Part 5 out of 9
sympathy for you after the cause is lost. Excuse my breaking in on
your sermon, provided it is not finished, but--I think you have a
bite, Mr. Paine."
I had, very much of a bite. The minnow on my hook had been
forgotten and allowed to sink to the bottom, and a big pout had
swallowed it, along with the hook and a section of line. I dragged
the creature out of the water and performed a surgical operation,
resulting in the recovery of my tackle.
"There!" I exclaimed, in disgust. "I think I have had enough
fishing for one day. Suppose we call it off. Unless you would
like to try, Miss Colton."
I made the offer by way of a joke. She accepted it instantly.
"May I?" she cried, eagerly. "I have been dying to ever since I
"But--but you will get wet."
"No matter. This is an old suit."
It did not look old to my countrified eyes, but I protested no
more. There was a rock a little below where we then were, one of
the typical glacial boulders of the Cape--lying just at the edge of
the water and projecting out into it. I helped her up on to this
rock and baited her hook with shrimp.
"Shall I cast for you?" I asked.
"No indeed. I can do it, thank you."
She did, and did it well. Moreover, the line had scarcely
straightened out in the water when it was savagely jerked, the pole
bent into a half-circle, and out of the foaming eddy beneath its
tip leaped the biggest bass I had seen that day, or in that pond on
"By George!" I exclaimed. "Can you handle him? Shall I--"
She did not look at me, but I received my orders, nevertheless.
"Please don't! Keep away!" she said sharply.
For nearly fifteen minutes she fought that fish, in and out among
the pads, keeping the line tight, handling him at least as well as
I could have done. I ran for the landing net and, as she brought
her captive up beside the rock, reached forward to use it. But she
"No," she said, breathlessly, "I want to do this all myself."
It took her several more minutes to do it, and she was pretty well
splashed, when at last, with the heavy net dragging from one hand
and the rod in the other, she sprang down from the rock. Together
we bent over the fish.
"A four-pounder, if he is an ounce," said I. "I congratulate you,
"Poor thing," she mused. "I am almost sorry he did not get away.
He IS a beauty, isn't he! Now I am ready to go home."
That journey home was a strange experience to me. She rode Don and
bore the lunch basket and the net before her on the saddle. I
walked alongside, carrying the rod, boots, and the fish in the
otherwise empty bait pail. The sunshine, streaming through the
leaves of the arching boughs overhead, dappled the narrow,
overgrown paths with shifting blotches of light and shadow. Around
us was the deep, living green of the woods, the songs of birds, the
chatter of red squirrels, and the scent of wild honeysuckle. And
as we moved onward we talked--that is, she did most of the talking
and I listened. Yet I must have talked more than I knew, because I
remember expressing opinions concerning books and operas and
pictures, subjects I had not discussed for years except occasionally
with Mother, and then only because she was still interested in them.
I seemed, somehow, to have become a different, a younger man, under
the influence of these few hours with the girl I had professed to
hate so cordially. Our companionship--perfectly meaningless as it
was, the mere caprice of an idle day on her part--had rejuvenated
me. During that homeward walk I forgot myself entirely, forgot that
I was Ros Paine, the country loafer; forgot, too, that she was the
only child of the city millionaire, that we had, or could have,
nothing in common. She, also, seemed to forget, and we chatted
together as unconsciously and easily as if we had known each other
all our lives.
Yet it may be that her part in the conversation was not altogether
without a purpose. She led me to speak of Denboro and its people,
of how they lived, and of the old days of sailing ships and deep
sea skippers. George Taylor's name was mentioned and I praised him
highly, telling of his rise from poor boy to successful man, as we
rated success locally.
"He manages that bank well," I declared. "Everyone says so. And,
from what I have seen of his management, I know it to be true."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"Because I have had some experience in banking myself. I--"
I stopped short. My tongue was running away with me. She did not
ask the question which I dreaded and expected. Instead she said,
looking down at me:
"You are a loyal friend, aren't you, Mr. Paine."
"I have reason to be loyal to George," I answered, with feeling.
"Are you as loyal to yourself?"
I looked up at her in surprise.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I have been trying to understand you, Mr. Paine. Trying to get
the answer to the puzzle. In one way I think I have it. I
understand your attitude in the Lane affair and I think I know why
you came to Denboro and are staying here."
I stopped short. "You--you know THAT?" I cried.
"I think I do. You believe that your mother needs you and you will
not leave her. That is your reason for living here, I think. But,
in another way, I cannot understand you at all."
She spoke to the horse and we moved on again. I waited for her to
continue, but she was silent.
"How? What is the other way! The way in which you cannot
understand me?" I asked.
"Shall I tell you? Do you wish me to be perfectly frank?"
"I cannot understand how a man such as you seem to be, young,
educated, and with life before him, can be content to do as you do,
spend your time in fishing, or sailing, or shooting. To have no
ambition at all. My father was a poor country boy, like your
friend, Mr. Taylor, but he worked night and day until he became
what he is now. And even now he works, and works hard. Oh, I am
proud of him! Not because he is what he is, but because he has
done it all himself. If I were a man I would have some purpose in
life; I would do SOMETHING worth while if it were only to sell fish
from a cart, like that old fellow with the queer name--what is it?--
Oh, yes! Theophilus Newcomb."
I did not answer. She had said all that was necessary, and more.
It was quite enough for me.
"There!" she observed, after a moment. "You asked me to tell you
and I did. If you never speak to me again it will be exactly what
I deserve. But I thought it and so I said it. Expressing my
thoughts is one of my bad habits. . . . Oh, why, we are almost
home, aren't we!"
We had come to the edge of the grove bordering Beriah Holt's
pasture. The grove was on the west side of a little hill. Before
us the pasture sloped away to Beriah's house and barn, with the
road beyond it. And beyond that, in the distance, were the
steeples and roofs of Denboro. Among them the gables and tower of
the Colton mansion rose, conspicuous and costly.
She turned in the saddle. "I presume I may leave you now, Mr.
Paine," she said. "Even you must admit that the rest of the way is
plain sailing. Thank you for your hospitality and for your
services as guide. I will send the basket and net over by one of
"I will take them now," I said, shortly.
"Very well, if you prefer. Here they are."
I took them from her.
"Good afternoon," she said. "And thanks once more for a very
"You are quite welcome, I'm sure. Thank you for your frank opinion
of my--worthlessness. It was kind of you to express it."
The sarcasm was not lost upon her.
"I meant it as a kindness," she replied.
"Yes. And it was true enough, probably. Doubtless I shall derive
great benefit from your--words of wisdom."
Her patience, evidently, was exhausted. She turned away. "Oh,
that," she said, indifferently, "is your affair. I told you what I
believed to be the truth, that was all. What you do is not likely
to be of vast importance to me, one way or the other. Come, Don!"
Don cantered down the slope. I watched him and his rider disappear
beyond the trees in the distance. Then I picked up my pail and
other burdens and followed in their wake. The sun was behind a
cloud. It had been a strange day with a miserable ending. I was
furiously angry with her, but I was more angry with myself. For
what she had told me WAS the truth, and I knew it.
I strode on, head down, through the village. People spoke to me,
asking what luck I had had and where I had been, but I scarcely
noticed them. As I reached the Corners and was passing the bank
someone called my name. I glanced up and saw George Taylor
descending the steps.
"Hold on, Ros," he hailed. "Wait a minute. What's your rush?
I halted reluctantly.
"Fishing again, I see," he observed, as he reached my side. "Any
"Fair," I told him.
"Yes." That I had not been alone since was no business of his.
"Humph! You ain't exactly what a fellow'd call talkative this
afternoon, seems to me. Anything wrong?"
"I guess so."
"Well, so am I, but I ain't had your fun getting that way. Small
and I have been at it night and day getting things in shape so he
could leave. He's gone. Went this noon. And that ain't the worst
of it; I haven't got anybody yet to take his place. I'll have to
be cashier and bookkeeper too for a spell. There's applicants
enough; but they don't suit. Guess likely you'll have to help me
out, after all, Ros. The job is yours if you say the word."
He laughed as he said it. Even to him the idea of my working was a
But the joke did not seem funny to me, just then. I walked on for
some distance without a word. Then I asked a question.
"What is expected of a man in that position?" I asked.
"Expected? Why, plain bank bookkeeping--not much else at first.
Yet there's a good chance for a likely fellow to be considerable
more, in time. I need help in my part of the work. That's why I
haven't hired any of the dozen or so who are after the place. What
makes you ask? You don't know of a good man for me, do you, Ros?"
"When do you want him to begin?"
"To-morrow morning, if he satisfies me."
"Would I satisfy you?"
"You! Humph! Try me and see, that's all I'd ask."
