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Title: Squire Phin
Author: Day, Holman
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SQUIRE PHIN

By Holman Day

New York: Harper & Brothers

1913


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SQUIRE PHIN



CHAPTER I--“HARD-TIMES” WHARFF COCKS HIS NOSE TO SNIFF TROUBLE

                   “Miss Lu-ce-e-e had a par-ret,

                   An’ she kep’ it in the gar-ret,

                   An’ she fed it on a car-ret,

                   An’ she called him J. Iscar-ret,

                   Tidy-um,

                   Tidy-um!

                   “An’ the par-ret had a feather

                   That was blue in stormy weather,


                   But ‘twas either one or t’ether,

                        Tidy-um,

                        Tidy-um!”

                   --Favourite Song of “Hard-times” Wharff.

The village sounds in Palermo that sleepy afternoon were only the
“summer snorin’s,” as Marriner Amazeen used to say. There was the murmur
of flies buzzing lazily around some banana, skins which curled limply
in the August sun in front of Asa Brickett’s store. At the side of the
building, in a patch of shade, a half-dozen old men, jack-knifed on a
rickety settee, droned in intermittent conversation. From open kitchen
windows along the village street came subdued sounds of the after-dinner
work of the housewives--clash of cutlery and clatter of dishes. In a
dusty maple whose lower branches had taken toll from passing loads of
hay, a cicada shrilled his long-drawn note, like an almost interminable
yawn.

“First August fiddler I’ve heard,” commented one of the old men in the
shade. “As old Drew used to say in his _Rural Intelligencer_:

               “When August’s locusts wind their horn

               Then first you know, Good Summer’s gone!”

“Well, you don’t have to walk very fur in this sun to find out that she
ain’t gone yit,” remarked an old man who had just arrived. He picked a
few fresh burdock leaves and stuffed them into the crown of his cotton
hat. “Some one ought to make ’Quar’us Wharff come in here out o’
that sun,” he growled, scowling at a figure that stood on the corner
of Brickett’s store platform, as straight and stiff as the gnawed
hitching-post on the opposite corner.

With cadence fully as sleepy as the other sounds of the languorous
afternoon, a squeaking whiffle-tree came down the avenue of elms that
bordered the street.

The whiffle-tree was attached to a surrey that showed a city smartness
of paint and trimmings under the dust. The bulk of the man on the front
seat strained his linen coat. The two ladies on the back seat, evidently
his wife and daughter, fairly crushed the springs with their weight.

The portly man pulled up at the watering trough in Palermo’s little
square and grunted over the wheel. When the horses began to wallow in
the tub, plunging their reeking noses almost to their eyes, he handed
the reins to his wife and walked toward the store, his gaze upon a bunch
of wilted bananas that dangled just inside the door.

The six gaunt men in the shade surveyed this triple display of city
avoirdupois with disfavour. Somehow it all seemed a silent boast of
urban prosperity.

“I don’t reckon his woman needs to hang onto them reins very tight,”
 grunted Uncle Lysimachus Buck. “It’s all them horses can do to walk with
that load--much less run away.”

“All city folks do is stuff themselves mornin’, noon and night, and then
’tween meals,” said Marriner Amazeen. “He’s after suthin’ to eat now,
and I’ll bet ye on it.”

“How much for a dozen of those bananas?” asked the rotund man,
addressing the individual who stood so stiffly on the corner of the
platform.

“Wind sou’ by one p’int to the west, havin’ swung from west by nothe,”
 was the reply. He did not look at his questioner, but kept his head
straight and his nose in the air.

“That ain’t nothin’ but ’Quar’us havin’ a weather-vane spell,”
 apologised Brickett, appearing in the door and lounging against the side
of the building. He drawled, “I’ll sell ye fifteen for a quarter. Help
yourself.”

The stranger broke off the fruit, stuffed it into his wide pockets,
placed the change in Brickett’s languid palm, and went back to his
carriage, casting an eye of scorn on the platform sentinel as he
repassed him.

Then he climbed painfully back to his seat. With a grunt he pulled
the reluctant horses back from the trough, where they were now making
pretence of drinking, sucked his tongue at them pantingly and proceeded
on his “carriage tour of the coast.”

As the horses plodded into the sun-glare from under the village elms,
the portly man swung around and said to his wife and daughter: “The town
pump and the town clock and the town fool, fifty houses bunched around
’em and everybody asleep! My God, think of living in a place like this
all your life.”

“The old man standing on the store platform wasn’t crazy, was he, papa?”
 the daughter inquired.

“Why don’t you use your eyes once in a while, Belle?” the fat man
snorted. “The way country towns let old lunatics run at large is
something awful.”

He whipped up and the surrey clattered across the bridge at the head of
the cove. There was a puff of cool air from the shadows where the tide
gurgled about the weedy piles, and the three people went on around the
hill with the tang of the salt smell in their nostrils, and in their
minds a totally erroneous idea of Palermo and one of its institutions.

Fat city men are sometimes too matter-of-fact to understand the
eccentricities of genius. This traveller simply went on--out of Palermo
and out of this story--he and his wife and his daughter, his reeking
horses and smart surrey. He beheld Aquarius Wharff actually engaged in
his biggest job of prognostication---snuffing at the first of a train of
events that “ripped open” Palermo--and yet he only clucked to his horses
and drove on and never realised what he had observed.

“Hard-times” Wharff had been standing for quite two hours in the
broiling sun on the extreme corner of Asa Brickett’s grocery store
platform. His attitude was familiar enough to his townsmen. He was on
the tripod, so to speak, as a soothsayer, though it is hardly proper,
perhaps, to speak of one leg as a tripod. He wearily balanced himself,
shifting feet from time to time. His dingy old felt hat had the crown
pinched to a peak and, before and behind, the broad brim was similarly
pinched to peaks. The effect was somewhat that of a general’s chapeau,
and its ludicrous illusion was heightened by a considerable assortment
of rooster’s tail feathers thrust into the crown.

When “Hard-times”--a name more generally employed locally than
Aquarius--stood on one foot in front of Brickett’s store, his hat
flattened fore and aft--‘twas known by local observers that he was
having one of his “weather-vane spells.” Now, this little fancy harmed
no one, and it was agreed in Palermo that no other resident could smell
a change of weather so far ahead as Aquarius Wharff.

If he stood on two feet, well balanced, and glowered grimly, he was
merely indulging in a fancy for his own amusement. Though he never
explained his ruminations to any one, it was suspected that he revelled
in a proud triumph of the imagination and felt all the haughtiness of a
bald-headed eagle. Certain it is that Palermo respected his abstraction
and did not smile when he stroked his plumage and fixed a still more
piercing gaze on the horizon.

Aquarius Wharff believed--and his townsmen agreed--that as a
weather-vane he was distinctly serviceable to Palermo. He would
inveigh against the inaccuracy of the dingy, rusty arrow on the Union
Meeting-house, and then would perk his nose into the wind, and rotate
himself on his wavering leg to show his own superior manageability. When
he permitted himself to play eagle it was purely for his own relaxation.

When he was not engaged in either pursuit Aquarius Wharff was a mild
and neighbourly man who lived with his “old maid” sister, Virgo, in the
little brown house beyond the currier shop. His twin delusions were his
only “outs,” and his tolerant neighbours in Palermo had long ago ceased
to pay any attention to his divagations. But when a man stands for
two hours in the broiling sun in one attitude he makes a picture that
disturbs his friends. Uncle Lysimachus Buck, whose chair was propped
against the side of the store in the shade, desisted from “teaming”
 a worried caterpillar with his cane and called querously: “For
timenation’s sake, ’Quar’us, come set down out o’ the sun, do! It
makes me steam and sweat to look at ye.”

“Wind quart’rin’ to west’ard, mack’rel sky, sign o’ rain, hard times
gen’rally and nothin’ ’cept air put into doughnut holes nowadays,”
 croaked Aquarius without turning his head; “I jest see six crows fly
s’uth’ards from the Cod-Head spruces, and that means somethin’ ’sides
a heavy fog.”

He shifted to his other leg and set his neck more stiffly, and continued
at his feat of endurance with the pertinacity of an Indian fakir.

“He’ll git sunstruck, sure’s Tophet’s a poor place to store powder in,”
 commented Buck. His snappy tones indicated that his selfishness at being
annoyed by the figure in the sun’s glare was more provoked than his
solicitude.

“Why don’t you git under a tree and rest?” he demanded. “An’ if you’re
bound and determined to play dog-vane, then hold an emb’rel over
yourself. Swan, if it don’t make me dizzy to watch him!” Uncle Buck took
off his cotton hat and turned the burdock leaves in the crown to bring
their cool surface next to his bald head.

“I’ve thought at times that ’Quar’us was losin’ his mind some--more’n
what runs in the family,” observed Dow Babb, unhooking his toe from
behind his ankle and immediately retwisting his long, gaunt legs in the
other direction. His townsmen had nicknamed him “Fly” Babb on account of
this trait.

“He ain’t nobody’s fool, ’Quar’us ain’t,” remarked Brickett, who,
in the midday dearth of traffic, was lounging at the shady side of the
store. “Them Wharffses is weather-struck and always was so, ’way back.
It runs in the fam’ly--seems to! Old Gran’ther Wharff, you know, kept a
di’ry of storms, droughts, hot and cold streaks and all such, till the
day he died, and his son Zodiac figured out of that di’ry all the signs
of storms and so forth. I’ve got ’em writ some’ere in my desk--change
o’ wind, birds’ flyin’s, bugs’ actions, cobweb signs on the grass and
all! Yass’r, the weather streak runs in the family, all right.”

“I reckon it must ’a’ been runnin’ hard in Zodiac Wharff,” snorted
Buck, “to make him saddle sech names on to his children as ’Quarius,
Capri-cornus, A-rees, Virgo and--what was that light-complected one that
went West and got lugged off by a terronado? I can never think of that
dum name!”

“Sagittar’us, wa’n’t it?” suggested Brickett.

“Ye-e-aw, that’s it, and he called them ‘Signs of the Zodiac,’ Zode did.
No wonder the most of ’em died young in that fam’ly! Names like them
would kill yaller dogs.”

“’Quar’us, ain’t you comin’ in out o’ that blaze o’ sun?” rasped Buck.

“Don’t buther me when I’m prognosticatin’,” replied the stubborn
meteorologist; “ain’t you gittin’ all your weather from me free--and
hard times all ’round us at that--wind shiftin’s and signs and
portents and all the wonders of the heavens? Then lemme alone. Kingbird
chasin’ a crow,” he went on with his eye on the horizon, where the
dwarf spruces bristled on Cod-Head like spikes on a huge quillpig. “And
’tain’t all weather that’s a-comin’ this way to-day.”

“Spite o’ that loony streak in the Wharffses they have done some pretty
tol’lable s’prisin’ things,” observed Dow Babb, untwisting his legs
and reversing his clutch. “There’s somethin’ else in ’em besides that
weather crack. Now, we all know here in P’ler-mo that ’Quar’us can
smell a weather change quick’s a groundhog can. Born with the faculty,
you might say. Takes it from old Zode, and even further back, for that
matter. But him and Virgo, both of ’em, take somethin’ different than
the weather streak from the mother’s side. She was old Rudd Goffses’
girl of Smyrna Mills, and old Rudd could cast a mist.”

“I’ve heard he could,” vouchsafed Marriner Amazeen, striking the
dottle from his clay pipe into his hard palm with a flare of sparks and
preparing for a refill.

“He was born with a caul, Rudd was.”

“Heard that, too,” tersely agreed Amazeen. “Old Aunt Spencer ’fore she
died was tellin’ my mother that the caul was just like lace, and came
down all ‘round his face, and they had to untie it where it was knotted
behind jest like a woman’s veil.”

“Yass’r, he had the second sight and the seventh sense, and he could
really magick folks, Rudd could,” Babb went on; “and there’s people
alive right over in Smyrna to-day that’ll tell you what they’ve seen
with their two eyes. ’Tain’t no use for us to poo-hoo things that was
before our time, just ’cause we didn’t see ’em. I tell you, the old
sirs could do things we couldn’t, and Rudd was one of the best o’
the lot in the magickin’ line. One day down to Smyrna, in the Guild
deestrick, he cast a mist on much as a dozen people at once, and they
thought they saw a Braymy rooster of old Matherson’s haulin’ off a
twenty foot log up street. Whilst they was standin’ gawpin’, ’long
come old Zene Sparks and says, ‘What ye standin’ here for, all on ye?’

“‘Ain’t it enough of a thing to stand around for when a rooster is
haulin’ off a log like that?’ asked one o’ the crowd, pointin’ his
finger.

“Zeke ups and says, ‘That rooster must be owin’ all on ye money by the
way you’re lookin’ at him. He ain’t doin’ anything except walk along
with an oat straw hitched to his tail!’

“And that’s all there was to it, so fur’s Zene could see. The mist
wasn’t cast on him, you understand, for he wasn’t there at the
start-off.”

There followed an interval of meditative silence, broken at length by
the slow voice of Amazeen, beginning another chronicle.

“I’ve heard tell,” he droned, “of Rudd bettin’ ten bushels of oats down
to the old blacksmith shop that used to set where the curry shop sets
now, that he would put his head right against the butt of a hemlock log
that laid in the yard and crawl right through it lengthwise and come
out o’ the little end. They took him up--the three or four that was
there--and he got down on his hands and knees, and they all swear to a
man that he went right out o’ sight into that log. Up come a man that
the mist wasn’t over, and when they told him what kind of a hen was on
he vowed and declared that he couldn’t see nothin’ out o’ the way but
old Rudd Goff crawlin’ along the top of the log, and then the man up and
gave Rudd a jeerously old swat with his gad-stick, and Rudd come hopping
off that log in a hurry, now, I tell you. And all could see him then.
He laid his hands on the tingly place and he let into that man hot and
heavy, so fur’s language would take him. If Rudd’s tongue had been a
horsewhip that man would have ridges all over him. But as it was they
haw-hawed old Rudd off’n the premises. He could cast a mist, though,
there ain’t no doubt about that! And there was lots of old sirs that
could.”

Babb retwisted his legs with a nervous snap as he concluded.

The little group in the shade gazed on the solitary figure bathed in
the beating August sunshine. For a moment he ceased to be in their
eyes merely old “Hard-Times” Wharff. They stared at him with a bit of
superstitious respect, as they always did when they remembered how the
blood of old Rudd Goff was in him.

“You’ve got to own up that there are queer things in this world.”
 mumbled Amazeen.

The old man on the platform revolved slightly on his single leg of
support. He slowly swung his head from side to side, his eyes still on
the horizon line.

“They’ve lit five times and ris’ five times and circled five times and
now lit again,” he cried.

“Who’s lit?” demanded Uncle Buck snappishly.

“Crows.”

“Well, what if they have? They know enough to get down out of the sun.
Come in here, ’Quar’us, with us. I can hear what few brains you’ve got
sizzlin’ like a pan o’ tomcod a-fryin’!”

“Over the hills! Crows a-flyin’ and crows a-watch-in’! Hard times
comin’, that’s what I guess.”

“I s’pose there’s really a name for that--that--well, the sense for
knowin’ that somethin’ is comin’ in the weather line or mebbe the line
o’ trouble,” pursued Amazeen, puffing meditatively. It was a placid
afternoon for quiet and contemplative discourse of this sort.

Little breezes wavered along the shady side of Brickett’s store and
stirred the grasses. Other breezes skylarked through the wide-open
front doors of the store and came out at the side door near the old men.
Inside the store the breezes did what the people of Palermo usually did
when they visited Brickett’s emporium--they swapped commodities. The
breezes brought their little treasures of pure, salty fragrance from the
cove and took away queer little whiffs of spices that were stacked in
wooden boxes, sickish-sweet scents from the tobacco “figs,” aroma of
coffee and tea, flavourings from the candy show case and more pungent
odours of kerosene and dried herring.

“Now a dog,” stated Amazeen, “don’t really have no common sense like
human bein’s, but then a dog knows when any one’s goin’ to die in a
neighbourhood, and don’t he git out front o’ the house and stick his
nose straight up in the air and lally-hoo till some one kicks him
gallywest? That’s a sense of knowin’ ahead o’ time, and he’s born with
it--and that’s somethin’ how ’tis with ’Quar’us. Them as says he’s
just loony ain’t watched him same’s I have.”

The old man on the platform had shifted his legs again. The breeze
fluttered his long hair and the sun was stealing the last of the
original colour from his yellowed garments. The men in the shade were
silent, partly from slumbrous laziness, partly because their slow minds
were once again revolving one of their stock problems: What mysterious
faculty of divination did “Hard-Times” Wharff possess?

“There ain’t no disputin’ that he’s foretold full a dozen line gales
that was comin’ to rip the stuffin’ out o’ things ’long the coast,”
 said Brickett. “That much we all know! Time the school-house was burned
down he had it all predicted out--leastways, he told ’round that the
critter with red tongue and crackling teeth and all out doors for a
gizzard was comin’ towards our village--and that’s a fire, ain’t it?
He’s seen shrouds in candles for fifty fam’lies in P’lermo, I’ll
bet you, just come to count ’em up! There’s
somethin’--somethin’--‘lectricity--or hypnotickism, or somethin’! These
scientists will git it figured out some day!”

They all pondered in silence, the hush of the sultry afternoon drowsily
brooding. In the store shed a stub-tailed horse dozed uneasily between
the thills of Dow Babb’s beach waggon, occasionally thudding his hoof in
the soft soil, trying to dislodge the clustering flies. Somewhere in the
maple tree the cicada whirred in long, shrill diminuendo.

“I ain’t no sp’tu’list or nothin’ of that sort,” broke out Uncle Buck.
“And I don’t b’lieve in no sech things like you’re talkin’ about, nor
that any Wharff that ever lived was anything except cracked--like that
old one-legged her’n out there,” he added, directing an eye of disfavour
on Aquarius. “I tell you if they could cast mists in the old times,
then why can’t they do it now, when everything is so much
improved---telefoams and telegraphts and ’lectric cars and all that?
Any man that ever claimed to see a rooster haul off a log was a dum liar
if he said so.”

Dow Babb flipped his legs together indignantly.

“’Tain’t any particular politeness to call my rel’tives names, is it?”
 he demanded. “Furdermore, uncle never said he see the rooster act’ly
_haul_ a log; he said it _looked_ as if he had done it, ’cause the
mist had been cast.”

“Ain’t nothin’ in it no one way or t’other,” persisted Uncle Buck
doggedly. “’Tain’t reasonable, ’tain’t Christian, and whatever
’tis it’s works of Satan, and I, as a church member, ain’t goin’ to
stand by and let things like that be said without aye, yes or no to
’em!” He thudded his fist on his knee.

“I’ll bet there is such things as magic and--aw--well, you can call it
witchcraft,” cried Babb, rather hampered in argument by lack of terms.
“Come now, I’ll bet you!”

“What do you propose to do--call up your Uncle Ben from Turtle Knoll
graveyard or--or leave it out to old Wind-cutter, there?” queried Buck,
sarcastically, with a hook of his thumb toward the Palermo human weather
vane.

Babb was clearly nonplussed for a moment, but his face suddenly lighted
up. He untangled his legs, crawled out of his chair and cried:

“I’ll leave it out to the man that P’lermo is always ready to leave out
all questions to--and that’s Squire Phin Look, by thunder!”

He shook his skinny finger at the dingy windows over Brickett’s store.

“If he don’t know there ain’t nobody does,” observed Brickett, clicking
his yellow teeth with decision.

“Why should he know? ’Tain’t law, nor nothin’ that goes with law,”
 persisted Buck.

“You see if he don’t know,” retorted Babb. “It wa’n’t lo’din’ a jackass
with books when Squire Look went through college. Now let’s go up and
ask him, boys--what ye say?”

“Oh, holler to him to come down here,” drawled Amazeen, loath to leave
his seat. “There ain’t chairs enough in his office to go ’round
amongst us--and I’ve been sick of the smell of law books ever since I
lost my bound’ry line case.”

Therefore Babb threw back his head and bawled huskily, “Squire Phin!
Squire Phin Look!” From his mouth, as from the mouths of all Palermo,
the title sounded like “Square.” At the second call they heard a chair’s
legs pushed squeakingly on the floor and an answering bellow that was
jovial though wordless. And those who had straightened up to listen
lounged lazily down again to wait for him.

A rickety outside stairway led up to the Squire’s office.

On the old tin sign between the dusty front windows was:

                        PHINEAS LOOK

                   Attorney and Notary

The purr of the coffee grinder in the store beneath was a frequent
obbligato to the conferences between Squire Phin and his clients, and
the savour of spice and odour of kerosene stole up through the floor
cracks to mingle with the decidedly athletic fragrance of the Squire’s
blackened T. D. pipe.

Once he forgot one of those sooty-hued pipes and left it in the
attorney’s room at county court, and the young lawyers got ribbons and
hung it from a chandelier with a card reading, “Erected in Memory of
Phin Look.” Squire Look patiently hunted for that pipe when he went
to county court again, for its stoutness, after many months of careful
seasoning, appealed to his taste. But he never looked as high as the
chandelier.

Folks who knew Squire Phin well declared that he had never looked high
enough in life--not as high as his merits entitled. Men who understood
such things said that he knew enough law to match any judge on the State
bench, but in middle life he was still sitting up in his little office
over Brickett’s store, smoking his pipe and reading his fat law books,
with their shiny, hand-smooched bindings.

“Well, boys!” he said, as he came out upon the landing above them and
leaned over the rail. “What do you want to do--nominate me for Congress
at a mass-meeting?”

Without waiting for a reply he jammed a round-topped straw hat upon his
thick hair and came down the stairs with solid tread. A fat and fuzzy
old dog followed on his heels with tread comically similar. “I had two
of ’em once,” he was wont to say, “Eli and Uli, but I gave away Uli to
another lawyer and kept Eli.”

“They say, Squire Look,” began Uncle Buck, as soon as the lawyer came
within hearing, “that you can tell us whether old ‘Hard-Times’ there
ought to be hitched up on town hall cupoly as a vane or sent to the
insane ’sylum.”

“It ain’t fair to put it that way,” remonstrated Dow Babb, and he
proceeded to state the point of contention.

The two deep lines on either side of the Squire’s straight mouth curved
away, and his round, smooth-shaven face beamed upon them humorously.

“It isn’t the first time, gentlemen,” he said, “that the motives of
a philanthropist have been misconstrued by the people to whom he has
presented himself and his services.”

“What I contend,” broke in Dow Babb, “is that ’Quar’us has a sort of
seventh sense to smell happening ahead. I don’t know what to call it,
but it’s like what a dog has to make him go to howlin’ when some one’s
goin’ to die.”

“Well, you ought to ask Eli about that,” suggested the Squire, his smile
broader. “That seems to be right in his line,” and then, looking down
into the humid eyes of the dog, he asked, “Eli, why do you howl when
some one is going to die?”

The canine, who was squatting on the grass, thumped his tail agitatedly
and uttered a short “Wuff!”

“Can you talk dog well enough to understand?” asked the lawyer of Buck.

“Now, Squire,” pleaded Babb whiningly, “you tell us straight. This ain’t
foolin’. We ain’t been able to coax the old sir off’n that platform so
fur this afternoon. He was like that on the days before the line storms
and on them other times. He don’t act out a weather vane usually more’n
a half hour on a stretch and then sets down and chaws tobacker with us
like a human bein’!”

“You’ve asked me some pretty tough questions,” said the lawyer,
dismissing his jocularity. He leaned the shiny shoulders of his
threadbare frock coat against the clapboards, careless of the white
smooches that were immediately transferred to the cloth. “Now, as to
the casting of a mist by the old chaps we have heard of in this section,
I’ll say that perhaps they had the same power as some of the Hindoos
that travellers describe. Men whose words ought to be good assert that
to all appearances some of those fellows throw the end of a rope into
the air and climb up and up, and so out of sight.”

Uncle Buck pronged a mighty chew of tobacco out of the side of his jaw
with his tongue and tossed it afar into the milkweed stalks that grew
beside the horse shed. He snorted his unbelief.

“You might just as soon tell me,” he declared, “as how that quid o’ mine
could turn into a royal Bengal tiger and come roarin’ back here to chaw
me up.”

“I wisht a plug o’ tobacker would chase you once,” declared Amazeen.
“P’raps you wouldn’t be borrowin’ so much of it all the time if you got
one good scare.”

Squire Phin was evidently about to explain to his fellow townsmen more
explicitly regarding the mysteries of the East, as related by veracious
investigators, when he was interrupted by the cause of all the argument.

“Hard-Times” Wharff suddenly came down upon both feet, put his hand to
his brow, peered up the highway where it snaked into the distant spruce
growth, and cried in a very human tone of rural astonishment:

“Well, dod-butter doughnuts, holes and all, ’tain’t no wonder the
crows kept a-flyin’! Hard times is a-comin’ to town a-ridin’ on a pony.
Come here and see ’em!”

Led by Babb, striding on legs that worked like calipers, the old men
flocked around the corner of the store into the sunshine, each uttering
his own characteristic note of astonishment as he swung into view of the
road.

Squire Phin leisurely followed. But the spectacle in the highway was
sufficient to make him stare at the approaching procession with surprise
that almost equalled the emotion of his more naïve townsmen.



CHAPTER II--“HIME” LOOK’S HOMECOMING WITH AN ELEPHANT

AND TROUBLE AND A FEW OTHER THINGS



                   “Go ask your mother for fifteen cents

                   To see the elephant jump the fence,

                   He jumps so high that he’ll hit the sky,

                   And he won’t come down till the Fourth of July.”


A GRIMY, wrinkled and slouchy elephant, pudging ahead and straining at
his rusty harness, followed by eight horses plodding two and two, was
drawing a train of vehicles whose outlines were almost hidden by the
dust cloud rolling up from under the scuffing hoofs. Through puffs of
dust, glass surfaces sparkled dully, and there was an occasional glint
of gilt. The leading waggon could be more plainly seen.

“It’s a reg’lar circus cart,” said Brickett, wonderingly.

They all perceived that the shape of the waggon’s body was the
simulacrum of a large caravel whose bow and stern rose high in the air.

There was a gilded, life-size female figure at the bow and a companion
figure at the stern. The only man in sight was perched on a high seat
let into the fore part of the waggon, the converging lines of the bow
meeting just above his head.

“But there ain’t been no circus advertised ’round here,” cried Uncle
Lysimachus Buck, as he stared.

The strange train of vehicles swung wide at the head of the cove to
cross the creek bridge.

“There’s six of ’em,” commented Amazeen, as the waggons presented
their broadsides, “and it’s a circus, dummed if ’tain’t.”

One waggon was fastened behind another. Three vans with huge mirrors
in the sides were following the big boat-waggon in the lead; the fifth
vehicle had a circular body scalloped like a sea shell, and a painted
figure held a canopy over it; sixth and last trundled a little red cart
of the kind made familiar by circus chariot races.

The driver of this strange outfit guided his dripping horses and the
huge piloter across the bridge. He cracked a big whip over them, and
they came up the short rise toward Brickett’s store, gallantly surging
to the work, the faded bridle pompons nodding above the horses’ heads,
the dust swirling behind. The elephant shuffled briskly, ragged ears
flapping and trunk swaying.

The breeze on top of the hill volleyed the dust back on the procession,
and when the driver pulled up in the little square with a mighty bellow
of “Whoa!” he and his outfit were almost invisible. As the white cloud
settled away and revealed the waggons the little group on Brickett’s
platform stared open-mouthed at every feature. The gilding was dingy,
the paint blistered and cracked, the mirrors streaked and grimy, but the
elephant and the chariots and the circus glamour were all there.

The man who sat on the high seat wore a dusty tall hat, cocked back so
far as to almost rest on his neck. A linen duster was buttoned
closely under his gray whiskers--prolongations of his bristling
moustache--descending in two trailing streams and framing a smoothly
shaved chin. This elderly stranger set his elbows on his knees, the
reins hanging loosely, leaned forward and leisurely surveyed the group
on the platform. One eye was set and immovable--a glass eye. The other
roved and twinkled and shuttled and blinked in lively style.

“Let’s see,” he began, a keen glint in his movable eye, “isn’t there a
cheap lawyer in this place named Phineas Look?”

The movable eye fell upon Squire Phin. It glittered for an instant more
brightly. The muscles of the hard face seemed to twitch a little. But he
said no more, and with a curious intentness awaited a reply.

The Squire had started at the sound of the stranger’s voice. Then he
shoved his hands deep into his trousers pockets and stared hard at the
man, his brows knotting slowly, as though he were endeavouring to recall
something.

“I don’t know who you be, nor where you come from, nor I don’t care,”
 snapped Amazeen; “but I want to say to you, mister, that you’d better
call the leadin’ man in P’lermo by a different name, ’specially when
he’s standin’ here in hearin’!” He shook an indignant cane at the man
and swung and pointed it at Phineas.

At this instant a raucous voice squalled a long, loud “Yah-h-h!” A cage
was hung to one of the figures of the big waggon, whose seats showed a
former use as a band chariot. A ragged, gray parrot was in the cage. He
clutched a bar in his warty claws, rapped his bill violently and yelled:

“Crack ’em down, gents! It’s the old army game!”

The Squire took a quick step forward, halted and stared again.

“Twenty can play as well as one!” the parrot squawked. The stranger
began to clamber down from the seat and stood revealed as a tall man
when he stood upright. The knots smoothed out of the Squire’s brow.

The two men walked slowly toward one another, each with hand
outstretched, and they met half way. Hand clutched hand in a grip
that made the cords ridge the skin. They gazed for a long time with
moistening eyes.

“Hime!” choked out the Squire.

“You poor little cuss, Phin,” the other gulped, as he reached his arm
over the Squire’s shoulder and patted his back.

There was rough affection in the gesture, but there was constraint in
the stranger’s mien. He displayed the nervous bravado of one who is
ashamed and feels that the shame is a weakness.

“I ain’t come home expectin’ that you’re goin’ to treat me anyways like
a brother, Phin,” he muttered brokenly. “I ain’t ever been any good to
the family. I----”

“Don’t say that, brother Hiram! Don’t!” pleaded the Squire.

“But it’s the God’s truth, Phin. I don’t even know whether
father’s--whether he’s----” He stood back and raised entreating eyes
to his brother’s face. “You needn’t say it, Phin, boy,” he went on
mournfully. “All I can do is thank God that father had one boy that he
didn’t have to be ashamed of. I don’t ask you to overlook it--any of it,
Phin. I don’t expect you to do it. I ain’t come back for it.”

The old men had been slowly straggling down from the platform, still
busied with their survey of this amazing new arrival.

The Squire glanced around at them and spoke guardedly. His tone was
gently reproachful.

“Not a word from you or of you for twenty-five years! Hime, I never
understood that. Father didn’t understand it!”

“Understand it!” shouted his brother, careless of the throng.
“Understand it! Of course you can’t. No man with decency in his soul and
honesty in his heart could understand it. I tell ye, Phin, I ain’t worth
your while to talk to, I had a little hopes of myself, Phin, a few weeks
ago. It came over me all of a sudden. I’ve come back to square one end
of it.” He glared at the men who were crowding around them. “But our
family end, Phin, can never be squared. I’ve travelled five hundred
miles in the sun and dust to pay my honest debts. That much I can do.
Then for the road again.” He tossed a pathetic gesture at the elephant
and the vans. “I did think of sellin’ ’em along with the rest I sold,”
 he added wistfully. “I had thought perhaps--I didn’t know, but--well,
Phin, it’s better to go on, that’s all.” Here and there from gardens,
from little shops and from the houses near by, men were issuing; the
cobbler with his canvas apron tucked up, the blacksmith spatting his
smutty hands together, and the men who had forgotten to lay down their
hoes. All were shouting questions to each other and pointing at the
procession that had come to town.

The Squire eyed the approach of these spectators with some uneasiness,
but the glance he turned on his brother was full of kindly emotion. He
went along and patted Hiram on his broad back.

“There’ll be plenty of time for us to talk it all over, Hime,” he
murmured. “I know I shall understand. Let’s go home. I’m still in the
old house.” Then with the New England ability to repress emotion he
stood back and ran his eye over his brother.

