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The Rise of Roscoe Paine by Joseph C. Lincoln

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"I see," he said. "Humph! I see. Paine, does the town pay you
rent for the use of that road?"

"No."

"Has it been bidding to buy it?"

"No."

"Is any one else after it?"

"No-o. I think not. But--"

"You THINK not. That means you're not sure. You've had a bite
somewhere. Somebody has been nibbling at your hook. Well, they've
got to bite quick and swallow some to get ahead of me. I want that
road closed and I'm going to have it closed, sooner or later. I'd
prefer it sooner."

"But why do you want to close it?"

Before he could answer there came a knock at the door. The butler
appeared.

"I beg your pardon, sir--" he began. His master cut him short.

"Tell 'em to wait," he ordered. "I can't see any one now, Johnson.
If it is that damned carpenter he can wait."

"It isn't the carpenter, sir," explained Johnson. "It's Mrs.
Colton, sir. She wishes to know if you have bought that road. She
says three of those 'orrid fishcarts have gone by in the last hour,
sir, and they are making her very nervous. That's all, sir."

"Tell her I've bought it," snapped the head of the house. "Get
out."

The butler obeyed orders. Colton turned to me.

"You heard that, Paine," he said. "That's my reason, the principal
one. I bought this place principally on account of Mrs. Colton's
health. The doctors said she needed quiet and rest. I thought she
could have them here--God knows the place looked forsaken enough--
but it appears she can't. Whenever she or I sit on the veranda or
at a window we have to watch a procession of jays driving smelly
fish carts through that lane of yours, or be stared at by a gang of
countrymen hanging over the fence. It's a nuisance. It is bad
enough for me or my daughter and our guests, but it will be the
ruination of my wife's nerves, and I can't stand for that. You see
the position I'm in. You heard what I told that butler. I said I
had bought the road. You wouldn't make me a liar, would you? I'll
give you five hundred for that bunch of sand. You couldn't get
more for it if you sold it by the pound, like tea. Say yes, and
close the deal."

I shook my head.

"I understand your position, Mr. Colton," I said, "but I can't say
yes. Not now, at any rate."

"Why not? Isn't five hundred enough?"

"It's a good offer."

"Then why not accept it?"

"Because, if I were certain that I wanted to sell, I could not
accept any offer just now."

"Why not? See here! are you afraid the town will be sore because
the road is closed?"

"It would be a great inconvenience to them."

"It's a greater one to me as it is. Can you afford to be a
philanthropist? Are you one of those public-spirited citizens we
read about?"

He was sneering now, and my anger, which had lessened somewhat when
he spoke of his wife's ill health, was rising again.

"Are you?" he repeated.

"I don't know as to that. But, as I said a while ago, Mr. Colton,
I couldn't sell that land to you now."

"Why not?"

"Because, if there were no other reason, I promised not to sell it
without telling another person first."

He threw down his cigar and stood up. I rose also.

"I see," he said, with sarcasm. "I knew there was something beside
public spirit. You think, by hanging off and playing me against
this other sucker, you can get a higher price. Well, if that's the
game, I'll keep him busy."

He took out his watch, glanced at it, and thrust it back into his
pocket.

"I've wasted time enough over this fool thing," he declared. "Now
that I know what the game is we'll talk to the point. It's highway
robbery, but I might have expected to be robbed. I'll give you six
hundred for that land."

I did not answer. I was holding my temper by main strength and I
could not trust myself to speak.

"Well?" he sneered. "That shakes your public spirit some, hey?
What do you say?"

"No," I answered, and started for the door.

"What!" he could hardly believe his ears. "By the Lord Harry! the
fellow is crazy. Six hundred and fifty then, you infernal robber."

"No."

"NO! Say, what in thunder do you mean?"

"I mean that you may go to the devil," I retorted, and reached for
the door knob.

But before my fingers touched it there was the sound of laughter
and voices in the hall. The knob was turned from without. I
stepped back and to one side involuntarily, as the door opened and
into the library came, not the butler, but a young lady, a girl in
an automobile coat and bonnet. And, following her, a young man.

"Father," said the young lady, "Johnson says you've bought that
horrid road. I'm so glad! When did you do it?"

"Congratulations, Mr. Colton," said the young man. "We just passed
a cart full of something--seaweed, I believe it was--as we came
along with the car. Oscar had to slow down to squeeze by, and we
certainly were swept by ocean breezes. By Jove! I can smell them
yet. I--"

The young lady interrupted him.

"Hush, Victor," she said. "I beg your pardon, Father. I thought
you were alone. Victor, we're intruding."

The open door had partially screened me from the newcomers. But
Colton, red and wrathful, had not ceased to glare in my direction
and she, following his gaze, saw me. She did not recognize me, I
think--probably I had not made sufficient impression upon her mind
even for casual remembrance--but I recognized her. She was the
girl with the dark eyes, whose look of contemptuous indifference
had so withered my self-esteem. And her companion was the young
chap who, from the tonneau of the automobile that morning, had
inquired the way to Bayport.

The young man turned lazily. "Are we?" he said. "I-- What! Why,
Mabel, it's the humorist!"

Then she recognized me. I could feel the blood climbing from my
toes to the roots of my hair. I was too astonished and chagrined
to speak or even move, though I wanted to move very much indeed.
She looked at me and I at her. Then she turned coldly away.

"Come, Victor," she said.

But Victor was his own blase self. It took more than a trifle to
shake his calm. He laughed.

"It's the humorist," he repeated. "Reuben, how are you?"

Colton regarded the three of us with amazement.

"What?" he began. "Mabel, do you--"

But I had recovered my powers of locomotion. I was on my way out
of that library.

"Here!" shouted Colton. "Stop!"

I did not stop. Feeling as I did at that moment it would have been
distinctly unpleasant for the person who tried to stop me. The
girl was in my way and, as I approached, she drew her skirts aside.
No doubt it was my imagination which made her manner of doing it
seem like an insult, but, imagination or reality, it was the one
thing necessary to clench my resolution. Now when she looked at me
I returned the look with interest. I strode through the doorway
and across the hall. The butler would have opened the outer door
for me, but I opened it myself to the imminent danger of his
dignified nose. As I stepped from the portico I heard behind me a
roar from Big Jim Colton and a shout of laughter from Victor.

I walked home at top speed. Only once did I look back. That was
just as I was about to enter the grove on the other side of the
Shore Lane. Then I turned and saw, at the big window at the end of
the "Newport villa," a group of three staring in my direction:
Colton, his daughter and that cub Victor. The distance was too
great to see the expression of their faces, but I knew that two of
them, at least, were laughing--laughing at me.

I did not laugh.

Lute was waiting for me by the gate and ran to meet me. He was
wild with excitement.

"He came after you, didn't he?" he cried, grabbing at my coat
sleeve. "You went over to his house with him, didn't you! I see
you and at fust I couldn't scurcely believe it. What did he want?
What did he say?"

I did not answer. He ran along beside me, still clinging to my
sleeve.

"What did he want?" he repeated. "What did he say to you? What
did you say to him? Tell a feller, can't you?"

"I told him to go to the devil," I answered, savagely.

Lute let go of my sleeve.

"You--you-- By time, you're stark loony!" he gasped; and collapsed
against the gate post.

I went into the house, up the back stairs to my room, and shut the
door.

CHAPTER V

So she was his daughter. I might have guessed it; would have
guessed it if I had possessed the commonest of common-sense. I
might have known that the auto was Colton's. No other machine was
likely to be traveling on the Lower Road at that season of the
year. She was the pretty daughter of whom Dorinda had spoken to
Mother. Well, she was pretty enough; even I had to admit that.
But I admitted it grudgingly. I hated her for her beauty and fine
clothes and haughty arrogance. She was the incarnation of
snobbishness.

But to be made twice ridiculous even by the incarnation of
snobbishness was galling. She was to be my next-door neighbor; we
were likely to meet almost anywhere at any time. When I thought of
this and of the two meetings which had already taken place I swore
at the blue and white water-pitcher on my bureau because it did not
contain water enough to drown me. Not that I would commit suicide
on her account. She would not care if I did and certainly I did
not care whether she would care or not; but if I were satisfactorily
dead I probably should not remember what a fool I had made of
myself, or Fate had made of me.

Why had I not got out of that library before she came? Oh, if not,
why hadn't I stayed and told her father, in her hearing, and with
dignity, just what I thought of him and his remarks to me? But no;
I had run away. She--or that Victor--would tell of the meeting at
the bridge, and all my independence and the rest of it would be
regarded as of a piece with that, just the big-headed "smartness"
of a country boor. In their eyes I was a nuisance, that was all.
A disagreeable one, perhaps, like the Shore Lane, but a nuisance,
one to laugh at and forget--if it could not be gotten rid of.

