Part 6 out of 8
"Wasn't he speaking of his daughter--and--and my brother?"
This time Jed actually gasped. Ruth drew a long breath. "I knew
it," she said.
"But--but, for mercy sakes, HOW did you know? Did he--?"
"No, he didn't see me at all. I was watching him from the window.
But I saw his face and--" with a sudden gesture of desperation,
"Oh, it wasn't that at all, Jed. It was my guilty conscience, I
guess. I've been expecting him to speak to you--or me--have been
dreading it every day--and now somehow I knew he had spoken. I
KNEW it. What did he say, Jed?"
Jed told the substance of what Captain Sam had said. She listened.
When he finished her eyes were wet.
"Oh, it is dreadful," she moaned. "I--I was so hoping she might
not care for Charlie. But she does--of course she does. She
couldn't help it," with a sudden odd little flash of loyalty.
Jed rubbed his chin in desperation.
"And--and Charlie?" he asked, anxiously. "Does he--"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure he does. He has never told me so, never in so
many words, but I can see. I know him better than any one else in
the world and I can see. I saw first, I think, on Thanksgiving
Day; at least that is when I first began to suspect--to fear."
Jed nodded. "When they was at the piano together that time and Sam
said somethin' about their bein' a fine-lookin' couple?" he said.
"Why, yes, that was it. Are you a mind reader, Jed?"
"No-o, I guess not. But I saw you lookin' kind of surprised and--
er--well, scared for a minute. I was feelin' the same way just
then, so it didn't need any mind reader to guess what had scared
"I see. But, oh, Jed, it is dreadful! What SHALL we do? What
will become of us all? And now, when I--I had just begun to be
happy, really happy."
She caught her breath in a sob. Jed instinctively stretched out
"But there," she went on, hurriedly wiping her eyes, "I mustn't do
this. This is no time for me to think of myself. Jed, this
mustn't go any further. He must not ask her to marry him; he must
not think of such a thing."
Jed sadly shook his head. "I'm afraid you're right," he said.
"Not as things are now he surely mustn't. But--but, Mrs. Ruth--"
"Oh, don't!" impatiently. "Don't use that silly 'Mrs.' any longer.
Aren't you the--the best friend I have in the world? Do call me
If she had been looking at his face just then she might have seen--
things. But she was not looking. There was an interval of silence
before he spoke.
"Well, then--er--Ruth--" he faltered.
"That's right. Go on."
"I was just goin' to ask you if you thought Charlie was cal'latin'
to ask her. I ain't so sure that he is."
He told of Charles' recent visit to the windmill shop and the young
man's query concerning the making of a decision. She listened
"But don't you think that means that he was wondering whether or
not he should ask her?" she said.
"No. That is, I don't think it's sartin sure it means that. I
rather had the notion it might mean he was figgerin' whether or not
to go straight to Sam and make a clean breast of it."
"You mean tell--tell everything?"
"Yes, all about the--the business at Middleford. I do honestly
believe that's what the boy's got on his mind to do. It ain't very
surprisin' that he backs and fills some before that mind's made up.
See what it might mean to him: it might mean the loss of his
prospects here and his place in the bank and, more'n everything
else, losin' Maud. It's some decision to make. If I had to make
it I-- Well, I don't know."
She put her hand to her eyes. "The POOR boy," she said, under her
breath. "But, Jed, DO you think that is the decision he referred
to? And why hasn't he said a word to me, his own sister, about it?
I'm sure he loves me."
"Sartin he does, and that's just it, as I see it. It ain't his own
hopes and prospects alone that are all wrapped up in this thing,
it's yours--and Babbie's. He's troubled about what'll happen to
you. That's why he hasn't asked your advice, I believe."
They were both silent for a moment. Then she said, pleadingly,
"Oh, Jed, it is up to you and me, isn't it? What shall we do?"
It was the "we" in this sentence which thrilled. If she had bade
him put his neck in front of the handsaw just then Jed would have
obeyed, and smilingly have pulled the lever which set the machine
in motion. But the question, nevertheless, was a staggerer.
"W-e-e-ll," he admitted, "I--I hardly know what to say, I will give
in. To be right down honest--and the Lord knows I hate to say it--
it wouldn't do for a minute to let those two young folks get
engaged--to say nothin' of gettin' married--with this thing between
'em. It wouldn't be fair to her, nor to Sam--no, nor to him or
you, either. You see that, don't you?" he begged. "You know I
don't say it for any reason but just--just for the best interests
of all hands. You know that, don't you--Ruth?"
"Of course, of course. But what then?"
"I don't really know what then. Seems to me the very first thing
would be for you to speak to him, put the question right up to him,
same as he's been puttin' it to himself all this time. Get him to
talk it over with you. And then--well, then--"
"Oh, I don't know! I declare I don't."
"Suppose he tells me he means to marry her in spite of everything?
Suppose he won't listen to me at all?"
That possibility had been in Jed's mind from the beginning, but he
refused to consider it.
"He will listen," he declared, stoutly. "He always has, hasn't he?"
"Yes, yes, I suppose he has. He listened to me when I persuaded
him that coming here and hiding all--all that happened was the
right thing to do. And now see what has come of it! And it is all
my fault. Oh, I have been so selfish!"
"Sshh! sshh! You ain't; you couldn't be if you tried. And,
besides, I was as much to blame as you. I agreed that 'twas the
best thing to do."
"Oh," reproachfully, "how can you say that? You know you were
opposed to it always. You only say it because you think it will
comfort me. It isn't true."
"Eh? Now--now, don't talk so. Please don't. If you keep on
talkin' that way I'll do somethin' desperate, start to make a
johnny cake out of sawdust, same as I did yesterday mornin', or
somethin' else crazy."
"It's true, that about the johnny cake. I came pretty nigh doin'
that very thing. I bought a five-pound bag of corn meal yesterday
and fetched it home from the store all done up in a nice neat
bundle. Comin' through the shop here I had it under my arm, and--
hum--er--well, to anybody else it couldn't have happened, but,
bein' Jed Shavin's Winslow, I was luggin' the thing with the top of
the bag underneath. I got about abreast of the lathe there when
the string came off and in less'n two thirds of a shake all I had
under my arm was the bag; the meal was on the floor--what wasn't in
my coat pocket and stuck to my clothes and so on. I fetched the
water bucket and started to salvage what I could of the cargo.
Pretty soon I had, as nigh as I could reckon it, about fourteen
pound out of the five scooped up and in the bucket. I begun to
think the miracle of loaves and fishes was comin' to pass again. I
was some shy on fish, but I was makin' up on loaves. Then I sort
of looked matters over and found what I had in the bucket was about
one pound of meal to seven of sawdust. Then I gave it up. Seemed
to me the stuff might be more fillin' than nourishin'."
Ruth smiled faintly. Then she shook her head.
"Oh, Jed," she said, "you're as transparent as a windowpane. Thank
you, though. If anything could cheer me up and help me to forget I
think you could."
Jed looked repentant. "I'd no business to tell you all that
rigamarole," he said. "I'm sorry. I'm always doin' the wrong
thing, seems so. But," he added, earnestly, "I don't want you to
worry too much about your brother--er--Ruth. It's goin' to come
out all right, I know it. God won't let it come out any other
She had never heard him speak in just that way before and she
looked at him in surprise.
"And yet God permits many things that seem entirely wrong to us
humans," she said.
"I know. Things like the Kaiser, for instance. Well, never mind;
this one's goin' to come out all right. I feel it in my bones.
And," with a return of his whimsical drawl, "I may be short on
brains, but a blind man could see they never skimped me when they
passed out the bones."
She looked at him a moment. Then, suddenly leaning forward, she
put her hand upon his big red one as it lay upon the bench.
"Jed," she said, earnestly, "what should I do without you? You are
my one present help in time of trouble. I wonder if you know what
you have come to mean to me."
It was an impulsive speech, made from the heart, and without
thought of phrasing or that any meaning other than that intended
could be read into it. A moment later, and without waiting for an
answer, she hurried from the shop.
"I must go," she said. "I shall think over your advice, Jed, and I
will let you know what I decide to do. Thank you ever and ever so
Jed scarcely heard her. After she had gone, he sat perfectly still
by the bench for a long period, gazing absently at the bare wall of
the shop and thinking strange thoughts. After a time he rose and,
walking into the little sitting-room, sat down beside the ugly
little oak writing table he had bought at a second-hand sale and
opened the upper drawer.
Weeks before, Ruth, yielding to Babbie's urgent appeal, had
accompanied the latter to the studio of the local photographer and
there they had been photographed, together, and separately. The
results, although not artistic triumphs, being most inexpensive,
had been rather successful as likenesses. Babbie had come trotting
in to show Jed the proofs. A day or so later he found one of the
said proofs on the shop floor where the little girl had dropped it.
It happened to be a photograph of Ruth, sitting alone.
And then Jed Winslow did what was perhaps the first dishonest thing
he had ever done. He put that proof in the drawer of the oak
writing table and said nothing of his having found it. Later he
made a wooden frame for it and covered it with glass. It faded and
turned black as all proofs do, but still Jed kept it in the drawer
and often, very often, opened that drawer and looked at it. Now he
looked at it for a long, long time and when he rose to go back to
the shop there was in his mind, along with the dream that had been
there for days and weeks, for the first time the faintest dawning
of a hope. Ruth's impulsive speech, hastily and unthinkingly made,
was repeating itself over and over in his brain. "I wonder if you
know what you have come to mean to me?" What had he come to mean
An hour later, as he sat at his bench, Captain Hunniwell came
banging in once more. But this time the captain looked troubled.