"All right. I'll be on hand in the morning."
He stopped, looked at me, and then seized me by the arm.
"See here!" he cried, "I'm lost in the fog, I guess likely. What
do you mean by that? Is it time to laugh--or what?"
"It may be; I don't know. But I take the bookkeeper's position in
your bank. Now, good-by. Don't talk to me. I don't feel like
I walked on. I had taken but a few steps when he overtook me.
"Ros," he said, "I ain't going to say but just one thing. If you
meant what you said I'm the most tickled man on the Cape. But you
ain't asked a word about the salary."
"I know it. I haven't asked because I don't care. I'll be on hand
in the morning."
I left him standing there, and hurried down the Lower Road. As I
had said to him, I did not feel like talking. I did not want even
to see any one. I wanted to be let alone. But it was fated that I
should not be, not yet. Sim Eldredge was waiting for me around the
corner. He stepped out from behind the fence where he had been
"Ros!" he whispered. "Ros Paine! Wait. It's me, Sim. I want to
ask you somethin'. Wan't that George Taylor you was speakin' to
"Yes," I answered, impatiently. "What of it?"
"Say, Ros, you and me ain't pulled that Colton trade off, but it
ain't my fault. You ain't got no hard feelin's against me, I know.
And I want you to do a little mite of favor for me. Will you?"
"What is it? If it has anything to do with the Lane, I tell you
"It ain't--it ain't. It's about that bookkeepin' job in the bank,
Henry Small's place, the one he's just quit. I've got a third
cousin, name of Josiah Badger, over to South Harniss. He's a smart
young chap, and an A-1 accountant at figgers. He's been keepin'
books down at the fish wharf--see? Now, he'd like that job and,
bein' as you and George are so thick, I cal'lated maybe you'd sort
of use your influence along of George, and--and get it for him.
There ain't nothin' in it for me--that is, nothin' much. But I
feel friendly toward Josiah and you know I like to do little
kindnesses for folks. So--"
"There! there!" I interrupted. "It's no use, Sim. I can't help
"Why! yes you can."
"No, I can't. I don't know your cousin, and besides--well, you are
too late. The place is filled."
Sim's expression changed. He looked surprised and crestfallen.
"Filled?" he exclaimed. "Why, no, 'tain't! If 'twas I'd have
known it, wouldn't I? Who'd you hear had got it? Whoever you
heard, 'tain't so."
"Yes, it is."
"How do you know? Who is it, then?"
I hesitated. Before noon of the next day every soul in Denboro
would have heard the news. Eldredge might as well hear it now.
"I've taken the place myself," I said.
"You?" Sim actually forgot to whisper; he shouted the word. "YOU!
Ha! ha! ha! Ros, quit your foolin'."
"I'm not fooling. I go to work in the bank to-morrow morning."
"But-- Oh, my soul! You! Aw, I know better! Say, Ros, don't
let's waste time like this. Fun's all right, but . . . My heavens
to Betsy! YOU work for a livin'! If I believed that I'd believe
anything. Tell me, now. Who has got that job? . . . Why don't
you answer me?"
I answered him. "Shut up!" I said, fiercely. Then I vaulted the
fence and set out for home across lots.
I heard the next day that Sim went back to the post-office and
informed the gathering there that Ros Paine had taken to drinking.
"He was tight as a biled owl," declared Sim; "and ugly--don't talk!
Wanted to fight me because I wouldn't believe he was goin' to work.
Him! What in the everlastin' would HE want to work for? My
heavens to Betsy!"
I think Taylor was almost as surprised as Eldredge had been, when,
at half-past eight the following morning, I appeared at the bank.
He was already at his desk and, when he looked up and saw me, he
"Whew!" he exclaimed. "So. I didn't dream it, after all. You're
here, ain't you."
"I am here," I answered, opening the gate and stepping in behind
"Going to take it back and say you never said it?"
"Come to go to work? Really?"
"That is my intention, unless you have changed your mind."
"Not me. It ain't likely. But, Ros, I--sit down a minute and
let's talk. What are you doing this for?"
It was a question I had been asking myself at intervals during a
restless night. Now I gave the only truthful answer.
"I don't know," I said.
"You don't know!"
"No. And I don't seem to care. Suppose we don't talk about it. I
am here, and I am ready to begin work. That's enough, isn't it?"
"Why, no; not quite. You're not doing it just to help me out?"
"You don't need to work. You've got money enough."
"No, I haven't. But money isn't my reason. I haven't any reason.
Now show me the books, will you?"
"Don't be in a hurry. What does your mother think about it?"
"I haven't told her yet. Time enough for that when I know that I
really mean it and you know that I am competent to fill the
position. George, if you keep on cross-examining me I am likely to
quit before I begin. I don't know why I am doing this, but just
now I think I am going to do it if I can. However, I am not sure.
So you had better be careful."
"Humph! What did you catch up at that pond yesterday? I never saw
a day's fishing make such a difference in a man in my life. . . .
All right, Ros. All right. I won't pester you. Too glad to have
you here for that. Now about the salary."
"Before we speak of that there is one more point. How about your
directors? Dean and the rest? Do they know you offered me the
"Sure thing! They put the whole affair in my hands. They'll be
satisfied. And as for Cap'n Jed--why, he was the one that
suggested hiring you in the first place."
"Captain Jed! Captain Jed Dean! HE suggested it?"
"Yup. In a way, he did. You may not know it, Ros, but you've made
a good deal of a hit with the old man. He ain't been used to
having anybody stand up to him as you have. As a general thing
Denboro jumps when he snaps the whip. You didn't, and he couldn't
understand why. He is the kind that respects anything they can't
understand. Then, too, Nellie likes you, and she's his idol, you
know. Ah hum!"
He sighed and, for a moment, seemed to forget me altogether. I
reminded him by another question.
"But why should the captain think of me for this place?" I asked.
"Why should he dream that I would take it? I gave you no
"I don't know as he did dream it. But he and I were speaking of
you and he said he'd like to do something to show you what the town
thought of your holding out against Colton. That tickled him down
to the keel. I said you'd be a first-class helper to me in this
bank, that I heard you knew something about banking--"
"It's all right. I only mentioned that I heard rumors that you
were in a city bank somewhere at one time. He didn't ask any more
and I shouldn't have told him if he had. But the idea pleased him,
I could see that. 'Why don't you try to get him?' says he. 'Maybe
the days of miracles ain't past. Perhaps even he'd condescend to
work, if the right job came his way.'"
"So that's what you call his suggesting me, do you? Humph!"
"Well, I told him about it last night, when I was up to see Nellie,
and he was pleased as Punch. Surprised, of course, but pleased.
He's practically the whole board, as far as settling things is
concerned, so it is all right. He ain't the worst friend you've
got, by a long shot."
I imagined that I understood what Captain Jed's "friendship" meant.
My accepting the bank position was one more bond binding me to his
side in the Shore Lane battle. And, so long as I was under
Taylor's eye and his own, I could not be subject to the Colton
George and I discussed the question of salary, if his offer and my
prompt acceptance might be called a discussion. The pay was not
large to begin with, but it was more than I had a right to expect.
And I was perfectly honest when I said that money was not the
consideration which led me to make the sudden change in my habit of
life. I was sick of idleness; I had longed for something to occupy
my life and time; I might as well be doing this as anything;
Taylor's offer had appealed to me when he first made it; these were
the excuses I evolved for my own satisfaction and I tried to
believe them real. But one reason I would not admit, even in my
thoughts, as a possibility. It was not that girl, or anything she
had said, which influenced me. No! over and over again--no.
Sam Wheeler, the young fellow who acted as assistant bookkeeper and
messenger, came in, and Taylor, after showing me the books and
giving me a few hints as to what my duties would be, turned me over
to him for further instruction. I found I needed but little. The
pages, with their rows of figures, seemed like old friends. I
almost enjoyed poring over them. Was it possible that I was going
to like this new venture of mine?
Before noon I was fairly certain of it. The work in a country bank
is different from that in the large city institutions, in that it
is by no means as specialized. I found that, later on, I should be
expected to combine the work of teller with that of bookkeeper.
And this, too, seemed natural. I worked as steadily as I could,
considering interruptions, and the forenoon was over almost before
I knew it.
The interruptions, however, were numerous and annoying; some of
them, too, were amusing. Depositors came, saw me behind the bars
of the window, and, after expressing their astonishment, demanded
to know what I was doing there. If I had answered all the
questions put to me by the curious Denboroites I should have found
time for little else. But Taylor helped me by shooing the curious
ones away. "Don't bother the new hand," he said. "If you want to
know particulars ask me. Anything I don't tell you you can read in
next week's Item. This is a bank, not a question box."
