Part 2 out of 5
the suggestion was all of summer heat. There was a watering-trough and
hitching-rail directly opposite, a little to one side of Hemmenway's
feed-store, and there a well-fed mare stood, drooping dejectedly
between the shafts of a dilapidated buggy. On the corner was a
two-storey brick building with large plate-glass windows on the ground
floor for the display of intimate articles of feminine apparel. The
black and gold sign above proclaimed it: "The Fair. Dry Goods &
Notions. Leonard & Call." Duncan considered it with grave respect. "The
scene of my future activities," he observed.
By this time his audience had become too large and friendly for his
endurance. He rose and retired to a less public table.
In her own good time the waitress returned with a plate, and a small
oval platter in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. She placed
them before him with a manner that told him plainly he could never make
himself the master of her affections. The small oval platter was
discovered to contain a small segment of dark-brown ham and two fried
eggs swimming in grease.
Duncan questioned the woman with mute, appealing eyes.
"Steak's run out," she told him curtly.
"Leaving no address?" he inquired with forced gaiety.
A suppressed smile softened her austerity, and she turned away to hide
it. "To think," he wondered, "that a sense of humour should inhabit
that!" He broke a roll and munched it gloomily, pondering this
revelation. "And such humour !" he added, with justice.
After an interval the woman returned. He had refrained from the staple
dish. She indicated it with a grimy forefinger.
"Please!" he begged plaintively. "I'm never very hungry in the
"I guess you don't like the table here," she observed icily, clearing
"I don't have to; I live home."
He stared. Could it be possible...?
"I know a good old one, too," he ventured hopefully. "Now here." He
drew his coffee cup toward him and began to stir with energy. "You say:
'It looks like rain'; and I'll say: 'Yes, but it tastes a little like
She clattered away indignantly. He rose, depressed, and sighing sought
the outer air.
In the course of a forenoon's stroll Radville discovered itself to him
in all its squalor and its loveliness. It sits in the centre of a broad
valley of rolling meadow-land, studded with infrequent homesteads,
broken into rather extensive farms, threaded by a shallow silver stream
that gives its all in tribute to the Susquehanna far in the south. The
barrier mountains rise about it like the sides of a bowl, with a great
V-shaped piece chipped out of the southern wall. This break we call the
Gap; through it the railroad comes to us, through it the river escapes.
The hills rear high and steep, their swelling flanks cloaked in sombre
green and grey, with here and there a bald spot like a splash of ochre
where there's been a landslide, climbing directly from the plain, with
no foothills. A recluse, I have thought, must have chosen this spot for
a town site; sickened of the world, he sought seclusion--and found it
here to his heart's content. Until the coke-ovens come, following the
miners, with their attendant hordes of Slovaks, Poles and Hungarians,
we shall be near to God, for we shall know peace....
The town has been laid out with great rectangularity; the river divides
it unequally. On the western bank is the larger community--locally, the
Old Town, retaining its characteristics of sobriety, quiet and comfort;
here, also, is the business centre--such business as there is. Here
Duncan found homely residences sitting back from the street in ample
grounds--grounds, perhaps, not very carefully groomed, but in spite of
that attractive and pleasant to the eye. With one or two exceptions,
none were strongly suggestive of wealth. He detected a trace of
ostentation, and no taste whatever, in Lockwood's new villa (I'm told
that's the polite designation for the edifice he caused to be erected
what time the plague of riches smote him and the old home on Cherry
Street became too small for the collective family chest), and there was
quiet dignity in the quaintly columned façade of the Bohun mansion, now
occupied solely by old Colonel Bohun, lonely and testy, reputed the
richest as well as the most miserable man in the county. But as to his
wealth, I doubt if rumour runs by more than tradition; Blinky
Lockwood's new-found hundred-thousands are growing rapidly toward the
million mark, unless Blinky's a worse business man than the town takes
him to be.
An old stone arch (whereon lovers linger in the moonlight) spans the
stream and links the Old Town with the new, which we sometimes term the
Flats, but more often simply Over There. It is a sordid huddle of dingy
and down-at-the-heel tenements, housing the poorer working classes and
the frankly worthless and ruffianly riff-raff of the neighbourhood.
There are eight gin-mills Over There as against two sample-rooms in the
Old Town, and of the local constabulary two-thirds lead exciting lives
patrolling the Flats; the remaining third is ordinarily to be found
dozing in the backroom of Schwartz's, and if roused will answer to the
name and title of Pete Willing, Sheriff and Chief of Police.
Duncan reviewed both sides of the municipal face with fine
impartiality--the Flats last; and turned back to the Old Town. "There's
one thing," he communed as he reached the bridge: "If these people ever
find me out they'll run me across the river--sure."
He paused there, looking up and down the valley with contemplative
gaze; and it was there I found him.
As is my custom, I had devoted the earlier morning hours to the
compilation of that work which is to gain for the name of Littlejohn a
trifle more respect than, I fear, it owns in Radville nowadays; and
afterwards, again in accordance with habit, had started out for my
morning constitutional. As I was about to leave the house Miss
Carpenter waylaid me and, in a voice still tremulous from the shock of
yesterday, asked me to hunt up Jake Sawyer in the Flats and tell him to
come and cut the grass.
I was not in the least unwilling, for the walk was not long, and the
morning very pleasant--not too warm, and bright with the smiling spirit
of June. I don't remember feeling more cheerful and at peace with the
world than when I marched off on my mission. The cloud I might, of
course, have anticipated: clouds always come, and a lifetime has taught
me to be sceptical of that tale about the silver lining. And even when
it came it seemed no more depressing, of no more significant moment,
than the cloud shadow that scurries across a wheat-field with no effect
other than to enhance the beauty of the sunshine that pursues it.
Old Colonel Bohun was the cloud-shadow of that morning. I met him
turning into Main Street from Mortimer--at the head of which his
mansion stands. He came down the sidewalk, but with a hint of haste in
his manner: a tall old man, bending beneath the burden of his years,
his fierce old face and iron-grey hair shaded as always by the black
slouch hat with the flapping brim, his rounded shoulders cloaked with
the black Inverness cape he wore summer and winter. In spite of his age
and evident decrepitude, he bodied forth the spirit of what he had
been, and none could pass him without knowledge of his presence; he
drew eyes as a magnet draws filings, and drawing, held them in respect.
I doubted if there were a man in Radville who could meet the old
colonel with anything but a mingling of fear and deference--with one or
two exceptions. For myself I hated him heartily, and he, looking down
at me from the peak of pride whereon his iron soul perched, despised me
with equal intensity. So we got along famously at our infrequent
This morning I caught a flash of fire from his red-rimmed old eyes, and
told myself I was sorry for whoever crossed his path before he returned
to his lonely castle. It was his habit at odd intervals to foray down
the village streets with one grievance or another rankling in his
bosom, seeking some unlucky one upon whose head to wreak his
resentment. We had come to recognise the heavy, slow tapping of his
thick cane as a harbinger of trouble, even as you might prognosticate a
thunderstorm from the rumbling beneath the horizon.
I saw he recognised me and gave him a civil salute, which he returned
with a brusque nod and a sharper, "Good-morning, Littlejohn," as he
passed. Then he swung into Main Street, paralleling my course on the
opposite sidewalk, and went _thump-thumping_ along, darting quick
glances hither and yon beneath his heavy brows, like some dark
incarnation of perverse pride and passion.
Partly because the sight of him sensibly influenced my mood, and partly
because inevitably he made me think of Sam Graham, I turned off at
Beech Street, leaving him to pursue his way toward the centre of town.
Graham's one-horse drug-store stood on Beech, a block south of Main.
That being the least promising location in town for a business of any
sort, Sam had naturally selected it when he concluded to set up shop.
If Sam had ever in his life displayed any symptoms of business
sagacity, Radville would never have recovered from the shock. I believe
it was Legrand Gunn, our only really certificated village wit, who
coined the epigram: "As useless as to take a prescription to Graham's."
The implication being that Graham didn't carry sufficient stock to
fill any prescription; which was largely true; he couldn't; he hadn't
the money to stock up with. What little he took in from time to time
went in part to the support of Betty and himself, but mainly to pay
interest on his debts and buy raw materials for models of his
thousand-and-one inventions. Most Radvillians firmly believed that Sam
has at some time or other in his busy, worthless career invented
everything under the sun, practicable or impracticable--the former
always a few days after somebody else had taken out patents for the
identical device. But at that time no one believed he would ever make a
cent out of any one of the children of his ingenious brain; nor was I,
in this respect, more credulous than any of my fellow-townsmen.
I lingered a moment outside the shop, thinking of the change that had
come over it since the death of Margaret Graham, Betty's mother. For,
despite its out-of-the-way location, the shop had not always been
unprofitable; while Margaret lived (my heart still ached with the
memory of her name) Sam's business had prospered. She had been one of
those woman who can rise to any emergency in the interest of her loved
ones; the first to realise Sam's improvidence and lack of executive
ability, she had taken hold of the business with a firm hand and made
it pay--while she lived. It has never ceased to be a source of
wondering speculation to me, that she, with her gentle training, so
wholly aloof from every thought of commerce or economy, should have
proven herself so thorough and level-headed a business woman. There's
no accounting for it, indeed, save on the theory that she conceived it
a woman's function to make up for man's deficiencies; Sam needed her,
so she become his wife; he needed a manager, so she had became that
During Margaret's régime, as I say, the shop had thrived. Sam had few
ill-wishers in Radville; the trade came his way. Then Betty was born
and Margaret died....