Why had I gone with Colton at all? Why hadn't I remained at the
boathouse and there told the King of New York to go to the
mischief? or words to that effect. But I had, at all events, told
him that. In spite of my chagrin I could not help chuckling as I
thought of it. To tell Big Jim Colton to go to the devil was, in
its way, I imagined, a privilege enjoyed by few. It must have
shaken his self-satisfaction a trifle. Well, after all, what did
I care? He, and his whole family--including Victor--had my
permission to migrate in that direction and I wished Old Nick joy
of their company.

Having derived this much satisfaction from my reflections, I went
downstairs. Dorinda was setting the table for supper. She looked
at me as I came in.

"Been visitin', I hear," she observed, wiping an imaginary speck
from the corner of a plate with her "afternoon" apron.

"Yes," said I.

"Um-hm," said Dorinda. "Have a good time?"

I smiled. "I had an interesting one," I told her.

"Um-hm, I judged so, from what Lute said."

"Where is Lute?"

"Out in the barn, beddin' down the horse. That is, I told him to
do that, but his head was so full of you and what you told him you
said to Mr. Colton that I shouldn't be surprised if he's bedded
down the hens and was huntin' in the manger for eggs."

"Lute thinks I've gone crazy," I observed.

"Um-hm. He was all for fetchin' the doctor right off, but I told
him I cal'lated we could bear with your ravin's for a spell. Did
you say what he said you said?"

"I'm afraid I did."

"Um-hm. Well, it didn't do any good, did it?"

"Good? What do you mean?"

"I mean he didn't obey orders--Colton, that is."

"He hadn't when I left."

"I thought not. I never saw any good come from profane language
yet; and, besides, judgin' from what I hear about the way that
Colton man lives, and what he does on Sundays and all, he'll make
the port you sent him to when his time comes. All you need is
patience."

I laughed, and she began sorting the plated spoons. We had silver
ones, but Dorinda insisted on keeping those to use when we had
company. In consequence we used them about twice a year, when the
minister came.

"Of course," she said, "I ain't askin' you what happened over there
or why he wanted to see you. But I give you fair warnin' that, if
I don't, Lute will. Lute's so stuffed with curiosity that he's
li'ble to bust the stitches any minute."

"I'll tell you both, at supper," I said.

"Um-hm," said Dorinda. "Well, I can wait, and Lute'll have to. By
the way," she added, seeing me about to enter Mother's room, "if
it's anything too unpleasant I wouldn't worry Comfort with it.
She'll want to know, of course, but I'd sort of smooth the edges."

Mother did want to know, and I told her, "smoothing the edges" all
I could. I omitted my final order to "Big Jim" and I said nothing
whatever about his daughter. Mother seemed to think I had done
right in refusing to sell, though, as usual, she was ready to make
allowances for the other side.

"Poor woman," she said, "I suppose the noise of the wagons and all
that are annoying to any one with weak nerves. It must be dreadful
to be in that condition. I am so sorry for her."

She meant it, too. But I, remembering the Colton mansion, what I
had seen of it, and contrasting its splendor with the bare
necessity of that darkened bedroom, found it hard to spare pity for
the sufferer from "nerves."

"You needn't be," I said, bitterly. "I imagine she wouldn't think
of you, if the conditions were reversed. I doubt if she thinks of
any one but herself."

"You shouldn't say that, Roscoe. You don't know. You have never
met her."

"I have met the rest of the family. No, Mother, I think you
needn't he sorry for that woman. She has everything under the sun.
Whereas you--"

"Hush! hush! There is one thing she hasn't got. She hasn't a son
like you, Boy."

"Humph! That must be a terrible deprivation. There! there!
Mother, I won't be disagreeable. Let's change the subject. Did
Matilda Dean come to see you this afternoon?"

"No. I presume she was too busy. But, Roscoe, it is plain enough
why Captain Dean spoke to you about the Lane at the office this
morning. He must have heard, somehow, that Mr. Colton wished to
buy it."

"Yes. Or, if he didn't hear just that, he heard enough to make him
guess the rest. He is pretty shrewd."

"You promised him you wouldn't sell without telling him beforehand.
Shall you tell him of Mr. Colton's offer?"

"If he asks me, I shall, I suppose."

"I wonder what he will do then. Do you suppose he will try to
persuade the Selectmen to buy the Lane for the town?"

"I don't know. I shouldn't wonder."

"It will be harder to refuse the town's offer."

"Yes. Although the town can't afford to pay Colton's prices. I
believe that man would have raised his bid to a thousand, if I had
let him. As a matter of business and nothing else, I suppose I am
foolish not to push the price as high as possible and then sell.
The land is worthless to us."

"I know. But this isn't just a matter of business, is it? And we
DON'T need the money. We're not rich, but we aren't poor, are we,
Boy."

"No. No, of course not. But, Mother, just see what I could do--
for you--with a thousand dollars. Why, there are so many little
things, little luxuries, that you need."

"I had rather not get them that way. No, Roscoe, I wouldn't sell
to Mr. Colton. And I think I wouldn't sell to the town either."

"Why not?"

"Well, because we don't have to sell, and selling to either party
would make ill-feeling. I should--of course I'm only a woman; you
are a man and know much more about such things than I--but why not
let matters stay just as they are? The townspeople can use the
Lane, just as they have always done, and, as I told you before,
every one has been so kind to us that I like to feel we are doing a
little in return. Let them use the Lane, without cost. Why not?"

"What do you think the Coltons would say to that?"

"Perhaps they don't understand the real situation. The next time
you see Mr. Colton you could explain more fully; tell him what the
Lane means to the town, and so on. I'm sure he would understand,
if you told him that. And then, if the sight of the wagons was too
annoying, he could put up some kind of a screen, or plant a row of
fir trees by the fence. Don't you think so?"

I imagined the great man's reply to such a suggestion. However, I
did not express my thoughts. I told Mother not to worry, I was
sure everything would be all right, and, as Dorinda called me to
supper, I went into the dining-room.

Lute was waiting for me at the table, and Dorinda, after taking the
tray into Mother's room, joined us. Lute was so full of excitement
and curiosity that he almost forgot to eat, a miracle of itself and
made greater by the fact that he did not ask a single question
until his wife asked one first. Then he asked three in succession.
Dorinda, who was quite as curious as he but would not have shown it
for the world, stopped him at the beginning of the fourth.

"There! there!" she said, sharply, "this is supposed to be a meal,
not a parrot shop, and we're humans, not a passel of birds on a
telegraph wire all hollerin' at once. Drink your tea and stop your
cawin', Lute Rogers. Ros'll tell us when he gets ready. What DID
Mr. Colton want of you, Roscoe?"

I told them as much of the interview at the Coltons' as I thought
necessary they should know. Lute kept remarkably quiet, for him,
until I named the figure offered by the millionaire. Then he could
hold in no longer.

"Five hundred!" he repeated "Five hundred DOLLARS for the Shore
Lane! Five--"

"He raised it to six hundred and fifty before I left," I said.

"SIX hundred! Six hundred--and FIFTY! For the Shore Lane! Six
hun--"

"Sshh! shh!" cut in Dorinda. "You sound like Sim Eldredge sellin'
somethin' at auction. DO be quiet! And you told him, Roscoe--?"

"I told you what I told him," I said.

"Um-hm. I ain't forgot it. Be quiet, Lute. Well, Roscoe, I
cal'late you know your own affairs best, but, judgin' from some
hints Matildy Dean hove out when she was here this afternoon, I
don't believe you've heard the last from that Shore Lane."

"Matilda Dean!" I repeated. "Why, Mother said Matilda wasn't here
to-day."

"Um-hm. Well, she was here, though Comfort didn't know it. I took
pains she shouldn't. Matildy come about three o'clock, in the
buggy, along with Nellie. Nellie was doin' the drivin', of course,
and her mother was tellin' her how, as usual. I don't wonder that
girl is such a meek, soft-spoken kind of thing. Between her pa's
bullyin' and her ma's tongue, it's a wonder she's got any spirit
left. It would be a mercy if George Taylor should marry her and
take her out of that house. Matildy had a new book on Spiritu'lism
and she was figgerin' to read some of it out loud to Comfort, but I
headed her off. I know _I_ wouldn't want to be all stirred up
about 'tests' and 'materializations' and such, and so I told her
Comfort was asleep."

"She wasn't asleep, neither," declared Lute. "What did you tell
such a whopper as that for? You're always sailin' into me if I
stretch a yarn the least mite. Why, last April Fool Day you give
me Hail Columby for jokin' you about a mouse under the kitchen
table. Called me all kinds of names, you did--after you got down
off the table."

His wife regarded him scornfully. "It's pretty hard to remember
which IS that partic'lar day with you around," she said. "I'd told
Comfort she'd ought to take a nap and if she wan't takin' it
'twan't my fault. I wan't goin' to have her seein' her granddad's
ghost in every corner. But, anyhow, Matildy made a little call on
me, and, amongst the million other things she said, was somethin'
about Cap'n Jed hearin' that Mr. Colton was cal'latin' to shut off
that Lane. Matildy hinted that her husband and the Selectmen might
have a little to say afore 'twas closed. If that's so I guess you
may hear from him as well as the Colton man, Roscoe."

