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Title: More "Short Sixes"
Author: Bunner, H. C. (Henry Cuyler)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "More "Short Sixes"" ***

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



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



                            [Illustration]



                          MORE “SHORT SIXES.”



                            [Illustration]

                          MORE “SHORT SIXES”~

                            BY H·C·BUNNER~

                            [Illustration]

                      ILLUSTRATED BY C·J·TAYLOR·

                   KEPPLER & SCHWARZMANN·PUBLISHERS.
                  PUCK BUILDING·NEW·YORK·MDCCCXCIV··

                            [Illustration]

              Copyright, 1894, by KEPPLER & SCHWARZMANN.

                       [Illustration: colophon]


                                  TO

                               A. L. B.



Contents.


Page.

The Cumbersome Horse                                                   1

Mr. Vincent Egg and the Wage of Sin                                   22

The Ghoollah                                                          46

Cutwater of Seneca                                                    68

Mr. Wick’s Aunt                                                       84

What Mrs. Fortescue Did                                              110

“The Man with the Pink Pants”                                        134

The Third Figure in the Cotillion                                    156

“Samantha Boom-de-ay”                                                180

My Dear Mrs. Billington                                              214



THE CUMBERSOME HORSE.


It is not to be denied that a sense of disappointment pervaded Mr.
Brimmington’s being in the hour of his first acquaintance with the
isolated farm-house which he had just purchased, sight unseen, after
long epistolary negotiations with Mr. Hiram Skinner, postmaster,
carpenter, teamster and real estate agent of Bethel Corners, who was now
driving him to his new domain.

Perhaps the feeling was of a mixed origin. Indian Summer was much colder
up in the Pennsylvania hills than he had expected to find it; and the
hills themselves were much larger and bleaker and barer, and far more
indifferent in their demeanor toward him, than he had expected to find
them. Then Mr. Skinner had been something of a disappointment, himself.
He was too familiar with his big, knobby, red hands; too furtive with
his small, close-set eyes; too profuse of tobacco-juice, and too
raspingly loquacious. And certainly the house itself did not meet his
expectations when he first saw it, standing lonely and desolate in its
ragged meadows of stubble and wild-grass on the unpleasantly steep
mountain-side.

And yet Mr. Skinner had accomplished for him the desire of his heart. He
had always said that when he should come into his money--forty thousand
dollars from a maiden aunt--he would quit forever his toilsome job of
preparing Young Gentlemen for admission to the Larger Colleges and
Universities, and would devote the next few years to writing his
long-projected “History of Prehistoric Man.” And to go about this task
he had always said that he would go and live in perfect solitude--that
is, all by himself and a chorewoman--in a secluded farm-house, situated
upon the southerly slope of some high hill--an old farm-house--a
Revolutionary farm-house, if possible--a delightful, long, low, rambling
farm-house--a farm-house with floors of various levels--a farm-house
with crooked Stairs, and with nooks and corners and quaint
cupboards--this--this had been the desire of Mr. Brimmington’s heart.

[Illustration]

Mr. Brimmington, when he came into his money at the age of forty-five,
fixed on Pike County, Pennsylvania, as a mountainous country of good
report. A postal-guide informed him that Mr. Skinner was the postmaster
of Bethel Corners; so, Mr. Brimmington wrote to Mr. Skinner.

The correspondence between Mr. Brimmington and Mr. Skinner was long
enough and full enough to have settled a treaty between two nations. It
ended by a discovery of a house lonely enough and aged enough to fill
the bill. Several hundred dollars’ worth of repairs were needed to make
it habitable, and Mr. Skinner was employed to make them. Toward the
close of a cold November day, Mr. Brimmington saw his purchase for the
first time.

In spite of his disappointment, he had to admit, as he walked around the
place in the early twilight, that it was just what he had bargained for.
The situation, the dimensions, the exposure, were all exactly what had
been stipulated. About its age there could be no question. Internally,
its irregularity--indeed, its utter failure to conform to any known
rules of domestic architecture--surpassed Mr. Brimmington’s wildest
expectations. It had stairs eighteen inches wide; it had rooms of
strange shapes and sizes; it had strange, shallow cupboards in strange
places; it had no hallways; its windows were of odd design, and whoso
wanted variety in floors could find it there. And along the main wall of
Mr. Brimmington’s study there ran a structure some three feet and a half
high and nearly as deep, which Mr. Skinner confidently assured him was
used in old times as a wall-bench or a dresser, indifferently. “You
might think,” said Mr. Skinner, “that all that space inside there was
jest wasted; but it ain’t so. Them seats is jest filled up inside with
braces so’s that you can set on them good and solid.” And then Mr.
Skinner proudly called attention to the two coats of gray paint spread
over the entire side of the house, walls, ceilings and woodwork,
blending the original portions and the Skinner restorations in one
harmonious, homogenous whole.

[Illustration]

Mr. Skinner might have told him that this variety of gray paint is
highly popular in some rural districts, and is made by mixing lamp-black
and ball-blue with a low grade of white lead. But he did not say it; and
he drove away as soon as he conveniently could, after formally
introducing him to Mrs. Sparhawk, a gaunt, stern-faced, silent, elderly
woman. Mrs. Sparhawk was to take charge of his bachelor establishment
during the day time. Mrs. Sparhawk cooked him a meal for which she very
properly apologized. Then she returned to her kitchen to “clean up.”
Mr. Brimmington went to the front door, partly to look out upon his
property, and partly to turn his back on the gray paint. There were no
steps before the front door, but a newly-graded mound or earthwork about
the size of a half-hogshead. He looked out upon his apple-orchard, which
was further away than he had expected to find it. It had been out of
bearing for ten years, but this Mr. Brimmington did not know. He did
know, however, that the whole outlook was distinctly dreary.

As he stood there and gazed out into the twilight, two forms suddenly
approached him. Around one corner of the house came Mrs. Sparhawk on her
way home. Around the other came an immensely tall, whitish shape,
lumbering forward with a heavy tread. Before he knew it, it had
scrambled up the side of his mound with a clumsy, ponderous rush, and
was thrusting itself directly upon him when he uttered so lusty a cry of
dismay that it fell back startled; and, wheeling about a great long body
that swayed on four misshapen legs, it pounded off in the direction it
had come from, and disappeared around the corner. Mr. Brimmington turned
to Mrs. Sparhawk in disquiet and indignation.

“Mrs. Sparhawk,” he demanded; “what is that?”

“It’s a horse,” said Mrs. Sparhawk, not at all surprised, for she knew
that Mr. Brimmington was from the city. “They hitch ’em to wagons here.”

“I know it is a horse, Mrs. Sparhawk,” Mr. Brimmington rejoined with
some asperity; “but whose horse is it, and what is it doing on my
premises?”

“I don’t rightly know whose horse it _is_,” replied Mrs. Sparhawk; “the
man that used to own it, he’s dead now.”

[Illustration]

“But what,” inquired Mr. Brimmington sternly, “is the animal doing
here?”

“I guess he b’longs here,” Mrs. Sparhawk said. She had a cold, even,
impersonal way of speaking, as though she felt that her safest course in
life was to confine herself strictly to such statements of fact as might
be absolutely required of her.

“But, my good woman,” replied Mr. Brimmington, in bewilderment, “how
can that be? The animal can’t certainly belong on my property unless he
belongs to me, and that animal certainly is not mine.”

Seeing him so much at a loss and so greatly disturbed in mind, Mrs.
Sparhawk relented a little from her strict rule of life, and made an
attempt at explanation.

“He b’longed to the man who owned this place first off; and I don’ know
for sure, but I’ve heard tell that _he_ fixed it some way so’s that the
horse would sort of go with the place.”

Mr. Brimmington felt irritation rising within him.

“But,” he said, “it’s preposterous! There was no such consideration in
the deed. No such thing can be done, Mrs. Sparhawk, without my
acquiescence!”

“I don’t know nothin’ about that,” said Mrs. Sparhawk; “what I do know
is, the place has changed hands often enough since, and the horse has
always went with the place.”

There was an unsettled suggestion in the first part of this statement of
Mrs. Sparhawk that gave a shock to Mr. Brimmington’s nerves. He laughed
uneasily.

“Oh, er, yes! I see. Very probably there’s been some understanding. I
suppose I am to regard the horse as a sort of lien upon the
place--a--a--what do they call it?--an incumbrance! Yes,” he repeated,
more to himself than to Mrs. Sparhawk; “an incumbrance. I’ve got a
gentleman’s country place with a horse incumbrant.”

Mrs. Sparhawk heard him, however.

“It _is_ a sorter cumbersome horse,” she said. And without another word
she gathered her shawl about her shoulders, and strode off into the
darkness.

Mr. Brimmington turned back into the house, and busied himself with a
vain attempt to make his long-cherished furniture look at home in his
new leaden-hued rooms. The ungrateful task gave him the blues; and,
after an hour of it, he went to bed.

He was dreaming leaden-hued dreams, oppressed, uncomfortable dreams,
when a peculiarly weird and uncanny series of thumps on the front of the
house awoke him with a start. The thumps might have been made by a giant
with a weaver’s beam, but he must have been a very drunken giant to
group his thumps in such a disorderly parody of time and sequence.

Mr. Brimmington had too guileless and clean a heart to be the prey of
undefined terrors. He rose, ran to the window and opened it. The
moonlight lit up the raw, frosty landscape with a cold, pale, diffused
radiance, and Mr. Brimmington could plainly see right below him the
cumbersome horse, cumbersomely trying to maintain a footing on the top
of the little mound before the front door. When, for a fleeting instant,
he seemed to think that he had succeeded in this feat, he tried to bolt
through the door. As soon, however, as one of his huge knees smote the
panel, his hind feet lost their grip on the soft earth, and he wabbled
back down the incline, where he stood shaking and quivering, until he
could muster wind enough for another attempt to make a catapult of
himself. The veil like illumination of the night, which turned all
things else to a dim, silvery gray, could not hide the scars and bruises
and worn places that spotted the animal’s great, gaunt, distorted frame.
His knees were as big as a man’s head. His feet were enormous. His
joints stood out from his shriveled carcass like so many pine knots. Mr.
Brimmington gazed at him, fascinated, horrified, until a rush more
desperate and uncertain than the rest threatened to break his front door
in.

[Illustration]

“Hi!” shrieked Mr. Brimmington; “go away!”

It was the horse’s turn to get frightened. He lifted his long,
coffin-shaped head toward Mr. Brimmington’s window, cast a sort of
blind, cross-eyed, ineffectual glance at him, and with a long-drawn,
wheezing, cough-choked whinny he backed down the mound, got himself
about, end for end, with such extreme awkwardness that he hurt one poor
knee on a hitching-post that looked to be ten feet out of his way, and
limped off to the rear of the house.

The sound of that awful, rusty, wind-broken whinny haunted Mr.
Brimmington all the rest of that night. It was like the sound of an
orchestrion run down, or of a man who is utterly tired of the
whooping-cough and doesn’t care who knows it.

The next morning was bright and sunshiny, and Mr. Brimmington awoke in a
more cheerful frame of mind than he would naturally have expected to
find himself in after his perturbed night. He found himself inclined to
make the best of his purchase and to view it in as favorable a light as
possible. He went outside and looked at it from various points of view,
trying to find and if possible to dispose of the reason for the vague
sense of disappointment which he felt, having come into possession of
the rambling old farm-house, which he had so much desired.

He decided, after a long and careful inspection, that it was the
_proportions_ of the house that were wrong. They were certainly
peculiar. It was singularly high between joints in the first story, and
singularly low in the second. In spite of its irregularity within, it
was uncompromisingly square on the outside. There was something queer
about the pitch of its roof, and it seemed strange that so modest a
structure with no hallway whatever should have vestibule windows on each
side of its doors, both front and rear.

But here an idea flashed into Mr. Brimmington’s mind that in an instant
changed him from a carping critic to a delighted discoverer. He was
living in a Block House! Yes; that explained--that accounted for all the
strangeness of its architecture. In in instant he found his purchase
invested with a beautiful glamour of adventurous association. Here was
the stout and well-planned refuge to which the grave settlers of an
earlier day had fled to guard themselves against the attack of the
vindictive red-skins. He saw it all. A moat, crossed no doubt by
draw-bridges, had surrounded the building. In the main room below, the
women and children had huddled while their courageous defenders had
poured a leaden hail upon the foe through loop-holes in the upper story.
He walked around the house for some time, looking for loop-holes.

So pleased was Mr. Brimmington at his theory that the morning passed
rapidly away, and when he looked at his watch he was surprised to find
that it was nearly noon. Then he remembered that Mr. Skinner had
promised to call on him at eleven, to make anything right that was not
right. Glancing over the landscape he saw Mr. Skinner approaching by a
circuitous track. He was apparently following the course of a snake
fence which he could readily have climbed. This seemed strange, as his
way across the pasture land was seemingly unimpeded. Thinking of the
pasture land made Mr. Brimmington think of the white horse, and casting
his eyes a little further down the hill he saw that animal slowly and
painfully steering a parallel course to Mr. Skinner, on the other side
of the fence. Mr. Skinner went out of sight behind a clump of trees, and
when he arrived it was not upon the side of the house where Mr.
Brimmington had expected to see him appear.

[Illustration]

As they were about to enter the house Mr. Brimmington noticed the marks
of last night’s attack upon his front door, and he spoke to Mr. Skinner
about the horse.

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Skinner, with much ingenuousness; “that horse. I was
meaning to speak to you about that horse. Fact is, I’ve kinder got that
horse on my hands, and if it’s no inconvenience to you, I’d like to
leave him where he is for a little while.”

“But it would be very inconvenient, indeed, Mr. Skinner,” said the new
owner of the house. “The animal is a very unpleasant object; and,
moreover, it attempted to break into my front door last night.”

Mr. Skinner’s face darkened. “Sho!” he said; “you don’t mean to tell me
that?”

But Mr. Brimmington did mean to tell him that, and Mr. Skinner listened
with a scowl of unconcealed perplexity and annoyance. He bit his lip
reflectively for a minute or two before he spoke.

[Illustration]

“Too bad you was disturbed,” he said at length. “You’ll have to keep the
bars up to that meadow and then it won’t happen again.”

“But, indeed, it must not happen again,” said Mr. Brimmington; “the
horse must be taken away.”

“Well, you see it’s this way, friend,” returned Mr. Skinner, with a
rather ugly air of decision; “I really ain’t got no choice in the
matter. I’d like to oblige you, and if I’d known as far back that you
would have objected to the animal I’d have had him took somewheres.
But, as it is, there ain’t no such a thing as getting that there horse
off this here place till the frost’s out of the ground. You can see for
yourself that that horse, the condition he’s in now, couldn’t no more go
up nor down this hill than he could fly. Why, I came over here a-foot
this morning on purpose not to take them horses of mine over this road
again. It can’t be done, sir.”

“Very well,” suggested Mr. Brimmington; “kill the horse.”

“I ain’t killin’ no horses,” said Mr. Skinner. “You may if you like; but
I’d advise you not to. There’s them as mightn’t like it.”

“Well, let them come and take their horse away, then,” said Mr.
Brimmington.

“Just so,” assented Mr. Skinner. “It’s they who are concerned in the
horse, and they have a right to take him away. I would if I was any ways
concerned, but I ain’t.” Here he turned suddenly upon Mr. Brimmington.
“Why, look here,” he said, “you ain’t got the heart to turn that there
horse out of that there pasture where he’s been for fifteen years! It
won’t do you no sorter hurt to have him stay there till Spring. Put the
bars up, and he won’t trouble you no more.”

“But,” objected Mr. Brimmington, weakly, “even if the poor creature were
not so unsightly, he could not be left alone all Winter in that pasture
without shelter.”

“That’s just where you’re mistaken,” Mr. Skinner replied, tapping his
interlocutor heavily upon the shoulder; “he don’t mind it not one mite.
See that shed there?” And he pointed to a few wind-racked boards in the
corner of the lot. “There’s hoss-shelter; and as for feed, why there’s
feed enough in that meadow for two such as him.”

In the end, Mr. Brimmington, being utterly ignorant of the nature and
needs of horse-flesh, was over-persuaded, and he consented to let the
unfortunate white horse remain in his pasture lot to be the sport of the
Winter’s chill and bitter cruelty. Then he and Mr. Skinner talked about
some new paint.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the dead waist and middle of Mr. Brimmington’s third night in his
new house, when he was absolutely knocked out of a calm and peaceful
slumber by a crash so appalling that he at first thought that the side
of the mountain had slid down upon his dwelling. This was followed by
other crashes, thumps, the tearing of woodwork and various strange and
grewsome noises. Whatever it might be, Mr. Brimmington felt certain that
it was no secret midnight marauder, and he hastened to the eighteen-inch
stairway without even waiting to put on a dressing-gown. A rush of cold
air came up from below, and he had no choice but to scuttle back for a
bath-robe and a candle while the noises continued, and the cold air
floated all over the house.

There was no difficulty in locating the sounds. Mr. Brimmington
presented himself at the door of the little kitchen, pulled it open,
and, raising the light above his head, looked in. The rush of wind blew
out his light, but not before he had had time to see that it was the
white horse that was in the kitchen, and that he had gone through the
floor.

[Illustration]

Subsequent investigation proved that the horse had come in through the
back door, carrying that and its two vestibule windows with him, and
that he had first trampled and then churned the thin floor into
match-wood. He was now reposing on his stomach, with his legs hanging
down between the joists into the hollow under the house--for there was
no cellar. He looked over his shoulder at his host and emitted his
blood-curdling wail.

“My Gracious!” said Mr. Brimmington.

That night Mr. Brimmington sat up with the horse, both of them wrapped,
as well as Mr. Brimmington could do it, in bed-clothes. There is not
much you can do with a horse when you have to sit up with him under such
circumstances. The thought crossed Mr. Brimmington’s mind of reading to
him, but he dismissed it.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the interview the next day, between Mr. Brimmington and Mr. Skinner,
the aggressiveness was all on Mr. Brimmington’s side, and Mr. Skinner
was meek and wore an anxious expression. Mr. Brimmington had, however,
changed his point of view. He now realized that sleeping out of Winter
nights might be unpleasant, even painful to an aged and rheumatic horse.
And, although he had cause of legitimate complaint against the creature,
he could no longer bear to think of killing the animal with whom he had
shared that cold and silent vigil. He commissioned Mr. Skinner to build
for the brute a small but commodious lodging, and to provide a proper
stock of provender--commissions which Mr. Skinner gladly and humbly
accepted. As to the undertaking to get the horse out of his immediate
predicament, however, Mr. Skinner absolutely refused to touch the job.
“That horse don’t like me,” said Mr. Skinner; “I know he don’t; I seen
it in his eyes long ago. If you like, I’ll send you two or three men and
a block-and-tackle, and they can get him out; but not me; no, sir!”

Mr. Skinner devoted that day to repairing damages, and promised on the
morrow to begin the building of the little barn. Mr. Brimmington was
glad there was going to be no greater delay, when, early in the evening,
the sociable white horse tried to put his front feet through the study
window.

But of all the noises that startled Mr. Brimmington, in the first week
of his sojourn in the farm-house, the most alarming awakened him about
eight o’clock of the following morning. Hurrying to his study, he gazed
in wonder upon a scene unparalleled even in the History of Prehistoric
Man. The boards had been ripped off the curious structure which was
supposed to have served the hardy settlers for a wall-bench and a
dresser, indifferently. This revealed another structure in the form of a
long crib or bin, within which, apparently trying to back out through
the wall, stood Mr. Skinner, holding his tool-box in front of him as if
to shield himself, and fairly yelping with terror. The front door was
off its hinges, and there stood Mrs. Sparhawk wielding a broom to keep
out the white horse, who was viciously trying to force an entrance. Mr.
Brimmington asked what it all meant; and Mrs. Sparhawk, turning a
desperate face upon him, spoke with the vigor of a woman who has kept
silence too long.

“It means,” she said, “that this here house of yours is this here
horse’s stable; _and the horse knows it_; and that there was the horse’s
manger. This here horse was old Colonel Josh Pincus’s regimental horse,
and so provided for in his will; and this here man Skinner was to have
the caring of him until he should die a natural death, and then he was
to have this stable; and till then the stable was left to the horse. And
now he’s taken the stable away from the horse, and patched it up into a
dwelling-house for a fool from New York City; and the horse don’t like
it; and the horse don’t like Skinner. And when he come back to git that
manger for your barn, the horse sot onto him. And that’s what’s the
matter, Mr. Skimmerton.”

[Illustration]

“Mrs. Sparhawk,” began Mr. Brimmington--

“I _ain’t_ no Sparhawk!” fairly shouted the enraged woman, as with a
furious shove she sent the Cumbersome Horse staggering down the doorway
mound; “this here’s Hiram Skinner, the meanest man in Pike County, and
I’m his wife, let out to do day’s work! You’ve had one week of him--how
would you have liked twenty years?”



MR. VINCENT EGG AND THE WAGE OF SIN.


Mr. Vincent Egg and the daughter of his washerwoman walked out of the
front doorway of Mr. Egg’s lodging-house into the morning sunlight, with
very different expressions upon their two faces.

Mr. Vincent Egg, although he was old and stout and red-nosed and shabby
in his attire, wore a look that was at once timorous, fatuous, and
weakly mendacious; a look that tried to tell the possible passer-by that
his red nose and watery eyes bloomed and blinked in the smiles of
Virginie. Virginie, although she was young and pretty and also thin of
face and poverty-stricken of garb, wore a look which told you plainly
and most honestly beyond a question, that she had no smiles for Mr. Egg
or for any one else. They walked down the middle of the street side by
side, but _that_ they could not very well help doing, for the street was
both narrow and dirty, and the edges of the stone gutter down its midway
offered the only clean foothold in its entire breadth. As they walked on
together, Mr. Egg made a few poor-spirited attempts to start up a
gallant conversation with the girl; but she made no response whatever to
his remarks, and strode on in dark-faced silence, her empty wash-basket
poised between her lank right hip and her thin right elbow. Mr. Egg
hemmed and cleared a husky throat, and employed both his unsteady hands
in setting his tall, shabby silk hat upon his head in such a manner that
its broad brim might keep the sunlight out of his eyes.

[Illustration]

Mr. Vincent Egg was in the little city of Drignan on business. His
lodgings were in the rue des Quatres Mulets, because they were the
cheapest lodgings he could find. There are prettier towns than Drignan,
and even in Drignan there are many better streets than the rue des
Quatres Mulets. But it was much the same to Mr. Egg. He took his shabby
lodgings, the rebuffs of the fair, the sunlight of other men’s fortunes
dazzling his weak eyes--all these things he took with an easy
indifference of mind so long as life gave him the little he asked of it,
namely: a periodic indulgence in alcoholic unconsciousness. A simple
drunk, once a month, of at least a week’s duration, was what Mr. Egg’s
soul most craved and desired; but if his fluctuating means made the
period of intoxication briefer or the period of sobriety longer, he bore
either event with a certain simple heroism. He wanted no “spree,” no
“toot,” no “tear;” a modest spell of sodden, dreamy, tearfully happy
soaking in the back-room of some cheap wine-shop where he and his ways
were known--this was all that remained of ambition and aspiration in Mr.
Egg’s life; which had been, for the rest, a long life, a harmless life
(except in the stern moralist’s sense), and a life that was decidedly a
round, complete and total failure in spite of an exceptional allotment
of abilities and opportunities. Mr. Egg had been many things in the
course of that long and varied life--lawyer, doctor, newspaper-man,
speculator, actor, manager, horse-dealer and racetrack gamester,
croupier (and courier, even, after a fashion)--and heaven knows what
else beside, of things avowable and unavowable. Just at present, he was
supplying an English firm of Tourist-Excursion Managers with a
guide-book of their various routes, at the rate of eighteen-pence per
page of small type, and his traveling expenses--third-class. He had just
finished “doing up” the district last allotted to him; and, after two
weeks’ of traveling about, he had spent another fortnight in writing up
his notes in a dingy little lodging-house room in the rue des Quatres
Mulets. He knew his ground thoroughly, and that was the cheapest place.

[Illustration]

Such was Mr. Vincent Egg, after a half-century of struggle with the
world; and something of an imposing figure he made, too, in his defeat
and degradation. His nose was red, his cheeks were puffed and veined,
there were bags under his bloodshot eyes, his close-cropped hair was
thin, his stubby little gray moustache, desperately waxed at the ends,
gave an incongruously foreign touch to his decidedly Anglo-Saxon
face--and his clothes were shockingly shabby. But then he _wore_ his
clothes, as few men in our day can wear clothes; and they were _his_
clothes; his very own, and not another’s. People often spoke of him,
after seeing him once, as “that big, soldierly-looking old man in the
white hat.” But he did not wear a white hat. His hat, which was one of
the largest, one of the jauntiest and one of the oldest ever seen, had
also been, in its time, one of the blackest. It was his coat that gave
people an idea of his having something about him that suggested white.
It was a tightly-buttoned frock-coat of an indescribable light-dirty
color. Most hopelessly shabby men cling to some standard of taste in
dress that was _the_ standard in their last-remembered days of
prosperity. That coat--if it were one coat and not only one of a
long-lived family--marked the fact that the last season of prosperity
Mr. Egg had enjoyed was a season, now some twenty years gone, when the
London “swells” or “nobs,” or whatever they called them then, wore
frock-coats of certain fashionable light shades of fawn and mouse-color,
then known, I believe, as “London Smoke” and “French Gray.” While it can
not be said that Mr. Egg’s coat was familiar in every quarter of Europe
(for it rarely staid long enough in any one place), it had certainly
been seen in all. And more than one Austrian officer, after passing Mr.
Egg in that garment of pallid, dubious and puzzling hue, had turned
sharply around to satisfy himself that it was not a uniform-coat in a
condition of profanation. A certain state and dignity that still clung
to this coat, and the startling cleanness of his well-scissored cuffs
and collars were all that remained to give Mr. Egg a hold upon exterior
respectability.

With such a history, Mr. Egg was naturally well versed in the
freemasonry of poverty and need. As his eyes became accustomed to the
sun, he looked at the girl’s pinched face, and his tones suddenly
changed. Vincent Egg spoke several languages, and he knew all their
social dialects and variations. It was in friendly and familiar speech
that he addressed the girl, and asked her--What was the matter? and, Was
the business going ill?

[Illustration]

If Virginie had been the poor girl you meet with in the stories written
by English ladies of a mildly religious turn of mind, she would have
dropped a little curtsey and said with a single tear, “Indeed, sir, I
had not meant to speak, but you have hit upon the truth. The business
goes very ill, indeed, and without help I do not see how my poor mother
can survive the Winter.” But Virginie, obeying the instincts of her
nature and her education, responded to Mr. Egg with a single coarse
French adjective which is only to be rendered in English, I am afraid,
by the word “stinking.”

Mr. Egg was not in the least shocked. He cast his blinking eyes about
him at the filthy roadway, at the narrow old stone houses that crowded
both sides of the street with the peaked roofs of their over-hanging
upper-stories, almost shutting out the sky above his head, at the
countless century-old stains of damp and rust and shameful soilure upon
their dull faces, and he said simply:

“Fichu locale!”