“Well, you certainly aren’t ‘Bean-Pole Look’ any longer,” he cried in
his usual cheery tones, loud enough for all to hear.

“And you’ve stocked up yourself, Phin,” returned his brother, with a
rather watery smile. “The Looks usually get pussy after forty.”

Uncle Buck was the first of the crowd to stick out his hand.

“I’d know you anywhere for Hime Look, in spite of your plug hat and your
weepin’ wilier whiskers,” he cried brusquely. “You ain’t been what
you’d exactly call neighbourly last twenty or twenty-five years,” he
suggested, with a meaning cock of his eyebrow.

“I didn’t ask permission of the Palermo Tobacker Chawin’ League to go
away, and I ain’t asking its permission to come back!” retorted Hiram,
bridling.

“Still got your meat-axe temper along, I notice,” said Buck, drily.

“See here,” shouted the new arrival, “we won’t start into any of those
old rows, good people.”

He assumed the tone of the showman “barking” at the door of a tent, as
though the habit of long years obsessed him. Apparently he could not
talk to several persons in any other tone. The throng crowding about him
suggested all his usual environment. “Best to have our general wind-up
at the start-off,” he declared, running his eye over them; “we’ll drive
every tent peg right now. Here I am home again from the wide, wide
world, and it’s no one’s business except mine why I’ve come. I own this
gear,” a flourish of his hand toward the waggons and the reeking horses,
“and why I’ve brought ’em here is my own business, too. Ask me no
questions and I’ll tell you no lies. You needn’t blink and scowl at
me--any of you. I ain’t proud of the way I left this town, but I want to
have an understanding here and now. It’s this: The man who proposes to
remind me of my going away or my staying away will get what I gave Klebe
Willard, and I hope it wasn’t too long ago for you to remember it, one
and all.” He clenched his fist and shook it at them. “Yes, I’m just the
same old Hime Look, rough and bluff and gruff and tough! No one likes
me, and probably no one ever will, and I don’t care! But I can pay my
bills.” He rapped this at them, adding an oath like a whipcrack.

A murmur that was almost a growl ran among his listeners, who now
numbered a score. “Yes, I did slide out and leave my debts, and I held
this town up good and hard, hey? Well, I ain’t crawling back on my hands
and knees to you, good people; I’ve come with the goods.” He ripped
open his duster and, twisting his tall form and screwing his mouth as he
tussled at the job, he pulled a big wallet from under his coat tails--a
wallet so fat, so puffy, so rotund that it seemed fairly to groan at its
strap and puff with plethora.

The Squire gently seized his brother by the arm, endeavouring to say
something to him in an undertone. But that over-wrought person wrenched
away and shouted, as he waved his wallet above his head: “No, Phin,
it aint no use to hush-baby me. I’ve got to say it to ’em. I’ve
been thinking of it too long. It’s boilin’ in me. I always was too
mouthy--I’m too mouthy now, and I know it, but I can’t help it. I’m
just Hime Look, and I have to talk or bust. They’ve had their chance to
lambaste me for twenty-five years behind my back. Now I’m going to talk
to their faces.”

Excitedly he tore open the wallet. Packets of bills stuffed every
compartment--packets tied with bands and squeezed flat.

With his wallet clutched in one hand and as many of the packets as
he could grip with the other, he went around the little circle of
bystanders, flapping the ends of the bills under their dodging noses.

“Smell of it!” he roared. “Don’t it smell good? Look at it! Don’t it
look good? If you could eat it, ’twould taste good, you old droolers!
Did you ever see so much money before in Palermo? No, you never did.
Now, all you that have a claim against me of any kind, meet me at my
brother’s office any time after to-day, with your interest figured
compound at six per cent. No; reckon it better’n that--and even then
I’ll give you a bonus on top. You’ll never be able to sneer again behind
Hime Look’s back, you of Palermo. Bring your claims, good people!”

“It’s the old army game, gents!” screamed the gray parrot.

Again the Squire tried anxiously to lead his brother away out of the
circle. Perspiration dripped from under the showman’s tall hat. His
sound eye blazed.

The other goggled fiercely. It was the anger of a man who was raging
as much at himself and at the memory of mistakes and faults as at his
auditors, the anger of a man who knew in his own heart that he was not
as worthy as these yokels whom he had left behind him in the old home.
He wanted to storm down the criticism and the blame that he feared--to
scare them into silence. Under it all was shame--the shame of a
domineering man who is ashamed to feel shame.

“Hime,” pleaded his brother, “let’s not talk this over in public any
longer. The people of Palermo are all good friends of ours. They haven’t
been talking about you.”

“No, they haven’t talked about you--that’s right,” shrilled Uncle Buck,
who had advanced closely. “No, they’ve thought you was dead--and dead
men of your calibre ain’t worth much talkin’ about.”

Hiram whirled away from his brother’s restraint and glowered at the
doughty old man.

“I ain’t one mite afraid of you, Hime,” barked Lysimachus, thumping down
his cane. “This is the same stick I’ve put across you when I ketched you
stealin’ my apples, and if you tackle me I’ll slash you again, though
you was grown taller’n Haman.”

He came close to the furious man.

“You might’s well shet up your wallet,” he said; “P’lermo ain’t
sufferin’ for your money, much of it as you seem to have.”

“That money won’t be put up till my debts are paid,” shouted Hiram.
The old man’s fishy eye bored him with a significance he could not
understand. It was evident that Lysimachus had a trump card.

“You can’t pay, dum ye!” shrieked Uncle Buck, now furious in his turn,
with the hysterical rage of the senile.

“Why can’t I?” This also was bawled.

“Because your old father mortgaged his farm after you run away, and then
after he died your brother Phin worked and paid off every cent that was
owed.”

“Twenty can play as well as one!” said the gray parrot.

Hiram, both hands still full of money, rubbed his forearm across his
eyes, into which sweat was streaming. His movement knocked off his hat,
and it rolled unheeded in the dust. Pitiful bewilderment wrinkled his
face.

“And if you’ve never heard of all that, then you can’t have been any
decenter about writin’ home and lettin’ your own know about you than you
have been about other things I could name.”

Hiram stood, his arms hanging at his side, his lower jaw drooping, his
eye shuttling from face to face evasively.

“Kind o’ makes you drop your tail, Hime--that, eh?” jeered Amazeen from
his place in the crowd.

As Hiram still drooped there, Uncle Buck ran his cane into the fallen
hat, lifted it with a deft toss, ran his elbow around its nap, and set
it on Hiram’s head, standing on tip-toe to do it.

The man never moved or blinked.

“There’s your plug hat, Hime,” he said. “It fell off, and pride goeth
before a fall.”

At the anti-climax the crowd haw-hawed with the jovial unrestraint of
rural jokers.

The Squire’s face was very grave. He came along, gently took the
wallet and the money from his brother’s hands, tucked the packets away,
restrapped the wallet and stuffed it back into the hip pocket. Hiram
still remained motionless, except for the blinking eye that now looked
straight at the ground.

Phineas turned to his townsmen:

“Folks,” he said, “I don’t think my brother Hime meant all he said. He
was excited and wrought up by coming home, and it was a hard place to
put any man in, to meet the old townsmen again as he has had to do. But
you see he has come back bringing the money to pay, and I know you are
going to give him the credit of his good intentions. We will talk it
over some time later, friends. Now I want you to come along home with
me, Hime.”

He pushed his brother along toward the big waggon.

“And you done what old Lys says you done?” asked the elder brother
suddenly. There was a queer indrawing of the breath after the query. The
Squire did not reply.

“God, I ain’t fit for phosphate!” blurted the showman despairingly.
“Shame and pride and my dirty disposition--and not writin’--nor nothin,’
thinkin’ you had soured on me--and lettin’ you and dad--oh, Phin, you
poor little cuss!”

Down over the hard face that had cynically fronted the world for twenty
years from the barker’s rostrum, into the trailing whiskers filtered the
tears. This middle-aged, solid, lawyer brother had not as yet assumed
his proper perspective in the mind of his elder brother, who had left
him a stripling. Hiram did not try to hide his grief from those who
stared at him.

“Ain’t I a specimen!” he whimpered.

“I think you are beginnin’ to improve _some_,” said Uncle Buck, bluntly.

“Your wife won’t want to see me,” moaned Hiram. “I ain’t fit to meet
her.”

The crowd laughed anew, for this seemed the best joke of all. The lawyer
smiled, but it was a wistful smile.

“I’m the pickedest old bach in town, so set that I even do my own
cooking, Hime,” he said. “It is all about the same as it used to be
at the old place. There’s plenty of room in the barn for all this,” he
nodded toward the waggons, “and plenty to eat for us all--I guess,” he
added, with a facetious look at the elephant, and that started the laugh
again.

Hiram turned to the crowd as though to address them, but he clutched
at his throat, shook his head pathetically, and stumbled toward the big
waggon.

“You ain’t the worst feller in the world, Hime,” called a voice
encouragingly. ’Twas Marriner Amazeen’s. “But you can’t sass us here
in P’lermo any more’n you useter could.”

There was a general mumble, in a more hospitable tone, for the
prodigal’s evident contrition had touched them. He threw up his hand and
again shook his head despondently.

“It’s a blamed queer outfit to haul into any man’s door-yard, Phin,” he
said at last, with wistful apology, as he noticed his brother looking at
the elephant with no very eager enthusiasm; “but I’ll fix it right with
you.”

He did not remount his seat, but secured a hook from under the big
waggon, walked to the elephant and stuck the hook into a slit in the
beast’s ragged ear. With a creak and a groan the parade started, the
weary horses dragging at the heels of the scuffing pachyderm. Chattering
boys spatted along barefoot in the dusty road before, beside, behind;
the villagers attended along the sidewalk, and women stood at front
gates holding up the little ones to see.

The Squire plodded at his brother’s side, his hands behind his back, and
Eli waddled near with cautious eye bent on the huge animal.

And thus, after twenty-five years of wandering, returned Palermo’s queer
genius, hot-headed Hiram Look, a showman from the time he took pins for
admission from his schoolfellows at the door of a tent made of shorts’
sacks, and that was when he wore dresses and had his flaxen hair combed
in a “Boston.”

A little way beyond Brickett’s store the elms grew close and tall,
stretching their graceful arms across the street. Back from these elms
on a gentle slope of lawn stood the Judge Collamore Willard house, the
mansion of the village, a square structure of brick, dyed by many years
of weather to a sombre red.

The inmates of this dignified house evidently had been affected by
the general excitement caused by the halt of the caravan in front of
Brickett’s store.

A tall, gaunt old man, whose frock coat flapped about his skinny legs,
hurried down the gravelled path to the street, and as the head of the
parade approached he opened the iron gate and came out to the side of
the highway.

“What’s all this?” he piped in falsetto, addressing one of the villagers
who were marching along the sidewalk.

“Hime Look’s come back and brought his circus,” said the passer. The old
man started, and his thin lips closed viciously.

As the showman’s eyes fell upon the old man his face also grew set and
hard.

“Ain’t old Coll Willard gone to be a moneychanger in hell yet?” he
snarled.

The Squire was looking toward the house and did not answer. A woman
stood on the front porch, gazing under her palm. Even from the road the
grace of her figure showed itself. The soft, light material that drooped
away from her upraised arm left its rounded contour and whiteness
outlined against the dark hair.

“Hiram Look!” echoed the old man, and he came straight into the middle
of the road and stood there, trying to hold himself erect, propping his
hand on his back at the waist. He made no move to step aside, and the
showman was forced to halt his animals.

“And so it’s Hiram Look come home again?” he rasped, his thin nostrils
fluttering. “And how is it he comes parading, instead of sneaking over
the back fences as he ought?” He was talking over the showman’s head to
the villagers.

The spirit of assertion seemed to have dropped from Hiram. He shook so
violently that he set his hand against the elephant to steady himself.

“Judge!” The Squire advanced close to the old man and spoke low. “My
brother is considerably unstrung by things that have just happened.
Don’t say anything to him now, please don’t! If something must be said
later about the old times there’ll be plenty of chance to say it. Wait!”
 His tone was mild and entreating, but Willard still disdained to glance
at him.

“If some one hasn’t told Hiram Look what Palermo thinks of him, it’s
time for it to be done, townsmen!” shrieked Willard, his face white, his
lips drawn back over some obtrusive false teeth.

The Squire turned toward the distant figure on the porch, appeal and
apology in his eyes, though he realised that she could not witness his
emotions.

“Better for you to have stayed with the husks and the swine, Hiram Look.
You thought you left him for dead, my boy Kleber. Don’t you tell me! You
wanted to kill him. My poor boy! To leave me in my old age without my
son! And the scar of it on his face to-day! There’s a law for you yet,
Hiram Look--a law to make you suffer for that scar. A pretty pair--yes,
a pretty pair! Old Seth Look’s pair of steers! And Hiram would have
robbed my boy of a wife, and Phin Look thought he could steal my
daughter. Now, I’ll tell you both----”

“No, you won’t tell us--not here in the face and eyes of every one
in Palermo!” roared Hiram. “I’m ready for your tongue and your law at
fittin’ time and place, Coll Willard, but this ain’t the time. I told
your son twenty-five years ago that there was such a thing as talking
too damn much--and he still talked. Don’t you do it to-day.”

“Do you want to put your mark on the father’s face?” the old man
shrieked, hobbling close and poking forward his weasened visage. “Strike
me! Kill me! It’s your style, Hiram Look. And it’s your brother’s style
to lallygag after a girl that wouldn’t use him for a doormat. The two of
you are----”

The showman could restrain himself no longer. He had stood with feet
apart as though to root himself in the ground. His hands were hooked
behind him.

He hadn’t lost the whole of that Palermo instinct of deference toward
the village plutocrat and autocrat who had dominated them all for so
many years, even as other Willards had ruled before him. But the choler
that drove him forward was the rage of a man who had never learned
self-control. His brother leaped to prevent him, but he seized the old
man, whipped him off the ground, rushed across the sidewalk and tossed
him over the iron fence upon his own lawn, where he lay squawking feebly
like a frightened fowl.

The Squire followed, gasping appealing protest, and he stood there
clutching the rusty points of the fence when the woman came hastening
from the porch.

“I don’t think the Judge is’ hurt a bit, Sylvena,” he faltered. “But he
provoked Hime’s awful temper, and I couldn’t stop it.”

Judge Willard had scrambled to his feet, snarling at her when she came
to aid him. His rage was now the hysteria of the aged, but after gasping
wordlessly he turned and went toward the house. Hiram, his head bowed
as though he were ashamed of his burst of rage, had started his caravan,
and the crowd followed. Squire Phin remained.

The woman across the fence was mature, yet she had that appearance of
freshness that spinsterhood under forty years preserves in the little
details. Her face had been flushed by her haste, and the colour crept up
to the dark hair, that had just a touch of frost at the temples.

“And it is your brother come home, Phineas?” she asked, gazing after the
picturesque spectacle.

“It is Hiram.” His tone was wistful.

“He seems to be fully as--as muscular as ever,” she said, with a little
flash of her eyes.

As he seemed searching his mind for suitable apology, she said hastily:

“And I also know what father is, Phineas. I can understand. It is
nothing that you have done. But it all seems to be beginning over again,
and I hoped it was ended.”

“I guess it’s like the fire in old Ward’s peat bog,” he replied, a
wrinkle of humour about his eyes. “It has been burning for twenty years
underground and breaks out every little while. I can sympathise with
Ward’s peat bog,” he added. “Every now and then, when I think it’s cold
and dead and stamped out--my own particular smoulder, you know--there’s
a breath of remembrance, when I see you, and I’m all afire again inside.
Hard case, isn’t it?”

He didn’t allow his tone to be too serious.

“It isn’t well to speak of such things, Phineas. And not in that way!
Somehow, it hasn’t come right for you and me. We mustn’t blame each
other. It hasn’t seemed to be our fault.” She cast a glance at the
waggons toiling up the street. He gazed at the old man, who had paused
half way across the lawn and was querulously shouting “Daughter!”

The Squire leaned a bit further over the fence.

“I guess it has been ten years, Sylvena,” he said, “since I’ve let you
see my fire break through the crust. I didn’t intend to let it show
again, for I know your heart is tender. I don’t blame you for feeling
that a daughter owes much to a widowed father. I’d be the last to break
up a family. I haven’t any right to blame you. Don’t worry about me,
ever. But I can’t seem to forget, and while I keep on loving you I am
having an awfully good time all by myself doing so.”

With frank impulsiveness the woman came close to the fence and patted
his big hand that clutched the iron paling. But this frankness in her
action, her demeanour, and in the free and honest gaze she gave him, did
not console him.

“Still you’re ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ Sylvena,” he said, half whimsically,
half bitterly.

The old man had returned part way down the broad lawn, and was yelping
“Daughter!” in his thin voice with increasing impatience.

She smiled at the Squire as though the jest of his last words were one
well understood between them.

“No, only an old maid, Phineas,” she replied, softly. “Sometimes I think
that old maids are like poets--born, not made.”

“But you’ve let ’em make _you_ one,” he retorted. “It isn’t often I
speak of it, Sylvena. You know that. It has been enough for me to
walk the same streets with you and have a smile and a word of
friendliness---it’s enough most of the time. But my heart has been
stirred to-day, and all the old feelings are on top. You have let that
stingy old man----” he shook his fist at the Judge, who returned this
salute with great spirit, “rob you of the best that a woman ought to
have--and that’s a home and a good husband. Oh, I am not speaking of
myself!” he cried, his colour coming and a sort of boyish embarrassment
overwhelming him. “I don’t know how to say such things very well, but
I didn’t mean myself. I never could wake ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ But if the
prince himself had come along your father would have driven him away so
that he could continue to monopolise your loyalty and devotion. The
only reason he wants you to marry King Bradish is because he knows that
Bradish will sit outside like a pup and wait until he opens the door.”

The Squire was thoroughly angry. The spectacle of the old man hobbling
down the lawn and calling at them as though they were offending children
exasperated him.

“Forgive me, Sylvena,” he choked, breaking in upon her pained and
somewhat indignant protest. “But, being a Look, I am pretty much human.
You can’t stop me from loving you. God knows I can’t stop myself. I’d
like to be able to put out my hand and say to you ‘Sister!’ and look at
you as you look at me, but I can’t do it!”

“From the time I was fifteen years old, Phineas,” she said wistfully, “I
was mother to my mother!” A picture of the frail paralytic in her wheel
chair rose before him. “I took her place in our home when she died--yes,
before she died. It is a sacred promise that a girl makes to a mother,
Phineas, when that mother, helpless as an infant, trusts her, believes
her and goes smiling down into the grave, securely depending on that
promise.”

The Judge was close upon them.

“I didn’t hardly expect you to marry me, Sylvena,” said the Squire,
gazing gloomily at the old man.

“I’ve never dared to think much about marrying any one,” she said, her
eyes straying to the caravan in its halo of dust. “Somehow, it hasn’t
seemed to come right.”

“Some day there’ll be a man come along and you’ll know what it means to
be willing to give up every other thing in this world and not be able to
think about letting any one else step between you, and as it will have
to be a mighty good man to make you feel that way, I’ll step up then and
give you the best word I have, Sylvena, and perhaps I can begin to feel
like a brother toward you. I’m generous enough to pray God that you may
feel that way sometime.”

“No wonder you’re trying to beg off your brother, Phineas Look,”
 shrilled the Judge, interposing himself between them. He had caught a
word of the Squire’s speech as he came up. “But you can’t do it! The
law is going to take him. I’ll see that it does.” He whirled on his
daughter. “Why do you stand here talking with this man when you know
what he and his tribe are and how they have always treated us?”

She had taken his arm and was trying to lead him away, aware of the
futility of argument or even reply.

“You can’t come around this family, Phin Look,” stormed the Judge, “by
wheedling a girl who hasn’t had self-respect enough to spit on----”

“Judge Willard!” The voice of the Squire was so tense, so pregnant, that
the old man stopped and looked at him. The lawyer was clutching a paling
in each hand. He had projected his face over the fence. He was grayish
white, and his eyes glowed under their knotted brows. “Don’t you discuss
the honest and faithful friendship there is between your daughter and
myself. Do you understand me?” The old man looked at him, “plipping” his
lips as though searching for a reply.

“You have hogged the best out of her life. You have stood between her
and some man’s honest affection. I want you to know that I hate every
ounce of your stingy old skin and bones. I----” but he checked himself
and turned to the daughter with an appealing smile breaking through the
white rigidity of his countenance. “Oh! Oh! Oh!” he murmured, with a wag
of his head for each exclamation. “What a savage old whelp it is that’s
barking over your fence, Sylvena. Forgive me again.”

He turned hastily and went up the street, following the caravan. Old
Eli, who had been patiently waiting on the sidewalk’s edge, fell in at
his master’s heels.

And before him was Hiram guiding the grotesque elephant between the
great silver poplars before Squire Phin’s lonely home.



CHAPTER III--FROM THE MOUTH OF MARRINER AMAZEEN


                   “Narrer to the heel and wide to the toe,

                   And that’s the way the Look boys go.

                   Good boy Phin, he don’t raise time,

                   But pepper-sass’s hot and hell’s in Hime.”

                        --Old Palermo “Plaguin’ Song.’’


When Marriner Amazeen plodded down street early next morning, he
found Uncle Lysimachus Buck perched in solitary and surly state on the
platform of Brickett’s store. A thick-foliaged maple tree shielded the
platform as long as the sun was low in the east, and the platform was
a desirable post of observation, since it commanded the Cove and the
fishing fleet, as well as the village square.

“You’ve been el’phunteerin’, hey, along with the rest of the fools in
the place?” sneered Uncle Buck as Amazeen grunted down beside him on the
platform.

“Well, I called in to see how Hime had got settled, if that’s what your
slur means,” retorted Amazeen with some resentment.

Silence fell upon them for a time.

“Where’s he put old Cabbage-leaf-ear?” asked Uncle Lysimachus at last.

“None of your dum bus’ness. Go see!”

The silence endured longer.

“I didn’t mean nothin’ to rasp your feelin’s, ‘Mad’!” his old friend
apologised at last. “All is, I pus’nally don’t want to go peekin’ so
like sin and Sancho, same’s the people in this place us’ly do when
anything comes to town that ain’t cut and dried. I’d really like
to know, though, how things is gittin’ squared ’round up to the
Squire’s.”

Amazeen remained sullenly silent, but his desire to gossip conquered his
spleen at last.

“Wals’r, Lys, it’s wuth your goin’ up,” he broke out with a chuckle.
“That el’phunt’s loomin’ up in the middle of the barn floor with her
hind leg hitched to a sill beam; them chariot carts is in the yard, the
hosses fillin’ the stalls and the tie-up, folks standin’ ’round askin’
questions, and every durn young one in town rampagin’ ’round there!
I should think it would drive the Squire out of his mind--him that has
allus lived old bach and nothin’ to bother. It has set that old mare of
his into spasms. He had to hitch her off in the woodshed, and there she
stands with her head and tail up and snortin’ and whickerin’ ev’ry
time she thinks of how that el’phunt looked when they was introduced.
El’phunt’s name, by the way, is Imogene! Don’t that beat you? Imogene!
So Hime said this mornin’. Told us she was a real pet, and he brought
her along ’cause she would take on so if he tried to shake her. He’s
had her clos’ on fifteen years, he says. Sold her when he bust up his
show, but she swatted ’round her with her trunk, Hime says, and stove
down bars and bellered Hail Columby and pulled up stakes and got away
and follered him. Hime says Imogene is the only one in the world that
ever has given a continental cuss for him and stuck to him, and he says
that him and her will allus stick to one another after this. Says he’s
li’ble to start out circussin’ ag’in.”

“I s’pose the whole neighbourhood’s standin’ ‘round, listenin’ to them
yarns, heh?” grumbled Uncle Buck.

“Well, it’s all interestin’ to hear,” declared Ama-zeen sturdily. “And
he ain’t nobody’s fool, Hime ain’t.”

“It looks to me,” Uncle Lys growled on, “as though Squire Phin had got
more’n one el’phunt on his hands. Here’s Hime a-traipsin’ back home with
that gor-rammed turn-out, and before he’s been here no time he sasses
the whole town of Palermo, throws Judge Willard over his own fence and
tears ’round gen’rally. Here’s the old row between the fam’lies busted
out ag’in, and prob’ly more to happen when Klebe Willard gits home and
hears of it.”

“Don’t you reckon that Klebe has got fully as many of Hime Look’s marks
on him now as he wants to carry?” inquired Amazeen, drily.

“Klebe Willard, cap’n of the ‘Lycurgus Webb,’ turned forty-five, and
muscled up from knockin’ down P. I. sailors, ain’t exactly the same
feller he was when Hime Look scolloped him off twenty-five years ago,”
 Amazeen retorted. “I tell you, Lys, you’re going to find out that
old ‘Hard-Times’ wasn’t snuffin’ at no pansy bed when he stood there
yesterday with his nose up. He was smellin’ trouble.”

Brickett had lounged out of the store and stood munching a sliver
of cheese that he had scraped from the broad knife after serving a
customer.

“That old fool is gittin’ to be a town nuisance,” he observed. “When I
came down this mornin’ he was standin’ across from Judge Willard’s house
like a setter dog opposite a fox hole, croakin’ ‘Hard times a-comin’
to P’lermo.’ I don’t reckon that hard times is goin’ to start from Coll
Willard’s place. Leastways, if I was as well fixed as the old Judge is
I shouldn’t be reckonin’ to see hard times roostin’ on my primises just
yit awhile.”

“You ain’t alius lived in P’lermo same’s me and Lys has, Brickett,” said
Amazeen. “I don’t know what kind of things is goin’ to happen or what
kind of a hard-times bird has come to nest on Coll Willard’s place, but
it don’t take no seventh sense to smell trouble in this town now. Hime
Look will make it without meanin’ to. He ain’t nat’rally a bad man,
Hime ain’t. It’s his cussed tongue and the freaks he takes. Ev’ry one
’round him keeps gittin’ all stirred up. Long ago’s he went to the
district school he had all the girls in fidgits about the snakes and
frogs he lugged in his pants pockets--wa’n’t happy without a menagerie.

“Run away with circuses three times and old man Look had to chase him
up and bring him home. Started off once with a shelter-tent and a angle
worm in a mustard bottle and followed the fairs ’round in counties
above here. Wa’n’t scarcely eighteen then, but he had more cheek than
a Guinea nigger. Folks would listen to him shoutin’ up that ‘infant
anaconda’---that’s what he called the angle-worm--and would pay ten
cents and go in and then would come out mad as they could stick. Most
of the time he was able to keep hollerin’ so loud that no one could hear
them complainin’. He’d say: ‘The gentleman who has jest come out of
the tent states that under this canvas is the grandest sight that the
civilised world has got to offer. He advises his friends to pass in, one
and all, and behold the only infant anaconda in captivity.’ It certainly
did take cheek to run that show, but he had it.”

Amazeen went fishing in his pockets for a match.

“Well, he couldn’t always holler ’em down, could he?” inquired
Brickett, skeptically. “I should have thought that some one would ’a’
showed him up.”

The old man chuckled.

“Oh, once in a while a man would git heard and then Hime would bend down
and ask:

“‘What’s the matter with you?’

“‘Why, he ain’t longer’n your finger,’ the man would yap back.

“‘Oh, he ain’t big enough? That’s it!’ Hime would say. ‘Well, go right
back in and wait till he grows. ‘There won’t be any extry charge.’

“And then the rest of the crowd that always likes to see a man took in
would laugh and Hime would go on cheerful as a cricket. But if he’d had
less cheek he’d have got rid’ on a rail out of ev’ry fair ground.” He
closed down the little “pepper-pot” cover over his pipe bowl.

“Then there was Hime’s dancin’ turkey,” he went on, apparently enjoying
his recollections hugely. “For two or three years after that he was
’round with a fiddle and turkey and a sheet of tin. He’d put the
turkey on the tin with nettin’ around and set behind and fiddle ‘Speed
the Plough,’ and keep moving a lamp back and forth under that tin with
his toe, and the old gobbler would have to tip-toe Nancy mighty lively
to hunt for the cool places. Looked like he was jiggin’. I’m knowin’ to
it that he cleaned up sev’ral thousand dollars on that ‘dancin’ turkey,’
as he called it.

“All the time his father couldn’t do nothin’ with him! Kind of a
good-meanin’ chap, Hime allus was, though. Lib’ral with his money. Come
easy, went easy. Drove a nice team. Girls all liked him. No girl caught
him, though, till little Myry Austin got into long dresses. Hime was
nigh onto thirty then, and had gone into a general dickerin’ bus’ness
about the same as King Bradish does in town now; sold produce on
commission, you know, and handled farmin’ tools, and so forth. He got to
be real likely them days, and he reelly did think an awful sight of that
Austin girl. It straightened him all out, havin’ her take a likin’ to
him, and ’twas all understood in P’lermo as bein’ settled between
’em. And then what did young Klebe Willard do but come back from
college with a cap on the back of his head ’bout as big as a cooky and
his hair puffed out in front and puttin’ on more airs than a pigeon
on a ridgepole. And havin’ nothin’ else to do he cut out Hime, and Hime
didn’t know it for a long time, ’cause Klebe done his courtin’ on the
sly on account of the old man. And when Hime did find it out--last
one almost in the village, as us’ly happens in them cases, and got the
mitten--well, you talk about goin’ to Tophet at an angle of forty-five
with the track greased! Nothin’ but cards and hoorah-ste’boy, and tryin’
to make believe he didn’t care. I swanny, ’twas pitiful when you
knowed what was underneath.”

Amazeen sighed and bored his cane into the soil, his elbows on his
knees.

“There was excuses for him, most of us knowed that!” volunteered Uncle
Buck.

“And as though he hadn’t done enough in breakin’ up the
engagement--which wa’n’t no trouble, seein’ that Hime was so much older
and she only kind o’ silly and teetered up by havin’ a dude like Judge
Willard’s boy show her attention--Klebe had to go and sass Hime one
ev’nin’ right here in front of this store---that was when old Bruce
owned it. Hime was pretty well tea-ed up--drinkin’ some, you understand,
along with the rest--and he drove up here, leaned back and looked a long
time at Klebe, who was standin’ on the platform smokin’ a cigarette. ‘I
bought her ev’rything I could think of,’ says Hime, ‘but she had to go
dicker for a poodle-dog and trade herself off, even swap!’

“Now with Hime so wrought up and all that, Klebe ought to have passed
along, but he thought he had a tongue-walloper’s license, bein’ Coll
Willard’s boy, and started in and called Hime ev’rything he could lay
tongue to and then pitched into the Look fam’ly, root and branch in
general; called old Look an ignorant clod-hopper, and said that sendin’
Phin to college was about like tryin’ to gold-plate an Early-Rose
potater. And then he barked right out there in public--bein’
dizzy-headed by that time, I reckon--that all Myry Austin had cared
about Hime, anyway, was to watch him perform ’round her, same as boys
spit on a stick and throw it into a mill-pond for Towser to fetch back.
And when Hime still set there takin’ it, Klebe was startin’ in on
things that was worse still, when Hime came over his waggon wheel like
a pick’rel after a skip-bait and--well, when ’twas over Klebe Willard
had marks on his face that will always be there. Hime picked him
up--everyone was too scared to mess in--and lugged him on his back to
Judge Willard’s and throwed him over the fence about where he boosted
the old man to-day, and hollered: ‘Here’s something to feed to your
cat!’ Then he came back and got into his team before old Constable
Denslow had got so he could speak.

“‘I shall have to arrest you, Hime,’ he says, ‘as I reckon you’ve killed
him!’

“‘Arrest hell!’ says Hime. ‘I tried to kill him!’ And he slashed old
Denslow across the face with his whip and went out of the village,
hootin’ and gallopin’ his horse, with eighteen hundred or two thousand
dollars owin’ to people ’round here. And since that night Hime Look
ain’t been seen in this village till yesterday, and from what was
dropped by word o’ mouth ’tween him and Phin, it’s pretty plain he
ain’t been heard from by his fam’ly, either.”

