Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Rise of Roscoe Paine by Joseph C. Lincoln

Part 8 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"You should have kept it. You have no idea what a picturesque
lightkeeper you make, Mr. Paine."

Somehow or other this harmless joke hurt.

"Yes," I answered, drily, "that is about my measure, I presume."

Her eyes twinkled. "I thought the measure rather scant," she
observed, mischievously. "I wish I might have a snap-shot of you
in that--uniform."

"I am afraid the opportunity for that is past."

"But it--" with a little bubble of mirth, "it was so funny."

"No doubt. I am sorry I can't oblige you with a photograph."

She looked at me, biting her lip.

"Is your bump of humor a dent, Mr. Paine?" she inquired. "I am
afraid it must be."

"You may be right. I don't appreciate a joke as keenly as--well,
as Mr. Carver, for instance."

She turned her back upon me and led the way to the door.

"Shall we go to breakfast?" she asked, in a different tone.

Breakfast was a silent meal, so far as we two were concerned. The
Atwoods, however, talked enough to make up the deficiency.

As we rose from the table the young lady turned to the lightkeeper.

"Mr. Atwood," she said, "I presume you are going to be kind enough
to take me to Wellmouth?"

"Why, Miss, I--I wan't cal'latin' to. Mr. Paine here, he's got all
the gas he needs now and he'll take you over in his launch."

"Oh! But you will go, if I ask you to?"

"Sartin sure."

"You have been so very kind that I dislike to ask another favor;
but I hoped you would send a telegram for me. My father and mother
will be very much alarmed and I must wire them at once. You will
have to send it 'collect,' for," with a rueful smile, "I haven't my
purse with me."

"Land sakes! that'll be all right. Glad to help you out."

I put in a word. "It will not be necessary," I said, impatiently.
"I have money enough, Miss Colton."

I was ignored.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Atwood. You will come with me and look out
for the telegram?"

"Yes. Yes--yes. But I don't see what you need to send no telegram
for. Mr. Paine here, he telephoned to your folks last night."

She looked at me and then at Joshua.

"Last night?" she repeated.

"Why yes--or this mornin' after you'd gone to bed. He was dead set
on it. I could see he was 'most tired and wore out, but he
wouldn't rest till he'd 'phoned your folks and told 'em you was
safe and sound. Didn't seem to care nothin' about himself, but he
was bound your pa and ma shouldn't worry."

She turned to me.

"Did you?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered. "Your father is to meet us at the Wellmouth
wharf."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I intended to. I meant to tell you when I saw you in the
lighthouse, but--I forgot it."

She said no more, but when Joshua, hat and boots on, met us at the
door she spoke to him.

"You need not go, Mr. Atwood," she said. "It will not be
necessary--now."

"Godfreys! I'd just as soon as not. Ruther, if anything."

He hurried down to the beach. I was about to follow when a hand
touched my arm. I turned, to find a pair of brown eyes, misty but
wonderful, looking into mine.

"Thank you," said Miss Colton.

"Don't mention it."

"But I shall. It was thoughtful and kind. I had forgotten, or--at
least--I took it for granted there was no 'phone here. But you did
not forget. It was thoughtful, but--it was like you."

I was breathing hard. I could not look at her.

"Don't," I said, roughly. "It was nothing. Anyone with common
sense would have thought of it and done it, of course."

"I did not. But you-- Oh, it was like you! Always some one else
and never yourself. You were worn out. You must have been, after--"
with a shudder--"last night. Oh, I have so much to thank you
for! I--"

"Come on! Heave ahead!" It was Mr. Atwood, bellowing from the
beach. "All aboard for Wellmouth and pints alongshore."

Betsy appeared in the door behind us.

"All ready, be you?" she asked.

I could not have answered, but my companion was once more as calm
and cool as the morning itself.

"All ready," she answered. "Good-by, Mrs. Atwood. And thank you
over and over again. You have been so kind." With a sudden flash
of enthusiasm. "Every one is kind. It is a beautiful world.
Good-by."

She ran lightly down the slope and I followed.

The trip to Wellmouth was of but a half hour's duration. Atwood
talked all the time. Miss Colton laughed at his stories and seemed
to be without a care. She scarcely looked at me during the
passage, and if she caught me looking at her and our glances met
she turned away. On the wharf was a big automobile, surrounded by
a gaping crowd of small boys and 'longshore loafers.

We drew up beside the landing. Our feminine passenger sprang
ashore and ran up the steps, to be seized in her father's arms.
Mrs. Colton was there also, babbling hysterically. I watched and
listened for a moment. Then I started the engine.

"Shove off," I ordered. The lightkeeper was astonished.

"Ain't ye goin' ashore?" he demanded.

"No," I answered, curtly. "I'm going home. Shove off."

The launch was fifty feet from the pier when I heard a shout.
Colton was standing on the wharf edge, waving his hand. Beside him
stood his daughter, her mother's arms about her.

"Here! Paine!" shouted Colton. "Come back! Come back and go home
with us in the car. There is plenty of room."

I did not answer.

"Come back! Come back, Paine!" he shouted again. Mrs. Colton
raised her head from her daughter's shoulder.

"James! James!" she cautioned, without taking the trouble to lower
her voice, "don't make a scene. Let him go in his dreadful boat,
if he prefers to."

"Paine!" cried her husband again.

"I must look out for the launch," I shouted. "I shall be home
almost as soon as you are. Good-by."

I left the lightkeeper at his island. He refused to accept a cent
from me, except in payment for the gasolene, and declared he had
had a "fust-rate night of it."

"Come and see us again, Mr. Paine," he said. "Come any time and
fetch your lady along. She's a good one, she is, and nice-lookin',
don't talk! You're a lucky critter, did you know it? Haw! haw!
Good-by."

The Comfort never made better time than on that homeward trip. I
anchored her at her moorings, went ashore in the skiff, and
hastened up to the house. It was past ten o'clock and I would be
over an hour late at the bank. A fine beginning for my first day
in charge of the institution!

The dining-room door was open, but no one was in the dining-room.
The kitchen door, however, was shut and from behind it I heard
Dorinda's voice.

"You can get right out of this house," she said. "I don't care if
you've got a mortgage on the rest of the Cape! You ain't got one
on this house, and you nor nobody else shall stay in it and talk
that way. There's the door."

"Dorindy!" wailed another voice--Lute's. "You mustn't talk so--to
him! Don't you realize--"

"I realize that if I had a husband instead of a jellyfish I
shouldn't have to talk. Be still, you!"

A third voice made itself heard.

"All right," it growled. "I ain't anxious to stay here any longer
than is necessary. Bein' an honest, decent man, I'm ashamed to be
seen here as it is. But you can tell that low-lived sneak, Ros
Paine, that--"

I opened the door.

"You may tell him yourself, Captain Dean," said I. "What is it?"

CHAPTER XX

My unexpected entrance caused a sensation. Lute, sitting on the
edge of one of the kitchen chairs, an agonized expression on his
face, started so violently that he almost lost his balance.
Dorinda, standing with her back toward me, turned quickly. Captain
Jedediah Dean, his hand on the knob of the door opening to the back
yard, showed the least evidence of surprise. He did not start, nor
did he speak, but looked at me with a countenance as grim and set
and immovable as if it had been cast in a mould.

Lute, characteristically enough, uttered the first word.

"By time!" he gasped. "It's Ros himself! Ros--Ros, you know what
he says?" He pointed a shaking finger at the captain. "He says
you--"

"Keep still!" Dorinda struck her palms together with a slap, as if
her husband had been what she often called him, a parrot. Then,
without another glance in his direction, she stepped backward and
took her stand beside me.

"I'm real glad to see you home safe and sound, Roscoe," she said,
calmly.

"Thank you, Dorinda. Now, Captain Dean, I believe you were sending
a message to me just now. I am here and you can deliver it. What
is it you have to say?"

Before he could answer Dorinda spoke once more.

"Lute," she said, "you come along with me into the dinin'-room."

"But--but, Dorindy, I--"

"You come with me. This ain't any of my business any more, and it
never was any of yours. Come! move!"

Lute moved, but so slowly that his progress to the door took almost
a full minute. His wife paid no heed to the pleading looks he gave
her and stood majestically waiting until he passed her and crossed
the sill. Then she turned to me.

"If you want me, just speak," she said. "I shall be in the dining-
room. There ain't no need for Comfort to know about this. She
doesn't know that you've been away and hasn't been worried at all.
I'll look out for her. Lute'll be with me, so you needn't fret
about him, either."

She closed the door.

"Now, Captain Dean," I repeated, "what is it you have to say?"

The captain's grim mouth twisted in a savage sneer.

"You know what I'm goin' to say as well as I do," he answered.

"Possibly, but you had better say it."

"It won't take me long. You've sold that Shore Lane land to Jim
Colton, ain't you?"

