Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Mr. Opp
Author: Rice, Alice Caldwell Hegan, 1870-1942
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mr. Opp" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: "He read impressively"]



MR. OPP


BY
ALICE HEGAN RICE

Author of "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch,"
"Lovey Mary," "Sandy," etc.


With Illustrations
by LEON GUIPON


NEW YORK
THE CENTURY CO.
1909



Copyright, 1908, 1909, by
The Century Co.


_Published, April, 1909_


THE DE VINNE PRESS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                            PAGE
  "He read impressively"           _Frontispiece_

  "'Don't leave me'"                          45

  "'Why, Mr. Opp, I'm not old enough'"       129

  "It was Mr. Opp saying his prayers"        197

  "'Oh, my God, it has come'"                263

  "'Can't nobody beat me making skirts'"     319



MR. OPP



I


"I hope your passenger hasn't missed his train," observed the ferryman
to Mr. Jimmy Fallows, who sat on the river bank with the painter of his
rickety little naphtha launch held loosely in his hand.

"Mr. Opp?" said Jimmy. "I bet he did. If there is one person in the
world that's got a talent for missing things, it's Mr. Opp. I never seen
him that he hadn't just missed gettin' a thousand dollar job, or
inventin' a patent, or bein' hurt when he had took out a accident
policy. If he did ketch a train, like enough it was goin' the wrong
way."

Jimmy had been waiting since nine in the morning, and it was now well
past noon. He was a placid gentleman of curvilinear type, short of limb
and large of girth. His trousers, of that morose hue termed by the
country people "plum," reached to his armpits, and his hat, large and
felt and weather-beaten, was only prevented from eclipsing his head by
the stubborn resistance of two small, knob-like ears.

"Mr. Opp ain't been back to the Cove for a long while, has he?" asked
the ferryman, whose intellectual life depended solely upon the crumbs of
information scattered by chance passers-by.

"Goin' on two years," said Mr. Fallows. "Reckon he's been so busy
formin' trusts and buyin' out railways and promotin' things generally
that he ain't had any time to come back home. It's his step-pa's funeral
that's bringin' him now. The only time city folks seem to want to see
their kin folks in the country is when they are dead."

"Ain't that him a-comin' down the bank?" asked the ferryman, shading
his eyes with his hands.

Mr. Fallows, with some difficulty, got to his feet.

"Yes, that's him all right. Hustlin' to beat the band. Wonder if he
takes me for a street car."

Coming with important stride down the wharf, and whistling as he came,
was a small man of about thirty-five. In one hand he carried a large
suit-case, and in the other a new and shining grip. On both were
painted, in letters designed to be seen, "D. Webster Opp, Kentucky."

In fact, everything about him was evidently designed to be seen. His new
suit of insistent plaid, his magnificent tie sagging with the weight of
a colossal scarf-pin, his brown hat, his new tan shoes, all demanded
individual and instant attention.

The only insignificant thing about Mr. Opp was himself. His slight,
undeveloped body seemed to be in a chronic state of apology for failing
properly to set off the glorious raiment wherewith it was clothed. His
pock-marked face, wide at the temples, sloped to a small, pointed chin,
which, in turn, sloped precipitously into a long, thin neck. It was Mr.
Opp's eyes, however, that one saw first, for they were singularly vivid,
with an expression that made strangers sometimes pause in the street to
ask him if he had spoken to them. Small, pale, and red of rim, they
nevertheless held the look of intense hunger--hunger for the hope or the
happiness of the passing moment.

As he came bustling down to the water's-edge he held out a friendly hand
to Jimmy Fallows.

"How are you, Jimmy?" he said in a voice freighted with importance.
"Hope I haven't kept you waiting long. Several matters of business come
up at the last and final moment, and I missed the morning train."

Jimmy, who was pouring gasolene into a tank in the launch, treated the
ferryman to a prodigious wink.

"Oh, not more'n four or five hour," he said, casting side glances of
mingled scorn and admiration at Mr. Opp's attire. "It is a good thing
it was the funeral you was tryin' to get to instid of the death-bed."

"Oh, that reminds me," said Mr. Opp, suddenly exchanging his air of
cheerfulness for one of becoming gravity--"what time is the funeral
obsequies going to take place?"

"Whenever we git there," said Jimmy, pushing off the launch and waving
his hand to the ferryman. "You're one of the chief mourners, and I'm the
undertaker; there ain't much danger in us gettin' left."

Mr. Opp deposited his baggage carefully on the seat, and spread his coat
across the new grip to keep it from getting splashed.

"How long was Mr. Moore sick?" he asked, fanning himself with his hat.

"Well," said Jimmy, "he was in a dangerous and critical condition for
about twenty-one years, accordin' to his own account. I been seein' him
durin' that time on a average of four times a day, and last night when
I seen him in his coffin it was the first time the old gentleman failed
to ask me to give him a drink on account of his poor health."

"Is Ben there?" asked Mr. Opp, studying a time-table, and making a note
in his memorandum-book.

"Your brother Ben? Yes; he come this mornin' just before I left. He was
cussin' considerable because you wasn't there, so's they could go on and
git through. He wants to start back to Missouri to-night."

"Is he out at the house?"

"No; he's at Your Hotel."

Mr. Opp looked up in surprise, and Jimmy chuckled.

"That there's the name of my new hotel. Started up sence you went away.
Me and old man Tucker been running boardin'-houses side by side all
these years. What did he do last summer but go out and git him a sign as
big as the side of the house, and git Nick Fenny to paint 'Our Hotel' on
it; then he put it up right across the sidewalk, from the gate clean
out to the road. I didn't say nothin', but let the boys keep on
a-kiddin' me till the next day; then I got me a sign jus' like his, with
'Your Hotel' on it, and put it up crost my sidewalk. He'd give a pretty
if they was both down now; but he won't take his down while mine is up,
and I ain't got no notion of taking it down."

"Yes," said Mr. Opp, absently, for his mind was still on the time-table;
"I see that there's an accommodation that departs out of Coreyville in
the neighborhood of noon to-morrow. It's a little unconvenient, I'm
afraid, but do you think you could get me back in time to take it?"

"Why, what's yer hurry?" asked Jimmy, steering for mid-stream. "I
thought you'd come to visit a spell, with all them bags and things."

Mr. Opp carelessly tossed back the sleeve of the coat, to display more
fully the name on the suit-case. "Them's drummers' samples," he said
almost reverently--"the finest line of shoes that have ever been put
out by any house in the United States, bar none."

"Why, I thought you was in the insurance business," said Jimmy.

"Oh, no; that was last year, just previous to my reporting on a
newspaper. This"--and Mr. Opp tried to spread out his hands, but was
slightly deterred by the size of his cuffs--"this is the chance I been
looking for all my life. It takes brains and a' educated nerve, and a
knowledge of the world. I ought to create considerable capital in the
next few years. And just as soon as I do"--and Mr. Opp leaned earnestly
toward Jimmy, and tapped one finger upon the palm of his other
hand--"just as soon as I do, I intend to buy up all the land lying
between Turtle Creek and the river. There's enough oil under that there
ground to ca'm the troubled waters of the Pacific Ocean. You remember
old Mr. Beeker? Well, he told me, ten years ago, that he bored a well
for brine over there, and it got so full of black petroleum he had to
abandon it. Now, I'm calculating on forming a stock company,--you and
Mr. Tucker, I and old man Hager, and one or two others,--and buying up
that ground. Then we'll sink a test well, get up a derrick and a'
engine, and have the thing running in no time. The main thing is a
competent manager. You know I'm thinking seriously of taking it myself?
It's too big a proposition to run any risks with."

"Here, say, wait a minute; how long have you had this here shoe job?"
Jimmy caught madly at the first fact in sight to keep him from being
swept away by the flood of Mr. Opp's oily possibilities.

"I taken it last week," said Mr. Opp; "had to go all the way to Chicago
to get my instructions, and to get fitted out. My territory is a
specially important one; four counties, all round Chicago."

"I was in Chicago oncet," said Jimmy, his eyes brightening at the
memory. "By golly! if the world is as big in every direction as it is in
that, she's a whopper!"

The wind, freshening as they got under way, loosened the canvas
overhead, and Mr. Opp rose to buckle it into place. As he half knelt in
the bow of the boat, he lifted his face to the cool breeze, and took a
deep breath of satisfaction. The prosaic river from Coreyville to the
Cove was the highway he knew best in the world. Under the summer
sunshine the yellow waters lost their sullen hue, and reflected patches
of vivid red and white from the cottages and barns that dotted the
distant shore.

"I don't consider there's any sceneries in the country that'll even
begin to compare with these here," Mr. Opp announced, out of the depths
of his wide experience. "Just look at the sunshine pouring forth around
the point of the island. It spills through the trees and leaks out over
the water just like quicksilver. Now, that's a good thought! It's
perfectly astounding, you might say surprising, how easy thoughts come
to me. I ought to been a writer; lots of folks have said so. Why, there
ain't a day of my life that I don't get a poem in my head."

"Shucks!" observed Jimmy Fallows. "I'd as lief read figgers on a
tow-boat as to read poetry. Old man Gusty used to write poetry, but he
couldn't get nobody to print it, so he decided to start a newspaper at
the Cove and chuck it full of his own poems. He bought a whole printin'
outfit, and set it up in Pete Aker's old carpenter shop out there at the
edge of town, opposite his home. But 'fore he got his paper started he
up and died. Yes, sir; and the only one of his poems that he ever did
git in print was the one his wife had cut on his tombstone."

Mr. Opp was not listening. With his head bared and his lips parted he
was indulging in his principal weakness. For Mr. Opp, it must be
confessed, was given to violent intoxication, not from an extraneous
source, but from too liberal draughts of his own imagination. In
extenuation, the claims of genius might be urged, for a genius he
unquestionably was in that he created something out of nothing. Out of
an abnormal childhood, a lonely boyhood, and a failure-haunted manhood,
he had managed to achieve an absorbing career. Each successive
enterprise had loomed upon his horizon big with possibilities, and
before it sank to oblivion, another scheme, portentous, significant, had
filled its place. Life was a succession of crises, and through them he
saw himself moving, now a shrewd merchant, now a professional man, again
an author of note, but oftenest of all a promoter of great enterprises,
a financier, and man of affairs.

While he was thus mentally engaged in drilling oil-wells, composing
poetry, and selling shoes, Jimmy Fallows was contemplating with
fascinated wonder an object that floated from his coat pocket. From a
brown-paper parcel, imperfectly wrapped, depended a curl of golden hair,
and it bobbed about in the breeze in a manner that reduced Mr. Fallows
to a state of abject curiosity.

So intent was Jimmy upon his investigation that he failed to hold his
course, and the launch swung around the end of the island with such a
sudden jerk that Mr. Opp took an unexpected seat.

As he did so, his hand touched the paper parcel in his pocket, and
realizing that it was untied, he hastily endeavored, by a series of
surreptitious manoeuvers, to conceal what it contained. Feeling the
quizzical eye of his shipmate full upon him, he assumed an air of
studied indifference, and stoically ignored the subterranean chuckles
and knowing winks in which Mr. Fallows indulged.

Presently, when the situation had become poignant, Mr. Opp observed that
he supposed the funeral would take place from the church.

"I reckon so," said Jimmy, reluctantly answering to the call of the
conversational rudder. "I told the boys to have a hack there for you and
Mr. Ben and Miss Kippy."

"I don't think my sister will be there," said Mr. Opp, with dignity;
"she seldom or never leaves the house."

"Reckon Mr. Ben will have to take keer of her now," said Jimmy; "she
surely will miss her pa. He never done a lick of work since I knowed
him, but he was a nice, quiet old fellow, and he certainly was good to
pore Miss Kippy."

"Mr. Moore was a gentleman," said Mr. Opp, and he sighed.

"Ain't she got any kin on his side? No folks except you two
half-brothers?"

"That's all," said Mr. Opp; "just I and Ben."

"Gee! that's kind of tough on you all, ain't it?"

But the sympathy was untimely, for Mr. Opp's dignity had been touched in
a sensitive place.

"Our sister will be well provided for," he said, and the conversation
suffered a relapse.

Mr. Opp went back to his time-tables and his new note-book, and for the
rest of the trip Jimmy devoted himself to his wheel, with occasional
ocular excursions in the direction of Mr. Opp's coat pocket.



II


Lying in the crook of the river's elbow, with the nearest railroad
eighteen miles away, Cove City, familiarly known as the Cove, rested
serenely undisturbed by the progress of the world. Once a day, at any
time between sundown and midnight, it was roused from its drowsiness by
the arrival of the mail-boat, and, shaking itself into temporary
wakefulness, sat up and rubbed its eyes. This animation was, however, of
short duration, for before the packet had whistled for the next landing,
the Cove had once more settled back into slumber.

Main Street began with a shabby, unpainted school-house, and following
dramatic sequence, ended abruptly in the graveyard. Two cross-streets,
which had started out with laudable ideas of independence, lost courage
at Main Street and sought strength in union; but the experiment was not
successful, and a cow-path was the result. The only semblance of
frivolity about the town was a few straggling cottages on stilts of
varying height as they approached the river; for they seemed ever in the
act of holding up their skirts preparatory to wading forth into the
water.

On this particular summer afternoon Cove City was less out of crimp than
usual. The gathering of loafers that generally decorated the empty boxes
piled along the sidewalk was missing. The old vehicles and weary-looking
mules which ordinarily formed an irregular fringe along the hitching
rail were conspicuously absent. A subdued excitement was in the air, and
at the slightest noise feminine heads appeared at windows, and masculine
figures appeared in doorways, and comments were exchanged in low tones
from one side of the street to the other. For the loss of a citizen,
even a poor one, disturbs the surface of affairs, and when the event
brings two relatives from a distance, the ripples of excitement increase
perceptibly.

Mr. Moore had been a citizen-in-law, as it were, and had never been
considered in any other light than poor Mrs. Opp's widower. Mrs. Opp's
poor widower might have been a truer way of stating it, but even a town
has its parental weaknesses.

For two generations the Opp family had been a source of mystery and
romance to the Cove. It stood apart, like the house that held it, poor
and shabby, but bearing a baffling atmosphere of gentility, of
superiority, and of reserve.

Old women recalled strange tales of the time when Mrs. Opp had come to
the Cove as a bride, and how she refused to meet any of the townspeople,
and lived alone in the old house on the river-bank, watching from hour
to hour for the wild young husband who clerked on one of the river
steamers. They told how she grew thin and white with waiting, and how,
when her two boys were small, she made them stand beside her for hours
at a time, watching the river and listening for the whistle of his boat.
Then the story went that the gay young husband stopped coming
altogether, and still she watched and waited, never allowing the boys
out of her sight, refusing to send them to school, or to let them play
with other children. By and by word was brought that her husband had
been killed in a quarrel over cards, and little Mrs. Opp, having nothing
now to watch for and to wait for, suddenly became strangely changed.

Old Aunt Tish, the negro servant, was the only person who ever crossed
the threshold, and she told of a strange life that went on behind the
closely curtained windows, where the sunlight was never allowed to
enter, and lamps burned all day long.

"Yas, 'm," she used to say in answer to curious questionings; "hit's jes
like play-actin' all de time. The Missis dress herself up, an' 'tend
like she's a queen or a duke or somethin', an' dat little D. he jes
acts out all dem fool things she tells him to, an' he ain't never bein'
hisself at all, but jes somebody big and mighty and grand-like."

When the boys were half-grown, a stranger appeared in the Cove, a dapper
little man of about fifty in a shabby frock-coat and a shabbier high
hat, kind of face and gentle of voice, but with the dignity of conscious
superiority. The day of his arrival he called upon Mrs. Opp; the second
day he took a preacher with him and married her. Whatever old romance
had led to this climax could only be dimly guessed at by the curious
townspeople.

For two years Mr. Moore fought for the mind of his old sweetheart as he
had long ago fought for her heart. He opened the house to the sunshine,
and coaxed the little lady back into the world she had forgotten. The
boys were sent to school, the old games and fancies were forbidden.
Gradually the color returned to her cheeks, and the light to her eyes.

Then little Kippy was born, and happiness such as seldom comes to one
who has tasted the dregs of life came to the frail little woman in the
big four-poster bed. For ten days she held the baby fingers to her
heart, and watched the little blossom of a maid unfold.

But one black night, when the rain beat against the panes, and the moan
of the river sounded in her ears, she suddenly sat up in bed: she had
heard the whistle of _his_ boat! Full of dumb terror she crept to the
window, and with her face pressed against the glass she waited and
watched. The present was swallowed up in the past. She was once more
alone, unloved, afraid. Stealthily snatching a cloak, she crept down
into the garden, feeling her way through the sodden grass, and the
jimpson weed which the rain had beaten down.

And ever since, when children pass the house on their way to school,
they peep through the broken fence rails, and point out to one another,
in awed tones, the tree under which Miss Kippy's mother killed herself.
Then they look half-fearfully at the windows in the hope of catching a
glimpse of Miss Kippy herself.

For Kippy had had a long illness in her thirteenth year which left her
with the face and mind of a little child, and kindly, shabby Mr. Moore,
having made the supreme effort of his life, from this time on ceased to
struggle against the weakness that for half a lifetime had beset him,
and sought oblivion in innocuous but perpetual libations. The one duty
which he recognized was the care of his invalid daughter.

As soon as they were old enough, the boys launched their small craft and
set forth to seek their fortunes. Ben, with no cargo on board but his
own desires, went west and found a snug and comfortable harbor, while D.
Webster, the hope of his mother and the pride of the town, was at
thirty-five still putting out to sea, with all sail set, only to find
himself again and again aground on the sandbars of the old familiar
Cove.



III


Jimmy Fallows, being the boastful possessor of the fleetest horse in
town, was the first to return from the funeral. Extricating himself with
some difficulty from the narrow-seated buggy, he held out his hand to
Mrs. Fallows. But that imposing lady, evidently offended with her jovial
lord, refused his proffered aid, and clambered out over the wheel on the
other side.

Mrs. Fallows, whose architectural effects were strictly perpendicular,
cast a perpetual shadow of disapproval over the life partner whom it had
pleased Providence to bestow upon her. Jimmy was a born satirist; he
knew things are not what they seem, and he wickedly rejoiced thereat. To
his literal, pious-minded wife he at times seemed the incarnation of
wickedness.

Sweeping with dignity beneath the arching sign of Your Hotel, she took
her seat upon the porch, and, disposing her sable robes about her,
folded her mitted hands, and waited to see the people return from the
funeral.

Jimmy, with the uncertain expression of one who is ready to apologize,
but cannot remember the offense, hovered about uneasily, casting
tempting bits of conversational bait into the silence, but failing to
attract so much as a nibble of attention.

"Miss Jemima Fenny was over to the funeral from Birdtown. Miss Jim is
one of 'em, ain't she?"

There was no response.

"Had her brother Nick with her. He's just gettin' over typhoid fever;
looks about the size and color of a slate pencil. I bet, in spite of
Miss Jim's fine clothes, they ain't had a square meal for a month.
That's because she kept him at school so long when he orter been at
work. He did git a job in a newspaper office over at Coreyville not
long 'fore he was took sick. They tell me he's as slick as a onion about
newspaper work."

Continued silence; but Jimmy boldly cast another fly:

"Last funeral we had was Mrs. Tucker's, wasn't it? Old man Tucker was
there to-day. Crape band on his hat is climbin' up; it'll be at high
mast ag'in soon."

Dense, nerve-racking silence; but Jimmy made one more effort:

"The Opps are coming back here to-night to talk things over before Ben
goes on to Missouri. He counts on ketchin' the night boat. It won't give
him much time, will it?"

But Mrs. Fallows, unrelaxed, stared fixedly before her; she had taken
refuge in that most trying of all rejoinders, silence, and the fallible
Jimmy, who waxed strong and prospered upon abuse, drooped and languished
under this new and cruel form of punishment.

It was not until a buggy stopped at the door, and the Opp brothers
descended, that the tension was in any way relieved.

Jimmy greeted them with the joy of an Arctic explorer welcoming a relief
party.

"Come right on in here, in the office," he cried hospitably; "your
talkin' won't bother me a speck."

But Ben abruptly expressed his desire for more private quarters, and led
the way up-stairs.

The low-ceiled room into which he ushered D. Webster was of such a
depressing drab that even the green and red bed-quilt failed to disperse
the gloom. The sole decoration, classic in its severity, was a large
advertisement for a business college, whereon an elk's head grew out of
a bow of ribbon, the horns branching and rebranching into a forest of
curves and flourishes.

The elder Opp took his seat by the window, and drummed with impatient
fingers on the sill. He was small, like his brother, but of a compact,
sturdy build. His chin, instead of dwindling to a point, was square and
stubborn, and his eyes looked straight ahead at the thing he wanted,
and neither saw nor cared for what lay outside. He had been trying ever
since leaving the cemetery to bring the conversation down to practical
matters, but D. Webster, seizing the first opportunity of impressing
himself upon his next of kin, had persisted in indulging in airy and
time-destroying flights of fancy.

The truth is that our Mr. Opp was not happy. In his secret heart he felt
a bit apologetic before the material success of his elder brother. Hence
it was necessary to talk a great deal and to set forth in detail the
very important business enterprises upon which he was about to embark.

Presently Ben Opp looked at his watch.

"See here," he interrupted, "that boat may be along at any time. We'd
better come to some decision about the estate."

D. Webster ran his fingers through his hair, which stood in valiant
defense of the small bald spot behind it.

"Yes, yes," he said; "business is business. I'll have to be off myself
the very first thing in the morning. This funeral couldn't have come at
a more unfortunate time for me. You see, my special territory--"

But Ben saw the danger of another bolt, and checked him:

"How much do you think the old house is worth?"

D. Webster drew forth his shiny note-book and pencil and made elaborate
calculations.

"I should say," he said, as one financier to another, "that including of
the house and land and contents of same, it would amount to the whole
sum total of about two thousand dollars."

"That is about what I figured," said Ben; "now, how much money is in the
bank?"

D. Webster produced a formidable packet of letters and papers from his
inside pocket and, after some searching, succeeded in finding a
statement, which set forth the fact that the Ripper County Bank held in
trust one thousand dollars, to be divided between the children of Mary
Opp Moore at the death of her husband, Curtis V. Moore.

"One thousand dollars!" said Ben, looking blankly at his brother, "Why,
for heaven's sake, what have Mr. Moore and Kippy been living on all
these years?"

D. Webster moved uneasily in his chair. "Oh, they've managed to get
along first rate," he said evasively.

His brother looked at him narrowly. "On the interest of a thousand
dollars?" He leaned forward, and his face hardened: "See here, have you
been putting up cash all this time for that old codger to loaf on? Is
that why you have never gotten ahead?"

D. Webster, with hands in his pockets and his feet stretched in front of
him, was blinking in furious embarrassment at the large-eyed elk
overhead.

"To think," went on Ben, his slow wrath rising, "of your staying here in
Kentucky all these years and handing out what you made to that old
sponger. I cut loose and made a neat little sum, married, and settled
down. And what have you done? Where have you gotten? Anybody that would
let himself be imposed upon like that deserves to fail. Now what do you
propose to do about this money?"

Mr. Opp did not propose to do anything. The affront offered his business
sagacity was of such a nature that it demanded all his attention. He
composed various denunciatory answers with which to annihilate his
brother. He hesitated between two courses, whether he should hurl
himself upon him in righteous indignation and demand physical
satisfaction, or whether he should rise in a calm and manly attitude and
wither him with blighting sarcasm. And while the decision was pending,
he still sat with his hands in his pockets, and his feet stretched
forth, and blinked indignantly at the ornate elk.

"The estate," continued Ben, contempt still in his face, "amounts at
most to three thousand dollars, after the house is sold. Part of this,
of course, will go to the maintenance of Kippy."

At mention of her name, Mr. Opp's gaze dropped abruptly to his brother's
face.

"What about Kippy? She's going to live with you, ain't she?" he asked
anxiously.

Ben Opp shook his head emphatically. "She certainly is not. I haven't
the slightest idea of burdening myself and family with that
feeble-minded girl."

"But see here," said Mr. Opp, his anger vanishing in the face of this
new complication, "you don't know Kippy; she's just similar to a little
child, quiet and gentle-like. Never give anybody any trouble in her
life. Just plays with her dolls and sings to herself all day."

"Exactly," said Ben; "twenty-five years old and still playing with
dolls. I saw her yesterday, dressed up in all sorts of foolish toggery,
talking to her hands, and laughing. Aunt Tish humors her, and her father
humored her, but I'm not going to. I feel sorry for her all right, but
I am not going to take her home with me."

D. Webster nervously twisted the large seal ring which he wore on his
forefinger. "Then what do you mean," he said hesitatingly--"what do you
want to do about it?"

"Why, send her to an asylum, of course. That's where she ought to have
been all these years."

Mr. Opp, sitting upon the small of his back, with one leg wrapped
casually about the leg of the chair, stared at him for a moment in
consternation, then, gathering himself together, rose and for the first
time since we have met him seemed completely to fill his checked
ready-made suit.

"Send Kippy to a lunatic asylum!" he said in tones so indignant that
they made his chin tremble. "You will do nothing whatever of the kind!
Why, all she's ever had in the world was her pa and Aunt Tish and her
home; now he's gone, you ain't wanting to take the others away from her
too, are you?"

"Well, who is going to take care of her?" demanded Ben angrily.

"I am," announced D. Webster, striking as fine an attitude as ever his
illustrious predecessor struck; "you take the money that's in the bank,
and leave me the house and Kippy. That'll be her share and mine. I can
take care of her; I don't ask favors of nobody. Suppose I do lose my
job; I'll get me another. There's a dozen ways I can make a living.
There ain't a man in the State that's got more resources than me. I got
plans laid now that'll revolutionize--"

"Yes," said Ben, quietly, "you always could do great things."

D. Webster's egotism, inflated to the utmost, burst at this prick, and
he suddenly collapsed. Dropping limply into the chair by the table, he
held his hand over his mouth to hide his agitation.

"There's--there's one thing," he began, swallowing violently, and
winking after each word, "that I--I can't do--and that's to leave
a--sister--to die--among strangers."

And then, to his mortification, his head went unexpectedly down upon his
arms, and a flood of tears bedimmed the radiance of his twenty-five-cent
four-in-hand.

From far down the river came the whistle of the boat, and, in the room
below, Jimmy Fallows removed a reluctant ear from the stove-pipe hole.

"Melindy," he said confidentially, entirely forgetting the late frost,
"I never see anybody in the world that stood as good a show of gittin'
the fool prize as that there D. Opp."



IV


The old Opp House stood high on the river-bank and gazed lonesomely out
into the summer night. It was a shabby, down-at-heel, dejected-looking
place, with one side showing faint lights, above and below, but the
other side so nailed up and empty and useless that it gave the place the
appearance of being paralyzed down one side and of having scarcely
enough vitality left to sustain life in the other.

To make matters worse, an old hound howled dismally on the door-step,
only stopping occasionally to paw at the iron latch and to whimper for
the master whose unsteady footsteps he had followed for thirteen years.

In the front room a shaded lamp, turned low, threw a circle of light on
the table and floor, leaving the corners full of vague, uncertain
shadows. From the wide, black fireplace a pair of rusty and battered
andirons held out empty arms, and on the high stone shelf above the
opening, flanked on each side by a stuffed owl, was a tall, square-faced
clock, with the hour-hand missing. The minute-hand still went on its
useless round, and behind it, on the face of the clock, a tiny schooner
with all sail set rocked with the swinging of the pendulum.

The loud ticking of the clock, and the lamentations of the hound
without, were not the only sounds that disturbed the night. Before the
empty fireplace, in a high-backed, cane-bottomed chair, slept an old
negress, with head bowed, moaning and muttering as she slept. She was
bent and ashen with age, and her brown skin sagged in long wrinkles from
her face and hands. On her forehead, reaching from brow to faded turban,
was a hideous testimony to some ancient conflict. A large, irregular
hole, over which the flesh had grown, pulsed as sentiently and
imperatively as a naked, living heart.

A shutter slammed sharply somewhere in the house above, and something
stirred fearfully in the shadow of the room. It was a small figure that
crouched against the wall, listening and watching with the furtive
terror of a newly captured coyote--the slight figure of a woman dressed
as a child, with short gingham dress, and heelless slippers, and a
bright ribbon holding back the limp, flaxen hair from her strange,
pinched face.

Again and again her wide, frightened eyes sought the steps leading to
the room above, and sometimes she would lean forward and whisper in
agonized expectancy, "Daddy?" Then when no answer came, she would
shudder back against the wall, cold and shaking and full of dumb
terrors.

Suddenly the hound's howling changed to a sharp bark, and the old
negress stirred and stretched herself.

"What ails dat air dog?" she mumbled, going to the window, and shading
her eyes with her hand. "You'd 'low to hear him tell it he done heared
old master coming up de road."

That somebody was coming was evident from the continued excitement of
the hound, and when the gate slammed and a man's voice sounded in the
darkness, Aunt Tish opened the door, throwing a long, dim patch of light
out across the narrow porch and over the big, round stepping-stones
beyond.

Into the light came Mr. Opp, staggering under the load of his baggage,
his coat over his arm, his collar off, thoroughly spent with the events
of the day.

"Lord 'a' mercy!" said Aunt Tish, "if hit ain't Mr. D.! I done give you
up long ago. I certainly is glad you come. Miss Kippy's jes carrying on
like ever'thing. She ain't been to baid for two nights, an' I can't do
nothin' 't all wif her."

Mr. Opp deposited his things in a corner, and, tired as he was, assumed
an air of authority. It was evident that a man was needed, a person of
firmness, of decision.

"I'll see that she goes to bed at once," he said resolutely. "Where is
she at?"

"She's behind de door," said Aunt Tish; "she's be'n so skeered ever
sence her paw died I can't do nothin' wif her."

"Kippy," said Mr. Opp, sternly, "come out here this minute."

But there was no response. Going to the corner where his coat lay, he
took from the pocket a brown-paper parcel.

"Say, Kippy," he said in a greatly mollified tone, "I wish you would
come on out here and see me. You remember brother D., don't you? You
ought to see what I brought you all the way from the city. It's got blue
eyes."

At this the small, grotesque figure, distrustful, suspicious, ready to
take flight at a word, ventured slowly forth. So slight she was, and so
frail, and so softly she moved, it was almost as if the wind blew her
toward him. Every thought that came into her brain was instantly
reflected in her hypersensitive face, and as she stood before him
nervously plucking her fingers, fear and joy struggled for supremacy.
Suddenly with a low cry she snatched the doll from him and clasped it to
her heart.