"Jed," he asked, anxiously, "have you found anything here since I
Jed looked up.
"Eh?" he asked, absently. "Found? What have you found, Sam?"
"I? I haven't found anything. I've lost four hundred dollars,
though. You haven't found it, have you?"
Still Jed did not appear to comprehend. He had been wandering the
rose-bordered paths of fairyland and was not eager to come back to
"Eh?" he drawled. "You've--what?"
His friend's peppery temper broke loose.
"For thunder sakes wake up!" he roared. "I tell you I've lost four
hundred dollars of the fourteen hundred I told you I collected from
Sylvester Sage over to Wapatomac this mornin'. I had three
packages of bills, two of five hundred dollars each and one of four
hundred. The two five hundred packages were in the inside pocket
of my overcoat where I put 'em. But the four hundred one's gone.
What I want to know is, did it drop out when I took off my coat
here in the shop? Do you get that through your head, finally?"
It had gotten through. Jed now looked as troubled as his friend.
He rose hastily and went over to the pile of boards upon which
Captain Sam had thrown his coat upon entering the shop on his
previous visit that day. Together they searched, painstakingly and
at length. The captain was the first to give up.
"'Tain't here," he snapped. "I didn't think 'twas. Where in time
is it? That's what I want to know."
Jed rubbed his chin.
"Are you sure you had it when you left Wapatomac?" he asked.
"Sure? No, I ain't sure of anything. But I'd have sworn I did.
The money was on the table along with my hat and gloves. I picked
it up and shoved it in my overcoat pocket. And that was a darned
careless place to put it, too," he added, testily. "I'd have given
any feller that worked for me the devil for doin' such a thing."
Jed nodded, sympathetically. "But you might have left it there to
Sylvester's," he said. "Have you thought of telephonin' to find
"Have I thought? Tut, tut, tut! Do you think I've got a head like
a six-year-old young-one--or you? Course I've thought--and
'phoned, too. But it didn't do me any good. Sylvester's house is
shut up and the old man's gone to Boston, so the postmaster told me
when I 'phoned and asked him. Won't be back for a couple of days,
anyhow. I remember he told me he was goin'!"
"Sho, sho! that's too bad."
"Bad enough, but I don't think it makes any real difference. I
swear I had that money when I left Sage's. I came in here and then
I went straight to the bank."
"And after you got there?"
"Oh, when I got there I found no less than three men, not countin'
old Mrs. Emmeline Bartlett, in my room waitin' to see me. Nellie
Hall--my typewriter, you know--she knew where I'd been and what a
crank old Sage is and she says: 'Did you get the money, Cap'n?'
And I says: 'Yes, it's in my overcoat pocket this minute.' Then I
hurried in to 'tend to the folks that was waitin' for me. 'Twas an
hour later afore I went to my coat to get the cash. Then, as I
say, all I could find was the two five hundred packages. The four
hundred one was gone."
"Sho, sho! Tut, tut, tut! Where did you put the coat when you
took it off?"
"On the hook in the clothes closet where I always put it."
"Hum-m! And--er--when you told Nellie about it did you speak
"Loud? No louder'n I ever do."
"Well--er--that ain't a--er--whisper, Sam, exactly."
"Don't make any difference. There wasn't anybody outside the
railin' that minute to hear if I'd bellered like a bull of Bashan.
There was nobody in the bank, I tell you, except the three men and
old Aunt Emmeline and they were waitin' in my private room. And
except for Nellie and Eddie Ellis, the messenger, and Charlie
Phillips, there wan't a soul around, as it happened. The money
hasn't been stolen; I lost it somewheres--but where? Well, I can't
stop here any longer. I'm goin' back to the bank to have another
He banged out again. Fortunately he did not look at his friend's
face before he went. For that face had a singular expression upon
it. Jed sat heavily down in the chair by the bench. A vivid
recollection of a recent remark made in that very shop had suddenly
come to him. Charlie Phillips had made it in answer to a question
of his own. Charlie had declared that he would do almost anything
to get five hundred dollars.
The next morning found Jed heavy-eyed and without appetite, going
through the form of preparing breakfast. All night, with the
exception of an hour or two, he had tossed on his bed alternately
fearing the worst and telling himself that his fears were
groundless. Of course Charlie Phillips had not stolen the four
hundred dollars. Had not he, Jed Winslow, loudly proclaimed to
Ruth Armstrong that he knew her brother to be a fine young man, one
who had been imprudent, it is true, but much more sinned against
than sinning and who would henceforth, so he was willing to swear,
be absolutely upright and honest? Of course the fact that a sum of
money was missing from the Orham National Bank, where Phillips was
employed, did not necessarily imply that the latter had taken it.
Not necessarily, that was true; but Charlie had, in Jed's presence,
expressed himself as needing money, a sum approximately that which
was missing; and he had added that he would do almost anything to
get it. And--there was no use telling oneself that the fact had no
bearing on the case, because it would bear heavily with any
unprejudiced person--Charlie's record was against him. Jed loyally
told himself over and over again that the boy was innocent, he KNEW
he was innocent. But-- The dreadful "but" came back again and
again to torment him.
All that day he went about in an alternate state of dread and hope.
Hope that the missing four hundred might be found, dread of--many
possibilities. Twice he stopped at the bank to ask Captain Sam
concerning it. The second time the captain was a trifle impatient.
"Gracious king, Jed," he snapped. "What's the matter with you?
'Tain't a million. This institution'll probably keep afloat even
if it never turns up. And 'twill turn up sooner or later; it's
bound to. There's a chance that I left it at old Sage's. Soon's
the old cuss gets back and I can catch him by telephone I'll find
out. Meanwhile I ain't worryin' and I don't know why you should.
The main thing is not to let anybody know anything's missin'. Once
let the news get out 'twill grow to a hundred thousand afore night.
There'll be a run on us if Gab Bearse or Melissa Busteed get goin'
with their throttles open. So don't you whisper a word to anybody,
Jed. We'll find it pretty soon."
And Jed did not whisper a word. But he anxiously watched the
inmates of the little house, watched Charles' face when he came
home after working hours, watched the face of his sister as she
went forth on a marketing expedition, even scrutinized Babbie's
laughing countenance as she came dancing into the shop, swinging
Petunia by one arm. And it was from Babbie he first learned that,
in spite of all Captain Hunniwell's precautions, some one had
dropped a hint. It may as well be recorded here that the identity
of that some one was never clearly established. There were
suspicions, centering about the bank messenger, but he stoutly
denied having told a living soul.
Barbara, who was on her way home from school, and had rescued the
long-suffering Petunia from the front fence where she had been left
suspended on a picket to await her parent's return, was bubbling
over with news and giggles.
"Oh, Uncle Jed," she demanded, jumping up to perch panting upon a
stack of the front elevations of birdhouses, "isn't Mr. Gabe Bearse
Jed sighed. "Yes," he said, "Gabe's as funny as a jumpin'
The young lady regarded him doubtfully. "I see," she said, after a
moment, "you're joking again. I wish you'd tell me when you're
going to do it, so Petunia and I would know for sure."
"All right, I'll try not to forget to remember. But how did you
guess I was jokin' this time?"
"'Cause you just had to be. A jumping toothache isn't funny. I
had one once and it made me almost sick."
"Um-hm. W-e-e-ll, Gabe Bearse makes 'most everybody sick. What
set you thinkin' about him?"
"'Cause I just met him on the way home and he acted so funny.
First he gave me a stick of candy."
Mr. Winslow leaned back in his chair.
"What?" he cried. "He gave you a stick of candy? GAVE it to you?"
"Yes. He said: 'Here, little girl, don't you like candy?' And
when I said I did he gave me a stick, the striped peppermint kind
it was. I'd have saved a bite for you, Uncle Jed, only I and the
rest ate it all before I remembered. I'm awfully sorry."
"That's all right. Striped candy don't agree with me very well,
anyway; I'm liable to swallow the stripes crossways, I guess
likely. But tell me, did Gabe look wild or out of his head when he
gave it to you?"
"Why, no. He just looked--oh--oh, you know, Uncle Jed--MYSter'ous--
that's how he looked, MYSter'ous."
"Hum! Well, I'm glad to know he wan't crazy. I've known him a
good many years and this is the first time I ever knew him to GIVE
anybody anything worth while. When I went to school with him he
gave me the measles, I remember, but even then they was only
imitation--the German kind. And now he's givin' away candy: Tut,
tut! No wonder he looked--what was it?--mysterious. . . . Hum. . . .
Well, he wanted somethin' for it, didn't he? What was it?"
"Why, he just wanted to know if I'd heard Uncle Charlie say
anything about a lot of money being gone up to the bank. He said
he had heard it was ever and ever so much--a hundred hundred
dollars--or a thousand dollars, or something--I don't precactly
remember, but it was a great, big lot. And he wanted to know if
Uncle Charlie had said how much it was and what had become of it
and--and everything. When I said Uncle Charlie hadn't said a word
he looked so sort of disappointed and funny that it made me laugh."
It did not make Jed laugh. The thought that the knowledge of the
missing money had leaked out and was being industriously spread
abroad by Bearse and his like was very disquieting. He watched
Phillips more closely than before. He watched Ruth, and, before
another day had passed, he had devised a wonderful plan, a plan to
be carried out in case of alarming eventualities.
