"Dinner's waitin'," said Scattergood.
"Did he offer to buy your road?"
"If he did," said Scattergood, "it didn't come to nothin'."
It will be observed that Scattergood had obtained important information, though affording none, and in addition had surrounded himself with a haze through which President Castle was unable to see clearly. Castle knew less after the interview than he had known when he came; Scattergood had discovered all he hoped to discover.
Johnnie Bones came home next noon and reported to Scattergood that he had been partially successful.
"I couldn't get all of that flat," he said. "Somebody's been buying on the quiet. Three strips from the river to the hill were not to be had, but I bought four strips, two at the ends and two between the pieces I couldn't get."
"Better call it a side of bacon, Johnnie. Strip of fat and strip of lean. Dunno but it's better as it lays. Hear anythin' about the Goodhue tract?"
"Somebody's been cruising it for a month back—without a brass band."
"Um!... Send a wire, Johnnie. Lumberman's Trust Company, Boston. Set price Goodhue tract...."
Johnnie telephoned the wire. Two hours later the answer came, "Goodhue tract no longer in our hands."
"Did you ever wonder, Johnnie, why I never got int'rested into that Goodhue timber?"
Johnnie shook his head.
"Because," said Scattergood, "you got to log it by rail. Forty thousand acres of it, and no stream runnin' through it big enough to drive logs down.... But I got an idee, Johnnie, that loggin' by rail can be done economical. Know who bought that timber?"
"McKettrick of the Seaboard Box and Paper Company, biggest concern of the kind in America. Calc'late they'll be makin' pulp here to ship to their paper mills. Calculate I'll give 'em a commodity rate of around seven cents to the G. and B. Johnnie, our orchard's goin' to begin givin' a crop. That'll give us sixteen dollars and eighty cents for haulin' a minimum car of twenty-four thousand. And this hain't goin' to be any one-car mill, neither. Five cars a day'll be increasin' our revenue twenty-four thousand three hunderd dollars a year—on outgoin' freight. Then there's incomin' freight to figger. All we got to do is set still and take that. Beauty of controllin' the transportation of a region. But it seems like we ought to git more out of it than that—if we stir around some. Especial when you come to consider that McKettrick and Castle is flyin' at each other's throats. It's a situation, Johnnie, that man owes a duty to himself to take advantage of."
Scattergood went back to his hardware store and seated himself on the piazza. Presently a team drove up from down the valley and a tall, gaunt individual, with hair of the color of a dead leaf, alighted.
"I was told I could find a man named Scattergood Baines here," he said.
"You kin," Scattergood replied.
"Where is he?"
"Sich as he is," said Scattergood, "you see him."
The man looked from Scattergood's shoeless feet and white woolen socks to Scattergood's shabby, baggy trousers, and then on upward, by slow and disapproving degrees, to Scattergood's guileless face, and there the scrutiny stopped.
"Some mistake," he said; "I want the owner of the Coldriver Valley Railroad."
"It may be a mistake," said Scattergood. "Calculate it is a mistake to own a railroad. But 'tain't the only mistake I ever made."
"You own the road?"
Evidently the stranger was not impressed by Scattergood in a manner to arouse him to a notable exertion of courtesy. He allowed it to appear in his manner that he set a light value on Scattergood; in fact, that it was not exactly pleasant to him to be compelled to do business with such a human being. Scattergood's eyes twinkled and he wriggled his toes.
"Well, Baines," said the stranger, "I want to talk business to you."
"Step into my private office," said Scattergood, motioning to a chair at his side, "and rest your legs."
"I'm thinking of establishing a plant below," said the stranger. "A very considerable plant. In studying the situation it seems as if your railroad might be run as an adjunct to my business. I suppose it can be bought."
"Supposing" said Scattergood, "is free as air."
"I'll take it off your hands at a fair figure."
"'Tain't layin' heavy on my hands," said Scattergood.
"How much did it cost you?"
"A heap less 'n I'll sell for.... You hain't mentioned your name."
"I'd sell to a man of that name."
"One million dollars," said Scattergood.
"You're—you're crazy," said McKettrick. It was an exclamation of disgust, a statement of belief, and a cry of pain. "I might go a quarter of a million."
"This here's a one-price store—marked plain on the goods. Customers is requested not to haggle."
"You're not serious?"
"One million dollars."
"I'll build a road down my side of the river."
"Maybe. Can be done. Twelve mile of tunnel and the rest trestle. Wouldn't cost more 'n fifteen, twenty million—if you're figgerin' on the west side of the stream.... How you figgerin' on gettin' your pulp wood down to Tupper Falls?"
"What?... What's that?"
"Goin' to log, yourself, or job it?"
"Look here, Baines, what do you know?"
"About what's needful. I try to keep posted."
"Tell me what you know. I insist."
Scattergood opened his eyes and peered over his dumpling cheeks at McKettrick, but said nothing.
"And how you found it out."
"I've been figgerin' over your case," said Scattergood. "I'll give you a sidetrack into your yards pervidin' you pay the cost of bridgin' and layin' the track, me to furnish ties and rails. Also, I'll give you a commodity rate of seven cents to the G. and B. As to sellin', I don't calc'late you want to buy at a million. But that hain't no sign you and me can't do business. You got to log by rail. You got to cut consid'able number of cords of pulpwood. I'll build your loggin' road, and I'll contract to cut your pulp and deliver it.... Want to go into it with me?"
McKettrick peered at Scattergood with awakened interest. His scrutiny told him nothing.
"What backing have you?"
McKettrick almost sneered.
"Been lookin' me up?" asked Scattergood.
"Let's step to the bank."
McKettrick followed Scattergood's bulky figure-wondering.
In the bank Scattergood presented the treasurer. "Mr. Noble, meet Mr. McKettrick. He wants you should tell him somethin' about me. For instance, Noble, about how fur you calculate my credit could be stretched."
"Mr. Baines would have no difficulty borrowing from five hundred thousand to three quarters of a million," said Noble.
"How's his reppitation for keepin' his word?" said Scattergood.
"The whole state knows your word is kept to the letter."
"What you calculate I'm wuth—visible prop'ty?"
"I'd say a million and a half to two millions."
"Backin' enough to suit you, Mr. McKettrick?" asked Scattergood.
McKettrick wore a dazed look. Scattergood did not look like two millions; he did not look like ten thousand. His bearing became more respectful.
"I'll listen to any proposition you wish to make," he said.
"Come over to Johnnie Bones's," said Scattergood.
In a moment they were sitting in Johnnie's office, and McKettrick and Johnnie were acquainted.
"Here's my proposition," said Scattergood. "I'll build and equip a loggin' road accordin' to your surveys. You furnish right of way and enough money to give you forty-nine per cent of the stock in the company we'll form. I kin build cheaper 'n you, and I know the country and kin git the labor. You pay the new railroad a set price for haulin' pulpwood—say dollar 'n a quarter to two dollars a cord, as we figger it later.... Then I'll take the job of loggin' for you and layin' down the pulpwood at sidings. It'll save you labor and expense and trouble. I've showed I was responsible. The new railroad company'll put up bonds, and so'll the loggin' company—if you say so."
This was the beginning of some weeks of negotiations, during which Scattergood became convinced that McKettrick was wishful of using him so long as he proved useful; then, when the day arrived for a showing of profit on the profit sheet, the same McKettrick was planning to see that no profit would be there and that Scattergood Baines should be eliminated from consideration—to McKettrick's profit in the sum of whatever amount Scattergood invested in the construction of the railroad. It was a situation that exactly suited Scattergood's love of business excitement.
"If McKettrick had come up here wearin' better manners," said Scattergood to Johnnie, "and if he hadn't got himself all rigged out as little Red Ridin' Hood's grandmother—figgerin' I'd qualify for little Red Ridin' Hood without the eyesight for big ears and big teeth that little girl had—why, I might 'a' give him a reg'lar business deal. But seem's he's as he is, I calc'late I'm privileged to git what I kin git."
Therefore Scattergood made it a clause in the contract that all the stock in the new railroad and construction company should remain in his own name until the road was completed and ready to operate. Then 49 per cent should be transferred to McKettrick. This McKettrick regarded as a harmless eccentricity of the lamb he was about to fleece.
The new company was organized with Johnnie Bones as president, Scattergood as treasurer, an employee of McKettrick's as secretary, and Mandy Baines and another employee of McKettrick's as the remaining two directors.
While the negotiations regarding the railroad were being carried on, another matter arose to irritate Mr. McKettrick, and, in some measure, to take the keen edge off his attention. Scattergood usually endeavored to have some matter arise to irritate and distract when he was engaged on a major operation, and it was for this reason he had bought the four strips of land at Tupper Falls.
McKettrick awoke suddenly to find that his men had not secured the site for his mills, and that, apparently, it could not be secured. He discussed the thing with Scattergood.
"Prob'ly some old scissor bills that got a notion of hangin' on to their land," Scattergood said.
"It can't be that, for the sales to the present owners were recent. The new owners refuse absolutely to sell."
"And pulp mills hain't got no right of eminent domain like railroads."
"All substantial businesses ought to have it," said McKettrick. "You know these folks. I wish you'd see what you can do."
"Glad to," Scattergood promised, and two days later he reported that all four landowners might be brought to terms. Three would sell, surely; one was holding back strangely, but the three had put the matter into the hands of a local real-estate and insurance broker, by name Wangen. "We'll go see him," said Scattergood.
Which they did. "My clients," said Wangen, importantly, "realize the value of their property. That, I may say, is why they bought."
"It cost the three of 'em less 'n three thousand dollars for the three passels," said Scattergood.
"Prices have gone up," said Wangen.
"Give them two hundred dollars profit apiece," said McKettrick.
"Consid'able difference between givin' it and their takin' it," said Scattergood. "I agree with that," said Wangen.
"Now, Wangen, you and me has done consid'able business," said Scattergood, "and you hain't goin' to hold up a friend of mine."
"If it was a personal thing, Mr. Baines; but I've got to do my best for my clients."
"What's your proposition?"
"Five thousand dollars apiece for the three strips."
"It's an outrage," roared McKettrick. "I'll never be robbed like that."
"Take it," said Wangen, "or leave it."
"You've got to have it," Scattergood whispered.
McKettrick spluttered and stormed and pleaded, but Wangen was firm and gave but one answer. There could be but one result: McKettrick wrote a check for fifteen thousand dollars—and still had one strip to buy—a strip not at an edge of his mill site, but bisecting it.