Meanwhile Aunt Tish had spread a cloth on the table and set forth some
cold corn dodger, a pitcher of foaming butter-milk, and a plate of cold
corned beef. The milk was in a battered pewter pitcher, but the dish
that held the corn bread was of heavy silver, with intricate chasings
about the rim.

Mr. Opp, with his head propped on his hand, ate wearily. He had been up
since four o'clock that morning, and to-morrow he must be up at daybreak
if he was to keep his engagements to supply the dealers with the
greatest line of shoes ever put upon the market. Between now and then he
must decide many things: Kippy must be planned for, the house gone over,
and arrangements made for the future. Being behind the scenes, as it
were, and having no spectator to impress, he allowed himself to sink
into an attitude of extreme dejection. And Mr. Opp, shorn of the
dignity of his heavily padded coat, and his imposing collar and tie, and
with even his pompadour limp upon his forehead, failed entirely to give
a good imitation of himself.

As he sat thus, with one hand hanging limply over the back of the chair,
he felt something touch it softly, dumbly, as a dog might. Looking down,
he discovered Miss Kippy sitting on the floor, close behind him,
watching him with furtive eyes. In one arm she cradled the new doll, and
in the other she held his coat.

Mr. Opp patted her cheek: "Whatever are you doing with my coat?" he
asked.

Miss Kippy held it behind her, and nodded her head wisely: "Keeping it
so you can't go away," she whispered. "I'll hold it tight all night.
To-morrow I'll hide it."

"But I'm a business man," said Mr. Opp, unconsciously straightening his
shoulders. "A great deal of responsibility depends on me. I've got to be
off early in the morning; but I'm coming back to see you real
often--every now and then."

Miss Kippy's whole attitude changed. She caught his hand and clung to
it, and the terror came back to her eyes.

"You mustn't go," she whispered, her body quivering with excitement.
"It'll get me if you do. Daddy kept It away, and you can keep It away;
but Aunt Tish can't: she's afraid of It, too! She goes to sleep, and
then It reaches at me through the window. It comes down the chimney,
there--where you see the brick's loose. Don't leave me, D. Hush, don't
you hear It?"

Her voice had risen to hysteria, and she clung to him, cold and shaken
by the fear that possessed her.

Mr. Opp put a quieting arm about her. "Why, see here, Kippy," he said,
"didn't you know It was afraid of me? Look how strong I am! I could kill
It with my little finger."

"Could you?" asked Miss Kippy, fearfully.

"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Opp. "Don't you ever be scared of anything
whatsoever when Brother D.'s round. I'm going to take care of you from
now on."

"This me is bad," announced Miss Kippy; "the other me is good. Her name
is Oxety; she has one blue eye and one brown."

"Well, Oxety must go to bed now," said Mr. Opp; "it must be getting
awful late."

But Miss Kippy shook her head. "You might go 'way," she said.

Finding that he could not persuade her, Mr. Opp resorted to strategy:
"I'll tell you what let's me and you do. Let's put your slippers on your
hands."

This proposition met with instant approval. It appealed to Miss Kippy as
a brilliant suggestion. She assisted in unbuttoning the single straps
and watched with glee as they were fastened about her wrists.

[Illustration: "'Don't leave me'"]

"Now," said Mr. Opp, with assumed enthusiasm, "we'll make the slippers
walk you up-stairs, and after Aunt Tish undresses you, they shall walk
you to bed. Won't that be fun?"

Miss Kippy's fancy was so tickled by this suggestion that she put it
into practice at once, and went gaily forth up the steps on all fours.
At the turn she stopped, and looked at him wistfully:

"You'll come up before I go to sleep?" she begged; "Daddy did."

Half an hour later Aunt Tish came down the narrow stairway: "She done
gone to baid now, laughin' an' happy ag'in," she said; "she never did
have dem spells when her paw was round, an' sometimes dat chile jes as
clear in her mind as you an' me is."

"What is it she's afraid of?" asked Mr. Opp.

Aunt Tish leaned toward him across the table, and the light of the lamp
fell full upon her black, bead-like eyes, and her sunken jaws, and on
the great palpitating scar.

"De ghosties," she whispered; "dey been worriting dat chile ever' chance
dey git. _I_ hear 'em! Dey wait till I take a nap of sleep, den dey
comes sneakin' in to pester her. She says dey ain't but one, but I hears
heaps ob 'em, some ob 'em so little dey kin climb onder de crack in de
door."

"Look a-here, Aunt Tish," said Mr. Opp, sternly, "don't you ever talk a
word of this foolishness to her again. Not one word, do you hear?"

"Yas, sir; dat's what Mr. Moore allays said, an' I _don't_ talk to her
'bout hit, I don't haf to. She done knows I know. I been livin' heah
goin' on forty years, sence 'fore you was borned, an' you can't fool me,
chile; no, sir, dat you can't."

"Well, you must go to bed now," said Mr. Opp, looking up at the clock
and seeing that it was half-past something though he did not know what.

"I never goes to baid when I stays here," announced Aunt Tish; "I sets
up in de kitchen an' sleeps. I's skeered dat chile run away; she 'low
she gwine to some day. Her paw ketched her oncet gittin' in a boat down
on de river-bank. She ain't gwine, while I's here, no sir-ee! I never
leaves her in de daytime an' her paw never leaves her at night, dat is,
when he's livin'."

After she had gone, Mr. Opp ascended the stairway, and entered the room
above. A candle sputtered on the table, and in its light he saw the
wide, four-poster bed that had been his mother's, and in it the frail
figure of little Miss Kippy. Her hair lay loose upon the pillow, and on
her sleeping face, appealing in its helplessness, was a smile of perfect
peace. The new doll lay on the table beside the candle, but clasped
tightly in her arms was the coat of many checks.

For a moment Mr. Opp stood watching her, then he drew his shirt-sleeve
quickly across his eyes. As he turned to descend, his new shoes creaked
painfully and, after he had carefully removed them, he tiptoed down,
passed through the sitting-room and out upon the porch, where he sank
down on the step and dropped his head on his arms.

The night was very still, save for the croaking of a bullfrog, and the
incessant scraping of a cedar-tree against the corner of the roof. From
across the river, faint sparks of light shone out from cabin windows,
and, below, a moving light now and then told of a passing scow. Once a
steamboat slipped weirdly out of the darkness, sparkling with lights,
and sending up faint sounds of music; but before the waves from the
wheel had ceased to splash on the bank below, she was swallowed up in
the darkness, leaving lonesomeness again.

Mr. Opp sat staring out into the night, outwardly calm, but inwardly
engaged in a mortal duel. The aggressive Mr. Opp of the gorgeous raiment
and the seal ring, the important man of business, the ambitious
financier, was in deadly combat with the insignificant Mr. Opp, he of
the shirt-sleeves and the wilted pompadour, the delicate, sensitive,
futile Mr. Opp who was incapable of everything but the laying down of
his life for the sake of another.

A dull line of light hovered on the horizon, and gradually the woods on
the opposite shore took shape, then the big river itself, gray and
shimmering, with streaks on the water where a snag broke the swift
current.

"Mr. D.," he heard Aunt Tish calling up the back stairs, "you better git
out of baid; hit's sun-up."

He rose stiffly and started back to the kitchen. As he passed through
the front room, his eyes fell upon his new suit-case full of the
treasured drummers' samples. Stooping down, he traced the large black
letters with his finger and sighed deeply.

Then he got up resolutely and marched to the kitchen door.

"Aunt Tish," he said with authority, "you needn't mind about hurrying
breakfast. I find there's very important business will keep me here in
the Cove for the present."



V


There were two methods of communication in Cove City, both of which were
equally effective. One was the telephone, which from a single, isolated
case had developed into an epidemic, and the other, which enjoyed the
dignity of precedence and established custom, was to tell Jimmy Fallows.

Both of these currents of information soon overflowed with the news that
Mr. D. Webster Opp had given up a good position in the city, and
expected to establish himself in business in his native town. The nature
of this business was agitating the community at large in only a degree
less than it was agitating Mr. Opp himself.

One afternoon Jimmy Fallows stood with his back to his front gate,
suspended by his armpits from the pickets, and conducted business after
his usual fashion. As a general retires to a hill-top to organize his
forces and issue orders to his subordinates, so Jimmy hung upon his
front fence and conducted the affairs of the town. He knew what time
each farmer came in, where the "Helping Hands" were going to sew, where
the doctor was, and where the services would be held next Sunday. He was
coroner, wharf-master, undertaker, and notary, and the only thing in the
heavens above or the earth below concerning which he did not attempt to
give information was the arrival of the next steamboat.

As he stood whittling a stick and cheerfully humming a tune of other
days, he descried a small, alert figure coming up the road. The pace was
so much brisker than the ordinary slow gait of the Cove that he
recognized the person at once as Mr. Opp. Whereupon he lifted his voice
and hailed a boy who was just vanishing down the street in the opposite
direction:

"Nick!" he called. "Aw, Nick Fenny! Tell Mat Lucas that Mr. Opp's
uptown."

Connection being thus made at one end of the line, he turned to effect
it at the other. "Howdy, Brother Opp. Kinder dusty on the river, ain't
it?"

"Well, we _are_ experiencing considerable of warm weather at this
juncture," said Mr. Opp, affably.

"Mat Lucas has been hanging round here all day," said Jimmy. "He wants
you to buy out a half-interest in his dry-goods store. What do you think
about it?"

"Well," said Mr. Opp, thrusting his thumbs into the armholes of his
waistcoat, "I am considering of a great variety of different things. I
been in the dry-goods business twice, and I can't say but what it ain't
a pretty business. Of course," he added with a twinge, "my specialty are
shoes."

"Yes," said Jimmy; "but the folks here all gets their shoes at the drug
store. Mr. Toddlinger's been carrying a line of shoes along with his
pills and plasters ever sence he went into business."

Mr. Opp looked up at the large sign overhead. "If you and Mr. Tucker
wasn't both in the hotel business, I might be thinking of considering
that."

This proposition tickled Jimmy immensely. Chuckles of amusement agitated
his rotund figure.

"Why don't you buy us both out?" he asked. "We could sell out for
nothing and make money."

"Why, there's three boarders sitting over at Our Hotel now," said Mr.
Opp, who rather fancied himself in the rôle of a genial host.

"Yes," said Jimmy. "Old man Tucker's had 'em hanging out on the line all
morning. I don't guess they got strength enough to walk around much
after the meals he give 'em."

"Of course," said Mr. Opp, wholly absorbed in his own affairs, "this is
just temporarily for the time being, as it were. In a year or so, when
my financial condition is sorter more established in a way, I intend to
put through that oil-wells proposition. The fact that I am aiming at
arriving to is what would you think the Cove was at present most in need
of?"

"Elbow-grease," said Jimmy, promptly. "The only two things that we ain't
got that a city has, is elbow-grease and a newspaper."

For a moment there was a silence, heavy with significance. Mr. Fallows's
gaze penetrated the earth, while Mr. Opp's scanned the heavens; then
they suddenly looked at each other, and the great idea was born.

An editor! Mr. Opp's whole being thrilled responsive to the call. The
thought of dwelling above the sordid bartering of commercial life, of
being in a position to exercise those mental powers with which he felt
himself so generously endowed, almost swept him off his feet. He had
been a reporter once; for two golden weeks he had handed in
police-court reports that fairly scintillated with verbal gems plucked
at random from the dictionary. But the city editor had indicated as
kindly as possible that his services were no longer required, vaguely
suggesting that it was necessary to reduce the force; and Mr. Opp had
assured him that he understood perfectly, and that he was ready to
return at any future time. That apprenticeship, brief though it was,
served as a foundation upon which Mr. Opp erected a tower of dazzling
possibilities.

"What's the matter with you takin' Mr. Gusty's old printin'-shop and
startin' up business for yourself?" asked Jimmy.

"Do you reckon she'd sell it?" asked Mr. Opp, anxiously.

"Sell it?" said Jimmy. "Why, she's 'most ready to give it away to keep
from having to pay Pete Aker's rent for the shop. Say--Mr. Gall--up," he
called up the street to a man who was turning the corner, "is Mrs. Gusty
at home?"

The man, thus accosted, turned and came toward them.

"Who is Mr. Gallop?" asked Mr. Opp.

"He's the new telephone girl," said Jimmy, with relish; "ain't been here
but a month, and he's doing the largest and most profitable trade in
tending to other folks's business you ever seen. Soft! Why, he must 'a'
been raised on a pillow--He always puts me in mind of a highly educated
pig: it sorter surprises and tickles you to see him walkin' round on his
hind legs and talking like other people. Other day one of the boys, just
to devil him, ast him to drive his team out home. I liked to 'a' died
when I seen him tryin' to turn the corner, pullin' 'Gee' and hollerin'
'Haw' with every breath. Old mules got their legs in a hard knot trying
to do both at once, and the boys says when Gallop got out in the country
he felt so bad about it he got down and 'pologized to the mules. How
'bout that, Gallop--did you!" he concluded as the subject of the
conversation arrived upon the scene.

The new-comer, a plump, fair young man, who held one hand clasped
affectionately in the other, blushed indignantly, but said nothing.

"This here is Mr. Opp," went on Jimmy; "he wants to see Mrs. Gusty. Do
you know whether he will ketch her at home or not?"

Mr. Gallop was by this time paying the tribute of many an admiring
glance to every detail of Mr. Opp's costume, and Mr. Opp, realizing
this, assumed an air of cosmopolitan nonchalance, and toyed
indifferently with his large watch-fob.

When Mr. Gallop's admiration and attention had become focused upon Mr.
Opp's ring, he suddenly turned on the faucet of his conversation, and
allowed such a stream of general information to pour forth that Mr. Opp
quite forgot to look imposing.

"Mrs. Gusty telephoned early this morning to Mrs. Dorsey that she would
come over and help her make preserves. Mrs. Dorsey got a big load of
peaches from her father across the river. He's been down with the
asthma, and had to call up the doctor twice in the night. And the doctor
couldn't get the right medicine in town, and had me call up the city.
They are going to send it down on the _Big Sandy_, but she's stuck in
the locks, and goodness knows when she'll get here. She's--"

"Excuse me," interrupted Mr. Opp, politely but firmly, "I've got to see
Mrs. Gusty on very important business. Have you any idea whatsoever of
when she will return back home?"

"Yes," said Mr. Gallop, eager to oblige. "She's about home by this time.
Miss Lou Diker is making her a dress, and she telephoned she'd be by to
try it on 'bout four o'clock. I'll go up there with you, if you want me
to."

"Why don't you drive him!" suggested Jimmy. "You can borrow a pair of
mules acrost the street."

"Mr. Opp," said Mr. Gallop, feelingly, as they walked up Main Street, "I
wouldn't treat a' insect like he treats me."

"Oh, you mustn't mind Jimmy," said Mr. Opp, kindly; "he always sort of
enjoys a little joke as he goes along. Why, I wouldn't be at all
surprised if he even made a joke on me sometime. How long have you been
in Cove City?"

"Just a month," said Mr. Gallop. "It must look awful little to you,
after all the big cities you been used to."

Mr. Opp lengthened his stride. "Yes," he said largely; "quite small,
quite little, in fact. No place for a business man; but for a
professional man, a man that requires leisure to sort of cultivate his
brain and that means to be a influence in the community, it's a good
place, a remarkably good place."

A hint, however vague, dropped into the mind of Mr. Gallop, caused
instant fermentation. From long experience he had become an adept at
extracting information from all who crossed his path. A preliminary
interest, a breath or two of flattery by way of anesthetic, and his
victim's secret was out before he knew it.

"Reckon you are going up to talk insurance to Mrs. Gusty," he ventured
tentatively.

"No; oh, no," said Mr. Opp. "I formerly was in the insurance business,
some time back. Very little prospects in it for a man of my nature. I
have to have a chance to sorter spread out, you know--to use my own
particular ideas about working things out."

"What is your especial line?" asked Mr. Gallop, deferentially.

"Shoe--" Mr. Opp began involuntarily, then checked
himself--"journalism," he said, and the word seemed for the moment
completely to fill space.

At Mrs. Gusty's gate Mr. Gallop stopped.

"I guess I ought to go back now," he said regretfully; "the telephone
and telegraph office is right there in my room, and I never leave them
day or night except just this one hour in the afternoon. It's awful
trying. The farmers begin calling each other up at three o'clock in the
morning. Say, I wish you'd step in sometime. I'd just love to have you.
But you are so busy and got so many friends, you won't have much time
for me, I guess."

Mr. Opp thought otherwise. He said that no matter how pressed he was by
various important duties, he was never too busy to see a friend. And he
said it with the air of one who confers a favor, and Mr. Gallop received
it as one who receives a favor, and they shook hands warmly and parted.



VI


Mr. Opp, absorbed in the great scheme which was taking definite form in
his mind, did not discover until he reached the steps that some one was
lying in a hammock on the porch.

It was a dark-haired girl in a pink dress, with a pink bow in her hair
and small bows on the toes of her high-heeled slippers--the very kind of
person, in fact, that Mr. Opp was most desirous of avoiding.

Fortunately she was asleep, and Mr. Opp, after listening in vain at the
door for sounds of Mrs. Gusty within, tiptoed cautiously to the other
end of the porch and took his seat on a straight-backed settee.

Let it not for a moment be supposed that Mr. Opp was a stranger to the
fascinations of femininity. He had been inoculated at a tender age, and
it had taken so completely, so tragically, that he had crept back to
life with one illusion sadly shattered, and the conviction firm within
him that henceforth he was immune. His attitude toward the subject
remained, however, interested, but cautious--such as a good little boy
might entertain toward a loaded pistol.

As he sat very straight and very still on the green settee, he tried to
compose his mind for the coming interview with Mrs. Gusty. Directly
across the road was Aker's old carpenter-shop, a small, square,
one-story edifice, shabby, and holding out scant promise of journalistic
possibilities. Mr. Opp, however, seldom saw things as they were; he saw
them as they were going to be. Before five minutes had elapsed he had
the shop painted white, with trimmings of red, new panes in the windows,
ground glass below and clear above, an imposing sign over the door, and
the roadway blocked with eager subscribers. He would have to have an
assistant, of course, some one to attend to the general details; but he
would have charge of everything himself. He would edit a paper,
comprehensive in its scope, and liberal in its views. Science, art,
religion, society, and politics would all be duly chronicled. Politics!
Why, his paper would be an organ--an organ of the Democratic Party!

At the thought of being an organ, Mr. Opp's bosom swelled with such
pride that his settee creaked, and he glanced apprehensively toward the
other end of the porch.

The young lady was still asleep, with her head resting on her bare arm,
and one foot hanging limply below her ruffled petticoat.

Suddenly Mr. Opp leaned forward and viewed her slipper with interest. He
had recognized the make! It was xxx-aa. He had carried a sample exactly
like it, and had been wont to call enthusiastic attention to the curve
of the instep and the set of the heel. He now realized that the effect
depended entirely on the bow, and he seriously considered writing to the
firm and suggesting the improvement.

In the midst of his reflections the young lady stirred and then sat up.
Her hair was tumbled, and her eyes indicated that she had been indulging
in recent tears. Resting her chin on her palms, she gazed gloomily down
the road.

Mr. Opp, at the other end of the porch, also gazed gloomily down the
road. The fact that he must make his presence known was annihilated by
the yet more urgent fact that he could think of nothing to say. A
bumblebee wheeled in narrowing circles above his head and finally
lighted upon his coat-sleeve. But Mr. Opp remained immovable. He was
searching his vocabulary for a word which would gently crack the silence
without shattering it to bits.

The bumblebee saved the situation. Detecting some rare viand in a crack
of the porch midway between the settee and the hammock, and evidently
being a bibulous bee, it set up such a buzz of excitement that Mr. Opp
looked at it, and the young lady looked at it, and their eyes met.

"Excuse me," said Mr. Opp, rather breathlessly; "you was asleep, and I
come to see Mrs. Gusty, and--er--the fact is--I'm Mr. Opp."

At this announcement the young lady put her hand to her head, and by a
dexterous movement rearranged the brown halo of her hair, and twisted
the pink bow into its proper, aggressive position.

"Mother'll--be back soon,"--she spoke without embarrassment, yet with
the hesitation of one who is not in the habit of speaking for
herself,--"I--I--didn't know I was going to sleep."

"No," said Mr. Opp; then added politely, "neither did I." Silence again
looming on the horizon, he plunged on: "I think I used to be in the
habit of seeing you when you was--er--younger, didn't I?"

"Up at the store." She smiled faintly. "You bought me a bag of pop-corn
once with a prize in it. It was a breastpin; I've got it yet."

Mr. Opp scowled slightly as he tried to extract an imaginary splinter
from his thumb. "Do you--er--attend school?" he asked, taking refuge in
a paternal attitude.

"I'm finished," she said listlessly. "I've been going to the Young
Ladies' Seminary at Coreyville."

"Didn't you taken to it?" asked Mr. Opp, wishing fervently that Mrs.
Gusty would return.

"Oh, yes," said his companion, earnestly. "I love it; I was a special. I
took music and botany and painting. I was in four concerts last year and
played in the double duets at the commencements." During the pause that
followed, Mr. Opp considered various names for his newspaper. "Mother
isn't going to let me go back," the soft, drawling voice continued; "she
says when a girl is nineteen she ought to settle down. She wants me to
get married."

Mr. Opp laid "The Cove Chronicle" and "The Weekly Bugle" aside for
further consideration, and inquired politely if there was any special
person whom Mrs. Gusty desired for a son-in-law.

"Oh, no," said the girl, indifferently; "she hasn't thought of anybody.
But I don't want to get married--yet. I want to go back to the seminary
and be a music teacher. I hate it here, every bit of it. It's so
stupid--and lonesome, and--"

A break in her voice caused Mr. Opp to postpone a decision of the day on
which his paper was to be published, and to give her his undivided
attention. Distress, even in beauty, was not to be withstood, and the
fact that she was unusually pretty had been annoying Mr. Opp ever since
she had spoken to him. As she turned her head away and wiped her eyes,
he rose impulsively and moved toward her:

"Say, look a-here now, you ain't crying, are you?" he asked.

She shook her head in indignant denial.

"Well--er--you don't seem exactly happy, as you might say," suggested
Mr. Opp, boldly.

"I'm not," she confessed, biting her lip. "I oughtn't to talk to you
about it, but there isn't anybody here that would understand. They think
I'm stuck up when I talk about books and music and--and other kind of
people. They just keep on doing the same stupid things till they get old
and die. Only mother won't even let me do stupid things; she says I
bother her when I try to help around the house."

"Can't you sew or make mottoes or something?" asked Mr. Opp, very vague
as to feminine accomplishments.

"What's the use?" asked the girl. "Mother does everything for me. She
always says she'd rather do it than teach me how."

"Don't you take to reading?" asked Mr. Opp.

"Oh, yes," she said; "I used to read all the time down at school; but
there never is anything to read up here."

The editor-elect peopled the country with similar cases, and he
immediately saw himself as a public benefactor supplying starved
subscribers with a bountiful repast of weekly news.

"Won't you sit down?" asked the girl, interrupting his reflections. "I
don't know what can be keeping mother."

Mr. Opp looked about for a chair, but there was none. Then he glanced at
his companion, and saw that she was holding aside her pink skirt and
evidently offering him a seat beside her in the hammock. He advanced a
step, retreated, then weakly capitulated. Sitting very rigid, nursing
his hat on his knees, and inserting his forefinger between his neck and
his collar as if to breathe better, he remarked that it was getting
warmer all the time.

"This isn't anything to what it will be later," said the girl; "it keeps
on getting hotter and dustier all the time. I don't believe there's such
a stupid, poky, little old place anywhere else in the world. You ought
to be mighty glad you don't live here."

Mr. Opp cleared his throat with some dignity. "I expect to remain here
permanent now. I--well--the truth is, I have decided to operate a
newspaper here."

"No!" cried the girl, incredulously. "Not in the Cove!"

"In the Cove," repeated Mr. Opp, firmly. "There's great need here for a
live, enterprising newspaper. It's a virgin field, you might say. There
never was a place that needed a public voice more. My paper is going to
be a voice that hears all sides of a question; it's going to appeal to
the aged and the young and all them that lies between."

"It will be mighty grand for us!" said his companion, with interest.
"When is it going to start?"

Definite plans being decidedly nebulous, Mr. Opp wisely confined himself
to generalities. He touched casually on his remarkable fitness for the
work, his wide experience, his worldly knowledge. He hinted that in time
he expected to venture into even deeper literary waters--poetry, and a
novel, perhaps. As he talked, he realized that for the second time that
day he was looked upon with approval. Being accepted at his own estimate
proved a new and exhilarating sensation.

It was pleasant on the wide porch, with the honeysuckle shutting out the
sun, and the long, yellow blossoms filling the air with fragrance. It
was pleasant to hear the contented chuckle of the hens and the sleepy
hum of the bees, and the sound of his own voice; but most of all it was
pleasant, albeit disconcerting, to glance sidewise occasionally and find
a pair of credulous brown eyes raised to his in frank admiration. What
if the swing of the hammock was making him dizzy and one foot had gone
to sleep? These were minor considerations unworthy of mention.

"And just to think," the girl was saying, "that you may be right across
the road! I won't mind staying at home so much if you'll let me come
over and see you make the newspaper."

"You might like to assist sometime," said Mr. Opp, magnanimously, at the
same time cautiously removing a fluttering pink ribbon from his knee. "I
could let you try your hand on a wedding or a 'bituary, or something
along that line."

"Oh, really?" she cried, her eyes brightening. "I'd just love to. I can
write compositions real nice, and you could help me a little."

"Yes," agreed Mr. Opp; "I could learn you to do the first draft, and I
could put on the extra touches."

So engrossed did they become in these plans that they did not hear the
click of the gate, or see the small, aggressive lady who came up the
walk. She moved with the confident air of one who is in the habit of
being obeyed. Her skirt gave the appearance of no more daring to hang
wrong than her bonnet-strings would have presumed to move from the exact
spot where she had tied them under her left ear. Her small, bright eyes,
slightly crossed, apparently saw two ways at once, for on her brief
journey from the gate to the porch, she decapitated two withered
geraniums on the right, and picked up a stray paper and some dead leaves
on the left.

"Guin-never!" she called sharply, not seeing the couple on the porch,
"who's been tracking mud in on my clean steps?"

The girl rose hastily and came forward. "Mother," she said, "here's Mr.
Opp."

Mrs. Gusty glanced up from one to the other, evidently undecided how to
meet the situation. But the hesitancy was not for long; Mr. Opp's
watch-fob, glittering in the sunlight, symbolized such prosperity that
she hastily extended a cordial hand of welcome.

"You don't mean to tell me Guin-never has been keeping you out here on
the porch instead of taking you in the parlor? And hasn't she given you
a thing to drink? Well, just wait till I get my things off and I'll fix
a pitcher of lemonade."

"Let me do it, Mother," said Guinevere, eagerly; "I often do it at
school."

"I'd hate to drink what you make," said Mrs. Gusty, waving her aside.
"You show Mr. Opp in the parlor. No; I'll open the shutters: you'd get
your hands dirty." She bustled about with that tyrannical capability
that reduces every one near it to a state of helpless dependence.

The parlor was cool and dark, and Mr. Opp felt around for a chair while
the refractory shutter was being opened. When at last a shaft of light
was admitted, it fell full upon a sable frame which hung above the
horse-hair sofa, and inclosed a glorified certificate of the births,
marriages, and deaths in the house of Gusty. Around these written data
was a border realistically depicting the seven ages of man and
culminating in a legend of gold which read

        From the Cradle to the Grave.

While Mr. Opp was standing before this work of art, apparently deeply
interested, he was, in reality, peeping through a crack in the shutter.
The sunlight was still filtering through the honeysuckle vines, making
dancing, white patches on the porch, the bees were humming about the
blossoms, and Miss Guinevere Gusty was still sitting in the hammock, her
chin in her palms, gazing down the road.

When Mrs. Gusty returned, she bore a glass pitcher of lemonade, a plate
of crisp gingersnaps, and a tumbler of crushed ice, all of which rested
upon a tray which was covered with her strawberry centerpiece, a mark of
distinction which, unfortunately, was lost upon her guest.

Mr. Opp, being a man of business, plunged at once into his subject,
presenting the matter so eloquently and using so much more persuasion
than was necessary that he overshot the mark. Mrs. Gusty was not without
business sagacity herself, and when Mr. Opp met a possible objection
before it had ever occurred to her, she promptly made use of the
suggestion.

"Of course," said Mr. Opp, as a final inducement, "I'd be glad to run
in some of Mr. Gusty's poetical pieces from time to time."

This direct appeal to her sentiment so touched Mrs. Gusty that she
suggested they go over to the shop at once and look it over.

For a moment after the door of his future sanctum was thrown open Mr.
Opp was disconcerted. The small, dark room, cluttered with all manner of
trash, the broken window-panes, the dust, and the cobwebs, presented a
prospect that was far from encouraging; but after an examination of the
presses, his courage revived.

After a great deal of talk on Mr. Opp's part, and some shrewd bargaining
on Mrs. Gusty's, the stupendous transaction was brought to a close, to
the eminent satisfaction of both parties.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was late that night before Mr. Opp retired. He sat in the open window
of his bedroom and looked out upon the river. The cool night air and the
quiet light of the stars calmed the turmoil in his brain. Gradually the
colossal schemes and the towering ambitions gave way to an emotion to
which the editor-elect was by no means a stranger. It was a little
white-faced Fear that lurked always in a corner of his heart, and could
be kept down only by brave words and aggressive deeds.

He sat with his trembling knees hunched, and his arms awkwardly clasped
about them, an absurd atom in the great cosmic order; yet the soul that
looked out of his squinting, wistful eyes held all the potentialities of
life, and embodied the eternal sadness and the eternal inspiration of
human endeavor.



VII


It is no small undertaking to embark in an untried ship, upon unknown
waters, in the teeth of opposing gales. But Mr. Opp sailed the sea of
life as a valiant mariner should, self-reliant, independent, asking
advice of nobody. He steered by the guidance of his own peculiar moral
compass, regardless of the rough waters through which it led him.

Having invested the major portion of his savings in the present venture,
it was necessary to begin operations at once; but events conspired to
prevent him. Miss Kippy made many demands upon his time both by day and
night; she had transferred her affection and dependence from her father
to him, and he found himself sorely encumbered by this new
responsibility. Moreover, the attitude of the town toward the innovation
of a newspaper was one of frank skepticism, and it proved a delicate and
arduous task to create the proper public sentiment. In addition to these
troubles, Mr. Opp had a yet graver matter to hinder him: with all his
valor and energy he was suffering qualms of uncertainty as to the proper
method of starting a weekly journal.