Captain Elisha Warren came in and was as surprised as the rest.
After an interview with the cashier he returned to my window and
requested me to open up. When I did so he reached in a big hand
and seized mine.
"Shake, Ros," he said, heartily. "I'm glad for the bank and I'm
gladder still for you. Come hard at fust, does it?"
"A little," I confessed. "Not as hard as I expected, though."
"Fust day or two out of port is always the toughest. You'll get
your sea legs on pretty soon. Then you'll be glad you shipped, I
"I hope so," I answered, rather dubiously.
"I know you will. There's nothin' so tiresome as doin' nothin'. I
know, because that's been my job for quite a spell. Seems
sometimes as if I'd have a fit, I get so sick of loafin'."
His idea of a "loaf" was rising at six and weeding his garden,
superintending the labor on his cranberry swamps or about his barns
and grounds, attending bank and Selectmen's meetings, and generally
keeping busy until sunset.
"I tell Abbie, my housekeeper," he continued, "that if 'twan't for
my age I believe I'd go to sea again just to keep from fallin'
apart with dry rot. I asked her if she'd noticed how my timbers
creaked, and she said I didn't keep still long enough for her to
notice anything. Ho! ho! Nothin' makes her more provoked than for
me to mention gettin' old or goin' to sea. All the same, I envy
you your youth, Ros. You've got your life afore you, and I'm glad
to see that you're goin' to make somethin' of it. I always said
you'd wake up if somebody give you a punch. Who punched you, Ros?"
My reply was non-committal.
"Better mind my own business, hadn't I," he observed. "All right,
I will. No offense meant, you understand. But, you see, I've
never believed that work was the cuss of mankind, like some folks,
and no matter how much money a young feller's got I think he's
better off doin' somethin'. That's the gospel accordin' to Elisha.
Well, good luck and a pleasant v'yage. See you again soon. Say,"
turning back, "keep an eye on George, will you? Folks in love are
l'ble to be absent-minded, they tell me, and I should not want him
to be absent with any of my money. Hear that, do you, George?"
Taylor, who was standing near, laughed and walked away. A moment
later I saw him looking out of the window with the same strange
expression on his face which I had noticed several times before
when his approaching marriage was hinted at. Something was
troubling him, that was plain. He loved Nellie devotedly, I knew;
yet he obviously did not like to hear the marriage mentioned.
Sim Eldredge was one of the first visitors to the bank, but his
visit was a short one. He entered the door, walked straight to the
teller's window and peered through the bars. I heard him catch his
"Good morning, Sim," said I. "What can I do for you?"
"Do?" he repeated. "Do for me? Nothin'--nothin', 'special. You--
you meant it, then?"
"I told you I did."
"My soul!" was all the answer he made. Then he turned and walked
At about eleven o'clock I was half-way through the addition of a
column of figures when I heard some one say, "Well, by time!" with
such anguished fervor that it was almost like a prayer for help. I
looked up. Lute Rogers was staring in at me, open-mouthed and
"Hello, Lute!" I said.
Lute swallowed hard.
"They told me 'twas so," he stammered. "They said so and--and I
laughed at 'em. Ros, you ain't, be you?"
"Goin' to stay in there and--and take Henry's job?"
"You be! And you never said nothin' to nobody? To Dorinda? Or
"No; not yet."
"Nor to me. To ME, by time! You let them fellers at the store
make a fool of me--"
"No one could do that, Lute. I have told you so often."
"And you let them know it afore I did. And me livin' right in the
house with you! By time! I--I--"
"There, there, Lute! don't cry. I'll tell you all about it when I
come home for dinner."
"Yes, I should think you might do that much. Treatin' your own
family like--why did you tell Sim Eldredge?"
"Sim asked me and so I told him, that was all. Don't stand there
fidgeting. Run along home, there's a good fellow. Mr. Taylor has
his eye on you already."
Lute glanced apprehensively toward the cashier's desk and turned to
"Well!" he exclaimed, "I've said you was crazy more'n once, that's
some satisfaction. Say! can I tell 'em to home?"
I hesitated. "You may tell Dorinda if you like," I answered. "But
I prefer to tell Mother, myself."
George rose from his desk just then and Lute hurried to the door.
I smiled. I imagined his arrival in our kitchen and how he would
explode the sensational news upon his unsuspecting wife.
But I was not altogether calm, though I did my best to appear so,
when I entered that kitchen at a quarter past twelve. Lute was
seated in a chair by the window, evidently watching and waiting.
He sprang up as I entered.
"Set down," ordered Dorinda, who was taking a clam pie from the
oven. She merely nodded when I came in. Dorinda often spoke in
meeting against "sinful pride"; yet she had her share of pride,
sinful or not. She would not ask questions or deign to appear
excited, not she.
"But Dorinda," cried her husband, "it's Ros. Don't you see?"
"You set down, Lute Rogers. Well," turning to me, "dinner's ready,
if you are."
"I shall be in a few minutes," I answered. "I want to see Mother
Breaking the news to Mother was a duty which I dreaded. But it
turned out to be not dreadful at all. Mother was surprised, of
course, but she did not offer a single objection. Her principal
feeling seemed to be curiosity as to my reasons for the sudden
"Of course, Roscoe, if you are happier I shall be, too," she said.
"I know it must have been very dull for you here. My conscience
has troubled me not a little all these years. I realize that a
man, a young man like you, needs an interest in life; he wants
something more than the care and companionship of a useless
creature like me."
"Mother, how often have I told you not to speak like that."
"But he does. Many times, when you and I have been here together,
I have been on the point of urging you to leave me and go back to
the world and take your place in it. More than once, you remember,
dear, I have hinted at such a thing, but you have always chosen not
to understand the hints, and I have been so weak and selfish that I
have not pressed them. I am glad you have done this, if it seems
right to you. But does it? Are you sure?"
"I think so, Mother. I confess I am not sure."
"This country bank is a pretty small place, isn't it? Not big
enough for my boy to prove his worth in."
"It is quite big enough for that. That doesn't require a
"But your decision must have been a very sudden one. You did not
mention that you thought of such a thing. Not even to me."
"It was sudden," I answered. "I took the position on the spur of
"But why? What led you to do it?"
"I don't know, Mother."
"What influenced you? Has any one urged you?"
"George Taylor offered me the place some time ago. He urged me."
"No one else?"
I avoided the issue. "You don't mind, then, Mother," I said. "You
are willing that I should try the experiment?"
"I am glad, if it pleases you. And you must let me say this now,
Roscoe, because it is true and I mean it. If another and better
opportunity comes to you, one that might take you away from
Denboro--and from me--for a time, of course, I want you to promise
me that you will not refuse it on my account. Will you promise?"
"No. Of course I shan't promise any such thing. Is it likely that
I would leave you, Mother?"
"I know that you would not leave me unless I were willing for you
to go. I know that, Roscoe. But I am much better and stronger
than I was. I shall never be well--"
"Don't say that," I interrupted, hastily.
"But I must say it, because it is true. I shall never be well, but
I am strong enough now to bear the thought of your leaving me and
when the time comes I shall insist upon your doing so. I am glad
we have had this talk, dear. I am glad, too, that you are going to
be busy once more in the way you like and ought to be. You must
tell me about your work every day. Now go, because your dinner is
ready and, of course, you must be getting back to the bank. Kiss
And as I bent over her she put her arms about my neck.
"Boy," she whispered, "I know there is some reason for your doing
this, a reason which you have not told me. You will tell me some
day, won't you?"
I straightened hurriedly and tried to laugh. "Of course I'll tell
you, Mother," I replied. "If there is anything to tell."
The clam pie was on the table in the dining-room and Dorinda was
seated majestically before it. Lute was fidgeting in his chair.
"Here he is," he exclaimed, as I joined the pair at the table.
"Ros, how did you ever come to do it?"
His wife squelched him, as usual. "If Roscoe's got anything to
tell," she observed, with dignity, "he'll tell it without your help
or anybody else's. If he ain't, he won't. This pie's colder than
it ought to be, but that isn't my fault."
As I ate I told them of my sudden determination to become a
laboring man. I gave the reasons that I had given Mother.
"Um-hm," said Dorinda.
"But I can't understand," pleaded Lute. "You don't need to work,
and I've sort of took a pride in your not doin' it. If I was well-
off, same as you be, I bet George Taylor'd have to whistle afore I
wore out MY brains in his old bank."
"He wouldn't have time to whistle more'n once," was Dorinda's
"Now, Dorinda, what kind of talk is that? Wouldn't have time to
whistle? You do say more things without any sense to 'em! Just
talk to hear yourself, I cal'late. What are you grinnin' at,
"I can't imagine, Lute. This clam pie is a triumph. May I have
another helping, Dorinda?"
