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THE DEPOT MASTER
by Joseph C. Lincoln
I.–AT THE DEPOT
II.–SUPPLY AND DEMAND
V.–A BABY AND A ROBBERY
VI.–AVIATION AND AVARICE
VII.–CAPTAIN SOL DECIDES TO MOVE
VIII.–THE OBLIGATIONS OF A GENTLEMAN
IX.–THE WIDOW BASSETT
X.–CAPTAIN JONADAB GOES
XI. THE GREAT METROPOLIS
XII.–A VISION SENT
XV.–THE “HERO” AND THE COWBOY
XVI.–THE CRUISE OF THE RED CAR
XVIII.–THE MOUNTAIN AND MAHOMET
THE DEPOT MASTER
AT THE DEPOT
Mr. Simeon Phinney emerged from the side door of his residence and paused a moment to light his pipe in the lee of the lilac bushes. Mr. Phinney was a man of various and sundry occupations, and his sign, nailed to the big silver-leaf in the front yard, enumerated a few of them. “Carpenter, Well Driver, Building Mover, Cranberry Bogs Seen to with Care and Dispatch, etc., etc.,” so read the sign. The house was situated in “Phinney’s Lane,” the crooked little byway off “Cross Street,” between the “Shore Road” at the foot of the slope and the “Hill Boulevard”–formerly “Higgins’s Roost”–at the top. From the Phinney gate the view was extensive and, for the most part, wet. The hill descended sharply, past the “Shore Road,” over the barren fields and knolls covered with bayberry bushes and “poverty grass,” to the yellow sand of the beach and the gray, weather-beaten fish-houses scattered along it. Beyond was the bay, a glimmer in the sunset light.
Mrs. Phinney, in the kitchen, was busy with the supper dishes. Her husband, wheezing comfortably at his musical pipe, drew an ancient silver watch from his pocket and looked at its dial. Quarter past six. Time to be getting down to the depot and the post office. At least a dozen male citizens of East Harniss were thinking that very thing at that very moment. It was a community habit of long standing to see the train come in and go after the mail. The facts that the train bore no passengers in whom you were intimately interested, and that you expected no mail made little difference. If you were a man of thirty or older, you went to the depot or the “club,” just as your wife or sisters went to the sewing circle, for sociability and mild excitement. If you were a single young man you went to the post office for the same reason that you attended prayer meeting. If you were a single young lady you went to the post office and prayer meeting to furnish a reason for the young man.
Mr. Phinney, replacing his watch in his pocket, meandered to the sidewalk and looked down the hill and along the length of the “Shore Road.” Beside the latter highway stood a little house, painted a spotless white, its window blinds a vivid green. In that house dwelt, and dwelt alone, Captain Solomon Berry, Sim Phinney’s particular friend. Captain Sol was the East Harniss depot master and, from long acquaintance, Mr. Phinney knew that he should be through supper and ready to return to the depot, by this time. The pair usually walked thither together when the evening meal was over.
But, except for the smoke curling lazily from the kitchen chimney, there was no sign of life about the Berry house. Either Captain Sol had already gone, or he was not yet ready to go. So Mr. Phinney decided that waiting was chancey, and set out alone.
He climbed Cross Street to where the “Hill Boulevard,” abiding place of East Harniss’s summer aristocracy, bisected it, and there, standing on the corner, and consciously patronizing the spot where he so stood, was Mr. Ogden Hapworth Williams, no less.
Mr. Williams was the village millionaire, patron, and, in a gentlemanly way, “boomer.” His estate on the Boulevard was the finest in the county, and he, more than any one else, was responsible for the “buying up” by wealthy people from the city of the town’s best building sites, the spots commanding “fine marine sea views,” to quote from Abner Payne, local real estate and insurance agent. His own estate was fine enough to be talked about from one end of the Cape to the other and he had bought the empty lot opposite and made it into a miniature park, with flower beds and gravel walks, though no one but he or his might pick the flowers or tread the walks. He had brought on a wealthy friend from New York and a cousin from Chicago, and they, too, had bought acres on the Boulevard and erected palatial “cottages” where once were the houses of country people. Local cynics suggested that the sign on the East Harniss railroad station should be changed to read “Williamsburg.” “He owns the place, body and soul,” said they.
As Sim Phinney climbed the hill the magnate, pompous, portly, and imposing, held up a signaling finger. “Just as if he was hailin’ a horse car,” described Simeon afterward.
“Phinney,” he said, “come here, I want to speak to you.”
The man of many trades obediently approached.
“Good evenin’, Mr. Williams,” he ventured.
“Phinney,” went on the great man briskly, “I want you to give me your figures on a house moving deal. I have bought a house on the Shore Road, the one that used to belong to the–er–Smalleys, I believe.”
Simeon was surprised. “What, the old Smalley house?” he exclaimed. “You don’t tell me!”
“Yes, it’s a fine specimen–so my wife says–of the pure Colonial, whatever that is, and I intend moving it to the Boulevard. I want your figures for the job.”
The building mover looked puzzled. “To the Boulevard?” he said. “Why, I didn’t know there was a vacant lot on the Boulevard, Mr. Williams.”
“There isn’t now, but there will be soon. I have got hold of the hundred feet left from the old Seabury estate.”
Mr. Phinney drew a long breath. “Why!” he stammered, “that’s where Olive Edwards–her that was Olive Seabury–lives, ain’t it?”
“Yes,” was the rather impatient answer. “She has been living there. But the place was mortgaged up to the handle and–ahem–the mortgage is mine now.”
For an instant Simeon did not reply. He was gazing, not up the Boulevard in the direction of the “Seabury place” but across the slope of the hill toward the home of Captain Sol Berry, the depot master. There was a troubled look on his face.
“Well?” inquired Williams briskly, “when can you give me the figures? They must be low, mind. No country skin games, you understand.”
“Hey?” Phinney came out of his momentary trance. “Yes, yes, Mr. Williams. They’ll be low enough. Times is kind of dull now and I’d like a movin’ job first-rate. I’ll give ’em to you to-morrer. But–but Olive’ll have to move, won’t she? And where’s she goin’?”
“She’ll have to move, sure. And the eyesore on that lot now will come down.”
The “eyesore” was the four room building, combined dwelling and shop of Mrs. Olive Edwards, widow of “Bill Edwards,” once a promising young man, later town drunkard and ne’er-do-well, dead these five years, luckily for himself and luckier–in a way–for the wife who had stuck by him while he wasted her inheritance in a losing battle with John Barleycorn. At his death the fine old Seabury place had dwindled to a lone hundred feet of land, the little house, and a mortgage on both. Olive had opened a “notion store” in her front parlor and had fought on, proudly refusing aid and trying to earn a living. She had failed. Again Phinney stared thoughtfully at the distant house of Captain Sol.
“But Olive,” he said, slowly. “She ain’t got no folks, has she? What’ll become of her? Where’ll she move to?”
“That,” said Mr. Williams, with a wave of a fat hand, “is not my business. I am sorry for her, if she’s hard up. But I can’t be responsible if men will drink up their wives’ money. Look out for number one; that’s business. I sha’n’t be unreasonable with her. She can stay where she is until the new house I’ve bought is moved to that lot. Then she must clear out. I’ve told her that. She knows all about it. Well, good-by, Phinney. I shall expect your bid to-morrow. And, mind, don’t try to get the best of me, because you can’t do it.”
He turned and strutted back up the Boulevard. Sim Phinney, pondering deeply and very grave, continued on his way, down Cross Street to Main–naming the village roads was another of the Williams’ “improvements”–and along that to the crossing, East Harniss’s business and social center at train times.
The station–everyone called it “deepo,” of course–was then a small red building, old and out of date, but scrupulously neat because of Captain Berry’s rigid surveillance. Close beside it was the “Boston Grocery, Dry Goods and General Store,” Mr. Beriah Higgins, proprietor. Beriah was postmaster and the post office was in his store. The male citizen of middle age or over, seeking opportunity for companionship and chat, usually went first to the depot, sat about in the waiting room until the train came in, superintended that function, then sojourned to the post office until the mail was sorted, returning later, if he happened to be a particular friend of the depot master, to sit and smoke and yarn until Captain Sol announced that it was time to “turn in.”
When Mr. Phinney entered the little waiting room he found it already tenanted. Captain Sol had not yet arrived, but official authority was represented by “Issy” McKay–his full name was Issachar Ulysses Grant McKay–a long-legged, freckled-faced, tow- headed youth of twenty, who, as usual, was sprawled along the settee by the wall, engrossed in a paper covered dime novel. “Issy” was a lover of certain kinds of literature and reveled in lurid fiction. As a youngster he had, at the age of thirteen, after a course of reading in the “Deadwood Dick Library,” started on a pedestrian journey to the Far West, where, being armed with home-made tomahawk and scalping knife, he contemplated extermination of the noble red man. A wrathful pursuing parent had collared the exterminator at the Bayport station, to the huge delight of East Harniss, young and old. Since this adventure Issy had been famous, in a way.
He was Captain Sol Berry’s assistant at the depot. Why an assistant was needed was a much discussed question. Why Captain Sol, a retired seafaring man with money in the bank, should care to be depot master at ten dollars a week was another. The Captain himself said he took the place because he wanted to do something that was “half way between a loaf and a job.” He employed an assistant at his own expense because he “might want to stretch the loafin’ half.” And he hired Issy because–well, because “most folks in East Harniss are alike and you can always tell about what they’ll say or do. Now Issy’s different. The Lord only knows what HE’S likely to do, and that makes him interestin’ as a conundrum, to guess at. He kind of keeps my sense of responsibility from gettin’ mossy, Issy does.”
“Issy,” hailed Mr. Phinney, “has the Cap’n got here yet?”
Issy answered not. The villainous floorwalker had just proffered matrimony or summary discharge to “Flora, the Beautiful Shop Girl,” and pending her answer, the McKay mind had no room for trifles.
“Issy!” shouted Simeon. “I say, Is’, Wake up, you foolhead! Has Cap’n Sol–“
“No, he ain’t, Sim,” volunteered Ed Crocker. He and his chum, Cornelius Rowe, were seated in two of the waiting room chairs, their feet on two others. “He ain’t got here yet. We was just talkin’ about him. You’ve heard about Olive Edwards, I s’pose likely, ain’t you?”
Phinney nodded gloomily.