To be sure, he had achieved a name for the paper--a name so eminently
satisfactory that he had already had it emblazoned upon a ream of office
paper. "The Opp Eagle" had sprung full-syllabled from his teeming brain,
and had been accepted over a hundred competitors.

But naming the fledgling was an easy matter compared with getting it out
of the nest; and it was not until the instalment of his competent staff
that Mr. Opp accomplished the task.

This important transaction took place one morning as he sat in his new
office and struggled with his first editorial. The bare room, with the
press in the center, served as news-room, press-room, publication
office, and editorial sanctum. Mr. Opp sat at a new deal table, with one
pen behind his ear, and another in his hand, and gazed for inspiration
at the brown wrapping-paper with which he had neatly covered the walls.
His mental gymnastics were interrupted by the appearance at the door of
Miss Jim Fenton and her brother Nick.

Miss Jim was an anomaly in the community, being by theory a spinster,
and by practice a double grass-widow. Capable and self-supporting, she
attracted the ne'er-do-wells as a magnet attracts needles, but having
been twice induced to forego her freedom and accept the bonds of
wedlock, she had twice escaped and reverted to her original type and
name. Miss Jim was evidently a victim of one of Nature's most economical
moods; she was spare and angular, with a long, wrinkled face surmounted
by a scant fluff of pale, frizzled hair. Her mouth slanted upward at
one corner, giving her an expression unjustly attributed to coquetry,
when in reality it was due to an innocent and pardonable pride in an
all-gold eye-tooth.

But it was her clothes that brought misunderstanding, misfortune, and
even matrimony upon Miss Jim. They were sent her by the boxful by a
cousin in the city, and the fact was unmistakable that they were clothes
with a past. The dresses held an atmosphere of evaporated frivolity;
flirtations lingered in every frill, and memories of old larks lurked in
every furbelow. The hats had a jaunty list to port, and the colored
slippers still held a dance within their soles. One old bird of paradise
on Miss Jim's favorite bonnet had a chronic wink for the wickedness he
had witnessed.

It was this wink that attracted Mr. Opp as he looked up from his arduous
labors. For a disconcerting moment he was uncertain whether it belonged
to Miss Jim or to the bird.

"Howdy, Mr. Opp," said the lady in brisk, businesslike tones. "I was
taking a crayon portrait home to Mrs. Gusty, and I just stopped in to
see if I couldn't persuade you to take my brother to help you on the
newspaper. You remember Nick, don't you?"

Mr. Opp glanced up. A skeleton of a boy, with a shaven head, was peering
eagerly past him into the office, his keen, ferret-like eyes devouring
every detail of the printing-presses.

"He knows the business," went on Miss Jim, anxiously pulling at the
fingers of her gloves. "He's been in it over a year at Coreyville. He
wants to go back; but I ain't willing till he gets stronger. He ain't
been up but two weeks."

Mr. Opp turned impressively in his revolving chair, the one luxury which
he had deemed indispensable, and doubtfully surveyed the applicant. The
mere suggestion of his leaning upon this broken reed seemed ridiculous;
yet the boy's thin, sallow face, and Miss Jim's imploring eyes, caused
him to hesitate.

"Well, you see," he said, with thumbs together and his lips pursed,
after the manner of the various employers before whom he had stood in
the past, "we are just making a preliminary start, and we haven't
engaged our staff yet. I am a business man and a careful one. I don't
feel justified in going to no extra expense until 'The Opp Eagle' is, in
a way, on its feet."

"Oh, that's all right," said the boy; "I'll work a month for nothing.
Lots of fellows do that on the big papers."

Miss Jim plucked warningly at his sleeve, and Mr. Opp, seeing that
Nick's enthusiasm had led him beyond his depth, went gallantly to the
rescue.

"Not at all," he said hastily; "that ain't my policy. I think I might
contrive to pay you a small, reasonable sum down, and increase it in
ratio as the paper become more prosperous. Don't you think you better
sit down?"

"No, sir; I'm all right," said the boy, impatiently. "I can do 'most
anything about a paper, setting type, printing, reporting, collecting,
'most anything you put me at."

Such timely knowledge, in whatever guise it came, seemed Heaven-sent.
Mr. Opp gave a sigh of satisfaction.

"If you feel that you can't do any better than accepting the small sum
that just at present I'll have to offer you, why, I think we can come to
some arrangement."

"That's mighty nice in you," said Miss Jim, jerking her head forward in
order to correct an undue backward gravitation of her bonnet. "If ever
you want a crayon portrait, made from life or enlarged from a
photograph, I'll make you a special price on it. I'm just taking this
here one home to Mrs. Gusty; she had it done for Guin-never's birthday."

Miss Jim removed the wrappings and disclosed a portrait of Miss
Guinevere Gusty, very large as to eyes and very small as to mouth. She
handed it to Mr. Opp, and called attention to its fine qualities.

"Just look at the lace on that dress! Mrs. Fallows picked a whole
pattern off on her needles from one of my portraits. And did you notice
the eyelashes; you can actually count 'em! She had four buttons on her
dress, but I didn't get in but three; but I ain't going to mention it to
Mrs. Gusty. Don't you think it's pretty?"

Mr. Opp, who had been smiling absently at the portrait, started
guiltily. "Yes," he said confusedly; "yes, ma'am, I think she is." Then
he felt a curious tingling about his ears and realized, to his
consternation, that he was blushing.

"She's too droopin' a type for me," said Miss Jim, removing an ostrich
tip from her angle of vision; then she continued in a side whisper:
"Say, would you mind making Nick take this bottle of milk at twelve
o'clock, and resting a little? He ain't as strong as he lets on, and he
has sort of sinking spells 'long about noon."

Receiving the bottle thus surreptitiously offered, and assisting the
lady to gather up her bundles, Mr. Opp bowed her out, and turned to face
the embarrassing necessity of giving instructions to his new employee.
He was relieved to find, however, that the young gentleman in question
possessed initiative; for Nick had promptly removed his coat, and fallen
to work, putting things to rights with an energy and ability that caused
Mr. Opp to offer up a prayer of heartfelt gratitude.

All the morning they worked silently, Mr. Opp toiling over his
editorial, with constant references to a small dictionary which he
concealed in the drawer of the table, and Nick giving the presses a
thorough and much-needed overhauling.

At the noon-hour they shared their lunch, and Mr. Opp, firm in the
authority invested in him by Miss Jim, demanded that Nick should drink
his milk, and recline at length upon the office bench for twenty
minutes. It was with great difficulty that Nick was persuaded to submit
to this transferred coddling; but he evidently realized that
insubordination at the start of his career would be fatal, and,
moreover, his limbs ached and his hands trembled.

It was in the intimacy of this, their first, staff meal, that they
discussed the policy of the paper.

"Of course," said Mr. Opp, "we have got a vast undertaking in front of
us. For the next few months we won't scarcely have time to draw a
natural breath. I am going to put every faculty I own on to making 'The
Opp Eagle' a fine paper. I expect to get here at seven o'clock A.M., and
continue to pursue my work as far into the midnight hours as may need
be. Nothing in the way of pleasure or anything else is going to pervert
my attention. Of course you understand that my mind will be taken up
with the larger issues of things, and I'll have to risk a dependence on
you to attend to the smaller details."

"All right," said Nick, gratefully; "you won't be sorry you trusted me,
Mr. Opp. I'll do my level best. When will we get out the first issue?"

"Well--er--the truth is," said Mr. Opp, "I haven't, as you might say,
accumulated sufficient of material as yet. You see, I have a great many
irons in the fire, and besides opening up this office, I am the
president of a company that's just bought up twenty acres of ground
around here. The biggest oil proposition--"

"Yes, sir," interrupted Nick; "but don't you think we could get started
in two weeks, with the ads and the contributors' letters from other
counties, and a story or two I could run in, and your editorial page?"

"I've got two advertisements," said Mr. Opp; "but I don't intend to rest
content until every man in the Cove has got a card in. Now, about these
contributors from other counties?"

"I can manage that," said Nick. "I'll write to some girl or fellow I
know in the different towns, and ask them to give me a weekly letter.
They sign themselves 'Gipsy' or 'Fairy' or 'Big Injun' or something
like that, and tell what's doing in their neighborhood. We'll have to
fix the letters up some, but they help fill in like everything."

Mr. Opp's spirits rose at this capable coöperation.

"You--er--like the name?" he asked.

"'The Opp Eagle'?" said Nick. "Bully!"

Such unqualified approval went to Mr. Opp's head, and he rashly broke
through the dignity that should hedge about an editor.

"I don't mind reading you some of my editorial," he said urbanely; "it's
the result of considerable labor."

He opened the drawer and took out some loosely written pages, though he
knew each paragraph by heart. Squaring himself in his revolving-chair,
and clearing his throat, he addressed himself ostensibly to the
cadaverous youth stretched at length before him, but in imagination to
all the southern counties of the grand old Commonwealth of Kentucky.

His various business experiences had stored such an assorted lot of
information in his brain that it was not unlike a country store in the
diversity of its contents. His style, like his apparel, was more ornate
and pretentious than what lay beneath it. There were many words which he
knew by sight, but with which he had no speaking acquaintance. But Mr.
Opp had ideals, and this was the first opportunity he had ever had to
put them before his fellow-men.

"The great bird of American Liberty," he read impressively, "has soared
and flown over the country and lighted at last in your midst. 'The Opp
Eagle' appears for the first time to-day. It is no money scheme in which
we are indulging; we aim first and foremost to fulfil a much-needed want
in the community. 'The Opp Eagle' will tell the people what you want to
know better and at less expense than any other method. It will aim at
bringing the priceless gems of knowledge within the reach of everybody.
For what is bread to the body if you do not also clothe the mind
spiritually and mentally?

"We will boom this, our native, city. If possible, I hope to get the
streets cleaned up and a railroad, and mayhap in time lamp-posts. This
region has ever been known for its great and fine natural resources, but
we have been astounded, you might say astonished, in recent visits to
see its naked and crude immensities, which far exceeds our most sanguine
expectations. So confident are we that a few of our most highly
respectable citizens have, at the instigation of the Editor of 'The Opp
Eagle,' bought up the land lying between Turtle Creek and the river, and
as soon as a little more capital has been accumulated, intend to open up
a oil proposition that will astonish the eyes of the natives!

"In all candor, we truly believe this favored region of ours to have no
equal in underground wealth nowhere upon this terrestrial earth, albeit
we are not of globe-trotter stock nor tribe. We will endeavor to induce
the home people to copy after the wise example of a few of our leading
citizens and buy up oil rights before the kings of Bonanzas from the
Metropolitan cities discover our treasure and wrench it from our grasp.
'The Opp Eagle' will, moreover, stand for temperance and reform. We will
hurl grape and cannister into the camps of the saloonatics until they
flee the wrath to come. Will also publish a particular statement of all
social entertainments, including weddings, parties, church socials, and
funerals. In conclusion, would say that we catch this first opportunity
to thank you in collective manner herein for the welcome you have
ordained 'The Opp Eagle.'"

Mr. Opp came to a close and waited for applause; nor was he
disappointed.

"Gee! I wish I could write like that!" said Nick, rising on his elbow.
"I can do the printing all right, and hustle around for the news; but I
never know how to put on the trimmings."

Mr. Opp laid a hand upon his shoulder; he was fast developing a
fondness for the youth.

"It's a gift," he said sympathetically, "that I am afraid, my boy,
nobody can't learn you."

"Can I come in?" said a voice from outside, and Mr. Gallop peeped around
the open door.

"Walk in," cried Mr. Opp, while Nick sprang to his feet. "We are just by
way of finishing up the work at hand, and have a few minutes of spare
leisure."

"I just wanted to know if you'd help us get up a town band," said Mr.
Gallop. "I told the boys you'd be too busy, but they made me come. I
asked Mr. Fallows if you was musical; but I wouldn't repeat what he
said."

"Oh, Jimmy is just naturally humoristic," said Mr. Opp. "Go along and
tell me what he remarked."

"Well," said Mr. Gallop, indignantly, "he said you was a expert on the
wind-pipe! Mr. Tucker, I believe it was, thought you used to play the
accordion."

"No," said Mr. Opp; "it was the cornet. I was considerable of a
performer at one time."

"Well, we want you for the leader of our band," said Mr. Gallop. "We are
going to have blue uniforms and give regular concerts up on Main
Street."

Nick Fenny began searching for a pencil.

"You know," went on Mr. Gallop, rapidly, "the last show boat that was
here had a calliope, and there's another one coming next week. All I
have to do is to hear a tune twice, then I can play it. Miss Guin-never
Gusty is going up to Coreyville next week, and she says she'll get us
some new pieces. She's going to select a plush self-rocker for the
congregation to give the new preacher. They're keeping it awful secret,
but I heard 'em mention it over the telephone. The preacher's baby has
been mighty sick, and so has his mother, up at the Ridge; but she's got
well again. Well, I must go along now. Ain't it warm?"

Before Mr. Opp had ceased showing Mr. Gallop out, his attention was
arrested by the strange conduct of his staff. That indefatigable youth
was writing furiously on the new wall-paper, covering the clean brown
surface with large, scrawling characters.

Mr. Opp's indignation was checked at its source by the radiant face
which Nick turned upon him.

"I've got another column!" he cried; "listen here:

"'A new and handsome Show Boat will tie up at the Cove the early part of
next week. A fine calliope will be on board.'

"'Miss Guinevere Gusty will visit friends in Coreyville soon.'

"'The new preacher will be greatly surprised soon by the gift of a fine
plush rocking-chair from the ladies of the congregation.'

"'The infant baby of the new preacher has been sick, but is better
some.'

"'Jimmy Fallows came near getting an undertaking job at the Ridge last
week, but the lady got well.'

"And that ain't all," he continued excitedly; "I'm going out now to get
all the particulars about that band, and we'll have a long story about
it."

Mr. Opp, left alone in his office, made an unsuccessful effort to resume
work. The fluttering of the "Eagle's" wings preparatory to taking flight
was not the only thing that interfered with his power of concentration.
He did not at all like the way he felt. Peculiar symptoms had developed
in the last week, and the quinine which he had taken daily had failed to
relieve him. He could not say that he was sick,--in fact, he had never
been in better health,--but there was a strange feeling of restlessness,
a vague disturbance of his innermost being, that annoyed and puzzled
him. Even as he tried to solve the problem, an irresistible impulse
brought him to his feet and carried him to the door. Miss Guinevere
Gusty was coming out of her gate in a soft, white muslin, and a chip hat
laden with pink roses.

"Anything I can do for you up street?" she called across pleasantly to
Mr. Opp.

"Why, thank you--no, the fact is--well, you see, I find it necessary for
me to go up myself." Mr. Opp heard himself saying these words with great
surprise, and when he found himself actually walking out of the office,
leaving a large amount of unfinished work, his indignation knew no
bounds.

"The sun is awful hot. Ain't you goin' to wear a hat?" drawled Miss
Guinevere.

Mr. Opp put his hand to his head in some embarrassment, and then assured
her that he very often went without it.

They sauntered slowly down the dusty road. On one side the trees hedged
them in, but on the other stretched wide fields of tasseled corn over
which shimmered waves of summer heat. White butterflies fluttered
constantly across their path, and overhead, hidden somewhere in the
branches, the birds kept up a constant song. The August sun, still high
in the heavens, shone fiercely down on the open road, on the ragweed by
the wayside, on the black-eyed Susans nodding at the light; but it fell
most mercilessly of all upon the bald spot on the head of the
unconscious Mr. Opp, who was moving, as in an hypnotic state, into the
land of romance.



VIII


By all the laws of physics, Mr. Opp during the months that ensued,
should have stood perfectly still. For if ever two forces pulled with
equal strength in opposite directions, love and ambition did in the
heart of our friend the editor. But Mr. Opp did not stand still; on the
contrary, he seemed to be moving in every direction at once.

In due time "The Opp Eagle" made its initial flight, and received the
approbation of the community. The first page was formal, containing the
editorial, a list of the subscribers, a notice to tax-payers, and three
advertisements, one of which requested "the lady public to please note
that the hats put out by Miss Duck Brown do not show the wire composing
the frame."

But the first page of the "Eagle" was like the front door of a house:
when once you got on the other side of it, you were in the family, as it
were, formality was dropped, and an easy atmosphere of familiarity
prevailed. You read that Uncle Enoch Siller had Sundayed over at the
Ridge, or that Aunt Gussy Williams was on the puny list, and frequently
there were friendly references to "Ye Editor" or "Ye Quill Driver," for
after soaring to dizzy heights in his editorials, Mr. Opp condescended
to come down on the second page and move in and out of the columns, as a
host among his guests.

It is painful to reflect what would have been the fate of the infatuated
Mr. Opp in these days had it not been for the faithful Nick. Nick's
thirst for work was insatiable; he yearned for responsibility, and was
never so happy as when gathering news. He chased an item as a dog might
chase a rat, first scenting it, then hunting it down, and after
mutilating it a bit, proudly returning it to his master.

Mr. Opp was enabled, by this competent assistance, to spare many a
half-hour in consultation with Miss Guinevere Gusty concerning the
reportorial work she was going to do on the paper. The fact that nobody
died or got married delayed all actual performance, but in order to be
ready for the emergency, frequent calls were deemed expedient.

It became part of the day's program to read her his editorial, or
consult her about some social item, or to report a new subscriber, his
self-esteem meanwhile putting forth all manner of new shoots and
bursting into exotic bloom under the warmth of her approval.

Miss Gusty, on her part, was acquiring a new interest in her
surroundings. In addition to the subtle flattery of being consulted, she
was the recipient of daily offerings of books, and music, and drugstore
candy, and sometimes a handful of flowers, carefully concealed in a
newspaper to escape the vigilant eye of Jimmy Fallows.

On several occasions she returned Mr. Opp's calls, picking her way
daintily across the road, and peeping in at the window to make sure he
was there.

It was at such times that the staff of "The Opp Eagle" misconducted
itself. It objected to a young woman in the press-room; it disapproved
of the said person sitting at the deal table in confidential
conversation with the editor; it saw no humor in her dipping the pencils
into the ink-well, and scrawling names on the new office stationery; and
when the point was reached that she moved about the office, asking
absurd questions and handling the type, the staff could no longer endure
it, but hastened forth to forget its annoyance in the pursuit of
business.

Moreover, the conduct of the chief, as Nick was pleased to call Mr. Opp,
was becoming more and more peculiar. He would arrive in the morning, his
pockets bristling with papers, and his mind with projects. He would
attack the work of the day with ferocious intensity, then in the midst
of it, without warning, he would lapse into an apparent trance, his
hands in his pockets, his eyes on the ceiling, and such a smile on his
face as one usually reserves for a camera.

Nick did not know that it was the song of the siren that was calling Mr.
Opp, who, instead of lashing himself to the mast and steering for the
open sea, was letting his little craft drift perilously near the rocky
coast.

No feature of the proceedings was lost upon Mrs. Gusty. She applied the
same method to her daughter that she did to her vines, tying her firmly
to the wall of her own ability, and prescribing the direction and length
to which she should grow. The situation would need pruning later, but
for the present she studied conditions and bided her time.

Meanwhile the "Eagle" was circling more widely in its flight. Mr. Opp's
persistent and eloquent articles pertaining to the great oil wealth of
the region had been reinforced by a favorable report from the laboratory
in the city to which he had sent a specimen from the spring on Turtle
Creek. Thus equipped with wings of hope, and a small ballast of fact,
the "Eagle" went soaring on its way, and in time attracted the attention
of a party of capitalists who were traveling through the State,
investigating oil and mineral possibilities.

One epoch-making day, the editor was called up over the long-distance
telephone, and, after answering numerous inquiries, was told that the
party expected to spend the following night in the Cove.

This important event took place the last of November, and threw the town
into great excitement. Mr. Opp received the message early in the
morning, and immediately set to work to call a meeting of the Turtle
Creek Land Company.

"This here is one of the most critical moments in the history of Cove
City," he announced excitedly to Nick. "It's a most fortunate thing that
they've got me here to make the preliminary arrangements, and to sort of
get the thing solidified, as you might say. I'll call a meeting for
eleven o'clock at Your Hotel. You call up old man Hager and the
preacher, and I will undertake to notify Jimmy Fallows and Mr. Tucker."

"The preacher ain't in town; he's out at Smither's Ridge, marrying a
couple. I got the whole notice written out beforehand."

"Well, tear it up," said Mr. Opp. "I've engaged a special hand to do all
weddings and funerals."

Nick looked hurt; this was the first time his kingdom had been invaded.
He kicked the door sullenly.

"I can't get the preacher if he's out at Smither's Ridge."

"Nick," said Mr. Opp, equally hurt, "is that the way for a subordinate
reporter to talk to a' editor? You don't seem to realize that this here
is a very serious and large transaction. There may be hundreds of
dollars involved. It's a' awful weight of responsibility for one man.
I'm willing to finance it and conduct the main issues, but I've got to
have the backing of all the other parties. Now it's with you whether
the preacher gets there or not."

"Shall I hunt up Mat Lucas, too?" asked Nick as he started forth.

"No; that's my branch of the work: but--say--Nick, your sister will have
to be there; she owns some shares."

"All right," said Nick; "her buggy is hitched up in front of Tucker's.
I'll tell her to wait till you come."

Mr. Opp was not long in following. He walked down the road with an
important stride, his bosom scarcely able to accommodate the feeling of
pride and responsibility that swelled it. He was in a position of trust;
his fellow-citizens would look to him, a man of larger experience and
business ability, to deal with these moneyed strangers. He would be
fair, but shrewd. He knew the clever wiles of the capitalists; he would
meet them with calm but unyielding dignity.

It was in this mood that he came upon Miss Jim, who was in the act of
disentangling a long lace scarf from her buggy whip. Her flushed face
and flashing eyes gave such unmistakable signs of wrath that Mr. Opp
glanced apprehensively at the whip in her hand, and then at Jimmy
Fallows, who was hitching her horse.

"Howdy, Mr. Opp," she said. "It's a pleasure to meet a gentleman, after
what I've seen."

"I hope," said Mr. Opp, "that our friend here ain't been indulging in
his customary--"

"It ain't Mr. Fallows," she broke in sharply; "it's Mr. Tucker. He ain't
got the feeling of a broomstick."

"Now, Miss Jim," began Jimmy Fallows in a teasing tone; but the lady
turned her back upon him and addressed Mr. Opp.

"You see this portrait," she said angrily, pulling it out from under the
seat. "It took me four weeks, including two Sunday afternoons, to make
it. I begun it the second week after Mrs. Tucker died, when I seen him
takin' on so hard at church. He was cryin' so when they took up the
collection that he never even seen the plate pass him. I went right
home and set to work on this here portrait, thinking he'd be glad and
willing to buy it from me. Wouldn't you, if you was a widower?"

Mr. Opp gazed doubtfully at the picture, which represented Mr. Tucker
sitting disconsolately beside a grave, with a black-bordered
handkerchief held lightly between his fingers. A weeping-willow drooped
above him, and on the tombstone at his side were two angels supporting
the initials of the late Mrs. Tucker.

"Why, Miss Jim," insisted Fallows, "you're askin' too much of old man
Tucker to expect him to keep on seein' a tombstone when he's got one eye
on you and one eye on the Widow Gusty. He ain't got any hair on top of
his head to part, but he's took to partin' it down the back, and I seen
him Sunday trying to read the hymns without his spectacles. He started
up on 'Let a Little Sunshine In' when they was singing 'Come, ye
Disconsolate.' You rub out the face and the initials on that there
picture and keep it for the nex' widower. Ketch him when he's still
droopin'. You'll get your money back. Your mistake was in waiting too
long."

"Speaking of waiting," said Mr. Opp, impatiently, "there's a call
meeting of the Turtle Creek Land Co. for this morning at eleven at Your
Hotel. Hope it's convenient, Jimmy."

"Oh, yes," said Jimmy; "we got more empty chairs at Your Hotel than
anything else. What's the meeting for? Struck gold?"

Mr. Opp imparted the great news.

"Oh, my land!" exclaimed Miss Jim, "will they be here to-day?"

"Not until to-morrow night," explained Mr. Opp. "This here meeting this
morning is for the stock-holders only. We got to kinder outline our
policy and arrange a sort of basis of operation."

"Well," said Miss Jim, "I'll take the portrait up to Mrs. Gusty's and
ask her to take care of it for me. I don't know as I can do the face
over into somebody else's, but I can't afford to lose it."

It was afternoon before the stock-holders could all be brought together.
They assembled in the office of Your Hotel in varying states of mind
ranging from frank skepticism to intense enthusiasm.

Mr. Tucker represented the conservative element. He was the rich man of
the town, with whom economy, at first a necessity, had become a luxury.
No greater proof could have been desired of Mr. Opp's persuasive powers
than that Mr. Tucker had invested in a hundred shares of the new stock.
He sat on the edge of his chair, wizen, anxious, fidgety, loaded with
objections, and ready to go off half-cocked. Old man Hager sat in his
shadow, objecting when he objected, voting as he voted, and prepared to
loosen or tighten his purse-strings as Mr. Tucker suggested.

Mat Lucas and Miss Jim were independents. They had both had sufficient
experience in business to know their own minds. If there was any money
to be made in the Cove or about it, they intended to have a part in it.

Mr. Opp and the preacher constituted the Liberal party. They furnished
the enthusiasm that floated the scheme. They were able to project
themselves into the future and prophesy dazzling probabilities.

Jimmy Fallows, alone of the group, maintained an artistic attitude
toward the situation. He was absolutely detached. He sat with his chair
tilted against the door and his thumbs in his armholes, and treated the
whole affair as a huge joke.

"The matter up for immediate consideration," Mr. Opp was saying
impressively, "is whether these here gentlemen should want to buy us
out, we would sell, or whether we would remain firm in possession, and
let them lease our ground and share the profits on the oil."

"Well, I'm kinder in favor of selling out if we get the chance," urged
Mr. Tucker in a high, querulous voice. "To sell on a rising market is
always a pretty good plan."

"After we run up ag'in' them city fellows," said Mat Lucas, "I'll be
surprised if we git as much out as we put in."

"Gentlemen," protested Mr. Opp, "this here ain't the attitude to assume
to the affair. To my profoundest belief there is a fortune in these here
lands. The establishment of 'The Opp Eagle' has, as you know, been a
considerable tax on my finances, but everything else I've got has gone
into this company. It's a great and glorious opportunity, one that I
been predicting and prophesying for these many years. Are we going to
sell out to this party, and let them reap the prize? No; I trust and
hope that such is not the case. In order to have more capital to open up
the mines, I advocate the taking of them in."

"I bet they been advocating the taking of us in," chuckled Jimmy.

"Well, my dear friends, suppose we vote on it," suggested the preacher.

"Reach yer hand back there in the press, Mr. Opp, and git the
lead-pencil," said Jimmy, without moving.

"The motion before the house," said Mr. Opp, "is whether we will sell
out or take 'em in. All in favor say 'Aye.'"

There was a unanimous vote in the affirmative, although each member
interpreted the motion in his own way.

"Very well," said Mr. Opp, briskly; "the motion is carried. Now we got
to arrange about entertaining the party."

Mr. Tucker, whose brain was an accommodation stopping at each station,
was still struggling with the recent motion when this new thought about
entertainment whizzed past. The instinct of the landlord awoke at the
call, and he promptly switched off the main line and went down the side
track.

"Gallop was here while ago," Jimmy was saying, with a satisfied glance
at Mr. Tucker; "said they wanted me to take keer of 'em. I'll 'commodate
all but the preachers. If there are any preachers, Mr. Tucker kin have
'em. I have to draw the line somewheres. I can't stand 'em
'Brother-Fallowsing' me. Last time the old woman corralled one and
brought him home, he was as glad to find me to work on as she'd 'a' be'n
to git some fruit to preserve. 'Brother,' he says, reaching out for my
hand, 'do you ever think about the awful place you are going to when you
die?' 'You bet,' says I; 'I got more friends there than anywhere.'" And
Jimmy's laugh shook the stove-pipe.

"How many gentlemen are coming to-morrow?" asked Miss Jim, who was
sitting in a corner as far as possible from Mr. Tucker.

"Ten," said Jimmy. "Now, you wouldn't think it, but this here hotel has
got six bedrooms. I've tooken care of as many as twenty at a time, easy,
but I'll be hanged if I ever heard of such foolishness as every one of
these fellers wantin' a room to hisself."

"I've got three rooms empty," said Mr. Tucker.

"Well, that leaves one over," said Mat Lucas. "I'd take him out home,
but we've got company, and are sleeping three in a bed now."

Mr. Opp hesitated; then his hospitality overcame his discretion.

"Just consider him my guest," he said. "I'll be very pleased to provide
entertainment for the gentleman in question."

Not until the business of the day was over, and Mr. Opp was starting
home, did he realize how tired he was. It was not his duties as an
editor, or even as a promoter, that were telling on him; it was his
domestic affairs that preyed upon his mind. For Mr. Opp not only led a
strenuous life by day, but by night as well. Miss Kippy's day began with
his coming home, and ended in the morning when he went away; the rest of
the time she waited.

Just now the problem that confronted him was the entertainment of the
expected guest. Never, since he could remember, had a stranger invaded
that little world where Miss Kippy lived her unreal life of dreams.
What effect would it have upon her? Would it be kinder to hide her away
as something he was ashamed of, or to let her appear and run the risk of
exposing her deficiency to uncaring eyes? During the months that he had
watched her, a fierce tenderness had sprung up in his heart. He had
become possessed of the hope that she might be rescued from her
condition. Night after night he patiently tried to teach her to read and
to write, stopping again and again to humor her whims and indulge her
foolish fancies. More than once he had surprised a new look in her eyes,
a sudden gleam of sanity, of frightened understanding; and at such times
she would cling to him for protection against that strange thing that
was herself.

As he trudged along, deep in thought, a white chrysanthemum fell at his
feet. Looking up, he discovered Miss Guinevere Gusty, in a red cloak and
hat, sitting on the bank with a band-box in her lap.

His troubles were promptly swallowed up in the heart-quake which
ensued; but his speech was likewise, and he stood foolishly opening and
shutting his mouth, unable to effect a sound.

"I am waiting for the packet to go down to Coreyville," announced Miss
Gusty, straightening her plumed hat, and smiling. "Mr. Gallop says it's
an hour late; but I don't care, it's such a grand day."

Mr. Opp removed his eyes long enough to direct an inquiring glance at
the heavens and the earth. "Is it?" he asked, finding his voice. "I been
so occupied with business that I haven't scarcely taken occasion to note
the weather."

"Why, it's all soft and warm, just like spring," she continued, holding
out her arms and looking up at the sky. "I've been wishing I had time to
walk along the river a piece."

"I'll take you," said Mr. Opp, eagerly. "We can hear the whistle of the
boat in amply sufficient time to get back. Besides, it is a hour late."