"Perhaps," I said. I could see no use in repeating my conversation
with Captain Jed.

Dorinda nodded.

"Goin' to tell the town to go--where you sent the other one?" she
asked, dryly.

"I don't know."

"Humph! Well," with some sarcasm, "it must be fine to be in a
position where money's no object. I never tried it, myself, but it
sounds good."

I did not answer.

"Um-hm," she said. "Well, anyhow it looks to me--Lute, you keep
still--as if there was goin' to be two parties in Denboro afore
this Lane business is over. One for the Coltons and one against
'em. You'll have to take one side or the other, won't you,
Roscoe?"

"Not necessarily."

"Goin' to set on the fence, hey?"

"That's a good place TO sit, isn't it?"

Dorinda smiled, grimly.

"If it's the right kind of a fence, maybe 'tis," she observed.
"Otherwise the pickets are liable to make you uncomf'table after a
spell, I presume likely."

I went out soon after this, for my evening smoke and walk by the
bluff. As I left the dining-room I heard Lute reiterating his
belief that I had gone crazy. Colton had said the same thing. I
wondered what Captain Jed's opinion would be.

Whether it was another phase of my insanity or not, I don't know,
but I woke the next morning in pretty good spirits. Remembrance of
the previous day's humiliations troubled me surprisingly little.
They did not seem nearly so great in the retrospect. What
difference did it make to me what that crowd of snobs did or said
or thought?

However, there was just enough bitterness in my morning's review of
yesterday's happenings to make me a little more careful in my
dress. I did not expect to meet my aristocratic neighbors--I
devoutly wished it might be my good luck never to meet any of them
again--but in making selections from my limited wardrobe I chose
with more thought than usual. Dorinda noticed the result when I
came down to breakfast.

"Got your other suit on, ain't you," she observed.

"Yes," said I.

"Goin' anywheres special?"

"No. Down to the boathouse, that's all."

"Humph! I don't see what you put those blue pants on for. They're
awful things to show water spots. Did you leave your brown ones
upstairs? Um-hm. Well, I'll get at 'em some time to-day. I
noticed they was wearin' a little, sort of, on the bottoms of the
legs."

I had noticed it, too, and this reminder confirmed my suspicions
that others had made the same observations.

"I'll try and mend 'em this afternoon," went on Dorinda, "if I can
find time. But, for mercy's sake, don't spot those all up, for I
may not get time, and then you'd have to wear your Sunday ones."

I promised, curtly, to be careful, and, after saying good morning
to Mother, I went down to the boathouse and set to work on the
engine. It was the only thing in the nature of work that I had to
do, but, somehow or other, I did not feel like doing it any more
than I had the day before. A little of my good spirits were
wearing off, like the legs of my "other" trousers, and after an
hour of intermittent tinkering I threw down the wrench and decided
to go for a row. The sun was shining brightly, but the breeze was
fresh, and, as my skiff was low in the gunwale and there was likely
to be some water flying, I put on an old oilskin "slicker" and
sou-wester before starting.

I had determined to row across the bay over to the lighthouse, and
ask Ben Small, the keeper, if there were any signs of fish
alongshore. The pull was a long one, but I enjoyed every stroke of
it. The tide was almost full, just beginning to ebb, so there was
scarcely any current and I could make a straight cut across,
instead of following the tortuous channel. My skiff was a flat
bottomed affair, drawing very little, but in Denboro bay, at low
tide, even a flat-bottomed skiff has to beware of sand and eel-
grass.

Small was busy whitewashing, but he was glad to see me. If you
keep a lighthouse, the average lighthouse, you are glad to see
anybody. He put his brush into the pail and insisted on my coming
to the house, because "the old woman," his wife, would want to hear
"all the sewin' circle news." "It's the biggest hardship of her
life," said Ben, "that she has to miss sewin' circle when the bay
ices in. Soon's it clears she's at me to row her acrost to the
meetin's. I've took her to two this spring, but she missed the
last one, on account of this whitewashin', and she's crazy to know
who's been talked about now. If anything disgraceful has happened
for the land sakes tell her; then she'll he more reconciled."

I had nothing disgraceful to tell, but Mrs. Small was glad to see
me, nevertheless. She brought out doughnuts and beach-plum jelly
and insisted on my sampling both, the doughnuts because they were
just made and she "mistrusted" there was too much flour in them,
and the jelly because it was some she had left over and she wanted
to see if I thought it was "keepin'" all right. After this, Ben
took me out to see his hens, and then we walked to the back of the
beach and talked fish. The forenoon was almost gone when I got
back to the skiff. The tide had ebbed so far that the lightkeeper
and I had to pull the little boat twenty feet to launch her.

"There!" said Ben, "now you're afloat, ain't you. Cal'late you'll
have to go way 'round Robin Hood's barn to keep off the flats. I
forgot about the tide or I wouldn't have talked so much. Hello!
there's another craft about your size off yonder. Somebody else
out rowin'. Two somebodys. My eyes ain't as good for pickin' em
out as they used to be, but one of 'em IS a female, ain't it?"

I looked over my shoulder, as I sat in the skiff and saw, out in
the middle of the bay, another rowboat with two people in it.

"That ain't a dory or a skiff," shouted Ben, raising his voice as I
pulled away from him. "Way she sets out of water I'd call her a
lap-streak dingy. If that feller's takin' his girl out rowin'
he'll have to work his passage home against this tide . . . Well,
so long, Ros. Come again."

I nodded a goodby, and settled down for my long row, a good deal
longer this time on account of the ebb. There was water enough on
this side of the bay, but on the village side the channel made a
wide detour and I should be obliged to follow it for nearly a mile
up the bay, before turning in behind the long sand bar which made
out from the point beyond my boathouse.

The breeze had gone down, which made rowing easier, but the pull of
the tide more than offset this advantage. However, I had mastered
that tide many times before and, except that the delay might make
me late for dinner, the prospect did not trouble me. I swung into
the channel and set the skiff's bow against the current. Then from
the beach I had just left I heard a faint hail. Turning my head, I
saw Ben Small waving his arms. He was shouting something, too, but
I was too far away to catch the words.

The lightkeeper continued to shout and wave. I lifted an oar to
show that he had my attention. He recognized the signal, and began
pointing out over the water astern of me. I looked where he was
pointing. I could not see anything out of the ordinary. Except
for my own skiff and the gulls, and the row boat with the two
persons in it there was nothing astir on the bay. But Ben kept on
waving and pointing. At last I decided that it must be the row
boat he was pointing at. I stopped rowing and looked.

The row boat was a good distance off and its occupants were but
specks. Now one of the specks stood up and waved its arms. So far
as I could see, the boat was drifting; there were no flashes of
sunlight on wet blades to show that the oars were in use. No, it
was drifting, and, as I looked, it swung broadside on. The
standing figure continued to wave its arms.

Those people must be in trouble of some sort, I decided, and it was
evident that Small thought so, too. There could no imminent danger
threaten for, on a day like this, with no sea running, there was
nothing to fear in the bay. If, however, they should drift out of
the bay it might be unpleasant. And they certainly were drifting.
I resigned myself to the indefinite postponement of my dinner,
swung the skiff about, and pulled as hard as I could in the
direction of the row boat.

With the tide to help me I made good progress, but, even at that,
it took me some time to overtake the drifting craft. She was, as
Ben had said, a lap-streaked, keel-bottomed dingy--good enough as a
yacht's tender or in deep water, but the worst boat in the world to
row about Denboro bay at low tide. Her high rail caught what
breeze there was blowing and this helped to push her along.
However, I got within easy hailing distance after a while and
called, over my shoulder, to ask what was the matter.

A man's voice answered me.

"We've lost an oar," he shouted. "We're drifting out to sea. Lend
us a hand, will you?"

"All right," I answered. "I'll be there in a minute."

Within the minute I was almost alongside. Then I turned, intending
to speak again; but I did not. The two persons in the dingy were
Victor--I did not know his other name--and Mabel Colton.

I was wearing the oilskin slicker and had pulled down the brim of
my sou'wester to keep the sun from my eyes; therefore they had not
recognized me before. And I, busy at the oars and looking over my
shoulder only occasionally, had not recognized them. Now the
recognition was mutual. Miss Colton spoke first.

"Why, Victor!" she said, "it is--"

"What?" asked her companion. Then, looking at me, "Oh! it's you,
is it?"

I did not answer. Luck was certainly against me. No matter where
I went, on land or water, I was fated to meet these two.

Victor, apparently, was thinking the same thing. "By Jove!" he
observed; "Mabel, we seem destined to . . . Humph! Well? Will
you give us a hand?"

The most provoking part of it was that, if I had known who was in
that rowboat, I could have avoided the encounter. Ben Small could
have gone to their rescue just as well as I. However, here I was,
and here they were. And I could not very well go away and leave
them, under the circumstances.