He checked his garrulous narration in order to relight his pipe.

“It’s been a hard blow for Squire Phin, it all has,” observed Uncle
Buck. “Just finishing college when it happened, and havin’ the record
of bein’ the smartest critter there! He had the chance to go into a big
city law-office, but there was poor old Seth knocked flat’s a flounder,
his name on notes to wholesalers who’d sold to Hime, and feelin’ holden
for all the other debts.

“Phin done what few boys would do. He come home, put his shoulder to the
wheel and taught school and studied law between-whiles--and, well, we
all know how he’s worked it out.”

“There was more than the money side of it, too, that he had to face,”
 broke in Amazeen.

“Seems as if I’ve heard hints that he was pretty fierce took in a
certain quarter,” observed Brickett, with a sly look.

“Lord, I guess there was hints and more, too,” snapped Amazeen. “Why, he
lugged Sylveny Willard’s dinner pail to and from school when they was
so young that neither noticed there was any diff’rence between Seth
Look and Coll Willard. Kind of one of those cases where two young ones
nat’rally took to each other. I was postmaster for a spell and they
wrote reg’lar when he was away to college, till all to once old Coll
knowed about it and realised that Sylveny had got out of the ABC age. He
up and howled blue murder and right on top came the Hime part. Gad, no,
he wouldn’t consider Phin Look for a son-in-law--wa’n’t pedigree enough
to him.”

Amazeen’s tone was scornful.

“That’s why he f’it off Klebe marryin’ Myry Austin year after year till
it looked as though they never would git married--and from all I hear
about the way they git along now, I reckon ’twould have been better
all around if the old Judge had f’it harder. Klebe had to break loose
and git a vessel for himself before he dared to buck the old man and
marry her. I don’t believe he really ever wanted her, anyway, but she’s
one o’ them women that’s like a sheet of fly paper--git it on your
fingers and try to pull it off and it keeps stickin’ in a new place.
She’s too pretty to have much head. Ain’t ever had anything to steady
her down, and that keeps Klebe guessin’ and mad a good part of the time
when he’s home.”

“If I’d have been Phin Look I’d have run away with Sylvena Willard years
ago,” grunted Uncle Lysimachus. “I’ll bet she’d have gone. A dummed old
hog like Coll Willard ain’t got no right to keep two people like them
apart. And more’n that, he’s torchin’ her all the time to marry King.
There ain’t a woman in this village that women-folks in trouble run to
as they do to her, and we all know what Squire Phin is to P’lermo! There
ain’t hardly a family in this town that he ain’t settled a fuss for--not
in courts and by runnin’ up bills of expense, but by kind words and
common-sense and good advice and by gittin’ right inside a critter’s
heart. A man ain’t goin’ to get rich by that way of practisin’ law,
but, by jerro, he’s earnin’ the kind of currency that they say makes
a millionnaire in eternity. He’s the husband Sylvena Willard ought to
have, and, by gad, if I was her I’d have him!”

“Did you ever stop to think, Lys,” drawled Ama-zeen, “that people who
have things pretty much their own way, without carin’ what other people
want, who tromp over commands, disobey parents, bust into fam’lies
and all that, are pretty apt to be scaly critters? Bein’ as they are,
Sylveny Willard and Phin Look deserve to have each other; but bein’ as
they are, it’s almighty likely they never will. Cuts both ways, you
see! A woman that forgets all her father has done for her and leaves him
alone in his old age and goes away to a man that he is dead ag’inst, has
got the disposition to treat a husband as bad as she has a father. May
not do it, understand--but the disposition is there. Marryin’ and givin’
in marriage is all right, but fam’ly loyalty is something, too. You want
to remember that Coll Willard probably don’t seem to her the same as he
does to us. A man that busts into a family when he knows he ain’t wanted
may be gritty and in love, and all that, but he’s puttin’ himself and
his pleasure and in-t’rests first, and lettin’ others trail. Phin Look
allus has practised what he preaches to his clients. But it has sartinly
happened bad for him--Hime’s cuttin’ up and all the rest, and it ain’t
lookin’ much better just now.”

“I had an idea they’d git married sometime,” said Brickett. “You’ll find
that Squire Phin has had some partic’lar mighty good reason for stayin’
in this little place. He don’t belong here and he never has. A drummer
told me that outside of here he’s called one of the best-read men in the
State. Judges all say that, the drummer told me. He don’t have to stay
here, not by a long shot. Yes, I thought they’d git married some day
when old Coll got through, but I guess this Hime matter comin’ up agin
will bust things forever. Klebe will take it up.”

“I’ll tell you what I think will happen now,” broke in a tall young man
who had sauntered up and had been listening.

No one asked any questions. Amazeen bored his cane deeper with indignant
twistings, as he reflected on the situation.

“I reckon she’ll give in to the Judge at last and marry King Bradish.”
 The lounger spoke with tone of conviction.

Buck and Amazeen slowly turned their heads and stared at each other with
a singular look of mutual intelligence. Amazeen’s lips were set in a
straight line above his bristly brush of short chin beard. There was
a flicker of malice in Uncle Buck’s gray eyes, glittering under their
tufted brows.

When they had established a thorough understanding by means of a
prolonged stare, they simultaneously struggled to their feet and started
around the store. At the foot of the outside stairway they paused and
looked at each other again.

“Ain’t nobody else up there with him, is there?” asked Amazeen.

“No one ain’t gone up sence he opened shop,” replied Buck. “He got down
early.”’

“I don’t blame him,” snorted Amazeen. “What with el’phunt and hosses and
hoorah, and yard full and Hime hollerin’ ’round as though he was front
of his show tent, and that ding parrot of his squawkin’, ‘Crack ’em
down, gents; the old army game!’ I reckon the Squire couldn’t git away
any too early. Now-------” he paused, and the two men looked at each
other a long time, wrinkling their brows.

“If we try to plunk the news about Bradish and ‘Rissy Mayo to him at
the fust-off, he’ll shet us up by yappin’ out that he won’t listen
to slander. He handles ev’rything that’s spicy news just that way,”
 observed Buck, dubiously.

The young man who dropped the remark about Bradish lounged around the
corner and stood eyeing the stairway, incertitude written large on his
vapid countenance.

Buck, with the air of a conspirator, cautiously reached out his cane and
rapped Amazeen’s foot. When the latter raised his abstracted gaze from
the ground, Buck winked prodigiously and jerked his head sideways.
Amazeen turned and eyed the young man with a shrewd twinkle of
understanding.

“Son!” he called softly. The young man came along to them.

“You ain’t ever had that talk o’ yourn with the Squire, have ye?”

A mournful wag of the head.

“Wouldn’t you like to have me’n Lys, here, to sort o’ pave the way?”

The head waggled again in token of reviving interest.

“Well, you go stand acrost the road and when you see me come to the
winder and toss out my cud o’ terbacker, you boost along up. Me’n Lys
is takin’ a friendly int’rest in the case for you. Now go ’long over
there and watch out.” He pushed the young man away hastily as he began
to stammer thanks.

“I can’t talk with the dum fool,” he growled through the corner of his
mouth, as he led the way up the stairs. “Fur’s I’m concerned I wisht he
was married to a half dozen jest like the one he’s hitched up with.
But as long’s we’ve got to git this thing to the Squire ’round Robin
Hood’s barn, Mayo’s fool makes a good road-breaker, as you might say.
Now I’ll start in on the Squire as though I was ready mad because he
has married Wat to that girl, and that will bring him up all standin’ to
argue that the marriage is a rousin’ success.”

“One that King Bradish is tryin’ to mess into and bust up, hey?”
 suggested Buck with a knowing leer.

Amazeen returned the look with just as much significance, thrust his
elbow into Buck’s ribs and started up the stairs.

“You’re right,” asserted Buck. “The Squire’ll fight other folkses’
battles before he’ll take up his own--always did, always will, prob’ly.
Now, I reckon if we manage this thing right, King Bradish will get the
wickin’ put to him in good shape.”

He stopped outside the door of the office and concluded in a husky
whisper:

“Even if the Squire don’t get her, Lys, let’s fix it so that King
Bradish never will. Sylveny Willard’s too good a girl to be wasted that
way, and if the Judge gits devil-set enough he’s li’ble to drive her
right into it. Now we’ll ste’boy the Squire onto King in spite of
himself.”

“That critter has rid’ around town with his nose up ‘bout’s long as I
can stand it,” said Amazeen.

“He’s a stuck-up, blame-fired skunk, that’s what he is,” snapped Buck,
the memory of certain sneers about “Palermo’s mossbacks” burning hotly
with him.

The conspirators composed their faces and went in.



CHAPTER IV--SQUIRE PHIN FINDS HYMEN’S TORCH BURNING HIS FINGERS


               “Old Widder Bugg was a-weanin’ her ca’f,

               Used ha’f for herself and the ca’f had ha’f,

               But he bellered all day and he blatted all night,

               And he hollered for his rations so tough and tight,

               That the widder she fed him one last, square meal,

               And the next he knowed he was peddled for veal.

               Oh, nice little ca’ves that is bein’ weaned,

               Shouldn’t keep blattin’ when the cow’s been dreened.”

                        --Effort by “Rhymester” Tuttle.


Of the four strap-bottomed “company chairs” in Squire Look’s office,
“three had spavins and the other the blind staggers,” as old Uncle
Lysimachus Buck expressed it. But by dint of balancing on the sound legs
or bracing against the wall at the right angle, or by extreme care in
easing one’s self into a safe position, the loafers who dropped in to
smoke managed to worry along. When the wood box cover was shut down
that made a seat for two. As for clients, when the chairs were occupied
clients were glad to roost on a corner of the big table and rap their
heels with great ease of manner and comfort of person.

The Squire’s visitors sat down and as promptly lighted their pipes.

“As I was tellin’ ye, Squire, the other day,” began Marriner Amazeen,
after pausing to quack briskly at his pipe stem to kindle the waning
lire, “I don’t see what in sanup ye was thinkin’ of to torch Watson
Mayo up to marry that hity-tity-flighty little fool for. The minister
wouldn’t marry ’em and you done it, and so of course the Mayos lay
the blame to you.” He made great show of resentment. Buck apparently had
much trouble in refraining from grinning.

The ’Squire, who had been feeding the stove, dusted his hands smartly
and pudged slowly back to his armchair without replying. He picked up
his pipe, surveyed a match, end to end, preparatory to scratching it, a
quizzical pucker about his mouth.

“You remember the time Benson Wallace had all his new grading washed
away by the cloudburst, ’Mad’?”

Amazeen nodded grimly. He did not relish Squire Look’s illustrations.

“Well, Bens’ came bootin’ down to the office here and wanted me to sue
Deacon Bassett, who had been praying for rain to fill his mill-pond.
Laid the whole damage of the cloudburst to the deacon’s power of
supplication. I don’t have anything to do with these love cloudbursts
around here.”

“But you encouraged the cussed fools--torch ’em on,” persisted
Amazeen.

“No, it’s a chap named Hymen that carries the torch, ’Mad’. In Wat’s
case I wasn’t even actuated by a mercenary motive, for he owned up that
he didn’t have the fee, and he hasn’t paid me yet, and he probably never
will.”

“And them’s the kind of double-hitches you’re throwing the harness
over!” sneered Amazeen.

“She’s handsomer than the chromo picture on a calendar--you’ve got to
say that about the snippet,” commented Lysimachus Buck, desiring to
provoke the Squire to retort.

“You’d ought to ’a’ plunked advice right to him not to do it, Squire,”
 sputtered Amazeen. “It has raised the devil with him--and he wasn’t none
too bright before. Who knows anything about an industrial school girl
like her? She don’t know nothin’ about herself. I tell you, it’s been a
hard pill for the Mayos to swaller. Their only boy clearin’ out like
he done, leavin’ a good, comf’table home and now only a swipe in Jote
Bradley’s livery stable!”

The lawyer leaned back in his chair, and, hooking his leg over the arm,
softly scratched the back of the appreciative old dog with dangling boot
toe.

“Eli, here, has often remarked to me,” he said, squinting up at the
cracked ceiling, the quizzical pucker still at his mouth corners, “that
I let love as a special pleading overrule exceptions right along.

“I do really suppose I have done a master sight of malicious mischief
in the world by marrying these young critters that are fighting the
old folks and don’t dare to flee to the parsons, and haven’t a single,
reasonable, sensible, _business_ excuse for getting married, except that
they’ve fallen in love themselves instead of waiting and letting the
farms or the fishing schooners be introduced to each other by the old
folks and fall in love. There’s nothing prettier in this world, ’Mad,’
than a hundred and twenty acre farm sighing with its corn tassels and a
neighbouring farm rippling back an answer with its oat heads, and
both of ’em getting so much in love with one another that it is only
necessary for the young folks to get together and ratify the match and
count the wedding presents.”

Old Amazeen snorted disgustedly. “There ain’t no more practicality to
you, Squire, than there is to a June bug tryin’ to butt the moon. I tell
ye, proputty has got to be considered first!”

The Squire still gazed meditatively at the ceiling through the tobacco
smoke.

“’Mad’,” he said, in that half-jesting tone that many Palermo
literalists characterised as ‘too free and easy for a lawyer,’
“you’ve loafed here a good deal and I’ve heard you comment on most
of the Palermo vital statistics--births and deaths and marriages.
Now here’s the difference between you and Eli, here. You say, ‘Huh!
’nother brat got along down to So-and-so’s, and only last week she was
rapping out Hungryman’s ratty-too on the bottom of the flour-barrel
with her rolling-pin, trying to dust down enough for another batch of
biscuit!’ But Eli comes in, wags his tail and says to me: ‘Just came
past So-and-so’s and their dog Gyp said to me that he’d slyed in a few
minutes before and kissed the new baby on the cheek with the tip of his
tongue. Said the new baby tickled right out into the funniest little
snicker!’ Gyp said: ‘Old man, we’re all a little short just now,
’count of extra expenses and excitement and all that, you know, or I’d
ask you to have dinner with me in honor of the occasion, but we’re going
to pitch in again in dead earnest, and I’m going to run the dog churn
over to the custom dairy, and, say! for one snicker a day from that baby
I’ll trot my legs off.’”

“’Mad’, as you say it: ‘A couple more fools married before they had a
shot in their locker.’ And Eli says: ‘I happened to drop in behind that
young Davis couple in the narrow path, and though I wasn’t trying to
listen to secrets, I did hear him say: “Little wife, you aren’t sorry
you married a poor man, are you?”’”

“All that people want money for,” said she, “is to buy just such
happiness as we possess now. And their money doesn’t buy it, after
all. And we don’t have to say ‘mine’ and ‘your’ about our love. It’s
all--_ours_--and that’s a blessed word.” And then she stood on tiptoe
and pulled his head down--and if I hadn’t run up over the bank then I’d
have deserved to have a tin can tied to my tail.’

“’Mad’, you say: ‘Well, old Brown has got done! I hear he wasn’t wuth
much property--hain’t leavin’ much behind.’ And Eli comes in with head
and tail down: ‘It’s the husband of that good, old Missus Brown that’s
dead--the lady that has set out so many plates of grub for me. The plate
wasn’t on the back porch this morning, but I sat there a little while
and I heard some one inside talking low and he said: “There was never
a man in this town who left so many friends when he died. And he left a
memory that’s worth leaving--never a mean act nor a sneaking trick nor a
gouge in a trade! Property? Oh, I don’t know. You never thought of that
when you thought of him. I only know that he used wisely the good things
he found on earth in his reach as he went along, without seeing how much
he could keep away from his neighbours.”’”

Old man Amazeen rapped out his pipe ashes and looked at the Squire
sullenly.

“Because I’ve tug-a-lugged all my life and got a little money out at
interest, I s’pose you’re gittin’ in a dig at me, too,” he growled.

“No, we were talking about young Mayo marrying Damaris Scott,” returned
Phineas, cheerily, “and you were saying, or intimating, that when
two such poor love-sick young critters come to me and want to own the
privilege of walking down life, hand in hand and heart to heart, I ought
first to inventory their property and their prospects.”

The waver in his voice, the depth of his significance was lost on the
old man.

“He gave up a good home, and where did they live the first month after
they were married?” Amazeen struck his hand on his patched knee. “Where
did they live, I say? In one of Bradley’s box stalls that Wat Mayo
tacked burlap ’round to keep out the draughts. And they ain’t much
better off now down in that Sykes’ rent, living on bannock bread and
fighting wharf rats. _There’s_ one of your--“, old Ama-zeen wrinkled
his nose and brought the word out of his nostrils with a sardonic
twist--“_love_ matches, Phin Look, and there’s worse than that on the
docket.”

Amazeen stumped across the room to the front window. “Huh! That’s queer!
He’s coming across the street now,” he said, with a chuckle and a wink
directed at Uncle Lysimachus.

Squire Phin understood why the two old men turned their backs on him,
hunching their shoulders and shaking with suppressed mirth as the
uncertain footsteps of Mayo blundered up the outside stairs.

He was a tall and scrawny young man with black hair parted in the middle
and spatted down on his head, presenting twin surfaces as shiny as the
wings of a beetle. A thin moustache drooped over a weak mouth, and
his eyes had that bland, vacant arch above them that irritates one’s
common-sense. Stupid, smug, self-satisfied, and spoiled--the only child
of the hard-working village carpenter, he had always worn better clothes
than any other boy in Palermo, had never been allowed to work, and had
posed as a village beau. He was just the one to attract a girl fresh
from the half-penal restraint of the State industrial school and “bound
out” as a drudge to a Palermo family.

From the time when Phineas Look began first impatiently to notice the
youth loafing along the street, a cigarette dangling from his lower lip,
the sight made him angry--not with the boy, but with the parents that
were ruining him. Once he had bluntly pitched into Ezra Mayo, and from
the indignant retorts of that fond parent discovered that he vaguely
prized Watson’s stupid idleness as something aristocratic.

The fact that they now referred to this marriage as they would to an
especially sudden and fatal attack of the bubonic plague, and refused to
admit that they still had a son, appealed to the offended lawyer by its
humour rather than otherwise.

“You’ve been trying to swim in a puddle of molasses, you poor devil,” he
muttered as young Mayo came shuffling across the room. The faded glories
of his worn clothing were eloquent of what had happened in his fortunes.
His coat was ripped in the arm seam, the cuffs were frayed, but he wore
his big puff tie of baby blue, and the pungent effluvia of the stable
was toned down by cheap perfume that surrounded him like impalpable fog.

“That smell’s thick enough to cut,” murmured old Amazeen to Uncle Buck,
fingers squeezing his nostrils. The woe-begone visage of the client
stirred spasms of silent mirth in the old men.

“Well, Wat, how’s the bride?” inquired Squire Phin, with heartiness.
“And there wasn’t any hurry about your paying me that two dollars, if
that’s what you’re come in for.”

“I ain’t come to pay you no two dollars,” returned the youth, gloomily.
“First place, I ain’t got it; second place, it ain’t as I expected it
was goin’ to be.”

A subdued “tchock” sounded in the nose of Amazeen.

“Let’s see. You’re speaking now of your marriage and not of your job,
as I understand it,” suggested the Squire, relighting his pipe;
“though--ump-foo--ump-foo--I should say you’d better save such talk for
the job.”

“Well, I’m sort of speakin’ of the two together,” stammered the young
man.

“I reckon you’d better begin to dissociate your wife from the livery
stable, Watson,” drily advised the Squire, “even though you did start
housekeeping there. Now, you’ll remember that you came to me bringing
the prettiest girl I ever saw, and you told me that it wouldn’t be worth
while for you to try to live if you didn’t have her. You don’t mean to
come here now, do you, and tell me that you don’t love her?”

“’Tain’t that,” he blurted; “oh, ’tain’t that, Squire. It’s because
I love her so much and--and--well, somehow it’s all going wrong and I’m
afraid she don’t love me. It has kind of taken the gimp out o’ me.
I didn’t think dad and ma would stand out so long--and _she_ didn’t,
either, and I ain’t got no trade so I can hold down some good job, and
she ain’t satisfied with me. No, she ain’t, Squire. If dad and ma would
only take me home--if you would see ’em and fix it and----”

“Look here, Watson.” Look threw himself forward and drove his fists on
the table with an emphasis that started the dust. “That’s why I married
you off, you fool, to get you out of leading-strings, to make a man of
you, instead of a puppy, loafing around our streets and chasing home to
your mother’s doughnut jar three times a day. Even old Eli, here, knows
how to carry home a bone for _himself_, but you hadn’t even done that
for _yourself_ up to the time you were married. And I gave you something
you wanted, something to work for, something that every man needs to
make a true man of himself, except when he’s a tough old bach like me.
Now what are you whining about?”

Phineas Look’s reading of his own “heart-docket” the day before had not
inclined him over-much to amiability toward this particular variety of
ingrate. His tone was peremptory and he scowled.

“I can’t earn no kind of a livin’,” Mayo stammered.

“And you probably never will so long as you stay a chambermaid in a
livery stable. Great God, is that the limit of your ambition or your
enterprise? A man with a wife he loves, with two strong hands and a will
to get-there-Eli, to come sniveling like this! Hunt your work! Buckle
to it! That’s what will make something better of you, boy, than Mayo’s
housedog.”

The taunt was wasted, for the youth persisted in his stubborn lament.
“She says now she wouldn’t have married me if she didn’t think we’d be
taken care of better.”

“What kind of cussed notions did you put in her head?” the lawyer
stormed. “If you lied to her, Watson, it’s up to you to square yourself
now by making good. Do so well by her that she’ll love you and respect
you for yourself. Don’t make me sorry that I cut your dog-leash before
your parents plumb ruined you.”

Young Mayo cast a furtive look at the two old men, and leaning over the
table murmured, his lips trembling:

“I tell you, Squire, she scares me. She says it has come to her in a
vision that she has a mother--a lady mother, somewhere, all in silks
and satins, and she’s seen her in a vision with her diamond thing on her
head. And most ev’ry night she wakes and sits up in bed and reaches up
her arms and says her lady mother just asked her to come, Squire Phin,
and she’s a-goin’. Yes, s’r, she’s a-goin’ some time and I’m scared and
I ain’t got no ambition and I can’t buy her no good clothes, and I sold
my watch and scarfpin to give her money. My Gawd, Squire, she’s a-goin’
and I can’t live without her, nohow.”

Perspiration streamed down his quivering face and his lips “guffled”
 tremulously. All the smugness and self-satisfaction were gone now, and
for the first time the lawyer saw the Mayo boy in all his wretched,
discouraging inefficiency. With a pang of self-reproach he reflected
that some natures cannot stand stiff doses--and his remedy for making
over a man had certainly been a heroic one. As he pondered, he fell into
his characteristic attitude, hands clutched into the long locks of his
gray hair, his elbows on the table. He gazed into the pathos of that
quivering face and studied it as he would the page of an open book. The
little office was very still.

“Blorh-hum!” coughed Amazeen, and he proceeded, addressing no one in
particular: “When I was a boy, goin’ to school, there was a family named
Bragg that lived clust to us, and they had a boy named Ximenus--that was
it, Ximenus Bragg. Them Braggs they was poorer--poorer’n Pooduc, but the
old man had to have his three dogs, and fin’ly Ximenus was took with a
craze for music and nothin’ would do but what he’d got to have a snare
drum. And he teased and he coaxed. Old Bragg hadn’t the gumption to
plunk his foot right down and say ‘No,’ but he’d whine and argue
with the boy and say that with winter a-comin’ on he’d ought to have
long-legged boots instead of a drum. Finally Old Bragg told Ximenus that
if he would go without the boots and not whine, he could have the drum,
and the drum he did get, by gorry. I s’pose that for a couple of days
there never was a more tickleder boy. He ratty-tooed and ratty-tummed
and long-rolled and biffed and banged and et his meals off’n the head
of the thing and kept at it till his ma was so near drove crazy that she
chased him out doors with the rollingpin and threatened to bust in the
head of that drum if he ever put stick to it ag’in in the house.

“There it was, late fall and the snow beginning to fly, and I’ll never
forget the sight Ximenus made standin’ out there on the cold door stone
on one foot and holding the other foot to the calf of his leg to warm
it, and then shifting feet to get the other warm, and drumming away all
the time, trying to keep his courage up and make himself believe that
he loved music and the drum and was glad he had it instead of them new
long-legged boots.”

“Beats all about some critters, don’t it?” commented Uncle Buck, after
listening to this tale with much interest.

“It does that,” returned Amazeen.

The Squire had not taken his eyes from the Mayo boy’s face.

“Bub,” he said softly, “they meant well--your folks--but--damn ’em for
fools.

“Are you and the little one hungry?” he asked in a half whisper after a
time, careful that the old men did not overhear.

“We ain’t suff’rin’ none, Squire, but we don’t have meat vittles
nor nothin’ the same’s I had at----” but as the hard lines crinkled
ominously around the lawyer’s gray eyes he stopped confusedly.

Shielding himself from the scrutiny of Buck and Amazeen behind the youth
who still leaned over the table, Squire Phin straightened his leg and
cautiously ran his hand into his trousers pocket. After a period of
fumbling he slid his hand along the table, slipped a bill into the palm
by which the young man was propping himself, squeezed the fingers down
over it, and said with a tenderness almost parental:

“Go buy a good, meat dinner to-day, son, and have plenty of meat hash
for supper, and perhaps the little one will sleep so soundly that the
lady mother can’t disturb her. Take good heart. As Eli, here, says: ‘The
harder you have to dig after a woodchuck, the better your appetite is
when you get him.’ We’ll see what can be done. Now straighten up. Throw
back your shoulders. Cock your knee every time you step, just like your
best livery horse--the best ‘letter,’ you know--the one all the folks
ask for. Hold up your chin and show ’em it’s natural and not a
check-rein habit. Remember all the time that you’re young, life’s ahead
of you, and the prettiest girl in Palermo is your wife. That’s the way
to face the world. Tail over the dasher. Now out and at it!”

And seizing the youth by the arm, he marched him to the door, thwacking
his broad palm between his shoulders at every step.

When Squire Phin turned and came back to his table he knotted his
eyebrows and glared at the two old men.

“Now wipe those Chessy cat grins off your faces,” he snapped. “I see
through your hectoring scheme. But you watch me. I’ll sooner or later
put that marriage along with the others I’ve pigeon-holed under the
label ‘Successes.’”

Amazeen turned to Buck. “The Squire wants to have all his marriage
certificates hold up like his title deeds, Lys--legal, binding, and good
for all time. But you mustn’t get touchy with us, Phin. It isn’t very
often that you marry a fool tumble-bug to a butterfly. Howsomever,
you’ve done it this trip, and it ain’t goin’ to be a success--and it
ain’t your fault. There’s something worse than what’s showed yet goin’
to drop in that quarter or I’m no prophet. You’d better not be mixed too
close in it.”

“Go along with your tattling gossip,” cried the lawyer. “If you and
Uncle Lys haven’t anything better to do, go out and take a sun bath. I
want to study.”

“You know more law already than you need. You know it better than you
do some kinds of human nature, and I’m going to post you a little on
the last-named,” pursued Amazeen, cheerfully disregarding the rebuff.
“There’s more’n lady mothers and visions that’s makin’ Rissy Mayo
discontented.”

“Huh-huh!” grunted Look, without apparent interest, taking down a volume
of reports and spatting the dust from it.

“And I ain’t givin’ you any guess-so,” shouted Amazeen, nettled by the
lawyer’s contemptuous snort. He stood up and cracked his cane on the
floor. “I ain’t ghostin’ ’round, ’specially, nor tryin’ to pry into
my neighbours’ business, but when I’m knowin’ to a thing that’s poked
right under my nose, why, I know it. Wat Mayo has to set up ev’ry
ev’nin’, don’t he, to wait for let teams to come in? Well, he wa’n’t
out strollin’ in the Cod Lead Nubble pines all spring and summer, he and
Rissy, she a-swingin’ her hat by the ribbons, all so fine and gay--and
that was nigh ev’ry fair night. He was settin’ in the stable office
shinin’ up hames’ brass-work and nickel trimmin’s, wa’n’t he? He ain’t
meetin’ her on the South Cove road with a buff-lined Goddard, and
wearin’ a white hat with a black band, and takin’ her aboard. No, he
ain’t got any such hat, and there’s only one buff-lined Goddard in these
parts and----”

“You say you’re knowing to all that?” demanded the Squire. His gaze was
direct and glowering and his fingers gripped the volume so tightly that
they were white and bloodless.

“Not only I’m knowin’ to it, but so’s the South Cove seiners that have
their dry racks out that way.” Amazeen was defiant. The lawyer glared
at him so threateningly that he became thoroughly indignant. “And if you
want the straight facts,” he barked, “and have got to have names right
out in meetin’ to prove it ain’t just gossip, then it’s King Bradish
who is sparkin’ round the lady mother’s lovely daughter that you’ve
plastered off onto a poor boy that’s broke his people’s hearts by
gettin’ married to her. I’ve been wond’rin’ how the high-toned Sylveny
Willard would like to find that out.”

Squire Phin laid the book on the table and put his hands behind him to
hide their trembling.

“You listen a moment, Amazeen,” he said, spitting the words at the
old man; “there are limits to what a person can tell and tattle in a
community, when that telling and tattling implicates others’ good names.
You know me and you know how much you can depend on what I tell you.
If I hear another word on this matter as having been passed around the
village by you or Buck, here, I’ll give my services to King Bradish, sue
you for slander, attach every dollar’s worth you own, and, by the gods,
I’ll win my case. Now if you want your tongue to empty your pocket, go
ahead and talk.”

The old men stared at him a while and then, mumbling angrily, but
plainly intimidated, went clumping down the stairs. The Squire stood in
the middle of the office, his hands spatting each other behind him. At
last the consciousness that some one was bawling his name outside broke
upon his profound meditation.

“Squire Phin! Squire! Won’t you see here a second?” shouted Amazeen.

Look went along to the front window and threw it up. Only the old men
were in sight in the street, standing shoulder to shoulder, their faces
upturned, their beards snapping in the breeze. At this safe strategic
distance they had one more shot to fire, and their countenances showed
it. Amazeen held his hand beside his mouth and huskily whispered:

“Squire, you know--that party--the party we was talkin’ about just now?”
 Sullen nod. “You needn’t sue me on his account. I won’t say nothin’.
But--Squire!” Another curt nod.

“I know that said party has owed you a settlement for quite a while, if
what folks say is true. Now, why don’t you put your bill in with
Wat’s and collect both with a”--the old man shouted the last
word--“hoss-whip?” For Squire Phin had banged down the window.



CHAPTER V--HIRAM LOOK MEETS KLEBER WILLARD BRIEFLY AND BRISKLY

AFTER TWENTY-FIVE YEARS


               A nice little man came up the lane,

                   And it was summer weather;

               Said he, “It is jolly to meet again,

                   Like this, we two together.

               And if there be no other thing

                   That you can think to say,

               Then it’s ‘How do you do? ’ and ‘How do you do?’

                   And ‘How do you do, to-day? ’ “


It was “Figger-four” Avery who secured from Hiram Look the most
information about himself for general circulation. When, after the first
few days of wonderment, the attendance at the Squire’s premises dropped
off, it was “Figger-four” who remained loyal to the new attraction.
Hiram tolerated his constant presence because the little man’s
wide-eyed, wide-eared, wide-mouthed receptiveness of his tales flattered
the eminent impresario of Imogene and her appanage.

Avery was so small and inoffensive that the showman never resented any
questions that he asked. All others Hiram shooed off with profanity when
they hinted concerning his affairs and intentions.

“Blast him,” growled Hiram to his brother, “I feel like a sap tree with
a spile let into it when he’s around. I just drip and drip away to him
and he sets and laps it down and I can’t seem to shut off. But he’s an
obligin’ little fool.”

Avery’s soubriquet came from the appearance of his legs. A fever-sore
years before had shriveled the left leg, and the knee was set
permanently at an angle. As he bobbed along, alternately rising and
sinking, he kept presenting with his legs the shape of a grotesque 4.