On the afternoon of the third day he sat before his workbench, his
knee clasped between his hands, his foot swinging, and his thoughts
busy with the situation in all its alarming phases. It had been
bad enough before this new development, bad enough when the always
present danger of Phillips' secret being discovered had become
complicated by his falling in love with his employer's daughter.
But now-- Suppose the boy had stolen the money? Suppose he was
being blackmailed by some one whom he must pay or face exposure?
Jed had read of such things; they happened often enough in novels.
He did not hear the door of the outer shop open. A month or more
ago he had removed the bell from the door. His excuse for so doing
had been characteristic.
"I can't stand the wear and tear on my morals," he told Ruth. "I
ain't sold anything, except through the mail, since the winter
really set in. And yet every time that bell rings I find myself
jumpin' up and runnin' to wait on a customer. When it turns out to
be Gabe Bearse or somebody like him I swear, and swearin' to me is
like whiskey to some folks--comfortin' but demoralizin'."
So the bell having been removed, Jed did not hear the person who
came into and through the outer shop. The first sign of that
person's presence which reached his ears was an unpleasant chuckle.
He turned, to see Mr. Phineas Babbitt standing in the doorway of
the inner room. And--this was the most annoying and disturbing
fact connected with the sight--the hardware dealer was not
scowling, he was laughing. The Winslow foot fell to the floor with
a thump and its owner sat up straight.
"He, he, he!" chuckled Phineas. Jed regarded him silently.
Babbitt's chuckle subsided into a grin. Then he spoke.
"Well," he observed, with sarcastic politeness, "how's the great
Shavin's Jedidah, the famous inventor of whirlagigs? He, he, he!"
Jed slowly shook his head. "Phin," he said, "either you wear
rubbers or I'm gettin' deaf, one or the other. How in the world
did you get in here this time without my hearin' you?"
Phineas ignored the question. He asked one of his own. "How's the
only original high and mighty patriot this afternoon?" he sneered.
The Winslow hand caressed the Winslow chin.
"If you mean me, Phin," drawled Jed, "I'm able to sit up and take
nourishment, thank you. I judge you must be kind of ailin',
though. Take a seat, won't you?"
"No, I won't. I've got other fish to fry, bigger fish than you, at
"Um-hm. Well, they wouldn't have to be sperm whales to beat me,
Phin. Be kind of hard to fry 'em if they was too big, wouldn't
"They're goin' to fry, you hear me. Yes, and they're goin' to
sizzle. He, he, he!"
Mr. Winslow sadly shook his head. "You must be awful sick, Phin,"
he drawled. "That's the third or fourth time you've laughed since
you came in here."
His visitor stopped chuckling and scowled instead. Jed beamed
"That's it," he said. "Now you look more natural. Feelin' a
little better . . . eh?"
The Babbitt chin beard bristled. Its wearer leaned forward.
"Shut up," he commanded. "I ain't takin' any of your sass this
afternoon, Shavin's, and I ain't cal'latin' to waste much time on
you, neither. You know where I'm bound now? Well, I'm bound up to
the Orham National Bank to call on my dear friend Sam Hunniwell.
He, he, he! I've got a little bit of news for him. He's in
trouble, they tell me, and I want to help him out. . . . Blast
This time Jed made no reply; but he, too, leaned forward and his
gaze was fixed upon the hardware dealer's face. There was an
expression upon his own face which, when Phineas saw it, caused the
latter to chuckle once more.
"He, he!" he laughed. "What's the matter, Shavin's? You look kind
of scared about somethin'. 'Tain't possible you've known all along
what I've just found out? I wonder if you have. Have you?"
Still Jed was silent. Babbit grunted.
"It don't make any difference whether you have or not," he said.
"But if you ain't I wonder what makes you look so scared. There's
nothin' to be scared about, as I see. I'm just cal'latin' to do
our dear old chummie, Cap'n Sam, a kindness, that's all. He's lost
some money up there to the bank, I understand. Some says it's four
thousand dollars and some says it's forty. It don't make any
difference, that part don't. Whatever 'tis it's missin' and I'm
going to tell him where to find it. That's real good of me, ain't
it? Ain't it, Shavin's; eh?"
The little man's malignant spite and evident triumph were actually
frightening. And it was quite evident that Jed was frightened.
Yet he made an effort not to appear so.
"Yes," he agreed. "Yes, yes, seems 's if 'twas. Er--er-- Where
is it, Phin?"
Phineas burst out laughing. "'Where is it, Phin?'" he repeated,
mockingly. "By godfreys mighty, I believe you do know where 'tis,
Shavin's! You ain't gettin' any of it, are you? You ain't
dividin' up with the blasted jailbird?"
Jed was very pale. His voice shook as he essayed to speak.
"Wh-what jailbird?" he faltered. "What do you mean? What--what
are you talkin' about, Phin?"
"'What are you talkin' about, Phin?' God sakes, hear him, will
you! All right, I'll tell you what I'm talkin' about. I'm talkin'
about Sam Hunniwell's pet, his new bookkeeper up there to the bank.
I'm talkin' about that stuck-up, thievin' hypocrite of a Charlie
Phillips, that's who I'm talkin' about. I called him a jailbird,
didn't I? Well, he is. He's served his term in the Connecticut
State's prison for stealin'. And I know it."
Jed groaned aloud. Here it was at last. The single hair had
parted and the sword had fallen. And now, of all times, now! He
made a pitiful attempt at denial.
"It ain't so," he protested.
"Oh, yes, it is so. Six or eight weeks ago--in January 'twas--
there was a drummer in my store sellin' a line of tools and he was
lookin' out of the window when this Phillips cuss went by with Maud
Hunniwell, both of 'em struttin' along as if common folks, honest
folks, was dirt under their feet. And when this drummer see 'em he
swore right out loud. 'Why,' says he, 'that's Charlie Phillips, of
Middleford, ain't it?' 'His name's Phillips and he comes from
Connecticut somewheres,' says I. 'I thought he was in state's
prison,' says he. 'What do you mean?' says I. And then he told
me. 'By godfreys,' says I, 'if you can fix it so's I can prove
that's true I'll give you the biggest order you ever got in this
store.' ''Twon't be any trouble to prove it,' says he. 'All
you've got to do is look up his record in Middleford.' And I've
looked it up. Yes, sir-ee, I've looked it up. Ho, ho!"
Jed, white and shaking, made one more attempt.
"It's all a lie," he cried. "Of course it is. Besides, if you
knew so much why have you been waitin' all this time before you
told it? If you found out all this--this pack of rubbish in
January why did you wait till March before you told it? Humph!
That's pretty thin, I--"
"Shut up!" he ordered. "Why did I wait? Well, now, Shavin's,
seein' it's you and I love you so, I'll tell you. At first I was
for runnin' right out in the street and hollerin' to all hands to
come and hear the good news about Sam Hunniwell's pet. And then
thinks I: 'Hold on! don't be in any hurry. There's time enough.
Just wait and see what happens. A crook that steals once is liable
to try it again. Let's wait and see.' And I waited, and-- He,
he, he!--he has tried it again. Eh, Shavin's?"
Jed was speechless. Babbitt, looking like a triumphantly vicious
Bantam rooster, crowed on.
"You don't seem to be quite so sassy and talky as you was when I
first came in, Shavin's," he sneered. "Guess likely YOU ain't
feelin' well now . . . eh? Do you remember what I told you last
time I was in this shop? I told you I'd pay my debts to you and
Sam Hunniwell if I waited fifty year. Well, here's Hunniwell's pay
comin' to him now. He's praised that Phillips thief from one end
of Ostable county to the other, told how smart he was and how
honest and good he was till--Lord A'mighty, it's enough to turn a
decent man's stomach! And not only that, but here's the feller
courtin' his daughter. Oh, ho, ho, ho! that's the best of the
whole business. That was another thing made me hang off and wait;
I wanted to see how the courtin' came along. And it's come along
all right. Everybody's onto 'em, hangin' over each other, and
lookin' soft at each other. She's just fairly heavin' herself at
his head, all hands says so. There ain't been anybody in this town
good enough for her till he showed up. And now it's comin' out
that he's a crook and a jailbird! And he'll be jailed for stealin'
THIS time, too. Ho, ho!"
He stopped, out of breath, to indulge in another long chuckle. Jed
"What are you talkin' about, Phin?" he demanded. "Even allowin'
all this--this rigmarole of yours about--about Middleford business--
"It is true and you know it is. I believe you've known it all
"I say allowin' it is, you haven't any right to say Charlie took
this money from the Orham bank. You can't prove any such thing."
"Aw, be still! Prove--prove nothin'. When a cat and a sasser of
milk's shut up together and the milk's gone, you don't need proof
to know where it's gone, do you? Don't talk to me about proof, Jed
Winslow. Put a thief alongside of money and anybody knows what'll
happen. Why, YOU know what's happened yourself. You know darn
well Charlie Phillips has stole the money that's gone from the
bank. Down inside you you're sartin sure of it; and I don't want
any better proof of THAT than just your face, Shavin's."
This time Jed did not attempt to contradict. Instead he tried a
"Phin," he pleaded, "don't be too hard. Just think of what'll
happen if you come out with that--that wild-goose yarn of yours.
Think of Maud, poor girl. You haven't got anything against her,
"Yes, I have. She's stuck-up and nose in the air and looks at me
as if I was some sort of--of a bug she wouldn't want to step on for
fear of mussin' up her shoes. I never did like her, blast her.
But leavin' that all to one side, she's Sam Hunniwell's young-one
and that's enough for me."
