"'S fur's I know it's all right, only it hain't got no votes, and votes is necessary in politics."
"Licker enters into this here campaign, don't it?"
"Backbone of it."
"Seems like these Prohibition fellers ought to take a hand. Any of 'em in Coldriver?"
"Don't seem like I ever heard speak of one."
"Could be, couldn't there? 'Tain't impossible?"
"S'pose one could be got up—if anybody was int'rested."
"Need a strong candidate, wouldn't they? Have to have a man to head it up that would command respect?"
"Wouldn't git fur with it. Parties too well organized."
"Um!... Lemme show you a new hand seeder I jest got in. Labor savin'. Calc'late it's a bargain."
"Don't hold with them newfangled notions, Scattergood."
"S'prised at you, Marvin. Folks expects progress of you. Look up to you, kind of. Take their idees from you."
"I dunno," said Marvin, visibly pleased, but deprecatory.
"Careful, cautious—but most gen'ally right, that's what I hear folks say. Quite a bit of talk goin' around about you. Politics. Uh-huh! Heard several say it was a pity Marvin Towne couldn't be got to go to the legislature. Heard that, hain't you, Bogle?"
"Don't call it to mind, but maybe I have. Maybe I have. Anyhow, I calc'late it's true."
"There you be, Marvin. Now it behooves a man that's looked up to for to keep in the lead. Ought to look into that seeder, Marvin. Folks'll say: 'Marvin Towne's got him one of them seeders. Darn progressive farmer. Gits him all the modern improvements.'"
"Suthin' in what you say, Scattergood. Calculate I might examine into that tool one of these days."
"Hain't much choice between Pazzy Cox and Jim Allen, eh? Hain't neither of 'em desirable lawmakers, eh? That what you was sayin'?"
"Them's my idees," said Marvin.
"Too bad we're forced to take one or t'other. Now if they was some way for you to step in and run."
"Sh'u'd think you'd look over them Prohibitionists. Draw all the best citizens after you. Set a example to the state.... Step back and look at that there seeder, Marvin."
Marvin looked at the seeder judicially. "Calc'late to guarantee it, Scattergood?"
"Put it in writin'," said Scattergood.
"Calc'late I'll have to have it. Considerin' everything, guess I'll take it along."
"Knowed you would, Marvin. Sich men as you is to be depended on. Folks realizes it."
"If I thought they was a call for me to go to the legislature—"
"Call?" said Scattergood. "Marvin, I'm tellin' you it's dum near a shout."
"Huh!... Where could I git to find out about this here Prohibitionist party?"
Presently Marvin Towne and Old Man Bogle went along. Scattergood gazed after them speculatively, and as he gazed his hands went automatically to his shoes, which he removed to give play to his reflective toes. "Um!..." he grunted. "If nothin' more comes of it I made a profit of three dollar forty on that seeder."
Pliny Pickett, stage driver, was a frequent caller at Scattergood's store, first as an employee, but more importantly as a dependable representative who could carry out an order without asking questions, especially when no definite order had been given.
"Pliny," said Scattergood, "know Marvin Towne, don't you? Brought up with him, wasn't you?"
"Know him like the palm of my hand."
"Um!... Strange he hain't never been talked up for the legislature, Pliny. Strange there hain't talk about him on the stagecoach. Ever hear any?"
"Could hear more, couldn't you? If you listened.... Set around the post office, evenin's, don't you?"
"Discussin' topics? Ever discuss this Prohibition party?"
"I could," said Pliny.
"Seems like a shame folks here can't run the man they want for office. Strike you that way?"
"Certain sure. Calc'late they want Marvin bad?"
"They could," said Scattergood. "G'-by, Pliny."
Ten days later a third party made its appearance in the politics of Coldriver, and Marvin Towne was announced as its candidate for the legislature. It seemed a spontaneous excrescence, but, nevertheless, it caused a visit from that great man and citizen, Lafe Siggins, as well as a call from Mr. Crane, of Crane & Keith. Both astute gentlemen viewed the situation, and their alarm subsided. Indeed, both perceived where it could be turned to advantage. A canvass of the situation showed them that the new Prohibitionists, though they talked loud and long, were made up mainly of the discontented and of a few men always ready to join any novel movement, and promised at best to poll not to exceed forty votes of Coldriver's registered three hundred and eighty. It really simplified the situation to Lafe and to Crane, for it removed from circulation forty doubtful votes and left the real battle to be fought between the regulars. Wherefore Messrs. Siggins and Crane departed from the village in satisfied mood.
Scattergood sat on his piazza as usual, the morning after the portentous visit, and called a greeting to Wade Lumley, dry-goods merchant, as that prominent citizen passed to his place of business.
"How's the geldin' this mornin', Wade?" he asked.
"Feelin' his oats. Got to take him out on the road this evenin'. Time to begin shapin' him up for the county fair."
"Three-year-old, hain't he?"
"Best in the state."
"Always figgered that till I heard Ren Green talkin'. Ren calculates he's got a three-year-old that'll make any other boss in these parts look like it was built of pine."
Wade was eager in a moment. "Willin' to back them statements with money, is he?"
"Said somethin' about havin' a hunderd dollars that wasn't workin' otherwise, seems as though," said Scattergood. "Jest half a mile from Pettybone's house to the dam," he continued, with apparent irrelevance. "Level road."
"And my geldin' kin travel that same road spryer 'n Green's hoss—for a hunderd dollars," said Wade, eagerly.
"Dunno," said Scattergood. "Hoss races is uncertain. G'-by, Wade. See you later."
A similar conversation with Ren Green during the day resulted in a meeting between the horsemen, an argument, loud words, and a heated offer to wager money, which was accepted with like heat.
"From Pettybone's to the dam—half a mile," shouted Wade.
"Suits me to a T," bellowed Ren; "and now you kin step across with me and deposit that there hunderd dollars ag'in' mine with Briggs of the hotel."
So, terms and conditions having been arranged, the bets were made, and the money locked in the hotel safe. News of the matter swept through Coldriver, and for the evening politics were forgotten and excitement ran high. Next day it arose to a higher pitch, for Town-marshal Pease had forbidden the race to be run through the public streets of Coldriver, viewing it as a menace to life, limb, and the public peace. Scattergood had conversed sagely with Pease on the duties of a town marshal.
Marvin Towne had formed the habit of stopping to chat with Scattergood daily, totally unconscious that to all intents and purposes he had been ordered by Scattergood to make daily reports to him. He seemed depressed as he leaned against a post of the piazza.
"Lookin' peaked, Marvin. Hain't all goin' well? Gittin' uneasy?"
"It's this dum hoss race," said Marvin. "Everybody's het up over it so's nobody'll talk politics. How's a feller goin' to win votes if he can't git nobody to talk to him, that's what I want to know? Seems like there hain't nothin' in the world but Wade Lumley's geldin' and that hoss of Green's."
"Um!... Sort of distressing hain't it? Know Kent Pilkinton perty well, Marvin?"
"Holds public office, don't he?"
"Chairman of the Board of Selectmen's what he is."
"Good man fur't," said Scattergood, waggling his head. "Calculate to be on good terms with him, Marvin? Perty good terms?"
"Good enough so's he kin ask me to loan him two thousand dollars he's needin' a'mighty bad."
"Give it to him, Marvin?"
"Huh!" said Marvin, eloquently.
"If I was to indorse his note, think you could see your way clear?"
"See him ag'in, won't you? Perty soon?"
"What d'you calc'late to tell him?"
"What you said?"
"Didn't say nothin', did I? Jest asked a question. It was you said something Marvin, wa'n't it? Said you'd lend on my indorsement."
"That what you want me to tell him?"
"Didn't say so, did I? Jest asked a question. G'-by, Marvin. Lemme know what he says."
It was unnecessary for Marvin to report, for early next morning Kent Pilkinton, owner of a hill farm on the out-skirts of a village—a farm on which he succeeded in raising the most ample crop of whiskers in Coldriver, and little else, came diffidently up to Scattergood as he sat in front of his hardware store.
"Morning Kent," said Scattergood. "Come to look at mowin' machines, I calc'late."
"Might look at one," said Kent.
"Need one, don't you?"
"Need quite a mess of implements, don't you?"
"Could do with 'em if I had 'em.... 'Tain't what I come fur, though, Scattergood. Been tryin' to borrow money off of my brother-in-law, but he don't calclate to lend without I git an indorser, and seems like he sets store by your name on a note."
"Does, eh? Any reason I should indorse for you? Know any reason?"
"Nary," said Kent, and started to move off.
"Hold your bosses. What you need the money for?"
"Pay off a thousand-dollar mortgage and another thousand to git the farm in shape to run."
"Calculate you kin run it, then?"
"If I git the tools."
"I figger maybe you kin. Like to see you git ahead. Where d'you calculate to buy them implements?"
"Off of you."
"I got 'em to sell. When you got to have the money?"
"Two weeks to-morrow."
This was the day after the town meeting.
"Come in and pick out your implements," said Scattergood.
"Meanin' you'll indorse?"
"Meanin' that—pervidin' nothin' unforeseen comes up between now and then."
Half a day was spent selecting tools and implements for the farm, and though Pilkinton did not know it, it was Scattergood's selection that was purchased. Scattergood knew what was necessary and what would be economical, and that was what Pilkinton got, and nothing more. It netted Scattergood a pleasant profit, and Kent got the full equivalent of his money.
"Preside at town meetin', don't you?"
"My duty," said Kent.
"Calc'late to do your duty?"
"Always done so."
"Comin' to see you do it," said Scattergood. He paused. "Next mornin' we'll fix up the note. G'-by, Kent." During the fourteen days that followed Coldriver was happy; between politics and the forbidden horse race, it had such food for conversation that even cribbage under the barber shop languished, and one had to walk into the road to pass the crowd at the post office of evenings. As to the horse race, it resembled a boil. Daily it grew more painful. Like a boil, such a horse race as this must burst some day, and it was reaching the acute stage. But Town-marshal Pease was vigilant and spoke sternly of the majesty of the law.