“Everywhere I go,” said Hiram, “Figger-four is right at my elbow, still
askin’ questions. And I get interested in answerin’ and I forget and
try to keep step with him, and the first thing I know I’m hoppin’ along
worse than a darned jack-rabbit. But he’ll do errands like a fly.”

Therefore he did not rebuff the little man. In consequence Avery was
able to report that Hiram had travelled all over the country; that he
had brought his chariots to Palermo because he was going to start out
with another circus after he got rested up and had squared things with
his brother. Furthermore, the people who had bought his other show
property weren’t willing to pay a fair price for the waggons, and Hiram
didn’t propose to be “Jewed.” No one had ever got the better of Hiram,
so Hiram told Avery, and Avery told the people of Palermo. He had--at
this point Figger-four always took a long breath--rising forty thousand
dollars in the bank, beside what he carried in the fat pocketbook. He
was ready to lend money on first mortgages, and Avery was able to state
that already several persons whom Judge Willard had been squeezing for
bonuses on renewal of their notes had refunded their loans with
Hiram. As Avery bobbed around telling this, he served as an excellent
advertising medium, and other patrons of Judge Willard, who had been
the town’s sole financial man for years, came to the new capitalist
for loans. Avery admitted that probably the Judge would still enjoy a
monopoly of handling the money of the widows and orphans and old folks
who had placed their funds with him for investment, because Hiram was
not yet morally rehabilitated in the town’s opinion.

“But there ain’t a better man to borrow money from,” concluded his
champion. “He don’t take no bonus and he lets you have it for six per
cent, and set your own time.”

Moreover, Hiram started the hum of industry in Palermo by hiring Ezra
Mayo and several helpers to build a shelter for the circus waggons. And
he was also vaguely hinting to the admiring Avery that next season he
might start something in the way of business in Palermo that would make
people open their eyes.

“You’re all deader’n a side-show mermaid here in Palermo,” he said one
afternoon as he and Avery were sitting by the roadside under one of the
big Look poplars. “There’s a lot of things that need to be peppered up.
My brother Phin could have done it if he wasn’t too easy-goin’. Now, how
long has old Coll Willard been town treasurer?”

There was a queer glint in the good eye that Hiram turned on Avery.

“Goin’ on thirty years.”

“Does he give bonds?”

“Hain’t ever been asked to,” replied Figger-four, with the readiness
of one whose business is to know other people’s affairs. “This town
wouldn’t ask a Willard to do such a thing as that. He’s safer’n the Bank
of England, the Judge is.”

“Is, eh?” Hiram’s voice was hard. “I’ve seen a town note that was signed
with only his name as treasurer. Does the town allow him to borrow money
that way?”

“I believe Cap’n Ward did bring it up in town meetin’ once and say that
the selectmen ought to sign notes along with the treasurer. But there
wa’n’t anything done, as I remember. Cap’n was kind of a kicker. He died
the summer after that town meetin’,” added Avery, with an air as though
the death were a special visitation to punish temerity in attacking a
Willard.

“Well, I’m feelin’ pretty healthy, myself,” said Hiram, “and you watch
me go into the next town meetin’.”

“Lyme Bearce says he’ll bet you’re a disturbin’ element, no matter
where you light,” stated Avery, with the fearless naïveté of a village
news-bureau that proposes to do its full duty.

“Lyme Bearce and the whole of you be jiggered,” stormed Hiram. “I’ve
been ’round the world some, and got up against human nature, and I
tell you the only way to meet a man is with one hand hold of your wad
and the other doubled up behind your back. Old Willard ain’t goin’ to
run this town to suit himself. You watch me!”

“Then you ain’t goin’ off right away with your circus?” meekly asked
Avery.

“I shan’t be goin’ till things get dull ’round here,” crisply returned
the showman. “That’ll be after there’s a performance in one ring, me
with the whip, old Coll Willard ridin’ bareback, and ev’ry time I snap
he’ll turn a flip-flop.”

Figger-four blinked at him uncertainly.

“Let’s see, you ain’t ever seen Klebe since you--you----”

“Since I licked him! Say it; I ain’t ashamed of it,” blustered Hiram.

“Well, he’s thickened up solid’s a knot, and they say there’s more
knockin’ down o’ men on board the ‘Lycurgus Webb’ than on any other
schooner that sails out of Rockland. Terrible hard man Klebe has growed
to be!”

Avery glanced at the showman slyly to note how he received this
information.

“I have squared all accounts with Klebe Willard,” said Hiram, “but if
I owe him anything more he can come and collect it. As for his father,
that’s another matter. He took my old father by the throat after I went
away and he had the twist noose of a mortgage around him for a good
hold. He bought in accounts against us, as ev’ryone in P’lermo knows, so
that he could collect the bills in a way to add ev’ry cent of costs that
skin-skunk lawyers could tack on. And my old father and my brother was
caught foul and paid double--yes, treble--for ev’ry dollar I owed.
I ain’t nothin’ except plain muck, Avery--just a cheap renegade that
hasn’t woke up to be half decent till it is too late. Payin’ it back to
Phin don’t fix it. I shall always hate myself--but never mind that!” He
swallowed hard and shook his head violently to and fro. Sudden passion
blazed out of this moment of weakness. “There’s one thing I can do--I
can spend forty thousand dollars puttin’ Coll Willard where he put my
old father, and, by the gods, I’ll do it! That’s my business and no
one’s else, and they can’t oh-please-don’t me!--no one, Avery, no one!”

“Oh, I reckon the Judge is too well fixed for _you_,” observed Avery,
wagging his head. “The Willards was always wuth money--plenty of it.”

Hiram did not reply. But he snorted contemptuously and his eye had a
strange look of craft and secret intelligence. “S’pose your brother will
be your lawyer,” suggested Avery.

“Look-a-here, Figger-four,” cried the showman, “I’ve been drippin’ away
to you as usual without meanin’ to say half that I have. My brother Phin
has been abused by old Willard, right and left, but he has been too easy
to fight back the way he ought to. I’m squarin’ things for our family
in gen’ral, but it has got to be done without Phin’s knowin’ it. Do you
see? I want to use you some, first and last, and you’ll get your pay,
but if you say one single word to Phin about what I’m doin’, I’ll twist
that other leg of yours till the joint comes behind like a cow’s hind
gambrel. Me and you, and mum! You understand!”

Avery apprehensively promised and escaped, evidently fearful lest more
secrets were to be entrusted to him. He felt that he wasn’t capable of
safely holding any more just then. But the consciousness that Hiram Look
was meditating the overthrow of such a magnate as Judge Willard propped
his eyes open a bit more widely as he hopped about the street, and
people began to wonder why Figger-four so often caught himself up in his
discourse and looked scared and hurried away. They didn’t realise
how anxiously the poor sieve was struggling to hold his secrets. The
constant and sulphurous threats of Hiram started the cold sweat
whenever they conferred together. Day by day Avery brought new bits of
information that the showman sent him to dig out of people, and day by
day Hiram fitted the information, piece to piece, only himself knowing
to what it all tended.

He sat most of the time in the porch of the old house, smoking long
cigars, the parrot occasionally croaking his familiar cry as he waddled
about his cage, that was suspended from the porch roof.

“My office,” Hiram called the porch.

People who wanted to borrow money, old acquaintances, folks who loafed
along that way to hear his stories of wanderings, came and sat on the
turf of the yard or on the steps. The showman shunned Brickett’s store
and the other gathering places of the village. Once, Hard-Times Wharff
came up and started to have a weather-vane spell on the Look porch, but
Hiram drove him away with violent contumely.

“He’s crazier’n a barn rat in a thrashing machine,” the showman observed
to his faithful Avery. “Why, I hear he even said I was bringing trouble
into this place, the old liar. I’ve only come to straighten out trouble,
that’s all. Smoothin’ and glossin’ things over and lettin’ people kick
you around and never objectin’ may be some folks’ idea of livin’, but it
ain’t mine. And I don’t allow anyone to say I’m makin’ trouble when I’m
doin’ a duty. You tell that to ’em in the village, Avery, and you
tell old Whatyecallum Wharff, there, that I’ll feed him to Imogene if he
snoops ’round here again.”

But the next day Avery came bobbing hurriedly into the yard with the
breathless announcement:

“’Quar’us smelt it comin’! ’Twas a warnin’ to you, Hime!”

“Smelt what? That load of superphosphate that Cap’n Nymphus Bodfish just
brought in his packet? I can smell it, too.”

“Klebe Willard came in that packet,” gasped Avery. “His schooner is
loadin’ at Portland, and he’s up for his lay-off.”

“Well, what if he did come?” inquired Hiram, rocking on the hind legs of
his chair and boring Avery with his piercing eye.

“Why, all is, he’s talked with the Judge, and now he’s frothin’ ’round
Brickett’s store, and he’s comin’ up here. I stayed long enough to find
that out.”

“Let him come,” observed Hiram, with a calmness that troubled Avery.

The messenger snapped up the full length of his good leg and shook his
cane at the imperturbable man on the porch. “But there’s liable to be
trouble,” he cried. “Klebe’s pretty middlin’ how-come-ye-so, same as he
usually is when he’s ashore, and there’s enough folks in this place to
want to see trouble and they’ll poke him ahead. Why don’t you have him
put under bonds?”

Hiram got up and stepped down into the road. A man had already started
out of Brickett’s store and was stumping up the middle of the dusty
highway. A dozen men were leisurely following along the gravelled
sidewalks. When the distant pedestrian perceived Hiram, he shouted
hoarsely, shook both fists above his head and came on with brisk pace.

“Avery,” said Hiram, “you gallop down with your best high-Betty-Martin
tiptoe and tell that gent that’s in the middle of the road that there’s
nothing’ doin’ in the circus way here this afternoon.”

Avery stood hesitating.

“Hop along,” roared the showman, giving the man a push. “You’ve been
whinin’ that you didn’t want trouble here. Now get into the game and
stop it. You can inform Klebe Willard--for I reckon that’s him tackin’
up this way--that when he steps his foot onto the Look place he’s
steppin’ onto a proposition that has the burnin’ deck laid away in the
ice-box. Tell him I said so.”

Hiram left the road and went into the big barn.

The other came on more rapidly now, with a shout that was something
like a jeer. He violently bumped the entreating Avery from his path and
strode into the Look yard, the retinue following at a distance.

The new arrival set his sturdy legs wide apart, threw his cloth cap on
the ground, and bellowed:

“Come out here in the fair and open, where there’s sea-room, you old
woodchuck! Come out and see the mark I’ve lugged for twenty-five years.”

He slapped his hand against his cheek where a scar showed its wrinkled
whiteness across his flushed, brown face.

“Come out!” he bawled.

“Crack ’em down, gents,” squawked the parrot, and he seized a bar of
the cage in his beak and rattled away vigorously.

“Come out!” Willard kept shouting, stamping about on the turf. “If you
ain’t turned coward as well as skin-game thief, come out!” The parrot
interspersed in these invitations his raucous cries.

“Between you and Absalom a man can’t do his chores in much peace,”
 calmly said Hiram, appearing in the tie-up door. He stepped into the
yard, set the tip of a long-handled pitchfork in the ground, and leaned
his shoulder against this support.

“You see that, do you?” yelled Willard, striding forward a few steps
and putting a thick forefinger end on the scar. “That’s been there
twenty-five years.”

“Let’s see. You’re Cap’n Klebe Willard, ain’t you?” inquired Hiram,
affably. And a wordless shout answering him, he said:

“Yes, I know you and I know the mark, because I put it there myself for
good reasons.” He looked around at the little group of spectators with
an air of secure triumph.

“And you threw my poor old father over his own fence, you coward, when I
wasn’t there to defend him. Now, Hime Look, you’ve got to meet a man and
not a boy.”

He rolled his sleeves up from his hairy wrists.

“You’ve got to fight a man and fight him in order to pay a bill you’ve
owed here in Palermo for a long time.”

Look still leaned on the pitchfork. “Put down your fork!” bawled the
frenzied skipper, “I’m not one of your tame animals,” and without other
preface he rushed at Hiram.

The showman had been watching him with his sound eye glowing redly, the
glass one glaring impassively. At the skipper’s rush, with the facility
an old circus man displays with a pitchfork, he shortened the handle in
his grasp, speared one tine through the generous cartilage of Willard’s
ear, and before that furious adversary fairly realised what had
happened, he swung him on his heel, forced him back by the pain of the
pierced ear, and then driving the tines into the side of the barn,
set both fists on the end of the handle and had the frantic man a safe
prisoner at the end of the fork. Willard writhed a few times, groaning
as his ear tugged against the steel. Then he stood up, perforce as stiff
as a soldier, and roared at Hiram all the billingsgate of a long coast
“language-artist.” The grim captor simply glared at him until he had
exhausted himself.

“A hyeny came at me in a cage once,” said the showman, reminiscently, in
the first pause, “and I caught him just like this, and I held him till
the fight was all out of him. Now, Klebe, you’ve come up here drunk as a
fiddler’s hoorah and wantin’ to fight. You can’t fight with me to make
a town spectacle. That’s what your father tried to do--make a town
spectacle of me. I won’t stand for it. The Willard family can have all
the trouble with me it’s lookin’ for, so far’s I’m personally concerned,
but not in knock-downs. Those don’t settle things. You can see that for
yourself. We fi’t twenty-five years ago, and here you are just as hot
for it next time I see you.”

The skipper burst into a fresh rage, and Hiram calmly waited.

“The idea is, Klebe,” he went on in a maddeningly patronising way,
“you’ve always done about as you wanted to and made others stand
’round. Now, I’ve come back to Palermo to do a little runnin’ of
things for myself. I’ll give you your chance at me when the right and
proper time comes, and fair warning ahead. And when you say that you’ll
walk off these premises, then I’ll pull out the fork. If you don’t
promise here before these people to keep away from me and shut up about
fights, you may as well make arrangements to have your meals brought.”

At that moment Squire Phin came hastily into the yard, in advance of the
puffing, hopping, terrified Figger-four, who had brought him.

“Hiram,” he called, as he came within hearing, “release Captain
Willard.”

“Not until he promises to behave himself.”

For answer the Squire, his face flaming with indignation, stepped behind
his brother, and, seizing him by the shoulders, yanked him backwards.
The fork came away and Willard stood free, clutching his bleeding ear.
As he rushed again at Hiram, the Squire stepped between. He said
slowly, quietly, yet with something in his face and his mien that was
soul-compelling:

“Captain Willard, you go home!”

After a long stare at him, a stare that at last grew wavering, Willard
turned and went out of the yard.

The Squire stood and looked at his brother while the spectators stole
sheepishly away. His hands were clasped behind his back; sorrow, anger,
and reproach were upon his face.

At last the showman stooped and dragged the fork tine to and fro on the
grass to restore its brightness.

“I don’t want to poison Imogene,” he growled.

The Squire was still silent.

“Well, say it,” snapped Hiram. “It’s on your mind. Let’s have it. I’m
gettin’ used to bein’ called names.”

But his brother only shook his head slowly, his eyes lowered to the
ground. He turned and walked back toward his office.

Hiram gazed after him as long as he was in sight, and then he went into
the barn. The big doors at the rear were open, and the elephant, with
eyes directed on the soothing landscape, was comfortably weaving to and
fro. She crooked her trunk at him as he came near and curved it around
his shoulders when he stood beside her.

“Old girl,” he said, mournfully, “I reckon the cards was stacked when
they dealt me my hand in this game o’ life. I’m a storm centre that
would put a barometer out of business, but”--he took hold of her ragged
ear and shouted into it, as though the affirmation did his resolution
good,--“it’s me for the Willard family, just the same, and Phin along
with me at the finish. You never _did_ give a continental for me, old
girl, till I had licked you to a standstill, and I know families that’s
like you.”



CHAPTER VI--SQUIRE PHIN HAS A WORD OF BUSINESS WITH KING BRADISH


               For the dearest affection the heart can hold

               Is the honest love of the nine-year-old.

               It isn’t checked by the five-barred gate

               Of worldly prudence or real-estate,

               And that is the reason why, till the end,

               A childhood lover is loyal friend.


The little crowd that followed Klebe Willard out of the Look door-yard
moved slowly, for the irate skipper formed the nucleus of the group
and stopped every few steps to mop at his wounded ear with a big
handkerchief, while he grunted threats and promises of vengeance.

“I hope you’ll give it to him hot and heavy, Cap’n. He needs it. To
be sure, I’ve done days’ work for him and got my pay, but I was never
cussed so much before in my life as I was by him in that one week, and I
don’t allow no man to talk that way to me.” This war-counsellor was Ezra
Mayo, the carpenter, a sallow, weasened little man who had prudently
run out of the door-yard at the showman’s first hostile movement. “And
there’s others in the Look family that better be made to mind their own
bus’ness,” he added with bitterness.

He looked around apprehensively, and he now saw Squire Phin following
slowly, as though to avoid overtaking them.

A carriage was standing in front of Brickett’s store, and the man who
occupied it leaned back with crossed legs and lazily kicked his foot
over the wheel. A white hat, a black moustache and the light lining
of the Goddard top emphasised the colour of his florid face. He looked
prosperous, well-fed and entirely self-satisfied, and hailed the
sputtering captain with great familiarity.

As the Squire turned to ascend the outside stairway the man in the
carriage flapped a greeting at him with careless hand, garbed in a tan
glove. There was in the salute the same half-mocking condescension that
marked the intercourse of King Bradish with most of the townsmen. But
long before that, Squire Phin felt there was something more subtle than
mere condescension in Bradish’s attitude toward him’. There Was a sneer
under all, and there had been a sneer ever since the time when Palermo
knew that Judge Willard wanted King Bradish for his son-in-law.

As the lawyer toiled up his stairs he heard Bradish inquire
sardonically:

“Well, Klebe, which licked?”

The Squire closed his door on the flood of profane threats that Willard
began to pour out, clutching the tire of Bradish’s wheel with one hand
and pounding emphasis with the other.

The lawyer’s hands were trembling a bit as he sat down in his arm-chair
and drew his tin tobacco-box toward him. He heard the voice of Bradish
outside, raised above the captain’s angry diapason:

“Do it? Why, of course I should do it; and you’d be backed up in it by
all of us.”

Squire Phin leaned on his table, and, narrowing his eyes in earnest
thought, stared up at a row of creosote stains on the cracked plastering
of his wall. Those stains for many years had occupied a peculiar place
in his thoughts. When he half shut his eyes and gazed on the wall
without studying detail, the stains took on the semblance of a row of
men. He used at first to imagine them a jury, and he rehearsed his cases
before them. It was profitable exercise. Every judge who came to hold
court in that county had grown to respect the ability of the earnest
attorney whose law was so flawless and whose cases were so thoroughly
prepared.

And after the Squire began to study the conditions of the country and
its great social questions, he found recreation in applying to them the
broad principles of law and seeking for solution. His own modest orbit
of practice afforded him no mental stimulus such as he got from this
imaginary practice.

One day when there were no loafers in his office, he half-shamefacedly
cut the picture of the Chief Justice of the United States out of an
illustrated weekly and tacked it on the wall in the centre of the
creosote stains, and after that he argued “big cases.”

And in order to argue them he stinted himself in his modest personal
wants in order to buy reports and digests and commentaries and all kinds
of fat books in slippery buff calf; and he read those books until his
eyes ached and his head spun, and he trained his big guns of logic and
appeal on those creosote stains--and then sometimes wondered whimsically
if this were not a sign of incipient aberration. He worried a bit
occasionally until a certain grave judge whom he met at nisi prius term
confessed to him one day as they were strolling after supper that he,
from childhood, had entertained a gnawing hankering to be a locomotive
engineer, and even then at sixty-five liked to walk by himself along
country paths, chuffing softly between his teeth and keeping as sharp a
lookout as though he were in the cab of a limited express.

After that--the Judge being generally considered the most matter-of-fact
old hard-head on the State bench--Squire Phin reflected that probably
all men, if one but knew it, nurse little notions of their own.

Therefore he kept on hammering the great trusts before that Creosote
Supreme Bench, cherished the diversion as his chief recreation--lived in
a dream world of amazing activity and usefulness. And in the meantime
he humbly and contentedly drew deeds, conveyances and wills, appraised
estates, presided sagely over “leave-it-out” questions of dispute, and
spent most of his time keeping would-be litigants in Palermo out of the
law.

The voices under his window kept on their monotonous rumble as he
meditated. There was the occasional spit of an oath from Willard,
following the irritating drawl of Bradish, who seemed to relish the
skipper’s rage.

“Your honours,” murmured Squire Phin, “I want to thank God in your
presence that I never yet ste-boyed a bulldog into a fight, rubbed a
tomcat’s ears, nor scuffed a rooster’s feathers and set him over into a
neighbour’s barnyard.”

He tossed his pipe into the tin box and went along and threw up the
front window as though he had arrived at his resolution.

“Bradish!” he called, and when the man poked his head around the side of
the Goddard and peered at the window, the Squire beckoned and went back
to his chair.

“I was intending to come up right away, Squire,” said the visitor, with
an irritating air of condescension, standing with one foot on a chair
and slapping his glove against his leg. His garments seemed peculiarly
fresh and smart in the dingy office, in contrast with the lawyer’s
careless attire. “But I got pretty much interested in hearing Klebe give
personal recollections of ‘When I was a circus animal for five minutes!’
It strikes me that your brother----”

“I didn’t call you up here to talk about my brother,” broke in the
lawyer, brusquely.

“Sure enough,” replied Bradish, airily, “I’d be ashamed of him if I were
you. So, then, to business! Have you collected from Buffum and Crummett
and those others?”

“No,” said the lawyer, “and it isn’t about them I want to talk. I----”

“But I propose to talk about ’em,” snapped Brad-ish, interrupting in
turn. “Here I’ve put a lot of bills in your hands to collect--_collect!_
I want all that’s due me and I’ve got to have it. I’m in a hurry and I
told you so. This is the fourth time I’ve ordered you to put ’em to
the wall, and you haven’t done it.”

“Look here, Bradish,” said Squire Phin, standing up and planting his
broad hands on the table to prop himself, “I’ve collected your bills
from all except a half dozen men, and that half dozen intend to pay. But
I’m not the kind of a lawyer that will take a poor man by the heels and
pound his head on the ground to shake money out of his pockets. Those
men have had sickness and death and troubles in their families, and
they simply can’t pay. And you can’t buy law in my office with which to
persecute honest men, Bradish.”

“Give me the bills, then,” commanded the other, stretching out his hand
and clacking his middle finger smartly into the palm. “You aren’t the
only lawyer in this county.”

Squire Phin looked at him steadily for a time, then pulled down a letter
file and began to search it. When he had found the papers he held them
and gazed at his client, knotting his eyebrows.

“I didn’t call you up here to talk about your bills,” he said, “but now
that we are on the subject I’m going to ask you something, Bradish.
Why is it that, after I’ve collected and put in your hands almost
ten thousand dollars in the last few weeks--from men to whom you had
promised longer time--you are still driving me to take the very heart’s
blood out of these poor devils? Can’t you wait a few weeks?”

Bradish brought his foot to the floor.

“I suppose it’s a regular thing for a lawyer to ram his nose into a
man’s business and twist it clear to the bottom, hey?”

“I don’t know as I ever asked another client such a question,” rejoined
the Squire, coldly, “because I don’t usually have a client who wants me
to go to a debtor with an auger and a blood-pump when the poor chap is
down and helpless.”

“Then I’ll tell you, Look,” said Bradish, leaning forward with mock
appearance of confiding the truth; “it’s none of your infernal business.
Give me those papers. I know of a man that can collect them.”

“And I know a man that will,” returned the Squire, “and collect them
without making women and children go hungry while their men folks are
in jail.” He sat down at the table, pulled a long wallet from his pocket
and began counting money from a thick packet of banknotes. “Receipt
those bills,” he said curtly.

Bradish hesitated a moment, his anger prompting him to refuse the
money from this source. But evidently his anxiety to secure his cash
overmastered the grudge. He scrawled his name across the papers and took
the banknotes.

“Circus money, eh?” he sneered, unable to resist the impulse to make the
fling. “I heard that Hiram has been squaring himself with you.” He began
counting the money.

“Now there’s no more business between us, Brad-ish,” said the lawyer as
his client buttoned his coat.

“I hope not,” retorted Bradish.

“Only this,” pursued the Squire; “I may guess what you’re collecting
your money for and shortening financial sail in town, and I may not. No
matter! But I want to tell you, King Bradish, that from this time out
you are going to leave Damaris Mayo to her husband.” Again he propped
himself on the table and leaned forward.

The charge came so unexpectedly that the man’s florid face grew pale
and then as suddenly flushed crimson, as he stammered oaths, seeking
emphasis for his denial. The Squire came around the table toward him and
raised his hand.

“Not a word--not a word more, Bradish,” he said, his composure perfect.
“I married that boy and girl, and you can’t ruin that little home if I
can prevent it--no, sir, you can’t!”

Bradish strode to the door, but he drove his fists down at his sides
with a gesture of impotent ire, whirled and came back close to the
lawyer.

“Why don’t you own up what your grudge is against me?” he gritted. “Why
ain’t you man enough to fight fair and lay down when you’re licked? If
Syl-vena Willard had wanted you she would have married you, and because
she is going to marry me when---when”--his eyes shifted uneasily under
the Squire’s stern gaze--“when she gets ready to, is no reason why you
should ghost me ’round town and make up stories to retail to her. I
suppose you’ll be reporting I’m planning to run away.”

“You stop right where you are, Bradish!” cried the lawyer. “Sylvena
Willard is too good a woman to have her name bandied here between us, or
dragged through a village scandal by your fault. Your affairs and hers
are between yourselves. You needn’t discuss them. But you shall not
break up young Mayo’s family, nor insult Sylvena Willard by your
actions, and I say this as a friend of both. Now, if you know where your
head is level you will get out of my office.”

The creases deepened about the Squire’s mouth. One fist was clenched at
his side. The other hand pointed to the door.

Bradish paused irresolutely, closing and unclosing his hands. But at
that moment the door opened and a woman came in. Bradish crowded past
her and went thumping down the stairs.

Mrs. Micajah Dunham, bolt upright in the middle of the seat of a rattly
beach waggon and disdaining the support of the leather-covered back,
even when the ledges of the Cove road danced her most vigorously, had
with a directness typical of Mrs. Micajah Dunham driven straight to the
gnawed hitching post in front of Brickett’s store. Mrs. Dunham always
appeared to be a very rigid sort of person, but on this occasion there
was extra rigidity about her, from the set of her jaw to the stiffness
of her knee action, as she stepped down from the waggon. Looking neither
right nor left, she ran the halter rope through the gnawed hitching post
and walked up the outside stairs exactly in the middle, hands at her
sides and neglecting the rain-bleached rail as she had disdained the
seat-back. A bonnet trimmed with dust-spotted imitations of grapes
framed her narrow face squarely, and a shawl appeared to pinch her
shoulders together.

She sat down in the “blind-stagger” chair well to the edge, on account
of the dust, at which her housewife’s eye glared in disfavour.

“Squire,” she said, with a directness of attack that took no account of
his averted face, “I’ve come to consult you legally, and I’ve brought
the dockyments.” She jerked herself up, crossed the room, and laid on
his open book a sheet of rudely scalloped pink paper, on which were
pasted hearts cut out of red and blue tissue.

“That’s almost the first to which I really was knowin’ the straight
facts,” she went on. “But I’ve had a glimmer of an idea for some time.
Oh, I tell you it ain’t come all to once, this thing ain’t!” The lawyer
turned slowly, picked up the paper, holding it gingerly by the corner.

“Sit down, Esther,” he said quietly, “and we’ll see what we can make out
of it.”

There were some lines of writing on the paper, and he read them aloud
in dry, legal monotone, the woman greeting the sentiments with scornful
sniffs:


               “For those that love the world is bright;

                   And when it’s bright it is a sign

               That some one’s eyes do shed the light;

                   Oh, darling, be my Valentine!”


He paused and cocked his eyebrows at her inquiringly.

“I caught Mr. Dunham writin’ that tormented sculch out of a book at the
sekert’ry in the best room one day the first of this month,” she said.
“And I took it away from him. And I know that he jest went to work and
made another, ’cause he said he was goin’ to. He’s been dead set and
possessed by the Old Harry for months, Squire, till I’m plumb out with
him. I can’t, won’t and shan’t stand it no longer. Here’s items, if you
need ’em.”

She unfolded a long roll composed of many sheets of notepaper pasted
together, and he read in the same calm voice her pencilled entries:

“July 15.--He helped her and her scholars to pick white weeds to trim up
the schoolhouse.

“July 19.--Took our ladder and clime trees for leaves, ditto.

“July 22.--Took broken candy to door and give it to her.

“August 2.--Hitched and took her to her boarding place when it rained.

“August 5.--More broken candy.

“August 7.--Hitched before school and went after her.

“August 10.--Dressed up and visited school.”

The lawyer ran his eye over the other entries, noting a general
similarity in all. Then he read aloud:

“August 10.--Suspect he is making a valentine.

“August 12.--Caught him at it and took the valentine.”

“And this is it, eh?” he inquired, tapping the gaudily decorated sheet
on the table. “But this is hardly the season for valentines.”

“And this ain’t the season for a man that’s goin’ on fifty-two to fall
in love with an eighteen-year-old girl, either,” she retorted. “But
he’s done it. And ’sides all I’ve put down, it has been a continual
peddlin’ out to her of candy and apples and fol-de-rols. You understand
that by twistin’ a little I can see that schoolhouse door right from my
but’ry winder, and there it is in that paper, chalked up to date.”

For the first time since she had entered the room his eyes softened a
bit. He shook the paper at her gently.

“I understand, do I,” he inquired, his mild tones contrasting soothingly
with her high-pitched anger, “that this record of devotion to a certain
school-house door means that ’Caje is----”

“It means,” she shrilled, “that that miserable, old, soft-headed fool
of a husband of mine has gone to work and fell in love with that young
teeter-bird of a schoolmarm in our deestrick, and has acted out till
I’m distracted. I can’t do nothin’ with him, Squire. He jest grunts and
growls and clears out of the house when I go at him. Now it’s come to
the end of the jig. Understand? It’s the wind-up.

“There’s the dockyments. I want to warn you right at the outset that you
ain’t goin’ to come none of your gum-games on me, the way they tell of
you actin’ with some of them that come to you for law. My mind is as
set as old Pisgy itself.” She brought her work-stained hand down on the
chair rail with a vehemence that made it creak.

“I’m not going to have any fight with you, Esther,” he replied, smiling
into her hostile eyes. “But you do surprise me about ’Caje. I thought
he was as steady-going as a stone boat.”

She nipped her lips spitefully.

“Always a hardworking man, ’Caje has been,” the lawyer went on; “has
stuck to his work a little speck too close, maybe.”

“Look here, Squire Phineas Look,” she broke in, “this ain’t gittin’ on
about that _di_-vose. You needn’t try to beat about the bush.”

“Let’s see!” he mused. “Poor, crazy Ben Haskell’s girl, ’Liza, is
teaching in the Dunham district, I believe. And Ben in the asylum these
five years! Is she as pretty as her mother was before her?”

“High-headed snippet,” sniffed Mrs. Dunham. “But I’ll show her!”

The Squire set his arms on the table, his elbows squared, and a
quizzical smile in the wrinkles about his eyes.

“’Caje Dunham is a good neighbour, is honest and pays his bills,
Esther,” he said, “but do you think for one moment that pretty ’Liza
Haskell wants that old, callous-fisted, round-shouldered husband of
yours hanging around her?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed, and she glared at him with malice in her
gaze.

“A school agent in a district has to putter around the school house more
or less,” he went on. “If he has been too neighbourly I’ll talk with
him about it. But you’re not going to drag an innocent girl through any
scandal, Esther, just to satisfy some grudge that you’ve hatched up in
your own mind.”

“So she has run to you with her budget, has she?” demanded the woman,
her expression still more malevolent.

“No, I haven’t seen ’Lize Haskell for months,” said the Squire with
candour.

“Oh, _she_ ain’t the one I mean,” Mrs. Dunham snapped. “I mean the
pompous Queen o’ Sheby that was sittin’ in that school house yistiddy
when I called there to give the little fool her come-uppance right
before her scholars.”