“Yes,” he said, “I’ve heard.”
“Well, it’s too bad,” continued Crocker. “But, after all, it’s Olive’s own fault. She’d ought to have married Sol Berry when she had the chance. What she ever gave him the go-by for, after the years they was keepin’ comp’ny, is more’n I can understand.”
Cornelius Rowe shook his head, with an air of wisdom. Captain Sol, himself, remarked once: “I wonder sometimes the Almighty ain’t jealous of Cornelius, he knows so much and is so responsible for the runnin’ of all creation.”
“Humph!” grunted Mr. Rowe. “There’s more to that business than you folks think. Olive didn’t notice Bill Edwards till Sol went off to sea and stayed two years and over. How do you know she shook Sol? You might just as well say he shook her. He always was stubborn as an off ox and cranky as a windlass. I wonder how he feels now, when she’s lost her last red and is goin’ to be drove out of house and home. And all on account of that fool ‘mountain and Mahomet’ business.”
“WHICH?” asked Mr. Crocker.
“Never mind that, Cornelius,” put in Phinney, sharply. “Why don’t you let other folks’ affairs alone? That was a secret that Olive told your sister and you’ve got no right to go blabbin’.”
“Aw, hush up, Sim! I ain’t tellin’ no secrets to anybody but Ed here, and he ain’t lived in East Harniss long or he’d know it already. The mountain and Mahomet? Why, them was the last words Sol and Olive had. ‘Twas Sol’s stubbornness that was most to blame. That was his one bad fault. He would have his own way and he wouldn’t change. Olive had set her heart on goin’ to Washin’ton for their weddin’ tower. Sol wanted to go to Niagara. They argued a long time, and finally Olive says, ‘No, Solomon, I’m not goin’ to give in this time. I have all the others, but it’s not fair and it’s not right, and no married life can be happy where one does all the sacrificin’. If you care for me you’ll do as I want now.’
“And he laughs and says, ‘All right, I’ll sacrifice after this, but you and me must see Niagara.’ And she was sot and he was sotter, and at last they quarreled. He marches out of the door and says: ‘Very good. When you’re ready to be sensible and change your mind, you can come to me. And says Olive, pretty white but firm: ‘No, Solomon, I’m right and you’re not. I’m afraid this time the mountain must come to Mahomet.’ That ended it. He went away and never come back, and after a long spell she give in to her dad and married Bill Edwards. Foolish? ‘Well, now, WA’N’T it!”
“Humph!” grunted Crocker. “She must have been a born gump to let a smart man like him get away just for that.”
“There’s a good many born gumps not so far from here as her house,” interjected Phinney. “You remember that next time you look in the glass, Ed Crocker. And–and–well, there’s no better friend of Sol Berry’s on earth than I am, but, so fur as their quarrel was concerned, if you ask me I’d have to say Olive was pretty nigh right.”
“Maybe–maybe,” declared the allwise Cornelius, “but just the same if I was Sol Berry, and knew my old girl was likely to go to the poorhouse, I’ll bet my conscience–“
“S-ssh!” hissed Crocker, frantically. Cornelius stopped in the middle of his sentence, whirled in his chair, and looked up. Behind him in the doorway of the station stood Captain Sol himself. The blue cap he always wore was set back on his head, a cigar tipped upward from the corner of his mouth, and there was a grim look in his eye and about the smooth shaven lips above the short, grayish-brown beard.
“Issy” sprang from his settee and jammed the paper novel into his pocket. Ed Crocker’s sunburned face turned redder yet. Sim Phinney grinned at Mr. Rowe, who was very much embarrassed.
“Er–er–evenin’, Cap’n Sol,” he stammered. “Nice, seasonable weather, ain’t it? Been a nice day.”
“Um,” grunted the depot master, knocking the ashes from his cigar.
“Just right for workin’ outdoor,” continued Cornelius.
“I guess it must be. I saw your wife rakin’ the yard this mornin’.”
Phinney doubled up with a chuckle. Mr. Rowe swallowed hard. “I–I TOLD her I’d rake it myself soon’s I got time,” he sputtered.
“Um. Well, I s’pose she realized your time was precious. Evenin’, Sim, glad to see you.”
He held out his hand and Phinney grasped it.
“Issy,” said Captain Sol, “you’d better get busy with the broom, hadn’t you. It’s standin’ over in that corner and I wouldn’t wonder if it needed exercise. Sim, the train ain’t due for twenty minutes yet. That gives us at least three quarters of an hour afore it gets here. Come outside a spell. I want to talk to you.”
He led the way to the platform, around the corner of the station, and seated himself on the baggage truck. That side of the building, being furthest from the street, was out of view from the post office and “general store.”
“What was it you wanted to talk about, Sol?” asked Simeon, sitting down beside his friend on the truck.
The Captain smoked in silence for a moment. Then he asked a question in return.
“Sim,” he said, “have you heard anything about Williams buying the Smalley house? Is it true?”
Phinney nodded. “Yup,” he answered, “it’s true. Williams was just talkin’ to me and I know all about his buyin’ it and where it’s goin’.”
He repeated the conversation with the great man. Captain Sol did not interrupt. He smoked on, and a frown gathered and deepened as he listened.
“Humph!” he said, when his friend had concluded. “Humph! Sim, do you have any idea what–what Olive Seabury will do when she has to go?”
Phinney glanced at him. It was the first time in twenty years that he had heard Solomon Berry mention the name of his former sweetheart. And even now he did not call her by her married name, the name of her late husband.
“No,” replied Simeon. “No, Sol, I ain’t got the least idea. Poor thing!”
Another interval. Then: “Well, Sim, find out if you can, and let me know. And,” turning his head and speaking quietly but firmly, “don’t let anybody ELSE know I asked.”
“Course I won’t, Sol, you know that. But don’t it seem awful mean turnin’ her out so? I wouldn’t think Mr. Williams would do such a thing.”
His companion smiled grimly; “I would,” he said. “‘Business is business,’ that’s his motto. That and ‘Look out for number one.'”
“Yes, he said somethin’ to me about lookin’ out for number one.”
“Did he? Humph!” The Captain’s smile lost a little of its bitterness and broadened. He seemed to be thinking and to find amusement in the process.
“What you grinnin’ at?” demanded Phinney.
“Oh, I was just rememberin’ how he looked out for number one the first–no, the second time I met him. I don’t believe he’s forgot it. Maybe that’s why he ain’t quite so high and mighty to me as he is to the rest of you fellers. Ha! ha! He tried to patronize me when I first came back here and took this depot and I just smiled and asked him what the market price of johnny-cake was these days. He got red clear up to the brim of his tall hat. Humph! ‘TWAS funny.”
“The market price of JOHNNY-CAKE! He must have thought you was loony.”
“No. I’m the last man he’d think was loony. You see I met him a fore he came here to live at all.”
“You did? Where?”
“Oh, over to Wellmouth. ‘Twas the year afore I come back to East Harniss, myself, after my long stretch away from it. I never intended to see the Cape again, but I couldn’t stay away somehow. I’ve told you that much–how I went over to Wellmouth and boarded a spell, got sick of that, and, just to be doin’ somethin’ and not for the money, bought a catboat and took out sailin’ parties from Wixon and Wingate’s summer hotel.”
“And you met Mr. Williams? Well, I snum! Was he at the hotel?”
“No, not exactly. I met him sort of casual this second time.”
“SECOND time? Had you met him afore that?”
“Don’t get ahead of the yarn, Sim. It happened this way: You see, I was comin’ along the road between East Wellmouth and the Center when I run afoul of him. He was fat and shiny, and drivin’ a skittish horse hitched to a fancy buggy. When he sighted me he hove to and hailed.
“‘Here you!’ says he, in a voice as fat as the rest of him. ‘Your name’s Berry, ain’t it.’
“‘Yup,’ says I.
“‘Methusalum Berry or Jehoshaphat Berry or Sheba Berry, or somethin’ like that? Hey?’ he says.
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘the last shot you fired comes nighest the bull’s eye. They christened me Solomon, but ‘twa’n’t my fault; I was young at the time and they took advantage.’
“He grinned a kind of lopsided grin, like he had a lemon in his mouth, and commenced to cuss the horse for tryin’ to climb a pine tree.
“‘I knew ’twas some Bible outrage or other,’ he says. ‘There’s more Bible names in this forsaken sand heap than there is Christians, a good sight. When I meet a man with a Bible name and chin whiskers I hang on to my watch. The feller that sets out to do me has got to have a better make up than that, you bet your life. ‘Well, see here, King Sol; can you run a gasoline launch?’
“‘Why, yes, I guess I can run ‘most any of the everyday kinds,’ says I, pullin’ thoughtful at my own chin whiskers. This fat man had got me interested. He was so polite and folksy in his remarks. Didn’t seem to stand on no ceremony, as you might say. Likewise there was a kind of familiar somethin’ about his face. I knew mighty well I’d never met him afore, and yet I seemed to have a floatin’ memory of him, same as a chap remembers the taste of the senna and salts his ma made him take when he was little.
“‘All right,’ says he, sharp. ‘Then you come around to my landin’ to-morrer mornin’ at eight o’clock prompt and take me out in my launch to the cod-fishin’ grounds. I’ll give you ten dollars to take me out there and back.’
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘ten dollars is a good price enough. Do I furnish–‘
“‘You furnish nothin’ except your grub,’ he interrupts. ‘The launch’ll be ready and the lines and hooks and bait’ll be ready. My own man was to do the job, but he and I had a heart-to-heart talk just now and I told him where he could go and go quick. No smart Alec gets the best of me, even if he has got a month’s contract. You run that launch and put me on the fishin’ grounds. I pay you for that and bringin’ me back again. And I furnish my own extras and you can furnish yours. I don’t want any of your Yankee bargainin’. See?’
“I saw. There wa’n’t no real reason why I couldn’t take the job. ‘Twas well along into September; the hotel was closed for the season; and about all I had on my hands just then was time.
“‘All right,’ says I, ‘it’s a deal. If you’ll guarantee to have your launch ready, I–‘
“‘That’s my business,’ he says. ‘It’ll be ready. If it ain’t you’ll get your pay just the same. To-morrer mornin’ at eight o’clock. And don’t you forget and be late. Gid-dap, you blackguard!’ says he to the horse.