Most of this I have on hearsay. I left Radville shortly after their
marriage and did not return until some months after Margaret's burial.
By that time the shop had begun to show signs of neglect; its stock was
decimated, its trade likewise. Sam was struggling with his inventions
more fiercely than ever--seeking forgetfulness, I always thought. The
business was allowed to take care of itself. He had always a serene
faith in his tomorrows.
Now the little shop had been far distanced by the competition of
Sothern and Lee. It was twenty years behind the times, as the saying
is. Small, darksome, dreary and dingy, it served chiefly as a
living-room for Sam, his daughter, and his cronies, as well as for his
workshop. He had a bench and a ramshackle lathe in one corner, where
you might be sure to find him futilely pottering at almost any hour. He
owned the little building--or that portion in it which it were a farce
to term the equity above the mortgage--and Betty kept house for him in
three rooms above the store.
I saw nothing of him as I stepped across the street, and was wondering
if he were at home when, through the small, dark panes of glass in his
show windows I discerned his white old head bobbing busily over
something on the rear counter. I pushed the door open and entered. He
looked up with his never-failing smile of welcome and a wave of his
"Howdy, Homer? Come in. Well, well, I'm glad to see you. Sit down--I
think that chair there by the stove will hold together under you."
"What are you doing, Sam?" I asked.
"Fixin' up the sody fountain. 'Meant to get it working last month,
Homer, but somehow I kind of forgot."
He rubbed away briskly at the single faucet which protruded above the
counter, lathering it briskly with a metal polish that smelt to Heaven.
"Do much sody trade, Sam?"
He paused, passing his worn old fingers reflectively across a chin
snowy with a stubble of neglected beard. "No," he allowed thoughtfully,
"not so much as we used to, now that Sothern and Lee've got this
new-fangled notion of puttin' ice cream in a nickel glass of sody. Most
of the young folks go there, now, but still I get a call flow and
then--and every little bit helps." He rubbed on ferociously for a
moment. "'Course, I'd do more, likely, if I carried a bigger line of
"How many do you carry?"
"One," he admitted with a sigh, "vanilly."
While I filled my pipe he continued to rub very industriously.
"Why don't you get more?"
He flashed me one of his pale, genial smiles. "I'm thinkin' of it,
Homer, soon's I get some money in. Next week, mebbe. There's a man in
N'York that mebbe can be int'rested in one of my inventions, Roland
Barnette says. Mebbe he'd be willin' to put a little money in it,
Roland says, and of course if he does, I'll be able to stock up
I sighed covertly for him. He rubbed, humming a tuneless rhythm to
"Roland's goin' to write to him about it."
"What invention?" I asked, incredulous.
Sam put down his bottle of polish and came round the counter, beaming;
nothing pleases him better than an opportunity to exhibit some one of
his innumerable models. "I'll show you, Homer," he volunteered
cheerfully, shuffling over to his work-bench. He rasped a match over
its surface and applied the flame to a small gas-bracket fixed to the
wall. A strong rush of gas extinguished the match, and he turned the
flow half off before trying again. This time the vapour caught and
settled to a steady, brilliant flame as white as and much softer than
"There!" he said in triumph. "What d'ye think of that, Homer?"
"Why," I said, "I didn't know you had an acetylene plant."
"No more have I, Homer."
"But what is that, then?" I demanded.
"It's my invention," he returned proudly.
"I've been workin' on it two years, Homer, and only got it goin'
yestiddy. It's going to be a great thing, I tell you."
"But what _is_ it, Sam?"
"It's gas from crude petroleum, Homer. See ..." he continued,
indicating a tank beneath the bench which seemed to be connected with
the bracket by a very simple system of piping, broken by a smaller,
cylindrical tank. "Ye put the oil in there--just crude, as it comes out
of the wells, Homer; it don't need refinin'--and it runs through this
and down here to this, where it's vaporised--much the same's they
vaporise gasoline for autymobile engines, ye know--and then it just
naturally flows up to the bracket--and there ye are."
"It's wonderful, Sam," said I, wondering if it really were.
"And the best part of it is the economy, Homer. A gallon will run one
jet six weeks, day in and out. And simple to install. I tell ye--"
"Have you got it patented yet?"
"Yes, siree! took out patents just as soon as it struck me how simple
it 'ud be--more than two years ago. Only, of course, it took time to
work it out just right, 'specially when I had to stop now and then
'cause I needed money for materials. But it's all right now, Homer,
it's all right now."
"And you say Roland Barnette's writing to some one in New York about
"Yes; he promised he would. I explained it to Roland and he seemed real
int'rested. He's kind, very kind."
I was inclined to doubt this, and would probably have said something to
that effect had not a shadow crossing the window brought me to my feet
in consternation. But before I could do more than rise, Colonel Bohun
had flung open the door and stamped in. He stopped short at sight of
me, misguided by his near-sighted eyes, and singled me out with a
threatening wave of his heavy stick.
"Well, sir!" he snarled. "I've come for my answer. Have you sense
enough in your addled pate to understand that, man? I've come for my
"And may have it, whatever it may be, for all of me," I told him.
His face flushed a deeper red. "Oh, it's only you, is it, Littlejohn? I
took you for that fool Graham, in this damned dark hole. Where is he?"
I looked to Graham and he followed the direction of my gaze to the
work-bench, where Sam stood with his back to it, his worn hands folded
quietly before him. He seemed a little whiter than usual, I thought;
and perhaps it was only my fancy that made him appear to tremble ever
so slightly. For he was quite calm and self-possessed--so much so that
I realised for the first time there was another man in Radville besides
myself who did not fear old Colonel Bohun.
"I'm here, colonel," he said quietly. "What is it you wish?"
The colonel swung on him, shaking with passion. But he held his tongue
until he had mastered himself somewhat: a feat of self-restraint on his
part over which I marvel to this day.
"You know well, Graham," he said presently. "You got my letter--the
letter I wrote you a week ago?"
"Yes," said Sam, with a start of comprehension. "Yes, I got it."
"Then why the devil, man, don't you answer it?"
Sam's apologetic smile sweetened his face.
"Why," he said haltingly--"I'm sure I meant no offence, but--you see,
I'm a very busy man--I forgot it."
"The hell you forgot it. D'ye expect me to believe that, man?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to."
Bohun was speechless for a moment, stricken dumb by a second seizure of
fury. But again he calmed himself.
"Very well. I'll swallow that insolence for the present--"
"It wasn't meant as such, I assure--"
"Don't interrupt me! D'you hear? ... I've come for my answer. Yes, I've
come down to that, Graham. If you can't accord me the common courtesy
of a written reply--I've come to hear it from your mouth."
Sam nodded thoughtfully. "Mebbe," he said, "you forgot you have failed
to accord me the common courtesy of any sort of a communication
whatever for twenty years, Colonel Bohun. Even when my wife, your
daughter, died, you ignored my message asking you to her funeral...."
"Be silent!" screamed the colonel. "Do you think I'm here to bandy
words with you, fool? I demand my answer."
"And as for that," continued Sam as evenly as if he had not been
interrupted, "your proposition was so preposterous that it could have
come only from you, and deserved no answer. But since you want it
formally, sir, it's no."
For a moment I feared Bohun would have a stroke. The back of the chair
I had just vacated and his stick alone supported him through that dumb,
terrible transport. He shook so violently that I looked momentarily to
see the chair break beneath him. There was insanity in his eyes. When
finally he was able to articulate it was in broken gasps.
"I don't believe it," he stammered. "It's a lie. I don't believe it.
It's madness--the girl wouldn't be so mad. ..."
"What is it, father?"
I don't know which of us three was the more startled by that simple
question in Betty Graham's voice; Sam, at all events, showed the least
surprise; the old colonel wheeled toward the back of the store, his jaw
dropping and his eyes protruding as though he were confronted with a
ghost. As, in a way, he was: even I had been struck by that strange,
heartrending similarity to her mother's tone; and even I trembled a
little to hear that voice, as it seemed, from beyond the grave.
Betty stood at the foot of the staircase; alarmed by the noise of the
colonel's raging, she had stolen down, unheard by any of us. And in
that moment I realised as never before that the girl had more of her
mother in her than lay in that marvellous reproduction of Margaret
Graham's voice. As she waited there one detected in her pose something
of her mother's quiet dignity, in her eyes more than a little of
Margaret's tragedy. Of Margaret's beauty I saw scant trace, I own; but
in those days my eyes were blinded by the signs of overwork and
insufficient nourishment that marred her young features, by the
hopeless dowdiness of her garments.
Abruptly she moved swiftly to her father's side and slipped her hand
into his. "What is it, father?" she repeated, eyeing Colonel Bohun
I thought Sam's eyes filled. His lips trembled and he had to struggle
to master his voice. He smiled through it all, tenderly at his girl,
but there was in that smile the weakness of the child grown old, the
dependence of the man whose womanfolk must ever mother him.
"Why, Betty," he said, tremulous--"why, Betty, your grandfather here
has been kind enough to offer to take you and educate you and make a
lady of you, and--and we were just talking it over, dear, just talking
"Do you mean that?" she flung at Bohun.
He straightened up and held himself well in hand. "Is it the first you
have heard of it?"
"Yes." She looked inquiringly at her father.
"Why didn't you tell her?" Bohun persisted harshly. "Were you afraid?"