"But she's his only child, Phin."
"Good enough! I had a boy; he was an only child, too, you'll
remember. Where is he now? Out somewheres where he don't belong,
fightin' and bein' killed to help Wall Street get rich. And who
sent him there? Why, Sam Hunniwell and his gang. You're one of
'em, Jed Winslow. To hell with you, every one of you, daughters
and all hands."
"But, Phin--just a minute. Think of what it'll mean to Charlie,
poor young feller. It'll mean--"
"It'll mean ten years this time, and a good job, too. You poor
fool, do you think you can talk me out of this? You, you sawdust-
head? What do you think I came into your hole here for? I came
here so's you'd know what I was goin' to do to your precious chums.
I wanted to tell you and have the fun of watchin' you squirm.
Well, I'm havin' the fun, plenty of it. Squirm, you Wall Street
He fairly stood on tiptoe to scream the last command. To a
disinterested observer the scene might have had some elements of
farce comedy. Certainly Phineas, his hat fallen off and under
foot, his scanty gray hair tousled and his pugnacious chin beard
bristling, was funny to look at. And the idea of calling Jed
Winslow a "Wall Street bloodsucker" was the cream of burlesque.
But to Jed himself it was all tragedy, deep and dreadful. He made
one more desperate plea.
"But, Phin," he begged, "think of his--his sister, Charlie's
sister. What'll become of her and--and her little girl?"
Phineas snorted. "His sister," he sneered. "All right, I'll think
about her all right. She's another stuck-up that don't speak to
common folks. Who knows anything about her any more'n they did
about him? Better look up her record, I guess. The boy's turned
out to be a thief; maybe the sister'll turn out to be--"
"Stop! Be still!"
Jed actually shouted it. Babbitt stopped, principally because the
suddenness of the interruption had startled him into doing so. But
the pause was only momentary. He stared at the interrupter in
enraged amazement for an instant and then demanded: "Stop? Who are
you tellin' to stop?"
"I want to know! Well, I'll stop when I get good and ready and if
you don't like it, Shavin's, you can lump it. That Phillips kid
has turned out to be a thief and, so far as anybody 'round here
knows, his sister may be--"
"Stop!" Again Jed shouted it; and this time he rose to his feet.
Phineas glared at him.
"Humph!" he grunted. "You'll make me stop, I presume likely."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, it's got to be so. Look here, Phin, I realize you're mad and
don't care much what you say, but there's a limit, you know. It's
bad enough to hear you call poor Charlie names, but when you start
in on Ruth--on Mrs. Armstrong, I mean--that's too much. You've got
This speech was made quietly and with all the customary Winslow
deliberation and apparent calm, but there was one little slip in it
and that slip Babbitt was quick to notice.
"Oh, my!" he sneered. "Ruth's what we call her, eh? Ruth! Got so
chummy we call each other by our first names. Ruthie and Jeddie, I
presume likely. Aw, haw, haw!"
Jed's pallor was, for the moment, succeeded by a vivid crimson. He
stammered. Phineas burst into another scornful laugh.
"Haw, haw, haw!" he crowed. "She lets him call her Ruth. Oh, my
Lord A'mighty! Let's Shavin's Winslow call her that. Well, I
guess I sized her up all right. She must be about on her brother's
level. A thief and--"
"Shut up, Phin!"
"Shut up? YOU tell me to shut up!"
"Well, I won't. Ruth Armstrong! What do I care for--"
The speech was not finished. Jed had taken one long stride to
where Babbitt was standing, seized the furious little creature by
the right arm with one hand and with the other covered his open
mouth, covered not only the mouth, but a large section of face as
"You keep quiet, Phin," he drawled. "I want to think."
Phineas struggled frantically. He managed to get one corner of his
mouth from behind that mammoth hand.
"Ruth Armstrong!" he screamed. "Ruth Armstrong is--"
The yell died away to a gurgle, pinched short by the Winslow
fingers. Then the door leading to the kitchen, the door behind the
pair, opened and Ruth Armstrong herself came in. She was pale and
she stared with frightened eyes at the little man struggling in the
tall one's clutch.
"Oh, Jed," she breathed, "what is it?"
Jed did not reply. Phineas could not.
"Oh, Jed, what is it?" repeated Ruth. "I heard him shouting my
name. I was in the yard and I heard it. . . . Oh, Jed, what IS
Babbitt at last managed to wriggle partially clear. He was crazy
with rage, but he was not frightened. Fear of physical violence
was not in his make-up; he was no coward.
"I'll tell you what it is," he screamed. "I'll tell you what it
is: I've found out about you and that stuck-up crook of a brother
of yours. He's a thief. That's what he is, a thief and a
jailbird. He stole at Middleford and now he's stole again here.
And Jed Winslow and you are--"
He got no further, being once more stoppered like a bottle by the
Winslow grip and the Winslow hand. He wriggled and fought, but he
was pinned and helpless, hands, feet and vocal organs. Jed did not
so much as look at him; he looked only at Ruth.
Her pallor had increased. She was trembling.
"Oh, Jed," she cried, "what does he mean? What does he mean by--by
Jed's grip tightened over his captive's mouth.
"He doesn't mean anything," he declared, stoutly. "He don't know
what he means."
From behind the smothering fingers came a defiant mumble. Ruth
"Jed," she begged, "does he--does he know about--about--"
Jed nodded. She closed her eyes and swayed slightly, but she did
not collapse or give way.
"And he is going to tell?" she whispered.
A furious mumble from behind the fingers and a venomous flash from
the Babbitt eyes were answers sufficient.
"Oh, Jed," she pleaded, "what SHALL we do?"
For the instant a bit of the old Jed came to the surface. His lip
twitched grimly as he looked down at the crimson face above his own
"I ain't sartin--yet," he drawled. "How do you start in killin'
a--a snappin' turtle? I ain't tackled the job since I was a boy."
Phineas looked as if he could have furnished some points on the
subject. His eyes were bulging. Then all three heard the door of
the outer shop open.
Ruth looked desperately about her. She hastened to the door by
which she had entered. "There's some one coming," she whispered.
Jed glanced over his shoulder. "You go away," he whispered in
reply. "Go away, Ruth. Hurry!"
Her hand was on the latch of the door, but before she could open it
the other door, that leading from the outer shop, opened and
Leonard Grover came in. He stared at the picture before him--at
Ruth Armstrong's pale, frightened face, at Babbitt struggling in
his captor's clutch, at Jed.
"Why!" he exclaimed. "What is it?"
No one answered. Phineas was the only one who stirred. He seemed
anxious to turn the tableau into a moving picture, but his success
was limited. The Major turned to Ruth.
"What is it?" he asked again.
She was silent. Grover repeated his question, addressing Jed this
"Well?" he asked, sharply. "What is the trouble here? What has
that fellow been doing?"
Jed looked down at his wriggling captive. "He's--he's--" he
stammered. "Well, you see, Major, he . . . Hum . . . well, I'm
afraid I can't tell you."
"You can't tell me! What on earth-- Mrs. Armstrong, will you tell
She looked at him appealingly, pitifully, but she shook her head.
"I--I can't," she said.
He looked from one to the other. Then, with a shrug, he turned to
"Pardon me for interrupting," he observed. "Good afternoon."
It was Ruth who detained him. "Oh, please!" she cried, involuntarily.
He turned again.
"You wish me to stay?" he asked.
"Oh--oh, I don't know. I--"
She had not finished the sentence; she was falteringly trying to
finish it when Mr. Babbitt took the center of the stage. Once more
he managed to free himself from Jed's grip and this time he darted
across the shop and put the workbench between himself and his enemy.
"I'll tell you what it is," he screamed. "I've found out some
things they don't want anybody to know, that's what. I've found
out what sort of folks they are, she and her brother. He's a
common-- Let go of me! By--"
The scream ended in another mumble. Jed had swarmed over the bench
and once more pinned him fast.
"You'll have to excuse me, Major," he panted. "I--I can't help it.
This feller's got what ailed the parrot--he talks too darn much.
He's got to stop! He's GOT to!"
But Grover was paying little attention. He was looking at Ruth.
"Mrs. Armstrong," he asked, "has he been saying--saying things he
should not say about you? Is that the trouble?"
She answered without returning his look.
"Yes," she said, almost in a whisper. "About me and--and my--
Yes, that was it."
The Major's eyes flashed. "Let go of him, Jed," he commanded. Jed
"If I do he'll blow up again," he said.
"Let go of him."
Jed let go. Phineas caught his breath and opened his mouth. Major
Grover stepped in front of him and leveled a forefinger straight at
the crimson Babbitt nose.
"Stop!" he ordered, sharply.
"Stop? What right have you got to tell me to stop? By--"
"Stop! Listen to me. I don't know what you've been saying about
"I ain't been saying anything, except what I know, and that is
"Stop! And I don't care. But I know about you, sir, because it is
my business to know. The Government has had its eye on you for
some time and it has asked me to look into your record. I have
looked into it. You are not a very dangerous person, Mr. Babbitt,
but that is because of your lack of ability to harm, not because of
any good will on your part toward the United States. You have done
all the harm you could, you have talked sedition, you've written
and talked against the draft, you have corresponded with German
agents in Boston and New York."
"That's a lie."
"No, it's the truth. I have copies of your letters and the
Government has the originals. They are not very dangerous, but
that is because you are not big enough to be dangerous. The
authorities have left you pretty much to my discretion, sir. It
rests with me whether to have you taken in charge and held for
trial or merely to warn you and watch you. Very well. I warn you
now and you may be certain that you are watched. You'll stop your
silly, seditious talk at once and you'll write no more letters like
those I have seen. If you do it will be a prison term for you as
sure as I stand here. Do you understand?"