"Yes."

My calm affirmative seemed to astonish him. I think he expected a
denial. His hand left the doorknob and he stepped toward me.

"You--HAVE!" he cried. "You don't even take the trouble to-- You
have the face to stand there and tell me--"

He almost choked.

"Captain Dean," I interrupted, quickly, "wait a moment. Listen to
me. I have sold Colton the land. I did not intend selling it at
all, least of all to him, but circumstances compelled me to change
my mind. I did it because I was obliged to. It is done. I am
sorry I had to do it, but, under the same conditions, I should do
it again. I am not ashamed."

He leaned forward, steadying himself with a hand upon the table,
and stared at me.

"You ain't ashamed?" he repeated. "You ain't ashamed! Why, you--
Didn't you tell me you'd never sell that land? Didn't you promise
me?"

"I did not promise anything. At first I promised not to sell
without letting you know of my intention. Afterward I took back
that promise."

"But why did you sell? You said it wan't a question of price at
all. You made your brags that it wan't! To me, over and over, you
made 'em. And then you sneak off and--"

"Stop! I did think it was not a question of price. Then I found
out that it was."

He clenched his fist.

"Damn you!" he shouted, furiously. "You liar! You sneak! After
I--"

"That is enough, Captain. This has gone far enough. I have sold
the land--for what seemed to me a good reason--and your calling me
names will not change the situation. I don't care to hear them.
You had better go."

"WHAT?"

"I say you had better go."

"_I_ go? You'll put me out?"

"No, certainly not. But there is nothing to be gained by a
quarrel, and so, for both our sakes, I think you had better go
away."

For a moment I thought he would strike me. Then his fist fell
heavily upon the table. His lips were quivering like those of an
infirm person. He looked old, and I had never before considered
him an old man.

"What made you do it?" he cried, desperately. "What made you do
it? Is it all settled? Can't you back out?"

"No."

"But--but why didn't you sell to me--to the town? If you had to
sell why didn't you do that? Why did you go to him?"

"Because he would pay me what I needed; because his price was
higher than any you or the town could offer."

"How did you know that? My heavens above! I'd have paid--I'd have
paid most anything--out of my own pocket, I would. I tell you this
meant everything to me. I'm gettin' along in years. I ain't been
any too well liked here in Denboro, and I knew it. You think that
didn't make no difference to me, maybe I pretended it didn't, but
it did; by the Almighty, it did! I intended for folks to be
thankful to me for--I-- Oh, WHY did you do it, Ros?"

I shook my head. I was sorry for him now--sorry and astonished.
He had given me a glimpse of the real Jedediah Dean, not the
pompous, loud-voiced town politician and boss, but the man desirous
of fighting his way into the esteem and liking of his neighbors.

"I'm sorry, Captain," I said. "If I had known--if I had had time
to think, perhaps I might have acted differently. But I had no
time. I found that I must have the money which that land would
bring and that I had to have it immediately. So I went where I
knew I could get it."

"Money? You needed money? Why didn't you come to me? I'd have
lent it to you."

"You?"

"Yes, me. What do you cal'late I've been backin' you all this
summer for? What did I get you that job in my bank for?"

"YOU? George Taylor engaged me for that place."

"Maybe so. But do you suppose he did it on his own hook? HE
couldn't hire you unless the directors said so and the directors
don't say anything, the majority of 'em, unless I say it first.
_I_ put the notion in George's head. He didn't know it, but I did.
And I put it in the directors' heads, too. Ros Paine, I always
liked you, though I did use to think you was a gentleman loafer.
There was a somethin' about you even then, a kind of hands-off,
mind your own business independence about you that I liked, though
I knew mighty well you never liked me. And after you and me got
together on this Lane thing I liked you more and more. You could
tell me to go to the devil as well as you could anybody else, and
I'll shake hands with a feller that'll do that. I always wanted a
boy of my own. Nellie's a good girl, no better afloat or ashore,
but she is a girl. George is a good feller, too, but somehow, or
'nother, I'd come to think of you as the kind of son I'd have had,
if the Almighty had give me one. Oh, what did you do this for?"

I could not answer. He had overwhelmed me. I never felt meaner or
more wicked. I had been ready to face him, ready for the interview
with him which I knew was inevitable and which I had foreseen, but
not this kind of an interview.

He took his hand from the table and stood erect.

"Money!" he said. "You wanted money. You must have wanted it bad.
What did you want it for?"

"I can't tell you."

"You had better. It's your only chance, I tell you that!"

"I can't help it, Captain Dean. I can't tell you. I wish I
could."

He regarded me in silence for a moment. Then: "All right," he
said, solemnly. "I'm through with you, Ros Paine. In one way I'm
through with you. In another I ain't. I cal'late you was
figgerin' to go straight up to the bank, as bold as brass, and set
down at George Taylor's desk and draw your wages like an honest
man. Don't you ever dare set foot in that bank again. You're
fired! bounced! kicked out! Do you understand?"

"Very well; I understand."

"You will understand, whether you do now or not. Colton's got the
Shore Lane and you've got his dirty money in your pocket. He's
paid you, but the town ain't. The town you sold out ain't paid
you--but I'm goin' to see that it does. Ros Paine, I'm goin' to
drive you out of Denboro."

He turned on his heel, strode to the door, went out, and slammed it
behind him.

I went back to the dining-room. Lute was nowhere in sight, but
Dorinda was standing by the mantel, dusting, as usual, where there
was no dust. I did not speak but walked toward the door leading to
the stairs. Dorinda stepped in front of me.

"Roscoe," she said, sharply, "can he do it?"

"Do it?" I repeated. "What do you mean?"

"Can he give you your walkin' papers at that bank? Oh, I heard
him! I tried not to, but he hollered so I couldn't help it. That
kitchen door ain't much thicker'n a sheet of paper, anyhow. Can he
do it?"

"I guess so. He seems to be boss of that institution."

"But can't 'Lisha Warren or some of the other directors help you?
Jed Dean don't boss 'Lisha Warren--not much."

"I shan't ask for help. Please don't trouble me, Dorinda."

I tried to pass her, but she would not permit it.

"I shan't trouble you, Ros," she said. "I guess you've got
troubles enough without me. But you let me ask you this: Are you
goin' to let him drive you out of town?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "It may not take much driving," I
announced, listlessly, "if it were not for Mother I should be only
too glad to go."

Again I tried to pass, but this time she seized my arm.

"Roscoe Paine," she cried, "don't you talk like that. I don't want
to hear another word like that. Don't you let Jed Dean or nobody
else drive you out of Denboro. You ain't done nothin' to be
ashamed of, have you?"

"I sold that land to Mr. Colton. I don't know how Captain Jed
found it out, but it is true enough; I did exactly what he said I
did."

"Found out! He found out from somebody over to Ostable where the
deed was recorded, that is how he found out. He said so. But I
don't care for that. And I don't care if you sold the Lane ten
times over. You didn't do it for any mean or selfish reason, that
I know. There ain't a selfish bone in your body, Roscoe. I've
lived along with you all these years and I know. Nobody that was
mean or selfish would give up their chances in life and stay here
in this one-hoss town because his ma was sick and had took a notion
that she couldn't bear to part with him. Don't you mind Jed Dean--
pig-headed old thing!--or anybody else in Denboro. Hold up your
head and show 'em you don't care for the whole caboodle of 'em.
Let 'em talk and act like fools, if they want to. It comes natural
to most of 'em, I cal'late, and they'll be sorry some day. Don't
you let 'em drive you out. They won't come inside THIS house with
their talk, not while I'm here, I tell you that!"

Her eyes, behind the brass-rimmed spectacles, flashed fire. This
was the longest speech I had ever heard her make.

"There, Dorinda," I said, smiling, "don't worry on my account. I'm
not worth it. And, whatever I do, I shall see that you and Lute
are provided for."

Instead of calming her this statement seemed to have the exactly
opposite effect.

"Stop it!" she snapped. "The idea! Do you suppose it's for myself
I'm talkin' this way to you? I guess 'tain't! My soul! I'll look
out for myself, and Lute, too, long's I'm able to walk; and when I
can't walk 'twill be because I've stopped breathin'. It's for you
I'm talkin', for you and Comfort. Think of her."

I sighed. "I have been thinking of her, Dorinda," I declared.
"She doesn't know a word about this."

"Then tell her."

"I can't tell her my reason for selling, any more than I can tell
you--or Dean."

"Tell her what you can, then. Tell her as much of the truth as you
can. She'll say you done right, of course. Whatever you do is
right to her."

I made no reply. She regarded me keenly.

"Roscoe," she went on, "do you WANT to go somewheres else?"

"I don't know, Dorinda. I might as well be here as anywhere,
perhaps. I am rather blue and discouraged just now, that's all."