“‘Hold on, just a minute,’ I hollers, runnin’ after him. ‘I don’t want to be curious nor nosey, you understand, but seems ‘s if it might help me to be on time if I knew where your launch was goin’ to be and what your name was.’
“He pulled up then. ‘Humph!’ he says, ‘if you don’t know my name and more about my private affairs than I do myself, you’re the only one in this county that don’t. My name’s Williams, and I live in what you folks call the Lathrop place over here toward Trumet. The launch is at my landin’ down in front of the house.’
“He drove off then and I walked along thinkin’. I knew who he was now, of course. There was consider’ble talk when the Lathrop place was rented, and I gathered that the feller who hired it answered to the hail of Williams and was a retired banker, sufferin’ from an enlarged income and the diseases that go along with it. He lived alone up there in the big house, except for a cranky housekeeper and two or three servants. This was afore he got married, Sim; his wife’s tamed him a little. Then the yarns about his temper and language would have filled a log book.
“But all this was way to one side of the mark-buoy, so fur as I was concerned. I’d cruised with cranks afore and I thought I could stand this one–ten dollars’ worth of him, anyhow. Bluster and big talk may scare some folks, but to me they’re like Aunt Hepsy Parker’s false teeth, the further off you be from ’em the more real they look. So the next mornin’ I was up bright and early and on my way over to the Lathrop landin’.
“The launch was there, made fast alongside the little wharf. Nice, slick-lookin’ craft she was, too, all varnish and gilt gorgeousness. I’d liked her better if she’d carried a sail, for it’s my experience that canvas is a handy thing to have aboard in case of need; but she looked seaworthy enough and built for speed.
“While I was standin’ on the pier lookin’ down at her I heard footsteps and brisk remarks from behind the bushes on the bank, and here comes Williams, puffin’ and blowin’, followed by a sulky- lookin’ hired man totin’ a deckload of sweaters and ileskins, with a lunch basket on top. Williams himself wan’t carryin’ anything but his temper, but he hadn’t forgot none of that.
“‘Hello, Berry,’ says he to me. ‘You are on time, ain’t you. Blessed if it ain’t a comfort to find somebody who’ll do what I tell ’em. Now you,’ he says to the servant, ‘put them things aboard and clear out as quick as you’ve a mind to. You and I are through; understand? Don’t let me find you hangin’ around the place when I get back. Cast off, Sol.’
“The man dumped the dunnage into the launch, pretty average ugly, and me and the boss climbed aboard. I cast off.
“‘Mr. Williams,’ says the man, kind of pleadin’, ‘ain’t you goin’ to pay me the rest of my month’s wages?’
“Williams told him he wa’n’t, and added trimmin’s to make it emphatic.
“I started the engine and we moved out at a good clip. All at once that hired man runs to the end of the wharf and calls after us.
“‘All right for you, you fat-head!’ he yells. ‘You’ll be sorry for what you done to me.’
“I cal’late the boss would have liked to go back and lick him, but I was hired to go a-fishin’, not to watch a one-sided prize fight, and I thought ’twas high time we started.
“The name of that launch was the Shootin’ Star, and she certainly lived up to it. ‘Twas one of them slick, greasy days, with no sea worth mentionin’ and we biled along fine. We had to, because the cod ledge is a good many mile away, ’round Sandy P’int out to sea, and, judgin’ by what I’d seen of Fatty so fur, I wa’n’t hankerin’ to spend more time with him than was necessary. More’n that, there was fog signs showin’.
“‘When was you figgerin’ on gettin’ back, Mr. Williams?’ I asked him.
“‘When I’ve caught as many fish as I want to,’ he says. ‘I told that housekeeper of mine that I’d be back when I got good and ready; it might be to-night and it might be ten days from now. “If I ain’t back in a week you can hunt me up,” I told her; “but not before. And that goes.” I’ve got HER trained all right. She knows me. It’s a pity if a man can’t be independent of females.’
“I knew consider’ble many men that was subjects for pity, ‘cordin’ to that rule. But I wa’n’t in for no week’s cruise, and I told him so. He said of course not; we’d be home that evenin’.
“The Shootin’ Star kept slippin’ along. ‘Twas a beautiful mornin’ and, after a spell, it had its effect, even on a crippled disposition like that banker man’s. He lit up a cigar and begun to get more sociable, in his way. Commenced to ask me questions about myself.
“By and by he says: ‘Berry, I suppose you figger that it’s a smart thing to get ten dollars out of me for a trip like this, hey?’
“‘Not if it’s to last a week, I don’t,’ says I.
“‘It’s your lookout if it does,’ he says prompt. ‘You get ten for takin’ me out and back. If you ain’t back on time ’tain’t my fault.’
“‘Unless this craft breaks down,’ I says.
“”Twon’t break down. I looked after that. My motto is to look out for number one every time, and it’s a mighty good motto. At any rate, it’s made my money for me.’
“He went on, preachin’ about business shrewdness and how it paid, and how mean and tricky in little deals we Rubes was, and yet we didn’t appreciate how to manage big things, till I got kind of sick of it.
“‘Look here, Mr. Williams,’ says I, ‘you know how I make my money– what little I do make–or you say you do. Now, if it ain’t a sassy question, how did you make yours?’
“Well, he made his by bein’ shrewd and careful and always lookin’ out for number one. ‘Number one’ was his hobby. I gathered that the heft of his spare change had come from dickers in stocks and bonds.
“‘Humph!’ says I. ‘Well, speakin’ of tricks and meanness, I’ve allers heard tell that there was some of them things hitched to the tail of the stock market. What makes the stock market price of– well, of wheat, we’ll say?’
“That was regulated, so he said, by the law of supply and demand. If a feller had all the wheat there was and another chap had to have some or starve, why, the first one had a right to gouge t’other chap’s last cent away from him afore he let it go.
“‘That’s legitimate,’ he says. ‘That’s cornerin’ the market. Law of supply and demand exemplified.’
“”Cordin’ to that law,’ says I, ‘when you was so set on fishin’ to-day and hunted me up to run your boat here–’cause I was about the only chap who could run it and wa’n’t otherwise busy–I’d ought to have charged you twenty dollars instead of ten.’
“‘Sure you had,’ he says, grinnin’. ‘But you weren’t shrewd enough to grasp the situation and do it. Now the deal’s closed and it’s too late.’
“He went on talkin’ about ‘pools’ and deals’ and such. How prices of this stock and that was shoved up a-purpose till a lot of folks had put their money in it and then was smashed flat so’s all hands but the ‘poolers’ would be what he called ‘squeezed out,’ and the gang would get their cash. That was legitimate, too–‘high finance,’ he said.
“‘But how about the poor folks that had their savin’s in them stocks,’ I asks, ‘and don’t know high financin’? Where’s the law of supply and demand come in for them?’
“He laughed. ‘They supply the suckers and the demand for money,’ says he.
“By eleven we was well out toward the fishin’ grounds. ‘Twas the bad season now; the big fish had struck off still further and there wa’n’t another boat in sight. The land was just a yeller and green smooch along the sky line and the waves was runnin’ bigger. The Shootin’ Star was seaworthy, though, and I wa’n’t worried about her. The only thing that troubled me was the fog, and that was pilin’ up to wind’ard. I’d called Fatty’s attention to it when we fust started, but he said he didn’t care a red for fog. Well, I didn’t much care nuther, for we had a compass aboard and the engine was runnin’ fine. What wind there was was blowin’ offshore.
“And then, all to once, the engine STOPPED runnin’. I give the wheel a whirl, but she only coughed, consumptive-like, and quit again. I went for’ard to inspect, and, if you’ll believe it, there wa’n’t a drop of gasoline left in the tank. The spare cans had ought to have been full, and they was–but ’twas water they was filled with.
“‘Is THIS the way you have your boat ready for me?’ I remarks, sarcastic.
“‘That–that man of mine told me he had everything filled,’ he stammers, lookin’ scart.
“‘Yes,’ says I, ‘and I heard him hint likewise that he was goin’ to make you sorry. I guess he’s done it.’
“Well, sir! the brimstone names that Fatty called that man was somethin’ surprisin’ to hear. When he’d used up all he had in stock he invented new ones. When the praise service was over he turns to me and says: ‘But what are we goin’ to do?’
“‘Do?’ says I. ‘That’s easy. We’re goin’ to drift.’
“And that’s what we done. I tried to anchor, but we wa’n’t over the ledge and the iron wouldn’t reach bottom by a mile, more or less. I rigged up a sail out of the oar and the canvas spray shield, but there wa’n’t wind enough to give us steerageway. So we drifted and drifted, out to sea. And by and by the fog come down and shut us in, and that fixed what little hope I had of bein’ seen by the life patrol on shore.
“The breeze died out flat about three o’clock. In one way this was a good thing. In another it wa’n’t, because we was well out in deep water, and when the wind did come it was likely to come harder’n we needed. However, there wa’n’t nothin’ to do but wait and hope for the best, as the feller said when his wife’s mother was sick.
“It was gettin’ pretty well along toward the edge of the evenin’ when I smelt the wind a-comin’. It came in puffs at fust, and every puff was healthier than the one previous. Inside of ten minutes it was blowin’ hard, and the seas were beginnin’ to kick up. I got up my jury rig–the oar and the spray shield–and took the helm. There wa’n’t nothin’ to do but run afore it, and the land knows where we would fetch up. At any rate, if the compass was right, we was drivin’ back into the bay again, for the wind had hauled clear around.
“The Shootin’ Star jumped and sloshed. Fatty had on all the ileskins and sweaters, but he was shakin’ like a custard pie.
“‘Oh, oh, heavens!’ he chatters. ‘What will we do? Will we drown?’
“‘Don’t know,’ says I, tuggin’ at the wheel and tryin’ to sight the compass. ‘You’ve got the best chance of the two of us, if it’s true that fat floats.’
“I thought that might cheer him up some, but it didn’t. A big wave heeled us over then and a keg or two of salt water poured over the gunwale. He give a yell and jumped up.
“‘My Lord!’ he screams. ‘We’re sinkin’. Help! help!’
“‘Set down!’ I roared. ‘Thought you knew how to act in a boat. Set down! d’you hear me? SET DOWN AND SET STILL!’
“He set. Likewise he shivered and groaned. It got darker all the time and the wind freshened every minute. I expected to see that jury mast go by the board at any time. Lucky for us it held.
