"That's why you're looking for him?"
"To put him in jail?"
"What would you calc'late on doin' if you was me?"
"Before I did anything," she said, slowly, "I'd make up my mind if he was a thief, or if he just happened to take whatever it was he has taken.... I'd be sure he was bad. If I made up my mind he'd just been green and a fool—well, I'd see to it he never was that kind of a fool again.... But not by jailing him."
"Um!... Three thousand's a lot of money."
"Mr. Baines, I see men and other kinds of men from behind my cigar counter—and the kind of a man Ovid Nixon could be is worth more than that."
"Mebby so.... Mebby so. But if I was investin' in Ovid, I'd want some sort of a guarantee with him. Would you be willin' to furnish the guarantee? And see it was kept good?"
"If you mean what I think you do—yes," she said, steadily. "I'd marry Ovid to-morrow."
"Him bein' a thief?"
"Girls that sell cigars aren't so select," she said, a trifle bitterly.
"Pansy," said Scattergood, and he patted her back with a heavy hand that was, nevertheless, gentle, "if 'twan't for Mandy, that I've up and married already, I calc'late I'd try to cut Ovid out.... But then I've kinder observed that every woman you meet up with, if she's bein' crowded by somethin' hard and mean, strikes you as bein' better 'n any other woman you ever see. I call to mind a number.... Ovid some attached to you, is he?"
"He's never made love to me, if that's what you mean."
"Think you could land him—for his good and yourn?"
"I—why, I think I could," she said.
"Is it a bargain?"
"For, and in consideration of one dollar to you in hand paid, and the further consideration of you undertakin' to keep an eye on him till death do you part, I agree to keep him out of jail—and without nobody knowin' he was ever anythin' but honest—and a dum fool."
She held out her hand and Scattergood took it.
"What's got Ovid into this here mess?"
"Bucket shop," she said.
"Um!... They been lettin' him make a mite of money—up to now, eh? So he calc'lated on gittin' rich at one wallop. Kind of led him along, I calc'late, till they got him to swaller hook, line, and sinker ... and then they up and jerked him floppin' on to the bank.... Who owns this here bucket shop?"
"Perty slick, is he?"
"Slick enough to take care of Ovid and sheep like him—but I can't help thinking he's a sheep himself."
"He got Ovid's three thousand, or Ovid 'u'd 'a' come back Sunday night.... Got to find Ovid—and got to git that money back."
"I've an idea Ovid's right in town. If you're suspicious, and keep your eyes open, you can tell when something's going on. That Pillows man you scared knows, and Peaney acts like the man of mystery in one of the kind of plays we get around here. It's breaking out all over them.... I'll bet they've fleeced Ovid, and now they're hiding him—to save themselves more than him."
"And Ovid's the kind that would let himself be hid," said Scattergood. "Do you and me work together on this job?"
"If I can help—"
"You bet you kin.... We'll jest let Ovid lie hid while we kind of maneuver around Peaney some—commencin' right soon. Peaney ever aspire to take you to dinner?"
"Yes," she said, shortly.
"Git organized to go with him to-night...."
* * * * *
It was in the neighborhood of five o'clock when Mr. Peaney came into the Mountain House and stopped at the cigar counter for cigarettes.
"Any more friendly to-day, sister?" he asked.
Pansy smiled and leaned across the case. "The trouble with you," she said, in a low tone, "is that you're a piker."
"Always after small change."
"Just show me some real money once," he said, flamboyantly.
"It would scare you," she said.
"Show me some—you'd see how it would scare me."
"I wonder," she said, musingly, "if you have the nerve?"
"For what?" he said, with quickened interest.
"To go after a wad that I know of?"
"Say," he said, his eyes narrowing, his face assuming a look of cupidity and cunning, "do you know something? If you do, come on out where we can eat and talk. If there's anything in it I'll split with you."
"I know you will," she said, promptly. "Fifty-fifty.... In an hour, at Case's restaurant."
At the hour set Pansy and Mr. Peaney found a corner table in the little restaurant, and when they had ordered Peaney asked, "Well, what you got on your mind?"
"A big farmer from the backwoods—with a trunkful of money. Don't know how he got it. Must have sold the family wood lot, but he's got it with him ... and he came down to invest it."
"From what he said it's more than ten thousand dollars."
"Lead me to him."
"He'll need some playing with—thinks he's sharp.... But I've been talking to him. Guess he took a liking to me. Wanted to take me to dinner—and he did."
"Say!" exclaimed Mr. Peaney, in admiration, "I had you sized all wrong."
"It'll take nerve," Pansy said.
"It's what I've got most of."
"He's no Ovid Nixon."
"Eh?... What d'you know about Ovid Nixon?"
"I know he was too green to burn and that you and he were together a lot.... Isn't that enough?"
He smiled complacently, seeing a compliment. "He was easy—but he got to be a nuisance."
"I see," she nodded, wisely. "Lost more than he had, was that it? And then helped himself to what he didn't have?"
"I'm not supposed to know where it came from. None of my business."
"Of course not"—her tone was rank flattery. "Wants you to take care of him. Threatens to squeal. I know.... So you've got to hide him out."
"You are a wise one. Where'd you get it?"
"I didn't always sell cigars for a living.... He isn't apt to break loose and spoil this thing, is he?"
"Too scared to show his face.... If we can pull this across he can show it whenever he wants to—I'll be gone."
So Ovid Nixon was here—in town. It was as she had reasoned. If here, he was somewhere in the building Mr. Peaney occupied as a bucket shop.
"It's understood we divide—if I introduce my farmer to you—and show you how to get it."
"You bet, sister."
"Have you any money? Nothing makes people so confident and trustful as the sight of money?"
"I've got it," he said, complacently.
"Then you come to the hotel this evening.... Just do as I say. I'll manage it. In a couple of days—if you have the nerve and do exactly what I say—you can forget Ovid Nixon and take a long journey."
Two hours later, when Peaney entered the lobby of the Mountain House, he saw a very fat, uncouthly dressed backwoodsman talking to Pansy. She signaled him and he walked over nonchalantly.
"Mr. Baines," said Pansy, "here's the gentleman I was speaking about. He can advise you. He's a broker, and everybody trusts him." She lowered her voice. "He's very rich, himself. Made it in stocks. I guess he knows what's going on right in Mr. Rockefeller's private office.... You couldn't do better than to talk business with him.... Mr. Peaney, Mr. Baines."
"Very glad to meet you, sir," said Peaney, in his grandest manner.
"Much obleeged, and the same to you," said Scattergood, beaming his admiration. "Hear tell you're one of them stock brokers."
"Yes, sir. That's my business."
"Guess you and me had better talk some. I'm a-lookin' for somebody to gimme advice about investin'. I got a sight of money to invest some'eres—a sight of it. Railroad stocks, or suthin'. Calc'late on makin' myself well off."
"I'm not taking any new clients, Mr. Baines. I'm very busy indeed." He glanced at Pansy. "But if you are a friend of Miss O'Toole's possibly I can break my rule.... About how much do you wish to invest?"
"Oh, say fifteen to twenty thousand. Figger on doublin' it up, or mebby better 'n that. Folks does it. I've read about 'em."
"To be sure they do—if they are properly advised. But one has to know the stock market—like a book."
"And Mr. Peaney knows it like a book," said Pansy.
Peaney lowered his voice. "I have agents—men in the offices of great corporations, and they telegraph me secrets. I know when a big stock manipulation is coming off—and my clients profit by it."
"Don't call to mind none, right now, do you?"
Mr. Peaney looked about him cautiously. "I do," he said, in a low voice. "My man in the office of the president of the International Utilities Company wired me to-day that to-morrow they were going to shove the stock up five points."
"Um!... Don't understand. What's that mean?"
"It means, if you invested a thousand dollars on margin and the stock went up five points, you would get your money back, and five thousand dollars besides."
"Say!... I knowed they was money to be made easy.... But I hain't no fool. I don't know you, mister." Scattergood became very cunning. "I don't know this here girl very well—though I kinder took to her at the first. I'm a-goin' cautious. I might git smouged.... What I aim to do is to go careful till I git on to the ropes and know who to trust.... Hain't goin' to put all my money in at the first go-off. No, siree. Goin' to try it first kind of small, and if it shows all right, why, then I'm a-goin' in right up to my neck.... Folks back home would figger I was pretty slick if I come home with a million dollars."
"That's the smart way," Pansy said, with a little grimace at Peaney. "Why don't you try this International Utilities investment, to-morrow—say for a thousand dollars?... If you—come out right, then you'll know you can trust Mr. Peaney, and the next time he has some real information you can jump right in and make a fortune."
"Sounds mighty reasonable. I kin afford to lose a thousand—charge it up to investigatin'.... My, jest think of gainin' five thousand dollars jest by settin' down and takin' it."
"It's the way money is made," said Mr. Peaney.
"How'd I know I'd git the money?" Scattergood asked, with sudden doubt.
"Why, you'd see it," said Pansy, with another grimace at Peaney. "You put your thousand dollars on the counter, and Mr. Peaney puts five thousand right beside it. You see it all the time. If you come out right, you just pick up the money and walk off."