She nipped her lips and looked at him so spitefully and meaningly that a
flush crept up from under his collar.

He knew that the motherless girl had become a protégé of Sylvena
Willard’s at the time that Ben Haskell had been taken to the madhouse.

“No wonder you’re ’shamed,” the woman went on angrily. “You all of you
are in the plot ag’inst me. I give her her earful, all right, Willard so
high and mighty, or no Willard. That teacher and her, the both of ’em,
got it straight from _me_.”

“Do you mean to say that you went to the school house and abused that
girl before Sylvena Willard?” demanded the Squire, standing up and
glowering down on her.

But her spirit was equal to his, for her anger was bitterer.

“If any woman gits in my way when I’m doin’ my bounden duty by myself,”
 she retorted, “she gits what’s comin’ to her. Says I to that snifflin’
school-marm, ‘There’s no man what’s draggin’ at a woman’s gown-tail
unless he gits encouragement.’ And I says to Miss Queen Sheby of the
Willards, ‘You can take that to yourself, you that’s tryin’ to shet me
up. King Bradish and Squire Phin Look wouldn’t both be----”

“Esther Dunham,” he shouted, “not another word. Not one word!”

It was the awful anger of a patient man thoroughly aroused that fronted
her.

“I have a right to speak my own mind, and I pretty gen’rally do it,” she
muttered, but she did not venture to say any more.

He slowly sank back into his armchair, still glaring at her.

“Oh, the devilish weapon that a woman feels privileged to use,” he
cried. After a time he went on sternly:

“Esther, I knew you at school, and I’ve watched you more or less since.
You were kind of a cute little girl, with your way of spitting out just
what you thought about folks and things. But we’d laugh at kittens when
we’d cuff an old cat’s ears for doing the same thing. You’ve nagged and
browbeaten your husband all your life together, and you know it!”

“Gimme them dockyments,” she rasped, popping up with a snap like a
carpenter’s rule. The lawyer put his broad hand on them.

“’Caje Dunham was the kind of man that you could have driven with
a cotton thread of love and teamed him anywhere. But you’ve used goad
sticks, and hot pitch and a twist bit, and it isn’t any wonder you’ve
made him balky.”

“So you’re stickin’ up for that missable critter right before my face
and eyes,” she cried. “I might ’a’ knowed better than to come here
and expect a dried-up old bach to admit anything about the rights of a
woman. You give me them papers, Squire Phin Look! I know where I can buy
law, even if it isn’t for sale in this shop.”

He calmly held the papers away from her clutching fingers.

“How much have you and ’Caje put away between you?” he inquired.

And when she did not reply, puckering her eyes and resenting his
intrusive question, he suggested, more gently, “In case of alimony, you
know!”

“If that’s what you’re askin’ for, I don’t know as there’s any hurt in
tellin’ you we’ve got risin’ ’leven thousand, put where it’s earnin’
int’rest and twenty-five hundred out on first mo’gidges.”

“And not a chick nor a child to leave it to,” he murmured, looking at
her with sudden sympathy in his eyes. “It’s too bad, Esther, that your
little ’Cilia was called away to her treasures in Heaven before she
could enjoy some of the treasures you heaped up on earth for her--you
two, poor, tug-a-lugging old critters, you!” She sat down suddenly, and
her work-stained, knotted hands trembled as she folded them on her lap.

“Saving and skinching and piling up,” he went on. “What good has it ever
done you, Esther? Why didn’t you and ’Caje knock off and have a little
fun together in the world before you got hardened this way? And for poor
’Cilia it was always ‘Sometime!’ till she got to be sixteen years old,
and then she went on the first journey of her life--to the grave! And
the only good dress she ever wore was the one you laid her out in! Do
you know what animals grub and grub with their noses rooting soil?” He
shouted the question at her.

She came back at him with equal fire. “When I want a sermon I’ll go to
the parson! ’Tain’t any disgrace to be prudent and forehanded, is it,
even if we ain’t got no one to enjoy it after we’re gone?”

Her voice broke suddenly. The tears flooded into her cold eyes.

“Oh, Squire,” she quavered, “’twould have been different with ’Caje
and me if only ’Cilla’d been left to us. Hain’t neither of us knowed
what to do with ourselves since we laid her away in the graveyard.”

He walked around the table and patted the shoulder bowed under the faded
shawl.

“And as little as you’ve got left in the world now, Esther, here you are
wanting to get rid of the biggest hunk of it. Can’t you realise that
you don’t understand this thing yet? Your husband don’t know what the
trouble is with him. Now let me tear up this list of ’Caje’s temporary
aberrations. I’ll have a talk with him, and we’ll see--we’ll see!”

But with an angry red in her cheeks that seemed to scorch the tears
there she jerked her shoulder away from his patting hand.

“Squire Phin, you’ve known me from a little snippet, and you know I
ain’t flyin’ off to no tangents without good reason. It ain’t no one
night’s growth, this ain’t. I’m going to have a bill from that man, I
say! The neighbours ain’t goin’ to have a chance to say _I’ve_
backed down. If you don’t want to take the case, then out with it,
bus’nesslike, and I’ll go farther. But that _di_-vose I’m goin’ to
have!”

There was no gainsaying her angry obstinacy.

“Well, Esther,” he said with a sigh, “leave the papers and I’ll have
notice of the libel served.”

“When? There can’t be no more fubbin’. The neighbours are all stirred
up, and I’ve made my talk!”

“To-morrow.”

“So do! And I’ll plan according,” she snapped, and with lips set tight
she left the room.

The Squire slowly filled his pipe, his eyes fixed in unblinking stare on
a far corner.

“Neighbours!” he snorted. “Poor little gaffer of a girl, and the whole
of ’em pecking at her!”

He aimlessly searched for a match in his pockets, his eyes still on the
corner.

“Oh, Sylvie,” he murmured, “they are just ready to bury their beaks in
you if you step between--oh-h-h!”

In sudden impotent choler he snapped the stem of the unlighted pipe,
threw the pieces into the corner and went out, shutting his office door
behind him with a vehemence that made the building shiver.



CHAPTER VII--THE BUSINESS OF HUMAN HEARTS

THAT CALLED SQUIRE PHIN TO THE COVE ROAD


               Uncle Elnathan Shaw one day

               Started down cellar, usual way,

               Plannin’ in usual way to draw

               Cider enough for ’foresaid Shaw;

               But he happened to slip on the upper stair,

               Whirled round and grabbed at the empty air,

               And clear to the foot of them stairs, ker-smack,

               He bumped on the bulge of his humped old back;

               And his wife yelled down, as mad’s a bug:

               “Ding-rat your pelt, did you break my jug?’


Micajah Dunham was pulling “six-weeks” beans in his lower lot the next
afternoon when he saw two men coming across the field toward him. With
hand at his forehead he soon recognised them--Squire Look’s sturdy
figure, and behind him the equally well-known waddling bulk of
“Sawed-off” Purday, Palermo’s local deputy sheriff.

“Hen’, just hand ’Caje that paper,” directed the Squire after the
greetings. “Then, if you’ve a mind to, go back to the team and wait
while I have a word here.”

The farmer’s face paled as he took the paper, first dragging his
earth-soiled hands across his trousers’ legs. He realised it must be a
legal document, and it frightened him.

“It isn’t often that the lawyer himself comes along with his paper,”
 commented Squire Phin, “but I felt that this might need a little
elucidation--and something else, perhaps.” The farmer blinked, holding
the writing aslant. The sheet crackled and fluttered in his trembling
hands.

“I ain’t got my specs, Squire,” he said with agitation. “But I don’t owe
no money nor nothin’ to be sued for. What is it?”

“Esther has sued you for a bill of divorce,” the lawyer explained
bluntly. “Charge, cruel and abusive treatment. From what she tells me
you are knowing to the whys and wherefores.”

Dunham stumbled to a tussock and sat down. “Di-vose! Di-vose!” he
stammered. “Esther sue me? I don’t believe it. It is some kind of a
lawyer trick. Lawyers is alwa’s stirrin’ trouble, but I didn’t reckon
you was one of that kind, Squire Look.”

“Look here, ’Caje,” the lawyer’s voice was bluff and businesslike;
“it’s better for me to handle this matter than to have it left to that
young whippet over to the Corner, who’d have your heart out if he could
pile up costs that way. Now, what do you mean by volunteering in the
cause of education?” he inquired, jerking his thumb at the school house,
whose roof was visible above the rise of ground.

Micajah lowered his eyes under the keen look, visibly discomposed.

“Still she’s a-dingin’ away at that, hey?” he growled. “If you was a
school agent in a deestrick, Squire, and there was a poor, lonesome
little wusser’n-orphan critter of a schoolmarm teachin’ the school,
wouldn’t you sort of show her a few attentions so’s to keep her in the
deestrick, seein’ that the children all love her? I’ve tried to explain
to Esther, Squire, that it’s all in the way of school gov’ummunt, as you
might say, but you know what a woman is!”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand quite as well as I’d like to,” admitted
the lawyer sadly, “but as for you, I reckon you don’t know ’em at all,
’Caje. And you don’t know even your own self, you old numbhead. You’re
sitting meeching there on that tussock, and you don’t know your heart
well enough to understand whether you ought to be ashamed of your
attentions to the schoolma’am or to be proud of them, as showing that
you still have human feelings left. And the result of it all is that
you’ve blundered ’round till you’ve made your wife jealous, instead of
putting tenderness and generosity and mother-feeling into her heart. You
blind old mole, you simply don’t know---don’t know! Here! You come along
after me with that paper in your hand!”

He led the way across the field, up the apple-tree bordered lane
and into the house. There was no one in the kitchen or in the
little sitting-room, where Esther Dunham always sat at her sewing o’
afternoons, the sun filtering on her through the leaves of the window
plant? No one in the house! They searched and called, and only the
clock’s tick-tack answered in the silences.

Everything was tidied. The table had been reset after the noon meal, and
its well scoured ware glinted cheerfully. Micajah grabbed the lawyer’s
arm.

“She’s took her napkin ring!” he gasped. “She’s gone, Squire!”

The husband hurried into the west bedroom and fumbled in the closet.
“And her clothes is gone, Squire!” he called dismally. “Oh, my Gawd, if
this ain’t trouble come double then I don’t know what ’tis.” He sat
down on the edge of the bed and seemed about to weep.

“Get up there, you old fool!” Look roared. “I’ve about concluded that
the two of you need guardians or--or keepers.” He stood before Micajah
with his arms akimbo. “Eleven thousand at interest and twenty-five
hundred on first mortgages!” he sneered. “And while you’ve been pawing
that out of the muck, you and your wife, you have never stood up
straight, taken full, free breath of air and God’s sunshine and looked
into each other’s eyes like true man and wife. And she doesn’t know you
and you don’t know her, and you don’t know your own selves. Oh, ’Caje
Dunham, I’m ashamed of you!”

The man stared at him stupidly.

“You don’t know yet what I mean, do you?” the lawyer went on. “You’re
waiting for me, an old bach, to explain to you your mistakes and point
out your duty.”

A youngster came slapping his bare feet along the shed walk.

“Squire Look,” he called, “Mis’ Dunham is over to my marm’s, and she
just see you come in here, and sent word if you got any business with
her you can call over there.” He added, triumphantly, “She’s brung her
clothes to our house, too, and she’s goin’ to be our boarder.” He had
edged into the bedroom, and his round eyes, big with the half-knowledge
and guesses of childhood, goggled at the woe-stricken husband.

The lawyer meditatively stroked his nose a moment and then turning
without a word walked out of the house. The boy pattered on ahead.
Dunham picked up the writ and followed dejectedly.

“Be you goin’ to stay to the big meetin’ to-night, Squire Look?”
 inquired the boy, bursting with his fresh knowledge. “Mis’ Dunham and my
marm and my pa and Mister Bolster are goin’ to have all the people meet
at the school house and discharge teacher.” He turned his urchin’s stare
of inquisitive significance on Dunham, stubbing along behind in the
highway. “Mis’ Dunham come into school this afternoon and told teacher,
and teacher didn’t go home after school, but I peeked in the winder, and
she’s there cryin’ and----”

“Bub,” said the Squire severely, “you’re anxious to grow up to be a nice
big man, aren’t you?”

“Yep.”

“Well, there’s nothing that stunts growth like using your tongue too
much. That’s why so many women are shorter and slimmer than men. Now
always remember that all your life, and some day when you’ve grown up
good and tall you just tell your little boys that a nice old lawyer gave
you that advice about your tongue and never charged you a cent for it.”

The boy stared up and down the big man, slowly slooped up the moisture
of his open mouth, and closed his lips apprehensively.

Mrs. Dunham was on the front porch of the neighbour’s house, defiantly
awaiting their approach.

“Has that paper been served?” she demanded, when they were still some
distance down the path.

The abandoned husband held up the fateful document, and was about to
break into appealing speech, but she stamped her foot and checked him.

“Not a word--not a word from you!” she screamed fiercely. “It’s all over
and done and the passel tied and the string cut between us. I’m here to
stay till I git my bill and allowance by the court. I shall watch that
house till I git my own out of it. Then you can go to pot and see the
kittle bile, for all I care. Ain’t you ashamed to face me with the
stigmy of that law paper on you?” She pointed at him as at something
proscribed. Her hosts were at the window, listening with manifest
enjoyment. The situation maddened Dunham.

“Talk to her, Squire! For pity sakes, talk to her,” he entreated, tears
running down his sallow cheeks. “When she has twitted me before this
I ain’t talked right to her, and I realise it all now. I’m awful
sorry--I’m turrible, awful, desp’rit’ sorry I ever talked uppish to you,
Esther,” he wailed. “I ain’t fell in love with any one else. I vow I
ain’t. It’s diff’rent than that. I ain’t skercely realised how it was--
but I reckon I know now. I’ve been thinkin’. I was jest--I was jest----”

“Oh, you was jest Mr. Pompous-on-Parade, all so fine and gay,” she
sneered, “and now you think that one drop of goose grease is goin’ to
cure all the smart and hurt. But I tell you now, as I’ve already told
Squire Look, once my mind is made up it is set as the eternal hills.
Now, can you get that through your wool?” she stormed, her eyes blazing.

“I know your disposition is inclined that way, Esther,” he faltered,
lifting his eyes to her piteously.

“And you say there ain’t no way--no chance----”

“No, sir!” she spat.

He pondered awhile, his slow, farmer comprehension of the situation
dropping back into the material rut, in which his life had flowed like
muddy water. “Which of the milk pans is to be skimmed to-night, Esther?”

“I marked them for you,” she replied stiffly. “And the cooked stuff is
on the swing shelf in the suller-way. Doughnuts and cookies in the stun’
jar ’side of the flour barrel in the but’ry.”

The lawyer had been scowling at the peering heads in the window.
“Esther,” he broke in, “I want you and ’Caje both to come over to
your house and sit down. I’ll venture to say that we can get at a more
sensible arrangement than all this amounts to.”

“You’re up to your old tricks again, Squire!” she cried sarcastically.
“There are some folks that you can wind ’round your little finger,
and some you can’t, and I’m”--she patted her flat breast--“one with too
stiff a backbone to be wound.” She whirled on her heel and went into the
house, slamming the door spitefully.

The Squire gazed at the farmer with a flicker of sympathy in his eyes.

“Go home and do your chores, ’Caje,” he commanded gruffly, “and be at
the school house this evening.”

At that moment the master of the house issued from a side door with
his milk pails on his arm, and started for the barn, wearing a fine
assumption of innocent obliviousness.

“Oh, I. say, Uncle Paul,” called the lawyer, “what is the hour set for
the lynching this evening?”

“Lynchin’!” repeated the astonished man.

“Well, perhaps I don’t pick exactly the right word---inquisition might
hit it nearer. At the school house, I mean!”

“If that’s lawyers’ lingo for our deestrick meetin’,” replied the
indignant farmer, “it’s set for ha’f-past seven.”

“You can drive back to the village,” directed the Squire as he passed
Purday. The deputy had been comfortably lolling on the waggon seat, his
legs hooked over the dashboard. “I’ll come along when I get ready. I
ain’t afraid to foot it.”

The mellowness of the waning afternoon was chilled a bit by the first
breeze of autumn that crept over the ledges of Nubble Hill.

Squire Phin turned up his collar, clasped his hands behind his back, and
started down the road toward the school house. The old dog Eli, who had
been routed from under the waggon seat by the deputy, scuffed along the
gutter through the dry grasses.

“If there’s anything lonesomer, Eli, than outdoors at this time of
year,” mused the lawyer, “it’s the empty chamber in some of the human
hearts that we know about.”

All the eyes of the little neighbourhood were watching the Squire when
he turned in at the yard of the school house and disappeared in the
entry-way.

But it was chore time and supper time, and the Dunham district people
went about their tasks, mumbling surmise as to what the Squire intended
to do. Mrs. Micajah Dunham remained at Uncle Paul Appleby’s gate, her
gimlet gaze still on the school house. There was nothing to see, but
she didn’t have anything else to do. For the first time since she could
remember she wasn’t busy with supper-getting at that hour of the day,
and she was conscious of something lacking, something discomforting.
Her hands twitched when she heard the rattle of dishes within doors.
She looked across at the old home. There was no trail of smoke from the
chimney.

“Cold vittles is good enough for him,” she reflected bitterly. “I wisht
he’d choke on what I’ve left cooked up.”

Her hard gaze did not soften when she saw her husband come out of the
cellar door, shoulders humped, dragging his feet spiritlessly, the milk
pails dangling from his lifeless arms. A gray cat was at his heels.

“I don’t want Betsy to starve along with him,” grumbled Esther, and she
called stridently, “Kit-te-e-e! Kit-te-e-e! Come, kit-te-e-e!”

With a feline’s deference to one who has always filled the saucer for
her the cat turned and scampered over to the Appleby house, tail up.

“He ain’t even fit to associate with the cat!” snapped Mrs. Dunham, and
she picked up the purring creature and switched into the house. But that
uncomfortable hankering for occupation, that queer little feeling of
being a fifth wheel, obsessed her.

“I’m goin’ to slip on one of your aprons, Mis’ Appleby,” she announced,
“and help you to get supper on.”

“Now you jest set right down and fold your hands, Mis’ Dunham,”
 remonstrated the hostess. “I don’t expect boarders to do one namable
thing. No,” she said hastily, stripping the apron from Esther before she
could tie it, “I’ve sort of got my own ways ’round the house jest
the same’s you have around yours, and there ain’t a thing you can do
to help. You go right into the settin’-room and look over the album, or
anything you’re a mind to.”

Esther wandered into the other room. She reflected that she had always
said the same things to “company” that tried to mess in. But the smug
faces of the Applebys, enshrined between the plush covers of the album,
palled on her. Nothing to do! She peered through the interlacing leaves
of Mrs. Appleby’s geranium and a sob shook her. She was homesick, and
she knew it. Her hostess, stirring briskly about her kitchen, made her
long for her own domain of kitchen floor, even as a disgraced skipper
hungers for his own quarter-deck. A boarder! A thing without authority,
without aim or purpose! The clang of the oven door reminded her that
Mrs. Appleby didn’t make cream of tartar biscuit exactly after her own
receipt. How she would like to be back in front of her own oven door
pulling out a tinful of those odorous, hot, crisply browned biscuit!
But the reflection that Micajah would eat them made her snap her jaws
together and wink the tears back from her eyes.

Yet she went out to the gate once more and watched to see if there was
now any trail of smoke from the kitchen chimney. Then she stared at the
school house, and her features hardened.

“Oh, I don’t understand it!” she murmured. “It ain’t been like ’Caje
at all to do it! I can’t understand it!”

She could control herself no longer. Despite the fact that she had
stubbornly forced the issue herself, nagged on by the neighbours who
had counselled her to stand up for her rights, she felt abandoned by the
world. Her face puckered with the unsightly grimace of those who do not
often weep, and the hot tears bubbled freely.

“You don’t appear to be enjoying very high spirits, Mrs. Dunham.” She
raised her head from the fence post with a jerk, for the drawling voice
startled her. King Bradish’s rubber-tired carriage had made no sound on
the dusty road. He had swung in upon the grass and sat looking at her,
his elbows on his knees.

“It ain’t any one’s business how I feel,” she retorted indignantly,
ashamed at having been detected.

“I heard down to the village that you and the old man had agreed to
disagree,” he pursued, with that calm impertinence that Palermo called
“the Bradish cheek.”

“I don’t thank anybody to go peddlin’ my bus’ness ’round.”

“Well, you’d have to put Sawed-off Purday under bonds to keep his mouth
shut if you don’t want legal business strung from Clew to Erie in this
town. But what I can’t understand is, why you didn’t get a lawyer that
would really put your case through. Phin Look never will. And he don’t
intend to, because he told Purday as much.”

There was malice in the glint of his eye.

She clutched at the palings and projected her face at him over them.

“You needn’t make up any such faces at me,” he said coolly. “It’s none
of my business, especially, but I hate to see a man that poses as a
lawyer go around fooling his clients.”

“Look here, King Bradish,” she cried, “I don’t know what Hen’ Purday is
saying and I don’t care. But I do know that Squire Phin Look was here
this very afternoon, and the libel was served on Mr. Dunham, and the
Squire is down there in the school house this very minute talkin’----”
 In spite of herself her voice wavered, for she had been wondering with
angry astonishment why her lawyer should go into so long a conference
with the other side.

Bradish slowly stretched up his arms and yawned. “Yes?” he drawled.
“Down there with the school-marm, hey? Probably he’s telling her how
the paper that was served on your husband to-day was only a dog-license
blank, and they’re having a laugh, and he’s explaining how he will fix
the thing up and fool you.”

She slammed open the gate and started down the road.

“Jump in!” he invited. “You seem to be in a hurry, and I don’t blame you
a bit.”

A few moments later he snapped his hitch-weight into his horse’s bridle
and followed the angry woman into the dusty entry-way of the little
school house.

Esther tore at the knob of the inner door and threw it open.

Squire Phin sat in the little teacher’s chair. The little teacher was
huddled on the floor at his feet, her head on his knee. He was stroking
a shoulder that was quivering with sobs.

At the woman’s first explosion the lawyer arose and put his arm around
the teacher and led her toward the door.

“I will talk with you when you are in your right mind, Esther,” he said.
“But this poor child has suffered enough from your tongue. Isn’t there
one streak of womanhood left in you?” He put out his arm and gently
pushed her from their path, leading the schoolma’am toward the door.

“A pretty spectacle of a man you are, Bradish,” he gritted. “You’re
trampling on a poor girl to strike a coward’s blow at me.”

His face was gray with passion and his brows knotted above flaming eyes.
He shouldered against the other and crowded him back into the entry-way
and to one side. Bradish had his whip.

“If it wasn’t for the presence of the ladies here, Look,” he cried, “I’d
lace you till you howled.”

“Bradish,” replied the Squire, “you’re hiding behind women now, like
the cur that you are, and you have been hiding behind a woman for a
good many years. Some day--but I’m a fool to stoop to your level. Come,
child.”

He strode away across the yard, the little teacher in the hook of his
arm.

“I guess you might as well take back your husband, Mrs. Dunham,” he
heard Bradish cry after him. “Your lawyer seems to have cut him out.”



CHAPTER VIII--SQUIRE PHIN ACTS AS PEACEMAKER


               I’m tellin’ ye what Eph Landers did

               The time that he went and lost his fid.

               He was yankin’ boulders a week ago--

               Tumble feller to hump and go!

               He strung his chain round a rousin’ rock

               And found that he’d lost the little block

               To catch the link; it’s used instid

               Of a hook and link and it’s called a fid.

               And the crack-brained critter--what do you think?

               Why, he stuck his thumb in the unhooked link!


The school house was more than filled that evening.

People came straggling up across the fields by short cuts, following
lanterns that winked between the striding legs of the bearers. The
nearer neighbours scuffled slowly along the road, bringing lamps and
shielding the blaze with curved palms as they walked. The lanterns were
hung on the nails about the cracked walls, part of whose unsightliness
the little teacher had covered with the evergreen wreaths that she had
plaited. The lamps were placed on the knife-whittled desks.

The grown-ups painfully bent their knees under these narrow confines,
some of them acting as though they were astonished that they were so
much larger than they were in the old school days. Most of them hadn’t
been in the school house since they had gone out with their tattered
books in a strap so many years before.

“It makes ye feel nearer the grave, don’t it?” whispered Salome Burpee
to her seat mate of the old days, who had by almost unconscious choice
sought the well-remembered desk.

The seat mate, a tall, scrawny woman, was obliged to sit sidewise, for
she couldn’t get her knees under the desk.

“My, yes!” she replied rather mournfully. “It don’t seem hardly a day
ago that I could sit here and swing my feet.”

“That’s my initial,” mumbled Deacon Burgess to Uncle Paul Appleby,
fingering a deep nick in the edge of the desk. “They was new then, and I
got walloped for cutting it.”

The men had gravitated to one side of the room, the women to the other.
All whispered decorously if they had occasion to address one another,
for in rural communities the usual gatherings are prayer meetings, and
habit is strong.

They discussed the report that the Squire had gone to the teacher’s
boarding place with her, and would be present at the meeting that
evening, and that he had talked “real saucy” to Mrs. Dunham, and that,
too, after she had hired him for her lawyer.

Esther sat grimly at the far side of the room in the girls’ reservation,
and Micajah was hunched into a seat on the other side, his eyes staring
straight before him. Neither exchanged a word with any other person in
the room.

“I heard it hinted,” whispered the scrawny woman, “that Sylvene Willard
is going to stick her nose into this thing. She has allus made more or
less of ’Lize Haskell, and ’Lize has been one of her ‘Grit and Grace
Girls,’ as she calls ’em.” The woman’s tone was scornful. “You can let
Sylvene Willard alone to put more tomfool notions into a girl’s head in
a minit than practical common-sense will weed out in a year. She’s got
them girls meetin’ to her house Saturdays and readin’ a lot of ratted
stuff out loud and writin’ papers and foolin’ with a lot of lit’ry
sculch. I wouldn’t let my Minnie join in with ’em. I told her that
there was too much readin’ and writin’ of tomrot in the world now, and
if she wanted to read she could stay to home and read cook-book receets.
It may not be quite so new-fangled and fash’nable as it is to read
about furrin’ countries”--the woman’s lips curled and her nostrils
spread--“but it is a blamed sight more to the point if a woman’s goin’
to amount to anything in this world and has got a husband and fam’ly--as
she ought to have.”

“Sylvene Willard better ’a’ taken one of her chances,” agreed Salome
Burpee. “She can talk about loyalty to her parent and all sech till the
cows come home. But the trouble was she was tormented afraid that the
Judge might shine up to Number Two. I tell ye, them Willards is shysters
after the dollars!”

“She might have gone furder and fared wuss than o ’a’ married King
Bradish,” said the tall woman. “But you’ll find that she has liked to
have the two of ’em taggin’ at her gown-tail. You can’t blame ‘Lize
Haskell for thinkin’ it’s all right to be flirty.” Salome turned a
cautious gaze to the stolid, hard face of Esther. Then she looked across
to Micajah.

“My land o’ Goshen,” she murmured, “it don’t seem as though that young
gal would need to mess into a fam’ly like that. I’ve thought right
along that there ain’t anything to it except that Esther is so set and
determined to make it out that way.”

“I tell ye she’s a designin’ little critter,” retorted the tall woman.
“And I want to see her boosted out of her job. If Sylvene Willard wants
to stick and primp girls up and git ’em to readin’ furrin’ his’try
and a lot of sculch, and gittin’ ’em all set up when their father’s
nothin’ but a crazy pauper, so that they’re so nippy they have to talk
polite lingo all the time, ‘yes, marm, yes, sir, our black cat!’ then
I say let her take care of ’em. I want my Minnie to see that airs go
before a fall!”

A grating of wheels on the grit outside checked the whispers.

Sylvena Willard came in, her cheeks flushed by her ride through
the crisp air. The assembled inquisitors of the Dunham district
instinctively knew that she was there as the teacher’s defender, and
they surveyed her with disapprobation.

But she nodded cheery little greetings here and there and sat down on
one of the front seats with great composure.

“Holds her age tumble well, don’t she?” mumbled Deacon Burgess,
surveying the profile above the fluffy collar of her jacket.

But Uncle Paul gazed at her grudgingly. “It ain’t the real Christians
that go to Heaven on flow’ry beds of ease,” he grunted. “She’s had a
pretty soft time of it all her life now, I tell ye.”

At that moment the hush was broken by one of those solemn explosions
that the irreverent call a “vestry cough,” and “Wolf” Doughty, so
nicknamed on account of a swelling on his cheek, swung in his seat and
suggested:

“I reckon we might as well proceed to elect a moderator to preside this
ev’nin’, whilst we are waitin’ for the defendant ’foresaid. Any one
that has a mind on the subject will please say something.”

At this hint Deacon Burgess was preparing to nominate Doughty, when
there was a bustle in the entry-way and Squire Prin Look came in,
blinking the outside gloom from his kindly eyes. The little teacher
followed close in the lee of his generous bulk, her eyes downcast. The
lawyer had carefully timed his late arrival, both on his own account and
for the sake of the schoolma’am.

“We’ll let ’em get settled on the roost,” he had told her, “and their
first spell of cawing over and done with.”

He lifted her chair from the platform and placed it so that she did not
have to meet their eye-borings. Then he went up and calmly sat down
in the visitor’s chair, the only seat on the platform, with an air of
proprietorship.

He crossed his knees and swung his dusty foot comfortably, oblivious to
the frowns on the faces of Doughty and his adherents. The old dog beside
him surveyed the audience with benignly extended jaws and rapped his
tail as though it were a chairman’s gavel.

The town of Palermo was accustomed to seeing the Squire at the head
of all assemblages. For years he had been the natural selection of the
voters at town meetings, after that hot caucus years before when he had
defeated Judge Willard, who had been moderator so long that the office
had almost become titular with him. It was a bold man who would get up
now and suggest that some one else preside. The men stole embarrassed
looks at each other, waiting for some one to take the plunge.

“We’re wasting time, fellow-townsmen,” said the Squire briskly.

“We was jest gittin’ ready to choose a moderator when you came in,”
 growled Doughty.

“Will you kindly make the nomination, Mr. Doughty?” directed the lawyer,
keenly eyeing the man.

Doughty, nervous under the general regard that was now fixed on him,
gruntingly worked his legs from under a desk and stood up. He could not
nominate himself, and he wouldn’t name a Dunham district man, for he
was angry at the cowardice of the assemblage that had failed to obey his
hint.

“I think it is the general sense of the meetin’,” he mumbled, “that
Squire Phineas Look serve as moderator, he knowin’ how--how----”

“I will accept the honour with thanks,” broke in the lawyer, rising. And
as he stood there looking into their sullen faces he reflected, “You’re
a cheeky old pirate, Phin, but it’s the only way to keep ’em from
putting the little one on the rack.”

“Neighbours,” he began, “I’m going to start in by telling you a bit of a
story. Once when I was a small boy my father had a flock of turkeys,
and the only thing I owned in the Lord’s world then was a little rabbit
about half grown. That was the time we lived over on the Ridge road; you
remember, some of you older ones, the farm that father took up?” Several
nodded. His tone was the social chat of an old friend. The initial
stiffness that had oppressed the farmers and their women had begun to
wear off.

“Well, s’r, folks, that rabbit was about as cunning a little critter as
you ever saw. Gracious, wasn’t I proud of him, though! He used to hop
around the yard and nibble clover, and I liked to watch him. You know
how a rabbit’s nose will flicker when he eats? Like a lawyer’s tongue in
a horse case!” His listeners greeted this thrust at the profession with
much hilarity. The Squire beamed an encouraging smile at the little
teacher, and then for the first time since their nod of greeting he
looked straight and long into the face of Sylvena Willard. Her brown
eyes brimmed with appreciation.

“Well, the little rabbit hopped about the yard where the big turkeys
brustled and hustled and pecked and scratched. Rabbit was busy getting
its living and didn’t mind the turkeys. And the turkeys didn’t pay much
attention to the rabbit. But one day something peculiar happened. One of
those hen turkeys made what you might call a mispeck at a grasshopper,
happened to get hold of that little rabbit’s ear by accident, and that
turkey was so surprised that she h’isted it right up and held on.