“No use tellin’ about the next couple of hours. ‘Cordin’ to my reckonin’ they was years and we’d ought to have sailed plumb through the broadside of the Cape, and be makin’ a quick run for Africy. But at last we got into smoother water, and then, right acrost our bows, showed up a white strip. The fog had pretty well blowed clear and I could see it.
“‘Land, ho!’ I yells. ‘Stand by! WE’RE goin’ to bump.'”
Captain Sol stopped short and listened. Mr. Phinney grasped his arm.
“For the dear land sakes, Sol,” he exclaimed, “don’t leave me hangin’ in them breakers no longer’n you can help! Heave ahead! DID you bump?”
The depot master chuckled.
“DID we?” he repeated. “Well, I’ll tell you that by and by. Here comes the train and I better take charge of the ship. Anything so responsible as seein’ the cars come in without me to help would give Issy the jumpin’ heart disease.”
He sprang from the truck and hastened toward the door of the station. Phinney, rising to follow him, saw, over the dark green of the swamp cedars at the head of the track, an advancing column of smoke. A whistle sounded. The train was coming in.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
And now life in East Harniss became temporarily fevered. Issy McKay dashed out of the station and rushed importantly up and down the platform. Ed Crocker and Cornelius Rowe emerged and draped themselves in statuesque attitudes against the side of the building. Obed Gott came hurrying from his paint and oil shop, which was next to the “general store.” Mr. Higgins, proprietor of the latter, sauntered easily across to receive, in his official capacity as postmaster, the mail bag. Ten or more citizens, of both sexes, and of various ages, gathered in groups to inspect and supervise.
The locomotive pulled its string of cars, a “baggage,” a “smoker,” and two “passengers,” alongside the platform. The sliding door of the baggage car was pushed back and the baggage master appeared in the opening. “Hi! Capn!” he shouted. “Hi, Capn Sol! Heres some express for you.”
But unfortunately the Captain was in conversation with the conductor at the other end of the train. Issy, willing and officious, sprang forward. “Ill take it, Bill,” he volunteered. “Here, give it to me.”
The baggage master handed down the package, a good sized one marked “Glass. With Care.” Issy received it, clutched it to his bosom, turned and saw Gertie Higgins, pretty daughter of Beriah Higgins, stepping from the first car to the platform. Gertie had been staying with an aunt in Trumet and was now returning home for a day or two.
Issy stopped short and gazed at her. He saw her meet and kiss her father, and the sight roused turbulent emotions in his bosom. He saw her nod and smile at acquaintances whom she passed. She approached, noticed him, and–oh, rapture!–said laughingly, “Hello, Is.” Before he could recover his senses and remember to do more than grin she had disappeared around the corner of the station. Therefore he did not see the young man who stepped forward to shake her hand and whisper in her ear. This young man was Sam Bartlett, and, as a “city dude,” Issy loathed and hated him.
No, Issy did not see the hurried and brief meeting between Bartlett and Gertie Higgins, but he had seen enough to cause forgetfulness of mundane things. For an instant he stared after the vanished vision. Then he stepped blindly forward, tripped over something– “his off hind leg,” so Captain Sol afterwards vowed–and fell sprawling, the express package beneath him.
The crash of glass reached the ears of the depot master. He broke away from the conductor and ran toward his prostrate “assistant.” Pushing aside the delighted and uproarious bystanders, he forcibly helped the young man to rise.
“What in time?” he demanded.
Issy agonizingly held the package to his ear and shook it.
“I–I’m afraid somethin’s cracked,” he faltered.
The crowd set up a whoop. Ed Crocker appeared to be in danger of strangling.
“Cracked!” repeated Captain Sol. “Cracked!” he smiled, in spite of himself. “Yes, somethin’s cracked. It’s that head of yours, Issy. Here, let’s see!”
He snatched the package from the McKay hands and inspected it.
“Smashed to thunder!” he declared. “Who’s the lucky one it belongs to? Humph!” He read the inscription aloud, “Major Cuthbertson S. Hardee. The Major, hey! . . . Well, Is, you take the remains inside and you and I’ll hold services over it later.”
“I–I didn’t go to do it,” protested the frightened Issy.
“Course you didn’t. If you had you wouldn’t. You’re like the feller in Scriptur’, you leave undone the things you ought to do and do them that–All right, Jim! Let her go! Cast off!”
The conductor waved his hand, the engine puffed, the bell rang, and the train moved onward. For another twelve hours East Harniss was left marooned by the outside world.
Beriah Higgins and the mail bag were already in the post office. Thither went the crowd to await the sorting and ultimate distribution. A short, fat little man lingered and, walking up to the depot master, extended his hand.
“Hello, Sol!” he said, smiling. “Thought I’d stop long enough to say ‘Howdy,’ anyhow.”
“Why, Bailey Stitt!” cried the Captain. “How are you? Glad to see you. Thought you was down to South Orham, takin’ out seasick parties for the Ocean House, same kind of a job I used to have in Wellmouth.”
“I am,” replied Captain Stitt. “That is, I was. Just now I’ve run over here to see about contractin’ for a supply of clams and quahaugs for our boarders. You never see such a gang to eat as them summer folks, in your life. Barzilla Wingate, he says the same about his crowd. He’s comin’ on the mornin’ train from Wellmouth.”
“You don’t tell me. I ain’t seen Barzilla for a long spell. Where you stoppin’? Come up to the house, won’t you?”
“Can’t. I’m goin’ to put up over to Obed Gott’s. His sister, Polena Ginn, is a relation of mine by marriage. So long! Obed’s gone on ahead to tell Polena to put the kettle on. Maybe Obed and I’ll be back again after I’ve had supper.”
“Do. I’ll be round here for two or three hours yet.”
He entered the depot. Except the forlorn Issy, who sat in a corner, holding the express package in his lap, Simeon Phinney was the only person in the waiting room.
“Come on now, Sol!” pleaded Sim. “I want to hear the rest of that about you and Williams. You left off in the most ticklish place possible, out of spite, I do believe. I’m hangin’ on to that boat in the breakers until I declare I believe I’m catchin’ cold just from imagination.”
“Wait a minute, Sim,” said the depot master. Then he turned to his assistant.
“Issy,” he said, “this is about the nineteenth time you’ve done just this sort of thing. You’re no earthly use and I ought to give you your clearance papers. But I can’t, you’re too–well– ornamental. You’ve got to be punished somehow and I guess the best way will be to send you right up to Major Hardee’s and let you give him the remnants. He’ll want to know how it happened, and you tell him the truth. The TRUTH, understand? If you invent any fairy tales out of those novels of yours I’ll know it by and by and– well, YOU’LL know I know. No remarks, please. Git!”
Issy hesitated, seemed about to speak, thought better of it, took up package and cap, and “got.”
“Let’s see,” said the Captain, sitting down in one of the station chairs and lighting a fresh cigar; “where was Williams and I in that yarn of mine? Oh, yes, I could see land and cal’lated we was goin’ to bump. Well, we did. Steerin’ anyways but dead ahead was out of the question, and all I could do was set my teeth and trust in my bein’ a member of the church. The Shootin’ Star hit that beach like she was the real article. Overboard went oar and canvas and grub pails, and everything else that wa’n’t nailed down, includin’ Fatty and me. I grabbed him by the collar and wallowed ashore.
“‘Awk! hawk!’ he gasps, chokin’, ‘I’m drownded.’
“I let him BE drownded, for the minute. I had the launch to think of, and somehow or ‘nother I got hold of her rodin’ and hauled the anchor up above tide mark. Then I attended to my passenger.
“‘Where are we?’ he asks.
“I looked around. Close by was nothin’ but beach-grass and seaweed and sand. A little ways off was a clump of scrub pines and bayberry bushes that looked sort of familiar. And back of them was a little board shanty that looked more familiar still. I rubbed the salt out of my eyes.
“‘WELL!’ says I. ‘I swan to man!’
“‘What is it?’ he says. ‘Do you know where we are? Whose house is that?’
I looked hard at the shanty.
“‘Humph!’ I grunted. ‘I do declare! Talk about a feller’s comin’ back to his own. Whose shanty is that? Well, it’s mine, if you want to know. The power that looks out for the lame and the lazy has hove us ashore on Woodchuck Island, and that’s a piece of real estate I own.’
“It sounds crazy enough, that’s a fact; but it was true. Woodchuck Island is a little mite of a sand heap off in the bay, two mile from shore and ten from the nighest town. I’d bought it and put up a shanty for a gunnin’ shack; took city gunners down there, once in a while, the fall before. That summer I’d leased it to a friend of mine, name of Darius Baker, who used it while he was lobsterin’. The gale had driven us straight in from sea, ‘way past Sandy P’int and on to the island. ‘Twas like hittin’ a nail head in a board fence, but we’d done it. Shows what Providence can do when it sets out.
“I explained some of this to Williams as we waded through the sand to the shanty.
“‘But is this Baker chap here now?’ he asks.
“‘I’m afraid not,’ says I. ‘The lobster season’s about over, and he was goin’ South on a yacht this week. Still, he wa’n’t to go till Saturday and perhaps–‘
“But the shanty was empty when we got there. I fumbled around in the tin matchbox and lit the kerosene lamp in the bracket on the wall. Then I turned to Williams.
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘we’re lucky for once in–‘
“Then I stopped. When he went overboard the water had washed off his hat. Likewise it had washed off his long black hair–which was a wig–and his head was all round and shiny and bald, like a gull’s egg out in a rain storm.”
“I knew he wore a wig,” interrupted Phinney.
“Of course you do. Everybody does now. But he wa’n’t such a prophet in Israel then as he’s come to be since, and folks wa’n’t acquainted with his personal beauties.
“‘What are you starin’ at?’ he asks.
“I fetched a long breath. ‘Nothin’,’ says I. ‘Nothin’.’
“But for the rest of that next ha’f hour I went around in a kind of daze, as if MY wig had gone and part of my head with it. When a feller has been doin’ a puzzle it kind of satisfies him to find out the answer. And I’d done my puzzle.
“I knew where I’d met Mr. Williams afore.”
“You did?” cried Simeon.