Thereby he amply expressed to his hearer his opinion that if the
business deserved the adjective she had accorded it, the explanation was
to be found in its unfortunate location. This opened the flood gates of
Virginie’s speech. She told Mr. Egg that he was entirely right about the
location, and gave him a few casual corroborative details which showed
him that she knew what she was talking about. She also confided to him
enough of her family affairs to account for the bitterness of her spirit
and her contempt for mirthful dalliance. It was nothing but the old
endless story of poverty in one of its innumerable variants. This time
the father, a jobbing stone-mason, had not only broken his leg in
Marseilles, but on coming out of the hospital had got drunk, assaulted a
gend’arme, made a compound fracture of it, and laid himself up for
several months. This time the mother had a rheumatic swelling of one
arm, which hindered her in her washing. This time the eldest boy had got
himself into some trouble in trying to evade the performance of his term
of military duty. This time the youngest child had some torturing
disease of the spine that necessitated--or rather needed--an operation.
And, of course, as at all times, there were five or six hungry mouths,
associated with as many pairs of comparatively helpless hands, between
Virginie and that youngest. And as to business, that was certainly bad.
It was particularly bad of late--although it was always bad in Drignan.
Virginie told Mr. Egg that he was “rudement propre,” or “blazing
clean”--clean as they were not in Drignan, she assured him. In fact, it
appeared, this strange English gentleman, who had paid as high as a
franc-and-a-half a week for his washing, had been accepted by Virginie’s
family as designed in the mercy of Divine Providence to tide them over
their period of distress. His departure at the end of two weeks was a
sore disappointment in a financial point of view.

[Illustration]

Vincent Egg was a very kind-hearted man, and he listened to this
recital, and uttered sympathetic ejaculations in the right places. He
was sorry about the youngest child, very sorry; he had known a case
like it. Perhaps, he suggested, business might pick up. Messrs. Sculry &
Co., the great English managers of Tourists’ Excursions, were going to
make Drignan a stopping-place for their excursions on the way to
Avignon. It was going to be a stopping-place of only a few hours, but,
perhaps, it might bring some business. Who knew? Virginie brightened up
when she heard this, and said that was so. Those English, she remarked,
were always washing--no disrespect intended to the gentleman.

“And here,” she said, as they came abreast of a narrow gateway on the
other side of the street from Mr. Egg’s lodging-house, “is where I live.
It is on the ground floor. Will Monsieur come in and see the baby?” And
her eyes lit up for the first time with a real interest--the interest,
half-proud, and half-morbid, of a poor, simple creature who longs to
exhibit to the world the affliction of monstrosity which sets her poor
household apart from others of its kind.

Now, Mr. Egg had not the slightest desire to see the baby, and he had no
intention whatever of going in; but, glancing through the narrow
doorway, he saw a succession of arches in the courtyard beyond, and some
old bits of mediæval masonry, which excited his curiosity. If this were
the remains of some old monastery that had escaped his notice, it might
mean a half-page more--nine-pence--in his guide-book. He strolled in by
Virginie’s side, heedless of her chatter. No; it was not the ruin

[Illustration]

of an ecclesiastical structure. The courtyard was only a part of an old
stable and blacksmith-shop; old, but no older probably than the rest of
that old street, which might have been standing at the time of Louis
XIV--though it probably wasn’t. From its proximity to a canal that
marked the line of an old moat, Mr. Egg made a safe guess that it was a
small remnant of the stables and farriery attached to the barracks of
the original fortifications of the town.

At any rate, it was no fish for the net of Messrs. Sculry & Co.’s
guide-book compiler; and he was turning to go, when Virginie, who had
supposed that he was merely following in her lead, to feast his eyes
upon the sick baby, said simply, as she pushed open a door, “This way,
Monsieur,” and, before he knew it, he had entered his washerwoman’s
room.

Although it was a ground-floor room, damp, dark and old, it was clean
with a curious sort of cleanness that seems to belong to the Latin
races--a cleanness that gives one the impression of having been achieved
without the use of soap and water: as if everything had been scraped
clean instead of being washed clean. Virginie’s mother was clean, too,
in spite of her swollen and helpless arm, and the three or four children
who were playing on the stone floor were no dirtier than healthy
children ought to be between washes. But Mr. Egg had hardly had time to
take more than cursory note of these facts before his attention was
riveted by the sick child in the French woman’s arms--so pitiful a
little piece of suffering childhood that a much harder-hearted man than
Mr. Vincent Egg might readily have been shocked at the sight of it. As
for Mr. Egg, he simply dropped into a seated posture upon a convenient
bench, and stared in the fascination of pity and horror.

Mr. Egg knew little of children and less of their diseases. In the
ordinary course of things, such matters were not often brought to his
attention; and, to tell the truth, had he known what he was to see
there, no persuasion would have induced him to enter that poor little
room. Now that he did see it, however, he could not move his eyes: the
spectacle had for him a hideous attraction of novelty. Virginie and her
mother exhibited the poor little misshapen thing, and rattled over the
history of the case with a volubility which showed that it was no new
tale. For fifteen minutes their visitor sat and stared in horrified
silence; and, when at last he made his way back to the street, he found
that his mind was in a more disturbed state than he had known it to be
in many years.

[Illustration]

It is the people who most avoid the sight of human suffering who very
often are the most sharply shocked by it when that sight is obtruded
upon them. Your professional nurse soon learns to succor without
lamentation: it is the person who “really has no faculty for nursing”
who goes into spasms of sensibility over the sight of a finger caught in
a cog-wheel, and runs about clamoring for new laws for the suppression
of all machinery not constructed of India-rubber. Up to half an hour
before, Mr. Egg had never wasted many thoughts upon the millions of
suffering babies in this world; and now he could not turn his thoughts
to anything except the particular baby that he had just seen.

And yet, as he had told Virginie, he had known of a similar case before,
though it belonged to a time so long ago that it had practically faded
from his mind. It was the case of his own brother, who had died in
infancy of some such trouble, one of the earliest victims of an
operation at that time in its earliest experimental stages. That was
more than half a century ago, and Vincent Egg had no remembrance
whatever of the little brother. But he did remember his first childish
impression of a visit to the hospital where the little one lay--of the
smell of the disinfectants and the chill of the whitewashed walls.

The heart of Mr. Egg was touched, and he felt himself moved with a
strong desire to extend some help to these people who were so much worse
off than he was. Yet Mr. Egg’s intellectual parts told him that there
was no possibility of his doing anything of the sort. He knew, beyond
any chance of fond delusion, his present position and his future
prospects. He had his ticket back to Lyons, where the local branch of
Messrs. Sculry & Co. had its office; he had in his valise at his
lodgings just enough money for his necessary sustenance upon his
journey. And not one other penny, not one soumarkee would he have until,
at Messrs. Sculry & Co.’s office, his work had been measured down to the
last syllable, and he had received therefor as many times eighteen-pence
as he had produced pages. That would be, it was true, quite a neat
little sum, but--and here came in the big BUT of Mr. Egg’s existence.

[Illustration]

For Mr. Egg knew exactly what was going to become of that money. To draw
it at all, he would have to present himself at the office in a condition
of sobriety, which would be the last effort of a period of abstinence
that he was beginning to find very trying. Then, so much of it must go
to buying himself back into the three or four attenuated credits by
grace of which he lived his poor life at Lyons; and just enough would be
left to give him that fortnight of drunken stupor for which he had
worked so long and so hard.

Mr. Egg needed an effort rather of the memory than of the imagination to
forecast the recurrence of that familiar stupor. He could see himself
leaving the spick-and-span, highly respectable office of the Lyons
agency of Messrs. Sculry & Co., and hurrying off upon the few bits of
business that must be attended to before he could present himself at
“his” wine-shop, which was a very dirty one, indeed, kept by a certain
M. and Mme. Louis Morel, in an appropriately unclean back street. There
he knew just what to expect in the way of noisy, ready-handed,
false-faced welcome. Then would come the tantalizingly-prolonged
bargaining over the score to be settled and the score to be begun, and
at last he would be free to take possession of that dark, ill-ventilated
little back room which was always reserved for the periodical
retirements of this regular patron of the house. It was a little room
like a ship’s stateroom, hardly large enough to contain its dirty red
velvet divan, its round table and its two chairs; yet for a week or a
fortnight it would be his, and behind it, in the hallway, was a bed on
which he could stretch himself in the hours when he felt the need of
deeper slumber than the hard cushions of the divan permitted. There his
few friends, outcasts and adventurers like himself, would drop in to see
him, one or two at a time, to help him on his murky way with challenges
to bouts of brandy-drinking, in which he would always pay for two
glasses to the other man’s one. Then, as the procession of callers went
on, it would grow dim and dimmer and vague and yet more vague, until it
was lost in a hazy, wavering dream, wherein familiar faces of men and
women stared at him from out of days so long gone by that in his dream
he could fancy them happy.

That was what lay before him. Mr. Vincent Egg knew it as well as he knew
that the calendar months would go on in their regular order, and the
tides in the sea would continue to rise and fall. Under these
circumstances, nothing was more certain than that the unfortunate
family of Mr. Egg’s washerwoman need look for no help whatever from Mr.
Egg’s prospective earnings. “It’s a damned shame!” said Mr. Egg to
himself, slapping his thigh. And it was a shame. But there it was.

[Illustration]

Suddenly a great thought struck Mr. Egg--a thought so great and so
forcible in the blow that it dealt his mental apprehension that for
three minutes he stood stock-still in the gutter in the middle of the
rue des Quatre Mulets. Then somebody poured a pail of water out of a
door-way and drowned him out, but he went on his way, quite indifferent
to wet feet.

Mr. Vincent Egg went to his lodgings, and there extracted from his
valise the very small sum of money which he had laid aside for his
necessary sustenance on his trip to Lyons. This he took to a
sign-painter on the outskirts of Drignan, to whom he paid the whole of
it for the execution of a small but conspicuous sign-board, which he
carried away with him under his arm.

       *       *       *       *       *

The usual afternoon wind was blowing in Drignan, chill and raw, with a
depressing flavor of a spoilt ocean about it. The sky was overcast, and
everything was dismal in the dismal little town. Dismalest of all,
perhaps, was a wretched little corner of waste land, between the old
barrack-wall and the dirty canal behind it. A few sick, stunted, faded
olive and orange trees in the lee of a mean stone wall showed that the
place had at one time been a garden or courtyard. Heaps of rubbish here
and there showed also that it had long outlived its usefulness. Here
sat, one on each side of a tiny fire of twigs, a shabby,
soldierly-looking old gentleman and a sallow, lanky young girl with a
sullenly pretty face. Right in the sluggish smoke of the fire, the old
man held a small sign-board still fresh from the painter’s hand, and the
more the smoke took the brightness out of the new colors, the more he
gazed at it with thoughtful approval. The girl said nothing; but sat and
stared at the fire and listened with an air of weary and indifferent
toleration while the old man repeated over and over what sounded like a
monotonous narrative recitation. From time to time she nodded her head;
and, at last, she began to repeat after the old man in a listless,
mechanical way. It was late in the afternoon before they rose and
scrambled over the heaps of rubbish to the street, where the old
gentleman bade the girl good-by with what were evidently words of
earnest admonition. His iteration seemed to annoy her, for finally she
let slip, in a tone of anger, a specimen of the speech of the people
which wasn’t exactly this; though at this we will let it go:

[Illustration]

“Vous savez, mons vieux, je m’en fiche bien de votre
Pé--Pé--Pétrarque--et de votre Laure aussi--”

Then she as quickly dropped back into her natural tone of hopeless
submission to all who were less wretched than herself, and said, with
something like gratitude in her voice:

“All the same, it is very kind of you, sir, I will try to do as you have
told me.”

And they parted, she entering a near-by passage-way, and he going to the
railroad station.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Vincent Egg stood in the private office of the Lyons branch of
Messrs. Sculry & Co., the great Excursion Managers. He was, for him,
unusually smart as to his clothes--to those who knew him, a sign that he
had reached the end of his period of abstinence. The Manager of the
Branch, a thin, raw, red-faced little Englishman with sandy whiskers,
was looking over the proofs of the guide-book pages set up from Mr.
Egg’s copy.

“Oh, ah, yes, Egg!” he said; “I knew there was something particular I
wanted to speak to you about. Here it is.” And he slowly read aloud:

       *       *       *       *       *

     “Another and perhaps the principal attraction of Drignan is the
     ruin, pathetic in its dignity, of the mansion of the Conte dei
     Canale, the exiled Venetian, where the immortal poet Petrarch and
     the no less immortal lady of his love, whom he has celebrated in
     undying verse, met secretly, in the year 1337, to bid each other a
     long and chaste farewell. News of the lovers’ design having reached
     the ears of de Sade, the husband of the beauteous Laura, his base
     mind suspected an elopement, and he dispatched his liveried minions
     to separate the pair, and, if possible, to immolate on the altar of
     his vengeance the gentle and talented poet. It is supposed to be in
     consequence of injuries received in the resultant

[Illustration]

     struggle that Petrarch went into retirement for three years at
     Vaucluse (a spot which no holder of Messrs. Sculry & Co.’s 7-9
     extra-trip coupon should fail to see). This exquisite chapter in
     the lives of the lovers over whom so many tears of sentiment have
     been shed, has been strangely neglected by the historians; but
     survives undimmed in local tradition. A full account will be found
     on page 329. The house is now 47 _bis_ rue des Quatres Mulets.
     Behind it may still be seen what remains of the magnificent
     orangery and olive-garden of the Conte dei Canale. Access to this
     is gained from the second gateway from the corner of the Passage
     des Porcs, and should not be confounded with the entrance to the
     Jardin de Perse, a resort of somewhat frivolous character,
     situated on the second crossing below, rue Clément V.”--

Here the Manager raised his head. “I suppose that’s for the men?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Egg; “that’s for the men.”

“Well,” said the Manager, “what about this other attraction, this
Petrarch and Laura place?”

“Well,” said Mr. Egg, blinking at him, for it was still early in the
morning; “there it is, as large as life, with a sign on the door that
looks as if it had been there fifty years; and I’ll give it to you as my
opinion that if you don’t work that attraction, the Novelty Excursion
Company will jump in and work it for you.”

“Ay, ay!” said the Manager, irritably; “that’s all very well; but how
about the fees? That excursion goes by way of Drignan to save money. The
London office won’t thank me if I give them any extra fees to pay.”

“Oh!” said Mr. Egg, pleasantly; “is that all? Here, give me that proof.”
And, taking the sheets from the manager, he wrote as follows, on the
margin:

     “The mansion is at present owned by a respectable family who also
     do trustworthy washing. A polite, well-informed attendant is always
     ready to show the premises on payment of a moderate fee of 35
     centimes, (3½ d.) Although no part of the regular excursion, the
     liberal time allowed by Messrs. Sculry & Co., for rest and
     refreshment in Drignan, will enable excursionists to visit this
     shrine of deathless romance.”

The Manager took the amended proof back, and read it admiringly.

“By Jove, Egg!” he said; “that does it to the Queen’s taste! An
attraction like that, and not a penny’s expense to the concern! I
suppose, of course, really and truly, it’s all Tommy-rot?”

[Illustration]

“I suppose so,” said Mr. Egg, pleasantly.

“Never was any such business, I suppose,” went on the Manager.

“I don’t believe it, myself,” said Mr. Egg, shaking his head sagely.

“Well,” said the Manager, “it’s all right for business, so far as the
Avignon tour is concerned. And, oh! I say, Egg, I don’t suppose you
_could_ keep permanently straight, could you?”

“At my time of life,” said Mr. Egg, blandly, “a gentleman’s habits are
apt to be fixed.”

“I suppose so,” sighed the Manager. “Well, all the same, the London
office was very much pleased with the last job you did, Egg, and they
have authorized me, at my discretion, to increase your honorarium. We’ll
make it a shilling a page, beginning with the present.”

When Mr. Vincent Egg reached the street, he looked at the unexpected
pile of wealth in his hand.

“This is a three weeks’ go at elysium,” said he to himself; “such as I
haven’t had in many a year. And, so far as I am concerned, it is the
Fruit of Falsification, and the Wage of Sin.”

But when Mr. Egg next awoke from his period of slumber in M. Morel’s
back-room, and stretched himself upon the hard cushion of the red velvet
divan, throngs of gawking tourists were trying to steep themselves in
sentiment as they gazed about the old room off the rue des Quatres
Mulets, and looked over the wall at the faded orange and olive trees,
and listened to the story which Virginie told, like a talking-doll, and
dropped into her hand a welcome stream of copper or silver, according as
they were English or Americans.

[Illustration]



THE GHOOLLAH.


I took a long drive one day last Summer to see an old friend of mine who
was in singularly hard luck; and I found him in even harder luck and
more singular than I had expected. My drive took me to a spot a few
miles back of a Southern sea-coast, where, in a cup-like hollow of the
low, rocky hills, treeless save for stunted and distorted firs and
pines, six or eight score of perspiring laborers, attired in low-necked
costumes consisting exclusively of a pair of linen trousers a-piece,
toil all day in the blazing sun to dig out some kind of clay of which I
know nothing, except that it looks mean, smells worse, has a name ending
in _ite_, and is of great value in the arts and sciences. They may make
fertilizer out of it, or they may make water-colors: Billings told me,
but I don’t know. There are some things that one forgets almost as
readily as a blow to one’s pride. Moreover, this stuff was associated in
my mind with Big Mitch.

Of course Billings was making a fortune out of it. But as it would take
six or eight years to touch the figure he had set for himself, and as he
had no special guarantee of an immortal youth on this earth, and as,
until the fortune was made, he had to live all the year around in that
god-forsaken spot, and to live with Big Mitch, moreover, I looked upon
him as a man in uncommonly hard luck. And he was.

[Illustration]

I had been visiting friends in a town some miles inland, and it had
occurred to me that it would be an act of Christian charity to drive
over the hills to Billings’s place of servitude, and to condole with my
old friend. I had nothing else to do--a circumstance always favorable to
the perpetration of acts of Christian charity--and I went. He was
enthusiastically glad to see me--I was the first visitor he had ever
had--and he left his office at once, and led me up the burning hot
sand-hill to his house, which was a very comfortable sort of place when
you got there. It was an old-fashioned Southern house, small but
stately, with a Grecian portico in front, supported by two-story wooden
pillars. Here he was established in lonely luxury, with no one to love,
none to caress, swarms of darkeys, and a cellar full of wines that would
have tempted the Dying Anchorite to swill. Casually dispatching half a
dozen niggers after as many bottles of champagne as they thought we
might need to whet our appetites for luncheon, Billings bade me welcome
again, and we fell to friendly talk.

He began with that kind of apology for his condition that speaks its own
futility, and its despair of any credence. Of course, he said, it was
not a very cheerful sort of life, but it had its compensations--quiet,
good for the nerves, opportunity for study and all that sort of thing,
self-improvement. And then, of course, there was society, such as it
was--mainly, he had to admit, the superannuated bachelors and worn-out
old maids who clung to those decaying Southern plantations--for, it is
hardly necessary to say, not an acre of property in that forlorn region,
save only Billings’s mud-bank, had yielded a cent of revenue since the
war. And, of course, the unpleasant part of it was that none of them
lived less than ten or fifteen miles away, and were only to be reached
by a long ride, and as he--Billings--was never at ease in the saddle, on
account of his liver, this practically shut him out. But then, of
course, Mitch went everywhere, and enjoyed it very much.

“Oh, yes!” said I, reminded of the most unpleasant part of my duty; “and
how is Mitch?”

“He’s dirty well, and it’s devilish little you care!” brayed out an
incredibly brazen

[Illustration]

voice just behind my ear, and a big red hand snatched the bottle of
champagne from my grasp, while a laugh, that sounded like a hyena trying
to bellow, rang in my ears. A great, big, raw-boned youngster, dressed
in clothes of an ingenious vulgarity, dropped heavily into a chair by my
side and laid a knobby broad red hand on my knee, where it closed with a
brutal grip. That was Big Mitch, whose real name was Randolph Mitchel,
and who being by birth a distant connection of dear old Billings, might
reasonably have been expected to be some sort or variety of gentleman.
Yet, if you wanted to sum up Big Mitch, his ways, manners, tastes, ideas
and spiritual make-up generally,--if he could be said to have any
spiritual make-up--you had only to say that he was all that a gentleman
is not, and you had a better descriptive characterization of the man
than you could have got in a volume telling just what he was. This was
not by any means my first acquaintance with Mr. Randolph Mitchel. When I
was a young man his father had stood my friend, and though he had
dropped out of my sight when he went, a hopeless consumptive, to
vegetate in some Western sanitarium, it was natural enough that he
should send to me to use my good offices in behalf of his son, who had
been expelled from a well-known fresh-water college of the Atlantic
slope, very shortly after he had entered it.

Now I am not a hard-hearted man, and a boy with a reasonable, rational,
normal amount of devil in him can do pretty nearly anything he wants to
with me; therefore it signifies something when I say that after giving
up a week to the business, I had to write to poor old Mr. Mitchel, at
the Consumptives’ Home, Bilhi, Colorado, not only that was it impossible
to get his son Randolph reinstated at that particular college, but that
I did not believe that there was any college ever made where the boy had
a prospect of staying even one term out. It was not that he was vicious;
he was no worse on the purely moral side than scores of wild boys. But
he was the most hopelessly, irreclaimably turbulent, riotous, unruly,
insolent, brutal, irreverent, unmannerly and generally blackguardly
young devil that I had ever encountered; and the entire faculty of the
college said, in their own scholastic way, that he beat _their_ time. He
had not even the saving graces of good-nature, thoughtlessness and
mirthful good-fellowship, which may serve as excuse for much youthful
waywardness. The students disliked him as thoroughly as their professors
did, and although he was smart as a steel trap and capable of any amount
of work when he wanted to do it, nobody in that college wanted
him,--_not even the captain of the foot-ball team_.

Was I right? Had I wronged the boy? I asked that captain, and he said
No.

Big Mitch was only twenty-three or so, but he had been many things in
his young life. He had run away and traveled with a circus. He had been
a helper in a racing stable. I don’t know what he was when his father
made a last desperate appeal to poor Billings, and Billings, who did not
know what he was letting himself in for, sent him down to start up work
on the recently purchased mud-pit. There Mitch found his billet, and he
led a life of absolute happiness, domineering over a horde of helpless,
ignorant negros, and white men of an even lower grade who sought work in
that wretched place. And what a life he led the dear, gentle, kindly old
fellow who had sold himself to fortune-getting in that little Inferno! I
knew how Billings must loathe him; I knew, indeed, how he did loathe
him, though he was too gentle to say it, but I knew that the burden my
poor old friend had put upon himself would not soon be shifted. For Big
Mitch was useful, nay, indispensable, for the first time in his life. He
was as honest as he was tough, and he could handle that low grade of
human material as few others could have done. The speculation would have
been a failure without him. “In fact,” Billings told me afterward with
a sad smile, “it is not only that he raises the efficient of the works;
he _is_ the efficient of the works.”

[Illustration]

Big Mitch never bore me the slightest ill-will for the report I had made
to his father. He was too indurated an Ishmael for that. He knew
everybody disliked him, but he did not care a cent for that. When he
wanted other people’s company, he _took_ it. The question of their
enjoyment was one that never entered his mind. It was in pure delight in
seeing me that he grabbed my knee, pinched my knee-cap until it sent a
qualm to my stomach, and told me that he had ordered my driver to go
home, and that I had got to stay and see the country. Things came pretty
near to a lively squall when I got the impudence of this through my
head; but when Billings joined his frightened, anxious pleadings to the
youth’s brutalities, and I saw his humbled, troubled, mortified face, I
yielded.

We were free from Mitch after luncheon, and poor Billings began to make
a pitiful little apology; but I stopped him.

“I don’t mind,” I said; “I was only thinking of _you_.”

“Oh, I’ve got accustomed to it,” he said, trying to smile; “and it’s
really more tolerable than you would think, when you get to know him.
And when he is too--too trying--why, there is one place that he
understands he must respect. Come to my library. You are the first
person who has ever entered it except myself.”

He led me to the door of a room at the end of a dark passage-way. As he
put the key in the lock I noticed a curious smell.

“I want you to see,” said he, “the sort of thing I’m interested in.”

I had not been five seconds in the room before I knew what it was--the
sort of thing he was interested in. Loneliness breeds strange maggots in
the brain of a New Yorker temporarily engaged in the mud-mining
business. My old friend Billings was now a full-blown Theosophist, and
he had that little room stuffed full of more Mahatma-literature and
faquir trumpery than you could shake a stick at. There were skulls and
fans and grass-cloth things and heathen gods till--literally--your eyes
couldn’t rest. There were four-legged gods and eight-legged gods, and
gods with their legs where their arms ought to be, and gods who were of
the gentleman-god and lady-god sex at one and the same time, and gods
with horns and miscellaneous gods, and a few other gods. In odd places
here and there, where he had not had time to arrange them properly,
there were a few more gods.

[Illustration]

And then my poor old friend sat down and tried to put me through the
whole business, and tell me what a great and mysterious thing it was,
and what a splendid scheme it would be to get into the two-hundred and
ninety-seventh state or the thirtieth dilution or the thirty-third
degree, or something, for when you got there you were nothing, don’t you
know?

I was short on Vishnu and I didn’t know beans about Buddha, and for a
long time, I am afraid, I gave dear old Billings a great deal of grief.
But finally I began to get a new light, and Billings convinced me that
there was something in it, and we had some more champagne.

That evening Mitch came for us with a carryall, and said he was going to
drive us twenty miles inland to a “dancing-in-the-barn” function on
somebody’s plantation. I proved to him then and there that he was not.
Billings nearly melted into a puddle while the operation was going on.
He could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw Big Mitch drive off
alone, and I think he had a slight chill. At any rate, he had the
champagne brought to the library, and there he told me that he had not
believed such a thing to be possible; that he looked upon me in a new
light, and that he thought my _Ghoollah_ must be stronger than Mitch’s
_Ghoollah_. I told him that I should be ashamed of myself if it wasn’t;
and then I asked him what a _Ghoollah_ was. Please do not ask me if I
have spelled that word right. I am spelling it by ear, and if my ear for
Hindoo is as bad as my ear for music, I have probably got it wrong. It
sounded something like the noise that pigeons make, and that is as near
as I can get to it. According to Billings, it was Hindoo for my vital
essence and my will power and my conscience and my immortal soul and
pretty nearly every other spiritual property that I carried around in
my clothes. Everyone, it appeared, had a _Ghoollah_. If your Ghoollah
was stronger than the other man’s Ghoollah, you bossed the other man. If
you had a good and happy Ghoollah, you were good and happy. If you had a
bad Ghoollah, you were bilious. If my Theosophy is wrong, please do not
correct it. I prefer it wrong. I told him that I did not see that having
a Ghoollah was anything more than being yourself, but he said it was;
that folks could swap Ghoollahs, or lend them out on call loans.

[Illustration]

Then it all came out. That was the reason that he was driving deeper and
deeper into Theosophy. He had got so sick of Mitch that, feeling it
impossible to shake off his burden, he had seized upon this Ghoollah
idea as offering a ray of hope. He was now trying to learn how to get
into spiritual communication with somebody--_anybody_--else, who would
swap Ghoollahs with him after business hours, so that they could
ride-and-tie, as it were, and give his own weary Ghoollah a rest.