This strip caused the worry when Scattergood needed attention distracted the most. But Scattergood managed finally to secure it for McKettrick for seventy-five hundred dollars. Thus it will be seen how Scattergood resorted to the law of necessity, and how McKettrick suffered from failure to build securely his commercial structure from its foundation. Twenty-two thousand two hundred and fifty dollars were paid by McKettrick for land that had cost Scattergood exactly three thousand six hundred dollars. Scattergood believed in always paying for services rendered, so Wangen and each of the four ostensible landowners were given a hundred dollars. Net profit to Scattergood, eighteen thousand one hundred and fifty dollars.
"Which it wouldn't 'a' cost him if he hadn't looked sneerin' at my stockin' feet," said Scattergood to Johnnie Bones.
Johnnie Bones prepared the papers for the incorporation of the new railroad, and the organization was perfected. There were two thousand shares of one hundred dollars each. McKettrick put in his right of way at five thousand, an excessive figure, as Scattergood knew well, and gave his check for the balance of his 49 per cent. Scattergood deposited a check for his 51 per cent, or one hundred and two thousand dollars. Work was begun grading the right of way immediately.
McKettrick vanished from the region and did not appear again except for flying visits to his rising plant at Tupper Falls. He never inspected so much as a foot of the new railroad back into the Goodhue tract—and this, Scattergood very correctly took to be suspicious. The work was left utterly in Scattergood's hands, with no check upon him and no inspection. It was not like a man of McKettrick's character—unless there were an object.
Once or twice Scattergood encountered President Castle of the G. & B. while the road was building.
"Hear you're putting in a logging road for McKettrick," he said.
"For me," said Scattergood. "Stock stands in my name. Calculate to operate it myself."
"Oh!" said Castle, and drummed with his fingers on the window ledge. Scattergood said nothing.
"Own the right of way?" asked Castle.
"'Tain't precisely a right of way," said Scattergood. "It's a easement, or property right, or whatever the lawyers would call it, to run tracks over any part of McKettrick's property and operate a loggin' railroad—where McKettrick says he wants to get logs from."
"No definite right of way?"
"Jest what I described."
"Capitalized for two hundred thousand, I see."
"Any stock for sale?"
"Not at the present writin'."
"At a price?"
"Say a profit of twenty dollars a share."
"It'll pay dividends on more 'n that figger," said Scattergood, "which," he added, "you know dum well."
"Yes," said Castle, "but for a quick turnover—and I'm not figuring dividends altogether."
"Kind of got a bone to pick with McKettrick, eh?"
"Tell you what I'll do," said Scattergood. "I'll sell you forty-nine per cent of the stock at a hunderd and twenty. Stock to stand in my name till the road's ready to operate, I don't want it known I've been sellin' any.... Shouldn't be s'prised if you was able to pick up control one way and another—but I hain't goin' to sell it to you."
"I see," said Castle, closing his eyes and squinting through a slit between the lids. "It's a deal, Mr. Baines," he said, presently.
"Cash," said Scattergood.
"You'll find a certified check in the mail the day after I get the proper papers."
Which transaction gave Scattergood another profit on the whole affair of nineteen thousand six hundred dollars—this time a capitalization of the spite of man toward man. It will be seen that McKettrick owned 49 per cent of the stock, Castle, 49 per cent, and Scattergood, 2 per cent. He was now in a position to await developments.
They arrived as the railway was on the point of running its first train. McKettrick brought them in person. He burst upon Scattergood as Scattergood sat in front of his hardware store, and began to storm.
"What's this? What's this?" he roared. "What's that railroad doing up the easterly side of our timber? It's waste money, lost money. It'll have to be rebuilt. We've made all arrangements to cut off the westerly side. Now we'll have to swamp roads and log by team till the road can be moved."
"Um!..." said Scattergood, "so that's it, eh? I was wonderin' how it would come."
"It was an inexcusable blunder, and it'll cost you money. You know how the railroad's contract with the company reads. Who gave you directions to run up the easterly side?"
"My engineer got 'em in your office."
"Oh, your engineer. He made the mistake, eh? Then the mistake's yours, all right, for every scrap of writing in our office has the word 'westerly' in it, plain and distinct. It means tearing up those rails, grading a new line—and you'll pay for it. I sha'n't stand loss for your mistake. It'll cost you a hundred thousand dollars for that blunder."
"Hain't you discoverin' it a mite late?"
"It was left wholly to you."
"Seems like I noticed it," said Scattergood. "So all that work's lost, eh? Seems a pity, too."
"You don't seem to take it seriously."
"You bet I do, and I calculate to look into it some."
"It won't do any good. The mistake is plain."
"Shouldn't be s'prised. I git your idee, McKettrick. You've been figgerin' from the start on smougin' me out of what I invested in that road, eh?... By the way, your stock's in your name. I'll git the certificates out of the safe."
McKettrick shoved the envelope in his pocket. "The Seaboard Box and Paper Company will force you to remove your tracks from our land. I'll sue you for damages for your blunder. The Seaboard will sue the new railroad for damages for failure to have the tracks into the cuttings on time. I guess when we begin collecting judgments by levying on the new road, there won't be much of it left. The Seaboard will come pretty close to owning it."
"And you and I will be frozen out, eh?" said Scattergood.
McKettrick purred and smiled. "Exactly," he said. "Now, my advice to you is not to fight the thing. You can't deny the blunder and you'll save cost of litigation."
"What's your proposition?"
"Transfer your stock to the Seaboard."
"And lose a hunderd and two thousand?"
"It's not our fault if you make expensive mistakes."
"Course not," said Scattergood. "I admit I hain't much on litigation. S'posin' you and me meets in Boston to-morrow with our lawyers, and sort of figger this thing out."
"There's nothing to figure out—but I'll meet you to-morrow. You're sensible to settle."
"Calc'late I be," said Scattergood.
That afternoon Johnnie Bones carried President Castle's 49 per cent of the railroad's stock to the G. & B. offices, and gave them into the hands of the railroad's chief executive.
"Mr. Baines will be here to-morrow. There will be a meeting at his hotel at three o'clock. McKettrick will be there."
"I'll come," said President Castle.
The meeting was held in the shabby hotel which Scattergood patronized. McKettrick was there with his attorney, Scattergood was there with Johnnie Bones—and last came President Castle.
At his entrance McKettrick scowled and leaped to his feet.
"What do you want here?" he demanded.
"Well," said Mr. Castle, with a smile which descended into great depths of disagreeability, "I own forty-nine per cent of the stock in this concern. I imagine I have a right to be here."
"What's that? What's that?" McKettrick glared at Scattergood, who sat placidly removing his shoes.
"Calc'late I'll relieve my feet," he said.
"So I got you, too," McKettrick said to Castle. "I didn't figure on that luck."
"Got me? I'm interested."
McKettrick explained at length, and, as he explained, Castle glared at him, and then at Scattergood, with increasing rage. As he saw it there was a plot between Scattergood and McKettrick to get him—and he appeared to have been gotten. He started to speak, but Scattergood stopped him.
"Jest a minute, Mr. Castle," he said. "'Tain't time for you to cuss yet. Maybe you won't git to do no reg'lar cussin' a-tall. You see, McKettrick he up and made a little error himself. Regardin' me makin' an error. Yass.... I don't calc'late to make errors costin' upward of a hunderd thousand. No.... Not," he said, "that I got any doubts about the word 'westerly' appearin' in all the papers McKettrick's got regardin' this enterprise. What I doubt some is whether the word 'westerly' was there right from the start off of the beginnin'. In other words, it looks to me kind of as if McKettrick had done a mite of fixin' up to them documents. Rubbin' out and writin' in, so to speak."
"Fiddlesticks!" said McKettrick. "Of course that is what you would charge."
"McKettrick," said Scattergood, "did you figger I'd take notes in lead pencil on my cuff of where I was to build that railroad? Did you figger I was goin' to lay down a railroad without knowin' the place I put it was where it b'longed? Castle he knows me better 'n you, and he wouldn't guess I'd do sich a thing. No, sir, Mr. McKettrick. I took them original papers out of your office for jest a day, and bein' as they constituted an easement on land, I got 'em recorded in the office of the recorder of deeds. Paid reg'lar money in fees to have it done. And who you think I got to compare the records with the original in case somethin' come up, eh? Why, the circuit jedge of this county and the prosecutin' attorney—they both bein' personal and political friends of mine.... That's what I done, and if you'll search them records you'll find the word 'easterly' standin' cool and ca'm in every place where it ought to be.... So, if you're figgerin' on litigation, I guess maybe we'll litigate, eh?"
"These are the references to the records," said Johnnie Bones, laying a memorandum on the table. "You'll find them correct."
"Knowing Baines as I do," said President Castle, "I'm satisfied."
McKettrick and his attorney were conversing in hoarse whispers. McKettrick looked like a man who had come out of a warm bath into a cold-storage room. He was speechless, but his lawyer spoke for him.
"You win," he said, succinctly.
"Always calc'late to when I kin," said Scattergood. "Now, don't hurry, gentlemen. I got another leetle matter to call to your attention. McKettrick there's got forty-nine per cent of the stock in the railroad that's built where it ought to be, and Castle's got another forty-nine per cent. That leaves two men with all but two per cent of the stock, and neither of them in control. If I know them men they hain't apt to git together and agree peaceable and reasonable. Therefore, the feller that has the remainin' two per cent of the stock, or forty shares, stands perty clost to controllin' the corporation, eh? Him votin' with either of the forty-nine per cents? Sounds that way, don't it?... And I got that two per cent.... Do I hear any suggestions?"
Castle stood up and bowed. "I take off my hat to you, Baines.... I bid ten thousand."
"Eleven," choked McKettrick.
"This here road's goin' to be mighty profitable. Contract with the Seaboard folks makes it look like it would pay eighteen, twenty per cent on the investment, maybe more. And control—hain't that wuth a figger?"
"Fifteen," said Castle.
"Seventeen five hundred."
"That's enough," said Scattergood. "I got a leetle grudge ag'in' McKettrick for havin' bad manners, and for regardin' me as somethin' to pick and eat. It'll hurt him some to have you control this road, Castle, so you git it, at seventeen thousand five hunderd. I don't want to burn you, and I calc'late the figger you're payin' is clost to bein' fair. I'm satisfied. Write a check."