“Um-hm. Wait a while. Well, Fatty went to bed, in one of the hay bunks, pretty soon after that. He stripped to his underclothes and turned in under the patchwork comforters. He was too beat out to want any supper, even if there’d been any in sight. I built a fire in the rusty cook stove and dried his duds and mine. Then I set down in the busted chair and begun to think. After a spell I got up and took account of stock, as you might say, of the eatables in the shanty. Darius had carted off his own grub and what there was on hand was mine, left over from the gunnin’ season–a hunk of salt pork in the pickle tub, some corn meal in a tin pail, some musty white flour in another pail, a little coffee, a little sugar and salt, and a can of condensed milk. I took these things out of the locker they was in, looked ’em over, put ’em back again and sprung the padlock. Then I put the key into my pocket and went back to my chair to do some more thinkin’.
“Next mornin’ I was up early and when the banker turned out I was fryin’ a couple of slices of the pork and had some coffee b’ilin’. Likewise there was a pan of johnnycake in the oven. The wind had gone down consider’ble, but ’twas foggy and thick again, which was a pleasin’ state of things for yours truly.
“Williams smelt the cookin’ almost afore he got his eyes open.
“‘Hurry up with that breakfast,’ he says to me. ‘I’m hungry as a wolf.’
“I didn’t say nothin’ then; just went ahead with my cookin’. He got into his clothes and went outdoor. Pretty soon he comes back, cussin’ the weather.
“‘See here, Mr. Williams,’ says I, ‘how about them orders to your housekeeper? Are they straight? Won’t she have you hunted up for a week?’
“He colored pretty red, but from what he said I made out that she wouldn’t. I gathered that him and the old lady wa’n’t real chummy. She give him his grub and her services, and he give her the Old Harry and her wages. She wouldn’t hunt for him, not until she was ordered to. She’d be only too glad to have him out of the way.
“‘Humph!’ says I. ‘Then I cal’late we’ll enjoy the scenery on this garden spot of creation until the week’s up.’
“‘What do you mean?’ says he.
“‘Well,’ I says, ‘the launch is out of commission, unless it should rain gasoline, and at this time of year there ain’t likely to be a boat within hailin’ distance of this island; ‘specially if the weather holds bad.’
“He swore a blue streak, payin’ partic’lar attention to the housekeeper for her general stupidness and to me because I’d got him, so he said, into this scrape. I didn’t say nothin’; set the table, with one plate and one cup and sasser and knife and fork, hauled up a chair and set down to my breakfast. He hauled up a box and set down, too.
“‘Pass me that corn bread,’ says he. ‘And why didn’t you fry more pork?’
“He was reachin’ out for the johnnycake, but I pulled it out of his way.
“‘Wait a minute, Mr. Williams,’ says I. ‘While you was snoozin’ last night I made out a kind of manifest of the vittles aboard this shanty. ‘Cordin’ to my figgerin’ here’s scursely enough to last one husky man a week, let along two husky ones. I paid consider’ble attention to your preachin’ yesterday and the text seemed to be to look out for number one. Now in this case I’m the one and I’ve got to look out for myself. This is my shanty, my island, and my grub. So please keep your hands off that johnnycake.’
“For a minute or so he set still and stared at me. Didn’t seem to sense the situation, as you might say. Then the red biled up in his face and over his bald head like a Fundy tide.
“‘Why, you dummed villain!’ he shouts. ‘Do you mean to starve me?’
“‘You won’t starve in a week,’ says I, helpin’ myself to pork. ‘A feller named Tanner, that I read about years ago, lived for forty days on cold water and nothin’ else. There’s the pump right over in the corner. It’s my pump, but I’ll stretch a p’int and not charge for it this time.’
“‘You–you–‘ he stammers, shakin’ all over, he was so mad. ‘Didn’t I hire you–‘
“‘You hired me to take you out to the fishin’ grounds and back, provided the launch was made ready by YOU. It wa’n’t ready, so THAT contract’s busted. And you was to furnish your extrys and I was to furnish mine. Here they be and I need ’em. It’s as legitimate a deal as ever I see; perfect case of supply and demand– supply for one and demand for two. As I said afore, I’m the one.’
“‘By thunder!’ he growls, standin’ up, ‘I’ll show you–‘
“I stood up, too. He was fat and flabby and I was thin and wiry. We looked each other over.
“‘I wouldn’t,’ says I. ‘You’re under the doctor’s care, you know.’
“So he set down again, not havin’ strength even to swear, and watched me eat my breakfast. And I ate it slow.
“‘Say,’ he says, finally, ‘you think you’re mighty smart, don’t you. Well, I’m It, I guess, for this time. I suppose you’ll have no objection to SELLIN’ me a breakfast?’
“‘No–o,’ says I, ‘not a mite of objection. I’ll sell you a couple of slices of pork for five dollars a slice and–‘
“‘FIVE DOLLARS a–!’ His mouth dropped open like a main hatch.
“‘Sartin,’ I says. ‘And two slabs of johnnycake at five dollars a slab. And a cup of coffee at five dollars a cup. And–‘
“‘You’re crazy!’ he sputters, jumpin’ up.
“‘Not much, I ain’t. I’ve been settin’ at your feet larnin’ high finance, that’s all. You don’t seem to be onto the real inwardness of this deal. I’ve got the grub market cornered, that’s all. The market price of necessaries is five dollars each now; it’s likely to rise at any time, but now it’s five.’
“He looked at me steady for at least two more minutes. Then he got up and banged out of that shanty. A little later I see him down at the end of the sand spit starin’ out into the fog; lookin’ for a sail, I presume likely.
“I finished my breakfast and washed up the dishes. He come in by and by. He hadn’t had no dinner nor supper, you see, and the salt air gives most folks an almighty appetite.
“‘Say,’ he says, ‘I’ve been thinkin’. It’s usual in the stock and provision market to deal on a margin. Suppose I pay you a one per cent margin now and–‘
“‘All right,’ says I, cheerful. ‘Then I’ll give you a slip of paper sayin’ that you’ve bought such and such slices of pork and hunks of johnnycake and I’m carryin’ ’em for you on a margin. Of course there ain’t no delivery of the goods now because–‘
“‘Humph!’ he interrupts, sour. ‘You seem to know more’n I thought you did. Now are you goin’ to be decent and make me a fair price or ain’t you?’
“‘Can’t sell under the latest quotations,’ says I. ‘That’s five now; and spot cash.’
“‘But hang it all!’ he says, ‘I haven’t got money enough with me. Think I carry a national bank around in my clothes?’
“‘You carry a Wellmouth Bank check book,’ says I, ‘because I see it in your jacket pocket last night when I was dryin’ your duds. I’ll take a check.’
“He started to say somethin’ and then stopped. After a spell he seemed to give in all to once.
“‘Very good,’ he says. ‘You get my breakfast ready and I’ll make out the check.’
“That breakfast cost him twenty-five dollars; thirty really, because he added another five for an extry cup of coffee. I told him to make the check payable to ‘Bearer,’ as ’twas quicker to write than ‘Solomon.’
“He had two more meals that day and at bedtime I had his checks amountin’ to ninety-five dollars. The fog stayed with us all the time and nobody come to pick us up. And the next mornin’s outlook was just as bad, bein’ a drizzlin’ rain and a high wind. The mainland beach was in sight but that’s all except salt water and rain.
“He was surprisin’ly cheerful all that day, eatin’ like a horse and givin’ up his meal checks without a whimper. If things had been different from what they was I’d have felt like a mean sneak thief. BEIN’ as they was, I counted up the hundred and ten I’d made that day without a pinch of conscience.
“This was a Wednesday. On Thursday, the third day of our Robinson Crusoe business, the weather was still thick, though there was signs of clearin’. Fatty come to me after breakfast–which cost him thirty-five, payable, as usual, to ‘Bearer’–with almost a grin on his big face.
“‘Berry,’ he says, ‘I owe you an apology. I thought you was a green Rube, like the rest down here, but you’re as sharp as they make ’em. I ain’t the man to squeal when I get let in on a bad deal, and the chap who can work me for a sucker is entitled to all he can make. But this pay-as-you-go business is too slow and troublesome. What’ll you take for the rest of the grub in the locker there, spot cash? Be white, and make a fair price.’
“I’d been expectin’ somethin’ like this, and I was ready for him.
“‘Two hundred and sixty-five dollars,’ says I, prompt.
“He done a little figgerin’. ‘Well, allowin’ that I have to put up on this heap of desolation for the better part of four days more, that’s cheap, accordin’ to your former rates,’ he says. ‘I’ll go you. But why not make it two fifty, even?’
“‘Two hundred and sixty-five’s my price,’ says I. So he handed over another ‘Bearer’ check, and his board bill was paid for a week.
“Friday was a fine day, clear as a bell. Me and Williams had a real picnicky, sociable time. Livin’ outdoor this way had made him forget his diseases and the doctor, and he showed signs of bein’ ha’fway decent. We loafed around and talked and dug clams to help out the pork–that is, I dug ’em and Fatty superintended. We see no less’n three sailin’ craft go by down the bay and tried our best to signal ’em, but they didn’t pay attention–thought we was gunners or somethin’, I presume likely.
“At breakfast on Saturday, Williams begun to ask questions again.
“‘Sol,’ says he, ‘it surprised me to find that you knew what a “margin” was. You didn’t get that from anything I said. Where did you get it?’
“I leaned back on my box seat.
“‘Mr. Williams,’ says I, ‘I cal’late I’ll tell you a little story, if you want to hear it. ‘Tain’t much of a yarn, as yarns go, but maybe it’ll interest you. The start of it goes back to consider’ble many year ago, when I was poorer’n I be now, and a mighty sight younger. At that time me and another feller, a partner of mine, had a fish weir out in the bay here. The mackerel struck in and we done well, unusual well. At the end of the season, not countin’ what we’d spent for livin’ and expenses, we had a balance owin’ us at our fish dealer’s up to Boston of five hundred dollars–two fifty apiece. My partner was goin’ to be married in the spring and was cal’latin’ to use his share to buy furniture for the new house with. So we decided we’d take a trip up to Boston and collect the money, stick it into some savin’s bank where ‘twould draw interest until spring and then haul it out and use it. ‘Twas about every cent we had in the world.
“‘So to Boston we went, collected our money, got the address of a safe bank and started out to find it. But on the way my partner’s hat blowed off and the bank address, which was on a slip of paper inside of it, got lost. So we see a sign on a buildin’, along with a lot of others, that kind of suggested bankin’, and so we stepped into the buildin’ and went upstairs to ask the way again.
