes sir," he went on, making a fine show of stifling a yawn, "yes, sir, I've had a few triflin' honours in my day. You gentlemen lookin' fer any one in partic'lar?"
"Not now," said the florid one. "We've found him."
The spectacled man had his nose quite close to Mr. Crow's badges. He read them off, in the voice and manner of one tremendously impressed. "Grand Army of the Republic. Sons of the American Revolution. Sons of Veterans. Tinkletown Battlefield Association. New York Imperial Detective Association. Bramble County Horse-Thief Detective Association. Chief of Fire Department. And what, may I ask, is the little round button at the top?"
The marshal was astonished. "Don't you know what that is?"
"It doesn't appear to have any lettering—"
"It don't have to have any. That's an American Red Cross button."
"So it is,—so it is," cried the other hastily. "How stupid of me."
"And this one on the other lapel is a Liberty Loan button,—one hundred dollars is what it represents, if anybody should ast you."
"I recognized it at once, sir. I have one of my own." He raised his hand to his own lapel. "Why, hang it all, I forgot to remove it from my other coat this morning."
"Well," said Anderson drily, "there 'pears to be some advantage in havin' only one coat."
"Mr. Marshal," cut in the larger man brusquely, "we came to see you in regard to a matter of great importance—and, I may add, privacy. Having heard of your reputation for cleverness and infallibility—"
"As everybody in the land has heard," put in the other.
"—we desire your co-operation in an undertaking of considerable magnitude. Quite frankly, I do not see how we can succeed without your valuable assistance. You—"
"Hold on! If you're tryin' to get me to subscribe to a set of books, so's my name at the head of the list will drag other suckers into—"
"Not at all, sir—not at all. We are not book-agents, Mr. Marshal."
"Well, what are ye?"
"Metallurgists," said the florid one.
"I see, I see," said Anderson, who didn't see at all. "You started off just like a book-agent, er a lightnin'-rod salesman."
"My name is Bacon,—George Washington Bacon,—and my friend bears an even nobler monicker, if that be possible. He is Abraham Lincoln Bonaparte—a direct descendant of both of those illustrious gentlemen."
"You don't say! I didn't know Lincoln was any connection of Bonaparte's."
"It isn't generally known," the descendant informed him, with becoming modesty.
"Well, I'm seventy-three years old an' I never heard—"
"Seventy-three!" gasped Mr. Bonaparte, incredulously. "I don't believe it. You can't be more than fifty, Mr. Crow."
"Do you suppose I fought in the Union Army before I was born?" demanded Mr. Crow. "Where'd I get this G. A. R. badge, lemme ast you? An' you don't think the citizens of this here town would elect a ten-year-old boy to the responsible position of town marshal, do you? Why, gosh snap it, I been Marshal o' Tinkletown fer forty years—skippin' two years back in the nineties when I retired in favour of Ed Higgins, owin' to a misunderstandin' concernin' my health—an'—"
"It is incredible, sir. You are the youngest-looking man for your years I've ever seen. But we are digressing. Proceed, Mr. Bacon. Pardon the interruption."
Marshal Crow had drawn himself up to his full height,—a good six feet,—and, expanding under the influence of a just pride, his chest came perilously near to dislodging a couple of brass buttons. His keen little grey eyes snapped brightly in their deep sockets; his sparse chin whiskers, responding to the occasion, bristled noticeably. Employing his thumb and forefinger, he first gave his beard a short caress, after which he drew it safely out of line and expectorated thinly between his teeth with such astounding accuracy that both of the strangers stared. His objective was a narrow slit in the tree-box across the sidewalk.
"I couldn't do that in a thousand years," said Mr. Bacon, deeply impressed.
"You could do it in half that time if you lived in Tinkletown," was Anderson's cryptic return. "You ought to see Ed Higgins. He's our champeen. His specialty is knot-holes. Ed c'n hit—"
"Are you interested in metallurgy, Mr. Crow?" broke in Mr. Bacon, a little rudely.
Anderson pondered a few seconds, squinting at the tree-tops. The two strangers waited his reply with evident concern.
"Sometimes I am, an' sometimes I ain't," said he at last, very seriously. He even went so far as to shake his head slowly, as if to emphasize the fact that he had made a life-long study of the subject and had not been able to arrive at a definite conclusion.
"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Bonaparte. "That proves, Mr. Crow, that you are a man of very great discernment, very great discernment indeed."
Mr. Crow brightened perceptibly. "I have to know a little of everything in my line of work, Mr. Lincoln."
Mr. Bonaparte made no attempt to correct him. As a matter of fact, for a moment or two he was in some doubt himself; it was only after indulging in a hasty bit of mental jugglery that he decided his friend couldn't possibly have introduced him as Bonaparte Abraham Lincoln, or Abraham Bonaparte Lincoln. He wished, however, that he had paid a little closer attention when Mr. George Washington Bacon arranged his names for him.
"We should like to have a few minutes' private conversation with you, Mr. Marshal," said Bacon, lowering his voice.
"Fire away, gents."
"I—ahem!—I said private, Mr. Crow."
"Well, if it's anything you don't want the birds to hear, I guess we'd better go up to the house. If you don't mind that woodpecker up yander an' them two sparrers out there in the road, I guess this is about as private a place as you'll find in Tinkletown."
"Haven't you—an office, Mr. Crow?" demanded Mr. Bacon.
"Yes, but it ain't private. Whenever I've got anything private to 'tend to—er even think about—I allus go out in the middle of the street. Shoot ahead; nobody'll hear you."
"It will take some little time," explained Mr. Bonaparte, anxiously. "Have you had your dinner?"
Anderson looked at him keenly. "What's that got to do with it?"
"Mr. Bonaparte means supper," explained Mr. Bacon. "He is a bit excited, Mr. Crow."
"He must be," agreed Anderson, glancing at his watch. "Half-past six. Go ahead. We won't be interrupted now till it's time to go to bed."
The two strangers in Tinkletown drew still closer—so close, indeed, that the town marshal, having had his pocket picked once or twice at the County Fair, fell back a little from the fence.
"You must be careful to show no sign of surprise, Mr. Crow," said Bacon. "What I am about to say to you may startle you, but you—"
Anderson reassured him with a gesture.
"Perceed," he said.
Whereupon the spokesman, Mr. Bacon, did a tale unfold that caused the town marshal to lie awake nearly all night and to pop out of bed the next morning fully an hour earlier than usual. For the time being, however, he succeeded so admirably in simulating indifference that the men themselves were not only surprised but a trifle disturbed. He wasn't conducting himself at all as they had expected. At the conclusion of this serious fifteen minutes' recital,—rendered into paragraphs by Anderson's frequent interruptions,—the eager Mr. Bonaparte exclaimed:
"Well, Mr. Crow, doesn't it completely bowl you over?"
"What's that? Bowl me over? I should say not! Why, I knowed fer I can't tell you how long that there's gold up yander in my piece of timberland on Crow's Mountain. Knowed it ever since I was a boy."
His hearers blinked rapidly for a few seconds.
"Really?" murmured Mr. Bacon.
"Do you mean to say there actually is gold—" began Mr. Bonaparte, but he got no farther. Whether accidentally or otherwise, Mr. Bacon's foot came sharply into contact with the speaker's shin, and the question terminated in a pained look of surprise, directed with some intensity and a great deal of fortitude at nothing in particular.
"Well, you are a wonder, Mr. Crow," said Mr. Bacon hastily. "I am immensely relieved that you do know of its existence. It simplifies matters tremendously. It has been there all the time and you've never known just how to go about getting it out of the ground—isn't that the case, Mr. Crow?"
"Exactly," said Mr. Crow.
Mr. Bacon shot a significant look at Mr. Bonaparte, and that worthy put his hand suddenly to his mouth.
"Well, that's what we're here for, Mr. Crow—to get that gold out of the earth. If our estimates are correct—or, I should say, if our investigations establish the fact that it is a real vein and not merely a little pocket, there ought to be a million dollars in that piece of land of yours. Now, let me see. Just how much land do you own up there, Mr. Crow?"
"I own derned near all of it," said the marshal promptly. "'Bout seventy-five acres, I should say."
"Nothing but timberland, I assume—judging from what we have been able to observe."
"All timber. Never been cleared, 'cept purty well down the slope."
"And it is about five miles as the crow flies from Tinkletown, eh?"
"I ginerally say as the wild goose flies," said Mr. Crow, somewhat curtly.
"Well, you have heard the proposition I bring from my employers in New York City. Think it over tonight, Mr. Crow. Then, we will meet tomorrow morning at your office to complete our plans. I shall be prepared to hand you a draft for two hundred dollars to bind the bargain. What time do you reach your office?"
"Ginerally some'eres between six and a quarter-past."
"My God!" muttered Mr. Bonaparte.
"We will be there at six-fifteen," said Mr. Bacon firmly. "Good evening, Mr. Crow."
Far in the night, Mrs. Crow peevishly mumbled to her bedfellow: "What ails you, Anderson Crow? Go to sleep!"
"Never mind, never mind. I can't tell you, so don't pester me. All I ast of you is to wake me at five if I happen to oversleep."