"No!... Say! That's slick, hain't it? Wisht you'd come along when we try, Miss O'Toole. Somehow I'd feel easier in my mind if you was along.... See you early in the mornin'.... Got to git to bed, now. Always aim to be in bed by nine.... G' night."
"Say," expostulated Mr. Peaney, "do you expect me to hand over five thousand to that hick? He might walk off with it."
"He might walk off with the hotel.... I told you you hadn't any nerve.... Why, give that fat man a taste of easy money and you couldn't drive him away. Let him sleep all night with five thousand dollars that came as easy as that, and you couldn't drive him away from your office with a gun.... Besides, I'm here to take care of him ...or are you a quitter?"
"Twenty thousand dollars," Mr. Peaney said to himself. "Then I'll show you how good my nerve is. Bring on your fat man...."
Scattergood was up at his accustomed early hour, and before breakfast had examined Mr. Peaney's premises from front and rear. The bucket shop was in a small wooden building. The ground floor consisted of a large office where was visible the big blackboard upon which stock quotations were posted, and of a back room whose interior was invisible from the street. A corner of the main office had been partitioned off as a private retreat for Mr. Peaney. What was upstairs Scattergood could not tell with accuracy, but he judged it to be a single room or perhaps two small rooms.... It was here, he felt certain, Ovid was secreting himself, and, with a certain grimness, he hoped the young man was not happy in his surroundings.
"I calc'late," he said to himself, "that Ovid, bein' shet up with his own figgerin's and imaginin's, hain't in no jubilant frame of mind.... Meanest punishment you kin give a feller is to lock him in for a spell with himself, callin' himself names...." When the office opened, Scattergood and Pansy were at the door, where Mr. Peaney welcomed them, not without a certain uneasiness at the prospect of intrusting his money to Scattergood.
"Let's git started right off," Scattergood said. "I'd like to tell it to the folks how I gained five thousand dollars in one mornin'—jest doin' nothin' but settin'."
"Very well," said Mr. Peaney. "You buy a thousand shares of International Utilities on a one-point margin.... Sign this order slip."
"And you set out five thousand dollars right where I kinn see it," said Scattergood, with anxious fatuity.
Mr. Peaney deposited on his desk a bundle of currency which Scattergood counted meticulously, and then laid his own thousand beside it.
"It's as good as yours, right now," said Pansy.
"We'll stay right here in my private room," said Peaney. "We can watch the board from here, and nobody will disturb us."
"I'd kinder like to have folks see me makin' all this money," complained Scattergood, but he acquiesced, and presently quotations commenced to be posted on the board. International Utilities opened at seventy-six. Presently they advanced half a point, lingered, and returned to their original position.
"Kind of slow, hain't it?" Scattergood said, a worried look beginning to appear on his face. "Maybe them folks hain't goin' to do what you said."
Mr. Peaney went out into the back room, and presently the ticker began to click furiously. International Utilities leaped a whole point. In ten minutes they ascended a half point, and at every advance Scattergood figured his profit, and hesitated as to whether or not it would be best to close the transaction then and there, but Pansy cajoled him skillfully, making evident to Mr. Peaney the power of her influence over the old fellow.
Scattergood was the picture of the fatuous countryman. He was childlike in his ignorance and in his delight. He exclaimed, he slapped his thigh, he laughed aloud at each advance. "It's a-comin'. Next time she h'ists, the money's mine.... And 'tain't been two hours. What'll the folks say to that, eh? Me doin' nothin' but settin' here and makin' five thousand dollars in two hours.... Nothin' short of a million's goin' to satisfy me—and when I get that million, Mr. Peaney, I'm a-goin' to show you how much obleeged I be. I'm a-goin' to git you a whole box of them cigars. Pansy knows which ones. They come at a nickel apiece...."
Then ...then International Utilities touched eighty-one. Scattergood slapped Peaney on the back. He laughed. He acted like a boy with a new jackknife.
"It's all mine now, hain't it? Mine? Fair and square? It's my money—every penny of it?"
"It's yours, Mr. Baines. And I congratulate you. I myself have made a matter of fifty thousand dollars."
"Wisht I'd put up every cent I got.... But there'll be other chances, won't they? I kin git in ag'in?"
"Of course. To-morrow. Possibly this afternoon."
"And I kin take this now?" Scattergood had his hands on the six thousand dollars; was handling it greedily.
"It's yours," said Mr. Peaney.
"Calc'lated it was," said Scattergood. "Calc'lated it was.... Now where's Ovid?"
Mr. Peaney stared. Something had happened suddenly to this countryman. He was no longer fatuous, futile. His face was no longer foolish and good-natured; it was; granite—it was the face of a man with force, and the skill to use that force.
"Where's Ovid?" he demanded again.
"Ovid ... Ovid who? I don't know any Ovid."
He became suddenly alarmed and blocked the way to the door. Scattergood's eyes twinkled. "If I was you I wouldn't git in the way to any extent. Feelin' the way I do I sh'u'dn't be s'prised if I got a certain amount of satisfaction out of tramplin' over you."
"Hey, you put that money back ..."
"Mine, hain't it? Gained it lawful, didn't I?"
He walked slowly toward the door, and Mr. Peaney, still barring the way, found himself sitting suddenly in an adjacent corner. Scattergood walked calmly past and made for the back room.
"Stop him!" shouted Mr. Peaney. "Don't let him go in there."
But Scattergood proceeded methodically, leaving no less than three of Mr. Peaney's employees in recumbent postures along his line of march.... Pansy followed him closely, pale, but resolute. He ascended the stairs, and, finding the door at the top fastened from within, he removed it bodily by the application of a calk-studded boot.... Ovid Nixon was disclosed cowering against the wall, pale, terrified.
"Howdy, Ovid?" said Scattergood, as if he had met the young man casually on the street. "How d'you find yourself?"
Ovid remained mute.
"Fetched a friend to see you, Ovid," said Scattergood. "This is her." He pushed Pansy forward. "Find her better comp'ny than you been havin' recent," he said. "She's got suthin' fer you.... When she gits through visitin' with you, I calculate to have a word to say.... Here, Pansy, you kin give this here to Ovid." He counted off three thousand dollars before the young man's staring eyes.
"I—I'm glad I'm found," Ovid said, tremulously. "I was making up my mind to give myself up...."
"What fer?" said Scattergood.
"You know—you know I took three thousand dollars out of the vault."
"Vault don't show nothin' short," said Scattergood, waggling his head. "Counted it myself. Did look for a minute like they was three thousand short, but I kind of put that amount in, and then counted ag'in, and, sure enough, it was all there...."
Ovid stared, took a step forward. "You mean.... What do you mean, Mr. Baines?"
"I'm goin' to step outside of what used to be the door," said Scattergood, "and let Pansy do the explainin'.... What I do after that depends a heap on ... Pansy...."
Scattergood went outside and waited, his eyes on the stairs, but nobody offered to ascend. He could hear the conversation within, but it was only toward the end that it interested him.
"Ovid," said Pansy, "you've been hanging around my counter a good deal—and asking me to dinners, and to go driving on Sunday. What for?"
"Because—because I liked you awful well, Pansy, but now—now that I've done this—"
"If you hadn't done this? If you had made money instead of losing it?"
"I—oh, what's the use of talking about it? I wanted you should marry me, Pansy."
"But you don't want me any more?"
"Nobody'd marry me—knowing what you know."
"Ovid," said Pansy, sharply, "there's nothing wrong with you except that—you haven't enough brains all by yourself. You need to be looked after ...and I'm going to do it."
"Ovid Nixon, do you like me well enough to marry me?"
"Do you? Yes or no ... quick!"
"Then ask me," said Pansy.
Presently the three emerged into the street from the deserted offices of Mr. Peaney. Scattergood Baines held in his hands two thousand dollars in bills, representing net profit on the transaction. He regarded the money with a frown.
"Somethings got to be done to you to make you fit to tetch," he said to it.
Out of an adjoining store came a young woman in a queer bonnet, with a tambourine in her hand. "Huh!" said Scattergood, and stopped her. "Salvation Army, hain't you?"
"Hold it out," he said, motioning to the tambourine.
She obeyed, and he dropped into it the package of bills, and, looking into her startled, almost frightened eyes, he said: "It come from fools to sharpers.... I calculate nothin' but a leetle salvation'll kill the cussedness in it.... Make it do all the salvagin' it kin...."
Whereupon he passed on, leaving a bewildered woman to stare after him.
Next morning, Scattergood, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Ovid Nixon, alighted from the train in Coldriver. Deacon Pettybone happened to be standing on the depot platform.
"Make you acquainted with Mis' Nixon," said Scattergood, with gravity. "She's what Ovid come down with.... Can't blame a young feller for forgittin' work a day or two when he's got him sich a wife.... Deacon, this here girl's performed a service for Coldriver. Increased our population by two—her and Ovid. And, Deacon, Ovid hain't the fust man that ever was made so's he was wuth countin' in the census by marryin' him a wife...."
"Dummed if she hain't got red hair," was the deacon's astonished contribution. It was as near to congratulations as the deacon ever came.
THE SON THAT WAS DEAD
"The ox is dressed and hung," said Pliny Pickett, with the air of a man announcing that the country has been saved from destruction.