“‘The place wa’n’t very big, but ’twas fixed up fancy and there was a kind of blackboard along the end of the room where a boy was markin’ up figgers in chalk. A nice, smilin’ lookin’ man met us and, when we told him what we wanted, he asked us to set down. Then, afore we knowed it almost, we’d told him the whole story– about the five hundred and all. The feller said to hold on a spell and he’d go along with us and show us where the savin’s bank was himself.
“‘So we waited and all the time the figgers kept goin’ up on the board, under signs of “Pork” and “Wheat” and “Cotton” and such, and we’d hear how so and so’s account was makin’ a thousand a day, and the like of that. After a while the nice man, who it turned out was one of the bosses of the concern, told us what it meant. Seemed there was a big “rise” in the market and them that bought now was bound to get rich quick. Consequent we said we wished we could buy and get rich, too. And the smilin’ chap says, “Let’s go have some lunch.”‘
“Williams laughed. ‘Ho, ho!’ says he. ‘Expensive lunch, was it?’
“‘Most extravagant meal of vittles ever I got away with,’ I says. ‘Cost me and my partner two hundred and fifty apiece, that lunch did. We stayed in Boston two days, and on the afternoon of the second day we was on our way back totin’ a couple of neat but expensive slips of paper signifyin’ that we’d bought December and May wheat on a one per cent margin. We was a hundred ahead already, ‘cordin’ to the blackboard, and was figgerin’ what sort of palaces we’d build when we cashed in.’
“‘Ain’t no use preachin’ a long sermon over the remains. ‘Twas a simple funeral and nobody sent flowers. Inside of a month we was cleaned out and the wheat place had gone out of business–failed, busted, you understand. Our fish dealer friend asked some questions, and found out the shebang wa’n’t a real stock dealer’s at all. ‘Twas what they call a “bucket shop,” and we’d bought nothin’ but air, and paid a commission for buyin’ it. And the smilin’, nice man that run the swindle had been hangin’ on the edge of bust for a long while and knowed ’twas comin’. Our five hundred had helped pay his way to a healthier climate, that’s all.’
“‘Hold on a minute,’ says Fatty, lookin’ more interested. ‘What was the name of the firm that took you greenhorns in?’
“”Twas the Empire Bond, Stock and Grain Exchange,’ says I. ‘And ’twas on Derbyshire Street.’
“He give a little jump. Then he says, slow, Hu-u-m! I–see.’
“‘Yes,’ says I. ‘I thought you would. You had a mustache then and your name was diff’rent, but you seemed familiar just the same. When your false hair got washed off I knew you right away.’
“He took out his pocket pen and his check book and done a little figgerin’.
“‘Humph!’ he says, again. ‘You lost five hundred and I’ve paid you five hundred and five. What’s the five for?’
“‘That’s my commission on the sales,’ I says.
“And just then comes a hail from outside the shanty. Out we bolted and there was Sam Davis, just steppin’ ashore from his power boat. Williams’s housekeeper had strained a p’int and had shaded her orders by a couple of days.
“Williams and Sam started for home right off. I followed in the Shootin’ Star, havin’ borrered gasoline enough for the run. I reached the dock ha’f an hour after they did, and there was Fatty waitin’ for me.
“‘Berry,’ says he, ‘I’ve got a word or two to say to you. I ain’t kickin’ at your givin’ me tit for tat, or tryin’ to. Turn about’s fair play, if you can call the turn. But it’s against my principles to allow anybody to beat me on a business deal. Do you suppose,’ he says, ‘that I’d have paid your robber’s prices without a word if I hadn’t had somethin’ up my sleeve? Why, man,’ says he, ‘I gave you my CHECKS, not cash. And I’ve just telephoned to the Wellmouth Bank to stop payment on those checks. They’re no earthly use to you; see? There’s one or two things about high finance that you don’t know even yet. Ho, ho!’
“And he rocked back and forth on his heels and laughed.
“I held up my hand. ‘Wait a jiffy, Mr. Williams,’ says I. ‘I guess these checks are all right. When we fust landed on Woodchuck, I judged by the looks of the shanty that Baker hadn’t left it for good. I cal’lated he’d be back. And sure enough he come back, in his catboat, on Thursday evenin’, after you’d turned in. Them checks was payable to “Bearer,” you remember, so I give ’em to him. He was to cash ’em in the fust thing Friday mornin’, and I guess you’ll find he’s done it.'”
“Well, I swan to MAN!” interrupted the astonished and delighted Phinney. “So you had him after all! And I was scart you’d lost every cent.”
Captain Sol chuckled. “Yes,” he went on, “I had him, and his eyes and mouth opened together.
“‘WHAT?’ he bellers. ‘Do you mean to say that a boat stopped at that dummed island and DIDN’T TAKE US OFF?’
“‘Oh,’ says I, ‘Darius didn’t feel called on to take you off, not after I told him who you was. You see, Mr. Williams,’ I says, ‘Darius Baker was my partner in that wheat speculation I was tellin’ you about.’
The Captain drew a long breath and re-lit his cigar, which had gone out. His friend pounded the settee ecstatically.
“There!” he cried. “I knew the name ‘Darius Baker’ wa’n’t so strange to me. When was you and him in partners, Sol?”
“Oh, ‘way back in the old days, afore I went to sea at all, and afore mother died. You wouldn’t remember much about it. Mother and I was livin’ in Trumet then and our house here was shut up. I was only a kid, or not much more, and Williams was young, too.”
“And that’s the way he made his money! HIM! Why, he’s the most respected man in this neighborhood, and goes to church, and–“
“Yes. Well, if you make money ENOUGH you can always be respected– by some kinds of people–and find some church that’ll take you in. Ain’t that so, Bailey?”
Captain Stitt and his cousin, Obed Gott, the paint dealer, were standing in the doorway of the station. They now entered.
“I guess it’s so,” replied Stitt, pulling up a chair, “though I don’t know what you was talkin’ about. However, it’s a pretty average safe bet that what you say is so, Sol, ‘most any time. What’s the special ‘so,’ this time?”
“We was talkin’ about Mr. Williams,” began Phinney.
“The Grand Panjandrum of East Harniss,” broke in the depot master. “East Harniss is blessed with a great man, Bailey, and, like consider’ble many blessin’s he ain’t entirely unmixed.”
Obed and Simeon looked puzzled, but Captain Stitt bounced in his chair like a good-natured rubber ball. “Ho! ho!” he chuckled, “you don’t surprise me, Sol. We had a great man over to South Orham three years ago and he begun by blessin’s and ended with–with t’other thing. Ho! ho!”
“What do you mean?” demanded Sim.
“Why, I mean Stingy Gabe. You’ve heard of Stingy Gabe, ain’t you?”
“I guess we’ve all heard somethin’ about him,” laughed Captain Sol; “but we’re willin’ to hear more. He was a reformer, wa’n’t he?”
“He sartin was! Ho! ho!”
“For the land sakes, tell it, Bailey,” demanded Mr. Gott impatiently. “Don’t sit there bouncin’ and gurglin’ and gettin’ purple in the face. Tell it, or you’ll bust tryin’ to keep it in.”
“Oh, it’s a great, long–” began Captain Bailey protestingly.
“Go on,” urged Phinney. “We’ve got more time than anything else, the most of us. Who was this Stingy Gabe?”
“Yes,” urged Gott, “and what did he reform?”
Captain Stitt held up a compelling hand. “It’s all of a piece,” he interrupted. “It takes in everything, like an eatin’-house stew. And, as usual in them cases, the feller that ordered it didn’t know what was comin’ to him.
“Stingy Gabe was that feller. His Sunday name was Gabriel Atkinson Holway, and his dad used to peddle fish from Orham to Denboro and back. The old man was christened Gabriel, likewise. He owed ‘most everybody, and, besides, was so mean that he kept the scales and trimmin’s of the fish he sold to make chowder for himself and family. All hands called him ‘Stingy Gabe,’ and the boy inherited the name along with the fifteen hundred dollars that the old man left when he died. He cleared out–young Gabe did–soon as the will was settled and afore the outstandin’ debts was, and nobody in this latitude see hide nor hair of him till three years ago this comin’ spring.
“Then, lo and behold you! he drops off the parlor car at the Orham station and cruises down to South Orham, bald-headed and bay- windowed, sufferin’ from pomp and prosperity. Seems he’d been spendin’ his life cornerin’ copper out West and then copperin’ the corners in Wall Street. The folks in his State couldn’t put him in jail, so they sent him to Congress. Now, as the Honorable Atkinson Holway, he’d come back to the Cape to rest his wrist, which had writer’s cramp from signin’ stock certificates, and to ease his eyes with a sight of the dear old home of his boyhood.
“Bill Nickerson comes postin’ down to me with the news.
“‘Bailey,’ says he, ‘what do you think’s happened? Stingy Gabe’s struck the town.’
“‘For how much?’ I asks, anxious. ‘Don’t let him have it, whatever ’tis.’
“Then he went on to explain. Gabe was rich as all get out, and ’twas his intention to buy back his old man’s house and fix it up for a summer home. He was delighted to find how little change there was in South Orham.
“‘No matter if ’tain’t but fifteen cents he’ll get it, if the s’lectmen don’t watch him,’ I says; and the bills, too. I know HIS tribe.’
“‘You don’t understand,’ says Nickerson. ‘He ain’t no thief. He’s rich, I tell you, and he’s cal’latin’ to do the town good.’
“‘Course he is,’ I says. ‘It runs in the family. His dad done it good, too–good as ’twas ever done, I guess.’
“But next day Gabe himself happens along, and I see right off that I’d made a mistake in my reckonin’. The Honorable Atkinson Holway wa’n’t figgerin’ to borrow nothin’. When a chap has been skinnin’ halibut, minnows are too small for him to bother with. Gabe was full of fried clams and philanthropy.
“‘By Jove! Stitt,’ he says, ‘livin’ here has been the dream of my life.’
“‘You’ll be glad to wake up, won’t you?’ says I. ‘I wish I could.’
“‘I tell you,’ he says, ‘this little old village is all right! All it needs is a public-spirited resident to help it along. I propose to be the P. S. R.’
“And on that program he started right in. Fust off he bought his dad’s old place, built it over into the eight-sided palace that’s there now, fetched down a small army of servants skippered by an old housekeeper, and commenced to live simple but complicated. Then, havin’ provided the needful charity for himself, he’s ready to scatter manna for the starvin’ native.