Victor's patience was giving way.

"What are you waiting for?" he demanded. "Aren't you going to help
us? We'll pay you for it."

I pulled the skiff a little closer and, drawing in my oars, turned
and picked up the slack of my anchor rope.

"Here," I said, brusquely; "catch this line and I'll tow you."

I tossed him the loop of rope and he caught it.

"What shall I do with it?" he asked.

"Hold it, just as it is, for the present. What became of your
other oar?"

"Lost it overboard."

"Why didn't you throw over your anchor and wait where you were?"

I think he had not thought of the anchor, but he did not deign to
explain. Instead he began pulling on the rope and the two boats
drew together.

"Don't do that," I said. "Wait."

I untied the rope, where it was made fast to the skiff's bow, and
with it and the anchor in my hands, scrambled aft and wedged the
anchor under the stern thwart of the little craft.

"Now," I said, "you can pull in the slack until you get to the end.
Then make it fast to your bow somewhere."

I suppose he did his best to follow instructions, but the rope was
a short one, the end jerked loose suddenly and he went backward in
a heap. I thought, for an instant, that he was going overboard and
that mine would be the mixed pleasure of fishing him out.

Miss Colton gave a little scream, which changed to a ripple of
laughter. I might have laughed, too, under different circumstances,
but just now I did not feel like it. Besides, the rope, having
flown out of his hands, was in the water again and the two boats
were drifting apart.

"What did you do that for?" demanded the fallen one, scrambling to
his knees. I heard a sound from the dingy's stern as if the young
lady was trying to stifle her merriment. Victor, doubtless, heard
it, too.

"Where are you going?" he sputtered, angrily. "Give me that rope."

I gave it to him, literally gave it, for I pulled alongside and put
the end in his hands.

"Tie it in the bow of your boat," I said. He did so. I drew in
the slack until a fair towing length remained and made it fast.
While he was busy I ventured to glance at Miss Colton. Her eyes
were snapping with fun and she seemed to be enjoying the situation.
But, catching my look, her expression changed. She turned away and
looked indifferently out to sea.

I swung the skiff's bow around.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked.

Victor answered. "Back to Mr. Colton's landing," he said. "Get as
much of a move on as you can, will you? I'll make it worth your
while."

I was as anxious to get there as he was. I did not care for a
quarrel, and I knew if he continued to use that tone in his remarks
to me I should answer as I felt. I pulled with all my strength,
but against the tide towing was hard work.

Victor sat on the amidships thwart of the dingy, with his back to
me. But Miss Colton, seated in the stern, was facing me and I
could not help looking at her. She did not look at me, or, if she
did, it was as if I were merely a part of the view; nothing to be
interested in, one way or the other.

She was beautiful; there was no doubt of that. Prettier even, in
the blue and white boating costume and rough-and-ready white felt
hat, than she had seemed when I saw her in the auto or her father's
library. She represented the world that I had lost. I had known
girls like her. They had not as much money as she, perhaps, but
they were just as well-bred and refined, and almost as pretty. I
had associated with them as an equal. I wondered what she would
say, or think, if she knew that. Nothing, probably; she would not
care enough to think at all. It did not matter to me what she
thought; but I did wish I had not put on those fool oilskins. I
must look more like a country longshoreman than ever.

If I had any doubts about it they were dispelled when I had rowed
the two boats up the bay until we were abreast the Colton mansion.
Then Victor, who had been talking in a low tone with his fellow
passenger in the dingy, looked at the distant shore and, over his
shoulder, at me.

"Here!" he shouted. "Where are you going? That's the landing over
there."

"I know," I answered. "But we shall have to go around that flat.
We can't cross here."

"Why? What's the reason we can't?"

"Because there isn't water enough. We should get aground."

He stood up to look.

"Nonsense!" he said. "There's plenty of water. I can't see any
flat, or whatever you call it."

"It's there, though you can't see it. It is covered with eelgrass
and doesn't show. We shall have to go a half mile further before
we turn in."

"A half mile! Why, confound it! it's past one o'clock now. We
haven't any time to waste."

"I'm sorry, but we can't cross yet. And, if I were you, I
shouldn't stand up in that boat."

He paid no attention to this suggestion.

"There are half a dozen boats, bigger than these, by the landing,"
he declared. "There is water enough for them. What are you afraid
of? We haven't any time to waste, I tell you."

I did not answer. Silence, on my part, was the safest thing just
then. I continued rowing up the bay.

Miss Colton spoke to him and he sat down, a proceeding for which I
was thankful. They whispered together for a moment. Then he
turned to me.

"See here," he said; "this lady and I have an appointment. We must
get ashore. Go straight in. If you're afraid I'll take the risk.
If there is any danger I'll pay for that, too."

There was no question of risk. It was a certainty. I knew that
channel.

"We can't cross here," I said, shortly.

"Why, confound you--"

"Victor!" cautioned Miss Colton.

"Hush, Mabel! This is ridiculous. You and I saw two boats go
straight out from the beach this morning. We went out that way
ourselves. Here you--Paine, or whatever your name is--we've had
enough of this. I've hired you to take us ashore, and I want to go
there and not a half mile in another direction. Will you do as I
tell you?"

When the dingy and the other boats crossed the flat the tide had
been hours higher, of course; but I was in no mood to explain--to
him.

"No," I said, shortly.

"You won't? Then you give me an oar and I'll row the rest of the
way myself."

There were only two oars in the skiff, but I could get on perfectly
well with one. And it would serve him beautifully right to let him
go. But there was the girl. I hesitated.

"Give me that oar," he repeated, angrily. "You won't? Then, by
Jove, I'll do without it. Stop! Stop where you are! do you
understand. We don't require your services any longer."

He turned and began untying the tow line. I stopped rowing.

Miss Colton looked troubled.

"Victor!" she cried. "What are you doing?"

"I know what I'm doing. Can't you see this fellow's game? The
longer the row the higher his price, that's all. He can't work me.
I've seen his kind before. Don't be frightened. If we can't do
anything else we can anchor and wait until they see us from the
house."

Idiot! At that point the channel was deep and the bottom soft mud.
I doubted if his anchor would touch and, if it did, I knew it would
not hold. I backed water and brought the skiff alongside the
dingy, the rail of which I seized and held.

"Keep off!" ordered Victor, still fumbling with the rope. "We
don't want your help."

I wasted no breath on him. I addressed my remarks to the girl.

"Miss Colton," I said, "will you listen to me, please. You can't
anchor here because your anchor will not hold. And you can't cross
that flat at this stage of the tide. I can give you an oar, of
course, but it won't do any good. My oars are too light and small
for your boat. Unless you wish to drift back where you were, or
beyond, you must let me tow you around the head of this flat."

I don't know what answer she might have made. None, perhaps;
although I am sure she was listening. But Victor, who had
succeeded in untying the tow line, cut in ahead of her.

"Mabel," he warned, "don't pay any attention to him. Didn't your
father tell us what he was? There!" throwing the end of the rope
overboard and addressing me; "now, you may clear out. We've done
with you. Understand?"

I looked at Miss Colton. But I might as well have looked at an
iceberg. I slid one of my oars over into the dingy.

"There you are," I said, grimly. "But I warn you that you're in
for trouble."

I let go of the rail and the boats fell apart. Victor seized the
borrowed oar with a triumphant laugh.

"Your bluff wouldn't work, would it, Reuben," he sneered. "I'll
send you the oar and your pay later. Now, Mabel, sit tight. I'll
have you ashore in fifteen minutes."

He began rowing toward the weed-covered flat. I said nothing. I
was furiously angry and it was some moments before I recovered
self-possession sufficiently to get my remaining oar over the
skiff's stern and, by sculling, hold her against the tide. Then I
watched and waited.

It was not a long wait. Victor was in difficulties almost from the
beginning. The oar belonging to the dingy was a foot longer than
the one I had given him and he zig-zagged wildly. Soon he was in
the edge of the eelgrass and "catching crabs," first on one side,
then on the other. The dingy's bow slid up on the mud. He stood
up to push it off, and the stern swung around. Getting clear, he
took a fresh start and succeeded only in fouling again. This time
he got further into the tangle before he grounded. The bow rose
and the stern settled. There was a mighty splashing, as Victor
pushed and tugged, but the dingy stuck fast. And there she would
continue to stick for four hours unless I, or some one else, helped
her off.

I did not want to help. In fact, I looked all up and down the bay
before I made a move. But it was dinner time and there was not
another soul afloat. More than that, I noticed, as I had not
noticed before, that brown clouds--wind clouds--were piling up in
the west, and, if I was anything of a prophet, we would have
squalls and dirty weather long before those four hours were over.
And the dingy, in that position, was not safe to face a blow. No,
as the small boys say, it was "up to me." I wished it was not, but
it was.