She hesitated. "You're real sure you can get me back?"

"Perfectly," he announced. "I might say in all my experience I never
have yet got a lady left on a boat."

Miss Guinevere, used to being guided, handed him her band-box, and
followed him up the steep bank.

The path wound in and out among the trees, now losing itself in the
woods, now coming out upon the open river. The whole world was a riot of
crimson and gold, and it was warm with that soft echo of summer that
brings some of its sweetness, and all of its sadness, but none of its
mirth.

Mr. Opp walked beside his divinity oblivious to all else. The sunlight
fell unnoticed except when it lay upon her face; the only breeze that
blew from heaven was the one that sent a stray curl floating across her
cheek. As Mr. Opp walked, he talked, putting forth every effort to
please. His burning desire to be worthy of her led him into all manner
of verbal extravagances, and the mere fact that she was taller than he
caused him to indulge in more lofty and figurative language. He captured
fugitive quotations, evolved strange metaphors, coined words, and poured
all in a glittering heap of eloquence before her shrine.

As he talked, his companion moved heedlessly along beside him, stopping
now and then to gather a spray of goldenrod, or to gaze absently at the
river through some open space in the trees. For Miss Guinevere Gusty
lived in a world of her own--a world of vague possibilities, of
half-defined longings, and intangible dreams. Love was still an abstract
sentiment, something radiant and breathless that might envelop her at
any moment and bear her away to Elysium.

As she stooped to free her skirt from a detaining thorn, she pointed
down the bank.

"There's some pretty sweet-gum leaves; I wish they weren't so far down."

"Where?" demanded Mr. Opp, rashly eager to prove his gallantry.

"'Way down over the edge; but you mustn't go, it's too steep."

"Not for me," said Mr. Opp, plunging boldly through the underbrush.

The tree grew at a sharp angle over the water, and the branches were so
far up that it was necessary to climb out a short distance in order to
reach them. Mr. Opp's soul was undoubtedly that of a knight-errant, but
his body, alas! was not. When he found himself astride the slender,
swaying trunk, with the bank dropping sharply to the river flowing
dizzily beneath him, he went suddenly and unexpectedly blind. Between
admiration for himself for ever having gotten there, and despair of ever
getting back, lay the present necessity of loosening his hold long
enough to break off a branch of the crimson leaves. He tried opening one
eye, but the effect was so terrifying that he promptly closed it. He
pictured himself, a few moments before, strolling gracefully along the
road conversing brilliantly upon divers subjects; then he bitterly
considered the present moment and the effect he must be producing upon
the young lady in the red cloak on the path above. He saw himself
clinging abjectly to the swaying tree-trunk, only waiting for his
strength or the tree to give away, before he should be plunged into the
waters below.

"That's a pretty spray," called the soft voice from above; "that one
above, to the left."

Mr. Opp, rallying all his courage, reached blindly out in the direction
indicated, and as he did so, he realized that annihilation was imminent.
Demonstrating a swift geometrical figure in the air, he felt himself
hurling through space, coming to an abrupt and awful pause when he
struck the earth. Perceiving with a thrill of surprise that he was still
alive, he cautiously opened his eyes. To his further amazement he found
that he had landed on his feet, unhurt, and that in his left hand he
held a long branch of sweet-gum leaves.

"Why, you skinned the cat, didn't you?" called an admiring voice from
above. "I was just wondering how you was ever going to get down."

Mr. Opp crawled up the slippery bank, his knees trembling so that he
could scarcely stand.

"Yes," he said, as he handed her the leaves; "those kind of athletic
acts seem to just come natural to some people."

"You must be awful strong," continued Guinevere, looking at him with
approval.

Mr. Opp sank beside her on the bank and gave himself up to the full
enjoyment of the moment. Both hands were badly bruised, and he had a dim
misgiving that his coat was ripped up the back; but he was happy, with
the wild, reckless happiness of one to whom Fate has been unexpectedly
kind. Moreover, the goal toward which all his thought had been rushing
for the past hour was in sight. He could already catch glimpses of the
vision beautiful. He could hear himself storming the citadel with magic
words of eloquence. Meanwhile he nursed the band-box and smiled dumbly
into space.

From far below, the pungent odor of burning leaves floated up, and the
air was full of a blue haze that became luminous as the sun transfused
it. It enveloped the world in mystery, and threw a glamour over the
dying day.

"It's so pretty it hurts," said the girl, clasping her hands about her
knees. "I love to watch it all, but it makes the shivers go over
me--makes me feel sort of lonesome. Don't it you?"

Mr. Opp shook his head emphatically. It was the one time in years that
down in the depths of his soul he had not felt lonesome. For as Indian
summer had come back to earth, so youth had come back to Mr. Opp. The
flower of his being was waking to bloom, and the spring tides were at
flood.

A belated robin overhead, unable longer to contain his rapture, burst
into song; but Mr. Opp, equally full of his subject, was unable to utter
a syllable. The sparkling eloquence and the fine phrases had evaporated,
and only the bare truth was left.

Guinevere, having become aware of the very ardent looks that were being
cast upon her, said she thought the boat must be about due.

"Oh, no," said Mr. Opp; "that is, I was about to say--why--er--say, Miss
Guin-never, do you think you could ever come to keer about me?"

Guinevere, thus brought to bay, took refuge in subterfuge. "Why--Mr.
Opp--I'm not old enough for you."

"Yes, you are," he burst forth fervently. "You are everything for me:
old enough, and beautiful enough, and smart enough, and sweet enough. I
never beheld a human creature that could even begin to think about
comparing with you."

Guinevere, in the agitation of the moment, nervously plucked all the
leaves from the branch that had been acquired with such effort. It was
with difficulty that she finally managed to lift her eyes.

"You've been mighty good to me," she faltered, "and--and made me lots
happier; but I--I don't care in the way you mean."

"Is there anybody else?" demanded Mr. Opp, ready to hurl himself to
destruction if she answered in the affirmative.

"Oh, no," she answered him; "there never has been anybody."

[Illustration: "'Why, Mr. Opp, I'm not old enough'"]

"Then I'll take my chance," said Mr. Opp, expanding his narrow chest.
"Whatever I've got out of the world I've had to fight for. I don't mind
saying to you that I was sorter started out with a handicap. You know my
sister--she's a--well, a' invalid, you might say, and while her pa was
living, my fortunes wasn't what you might call as favorable as they are
at present. I never thought there would be any use in my considering
getting married till I met you, then I didn't seem able somehow to
consider nothing else. If you'll just let me, I'll wait. I'll learn you
to care. I won't bother you, but just wait patient as long as you say."
And this from Mr. Opp, whose sands of life were already half-run! "All I
ask for," he went on wistfully, "is a little sign now and then. You
might give me a little look or something just to keep the time from
seeming too long."

It was almost a question, and as he leaned toward her, with the sunlight
in his eyes, something of the beauty of the day touched him, too, just
as it touched the weed at his feet, making them both for one
transcendent moment part of the glory of the world.

Guinevere Gusty, already in love with love, and reaching blindly out for
something deeper and finer in her own life, was suddenly engulfed in a
wave of sympathy. She involuntarily put out her hand and touched his
fingers.

The sun went down behind the distant shore, and the light faded on the
river. Mr. Opp was almost afraid to breathe; he sat with his eyes on the
far horizon, and that small, slender hand in his, and for the moment the
world was fixed in its orbit, and Time itself stood still.

Suddenly out of the silence came the long, low whistle of the boat. They
scrambled to their feet and hurried down the path, Mr. Opp having some
trouble in keeping up with the nimbler pace of the girl.

"I'll be calculatin' every minute until the arrival of the boat
to-morrow night," he was gasping as they came within sight of the wharf.
"I'll be envyin' every--"

"Where's my band-box?" demanded Guinevere. "Why, Mr. Opp, if you haven't
gone and left it up in the woods!"

Five minutes later, just as the bell was tapping for the boat to start,
a flying figure appeared on the wharf. He was hatless and breathless,
his coat was ripped from collar to hem, and a large band-box flapped
madly against his legs as he ran. He came down the home-stretch at a
record-breaking pace, stepped on board as the gang-plank was lifted,
deposited his band-box on the deck, then with a running jump cleared the
rapidly widening space between the boat and the shore, and dropped upon
the wharf.

He continued waving his handkerchief even after the boat had rounded
the curve, then, having edited a paper, promoted a large enterprise,
effected a proposal, and performed two remarkable athletic stunts all in
the course of a day, Mr. Opp turned his footsteps toward home.



IX


The next day dawned wet and chilly. A fine mist hung in the trees, and
the leaves and grasses sagged under their burden of moisture. All the
crimson and gold had changed to brown and gray, and the birds and
crickets had evidently packed away their chirps and retired for the
season.

By the light of a flickering candle, Mr. D. Webster Opp partook of a
frugal breakfast. The luxurious habits of the Moore household had made
breakfast a movable feast depending upon the time of Aunt Tish's
arrival, and in establishing the new régime Mr. Opp had found it
necessary to prepare his own breakfast in order to make sure of getting
to the office before noon.

As he sipped his warmed-over coffee, with his elbows on the red
table-cloth, and his heels hooked on the rung of the chair, he recited
to himself in an undertone from a very large and imposing book which was
propped in front of him, the leaves held back on one side by a
candlestick and on the other by a salt-cellar. It was a book which Mr.
Opp was buying on subscription, and it was called "An Encyclopedia of
Wonder, Beauty, and Wisdom." It contained pellets of information on all
subjects, and Mr. Opp made it a practice to take several before
breakfast, and to repeat the dose at each meal as circumstances
permitted. "An editor," he told Nick, "has got to keep himself
instructed on all subjects. He has got to read wide and continuous."

As a rule he followed no special line in his pursuit of knowledge, but
with true catholicity of taste, took the items as they came, turning
from a strenuous round with "Abbeys and Abbots," to enter with fervor
into the wilds of "Abyssinia." The straw which served as bookmark
pointed to-day to "Ants," and ordinarily Mr. Opp would have attacked
the subject with all the enthusiasm of an entomologist. But even the
best regulated minds will at times play truant, and Mr. Opp's had taken
a flying leap and skipped six hundred and thirty-two pages, landing
recklessly in the middle of "Young Lochinvar." For the encyclopedia, in
its laudable endeavor not only to cover all intellectual requirements,
but also to add the crowning grace of culture, had appended a collection
of poems under the title "Favorites, Old and New."

Mr. Opp, thus a-wing on the winds of poesy, had sipped his tepid coffee
and nibbled his burnt toast in fine abstraction until he came upon a
selection which his soul recognized. He had found words to the music
that was ringing in his heart. It was then that he propped the book open
before him, and determined not to close it until he had made the lines
his own.

Later, as he trudged along the road to town, he repeated the verses to
himself, patiently referring again and again to the note-book in which
he had copied the first words of each line.

At the office door he regretfully dismounted from Pegasus, and
resolutely turned his attention to the business of the day. His desire
was to complete the week's work by noon, spend the afternoon at home in
necessary preparation for the coming guest, and have the following day,
which was Saturday, free to devote to the interest of the oil company.

In order to accomplish this, expedition was necessary, and Mr. Opp,
being more bountifully endowed by nature with energy than with any other
quality, fell to work with a will. His zeal, however, interfered with
his progress, and he found himself in the embarrassing condition of a
machine which is geared too high.

He was, moreover, a bit bruised and stiff from the unusual performances
of the previous day, and any sudden motion caused him to wince. But the
pain brought recollection, and recollection was instant balm.

It was hardly to be expected that things would deviate from their usual
custom of becoming involved at a critical time, so Mr. Opp was not
surprised when Nick was late and had to be spoken to, a task which the
editor always achieved with great difficulty. Then the printing-press
had an acute attack of indigestion, and no sooner was that relieved than
the appalling discovery was made that there were no more good "S's" in
the type drawer.

"Use dollar-marks for the next issue," directed Mr. Opp, "and I'll wire
immediate to the city."

"We're kinder short on 'I's' too," said Nick. "You take so many in your
articles."

Mr. Opp looked injured. "I very seldom or never begin on an 'I,'" he
said indignantly.

"You get 'em in somehow," said Nick. "Why, the editor over at Coreyville
even said 'Our Wife.'"

"Yes," said Mr. Opp, "I will, too,--that is--er--"

The telephone-bell covered his retreat.

"Hello!" he answered in a deep, incisive voice to counteract the effect
of his recent embarrassment, "Office of 'The Opp Eagle.' Mr. Toddlinger?
Yes, sir. You say you want your subscription stopped! Well, now, wait a
minute--see here, I can explain that--" but the other party had
evidently rung off.

Mr. Opp turned with exasperation upon Nick:

"Do you know what you went and did last week?" He rose and, going to the
file, consulted the top paper. "There it is," he said, "just identical
with what he asserted."

Nick followed the accusing finger and read:

"Mr. and Mrs. Toddlinger moved this week into their new horse and lot."

Before explanations could be entered into, there was a knock at the
door. When it was answered, a very small black boy was discovered
standing on the step. He wore a red shirt and a pair of ragged trousers,
between which strained relations existed, and on his head was the brim
of a hat from which the crown had long since departed. Hanging on a
twine string about his neck was a large onion.

He opened negotiations at once.

"Old Miss says fer you-all to stop dat frowin' papers an' sech like
trash outen de winder; dey blows over in our-all's yard."

He delivered the message in the same belligerent spirit with which it
had evidently been conveyed to him, and rolled his eyes at Mr. Opp as if
the offense had been personal.

Mr. Opp drew him in, and closed the door. "Did--er--did Mrs. Gusty send
you over to say that?" he asked anxiously.

"Yas, sir; she done havin' a mad spell. What's dat dere machine fer?"

"It's a printing-press. Do you think Mrs. Gusty is mad at me?"

"_Yas, sir_," emphatically; "she's mad at ever'body. She 'lows she gwine
lick me ef I don't tek keer. She done got de kitchen so full o'
switches hit looks jes lak outdoors."

"I don't think she would really whip you," said Mr. Opp, already feeling
the family responsibility.

"Naw, sir; she jes 'low she gwine to. What's in dem dere little
drawers?"

"Type," said Mr. Opp. "You go back and tell Mrs. Gusty that Mr. Opp says
he's very sorry to have caused her any inconvenience, and he'll send
over immediate and pick up them papers."

"You's kinder skeered of her, too, ain't you?" grinned the ambassador,
holding up one bare, black foot to the stove. "My mammy she sasses back,
but I runs."

"Well, you'd better run now," said Mr. Opp, who resented such insight;
"but, see here, what's that onion for?"

"To 'sorb disease," said the youth, with the air of one who is
promulgating some advanced theory in therapeutics; "hit ketches it 'stid
of you. My pappy weared a' onion fer put-near a whole year, an' hit
'sorbed all de diseases whut was hangin' round, an' nary a one never
teched him. An' one day my pappy he got hongry, an' he et dat dere
onion, an' whut you reckon? He up an' died!"

"Well, you go 'long now," said Mr. Opp, "and tell Mrs. Gusty just
exactly verbatim what I told you. What did you say was your name?"

"Val," said the boy.

Mr. Opp managed to slip a nickel into the dirty little hand without
Nick's seeing him. Nick was rather firm about these things, and
disapproved heartily of Mr. Opp's indiscriminate charities.

"Gimme nudder one an' I'll tell you de rest ob it," whispered Val on the
door-step.

Mr. Opp complied.

"Valentine Day Johnson," he announced with pride; then pocketing his
prize, he vanished around the corner of the house, forgetting his office
of plenipotentiary in his sudden accession of wealth.

Once more peace settled on the office, and Mr. Opp was engrossed in an
article on "The Greatest Petroleum Proposition South of the Mason and
Dixon Line," when an ominous, wheezing cough announced the arrival of
Mr. Tucker. This was an unexpected catastrophe, for Mr. Tucker's day for
spending the morning at the office was Saturday, when he came in to pay
for his paper. It seemed rather an unkind trick of Fate's that he should
have been permitted to arrive a day too soon.

The old gentleman drew up a chair to the stove, then deliberately
removed his overcoat and gloves.

It was when he took off his overshoes, however, that Mr. Opp and Nick
exchanged looks of despair. They had a signal code which they habitually
employed when storms swept the office, but in a calm like this they were
powerless.

"Mighty sorry to hear about that uprisin' in Guatemala," said Mr.
Tucker, who took a vivid interest in foreign affairs, but remained quite
neutral about questions at home.

Mr. Opp moved about the office restlessly, knowing from experience that
to sit down in the presence of Mr. Tucker was fatal. The only chance of
escape lay in motion. He sharpened his pencils, straightened his desk,
and tied up two bundles of papers while Mr. Tucker's address on the
probable future of the Central American republics continued. Then Mr.
Opp was driven to extreme measures. He sent himself a telegram. This
ruse was occasionally resorted to, to free the office from unwelcome
visitors without offending them, and served incidentally to produce an
effect which was not unpleasant to the editor.

Scribbling a message on a telegraph-blank procured for the purpose from
Mr. Gallop, Mr. Opp handed it secretly to Nick, who in turn vanished out
of the back door only to reappear at the front. Then the editor, with
much ostentation, opened the envelop, and, after reading the contents,
declared that he had business that would require immediate action. Would
Mr. Tucker excuse him? If so, Nick would hold his coat.

"But," protested Mr. Tucker, resisting the effort to force him into his
overcoat, "I want to talk over this oil business. We don't want to take
any risks with those fellows. As I was a-saying to Mr. Hager--"

"Yes," said Mr. Opp, taking his own hat from a nail, and apparently in
great haste, "I know, of course. You are exactly right about it. We'll
just talk it over as we go up-street," and linking his arm through Mr.
Tucker's, he steered him up the muddy channel of Main Street, and safely
into the harbor of Our Hotel, where he anchored him breathless, but
satisfied.

Having thus disposed, to the best of his ability, of his business for
the week, Mr. Opp turned his attention to his yet more arduous domestic
affairs. The menu for the guest's dinner had weighed rather heavily upon
him all day, for he had never before entertained in his own home. His
heart had been set on turkey; but as that was out of the question, he
compromised on a goose, adhering tenaciously to the cranberry sauce.

It was easier to decide on the goose than it was to procure it, and some
time was consumed in the search. Mr. Opp brought all his mental powers
to bear on the subject, and attacked the problem with a zeal that
merited success.

When he reached home at noon with his arm full of bundles, Aunt Tish met
him with lamentations.

"Dey ain't but one clean table-cloth, an' hit's got a hole in hit, an' I
can't find no sheets to put on de company baid, an' dere ain't three
cups an' saucers in de house what belongs to theyselves. I shorely doan
know what you thinkin' 'bout, Mr. D., to go an' ast company fer. We-all
never does hab company. An' Miss Kippy she be'n habin' a sort er spell,
too, cryin' to herself, an' won't tell me whut's de matter."

Mr. Opp shook the raindrops from his hat-brim, and laid the goose
tenderly on the table; then he stepped inside the dining-room door, and
stood watching the childish figure that sat on the floor before the
fire. She was putting artificial flowers on her head, and every time
they fell off, she dropped her head on her knees and sobbed softly to
herself. Again and again she made the experiment, and again and again
the faded roses came tumbling into her lap.

"I'll fix 'em," said Mr. Opp, coming up behind her; "don't you cry about
it, Kippy; I can make them stay, easy." He searched around in the
clothes-press until he found a paper box, which he tied securely upon
Miss Kippy's head.

"Now try it," he cried; "put the flowers on your head; they'll stay."

Timidly, as if afraid of another disappointment, she tried, and when the
flowers were caught in the box, she gave a sigh of satisfaction and
delight.

"Well, sence I j'ined de church!" exclaimed Aunt Tish, who had been
watching proceedings from the doorway; then she added, as Mr. Opp came
into the hall: "Hit beats my time de way you handles dat pore chile.
Sometimes she got jes good sense as you an' me has. She ast me t'other
day if she wasn't crazy. I 'lowed no indeedy, dat crazy folks was lock
up in a lunatic asylum. An' she says 'Where?' 'Up at Coreyville,' I say.
She went on playin' jes as nice and happy. De chile's all right ef she
don't git a fool notion; den dey ain't nobody kin make out what she
wants inceptin' you. She been cryin' over dem flowers ever sence
breakfast."

"Why didn't you come after me?" demanded Mr. Opp.

"Jes to tie a box on her haid?" asked Aunt Tish. "Lor', I thought you
was busy makin' dem newspapers."

"So I am," said Mr. Opp, "but whenever Miss Kippy gets to crying, I want
you to come direct after me, do you hear? There ain't anything more
important than in keeping her from getting worried. Now, let's have a
look at that there table-cloth."

All afternoon Mr. Opp encountered difficulties that would have
disheartened a less courageous host. With the limited means at hand it
seemed impossible to entertain in a manner befitting the dignity of the
editor of "The Opp Eagle." But Mr. Opp, though sorely perplexed, was not
depressed, for beneath the disturbed surface of his thoughts there ran
an undercurrent of pure joy. It caused him to make strange, unnatural
sounds in his throat which he meant for song; it made him stop every now
and then in his work to glance tenderly and reminiscently at the palm of
his right hand, once even going so far as to touch it softly with his
lips. For since the last sun had set there had been no waking moment but
had held for him the image of a golden world inhabited solely by a pair
of luminous eyes, one small hand, and, it must be added, a band-box.

Through the busy afternoon Mr. Opp referred constantly to his watch, and
in spite of the manifold duties to be performed, longed impatiently for
evening to arrive. At five o'clock he had moved the furniture from one
bedroom to another, demonstrated beyond a possibility of doubt that a
fire could not be made in the parlor grate without the chimney smoking,
mended two chairs, hung a pair of curtains, and made three errands to
town. So much accomplished, he turned his attention to the most
difficult task of all.

"Kippy," he said, going to the window where she was gleefully tracing
the course of the raindrops as they chased down the pane. "Stop a
minute, Kippy. Listen; I want to talk to you."

Miss Kippy turned obediently, but her lips continued the dumb
conversation she was having with the rain.

"How would you like," said Mr. Opp, approaching the subject cautiously,
"to play like you was a grown-up lady--just for to-night, you know?"

Miss Kippy looked at him suspiciously, and her lips stopped moving.
Heretofore she had resisted all efforts to change her manner of dress.

"There's a gentleman a-coming," continued Mr. Opp, persuasively; "he's
going to remain over till to-morrow, and Aunt Tish is cooking that
large goose for him, and I've been fixing up the spare room. We are all
endeavoring to give him a nice time. Don't you want to dress up for
him?"

"Will it make him glad?" asked Miss Kippy.

Mr. Opp expiated on the enjoyment it would give the unknown guest to see
Kippy in the blue merino dress which Aunt Tish had gotten out of Mrs.
Opp's old trunk up-stairs.

"And you'll let Aunt Tish arrange your hair up like a lady?" went on Mr.
Opp, pushing the point.

"Yes," said Miss Kippy, after a moment, "Oxety will. She will make him
glad."

"Good!" said Mr. Opp. "And if you will sit nice and quiet and never say
a word all through supper, I'll get you a book with pictures in it,
representing flowers and things."

"Roses?" asked Miss Kippy, drawing a quick breath of delight; and when
Mr. Opp nodded, she closed her eyes and smiled as if heaven were within
sight. For Miss Kippy was like a harp across which some rough hand had
swept, snapping all the strings but two, the high one of ecstasy and the
low one of despair.

At six o'clock Mr. Opp went up to make his toilet. The rain, which had
been merely rehearsing all day, was now giving a regular performance,
and it played upon the windows, and went trilling through the gutters on
the roof, while the old cedar-tree scraped an accompaniment on the
corner of the porch below. But, nothing daunted, Mr. Opp donned his
bravest attire. Cyclones and tornadoes could not have deterred him from
making the most elaborate toilet at his command. To be sure, he turned
up the hem of his trousers and tied a piece of oilcloth securely about
each leg, and he also spread a handkerchief tenderly over his pink
necktie; but these could be easily removed after he heard the boat
whistle.

He dressed by the light of a sputtering candle before a small mirror the
veracity of which was more than questionable. It presented him to
himself as a person with a broad, flat face, the nose of which appeared
directly between his eyes, and the mouth on a line with the top of his
ears. But he made allowances for these idiosyncrasies on the part of the
mirror; in fact, he made such liberal allowances that he was quite
satisfied with the reflection.

"I'll procure the hack to bring the company back in," he said to Aunt
Tish rather nervously as he passed through the kitchen. "You assist Miss
Kippy to get arranged, and I'll carry up the coal and set the table
after I return back home. I can do it while the company is up in his
room."

All the way into town, as he splashed along the muddy road, he was
alternately dreading the arrival of one passenger, and anticipating
joyfully, the arrival of another. For as the time approached the
impending presence of the company began to take ominous form, and Mr.
Opp grew apprehensive.

At the landing he found everything dark and quiet. Evidently the packet
was unusually late, and the committee appointed to meet it and conduct
the guests to their various destinations was waiting somewhere uptown,
probably at Your Hotel. Mr. Opp paused irresolute: his soul yearned for
solitude, but the rain-soaked dock offered no shelter except the slight
protection afforded by a pile of empty boxes. Selecting the driest and
largest of these, he turned it on end, and by an adroit adjustment of
his legs, succeeded in getting inside.

Below, the river rolled heavily past in the twilight, sending up tiny
juts of water to meet the pelting rain. A cold, penetrating mist clung
to the ground, and the wind carried complaining tales from earth to
heaven. Everything breathed discomfort, but Mr. Opp knew it not.

His soul was sailing sunlit seas of bliss, fully embarked at last upon
the most magic and immortal of all illusions. Sitting cramped and numb
in his narrow quarters, he peered eagerly into the darkness, watching
for the first lights of the _Sunny South_ to twinkle through the gloom.
And as he watched he chanted in a sing-song ecstasy:

    "She is coming, my own, my sweet;
      Were it ever so airy a tread,
    My heart would hear her and beat,
      Were it earth in an earthy bed;
    My dust would hear her and beat,
      Had I lain for a century dead;
    Would start and tremble under her feet,
      And blossom in purple and red."



X


When Miss Guinevere Gusty tripped up the gang-plank of the _Sunny South_
late that afternoon, vainly trying to protect herself from the driving
rain, she was met half-way by the gallant old captain.

Tradition had it that the captain had once cast a favorable eye upon her
mother; but Mrs. Gusty, being cross-eyed, had looked elsewhere.

"We are a pudding without plums," he announced gaily, as he held the
umbrella at an angle calculated to cause a waterspout in the crown of
her hat--"not a lady on board. All we needed was a beautiful young
person like you to liven us up. You haven't forgotten those pretty tunes
you played for me last trip, have you?"

Guinevere laughed, and shook her head. "That was just for you and the
girls," she said.

"Well, it'll be for me and the boys this time. I've got a nice lot of
gentlemen on board, going down to your place, by the way, to buy up all
your oil-lands. Now I know you are going to play for us if I ask you
to."

"My goodness! are they on this boat?" asked Guinevere, in a flutter. "I
am so glad; I just love to watch city people."

"Yes," said the captain; "that was Mr. Mathews talking to me as you came
aboard--the one with the white beard. Everything that man touches turns
to money. That glum-looking young fellow over there is his secretary.
Hinton is his name; curious sort of chap."

Guinevere followed his glance with eager interest. "The solemn one with
the cap pulled over his eyes?" she asked.

The captain nodded. "All the rest are inside playing cards and having a
good time; but he's been moping around like that ever since they got on
board. I've got to go below now, but when I come back, you'll play some
for me, won't you?"

Guinevere protested violently, but something within her whispered that
if the captain was very insistent she would render the selection which
had won her a gold medal at the last commencement.

Slipping into the saloon, she dropped quietly into one of the very
corpulent chairs which steamboats particularly affect, and, unobserved,
proceeded to give herself up to the full enjoyment of the occasion. The
journey from Coreyville to the Cove, in the presence of the
distinguished strangers, had assumed the nature of an adventure. Giving
her imagination free rein, Miss Gusty, without apology, transported the
commonplace group of business men at the card-table into the wildest
realms of romance. The fact that their language, appearance, and manner
spoke of the city, was for her a sufficient peg upon which to hang
innumerable conjectures. So deep was she in her speculations that she
did not hear the captain come up behind her.

"Where have you been hiding?" he asked in stentorian tones. "I was
afraid you'd gotten out on deck and the wind had blown you overboard.
Don't you think it's about time for that little tune? We are forty
minutes late now, and we'll lose another half-hour taking on freight at
Smither's Landing. I've been banking on hearing that little dance-piece
you played for me before."

"I can't play--before them," said Guinevere, nervously.

The captain laughed. "Yes, you can; they'll like it. Mr. Mathews said
something mighty pretty about you when you came on board."

"He didn't--honest?" said Guinevere, blushing. "Oh, truly, Captain, I
can't play!" But even as she spoke she unbuttoned her gloves. Her
accomplishment was clamoring for an exhibition, and though her spirit
failed her, she twirled the piano-stool and took her seat.

The group of men at the table, heretofore indifferent to proceedings,
looked up when a thundering chord broke the stillness. A demure young
girl, with gentle, brown eyes, was making a furious and apparently
unwarranted attack upon the piano. Her one desire evidently was to get
inside of the instrument. With insinuating persistence she essayed an
entrance through the treble, and, being unable to effect it, fell upon
the bass, and exhausted a couple of rounds of ammunition there. The
assault on both flanks being unsuccessful, she resorted to strategy,
crossing her hands and assailing each wing of the enemy from an
unexpected quarter. When this move failed, she evidently became
incensed, and throwing aside diplomacy, rallied all her forces, charging
her artillery up to the highest note, then thundering down to the
lowest, beating down the keys as fast as they dared to rise. In the
midst of the carnage, when the clamor was at its height and victory
seemed imminent, she suddenly paused, with one hand in air and her head
gently inclined, and, tapping out two silvery bugle-notes of truce,
raised the siege.

The appalling silence that ensued might have hung above a battle-field
of slain and wounded. The captain bit his mustache.

"That wasn't exactly the one I meant," he said. "I want that little
dance-tune with the jingle to it."

Miss Gusty, disappointed and surprised at the effect which her
masterpiece had failed to produce, was insisting with flushed cheeks
that she could play no more, when the gentleman who was called Mr.
Mathews rose from the table and came toward her. His hair and pointed
beard were white, but his eyes were still young, and he looked at her
while he spoke to the captain.

"I beg your pardon, Captain," he was saying in smooth, even tones,
"can't you persuade the young lady to sing something for us?"

"I never took vocal," said Guinevere, looking at him frankly. "I'm
making a specialty of instrumental."