Dorinda did not answer, but the second helping was a liberal one.
She was so quiet and the glances she gave me from time to time were
so odd that I began to feel uneasy. I was fairly sure that she
approved of my new venture, but why did she look at me like that?
"Well," said I, looking at my watch and rising, "what do you think
of it? Am I doing right?"
Lute leaned back in his chair. "There's consider'ble to be said on
that subject," he announced. "Work, as a general thing, I consider
all right; I've told you that afore. But when it comes to--"
"What do you think, Dorinda?" I interrupted.
Dorinda stirred her tea.
"Think?" she repeated. "I think . . . When's that Colton girl
comin' to call on Comfort again?"
I had taken my hat from the hook. Now, with it in my hand, I
turned and faced her.
"How should I know that?" I demanded. "That's a trifle off the
subject, isn't it?"
"Um-hm," said Dorinda. "Maybe 'tis."
I went out hurriedly.
Within the week I was at home in my new position. The strangeness
of regular hours and regular employment wore away with surprising
rapidity. There were, of course, mornings when sea and sky and the
freshness of outdoors tempted me and I wondered whether or not I
had been foolish to give up my fine and easy life. But these
periods of temptation were shorter and less frequent as I became
more and more familiar with my duties and with the routine of the
bank. I found myself taking a greater interest in the institution
and, to my astonishment, I was actually sorry when Saturday came.
It seemed odd enough to once more have money in my pocket which I
had earned. It was not a great amount, of course, but I felt it to
be mine. Yes, there was no doubt about it, I had done the right
thing, and was glad. I was grateful to Taylor for having given me
the opportunity. Perhaps I should have been grateful to the person
whose brutal and impertinent frankness had piqued me into grasping
that opportunity, but I was not.
She made her second call upon Mother two days after our impromptu
picnic at Seabury's Pond. I heard all about it when I came home
that afternoon. It appeared that she had brought more flowers and
a fresh supply of books. She had remained even longer than on her
first visit and she and Mother had talked about almost everything
under the sun. One topic, however, had not been discussed, a fact
which my guarded questions made certain. She, like myself, had
said nothing concerning the day in the woods.
"I told her of your consenting to help Mr. Taylor in his dilemma,"
"Did you?" said I. "It was kind of you to put it in that way."
"That was the truthful way of putting it, wasn't it? She seemed
very much interested."
"Indeed. And surprised, I presume."
"Why, yes, I think so. She seemed surprised at first; then she
laughed; I could not understand why. She has a very pleasant
laugh, hasn't she?"
"I have never noticed." This was untrue.
"She has. She is a charming girl. I am sorry you were not here
when she called. I told her you would be home soon and asked her
to wait, but she would not."
"I am glad she didn't."
"I am, Mother. That young lady comes here to see you merely
because she has nothing else to do just now. I shouldn't accept
too many favors from her."
Mother said I was unreasonable and prejudiced and I did not argue
the point. Lute and Dorinda discussed the caller at the supper
table until I was constrained to leave the room. Mabel Colton
might amuse herself with Mother and the two members of our
household whom she had described as "characters," she might delude
them into believing her thoughtful and sympathetic and without
false pride, but I knew better. She had insulted me. She had, in
so many words, told me that I was lazy and worthless, just as she
might have told her chauffeur or one of the servants. That it was
true made no difference. Would she have spoken in that way to--to
Victor Carver, for instance? Hardly. She was just what I had
thought her at first, a feminine edition of Victor, with more
brains than he possessed.
Captain Jed Dean came into the bank the third day after my
installation as bookkeeper and teller. I was alone in the
director's room, going over some papers, and he entered and shook
hands with me. The old fellow professed delight at my presence
"George tells me you're takin' hold fust-rate," he said. "That's
good. I'm glad to hear it."
"Why?" I asked. There was a trace of his old pomposity in the
speech--or I imagined there was--and I chose to resent it. These
were the days when I was in the mood to resent almost anything.
"Why?" he repeated, in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"Why are you glad?" I said. "I can't see what difference it makes
to you whether I succeed or not."
He regarded me with a puzzled expression, but, instead of taking
offense, he laughed.
"You've got a chip on your shoulder, ain't you, Ros?" he observed.
"Workin' you too hard at the start, are we?"
"No," I answered, curtly.
"Then what is the matter?"
"Why, nothing, unless it is that everyone I meet seems to take such
a great interest in my being here. I believe all of Denboro talks
of nothing else."
"Not much else, I shouldn't wonder. But that's to be expected,
ain't it? Everybody's glad you're makin' good."
"Humph! They all seem to regard that as the eighth wonder of the
world. The position doesn't require a marvel of intelligence;
almost any one with a teaspoonful of brains could fill it."
"Why no, they couldn't. But that's nothin' to do with it. I see
what's the matter with you, Ros. You think all hands are knocked
on their beam ends because you've gone to work. Some of 'em are,
that's a fact, and you can't blame 'em much, considerin' how long
you've lived here without doin' anything. But all of 'em that
amount to a three-cent piece are glad, and the rest don't count
anyway. You've made a good many friends in this town lately, son."
I smiled bitterly. "Friends," I said.
"Why, yes, friends. And friends are worth havin', especially if
you make 'em without beggin' for their friendship. I give in that
you've surprised some of us. We didn't know that you had it in
you. But your standin' up to old Colton was a fine thing, and we
"That is because you were against his grabbing the Lane."
"What of it? And 'twan't that altogether. I, for one, ain't
complainin' because you stood up to me and wouldn't sell to the
town. By the way, Tim Hallet's gang haven't bothered you lately,
"No. And I advise them not to."
He chuckled. "I heard you advised 'em to that effect," he said.
"I ain't complainin' at that, either, even though I knew what they
was up to and thought 'twas more or less of a joke. But I liked
the way you fired 'em out of there, not carin' a tinker's darn who
was behind 'em. So long as a man stands square in his boots and
don't knuckle to anybody he won't lose anything with Jed Dean.
"You ought to like Colton, then," I said. "He hasn't knuckled,
Captain Jed grinned. "Well," he said, slowly, "I don't object to
that in him. He seems to be a fighter and that's all right. Maybe
if I was one of his tribe in New York I should like him. But I
ain't. And you ain't, Ros. We're both of us country folks, livin'
here, and he's a city shark buttin' into the feedin' grounds. He
wants to hog the whole place and you and I say he shan't. I'm
thankful to him for one thing: his comin' here has waked you up,
and it's goin' to make a man of you, or I miss my guess."
I did not answer.
"You mustn't get mad because I talk this way," he went on. "I'm
old enough to be your dad, Ros Paine, and I know what I'm talkin'
about. I never took much of a shine to you in the old days. You
was too much of what the story books call a 'gentleman' to suit me.
I've had to scratch all my life for what I've got, but I've got it.
When a young, able feller like you was contented to loaf around as
you did and take no interest in nothin', I, naturally, figgered he
was no-account. I see now I was wrong. All you needed was
somethin' to stir you up and set you goin'. KEEP goin', that's my
advice to you. And so long as you do, and don't bend when the
pressure gets hard, you'll be somebody afore you die. And the
friends you've made'll stand back of you."
"How about the enemies I have made?"
"Enemies? I suppose likely you have made some enemies, but what of
it? I've made enemies all my life. It ain't because I'm popular
here in Denboro that I'm what I am. Now is it?"
The truthful answer would have been no. Captain Dean was not
popular, but he was respected even by the many who disliked and
disagreed with him. I hesitated, trying to think what to say.
"You know 'tain't that," he said. "Popularity I never had, though
it's a pleasant enough thing and sometimes I wish-- But there,
this ain't experience meetin'. I'm glad you're here in this bank.
You're smart, and George says you are worth more than Henry Small
ever was, even so early. If you really are what it begins to look
as if you are I'm glad for Denboro. Maybe there'll be somebody
besides George fit to run this town after I'm gone."
I smiled. The last remark was so characteristic that it was funny.
He was turning away, but he noticed the smile and turned back.
"That's a joke, hey?" he asked.
"Captain," I said, "you are not consistent. When you and I first
talked about the Lane you said that you would not blame me if I
closed it. If it was yours you wouldn't have Tom, Dick, and Harry
driving fish carts through it."
"Did I say that?"
"Yes. And you said, on another occasion, that anyone would sell
anything if they were offered money enough."
"Humph! Well, sometimes I say 'most anything but my prayers.