Castle drew out his check book, and in a moment passed the valuable slip across to Scattergood. "Thankee," said Baines, "and good day.... Another time, McKettrick, don't look sneerin' at white woolen socks."
He walked out of the room, followed by Johnnie Bones.
"Perty fair deal for a scissor bill," said Scattergood. "This last check, deductin' four thousand as cost of stock, gives me a profit of twelve thousand two hunderd and fifty for the day. Add that to eighteen thousand one hunderd and fifty on the strips of land, and nineteen thousand six hunderd on the stock I sold Castle first, and what do we git?"
"Even fifty thousand," said Johnnie.
"I always did cotton to round figgers," said Scattergood, comfortably. "Let's git us a meal of vittles."
INSURANCE THAT DID NOT LAPSE
Scattergood Baines was not a man to shingle his roof before he built his foundations. He knew the value of shingles, and was not without some appreciation for frescoes and porticoes and didos, but he liked to reach them in the ordinary course of logical procedure. His completed structure, according to the plans carefully printed on his brain, was the domination of Coldriver Valley through ownership of its means of transportation and of its water power. He wanted to be rich, not for the sake of being rich, but because a great deal of money is, aside from love or hate, the most powerful lever in the world. For five years, now, Scattergood had moved along slowly and irresistibly, buying a bit of timber here, acquiring a dam site there, taking over the stage line to the railroad twenty-four miles away, and establishing a credit and a reputation for shrewdness that were worth much more to him than dollars and cents in the bank.
As a matter of fact, Scattergood had amassed considerable more money than even the gimlet eyes and whispering tongues of Coldriver had been able to credit him with. It is doubtful if anybody realized just how strong a foot-hold Scattergood was getting in that valley, but the men who came closest to it were Messrs. Crane and Keith, lumbermen, who were beginning to experience a feeling of growing irritation toward the fat hardware merchant. They were irritated because, every now and then, they found themselves shut off from the water, or from a bit of timber, or from some other desirable property, by some small holding of Scattergood's which seemed to have dropped into just the right spot to create the maximum amount of trouble for them. It could be nothing but chance, they told each other, for they had sat in judgment on Scattergood, and their judgment had been that he was a lazy lout with more than a fair share of luck.
"It's nothing but luck," Crane told his partner. "The man hasn't a brain in his head—just a big lump of fat."
"But he's always getting in the way—and he does seem to know a water-power site when he sees it."
"Anybody does," said Crane. "He's a doggone nuisance and we might as well settle with him one time as another—and the time to settle is before his luck gives him a genuine strangle hold on this valley. We've got too much timber on these hills to take any risks."
"I leave it with you, Crane. You're the outside man. But when you bust him, bust him good."
Crane retired to his office and devoted his head to the subject exclusively, and because Crane's head was that sort of head he devised an enterprise which, if Scattergood could be made to involve himself in it, would result in the extinction of that gentleman in the Coldriver Valley.
It was a week later that a gentleman, whose clothes and bearing guaranteed him to be a genuine denizen of the city, stopped at Scattergood's store. Scattergood was sitting, as usual, on the piazza, in his especially reinforced chair, laying in wait for somebody to whom he could sell a bit of hardware, no matter how small.
"Good morning," said the gentleman. "Is this Mr. Scattergood Baines?"
"It's Scattergood Baines, all right. Don't call to mind bein' christened Mister."
"My name is Blossom."
"Perty name," said Scattergood, unsmilingly.
"I wonder if I can have a little talk with you, Mr. Baines?"
"Havin' it, hain't you?"
Mr. Blossom smiled appreciatively, and sat down beside Scattergood. "I'm interested in the new Higgins's Bridge Pulp Company. You've heard of it, haven't you?"
"Some," said Scattergood. "Some."
"We are starting to build our mill. It will be the largest in America, with the most modern machinery. Now we're looking about for somebody to supply us spruce cut to the proper length for pulpwood. You own considerable spruce, do you not?"
"Calc'late to have title to a tree or two."
"Good. I came up to find out if you are in a position to swing a rather big contract—to deliver us at the mill a minimum of twenty-five thousand cords of pulpwood?"
"Depends," said Scattergood.
Mr. Blossom drew a jackknife from his pocket and began leisurely to sharpen a pencil. It was a rather battered jackknife, and Scattergood noticed that one blade had been broken off. He stretched out his hand. "Jackknife's kind of lame, hain't it? Don't 'pear to be as stylish as the rest of you?"
"It is a bit dilapidated."
"Got some good ones inside. Fine line of jackknives. Only carry the best. Show 'em to you."
He lifted himself out of the groaning chair and went into the store, to return with a dozen or more knives, which he showed to Mr. Blossom, and Mr. Blossom looked at them gravely. He was smiling to himself. A man who could interrupt a deal involving upward of a hundred thousand dollars to try to sell a jackknife certainly was not of a caliber to give serious worry to an astute business man.
"Recommend the pearl-handled one," said Scattergood. "Two dollars 'n' a half."
"I'll take it," said Mr. Blossom, and he stuck his old knife in a post, replacing it in his pocket with the new purchase.
"Cash," said Scattergood, and Mr. Blossom handed over the currency.
"Speakin' of pulpwood," said Scattergood, "how much you figger on payin'?"
Mr. Blossom named a price, delivered at the mill.
"When want it delivered, eh? What date?"
"Before May first."
"Water power or steam?" said Scattergood, somewhat irrelevantly.
"Both. We're putting in steam engines and boilers, but we're going to depend mostly on water power."
"Goin' to build a dam, eh? Big dam?"
"Um!... Stock company?"
"Yes. We'll be solid. Capitalized for a quarter of a million and bonded for a quarter of a million. Gives us half a million capital to start business."
"Stock all sold?"
"Mostly in small blocks in Boston."
"Um!... Bonds sold?"
"Who bought 'em?"
"They're underwritten by the Commonwealth Security Trust Company."
"Want to know!... Got authority? Vested with authority to put it in writin'?"
"The contract, you mean?"
"Calculate to mean that."
"Lawyer acrost the street," said Scattergood.
"You can swing it?"
"You have the capital to make good?"
"Know I have, don't you? Wouldn't have come to me if you hadn't?"
"You'll have to borrow heavily."
"My lookout, hain't it? Don't need to worry you?"
"Not in the least."
"Lawyer's still acrost the street."
So Scattergood and Mr. Blossom went across the street and up the narrow stairs to Lawyer Norton's office, where a contract was drafted and signed, obligating Scattergood to deliver to the Higgins's Bridge Pulp Company twenty-five thousand cords of pulp, on or before May 1st, payment to be made on delivery. Mr. Blossom went away wearing a satisfied expression, and in the course of the day sent to Crane & Keith a brief message, a message of two words. "He bit," was the telegram.
Scattergood went back to his chair, and presently might have been seen to unlace his shoes absent-mindedly. For an hour he sat there, twiddling his bare toes. Then he got up, jerked Mr. Blossom's old jackknife from the post where it had been abandoned, and pocketed it.
"If nothin' else happens," he said to himself, "I'm figgered to make a profit of sixty cents and a tradin' knife."
There followed a very busy fall and winter for Scattergood. Not that he neglected his hardware store, but from its porch, and later from a post beside its big stove, he recruited men for his camps and directed the labor of cutting and piling pulpwood along the banks of Coldriver. Also, from time to time, he visited various banks to borrow the money necessary to carry on the operation, sometimes on notes and collateral, sometimes on timber mortgages. The sum of his borrowing mounted and mounted, until, before the arrival of spring, his credit had been strained to the uttermost.
Nor had the pulp company been idle. Its new mills had arisen beside the river at Higgins's Bridge, machinery had been installed, and the little hamlet was beginning to speculate in town lots and to look forward to unexampled prosperity.
But before the ice was out of the river disquieting rumors began to breathe out of Higgins's Bridge. They were the meerest vapor of conjecture at first, apparently based upon no evidence whatever, but friends delighted to convey them to Scattergood, as friends always delight to perform such a disagreeable duty.
"Hear things hain't goin' right down to the new pulp mill," said Deacon Pettybone, one bitterly cold afternoon, when he came into Scattergood's store to thaw the icicles out of his sparse beard.
"Do tell," said Scattergood.
"Be perty bad for you if they was to go wrong, wouldn't it?"
"Perty bad, Deacon."
"'Most ruin you, wouldn't it? Clean you out? Leave you with nothin'?"
"Hain't mortgaged my health. Hain't mortgaged my brains. Have them left, Deacon. Don't figger I'm clean bankrupt till them two is gone."
But it was to be noticed that Scattergood toasted his bare toes a great deal during the ensuing days. He scarcely put on his shoes except when he was going out to wallow through the drifts; and, as Coldriver knew, when Scattergood waggled his bare toes he was struggling with a problem.
Also it might have been noticed that he pored much over the detailed maps in the county atlas, studying the flow of streams and the lie of timber. It might have been seen that several large blocks of timber had been marked by Scattergood with red crosses, and that certain other limits had been blotted out in black. The black pieces were neither numerous nor individually extensive, but they belonged to Scattergood. Those marked with red crosses were the property of Messrs. Crane & Keith.
Now, it may be taken as axiomatic that in those early days the value of a piece of timber depended upon its accessibility to flowing water down which logs might be driven. A medium piece of timber on the banks of a stream which came to plentiful flood in the spring was worth more in hard dollars and cents than a much larger and finer piece back in the hills. A piece of timber which had no access whatever to water approximated worthlessness. On the atlas, the largest pieces of Crane & Keith timber were back from the river—not too far back, but still separated from it by narrow strips which, for the most part, were farms. Some few pieces ran down to the river, but it was apparent that Crane & Keith were looking to the future—buying timber when it was at its lowest, and preparing to hold for a better day. They had bought strategically. More than one tributary valley was in their hands, and, when the day ripened, small land purchases would connect their holdings, bring them to water, and place them in such a commanding position that the valley would be as surely theirs as if they owned every foot of it. Inasmuch as Scattergood planned, himself, to control Coldriver Valley, the prospect was not pleasing to him.
Scattergood closed the atlas and put on his shoes. "Um!..." he said. "Calculate that'll keep their minds off'n other things a spell. If they see me dickerin' there, they won't figger I'm dickerin' some place else."
If Scattergood had been a general, history would have recorded that he won his battles by making feints at some vulnerable point in the enemy's line, and then struck his major blow at a distance where he was not suspected to be operating at all.