So again I went to the rescue, but this time in an entirely
different frame of mind. My anger and resentment had settled to a
cold determination, and this trip was purely business. I was not
at a disadvantage now, as I had been when I first met that girl and
her friend, in "Big Jim" Colton's library. I was master of this
situation and master I intended to be.

I sculled the skiff straight in to the edge of the flat, at a point
where the bank sloped sharply to deep water. I threw over my
anchor, shortened the rope and made it fast. Then I stepped out
into water above my shoe tops and waded toward the dingy. The
water was icy cold, but I did not know it at the time.

I splashed through the eelgrass. Victor saw me coming and roared
an angry protest. He was still trying to push the boat off with an
oar.

"Here!" he shouted. "You keep away. We don't want you."

I did not care what he wanted. I splashed alongside the dingy and
looked at her and the position she was in. My mind was made up
instantly.

"You'll never get her off if you both stay aboard," I said. "Let
the lady move amidships and you get out and wade."

He glared at me as if I were as crazy as Colton or Lute had
declared me to be. Then he laughed contemptuously.

"You go back where you came from," he ordered. "I'm running this."

"Yes, I've noticed that. Now I'll state the facts as plainly as I
can. This boat is fast aground in the mud, the tide is still going
out, and there are squalls coming. She must be got off or there
may be danger. You can't get her off until she is lightened. Will
you get out and wade?"

He did not answer; instead he continued to push with the oar. I
turned to the girl.

"Miss Colton," I said, "I must ask you to stand up. Be careful
when you rise."

She made no move, nor did she reply. The look she gave me was
enough.

"You must stand up," I repeated, firmly. "Either your--this
gentleman--must get out, as I tell him to, or I shall have to carry
you to my skiff. We haven't any time to spare."

She gazed at me in blank astonishment. Then the color flamed in
her cheeks and her eyes flashed.

"We don't wish your help," she said, icily.

"I'm sorry, but that makes no difference. I--"

Victor whirled on me, the oar in his hands. I thought for an
instant he was going to strike me with it.

"You blackguard!" he shouted. "Will you go away?"

I looked at him and then at her. It had to be done, and my mind
was made up to do it. I waded in until the water was almost to my
knees, and I was abreast the stern of the stranded boat.

"Miss Colton," I said, "I am going to carry you to my skiff. Are
you ready?"

"You-- Why!--" she breathed.

I stooped, lifted her in my arms, and ploughed through the weeds
and water. The mud was soft and my feet sank into it. She
struggled.

"You must keep still," I said, sharply, "or I shall drop you."

She gasped, but she stopped struggling. From behind me I heard a
roar of rage from Victor.

I carried her to the anchored skiff and, plunging in still deeper,
seated her on the stern thwart.

"Sit there, please, and don't move," I said. "I shall be back as
soon as I've got your boat afloat."

I waded back to the dingy. Victor was frantic, but he did not
disturb me. The worst of my unpleasant job was over.

"Now sit down," I ordered. "Do you hear me? Sit down and sit
still."

"You--you--" he stammered.

"Because if you don't sit down," I continued serenely, "you're
likely to tumble overboard. I'm going to push this boat off."

The first push helped to make up his mind. He sat, involuntarily.
I pushed with all my might and, slowly and jerkily, the dingy slid
off the shoal. But there were others all about. With one hand on
the bow I guided her between them and to the edge of the channel.
Then, wading along the slippery bank, I brought her to the skiff.
My passenger had been making remarks in transit, but I paid no
attention to them.

I made the rope fast for towing, took my oar from the dingy, pulled
up the skiff's anchor and climbed aboard.

"Sit where you are," I said to Victor. "Miss Colton, please keep
as still as possible."

I ventured to look at her as I said this, but I looked but once.
All the way home I kept my gaze fixed on the bottom boards of the
skiff.

I made the landing just in time. In fact, the squall struck before
I was abreast the Colton place. The channel beyond the flat, which
we had so lately left, was whipped to whitecaps in a moment and
miniature breakers were beating against the mud bank where the
dingy had grounded.

Under the high bluff it was calm enough. The tide was too low to
make use of the little wharf, so I beached the skiff and drew the
towed boat in by the line. I offered to assist Miss Colton ashore,
but she, apparently, did not see my proffered hand. Victor
scrambled out by himself. No one said anything. I untied the rope
and pulled it in. Then I prepared to push off.

"Here!" growled Victor. "Wait a minute."

I looked up. He was standing at the edge of the water, with one
hand in his pocket. Miss Colton was behind him.

"Well?" I asked.

"I haven't paid you yet," he said, sullenly. "How much?"

"What do you mean?" I asked. I knew, of course, but it pleased me
to make him say it.

"Why, how much for towing us in? What's your price? Come, hurry
up."

"I haven't any price. I'm not in the salvage business."

"Not-- Say, don't bargain. What's your price, I ask you?"

"Nothing, of course. Very glad to have been of assistance."

I took up my oars.

"Here!" he shouted. "Stop! hold on! Confound you! do you suppose
we don't intend to pay you for this?"

I shook my head. "It has been a pleasure," I said, sweetly. "Good
day."

I rowed off, but all the way down to my boathouse I smiled
contentedly. I had seen the look on Mabel Colton's face. I rather
thought I had evened the account between us; at least I had reduced
the balance a trifle. This time it was not I who appeared
ridiculous.

Dorinda saw me when I entered the kitchen. Her hands were
upraised.

"My soul and body!" she exclaimed. "LOOK at them pants! LOOK at
'em! And I ain't had time to put a needle to your other ones yet!"

CHAPTER VI

The rain, which I expected would follow the squall, did not come
until late that night, and it was still falling heavily the next
morning. It was a warm rain, however, and, after breakfast, I
walked up to the village. I said nothing, even to Mother, about
the happenings in the bay, and Dorinda, who had asked many
sarcastic questions concerning the state of my blue trousers--if I
had "mistook 'em for a bathin' suit" and the like--seemed satisfied
with my hurried explanation that I had gotten overboard. "Though
how you fell in feet fust," she observed, "I don't see." She had
mended my brown pair, sitting up until after two to do so.

Lute informed me that he had been up to the post-office.
"Everybody's talkin' about them Coltons," he declared. "I see
their automobile last night, myself. The Colton girl, she come
into the store. My! she's a stunner, ain't she! Sim waited on
her, himself, and gave her the mail. She wanted to buy some
cheese--for a rabbit, she said. I never heard of feeding a rabbit
on cheese, did you, Ros?"

"No," I replied, laughing. It was not worth while to explain.

"Nor nobody else, but her! I guess," continued Lute, "likely she
was just jokin'. Anyhow, Sim was all out of cheese, but he had
some nice print butter, just in. She didn't want no butter,
though."

"Humph!" sniffed Dorinda. "Did Sim Eldredge cal'late she wanted to
feed the rabbit butter? Was the Colton girl alone?"

"No. There was a young feller with her; the one that's visitin'
'em. Carver his name is--Victor Carver. Did you ever hear such a
name in your life? Afore I'd name a child of mine Victor!"

"Um-hm. Well, I wouldn't waste time worryin' about that, if I was
you. Look here, Lute Rogers, you didn't say anything about
Roscoe's talk with Mr. Colton, did you?"

"No, no! no, no! Course I didn't."

"You sure?"

"Yes. 'Taint likely I would, would I? Cap'n Jed was on hand, as
usual, and he was full of questions, but he didn't get anything out
of me. 'What did Colton say to Ros?' he says. 'How do I know what
he said?' says I. 'I wan't there, was I?' 'Where was you that
forenoon?' he says. 'Forenoon!' says I, 'that shows how much you
know about it. 'Twas three o'clock in the afternoon.' Oh, I had
the laugh on him!"

Dorinda looked at me and shook her head.

"It's too bad, Roscoe," she said. "But I was afraid of it as soon
as I found he'd sneaked off to the post-office. I cal'late it's
all over town by now."

"What do you mean by that?" Lute's dignity was outraged. "All over
town! I never told him nothin'."

"No. Only that Ros and Mr. Colton were together and 'twas three
o'clock in the afternoon. And goodness knows how much more! DO be
quiet! Seems sometimes as if I should lose patience with you
altogether. Is this Carver the Colton girl's young man? Are they
engaged?"

"I don't know. I guess he's keepin' company with her, by the
looks. I got as nigh to 'em as I could, but I didn't hear much
they said. Only, just as they was goin' out, he said somethin'
about goin' for a little spin in the car. She said no, her father
would want his letters. Carver, he said, why not send Oscar home--
that's the chauffeur, you know--with the letters, and he'd run the
car himself. She kind of laughed, and said she guessed not, she'd
taken one trip with him already that day and she didn't believe she
cared for another. He seemed kind of put out about it, I thought."