Matildy says I forget them pretty often, but I tell her her Friday
night speeches are long enough to make up. Maybe I meant what I
said to you at those times, Ros. I shouldn't wonder if I did. But
'twas a lie just the same. There are things I wouldn't sell, of
course. Nellie, my daughter's one of 'em. She's goin' to get a
good husband in George here, but her happiness means more to me
than money. She's one of the things I wouldn't sell. And my
Selectman's job is another. I fought for that, not so much for the
honor, or whatever you call it, but because--well, because I wanted
to show 'em that I could get it if I set out to. I don't presume
likely you can understand that feelin'."
"I think I can," I answered. "Mr. Colton gave about the same
reason for his determination to close the Lane. You and he seem to
be a good deal alike, after all."
He looked at me from beneath his bushy brows. His mouth twisted in
a grim smile.
"Say, son," he said, "if I hadn't been so free with my proclamations
about bein' your friend you and me would have a settlement for
that little bit of talk. The Emperor and me alike! Ugh!"
The next afternoon he came in again and asked me to step outside
the railing. He had something to say to me, he declared.
We sat down together on the settee by the wall.
"Ros," he said, in a low tone, "have you had any new offer for your
property? Not from Colton or the town, but from anybody else?"
"No," I answered. "What do you mean?"
"You ain't heard anything from a Boston firm claimin' to represent
the Bay Shore Development Company, or some such?"
"No. What sort of a company is that?"
"I don't know; that is, I don't know much about it. But there's
talk driftin' 'round that a Boston syndicate is cal'latin' to buy
up all the shore front land from South Ostable to the Bayport line
and open it up for summer house lots. The name is the Bay Shore
Development Company, or somethin' like that. You ain't heard from
"Not a word. Where did your information come from?"
"From nobody in particular. It just seems to be in the air. Alvin
Baker heard it over to Ostable. The feller that told him got it
from somebody else, who got it from another somebody, and so on.
There's talk about good prices bein' offered and, accordin' to
Alvin, Ostable folks are pretty excited. Elnathan Mullet, who owns
that strip below your house, knows somethin' about it, I think. I
shouldn't wonder if he'd had an offer, or a hint, or somethin'.
But Elnathan's mouth shuts tighter than a muskrat trap and I
couldn't get nothin' out of him. He just looked knowin' and that
was all. But, if it's so, it may mean a heap to Denboro."
I was considering the news when he spoke again.
"It might mean a lot to you, Ros," he whispered.
"Why, this way: If this concern offered you enough money you might
sell out to them, mightn't you? Sell all your place, I mean; you
could get another one easy enough. You ain't particular about
livin' by the shore."
"But--you urge me to SELL!" I exclaimed. "Sell the Shore Lane with
"Why not? You wouldn't be sellin' to Colton. And, if this
development scheme is what they say it is, there'll be roads cut
through all along shore. The town could use any of 'em; at least
that arrangement might be made. Think it over, Ros. If they do
offer and offer enough, I'd sell, if I was you. Say! that would be
a reef under His Majesty's bows, hey? Jolt him some, I cal'late."
I did not answer. This was a new possibility. Of course his
reason for advising my selling was plain enough, but, leaving the
Coltons entirely aside, the idea was not without allurement. The
town's convenience in the matter of a road might be considered,
just as he said. And my scruples against selling at a profit were,
after all, based upon that feature.
"You think it over," he counseled. "Don't say nothin' to nobody,
but just think--and wait. I'll keep my eye to wind'ard and see
what I can find out. I tell you honest, Ros, I'll feel safer when
I know old Imperial's game's blocked for good and all."
Old Imperial himself made his appearance before closing hours. I
looked up from my work to see him standing by the window. He had
not expected to see me there--evidently his daughter had not
considered Mother's news of sufficient importance to repeat--and,
at first, he did not recognize me.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Colton," said I.
He nodded. "Cash this for me, will you," he said, pushing a check
through the opening. "What? Hello! What in blazes are you doing
"I am employed here now," I answered.
"Humph! how long since?"
"Ten days, or such matter."
"What are you doing in a bank?"
"Banking was my business, at one time."
"Thought you hadn't any business."
"I haven't had any, for some years. Now I have. How do you wish
this money? In tens and fives?"
"Yes. Nothing bigger. Down here it restricts the circulation if
you spring a twenty dollar bill on them. So you've taken to
banking? I was thinking of corraling you for a gunning trip one of
these days. Now it's all off, I suppose."
"It looks that way. Sorry I am to be deprived of the pleasure."
"Humph!" Then, with one of his sudden changes, "How big a business
does this concern do? What do your deposits amount to?"
I gave him the figures, as printed in the yearly statement. He
made no comment. Instead he observed, "You haven't been around to
accept that offer of mine yet, Paine."
"Not yet," I answered.
"Suppose I ought to raise it, now that you're a financier yourself.
However, I shan't."
"I haven't asked you to."
He smiled. "No, you haven't," he said. "Well, it is open--for a
while. If I were you I'd accept it pretty soon."
"Meaning that I am not you, hey? I'm not. I haven't your high
principles, Paine. Can't afford 'em. You're what they call a
'Progressive' in politics, too, aren't you?"
"Here is your money," I said, ignoring the question.
"I'll bet you are!" he declared, taking the bills. "I never saw
one of you high-principled chaps yet that wasn't--until he got rich
enough to be something else. Progress is all right, maybe, but I
notice that you fellows pay for it and the rest of us get it. Just
as I am going to get that land of yours."
"You haven't got it yet," I said, serenely. I had made up my mind
that this time he should not provoke me into losing my temper.
He seemed to divine my determination. His eye twinkled. "You're
improving, Paine," he observed. "I'll give you a piece of advice;
it has cost me a good deal to learn, but I'll give it to you:
Don't ever let the other fellow make you mad."
I remembered our first interview and I could not resist the
temptation to retort.
"If my recollection is correct," I said, "you forgot that the first
time we met."
He laughed aloud. "So I did," he admitted. "Maybe if I hadn't it
would not cost me so much to get my own way in your case."
He walked out of the building. I heard one exclamation from behind
and, turning, saw Sam Wheeler, my youthful assistant, staring at
"My--gosh!" exclaimed Sam, his tone a mixture of wonder and
admiration, "I don't see how you dast to talk back to him like
that, Ros. He'll sic the--the 'System' onto you, won't he?"
It was evident that Sam had been reading the magazines.
I heard no more from Captain Jed and nothing from the mysterious
"Development Company" for the remainder of that week. But on
Sunday, as I sat in the boat house, smoking my after dinner pipe
and reading, Lute excitedly entered, followed by a well-dressed,
smooth-shaven man of middle age, whom he introduced as Mr. Keene of
Boston, "who's driven all the way from Ostable a-purpose to see
Mr. Keene shook hands with me cordially and apologized for
intruding upon my day of rest. He intended returning to the city
in the morning, he said, and, as he had a little matter to discuss
with me, had taken the liberty of calling. "I shan't take more
than half an hour of your time, Mr. Paine," he explained. "At
least I feel certain that you and I can reach an agreement in that
period. If I might be alone with you--"
This hint, evidently intended for Lute's benefit, was quite lost
upon the last named individual, who had seated himself on the edge
of the work bench and was listening with both ears. I was obliged
to tell him that his presence was superfluous and request his
returning to the house, which he reluctantly did, moving slowly and
looking back with an expression of grieved disappointment. After
he had gone I asked Mr. Keene what his "little matter" might be.
His reply was prompt and to the point. He gave me his card. He
was, it seemed, junior partner in the firm of Barclay and Keene,
real estate brokers and promoters, Milk Street, Boston. And, just
now, he was acting as representative of the Bay Shore Development
Company. "A concern of which, in spite of all our precautions and
attempts at secrecy, you may, perhaps, have heard, Mr. Paine," he
I admitted that I had heard rumors concerning the company's
existence. But, except for these very vague rumors, I knew nothing
He expected that, he said, and was glad to give me further and
complete information. In fact, that was his reason for coming so
many miles to see me. If I would be good enough to listen he would
tell me just what the Bay Shore Company was and what it contemplated
I listened and he talked. According to him the Bay Shore
syndicate--that is what it was, a syndicate of capitalists--
represented one of the biggest real estate propositions ever
conceived. Those behind it were awake to the possibilities of the
Cape as a summer resort. Shore land, water front property in the
vicinity, was destined to increase in value, provided it was
properly exploited and developed. The company's idea was to do
just that--exploit and develop.
"We've been quietly looking about," he continued, "and are all
ready for the preliminaries. And naturally, the first preliminary
is to secure the land to develop. You have some of that land, Mr.
Paine. We know just how much, as we do the holdings of every other
party we have approached or intend to approach. I am here to get
your figures and, if possible, conclude the purchase of your
property this afternoon. It is Sunday, of course," he added, with
a good-humored laugh, "and contracts signed to-day are not legal;
but we can make a verbal contract and the papers may be signed
later. I will defer my departure until the afternoon train
to-morrow for that purpose. Now name your figure, Mr. Paine."