"Well, of all the—do you suppose I'm goin' to lay awake here all night waitin' for five o'clock to——"
"How in thunder do you expect me to go to sleep, Eva, if you keep jabberin' away to me all night long like this? Ding it all to gosh, here it is after one o'clock an' you still talkin'. Don't do it, I say. Don't ast another question till five o'clock, an' then all you got to do it to ast me if I'm awake."
"Umph!" said Mrs. Crow.
* * * * *
Messrs. Bacon and Bonaparte were an hour and forty minutes late.
It was nearly eight o'clock when the two gentlemen came hurrying around the corner into Sickle street, piloted by Alf Reesling, the town drunkard.
A long, important-looking cigar propitiated Mr. Crow, and after Mr. Reesling and other citizens had been given to understand that the strangers were figuring on buying all the timber on Crow's Mountain, the three principals set forth in Anderson's buckboard.
In due time they arrived at the top of the "Mountain." Now Crow's Mountain was no mountain at all. It was a thickly wooded hill that had achieved eminence by happening to be a scant fifty feet higher than the knolls surrounding it. From the low-lying pastures and grain-fields to the top of the outstanding pine that reared its blasted storm-stripped tip far above its fellows, the elevation was not more than three hundred feet. Nevertheless, it was the loftiest hill in all that region and capped Anderson Crow's agricultural possessions.
Just before the Boggs City National Bank at the county seat closed that afternoon Mr. Crow appeared at the receiving-teller's window. He deposited two hundred dollars in currency. Mr. Bacon had decided that a draft on New York might excite undue curiosity.
"If people were to get wise to what we are really after up here on this mountain, Mr. Crow," said he, "it would play hob with everything. If it gets out that we are after gold—why, the price of land would be so high we couldn't—"
"Lot of these hayseeds been wantin' to sell fer years, the derned rubes," broke in Anderson, pityingly.
"Well, you get me, don't you? Keep our eyes open and our mouths closed, and we will be millionaires inside of a year—or two, at the outside."
"Mum's the word, as the feller said," agreed Mr. Crow.
"And of course you see the advisability of having our articles of incorporation filed secretly in New Jersey. This contract we have signed will be ratified by our employers in New York, and the regular articles drawn up at once. Wait till you see the names of the men who are behind this enterprise. The first meeting of the board of directors will bring together a dozen of the greatest—"
"Where will the meetin' be held?" broke in Anderson, somewhat anxiously.
"New York City, of course. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see you elected President of the Corporation, Mr. Crow."
"Oh, gosh-a-mighty! I—I can't accept the honour, Mr. Bacon. It's too much of a responsibility. Besides, I don't see how I'm goin' to be able to get away from Tinkletown this fall to attend the meetin'. The County Fair opens next week at Boggs City, an' the second week in October there's to be a Baptist revival—"
"You can send in your proxy, Mr. Crow," explained Mr. Bacon. "It will be all the same to us, you know."
"Well, I guess I better," said Anderson thoughtfully.
A fortnight went by. Crow's Mountain had become the scene of sharp but stealthy activity. Anderson went about the streets of Tinkletown as if in a daze. Acting upon the stern, almost offensive, advice of his new partners, he did not go near the "Mountain" after the first couple of days. They made it very plain to him that everything depended on his shrewdness in staying away from the "Mountain" altogether.
The Tinkletown Banner, in reporting the vast transaction, incorporated an interview with Mr. G. W. Bacon, who announced that the syndicate he represented had in mind a project to erect a huge summer hotel on top of the "most beautiful mountain east of the Rockies," in the event that satisfactory terms could be arranged with Mr. Crow. As a matter of fact, explained Mr. Bacon, he had been instructed to make certain preliminary investigations in regard to construction, and so forth—such as ascertaining how far down they would have to go to bed-rock, and all that sort of thing.
Practically all of the syndicate's preparatory work on Crow's Mountain was done under cover of night. Motor-trucks that were said to have been driven all the way from Pittsburgh—on account of the dreadful congestion on the railroads—delivered machinery, tools, drills, rods, bolts, rivets and thin jangling strips of structural steel.
Marshal Crow, assuming an importance he did not feel, strutted about Tinkletown.
* * * * *
His abstraction had a good deal to do with the accident to old Mrs. Twiggers. He was dreamily cogitating at the time she was run down by Schultz's butcher-wagon, and as the catastrophe took place almost under his nose, more than one citizen called him names he wouldn't forget. The old lady had her spectacles smashed and lost a dozen eggs in the confusion. Moreover, Ed Higgins's hen-roost was robbed; and three tramps spent as much as half a day on Main Street before Anderson took any notice of them. Ordinarily, he was death on tramps. Crime, as Mr. Harry Squires put it in a caustic editorial in the Banner, was rampant in Tinkletown. It was getting so rampant, he complained, that it wasn't safe to cross the street—especially while eggs were retailing at forty-two cents a dozen.
It remained for Alf Reesling, the town drunkard, to bring order out of chaos. Not that he seized the opportunity to go on a spree while Anderson was moon-gazing,—not at all. Alf loathed intoxicating liquors. He did not drink himself, and he had a horror of any one who did. He had been drunk just three times in his life, but as he had managed to crowd the three exhibitions into the space of one week—some twenty years before—Tinkletown elected him forthwith for life to the office of town sot.
Now, Alf had a grievance. He finally got the ear of Marshal Crow and let loose in a way that startled the old man out of his daze.
"Here you been watchin' me, an' trailin' me, an' lecturin' me for twenty years, dern ye,—an' pleadin' with me to keep sober fer the sake of Tinkletown's fair name, an' you let this feller Bonyparte git full an' keep people awake half the night. He's been drunk more times in the last three weeks than I ever was in all my life. He—"
"What's that? Did you say drunk?" demanded Anderson, blinking. "Who told you he was drunk?"
"He did," said Alf. "He don't make any bones about it. He tells everybody when he is drunk. He's proud of it."
"An' I suppose everybody believes him," said Anderson scathingly. "The people of this here town will believe any thing if—"
"Las' night that pardner of his'n an' two other fellers from up the hill had to take him up to his room an' lock him in. He was tryin' to sing the Star Spangled Banner in Dutch. Gosh, it was awful! He orter be arrested, same as anybody else, Anderson Crow. You got me under suspicion every minute o' the time—night and day—"
"That'll do, that'll do, now Alf. No more back talk out o' you," exclaimed Anderson menacingly. "You might as well be drunk as to act drunk. Don't you know any better'n—"
"Are you goin' to arrest this Bonyparte feller?"
Anderson eyed him sternly for a moment. "I got half a notion to run you in, Alf Reesling, fer interferin' with an officer."
"How'm I interferin'?"
"You're preventin' me from arrestin' a violater of the law, dern you. Can't you see I'm on my way over to Justice Robb's to swear out a warrant against Abraham Lincoln Bonaparte for bein' intoxicated? What do you mean by stoppin' me an'—"
"I'll go along, Andy," broke in Alf, suddenly affable. "I'll swear to it if you—"
"'Tain't necessary," announced Anderson loftily. "I c'n attend to my own business, if you can't. Nobody c'n sing the Star Spangled Banner in Dutch without havin' a charge of intoxication filed ag'in him, lemme tell you that. Git out o' my way, Alf."
Mr. Crow's pride had been touched. The shaft of criticism had gone home. He would arrest Mr. Abraham Lincoln Bonaparte, no matter what came of it. He did not like Mr. Bonaparte anyway. It was Mr. Bonaparte who had ordered him off Crow's Mountain—his own mountain, mind you—and told him not to come puttering around there any more.
On second thoughts, he accepted the nominal town sot's offer to make affidavit against a real offender, but declined his company and assistance in effecting the arrest. Down in the old Marshal's heart lurked the fear that his new partners would put up such strenuous objections to the arrest that he would have to give way to them. It was this misgiving that caused him to make the trip to Crow's Mountain instead of confronting his man that evening at the hotel or in the street, in the presence of an audience.
Arriving at the cross-roads half a mile from the foot of Crow's Mountain, he encountered two men tinkering with the engine of a big automobile. They stopped him and inquired if there was a garage nearby. While he was directing them to Pete Olsen's in town, he espied two more men reposing in the shade of a tree farther up the lane.
As he drove on, leaving them behind, he found himself possessed of the notion that the two men were strangely nervous and impatient. He decided, after he had gone a half mile farther that they had, as a matter-of-fact, acted in a very suspicious manner,—just as automobile thieves might be expected to act in the presence of an officer of the law. He made up his mind that if they were still there when he returned with his prisoner, he would yank 'em up for investigation.
He went through the motions of hitching old Hip and Jim to a sapling near the top of the "Mountain." They went to sleep almost instantly.
In the little clearing off to the left, a couple of hundred yards away, Marshal Crow observed several men at work constructing a "shanty." Closer at hand, almost lost to view among the pines, rose the thin, open-work steel tower from which the "drill" was to be operated. Standing out among the tree-tops were the long cross-bars of steel, and from them ran the "guy" wires to the ground below. Mr. Crow had never seen a "drill" before, but he had been told by Mr. Bacon that this was the newest thing on the market.
The Marshal started off in the direction of the "shanty" and suddenly a most astonishing thing happened. Mr. Crow disappeared from view as if by magic!