"No." Sam shook his head slowly. "I wasn't
afraid. But it was unnecessary.... You see, Betty, Colonel Bohun is
willing to do all this for you on several conditions. You must leave me
and never see me again; you mustn't even recognise me should we meet
upon the street; you must change your name to Bohun and never permit
yourself to be known as Betty Graham. Then you must--"
"Never mind, daddy dear," said the girl. "That is enough. I know now--I
understand why you never told me. It's impossible. Colonel Bohun knew
that when he made the offer, of course; he made it simply to harass
you, daddy. It's his revenge...."
She looked Bohun up and down with a glance of contempt that would have
withered another man, poor, wan, haggard little maid of all work that
"And that's your answer, miss?" he snapped, livid with wrath.
"I would not," she told him slowly, "accept a favour from you, sir, if
I were starving...."
Bohun drew himself up. "Then starve," he told her; and walked out of
I gaped after his retreating figure. It seemed impossible, incredible,
that he should have taken such an answer without yielding to a fit of
insensate passion. And I was still marvelling when I heard Graham
saying in a broken voice: "Betty! Betty, my little girl!"
Then I, too, went away, with a mist before my eyes to dim the golden
grace of June.
INTRODUCTION TO MISS CARPENTER
On my way back from the Flats I discovered Duncan sitting on the wall
of the bridge, moodily donating pebbles to the water. His attitude
suggested preoccupation with unhappy reflections, a humour from which
the sound of my footsteps roused him. He looked up and caught my eye
with an uncertain nod, as though he half recognised me--presumably
having casually noticed me at the Bigelow House the previous evening.
"Good-morning," said I cheerfully, with a slight break in my stride
intended craftily to convey the impression that I was not altogether
averse to a pause for gossip.
He said "Good-morning," sombrely.
"A pleasant day," I observed spontaneously, stopping.
"Yes," he agreed. "By the way, have you a match about you?"
I searched my pockets, found a box and handed it over.
"I've been perishing for a ..." He slid his fingers into a waistcoat
pocket, as one who should seek a cigarette-case; but the hand came
forth empty. He bit his remark off abruptly, with a blank look in his
eyes which was promptly succeeded by an expression of deepest chagrin.
He got up and with a little bow returned the box.
"I forgot," he said, apologetic.
"I'm afraid I can't help you out," said I.
"Oh, that's all right. I'd just forgotten that I don't smoke."
I pretended not to notice his disconcertion.
"You're to be congratulated; it's a shameful waste of time and money."
"A filthy habit," said he warmly.
"Indeed, yes," I chanted, finding my pipe and tobacco pouch.
He caught my twinkle as I filled and lighted, and looked away, the
shadow of a smile lurking beneath his small, closely clipped moustache.
"I beg your pardon," he said a moment later, regarding me with more
interest, "but--do you live here?"
"I was sure of it," he replied soberly. "But don't you feel a bit
"Not in the least. Radville's one of the most interesting places on
this side of the footstool." He sighed. "Indeed," I insisted, "you
won't feel any more lonely after you've lived here a while, than I do
now, Mr. Duncan."
He opened his eyes at my acquaintance with his name, but jerked his
head at me comprehendingly.
"To be sure," he said. "You would know. But I'm only beginning to
realise what it feels like to be a marked man."
"I hear you intend to make Radville your permanent residence, Mr.
"It's part of the system," he said obscurely. "It may prove a life
"Don't you think you'll like it here?"
"Oh, I'm strong for Radville," he declared earnestly. "It's all to the
merry ... I beg your pardon."
I stared curiously to see him colour like a school-girl. "What for?"
"My mistake, sir; I forgot myself again. I don't use slang."
"Oh!" I commented, wondering. He was beginning to puzzle me.
In the pause the air began to rock with the heavy clanging of the clock
in the Methodist Church steeple.
"That's noon," I said. "We'll have to cut along: dinner's ready."
Duncan immediately replanted himself firmly upon the parapet. "I know
it," he said with some indignation.
Again bewildered, I hesitated, but eventually advanced: "Our ways run
together, Mr. Duncan, as far as the Bigelow House. My name is
He rose again to take my hand and assured me he was glad to make my
acquaintance. "But," he added morosely, "I'll be damned if I go back to
that hotel before dinner's over.... Great Scott! I forgot again. I
"Have you any other unnatural accomplishments?" I inquired, chuckling.
"I'm so full of 'em I can hardly stick," he assented gloomily. "I don't
drink or smoke or swear or play pool or cards, and on Sundays I go to
I laughed outright. "You've come to the right place for such exemplary
virtues to be fully appreciated, Mr. Duncan."
"That's all right," he said with a return of his indignation, "but it
wasn't in the bargain that I should starve to death. Do you realise,
Mr. Littlejohn," he continued, warming, "that you behold in me a young
man in the prime of health actually on the point of wasting visibly
away to a shadow of my former hardy self? It's a fact: I am. For the
past two days I've had nothing to eat except railway sandwiches and
coffee and the kind of fodder they pitchfork you at the Bigelow House.
And I came here with a mind coloured with rosy anticipations of real
old-fashioned country cooking. It's an outrage!"
"Look here," said I: "why not come home with me for dinner? I'll be
glad to have you, and Miss Carpenter won't mind your coming, I'm sure."
He got up with alacrity. "Those are the first human words I've heard in
Radville, sir! I accept with joy and gratitude. Come--lead me to it!"
Now, Miss Carpenter doesn't like her meals delayed; so I would have
been inclined to hasten this Mr. Duncan; but he saved me the trouble.
"Miss Carpenter?" he asked without warning, as we hurried up Main
"My landlady, Mr. Duncan."
"She takes boarders? An old maid?" he persisted eagerly.
"An elderly spinster; boarders are her distraction as well as a source
"Do you think she'd take me in, Mr. Littlejohn?"
"I'm sure of it. There's a vacant room ..."
"Does she talk?"
"Not a regular walking newspaper--no?"
"Then I'm afraid it's no use," he sighed.
I glanced up at his face, but it was inscrutable.
"You--you want a landlady who talks?" I gasped, incredulous.
"It's one of the rules," he said, again obscurely.
I could make nothing of him. And had I any right to introduce to Hetty
Carpenter a guest who came without credentials and talked more or less
like a lunatic at large?
"Mr. Duncan--" I began, uncomfortable.
"Don't say it," he anticipated me. "I know you think I'm crazy--but I'm
not. You would think so, naturally, because you're the only man here
who's ever lived away from Radville long enough--not counting those who
went to the World's Fair--."
"How did you know?"
"Bigelow told me last night; said you'd be glad to meet somebody from
New York. I hope he's right. I'm glad, personally.... You see--May I
request that you regard this as confidential?"
"I've come to Radville to make my fortune."
The confession smote me witless: I could only gape. He nodded
confirmation, with a most serious mien. At length I found strength to
articulate. "From New York--?"
"Yes. It's a new scheme. You see, Mr. Littlejohn,
matters have come to such a state that a city-bred boy practically
doesn't stand any show on earth of making good in the cities; your
country-bred boys crowd him to the wall, nine times out of ten. They
invade us in hordes, fresh from the open, strong, vigorous,
clear-headed, ambitious.... What chance have we got? ... I've been
figuring it out, you see, and I've come to the conclusion that it's my
only salvation to get back to the country and improve some of the
opportunities--the golden opportunities--that your boys have neglected,
overlooked, in their mad desire to invade the commercial centres of the
He seemed very much in earnest; I was watching him as closely as I
might without making my scrutiny offensive; and there seemed to be the
ring of conviction in his voice, while the expression of his eyes
indicated concentrated thought. And how was I to know, then, that the
concentration was due to the necessity of invention?
"You follow me, Mr. Littlejohn?"
"I was here first," I corrected. "Still, there's more in what you say
than perhaps you realise."
"If I'd made this discovery originally I'd agree with you, sir. But,
quite to the contrary, it was pointed out to me by one of the shrewdest
business minds in the United States--a man who'd been a country boy to
begin with. And I've come to the conclusion that he's right."
"So you're here."
"Here I am."
"And what do you propose doing?"
"I'm reading law, Mr. Littlejohn; that I shall continue. In the
meantime, I shall keep my eyes open. At any day, at any amount, the
opportunity may present itself, the opportunity I'm looking for."
"Probably you're right," I assented, impressed, as we turned a corner.
A young woman in a very attractive linen gown was strolling toward us,
quite prettily engaged with a book which she read as she walked, her
fair young head bowed beneath a sunshade which tinted her face
becomingly. She gave me a shy smile and a low-voiced greeting as we
passed. Only my knowledge of the young woman prevented me from being
blinded by her engaging appearance.
"That," said I, when we were out of earshot, "shows you what a furore a
good-looking young man can create in a town like this. Josie Lockwood
has put on her best bib-and-tucker to go walking in this afternoon, on
the off-chance of meeting you, Mr. Duncan."
"Flattery note," he commented. "Who's Josie Lockwood?"
"Daughter of Blinky Lockwood, the richest man in Radville."
"Ah!" he said cryptically.
We had come to Miss Carpenter's. I opened the gate for him, but he
stood aside, refusing to precede me. And courtesy in the young folk of
to-day warms my old heart.
He had as much for Hetty Carpenter. Within an hour he had insinuated
himself into her good graces with a deftness, an ease, that astounded.