"Uh!... How much 'd he dress?" asked Scattergood Baines, moving in his especially reinforced armchair until it creaked its protest.
"Eight hunderd and forty-three—accordin' to Newt Patterson's scales."
"Which hain't never been knowed to err on the side of overweight," said Scattergood, dryly.
"The boys has got the oven fixed for roastin' him, and the band gits in on the mornin' train, failin' accidents, and the dec'rations is up in the taown hall—'n' now we kin git ready for a week of stiddy rain."
"They's wuss things than rain," said Scattergood, "though at the minnit I don't call to mind what they be."
"Deacon Pettybone's north mowin' is turned into a baseball grounds, and everybody in town is buyin' buntin' to wrap their harnesses, and Kittleman's fetched in more 'n five bushels of peanuts, and every young un in taown'll be sick with the stummick ache."
"Feelin' extry cheerful this mornin', hain't ye? Kind of more hopeful-like than I call to mind seein' you fer some time."
"Never knowed no big celebration to come off like it was planned, or 'thout somebody gittin' a leg busted, or the big speaker fergittin' what day it was, or suthin'. Seems like the hull weight of this here falls right on to me."
"Responsibility," said Scattergood, with a twinkle in his eye, "is a turrible thing to bear up under. But nothin' hain't happened yit, and folks is dependin' on you, Pliny, to see 't nothin' mars the party."
"It'll rain on to the pe-rade, and the ball game'll bust up in a fight, and pickpockets'll most likely git wind of sich a big gatherin' and come swarmin' in.... Scattergood," he lowered his voice impressively, "it's rumored Mavin Newton's a-comin' back for this here Old Home Week."
"Um!... Mavin Newton.... Um!... Who up and la'nched that rumor?"
"Everybody's a-talkin' it up. Folks says he's sure to come, and then what in tunket'll we do? The sheriff's goin' to be busy handlin' the crowds and the traffic and sich, and he won't have no time fer extry miscreants, seems as though.... Folks is a-comin' from as fur 's Denver, and we don't want no town criminal brought to justice in the middle of it all. Though Mavin's father 'd be glad to see his son ketched, I calc'late."
"Hain't interviewed Mattie Strong as ree-gards her feelin's, have ye?"
"I wonder," said Pliny, with intense interest, "if Mattie's ever heard from him? But she's that close-mouthed."
"'Tain't a common failin' hereabouts," said Scattergood. "How long since Mavin run off?"
"Eight year come November."
"The night before him and Mattie was goin' to be married."
"Uh-huh! Takin' with him that there fund the Congo church raised fer a new organ, and it's took them eight year to raise it over ag'in."
"And in the meantime," said Scattergood, "I calc'late the tunes off of the old organ has riz about as pleasin' to heaven as if 'twas new. Squeaks some, I'm told, but I figger the squeaks gits kind of filtered out, and nothin' but the true meanin' of the tunes ever gits up to Him." Scattergood jerked a pudgy thumb skyward.
"More 'n two hunderd dollars, it was—and Mavin treasurer of the church. Old Man Newton he resigned as elder, and hain't never set foot in church from that day to this."
"Bein' moved," said Scattergood, "more by cantankerousness than grief."
"I'll venture," said Pliny, "that there'll be more'n five hunderd old residents a-comin' back, and where in tunket we're goin' to sleep 'em all the committee don't know."
"Um!... G'-by, Pliny," said Scattergood, suddenly, and Pliny, recognizing the old hardware merchant's customary and inescapable dismissal, got up off the step and cut across diagonally to the post office, where he could air his importance as a committeeman before an assemblage as ready to discuss the events of the week as he was himself.
It was a momentous occasion in the life of Coldriver; a gathering of prodigals and wanderers under home roofs; a week set aside for the return of sons and daughters and grandchildren of Coldriver who had ventured forth into the world to woo fortune and to seek adventure. Preparations had been in the making for months, and the village was resolved that its collateral relatives to the remotest generation should be made aware that Coldriver was not deficient in the necessary "git up and git" to wear down its visitors to the last point of exhaustion. Pliny Pickett, chairman of numerous committees and marshal of the parade, predicted it would "lay over" the Centennial in Philadelphia.
The greased pig was to be greasier; the barbecued ox was to be larger; the band was to be noisier; the speeches were to be longer and more tiresome; the firemen's races and the ball games, and the fat men's race, and the frog race, and the grand ball with its quadrilles and Virginia reels and "Hull's Victory" and "Lady Washington's Reel" and its "Portland Fancy," were all to be just a little superior to anything of the sort ever attempted in the state. Numerous septuagenarians were resorting to St. Jacob's oil and surreptitious prancing in the barn, to "soople" up their legs for the dance. It was to be one of those wholesome, generous, splendid outpourings of neighborliness and good feeling and wonderful simplicity and kindliness, such as one can meet with nowhere but in the remoter mountain communities of old New England, where customs do not grow stale and no innovation mars. If any man would discover the deep meaning of the word "welcome," let him attend such a Home-coming!
Though Coldriver did not realize it, the impetus toward the Home-coming Week had been given by Scattergood Baines. He had seen in it a subsidence of old grudges and the birth of universal better feeling. He had set the idea in motion, and then, by methods of indirection, of which he was a master, he had urged it on to fulfillment.
Scattergood went inside the store and leaned upon the counter, taking no small pleasure in a mental inventory of his heterogeneous stock. He had completed one side, and arrived at the rear, given over to stoves and garden tools, when a customer entered. Scattergood turned.
"Mornin', Mattie," he said. "What kin I help ye to this time?"
"I—I need a tack hammer, Mr. Baines."
"Got three kinds: plain, with claws, and them patent ones that picks up tacks by electricity. I hold by them and kin recommend 'em high."
"I'll take one, then," said Mattie; but after Scattergood wrapped it up and gave her change for her dollar bill, she remained, hesitating, uncertain, embarrassed.
"Was they suthin' besides a tack hammer you wanted, Mattie." Scattergood asked, gently.
"I—No, nothing." Her courage had failed her, and she moved toward the door.
"Jest a minute," said Scattergood. "Never walk off with suthin' on your mind. Apt to give ye mental cramps. What was that there tack hammer an excuse for comin' here fer?"
"Is it true that he's coming back, like the talk's goin' around?"
"I calc'late ye mean Mavin. Mean Mavin Newton?"
"Yes," she said, faintly.
"What if he did?" said Scattergood.
"I don't know.... Oh, I don't know."
"Want he should come back?"
"He—If he should come—"
"Uh-huh!" said Scattergood. "Calc'late I kin appreciate your feelin's. Treated you mighty bad, didn't he?"
"He treated himself worse," said Mattie, with a little awakening of sharpness.
"So he done. So he done.... Um!... Eight year he's been gone, and you was twenty when he went, wa'n't ye? Twenty?"
"Hain't never had a feller since?"
She shook her head. "I'm an old maid, Mr. Baines."
"I've heard tell of older," he said, dryly. "Wisht you'd tell me why you let sich a scalawag up and ruin your life fer ye?"
"He wasn't a scalawag—till then."
"You hain't thinkin' he was accused of suthin' he didn't do?"
"He told me he took the money. He came to see me before he ran away."
"Do tell!" This was news to Scattergood. Neither he nor any other was aware that Mavin Newton had seen or been seen by a soul after the commission of his crime.
"He told me," she repeated, "and he said good-by.... But he never told me why. That's what's been hurtin' me and troublin' me all these years. He didn't tell me why he done it, and I hain't ever been able to figger it out."
"Um!... Why he done it? Never occurred to me."
"It never occurred to anybody. All they saw was that he took their organ money and robbed the church. But why did he do it? Folks don't do them things without reason, Mr. Baines."
"He wouldn't tell you?"
"I asked him—and I asked him to take me along with him. I'd 'a' gone gladly, and folks could 'a' thought what they liked. But he wouldn't tell, and he wouldn't have me, and I hain't heard a word from him from that day to this.... But I've thought and figgered and figgered and thought—and I jest can't see no reason at all."
"Took it to run away with—fer expenses," said Scattergood.
"There wasn't anything to run away from until after he took it. I know. Whatever 'twas, it come on him suddin. The night before we was together—and—and he didn't have nothin' on his mind but plans for him and me ... and he was that happy, Mr. Baines!... I wisht I could make out what turned a good man into a thief—all in a minute, as you might say. It's suthin', Mr. Baines, suthin' out of the ordinary, and always I got a feelin' like I got a right to know."
"Yes," said Scattergood, "seems as though you had a right to know."
"Folks is passin' it about that he's comin' home. Is there any truth into it?"
"I calc'late it's jest talk," said Scattergood. "Nobody knows where he is."
"He'll come sometime," she said.
"And you calc'late to keep on waitin' fer him to come?"
"Until I'm dead—and after that, if it's allowed."
"I wisht," said Scattergood, "there was suthin' I could do to mend it all."
"Nobody kin ever do anythin'," she said.... "But if he should venture back, calc'latin' it had all blown over and been forgot!... His father'd see him put in prison—and I—I couldn't bear that, it seems as though."
"There's a bad thing about borrowin' trouble," said Scattergood. "No matter how hard you try, you can't ever pay it back. Wait till he croaks, and then do your worryin'."