As to the election, it grew even more dubious. Scattergood privately took stock of the situation. Marvin Towne and the Prohibitionists might count now on a vote or two more than fifty. Postmaster Pratt appeared certain of better than a hundred, and so did the opposing party. One or the other of them was certain to win as matters lay, and Marvin's case seemed hopeless. Marvin conceived it so and was for withdrawing, but Scattergood saw to it that he did not withdraw.
"Keep your votes together," he said. "Stiffen 'em." It was his first direct order. "Fetch 'em to the meetin' and be sure of every one."
On town-meeting day Coldriver filled with rigs from the surrounding township. Every rail and post was utilized for hitching, and Town-marshal Pease, his star displayed, patrolled the town to avert disorder. He patrolled until the meeting went into session, and then he took his chair just under the platform, and, as was his duty, guarded the sacredness of the ballot.
Scattergood was present, sitting in a corner under the overhang of the balcony, watching, but discouraging conversation. If one had studied his face during the early proceedings he would have read nothing except a genial interest, which was the thing Coldriver expected to see on Scattergood's face. Town questions were decided, matters of sidewalks, of road building, of schools, and every instance Marvin Towne's fifty-two voted as a unit, swinging from one side to the other as their peculiar interest dictated. On all minor questions it was Marvin Towne's Prohibitionists who decided, because they carried the volume of votes necessary to control. But when it came to major affairs, such as the election of officers, there would be a different story. Then they could join with neither party, but must stand alone as a unit, far outvoted.
So the regulars disregarded them, or if they gave them any attention it was jocular. Even Marvin viewed the day as lost, but Scattergood held him to the mark with a word passed now and then. It came three o'clock of the afternoon before nominations for the high office of legislator were the order of proceeding. Jim Allen and Pazzy Cox were placed before the meeting as candidates amid the stimulated applause of their adherents. Marvin Towne's name was received with laughter and such jeers as the New England breed of farmer and townsman has rendered his own, and at which he is a genius surpassed by none.
Chairman Pilkinton arose, as befitted the moment.
"Feller townsmen, we will now proceed to cast our ballots for the office of representative in the legislature. The polls is open, and overlooked by Town-marshal Pease. The ballotin' will begin."
At that instant there was an uproar on the stairs. Pliny Pickett burst into the room, his hat missing, his eyes gleaming with excitement.
"It's a-comin' off. They've stole a march. Hoss race!... Hoss race!... Ren Green and Wade Lumley's got their bosses up to Deacon Pettybone's and they're goin' to race to the dam. Everybody out. Hoss race!... Hoss race!..." He turned and ran frantically down the stairs, and on his heels followed the voters of Coldriver. But one or two remained; men too rheumatic to chance rapid movement, or those whose positions compelled them to consider as non-existent such a matter as a race between quadrupeds.
But no sooner had the hall cleared than men began to return, in couples, in squads, and to take their seats. Scattergood was standing up now, counting. Fifty-two he counted, and remained standing.
"Polls is open, Mr. Chairman," says he.
"They was declared so, but—er—the voters has gone. I hain't clear how to perceed."
"Do your duty, chairman, like you said. Town meetings don't calculate to take account of hoss races, do they? Eh?... None of your affair, is it?"
Pilkinton looked at Scattergood, who smiled genially and said: "Duty's duty, Pilkinton. If you was to fail in your duty as a public officer, folks might git to think you wasn't the sort of citizen that could be trusted. Might even affect sich things as credit and promissory notes."
Mr. Pilkinton no longer hesitated.
"The polls is open," he said.
The fifty-two, ballots ready in their hands, started for the box, but Town-marshal Pease, awakened from his astonishment, lifted his voice.
"I got to stop that hoss race. Stop the votin' till I git back. That hoss race has got to be stopped."
"Seems to me like votes was more important than hoss races," said Scattergood.
"The town marshal will stay right where he is, and guard the ballot box," said the chairman.
The voters moved to the front, and as they deposited their ballots, sounds from without, indicating excitement and delight, were carried through the windows to their ears. The fifty-two voted and returned to their seats.
"If everybody present and desirin' to vote has done so," said Scattergood, "I move you them polls be closed."
Mr. Pilkinton put the motion, and it was carried with enthusiasm.
"Tellers," suggested Scattergood.
As was the custom, the votes were counted immediately. The result stood, Marvin Towne: fifty-three votes; Jim Allen, two votes; Pazzy Cox, four votes.
"I declare Marvin Towne elected our representative to the legislature," said Chairman Pilkinton, weakly, and sat down, mopping his brow.
"That bein' the final business of this meetin'," said Scattergood, "I move we adjourn."
The story swept the state. Twenty-four hours later Lafe Siggins visited Coldriver and was driven to Scattergood Baines's hardware store. Scattergood sat on the piazza, and as soon as the visitor was identified the male inhabitants of the village began to gather.
"Kin we talk in private?" said Mr. Siggins.
"Hain't got no need for privacy. Folks is welcome to listen to all I got to say."
Mr. Siggins frowned, but, being a politician and partially estimating the quality of his man, he did not protest.
"You beat us clever," said he.
"Calculated to," said Scattergood.
"In politics for good?"
"Calculate to be."
"What you aim to do?"
"Kind of look after the politics in Coldriver."
"Be you fur me or ag'in' me?"
"I'm fur you till my mind changes."
"How about this here Prohibition party?"
"Don't figger it's necessary after this."
"Guess we kin agree," said Siggins. "You can figger the party machinery's behind you. So fur's we're concerned, you're Coldriver."
"Calc'lated to be," said Scattergood.
"Some day," said Siggins, in not willing admiration, "you're goin' to run the state."
"Calc'late to," said Scattergood, and thereby rather took Mr. Siggins's breath. "Figger on makin' politics kind of a side issue to the hardware business. Find it mighty stimilatin'. Politics took in moderation, follerin' a meal of business, makes an all-fired tasty dessert.... G'-by, Siggins, g'-by."
HE ADMINISTERS SOOTHING SYRUP
"Calc'late both them young folks was guilty of an error of jedgment when they up and married each other," said Will Pratt, postmaster of Coldriver, in the judicial tone which he had affected since his elevation to office.
"Mean Marthy Norton and Jed Lewis, Will? Referrin' to them especial?" Scattergood peered after the young couple who had the moment before passed his hardware store, not walking jovially in the enjoyment of each other's presence as young married folks should walk, but sullenly and in silence.
"They be the i-dentical ones," Will declared. "Naggin' and quarrelin' and bickerin' from sunup to milkin' time. Used to do it private like, but it's been gittin' so lately you can't pass the house without hearin' 'em referrin' to each other mighty sharp and searchin'."
"Um!... Difficulty appears to be what, Will? Got any idee where lies the seat of the trouble?"
"They jest hain't habitually suited to one another," said Will. "Whatever one of 'em is fur the tother's ag'in'. Looks like they go to bed spiteful and wake up acr'monious. 'Tain't like as if Jed was the breed of feller that beats his wife, or that Marthy was the kind that looks out of the corner of her eye at drummers stoppin' to the hotel."
"Jest kind of irritate one another, eh?" said Scattergood, thoughtfully. "Kind of git on each other's nerves, you might say. Um!... I call to mind when they was married, five year ago. 'Twan't indicated them days. Jed he couldn't set easy if Marthy wasn't nigh, and Marthy went around lookin' as if she'd swallered a pin and it hurt if Jed was more 'n forty rod off. If ever two young folks was all het up over each other, Jed and Marthy was them young folks.... And 'twan't but five year ago...."
"End by separating" said the postmaster.
"There's the stage a-rattlin' in," Scattergood said, suddenly. "Better git ready f'r distributin' the mail, Will. G'-by, Will; and, Will, if 'twas me I dunno but what I'd kind of keep my mouth shet about Marthy and Jed. Outside gabblin' hain't calc'lated to help matters none. G'-by, Will."
The postmaster recognized his dismissal; he knew that the manner which had fallen upon Scattergood portended that something was on his mind and that he wanted to be alone and think, so he withdrew hastily and plodded across the dusty road to the office of which he was the executive head.
As for Scattergood, he pressed his double chin down upon his bulging chest, closed his eyes, and gave himself up enthusiastically to looking like a gigantic figure of discouragement. He waggled his head dubiously.
"Wonder if it kin be laid to my door," he said to himself. "I figgered they was about made f'r each other, and I brung 'em together.... Somethin's got crossways. Um!... Take them young folks separate, and you couldn't ask for nothin' better.... Don't understand it a mite.... Anyhow, things has turned out as they be, and what kin I do about it?"
His reinforced chair creaked under the shifting of his great weight as he bent mechanically to remove his shoes. With his toes imprisoned in leather, Scattergood's brain refused to function, a characteristic which greatly chagrined his wife, Mandy—so much so that she had considered sewing him up in his footwear, as certain mothers in the community sewed their children in their underwear for the winter.
Scattergood had amassed a fortune that might be called handsome, but it had not made him effete. His income had never warranted him in purchasing a pair of socks, so now, upon the removal of his shoepacs, his toes were fully at liberty to squirm and wriggle in the most soul-satisfying manner. He sat thus, battling with his problem, until Pliny Pickett, driver of the stage, and Scattergood's man, rattled up to the store in his dust-whitened conveyance.
"Afternoon, Scattergood," he said, in a manner which he endeavored to make as like his employer's as possible.
"Afternoon, Pliny. Successful trip, Pliny? Plenty of passengers? Eh? Any news down the valley?"
"Done middlin' well. Hain't much news, 'ceptin' that young Widder Conroy down to Tupper Falls died of somethin' the matter with her stummick and folks is wonderin' what'll become of her baby."
"Baby? What kind of a baby did she calc'late to have?"
"A he one—nigh onto two year old. Neighbors is lookin' after him."