“Now, it’s the nature of turkeys, when they see another one holding up
something that seems like a good, tempting morsel, to close in on the
run and get their share. So in they tore. First hen turkey, however run
off with the rabbit. She thought it must be good to eat, seeing that
all the others were after her hotfoot. When she had run as long as she
could, with every once in awhile another turkey getting in a peck at it,
she laid it down to take a peck herself, and the others crowded around,
shutting their eyes and getting in their work, and before they knew what
they were pecking at they had torn that poor little rabbit all to bits.”

The audience blinked up at him, as yet hardly understanding the
application of the allegory. He straightened till his head grazed the
cracked ceiling.

“Since then I have always had an eye out to protect the innocent little
rabbits from excited turkeys, who most likely might be sorry after they
realised what they were pecking at.”

Esther Dunham interrupted him. She half rose from her seat and cried in
shrill tones:

“As near as I can ketch what you’re drivin’ at, Squire Look, you’re
callin’ me a hen turkey and you’re flingin’ out that the rest of
the women in this school deestrick are turkeys, too. I for one don’t
consider that is a compliment, and I don’t propose to sit here and
listen to any more of that sort of talk.”

He smiled indulgently at her excitement and went on:

“As old Anse Breed, the chicken thief, used to say, ‘It’s a wise fowl
that doesn’t step off the roost on to the first warm board that’s stuck
up in the night.’

“Now, we’ll just let the story I’ve told stand for what it’s worth. But
you mustn’t expect me to argue in defence of such turkeys. And if you
ever see an old gobbler named Phineas Look forgetting himself to any
such extent you may throw just as many stones at me as you like till I
come to my right senses.

“You all know why you’ve met here to-night. All this gossip and guess-so
and say-so has been thrashed over at back doors and front doors,
upstairs and downstairs. I’ll not soil my tongue by rolling it in my
mouth.”

“It’s the bus’ness of this meeting to bring out the evidence,” blurted
“Wolf” Doughty.

“Any time I need any assistance, Doughty, in running a meeting over
which I am presiding I’ll call you in,” replied the Squire tartly. “Now,
what are the facts? Here is a little girl--only a little girl--poor Ben
Haskell’s ’Liza, born and brought up in this town. Her mother dead
and her father worse than dead. She trying to earn her living honestly,
taking care of the children that you’re glad to have out from underfoot,
you women. Every day she has been sending them home to you a little
better, a little sweeter, a little more honest and self-respecting for
having been with her that day--and yet all of you are ready to turn and
rend her at the first squawk of----

“Look-a-here, Squire!” Mrs. Dunham was leaning over her desk, her thin
hand vibrating at him. “You can go about so fur with me! Do you mean to
tell this meetin’ that my husband----”

“Sit down, woman!” the lawyer thundered.

“This ain’t free speech!” clamoured Uncle Appleby. “A moderator ain’t
got no license to choke off everybody here.”

With one stride Squire Phin was off the platform. Indignation bristled
from his shaggy gray locks and gleamed in his narrowing eyes. As he
passed Sylvena Willard she gave him a look that was like a cup of cold
water to a man in battle.

He stood among them in the centre aisle.

“Have your moderators to suit yourselves!” he shouted, with a thump of
his fist on the desk that made Uncle Paul dodge. “I’m down here now on
this floor as a man that won’t see this innocent girl harried nor put
out of a place where she is earning her honest living. Who are
you, Esther Dunham, to analyse the emotions of the human heart? A
self-operating dishwashing machine. What is your old husband that he can
understand them, either? A doubled-over grub worm. The two of you hungry
for something in your lives, you don’t know what! But you shall not shut
your eyes and tear the innocent! Eleven thousand dollars in the banks,
eh?” He snarled the words at them. “Rooted by your snouts out of the
soil, and you never lifting your eyes to God’s sun and sky and open
heart and loving eye and generous impulse. Oh, I know I am harsh and
bitter! It is as hard for me to say it as it is for you to hear it. I am
bitter toward all of you that live that way, and you in this town
have always known my feelings. I dare to tell you the truths about
yourselves, and only the sharp-pointed truth will dig into your hides.
I dare to say to you, Esther Dunham, that you have maligned a pure and
innocent girl who has minded her own business. I dare to tell you that
you have trampled upon the torch of love in your own house until you
have trod out every spark.

“You wouldn’t let your husband love and do for his own child as he
ought. He don’t know what is the matter with him, that’s the trouble.
He has been bumping around like an old blind mule. He don’t know his own
heart.

“Why, all under God’s heavens he needs is the love of a child--a child,
Esther Dunham. He has seen again in this poor girl the image of the one
he lost. He has built another altar for his affections, and if it is
outside of your own walls, blame yourself, Esther.”

He clapped his finger smartly against his palm.

“Wake up, ‘Caje! Wake up, my man! Can’t you see now what the hankering
in your heart meant?”

The old farmer tucked his head between his arms on the desk and wept
weakly. His wife sat staring straight before her.

“Poor little girl!” softly said the Squire. He tiptoed back down the
aisle and smoothed the little teacher’s curls. “Poor little girl! You
have been ground between two hard millstones--and none of you knew, none
of you knew.”

He gazed long, silently and rebukingly over the assemblage. The people
shifted uneasily, shuttling their eyes from him to the floor.

“Now, who wants to stand forth as persecutor of this abused child?” he
demanded, his hand protectingly on her head.

No one stirred or spoke.

In the silence he walked slowly up the aisle and bent down over the wife
who stood staring into vacancy.

“Esther!” he said softly, and when she looked up at him after a time he
gazed at her with his eyes softening.

“Poor old mother!” He said it with infinite tenderness. He waited
awhile.

“It has been a bitter, cruel lesson that I have read to you,” he went
on. “I am a harsh old tyrant when my feelings are stirred. But I would
have defended just as stoutly your own little girl if she were here
alone and you were sleeping over yonder there on the hill where her
mother is.”

He took her unwilling hand, and thereafter the eloquence that trembled
on his lips was the soul outpouring of a man who has lived the life of
human justice and generosity that he preached--and the woman knew it.
With the skill of one who understood what quality of human nature lay
under that tough New England exterior, he probed to the depths of her
being, pulled away all the husks of selfishness that the years had
piled, layer on layer, and reached the mother instinct.

“Esther,” he said at last, “don’t you think you’ll look better with that
softness you have now in your eyes when your ’Cilia meets you at the
gate of Heaven? Why don’t you practise that look for the rest of your
life? But you need something to practise on! There are lots of things
that are going to waste up at your house since ’Cilia died. There’s
love and tenderness, most of all. There’s the heart of a faithful man
who has been yoked with you all these years, dragging at your mutual
burdens. He wants a little love, that’s all. He wants that love from
you, from no other. The two of you need something to soften your hard
natures, something in common. You lost that when your girl died.”

He hastened down the aisle. The little school-ma’am struggled a bit in
his grasp, but with Sylvena Willard’s pat on her cheek and comforting
word in her ear she went with him.

“Now, Esther, what have you to say to this poor little chicken--this
motherless little girl? Look into her eyes! What have you to say?”

The woman seemed to be awakening from some dream. She gazed about over
the assemblage. Her eyes returned to the shrinking girl before her.

“It was only the same way that my own father was good to me, Mrs.
Dunham,” murmured the schoolma’am, tears streaking her cheeks.
“I thought it was you that sent some of the little things, till
you---you----” Sobs checked her.

“Esther!” pleaded the Squire, “it’s awful lonesome up to your house!”

The whole picture of her homeless misery that afternoon blended with the
strange new light that had entered her soul. She clutched his arm and
pulled him down, whispered a few words into his ear, and then caught the
little schoolma’am in an embrace that proved that motherhood was burning
in her once again.

The Squire nodded his head and smiled sagely. Sylvena Willard was
standing at the foot of the aisle as he passed, mist in her eyes, but a
smile of earnest approbation on her lips that made his heart beat fast.

“It is a miracle, Phineas,” she whispered.

“Oh, no; it’s in all of ’em--in all of us, if you only know how to get
at it,” he returned softly.

Then he faced the silent people, who were blinking hard their blurry
eyes. He ran the brim of his worn hat around and around between his
fingers with an air that was almost embarrassment.

“Neighbours!” There was a bit of catch in his throat. “Esther wanted
me to tell you that the little school teacher has found a new mother
to-night.”

He went out through the entry-way, and the old dog waddled down off the
platform and followed at his heels.

“Phineas!” Sylvena Willard caught him on the little platform of the
school house. “How are you going to return to the village?”

“I was reckoning to foot it, Eli and I.”

“The boy brought me in our team. Won’t you ride with me? I want to talk
it all over with you.”

He was about to accept, when out of the gloom to which their eyes were
as yet hardly accustomed came a blur of lighter colour. It was the
lining of King Bradish’s Goddard buggy, and Bradish leaned out and spoke
to her, “I sent the boy home with your hitch, Sylvie. I’ve been waiting
for you.” He climbed out and “cramped” the wheel. “Was your experience
meeting worth all the time you put into it?” he inquired with a bit of
satire.

“You sent my carriage home?” she demanded indignantly.

“Why, it was the most natural thing in the world to do. There was no
need of keeping the boy here when you are going to ride back with me.”

“But I am not going to ride back with you, King,” she said, recovering
her composure. “I must withdraw my invitation to you,” she went on,
turning to the Squire. “But you can return the compliment by inviting me
to share your conveyance--Shanks’s mare, I believe the boys call it.”

“But it is two miles,” remonstrated the Squire.

“Only a pleasant stroll after the stuffiness of the school house.
Come!” She seized his arm and brushed past Bradish, for the people were
beginning to come out of the school house with their lamps.

He overtook them a few rods down the road.

“Sylvie,” he said, walking his horse close to them, “I don’t propose to
discuss this thing in the highway, but you certainly can’t be intending
to walk home with this man, under the _circumstances_.” He dwelt on the
last word.

She did not reply, but continued to chat to the Squire, who plodded on,
dumb and confounded at the turn affairs had taken.

“And I shall tell your father!” drawled Bradish, venom in his tone.

“Tell him whatever you think will be the best for all concerned,” she
replied with fully as much significance.

They heard him lashing his horse cruelly as he turned the corner into
the Cove road.

But during the walk to the village his name was not mentioned between
them.



CHAPTER IX--SUMNER BADGER MAKES A WILL AND, UNWITTINGLY, A DISCLOSURE


               “A man there was who died of late

               Whom angels did impatient wait,

               With outstretched arms and smiles of love

               To take him to the Realms Above.

               “While angels hovered in the skies

               Disputing who should bear the prize,

               In slipped the Devil like a weasel

               And Down Below he kicked old Keazle! ”

                   --An Epitaph by “Rhymester” Tuttle.


The Squire had pulled his arm-chair into the centre of the broadest
patch of sunshine that carpeted the dusty floor of his office. The
light flooded his book’s pages until he almost closed his eyes, but he
welcomed sunshine this morning. It fitted into his mood. When Brickett
started his coffee-grinder there was a certain rhythm about it that
set the Squire to whistling. “Hard-Times” Wharff was playing on his tin
flute down in the yard of the little brown house behind the currier’s
shop, the music serving as his daily relaxation from his meditations on
astronomy. Usually the monotonous “toodle-oodle” irritated the Squire.
This day he tapped time with his finger on the open page.

He wanted to say something aloud and he glanced up at the “Creosote
Supreme Bench.” No, that wasn’t the right kind of an audience! He looked
down at the floor. Eli’s steadfast, worshipful gaze caught his. The dog
rapped his tail genially.

“Eli,” said the Squire, smiling at him, “when you load your gun to bring
down a particular human heart, there isn’t any telling how many others
the scatter-fire will hit.”

Then for a little while he sat and dreamed over that walk home along the
Cove road, past the pines that whispered and along the shore where the
waves seemed to follow them with a sort of a dance step. And neither of
them had said a word about love during all the long walk!

In fact, Squire Phin hadn’t said much of anything. It was so good to
hear her voice. Since he had talked to her that August day across the
iron fence he had been afraid she would think that he was whining and
sentimental. To be sure, he reflected, his feelings had been cruelly
stirred that day, and that was some excuse; and then, too, he had waited
ten years to say even the little that he did say. He was rather proud
that he hadn’t raked up the old topic during the walk. This was the
pride of New England reserve that distrusts over-much lip service. It
had been hard to hold in sometimes along the way, when she praised his
courage in handling the affair in the Dunham district and showed her
appreciation of other things that he didn’t know she had heard about.

“I suppose some men would have taken advantage and pestered her again
with love-talk,” he had pondered as he walked away from the iron gate of
the Willard place, “but I reckon I’ll never get fussed up enough again
to bother her that way. It’s a tough thing for a woman to feel that she
can’t walk with a man without his everlastingly dinging away his own
troubles into her ears--and--and there may be a time when she will walk
with me again if she realises that I know enough to keep my mouth shut.”

All of which might indicate to those versed in such matters that Squire
Phin Look understood litigation better than love-making, which has its
own court days, its calendar for service, its notice and its set time
for appeal. He, however, felt that he had played the part of chivalry.

So the morning had seemed fair and he had slapped Hiram on the back at
breakfast time and had hummed a tune as he walked to his office,
and everything had seemed to be music, even the mournful cooing of
“Hard-Times’s” tin flute.

And when old Sumner Badger came dragging up the stairs and into the
office, and dolorously announced that he was going to die inside of two
days and wanted to make his will, the Squire leaned back in his chair
and laughed, to the indignant disgust of old Sumner.

“If there’s anything funny about my havin’ a call to the Speret Land I’d
be much obleeged if you’d ’loosidate it, Squire Phin Look.” There
was a scowl on the old man’s yellow face, and his shock of white hair
bristled.

“Die!” echoed the Squire; “why, Sum, who talks of dying with the sun
warm overhead, and the waves sparkling out yonder in the Cove, and even
Asa Brickett’s coffee-grinder down there playing dance music with every
twist of the handle? Never say die, Sum.”

“I donno what’s happened to chirk you up so’t you giggle at your
neighbour’s solum warnin’s as have come to ’em, nor I don’t care
a ding, Squire Look, but it ain’t right to mix in your own joys with
others’ sorrers.”

A close observer might have seen in the lawyer’s countenance a flicker
of contrition, as though he had suddenly remembered that every man in
Palermo didn’t have such cause for joy as he.

“Sun a-shinin’, you say!” went on Badger, grimly. “Yes, and a sun-dog
each side of it like wings on a bat, and a-showin’ that we’re goin’ to
have a line gale that will blow the knot-holes out of apple trees. Waves
sparklin’, hey? Porgy scum from that stinkin’ Cod Lead fact’ry that
they’ve stuck under our noses out our way. Music in a coffee-grinder!
And Brickett chargin’ three cents more a pound for Rio than he ever
done. There’s some as can laugh at a fun’ral, but they ain’t got no good
wit.”

“I never laughed yet at anybody’s troubles, Uncle Sum,” said the Squire,
gently; “but you and I, with life still in us, don’t know the day and
the hour of our passing out. You’re not going to die.”

“You think you know more about me than my guardeen angel, do you, hah?
When my guardeen angel comes a-rappin’ the death knock on my headboard
night after night I know what it means.”

The Squire remembered that Badger was a Spiritualist of fervent faith.
He made no comment.

“Three times at our circle Mis’ Achorn has seen a shroud around me and
angel hands beckoning over my head. You ain’t denyin’ that Mis’ Achorp
is the best medium in this country, be ye?”

“Mrs. Achorn is, probably, a good and well-meaning woman, Sum, I have
no doubt; but if I were you I wouldn’t let any one scare me into
conniptions. It doesn’t pay.”

“I know what I’m talkin’ about,” persisted Badger. “I want to make my
will.”

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t,” the Squire replied, and he pulled
a long sheet of paper from the drawer.

“I allus like to know prices before I buy. What will sech a dockyment
cost me?”

Sumner Badger was known widely as the “closest figgerer” in Palermo. He
often boasted that he had never been extravagant in his life except once
when he bought five cents’ worth of peppermint-drops for a girl. He was
young then, he said.

“She set and et the whole mess right down, one after the other,” he
frequently related, “and that fixed me with _her_. I wouldn’t have no
sech extravagance as that in a wife and so she lost her chance. I went
and got me a woman that knowed how to make things spend for what they
was wuth.” And on their little farm, denying themselves everything
except the barest necessities, the couple had amassed their little
competence.

The Squire eyed the old man’s sun-faded clothes and his knotted hands
and his seamed, gaunt face, yellow with bile, and he pitied this
slave who had half-starved himself, in the midst of his herds and his
harvests.

“Poor old gaffer, you’ve sold your cream all along and drunk the skim
milk,” he reflected--“a life ordeal worse than Tantalus went through,
for Tantalus couldn’t reach what he was hungry for, and all you have had
to do was to stick out your hand and dip into bounty.”

He looked long at Badger, his shrewd eyes twinkling with the humour that
replaced his momentary pity. Then he answered the old man’s question.

“I’m willing to be reasonable, Sum. Now, what would you say was a fair
price for drawing a will?”

“Lawyers’ money comes dretful easy,” growled Badger. “’Tain’t like
diggin’ it out of a farm.” He pondered, screwing up his eyes and
calculating. “I should say if you’d draw up one that couldn’t be busted
I’d be willin’ to pay a shillin’.” He made a move to draw his wallet,
but the lawyer put up his hand.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do with you, Sum. If you’ll carry home to-day
a good big piece of steak and eat it with your wife--lots of butter on
it--I’ll draw your will for nothing.”

Badger surveyed him dubiously and with sullen suspicion.

“We don’t go much on meat vittles to our house--not with beef prices
stuck ’way up where they be.”

“That’s my price. And it’s got to be sirloin, not round.”

The lawyer saw by the expression on Badger’s face that he had
anticipated the old man’s prompt thought as to quality.

“Steak’s steak, ain’t it?” he muttered. “I never heard of payin’ a
lawyer’s bill in no sech fashion, but”--he sighed--“I’ll do it.”

“And aren’t you going to thank me into the bargain?” demanded the
Squire. “I usually get five dollars, at least, for a document of this
sort.”

“I reckon it’s lib’ral as law goes, Squire.” He suddenly warmed a bit.
“You’ve been reasonable with me. Now I’ll do something for you. You’ve
allus kind of cocked your nose up at s’p’tu’lism. I know it. You needn’t
tell me! Now it’s goin’ to be worth something for you to reelly know
whether there’s anything on the Other Side. So after I arrive there and
git a little bit wonted to the place I’ll come back and appear to you
and tell you all about it.”

“Oh, no, Sum,” expostulated the lawyer, his face serious. “I couldn’t
think of asking you to take all that trouble for a hard old nut like
me.”

“But a word from you to the people--you bein’ prominent--sayin’ that
you’d seen me--materialised, mebbe; known by knocks, anyway--and I’d
said ’twas so-and-so, would carry a good deal of weight and prove that
I ain’t been no dum fool to b’lieve in s’p’tu’lism. I say, I’m comin’
back and appear to you and you needn’t think it’s anything strange.”

The Squire leaned forward and shook his finger at Badger.

“Let me advise you on one point, Sum. This advice isn’t going to cost
a cent. Now, if you ever get so much as one foot into heaven--even get
your fingers through the crack in the door, you stay right there. Don’t
you ever take any chances on coming away to visit. They might get to
asking leading questions about you the next time you came back to the
door.”

“You don’t mean that for a slur, do you?” The old man’s face hardened.

“Let’s get to the business of drawing the will before we go to talking
personal, Sum. I don’t have the same ideas as you on some ways of
living.”

He wrote the usual heading at the top of the page, dipped his pen and,
suddenly looking Badger in the eye, asked bluntly:

“I suppose it all goes to the wife so long as she lives, and after her
to your niece, seeing that you have no children. To ’Liza Haskell,
poor Ben’s girl, I mean?”

The old man shook his head with determination.

“What! you aren’t going to leave it to your only niece--your dead
sister’s child--a little girl that----?”

“This is my will and it’s my own property that I’m willin’,” interrupted
the farmer. “You can make it short and right to the point. It’s all
goin’ to be turned into cash when I die, and Mirandy will git the
interest as long as she lives, to be paid to her by the trustees that
I shall name. Then the whole is goin’ to pay for a monnyment over my
grave.”

Squire Phin leaned back and stared at the old man.

“Yess’r, a monnyment with my statoot on top and poetry about s’p’tu’lism
carved around the bottom. I’ll show ’em that has scoffed and sneered
that there is more to it than they thought.”

“But how do you prove anything by putting, say, ten thousand dollars
into such infernal foolishness as that?” stormed the Squire.

“It will show that one man believed in it thirteen thousand dollars’
wuth--and that’s all he had and what he’d worked for all his life,”
 persisted the farmer, stubbornly. He stood up and cracked his fist on
the table.

“Now, you can’t change my mind on that one jot or tittle, Squire Phin
Look. You put it into any kind of lawyer lingo that will stick, and mind
your own business.”

The Squire completed the writing without further comment, but his face
was stern and he drove his pen into the inkstand with violent thrusts.
Badger during the writing informed him that he wanted him to be one of
the trustees. The lawyer paused and frowned at the old man as though he
were intending to refuse, then inserted the name.

“And I want you to take these notes,” went on Badger, “and figger the
interest up on ’em and put ’em in your safe and keep ’em.”

He passed across the table a dog’s-eared bank-book with a few papers
between the leaves. The Squire examined them without particular
interest. There were half a dozen for small amounts. But at sight of
the last he sat up straighter, studied the document with increasing
attention, turned it over and over, and then stared at Badger, arching
his eyebrows.

“Where did you get hold of this town note?” he demanded.

“I lent good money for it. I got it right from the man whose name is
signed at the bottom--and he’s been town treasurer of Palermo for thirty
years. I reckon you know him!”

“Seven thousand dollars!” muttered the Squire. “Why, this town
hasn’t----”

“There ain’t nothin’ out of the way, is there, about me havin’ a town
note?” Badger went on. He paused a moment, then added, “So long as
you’re my lawyer and one of the trustees and I’m goin’ to die and shan’t
be lendin’ the money any longer, I tell you that’s a good way to let
your money out--on a town note.”

For the first time since he had come into the office his face twisted
into something like a smile. He leaned forward and whispered:

“Says the Judge to me, ‘You keep right still about how you’ve lent this
money to the town and you won’t git taxed. So long’s it’s between you
and me it won’t git onto the assessors’ books.’”

The Squire had the note spread before him and was studying it, his hands
clutched into his thick hair, his elbows on the table.

“Yess’r, the Judge says, ‘You’re a friend of mine, Sum, and so long’s
you keep still you’ll git your six per cent, and not be taxed on it!’
But there ain’t no need of keepin’ still any longer. I shan’t need extra
int’rest. You can collect as soon as I’m dead.”

“Sum,” said the Squire, slowly lifting his eyes to the old man’s
face--eyes in which there was a sort of shocked bewilderment, “I don’t
want you to say anything about this note. It isn’t to be talked of.”

“But I’ve told Figger-Four Avery about it,” cried Badger, looking
scared.

“Figger-Four Avery!” Squire Phin shouted the name. “Why, you might
as well have put it into the _Seaside Oracle_. What do you want to go
blurting your affairs for?”

“He was inquirin’ on bus’ness for your brother Hime,” faltered Badger.
“He said Hime was borryin’ and lendin’ and was willing to pay seven per
cent. Figger-Four is clerkin’ for Hime and gittin’ facts and figgers for
him, and you know it jest as well as I do.”

“No, I don’t know----” but the lawyer checked his exclamation, setting
his lips hard. He put the bank-book and the notes away in the safe.

“It’s best for you to keep your mouth shut about this,” he said curtly
to the old man who followed his movements with frightened stare. “I
won’t answer for what may happen to you otherwise.”

He threw up the window and looked out. Uncle Buck and Marriner Amazeen
sat on the store platform, their chairs tilted back. They were the
lawyer’s regular stand-bys as witnesses of legal papers, and came
upstairs at his call.

“Your will, hey?” observed Buck as he pulled his spectacles down from
his forehead and looked over the paper preparatory to signing it. “I
allus thought you cal’lated on takin’ it all with ye, Sum.”

When his eyes fell on the writing designating the purpose to which the
estate was to be applied, he snorted, “Well, it’s about as I reckoned,
after all. That’s the next thing to luggin’ it away to Kingdom Come.” He
read the clause aloud to Amazeen.

“Statoot to be life-size?” that individual blandly inquired.

“It will be as big’s there’s money for,” replied Badger, stiffly. “It
will be sculped out from my photograft and I reckon the sculper can make
me nine feet high. There’s risin’ thirteen thousand to do it with.” He
gazed at his auditors with triumph.

“Le’s see!” pursued Amazeen, reflectively, “that would make your ear
about as big over as a chiny nappy. Before you’ve been standin’ there
two days them cussed sparrers will set up housekeepin’ in both ears. And
a robin will have a nest under your arm, and there’ll be a crow settin’
on your head ha’f the time. You want to add a codicil there providin’
for about four scarecrow windmills set around over you. You’re goin’ to
be almighty uncomfortable if you don’t. A statoot with twine string and
feathers sticking out of the ears ain’t going to attract no particular
admirin’ interest.”

“If the citerzens of this town stand round and see a thirteen thousand
dollar monnyment get all cluttered and gurried up, then they ain’t got
no more public sperit than quahaugs,” cried Badger.

Amazeen took Uncle Buck’s place at the table and proceeded to affix his
signature. While he wrote he said:

“Mebbe you think you’ve done enough for this town so that the citerzens
will stand out there in the grave-yard, turn and turn about, and
keep the flies off’n that statoot with a feather duster! But I’m more
inclined to think that the youngsters will do it with rocks.”

Badger replied to the sally with violent language, and the debate was
becoming acrimonious when the Squire brusquely advised them to continue
their dispute out of doors. His tone was harsher than usual, and his
face was troubled. The old men went out, Amazeen shouting further
directions to Badger, who hurried ahead, advising lightning rods and
fire extinguishers and other appurtenances. Uncle Buck greeted each
suggestion with a cackle of laughter. Squire Phin heard them pursuing
their furious victim across the square, but he listened with abstracted
frown, though at another time the grim jests might have amused him.

He took the town note out of the safe and examined it again. Then he
pulled down a bundle of small pamphlets bearing the cover inscription,
“Town Reports of Palermo.” He studied them with care and at last leaned
back in his chair and gazed long at the ceiling.

“If I,” he said, softly, “were town treasurer of Palermo and had
borrowed seven thousand dollars simply on my own name as treasurer,
after the town had voted that two of the selectmen should sign with the
treasurer on town loans, and had continued to pay six per cent, for that
money after the town had voted to refund all floating indebtedness
at four per cent., and, finally, still owed that seven thousand after
making oath in my last report that the town owed less than two thousand
dollars, why, I--I couldn’t explain it to myself, much less to the
voters of this town.”

Brickett began to grind coffee again.

“Don’t the people of this place buy anything except coffee?” growled the
Squire, jumping up and striding around the office. The noise racked his
nerves now.

“It can’t be,” he muttered. “It’s some mistake or--or----” The
recollection of certain gossip he had heard a year before at the county
court regarding alleged dealings in stock by “a prominent Palermo man”
 and his losses occurred to him, and he remembered that he had stoutly
averred that no one in his town ever dealt in stocks. He knew that
people outside were usually the first to hear of such things, but this
was a story that he didn’t believe. This note was there on his table--a
document that demanded explanation--a document that could be explained
by a desperate man’s financial stress and in no other way. Men did not
take such chances for amusement.

Aquarius Wharff’s little flute piped away insistently.

“What a devilish nuisance that old fool is!” the lawyer growled, and he
went along and slammed down the window.

Who properly should demand that explanation? Himself as town agent.

Brickett was now unheading a barrel, and the clamour made the Squire
pound his table with a boyish and futile rage. Every noise jarred on him
and the sun didn’t shine in at the windows any longer.

There was no doubt about his duty. The note must be shown to the
selectmen. He picked it up, put it into his pocketbook, hesitated at the
door, then hastily went back to the safe, tucked it into the most remote
pigeon-hole, slammed the safe door and whirled the lock knob vigorously.

“No, sir,” he muttered as he went down the stairs, “this isn’t a thing
to prick with a crowbar. It needs a fine needle. There’s a woman to be
considered first, and, by the gods! there’s no steer-team of selectmen
going to walk over her to get to her father--no matter how the land
lies.”

He stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked back at his office door
with a singular air of apprehension, as though he had left there some
ugly and hideous object.

“No, it can’t be.” He stamped his foot upon the turf. “It isn’t the
Willard stripe to do a thing like that. He’s a hog, but not a thief. I
guess I’ll go and sit under the old poplars and think about it a bit.”

As he walked along the street he remembered what Badger had said about
his brother Hiram’s activity in the matter of that town note.



CHAPTER X--HIRAM LOOK PULLS IN SIMON PEAK FROM THE FLOTSAM OF LIFE

FOR GOOD AND SUFFICIENT REASONS


               Foster the tinker traversed Maine

                   From Elkinstown to Kittery Point,

               With a rattling pack and a rattling brain,

                   And a general air of “out of joint.”

               A gaunt, old chap with a shambling gait,

                   A battered hat and rusty clothes,

               With grimy digits in sorry state,

                   And a smooch on the end of his big red nose.

               That was the way that Foster went--

               Mixture of shrewdness and folly blent,

               Mending the pots and pans as ordered,

               But leaving the leak in his nob unsoldered.

                   --From “Ballads of the Wayfarers.”


Hiram was on the porch in his favourite attitude, his chair tipped
against the wall, his tall hat on the back of his head, his thumb hooked
into the armhole of his vest. He rolled his cigar across his tongue and
looked at his brother with a sidewise, suspicious glance as the Squire
sat down on the edge of the platform. The lawyer remembered suddenly
that he had seen that look on Hiram’s face frequently of late. It was
the wary expression of a man who feared that he might be called on to
defend himself.

“I thought I’d run up to the house and sit down for a spell, Hime. The
loafers down there get on my nerves once in a while.”

The Squire noted the instant relief on Hiram’s face. The cigar rolled
back to the other corner of his mouth and perked itself with new
assurance.

“I don’t blame you, Phin. That’s why I keep away from Brickett’s. I can
jaw ’em off the premises, here, when they get to bothering me.”

The old woman whom Hiram had insisted on adding to the household as maid
of all work snapped her dishcloth at the ell window and began chatting
with “Figger-Four” Avery, who was varnishing one of the vans. Avery sat
down on the cart tongue and gave her his full attention.

“Avery is a fair sample of ’em,” continued Hiram, jerking his head to
indicate his servitor. “There ought to be only three days in the week
for fellers like him and the rest round here--a rainy day, Sunday and
pay-day.”

“It wears on a man like Avery to get up before breakfast and work
between meals,” observed the Squire, drily.

At this little jest of his brother’s, Hiram recovered all his composure.
It was evident that the Squire wasn’t bringing that dreaded “bone to
pick,” he reflected.

“I’m goin’ to have old Skip-bug, there, give the whole outfit a
goin’-over, new gilding, new paint, varnish, and a clean scour. Prob’ly
I’ll be takin’ to the road again next season, Phin,” he said, with a
sigh. “I’ve been studyin’ it over for quite a spell. I’m get-tin’ to
realise every day that you’ve drifted your way and I’ve drifted mine,
and the things I talk about don’t hit you and the things you talk
about----”

“I’m a pretty dry, prosy chap to be a companion to one who has seen the
world as you’ve seen it,” the Squire finished the sentence.

“No, it ain’t that, Phin,” blustered Hiram. “The idea is you’ve got
education and I ain’t, and I never shall have. There’s only brass
and bellow to me, slam-bang like a circus band. So I guess I’ll have
Hop-and-fetch-it give the gear a slickin’ and I’ll be movin’ on.” He set
his hat down over his eyes and smoked hard.