"I can't blame you much. But bein' discouraged don't do any good.
Besides, it's always darkest just afore dawn, they say; anyhow,
I've had that preached to me ever since I was a girl and I've tried
to believe it through a good many cloudy spells. Roscoe, don't you
let old Jed or anybody DRIVE you out of Denboro, but, if you WANT
to go--if you think you'd ought to go, to earn money or anything,
don't you worry about leavin' Comfort. I'll look out for her as
well as if she was my own. Remember that."

I laid my hand on hers. "Thank you," I said, earnestly. "Dorinda,
you are a good woman."

To my surprise the eyes behind the spectacles became misty. Tears
in Dorinda's eyes! When she spoke it was in, for her, a curiously
hesitating tone.

"Roscoe," she faltered, "I wonder if you'd be cross if I asked
about what wan't any of my business. I'm old enough to be your
grandma, pretty nigh, so I'm goin' to risk it. You used to be
independent enough. You never used to care for the town or anybody
in it. Lately you've changed. Changed in a good many ways. Is
somethin' besides this Lane affair frettin' you? Is somebody
frettin' you? Are you worried about--that one?"

She had caught me unawares. I felt the blood tingle in my cheeks.
I tried to laugh and made a failure of the attempt.

"That one?" I repeated. "I-- Why, I don't understand, Dorinda."

"Don't you? Well, if you don't then I'm just talkin' silly, that's
all. If you do, I . . . . Humph! I might have known it!"

She turned like a shot and jerked the door open. There was a
rattle, a series of thumps, and a crash. Lute was sprawling upon
the floor at our feet. I gazed at him in open-mouthed astonishment.
Dorinda sniffed scornfully.

"I might have known it," she repeated. "Sittin' on the stairs
there, listenin', wan't you?"

Lute raised himself to his knees.

"I think," he panted, "I--I swan! I shouldn't wonder if I'd broke
my leg!"

"Um-hm! Well, if you'd broke your neck 'twouldn't have been no
more'n you deserve. Shame on you! Sneakin' thing!"

"Now, Dorindy, I--I wan't listenin'. I was just--"

"Don't talk to me. Don't you open your mouth. And if you open it
to anybody else about what you heard I'll--I declare I'll shut you
up in the dark closet and keep you there, as if you was three year
old. Sometimes I think your head ain't any older than that. Go
right out of this house."

"But where'll I go?"

"I don't care where you go. Only don't let me set eyes on you till
dinner time. March!"

Lute backed away as she advanced, waving both his hands and
pleading and expostulating.

"Dorindy, I tell you . . . WHAT makes you so unlikely? . . . I
was just . . . All right then," desperately, "I'll go! And if you
never set eyes on me again 'twon't be my fault. You'll be sorry
then. If you never see me no more you'll be sorry."

"I'll set eyes on you at dinner time. I ain't afraid of that.
Git!"

She followed him to the kitchen and then returned.

"Ah hum!" she sighed, "it's pretty hard to remember that about
darkest just afore dawn when you have a burden like that on your
shoulders to lug through life. It's night most of the time then.
Poor critter! he means well enough, too. And once he was a likely
enough young feller, though shiftless, even then. But he had a
long spell of fever three year after we was married and he's never
been good for much since. I try to remember that, and to be
patient with him, but it's a pretty hard job sometimes."

She sighed again. I had often wondered how a woman of her sense
could have married Luther Rogers. Now she was telling me.

"I never really cared for him," she went on, looking toward the
door through which the discomfited eavesdropper had made his exit.
"There was somebody else I did care for, but he and I quarreled,
and I took Luther out of spite and because my folks wanted me to.
I've paid for it since. Roscoe," earnestly, "Roscoe, if you care
for anybody and she cares for you, don't let anything keep you
apart. If she's worth a million or fifty cents that don't make any
difference. It shouldn't be a matter of her folks or your folks or
money or pride or anything else. It's a matter for just you and
her. And if you love each other, that's enough. I tell you so,
and I know."

I was more astonished than ever. I could scarcely believe that
this was the dry, practical Dorinda Rogers who had kept house for
Mother and me all these years. And with my astonishment were other
feelings, feelings which warned me that I had better make my escape
before I was trapped into betraying that which, all the way home
from Mackerel Island, I had been swearing no one should ever know.
I would not even admit it to myself, much less to anyone else.

I did not look at Dorinda, and my answer to her long speech was as
indifferent and careless as I could make it.

"Thank you, Dorinda," I said. "I'll remember your advice, if I
ever need it, which isn't likely. Now I must go to my room and
change my clothes. These are too badly wrinkled to be becoming."

When I came down, after an absence of half an hour, she was sitting
by the window, sewing.

"Comfort's waitin' to see you, Roscoe," she said. "I've told her
all about it."

"YOU'VE told her--what?" I demanded, in amazement.

"About your sellin' the Lane and losin' your job, and so on. Don't
look at me like that. 'Twas the only common-sense thing to do.
She'd heard old Leather-Lungs whoopin' out there in the kitchen and
she'd heard you and me talkin' here in the dinin'-room. I hoped
she was asleep, but she wan't. After you went upstairs she called
for me and wanted to know the whole story. I told her what I knew
of it. Now you can tell her the rest. She takes it just as I knew
she would. You done it and so it's all right."

"Roscoe, is that you?"

It was Mother calling me. I went into the darkened room and sat
down beside the bed.

She and I had much to say to each other. This time I kept back
nothing, except my reason for selling the land. I told her frankly
that that reason was a secret, and that it must remain a secret,
even from her.

"I hate to say that to you, Mother," I told her. "You don't know
how I hate it. I would tell you if I could."

She pressed my hand. "I know you would, Roscoe," she said. "I am
quite content not to know. That your reason for selling was an
honorable one, that is all I ask."

"It was that, Mother."

"I am sure of it. But," hesitatingly, "can you tell me this: You
did not do it because you needed money--for me? Our income is the
same as ever? We have not met with losses?"

"No, Mother. Our income is the same that it has been for years."

"Then it was not because of me; because you felt that I should have
those 'luxuries' you talk about so often? Oh, I don't need them,
Roscoe I really don't. I am--I scarcely dare say it for fear it
may not be true--but I THINK I am better than I have been. I feel
stronger."

"I know you are better, Mother. Doctor Quimby is very much
encouraged."

"Is he? I am so glad! For your sake, Boy. Perhaps the time will
come when I may not be your Old Man Of the Sea as I am now. But
you did not sell the land because of me?"

"No."

"You did not sell it for yourself, that I know. I wonder . . .
But, there! I mustn't wonder, and I won't. Captain Dean was very
angry and unreasonable, Dorinda says. I suppose his pride is hurt.
I'm afraid he will make it unpleasant for you in the village."

"He will do his best, I'm sure of that."

"You poor boy! As if you did not have enough to bear without that!
He has asked you to resign from the bank?"

I smiled. "He has pitched me out, neck and crop," I answered. "I
expected that, of course."

"But what will you do? Can't Mr. Taylor help you? Perhaps he will
use his influence with the captain."

"I don't need his influence, Mother. I took the place merely
because of a whim. Now that I have lost it I am no worse off than
I was before."

"But you enjoyed the work?"

"Yes."

I was only beginning to realize how much I had enjoyed it. I
sighed, involuntarily.

Mother heard the sigh and the pressure of her hand on mine
tightened.

"Poor boy!" she said again. Then, after a moment, "I wish I might
talk with Miss Colton about this."

I started violently. What had put that idea in her head?

"Miss Colton!" I exclaimed. "Mother, whatever you do, don't speak
to her--about me."

"Why not? She has not called on us for some time, but she is
interested in you, I know. And perhaps her father could--"

"Mother, don't."

She was silent for an instant. Then she said, quietly. "Boy, what
is it? Is there something else you haven't told me? Something
about--her?"

"No, no," I stammered.

"Isn't there? Are you sure?"

I do not know what reply I should have made. Her question, coming
so close upon the heels of Dorinda's hints, upset me completely.
Was it written upon my face, for everyone to see? Did I look the
incredible idiot that I knew myself to be? For I did know it. In
spite of my determination not to admit it even in my innermost
thoughts, I knew. I was in love with Mabel Colton--madly, insanely,
hopelessly in love with her, and should be until my dying day.
I had played with fire too long.

Before I could answer there came a knock at the door. It opened
and Dorinda's head appeared. She seemed, for her, excited.

"There's somebody to see you, Ros," she said. "You'd better come
out soon's you can. He's in a hurry."

"Someone to see me," I repeated. "Who is it?"

Dorinda glanced at Mother and then at me. She did not so much as
whisper, but her lips formed a name. I rose from my chair.

Mother looked at me and then at Dorinda.

"Who is it, Roscoe?" she asked.

"Just a caller on a business matter," I answered, hurriedly. "I'll
be out at once, Dorinda."

"But who is it, Roscoe?"