I had been feeling rather provoked at Lute for giving Captain Jed
the information concerning my interview with Colton; but, somehow,
this other bit of news restored my good humor. When I started for
the village I did not take the short cut across the fields, but
followed my regular route, the path by the bluff and the Shore
Lane. I was no longer fearful of meeting my new neighbors. The
memory of the happenings in the bay was a delightful solace to my
wounded self-respect. I chuckled over it as I walked through the
dripping pines of the little grove. No matter how contemptuously
indifferent that girl might pretend to be she would not forget what
had taken place; that she had been obliged to obey my orders; that
I had carried her to that skiff; that I had saved her from a
danger--not a great danger, and against her will, of course--but
saved her nevertheless. She was under an obligation to me; she
could not help herself. How that must gall her. I remembered the
look on her face as I rowed away. Sweet was revenge. And Victor--
Victor was a joke.

When I reached the Lane I looked over at the Colton mansion. The
rain had given the carpenters and painters an enforced holiday,
and, except for the chauffeur, whom I could see through the open
door of the garage, there was no one in sight. I think I was a
little disappointed. If "Big Jim" had appeared and hailed me with
another offer for the land I should not have dodged. I was ready
for him. But neither he, or any one else, appeared and I walked
on.

At the Corners, Sim Eldredge shouted to me from the platform of his
store.

"Hi, Ros!" he shouted. "You! Ros Paine! come here a minute, will
you?"

I did not want to see him. I had intended avoiding the post-office
altogether. But I crossed to the platform.

"Say, Ros," he asked eagerly, "what's this about you and Mr. Colton?"

I was annoyed.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Why, you know, don't you? He come to see you and you went to see
him over to his house. You had a reg'lar argument, I understand.
About the Shore Lane, wan't it?"

"Who told you that?" I inquired, sharply.

"Why, nobody told me, exactly. Lute Rogers and Cap'n Jed was here
last night and they got a-goin' as usual. The Cap'n does love to
stir up Lute, and he commenced hintin' about somethin' of the kind.
I don't know as they was hints, either, but Lute thought they was."

He grinned. I understood.

"I see," I said. "Well, what did Lute say?"

"I suppose he'd say he never said a word, but after he'd gone there
was a kind of general sentiment that Colton wanted to buy the Shore
Lane land off you, and that you and he had some words about it.
Anyhow, you didn't sell the land, did you?"

"Suppose I did, or didn't; what of it?"

"Why, nothin', nothin'. Only, I tell you, Ros--" he looked
carefully about to make sure no one was listening; "I tell you;
it's just this way. I can understand how you feel about it. You
know Dean and some of the others are sore on Mr. Colton 'cause he's
got more money than they have, and they want to make all the
trouble for him they can. Jed's got an idea that he's after that
Lane, to close it off, and he's stirrin' up sentiment against its
bein' closed. He's talkin' about the town buyin' it. Now of
course I know your position. You want to get just as high a price
as you can afore you sell."

"That's my position, is it?"

"It would be the position of any sensible man, wouldn't it? I
don't blame you. Now, what I wanted to say was this." He bent
forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Why don't you let me
handle this thing for you? I can do it better'n you. I see Cap'n
Jed every night, you might say. And I see consider'ble of Mr.
Colton. He knows I'm postmaster in this town and sort of
prominent. All the smart folks ain't in the Board of Selectmen.
I'll keep you posted; see? You just set back and pretend you don't
want to sell at all. Colton, he'll bid and Jed and his gang'll
bid. I'll tell each what the other bids, and we'll keep her
jumpin'. When we get to the last jump, we'll sell--and not afore.
Of course Mr. Colton 'll get it, in the end."

"Oh, he will! What makes you think so?"

"What makes me think so? Don't be foolish. Ain't he a millionaire?
How can Denboro stand up against a millionaire? I tell you, Ros,
it's money counts in this world, and it pays to stand in with them
that's got it. I'm goin' to stand in with Mr. Colton. But I'll
pretend to stand in with Dean just as much. I can help a whole lot.
Why, I shouldn't wonder if, between us, we could get--er--er--I
don't know how much, for that land. What do you say?"

I smiled. "It's very kind of you, Sim, to be willing to go to so
much trouble on my account," I observed. "I didn't know there was
such disinterested kindness in Denboro."

Sim seemed a bit put out. "Why," he stammered, "I--I--of course I
presumed likely you'd be willin' to pay me a little commission--or--
or--somethin'. I thought I might be a sort of--er--agent for you.
I've handled consider'ble real estate in my time--and--you see what
I mean, don't you?"

"Yes," I said, drily; "I see. Well, Sim, if I decide to engage an
agent I'll let you know. Good morning."

"But, hold on, Ros! I--"

I did not "hold on." I walked across the road and entered the
bank. Alvin Baker met me in the vestibule. He seized my hand and
shook it violently.

"I declare," he exclaimed, "it does me good to shake hands with a
feller that's got the grit you have. It does so! We're all proud
of you."

"Much obliged, Alvin, I'm sure. But why?"

He winked and nudged me with his elbow.

"You know why, all right," he whispered. "Wouldn't sell him the
land, would you? Tell me: Did he make you a real bid for it?
Lute as much as said he did."

For a person who had told nothing, Lute seemed to have "as much as
said" a good many things. I shook my head.

"So you think I shouldn't sell the land?" I asked.

"Course you shouldn't--not to him. Ain't there such things as
public spirit and independence? But I'll tell you somethin' more,
Ros," mysteriously. "You may have a chance to sell it somewhere
else."

"Indeed?"

"Yes, sir-ee! indeed! There's other public-spirited folks in
Denboro as well as you. I know who they be and I stand in with 'em
pretty close, too. I'm goin' to help you all I can."

"That's very kind of you, Alvin."

"No, no. I'm glad to do it. Shan't charge you nothin', neither."

"That's kinder still."

"No, 'tain't. . . Hold on a minute, Ros. Don't go. As I say, I'm
goin' to work tooth and nail to get the town to buy that Lane
property of yours. I'll stick out for you're gettin' a good price
for it. I'll use all my influence."

"Thank you."

"You needn't thank me. It's a matter of principle. We'll show
these city folks they ain't the whole ship, cargo and all. . . .
Hold on a second more. Ros, I--er--I wonder if you'd do a little
favor for me."

"What is it, Alvin?"

"Why, it's this way. I've got a note here in the bank; put it
there when I bought the power engine for my cat-boat. Hundred and
fifty dollars, 'tis. You're a pretty good friend of George Taylor,
cashier here, and I was wonderin' if you'd mind puttin' in a word
with him about my gettin' it renewed when it comes due. Just tell
him you think I'm all right, and a good risk, or somethin' like
that."

I could not help smiling. Alvin seemed to find encouragement in
the smile.

"George thinks consider'ble of you," he said. "And Captain Jed--
he's one of the directors--he will, too, now that you've stood up
to Colton. Just put in a word for me, will you? And don't forget
I'm a friend of yours, and I'm strong for your gettin' a good, fair
price from the town. Remember that, won't you?"

"I won't forget, Alvin. Good-by."

I left him and went into the bank. Henry Small, the bookkeeper,
was at his desk. I walked over to speak to him, but he, looking up
from his figures, spoke first. There was, or so it seemed to me, a
different note in his greeting. It was more hearty, I thought.
Certainly he regarded me with a new and curious interest.

"Morning, Ros," he said. "Well, how are you these days?"

I answered that I was well, and was moving on but he detained me.

"Lively times ahead, hey," he whispered.

"What sort of times?" I asked.

He winked. "I guess you know, if anybody does," he observed. "All
right, you'll have good friends on your side. I ain't saying
anything, of course, but I'm on, all right."

He winked again. I walked back to the cashier's window. Taylor
had, evidently, seen me talking with the bookkeeper, for he was
standing by the little gate, waiting for me.

"Hello, Ros," he said. "Glad to see you. Come in."

George Taylor was a type of smart country boy grown to manhood in
the country. His tone, like his manner, was sharp and quick and
businesslike, but he spoke with the Down-East twang and used the
Cape phrases and metaphors. He was younger than I, but he looked
older, and, of late, it had seemed to me that he was growing more
nervous. We shook hands.

"Glad to see you," be said again. "I was hoping you'd drift in. I
presumed likely you might. Sit down."

I took the proffered chair. He looked at me with much the same
curious interest that Small had shown.

"We've been hearing about you," he said. "You've been getting
yourself talked about."

I mentally cussed Lute once more for his loquacity.

"I'll break the fellow's neck," I declared, with emphasis.

He laughed. "Don't do that yet awhile," he said. "The market is
in bad enough shape as it is. If his neck was broke the whole of
Wall Street would go to pot."

"Wall Street? What in the world has Lute got to do with Wall
Street?"

"Lute! Oh, I see! Yes, Lute's been doing considerable talking,
but it ain't his neck I mean. Say, Ros, what did you do to him,
anyway? You stirred him up some, judging by what he said to me."

"Who said? What?"

"Why, Colton. He was in here yesterday. Opened what he called a
household account; that was his main business. But he asked about
you, along with it."

This explained some things. It was clear now why Small had
appeared so interested. "Oh!" I said.