“Look here, Billings,” I said, “this is all rubbish. Now, I’m not
dealing in Ghoollahs, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You can find some
sort of a job here for a decent young fellow, and I’ll send one down
who’ll be grateful for the place and who will be a companion to you.
It’s Arthur Penrhyn, Dr. Penrhyn’s boy; a nice, pleasant young
fellow--just what his father used to be, you remember? He was to have
graduated at Union this year, but he broke down from over-study. That’s
the kind of Ghoollah _you_ want, and he’ll do you no end of good.”

       *       *       *       *       *

This happened in June. I had never expected to see Billings’s mud-heap
again, but I saw it before the end of July. I went there because
Billings had written me that if I cared for him and our life-long
friendship, and for poor Penrhyn’s boy I must come at once. He could not
explain by letter what the matter was.

It added to my natural concern when, on my arrival, Billings hurried me
into the library and I found it as theosophic as ever. I had hoped that
that nonsense was ended. But worse was to come.

“When you were here before,” said Billings, impressively, without having
once mentioned champagne, “you scoffed at a light which you couldn’t
see. Now, my friend, I am going to let you see it with your own eyes,
and you shall tell me whether or no you are convinced that it is
possible for one human being to exchange his entity with another. If I
have brought you here on a wild goose chase, I am willing to have you
procure a judicial examination into my sanity, and I will abide the
issue.”

[Illustration]

He spoke with so much quiet gravity that he made me feel creepy.

“See here, old man,” I said; “do you mean to tell me that you have
succeeded in pairing off with any other fellow’s Ghoollah, or Woollah,
or whatever it is?”

“No,” he said, coloring a little; “it’s not I. It’s--it’s--it’s--in
fact, it’s that boy Penrhyn.”

“What the deuce do you mean?” I demanded.

“I mean that Arthur Penrhyn has changed, or, rather, is changing his
spiritual essence with another man.”

“Indeed,” said I; “and who’s the other man?”

“Randolph Mitchel,” said Billings.

“Mitch?”

“Mitch!”

There is no need of describing the rest of that interview. You have
probably met the man who believes that the spirit of his grandmother
came out of the cabinet and shook hands with him. You can probably
imagine how you would talk to that man if he had brought you eight
hundred miles to tell you about it. That is what happened in Billings’s
library that afternoon, and it ended, of course, in our calling each
other “old man” a great many times over, and in my agreeing to stay to
the end of the week, and in Billings giving me his word of honor not to
open his mouth on the subject unless at the end of that time I asked him
to and admitted that he was right in sending for me. And then Billings
did something that knocked my consciousness of superiority clean out of
me, and gave a severe shock to my confidence. He offered to bet me five
hundred dollars to anything that would make it interesting on that
contingency, and he called me down and down till I had to compromise on
a bet of fifty dollars even. I have met many men in the course of my
life who believed in various spook-religions, but that was the first and
only time that I ever met a man who would back his faith with a cold
money bet.

       *       *       *       *       *

By way of changing the subject, we strolled down to the quarry. It was
even hotter than before, and it smelt worse, and I did not wonder that
it had driven poor old Billings to Theosophy. It was a scene of
interesting activity, but it could not be called pleasant. I have a
great respect for the dignity of labor, but I think labor looks more
dignified with its shirt on than when reduced to a lone pair of
breeches.

I was about to make a motion to return to the house, when suddenly a
string of peculiarly offensive oaths, uttered in a shrill angry voice,
drew my attention to a heavy wire rope which a gang of men were hauling
across my path. Looking up I saw, as well as I could see anything,
against the dazzling background of the hill, a short, insignificant-looking
figure perched on a rock, from whence it directed, with many
gesticulations and an abounding stream of profanity, the operations of
the toiling, grunting, straining creatures who dragged at the ponderous
cable. Its operations seemed to be conducted with more vehemence than
judgement, and two or three times the rope was on the edge of slipping
back into the pit behind, when it was saved by the men’s quick response
to some directions given in a low, strong voice by a man who stood in my
rear. Some little hitch occurred after a minute or two, and the small
figure, in an access of rage, rushed down from the rock, and, showering
imprecations all around, leaped in among the workmen, pushing, shoving
and cuffing, and after considerable trouble finally got them to doing
what he wanted. I heard the heavier voice behind me utter half-aloud an
expression of annoyance and disgust. Then the little figure passed me,
running back to its rock, and hailed me as it passed.

“Hello, Governor!” it said; “you here? See you when I get this job
done!”

[Illustration]

“Billings,” said I, “who on earth is that?”

“Arthur Penrhyn,” said Billings. I looked again and saw that it was.
Then I turned round and saw behind me the gigantic form of Mitch. He,
too, spoke to me as I passed, and with a look of simple pleasure in his
face that made it seem absolutely strange to me.

“Glad to see you, Sir,” he said.

_Sir!_

       *       *       *       *       *

“It’s a most remarkable case altogether,” said Billings, who had got
back to his normal self, and had brought out the champagne. “When that
boy came here he was just as you described him--just like his poor
father in the days when we first knew each other. He brooded a little
too much, and seemed discontented; but, considering his disappointment
at college, that was natural enough. Well, do you know, I believe it’s
he that’s doing the whole thing, and that he is effecting the
substitution for his own ends, though I don’t know what they are.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “he wants his Ghoollah to get the job away from
Mitch’s Ghoollah.”

“Ahem!” said Billings, looking a little embarrassed; “I--in fact, I’ve
discovered that the best Pundits do not use that word. It ought to be--”

Here Billings gave me the correct word; but I draw the line at Ghoollah,
and Ghoollah it stays while I am telling this story.

“He hadn’t been here a week before I noticed that he kept his eyes fixed
on Mitch all the time they were together. He looked at him as though he
were actually trying to absorb him. Before long, I saw that Mitch began
to be troubled under that steady gaze. He seemed at first angry, then
distressed, and he had long fits of silence. His boisterousness has been
vanishing steadily; but it is not sullenness that he displays--on the
contrary, I have never known him so gentle. He is just as efficient in
his duties, without being so extremely--demonstrative as he used to be.
And as for that other boy, who probably had never uttered a profane word
in his life, or spoken rudely to any human being--well, you heard him
to-day!”

I made up my mind to try to drink fifty dollars’ worth of Billings’s
champagne before the end of the week to even up on my bet; and, as the
days went on, each new development only served to urge me to greater
assiduity in the task. The spirit of Big Mitch looked out of little
Arthur Penrhyn’s insolent eyes, spoke out of his foul mouth, and showed
itself even in tricks of gesture and carriage, and in lines of facial
expression. And Big Mitch, though his huge, uncouth frame and coarse
lineaments lent themselves but ill to the showing of it, carried within
him a new spirit of gentleness and humility. We saw little of him, for
after work hours he kept persistently to his room. But once, late at
night, seeing him, through his open door, asleep over a book, I stepped
softly in and looked over his big shoulders at the half-dozen volumes
that littered his table. They were college text-books, and on the
fly-leaf of each one was the name of Arthur Penrhyn.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had packed my valise, and was looking for Billings to pay him his
fifty dollars, when Big Mitch came out of his room--it was the noon
hour--and he asked me for the favor of a few words.

“I am ashamed to trouble you, sir,” he said, “but if you could help me
to get any sort of a job in New York, or anywhere else, I’d be more
thankful than I could tell you. I can afford to take almost any sort of
a place where there’s a future, for I am pretty well ahead of the game
financially, and I’ve earned my interest in this concern. And it’s in
such shape now that Mr. Billings can get along without me.”

[Illustration]

“But, my dear boy,” I said, “why do you _want_ to go?”

Big Mitch frowned and fidgeted nervously; then he exploded.

“I’ll give it to you straight,” he said. “It’s that Penrhyn pup. When he
first came here I thought I was just about the nicest little man on
God’s footstool. I was as contented with myself as a basket of eggs. I
knew it all. I was so sharp you could cut glass with me. I was the only
real sport in the outfit. See? And I’d got a roving commission to jump
on people’s necks. Well, _you_ know what I was. And I liked myself.
See?”

“But?” I began. “Arthur Penrhyn--”

“_So did he!_ I don’t believe any one in the world was ever stuck on me
before, but _he_ was. That little ape hadn’t been here a week before he
began to do everything he saw me do, and pretty soon he had me down so
fine that he might have been my twin-brother, if we ever had such runts
in our family. Well, I began to sour on the show. Understand? I could
see for myself it wasn’t pretty. Well, one day I came around a corner,
and there was that baboon sassing back to old man Billings. I was just
going to pick him up and break his neck, when I felt kind of sick at my
stomach, and I says to myself, ‘You swine! that’s the way _you_’ve been
treating that white man! How do you like yourself now?’”

Big Mitch clutched desperately at his rumpled hair.

[Illustration]

“I’m going to be a gentleman,” he grunted, “if I have to chew gravel to
do it. I’ll do it, though, and I’ll show up some day and surprise the
old man before he cashes in his last lung. But if I don’t get a fresh
start pretty soon, I’ll do something to that Penrhyn monkey that won’t
be any young lady’s dancing-class, you bet your boots!

       *       *       *       *       *

I told Billings. First he paid me fifty dollars. Then he made a bonfire
of all his theosophic outfit. Then he went down to the quarry and
announced that he was his own boss from that time on; and by way of a
sample demonstration he called up Arthur Penrhyn and knocked the
everlasting Ghoollah out of him. Then he came back to the house and
looked at the thermometer.

To this day, I never see champagne without thinking of drinking some.

[Illustration]



CUTWATER OF SENECA.


The story I am about to tell is hardly a story at all. Perhaps I had
better call it a report, and let it go at that, with a word of
explanation as to how I came to report it.

In 1884 a new state survey and a new re-districting act between them cut
off about one-quarter of a northern timber county close to the Canada
border, and delivered over the severed portion to its neighbor on the
southerly side, a thickly settled county with several large towns and
with important manufacturing interests. This division left the backwoods
county temporarily without a judiciary or a place of holding court. But
the act provided for the transfer of all pending cases to the courts of
the more fortunate county down below, and gave the backwoods District
Attorney the privilege of trying in the said courts such cases as might
arise in his own bailiwick during his term of office then current.

No such cases occurred, however, until the period stated by the act was
nearly at an end, when the District Attorney of the mutilated county
came down to Metropole, our County Seat, to try a murder case. As our
backwoods neighbors were a somewhat untrammelled, uncouth and
free-and-easy folk at their quietest, his coming naturally attracted
some curious interest, especially after it became known that he had come
into town sitting side by side with the prisoner in the smoking-car, and
discussing politics with him. His name was Judge Cutwater, and he was
generally spoken of as Cutwater of Seneca--perhaps because he had at
some time been a Judge in Seneca, New York; perhaps because there was no
comprehensible reason for so calling him, any more than there was
comprehensible reason for various and sundry other things about him.

[Illustration]

He was a man who might have been sixty or seventy or eighty. Indeed, he
might have been a hundred, and he may be now, for all I know. But he was
lean, wiry, agile, supple and full of eternal youth. He might have been
good-looking if he had cared to be, for he had a fine old-fashioned
eagle face, and a handsome, flowing gray moustache, the grace of which
was spoiled by a straggling thin wisp of chin whiskers, and a patch of
gray stubble on each cheek. And, of course, he chewed tobacco profusely
and diffusely, and in his long, grease-stained, shiny broadcloth coat,
his knee-bagged breeches, his big slouch hat, and his eye-glasses with
heavy black horn rims, suspended from his neck by a combination of black
ribbon and pink string, he looked what he was, as clearly as though he
had been labelled--the representative of the Majesty of the Law among a
backwoods people out of odds with fortune, desperate, disheartened, down
on their luck, and lost to self-respect.

He said he was a good Democrat, and I think he was. He saw the prisoner
locked up, bade him a kindly “Good night, Jim,” and ordered the jailer
to let him have all the whiskey he wanted. Then Judge Cutwater called on
his brother of the local bench, greeting him with a ceremonious and
stately dignity that absolutely awed the excellent old gentleman, and
dropping an enormous Latin quotation on him as he departed, just by way
of utterly flattening him out. After that he strolled over to the hotel,
grasped the landlord warmly by the hand, and in the space of half an
hour told him a string of stories of such startling novelty, humor and
unfitness for publication that, as the landlord enthusiastically
declared, the recent Drummers’ Convention could not be said to be “in
it” with the old man.

The next day the case of Jim Adsum for the murder of his mate in a
logging camp was called in court; and District Attorney Cutwater’s
trying of it was a circus that nearly drove old Judge Potter into an
apoplectic fit, and kept the whole court room in what both those eminent
jurists united--it was the only thing they _did_ unite in--in
characterizing as a disgraceful uproar.

[Illustration]

And yet, somehow, by four o’clock he had evidence enough in to convict
the prisoner; the defence had not a single exception worth the noting,
and was rattled as to its state of mind; and that weird old prosecutor,
who repeatedly spoke of the prisoner at the bar as “Jim,” and made no
secret of the fact that they had been bosom friends and companions in
the forest, had worked up a case that made the best lawyers in the room
stare at him with looks of puzzled surprise and amazed respect.

When he rose to sum up, he slowly and thoughtfully drew a tin
tobacco-box from his trousers’ pocket, opened it and deposited therein
his quid, after passing his right hand, with a rapid and skillful
motion, across his gray moustache. This feat he performed with a dignity
that at once fascinated and awed the beholder. Then he began:

“Your Honor _and_ Gentlemen of the Jury: It is a rare and a seldom
occurrence that a prosecuting official, sworn to exert his utmost
energies to further the execution of the law, is called upon to invoke
the awful vengeance of that law, and the retribution demanded by
outraged humanity, upon the head of one under whose blanket he has lain
within the cold hollows of the snow-clad woods; with whom he has shared
the meagre food of the pioneer; side by side with whom he has struggled
for his rights and his liberties, at the daily and hourly risk of his
life, with half-breed Injuns and with half-breeder Kanucks. Sech,
gentlemen, is the duty that lies before this servant of the Law to-day;
and sech, gentlemen, is the duty that will be done, without fear or
favor, without consideration of friendship or hallowed association; and
this man, Jim Adsum, knows it, knowing me, as well as he ever knew
anything in the fool life that is now drawing to a close.

“You have heard, Gentlemen of the Jury, the evidence that has been laid
before you on the part of the prosecution, and you have heard the
attempt made by the learned counsel for the defence to discredit that
evidence in his eloquent but frivolous opening on behalf of his
unfortunate client. I trust that you have given to the one the
appreciative attention which it deserves, and that you have let the
other slip, naked and shivering, into the boundless oblivion of your
utter contempt.

“What, Gentlemen of the Jury, are the circumstances of this case? We
learn by the testimony for the people that on the twenty-seventh of
November a party of seven men started off for the upper waters of the
Sagus River, some to join a lumber camp, and others, among them this
defendant, James Adsum, and his victim, Peter Biaux, a Frenchman, in the
pursuit of their usual vocation--which may be said to be hunting for
fur-skins, on general principles. This party of seven men is snowed up,
and goes into camp at the junction of Sagus and First Rivers, and for
eleven days remains thus snow-bound in that icy solitude, the only human
beings within hundreds of miles.

“There has been, Gentlemen of the Jury, as has been shown to you, an old
grudge between the prisoner at the bar and the deceased; a grudge of
many years standing. There is no use of going into the origin of that
grudge. Some says it was cards; some, business; some, drink; and I
personally know that it was a woman; but that makes no difference before
this present tribunal. Let it be enough that there was bad blood between
the men; that it broke forth, as two witnesses have told you, day

[Illustration]

after day, within the confines of that little camp crowded within its
snow-bound arena in the heart of the immeasurable solitudes of the
wintry forest. Again and again the other members of the party intervened
to make peace between them. At last, upon the eighth day of December,
matters come to a crisis, and a personal encounter ensued between the
two men, in the course of which the deceased, being a Frenchman, is
badly mauled, and Jim, here, being without his knife, through
carelessness, is correspondingly cut. The two are separated; and, for
fear of further mischief, the Frenchman is sent down the river to fish
through the ice, and the prisoner is kept in the camp. That night, by
order of the head of the party, he sleeps between two men. These two men
have told you their story--how one of them woke in the night at the
sound, as he thought, of a distant shot, and became aware that Adsum
was no longer at his side--how, reaching out his hand, he grasped
another hand, and taking it for the prisoner’s, was reassured and fell
asleep again--and how, weeks afterward, he first found out that that
hand was the hand of the man who had been detailed to sleep on the other
side of the prisoner. You have heard, gentlemen, how these two men awoke
in the morning to find Adsum lying between them, shaking and shivering
with a chill under his heavy blanket. You have heard of the long and
unsuccessful search for Peter Biaux, and of the accidental discovery of
his mangled body three months later, under the ice of the Sagus River,
at a point ten miles below the camp. You have heard how each of these
witnesses was haunted by a suspicion that he had unwittingly betrayed
the trust reposed in him, and how, at last, when they spoke together of
their watch on that fatal night, their suspicion flashed, illumined with
the fire of heaven’s truth, into a hijjus certainty.

“You have been told, gentlemen, that the case of the people rests upon
circumstantial evidence. It does, gentlemen; it does; and the
circumstances are all there. You have heard how when these two witnesses
exchanged notes, they came to one conclusion, and that is the conclusion
to which I shall bring your minds. The witness Duncan said to the
witness Atwood: ‘Jim done it!’ The witness Atwood replied to him: ‘Jim
done it!’ And I say to you, Gentlemen of the Jury: ‘Jim _done_ it!’ And
you done it, Jim; you know you did!

“And now, gentlemen, what sort of a man is this prisoner at the bar? We
must consider him for the purposes of this trial as two men--on the one
hand, as the brave, upright and courageous trapper which he has on
numberless occasions, to my personal knowledge, shown himself to be--and
I may say to you, Gentlemen of the Jury, that I would not be here
talking to you now if he had not a-been on one or two occasions. And on
the other hand, Gentlemen of the Jury, I am going to show him to you as
the red-handed murderer I always told him he would be if he gave the
rein to his violent passions. Besides, the darn fool’s drunk half the
time.

[Illustration]

“You have been told, gentlemen, by the learned counsel for the defence,
that this crime was committed in a rough country, where deeds of
violence are so common that it is possible that this man may have died
by another hand, murdered by a totally different person, for totally
different causes and reasons, and under circumstances totally
unconnected with the circumstances set forth in this case. Gentlemen, it
_is_ a rough country--rough as the speech of its children, rough as
their food and fare, rough as the storms they face, and nigh as rough as
the whiskey they drink. But it is a country, gentlemen, where every man
knows his neighbor’s face and his neighbor’s heart, where the dangers
and privations of life draw men closer together than they are drawn in
great cities like this beautiful town of yours, which is honored by the
citizens I see sot before me in this jury box. In that great snow-clad
wilderness, on that bitter eighth of December, with the thermometer
thirty degrees below zero, I can assure you, gentlemen, that there was
no casual, accidental, extemporaneous murderer lilly-twiddling around
that chilly solitude, sauntering among twenty-foot snowdrifts for the
purpose of striking down a total stranger with nineteen distinct and
separate cuts, and then fading away into nothingness like the airy
fabric of a vision. And Jim doing nothing all that time? Gentlemen, the
contention of the counsel ain’t _sense_!

[Illustration]

“Gentlemen, I wish I could tell you that it was so. I wish I could tell
you so for Jim’s sake. I wish I could tell you so for your own sakes,
for on you is soon to rest the awful yet proud responsibility of
deciding that a fellow human being’s life is forfeit to his
blood-guiltiness. I wish I could tell you so for my own sake, regarding
myself as a friend of Jim’s. But it is the District Attorney, the
Prosecutor for the People, that you must listen to while he tells you
the story of what happened that night.

“It was half-past eleven of that night when this man Adsum arose. How do
I know? Look in the almanac and see where the moon stood at half-past
eleven! It was then that he slipped from between his two guards and drew
back to where the flickering camp-fire cast the shadow of a pine tree on
the wall of snow that shut in their little resting-place. There he stood
in that shadow--a shadow that laid on his soul and on his face--and
waited to see if one of his comrades stirred. At his feet lay the two
men that had been set to guard him, Jared Duncan and Bill Atwood. Eb
Spence laid over the way with his feet to the fire. By him laid Sol
Geary and Kentucky Wilson. Why, Jim, I can see it all just as if I was
there! And then you--he--then, Gentlemen of the Jury, this prisoner at
the bar, slipped from that camp where his companions lay, bound to him
as he was bound to them, in the faith of comradeship; and, as he left
that little circle, that spot trodden out of the virgin snow, he left
behind him his fidelity, his self-respect and his manhood; his mind and
soul and heart full of the black and devilish thought of taking by
treacherous surprise the life of a comrade. Up

[Illustration]

to that hour, his spirit had harbored no sech evil thought. The men he
had theretofore killed--and I am not saying, gentlemen, that he had not
killed enough--had been killed in fair and open fight, and there is not
a one of them all but will be glad and proud to meet him as gentleman to
gentleman at the Judgement Day. But now it was with _murder_ in his
heart--base, cowardly, faithless murder--that he left that camp; it was
with murder in his heart that he sneaked, crouching low, down where the
heavy shadows hid the margin of the ice-bound stream. It was with murder
in his heart that he laid himself flat upon his belly on the ice when he
came within two rod of the Beaver Dam, and worked along, keeping ever
in the shadow till he come down to where that Frenchman, who, six hours
before, had et out of the same pan with him, stood with his light by his
side, gazing down into the black hole in the ice that was to be the
mouth of his grave and the portal of his entrance into eternity. Murder,
gentlemen, murder nerved his arm when he struck out that light with the
fur cap you see now in his hand; and murder’s self filled him with a
maniac’s rage as he rose to his feet and shot and stabbed the
defenceless back of his unsuspecting comrade. This, gentlemen, this--and
no tale of a prowling stranger--this, gentlemen, is the _truth_; and I
will appeal to the prisoner, himself, gentlemen, to bear me out. Jim
Adsum, you can lie to this Judge and you can lie to this Jury; you can
lie to your neighbors and you can lie to your own conscience; but you
can’t lie to old man Cutwater, and you know it. Now, Jim, was not that
just about the way you done it?”

And Jim nodded his head, turned the fur cap over in his hands, and
assented quietly:

“Just about.”

Twenty-five minutes later the Jury went out, and Judge Cutwater stalked
slowly and thoughtfully over to the prisoner, and touched him on the
shoulder.

“Jim,” he said, meditatively, “if I know anything about juries, and I
think I do, I’ve hanged you on that talk as sure as guns. Your man’s
summing-up didn’t amount to pea-soup. I’m sorry, of course; but there
wasn’t no way out of it for either you or me. However, I’ll tell you
what I’ll do. My term as District Attorney expires to-morrow at twelve;
and, if you’ll send that fool counsel of yours round to me at the
tahvern, I’ll show him how to drive a horse and cart through the law in
this case and get you a new trial, like rolling off a log.”

[Illustration]

And as Mr. Adsum got not only one but three new trials during the time
that I kept track of him, I have every reason to believe that Judge
Cutwater of Seneca kept his promise as a man, as faithfully as he
performed his duty as a prosecutor for the people.



MR. WICK’S AUNT.


The Wick family had run the usual course of families for many, many
years, and was quite old and respectable when causes, natural and
extraordinary, none of them being pertinent to this statement, reduced
said family to three members, viz:

MISS ANGELICA SUDBURY WICK, of the Boston branch of the family, who
lived in the house of her guardian, old Jonas Thatcher, with whom we
have no further concern, and who is therefore to be considered as turned
down, although in his day he was a highly respected leather merchant.
MISS ANGELICA WICK was fair and sweet and good up to the last
requirement of young womanhood.

MR. WINKELMAN HEMPSTEAD WICK, of the Long Island branch of the family, a
distant cousin of the young lady, and a young man of conscientious mind,
an accountant by profession, and very nearly ready to buy out his
employer.

MR. AARON BUSHWICK WICK, also of the Long Island branch of the family,
the grand-uncle of young Winkelman, who had brought up the young man in
his own house, and who loved him more than anything else in the world,
until, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, he fell in love with, and
married a lady named Louisa Nasmyth Pine, whom we will dismiss from
consideration as we dismissed the old leather merchant, although she was
a most estimable and attractive lady, and did fancy embroidery extremely
well. Her only concern with this story is that she bore the elder Mr.
Wick a baby, and died three or four months subsequently. But that was
enough; plenty; as much as was necessary.

The way that marriage came about was this: old Mr. Wick wanted to see
the Wick family perpetuated, but young Mr. Wick was one of those
cautious, careful, particular men who get to be old bachelors before
they know it. No girl whom he knew was quite exactly what he wanted. If
she had been, she would have been too good for any man on earth. In
fact, it took young Mr. Wick a number of years to realize that any way
he could marry, he could only marry a human being like himself. In the
meanwhile his grand-uncle grew impatient; and finally he said that if
Winkelman didn’t fix on a girl and get her to agree to marry him by the
first of next January, he, Aaron Bushwick Wick, would marry somebody
himself. Miss Louisa Nasmyth Pine, being then close on to forty, helped
him to get under the line just in time to save his grand-nephew from
engaging himself to an ill-tempered widow with five children--which is
the kind of woman that those particular men generally pick up in the
end. And it serves them right.

And so this marriage brought into existence the baby--BEATRICE BRIGHTON
WICK.

Old Mr. Wick’s endeavors to hand the name of Wick down to posterity were
crowned, as you see, with only partial success. He had a Wick, it was
true, but it was a Wick that would be put out by marriage. He found
himself obliged to fall back on young Winkelman, and he bethought
himself of the distant cousin in Boston. He knew nothing of her, but he
reasoned that if she were a Wick, she must be everything that was lovely
and desirable; and so he said to his grand-nephew:

[Illustration]

“Wink, you know that I am a man of my word. If you will go and marry
that girl, and if the two of you will take care of that confounded baby,
who is crying again, while I put in three or four years in Europe till
it gets to some sort of a rational age, I will buy your employer out,
guarantee you what is necessary for you to live on in some healthy
country place--no city air for that child, do you understand!--and when
I die you’ll be her guardian and have the usufruct of her estate and be
residuary legatee and all that sort of thing.”

Winkelman Wick knew that his grand-uncle was a man of his word, and that
“all that sort of thing” meant a very, very comfortable sort of thing,
for the old gentleman was rich and had liberal ideas, and drank more
port than was good for him. He had no fancy for marrying a strange
girl, but he thought there could be no harm in going out to Boston and
taking a look at his, so far, distant cousin. Under pretense of wanting
to write up the Wick genealogy, he went to Boston, and passed some time
under Mr. Thatcher’s hospitable roof. He found Angelica Wick all that
his fancy might have painted her but hadn’t; and, as Mr. Thatcher had
six daughters of his own, all of them older than Angelica, and none so
good-looking, he did not find any difficulty in inducing his pretty
cousin to marry him--and she did not back out even when he sprung the
baby contract on her. She said that she was a true woman and that she
would stand by him, but that she thought it might be a little awkward.
Feminine intuition is a wonderful thing. When it is right, it is apt to
be right.