The gentleman looked sidewise at his companions and stroked his beard
gravely. "But you _do_ sing?" he persisted.

"Just popular music," said Guinevere. "I was going to take 'The Holy
City' and 'The Rosary' last year, but the vocal teacher got sick."

In response to a very urgent invitation, she took her seat again, and
this time sang a sentimental ditty concerning the affairs of one "Merry
Little Milly in the Month of May."

This selection met with prompt favor, and the men left their cards, and
gathered about the piano, demanding an encore.

Miss Guinevere's voice was very small, and her accompaniment very loud,
but, in her effort to please, she unconsciously became dramatic in her
expression, and frowned and smiled and lifted her brows in sympathy with
the emotions of the damsel in the song. And Miss Guinevere's eyes being
expressive and her lips very red, the result proved most satisfactory
to the audience.

One stout young man in particular expressed himself in such unrestrained
terms of enthusiasm, that Guinevere, after singing several songs, became
visibly embarrassed. Upon the plea of being too warm she made her
escape, half-promising to return and sing again later on.

Flushed with the compliments and the excitement, and a little uncertain
about the propriety of it all, she hurried through the swing-door and,
turning suddenly on the deck, stumbled over something in the darkness.

It proved to be a pair of long legs that were stretched out in front of
a silent figure, who shot a hand out to restore Miss Gusty to an upright
position. But the deck was slippery from the rain, and before he could
catch her, she went down on her knees.

"Did it hurt you?" a voice asked anxiously.

"It don't matter about me," answered Guinevere, "just so it didn't spoil
my new dress. I'm afraid there's an awful tear in it."

"I hope not," said the voice. "I'd hate to be guilty of dress slaughter
even in the second degree. Sure you are not hurt? Sit down a minute;
here's a chair right behind you, out of the wind."

Guinevere groped about for the chair. "Mother can mend it," she went on,
voicing her anxiety, "if it isn't too bad."

"And if it is?" asked the voice.

"I'll have to wear it, anyhow. It's brand splinter new, the first one I
ever had made by a sure-enough dressmaker."

"My abominable legs!" muttered the voice.

Guinevere laughed, and all at once became curious concerning the person
who belonged to the legs.

He had dropped back into his former position, with feet outstretched,
hands in pockets, and cap pulled over his eyes, and he did not seem
inclined to continue the conversation.

She drew in deep breaths of the cool air, and watched the big side-wheel
churn the black water into foam, and throw off sprays of white into the
darkness. She liked to be out there in the sheltered corner, watching
the rain dash past, and to hear the wind whistling up the river. She was
glad to be in the dark, too, away from all those gentlemen, so ready
with their compliments. But the sudden change from the heated saloon to
the cold deck chilled her, and she sneezed.

Her companion stirred. "If you are going to stay out here, you ought to
put something around you," he said irritably.

"I'm not very cold. Besides, I don't want to go in. I don't want them to
make me sing any more. Mother'll be awfully provoked if I take cold,
though. Do you think it's too damp?"

"There's my overcoat," said the man, indifferently; "you can put that
around you if you want to."

She struggled into the large sleeves, and he made no effort to help her.

"You don't like music, do you?" she asked naïvely as she settled back in
her chair.

"Well, yes," he said slowly. "I should say the thing I dislike least in
the world is music."

"Then why didn't you come in to hear me play?" asked Guinevere,
emboldened by the darkness.

"Oh, I could hear it outside," he assured her; "besides, I have a pair
of defective lamps in my head. The electric lights hurt my eyes."

He struck a match as he spoke to relight his pipe, and by its flare she
caught her first glimpse of his face, a long, slender, sensitive face,
brooding and unhappy.

"I guess you are Mr. Hinton," she said as if to herself.

He turned with the lighted match in his hand. "How did you know that?"

"The captain told me. He pointed out you and Mr. Mathews, but he didn't
tell me any of the rest."

"A branch of your education that can afford to remain neglected," said
Mr. Hinton as he puffed at his pipe.

The door of the saloon swung open, and the chubby gentleman appeared in
the light, shading his eyes, and calling out that they were all waiting
for the little canary-bird.

"I don't want to go," whispered Guinevere, shrinking back into the
shadow.

The chubby gentleman peered up and down the deck, then, assailed by a
gust of wind, beat a hasty retreat.

"I don't like him," announced Guinevere, drawing a breath of relief. "It
isn't just because he's fat and ugly; it's the silly way he looks at
you."

"What a pity you can't tell him so!" said her companion, dryly. "Such
blasphemy might do him good. He is the scion of a distinguished family
made wealthy by the glorious sale of pork."

"Are all the gentlemen millionaires?" asked Guinevere in awe.

"Present company excepted," qualified Hinton.

"It'll seem awful small to them down in the Cove. Why, we haven't got
room enough at the two hotels to put them all up."

"Oh, you live there, do you?"

"Yes; I've just been up at Coreyville spending the night. I used to hate
it down at the Cove, it was so little and stupid; but I like it better
now."

There was a long silence, during which each pursued a widely different
line of thought.

"We have got a newspaper at the Cove now," announced Guinevere. "It's an
awful nice paper, called 'The Opp Eagle.'"

"Opp?" repeated Hinton. "Oh, yes, that was the man I telephoned to. What
sort of chap is he, anyhow?"

"He's awfully smart," said Guinevere, her cheeks tingling. "Not so much
book learning, but a fine brain. The preacher says he's got a natural
gift of language. You ought to see some of his editorials."

"Hiding his light under a bushel, isn't he?"

"That's just it," said Guinevere, glad to expatiate on the subject. "If
Mr. Opp could get in a bigger place and get more chances, he'd have a
lot more show. But he won't leave Miss Kippy. She's his sister, you
know; there is only the two of them, and she's kind of crazy, and has to
have somebody take care of her. Mother thinks it's just awful he don't
send her to an asylum, but I know how he feels."

"Is he a young man?" asked Mr. Hinton.

"Well--no, not exactly; he's just seventeen years and two months older
than I am."

"Oh," said Hinton, comprehensively.

There was another long pause, during which Guinevere turned things over
in her mind, and Mr. Hinton knocked the ashes from his pipe.

"I think girls seem a good deal older than they are, don't you?" she
asked presently.

"Some girls," Hinton agreed.

"How old would you take me for?"

"In the dark?"

"Yes."

"About twelve."

"Oh, that's not fair," said Guinevere. "I'm eighteen, and lots of people
take me for twenty."

"That is when they can see you," said Hinton.

Guinevere decided that she did not like him. She leaned back in her
corner and tried not to talk. But this course had its disadvantage, for
when she was silent he seemed to forget she was there.

Once he took a turn up and down the deck, and when he came back, he
stood for a long time leaning over the rail and gazing into the water.
As he turned to sit down she heard him mutter to himself:

    "... That no life lives forever;
    That dead men rise up never;
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea."

Guinevere repeated the words softly to herself, and wondered what they
meant. She was still thinking about them when a dim red light in the
distance told her they were approaching the Cove. She slipped off the
heavy overcoat and began to put on her gloves.

"Hello! we are getting in, are we?" asked Hinton, shaking himself into
an upright position. "Is that Cove City where the big red light bores
into the water like a corkscrew?"

They moved to the bow of the boat and watched as it changed its course
and made for the opposite shore.

"Did you mean," said Guinevere, absently, "that you wanted it all to end
like that? For us to just go out into nothing, like the river gets lost
in the ocean?"

Hinton glanced at her in surprise, and discovered that there was an
unusually thoughtful face under the sweeping brim of the red hat. The
fact that she was pretty was less evident to him than the fact that she
was wistful. His mood was sensitive to minor chords.

"I guess you _are_ eighteen," he said, and he smiled, and Guinevere
smiled back, and the chubby gentleman, coming suddenly out upon them,
went in again and slammed the door.

The lights on the landing twinkled brighter and brighter, and presently
figures could be seen moving here and there. The steamer, grumbling with
every chug of the wheel, was brought around, and the roustabouts crowded
along the rail, ready to make her fast.

Guinevere and Hinton stood on the upper deck under his umbrella and
waited.

Directly below them on the dock a small, fantastic figure made frantic
efforts to attract their attention. He stood uncovered, regardless of
the rain, madly waving his hat.

"Is that anybody you know?" asked Hinton.

Guinevere, who was watching the lights on the water, started guiltily.

"Where?" she asked.

"Down to the right--that comical little codger in the checked suit."

Guinevere looked, then turned upon Hinton eyes that were big with
indignation. "Why, of course," she said; "that's Mr. Opp."



XI


As Willard Hinton stood on the porch of Your Hotel and waited for his
host for the night to call for him, he was in that state of black
dejection that comes to a young man when Ambition has proposed to
Fortune, and been emphatically rejected. For six years he had worked
persistently and ceaselessly toward a given goal, doing clerical work by
day and creative work by night, going from shorthand into longhand, and
from numerical figures into figures of speech. For the way that Hinton's
soul was traveling was the Inky Way, and at its end lay Authorship.

Hinton had taken himself and his work seriously, and served an
apprenticeship of hard study and conscientious preparation. So zealous
was he, in fact, that he had arrived at the second stage of his great
enterprise with a teeming brain, a practised hand, and a pair of
affected eyes over which the oculists shook their heads and offered
little encouragement.

For four months he had implicitly obeyed orders, attending only to his
regular work, eating and sleeping with exemplary regularity, and
spending all of his spare time in the open air. But the ravages made in
the long nights dedicated to the Muses were not to be so easily
repaired, and his eyes, instead of improving, were growing rapidly
worse. The question of holding his position had slipped from a matter of
months into weeks.

As he stood on the porch, he could hear the bustle of entertainment
going on within the limited quarters of Your Hotel. Jimmy Fallows was in
his element. As bartender, head waiter, and jovial landlord he was
playing a triple bill to a crowded house. Occasionally he opened the
door and urged Hinton to come inside.

"Mr. Opp'll be here 'fore long," he would say. "He's expecting you, but
he had to stop by to take his girl home. You better step in and get a
julep."

But Hinton, wrapped in the gloom of his own thoughts, preferred to
remain where he was. Already he seemed to belong to the dark, to be a
thing apart from his fellow-men. He shrank from companionship and
sympathy as he shrank from the light. He longed to crawl away like a
sick animal into some lonely corner and die. Whichever way he turned,
the great specter of darkness loomed before him. At first he had fought,
then he had philosophically stood still, now he was retreating. Again
and again he told himself that he would meet it like a man, and again
and again he shrank back, ready to seek escape anywhere, anyhow.

"O God, if I weren't so damnably young!" he cried to himself, beating
his clenched hand against his brow. "More than half my life yet to
live, and in the dark!"

The rattle of wheels and the stopping of a light in front of the hotel
made him pull himself together.

The small gentleman in the checked suit whom he had seen on the wharf
strode in without seeing him. He paused before he opened the door and
smoothed his scanty locks and rearranged his pink necktie. Then he drew
in his chin, threw out his chest, and with a carefully prepared smile of
welcome entered.

The buzz within increased, and it was some minutes before the door
opened again and Jimmy Fallows was heard saying:

"He's round here some place. Mr. Hinton! Oh, here you are! Let me make
you acquainted with Mr. Opp; he's going to take you out to his house for
the night."

No sooner had Hinton's hand been released from Mr. Opp's cordial grasp
than he felt that gentleman's arm thrust through his, and was aware of
being rapidly conducted down the steps and out to the vehicle.

"On no possible account," Mr. Opp was saying, with Hinton's grip in one
hand and two umbrellas in the other, "would I have allowed myself to be
late, except that it was what you might consider absolutely necessary.
Now, you get right in; just take all that robe. No, the grip can go
right here between my feet. We trust that you will not regard the
weather in any ways synonymous with the state of our feelings of
welcome."

Mr. Hinton remarked rather shortly that the weather never mattered to
him one way or another.

"That's precisely like myself," Mr. Opp went on. "I come of very sturdy,
enduring stock. For a man of my size I doubt if you'd find a finer
constitution in the country. You wouldn't particularly think it to look
at me, now would you?"

Hinton looked at the small, stooping figure, and at the peaked, sallow
face, and said rather sarcastically that he would not.

"Strong as an ox," declared Mr. Opp.

Just here the horse stumbled, and they were jerked violently forward.

Mr. Opp apologized. "Just at present we are having a little difficulty
with our country roads. We have taken the matter up in 'The Opp Eagle'
last week. All these things take time to regulate, but we are getting
there. This oil boom is going to revolutionize things. It's my firm and
abiding conviction that we are on the eve of a great change. It wouldn't
surprise me in the least if this town grew to be one of the principalest
cities on the Ohio River."

"To be a worthy eyrie for your 'Eagle'?" suggested Hinton.

"'The Opp Eagle,'" corrected Mr. Opp. "I don't know as you know that I
am the sole proprietor, as well as being the editor in addition."

"No," said Hinton, "I did not know. How does it happen that a man with
such responsibilities can take time to dabble in oil-wells?"

"You don't know me," said Mr. Opp, with a paternal smile at his own
ability. "Promoting and organizing comes as natural to me as breathing
the atmosphere. I am engineering this scheme with one hand, the Town
Improvement League with another, and 'The Opp Eagle' with another. Then,
in a minor kind of way, I am a active Odd Fellow, first cornetist in the
Unique Orchestra, and a director in the bank. And beside," Mr. Opp
concluded with some coyness, "there is the natural personal social
diversions that most young men indulge in."

By this time they had reached the gray old house on the river-bank, and
Mr. Opp hitched the horse and held the lantern, while Hinton stepped
from one stony island to another in the sea of mud.

"Just enter right into the dining-room," said Mr. Opp, throwing open the
door. "Unfortunately we are having a temporary difficulty with the
parlor heating apparatus. If you'll just pass right on up-stairs, I'll
show you the guest-chamber. Be careful of your head, please!"

With pomp and dignity Mr. Hinton was conducted to his apartment, and
urged to make known any possible want that might occur to him.

"I'll be obliged to leave you for a spell," said Mr. Opp, "in order to
attend to the proper putting up of the horse. If you'll just consider
everything you see as yours, and make yourself entirely at home, I'll
come up for you in about twenty minutes."

Left alone, Hinton went to the bureau to pin a paper around the lamp,
and as he did so he encountered a smiling face in the mirror. The face
was undoubtedly his, but the smile seemed almost to belong to a
stranger, so long had it been since he had seen it.

He made a hasty toilet, and sat down with his back to the light to await
his summons to dinner. The large room, poorly and scantily furnished,
gave unmistakable evidence of having been arranged especially for his
coming. There was no covering on the floor, there were no pictures on
the wall; but the wall-paper was of a sufficiently decorative character
to warrant the absence of other adornment. It may be said to have been a
botanical paper, for roses and lilies and sunflowers and daisies grew in
riotous profusion. The man who hung the paper evidently was of a
scientific turn, for in matching the strips he had gained some results
in cross-grafting that approached the miraculous.

After sufficient time had elapsed to have stabled half a dozen horses,
Hinton, whose appetite was becoming ravenous, went into the hall and
started down the steps. When half-way down he heard a crash of china,
and saw his host, in his shirt-sleeves, staggering under a large tray
overcrowded with dishes.

Beating a hasty retreat, he went quietly up the steps again, but not
before he heard a querulous voice remonstrate:

"Now, Mr. D., if you ain't done busted two plates and a tea-cup!"

Retiring to his room until the trouble should be adjusted, Hinton once
more contemplated the floral paper. As he sat there, the door creaked
slightly, and looking up, he thought he saw some one peeping at him
through the crack. Later he distinctly heard the rustle of garments, a
stealthy step, and the closing of the door across the hall.

At last Mr. Opp came somewhat noisily up the steps and, flinging wide
the door, invited him to descend. In the dining-room below the scene was
nothing short of festal. All the candlesticks were filled with lighted
candles, an American flag was draped across the top of the clock, and
the little schooner that rocked behind the pendulum seemed fired with
the determination to get somewhere to-night if it never did again. Even
the owls on each end of the mantel wore a benignant look, and seemed to
beam a welcome on the honored guest.

But it was the dining-table that held the center of the stage, and that
held everything else as well. The dinner, through its sequence of soup,
meat, salad, and desert, was displayed in lavish hospitality. Cove
etiquette evidently demanded that no square inch of the table-cloth
should remain unoccupied.

Seated at the table, with hands demurely folded, was the most grotesque
figure that Hinton had ever seen. Clad in a queer, old-fashioned garment
of faded blue cloth, with very full skirt and flowing sleeves, with her
hair gathered into a tight knot at the back of her head, and a necklace
of nutshells about her neck, a strange little lady sat and watched him
with parted lips and wide, excited eyes.

"If you'll just sit here opposite my sister," said Mr. Opp, not
attempting an introduction, "I'll as usual take my customary place at
the head of the board."

It was all done with great éclat, but from the first there were
unmistakable signs of nervousness on the part of the host. He left the
table twice before the soup was removed, once to get the napkins which
had been overlooked, and once to persuade his sister not to put the
baked potatoes in her lap.

When the critical moment for the trial of strength between him and the
goose arrived, he was not in good condition. It was his first wrestling
match with a goose, and his technical knowledge of the art consisted in
the meager fact that the strategic point was to become master of the
opponent's legs. The fowl had, moreover, by nature of its being, the
advantage of extreme slipperiness, an expedient recognized and made use
of by the gladiators of old.

Mr. Opp, limited as to space, and aware of a critical audience, rose to
the occasion, and with jaw set and the light of conquest in his eye
entered the fray. He pushed forward, and pulled back, he throttled, he
went through facial and bodily contortions. The match was conducted in
"the catch hold, first down to lose style," and the honors seemed
equally divided. At last, by the adroit administration of a left-leg
stroke, Mr. Opp succeeded in throwing his adversary, but unfortunately
he threw it too far.

The victory, though brilliant, was not without its casualties. The
goose, in its post-mortem flight, took its revenge, and the overturned
cranberries sent a crimson stain across the white cloth, giving a
sanguinary aspect to the scene.

When order was restored and Mr. Opp had once more taken his seat, the
little lady in the blue dress, who had remained quiet during the recent
conflict, suddenly raised her voice in joyous song.

"Now, Kippy," warned Mr. Opp, putting a restraining hand on her arm, and
looking at her appealingly. The little lady shrank back in her chair and
her eyes filled as she clasped his hand tightly in both of hers.

"As I was remarking," Mr. Opp went steadily on, trying to behave as if
it were quite natural for him to eat with his left hand, "the real
value of the underground product in this country has been but fairly
made apparent, and now that you capitalists are coming in to take a
hold, there's no way of forming a idea of the ultimate result."

Hinton, upon whom no phase of the situation had been lost, came
valiantly to Mr. Opp's rescue. He roused himself to follow his host's
lead in the conversation; he was apparently oblivious to the many
irregularities of the dinner. In fact, it was one of the rare occasions
upon which Hinton took the trouble to exert himself. Something in the
dreary old room, with its brave attempt at cheer, in the half-witted
little lady who was making such superhuman efforts to be good, and above
all in the bombastic, egotistical, ignorant editor who was trying to
keep up appearances against such heavy odds, touched the best and
deepest that was in Hinton, and lifted him out of himself. Gradually he
began to take the lead in the conversation. With great tact he relieved
Mr. Opp of the necessity of entertaining, and gave him a chance to eat
his dinner. He told stories so simple that even Miss Kippy loosened her
hold on her brother's hand to listen.

When the sunset of the dinner in the form of a pumpkin pie had
disappeared, the gentlemen retired to the fire.

"Don't you smoke?" asked Hinton, holding a match to his pipe.

"Why, yes," said Mr. Opp, "I have smoked occasional. It's amazing how it
assists you in creating newspaper articles. One of the greatest
editorials I ever turned out was when I had a cigar in my mouth."

"Then why don't you smoke?"

Mr. Opp glanced over his shoulders at Aunt Tish, who, with Miss Kippy's
doubtful assistance, was clearing the table.

"I don't mind telling you," he said confidentially, "that up to the
present time I've experienced a good many business reverses and
considerable family responsibility. I hope now in a year or two to be
able to indulge them little extra items. The lack of money," he added
somewhat proudly, "is no disgrace; but I can't deny it's what you might
call limiting."

Hinton smiled. "I think I've got a cigar somewhere about me. Here it is.
Will you try it?"

Mr. Opp didn't care if he did, and from the manner in which he lighted
it, and from the way in which he stood, with one elbow on the high
mantel-shelf and his feet gracefully crossed, while he blew curling
wreaths toward the ceiling, it was not difficult to reckon the extent of
his self-denial.

"Do you indulge much in the pleasure of reading?" he asked, looking at
Hinton through the cloud of smoke.

"I did," said Hinton, drawing a deep breath.

"It's a great pastime," said Mr. Opp. "I wonder if you are familiar with
this here volume." He took from the shelf "The Encyclopedia of Wonder,
Beauty, and Wisdom."

"Hardly a thumb-nail edition," said Hinton, receiving it with both
hands.

"Say, it's a remarkable work," said Mr. Opp, earnestly; "you ought to
get yourself one. Facts in the first part, and the prettiest poetry you
ever read in the back: a dollar down and fifty cents a month until paid
for. Here, let me show you; read that one."

"I can't see it," said Hinton.

"I'll get the lamp."

"Never mind, Opp; it isn't that. You read it to me."

Mr. Opp complied with great pleasure, and having once started, he found
it difficult to stop. From "Lord Ullin's Daughter" he passed to
"Curfew," hence to "Barbara Frietchie" and "Young Lochinvar," and as he
read Hinton sat with closed eyes and traveled into the past.

He saw a country school-house, and himself a youngster of eight
competing for a prize. He was standing on a platform, and the children
were below him, and behind him was a row of visitors. He was paralyzed
with fear, but bursting with ambition. With one supreme effort he began
his speech:

    Oh, the young Lochinvar has came out of the west!

He got no further; a shout from the big boys and a word from the
teacher, and he burst into tears and fled for refuge to his mother. How
the lines brought it all back! He could feel her arms about him now, and
her cheek against his, and hear again her words of comfort. In all the
years since she had been taken from him he had never wanted her so
insistently as during those few moments that Mr. Opp's high voice was
doing its worst for the long-suffering Lochinvar.

"Mr. D.," said a complaining voice from the doorway, "Miss Kippy won't
lemme tek her dress off to go to baid. She 'low she gwine sleep in hit."

Mr. Opp abruptly descended from his elocutionary flight, and asked to be
excused for a few moments.

"Just a little domestic friction," he assured Hinton; "you can glance
over the rest of the poems, and I'll be back soon."

Hinton, left alone, paced restlessly up and down the room. The temporary
diversion was over, and he was once more face to face with his problem.
He went to the table, and, taking a note from his pocket, bent over the
lamp to read it. The lines blurred and ran together, but a word here and
there recalled the contents. It was from Mr. Mathews, who preferred
writing disagreeable things to saying them. Mr. Mathews, the note said,
had been greatly annoyed recently by repeated errors in the reports of
his secretary; he was neither as rapid nor as accurate as formerly, and
an improvement would have to be made, or a change would be deemed
advisable.

"Delicate tact!" sneered Hinton, crushing the paper in his hand.
"Courtesy sometimes begets a request, and the shark shrinks from
conferring favors. And I've got to stick it out, to go on accepting
condescending disapproval until a 'change is deemed advisable.'"

He dropped his head on his arms, and so deep was he in his bitter
thoughts that he did not hear Mr. Opp come into the room. That gentleman
stood for a moment in great embarrassment; then he stepped noiselessly
out, and heralded his second coming by rattling the door-knob.

The wind had risen to a gale, and it shrieked about the old house and
tugged at the shutters and rattled the panes incessantly.

"You take the big chair," urged Mr. Opp, who had just put on a fresh log
and sent the flames dancing up the chimney; "and here's a pitcher of
hard cider whenever you feel the need of a little refreshment. You ain't
a married man I would judge, Mr. Hinton."

"Thank the Lord, no!" exclaimed Hinton.

"Well," said Mr. Opp, pursing his lips and smiling, "you know that's
just where I think us young men are making a mistake."

"Matrimony," said Hinton, "is about the only catastrophe that hasn't
befallen me during my short and rocky career."

"See here," said Mr. Opp, "I used to feel that way, too."

"Before you met her?" suggested Hinton.

Mr. Opp looked pleased but embarrassed. "I can't deny there is a young
lady," he said; "but she is quite young as yet. In fact, I don't mind
telling you she's just about half my age."

Hinton, instead of putting two and two together, added eighteen to
eighteen. "And you are about thirty-six?" he asked.

"Exactly," said Mr. Opp, surprised. "I am most generally considered a
long sight younger."

From matrimony the conversation drifted to oil-wells, then to
journalism, and finally to a philosophical discussion of life itself.
Mr. Opp got beyond his depth again and again, and at times he became so
absorbed that he gave a very poor imitation of himself, and showed
signs of humility that were rarely if ever visible.

Hinton meantime was taking soundings, and sometimes his plummet stopped
where it started, and sometimes it dropped to an unexpected depth.

"Well," he said at last, rising, "we must go to bed. You'll go on
climbing a ladder in the air, and I'll go on burrowing like a mole in
the ground, and what is the good of it all? What chance have either of
us for coming out anywhere? You can fool yourself; I can't: that's the
difference."

Mr. Opp's unusual mental exertions had apparently affected his entire
body, his legs were tightly wrapped about each other, his arms were
locked, and his features were drawn into an amazing pucker of protest.

"That ain't it," he said emphatically, struggling valiantly to express
his conviction: "this here life business ain't run on any such small
scale as that. According to my notion, or understanding,
it's--well--what you might call, in military figures, a fight." He
paused a moment and tied himself if possible even into a tighter knot,
then proceeded slowly, groping his way: "Of course there's some that
just remains around in camp, afraid to fight and afraid to desert, just
sort of indulging in conversation, you might say, about the rest of the
army. Then there is the cowards and deserters. But a decent sort of a
individual, or rather soldier, carries his orders around with him, and
the chief and principal thing he's got to do is to follow them. What the
fight is concerning, or in what manner the general is a-aiming to bring
it all correct in the end, ain't, according to my conclusion, a particle
of our business."

Having arrived at this point of the discussion in a somewhat heated and
indignant state, Mr. Opp suddenly remembered his duties as host. With a
lordly wave of the hand he dismissed the subject, and conducted Hinton
in state to his bed-chamber, where he insisted upon lighting the fire
and arranging the bed.

[Illustration: "It was Mr. Opp saying his prayers"]

Hinton sat for a long time before undressing, listening to the wind in
the chimney, to the scrape, scrape of the cedar on the roof, and to the
yet more dismal sounds that were echoing in his heart. Everything about
the old house spoke of degeneration, decay; yet in the midst of it lived
a man who asked no odds of life, who took what came, and who lived with
a zest, an abandon, a courage that were baffling. Self-deception,
egotism, cheap optimism--could they bring a man to this state of mind?
Hinton wondered bitterly what Opp would do in his position; suppose his
sight was threatened, how far would his foolish self-delusion serve him
then?

But he could not imagine Mr. Opp, lame, halt, or blind, giving up the
fight. There was that in the man--egotism, courage, whatever it
was--that would never recognize defeat, that quality that wins out of a
life of losing the final victory.

Before he retired, Hinton found there was no drinking water in his room,
and, remembering a pitcher full in the dining-room, he took the candle
and softly opened his door. The sudden cold draft from the hall made the
candle flare, but as it steadied, Hinton saw that an old cot had been
placed across the door opposite his, as if on guard, and that beside it
knelt an ungainly figure in white, with his head clasped in his hands.
It was Mr. Opp saying his prayers.



XII


The visit of the capitalists marked the beginning of a long and
profitable spell of insomnia for the Cove. The little town had gotten a
gnat in its eye when Mr. Opp arrived, and now that it had become
involved in a speculation that threatened to develop into a boom, it
found sleep and tranquillity a thing of the past.

The party of investigators had found such remarkable conditions that
they were eager to buy up the ground at once; but they met with
unexpected opposition.

At a meeting which will go down to posterity in the annals of Cove City,
the Turtle Creek Land Company, piloted by the intrepid Mr. Opp, had held
its course against persuasion, threats, and bribes. There was but one
plank in the company's platform, and that was a determination not to
sell. To this plank they clung through the storm of opposition, through
the trying calm of indifference that followed, until a truce was
declared.

Finally an agreement was reached by which the Turtle Creek Land Company
was to lease its ground to the capitalists, receive a given per cent. of
the oil produced, and maintain the right to buy stock up to a large and
impossible amount at any time during the ensuing year.

Close upon this contract came men and machinery to open up a test well.
For weeks hauling was done up the creek bottom, there being no road
leading to the oil spring where the first drilling was to be done.

The town watched the operations with alternate scorn and interest. It
was facetious when water and quicksands were encountered, and inclined
to be sarcastic when work was suspended on account of the weather. But
one day, after the pipe had been driven to a considerable depth and the
rock below had been drilled for six inches, the drill suddenly fell into
a crevice, and upon investigation the hole was found to be nearly full
of petroleum.

The Cove promptly went into a state of acute hysteria. Speculation
spread like the measles, breaking out in all manner of queer and
unexpected places. Everybody who could command a dollar promptly
converted it into oil stock. Miss Jim Fenton borrowed money from her
cousin in the city, and plunged recklessly; the Missionary Band raffled
off three quilts and bought a share with the proceeds; Mr. Tucker
foreclosed two mortgages on life-long friends in order to raise more
money; while the amount of stock purchased by Mr. D. Webster Opp was
limited only by his credit at the bank.

The one note of warning that was sounded came from Mrs. Fallows, who sat
on the porch of Your Hotel, and, like the Greek Chorus, foretold the
disasters that would befall, and prophesied nothing but evil for the
entire enterprise. Even the urbane Jimmy became ruffled by her insistent
iteration, and declared that she "put him in mind of a darned old
whip-o'-will."

But Mrs. Fallows's piping note was lost in the gale of enthusiasm.
Farmers coming into town on Saturday became infected and carried the
fever into the country. The entire community suspended business to
discuss the exciting situation.

These were champagne days for Mr. Opp. Life seemed one long, sparkling,
tingling draft and he was drinking it to Guinevere. If her eyes drooped
and she met his smile with a sigh, he saw it not, for the elixir had
gone to his head.

Compelled to find some outlet for his energy, he took advantage of the
Cove's unwonted animation and plunged into municipal reform. "The Opp
Eagle" demanded streets, it demanded lamp-posts, it demanded temperance.
The right of pigs to take their daily siesta in the middle of Main
Street was questioned and fiercely denied. Dry-goods boxes, which for
years had been the only visible means of support for divers youths of
indolent nature, were held up to such scathing ridicule that the owners
were forced to remove them.