"It's Mr. Colton, Mother. He has probably come to--"

"Dorinda," Mother interrupted me, "ask Mr. Colton to come in here."

"But, Mother--"

"Ask him to come in here, Dorinda. I should like to meet him."

Dorinda hesitated, but when Mother spoke in that tone none of us
hesitated long. She disappeared. A moment later the door opened
wide and Colton entered. The sudden transition from sunlight to
semidarkness bewildered him for a moment, doubtless, for he stood
there without speaking. Dorinda, who had ushered him in, went out
and closed the door. I stepped forward.

"Good morning, Mr. Colton," I said, as calmly as I could. "You
have never met my mother, I think. Mother, this is Mr. Colton, our
neighbor."

Colton turned toward the bed and murmured a few words. For once, I
think, he was startled out of his customary cool self-possession.
And when Mother spoke it seemed to me that she, too, was disturbed.

"Roscoe," she said, quickly, "will you draw that window-shade a
little more? The light is rather strong. Thank you. Mr. Colton,
I am very glad to meet you. I have heard of you often, of course,
and I have met your daughter. She has been very kind to me, in
many ways. Won't you sit down?"

I drew forward a chair. Our visitor accepted it.

"Thank you, Mrs. Paine," he said. "I will sit. To be honest, I'm
very glad of the opportunity. I have been under the doctor's care
for the past few weeks and last night's performance is not the best
sort of treatment for a tender digestion. The doctor told me what
I needed was rest and sleep and freedom from care. I told him I
probably shouldn't get the last item till I was dead. As for the
rest--and sleep-- Humph!" with a short laugh, "I wonder what he
would have said if he had seen me last night."

Mother's face was turned away from him on the pillow. "I am sorry
to hear that you have been ill, Mr. Colton," she said.

"Ill! I'm not ill. I have never been sick in my life and I don't
propose to begin now. If the crowd in New York would let me alone
I should be all right enough. There is a deal on there that is
likely to come to a head pretty soon and my people at the office
are nervous. They keep 'phoning and telegraphing and upsetting
things generally. I'll have to run over there myself in a day or
two and straighten it out. But there! I didn't come here to worry
you with my troubles. I feel as if I knew you, Mrs. Paine."

"Knew me? Knew ME, Mr. Colton?"

"Yes. I have never had the pleasure of meeting you before, but my
daughter has spoken of you often. She is a great admirer of yours.
I won't tell you all the nice things she has said about you, for
she has probably said them to you or to your son, already."

"You should be very proud of your daughter, Mr. Colton. She is a
charming girl."

"Thanks. Just among us three I'll admit, in confidence, that I
think you're right. And I'll admit, too, that you have a pretty
good sort of a son, Mrs. Paine. He is inclined to be," with a
glance in my direction, "a little too stubborn and high-principled
for this practical world, but," with a chuckle, "he can be made to
listen to reason, if you give him time enough. That is so, isn't
it, Paine?"

I did not answer. Mother spoke for me.

"I am not sure that I understand you, Mr. Colton," she said,
quietly. "I presume you are referring to the sale of the land. I
do not know why Roscoe changed his mind in that matter, but I do
know that his reason was a good one, and an honest one."

"He hasn't told it to you, then?"

"No. But I know that he thought it right or he never would have
sold."

I broke in here. I did not care to hear my own praises.

"Did you call to discuss the Shore Lane, Mr. Colton?" I inquired.
"I thought that affair settled."

"It is. No, I didn't come to discuss that. Mrs. Paine, I don't
know why your son sold me that land, but I'm inclined to think,
like you, that he wouldn't have done it unless he thought it was
right. I know mighty well he wasn't afraid of me. Oh, you needn't
laugh, young man. There ARE people in that fix, plenty of 'em.
No, I didn't come to talk 'Lane.' That bird is dead. I came,
first of all, to thank you for what you did for my daughter last
night."

Mother turned her head and looked at him.

"For your daughter? Last night? Roscoe, what does he mean?"

"Nothing, Mother, nothing," I said, hastily. "I was unlucky enough
to run the Comfort into Miss Colton's canoe in the bay yesterday
afternoon in the fog. Fortunately I got her into the launch and--
and--"

"And saved her from drowning, then and a dozen times afterward. He
hasn't told you, Mrs. Paine? No, I can see that he hasn't. All
right, I will. Paine, if your ingrowing modesty won't stand the
pressure you had better leave the room. This is about what
happened, Mrs. Paine, as Mabel tells it."

I tried to prevent him, but it was no use. He ignored me
altogether and went on to tell of the collision in the fog, the
voyage across the bay, and my telephone from the lighthouse. The
story, as he told it, magnified what he called my coolness and
common-sense to a ridiculous extent. I lost patience as I
listened.

"Mr. Colton," I interrupted, "this is silly. Mother, the whole
affair was more my fault than my good judgment. If I had anchored
when it first happened we should have been home in an hour, instead
of drifting all night."

"Why didn't you anchor, then?" asked Colton.

"Because I--I--"

I stopped short. I could not tell him why I did not anchor. He
laughed aloud.

"That's all right," he said. "I guess Mabel's story is near enough
to the truth for all practical purposes. Mrs. Paine," with a
sudden change to seriousness, "you can understand why I have come
here this morning. If it had not been for your son's pluck, and
cool head, and good judgment I--Mrs. Colton and I might have been--
God knows in what state we might have been to-day! God knows! I
can't think of it."

His voice trembled. Mother put out a hand and took mine.

"Roscoe," she said, "Roscoe."

"So I came to thank him," went on our visitor. "This isn't the
first time he has done something of the sort. It seems almost as
if he-- But never mind that. I'm not going to be foolish. Your
son and I, Mrs. Paine, have been fighting each other most of the
summer. That's all right. It was a square fight and, until this
newest freak of his--and he has got me guessing as to what it
means--I admit I thought he was quite as likely to lick me as I was
to lick him. I've watched him pretty closely and I am a pretty
fair judge of a man, I flatter myself. Did he tell you that, a
while ago, I offered him a place in my office?"

"In your office? You offered him that? No, he did not tell me.
Roscoe!" reproachfully.

"I did not tell you, Mother, because it was not worth while. Of
course I could not accept the offer."

She hesitated and, before she spoke, Colton broke in.

"Why not? That was what you were going to say, Mrs. Paine, I take
it. That is what _I_ said--why not? And I say it again. Paine,
that offer is still open."

I shook my head. "I told you then that I could not accept," I
said. "It is impossible."

"Why is it impossible? So far as I am concerned I believe you
would be a mighty good investment."

"Impossible," I said again.

"Nothing is impossible. We won't waste words. I am going to be
plain and I think Mrs. Paine will excuse me. You think you should
not leave your mother, perhaps. I understand that reason. It
would be a good one, except that--well, that it isn't good any
longer. Your mother is much better than she was. Quimby--her
doctor and mine--says so. I shall see that she is well looked
after. If she needs a nurse she shall have one, the best we can
get. Oh, be still and let me finish! You can talk afterward.
You're not going so far away. New York isn't the end of the earth;
it is only the center, or it thinks it is. You'll be in close
touch with Denboro all the time and you can come here whenever you
want to. Now will you take my offer?"

"No."

"Young man, if I didn't know there were brains inside that head of
yours I should think it was, as the boys say, solid ivory.
Confound you! Here, Mrs. Paine," turning to Mother, "you take him
in hand. Tell him he must come with me."

"Mother--" I protested. He cut my protest short.

"Tell him," he ordered.

Mother looked at me. "I think, perhaps, you should accept,
Roscoe," she said, slowly.

"Accept! Mother!"

"Yes. I--I think you should. I am sure everyone else would think
so. I should not wish you to do so if Mr. Colton was merely trying
to be kind, to help you from motives of gratitude, or charity--"

"Don't use that word, please," snapped "Big Jim." "When I lose my
mind I may take to charity, but not before. Charity! Good Lord!"

"But it is not charity. I am better, Roscoe; I realize it every
day; and with Dorinda I shall get on perfectly well. I have been
thinking of something like this for a long time. You owe it to
yourself, Roscoe. The chance is one that many men would be very,
very glad to have come their way. I shall not urge you, Boy. You
must decide for yourself, and I know you will; but, Roscoe, I shall
be quite contented--yes, glad and proud, if you say yes to Mr.
Colton."

The gentleman named nodded emphatic approval. "That's the talk!"
he exclaimed. "Mrs. Paine, I congratulate you on your common-
sense."

"I think, like you, that you will have made a good investment, Mr.
Colton," was Mother's answer.

I rose to my feet. This must be ended now, for all time.

"I thank you, Mr. Colton," I said, though not as steadily as I
could have wished. "I am greatly obliged to you and I realize that
you offer me an exceptional opportunity, or what would be one for
another man. But I cannot accept."