Within three hours he was established, bag and baggage, in her very
And thirty minutes after she had helped Duncan unpack, Hetty had to run
downtown to buy a spool of thread.
A WINDOW IN RADVILLE
A jealous secret, which has never heretofore been divulged, is
responsible for the prosperity of the Radville _Citizen_--at
least, in very great measure. As the discoverer of this recipe for
circulation, I have kept it carefully locked in my guilty bosom for
many a year, and if I now betray it I do so without scruple, for the
_Gazette_ is now established firmly in a groove of popularity from
which you'd find it hard to oust the paper. So here's letting the cat
out of the bag:
The policy of the _Citizen_ has long been to devote its columns
mainly to the exploitation of what is known in newspaper terminology as
"the local story." Of the news of the great outside world we're
parsimonious, recognising the fact that the coronation of King Edward
VII. is a matter of much less import to our community than the
holocaust which was responsible for the destruction of Sir
Higginbottom's new hen-house. Similarly a West Indian tornado involving
losses running up into hundreds of thousands of dollars sinks into
relative insignificance as compared with the local weather forecast and
its probable effect on crops not worth ten thousand; while the enforced
abdication of the Sultan of Turkey gets a "stick" (a space in a
newspaper column about as long as your forefinger, if you have a small
hand) as contrasted with the column and a half assigned to the death of
old Colonel Bohun.
Now, naturally, a paper in a small country town can't afford a large
and hustling staff of enthusiastic reporters; and very probably the
_Citizen_ would overlook many items and stories of burning local
interest were it not for the fact that the population has been
cunningly made to serve in a reportorial capacity without either pay or
its own knowledge. We literally get our local news by wireless; and
from dawn to dark there's a constant supply of it on tap.
It's this way: our editorial rooms are in the second storey of a
building overlooking Court House Square. The lower floor is occupied by
the Post Office, and in front of the Post Office are a hitching-post
and two long, weather-scarred benches, while just across the road--I
mean street--on the boundary of the square proper--is a near-bronze
drinking-fountain and watering-trough erected from the proceeds of
several fairs given by the local branch of the W. C. T. U. Naturally,
indeed inevitably, all Radville gravitates to the Post Office, bringing
the news with it, and stops to discuss it on the steps or the benches
or by the fountain; and the acoustics are admirable. With a window open
and scratch-pad handy, the keen-eared scribe at his desk in our offices
can hardly fail to pick up every scrap of town information between
sunrise and dusk.... Of course, in winter the supply's not so good.
Winter before last we all suffered with colds acquired through keeping
the windows open; and last winter our circulation fell off surprisingly
through keeping them closed. This winter we contemplate cutting a
trap-door through the floor for the ostensible purpose of ventilation.
And thus it was that I managed to hear much of Mr. Duncan while I
myself was engaged in formulating an estimate of the young man. He
engaged the popular imagination no less than mine own, although I was
more intimately associated with him--as a fellow-resident at Hetty
Carpenter's. My professional duties making their habitual demands upon
my time, I saw, it may be, less of him than many of our people.
Certainly I learned less of his ways from first-hand knowledge. But
from my desk (it's the nearest to the window right above the Post
Office door) I was enabled to keep a pretty close line upon his habits
and movements, during the first fortnight of his stay in Radville.
At home I saw him with unvarying regularity at meal-times and less
frequently after supper. Between whiles he seemed to observe a fairly
regular routine: in the morning, after breakfast, he walked abroad for
his health's sake; in the afternoon and evening he sequestered himself
in his room for the pursuit of his legal studies. About the genuineness
of these latter I was long without a question: having been privileged
to inspect his room I found it redolent of an atmosphere of highly
commendable application. His writing table was a model of neatness, and
his store of legal treatises impressed one vastly. That no one, not
even Hetty Carpenter, ever saw the room without remarking the open
volume of "The Law of Torts," with its numerous pages painstakingly
spaced by slips of paper by way of bookmarks, is an attested fact. That
it was always the same volume is less widely known.
Less directly (that is to say, via my window) I learned of him
compendiously from sources which would have been anonymous but for my
long acquaintance with the voices of the townspeople.... I write these
pages at my desk at home and, if truth's to be told, somewhat
surreptitiously; but with these voices ringing in my memory's ear I
seem still to be sitting at my erstwhile desk by the window, looking
out over Court House Square, chewing the rubber heel of my pencil the
while I listen. It's summer weather and there's a smell in the air of
dust and heat; the square simmers and shimmers in unclouded sunshine,
its many green plots of grass a trifle grey and haggard with dust, the
flagstaff with its two flanking cannon by the bandstand in the middle
wavering slightly in the haze of heat; there are two rigs, a farm-wagon
and a buckboard, hitched to the post below, and some boys are squirting
water on one another by holding their hands over the lips of the
fountain across the way. Immediately opposite, on the far side of the
square, the Court House rises proudly in all the majesty of its
columned front and clapboarded sides; farther along there's the
Methodist Church, very severe, with its rows of sheds to one side for
the teams of the more rural members. Behind them all bulk our hills,
dim and purple against the overwhelming blue of the sky. It's very
quiet: there are few sounds, and those few most familiar: the raucous
war-cry of a rooster somewhere on the outskirts of town; an
intermittent thudding of hoofs in the inch-deep dust of the roadway;
Miles Stetson wringing faint but genuine shrieks of agony from his
cornet, in a room behind the Opery House on the next street;
periodically a shuffle of feet on the sidewalk below; less frequently
the whine of the swinging doors at Schwartz's place; above it all,
perhaps, the shrill but not unpleasant accents of Angie Tuthill as she
pauses on the threshold downstairs and injects surprising information
into the nothing-reluctant ears of Mame Garrison.
" ... He's got six suits of clothes, three for summer and three for
winter, and two others to wear to parties--one regular full-dress suit
and another without any tails on the coat that he told Miss Carpenter
was a dinner-coat, but Roland Barnette says he must've meant a Tuxedo,
because nobody wears that kind of clothes except at night; so how could
it be a dinner-coat?... And Miss Carpenter told Ma he's got twelve
striped shirts and eight white ones and dozens of silk socks and two
dozen neckties and handkerchiefs till you can't count and...."
Mame punctuates this monologue with a regular and excusable "My land!"
and the young voices fade away into the mid-summer afternoon quiet. I
am free to resume my interrupted flight of fancy, but I refrain. The
atmosphere is soporiferous, hardly conducive to editorial inspiration,
and I find the commingled flavours of red-cedar, glue and rubber quite
Presently Dr. Mortimer, the minister, comes down the street in company
with his deacon, Blinky Lockwood. They are discussing someone in
subdued tones, but I catch references to a worthy young man and the
vacancy in the choir.
Josie Lockwood rustles into hearing with Bessie Gabriel in tow. Josie
is rattling volubly, but with a hint of the confidential in her tone.
She insists that: "Of course, I never let on, but every time we meet I
can just feel him looking and...."
Bessie interposes: "Why, Tracey Tanner's just crazy for fear he'll take
on with Angie."
I can see Josie's head toss at this. "I bet he don't know what Angie
Tuthill looks like. That's too absurd..."
"Absurd" is Josie's newest word. It's a very good word, too, but
sometimes I fear she will wear it threadbare. It closes her remarks as
the two girls dart into the Post Office, and there is peace for a time;
then they emerge giggling, and I hear Josie declare: "I'd get Roland
Barnette to do it, but he's so jealous. He makes me tired."
Bessie's response is inaudible.
"Well," Josie continues, "I'm simply not going to send them out until I
meet him. Father said I could give it a week from Saturday, but I won't
Bessie interrupts, again inaudibly.
"Of course I could do that, but ... if I just said 'Miss Carpenter and
guests' that nosey old Homer Littlejohn'd think I meant him too, and if
I only said 'guest' it'd look too pointed. Don't you think so?"
To my relief they pass from hearing, and I feel for my pipe for
comfort. Anyway, I never did like Josie Lockwood.... Smoking, I
meditate on the astonishing power of personality. Here is Mr. Nathaniel
Duncan no more than a fortnight in our midst (the phrase is used
callously, as something sacred to country journalism) and, behold! not
yet has the town ceased to discuss him. The control he has over the
local mind and imagination is certainly wonderful: the more so since he
has apparently made no effort to attract attention; rather, I should
say, to the contrary. Quiet and unassuming he goes his way, minding his
own business as carefully as we would mind it for him, with all the
good will in the world, if only we could find out what it is. But we
can't leave him alone....
Tracey Tanner interrupts my musings.
"Hello!" he twangs, like a tuneless banjo.
"'Lo, Tracey." This lofty and blase greeting can come from none other
than Roland Barnette.
"Where you goin'?"
"Over to the railway station."
"To give you something to talk about. I'm going to send a telegram to a
friend of mine in Noo York."
"Aw, you ain't the only one can send telegrams. Sam Graham sent one
"Uh-huh. I was sort of hangin' round, when he came in, and I seen him
send it myself."
"Sam Graham telegraphing! Do you know; who to, Tracey?" Roland's
superiority is wearing thin under contact with his curiosity. This
surprising bit of news makes him distinctly more affable and inclined
to lower himself to the social level of the son of the livery-stable
As for myself, I am inclined to lean out of the window and call Tracey
up, lest he get out of hearing before I hear the rest of it.
Fortunately I am not thus obliged to compromise my dignity. The two are
"Gimme a cigarette 'nd I'll tell you," bargains Tracey shrewdly. "Lew
Parker told me after Sam'd gone."