"You bet he did. Wanted to know if I knew you, and what you were,
and so on. I told him I knew you pretty well. 'What sort of a
fellow is he? A damn fool?' he asked. I strained the truth enough
to say you were a pretty good fellow and a long ways from that kind
of a fool, according to my reckoning. 'Umph!' says he. 'Is he
rich?' I told him I guessed you wan't so rich that you got round-
shouldered lugging your money. 'Why?' says I, getting curious.
'Have you met him, Mr. Colton? If you have you ought to have sized
him up yourself. I always heard you were a pretty fair judge.' He
looked at me kind of funny. 'I thought I was,' says he, 'but you
seem to raise a new variety down here.' Then I guess he thought
he'd said enough. At any rate, he walked off. What did you and he
say to each other, Ros?"

I did not answer immediately. When I did the answer was non-
committal. "Oh, we had a business interview," I said.

He nodded. "Well," he observed, "I suppose it's your affair and
not mine. But, I tell you this, Ros: if it's what I suppose it is,
it'll be everybody's affair pretty soon."

"You think so, do you?"

"I know so. Cap'n Jed's a fighter and he is on the war path. The
two sides are lining up already. Whichever way you decide you'll
make enemies, of course."

I shrugged my shoulders. The prospect of enemies, more or less, in
Denboro, did not trouble me.

"But you'll have to decide," he went on, "who you'll sell to."

"Or not sell at all," I suggested.

"Can you afford to do that? There'll be money--a whole lot of
money--in this before it's over, if I know the leaders on both
sides. You've got the whip-hand. There'll be money in it. Can
you afford to let it slip?"

I did not answer. Suddenly his expression changed. He looked
haggard and care-worn.

"By the Almighty," he said, between his teeth, and without looking
at me, "I wish I had your chance."

"Why?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing. . . . How's your mother nowadays?"

I told him that my mother was much as usual, and we talked of
various things.

"By the way," he said, "I've got some news for you. Nothing
surprising. I guess all hands have seen it coming. I'm engaged to
be married."

"Good!" said I, with as much heartiness as I could answer; marriage
did not interest me. "Congratulations, George. Nellie Dean, of
course."

"Yes."

"I'm glad for you. And for her. She'll make you a good wife, I'm
sure."

He drew a long breath. "Yes," he said slowly, "Nellie's a good
girl."

"When is the--what do they call it? the happy event to take place?"

"In the fall some time, if all goes well. I hope it will."

"Humph! Yes, I should think you might hope as much as that. Why
shouldn't it go well?"

"Hey? Oh, of course it will!" He laughed and rose from his chair
as several men came into the bank. "I'll have to leave you, Ros,"
he said. "There's a directors' meeting this morning. They're
coming now."

As I passed out of the gate and through the group of directors I
noticed that they also regarded me with interest. Two, men from
neighboring towns whom I scarcely knew, whispered to each other.
Captain Elisha Warren shook hands with me and inquired concerning
Mother. The last of the group was Captain Jedediah Dean, and he
touched me on the shoulder.

"Ros," he whispered, "you're all right. Understand? I say you're
all right."

"Thanks," I answered, briefly.

"I heard about it," he whispered. "Ase Peters said the Grand
Panjandrum was cranky as a shark with the toothache all day
yesterday. You must tell me the yarn when we get together. I
missed you when I called just now, but I'll be down again pretty
soon. You won't lose nothin' by this. So long."

As I came down the bank steps Sim Eldredge called across the road.

"Good-by, Ros," he shouted. "Come in again next time you're up
street."

In all my period of residence in Denboro I had never before been
treated like this. People had never before gone out of their way
to shake hands with me. No one had considered it worth while to
ask favors of me. Sim and Alvin were not to be taken seriously, of
course, and both were looking after their own pocketbooks, but
their actions were straws proving the wind to be blowing in my
direction. I thought, and smiled scornfully, that I, all at once,
seemed to have become a person of some importance.

But my scorn was not entirely sincere. There was a certain
gratification in the thought. I might pretend--I had pretended--
that Denboro opinion, good or bad, was a matter of complete
indifference to me. I had assumed myself a philosopher, to whom,
in the consciousness of right, such trifles were of no consequence.
But, philosophy or not, the fact remained that I was pleased.
People might dislike me--as that lofty Colton girl and her father
disliked me, though they could dislike me no more than I did them--
but I could compel them to respect me. They already must think of
me as a man. And so on--as I walked home through the wet grass.
It was all as foolish and childish and ridiculous as it well could
be. I deserved what was coming to me--and I got it.

For, as I came down the Lane, I met Oscar, the chauffeur, and a
companion, whom I judged to be a fellow servant--the coachman, I
learned afterwards--walking in the direction of the village. The
rain had ceased, but they wore natty raincoats and caps and had the
city air of smartness which I recognized and envied, even in them.
The footpath was narrow, but they apparently had no intention of
stepping to one side, so I made way for them. They whispered
together as they approached and looked at me curiously as we
passed. A few steps further on I heard them both burst out
laughing. I caught the words, from Oscar, "fool Rube" and "the old
man'll make him look--" I heard no more, but as I turned into the
grove I saw them both looking after me with broad grins on their
faces.

Somebody has said that there is nothing harder to bear than the
contempt and ridicule of servants. For one thing, you cannot resent
it without a loss of dignity, and, for another, you may be perfectly
sure that theirs is but the reflection of their employers' frame of
mind. This encounter shook my self-satisfaction more than a
little. It angered me, but it did more than that; it brought back
the feeling I had when I left the Colton library, that my defiance
was not, after all, taken seriously. That I was regarded by Colton
as just what Oscar had termed me, a "fool Rube." When George Taylor
told me of the great man's questions concerning my foolishness, I
accepted the question as a tribute to my independence. Now I was
not so sure.

Dorinda met me at the door.

"You've had two callers," she said.

"So? Who were they?"

"One of 'em was Cap'n Jed. He drove down just after you left. He
come to see you about that land, I cal'late."

"Oh, yes. I remember he told me he missed me this morning. So he
came here?"

"Um-hm. Him and me had a little talk. He seemed to know
consider'ble about your rumpus with Mr. Colton."

"How did he know?"

"He wouldn't say, but I wouldn't wonder if he got a lot from Ase
Peters. Ase and he are pretty thick; he's got a mortgage on Ase's
house, you know. And Ase, bein' as he's doin' the carpenterin'
over to Colton's, hears a lot from the servants, I s'pose likely.
Leastways, if they don't tell all their bosses' affairs they're a
new breed of hired help, that's all I've got to say. Cap'n Jed
says Mr. Colton cal'lates you're a fool."

"Yes. So I've heard. What did the Captain say to that?"

"Seemed to think 'twas a pretty good joke. He said he didn't care
how big a fool you was so long's you was feeble-minded on the right
side."

So there it was again. My imagined importance in the eyes of the
townspeople simmered down to about that. I was an imbecile, but
they must pretend to believe me something else because I owned
something they wanted. Well, I still owned it.

"Of course," continued Dorinda, "I didn't tell him you was
figgerin' not to sell the land at all. If I had, I s'pose he'd
have thought--"

She stopped short.

"You suppose what?" I asked.

"Oh, nothin'."

She had said enough. I could guess the rest. I walked to the
window and stood, looking out. The clouds were breaking and, as I
stood there, a ray of sunlight streamed through a rift and struck
the bay just at the spot where the dingy had grounded. The shallow
water above the flat flashed into fire. I am not superstitious, as
a general thing, but the sight comforted me. It seemed like an
omen. There was the one bright spot in the outlook. There, at
least, I had not behaved like a "fool Rube." There I had compelled
respect and been taken seriously.

Dorinda spoke again.

"You ain't asked who your other caller was," she observed.

"Was there another?"

"Um-hm. I told you there was two. After Cap'n Jed left that
chauffeur feller from the big house come here. He fetched a note
for you. Here 'tis."

I took the note. It was addressed to me in a man's handwriting,
not that of "Big Jim" Colton. I opened the envelope and read:

Roscoe Paine.

Sir: The enclosed is in payment for your work. No receipt is
necessary.

Yours truly,

B. VICTOR CARVER.

The "enclosed" was a five-dollar bill.

I stood staring at the note. Then I began to laugh.

"What's the joke?" asked Dorinda, who had not taken her eyes from
my face.

"This," said I, handing her the money. She looked at it in
astonishment.

"Um-hm," she said, drily. "Well, I--well, a five-dollar bill may
be a joke to you, but _I_ ain't familiar enough with one to laugh
at it. You don't laugh as if 'twas awful funny, either. Who's the
joke on?"

"It's on me, just now.

"Um-hm. I'd be willin' to be joked ten times a day, at that price.
And I'd undertake to laugh heartier than you're doin', too. What's
it for? the money, I mean."

"It's for some 'work' I did yesterday."

She was more astonished than ever.

"Work! You?" she exclaimed.

"Yes. But don't worry; I shan't do it again."