"Not that anybody knows of."
"Um!... Wasn't passin' Jed Lewis's house, was you?"
"Didn't figger to."
"Wasn't passin' Jed Lewis's, was you?" Scattergood repeated, insistently.
"Um!... If you was to, and if you seen Jed, what was you figgerin' on sayin' to him?"
Pliny scratched his head and pondered.
"Calculate I'd mention the heat some, and maybe I might say suthin' about national politics."
"Wouldn't mention me, would you, Pliny? Don't figger my name might come up?"
"If it did, what 'u'd you say, eh? Hain't no reason for mentionin' that I might want to talk to him, is there? Hain't said so, have I?"
"You hain't," said Pliny, at last enlightened as to Scattergood's desire in the matter.
An hour later Jed Lewis sauntered past the store and stopped. "Pliny Pickett says you want to see me, Scattergood."
"Said that, did he? Told you I said I wanted to see you?"
"Wa-al, maybe not exactly. Not in so many words. But he kind of hinted around and pecked around till I figgered that was what the ol' coot was gittin' at."
"Um!... Didn't tell him nothin' of the kind, but as long's you're here you might as well set. Hain't seen much of you lately. How's the hayin'?"
"Too much rain. Got her cocked twice and had to spread her ag'in to dry."
"Hear any politics talked around, Jed?"
Jed was brief in his answers. He seemed depressed, and conducted himself like a man who had something on his mind.
"Any fresh news from anywheres?"
"Hain't heard none."
"Hear about the Packinses down to Bailey?"
"Never heard tell of 'em." There was excellent reason for this, because no such family as the Packinses existed in Bailey or anywhere else, to Scattergood's knowledge.
"Goin' to separate," said Scattergood.
Jed looked up quickly, bit his lip, and looked down again.
"What fur?" he asked.
"Nobody kin figger out. Jest agreein' to disagree. Can't git along, nohow. Always naggin' at each other and squabblin' and hectorin'.... Nice young folks, too. Used to set a heap of store by one another. Can't figger how they come to disagree like they do!"
"Nobody kin figger it out," said Jed, with sudden vehemence. "All to once you wake up and things is that way, and you dunno how they come to be. It jest drifts along. Fust you know things has went all to smash."
"Um!... You talk like you knowed somethin' about it."
"Nobody knows more," said the young man, bitterly. He was suddenly conscious that he wanted to talk about his domestic affairs; that he wanted to loose the story of his troubles and dwell upon them in all their ramifications.
"Do tell," said Scattergood, with an inflection of astonishment.
"Marthy and me has about come to the partin' of our roads," said Jed. "It's come gradual, without our noticin' it, but it's here at last. Seems like we can't bear the sight of each other—when we git together. And yit—sounds mighty funny, too—I calc'late to be as fond of Marthy as ever I was. But the minute we git together we bicker and quarrel till there hain't no pleasure into life at all."
"All Marthy's fault, hain't it? Kind of a mean disposition, hain't she?"
"No sich thing, Scattergood, and you know it dum well. There didn't use to be a sweeter-dispositioned girl in the state than Marthy.... Somethin's jest went wrong. They's times when I git mad and it all looks to be her fault, and then I ketch my own self startin' some hectorin' meanness. 'Tain't all her fault, and 'tain't all my fault. The whole sum and substance of it is that we can't git along with each other no more."
"So you calc'late to separate?"
"Been talkin' it up some."
"Hain't neither of us willin'. We fix it up and agree to try over ag'in, and then, fust thing we know, we're right into the middle of another squabble. I want Marthy, and I guess Marthy wants me, but we want each other like we was five year back and not like we be now."
"Been married five year, hain't you?"
"Five year last April."
"Um!... Wa-al, I hope nothin' comes of it, Jed. But if it has to it will. Better live happy separate than unhappy together.... G'-by, Jed."
Scattergood did not discuss this problem with Mandy, his wife, as it was his custom to discuss business problems. He did not mention the young Lewises because the first rule of Mandy's life was "Mind your own business," and it irritated her beyond measure to see Scattergood poking his finger into every dish that offered. He did talk the matter over with Deacon Pettybone, but got little enlightenment for his pains.
"Don't seem natteral," Scattergood said, "f'r young folks to git to quarrelin' and bickerin' ontil life hain't endurable no longer. 'Tain't natteral a-tall. Somethin' must be all-fired wrong somewheres."
"It's human nature to quarrel," said the deacon, gloomily. "Nothin' onusual about it."
"Human nature," said Scattergood, "gits blamed f'r a heap of things that ought to be laid at the door of human cussedness."
"Same thing," said the deacon. "If you're human you're cussed. Used to be so in the Garden of Eden, and it'll keep on bein' so till Gabriel blows his final trump."
"'Tain't no more natteral to bicker than 'tis to have dispepsy. Quarrelin' and hectorin' hain't nothin' but a kind of dispepsy that attacks families instid of stummicks. In both cases it means somethin' is wrong."
"Can't cure a unhappy family with a dose of calomel," said the deacon, acidly.
"Hain't so sure. Bet that identical remedy' u'd fix up three out of ten. But somethin' else is wrong with them young Lewises. A dose of somethin' 'u'd cure 'em, if only a feller could figger out what 'twas."
"Might try soothin' syrup," said the deacon, with an ironic grin. "Sounds like it ought to git results.... Soothin' syrup—eh? Have to tell the boys that one. Soothin' syrup. Perty good f'r an old man. Don't call to mind makin' no joke like that f'r twenty year."
"Do it often, Deacon," said Scattergood, gravely. "You won't have to take so much sody followin' meals to sweeten you up.... G'-by, Deacon.... Soothin' syrup. Um!... I swanny...."
He looked across the square and saw that Pliny Pickett was delighting an audience with apochryphal reminiscences, doubtless of a gallant and spicy character. It is characteristic of Scattergood that he waited until Pliny had reached his climax, shot it off, and was doubled up with laughter at his own narration, before he lifted up his voice and summoned the stage driver.
"Hey, Pliny! Step over here a minute."
"Comin'," said Pliny, with alacrity. Then in an aside to his audience: "See that? Can't let an evenin' pass without a conference with me. Sets a heap of store by my judgment."
"Sets more store by your laigs," said Old Man Bogle. "They kin run errants, anyhow."
Pliny hastened across the square, and in careful imitation of Scattergood said, "Evening Scattergood."
"Evening Pliny. Flow of language good as usual to-night? Didn't meet with no trouble sayin' what you had to say?"
"Not a mite, Scattergood."
"Come through Bailey to-day?"
"What's become of that What's-his-name baby you was a-tellin' about? The one that lost his ma and was bein' cared for by neighbors?"
"Nothin' hain't become of him. Calc'late he'll be took to a institution."
"Um! Likely-lookin' two-year-old, was he? Take note of any blemishes?"
"I hear tell by them that knows as how he was sound in wind and limb."
"Who's keepin' him, Pliny?"
"Mis' Patterson's sort of shuffled him in with her seven. Says she don't notice no difference to speak of. Claims 'tain't possible f'r eight childern to be no noisier 'n what seven be."
"Um!... G'-by, Pliny. Ever deal in facts over there to the post office? Ever have occasion to mention facts?"
"Er—not reg'lar facts, Scattergood. You needn't to worry about my talkin' too free."
"Seems like a feller that talks as much as you do would have to mention a fact once in a while. G'-by, Pliny."
It was two or three days later that Postmaster Pratt alluded again to Martha and Jed Lewis.
"They're gittin' wuss and wuss," he said, with some gratification. "Last night they was a rumpus you could 'a' heard forty mile. Ended up by him threatenin' to leave her, and by her tellin' him that if he didn't she'd lock him out of the house. Looks to me like that family fracas was about ripe to bust."
"Signs all p'int that way, Will. Too bad, hain't it? There's a reason f'r it, I calculate. Ever look f'r the reason, Will? Ever think about it at all?"
"Hain't had no time. Post office keeps me thinkin' night and day."
"Well, I have. Figgered a heap."
"Any results, Scattergood?"
"What be they?"
Scattergood's eyes twinkled in the darkness. "I got it all figgered out," he said, "that them young folks needs a dose of soothin' syrup."
"I want to know," said the postmaster, breathlessly and with bewilderment. "Soothin' syrup! I swan to man!... Hain't been out in the heat, have you, Scattergood?"
Scattergood made no reply to this question. He merely waggled his head and said: "G'-by, Will. G'-by."
Next morning Scattergood walked past the Lewis place. He passed it three times before he made up his mind whether to go in or not, but finally he turned through the gate and walked around to the kitchen door. Inside he saw Martha ridding up the kitchen, not with a morning song on her lips, but wearing a sullen expression which sat ill on her fine New England face.
"Mornin', Marthy," he called.
She looked up and smiled suddenly. The change in her face was astonishing.
"Mornin', Mr. Baines. Set right down on the porch. ... Let me fetch you a hot cup of coffee. 'Twon't take but a minute to make."
"Can't stop," said Scattergood. "I was lookin' for Jed."
"Jed's gone," she replied, shortly, the sullen expression returning to her face. "'He won't be back 'fore noon."
"Uh-huh!... Wa-al, I calc'late I kin keep on drawin' my breath till then—if you kin. I call to mind the time when you was all-fired oneasy if Jed got away from you for six hours in a stretch."
"Them times is gone," she said, shortly.
"Shucks!" said Scattergood.
"They be," she said, fiercely. "Hain't no use tryin' to hide it. Jed and me is about through. Nothin' but fussin' and backbitin' and maneuvering'. He don't care f'r me no more like he used to, and—"
"You don't set sich a heap of store by him," Scattergood interrupted.
Martha hesitated. "I do," she said, slowly. "But I can't put up with it no more."
"Jed's fault—mostly," said Scattergood, as one speaks who utters an accepted fact.
"No more 'n mine," she said, with a sudden flash. "I dunno what's got into us, Mr. Baines, but we no sooner git into the same room than it commences. 'Tain't no-body's fault—it jest is."