The Squire did not reply for a time. He had unclasped his jack-knife and
was meditatively jabbing it into the decayed wood of the porch platform.

“The Looks are no great hands to make a lot of soft talk to each other
or anybody else, Hime,” he said at last. “But I want to say to you that
I really hoped you were home to settle here. Half of the house is yours
to do with as you like. Neither of us will bother the other one--I
hope!”

Hiram gave him another of his suspicious side-glances.

“I’ve heard that you have been making quite a number of investments in
town and were looking for more, and so I supposed you had decided to
camp here. I wish you would, Hime.”

“Well, I don’t like to have money ’round idle, that’s all,” growled
his brother. He waited a moment and then, studying the Squire from the
corner of his eye, he said:

“I suppose the old fools ’round here are makin’ all kinds of talk
about my lettin’ out a little money. I ain’t said anything to you about
it ’cause I reckoned you had business enough of your own to think
about.”

“And I find enough in my own affairs to keep me busy, Hime. But”--he
turned his gaze full upon his brother--“I’ve found time to wonder why
you’ve been trying to _borrow_ money from old Sum Badger.” Hiram growled
an oath, brought his chair down on its four legs with a clatter, and
half rose, with a malignant eye boring the back of Avery, who was
unsuspiciously swabbing his brush on the side of the van.

“Oh, it isn’t Figger-Four’s mouth this time, Hime. I’ve been drawing up
Sum’s will and he told me about it and left his notes with me.”

Now that the Squire’s gaze showed that he understood the situation,
Hiram’s apprehensiveness gave place to bravado.

“And what do you think of that town note that shows that your high
and mighty treasurer is a--is--well, whatever the law name is, I say
‘thief’?”

“I am perfectly well able to attend to the business of my clients, and I
am not prepared to discuss their private affairs just yet,” returned the
Squire, tartly. “It comes pretty near bein’ a town affair, and as I’ve
never gained residence anywhere else and am a voter here and have got
investments here, it comes pretty near bein’ my affair, too.”

“There are good and sufficient reasons why I don’t want this old family
feud carried on any longer, Hiram.” The lawyer stood up, clacked his
knife’s blade shut and shoved it into his pocket.

“And I know what the reasons are and I say you’re a devilish fool to
have ’em,” cried his brother.

“I have lived in this town all my life, Hiram”--the Squire preserved his
temper, though the other was already bristling with wrath. “I intend to
live here much longer. I am ready to resent injury just as quickly
as you are. But this keeping alive an old fight, when there have been
provocations on both sides, is folly and will lower us both in the
estimation of the public. I say, you are not going to tramp over
innocent persons to get at the object of your grudge.”

Hiram stood up and kicked his chair off the porch.

“Allow me to remind you--not to twit, but to speak the plain truth--that
you seem to have waked up pretty late to the fact that you had any
vengeance to attend to in this town.”

“And that’s just it,” shouted Hiram. “I stayed away and let the
wickin’ be put to you and father. You’ve been ground into the dirt and
mallywhacked and spit on, just on account of me. The Look fam’ly has
been muck under foot for some folks. And even now, after all that’s past
and gone, that old wolf would have my ha’slet out of me if he could get
it. There’s a debt due to the Looks, compound int’rest piled on compound
int’rest, and by the jumped-up Judas Is-carrot, I’m goin’ to collect it,
Phin. You may as well stand out of the way.”

He strode about the little yard before the porch.

“And besides all that, he’s stealin’ from this town, and you know it,”
 cried Hiram, stopping in his march for a moment.

“There’s other redress for that besides persecution,” replied the
Squire. “It isn’t our business as Seth Look’s boys.”

“It _is_ our bus’ness. And it’s more yours than it is mine. You’re the
agent of this town. You’re the man the people trust to see that Palermo
gets what’s her just dues. You know she is bein’ robbed. Now, Phin, you
either go to work and find out why old Coll Willard is borrowin’ money
secretly on town’s notes, and you put it before the people in the right
and proper way as you know how to do, or, by mighty, I’ll do it my way
and then you’ll see how you stand before the people--you that’s hidin’ a
note that you know is crooked.”

Hiram stopped before his brother and breathed hard in his passion. And
now the Squire’s repression began to give way. The obstinacy of this
stormy petrel of the Look family was maddening.

But, fortunately for both, the unhappy quarrel was interrupted. For some
moments there had been approaching behind the alders at the turn of the
highway a queer medley of sound--squeaking of whiffle-tree, yawling of
dry axle and over all a peculiar moaning. Now a vehicle like a van came
in sight. The brothers stood and watched it as it approached them. Avery
came hobbling with brush in hand and gaped his surprise.

“Well, P’lermo’s took this time, sartin sure,” he gasped.

’Twas almost a little house on wheels. An elbow of stove funnel stuck
out of one side. An old chaise-top was fastened by strings and wire over
a seat in front. Dust and mud covered everything with striated coatings,
a mask eloquent of wanderings over many soils.

A bony horse, knee-sprung and wheezy, dragged the van at the gait of a
caterpillar.

Under the chaise-top was a hunched-up elderly man, gaunt but huge of
frame, his knees almost at his chin. Long, grizzled hair fluffed over
his shoulders, and little puffs of white whiskers stood out from his
tanned cheeks. A fuzzy beaver hat barely covered the bald spot on his
head. The reins were looped around his neck. Between his hands, huge
as hams, moaned and sucked and snuffled and droned a much-patched
accordion. To its accompaniment the man sang words that he fitted to the
tune of “Old Dog Tray,” trolling lustily at the end of each verse, “An
honest friend is old hoss Joe.”

“Whoa, there! Whup!” screamed Hiram’s parrot, swinging by one foot.

“Ain’t you kind of workin’ a friend to the limit, and a little plus?”
 inquired Hiram, sarcastically. The old horse, at the parrot’s command,
had stopped before the gate, legs straddled, head down, the dust rising
in little puffs as he breathed.

“Joachim loves music,” said the stranger, with a mild smile. “He’ll
travel all day if I’ll only play and sing to him.”

“Love of music will be the death of Joachim, then,” commented Hiram,
briefly.

“Is there a hostelry near by?” asked the other, lifting his tall beaver
hat politely. In the atmosphere of rough-and-ready Palermo the little
action seemed an exaggeration. With satirical courtesy Hiram lifted his
hat--and at the psychological moment the only “plug” hats in the whole
town of Palermo saluted each other.

“There’s a hossery down the road, and a mannery, too, all run by old
Fyles.”

“Crack ’em down, gents,” rasped the parrot. “Twenty can play as well
as one.”

The man under the chaise-top pricked up his ears and cast a rather
startled look at the plug hat in the yard. Plug hat in the yard seemed
suddenly to recognise some affinity or comradeship in plug hat under the
chaise-top. The Squire saw only another of those fantastic wanderers who
occasionally went dragging through the village, peddling their wares.
He backed slowly to the porch and sat down. His brother trudged out
into the road and walked around the outfit, his nose elevated with a
curiosity that was almost canine.

At last he planted himself in the highway before the man of the
chaise-top, his knuckles on his hips, his eye flashing under brows
wrinkled with thought, and stared long and silently.

“Who be I?” he demanded at last.

The stranger surveyed him for a long time, his head drooping lower and
lower, until it was hugged between his shoulders.

“You,” he huskily ventured, “so I should jedge, though I ain’t seen you
for a good many years, you--I should say--you----”

“Well, up and out with it!”

“You are Look’s Leviathan Circus and Menagerie, H. Look, Proprietor.”

“You win a cigar,” assented Hiram, with a snap of his head. “And as for
you, you’re Sime Peak, billed as Mounseer Hercules, and I’m glad you
called when you came along.”

There was a grim significance under his words that made the stranger
flinch.

“Let’s see!” pursued Hiram, his eyes narrowing, “it’s quite a while to
remember back, but didn’t you throw up your job with me kind o’ sudden?”

The man on the van scratched a trembling forefinger through a cheek
tuft.

“I don’t exactly recollect how the--how the change came about,” he
faltered.

“Well, I do!” Hiram came close and wagged a forefinger up at the man.
“You ducked out across country the night of that punkin freshet, when I
was mud-bound in that pennyr’yal settlement and the elephant was afraid
of the bridges. And you took my dancin’, turkey outfit and a cage of
monkeys and a few other things that didn’t belong to you, and--_her!_”
 He almost shouted the last word, and then looked around with sudden
apprehension that he was overheard by his brother. But the Squire sat
on the porch without apparent interest. “What became of her, Sime Peak?”
 demanded Hiram, hissing the words at him. He seized a spoke of the old,
dished wheel and shook the vehicle impatiently. The spoke came away in
his hand.

“Never mind it,” quavered the man. “It ain’t nothin’. We’re all comin’
to pieces, me and the whole caboodle. But don’t hit me with it.”

He was eyeing the spoke in Hiram’s clutch.

“What did you steal her for, Sime Peak?”

“There isn’t anything sure about her goin’ away with me,” the other
protested weakly.

Hiram yanked away another spoke in the vehemence of his emotions.

“Don’t you lie to me!” he snarled. “The both of you done me when I was
tied up with my circus clear’n to the hubs in mud. Mounseer Hercules of
the curly hair!” he snorted, and ran a sneering gaze over the outfit.
“She wouldn’t chase you very fur now. You took her, I say, a girl I’d
lifted off the streets and made the champion lady rider of--and was
goin’ to marry and thought more of”--another cautious look at the
Squire, “yess’r, thought more of than I did of anyone else in the world.
What did you do with her?”

“Well, I was startin’ and she wanted to go along and so I took her
aboard. She seemed to want to get away from your show, as near as
I could find out.” The giant hugged his knees together and blinked
appealingly.

“It must be a bang-up livin’ you’re givin’ her.” Again Hiram
disdainfully surveyed the equipage.

“Seems as if you hadn’t heard the latest news,” broke in Peak, his face
suddenly clearing of the puckers of apprehension. “She never stuck to
me no time--honest to Gawd, Look. She only made believe she was goin’ to
marry me. It was so I’d take her along. She ducked out with ev’ry
cent of the sixteen hundred I’d saved up and run away with Signor
Dellybunko--or whatever his name was--who was waiting for her along the
road. Honest, I ain’t seen hide nor hair of her since, nor I don’t ever
want to,” he rattled on eagerly, “and I’ve still got the letter that she
left for me, and I’ll prove what I say. She said in it that she’d been
plannin’ to do the same thing with you, but she had made up her mind
that you wasn’t as easy as I was and she couldn’t work you.”

Hiram’s shoulders straightened and he pulled his trailing moustaches
with a bit of swagger.

“She was out just to do someone so’s she and Dellybunko could get away
with the stuff,” insisted Peak.

“She says so in the letter, and you was smart and I was easy--that’s
all!”

“It’s the old army game, gents!” squawked the parrot. He cracked his
beak against the bars of the cage.

Hiram shoved his hands into his pockets and with a sort of meditative
air of conscious superiority kicked another spoke out of the wheel.

“Hadn’t you just as soon tear pickets off’n the fence, there, or
something of that sort?” wistfully asked Peak. “This is all I’ve got
left, and, honestly, I’ve never had no great courage to do anything
since she run away with that sixteen hundred. I never had no great
enterprise and ability like you’ve got, anyway. I just went all to
pieces.”

He scrubbed his raspy palms on his upcocked knees.

“I didn’t really want to run away with her, Hiram, but she bossed me
into it. I never was no hand to stand up for my rights. I could lift
weights and let ‘em crack a marble block on my chest, but anyone with a
limber tongue could allus talk me ’round--and I guess they allus can.
I wish she’d stuck to you and let me alone.” His big hands trembled on
his knees, and his weak face with its flabby chops had the wistful look
one sees on a foxhound’s visage. “When did you give up the road?” he
asked, evidently willing to change the subject.

“Haven’t given it up,” snapped Hiram, scowling. “There’s the waggons
over there, and the round-top and seats are stored, and I’ve got my
elephant. I’m liable to buy a lemon and a square hunk of glass and start
out again ’most any time.”

Hiram couldn’t help winking his good eye at his old partner in
“shenanigan,” though his face hardened again the moment after. Peak
chuckled fulsome appreciation, Still eager to placate, he said:

“I don’t suppose you really have to.” He blinked watery eyes at Hiram’s
big watch chain with its bunch of charms, and at the ring on his thick
finger, with its blazing stone.

“Forty thousand or so in the bank and plenty more out at int’rest,”
 returned Hiram. He put both thumbs into the armholes of his vest. Then
with the patronising air of the “well-fixed” he inquired:

“How are you gettin’ your three squares nowadays?”

“Lecture on Lost Arts and Free Love, mesmerise and cure stutterin’ in
one secret lesson, pay in advance,” Peak explained listlessly. “But
there ain’t the three squares in no such graft in these times. I ain’t
got your head. I wish I’d been as sharp as you are and never let a woman
whiffle me into a scrape.” Hiram glowed with the same warmth that he
felt when “Figger-Four” daily regaled him with stories of how Myra
Willard made life miserable for Kleber with her tongue and her folly.
This gossip had been “Figger-Four’s” first recommendation to the notice
of the showman, and Avery had sagaciously pursued it. Hiram now looked
up at the man on the van with a pride that was gloomy, but none the less
apparent.

“Nobody ever come it over me,” he said in low tones, with a side glance
to see that Avery didn’t overhear. “Still, another way you look at it,
she did come it over me and so did----” He suddenly checked himself.

“But she didn’t come it over you,” insisted Peak. “I’m the one she come
it over, and look at me!” He made a despairing gesture that embraced all
his pathetic belongings. “You’re the one that’s come out ‘unrivalled,
stupendous and triumphant,’ as your full sheeters used to say. If I was
any help in steerin’ her away I’m humbly glad of it, Hime, for I allus
liked you.”

This gradual assuming of the rôle of benefactor was not entirely to
Hiram’s taste, as his frown indicated, but the constant iteration of
admiration for his shrewdness and good fortune was having its effect.
The old grudge ached less. It was like having opodeldoc stuffed into a
bad tooth. Hiram felt as though he would like to listen to a lot more of
that comforting talk. Moreover, his showman’s heart was hungry for
some of that association of the old days and for a chance to swap old
stories.

“Sime,” he cried with a heartiness that surprised even himself, “you’re
a poor old devil that’s been abused, and you seem to be all in.” He
surveyed the wheezy horse and kicked another spoke from the wheel.

“Crack ’em down, crack ’em down, gents!” squalled the parrot.

“If it wasn’t for Absalom, there, to holler that to me with an
occasional ‘Hey, Rube!’ I don’t believe I could stay in this
God-forsaken place fifteen minutes. There’s no one here that can talk
about anything except ensilage and new-milk cows. Now, what say, Sime?
Store your old traps along o’ mine, squat down and take it comfortable
a little while. I reckon that you and me can find a few things to talk
about that really amount to something.”

The man on the van unhooked the reins from around his neck and let them
fall to the ground. But he still hesitated to climb down.

“I should hate to feel that I was a burden on you,” he faltered. “But
if there’s any stutterers around here I might earn a little something on
the side to help out on my board.”

“Me with forty thousand in the bank takin’ board money from an old
friend, or lettin’ a guest of mine graft for his livin’?” snorted Hiram.
“Not by a blame sight! You just shut up and h’ist yourself down here and
help me unharness old Polyponeesus.”

Hiram introduced his guest to his brother with curt brevity.

“And I guess I’ll do as you hinted this mornin’ about takin’ the other
half of the house, Phin,” he said. “I don’t want any friends of mine to
be underfoot for you. As long as you suggested splittin’ off, I’ll do
it. Old Aunt What’s-Her-Name can do for both of us.”

“I didn’t mean it that way, Hime,” said the Squire, earnestly. “Your
friends are my friends and we can all get along comfortably together
just as we are.”

“I’d ruther have the side-show privilege than a share in the big show,”
 persisted the stubborn relative; “it’s your proposition, and I can
take a hint.” The presence of Peak and his mute suggestion of the old
associations were already having their effect on Hiram’s undisciplined
temperament. He had begun to wonder before this if getting acquainted
again with a brother after so many years was altogether a success. He
had been a bit ashamed in spite of Phineas’s candid forgiveness; this
calm, earnest, educated man made him feel ill at ease. Suddenly, he
realised perfectly why he had clutched at this stroller and hauled him
into this haven.

Hiram always acted first and reflected afterwards. He knew now that he
had seized upon this man to hold him between his brother and himself, as
he would have interposed a shield. He had anticipated that his brother
would interfere in his resolution to “make Coll Willard curl.” For weeks
he had been dreading the hour when Phineas would come to him for an
understanding. No man knew better than he what the Look grit was, and as
he had fully made up _his_ mind to carry out his plan of vengeance, and
realised that the Squire would as vigorously oppose him, he had been
trembling each noon and night for many days, as he sat upon the porch
and watched the lawyer’s approach.

Now he stood up close beside the amiable giant.

“Sime and me is pretty close chums, Phin,” he said, “and we shall be
together all the time talkin’ mighty busy, and it ain’t in no ways right
for us to be gabblin’ round where you be and takin’ your mind off’n your
business. So I’ll have another cook-stove set up in my part and we won’t
trouble you a mite.”

He took Peak by the arm and drew him away with some eagerness.

“I want you to come in and see if Imogene remembers you, Sime. Then
we’ll look over the carts.”

Avery had been crowding up closely, mutely appealing for an
introduction. His jealousy was aroused by the attention that was shown
to this new arrival, and he followed them toward the barn as they
started away.

“Say, look-a-here, Figger-Four,” said Hiram, whirling on him and
speaking with a gruffness that wounded Avery’s devoted heart, “you get
back onto your job, there, and you mind it dern close from this time on.
I don’t want you trailin’ me no more. You keep your place after this.”

The cripple stood gazing after Hiram until he had slammed the barn door
behind him. Then he settled slowly down upon his short leg and turned to
the Squire a face on which there was astonishment as well as grief.

“Seems like I never seen a changeabler man,” he observed.

The lawyer looked at the discarded companion a little while, and the
poor fellow’s distress was so sincere that he pitied him, even in his
own sorrow.

“Don’t mind it too much, Avery,” he said. “Hiram has had a good many
things happen in his life to sour him and spoil his disposition. Some
day he’ll find out who his real friends are and then you and I will have
our innings.”

He put his hands behind his back and walked into the house, and Avery
went on with his varnishing. At first his strokes were slow and his
face was melancholy. But as he pondered on his insult, his brush flicked
faster and soon he was slapping away at a lively gait, keeping time to a
song that he hummed, the last two lines running:

                   “Good boy Phin, he don’t raise time,

                   But pepper sass is hot and hell’s in Hime."-



CHAPTER XI--THE COMBINATION THAT PROVED TOO MUCH

FOR SQUIRE PHIN’S “LOOK TEMPER”


               “Let cats and dogs delight to fight,

                   For ’tis their cross-patch natur’ to;

               To wallop humans is not right,

                   But--wal, there’s things ye have to do!”

                        --From “Meditations of Deacon Burgess.”


The next morning the Squire was busy at the cook-stove at daybreak.
He had joyfully turned old Aunt Rhoda over to Hiram’s _ménage_, and he
relished the idea that he could resume his own way of living. As he tied
on his canvas apron he reflected contritely that perhaps he was feeling
a bit too good about being alone again. It wasn’t wholly brotherly.

Then in his mind he laid it all to Aunt Rhoda’s cooking.

She had frizzled the bacon into black chips and fried the steak until
it would do for a boot-tap, and when the Squire had expostulated, had
defiantly told him that he’d better stick to his law books and not try
to tell her, after sixty years at the cook-stove, how to get up “a mess
of vittles.” She had obliged him to eat huge hot dinners at noon that
made him as sleepy as a stuffed anaconda for hours as he sat in his
arm-chair in the office, trying to read his books. She had expected him
to make out a supper on plum preserves and hot cream of tartar biscuits,
and he had already felt the first gnawings of dyspepsia.

“Now for my steak!” he said aloud. It was a generous slice, thick as a
cushion and bordered with the cream-hued fat that Aunt Rhoda obstinately
threw away when she pared his steak into thinner slices in order to fry
them into parchment-like strips.

It sizzled on the grid cheerily, the coffee--with its heaping “measure
for the pot” and two for himself--gave forth an odour that promised
better than the old housekeeper’s slaty-hued brew, and he was just
cracking his eggs for his omelet when there was a rap at the door.

The Squire called an invitation over his shoulder, and the visitor
came in. It was the Mayo youth. His hair, that was usually slicked so
smoothly, was tousled and it hung in strings about his face. He had
evidently run all the way up the street, for he was out of breath and
panted with open mouth like a dog as he thrust toward the Squire a bit
of paper that he pinched by one corner.

“Lay it down on the table,” directed the lawyer, shortly. “Can’t you see
that both my hands are full?”

The young man stumbled toward him and shoved the paper into his hands,
evidently unconscious that the Squire had spoken. It fell into the bowl
and the lawyer picked it out gingerly, muttering his ire.

Mayo then grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, trying to utter
intelligible speech, but he could only blubber and hiccup.

“You infernal calf,” stormed the lawyer; “sit down in that chair and get
your breath and let me alone!” He pushed the youth across the room and
plumped him down with a thud that snapped his open jaws together.

“She’s gug-gug-gone, Squire Look!” Mayo managed to squeak.

The lawyer shook the paper to free it of the egg, looking ruefully
toward his bowl as he did so. Then he read the note, his brows knotting.

“_Deer Wart: my laddy mother has come for me & i have had to go with
hur. i have gorn into a brighter wurld. soe yon needent hunt for me
corse i shant ever be found, with love Rissy.”_

“She’s dead,” squalled the husband, staggering to his feet. “She’s
jumped into the water somewhere. You know ev’rything, Squire.7 You’re
the only friend I’ve truly got to find her for me.” He seized the lawyer
by the arm and tried to drag him away.

“Sit down, I tell you!” commanded the Squire, and again he thrust the
young man down into the chair. He read the letter again.

“Have you shown this to anyone else?” he demanded.

“No, not to a soul. I’ve run right to you, Squire. I know you can find
her, but she’s dead. Oh, where has she gone?”

“She may have gone straight up or she may have gone straight down,”
 growled the lawyer. “What are you sitting there gaping and goggling
like that for? When did she go? When did you miss her? Did she take her
clothes?”

“I woke up this morning and found her gone,” wailed the youth. “She went
in the night. She’s dead. She’s gone with her lady mother jest as she
said she’d do.”

“If you ever say lady mother to me again I’ll cuff your ears,”
 stormed the Squire. “Or if you mention this to anyone until I give you
permission I’ll boot you clear to Brickett’s store and back again. Do
you think you understand that?”

“Yes,” whimpered the youth.

“Not to a soul! Finding your wife depends on it.”

“Can’t I go drag in the Potter brook?”

“You stay here in this house. You are going to eat some of this
breakfast first of all.”

“I never can eat nothin’ more till she’s found,” wailed Mayo, with a
canine whine in his nose.

But when the meal was on the table the Squire hustled him to a chair
beside it and roared at him until he ate.

“It will never do for me to say one word of sympathy to the poor devil,”
 he pondered as he eyed the pitiful creature munching his food.

“If I loosen one bit he’ll be climbing all over me like a hungry dog.
The only way to handle him is to cuff him when he stands up on his hind
legs.”

While the Squire ate he pondered.

“She went with Cap Nymphus Bodfish on the packet, that’s how she went.”

He glanced at the clock.

“Eight,” he mused. “Half the time since he has put in his auxiliary
power Bodfish doesn’t sail until nine. If he got away early this morning
it signifies something, that’s all! It isn’t the first time King Bradish
has hired him for dirty work.”

He started up and took his hat from the hook. “Wat,” he said, “you stay
here and wash up my dishes and make yourself useful until I come back.
Don’t you stir out of this house and don’t you say a word to anyone
about your wife being gone. If you disobey me I’ll quit you.”

He hurried out of the house and down the street.

It was necessary to go almost to the packet’s berth to determine whether
she was there, for the elms loomed high along the shore road. No masts
showed above the storehouse when he came in sight of it, but to assure
himself the Squire walked out on the wharf and peered around the corner
of the building. The packet’s berth was empty and there was no sign of
her on the narrow sea line at the mouth of the cove.

“Hard-Times” Wharff stood by one of the hawser piles, looking to sea.

“I wisht I was a garsoline ingine instead of a weather-vane, Squire
Look,” confessed the old man, regretfully. “The wind it bloweth where
it listeth, sayeth the Scriptur’s, but”--he sucked his tongue to imitate
the explosions of an engine, “tchock! tchock! tchock! Garsoline don’t
have to wait and list. It can go any time, day or night. I wisht I
knowed better how it works, but Nymp’ Bodfish wouldn’t let me aboard
this mornin’ to see how it does it.”

“Did he get away early, Uncle Aquarius?”

“I was down here at four to see whuther the sunrise was goin’ to be
pink or yaller, ’cause you know a yaller sunrise follerin’ on sun-dogs
means----”

“Let the weather stand for a moment,” broke in the Squire, a bit
impatiently. “What time was it when Bodfish sailed?”

“Break o’ day, no wind but garsoline, oil on the heave, and ‘Hard-Times’
went aboard with him wrapped in a shawl. And he wouldn’t let me come on
to see the tchock, tchock, tchocker.”

The Squire’s suspicions required no further confirmation. He hastened
away up the wharf.

“The sneak!” he hissed through set teeth. “The pup!” But he did not
refer to Captain Nymphus Bodfish of the “Effort.”

The man that was in his mind was just tying his horse at the post in
front of Brickett’s store, and as the Squire approached, hurrying up
the road, he shook the dust from his gloves and started leisurely along
ahead of him, blandly oblivious of the other, to all appearances.

“Good-morning, Bradish,” said the lawyer, curtly, as he came up behind
him. He slackened his pace for a moment. Then he set his lips as though
to hold back something that he had intended to say, and hastened past.

“Business seems to be rushing with you this morning,” observed Bradish,
with his tantalising drawl. The Squire walked on.

“I say, Look!” The man’s tone was insolent. The lawyer’s evident anxiety
to avoid him spurred his bravado. “You’ve put your nose into my affairs
this time so far that you can’t pull it out by dodging me.” The Squire
held up and the man came close to him. “What do you mean, Bradish?”

“I mean that the other evening you made me the laughing-stock of the
gossips of this town by stepping in between me and the lady I was
escorting. You have compromised her, and now her father----”

“Look here, my fellow,” roared the lawyer, “my family isn’t a very
patient one, and you have got to about your limit with me. I never
intended to pass another word with you, for it’s getting to be dangerous
for both of us. But when you talk of my companionship, compromising any
lady, I’m going to put you before your own eyes as just what you are in
a community. You’re a low-lived, dirty hound that this very morning has
stolen another man’s wife and sent her away by Bodfish’s underground
railroad, as you’ve done once before if the truth were known.” Bradish’s
face was purple with rage, but he looked the Squire straight in the eye.

“So you’ve become a lunatic along with your other qualifications! Now
tell me what you mean or I’ll post you for a blackmailer.”

“I mean,” blurted the lawyer, “that it is your money that has hired
Bodfish to carry Rissy Mayo out of town to-day, and it’s your money that
she has in her pocket to pay railroad fare from Square Harbour to the
place where you’re sending her.”

Bradish snapped his fingers under his accuser’s nose.

“That for your slander!” he cried. He started along the walk, but
whirled and came close to Look. “There’s one thing I want to say to
you,” he growled, “and it’s this--you seem bound and determined to
plaster me with slander and it’s beneath my dignity to defend myself.
And now you are working up a plot against me. You have heard that I was
going to leave to-night for New York on business for Judge Willard and
myself, and----”

“I have heard nothing of the sort,” retorted the Squire, his eyes
gleaming dangerously.

“I say you have, and you must know I am going to his house now to
discuss it. But no matter about that. I say you have engineered a plot
against me, Look. You have fired that girl out of town and now you’ll
turn around to-morrow and take advantage of a business trip that I must
make and assert that I have run away with her. But I want to tell
you now”--in his passion he drove his palm down on the lawyer’s
shoulder--“if you dare to insinuate such a thing I’ll put you into State
prison for criminal libel. I shall at once explain your dirty trick to
Judge Willard and his daughter. And”--he drew back and looked at the
Squire with malice in his eyes--“I shall furthermore tell Judge Willard
what interest you have in this Mayo woman whom you have married off to
a fool in order to hide your own guilt, you cheap apology for a man and
lawyer.”

The Squire stood immovable and stared at the man, his lips moving
wordlessly. But language refused to come.

For a few crowded seconds he almost admired the impudence of Bradish’s
bluff, yet its masterly audacity fairly paralysed him.

In the storm of his feelings words seemed useless. The thought of his
own impotence of defence, with this assailant in possession of Judge
Willard’s ear and confidence, the memory of his own sorrows of waiting,
the woes of the Mayo youth, whirled in his brain like torches. His fist
tightened into a hard lump, his arm throbbed and itched, and the next
moment, with a grunt, the Squire struck forward.

For the first and last time in his life Squire Phineas Look knocked a
man down, and for one wild moment the primal Adam in him gloried in the
act. He stood above Bradish with his arm poised and his fist smarting.

Then he looked up and beheld Sylvena Willard gazing at the miserable
scene from the piazza of the big house.

And he held down his head and walked away up the street, the hot flush
of shame on his face, a sob in his throat, and the gray blur of tears
replacing the red blur that had flamed there a moment before. He glanced
back once and saw Bradish going to her with his handkerchief pressed to
his face.

Hiram and his new friend were taking the air on the porch when he came
into the yard of the Look place. He tried to avoid them, but his brother
called to him.

“We saw you do it, Phin,” he said. “’Twas good work, but what had he
done to you?”

“Oh, Hiram,” mourned the Squire, “don’t make light of a terrible deed.
Oh, the Look temper--the Look temper! Thank God there are none of the
blood to follow us.”

He stumbled into the house with the feeble step of an old man.



CHAPTER XII--THE LIVELY FIRST APPEARANCE OF “THE LOOK BROTHERS

CONSOLIDATED MENAGERIE AND CIRCUS”


                   “Allus was bound to grab right in,

                   That was the cut of old Seth Blinn.

                   Finger was stuck in ev’ry pie

                   Or else he’d know the reason why;

                   But when he quit how people swore,

                   For things was wuss’n they was before.”

                        --Ballads of “Queer Capers.”


By Judas,” remarked Hiram, admiringly, to Peak for the tenth time since
they had observed the astonishing contretemps in the road, “I’m proud of
that brother of mine. I didn’t know ’twas in him. I was afraid he was
only lawyer and nothin’ else.”

He relighted his cigar. “I’ve got to own up to you, Sime, that we wasn’t
gettin’ along together the best that ever was. I thought he had got
soaked with too many sissy notions, and there’s nothin’ that makes a
circus man so sick as sissy notions. You know that! But I tell you,
Sime, if he can do a job like that and only holds out now as he’s
commenced, him and me is goin’ to get along fine after this.”

“He seemed to be feelin’ awful bad when he went into the house,”
 remarked Peak, solicitously.

“I didn’t notice it,” cried Hiram; “well, if that’s the case, he’s got
to be chirked up. I don’t want him to lose any of his grip.”

And he hurried around the corner and entered the kitchen.

“What’s the matter, Phin?” he cried, bluffly. “There’s something on
and you might as well out with it. It’s the Looks together against the
world--and you know what the family is!”

“Enough of that, Hiram!” roared the Squire, thumping the table at which
he sat deep in thought, as his brother came in. Dishes fell off and were
smashed on the floor. He kicked the fragments impatiently. “The Looks
are rowdies, plug-uglies and street brawlers, and we ought to be ashamed
to lift our heads in the presence of decency and refinement. The trouble
with you is, you’re too much of a fool to know that you’re cheap--that
we’re all cheap. That’s the word--cheap!”

But Hiram’s good nature was not to be disturbed that morning.

“You’re one of the good old breed, even if you are chewed up just this
minute,” he replied cheerfully. “And whatever’s goin’ on now I’m goin’
to be in it, Phin, and you can’t shake me. I’m your brother and you
can’t cut me out. Now, what is it?”