The deal is put through promptly.
"He was telegraphin' to--Got a match?"
For once I am in sympathy with Roland, whose tone betrays his desire to
wring Tracey's exasperating neck.
"Aw, he was only telegraphing to Gresham an' Jones for some sody water
"Where'd he get the money?" There's fine scorn in Roland's comment.
"I dunno, but he handed Lew a five-dollar bill to pay for the message."
"Well, if Sam Graham's got any money he'd better hold on to it, instead
of buying sody-water syrups. I guess Blinky Lockwood'll get after him
when he finds it out. He owes Blinky a note at the bank and it's coming
due in a day or two and Blinky ain't going to renew, neither."
"Sam seemed cheerful 'nough. Anyhow, it ain't my funeral."
I have now something to think about, indeed, and am more than half
inclined to stroll up to Graham's and find out what has happened, on my
own account, when the voices of Hi Nutt and Watty the tailor drift up
to me. The cronies are coming down for their regular afternoon session
on the Post Office benches--a function which takes place daily, just as
soon as the sun gets round behind the building, so that the seats are
shaded. And I pause, true to the ethics of journalism; it's my duty not
to leave just yet.
Surprisingly enough these two likewise are discussing Sam Graham. At
least I can deduce nothing else from Hiram's first words, though their
subject is for the moment nameless.
"Yes, sir; he's the poorest man in this town."
"Yes," Watty quavers; "yes, I guess he be."
"An' he's got no more business sense _into_ him than God give a
"No, I guess he ain't."
"Why, look at the way things has run down at his store since Margaret
died. She kept things a-runnin' while she was alive."
"Yes, she was a fine woman, Margaret Bohun
"An' they ain't no doubt about it, Sam had money into the bank when she
died. But ever sinst then it's been all go out and no come in with him.
He keeps fussin' and fussin' with them inventions of his, but no one
ever heard tell of his gettin' anything out of 'em."
"And what'd he do with all the money he had when Margaret died?"
"Spent it, what he didn't lend and give away and lose endorsin' notes
for his friends and then havin' to pay 'em. An' speakin' of notes, I
heard Roland Barnette say, t'other day, that old Sam had a note comin'
due to the bank, an' Blinky wasn't goin' to renew it any more."
"'Course Sam can't pay it."
"Certainly he can't. I was in his store day before yestiddy an' they
wasn't nobody come in for nothin' while I was there. He don't do no
business to speak of."
"How long was you there, Hi?"
"From nine o'clock to noon."
"Nuthin'; jes' settin' round."
"I seen him to-day goin' into the bank. Guess he must've gone to see
Lockwood 'bout thet note."
"Well, I don't envy him his call on Blinky Lockwood none."
"Mebbe he went in to deposit his coupons," Watty chuckled.
Hiram snorted and there was silence while he filled and lit his pipe.
"I hearn tell this mornin'," he resumed, "that Josie Lockwood's goin'
to give a party next week."
"Yes, I hearn it too. Angie Tuthill was talkin' 'bout it to Mame
Garrison up to Leonard and Call's. She said they was goin' to have the
biggest time this town ever see. Goin' to decyrate the grounds with
lanterns an' have ice cream sent from Phillydelphy, and cakes, too.
Can't make out what's come into Blinky to let that gal of his waste
money like that."
"I figger," says Hiram after a sapient pause, "she must be gettin' it
up for thet New York dood."
"I didn't know he was 'quainted with the Lockwoods."
"I didn't know he was 'quainted with nobody."
"Nobody 'ceptin' Homer Littlejohn an' Hetty Carpenter, an' they don't
seem to know much about him. I call him darn cur'us. Hetty says he
allus a-settin' in his room, a-studyin' an' a-studyin' an' a-studyin'."
"He goes walkin' mornin's, Hetty told me."
"Wal, he don't come downtown much. Nobody hardly ever sees him 'cept to
Hiram ponders this profoundly, finally delivering himself of an opinion
which he has never forsaken. "I claim he's a s'picious character."
"Don't look to me as though he knew 'nough to be much of anythin'."
"Wal, now, if he's a real student an' they ain't no outs 'bout him,
what in tarnation's he doin' here? Thet's jest what I'd like to have
somebody tell me, Watty."
"Hetty sez he sez he wants a quiet place to study."
Hiram snorts with scorn. "Oh, fid-del! You don't catch no Noo York
young feller a-settlin' down in Radville unless he's crazy or somethin'
"'Tain't no use tellin' Hetty Carpenter thet." "No; if anybody sez a
word agin him she shets 'em right up."
"'Tain't only Hetty, but all the wimmin's on his side."
"Thet's proof enough to me he ain't right." "Wimmin," says Watty, as
the result of a period of philosophical consideration, "is all crazy
about clothes. When a feller's got good clothes you can't make them see
no harm into him, no matter what he is. I pressed some of Duncan's last
Satiddy. I never see clothes--such goods and linin's. They was made for
him, too--made by a tailor on Fifth Avenue, Noo York. I fergit the name
"Wal, Roland Barnette sez they ain't stylish. He sez they're too much
like an undertaker's gitup."
"Wal, Roland oughter know. He's the fanciest dressed-up feller in the
"Yes, I guess he be."
The subject apparently languishes, but I know that it still occupies
their sage meditations; and presently this is demonstrated by Hiram,
who expectorates liberally by way of preface.
"When this cuss Duncan fust come here," he says with a self-contained
chuckle, "ev'rybody but me figgered he had stacks of money. Guess they
be singin' a different tune, now, sinst he's been goin' round askin'
This is news to me, and I sit up, sharing Watty's astonishment.
"Be he a-doin' thet, Hiram?"
"That's what he's been a-doin'."
"Funny I missed hearin' about it."
"He only started this mornin'. He went to Sothern and Lee's and Leonard
and Call's and Godfrey's--'nd then I guess he must 'ev quit
discouraged. They wouldn't none of them give him nothin'. Leastways,
thet's what they said after he'd gone out. He didn't give anybody a
reel chance to say anythin'. I was in Leonard and Call's and he came in
an' asked for a job, but the minute Len looked at him he turned right
round and slunk out without a-waitin' for Len to say a word." Hiram
smoked in huge enjoyment of the retrospect. "He's the curiousest
critter we ever had in this town."
"Yes," agrees Watty, "I guess he be."
At this juncture comes an interruption; Tracey Tanner returns,
hot-foot. Either he has been running, or his breathlessness is due to
excitement. Before the two upon the bench he pauses in agitated glee, a
bearer of tremendous tidings.
"Hello," he pants.
"Now, you Tracey Tanner," Hiram cuts in sharply, "you run 'long an'
don't be a-botherin' round. Seems like a body never can git a chance to
rest, with you children allus a-buttin' in--"
"Aw, shet up," says Tracey dispassionately. "I only wanted to tell you
Watty quavers: "What news, Tracey?"
"Well," says the boy, "I'll tell you, Watty, but I wouldn't 've told
him after what he said."
"But what's the news, Tracey?" There is suspense in the iteration.
"Well, seein's it's you, Watty--"
"You Tracey Tanner, you run 'long and stop your jokin'!" interrupts
Hiram with authority.
"'Tain't no joke; it's news, I'm tellin' you. Sa-ay, what d'ye think,
"Yes, Tracey, yes? What is it, boy?"
"Thet--Noo--York--dood," drawls Tracey, "is a-workin' for Sam Graham!"
A dramatic pause ensues. I rise and find my coat.
"Tracey Tanner," shrills Hiram, "be you a-tellin' the truth?"
"Kiss my hand and cross my heart and vow Honest Injun, I seen him up
there just now in the store, Watty, tendin' the sody fountain."
"Wal," says Hiram, rising, "I don't believe a word of it, but if it's
true we better be goin' round to see, Watty, 'cause it ain't a-goin' to
last long. He won't stay after he finds out Sam ain't got no money to
pay his wages with."
THE MAN OF BUSINESS IN EMBRYO
There's no questioning the fact that two weeks of Radville had driven
Duncan to desperation; on the morning of the fifteenth day he wakened
in his room at Miss Carpenter's and lay for a time abed staring
vacantly at the gaudily papered ceiling, not through laziness remaining
on his back, but through sheer inertia. The prospect of rising to
ramble through another purposeless, empty day appalled his imagination;
it had been all very well when the humour of his project intrigued him,
when the village was a novelty and its inhabitants "types" to be
studied, watched, analysed and classified with secret amusement; but
now he felt that he had already exhausted its possibilities; he was a
foreigner in thought and instinct, had as little in common with
Radvillians as any newly imported Englishman would have had. In plain
language, he was bored to the point of extinction.
"Why," he reflected aloud, "it doesn't seem reasonable, but I'm
actually looking forward to the delirious dissipation of church next
"If Kellogg could only see me now!"
He laughed mirthlessly.
"I must have done something to deserve this in my misspent life...
"Wonder if nothing ever happens here?.... I'd give a whole lot, if I
had it, for a good rousing fire on Main Street--the Bigelow House, for
"And it's got me to the point of drooling to myself, like those fellows
you read about who get lost in the desert....
"Come! Get out of this! And, my boy, remember to 'count that day lost
whose low descending sun sees nothing accomplished, nothing done.'...
"Probably misquoted, at that."
Sullenly he rose and dressed.