[Illustration]

The elder Mr. Wick was as good as his word,--only, as is often the case
with people who pride themselves upon being as good as their word, he
took his own word too seriously. He died of apoplexy shortly after
landing at Liverpool. His will, however, was probated in New York, and
thus escaped a legacy tax. The will fully carried out every promise he
had made to his young kinsman, but he had drawn it to follow absolutely
the terms of his proposition. He had never for an instant contemplated
the possibility of his dying before he wanted to--people who make their
wills very rarely do--and he had so drawn the document that Mr. and Mrs.
Winkelman Wick could come into their inheritance only after carrying out
their part of the contract, which was to take care of their aunt, baby
Beatrice Brighton Wick, for the space of four years, during which Mr.
Aaron Bushwick Wick had intended, without consideration of the designs
of Divine Providence, to sojourn in Europe.

This brings the situation exactly down to bed-rock. On the tenth of
April, eighteen hundred and tumty-tum, Mr. Winkelman Wick and Miss
Angelica Wick were married in the old Wick house on Montague Street,
Brooklyn. On the twenty-fifth of April Mr. Aaron Bushwick Wick ended his
journey across the Atlantic at the Port of Liverpool, England. On the
twenty-seventh of April he started on that other journey for which your
heirs pay your passage money--and he certainly was not happy in his
starting place. On the twenty-eighth of the same month young Mr. and
Mrs. Wick knew the terms of their grand-uncle’s will; and on the
thirtieth the old Wick mansion was in the hands of the trustees, and the
young Wicks were in a hotel in charge of their baby-aunt, Beatrice, who
was herself in charge of an aged Irishwoman, whose feet were decidedly
more intelligent than her brain. That is one of the beauties of
Ireland. You can get every variety of human being there from a cherub to
a chimpanzee.

[Illustration]

They were very comfortable in the hotel, and would have liked to stay
there, but that awful contract had as many ways of making itself
disagreeable as an octopus has. They had pledged themselves, with and
for the benefit of the baby, to provide a suitable place in the country
without unreasonable delay. Their lawyer informed them that reasonable
delay meant three weeks and not one day more. As their contract began on
the tenth of April, they had, therefore, one day left to them to carry
out this provision. Moreover, the contract, after defining the phrase “a
suitable country place” in terms that would have fitted a selling
advertisement of the Garden of Eden, went on to specify that no place
should be considered suitable that was not at least forty miles from any
city of twenty thousand inhabitants, or upward. When Mr. Aaron Bushwick
Wick wanted pure country air for a baby, he wanted it _pure_. If he
could, he would probably have had it brought in sealed bottles.

Picking a place of residence for four long years is not an agreeable
task under conditions such as these, especially to a young couple
prematurely saddled with parental cares, and equipped with only twenty
days of experience in the matrimonial state. They discussed the
situation for hours on end. Mrs. Wick wept, and Mr. Wick contributed
more profanity than is generally used by a green husband. They even
asked the Irish nurse if she could not suggest some suitable place, and
they stated the whole situation to her very clearly and carefully. She
thought a while, and then suggested Ballymahon, County Longford,
Ireland. However, indirectly, she assisted them to solve the problem.
Mr. Wick told her to go to Jericho; and Mrs. Wick suddenly brightened up
and said:

“Why, that’s so, Winkelman!”

Mr. Wick stared in horror at his wife. Was the sweet young thing going
crazy under the strain? But no; Mrs. Wick was looking as bright as a
rose after an April shower, and she grew brighter and brighter as she
stood thinking in silence, nodding her pretty head affirmatively,
pursing her lips, and checking off the various stages of her thought
with her finger tip on her cheek. Finally she said:

“And you could use the little room for a dressing room. Yes, dear, I’m
quite certain it will do beautifully.”

After a while Mr. Wick convinced his wife that he was not a
mind-reader, and then he got some information. Of course she did not
stay convinced--no woman ever did. All women think that the mechanism of
their thought is visible like a model in a glass case.

Mrs. Wick had forgotten that she herself owned a country house. This was
more excusable than it seems on the face of it, for she had never seen
the house, nor had she ever expected to see it. In fact, it was hardly
to be called a house; it was only a sort of bungalow or pavilion which
had once belonged to a club of sportsmen, and which her father had taken
for a bad debt. It was situated in the village of Jericho, of which she
knew nothing more than that her father had said that it was a good place
for trout, and was accessible by several different railroads. Concerning
the house itself she was better informed. She had had to copy the plans
of its interior on many occasions when her guardian had made futile
efforts to sell or to rent it. She also knew that the place was fully
furnished, and that an old woman lived in it as care-taker, rent free,
and liable to be dispossessed at any moment.

The nurse was told that they would go to Jericho with her. She only
asked would the baby take her bottle now or wait till she got there?

       *       *       *       *       *

Jericho Junction is one of those lonely and forsaken little
stopping-places on the outskirts of the great woods that are the
sportsman’s paradise, with a dreary, brown-painted, pine box, just big
enough for the ticket agent, the baggage master, the telegraph operator,
the flagman, the local postmaster, and the casual or possible intending
passenger. As this makes two persons in all, the structure is not large.

[Illustration]

The casual passenger and the full corps of local railway officials were
both present at Jericho Junction when the 6:30 P. M. train loomed out of
the dreary, raw May twilight, and drew up in front of the little box.
Now, these two occupants of the tiny station were neighbors but not
friends. Farmer Byam Beebe lived “a piece back in the country, over
t’wards Ellenville South Farms.” Mr. John D. Wilkins, station agent,
telegraph operator, and all the rest of the functionaries of Jericho
Junction, dwelt in his little box, midway between Ellenville South Farms
and the nearest important town, Bunker’s Mills, a considerable
manufacturing settlement. A houseless stretch of ten miles separated the
neighbors; but not even ten miles had stood between them and a grudge
of many years’ duration. Beebe hated Wilkins, and Wilkins hated Beebe.
Never mind why. They were close neighbors for that region; and that more
close neighbors do not kill each other testifies every day to the broad
spread of Christian charity.

[Illustration]

Mr. Beebe so hated Mr. Wilkins that he made it a regular practice to
stop at the station after his day’s work was done, to wait for this
particular train. Silent and unfriendly, he would loaf in the station
for an hour and a half, and the station master dared not put him out,
for he was possibly an intending passenger on the train as far as the
next flag-station, which was a railroad crossing a mile and a quarter
further on. Mr. Beebe never bought a ticket from Mr. Wilkins, on the
occasions when he did ride. He paid his way on the cars, five cents,
plus ten cents rebate-check, and this rebate-check he redeemed at Mr.
Wilkins’s office the next day. Furthermore, he made a point of going out
just before the train arrived, and waiting on the other side of it to
get in, so that Mr. Wilkins could not tell whether he boarded the train
or walked off through the thick woods that crowded down to the very edge
of the line.

Thus it happened that as the train arrived on the evening of the first
of May, Mr. Beebe, being on the farther side of the track from the
railroad station, saw an Irish nurse blunder helplessly off the platform
in front of him, holding a six months’ old baby in her arms, and stand
staring straight before her in evident bewilderment. Mr. Beebe accosted
her in all kindness:

“Your folks got off the other side, I guess. This here ain’t the right
side for nobody, only me.” Then he prodded the baby with a large and
horny finger. “How old will that young ’un be?” he inquired.

“Six months, sorr,” replied the nurse; “gahn on seven.”

“Is that so?” said Mr. Beebe, with polite affectation of interest.
“Folks been long married?”

“Wan month, sorr,” replied the nurse.

“_Which?_” inquired Mr. Beebe.

“Wan month, sorr,” replied the nurse.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the other side of the train of cars, station agent John D. Wilkins
saw an old-fashioned carryall drive up, conducted by an elderly woman of
austere demeanor. She was dressed in black alpaca, and her look was
stern and severe, and, necessarily, highly respectable. He saw a young
man and a young woman descend from the train, and saw the young man hand
the young woman into the carryall behind the elderly lady. Then, as the
young man turned as though to look for some one following him, he heard
the young woman say:

[Illustration]

“Winkelman, dear, I don’t care _what_ her age is, you _must_ spank your
aunt!”

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mr. John D. Wilkins heard what he heard, he forgot the rules of the
railroad company, according to which he should have remained on the
platform until the train had left. He knew that just at 6:30 his
particular crony, Mr. Hiram Stalls, telegraph operator at Bunker’s
Mills, and news-gatherer for the Bunker’s Mills _Daily Eagle_, went off
duty in his telegraphic capacity, and became an unalloyed journalist. He
caught Mr. Stalls in the act of saying goodnight, and he talked to him
over the wire in dot and dash thus:

“That you, Hi? Meet me at the station when the 7:21 gets in. I’ve got a
news item for you that will make the _Eagle_ scream this trip, sure.”

If Mr. Wilkins had not been so zealous in breaking his employer’s rules
in the interest of personal journalism, he would have heard the young
man thus enjoined to inflict humiliating punishment upon a parent’s
sister, respond to this cruel counsel in these words:

“It will only make her cry more;--why, where the deuce is the brat,
anyway?”

[Illustration]

Moreover, he would have seen Mr. Beebe pilot an Irish nurse and a
bundled-up baby around the rear of the train, and then jump on the
platform as the cars started, with all the vigor and energy which the
possession of a real mean story about a fellow human being can impart to
the most aged and stiffened limbs. But he didn’t. What would become of
the gossip business if those engaged in it stopped to find things out?

       *       *       *       *       *

When Cæsar expressed a preference for being the first man in a village,
over a second-fiddle job in Rome, he probably never reflected how much
it would rile him if he should happen to find out that there was just
as big a man in the next village who didn’t know Cæsar from a
cheese-cake; yet that is the poor limitation of local bigness. Great is
Mr. Way in Wayback, and great is Mr. Hay in Hayville; but what is Mr.
Way in Hayville, and what is Mr. Hay in Wayback? Two nothings, two
casual strangers, with no credit, with no say-no, two mere chunks of
humanity whose value to the community is strictly proportionate to the
size of their greenback wads, and the laxity or tenacity of their
several grips thereon.

At nine o’clock that night two local Cæsars, in two towns but a score of
miles from each other, donned the ermine of power, waved the sceptre of
authority, and told their pale-faced but devoted followers that
“SOMETHING had got to be done about IT.”

The “IT,” of course, was an “OUTRAGE”--it always is when something has
got to be done about it, and the something generally means just about
nothing.

In the front parlor of his large mansard-roof residence, Mr. Bodger--Mr.
Theophilus Scranton Bodger, prominent manufacturer, pillar of the
Church, candidate for the mayoralty, and general all around magnate and
muldoon of Bunker’s Mills, sat amid surroundings of much elegance, black
walnut, gilt, plush and hand-painted tidies, and slapping a broad palm
with a burly fist, told Mr. Stalls, Mr. Wilkins and Mrs. Bodger that
something had got to be done about it.

At the same moment, in the Sunday School room of the Baptist Church in
Ellenville South Farms, Mr. Manfred Lusk Hackfeather, theological
student, Sunday School superintendent, social leader and idol of the
ladies in Ellenville South Farms, told six fluttering feminine things,
who gazed at him in affectionate awe, that something had got to be done
about it.

[Illustration]

Mr. Bodger’s business was making socks. Mr. Hackfeather may have been
wearing a pair of socks of Mr. Bodger’s make at that very instant, yet
had he never heard of Bodger; nor did Mr. Bodger know that any part of
his growing business was built up on the money of a man named
Hackfeather.

       *       *       *       *       *

To say that a party of Brooklyn people, conducted in an old-fashioned
carryall, by an elderly woman of austere demeanor, entered the deep pine
wood in a chilled twilight of early Spring certainly ought to convey an
impression of gloom. And certainly gloom of the deepest enshrouded the
beginning of that ride. Diligent inquiry elicited from the elderly woman
that she was, as the Wicks supposed, Miss Hipsy, the care-taker; that
she had received their telegram, or she wouldn’t have been there nohow;
that she had had a contrack with the late owner of the premises; that
she had lived up to it, whatever other people hed or hedn’t done; that
what she had done she would do, and that if she was not satisfactory to
other parties, or if other parties was not satisfactory to her, which
was most likely to be the case, she was willin’, as far as she was
concerned, to take herself off just as soon as she could; that she
thanked Providence she had folks in Ellenville she could go to, as
respectable as some, that she could go to and no obligations to nobody,
and that she was not aware that her contrack called for no general
conversation.

Now this extremely discouraging way and manner of Miss Hipsy’s was
entirely general and impersonal, like dampness or a close smell in a
long unused house. Congenitally sub-acid, a failure to accomplish any
sort of an early or late love affair had completely soured her, and many
years of solitude had put a gray-green coating of mildew over her moral
nature. But the Wicks did not know this, and, remembering their peculiar
position, it made them feel extremely uncomfortable.

But the moon came out in the soft Spring sky, and the mists of the
evening rolled away, and a great silvery radiance wrapped the
cathedral-like spires and pinnacles of the broad spreading pine forest,
and, after awhile, the rough corduroy road grew smoother, and the baby
stopped crying and went to sleep, and they were all, except Miss Hipsy,
beginning to nod off just a little when the wheels crunched on a
driveway of white pebbles, and they looked up to see a spacious low
building standing out black against the sky, except where a half a dozen
brightly lit windows winked at them like friendly eyes.

This was the bungalow, and here they found a sportsman’s supper of cold
meat and ale awaiting them. Miss Hipsy told them, by way of leaving no
doubt of the unfriendliness of her intentions, that this refection was
provided for in the contract. So, also, must have been the deliciously
soft beds in which they were presently all fast asleep, even to the
baby. And when a traveling baby will sleep, anybody else can.

[Illustration]

In the morning the elder Wicks opened their eyes on a world of
wonderment and bewilderment. They found themselves living in a
well-appointed and commodious club-house, on the banks of a broad and
beautiful lake, across which other similar structures with pretty, low,
peaked roofs looked at them in neighborly fashion from the other side.
Mrs. Wick said that it was too nice for anything.

There was nothing mysterious about the surprise which the Wicks had
found awaiting them. Sportsmen have a habit of referring to their
possessions in a depreciatory way. They call a comfortable club-house a
“box” or a “bungalow” or a “shack,” and they make nothing of calling a
costly hotel a “camp.” Indeed, they seem to try to impart a factitious
flavor of profanity by christening such structures, whenever they can,
“Middle Dam Camp” or “Upper Dam Camp.” And since Mrs. Wick’s father’s
club had died out, the further side of Jericho Pond had become a
fashionable resort, maintaining two or three Winter and Summer
Sanitariums.

Thanks to the contract, they made an excellent breakfast, and their
praises of the fare mollified Miss Hipsy to some slight extent. Then
they remembered the baby, and after some search they found the Irish
nurse walking it up and down on a broad sunny terrace at the back of the
house. Below stretched an old-fashioned garden, full of homely, pleasant
flowers and simples just beginning to show their buds to the tempting
month of May.

The scene was so pleasant that Mr. and Mrs. Wick started out for a walk,
and the walk was so pleasant that they prolonged it,--prolonged it until
they reached the settlement on the other side of the lake, and the
people there were so pleasant that they staid to dinner at a club, and
did not get back till nearly supper-time.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration]

You will please observe that, so far as the members of the Wick family
are concerned, they stand as clear at this point as they did when we got
them down to bed-rock level, on the tenth of April, eighteen hundred and
tumty-tum. Their ways have been ways of pleasantness, and their paths
have been paths of peace. The two Wicks we are dealing with, like all
the other Wicks, have kept their engagements and filled their contract.
They have minded their own business and nobody else’s. They are, in
fact, all straight on the record.

But now we have to recount the fortunes of two social reformers, and it
is hard for a reformer to keep straight on the record. Whether they have
a genuine reform on their hands, like Martin Luther or the
Abolitionists, or whether they are like Mr. Harold Kettledrum Monocle,
of New York, who thinks that the Mayor of that city ought to be elected
by Harvard College, they are all likely to have what one might call a
mote-and-beam sort of time with their neighbors.

Thus did it happen with Mr. Bodger, of Bunker’s Mills, and with Mr.
Hackfeather, of Ellenville South Farms, who both found their way to
Jericho Pond that pleasant afternoon, the theological student a little
in advance of the business man. Mr. Hackfeather came to rebuke a
shocking case of impropriety in two so young; Mr. Bodger came to express
the sentiment of society at large toward a man who would inflict
corporal chastisement on a lady.

Terrible as with an army with banners, and consumed with the fire of
righteousness, Mr. Hackfeather bore down on the old-fashioned garden at
the back of the bungalow, in the full glory of the Spring afternoon. As
to his person, he was attired in a long, black diagonal frock-coat, worn
unbuttoned, and so well worn that its flaps waved in the wind with all
the easy grace of a linen duster. Trousers of the kind that chorus
together: “We are pants,” adorned his long, thin but heavily-kneed legs.
A shoestring necktie, a low cut waistcoat, and a whole-souled,
oh-be-joyful shirtfront added to this simple but harmonious effect, and
his last year’s hat had a mellow tone against the pale Springtime
greens. He tackled Miss Hipsy (who had so far relented from her
austerity as to take the baby while the nurse got dinner,) in that
old-fashioned garden; and the benign influences of budding nature had no
effect whatever upon his pious wrath. He pointed out the discrepancy in
the dates of the vital statistics of the Wick family, and he told Miss
Hipsy that she was

[Illustration]

the servant of sin, (who had been a respectable woman for forty-three
years, and if some as ought to know better said it was forty-seven there
was no truth in it,) that she was the slave of iniquity and abettor of
sin, (and if them she knowed of, one leastways, was alive to-day she
would not be insulted,) that the demon vice should not rear its hideous
head in that unpolluted community, (and she wasn’t rarin’ no heads, but
she could go to them she knowed of as could rare their heads as high as
him or any of his friends,) and that even if he, Mr. Hackfeather, had to
face all the minions of Satan, and all the retinue of the Scarlet Woman,
he would purify the stain or die in the attempt. Mr. Hackfeather’s
allusion to the Lady of Babylon probably was born of a mixed condition
of mind, and a desire to use forcible language. It did not seem clear to
him and it did not seem clear to Miss Hipsy, either. She said she was no
such a thing, and never expected to live to see the day she would be so
called, especially at her time of life. And, tearful and vociferous,
Miss Hipsy marched back to the bungalow, delivered over the baby to the
Irish nurse, packed her little old hair trunk with the round top,
dragged it down herself to the lakefront dock, and there sat on it in
stern grandeur until the afternoon boat came down the lake and took her
to Ellenville, presumably to the sheltering arms of them that she knowed
of.

Meanwhile, a thing she did not know of was happening on the other side
of the house in that same old-fashioned garden. Mr. Bodger, accompanied
by Mr. Stalls and Mr. Wilkins, had arrived from Bunker’s Mills to
interview the new arrival in the county, whose latitude in administering
corporal punishment had aroused the indignation of every humane heart
that had been made acquainted with the station master’s story. Mr.
Bodger saw the departure of the weeping woman of elderly aspect, he
heard her wails, and he saw their cause in a strange young man. This was
all the evidence that he wanted. Mr. Bodger made no inquiries into
identity or relationship. He weighed two hundred and twenty pounds, he
had three men behind him, and he fell upon Mr. Hackfeather as the
cyclone falls upon the chicken-coop.

       *       *       *       *       *

The consequences of these two meetings were so far-reaching, extending
to warrants of arrest, counter charges, civil suits and much civiler
compromises, that it was July before the ladies of the Bodger and
Hackfeather families picked up their threads of social intercourse,
which were knotted only at one point. To both of them it occurred on a
fine Summer’s day to call on the new comers at the old bungalow by way
of seeing whether the innocent causes of so much dire mischief knew
anything about the agitation they had caused.

[Illustration]

As the train from Bunker’s Mills met the boat from Ellenville, Mr.
Bodger’s wife and Mr. Hackfeather’s mother arrived at the same time,
and, sitting in the sunny reception room of the bungalow, glared at each
other in chilly and silent hostility, while poor, innocent little Mrs.
Wick, much troubled by their strange behavior, tried to talk to both of
them at once, and rattled away in her embarrassment until she had talked
a great deal more than she had meant to. She told them all the story of
Beatrice Brighton Wick, and the will, and the hurried flight to Jericho,
and at their surprise at finding Jericho Pond with its Summer and Winter
colony so delightful a place that they hardly felt as if they could
tear themselves away from it when the four years were up. And she told
them that both she and Mr. Wick had thought it might be quite awkward
for so newly married a couple to be traveling with a six month’s old
baby, and that baby Mr. Wick’s aunt.

[Illustration]

“But, do you know,” she said, “we must have been over-sensitive about
it, for we never had the first least little bit of trouble. Indeed, the
only mishap we had was the other way. The old woman who was in charge of
the place here left us suddenly the first day without a word of warning.
I couldn’t make out why she was dissatisfied, but my nurse, Nora, told
me that she thought that Miss Hipsy thought that the baby was too young.
Some people have such an objection to young babies, you know. However,
it didn’t the least bit matter, for Nora turned out to be a very good
cook, and I took the baby. I wanted to learn, you know.”



WHAT MRS. FORTESCUE DID.


Right in the rear of the First Congregational Church of ’Quawket, and
cornerwise across the street, the Old Ladies’ Home of Aquawket sits on
the topmost of a series of velvety green terraces. It is a quiet street;
the noisiest thing in it, or rather over it, is the bell in the church
steeple, and that is as deep toned and mellow as all church bells ought
to be and few church bells are. As to the Old Ladies’ Home, itself, it
looks like the veritable abode of peace. A great wistaria clambers over
its dull brown stucco walls. Beds of old-fashioned flowers nod and sway
in the chastened breezes on its two sunny sides, and thick clumps of
lilacs and syringas shield it to the north and east. Dainty little
dimity curtains flutter at the open windows all Summer long; and,
whether it comes from the immaculately neat chambers of the old ladies,
or from some of the old-fashioned flower beds, there is always, in warm
weather, a faint smell of lavender floating down upon the breeze to the
passer-by in the quiet street. You would never dream, to look at it,
that the mad, inhuman, pitiless strife and fury of an Old Ladies’ Home
raged ceaselessly, year after year, within those quiet walls.

[Illustration]

Now suppose that every wasp in a certain wasp’s nest had an individual
theology of its own, totally different from the theology of any other
wasp, and that each one personally conducted his theology in the real
earnest calvinistic spirit--you would call that wasp’s nest a pretty
warm, lively, interesting domicile, would you not? Well, it would be a
paradise of paralysis alongside of an Old Ladies’ Home. If you want to
get at the original compound tincture of envy, malice and all
uncharitableness, go to a nice, respectable Old Ladies’ Home with a list
of “Lady Patronesses” as long as your arm, and get the genuine article
in its most highly concentrated form.

There were eleven inmates of the ‘Old Ladies’ Home of Aquawket, besides
the matron, the nurse, the cook, and a couple of “chore-girls.” These
two last led a sort of life that came very near to qualifying them for
admission to the institution on a basis of premature old age. Of the
real old ladies in the home, every one of the eleven had a bitter and
undying grievance against at least one, and, possibly, against ten of
her companions, and the only thing that held the ten oldest of the band
together was the burning scorn and hatred which they all felt for the
youngest of the flock, Mrs. Williametta Fortescue, who signed what few
letters she wrote “Willie,” and had been known to the world as “Billy”
Fortescue when she sang in comic opera and wore pink tights.

All the other old ladies said that Mrs. Fortescue was a daughter of
Belial, a play actress, and no old lady, anyway. I know nothing about
her ancestry--and I don’t believe that she did, either; but as to the
other two counts in the indictment I am afraid I must plead guilty for
Mrs. Fortescue. An actress she was, to the tips of her fingers, an
unconscious, involuntary, dyed-in-the-wool actress. She acted because
she could not help it, not from any wish to deceive or mislead, but just
because it came as natural to her as breathing. If you asked her to take
a piece of pie, it was not enough for her to want the pie, and to tell
you so, and to take the pie; she had to act out the whole dramatic
business of the situation--her passion for pie, her eager craving and
anxious expectation, her incredulous delight when she actually got the
pie, and her tender, brooding thankfulness and gratitude when she had
got outside of the pie, and put it where it couldn’t be taken away from
her. No; there wasn’t the least bit of humbug in it all. She did want
the pie; but she wanted to act, too.

[Illustration]

It was this characteristic of Mrs. Fortescue that got her into the Old
Ladies’ Home on false pretenses; for, to tell the truth, Mrs. Fortescue
was only an old lady by courtesy. She had beautiful white hair; but she
had had beautiful white hair ever since she was twenty years old. Before
she had reached that age she had had red hair, black hair, brown hair,
golden hair, and hair of half-a-dozen intermediate shades. Either the
hair or the hair dye finally got tired, and Mrs. Fortescue’s head became
white--that is, when she gave it a chance to be its natural self. That,
however, was not often; and, at last, there came a day when, as her
manager coarsely expressed it, “she monkeyed with her fur one time too
many.” For ten years she had been the leading lady in a small traveling
opera company, where tireless industry and a willingness to wait for
salary were accepted as substitutes for extreme youth and commanding
talent. Ten years is a long time, especially when it is neither the
first nor the second, and, possibly, not the third ten years of an
actress’s professional career; and when Mrs. Fortescue asked for a
contract for three years more, her manager told her that he was not in
the business for his health, and that While he regarded her as one of
the most elegant ladies he had ever met in his life, her face was not
made of India rubber; and, furthermore, that the public was just about
ready for the Spring styles in leading ladies. This did not hurt Mrs.
Fortescue’s feelings, for the leading juvenile had long been in the
habit of calling her “Mommer, dear,” whenever they had to rehearse
impassioned love scenes. But it did put her on her mettle, and she tried
a new hair dye, just to show what she could do. The result was a case of
lead poisoning, that laid her up in a dirty little second-class hotel,
in a back street of ’Quawket for three months of suffering and
helplessness. The company went its way and left her, and went to pieces
in the end. The greater part of her poor savings went for the expenses
of her sickness. At last, when the critical period was over, her doctor
got some charitably-disposed ladies and gentlemen interested in her
case; and, between them all, they procured admission to the Old Ladies’
Home for a poor, white-haired, half-palsied wreck of a woman, who not
only was decrepit before her time, but who acted decrepitude so
successfully that nobody thought of asking her if she were less than
eighty years old. I do not mean to say that Mrs. Fortescue willfully
deceived her benefactors: she was old--oldish, anyway--she was helpless,
partially paralyzed, and her system was permeated with lead; but when
she came to add to this the correct dramatic outfit of expression, she
was _so_ old, and _so_ sick, and so utterly miserable and stricken and
done for that the hearts of the managers of the Old Ladies’ Home were
opened, and they took her in at half the usual entrance fee; because, as
the matron very thoughtfully remarked, she couldn’t possibly live six
weeks, and it was just so much clear gain for the institution. By the
end of six weeks, however, Mrs. Fortescue was just as well as she had
ever been in her life, and was acting about twice as healthy as she
felt.