In order to give the drill as wide a berth as possible, he had deployed widely to the left of the path, making his way somewhat tortuously through a rough lot of underbrush. Without the slightest warning, the earth gave way beneath him and down he shot, clawing frantically at the edges of a well-camouflaged hole in the ground, taking with him a vast amount of twigs, branches and a net-work of sapling poles.
Not only did he drop a good twelve feet, but he landed squarely upon the stooping person of Mr. Bacon, who emitted a startling sound that began as a yell and ended as a grunt. He then crumpled up and spread himself out flat, with Mr. Crow draped awkwardly across his prostrate form. For the time being, Mr. Bacon was as still as the grave. He was out.
Anderson scrambled to his feet, pawing the air with his hands, his eyes tightly shut. He was yelling for help.
Now, it was this yelling for help that deceived the astonished Mr. Bonaparte. He jumped at once to the conclusion that the Marshal was calling for assistance from the outside.
So he threw up his hands!
"I—surrender! I give in!" he yelled. "Keep them off! Don't let them get at me!"
Anderson opened his eyes and stared.
He found himself in a small, squat room lighted by a lantern which stood upon a crudely made table in the corner beyond Bonaparte. There was a board floor well littered with soil and shavings. In another corner stood a singular looking contraption, not unlike a dynamo.
Marshal Crow bethought himself of his mission. Although the breath had been jarred out of his body, he managed to say,—explosively:
"I—I got a warrant for your arrest. Come along now! Don't resist. Don't make a fuss. Come along peaceably. I—"
"I'll come, Mr. Crow. I was dragged into this thing against my will. Gott in Himmel! Gott!—"
"Never mind what you got," exclaimed Anderson sharply. "You come along with me or you'll get something worse'n that."
"Is—is he dead!" groaned Bonaparte, his eyes almost starting from his head.
Anderson backed away from the sprawling, motionless figure on the floor.
"I—I—gosh, I hope not. I—I was as much surprised as anybody. Say, you see if he's breathin'. We got to git him out o' this place right away an' send for a doctor. The good Lord knows I didn't intend to light on him like that. It was an accident, I swear it was. You know just how it happened, an'—you'll stand by me, won't you, if—"
Just then a loud voice came from above.
"Hey, down there!" A second's pause. Then: "We've got you dead to rights, so no monkey business. Come up out o' that, or we'll pump enough lead down there to—"
"Don't shoot,—don't shoot!" yelled Mr. Bonaparte shrilly. "Tell your men not to fire, Mr. Crow!"
"Tell—tell who?" cried Anderson blankly. Suddenly he sprang to his companion's side; seizing him by the arm, he whispered hoarsely: "By gosh, I thought there was somethin' queer about that gang. Have you got any of the gold here? I recollect that feller's voice, plain as day. They're after the gold. They've heard about—"
"Are you coming up?" roared the voice from the outer world.
"Who are you?" called back Anderson stoutly.
"Oh, I guess you'll recognize United States marshals when you see 'em. Come on, now."
Abraham Lincoln Bonaparte faced Marshal Crow, the truth dawning upon him like a flash.
"You damned old rube!" he snarled, and forthwith planted his fist under Anderson's chin-whiskers, with such surprising force that the old man once more landed heavily on the prostrate form of the unfortunate Bacon.
"O-oh, gosh!" groaned Anderson, and as his eyes rolled upward he saw a million stars chasing each other around the ceiling.
"I'll get that much satisfaction out of it anyhow," he heard some one say, from a very great distance.
Sometime afterward he was dimly aware of a jumble of excited voices about him. Some one was shouting in his ear. He opened his eyes and everything looked green before them. In time he recognized pine trees, very lofty pine trees that slowly but surely shrank in size as he gazed wonderingly at them.
There were a lot of strange men surrounding him. Out of the mass, he finally selected a face that grew upon him. It was the face of Alf Reesling.
"By jinks, Anderson, you done it this time," Alf cried excitedly. "I told 'em you was on your way up here to arrest these fellers, an' by jinks, I knowed you'd get 'em."
"Le—lemme set down, please," mumbled Anderson, and the two men who supported him lowered him gently to the ground, with his back against a tree trunk. "Come here, Alf," he called out feebly.
Alf shuffled forward.
"Who are these men?" whispered Anderson.
"Detectives—reg'lar detectives," replied Alf. "United States detectives—what do you call 'em?"
"Scotland Yard men," replied Anderson, who had done a good deal of reading in his time.
"I started out after you on my wheel, Andy, thinkin' maybe you'd have trouble. Down the road I met up with these fellers in a big automobile. They stopped me an' said I couldn't go up the hill. Just then up comes another car full of men. They all seemed to be acquainted. I told 'em I was a deputy marshal an' was goin' up the hill to help you arrest a feller named Bonyparte. Well, by jinks, you oughter heard 'em! They cussed, and said the derned ole fool would spile everything. Then, 'fore you could say Joe, they piled into one o' the cars an' sailed up the hill. I didn't get up here till after they'd hauled you an' your prisoners out o' that hole, but I give 'em the laugh just the same. You captured the two ringleaders. By gosh, I'm glad you're alive, Andy. I bet the Kaiser'll hate you fer this."
"Ole Kaiser Bill. Say, you was down there quite a little spell, an' they won't let me go down. What does a wireless plant look like, Anderson?"
* * * * *
That evening Marshal Crow sat on the porch in front of Lamson's store, smoking a fine cigar, presented to him by Harry Squires, reporter for the Banner. He had a large audience. Indeed, he was obliged to raise his voice considerably in order to reach the outer rim.
He had been called a hero, a fearless officer, and a lot of other pleasant things, by the astonished United States marshals, and he had been given to understand that he would hear from Washington before long. Mr. Bacon (Kurt von Poppenblitz) and Mr. Bonaparte (Conrad Bloom) had also called him something, but he didn't mind. His erstwhile partners, with their four or five henchmen, were now well on their way to limbo, and Mr. Crow was regaling his hearers with the story. During the first recital (this being either the ninth or tenth), Alf Reesling had been obliged to prompt him—a circumstance readily explainable when one stops to consider the effect of the murderous blow Mr. Crow had received.
"'Course," said Anderson, "they did fool me at first. But I wasn't long gittin' onto 'em. I used to sneak up there and investigate ever' now an' ag'in. Finally I got onto the fact that they was German spies—I got positive proof of it. I can't tell you just what it is, 'cause it's government business. Then I finds out they got a wireless plant all in order, an' ready to relay messages to the coast o' Maine, from some'eres out west. So today, I goes over to Justice Robb's and gits a warrant for intoxication. That was to make it legal fer me to bust into their shanty if necessary. Course, the drunk charge was only a blind, as I told the U. S. marshal. I went right straight to that underground den o' their'n, an' afore they knowed what was up, I leaped down on 'em. Fust thing I done was to put the big and dangerous one horse de combat. He was the one I was worried about. I knocked him flat an' then went after t'other one. He let on like he was surrenderin'. He fooled me, I admit—'cause I don't know anything 'bout wireless machinery. All of a sudden he give me a wireless shock—out o' nowhere, you might say—an' well, by cracky, I thought it was all over. 'Course, I realize now it was foolish o' me to try to go up there an' take them two desperadoes single-handed, but I—What's that, Bud?"
"Mrs. Crow sent me to tell you if you didn't come home to supper this minute, you wouldn't git any," called out a boy from the outskirts of the crowd.
"That's the second wireless shock you've had today, Anderson," said Harry Squires, drily, and slowly closed one eye.
THE BEST MAN WINS!
ANDERSON CROW MEETS HIS WATERLOO AND HIS MARNE
For sixteen consecutive years Anderson Crow had been the Marshal of Tinkletown. A hiatus of two years separated this period of service from another which, according to persons of apparently infallible memory, ran through an unbroken stretch of twenty-two years. Uncle Gid Luce stoutly maintained—and with some authority—that anybody who said twenty-two years was either mistaken or lying. He knew for a positive fact that it was only twenty-one for the simple reason that at the beginning of the Crow dynasty a full year elapsed before Anderson could be convinced that he actually had been victorious at the polls over his venerable predecessor, ex-marshal Bunker, who had served uninterruptedly for something like thirty years before him.
It took the wisest men in town nearly a year to persuade the incredulous Mr. Bunker that he had been defeated, and also to prove to Mr. Crow that he had been elected. Neither one of 'em would believe it.
It was the consensus of opinion, however, that Anderson Crow had served, all told, thirty-eight years, the aforesaid hiatus being the result of a decision on his part to permanently abandon public life in order to carry on his work as a private detective. Mr. Ed. Higgins held the office for two years and then retired, claiming that there wasn't any sense in Tinkletown having two marshals and only paying for one. And, as the salary and perquisites were too meagre to warrant a division, and the duties of office barely sufficient to keep one man awake, he arrived at the only conclusion possible: it was only fair that he should split even with Anderson.
After thinking it over for some time, he decided that about the best way to solve the problem was for him to take the pay and allow Anderson to do the work,—an arrangement that was eminently satisfactory to the entire population of Tinkletown.