"I've got a feelin' he's goin' to come," she said, and turned away wearily. "I thought maybe you'd know. That's why I came in, Mr. Baines."
"G'-by, Mattie. G'-by. Come ag'in when you feel that way, and you needn't to buy no tack hammer for an excuse."
Scattergood slumped down in his chair on the store's piazza, and began pulling his round cheeks as if he had taken up with some new method of massage. It was a sign of inward disturbance. Presently a hand stole downward to the laces of his shoes—a gesture purely automatic—and in a moment, to the accompaniment of a sigh of relief, his broad feet were released from bondage and his liberty-loving toes were wriggling with delight. Any resident of Coldriver passing at that moment could have told you Scattergood Baines was wrestling with some grave difficulty.
"It stands to reason," said he to himself, "that ever'body has a reason for ever'thing, except lunatics, and lunatics think they got a reason. Now, Mavin he wa'n't no lunatic. He wouldn't have stole church money and run off the night before his weddin' jest to exercise his feet. They hain't no reason, as I recall it, why he needed two hunderd dollars. Unless it was to git married on.... And instid of that, it busted up the weddin'. I calc'late that matter wa'n't looked into sharp enough ... and eight years has gone by. Lots of grass grows up to cover old paths in eight year."
A small boy was passing at the moment, giving an imitation of a cowboy pursuing Indians. Scattergood called to him.
"Hey, bub! Scurry around and see if ye kin find Marvin Preston. Uh-huh! 'F ye see him, tell him I'm a-settin' here on the piazza."
The small boy dug his toes into the dust and disappeared up the street. Presently Marvin Preston appeared in answer to the indirect summons.
"How be ye, Marvin? Stock doin' well?"
"Fust class. See the critter they're figgerin' on barbecuin'? He's a sample."
"Um!... Lived here quite a spell, hain't you, Marvin? Quite a spell?"
"Born here, Scattergood."
"Know lots of folks, don't ye? Got acquainted consid'able in town and the surroundin' country?"
"A feller 'u'd be apt to in fifty-five year."
"Call to mind the Meggses that used to live here?"
"Place next to the Newton farm. Recollect 'em well."
"Lived next to Ol' Man Newton, eh? Forgot that." Scattergood had not forgotten it, but quite the contrary. His interest in the Meggses was negligible; his purpose in mentioning them was to approach the Newtons circuitously and by stealth, as he always approached affairs of importance to him.
"Know 'em well? Know 'em as well's you knowed the Newtons?"
"Not by no means. I've knowed Ol' Man Newton better 'n 'most anybody, seems as though."
"Um!... Le's see.... Had a son, didn't he?"
"Run off with the organ money," said Marvin, shortly.
"Remembered suthin' about him. Quite a while back."
"Eight year. Allus recall the date on account of sellin' a Holstein heifer to Avery Sutphin the mornin' follerin' ... fer cash."
"Him that was dep'ty sheriff?"
"That's the feller."
"Um!... Ever git a notion what young Mavin up and stole that money fer?"
"Inborn cussedness, I calc'late."
"Allus seemed to me like Ol' Man Newton might 'a' made restitution of that there money," said Scattergood, tentatively.
"H'm!" Marvin cleared his throat and glanced up the street. "Seein's how it's you, I dunno but what I kin tell you suthin' you hain't heard, nor nobody else. Young Mavin sent that there money back to his father in a letter to be give to the church—and the ol' man burned it. That's what he up and done. Two hunderd good dollars went up in smoke. Said they was crimes that was beyond restitution or forgiveness, and robbin' the House of God was one of 'em."
"Um!... Now, Marvin, I'd be mighty curious to learn if the ol' man got that information from God himself or if it come out of his own head.... No matter, I calc'late. 'Twan't credit with the church young Mavin was after when he sent back the money, and the Lord he knows the money come, if the organ fund never did find it out."
"Guess I'll take a walk down to Spackles's and look over the steer. They tell me he dressed clost to nine hunderd. Hope they contrive to cook him through and through. Never see a barbecued critter yit that was done.... Folks is beginnin' to git here. Guess they won't be a spare bedroom in town that hain't full up."
Scattergood pulled on his shoes and, leaving his store to take care of itself, walked up the road, turned across the mowing which had been metamorphosed into an athletic field, trusted his weight to the temporary bridge across the brook, and scrambled up the bank to the great oven where the steer was to be baked, and where the potato hole was ready to receive twenty bushels of potatoes and the arch was ready to receive the sugar vat in which two thousand ears of corn were to be steamed. Pliny Pickett was in charge, with Ulysses Watts, sheriff, and Coroner Bogle as assistants. They had fired up already, and were sitting blissfully by in the blistering heat, bragging about the sort of meal they were going to purvey, and speculating on whether the imported band would play enough, and how the ball games would come out, and naming over the folks who were expected to arrive from distant parts.
"This here town team hain't what it was ten year ago," said the sheriff. "In them days the boys knowed how to play ball. There was me 'n' Will Pratt and Pliny here 'n' Avery Sutphin, that was sheriff 'fore I was...."
"What ever become of Avery?" Pliny asked.
"Went West. Heard suthin' about him a spell back, but don't call to mind what it was. Wonder if he'll be comin' back with the rest?"
"Dunno. Think there's anythin' in the rumor that Mavin Newton's comin'?" "Hope not," said the sheriff, assuming an official look and feeling of the suspender to which was affixed his badge of office. "Don't want to have no arrestin' to do durin' Old Home Week."
"Calc'late to take him in if he comes?"
"Duty," said Sheriff Watts, "is duty."
"When it hain't a pleasure," said Scattergood. "Recall what place Avery Sutphin went to?"
"Seems like it was Oswego. Some'eres out West like that."
"Wisht all the town 'u'd quit traipsin' over here," said Pliny. "Never see sich curiosity. They needn't to think they're goin' to git a look at the critter while he's a-cookin'. No, siree. Nobody but this here committee sees him till he's took out final, ready fer eatin'."
All that day visitors arrived in town. They drove in, came by train and by stage—and walked. There was no house whose ready hospitality was not taxed to its capacity, and the ladies in charge of the restaurant in Masonic Hall became frantic and sent out hysterical messengers for more food and more help. Every house was dressed in flags and bunting. Even Deacon Pettybone, reputed to be the "nearest" inhabitant of the village, flew one small cotton flag, reputed to have cost fifteen cents, from his front stoop. The bridge was so covered with red, white, and blue as to quite lose its identity as a bridge and to become one of the wonders of the world, to be talked about for a decade. As one looked up the street a similarity of motion, almost machinelike, was apparent. It was an endless shaking of hands as old friend met old friend joyously.
"Bet ye don't know who I be?"
"I'd 'a' know'd you in Chiny. You're Mort Whittaker's wife—her that was Ida Janes. Hair hain't so red as what it was."
"You've took on flesh some, but otherwise—'Member the time you took me to the dance at Tupper Falls—"
"An' we got mired crossin'—"
"An' Sam Kettleman come in a plug hat."
This conversation, or its counterpart, was repeated wherever resident and visitor met. Old days lived again. Ancient men became middle-aged, and middle-aged women became girls. The past was brought to life and lived again. Sometimes it was brought to life a bit tediously, as when old Jethro Hammond, postmaster of Coldriver twenty years ago, made a speech seventy minutes long, which consisted in naming and locating every house that existed in his day, and describing with minute detail who lived in it and what part they played in the affairs of the community. But the audience forgave him, because it knew what a good time he was having.... Houses were invaded by perfect strangers who insisted in pointing out the rooms in which they were born and in which they had been married, and in telling the present proprietors how fortunate they were to live in dwellings thus blessed.
The band arrived and met with universal satisfaction, though Lafe Atwell complained that he hadn't ever see a snare drummer with whiskers. But their coats were red, with gorgeous frogs, and their trousers were sky blue, with gold stripes, and the drum major could whirl his baton in a manner every boy in town would be imitating with the handle of the ancestral broom for months to come.... Through it all Scattergood Baines sat on the piazza and beamed upon the world, and rejoiced in the goodness thereof.
Only one resident took no part in the holiday making, and that was Old Man Newton, who had closed his house, drawn the blinds, and refused to make himself visible while the celebration lasted. He took a savage pleasure in thus making himself conspicuous, knowing well how his conduct would be discussed, and viewing himself as a righteous man suffering for the sins of another.
In the darkness of the evening street Mattie Strong accosted Scattergood that evening, clinging to his arm tremulously.
"Mr. Baines," she whispered, affrightedly, "he's come!"
"Mavin Newton—he's here, in town."
Scattergood frowned. "See him?"
"Hain't seen him, but he's here. I kin feel him. I knowed it the minute he come."
"Calc'late I've seen everybody here, and I hain't seen him."
"He's here, jest the same. I'm a-lookin' fer him. Whatever name he come under, or however he looks, I'll know him. I couldn't make no mistake about Mavin."
"Mattie, I hope 'tain't so.... I hope you're mistook."
"I—I don't know whether I hope so or not. I—Oh, Mr. Baines, I'd rather be with him, a-comfortin' him and standin' by him, no matter what he done—"
Scattergood patted her arm. "I calc'late," he said, softly, "that God hain't never invented no institution that beats the love of a good woman.... I'll look around, Mattie.... I'll look around."