[Illustration]

With her trim figure, her elastic step, and her beautiful white hair
setting off her rosy cheeks--and Mrs. Fortescue knew how to have rosy
cheeks whenever she wanted them--she certainly was an incongruous
figure in an Old Ladies’ Home, and it was no wonder that her presence
made the genuine old ladies genuinely mad. And every day of her stay
they got madder and madder; for by the constitution of the Home, an
inmate might, if dissatisfied with her surroundings, after a two-years’
stay, withdraw from the institution, _taking her entrance fee with her_.
And that was why Mrs. Fortescue staid on in the Old Ladies’ Home,
snubbed, sneered at, totally indifferent to it all, eating three square
meals a day, and checking off the dull but health-giving weeks that
brought her nearer to freedom, and the comfortable little nest-egg with
which she meant to begin life again.

And yet the time came when Mrs. Fortescue’s histrionic capacity won for
her, if not a friend, at least an ally, out of the snarling sisterhood;
and for a few brief months there was just one old woman out of the lot
who was decently civil to her, and who even showed rudimentary systems
of polite intentions.

       *       *       *       *       *

This old woman was Mrs. Filley, and this was the manner of her
modification.

One pleasant Spring day, a portly gentleman of powerful frame, with
ruddy cheeks and short, steel-gray hair--a man whose sturdy physique
hardly suited with his absent-minded, unbusiness-like expression of
countenance--ascended the terraces in front of the Old Ladies’ Home. His
brows were knit; he looked upon the ground as he walked, and he did not
in the least notice the eleven old ladies, the matron, the nurse, the
cook and the two “chore-girls” who were watching his every step with
profound interest.

Mrs. Fortescue was watching the gentleman with interest, because she
thought that he was a singularly fine-looking and well-preserved man, as
indeed he was. All the other inmates of the Home were watching him with
interest because he was Mr. Josiah Heatherington Filley, the millionaire
architect, civil engineer and contractor. Their interest, however, was
not excited by Mr. Filley’s fame as a designer of mighty bridges, of
sky-scraping office buildings, and of other triumphs of mechanical
skill; they looked on him with awe and rapture simply because he was the
richest man in ’Quawket, or, more properly speaking, in ’Quawket
Township; for Mr. Filley lived in the old manor-house of the Filley
family, a couple of miles out of town.

You might think that with a millionaire Mr. Filley coming up the steps,
the heart of indigent Mrs. Filley in the Old Ladies’ Home might beat
high with expectation; but, as a matter of fact, it did not. In
Connecticut and New Jersey family names mean no more than the name of
breeds of poultry--like Plymouth Rocks or Wyandottes. All Palmers are
kin, so are all Vreelands, and the Smiths of Peapack are of one stock.
But so are all speckled hens, and kinship may mean no more in one case
than it does in the other. In colonial times, Filleys had abounded in
’Quawket. But to Mrs. Filley of the Home the visit of Mr. Filley of the
Manor House was as the visit of a stranger; and very much surprised,
indeed, was she when the great man asked to see her.

[Illustration]

In spite of his absent-minded expression, Mr. Filley proved to be both
direct and business-like. He explained his errand briefly and clearly.

Mr. Filley was a bachelor, and the last of his branch of the family. His
only surviving relative was a half-brother by his mother’s first
marriage, who had lived a wandering and worthless life, and who had died
in the West a widower, leaving one child, a girl of nine, in a
Massachusetts boarding-school. This child he had bequeathed to the
loving care and attention of his brother. It is perfectly wonderful how
men of that particular sort, who never can get ten dollars ahead of the
world, will pick up a tremendous responsibility of that kind, and throw
it around just as if it were a half-pound dumb-bell. They don’t seem to
mind it at all; it does not weigh upon their spirits; they will pass
over a growing child to anybody who happens to be handy, to be taken
care of for life, just as easily as you would hand a towel over to the
next man at the wash-basin, as soon as you are done with it. Mr.
Filley’s half-brother may have died easily, and probably did, but he
could not possibly have made such a simple job of it as he did of
turning over Etta Adelina, his daughter, to the care of the half-brother
whom he hardly knew well enough to borrow money from oftener than once a
year.

Now, Mr. Josiah Filley had promised his mother on her death-bed that he
would assume a certain sort of responsibility for the consequences of
the perfectly legitimate but highly injudicious matrimonial excursion of
her early youth, and so he accepted the guardianship of Etta Adelina.
But he was not, as the worldly phrase it, “_too_ easy.” He was a
profound scientific student, and a man whose mind was wrapt up in his
profession, but he did not propose to make a parade-ground of himself
for everybody who might feel inclined to walk over him. He had no
intention of taking the care of a nine-year-old infant upon himself, and
the happy idea had come to him of hunting up the last feminine bearer
of his name in the ’Quawket Old Ladies’ Home, and hiring her for a
liberal cash payment to represent him as a quarterly visitor to the
school where the young one was confined.

“I don’t suppose,” he said, “there is any actual relationship between
us--”

“There ain’t none,” interrupted Mrs. Filley; “leastwise there ain’t been
none since your father got money enough to send you to college.”

[Illustration]

Mr. Filley smiled indulgently.

“Well,” he suggested, “suppose we re-establish relationship as cousins.
All you have to do for some years to come is to visit the Tophill
Institute once in three months, satisfy yourself that the child is
properly taken care of and educated, and kindly treated, and to make a
full and complete report to me in writing. If anything is wrong, let me
know. I shall examine your reports carefully. Whether it is favorable or
unfavorable, if I am satisfied that it is correct and faithful, I will
send you my check for fifty dollars. Is it a bargain?”

It was a bargain, but poor old Mrs. Filley stipulated for a payment in
cash instead of by check. She had once in her life been caught on a
worthless note, and she never had got the distinction between notes and
checks clear in her mind. As to Mr. Josiah Filley, he was not wholly
satisfied with the representative of his family, so far as grammar and
manners were concerned; but he saw with his scholar’s eye, that looked
so absent-minded and took in so much, that the old lady was both shrewd
and kindly-natured, and he felt sure that Etta Adelina would be safe in
her hands.

When I said that Mrs. Filley was kindly, I meant that as a human being
she was capable of kindness. Of course, as an inmate of an Old Ladies’
Home, she was just as spiteful as any other of the old ladies, and her
first natural impulse was to make a profound mystery of Mr. Filley’s
errand, not only because by so doing she could tease the other old
ladies, but from a natural, old-ladylike fear that somebody else might
get her job away from her. But she found herself unable to carry out her
pleasant scheme in its entirety. Nine of her aged comrades, and all the
members of the household staff, consumed their souls in bitterness,
wondering what the millionaire had wanted of his humble kinswoman; and
three times in the course of one year they saw that excellent woman put
on her Sunday black silk and take her silent way to the railroad
station. On the day following they saw her return, but where she had
been or why she had been there they knew not. By the rules of the Home
she had a right to eight days of absence annually. She told the matron
that she was going to see her “folks.” The matron knew well that she had
not a folk in the world, but she had to take the old lady’s word.

[Illustration]

But did not those dear old ladies ask the ticket-agent at the station
what station Mrs. Filley took tickets for? Indeed they did, bless them!
And the ticket-agent told them that Mrs. Filley had bought a
thousand-mile ticket, and that they would have to hunt up the conductors
who took up her coupons on the next division of the road, if they wanted
to find out. (A thousand-mile ticket, gentle reader, is a delightful
device by means of which you can buy a lot of travel in one big chunk,
and work it out in little bits whenever you want to. Next to a sure and
certain consciousness of salvation, it gives its possessor more of a
feeling of pride and independence than anything else this life has to
offer.)

And yet Mrs. Filley’s happiness was incomplete, for it was necessary to
let one person into her secret. She put it on her spectacles, which had
not been of the right kind for a number of years, owing to the
inferiority of modern glass ware, but defective education was what
brought Mrs. Filley to making a confidant of Mrs. Fortescue. No
spectacles that ever were made would have enabled Mrs. Filley to spell,
and when she began her first report thus:

“i sene the gerl She had or to hav cod-livor roil--”

even she, herself, felt that it was hardly the report for Mr. Filley’s
fifty-dollars. Here is the way that Mrs. Fortescue started off that
report in her fine Italian hand:

“It gives me the greatest pleasure, my dear Mr. Filley, to inform you
that, pursuant to your instructions, I journeyed yesterday to the
charming, and I am sure salubrious shades of Tophill, to look after the
welfare of your interesting and precocious little ward. Save for the
slight pallor which might suggest the addition of some simple tonic
stimulant, such as codliver oil, to the generous fare of the Tophill
Academy, I found your little Etta Adelina in every respect--”

Mrs. Filley’s name was signed to that report in the same fine Italian
hand; and it surprised Mr. Filley very much when he saw it. But there
was more surprise ahead for Mr. Filley.

       *       *       *       *       *

As a business man Mr. Filley read the paper, but not the local papers of
’Quawket, for it was seldom that the papers were local there long enough
to get anybody into the habit of reading them. Thus it came about that
he failed to see the notice of the death of old Mrs. Filley, which
occurred in the Old Ladies’ Home something less than a twelve-month
after the date of his first and only visit. The death occurred, however,
but the reports kept on coming in the same fine Italian hand, and with
the same generous freedom in language of the most expensive sort. No man
could have got more report for fifty dollars than Mr. Filley got, and
the report did not begin to be the most of what he was getting.

[Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes clergymen but slightly acquainted with the theatrical business
are surprised when traveling through small towns to see lithographs and
posters displaying the features of great stars of the theatrical and
operatic world, who are billed to appear in some local opera house about
two sizes larger than a cigar-box. The portraits are familiar, the names
under them are not; you may recognize the features of Joe Jefferson and
Adelina Patti, with labels on them establishing their identity as
“Comical Maginnis, the Monkey Mugger,” and “Sadie Sylvester, the Society
Clog Artiste.” These are what are known as “Stock-printing,” and it is
pleasant to reflect that the printers who get them up for a fraud on the
public rarely are able to collect their bills from the actors and
actresses that use them, and that the audiences that go to such shows
don’t know the difference between Adelina Patti and an oyster patty.

This explanation of an interesting custom is made to forestall the
reader’s surprise at learning that two years and a half after her
retirement from the stage, and ten years, at least, after the
retirement of such of her youthful charms as might have justified
the exhibition, the portrait of Mrs. Fortescue, arrayed in silk tights,
of a most constricted pattern--not constrained at all, simply
constricted--decorated scores of fences in what theatrical people call
the “’Quawket Circuit,” which circuit includes the charming and
presumably salubrious shades of Tophill. There was no mistaking Mrs.
Fortescue’s face; Mrs. Fortescue’s attire might have given rise to
almost any sort of mistake. The name under the picture was not that of
Mrs. Fortescue; it was that of a much advertised young person whose
“dramatic speciality” was entitled “Too Much for London; or, Oh, My! Did
you Ever!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Now it is necessary to disinter old Mrs. Filley for a moment, and to
smirch her character a little by way of introducing some excuse for
what Mrs. Fortescue did.

[Illustration]

By the time Mrs. Fortescue had cooked her third report, she had found
out that the old lady had not quite kept faith with her employer. At the
Tophill Institute she had represented herself as Mr. Filley’s mother,
gaining thereby much consideration and many cups of tea. So that when
she died, with the rest of her secret hidden from all but Mrs.
Fortescue, the latter lady, having fully made up her mind to appropriate
the job, felt that it behooved her to go her predecessor one better, and
when she made her appearance at Tophill it was in the character of Mr.
Filley’s newly married wife. She told the sympathetic all about it, how
Mr. Filley and she had known each other from childhood, how he had
always loved her, how she had wedded another to please her family, how
the other had died, and Mr. Filley had renewed his addresses, how she
had staved him off (I am not quoting her language) until his dear old
mother had died, and left him so helpless and lonely that she really had
to take pity on him. Mrs. Filley No. 2 got all the consideration she
wanted, and the principal sent out for champagne for her, under the
impression that that was the daily and hourly drink in all millionaire
families. He never found out otherwise from Mrs. Filley, either.

Probably Mrs. Fortescue-Filley had calculated on keeping up her pretty
career of imposture until her time of probation at the Home was up, and
she could withdraw her entrance fee and vanish at once from ’Quawket and
Tophill. She had the report business well in hand; her employer
occasionally wrote her for detailed information on minor points of the
child’s work or personal needs, but in general expressed himself
perfectly satisfied; and she felt quite safe, so far as he was
concerned, when he commissioned her to put the child through an
all-round examination, and sent her fifty dollars extra with his
“highest compliments” on her manner of doing it. Indeed, in this she was
no humbug. She could have put the principal, himself, through his
scholastic facings if she had cared to.

But the appearance of those unholy portraits came without warning, and
did their work thoroughly. Even if it had not been that every child in
the institute could recognize that well-known countenance, a still more
damning disclosure came in the prompt denunciation of the fraud by the
“Indignant Theatre Goer” with a long memory, who wrote to the local
paper to protest against the profanation, as he put it, of the features
of a peerless Mrs. Fortescue, once an ornament of the stage, and now
dwelling in retirement in ’Quawket. Ordinary, common, plain, every-day
gossip did the rest.

[Illustration]

Mrs. Fortescue saw the posters on her way to Tophill, but she
dauntlessly presented herself at the portal. She got no further. The
principal interposed himself between her and his shades of innocents,
and he addressed that creature of false pretenses in scathing
language--or it might have scathed if the good man had not been so angry
that he talked falsetto. It did not look as if there were much in the
situation for Mrs. Fortescue, but it would be a strange situation out of
which the lady could not extract just the least little bit of acting.
She drew herself up in majestic indignation, hurled the calumnies back
at the astonished principal, and with a magnificent threat to bring Mr.
Filley right to the spot to utterly overwhelm and confute him, she swept
away, leaving the Institute looking two sizes smaller, and its principal
looking no particular size at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

And, what is more, she did, for her magnificent dramatic outburst made
her fairly acting-drunk. She could not help herself; she was inebriated
with the exuberance of her own verbosity, to use a once famous phrase,
and she simply had to go off on a regular histrionic bat.

She went straight off to the old Filley Manor House at the extreme end
of ’Quawket township; she bearded the millionaire builder in his great
cool, darkened office, among his mighty plans and elevations and
mysterious models, and she told that great man the whole story of her
imposture with such a torrent of comic force, with such marvelous
mimicry of the plain-spoken Mrs. Filley and the prim principal, and with
so humorous an introduction of the champagne episode that her victim lay
back in his leather arm-chair, slapped his sturdy leg, roared out mighty
peals of laughter, told her she was the most audacious little woman in
the whole hemisphere, and that he never heard of anything so funny in
his life, and that he’d call down any number of damn schoolmasters if
she wanted him to.

“I don’t see how we can arrange a retroactive, Ma’am; I’m a little too
old for that sort of thing, I’m afraid. But I’ll tell you what I can do.
I’ll send my agent at once to take the child out of school, and I’ll see
that my man doesn’t give him any satisfaction or a chance for
explanation.

“Why, damn it!” concluded the hearty Mr. Filley; “if I ever see the
little prig I’ll tell him I think it is a monstrous and great
condescension on your part to let yourself be known as the wife of a
plain old fellow like me. Why doesn’t a man know a handsome woman when
he sees her?”

“Then I am forgiven for all my wickedness?” said Mrs. Fortescue--but,
oh! _how_ she said it!

[Illustration]

“Forgiveness?” repeated Mr. Filley, thoughtfully. “Yes; I think so.”
Then he rose, crossed the room to a large safe, in which he opened a
small drawer. From this he took a small package of papers which he
placed in Mrs. Fortescue’s hands. She recognized her own reports, and
also a curious scrawl on a crumpled and discolored piece of paper, which
also she promptly recognized. It was a “screw” that had held three
cents’ worth of snuff, and she had seen it in Mrs. Filley’s hand just
about the time that dear old lady was passing away. She read it now for
the first time:

[Illustration]

“dere mr Filley i kno that fort escew woman is gone to kepon senden them
re ports an nottel you ime dedd but iam Sara Filley.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“She sent that to me,” said Mr. Filley, “by Doctor Butts, the house
physician, and between us we managed to get a ‘line’ on you, Mrs.
Fortescue; so that there’s been a little duplicity on both sides.”

Mrs. Fortescue looked at him with admiration mingled with respect; then
she looked puzzled.

“But why, if you knew it all along, why did you--”

“Why did I let you go on?” repeated Mr. Filley. “Well, you’ve got to
have the whole duplicity, I see.” He went back to the drawer and took
out another object. It was a faded photograph of a young lady with her
hair done up in a net, and with a hat like a soap-dish standing straight
up on her head.

“Twenty-five years ago,” said Mr. Filley, “boy; three dollars a week in
an architect’s office; spent two-fifty of them, two weeks running, for
flowers for that young lady when she played her first engagement in New
Haven. Walked there. Paid the other fifty cents to get into the theatre.
Lived on apples the rest of the week. Every boy does it. Never forgets
it. Place always remains soft.”

And, as Mrs. Fortescue sat and looked long and earnestly at the picture,
a soft color came into her face that was born rather of memory than of
her love for acting; and yet it wonderfully simulated youth and fresh
beauty and a young joy in life.



“THE MAN WITH THE PINK PANTS.”


This is a tale of pitiless and persistent vengeance, and it shows by
what simple means a very small and unimportant person may bring about
the undoing of the rich, great and influential. It was told to me by my
good friend, the Doctor, as we strolled through the pleasant suburbs of
a pretty little city that is day by day growing into greatness and
ugliness, as what they call a manufacturing centre.

We had been watching the curious antics of a large man who would have
attracted attention at any time on account of his size, his luxuriant
hair and whiskers, and the strange condition of the costly clothing he
wore--a frock-coat and trousers of the extremest fashion, a rolling
white waist-coat, gray-spatted patent-leathers, and a silk hat. But all
these fine articles of apparel were much soiled in places, his
coat-collar was half turned up, the hat had met with various mishaps,
his shoes were scratched and dusty, his cravat ill-tied, and altogether
his appearance suggested a puzzling combination of prosperity and hard
luck. His doings were stranger than his looks. He tacked cautiously
from side to side of the way, peered up a cross-street here; went slowly
and cautiously up another for a few yards, only to return and to efface
himself for a moment behind a tree or in a doorway.

Suddenly he gave signs of having caught sight of somebody far up a
narrow lane. Promptly bolting into the nearest front yard, he got behind
the syringa bush and waited patiently until another man, smaller, but
much more active, hurried sharply down the lane, glancing suspiciously
around. This second person missed seeing the big man, and after waiting
irresolutely a moment or two, he hailed a street-car going toward the
town. At the same time another car passed him going in the opposite
direction. With incredible agility, the large man darted from behind the
syringa bush and made the second car in the brief second the little
man’s back was turned. Swinging himself inside, the figures on the rear
platform promptly concealed him from view, and as he was whirled past us
we could distinctly hear him emit a tremendous sigh or puff of profound
relief.

“You don’t know him?” said the Doctor, smiling. “Yes, you do; at least,
you have seen him before; and I will show you him in his likeness as you
saw him two little years ago.

“Such as you see that man to-day,” continued the Doctor, as we strolled
toward the town, “he is entirely the creation of one small and
insignificant man; not the man you just saw watching for him, but
another so very insignificant that his name even is forgotten by the few
who have heard it. I alone remember his face. Nobody knows anything else
that throws light on his identity, except the fact that he was on one
occasion addressed as ‘Mr. Thingumajig,’ and that he is or was a writer
for the press, in no very great way of business. Now let us turn down
Main Street, and I will show you the man he reduced to the ignominious
object we have just been watching.”

We soon stopped at a photograph gallery, and the Doctor led me, in a way
that showed that his errand was not a rare one, to a little room in the
rear, where, on a purple velvet background, hung a nearly life-size
crayon portrait. It represented a large gentleman--the large gentleman
whom we had just seen--attired in much similar garments, only that in
the picture his neatness was spotless and perfect. Not a wrinkle, not a
stain marred him from top to toe. He stood in the graceful and dignified
attitude of one who has been set up by his fellow-citizens to be looked
at and admired, and who knows that his fellow-citizens are only doing
the right thing by him. His silk hat was jauntily poised upon his hip,
and the smile that illuminated his moustache and whiskers was at once
genial, encouraging, condescending, and full of deep religious and
political feeling. It was hardly necessary to look at the superb gilt
inscription below to know that that portrait was “Presented by the
Vestry of St. Dives Church, on the Occasion of his Retirement from their
Body to Assume the Burden of Civic Duties in the Assembly of the State
that Counts Him Among her Proudest Ornaments.”

[Illustration]

“Mr. Silo!” cried I.

“Mr. Silo,” said the Doctor; “but he did not go to the Assembly, and
that picture has never been presented. When you saw him to-day he was
running away from his brother-in-law, to get to New York to go on any
sort of a spree to drown his misery. Come along, and you shall hear the
tale of a fallen idol. And if, as you listen, an ant should cross your
path, do not step on it. Mr. Silo stepped upon an ant, and the ant made
of him the thing you saw.”

I do not tell this story exactly in the Doctor’s own words, though I
will let it look as if I did. The trouble of letting non-literary people
tell stories in their own language is that the “says I’s,” and the “says
he’s,” and the “well, this man” passages, and “then this other man I was
telling you about” interpolations take up so much of the narrative that
a story like this could not be read while a pound of candles burned.

But here is about the way the Doctor ought to have told it:

I do not wish to undervaluate the good influence of Mr. Silo in our
city. He has been a large and enterprising investor. He has built up the
town in many ways. He has been charitable and patriotic. He was a good
man; but he was not a saint. And a man has to be a saint to boom town
lots and keep straight. No; I’ll go further than that--it can’t be done!
George Washington couldn’t have boomed town lots and kept straight. And
Silo, as you can see by those whiskers, was no George Washington. Real
estate isn’t sold on the Golden Rule, you know. There were times when it
was mighty lucky for Silo that he was six feet high and weighed two
hundred pounds.

I don’t know the details of the transaction, but I am afraid that Silo
treated the little newspaper man pretty shabbily. He was a decent,
hard-working, unobtrusive little fellow, and he and his wife had been
scraping and saving for years and years to buy a house with a garden to
it, in just such a town as this. Well, no, that’s not the way to put it.
They had fixed on a particular house in this particular town, and they
had been waiting several years for the lease of it to fall in. They were
ready with the price, and I do not doubt that Silo or his agents had at
one time accepted their offer for the place. But when the time came,
Silo backed out, refused to sell, and disowned the whole transaction.

[Illustration]

That, in itself, was a mean act. It was a trifling matter to Silo, but
it was a biggest kind of matter to the other man and his wife. They had
set their hearts on that particular house; they had stinted themselves
for a long, long time to lay up the money to buy it; and probably no
other house in the whole world could ever be so desirable to those two
people. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The man might have put up with
his disappointment, and perhaps even have forgiven Silo for the shabby
trick. But Silo, I suppose, felt ashamed of himself and went further
than he had meant to, in trying to lash himself into a real good, honest
indignation. At least, that is my guess at it; for Silo was neither
brutal nor stupid by nature; but on this occasion he had the incredible
cussedness to twit the little man on his helplessness. It was purely a
question of veracity between the two, and Silo pointed out that, as
against him, nobody would take the stranger’s word. That was true; but,
good Lord! Silo himself told me subsequently that it was the meanest
thing, under the circumstances, that he ever heard one man say to
another. He always maintained that he was right about the sale; but he
admitted that his roughing of the poor fellow was inexcusable; and the
thing that graveled him most and frightened him most in the end was that
he had called the poor man “Mr. Thingumajig.” He had not caught the real
name; he only remembered that it had some sort of a foreign sound that
suggested “Thingumajig” to his mind.

Now, all that Silo had had before him previous to that outburst was only
a plain case of angry man; but from that time on he had ahead of him
through his pathway in life an incarnation of human hatred, out for
vengeance, and bound to have it.

“Well, now the fun of the thing comes in,” said the Doctor.

“I should think it was high time,” said I.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was nothing very unusual in that little episode; but somehow it
got public, and was a good deal talked about; although, as I said,
hardly anybody knew the stranger, even by name. But, of course, it was
well nigh forgotten six months later, when the newspaper man came to the
front again.

His reappearance took the form of such a singular exhibition of meekness
that it ought to have made Silo suspicious, to say the least. But he was
a bit of a bully; and, like all bullies, it was hard for him to believe
that a man who did not bluster could really mean fight. Perhaps he had
no chance of mercy at that time; but if he did he threw it away.

The stranger wrote to the local paper a polite, even modest letter,
stating, very moderately, his grievance against Mr. Silo. He further
proposed a scheme, the adoption of which would obviate all possibilities
of such misunderstanding. I have forgotten what the scheme was. It was
not a good one, and I know now that it was not meant to be. The local
paper was the _Echo_. It was run by a shiftless young man named Meecham;
and, of course, Silo had him deep in his debt; and, of course, again,
Silo more or less ran the paper. So, when that letter arrived, Meecham
showed it to Silo, and Silo gave new cause of offense by violating the
honorable laws of newspaper controversy, and answering back in the very
same number of the paper. The matter of his reply was also injudicious.
He lost his temper at once when he saw that the letter was signed “Mr.
Thingumajig,” and he characterized both the plan and its proposer as
“preposterous.” I am inclined to think that that word “preposterous”
was just the word that the other man was setting a trap for. At any
rate, he got it, and he wanted nothing better. Here is his reply:

[Illustration]

                  AN OPEN LETTER TO P. Q. SILO, ESQ.

MY DEAR MR. SILO:

     I greatly regret that my little scheme for the simplification of
     the relations between intending purchasers and non-intending
     sellers (so-called) of real estate should have fallen under your
     disapprobation. Of course, I do not attempt to question your
     judgement; but you must allow me to take exception to the language
     in which that judgement is expressed; which is at once
     inappropriate and insulting. You call me and my scheme
     “preposterous;” and this shows that you do not know the meaning of
     that frequently misused word. “Preposterous” is a word that may be
     properly applied to a scheme that puts the cart before the
     horse--“having that first which ought to be last,” as Mr. Webster’s
     International Dictionary puts it--or to a thing or creature
     “contrary to nature or reason; not adapted to the end; utterly and
     glaringly foolish; unreasonably absurd; perverted.” If you want an
     instance of its proper application, the word “preposterous” might
     fitly be used in all its senses to describe your own brief but
     startling appearance on Thursday evening last, between the hours of
     nine and ten, in a certain quiet street of New York, in a pair of
     pink pants.

                          I remain, dear sir,

                           Yours very truly,

                           MR. THINGUMAJIG.



That was all. Nothing more. But, as the lineman said of the two-thousand
volt shock, “it isn’t necessary to see some things to know that they’re
there.”

Now I want you to note the devilish ingenuity of that phraseology. To
speak of “pink trousers” would serve only to call up an unattractive
mental picture. “Pink breeches” would only suggest the satin
knee-breeches of a page in a comic opera; but “pink pants” is a
combination you can’t get out of your head. It is not English; the word
“pants” is a vulgar contraction of the word pantaloons, and we don’t
wear pantaloons in these days. But “pants” is the funniest word of its
size that ever was invented, and it is just about the right word for
the hideous garment it belongs to. And whether there’s any reason or
logic in it or not, when I put those two little cheap words together and
say “pink pants,” I am certain of two things. First, you have got to
smile; second, you can’t forget it to save your neck. And that’s what
Mr. Thingumajig knew. I think he had everything laid out in his mind
just as it was going to happen.