Elections were held biennially. Every two years, in the spring, as provided by statute, the voters of Tinkletown—unless otherwise engaged—ambled up to the polling place in the rear of Hawkins's Undertaking Emporium and voted not only for Anderson Crow, but for a town clerk, a justice of the peace, and three selectmen. No one ever thought of voting for any one except Mr. Crow. Once, and only once, was there an opposition candidate for the office of Town Marshal. It is on record that he did not receive a solitary vote.
Republicans and Democrats voted for Anderson with persistent fidelity, and while there were notable contests for the other offices at nearly every election, no one bothered himself about the marshal-ship.
The regular election was drawing near. Marshal Crow was mildly concerned,—not about himself, but on account of the tremendous battle that was to be waged for the office of town clerk. Henry Wimpelmeyer, the proprietor of the tanyard, had come out for the office, and was spending money freely. The incumbent, Ezra Pounder, had had a good deal of sickness in his family during the winter, and was in no position to be bountiful.
Moreover, Ezra was further handicapped by the fact that nearly every voter in Tinkletown owed money to Henry Wimpelmeyer. Inasmuch as it was just the other way round with Ezra, it may be seen that his adversary possessed a sickening advantage. Mr. Wimpelmeyer could afford to slap every one on the back and jingle his pocketful of change in the most reckless fashion. He did not have to dodge any one on the street, not he.
Anderson Crow was a strong Pounder man. He was worried. Henry Wimpelmeyer had openly stated that if he were elected he would be pleased to show his gratitude to his friends by cancelling every obligation due him!
He was planning to run on what was to be called the People's ticket. Ezra was an Anderson Crow republican. Tinkletown itself was largely republican. The democrats never had a chance to hold office except when there was a democratic president at Washington. Then one of them got the post-office, and almost immediately began to show signs of turning republican so that he could be reasonably certain of reappointment at the end of his four years.
Anderson Crow lay awake nights trying to evolve a plan by which Henry Wimpelmeyer's astonishing methods could be overcome. That frank and unchallenged promise to cancel all debts was absolutely certain to defeat Ezra. So far as the marshal knew, no one owed Henry more than five dollars—in most cases it was even less—but when you sat down and figured up just how much Henry would ever realize in hard cash on these accounts, even if he waited a hundred years, it was easy to see that the election wasn't going to cost him a dollar.
For example, Alf Reesling had owed him a dollar and thirty-five cents for nearly seven years. Alf admitted that the obligation worried him a great deal, and it was pretty nearly certain that he would jump at the chance to be relieved. Other items: Henry Plumb, two dollars and a quarter; Harvey Shortfork, ninety cents; Ben Pickett, a dollar-seventy-five; Rush Applegate, three-twenty; Lum Gillespie, one-fifteen,—and so on, including Ezra Pounder himself, who owed the staggering sum of eleven dollars and eighty-two cents. There was, after all, some consolation in the thought that Ezra would be benefited to that extent by his own defeat.
Naturally, Mr. Crow gave no thought to his own candidacy. No one was running against him, and apparently no one ever would. Therefore, Mr. Crow was in a position to devote his apprehensions exclusively to the rest of the ticket, and to Ezra Pounder in particular.
He could think of but one way to forestall Mr. Wimpelmeyer, and that was by digging down into his own pocket and paying in cash every single cent that the electorate of Tinkletown owed "the dad-burned Shylark!" He even went so far as to ascertain—almost to a dollar—just how much it would take to save the honour of Tinkletown, finding, after an investigation, that $276.82 would square up everything, and leave Henry high and dry with nothing but the German vote to depend upon. There were exactly twenty-two eligible voters in town with German names, and seven of them professed to be Swiss the instant the United States went into the war.
Mr. Crow was making profound calculation on the back of an envelope when Alf Reesling, the town drunkard, came scuttling excitedly around the corner from the Banner office.
"Gee whiz!" gasped Alf, "I been lookin' all over fer you, Anderson."
"Say, can't you see I'm busy? Now, I got to begin all over ag'in. Move on, now—"
"Have you heard the latest?" gulped Alf, grabbing him by the arm.
"What ails you, Alf? Wait a minute! No, by gosh, it's more like onions. For a second I thought you'd—"
"I'm as sober as ever," interrupted Alf hotly.
"That's what you been sayin' fer twenty years," said Anderson.
"Well, ain't I?"
"I don't know what you do when I'm not watchin' you."
"Well, all I got to say is I never felt more like takin' a drink. An' you'll feel like it, too, when you hear the latest. Maybe you'll drop dead er somethin'. Serve you right, too, by jiminy, the way you keep insinyating about—"
"Go on an' tell me. Don't talk all day. Just tell me. That's all you're called on to do."
"Well," sputtered Alf. "Some one's come out ag'in you fer marshal. I seen the item they're printin' over at the Banner office. Seen the name an' everything."
Anderson blinked two or three times, reached for his whiskers and missed them, and then roared:
"You must be crazy, Alf! By thunder, I hate to do it, but I'll have to put you in a safe—"
"You just wait an' see if I'm—"
"—safe place where you can't harm nobody. You oughtn't to be runnin' round at large like this. Here! Leggo my arm! What the dickens are you tryin' to—"
"Come on! I'll show you!" exclaimed Alf. "I'll take you right around to the Banner office an'—say, didn't you know the People's Party nominated a full ticket las' night over at Odd Fellers' Hall?"
Anderson submitted himself to be led—or rather dragged—around the corner into Sickle Street.
Several business men aroused from mid-morning lassitude allowed their chairs to come down with a thump upon divers mercantile porches, and fell in behind the two principal citizens of Tinkletown. Something terrible must have happened or Marshal Crow wouldn't be summoned in any such imperative manner as this.
"What's up, Anderson?" called out Mort Fryback, the hardware dealer, wavering on one leg while he reached frantically behind him for his crutch. Mort was always looking for excitement. He hadn't had any to speak of since the day he created the greatest furor the town had experienced in years by losing one of his legs under an extremely heavy kitchen stove.
"Is there a fire?" shouted Mr. Brubaker, the druggist, half a block away.
* * * * *
Mr. Jones, proprietor of the Banner Job Printing office, obligingly produced the "galley-proof" of the account of the People's Convention, prepared by his "city editor," Harry Squires, for the ensuing issue of the weekly. Mr. Squires himself emerged from the press-room, and sarcastically offered his condolences to Anderson Crow.
"Well, here's a pretty howdy-do, Anderson," he said, elevating his eye-shade to a position that established a green halo over a perfectly pink pate.
"Howdy-do," responded Anderson, with unaccustomed politeness. He was staring hard at the dirty strip of paper which he held to the light.
"Didn't I tell you?" exclaimed Alf Reesling triumphantly. "There she is, right before your eyes."
Mr. Reesling employed the proper gender in making this assertion. "She" was right before the eyes of every one who cared to look. Anderson slowly read off the "ticket." His voice cracked deplorably as he pronounced the last of the six names that smote him where he had never been smitten before.
Justice of the Peace—William Kiser
Selectman, First District—Otto Schultz
Selectman, Second District—Conrad Blank
Selectman, Third District—Christopher Columbus Callahan
A long silence followed the last syllable in Minnie's name, broken at last by Marshal Crow, who turned upon Harry Squires and demanded:
"What do you mean, Harry Squires, by belittlin' a woman's name in your paper like this? She c'n sue for libel. You got no right to make fun of a respectable, hard-workin' woman, even though she did make a derned fool of herself gittin' up that pertition to have me removed from office."
"Well, that's what she's still trying to do," said Harry.
"I say she's still trying to remove you from office. She's going to get your hide, Anderson, for arresting her when she tried to make that Suffrage speech in front of the town hall last fall."
"I had a right to arrest her. She was obstructin' the public thoroughfare."
"That's all right, but she said she had as much right to block the street as you had. You made speeches all over the place."
"Yes, but I made 'em in good American English, an' she spoke half the time in German. How in thunder was I to know what she was sayin'? She might 'a' been sayin' somethin' ag'in the United States Government, fer all I knew."
"Well, anyhow, she's going to get your scalp for it, if it's in woman's power to do it."
"I'm ag'in any female citizen of this here town that subscribes to a German paper printed in New York City an' refuses to read the Banner," declared Anderson loudly—and with all the astuteness of the experienced politician. "An' what's more," pursued Anderson scornfully, "I'm ag'in that whole ticket. There's only one American on it, an' he was a Democrat up to las' Sunday. Besides, it's ag'in the law to nominate Minnie Stitzenberg."
"Why?" demanded Harry Squires.
"Ain't she a woman?"
"Certainly she is."
"Well, ain't that ag'in the law? A woman ain't got no right to run for nothin'," said Anderson. "She ain't—"
"She ain't, eh? Didn't you walk up to the polls last fall and vote to give her the right?" demanded Harry. "Didn't every dog-goned man in this town except Bill Wynkoop vote for suffrage? Well, then, what are you kicking about? She's got as much right to run for marshal as you have, old Sport, and if what she says is true, every blessed woman in Tinkletown is going to vote for her."
Marshal Crow sat down, a queer, dazed look in his eyes.
"By gosh, I—I never thought they'd act like this," he murmured.