It chanced that Crane & Keith were cutting timber from the Bottle—a valley so named. Their rollways were piled high, and it was time for them to team to the river. To reach the river they must pass through the Bottleneck and over the farm belonging to Old Man Plumm. There was another road into the valley—a public road—but it was a fifteen-mile haul. Old Man Plumm was a non-assertive person, and good-natured. His farm was a ramshackle, down-at-heels, worthless place, off which he gleaned the meagerest of livelihoods, so that he had not been averse to permitting Crane & Keith to traverse his land for a nominal consideration. It was cheaper for Crane & Keith than purchase—and so the matter stood.
Scattergood went across the road to Lawyer Norton's office.
"Goin' up Bottleneck way perty soon?" he asked.
"Not that I know of, Scattergood."
"Nice drive. Old Man Plumm's got a farm there."
"I know that, of course."
"Don't figger to visit him?"
"Why—" said Norton, beginning to see that Scattergood had something in view—"I could."
"Wouldn't try to buy the farm, would you?"
Norton hesitated. "I—I might."
"Why, I suppose so."
"In your own name, eh? Not in anybody else's."
"How much should I pay?"
"Folks always pays what they have to—no more—no less. Immediate possession. Always a good thing. Got any money?"
"Call at the bank. They'll give you what's needed. Ought to be back with the deed by night. Fast hoss?"
That night Norton returned with the deed and with Old Man Plumm, who took the morning stage for Connecticut and his youngest daughter.
"Hear folks is trespassin' on your land, Norton. Name of Crane and Keith. Haulin' logs acrost. No contract with you? No contract with Plumm?"
"Hain't got a right to do it, have they?"
"If I owned that land I'd give 'em notice," said Scattergood. "G'-by, Norton. Goin'to Boston to-day. Set tight, Norton. G'-by."
Twenty-four hours later both Crane and Keith were in Coldriver, storming up to Lawyer Norton's office. Scattergood was in Boston and not visible.
"What does this mean?" blustered Crane, displaying to Norton the notice mailed at Scattergood's direction.
"What it says."
"You can't stop us hauling to the river."
Norton shrugged his shoulders. "You can use the state road."
"Fifteen miles! You know it's impossible. We've got millions of feet on our rollways. It'll doze and spoil if we don't get it out."
"That's your lookout."
"What do you want?"
"It's some kind of a hold-up. What'll you take for that farm?"
"Not for sale."
"What will it cost us to haul across you?"
"You can't haul across. Not for money, marbles, or chalk. Use the road."
That was the best Crane & Keith could get out of Norton, though they besieged him for a week, though they consulted lawyers, though they made threats, and though they begged and promised. Norton was a stubborn man.
During this week Scattergood had been in Boston. His first visit had been to Linderman, president of the Atlantic Pulp and Paper Company.
"Have you an appointment with Mr. Linderman?" asked a clerk.
"Never heard of me."
"Then I'm afraid you can't see him. He's very busy."
"That his office? That door?"
"He in? Right in there?"
Scattergood walked calmly toward it. The slender clerk interposed. Scattergood picked him up, tucked him under a huge arm, and waddled through the great man's door.
"Howdy, Mr. Linderman? Howdy?"
Linderman looked up and frowned, then his eyes twinkled.
"Who are you? What have you there?"
"Young feller I found outside. 'Fraid of steppin' on him, so I picked him up to save him. You can run along now, sonny," he said to the clerk. "He let on I couldn't see you," Scattergood explained.
"What's your name?"
"Of Coldriver?" Scattergood was surprised, but did not show it. "Yes."
"Thankee.... Come to do a mite of business with you. Interested in pulp, hain't you. Quite consid'able interested?"
"Know the Higgins's Bridge Pulp Company?"
"Of course. Understand they're in difficulties."
"In some, and goin' to be in more. That's why I come down."
Thereupon Scattergood explained in detail his contract with the pulp company, and his theories of what that company was planning to do to him. "Double barreled," he said. "Crane and Keith owns them bonds. Figger on freezin' out the stockholders and buyin' 'em out for a song. Figger on bustin' me. Next we hear the mill'll be in receiver's hands. No money. Can't pay no contracts. My notes'll come due, and I'm done for. Simple. Crane thought it up."
"What do you want of me? So far as I can see, you are up against it. You can't borrow any more, and your notes won't be extended. You're done."
"Hain't started yet—not yet. Figger to start to-day. That's why I come to see you."
"But I can do nothing for you."
"Higgins's Bridge mill's good, hain't it? Logical payin' proposition? Money to be made?"
"Like to own it cheap?"
"Crane and Keith is gittin' ready for a killin'. Own big block of stock. Paid par. Want to sell, I hear ... if anybody's fool enough to buy. Then want to buy back for dum' near nothin' when receivership comes. Good scheme. Money in it. Crane thought it up."
"What's your idea?"
"Buy all they got. Option the rest. Easy.... What happens when a man sells somethin' he hain't got?"
"He has to get it some place."
"If he can't get it, what?"
"Makes it expensive for him."
"Thought so. Figgered that way.... Nobody to interfere. Crane and Keith left orders to sell. They won't be takin' notice. Got 'em worried some place else. Mighty worried." Scattergood recounted the story of Plumm's farm.
Mr. Linderman scrutinized Scattergood intently and nodded his head. "And you want me—"
"Put up the money. Git the stock. Lemme handle it. Gimme twenty per cent."
"Baines," said Linderman, "I'll go you. Crane and Keith are due for a lesson."
"G'-by, Mr. Linderman. Have money when I want it. G'-by."
Scattergood had a list of stockholders in the pulp company and knew they were worried. He spent two days in interviewing a dozen of them, and found little difficulty optioning their stock at a pleasant figure. They imagined he must be crazy, and he did nothing to destroy the belief.
Then he called at the offices of Crane & Keith.
"Want to see the boss man," he said.
"Hear you got stock for sale. Pulp company. Figger to buy."
Here was a lamb ready for the slaughter. Mr. McCann, who received him, could see the delight of his employers, and his own profit, if he should succeed in taking this fat backwoodsman into camp.
"You want to buy stock in the pulp company, I understand?"
"How much you got?"
"Guess we can sell you all you want."
"Money-makin' proposition, hain't it?"
"But you're willin' to sell? Kind of funny, hain't it?"
"Oh no. We have so many enterprises."
"Glad you want to sell. I figger to make money on this stock. Want to buy a lot of it."
"About how many shares?"
"What you askin'?" said Scattergood.
"Shucks! Give you thirty."
There was haggling and bickering until a price of sixty was agreed upon, and Mr. McCann's heart expanded with satisfaction.
"Now, how many shares?"
"Want control. Want fifty-one per cent, anyhow. Got 'em?"
"Of course." This was not the fact, but Mr. McCann was not addicted to unnecessary facts. He knew where he could get the rest for less than 60. There would be an additional profit and additional credit coming to him. In cold reality, Crane & Keith owned some 40 per cent of the stock.
"Take all you'll sell."
"I can let you have fifteen hundred shares—for cash." This was an even 60 per cent, but McCann knew where he could get the other 20.
"Come to the bank. Come now. Give you the cash."
"I can't deliver but one thousand shares to-day, but I can give you the other five hundred to-morrow."
"Suits me. Pay for 'em all to-day. Gimme what you got and a receipt for the rest. Comin' to the bank?"
Mr. McCann put on his coat and hat and accompanied Scattergood to the bank, where he received a certified check for the full amount, gave Scattergood in return a thousand shares of stock, and a receipt which recited that Scattergood had paid for five hundred shares more, to be delivered within twenty-four hours.
Scattergood went to see Mr. Linderman; McCann went out to round up five hundred shares of stock. By midnight he was a worried young man. The stock he had thought to pick up so readily was not to be had. Everybody seemed to have disposed of it and nobody seemed to know exactly who had been doing the buying, for the options had been taken in a number of names. Next morning McCann sought diligently until he found Scattergood.
"I've been a bit delayed in the delivery of the rest of the stock," he told Scattergood, and there was cold moisture on his forehead. "Would you mind waiting until to-morrow?"
"Guess I'll have to," said Scattergood. "G'-by. Better be movin' around spry. I want to git back home."
That night McCann wired his employers to get back home as quickly as conveyances would carry them. They did so, and in no happy mood, for Lawyer Norton had remained immovable in his position. Young McCann told his tale hesitatingly.
"Who did you say you sold to?" demanded Crane.
"Fat man by the name of Baines."
"Baines! He's busted. Hasn't a cent."
Crane looked at Keith and Keith looked at Crane. Just then the telephone rang. It was Scattergood.
"Want to speak to Mr. Crane," he said.
"Hello!" Crane said, gruffly. "What's this about your buying pulp company stock?"
"Bought some. Bought a little. Called up to see why your young man wasn't deliverin'. Want to git home."
"Where did you get the money?"
"Have to know that? Have to know where it come from before you kin make delivery? Hain't inquisitive, be you?"
Mr. Crane made use of language. "I want to see you—got to have a talk. Come right down here."
"Jest been measurin'," said Scattergood, "and I figger it's a mite longer from here to there than it is from there to here. If you want to see me, here I be."
Scattergood gave an office address and hung up the receiver.
"They'll be here in a minnit," he said to Mr. Linderman, and he was not exaggerating greatly as to the time required to bring the gentlemen to him. "Know Mr. Linderman—Crane and Keith?" said Scattergood. "Come in and set."
"What do you want with pulp company stock?" Crane demanded.
"Paper the kitchen. Maybe, if I kin git enough, I'll paper the parlor. Lack five hunderd shares for the parlor. Got'em with you?"
"No, and we're not going to get them."
"Um!... Paid for 'em, didn't I? Got a receipt?"
"What's Linderman doing in this?"
Mr. Linderman leaned forward a little. "I'm in a legitimate business transaction—something quite foreign to you gentlemen's notions of doing business. I came into it to make a profit, but mostly to teach you fellows a lesson in decent business methods. I don't like you. I don't like your ways. If you like your ways you must expect to pay for the pleasure you get out of them.... Mr. Baines is waiting for delivery of the stock he bought."
"I suppose you know we haven't got it?"
"We can't deliver."
"Yes, you can. Go out in the open market and buy. Now, I own a few shares, for instance. I might sell."
The faces of Messrs. Crane and Keith did not picture lively enjoyment. They were caught. If it had been Scattergood alone they might have wriggled out of it, they thought, for they had scant respect for his sagacity, but Linderman—well, Linderman was not to be trifled with.