Meecham got that letter, and laid it aside to show to Silo; but as he
sat at his desk and worked, the salient phrase kept bobbing around in
his mind; and, finally, he said aloud:

“Pink pants! What in thunder are pink pants, anyway?”

His foreman heard him, and looked at him in amazement.

“Pink pants,” he repeated; “that’s a new one on me.”

Meecham picked up the letter again, and knit his brows as he studied it.

“That’s right,” he said; “that’s what it is.”

The foreman came and looked over his shoulder.

“‘Pink pants,’” he repeated; “that’s right.”

A man who had just come into the office looked at the two speakers with
astonishment. Meecham knew that he had come to put an advertisement in
the paper, and so he showed him the letter.

“Well, I’m damned!” he said. “That’s right, though. It’s ‘pink pants,’
on your life. But where in blazes would a man get pink pants, anyway?”

When Mr. Silo saw the letter he told Meecham to “burke” it; and Meecham
put it in the waste-basket. The next day Silo made him take it out of
the waste-basket and print it. He explained that so many people had
asked him about the letter--and he said something to Meecham as to his
methods of running the office--that he thought it better to print it and
let the people see for themselves how absurd it was, or else they might
magnify it and think he was afraid to print it. Meecham did not say
anything at the moment. He did not like being blown up any more than the
rest of us do, however; and, when he had got the letter safely printed
and out before the public, he said to Silo:

“You did just right about that letter. It wouldn’t have done for a man
of your position to have folks going around asking where you were on any
particular Thursday evening.”

[Illustration]

“Why, no!” said Silo; “of course it wouldn’t. Lemme see; was that the
day the infernal crank picked out?”

“Thursday night, the eleventh,” said Meecham, his finger on the
calendar; “between nine and ten o’clock at night. Now, of course, Mr.
Silo, you know just where you were then.”

“Why, of course!” said Silo. “Lemme see, now. Thursday the eleventh,
nine, ten at night. Why, I was--no--why, _Thursday, the eleventh_!--Oh,
thunder!--no--it can’t be! Oh, certainly! yes; that’s all right, of
course! Is that Mr. Smith over there, the other side of the street? I’ve
got to speak to him a minute. I’ll see you to-morrow. Good-night, my
boy!”

       *       *       *       *       *

How much of an expert in human nature are you? If I tell you that Mr.
Silo insisted on having every first impression of an edition of the
_Echo_ sent to his house by special messenger the instant it was
printed, whether he was at home or not, and that he did this just to
make Meecham feel the bitterness of the servitude of debt, what do you
deduce or infer from that? That somebody else was tyrannizing over Silo?
Quite right! Mrs. Silo was a woman who opened all of her husband’s
letters--that came to the house. And she looked at Silo’s paper before
he saw it himself.

And when Silo got home that day, Mrs. Silo was waiting for him. Mrs.
Silo and the copy of the _Echo_, with the letter concerning Mr. Silo and
the pink pants. Mrs. Silo wanted to know about it. If Mr. Silo was in
any doubt about Thursday night, the eleventh, Mrs. Silo was not. On
that night Mr. Silo had been expected out on the train leaving New York
at eight o’clock. He had arrived on the train leaving New York at ten
o’clock. There was no trouble at all in identifying the night. Mrs. Silo
reminded him that it was the night of the day when he took in a certain
hank of red Berlin wool to be delivered to Mrs. Silo’s mother, who lived
in 14th Street; which, as Mrs. Silo remarked, is not a quiet street. She
also reminded Mr. Silo that on his appearance that evening she had asked
him if he had delivered that hank of red Berlin wool at the house of his
mother-in-law, and he had answered that he had; that his lateness was
due to that cause; and, furthermore, that his dear mother-in law was
very well.

[Illustration]

To this Mr. Silo responded that his statements on Thursday evening were
perfectly correct.

Then Mrs. Silo told him that since the arrival of the paper she had made
a trip to New York to inform herself as to the true condition of
affairs. And, furthermore, on Thursday the eleventh, Mrs. Silo’s mother
had been confined to her bed all day with a severe neuralgic headache,
all the other members of the family being absent at the bedside of a
sick relative; the cook had had a day off, and the aged waitress, who
had been in the family twenty-five years, was certain that no one had
entered the house up to the return of the absent members at eight,
sharp, when, the sick relative being by that time a dead relative, the
house was closed. So much for furthermore. Now, moreover, the hank of
red Berlin wool had arrived at the house in Fourteenth Street four days
after the date in question. It came through the United States mail,
wrapped up in a sheet of tinted notepaper, scented with musk, and
addressed in a sprawling but unmistakably feminine hand.

[Illustration]

Mr. Silo made an explanation. It was unsatisfactory.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had long been known in the town that suspicion was rife in the Silo
household. It was now known that suspicion had ripened into certainty.
Events of that kind belong to what may be classed as the masculine or
strictly necessary and self-protective scandal. News of the event goes
in hushed whispers through the masculine community--the brotherhood of
man, as you might say. One man says to his neighbor, “Let’s get Johnston
and go down to Coney Island this afternoon.” “Johnston isn’t going down
to Coney Island this week,” says the neighbor. “Johnston miscalculated
his wine last night, and Mrs. Johnston is good people to leave alone
this morning.”

In a case so much more serious than a mere case of intoxication as
Silo’s was supposed to be, you can readily understand that the scandal
of the pink pants spread through the town like wildfire. Silo had
already resigned from the vestry, so all the vestry could do was to
pitch in and see that he did not get the ghost of a show as a candidate
for assembly. It was not much of a job, under the circumstances, and the
vestry did it very easily.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Well, but what _had_ Silo done?” I asked the Doctor. “And what were the
pink pants, anyway?”

“Silo hadn’t done a thing,” replied the Doctor. “Not a blessed
thing--except to tell a tiny little bit of a two-for-one-cent fib about
that hank of worsted. I met Mr. Thingumajig in Chicago last year, and
he told me how he worked the whole scheme. The gist of the invention lay
in the ‘pink pants.’ Any fool can put up a job to make a man’s wife
jealous; but it takes the genius of deathless malevolence to invent a
phrase sure to catch every ear that hears it; sure to interest and
puzzle and excite every mind that gives it lodgment, and to tie that
phrase up to an individuality in such a way that it conveys an
accusation almost without form and void, and yet hideously suggestive of
iniquity.

“That is just what the little newspaper cuss did with Silo. He was bent
on revenge, and he gave up a certain portion of his time to shadowing
him. You must remember that, while he had reason to remember Silo, Silo
had hardly any to remember him. Well, he told me that he dogged Silo for
days--months, even--trying to catch him in some wrong-doing. But Silo,
big and blustering as he looked, with his whiskers and his knowing air,
was an innocent, respectable, henpecked ass. Outside of business, all
that he ever did in New York was to go to his mother-in-law’s house at
his wife’s bidding to execute shopping commissions and the like. For
instance, this hank of Berlin wool the old lady had bought for her
daughter; the shade was wrong, and the daughter sent it back. Mr.
Thingumajig--never mind his name now--had been tracking Silo on his
trips to Fourteenth Street for weeks, and had just learned their
innocent nature. His soul was full of rage. He got into a green car with
Silo, going to the ferry. The evening was hot. Silo dozed in the corner
of the car. The hank of red Berlin wool lay on the seat beside him. Mr.
Thingumajig saw it, and saw the letter pinned to it, addressed by Mrs.
Silo to her mother. In that instant he conceived the crude basis of his
plot--to appropriate the hank, suppress the letter, souse the wool with
cheap perfume, get his wife to readdress the parcel in her worst
hand--and to rely in pretty good confidence on Silo’s telling a lie at
one end or both ends of the line about the missing wool. Silo was not
much of a sinner, but a man who loses his wife’s hank of Berlin wool and
goes home and owns up about it is a good deal of a saint. The chances
were all in Mr. Thingumajig’s favor.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“But,” said I, “when you had met Mr. Thingumajig and became possessed of
the plot, why didn’t you come back here and tell all about it, and clear
up poor Silo?”

[Illustration]

The Doctor looked at me pityingly, almost contemptuously.

“My dear fellow,” he said, as if he were talking to a child, “what was
my word to those pink pants? I tried it on, until I found that people
simply began to suspect me, and to think that I might be Silo’s
accomplice in iniquity. There wasn’t the least use in it. If I talked
to a man, he would hear me through; and then he would wag his head and
say, ‘That’s all very well; but how about those pink pants? If there
weren’t any pink pants how did they come to be mentioned?’ And that was
the way everywhere. I could explain all about poor Silo’s foolish little
lie, and they would say, ‘Oh, yes, that’s possible; a man might lie
about a hank of wool if he had the kind of wife Silo’s got; but how
about those pink pants?’ And when it wasn’t _those_ pink pants, it was
_them_ pink pants. And after a while I gave it up. Silo had got to
drinking pretty hard by that time, in order to drown his miseries; and
of course that only confirmed the earlier scandal. Now, Silo never was a
man that could drink; it never did agree with him, and he has got so
wild recently that Mrs. Silo has her two brothers take turns to come out
here and try to control him. Of course that makes him all the wilder.”

At the end of Main Street I parted from my friend, the Doctor, and
shortly I crossed the pathway of another citizen who had seen the two of
us bidding good-by.

“He’s a nice man, the Doctor is,” said the citizen; “but the trouble
with him is, he’s altogether too credulous and sympathetic. Now, I
wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been making some defense to you of the
goings on of that man Silo. He’s a sort of addled on that subject. May
be it’s just pure charity, of course; and may be, equally, he was in
with Silo when Silo wasn’t so openly disgraceful; but if you want to
know what that man Silo is, I’ll tell you. The people around here,
sir--the people who ought to know--do you know what they call him, sir?
Well, sir, they call him, ‘The Man with the Pink Pants.’ And do you
suppose for one minute, sir, that a man gets a name fixed on him like
that without he’s deserved it? No, sir; your friend there is a good man,
and a charitable man, but as for judgement of character, he ain’t got
it. And if you’re a friend of his, you’ll tell him that the less he has
to say about ‘The Man with the Pink Pants’--the better for _him_.”

[Illustration]



THE THIRD FIGURE IN THE COTILLION.


Around the little island of Ausserland the fishing-smacks hover all
through the season. They rarely go out of sight; or, indeed, stand far
off shore, for life is easy in Ausserland, and the famous Ausserland
herrings, which give the island its prosperity, are oftenest to be
caught in the broad reaches of shallow water that surround the island.
Beyond these reaches there are fish, too; but out there the waters are
more turbulent. And why should a fisherman risk his life and his
beautiful brown duck sails in treacherous seas, when he has his
herring-pond at his own door-step, so to speak. And they have a saying
in Ausserland that if you are drowned you may go to heaven; but
certainly not to Ausserland.

And who would want to leave Ausserland? Life is so easy there that it
takes most of the inhabitants about ninety years to die--and even then
you can hardly call it dying. Life’s pendulum only slows down day by
day, and swings through an arc that imperceptibly diminishes as the
years go on, until at last, without surprise, without shock, almost
without regret, so gradual is the process, you perceive that it has
stopped. And then the whole village, all in Sunday clothes, marches out
to the little graveyard on the hill, and somebody’s great birchen
beer-mug is hung on the living-room wall in memory of one who ate and
drank and slept, and who is no more. There are rooms in those old houses
in Ausserland where the wooden mugs hang in a double row, and the oldest
of them was last touched by living lips in days when the dragon-ships of
the Vikings ploughed that Northern sea.

[Illustration]

Ausserland is a principality, and a part of a mighty empire; but except
that it has to pay its taxes, and in return is guaranteed immunity from
foreign invasion, it might just as well be an independent kingdom; or,
rather, an independent state, for it is governed by Burgesses, elected
by the people to administer laws made hundreds of years ago, and still
quite good and suitable. If a man steals his neighbor’s goods, he is put
in the pillory. But what should a man steal his neighbor’s goods for
when he has all the goods that he wants of his own? The last time the
pillory was used was for a shipwrecked Spanish sailor who refused to go
to church on the ground of a rooted prejudice against the Protestant
religion. And it must have been a singularly comfortable pillory, for
somehow or other he managed to carve his name on it during the hour in
which he stood there--his name and the date of the event, and there they
are to this day: “Miguel Diaz jul 6 1743.” My own opinion is that they
did not even let the top-piece down on him.

The men of Ausserland are not liable to conscription, and as no ships of
war ever come to their odd corner of the sea, they know no more of the
mighty struggles of their great empire than if they were half a world
away. This is a part of the beautiful understanding which the
Ausserlanders have established with their hereditary Prince and with the
imperial government. The Prince lives at the court of the Emperor, and
none of his line has seen Ausserland since his grandfather was there in
the last century for a day’s visit. Yet his relations with his subjects
are of a permanently pleasant nature. They pay him his taxes, of which
he hands over the lion’s share to the government, keeping enough for
himself to attire his plump person in beautiful uniforms and tight
cavalry boots, and to cultivate the most beautiful port-wine nose in the
whole court. The amount of the taxes has been settled long ago, and it
is always exactly the same. The Ausserland fishermen are like a sort of
deep-sea Dutchmen, independent, sturdy and shrewd. They know just how
much they ought to pay; and they pay it, and not one soumarkee more or
less. Ages ago the hereditary Princes discovered that if they put up the
tax-rate, the herring fisheries promptly failed just in the necessary
proportion to bring the assessment back to the old figure. When they
lowered the rate the accommodating herring came back. It was a curious
if not pleasing freak of nature to which they had to accustom
themselves, for it never would have done to leave the market open to any
other supply of herrings than the famous herrings of Ausserland. So that
question settled itself.

[Illustration]

Twice a year the finest of the broad-breasted fishing smacks sailed for
the distant mainland, bearing heavy cargoes of dried fish, and beautiful
seashells such as were to be found nowhere else. Twice a year they came
back, bringing cloths and calicos, always of the same quality, color and
pattern, for the fashions never change in Ausserland. They brought also
drugs and medicines, school-books and pipes, tools and household
utensils of the finer sort, more delicate than the Ausserland ironsmiths
could fashion; brandy and cordials and wine in casks great and small,
and the few other articles of commerce for which they were dependent
upon the outer world; for the Ausserlanders supplied their own needs for
the most part, spun their own linen, tanned their own leather, built
their own boats, and generally “did” for themselves, as they say in New
England. Then it was, and then only, that the newspapers came to
Ausserland--a six-months’ collection of newspapers at each trip. And the
Head Burgess read them for the whole town. The Head Burgess was always a
man who had reached that period of thrift and prosperity at which it
seemed futile to toil longer, and who was both willing and able to give
his whole leisure to affairs of state. He it was who collected and
forwarded the taxes, and who stood ready to punish offenders, should any
one feel tempted to offend. The Head Burgess always grumbled a good
deal, and talked much of the burdens of public life; but it was
observant among even the unobservant Ausserlanders that the Head Burgess
was usually the fattest man in town; and the post was much sought after
because few Head Burgesses had been known to die under ninety-two or
three years of age.

As a rule, the Head Burgess read slowly and with deliberation. Of a June
afternoon, when the fishermen came in from their day’s work, he would
stroll leisurely down to the wharves, with his long pipe with the
painted china bowl, and would give forth the news of the day to the
fishermen.

“Three families,” he would say, “were frozen to death in Hamburg.”

“Ah, indeed!” some courteous listener would respond; “and when was
that?”

“In February last,” the Head Burgess would reply; “it seems scandalous,
does it not, that people should never learn to go in-doors and keep the
fires lighted in Winter? Thank heaven, we have no such idiots here!”

For an Ausserlander can never understand what it means to be poor or
needy. How can anybody want, he argues, while there are millions of
herring in the sea, and they come along every year just at the same
time?

[Illustration]

In Spring, of course, the Head Burgess gave the Ausserlanders a budget
of news that began with the preceding Summer. They listened to it
politely, as they listened to the pastor’s sermons. Outside of the
market-reports they had little interest in the world which ate their
herrings. Still, they were a polite and intelligent people, and they
were willing for once in a way to lend a courteous and attentive ear to
the doings and sayings of people who were not happy enough to live in
Ausserland. Thus it happened that they knew, several months after it
occurred, of the death of the reigning Emperor and the accession to the
throne of his son. The news was received with just the least shade of
disapproval. The preceding Emperor had come to the throne a sick man,
and had reigned but a short time. _His_ father had reigned about as long
as an Emperor can possibly reign, and they felt that he had done what
was expected of him. They hoped that their Emperors were not going to
get into the habit of reigning for a few months and then dying. It was
annoying, they thought, to have to learn new names every few years.

So it is not remarkable that the new Emperor had been several months on
his throne before the good people of Ausserland learned that he was a
very peculiar young man, with a character of his own, and with a
passion, that almost amounted to a mania, for re-establishing an ancient
order of things that had well-nigh perished from the face of the earth.
Nor is it to be wondered at that, considering all news of the court as
frivolous and probably fictitious, they were utterly ignorant of a
controversy that had divided the whole social system of the empire into
two camps. Who could expect that in the cosy, well-furnished rooms of
the weather-beaten old houses of Ausserland it should be known that
there was a vast commotion in the Imperial court over the new cotillion
introduced by the Lord Chamberlain? It was a charming cotillion, all
agreed; the music was ravishing, and the figures were exquisitely
original; but the third figure--ah, there was the trouble!--the third
figure had not met with the approval of the matrons. The young girls and
the very young married women all liked it; and the men were as a unit in
its favor; but the more elderly ladies thought that it was indelicate,
and that it afforded opportunities for objectionable familiarities. A
hot war was raged between the two parties. The Emperor, of course, was
arbiter. He hesitated long. He was a very young man, and he took himself
very much in earnest. To him a matter of court punctilio had an
importance scarcely second to that of the fate of nations. As soon as an
objection was offered, he issued an edict proscribing the performance
of

[Illustration]

the dance of dubious propriety until such time as he should have made up
his imperial mind as to its character. For three months its fate
trembled in the balance. Then he decided that it should be and continue
to be; and he issued a formal proclamation to that effect--the first
formal proclamation of his reign. It was an opportunity for the
re-introduction of ancient and ancestral methods which the young Emperor
could not lose. The edict had gone forth in haste by word of mouth and
by notice in the daily papers; but he resolved that the proclamation
should go by special envoy to all the principalities that composed his
powerful empire. Accordingly, an officer of high rank, specially
despatched from the court, read his Imperial Majesty’s proclamation in
every principality of the nation; and thereafter it was legitimate and
proper to dance the third figure of the new Lord Chamberlain’s cotillion
on all occasions of lordly festivities, and all the elderly ladies
accepted the situation with a cheerful submissiveness, and set about
using it for scandal-mongering purposes with promptitude and alacrity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early one Midsummer morning a strange fishing-smack was sighted from the
Ausserland wharves far out at sea, beating up against an obstinate wind,
and coming from the direction of the mainland. This in itself was enough
to cause general comment and to stir the whole village with a thrill of
interest; for strange vessels rarely came that way, except under stress
of storm; and though the sea was running unusually high there had been
no storm in many days. Besides, why should a vessel obviously unfitted
for that sort of sailing, beat up against a wind that would take her to
the mainland in half the time? Yet there she was, making for the island
in long, laborious tacks. Everybody stopped work to look at her; but
work was suspended and utterly thrown aside when she hoisted a pennant
that, according to the nautical code, signified that she had on board an
Envoy from his Imperial Majesty.

The whole town was astir in a moment. The shops and schools closed. The
village band began to practice as it had never practiced before. The
burgesses and other officials donned their garments of state. A
committee was promptly appointed to prepare a public banquet worthy of
the Emperor’s messenger. The children were sent collecting flowers, and
were instructed how to strew them in his path. The bell-ringers gathered
and arranged an elaborate

[Illustration]

programme of chimes. The citizens got into their Sunday clothes, which
were most wonderful clothes in their way; and the town-crier, who played
the trumpet, got his instrument out and polished it up until it shone
like gold. But the man who felt most of the burden of responsibility
upon his shoulders was the Head Burgess. He got into his robes of office
as quickly as his wife and his three daughters could array him, and then
he hastened to the Rathhaus, or Town Hall, and there consulted the
archives to find out from the records of his predecessors what it became
him to do when his Majesty’s Envoy should announce his errand. He must
make a speech, that was clear, for the honor of the Island. But what
speech should he make? He could not compose one on the instant--in fact,
he could not compose one at all. What had his forerunners done on like
occasions? He looked over the record and found that three King’s Envoys
had landed on the Island: one in 1699, to announce that the Island had
been ceded by one kingdom to another; another in 1764, to inform the
people that the great-grandmother of the hereditary Prince was dead; and
another in 1848, to proclaim that the Islanders’ right of exemption from
conscription was suspended. In not one of these cases, it should be
remarked, did the message of King, Prince or Emperor, change the face of
affairs on the Island in the smallest degree. The herring market
remaining stable, the Ausserlanders cared no whit to whom they paid
taxes; as to the death of the Prince’s great-grandmother, they simply
remarked that it was a pity to die at the early age of eighty-seven; and
when they were told that they would have to get up a draft and be
conscripted into the army or navy, they just went fishing, and there the
matter dropped. One is not an Ausserlander for nothing.

But the Head Burgess found that the same speech had been used on all
three occasions. It was short, and he had little difficulty in
committing it to memory, for it took the ship of his Majesty’s Envoy six
good hours to get into port. This was the speech:

“Noble and Honorable, Well and High-Born Sir, the people of Ausserland
desire through their representative, the Head Burgess, to affirm their
unwavering loyalty to the most illustrious and high-born personage who
condescends to assume the government of a loyal and independent
populace, and to express the hope that Divine Providence may endow him
with such power and capacity as properly befit a so-situated ruler.”

So heartily did the whole population throw itself into the work of
preparing to receive the distinguished visitor, that everything had been
in readiness a full hour, when, in the early afternoon, the
fishing-smack finally made her landing. During this long hour, the whole
town watched the struggles of the little boat with the baffling wind and
waves. Everybody was in a state of delighted expectancy. An Emperor’s
Envoy does not call on one every day, and his coming offered an excuse
for merry-making such as the prosperous and easy-going people of
Ausserland were only too willing to seize.

So, when the boat made fast to the wharf, the signal guns boomed, and
the people cheered again and again, and threw their caps in the air when
the King’s Envoy appeared from the cabin and returned the salute of the
Head Burgess.

And, indeed, the King’s Envoy was a most satisfactory and gratifying
spectacle of grandeur. He was so grand and so gorgeous generally that he
might have been taken for the hereditary Prince, himself, had it not
been well known that the color of the hereditary Prince’s nose was
unchangeable--being what the ladies call a fast red--whereas, this
gentleman’s face was as white as the Head Burgess’s frilled shirtfront.
But his clothes! So splendid a uniform was never seen before. Some of it
was of cobalt blue and some of it of Prussian blue, and some of it of
white; and, all over, in every possible place, it was decorated with a
gold lace and gold buttons and silken frogs and tassels, and every other
device of beauty that ingenuity could suggest, with complete disregard
of cost.

[Illustration]

And then His Serene Highness, Herr Graf Maximilian von Bummelberg, of
Schloss Bummelfels in the Schwarzwald, stepped on the wharf and
graciously introduced himself to the representative of the people, who
grasped him warmly by the hand with a cordiality untempered by awe; and
the people shouted again as they saw the two great men together; and not
one suspected the anguish hidden by that martial outside. For, of
course, as such things will happen, the Envoy selected to carry the
Emperor’s proclamation to this marine principality was a man who had
never been to sea in his life, and who never would have made a sailor if
he had been kept at sea until he was pickled. And for eighteen hours the
unfortunate messenger of good tidings had been tossed about in the dark,
close, malodorous little cabin of a fishing-smack on the breast of a
chopping sea, beating up against a strong head wind. And, oh! had he not
been sick? Sick, sick, sick, and then again sick--so sick, indeed, that
he had had to hide his gorgeous clothes under a sailor’s dirty
tarpaulin. This made him feel sicker yet; but, though in the course of
the trip he lost his respect for mankind, including himself, for
royalty, for religion, for life and for death, he still retained a vital
spark of respect for his beautiful clothes. He stood motionless upon the
wharf and returned the compliments of the Head Burgess in a husky voice
that sounded in his own ears strange and far off. The Herr Graf
Maximilian von Bummelberg, of Schloss Bummelfels in the Schwarzwald,
Envoy of his Imperial Majesty, was waiting for the ground to steady
itself, for it was behaving as it had never behaved before, to his
knowledge. It rolled and it heaved, it flew up and it nearly hit him in
the face, then it slipped away from under him and rocked back again
sidewise. Never having been on an island before, the King’s Envoy might
have thought that the land was really afloat if he had not seen that
the wine in the silver cup which the Burgess was presenting to him was
swinging around like everything else without spilling a drop.

Things began to settle a little after the Envoy had drunk the wine, and
when he had found that there was actually a carriage to take him to the
Town Hall, he brightened up wonderfully. He was much pleased to see also
that the Town Hall was solidly built of brick, and that it was to a
stone balcony that he was led to read his proclamation to the people.
Grasping the balustrade firmly with one hand, he read to the surging
crowd before him--he had heard of surging crowds before, but now he saw
one that really did surge--the message of his Imperial Master. The
proclamation was exceedingly brief, except for the recital of the titles
of the Emperor. The body of the document ran as follows:

“I announce to my faithful, loyal and devoted subjects of the honorable
principality of Ausserland, that hereafter, by my favor and pleasure,
the use of the Third Figure in the Cotillion is graciously granted to
them without further restriction. Done, under my hand and seal, this
first day of July, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and
ninety-two.”

That was all. The people listened attentively and cheered
enthusiastically. Then the Envoy handed the proclamation and his
credentials to the Head Burgess, with a bow and a flourish, and
signified his intention of returning at once by the way he had come. Nor
could any entreaties prevail upon him even to stay to

[Illustration]

the banquet already spread. He told the Burgesses, with many compliments
and assurances of his lofty esteem, that he had another principality to
notify before six o’clock the next morning, and that the business of his
Imperial Master admitted of not so much as a moment’s delay. The truth
of the matter, however, he kept to himself. For one thing, he could not
have gazed upon food without disastrous results. For another, he was
experiencing an emotion which in any other than a military breast would
have been fear. He had but one wish in the world, and that was to get
back to the mainland, the breeze being in his favor going back and
promising a quicker passage. Indeed it was with difficulty that he
repressed a mad desire to ask the Head Burgess whether the island ever
fetched loose and floated further out, or sank to the bottom. However,
he maintained his dignity to the last; and, a half an hour later, as
the people watched the fishing-smack with the Imperial ensign sail forth
upon the dancing sea, bearing the Herr Graf Maximilian von Bummelberg,
of Schloss Bummelfels in the Schwarzwald, they all agreed that, for a
short visit, he made a very satisfactory King’s Envoy.

But they could banquet very well without assistance from Envoys or
anybody, and they sat them down in the great hall of the Rathhaus, and
they fell upon the smoked herring and the fresh herring, and the pickled
herring, and the smoked goose-breast and the potato salad, and all the
rest of the good things, and they drank great tankards of home-made
beer, and great flagons of imported Rhenish wine; and, after that, they
smoked long pipes and chatted contentedly, mainly about the
herring-market.