It was the next morning, at the ball game, when Mattie spoke to Scattergood again.
"I've seen him," she whispered, and there was a note of happiness in her voice and a look of renewed youth in her eyes. "He's here, like I said."
Mattie lowered her voice farther still. "Look at the band," she said.
"Nobody resembles him there," said Scattergood, after a minute.
"Wait till they stop playin'—and then see if they hain't somebody there that takes holt of the fingers of his right hand, one after the other, and kind of twists 'em.... Look sharp. Mavin he allus done that when he was nervous—allus. I'd know him by it, anywheres."
Scattergood watched. Presently the "piece" ended and the musicians laid down their instruments and eased back in their chairs.
"Look," said Mattie.
The bearded snare drummer was performing a queer antic. It was as if his fingers were screwed into his hand and had become loosened while he drummed. No, he was tightening them so they wouldn't fall off. One finger after another he screwed up, and then went over them again to make certain they were secure.
"I—knowed he'd come," Mattie said, happily.
"Um!... This here's kind of untoward. You keep your mouth shet, Mattie Strong. Don't you go near that feller till I tell you. We don't want a rumpus to spoil this here week."
"But he's here.... He's here."
"So's trouble," said Scattergood, succinctly.
The rest of that day Scattergood busied himself in searching out old friends and neighbors of the Newtons. Nothing seemed to interest him which happened later than eight years before, but no event of that period was too slight or inconsequential to receive his attention and to be filed away in his shrewd old brain. He was looking for the answer to a question, and the answer was piled under the rubbish of eight years of human activities—a hopeless quest to any but Scattergood.
Comedy and tragedy were alike interesting to him. Just as he lost no detail of the old man's conduct when his boy disappeared, so he listened and laughed when Martin Banks recalled to a group how Old Man Newton had fallen under the suspicion of bootlegging and how the town had seethed with the downfall of an elder of the church—and all because the old man had imported two cases, each of a dozen bottles of the Siwash Indian Stomach Bitters recommended to cure his dyspepsia. There had been a moment, said Banks, when the town expected to see Newton shut up in the calaboose under the post office—until the true contents of those cases was revealed.
During the afternoon Scattergood sent six telegrams to as many different cities. Late that night he received replies, and sent one long message to an individual high in office in the state. It was an urgent message, amounting to a command, for in his own commonwealth Scattergood Baines was able to command when the need required.
"It's an off chance," he said to himself, "but it's what might 'a' happened, and if it might 'a' happened, maybe it did happen...."
Wednesday afternoon the band was thrown into consternation, and the town into a paroxysm of excitement and speculation, when Sheriff Watts ascended the platform of the musicians and, placing a heavy hand on the shoulder of the snare drummer, said, loudly, "Mavin Newton, I arrest ye in the name of the law."
Not a soul in that breathless crowd was there who failed to see Mattie Strong point her finger in the face of Scattergood Baines, and to hear her utter the one word, "Shame!" Nor did any fail to see her take her place at the side of the bearded drummer, with her fingers clutching his arm, and walk to the door of the jail under the post office with the prisoner.
Then the word was passed about that the hearing would take place before Justice of the Peace Bender that very evening. So great was the public clamor that the justice agreed to hold court in the town hall instead of in his office; and it was rumored that Johnnie Bones, Scattergood Baines's own lawyer, had been appointed special prosecutor by the Governor of the state.
Opinion ran against Scattergood. It was free and outspoken. Townsfolk and visitors alike felt that Scattergood had done ill in bringing the young man to justice—especially at such a time. He should have let sleeping dogs lie.... And when it heard that Sheriff Watts had carried a subpoena to Mavin Newton's father, compelling his presence as a witness against his own son, there arose a wind of disapproval which quite swept Scattergood from the esteem of the community.
But the town came to the hearing. In the beginning it was a cut-and-dried affair. The facts of the crime were established with dry precision. Then Johnnie Bones called the name of a witness, and the audience stiffened to attention. Even Old Man Newton, sitting with bowed head and scowling brow, lifted his eyes to the face of the young lawyer.
"Avery Sutphin," said Johnnie Bones, and the former sheriff, wearing such a haircut as Coldriver seldom saw within its corporate limits, and clothed in such clothing as it had never seen there, was brought through the door by two strangers of official look. He seated himself in the witness chair.
"You are Avery Sutphin, former sheriff of this town?"
"Where do you reside?"
"In the state penitentiary," said Avery, seeking to hide his face.
"Do you know Mavin Newton?"
"When did you last see him?"
"It was the night of June twelfth, eight year ago."
"In his father's barn."
"What was he doing?"
"Milkin'," said Avery.
"You went to see him?"
"To git some money out of him."
"Did he owe you money?"
"How much money did you go to get?"
"Two hunderd dollars."
"Did you get it?"
"Do you know what money it was?"
"Church-organ money. He told me."
"Why did he give it to you?"
"I made him."
"Lemme tell it my own way—if I got to tell it.... He'd took my girl, and I never liked him, anyhow.... There'd been rumors his old man was bootleggin'. Nothin' to it, of course, and I knowed that. And I needed some money. Bought a beef critter off'n Marvin Preston next day. So I went to Mavin and says I was goin' to arrest his old man because I'd ketched him sellin' liquor, and Mavin he begged me I shouldn't. I told him the old man would git ten year, anyhow."
"What did Mavin say to that?"
"He jest bowed his head and kind of leaned against the stall."
"I let on I needed money, and told him if he'd gimme two hunderd dollars I'd destroy the evidence and let the old man go. He says he didn't have the money, and I says he had the organ money. He didn't say nothin' for a spell, and then he says, kind of low, and wonderin', 'Which 'u'd be the worst? Which 'u'd be the worst?' Then I says, 'Worst what?' And he says for his father to be ketched for a bootlegger or for him to be a thief.... I jest let him think about it, and didn't say nothin', because I knowed how he looked up to his old man.
"Pretty soon he says: 'I'd be a thief, 'cause I couldn't explain. I'd have to run off—and leave Mattie, that I'm a-goin' to marry to-morrer.... I could pay it back, but that wouldn't do no good.... But for father to be arrested, him an elder, and all, would kill him. I couldn't bear for father to be shamed 'fore all the world or to be thought guilty of sich a thing.... He's wuth a heap more 'n I be, and he won't never do it ag'in.' Then he asks if I'll give a letter to his old man, and I says yes. He walked up and down for maybe a quarter of an hour, talkin' to himself, and kind of fightin' it out, but I knowed what he'd do, right along. At the end he come over and says: 'This here means ruinin' my life and breakin' Mattie's heart ... but I calc'late that's better 'n holdin' father up to scorn and seein' him in jail.... If they was only some other way!' His voice was stiddylike, but he was right pale and his eyes was a-shinin'. I remember how they was a-shinin'. 'I calc'late,' he says, 'that I kin bear it fer father's sake.' Then he says to me, kind of fierce, 'If ever you let on to anybody why I done this, if it's in a hunderd years, I'll come back and kill you.' For a while he kept still again, and then he went in the house and got the money, and wrote a letter to his old man, and I promised to give it to him—but I tore it up."
"What did the letter say?"
"It just said somethin' to the effect that he was willin' to do what he done if his old man would give over breakin' the law and go to livin' upright like he always done, and that he hoped maybe God seen a difference in stealin' on account of the reasons folks had for doin' it—but if God didn't make no difference, why, he'd rather bear it than have it fall on his old man."
"I took the money and come away. And he run away. And that's all."
The town hall was very still. The stillness of it seemed to pierce and hurt.... Then it was broken by a cry, a hoarse cry, wrenched from the soul of a man. "My boy!... My boy!..." Old Elder Newton was on his feet, tottering toward his son, and before his son he sank upon his knees and buried his hard, weathered old face upon Mavin's knees.
Justice of the Peace Bender cleared his throat.
"This here," he said, "looks to me to be suthin' the folks of this town, the friends and neighbors of this here father and son, ought to settle, instid of the law. Maybe it hain't legal, but I dunno who's to interfere.... Folks, what ought to be done to this here boy that done a crime and suffered the consequences of it, jest to save his father from another crime the old man never done a-tall?"
Neither Mavin nor his father heard. The old elder was muttering over and over, "My boy that was dead and is alive again...."
Scattergood arose silently and pointed to the door, and the crowd withdrew silently, withdrew to group about the entrance outside and to wait. They were patient. It was an hour before Elder Newton descended, his son on one side and Mattie Strong on the other.... The band, with a volunteer drummer, lifted its joyous voice, and, looking up, the trio faced a banner upon which Scattergood had caused to be painted, "Welcome Home, Mavin Newton."
Coldriver had taken judicial action and thus voiced its decision.
HE CRACKS AN OBDURATE NUT
Jason Locker, who was Sam Kettleman's rival in Coldriver's grocery industry, was a trifle too amenable to modern ideas at times. He took notions, as the folks said. Once he went so far as to say that he could do anything in his store that anybody could do in a big city store and make a success of it. He was so progressive that in the Coldriver parade he occupied a position so advanced that it really seemed like two parades.