"How much?" said Crane.
"You need five hundred shares. Par is a hundred, is it not? I will part with mine for three hundred. First, last, and only offer. In ten minutes the price goes up to three fifty, and fifty for each five minutes after that."
"It's robbery ..." Mr. Crane spluttered, and made uncouth sounds of rage.
"Now you know how the other fellow has been feeling. Seven minutes left...."
Four more minutes sped before the surrender came.
"Certified check," said Mr. Linderman. "My messenger will go to the bank for you."
The check was drawn for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and Crane and Keith settled back sullenly.
"You can retain your bonds. I believe you have about a quarter of a million dollars' worth of them. Glad to have you finance the mill for me. It will, of course, go ahead under my direction," said Linderman. "I guess I can iron out the difficulties you gentlemen have arranged for, and there will be no receivership. That will relieve Mr. Baines, who has a considerable contract with the company." Mr. Crane swore softly.
Scattergood heaved himself to his feet. "One other leetle matter, Crane. There's the Plumm farm. Kind of exercised about that, hain't you? Stayed up in the country a week to look after it—while I was dickerin' down here.... Like to buy that farm?"
There was no answer.
"Calculate to take a hint from Mr. Linderman. That farm's mine, and you can't haul a log acrost it. My price is fifteen thousand. Bought it for two. Price goes up hunderd dollars a minute. Cash deal."
That surrender was more prompt, and a second check was sent to the bank to be certified.
"G'-by, gentlemen," said Scattergood, and Messrs. Crane and Keith took their departure in no dignified manner, but with rancor in their hearts, which there was no method of salving.
"Let's take stock," said Scattergood. "Like to know jest how we come out."
"Let's see. We bought the stock at an average of sixty dollars a share. That makes a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in expenses, doesn't it? The five hundred shares just transferred cost thirty thousand dollars and we sold them for a hundred and fifty thousand. Profit on that part of the deal is a hundred and twenty thousand dollars. That made the total capital stock in the mill worth a quarter of a million of anybody's money; cost us exactly thirty thousand dollars, didn't it? Nice deal.... And you cleaned up an extra thirteen thousand on your side issue. Not bad."
"I git five hunderd shares worth fifty thousand dollars, don't I? Then my thirteen. That's sixty-three thousand. Then my profit on twenty-five thousand cords of pulpwood—which is goin' to be paid, I jedge. That'll be anyhow another twenty-five thousand. Calc'late this deal's about fixed me so's I kin go ahead with a number of plans. Much obleeged, Mr. Linderman. You come in handy."
"So did you, Mr. Baines. Mighty handy."
"Oh, me. I had to. I was jest takin' out reasonable insurance ag'in' loss...."
"I guess you have a permanent insurance policy against loss, inside your head."
"Um!..." said Scattergood, slipping his feet into his shoes, preparatory to leaving, "difficulty about that kind of insurance is that most folks lets it lapse 'long about the first week after they're born."
HE BORROWS A GRANDMOTHER
The world has come to think of Scattergood Baines as an astute and perhaps tricky business man, or as the political despot of a state. Because this is so it has overlooked or neglected many stories about the man much more indicative of character, and more fascinating of detail than those well-known and often-repeated tales of his sagacity in trading or his readiness in outwitting a political enemy. To one who makes a careful study of Scattergood's life with a view to writing a truthful biography, he inevitably becomes more interesting and more lovable when seen simply as a neighbor, a fellow townsman of other New Englanders, and as a country hardware merchant. There is a certain charm in the naivete with which he was wont to stick his pudgy finger in the affairs of others with benignant purpose; and it is not easy to believe other tales of hardness, of ruthless beating down of opposition, when one repeatedly comes upon well-authenticated instances in which he has stood quietly hidden behind the scenes to pull the strings and to make his neighbors bow and dance and posture in accordance with some schemes which he has formulated for their greater happiness.
Scattergood loved to meddle. Perhaps that is his dominant trait. He could see nothing moving in the community about him and withhold his hand. If Old Man Bogle set about buying a wheelbarrow, Scattergood would intervene in the transaction; if Pliny Pickett stopped at the Widow Ware's gate to deliver a message, Scattergood saw an opportunity to unite lonely hearts—and set about uniting them forthwith; if little Sam Kettleman, junior, and Wade Lumley's boy, Tom, came to blows, Scattergood became peacemaker or referee, as the needs of the moment seemed to dictate. It would be difficult to find a pie in Coldriver which was not marked by his thumb. So it came about that when he became convinced that Grandmother Penny was unhappy because of various restrictions and inhibitions placed on her by her son, the dry-goods merchant, and by her daughter-in-law, he determined to intervene. Scattergood was partial to old ladies, and this partiality can be traced to his earliest days in Coldriver. He loved white hair and wrinkled cheeks and eyes that had once been youthful and glowing, but were dulled and dimmed by watching the long procession of the years.
Now he sat on the piazza of his hardware store, his shoes on the planking beside him, and his pudgy toes wriggling like the trained fingers of an eminent pianist. It was a knotty problem. An ordinary problem Scattergood could solve with shoes on feet, but let the matter take on eminent difficulty and his toes must be given freedom and elbow room, as one might say. Later in life his wife, Mandy, after he had married her, tried to cure him of this habit, which she considered vulgar, but at this point she failed signally.
The facts about Grandmother Penny were, not that she was consciously ill treated. Her bodily comfort was seen to. She was well fed and reasonably clothed, and had a good bed in which to sleep. Where she was sinned against was in this: that her family looked upon her white hair and her wrinkles and arrived at the erroneous conclusion that her interest in life was gone—in short, that she was content to cumber the earth and to wait for the long sleep. To them she was simply one who tarries and is content. Scattergood looked into her sharp, old eyes, eyes that were capable of sudden gleams of humor or flashes of anger, and he knew. He knew that death seemed as distant to Grandmother Penny as it had seemed fifty years ago. He knew that her interest in life was as keen, her yearning to participate in the affairs of life as strong, as they had been when Grandfather Penny—now long gone to his reward—had driven his horse over the hills with one hand while he utilized the other arm for more important and delightful purposes.
Scattergood was remembering his own grandmother. He had known her as no other living soul had known her, because she had been his boyhood intimate, his defender, always his advocate, and because the boyish love which he had given her had made his eyes keen to perceive. His parents had fancied Grandma Baines to be content when she was in constant revolt. They had supposed that life meant nothing more to her now than to sit in a comfortable rocker and to knit interminable stockings and to remember past years. Scattergood knew that the present compelled her interest and that the future thrilled her. She wanted to participate in life, to be in the midst of events—to continue to live so long as the power of movement and of perception remained to her. He was now able to see that the old lady had done much to mold his character, and as he recalled incident after incident his face wore a softer, more melancholy expression than Coldriver was wont to associate with it. He was regretting that in his thoughtless youth he had failed to accomplish more to make gladder his grandmother's few remaining years.
"I calc'late," said Scattergood to himself—but aloud—"that I'll kind of substitute Grandmother Penny for Grandma Baines—pervidin' Grandma Baines is fixed so's she kin see; more'n likely she'll understand what I'm up to, and it'll tickle her—I'm goin' to up and borrow me a grandmother."
He wriggled his toes and considered. What thing had his grandmother most desired?
"Independence was what she craved," he said, and considered the point. "She didn't want to be beholdin' to folks. She wanted to be fixed so's she could do as she pleased, and nobody to interfere. I calc'late if Grandma Baines 'd 'a' been left alone she'd 'a' found her another husband and they'd 'a' had a home of their own with all the fixin's. It wasn't so much doin' that grandma wanted, it was knowin' she could do if she wanted to."
Scattergood's specially reinforced chair creaked as he strained forward to pick up his shoepacs and draw them on. It required no small exertion, and he straightened up, red of face and panting a trifle. He walked up the street, crossed the bridge, and descended to the little room under the barber shop where the checker or cribbage championship of the state was decided daily. Two ancient citizens were playing checkers, while a third stood over them, watching with that thrilled concentration with which the ordinary person might watch an only son essaying to cross Niagara Falls on a tight rope. Scattergood knew better than to interrupt the game, so he stood by until, by a breath-taking triple jump, Old Man Bogle sent his antagonist down to defeat. Then, and only then, did Scattergood speak to the old gentleman who had been the spectator.
"Morning Mr. Spackles," he said.
"Mornin', Scattergood. See that last jump of Bogle's? I swanny if 'twan't about as clever a move as I see this year."
"Mr. Spackles," said Scattergood, "I come down here to find out could I ask you some advice. You bein' experienced like you be, it 'peared to me like you was the one man that could help me out."
"Um!..." grunted Mr. Spackles, his old blue eyes widening with the distinction of the moment. "If I kin be of any service to you, I calculate I'm willin'. 'Tain't often folks comes to me for advice any more, or anythin' else, for that matter. Guess they figger I'm too old to 'mount to anythin'."
"Feel like takin' a mite of a walk?"
"Who? Me? I'm skittisher'n a colt this mornin'. Bet I kin walk twenty mile 'fore sundown."
They moved toward the door, but there Mr. Spackles paused to look back grandly upon the checker players. "Sorry I can't linger to watch you, boys," he said, loftily, "but they's important matters me and Scattergood got to discuss. Seems like he's feelin' the need of sound advice."
When they were gone the checker players scrutinized each other, and then with one accord scrambled to the door and stared out after Scattergood and Mr. Spackles.
"I swanny!" said Old Man Bogle.
"What d'you figger Scattergood wanted of that ol' coot?" demanded Old Man Peterson.
"Somethin' deep," hazarded Old Man Bogle. "I always did hold Spackles was a brainy cuss. Hain't he 'most as good a checker player as I be? What gits me, though, is how Scattergood come to pick him instid of me."
"Huh!..." grunted Old Man Peterson, and they resumed their game.
Scattergood walked along in silence for a few paces; then he regarded Mr. Spackles appraisingly.
"Mr. Spackles," said he, deferentially, "I dunno when I come acrost a man that holds his years like you do. Mind if I ask you jest how old you be?"
"Sixty-six year," said Spackles.
"Wouldn't never 'a' b'lieved it," marveled Scattergood. "Wouldn't 'a' set you down for a day more 'n fifty-five or six, not with them clear eyes and them ruddy cheeks and the way you step out."
"Calc'late to be nigh as good as I ever was, Scattergood. J'ints creak some, but what I got inside my head it don't never creak none to speak of."