Every man in the group was asking the same question in the back of his startled brain: "Has my wife gone an' got mixed up in this scheme of Minnie's without sayin' anything to me?" Visions of feminine supremacy filled the mental eye of a suddenly perturbed constituency. The realization flashed through every mind that if the women of Tinkletown stuck solidly together, there wasn't the ghost of a chance for the sex that had been in the saddle since the world began. An unwitting, or perhaps a designing, Providence had populated Tinkletown with at least twenty more women than men!
* * * * *
Alf Reesling was the first to speak. He addressed the complacent Mr. Squires:
"I know one woman that ain't goin' to vote for Minnie Stitzenberg," said he, somewhat fiercely.
"What are you going to do?" inquired Harry mildly. "Kill her?"
"Nothin' as triflin' as that," said Alf. "I'm goin' to tell my wife if she votes for Minnie I'll pack up and leave her."
"Minnie's sure of one vote, all right," was Harry's comment.
Fully ten minutes were required to convince the marshal that Minnie Stitzenberg was a bona fide candidate.
Anderson finally arose, drew himself to his full height, lifted his chin, and faced the group with something truly martial in his eye.
"Feller citizens," he began solemnly, "the time has come for us men to stand together. We got to pertect our rights. We got to let the women know that they can't come between us. For the last million years we have been supportin' an' pertectin' and puttin' up with all sorts of women, an' we got to give 'em to understand that this is no time for them to git it into their heads they can support and pertect us. Everybody, includin' the women, knows there's a great war goin' on over in Europe. Us men are fightin' that war. We're bleedin' an' dyin' an' bein' captured by the orneriest villains outside o' hell—as the feller says. I'm not sayin' the women ain't doin' their part, mind you. They're doin' noble, an' you couldn't git me to say a thing ag'in women as women. They're a derned sight better'n we are. That's jest the point. We got to keep 'em better'n we are, an' what's more to the point, we don't want 'em to find out they're better'n we are. Just as soon as they git to be as overbearin' an' as incontrollable as we are, then there's goin' to be thunder to pay. I'm willin' to work, an' fight, an' die fer my wife an' my daughters, but I'm derned if I like the idee of them workin' an' fightin' ag'in me. I'm willin' the women should vote. But they oughtn't to run out an' vote ag'in the men the first chance they git. When this war's over an' there ain't no able-bodied men left to run things, then you bet the women will be derned glad we fixed things so's they won't never have to worry about goin' to war with the ding-blasted ravishers over in Germany. If the time ever comes—an' it may, if they keep killin' us off over there—when the women have to run this here government, they'll find it's a man-sized job, an' that we took care of it mighty well up to the time we got all shot to pieces preservin' humanity, an' civilization, an' all the women an' children the Germans didn't git a chance to butcher because we wouldn't let 'em. Now, I'm ready any time to knuckle under to a man that's better'n I am. But I'm dog-goned if I'm willin' to admit that Minnie Stitzenberg's that man! Yes, sir, gentlemen, we men have got to stand together!"
"'Sh!" hissed Mort Fryback, jerking his head in the direction of Main Street. With one accord the men on the porch turned to look.
Miss Minnie Stitzenberg had come into view on the opposite side of the street, and was striding manfully in their direction. The Higgins dog trotted proudly, confidently, a few feet ahead of her. She waved a friendly hand and called out, in a genial but ludicrous effort to mimic the lordly Mr. Crow:
"Move on there, now. Don't loiter."
A little later, the agitated town marshal, flanked by the town drunkard and the one-legged Mr. Fryback, viewed with no little dismay a group of women congregated in front of Parr's drygoods store. In the centre of this group was the new candidate for town marshal. Alf Reesling stopped short and said something under his breath. His wife was one of Miss Stitzenberg's most attentive listeners.
Marshal Crow was not disheartened. He knew that Minnie Stitzenberg could not defeat him at the polls. The thing that rankled was the fact that a woman had been selected to run against him. It was an offence to his dignity. The leaders of the People's Party made it quite plain that they did not consider him of sufficient importance to justify anything so dignified as masculine opposition!
On the day of the Republican Convention, which was to be held in the town hall in the evening, Anderson went in despair and humility to Harry Squires, the reporter.
"Harry," he said, "I been thinkin' it over. I can't run ag'in a woman. It goes ag'in the grain. If I beat her, I'd never be able to look anybody in the face, an' if she beats me—why, by gosh, I couldn't even look myself in the face. So I'm goin' to decline the nomination tonight."
He was rather pathetic, and Harry Squires was touched. He had a great fondness for the old marshal, notwithstanding his habit of poking fun at him and ridiculing him in the Banner. He laid his hand on the old man's arm and there was genuine warmth in his voice as he spoke to him.
"Anderson, we can't allow you to withdraw. It would be the vilest thing the people of this town could do if they turned you out of office after all these years of faithful service. We—"
"Can't be helped, Harry," said Anderson firmly. "I won't run ag'in a woman, so that's the end of it."
Harry looked cautiously around, and then, leaning a little closer, said:
"I know something that would put Minnie in the soup, clean over her head. All I've got to do is to tell what I know about—"
"Hold on, Harry," broke in the marshal sternly. "Is it somethin' ag'in her character?"
"It's something that would prevent every man, woman and child in Tinkletown from voting for her," said Harry.
"Somethin' scand'lous?" demanded Anderson, perking up instantly.
"Decidedly. A word from me and—"
"Wait a second. Is—is there a man in the case?"
"A man?" cried Harry. "Bless your soul, Anderson, there are fifty men in it."
Anderson fell back a step or two. For a moment or two he was speechless.
"Sakes alive! Fifty? For goodness' sake, Harry, are you sure?"
"Not exactly. It may be sixty," amended Harry. "We could easily find out just how many—"
"Never mind! Never mind!" cried Anderson, recovering himself. "If it's as bad as all that, we just got to keep still about it. I wouldn't allow you to throw mud at her if she's been carryin' on with only one man, but if there's fifty or—But, gosh a' mighty, Harry, it ain't possible. A woman as homely as Minnie—why, dog-gone it, a woman as homely as she is simply couldn't be bad no matter how much she wanted to. It ain't human nature. She—"
"Hold your horses, Anderson," broke in Harry, after a perplexed stare. "I guess you're jumping at conclusions. I didn't say—"
"There ain't going to be no scandal in this campaign. If Minnie Stitzenberg—German or no German—has been—"
"It isn't the kind of scandal you think it is," protested Harry. "What I'm trying to tell you is that it was Minnie Stitzenberg who got that guy up here from New York two years ago to sell stock in the Salt Water Gold Company, and stung fifty or sixty of our wisest citizens to the extent of thirty dollars apiece. I happen to know that Minnie got five dollars for every sucker that was landed. That guy was her cousin and she gave him a list of the easiest marks in town. If I remember correctly, you were one of them, Anderson. She got something like two hundred dollars for giving him the proper steer, and that's what I meant when I said there were fifty or sixty men in the case."
"Well, I'll be ding-blasted!"
"And do you know what she did with her ill-gotten gains?"
Anderson could only shake his head.
"She went up to Boggs City and took singing lessons. Now you know the worst."
The marshal found his voice. "An' it went on for nearly six months, too—people had to keep their windows shut so's they couldn't hear her yellin' as if somebody was tryin' to murder her. An' when I went to her an' respectfully requested her to quit disturbin' the peace, she—do you know what she said to me?"
"I've got a sneaking idea."
"Well, you're wrong. She said I was a finicky old jackass." The memory of it brought an apoplectic red to his face.
"And being a gentleman, you couldn't deny it," said Harry soberly.
"I mean, you couldn't call her a liar. What did you say?"
"I looked her right in the eyes an' I said I'd been neutral up to that minute, but from then on I'd be derned if I'd try any longer. By gosh, I guess she knowed what I meant all right."
"Well, as I was saying, all you've got to do is to tell the voters of this town that she helped put up that job on them, and—"
Anderson held up his hand and shook his head resolutely.
"Nope! I'm through. I'm not goin' to run. I mean to withdraw my name tonight."
Considering the matter closed, he sauntered to the middle of the street where he held up his hand and stopped a lame and venerable Ford driven—or as Mr. Squires was in the habit of saying, urged—by Deacon Rank.
"What's your speedo-meter say, Deacon?" inquired the marshal blandly.
"It don't say anything," snapped the deacon.
Anderson saw fit to indulge in sarcasm. "Well, by gum, I'd 'a' swore your old machine was movin'. Is it possible my eyes deceived me?"
"Course it was movin'—movin' strictly accordin' to law, too. Six miles an hour. What you holdin' me up for?"
"So's I could get in and take a little joy ride with you," said Mr. Crow affably. "Drop me at the post office, will you?" He stepped up beside the deacon and calmly seated himself.
The deacon grumbled. "'Tain't more'n a hundred yards to the post office," he said. "Stoppin' me like this an'—an' makin' me get out and crank the car besides. An' I'm in a hurry, too. Couldn't you—"
"Well, I ain't in no hurry. If I was, don't you suppose I'd 'a' walked?"
That evening the town hall was filled with discouraged, apprehensive Republicans. A half-dozen newly enfranchised women occupied front seats. Ed. Higgins confided to those nearest him that he felt as though he was in church, and Alf Reesling loudly advised the convention to be careful, as there were ladies present.