Old Man Bogle and Deacon Pettybone and Elder Hooper always discussed Locker when politics were exhausted, and their only point of difference was as to when and exactly how Jason would wind up in bankruptcy. They were agreed that he was a bit touched in his head. He was much given to sales. He installed a perfectly unnecessary cash carrier from the counter to a desk where Mrs. Locker made change. He bought a case of olives, which were viewed and tasted (free) by the village loafers, and pronounced spoiled.... In short, there was no newfangled idea which Jason failed to adopt, and in a matter of twenty years the town grew accustomed to him, and tolerated him, and, as a matter of fact, was rather proud of him as a novel lunatic. However, he prospered.
But when, on a certain Monday morning, a strange and unquestionably pretty girl, dressed not according to Coldriver's ideas of current fashions, made her appearance in a space cleared in the middle of the store, and there proceeded to make and dispense tiny cups of a new brand of coffee, the village considered that Jason had gone too far.
It is true that it came in droves to taste the coffee being demonstrated, for it was to be had without money and without price. It came to see what it would not believe without seeing, and regarded the young woman with open suspicion and hostility. It wondered what manner of young woman it could be who would harum-scarum around the country making coffee for every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and wearing a smile for everybody, and demeaning herself generally in a manner not heretofore observed. It viewed and reviewed her hair, her slippers, her ankles, her frocks, and her ornaments. The women folks, and especially the younger women, held frequent indignation meetings, and declared for the advisability of boycotting Locker unless he removed this menace from their midst.
But when it noticed, not later than the second day of Miss Yvette Hinchbrooke's career in their midst, that young Homer Locker flapped about her like some over-grown insect about a street lamp, it took no pains to conceal its delight and devoutly hoped for the worst.
"Looks like Providence was steppin' in," said Elder Hooper to Deacon Pettybone. "Dunno's I ever see a more fittin' as well as proper follerin' up of sinful carelessness by sich consequences as might be expected to ensue."
"Uh-huh!... That there name of her'n. Folks differs about the way to say it. I been holdin' out ag'in' many for Wife-ette—that way. Looks like French or suthin' furrin. Others say it's Weev-ette. If 'twan't for seemin' to show interest in the baggage, dummed if I wouldn't up and ask her."
"Names don't count," said Old Man Bogle, oracularly. "She hain't to blame for pickin' her name. Her ma gave it to her out of a book, seems as though. Nevertheless, 'tain't no fit name for a woman, and, so fur's I kin see, she fits her name like Ovid Nixon's tailor pants fits his laigs."
"She's light," said the elder.
"Sh'u'dn't be s'prised," said Old Man Bogle, rolling his eyes, "if she was one of them actoresses. Venture to say she's filled with worldly wisdom, that gal, and that sin and cuttin' up different ways hain't nothin' strange nor unaccustomed to her."
"While I was a-drinkin' down her coffee out of that measly leetle cup," said the deacon, "she was that brazen! Acted like she'd took a fancy to me," he said, with a sprucing back of his old shoulders.
"Got all the wiles of that there woman that danced off the head of John the Baptist," said the elder, grimly. "So she dasted even to tempt a deacon of the church."
"She didn't tempt me none," snapped the deacon, "but I lay she was willin'."
"I'll venture," said Old Man Bogle, with a light in his rheumy eyes, "that she hain't no stranger to wearin' tights."
"Shame!" said the elder and the deacon, in a breath. And then, from the deacon, in a tone which might have been a reflection of lofty satisfaction in a virtue, or which might have been something quite different, "I've read of them there tights, Elder, but I kin say with a clear conscience that I hain't never witnessed a pair of 'em."
"My nevvy took me to a show in Boston wunst," said Old Man Bogle, tentatively, but he was silenced immediately and sternly.
"How kin a man combat evil," he demanded, "if he hain't familiar with the wiles of it?"
"He kin set his face to the right," said the elder, "and tread the path."
"You wouldn't b'lieve the things I seen in that show," said Bogle, waggling his head.
"Don't intend to be called on to b'lieve 'em," said the deacon. "Look.... Comin' acrost the bridge. There's Locker's boy and that there Wife-ette, and him lookin' like he'd enjoy divin' down her throat."
"Poor Jason," said the elder, "he's reapin' the whirlwind."
"Kin he be blind?"
"Somebody ought to take Jason off to one side and give him warnin'."
The deacon considered, puckering his thin lips and cocking a hard old eye. "'Tain't fer us to meddle," he said, righteously. "They's a divine plan in ever'thing, and we hain't able to see what's behind all this here. We'll jest set and wait the outcome."
That is what all Coldriver did: it sat and awaited the outcome with ill-restrained enthusiasm, and while it waited it talked. No word or gesture or movement of young Homer Locker and Yvette Hinchbrooke went undiscussed. Nobody in town was unaware of Homer's infatuation for the coffee demonstrator—with the one exception of Homer's father, who was too busy waiting upon the unaccustomed rush of trade to notice anything else.
On the fourth evening of Yvette's stay in Coldriver there was a dance in the town hall. Especial interest immediately, attached to this affair because of the speculations as to whether Homer would be so rash as to invite Yvette as his partner. The village refused to believe the young man would fail them and remain away. That would be a calamity not easily endured, so it set itself to plan its actions in case she made her appearance. It wondered, how she would dress and how she would behave.
Every girl in the village who possessed clear title to a young man knew exactly how she would deport herself. The night before the dance no less than a score of young men were informed with finality that they were not to dance with the stranger, nor to be seen in her vicinity. Norma Grainger expressed the will of all when she told Will Peasley that if he danced one dance with that coffee girl she would up and go home alone. In the beginning there was no definite concerted action; it was assured, however, that Yvette would have few partners.
Homer did not disappoint his friends. During the first dance he entered the hall with Yvette, and the music all but stopped to stare. Undeniably she was pretty. It was not her prettiness the women resented, however, but her air and her clothes. Actually she wore a dress cut low at the neck, and sleeveless. Coldriver had heard of such garments, and there were those who actually believed them to exist and to be worn by certain women in European society among kings and dukes and other frightfully immoral people. But that one should ever make its appearance in Coldriver, under their very eyes, was a thing so startling, so outrageous, as almost to demand the spontaneous formation of a vigilance committee.
Even yet there was no concerted action, but sentiment was crystallizing. Homer and Yvette danced three dances, and Homer's face began to wear a scowl. No less than five young men approached by him with the purpose of securing them as partners for Yvette declined with brevity.
"What's the matter with you??" he demanded, belligerently. "There hain't no pertier girl nor no better dancer on the floor."
"Mebby so. Hain't noticed. Got all my dances took."
"Me too. My girl she says—"
"She says what?" snapped Homer.
"She says she'll go home if I dance with yourn."
"And I say," said Homer, with set jaw, "that you fellers is goin' to dance with Yvette, or there's goin' to be more fights in Coldriver 'n Coldriver ever see before. That's my say."
He announced he would be back after the next dance, and that somebody would dance with Yvette. "The feller that refuses," said he, "goes outside with me."
He went back to Yvette, who, not lacking in shrewdness, sensed something of the situation.
"I wish I hadn't come," she said, uneasily.
"I don't ... if you hain't got no objection to dancin' jest with me."
"It'll look queer if I dance all of them with you."
"Jest ask me, and see if I care," he said, desperately. "It's like I'd want to have it. I couldn't never dance more'n I want to with you. I wisht I could dance all the dances there'll be in your life with you.... Come on. This here's a quadrille."
Pliny Pickett, self-appointed caller of square dances, was arranging the floor. "One more couple wanted to this end," he bellowed. "Here's two couples a-waitin'. Don't hang back. Music's a-waitin'.... Right there. All ready?... Nope. One couple needed in the middle."
Homer and Yvette approached that square where three couples awaited the fourth to complete their set. They took their places, to the manifest embarrassment of the other six. Suddenly Norma Grainger whispered something to her young man and tugged at his arm. He looked sidewise, sheepishly, at Homer, and hung back.
"You come right along," said Norma. "I hain't goin' to have it said of me that I danced in no set with her."
"Nor me," said Marion Towne, also tugging at her escort.
The young men were forced to give way, and, not too proud to cast glances of placating nature at Homer, they fell from their places and walked to the benches around the hall. Yvette and Homer were left standing alone, conspicuous, the center of all eyes.
Homer clenched his fists and glared about him; then—for in his ungainly body there resided something that is essential to manhood, and without which none may be called a gentleman—he offered his arm to Yvette. "I guess we better go," he said, softly. Then squaring his powerful shoulders and glancing about him with a real dignity which Scattergood Baines, sitting in one corner, noted and applauded, he led the girl from the room.
"I'll see you home," he said, formally. "I hain't got nothin' to say."
"It—it's not your fault," she said, tremulously.
"Somebody'll wisht it wa'n't their fault 'fore mornin'," he answered.
"I shouldn't have gone."
"Why? Hain't you as good as any of them, and better? Hain't you the pertiest girl I ever see?... You hain't mad with me, be you?"
"'No.... Not with anybody, I guess. I—I ought to be used to it. I—" She began to cry.