Of course I had guessed what was coming. If I intended to sell at
all here was my opportunity to do so--to, as Captain Jed expressed
it, "block Colton's game" without sacrificing the principle for
which I had fought, and make a good bit of money for myself.
Another home near by could be secured, I had no doubt, and to it
Mother might be safely and easily moved. Yet I hesitated to
express even a qualified willingness.
"You appear to be certain that I will sell," I observed. "Isn't
that taking a good deal for granted, Mr. Keene?"
He smiled--in fact he smiled almost too often to please me. There
is such a thing as being too cordial and good-natured; and he was
so very friendly on short acquaintance.
"I understand," he said. "I have heard about you, Mr. Paine.
This, however, is a different matter. We are not hogs, Mr. Paine,
but business men. If our plans go through, Denboro will be
grateful to us and to you."
"IF they go through? I thought you were certain of their going
"Certainly, certainly. There is, of course, an 'if' in all human
plans, but our particular 'if' is a small one. I hope you will
name your figure now, at once. Don't be afraid. We are disposed
to be liberal. And, understand, this is entirely a cash
transaction. You shall have the money in one hand as you sign the
contract with the other. Ha! ha! What is the price to be?"
But I would not name a price. I seemed to feel as unreasonably
reluctant to close with the Bay Shore Development Company as I had
been with Captain Jed or Colton.
"Shall I make a bid?" asked Keene.
"No, not yet at any rate. Tell me, this: Whose land have you
He shook his head. "That, of course," he said, with the same
gracious smile, "I can hardly tell even to you. Some of the deals
are not yet closed, and, as a business man yourself, Mr. Paine,
"I am not a business man," I interrupted, impatiently. "At least,
not much of a one. You say there are capitalists behind your
scheme. Who are they?"
He laid his hand on my knee. "Why, that," he said, "is a secret no
one is supposed to know. Men--financiers such as we are proud to
serve--permit their names to be known only when the corporation is
ready to begin actual operations. That is natural enough. If I
were to mention names--well, some of your Yankee neighbors would
want to become millionaires before selling."
There was truth in this. I imagine that he guessed he had made an
impression, for he went on to shout his praises of the company and
the greatness of its plan. He talked and talked; in fact he talked
too much. I did not like to hear him. I did not like HIM, that
was the trouble. He was too smooth and voluble altogether. And he
made a mistake in patting my knee.
"Very well," said I, rising from my chair; "I'll think it over."
He was plainly disappointed. "I don't wish to hurry you, of
course," he said, not moving from his chair, "but we are anxious to
close. This is to be cash, remember, and I stand ready to make an
offer. I am sure we can reach an agreement, satisfactory to both
sides, Mr. Paine."
"Perhaps, but I prefer to think the matter over before naming a
price or hearing your offer."
As a matter of fact I did not intend to sell, or consider selling,
until I had discussed the whole affair with Mother. But there was
no need to tell him that.
"I am sorry, I confess," he said. "I hoped this particular deal
might be closed. We have so many of these little details, Mr.
Paine, and time is money. However, if you insist upon it, I
presume the company will be willing to wait a few days."
"I am afraid it will have to."
"Very well, very well. I shall be down again in a day or two. Of
course, waiting may have some effect upon the price. To-day I was
empowered to . . . You don't care to hear? Very well. So glad to
have met you, Mr. Paine. Of course you will not mention the
subject of our interview to anyone. Business secrets, you know.
Thank you, thank you. And I will see you again--Thursday, shall we
I refused to say Thursday, principally because he had said it
first. I suggested Saturday instead. He agreed, shook hands as if
I were an old friend from whom he parted with regret, and left me.
No, I did not like Mr. Keene. He was too polite and too familiar.
And, as I thought over his words, the whole prospectus of the Bay
Shore Development Company seemed singularly vague. The proposal to
buy my land was definite enough, but the rest of it was, apparently,
very much in the air. There was too much secrecy about it. No one
was to tell anyone anything. I was glad I had insisted upon time
for consideration. I intended to consider thoroughly.
When I left the boat house I did not go directly home, but wandered
along the beach. I had puzzled my brain with Mr. Keene and his
errand until I determined not to puzzle it any longer that day. If
my suspicions were unfounded and existed merely because of my
dislike of the Bay Shore Company's representative, then they were
not worth worry. If they were well founded I had almost a week in
which to discover the fact. I would dismiss the whole matter from
my thoughts. The question as to whether or not I would sell the
land at all to anybody, which was, after all, the real question, I
resolved to put off answering until I had had my talk with Mother.
I walked on by the water's edge until I reached the Lane; turning
into that much coveted strip of territory I continued until I came
opposite the Colton mansion, where, turning again, I strolled
homeward by the path through the grove. Unconsciously my wandering
thoughts strayed to Mabel Colton. It was here that I had met her
on two occasions. I had an odd feeling that I should meet her here
again, that she was here now. I had no reason for thinking such a
thing, certainly the wish was not father to the thought, but at
every bend in the path, as the undergrowth hid the way, I expected,
as I turned the corner, to see her coming toward me.
But the path was, save for myself, untenanted. I was almost at its
end, where the pines and bushes were scattering and the field of
daisies, now in full bloom, began, when I heard a slight sound at
my left. I looked in the direction of the sound and saw her. She
was standing beneath a gnarled, moss-draped old pine by the bluff
edge, looking out over the bay.
I stopped, involuntarily. Then I moved on again, as noiselessly as
I could. But at my first step she turned and saw me. I raised my
hat. She bowed, coldly, so it seemed to my supersensitive
imagination, and I replaced the hat and continued my walk. I
thought I heard the bushes near which she stood rustle as if she
had moved, but I did not look back.
Then, close behind me, I heard her voice.
"Mr. Paine," she said.
I turned. She had followed me and was standing in the path, a bit
out of breath, as if she had hurried. I waited for her to speak,
but she did not.
"Good afternoon, Miss Colton," I said, awkwardly. Some one had to
speak, we could not stand staring at each other like that.
She said "Good afternoon," also. Then there was another interval
"You--you wished to speak to me?" I stammered.
"I DID speak to you," with significant emphasis on the "did." "I
thought you might, possibly, be interested to know that Don and I
reached home safely the other day."
Considering that she had called upon Mother since, it seemed to me
that my knowledge of her reaching home safely might have been taken
for granted; but I said:
"I am very glad to hear it, Miss Colton."
"We had no difficulty in finding the way after you left us."
The way being almost straight, and over the main traveled roads,
this, too, was fairly obvious.
"I felt sure you would have no trouble--after I left you," I
answered, with a significant emphasis of my own.
She did not reply and, as I had nothing further to say, I waited
for her to continue, or to break off the interview. She did
neither, but stood, as if irresolute, looking down and stirring
with her foot the leaves at the edge of the path. Suddenly she
"Mr. Paine," she said, "you are making it hard for me to say what I
intended. But I think I should say it, and so I will. I beg your
pardon for speaking as I did when I last saw you. I had no right
to judge or criticize you, none whatever."
"You do not need to apologize, Miss Colton. What you told me was
probably true enough."
The conventional answer to this would have been a half-hearted
denial of my statement. I presume I expected something of the
sort. But this girl was not conventional.
"Yes," she said, thoughtfully, "I think it was. If I had not
thought so I should not have said it. But that makes no difference.
You and I are strangers, almost, and I had no right to speak as I
did. I am impulsive, I know it, and I often do and say things on
impulse which I am sorry for afterward. I offended you."
"Oh no, no," I put in, hurriedly. She had offended me, but this
frank confession touched me more than the offense had hurt. She
was doing a hard thing and doing it handsomely.
"Yes, I offended you," she repeated, firmly. "I have considered
the matter a good deal since then, and it seems to me that you were
right to feel offended. You had been very kind to me on several
occasions and I had been your"--with a half smile--"your guest that
day. I should not have hurt your feelings. Will you accept my
"Why, yes, of course, since you insist, Miss Colton."
She was turning to go; and I could not let her go thus. Although
she had apologized for speaking her thought she had not retracted
the thought itself. I was seized with a desire for justification
in her eyes. I wanted to explain; forgetting for the moment that
explanations were impossible.
"Miss Colton," I said, impulsively.
"May I--may I say a word?"
"Certainly, if you wish."
She turned again and faced me.
"Miss Colton, I--I--" I began, and paused.
"Well?" she said, patiently, "What is it?"
"Miss Colton," I blundered on, "you should not have apologized.
You were right. Your estimate of me was pretty nearly correct. I
realized that when you gave it and I have been realizing it ever
since. I deserved what I got--perhaps. But I should not wish you
to think--that is, I--well, I had reasons, they seemed to me
reasons, for being what I was--what I am. I doubt if they were
altogether good reasons; I am inclined now to think they were not.