"Look here, Paine! I'll speak plainer still. I understand that
that Shore Lane trade of ours has become common property, or, at
any rate, it will be common property soon. If I see the situation
clearly, Denboro is likely to be a rather unpleasant place for you.
That fellow Dean has a lot of influence here--heaven knows why!--
and he hates me worse than Old Nick hates holy water. Oh, I know
you're not afraid of him! But what is the use of taking the rough
road when the smooth one is right before your feet? Say yes, and
let's end it."

"No," said I, stubbornly. "No, Mr. Colton."

"You mean it? Very well, I leave you in your Mother's hands. She
will probably bring you to your senses before long. Mrs. Paine,
you can handle him, I have no doubt. I am glad to have met you,
and, with your permission, I shall call on you again. So will
Mabel. As for you, young man, I thank you for last night's work.
You will, perhaps, accept thanks if you refuse everything else.
Good morning."

He rose, bowed, and walked to the door. As he opened it he
staggered, perceptibly. I thought, for an instant, that he was
going to fall, and I sprang to his assistance.

"It's all right," he said, gruffly. "This digestion of mine sets
my head spinning sometimes. That doctor says I shall upset
completely unless I rest. I told him he was a fool and I intend to
prove it. Let me be. I can walk, I should hope. When I can't
I'll call the ambulance--or the hearse. I'll find the way out,
myself. Good-by."

The door closed behind him.

"Roscoe," said Mother, quickly, "come here."

I turned toward her. She was looking at me with a strange
expression.

"What is it, Mother?" I asked, anxiously.

"Roscoe," she whispered, "I know him. I have met him before."

"Know him! You have met Mr. Colton--before? Where?"

"At our home in the old days. He came there once with--with your
father. He was our guest at dinner."

I could scarcely believe it. Then, as the thought of what this
might mean flashed to my mind, I asked anxiously:

"Did he know you, do you think?"

"No, I am sure he did not. We met but once and I have," with a
little sigh, "changed since then. But I recognized him. The name
of Colton was familiar to me when you first mentioned it, some time
ago, but I did not remember where I had heard it. Of course, I did
not connect this Mr. Colton with--that one."

I frowned. This complicated matters still more, and further
complications were superfluous.

"And, knowing this, knowing that he might recognize you at any
time, you urged me to accept his offer," I said, reproachfully.
"Mother!"

"Yes."

"Mother, how can you? Would you have me go to New York and enter a
banking house where, any hour of any day, I might be recognized by
some of the men I once knew? Where I might expect at any moment to
be called by my real name? How can you?"

She gazed at me earnestly. "Why not tell him, Roscoe?" she asked.

I stared at her, aghast. "Tell him!" I repeated. "Tell him who I
am? Tell him our story, the story that-- Mother, are you crazy?"

"No. I believe I am sane, at least. I have been thinking a great
deal of late. As I have been growing stronger I have been thinking
more and more and I am not sure that you and I have been right in
hiding here as we have done. It was all my fault, I know, but I
was weak and--and I dreaded all the gossip and scandal. But, Boy,
it was a mistake. After all, we have done no wrong, you and I--we,
personally, have nothing to be ashamed of. Why not end all this?
Go to Mr. Colton, tell him who you are, tell him our story; then,
if he still wants you--"

I interrupted. "No, Mother," I said, "no, no! It is impossible.
Even if he knew, and it made no difference, I could not do it. I
may go away! I may feel that I must go, if you are well enough for
me to leave you, but I can not go with him. I ought not to see him
again. I must not see HER. . . . . Oh, don't you understand?
Mother, I--I--"

She understood. I had seized her hand and now she stroked it
gently with her own.

"So it is true," she said, quietly. "You love her, Roscoe."

"Yes! yes! yes!" I answered, desperately. "Oh, don't speak of it,
Mother! I am insane, I think."

"Does she care for you, Boy? Have you spoken to her?"

"MOTHER! Is it likely?"

"But I think she does care, Roscoe. I think she does. She must."

This was so characteristic that, although I was in anything but a
laughing mood, I could not help smiling.

"How could she help it? I presume you mean," I observed,
sarcastically. "There, Mother, don't worry. I did not intend that
you or anyone else should know what an idiot I am, but don't worry--
I shan't do anything ridiculous or desperate. I may go somewhere,
to get away from Denboro, and to earn a living for you and me, but
that is all. We won't speak of her again."

"But if she does care, Boy?"

"If she does-- Of course, she doesn't--but, if she does, can't you
see that only makes it worse? Think who she is and who and what I
am! Her family-- Humph! you have not met her mother; I have."

"But if she loves you--"

"Do you think I should permit her to ruin her life--for me?"

"Poor boy! I am SO sorry!"

"It is all right, Mother. There! we won't be foolish any longer.
I am going for a walk and I want you to rest. I am glad, we have
had this talk; it has done me good to speak what I have been
thinking. Good-by. I will be back soon."

She would have detained me, but I broke away and went out. My walk
was a long one. I tramped the beach for eight long miles and,
though one might think that my adventures of the night before had
provided exercise enough, this additional effort seemed to do no
harm. I forgot dinner entirely and supper was on the table when I
returned to the house.

I found Dorinda in a condition divided between anxiety and
impatience.

"Have you seen anything of that man of mine?" she demanded. "I
ain't seen hide nor hair of him since I pitched him out of this
room this mornin'!"

I was surprised and a little disturbed. I remembered Lute's threat
about "never seein' me no more."

"You don't suppose he has run away, or anything like that, do you?"
I asked.

"He wouldn't run far; runnin's too much like work. But why he
wan't home for dinner I don't understand. I never knew him to miss
a meal's vittles afore. I hope nothin' ain't happened to him,
that's all. Well, we'll have our supper, anyhow. After that we'll
see."

But we did not have to see. We were at the table when we heard the
sound of hurrying footsteps on the walk. The gate closed with a
bang. Dorinda rose from her chair.

"I swan! I believe that's him now!" she exclaimed.

"If it is, he is certainly running this time," I observed. "What--"

The door was thrown open and the missing member of the household
appeared. He was red-faced and panting, but there was a curious
air of dignified importance in his bearing. Dorinda's lips shut
tightly.

"Well, Lute," said I, "where have you been?"

Lute struggled for breath.

"Don't ask me where I've been!" he gasped. "Don't waste no time
askin' ME questions. Get your hat on, Ros! Get your hat on this
minute! Where did I put that? Where in time did I put it?"

He was fumbling in his pockets. Dorinda and I looked at each
other. She shook her head.

"He's gone stark foolish at last!" she said, with decision. "Well,
I've been expectin' it! Lute Rogers, stop pawin' yourself over and
act sensible, if you can. What is the matter with you?"

"Matter with me! Nothin's the matter with ME; but there's
somethin' the matter with other folks, I tell you that! Doctor
Quimby's been there twice already, and the telephone's been goin',
and--and-- My time! you ought to seen her face! 'Twas just as
white as--as-- WHERE did I put that letter?"

His "pawing" became more frantic than ever. His wife stepped
forward and seized him by the arm.

"Stop it, I tell you!" she commanded. "Stop it! Who's sick?
Whose telephone's ringin'? What letter are you talkin' about?
Answer me! Stop that Saint Vitus dancin' and answer me this
minute!"

She gave him a shake and his cap fell to the floor. From it fell
an envelope. Lute pulled himself free and pounced upon it.

"There 'tis!" he exclaimed. "By time! I was scart I'd lost it!
Read it, Ros! read it!"

He handed me the envelope. It bore my name. I tore it open--took
out the sheet of notepaper which it inclosed, and read as follows:

"Dear Mr. Paine:

"Father is very ill, and I am in great trouble. I think you,
perhaps, can help us both. Will you come over at once? PLEASE do.

"Hastily yours,

"MABEL COLTON."

"And--and--" panted Lute, "she told me to tell you to please hurry.
And you'd ought to seen her face! She--"

I heard no more. I did not wait to get my hat, as the excited
bearer of the note had urged me to do. Bareheaded, I hurried out
of the dining-room and along the path toward the Colton mansion.

CHAPTER XXI

It was early in the evening, but the big house was lighted as if
for a reception; lights in the rooms above, lights in the library
and hall and drawing-room. Doctor Quimby's horse and buggy stood
by one of the hitching posts and the Colton motor car was drawn up
by the main entrance. From the open windows of the servants'
quarters came the sounds of excited voices. I hastened to the
front door. Before I could push the button of the electric bell
the door was opened. Johnson, the butler, peered out at me. Most
of his dignity was gone.

"Is it you, Mr. Paine?" he asked, anxiously. "Come in, sir,
please. Miss Mabel has been asking for you not a minute ago, sir."

I entered the hall. "What is it, Johnson?" I asked, quickly. "How
is Mr. Colton?"

The butler looked behind him before replying. He shook his head
dubiously.