“He had a dozen schemes laid out. One was to build a free but expensive library; another was to pave the main road with brick; third was to give stained-glass windows and velvet cushions to the meetin’ house, so’s the congregation could sleep comfortable in a subdued light. The stained-glass idee put him in close touch with the minister, Reverend Edwin Fisher, and the minister suggested the men’s club. And he took to that men’s club scheme like an old maid to strong tea; the rest of the improvements went into dry dock to refit while Admiral Gabe got his men’s club off the ways.
“‘Twas the billiard room that made the minister hanker for a men’s club. That billiard room was the worry of his life. Old man Jotham Gale run it and had run it sence the Concord fight, in a way of speakin’. You remember his sign, maybe: ‘Jotham W. Gale. Billiard, Pool, and Sipio Saloon. Cigars and Tobacco. Tonics and Pipes. Minors under Ten Years of Age not Admitted.’ Jotham’s customers was called, by the outsiders, ‘the billiard-room gang.’
“The billiard room gang wa’n’t the best folks in town, I’ll own right up to that. Still, they wa’n’t so turrible wicked. Jotham never sold rum, and he’d never allow no rows in his place. But, just the same, his saloon was reckoned a bad influence. Young men hadn’t ought to go there–most of us said that. If there was a nicer place TO go, argues the minister, ‘twould help the moral tone of the community consider’ble. ‘Why not,’ says he to Stingy Gabe, ‘start a free club for men that’ll make the billiard room look like the tail boat in a race?’ And says Gabe: ‘Bully! I’ll do it.'”
Captain Stitt paused long enough to enjoy a chuckle all by himself. Before he had quite finished his laugh, slow and reluctant steps were heard on the back platform and Issy appeared on the threshold. He was without the package, but did not look happy.
“Well, Is,” inquired the depot master, “did you give the remains to the Major?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Issy.
“Did you tell him how the shockin’ fatality happened? How the thing got broken?”
“Yes, sir, I told him.”
“What did he say? Didn’t let his angry passions rise, did he?”
“No-o; no, sir, he didn’t rise nothin’. He didn’t get mad neither. But you could see he felt pretty bad. Talked about ‘old family glass’ and ‘priceless airloons’ or some such. Said much as he regretted to, he should feel it no more’n justice to have somebody pay damages.”
“Humph!” Captain Sol looked very grave. “Issy, I can see your finish. You’ll have to pay for somethin’ that’s priceless, and how are you goin’ to do that? ‘Old family glass,’ hey? Hum! And I thought I saw the label of a Boston store on that package.”
Obed Gott leaned forward eagerly.
“Is that Major Hardee you’re talkin’ about?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. He’s the only Major we’ve got. Cap’ns are plenty as June bugs, but Majors and Gen’rals are scarce. Why?”
“Oh, nothin’. Only–” Mr. Gott muttered the remainder of the sentence under his breath. However, the depot master heard it and his eye twinkled.
“You’re glad of it!” he exclaimed. “Why, Obed! Major Cuthbertson Scott Hardee! I’m surprised. Better not let the women folks hear you say that.”
“Look here!” cried Captain Stitt, rather tartly, “am I goin’ to finish that yarn of mine or don’t you want to hear it?”
“BEG your pardon, Bailey. Go on. The last thing you said was what Stingy Gabe said, and that was–“
“And that,” said Captain Bailey, mollified by the renewed interest of his listeners, “was, ‘Bully! I’ll do it!’
“So he calls a meetin’ of everybody interested, at his new house. About every respectable man in town was there, includin’ me. Most of the billiard-room gang was there, likewise. Jotham, of course, wa’n’t invited.
“Gabe calls the meetin’ to order and the minister makes a speech tellin’ about the scheme. ‘Our generous and public-spirited citizen, Honorable Atkinson Holway,’ had offered to build a suitable clubhouse, fix it up, and donate it to the club, them and their heirs forever, Amen. ‘Twas to belong to the members to do what they pleased with–no strings tied to it at all. Dues would be merely nominal, a dollar a year or some such matter. Now, who favored such a club as that?
“Well, ‘most everybody did. Daniel Bassett, chronic politician, justice of the peace, and head of the ‘Conservatives’ at town meetin’, he made a talk, and in comes him and his crew. Gaius Ellis, another chronic, who is postmaster and skipper of the ‘Progressives,’ had been fidgetin’ in his seat, and now up he bobs and says he’s for it; then every ‘Progressive’ jines immediate. But the billiard-roomers; they didn’t jine. They looked sort of sheepish, and set still. When Mr. Fisher begun to hint p’inted in their direction, they got up and slid outdoor. And right then I’d ought to have smelt trouble, but I didn’t; had a cold in my head, I guess likely.
“Next thing was to build the new clubhouse, and Gabe went at it hammer and tongs. He had a big passel of carpenters down from the city, and inside of three months the buildin’ was up, and she was a daisy, now I tell you. There was a readin’ room and a meetin’ room and an ‘amusement room.’ The amusements was crokinole and parchesi and checkers and the like of that. Also there was a gymnasium and a place where you could play the pianner and sing–till the sufferin’ got acute and somebody come along and abated you.
“When I fust went inside that clubhouse I see ’twas bound to be ‘Good-by, Bill,’ for Jotham. His customers would shake his ratty old shanty for sartin, soon’s they see them elegant new rooms. I swan, if I didn’t feel sorry for the old reprobate, and, thinks I, I’ll drop around and sympathize a little. Sympathy don’t cost nothin’, and Jotham’s pretty good company.
“I found him settin’ alongside the peanut roaster, watchin’ a couple of patients cruelize the pool table.
“‘Hello, Bailey!’ says he. ‘You surprise me. Ain’t you ‘fraid of catchin’ somethin’ in this ha’nt of sin? Have a chair, anyhow. And a cigar, won’t you?’
“I took the chair, but I steered off from the cigar, havin’ had experience. Told him I guessed I’d use my pipe. He chuckled.
“‘Fur be it from me to find fault with your judgment,’ he says. ‘Terbacker does smoke better’n anything else, don’t it.’
“We set there and puffed for five minutes or so. Then he sort of jumped.
“‘What’s up?’ says I.
“‘Oh, nothin’!’ he says. ‘Bije Simmons got a ball in the pocket, that’s all. Don’t do that too often, Bije; I got a weak heart. Well, Bailey,’ he adds, turnin’ to me, ‘Gabe’s club’s fixed up pretty fine, ain’t it?’
“‘Why, yes,’ I says; ”tis.’
“‘Finest ever I see,’ says he. ‘I told him so when I was in there.’
“‘What?’ says I. ‘You don’t mean to say YOU’VE been in that clubroom?’
“‘Sartin. Why not? I want to take in all the shows there is– ‘specially the free ones. Make a good billiard room, that clubhouse would.’
“I whistled. ‘Whew!’ says I. ‘Didn’t tell Gabe THAT, did you?’
“He nodded. ‘Yup,’ says he. ‘I told him.’
“I whistled again. ‘What answer did he make?’ I asked.
“‘Oh, he wa’n’t enthusiastic. Seemed to cal’late I’d better shut up my head and my shop along with it, afore he knocked off one and his club knocked out t’other.’
“I pitied the old rascal; I couldn’t help it.
“‘Jotham,’ says I, ‘I ain’t the wust friend you’ve got in South Orham, even if I don’t play pool much. If I was you I’d clear out of here and start somewheres else. You can’t fight all the best folks in town.’
“He didn’t make no answer. Just kept on a-puffin’. I got up to go. Then he laid his hand on my sleeve.
“‘Bailey,’ says he, ‘when Betsy Mayo was ailin’, her sister’s tribe was all for the Faith Cure and her husband’s relations was high for patent medicine. When the Faith Curists got to workin’, in would come some of the patent mediciners and give ’em the bounce. And when THEY went home for the night, the Faithers would smash all the bottles. Finally they got so busy fightin’ ‘mong themselves that Betsy see she was gettin’ no better fast, and sent for the reg’lar doctor. HE done the curin’, and got the pay.’
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘what of it?’
“‘Nothin’,’ says he. ‘Only I’ve been practisin’ a considerable spell. So long. Come in again some time when it’s dark and the respectable element can’t see you.’
“I went away thinkin’ hard. And next mornin’ I hunted up Gabe, and says I:
“‘Mr. Holway,’ I says, ‘what puzzles me is how you’re goin’ to elect the officers for the new club. Put up a Conservative and the Progressives resign. H’ist the Progressive ensign and the Conservatives’ll mutiny. As for the billiard-roomers–providin’ any jine–they’ve never been known to vote for anybody but themselves. I can’t see no light yet–nothin’ but fog.’
“He winks, sly and profound. ‘That’s all right,’ says he. ‘Fisher and I have planned that. You watch!’
“Sure enough, they had. The minister was mighty popular, so, when ’twas out that he was candidate to be fust president of the club, all hands was satisfied. Two vice presidents was named–one bein’ Bassett and t’other Ellis. Secretary was a leadin’ Conservative; treasurer a head Progressive. Officers and crew was happy and mutiny sunk ten fathoms. ONLY none of the billiard-room gang had jined, and they was the fish we was really tryin’ for.
“‘Twas next March afore one of ’em did come into the net, though we’d have on all kinds of bait–suppers and free ice cream Saturday nights, and the like of that. And meantime things had been happenin’.
“The fust thing of importance was Gabe’s leavin’ town. Our Cape winter weather was what fixed him. He stood the no’theasters and Scotch drizzles till January, and then he heads for Key West and comfort. Said his heart still beat warm for his native village, but his feet was froze–or words similar. He cal’lated to be back in the spring. Then the Reverend Fisher got a call to somewheres in York State, and felt he couldn’t afford not to hear it. Nobody blamed him; the salary paid a minister in South Orham is enough to make any feller buy patent ear drums. But that left our men’s club without either skipper or pilot, as you might say.
“One week after the farewell sermon, Daniel Bassett drops in casual on me. He was passin’ around smoking material lavish and regardless.
“‘Stitt,’ says he, ‘you’ve always voted for Conservatism in our local affairs, haven’t you?’
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘I didn’t vote to roof the town hall with a new mortgage, if that’s what you mean.’