They had reached this stage in the proceedings before it occurred to any
one in the company to broach the comparatively uninteresting subject of
the Imperial proclamation, and then somebody said in a casual way that
he did not think he had quite caught the sense of it. Soon it appeared
that no one else had. The Head Burgess was puzzled. “I have just copied
it into the Town Archives,” he said; “but, upon my soul, I never thought
of considering the sense of it.” So the document was taken from the
ponderous safe of the Rathhaus and passed around among the goodly
company, each one of whom read it slowly through and smoked solemnly
over it. The Head Burgess was appealed to for the meaning of the word
“cotillion.” He had to confess that he did not exactly know. He
believed, however, that it was a custom-house word, and had reference
to the gauging of proof spirits. Then the Doctor was asked his opinion.
He said, somewhat uneasily, that he thought it was one of the new
chemicals recently derived from coal tar; but, with all due respect to
his Imperial Majesty, he took no stock in such new-fangled nonsense, and
castor-oil would be good enough for his patients while he lived. The
School-Master would know, some one suggested; but the School-Master had
gone home early, being in expectation of an addition to his family. The
Dominie took a hand in the discussion, and calling attention to the word
figure, opined that it belonged to some branch of astronomy hitherto
under the ban of the universities on account of its tendency to unsettle
the minds of young men and promote the growth of infidelity. He lamented
the atheistical tendency of modern times, and shook his head gravely as
he said he hoped that the young Emperor would not be led astray.

[Illustration]

Many suggestions were made; so many, indeed, that, it being plainly
impossible to arrive at a consensus of opinion, the subject was dropped;
and, wrapped in great clouds of tobacco smoke, the conversation made its
way back to the herring fisheries.

But, later in the night, as the Head Burgess and the Doctor strolled
slowly homeward, smoking their pipes in the calm moonlight, the question
came up again, and they were earnestly discussing it in deep, sonorous
tones when they came in front of the house of the School-Master, and saw
by a light in the window of his study that he was still waiting the
pleasure of Mrs. School-Master. They rapped with their pipes on the
door-post, giving the signal that had often called their old friend
forth to late card-parties at the tavern, and in a couple of
minutes--for no one hurries in Ausserland--he appeared at the door in
his old green dressing-gown and with his long-stemmed pipe in his mouth.

Now, the School-Master was not only a man of profound learning, but a
man of rapid mental processes. He had heard from his open window the
discussion as his two friends slowly came down the street; and, in point
of fact, his professional instinct had led him to note the mystic word
when it dropped from the Envoy’s lips. This it was, rather than domestic
expectations, that had kept him awake so late. And in the time that
elapsed between the arrival of his friends and his appearance at the
door, he had prepared himself to meet the situation.

He listened solemnly to the question with the tolerant interest of a man
of science, and he answered it without hesitation, in the imposing tone
of perfect knowledge.

[Illustration]

“A cotillion,” he said, decisively, “is the one-billionth part of a
minus million in quaternions, and is used by surveyors to determine the
logarithm of the cube root. That is, its use has hitherto been forbidden
to the government surveyors on account of the uncertainty of the
formula. That, however, has been finally determined by Prof. Lipsius, of
Munich, and hereafter it may be applied to delicate calculations in
determining the altitude of mountains too lofty for ascent. Gentlemen, I
should like to ask you in to take a night-cap with me, but, under the
circumstances, you understand.... Doctor, I don’t think we shall need
you to-night. Good-evening, friends.”

The Doctor and the Head Burgess ruminated over this new acquisition to
their stock of knowledge as they strolled on down the street. At last
the latter broke the silence and said, in a tone in which conviction
struggled with sleepiness:

“Doctor, I have often thought what a hard life those poor devils on the
mainland must have with their impassable mountains, and their railroads
that kill and mangle you if they get a millionth part of a cube root out
of the way, and the boundary-lines they are everlastingly quarreling
about. Why, here in Ausserland, see how simple it all is! We never have
any trouble about our boundary-lines. Where the land stops the water
begins, and where the land begins the water stops; and that’s all there
is to it!”

[Illustration]

And with these words, as the last puff of his pipe rose heavenward, the
Burgess dismissed the matter from his mind, and the Emperor’s
proclamation legitimizing the Third Figure of the Cotillion vanished
from his memory--and from that of all Ausserland--passing into oblivion
with those that had told of Ausserland’s change of nationality, of the
conscription of her exempt citizens, and of the death of the
great-grandmother of the hereditary Prince.



“SAMANTHA BOOM-DE-AY.”


It was a long, rough, sunlit stretch of stony turnpike that climbed
across the flanks of a mountain range in Maine, and skirted a great
forest for many miles, on its way to an upland farming-country near the
Canada border.

As you ascended this road, on your right hand was a continuous wall of
dull-hued evergreens, straggly pines and cedars, crowded closely and
rising high above a thick underbrush. Behind this lay the vast,
mysterious, silent wilderness. Here and there the emergence of a foamy,
rushing river, or the entrance of a narrow corduroy road or trail,
afforded a glimpse into its depths, and then you saw the slopes of hills
and valleys, clad ever in one smoky, bluish veil of fir and pine.

On the other hand, where you could see through the roadside brush, you
looked down the mountain slope to the plains below, where the brawling
mountain streams quieted down into pleasant water-courses; where broad
patches of meadow land and wheat field spread out from edges of the
woods, and where, far, far off, clusters of farm-houses, and further
yet, towns and villages, sent their smoke up above the hazy horizon.

It was a road of so much variety and sweep of view, as it kept its
course along the boundary of the forest’s dateless antiquity, and yet in
full view of the prosperous outposts of a well-established civilization,
that the most calloused traveler might have been expected to look about
him and take an interest in his surroundings. But the three people who
drove slowly up this hill one August afternoon might have been passing
through a tunnel for all the attention they paid to the shifting scene.

Their vehicle was a farm-wagon; a fine, fresh-painted Concord wagon. The
horses that drew it were large, sleek, and a little too fat. A
comfortable country prosperity appeared in the whole outfit; and,
although the raiment of the three travelers was unfashionably plain,
they all three had an aspect of robust health and physical well-being,
which was much at variance with their dismal countenances--for the
middle-aged man who was driving looked sheepish and embarrassed; the
good-looking, sturdy young fellow by his side was clearly in a state of
frank, undisguised dejection, and the black-garbed woman, who sat behind
in a splint-bottomed chair, had the extra-hard granite expression of the
New England woman who particularly disapproves of something; whether
that something be the destruction of her life’s best hopes or her
neighbor’s method of making pie.

For mile after mile they jogged along in silence. Occasionally the elder
man would make some brief and commonplace remark in a tentative way, as
though to start a conversation. To these feeble attempts the young man
made no response whatever. The woman in black sometimes nodded and
sometimes said “Yes?” with a rising inflection, which is a form of
torture invented and much practiced in the New England States.

[Illustration]

It was late in the afternoon when a noise behind and below them made
them all glance round. The middle-aged man drew his horses to one side;
and, in a cloud of dust, a big, old-fashioned stage of a dull-red color
overtook them and lumbered on its way, the two drivers interchanging
careless nods.

The woman did not alter her rigid attitude, and kept her eyes cast down;
but the passing of the stage awakened a noticeable interest in the two
men on the front seat. The elder gazed with surprise and curiosity at
the freight that the top of the stage-coach bore--three or four
traveling trunks of unusual size, shape and color, clamped with iron and
studded with heavy nails.

“Be them trunks?” he inquired, staring open-mouthed at the sight. “I
never seen trunks like them before.”

[Illustration]

Neither of his companions answered him; but a curious new expression
came into the young man’s face. He sat up straight for the first time;
and, as the wagon drew back into the narrow road, he began to whistle
softly and melodiously.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Samantha Spaulding was left a widow with a little boy, she got, as
one of her neighbors expressed it, “more politeness than pity.” In
truth, in so far as the condition has any luck about it, Samantha was
lucky in her widowhood. She was a young widow, and a well-to-do widow.
Old man Spaulding had been a good provider and a good husband; but he
was much older than his wife, and had not particularly engaged her
affections. Now that he was dead, after some eighteen months of married
life, and had left her one of the two best farms in the county,
everybody supposed that Mis’ Spaulding would marry Reuben Pett, who
owned the other best farm, besides a saw-mill and a stage-route. That
is, everybody thought so, except Samantha and Pett. They calmly kept on
in their individual ways, and showed no inclination to join their two
properties, though these throve and waxed more and more valuable year by
year. They were good friends, however. Reuben Pett was a sagacious
counselor, and a prudent man of affairs; and when Samantha’s boy became
old enough to work, he was apprenticed to Mr. Pett, to the end that he
might some day take charge of the saw-mill business, which his mother
stood ready to buy for him.

[Illustration]

But the youthful Baxter Spaulding had not reached the age of twenty when
he cast down his mother’s hopes in utter ruin by coming home from a
business trip to Augusta and announcing that he was going to marry, and
that the bride of his choice was a young lady of the variety stage who
danced for a living, her specialty being known as “hitch-and-kick.”

Now, this may not seem, to you who read this, quite a complete, perfect
and unimprovable thing in the way of the abomination of desolation; but
then you must remember that you were not born and raised in a far corner
of the Maine hills, and that you probably have so frequently seen
play-actoress-women of all sorts that the mere idea of them has ceased
to give you cold creeps down your back. And to Samantha Spaulding the
whole theatrical system, from the Tragic Muse to the “hitch-and-kick
artiste,” was conceived in sin and born in iniquity; and what her son
proposed to do was to her no whit better than forgery, arson, or any
other ungodliness. To you of a less distinctively Aroostook code of
morals, I may say that the enchainer of young Spaulding’s heart was
quite as good a little girl in her morals and her manners as you need
want to find on the stage or off it; and “hitch-and-kick” dancing was to
her only a matter of business, as serio-comic singing had been to her
mother, as playing Harlequin had been to her father, and as
grinning through a horse-collar had been to her grandfather and
great-grandfather, famous old English clowns in their day, one of whom
had been a partner of Grimaldi. She made her living, it is true, by
traveling around the country singing a song called “Ta-ra-ra
Boom-de-ay,” which required a great deal of high-kicking for its just
and full artistic expression; but then, it should be remembered, it was
the way she had always made her living, and her mother’s living, too,
since the old lady lost her serio-comic voice. And as her mother had
taught her all she knew about dancing, and as she and her mother had
hardly been separated for an hour since she was out of her cradle,
Little Betty Billington looked on her profession, as you well may
imagine, with eyes quite different from those with which Mrs. Samantha
Spaulding regarded it. It was a lop-sided contest that ensued, and that
lasted for months. On one side were Baxter and his Betty and Betty’s
mama--after that good lady got over her natural objections to having
her daughter marry “out of the profession.” On the other side was
Samantha, determined enough to be a match for all three of them. Mr.
Reuben Pett hovered on the outskirts, asking only peace.

At last he was dragged into the fight. Baxter Spaulding went to Bangor,
where his lady’s company happened to be playing, with the avowed
intention of wedding Betty out of hand. When his mother found it out,
she took Reuben Pett and her boy’s apprenticeship-indenture to Bangor
with her, caught the youngster ere the deed was done, and, having the
majesty of the law behind her, she was taking her helpless captive home
on this particular August afternoon. He was on the front seat of the
wagon, Samantha was on the splint-bottomed chair, and Reuben Pett was
driving.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a two-days’ drive from the railroad station at Byram’s Pond
around the spur of the mountain to their home. The bi-weekly stage did
it in a day; but it was unwonted traveling for Mr. Pett’s easy-going
team. Therefore, the three travelers put up at Canada Jake’s camp; so
called, though it was only on the edge of the wilderness, because it was
what Maine people generally mean when they talk of a “camp”--a large
shanty of rough, unpainted planks, with a kitchen and eating-room below,
and rudely partitioned sleeping-rooms in the upper story. It stood by
the roadside, and served the purpose of an inn.

Canada Jake was lounging in the doorway as they came up, squat,
bullet-headed and bead-eyed; a very ordinary specimen of mean French
Canadian. He welcomed them in as if he were conferring a favor upon
them, fed them upon black, fried meat and soggy, boiled potatos, and
later on bestowed them in three wretched enclosures overhead.

He himself staid awake until the sound of two bass and one treble snore
penetrated the thin partition planks; and then he stole softly up the
ladder that served for stairway, and slipped into the moonlit little
room where Baxter Spaulding was lying on a cot-bed six inches too short
for him. Putting his finger upon his lips, he whispered to the wakeful
youth:

“Sh-h-h-h-h-h! You got you’ boots on?”

“No,” said Baxter softly.

“Come wiz me and don’ make no noise!”

And the next thing that Baxter Spaulding knew, he was outside of the
house, behind the wood-pile, holding a slight but charming figure in his
arms, and saying:

“Why, Betty! why, Betty!” in a dazed sort of way, while a fat and
motherly lady near by stood shaking with silent sobs, like a jelly-fish
convulsed with sympathy and affection.

“We ’eaded you off in the stage-coach!” was all she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Mr. Reuben Pett was called out of the land of dreams by
a familiar feminine voice from the next room.

“Reuben Pett!” it said; “_where is Baxter?_”

“Baxter!” yelled Mr. Pett; “your ma wants yer!”

[Illustration]

But Baxter came not. His room was empty. Mr. Pett descended and found
his host out by the wood-pile, splitting kindling. Canada Jake had seen
nothing whatever of the young man. He opined that the youth most ’ave
got up airlee, go feeshin’.

Reuben Pett went back and reported to Samantha Spaulding through the
door. Samantha’s voice came back to him as a voice from the bottom
sub-cellar of abysmal gloom.

“Reuben,” she said; “them women have been here!”

“Why, Samantha!” he said; “it ain’t possible!”

“I heard them last night,” returned Samantha, in tones of conviction. “I
know, now. I did. I thought then I was dreamin’.”

“Most likely you was, too!” said Mr. Pett, encouragingly.

“Well, I wa’n’t!” rejoined Mrs. Spaulding, with a suddenness and an
acerbity that made her listener jump. “_They’ve stole my clothes!_”

“Whatever do you mean, Samantha?” roared Reuben Pett.

“I mean,” said Mrs. Spaulding, in a tone that left no doubt whatever
that what she did mean she meant very hard; “I mean that that hussy has
been here in the night, and has took every stitch and string of my
clothing, and ain’t left me so much as a button-hole,
except--except--except--”

“Except what?” demanded Reuben, in stark amazement.

“Except that there idolatrous flounced frock the shameless critter doos
her stage-dancing in!”

Mr. Pett might, perhaps, have offered appropriate condolences on this
bereavement had not a thought struck him which made him scramble down
the ladder again and hasten to the woodshed, where he had put up his
team the night before. The team was gone--the fat horses and fresh
painted wagon, and the tracks led back down the road up which they had
ridden the day before.

Once more Mr. Pett climbed the ladder; but when he announced his loss he
was met, to his astonishment, with severity instead of with sympathy.

“I don’t care, Reuben Pett,” Samantha spoke through the door; “if you’ve
lost ten horses and nineteen wagons. You got to hitch some kind of a
critter to _suthin’_, for we’re goin’ to ketch them people to-day or my
name’s not Samantha Spaulding.”

“But Law Sakes Alive, Samantha!” expostulated Mr. Pett; “you ain’t goin’
to wear no circus clothes, be ye?”

“You go hunt a team, Mr. Pett,” returned his companion, tartly; “I know
my own business.”

[Illustration]

Mr. Pett remonstrated. He pointed out that there was neither horse nor
vehicle to be had in the neighborhood, and that pursuit was practically
hopeless in view of the start which the runaways had. But Mrs. Spaulding
was obdurate with an obduracy that made the heart of Reuben Pett creep
into his boots. After ten minutes of vain combating, he saw, beyond a
doubt, that the chase would have to continue even if it were to be
carried on astraddle a pair of confiscated cows. Having learned that
much, he went drearily down again to discuss the situation with Canada
Pete. Canada Pete was indisposed to be of the slightest assistance,
until Mr. Pett reminded him of the danger of the law in which he stands
who aids a runaway apprentice in his flight. After that, the sulky
Canadian awoke to a new and anxious interest; and, before long, he
remembered that a lumberer who lived “a piece” up the road had a bit of
meadow-land reclaimed from the forest, and sometimes kept an old horse
in it. It was a horse, however, that had always positively refused to go
under saddle, so that a new complication barred the way, until suddenly
the swarthy face of the _habitant_ lit up with a joyful, white-toothed
grin.

“My old calèche zat I bring from Canada! I let you have her, hey? You
come wiz me!”

And Canada Pete led the way through the underbrush to a bit of a
clearing near his house, where were accumulated many years’ deposits of
household rubbish; and here, in a desert of tin-cans and broken bottles
and crockery, stood the oldest of all old calashes.

There are calashes and calashes, but the calash or calèche of Canada is
practically of one type. It is a high-hung, tilting chaise, with a
commodious back seat and a capacious hood, and with an absurd, narrow,
cushioned bar in front for the driver to sit on. It is a
startling-looking vehicle in its mildest form, and when you gaze upon a
calash for the first time you will probably wonder whether, if a stray
boy should catch on behind, the shafts would not fly up into the air,
bearing the horse between them. Canada Pete’s calash had evidently stood
long a monument of decay, yet being of sturdy and simple construction,
it showed distinct signs of life when Pete seized its curved shafts and
ran it backward and forward to prove that the wheels could still revolve
and the great hood still nod and sway like a real calash in commission.
It was ragged, it was rusty, it was water-soaked and weather-beaten,
blistered and stained; but it hung together, and bobbed along behind
Canada Pete, lurching and rickety, but still a vehicle, and entitled to
rank as such.

[Illustration]

The calash was taken into Pete’s back-yard; and then, after a brief and
energetic campaign, Pete secured the horse, which was a very good match
for the calash. He was an old horse, and he had the spring-halt. He held
his long ewe-neck to one side, being blind in one eye; and this gave him
the coquettish appearance of a mincing old maid. A little polka step,
which he affected with his fore-feet, served to carry out this idea.

Also, he had been feeding on grass for a whole Summer, and his spirits
were those of the young lambkin that gambols in the mead. He was happy,
and he wanted to make others happy, although he did not seem always to
know the right way to go about it. When Mr. Pett and Canada Pete had
got this animal harnessed up with odds and ends of rope and leather,
they sat down and wiped their brows. Then Mr. Pett started off to notify
Mrs. Samantha Spaulding.

Mr. Pett was a man unused to feminine society, except such as he had
grown up with from early childhood, and he was of a naturally modest,
even bashful disposition. It is not surprising, therefore, that he was
startled when, on re-entering the living-room of Canada Pete’s camp, he
found himself face to face with a strange lady, and a lady, at that, of
a strangeness that he had never conceived of before. She wore upon her
head a preposterously tall bonnet, or at least a towering structure that
seemed to be intended to serve the purpose of a bonnet. It reminded
him--except for its shininess and newness--of the hood of the calash;
indeed, it may have suggested itself vaguely to his memory that his
grandmother had worn a piece of head-gear something similar, though not
so shapely, which in very truth was nicknamed a “calash” from this
obvious resemblance. The lady’s shapely and generously feminine figure
was closely drawn into a waist of shining black satin, cut down in a V
on the neck, before and behind, and ornamented with very large sleeves
of a strange pattern. But her skirts--for they were voluminous beyond
numeration--were the wonder of her attire. Within fold after fold they
swathed a foamy mystery of innumerable gauzy white underpinnings. As Mr.
Pett’s abashed eye traveled down this marvel of costume it landed upon a
pair of black stockings, the feet of which appeared to be balanced
somewhat uncertainly in black satin slippers with queer high heels.

“Reuben Pett,” said the lady suddenly and with decision, “don’t you say
nothing! If you knew how them shoes was pinching me, you’d know what I
was goin’ through.”

Mr. Pett had to lean up against the door-post before recovering himself.

“Why, Samantha!” he said at last; “seems to me like you _had_ gone
through more or less.”

Here Mrs. Spaulding reached out in an irritation that carried her beyond
all speech, and boxed Mr. Pett’s ears. Then she drew back, startled at
her own act, but even more surprised at Mr. Pett’s reception of it. He
was neither surprised nor disconcerted. He leaned back against the
door-post and gazed on unperturbed.

“My!” he said; “Samantha, be them that play-actresses’ clo’es?”

Mrs. Spaulding nodded grimly.

“Well, all I’ve got to say, Samantha,” remarked Reuben Pett, as he
straightened himself up and started out to bring their chariot to the
door; “all I’ve got to say, and all I want to say, is that she must be a
mighty fine figure of a woman, and that you’re busting her seams.”

Down the old dusty road the old calash jiggled and juggled, “weaving”
most of the way in easy tacks down the sharp declivities. On the front
seat--or, rather, on the upholstered bar--sat Reuben Pett, squirming
uncomfortably, and every now and then trying to sit side-saddle fashion
for the sake of easier converse with his fair passenger. Mrs. Spaulding
occupied the back seat, lifted high above her driver by the tilt

[Illustration]

of the curious vehicle, which also served to make the white foundation
of her costume particularly visible, so that there were certain jolting
moments when she suggested a black-robed Venus rising from a snowy
foam-crest. At such moments Mr. Pett lost control of his horse to such
an extent that the animal actually danced and fairly turned his long
neck around as though it were set on a pivot. When such a crisis was
reached, Mrs. Spaulding would utter a shrill and startling “hi!” which
would cause the horse to stop suddenly, hurling Mr. Pett forward with
such force that he would have to grab his narrow perch to save his neck,
and for the next hundred yards or so of descent his attention would be
wholly concentrated upon his duties as driver--for the horse insisted
upon waltzing at the slightest shock to his nerves.

Mr. Pett’s tendency to turn around and stare should not be laid up
against him. For twenty years he had seen his neighbor, Mrs. Samantha
Spaulding, once, at least; perhaps twice or thrice; mayhap even six or
seven times a week; and yet, on this occasion, he had fair excuse for
looking over his shoulder now and then to assure himself that the fair
passenger at whose feet he--literally--sat, was indeed that very
Samantha of his twenty years’ knowledge. How was he, who was only a man,
and no ladies’ man at that, to understand that the local dressmaker and
the local habit of wearing wrinkly black alpaca and bombazine were to
blame for his never having known that his next door neighbor had a
superb bust and a gracious waist? How was he to know that the blindness
of his own eyes was alone accountable for his ignorance of the whiteness
of her teeth, and the shapeliness of the arms that peeped from the big,
old-fashioned sleeves? Samantha’s especial care upon her farm was her
well-appointed dairy, and it is well known that to some women work in
the spring-house imparts a delicate creaminess of complexion; but he was
no close observer, and how was he to know that that was the reason why
the little V in the front of Samantha’s black satin bodice melted so
softly into the fresh bright tint of her neck and chin? How, indeed,
was a man who had no better opportunities than Reuben Pett had enjoyed,
to understand that the pretty skirt-dancer dress, a dainty, fanciful
travesty of an old-time fashion, had only revealed and not created an
attractive and charming woman in his life-long friend and neighbor?

[Illustration]

Samantha was not thinking in the least of herself. She had accepted her
costume as something which she had no choice but to assume in the
exercise of an imperative duty. She wore it for conscience sake only,
just as any other New England martyr to her New England convictions of
right might have worn a mealsack or a suit of armor had circumstances
imposed such a necessity.

But when Reuben Pett had looked around three or four times, she grasped
her skirts in both hands and pushed them angrily down to their utmost
length. Then, with a true woman’s dislike of outraging pretty dress
material, she made a furtive experiment or two to see if her skirts
would not answer all the purposes of modesty without hanging wrong.
Perhaps she had a natural talent that way; at any rate, she found that
they would.

“Samantha,” said Reuben Pett, over his shoulder, “what under the sun
sense be there in chasin’ them two young fools up? If they want to
marry, why not let ’em marry? It’s natural for ’em to want to, and it’s
agin nature to stop ’em. May be it wouldn’t be sech a bad marriage,
after all. Now you look at it in the light of conscience--”

“_You_’re a nice hand to be advocating marriage, Reuben Pett,” said
Mrs. Spaulding; “you jest hurry up that horse and I’ll look out for the
light of conscience.”

Mr. Pett chirruped to the capering ewe-neck, and they jolted downward in
silence for a half a mile. Then he said suddenly, as if emerging from a
cloud of reflection:

“I ain’t never said nothing agin marriage!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Noon-time came, and the hot August sun poured down upon them, until the
old calash felt, as Mr. Pett remarked, like a chariot of fire. This
observation was evolved in a humorous way to slacken the tension of a
situation which was becoming distinctly unpleasant. Moved by a spirit of
genial and broadly human benevolence which was somewhat unnatural to
him, Mr. Pett had insisted upon pleading the cause of the youthful
runaways with an insistence that was at once indiscreet and futile. In
the end his companion had ordered him to hold his tongue, an injunction
he was quite incapable of obeying. After a series of failures in the way
of conversational starters, he finally scored a success by suggesting
that they should pause and partake of the meagre refection which Canada
Pete had furnished them--a modest repast of doughnuts, apples and
store-pie. This they ate at the first creek where they found a
convenient place to water the horse.

When they resumed their journey, they found that they were all refreshed
and in brighter mood. Even the horse was intoxicated by the water and
that form of verdure which may pass for grass on the margin of a
mountain highway in Maine.

This change of feeling was also perceptible in the manner and bearing of
the human beings who made up the cavalcade. Samantha adjusted her
furbelows with unconscious deftness and daintiness, while she gazed
before her into the bright blue heaven; and, I am sorry to say, sucked
her teeth. Reuben frankly flung one leg over the end of his seat, and
conversed easily as he drove along, poised like a boy who rides a
bare-back horse to water. After awhile he even felt emboldened to resume
the forbidden theme of conversation.

“Nature is nature, Samantha,” he said.

“’Tis in some folks,” responded Samantha, dryly; “there’s others seems
to be able to git along without it.” And Reuben turned this speech over
in his mind for a good ten minutes.

Then, just as he was evidently about to say something, he glanced up and
saw a sight which changed the current of his reflections. It was only a
cloud in the heavens, but it evidently awakened a new idea in his mind.

“Samantha,” he said, in a tone of voice that seemed inappropriately
cheerful; “they’s goin’ to be a thunder storm.”

[Illustration]

“Fiddlesticks!” said Mrs. Spaulding.

“Certain,” asseverated Mr. Pett; “there she is a-comin up, right agin
the wind.”

A thunder storm on the edge of a Maine forest is not wholly a joke. It
sometimes has a way of playing with the forest trees much as a table
d’hôte diner plays with the wooden tooth-picks. Samantha’s protests,
when Mr. Pett stated that he was going to get under the cover of an
abandoned saw-mill which stood by the roadside a little way ahead of
them, were more a matter of form than anything else. But still, when
they reached the rough shed of unpainted and weather-beaten boards, and
Mr. Pett, in turning in gave the vehicle a sudden twist that broke the
shaft, her anger at the delay thus rendered necessary was beyond her
control.

“I declare to goodness, Reuben Pett,” she cried; “if you ain’t the
awkwardest! Anybody’d a’most think you’d done that a purpose.”