But I had come to think them good. You see, I--I--"
I stopped, face to face with the fact that I could not give those
reasons to her or any one else. She was looking at me expectantly,
and with, so it seemed to me, an expression of real, almost eager
interest. I faltered, tried to go on, and then surrendered,
absolutely, to the hopelessness of the situation.
"It is no use," I said, "I can't tell you what those reasons were."
I turned as I said it. I did not care to see her expression
change. I knew what she must be thinking and I had no desire to
read the thought in her eyes. I stood there, waiting for her to
leave in disgust.
"I can't tell you," I repeated, stubbornly.
"Very well." Her tone was as coldly indifferent as I had
anticipated. "Was that all you wished to say to me, Mr. Paine?"
"Miss Colton, I should like to explain if I could. But I cannot."
"Pray don't trouble yourself. I assure you I had no intentions of
asking for your--reasons. Good afternoon."
I heard her skirts brush the leaves at the border of the path. She
was going; and the contemptuous slur at my "reasons" proved that
she did not believe them existent. She believed me to be a liar.
"Miss Colton," I said, sharply; "wait."
She kept on.
"Wait," I said again. "Listen to me."
She seemed to hesitate and then turned her head.
"I am listening," she said. "What is it?"
"You have no right to disbelieve me."
"I disbelieve you? Why should you think I disbelieve you? I am
not sufficiently interested to believe or disbelieve, I assure
"But you do. You judge me--"
"_I_ judge you! You flatter yourself, Mr. Paine."
"But you do. You apologized just now for judging me without a
hearing the other day. You acknowledged that you should not have
done it. You are doing the same thing now."
"I apologized for presuming to offer advice to a stranger. I did
not apologize for the advice itself. I think it good. I do not
care to argue the matter further."
"You are not asked to argue. But your sneer at my reasons proves
that you believe that I have none and am merely trying to justify
myself with trumped up and lying excuses. You are wrong, and since
you presumed to judge me then you must listen to me now. I have--
or had--reasons for living as I have done, for being the idler and
good-for-nothing you believe me to be. I can't tell you what they
are; I can tell no one. But I do ask you to believe that I have
them, that they are real, and that my being what you termed
ambitionless and a country loafer is not my condition from choice.
It is my right to insist upon your believing that. Do you believe
At last I had made an impression. My earnestness seemed to have
shaken her contemptuous indifference. She looked at me steadily,
frowning a little, but regarding me less as if I were a clod and
more and more as if I were the puzzle she had once declared me to
be. I did not shun her look now, but met it eye to eye.
"Do you believe me?" I demanded.
Slowly her frown was disappearing.
"Do you believe me?" I said, again. "You must."
"Yes, you must. I shall make you. If not now, at some other time.
You must believe me, Miss Colton."
The frown disappeared altogether and she smiled.
"If you order me to I suppose I must," she said, with a shrug of
mock resignation. "I should have learned by this time that it is
useless to say no when you say yes, Mr. Paine."
"But do you?"
She turned altogether and faced me.
"I am very glad to believe you," she said, with simple directness.
I stammered a "Thank you" and was silent. I dared not trust myself
to speak at the moment. Somehow the sincerity of her words moved
me far more than their trifling import warranted. She had declared
her belief that I was not a liar, that was all; and yet I stood
there fighting down all sorts of ridiculous emotions. The
situation was decidedly strained, but, as usual, she saved it.
"It seems to me," she said, with the twinkle which I had learned to
recognize as a forerunner of mischief on her part, "that you are
inclined to make mountains out of mole-hills, Mr. Paine. Was there
any need to be quite so fiercely tragic? And, besides, I think
that even now you have not told the whole truth."
"The whole truth? Why, Miss Colton, I have just explained that--"
"Oh, not that truth! Your mysterious 'reasons' are not my affair.
And I have told you that I was willing to take those on trust. But
you have not been quite truthful in another particular. You
intimated that you were an idler. I have been given to understand
that you are far from being an idler just now."
I was relieved. "Oh, I see!" I exclaimed. "You mean--some one has
told you of my employment at the bank."
"A number of persons have told me. Surely you did not expect to
keep THAT a secret--in Denboro?"
"Well, scarcely," I admitted, with a laugh. "That was known almost
before I was sure of it myself. You should have seen Eldredge's
face when I announced my intention. And Lute--Mrs. Rogers'
husband--hasn't completely recovered yet. The sight of me,
actually trying to earn a living, was too much for him. You see
what a miracle worker you are, Miss Colton."
"Did you really accept the position simply because of what I said
"Yes. The chance had been offered me before, but it was your
frankness that shocked me into taking it."
"Not really? You are joking."
"No, I'm not. You are responsible. Are you sorry?"
Her answer was a question.
"Are you?" she asked.
"No. At first it seemed ridiculous and strange, even to myself;
but now I like the work. It is like old times."
I was forgetting myself again; talking too much was a dangerous
train--for me. I laughed, with pretended carelessness.
"Why, yes; I was employed in a bank at one time. I think I told
you that. Have you been motoring much of late, Miss Colton?"
"Yes. Tell me, please: You really like your work?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then I will answer your question. I am not a bit sorry. I am
glad I was impertinent and intrusive, especially now that I have
apologized and you have accepted the apology. I am very glad I
told you you should do something worth while."
"Even if it were nothing more than to follow Thoph Newcomb's
example and sell fish."
"Yes," laughingly, "even that. I WAS impertinent, wasn't I! I
don't wonder you were offended."
"I needed the impertinence, I guess. But frankly, Miss Colton, I
can't see why you should be glad because I have gone to work. I
can't see what difference my working or idling can possibly make to
"Oh, it doesn't, of course--except on general principles. I am a
dreadful idler myself; but then, I am a woman, and idleness is a
I thought of Dorinda and of the other housewives of Denboro and how
little of that particular "right" they enjoyed; which thought
brought again and forcibly to my mind the difference between this
girl's life and theirs--and Mother's--and my own.
"A man," continued Miss Colton, sagely, "should not idle. He
should work and work hard--so that the rest of us may be as good
for nothing as we please. That is philosophy, isn't it?"
"You were good enough not to say what sort of philosophy. Thank
you. But seriously, Mr. Paine, I am fond of your mother--very
fond, considering our short acquaintance--and when I saw her lying
there, so patient, and deprived of the little luxuries and
conveniences which she needs, and which a little more money might
bring to her, it seemed to me . . . Gracious! what a lot of
nonsense I am talking! What is the matter with me this afternoon?
Do let's change the subject. Have you sold your land yet, Mr.
Paine? Of course you haven't! That is more nonsense, isn't it."
I think she had again spoken merely on the impulse of the moment;
doubtless there was no deliberate intention on her part to bring me
to a realization of my position, the position I occupied in her
thoughts; but if she had had such an intent she could not have done
it more effectively. She believed me to have been neglecting
Mother, and her interest in my "doing something worth while" was
inspired merely because she wished Mother to be supplied with those
"luxuries and conveniences" she had mentioned. Well, my question
was answered; this was the difference my working or idling made to
her. And, for a minute or two, I had been foolish enough to fancy
her interested, as a friend, in my success or failure in life. I
might have known better. And yet, because of the novelty of the
thing, because I had so few friends, I felt a pang of disappointment.
But I resolved she should not know she had disappointed me. I
might have been a fool, but I would keep my foolishness a secret.
"No, Miss Colton," I said, with a smile, "I haven't sold yet."
"Father said he saw you at the bank. Did he say anything about the
"He said his offer was still open, that was all."
"You are resolved not to sell."
"To him? Yes, I am resolved. I think he knows it. I tried to
make it plain."
"You say to him. Are you thinking of selling to any one else? To
"No. Probably not to any one. Certainly not to your father or the
She looked at me, with an odd expression, and seemed to hesitate.
"Mr. Paine," she said, slowly, "would you resent my giving you
another bit of--advice?"
"Not at all. What is it this time?"
"Why, nothing. I must not give you any advice at all. I won't.
Instead I'll give you one of Father's pet proverbs. It isn't an
elegant one, but he is very fond of repeating it. 'There are more
ways of killing a cat than choking it to death with butter.'
There! you will admit it is not elegant."
"But Miss Colton! Killing a cat! What in the world?"
"You mustn't ask me. I shouldn't have said even that. But
remember, it is father's pet proverb. I must go. Please give my
love to your mother and tell her I shall call again soon.
She walked briskly away and did not look back. I went home. I
thought a great deal during the evening and until late that night.