"Um!... Kinder like to have things the way they used to be?"
"Oh, Mr. Baines!" Her eyes filled. "Them first two-three years! Jed was the best man a woman ever had."
"Hain't drinkin', is he?"
"Never touches a drop."
"Jest his nasty temper," said Scattergood, casually.
"No sich thing.... It's jest happened so. We can't git on, and I'm through tryin'. One of us is gain' to git out of this house. I've made up my mind." She started untying her apron. "I'm a-goin' right now. It'll be off'n my mind then, and I kin sort of git a fresh start. I'm goin' right now and pack."
"Kind of hasty, hain't you?... Now, Marthy, as a special favor to me I wish you'd stay, maybe two days more. I got a special reason. If you was to go this mornin' it 'u'd upset my plans. After Sattidy you kin do as you like, and maybe it's best you should part. But I do wisht you could see your way to stayin' till Sattidy."
"I don't see why, Mr. Baines, but if it'll be any good to you, I'll do it. But not a minute after Sattidy—now mind that!"
"Much 'bleeged, Marthy. G'-by, Marthy. G'-by."
On Friday Scattergood was invisible in Coldriver village, for he had started away before dawn, driving his sway-backed horse over the mountain roads to the southward. He notified nobody of his going, unless it was Mandy, his wife, and even to her he did not make apparent his errand.
Before noon he was in Bailey and stopping before the small white house in which Mrs. Patterson managed by ingenuity to fit in a husband, a mother-in-law, an aged father, seven children of her own, the Conroy orphan, and a constantly changing number of cats. Nobody could have done it but Mrs. Patterson. The house resembled one of those puzzle boxes containing a number of curiously sawn pieces of wood, which, once removed, can be returned and fitted into place again only by some one who knows the secret.
Scattergood entered the house, remained upward of an hour, and then reappeared, followed by Mrs. Patterson, seven children, an old man, and an old woman—and in his arms was a baby whose lungs gave promise of a healthy manhood.
"Do this much, does he?" Scattergood asked, uneasily.
"Not more 'n most," said Mrs. Patterson.
"Um!... If he lets on to be hungry, what's the best thing to feed him up on? I got a bag of doughnuts and five-six sandriches and nigh on to half a apple pie in the buggy."
"Feed him them," said Mrs. Patterson, "and you'll be like to hear some real yellin'. What he's doin' now hain't nothin' but his objectin' to you a-carryin' him like he was a horse blanket.... You wait right there till I git a bottle of milk. And I'll fix you some sugar in a rag that you kin put into his mouth if he acts uneasy. It'll quiet him right off."
"Much 'bleeged. Hain't had much experience with young uns. Might's well start now. Bet me 'n this here one gits well acquainted 'fore we reach Coldriver."
"'Twouldn't s'prise me a mite," replied Mrs. Patterson, with something that might have been a twinkle in her tired eyes. "I almost feel I should go along with you."
"G'-by, Mrs. Patterson," said Scattergood, hastily, and he climbed into his buggy clumsily, placing the baby on the seat beside him, and holding it in place with his left arm. "G'-by."
The buggy rattled off. The baby hushed suddenly and began to look at the horse.
"Kind of come to your senses, eh?" said Scattergood. "Now you and me's goin' to git on fine if you jest keep your mouth shet. If you behave yourself proper I dunno but what I kin find a stick of candy f'r you when we git there."
Presently Scattergood looked down to find the baby asleep. He drove slowly and cautiously, whispering what commands he felt were indispensable to his horse. This delightful situation continued for upward of two hours, and Scattergood said to himself that folks who bothered about traveling with infants must be very easily worried.
"Jest as soon ride with this one clean to the Pacific coast," he said.
And then the baby awoke. It blinked and looked about it; it rubbed its eyes; it stared severely up at Scattergood; it opened its mouth tentatively, closed it again, and then—and then it uttered such an ear-piercing, long-drawn shriek that the old horse jumped with fright.
"Hey, there!" said the startled Scattergood. "Hey! what's ailin' you now?"
The baby closed his eyes, clenched his fists, kicked out with his legs, and gave himself up whole-heartedly to the exercise of his voice.
"Quit that," said Scattergood. "Now listen here; that hain't no way to behave. You won't git that candy—"
Louder and more piercing arose the baby's cries. Scattergood dropped the reins, lifted the baby to his knee, and jounced it up and down furiously, performing an act which he imagined to be singing, a thing he had heard was interesting and soothing to babies. It did not even attract this one's attention.
"Sufferin' heathen!" Scattergood said. "What in tunket was it that woman said I sh'u'd do? Hain't they no way of shuttin' him off? Look-ee here, young feller, you jest quit it.... B'jing! here's my watch. You kin listen to it tick."
The baby tried the watch on his toothless gums, found it not to his taste, and flung it from him with such vehemence that it would have suffered permanent injury but for the size and strength of the silver chain which attached it to Scattergood. The cries became more maddening. Scattergood was not hungry, so it did not occur to him that the infant might be thinking of food. He dandled it, he whistled, he sang, he pointed out the interesting attributes of his horse, and promised to direct attention to a rabbit or even a deer in a moment, but nothing availed. Perspiration was pouring down Scattergood's face, and his expression was that of a man who devoutly wishes he were far otherwise than he is.
Half an hour of this seemed to Scattergood like the length of a sizable day—and then he remembered the milk. Frantically he fished it out of the basket and thrust it toward the young person, who did with it what seemed right to him, and, with a gurgle of satisfaction, settled down to business. Scattergood sighed, wiped his forehead, and revised his opinion of folks who were worried at the prospect of travel with an infant.
The rest of that drive was a nightmare to Scattergood. When the baby yelled he was in torment. When the baby slept he was in torment lest he wake it, so that it would commence again to cry. He sweat cold and he sweat hot, and he wished wishes in his secret heart and blamed himself for many things—chief of which was that he had not brought Mandy along to bear the brunt of the adventure.
But at last, long after nightfall, with baby fast asleep, Scattergood drove into Coldriver by deserted and circuitous roads. He stopped his horse in a dark spot on the edge of the village, and, with the baby cautiously held in his arms, he slunk through back ways and short cuts to the house where Jed and Martha Lewis made their home. With meticulous stealth he passed through the gate, laid the baby on the doorstep, rang the bell long and determinedly, and then, with astonishing quiet and agility, hid himself in the midst of a clump of lilacs.
The door opened, and a light shone through upon the squirming bundle that lay upon the step. A tentative cry issued from the baby; a bass exclamation issued from Jed Lewis. "My Gawd! Marthy, somebody's left a baby here!"
Martha pushed past her husband and lifted the baby in her arms. She said no word, but Scattergood could see her press it close, and, in the light that came through the door, could see the expression of her face. It satisfied him.
"What we goin' to do with the doggone thing?" Jed demanded.
Martha pushed past him into the house, and he followed, wordless, closing the door after them.... Scattergood remained for some time, and then slunk away....
Postmaster Pratt gave the news to Scattergood in the morning.
"Somebody went and left a baby on to Jed Lewis's stoop last night," he declared. "Hain't nobody been able to identify it. Nary a mark nor a sign on to it no place. ... Whatever possessed anybody to leave a baby there of all places?"
"I want to know!" exclaimed Scattergood. "Girl er boy?"
"Boy, I'm told."
"What's Jed say?"
"Hain't sayin' much. Jest sets and kind of hangs on to his head, and every once in a while he gits up and looks at the baby and then goes back to holdin' his head."
"How about Marthy?"
"Marthy," said Postmaster Pratt. "I can't make out about Marthy, but I heard her a-singin' this mornin' 'fore breakfast. Fust time I heard her sing for more 'n a year."
"Might 'a' been singin' to the baby," Scattergood suggested.
"Naw, it was while she was gittin' breakfast. Jest the time she and Jed quarrels most powerful."
During the day all of Coldriver called to see the mysterious infant. Nobody could give a clue to its identity, and it was decided unanimously that it had been brought from a distance. As to the intentions of the Lewises regarding its disposition, they were noncommittal. It was universally accepted as fact, however, that the baby would be sent to an institution.
Thereupon Scattergood called upon the First Selectman.
"What's the town goin' to do about that baby?" he demanded. "Taxpayers'll be wantin' to know. Seems like the town's liable f'r its support."
"Calculate we be.... Calculate we be. I been figgerin' on what steps to take."
"Better go across to Jed's and notify 'em," said Scattergood. "They'll be expectin' you to take action prompt. I'll go 'long with you."
They walked down the street and rapped at the Lewises' door.
"Come on official business," said the First Selectman, pompously, to Jed, "connected with that there foundlin'."
Martha came hastily into the room. "What you want?" she demanded, in a dangerous voice.
"Come to tell you we would take that baby off'n your hands and send it to a institution. Git it ready, and we'll take it to-morrer."
"Take that baby!... Did you hear him, Jed Lewis? Did you hear that man say as how he was goin' to take away my baby?" She stumbled across the room to Jed and clutched the lapels of his coat. Scattergood noticed with some pleasure that Jed's arm went automatically about her waist. "Make 'em git out, Jed. Tell 'em they can't take this baby.... You want we should keep it, don't you, Jed?... We wanted one. You know how we wanted one.... You're goin' to let us keep it, hain't you, Jed?"
Jed put Martha aside gently and walked over to a makeshift crib in the corner, where the baby was asleep, where he stood for a moment looking down at it with a curious expression. Then he turned suddenly, strode to the door, opened it, and pointed. "Git!" he said to the First Selectman and Scattergood.
"Jed ... Jed ... darlin'," Martha cried, and as Scattergood passed out he saw from the corner of his eye that she was sobbing on her husband's hickory shirt and that he was patting her back with awkward gentleness.
"Looked a mite like Jed wanted we should go," said Scattergood.