“Oh, no, Samantha!” said Reuben Pett, pleasantly; “it ain’t right to
talk like that. This here machine’s dreadful old. Why, Samantha, we’d
ought to sympathize with it--you and me!”

“Speak for yourself, Mr. Pett,” said Samantha. “I ain’t so dreadful old,
whatever you may be.”

At the moment Mr. Pett made no rejoinder to this. He unshipped the merry
horse, and tied him to a post under the old saw-mill, and then he pulled
the calash up the runway into the first story, and patiently set about
the difficult task of mending the broken shaft, while Samantha, looking
out through the broad, open doorway, watched the fierce Summer storm
descend upon the land; and she tapped her impatient foot until it almost
burst its too narrow satin covering.

“No, Samantha,” Mr. Pett said, at last, intently at work upon his
splicing; “you ain’t so dreadful old, for a fact; but I’ve knowed you
when you was a dreadful sight younger. I’ve knowed you,” he continued,
reflectively, “when you was the spryest girl in ten miles round--when
you could dance as lively as that young lady whose clo’es you’re
a-wearin’.”

“Don’t you dare to talk to me about that jade!” said Mrs. Spaulding,
snappishly.

“Why, no! certainly not!” said Mr. Pett; “I didn’t mean no comparison.
Only, as I was a-sayin’, there was a time, Samantha, when you could
dance.”

[Illustration]

“And who says I can’t dance now?” demanded Mrs. Spaulding, with anger in
her voice.

“My! I remember wunst,” said Mr. Pett; and then the sense of Samantha’s
angry question seemed to penetrate his wandering mind.

“‘Dance now?’” he repeated. “Sho! Samantha, you couldn’t dance nowadays
if you was to try.”

“Who says I couldn’t?” asked Samantha, again, with a set look developing
around the corners of her mouth.

“_I_ say you couldn’t,” replied Mr. Pett, obtusely. “’Tain’t in nature.
But there was a time, Samantha, when you was great on fancy steps.”

“Think I’m too old for fancy steps now, do you?” She looked at her
tormentor savagely, out of the corners of her eyes.

“Well, not too old, may be, Samantha,” went on Mr. Pett; “but may be you
ain’t that limber you was. I know how it is. I ain’t smart as I used to
be, myself. Why, do you remember that night down at the Corners, when we
two was the only ones that could jump over Squire Tate’s high andirons
and cut a pigeon-wing before we come down?”

Mr. Pett appeared to be entirely unconscious that Mrs. Spaulding’s bosom
was heaving, that her eyes were snapping angrily, and that her foot was
beating on the floor in that tattoo with which a woman announces that
she is near an end of her patience.

“How high was them andirons?” she asked, breathlessly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” answered Reuben, indifferently. He kept his eyes
fixed on his work; but while he worked his splice closer with his right
hand, with his left he took off his hat and held it out rather more than
two feet above the floor.

“’Bout as high as that, may be,” he said. “Remember the tune we done
that to? Went some sort of way like this, didn’t it?” And with that
remarkable force of talent which is only developed in country solitudes,
Mr. Pett began to whistle an old-time air, a jiggetty, wiggetty
whirl-around strain born of some dead darkey’s sea-sawing fiddle-bow,
with a volume of sustained sound that would have put to shame anything
the saw-mill could have done for itself in its buzzingest days.

“Whee-ee-ee, ee-ee, ee ee ee, whee, ee, ee, ee _ee_!” whistled Mr. Pett;
and then, softly, and as if only the dim stirring of memory moved him,
he began to call the old figures of the old dance.

“Forward all!” he crooned. “Turn partners! Sashay! Alleman’ all!
Whee-ee-ee, ee-ee, ee ee, ee ee ee, whee, ee, ee, ee, ee, ee _ee_!”

And suddenly, like the tiger leaping from her lair, the soft pattering
and shuffling of feet behind him resolved itself into a quick, furious
rhythmic beat, and Samantha Spaulding shot high into the air, holding up
her skirts with both hands, while her neat ankles crossed each other in
a marvelous complication of agility a good twelve inches above his
outstretched hat.

“There!” she cried, as she landed with a flourish that combined skill
and grace; “there’s what I done with you, and much I think of it! If you
want to see dancin’ that is dancin’ look here. Here’s what I did with
Ben Griggs at the shuckin’ that same year; and you wa’n’t there, and
good reason why!”

And then and there, while Reuben Pett’s great rasping whistle rang
through the old saw-mill, shrilling above the roar of the storm
outside, Mrs. Samantha Spaulding executed with lightning rapidity and
with the precision of perfect and confident knowledge, a dancing-step
which for scientific complexity and daring originality had been twenty
years before the surprise, the delight, the tingling, shocking, tempting
nine-days’-wonder of the country-side.

[Illustration]

“Whee-ee-ee, ee-ee, ee ee, ee ee ee, whee, ee, ee ee, ee _ee_!” Reuben
Pett’s whistle died away from sheer lack of breath as Samantha came to
the end of her dance.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is nothing that hath a more heavy and leaden cold than a chilled
enthusiasm. When the storm was over, although a laughing light

[Illustration]

played over the landscape; although diamond sparkles lit up the grateful
white mist that rose from the refreshed earth; although the sun shone as
though he had been expecting that thunder storm all day, and was
inexpressibly glad that it was over and done with, Samantha leaned back
in her seat in the calash, and nursed a cheerless bitterness of
spirit--such a bitterness as is known only to the New England woman to
whom has come a realization of the fact that she has made a fool of
herself. Samantha Spaulding. Made a fool of herself. At her age. After
twenty years of respectable widowhood. Her, of all folks. And with that
old fool. Who’d be’n a-settin’ and a-settin’ and a-settin’ all these
years. And never said Boo! And now for him to twist her round his finger
like that. She felt like--well, she didn’t know how she _did_ feel.

She was so long wrapped up in her own thoughts that it was with a start
that she awoke to the fact that they were making very slow progress, and
that this was due to the very peculiar conduct of Mr. Pett. He was
making little or no effort to urge the horse along, and the horse,
consequently, having got tired of wasting his bright spirits on the
empty air, was maundering. So was Mr. Pett, in another way. He mumbled
to himself; from time to time he whistled scraps of old-fashioned tunes,
and occasionally he sang to himself a brief catch--the catch coming in
about the third or fourth bar.

“Look here, Reuben Pett!” demanded Samantha, shrilly; “be you going to
get to Byram’s Pond to-night?”

“I _kin_,” replied Reuben.

“Well, _be_ you?” Samantha Spaulding inquired.

“I d’no. Fact is, I wa’n’t figurin’ on that just now.”

“Well, what _was_ you figurin’ on?” snapped Mrs. Spaulding.

“When you’s goin’ to marry me,” Mr. Pett answered with perfect
composure. “Look here, Samantha! it’s this way: here’s twenty years
you’ve kept me waitin’.”

“_Me_ kept you waitin’! Well, Reuben Pett, if I ever!”

“Don’t arguefy, Samantha; don’t arguefy,” remonstrated Mr. Pett; “I
ain’t rakin up no details. What we’ve got to deal with is this question
as it stands to-day. Be you a-goin’ to marry me or be you not? And if
you be, when be you?”

“Reuben Pett,” exclaimed Samantha, with a showing of severity which was
very creditable under the circumstances; “ain’t you _ashamed_ of talk
like that between folks of our age?”

“_We_ ain’t no age--no age in particular, Samantha,” said Mr. Pett. “A
woman who can cut a pigeon-wing over a hat held up higher than any two
pair of andirons that I ever see is young enough for me, anyway.” And he
chuckled over his successful duplicity.

Samantha blushed a red that was none the less becoming for a tinge of
russet. Then she took a leaf out of Mr. Pett’s book.

“Young enough for you?” she repeated. “Well, I guess so! I wa’n’t
thinkin’ of myself when I said old, Mr. Pett. I was thinkin’ of folks
who was gettin’ most too old to drive down hill in a hurry.”

“Who’s that?” asked Reuben.

“I ain’t namin’ any names,” said Samantha; “but I’ve knowed the time
when you wasn’t so awful afraid of gettin’ a spill off the front seat of
a calash. Lord! how time does take the tuck out of some folks!” she
concluded, addressing vacancy.

“Do you mean to say that I da’sn’t drive you down to Byram’s Pond
to-night?” Mr. Pett inquired defiantly.

“I don’t know anything about it,” said Mrs. Spaulding.

Mr. Pett stuck a crooked forefinger into his lady-love’s face, and
gazed at her with such an intensity that she was obliged at last to
return his penetrating gaze.

“If I get you to Byram’s Pond before the train goes, will you marry me
the first meetin’ house we come to?”

[Illustration]

“I will,” said Mrs. Spaulding, after a moment’s hesitation, well
remembering what the other party to the bargain had forgotten, that
there was no church in Byram Pond, nor nearer than forty miles down the
railroad.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the warm dusk of a Summer’s evening, a limping, shackle-gaited,
bewildered horse, dragging a calash in the last stages of ruin, brought
two travelers into the village of Byram’s Pond. Far up on the hills
there lingered yet the clouds of dust that marked where that calash had
come down those hills at a pace whereat no calash ever came down hill
before. Dust covered the two travelers so thickly, that, although the
woman’s costume was of peculiar and striking construction, its
eccentricities were lost in a dull and uniform grayness. Her bonnet,
however, would have excited comment. It had apparently been of
remarkable height; but pounding against the hood of the calash had so
knocked it out of all semblance to its original shape, that with its
great wire hoops sticking out “four ways for Sunday,” it looked more
like a discarded crinoline perched upon her head than any known form of
feminine bonnet.

[Illustration]

The calash slowed up as it drew near the town. Suddenly it stopped
short, and both the travelers gazed with startled interest at a
capacious white tent reared by the roadside. From within this tent came
the strains of a straining melodeon. Over the portal was stretched a
canvas sign:

                    GOSPEL TENT OF REV. J. HANKEY.

As the travelers stared with all their eyes, they saw the flap of the
tent thrown back, and four figures came out. There were two ladies, a
stout, middle-aged lady, a shapely, buxom young lady, a tall,
broad-shouldered young man, and the fourth figure was unmistakably a
Minister of one of the Congregational denominations. The young man and
the two ladies walked down the road a little way, and, entering a
solid-looking farm wagon, drove off behind a pair of plump horses, in
the direction of the railroad station, while the minister waved them a
farewell that was also a benediction.

“Git down, Samantha!” said Reuben Pett, “and straighten out that bonnet
of yours. Parson’s got another job before prayer-meetin’ begins.”



MY DEAR MRS. BILLINGTON.


Miss Carmelita Billington sat in a bent-wood rocking-chair in an upper
room of a great hotel by the sea, and cried for a little space, and then
for a little space dabbed at her hot cheeks and red eyes with a
handkerchief wet with cologne; and dabbed and cried, and dabbed and
cried, without seeming to get any “forwarder.” The sun and the fresh
breeze and the smell of the sea came in through her open windows, but
she heeded them not. She mopped herself with cologne till she felt as if
she could never again bear to have that honest scent near her dainty
nose; but between the mops the tears trickled and trickled and trickled;
and she was dreadfully afraid that inwardly, into the surprising great
big cavity that had suddenly found room for itself in her poor little
heart, the tears would trickle, trickle, trickle forever. It was no use
telling herself she had done right. When you have done right and wish
you hadn’t had to you can’t help having a profound contempt for the
right. The right is respectable, of course, and proper and commendable
and--in short, it’s the right;--but, oh! what a nuisance it is! You
can’t help wondering in your private mind why the right is so
disagreeable and unpleasant and unsatisfactory, and the wrong so
extremely nice. Of course, it was right to refuse Jack Hatterly; but
why, why on earth couldn’t it just as easily have been right to accept
him? And the more she thought about it the more she doubted whether it
was always quite right to do right, and whether it was not sometimes
entirely wrong not to do wrong.

[Illustration]

No; it was no use telling herself to be a brave girl. She was a brave
girl and she knew it. In the face of the heartless world she could bear
herself as jauntily as if she were heartless, too; but in the privacy of
her own room, with Mama fast asleep on the verandah below, she could not
see the slightest use in humbugging herself. She was perfectly
miserable, and the rest of her reflections might have been summed up in
the simple phrase of early girlhood, “So there!”

It was no consolation to poor Carmelita’s feelings that her little
private tragedy was of a most business-like, commonplace, unromantic
complexion. It only made her more disgusted with herself for having made
up her mind to do the right thing. She was not torn from her chosen love
by the hands of cruel parents. Her parents had never denied her anything
in her life, and if she had really wanted to wed a bankrupt bashaw with
three tails and an elephant’s head, she could have had her will. Nor did
picturesque poverty have anything to do with the situation. She was rich
and so was Jack. Nor could she rail against a parental code of morality
too stern for tender hearts. There was not the least atom of objection
to Jack in any respect. He was absolutely as nice as could be--and,
unless I am greatly misinformed, a good-looking young man, deeply in
love, can be very nice indeed.

And yet there was no doubt in Carmelita’s mind that it was her plain
duty to refuse Jack. To marry him would mean to utterly give up and
throw aside a plan of life, which, from her earliest childhood, she had
never imagined to be capable of the smallest essential alteration. If a
man who had devoted his whole mind and soul to the business of
manufacturing overshoes were suddenly invited to become a salaried poet
on a popular magazine, he could not regard the proposed change of
profession as more preposterously impossible than the idea of marriage
with Jack Hatterly seemed to Miss Carmelita Billington.

For Miss Billington occupied a peculiar position. She was the Diana of a
small but highly prosperous city in the South-West; a city which her
father had built up in years of enterprising toil. To mention the town
of Los Brazos to any capitalist in the land was to call up the name of
Billington, the brilliant speculator who, ruined on the Boston
stock-market, went to Texas and absolutely created a town which for
wealth, beauty and social distinction had not its equal in the great
South-West. It was colonized with college graduates from New York,
Boston and Philadelphia; and, in Los Brazos, boys who had left
cane-rushes and campus choruses scarce ten years behind them had
fortunes in the hundred thousands, and stood high in public places. As
the daughter of the founder of Los Brazos, Miss Billington’s fortunes
were allied, she could not but feel, to the place of her birth. There
must she marry, there must she continue the social leadership which her
mother was only too ready to lay down. The Mayor of the town, the
District Attorney, the Supreme Court Judge and the Bishop were all among
her many suitors; and six months before she had wished, being a
natural-born sport, if she _was_ a girl, that they would only get
together and shake dice to see which of them should have her. But then
she hadn’t come East and met Jack Hatterly.

She thought of the first day she had seen the Atlantic Ocean and Jack,
and she wished now that she had never been seized with the fancy to gaze
on the great water. And yet, what a glorious day that was! How grand

[Illustration]

she had thought the ocean! And how grand she had thought Jack! And now
she had given him up forever, that model of manly beauty and audacity;
Jack with his jokes and his deviltries and his exhaustless capacity for
ever new and original larks. Was it absolutely needful? Her poor little
soul had to answer itself that it was. To leave Los Brazos and the great
house with the cool quiet court-yard and the broad verandahs, and to
live in crowded, noisy New York, where she knew not a soul except
Jack--to be separated from those two good fairies who lived only to
gratify her slightest wish--to “go back” on Los Brazos, the pride of the
Billingtons--no; it was impossible, impossible! She must stick to her
post and make her choice between the Mayor and the Judge and the
District Attorney and the Bishop. But how dull and serious and
business-like they all seemed to her now that she had known Jack
Hatterly, the first man she had ever met with a well-developed sense of
humor!

What made it hardest for poor Carmelita was, perhaps, that fate had
played her cruel pranks ever since the terrible moment of her act of
renunciation. Thirty-six hours before, at the end of the dance in the
great hotel parlors, Jack had proposed to her. For many days she had
known what was coming, and what her answer must be, and she had given
him no chance to see her alone. But Jack was Jack, and he had made his
opportunity for himself, and had said his say under cover of the
confusion at the end of the dance; and she had promised to give him his
answer later, and she had given it, after a sleepless and tearful night;
just a line to say that it could never, never be, and that he must not
ask her again. And it had been done in such a commonplace, unromantic
way that she hated to think of it--the meagre, insufficient little note
handed to her maid to drop in the common letter-box of the hotel, and to
lie there among bills and circulars and all sorts of silly every-day
correspondence, until the hotel-clerk should take it out and put it in
Jack’s box. She had passed through the office a little later, and her
heart had sunk within her as she saw his morning’s mail waiting for him
in its pigeon-hole, and thought what the opening of it would bring to
him.

But this was the least of her woe. Later came the fishing trip on the
crowded cat-boat. She had fondly hoped that he would have the delicacy
to excuse himself from that party of pleasure; but no, he was there, and
doing just as she had asked him to, treating her as if nothing had
happened, which was certainly the

[Illustration]

most exasperating thing he could have done. And then, to crown it all,
they had been caught in a storm; and had not only been put in serious
danger, which Carmelita did not mind at all, but had been tossed about
until they were sore, and drenched with water, and driven into the
stuffy little hole that was called a cabin, to choke and swelter and
bump about in nauseated misery for two mortal hours, with the spray
driving in through the gaping hatches; a dozen of them in all, packed
together in there in the ill-smelling darkness. And so it was no wonder
that, after a second night of utter misery, Miss Carmelita Billington
felt so low in her nerves that she was quite unable to withhold her
tears as she sat alone and thought of what lay behind her and before
her.

She had been sitting alone a long time when she heard her mother come up
the stairs and enter her own room. Mrs. Billington was as stout as she
was good-natured, and her step was not that of a light-weight. An
irresistible desire came, to the girl to go to her and pour out her
grief, with her head pillowed on that broad and kindly bosom. She
started up and hurried into the little parlor that separated her room
from her mother’s. As she entered the room at one door, Mr. Jack
Hatterly entered through the door opening into the corridor. Then
Carmelita lost her breath in wonderment, anger and dismay, for Mr. Jack
Hatterly put his arm around her waist, kissed her in a somewhat casual
manner, and then the door of her mother’s room opened and her mother
appeared; and instead of rebuking such extraordinary conduct, assisted
Mr. Hatterly in gently thrusting her into the chamber of the elder lady
with the kind of caressing but steering push with which a child is
dismissed when grown-ups wish to talk privately.

“Stay in there, my dear, for the present; Mr. Hatterly and I have
something to say to each other. I will call you later.”

And before Carmelita fairly knew what had happened to her she found
herself on the other side of the door, wondering exactly where insanity
had broken out in the Billington family.

It took the astonished Miss Billington a couple of seconds to pull
herself together, and then she seized the handle of the door with the
full intention of walking indignantly into the parlor and demanding an
explanation. But she had hardly got the door open by the merest crack
when the discourse of Mr. John Hatterly paralyzed her as thoroughly as
had his previous actions.

“My dear Mrs. Billington,” he was saying, in what Carmelita always
called his “florid” voice, “I thoroughly understand your position, and I
know the nature of the ties that bind Carmelita to her father’s home.
Had I known of them earlier, I might have avoided an association that
could only have one ending for me. But it is not for myself that I speak
now. Perhaps I have been unwise, and even wrong; but what is done is
done, and I know now that she loves me as she could love no other man.”

[Illustration]

“Good gracious!” said Carmelita to herself, behind the door; “how does
he know that?”

“Is it not possible, Mr. Hatterly, that there is some
misunderstanding?” asked Mrs. Billington.

“My dear Mrs. Billington,” said Jack, impressively; “there is no
possible misunderstanding. She told me so herself.”

Carmelita opened her eyes and her mouth, and stood as one petrified.

“Well, if I ever--!” was all that she whispered to herself, in the
obscurity of her mother’s room. She had addressed just seven words to
Jack Hatterly on the fishing trip, and five of these were “Apple pie, if
you please;” and the other two, uttered later, were “Not very.”

“But, Mr. Hatterly,” persisted Mrs. Billington, “when did you receive
this assurance of my daughter’s feelings? You tell me that you spoke to
her on this subject only the night before last, and I am sure she has
hardly been out of my sight since.”

“Yesterday,” said Jack, in his calmest and most assured tone; “on the
boat, coming home, during the squall.”

MISS BILLINGTON (_behind the door, aside_).--“The shameless wretch! Why,
he doesn’t seem even to _know_ that he’s lying!”

“But, Mr. Hatterly,” exclaimed Mrs. Billington; “during the squall we
were all in the cabin, and you were outside, steering!”

“Certainly,” said Jack.

“Then--excuse me, Mr. Hatterly--but how could my daughter have conveyed
any such intelligence to you?”

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before_).--“What _is_ the man going to say now? He
must be perfectly crazy!”

Mr. Hatterly was calm and imperturbed.

“My dear Mrs. Billington,” he responded, “you may or may not have
observed a small heart-shaped aperture in each door or hatch of the
cabin, exactly opposite the steersman’s seat. It was through one of
these apertures that your daughter communicated with me. Very
appropriate shape, I must say, although their purpose is simply that of
ventilation.”

“It was very little ventilation we had in that awful place, Mr.
Hatterly!” interjected Mrs. Billington, remembering those hours of
horror.

[Illustration]

“Very little, indeed, my dear Mrs. Billington,” replied Mr. Hatterly, in
an apologetic tone; “and I am afraid your daughter and I, between us,
were responsible for some of your discomfort. She had her hand through
the port ventilator about half the time.”

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before_).--“I wonder the man isn’t struck dead,
sitting there! Of all the wicked, heartless falsehoods I ever heard--!”

“And may I ask, Mr. Hatterly,” inquired Mrs. Billington, “what my
daughter’s hand was doing through the ventilator?”

“Pressing mine, God bless her!” responded Mr. Hatterly, unabashed.

MISS BILLINGTON, (_as before, but conscious of a sudden, hideous
chill_).--“Good heavens! the man can’t be lying; he’s simply mistaken.”

“I see, my dear Mrs. Billington,” said Mr. Hatterly, “that I shall have
to be perfectly frank with you. Such passages are not often repeated,
especially to a parent; but under the circumstances I think you will
admit that I have no other guarantee of my good faith to give you. I
have no doubt that if you were to ask your daughter at this minute about
her feelings, she would think she ought to sacrifice her affection to
the duty that she thinks is laid out for her in a distant life. Did I
feel that she could ever have any happiness in following that path,
believe me, I should be the last to try to win her from it, no matter
what might be my own loneliness and misery. But after what she confided
to me in that awful hour of peril, where, in the presence of imminent
death, it was impossible for her to conceal or repress the deepest
feelings of her heart, I should be doing an injustice to her as well as
to myself, and even to you, my dear Mrs. Billington--for I know how
sincerely you wish her happiness--if I were to let any false delicacy
keep me from telling you what she said to me.” Jack Hatterly could talk
when he got going.

MISS BILLINGTON, (_as before, but hot, not cold_).--“Now, I am going to
know which one of those girls was talking to him, if I have to stay here
all day.”

It was with a quavering voice that Mrs. Billington said:

“Under the circumstances, Mr. Hatterly, I think you might tell me all
she said--all--all--”

Here Mrs. Billington drew herself up and spoke with a certain dignity.
“I should explain to you, Mr. Hatterly, that during the return trip I
was not feeling entirely well, myself, and I probably was not as
observant as I should have been under other circumstances.”

MISS BILLINGTON, (_as before, reflectively_).--“Poor Ma! She was so sick
that she went to sleep with her head on my feet. I believe it was that
Peterson girl who was nearest the port ventilator.”

Mr. Hatterly’s tone was effusively grateful. “I knew that I could rely
upon your clear sense, my dear Mrs. Billington,” he said, “as well as
upon your kindness of heart. Very well, then; the first thing I knew as
I sat there alone, steering, almost blinded by the spray, Carmelita
slipped her hand through the ventilator and caught mine in a pressure
that went to my heart.”

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before, but without stopping to reflect_).--“If I
find out the girl that did that--”

Mr. Hatterly went on with warm gratitude in his voice: “And let me add,
my dear Mrs. Billington, that every single time I luffed, that dear
little hand came out and touched mine, to inspire me with strength and
confidence.”

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before, with decision_).--“I’ll cut her hand off!”

“And in the lulls of the storm,” Mr. Hatterly continued, “she said to me
what nothing but the extremity of the occasion would induce me to
repeat, my dear Mrs. Billington; ‘Jack,’ she said, ‘I am yours, I am all
yours, and yours forever.’”

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before, but more so_).--“That wasn’t the Peterson
girl. That was Mamie Jackson, for I have known of her saying it twice
before.”

Mrs. Billington leaned back in her chair, and fanned herself with her
handkerchief.

“Oh, Mr. Hatterly!” she cried.

Mr. Hatterly leaned forward and captured one of Mrs. Billington’s hands,
while she covered her eyes with the other.

“Call me Jack,” he said.

“I--I’m afraid I shall have to,” sobbed Mrs. Billington.

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before, grimly_).--“Mamie Jackson’s mother won’t; I
know _that_!”

“And then,” Mr. Hatterly continued, “she said to me, ‘Jack, I am glad of
this fate. I can speak now as I never could have spoken before.’”

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before, but highly charged with
electricity_).--“Now I want to know what she did say when she spoke.”

Mr. Hatterly’s clear and fluent voice continued to report the
interesting conversation, while Mrs. Billington sobbed softly, and
permitted her kind old hand to be fondled.

“‘Jack,’ she said,” Mr. Hatterly went on, “‘life might have separated
us, but death unites us.’”

MISS BILLINGTON (_as before, but with clenched hands and set
lips_).--“_That_ is neither one of those girls. They haven’t got the
sand. Whoever it is, that settles it.” She flung open the door and swept
into the room.

“Jack,” she said, “if I did talk any such ridiculous, absurd,
contemptible, utterly despicable nonsense, I don’t _choose_ to have it
repeated. Mama, dear, you know we _can_ see a great deal of each other
if you can only make Papa come and spend the Summer here by the sea, and
we go down to Los Brazos for part of the Winter.”

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening Miss Carmelita Billington asked her Spanish maid if she had
dropped the letter addressed to Mr. Hatterly in the letter-box. The
Spanish maid went through a pleasing dramatic performance, in which she
first assured her mistress that she _had_; then became aware of a sudden
doubt; hunted through six or eight pockets which were not in her dress,
and then produced the crumpled envelope unopened. She begged ten
thousand pardons; she cursed herself and the day she was born, and her
incapable memory; and expressed a willingness to drown herself, which
might have been more terrifying had she ever before displayed any
willingness to enter into intimate relations with water.

Miss Billington treated her with unusual indulgence.

“It’s all right, Concha,” she said; “it didn’t matter in the least, only
Mr. Hatterly told me that he had never received it, and so I thought I’d
ask you.”

Then, as the girl was leaving the room, Carmelita called her back, moved
by a sudden impulse.

“Oh, Concha!” she said; “you wanted one of those shell breast-pins,
didn’t you Here, take this and buy yourself one!” and she held out a
dollar-bill.

When she reached her own room, Concha put the dollar-bill in a
gayly-painted little box on top of a new five-dollar bill, and hid them
both under her prayer-book.

[Illustration]

“Women,” she said, in her simple Spanish way; “women are pigs. The
gentleman, he gives me five dollars, only that I put the letter in my
pocket; the lady, she gets the gentleman, and she gives me one dollar,
and I hasten out of the room that she shall not take it back.
Women--women are pigs!”





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