He was late at the breakfast and silent and reserved throughout that
meal. Poor Miss Carpenter thought him dissatisfied and hung round his
chair, purring with a solicitude that almost maddened him. As soon as
possible he made his escape from the house.
The walk he indulged in that morning took him in a wide circle: south
on the road to the Gap, then eastwards, crossing the railroad and the
river, north through a smiling agricultural region, east to the Flats,
and so across the stone bridge to the Old Town once more. He was
trudging up Street toward Centre shortly after eleven--hot, a little
tired, and utterly disgusted. The exercise, instead of exhilarating,
had depressed him; the quickened flow of blood through his veins, the
vigour of the clean air he inhaled, demanded of him action of some
sort; and he had nothing whatever to do with himself all afternoon save
drowse over "The Law of Torts."
Recognition of Leonard and Call's familiar shop-front fired him with a
spirit of adventure and enterprise. He stopped short, thoughtfully
rubbing his small moustache the wrong way, his vision glued to the
embarrassingly candid window displays.
"It'd be an awful thing for me to do....
"Think of yourself, man, jumping counters in and out amongst all
hose--those _Things!_ like a lunatic monkey performing on a Monday
morning's clothes line!..."
He thought deeply, and sighed. "It ain't moral....
"But it's one of the rules, it must be did. Henry said a ribbon clerk
was a social equal....
"Come, now! No more shennanigan! Brace up! Be a man!...
"A man? That's the whole trouble: I am a man; I've got no business in a
place like that."
He turned and moved away slowly. But the idea had him by the heels. He
struggled against a growing resolution to return. Then enlightenment
came to him suddenly. He paused again, grappling with this amazing
revelation of self.
"Great Scott! Harry was right, damn him! He said this place would
reconstruct me from the inside out and vice versa, and by jinks! it
has. I actually _want_ to work!...
"Can you beat that--_me_!"
He swung back to Leonard and Call's, mentally reviewing his
"Let's see. I was to wait at least a month, to let the shopkeepers get
accustomed to the sight of me.... _Hmm_.... Harry certainly has a
cute way of expressing his thought.... But it can't be helped; I can't
wait. If I do, I'll throw up the job....
"I'm to walk in and say, politely: '_I'm looking for employment. If
at any time you should have an opening here that you can offer me, I
shall endeavour to give satisfaction. Good-day_.'...
"But be careful not to press it. Just say it and get right out...."
With the air of a man who knows his own mind he pulled open the wire
screen-door and strode in.
Two minutes later he emerged, breathing hard, but with the glitter of
determination in his eye.
"I wouldn't 've believed I could get away with it. Here goes for the
next promising opening."
He headed for Sothern and Lee's drug-store.
"Wonder what that fellow would have said if I'd had the nerve to wait
In the drug-store he experienced less difficulty in making his speech
and exit; he flattered himself that he accomplished both gracefully,
even impressively. And indeed you may believe he left a gaping audience
behind him. So likewise at Godfrey's notions and stationery shop.
As he emerged from the latter the resonant clamour of the Methodist
Church clock drove him home for dinner, hungry and glowing with
self-approbation. At all events, no one had refused him: he had not
been set upon and incontinently kicked out. He felt that he was getting
"Now this afternoon," he mused, "I'll wind up the job. By night
everyone in town will know I want work."
But if he had thought a moment he would have realised that he might
have spared himself the trouble; the consummation he so earnestly
desired was already being brought about by resident and recognised, if
unofficial, agents for the dissemination of news.
It was two o'clock or thereabouts, I gather, when, shaping his course
toward Radville's commercial centre, Duncan hesitated on the corner of
Beech Street, cocking an incredulous eye up at the weather-worn sign
which has for years adorned the side of Tuthill's grocery: a hand
THIS WAY TO GRAHAM'S DRUG STORE
"Two druggists in Radville!" he mused. "Is it possible?... Then it's
Harry's mistake if the scheme fails; he said this was a one-horse
country town, but I'm blest if it isn't a thriving metropolis! Two!...
Here, I'm going to have a look."
He turned up Beech and presently discovered the object of his quest, a
two-storey building of "frame," guiltless of the ardent caress of a
paint-brush since time out of mind. On the ground floor the windows
were made up of many small square panes, several of which had been
rudely mended. Through them the interior glimmered darkly. In the
foreground stood a broken bottle, shaped like a mortuary urn and half
full of pink liquid. Beside it reposed a broken packing-box in which
bleary camphor-balls nestled between torn sheets of faded blue paper.
Of these a silent companion in misery stood on the far side of the
window: a towering pagoda-like cage of wire in which (trapped,
doubtless, by means of some mysterious bait known only to alchemists)
three worn but brutal-looking sponges were apparently slumbering in
exhaustion. Back of these a dusty plaster cast of a male figure lightly
draped seemed to represent the survival of the fittest over some
strange and deadly patent medicine. The recessed door bore an
inscription in gold letters, tarnished and half obliterated:
RUGS & CHEM C LS
R SCRIPTION CAREF LY C POUNDED
"Looks like the very place for one of my acknowledged abilities," said
Duncan. He turned the knob and entered, advancing to the middle of the
dingy room. There, standing beside a cold and rusty stove whose pipe
wandered giddily to a hole in the farthest wall (reminding him of some
uncouth cat with its tail over its back), he surveyed with the single
requisite comprehensive glance the tiers of shelves tenanted by a
beggarly array of dingy bottles; the soda fountain with its company of
glasses and syrup jars; the flanking counters with their broken
show-cases housing a heterogenous conglomeration of unsalable wares;
the aged and tattered posters heralding the virtues of potent affronts
to the human interior--to say naught of its intelligence; the drab
walls and debris-littered flooring.
A slight grating noise behind him brought Duncan round with a start. At
a work-bench near the window sat a white-haired man garbed baggily in
an old crash coat and trousers. His head was bowed over something
clamped in a vise, at which he was tinkering busily with a file. He did
not look up, but, as his caller moved, inquired amiably: "Well?"
"Good-morning," stammered Duncan; "er--I should say afternoon."
"So you should," Sam admitted, still fussing with his work. "Anything
Duncan swallowed hard and mastered his confusion. "Would it be possible
for me to speak to the proprietor a moment?"
"I should jedge it would. Go right along." Sam filed vigorously.
"Might I ask--are you Mr. Graham?"
"Yes, sir; that's me."
The filing continued stridently. Duncan moved closer. There was scant
encouragement to be gathered from Graham's indifferent attitude; yet
his voice had been pleasant, kindly.
"I--I'm looking for employment," said Duncan hastily. "If--"
Graham dropped his tools with a clatter and faced round. For a moment
his eyes twinkled and a wintry smile lightened his fine old features.
"Well, I declare!" he said, rising. "You must be the stranger the whole
town's been talkin' about."
"If at any time," Duncan pursued hastily, "you should have an opening
here that you can offer me, I shall endeavour to give satisfaction.
Good-day, sir." And he made for the door.
"Eh, just a minute," said Graham. "Are you in a hurry?"
Duncan paused, smiling nervously. "Oh, no--only I mustn't press it, you
know--just say it and get right--I mean I don't want to take up your
valuable time, sir."
Graham chuckled. "Guess the folks haven't been talking much to you
about me," he suggested. "You seem to have a higher opinion of the
value of my time than anybody else in Radville."
"Yes, but--that is to say--"
"But if you're really looking for a job, I'd like to give you one first
Duncan started toward him in breathless haste. "You--you'd like
to!--You don't mean it!"
"Yes," Graham nodded, smiling with enjoyment of his little joke. It was
harmless; he didn't for a moment believe that Duncan really needed
employment; and on the other hand it tickled him immensely to think
that anyone should apply to him for work.
"Well," said Duncan, staring, "you're the first man I ever met that
felt that way about it."
Sam's amusement dwindled. "The trouble is," he confessed--"the trouble
is, my boy, my business is so small I don't need any help. There isn't
much of anything to do here."
"That's just the sort of a place I'd like," said Duncan impulsively.
Then he laughed a little, uneasily. "I mean, I'm willing to take any
position, no matter how insignificant. I mean it, honestly."
"This might suit you, then--"
"I wish you'd let me try it, sir."
"But you don't understand." Graham was serious enough now; there wasn't
any joke in what he had to say. "To tell you the truth, I can't afford
it. When your pay was due, I'm afraid I shouldn't have any money to
Duncan dismissed this paltry consideration with a princely gesture. "I
don't mind that part," he insisted. "Mr. Graham, if you'll teach me the
drug business I'll work for you for nothing."
He said it earnestly, for he meant it just a bit more seriously than he
himself realised at the moment; and I'm glad to think it was because
Sam's serene and gentle, guileless nature had appealed to the young
man. He had that in him, that instinct for decency and the right, that
made him like this simple, sweet and almost childish old man at
sight--like him and want to help him, though he was hardly conscious of
this and believed his motive rather more than less selfish, that he was
grasping at this opportunity for relief from the deadly ennui that
oppressed him as madly as a famished man at a crust. Indeed, the boy
was eager to deceive himself in this respect, with youth's wholesome
horror of sentiment.
"Between you and me," he hurried on, "it's this way: I've been here for
two weeks with nothing to do but look at a book, and it's got me crazy
enough to want to work!"
But still I like to think it was for a better reason, that his conduct
then bore out my theory that there are streaks of human kindliness and
right-thinking in all of us--buried deep though they may be by many an
acquired stratum of callousness and egoism: the sediment of life caking
upon the soul....