Apparently Phineas understood. His face was not as red as it had
been and there was a different look in his eye. Jed's rough
handling had not frightened him, but the Major's cold, incisive
tones and the threat of a term in prison had their effect.
Nevertheless he could still bluster.
"You can't talk to me that way," he sputtered. "I--I ain't scared
of you even if you are all dressed up in fuss and feathers like a
hand-organ monkey. This is a free country."
"Yes, it is. For decent people it is absolutely free. The other
sort have to be put where they can't interfere with that freedom.
Whether you, Babbit, remain free or not depends entirely upon what
you do--and say. Is this perfectly clear?"
Phineas did not answer the question directly. For a moment he
stood there, his fists clenching and unclenching, and his eyes
snapping. Then he turned away.
"All right," he said, sullenly. "I hear what you say. Now I can
go, I presume likely--unless you've got some more lyin' and
bullyin' to do. Get out of my way, Shavin's, you fool."
But Grover had not finished with him.
"Just a minute," he said. "There is one thing more. I don't know
what it is, and I don't wish to know, but evidently you have been
saying, or threatening to say, something concerning this lady, Mrs.
Armstrong, which should not be said. You are not to mention her
name. Do you understand that?"
The little hardware dealer almost jumped from the floor as his rage
again got the better of him.
"The blazes I ain't!" he shrieked. "Who says I ain't? Is that any
of your business, Mr.--Mr. Brass Monkey? What's you or the United
States gov'ment got to say about my mentionin' names? To the devil
with the United States and you, too! You hear that?"
Major Grover smiled. "Yes," he said, quietly. "I hear it. So
does Mr. Winslow here, and Mrs. Armstrong. They can be called as
witnesses if it is necessary. You had better let me finish,
Babbitt. As I say, you are not to mention Mrs. Armstrong's name,
you are not to repeat or circulate any scandal or story reflecting
upon her character--"
"Or her brother's either," put in Jed, eagerly. "Tell him he can't
talk against Charlie, either."
"Certainly. You are not to repeat or circulate anything derogatory
to the character of either Mrs. Armstrong or Mr. Phillips. In any
Phineas tossed both fists in the air.
"You can't order me around that way," he yelled. "Besides, if you
knew what I know about that gang you'd--"
"Hush! I don't want to know anything you know--or pretend to know.
As for ordering you about--well, we'll see."
"I tell you you can't. You ain't got the right."
"Perhaps not. But I have the right to use my discretion--my
judgment in your case. And my judgment is that if I hear one
scandalous story about town reflecting upon the character of Mrs.
Armstrong or her brother--yes, or her friends--I shall know who is
responsible and I shall have you arrested and held for trial as an
enemy of the country. You condemned the United States to the devil
only a moment ago in my hearing. Do you think that would help you
in court, Babbitt? I don't."
The little man's face was a sight. As Jed said afterward, he
looked as if he would have enjoyed biting his way out of the shop.
"Huh!" he snarled; "I see. You're all in together, the whole lot
of you. And you, you brass buttons, you're usin' your soldierin'
job to keep your friends out of trouble. . . . Huh! Yes, that's
what you're doin'."
The Major's smile was provokingly cool.
"Perhaps I am," he admitted. "But I shouldn't advise you to forget
what I have just told you, Babbitt. I mean every word of it."
It was Ruth who spoke next. She uttered a startled exclamation.
"There's some one coming up the walk," she cried. "Listen."
Sure enough, heavy footsteps sounded upon the walk leading from the
front gate to the shop. Jed ran to the window.
"It's Sam," he exclaimed. "Good heavens above! It's Sam Hunniwell,
of all folks--now!"
Grover looked from one face to the other.
"Is there any particular reason why Captain Hunniwell shouldn't
come?" he asked.
Jed and Ruth were silent. Phineas chuckled malevolently. Jed
heard the chuckle and spoke.
"'Twas--'twas Cap'n Sam he was goin' to tell," he whispered,
pointing at Babbitt. Ruth caught her breath with a frightened
Grover nodded. "Oh, I see," he said. "Well, I don't think he
will. He'll be more--more--careful, I'm sure. Babbitt, remember."
They heard the captain rattle the latch of the front door. Ruth
opened the door behind her. "I must go, Jed," she whispered.
"I--I can't stay."
The Major turned. "I'll go with you, Mrs. Armstrong," he said.
But Jed leaned forward.
"I--I wish you'd stay, Major Grover," he whispered. "I--I'd like
to have you stay here just a minute or two."
Grover hesitated. Ruth went out, closing the living-room door
after her. A moment later Captain Sam came into the workshop.
"Hello, Jed!" he hailed. "Why, hello, Major! What--" Then for
the first time he saw and recognized the third member of the group.
He looked at Phineas and the little man looked at him. The looks
were studies in expression.
"Humph!" grunted Captain Sam. "What in time--? . . . Humph! . . .
Well, Phin, you look awful glad to see me, I must say. Gracious
king, man, don't glower at me like that! I haven't done anything
to you, if you'd only have sense enough to believe it."
Babbitt did not answer. He looked as if he were going to burst.
Major Grover was regarding him with a whimsical twinkle in his eye.
"Mr. Babbitt and I have just been discussing some points connected
with the war," he observed. "I don't know that we agree, exactly,
but we have--well, we have reached an understanding."
The captain was plainly puzzled. "Humph!" he grunted. "You don't
say! . . . Well, I-- Eh, what is it, Jed?"
If any one had been watching Jed particularly during the recent few
minutes they might have observed in his face the dawning of an idea
and the changing of that idea into a set purpose. The idea seemed
to dawn the moment after he saw Captain Hunniwell coming up the
walk. It had become a purpose by the time the captain rattled the
latch. While Captain Sam and the major were speaking he had
hastened to the old desk standing by the wall and was rummaging in
one of the drawers. Now he came forward.
"Sam--" he began, but broke off to address Mr. Babbitt, who was
striding toward the door. "Don't go, Phin," he cried. "I'd rather
you didn't go just this minute. I'd like to have you stay. Please."
Phineas answered over his shoulder. The answer was a savage snarl
and a command for "Shavings" to mind his own business. Grover
"Mr. Babbitt," he suggested, "don't you think you had better stay a
moment? Mr. Winslow seems to wish it."
Babbitt reached for the handle of the door, but Grover's hand was
lightly laid on his shoulder.
"Do stay, Mr. Babbitt," begged the Major, sweetly. "To oblige me,
Phineas swore with such vehemence that the oath might have been
heard across the road. What he might have said thereafter is a
question. At that moment his attention was caught by something
which Jed Winslow had in his hands and he stayed to stare at it.
The something was a bundle of crumpled banknotes.
Jed came forward, the roll of bills in his hand. He seemed quite
oblivious of the Babbitt stare, or, for that matter, of the
complete silence which had so suddenly fallen upon the group in the
shop. He came forward, smoothing the crumpled notes with fingers
which shook a little. He stopped in front of Captain Hunniwell.
The captain was gazing at him and at the money. Jed did not meet
his friend's eye; he continued to smooth the banknotes. Captain
Sam spoke first.
"What's that?" he demanded. "What money's that?"
Jed's fingers moved back and forth across the bills and he answered
without looking up. He seemed much embarrassed.
"Sam," he faltered. "Sam--er--you remember you told me you'd--er--
lost some money a spell ago? Some--er--money you'd collected over
to Wapatomac. You remember that, don't you?"
Captain Sam looked at him in puzzled surprise. "Remember it?" he
repeated. "Course I remember it. Gracious king, 'tain't likely
I'd forget it, is it?"
Jed nodded. "No-o," he drawled, solemnly. "No, course you
couldn't. 'Twas four hundred dollars you was short, wan't it?"
The Captain's puzzled look was still there.
"Yes," he replied. "What of it?"
"Why--why, just this, Sam: I--I want it to be plain, you
understand. I want Major Grover and Phineas here to understand
the--the whole of it. There's a lot of talk, seems so, around town
about money bein' missin' from the bank--"
Captain Sam interrupted. "The deuce there is!" he exclaimed.
"That's the first I've heard of any such talk. Who's talkin'?"
"Oh, a--a good many folks, I judge likely. Gabe Bearse asked
Babbie about it, and Phin here he--"
"Eh?" The captain turned to face his old enemy. "So you've been
talkin', have you?" he asked.
Mr. Babbitt leaned forward. "I ain't begun my talkin' yet, Sam
Hunniwell," he snarled. "When I do you'll--"
He stopped. Grover had touched him on the shoulder.
"Sshh!" said the Major quietly. To the absolute amazement of
Captain Sam, Phineas subsided. His face was blazing red and he
seemed to be boiling inside, but he did not say another word. Jed
seized the opportunity to continue.
"I--I just want to get this all plain, Sam," he put in, hastily.
"I just want it so all hands'll understand it, that's all. You
went over to Sylvester Sage's in Wapatomac and he paid you four
hundred dollars. When you got back home here fourteen hundred of
it was missin'. No, no, I don't mean that. I mean you couldn't
find fourteen hundred--I mean--"
The captain's patience was, as he himself often said, moored with a
short cable. The cable parted now.