When, at last, I did go to bed I had not made much progress in the
problem of the cat, but I did believe that there was a rat in the
vicinity. I was beginning to scent one. If I was not mistaken it
called itself the Bay Shore Development Company.
I said nothing to Mother of the new proposal to buy our land, but
next morning at the bank I wrote a letter to the cashier of a bank
in Boston, one of our correspondents, and with which our little
institution was on very friendly terms. I asked the cashier to
make some guarded inquiries concerning the Bay Shore Company, to
find out, if possible, who was behind it and also to inquire
concerning Barclay and Keene, the real estate brokers of Milk
The reply to my letter reached me on Friday. It was satisfactory,
eminently so. And when, on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Keene, bland
and smiling as ever, made his appearance at the house, I was ready
for him. I stood on the step and made no move to invite him
within. "Well, Mr. Paine," he said, cordially, "are you ready to
"Quite ready," I answered.
He beamed with satisfaction.
"Good!" he exclaimed. "Then what is your figure?"
"My figure is a naught," I replied, with emphasis. "You may tell
your employer that I do not care to sell the land to him, no matter
whether he calls himself James Colton or the Bay Shore Development
Company. Oh yes; and, if you like, you may add that this
particular cat declines to be choked."
Mr. Keene showed signs of choking, himself, and I shut the door and
left him outside. Lute, who had been listening at the dining-room
window and had heard only fragments of the brief interview, was in
a state of added incoherence.
"Well, by time!" he gasped. "What--what sort of talk was that?
Chokin' a cat! A cat!! We ain't got no cat."
"Haven't we?" I observed. "Why, no, so we haven't! Perhaps you
had better explain that to Mr. Keene, Lute. It may help him to
understand the situation. And add that I suggest his telling the
person who sent him here that soft-soap is no improvement on
I think Lute did tell him just that, doubtless with all sorts of
excuses for my insanity, for the next day, Sunday, as I walked
along the beach, a big body came ploughing down the sandy slope and
"Hello!" said Colton.
"Good morning," said I.
"How are independence and public spirit these days?"
"Very well, thank you. How are Development Companies developing?"
He put back his head and laughed. He did not seem a bit chagrined
or discomfited. The joke was on him, but he could enjoy it,
nevertheless. In spite of my antagonism toward this man I could
not help admiring certain traits of his character. He was big, in
every way. Little repulses or setbacks did not trouble him.
"Say," he said, "how did you know about that cat?"
"Saw his footprints," I replied. "They were all over the scheme.
And your friend Keene purred too loud."
"I don't mean that. Keene was a fool; that was plain enough for
anyone to see. I had to use him; if Barclay hadn't been sick it
might have been different. But how did you come to send me that
message about the butter? Man, that is one of my favorite sayings--
the choking the cat thing! How did you know that? I never said
it to you."
"Oh, it is an old saying. I have heard it often; and it did seem
to fit in this case. I imagined you would understand and
"Um--yes," dryly. "I appreciated all right. As to understanding--
well, I'll understand later on. That's another little conundrum
for me to work out. Somebody's been talking, of course. Here!
hold on!" as I was walking away: "Don't go. I want to talk to
He characteristically did not ask whether or not I wanted to talk
to him, but, as I happened to be in no hurry, I stopped and waited
for him to continue. He thrust his hands into his pockets and
looked me over, very much as he might have looked over a horse he
was thinking of buying.
"Paine," he said, suddenly, "do you want to go to work?"
"Work?" I repeated. "I am at work already."
"You've got a job, such as it is. It might be work for the average
jay, but it isn't for you. I'll give you something to work at--
yes, and work for."
I stared at him in wondering suspicion.
"What is this; another Development Company?" I demanded.
"Ha! ha! not this time. No, this is straight. If you'll say that
you'll work for me I'll make an opening for you in my New York
I did not answer. I was trying to fathom the motive behind this
"I'll put you to work in my office," he went on. "It may not be
much to begin with, but you can make it anything you like; that'll
be up to you. As to salary--well, I don't know what you're getting
in that one-horse bank, but I'll double it, whatever it is. That
will be the start, of course. After that it is up to you, as I
"Mr. Colton this may be a good joke, but I don't see it--yet."
"I don't joke often in business; can't afford to."
"You are really serious? You mean what you say?"
"But why? You don't know anything about me."
"I know all that is necessary. And I have found out that you are
all right, so far as bank work goes. That fellow Taylor and some
others told me that. But I didn't need their telling. Why, man,
it is part of my trade to know men when I see them. I have to know
'em. I said a while ago that you didn't belong in this forsaken
hole of a town. God knows it IS forsaken! Even my wife is
beginning to admit that, and she was the keenest to come here.
Some day I shall get sick of it and sell out, I suppose."
"Oh, not yet. Mabel--my daughter--seems to like it here, for some
unknown reason, and wants to stay. And I don't intend to sell
until I've bought--what I set out to buy. But I'm not the subject
we're talking about just now. You are. Come! here's your chance
to be somebody. More chance than I had, I'll tell you that. You
can go to work in my office next week, if you want to. Will you?"
I laughed at the idea. I believed I had found the motive I was
seeking. "Of course not," I said. "You can't close the Lane by
that kind of bribery, Mr. Colton."
"Bribery be hanged! Come, come, Paine! Wake up, or I shall think
your brains aren't up to standard, after all. When I bribe I
bribe. When I ask a man to work for me there are no strings tied
to the offer. Forget your picayune land for a minute. Time enough
to remember that when I've got it, which will be some day or other,
of course. I'm making you this offer because I want you. You're
sharp; you saw through that Development game. You're clever--your
sending me that 'cat' message proves it. And your not telling me
where the idea for the message came from proves that you can keep
your mouth shut. I could use a dozen fellows like you, if I could
get them. You interested me right at the start. A chap with sand
enough to tell Jim Colton to go to the devil is always interesting.
I'm offering you this chance because I think it is a good chance
for both of us. Yes, and because I like you, I suppose, in spite
of your pig-headedness. Will you take it?"
"No, thank you," I answered.
"Why? Because you can't leave your sick mother? She'll be all
right. I was talking with the doctor--Quimby, his name is, isn't
it--and he happened to mention that he was encouraged about her.
Said she had been distinctly better for the last month."
I could not believe it. Doctor Quimby had said nothing of the sort
to me. It was impossible. Mother BETTER!
"That doesn't mean she is going to be well and strong again, of
course," he added, not unkindly. "But I think Quimby believes she
may be well enough to--perhaps--sit up one of these days. Be
wheeled about in a chair, or something of that sort . . . Why!
what is the matter? You looked as if I had knocked you out.
Hasn't the doctor said anything to you?"
"No," I stammered. I WAS knocked out. I could not believe it.
Mother, the bed-ridden invalid of six long years, to be well enough
to sit up! to use a wheeled chair! It could not be true. It was
too good to be true.
"So, you see, you could leave her all right," went on Colton. "If
it was necessary you could get a nurse down here to look after her
while you were away. And you might get home every fortnight or so.
Better take my offer, Paine. Come!" with a grunt of impatient
amusement, "don't keep me waiting too long. I am not used to
coaxing people to work for me; it is usually the other way around.
This offer of mine happens to be pretty nearly a disinterested one,
and," with one of his dry smiles, "all my offers are not that kind,
as you ought to know. Will you say yes now? Or do you want till
to-morrow to think it over?"
The news concerning Mother had upset me greatly, but my common-
sense was not all gone. That there was something behind his offer
I believed, but, even if there were not--if it was disinterested
and made simply because my unearthing of the Bay Shore "cat" had
caught his fancy--I did not consider for a moment accepting it.
Not if Mother was like other women, well and strong, would I have
accepted it. In Denboro I was Roscoe Paine, and my life story was
my own secret. In New York how long would it be before that secret
and my real name were known, and all the old disgrace and scandal
"What do you say?" asked Colton, again. "Want more time to think
about it, do you?"
I shook my head. "No," I answered. "I have had time enough. I am
obliged for the offer and I appreciate your kindness, but I cannot
I expected him to express impatience or, perhaps, anger; at least
to ask my reasons for declining. But his only utterance was a
"Humph!" For a moment he regarded me keenly. Then he said:
"Haven't got the answer yet, have I? All right. Well," briskly,
"when are you and I going on that shooting trip?"
"There is no shooting at present," I answered, as soon as I could
adjust my mind to this new switch in the conversation.
"That so? Any fishing?"
"I believe the squiteague are running outside. I heard they were."
"Squiteague. Weakfish some people call them."
"They are pretty fair sport, aren't they?"
"Yes, fair. Nothing like bluefish, however."
"All right. What is the matter with our going squint--squint--
something or othering one of these days? Will you go? Or are you
as pig-headed about that as you are about other things?"