The policies suggested by Mr. Opp, the editor, were promptly acted upon
by Mr. Opp, the citizen. So indignant did he become when he read his own
editorials that nothing short of immediate action was to be considered.
He arranged a reform party and appointed himself leader. Mat Lucas, he
made Superintendent of Streets; Mr. Gallop, chairman of the Committee on
City Lights. In fact, he formed enough committees to manage a
Presidential campaign.

The attitude of the town toward him was that of a large lump of dough to
a small cake of yeast. It was willing to be raised, but doubtful of the
motive power.

"I'd feel surer," said Jimmy Fallows, "if his intellect was the
standard size. It appears so big to him he can't get his language
ready-made; he has to have it made to order."

But since the successful management of the oil-wells, Mr. Opp's opinion
was more and more considered. In the course of a short time the office
of "The Opp Eagle" became the hub about which the township revolved.

One afternoon in March the editor was sitting before his deal table,
apparently in the most violent throes of editorial composition.

Nick, who was impatiently waiting for copy, had not dared to speak for
an hour, for fear of slipping a cog in the intricate machinery of
creation. The constant struggle to supply "The Opp Eagle" with
sufficient material to enable it to fly every Thursday was telling upon
the staff; he was becoming irritable.

"Well?" he said impatiently, as Mr. Opp finished the tenth page and
gathered the large sheets into his hand.

"Yes, yes, to be sure," said Mr. Opp, guiltily; "I am at your disposal.
Just finishing a little private correspondence of a personal nature
that couldn't wait over."

"Ain't that copy?" demanded Nick, fixing him with an indignant eye.

"Well, no," said Mr. Opp, uneasily. "The fact is, I haven't been able to
accomplish any regular editorial this week. Unusual pressure of outside
business and--er--"

"How long is she going to stay down in Coreyville?" Nick asked, with a
contemptuous curl of his lip.

Mr. Opp paused in the act of addressing the envelop, and gave Nick a
look that was designed to scorch.

"May I inquire to who you refer?" he asked with dignity.

Nick's eyes dropped, and he shuffled his feet. "I just wanted to put it
in the paper. We got to fill up with something."

"Well," said Mr. Opp, slightly conciliated, "you can mention that she
has gone back to attend the spring term at the Young Ladies' Seminary."

"Gone back to school again?" exclaimed Nick, unable to control his
curiosity. "What for?"

"To attend the spring term," repeated Mr. Opp, guardedly. Then he added
in a burst of confidence: "Nick, has it ever occurred to you that Mrs.
Gusty was what you might term a peculiar woman?"

But Nick was not interested in the psychological idiosyncrasies of the
Gusty family. "The Opp Eagle" was crying for food, and Nick would have
sacrificed himself and his chief to fill the vacancy.

"See here, Mr. Opp, do you know what day it is? It's Monday, and we've
got two columns to fill. New subscriptions are coming in all the time.
We've got to live up to our reputation."

"Extremely well put," agreed Mr. Opp; "the reputation of the paper must
be guarded above all things. I like to consider that after my mortal
remains has returned to dust, my name will be perpetuated in this paper.
That no monument in marble will be necessary, so long as 'The Opp
Eagle' continues to circulate from home to home, and to promulgate
those--"

"Can't you write some of it down?" suggested Nick; "it would fill up a
couple of paragraphs. Part of it you used before, but we might change it
around some."

"Never," said Mr. Opp. "On no consideration would I repeat myself in
print. I'll just run through my box here, and see what new material I
have. Here's something; take it down as I dictate.

"'Pastor Joe Tyler is holding divine service every second Sunday in Cove
City. He has had thirty conversions, and on Saturday was presented with
a $20.00 suit of clothing from and by this community, and a barrel of
flour, which fully attests what a general church awakening will
accomplish in the direction of good. No one should think of endeavoring
to rear their children or redeem society without the application of the
gospel twice per month.'"

"Now, if you can keep that up," said Nick, hopefully, "we'll get through
in no time."

But Mr. Opp had gone back to his letter, and was trying to decide
whether it would take one stamp or two. When he felt Nick's reproachful
eye upon him, he put the envelop resolutely in his pocket.

"You've already said that work would be resumed at the oil-wells as
early as the inclemency of the weather would permit, haven't you?"

"We've had it in every issue since last fall," said Nick.

"Well, now, let's see," said Mr. Opp, diving once more into his reserve
box. "Here, take this down: 'Mr. Jet Connor had his house burnt last
month, it being the second fire he has had in ten years. Misfortunes
never come single.'"

"All right," encouraged Nick. "Now can't you work up that idea about the
paper offering a prize?"

Mr. Opp seized his brow firmly between his palms and made an heroic
effort to concentrate his mind upon the business at hand.

"Just wait a minute till I get it arranged. Now write this: '"The Opp
Eagle" has organized a club called the B.B.B. Club, meaning the Busy
Bottle-Breakers Club. A handsome prize of a valued nature will be
awarded the boy or girl which breaks the largest number of whisky and
beer bottles before the first of May.' The boats to Coreyville run
different on Sunday, don't they, Nick?"

Nick, who had unquestioningly taken the dictation until he reached his
own name, glanced up quickly, then threw down his pen and sighed.

"I'm going up to Mr. Gallop's," he said in desperation; "he's got his
mind on things here in town. I'll see what he can do for me."

Mr. Opp remorsefully allowed him to depart, and gazed somewhat guiltily
at the unaccomplished work before him. But instead of making reparation
for recent delinquency, he proceeded to make even further inroads into
the time that belonged to "The Opp Eagle."

Moving stealthily to the door, he locked it, then pulled down the shade
until only a strip of light fell across his table. These precautions
having been observed, he took from his pocket a number of letters, and,
separating a large typewritten one from several small blue ones,
arranged the latter in a row before him according to their dates, and
proceeded, with evident satisfaction, to read them through twice. Then
glancing around to make quite sure that no one had crawled through the
key-hole, he unlocked a drawer, and took out a key which in turn
unlocked a box from which he carefully took a small object, and
contemplated it with undisguised admiration.

It was an amethyst ring, and in the center of the stone was set a pearl.
He held it in the narrow strip of light, and read the inscription
engraved within: "Guinevere forever."

For Miss Guinevere Gusty, ever plastic to a stronger will, had
succumbed to the potent combination of absence and ardor, and given her
half-hearted consent for Mr. Opp to speak to her mother. Upon that
lady's unqualified approval everything would depend.

Mr. Opp had received the letter a week ago, and he had immediately
written to the city for a jeweler's circular, made his selection, and
received the ring. He had written eight voluminous and eloquent epistles
to Guinevere, but he had not yet found the propitious moment in which to
call upon Mrs. Gusty. Every time he started, imperative business called
him elsewhere.

As he sat turning the stone in the sunlight and admiring every detail,
the conviction oppressed him that he could no longer find any excuse for
delay. But even as he made the decision to face the ordeal, his eye
involuntarily swept the desk for even a momentary reprieve. The large
typewritten letter arrested his attention; he took it up and reread it.

    Dear Opp: Do you know any nice, comfortable place in your
    neighborhood for a man to go blind in? I'll be in the hospital for
    another month, and after that I am to spend the summer out of doors,
    in joyful anticipation of an operation which I am assured beforehand
    will probably be unsuccessful. Under the peculiar circumstances I am
    not particular about the scenery, human or natural; the whole affair
    resolves itself into a matter of flies and feather-beds. If you know
    of any place where I can be reasonably comfortable, I wish you'd
    drop me a line. The ideal place for me would be a neat pine box
    underground, with a dainty bunch of daisies overhead.

        Yours gratefully,

            Willard Hinton.

    P.S. I sent you a box of my books last week. Chuck out what you
    don't want. The candy was for your sister.

Mr. Opp, with the letter still in his hand, suddenly saw a way out of
his difficulty: he would make Hinton's request an excuse for a call upon
Mrs. Gusty. No surer road to her good graces could he travel than by
seeking her advice.

Replacing the ring in the drawer and the letters in his pocket, he
buttoned up his coat, and with a stern look of determination went out of
the office. At the Gusty gate he encountered Val, who was on all fours
by the fence, searching for something.

"What's the matter, Val?" asked Mr. Opp. "Lost something?"

Val raised a pair of mournful eyes. "Yas, sir; you bet I is. Done lost a
penny Mr. Jimmy Fallows gimme for puttin' my fisty in my mouf."

"Putting your fist in your mouth!" repeated Mr. Opp, surprised. "Can you
perform that act?"

Val promptly demonstrated; but just as he was midway, a peremptory voice
called from a rear window:

"Val! You Val! You better answer me this minute!"

Val cowered lower behind the fence, and violently motioned Mr. Opp to go
on.

"Is--er--is Mrs. Gusty feeling well to-day?" asked Mr. Opp, still
lingering at the gate.

"Jes tolerable," said Val, lying flat on his back and speaking in
guarded tones. "Whenever she gits to beatin' de carpets, an' spankin' de
beds, and shakin' de curtains, I keeps outen de way."

"Do you think--er--that--er--I better go in?" asked Mr. Opp, sorely in
need of moral support.

"Yas, sir; she's 'spectin' yer."

This surprising announcement nerved Mr. Opp to open the gate.

It is said that the best-drilled soldiers dodge when they first face the
firing-line, and if Mr. Opp's knees smote together and his body became
bathed in profuse perspiration, it should not be attributed to lack of
manly courage.

In response to his knock, Mrs. Gusty herself opened the door. The signs
that she had been interrupted in the midst of her toilet were so
unmistakable that Mr. Opp promptly averted his eyes. A shawl had been
hastily drawn about her shoulders, on one cheek a streak of chalk
awaited distribution, and a single bristling curl-paper, rising fiercely
from the top of her forehead, gave her the appearance of a startled
unicorn.

"You'll have to excuse me, Mr. Opp," she said firmly, putting the door
between them. "I can't come out, and you can't come in. Did you want
anything?"

"Well, yes," said Mr. Opp, looking helplessly at the blank door. "You
see, there is a matter I have been considering discussing with you for a
number of weeks. It's a--"

"If it's waited this long, I should think it could wait till to-morrow,"
announced the lady with decision.

Mr. Opp felt that his courage could never again stand the strain of the
last few moments. He must speak now or never.

"It's immediate," he managed to gasp out. "If you could arrange to give
me five or ten minutes, I won't occupy more than that."

Mrs. Gusty considered. "I am looking for company myself at five
o'clock. That wouldn't give you much time."

"Ample," urged Mr. Opp; "it's just a little necessary transaction, as it
were."

Mrs. Gusty reluctantly consented.

"You go on in the parlor, then," she said. "I'll be in as quick as I
can. You won't more than have time to get started, though."

Mr. Opp passed into the parlor and hung his hat on the corner of a
large, unframed canvas that stood on the floor with its face to the
wall. The room had evidently been prepared for a visitor, for a fire was
newly kindled and a vase of flowers adorned the table. But Mr. Opp was
not making observations. He alternately warmed his cold hands at the
fire, and fanned his flushed face with his handkerchief. He was too
nervous to sit still, yet his knees trembled when he moved about. It was
only when he touched the little packet of letters in his breast pocket
that his courage revived.

At last Mrs. Gusty came in with a rustle of garments suggestive of
Sunday. Even in his confusion Mr. Opp was aware that there was something
unusual in her appearance. Her hair, ordinarily drawn taut to a prim
knot at the rear, had burst forth into curls and puffs of an amazing
complexity. Moreover, her change of coiffure had apparently affected her
spirits, for she, too, was flurried and self-conscious and glanced
continually at the clock on the mantel.

"I'll endeavor not to intrude long on your time," began Mr. Opp,
politely, when they were seated side by side on the horse-hair sofa.
"You--er--can't be in total ignorance of the subject that--er--I mean to
bring forward." He moistened his lips, and glanced at her for succor,
but she was adamant. "I want to speak with you," he plunged on
desperately--"that is, I thought I had better talk with you about Mr.
Hinton."

"Who?" blazed forth Mrs. Gusty in indignant surprise.

"Mr. Hinton," said Mr. Opp, breathlessly, "a young friendly
acquaintance of mine. Wants to get board for the summer, you know; would
like a nice, quiet place and all that, Mrs. Gusty. I thought I'd consult
you about it, Mrs. Gusty, if you don't mind."

She calmly fixed one eye upon him and one upon the clock while he went
into particulars concerning Mr. Hinton. When he paused for breath, she
folded her arms and said:

"Mr. Opp, if you want to say what you come to say, you haven't got but
four minutes to do it in."

"Oh, yes," said Mr. Opp, gratefully, but helplessly; "I was just coming
to that point. It's a matter--that--er--well you might say it is in a
way pertaining--to--"

"Guin-never!" snapped Mrs. Gusty, unable longer to stand his hesitation.
"I'd have been a deaf-mute and a fool to boot not to have known it long
ago. Not that I've been consulted in the matter." She lifted a stiffened
chin, and turned her gaze upward.

"You have," declared Mr. Opp, earnestly; "that is, you will be.
Everything is pending on you. There has been no steps whatever taken by
Miss Guin-never or I--rather I might say by her. I can't say but what I
have made some slight preliminary arrangements." He paused, then went on
anxiously: "I trust there ain't any personal objections to the case."

Mrs. Gusty made folds in her black-silk skirt and creased them down with
her thumb-nail. "No," she said shortly; "far as I can see, Guin-never
would be doing mighty well to get you. You'd be a long sight safer than
a good-looking young fellow. Of course a man being so much older than a
girl is apt to leave her a widow. But, for my part, I believe in second
marriages."

Mr. Opp felt as if he had received a hot and cold douche at the same
time; but the result was a glow.

"Then you don't oppose it, Mrs. Gusty," he cried eagerly. "You'll write
her you are willing?"

"Not yet," said Mrs. Gusty; "there's a condition."

"There ain't any condition in the world I won't meet to get her," he
exclaimed recklessly, his fervor bursting its bounds. "You don't know
how I feel about that young lady. Why, I'd live on bread and water all
the rest of my life if it would make her happy. There hasn't been a hour
since I met her that she hasn't held my soul--as you might say--in the
pa'm of her hand."

"People don't often get it so bad at our age," remarked Mrs. Gusty,
sarcastically, and Mr. Opp winced.

"The condition," went on Mrs. Gusty, "that I spoke about, was your
sister. Of course I never would consent to Guin-never living under the
same roof with a crazy person."

The hope which was carrying Mr. Opp to the dizziest heights dropped to
earth at this unexpected shaft, and for a moment he was too stunned to
speak.

"Kippy?" he began at last, and his voice softened at the name. "Why,
you don't understand about her. She's just similar to a little child. I
told Miss Guin-never all about her; she never made any objections.
You--you--wouldn't ask me to make any promises along that line?" Abject
entreaty shone from Mr. Opp's eyes; it was a plea for a change of
sentence. She had asked of him the only sacrifice in the world at which
he would have faltered. "Don't--don't put it like that!" he pleaded,
laying his hand on her arm in his earnestness. "I'm all she's got in the
world; I've kind of become familiar with her ways, you know, and can
manage her. She'll love Miss Guin-never if I tell her to. She shan't be
a bit of care or trouble; I and Aunt Tish will continue on doing
everything for her. You won't refuse your consent on that account, will
you? You'll promise to say yes, now won't you, Mrs. Gusty?"

A slight and ominous cough in the doorway caused them both to start. Mr.
Tucker, in widower's weeds, but with a jonquil jauntily thrust through
his buttonhole, stood with his hand still on the knob, evidently
transfixed by the scene he had witnessed.

For a moment the company was enveloped in a fog of such dense
embarrassment that all conversation was suspended. Mrs. Gusty was the
first to emerge.

"Howdy, Mr. Tucker," she said, rustling forward in welcome. "I didn't
think you'd get here before five. Mr. Opp just dropped in to consult me
about--about boarding a friend of his. Won't you draw up to the fire?"

Mr. Tucker edged forward with a suspicious eye turned upon Mr. Opp, who
was nervously searching about for his hat.

"There it is, by the door," said Mrs. Gusty, eager to speed his
departure; and as they both reached for it, the picture upon which it
hung toppled forward and fell, face upward, on the floor. It was the
portrait of Mr. Tucker mourning under the willow-tree which Miss Jim had
left with Mrs. Gusty for safe-keeping.

Mr. Opp went home across the fields that evening instead of through the
town. He was not quite up to any of his rôles--editor, promoter, or
reformer. In fact, he felt a desperate need of a brief respite from all
histrionic duties. A reaction had set in from the excitement of the past
week, and the complication involved in Mrs. Gusty's condition puzzled
and distressed him. Of course, he assured himself repeatedly, there was
a way out of the difficulty; but he was not able to find it just yet. He
had observed that Mrs. Gusty's opinions became fixed convictions under
the slightest opposition, whereas Guinevere's firmest decision trembled
at a breath of disapproval. He sighed deeply as he meditated upon the
vagaries of the feminine mind.

Overhead the bare trees lifted a network of twigs against a dull sky, a
cold wind stirred the sedge grass, and fluttered the dry leaves that had
lain all winter in the fence corners. Everything looked old and worn and
gray, even Mr. Opp, as he leaned against a gaunt, white sycamore, his
head bent, and his brows drawn, wrestling with his problem.

Suddenly he lifted his head and listened, then he smiled. In the tree
above him a soft but animated conversation was in progress. A few daring
birds had braved the cold and the wind, and had ventured back to their
old trysting-place to wait for the coming of the spring. No hint of
green had tinged the earth, but a few, tiny, pink maple-buds had given
the secret away, and the birds were cuddled snugly together, planning,
in an ecstasy of subdued enthusiasm, for the joyous days to come.

Mr. Opp listened and understood. They were all whispering about one
thing, and he wanted to whisper about it, too. It was the simple theme
of love without variations--love, minus problems, minus complications,
minus consequences. He took out his little packet of letters and read
them through; then, unmindful of the chill, he stretched himself under
the tree and listened to the birds until the twilight silenced them.

When he reached home at last, Miss Kippy met him at the door with a
happy cry of welcome.

"D.," she said, with her arm through his, and her cheek rubbing his
sleeve, "I've been good. I've let my hair stay up all day, and Aunt Tish
is making me a long dress like a lady." She looked at him shyly and
smiled, then she pulled his head down and whispered, "If I'm very good,
when I grow up, can I marry Mr. Hinton?"

Miss Kippy, too, had been listening to the bird-song.



XIII


It was May when Willard Hinton arrived at the Cove and took up his abode
at Mrs. Gusty's. For the first week he kept to his bed, but at the end
of that time he was able to crawl down to the porch and, under the
protection of dark glasses and a heavy shade, sit for hours at a time in
the sunshine. The loss of his accustomed environment, the ennui that
ensues from absolute idleness, the consciousness that the light was
growing dimmer day by day, combined to plunge him into abysmal gloom.

He shrank from speaking to any one, he scowled at a suggestion of
sympathy, he treated Mr. Opp's friendly overtures with open discourtesy.
Conceiving himself on the rack of torture, he set his teeth and
determined to submit in silence, but without witnesses.

One endless day dragged in the wake of another, and between them lay the
black strips of night that were heavy with the suggestion of another
darkness pending. When sleep refused to come, he would go out into the
woods and walk for hours, moody, wretched, and sick to his innermost
soul with loneliness.

The one thing in the whole dreary round of existence that roused in him
a spark of interest was his hostess. She bestowed upon him the same
impersonal attention that she gave her fowls. She fed him and cared for
him and doctored him as she saw fit, and after these duties were
performed, she left him to himself, pursuing her own vigorous routine in
her own vigorous way.

Hinton soon discovered that Mrs. Gusty was temperamental. Her intensely
energetic nature demanded an emotional as well as a physical outlet.
Sometime during the course of each day she indulged in emotional
fireworks, bombs of anger, rockets of indignation, or set pieces of
sulks and pouts.

These periodic spells of anger acted upon her like wine: they warmed her
vitals and exhilarated her; they made her talk fluently and eloquently.
As a toper will accept any beverage that intoxicates, so Mrs. Gusty
accepted any cause that would rouse her. At stated intervals her
feelings demanded a stimulant, and obeying the call of nature, she went
forth and got angry.

Hinton came to consider these outbursts as the one diversion in a
succession of monotonous hours. He tabulated the causes, and made bets
with himself as to the strength and duration of each.

Meanwhile the sun and the wind and the silence were working their
miracle. Hinton was introduced to nature by a warlike old rooster whose
Hellenic cast of countenance had suggested the name of Menelaus. A
fierce combat with a brother-fowl had inevitably recalled the great
fight with Paris, and upon investigation Hinton found that the speckled
hen was Helen of Troy! This was but the beginning of a series of
discoveries, and the result was an animated and piquant version of Greek
history, which boldly set aside tradition, and suggested many
possibilities heretofore undreamed of.

Early one morning as Hinton was wandering listlessly about the yard he
heard the gate click, and, looking up, saw Mr. Opp hurrying up the walk
with a large bunch of lilacs in one hand and a cornet in the other.

"Good morning," said that gentleman, cheerily. "Mighty glad to see you
out enjoying the beauties of nature. I haven't got but a moment in which
to stop; appointment at eight-fifteen. We are arranging for a concert
soon up in Main Street, going to practise this afternoon. I'll be glad
to call by for you if you feel able to enjoy some remarkable fine
selections."

Hinton accepted the proffered bouquet, but made a wry face at the
invitation.

"None of your concerts for me," he said brusquely. "It would interfere
too seriously with my own musical job of getting in tune with the
infinite."

"Mornin', Mr. Opp," said Mrs. Gusty from the dining-room window. "There
ain't many editors has time to stand around and talk this time of day."

"Just paused a moment in passing," said Mr. Opp. "Wanted to see if I
couldn't induce our young friend here to give us a' article for 'The Opp
Eagle.' Any nature, you know; we are always metropolitan in our taste.
Thought maybe he'd tell us some of his first impressions of our city."

Hinton smiled and shook his head. "You'd better not stir up my
impressions about anything these days; I am apt to splash mud."

"We can stand it," said Mr. Opp, affably. "If Cove City needs criticism
and rebuke, 'The Opp Eagle' is the vehicle to administer it. You dictate
a few remarks to my reporter, and I'll feature it on the front editorial
column."

Hinton's eyes twinkled wickedly behind his blue glasses. "I'll give you
an article," he said, "but no name is to be signed."

Mr. Opp, regretting the stipulation, but pleased with the promise, was
turning to depart when Mrs. Gusty appeared once more at the window.

"What's the matter with the oil-wells?" she demanded, as she dusted off
the sill. "Why don't they open up? You can't use bad weather for an
excuse any longer."

"It wasn't the weather," said Mr. Opp, with the confident and superior
manner of one who is conversant with the entire situation. "This here
delay has been arranged with a purpose. I and Mr. Mathews has a plan
that will eventually yield every stock-holder in the Cove six to one for
what he put into it."

"Intend selling out to a syndicate?" asked Hinton.

Mr. Opp looked at him in surprise.

"Well, yes; I don't mind telling you two, but it mustn't go any farther.
The oil prospects in this region are of such a great magnitude that we
can't command sufficient capital to do 'em justice. I and Mr. Mathews
are at present negotiating with several large concerns with a view to
selling out the entire business at a large profit. You can't have any
conception of the tac' and patience it takes to manage one of these
large deals."

"Who was that man Clark that was down here last week?" asked Mrs. Gusty,
impressed, in spite of herself, at being taken into the confidence of
such a man of affairs.

Mr. Opp's face clouded. "Now that was a very unfortunate thing about
Clark. He was sent down by the Union Syndicate of New York city to make
a report on the region, and he didn't get the correct ideas in the case
at all. If they hadn't sent such a poor man, the whole affair might have
been settled by now."

"Wasn't his report favorable?" asked Hinton.

"He hasn't made it yet," said Mr. Opp; "but he let drop sundry casual
remarks to me that showed he wasn't a man of fine judgment at all. I
went over the ground with him, and pointed out some of the places where
we calculated on drilling; but he was so busy making measurements and
taking notes that he didn't half hear what I was saying."

"He stayed at Our Hotel," said Mrs. Gusty. "Mr. Tucker said he had as
mean a face as ever he looked into."

"Who said so?" asked Hinton.

She tossed her head and flipped her duster at him, but it was evident
that she was not displeased.

"By the way, Mr. Opp," she said, "I'm thinking about letting Guin-never
come home week after next. Guess you ain't sorry to hear that."

On the contrary, Mr. Opp was overcome with joy. Letters were becoming
less and less satisfying, and the problem suggested by Mrs. Gusty was
still waiting solution.

"If you'll just mention the date," he said, trying to keep his
countenance from expressing an undue amount of rapture, "I'll make a
business trip down to Coreyville on purpose to accompany her back home."

But Mrs. Gusty declined to be explicit. She deemed it unwise to allow a
mere man to know as much as she did upon any given subject.

Hinton's editorial appeared in the next issue of "The Opp Eagle." It was
a clever and cutting satire on the impressions of a foreigner visiting
America for the first time. Hinton interviewed himself concerning his
impressions of the Cove. He approached the subject with great
seriousness, handling village trifles as if they were municipal
cannon-balls. He juggled with sense and nonsense, with form and
substance. The result shot far over the heads of the country
subscribers, and hit the bull's-eye of a big city daily.

Mr. Opp's excitement was intense when he found that an editorial from
"The Opp Eagle" had been copied in a New York paper. The fact that it
was not his own never for a moment dimmed the glory of the compliment.

"We are getting notorious," he said exultingly to Hinton. "There are
few, if any, papers that in less than a year has extended its influence
as far as the Atlantic Ocean. Now I am considering if it wouldn't be a
wise and judicious thing to get you on the staff permanent--while you
are here, that is. Of course you understand I am invested up pretty
close; but I'd be willing to let you have a little of my oil stock in
payment for services."

Hinton laughingly shook his head. "Whenever you run short of material,
you can call on me. The honor of seeing my humble efforts borne aloft on
the wings of 'The Opp Eagle' will be sufficient reward."

Having once conceived it as a favor that was in his power to bestow, Mr.
Opp lost no opportunity for inviting contributions from the aspiring
author.

As Hinton's strength returned, Mr. Opp adopted him as a protégé, at
first patronizing him, then consulting him, and finally frankly
appealing to him. For during the long afternoon walks which they got
into the habit of taking together, Mr. Opp, in spite of bluster and brag
and evasion, found that he was constantly being embarrassed by a
question, a reference, a statement from his young friend. It was the
first time he had ever experienced any difficulty in keeping his head
above the waves of his own ignorance.

"You see," he said one day by way of explanation, "my genius was never
properly tutored in early youth. It's what some might regard as a
remarkable brain that could cope with all the different varieties of
enterprises that I have engaged in, with no instruction or guidance but
just the natural elements that God give it in the beginning."

But in spite of Mr. Opp's lenient attitude toward his intellectual
short-comings, it was evident that upon the serene horizon of his
egotism small clouds of humility were threatening to gather.

Hinton, restlessly seeking for something to fill the vacuum of his days,
found Mr. Opp and his paper a growing source of diversion. "The Opp
Eagle," at first an object of ridicule, gradually became a point of
interest in his limited range of vision. Under his suggestions it was
enlarged and improved, and induced to publish news not strictly local.

Mr. Opp, meanwhile, was buzzing as persistently and ineffectually as a
fly on a window-pane. The night before Guinevere's return, he found
that, in order to accomplish all that he was committed to, it would be
necessary to spend the night at the office.

The concert for which the Unique Orchestra had been making night hideous
for two weeks had just come to a successful close, and the editor found
himself at a late hour tramping out the lonely road that led to the
office with the prospect of a couple of hours' work to do before he
could seek a well-earned rest upon the office bench.

He was flushed with his double triumph as director and cornet soloist,
and still thrilled by the mighty notes he had breathed into his beloved
instrument.

The violin sobs, the flute complains, the drum insists, but the cornet
brags, and Mr. Opp found it the instrument through which he could best
express himself.

It was midnight, and the moon, one moment shining brightly and the next
lost behind a flying cloud, sent all sorts of queer shadows scurrying
among the trees. Mr. Opp thought once that he saw the figure of a man
appear and disappear in the road before him, but he was so engrossed in
joyful anticipation of the morrow that he gave the incident no
attention. As he was passing the Gusty house, he was rudely plunged from
sentiment into suspicion by the sight of a figure stealthily moving
along the wall beneath the front windows.

Mr. Opp crouched behind the fence to watch him, but the moon took that
inopportune moment to sink into a bank of clouds, and the yard was left
in darkness. No sound broke the stillness save the far-off bark of a dog
or an occasional croak from a bullfrog. Mr. Opp waited and listened in a
state of intense suspense. Presently he heard the unmistakable sound of
a window being cautiously raised, and then just as cautiously lowered.
Summoning all his courage, he skirted the yard and hid in the bushes
near the house. Nothing was to be seen or heard. He watched for a light
at any of the windows, but none came.

The rash desire to capture the burglar single-handed, and thus
distinguish himself in the eyes of Guinevere's mother, caused Mr. Opp to
stiffen his knees and assume a fierce and determined expression. But he
was armed only with his cornet, which, though often deadly as an
instrument of attack, has never been recognized as a weapon of defense.
There seemed no alternative but to waken Hinton and effect a
simultaneous attack from within and without.

After throwing a few unsuccessful pebbles at Hinton's window, Mr. Opp
remembered a ladder he had seen at the back of the barnyard. Shaking as
if with the ague, but breathing dauntless courage, he departed in great
excitement to procure it.

Unfortunately another party was in possession. A dozen guinea-fowls were
roosting on the rungs, and when he gave them to understand they were to
vacate they raised an outcry that would have quelled the ardor of a less
valiant knight.

But the romantic nature of the adventure had fired Mr. Opp's
imagination. He already saw himself lightly dusting his hands after
throttling the intruder, and smiling away Mrs. Gusty's solicitude for
his safety. Meanwhile he staggered back to the house with his burden,
dodging fearfully at every shadow, and painfully aware that his heart
was beating a tattoo on his ear-drums.

Placing the ladder as quietly as possible under Hinton's window, he
cautiously began the ascent. The sudden outburst of the guineas had set
his nerves a-quiver, and what with his breathless condition, and a
predisposition to giddiness, he found some difficulty in reaching the
sill. When at last he succeeded, he saw, by the light of the now
refulgent moon, the figure of Hinton lying across the foot of the bed,
dressed, but asleep. The opening not being sufficiently large to admit
him, he thrust in his head and whispered hoarsely through his chattering
teeth:

"Hinton! I say, Hinton, there's a burglar in the house!"

Hinton started up, and stared dully at the excited apparition.