"Gracious king!" he snapped. "Jed, if that yarn you're tryin' to
spin was wound in a ball and a kitten was playin' with it you
couldn't be worse snarled up. What he's tryin' to tell you," he
explained, turning to Grover, "is that the other day, when I was
over to Wapatomac, old Sylvester Sage over there paid me fourteen
hundred dollars in cash and when I got back here all I could find
was a thousand. That's what you're tryin' to say, ain't it?"
turning to Jed once more.
"Yes--yes, that's it, Sam. That's it."
"Course it's it. But what do you want me to say it for? And what
are you runnin' around with all that money in your hands for?
That's what I want to know."
Jed swallowed hard. "Well, Sam," he stammered, "that--that's what
I was goin' to tell you. You see--you see, that's the four hundred
you lost. I--I found it."
Major Grover looked surprised. Phineas Babbitt looked more
surprised. But, oddly enough, it was Captain Sam Hunniwell who
appeared to be most surprised by his friend's statement. The
captain seemed absolutely dumbfounded.
"You--you WHAT?" he cried.
Jed smoothed the bills in his hand. "I found it, Sam," he
repeated. "Here 'tis--here."
He extended the bundle of banknotes. The captain made no move to
take them. Jed held them a little nearer.
"You--you'd better take it, Sam," he urged. "It might get lost
again, you know."
Still Captain Sam made no move. He looked from the bills in Jed's
hands to Jed's face and back again. The expression on his own face
was a strange one.
"You found it," he repeated. "YOU did?"
"Yes--yes, I found it, Sam. Just happened to."
"Where did you find it?"
"Over yonder behind that pile of boards. You know you said the
money was in your overcoat pocket and--and when you came in here on
your way back from Sylvester's you hove your coat over onto those
boards. I presume likely the--the money must have fell out of the
pocket then. You see, don't you, Sam?"
The tone in which the question was asked was one, almost, of
pleading. He appeared very, very anxious to have the captain
"see." But the latter seemed as puzzled as ever.
"Here's the money, Sam," urged Jed. "Take it, won't you?"
Captain Sam took it, but that is all he did. He did not count it
or put it in his pocket. He merely took it and looked at the man
who had given it to him.
Jed's confusion seemed to increase. "Don't you--don't you think
you'd better count it, Sam?" he stammered. "If--if the Major here
and Phin see you count it and--and know it's all right, then
they'll be able to contradict the stories that's goin' around about
so much bein' stolen, you know."
The captain grunted.
"Stolen?" he repeated. "You said folks were talkin' about money
bein' lost. Have they been sayin' 'twas stolen?"
It was Grover who answered. "I haven't heard any such rumors," he
said. "I believe Lieutenant Rayburn said he heard some idle report
about the bank's having lost a sum of money, but there was no hint
Captain Sam turned to Mr. Babbitt.
"YOU haven't heard any yarns about money bein' stolen at the bank,
have you?" he demanded.
Before Phineas could answer Grover's hand again fell lightly on his
"I'm sure he hasn't," observed the Major. The captain paid no
attention to him.
"Have you?" he repeated, addressing Babbitt.
The little man shook from head to foot. The glare with which he
regarded his hated rival might have frightened a timid person. But
Captain Sam Hunniwell was distinctly not timid.
"Have you?" he asked, for the third time.
Phineas' mouth opened, but Grover's fingers tightened on his
shoulder and what came out of that mouth was merely a savage
repetition of his favorite retort, "None of your darned business."
"Yes, 'tis my business," began Captain Sam, but Jed interrupted.
"I don't see as it makes any difference whether he's heard anything
or not, Sam," he suggested eagerly. "No matter what he's heard, it
ain't so, because there couldn't have been anything stolen. There
was only four hundred missin'. I've found that and you've got it
back; so that settles it, don't it?"
"It certainly would seem as if it did," observed Grover.
"Congratulations, Captain Hunniwell. You're fortunate that so
honest a man found the money, I should say."
The captain merely grunted. The odd expression was still on his
face. Jed turned to the other two.
"Er--er--Major Grover," he said, "if--if you hear any yarns now
about money bein' missin'--or--or stolen you can contradict 'em
now, can't you?"
"I certainly can--and will."
"And you'll contradict 'em, too, eh, Phin?"
Babbitt jerked his shoulder from Grover's grasp and strode to the
"Let me out of here," he snarled. "I'm goin' home."
No one offered to detain him, but as he threw open the door to the
outer shop Leonard Grover followed him.
"Just a moment, Babbitt," he said. "I'll go as far as the gate
with you, if you don't mind. Good afternoon, Jed. Good afternoon,
Captain, and once more--congratulations. . . . Here, Babbitt, wait
Phineas did not wait, but even so his pursuer caught him before he
reached the gate. Jed, who had run to the window, saw the Major
and the hardware dealer in earnest conversation. The former seemed
to be doing most of the talking. Then they separated, Grover
remaining by the gate and Phineas striding off in the direction of
his shop. He was muttering to himself and his face was working
with emotion. Between baffled malice and suppressed hatred he
looked almost as if he were going to cry. Even amid his own
feelings of thankfulness and relief Jed felt a pang of pity for
Phineas Babbitt. The little man was the incarnation of spite and
envy and vindictive bitterness, but Jed was sorry for him, just as
he would have been sorry for a mosquito which had bitten him. He
might be obliged to crush the creature, but he would feel that it
was not much to blame for the bite; both it and Phineas could not
help being as they were--they were made that way.
He heard an exclamation at his shoulder and turned to find that
Captain Sam had also been regarding the parting at the gate.
"Humph!" grunted the captain. "Phin looks as if he'd been eatin'
somethin' that didn't set any too good. What's started him to
obeyin' orders from that Grover man all to once? I always thought
he hated soldierin' worse than a hen hates a swim. . . . Humph! . . .
Well, that's the second queerest thing I've run across to-day."
Jed changed the subject, or tried to change it.
"What's the first one, Sam?" he hastened to ask. His friend looked
at him for an instant before he answered.
"The first one?" he repeated, slowly. "Well, I'll tell you, Jed.
The first one--and the queerest of all--is your findin' that four
Jed was a good deal taken aback. He had not expected an answer of
that kind. His embarrassment and confusion returned.
"Why--why," he stammered, "is--is that funny, Sam? I don't--I
don't know's I get what you mean. What's--what is there funny
about my findin' that money?"
The captain stepped across the shop, pulled forward a chair and
seated himself. Jed watched him anxiously.
"I--I don't see anything very funny about my findin' that money,
Sam," he said, again. Captain Sam grunted.
"Don't you?" he asked. "Well, maybe my sense of humor's gettin'
cross-eyed or--or somethin'. I did think I could see somethin'
funny in it, but most likely I was mistaken. Sit down, Jed, and
tell me all about how you found it."
Jed hesitated. His hand moved slowly across his chin.
"Well, now, Sam," he faltered, "there ain't nothin' to tell. I
just--er--found it, that's all. . . . Say, you ain't seen that new
gull vane of mine lately, have you? I got her so she can flop her
wings pretty good now."
"Hang the gull vane! I want to hear how you found that money.
Gracious king, man, you don't expect I'm goin' to take the gettin'
back of four hundred dollars as cool as if 'twas ten cents, do you?
Sit down and tell me about it."
So Jed sat, not with eagerness, but more as if he could think of no
excuse for refusing. His companion tilted back in his chair, lit a
cigar, and bade him heave ahead.
"Well," began Jed, "I--I--you see, Sam, I happened to look behind
that heap of boards there and--"
"What made you think of lookin' behind those boards?"
"Eh? Why, nothin' 'special. I just happened to look. That's
where your coat was, you know. So I looked and--and there 'twas."
"I see. There 'twas, eh? Where?"
"Why--why, behind the boards. I told you that, you know."
"Gracious king, course I know! You've told me that no less than
ten times. But WHERE was it? On the boards? On the floor?"
"Eh? . . . Oh, . . . oh, seems to me 'twas on the floor."
"Don't you KNOW 'twas on the floor?"
"Why . . . why, yes, sartin."
"Then what made you say 'seems as if' it was there?"
"Oh, . . . oh, I don't know. Land sakes, Sam, what are you askin'
me all these questions for?"
"Just for fun, I guess. I'm interested, naturally. Tell me some
more. How was the money--all together, or kind of scattered 'round?"
"Eh? . . . Oh, all together."
"Sure of that?"
"Course I'm sure of it. I can see it just as plain as day, now I
come to think of it. 'Twas all together, in a heap like."
"Um-hm. The band that was round it had come off, then?"
"Band? What band?"
"Why, the paper band with '$400' on it. That had come off when it
fell out of my pocket, I presume likely."
"Yes. . . . Yes, I guess likely it did. Must have. . . . Er--
Sam, let me show you that gull vane. I got it so now that--"
"Hold on a minute. I'm mighty interested about your findin' this
money. It's so--so sort of unexpected, as you might say. If that
band came off it must have broke when the money tumbled down behind
the boards. Let's see if it did."
He rose and moved toward the pile of boards. Jed also rose.
"What are you goin' to look for?" he asked, anxiously.
"Why, the paper band with the '$400' on it. I'd like to see if it
broke. . . . Humph!" he added, peering down into the dark crevice
between the boards and the wall of the shop. "Can't see anything
of it, can you?"
Jed, peering solemnly down, shook his head. "No," he said. "I
can't see anything of it."
"But it may be there, for all that." He reached down. "Humph!" he
exclaimed. "I can't touch bottom. Jed, you've got a longer arm
than I have; let's see if you can."