But as for Sam, as soon as he recovered he shook his head in thoughtful
deprecation. "Well, I swan!" he said. "I guess you must find it pretty
slow down here. But"--brightening--"if you feel that way about it, I'd
better take you over to Sothern and Lee's. They'd be glad to get you at
"And in a week they'd think they were over-paying me," Duncan argued.
"No--I've been there. Why not try me on here?"
"Well, I'm just a little bit afraid you wouldn't learn much, my boy. I
don't do business enough to give you a good idea of it. Sothern and Lee
get all the trade nowadays."
"But look here, sir: don't you think if I came in here perhaps we could
build up the business?"
"No, I'm afraid not," Graham deprecated, pursing his lips and rubbing
the white stubble of his beard with a toil-worn thumb.
Duncan eyed him in bitter humour. "No, of course not. You're right--but
somebody must have tipped you off."
Graham paid little heed, whose mind was bent upon his own parlous
circumstances. "I haven't got capital enough to stock up the store," he
explained; "that's the real trouble. Folks have got into the habit of
going to the other store because I'm out of so many things."
"Well, to be sure," said Duncan, a little dashed; "you can't expect to
do business unless you've got things to sell...."
"I don't expect it, my boy," Sam assented dolefully. "'Twouldn't be in
reason.... You see," he added, hope lightening his gloom, "I'm working
on an invention of mine, and if that should work out I'd get some money
and be able to get a fresh stock. Then I'd be glad to have you."
Duncan brushed this impatiently aside. "How much business are you doing
"Some days"--Graham reckoned it on his fingers--"I take in a dollar or
two, and some days... nothing.... There's my sody fountain," he said
with a jerk of a thumb toward it: "got that fixed up a little while
ago, and it's bringing in a little. Not much. You see, I need more
syrups. I've only got vanilly now."
"Soda water!" Duncan jumped at the idea. "Hold on! All the girls round
here drink soda, don't they?"
"Oh, yes," said Graham abstractedly.
The thought infused new life into the younger man's waning purpose.
"Mr. Graham, I wish you'd let me come in here for a while. I don't care
Graham lifted his shoulders resignedly. "Well, my boy, it don't seem
right, but if you really want to work here for nothing, I'll be glad to
have you; and if things look up with me, I'll be glad to pay you."
Abruptly he found his hand grasped and pumped gratefully.
"That's mighty good of you, Mr. Graham. When can I start?"
"Why... whenever you like."
In a twinkling Duncan's hat and gloves were off. "I'd like to, now," he
said. "Where can we get more syrups?"
"Unfortunately... I'll have to buy them."
"How much?" Duncan's hand was in his pocket in an instant.
"Oh, no, you mustn't do that." Sam backed away in alarm. "I couldn't
allow it, my boy. It's good of you, but..."
"Either," Nat told himself, "I'm asleep or someone's refusing to take
money from me." He grinned cheerfully. "Oh, that's all right," he
contended aloud. "I'll draw it down as soon as we begin to sell soda."
He selected a bill from his slender store. "Will five dollars be
"Oh, yes, but it wouldn't be right for me to--"
But by this time Duncan was pressing the bill into his hand.
"Nonsense!" he insisted. "How can we build up trade without syrup?"
"And how can I learn the business without trade?" He closed Graham's
unwilling fingers over the money and skipped away.
Sighing, Graham gave over the unequal argument. "Well, if you're
satisfied, my boy.... But I'll have to write to Elmiry for it."
"Telegraph!" Graham laughed. "That'd kill Lew Parker, I guess."
"Telegraph operator and ticket agent."
"Well, he won't be missed much. Telegraph and tell 'em to send the
goods C.O.D. Please, Mr. Graham. We want to get things moving here, you
know; we've got to build up the business. We'll put out some signs and
... and ... well, we'll get the people in the habit of coming here
somehow. You'll see!"
He raked the poverty-stricken shelves with a calculating eye, all his
energy fired by enthusiasm at the prospect of doing something. Graham
watched him with kindling liking and admiration. His old lips quivered
a little before he voiced his thought.
"You--you know, my boy, you've got splendid business ability," he
asserted with whole-souled conviction.
Duncan almost reeled. "What?" he cried.
"I was just saying, you have wonderful business ability."
"You're the first man that ever said that. I wonder if it's so."
"I'm sure of it."
"Well," said Nat, chuckling, "I'll write that to my chum. He'll--"
"Oh, I can tell," Graham interrupted. "Now, I ... Well, you see, I've
been a failure in business. So far as that goes, I've been a failure in
everything all my life."
Duncan stared for a moment, then offered his hand. "For luck," he
explained, meeting Graham's puzzled gaze as his hand was taken.
Wondering, Graham shook his head; and gratitude made his old voice
tremulous. He put a hand over Duncan's, patting it gently.
"I want you to know, my boy, that I appreciate..." His voice broke.
"It's mighty kind of you to buy the syrup--very kind--"
"Nothing of the sort; it's just because I've got great business
ability." Duncan laughed quietly and moved away. "We'll want to clean
up a bit," said he; "got a broom? I'll raise the dust a bit while
you're out sending that wire."
"You'll find one in the cellar, I guess, but--your clothes--"
"Oh, that's all right. Where's the cellar?"
"Underneath," Graham told him simply, taking down a battered hat from a
hook behind the counter.
"I know; but how do I get there?"
"By the steps; you go through that door there into the hall. The steps
are under the stairs to our rooms. I live above the store, you see."
"Yes.... Good-bye, Mr. Graham."
"Good-bye, my boy."
Duncan watched the old man move slowly out of sight, then with a groan
sat down on the counter to think it over. "It wouldn't be me if I
didn't make a mess of things somehow," he told himself bitterly. "Now
you have gone and went and done it, Mr. Fortune Hunter. You stand a
swell chance of getting away with the goods when you take a wageless
job in a spavined country drug-store with no trade worth mentioning and
nothing to draw it with... just because that old duffer's the only
human being you've spotted in this burg!...
"Wonder what Harry would say if he heard about that wonderful business
"But what in thunder can we do to bring business to this bum joint?"
He raked his surroundings with a discouraged glance.
"Oh," he said thoughtfully, "hell!"
Five minutes later Ben Sperry found him in the same position, his head
bent in perplexed reverie. Sperry had been travelling for Gresham and
Jones, a wholesale drug-house in Elmira, more years than I can
remember. His friendship for Sam Graham, contracted during the days
when Graham's was the drug-store of Radville, has survived the decay of
the business. He's a square, decent man, Sperry, and has wasted many an
hour trying to persuade Sam to pay a little more attention to the
business. I suspect he suffered the shock of his placid life when he
found Sam absent and the shop in the care of this spruce, well set-up
"Anything I can do for you?" chirped Duncan cheerfully, dropping off
the counter as Sperry entered.
"No-o; I just wanted to see old Sam. Is he upstairs?"
"No, Mr. Graham's not in at present," Duncan told him civilly.
Sperry wrinkled his brows over this problem. "You working here?" he
"Well, I'll be hanged!"
"Let us hope not," said Duncan pleasantly. He waited a moment, a little
irritated. "Sure there's nothing _I_ can do for you?"
"No-o," said Sperry slowly, struggling to comprehend. "Thank you just
"Not at all." Duncan turned away.
"You see," Sperry pursued, "I don't buy from drug-stores: I sell to
Duncan faced about with new interest in the man. "Yes?" he said
"My card," volunteered Sperry, fishing the slip of pasteboard from his
waistcoat pocket. He dropped his sample case beside the stove and
plumped down in the chair, to the peril of its existence. "I don't make
this town very often," he pursued, while Duncan studied his card.
"Sothern and Lee are the only people I sell to here, but I never miss a
chance to chin a while with old Sam. So, having half an hour before
train time, I thought I'd drop in."
"Mr. Graham doesn't order from your house, then?"
"Doesn't order from anybody, does he?"
"I don't know; I've just come here. He'll be sorry to have missed you,
though. He's just stepped out to wire your house--I gather from the
fact that it's in Elmira; he mentioned that town, not the firm
name--for some syrups."
"You don't mean it!" Sperry gasped. "What's struck him all of a sudden?
He ain't put in any new stock for ten years, I reckon."
"Well, you see," Duncan explained artfully, "I've persuaded him, in a
way, to try to make something out of the business here. We're going to
do what we can, of course, in a small way at first."
Sperry wagged a dubious head. "I dunno," he considered. "Sam's a nice
old duffer, but he ain't got no business sense and never had; you can
see for yourself how he's let everything run to seed here. Sothern and
Lee took all his trade years ago."
"Yes, I know; that's why he needs me," said Duncan brazenly. In his
soul he remarked "O Lord!" in a tone of awe; his colossal impudence
dazed even himself. "But don't you think he could get back some of the
trade if the store was stocked up?"
"No doubt about that at all," Sperry averred; "he'd get the biggest
part of it."
"You think so?"
"Sure of it. You see, everybody round here likes Sam, and Sothern and
Lee have always been outsiders. They'd swing to this shop in a minute,
just on account of that. Fact is, I wasted a lot of talk on our firm a
couple of years ago, trying to make our people give him some credit,
but they couldn't see it. He owed them a bill then that was so old it
had grown whiskers."
"And still owes it, I presume?"
"You bet he still owes it. Always will. It's so small that it ain't
worth while suing for----"
"Look here, Mr. Sperry, how much is this bill with the whiskers?"