It was a dark spot there on the bridge. Homer was not apt at words, but he could feel and he did feel. It was no mere impulse to comfort a pretty girl that moved him to inclose her with his muscular arms and to press her to him none too gently.
"I kin lick the hull world fer you," he said, huskily, and then he kissed her wet cheek again and again, and repeated his ability to thrash all comers in her cause, and stated his desire to undertake exactly that task for the term of her natural life. "If you was to marry me," he said, "they wouldn't nobody dast trample on you.... You're a-goin' to marry me, hain't you?"
"I—I don't know.... You—you don't know anything about me."
"Calc'late I know enough," he said.
"Your folks wouldn't put up with it."
There was a silence. Then she said, brokenly: "I must go away. I can't ever go back to the store to-morrow to have everybody staring at me and talking about me.... I want to go away to-night."
"You sha'n't. Nor no other time, neither."
And then, out of the darkness behind, spoke Scattergood Baines's voice. "Hain't calc'latin' to bust the gal, be you?... Jest happened along to say the deacon's been talkin' to your pa about you 'n' her, and your pa's het up consid'able. He's startin' out to look fer you. Lucky I come along, wa'n't it?"
"I'm of age," said Homer, aggressively.
"Lots is," said Scattergood. "'Tain't nothin' to take special pride in.... Homer, I've watched you raised from a colt, hain't I? Be you willin' to kind of leave this here to me a spell? I sort of want to look into things. You go along about your business and leave me talk to Wife-ette here.... Made up your mind you want her?"
"She want you?"
"I—What business is it of yours?" Yvette demanded, angrily. "Who are you? What are you interfering for?"
"Kind of a habit with me," said Scattergood, "and my wife hain't ever been able to cure me, even puttin' things in my coffee on the sly.... G'-by, Homer. And don't go lickin' nobody. G'-by."
The habit of obedience to Scattergood's customary dismissal was strong in Coldriver. For more than a generation the town had been trained to heed it and to trust its affairs to the old hardware merchant. Homer hesitated, coughed, mumbled good night to Yvette, and slouched away.
"There," said Scattergood, "now you and me kin talk. We'll go up to your room, where nobody kin disturb us." The conventions nor the tongue of gossip was non-existent to Scattergood Baines, and Yvette, not reared in a school where trust in men is easily learned, was shrewd enough to recognize Scattergood's purpose and her own safety.
"I s'pose you're the local Mr. Fix-it," she said, with sarcasm.
"I s'pose," said Scattergood, "that I've knowed Homer sence he was knee high to a mouse's kitten, and I don't know nothin' about you a-tall. I gather you're calc'latin' on marryin' Homer.... Mebby you be and mebby you hain't.... Depends. Come along."
He led the way to the hotel and allowed Yvette to precede him up the stairs to her room, which she unlocked and stood aside for him to enter. He looked about him in the sharp-eyed way characteristic of him, not omitting to include in his survey the toilet articles on the dresser.
"Hain't you perty enough without them?" he asked, indicating the lip stick and rice powder. "Us folks hain't used to 'em, much.... Wunst we give a home-talent play here, and there come a feller from Boston to help out. Mis' Blossom was into it, and he come around to paint her up. She jest give him one look, and says, says she, 'I hain't never painted my face yit, and I don't calc'late to start in now.' ... I got to admit she looked kind of pale and peeked amongst the rest, but she stuck to her principles."
Yvette stared at Scattergood, nonplused for the first time. What did he mean? How was she to take him? His face was serene and there was no glint of humor in his eye.... Yet, somehow, she gathered the idea he was chuckling inwardly and that there resided in him a broad and tender toleration for the little antics and makeshifts of mankind. Possibly he was holding Mrs. Blossom up to her as a model of rectitude; perhaps he was asking her to laugh with him at a foible of one of his own people. She wished she knew which.
"Calc'late on marryin' Homer?" he asked.
"Yes or no—quick."
"Yes," she said, lifting her chin bravely.
"Um!... Knowed him four days, hain't you? Think it's long enough? Plenty of time to figger it all out?"
She sat down on the bed, drooping wearily. "I'm tired," she said, "awful tired. I can't stand this life any longer. I've got to have a place to rest."
"Hain't goin' to have Homer used for no sanitorium," said Scattergood.
"I like him," said Yvette.
"'Tain't enough. Up this way folks mostly loves when they git married—or owns adjoinin' timber."
Again she was at a loss. What did he mean? If he would only smile!
"I—I've got a feeling I could trust him," she said, "and he'd be good to me."
"He would," said Scattergood. "I hain't worritin' about his dealin' with you; it's your dealin' with him I'm questionin' into."
"I'd—. He wouldn't be sorry."
"Um!... Nate Weaver, back country a spell, is lookin' fer a wife. Hain't young. Got lots of money, and the right woman could weasel it out of him. Lots of it.... He'd like you fine. Homer won't have much, and if his pa keeps on feelin' like he does, he won't have none.... If you're lookin' fer a restin' place, you might consider Nate. I could fix it." Her eyes flashed. "I haven't come to that yet," she said, sharply, and then began to cry quietly.
"Um!..." Scattergood gripped his pudgy hands together so that each might restrain the other from patting her head comfortingly. "Um!... What's your name?"
"Yes.... 'Tain't Wife-ette Hinchbrooke. They hain't no sich name. 'Tain't human.... What's your real one?"
"How'd you come to change?"
"A girl's got a right to call herself anything she wants to," she said, defensively.
"Except Mrs. Homer Locker," said Scattergood, dryly. "Now jest come off'n your high boss, and we'll talk. When we git through, we'll do.... Either you'll take the mornin' train out of Coldriver, or you'll stay and well see. Depends on what I hear."
"I could lie," she said.
"Folks don't gen'ally lie to me," said Scattergood, gently. "They found out it didn't pay—and I hain't much give to believin' nothin' but the truth. We deal in it a lot up this here way."
"I hate your people and their dealings."
"Don't wonder at it. I seen what they done to you to-night.... But you don't know 'em like I do. They's times when they act cold and ha'sh and nigh to cruel, but that hain't when they're real. Them times they're jest makin' b'lieve, 'cause they hain't got no idee what they ought to do.... I've knowed 'em these thirty year—right down knowed 'em. Lemme tell you they hain't a finer folks on earth, bar nobody. They don't show much outside, but the insides is right. You kin find more kindness and charity and long-sufferin' and tenderness and goodness right here amongst the cantankerous-seemin' of Coldriver 'n you kin find anywheres else on earth.... They're narrer, Eva, and they got sot notions, but they got a power to do kindness, once you git 'em started at it, that hain't to be beat.... I kind of calculate God hain't so disapp'inted with the folks of Coldriver as a stranger might git the idee he is.... Now we'll go ahead."
When Scattergood had done asking questions and receiving answers, he sat silent for a matter of moments. Automatically his hands strayed to the lacing of his shoes, for his pudgy toes itched for freedom to wiggle. He dealt with a problem whose complex elements were human emotions and prejudices, and at such times he found his brain to act more clearly and efficiently with shoes removed. He detected himself, however, in the act of untying the laces, and sat upright with ludicrous suddenness.
"Um!..." he said, in some confusion. "Mandy says I hain't never to do it when wimmin is around. Dunno why.... Now they's some p'ints I got to impress on you."
"Yes, Mr. Baines," said Yvette, who had reached a condition of respect and confidence in Scattergood—as most people did upon meeting him face to face.
"Fust, Homer hain't no sanitorium for weary wimmin. When you kin come and say, meanin' it from your heart, 'I love Homer,' then we'll see."
She nodded acquiescence.
"Second, it won't never and noways be possible fer you and Homer to live here onless the folks takes to you. You got to win yourself a welcome in Coldriver."
"That means," she said, dully, "that I'd better go."
"Huh!... Hain't you got no backbone? You do like you're told. You stay where you be. 'Tain't possible fer you to go back to Locker's store, and that puts you out of a job, don't it?"
"I can live a few days—but—"
"Hain't no buts. You kin live as long as I say so. You stay hitched to this here hitchin' post, and I'll 'tend to the money. Jest don't do nothin' but be where you be—and be makin' up your mind if Homer's the boy you kin love and cherish, or if he's nothin' but a sort of shady restin' place.... G'-by."
He got up abruptly and went out. On the bridge he encountered three dark figures, which, upon inspection, resolved themselves into Old Man Bogle, Deacon Pettybone, and Elder Hooper.
"Scattergood," said the elder, "somethin's happened."
"Somethin' 'most allus does."
"This here's special and horrifyin'."
"Havin' to do with what?"
"That coffee gal, that baggage, that hussy!"
"Um!... Sich as?"
"Recall that show Bogle was took to in Boston?"
"Where the wimmin wore tights—that's been on his mind ever since? Calc'late I do. Kind of a high spot in Bogle's life. Come nigh bein' the makin' of him."
"He claims he recognizes this here gal as one of them dancin' wimmin that stood in a row with less on to them than any woman ever ought to have with the lights turned on."
"No!" exclaimed Scattergood.
"Yep!" said all three of them in chorus.
"Stood right in front, as I recall it, a-makin' eyes and kickin' up her heels that immodest you wouldn't b'lieve. Looked right at me, too. I seen her."