"He's awful ill, sir," he whispered. "The doctor's been with him
for an hour; 'e's unconscious and Mrs. Colton is takin' on
something terrible. It's awful, sir, ain't it!"

His nervousness was sufficient indication of the general
demoralization of the household. And from one of the rooms above
came the sobs of a hysterical woman.

"Brace up, man," I whispered in reply. "This is no time for you to
go to pieces. Where is Miss Colton?"

"She's with her father, sir. Step into the library and I'll call
her."

He was not obliged to call her, for, at that moment, I heard her
voice speaking from the head of the stairs.

"Who is it, Johnson?" she asked, in a low tone.

"It's Mr. Paine, Miss Mabel."

I heard a little exclamation, of relief it seemed to me. Then she
appeared, descending the staircase. Her face was, as Lute had
said, pale, but her manner was calm, much calmer than the butler's.

She came to me and extended her hand. "Thank you for coming," she
said. "I was sure you would."

"How is your father, Miss Colton?" I asked.

"He is no worse. Come into the library, please. Johnson, if
Mother or the doctor need me, I shall be in the library. Come, Mr.
Paine."

We entered the library together. The room in which I had had my
two memorable encounters with "Big Jim" Colton was without its
dominant figure now. His big armchair was drawn up beside the
table and the papers and writing materials were in the place where
I had seen them. A half-burned cigar lay in the ash tray. But the
strong fingers which had placed it there were weak enough now and
the masterful general of finance was in his room upstairs fighting
the hardest battle of his life, fighting for that life itself. A
door at the end of the library, a door which I had not noticed
before, was partially open and from within sounded at intervals a
series of sharp clicks, the click of a telegraph instrument. I
remembered that Colton had told me, in one of his conversations,
that he had both a private telephone and telegraph in his house.

Miss Colton closed the door behind us, and turned to me.

"Thank you for coming," she said, again. "I need help and I could
think of no one but you. You have hurried dreadfully, haven't
you!"

She was looking at my forehead. I caught a glimpse of my face in
the mirror above the mantel and reached for my handkerchief.

"I must have run every step of the way," I answered. "I didn't
realize it. But never mind that. Tell me about your father."

"He was taken ill soon after he returned from your house. He was
in the library here and I heard him call. When I reached him he
was lying upon the couch, scarcely able to speak. He lost
consciousness before we could get him to his room. The doctor says
it is what he has feared, an attack of acute indigestion, brought
on by anxiety and lack of rest. It was my fault, I am afraid.
Last night's worry-- Poor Father!"

For just a moment I feared she was going to break down. She
covered her eyes with her hand. But she removed it almost
immediately.

"The doctor is confident there is no great danger," she went on.
"Danger, of course, but not the greatest. He is still unconscious
and will be for some time, but, if he is kept perfectly quiet and
not permitted to worry in the least, he will soon be himself
again."

"Thank God for that!" I exclaimed, fervently. "And your mother--
Mrs. Colton--how, is she?"

Her tone changed slightly. I inferred that Mrs. Colton's condition
was more trying than serious.

"Mother is--well, in her nervous state any shock is disturbing.
She is bearing the anxiety as well as we should expect."

I judged that not much was expected.

"It was not on account of Father's illness that I sent for you, Mr.
Paine," she went on. "If he had not been ill I should not have
needed you, of course. But there is something else. It could not
have happened at a more unfortunate time and I am afraid you may
not be able to give me the help I need. Oh, I hope you can! I
don't know what to do. I know it must be dreadfully important.
Father has been troubled about it for days. He has been saying
that he must go to New York. But the doctor had warned us against
his going and so we persuaded him to wait. And now . . . Sit
down, please. I want to ask your advice."

I took the chair she indicated. She drew another beside me and
seated herself.

"Mr. Paine--" she began. Then, noticing my expression, she asked,
"What is it?"

"Nothing," I answered, "nothing except-- Isn't that the telegraph
instrument I hear? Isn't someone calling you?"

"Yes, yes, it is Mr. Davis, Father's confidential man, his broker,
in New York. He is trying to get us, I am sure. He telephoned an
hour ago. I got a part of his message and then the connection was
broken off. Central says there is something the matter with the
wire, a big storm in Connecticut somewhere. It may take a whole
day to repair it. And it is SO important! It may mean--I don't
know WHAT it may mean! Oh, Mr. Paine, DO you know anything about
stocks?"

I looked at her blankly.

"Stocks?" I repeated.

"Yes, yes," a trifle impatiently. "Stocks--the stock market--
railroad shares--how they are bought and sold--do you know anything
about them?"

I was more puzzled than ever, but I answered as best I could.

"A very little," I replied. "I used to know a good deal about them
once, and, of late, since I have been in the Denboro bank, my
knowledge has been brushed up a bit. But I am afraid it is pretty
fragmentary."

"Do you know anything about Louisville and Transcontinental?"

I started. Louisville and Transcontinental was the one stock about
which I did know something. Of late I had read everything the
papers printed concerning it. It was the stock in which George
Taylor had risked so much and which had come so near to ruining
him. No wonder I was startled. Why did she mention that
particular stock?

"What?" I stammered.

"Louisville and Transcontinental," she repeated, eagerly. "DO you
know anything about it? Why do you look at me like that?"

I must be careful. It was not possible that she could have learned
George's secret. No one knew that except George himself, and his
brokers, and I. Yet--yet why did she ask that question? I must be
on my guard.

"I did not realize that I was looking at you in any extraordinary
way, Miss Colton," I answered.

"But you were. Why? Do you know anything about it? If you do--
oh, if you do you may be able to help me, to advise me! And, for
Father's sake, I want advice so much."

For her father's sake! That did not sound as if her question
concerned George or me. A trifle reassured, I tried to remember
something of what I had read.

"I know, of course," I answered, slowly, "what every one knows,
that the California and Eastern has been, or is reported to have
been, trying to get control of the L. and T. Its possession would
give the California people the balance of power and mean the end of
the present rate war with the Consolidated Pacific. The common
stock has fluctuated between 30 and 50 for months and there have
been all sorts of rumors. So much the newspapers have made common
property. That is all I know."

"You did not know then that Father and his associates control the
California and Eastern?"

I leaned back in my chair.

"No," I said, "I did not know that. Then your father--"

"Father tells me a great deal concerning his business affairs. I
have been very much interested in this. It seems almost like a
great war and as if Father were a general. He and his associates
have gradually bought up the C. and E. until they practically own
it. And they have been working to get the Louisville road. Last
winter, you remember, there was a great excitement and the stock
went up and then down again. That was when it looked as if the
other side--the Consolidated Pacific--had beaten Father, but they
had not. You remember that?"

I remembered it. That is to say, George had told me of the rise
and fall of the stock. It was then that he had bought.

"Yes," I said, "I remember something of it."

"If Father had stayed in New York he would have won before this.
Oh," with a burst of pride, "they can NEVER beat him when he is
leading the fight himself! He has, through his brokers, been
selling--what do they call it? Oh, yes, selling the Louisville
stock 'short' ever since. I am not sure just what that means, but
perhaps you know."

"I think I do," I answered, thoughtfully. "He has been selling,
quietly, so as to force the stock down, preparatory to buying in.
I remember the papers have said that the C. and E. were reported as
having lost interest in the Louisville. That was only a blind, I
presume."

"Yes. Father never gives up, you know that. But he was very
anxious that the Consolidated Pacific people should think he had.
And now--now, when he is so ill--comes this! Mr. Davis telephoned
that-- Yes, what is it?"

There had been a knock at the door. It opened and the butler
appeared.

"A telegram for Mr. Colton, Miss Mabel," he said.

"Give it to me. Tell the man to wait, Johnson. It is from Mr.
Davis," she exclaimed, turning to me. "I am sure it is. Yes.
See!"

She handed me the yellow telegram. I read the following aloud:

"James W. Colton,

"Denboro, Mass.

"Galileo potato soap currency tomato deeds command army alcohol
thief weather family--"

"What on earth--!" I exclaimed.

"That is in the code, Father's private code. Don't you see? The
code book is here somewhere. I must find it."

She was rummaging in the drawer of the desk. With a sigh of relief
she produced a little blue leather-covered book.

"Here it is," she said. "Now read me the telegram and I will write
the translation. Hurry!"

I read again:

"'Galileo'--"

"That means 'Consolidated Pacific'. Go on."

It took us five minutes to translate the telegram. When we had
finished the result was:

"Consolidated Pacific crowd wise situation. Strong buying close
market to-day. Expect worse to-morrow. We are bad shape. Can
deliver only part. Sure big advance opening and more follow. What
shall I do? Why do not you answer private telegraph line?
Telephone out order. Wire instructions immediately. Better still
come yourself. Davis."

"Is that all?" asked Miss Colton. "What answer shall we make?"