"About fifty dollars, I think," said the travelling man, fumbling for
his wallet. "I'm supposed to ask for payment every time I strike town,
you know, so I always have it with me; but I haven't had the heart to
say a word to Sam for a good long time.... Here it is."
Duncan studied carefully the memorandum: "To Mdse, as per bill
rendered, $47.85." "I wonder..." he murmured.
"Eh?" said Sperry.
"I was wondering:... Suppose you were to tell your people that there's
a young fellow here who'd like to give this store a boom.... Say he
wants a little credit because--because Mr. Graham won't let him put in
"Not a bit of use," Sperry negatived. "I would, myself, but the
"But suppose I pay this bill----"
"Pay it? You really mean that?"
"Certainly I mean it." Duncan produced the wad of bills which Kellogg
had furnished him the night before his departure from New York. Thus
far he had broken only one of the five-hundred-dollar gold
certificates, and of that one he had the greater part left; living is
anything but expensive in Radville.
"I'm beginning to understand that I was cut out for an actor," he told
himself as he thumbed the roll with a serious air and an assumed
indifference which permitted Sperry to estimate its size pretty
"That's quite a stack of chips you're carrying," Sperry observed.
Duncan's hand airily wafted the remark into the limbo of the
negligible. "A trifle, a mere trifle," he said casually. "I don't
generally carry much cash about me. Haven't for five years," he added
irrepressibly. He extracted a fifty-dollar certificate from the sheaf,
and handed it over.
"I'll take a receipt, but you needn't mention this to Mr. Graham just
"No, certainly not." Sperry scrawled his signature to the bill.
"And about that line of credit?----"
"Well, with this paid, I guess you could have what you needed, in
moderation. Of course----"
"My name is Duncan--Nathaniel Duncan." Sperry made a memorandum of it
on the back of an envelope. "Any former business connections?"
"None that I care to speak about," Duncan confessed glumly.
Sperry's face lengthened. "No references?"
It took thought, and after thought courage; but Duncan hit upon the
solution at length. "Do you know L. J. Bartlett & Company, the
"Do I know J. Pierpont Morgan?"
"Then that's all right. Tell your people to inquire of Harry Kellogg,
the junior partner. He knows all about me."
Noting the name, Sperry put away the envelope. "That's enough. If he
says you're all right, you can have anything you want." He consulted
his watch. "Hmm. Train to catch.... But let's see: what do you need
Duncan reviewed the empty shelves, his face glowing. "Pills," he said
with a laugh: "all kinds of pills and... everything for a regular,
sure-enough drug-store, Mr. Sperry: everything Sothern and Lee carries
and a lot of attractive things they don't.... Small lots, you know,
until I see what we can sell."
"I see. You leave it to me; I probably know what you need better than
you do. I'll make out a list this afternoon and mail it to-night with
instructions to ship it at the earliest possible moment."
"Splendid!" Duncan told him. "You do that, and don't worry about our
making good. I'm going to put all my time and energy into this
"Then you'll make good all right," Sperry assured him. "All anybody's
got to do is look at you to see you're a good business man." He
returned Duncan's pressure and picked up his sample-case. "S'long,"
said he, and left briskly, leaving Duncan speechless.
As if to assure himself of his sanity he put a hand to his brow and
stroked it cautiously. "Heavens!" he said, and sought the support of
the counter. "That's twice to-day I've been told that in the same
"It's funny," he said, half dazed, "I never could have pulled that off
Presently Duncan moved and came out of his abstraction. "I'd better get
that broom," he said slowly. "The place certainly needs some expert
manicuring before we get that new stock in.... By George, I really
begin to believe we've got a chance to do something, after all!...
"Or else I'm dreaming...."
He opened the back door and entered a narrow and dark hallway, almost
stumbling over the lowest step of a flight of stairs communicating with
the upper storey. From above he could hear a clatter of crockery,
sounds of footsteps, a woman singing softly.
"Graham's wife, I presume. Never struck me he might be married....
Well, I'll be quiet. If she catches me now, before we're introduced,
she'll take me for a burglar."
On tiptoes he found the descent to the cellar, where by the aid of a
match he discovered a floorbrush whose reasons for retirement from
active employment were most evident even to his inexpert eye. None the
less nothing better offered, and he took it back with him to the shop.
Graham's tinkering was never of a cleanly sort; the floor was thick
with a litter of rubbish--shavings, old nuts and bolts, bits of scrap
tin and metal, torn paper, charred ends of matches: an indescribable
mess. Duncan surveyed it ruefully, but with the will to do strong in
him, took off his coat, turned up his trousers, and fell to. The
disposition of the sweepings troubled him far less than the dust he
raised; obviously the only place to put it was behind the counters.
"Nobody'll see it there," he said in a glow of satisfaction, pausing
with the room half cleared. "I always wondered what they did with that
sort of truck--under the beds, I suppose. Funny Graham never thought of
this, himself--it's so blame' easy."
He resumed his labours, thrilled with the sensation of accomplishment.
"One thing at least that I can do," he mused; "never again shall I fear
starvation... so long as there's a broom handy." Absorbed he brushed
away, raising a prodigious amount of dust and utterly oblivious to the
fact that he was observed.
Two shadows moved slowly athwart the windows, to which his back was
turned, paused, moved on out of sight, returned. It was only during a
pause for breath that he became aware of the surveillance.
Straightening up, he looked, gasped and fled for the back of the store.
"Heavens!" he whispered, aghast to recognise Josie Lockwood and Angie
Tuthill, of whose ubiquitous shadows in his way he had been conscious
so frequently within the past several days. "I _thought_ I must
have made an impression.... Don't tell me they're coming in!"
Behind the counter he struggled furiously into his coat. "They are," he
said with a sinking heart; "and I'll bet a dollar my face is dirty!"
Notwithstanding these misgivings, it was a very self-possessed young
man, to all appearances, who moved sedately round the end of the
counter to greet these possible customers. His bow was a very passable
imitation of the real thing, he flattered himself; and there's no
manner of doubt but that it flattered the two prettiest and most
forward young women in Radville of that day.
"May I have the honour of waiting on you, ladies?" he inquired with all
the suavity of an accomplished salesman.
Josie and Angie sidled together, giggling and simpering, quite overcome
by his manner. A muffled "How de do?" from Angie and a half-strangled
echo of the salutation from the other were barely articulate. But
hearing them he bowed again, separately to each.
"Good-afternoon," said he, and waited in an inquiring pose.
"This--'this is Mr. Duncan, isn't it?" inquired Josie, controlling
"Yes, and you are Miss Lockwood, if I'm not mistaken?"
Renewed giggles prefaced her: "Oh, how _did_ you know?"
"Could anyone remain two weeks in Radville and not hear of Miss
The shot told famously. "How nice of you! Mr. Duncan, I want you to
meet my friend, Miss Tuthill."
"I've had the honour of admiring Miss Tuthill from a distance," Duncan
assured the younger woman. And, "She'll burn up!" he feared secretly,
watching the conflagration of blushes that she displayed. "Just think
of getting away with a line of mush like that! Harry was right after
all: this is a country town, all right."
"And--and are you working here, Mr. Duncan?" Josie pursued.
"I'm supposed to be; I'm afraid I don't know the business very well, as
"Oh, that's awf'ly nice," Angle thought.
He thanked her humbly.
"We didn't expect to see you here," Josie assured him. "We just thought
we'd like some soda."
"Soda!" he parroted, horrified. He cast a glance askance at the tawdry
fountain. "Let's see: how d'you work the infernal thing?" he asked
himself, utterly bewildered.
"Yes," Angie chimed in; "it's so warm this afternoon, we----"
"I've got to put it through somehow," he thought savagely. And aloud,
"Yes, certainly," he said, and smiled winningly. "Will you be pleased
to step this way?"
Out of the corners of his eyes he detected the amused look that passed
between the girls. "Oh, very well!" he said beneath his breath. "You
may laugh, but you asked for soda, and soda you shall have, my dears,
if you die of it." He put himself behind the counter with an air of
great determination, and leaned upon it with both hands outspread until
he realised that this was the pose of a groceryman. "What'll you have?"
he demanded genially. "Er--that is--I mean, would you prefer vanilla
A chant antiphonal answered him:
"I hate vanilla."
"And so do I."
"Oh, don't say that!" he pleaded. "Of course you know there's--ah--
vanilla and vanilla..., Ah... some vanilla I know is detestable, but
when you get a really fine vintage--ah--imported vanilla, it's quite
another matter--ah--particularly at his season of the year----"
His confusion was becoming painful.
"Oh, is it?" asked Josie helpfully. Her eyes dwelt upon his with a
confiding expression which he later characterised as a baby stare; and
he was promptly reduced to babbling idiocy.
"Indeed it is; no doubt whatever, Miss Lockwood. Especially just now,
you know--ah--after the bock season--ah--I mean, when the weather is--
is--in a way--you might put it--vanilla weather."
"But I like chocolate best," Angle pouted. And he hated her consumedly
for the moment.
"Very well," Josie told him sweetly, "I'll have the vanilla."
He thanked her with unnecessary effusion and turned to inspect the
glassware. There could be no mistake about the right jar, however;
there was nothing but vanilla, and seizing it he removed the metal cap
and placed it before the girls. With less ease he discovered a whiskey
glass and put it beside the bottle, with a cordial wave of the hand.