"Got your money's wuth, then, didn't ye? Wa-al?"
"Suthin's got to be done."
"Riddin' the town of her."
"Go ahead and rid it, then.... G'-by."
"But we want you sh'u'd help us."
"G'-by," said Scattergood again, as he moved off ponderously into the darkness.
The elder moved nearer Bogle and endeavored to peer into his face. "Be you sure she's the same one?" he asked, in a confidential whisper.
"Wa-al—they was about the same heft," said Bogle, "and if this hain't her, it ought to be. I kin b'lieve it, can't I? Got a right to b'lieve it, hain't I? Good fer the town to b'lieve it, hain't it?"
"All right, then. I aim to keep on b'lievin' it."
Next day Homer Locker abandoned his work and with the utmost brazenness hired a rig at the livery and drove to the hotel. A group of notables assembled upon the bridge to watch the event. They saw him emerge from the inn with Yvette, help her into the buggy with great solicitude, and drive away. They did not return until supper time was long past.
"I'm determined to git this settled one way or t'other," said Homer, after a long pause. "Be you goin' to marry me?"
"Why do you want me?" Yvette asked, fixing her eyes on his face. "Is it just because you think I'm pretty?"
He considered. It was a hard question for a young man not adept in the use of words to answer. "'Tain't jest that," he said, finally. "I like you bein' perty. But it's somethin' else. I hain't able to explain it, exceptin' that I want you more'n I ever wanted anythin' in my life."
"Maybe, when I tell you about myself, you won't want me at all."
He paused again, while she studied his face anxiously.
"I dunno.... I—. Tell ye what. I want you like I know you. I'm satisfied. I don't want you to tell me nothin'. I don't want to know nothin'." He turned and looked with clumsy gravity into her eyes, which did not waver. "Besides," he said, "I don't believe you got anythin' discreditable to tell."
"I want to tell you."
"I don't want to hear," he said, simply. "I'd rather take you, jest trustin' you and knowin' in my heart that you're good. Somehow I know it."
She bit her lip, her eyes were moist, and she sat very still for a long time; then she said, softly: "I didn't know men like that lived.... I didn't know."
Then again, after the passage of minutes: "I was going to marry you, Homer, just for a home and a good man and to get peace.... But I sha'n't do it now. I can't come between you and all your folks—and they wouldn't have me."
"You're more to me than everybody else throwed together."
"No, Homer. Before I didn't think I cared.... I do care, Homer. I—I love you. I don't mind saying it now.... I'm going away in the morning."
It was a point they argued all the day, but Yvette was not to be moved, and Homer was in despair. As he drove into the village that evening, glum and unhappy, Yvette said: "Stop at Mr. Baines's, please, Homer. I want to speak to him."
Scattergood was in his accustomed place before his store, shoes on the piazza beside him, and his feet, guiltless of socks, reveling in their liberty.
"Mr. Baines," said Yvette, "I've made up my mind to go away to-morrow."
"Um!... To-morrer, eh? Made up your mind you don't want Homer, have ye? Don't blame ye. He's a mighty humble critter."
"He's the best man in the world," said Yvette, softly, "and I love him ... and that—that's why I'm going. I can't stay and make him miserable."
Scattergood studied her face a moment, and cleared his throat noisily. "Hum!... I swan to man! Goin', be ye?... Mebby that's best.... But they hain't no sich hurry. Be out of a job, won't ye? Uh-huh! Wa-al, you stay till Thursday mornin' and kind of visit with Homer, and say good-by, and then you kin go. Thursday mornin'.... Not a minute before."
"Thursday mornin's the time, I said.... G'-by."
Next morning Scattergood was absent. He had taken the early train out of town, as Pliny Pickett reported, on a "whoppin' big deal that come up suddin in the night." It appeared that for once Scattergood had allowed business to distract him wholly from his favorite occupation of meddling in other folks' affairs.... Nobody saw him return, for he drove into town late Wednesday afternoon and went directly to his home.
For forty-eight hours during his absence rumor had spread and increased its girth to astounding dimensions. Old Man Bogle had released his story. He now recollected Yvette perfectly, and when not restrained by the modesty of some person of the opposite sex, he described her costume in the play with minute detail. Hourly he remembered more and more, and the mouth-to-ear repetitions of his tale embellished it with details even Old Man Bogle's imagination could not have encompassed.... Before Wednesday night Yvette had arisen in the estimation of the village to an eminence of evil never before attained by any visitor to Coldriver.
Jason Locker forbade his son his home if ever he were seen in the hussy's company again, and Homer left by the front door.... He announced his purpose of journeying to the South Seas or New York, or some other equally strange and dangerous shore. The town seethed. It had been years since any local sensation approached this high moment.... At half past six Pliny Pickett, Scattergood's right-hand man and general errand boy, was seen to approach Homer on the street and to whisper to him. Pliny always enshrouded his most matter-of-fact errands with voluminous mystery. "Scattergood wants you sh'u'd see him right off," he said, and tiptoed away.
Another sensation occurred that evening. Scattergood Baines went to prayer meeting in the Methodist church. When word of this was passed about, the Baptists and Congos deserted their places of worship in whispering groups and invaded the rival edifice until it was crowded as it had seldom been before. Scattergood in prayer meeting! Scattergood, who had never been inside a church since the day of his arrival in Coldriver, forty years before.... Even Yvette Hinchbrooke and her affairs sank into insignificance.
But the amazing presence of Scattergood in church was as nothing to the epochal fact that, after the prayer and hymn, he was seen slowly to get to his feet. Scattergood Baines was going to lift up his voice in meeting!
"Folks," he said, "I've knowed Coldriver for quite a spell. I've knowed its good and its bad, but the good outweighs the bad by a darn sight." The congregation gasped.
"I run on to a case to-day," he said, and then paused, apparently thinking better of what he was going to say and taking another course. "They's one great way to reach folks's hearts and that's through their sympathy. All of you give up to furrin missions to rescue naked fellers with rings in their noses. That's sympathy, hain't it? Mebby they hain't needin' sympathy and cast-off pants, but that's neither here nor there. You think they do.... Coldriver's great on sympathy, and it's a doggone upstandin' quality." Again the audience sucked in its breath at this approach to the language of everyday life.
"If I was wantin' to stir up your sympathy, I'd tell you about a leetle feller I seen yestiddy. Mebby I will. He wa'n't no naked heathen, and he didn't have no ring into his nose. He was jest a boy. Uh-huh! Calculate he might 'a' been ten year old. Couldn't walk a step. Suthin' ailed his laigs, and he had to lay around in a chair in one of these here kind of cheap horspittles. Alone he was. Didn't have no pa nor ma.... But he had to be looked after by somebody, didn't he? Somebody had to pay them bills."
Scattergood blew his nose gustily. "Mebby he could 'a' been cured if they was money to pay for costly doctorin', but they wa'n't. It took all that could be got jest to pay for his food and keep.... Patient leetle feller, too, and gentlelike and cheerful. Kind of took to him, I did."
He paused, turned slowly, and surveyed the congregation, and frowned at the door of the church. He coughed. He waited. The congregation turned, following his eyes, and saw Mandy, Scattergood's ample-bosomed wife, enter, bearing in her arms the form of a child. She walked to Scattergood's pew and handed the boy to him. Scattergood held the child high, so all could see.
He was a red-haired little fellow, white and thin of face, with pipe-stem legs that dangled pitifully.
"I fetched him along," said Scattergood. "I wisht you'd look him over."
The audience craned its neck, exclaiming, dropping tears. The heart of Coldriver was well protected, it fancied, by an exterior of harshness and suspicion, but Coldriver was wrong. Its heart lay near the surface, easy of access, warm, tender, sympathetic. "This is him," said Scattergood.
He turned his face to the child. "Sonny," he said, kindly, "you hain't got no pa nor ma?" "No, sir," said the little fellow.
"And you live in one of them horspittles?"
"It costs money?"
"How do you git it, sonny? Tell the folks."
"Sister," said the child. "She's awful good to me. When she kin, she stays whole days with me, but she can't stay much on account of havin' to earn money to pay for me. It takes 'most all she earns.... She's had to do kinds of work she don't like, on account of it earnin' more money than nice jobs. We're savin' to have me cured, and then I'm goin' to go to work and keep her. I got it all planned out while I was layin' there."
"Is your sister a bad woman?"
"Nobody dast say that, even if I hain't got legs. I'd grab somethin' and throw it at 'em."
"Was this here sister ever one of them actoresses?"
"Once, when I was sicker 'n usual ... it was awful costly. That time she was in a show, 'cause she got more money there. She got enough to pay for what I needed."
"Wear tights, sonny? Calc'late she wore tights?"
"Sure. She told me. She said to me it wasn't wearin' tights that done harm, and she could be jest as good in tights as wearin' a fur coat if her heart wasn't bad. That's what she said. Yes, sir, she said she wouldn't wear nothin' if it had to be done to git me medicine."
"Um!... What's this here sister's name?"
Scattergood turned again toward the door. "Homer," he called, and Homer Locker entered, almost dragging Yvette by the arm.... The congregation heard one sound. It was a glad, childish cry. "Eva!... Eva!... Here I am."