"Wait. Wait, please, until I dig some sort of sense out of all
this. 'Wise situation'--"

"Wise TO situation, I presume that means. The Consolidated Pacific
is wise to the situation. 'Wise' is slang, isn't it? It used to
be at college."

"It is yet, even in Denboro. Humph! let me think. 'Sure big
advance opening.' I suppose that means the market will open with
Louisville and Transcontinental at a higher figure and that the
price is sure to advance during the day."

"Yes. Yes, it must mean that. But why should Mr. Davis be so
excited about it? He said something about 'ruin' over the 'phone.
What does 'We are bad shape' mean? And 'Can deliver only part'?"

"I don't know . . . unless . . . Humph! If we had some particulars.
Why don't you answer on the private telegraph, as he says?"

"Because I can't. Don't you see? I can't. There is no telegraph
operator in the house. When we first came Father had a secretary,
who could use the telegraph; but he sent him back to New York.
Said he was sick of the sight of him. They did not get on well
together."

"But your father must have used the telegraph since."

"Yes. Father used it himself. He was a telegraph operator when he
was a young man. Oh, you don't know what a wonderful man my father
is! His story is like something in a book. He-- But never mind
that. Hark! there is the instrument going again. It must be
dreadfully important. Mr. Davis is so worried."

"He seems to be, certainly."

"But what shall we do?"

"I wish I knew, but I don't. You know nothing of the particulars?"

"No. Nothing more than I have told you. Oh, CAN'T you help me? I
feel somehow as if Father had left me in charge of his affairs and
as if I must not fail. Now, when he is helpless! when he is . . .
Oh, can't YOU do something, Mr. Paine? I thought you might. You
are a banker."

"A poor imitation only, I am afraid. Let me think. Did you tell
this man Davis of your father's illness?"

"No. I thought perhaps Father would not wish it. And I had no
opportunity . . . Oh, dear! there is someone at the door again!
Who is it?"

Johnson's voice replied. "It is me, Miss Mabel," he said. "The
telegraph person says he can't wait any longer. He 'asn't 'ad his
supper. And there is a twenty-five-cent charge for bringing the
message, Miss."

"Tell him he must wait a minute longer," I answered, for her.
"Miss Colton, it seems to me that, whether we can do anything or
not, we should know the particulars. Tell that man--Phineas
Cahoon, the depot master, I suppose it is--that there is an answer
and he must wait for it. Now let's consult that code."

She took the code book and I picked up a sheet of paper and a
pencil from the table.

"We must ask him to send all the particulars," I declared. "Look
up 'send' in the code, Miss Colton."

She was turning the pages of the little book when the butler
knocked once more.

"He says he can't send any message until morning, Miss Mabel. The
telegraph office closes at eight o'clock."

The code book fell to the table. Miss Colton stared helplessly at
me.

"What SHALL we do?" she breathed.

I rose to my feet. "Wait, Johnson," I called. "Make that man wait
a moment longer. Miss Colton, I have an idea. Would your father
be willing to--but, that is silly! Of course he would! I'll see
Cahoon myself."

I found Phineas, long-legged and gaunt, sitting on the front step
of the colonial portico. He had been invited into the hall, but
had refused the invitation. "I had on my workin' duds," he
explained later. "A feller that's been handlin' freight all the
afternoon ain't fit to set on gold-plated furniture." He looked up
in surprise as I came out.

"Well, for thunder sakes!" he exclaimed, in astonishment. "It's
Ros Paine! What in the nation are you doin' in here, Ros? Ain't
married into the family, have ye? Haw, haw!"

I could have kicked him for that pleasantry--if he had not been
just then too important a personage to kick. As it was, his chance
remark knocked my errand out of my head, momentarily.

"How's the old man, Ros?" he whispered. "They tell me it's brought
on by high livin', champagne wine and such. Is it?"

"Phin," said I, ignoring the question, "would you stay up all night
for twenty dollars?"

He stared at me.

"What kind of conundrum's that?" he demanded. "'Would I set up all
night for twenty dollars?' That may be a joke, but--"

"Would you? I mean it. Mr. Colton is sick and his daughter needs
some one to send and receive messages over their private telegraph
wire. She will pay you twenty dollars--or I will, if she doesn't--
if you will stay here and do that for her. Will you?"

For a minute he sat there staring at me.

"You mean it, Ros?" he asked, slowly. "You do, hey! I thought
p'raps--but no, it's long past April Fool day. WILL I do it? Show
me the telegraph place quick, afore I wake up and come out of the
ether. Twenty dollars! Consarn it, I send messages all the week
for twelve, and hustle freight and sell tickets into the bargain.
I ain't had no supper, but never mind. Make it twenty-five and
I'll stay all day to-morrer."

I led him into the library and explained his presence to Miss
Colton. She was delighted.

"It is SO good of you, Mr. Cahoon," she exclaimed. "And you shan't
starve, either. I will have some supper sent in to you at once.
You can eat it while you are at work, can't you?"

She hurried out to order the supper. Phineas, in accordance with
my request, seated himself in the little room adjoining the
library, before the telegraph instrument.

"Thunder!" he observed, looking about him. "I never expected to
send messages for King Solomon in all his glory, but I cal'late I
can stand it if Sol can. S'pose there'd be any objection to my
takin' off my coat? Comes more nat'ral to work in my shirt
sleeves."

I bade him take it off and he did so.

"This feller's in some hurry," he said, nodding toward the clicking
instrument. "Shall I tell him we're on deck and ready for
business?"

"Yes, tell him."

His long fingers busied themselves with the sender. A sharp series
of clicks answered the call. Phineas glanced apprehensively out
into the library.

"Say, he ain't no parson, is he?" he chuckled. "Wants to know what
in hell has been the trouble all this time. What'll I tell him?"

"Tell him to send particulars concerning L. and T. at once. All
the particulars."

The message was sent. The receiver rattled a hasty reply.

"He says you know all the particulars already. You must know 'em.
Wants to know if this is Mr. Colton."

"Tell him Mr. Colton is here, in the house. That will be true
enough. And say we wish all particulars, figures and all. We want
to know just where we stand."

The demand for particulars was forwarded. There was more clicking.

"Give me a piece of paper and a pencil, quick," urged Phineas.
"This is a long feller."

While he was writing the "long feller," as the telegraph ticked it
off, Miss Colton and the butler appeared, the latter bearing a
loaded tray. He drew a little table up beside the operator and
placed the tray upon it. Then he went away. The telegraph clicked
and clicked and Cahoon wrote. Miss Colton and I watched him
anxiously.

"Say," observed Phineas, between intervals of clicks, "this
feller's in some loony asylum, ain't he. This is pretty nigh as
crazy as that message I fetched down. . . . Here 'tis. Maybe you
folks know what it means, I don't. It's forty fathoms long, ain't
it."

It was long enough, surely. It was not all in the code jargon--
Davis trusted the privacy of the wire sufficiently to send a
portion of it in plain English--but he did not trust even that
altogether. Miss Colton and I worked it out as we had the first
telegram. As the translation progressed I could feel my hair
tingling at the roots.

Was it to help in such a complication as this that I had been
summoned? I, of all people! These waters were too deep for me.

Boiled down, the "particulars" for which Davis had been asked, and
which he had sent, amounted to this: Colton, it seemed, had sold
L. and T. "short" for a considerable period of time in order, as I
had surmised, to force down the price and buy in at a reasonable
figure. He had sold, in this way, about three-eighths of the
common stock. Of this amount he had in his possession--in his
broker's possession, that is--but two of the eighths. The "other
crowd"--the Consolidated Pacific, presumably--had, as Davis now
discovered, three-eighths actual certificates, in its pocket, had
been acquiring them, on the quiet, while pretending to have lost
interest. The public, unsuspecting powers in this, as in most of
Wall Street little games, had still three-eighths. The "other
crowd," knowing "Big Jim's" position, had but to force immediate
delivery of the missing one-eighth--the amount of Colton's over-
selling--and he might be obliged to pay Heaven knew what for the
shares. He MUST acquire them; he must buy them. And the price
which he would be forced to pay might mean--perhaps not bankruptcy
for him, the millionaire--but certainly the loss of a tremendous
sum and all chance of acquiring control of the road. "This has
been sprung on us all at once," wired Davis. "They have got us
cold. What shall I do? You must be here yourself before the
market opens."

And the man who "must be there himself" was critically ill and
unconscious!

The long telegram, several hundred words of it, was before us. I
read it through again, and Miss Colton sat and looked at me.

"Do you understand it--now?" she whispered, anxiously.

"Yes, I think I do. . . . What is it, Phin?"

"I was just wonderin'," drawled Cahoon's voice from the adjoining
room, "if I couldn't eat a little mite of this supper. I've got to
do it or have my nose and eyes tied up. Havin' all them good
things settin' right where I can see and smell 'em is givin' me the
fidgets."

