Part 5 out of 6
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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!" 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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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'
"Not 'less it's that there dude suit of clothes," said Atwell, with some
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"Maybe," suggested Scattergood, "Ovid's come down with a fit of
"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
"Young feller named Nixon--Ovid Nixon--stoppin' here?" he asked the
"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
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
"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,
"Business or pleasure?" Her rejoinder was tart.
"If it's business, we eat. If it's pleasure, you've stopped at the wrong
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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,
"Was they suthin' besides a tack hammer you wanted, Mattie." Scattergood
"I--No, nothing." Her courage had failed her, and she moved toward the
"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
"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
"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
"I calc'late it's jest talk," said Scattergood. "Nobody knows where he
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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