Jed, sprawled upon the heap of lumber, stretched his arm as far as
it would go. "Hum," he drawled, "I can't quite make it, Sam. . . .
There's a place where she narrows way down here and I can't get my
fingers through it."
"Is that so? Then we'd better give up lookin' for the band, I
cal'late. Didn't amount to anything, anyhow. Tell me more about
what you did when you found the money. You must have been
"Eh? . . . Land sakes, I was. I don't know's I ever was so
surprised in my life. Thinks I, 'Here's Sam's money that's missin'
from the bank.' Yes, sir, and 'twas, too."
"Well, I'm much obliged to you, Jed, I surely am. And when you
found it-- Let's see, you found it this mornin', of course?"
"Eh? Why--why, how--what makes you think I found it this mornin'?"
"Oh, because you must have. 'Cause if you'd found it yesterday or
the day before you'd have told me right off."
"Yes--oh, yes, that's so. Yes, I found it this mornin'."
"Hadn't you thought to hunt for it afore?"
"Eh? . . . Land sakes, yes . . . yes, I'd hunted lots of times,
but I hadn't found it."
"Hadn't thought to look in that place, eh?"
"That's it. . . . Say, Sam, what--"
"It's lucky you hadn't moved those boards. If you'd shifted them
any since I threw my coat on 'em you might not have found it for a
month, not till you used up the whole pile. Lucky you looked afore
you shifted the lumber."
"Yes . . . yes, that's so. That's a fact. But, Sam, hadn't you
better take that money back to the bank? The folks up there don't
know it's been found yet. They'll be some surprised, too."
"So they will. All hands'll be surprised. And when I tell 'em how
you happened to see that money lyin' in a pile on the floor behind
those boards and couldn't scarcely believe your eyes, and couldn't
believe 'em until you'd reached down and picked up the money, and
counted it-- That's about what you did, I presume likely, eh?"
"Yes. . . . Yes, that's just it."
"They'll be surprised then, and no wonder. But they'd be more
surprised if I should bring 'em here and show 'em the place where
you found it. 'Twould surprise 'most anybody to know that there
was a man livin' who could see down a black crack four foot deep
and two inches wide and around a corner in that crack and see money
lyin' on the floor, and know 'twas money, and then stretch his arm
out a couple of foot more and thin his wrist down until it was less
than an inch through and pick up that money. That WOULD surprise
em. Don't you think 'twould, Jed?"
The color left Jed's face. His mouth fell open and he stared
blankly at his friend. The latter chuckled.
"Don't you think 'twould surprise 'em, Jed?" he repeated. "Seems
likely as if 'twould. It surprised me all right enough."
The color came surging back. Jed's cheeks flamed. He tried to
speak, but what he said was not coherent nor particularly
"Now--now--now, Sam," he stammered. "I--I-- You don't understand.
You ain't got it right. I--I--"
The captain interrupted. "Don't try so hard, Jed," he continued.
"Take time to get your steam up. You'll bust a b'iler if you puff
that way. Let's see what it is I don't understand. You found this
money behind those boards?"
"Eh? Yes . . . yes . . . but--"
"Wait. And you found it this mornin'?"
"Yes . . . yes . . . but, Sam--"
"Hold on. You saw it layin' on the floor at the bottom of that
"Well--well, I don't know as I saw it exactly, but--but-- No, I
didn't see it. I--I felt it."
"Oh, you felt it! Thought you said you saw it. Well, you reached
down and felt it, then. How did you get your arm stretched out
five foot long and three-quarters of an inch thick? Put it under
the steam roller, did you?"
Jed swallowed twice before replying. "I--I--" he began. "Well--
well, come to think of it, Sam, I--I guess I didn't feel it with my
fingers. I--I took a stick. Yes, that was it. I poked in behind
there with a stick."
"Oh, you felt it with a stick. And knew 'twas money? Tut, tut!
You must have a good sense of touch, Jed, to know bills when you
scratch across 'em with the far end of a five foot stick. Pick 'em
up with a stick, too, did you?"
Mr. Winslow was speechless. Captain Sam shook his head.
"And that ain't the most astonishin' part either," he observed.
"While those bills were in the dark at the bottom of that crack
they must have sprouted. They went in there nothin' but tens and
twenties. These you just gave me are fives and twos and all sorts.
You'd better poke astern of those boards again, Jed. The roots
must be down there yet; all you've scratched up are the sprouts."
His only answer was a hopeless groan. Captain Sam rose and,
walking over to where his friend sat with his face buried between
his hands, laid his own hand on the latter's shoulder.
"There, there, Jed," he said, gently. "I beg your pardon. I'm
sorry I stirred you up this way. 'Twas mean of me, I know, but
when you commenced givin' me all this rigmarole I couldn't help it.
You never was meant for a liar, old man; you make a mighty poor
fist at it. What is it all about? What was you tryin' to do it
Another groan. The captain tried again.
"What's the real yarn?" he asked. "What are you actin' this way
for? Course I know you never found the money. Is there somebody--"
"No! No, no!" Jed's voice rose almost to a shout. He sprang to
his feet and clutched at Captain Sam's coat-sleeve. "No," he
shouted. "Course there ain't anybody. Wh-what makes you say such
a thing as that? I--I tell you I did find the money. I did--I
"Jed! Of course you didn't. I know you didn't. I KNOW. Gracious
king, man, be sensible."
"I did! I did! I found it and now I give it back to you. What
more do you want, Sam Hunniwell? Ain't that enough?"
"Enough! It's a darned sight too much. I tell you I know you
didn't find it."
"But I did."
"Rubbish! In the first place, you and I hunted every inch behind
those boards the very day the money was missin', and 'twa'n't there
then. And, besides, this isn't the money I lost."
"Well--well, what if 'tain't? I don't care. I--I know 'tain't.
I--I spent your money."
"You SPENT it? When? You told me you only found it this mornin'."
"I--I know I did, but 'twan't so. I--I--" Jed was in an agony of
alarm and frantic haste. "I found your money two or three days
ago. Yes, sir, that's when I found it. . . . Er. . . er . . ."
"Humph! Why didn't you tell me you found it then? If you'd found
it what made you keep runnin' into the bank to ask me if I'D found
it? Why didn't you give it back to me right off? Oh, don't be so
"I--I ain't. It's true. I--I didn't give it back to you because--
because I--I thought first I'd keep it."
"Keep it? KEEP it? Steal it, do you mean?"
"Yes--yes, that's what I mean. I--I thought first I'd do that and
then I got--got kind of sorry and--and scared and I got some more
money--and now I'm givin' it back to you. See, don't you, Sam?
That's the reason."
Captain Sam shook his head. "So you decided to be a thief, did
you, Jed?" he said, slowly. "Well, the average person never'd have
guessed you was such a desperate character. . . . Humph! . . .
Well, well! . . . What was you goin' to do with the four hundred,
provided you had kept it? You spent the money I lost anyway; you
said you did. What did you spend it for?"
"Oh--oh, some things I needed."
"Sho! Is that so? What things?"
Jed's shaking hand moved across his chin.
"Oh--I--I forget," he faltered. Then, after a desperate struggle,
"I--I--I bought a suit of clothes."
The effort of this confession was a peculiar one. Captain Sam
Hunniwell put back his head and roared with laughter. He was still
laughing when he picked up his hat and turned to the door. Jed
sprang from his seat.
"Eh? . . . You're not GOIN', are you, Sam?" he cried. The
captain, wiping his eyes, turned momentarily.
"Yes, Jed," he said, chokingly, "I'm goin'. Say, if--if you get
time some of these days dress up in that four hundred dollar suit
you bought and then send me word. I'd like to see it."
He went out. The door of the outer shop slammed. Jed wiped the
perspiration from his forehead and groaned helplessly and
The captain had reached the gate when he saw Phillips coming along
the road toward him. He waited until the young man arrived.
"Hello, Captain," hailed Charles. "So you decided not to come back
to the bank this afternoon, after all?"
His employer nodded. "Yes," he said. "I've been kept away on
business. Funny kind of business, too. Say, Charlie," he added,
"suppose likely your sister and you would be too busy to see me for
a few minutes now? I'd like to see if you've got an answer to a
"Um-hm. I've just had the riddle sprung on me and it's got MY head
whirlin' like a bottle in a tide rip. Can I come into your house
for a minute and spring it on you?"
The young man looked puzzled, which was not surprising, but his
invitation to come into the house was most cordial. They entered
by the front door. As they came into the little hall they heard a
man's voice in the living-room beyond. It was Major Grover's voice
and they heard the major say:
"It doesn't matter at all. Please understand I had no thought of
asking. I merely wanted you to feel that what that fellow said had
no weight with me whatever, and to assure you that I will make it
my business to see that he keeps his mouth shut. As for the other
Ruth Armstrong's voice broke in here.
"Oh, please," she begged, "not now. I--I am so sorry I can't tell
you everything, but--but it isn't my secret and--and I can't.
Perhaps some day-- But please believe that I am grateful, very,
very grateful. I shall never forget it."
Charlie, with an anxious glance at Captain Hunniwell, cleared his
throat loudly. The captain's thoughts, however, were too busy with
his "riddle" to pay attention to the voices in the living-room. As
he and Phillips entered that apartment Major Grover came into the
hall. He seemed a trifle embarrassed, but he nodded to Captain
Sam, exchanged greetings with Phillips, and hurried out of the
house. They found Ruth standing by the rear window and looking out
toward the sea.