"Hush!" whispered Mr. Opp, dramatically, lifting a warning hand. "I've
been tracking the scoundrel for half an hour. He's in the house now.
We'll surround him. We'll bind him hand and foot. You get the front door
open, and I'll meet you on the outside. It's all planned; just do as I
say."

Hinton, who was springing for the door, paused with his hand on the
knob. "What's that?"

It was Mrs. Gusty's commanding tones from a front window: "He's round at
the side of the house. He's been after my guineas! I saw him a minute
ago going across the yard with a ladder. Shoot him if you can. Shoot him
in the leg, so he can't get away. Quick! Quick!"

Mr. Opp had only time to turn from the window when he felt the ladder
seized from below and jerked violently forward. With a terrific crash he
came down with it, and found himself locked in a close struggle with the
supposed burglar. To his excited imagination his adversary seemed a
Titan, with sinews of steel and breath of fire. The combatants rolled
upon the ground and fought for possession of each other's throats. The
conflict, while fierce, was brief. As Hinton and Mrs. Gusty rushed
around the corner of the house, the fighters shouted in unison, "I've
got him!" and Mr. Opp, opening one swollen eye, gazed down into the
mild but bloody features of little Mr. Tucker!

With the instinct that always prompted him to apologize when any one
bumped into him, he withdrew his hands immediately from Mr. Tucker's
throat and began vehement explanations. But Mr. Tucker still clung to
his collar, sputtering wrathful ejaculations. Mrs. Gusty, wrapped in a
bed-quilt, and with her unicorn horn at its most ferocious angle, held
the lamp on high while Hinton rushed between the belligerents.

Excited and incoherent explanations followed, and it was not until Mr.
Opp, who was leaning limply against a tree, regained his breath that the
mystery was cleared up.

"If you will just listen here at me a moment," he implored, holding a
handkerchief to his bruised face. "We are one and all laboring under a
grave error. It's my belief that there ain't any burglar whatsoever here
at present. Mr. Hinton forgot his key and had to climb in the window. I
mistaken him for the burglar, and Mrs. Gusty, here, from what she
relates, mistaken me for him, and not knowing Mr. Hinton had come in,
telephoned our friend Mr. Tucker, and me and Mr. Tucker might be said,
in a general way, to have mistaken each other for him."

"A pretty mess to get us all into!" exclaimed Mrs. Gusty. "A man made
his fortune once 'tending to his own business."

"But, Mrs. Gusty--" began Mr. Opp, indignantly.

Hinton interrupted. "You would better put something on that eye of
yours. It will probably resemble a Whistler 'Nocturne' by morning. What
are you looking for?"

The object lost proved to be Mr. Opp's cherished cornet, and the party
became united in a common cause and joined in the search. Some time
elapsed before the horn was found under the fallen ladder, having
sustained internal injuries which subsequently proved fatal.

When dawn crept into the dingy office of "The Opp Eagle," the editor was
watching for it. He was waiting to welcome the day that would bring back
Guinevere. As Hope with blindfold eyes bends over her harp and listens
to the faint music of her one unbroken string, so Mr. Opp, with bandaged
head, bent over his damaged horn and plaintively evoked the only note
that was left therein.



XIV


Those who have pursued the coy goddess of happiness through the mazes of
the labyrinth of life, know well how she invites her victim on from
point to point, only to evade capture at the end. Mr. Opp rose with each
summer dawn, radiant, confident, and expectant, and each night he sat in
his window with his knees hunched, and his brows drawn, and wrestled
with that old white-faced fear.

Two marauders were harassing the editor these days, dogging his
footsteps, and snapping at him from ambush. One was the wolf that howls
at the door, and the other was the monster whose eyes are green.

Since the halcyon days that had wafted Miss Guinevere Gusty back to the
shore of the Cove, Mr. Opp had not passed a serene hour out of her
presence. His disposition, though impervious to the repeated shafts of
unkind fortune, was not proof against the corrosive effect of jealousy.

If he could have regarded Willard Hinton in the light of a hated rival,
and met him in fair and open fight, the situation would have been
simplified. But Hinton was the friend of his bosom, the man who, he had
declared to the town, "possessed the grandest intelligence he had ever
encountered in a human mind." He admired him, he respected him, and, in
direct contradiction to the emotion that was consuming him, he trusted
him.

Concerning Miss Guinevere Gusty's state of mind, Mr. Opp permitted
himself only one opinion. He fiercely denied that she was absent-minded
and listless when alone with him; he refused to believe his own eyes
when he saw a light in her face when she looked at Hinton that was
never there for him. He preferred to exaggerate to himself her
sweetness, her gentleness, her loyalty, demanding nothing, and
continuing to give all.

His entire future happiness, he assured himself, hung upon the one
question of little Miss Kippy. For four months the problem had been a
matter for daily, prayerful consideration, but he was still in the dark.

When he was with Guinevere the solution seemed easy. In explaining away
the difficulties to her, he explained them away to himself, also. It was
only a matter of time, he declared, before the oil-well would yield rich
profit. When that time arrived, he would maintain two establishments,
the old one for Miss Kippy, and a new and elegant one for themselves.
Mr. Opp used the hole in the ground as a telescope through which he
viewed the stars of the future.

But when he was alone with Kippy, struggling with her whims, while he
tried to puzzle out the oldest and most universal of conundrums,--that
of making ends meet,--the future seemed entirely blotted out by the
great blank wall of the present.

The matter was in a way complicated by the change that had come over
Miss Kippy herself. Two ideas alternately depressed and elated her. The
first was a fixed antipathy to the photograph of Miss Guinevere Gusty
which Mr. Opp had incased in a large hand-painted frame and installed
upon his dresser. At first she sat before it and cried, and later she
hid it and refused for days to tell where it was. The sight of it made
her so unhappy that Mr. Opp was obliged to keep it under lock and key.
The other idea produced a different effect. It had to do with Hinton.
Ever since his visit she had talked of little else. She pretended that
he came to see her every day, and she spread her doll dishes, and
repeated scraps of his conversation, and acted over the events of the
dinner at which he had been present. The short gingham dresses no longer
pleased her; she wanted long ones, with flowing sleeves like the blue
merino. She tied her hair up in all manner of fantastic shapes, and
stood before the glass smiling and talking to herself for hours. But
there were times when her mind paused for a moment at the normal, and
then she would ask frightened, bewildered questions, and only Mr. Opp
could soothe and reassure her.

"D.," she said one night suddenly, "how old am I?"

Mr. Opp, whose entire mental and physical powers were concentrated upon
an effort to put a new band on his old hat, was taken off his guard.
"Twenty-six," he answered absently.

A little cry brought him to her side.

"No," she whispered, shivering away from him, yet clinging to his
sleeve, "that's a lady that's grown up! Ladies don't play with dolls.
But I want to be grown up, too. D., why am I different? I want to be a
lady; show me how to be a lady!"

Mr. Opp gathered her into his arms, along with his hat, a pair of
scissors, and a spool of thread.

"Don't, Kippy!" he begged. "Now, don't cry like that! You are getting on
elegant. Hasn't brother D. learned you to read a lot of pieces in your
first reader? And ain't we going to begin on handwriting next? Wouldn't
you like to have a slate, and a sponge to rub out with?"

In an instant her mood veered.

"And a basket?" she cried eagerly. "The children carry a basket, too. I
see them when I peep through the shutters. Can I have a basket, too?"

The network of complexities that was closing in upon Mr. Opp apparently
affected his body more than his spirits. He seemed to shrivel and
dwindle as the pressure increased; but the fire in his eyes shone
brighter than before.

"None of his folks live long over forty," said Mrs. Fallows,
lugubriously; "they sorter burn themselves out."

Hinton, meanwhile, utterly unaware of being the partial cause of the
seismic disturbance in the editorial bosom, pursued the monotonous
routine of his days. It had taken him only a short time to adapt himself
to the changes that the return of the daughter of the house had brought
about. He had anticipated her arrival with the dread a nervous invalid
always feels toward anything that may jolt him out of his habitual rut.
He held a shuddering remembrance of her musical accomplishments, and
foresaw with dread the noisy crowd of young people she might bring about
the house.

But Guinevere had slipped into her place, an absent-minded, dreamy,
detached damsel, asserting nothing, claiming nothing, bending like a
flower in the high winds of her mother's wrath.

Hinton watched the dominating influence nip every bud of individuality
that the girl ventured to put forth, and he determined to interfere.
During the long months he had spent with Mrs. Gusty he had discovered a
way to manage her. The weak spot in her armor was pride of intellect;
she acknowledged no man her superior. By the use of figurative
language, and references to esoteric matters, he was always able to
baffle and silence her. His joy in handling her in one of her tempers
was similar to that of controlling a cat-boat in squally weather. Both
experiences redounded to his masculine supremacy.

One hot August day, he and Mrs. Gusty had just had an unusually sharp
round, but he had succeeded, by alternate compliment and sarcasm, in
reducing her to a very frustrated and baffled condition.

It was Sunday, the day the Cove elected for a spiritual wash-day. In the
morning the morals of the community were scrubbed and rinsed in the
meeting-house, and in the afternoon they were hung out on the line to
dry. The heads of the families sat in their front yards and dutifully
tended the children, while their wives flitted from house to house,
visiting the sick and the afflicted, and administering warnings to the
delinquent. It was a day in which Mrs. Gusty's soul reveled, and she
demanded that Guinevere's soul should revel likewise.

It was with the determination that Guinevere should occasionally be
allowed the privilege of following her own inclinations that Hinton
hurled himself into the breach.

"I'll go, Mother," said Guinevere; "but it's so hot. We went to see
everybody last Sunday. I thought I'd rather stay home and read, if you
didn't mind."

Mrs. Gusty tossed her head in disgust, and turned to Hinton.

"Now, ain't that a Gusty for you! I never saw one that didn't want to
set down to the job of living. Always moping around with their nose in a
book. I never was a reader, never remember wasting a' hour on a book in
my life, and yet I never saw the time that I wasn't able to hold my own
with any Gusty living."

"In short," said Hinton, sympathetically, "to quote a noted novelist,
you have never considered it necessary to add the incident of learning
to the accident of brains."

Mrs. Gusty tied her bonnet-strings in a firmer knot as she looked at him
uncertainly, then, not deigning to cast another glance in the direction
of her daughter, who was disappearing up the stairs, swept out of the
house.

Hinton looked at his watch; it was not yet two o'clock. The afternoon
threatened to be a foretaste of eternity. He went out on the porch and
lay in the hammock, with his hands clasped across his eyes. He could no
longer see to read or to write. The doctor said the darkness might close
in now at any time, after that the experiment of an operation would be
made, and there was one chance in a hundred for the partial restoration
of the sight.

Having beaten and bruised himself against the bars of Fate, he now lay
exhausted and passive in the power of his jailer. He had tried to run
his own life in his own way, and the matter had been taken out of his
hands. He must lie still now and wait for orders from headquarters. The
words of Mr. Opp, spoken in the low-ceiled, weird old dining-room, came
vividly back to him: "What the fight is concerning, or in what manner
the general is a-aiming to bring it all correct in the end, ain't,
according to my conclusion, a particle of our business."

And Hinton, after a year of rebellion and struggle and despair, had at
last acknowledged a superior officer and declared himself ready to take
whatever orders came.

As he lay in the hammock he turned his head at every noise within the
house, and listened. He had become amazingly dependent upon a soft,
drawling voice which day after day read to him for hours at a time. At
first he had met Guinevere's offers of help with moody irritability.

"Pray, don't bother about me," he had said. "I am quite able to look
after myself; besides, I like to be alone."

But her unobtrusive sympathy and childish frankness soon conquered his
pride. She read to him from books she did not understand, played games
with him, and showed him new walks in the woods. And incidentally, she
revealed to him her struggling, starving, wistful soul that no one else
had ever discovered.

She never talked to him of her love affair, but she dwelt vaguely on the
virtues of duty and loyalty and self-sacrifice. The facts in the case
were supplied by Mrs. Gusty.

Hinton looked at his watch again, and groaned when he found it was only
a quarter past two. Feeling his way cautiously along the porch and down
the steps, he moved idly about the yard. He could not distinguish
Menelaus from Paris now, and Helen of Troy was no longer to be
recognized.

At long intervals a vehicle rattled past, leaving a cloud of dust
behind. The air shimmered with the heat, and the low, insistent buzzing
of bees beat on his ears mercilessly. He wondered impatiently why
Guinevere did not come down, then checked himself as he remembered the
constant demands he made upon her time.

At three o'clock he could stand it no longer. He felt a queer, dull
sensation about his head, and he constantly drew his hand across his
eyes to dispel the impression of a mist before them.

"Oh, Miss Guinevere!" he called up to her window. "Would you mind coming
down just for a little while!"

Guinevere's head appeared so promptly that it was evident it had been
lying on the window-sill.

"Is it time for your medicine?" she asked guiltily. "Mother said it
didn't come till four."

"Oh, no," said Hinton, with forced cheerfulness; "it isn't that. You
remember the old song, don't you, 'When a man's afraid, a beautiful maid
is a cheering sight to see'?"

She disappeared from the window, and in a moment joined him behind the
screen of honeysuckles on the porch. The hammock hung, inviting ease,
but neither of them took it. She sat primly on the straight-backed,
green settee, and he sat on the step at her feet with his hat pulled
over his eyes.

"What an infernal nuisance I have been to you!" he said ruefully; "but
no more than I have been to myself. The only difference was that I had
to stand it, and you stood it out of the goodness of that kind little
heart of yours. Well, it's nearly over now; I'm expecting to go to the
city any day. I guess you'll not be sorry to get rid of me, will you,
Miss Guinevere?"

Instead of answering, she drew a quick breath and turned her head away.
When she did speak, it was after a long pause.

"I like the way you say my name. Nobody says it like that down here."

"Guinevere?" he repeated.

She nodded. "When you say it like that, I feel like I was another
person. It makes me think of flowers, and poetry, and the wind in the
trees, and all those things I've been reading you out of your books.
Guin-never and Guinevere _don't_ seem the same at all, do they?"

"They aren't the same," he said, "and you aren't the same girl I met on
the boat last March. I guess we've both grown a bit since then. You know
I was rather keen on dying about that time,--'in love with easeful
death,'--well, now I am not keen about anything, but I am willing to
play the game out."

They sat in silence for a while, then he said slowly, without raising
his eyes: "I am not much good at telling what I feel, but before I go
away I want you to know how much you've helped me. You have been the one
light that was left to show me the way down into the darkness."

A soft touch on his shoulder made him lift his head. Guinevere was
bending toward him, all restraint banished from her face by the
compassion and love that suffused it.

[Illustration: "'Oh, my God, it has come'"]

Instinctively he swayed toward her, all the need of her crying out
suddenly within him, then he pulled himself sharply together, and,
resolutely thrusting his hands in his pockets, rose and took a turn up
and down the porch.

"Do you mind reading to me a little?" he asked at length. "There are
forty devils in my head to-day, all hammering on the back of my
eyeballs. I'll get my Tennyson; you like him better than you do the
others. Wait; I'm going."

But she was up the steps before him, eager to serve, and determined to
spare him every effort.

Through the long afternoon Guinevere read, stumbling over the strange
words and faltering through the difficult passages, but vibrant to the
beauty and the pathos of it all. On and on she read, and the sun went
down, and the fragrance of dying locust bloom came faintly from the
hill, and overhead in the tree-tops the evening breeze murmured its
world-old plaint of loneliness and longing.

Suddenly Guinevere's voice faltered, then steadied, then faltered again,
then without warning she flung her arms across the back of the bench,
and, dropping her head upon them, burst into passionate sobs.

Hinton, who had been sitting for a long time with his hands pressed over
his eyes, sprang up to go to her.

"Guinevere," he said, "what's the matter? Don't cry, dear!" Then, as he
stumbled, a look of terror crossed his face and he caught at the railing
for support. "Where are you?" he asked sharply. "Speak to me! Give me
your hand! I can't see--I can't--oh, my God, it has come!"



XV


The warning note sounded by Mrs. Fallows at the beginning of the oil
boom was echoed by many before the summer was over. The coldest thing in
the world is an exhausted enthusiasm, and when weeks slipped into
months, and notes fell due, and the bank became cautious about lending
money, a spirit of distrust got abroad, and a financial frost settled
upon the community.

Notwithstanding these conditions, "The Opp Eagle" persistently screamed
prosperity. It attributed the local depression to the financial
disturbance that had agitated the country at large, and assured the
readers that the Cove was on the eve of the greatest period in its
history.

"The ascending, soaring bubble of inflated prices cannot last much
longer," one editorial said; "the financial flurry in the Wall Streets
of the North were pretty well over before we become aware of it, in a
major sense. 'The Opp Eagle' has in the past, present, and future waged
noble warfare against the calamity jays. Panic or no panic, Cove City
refuses to remain in the backgrounds. There has been a large order for
job-work in this office within the past ten days, also several new and
important subscribers, all of which does not make much of a showing for
hard times, at least not from our point of looking at it."

But in the same issue, in an inconspicuous corner, were a couple of
lines to the effect that "the editor would be glad to take a load of
wood on subscription."

The truth was that it required all of Mr. Opp's diplomacy to rise to the
occasion. The effort to meet his own obligations was becoming daily
more embarrassing, and he was reduced to economies entirely beneath the
dignity of the editor of "The Opp Eagle." But while he cheerfully
restricted his diet to two meals a day, and wore shirt-fronts in lieu of
the genuine article, he was, according to Nick's ideas, rashly
extravagant in other ways.

"What did you go and buy Widow Green's oil-shares back for?" Nick
demanded upon one of these occasions.

"Well, you see," explained Mr. Opp, "it was purely a business
proposition. Any day, now, things may open up in a way that will
surprise you. I have good reason to believe that those shares are bound
to go up; and besides," he added lamely in an undertone, "I happen to
know that that there lady was in immediate need of a little ready
money."

"So are we," protested Nick; "we need every cent we can get for the
paper. If we don't get ahead some by the first of the year, we are going
under, sure as you live."

Mr. Opp laid a hand upon his shoulder and smiled tolerantly.
"Financiers get used to these fluctuations in money circles. Don't you
worry, Nick; you leave that to the larger brains in the concern."

But in spite of his superior attitude of confidence, Nick's words
rankled in his mind, and the first of the year became a time which he
preferred not to consider.

One day in September the mail-packet brought two letters of great
importance to Mr. Opp. One was from Willard Hinton, the first since his
operation, and the other was from Mr. Mathews, stating that he would
arrive at the Cove that day to lay an important matter of business
before the stock-holders of the Turtle Creek Land Company.

Mr. Opp rushed across the road, a letter in each hand, to share the news
with Guinevere.

"It's as good as settled," he cried, bursting in upon her, where she sat
at the side door wrestling with a bit of needlework. "Mr. Mathews will
be here to-day. He is either going to open up work or sell out to a
syndicate. I'm going to use all my influence for the latter; it's the
surest and safest plan. Miss Guin-never,"--his voice softened,--"this is
all I been waiting for to make my last and final arrangement with your
mother. It was just yesterday she was asking me what I'd decided to do,
and I don't mind telling you, now it's all over, I never went to bed all
last night--just sat up trying to figure it out. But this will settle
it. I'll be in a position to have a little home of my own and take care
of Kippy, too. I don't know as I ever was so happy in all my life put
together before." He laughed nervously, but his eyes anxiously studied
her averted face.

"Then there's more news," he plunged on, when she did not speak--"a
letter from Mr. Hinton. I thought maybe you'd like to hear what he had
to say."

Guinevere's scissors dropped with a sharp ring on the stepping-stone
below, and as they both stooped to get them, their fingers touched. Mr.
Opp ardently seized her hand in both of his, but unfortunately he
seized her needle as well.

"Oh, I am so sorry!" she said. "Wait, let me do it," and with a
compassion which he considered nothing short of divine she extricated
the needle, and comforted the wounded member. Mr. Opp would have gladly
suffered the fate of a St. Sebastian to have elicited such sympathy.

"Is--is Mr. Hinton better?" she asked, still bending over his hand.

"Hinton?" asked Mr. Opp. "Oh, I forgot; yes. I'll read you what he says.
He got his nurse to write this for him.

    Dear Opp: The die is cast; I am a has-been. I did not expect
    anything, so I am not disappointed. The operation was what they
    called successful. The surgeon, I am told, did a very brilliant
    stunt; something like taking my eyes out, playing marbles with them,
    and getting them sewed back again all in three minutes and a half.
    The result to the patient is of course purely a minor consideration,
    but it may interest you to know that I can tell a biped from a
    quadruped, and may in time, by the aid of powerful glasses, be able
    to distinguish faces.

    With these useful and varied accomplishments I have decided to
    return to the Cove. My modest ambition now is to get out of the way,
    and the safest plan is to keep out of the current.

    You will probably be a Benedick by the time I return. My heartiest
    congratulations to you and Miss Guinevere. Words cannot thank either
    of you for what you have done for me. All I can say is that I have
    tried to be worthy of your friendship.

    What's left of me is

        Yours,

            Willard Hinton."

Mr. Opp avoided looking at her as he folded the sheets and put them back
in the envelop. The goal was bright before his eyes, but quicksands
dragged at his feet.

"And he _will_ find us married, won't he, Miss Guin-never? You'll be
ready just as soon as I and your mother come to a understanding, won't
you? Why, it seems more like eleven years than eleven months since you
and me saw that sunset on the river! There hasn't been a day since, you
might say, that hasn't been occupied with you. All I ask for in the
world is just the chance for the rest of my life of trying to make you
happy. You believe that, don't you, Miss Guin-never?"

"Yes," she said miserably, gazing out at the little arbor Hinton had
made for her beneath the trees.

"Well, I'll stop by this evening after the meeting, if it ain't too
late," said Mr. Opp. "You'll--you'll be--glad if everything culminates
satisfactory, won't you?"

"I'm glad of everything good that comes to you," said Guinevere so
earnestly that Mr. Opp, who had lived on a diet of crumbs all his life,
looked at her gratefully, and went back to the office assuring himself
that all would be well.

The visit of Mr. Mathews, while eagerly anticipated, could not have
fallen on a less auspicious day. Aunt Tish, the arbiter of the Opp
household, had been planning for weeks to make a visit to Coreyville,
and the occasion of an opportune funeral furnished an immediate excuse.

"No, _sir_, Mr. D., I can't put hit off till to-morrow," she declared in
answer to Mr. Opp's request that she stay with Miss Kippy until after
the stock-holders' meeting. "I's 'bleeged to go on dat night boat. De
funeral teks place at ten o'clock in de mawnin', an' I's gwine be dar ef
I has to swim de ribber."

"Was he a particular friend, the one that died?" asked Mr. Opp.

"Friend? Bunk Bivens? Dat onery, good-fer-nothin' ole half-strainer?
Naw, sir; he ain't no friend ob mine."

"Well, what makes you so pressing and particular about attending his
funeral?" asked Mr. Opp.

"'Ca'se I 'spise him so. I been hating dat nigger fer pretty nigh forty
year, an' I ain't gwine lose dis chanst ob seein' him buried."

"But, Aunt Tish," persisted Mr. Opp, impatiently, "I've got a very
important and critical meeting this afternoon. The business under
consideration may be wound up in the matter of a few minutes, and then,
again, it may prolong itself into several consecutive hours. You'll have
to stay with Kippy till I get home."

The old woman looked at him strangely. "See dis heah hole in my haid,
honey? 'Member how you and Ben uster ast Aunt Tish what mek hit? Dat
nigger Bunk Bivens mek hit. He was a roustabout on de ribber, an' him
an' yer paw fell out, an' one night when you was a baby he follow yer
paw up here, an' me an' him had hit out."

"But where was my father?" asked Mr. Opp.

"Dey was 'sputin' right heah in dis heah kitchen where we's standin' at,
an' dat mean, bow-laigged nigger didn't have no better manners den to
'spute wif a gentleman dat was full. An' pore Miss she run in so skeered
an' white an' she say, 'Aunt Tish, don't let him hurt him; he don't know
what he's sayin',' she baig, an' I tell her to keep yer paw outen de
way an' I tek keer ob Bunk."

"And did he fight you?" asked Mr. Opp, indignantly.

"Naw, sir; I fit him. We put nigh tore up de floor ob de kitchen. Den he
bust my haid open wif de poker, an' looks lak I been losing my knowledge
ever sence. From dat day I 'low I's gwine to git even if it took me till
I died, an' now dat spiteful old devil done died fust. But I's gwine see
him buried. I want to see 'em nail him up in a box and th'ow dirt on
him."

Aunt Tish ended the recital in a sing-song chant, worked up to a state
of hysteria by the recital of her ancient wrong.

Mr. Opp sighed both for the past and the present. He saw the futility of
arguing the case.

"Well, you'll stay until the boat whistles?" he asked. "Sometimes it is
two hours late."

"Yas, sir; but when dat whistle toots I's gwine. Ef you is heah, all
right; ef you ain't, all right: I's _gwine_!"

As Mr. Opp passed through the hall he saw Miss Kippy slip ahead of him
and conceal herself behind the door. She carried something hidden in her
apron.

"Have you learned your reading lesson to say to brother D. to-night?" he
asked, ignoring her behavior. "You are getting so smart, learning to
read handwriting just as good as I can!"

But Miss Kippy only peeped at him through the crack in the door and
refused to be friendly. For several days she had been furtive and
depressed, and had not spoken to either Aunt Tish or himself.

On the way to his office Mr. Opp was surprised to see Mr. Gallop leaning
out of the window of his little room beckoning frantically. It was
evident that Mr. Gallop had a secret to divulge, and Mr. Gallop with a
secret was as excited as a small bird with a large worm.

"Just come in a minute and sit down," he fluttered; "you'll have to
excuse the looks of things. Having just this one room for telegraph
office and bedroom and everything crowds me up awful. I've been trying
to fix my lunch for half an hour, but the telephone just keeps me busy.
Then, besides, Mr. Mathews was here; he came down on the launch at
twelve o'clock. Now, of course I know it ain't right to repeat anything
I hear over the long-distance wire, but being such a good friend of
yours, and you being such a friend of mine--why, Mr. Opp there ain't
anybody in the world I owe more to than I do to you, not only the money
you've lent me from time to time, but your standing up for me when
everybody was down on me--and--"

"Yes; but you was remarking about Mr. Mathews?" Mr. Opp interrupted.

"Yes; and I was saying I never make a practice of repeating what I hear,
but he was talking right here in the room, and I was mixing up a little
salad dressing I promised Mrs. Fallows for the social,--it's to be over
at Your Hotel this evening--there's the telephone!"

Mr. Opp sat on the edge of the sofa, the rest of it being occupied with
gaily embroidered sofa pillows, specimens, the town declared, of Mr.
Gallop's own handiwork. In fact, the only unoccupied space in the room
was on the ceiling, for between his duties as operator and housekeeper
Mr. Gallop still found time to cultivate the arts, and the result of his
efforts was manifest in every nook and corner.

"It was Mrs. Gusty getting after Mr. Toddlinger for sending vanilla
extract instead of lemon," explained Mr. Gallop, who had stopped to hear
the discussion.

"Well, as I was saying, Mr. Mathews called up somebody in the city
almost as soon as he got here--Now you've got to promise me you won't
tell a living soul about this."

Mr. Opp promised.

"He said to telegraph New York party that terms were agreed on, and to
mail check at once to Clark, and tell him to keep his mouth shut. Then
the other end said something, and Mr. Mathews said: 'We can't afford to
wait. You telegraph at once; I'll manipulate the crowd down here.' They
talked a lot more, then he said awful low, but I heard him: 'Well, damn
it! they've got to. There's too much at stake.'"

The editor sat with his hat in his hand, and blinked at the operator:
"Manipulate," he said in a puzzled tone, "did he use that particular
word?"

Mr. Gallop nodded.

"He may have been referring to something else," said Mr. Opp, waiving
aside any disagreeable suspicion. "Mr. Mathews is a business gentleman.
He's involved in a great many ventures, something like myself. You
wouldn't think from what you heard that--er--that he was contemplating
not acting exactly--fair with us, would you?"

Mr. Gallop, having delivered himself of his information, did not feel
called upon to express a personal opinion.

"If you ever say I told you a word of this, I'll swear I didn't," he
said. "It was just because you were such a good friend, and--there's
that 'phone again!"

During the early hours of the afternoon, Mr. Opp was oppressed with a
vague uneasiness. He made several attempts to see Mr. Mathews, but that
gentleman was closeted with his stenographer until five o'clock, the
hour named for the meeting.

All feeling of distrust was banished, however, when Mr. Mathews made his
way through the crowd of stock-holders that filled the office of Your
Hotel, and took his stand by the desk. He was so bland and confident, so
satisfied with himself and the world and the situation, that, as Jimmy
Fallows remarked, "You kinder looked for him to purr when he wasn't
talking."

He set forth at great length the undoubted oil wealth of the region, he
complimented them on their sagacity and foresight in buying up the
Turtle Creek ground, he praised the Cove in general and that
distinguished citizen, the editor of "The Opp Eagle," in particular.
The enterprise upon which they had embarked, he said, had grown to such
proportions that large capital was required to carry it on. Owing to the
recent depression in the money market, the Kentucky company did not feel
able properly to back the concern, so it had been agreed that if a good
offer was made to buy it, it should be accepted. It was with such an
offer, Mr. Mathews said, that he had come to them to-day.

A stir of excitement met this announcement, and Miss Jim Fenton waved
her lace scarf in her enthusiasm.

"Some time ago," went on Mr. Mathews, graciously acknowledging the
applause, "the Union Syndicate of New York sent an expert, Mr. Clark,
down here to report on the oil conditions in this region." Mr. Opp's
eyes became fixed on Mr. Mathews's face, and his lips parted. "The
report was so entirely satisfactory," continued Mr. Mathews, "that the
following offer has been made."

Mr. Opp rose immediately. "Excuse me, sir, there is--er--rather, there
must be some little mistake just at this juncture."

All eyes were turned upon him, and a murmur of dissent arose at an
interruption at such a critical point.

Mr. Mathews gave him permission to proceed.

"You see--I--Mr. Clark, that is,"--Mr. Opp's fingers were working
nervously on the back of the chair before him,--"him and myself went
over the ground together, and--I--well, I must say I don't consider him
a competent judge."

Mr. Mathews smiled. "I am afraid, Mr. Opp, that your opinion is
overruled. Mr. Clark is a recognized authority, although," he added
significantly, "of course the most expert make mistakes at times."

"That ain't the point," persisted Mr. Opp; "it's the conflicting
difference in what he said to me, and what he's reported to them. He
told me that he didn't consider our prospects was worth a picayune, and
if the wells were drilled, they probably wouldn't run a year. I didn't
believe him then; but you say now that he is a expert and that he
knows."

Mr. Mathews's tolerance seemed limitless. He waited patiently for Mr.
Opp to finish, then he said smoothly:

"Yes, yes; I understand your point perfectly, Mr. Opp. Mr. Clark's
remarks were injudicious, but he was looking at all sides of the
question. He saw me after he saw you, you know, and I was able to direct
his attention to the more favorable aspects of the case. His report was
entirely favorable, and I guess that is all that concerns us, isn't it?"
He embraced the room with his smile.

During the next quarter of an hour Mr. Opp sat with his arms folded and
his eyes bent on the floor and bit his lips furiously. Something was
wrong. Again and again he fought his way back to this conclusion through
the enveloping mazes of Mr. Mathews's plausibility. Why had they waited
so long after drilling that first well? Why, after making elaborate
plans and buying machinery, had they suddenly decided to sell? Why had
Mr. Clark given such contradictory opinions? What did Mr. Mathews mean
by that message from Mr. Gallop's office? Mr. Opp's private affairs,
trembling in the balance, were entirely lost sight of in his
determination for fair play.

Covering his eyes with his hand, and trying not to hear the flood of
argument which Mr. Mathews was bringing to bear upon his already
convinced audience, Mr. Opp attempted to recall all that Mr. Gallop had
told him.

"He said 'manipulate,'" repeated Mr. Opp to himself. "I remember that,
and he said 'telegraph New York party that terms were agreed on.' Then
he said 'mail check to Clark; tell him to keep his mouth shut.' What's
_he_ paying Clark for? Why--"

"The motion before the house," Mr. Tucker's piping voice broke in upon
his agitated reasoning, "is whether the stock-holders of the Turtle
Creek Land Company is willing to sell out at a rate of seven to one to
the Union Syndicate."

In the buzz of delight that ensued, Mr. Opp found himself standing on a
chair and demanding attention.

"Listen here," he cried, pounding on the wall with his hand, "I've got
important information that's got to be told: that man Clark is a rascal.
He's--he's deceiving his company. He's been paid to make a good report
of our ground. I can't prove it, but I know it. We're taking part in a
fraud; we're--we're being manipulated."

Mr. Opp almost shrieked the last word in his agony of earnestness; but
before the crowd could fully apprehend his meaning, Mr. Mathews rose and
said somewhat sharply:

"What the representative of the Union Syndicate is, or is not, doesn't
concern us in the least. I come to you with a gilt-edged proposition;
all I ask you is to sit tight, and take my advice, and I guarantee you
an immediate return of seven dollars to every one you put into this
concern. Mr. Chairman, will you put it to the vote?"

But Mr. Opp again stopped proceedings. "As a director in this company I
won't stand for what's going on. I'll telegraph the syndicate. I'll
advertise the whole matter!"

Mat Lucas pulled at his sleeve, and the preacher put a restraining arm
about his shoulder. The amazing rumor had become current that the Cove's
stanchest advocate for temperance had been indulging in drink, and there
was nothing in the editor's flushed face and excited manner to
contradict the impression.

"If by any chance," Mr. Mathews went on in a steady voice, "there should
be a stock-holder who is unwilling to take advantage of this magnificent
offer, we need hardly say that we are prepared to buy his stock back at
the amount he gave for it." He smiled, as if inviting ridicule at the
absurdity of the proposition.

"I am unwilling," cried Mr. Opp, tugging at the restraining hands. "I
have never yet in all the length and breadth of my experience been
associated with a dishonest act."

"Don't! Mr. Opp, don't!" whispered Mat Lucas. "You're acting like a
crazy man. Don't you see you are losing the chance to make three
thousand dollars?"

"That hasn't nothing to do with it," cried Mr. Opp, almost beside
himself. "I'll not be a party to the sale. I'll--"

Mr. Mathews turned to his secretary. "Just fix up those papers for Mr.
Opp, and give him a check for what is coming to him. Now, Mr. Chairman,
will you put the matter to the vote?"

Amid the hilarious confusion that succeeded the unanimous vote, and the
subsequent adjournment of the meeting, Mr. Opp pushed his way through
the crowd that surrounded Mr. Mathews.

"You know what I was alluding at," he shouted through his chattering
teeth. "You've carried this through, but I'll blockade you. I am going
to tell the truth to the whole community. I am going to telegraph to
the syndicate and stop the sale."

Mr. Mathews lifted his brows and smiled deprecatingly.

"I am sorry you have worked yourself up to such a pitch, my friend," he
said. "Telegraph, by all means if it will ease your mind; but the fact
is, the deal was closed at noon to-day."

The long, low whistle of the packet sounded, but Mr. Opp heeded it not.
He was flinging his way across to the telegraph office in a frenzy of
Quixotic impatience to right the wrong of which he had refused to be a
part.



XVI


Half an hour later, Mr. Opp dragged himself up the hill to his home. All
the unfairness and injustice of the universe seemed pressing upon his
heart. Every muscle in his body quivered in remembrance of what he had
been through, and an iron band seemed tightening about his throat. His
town had refused to believe his story! It had laughed in his face!

With a sudden mad desire for sympathy and for love, he began calling
Kippy. He stumbled across the porch, and, opening the door with his
latch-key, stood peering into the gloom of the room.

The draft from an open window blew a curtain toward him, a white
spectral, beckoning thing, but no sound broke the stillness.

"Kippy!" he called again, his voice sharp with anxiety.

From one room to another he ran, searching in nooks and corners, peering
under the beds and behind the doors, calling in a voice that was
sometimes a command, but oftener a plea: "Kippy! Kippy!"

At last he came back to the dining-room and lighted the lamp with
shaking hands. On the hearth were the remains of a small bonfire, with
papers scattered about. He dropped on his knees and seized a bit of
charred cardboard. It was a corner of the hand-painted frame that had
incased the picture of Guinevere Gusty! Near it lay loose sheets of
paper, parts of that treasured package of letters she had written him
from Coreyville.

As Mr. Opp gazed helplessly about the room, his eyes fell upon something
white pinned to the red table-cloth. He held it to the light. It was a
portion of one of Guinevere's letters, written in the girl's clear,
round hand:

    Mother says I can never marry you until Miss Kippy goes to the
    asylum.

Mr. Opp got to his feet. "She's read the letter," he cried wildly;
"she's learned out about herself! Maybe she's in the woods now, or down
on the bank!" He rushed to the porch. "Kippy!" he shouted. "Don't be
afraid! Brother D.'s coming to get you! Don't run away, Kippy! Wait for
me! Wait!" and leaving the old house open to the night, he plunged into
the darkness, beating through the woods and up and down the road,
calling in vain for Kippy, who lay cowering in the bottom of a leaking
skiff that was drifting down the river at the mercy of the current.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days later, Mr. Opp sat in the office of the Coreyville Asylum for
the Insane and heard the story of his sister's wanderings. Her boat had
evidently been washed ashore at a point fifteen miles above the town,
for people living along the river had reported a strange little woman,
without hat or coat, who came to their doors crying and saying her name
was "Oxety," and that she was crazy, and begging them to show her the
way to the asylum. On the second day she had been found unconscious on
the steps of the institution, and since then, the doctor said, she had
been wild and unmanageable.

"Considering all things," he concluded, "it is much wiser for you not to
see her. She came of her own accord, evidently felt the attack coming
on, and wanted to be taken care of."

He was a large, smooth-faced man, with the conciliatory manner of one
who regards all his fellow-men as patients in varying degrees of
insanity.

"But I'm in the regular habit of taking care of her," protested Mr. Opp.
"This is just a temporary excitement for the time being that won't ever,
probably, occur again. Why, she's been improving all winter; I've
learnt her to read and write a little, and to pick out a number of
cities on the geographical atlas."

"All wrong," exclaimed the doctor; "mistaken kindness. She can never be
any better, but she may be a great deal worse. Her mind should never be
stimulated or excited in any way. Here, of course, we understand all
these things and treat the patient accordingly."

"Then I must just go back to treating her like a child again?" asked Mr.
Opp, "not endeavoring to improve her intellect, or help her grow up in
any way?"

The doctor laid a kindly hand on his shoulder.

"You leave her to us," he said. "The State provides this excellent
institution for just such cases as hers. You do yourself and your
family, if you have one, an injustice by keeping her at home. Let her
stay here for six months or so, and you will see what a relief it will
be."

Mr. Opp sat with his elbow on the desk and his head propped in his
hand, and stared miserably at the floor. He had not had his clothes off
for two nights, and he had scarcely taken time from his search to eat
anything. His face looked old and wizened and haunted from the strain.
Yet here and now he was called upon to make his great decision. On the
one hand lay the old, helpless life with Kippy, and on the other a
future of dazzling possibility with Guinevere. All of his submerged self
suddenly rose and demanded happiness. He was ready to snatch it, at any
cost, regardless of everything and everybody--of Kippy; of Guinevere,
who, he knew, did not love him, but would keep her promise; of Hinton,
whose secret he had long ago guessed. And, as a running accompaniment to
his thoughts, was the quiet, professional voice of the doctor urging him
to the course that his heart prompted. For a moment the personal forces
involved trembled in equilibrium.

After a long time he unknotted his fingers, and drew his handkerchief
across his brow.

"I guess I'll go up and see her now," he said, with the gasping breath
of a man who has been under water.

In vain the doctor protested. Mr. Opp was determined.

As the door to the long ward was being unlocked, he leaned for a moment
dizzily against the wall.

"You'd better let me give you a swallow of whisky," suggested the
doctor, who had noted his exhaustion.

Mr. Opp raised his hand deprecatingly, with a touch of his old
professional pride. "I don't know as I've had occasion to mention," he
said, "that I am the editor and sole proprietor of 'The Opp Eagle'; and
that bird," he added, with a forced smile, "is, as everybody knows, a
complete teetotaler."

At the end of the crowded ward, with her face to the wall, was a slight,
familiar figure. Mr. Opp started forward; then he turned fiercely upon
the attendant.

"Her hands are tied! Who dared to tie her up like that?"

"It's just a soft handkerchief," replied the matronly woman,
reassuringly. "We were afraid she would pull her hair out. She wants its
fixed a certain way; but she's afraid for any of us to touch her. She
has been crying about it ever since she came."

In an instant Mr. Opp was on his knees beside her. "Kippy, Kippy
darling, here's brother D.; he'll fix it for you! You want it parted on
the side, don't you, tied with a bow, and all the rest hanging down?
Don't cry so, Kippy. I'm here now; brother D.'ll take care of you."

She flung her loosened arms around him and clung to him in a passion of
relief. Her sobs shook them both, and his face and neck were wet with
her tears.

As soon as they could get her sufficiently quiet, they took her into her
little bedroom.

"You let the lady get you ready," urged Mr. Opp, still holding her hand,
"and I'll take you back home, and Aunt Tish will have a nice, hot supper
all waiting for us."

But she would let nobody else touch her, and even then she broke forth
into piteous sobs and protests. Once she pushed him from her and looked
about wildly. "No, no," she cried, "I mustn't go; I am crazy!" But he
told her about the three little kittens that had been born under the
kitchen steps, and in an instant she was all a-tremble with eagerness to
go home to see them.

An hour later, Mr. Opp and his charge sat on the river-bank and waited
for the little launch that was to take them back to the Cove. A curious
crowd had gathered at a short distance, for their story had gone the
rounds.

Mr. Opp sat under the fire of curious glances, gazing straight in front
of him, and only his flushed face showed what he was suffering. Miss
Kippy, in her strange clothes and with her pale hair flying about her
shoulders, sat close by him, her hand in his.

"D.," she said once in a high, insistent voice, "when will I be grown up
enough to marry Mr. Hinton?"

Mr. Opp for a moment forgot the crowd. "Kippy," he said with all the
gentle earnestness that was in him, "you ain't never going to grow up at
all. You are just always going to be brother D.'s little girl. You see,
Mr. Hinton's too old for you, just like--" he paused, then finished it
bravely--"just like I am too old for Miss Guin-never. I wouldn't be
surprised if they got married with each other some day. You and me will
just have to take care of each other."

She looked at him with the quick suspicion of the insane, but he was
ready for her with a smile.

"Oh, D.," she cried, in a sudden rapture, "we are glad, ain't we?"



XVII


For the next four weeks there was no issue of "The Opp Eagle." When it
did make its appearance, it contained the following editorial:

    Ye editor has for several weeks been the victim of the La Grip which
    eventuated into a rising in our left ear. Although we are still in
    severe and continuous pain, we know that behind the clouds of
    suffering the blue sky of health is still shining, and that a
    brighter day is coming, as it were.

The night of Mr. Opp's return from Coreyville, he had written a long
letter to Guinevere Gusty telling her of his final decision in regard to
Kippy, and releasing her from her promise. This having been
accomplished, he ceased to fight against the cold and exhaustion, and
went to bed with a hard chill.

Aunt Tish, all contrition for the disasters she thought she had brought
upon the household, served him night and day, and even Miss Kippy, moved
by the unusual sight of her brother in bed, made futile efforts to
assist in the nursing.

When at last he was able to crawl back to the office, he found startling
changes had taken place in the Cove. The prompt payment of the oil
stock-holders by the Union Syndicate had brought about such a condition
of prosperity and general satisfaction as had never before been known.
The civic spirit planted and carefully nourished by "The Opp Eagle"
burst into bloom under this sudden and unexpected warmth. Committees,
formed the year before, were called upon for reports, and gratifying
results were obtained. The Cove awoke to the fact that it had
lamp-posts, and side-walks and a post-office, with a possibility,
looming large, of a court house.

Nor did this ambition for improvement stop short with the town: it
extended to individuals. Jimmy Fallows was going to build a new hotel;
Mr. Tucker was going to convert his hotel into a handsome private
residence, for which Mrs. Gusty had been asked to select the wall-paper;
Mat Lucas was already planning to build a large store on Main Street,
and had engaged Mr. Gallop to take charge of the dry-goods department.
The one person upon whom prosperity had apparently had a blighting
effect was Miss Jim Fenton. Soon after the receipt of her check, she had
appeared in the Cove in a plain, black tailor suit, and a small, severe
felt hat innocent of adornment. The French-heeled slippers had been
replaced by heavy walking shoes, and the lace scarf was discarded for a
stiff linen collar.

But the state of Miss Jim's mind was not to be judged by the somberness
of her raiment. The novelty of selecting her own clothes, of consulting
her own taste, of being rid of the entangling dangers of lace ruffles
and flying furbelows, to say nothing of unwelcome suitors, gave her a
sense of exhilaration and independence which she had not enjoyed for
years.

In the midst of all these tangible evidences of success, Mr. Opp found
himself indulging in a hand-to-hand struggle with failure. As a hunter
aims at a point well in advance of the flying bird, so he had aimed at
possibilities ahead of the facts, and when events took an unexpected
turn, he was left stranded, his ammunition gone, his judgment
questioned, and his hands empty. He had been conducting his affairs not
on the basis of his present income, but in reference to the large sums
which he confidently believed would accrue from the oil-wells.

The circulation of "The Opp Eagle" was increasing steadily, but the
growing bird must be fed, and the editor, struggling to meet daily
pressing obligations, was in no condition to furnish the steady demand
for copy.

All unnecessary diversions were ruthlessly foregone. He resigned with a
pang the leadership of the Union Orchestra, he gave up his membership
with the Odd Fellows. Even his more important duties, as president of
the Town Improvement League, and director in the bank, were
relinquished. For, in addition to his editorials, he had undertaken to
augment his slender income by selling on subscription the "Encyclopedia
of Wonder, Beauty, and Wisdom."

It was at this low ebb of Mr. Opp's fortunes that Willard Hinton
returned to the Cove. He was still pale from his long confinement, but
there was an unusual touch of animation about him, the half-surprised
interest of one who has struck bottom, and found it not so bad as he had
expected.

One dark afternoon in November he made his way over to the office of
"The Opp Eagle," and stood irresolute in the door.

"That you, Mr. Opp? Or is it Nick?" He blinked uncertainly.

"Why, it is me," said Mr. Opp. "Come right in. I've been so occupied
with engagements that I haven't scarcely had occasion to see anything of
you since you come back. You are getting improved all the time, ain't
you? I thought I saw you writing on a type-writer when I passed this
morning."

"Yes," said Hinton; "it's a little machine I got before I came down,
with raised letters on the keyboard. If I progress at the rapid pace I
have started, I'll be an expert before long. Mrs. Gusty was able to read
five words out of ten this morning!"

"Hope you'll do us an article or two," said Mr. Opp. "I don't mind
telling you that things has been what you might name as pressing ever
since that trouble about the oil-wells. I'm not regretting any step that
I taken, and I am endeavoring not to harbor any feelings against those
that went on after I give my word it wasn't a fair transaction. But if
what that man Clark said is true, Mr. Hinton, the Union Syndicate will
never open up another well in this community."

"Your conscience proved rather an expensive luxury that time, didn't it,
Mr. Opp?" asked Hinton, who had heard as many versions of the affair as
there were citizens in the Cove.

Mr. Opp shrugged his shoulders, and pursed his lips. "It's a matter that
I cannot yet bring myself to talk about. After a whole year and more of
associating with me in business and social ways, to think they wouldn't
be willing to take my word for what I said."

"But it wasn't to their advantage," said Hinton, smiling. "You forget
the amount of money involved."

"No," declared Mr. Opp with some heat, "you do those gentlemen a
injustice. There ain't a individual of them that is capable of a
dishonest act, any more than you or me. They just lacked the experience
in dealing with a man like Mr. Mathews."

Hinton's smile broadened; he reached over and grasped Mr. Opp's hand.

"Do you know you are a rattling good fellow? I am sorry things have
gotten so balled up with you."

"I'll pay out," said the editor. "It'll take some time, but I've got a
remarkable ability for work in me. I don't mind telling you, though I'll
have to ask you not to mention the fact to no one at present, that I am
considering inventing a patent. It's a sort of improved type-setter, one
of the most remarkable things you ever witnessed. I never knew till
about six months ago what a scientific turn my mind could take. I've
worked this whole thing out in my brain without the aid of a model of
any sort."

"In the meanwhile," said Hinton, "I hear you will have to sell your
paper."

Mr. Opp winced, and the lines in his face deepened. "Well, yes," he
said, "I have about decided to sell, provided I keep the editorship, of
course. After my patent gets on the market I will soon be in a position
to buy it back."

"Mr. Opp," said Hinton, "I've got a proposition to make to you. I have
a moderate sum of money in bank which I want to invest in business. How
would you like to sell out the paper to me, lock, stock, and barrel?"

Mr. Opp, whose eyes had been resting on the bills that strewed his
table, looked up eagerly.

"You to own it, and me to run it?" he asked hopefully.

"No," said Hinton; "you would help me to run it, I hope, but I would be
the editor. I have thought the matter over seriously, and I believe,
with competent help, I can make the paper an up-to-date, self-supporting
newspaper, in spite of my handicap."

Mr. Opp sat as if stunned by a blow. He had known for some time that he
must sell the paper in order to meet his obligations, but the thought of
relinquishing his control of it never dawned upon him. It was the pride
of his heart, the one tangible achievement in a wilderness of dreams.
Life without Guinevere had seemed a desert; life without "The Opp
Eagle" seemed chaos. He looked up bewildered.

"We'd continue on doing business here in the regular way?" he asked.

"No," said Hinton; "I would build a larger office uptown, and put in new
presses; we could experiment with your new patent type-setter as soon as
you got it ready."

But Mr. Opp was beyond pleasantries. "You'd keep Nick?" he asked. "I
wouldn't consider anything that would cut Nick out."

"By all means," said Hinton. "I'm counting on you and Nick to initiate
me into the mysteries of the profession. You could be city editor, and
Nick--well, we could make him foreman."

One last hope was left to Mr. Opp, and he clung to it desperately, not
daring to voice it until the end.

"The name," he said faintly, "would of course remain 'The Opp Eagle'?"

Hinton dropped his eyes; he could not stand the wistful appeal in the
drawn face opposite.

"No," he said shortly; "that's a--little too personal. I think I should
call my paper 'The Weekly News.'"

Mr. Opp could never distinctly remember what happened after that. He
knew that he had at first declined the offer, that he had been argued
with, had reconsidered, and finally accepted a larger sum than he had
asked for; but the details of the transaction were like the setting of
bones after an accident.

He remembered that he had sat where Hinton left him, staring at the
floor until Nick came to close the office; then he had a vague
impression of crossing the fields and standing with his head against the
old sycamore-tree where the birds had once whispered of love. After that
he knew that he had met Hinton and Guinevere coming up the river road
hand in hand, that he had gotten home after supper was over, and had
built a bridge of blocks for Miss Kippy.

Then suddenly he had wakened to full consciousness, staggered out of the
house to the woodshed, and shivered down into a miserable heap. There
in the darkness he seemed to see things, for the first time in his life,
quite as they were. His gaze, accustomed to the glittering promise of
the future, peered fearfully into the past, and reviewed the long line
of groundless hopes, of empty projects, of self-deceptions. Shorn of its
petty shams and deceits, and stripped of its counterfeit armor of
conceit, his life lay naked before him, a pitiful, starved, futile
thing.

"I've just been similar to Kippy," he sobbed, with his face in his
hands, "continually pretending what wasn't so. I acted like I was young,
and good-looking, and--and highly educated; and look at me! Look at me!"
he demanded fiercely of the kindling-wood.

Mr. Opp had been fighting a long duel--a duel with Circumstance, and Mr.
Opp was vanquished. The acknowledgment of defeat, even to himself, gave
it the final stamp of verity. He had fought valiantly, with what poor
weapons he had, but the thrusts had been too many and too sure. He lay
clothed in his strange new garment of humility, and wondered why he did
not want to die. He did not realize that in losing everything else, he
had won the greater stake of character for which he had been
unconsciously fighting all along.

The kitchen door opened, and he saw Miss Kippy's figure silhouetted
against the light.

"Brother D.," she called impatiently, "ain't you coming back to play
with me?"

He scrambled to his feet and made a hasty and somewhat guilty effort to
compose himself.

"Yes, I'm a-coming," he answered briskly, as he smoothed his scant locks
and straightened his tie. "You go on ahead and gather up the blocks; I
only stopped playing for a little spell."



XVIII


The marriage of Guinevere Gusty and Willard Hinton took place in
mid-winter, and the account of it, published in the last issue of "The
Opp Eagle," proved that the eagle, like the swan, has its death-song.

Like many of the masterpieces of literature, the article had been
written in anguish of spirit; but art, like nature, ignores the process,
and reckons only the result, and the result, in Mr. Opp's opinion at
least, more than justified the effort.

"In these strenuous, history-making meanderings of the sands of life,"
it ran, "we sometimes overlook or neglect particulars in events which
prove of larger importance than appears on the surface. The case to
which we have allusion to is the wedding which was solemnized at
eventide at the residence of the bride's mother. The Gustys may be
justly considered one of the best-furnished families in the county, and
the parlors were only less beautiful than the only daughter there
presiding. The collation served therein was of such a liberal nature
that every guest, we might venture to say, took dinner enough home for
supper. It has seldom been our fate to meet a gentleman of such
intelligent attainments as Mr. Hinton, and his entire future existence,
be it long or short, cannot fail of being thrice blessed by the
companionship of the one who has confided her trust to him,--her choice,
world-wide. Although a bachelor ourself, we know what happiness must be
theirs, and with all our heart we vouchsafe them a joyful voyage across
the uncertain billows of Time until their nuptial or matrimonial bark
shall have been safely moored in the haven of everlasting bliss, where
the storms of this life spread not their violence."

Some men spend their lives in the valley, and some are born and die on
the heights; but it was Mr. Opp's fate to climb from the valley to his
own little mountain-top of prosperity, only to have to climb down on the
other side. It was evidence of his genius that in time he persuaded
himself and his fellow-citizens that it was exactly what he wanted to
do.

"That there life of managing and promoting was all right in its way," he
said one day to a group of men at the post-office, "but a man owes
something to himself, don't he? Now that the town has got well started,
and Mr. Hinton is going to take main charge of the paper, I'll be freer
than I been for years to put some of my ideas into practice."

"We are counting on getting you back in the orchestra," said Mr. Gallop,
whose admiration for Mr. Opp retained its pristine bloom.

Mr. Opp shook his head regretfully. "No, I'm going to give all my
evenings over to study. This present enterprise I am engaged on
requires a lot of personal application. I sometimes think that I have in
the past scattered my forces too much, in a way."

So persistently did Mr. Opp refer to the mysterious work that was
engrossing him that he reduced Mr. Gallop's curiosity to the
saturation-point.

When he was no longer able to stand it, the telegraph operator
determined upon a tour of investigation. The projected presentation of a
new cornet by the Unique Orchestra to its erstwhile leader proved a
slender excuse for a call, and while he knew that, with the exception of
Willard Hinton, no visitor had ever been known to cross the Opp
threshold, yet he permitted desire to overrule delicacy.

It was a blustery December night when he climbed the hill, and he had to
pause several times during the ascent to gain sufficient breath to
proceed. By the time he reached the house he was quite speechless, and
he dropped on the steps to rest a moment before knocking. As he sat
there trying to imagine the flying-machine or torpedo-boat upon which he
felt certain Mr. Opp was engaged, he became aware of voices from within,
and looking up, he saw the window above him was slightly raised.
Overcome by his desire to see his friend at work upon his great
invention, he cautiously tiptoed across the porch and peeped in.

The low-ceilinged old room was bright with firelight, and in the center
of it, with his knees drawn up, his toes turned in, and his tongue
thrust out, sat Mr. Opp, absorbed in an object which he held between his
knees. Miss Kippy knelt before him, eagerly watching proceedings.

Mr. Gallop craned his neck to see what it was that held their interest,
and at last discovered that they were fitting a dress on a large china
doll.

Miss Kippy's voice broke the silence. "You can sew nice," she was
saying; "you can sew prettier than Aunt Tish."

[Illustration: "'Can't nobody beat me making skirts'"]

"Can't nobody beat me making skirts," said Mr. Opp, and Mr. Gallop saw
him push his needle through a bit of cloth, with the handle of the
shovel; "but sleeves is a more particular proposition. Why, I'd rather
thread three needles than to fix in one sleeve! Why don't you make like
it's summer-time and let her go without any?"

Miss Kippy's lips trembled. "I want sleeves, D.--two of them, and a
lady's hat, with roses on it. We can let _her_ be grown up, can't we,
D.?"

Mr. Gallop beat a hasty and shame-faced retreat. Though his idol had
fallen from its pedestal, he determined to stand guard over the
fragments, and from that night on, he constituted himself Mr. Opp's
loyal defender.

And Mr. Gallop was not the only one who came forth boldly in expressions
of sympathy and respect for the ex-editor. It was especially easy for
those who had prospered by the oil boom to express unbounded admiration
for the conscientious stand he had taken in the late transaction. They
had done him a grave injustice, they acknowledged. The wells had been
reinvestigated and proved of small value. The fact that the truth was
discovered too late to affect their luck deepened their appreciation of
Mr. Opp.

Willard Hinton, seeing what balm these evidences of approval brought to
Mr. Opp's wounded spirit, determined to arrange for a banquet to the
retiring editor, at which he planned to bring forth as many testimonials
of friendship and good-will as was possible.

The affair was to take place New Year's night, in the dining-room of
Fallows's new Your Hotel. The entire masculine contingent of the Cove
was invited, and the feminine element prepared the supper. There had
never been a social event of such an ambitious nature attempted in the
Cove before, and each citizen took a personal pride in its success.

For a week in advance the town was in violent throes of speech-writing,
cake-baking, salad-mixing, and decorating. Even Mrs. Fallows warmed to
the occasion, and crocheted a candlestick, candle, flame, and all, to
grace the table.

When the night arrived, Jimmy Fallows did the honors. He was resplendent
in his dress-suit, which consisted of a black sateen shirt and a brown
suit of clothes.

When the guests were all seated, Willard Hinton rose, and in a few
brief, pointed remarks, called the attention of the town to the changes
that had been wrought by the indefatigable efforts of one citizen in
particular. He spoke of the debt of gratitude they owed, collectively
and individually, to the late editor of "The Opp Eagle," and added that
after Mr. Opp's response, the guests desired, each in turn, to voice his
sentiments upon the subject.

Mr. Opp then rose amid a thunder of applause, and stood for a moment in
pleased but overwhelming embarrassment. Then he put forward one foot
inflated his chest, and began:

"Valued brother fellow-beings, I come before you to-night to express
that which there is no words in the English vocabulary to express.
Whatever you may have to say concerning me, or my part in the awakening
of this our native city, I shall listen at with a grateful heart. I
believe in a great future for Cove City. We may not live to see it, but
I believe that the day will arrive when our city shall be the gateway to
the South, when the river front will be not dissimilar to Main Street,
New York. I predict that it reaches a pivot of prominence of which we
wot not of. As for Mr. Hinton, one and all we welcome him amid our
mongst. 'The Opp Eagle' strikes palms with 'The Weekly News,' and wishes
it a lasting and eternal success."

A burst of applause interrupted the flow of his eloquence, and as he
glanced around the room, he saw there was some commotion at the door. A
turbaned head caught his eye, then Aunt Tish's beckoning hand.

Hastily excusing himself, he made his way through the crowd, and bent to
hear her message.

"Hit's Miss Kippy," she whispered. "I hate to 'sturb you, but she done
crack her doll's head, an' she's takin' on so, I can't do nuffin 't all
wif her."

"Couldn't you contrive to get her quiet no way at all?" asked Mr. Opp,
anxiously.

"Naw, sir. She mek like dat doll her shore 'nough baby, and she 'low she
gwine die, too, furst chanct she gits. I got Val's mother to stay wif
her till I git back."

"All right," said Mr. Opp, hastily. "You go right on and tell her I'm
coming."

When he reëntered the dining-room, he held his hat in his hand.

"I find a urgent matter of business calls me back home; for only a few
moments, I trust," he said apologetically, with bows and smiles. "If the
banquet will kindly proceed, I will endeavor to return in ample time for
the final speeches."

With the air of a monarch taking temporary leave of his subjects, he
turned his back upon the gay, protesting crowd, upon the feast prepared
in his honor, upon the speech-making, so dear to his heart. Tramping
through the snow of the deserted street, through the lonely graveyard,
and along the river road, he went to bind up the head of a china doll,
and to wipe away the tears of a little half-crazed sister.

He wears the same checked suit as when we saw him first, worn and
frayed, to be sure, but carefully pressed for the occasion, the same
brave scarf and pin, and watch fob, though the watch is missing.

Passing out of sight with the sleet in his face, and the wind cutting
through his finery, he whistles as he goes, such a plucky, sturdy,
hopeful whistle as calls to arms the courage that lies slumbering in the
hearts of men.


THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mr. Opp" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home