"Land! THAT wouldn't worry me. What sort of work was it?"

"Oh, I--I picked up something adrift in the bay."

"Um-hm. I see. Somethin' belongin' to the Coltons, I s'pose
likely. Why won't you do it again? Ain't they paid you enough?"

Again I laughed. "They have paid me too much," I said, bitterly.
"What I picked up wasn't worth the money."

CHAPTER VII

And that, in the end, was the answer I sent to Carver with his five
dollars. I spent an hour in my room trying to compose and write a
sarcastic reply to his note, but I finally gave it up. Then I put
the money in an envelope, addressed the latter, and sent it to the
big house by Lute. Lute was delighted with the errand.

"You'll explain to Dorindy, will you?" he asked. "She cal'lates
I'm goin' to clean the henhouse. But I can do that some other
time."

"You can--yes."

"Do you know--" Lute leaned against the clothes post and prepared
to philosophize. "Do you know," he observed, "that I don't take no
stock in cleanin' henhouses and such?"

"Don't you? I'm surprised."

"You're surprised 'cause you ain't thought it out. That's my way;
I always think things out. Most folks are selfish. They want to
do what they want to do, and they want others to want the same
thing. If the others don't want it, then they like to make 'em
have it; anyhow. Dorindy is crazy on cleanin'. She wouldn't live
in a dirty house no more'n she'd live in a lobster pot. It's the
way she's made. But a hen ain't made that way. A hen LIKES dirt;
she scratches in it and digs holes in it to waller in, and heaves
it over herself all day long. If you left it to the hens would
THEY clean their house? I guess not! So, I say what's the use of
cruelizin' 'em by makin' 'em live clean when they don't want to?
I--"

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "Lute, you're wasting your breath.
It is Dorinda you should explain all this to, not to me. And
you're wasting my time. I want you to take that envelope to Mr.
Carver; and I want you to go now."

"Well, I'm goin', ain't I? I was only just sayin'--"

"Say it when you come back. And if Mr. Carver asks you why I sent
that envelope to him be sure and give him the message I gave you.
Do you remember it?"

"Sartin. That what you done wan't wuth so much."

"Not exactly. That what I saved wasn't worth it."

"All right. I'll remember. But what did you save, Ros? Dorindy
says 'twas somethin' you found afloat in the bay. If it was
somethin' belongin' to them Coltons I'd have took the money, no
matter what the thing was wuth. They can afford to pay and, if I
was you, I'd take the reward."

"I have my reward. Now go."

I had my reward and I believed it worth much more than five
dollars. I had learned my lesson. I knew now exactly how I was
regarded by the occupants of the big house and by the townspeople
as well. I should cherish no more illusions as to my importance in
their eyes. I meant to be really independent from that time on. I
did not care--really did not care--for anything or anybody outside
my immediate household. I was back in the position I had occupied
for years, but with one difference: I had an ambition now. It was
to make both sides in the Shore Lane controversy realize that
George Taylor was right when he said I had the whip-hand. By the
Almighty, they should dance when I cracked that whip!

My first opportunity to crack it came a day or two later, when
Captain Dean called upon me. He had a definite proposition to
make, although his Yankee shrewdness and caution prevented his
making it until he had discussed the weather and other unimportant
trifles. Then he leaned against the edge of my work-bench--we were
in the boathouse--and began to beat up to windward of his proposal.

"Ros," he said, "you remember I told you you was all right, when I
met you at the bank t'other day."

"I remember," I answered.

"Yes. Well, I cal'late you know what I meant by that."

I did not pretend ignorance of his meaning.

"I presume," I replied, "that you meant I was right in not selling
that strip of land to Mr. Colton."

"That's what I meant. You kept your promise to me and I shan't
forget it. Nor the town won't forget it, neither. Would you mind
tellin' me just what happened between you and His Majesty?"

"Not at all. He said he wanted to buy the Shore Lane strip and I
refused to sell it to him. He said I was crazy and an infernal
robber and I told him to go to the devil."

"WHAT! you didn't!"

"I did."

Captain Jed slapped his knee and shouted in delight. He insisted
on shaking hands with me.

"By the great and everlastin'!" he declared, between laughs,
"you're all right, Ros Paine! I said you was and now I'll swear to
it. Told old Colton to go to the devil! If that ain't--oh, I wish
I'd been there!"

I went on sand-papering a valve plug. He walked up and down the
floor, chuckling.

"Well," he said, at last, "you've made yourself solid in Denboro,
anyhow. And I told you you shouldn't lose nothin' by it. The
Selectmen held a meetin' last night and they feel, same as me, that
that Shore Lane shan't be shut off. You understand what that means
to you, don't you?"

I looked at him, coolly.

"No," I answered.

"You don't! It means the town's decided to buy that strip of land
of yours. Definitely decided, practically speakin'. Now what'll
you sell it to us for?"

I put down the valve plug. "Captain," said I, "that land is not
for sale."

"Not for SALE? What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that I have decided not to sell it, for the present, at
least. Neither to Colton nor any one else."

He could not believe it. Of course I would not sell it to Colton.
Colton was a stuck-up, selfish city aristocrat who thought all
creation ought to belong to him. But the town was different. Did
I realize that it was the town I lived in that was asking to buy
now? The town of which I was a citizen? Think of what the town
had done for me.

"Very well," I answered. "I'm willing to think. What has it done
for me?"

It had--it had--well, it had done a whole lot. As a citizen of
that town I owed it a--a--

"Look here, Captain Dean," I interrupted, "there's no use in our
arguing the matter. I have decided not to sell."

"Don't talk so foolish. Course you'll sell if you get money
enough."

"So Colton said, but I shan't."

"Ros, I ain't got any authority to do it, but I shouldn't wonder if
I could get you three hundred dollars for that strip."

"It isn't a question of price."

"Rubbish! Anything's a question of price."

"This isn't. If it was I probably should have accepted Mr. Colton's
offer of six hundred and fifty."

"Six hun--! Do you mean to say he offered you six hundred and
fifty dollars for that little mite of land, and you never took him
up?"

"Yes."

"Well, you must be a . . . Humph! Six hundred and fifty! The
town can't meet no such bid as that, of course."

"I don't expect it to."

He regarded me in silence. He was chagrined and angry; his florid
face was redder than ever; but, more than all, he was puzzled.

"Well," he observed, after a moment, "this beats me, this does!
Last time we talked you was willin' to consider sellin'. What's
changed you? What's the reason you won't sell? What business
reason have you got for not doin' it?"

I had no business reason at all. Except for Mother's counsel not
to sell, which was based upon sentiment and nothing else, and my
own stubbornness, I had no reason at all. Yet I was, if anything,
more firm in my resolve.

"How about the Lane?" he demanded. "You know what that Lane means
to Denboro?"

"I know what you say it means. The townspeople can continue to use
the Lane, just as they always have, so long as they behave
themselves. There is no use of our talking further, Captain. I've
made up my mind."

He went away, soon after, but he asked another question.

"Will you do this much for me?" he asked. "Will you promise me not
to sell the land to Colton?"

"No," I said, "I will make no promise of any kind, to anybody."

"Oh," with a scornful sniff, "I see. I'm on to you. You're just
hangin' out for a big price. I might have known it. You're on
Colton's side, after all."

I rose. I was angry now.

"I told you price had nothing to do with it," I said, sharply. "I
am on no one's side. The town is welcome to use the Lane; that I
have told you already. There is nothing more to be said."

He shook his head.

"I don't make many mistakes," he observed, slowly; "but I guess
I've made one. You're a whole lot deeper'n I thought you was."

So much for the proletariat. I heard from the plutocrats next day.
Sim Eldredge dropped in on me. After much wriggling about the bush
he intimated that he knew of Captain Jedediah's call and what had
taken place.

"You done just right, Ros," he whispered. He had a habit of
whispering as the Captain had of shouting. "You done just right.
Keep 'em guessin'; keep em guessin'. Jed's all upsot. He don't
know whether he's keel down or on his beam ends. He'll be makin' a
higher bid pretty soon. Say," with a wink, "I see Colton last
night."

"Did you?"

"Yup. Oh, I give him a jolt. I hinted that the town had made you
a fine offer and you was considerin' it."

"What did you do that for? Who gave you the right to--"

"Sshh! Don't holler. Somebody might be listenin'. I come through
the woods and round the beach so's I wouldn't be seen. What do you
s'pose Colton said?"

"I don't care what he said."

"You will when I tell you. He as much as offered a thousand
dollars for that land. My crimps! a thousand! think of that! I
presume likely you wouldn't take that, would you, Ros?"

"Sim, I'll tell you, as I told Captain Jed, that land is not for
sale."

I tried to make that statement firm and sharp enough to penetrate
even his wooden head; but he merely winked again.

"All right," he whispered, hastily, "all right. I guess perhaps
you're correct in hangin' on. Still, a thousand is a lot of money,
even after you take out my little commission. But you know best.

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