The captain plunged at once into his story. He began by asking
Mrs. Armstrong if her brother had told her of the missing four
hundred dollars. Charles was inclined to be indignant.
"Of course I haven't," he declared. "You asked us all to keep
quiet about it and not to tell a soul, and I supposed you meant
"Eh? So I did, Charlie, so I did. Beg your pardon, boy. I might
have known you'd keep your hatches closed. Well, here's the yarn,
Mrs. Armstrong. It don't make me out any too everlastin'
brilliant. A grown man that would shove that amount of money into
his overcoat pocket and then go sasshayin' from Wapatomac to Orham
ain't the kind I'd recommend to ship as cow steward on a cattle
boat, to say nothin' of president of a bank. But confessin's good
for the soul, they say, even if it does make a feller feel like a
fool, so here goes. I did just that thing."
He went on to tell of his trip to Wapatomac, his interview with
Sage, his visit to the windmill shop, his discovery that four
hundred of the fourteen hundred had disappeared. Then he told of
his attempts to trace it, of Jed's anxious inquiries from day to
day, and, finally, of the scene he had just passed through.
"So there you are," he concluded. "I wish to mercy you'd tell me
what it all means, for I can't tell myself. If it hadn't been so--
so sort of pitiful, and if I hadn't been so puzzled to know what
made him do it, I cal'late I'd have laughed myself sick to see poor
old Jed tryin' to lie. Why, he ain't got the first notion of how
to begin; I don't cal'late he ever told a real, up-and-down lie
afore in his life. That was funny enough--but when he began to
tell me he was a thief! Gracious king! And all he could think of
in the way of an excuse was that he stole the four hundred to buy a
suit of clothes with. Ho, ho, ho!"
He roared again. Charlie Phillips laughed also. But his sister
did not laugh. She had seated herself in the rocker by the window
when the captain began his tale and now she had drawn back into the
corner where the shadows were deepest.
"So there you are," said Captain Sam, again. "There's the riddle.
Now what's the answer? Why did he do it? Can either of you guess?"
Phillips shook his head. "You have got me," he declared. "And the
money he gave you was not the money you lost? You're sure of that?"
"Course I'm sure of it. In the first place I lost a packet of
clean tens and twenties; this stuff I've got in my pocket now is
all sorts, ones and twos and fives and everything. And in the
"Pardon me, just a minute, Captain Hunniwell. Where did he get the
four hundred to give you, do you think? He hasn't cashed any large
checks at the bank within the last day or two, and he would
scarcely have so much on hand in his shop."
"Not as much as that--no. Although I've known the absent-minded,
careless critter to have over two hundred knockin' around among his
tools and chips and glue pots. Probably he had some to start with,
and he got the rest by gettin' folks around town and over to
Harniss to cash his checks. Anthony Hammond over there asked me a
little while ago, when I met him down to the wharf, if I thought
Shavin's Winslow was good for a hundred and twenty-five. Said Jed
had sent over by the telephone man's auto and asked him to cash a
check for that much. Hammond said he thought 'twas queer he hadn't
cashed it at our bank; that's why he asked me about it."
"Humph! But why should he give his own money away in that fashion?
And confess to stealing and all that stuff? I never heard of such
"Neither did anybody else. I've known Jed all my life and I never
can tell what loony thing he's liable to do next. But this beats
all of 'em, I will give in."
"You don't suppose--you don't suppose he is doing it to help you,
because you are his friend? Because he is afraid the bank--or you--
may get into trouble because of--well, because of having been so
Captain Sam laughed once more. "No, no," he said. "Gracious king,
I hope my reputation's good enough to stand the losin' of four
hundred dollars. And Jed knows perfectly well I could put it back
myself, if 'twas necessary, without runnin' me into the poorhouse.
No, 'tain't for me he's doin' it. I ain't the reason."
"And you're quite sure his story is ALL untrue. You don't imagine
that he did find the money, your money, and then, for some reason
or other, change it with smaller bills, and--"
"Sshh, sshh, Charlie, don't waste your breath. I told you I KNEW
he hadn't found the four hundred dollars I lost, didn't I? Well, I
do know it and for the very best of reasons; in fact, my stoppin'
into his shop just now was to tell him what I'd heard. You see,
Charlie, old Sylvester Sage has got back from Boston and opened up
his house again. And he telephoned me at two o'clock to say that
the four hundred dollar packet was layin' on his sittin'-room table
just where I left it when he and I parted company four days or so
ago. That's how I KNOW Jed didn't find it."
From the shadowy corner where Ruth Armstrong sat came a little gasp
and an exclamation. Charles whistled.
"Well, by George!" he exclaimed. "That certainly puts a crimp in
"Sartin sure it does. When Sylvester and I parted we was both
pretty hot under the collar, havin' called each other's politics
about every mean name we could think of. I grabbed up my gloves,
and what I thought was my money from the table and slammed out of
the house. Seems all I grabbed was the two five hundred packages;
the four hundred one was shoved under some papers and magazines and
there it stayed till Sylvester got back from his Boston cruise.
"But that don't answer my riddle," he added, impatiently. "What
made Jed act the way he did? Got the answer, Charlie?"
The young man shook his head. "No, by George, I haven't!" he
"How about you, Mrs. Armstrong? Can you help us out?"
Ruth's answer was brief. "No, I'm afraid not," she said. There
was a queer note in her voice which caused her brother to glance at
her, but Captain Hunniwell did not notice. He turned to go.
"Well," he said, "I wish you'd think it over and see if you can spy
land anywheres ahead. I need a pilot. This course is too crooked
for me. I'm goin' home to ask Maud; maybe she can see a light. So
He went out. When Charles returned, having accompanied his
employer as far as the door, he found Ruth standing by her chair
and looking at him. A glance at her face caused him to stop short
and look at her.
"Why, Ruth," he asked, "what is it?"
She was pale and trembling. There were tears in her eyes.
"Oh, Charlie," she cried, "can't you see? He--he did it for you."
"Did it for me? Did what? Who? What are you talking about, Sis?"
"Jed. Jed Winslow. Don't you see, Charlie? He pretended to have
found the money and to have stolen it just to save you. He thought
you--he thought you had taken it."
"WHAT? Thought I had taken it? I had? Why in the devil should he
He stopped. When he next spoke it was in a different tone.
"Sis," he asked, slowly, "do you mean that he thought I took this
money because he knew I had--had done that thing at Middleford?
Does he know--about that?"
The tears were streaming down her cheeks. "Yes, Charlie," she
said, "he knows. He found it out, partly by accident, before you
came here. And--and think how loyal, how wonderful he has been!
It was through him that you got your opportunity there at the bank.
And now--now he has done this to save you. Oh, Charlie!"
The clock in the steeple of the Methodist church boomed eleven
times and still the lights shone from the sitting-room windows of
the little Winslow house and from those of Jed's living quarters
behind his windmill shop. At that time of year and at that time of
night there were few windows alight in Orham, and Mr. Gabe Bearse,
had he been astir at such an hour, might have wondered why the
Armstrongs and "Shavings" were "settin' up." Fortunately for every
one except him, Gabe was in bed and asleep, otherwise he might have
peeped under Jed's kitchen window shade--he had been accused of
doing such things--and had he done so he would have seen Jed and
Charlie Phillips in deep and earnest conversation. Neither would
have wished to be seen just then; their interview was far too
intimate and serious for that.
They had been talking since eight. Charles and his sister had had
a long conversation following Captain Hunniwell's visit and then,
after a pretense at supper--a pretense made largely on Babbie's
account--the young man had come straight to the shop and to Jed.
He had found the latter in a state of extreme dejection. He was
sitting before the little writing table in his living-room, his
elbows on the desk and his head in his hands. The drawer of the
table was open and Jed was, apparently, gazing intently at
something within. When Phillips entered the room he started,
hastily slammed the drawer shut, and raised a pale and distressed
face to his visitor.
"Eh?" he exclaimed. "Oh, it's you, Charlie, ain't it? I--I--er--
good mornin'. It's--it's a nice day."
Charles smiled slightly and shook his head.
"You're a little mixed on the time, aren't you, Jed?" he observed.
"It WAS a nice day, but it is a nice evening now."
"Eh? Is it? Land sakes, I presume likely 'tis. Must be after
supper time, I shouldn't wonder."
"Supper time! Why, it's after eight o'clock. Didn't you know it?"
"No-o. No, I guess not. I--I kind of lost run of the time, seems
"Haven't you had any supper?"
"No-o. I didn't seem to care about supper, somehow."
"But haven't you eaten anything?"
"No. I did make myself a cup of tea, but twan't what you'd call a
success. . . . I forgot to put the tea in it. . . . But it don't
make any difference; I ain't hungry--or thirsty, either."
Phillips leaned forward and laid a hand on the older man's shoulder.
"Jed," he said gently, "I know why you're not hungry. Oh, Jed,
what in the world made you do it?"
Jed started back so violently that his chair almost upset. He
raised a hand with the gesture of one warding off a blow.
"Do?" he gasped. "Do what?"
"Why, what you did about that money that Captain Hunniwell lost.
What made you do it, Jed?"
Jed's eyes closed momentarily. Then he opened them and, without
looking at his visitor, rose slowly to his feet.
"So Sam told you," he said, with a sigh. "I--I didn't hardly think
he'd do that. . . . Course 'twas all right for him to tell," he
added hastily. "I didn't ask him not to, but--but, he and I havin'
been--er--chums, as you might say, for so long, I--I sort of
thought. . . . Well, it don't make any difference, I guess. Did