"What I want to ask you, Mr. Spackles," said Scattergood, "is if you calc'late a man that's got to be past sixty and a woman that's got to be past sixty has got any business hitchin' up and marryin' each other."
"Um!... Depends. I'd say it depends. If the feller was perserved like I be, and the woman was his equal in mind and body, I'd say they was no reason ag'in' it—'ceptin' it might be money."
"Ever think of marryin', yourself, Mr. Spackles?"
"Figgered some. Figgered some. But knowed they wasn't no use. Son and daughter wouldn't hear to it. Couldn't support a wife, nohow. Son and daughter calc'lates to be mighty kind to me, Scattergood, and gives me dum near all I kin ask, but both of 'em says I got to the time of life where it hain't becomin' in 'em to allow me to work."
"How much kin sich a couple as I been talkin' about live on?"
"When I married, forty-odd year ago, I was gittin' a dollar a day. Me 'n' Ma we done fine and saved money. Livin's higher now. Calc'late it 'u'd take nigh a dollar 'n' a half to git on comfortable."
"Figger fifty dollars a month 'u'd do it? Think that 'u'd be enough?"
"Scattergood, you listen here to me. I hain't never earned as much as fifty dollar a month reg'lar in my whole life—and I got consid'able pleasure out of livin', too." They had walked up the street until they were passing the Penny residence. Grandmother Penny was sitting on the porch, knitting as usual. She looked very neat and dainty as she sat there in her white lace cap and her lavender dress.
"Fine-lookin' old lady," said Scattergood.
Mr. Spackles regarded Grandmother Penny and nodded with the air of a connoisseur. "Dum'd if she hain't." He lifted his hat and yelled across the road: "Mornin', Ellen."
"Mornin', James," replied Grandmother Penny, and bobbed her head. "Won't you folks stop and set? Sun's a-comin' down powerful hot."
"Don't mind if we do," said Scattergood. He seated himself, and mopped his brow, and fanned himself with his broad straw hat, whose flapping brim was beginning to ravel about the edges. Presently he stood up.
"Got to be movin' along, Mis' Penny. Seems like I'm mighty busy off and on. But I dunno what I'd do without Mr. Spackles, here, to advise with once in a while. He's jest been givin' me the benefit of his thinkin' this mornin'."
With inward satisfaction Scattergood noticed how the old lady turned a pert, sharp look upon Mr. Spackles, regarding him with awakened interest. To be considered a man of wisdom by Scattergood Baines was a distinction in Coldriver even in those days, and for a man actually to be consulted and asked for advice by the ample hardware merchant was to lift him into an intellectual class to which few could aspire.
"I hope he gin you good advice, Scattergood," said Grandmother Penny.
"Allus does. If ever you're lookin' for level-headedness, and f'r a man you kin depend on, jest send a call for Mr. Spackles. G'-by, ma'am. G'-by, Mr. Spackles, and much 'bleeged to you."
Mr. Spackles was a little bewildered, for he had not the least idea upon what subject he had advised Scattergood, but he was of an acuteness not to pass by any of the advantage that accrued from the situation. He replied, with lofty kindness, "Any time you want for to consult with me, young man, jest come right ahead."
When Scattergood was gone, Mr. Spackles turned to the old lady and waggled his head.
"Ellen, that there's a mighty promisin' young man. Time's comin' when he's a-goin' to amount to suthin'. I'm a-calc'latin' on guidin' him all I kin."
"I want to know," said Grandmother Penny, almost breathless at this new importance of Mr. Spackles's, and Mr. Spackles basked in her admiration, and added to it by apochryphal narratives of his relations with Scattergood.
For a week Scattergood let matters rest. He was content, for more than once he saw Mr. Spackles's faded overalls and ragged hat on the Penny premises, and watched the old gentleman in animated conversation with Grandmother Penny, who seemed to be perter and brighter and handsomer than she had ever seemed before.
On one such day Scattergood crossed the street and entered the gate.
"Howdy, folks?" he said. "Wonder if I kin speak with Mr. Spackles without interferin'?"
"Certain you kin," said Grandmother Penny, cordially.
"Got a important bankin' matter over to the county seat, Mr. Spackles, and I was wonderin' if I could figger on your help?"
"To be sure you kin, Scattergood. To be sure."
"Got to have a brainy man over there day after to-morrer. B'jing! that's circus day, too. Didn't think of that till this minnit. Wonder if you'd drive my boss and buggy over and fix up a deal with the president of the bank?"
"Glad to 'bleege," said the flattered Mr. Spackles.
"Circus day," Scattergood repeated. "Been to a circus lately, Mis' Penny?"
"Hain't seen one for years."
"No?... Mr. Spackles, what be you thinkin' of? To be sure. Why, you kin bundle Mis' Penny into the buggy and take her along with you! Finish the business in no time, bein' spry like you be, and then you and her kin take in the circus and the side show, and stay f'r the concert. How's that?"
Mr. Spackles was suddenly red and embarrassed, but Grandmother Penny beamed.
"Why," says she, "makes me feel like a young girl ag'in. To be sure I'll go. Daughter'll make a fuss, but I jest don't care if she does. I'm a-goin'."
"That's the way to talk," said Scattergood. "Mr. Spackles'll be round f'r you bright and early. Now, if you kin spare him, I calc'late we got to talk business."
When they were in the street Mr. Spackles choked and coughed, and said with some vexation:
"You went and got me in f'r it that time."
"How so, Mr. Spackles? Don't you want to take Mis' Penny to the circus?"
"Course I do, but circuses cost money. I hain't got more 'n a quarter to my name."
"H'm!... Didn't calc'late I was askin' you to take a day of your time for nothin', did you? F'r a trip like this here, with a lot hangin' on to it, I'd say ten dollars was about the fittin' pay. What say?"
Mr. Spackles's beaming face was answer enough.
Grandmother Penny and Mr. Spackles went to the circus in a more or less surreptitious manner. It was a wonderful day, a successful day, such a day as neither of them had expected ever to see again, and when they drove home through the moonlight, across the mountains, their souls were no longer the souls of threescore and ten, but of twoscore and one.
"Great day, wa'n't it, Ellen?" said Mr. Spackles, softly.
"Don't call to mind nothin' approachin' it, James."
"You be powerful good company, Ellen."
"So be you, James."
"I calculate to come and set with you, often," said James, diffidently.
"Whenever the notion strikes you, James," replied Grandmother Penny, and she blushed for the first time in a score of years.
Two days later Pliny Pickett stopped to speak to Scattergood in front of the hardware store. Pliny supplemented and amplified the weekly newspaper, and so was very useful to Baines.
"Hear tell Ol' Man Spackles is sparkin' Grandmother Penny," Pliny said, with a grin. "Don't figger nothin' 'll come of it, though. Their childern won't allow it."
"Won't allow it, eh? What's the reason? What business is 't of theirn?"
"Have to support 'em. The ol' folks hain't got no money. Spackles 's got two-three hunderd laid by for to bury him, and so's Grandmother Penny. Seems like ol' folks allus lays by for the funeral, but that's every red cent they got. I hear tell Mis' Penny's son has forbid Spackles's comin' around the house."
This proved to be the fact, as Scattergood learned from no less an authority than Mr. Spackles himself.
"Felt like strikin' him right there 'n' then," said Mr. Spackles, heatedly, "but I seen 'twouldn't do to abuse one of Ellen's childern."
"Um!... Was you and Grandmother Penny figgerin' on hitchin' up?" Scattergood asked.
"I put the question," said Mr. Spackles, with the air of a youth of twenty, "and Ellen up and allowed she'd have me. But I guess 'twon't never come off now. Seems like I'll never be content ag'in, and Ellen's that downcast I shouldn't be a mite s'prised if she jest give up and passed away."
"Difficulty's money, hain't it? Largely financial, eh?"
"Folks has got rich before. Maybe somethin' like that'll happen to you."
"Have to happen mighty suddin, Scattergood, if it aims to do any good in this world."
"I've knowed men to invest a couple hunderd dollars into some venture and come out at t'other end with thousands. You got couple hunderd, hain't you?"
"Ellen and me both has—saved up to bury us."
"Um!... Git buried, anyhow. Law compels it. Doggone little pleasure spendin' money f'r your own coffin. More sensible to git some good out of it.... I'm goin' away to the city f'r a week or sich a matter. When I come back we'll kind of thrash things out and see what's to be done. Meantime, don't you and Grandmother Penny up and elope."
In this manner Scattergood planted the get-rich-quick idea in the head of Mr. Spackles, who communicated it to Grandmother Penny in the course of a clandestine meeting. The old folks discussed it, and hope made it seem more and more plausible to them. Realizing the fewness of the days remaining to them, they were anxious to utilize every moment. It was Grandmother Penny who was the daring spirit. She was for drawing their money out of the bank that very day and investing it somehow, somewhere, in the hope of seeing it come back to them a hundredfold.
Scattergood had neglected to take into consideration Grandmother Penny's adventuresome spirit; he had also neglected to avail himself of the information that a certain Mr. Baxter, registered from Boston, was at the hotel, and that his business was selling shares of stock in a mine which did not exist to gullible folks who wanted to become wealthy without spending any labor in the process. He did a thriving business. It was Coldriver's first experience with this particular method of extracting money from the public, and it came to the front handsomely. Mr. Spackles got wind of the opportunity and told it to Grandmother Penny. She took charge of affairs, compelled her fiance to go with her to the bank, where they withdrew their savings, and then sought for Mr. Baxter, who, in return for a bulk sum of some five hundred dollars, sold them enough stock in the mine to paper the parlor. Also, he promised them enormous returns in an exceedingly brief space of time. Their profit on the transaction would, he assured them, be not less than ten thousand dollars, and might mount to double that sum. They departed in a state of extreme elation, and but for Mr. Spackles's conservatism Grandmother Penny would have eloped with him then and there.
"I'd like to, Ellen. I'd like to, mighty well, but 'tain't safe. Le's git the money fust. The minnit the money comes in, off we mog to the parson. But 'tain't safe yit. Jest hold your hosses."
When Scattergood returned and was visible again on the piazza of his hardware store, it was not long before the village financiers came to him boasting of their achievement. He, Scattergood, was not the only man in town with the ability to make money. No, indeed, and for proof of it here were the stock certificates, purchased from a deluded young man for a few cents a share, when common sense told you they were worth many, many dollars. Scattergood listened to two or three without a word. Finally he asked:
"How many folks went into this here thing?"
"Sev'ral. Sev'ral. Near's I kin figger, folks here bought nigh five thousand dollars' wuth of stock off'n Baxter. Must 'a' been fifty or sixty went into the deal."
"Dum fools," said Scattergood, with sudden wrath. "Has it got so's I don't dast to leave town without you folks messin' things up? Can't I leave overnight and find things safe in the mornin'?... You hain't got the sense Gawd give field mice—the whole kit and b'ilin' of you. Serves you dum well right, tryin' to git somethin' f'r nothin'. Now git away fr'm here. Don't pester me.... You've been swindled, that's what, and it serves you doggone well right. Now git."
It was one of the few times that Coldriver saw Scattergood in a rage. The rage convinced them. Scattergood said they were swindled and he was in a rage. Therefore he must be right. The news spread, and knots of citizens with lowered heads and anxious eyes gathered on street corners and whispered and nodded toward Scattergood, who sat heavily on his piazza, speaking to nobody. It was Grandmother Penny who dared accost him. She crept up to his place and said, tremulously:
"Be you sure, Scattergood, about that feller bein' a swindler?"
Scattergood looked down at her fiercely. Then his eyes softened and he leaned forward and scrutinized her face.
"Did you git into this mess, too, Grandmother Penny?"
"Both me 'n' James," she said. "You let on that folks got rich quick by investin'. Me 'n' James was powerful anxious to git money so's—so's we could git married on it. So we drawed out our money and—and invested it."
"Come here, Grandmother," said Scattergood, and she stood just before his chair, her head coming very little higher than his own as he sat there, big and ominous. "So the skunk took your money, too. I hain't carin' a whoop for them others. They got what was comin' to 'em, and I didn't calculate to do nothin'. But you! By crimminy!... Wa-al, Grandmother, you go off home and knit. I'll look into things. It's on your account, and not on theirs." He shook his head fiercely toward the town. "But I calculate I'll have to git theirn back, too.... And, Grandmother—you and James kin rest easy. Hain't sayin' no more. Jest wait, and don't worry, and don't say nothin' to nobody.... G'-by, Grandmother Penny. G'-by."
That evening Scattergood drove out of Coldriver in his rickety buggy. Nobody had dared to speak to him, but, nevertheless, he carried in his pocket a list of the town's investors in mining stock, together with the amounts of their investments. He was not seen again for several days.
Two days later Scattergood appeared in the lobby of the Mansion House, in the county seat. He scrutinized the register, and found, to his satisfaction, that a Mr. Bowman of Boston was occupying room 106. Mr. Bowman had signed the hotel register in Coldriver as Mr. Baxter, also of Boston. Scattergood seated himself in a chair and lighted one of the cigars which made his presence so undesirable in an inclosed space. He appeared to be taking a nap.
Fifteen minutes after Scattergood began to nod, Sam Bangs, a politician with some strength in the rural districts, came down the stairs in company with a young man of prepossessing appearance, and clothing which did not strike the beholder as either too gaudy or too stylish. Indeed the young man impressed the world as being a sober, conservative person in whose judgment it would be well to place confidence.
When Bangs saw Scattergood he stopped and whispered a moment to his companion, who nodded. They approached Scattergood, and Bangs touched him on the shoulder.
"Mr. Baines," he said, "I want you should meet my friend Mr. Bowman. Mr. Bowman's a broker. Been buyin' some stocks off'n him—or calculate to. I knowed you done consid'able investing so I took the liberty."
Scattergood looked drowsily at the young man. "Set," he said. "Set and have a cigar."
The young Mr. Bowman accepted the cigar, but, after a glance at it, thrust it into his mouth unlighted. The conversation began with national politics, swung to crops, and veered finally to the subject of investments. Mr. Bowman, backed in his statements by Mr. Bangs, spoke to Scattergood of a certain mine whose stock could be had for a song, but whose riches in mineral, about to be reached by a certain shaft or drift or tunnel, were fabulous. Scattergood was interested. An appointment was made for further discussion.
The appointment was kept that evening, in the same lobby, and Mr. Bowman, while finding more than ordinary difficulty in convincing this fat country merchant, did eventually succeed in bringing him to a point of enthusiasm.
"Looks good," said Scattergood. "Calc'late a feller could make a killin'. I'm a-goin' into it hair, hide, and hoofs. Figger me f'r not less 'n five thousand dollars' wuth of it. Ought to make me fifty thousand if it makes a cent."
"You're conservative, Mr. Baines, conservative."
"Always calculated to be, Mr. Bowman." He looked up as a middle-aged man with a drooping mustache approached. "Howdy, John? Still workin' f'r the express company, be you?"
"Calc'late to, Mr. Baines. Got charge of the local office. 'Tain't all pleasure, neither. In a sight of trouble this minnit."
"I want to know," said Scattergood. "Stand to lose my job," said John, sadly. "Dunno where I'll find me another."
"What you been doin', eh? What got you in bad?"
"One of them dummed gold shipments from the state bank. Hadn't ought to speak about it, 'cause the comp'ny's bein' awful secret. Hain't lettin' it out." He glanced apprehensively at Mr. Bowman.
"Needn't to be afraid of Mr. Bowman, John. What's the story?"
"Bank shippin' bullion. Three chunks of it. Wuth fifty-odd thousand dollars. I know, 'cause that's the comp'ny's liability wrote in black and white.... Been stole," he said, after a brief pause.
"Out of my office, this mornin'. Not a trace. Jest up and disappeared. Detectives and all can't run on to no clue. Might as well 'a' melted and run through a crack. Jest gone, and that's all anybody kin find."
"Mighty sorry to hear it, John. Hope you wasn't keerless, and don't figger you was. Guess you won't be blamed when the facts comes out."
"If they ever do," said John. "G' night, Mr. Baines. I'm mighty oneasy in my mind."
Scattergood turned the subject back at once to mining stocks.
"You set me down for five thousand dollars. Don't let nobody else have it. Got jest that sum comin' due tomorrer. You and me'll drive over to git it, and you fetch them stock certificates along. Got 'em in that little satchel you're always carryin'?"
"No," smiled Mr. Bowman. "That's my purse. I take no chances on robbers, like your express agent spoke of. I don't mind telling you that I have fifteen thousand dollars in that bag—and I intend to keep it there."
"Do tell!" exclaimed Scattergood. "Wa-al, you know your business. Now, then, if you want to drive over six mile with me to-morrer, well git us that money and I'll take the stock."
"Good," said Mr. Bowman. "An early start. Can I take a train from there? I'll be through here, I think."
"To be sure," said Scattergood. "Mighty funny thing about that gold, now wa'n't it? Three bars. Wuth fifty thousand! Mighty slick work—to spirit it off and nobody never find a trace."
"The criminal classes," said Mr. Bowman, "have produced some remarkable intellects. Good night, Mr. Baines."
"See you early in the mornin'," replied Scattergood.
After a breakfast which Mr. Bowman watched Scattergood dispose of with admiration and astonishment, the pair entered the old buggy and started across the hills. In addition to his small bag Mr. Bowman brought a large suitcase containing his apparel, so it was apparent he was leaving the county seat for good. The morning came off hot and humid. Scattergood kept his eyes open for a spring, but it was not until they had driven some miles that an opportunity to find water appeared.
"Calculate we kin git a drink there," said Scattergood, pointing to a little shanty in a clearing by the roadside. He stopped his horse, and they alighted and knocked. There was no reply. Scattergood pushed open the door and then stepped back suddenly, for within were three individuals of disreputable appearance, and one of them regarded Scattergood over the leveled barrels of a shotgun.
"Come right in and set," invited this individual, and Scattergood, followed by Mr. Bowman, entered. On a table of pine wood, unconcealed, lay three enormous bars of gold.
"Um!..." said Scattergood, faintly, and leaned against the wall. "You would come rammin' in," said the gentleman with the shotgun. "Now I calc'late you got to stay."
Scattergood grinned amiably. "Vallyble loaves of bread you got there," he said.
"Gold," said the man, succinctly.
"Hain't no mines around here, be there?"
"We hain't sayin'. But that there gold come from a mine, all right—sometime."
"Calc'late you been robbin' a train or somethin'," said Scattergood, mildly. "Now don't git het up. 'Tain't none of my business. Doin' robbin' for a reg'lar livin'?" he asked, innocently.
"Hain't never done none before—" began one of the men, but his companion directed him to "shut up and stay shut."
"No harm talkin' 's I kin see. We got these fellers here and here they stay till we git clean off. Kind of like to tell somebody the joke."
"I'm doggone int'rested," said Scattergood.
The rough individual with the gun laughed loudly. "May's well tell you," he said, raucously. "Me and the boys was in town yestiddy, calc'latin' to ship some ferns by express. Went into the office. Agent wa'n't there. Safe was. Open. Ya-as, wide open. We seen three gold chunks inside, and nobody around watchin'. Looked full better 'n ferns, so we jest took a notion to carry 'em out to the wagin and drive off.... Now we got it, I'm dummed if I know what to do with it. Hear tell it's wuth fifty thousand dollars."
Mr. Bowman spoke. "You'll find it mighty hard to dispose of."
"Don't need to worry you."
"Suppose you could sell it for a fair price, cash, and get away with the money?"
"That's our aim."
"Mr. Baines," said Bowman, "there's money in this if you aren't too particular."
"Hain't p'tic'lar a-tall. How you mean?"
"What would you say to buying this gold—at a reasonable price? I can dispose of it—through channels I am acquainted with. You can put in the money we were going for, and I'll put in some more. Ought to show a handsome profit."
"Might nigh double my money, maybe, eh? Figger that? Gimme twict as much to buy stock with."
"What will you men take to walk away and leave that gold?"
"Fiddlesticks. I'll give you ten—and you're clear of the whole mess."
There was a wrangle. For half an hour the dicker went on, and finally a price of fifteen thousand dollars was agreed upon. Mr. Bowman was to pay over the money, and Scattergood was to contribute his five thousand dollars as soon as they got it. For one third of the profits.
The money was paid over; the three robbers disappeared with alacrity, leaving Scattergood and Bowman with the stolen gold.
"We can take it along in the buggy, covered with ferns," said Bowman. "Nobody'll suspect you."
"Be safe as a church," said Scattergood, boldly. "Lug her out."
So they carried the gold to the buggy, covered it snugly with ferns, and drove toward the next town, Scattergood talking excitedly of profits and of how much mining stock he could purchase with the money received, and of ample wealth from the transaction. Mr. Bowman smiled with the faint, quiet smile of one whose soul is at peace. Just before they got to town Scattergood suggested that they stop to make sure the gold was completely concealed.
They drove into the woods a few rods and uncovered the treasure. Scattergood gloated over it.
"I've heard tell you kin cut real gold like cheese," he said, and opened his jackknife. With it he hacked off a shaving and held it up to the light.
"Is all gold this here way?" he asked. "Don't look to me to be the same color all the way through. Looks like silver or suthin' inside."
Mr. Bowman snatched the shaving, scrutinized it, and uttered language in a loud voice. He snatched Scattergood's knife and tested all three ingots.
"Lead!" he said, savagely. "Nothing but lead! We've been swindled!"
"You mean it hain't gold a-tall?"
"It's lead, I tell you."
"I vum!... Them fellers stole lead! And they got off with all your money. Gosh! I'm glad I didn't have none along." His eyes were mirthless and his face vacuous. "Beats all. Never heard tell of nothin' sim'lar."
They got into the buggy and drove silently into town. Mr. Bowman tried to recover his spirits, but they were at low ebb. He did manage to hint that Scattergood should stand his share of the loss, but in his heart he knew that to be vain. Still, he could get that five thousand dollars for the mining stock. It would be five thousand dollars.
"Anyhow," he said, "you're fortunate. You still can buy the stock and make your pile."
"This here deal," said Scattergood, "has kind of made me figger. 'Tain't safe to buy gold chunks till you know they're gold. Likewise 'tain't safe to buy mine stock till you know there's a mine. Calc'late I'll do a mite of investigatin' 'fore I pungle over that five thousand.... Where kin I leave you, Mr. Bowman? I'm calc'latin' to drive home from here. Maybe I'll see you later. But I got to investigate."
Mr. Bowman made himself unpleasant for a brief time, but Scattergood was vacuously stubborn. Presently he drove away, leaving Mr. Bowman on the veranda of the hotel, scowling and uttering words of strength and meaning. Mr. Bowman was very unhappy.
Scattergood drove as rapidly as his horse could travel, arriving at Coldriver just after the supper hour. He went directly to his store, which had been left in charge of Mr. Spackles. Three men were waiting there for him. They handed him a leather bag and he satisfied himself that it contained fifteen thousand dollars.
"Much 'bleeged, boys," he said. "Do as much f'r you, some day. G'-by."
"Mr. Spackles," he said, "kin you fetch Grandmother Penny over here—right now?"
"Calculate I kin," said Mr. Spackles, and he proved himself able to keep his word.
"Grandmother Penny," said Scattergood, when she arrived, "you and Mr. Spackles up and made a investment. I been a-lookin' after that investment f'r you—and f'r these other dum fools in town. Best I could do f'r them others was to git their money back—every cent of it. But I took keer to do a mite more f'r you and Mr. Spackles. I got your five hunderd f'r you—and then I seen a way to git ten thousand more. Here she be. Count it.... I don't guess there's any way this here money could be put to better use."
"F'r us? Ten thousand—"
"I'll handle it f'r you. Give you int'rest of six hunderd a year. You kin marry like you planned, and if your childern objects you kin tell 'em to go to blazes.... You'll want a place to live. Wa-al, I got twenty acre back of town and a leetle house and furniture. Took it on a deal. You kin move in and work it on shares. Ought to be able to live blamed well."
Grandmother Penny was crying.
"You done all this f'r us, f'r James and me! There hain't no reason f'r it. 'Tain't believable.... There hain't no way to say thankee."
"I hain't wantin' you to say thankee, Grandmother Penny. Jest mog along and marry this old coot, and git what joy you kin out of livin'."
Mr. Spackles was inquisitive in addition to being grateful.
"What I want to know," he demanded, "is how you managed it?"
"Oh," said Scattergood, "jest made use of the sayin' about curin' with the hair of the dog that bit you. Figgered a swindler wouldn't never suspect nobody of swindlin' him with one of his own tricks. This here Mr. Baxter, or Mr. Bowman, or whatever his name is, used to make a livin' sellin' gold bricks. When I found that there fact out I jest calc'lated he was ripe to do a mite of gold-brick buyin' himself.... Which he done."
"Scattergood," said Grandmother Penny, "I'm a-goin' to kiss you."
Scattergood presented his cheek, and Grandmother Penny threw her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his weather-beaten face. He smiled, but as if he were smiling at somebody not present. When they had gone their way to find marriage license and parson he went out on to his piazza and looked up at the moonlit sky.
"Grandma Baines," he said, after a moment, "if you kin see down from where you be, I hope you hain't missin' that I done this f'r you. I was pertendin' all the time that you was Grandmother Penny...."
HE DIPS IN HIS SPOON
Scattergood Baines sat on the piazza of his hardware store and twiddled his bare toes reflectively. He was not thinking of to-day nor of to-morrow, but of days a score of years distant and of plans not to come to maturity for twenty years. That was Scattergood's way. From his history, as it is to be gathered from the ancient gossips of Coldriver, one is forced to the conclusion that few of his acts were performed with reference to the immediate time. If he set on foot some scheme, one learns to study it and to endeavor to see to what outcome it may lead ten years after its inception. He looked always to the future, and more than once one may see where he has forgone immediate profit in order to derive that profit a hundredfold a generation later.
So, as Scattergood twiddled his reflective toes, he looked far ahead into the future of Coldriver Valley; he saw that valley as his own, developed as few mountain valleys are ever developed. Its stage line, already his property, was replaced by a railroad. The waters of its river and tributaries were dammed to give a cheap and constant power which should be connected in some way to this electricity of which he heard so much and about which he always desired to hear more. He saw factories springing up. In short, he saw his valley as the center of the state's commercial life, and himself as the center of the valley.
Scattergood was well aware that there always will exist those who will clog the road of progress and attempt to stem any tide arising for the public good—unless they can see for themselves an individual benefit. He knew that it is not uncommon for those whose business is the common good—such individuals as legislators and governors and judges—to assume some such attitude, and he knew that it was regarded as expensive to win their favor. He did not grow especially angry at this condition, but accepted it as a condition and studied to see what he could do about it—for he knew he must do something about it.
He must take it into consideration, because one does not build railroads without legislative sanction, nor does one dam streams nor carry out wide commercial programs. The consent of the people must be had, and the people had handed over their consent in trust to their elected representatives. Scattergood saw at once that it was preferable to be one from whom governors and legislators and judges asked favors and looked to for guidance, than to be one to come a suppliant before those personages, and as soon as he saw that clearly he reached his determination.
"Calculate," said he, to the shoes which he held in his hand, "that I got to git up and stir around in politics some."
From that moment Scattergood scrutinized the bowl of politics to discover when and where he could dip in his spoon.
The opportunity to dip, it soon became apparent, would be at the time of the fall town meetings, for there was a fight on in the state and its preliminary rumblings were already making themselves audible. Hitherto the state had been held securely by certain political gentlemen, who in turn had been held securely by a certain other and greater political gentleman—Lafe Siggins. Other non-political gentlemen who represented money and business had seen, as Scattergood did, the necessity for becoming political, and had chosen their moment to endeavor to take the state away from Messrs. Siggins & Co. and to hold it thereafter for their own benefit and behoof. They were, therefore, laying their plans to win the legislature by winning the town meetings of the fall, and to win they had decided to make their fight upon the total prohibition of liquor in the state. It was not that they cared ethically whether drinks of a spirituous nature were dispensed or not, but it was the best available issue. If it did not work out to their satisfaction they could reverse themselves when they came into power.
So they made an issue of prohibition, and planned astutely to go to the town meetings on that platform, for a majority of the towns voted local option with regularity. The new powers would first sweep the town meetings for local option, and in the wave of enthusiasm put into office at the same time legislators chosen by themselves.
Scattergood saw the trend of affairs early and gave them his earnest consideration. That his ancient ill wishers, Messrs. Crane & Keith, were identified with the new and rising power may not have been the least of the considerations which determined him to dip in his spoon on the side of Siggins and the old order. But there was one obstacle. Scattergood desired local option, for he was now the employer of many men, both in the woods and in other enterprises, and he knew well that labor and hard liquor are disturbing bedfellows.... He considered and reached the conclusion that for this one time, perhaps, he could both have his cake and eat it.
He could have his cake and still eat it only by the results of an election which should not be a victory for the new powers nor for the old, but for another minor power differing from each. In other words, Scattergood saw the wisdom of defeating both the contenders locally, and then of throwing in with Siggins as to the fight for state control.... But of this determination he notified not a soul. Judging from his actions, it may be safely said that he was at some pains to conceal the fact that he was interested in politics in any manner or degree whatever.
But Scattergood was a chatty body, and Coldriver would have been surprised if he did not talk politics, as did all its other male inhabitants. It came about that more politics than hardware was discussed on Scattergood's piazza, but to the casual listener it seemed only purposeless discussion. But Scattergood was a master of purposeless discussion. His methods were his own and worthy of notice.
Marvin Towne and Old Man Bogle sauntered past and paused to mention the weather.
"Goin' to be lots of politics this year," said Scattergood. "Jest got in a line of gardenin' tools, Bogle."
"Town's goin' to be het up for certain," said Mr. Bogle, waggling his ancient head. "Calc'late to have all the tools I need."
"Who's figgerin' on runnin' for legislature, Marvin?"
"Guess Will Pratt's puttin' up Pazzy Cox ag'in." Pratt was postmaster and local party leader.
"Anybody calc'latin' to run ag'in' him, Marvin? Any opposition appearin'?"
"Goin' to be a fight, Scattergood. Big doin's in the state. Tryin' to upset Lafe Siggins. Uh-huh! Wuth watchin', says I."
"I hear tell the lawless elements is puttin' up Jim Allen on a whisky platform," said Old Man Bogle, acidly.
"Them all the candidates, Bogle? Hain't no others?"
"Coldriver's got to take whatever candidates them outsiders chooses, eh? Coldriver hain't got no say who'll represent her in the legislature?"
"Don't 'pear so. All done by party machinery, Scattergood. We got nothin' to do but pick between parties."
"Looks so.... Looks that way," said Scattergood. "Too bad there hain't one more party that hain't controlled so folks could git a chance.... What's this here Prohibition party I been hearin' some of in other parts?"