“‘Exactly,’ he says. ‘Now, our men’s club, while not as yet the success we hoped for, has come to be a power for good in our community. It needs for its president a conservative, thoughtful man. Bailey,’ he says, ‘it has come to my ears that Gaius Ellis intends to run for that office. You know him. As a taxpayer, as a sober, thoughtful citizen, my gorge rises at such insolence. I protest, sir! I protest against–‘
“He was standin’ up, makin’ gestures with both arms, and he had his town-meetin’ voice iled and runnin’. I was too busy to hanker for a stump speech, so I cut across his bows.
“‘All right, all right,’ says I. ‘I’ll vote for you, Dan.’
“He fetched a long breath. ‘Thank you,’ says he. ‘Thank you. That makes ten. Ellis can count on no more than nine. My election is assured.’
“Seein’ that there wa’n’t but nineteen reg’lar voters who come to the club meetin’s, if Bassett had ten of ’em it sartin did look as if he’d get in. But on election night what does Gaius Ellis do but send a wagon after old man Solomon Peavey, who’d been dry docked with rheumatiz for three months, and Sol’s vote evened her up. ‘Twas ten to ten, a deadlock, and the election was postponed for another week.
“This was of a Tuesday. On Wednesday I met Bije Simmons, the chap who was playin’ pool at Jotham’s.
“‘Hey, Bailey!’ says he. ‘Shake hands with a brother. I’m goin’ to jine the men’s club.’
“‘You BE?’ says I, surprised enough, for Simmons was a billiard- roomer from ‘way back.
“‘Yup,’ he says. ‘I’ll be voted in at next meetin’, sure. I’m studyin’ up on parchesi now.’
“‘Hum!’ I says, thinkin’. ‘How you goin to vote?’
“‘Me?’ says he. ‘Me? Why, man, I wonder at you! Can’t you see the fires of Conservatism blazin’ in my eyes? I’m Conservative bred and Conservative born, and when I’m dead there’ll be a Conservative gone. By, by. See you Tuesday night.’
“He went off, stoppin’ everybody he met to tell ’em the news. And on Thursday Ed Barnes dropped in to pay me the seventy-five cents he’d borrowed two years ago come Fourth of July. When I’d got over the fust shock and had counted the money three times, I commenced to ask questions.
“‘Somebody die and will you a million, Ed?’ I wanted to know.
“‘No,’ says he. ‘It’s the reward of virtue. I’m goin’ to be a better man. I’m jinin’ the men’s club.’
“‘NO!’ says I, for Ed was as strong a billiard-roomer as Bije.
“‘Sure!’ he answers. ‘I’m filled full of desires for crokinole and progressiveness. See you Tuesday night at the meetin’.’
“And, would you b’lieve it, at that meetin’ no less’n six confirmed members of the billiard-room gang was voted into the men’s club. ‘Twas a hallelujah gatherin’. I couldn’t help thinkin’ how glad and proud Gabe and Mr. Fisher would have been to see their dreams comin’ true. But Bassett and Ellis looked more worried than glad, and when the votin’ took place I understood the reason. Them new members had divided even, and the ballots stood Bassett thirteen and Ellis thirteen. The tie was still on and the election was put off for another week.
“In that week, surprisin’ as it may seem, two more billiard-roomers seen a light and jined with us. However, one was for Bassett and t’other for Ellis, so the deadlock wa’n’t broken. Jotham had only a couple of his reg’lars left, and I swan to man if THEY didn’t catch the disease inside of the follerin’ fortni’t and hand in their names. The ‘Billiard, Pool, and Sipio Saloon,’ from bein’ the liveliest place in town, was now the deadest. Through the window you could see poor Jotham mopin’ lonesome among his peanuts and cigars. The sayin’ concernin’ the hardness of the transgressor’s sleddin’ was workin’ out for HIM, all right. But the conversions had come so sudden that I couldn’t understand it, though I did have some suspicions.
“‘Look here, Dan,’ says I to Bassett, ‘are you goin’ to keep this up till judgment? There ain’t but thirty votin’ names in this place–except the chaps off fishin’, and they won’t be back till fall. Fifteen is for you and fifteen for Gaius. Most astonishin’ agreement of difference ever I see. We’ll never have a president, at this rate.’
“He winked. ‘Won’t, hey?’ he says. ‘Sure you’ve counted right? I make it thirty-one.’
“‘I don’t see how,’ says I, puzzled. ‘Nobody’s left outside the club but Jotham himself, and he–‘
“‘That’s all right,’ he interrupts, winkin’ again. ‘You be on hand next Tuesday night. You can’t always tell, maybe somethin’ll happen.’
“I was on hand, all right, and somethin’ did happen, two somethin’s, in fact. We hadn’t much more’n got in our seats afore the door opened, and in walked Gaius Ellis, arm in arm with a man; and the man was the Honorable Stingy Gabe Atkinson Holway.
“‘Gentlemen,’ sings out Gaius, bubblin’ over with joy, ‘I propose three cheers for our founder, who has returned to us after his long absence.’
“We give the cheers–that is, some of the folks did. Bassett and our gang wa’n’t cheerin’ much; they looked as if somebody had passed ’em a counterfeit note. You see, Gabe Holway was one of the hide-boundest Progressives afloat, and a blind man could see who’d got him back again and which way he’d vote. It sartinly looked bad for Bassett now.
“Gaius proposes that, out of compliment, as founder of the club, Mr. Holway be asked to preside. So he was asked, though the Conservatives wa’n’t very enthusiastic. Gabe took the chair, preached a little sermon about bein’ glad to see his native home once more, and raps for order.
“‘If there’s no other business afore the meetin’,’ says he, ‘we will proceed to ballot for president.’
“But it turned out that there was other business. Dan Bassett riz to his feet and commenced one of the most feelin’ addresses ever I listened to.
“Fust he congratulated all hands upon the success of Mr. Holway’s philanthropic scheme for the betterment of South Orham’s male citizens. Jeered at at fust by the unregenerate, it had gone on, winnin’ its way into the hearts of the people, until one by one the said unregenerate had regenerated, and now the club numbered thirty souls and the Honorable Atkinson.
“‘But,’ says Dan, wavin’ his arms, ‘one man yet remains outside. One lone man! The chief sinner, you say? Yes, I admit it. But, gentlemen, a repentant sinner. Alone he sits amid the wreck of his business–a business wrecked by us, gentlemen–without a customer, without a friend. Shall it be said that the free and open-handed men’s club of South Orham turned its back upon one man, merely because he HAS been what he was? Gentlemen, I have talked with Jotham Gale; he is old, he is friendless, he no longer has a means of livelihood–we have taken it from him. We have turned his followers’ steps to better paths. Shall we not turn his, also? Gentlemen and friends, Jotham Gale is repentant, he feels his ostrichism’–whatever he meant by that–‘he desires to become self- respecting, and he asks us to help him. He wishes to join this club. Gentlemen, I propose for membership in our association the name of Jotham W. Gale.’
“He set down and mopped his face. And the powwow that broke loose was somethin’ tremendous. Of course ’twas plain enough what Dan’s game was. This was the ‘somethin” that was goin’ to happen.
“Ellis see the way the land lay, and he bounces up to protest. ‘Twas an outrage; a scandal; ridiculous; and so forth, and so on. Poor Gabe didn’t know what to do, and so he didn’t do nothin’. A head Conservative seconds Jotham’s nomination. ‘Twas put to a vote and carried easy. Dan’s speech had had its effect and a good many folks voted out of sympathy. How did I vote? I’LL never tell you.
“And then Bassett gets up, smilin’, goes to the outside door, opens it, and leads in the new member. He’d been waitin’ on the steps, it turned out. Jotham looked mighty quiet and meek. I pitied the poor old codger more’n ever. Snaked in, he was, out of the wet, like a yeller dog, by the club that had kicked him out of his own shop.
“Chairman Gabe pounds for order, and suggests that the votin’ can go on. But Ellis jumps up, and says he:
“‘What’s the sense of votin’ now?’ he asks sarcastic. ‘Will the lost lamb we’ve just yanked into the fold have the face to stand up and bleat that he hasn’t promised to vote Conservative? Dan Bassett, of all the contemptible tricks that ever–‘
“Bassett’s face was redder’n a ripe tomatter. He shakes his fist in Gaius’s face and yells opinions and comments.
“‘Don’t you talk to me about tricks, you ward-heeler!’ he hollers. ‘Why did you fetch Mr. Holway back home? Why did you, hey? That was the trickiest trick that I–‘
“Gabe pretty nigh broke his mallet thumpin’.
“‘Gentlemen! gentlemen!’ says he. ‘This is most unseemly. Sit down, if you PLEASE. Mr. Ellis, when the purpose of this association is considered, it seems to me very wrong to find fault because the chief of our former antagonists has seen the error of his ways and become one of us. Mr. Bassett, I do not understand your intimation concernin’ myself. I shall adjourn this meetin’ until next Friday evenin’, gentlemen. Meanwhile, let us remember that we ARE gentlemen.’
“He thumped the desk once, and parades out of the buildin’, dignified as Julius Caesar. The rest of us toddled along after him, all talkin’ at once. Bassett and Ellis glowered at each other and hove out hints about what would happen afore they got through. ‘Twas half-past ten afore I got to bed that night, and Sarah J.– that’s Mrs. Stitt–kept me awake another hour explainin’ whys and wherefores.
“For the next three days nobody done anything but knock off work and talk club politics. You’d see ’em on the corners and in the post office and camped on the meetin’-house steps, arguin’ and jawin’. Dan and Gaius was hurryin’ around, moppin’ their foreheads and lookin’ worried. On Thursday there was all sorts of rumors afloat. Finally they all simmered down to one, and that one was what made me stop Stingy Gabe on the street and ask for my bearin’s.
“‘Mr. Holway,’ says I, ‘is it true that Dan and Gaius have resigned and agreed to vote for somebody else?’
“He nodded, grand and complacent.
“‘Then who’s the somebody?’ says I. ‘For the land sakes! tell me. It’s as big a miracle as the prodigal son.’
“I remember now that the prodigal son ain’t a miracle, but I was excited then.
“‘Stitt,’ says he, ‘I am the “somebody,” as you call it. I have decided to let my own wishes and inclinations count for nothin’ in this affair, and to accept the office of president myself. It will be announced at the meetin’.’
“I whistled. ‘By gum!’ says I. ‘You’ve got a great head, Mr.