"I'll have the law on to him. He'll be showed that he can't stand up to the First Selectman of this here town, I'll—"
"You'll go home and set down in the shade and cool off," said Scattergood, merrily, "and while you're a-coolin' you might sort of thank Gawd that there's sich things as human bein's with human feelin's, and that there's sich things as babies ...that sometimes gits themselves left on the right doorstep.... G'-by, Selectman. G'-by."
A week later Scattergood was passing the Lewis home early in the evening. In the side yard was a hammock under the trees which had been unoccupied this year past, but to-night it was occupied again. Martha was there with the baby against her breast, and Jed was there, his arm tightly about his wife, and one of the baby's hands lying on his calloused palm.... As Scattergood watched he saw Jed bend clumsily and kiss the tiny fingers ... and Martha turned a trifle and smiled up into her husband's eyes.
Scattergood passed on, blinking, perhaps because dust had gotten in his eyes. He stopped at the post office and spoke to Postmaster Pratt.
"Call to mind my speakin' of soothin' syrup and Jed Lewis and his wife?" he asked.
"Seems like I mind it, Scattergood."
"Jest walk past their house, Postmaster. Calc'late you'll see I figgered clost to right.... Marthy's a-sittin' there with Jed in the hammick, and they're a-holdin' on their lap the doggondest best soothin' syrup f'r man and wife that any doctor c'u'd perscribe.... Calculate it's one of them nature's remedies.... Go take a look, Postmaster.... G'-by."
HE HELPS WITH THE ROUGH WORK
Scattergood Baines, as he sat with shirt open at the throat, his huge body sagged down in the chair that had been especially reinforced to sustain his weight, seemed to passing Coldriver village to be drowsing. Many people suspected Scattergood of drowsing when he was exceedingly wide awake and observant of events. It was part of his stock in trade.
At this moment he was looking across the square toward the post office. A large, broad-shouldered young man, with hair sun-bleached to a ruddy yellow, had alighted from a buggy and entered the office. He was a fine, bulky, upstanding farmer, built for enduring much hard labor in times of peace and for performing feats of arms in time of war. He looked like a fighter; he was a fighter—a willing fighter, and folks up and down the valley stepped aside if it was noised about that Abner Levens had broken loose. It was not that Abner delighted in the fruit of the vine nor the essence of the maize; he was a teetotaler. But it did seem as if nature had overdone the matter of providing him with the machinery for creating energy and had overlooked the safety valve. Wherefore Abner, once or twice a year, lost his temper.
Now, losing his temper was not for Abner a matter of uttering a couple of oaths and of wrapping a hoe handle around a tree. He lost his temper thoroughly and seemed unable to locate it again for days. He rampaged. He roared up and down the valley, inviting one and all to step up and be demolished, which the inhabitants were very reluctant to do, for Abner worked upon his victims with thoroughness and enthusiasm.
When Abner was in his normal humor he was a jovial, noisily jovial young man, who would dance with the girls until the cock tired of crowing; who would give a day's work to a friend; who performed his civic and religious duties punctiliously, if gayly; who was honest to the fraction of a penny; and who would have been the most popular and admired youth in the valley among the maidens of the valley had it not been for their constant, uneasy fear that he might suddenly turn Berserk.
It was this young man whom Scattergood eyed thoughtfully, and, one might say, apprehensively, for Scattergood liked the youth and feared the germs of disaster that lay quiescent in his powerful body.
Pliny Pickett lounged past, stopped, eyed Scattergood, and seated himself on the step.
"Abner Levens 's in town," he said.
"Seen him," answered Scattergood.
"Calc'late Asa'll be in?"
"Bein' 's it's Sattidy night, 'most likely he'll come."
"Hope Abner's feelin' friendly, then," said Pliny with an anticipatory twinkle in his shrewd little gray eyes which gave direct contradiction to his words. "If Abner hain't feelin' jest cheerful them boys'll be wrastlin' all over town and pushin' down houses."
"They hain't never fit yet," said Scattergood.
"Nor won't if Asa has the say of it.... He's full as big as Abner, too. Otherwise they don't resemble twins none."
"Hain't much brotherly feelin' betwixt 'em."
"I hain't clear as to the rights of the matter," said Pliny, "but they hain't nothin' like a will dispute to make bad blood betwixt relatives.... Asa got the best of that argument, anyhow. Don't seem fair, exactly, is my opinion, that Old Man Levens should up and discriminate betwixt them boys like he did—givin' Asa a hog's share."
"Dunno's I'd worry sich a heap about that," said Scattergood, "if they hadn't both got het up about the same gal. Looks to me like one or tother of 'em took up with that gal jest to make mischief.... Seems like Abner was settin' out with her fust."
"Some says both ways. I dunno," said Pliny, impartially. "Anyhow, Abner he lets on public and constant that he's a-goin' to nail Asa's hide to the barn door.... It's one good, healthy hate betwixt them boys."
"And trouble'll come of it.... Wonder which of 'em Mary Ware favors? If she favors either of 'em, and trouble comes, it'll mix her in."
"Hope Abner gits him. Better for her, says I, to take up with a man like Ab, that's a good feller fifty weeks out of the year, and goes on a tear two weeks, than to be married to a cuss like Asa that jest goes along sort of gloomy and still and seekin'. I hain't never heard Asa laugh with no real enjoyment into it yet. He grins and shows his teeth. He's too dum quiet, and always acts like a feller that's afraid you'll find out what he's got in mind."
"Um!..." said Scattergood.
"Mary's about the pertiest girl in Coldriver," said Pliny. "Dunno but what she could handle Abner all right, too. Call to mind the firemen's picnic last year when she went with Abner, and he busted loose on that feller with the three shells and the leetle ball?"
"When the feller had robbed Half-wit Stenens of nigh on to twenty dollars? I call to mind."
"Abner was jest on the p'int of separatin' that feller into chunks and dispersin' the chunks over the county when Mary she steps up and puts her hand en his arm, and says, 'Abner!' ... Jest like that she said it, quiet and gentle, but firm. Abner he let loose of the feller and turned to look at her, and in a minute all the fight went out of his face and his eyes like somebody had drained it off. He kind of blushed and hung his head, and walked away with her.... She didn't tongue-lash him, neither, jest kept a-touchin' his arm so's he wouldn't forgit she was there."
"Um!..." said Scattergood. "Here comes Asa." He lifted himself from his creaking chair and started across the bridge. "If it's a-comin' off," he said to Pliny, "I want to git where I kin git a good view."
In the post office the twin brothers came face to face. Scattergood saw Abner's thin lips twist in a provocative sneer. Abner halted suddenly, at arm's length from his brother, and eyed him from head to foot, and Asa returned an insolent stare.
"You sneakin' hound," said Abner, without heat, as was his way in the beginning, always. "You're lower'n I thought, and I thought you was low." Scattergood took in these words and pondered them. Did they mean some new cause for enmity between the brothers? Suddenly Abner's eyes began to kindle and to blaze. Asa crouched and his teeth showed in a saturnine, crooked smile. No man could look upon him and accuse him of being afraid of Abner or of avoiding the issue.
"I know what you've been up to, you slinkin' varmint ... I know where you was Tuesday." Scattergood took possession of this sentence and placed it in the safety-deposit box of his memory. Where had Asa been Tuesday, he wondered, and what had Asa been doing there?
"I've put up with a heap from you, for you're my own flesh and blood. I hain't never laid a hand on you, though I've threatened it often. But now! by Gawd, I'm goin' to take you apart so's nobody kin put you together ag'in ... you mis'able, cheatin', low-down, crawlin' snake." With that he stepped back a pace and with his open palm struck Asa across the mouth.
Asa licked his lips and continued to smile his crooked, saturnine smile.
"Hain't scarcely room in here," he said, softly.
"Git outside and take off your coat," said Abner, "for I'm goin' to fix you so's nobody kin ever accuse flesh and blood of mine of doin' agin what I've ketched you doin'."
"What's gnawin' you," said Asa, softly, "is that I got the best farm and that I'm a-goin' to git your girl."
There was a stark pause. Abner stiffened, grew tense, as one becomes at the moment of bursting into dynamic action, but he did not stir. Scattergood was surprised, but he was more surprised by Abner's next words. "I hain't goin' to half kill you on account of your lyin' to father, nor on account of her—it's on account of her." The sentence seemed without sense or meaning, but Scattergood placed it with his other collected sentences; he did not perceive its meaning, but he did perceive that the first 'her' and the second 'her' were pronounced so that they became different words, like names, indicating, identifying, different persons. That was Scattergood's notion.
Asa turned on his heel and walked into the square, removing his coat as he went; Abner followed. They faced each other, crouching. Abner's face depicting wrath, Asa's depicting hatred.... Before a blow was struck, a girl, tall, slender, deep-bosomed, fit mate for a man of might, pushed through the circle of spectators. Her face was pale and distressed, but very lovely. Her brown eyes were dark with the emotion of the moment, and a wisp of wavy brown hair lay unnoticed upon her broad forehead.... She walked to Abner's side and touched his arm.
"Abner!" she said, gently.
He turned his blazing eyes upon her. "Not this time" he said. "Go away, Mary." Even in his rage he spoke to her in a voice of reverence.
"Abner!" she repeated.
He turned to his brother. "You get off this time," he said, evenly, "but there will be another time.... Asa, I think I am going to kill you...."
Asa laughed mockingly, and Abner took a threatening step toward him, but Mary touched his arm again. "Abner!" she said once more; and obediently as some well-trained mastiff he followed her through the gaping ring, she still touching his arm, and together they walked slowly up the road.
Two days later, about eight o'clock in the morning, Sheriff Ulysses Watts bustled down the street wearing his official, rather than his common, or meat-wagon, air. He paused, to speak excitedly to Scattergood, who sat as usual on the piazza of his hardware store.
"They've jest found Asa Levens's body," he ejaculated. "A-layin' clost to the road it was, with a bullet through the head. Clear case of murder.... I'm gatherin' a posse to fetch in the murderer."
"Murderer's known, is he?" said Scattergood, leaning forward, and eying the sheriff.
"Abner, of course. Who else would 'a' done it? Hain't he been a-threatenin' right along?"
"Anybody see him fire the shot, Sheriff? Any witnesses?"
"Nary witness. Nothin' but the body a-layin' where it fell."
"What was the manner of this shootin', Sheriff?"
"All I know's what I've told you."
"Gatherin' a posse, Ulysses? Who be you selectin'?"
"Various and sundry," said the sheriff.
"Any objection to deputizin' me?" said Scattergood. "Any notion I might help some?"
"Glad to have you, Scattergood.... Got to hustle. Most likely the murderer's escapin' this minute."
"Um!..." said Scattergood. "Need any catridges or anythin' in the hardware line, Sheriff? Figgerin' on goin' armed, hain't you?"
"Dunno but what the boys'll need somethin'. You keep open till I gather 'em here."
"I carry the most reliable line of catridges in the state," said Scattergood. "Prices low.... I'll be waitin', Sheriff."
In twenty minutes a dozen citizens of the vicinage gathered at Scattergood's store, each armed with his favorite weapon, rifle or double-barreled shotgun, and each wearing what he fancied to be the air of a dangerous and resolute citizen.
"Calc'late he'll be desprit," said Jed Lewis. "He won't be took without a fight."
It was characteristic of Scattergood that he delayed the setting out of the posse until, by his peculiar methods of salesmanship, he had pressed upon various members lethal merchandise to a value of upward of twenty dollars. This being done, they entered a big picnic wagon with parallel seats and set out for the scene of the crime. Coroner Bogle demanded that the body should be viewed officially before the man-hunt should begin. Scattergood threw the weight of his opinion with the coroner.
The body was found lying beside a narrow path leading from the road through a field to Asa Levens's farmhouse; it lay upon its face, with arms outstretched, very still and very peaceful, with the morning sun shining down upon it, and the robins singing from shadowing trees, and insects buzzing and whirring cheerfully in the fields, and the fields themselves peaceful and beautiful in their golden embellishments, ready for the harvest. Scattergood looked about him at the trappings of the day, and the thought came unbidden that it was a pleasant spot in which to die ... perhaps more pleasant than the dead man deserved.
"Shot from behind." said the sheriff.
"By somebody a-layin' in wait," said Jed Lewis.
"It was murder—cold-blooded murder," said the sheriff.
Scattergood stepped forward as the coroner turned the face up to the light of the sun.
"It was a death by violence," said Scattergood. "It may be murder.... Asa Levens wears, as he lies, the face of a man who troubled God...."
There was none in that little group to comprehend his meaning.
"There was no struggle," said the coroner.
"He never knowed he was shot," said Jed Lewis.
"Be you still a-goin' to arrest Abner Levens?" Scattergood asked.
"To be sure. He done it, didn't he? Who else would 'a' killed Asa?"
"Who else?" said Scattergood, solemnly.
They raised Asa Levens and carried him to his house. Having left him in proper custody, the posse re-entered its picnic van and drove with no small trepidation toward Abner Levens's farm, a mile away. Abner Levens was perceived from a distance, hoeing in a field.
"He's goin' to face it out," said the sheriff; "or maybe he wasn't expectin' Asa to be found yet."
The picnic van stopped beside the field and the armed posse scrambled out, holding its weapons threateningly; but as Abner was armed with nothing more lethal than a hoe there was some appearance of embarrassment among them, and more than one man endeavored to make his shooting iron invisible by dropping it in the long grass.
"Come on," said the sheriff, and in a body the posse advanced across the field toward Abner, who leaned upon his hoe and waited for them. "Abner Levens," said the sheriff, in a voice which was not of the steadiest, "I arrest you for murder."
Abner looked at the sheriff; Abner looked from one to another of the posse in silence. It seemed as if he were not going to speak, but at last he did speak.
"Then Asa Levens is dead," he said.
It was not a question; it was a statement, made with conviction. Scattergood Baines noted that Abner called his brother by name as if desiring to avoid the matter of blood kindred; that he made no denial.
"You know it better than anybody," said the sheriff.
Abner looked past the sheriff, over the uneven fields, with their rock fences, and beyond to the green slopes of the mountains as they upreared distinct, majestic, imposing in their serene permanence against the undimmed summer sky.
"Asa Levens is dead," said Abner, presently. "Now I know that God is not infinite in everything.... His patience is not infinite."
"It's my duty to warn you that anythin' you say kin be used ag'in' you," said the sheriff. "Be you comin' along peaceable?"
"I'm comin' peaceable," said Abner. "If God's satisfied—I be."
Abner Levens was locked in the unreliable jail of Coldriver village, and a watch placed over him. Those who saw him marveled at his demeanor; Scattergood Baines marveled at it, for it was not the demeanor of a man—even of an innocent man—accused of a crime for which the penalty was death. Abner sat upon the hard bench and looked quietly, even placidly, out at the brightness of day, as it was apparent beyond flimsy iron bars, and his expression was the expression of contentment.
He had not demanded the benefit of legal guidance; he had neither affirmed nor denied his guilt; indeed, he had uttered no word since the door of the jail had closed behind him.
Mary Ware spoke to the young man through the window of the jail in full view of all Coldriver.
"You didn't do it, Abner. I know you didn't do it," she said, so that all might hear, "and if you still want me, Abner, like you said, I'll stick by you through thick and thin."
"Thank ye, Mary," Abner replied. "Now I guess you better go away."
"What shall I do, Abner—to help you?"
"Nothing Mary. Looks like God's took aholt of matters. Better let him finish 'em in his own way."
That was all; neither Mary Ware nor any other could get more out of him, and it was said by many to be a confession of guilt.
"Realizes there hain't no use makin' a defense. Calc'lates on takin' his medicine like a man," said Postmaster Pratt.... There were those in town who voiced the wish that it had been some other than Abner who had killed Asa Levens. "His gun's been shot recent," said the sheriff. It was the final gram of evidence necessary to complete assurance of Abner's guilt.
Mary Ware was observed by many to walk directly from the jail window to Scattergood Baines's hardware store, and there to stop and address Scattergood, who sat barefooted, and therefore in deep thought, before the door of his place of business.
"Mr. Baines," said Mary, "you've helped other folks. Will you help me?"
"Help you how, Mary? What kin I do for you?"
"Abner isn't guilty, Mr. Baines"
"Tell you so?... Abner tell you so?"
"Um!... 'F he was innocent, wouldn't he deny it, Mary?" He did not permit her to reply, but asked another question. "What makes you say he hain't guilty, Mary?"
"Because I know it," she replied, simply.
"How do you know it, Mary? It's mighty hard to know anythin' on earth. How d'you know?"
"Because I know," said Mary.
"'Twon't convince no jury."
Mary stood in silence for a moment, and then turned away, not tearful, not despairing.
"Hold your hosses," said Scattergood. "Kin you think of anythin' that might convince a stranger that Abner is innocent?"
Mary considered. "Asa was shot," she said.
"From behind," said Mary.
Scattergood nodded again.
"Asa never knew who shot him," said Mary, and again Scattergood moved his head. "If Abner had killed Asa," she went on, "he would have done it with his hands. He would have wanted Asa to know who was killing him."
"Might convince them that knows Abner," said Scattergood, "but the jury'll be strangers." He paused, and asked, suddenly, "Why did you let Asa Levens come to court you?"
"Because I hated him," said Mary.
"Um!... Abner say anythin' to you?"
"He said God had taken hold of matters and we'd better let him finish them."
"When God takes holt of human affairs he mostly uses human bein's to do the rough work," said Scattergood.
"Abner's innocent," said Mary, stubbornly.
"Mebby so.... Mebby so."
"Will you help me clear him, Mr. Baines?"
"I'll help you find out the truth, Mary, if that'll keep you satisfied. Calculate I'd like to know the truth myself. Had a look at Asa's face a-layin' there by the road, and it interested me."
"Did you see that?" Mary asked, with sudden excitement.
"What?" asked Scattergood, curiously.
"The mark.... Sometimes it showed plain. It was a mark put on Asa Levens's face as a warning to folks that God mistrusted him."
"When he was dead it was different," said Scattergood, with solemnity. "It said he had r'iled God past endurance."
Mary nodded. She comprehended. "The truth will do," she said, confidently.
"Did Abner mention last Tuesday to you?" Scattergood asked.
"Where was Asa Levens last Tuesday? Do you know, Mary?"
"Why did Abner say to Asa yesterday, 'It's not on account of her, it's on account of her'?"
"I don't know."
"G'-by, Mary. G'-by." It was so Scattergood always ended a conversation, abruptly, but as one became accustomed to it it was neither abrupt nor discourteous.
"Thank you," said Mary, and she went away obediently.
As the afternoon was stretching toward evening, Scattergood sauntered into Sheriff Ulysses Watts's barn.
"Who's feedin' and waterin' Asa Levens's stock?" he asked.
"Dummed if I didn't clean forgit 'em," confessed the sheriff.
"Any objection if I look after 'em, Sheriff? Any logical objection? Hoss might need exercisin'. Can't never tell. Want I should drive up and do what's needed to be done?"
"Be much 'bleeged," said Sheriff Watts.
Scattergood drove briskly to Asa Levens's farm, watered and fed the stock, and then led out of its stall Asa Levens's favorite driving mare. He hitched it to Asa Levens's buggy and mounted to the seat. "Giddap," he said to the mare, and dropped the reins on her back. She started out of the gate and turned toward town. Scattergood let the reins lie, attempting no guidance. At the next four corners the mare hesitated, slowed, and, feeling no direction from her driver, turned to the left. Scattergood nodded his head.
The mare trotted on, following the slowly lifting mountain road for a matter of two miles, and then turned again down a highway that was little more than a tote road. Half a mile later she stopped with her nose against the fence of a shabby farmhouse, and sagged down, as is the custom of horses when they realize they are at their destination and have a rest of duration before them. Scattergood alighted and fastened her to the fence.
As he swung open the gate a middle-aged man appeared in the door of the house, and over his shoulder Scattergood could see the white face of a woman—staring.
"Evening Jed," said Scattergood. "Evening Mis' Briggs."
"Howdy, Mr. Baines? Wa'n't expectin' to see you. What fetches you this fur off'n the road?"
"Sort of got here by accident, you might say. Didn't come of my own free will, seems as though. Kind of tired, Jed. Mind if I set a spell?... How's the cannin', Mis' Briggs?"
"Done up thutty quarts to-day, Mr. Baines," said the young woman, who was Jed Briggs's wife, a woman fifteen years his junior, comely, desirable, vivid.
"Um!... Got a hoss out here. Want you should both come and look her over." He raised himself to his feet, and was followed by Jed Briggs and his wife to the fence.
"Likely mare," said Scattergood, blandly.
Startlingly Mrs. Briggs laughed, shrilly, unpleasantly, as a woman laughs in great fear.
"Gawd!" said Jed Briggs, "it's—"
"Yes," said Scattergood, gently. "It's Asa Levens's mare. Was she here last Tuesday?"
"She was here Tuesday, Scattergood Baines," said Jed Briggs. "What's the meanin' of this?"
"I knowed she was somewheres Tuesday," Scattergood said, impersonally. "Didn't know where, but I mistrusted she'd been to that place frequent. Jest got in and give her her head. She brought me.... Asa Levens is dead."
"Dead!" said Jed Briggs in a hushed voice.
"He deserved to die.... He deserved to die.... He deserved to die ..." the young woman repeated shrilly, hysterically.
"Was you in town to lodge Tuesday night, Jed?"
"Asa come every lodge night, Mis' Briggs?"
"He always came—when Jed was here and when Jed was away.... When Jed was here he'd jest set eyin' me and eyin' me ... and when Jed was gone he—he talked...."
"Asa owned the mortgage on the place," said Jed, as if that explained something. Scattergood nodded comprehension.
"Keep up your int'rest, Jed?"
"Year behind. Asa was threatenin' foreclosure."
"Threatened to throw us offn the place ... ag'in and ag'in he threatened—and we'd 'a' starved, 'cause Jed hain't strong. It's me does most of the work.... What we got into this place is all we got on earth ... and he threatened to take it."
"He come Tuesday night," said Scattergood, as a prompter speaks.
"Hush, Lindy," said Jed.
"I calculate you'd best both of you talk," said Scattergood. "You'd better tell me, Jed, jest why you shot Asa Levens."
Lindy Briggs uttered a choking cry and clutched her husband; Jed Briggs stared at Scattergood with hunted eyes.
"It'll be best for you to tell. I'm standin' your friend, Jed Briggs.... Better tell me than the sheriff.... Asa Levens was here Tuesday night...."
"He excused us from payin' our int'rest," said Jed, and then he, too, laughed shrilly. "Let us off our int'rest. Lindy told me when I come home. Couldn't hardly b'lieve my ears." Jed was talking wildly, pitifully. "Lindy was a-layin' on the floor, sobbin', when I come home, and she was afeard to tell me why Asa let us off our int'rest, but I coaxed her, Mr. Baines, and she told me—and so I shot Asa Levens 'cause he wa'n't fit to live."
Scattergood nodded. "Sich things was wrote on Asa's face," he said. "But what about Abner? Wa'n't goin' to let him suffer f'r your act, Jed? What about Abner?"
"Him too.... All of that blood.... I met Abner on the road of a Tuesday when I wa'n't quite myself with all that had happened, and I stopped his hoss and accused his brother to his face.... He listened quiet-like, and then he laughed. That's what Abner done, he laughed.... When I heard he was arrested f'r the killin', I laughed.... Back in Bible times, if one of a family sinned, God wiped out the whole of the kin...."
Scattergood was thoughtful. "Yes," he said, "Abner would have laughed. That was like Abner.... Now I calc'late you and Mis' Briggs better fix up and drive to town with me.... Don't be afeard. Right'll be done, and there hain't no more sufferin' fallin' to your share, ... You been doin' God's rough work, Jed, and I don't calc'late he figgers to have you punished f'r it...."
Next morning at ten by the clock the coroner with his jury held inquest over the body of Asa Levens, and over that body Jed Briggs and Lindy, his wife, told their story under oath to ears that credited the truth of their words because they knew the man of whom those words were spoken. The jury deliberated briefly. Its verdict was in these words:
"We find that Asa Levens came to his death by act of God, and that there are found no reasons for further investigation into this matter."
And so it stands in the imperishable records of the township; legal authority recognized the right of Deity to utilize a human being for his rougher sort of work.
"I knew it was something like this," Mary Ware said, clinging openly and unashamed to Abner Levens. "It's why he couldn't defend himself."
Abner nodded. "My flesh and blood was guilty. Could I free myself by accusin' the husband of this woman?... I calc'lated God meant to destroy us Levenses, root and branch.... It was his business, not mine."
"I've took note," said Scattergood, "that them that was most strict about mindin' their own business was gen'ally most diligent about doin' God's—all unbeknownst to themselves."
HE INVESTS IN SALVATION
From Scattergood Baines's seat on the piazza of his hardware store he could look across the river and through a side window of the bank. Scattergood was availing himself of this privilege. As a member of the finance committee of the bank Scattergood was naturally interested in that enterprise, so important to the thrifty community, but his interest at the moment was not exactly official. He was regarding, speculatively, the back of young Ovid Nixon, the assistant cashier.
His concern for young Ovid was sartorial. It is true that a shiny alpaca office coat covered the excellent shoulders of the boy, but below that alpaca and under Scattergood's line of vision were trousers—and carefully stretched over a hanger on a closet hook was a coat! There was also a waistcoat, recognized only by the name of vest in Coldriver, and that very morning Scattergood had seen the three, to say nothing of a certain shirt and a necktie of sorts, making brave young Ovid's figure.
Ovid passed Scattergood's store on the way to his work. Baines had regarded him with interest.
"Mornin', Ovid" he said.
"Morning, Mr. Baines."
"Calc'late to be wearin' some new clothes, Ovid? Eh?"
Ovid smiled down at himself, and wagged his head.
"Don't recall seem' jest sich a suit in Coldriver before," said Scattergood. "Never bought 'em at Lafe Atwell's, did you?"
"Got 'em in the city," said Ovid.
"I want to know! Come made that way, Ovid, or was they manufactured special fer you?"
"Best tailor there was," said Ovid.
"Must 'a' come to quite a figger, includin' the shirt and necktie."
"Forty dollars for the suit," Ovid said, proudly, "and it busted a five-dollar bill all to pieces to git the shirt and tie."
Scattergood waggled his head admiringly. "Must be a satisfaction," he said, "to be able to afford sich clothes."
Ovid looked a bit doubtful, but Scattergood's voice was so interested, so bland, that any suspicion of irony was allayed.
"How's your ma?" Scattergood asked.
"Pert," answered Ovid. "Ma's spry. Barrin' a siege of neuralgy in the face off and on, ma hain't complainin' of nothin'."
"Has she took to patronizin' a city tailor, too?" Scattergood asked.
"Mostly," said Ovid, "ma makes her own."
"Still does sewin' for other folks?"
"Ma enjoys it," said Ovid, defensively. "Says it passes the time."
"Passes consid'able of it, don't it? Passes the time right up till she gits into bed?"
"It's a handsome rig-out," said Scattergood. "Credit to you; credit to Coldriver; credit to the bank."
Ovid glanced down at his legs to admire them.
"Been spendin' Saturday nights and Sundays out of town for a spell, hain't you? Seems like I hain't seen you around."
"Been takin' the 'three-o'clock' down the line," said Ovid, complacently.
"Girl?" said Scattergood—one might have noticed that it was hopefully.
"Naw.... Fellers. We go to the opery Saturday nights and kind of amuse ourselves Sundays."
"Um!... G'-by, Ovid."
"Good-by, Mr. Baines."
Coldriver had seen tailor-made clothing before, worn by drummers and visitors, but it is doubtful if it had ever really experienced one personally adorning one of its own citizens. A few years before it had been currently reported that Jed Lewis was about to have such a suit to be married in, but it turned out that the major part of the sum to be devoted to that purpose actually went as the first payment on a parlor organ and that Lafe Atwell purveyed the wedding garment. This denouement had created a breath of dissatisfaction with Jed, and there were those who argued that organs were more wasteful than clothes, because you could go to church of a Sunday, drop a dime in the collection plate, and hear all the organ music a body needed to hear.
So now Scattergood regarded Ovid speculatively through the window, setting on opposite mental columns Ovid's salary of nine hundred dollars a year and the probable total cost of tailor-made clothes and weekly trips down the line on the "three-o'clock."
Scattergood was interested in every man, woman, and child in Coldriver. Their business was his business. But just now he owned an especial concern for Ovid, because he, and he alone, had placed the boy in the bank after Ovid's graduation from high school—and had watched him, with some pleasure, as he progressed steadily and methodically to a position which Coldriver regarded as one of the finest it was possible for a young man to hold. To be assistant cashier of the Coldriver Savings Bank was to have achieved both social and business success.
Scattergood liked Ovid, had confidence in the boy, and even speculated on the possibility of attaching Ovid to his own enterprises as he had attached young Johnnie Bones, the lawyer. But latterly he had done a deal of thinking. In the first place, there was no need for Mrs. Nixon to continue to take in sewing when Ovid earned nine hundred a year; in the second place, Ovid had been less engrossed in his work and more engrossed by himself and by interests "down the line."
It was Scattergood's opinion that Ovid was sound at bottom, but was suffering from some sort of temporary attack, which would have its run ... if no serious complication set in. Scattergood was watching for symptoms of the complication.
Three weeks later Ovid took the "three-o'clock" down the line of a Saturday afternoon and failed to return Sunday night. Indeed, he did not appear Monday night, nor was there explanatory word from him. Mrs. Nixon could give Scattergood no explanation, and she herself, in the midst of a spell of neuralgia, was distracted.
Scattergood fumbled automatically for his shoe fastenings, but, recalling in time that he was seated in a lady's parlor, restrained his impulse to free his feet from restraint in order that he might clear his thoughts by wriggling his toes.
"Likely," he said, "it's nothin' serious. Then, ag'in, you can't tell.... You do two things, Mis' Nixon: go out to the farm and stay with my wife—Mandy'll be glad to have you ... and keep your mouth shet."
"You'll find him, Mr. Baines?... You'll fetch him back to me?"
"If I figger he's wuth it," said Scattergood.
He went from Mrs. Nixon's to the bank, where the finance committee were gathering to discuss the situation and to discover if Ovid's disappearance were in any manner connected with the movable assets of the institution. There were Deacon Pettybone, Sam Kettleman, the grocer, Lafe Atwell, Marvin Towne—Scattergood made up the full committee.
"How be you?" Scattergood said, as he sat in a chair which uttered its protest at the burden.
"What d'you think?" Towne said. "Got any notions? Noticed anythin' suspicious?"
"Not 'less it's that there dude suit of clothes," said Atwell, with some acidity.
"You put him in here," said Kettleman to Scattergood.
"Calculate I did.... Hain't found no reason to regret it—not yit. Looks to me like the fust move's to kind of go over the books and the cash, hain't it?... You fellers tackle the books and I'll give the vault an overhaulin'."
Scattergood already had made up his mind that if Ovid had allowed any of the bank's funds to cling to him when he went away the shortage would be discoverable in the cash reserve, undoubtedly in a lump sum, and not by an examination of the books. It was his judgment that Ovid was not of a caliber to plan the looting of a bank and skillfully to hide his progress by a falsification of the books. That required an imagination that Ovid lacked. No, Scattergood said to himself, if Ovid had looted he had looted clumsily—and on sudden provocation.... Therefore he chose the vault for his peculiar task.
It is a comparatively easy task to count the cash reserve in the vault of so small a bank. Even a matter of thirty-odd thousand dollars can be checked by one man alone in half an hour, for the small silver is packed away in rolls, each roll containing a stated sum; the larger silver is bagged, each bag bearing a label stating the amount of its contents, and the currency is wrapped in packages containing even sums.... Scattergood went to work. He went over the cash carefully, and totaled the sums he set down on a bit of paper.... He found the amount to be inadequate by exactly three thousand dollars.
"Huh!" said Scattergood to himself. "Ovid hain't no hawg."
One might have thought the young man had dropped in Scattergood's estimation. It would have been as easy to make away with twenty thousand dollars as with three thousand, and the penalty would not have been greater.
"Kind of a childish sum," said Scattergood to himself. "'Tain't wuth bustin' up a life over—not three thousand.... Calc'late Ovid hain't bad—not at a figger of three thousand. Jest a dum fool—him and his tailor-made clothes...."
In the silence of the vault Scattergood removed his shoes and sat on a pile of bagged silver. His pudgy toes worked busily while he reflected upon the sum of three thousand dollars and what the theft of that amount might indicate. "Looked big to Ovid," he said to himself. Then, "Jest a dum young eediot...."
He replaced the cash and, carrying his shoes in his hand, left the vault and closed it behind him. His four fellow committeemen were sweating over the books, but all looked up anxiously as Scattergood appeared. He stood looking at them an instant, as if in doubt.
"What d'you find?" asked Atwell.
"She checks," said Scattergood.
The four drew a breath of relief. Scattergood wished that he might have joined them in the breath, but there was no relief for him. He had joined his fortunes to those of Ovid Nixon—and to those of Ovid's mother; had become particeps criminis, and the requirements of the situation rested heavily upon him.
It was past midnight before the laborious four finished their review of the books and joined with Scattergood in giving Ovid a clean bill of health.
"Didn't think Ovid had it in him to steal," said Kettleman.
"Hain't got no business stirrin' us up like this for nothin'," said Atwell, acrimoniously.
"Maybe," suggested Scattergood, "Ovid's come down with a fit of suthin'."
"Hope it's painful," said Lafe, "I'm a-goin' home to bed."
"What'll we do?" asked Deacon Pettybone.
"Nothin'," said Scattergood, "till some doin' is called fur. Calc'late I better slip on my shoes. Might meet my wife." Mandy Scattergood was doing her able best to break Scattergood of his shoeless ways.
"Guess we'll let Ovid git through when he comes back," said Deacon Pettybone, harshly, making use of the mountain term to denote discharge. There no one is ever discharged, no one ever resigns. The single phrase covers both actions—the individual "gets through."
"I always figgered," said Scattergood, urbanely, "that it was allus premature to git ahead of time.... I'm calc'latin' on runnin' down to see what kind of a fit of ailment Ovid's come down with."
Next morning, having in the meantime industriously allowed the rumor to go abroad that Ovid was suddenly ill, Scattergood took the seven-o'clock for points south. He did not know where he was going, but expected to pick up information on that question en route. His method of reaching for it was to take a seat on a trunk in the baggage car.
The railroad, Scattergood's individual property and his greatest step forward in his dream for the development of the Coldriver Valley, was but a year old now. It was twenty-four miles long, but he regarded it with an affection only second to his love for his hardware store—and he dealt with it as an indulgent parent.... Pliny Pickett once stage driver, was now conductor, and wore with ostentation a uniform suitable to the dignity, speaking of "my railroad" largely.
"Hear Ovid Nixon's sick down to town" said Pliny.
"Sich a rumor's come to me."
"Likely at the Mountain House?" ventured Pliny.
"Shouldn't be s'prised."
"That's where he mostly stopped," said Pliny.
"Um!... Wonder what ailment Ovid was most open to git?"
Scattergood and Pliny talked politics for the rest of the journey, and, as usual, Pliny received directions to "talk up" certain matters to his passengers. Pliny was one of Scattergood's main channels to public opinion. At the junction Scattergood changed for the short ride to town, and there he carried his ancient valise up to the Mountain House, where he registered.
"Young feller named Nixon—Ovid Nixon—stoppin' here?" he asked the clerk.
"Checked out Monday night."
"Um!... Monday night, eh? Expect him back? I was calc'latin' on meetin' him here to-day."
"He usually gets in Saturday night.... You might ask Mr. Pillows, over there by the cigar case. He and Nixon hang out together."
Scattergood scrutinized Mr. Pillows and did not like the appearance of that young man; not that he looked especially vicious, but there was a sort of useless, lazy, sponging look to him. Baines set him down as the sort of young man who would play Kelly pool with money his mother earned by doing laundry, and, in addition, catalogued him as a "saphead." He acted accordingly.
Walking lightly across the lobby, he stopped just behind Pillows, and then said, with startling sharpness, "Where's Ovid Nixon?"
The agility with which Mr. Pillows leaped into the air and descended, facing Scattergood, did some little to raise him in the estimation of Coldriver's first citizen. Nor did he pause to study Scattergood. One might have said that he lit in mid-career, at the top of his speed, and was out of the door before Scattergood could extend a pudgy hand to snatch at him. Scattergood grinned.
"Figgered he'd be a mite skittish," he said to the girl behind the cigar counter.
"I thought something sneaking was going on," said the young woman, as if to herself.
Scattergood gave her his attention. She had red hair, and his respect for red hair was a notable characteristic. There was a freckle or two on her nose, her eyes were steady, and her mouth was firm—but she was pretty. Scattergood continued to regard her in silence, and she, not disconcerted, studied him.
"You and me is goin' to eat dinner together this noon," he said, presently.
"Business or pleasure?" Her rejoinder was tart.
"If it's business, we eat. If it's pleasure, you've stopped at the wrong cigar counter."
"I knowed I was goin' to take to you," said Scattergood. "You got capable hair.... This here was to be business."
"Twelve o'clock sharp, then," she said.
He looked at the clock. It lacked half an hour of noon.
"G'-by," he said, and went to a distant corner, where he seated himself and stared out of the window, trying to imagine what he would do if he were Ovid Nixon, and what would make him appropriate three thousand dollars.... At twelve o'clock he lumbered over to the cigar case. "C'm on," he said. "Hain't got no time to waste."
The girl put on her hat and they walked out together.
"What's your name?" Scattergood asked.
"Pansy O'Toole.... You're Scattergood Baines—that's why I'm here.... I don't eat with every man that oozes out of the woods."
Scattergood said nothing. It was a fixed principle of his to let other folks do the talking if they would. If not he talked himself—deviously. Seldom did he ask a direct question regarding any matter of importance, and so strong was habit that it was rare for him to put any query directly. If he wanted to know what time it was he would lead up to the subject by mentioning sun dials, or calendars, or lunar eclipses, and so approach circuitously and by degrees, until his victim was led to exhibit his watch. Pansy did not talk.
"See lots of folks, standin' back of that counter like you do?" he began.
"Um!... From lots of towns?... From Boston?"
"From Tupper Falls?"
"If you want to know if I know Ovid Nixon, why don't you ask right out?"
Scattergood looked at her admiringly.
"I know him," she said.
"He's a nice boy." Scattergood liked the way she said "nice." It conveyed a fine shade of meaning, and he thought more of Ovid in consequence. "But he's awful young—and green."
"Calc'late he is—calc'late he is."
"He needs somebody to look after him," she said, sharply.
"Thinkin' of undertakin' the work?... Favor undertakin' it?"
She looked at him a moment speculatively. "I might do worse. He'd be decent and kind—and I've got brains. I could make something of him...."
"Um!... Ovid's up and made somethin' of himself."
"What?" She spoke quickly, sharply.
Scattergood glanced sidewise to study the effect of this curt announcement, but her face was expressionless, rather too expressionless.