Mr. Hud Lamson, as usual, was the chairman of the "Convention." No one else ever had a chance to be chairman for the reason that Hud did not insist upon having the honour thrust upon him. He simply took it.
Following the usual resolutions condemning the Democratic Party to perdition and at the same time eulogizing the Democratic Administration at Washington, Mr. Ezra Pounder was nominated by acclamation for the responsible post of town clerk. In swift succession, Ed. Higgins, Abner Pickerell and Situate M. Jones were chosen for selectmen. Justice Robb was unanimously chosen to succeed himself.
Then ensued a strange, significant silence—a silence fraught with exceeding gravity and the portentous suggestion of something devastating about to overtake the assemblage. Some one in the back of the hall cleared his throat, and instantly, with one accord, every eye was turned in his direction. It was as if he were clearing the way for action.
Harry Squires, the perennial secretary of all conventions held by all parties in Tinkletown, by virtue of his skill with the pencil, arose from his seat—and stepped to the front of the platform.
"Order!" called out Marshal Crow, in his most authoritative voice, sweeping the convention with an accusing eye.
"Mr. Chairman, fellow Republicans and voters of the opposite sex," began Harry, in a distinctly lugubrious tone, "we have now come to the most critical moment in the history of Tinkletown. It is with ineffable sorrow and dismay that I stand before you this evening, the bearer of sad tidings. On the other hand, I expect to derive great joy in offsetting this sad news later on in my humble speech. I am now, gentlemen—and ladies—speaking of our most noted and most cherished citizen, Mr. Anderson Crow, known to you all, I believe, without exception. I—"
At this juncture, up jumped Alf Reesling and shouted:
"Three cheers for Anderson Crow!"
And three cheers were given with a vim. Uncle Dad Simms, a patriot of long-standing but of exceedingly short memory, took the convention by storm by crying out in a cracked but penetrating voice:
"Three cheers for the President of the United States! I don't keer if he is a Democrat! Come on, now, men! Three cheers for President Cleveland!"
A roar of laughter went up and Uncle Dad, being quite deaf, followed it with two squeaky cheers, all by himself, and then looked about in triumph. Alf Reesling proposed three cheers for President Wilson, and again the welkin rang. Having established a success as a promoter of enthusiasm, Alf mounted a chair and roared:
"Now, let's give three cheers for General Pershing an' the boys over in France, includin' the four noble young men from Tinkletown who are with him in the trenches, killin' the botches! Now, hip—hip—"
And once more the air shivered under the impact of vocal enthusiasm.
Mr. Squires held up his hands and checked what might have become a habit by thanking the convention for the timely and admirable interruption, explaining that the digression had given him an opportunity to regain command of his emotions.
"It is, however, with pain that I am authorized to announce, not only to the glorious Republican Party, but to the City of Tinkletown, that—Hold on, Alf! We can get along without three cheers for Tinkletown! To announce that the name of Anderson Crow is hereby withdrawn from the consideration of this convention for the—er—the nomination for Town Marshal. Mr. Crow positively declines to make the race. It is not necessary for me to dilate upon the manifold virtues and accomplishments of our distinguished marshal. His fame extends to the uttermost corners of the earth. For nearly half a century he has kept this town jogging along in a straight and narrow path, and I for one—and I feel that I voice the sentiment of every citizen here and elsewhere—I for one do not resent the frequent reproaches and occasional arrests he has heaped upon me in the discharge of his duty. It was all for the good of the community, and I am proud to say that I have been arrested by Marshal Crow more times than I have fingers and toes. And, I am further proud to add, that on not a single occasion did Marshal Crow hesitate to admit that he was mistaken. Gentlemen, it takes a pretty big man to admit that he is mistaken. But, if you will read the next issue of the Banner, you will see that I can write about him much more eloquently than I can speak. He has positively decided not to be a candidate for re-election. While we are thereby plunged into grief of the darkest hue, I am here to tell you that our grief is mitigated by the most gorgeous ray of light that ever beamed upon the human race. It is my pleasure, gentlemen of the Republican Party—and ladies of the same sect—to present for your—"
Alf Reesling's voice was heard in plaintive protest. He spoke to his elbow neighbour, but in a tone audible to every one, far and near.
"I'll be dog-goned if I'll stand for that. It's an insult to every man here to say they are of the same sex. We give 'em the vote and, by gosh, they claim our sex. I—"
"Order!" commanded Marshal Crow.
The orator resumed. "It is my privilege to present for your consideration the name of one of our most illustrious citizens for the honourable office of Town Marshal. A name that is a household word, second only to that of the present incumbent. Circumstances over which we have no control—although we did have it up to a short time ago—make it possible for me to present to you a name that will go down in history as one of the grandest since the bonny days of good Queen Bess. Gentlemen—and at the same time, ladies—I have the honour to put in nomination for Town Marshal our distinguished fellow voter, Mrs. Anderson Crow!"
A silence even more potential than the one preceding Mr. Squire's peroration ensued. It was broken this time by Uncle Dad Simms, who proceeded to further glorify his deafness by squeaking:
"And he'll be elected, too, you bet your boots. We don't want no gosh-blamed woman fer—eh? What say, Alf?" And Alf, making a cup of his hands, repeated with great vigour an inch or so from Uncle Dad's ear the timely remark that had caused the ancient to hesitate. It is not necessary to quote Alf, but Uncle Dad's rejoinder is important.
"Well, Jee-hosaphat!" he gasped.
"Is there a second to the nomination?" inquired the chairman.
Marshal Crow arose. "I second the nomination," he said, taking a sudden tug at his whiskers. "Before we take a ballot, Mr. Chairman, I want to say right here an' now that Mrs. Crow will have my full an' undivided support, just as she has always had. I have allus maintained that a woman's place is in the home. Therefore, when it comes time fer Mrs. Crow to assume the responsibilities of this here office, I am goin' to see to it that she stays home an' tends to her household duties. I am goin' to be deputy marshal durin' her term of office, without pay, ladies an' gentlemen, an' I am goin' to lift every bit o' the work off'n her shoulders. I believe in equal sufferin'. If she'll do the woman's share o' the work, I'll do the man's, an' nothin' could be fairer than that. Between us we'll give the city o' Tinkletown the best administration the office of marshal has ever had. My wife ain't here tonight to accept the honour you are goin' to heap on her, but I think I can safely promise she'll consent to make the race. She may kick like a bay steer at first, but when she sees it's her duty to run, you bet she'll do it! It's a case of woman ag'in woman, feller Republicans, an' man ag'in man. All I got to say is that the best woman's bound to win. I almost forgot to say that if the voters o' Tinkletown don't jump at the chance to git a marshal an' a experienced deputy for the price o' one salary, it's because there's more derned fools in the town than I thought there was."
Mr. Ed Higgins sprang to his feet.
"I move, Mr. Chairman, that we make the nomination unanimous without a dissenting vote," he cried out. "We got a chance to get the best deputy marshal in the United States of America without it costin' us a red cent, an' besides that, we get the best cook in all Tinkletown for marshal. If there's anybody here, male or female, who c'n deny that Mrs. Crow is the best cook alive I'd like to hear him say so. I've eat a hundred meals in her house an' I know what I'm talkin' about. I defy anybody—"
"I call for a vote!" cried out one of the women, bridling a little. "And I want to say to you, Ed Higgins, that while I think Mrs. Crow will make the best marshal we've ever had, I wouldn't go so far as to say she's the best cook in Tinkletown. You haven't been invited to eat in every house in this town, don't forget that."
"All in favour of making the nomination of Mrs. Crow unanimous signify by holding up their hands," said the chairman.
Every hand went up. Then a rousing cheer was given for the "next Marshal of Tinkletown," followed by the customary mumbling of "The Star Spangled Banner."
Three full days were devoted by Anderson and the leaders of the Republican Party to the task of inducing Mrs. Crow to make the race against Minnie Stitzenberg. At first she refused point-blank. She didn't intend to neglect her household duties for all the offices in Tinkletown!
"But, consarn it, Eva!" Anderson protested for the hundredth time, "nobody's askin' you to neglect your household duties. Ain't I agreein' to handle the job for you?"
"Well, I posi-tive-ly refuse to wear a star—or carry a pistol."
"You don't have to. I'll wear the star."
"And if you think I'll traipse the streets of Tinkletown from morning till night, you're very much—"
"That ain't any respectable woman's job," said her husband stiffly. "You're not expected to do it as long as you got a deputy."
"And as for snooping around putting my nose into other people's business,—why—"
"Now, don't let that worry you, Eva. That's part o' my job."
"Who's going to tend jail when there's anybody locked up in it?"
"I am, o' course."
"And who's going to be street commissioner, truant officer, chief of the fire depart—"
"You are, Eva,—but I'm going to look after everything, mind you. All you got to do is to see that I git somethin' to eat whenever I need it, an' a bed to sleep in at night, an' I'll—"
"A bed to sleep in, you ninny!" she cried. "You're going to sleep in the same bed you've been sleeping in for forty years. What are you talking about? Ain't you going to sleep with me if I appoint you deputy marshal?"
"Certainly," Anderson made haste to assure her. "Unofficially, o' course," he went on, with profound regard for the ethics involved.
"Well, I'll think it over," she said wearily. "Don't bother me now, you two; can't you see I'm making apple butter?"
"I hope you will consent to run, Mrs. Crow," put in the wily Mr. Squires, "if only for the sake of showing Minnie Stitzenberg that it won't do her any good to be saying things about—well, about anybody in particular." He concluded very lamely.
"Has that woman been saying things about me?" demanded Mrs. Crow.
"I ought to have sense enough to keep my mouth shut," said Harry, scowling darkly. Catching the astonished look on Anderson's face, he hastily suggested that they "beat it."
Out in the front yard Anderson halted him. "Has Minnie been saying anything about my wife, Harry Squires?"
Harry first looked over his shoulder and then winked. "Not that I know of," he said, chuckling. "But I guess it's safe to go ahead and print the ticket with Mrs. Crow's name on it."
Never in all its sedentary existence had Tinkletown experienced a livelier campaign.
"If you vote for Minnie Stitzenberg, I'll never speak to you again," was the common argument of the Crowites, and "Don't you ever try to look me in the face again if you vote for that old Mrs. Crow," was the slogan of the opposition.
Mrs. Crow conducted her own campaign.
Anderson discovered to his great dismay that his meals were not only irregular in the matter of time, but frequently did not materialize at all. His wife and daughters neglected him completely. On three separate occasions after waiting until nearly eight o'clock for his supper, he strolled disconsolately over to the equally abandoned home of Alf Reesling.
"I'm a mighty poor cook," confessed Alf on the first occasion, a hungry, harassed look in his eyes. "But anything's better'n starvin', ain't it?"
"It shore is," said Anderson with feeling.
"I ain't seen a petticoat around my house since half-past nine this mornin'," lamented Alf, upsetting a pan of milk while trying to get a plate of cold ham out of the icebox. "It's terrible."
"Lemme take your knife, Alf. I'll peel the pertatoes—if you'll tell me where they are."
"I don't know where anything is," said Alf, leaning dejectedly against the kitchen sink.
"Well," said Anderson, "let's look."
"If the election was a week further off, I'd give up an' go to drinkin' again," said Alf on another occasion. "I'd sooner drink myself to death than starve. Starvation is a terrible end, Anderson. Worse than hangin', they say."
"Only four days more," sighed Anderson, clipping off a hunk of bologna. "My wife says if I'll hold out till after election, she won't never leave the kitchen ag'in long as she lives."
"That's what mine says. Sherman was only half right. War may be hell for men, but, by gosh, women are hell for war. An' that's what it is—war, Anderson, war to the hilt. Every woman in town's got her knife out an', my God, how they're slashin' each other! There won't be a whole woman left."
"Well, I'd be satisfied with half a one," mused Anderson, a faraway look in his eyes.
The day before the election, Mrs. Crow played her trump card. She had treasured an open boast made years before by the disappointed old maid who now opposed her. Minnie, before attaining years of discretion and still smarting under the failures of youth, had spitefully announced that she was a spinster from choice. With great scorn she had stated, while sitting on Mrs. Crow's porch, that she would die an old maid a hundred times over sooner than marry any one in Tinkletown. And, she added, the best proof that she meant what she said was the fact that nearly every man in town had asked her to marry him before he asked any one else!
The news spread like wildfire the instant Mrs. Crow released it. Mrs. Crow's veracity was not a thing to be questioned.
When the returns were all in, Mrs. Crow was found to have received 573 votes (women included), out of a total of 601 cast. Miss Stitzenberg held the German vote solid, including seven from her own sex who could afford to disregard the slander because they had been safely married in Germany long before coming to Tinkletown.
* * * * *
The day after the new marshal's induction into office Anderson appeared with his star glittering so brightly that it dazzled the eye. His shoes were polished, his clothes brushed and—shocking to relate—his trousers creased. In all his career as marshal he had never gone to such extremes as this. He was, however, not in a happy frame of mind. His customary aplomb was missing.
"Well, of all the—" began Alf Reesling. Then, before Anderson could put in a word of warning, he shouted to the group in front of Lamson's store: "Hey! Look at the dude!"
Anderson, very red in the face, declined a seat on a soap box.
"If I'd knowed she was goin' to act like this, I'd a voted ag'in her myself," he said rather wanly. "She started in bossin' me the very minute she got my place as marshal. She's laid down the law to me, an', by crickety, she says if I'm goin' to be her deputy I've got to look like this every day. Look at them shoes! And these pants! No, I can't set down. I don't dare risk sp'ilin' the creases my daughter Susie put in 'em 'fore I was up this mornin'."
Lucius Fry lived up back of the Power-house on the outskirts of Tinkletown. He had a wife, two children and a horse and buggy. For a great many years he had led a quiet, peaceful, even suppressed existence. Being a rather smallish, bony sort of man, with a large Adam's apple and bow legs, he was an object of considerable scorn not only to his acquaintances but to his wife and children, and after a fashion, to his horse.
The latter paid absolutely no attention to him when he said "Get-ap," or when he applied the "gad"; she neither obeyed the command nor resented the chastisement. She jogged along in her own sweet way quite as if he were nowhere in the vicinity. His wife abused him, and his children ignored him. No one, it would appear, had the slightest use or respect for Lucius Fry.
He was, by profession, a well-digger. The installation of a water-works system in Tinkletown had made him a well-digger in name only. For a matter of five or six years, barring the last six months, he had been in the employ of his wife. She took in washing, and it was his job to collect and deliver the "wash" three times a week. In return for this he received board and lodging and an occasional visit to the moving-picture theatre. One of his daughters clerked in the five-and-ten-cent store, and the other, aged twelve, was errand girl to Miss Angie Nixon, the fashionable dressmaker.
Lucius had married very much above him, so to speak. That is to say, his wife was something like nine or ten inches the taller of the two. When they appeared on the street together,—which was seldom,—you could see him only if you chanced to be on that side of her. Mrs. Fry was nearly six feet tall and very wide, but Lucius was not much over five feet two. He had a receding chin that tried to secrete itself behind a scant, dun-colored crop of whiskers, cultivated by him with two purposes in view; first, to provide shelter for his shrinking chin, and second, to avoid the arduous and unnecessary task of shaving.
Roughly speaking, Lucius was a shiftless creature. It had long been the consensus of opinion—freely expressed throughout Tinkletown—that he did not amount to a tinker's dam.
However that may be, some six or seven months prior to the incidents about to be related, Mr. Fry himself wrought a tremendous and unbelievable change in the foregoing opinion. Almost in the wink of an eyelash he passed through a process of transmogrification that not only bewildered him but caused the entire community to sit up and take notice of him.
It all came about in the oddest sort of way. For a number of years Lucius had been in the habit of currying the old grey mare on Saturday mornings. Away back in his mind lurked an hereditary respect for the Sabbath. He wanted old Peggy to be as clean as possible on Sunday—observing the same principle, no doubt, that induces a great many people to take a bath on Saturday night. Moreover, he changed the bedding in her stall on Saturdays, employing a pitchfork and a spade.
For a number of years Peggy had put up with these attentions, responding amiably to his directions—such as "Get over, dern ye," or "Whoa, back," "Stan' still, can't ye?" and so on.
One never-to-be-forgotten Saturday morning in the spring of the year, Peggy happened to be peevish. The cause of her peevishness was a swarm of intensely active flies. Mr. Fry was accustomed to an occasional swish of her tail across his face. He even welcomed it, for the flies bothered him almost as much as they did Peggy. On mornings when he felt unusually tired, he was rather grateful to Peggy for including him in the sweep of her tail.
But on this particular morning the exasperated nag planted one of her hoofs on Mr. Fry's toes while he was engaged in brushing out the kinks in her mane.
Mrs. Fry happened to be in the stable at the time, seeing if the hens had mislaid anything in the hay. She was astonished by the roar of a mighty oath, followed almost instantly by a thunderous thump on the barrel-like anatomy of the family horse. A second or two later Peggy's head came in for a resounding whack, and the stream of profanity increased to a torrent.
Springing to her feet, the surprised lady cast a startled glance over the manger into the stall. Her husband had old Peggy backed up against the partition and was preparing to deliver a third blow with the spade when she called out to him: "Stop it, you little fool!"
Mr. Fry's attention was diverted. Peggy was spared the impending blow. Instead, the outraged hostler charged around the partition, through a narrow passage and into the presence of his wife. He hobbled painfully. Inarticulate sounds issued from his compressed lips. He gripped the spade-handle so tightly that cords stood out on his rather formidable forearms.
Mrs. Fry got as far as "You ugly little—" and then, as he bore down upon her, turned to flee. He altered his course, and as she passed him on the way to the open door, the flat of the spade landed with impelling force upon the broadest part of her person. The sound was not so hollow as that which resulted from the wallop on Peggy's ribs, but its echo was a great deal more far-reaching. Indeed, Mrs. Fry's howl could have been heard a quarter of a mile away. She passed through the door into the barnyard on the wing, as it were.
Lucius blindly took another swing at her with the spade as she made her exit. Missing her by several feet, he spun completely around several times with the momentum; then, not to be deprived of the full measure of triumph, he hurled the implement after her retreating figure. Rage improved the accuracy as well as the force of his effort. The spade caught Mrs. Fry below the waistline and for nearly a month thereafter she was in the habit of repairing with female visitors to an upstairs bedroom where she proudly revealed to them the extensive welt produced by her husband's belated return to power.
Not completely satisfied, however, he set out in pursuit of her, principally on one foot, but with a swiftness that surprised both of them. Overtaking her near the barnyard gate, he pulled up suddenly, realizing the peril of being too precipitate. He was rushing into disaster. She was likely to turn and snatch the offensive away from him. But just as he was on the point of turning to run the other way, she flopped down on her knees and began begging him for God's sake to spare her! Her eyes were tightly closed, and her arms were raised to shield her face.
Seizing this fine opportunity, he edged around in front of her, took the most careful, deliberate aim, and forthwith planted his fist solidly upon her unprotected nose.
He had always wanted to do it, but never before had the opportunity presented itself. He couldn't remember when he had caught her with her eyes closed before. She invariably stayed awake longer than he did at night, telling him the same thing she had told him the night before, and in the morning she kicked him out of bed before his eyes were open. Now here was the golden, long-desired chance. It might never occur again. So he swung with all his might and main.
Mrs. Fry involuntarily arose from her knees, balanced on her heels for a second or two and then sat down some distance away with the same heels in the air.
Then and there Lucius Fry ceased to be a person of no consequence.
Two or three neighbours, bent on rescuing Mrs. Fry, got no nearer than the barn-lot fence. Lucius, still hopping around on one foot, gathered up a stick of stove-wood in each hand, and let fly at them with such determination and precision that they decided to let him go ahead and murder her.
When Mrs. Fry's daughters hurried into the house a short time afterward, they found their mother dressing and bandaging Mr. Fry's foot and chokingly inquiring if she was hurting him. Between sentences she applied a wet towel to a prodigious, unrecognizable object that had once been her nose.
Juliet, the elder, planted herself in front of her father and passionately inquired if it was true that he had dared to strike her mother.
Lucius, with rare forethought, had provided himself with a stick of stove-wood before entering the house. He now held it in his right hand. He was not going to take any chances on his wife's treachery. He was ready for the slightest sign of an uprising. Without answering his daughter's question, he took a firm grip on the stick and started to arise from his chair, upsetting the pail of water that his wife had been using. Mrs. Fry screeched.
"Don't hit her! Don't kill her, Lucius! For God's——"
"Shut up!" snarled Lucius. "I'm goin' to belt the life out of her if she comes around here disturbin' the peace. I'm peaceable now, Stella—we've got perfect peace now, ain't we? But if she tries to—Well, you'll see what'll happen, young lady. Go an' get a mop and clean up that water. D'ye hear me? Beat it!"
"For the Lord's sake, Juliet, do what he tells you," begged Mrs. Fry.
"An' do it quick," said Mr. Fry.
Having so suddenly—and unintentionally—gained the upper hand in his household, he was determined if possible to retain it. Temporarily at least he had his wife scared almost to death and so submissive that he couldn't think of half enough indignities to heap upon her, no matter how hard he tried; and his disdainful daughters spoke in hushed voices, and got up every morning to start the kitchen fire, and carried in the wood, and waited on him first at meals, and allowed him to read The Banner before any one else claimed it, and fed the chickens, and behaved as daughters ought to behave. It was too good to be true. But as long as it really appeared to be true, he couldn't afford to relax for an instant; he went about with a perpetual scowl and swore from morning till night.
Every other week he went out to the stable, and after closing the doors, proceeded to belabour an old saddle with a pitchfork handle. The sounds reaching the back porch of the house caused Mrs. Fry to cover her ears and moan: "Poor old Peggy! O-oh! My gracious! He'll—he'll kill her!"
Occasionally he threw a stove-lid or a hatchet or something else at his wife, but his aim was singularly bad, for try as he would, he did not appear to come closer than five or six feet to her with any of the missiles. Once in a while he displayed the most appalling desire to destroy everything in sight. On such occasions he smashed chairs, broke up the crockery or tramped all over the garments that Mrs. Fry had just hung out to dry. By mistake, he once picked up a hot stove-lid, and then he swore in earnest. His dutiful wife wrapped his hand up in soda and called the stove-lid a "nasty old thing!"
In a very short time everybody in Tinkletown was talking about Lucius Fry. Some one, lying with a little more enterprise than the rest, started the report that he had gone to Boggs City, the county seat, and had thrashed a bartender who refused to sell him a drink. This report grew until Lucius was credited with having polished off a whole bar-room full of men without so much as sustaining a scratch himself.
When Lucius appeared on Main Street, men who had never noticed him before went out of their way to be polite and friendly. Women who pitied Mrs. Fry looked at him with interest and called him, under their breath, a "big ugly brute." Children stopped playing and ran when they saw Lucius Fry approaching.
Harry Squires, editor of The Banner, in reporting one of Mr. Fry's most violent eruptions, alluded to him as "vicious Lucius." The name clung to the little man. It was some time before the general public could utter it with confidence. Haste was not conducive to accuracy. Rash assuredness frequently turned Mr. Fry into "Vooshious Lishius" or "Lishius Vooshious" or even "V'looshious Ooshious."
Mrs. Fry, in course of time, grew to be very proud of her master, the despot of Power-house Gully. She revealed her pride every time she fell in with acquaintances on the way to church. In reply to an oft-repeated question as to why Mr. Fry did not go to church with her any longer, she invariably gave the supercilious reply that nowadays when she requested her husband to go to church, he told her to go to hell instead—and that was the kind of a man she respected, she said, not one of your weak-kneed, henpecked cowards who go to church because they are more afraid of their wives than they are of the devil. And while the mountainous Mrs. Fry was no longer able to thrash her five-foot-two husband, she still inspired fear among churchgoers of both sexes and all ages. She frequently asserted that she could lick any man in Tinkletown except her husband—and moreover, if any officer of the law ever attempted to arrest Lucius for what he did to her, she'd beat his head off—that's what she'd do.
The marshal of Tinkletown, Anderson Crow, on three separate occasions organized a posse to go out to Power-house Gully to arrest Lucius on the complaint of neighbours who said they couldn't stand hearing his wife's howls any longer. On each of these occasions, the marshal got as far as the Fry front gate, backed by eight or ten of the huskiest men in town. There they were intercepted by Mrs. Fry, who told them that Lucius was upstairs peaceably reloading his double-barreled shotgun, or oiling up his trusty old horse-pistol, as the case may have been, and she didn't believe he would like to be disturbed.
"Is he ca'am an' quiet, Stella?" Marshal Crow would ask.
"As quiet as a lamb," Mrs. Fry would reply.
"Then I guess we'd better leave him alone," the Marshal would say, adding: "But if he ever goes on the rampage again, just you send for me, Stella, an' I'll come as quick as I can."
And the wife of Vicious Lucius would say: "Don't forget to bring the undertaker with you when you come, Anderson. You won't need a doctor."
At times Lucius would feel his courage slipping. At such times he would go out to the barn and jostle old Peggy around in the stall, hoping against hope, but without the desired result. She simply wouldn't step on his foot.
One bitter cold night just before Christmas, a group of Tinkletown's foremost citizens sat around the big sheet-iron stove in Lamson's store. Outside, the wind was blowing a gale; it howled and shrieked around the corners of the building, banged forgotten window-shutters, slammed suspended signboards with relentless fury, and afforded unlimited food for reflection, reminiscence and prophecy. It was long past Mr. Lamson's customary hour for closing the store, but with rare tact the loungers permitted him to do most of the talking. It was nice and warm in the vicinity of the stove, and there were tubs of dried apples and prunes and a sack of hazel nuts within easy reach.
"I'll never forget the Christmas I spent out in Nebraska," Mr. Lamson was saying. He was probably the most travelled man in town. Every time he told a story, he went a little farther West. (Harry Squires disconcerted him on one occasion by asking in his most ironic manner if he didn't think it would be a good idea to settle in California when he got there, and Mr. Lamson, after thinking it over, stopped his subscription to The Banner.) "Yes sir; that was a terrible winter. I don't know as I ever told you about it, but we had to drive twenty-six miles in sleighs to get a tree on Christmas Eve. I mean a Christmas tree. The thermometer registered twenty-six below zero and—"
He was interrupted by the opening of the door. An icy draft swept down the length of the store.
"Shut that door!" roared out Marshal Crow.
But the door remained open. Whereupon every one craned his neck to see who was responsible. There was no one in sight.
"That's funny," said Newt Spratt. "I shut it tight when I came in awhile ago."
"Well, go and shut it again," ordered Mr. Crow. "Do you want us to freeze our ears right here in sight o' Jim Lamson's stove?"
Newt got up and kicked the door shut, saw that it was latched, and returned to his place near the stove. Marshal Crow, during his absence, had bettered his position. He had exchanged a seat on a box of soap for the cane-bottom chair Newt had been occupying.
"As I was sayin'," resumed Mr. Lamson, "the thermometer registered—"
Again the door flew open, banging against a barrel of sugar. With one accord the assembled group arose and peered at the open door.