"Yes, yes, eat away," I said, laughing. And even Miss Colton
smiled. But my laugh and her smile were but transient.

"Is it-- Does it mean that things are VERY wrong?" she asked,
indicating the telegram.

"They are very serious; there is no doubt of that."

The instrument clicked.

"Say, Ros," said Phin, his mouth full, "this feller's gettin' as
fidgety as I was afore I got afoul of this grub. He wants to know
what his instructions are. What'll he do?"

"What shall you tell him?" asked Miss Colton.

"I don't know," I answered. "I do not know. I am afraid I am of
no use whatever. This is no countryman's job. No country banker,
even a real one, should attempt to handle this. This is high
finance with a vengeance. I don't know. I think he . . . Suppose
we tell him to consult the people at your father's office."

She shook her head. "No," she said. "The people at the office
know nothing of it. This was Father's own personal affair. No one
knows of it but Mr. Davis."

"How about them instructions?" this from Cahoon.

"Tell him--yes, tell him Mr. Colton cannot leave here at present
and that he must use his own judgment, go ahead on his own
responsibility. That is the only thing I see to do, Miss Colton.
Don't worry; he must be a man of experience and judgment or your
father never would use him. He will pull it through, I am sure."

I was by no means as confident as I pretended to be, however, and
the next message from Davis proved my forebodings to be well
founded. His answer was prompt and emphatic:

Matter too important. Decline to take responsibility. Must have
definite instructions or shall not act. Is this Mr. Colton
himself?

"He would not act without Father's orders in a matter like this. I
was afraid of it. And he is growing suspicious. Oh, CAN'T you
help me, Mr. Paine? CAN'T you? I relied on you. I felt sure YOU
would know what to do. I am--I am SO alone; and with Father so
ill--I--I--"

She turned away and leaned her head upon her hand on the table. I
felt again the desperate impulse I had felt when we were alone on
board the launch, the impulse to take her in my arms and try to
comfort her, to tell her that I would do anything--anything for
her. And yet what could I do?

"Can't you help me?" she pleaded. "You have never failed me
before."

There came a knock at the door and Johnson's voice called her name.

"Miss Mabel," he whispered, "Miss Mabel, will you come, please?
The doctor wants you right away."

She rose quickly, drawing her hand across her eyes as she did so.

"I am coming, Johnson," she said. Then, turning to me, "I will be
back as soon as I can. Do try--try to think. You MUST, for
Father's sake, for all our sakes."

She left the room. I rose and, with my hands in my pockets, began
to pace the floor. This was the tightest place I had ever been in.
There had been a time, years before, when I prided myself on my
knowledge of the stock market and its idiosyncrasies. Then, in the
confidence of youth, I might have risen to a situation like this,
might have tackled it and had the nerve to pull it through or blame
the other fellow if I failed. Now I was neither youthful nor
confident. Whatever I did would be, in all human probability, the
wrong thing, and to do the wrong thing now meant, perhaps, ruin for
the sick man upstairs. And she had trusted me! She had sent for
me in her trouble! I had "never failed her before"!

I walked the floor, trying hard to think. It was hard to think
calmly, to be sensible, and yet I realized that common-sense and
coolness were what I needed now. I tried to remember the outcome
of similar situations in financial circles, but that did not help
me. I remembered a play I had seen, "The Henrietta" was its name.
In that play, a young man with more money than brains had saved the
day for his father, a Wall Street magnate, by buying a certain
stock in large quantities at a critical time. He arrived at his
decision to buy, rather than sell, by tossing a coin. The father
had declared that his son had hit upon the real secret of success
in stock speculation. Possibly the old gentleman was right, but I
could not make my decision in that way. No, whatever I did must
have some reason to back it. Was there no situation, outside of
Wall Street, which offered a parallel? After all, what was the
situation? Some one wished to buy a certain thing, and some one
else wished to buy it also. Neither party wanted the other to get
it. There had been a general game of bluff and then . . . Humph!
Why, in a way, it was like the original bidding for the Shore Lane
land.

It was like it, and yet it was not. I owned the land and Colton
wanted to buy it; so also did Jed Dean. Each side had made bids
and had been refused. Then the bidders had, professedly, stood
pat, but, in reality, they had not. Jed had told me, in his latest
interview, that he would have paid almost anything for that land,
if he had had to. And Colton--Colton had invented the Bay Shore
Development Company. That company had fooled Elnathan Mullet and
other property holders. It had fooled Captain Jed. It had come
very near to fooling me. If Mabel Colton had not given me the hint
I might have been tricked into selling. Then Colton would have
won, have won on a "bluff." A good bluff did sometimes win. I
wondered . . .

I was still pacing the floor when Miss Colton returned to the
library. She was trying hard to appear calm, but I could see that
she was greatly agitated.

"What is it?" I asked. "Is he--"

"He is not as well just now. I--I must not leave him--or Mother.
But I came back for a moment, as I told you I would. Is there
anything new?"

"No. Davis has repeated his declaration to do nothing without
orders from your father."

She nodded. "Very well," she said, "then it is over. We are
beaten--Father is beaten for the first time. It makes little
difference, I suppose. If he--if he is taken from us, nothing else
matters. But I hoped you . . . never mind. I thank you, Mr.
Paine. You would have helped him if you could, I know."

Somehow this surrender, and the tone in which it was made, stirred
me more than all else. She had trusted me and I had failed. I
would not have it so.

"Miss Colton," I said, earnestly, "suppose--suppose I should go
ahead and make this fight, on my own hook. Suppose I should give
Davis the 'instructions' he is begging for. Have I permission to
do it?"

She looked at me in surprise. "Of course," she said, simply.

"Do you mean it? It may mean complete smash. I am no railroad
man, no stock manipulator. I have an idea and if this trouble were
mine I should act upon it. But it is not mine. It is your
father's--and yours. I may be crazy to risk such a thing--"

She stepped forward. "Do it," she commanded. "I tell you to do
it. If it fails I will take the responsibility."

"That you shall not do. But I will take the chance. Phin!"

"Yup; here I be."

"Send this message at once: 'Try your hardest to get hold of any
shares you can, at almost any figure in reason, before the market
opens. When it opens begin buying everything offered.' Got that?"

"Yup. I've got it."

"Sign it 'Colton' and send it along. I am using your father's
name," I added, turning to her. "It seems to me the only way to
avoid suspicion and get action. No one must know that 'Big Jim' is
critically ill; you understand that."

"Yes, I understand. But," hesitatingly, "to buy may mean paying
tremendous prices, may it not? Can we--"

"We must. Here is Davis's reply coming. What is it, Phin?"

Cahoon read off the message as the receiver clicked.

"You are insane. Buying at such prices will be suicide."

"Tell him no. Tell him to let it leak out that Colton is seizing
the opportunity to clinch his control of the road. The other crowd
will think, if he is willing to buy at any price, that he cannot be
so short as they supposed. Send all that, Phin. It is a bluff,
Miss Colton, nothing but a bluff, but it may win. God knows I hope
it will."

She did not answer. Together we waited for the reply. It came as
follows:

All right if you say so, of course, but still think it suicide. I
am off on the still hunt for those shares but don't believe one to
be had, Consolidated bunch too sharp for that. Stay by the wire.
Will report when I can. Good luck and good-by.

"He's gone, I cal'late," observed Phineas. "Need me any more, do
you think?"

"Yes. You must stay here all night, just as I told you."

"Right you be. Send word to the old woman, that's all, if you can.
Cal'late she's waitin' at the kitchen door with a rollin' pin, by
this time."

"I will send the word, Mr. Cahoon," replied Miss Colton. "And--
don't you think you could go home now, Mr. Paine? I know how
exhausted you must be, after last night."

"No home for me," I answered, with assumed cheerfulness. "Admirals
of Finance are expected to stick by the ship. I will lie down here
on the couch and Phineas can call me if I am needed. Don't worry,
Miss Colton. Go to your father and forget us altogether, if you
can. If--if I should be needed for--for any other cause, please
speak."

She looked at me in silence for a moment. Then she came toward me
and held out her hand. "I shall not forget, whatever else I may
do," she said, brokenly. "And I will speak if I need you, my
friend."

She turned hastily and went to the door.

"I will send word to your people as well as Mr. Cahoon's," she
added. "Try and sleep, if you can. Good night."

The door closed behind her. Sleep! I was not likely to sleep. A
man who has lighted the fuse of the powder magazine beneath him
does not sleep much.

CHAPTER XXII

And yet sleep I did, for a little while, just before morning broke.
I had spent the night pacing the floor and talking to Phineas, who
was wide awake and full of stories and jokes, to which I paid
little attention. Miss Colton did not come to the library again.
From the rooms above I heard occasional sobs and exclamations in
Mrs. Colton's voice. Once Doctor Quimby peeped in. He looked
anxious and weary.

Book of the day: