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Title: The Abandoned Farmer
Author: Preston, Sydney Herman
Language: English
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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.

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THE ABANDONED FARMER

by

SYDNEY H. PRESTON



Charles Scribner's Sons
New York 1901

Copyright, 1901, by
Charles Scribner's Sons

All rights reserved



_CONTENTS_

                                            _Page_
   _I. Before the Plunge_                      _1_

  _II. Peter Waydean is Found Wanting_        _22_

 _III. An Upheaval_                           _45_

  _IV. The Education of Griggs_               _60_

   _V. Paul and the Chickens_                 _89_

  _VI. A Cow and a Calf_                     _104_

 _VII. The Advent of William Wedder_         _125_

_VIII. Marion Rises to the Occasion_         _146_

  _IX. Aunt Sophy's Generosity_              _168_

   _X. Uncle Benny Creates a Diversion_      _183_

  _XI. The Wedding-Day_                      _195_

 _XII. The Exit of William Wedder_           _224_

_XIII. The Fairy Well_                       _236_

 _XIV. A Pastoral Call_                      _254_

  _XV. The Harvest_                          _277_



The Abandoned Farmer



I

BEFORE THE PLUNGE


"You need to turn the little chap loose in the country," was the
doctor's verdict, given in a low tone that didn't--thank
Heaven!--attract Paul's attention, though if the child hadn't been
absorbed for the moment in driving a brood of imaginary chickens into an
imaginary coop under a real parlor table this indiscreet reference would
have caused a scene. The doctor had been cautioned not to do or say
anything that would arouse suspicion in the mind of our offspring as to
the real nature of his visit, so he should have known better, but of
course he couldn't know what a dread Paul had of sometime having to go
somewhere without his parents.

Marion sank weakly into a chair, then sat up very straight and braced
herself for what was coming; I made a frantic pantomimic appeal to the
doctor for temporary silence, then I grabbed Paul by the arm, pointing
out the fiction that the chickens had escaped around the end of the
table into the hall. When he had darted out in pursuit I shut the door,
turning in time to hear Marion say with a piteous break in her voice:
"Doctor, tell us the worst--is it his lungs?"

His tone, to our over-anxious ears, had suggested a fear that he was
about to break the news that our precious boy was doomed to an early
grave, and it was a relief to see him not only smile, but look as if he
would enjoy a hearty laugh. "Don't be alarmed, Mrs. Carton," he said
cheerily. "He's a delicate little fellow, but spry as a cricket and
quite sound. Send him to the country for six months,--and--ha ha!--don't
coddle him so much."

Send our little Paul to the country! Even in her half-allayed anxiety
Marion smiled at the idea. Paul, who had never been away from her tender
care for one hour, who had howled with dismay when he gathered from our
unguarded conversation that when little boys went to school they didn't
take their parents too! Now Paul, up to this time, fortunately for our
peace of mind, had been spared the ordinary illnesses and accidents of
childhood; indeed, so carefully had he been guarded, that at the age of
six he had never tasted unboiled water, unsterilized milk or unhygienic
bread, and although he had learned to walk upstairs by himself, had
never descended alone except when an anxious parent stood breathlessly
at the foot of the stairs ready to break a possible fall. An ordinary
child might have rebelled or evaded our watchfulness, but Paul was not
an ordinary child, and he was preternaturally anxious to avoid danger
and keep us up to the mark. His active little mind ferreted out
supposititious disasters with alarming realism until our nerves were
unstrung by the constant effort to guard against the possible calamities
that he suggested.

Send _Paul_ to the country? _Send_ him--to the _country_! A likely
thing, indeed!--and leave us to be tortured by mental visions of his
dear little incapable feet projecting out of a water barrel or being
mowed off by an overgrown lawn-mower, his helpless form impaled upon the
horns of a bull or dangling from the mouth of a vicious horse.

That evening, after Paul was safely asleep, we talked the whole matter
over. We had previously toyed with nebulous schemes of living in the
country, but the doctor's opinion transformed what had seemed an
impracticable but entrancingly delightful castle-in-the-air to a
definite consideration of how we could make it an actuality. As Marion
said, it was our plain duty to do what was best for Paul, even if we had
to sacrifice a few extraneous luxuries in carrying it out, and when she
used the word duty I knew that, come what would, we were going to live
in the country. Duty is Marion's strong point; mine also, in a sort of
second-hand way, for I have learned to obey the dictates of her
conscience with an amazing alacrity. With her, the principle involved in
the most trivial act is a matter of vital importance, while I am
inclined to act first, and from that action deduce a principle to
justify the course I have taken. Her mind is intensely analytical, and
she believes rigidly what she ought to believe; I am, perhaps, a trifle
more imaginative, more easily swayed by passing enthusiasms, more given
to believing what I want to believe, less inclined to see a clear-cut
difference between black and white.

It is not strange, therefore, that our opinions often differ, but in
this case we were of one mind from the first, the only difficulty that
faced us being the question of ways and means, and on this point Marion
was, strange to say, more optimistic than I.

"I have a feeling, a presentiment," she said, in a tone of fervent
conviction, "that if we make up our minds hard enough it will become
possible. We've been talking about this for years, and I never felt
until this moment that it was really going to be true."

For a moment her calm certainty influenced my hopes, then I shook my
head doubtfully. "You forget," I rejoined, "that there's no other
opening in sight, and as long as I'm doing 'Music and Drama' for the
_Observer_ I must stay in the city. If I had regular hours, if I were a
bank clerk, for instance, we might live in the suburbs, but----"

"We've been over all that hundreds of times," she interrupted, "and you
know that if you had been a bank clerk I wouldn't have married you.
You're not going to give up journalism, but I'm sure something will
happen to let us live where we want to live. And as for the suburbs, it
seems to me it would be better to get a real farm in the real country.
If we could find a good comfortable farm-house near the railroad with
plenty of land around it, I don't believe it would cost us any more than
one of those flimsy cottages with a garden plot attached that we looked
at last year."

I found, as we talked the matter over, that Marion's imagination had
been fired by the idea of some quaint old-fashioned homestead with
gabled roof, open fireplaces and latticed windows, surrounded by ancient
shade-trees and a straggling apple-orchard. All these accessories I
could appreciate, and, in comparison, an ordinary suburban cottage, one
of many others exactly alike, began to seem quite out of the question.
There were delightful possibilities about buying a real farm, not to
mention the inviting prospect of running it afterward.

"That's a capital idea!" I exclaimed, in eager approval. "I could raise
a couple of hundred dollars to make the first payment, then we could
give a mortgage for the balance and pay it off with the proceeds of the
first year's crop. Then we could soon make enough money to----"

I stopped short, for I became aware that my wife was regarding me with a
smile of loving toleration. "There you are again, Henry," she said, with
a merry laugh. "What a lot of money we'd save if I let you carry out a
few of your wild schemes! We're not going to raise one dollar to make a
first payment; we're not going to give a mortgage, so you'll not be able
to pay it off with the first year's crop."

"But it was your proposal," I protested, "you said----"

"I didn't say we might _buy_ a farm, but I think we might be able to
rent one for less than we pay for this house, and I'm sure we can live
more cheaply in the country than in the city, if we make up our minds
not to spend money needlessly."

It didn't seem to me that a rented farm without a mortgage could be as
attractive as the one I had imagined, but I reluctantly admitted that
Marion's plan might be more economical than mine. If I hadn't done so
she certainly would have reminded me of some of my errors of judgment.

"And now," she continued, "the next thing to consider is how much money
we can afford not to spend on the farm."

At that moment I had mentally unloaded a car of farm implements,
resplendent in green and red paint, with the same feeling of delightful
excitement that accompanies the unpacking of a Noah's ark. In fact, I
had them arranged on the station platform and was directing my hired men
how to load the wagons. "Can afford not to spend," I repeated
abstractedly.

There was silence. When I awoke from my reverie I discovered that my
wife was gazing at me with a curious expression, her lips tightly
compressed. I stood to attention at once.

"Yes, Marion," I went on briskly. "I was just thinking about that. I
was just calculating how many implements we could buy."

"Indeed? And have you decided whether you would rather go in for
horse-raising or thoroughbred cattle?"

"No, I haven't got that far; but I think a herd of Jerseys would do to
start with, then----"

"Then you _are_ like other men! I wonder if any city man ever farmed
without losing his common-sense. Can't you see, Henry, that we'd be
hopelessly in debt if we started in that way? Why, even if we were
wealthy the money would soon be all gone at that rate of spending. How
many otherwise level-headed men do you know who have squandered fortunes
in farming for pleasure?"

"Well, there's Judge Davis, and old Hamilton, and--oh, lots of
them--but, you see, they didn't know how to manage, and I would profit
by their mistakes. I wouldn't borrow five hundred dollars, for instance,
to invest in Jerseys, without seeing my way clear to double the money
in a year or two by selling gilt-edged butter."

"Now listen, Henry," said my wife, with the indulgent yet unrelenting
smile of a mother who pushes a fragile vase beyond the reach of her
infant's grasp; "you're not going to borrow _one_ dollar; you're not
going to have a herd of Jerseys; you're not going to buy reapers and
threshing machines, horses and wagons and windmills. How much would a
spade, a rake, and a hoe cost?"

I gasped. "A _spade_--a _rake_!----" I began incredulously, then I
smiled a smile of feeble intelligence to conceal the fact that I failed
to see the point: I know what it feels like to perpetrate a pointless
joke.

"And a hoe," continued Marion, earnestly. "How much would they cost?"

"About two dollars," I replied, in vague wonderment.

"Then that settles it! You may spend two dollars in implements, but not
another cent. And as for drains----"

"Perhaps you would allow three for them," I interjected, with a derisive
laugh. "Judge Davis spent _three thousand_ in underdraining his farm."

"Then we'll do without underdrains. Do you begin to see now what I mean
by deciding how much money we can afford not to spend."

"I believe I do," I answered, amused yet fascinated by her idea. "It
will total a large amount if you keep on, but I don't see how a farm can
be made to pay without investing money in it. Why, you've got to put
money into anything, even into a gold mine, before you can get returns."

It was an unfortunate illustration, as I learned from Marion's pitying
look. I winced; I knew what was coming. "Henry," she said, and in her
face I saw that she was responding to the call of duty, "I don't grudge
one dollar of that money you put into the Emperor shares last year, even
if the lesson is wasted on you, as it seems to be; for that experience
made me determine that I would never trust your judgment about
investments again when my common-sense tells me you are wrong. Aunt
Sophy says that all men who haven't been brought up on a farm are
attacked by an insane belief, at some period of their lives, that they
can make money by farming. She says Uncle Philip had made a hundred
thousand dollars in the grocery business when he retired and bought a
farm. She implored him not to do it, but he persisted, saying there was
heaps of money in farming if properly managed, and he could run a farm
on business principles and make it pay. But when he died she found he
had left only forty thousand dollars for her to live on, and she is
convinced that if he hadn't been taken away so suddenly she would have
been altogether penniless. Poor Aunt Sophy! She weeps more over that
money than over Uncle Philip, and the worst of it is that some
semi-religious novel she has read has unsettled her old-fashioned ideas
about heaven so that she is afraid that when her turn comes she'll find
him at it again. The thought has hardened her so that I shouldn't be
surprised if she married old Mr. Fairman and renounced Uncle Philip."

I had been about to say that I felt myself to be peculiarly fitted to
illustrate paying methods of farming, but I desisted. I had been
inclined to resent Marion's taunt about the unlucky mining venture, but
the serious recital of the woes of her uncle and aunt moved me to
laughter. I jocularly declared I would go around to the bank to see if
the money we had saved by not buying a farm had been placed to my
credit, but her anxiety that I should understand her theory checked my
innocent levity.

"You wouldn't make light of this matter," she said, reproachfully, "if
you understood its importance. Now listen: what I mean is, that instead
of calculating how much money we might be able to spend on the farm we
should try to see how much we can do without spending. I am sure that is
the right way to avoid making a farm not pay. For example, if you think
you want to buy an electric potato-digger you ought to save up the money
and then----"

"And then you'll decide that I can afford not to buy it!"

"Probably--but don't you see the money would then be clear profit, and
you would have it instead of a useless machine."

"It wouldn't be useless--it would dig potatoes."

"It _might_ dig potatoes, but Aunt Sophy says you can't depend on any of
these contrivances, so the chances are that it _would_ be useless;
besides, you said the Emperor shares would dig gold, and they
swallowed----"

The thought of mining shares is distasteful to me; to have them dragged
into the conversation is distracting; to look forward to having every
budding plan nipped by the chilling reminders of bygone mistakes that my
temperament would allow me to forget was not to be endured. "Marion," I
interrupted, hastily, "it's a capital plan! I'll agree to try it if we
ever have a farm, if you'll promise never to do or say anything to
remind me of that stroke of bad luck."

"Don't you mean bad management?" she asked, gayly. "You have a
dreadfully lax memory about these things, and I know you would have
forgotten the Emperor shares long ago if I hadn't reminded you.
However, you know it's for your own good and----"

"It isn't," I protested, with vehemence. "It dulls my sensibilities and
hardens my heart."

Marion shook her head dubiously, but she promised.

I do not believe in my own presentiments, for I never have any, unless
the ever-present optimistic belief that everything I undertake is going
to turn out well is a presentiment, but I have learned by experience to
place a certain amount of dependence upon Marion's. Therefore, for a few
days after our conversation I confidently expected something to turn up,
and every day when I returned home from the office I saw by her
inquiring expectant glance that she was looking for the fulfilment of
her prediction. As time passed, however, I began to think she had been
mistaken, though I did not say so, for I know how annoying it is to have
one's mistakes pointed out when one is most keenly conscious of them.
Besides, to refrain made me feel magnanimous, and that feeling, perhaps,
caused a shade of pitying magnanimity to creep into my tone when we
discussed the project; so Marion, who is intensely susceptible to
inflections, was perfectly well aware that I was practising one of the
higher virtues, as well as showing a delicate consideration for her
feelings that she might well copy in regard to mine. Of course, we could
do nothing but make plans during the winter; but as spring approached,
without any prospect of a change that would give me regular hours of
work, it seemed as if we should have to give up, for a time, the
prospect of moving to the country.

It was one morning early in March that the unexpected did happen. I was
at my desk reading a batch of indignant letters taking me to task for an
opinion I had expressed in an article on musical culture when a summons
arrived from the editor-in-chief. Up to that moment I had been amused by
the denials of my assertion that the performance of a Bach fugue on the
piano as part of a concert programme should be condemned as provocative
of snobbish pretence; that the giving out of the theme by the performer
had become the signal for the audience to assume an air of intense and
exalted intellectual enjoyment, though not one person in a hundred could
appreciate the logical development of such a composition or distinguish
anything but a confused intermingling of the parts; but the summons from
the editor made me regard the matter more seriously. I hurriedly looked
over the article to see if I had laid myself open to reproof for
indiscretion. Yes, I had! At the very end the statement glared at me
that musicians listened to a fugue with the strained intentness of
jugglers watching a fellow-performer keeping three balls in the air; I
had committed the fatal oversight of not saying _some_ musicians.
Probably an irate deputation representing the profession so notoriously
sensitive to truthful criticism had waited upon the editor to demand a
public retraction of the libel.

"Sit down, Carton," said the editor, as I entered. "You've been doing
'Music and Drama' for two years now," he said musingly, laying down his
pen, "and I don't think I have expressed my opinion of your work to you
personally."

I shook my head mutely, afraid of what was coming next.

"That, however, doesn't indicate any want of appreciation on my part.
You have changed the former commonplace rut of criticism to something
that people read with interest, and if they laugh and swear alternately,
so much the better. You have a knack of telling the truth with a light
touch that is quite refreshing. How would you like to edit the
agricultural page in the weekly?"

I gazed at him in bewilderment; ready to laugh if he meant to be
jocular, incredulous of his serious intention. "The agricultural page!"
I exclaimed.

"Rather sudden, eh? Well, I'll tell you how the matter stands. Old
Rollings is out of it, and I've got to fill his place at once. Now it
strikes me that farmers don't hanker after instruction in their
newspaper--they want to be entertained, and I think you might make the
thing go. The salary will be higher and you can take your own time for
the work."

"But I don't know much about agriculture," I protested.

"That isn't of any consequence. There are the exchanges, the Farmer's
Cyclopædia and the scissors, and you'll learn not to waste space by
advising farmers to plant corn in hills three feet apart or to feed
potato bugs on paris green. The main thing is to make the department
entertaining, so let yourself go and be as funny as you like, provided
there's a grain of horse-sense at the bottom. For instance, you might
have an article on how to make the farm pay, taking as a text--um, let
me see--ah--you might advocate----"

"The planting of summer boarders in rows three feet apart?" I ventured.

The editor leaned back in his chair and laughed. "Go ahead, Carton," he
said warmly. "You mightn't be able to draw a better looking pig in a
prize competition than the rest of us, but I'd bank on you making a
pretty turn to his tail."


The die was cast, and yet, for a few days at least, I felt as one might,
who, accustomed to prate of the certain bliss of a heavenly home, is
suddenly presented with a pass to the delectable land. A kaleidoscopic
vision dazzled me of a picturesque country house, an orchard, a cow, a
horse, real hens for Paul, our own fruit and vegetables, but beyond I
could not see clearly, for I was unnerved by the sudden transition from
the fine arts to agriculture. I had gained a superficial insight into
rural life from the stand-point of the summer boarder, but I was well
aware that I didn't know as much about farming as about art and
literature. However, the editor's confidence in my ability to do the
work and Marion's glowing enthusiasm caused me to keep my misgivings to
myself. Indeed, though I never boast, I find it difficult to detract
from another person's estimate of my knowledge or attainments; it seems
less egotistical to smile and look modest than to enlarge upon one's own
affairs. There was just one thing that caused me a pang. Marion, in
pointing out the advantage it would be to me to have a free hand in
writing, casually acknowledged that for a long time she had felt that
criticism was not my forte and that I would write better when I had more
scope for my imagination. My pained surprise at this confession moved
her to merriment, and she laughingly declared that a woman's vanity was
all on the surface, but a man's was unfathomable. Did I answer back? No,
I didn't, for when I am truly grieved I merely smile faintly with
patient, loving forgiveness; besides, I didn't know what to say.
Afterward--for I didn't realize it at the time--I saw that I felt hurt,
not because she had underrated my previous work, but because she had
heretofore simulated a proper appreciation of it. I cannot bear to
think that my wife is capable of stooping to any kind of pretence,
and I am quite single-minded in this, for I like her to be more
perfect--infinitely more perfect--than I am. One would suppose this
statement to be unquestionable. It isn't; she immediately asks _why_,
and in the silence which follows when I am trying to think she repeats
the query with such challenging meaningful emphasis that, alas!--I
cannot say.



II

PETER WAYDEAN IS FOUND WANTING


"No," said the postmistress, shaking her head dubiously, "I don't think
you'd find a place to suit within a mile of this station. You say you
want a small farm with a middling good house, and the only vacant place
about here has a hundred acres and the house ain't no better than a
shanty."

It was the prettiest bit of country that we had yet found in our search
for our ideal farm, and the answer of the postmistress caused us keen
disappointment. Paul's little hand, which had clutched mine with a tense
expectant grip, suddenly relaxed. "Are we not going to live in the
country?" he asked, in a trembling voice.

"Oh, I forgot the Waydean homestead," the postmistress called out, as we
turned away; "but anyway I don't suppose"--she looked at us in turn
with a speculative air, smiling slightly--"you could strike a bargain
with old Peter."

"Why not?" demanded Marion eagerly. "Is it a nice place--is it near the
railroad?"

"It's right next the turn of this road, about half a mile south. No one
has lived there for twenty years, but he keeps the house in repair, and
I guess it's cleaner than most houses that's lived in; but old
Peter----" she stopped speaking, went to the door and looked
apprehensively up and down the road. "Now I'll just tell you the plain
truth," she continued confidentially. "I know it looks uncharitable to
talk to strangers about your neighbors, but everyone round here knows
what old Peter is, and if you're going to have any dealings with him
you'll need to keep your eyes wide open. He's a crank and a screw, and
some wouldn't know they was getting skinned till he'd got the job done.
And such a man for law! It don't seem to matter much whether he wins or
loses, he can't seem to get along without a suit going on. Now if he
happened within earshot at this present minute he'd have the law of me
and he'd summons you for witnesses."

"Thank you for the warning," I interjected, as she paused for breath.
"What is the house like?"

"It's one of them old-fashioned kind, with tiny panes in the windows set
cornery, and----"

"Not _diamond_ panes, surely?" cried Marion, with a gasp of excitement.

The postmistress gazed at her with an expression of incredulous pity.
"Oh, no," she replied; "just common glass, and I think you'd find it
trying to have to look out of a different pane with both eyes. Then them
big fireplaces would make it hard to heat, but you could board them up
and put a base-burner in the hall and run the stovepipe----"

"Oh, no!" ejaculated Marion, in horror. "That would be dreadful! Are
they real big fireplaces, with andirons?"

"They're big enough in all conscience, but I don't mind seeing any
hand-irons. There's some rubbishy old brass firedogs and fixings."

Marion's eyes sparkled with joyful assurance and she stood up with an
eager movement; I motioned her to wait.

"Do you happen to know," I asked the postmistress, "what is the rent of
the place?"

"Well, he asks different rents from different people," she answered
slowly, her features showing grim amusement, "and no one has ever
managed to strike a bargain with him yet. Last spring a man came along
from the city thinking as the place was standing idle anyway he ought to
be able to rent it cheap for the summer, so he hunted Peter up to show
him round. He was one of them big blustering sort of men that acts as if
country people wasn't no better than door mats, but Peter followed him
about as meek as Moses, carrying his overcoat and umbrella for him. They
come in here about train time, then the man pulls out a dime and says,
'Here, my man,' says he, 'is something for your trouble. It's a
ramshackle old house and ain't worth two hundred a year, but I'll give
you fifty for six months.' Peter was looking at the dime in a puzzled
sort of way, then he smiled a curious sort of smile and bit the edge
before he put it in his pocket. 'You're most too kind, sir,' he says,
'for it has been a great entertainment to me to show you about, and I
don't often have the company of a real gentleman. I'm sorry the place is
beyond your means, but the fact is that I couldn't afford to let you
have it less than two hundred a _month_. I'm sorry,' says he, 'that you
had so much trouble for nothing, but I'll just slip this half-dollar
into your pocket and you'll have it to spend when you get back to the
city.' With that he lays down the overcoat and umbrella and walks out.
And for all the fine clothes and jewelry of that man, he used such
profane language that I had to ask him to stop or else step outside.
That's just like old Peter--he's so touchy there's no getting on with
him, though he can be as sweet as pie if he happens to take a fancy to a
person. There was once a man----"

At this point Marion adroitly interposed with another question, and in
two minutes we were on the road to Waydean. Paul and I straggled along
behind, scarcely able to keep up with Marion's eager pace, as she
breathlessly commented upon the delights of living in such a house as
the postmistress had described. I became so enthusiastic, in sympathy
with her, that by the time we caught a glimpse of the chimneys through a
belt of trees I was almost persuaded that open fireplaces and diamond
panes were the only essentials of an ideal house. We had been directed
to look for the owner at the diminutive cottage he lived in a half mile
farther along the road, but with a common impulse we turned in at once
to the inviting roadway that led up to the old homestead. On our right a
mossy board fence enclosed an old orchard, the gnarled and rugged trunks
of the trees set in a carpet of newly sprouted grass, the shadows of the
still leafless branches outlined on the knolls and hollows just, as Paul
expressed it, like a real colored picture out of a real picture-book.

We hurried along the driveway canopied by the spreading branches of the
pines that grew on each side, and rounding a curve we came within sight
of a rambling frame house set on a knoll with a neatly terraced lawn
sloping toward us.

From the moment Paul darted forward with a shout of delight and seated
himself on the steps of a diminutive colonial porch we felt the joy of
possession. We stood off and surveyed the roof. The shingles were
delicately tinted in moss-green and a few bricks were missing from the
upper courses of the chimneys, but the glass in the windows was unbroken
and the house looked exceedingly habitable and home-like.

The front door was locked, so we peered in at the lower windows and then
went round to the rear, finding the kitchen door wide open. Marion
entered first and I saw her run across the room and drop on her knees in
front of a cavernous brick fireplace with a little cry of delight. By
the time I reached her she was emerging from its sooty recesses with a
smudged but radiant countenance, smiling exultantly as she swung a rusty
iron hook outward.

"What's that thing?" I asked.

"That thing!" she echoed, in pitying incredulity. "Do you mean to say,
Henry, that you don't know a crane when you see one?"

Before I could plead ignorance she discovered that the ceiling was
timbered, the walls wainscoted, and that a settle stood in the dim
corner near the fireplace. "It isn't worth while looking at the rest of
the house," she said, sitting down on the settle with a smile of perfect
content; "you may go and find that old man. Whatever happens, we're
going to rent this place, but don't tell him so--bring him to me. In the
meantime, remember he's _got_ to take a fancy to you, so be just as
charming as you know how to be. Oh, you needn't laugh! I know charming
doesn't seem the right word to apply to a man, but that's what you are
when you do your best. You can be more agreeable than any man I ever
knew, and you can be more--but there, do go, go--you'd stand around all
day if you thought I'd go on talking about you."

There were several points connected with her remarks that I would have
liked to have more fully explained, but she was so insistent that I
prepared to go, and it was not my fault that I didn't start, for we
suddenly became aware that Paul was missing. In frantic haste we
searched the premises and at last found him sitting on a low mound of
freshly turned-up sandy soil at the back of the barn, a batch of
sand-cakes neatly laid out on a board beside him. Now Paul had never
before sat on the ground, he had never learned how to make any kind of
mud-pies, as far as we knew he had never heard of the art, yet some
subtle instinct had drawn him to the only spot within reach where there
was a heap of suitable soil. The sight was appalling, for it seemed as
if our brief forgetfulness must result in his having an attack of
pneumonia or some other dreadful ailment. Not a word did we say before
Paul, of course, for we are careful not to alarm the dear boy, both for
his sake and our own, but we conversed by expressive glances as we
walked back toward the house, assuring each other that we must hope for
the best and be prepared for the worst, and that by some miracle he
might escape.

We had stopped to look down the entrance to a large underground
root-house, the door of which was open, when from the inside came a
succession of feeble groans. There was a heap of bags in the doorway,
and in an instant I realized what had happened: that some man had been
overcome by the poisonous gases that gather in pits where vegetables are
stored.

I am not one who rashly plunges into danger without weighing the
consequences, so I didn't bravely lose my life by rushing into the pit
in the vain attempt to carry another man out, for I saw there were
several good reasons against such a course. First, I knew that I
couldn't carry a man anywhere even under the most favorable conditions;
second, I couldn't bear to think of the shock to Marion if she should
become a widow; third, it was perfectly clear to me that if I remained
in the root-house Marion would attempt to save me, then Paul would
remain outside and become an orphan, a howling orphan. Further, I was
not justified in risking an undoubtedly valuable life for one that was
probably of no account.

A long pole with a hook on the end would have been useful, or a piece of
rope, but neither was to be found, and the groans of the man in the
root-house were becoming still more alarming, so, noticing the heavy
chain which held the well-bucket, I hurriedly tried to detach it, but to
my despair I found it was securely spiked to the well-sweep. It was then
that Marion made one of the most brilliant suggestions that I have known
her to make: that by swinging the sweep to one side the chain would hang
directly over the pit. I don't know that she saw the full utility of
this move, but I did. Holding my breath, I stood in the doorway until I
could dimly see the prostrate figure on the floor, then I darted inside,
looped the chain about him and dragged him to the entrance. He was a
heavily built, sharp-featured man, past middle age, and although he lay
on the ground and gasped for breath there was a slight contortion of his
features that suggested repressed mirth. Marion wanted me to go for
help, but I told her that he was recovering and only needed to be moved
from the entrance where he lay to the level ground where the air was
fresher. She said I would never be able to get him up the incline, so I
hastened to complete my task, my only fear being that help would arrive
too soon. I tenderly arranged a pad of potato bags across his chest and
back, then shortening the chain I passed it under his arms and again
looped it around his body. All being ready, I climbed up on the weighted
end of the well-sweep, but finding there was not enough weight I
persuaded Marion to take my place, then I sprang up beside her. The
effect was amazing to us, unaccustomed as we were to this primitive
contrivance, for our end descended to the ground with a bump, and, like
a hooked fish, high in the air dangled the man whom I had gone to so
much trouble to save. He emerged from unconsciousness more rapidly than
a butterfly from its chrysalis, and his remarks as he gyrated at the end
of the chain were most abusive. The epithets were evidently intended for
me, and my anger was aroused to such an extent that I felt inclined to
let him stay where he was. "Keep cool," I shouted, "and I'll see about
getting you down. Remember," I admonished him, "that--that there are
ladies in the room. If you behave yourself and tell me where to find a
ladder, I'll try to help you."

His face grew crimson and he struggled for speech. "A ladder!" he burst
forth, at last. "Get off this darn' see-saw."

I got off, so did Marion; but I don't think we understood the proper way
to get off, for there was a surprising thud, and I saw that my patient
was sprawling on the ground under the beam. I hastened to his relief,
reminding him as I unwound the chain that he should have taken my advice
and waited for the ladder. He stood up unsteadily, wiping the dirt off
his face with his sleeve, then he took off his coat, folded it with
ceremony, laid it on the ground and squared up to me.

"Now," he said, with vicious determination, "I'm going to settle with
you."

He was such a disreputable and absurd figure that I couldn't help
smiling at his demonstrations. "Come, sir," I said persuasively; "you
shouldn't give way to your temper. I know that from your stand-point, it
seems annoying to enter a root-house and then discover that you are
suspended at the end of a well-sweep, but I am not to blame. It would
have been far less trouble to me to leave you to be smothered among your
potatoes than to drag you out."

I spoke with effect; his expression changed, though he studied my face
with suspicion. "What's your name?" he demanded.

"Henry Carton," I responded, with a certain hesitation, born of a
diffidence that always seizes me when I try to make this announcement
appear unimportant. "And yours?" I asked, genially.

"Waydean," he replied, gruffly.

"Peter Waydean!" I exclaimed, with sudden enthusiasm, as I grasped his
hand. "The very man we were looking for! Allow me to introduce you to
Mrs. Carton: Marion, Mr. Waydean."

He bowed awkwardly, putting on his coat. "Well sir," he ejaculated, with
an explosive laugh, "you do beat the Dutch!"

If our host had been a little remiss on the score of politeness at
first, he made up for it by profuse expressions of gratitude and by
showing us every attention during the time we spent with him in looking
over the place. I saw that he had taken a fancy to us, and that he liked
the idea of having such desirable tenants, for his clear blue eyes,
unusually limpid for an elderly man, beamed with kindly intention as he
talked; at the same time, his truthfulness compelled him to say that he
couldn't quite forgive me for having hoisted him so high with the
well-sweep. "I tell you, Mr. Carton," he said, with a chuckle, "I'm
mighty thankful to you for hauling me out of that pit, but all the same,
I give you fair warning that I'm bound to get back on you for the way
you done it."

After we had viewed the barn and stables we all went into the house to
talk over the business. He was a man of strong family affection, so he
would never part with the homestead, but we were just the sort of people
to take care of what was dear to him, and he would be willing to rent
the place to us. He could not live in such a large house himself, on
account of his wife being an invalid, but he had often refused to rent
it to other people, usually because--well, he didn't mind telling us,
in confidence, it wasn't every family he would care to have as
neighbors--and then, there was such a difference in children! Now that
dear little lad of ours, he could swear, had never in his life thrown a
stone at a window-pane or pencil-marked wall-paper--a little peaked,
wasn't he?--but just wait till he had been six months at Waydean, and
had bunnies and guinea-pigs, and chickens, turkeys, lambs and calves,
and a pony of his own--just wait!

It was indeed a delicate matter for me to mention pecuniary
compensation. Perhaps if I had been alone I would have ignored that
point altogether, but Marion's significant glances I could not ignore,
so, though it sounded positively brutal in the face of his disinterested
appreciation of our worth, I asked him the rent.

He made a gesture implying utter indifference. The fact was that, though
most of the people in the neighborhood were grasping and mean-minded, he
was a man who was built straight-up-and-down-and-square-all-round, and
what he considered above everything was that he would have congenial
neighbors. The farm was worth--well, he wouldn't say what it was worth,
but I might have it at three hundred dollars a year. There were fifty
acres of land that would grow enough produce to pay the rent of the
whole place and something over, and as I would need a good many
implements he would sell me his for a fraction of their cost, and if I
wanted a good team of horses and a few cows all I had to do was to make
my choice among his.

I had been fascinated by the frankly ingenuous assurance of his manner;
in fact, I was mentally exulting in my good fortune in finding such a
generous landlord, when the sound of Marion's voice aroused me.

"Fifty acres, Mr. Waydean!" she exclaimed. "That would never do. My
husband is quite opposed to the idea of trying to make money by farming,
and----"

"Oh, quite," I interjected, shaking my head with emphasis.

"We want to live in the country," she continued, "but we can't afford to
actually farm."

"Between ourselves, Mr. Waydean," I hastened to say, "I've seen so much
of city people fooling away money in farming that I've made up my mind
not to work any more land than I can attend to with a spade, a rake and
a hoe."

He stared at us in turn, incredulity giving place to gloom as he
realized that I was serious; then he turned to Marion in a burst of
candor. "I tell you what, ma'am," he said, with warm approval, "I ain't
met many men with so much downright common-sense as your husband. I'll
own that I'm a bit sorry that he don't want to work the farm, for I'm
getting old and I'd like a rest, but the truth is that running a farm
costs a lot of money, and farmers come out at the wrong end of the horn
most years. However, you've took a fancy to the place and I've took a
shine to you, so I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll work the farming land
myself, and you can take the house and grounds for four hundred a year."

Peter stood in the attitude of an auctioneer who is forced to throw away
a desirable no-reserve lot on the first bid; surely, then, my ears had
deceived me into thinking that this was a larger sum than he had asked
for the whole farm.

Marion was the first to speak. "I don't quite see," she began dubiously,
"isn't that _more_?"

"Certainly, ma'am," he responded; "but how far'd a hundred dollars go in
wages for hired help? If I wasn't throwing in my work free I couldn't
afford to take them fifty acres off your hands at that figure. Of
course, I'd sooner you took the hull place at three hundred, then as
much more would hire you a man, and if Mr. Carton looked after him
pretty sharp there might be enough crop to feed your horses and cow, and
he wouldn't have to spend more than a thousand dollars in stock and
implements to start with."

I was slightly irritated that he addressed these remarks solely to
Marion; one might have supposed that he thought she was the head of the
family and that I was not even a party of the first part.

"I'll think the matter over," I began, with dignified hauteur, "and let
you----"

Peter turned to me hastily. "That's as reasonable as I can do," he
explained, with plaintive determination; "and I've got to know right
away if you want the place."

"Well," I began, with an eager eye on Marion for the cue, "I--I----"

"There's another man after it," urged Peter, "and he's coming to-morrow
for my answer."

Marion gasped. "We'd better pay the--the four"----

"The four hundred," I decided, for her, "and let you run the farm."

"Done," snapped Peter.


It was evening when we parted from Peter Waydean on the station
platform. He shook me warmly by the hand as the train appeared.

"You're a gentleman, Mr. Carton, from the word go," he shouted hoarsely
in my ear. "The bargain's made, and though there's no writing betwixt
us, there's no need of any, for we're men of honor. I'll tell the other
man"----

"Yes, certainly," I assented, detaching myself as the train slowed up.

"Not a word to the neighbors about the well-sweep, or about what you're
paying for the place," he continued, holding the lapel of my coat.
"They're a prying, gossiping lot, and I wouldn't like it known that you
hoisted me on that darn see-saw. It's the first time Peter Waydean was
ever treed, but considering that you're the man that done it, we'll cry
quits."

As I caught a flashing steely glint in the depths of his ingenuous blue
eyes the conviction was borne in upon me that, like the simulated
stillness of a deadly revolving tool, his simplicity and truth were more
apparent than real. And this was the impression that made me so silent
and thoughtful on our journey back to the city.

For the close of such an eventful day we had little to say to each
other. With every mile that we travelled an unpleasant suspicion grew
stronger as I thought over the bargain with that guileful man; gradually
the suspicion changed to a certainty, and then it was that I became
aware that Marion, who had also been strangely silent, was studying me
with a tantalizing air of knowing my thoughts.

"What is it?" I asked, with sudden annoyance.

"I was just thinking," she began, then she stopped to laugh
gleefully--"do you remember what the postmistress said about him
skin"----

"Don't repeat it," I snapped, squirming. "Of course I remember, but I
don't see the application."

"Well, you shouldn't expect to if there isn't any," she said, with
renewed mirth. "It was odd, too, that he warned you he'd pay you back
for hoisting him."

"Will you be kind enough to explain the connection?" I demanded
fiercely.

It really is unsafe to use that tone with Marion. There was a little
flash in her eyes; my glare faltered, then her brief resentment melted
into sympathy.

"Connection?" she answered. "Why, what connection _could_ there be?"

My hand sought hers, in gratitude. There was a pause, then we both
laughed, and somehow the bitterness of knowing I had been gulled passed
away; I even felt a sympathetic appreciation of his artistic touch in
assuring me that we were both men of honor.

Suddenly Marion grasped my arm. "Henry," she exclaimed, "he's the man
you want!"

"The man I want?"

"Why, yes; didn't you say you wanted a central figure for that set of
rural sketches you've planned?"

"By Jove," I cried, with kindling enthusiasm, "he's a character all
ready made! If I do him justice, he'll be a--a regular gold mine."

I was rather puzzled by a meaning, but to me, inscrutable smile that
lingered on Marion's face after this comment, but she so often sees more
in a remark of mine than I do that I prefer not to spoil the effect by
asking for an explanation.



III

AN UPHEAVAL


The April day on which we moved to Waydean was an ideal one in regard to
weather, and my arrangements came so near to perfection that we began
the usually irksome work of moving with joyous zest. I had chalked a
number on every piece of furniture and box of sundries, also on the door
of each room in the farm-house, so as to avoid having the kitchen stove
carried upstairs and the bedroom furniture placed in the parlor, and
this plan elicited warm approbation from Marion. To say that her
approval gratified me scarcely expresses my elation, for although I was
proud of the plan I was quite prepared to have her point out some fatal
defect. I can indulge in platitudes and commonplaces with impunity, but
a really original, trade-marked idea is usually a gauntlet flung into
the arena, the activity of my mind producing a reflex action upon hers.
In this case I took extraordinary care to provide against anything
happening to mar the successful carrying out of my scheme, not even
closing the bargain with the owner of the moving van until he had
indorsed it with enthusiasm. This man, Bliggs by name, urged me to
patent the idea, waxing as indignant as if I had impugned his moral
character when I modestly demurred.

"Look 'ere, Mr. Carton," he snapped, "wot could be more simpler? W'en
there's a man or a woman a-standin' at the door shoutin' to be keerful
an' hurry up, an' put this 'ere an' that there, an' hobstructin'
gin'rally, there's bound to be trouble. W'y, in Lunnon you don't ketch
the bobbies botherin' about common drunks in movin' season, for they
knows there's goin' to be a full docket of assaults an' batteries an'
'busive langwidges. W'y, with your plan there wouldn't be none o' that,
for a man 'd jest onload 'is dray as mum as a trained pig a-pickin' hout
cards. Mr. Carton," he concluded, "Hi'll put every blessed piece in the
right room an' set up yer kitchen stove an' bedstids free."

My heart warmed to Bliggs, for his active movements as he loaded the
wagon inspired me with confidence, and when he drove off with his two
helpers I had not a doubt but that he would carry out his cheerful
assurances.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we locked the door of our
dismantled house. The click of the lock sent a lump into my throat that
caused me to turn quickly away, but Marion lingered, heaving a little
sigh of regret. It is a peculiarity of hers to look back if that process
is at all likely to result in a sigh; for my own part, I prefer to look
straight ahead if I suspect there is to be any attempt to stir up my
well of emotion, and, in consequence, on rare occasions I have been
called cold-blooded. Paul is different in this respect; he is the
dividing line between us. Marion caught him younger, and his plastic
little soul has been moulded with loving care. He is sympathetic and
responsive. He is not like any one musical instrument; he is like two.
As easily moved as an Æolian harp, he has the fire, spirit and
continuity of the bagpipes.

"Look, Paul!" said his mother tenderly, her eyes moistening. "Say
'Good-by, old house.'"

It was, at the least, an injudicious remark. Up to that moment we had
been positively gleeful, and Paul had looked upon the change as a
glorified picnic, for I had taken pains to instil the belief that
Waydean would be an earthly elysium for a small boy; but now, with a
woman's pensive touch, my carefully built fabric collapsed. Paul's big
solemn eyes grew cloudy; a faint crescent appeared on each side of his
mouth, deepening gradually. I watched this development in dumb despair,
while Marion was absorbed in tender reminiscence, then, before I could
utter a warning cry, his mouth shot open to the amazing degree that I
knew so well. I grabbed him hastily, kneeling down. "Listen, Paul!" I
shouted into his ear. "We'll move back--to-morrow--if you like."

I stood up suddenly, amazed; a hand had clutched my collar and almost
pulled me backward--Marion's flashing eyes met mine. "Such a
falsehood!" she gasped. "How dare you!"

I did not hear these words, but I knew what she said by the motion of
her lips; besides, her manner made it perfectly plain that I was
supposed to have infringed the truth, so speech was superfluous. As a
matter of fact I could have disproved the charge, but not before Paul,
for we strive to avoid discussing such matters before him; anyway, I
would have needed a megaphone to make myself heard. Therefore, I stepped
humbly aside, with a gesture that indicated my complete willingness to
leave the matter to his mother.

"Paul, dear,--listen," she called out, bending over him; "we're not
going to move back--_ever_."

The effect was instantaneous; he dropped to the sidewalk, renewing his
efforts as he wriggled in anguish. I was obliged to pick him up in
accordance with Marion's frantic gestures, and we retreated into the
empty house, where she pacified him in course of time. I do not know the
precise method she adopted, but I think, from snatches of conversation
that reached me, that beautiful native birds figured largely--among
others, storks! I know that storks do not grow at Waydean, yet I
preserved a grim silence, thinking what a strong case I might make, were
I not too generous to do so.

I was justly indignant, for I do not seem to be able to make Marion
understand that, like her, I have a horror of untruth; in fact, I am
more cautious in my statements than any other journalist I know; but
while I am placidly content to accept any assertion of hers without
question, she is likely to quibble over almost every statement I make. I
admit that I am forgetful, that to-morrow I may say exactly the opposite
to what I say to-day, that what I condemn in the abstract may seem to me
expedient and proper under certain conditions, but I object to being
openly accused of prevarication. Paul, as I have said, is not an
ordinary child (and although people who are not his parents are inclined
to use a compassionate tone in making that remark, I do so with defiant
pride), therefore he should be treated with tactful consideration not
accorded to common children. He responds to my sympathetic touch, I am
glad to say, with sweet concords; that is, of course, if my elbow is not
joggled by his mother. In this case, though I spoke in haste, my words
would have stopped Paul's outcry had Marion left him to me, and had she
not been prone to suspicion she would have seen that my statement was
absolutely truthful. I knew that the child had been moved by a passing
sentiment and would be more than content with our new home once he was
transplanted, but I was deeply grieved at his mother suspecting me of
being so base as not to be willing to move back to the city the next day
_if Paul liked_.

We had missed the first afternoon train, and after a dreary wait for the
next one we arrived at the little country station just at dusk, and
before we reached Waydean darkness had fallen. We groped our way around
to the back door and stumbled into the kitchen, where I lit a candle I
had brought. My heart sank at the first glance about the room, for it
was quite empty and I feared that our goods had not arrived, but when I
peered fearfully into the next room I saw that what looked at first like
a railroad box-car was a rectangular erection of all our household
belongings. We stared incredulously by the light of the flickering
candle, walking around the structure in despair. Next the ceiling, like
a statue on its massive base, our cooking-stove perched giddily--Bliggs
had set it up with a vengeance!--on the very bottom lay all our beds and
bedding, hopelessly buried, for if I attempted to disturb the pile, down
would plunge that threatening mass of metal. Bliggs was a fiend!

A strip of torn wall-paper hung down like a banner from a projecting
curtain-pole; it was covered with rude pencillings, which we deciphered
together after Paul had dropped asleep on my overcoat, with this result:


     _Mister Carton._
     _heluv a rode._
     _hosses nere ded._
     _men kickt._
     _basht em fur emtin botel._
     _basht em fur mutinin bout histin stov._
     _to dark to ce chok marks._
     _done nex bes stile._
     _heluv a gob wel dun._
           _wilyum bliggs._


I opened the kitchen door and looked despairingly out into the darkness;
the twinkling light of the next farm-house shone far away like a star on
the horizon; I must go over there and ask for food and lodging as if we
were penniless wayfarers. Marion stood beside me, and together we tried
to assure each other that the people whose light looked so cheery must
be warm-hearted and hospitable enough to make us welcome. As we gazed, a
second light appeared near the farm-house; evidently some person had
come out with a lantern, for we could hear his carolling whistle
accompanying the gliding movement of the light. It was coming nearer,
for we could soon make out the lilting melody of the whistler and the
encircling glow that surrounded him, and I felt Marion's grasp tighten
on my arm with a sudden hope that had also sprung up in my breast.
Nearer and nearer he came, until the globe of light grew larger and
cast titanic shadows of a pair of nimble legs that passed around the end
of the barn, through the yard, up to our very door, where we stood
spellbound; then the whistle ceased, the lantern was raised, and by its
dazzling glow we saw a little man with kindly gray eyes and thin reddish
whiskers standing there.

"Good-evenin'!" he called out, cheerily. "We heard there was some people
movin' in to-day, and we thought you might be kinder upsot, so I come to
see if you wouldn't step along over to our place and have supper and
stay the night. The missis has the beds ready, and Sairey knows how to
fix things comfortable."

There was a moment's awkward pause, for we were dumb with excess of
emotion.

"You don't know my name, and I don't know yourn," he proceeded. "Mine's
Andy Taylor, and my place is next south, over there where you see that
light."

I clutched his hand. "Mr. Taylor," I gasped, "come in. I was afraid you
were an angel--perhaps you are, but we--we're awfully glad to see you."

"It's so good"--began Marion, then she collapsed.

"Why, where's your load?" he asked, looking around the vacant room.

I showed him, while Marion held the candle aloft. I related my wrongs
with passionate fervor; I exhibited the Bliggs epistle, translating the
rude characters as I traced them with a trembling forefinger and called
down vengeance on the head of the perpetrator. A spasm shot across my
visitor's face and his wide-open mouth closed with a snap; he leaned
forward helplessly as if a sneeze had seized him, then a wild outburst
of hilarity smote our astonished ears. "Oh, Lordy, Lordy!" he groaned.
"The upliftin' power"--he pointed upward to the stove--"of--of strong
drink!"

Andy Taylor's lantern shed its cheering rays over us as he led the way
across the fields to the distant beacon-light of his house. Forlorn,
homesick, discouraged, as we had been, his friendly hospitality filled
us with gratitude too deep for words. His unquestioning acceptance of us
as guests was staggering, accustomed as we were to the artificial
restrictions of social intercourse in the city. As Marion said
afterward, I might have been a temporarily retired burglar who had
eloped with another man's wife and kidnapped a child, or we might have
been dangerous lunatics, or worse,--we might have been vulgar people!
But yet, with the all-embracing charity that thinketh no evil, Andy's
sprightly step led us from the chaotic discomfort of our new home to the
warmth and cheer that awaited us in his. No wonder, then, that Marion
wept like a tired child on the shoulder of the motherly old lady who
welcomed us, or that Andy, after one glance at my expressive face,
backed away with a hurried remark about having to attend to the fire.
Later, when Paul had been put to sleep in an old-fashioned billowy
feather bed, we settled ourselves in the kitchen for a smoke. We could
hear from the sitting-room the continuous restful murmur of the women's
voices, rising and falling in the responsive cadences of that sweet
communion that betokens, even in the most prosaic utterances, the
mingling of kindred spirits of the gentle sex. I look back upon that
evening as one of the pleasantest I ever spent, and I enjoyed to the
full the quaint sayings and funny stories of the genial little man who
entertained me.

The clock struck eleven before either of us noticed the lateness of the
hour. Andy rose reluctantly, knocking the ashes out of his pipe.

"Well, Mr. Carton," said he, "I'm mighty glad you're goin' to be a
neighbor of mine. The women-folk seem to have hit it off, too," he
added, opening the door into the next room, "and"----

He stopped speaking, and a look of astonishment crossed his face as a
tumultuous babel of conversation reached our ears. The voices no longer
rose and fell--they rose steadily, each dominating the other, it seemed,
and yet--marvel of marvels!--in perfect amity, though they no longer
responded but spoke at one and the same time.

"If it was two men?" whispered Andy, with a chuckle.

"Exactly," I replied; "it would mean a fight."

We listened intently. It was a problem--simple to the speakers--of
gussets, and pleats, and back widths, and yet not one connected sentence
could we hear.

"I tell you what, Mr. Carton," said Andy, in his hoarse whisper, "I've
been married forty-two years, and I ain't found anything yet as
entertainin' as the ways of a woman."

"Well," I suggested, "what about the ways of two women?"

Andy doubled himself over in silent glee; as for me, I felt that I had
said something rather neat, and tried not to smile myself. Just then the
voices in the next room suddenly ceased.

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Mrs. Taylor. "It's after eleven. I wonder
what them men is talkin' about so quiet in the kitchen. If your husband
lets him, Andy'll jest talk him blind, once he gets started."

Marion laughed merrily. "Why, Mrs. Taylor," she said, "how absurd! You
don't know Henry, or you wouldn't say that."

"Talk about women gossipin', as men do, Mrs. Carton, I believe there's
more gossip goes on among the men down at the post-office every day than
all the women round here do in a week. Now Andy"----

At that moment Andy softly shut the door, shuffled a chair across the
floor ostentatiously and announced in a loud tone that it was time to
get to bed.



IV

THE EDUCATION OF GRIGGS


We had lived for two months at Waydean, and, although as far as
agricultural operations were concerned we might as well have been in the
city, I had begun to appreciate the delights of a country life without
the usual drudgery, worry and expense. I was not raising grain at two
dollars a bushel to sell for fifty cents, or making butter at a cost of
a dollar a pound to sell for a quarter of a dollar, but I had time
during the hot weather to enjoy the sight of Peter Waydean's waving
fields as I swung in a hammock under the trees, while that old sinner
frizzled in the glaring sunlight over his work. Occasionally I refreshed
myself by sauntering to the field where he happened to be working, to
have a little friendly conversation with him, and I never failed to let
him know that new beauties were revealed to me day by day in the
agreement to pay him an extra hundred dollars for working his own land.
At first he had showed signs of looking upon me with the contemptuous
irritation of an angler who has accidentally landed a mud-pout, but when
I artlessly hinted that I would have been willing to pay a higher rent
for the place rather than make a slave of myself as he did, I could see
that his previous delight in his own cleverness was completely
overshadowed by the bitter regret that he had not made more of his
opportunity.

We had no cattle of our own, but Peter's were in plain view in the lower
field. We had no sheep, but Peter's little flock picturesquely dotted
the landscape. We didn't own a horse, but, after all, Marion had a
terror of being run away with, and I had made an inflexible rule never
to go within range of a horse's hind legs. And in the matter of
confining my farm expenditure to the price of a spade, a rake and a hoe,
I had been most loyal and consistent; I had stuck not only to the letter
of our agreement, but also to the spirit. Indeed, I was not merely
resigned, but cheerful, knowing that the more closely I appeared to
cling to Marion's plan the sooner would she begin to waver.

But a chance remark that I overheard Abner Davis make one morning as I
boarded the train changed my mental attitude in an instant. "He ain't no
reg'lar farmer--oh, Jiminy, no!--ha, ha!--he's jest"--How he finally
labelled me to his fellow-rustic I never heard, for the train slowed up
at the platform, and his voice was drowned in the noise. I just had time
to turn, before I stepped on board, to cast a withering glance
backwards--a glance that was wasted, however, for Abner was poking the
other man in the side with his thumb and they were both doubled over
with merriment. Of course, he hadn't intended me to hear, and I was
quite aware that I was not a farmer, either regular or irregular, but it
was this fact that made the remark so galling. There are two things I
cannot bear: one is what Marion calls the truth, for that always turns
out to be something odious and objectionable; the other is ridicule.
That morning my mind was filled with bitterness, for Abner Davis had
managed to combine in one brief remark the essence of much that I
disliked to hear. The rhythmic beat of the car-wheels clanked out the
derisive refrain, "He ain't--no reg--'lar far--mer!" By the time I
reached the city I had decided it was due to my self-respect to put
things on a different basis. Certainly, I was not a farmer. I had
neither a horse, nor a cow, nor a sheep--no, not even a guinea-pig! I
had no agricultural implements, except,--oh, hateful thought!--a spade,
a rake and a hoe.

I was in this mood when Harold Jones unloaded Griggs upon me in the
restaurant where I was taking lunch. I knew from the twinkle in Harold's
eye when he introduced us that he meant mischief. "Griggs," he explained
to me, "has got farm-on-the-brain. Carton," he explained to Griggs, "had
such a severe attack that his mind is unhinged. He imagines--ha,
ha!--that he's a farmer! Now you two sit down and exchange symptoms. I
have to get back to the office."

I treated Griggs with distant civility, not because he was thrust upon
me, but because it usually takes me a year or more to get beyond
formalities with an acquaintance. But Griggs was impervious to hauteur;
he was unconstrained and hearty enough for two. I could see that Harold
had spoken the truth in his case, for his farming mania was at its
height, and he was overjoyed at finding a man who had done what he
merely dreamed of doing. He was a produce commission merchant, he told
me, and he was convinced that he could double his income and prolong his
life by running a farm in connection with his business. It was a simple
proposition, he stated, that a child could grasp. A farmer makes a
profit by farming, a commission merchant by commissioning; therefore, if
the merchant were also a farmer would he not absorb both profits?

Griggs tilted his chair, hooked his thumbs into his waistcoat, and
challenged me to point out a flaw in his theory. I declined, for the
simple reason, I said, that it was flawless; then I rose to make my
escape. Griggs adjured me to sit down for a minute; he had a few
questions to ask, and I was the man of all men to give him the
information he sought.

Now a stitch in time, it is said, saves nine; a lie, a little one, a
mere clerical plea of a pressing engagement, would have saved ninety or
more. Had I not instinctively refrained from loosening one stitch in my
garment of righteousness it would not have been torn to tatters.

I hesitated; I sat down; I was lost. Griggs grew friendly, more
friendly, affectionate; he addressed me by my surname, and I realized
that I was in the clutches of the objectionable type of person who claps
you on the back at the second meeting, and demands with a boisterous
laugh, "How goes it, old man?"

Beginning with generalities pertaining to agriculture, he questioned me
searchingly upon my private affairs. I can parry, and occasionally
thrust--but not against a battering-ram. Grigg's questions were not to
be evaded. I could have declined point-blank to answer, thus intimating
that he was a boor, but that would have been unpleasant to me--perhaps
not to Griggs. I could have followed my natural inclination by telling
the truth, but I recoiled from laying bare to a stranger the peculiar
economies of our rural life; besides, I shrink from intrusion with the
same shyness that causes me to slink guiltily into a shop if I see a man
approaching who is indebted to me. There was but one other alternative;
I took it. I smiled my most frankly ingenuous smile; I beamed upon him
with warm-hearted encouraging candor and--lied! Yes, lied with beggarly
duplicity, and I kept on with Spartan fortitude; and so smooth is the
grade on the broad and downward road that presently I was enjoying my
own depravity. My imaginings no longer appeared as ugly bloated
caterpillars, but spun themselves swiftly into chrysalides and instantly
emerged as gorgeous butterflies, dazzling to their creator. And yet my
mind remained alert and clear. Every statement that I made was notched
deeply into my own brain, so that I could afterwards recall the
slightest detail; into Griggs's also, for he snapped at, swallowed and
assimilated every fragment of information with the avidity of a starved
dog. We began in this way:--

"How many acres in your farm?"......"Fifty." (It really was my farm, for
I was paying more than the rent of the whole place to Peter.)

"How many horses?"......"Five--two working teams and a fast driver."
(Fortunately, I knew Peter's stable.)

"Cows? .. Calves?"......"Three cows--seven calves." (I was pretty sure
of the cows, but I had to guess the calves.)

"Jupiter! You never raised seven calves from three cows?"......"Oh, yes.
Three pair of twins--the odd one is last year's."

"Last year's! Thought you had only been farming two months?"......"Yes,
but I bought one calf with her mother."

"Three pair of twins first season! Great Caesar--what luck! What did you
pay for the farm?"......"Six thousand, two hundred and fifty."

"Cash?"......"Cash."

"The devil! You must be well fixed?"......"Oh,--so, so."

"How'd you make it?"......"Emperor stock."

"Emperor! You must have been in on the ground floor?"......"Ground
floor."

"Oh Lord! How many men do you keep?"......"Just one."

"What do you have to pay him?"......"Three hundred a year."

"Must be a nice place for children. How many have you?"......"Five."
(This was theoretically correct. Paul had invented two sisters and two
brothers, all invisible, to play with. A man's family should be screened
from publicity, and this reply seemed to make Paul strictly impersonal.
He did not ask me how many wives I had.)

Now I looked upon this person as a man whom I would never meet again,
never having met him before, and I parted from him with joy after having
answered every question that he asked to his satisfaction, also to my
own. I did not dream of entering a maze that would exhaust my ingenuity
to find my way out of without ignominiously crying for help. But before
I was done with Griggs I recalled many things of which I had never seen
the full significance before. One was a tract I had read in my youth
entitled, "The First False Step." Another was a remark that Marion had
once made in anger: that I would say anything, without regard to
veracity or the immediate future, to avoid unpleasantness. I had got her
to retract the assertion to a certain extent by professing to be deeply
wounded, as indeed I was, but I saw now that she knew me better than I
knew myself.

Two days later, on my next trip to the city, I found Griggs awaiting me
in my office. "Hello, old man!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. "I
haven't been able to sleep since I saw you--can't think of anything but
getting out to see your farm. Why, Carton, what's--what the dev"----

"Stand back," I cried warningly, with averted face and outstretched
arm--"keep well away! I'm--I'm in trouble. My boy--my boy--" I sank into
my chair and covered my face with my hands.

Griggs staggered back. "Which one?" he gasped.

"_Which_--oh,--ah--Andrew," I answered despairingly. "He broke out last
night--I'm afraid it's--" I bowed my head.

"It's _what_?" demanded Griggs, moving rapidly away.

"Scarlet fever," I groaned.

Griggs vanished. "Say, Carton," he called out, from the other side of
the door, "awfully sorry. Other kids all safe?"

I laughed--a hard metallic laugh--I knew it sounded like that, for I
seemed to stand off and listen. Griggs didn't wait to hear more. "Hell!"
he ejaculated, and his heavy footsteps pounded the stairs.


I thought that was the last of Griggs. It was--for nearly two months. By
that time my point of view had changed, as the danger of complications
receded, so that I sometimes found myself chuckling over the clever way
in which I had managed to rid myself of an insufferable bore. I did not
mention the matter to Marion, for I well knew that in some things she
was incapable of judicial consideration, without regard to qualifying
circumstances; then, reasoning and argument availed not. An act, she
insists, is either right or wrong, therefore it is useless to juggle
with words in trying to make out that it is mostly right and only a
little wrong. Had Marion developed artistic ability, I am sure it would
have been in the line of black and white, while my talent would as
surely have run to color. It is the moral in a fable that appeals most
strongly to her; it is the fable itself that delights my imagination. A
moral is all very well in its place--like a capstone to a tower,--but
there it should stay. To detach it for the purpose of concrete personal
application, I have explained to Marion, is an outrage on the properties
of family life. To choose the moment when a man is smarting under the
consciousness of error for the purpose of pointing out the folly of his
foolishness is positively inhuman. What, I ask, would have been the
moral effect upon the prodigal had his father prepared a feast of
proverbs instead of a fatted calf? This question she has never answered
except by a baffling tight-lipped smile--a smile that convinces me of
the utter folly of hoping that a woman will listen to reason. Yes, I had
good cause to believe that mentioning the Griggs episode would lead to
useless discussion.

It was a warm day in midsummer when I found a note from Griggs in my
morning mail. He had learned at the office that I was spending my
vacation at home, and he concluded that all danger of infection was
over.

" ... Now, old chap," he wrote, "I can't wait any longer; I've got to
have a look at your place. My wife has been dead against my buying a
farm, but she has given in this much: that if I can find a city man who
gets more out of his farm than he puts into it, she'll let me go ahead.
So you're my man, Carton. I want you to give me the tip in regard to
facts and figures, and if you have to dress them up a bit, like the
Annual Report of a Loan and Investment Company, you may do so, with my
blessing. I'm no good in that line myself, but I'm strong on a
second-hand affidavit. I'll drive out on Thursday afternoon to have a
look around your farm, then you can post me on details."

It was nine o'clock when I received this epistle. Griggs, I calculated,
could not arrive before the middle of the afternoon, and he would
probably not stay more than an hour or two, so as to leave time to drive
back to the city by daylight. The problem that confronted me was whether
it would be worse for me to tell the truth to Griggs, or to Marion, or
to both, or to risk the probability of Marion learning it from Griggs,
or of the latter from my wife. I shrank from each solution in turn, and
yet, worst of all, was the thought of being burdened any longer by the
secret of my own guilt. I could have made up my mind to confess to
Marion had I not been sure that she would insist upon Griggs being told
the instant he arrived. That thought hardened my heart. I had gone too
far to retreat; Griggs should be deceived to the bitter end.

It was at this stage of my mental conflict that the thought of confiding
in Andy Taylor came to me as a sudden inspiration. That dear old soul,
I felt sure, would take a positive delight in helping me out of this
difficulty; indeed, I thought of borrowing his farm for the afternoon,
until a better plan presented itself. I couldn't see the humorous side
of the matter very clearly just then, but I knew Andy would. He did. I
found him hoeing his corn, but he willingly left his work and sat down
in a shady spot with me to listen to my tale. I did not attempt to
excuse myself; in fact, I was rather more severe in my self-condemnation
than I thought the circumstances warranted. I wanted sympathy and
encouragement; I wanted to be assured that I wasn't as miserable a
sinner as I declared myself to be; and I knew that, in dealing with
Marion, the way to get what I yearned for was to assume the most abject
repentance. But my serious air failed to impress Andy, for he was so
delighted with the humor of the situation that, at first, he gave
himself up to unrestrained merriment. I had to paint my despair still
more vividly before he subsided into helpful contemplation.

"To tell you the _truth_, Mr. Carton"--I winced at the word, and at the
wink that accompanied it--"I think it's a darn good joke." He stopped to
laugh once more, and I permitted a sorrowful smile to steal over my
face. "And as for my opinion of your conduct," he went on, "I believe
you're jest a nateral-born play-actor." I started in surprise, for this
was not the kind of consolation I had expected. "That bein' the case,"
he concluded, "you ain't no ways blamable."

"Why, how do you make that out?" I asked, trying to conceal my elation.

"You done it," he answered, chewing a piece of June grass meditatively,
with his eyes half-closed, "as innocent as that little boy of yourn when
he makes believe he has all them brothers and sisters. You ain't got all
the live-stock that you described, but you want 'em so bad that your
imagination sort of got a cinch on your judgment."

I grasped his hand in speechless gratitude,--not only for the charitable
view he took of my conduct, but also that he had pointed out the way to
disarm Marion's criticism when the time came for me to confess my
misdeeds. I looked at my watch. In three or four hours Griggs would
appear; there was no time to lose.

"Mr. Taylor," I said, hesitatingly, not knowing just how to broach my
plan, "having gone so far, I--I don't quite see my way clear, except--by
going a little farther."

Andy nodded in perfect comprehension. "See that strip of tamarac swamp
over there?" he asked. "Well, it ain't no more'n half a mile wide, and
it'd come nateral to me to cut through there in a bee line, but if you
was to try, the chances is that every bit of it would look like every
other bit, and you'd be glad to git out even on the side you started in
on."

"I would," I admitted. "If I could only start afresh!"

Andy chuckled again. "Well," he said, with hearty encouragement, "I'm
prepared to holler round the edge, or go in to look you up, or anything
you say. Now, what's your scheme?"

"It struck me," I replied, casting aside my embarrassment, "that perhaps
you wouldn't mind lending me some stage furniture for the afternoon." I
enumerated the required number of horses, cattle, hogs, and sheep.

Andy laughed in glee, then he shook his head in assumed solemnity. "No,
Mr. Carton," he said, "I couldn't do that, but I'll give 'em to you
outright; then, if you like, you can give 'em back to me in the
evenin'."

I was touched by his evident desire to save me from any unnecessary
perversion of the truth, but I assured him that Griggs would not think
of asking me if the animals he saw on my place were my own; besides, I
would feel overwhelmed by the munificence of this temporary gift. But
Andy was obdurate, so I let him have his way. There was just one other
difficulty--that of getting my wife away from Waydean for the afternoon,
but that was easily arranged. I remembered that she was in the first
stage of the rag-carpet fever, and had announced her intention of
getting Mrs. Taylor to instruct her in the art, so when Andy brought me
into the house to have a drink of fresh buttermilk, I had only to hint
at Marion's desire to learn in order to secure a pressing invitation
from Mrs. Taylor to bring her over in the afternoon.

Andy accompanied me to the gate. "Mr. Carton, keep up your spirits," he
said encouragingly, in parting, "and everything will go all right. You
needn't feel nervous about your wife gittin' back too soon, for when two
women gits started rag-carpetin' they don't remember they've got
husbands until on about supper-time. When they settle down we'll drive
the stock over and arrange them to look nateral. I was goin' to wash my
buggy this afternoon, and I was thinkin' I might as well do it over
there. I ain't had no experience of play-actin', but you need someone to
look like a hired man, and I guess I could do that."

I had thought of the hired man problem, and the same idea had occurred
to me, but I knew it wasn't my place to make the suggestion. "No, Mr.
Taylor," I replied; "I couldn't think of letting you take such a menial
part. I'd rather give up the performance--" I wilted suddenly at his
look of sceptical amusement--"unless," I added, "you would really like
to do it."

"I really would," he responded, with a broad smile.


Griggs came. To my amazement, he asked no questions, at first. He had a
business-like, preoccupied air, as if he were a bailiff preparing an
inventory for a bill-of-sale, and he looked at me, I fancied, as if he
suspected I had hastily hidden some of the effects that might legally be
attached. He scarcely noticed Peter's growing crops, but he studied the
domestic animals intently, jotting down memoranda in his note-book. The
inspection evidently satisfied him that they were not stuffed, although
in their unfamiliar surroundings the cattle wore a strained and
unnatural expression, as if they thought he was an amateur photographer,
and feared they might not be taken full face. His manner exasperated me,
but I managed to treat him politely, even when he remarked that my hired
man was a rum-looking old coon and that the horses needed grooming.

Suddenly he shut his note-book with a snap. "Carton," he burst forth,
"I've been taken in!"

"Taken--in?" I ejaculated. He had an equine cast of countenance, and his
eyes rolled in such a vicious way that I instinctively moved directly in
front, looking at him fixedly. My surprise was not assumed.

"Duped--bamboozled--hoodwinked!" he snorted.

I grew pale with rage. I knew I did, though I could not see myself. My
eyes flashed; I could feel them flashing. I would have given five
dollars to see their scintillations in a mirror. I drew myself up to
more than my full height--thank Heaven, I could at least see myself
elongate! Andy Taylor, standing beside his buggy with a sopping sponge
in one hand, his mouth hanging open and his reddish side-whiskers
floating in the breeze, suddenly turned his back and hugged himself, his
shoulders heaving in silent spasmodic convulsions.

"Mr. Griggs," I said icily, my tone, I was pleased to hear, as pale and
frosty as a shaft of the aurora borealis, "what do you mean?"

"What do I mean?" he shouted. "I mean that I'll pay Harold Jones back
for this--I'll teach him not to run a rig on me!"

"Harold--Jones?" I queried vacantly.

Griggs burst into a laugh that sounded like a horse's neigh. "Brace up,
old man," he adjured me, slapping me on the back. "You don't seem to get
on to my meaning, but you don't need to look like an idiot. I'll tell
you the whole business."

Briefly, it seemed, he had happened to meet my friend Harold that day,
and had mentioned his proposed visit to my farm; incidentally, a warm
discussion had arisen. Harold had been convulsed with merriment at
Griggs's conception of the extensive scope of my farming operations.
When Griggs adduced his conversation with me as evidence Harold had
laughed still more uproariously, declaring it was the best joke he ever
heard--further, that my live-stock consisted of five old hens and some
chickens. Griggs knew Harold to be fond of joking, but had,
reluctantly, believed him. He had not expected, he admitted, to see such
a well-stocked farm.

"In other words," I said, with some heat, "you expected to find that
I"----

"Hold up!" interrupted Griggs hastily. "You see, Carton, I was mad at
the thought of having been made a fool of. I can understand a fellow
lying on a business deal, when it's to his interest, but to sit down and
lie cold-bloodedly, just for recreation, like"----

"Like whom?" I demanded wrathfully, as he paused.

"Like that brute Jones," answered Griggs, with a vicious jerk of his
head. "I'll get back on him, you bet!"

I began to see daylight. "Come away up to the house and we'll have a
little refreshment," I said, with hospitable zeal.

Griggs brightened. It was a warm day, so I brought him around to the
south veranda, but I would have entertained him anywhere else had I
remembered that Paul was there. He was curled up in a chair, absorbed in
a book. I knew he was oblivious of what had been going on, but there is
never any certainty of what Paul may, or may not, say, and I felt a
qualm of misgiving. Griggs proceeded to attract his attention by
snapping his fingers, as if the boy were a puppy or an infant,
remarking, to me, that he was wondering where I kept the kids. Now Paul
is not shy, but we never could induce him to notice a stranger's
advances without being formally introduced, consequently, if his mind is
suddenly withdrawn from his imaginary world, he looks shy; worse, he
looks as if he were unseeing, deaf, and an idiot. My mind was
preoccupied, or I would have avoided difficulties by introducing Griggs,
but I unfortunately neglected that formality. Paul's stolid and
incurious gaze rested on my visitor; I looked on spellbound, knowing
that his mind was working with intensity, and that something was coming;
Griggs shuffled uneasily.

"Well, sonny," said Griggs, at last, "what do you think of me?"

I have watched a toad sit motionless waiting for a fly to come within
reach with exactly Paul's expression. I noticed that his eyelids didn't
even blink. Griggs glanced at me; I felt, rather than saw, the
patronizing condolence of his look. It is the look of the proud father
who raises children guaranteed to fit ready-made clothing.

"Paul," I prompted, with pregnant meaning, "why don't you answer? What
do you think of this gentleman?"

"I think, father," he answered, in his dreamy, deliberate tone,
addressing me pointedly, but still looking at Griggs, "that he looks
like a horse."

I felt as if I were falling from a dizzy height, but the sensation was
not altogether painful. Griggs bore up better than I could have hoped,
and declared with an attempt at jocularity that he would rather look
like a horse than a cow. I had no more presence of mind than to reprove
Paul on the spot for his rudeness, a course which could only result in
one of two things: a howl or an argument. This time it was an argument;
but I could better have stood a howl, for he pointed out that his mother
had taught him to always tell the truth, and----

"That will do, Paul," I interrupted, hurriedly. "Stand up, and I'll
introduce you to Mr. Griggs."

I left them to entertain each other, while I escaped into the house for
the refreshments. Had I not done so, nothing could have warded off an
indignant dissertation from Paul on the difference he was careful to
observe between stating actual facts that came under his observation and
his habit of making up fictitious persons and events. The latter
propensity we never checked, believing that nothing should be said to
prevent the fullest development of his wonderful imagination. My own
excursions in the realm of undiluted fiction were trifling in comparison
to Paul's; before him, doubtless, lay a future with his pen beside which
even mine must pale to insignificance.

The room I was in opened upon the veranda. Paul was sitting beside the
window, and I could hear his voice distinctly, but only the alternate
interrogatory rumble of his companion's. Evidently Griggs was making the
most of his opportunity to learn more of my domestic concerns.

"Oh, he's all right," I heard Paul announce. "He was only playing sick
to get out of working. Father said it wasn't worth while to send for the
doctor, and we shut him up in the barn so that the others wouldn't take
it. We didn't let him out till he said he was quite well thank-you."

"They're all half-brothers and half-sisters. Not of any consequence, you
know--just to amuse me."

"Father said he guessed he'd send them to the Orphan's Home; he couldn't
afford to feed such a large family. Then he said he'd let me keep them
if I made them work hard for their board. I can tell you I keep them
going."

"Father says he cares more for me than for the whole crowd, and that he
shouldn't be expected to bring up step-children."

"Yes, I let them play for an hour on Saturdays."

"They're all out picking potato bugs except Tom. He's in jail."

"Up in the attic. He stole a candy out of my box, and I locked him up
for a week. He gets bread and water only once a day."

"They each have to bring a full pail of bugs, or else they don't get
any tea."

"Father says he'll have Tom put in the Reformatory if I say the word."

What further information Griggs gleaned I had no means of knowing, for
Paul was doing so well that I thought it better not to interrupt the
conversation, and I took the opportunity of having a brief talk with
Andy Taylor before returning to the veranda. Griggs was obviously
distraught and had little to say except that he was in a hurry to get
back to the city, but he looked at me as if he were mentally formulating
charges to lay before the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he neglected to thank
me for holding the gate open as he drove through, then I had difficulty
in impressing upon his mind what he should say to Harold Jones.

"Tell him," I concluded, holding the horse's head, "that I consider it
an impertinence for a mere acquaintance to pry into my private affairs.
Is it anyone's business but my own, Mr. Griggs, whether I keep only a
few fowls or a large assortment of domestic animals? Tell him that I
would never dream of asking you how many firkins of butter and crates of
eggs you handled in a year, or if your profits exceed the commission
you----"

"G'lang there!" shouted Griggs.



V

PAUL AND THE CHICKENS


"I have no fancy for the country, as you know, my dear Marion," wrote
Aunt Sophy, in conclusion, "but your description of Waydean makes me
long to accept your invitation. When I heard that Henry had rented a
farm I thought you must be simply crazy to let him do it, but your
letter has reassured me. Of course, if he has quite determined not to go
to any expense in the expectation of making money out of the land, and
if you _both_ want to live there, it is a different thing. I think it is
a splendid idea not to work any more land than he can attend to with a
spade, a rake and a hoe. Take my advice, Marion, and keep him to
that--no matter what arguments he may use--and you will be perfectly
safe. If your poor uncle had only been guided by my advice, or if I had
been less easily swayed by his hopefulness, I would have had more than
a pittance to live on now. But no,--it was buy this, and buy that,
till....

"How lovely it must be to have your own milk and butter and cream and
fruit, and, above all, to know that they're _clean_! And the chickens!
Do you know, I can't touch chickens in the city; I haven't tasted one
for a year, I am so disgusted at the thought of how they may be
fed,--and yet I am just longing for a taste of plump, clean, ...
grain-fed----"

Marion's voice wavered; she stopped reading. I uttered a prolonged
whistle, then laughed in a hollow mirthless tone that brought a
responsive gleam to Marion's worried face. She left the breakfast table
and looked anxiously out of the window at the back of the room, then sat
down again with a sigh of thankfulness.

"What a mercy Paul wasn't within hearing," she said; "how he would have
howled!"

I went to the window. Paul was surrounded by our flock of twenty-seven
half-grown chickens and five hens. In one hand he held his little tin
pail of corn; with the other he dealt out one grain at a time to each in
turn, calling the fowl by name and reproving those that tried to snatch
the others' share. "Jeremiah, here's yours--come along Aunt Noddy," I
heard him say coaxingly.

I sat down again and stared at Marion hopelessly; she responded with a
gaze of mute despair; then we both studied the tablecloth without
speaking, feeling that the skeleton we had ignored for months had at
last stalked unbidden from the closet.

As I thought the matter over I could see that Marion was entirely to
blame for this hopeless complication. If she had allowed me to get eggs
from pure-bred stock for setting we would have had twenty-seven chickens
of exactly similar appearance that Paul never could have individualized,
never have named, never have loved with the passionate fervor that he
bestowed on each one of the variegated specimens hatched from eggs at
ten cents a dozen. My eggs, I computed, would have cost not more than
five dollars; so in order to save four dollars and a half, Marion had
saddled us with a flock as unapproachable from a culinary stand-point as
so many sacred cows. This conclusion presented itself with such
clearness that I was on the point of submitting it to Marion when I
remembered how unpleasant it was to me to listen to wholesome truths, so
I merely looked unselfish and hummed thoughtfully.

My wife regarded me with suspicion, her frown deepening. "I have asked
you repeatedly," she said, with frosty distinctness, "not to hum, and
not to look like that."

My complaisance vanished. I am not easily irritated, and I try to avoid
answering back, but I cannot stand being told not to look like that.

"Marion," I retorted, "I don't wonder you feel annoyed, but you may as
well face the difficulty now. I'm tired of people asking me how we like
living in the country, and then remarking that it must be fine to have
your own chickens. Of course, I'm willing to keep up appearances and to
make-believe that having our own chickens is one of our many daily
luxuries; but now that your Aunt Sophy is coming we've got to eat them,
or she'll know the reason why. Oh, yes, I know," I added, as she tried
to interrupt--"I know we can't have them in the abstract. We've got to
kill and cook and pick the bones of Abner, Jeremiah, Lucy, or some other
of the boy's pets; but if I had had my way about the eggs he couldn't
have told one from another, and we might have had an occasional fowl
without these painful personal associations."

I regretted my rashness when I saw Marion's look of calm scorn, her
manner leading me to expect a revival of some of my mistakes. I can
evolve plausible theories, but she usually shatters them with the most
distracting personal applications.

"I hadn't intended to point out that you are responsible," she said,
"but since you are so unjust as to try to blame me, I must do so. Don't
you see, Henry, that it is but another instance of your habit of evading
unpleasant duties. I have told you repeatedly"--I squirmed in protest,
for I do hate that phrase, and I knew so well what was coming--"that
you would say anything to tide over a disagreeable scene,--and it's
true."

"Honestly, Marion," I protested, "I--I wouldn't. I'd jump into any kind
of a scrimmage--I'd do anything to please you. If you'll only be
cheerful I'll--I'll see that it doesn't happen"----

"There you are again," she interrupted, in a descending cadence of utter
dejection. "Oh, dear--it is so hopeless! Listen, Henry, and see if you
can understand this: Paul is now six, and yet he never knew there was
such a thing as death until last month. You had your way about that--and
what was the result? The child nearly went crazy when his bantam hen
died. If you had been at home, I have no doubt you would have told him
it was asleep, but you more than made up for that by assuring him that
it had gone to heaven."

"I did nothing of the kind," I protested indignantly. "Paul came to
me"----

"The child came to _me_," Marion went on sternly, "perfectly happy in
the thought of Bijou having gone"----

"He came to _me_," I insisted, "asking if Bijou had gone to heaven. I
said I _hoped_"----

"It doesn't matter so much what you said as the way you said it.
However, as you say, Aunt Sophy is coming, and we must eat some of those
chickens; so _you_ may face the situation and settle with Paul. If you
had explained to him that chickens were made to eat, as I wanted you to
do in the first place, you wouldn't have had this trouble now. If I
thought it would be a lesson to you I could stand my share, but I know
you'll forget all about it in a week and be ready to do the same thing
again, so you may as well take the consequences alone."

I was preparing to ask for a properly executed death-warrant, specifying
the first victims by name, but before I could speak my wife dived into
her pocket for a handkerchief and retreated upstairs.

I can tackle a disagreeable duty when there is no other course open to
me, but I am not upheld, as Marion is, by a strong sense of
righteousness; indeed, I am inclined to feel personally unworthy to
attempt any good act that is patently out of my line, yet on the rare
occasions when Marion behaves in this childish manner I throw my
conscientious scruples to the winds in my frantic desire to assuage her
grief.


I found Paul teaching a hen and two chickens to sit still as he drew
them around on his little wagon. My resolution wavered as I watched his
innocent enjoyment, but the thought of Aunt Sophy spurred me on.
Besides, if Marion was bloodthirsty enough to want these poor creatures
eaten, it was not for me to feel faint-hearted.

"Well, Paul," I said, with spurious cheerfulness, "giving them a ride?
Are these some--ha, ha!--you want to keep for pets?"

Paul has a quick ear for a false note. He studied my face with grave
wonderment, his earnest gaze piercing my jocose mask. "Why, father," he
exclaimed, "your voice sounds so queer--and what a funny question!
They're all pets,--of course, I want to keep every one."

"Come and sit on the bench beside me," I said ingratiatingly, "and we'll
have a talk.... Do you know that--that people sometimes have to--that
is, that people don't usually raise chickens for pets?"

"Oh, yes, I know," he replied, nodding his little head with philosophic
certainty. "Most boys would rather keep dogs and rabbits, and ponies and
other animals; but I don't want anything for pets except hens and
chickens, and perhaps--well, I think I would like a pair of white
pigeons. I heard you saying to mother that I wasn't a bit like other
boys. Is that one way I'm different?"

"It is," I answered with curt emphasis.

Paul snuggled closer to me and leaned his head on my shoulder. "You say
that as if"--he hesitated shyly--"as if you wished I was like other
boys. Am I not as good?"

"You're better, my boy, far better!" I exclaimed, in quick remorse.

This remark may appear injudicious, but Paul is like me in many ways,
and there is not a shadow of vanity or self-consciousness in his
character; no amount of praise, or even flattery, could disturb the
natural equipoise of his self-esteem, but he is quick to feel the hurt
of unjust depreciation. When Marion forgets my imperfections and tells
me I am the best man in the world, I am aware that she is drawing it a
little strong; at the same time, I am strengthened and uplifted by her
opinion, and I feel the yearning to do noble things, to be more worthy
of my pedestal, to attain that serenity of temper which mortals name
angelic.

Paul's face brightened, and I knew that I had made amends for my
previous abrupt and jarring tone. I began again cautiously, taking care
to speak with soothing mellowness. "I don't think I ever heard of anyone
keeping twenty-seven chickens and five hens for _pets_."

A merry light danced in Paul's eyes. "That's what you said about farming
with a spade, a rake and a hoe," he reminded me, "and mother said we
must do what was right without thinking about other people."

Chance, instinct, or his inherited nimble mind had enabled him to
checkmate me as neatly as Marion could have done it; I moved back.
Passing lightly over the objectionable features, I briefly sketched the
magnitude of the chicken-raising industry for supplying city markets,
pointing out the necessity for poor farmers selling their fowls to buy
food and clothing. Despite my care he was visibly shocked.

"No matter how poor _we_ were, you would never send _our_ chickens to
market?" he inquired, breathing hard.

There could be but one answer to that question, and after I had
fervently disclaimed the possibility of poverty ever making me so
heartless, each of us remained buried in his own thoughts for a brief
time. The chickens gathered around, and I fancied they regarded me with
intuitive dread in their glistening eyes, as if they waited to hear my
next attempt to seal their doom. An overgrown bully suddenly pecked a
weaker brother, pulling out a bunch of feathers viciously as he spurned
the victim with his feet. Paul darted to the rescue and brought the
brutal assailant back to the bench a prisoner.

"What is that villain's name, Paul?" I asked with eager interest.

"Why, this is Angelica," he answered. "Don't you remember you named him
yourself when he was first hatched?"

I did remember. He was then a beautiful yellowish ball of fluff, with
large, soft, wide-open eyes, the prettiest one of the brood; now he was
grown into a greedy, swaggering, insolent swashbuckler, proud of his
stature and fine plumage.

"He's a dangerous criminal," I said, feeling his plump breast
appreciatively, "and it might be better to--to"--somehow the word stuck
in my throat; I hesitated.

"I know, father," cried Paul joyfully. "I'm the policeman and you're the
judge--he must be tried and then sentenced to wear a muzzle."

Angelica was tried and sentenced, then muzzled with a small rubber band
that fitted tightly over his bill. His antics amused us so much that
for a few minutes I forgot my fatal errand.

"He looks wicked enough to kill some of the others," I remarked, after a
pause. "Do you know, Paul, how a person who kills another is punished?"
He looked up with sudden, awed interest. "They put a rope around--him,
and--and"----

"And _what_?"

"----fine him a dollar and costs."

"Oh!" he gasped, "I'm so glad that's all. And do they take the rope off
afterwards?"

"I believe they do," I replied, in deep dejection.

"Father, I just love chickens. Don't you?"

"I do, indeed," I affirmed, with sudden reckless, despairing intention;
"but I love them in two different ways. If they're nice, well-mannered
birds I love to see them running about with their feathers _on_; but if
they're naughty I love to see them not running about with their feathers
_off_." Paul laughed in glee. "Your mother and Aunt Sophy like them
too," I went on warily, my heart thumping; "and I think if chickens are
cruel and bad they deserve to be stuffed"--his expression changed
suddenly, but he still looked bravely into my eyes--"with bread-crumbs,
and roasted, with thick--brown--rich--gravy."

Paul jerked his little hand from mine and stood up in front of me, his
face twitching and his eyes brimming. "You greedy--_greedy_--GREEDY!" he
gasped.

"Paul,--my boy,--listen," I implored; "your aunt Sophy is coming, and
she's awfully fond"----

My words were lost in a prolonged howl. He had a phenomenal voice, but
this delayed howl eclipsed all previous ones. I followed him in frantic
haste, eager to forswear all designs on his pets, but he fled as if I
were after his scalp. When I finally found him, too late, he was in his
mother's arms, and I knew she had promised him everything, from the look
she turned on me,--a look that caused me to slink silently away, a
soulless brute, and alas!--a tailless one.

"Henry," said Aunt Sophy, complacently, as I drove her to the station
after her visit, "in all the time my husband had his farm I never could
get him to use our own chickens. He said they cost him two dollars
apiece, being from thoroughbred stock, but I see you have more sense and
raise good plain barnyard fowls that you can eat every day if you want
to. Why, we must have had them three times a week while I've been here,
and you seem to have a good large flock yet. I've tried a dozen times to
count them, but they always went criss-cross. How many have you got
left?"

"Just twenty-seven," I answered, stroking my mustache with modest pride.



VI

A COW AND A CALF


I did not approve of Marion's habit of keeping accounts at Waydean.
There was always a missing balance, but I never could get her to see
what a needless worry and waste of time it was to try to locate it, or
how much better it is to take my plan and merely count the cash on hand
to settle one's financial standing. It is diverting to me to calculate
future hypothetical receipts and expenditures, but it is the reverse of
entertaining to look backwards at the irrevocable past, the past that is
called back by various carefully entered items in Marion's account book,
prominent among which looms payment of three hundred dollars for Emperor
mining shares.

It was one evening while I was engaged in preparing my weekly
agricultural page for the _Observer_, and Marion was poring over her
account book that she suddenly dropped her pencil and exclaimed:
"Henry!"

"Well?" I asked, with meek resignation, my brain beginning to stiffen,
for I judged from her tone that she had arrived at some miraculous
result in figures.

"We've been living in the country four months," she said impressively,
"and what do you think I find? We've actually paid more for butter and
milk and vegetables than in any four months while we lived in the city."

"How strange," I commented, trying to look interested.

My wife smiled slightly, in a way that I find peculiarly irritating.
"You're only pretending to listen," she said, "and you couldn't possibly
understand while you look like that."

My weariness vanished; I started up indignantly. "While I look like
what?" I demanded.

Marion laughed. "That's better," she said. "I'd rather see you look
angry than stupid. Now I'll try again to get your attention. Do you
remember what you said when I gave you the choice of a lawn-mower or a
hammock for your birthday?"

I did remember. I had made a swift calculation at the time that a
hammock would be easier to run, so I had urged Marion not to go to the
expense of a lawn-mower, reminding her also that it might properly be
ranked among the tabooed farm implements.

"Certainly," I answered, at a loss to know what was coming, "I said I
would prefer a hammock."

"And do you remember that you promised to hire or borrow one of Peter's
cows to crop the grass on the lawn?"

"Well, I didn't exactly promise. I said it would be easy enough to get
one."

"And now the grass is as long as hay. Why didn't you do it?"

I frowned, for I hate insistent, unnecessary questions,--questions that
are bound to lead up to some unpleasant climax that it would be better
to avoid. I could stand being thrown overboard without ceremony better
than being forced to walk the plank with measured tread, yet if I
protest against this Socratic method of arriving at conclusions she
tells me with pained surprise that it is for my good,--that I should
learn not only to regret my mistakes, but to thoroughly understand why I
am sorry. Rather than have her say that, I am willing to answer any
ordinary question with outward docility.

"The plan didn't seem so feasible when I thought it over," I replied
meekly. "It would have looked foolish to offer to pay Peter for letting
me feed his cow, and I couldn't make up my mind to borrow one, so the
time slipped away before----"

"Of course it did," she interrupted; "the way it always does. But, after
all, I think"--a merry light danced in her eyes--"I'll forgive you.
There'll be all the more grass for,--oh, dear, you do look so
funny!--_our cow_."

"_Our_ cow!" I gasped, in stupefaction.

"Henry," she burst forth excitedly, "I've been trying to break it to you
gently, but you don't seem to understand. I've come round to your way of
thinking--you may go and buy a cow to-morrow."

It was a complete surprise to me that Marion should be so suddenly
seized by the desire to own a cow. For my own part I would rather have
started with a herd, but still, it was something to be thankful for that
she did not insist upon beginning with a goat. Then there was the
possibility that a cow might grow into a herd; that would mean a hired
man, horses, implements, a large dairy business, more land, an ultimate
fortune. Yes, I was more than gratified that Marion was beginning to see
that my ideas on farm management were sound.

When I asked our butcher the next morning if he knew of any cows for
sale in the neighborhood we awaited his answer with breathless anxiety.
He half-closed his eyes, studying the mud on the wagon-wheel in profound
meditation, our suspense intensified by this dramatic pause.

"I'll tell you what I'd do," he said, at last, pointing northward
impressively with his long knife. "I'd go up there on the clay where the
pastures is dried up and the farmers is feedin' hay at fifteen dollars a
ton, and I'd buy a cow for half what she could be bought for down here
where the grass is green."

That sounded reasonable, and when he proceeded to name some of his
customers "on the clay," I stopped him at the name Waydean.

"Any relation of Peter's?" I asked, with sudden interest.

"His brother," he answered, with an odd smile--"and it's a dead fright
how them two men hate each other! I believe Peter'd go clean off his
head if you was to buy a cow from John."

I smiled with satisfaction. Peter had set his snares in vain in many
artful endeavors to sell me some of his belongings; with sunny smiles I
had avoided giving him a chance to add to the exorbitant rent that I
paid him, and he could scarcely conceal glances of sour disappointment
in my presence. That I should buy a cow from anyone else would, I knew,
be pain to him; his pain would not be less if I bought her from his
brother John.

"Well," said the butcher, when I had announced my intention of having a
look at John Waydean's cattle, "I pass within half a mile of his place
on my round, so I can give you a lift if you like to come along with me.
Of course," he added, taking a sidelong survey of me, "John can't skin a
man quite so neat as Peter, but he's pretty sharp on a bargain, and you
want to keep your weather eye open when you dicker with him. Know much
about cattle?"

Some people can boast about acquirements they haven't got; I cannot. I
merely looked shrewd and modest, nodding slightly to the butcher,
simultaneously with a faint movement of one eyelid. Marion,
misunderstanding my silence, exclaimed confidently: "Oh, he knows _all_
about that sort of thing. He writes articles for the _Observer_."

At this point I disclaimed, with becoming embarrassment, all pretension
to unusual lore, but the butcher looked profoundly impressed and
delighted.

"That's all right!" he said cheerily. "I know his cows is mostly fresh,
but he's got one or two strippers."

I went into the house to get ready for the trip; Marion followed me.
"Henry," she inquired, in a confidential tone, "what _are_ fresh
cows,--and strippers?"

It was the very problem I was wrestling with. If the butcher had not
been waiting, and if Marion hadn't followed me so closely, I would have
snatched a moment to consult my books of reference, but I had no time
even to collect my thoughts properly. I was in the awkward predicament
of the schoolboy who knows he knows the answer to a question, but
somehow cannot think of the words. I was in a great hurry, but Marion
was so anxious for information that I did my best to enlighten her.

"A fresh cow," I said, struggling into my coat in jerks, "is one--in the
prime--of life--and--and vigor; a stripper, on the contrary, is
merely--a--a middle-aged--juvenile."

I seized my hat and hurried away. As we drove out of the yard I noticed
that Marion was standing in the kitchen doorway gazing after me with the
expression of one who is prevented from seeing the bottom of a pool by
the reflections on its surface. I waved her a gay farewell and hoped
for the best.

I had a dim idea that I could find out indirectly during the drive what
the butcher thought these terms meant, but I needed all my mental
agility to make a creditable appearance of understanding his voluble
allusions to grades, stockers, springers, shorthorns, yearlings,
heifers, and numerous other varieties of cattle. My answers were brief
and guarded, and when I tottered I was so swift to recover my balance
that my errors were not apparent to my companion. On such occasions I
may sometimes be suspected of not being familiar with a subject, but I
would defy anyone to prove my ignorance. If Marion's reputation for
veracity had not been at stake I might have been willing to act the part
of a humble tyro asking for information, but since she had plainly said
that I knew all about cattle it was my duty to try to make her statement
appear credible.

I descended from the wagon feeling that I was utterly incapable of
choosing a cow, but I concealed my fears under a mask of calm assurance
as I bade the butcher good-by.

"Mr. Carton," he said, in parting, "if you was a greenhorn that didn't
know the difference between a stocker and a springer, like most city
men, I'd say to buy your cow off of some other man than John Waydean,
but he'll know better than to try to palm off scrub-stock onto you."

This cheerful prediction almost made me perspire with apprehension,
particularly as scrub-stock was a brand new variety that he had not
mentioned previously. My confidence returned, however, when I stood in
John Waydean's barnyard and saw his cows paraded for my inspection, for
no two of them were alike, and I could tell at a glance which were
Jerseys and which were common cows. I took care not to express a
preference until I found out which ones their owner appeared most
anxious to sell, and these I instantly decided not to buy. Even had I
not been warned by the butcher I would have mistrusted John Waydean, for
his face had not the prepossessing appearance of his brother's, and his
manner was surly and suspicious. I examined each of the animals with a
critical air, ignoring his evident desire to make me believe that an
ugly creature resembling a bison was the finest cow, and finally chose a
graceful, neat-limbed, fawn-colored Jersey. The reluctance to part with
her that I detected in the old man's manner, and the fact of his asking
me ten dollars more for her than for any other, confirmed my intuition
that I had chosen wisely. I was about to close the bargain when the
butcher's words came back to my mind. I looked sharply at the seller.
His smooth-shaven face was creased with deep lines about the mouth--a
mouth resembling his brother Peter's in its smug rigidity, but whether
it concealed regret or triumph I could not determine.

"Mr. Waydean," I said, with stern incisiveness, "is that animal a fresh
cow or a stripper?"

His reply had a ring of indignant, scornful reproach. Take her or leave
her, he didn't care a blank, but I couldn't run no rig on him by asking
such questions. However, since I had mentioned the matter, I'd better
come into the stable and see the prettiest week-old calf in the county.
He'd sell it for two dollars, and if I raised it on that cow's milk he'd
be willing to buy it back in the fall for ten. My lingering doubts were
dispelled when I saw the pretty little soft-eyed creature, and I
suddenly remembered that a fresh cow is one with a fresh calf. Marion
hadn't spoken about getting a calf, but I felt sure that if I suggested
it should be made into veal she would insist upon its being kept, then I
would have a tangible nucleus toward the realization of my dream of
owning a herd of dairy cows. I closed the bargain hurriedly, with the
proviso that he was to hitch up his team and deliver my purchases at
Waydean. In a few minutes the calf was hoisted into the wagon, bleating
dismally. I looked for some demonstration of sympathy from its mother,
but she appeared quite unconcerned and would not follow until she had
been tied to the rear of the vehicle. I thought this rather peculiar,
but the old man explained that she had always showed a great fondness
for home and was reluctant to leave. During our drive he was almost as
voluble as the butcher had been, discoursing of the iniquities of the
man whom he was ashamed to call his brother. "Mr. Carton," he warned me
solemnly, "I wouldn't put it past him to come over and run that cow
down, he'll be that mad that you knew too much to buy one off of him,
but don't you believe a word he says. A man that'd go into court and
swear as he done in connection with my late father's property wouldn't
stick at nothin'. You watch Pete; if he ain't took you in on the rent,
he'll even up in some other way, for it ain't in him to act straight and
square like me."

       *       *       *       *       *      *       *

"The dear little lovely thing! I do believe it's hungry, Henry. How are
you going to feed it?"

I have been asked many questions for which I have been obliged to invent
answers, but this was not one of them. I had never owned a calf before,
so my ideas on calf-raising were logical and conclusive. The theory
that the progeny of a cow should not be allowed to associate with the
mother was, I explained, founded upon true scientific laws. A calf
brought up on a milk-pail would learn to take its food at stated
intervals, escape indigestion, heaves and hollow horn, and grow up into
a gentle, courteous and productive adult; while the mother, segregated
from an otherwise guzzling, irrational, worrying offspring, would chew
her cud in the placid beatitude most essential to the production of the
largest quantity of rich milk.

Marion listened silently, with a knowing smile, but when I had finished
she remarked that I knew perfectly well that I was talking rubbish, and
that the natural way of feeding anything was the right way. Hadn't I
better get the soup ladle and her mixing-bowl and teach the calf to sit
up properly at the kitchen table while I was about it?

I replied rather hastily, and before I had finished speaking Marion left
me and went into the house. I was alone with a calf, a cow, and a guilty
conscience; alone at the very time when I most needed help and
encouragement. Five minutes before I had looked on my purchases with
exultation, while my wife stood in the stable beside me, uttering
ecstatic exclamations of delight because I had bought a cow so beautiful
to behold and the dearest little calf that I must never mention in
connection with veal again; now, in my black despair over this
disagreement, I hated the innocent cause of it. If Marion had tried
persuasion, I would have been willing to cast my theory to the winds,
but I could not brook ridicule and I determined to bring up that calf by
hand at whatever cost in time and trouble. I decided to begin at once by
learning to milk the cow; after that, I would be in a better position to
look up Marion and forgive her for the way I had behaved.

I didn't expect to become an expert milker at once, but I knew from
observation how to milk, and I went to work with frantic energy. In a
calmer frame of mind I might have waited to tie Ariadne's legs together,
they looked so excessively agile; however, she allowed me to exhaust
every possible grip and password without protest, also,--alas!--without
acknowledgment. When I retreated at last with the empty pail, my dismay
was increased by the sideways leaps of joyful anticipation indulged in
by the calf in the next stall. Something had to be done to fill up that
creature, and I realized with a sense of utter desolation that I was
left alone to do it. A word of advice, a protest, tears or angry
reprisals, would alike have been sweet to my ears at that moment, but I
knew Marion too well to hope that she would come to my help until I
implored her forgiveness; even then,--oh, maddening inconsistency!--she
would perhaps be plunged in gloom because I had not enough strength of
character to stick to my convictions. No, there was but one course for
me: I must prove the worth of my theory, if possible; if not, I would at
least be in a position to capitulate with the honors of war.

I went into the house and looked up the directions for teaching a calf
to drink. I found that you merely seized it by the nostrils with the
thumb and little finger, inserting the other three into its mouth as you
drew its head gently into the pail of milk. This operation sounded
rather objectionable, but I could not afford to be squeamish, and I
prepared to smuggle our small supply of milk out of the pantry and add
it up with water to make a sufficient bulk. As I passed through the
kitchen I glanced furtively at Marion in the faint hope that she might
be ready to hold out the olive branch, but when I saw that she did not
deign to notice my existence a sudden violent resentment seized me.
Instead of surreptitiously abstracting the milk, as I had intended, I
poured it into the pail with defiant ostentation; still, I left the
kitchen with a sinking heart, for when Marion neglected to ask me what I
was going to do with that, I knew that she must indeed be in a serious
mood.

I know I followed the directions to the letter up to the point when I
drew the calf's head into the pail and inserted my fingers, though much
perseverance was needed, for it seemed to be able to travel backwards
in all directions at once, faster than I could go forwards; but after
that I am not quite sure what happened. I know there was a violent
explosion and upheaval,--a blank followed, then I discovered that I was
standing in the stable doorway frantically squeezing three of my fingers
between my knees to deaden the pain, while the calf stood outside
looking at me with an expression of incredulous wonder, its legs
sticking out in four different directions like props. I wonder whether
it was blown out or carried out; I don't think it walked. I don't think,
either, that I lost my presence of mind; if I did, I found it again
instantly. Instead of going into the house for liniment, I calmly turned
the cow out of the stable also, then I looked on grimly, resigned to
non-interference if the calf should happen to bite its parent or the cow
kick her offspring.

Ariadne looked around apprehensively when she emerged from the stable;
the calf ambled crookedly toward her; she edged away with forward
pointed ears; it followed hungrily. She trotted toward the open gate,
the calf gamboling in pursuit; suddenly her tail straightened and she
broke into a mad gallop,--so did the calf, so also did I. It was in this
order we passed the kitchen door where Marion stood calling out to me in
wild alarm to run, that the cow had broken loose.

Perhaps it was this cheery information that inspired me to overtake my
movable property a mile further down the road, where our butcher,
homeward bound, had got off his wagon to turn them back.

"You might be able to milk a cow that _had_ milk," he said with a
chuckle, after listening to my tale, "but it'd take Old Nick to raise a
calf on a dry one."

"A dry one!" I shouted. "Do you mean"----

"Did the old man tell you it was _this_ cow's calf?" he interrupted.

"Well, no,--I can't remember that he did. He said I'd better take the
calf too, and I supposed----"

"Exactly--then he's salted you right enough! You've paid forty dollars
for a beef cow that he offered to give me for a twenty dollar account
he owes me. I'm sorry--dashed sorry--that you've been took in, but--he,
he! ha, ha, ha!--but you let on you knowed all about cattle, and I told
you to keep your weather eye----"

"I can stand being swindled," I shouted, in wrath, "but I won't stand
any told-you-so business. You ought to have more sense than to talk that
way when--when----"

"There, there," he interjected soothingly--"I know jest how you feel.
The other day my missis told me I'd smash my hand if I went hammerin'
nails with an axe. Well sir, it wasn't three minutes till I did. Of
course I swore a bit, but when I went into the kitchen and the missis
asked me first how I done it, and then said she knowed I would, I jest
went clean out of my head with rage. I'd sooner have gone out and
smashed the other thumb than have been spoke to that way."

My heart warmed to the butcher; he is a man of fine feelings. He not
only gave me twenty dollars for the cow, but promised to frighten John
Waydean into silence by representing that I was preparing evidence for
a criminal prosecution.

"And now," I said, in conclusion, "I'd like your candid opinion about
the calf. If I decided to raise it, would it be likely to grow into a
valuable cow?"

"Well," he answered, gulping in a peculiar, hesitating way, as if he
were reluctant to answer, "you mostly can't tell what kind of a cow a
calf will make when it's a week old, but if you--if you wanted to raise
a _cow_, you--you----"

His face became suffused with a dull purple flush, as if he were
struggling with a mighty spasmodic sneeze; he turned his face away, his
body shaking convulsively, then with obvious difficulty he continued:
"If you wanted to raise a _cow_ you'd ought to have bought a--a--ha, ha,
ha!----"

"Have bought _what_?" I cried, in exasperation.

He stopped laughing and looked up and down the road, then leaned over
the edge of the wagon-seat with his whip hand shielding one side of his
mouth. I hung breathless on his words.

"A--cow--calf," he whispered.



VII

THE ADVENT OF WILLIAM WEDDER


I like to forget unpleasant experiences quickly, particularly mistakes
of my own, and to that end I hurried home and told Marion everything.
Few husbands, I know, would have done so, but I am not one who lacks the
moral courage to do right when I know it will be better for me in the
end; nor would I be unwise enough to attempt to conceal the fact that I
have faults when I know that it is infinitely wiser to acknowledge them.
An error thrust in Marion's way may arouse her compassion, while a good
deed, too obviously placed there, may be pushed aside with well-merited
contempt. I prefer to let my virtues bloom in seclusion on either side
of her path, for her artistic eye delights to spy out the modest flower
that hides itself in verdure.

Marion vibrated between laughter and tears as she listened to my tale.
Did I try to extenuate my conduct, or gloss over my unspeakable
stupidity? No; I castigated myself unsparingly. I anticipated the worst
that might be said, and said it with superlative fervor. Only thus could
I hope to avert the useless, humiliating process of having my mistakes
pointed out in detail; only thus could I evoke the sweet human sympathy
I craved, and divert my wife's indignation toward that adroit old
swindler, John Waydean. She was visibly affected by my self-accusation,
and I began to breathe more freely. She seemed to be in no haste to
interrupt with a word of reproach, or to say that she told me so, or to
hope the experience would be a lesson to me. I had begun to reflect
that, after all, I wasn't a bad sort of fellow and that man was made to
err, when suddenly she burst into tears.

"Marion," I cried, aghast, "I'm an idiot, but there's no use crying
over----"

"No," she moaned--"no--use."

"It's _my_ fault," I urged, in despair, "but if it were yours, I'm--I'm
blamed if I'd cry!"

"It _is_--my fault," she gasped, with a fresh relapse.

In a flash I jumped to the conclusion that she was overcome with remorse
for having told the butcher that I knew all about cattle. I saw that it
really was her fault, after all, but this was not the time to say so.

"Not at all," I assured her, with soothing generosity. "You must not
blame yourself--you didn't realize the awkward position you placed me
in."

"No--use," she repeated, unheeding. "To think that--I--should be
so--taken in!"

"_You_ taken in?" I cried. "It was I. Who--what--to--oh----"

The words died away in my throat as Marion uncovered her face. Not a
word did she say, but her look was insufferable.

"I didn't," I protested hotly; "I never said I knew all about cattle
when"----

I stopped, disconcerted by the expressive interrogatory turn to the
corners of her mouth. If she had said, in words, that I had convicted
myself by my denial, I could have argued the point, but this silent
denunciation was distracting. I stared for a moment with uncomprehending
hauteur, then strode from the room, trying to make my back view appear
like that of a man who might possibly escape being mangled by a train or
dying of heart failure until his wife had an opportunity to apologize
for her heartless conduct. This device had never failed; it didn't this
time. I was reaching for my hat in the hall when Marion called me. I
looked back, virtuously impassive, but I could not suppress my joy when
I saw in her face, not a sorrowful willingness to forgive me this time,
but loving toleration. What mattered forty dollars, or even forty cows,
if I might once more be restored to favor?

It was in all sincerity that I assured her that I would profit by my
experience, for it did not seem possible that I could ever again meet a
cow on terms of mental superiority, and yet, in a few days, time and my
elastic temperament had such a mellowing influence that I lost all
sensitiveness on the subject; indeed, after pledging the butcher to
secrecy, I found myself telling Andy Taylor with the gusto of an
onlooker. And later, when we had, through the good offices of the
butcher, found a suitable cow that wasn't dry, I became able to
appreciate the humor of the situation with quite an impersonal relish.
Our new cow was not a graceful animal, like Ariadne, but she was easy to
milk and docile, and, as Marion said, Paul could never be impaled on her
horns, for she hadn't any.

I would not willingly have missed the pleasure of owning a cow, nor the
satisfaction of being able to milk her, but I did not try to disguise
from Marion the fact that it was hard work; indeed, the harder I work,
the more I like her to be aware of it. Solicitude is cheering to me, so
when, at first, she used to stand beside me and express a fear that I
might hurt my back or burst a blood-vessel, I worked enthusiastically;
but later, when attending to our cow became a part of the inevitable
daily routine, and when I milked in solitude, I got very tired and
thought morbid thoughts about hired men and other farm accessories that
were not.

It is odd that the butcher's aggravating habit of leaving our gate open
should have resulted in Marion's suggesting that we should hire William
Wedder, the one available man exactly suited to our requirements. Also,
I afterwards reminded Marion, if it had not been for what she called my
negligence in not removing the gate-semaphore when winter set in,
William's observant eye would not have detected anything unusual in the
appearance of the place. I recalled, too, that I had several times been
prevented from taking down the sign-board by the impossibility of
finding the hammer and the wrench at the same time; not only that, but
when both tools were to hand I had a strange instinct against making use
of them for that purpose. Marion smilingly admitted that it was
extraordinary; she suggested that perhaps I was influenced by the same
instinct that led me to leave the Venetian shutters on the window frames
all winter, instead of taking them off in the fall and putting them on
again in the spring. However, I was proud enough of the success of my
invention to be content to see the obtrusive request "PLEASE CLOSE THIS
GATE" swing uselessly in the wintry winds, while the gate itself stood
open, half buried in the snowdrift that formed around it after every
storm. If the gate were closed, the request retreated into obscurity
behind a post, but when it was opened the board swung across the
roadway, so that a person driving in or out would have to duck his head
to avoid it. The butcher, for whose especial benefit I had taken all
this trouble, regarded the device with gloomy suspicion when I showed
him how it worked. Instead of admiring my ingenuity, he insinuated that
it would be the means of frightening his horses, so I insisted upon his
driving in and out several times until they showed complete unconcern.
He appeared depressed by the thought that he could never again pretend
that he forgot to close the gate, and although I secretly sympathized
with him in his repugnance to taking unnecessary trouble, I was
determined to break him off the habit of leaving the gate open.

Thus it happened that William Wedder, tramping along the road with a red
bundle swung over his shoulder, against a blustering March wind, spied
something that caused him to stop and think, to lay his stick and bundle
in the hollow of a snowdrift, smooth out his face to a becoming gravity,
and wend his way up to the house.

It was several hours later in the day when I, returning from the city,
halted in the same spot and stared in amazement. The semaphore had
vanished, the gate, standing open for months, imbedded in several feet
of snow and ice, was now closed, a way being neatly cleared for its
movement. I opened it and the warning notice shot out over my head, in
perfect working order. I walked up to the house, puzzled but gratified,
trying to conjecture how and why Marion had prepared this surprise. She
opened the door, struggling to conceal her laughter at my countenance.

"How ever did"--I began.

"Hush! Come into the sitting-room," she said mysteriously. "There's a
man in the kitchen!"

"A man!" I exclaimed, in agitation. I had warned Marion never to admit a
tramp in my absence, and somehow I leaped to the conclusion that she had
been imposed upon by a hardened villain. It was a relief to think she
was no longer alone.

She nodded. "Not an ordinary tramp," she said. "He's the dearest,
funniest little old man, with pink cheeks like a baby's, and so clean
looking. When he'd had his dinner"----

"You gave him his dinner?"

"Certainly I did. You don't suppose I sold it to him? Oh, you needn't
look so stern; I'll tell you how it happened. I was just taking my pies
out of the oven about eleven o'clock when he knocked at the door and
said he'd like to borrow a shovel for a few minutes. About half an hour
later I remembered he hadn't brought it back, and when I looked out of
the front window there was the top of his head bobbing up and down at
the gate. I got on my things in a hurry and went out to see what he was
doing, and he was scraping the ice so hard with his back turned to me
that I had to shout three times before he heard."

"'What's that for?' I called out. 'For you, ma'am,' he answered, turning
round with the oddest look. 'For me?' I said. 'Why, I never asked you to
dig out our gate.' 'No, ma'am,' he said, 'but when I seen that there
sign hung out, I thought to myself that some widow with small children
lived here, and it wouldn't be much of a job to dig out her gate. Then
when you come to the door I seen I was mistaken, but I thought I'd do it
anyway, for it wasn't your fault that you was so young and--and----'"

I smiled.

"No, I didn't pay him," she protested, the becoming flush on her cheeks
deepening. "I offered him a quarter, but he wouldn't take it, so I knew
he wasn't trying to flatter me, and I made him come up to the house to
get some dinner when he got the gate closed. You should have seen his
face when the semaphore went behind the gate-post. He was so delighted
that he opened and shut the gate several times to see it work,
exclaiming, 'My, my! ain't he got a head! Don't that work beautiful!'"

"I suppose you did right to give the poor old chap some dinner," I
observed, with a complacent smile.

"When he came into the kitchen," she continued, "he said the smell of
hot raspberry pies was the most appetizing smell in the whole world. He
said his aunt used to make them when he was a boy, and once he stole a
whole one and ate it, and ever since when he tries to feel sorry the
remembrance of the delightful sensation in his insides overpowers his
conscience and makes him feel glad. Of course I gave him one for dinner,
and I told him he might have another if he wished, but he declared that
one was enough--that no mortal could stand more than a certain amount of
bliss. Just fancy, Henry; he says his aunt's pies weren't a circumstance
to mine!"

"The old flatterer!" I exclaimed.

"You didn't say that when he praised your semaphore," cried Marion, with
resentment.

I hadn't intended any reflection on the quality of her pies, but it was
some little time before she could understand that I really thought them
to be infinitely superior to my mother's.

"After dinner," she went on, "he said he wasn't in a hurry, so he'd just
cut up some wood and do the stable work until you came home, for he
wanted to see you."

My curiosity was aroused, also my suspicions, for my wife's manner was
distinctly ingratiating. That might mean either that she had some new
project of her own in the background to submit to me, or that she was
about to tack off in another direction in regard to one of mine, as she
had done in the case of the cow.

"About my semaphore?" I inquired warily.

"So he said," she replied, with a tantalizing laugh. "He wants
to--to--handle the county right!"

My heart thumped; my brain seemed to turn a somersault. If Marion had
not been swaying to and fro with her handkerchief covering her face as
she struggled with her mirth I could not have concealed my exultation.
Months before, the success of my device had led me to think of having it
patented under the name of "The Eureka Non-Automatic Gate-Closing
Attachment," but Marion had nipped my project in the bud. The butcher,
too, when I asked his opinion, had chilled my enthusiasm by declaring
that if my gate-attachment proved salable in this locality he would move
to some other. Of course, that was before he had become expert in
keeping his head out of the way of the sign-board, and while he still
wore a strip of court plaster on the bridge of his nose.

Now my judgment was vindicated. A man could surely sell one hundred
semaphores at five dollars each in one county; ten counties would enable
me to buy Waydean; ten more would pay for a train load of implements, as
in my day dream of long ago; another ten would stock the farm with
domestic animals; tens of hundreds of counties still remained to furnish
the means for nebulous philanthropic schemes.

Did I breathe hard, grow flushed or pale with excitement, or do
anything to indicate that it was the moment of my triumph? No, I didn't.
For one thing, I was sure Marion was keeping something from me;
otherwise, why should it seem so funny to her? Until I understood what
she meant, I must appear calm, even bored.

"Well," I said, stifling a yawn, "I'll go and send him off. I wouldn't
be bothered selling county rights; besides, the semaphore isn't
patented."

Marion looked puzzled. "Wait," she said hurriedly, "till I tell----"

"I'll get rid of him first," I said, with determination, "and then you
can tell me the rest."

"But he's not to be sent off," she insisted. "Sit down, and I'll tell
you everything. He's looking for a place."

"A place!" I exclaimed, beginning to see light. "What has that got to do
with us? When I proposed hiring a man you said we couldn't afford to
hire more than a quarter or an eighth of a man."

"Exactly. And this old man wants a place where he need work only two or
three hours a day. He won't take any wages, but he'd like to have the
reading of our books and newspapers. He says he hasn't any use for money
as long as he has 'good readin' and nice vittles.'"

I smiled at the persuasive eagerness of her tone. She was evidently bent
upon hiring this peculiar old man, but she had expected me to make the
proposal so that she could gracefully accede to it. There would be
certain advantages, I concluded, accruing to the possession of even the
fractional part of a hired man. For instance, I would at once be
relieved of the stable work and the milking of Mary Jane. Then spring
was coming on, and I would be able to enjoy the luxury of watching him
toiling in the vegetable garden under Marion's supervision. Furthermore,
my birthday would arrive with the first green grass, and there were
indications that I would be presented with a lawn-mower.

"Well, what did you tell him?" I asked, trying to look judicial.

"I said that of course it was a matter for you to decide and I couldn't
say anything about it."

I could not repress a gleam of ironical amusement. She was absolutely
truthful, yet it was a convention of hers that my word was law, and that
I was the autocrat of the household. It was a postulate I dared not
dispute.

"Yes, of course," I admitted, in response to her frigid, inquiring
glance. "I'll--I'll think it over. In the meantime I'll have a look at
him."

"Well, you'd better decide,--that is, I'm quite, quite willing to give
the poor old man a trial."

Had I been of a different mind from Marion, I could scarcely have
resisted William Wedder's persuasive arguments, and when I had talked
with him for a few minutes I did not wonder that she had succumbed to
his fascinating eloquence. I knew his praise of my semaphore must be
flattery, and yet--I liked it. I felt sure from his manner, his
appearance and his conversation that he was merely masquerading as a
hired man, but I wanted to see him play the part, although he looked
more like a well-to-do retired farmer taking a holiday than a man who
needed to travel about looking for work. He did not present credentials,
but I ignored the question of references, which seemed quite unnecessary
in view of his obvious respectability. He knew how to do farm work, he
assured me; he was handy with tools, understood gardening, and could
churn and make butter as well as milk the cow. As to terms, he would not
take money, but he would be more than satisfied if he had his board and
plenty of reading matter. In the slack time in midsummer,--his
smooth-shaven jolly face grew solemn as he spoke,--perhaps, if it
wouldn't be too much to ask, and if he needed a new suit of clothes, I
might let him have just a township right to sell my gate-closer.

I fixed my curious gaze upon his rigid features. I knew instinctively
that his earnest solemnity was assumed; I knew by experience that
nothing was so effective in baffling any attempt to play off as a steady
concentrated stare. His eyes drooped slightly; he studied the names on
the drawers of the spice-cabinet attentively; too attentively.

"William," I said, with deliberate, unbending determination, "I have
avoided asking you embarrassing questions, but I must know the truth
about this semaphore business before I decide whether to engage you or
not. What prompted you to dig out my gate?"

I saw a faint flicker of almost contemptuous amusement in his face.
"Why," he replied, as if he wondered at my asking such a simple
question, "I seen that there notice up, of course."

"I want to know the truth," I repeated slowly, and this time I was
almost startled by the perfection with which I imitated Marion's
inflexible intonation.

His face assumed a pained and yet forgiving expression, and he regarded
the hair broom with intense interest. I waited, as Marion had once
waited for me, with the air of being willing to wait until he had time
to compute the number of hairs it contained, and I tried to intimate
silently that my waiting could have but one result. This specialty of
Marion's was more difficult, but I succeeded, for William suddenly
laughed and looked me full in the face with engaging candor.

"Well, sir," he said, as if he found a difficulty in making the
confession, "I didn't like to say so at first, but I thought--ha,
ha!--it'd be a darn good joke on you."

I smiled appreciatively. William had done well; indeed I could not have
done better myself, but I recognized a hollowness in his laugh. I waited
with silent expectancy, as one of Paul's chickens might wait after
receiving a grain of corn from his store.

He paused, looked a little blank, gulped, then with the air of one who
reluctantly parts with his last coin, he added: "Besides, I wanted to
see how the semaphore worked."

I shook my head, sighed, looked at him pityingly, for I saw the
misguided man had persuaded himself it was the truth, and I divined, I
know not how, that he was mistaken. I tried to recall what Marion would
have said at this juncture, and I said it; indeed, I said it so
effectively that I wished Marion had been within earshot. If my voice
had not been an octave lower than hers I might have doubted that it was
mine.

William's peach-tinted cheeks flushed crimson; he wiped his brow with
his red bandanna. "I ain't been cornered like this," he exclaimed,
"since my miss--" He checked the utterance with an abrupt cough, and
continued in a low soliloquizing tone, "Now I come to think of it, the
wind was blowin' pretty fresh and jest when I come opposite the gate I
caught a whiff that set me thinkin'."

"A whiff?" I asked, in surprise.

"Hot--raspberry--pies," he explained, wiping his mouth with the back of
his hand.

I was completely satisfied and engaged him on the spot, sending him to
milk at once. He had scarcely departed when the door into the
dining-room opened and Marion appeared. I saw from her face that she had
been listening to the conversation, and that indignation and amusement
struggled for mastery.

"You wr-r-etch!" she ejaculated.

I said nothing. I was master of the situation, and I knew it was one of
the times when she could imagine more provoking insinuations than I
could put into words.

"What are you laughing at?" she cried indignantly.

"I was just thinking--" I began, then I paused dramatically.

"Thinking what?" she demanded.

"That William Wedder is either a married man or a widower."

I had intended her to ask me why, and I had the answer ready, but it was
the wrong question she propounded.

"A married man _or_ a widower?" she repeated slowly; then her face
became suddenly illumined with appreciative mirth. "Oh, I see! Because
it was so hard to get at the _exact_ truth?"

"Ye--es," I faltered.



VIII

MARION RISES TO THE OCCASION


William Wedder, as one-fourth of a hired man, was a distinct success.
Not only did he do the ordinary chores that had previously fallen to my
lot, but he lightened Marion's household labors by his readiness to
churn, wash floors and windows, and to do any other extra work that
might have turned her attention from culinary duties. In fact, it soon
became apparent that the mainspring of William's energy needed to be
kept in working order by a diet that included a liberal supply of
raspberry pie or its equivalent, for if the quality or quantity of the
dessert were not to his liking his movements became languid and his
cheerfulness fled. His own theory, he told me in confidence, was that
the dessert compartment of his stomach was so arranged that no amount of
plain food would fill it,--he was quite sure that was the case, for the
only effect of trying to fill up by substituting plain food for puddings
and pies was to make him feel lop-sided.

But if he was costly to feed he paid for his board by the bountiful
supply of vegetables he raised, for our little garden flourished
amazingly under his care. And if we fancied chickens for dinner, it was
no longer necessary for me to steal out with the axe at night after Paul
was asleep and rouse a horrid clamor among the innocent victims that I
tremblingly clutched by the legs. How William did it we never inquired.
Indeed, we preferred to think that he didn't, but if he did, it was done
in silence and with decorum, and the chickens which I had taken the
precaution not to allow Paul to include in his flock appeared on our
kitchen table looking quite as if they had just been bought at the
market.

It was during the second summer at Waydean that I noticed the first
indication of Marion's longing to own the farm. She began to resent the
proximity of Peter's live-stock, when his cattle looked as if they
thought of leaping the fence, or when his pigs strayed into the
barnyard. Then she began to speculate about the value of the land and
how many years it would take us to save enough money to buy it, and if,
after all, it would not have been better to have leased the whole farm
in the first place, so that we might have had employment for the whole
of a hired man. Later, she insinuated that she would feel more
confidence in me if I had shown myself to be a masterful man by
insisting upon the purchase of a plough to add to our three primitive
implements, and when I contended that a plough would have been useless
without a horse, she declared that a horse would have been provided if
we had needed one, and if we made up our minds to buy the place we would
find a means of raising the money. But in this case I was not as
sanguine as Marion, for I knew that Peter would hold out for a price far
in excess of the value of the property if he knew we thought of buying,
and that my present income would only allow us to put away a small sum
each year toward the purchase. However, the idea kept working in my
mind, though I was careful not to let our landlord know that we coveted
his land, concluding that the best way to deal with him, if we ever were
able to buy it, would be through a land agent. In the meantime, I had
considerable difficulty in keeping the peace between him and my hired
man, for they showed such an antipathy to each other that I feared a
dispute would arise that might endanger the renewal of my lease. We had
all become so fond of the place that I was more than willing to go on
paying a high rent, and Peter himself, besides being interesting and
entertaining, was still a precious mine of literary material.

Aunt Sophy's interest in Waydean almost equalled our own, and she was
enthusiastic in her approbation of our idea of buying the property. She
wrote that had I resembled her late husband in temperament she would
have advised Marion differently, but considering the wonderful talent I
had shown for not buying implements, and my sensible ideas about
poultry-raising, she was sure I could be trusted to manage any amount of
land economically.

Poor Aunt Sophy! She had been ill during the spring, and had delayed
her second visit until she would feel stronger; then a few days before
we expected her she telegraphed that she would be unable to leave home
and asked Marion to go to her at once, if possible. When this direful
message arrived we both felt at the same instant that it meant the end
of dear Aunt Sophy. But in addition to the sorrow that welled up in me,
the appalling thought seized me that it was now too late to atone for
having allowed her to cherish the innocent belief that the fowls she had
helped us to eat were of our own raising. I could no longer hope that
the memory of the vicarious chickens of last summer would be eclipsed by
her enjoyment of the real home-made ones we had meant to lavish on her
this year. Up to this time the fact that Marion had been equally guilty
with me, had been consoling, but when I saw by the agonized look on her
face that the same dreadful thought had gripped her I hastened to take
the blame.

"It was my fault, Marion," I gasped penitently. "I bought the
chi--chick----"

"_Don't!_" she cried, with a little shriek. "How can you say that
dreadful word? Of course, it was your fault,--but will that keep Auntie
from dying while she still thinks that--that--oh, oh!"

I must say I had not expected such ingratitude. Considering my generous
assumption of the blame, Marion might at least have said that it wasn't
my fault. Some people can perform a kindly act, and then pass on their
way serenely; I cannot. I want to stand by and enjoy the effect; I like
my beneficence to be appreciated.

Yet unselfishness, unlike affection, may be wasted; worse, if ignored,
it may arouse a whirlwind of passion, as I found, to Marion's cost. In a
most unbridled manner I disclaimed responsibility. I asserted that Aunt
Sophy, if she were dying, would pass away more peacefully if she went on
believing that the chickens were homegrown; that anyway, not having
spared expense, I had procured plumper and juicier ones than the best of
Paul's; that any person who would think of disturbing, at such a time,
the settled convictions of a dying aunt, was heartless and cruel; that I
did not purpose standing quietly by to have my reputation blasted, when
I merely needed to tap my head and whisper to Aunt Sophy that my wife's
delusion was a harmless one that might well be ignored; finally, that a
dying aunt would have something else to think about than the origin of
the chickens she had eaten last year. I even suggested, with insane
hilarity, that she would be absorbed in speculations as to her chances
of reaching Uncle Philip before he had begun to underdrain his celestial
estate.

It was at this point that I came to my senses. Marion had fled from the
room with her hands over her ears.

There are times when a simple acknowledgment of wrong-doing, or a humble
apology, is sufficient; there are other times when it is expedient for
me to confess my utter inability to understand how I could have behaved
in such a base and brutal manner; but only once in years am I obliged to
collapse dejectedly, my face expressing horror and revulsion as I wipe
cold sweat, imaginary or real, from my brow, while in a broken voice I
insist that _I_ didn't,--that if I seemed to, it was the devil who had
suddenly possessed me.

This time Marion was disinclined to accept any such explanation,
contending that if I allowed myself to become possessed I might take the
consequences, and I had such a short time in which to depict the
extraordinary sensations that accompanied the outbreak that she was
ready to start for the train before I had made my case really
convincing. She relented sufficiently, however, on the score of parting,
to forgive me provisionally, but she hinted that she was taking Paul
with her so that if I had another seizure I might enjoy it alone. She
hoped, also, that I would make a strong effort to avoid being seized in
the presence of strangers who might not understand that I was
irresponsible. Did I think she could trust me to behave with decorum if
I should be sent for to attend poor Auntie's----obsequies?

These, and other insinuations, I bore with patient quiet dignity, as
became a man who had been lately dispossessed, and my demeanor had such
an effect upon Marion that she bade me good-by with the same
affectionate warmth that would have fallen to my lot had I behaved with
my customary courtesy.

It was not until the next day that I began to think that we might have
been too hasty in concluding that Aunt Sophy was seriously ill--although
I could think of no other reason for her sudden change of plans and her
summons to Marion, but I was not left long in doubt. That afternoon a
telegram arrived from Marion assuring me that there was no cause for
alarm and that she would be home the next day.

I awaited her arrival with eager curiosity and impatience, and I was
mystified to see her step off the train looking radiantly happy.

Aunt Sophy, she declared, was never better in her life, and looked ten
years younger, but no further information could I extract until we
reached the house and Paul went off to look after his pets. Then I
inquired anxiously if she had confessed about the chickens.

"N--no," she admitted, with smiling hesitancy, "I--I didn't. Auntie's
mind was so taken up with--other things."

This was agreeable news. The idea of Aunt Sophy learning of my duplicity
had been painful, when I had supposed she was dying; the image of her in
good health and looking ten years younger as she listened to my
shortcomings was intolerable. Besides, in weakening on her determination
to confess, Marion had departed from the line of strict moral rectitude
that she was continually tracing for my uncertain footsteps. This
thought I carefully buried, like a dog with a precious bone, to be
unearthed when next I was hauled over the coals for not doing the thing
I ought to have done.

"Well," I proceeded, "what's up--what did she want you for?"

A slightly apprehensive look vanished; a most becoming flush spread over
her face. For a moment I imagined, if such a thing were possible, that
she radiated with pride and vain-glory.

"She wanted--to ask--my advice," she replied, with innocent diffidence.

"Your advice!" I shouted, with a burst of laughter. "Christopher
Colum--Oh!--I--I beg your pardon, Marion, I didn't mean----"

I was too late. I am a blundering idiot at times, and my wife thought,
naturally, that I was scoffing at the idea of her being qualified to
give advice, when, as a matter of fact, I considered her an adept in
that accomplishment. I had the painful task of explaining in detail why
I had laughed, and the humiliation of admitting that, after all, it
wasn't a bit odd for an old lady to crave advice from her niece.

"Anyway," Marion contended, with recurring indignation, "she isn't
really old--she's only fifty-three."

"Is that all?" I inquired, with excessive surprise. "Why, she's--she's
just in her prime!"

"Just what I told her!" exclaimed Marion, with approving enthusiasm. "I
said she had half a lifetime before her yet."

"Certainly, she has," I agreed. "And what did she want your advice
about?"

A look of ineffable sweetness, of tender, grand-maternal pride illumined
Marion's countenance. I had never seen its like before, but somehow I
recognized a spiritual inner consciousness made visible; an intangible
something that a man of less refined and delicate perceptions would have
missed. I didn't know what it meant. I do now.

"Dear Aunt Sophy," she murmured dreamily, her eyes brimming, her gaze
directed through and far beyond me, in a way that made me feel
transparent; "she was so happy when I settled it!"

This remark conveyed no meaning to my mind, yet something within me
vibrated in sympathy to her mood, so that for a short time I sat
spellbound, caring only to enjoy the subtle delight of feeling what I
didn't comprehend. I remembered, years before, in a lecture on mental
phenomena, hearing the difference between perception and apperception
explained so minutely that my brain swiftly convoluted whenever I tried
to recall the distinction; now it was clear. Marion and Aunt Sophy had
apperceived together--_I_ was apperceiving. There was an inner circle,
and I was of it; yet in the midst of my enjoyment my material mind
somehow detached itself, reaching out longingly for more.

"You settled it?" I suggested, in a reverent whisper.

"I did," she replied softly.

My mind was a yawning void, except for the intrusive suggestion of
coffee, plainly absurd, yet some instinct warned me to avoid abruptness.

"Was she willing to--to--?" I ventured.

"Willing!--_willing!_--I should think so. But I know exactly how she
felt. Her mind was really made up, I think, though she didn't know it. I
could see that although she _thought_ she wanted my advice she would
have been heartbroken if I had advised her _not_ to do it, and I knew
that what she needed was my encouragement, so--I--I----"

"You encouraged her," I cried, with sudden inspiration.

"Why, of course I did. She was so grateful that she just threw her arms
about me and--" Marion choked with emotion and stopped to wipe away her
joyful tears.

I began to feel distracted, but with an effort I focussed my mind on the
main point, setting aside as unimportant a doubt as to what Aunt Sophy
had done or said after she had embraced her niece.

"What disturbed her mind before you settled it?" I asked.

"She was afraid that I--that people might think her old and foolish."

"And you made her believe that she was--I mean, wasn't?"

"Yes, and I told her that you had often said that people ought to
consider it a duty to--to live so that--that they would enjoy the
companionship of suitable companions when--they got up in years, and
that an elderly person living around among relatives was to be pitied."

It was a garbled version of an argument I had used during a previous
discussion on the propriety of second marriages. I had contended, with
personal indifference, that to an impersonal entity, left alone in this
vale of tears with no embarrassing family ties, and feeling no dread of
complications in a future state of existence, a second marriage might
prove both expedient and happy. This suggestion I had offered in entire
innocence, as I might have distended a paper bag for a child to burst,
fancying it would please Marion, as it usually did, to worry a weak
argument to tatters; an operation which I enjoyed for the sake of seeing
her eyes flash and the becoming color that mounted to her cheeks. But
when, amid a torrent of tears, she accused me of being just like other
men, and of planning to marry another wife, I was struck dumb with
horror. It was painful enough to be brought face to face with the
thought of her dying first, but to be branded as a probably faithless
wretch was agony. I can try to justify myself for wrong-doing; I can
resent the injustice of being blamed for actions that I refrain from;
but when I suffer for deeds that I wouldn't do in the distant future I
am staggered by improbable possibilities. Given the opportunity, might
I not have caused the death of my great-great-grandfather? Consequently,
I remained silent, guiltily silent, in appearance; and Marion no longer
condemned second marriages--at least, she hadn't for some months--as a
disgrace to civilization, her manner indicating sorrowful resignation to
the inevitable.

It is strange, but true, that I didn't know what was coming; and yet I
thought I knew, too well. My wife had apparently told her aunt of my
supposititious inclinations; they had wept in each other's arms; they
had apperceived together; awful thought, they had apperceived ME.

Never before had I been so moved. I rose to my feet, my teeth tightly
clenched, vaguely pleased to notice that I stood unsteadily; it was the
proper, the most effective way. "Marion," I said, in an undertone,
gripping her arm, yet careful to press only hard enough for a grip--she
was such a tender little thing, though so cruel. I had intended to say
more, but the one word seemed so full of meaning that I stopped to let
it penetrate; also to give one swift glance at the reflection of my
face in the mirror of the wall-cabinet. That glance showed me that I
appeared to be struggling with the unutterable; I went on doing so.

Marion's face grew pale and rigid. "Good gracious, Henry!" she cried,
trying to rise; "what's the matter?"

"Sit still," I commanded fiercely, with a bitter smile; a smile that
made my teeth gleam back at me wolfishly from the wall-cabinet. "Matter
enough! You've wrecked my happiness by telling Aunt Sophy that I wanted
another wife."

"I never did!" she cried indignantly. "Do you think I could bear to tell
_any_one if--if it was true?"

My grasp relaxed. I knew there must be something wrong in my reasoning.
"Do you mean," I asked cautiously, "that you couldn't have told her
because it wasn't true--or--or because it was."

"I couldn't tell her _any_way," she cried, with a peal of laughter,
covering her face with her hands. "Oh, how funny!"

I sat down, feeling strangely flabby and weak. "Then why," I asked
helplessly, mopping my brow, "did you repeat what I said about second
marriages?"

Her smile gave place to a look of anxiety. "Listen, Henry," she
entreated, "and try to fix your mind on this. I explained to you that
your opinion was the greatest comfort to her, and I told her what you
thought because I wanted--_to_--_settle_--_her_--_mind_."

"Oh, yes--just so," I assented. "And it got that way because she was old
and foolish." I nodded with a vacuous air of perfect understanding.

Marion leaned back on the sofa limply and stared at me. "Not because she
was old and foolish, for she wasn't," she said helplessly, "but because
she thought other people would _think_ she was."

"Yes, yes," I repeated vacantly; "then you came along and straightened
things out. Now," I added, "you may try your hand on me. _My_ mind's
unsettled."

I felt a foolish smile widening my mouth at Marion's look of alarm, and
closed my eyes trustfully as my head drooped backwards. When I opened
them again she was standing behind my chair shaking me with all her
might. A fog seemed to drift away from my brain and I suddenly knew what
I wanted to ask. "What--advice--did you--give?" I asked, in spasms.

"To marry--Mr. Fair----"

"_Marry!_" I shouted, leaping to my feet. "Old Fairman?"

Her eyes shone with triumph. "_Mr._ Fairman, Henry," she said, in gentle
reproof. "Auntie left all the arrangements to me, and she was delighted
at the idea of being married here at the end of her visit. I knew you
would be glad to do anything you could."

"But where do I come in?" I asked, in bewilderment.

"Oh, well, I don't exactly know yet, but I might want you to give her
away if we decide to have anyone do that, and there are lots of things
you can attend to."

I smiled a smile that I keep for particular occasions. At times I can be
decided; Marion says obstinate. But whether it is obstinacy or decision,
I am as unyielding as a mule when the fit seizes me. I care not for
reason, threats or chastisement; hope, fear, love and all else are
encased in the one instinct to stand rigid, with my ears flat against my
head and my fore-feet projecting slightly. Marion has learned that the
only remedy is to pat me around the nose and put a lump of sugar in my
mouth. So have I.

"I'll do nothing of the kind," I said, with a quick sideways jerk of my
head.

Marion swallowed twice before she spoke. "Henry, dear," she said,
sweetly, "I know you must have a good reason for your decision. Tell me
what it is, won't you?"

I hadn't, but when a man is spoken to that way he's got to take notice,
or feel like a boor. "It would take too long," I replied stubbornly,
thinking hard.

"Oh, no, it wouldn't. Come and sit on the sofa and tell me all about it.
It's awfully good of you to take so much interest in _my_ aunt."

I sat down stiffly on the edge of the sofa, and stared into futurity;
Marion toyed with my hair and looked inquiring.

"You ask me to give away your aunt," I began, in stern accusation, "to
a man of whom I know literally nothing. I remember him only as a
well-dressed, respectable-looking old codger, wearing gold-rimmed
glasses, a stubby grey beard and no mustache. He may be virtuous; he may
not. He may be in love with your aunt; he may be in love with her
money."

Marion rested her cheek against my unyielding shoulder and reassured me
on every point in the gentlest, most affectionate manner, though, she
knew I would be relieved to hear, I was under no responsibility in the
matter. Anyway, it was only a form, and if I objected to doing it,
Auntie could give herself away or send to Colorado for Uncle Richard.
"Is that all?" she concluded.

It wasn't. I wanted to know what had become of the first Mrs. Fairman.
After that, there was one thing more that it took much coaxing to
extract.

"It doesn't seem fair," I burst forth, at last. "_He_ can't stop it, and
they don't even consider whether he'd give his consent, if he had a
chance." Marion stared at me stupidly, and I saw that she didn't
understand. "Your Uncle Philip," I explained, in a low tone.

I do not care to repeat what she said. At the same time, I cannot see
that such a thought is more irreverent than the fact that suggested it.
Nor could I see that I should withdraw my objection because, as Marion
averred, Uncle Philip would have remarried in a year if Aunt Sophy had
died first. Indeed, I was unrelenting until we came to a complete
understanding on the whole subject, as follows:--

(a) Second marriages, in the abstract, are objectionable.

(b) Second marriages are, occasionally, justifiable.

(c) _Some_ are INCONCEIVABLE.



IX

AUNT SOPHY'S GENEROSITY


I have often wondered how my wife's Aunt Sophy came to be so fond of me
from the very beginning of our acquaintance. Up to the time that she
visited us at Waydean we had met only casually, yet at the end of that
short visit we parted the warmest friends; indeed, she embraced me with
motherly affection and implored me to take good care of myself and not
work too hard. What, she suggested with tender solicitude, would Marion
and dear little Paul do without me if I shortened my life by overwork? I
was deeply affected by her thoughtfulness; my eyes glistened with
emotion as I promised to be careful, for the mental picture of my family
sorrowing over my worn-out frame made me realize what a loss I would be.
But whatever her good opinion was based upon, force of circumstances
tended to confirm it, for she found many details of our domestic
economies that coincided with her ideas of good management, and never
failed to attribute to me more than my proper share of credit for the
same. It was impossible for me to advance an opinion on any subject
without her enthusiastic approval, but whether she approved of the ideas
because they were mine, or liked me because of them, I could not
determine. Another thing that made her visit enjoyable was Marion's
flattering desire to show me up in the best possible light. I was
surprised to find that I could work through my repertory of entertaining
stories, and yet have my wife join in Aunt Sophy's appreciative laugh
with the zest of a first hearing; and whenever Aunt Sophy nodded to her
in confidential admiration of my cleverness she would respond with a
most charming flush of gratified pride. Not only that, but I have heard
her, on occasions when I was supposed to be absorbed in my writing in
the next room, allude to my admirable qualities in an artfully casual
way; even stating, when the conversation turned on mining stocks, that
she was thankful to say that Henry couldn't be induced to put a dollar
into any such scheme!

But nothing I had said or done impressed Aunt Sophy as favorably as
Marion's version of my opinion on second marriages. During the two
months she spent with us at Waydean before her marriage I was often
embarrassed by her expressions of gratitude to me for being instrumental
in helping her to make up her mind. No one, she said repeatedly, had
made her see her duty as clearly as I, and no one else could have said
the same things (at this point she always paused to take off her glasses
and wipe her eyes) in such beautiful and sympathetic language; young
people so often thought that older persons had no right to marry. Nor
could I disclaim the sentiments attributed to me when I saw what a
comfort they were to the dear old lady.

She was very happy in her preparations, but to me there was something
pathetic in her happiness, for I could not help thinking of poor Uncle
Philip and wondering if she did too, but as far as I could find out I
was the only person in the house who became a prey to saddening
reflections. This perplexed me to such an extent that sometimes I was
distracted by the fear that I, too, might be forgotten--a maddening
conclusion, but logically unassailable. At such times I would
hesitatingly ask Marion if she were sure Uncle Philip was forgotten, but
she would only reply, "Tut!" or "Stop that!" in a vicious suppressed
whisper. This was unsatisfying, but of course Marion did not understand
my need of sympathy, and her mind was not in a favorable condition to
consider questions relating to psychical research. I had seen her with
Mrs. Taylor in the height of her rag-carpeting fever, but her delight in
that was slight compared with the bliss of helping to plan Aunt Sophy's
trousseau, and I soon realized that it was not a time when she would be
likely to concern herself about either my present or future state.

But after the anniversary of our wedding day I determined that, as far
as I was concerned, Uncle Philip might remain buried in oblivion; if he
intruded himself into my thoughts I drove him forth again with
contumely. Only thus could I preserve my self-respect, and at the same
time feel that I was at all worthy to partake of the full measure of
Aunt Sophy's generous affection. The feeling of sympathy that I had
cherished for her deceased husband, and the half-reproachful tolerance
of her projected second marriage, suddenly left me, and I not only
transferred my sympathy to Mr. Fairman, but I began to hate the memory
of Uncle Philip. I might not have gone as far as that if he had not
persisted in haunting me after it had become impossible to harbor him
without being disloyal to Aunt Sophy, but my conscience became clear
when my change of sentiment could no longer be doubted. Had I still felt
any mental reservation I could not have accepted her more than generous
gift of a cheque for five thousand dollars which she insisted upon
giving to each of us on the morning of our wedding anniversary, nor
could we have refused without hurting her feelings.

"If you say another word," she declared, in response to our protests,
"I'll be offended. It's a queer thing, indeed, if I'm not to be allowed
to do what I like with my own money! You both know perfectly well that
my future is provided for, and I'd rather have the pleasure of seeing
you spend it now than put it away for you until after I'm gone, when you
mightn't need it so much. You don't need it now? Of course not. Well
then, you, Henry, if you can't think of anything else, might spend yours
at the races; Marion can give a real nice ball with hers, if she wants
to. Remember, I'd like each of you to spend your money without
consulting the other, so that you'll feel perfectly free to use it in
any way. Put it away for Paul? Not a bit of it. _I'll_ provide for
Paul--the dear little old-fashioned pet! Do you know, he came to me
yesterday with that solemn expression of his, and said, 'Auntie, I love
you far more than if father had killed all my chickens for you to----'"

"Oh, Auntie," interrupted Marion, with forced gayety, "I've intended for
ever so long to tell you about----"

I cannot bear anyone else to confess my sins, and just as the rapidly
ascending pitch of Marion's voice indicated the approach of the climax I
recovered my presence of mind and drowned her announcement with a loud
laugh. "Awfully good joke!" I exclaimed. "Last year Paul raised such a
hullabaloo about eating his that I--ha, ha, ha!--had to buy all we
used......at the market!"

I had expected her to be astonished, perhaps shocked; evidently she
wasn't. My laugh stopped short as I saw her nod in knowing assent and
smile complacently.

"Auntie," cried Marion--"you knew!"

"Well," she admitted, "I won't say I _knew_ exactly, but I'll tell you
how it happened. Perhaps you remember my saying last summer that Henry
sometimes reminded me of your Uncle Philip?"

"Yes, you often said that he had uncle's smile and tone of voice."

"And then," she continued, "I noticed that it was always when I spoke
about the chickens being so nice that I saw the resemblance, and I
remembered that Philip, when he raised fancy fowls, used to bring me
chickens every time he came from the farm, and I never suspected that he
bought them at the market until one day we had a pair for dinner that
couldn't have been less than ten years old."

"I--thought it--would spoil--your appetite if you knew," I began
penitently.

Aunt Sophy laughed, then sobered again in tender reminiscence. "Just
what poor Philip said," she mused, shaking her head. "He was a good
judge of meat and poultry, but he didn't do as well as you, Henry. There
isn't one man in a thousand who could choose as many tender chickens
without being taken in. I never would have guessed they were bought ones
if you hadn't come home one day with a pair of legs sticking out of the
parcel under your arm. It was so good of you, Henry, to take all that
trouble to spare that little darling's feelings. Not many fathers would
have been so unselfish and considerate."

I said nothing. I can endure being admired for my virtues, but Aunt
Sophy's commendation made me dumb with excess of emotion and joyous
surprise. I had thought myself a pretty good sort of fellow, but the
revelation of how much better I really was than I had seemed began to
visibly affect me. I became so agitated that I could feel my nose
beginning to twitch like a rabbit's. Marion and Aunt Sophy also looked
hysterically inclined to fall into each other's arms in an ecstacy of
forgiveness, so I hastily retreated to my study. There was a stovepipe
hole in the partition between the two rooms through which detached and
semi-detached words were wafted to my ears. Some people would have been
self-conscious enough to move out of hearing or to cough artificially,
but I do not shrink from the truth. I knew that I was being alluded to,
but I knew also that there was no more danger of my being puffed up by
self-conceit than of a proprietory stamp enriching the contents of the
original package.

"He's......tender-hearted, Auntie......couldn't bear......Paul's
chickens."

"......like your......Uncle Philip!"

"......wouldn't slap......mosquito." (No; I'd rather blow him from the
mouth of a cannon. H. C.)

"Poor Philip......once stepped......toad......quite ill."

"Henry......so thoughtful......do anything......make me happy."

"Yes......kindest husband......so much sense......Philip
different......wouldn't listen......about farm."

"Mr. Fairman......devoted......be happy......do anything."

"Oh, Marion!......think I'm......old goose."

I know when a conversation becomes confidential, and I quietly retreated
without hearing anything further except some indistinct murmuring and
happy sobs.


From the day my bank account was increased by the sum of five thousand
dollars I made up my mind to spend it all, if necessary, in the purchase
of Waydean. I exulted in the anticipation of Marion's delight and
amazement on finding that I had preferred to do this in place of
frittering it away in luxuries that we could do without, or investing it
in stocks. I almost wished her birthday was at hand so that I could
celebrate the day by making her a present of the place; then the idea of
giving it to her on Aunt Sophy's wedding-day entered my mind, and this
seemed such a capital plan that I decided to carry it out. Few men, I
meditated, would have thought of such a graceful acknowledgment of Aunt
Sophy's kindness, and I felt that Marion would be doubly pleased that I
should think of adding to the joy of the eventful day. I could not help
wondering what my wife intended doing with her money, but she didn't say
anything to enlighten me, and I took good care not to allude to it, for
fear she should question me in return. She made frequent trips to the
city, carrying her little bank-book with an air of importance, but I
could see nothing in the results of her shopping to indicate lavish
expenditure. For instance, on one trip she bought a wire potato masher
for seven cents, a spice cabinet for thirty cents, sixty cents worth of
trimming for an old hat, and a pair of silk suspenders for me. The price
mark on the latter was carefully obliterated, being a present, so I
couldn't tell what they cost; anyway, it wouldn't have been proper to
look at the price, if it had been legible. Evidently, at that rate of
spending she would have enough money left to stock the farm when it
became hers.

The real estate agent whom I consulted smiled loftily when I alluded to
Peter Waydean's reputation for shrewdness and overreaching. "Don't
concern yourself about that, Mr. Carton," he said. "We business men are
accustomed to deal with these close-fisted farmers. They usually know
the value of a farm as well as we do, but we know how to get them down
to the bottom figure. We don't run after the owner and let him think
we're anxious to buy; we approach him in the most incidental manner,
dangling the bait, so to speak, until he's afraid someone else is going
to snap it up. Now, the Waydean farm I take to be worth about
thirty-five hundred, and you say the old man talks of selling, so if you
allow a margin of a hundred or two I think I can secure it without any
trouble."

The calm confidence of Mr. Brooks elated me; after telling him he might
go as high as four thousand dollars, I went home, calculating on the
way how I would spend the remaining thousand that I would still have to
the good.

A week later Brooks shook his head as I entered his office. "We haven't
quite got that deal through, Mr. Carton," he said. "The fact is that
there seems to be a snag. Old man appears willing to sell--quite genial
and all that, but when it comes to figures he fights shy; says he wants
more time to think. To hurry him up I made a straight offer of four
thousand. I could see that he was inclined to gobble it, but he held
back, and when I went out yesterday I discovered why. Ever hear of that
being a likely spot for oil or gas?"

"Good heavens, no!" I cried.

He smiled at my evident alarm. "I haven't either," he assured me, "but I
thought perhaps you might have inside information. The idea came into my
head when I found there was another party as keen to get the place as
you."

"Another--party?" I gasped.

"I met Roper--of Bates and Roper, you know--coming out of the old man's
house yesterday. I guess we each suspected the other of being on a
private speculation, but after considerable sounding I found that he had
been commissioned to buy the place. Then it struck me that you and this
other party might have been quietly prospecting."

I shook my head. "I'm not after oil or gas wells or anything else in
that line," I said decidedly. "I want the place for a quiet home. Who is
this other--man?"

"I don't know. Roper didn't name his client, and of course I didn't name
mine, but as far as I can make out we've both had similar instructions.
It looks as if the old man were holding off to see who would make the
highest bid. Now it isn't worth more than four thousand, but you can
decide whether to bid higher or let it go."

If anything could have made me more eager it was the knowledge that
someone else wanted Waydean. The thought of Marion's dismay if our home
should be sold over our heads filled me with the determination to settle
the matter at once. I told Brooks to go ahead to the extent of five
thousand dollars.

"Well," he said, shaking his head with reluctance, "I'd rather lose my
commission than see you give that, for the land isn't worth the
money,--that is, for farming," he added, with a shrewd glance at
me,--"but that's your look-out, and I'll do my best."



X

UNCLE BENNY CREATES A DIVERSION


It was during the first eighteen months of our life at Waydean that I
wrote "The Meditations of Uncle Benny" for the _Observer_. I do not
allude to these sketches as anything out of the ordinary, for there are
times, as Marion says, when it is well for one to neither affirm nor
deny the truth. Why it is wrong for me to voice a just and critical
appreciation of my literary work, and proper for my wife to openly
admire her newly scrubbed floor or her arrangement of flowers in a vase,
I cannot see. Nor can I get her to explain; she prefers to say that if I
cannot see for myself it would be useless for her to try to make me
understand,--a baffling inconsequent remark. Nevertheless I am willing
to believe that some things are too subtle for my comprehension, and
that her instinct is invariably to be depended upon; also, that the
less I express my admiration for what I have written, the more open and
unrestrained her appreciation will become. Consequently, although when
the first of the Uncle Benny sketches appeared in print I laughed and
applauded as heartily as if the author were unknown to me, I learned to
regard the later ones with almost gloomy indifference, or even to
subject them to adverse criticism, this course being the one most likely
to lead my wife to praise the artistic excellence of my work.

Personally, I make no claim to artistic excellence,--it would be neither
becoming nor tactful for me to do so,--but I may mention that the
circulation of the _Weekly Observer_ doubled, and then trebled; also
that as a result of the popularity of Uncle Benny it soon became
necessary to copyright each instalment in advance of publication to
prevent unauthorized copying by exchanges. I have noticed that to some
authors is given the art of writing so that their work appeals to their
fellow-creatures at a certain stage of development; others, again, have
that broad human sympathy that puts them in touch with young and old,
cultured and uncultured, wise and foolish. I had no wish to add to the
sum of human wisdom and culture, but it was a delight to me that Uncle
Benny made people merrier. Paul, at the age of seven, William Wedder,
three score years older, were equally infatuated. On Saturday mornings
Paul would insist upon having Uncle Benny read aloud to him during
breakfast, then he would carry off the paper to peruse it himself at
leisure, while William could ill conceal his impatience at having to
await his turn. Most authors read their own works aloud, in public, to
their friends, or in the family circle; I do not. It is only fair to
state that I might not have reached this exalted plane but for my wife.
It was she who made me understand the injustice, the blind selfishness,
the distressing egotism that permits an author, revelling in the
enjoyment of his own imaginings, to inflict them upon a helpless
listener whose capacity for appreciation is so infinitesimal in
comparison. It was she who showed me that Rossetti's sketch of Tennyson
reading Maud was not merely a crude picture of the great poet by his
friend, but a revelation of the long pent-up sufferings of one who was
doomed to sit in an attitude of attention, under the watchful eye of The
Author Who Reads His Own Works, ready to respond at a glance with a nod,
a smile or a tear.

Therefore it was Marion who read Uncle Benny to Paul and Aunt Sophy and
the author; it was I who, one morning during the reading, heard an
unusual sound from the kitchen. Fearing that William, who was taking his
breakfast there, had at last miscalculated his swallowing capacity and
needed help, I quietly withdrew from the table and opened the door into
the kitchen. To my amazement it collided with William's head, and he
straightened himself up when he had recovered his equilibrium and looked
at me with flushed cheeks and a foolish smile, making no attempt at
explanation. Did I ask for one? Certainly not. I begged his pardon and
hastened to get the liniment as if it was a most reprehensible act of
mine to open the door without warning. I felt angry and humiliated that
he had placed me in such an awkward position, but I could not be brutal
enough to show my resentment by accusing him of eavesdropping,
especially when it appeared to be the case. When he had recovered his
speech and remarked incidentally that he was in the act of picking up
his hard-boiled egg which had rolled in front of the door, I expressed
the keenest regret for my carelessness and assured him I would be more
cautious in future.

Yet the revelation of his depravity was a distinct shock to us until I
found that it was the reading of Uncle Benny that had attracted the dear
old man, and that he could not resist the impulse to get within earshot.

"I may as well own up," he confessed, at last, "that the way the missis
reads them stories is as refreshin' to my mind as raspberry pies is to
my stomach. She do read most beautiful, and when I hear Master Paul
chippin' in with them odd sayin's and you and that old lady laughin' so
cheery I jest can't help listenin'."

William's spontaneous appreciation was delightful, and I found his
admiration for my fictitious Uncle Benny most amusing, considering how
unconscious he was that I was the author, and that he cordially detested
the original of the character, Peter Waydean. But I ceased to enjoy his
enthusiasm when it threatened to become a mania, for he unbosomed
himself one day of a plan he had made to go to the city to make the
personal acquaintance of Uncle Benny at the _Observer_ office. I tried
to dislodge this idea, showing him the absurdity of looking for a person
who probably didn't exist, but I was mistaken in thinking my arguments
effective, for in a few days I found a letter at my office addressed to
Uncle Benny in William's crooked handwriting. I read it with rising
indignation.


"Dear Uncle Benny," he wrote. "I am unknown to you and you to me but
your writings has made me feel as if we was old chums. I wanted to go to
the city to have a chat with you but the boss he kicked. He says I might
be took up for a lunatic if I went to the Observer asking for you. He
says there aint no such person and if there was he would be some young
whip snap that would call the devil and the hoist man to run me out for
thinking he was a old man like me. He says it aint none of my business
how old you be and what you look like. He says your blame curiosity
William might land you in the police cells. Now as far as I can make out
you must be well up in years and you write darn good stories. Now I got
one or two good stories about the boss that is too good to keep. He aint
a regular farmer and he don't know much about working land. He says the
way to make the farm pay is to keep from paying out money on it and when
I tell him we need a implement he asks how much will it cost and when I
tell him he puts that much in the bank and says we can do without. There
aint a implement on the place but three. That shows what kind of a man
he is but I ain't going to let him scare me off if you drop me a line to
say you want to hear them stories.

"WILLIAM WEDDER."


It was well that I was not within reach of William when I read his
epistle, for my wrath would have descended upon him, but having time to
think it over before I reached home I concluded to preserve my incognito
by ignoring the matter; besides, I was exceptionally busy that week as
Aunt Sophy's wedding was near at hand, and I could not afford to risk
the loss of his services at such a time.

As I neared the house that afternoon I heard loud voices in the yard,
and when I got within sight I saw my hired man and Peter Waydean walking
around each other in the attitude of quarrelsome dogs about to spring.

"I tell you," snarled Peter, "them darn hens has been living on my field
peas, and I believe you drove them over there in the first place."

"And I tell you," snapped William, "your cattle has broke down the fence
and got into my corn twice this week, and your blame hogs----"

At this point I intervened. Peter claimed that his crop of peas had been
so destroyed by fowls that it couldn't be harvested; he hadn't actually
seen my hens at work, he admitted, but they must have done the damage.
In rebuttal, William contended that our fowls were honest well-conducted
stay-at-homes; they weren't driven away to forage on other people's
garden stuff like some cattle and hogs.

"What's a few corn-stalks?" shouted Peter.

"What's a few peas?" retorted William.

Again I interposed, but I had to send William away to milk before my
landlord could be placated enough to lower his voice to a reasonable
pitch, then my anger suddenly flamed to a white heat. I had intended to
soothe his ruffled feelings by paying for the damage, but instead, I
found myself resenting the imputation that my hens, brought up from the
shell to habits of virtue and propriety, could be guilty of such
dishonesty. Still, my tone was calm and my manner patronizing as I
challenged him to prove his charge; then before he had recovered from
his astonishment I advised him to overcome the besetting sin of avarice
that prompted him to swindle me in every possible way.

I saw that he knew his own weakness, he was so stung by my words; but
there was more of malicious triumph than of blind anger in the ring of
his voice. "Proof!" he ejaculated contemptuously. "The kind of proof
you'll get is to have them hens come home without their feathers on if I
catch them in my fields. I've a bit of news for you," he went on, with a
grin of satisfaction. "I've had two good offers to sell the place and I
was going to give you the chance of topping them, but now that you've
broke out into insulting language I wouldn't sell to you if you offered
me ten thousand dollars."

It was with difficulty that I repressed my amusement; he was so
obviously unsuspicious that I was a bidder, and when I assured him that
the news didn't cause me any concern he grew still more angry.

"I'll go to the city to-morrow," he threatened me, "and I'll sell to
whichever of them two men wants to live on the place, and you'll have to
move when your lease is up."

Again I smiled; nothing he could do would suit me better than to have
him hurry up in closing the bargain, but I tried to look as if my smile
were forced to hide my disappointment. Peter glanced at me suspiciously
as he turned away.

It is quite an ordinary occurrence to have one's chickens come home to
roost, but not without their feathers, as two of mine did the next day.
I could not look at them without a shudder, yet I could not keep from
looking at them, and until Marion clothed them in two tiny shirts that
Paul had worn in his infancy I could not smile at the fascinating
absurdity of their appearance and the consternation of their friends and
relatives. It was only too clear why Peter had not carried out his
threat of going to the city that day to close the sale of the place; he
had been lying in wait for my unfortunate chickens in his pea-field. My
blood boiled at the thought of how the malevolent rascal must be
chuckling over the way he had proved his case, but my anger was trifling
in comparison with William's.

"I tell you, Mr. Carton," he affirmed, "I'll pay him back. I'll make
him the laughin' stock of the county. Let me catch one of his critters
on this side of the fence, and he won't be able to tell whether it's a
bird of the air or a beast of the field when it goes home."



XI

THE WEDDING-DAY


My cheerful, almost sprightly manner, at breakfast on the morning of
Aunt Sophy's wedding-day cost me an effort, for instead of being able to
make Marion a present of Waydean, as I had planned, I was compelled to
conceal the depression I felt at the news from my agent that Peter had
sold the place to the "other party," Roper's client. I noticed, during
breakfast, that Marion and Aunt Sophy were continually exchanging
confidential smiles and glances that were not intended to include me,
for they looked consciously unconscious and avoided my eyes when I
happened to intercept one of the silent messages. Still, I was so
engaged in looking happy and free from care that the idea of Marion
having prepared a surprise for me never entered my mind, although I
wondered, when she handed me my mail which William had brought from the
post-office, why they both stared at me with such an appearance of eager
expectation. At the bottom of the pile my eye was attracted by an
envelope with, "Bates and Roper, Land Agents," printed in one corner. It
was addressed to Marion, and as I held it up inquiringly she clapped her
hands with delight and urged me with impatient vehemence to read it.
With a sickening premonition of what was coming I drew out the enclosure
with trembling fingers and read a formal notification from the firm to
Mrs. Henry Carton that they had, according to instructions, made an
agreement with Peter Waydean for the purchase of his farm for the sum of
five thousand, one hundred dollars. For a moment I forgot Marion and
Paul and Aunt Sophy as I stared at the paper with open mouth and
distended eyes, a ghastly gray-green pallor, so Marion told me
afterwards, spreading over my face. A smothered shriek of alarm and the
first strident prolonged note of Paul's howl brought me to my senses; my
eyes turned slowly with the glassy stare of an owl. I had a jumbled
idea that Marion's money was gone, also mine, also the farm; we had been
bidding against each other and were ruined.

"What is it, Henry?" gasped Aunt Sophy, pressing one hand to her side
and breathing heavily.

"Speak, Henry!" cried Marion.

"We've been sold--buncoed--duped. Old Peter--" I began thickly.

"You goose!" exclaimed Marion, with a laugh of sudden relief. "You
misunderstand the letter. Of course old Peter has sold the place, but to
me!--to _me_--do you understand? And I hereby make you a present of it
to-day, because----"

"Because it's my wedding-day," interjected Aunt Sophy, wiping away tears
of happiness. "I thought I'd like to see how pleased and proud you'd
look before I go."

I awoke to my responsibilities and made a sickly attempt to look
gratified. "What a--joyful surprise!" I stammered. "Awfully obliged--not
so much for--pecuniary value--as a token of--the day that--" My voice
was lost in a peal of laughter.

"Oh, how funny! Just like your Uncle Philip, Marion."

"He always will have his little joke, Auntie. Come now, Henry, do be
serious, and I'll tell you what a narrow escape we had. There was
another man--Mr. Roper called him a 'party'--after the place."

"After the place!" I repeated, with profound incredulity.

"There now--I thought you'd be startled. This man had employed Mr.
Brooks to negotiate with Peter, and he kept bidding higher and higher
till I was awfully afraid he'd get it. Then I got desperate, and I drew
the hundred dollars that I had in the savings bank, for I had an idea
that the 'party' would stop at five thousand--and he did--and just
yesterday Peter signed the agreement, and I have the cheque for five
thousand one hundred dollars all ready to pay over as soon as the legal
documents are signed."

"Well," I commented, drawing a long breath, "it's a good thing he
stopped."

"And wasn't Marion clever to manage so well?" asked Aunt Sophy.

"She was indeed," I responded warmly. "I would have given up at five
thousand."

Then Marion wondered who the man was, speaking as if he had ceased to
exist, and so did Aunt Sophy. I was on the point of wondering also, when
it struck me that I could not truthfully do so, and I merely said that
as I knew Brooks pretty well he would probably mention the man's name to
me, a statement that was unassailable even from Marion's pinnacle of
morality, and one that helped me to keep my secret until after Aunt
Sophy's departure.

It was well that I had completed my arrangements the day before, for I
was so distraught by the ordeal I had passed through that I had
difficulty even in remembering that I must hurry away to the station to
meet Mr. Fairman, who was due to arrive on the ten o'clock train, and
must be entertained by me until the minister appeared to perform the
marriage ceremony at eleven. Not having an equipage of my own, I had
hired the most presentable one to be found in the neighborhood, and the
horse being warranted tractable by his owner, Joe Wrigley, I had no
hesitation in driving to the station and back myself, although as a
usual thing, if I have to be near a horse I prefer to be in a position
where I can look him in the eye.

I had been rather irritated by William's behavior that morning, for he
had disappeared for an hour after breakfast just when I most needed him,
and when he did appear he explained that he had been busy in the
smokehouse rigging up a scarecrow and hadn't heard me calling him. This
excuse seemed plausible at the time, though I remembered afterwards it
was not the season to scare crows, for he had got permission from Marion
the day before to take a discarded sun-bonnet of hers and a pair of
Paul's long rubber boots for the purpose, so I warned him to be at the
gate to open it when I returned, and drove away. It was not until it was
too late to turn back that I found the reins were sticky with grafting
wax where William had held them, and that it had melted with the warmth
of my hands and ruined my new gloves. It was while I was trying to
scrape the wax off with my pocket knife that Peter Waydean stopped me
to ask if I had seen a pig of his that had been missing since the day
before. It was the first time I had seen him since our quarrel, so I
answered briefly in the negative and drove on, but I noticed that he
looked after me with surly suspicion, as if he thought I had it
concealed under the seat.

Now when I returned half an hour later I was engrossed in conversation
with Mr. Fairman, and I had forgotten all about Peter's quest. The horse
was trotting along at a creditable pace; Mr. Fairman sat upright beside
me in starched and immaculate apparel, trying to appear unconcerned
about his approaching fate; I, flicking the animal in the most artfully
casual manner to keep him going, had on my best company manners. Perhaps
this phrase may suggest effort, constraint, artificiality, but I have
been told by Marion that no one could possibly be more charming in
manner than I, when I choose to be agreeable, but that when I--but
there, I like to take the sweet without the bitter, and the rest is
quite irrelevant. I was suave, genial, sympathetic; Mr. Fairman, in
that blissfully exalted mood so natural to the occasion, had just drawn
my attention to the idyllic beauty of Nature's autumn garb, when
suddenly up from the dry ditch at the roadside stumbled Peter Waydean, a
dishevelled, disreputable blot upon the scene. Frantically waving his
arms, he shouted an invitation to me to stop and give him a chance to do
me up. I had an idea that he called me a pig, but we were bowling along
at such a rate that I couldn't be sure of his words, though there could
be no doubt of his general intentions. For various reasons I did not
attempt to stop, and my attention was immediately distracted from him by
the sight of Marion's old sun-bonnet bobbing up and down in the ditch
some distance ahead. If it had been hanging on a tree or lying on the
roadside, I would have been quite surprised, but to see it travel along
with unvarying speed and apparent dogged intention in a straight line
along the inner side of the ditch seemed very like a miracle. That it
could do so without legs was inconceivable; that legs could belong to
it was marvellous, but if so, how many, what size and shape? I whipped
up the horse, with a passing glance at Mr. Fairman. His eyes were
riveted on the bonnet with eager wonderment; he had plainly forgotten
for the moment that he was on his way to his wedding. As we neared the
lower level of the road we were slightly ahead, and I checked the speed
of the horse at the foot of a slope where the ditch ended; just in time,
for like a dissolving view there dashed across the road directly in
front of us the most grotesque object in the way of a quadruped that
could be imagined. Its head was hidden in the sun-bonnet; the short
fore-feet were completely encased in Paul's worn-out rubber boots; the
body, instead of being hairy, was feathered like that of a Plymouth Rock
hen; around the hind legs flapped a tiny pair of blue trousers--only a
curly little tail remained to show it was a pig.

It came; it vanished. At the same instant Joe Wrigley's horse stood up
very straight on his hind legs and then prepared to sit down on our
laps. Without a word, Mr. Fairman leaned sideways and tried to climb
head first over the wheel. I had just time to rescue him by seizing his
coat-tails with one hand while I lashed the horse with the whip. The
effect of that blow was electrical, for with a bound the animal sprang
forward at a pace that first astonished, and then alarmed me. We passed
the Waydean gate at racing speed, and in a fleeting glimpse of William
as he stood there I saw a broad grin merge into open-mouthed horror, and
I had the grim satisfaction of knowing that the enjoyment of his
handiwork was swallowed up in remorse. In vain I tugged at the reins;
the horse had the bit between his teeth, and the only effect was to
slacken the traces and put the strain of drawing the vehicle on my arms.
Perhaps if I had been alone I would have felt afraid and have resigned
myself to disaster, but I was filled with a fierce resolve to save Mr.
Fairman and see him safely married, as arranged.

He sat bolt upright now, his face pale and drawn as he gripped the seat
with both hands. I had no breath to waste, so I remained silent until
he said, in feeble gasps: "I think--perhaps--I'd better--get out."

It was then that my mind reached an altitude of far-seeing clear-sighted
wisdom that, under the perilous circumstances, was akin to inspiration.
Although ordinary men similarly placed would have reviewed their past
misdeeds, or have looked forward with selfish misgiving to approaching
dissolution, I did not think of my own danger; my mind was fully
occupied with the problem of how to save my companion for his marriage
at eleven o'clock. In case this mental attitude may seem heroic, I wish
to say frankly that it didn't seem so to me; if it should be supposed
that the impulse was a noble one, let me say that I had no intention of
acting nobly; I also bitterly repel Marion's insinuation that it was an
ignoble one. The fact is, it did not occur to me that I should analyze
my motive, but if I had known how I would be catechized later I would
have done so, and thus have avoided trouble.

As he spoke, Mr. Fairman gazed with longing eyes at the ground that
seemed so invitingly near, with only the upper half of a rapidly
revolving wheel to bar his descent. I knew that if I left him to himself
he would take that fatal jump, yet I could not have moved a finger to
stop him, for I dared not relax my hold on the reins. I must overcome
with calm and decisive reasoning the alluring idea that had taken
possession of him.

"Mr. Fairman," I said, with quiet authority, "there is--no cause--for
alarm." He looked beseechingly at me, and I felt encouraged. "If
you--jumped--" I continued jerkily, my words punctuated by the jolting
of the vehicle, "you would either--be killed--" he shuddered--"or
mangled." He stared at me with dumb appeal. "If the buggy were--in
front--of a runaway horse--we'd have to jump, but since--we're
behind--our best plan is to remain--seated--as long as--possible." A
faint smile flickered at the corners of his mouth. "We're absolutely
safe--" I urged, "on the seat--but danger begins when we--leave it."

Mr. Fairman gulped. "I see," he said; "you've got a head. Don't--let
me--jump."

I needed all the head I had, for while the road had been clear so far, I
descried a load of hay on the narrow bridge that stretched over the
little river in front of us. There was no chance of passing to one side,
and I wondered whether the horse would try to plunge through the load or
jump over the railing of the bridge. He did neither, for I saw just in
time that a track led down to the river, where farmers drove through
when the water was low. Pulling with all my strength on one rein, I
managed to turn the horse off the main road and we headed straight for
the river. A shout of horror arose from my companion, and I had to drop
the reins and clasp him in my arms to keep him from jumping out. There
was a mighty splash, a sudden shock that almost flung us over the
dashboard, and then Joe Wrigley's horse walked,--yes walked, calmly and
sedately to the opposite shore. We were safe and dry-shod, but
alas!--stranded in mid-stream. The horse had the shafts; we had the
buggy. I looked at my watch; time, twenty-five minutes to eleven. We
were a mile beyond Waydean, but it was possible to walk there in twenty
minutes, if we could get to dry land. No one was in sight along the
road, and the load of hay had lumbered on, the driver happily
unconscious of how he had been saved from sudden disaster. Mr. Fairman,
though still pale and agitated, had recovered enough to remember his
appointment, and was dismayed at our situation. I had to give up,
regretfully, for want of time, a fascinating plan of taking off the
buggy-top to float shorewards in; a glance at his gleaming boots and
irreproachable trousers caused me to scout the thought of his wading;
there was but one course open to me. With many apologies I removed my
lower garments; with more apologies I begged Mr. Fairman to do me the
favor of carrying them, and stepped into the water. Then I showed him
how to gather the skirts of his coat under his arms, get on my back and
hold his legs straight out to keep them from touching the water. He
politely protested; I insisted; he yielded. I am almost certain I heard
him chuckle on the journey; I knew he vibrated in a suspicious manner;
but when I set him down on shore he was quite solemn in thanking me, and
his eyes were moist with emotion as he watched me dry myself with the
buggy-duster and get into my clothes.

In my young days I often wished I could have an opportunity to save a
human life; indeed, I have always held myself in readiness to plunge
into any depth of water up to four feet if occasion should arise, and it
is all the more remarkable that I really didn't think of having saved
Mr. Fairman's life until he mentioned it. But when I looked back I saw
that I had saved him at least four times in a quarter of an hour. First,
by not abandoning my post when the horse tried to sit down in the buggy;
second, by overcoming his impulse to jump out by my cold dispassionate
logic; third, by holding him in the seat when we approached the river;
fourth, by rescuing him from the shipwrecked buggy in perfect condition
for his wedding.

When we met William Wedder hurrying along the road in search of us, his
anxious and crestfallen air showing how much he regretted having been
the cause of the accident, I did not stop to reproach him but sent him
on to bring the horse and buggy to Waydean. Fortunately, Aunt Sophy and
Marion, knowing nothing of our adventure, had been spared much anxiety,
and it was not until after the brief marriage ceremony that Mr. Fairman
related how, but for my heroic conduct, Aunt Sophy would not now be Mrs.
Fairman. I must say he did me a little more than justice, and I did my
best to faintly depreciate my heroism. I found Aunt Sophy's warm-hearted
and impulsive demonstration most embarrassing, but it was a peculiar
expression of scepticism on Marion's face that made me wish I had not
been accused of acting heroically.

It was not until the Fairmans had departed and the flutter of Aunt
Sophy's handkerchief from the car-window was no longer visible that
Marion had a chance to speak to me alone; then she lost no time.

"Now," she said, turning to me with an impatient little tap of her foot,
"I want to know the truth about that horse. Didn't you only pretend he
ran away?"

"Pretend!" I exclaimed, with rightful indignation, the muscles of my
arms still tingling with the strain.

"Yes," she insisted, with the resolute look that I knew only too well; a
look meaning that no matter what the evidence I would be adjudged
guilty; naturally, I flushed under her gaze. "I knew from your manner
that you had done something you were ashamed of. Did you do it for one
of those insane practical jokes, or because you wanted to convince Mr.
Fairman that you are the paragon that Aunt Sophy thinks you?"

My irritation vanished; being innocent, I could forgive my wife's
suspicion. "The fact is, Marion," I explained, with complete candor,
"that brute of Joe Wrigley's had the bit between his teeth and I
couldn't stop him."

She laughed scornfully. "He had the bit between his teeth! Just what you
told poor Mr. Fairman. May I ask where you would have liked his bit to
be? Between his eyes or his ears, perhaps. If you had a bit in your
mouth wouldn't it have to be between your teeth?"

I knew her argument was defective, but I got too flustered to think
where the weakness lay, for I felt the matter was getting serious. It is
one thing to have the satisfaction of showing your wife that she has
made a blunder; it is another to confirm her suspicions by your denial.
In the end she did appear to believe that the horse ran away and that I
really had tried, with some small measure of success, to save Mr.
Fairman's life, but that didn't end the matter. Marion has unusual
psychological insight. Not only can she unearth thoughts and motives
that I am conscious of having, but she can go deeper still, delving into
unexplored regions of sub-consciousness to find the thoughts and motives
that I am not aware of having.

"How strange!" she mused. "You had time to think of so much in those few
minutes. Did I understand you to say that your _one_ idea was to save
Mr. Fairman?"

"Well, that was the dominant one. The other thoughts that flashed
through my mind were all dependent on it, as the tones of a musical
scale are related to the tonic."

Not once in years do I think of so apt an illustration within five
minutes of the time I need it, and I was so wrapped up in conceit of my
remark that I walked, open-eyed but unseeing, into the most transparent
pitfall. Knowing, in my innocence, that I had nothing to conceal, I
forgot for the time that I must be on my guard against Marion's digging
up something that wasn't there.

"And you never considered," she asked, "how dreadful it would be for
Paul and me if anything happened to you?"

"It never entered my mind," I answered confidently, "but I can tell you
I was afraid the old gentleman would be killed or mangled before he was
married--then where would Aunt Sophy have been?"

"Where would Aunt Sophy have _been_?"

"Don't you see," I explained, with a confidential lowering of my voice,
"that if he had been killed before the ceremony she would have been left
out in the cold; whereas, afterwards it wouldn't matter--ah--so much."

"Wouldn't _matter_--so----"

"In a pecuniary sense," I interjected nervously. "I know she'd be
heartbroken and all that, but as a widow--I mean, as his widow--she'd be
wealthy, and--and--she'd get over----"

By Marion's stony glare I knew I had struck quicksand; I felt myself
sinking and made one despairing effort to recover my footing. "Of
course, I made up my mind that if I didn't pull him through safely, I'd
give back my five thousand to Aunt Sophy, but--Good Heavens!
Marion--what's the matter?"

It has been my lot to arouse anger, sorrow, despair, scorn, and various
other sentiments consecutively, but never before had I seen them
expressed in one composite glance.

"So _that_ was your motive," she said, with stinging, withering
emphasis. "You clutched Mr. Fairman as a miser might clutch his hoard if
his house took fire. It wasn't to save his life; it wasn't for Aunt
Sophy's sake; he was merely a money sack. Henry, if you hadn't confessed
it yourself I wouldn't have believed you were such a mercenary wretch.
No wonder you looked ashamed."

We had just reached the house, and I had no chance to clear my character
before Marion ran upstairs and locked herself in her room, so I thought
it politic to leave her in silence for a while. I was bristling with
indignation, for while I hadn't pretended that my conduct was
praiseworthy, I knew that I had not been cold-blooded and calculating
enough to try to save Mr. Fairman from the motive she had suggested.
Indeed, I saw that the explanation that I had formulated in response to
Marion's insistent questions had no foundation in fact, except possibly
a fragmentary impression that may have flashed across my mind for an
instant during our imminent peril, yet I had been thick-headed enough to
make it appear that I had been influenced by these considerations
instead of confessing that I had invented them as an afterthought. I
knew I should be able to make Marion see the matter in this light when
she had been sufficiently long in seclusion; in the meantime, I went
around to the rear of the house to find William Wedder and to settle my
score with him.

I met him looking for me, dressed up in his best clothes and carrying
his red bundle and stick.

"William," I said, in my most austere manner, "I haven't had a chance to
tell you what I think of your con----"

"No, sir," he broke in, "and I'm not calculatin' to give you a chance.
I'm off."

"You're--off!" I ejaculated, my anger suddenly displaced by dismay.
"What--what's the matter?"

"Well, sir," answered William, his face broadening to a grin, "there's
several reasons why I'd better be off. One is, I'd rather go than be
sacked; then, old Waydean, he's took the notion that I dressed up his
pig, and Joe Wrigley says he's gone to swear out a summons."

His manner was so coy, so engaging, so innocently virtuous and
forbearing, that I could not refrain from an encouraging smile; somehow
I seemed to know exactly how he felt--perhaps I, too, in some previous
state of existence, had found it expedient to appear to know less than I
did know.

"What became of the pig, William?" I asked, in a tone that conveyed, I
fear, more sympathy than reproof.

"After you drove off so fast," he replied, "it turned onto the Stone
Road, with old Waydean close behind, and that was the last I seen of
them, but Joe Wrigley says they met a funeral near the Stone Road
Cemetery, and there was a regular circus; after it was over I seen
people drivin' past here lookin' as if they'd been at a Punch and Judy
show."

I smiled appreciatively, feeling a softening toward William in view of
the entertainment he had provided, but I saw it would be wiser for him
to leave than to wait for Peter's revenge. There was one more point that
puzzled me.

"How did you fasten those boots on the pig?" I asked.

There was a momentary triumphant gleam in his eyes, then they opened
wide with innocent frankness as he spoke. "Joe Wrigley says there was a
wad of graftin' wax in each one, and the longer they were on the tighter
they'd stick. Joe says----"

"William," I interrupted, "why do you keep saying that Joe Wrigley says
this and Joe Wrigley says that, when you----"

One eyelid slowly curtained an eye. "You see, Mr. Carton," he said, in a
half-whisper, "if you don't know nothin' but what Joe says, you don't
know enough for evidence, nor too much for your own good, and if that
old sinner makes law trouble you can't swear to anythin' but hearsay.
Joe says it's like a sort of judgment on him, for it'll take as long to
get the feathers and wax off that pig as it'll take new feathers to grow
on them chickens. He says there ain't but three ways of gettin' that
kind of wax off: bilin' in kerosene, freezin' in a ice-cream freezer, or
leavin' it to nature and the habits of pigs."

"Well, William," I said regretfully, "I suppose you had better go, but
I'll have to get another man to do the work, for I'll have the farm on
my hands in a few days. Peter has signed the agreement to sell."

"Jee--rus'lem!" he exclaimed. "It'll be a bigger circus than I counted
on when----"

"When what?" I asked, as he suddenly checked himself.

"I was thinkin' about the new well up at the barn," he replied, with
sudden gravity. "I haven't got down to water yet, but it ain't far off,
and Joe Wrigley says he'll come over to-morrow and finish it for you.
Well, I must be goin'--good-by for the present. Mebbe I'll come back
when this blows over."

"Where are you going to?" I called after him, as he hurried off.

His legs moved faster, as if he feared pursuit, but there was no
response until he reached the gate, then he turned and shouted: "To
see--Uncle--Benny!"

It is painfully humiliating to stand before a locked door and try to
convince a silent person inside that you have high ideals, noble
impulses, virtuous aspirations and an unvarying regard for the truth;
it is yet more painful if you are the victim of a train of
circumstantial evidence that has biassed the mind of the listener; you
are at a further disadvantage if that person is the one who knows your
failings better than you do yourself, but there is yet hope if, with all
your faults, she loves you still.

I pleaded and reasoned with Marion in a high, unnatural and despairingly
mellifluous voice; without avail. Then it occurred to me that I was on
the wrong tack, and in a tone of hoarse despair I said I was a brute.
This had been effective before, and I listened breathlessly; there was a
faint monosyllabic response, but whether of assent or dissent I could
not determine. With added anguish I declared that I was and that she
needn't say I wasn't; that it would be better for her if I were dead.
There was a whole sentence in reply, the gist of it being that she
hadn't said I wasn't. This was encouraging, so I sought to create a
diversion by telling her that William had gone; this item was coldly
received. Then, like an inspiration, came the thought that I had still
to tell her how we had been bidding against each other.

"Marion," I called out excitedly, "I know the man who tried to buy the
place."

"Who is he?"

"Open the door, and I'll tell you."

"No; I can hear."

"He's a perfect brute." I moved away with a heavy tread. It was an
excellent move; the door opened and Marion ran after me.

"What's his name?" she demanded.

"He's a man," I replied, with unreproving, sad forgiveness, "who thought
he would try to please his wife by making her a present of the place."

"Good gracious! Was it that wretched Griggs?"

"No,--his name is--Henry Carton."

Now I had expected the announcement to create a sensation, but I was
totally unprepared for the effect it produced. Instead of being appalled
to learn that she had thrown away sixteen hundred dollars unnecessarily,
she forgave me with every appearance of being delighted to hear the
news. An interval followed, during which I didn't care particularly how
this blissful state of affairs had come to pass, but I gathered by
degrees that it was because I had quite innocently proved that I was not
a mercenary wretch and that I could by no possibility have saved Mr.
Fairman's life from any sordid motive. There are probably few men more
deserving of praise, but I shall not repeat Marion's expressions of
affection and respect, in case they should appear extravagant. I bore
her appreciation with my usual modesty, and when she wondered how she
could have behaved so, I said it wasn't any wonder at all, and that I
was almost sure I wasn't as good as she said. She declared indignantly
that I was far better, and when I tried to add that I had acted like a
brute she put her hand over my mouth and threatened to get angry again
if I used that word about myself, saying that I had acted like an angel,
and how could I ever forgive her? I assured her that there was nothing
to forgive, but if there was I forgave her freely, and I did so with
such fervor and unselfishness that she almost melted into tears again.
Then with the greatest delicacy I suggested that I was grieved that she
had been obliged to pay so much more for the farm than if I hadn't been
so stupid, but she only said indifferently, "Bother the money--I've got
you!"

Still, I grudged that sixteen hundred dollars, and I thought she ought
to show more concern, but I dreaded a return of her suspicion that I was
mercenary, so I bothered the money also and remarked that I had her.
Then we both made the happy discovery that we had Paul, and Marion
reminded me that I had the farm and enough money to stock it, yet in
spite of all these blessings it rankled in my mind that when the papers
were signed Peter Waydean would have that sixteen hundred dollars above
the worth of the farm.



XII

THE EXIT OF WILLIAM WEDDER


The morning after Aunt Sophy's wedding I slept late, more exhausted by
the excitement of the day than I had been aware of, yet in that dreamy
state of half-wakefulness before sunrise, I was dimly conscious of
hearing the sound of Joe Wrigley's pick and shovel, as he worked at the
unfinished well. I remembered that I must go to the city and arrange
with Marion's agent for the transfer of the property, and also be ready,
in my rôle of Uncle Benny, to receive William Wedder, if he should call
at the _Observer_ office as he had threatened. I was drowsily exulting
in William's discomfiture on finding that I was Uncle Benny, when a loud
shouting from the direction of the barn awakened me; a moment later I
heard hurried clumping footsteps and the sound of hammering at the back
door. My first impression was that the earth had caved in and buried Joe
Wrigley and that he had come to me for help, but when I hurried into a
few essential garments and reached the back door I was relieved to find
that Joe was there; pale, breathless, agitated, but unburied.

"Come quick--_ile_!" he gasped, and lumbered off. I followed.

When I reached the well Peter Waydean was lying prone on his face with
his head hanging over the hole. At the sound of my voice he humped
himself slowly and stood up, looking at me with an expression of utter
misery.

Joe grabbed my arm and pointed to the well. "_Ile_," he repeated, in a
hoarse croak--"smell."

I lay down and smelled; the reeking odor of kerosene oil arose upwards
and I staggered to my feet, stunned by a sudden vision of great wealth.

Peter was the first to speak. "The farm's worth half a million," he said
despairingly, "and I've sold it to that shark for fifty-one hundred."

"What shark?" I forced myself to ask.

"That land shark in the city," he said, turning away with a sudden
stiffening of his frame. "But I'll not be robbed," he shouted, raising
his clenched hand above his head in a fierce gesture--"he hasn't got the
deed yet."

I watched him hurry over the adjoining field, a strange pitying impulse
possessing me to run after him and tell him to take back the farm; then
Joe attracted my attention.

"Jest as I struck that streak of clay," he said, pointing downwards, "I
seen it get soppy like, but I thought it was water, for I took the smell
to be from the ile on my hair, settled into contracted quarters like;
then it began to bubble up faster, an' I scooped up a handful to taste,
an' the next thing I knowed I was up here hollerin' for all I was worth.
Old Peter, he come runnin' over the pasture field, an' I lit out for the
house to call you."

In the well I could see a slight bubbling as the oil ran in, and the
bottom was now covered with several inches of the fluid, which looked
remarkably clear and of such fine quality that I didn't wonder Joe had
mistaken it for water. I told him to stop work and cover the hole with
boards, warning him not to tell anyone of the discovery. I don't know
why I gave him the latter direction, but I had an instinct that it was
the correct thing to do and was an evidence of presence of mind on my
part. Then I went back to the house to break the news to Marion.

In my inmost heart I knew that the wealth was rightfully Peter's, though
I was legally entitled to reap the benefit of the discovery, but
something of the passionate greed that I had seen expressed in his
distorted face stirred my soul, and I went upstairs to tell Marion,
feeling, I imagine, like a fugitive bank cashier. But when I looked into
her clear eyes I knew there was but one right course, and that was to
release Peter from his agreement. Somehow I felt as if I had just
escaped from prison when that was settled; never again do I wish to be
burdened with even the thought of unworked-for riches.

I felt sorry for Peter when I hurried over to his house to tell him he
could take back his farm without going to law. I regret to say that he
did not receive me with open arms or fully appreciate my generosity;
indeed, when I told him that we had employed the land agents to
negotiate with him he declared that he never would have signed the
agreement if he had known, but he became more amiable when he understood
that Marion and I had been bidding against each other.

Now when I act nobly, I like the matter to be distinctly understood;
therefore Peter's attitude was disappointing. There wasn't the slightest
doubt but that he should have been so affected by my action as to thank
me in a voice broken with emotion, begging me at the same time to accept
the office of President of the Waydean Oil Company, and fifty per cent.
of the capital stock. I did not try to make him see it in the proper
light, for that would have been undignified as well as useless, and I
was pressed for time, so I bade him a courteous but frigid good-morning.
I knew better than to seek consolation from Marion by letting her know
that I had expected gratitude, for such a course would have led to the
scornful assertion that I had done nothing for which gratitude should be
expected. So when she asked if he wasn't awfully grateful I answered in
the negative, elevating my eyebrows in surprise. Marion at once asserted
that Peter was a grasping hard-hearted man, and tried to show me how
nobly I had behaved; a point of view that I protested against, with the
result that I was praised to an extent that she has never since
excelled.

It was about ten o'clock when I took the train for the city, and for the
first time I had leisure to think over the astounding discovery of oil.
The short time which had elapsed since I had been awakened by Joe
Wrigley had been so full of action that I had difficulty in persuading
myself that I hadn't been dreaming, and the farther I got from Waydean,
the more incredible appeared the evidence of my senses that I had seen
and smelled oil bubbling up at the bottom of my fifteen-foot well.

The first thing I did when I got to the _Observer_ office was to
consult the encyclopædia in regard to oil-wells. I do not think I ever
received so much mental enlightenment from that useful compendium in
such a short space of time, as during the few minutes I spent over the
article on petroleum. William Wedder was not mentioned, but when I
closed the book with a bang I knew that the ingenious old rogue had not
only carried out his threat of making Peter the laughing-stock of the
county, but had included me also. For a short time I was beside myself
with rage, then an idea leaped into my mind that suggested delightful
possibilities, and I hurried down to the front office to find out if
William had called that morning.

I have been repeatedly questioned about how I spent the time between
lunch and three o'clock, but I have two good reasons for evading a
direct answer; one is, that I do not care to say, the other, that I
cannot, like some people, tell a lie without provocation. Young Evans,
at the Inquiry and Subscription wicket, knew that I told him as I went
out at noon that if a smooth-shaven countrified-looking old man asked
for Uncle Benny he was to be shown up to my room to await my return. Old
Jamieson, the elevator man, knew that I entered by the side door about
three o'clock, and that I was quite astonished to hear that a visible
Uncle Benny had appeared and disappeared during my absence, and that he
had been followed into my room by a smooth-shaven rural-looking old
codger; that after an interval of loud conversation that could be heard
above the rumbling of the presses in the basement, the latter emerged
hastily, clattered down the stairs with something in one hand that
looked like a human scalp, closely pursued by Uncle Benny, who was
excitedly pulling his stovepipe hat down over his ears as he ran, and
stopping as he descended the stairs to replace the huge prunella shoes
that kept dropping off.

But it was Meldrum, the cartoonist, whose room was opposite mine, who
told me most about this strange occurrence. "I thought there was a fire
at first," he said, in relating the affair. "I got into the hall and
saw the most remarkable looking old party sitting at your desk. Hairy as
a gorilla--couldn't see a feature except his nose--smoked goggles--white
hair to his shoulders--white beard down to his belt--long-skirted frock
coat--pants turned up at the bottom, showing his spindle-shanks half
way----"

"_Spindle_-shanks!"

"Yes--regular pipe-stems--and prunella shoes, by Jove!--the kind he wore
in the ark--voice like a polar bear, and deaf as a door-post. Other chap
got completely winded trying to make him hear."

"What was _he_ like?"

"Small, smooth-shaven, pink cheeks, blue eyes. Looked like Shem--voice
away up in G."

"Could you hear what they said?"

Meldrum laughed derisively. "Hear?" he repeated. "_Hear!_ Great Scott!
If the presses hadn't been running some idiot on the street would have
pulled the fire-alarm, sure. When I saw them first Noah had his hand up
to his ear and Shem was yelling into it: 'Will--yum Wed--der!'

"'I see,' growls Noah, 'William was your grandson, and he got married.
Go ahead.'

"'No, no--' shouts Shem, 'that's my _name_. WILL......YUM WED......DER!'

"'You'll have to raise your voice,' says Noah, 'I'm a little hard of
hearing.'

"Then Shem goes at it again, a fifth higher, and Noah catches on and
asks him a lot of questions. Where he came from, what family, how he
happened to leave home. Shem shouts that he isn't a hired man by birth,
and that he left his family because his wife and daughter caught the
whole-wheat-and-nut-food fever and tried to feed him on hygienic
principles, so after building up his strength on unwholesome food for
the summer, he's going back to his family to see if they've come to
their senses."

"Do you mean to say, Meldrum, that you stood out in the hall and
eavesdropped?"

"Eavesdropped! Old Wedder's voice sailed into my room as plainly as if
he had the jim-jams. Come now, Carton, you know more about this thing
than you pretend. He brought your name in several times, and if I'm not
mistaken, he had some good joke on you about your farm. Every little
while I'd hear Noah growl, 'That isn't funny.' At last I heard Shem
fairly yell, '_That_ ain't funny, ain't it?'--then there was a shout
from Noah and a mighty clatter. By the time I got out from behind my
desk and into the hall again, all I could see was the top of Noah's
stovepipe vanishing down the stairway. Jamieson is certain Shem had his
wig. Come now, Carton, make a clean breast of it and tell me who these
old parties were. I always thought you wrote the Uncle Benny papers, but
perhaps I was mistaken."

"Meldrum," I said confidentially, "I'll tell you the honest truth, but I
want you to keep it quiet. William Wedder was my hired man, and he was
determined to see a real Uncle Benny, so to oblige him, I togged myself
out for the part at the theatrical costumer's around the corner. I
didn't expect--ha, ha, ha!--to take you in, though."

I made this explanation with calm sincerity, with child-like frankness,
and I'm sure I don't know what prompted me to cast these pearls of truth
before a fellow-journalist, but I did. What was the result? Meldrum
sniffed at the gems suspiciously, then chuckled, assuring me as he
jocularly slapped my back that he was delighted to know the facts of the
case and that he would respect my confidence.

This is how the rumor originated that the real Uncle Benny was an aged
and talented relative of mine, whom I kept in seclusion to restrain his
bibulous propensities. It was perhaps as well that I was not aware of
this at the time, or I certainly would have been discouraged from the
practice of telling the undiluted truth.



XIII

THE FAIRY WELL


I need not dwell upon my return to Waydean that evening. It is still
painful to recall my sensations as I stepped from the train, on finding
that Joe Wrigley had so completely disregarded my instructions to tell
no one of the discovery that the usually quiet country road between the
station and Waydean swarmed with pedestrians returning from an
inspection of William Wedder's handiwork. Had I been permitted, as I had
hoped, to publicly expose the fraud, I could have risen to the occasion
and perhaps found a certain solace in doing so; but to find that in my
absence the prying eyes of my neighbors had found the ingenious
mechanism by which William had manufactured a flowing well of refined
petroleum, and had attributed it to me, was crushing. I could bear up
under the facetious remarks of the people who complimented me on my
success in taking such an excellent rise out of Peter, but when Andy
Taylor rushed out of his house and clapped me on the back, I could only
look at him in sorrowful reproach, at which his merriment increased.
"Mr. Carton," he gasped, "it beats the way you done up that Griggs all
hollow. I knew you'd get back on Peter, but I didn't know it'd be
so--gosh--darn--rich. Oh Lordy, to see him when the loose dirt shifted
and showed the blue end of the coal-oil barrel!"

"The coal-oil barrel?"

"Yes,--you'd ought to have laid a few boards of top of the heap, and it
wouldn't have shifted with people trampin'. You must have let ten
gallons run down that iron pipe--and how did you ever get it drove so
far? I suppose that joke cost you as much as five dollars, but I'd say
it was cheap at ten."

In vain I assured Andy that I was innocent; he only laughed the harder,
reiterating his belief that I beat the Dutch and that I was a natural
born play-actor; that the Griggs episode, charming as it had been, was
discounted by my latest histrionic venture.

By the dim light of my lantern, Marion, Paul and I viewed the wreck of
the Waydean Oil Well when I reached home. Our coal-oil barrel, exhumed
from the loose earth that had covered it, had been rolled away from the
edge of the hole, leaving the iron pipe exposed. The ground was packed
hard with the trampling of many feet.

"I didn't think there could be such a crowd of people in the country,
except at a funeral or an auction sale," said Marion indignantly. "I was
just enraged to sit in the house and see them pass through the yard as
if it were a common. I'll never forgive William Wedder--I wish I had
never baked him a pie."

"I hope he'll have to live on hygienic wheat biscuits when he gets
home," I responded. "I hope his wife has learned to cook them in two
hundred ways, and whether they're mashed, stewed, fried, pied, creamed,
puddinged or jellied, he'll have disappointment three times a day of
finding that they are still the same old wheat biscuits. That'll be
punishment enough for him, but it won't make Peter believe I didn't do
this, and by this time he must have got Roper's letter cancelling the
agreement."

"I suppose we'll have to give up the place in the end," said Marion,
with a sigh.

"Don't let Paul hear," I said in a low tone, "or he'll make the dickens
of a row."

At that moment Paul was leaning over the edge dangling a long string
into the well; fishing, I supposed, in my ignorance. For days he had
been going about with a dreamy look on his face that betokened a secret
play of absorbing interest. I drew a breath of relief when I saw that he
didn't look up at Marion's unguarded remark. All would have been well
had I not been so misguided as to make a suggestion that aroused
Marion's sense of duty and her persistent belief that I tried to shirk
mine.

"Paul," said she, and even in that one word I detected the compassionate
severity suitable to the extraction of a tooth--"do you know that we'll
have to leave----"

"Marion," I implored, "wait till we get him into the house--he'll rouse
the neighborhood."

I should have known better than to protest. Once started in the track of
duty nothing short of a disastrous collision would stop her. She did
pause, but merely to make a remark to me that led to a sharp
altercation. We forgot our rule never to give way to our angry passions
before Paul; indeed, he was so unusually silent that we didn't remember
his presence until we were suddenly struck dumb by a shrill exclamation
of impatient wrath that arose from the other side of the well.

"Dar-r-n it!" he ejaculated, with petrifying distinctness.

If he had turned into a quick-firing gun and dropped a shell at our feet
the effect could not have been more paralyzing. Our boy had been
carefully screened, not only from evil, but from vulgarity; he had never
gone to Sunday school, nor been left to the care of a nursemaid. His
companions were his toys and domestic pets; other children he had seen
only from a distance, and he regarded them as curious, but not
interesting, little animals. His face reflected the purity of his mind.
I hesitate to say so, for obvious reasons, but his face at the age of
seven was simply angelic; I mean, of course, normally, not when his
mouth was wide open in the act of expressing bodily or mental anguish.
And this is not merely his mother's opinion and mine; it is Aunt Sophy's
also. Indeed, Aunt Sophy, who is never tired of drawing attention to his
remarkable resemblance to a photograph of me as a boy, has gone much
farther, and has given utterance to thoughts that we only think.

Therefore, we turned to each other in dumb amazement; then I raised the
lantern to make sure that it really was Paul who had spoken. He was
getting up from his crouching position and the light showed that his
little mouth was tightly set and that his wide-open eyes sparkled like
stars. Even as we stared at him his lips parted again, and again he
said: "Dar-r-r-n it!"

I am thankful that the well was partially covered and that I was able to
keep Marion from sliding into it. "_Paul!_" she cried in horror, "oh,
Paul!"

I hastened to follow her lead. "Paul," I said, with fierce sternness,
"what do you mean, sir?"

"I mean," he replied accusingly, "that it's all spoiled. They've taken
fright at your squabbling and put out their lamps."

Again we stared at each other in questioning silence. What had taken
fright we knew not, but we did know that we had squabbled.

"Where did you hear that dreadful word?" demanded Marion.

"Darn?" queried Paul, with innocent pride. "I heard William Wedder say
something when the coal-oil barrel rolled on his foot, and when I asked
him 'I beg your pardon?' he couldn't remember what he had said, then
when I kept on asking him to try to remember he said it must have been
an exclamation called _darn_. I think it's ever so much nicer than
_bother_ or _good gracious_."

"It's a vulgar word, and only vulgar people use it," I commented
reprovingly.

"Why, father, William said that when Joe Wrigley's horse stood up on
his hind legs you said----"

"Paul," I interrupted hurriedly, "you said something took fright,
and----"

"Hush!" said he, in a mysterious whisper, coming close to me. "It was
the fairies. William said if we made an oil well and didn't say anything
about it, they'd be sure to come to fill their lamps, and they have. I
saw three of them climbing up my rope ladder when you frightened them
off."

"Then you knew that William made this?" I exclaimed.

"Of course. I helped him to bury the barrel so that the fairies wouldn't
know it wasn't a real natural well. He said if we kept it a secret it
would be a pleasant surprise to you when I showed you the fairies. Hush!
They're climbing up the rope ladder again. Peep down through that crack
and you'll see them--very--ve--ry--quietly. There now--stand back. I'm
going to help them up over the edge."


The next morning Peter Waydean came over to see me, his face wreathed in
smiles, his manner most cordial. "Mr. Carton," he said genially, "I
ain't on the hunt for oil wells this morning, but I was on my way to
thank you for the trouble you took in rigging up that one when I met
your little boy coming over to see me."

"Paul!" I exclaimed--"to see you?"

Peter nodded. "Great head on that little chap," he said. "'I don't want
you to be angry at father about the oil well,' he says to me, 'for
William and I made it together, and father didn't know anything about
it,' says he, standing up straight and stiff. Then he told me the whole
business, and although it turned out a good thing for me, I'm glad to
know it was that scoundrel Wedder that tried to play it off, and not
you. Paul was so tickled at me pretending to believe he really seen
fairies that when he wanted me to say that I'd sell the farm to you just
the same, I hadn't the heart to tell him it was sold."

"Sold?"

"Yes,--you see, I thought you had played that trick on me and I was so
mad yesterday that when along comes another agent twice as keen to buy
as them other two I jumped at the chance of selling. 'Name your price,'
says he, 'to sell on the spot.' 'Six thousand,' says I, at a bluff.
'Done,' says he; and in five minutes the agreement was signed."

"Well," I said, with a sigh, "I suppose we'll have to move."

"Oh, I don't know," said Peter encouragingly. "Perhaps the party don't
want to live here; though, considering the price," he added, with a
shrewd smile, "he didn't buy just for speculation. They say he's got a
fine place in the city and heaps of money, and he's just got married
again to a widow. I might as well have asked another thousand, I
believe."

"What is his name?" I asked, with sudden interest.

"Fairman. He owns--what--Mr. Carton, what's the----"

I relaxed my tense grip of his arm. "His first name?" I demanded
eagerly.

"Joseph, I think. What's the matter?"

I am afraid my explanation was not very clear to Peter. I could not tell
him the cause of my excitement, nor mention the fact that I had saved
Mr. Fairman's life several times in one day, for that would have savored
of boastfulness; so I hinted that when we were boys together Mr. Fairman
had saved my life and had ever since regarded me with the highest
esteem. Thus I preserved the main fact of our connection, only
disguising it enough to let Marion see incidentally afterwards how
careful I was to avoid the appearance of vainglory.

Now when I rushed into the house to tell Marion that Mr. Fairman had
bought Waydean, I did so with the innocent exuberance of expectant
delight with which children, not too sophisticated, view brown paper
parcels that are delivered at their homes during the Christmas season.
Marion's first thought, I could swear, was similar to mine; I could not
mistake the vivid flash of happy gratitude that illumined her face, nor
the sudden exclamation that was checked at the parting of her lips, yet
her tone, when she did speak, expressed the utmost mystification.
"Why,--how strange!" said she.

For an instant I did not comprehend her mental attitude, but I am
remarkably adaptable, not by nature, but by training, and by a swift
turn I avoided plunging headlong into an awkward situation. It would
show a want of delicacy, a sordid mind, a vulgar expectancy, were I not
to ignore the thought that we had both almost uttered. Even though I saw
an equine nose, a flowing tail and four legs protruding through the
brown paper, I must not guess it was a rocking horse; above all, I must
not hope it was to be mine.

"Yes," I remarked, with innocent bewilderment, "it is very strange. I
wonder why he bought it."

Truly I have learned a thing or two. My wife regarded me with admiration
that she scarcely tried to hide. I had saved Mr. Fairman's life without
adding a cubit to my stature in her estimation, but by this trifling
observance of the proprieties, this delicate expression of native
refinement, I stood exalted upon a pedestal.

"I wonder," repeated Marion, after me, in deep conjecture, "why
he--bought--it?"

Our eyes met. In hers I could see a faraway amused sparkle; in my own I
permitted a faint twinkle, then we both looked in another direction.

"Perhaps," I ventured cautiously, "Aunt Sophy will write and tell us."

"Perhaps she will," said Marion.


The reward of unconscious virtue arrived by the next mail, in the guise
of a long letter from Mrs. Fairman.

"......I can scarcely realize that it is only three days since we said
good-by," she wrote, "it seems so long ago. Of course we have been
travelling most of the time and this is really the first chance I have
had to write and tell you about the trip, and how constantly I think of
your kindness to me, and what good reason I have to be grateful for the
advice that had so much to do with my present happiness. Indeed, I
confessed to Joseph how I was influenced by Henry's opinion, and he was
quite affected. He keeps saying to me: 'A fine young man--a noble young
man!' He describes to me over and over again how admirably Henry acted
in the presence of danger the morning of our wedding; he says he hasn't
a doubt but that for Henry's coolness and resource we wouldn't be
married now. The thought makes me shudder! I suppose that is why I feel
so nervous about him when he is out of sight; I am so afraid of another
accident.

"But really, Marion, he hasn't been away from me for more than half an
hour at a time, he is so devoted. Of course, with such large interests
he has business to look after, but he does it altogether by telegrams.
It amazes me to see the number he sends off, and I'm getting quite used
to the shoals that arrive, but at first the sight of them made me feel
quite ill. He never looks to see if there are more than ten words, and
yesterday's hotel bill had an item of $7.62 for telegrams!

"Somehow I have been thinking a great deal of your poor Uncle Philip
lately. I think it must be the resemblance I see in Henry to him that
has brought him so vividly before me--and I have come to the conclusion
that I was too hard on him about the farming. Of course he spent a
great deal of money on it, but the spending gave him pleasure, and if he
had taken to horse-racing or gambling, or something worse, as so many
men do, I would have had real cause to complain. I am older now, and I
see that married men when they get to a certain age are inclined to fret
and chafe, and perhaps bolt, if they are tethered with too short a rope.
I see, too, that I didn't do Philip any good by trying to keep him from
farming. Now, dear Marion, I have something to write that will not
offend you, I hope. I tried to say it last week, but I couldn't quite
get my courage up, for you have a little bit of a temper, dear, and I
knew that if I saw your eyes flash I would get flustered and make a
bungle of it. You know I always supposed it was Henry's own
determination that kept him from buying any implements but a spade, a
rake and a hoe, but from something Paul said I have surmised that it was
because you made him promise not to. Perhaps, at the time, that was a
wise precaution, but you are differently situated now, and you should
modify your views. Of course Henry will do exactly as you say, and
never let you see what it costs him, and although I admire his common
sense about saving money, I admire him much more for his unselfish,
uncomplaining devotion to your ideas. I believe if he thought it would
give you any pleasure he would go and cut off his little finger on the
chopping block in the woodshed. But I would advise you strongly, Marion
(since you need have no fear for the future), to let him spend all the
money he wishes on the farm, and to keep all sorts of fancy stock. Let
him go ahead for a year at least and take all the pleasure he can out of
it, and you'll find it will pay in the end. There's just one thing I
would shut down on, if I were you (though I don't think it's likely he'd
want to do it, but you never can tell how far they may go if they once
get started), that is, underdraining. I don't know anything about
overdrains, but I do know that underdrains are simply ruinous, and if
you keep Henry from underdraining I don't believe he can waste much
money. Now, dear Marion, write soon and let your poor old aunt know
that you are not offended by this suggestion."

Marion stopped reading, covered her face with her hands and laughed
hysterically, exclaiming, "Oh, how funny! You poor,--poor, down-trodden
creature!"

I was dumb with astonishment at first,--there was much food for
reflection in the letter,--but what surprised me most was the absence of
any allusion to Mr. Fairman's buying the farm. "Is that all?" I asked,
with breathless incredulity.

It wasn't. Marion found another sheet marked, "Later."

"Joseph came in a few minutes ago and handed me one of those telegrams
to read. Imagine my astonishment at finding he has bought Waydean for
Henry! It seems that on our wedding-day he made up his mind to do this,
and never said a word to me about it. If he had I certainly would have
said he was too late. How fortunate, after all, that your bargain with
Peter fell through. I think Joseph is more pleased to be able to make
Henry a present of Waydean than about anything that has happened since
we saw you last, and I can't tell you how glad I am. You see, Marion,
Henry can go ahead with perfect confidence."



XIV

A PASTORAL CALL


For nearly two years I had rigidly adhered to Marion's scheme of
inexpensive farming, with the result that we refrained from spending
money at a rate that should have enabled us to amass a fortune in course
of time. The rent which I paid to Peter practically included a bonus to
him for working his own land, but this was a mere trifle to the outlay
that would have been necessary had I essayed the rôle of an ordinary
amateur farmer. Thus, from the standpoint of economy I can cheerfully
testify that the plan was a success, but at times its chafing
restrictions irritated me almost to the point of rebellion, as when I
heard Abner Davis insinuate that I was not a regular farmer. This
feeling, however, gradually wore away, as I learned that Marion's plan
not only meant a pecuniary saving, but also a freedom from many
responsibilities and worries inseparable from the lot of the ordinary
farmer. At all times I could rise superior to the devastations of
potato-bugs and cut-worms, early and late frosts, hog-cholera,
hail-storms, floods, droughts, and mortgage interest. It was this
consideration that made me hesitate to adopt Aunt Sophy's suggestion
that I should indulge myself by launching forth in the fatuous career of
the irregular farmer who spends his fortune in the delightful pursuit of
a phantom profit, but when I began to fully realize that we owned
Waydean and that I had five thousand dollars in the bank, the prospect
of farming on a larger scale became distinctly alluring. At this point I
suddenly made the astounding discovery that Marion had entered upon a
policy of absolute non-interference in the matter. Not only did she
neglect to point out the proper course for me to take, but she also
declined to express an opinion or make a comment upon anything even
remotely connected with farming operations; nor would she explain her
reasons for this extraordinary behavior, or admit that she had reasons.
I could only guess that it was Aunt Sophy's letter which had influenced
her to this complete inaction and apparent indifference to my
agricultural operations.

It was then that I became aware how dependent I was upon my wife's
judgment and how much I distrusted my own. Like a caged bird unwittingly
made free, I felt bewildered and forsaken and vainly tried to be
restored to favor. I am amenable to reason, to flattery, or to anything
else that helps to make life pleasant and more worth living; not so with
Marion. It is hopeless to attempt to change her purpose by external
influences, and I soon gave up the thankless task of trying to extract
an opinion from her that she was bound to keep to herself. It was while
I was still in a state of mental bewilderment over her behavior that
Peter Waydean came forward with what appeared to be a most reasonable
proposition. While I had been puzzling over what I should do with the
farm, it appeared that he, by a curious coincidence, was in a similar
state of indecision about what he should do without it. He hadn't
realized, he said, when he sold the place to Mr. Fairman, how attached
he was to the old homestead or how bereft of occupation he would feel
when he no longer cultivated the land that he had cropped for half a
century. He could scarcely make me understand how gratified he was that
I, and not a stranger, was now the owner; indeed, the idea had occurred
to him that, considering our friendly relations as neighbors, we might
make an arrangement, to our mutual advantage--ahem!--to work the land on
shares.

I had but a vague idea of what working land on shares meant, and I had
to ask him to explain the term. Instead of giving me a precise
definition, he began by pointing out that if I worked the farm myself I
would have the expense of keeping a hired man all the year round, as
well as extra hands in the busy season; I would have a continued outlay
for farm-stock, implements, feed and sundries. On the other hand, if we
worked the land on shares, he would be willing to do all the work
himself and provide everything necessary, if I were willing to pay him
the three hundred dollars that it would cost me to keep a hired man.

"And the produce?" I asked warily, though I felt inclined to agree on
the spot.

Peter rubbed his chin thoughtfully before he spoke. "I was going to say
that we might share and share alike, but I'm ready to do more than
that," with an expansive smile. "You see, as I told you once before,
taking one year with another, farming don't pay, and you might have to
share two years' losses against one year's profits." He paused for a
moment, and I nodded knowingly. "Now," he continued, "I'll take the hull
darned crop myself, and if it don't pay expenses you don't lose, but if
there is any profit once in a while, I'll have something for horse and
cow feed."

This offer sounded so generous that I almost succumbed; indeed, I would
have agreed at once but for the caution inspired by my previous dealings
with him, and the remembrance that Marion counted it one of my failings
that my first impulse was always to agree with any plausible
proposition. This thought gave me moral courage enough to withhold my
consent until I had time to talk it over with my wife.

Now when I eagerly began to explain the advantages of working the land
on shares I was so full of the subject that I forgot temporarily that
Marion was leaving me to my own devices, nor did I remember till I
paused for her opinion, and heard the interesting comment that I'd
better get the whitewash mixed up so that we could do the kitchen right
after dinner.

I mixed the whitewash with fierce energy. After dinner I applied it with
a concentrated vigor that, properly distributed, would have whitened the
White House. As I worked, I ruminated bitterly upon Marion's aggravating
reserve, doubly annoying in that I had an instinct that she saw a fatal
flaw in the plan which was not apparent to me. When I finished the walls
and ceiling of the kitchen I found that I had incidentally whitened the
stove, the floor and myself.

To my surprise, Marion made no comment on this as she prepared to scrub
the floor, her features expressing calm content, with perhaps a
suggestion of scornful amusement that was not definite enough to justify
me in accusing her of implying that I hadn't done the work neatly. She
had just dipped her scrubbing brush into the pail of water, and I was in
the act of removing my bespattered overalls, when the front door-bell
rang. It was such an unusual occurrence at Waydean for anyone to come to
the front door that the sound of the bell at this juncture created a
commotion. Neither of us was presentable, but Marion seized a towel and
rubbed some splatches of lime off my face, hurried me into an old coat
and declared I must go. I had learned previously that on any special
occasion it is always the man who must go, so I did not protest. I even
went willingly, for the bell rang a second time with a portentous
reverberation that thrilled me with expectancy that something was about
to happen, and I was in the mood to enjoy something happening. As I
glanced at the mirror in the hall I was startled to see that my hair and
beard were powdered a delicate gray with the lime, and that the lines in
my face looked like the deep seams of old age, but as this couldn't be
helped I opened the door with my usual air of inquiring dignity.

"How are you, Mr. Waydean?" demanded a hearty voice, and a large,
bearded, black-clothed, silk-hatted man grasped my hand with a fervent
pressure.

I am singularly open to sympathy, and at that particular time I would
have welcomed the benediction of a wayside beggar, so I returned the
hearty hand-clasp and replied that I was from fair to middling, warmly
inviting him to walk into the parlor. It did not occur to me until he
spread his coat tails and inverted his hat on the floor that he looked
as if he might be an ex-clerical insurance or book agent, and I was
rather more relieved than impressed when he announced that he was the
new pastor of the only church in the neighborhood. I attempted to
apologize for my disordered appearance and to explain that I was not a
church-goer, also that Waydean was not my name, but that of the place.

"Not one word, Mr. Waydean," he interrupted, his deep voice drowning my
courteous utterance. "You wouldn't think so, perhaps, but I was brought
up on a farm, and I have learned that clothes do not make a man. Would
you be a different person, let me ask, were you clothed in sheepskins or
purple and fine linen?"

"I never tried either of those costumes," I answered, "but if you saw me
in my ordinary clothes you wouldn't take me for a farmer."

"Come now, Mr. Waydean," he urged, tapping my knee insistently; "would
you or would you not be the same man? A straight answer, if you
please--no hedging."

"Well," I admitted, "I suppose I would be the same man, but I'd look
mighty different."

He leaned back in his chair, contemplating me with a satisfied smile. "I
am pleased to see that you are willing to grant that you are in error,"
he said, stroking his beard; "it's always better to tell the truth at
first than to wait until you are obliged to do so. But this, of course,
is not what I called to say, and I must come to the point. I've
preached in this church two Sabbaths, and you have not been present. May
I ask you why?"

"Well I--I'm not much in the habit of going to church. I----"

"Hedging again, Mr. Waydean," he said, holding up a warning forefinger.
"I must insist upon your being perfectly frank. I have reason to suppose
you have stayed away on account of this petty disagreement with Brother
Bunce and Brother Lemon. Is not that the fact?"

Alas, I could not say! Had I known the particulars of the petty
disagreement he mentioned I might have hazarded an admission that he was
correct in his surmise, for I find it easier to acknowledge that a
person is right in a matter of no interest to me than think up arguments
on the other side. I felt like a small boy who is called upon to decide
instantly whether his punishment will be mitigated or increased if he
confesses to a deed of which he is both innocent and ignorant. I looked
in every direction but at my accuser, and remained silent.

"Mr. Waydean," he went on, with a note of sympathetic compassion that
would have softened my heart had I been a sinner, "I find it is better
to begin work in a new sphere by smoothing out anything that has caused
discord, so I have come to you to-day as a peacemaker to speak about
your demeanor in church, which, I understand, has been the primary cause
of this trouble."

"My demeanor in church?" I cried, with indignant incredulity.

"Not a word, if you please, until I have stated the case in full, as I
understand it; then I shall listen to your explanation. You are in the
habit of sleeping in church, and----"

Again I struggled to disclaim the habit of church-going. Again his
masterful voice drowned my protest.

"I can assure you, Mr. Waydean, that we all have habits of which we are
totally unconscious. I, for instance, invariably moisten my thumb in
turning the leaves of the pulpit Bible, and I am inclined to disbelieve
my wife when she mentions the matter afterwards. Now, I want you to
take my word for it that you have the habit I am about to speak of, even
though you may think you haven't."

I remembered with an effort that my name was Peter Waydean; at the same
time I was thrilled by a sudden conviction that, as resistance seemed
useless, a delightful situation would result if I consented to play the
part that was being thrust upon me so vigorously. There was no sound of
scrubbing from the kitchen, and I was positive that Marion had left her
work to listen to the conversation. This consideration gave zest to the
idea, for things seemed to have been providentially arranged so that
Marion might remain in the background, wrathfully powerless to interfere
in what had every appearance of proving to be a most entertaining
masquerade.

"Mr. Hughes, I'll try," I said meekly.

"Well then, I will say frankly that I think it excusable if you
occasionally fall asleep during the sermon on a warm day, considering
that you have but one day's rest in the week from most arduous manual
labor; but, it happens, your pew is between Brother Bunce's and Brother
Lemon's, and they, too, are sometimes overcome by somnolency. Don't be
offended if I put the matter plainly,--they both complain that you have
the habit of going to sleep and----"

"But what right have they to complain of my going to sleep, when
they----"

"There,--there!--be calm, and I'll explain. Remember, they are both
liberal givers and pillars of the church, and we must do nothing to
alienate them; indeed, if we can do anything to make them more
comfortable it is our duty to do so. Now they do not complain of your
going to sleep, but they protest against having their rest disturbed
by--ahem!--your--your _snoring_."

"My _snoring_!" I exclaimed wrathfully. "Let me inform you, sir, I never
snore. I--" A choking guttural sound from the dining-room, followed by
an artificial feminine cough, arrested my denial. I gulped twice, then I
went on humbly: "I should say, rather, that I was not aware I snored."

"Well put, Mr. Waydean," said my mentor approvingly. "I remember the
first time my wife told me I snored I was quite irritated, so I know how
you feel. But I have investigated this matter thoroughly before coming
to you, and I find the opinion is universal that you are in fault."

"Well, then, what are you going to do about it? If I'm not wanted in the
church I'm willing to stay away."

"No, no,--my dear sir, I will not hear of such a thing. I am determined
that no one shall leave the church during my pastorate. I would suggest,
however, that you might change your pew to one at the rear of the
building under the gallery. You would be more comfortable there, and
Bunce and Lemon would be out of range, so to speak."

"Never," I protested firmly. "I shall either keep my pew at the front,
or leave the church."

"You will listen to reason, Mr. Waydean," he insisted, with confident
decision. "I was told that you were obstinate, and that I might as well
leave you alone, but I want you to set a good example to your neighbors
and show them you are a man of sense. May I--ah--ask you to call in Mrs.
Waydean, if she is at home?"

It was a move that took me unawares; I almost broke out into a cold
sweat. There was a sudden dull thump in the dining-room that sounded as
if the cat had jumped down from the top of the dresser to the floor, and
I knew that Marion in her dismay had dropped into a chair. Somehow this
sound was inspiriting. She could not get upstairs without being seen by
our visitor, and in her old skirt she was as impotent to interrupt any
statement I chose to make as if she were bound and gagged. Therefore,
with inward relish and outward regret, I answered that my wife had been
so unfortunate as to twist her ankle and had been confined to her bed
for two days.

He only paused to express the proper condolences before returning to the
point; leaning forward confidentially, he lowered his voice. "The fact
is, Mr. Waydean, I sympathize with your stand in the matter, but we must
all make sacrifices for the good of the community. You must consider
that these men give liberally, and how, may I ask, could the revenue be
made up if they left the church?"

More was implied by the diplomatic suggestiveness of his tone than by
the words. There was a pause, during which I pursed up my lips,
half-closed my eyes, and thoughtfully rubbed the bristles on my chin.
"Well," I remarked at length, in a reflective tone, "I suppose you think
I might do a little better?"

"To be quite frank, I think you might," he responded. "It is a delicate
matter to mention, but you have the reputation of being the wealthiest
man in the neighborhood, and--and----"

"And the closest," I added, with a touch of asperity. "To be quite frank
with _you_, Mr. Hughes, I didn't take much stock in your predecessor, or
I might have given more; but now I may perhaps feel differently. You
make Bunce and Lemon attend to their own beams, and I'll tell you what
I'll do. I'll--" Again that falsetto cough from the next room checked my
flow of speech. I had completely forgotten Marion, having become so
absorbed in my part.

"Well?" he asked expectantly.

I glanced around nervously and lowered my voice almost to a whisper.
"I'll give as much cash as I gave before; besides, I'll give half my
crop."

"Half your crop!" he exclaimed in amazement.

"Half--my--crop," I solemnly asserted; "if you care to send for it.
Perhaps you could get Bunce and Lemon to team the produce to market?"

"I'll attend to that," he responded cheerfully. "I'll get up a bee, and
lend a hand myself. I hope,--ho, ho, ho!--that you will have a large
crop. What do you propose to grow next year?"

"Well, I--I haven't quite decided."

"Considering that I have a half-interest, let me suggest potatoes."

"Potatoes!" I exclaimed. "Why, they're not worth digging this
year--fifteen cents a bag!"

The minister laughed. "Ninety-nine farmers out of a hundred will reason
in the same way," he said; "then the crop will be short and the prices
high. Be the hundredth man, and plant potatoes."

I thanked him for the advice, which seemed to me to be excellent. He
rose to go, then placed his hand affectionately on my shoulder. "Keep
your pew," he said, "and leave me to settle with Brothers Bunce and
Lemon; but if, as a favor to me, you could keep from--_going to
sleep_?----"

I could not resist the urgent friendliness of his appeal. "Mr. Hughes,"
I responded, "I can promise never to close my eyes while listening to
your sermons; more than that, I'll see that Bunce and Lemon keep awake
also."

His eyes twinkled with appreciative humor as he thanked me, and a sudden
remorse seized me for taking advantage of his insistent belief that I
was Peter Waydean. I might have yielded to my inclination to confess,
had not Marion's cough given place to a series of energetic movements
which I interpreted as a threat that she was preparing to enter the room
to expose my duplicity. As a usual thing I am easily intimidated, but
sometimes when I get beyond my depth I become bold, defiant, reckless. I
had, after all, done no wrong; I had merely accepted a situation that
had been forced upon me. My wife, on the contrary, had behaved with
heartless indifference. After training me to depend upon her judgment,
after teaching me to obey the dictates of her conscience, she had,
without a word of warning, sympathy or apology, left me to wrestle alone
with a momentous question; left me to be tossed about like a tailless
kite or a rudderless boat. Well, it was my plain duty to teach her a
lesson, and I saw the way to point a pretty moral and at the same time
settle my doubts as to the wisdom of allowing Peter to work my land on
shares. Marion had refused her opinion on this matter; she might now
listen while I appealed to a stranger.

"Mr. Hughes," I said hurriedly, as he picked up his hat, "sit down for
five minutes more--I want to ask your advice."

He did so, and briefly,--very briefly, for the sounds indicated that
Marion was desperately sponging her skirt on the dining-room table,--I
sketched a proposition similar to Peter's. "Now," I concluded, "do you
consider that a fair arrangement for the city man as well as for the
farmer?"

"A fair arrangement!" he exclaimed. "Where is the city man's share?"

"Wouldn't it be in the money he wouldn't spend by not working the land
himself?" I asked earnestly.

He laughed in joyous abandonment. "Really, Mr. Waydean," he gasped, "you
have an extraordinary mind. But it doesn't pay to juggle with one's
conscience, even in the case of a city man--it would be downright
extortion."

Again I was moved by his geniality to confess that I was not the man I
seemed; again was this virtuous resolve crushed. Before I could speak,
he went on: "You wouldn't have asked me this if your conscience hadn't
troubled you. Three hundred dollars bonus for the farmer--and _all_ the
produce!" Again his smile broke out afresh as he looked at me in mild
reproof. "Oh, I know what you're thinking. I, too, thought at one time
that amateur farmers were designed by Providence to add to the
prosperity and entertainment of legitimate cultivators of the soil,
but--oh, dear me!--three hun--ho, ho, ho!--Why, you'd kill your goose."

"Goose!" I cried fiercely. "Do you mean to call me a goose?"

"No, no,--I was going to say you'd kill your goose----"

"_Don't_ say it, then," I adjured him, with bitter resentment. "If you
mention anything oval and metallic and glittering, I'll have a--a
nervous prostration. Why do men of your profession want to wreck the
nerves of your listeners by firing off the most obvious remarks, the
stalest platitudes, the most hackneyed metaphors? Why can't you
sometimes say something unexpected? I'd go to church if I could listen
to sermons in which I didn't always know what was coming next."

It was his turn to wince. An angry flush mounted to his cheeks, and he
positively glowered at me. "Permit me to say," he thundered, extending
his right arm in a pulpit gesture, "that I wasn't going to mention the
gol"--I don't know what he wasn't going to mention, for I clapped my
hands over my ears just in time to escape hearing, because I felt that I
really couldn't bear a certain reference that he seemed bent upon
making. The next words that reached me were: "--was about to say that if
you pluck all the feathers off your goose out of season the result will
be fatal. Mr. Waydean, you are behaving in----"

"Don't," I implored--"don't Mr. Waydean me again. I'm _not_ old Waydean.
I'm----"

"You're not--Peter Waydean?" he gasped.

"No,--I'm not."

"I--I was told this was the Waydean homestead."

"It is," I said, regaining my composure, "but he doesn't live here."

He stared at me blankly. "And you?"

"Oh, I'm only the city man."

He picked up his hat and moved toward the door. "Good-afternoon," he
said frigidly.

Remorse for what was past and despair for what was to come gripped me.
"I'm sorry for the mistake," I said, following him to the door, "but you
wouldn't give me a chance to explain."

Without a word or look in reply, he walked away, selfishly absorbed in
his own thoughts.



XV

THE HARVEST


I suppose the law of retributive punishment is, strictly speaking, a
just one, but I feel sure there is such a thing as carrying it too far,
especially when it is applied without regard to the mitigating
circumstances that sometimes prompt a usually tractable man to kick over
the traces. I think, in a case of this kind, a deeper moral effect may
be obtained by the application of the beautiful theory that crime, like
virtue, has its own inevitable reward, apart from any extraneous
punishment that the human intellect can devise. Years before, when the
latter philosophy was expounded to me by Marion during a discussion on
the subject, it seemed a mere abstract proposition that verged on
absurdity, but in the painful moments that elapsed between the departure
of the minister and my hesitating entrance to the dining-room its true
significance burst upon me like a ray of sunshine. I would remind Marion
of her convictions; I would tell her I had adopted her view; she would
refrain, in deference to her own unswerving opinions, to add to the
mental anguish that had already led me to see how unwise it was to give
way to evil impulses.

Therefore, encouraged by this thought, I faced my wife as if nothing had
happened since I left the kitchen to answer the summons of the
door-bell. I was prepared to find her indignant, wrathful, in tears, but
I did not expect to see her sitting in an attitude of apathetic despair,
dry-eyed and speechless.

"Good heavens, Marion!" I cried. "What's the matter?"

It was some time before I could get her to answer; then it was a
positive relief to see her lips move and hear her say faintly,
"You've--done it--now."

I had difficulty in finding out what I had done. A gleam of hope
thrilled me when at last she revived enough to attack in the open.

Then, and not till then, did I develop my strategic lines of defence.
First, I pleaded justification; second, that my vivid imagination, like
Paul's, had led me to believe for the time that I was Peter; third, that
I had tried in vain to make the minister understand that I was not
Peter; fourth, that my desire for sympathy and companionship had warped
my judgment and caused me to innocently yield to temptation; fifth, that
I could not see that I had done wrong; sixth, that the burden of
poignant grief for my conduct was more than I could bear; seventh, that
any attempt to rub it in would harden my heart and stifle the reproaches
of my own conscience; eighth,--well, to the final argument upon which I
based my futile hopes Marion replied that her own attitude, born of the
humiliating discovery of the kind of man I really was, might well be
considered part of the inevitable consequences of my misdeeds, and that
if she had ever given me cause to believe that she thought differently
she took it all back.

It was then, with my guns spiked, that I surrendered unconditionally. I
only pleaded that for Paul's sake--dear little Paul, who, in his plays,
so innocently invented fictions that rivalled Munchausen's--we should
gather up the little fragments of our shattered happiness and piece them
together with calm resignation. I was about to suggest that we should
seek consolation in a life of self-abnegation by trying to do good to
others, but, seeing that Marion was obviously moved, I desisted. I am
proud to say I know how far to go; I am prouder that I know when to stop
and keep a good thing for another occasion.

Marion was melted, and no regular farmer was ever more grateful to see
the welcome rain after a scorching drought than I was to see her tears.
She was melted, and yet, strange to say, I could not get her to assure
me that I was forgiven, and I am so constituted that I cannot be content
without warm assurances to that effect.

Months went by, and we regained our happiness to an amazing extent;
indeed, if Marion had not still refused to confirm it, I would have
supposed that I was completely forgiven, for she sometimes went so far
as to smile in recalling my conversation with the minister. I no longer
worried over her refusal to express an opinion about the farm, for I had
made up my mind to have nothing to do with Peter, and to grow potatoes,
and potatoes, and yet more potatoes. I had a strong instinct that
potatoes would be trumps. Seed was cheap, though labor came high. Joe
Wrigley was the only available man, and though he had previously been
eager to work for me at a dollar and a half a day, his terms went up to
two dollars when I tried to hire him for the season. I thought his
wholesale price should be lower than the retail one, but I had to agree
to his terms. Day after day he ploughed and harrowed and planted, until
I called a halt on the first of July with about one-third of the farm in
potatoes. Throughout the summer I bore the jocular allusions of my
experienced neighbors to the potato farm, replying only with a shrewd
and complacent smile; later, I was flattered to notice that knowing
glances of amusement were conspicuously absent when I entered the
post-office at mail time, and that my casual remarks were treated with
grave consideration. Later still, when the price went up to a dollar and
a half a bag, and the prospect that I would have a large crop became a
certainty, I was able to indulge in exultant calculations of my probable
profits. These delightful anticipations were slightly marred by Marion's
persistent lack of enthusiasm, and the fact that when I asked her if she
could ever forgive me she always replied that she hoped to be able to
before winter. There was something so pointed and yet elusive in this
remark that I could not fathom her meaning, and it was not until I
noticed that whenever I mentioned potatoes a peculiar tight expression
appeared about her mouth that I could guess she was reserving her
forgiveness until my promise was redeemed.

One day in the beginning of October I wrote a brief note to the
minister. Now I had never seriously considered the possibility of
ignoring the promise I had made during my lapse of identity, but I will
confess that it was with a pang I prepared to redeem it, for I loved
every one of those conical heaps that dotted my fields, with a
passionate first love that I knew I could never feel again. Indeed, if I
could have preserved them from decay, I would rather have left the
pyramids where they stood, as a lasting monument to the genius of the
city man who raised more than two thousand dollars worth of potatoes at
a cost of less than one thousand, but with iron resolution I determined
to keep to the letter of my promise. Of course, I might have done so in
a private and incidental manner, but I frankly admit that I believe if a
man chooses to be noble and generous he ought to be so in a manner that
gives him the most enjoyment and furnishes the most telling example to
others.


On the morning of the twenty-first of October the Fairmans arrived to
spend with us the first anniversary of their wedding, and not a small
part of the pleasure of seeing them again was, to me, the delighted
admiration they expressed on making a tour of the pyramids. Aunt Sophy
was so exuberant over my success, and her husband so frankly astonished
when he rapidly calculated the value of the crop in dollars and cents,
that I had much difficulty in retaining my usual modest and unassuming
manner. Even Marion, despite a certain inflexible set to her mouth that
I detected under her company expression, couldn't help looking
regretfully pleased.

We had a most enjoyable dinner, sitting so long over the table that Paul
excused himself and went out to play, but it was only a short time until
he came running back with the petrifying news that there was a funeral
entering the gate. There was a simultaneous rush to the front windows,
and out on the road we all saw a long line of democrats beginning to
move slowly through our gate. Between the trees, at the head of the
procession, we caught fleeting glimpses of a professional silk hat and a
suit of black clothes.

"Henry!" cried Marion, with a little shriek. "You wouldn't--let
them--bury----?"

"Well, I don't know. If it's a Waydean--and the custom----"

"_Henry!_" shrieked Aunt Sophy, clasping Marion in her arms.

"Really," began Mr. Fairman, "I--I--"

"They've stopped in the yard," yelled Paul, putting his head in the
doorway.

I headed the rush to the back window, then one more rush brought us all
into the yard, Mr. Fairman in the rear, supporting the ladies, while
Paul, who revels in sudden excitement, skipped about us in glee. The
driver of the first wagon was Peter Waydean; the professional person
descending with his back to us was the Rev. Daniel Hughes. He came
forward with a genial smile and greeted me warmly.

"Mr. Carton," he said, "we have come to take advantage of----"

My arm was gripped from behind. "Pay him to take it away--_at once_,"
whispered Aunt Sophy in my ear, with fierce energy, pressing her purse
into my hand.

There was a sudden silence; the dramatic moment had arrived. I stepped
back and courteously introduced Mr. Hughes to Aunt Sophy, to Marion, to
Mr. Fairman. In a few simple and carefully chosen words I explained that
Mr. Hughes and my neighbors had come at my request to take one-half of
my crop for the benefit of the church. Then the minister made a most
handsome acknowledgment, and I tried to look deprecating. There was rapt
attention on the part of the listeners, the men on the wagons being
visibly impressed, those at the rear craning their necks to get a better
view of the tableau. Aunt Sophy beamed gratification; her husband sighed
regretfully, as if he thought the contribution rather large. And in
Marion's eyes I read the most charming and complete forgiveness that
could fall to the lot of an erring husband; indeed, they were brimming
with such perfect trust and confidence in my innate nobility of
character that I instantly resolved to become even more worthy of her
esteem.

We watched the long line of wagons pass through the barnyard and round
the end of the barn on the way to the back fields, and as I stood
slightly in advance of the others I heard Mr. Fairman wonder in a low
tone if I proposed to run for the legislature.

"Just like a thing your Uncle Philip would have done!" murmured Aunt
Sophy to Marion.

A fleeting spasm crossed Mr. Fairman's face, then his calm serenity
returned. I fancy that Uncle Philip had better be dropped, or Aunt
Sophy's husband's admiration for me may lapse.

On the last wagon rode Abner Davis. He returned my salute with
respectful solemnity, and I could scarcely repress a smile of triumph as
I recalled his derisive remark that I was not a regular farmer. Paul,
some latent boyish instinct stirring within him, ran after the wagon and
clung to the tailboard, an unheard of feat for him.

"I wonder what kind of a farmer Abner Davis will call you now," said
Marion, voicing my complacent pride.

At that moment loud guffaws, Abner's unmistakable laugh and his
companion's, reached us from the wagon that had rounded the barn, and
Paul came dashing back, breathless.

"Father," he called out, gleefully, "I heard him say that any man who
would give half of such a fine crop to----"

"To what?" I asked, with eager interest as Paul stopped for breath.

"--to--the church--when----"

"Oh, hurry, Paul!" cried his mother.

"--potatoes were such a price--was----"

We waited in suspense, various flattering allusions to my generous gift
suggesting themselves as that mischievous boy stopped to spin around on
his heels and laugh in elfish glee.

"Was _what_?" we cried in chorus.

"--A da-r-r-n fool!" shrieked Paul.





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