It was not to be resisted, this frank and honest anxiety to be of use,
and the Squire was sorely in need of counsel and aid. With a glance at
the Mayo youth; who was rubbing listlessly away at a saucepan, his misty
and unseeing gaze fixed on the far hills framed in the kitchen windows,
the lawyer drew his brother out of the room into the yard.

“What’s the matter with your friend, Phin?” inquired the showman. “He
acts like a wax figger with clock-work in him.”

The lawyer explained rapidly.

“You ain’t goin’ to stop her, be ye?” asked Hiram when he had listened.

“I’m not goin’ to let that hound break up that little family,” insisted
the Squire. “Look at that poor, heart-broken boy in that kitchen and
then tell me if he is to be robbed in such a fashion.”

“Oh, he’ll beller like a new-weaned calf for a day or so,” said Hiram,
calmly. “But he’ll get over it and be better off, like the rest of us,”
 he added with bitterness. “I’ll go and tell him a few things and show up
what women are in this world and give him a couple horns of whisky and
in an hour I’ll have him singin’ ‘Glory, hallelujah,’ and glad she’s
gone.” He started away briskly, but the lawyer pulled him back roughly.

“One member of our family has tried an experiment on that poor devil and
it has half-killed him. Now don’t you go in there and finish the job.
You’re not an expert on heart matters, Hime.”

“Well, I’ll fetch her back, then,” cried Hiram, unabashed. “You can have
anything you want. It’s only to say the word.”

The Squire looked at him.

“Bodfish won’t land her this side of the railroad at Square Harbour, of
course?” asked Hiram.

“Bodfish isn’t a deep knave,” said the lawyer. “He simply got away early
to avoid observation at this end. He will land her there probably for
the one-o’clock train, west.”

“Simple matter, then. Telephone the police to arrest her and lock her up
till we come.”

“And have the scandal and gossip and disgrace spread from here to
Hackenny, and the _Oracle_ and people’s mouths full of it! That would be
saving the reputation of the Mayo family with a vengeance, Hiram.”

The showman took off his tall hat and fondled the bare spot on his head.

“Oh, it’s got to be a fly-by-night, come-back-by-dark job, eh?” he
observed. “Disappearin’ lady trick! Touch the button and she’s gone.
Touch the button and back she comes. You only think she’s gone and
she ain’t been gone at all! A very pretty little trick---and thank you
kindly for your attention, ladies and gents, one and all!”

“It isn’t any time to joke, Hiram,” complained the Squire. “I must ride
across country and get that girl. The old mare can’t do it. Will you
lend me one of your horses?”

“No.”

The showman turned a quizzical gaze into his brother’s pained and
puzzled eyes.

“Now you think I’m a hog, don’t you, Phin? But I ain’t. I’m your brother
Hime, gruff and tough, but always ready in a time of trouble when the
famly’s concerned. Now you just stay here and keep your wax figger in
there from falling down and bustin’ in two and lettin’ all that’s inside
him run out. You understand! You want the celebrated invisible lady
trick worked at Square Harbour, eh? Then you for your job and me for
mine! There are some things that _you_ can’t tell _me_ how to do.”

He trotted clumsily around the corner and entered into earnest
conversation with Peak on the piazza. Both men hurried to the barn.

Squire Phin gazed after them with some anxiety. He had often had
good reason to doubt Hiram’s tact. He dreaded to have that hot-headed
individual start on a mission where so much finesse was required. And
yet he hesitated about undertaking the task himself and leaving the
blundering and irresponsible husband to stir up the village, as he
certainly would do if left to his own devices.

The youth was at the sink, still rubbing the same saucepan.

“He might stand there till night unless some one poked him,” mused the
Squire. “I must take chances that Hime can manage him while I’m gone. I
can’t let anyone else do the job at the other end. It needs----”

He had been pondering the matter longer than he had realised. The
tumult of gruff shoutings in the barn and in the rear, where the circus
equipment was stored, in its new building, had been increasing. Now
around the corner of the barn, with clank of whiffle-tree and jingle of
harness and ruck-te-chuck of axle boxes, came one of the vans, smart in
new paint and varnish. Four horses were drawing it.

Across the yard they came on the trot. Hiram and his friend loomed on
the box, and their plug hats loomed above them.

“She’ll come back invisible, Phin,” called Hiram, swirling his whip
above his head to uncoil the lash.

“You’re not going after that girl in any such outlandish fashion,”
 roared the Squire, running from the door-stoop.

“Don’t bother us,” shouted Hiram, and he cracked the lash over the
heads of the rearing leaders. “We’ve got less than four hours to make
twenty-five miles and there ain’t time for conversation. You for your
job, me for mine.”

The Squire was obliged to leap back out of the way of the plunging
horses. But he ran after the van as it roared down into the road,
yelling appeal and protest.

“We’ll fix it,” Hiram shrieked over his shoulder as the horses began to
gallop.

The Squire stopped in the middle of the road, shaking his fists after
the turn-out as it went around the bend at the alders in a cloud of
dust.

“Fix it, you damnable fool!” he gasped in his impotent rage. “You’ll fix
it forever. Of all the infernal idiots in the way of a brother that a
man ever had! Roaring through Square Harbour with a circus cart and four
horses! Oh! Oh!”

In his fury--the Look fury of which he was so ashamed--he kicked a stone
out of the soil, picked it up and cast it after the distant van, which
was now far out of sight.

“A secret errand,” he muttered, blushing at his juvenile act. “It will
be a wonder if he doesn’t get out hand-bills.”

Avery’s voice behind him made him turn quickly.

“I’m pesky glad you’ve driv’ the two of ’em out of town,” he said,
with grim satisfaction. “There wa’n’t either of ’em any good to
the place, and I’m sayin’ it to you, even if one of ’em is your own
brother.”

The Squire walked back into the yard without replying. “Figger-Four”
 hopped along beside him.

“I’ve come up to resign,” he continued. “I wish I could have told him so
to his face. I was goin’ to inform him that I wouldn’t work another
hour for him, not if he was the Great Kajam of Pee-ru and paid me five
dollars a second. He owes me two dollars and a half as it is, and I want
you to collect it for me, Squire.”

“My brother hasn’t gone away,” snapped the lawyer from the door-stoop.
He wanted the man to leave.

“If that wa’n’t goin’ away, then what do you call it?” squealed Avery,
snapping up to his full height and pointing his hand at the turn of the
road. “He wasn’t comin’, was he, with his four hosses and his circus
cart?”

“You go home and keep still,” commanded the Squire. “Hiram will be here
to-morrow and will pay you if he owes you anything.”

He went into the kitchen and slammed the door.

“If the Looks can’t act out hogs when they’re a mind to, then I don’t
want a cent,” growled Avery, scowling at the door. “But they ain’t
goin’ to cheat me out of two dollars and a half, not if the court knows
herself, and she thinks she do.”

After another surly look at the closed door he went around the barn. The
other vans were in their usual place.

“There’s property enough left. I can sue and attach,” pondered the
creditor.

“Another thing about Hime, he’s a durn liar,” he went on mumbling. “He’s
been telling me right along that his el’phunt is so much in love with
him that she’d make a kick-up if he went away and left her. She ain’t
makin’ no great stir near as I can see.”

He peered in through the big door at the rear of the barn.

Imogene had evidently been roused from her ordinary contemplative and
calm mood by the routing out of the horses and their hasty departure.
She stood now, twitching her ears impatiently and listening with an
occasional hollow grunt of distrust. She peered at the four empty stalls
with uneasiness in her little eyes and surveyed the four horses that
still remained, with something like reassurance. Then she listened some
more. It was evident, even to so obtuse an observer as Avery, that she
was momentarily expecting the showman to come back for the other horses,
and so long as they remained she considered them proof that she was not
abandoned.

Avery decided that this was so, muttering his convictions to himself as
he stood and watched her.

“I’m a blame good mind to try her,” he said. “I don’t believe she gives
a tophet for him, any more’n anyone else in the world does. I can prove
him out a liar along with the rest, and I’ll tell the folks so. I’ll run
him into the ground! You watch me! There’s folks that think as how they
can set on Sam Av’ry, but I’ll show ’em that they can’t--not, and keep
their reppytations. I’m only a poor cripple and I can’t fight the way
some folks do, but I’ve got a tongue in my head, and as soon as I’ve
proved some things you jest watch me.”

Thus soliloquising, he led the four horses, one by one, out of the barn
through the rear door, knotted their halters around their necks and sent
them down into the field with a slap on the flank. They frolicked away,
glad of a run in the open.

When the last one went out of the barn the elephant said good-bye with
a melancholy “roomp.” She surged once more at her chains and the sill
beams creaked. Then she settled back and eyed Avery hopefully when he
came close to her.

“He’s allus told me you was more’n half human,” said Avery, addressing
her. “It’s prob’ly more of his lies. I’ve heard him talkin’ to you and
he said you could understand human language. Another lie prob’ly. But if
you can understand, then take this and chaw on it a spell; your man has
run away and them’s his horses gone a-chasin’ after him, as you can
see for yourself. He ain’t never comin’ back any more. He’s robbed four
banks and killed three men and you ought to be ashamed of him. They’re
goin’ to build a treadle for you and make you run a thrash-in’ machine
and earn your livin’. There! If you can understand human talk there’s
something that will int’rest you for a minit or two.”

He stood back and gazed at her triumphantly.

The animal had been lifting her feet uneasily for some moments. Now she
gazed out through the door where the horses had disappeared and moaned
pitifully. With the sagacity of a veteran she seemed to sniff the fact
that her master was not on the premises. To assure herself she raised
her trunk and began to trumpet the call that he had always answered.
After each echoing roar she hearkened. No reply came, and each
succeeding appeal was more insistent and more frantic.

Avery backed to the door with considerable precipitancy.

The elephant began to crouch and strain at her chains. The old beams
creaked more ominously and there were crackings.

“I was only foolin’ you, Imogene,” Avery faltered. “He ain’t gone at
all.”

The elephant stood up on her hind legs and tugged at the chains that
confined her fore feet. One of them snapped.

“Honest to Gawd!” shouted “Figger-Four.” The situation frightened him.
Palermo with a wild elephant rampant in it would hear of his visit to
the barn and would suspect and blame him. Imogene thrashed about more
viciously.

“There ain’t a word of truth in what I said about him. He’s right
handy.” But when she snapped one of the hind-leg chains he quavered, “He
was lyin’ to me! She don’t understand what you say to her!”’

He ran out to see where the horses were, thinking that their return
might reassure the great beast. But they were far down in the field,
scampering about. There was the “yawk” of drawing nails within, and the
side of the barn shivered.

“She’s a-goin’ to get loose! She’s goin’ to rip us all to pieces!”

He hopped around to the front of the barn in the frantic hope that some
kind of aid would present itself. “Hard-Times” Wharff, with an instinct
that never failed when there was trouble on, stood across the road, his
gaze on the barn.

Then came an inspiration to “Figger-Four.” Since Imogene had settled
in Palermo he had taken especial interest in all literature relating to
elephants. He suddenly remembered an item he had seen in the miscellany
of the county _Oracle_.

It was stated there that elephants were singularly susceptible to the
soothing influence of music.

“Have you got your flute along, ’Quarius?” squalled Avery.

The human weather-vane pulled it out and waved it.

“Then, for the Lord’s sake, hurry acrost here with it. You may save
lives and property.”

It was at that moment that Squire Phin realised that something out
of the ordinary was occurring on his premises. He came out of the
kitchen-door just in time to behold “Figger-Four” and “Hard-Times”
 hustling around the corner of the barn. A moment later he heard the
melancholy and wavery notes of the flute, and hurried into the barn by
the way of the tie-up door just in time to witness the climax of Avery’s
attempt at elephant-taming.

“Figger-Four” was holding Uncle Wharff at the big door almost by main
force, and the old man, in spite of his fright, was trying his best to
play. But his goggling eyes were too busy with the distracted Imogene,
who was now occupied with her last leg-chain, which was attached to
an upright beam supporting an end of the scaffold. Amidst her hollow
roarings the feeble tones of the flute wailed like a cricket’s chirpings
in a tornado.

If anything were needed to add to the exasperation of the desolated
Imogene it was this mocking presence in the barn-door. With a last
plunge she pulled the beam from under the scaffold and made for the
door, sweeping her trunk at the men in her path. But the dragging log
impeded her for a moment until she shook it out of the bight of chain.
Avery and Uncle Wharff rolled over the driveway and crawled under the
barn, and Imogene strode down across the field pursuing the horses.

“Perhaps I didn’t play the right tune,” the Squire heard “Hard-Times”
 gasp under the bam in reply to an angry growl from Avery. But he didn’t
wait to interrogate them. That elephant was abroad, evidently with mind
determined on mischief, and he felt that his first duty was to secure a
band of elephant hunters in the village and start them on the trail.

When he turned into the street from the yard the parrot vigorously
snapped a bar of his cage and yelled after him, “Hey, Rube!”

This final and unconscious touch of satire was too much for Squire
Phin’s sense of the ludicrous. He turned in his tracks and surveyed the
old homestead behind the poplars.

“Headquarters of the Look Brothers’ Grand Consolidated Circus and
Menagerie,” he muttered, a smile creasing his cheeks even while he
frowned.

“I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or swear damnation!”

Then he hurried on to round up his elephant posse.



CHAPTER XIII--THE “COME-UPPANCE” OF CAPTAIN NYMPHUS BODFISH

OF THE PACKET “EFFORT”


               “I’m a serious-minded man,

               I have sailed from old Cape Ann

               For fifty years, and I’ve braved as much as ary a mortal can.

               I ain’ afraid of the stormy sea,

               Nor critters that swim it, whatever they be,

               But a witch of a woman is what floors me.”

                   --Sea-song of the “Baches of Bucksport.”


The Palermo packet, “Effort,” rocked slowly on the refuse-strewn
ooze in her berth at Merrithew’s wharf, Square Harbour, her gray,
weather-streaked sides rubbing at the barnacles on the piles. On the
upper step of her cuddy companionway sat her skipper, Captain Nymphus
Bodfish, rubbing his raspy palm over his bristly gray beard, the little
curls of which were much like barnacles, too.

“I tell ye, set quiet,” he growled down the companionway. “I ain’t run
packet here for ten years not to know when trains leave or not to know
how to telefoam for a hack when I want one. That hack will be here
ha’f-past twelve and it will get you to the deppo plenty in time.”

In a little while the complaining whine of a woman’s voice came up the
companionway again. The captain impatiently twitched at a leather chain
and flipped a big silver watch out of his pocket.

“Ten minits arter twelve, if ye’ve got to know,” he grumbled. “And it
was eight minits arter twelve when you asked before. Now I ain’t no town
clock to set here passin’ down time to ye ev’ry second or two. I say
you’ll get to that deppo. So set quiet.”

But in a little while the complaining voice came up once more--the voice
of a woman who was hoarse with much weeping.

“It ain’t no time now to be wishin’ that,” he snapped impatiently. “Your
wishin’ wants to be all done up ahead when you make up your mind to
run away from your husband. It’s all been fixed and arranged and you’ve
agreed to do thus and so, and now there ain’t nothin’ to do but set
quiet, set quiet, I tell you.”

Rather abstractedly he fingered in his waistcoat pocket and pulled
the corner of a bill above its edge. He noted with fresh satisfaction,
though he had looked at that bill at least a dozen times during the
forenoon, that the figures in the corner were “20.”

“Yes, it’s all been fixed and arranged,” he repeated with additional
firmness, “and you said you’d go and you’ve gone, so now what is the use
of cry-babyin’?” He craned his neck and looked up the long alley that
led from the wharf to the street. “Hack will prob’ly git here a little
ahead of time,” he muttered, “and I’ll be blamenation glad if it does.
There’s nothin’ so cussed aggravatin’ to have ’round as a woman that
can’t keep her mind set on one thing more’n fourteen seconds at a time.
It will be good riddance when her gown-tail goes over the rail.” Again
the voice complained below.

“Now I want a puffick understandin’ about this thing,” snarled Captain
Bodfish. “You want to stop whifflin’ back and forth, like a sheet at
come-about, and fill full on one tack or t’other. When that hack comes
you want to be ready to step into it, free will and no caterwaulin’s. I
don’t propose to lug you out. It’s your own bus’ness and ’tain’t mine.
But I’ve contracted to git you to that deppo and you’ve taken par-sage
with that understandin’--and it’s to that deppo that I deliver you. Then
you can go to Tophet, home or Hackenny so soon’s you’re off’n my hands.”

The voice came promptly when he finished. There was a question.

“No, s’r! Not a dum word of advice from me,” barked the skipper. “You’ve
rooted your own hole and now you lay in it. I don’t never advise folks
about their own business. If I said to go back to Wat Mayo or said to
run away to where King Bradish is sendin’ you, you’d wish you’d done
t’other, whatever one you done, and then I’d get the blame.”

He half rose and craned his neck again. It was at the noon hour and the
drays were silent and the hum of business had ceased in the storehouses
along the wharf. In the stillness he heard the rapid roll of some heavy
vehicle on the stones of the street to which the alley admitted.

“Here comes your hack,” he said.

The voice rose in shrill protest.

“Yes, you will _go_, too!” he bawled, angrily. “I ain’t goin’ to have
you left on my hands. It ain’t in the bargain.”

The next moment four horses swung around the corner into the alley.

“Jee-hosophat!” whistled the skipper. “They’re sartinly putting on style
in the hackin’ line.”

Then the van appeared, but it was too far away for Captain Bodfish to
see just what it was.

“Blast ’em,” he snorted, “I didn’t telefoam for no furnitur’ to be
moved.” He clumped across the deck and stood at the rail, peering under
his palm.

Captain Nymphus Bodfish of the packet “Effort” had never met Hiram Look,
having scornfully refused to “go up and hang ’round a peep-show.”
 He was not familiar, as were his townsmen, with the showman’s vans and
horses.

His slow comprehension did not connect this apparition in Square Harbour
with anything that could have come out of Palermo.

“They’re both of ’em wearin’ plug hats,” he soliloquised as the outfit
came rattling down the alley, “but ’tain’t no hearse, painted and
gew-gawed up like that.”

The equipage made a gallant sweep past the end of the storehouse near
the packet’s berth and halted at the edge of the dock. Hiram leisurely
tucked away his whip in the socket beside the seat, passed the reins to
Peak and jumped to the ground.

“We didn’t have to waste a minute askin’ the way, Cap,” he remarked,
cheerfully. “I find that the ‘Effort’ puts up at the same old dock, even
if you _are_ a new skipper.”

“Ain’t anything very new about ten years o’ runnin’,” returned Bodfish,
rather surlily, for the stranger’s easy familiarity nettled him.

“Well, it makes you new to me,” said Hiram. “Howsomever, I ain’t got
time to swap a great deal of talk.” He pulled out his watch. “I’ve got
thutty-five minutes to git to the station if she ain’t here. If she is
here I want her.”

Captain Bodfish’s jaw dropped in his astonishment, and his rolling eye
now caught for the first time the lettering on the upper panel of the
van: “Leviathan Circus and Menagerie, H. Look, Prop.”

“Yes,” went on Hiram, noting the skipper’s gathering scowl, “we’ve come
round by land per the Inlet road, crooked as an angle-worm and up and
down like a dash chum. It took sweat and axle-grease, but we’re here,
Cap, glad to see you and wishin’ you all the compliments of the season.
Now, brief and to the point--is the lady aboard that you took out of
Palermo this mornin’?”

“None o’ your bus’ness,” replied Captain Bodfish, promptly and
emphatically.

“Then I’ll come aboard and look. That’ll save me time and you the wear
and tear on your mouth.”

But Captain Bodfish leaped to the gang-plank and straddled himself
there.

“No you don’t come aboard no packet o’ mine,” he cried.

“Oh, then she’s here,” said Hiram. “They’re easy, these mossback
fellers, Sime,” he added, turning to Peak. “It’s the old pickpocket
trick. Jab a jay in the crowd and he flaps his hand onto where he’s
carrying his wallet. Then all you have to do is to pick it.”

Bodfish’s rage was gathering fast.

Hiram stepped upon the wharf-end of the plank.

“I say ye can’t come aboard,” shouted the skipper. “You ain’t no
policeman and you ain’t no custom officer.” He pulled a marline-spike
from a knot of rope at the rail. “You come in reach of me, you circus
man, and I’ll drive that plug hat down so fur oh your shoulders that
folks will have to slice it off with a can-opener.”

“Ain’t your works gittin’ a little heated?” sarcastically queried Hiram.
“Now, there’s a young woman aboard that bo’t that I’ve come after, and
I’m goin’ to have her. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. You think
you can stop me. I know you can’t. Now you’d better come over to my
opinion of the case, Cap’n Nymp’ Bodfish, and save further wear and
tear.”

But the irate captain only stepped out on the plank and whirled his
spike. “You ain’t got your pitchfork to-day, and you ain’t got no Klebe
Willard to deal with, either.”

“No, but I’ve got my grapplers,” shouted Hiram, and before the skipper
could stir stump he snapped forward, grabbed the gang-plank and jerked
it toward him. At the same time he tipped it and the captain of the
“Effort” went down ’longside with a “kerplunko” that sent the turbid
water above the wharf’s edge like the spout of a geyser. Hiram made two
bounds, one to the rail and one to the deck.

“Here, Mayo woman,” he cried, as he clumped down the companionway into
the dim cabin, “no arguments, no back talk.”

He seized her by the arm, rushed her up the steps and to the rail,
and fairly tossed her across the space to the wharf, over the head of
Captain Bodfish, who was blowing water from his mouth and nose, and
clambering painfully up the side of the craft.

“You ain’t cool yet. Take another dip,” cried Hiram, and he put his
broad boot down on Bodfish’s head and sent him under again.

The girl swayed dizzily on the wharf, but the showman had her in his
grasp the next moment. He noted a hack bowling down the wharf and
persons were sauntering that way, attracted by the unusual spectacle of
a circus van. Without a moment’s hesitation he half-carried the woman to
the rear of the van, threw open the double doors, pushed her in on some
blankets that were spread on the floor, and closed and padlocked the
opening. She was uttering sharp cries, but he put his mouth close to the
crack and growled at her:

“You’re goin’ home, you little fool. But if you let one more yip out of
you I’ll deliver you to the first policeman I meet and tell him you’re
an eloper. Then it’s State prison for you.”

Her cries ceased and Hiram turned a bland face to the persons who had
come up.

Captain Bodfish had regained his vessel and was sitting on the rail,
dragging the water out of his eyes with his knuckles, and panting for
breath. The showman forestalled any compromising accusations. He went
close to the edge of the wharf, leaned over and said:

“Cap, you can’t afford to open your mouth. I can have you tarred and
feathered here in ten minutes if I let the crowd in on what you’ve tried
to do. I’m a son of a seacook on handlin’ a crowd.”

The skipper unclosed and shut his mouth like a fish, but he realised the
force of that warning.

Hiram went along and prepared to climb back upon his seat. As he set his
toe on the hub one of the crowd inquired suspiciously:

“If it ain’t a sassy question, mister, what was that critter that you
was putting into the cart here? We heard it squawkin’, but we couldn’t
see very well.” Hiram, his success making him amiable, smiled upon the
bystanders.

“Gents, I am both pleased and proud to tell you that I have now in this
van one of the most beautiful specimens of the five-finned American
mermaid that was ever captured on our stem and rock-bound coast.”

The zeal of the barker entered his spirit. It had been a long time since
he had faced an audience.

“This stupendous attraction, gents, that has just been secured for
Look’s Leviathan Menagerie is the only living specimen of the American
Mermaidissus in captivity to-day. She has flowing hair in which she
wraps herself as in a mantle of the purest silk, and she is fresh from
the royal courts of the king of the seas. She was captured off our
aforesaid rocky coast by the bravest sailor that ploughs the ocean
blue”--Bodfish was edging through the crowd, his face working with
mighty wrath that he did not dare to give rein to. The showman beamed
on him. “Yes, gents, captured in a single-handed conflict by that brave
sailor, Cap’n Nymphus Bodfish, of the ‘Effort.’ And now he will be
pleased to give you full particulars of that gigantic struggle in the
waters of old ocean. As for me I shall have to be movin’ on to where
immense and delighted audiences await me.”

He started to climb over the wheel, tipping a wink at Peak, and the
crowd turned open-mouthed to Bodfish. The instant the showman’s back was
turned that infuriated individual rushed forward, dealt Hiram a mighty
kick, and when the showman turned, bonneted him in his tall hat, and
then ran like a deer off the wharf and across the decks of a nest of
fishing schooners that were packed in at one of the docks.

Hiram worked off his hat and straightened it, gazing after the fleeing
Bodfish without a word. But his face was gray and rigid with rage. Then
he climbed to his seat and gazed afresh on the skipper, scuttling across
the decks.

“Aforesaid brave and intrepid sailor seems to have had his brain
turned by his wonderful success as a mermaid capturer,” he grated.
“It--it’s----” he choked and paused. “It’s too bad!” he managed to growl
at last, and then snatched the reins from Peak’s hands and drove off up
the alley at a stiff pace, leaving a very much mystified crowd behind
him.

“We’ll get out of this place as soon as pullin’ the braid and pushin’
the webbin’ will do it,” he said to Peak as the van turned into the
dingy shore street of Square Harbour. “Ev’ry one here has got eyes hung
out on their cheeks like lobsters have,” he went on, glowering at the
people on the sidewalks. His amiability had departed suddenly.

“What ye goin’ to do to old Tarfinger?” asked Peak, who fully understood
what the showman was thinking about.

“It’s goin’ to take a good deal of prayer and meditation to plan it out,
Sime,” replied Hiram, slowly and menacingly. “Do you think that many of
them critters that stood round there knew who I was?”

“Ain’t your name on this cart bigger’n a fat woman sign on a side-show
banner?”

Hiram ground his teeth.

“There was a man kicked me once,” he related slowly, “and there wasn’t
no outsiders see him do it, either. And that man--but I ain’t any hand
to brag, Sime. All I say is that such a case as this needs prayer and
meditation, and a lot of it.”

They rode on in silence. There was no sound from within.

“We’ll stop up-country at some farmer’s place and bait,” said Hiram at
last, “and we’ll get into Palermo after dark. The invisible lady trick
will be played all right and there’s that much to say, but--I never
was kicked before in the face and eyes of a public audience, to have it
talked about from Clew to Erie and laughed over, and him get away! Oh,
it ain’t no common case, Sime. Don’t talk to me. Let me meditate.”

Therefore the ride along the highway that swept up around the broad
Inlet was one devoted wholly to introspection, both without and within
the rumbling van.



CHAPTER XIV--THE PACT OF “ORPHAN HILL”

AND THE DIVAGATIONS OF DISCONSOLATE IMOGENE


          “I’ tell you ’bout that, mare of mine--the more you holler ‘whoa!’

          I’ve taught the whelp to clench her teeth and h’ist her tail and go!

          And when we got clus’ down to Clark’s, I thought for jest a sell,

          I’d make believe we’d run away. So I began to yell,

          And old man Pease he hugged his knees and gaffled to his pail,

          And now, my boy, purraps you think that turn-out didn’t sail! ”

                   --“Narrative of Bart of Brighton.


In the mid-afternoon Hiram checked his weary horses on the swell of a
hill that overlooked a placid reach of farms.

“I guess we’ll stop and provender up at that first house, there, Sime,”
 he stated. “I’m ’bout starved, and I reckon the plugs are, too. You
hold the reins a minute whilst I lay down a little law to the invisible
lady.”

He threw open the rear doors and surveyed the swollen and tear-streaked
features of ’Missy Mayo. She met his gaze for a moment only, and then
began to sob again.

“Ashamed of yourself, ain’t you?” the showman demanded.

She bobbed woful assent with her head and crooked her arm before her
face.

“Women,” pursued Hiram, relentlessly, “are ostriches when they ain’t
wild-cats, and from me that knows ’em all and that’s been scratched
criss-cross by wild-cats and has owned ostriches and had a nat’rally
sweet and affectionate disposition soured by women’s actions, you can
take that say-so as gospel. It ain’t no advance agent’s talk. I’ve been
with the main show, and I _know_. You’re an ostrich. Take your head out
from under the chip and look at me.”

She obeyed, huddling herself on her knees on the blankets.

“I know just what you are goin’ to tell me if I begin to ask you
questions,” he said. “You’ll take on like a kitten with her tail in a
crack and tell me you are so, _so_ sorry and that you’ll never do it
again, and that he promised you nice dresses and di’mond rings and
nothin’ to do except to let your poor, dear, oopsy-soopsy little hands
grow white, and so you couldn’t help yourself, and you tried to be good
and love your husband and stay at home, and you couldn’t, so there!”

“But I do love my husband,” she sobbed. “And that man did say all those
things to me, and he did say I had broken up my husband’s home with his
people and that they all hated me, and that my poor Wat would be better
off if I were to go away.”

“And so you thought it all over and cried off by yourself and planned
how noble it would be for you to leave him to be happy ever after, with
his folks boarding him, and you would go away into the wide, wide world
and sacrifice yourself just as that wife did that you’d read about who
went backward outdoors into the night with her black hood on--they allus
wear black hoods--waving her hands and sending back kisses toward the
bedroom where her husband was sleepin’, and sayin’, ‘Farewell, I go to
save thee!’ That was jest the whole story, wa’n’t it?”

“Oh, Mr. Look,” began the girl, eagerly, “that was the truth of it--you
do know it all--you can appreciate----”

“Shut up,” roared the showman; “talk about prohibiting the sale of rum
in this State,” he snarled, glancing up at Peak; “they ought to make it
a jail crime to sell a dime novel to a woman unless she’s got cross eyes
and a club foot and a hare-lip--and then it wouldn’t allus be safe to
let her have one of ’em. There’s more cussedness sucked up out of one
of them such novels than you can get through straws at a bar. Now, Mrs.
Ostrich, I ain’t got any time to stand here and tell you how many kinds
of a byjoosly fool you are, for there’s a team li’ble to come along any
minute. But I’m goin’ to tell you sometime, and I’ve seen enough of
the world and of cheap renegades of men to make your hair curl when you
think what you’ve got out of. It’s me that’s goin’ to take you home in
this cart--and it’s me that thought up this way of gettin’ you there
without ev’rybody knowin’ that you run away and left your husband.”

The wife dragged herself on her knees to the opening and clasped her
hands.

“Mr. Look,” she wailed, “it’s all true what you say. But I ain’t ever
had any mother that I can remember. I didn’t have anyone to tell me the
things that a girl ought to know. I don’t blame you for talking hard
to me. I deserve it. But I want to do right. Indeed, I do, Mr. Look. If
you’ll take me home I’ll always stay there. I’m hungry to stay there.
Oh, how I’ve wished I hadn’t gone--wished so all this long day and I’ve
cried my eyes out wishing so. I know I don’t love anyone but my husband.
Take me back to him, Mr. Look, and I’ll never want to be anything but a
true wife to him again--never, never, never!”

Her fluttering hands grasped the sides of the van and she leaned her
convulsed face toward him.

“So your mother died when you was young?” Hiram inquired. His tone had
softened.

“I never knew who my mother was.”

“Mine died and left me under fourteen and Phin a baby,” said the
showman, looking off across the fields and blinking his eyes. “It’s sort
of--sort of startin’ anyone back-handed into the world without a mother
to kind of walk hand in hand with up to where the paths split. Bad for a
man, worse for a woman.”

There was silence for a little time, except for the  girl, who sobbed
with quick indrawings of the breath.

“Let’s see, Sime,” said Hiram, trying to keep his voice steady and
matter-of-fact, “I ain’t ever asked you how it was with your fam’ly. Was
you brought up by a mother?”

“I was bound out from an orphan asylum when I was eight,” replied the
giant, turning away his face and fingering the seam of a patch on
his knee. “A farmer took me and he made me wear pants made out of a
butcher’s frock, and I never got but five weeks’ schoolin’, ’cause I
couldn’t stand ’em laughin’ at me.”

“Three of us pretty much of a stripe,” sighed the showman. “Each of
us with an out of some kind. Nothin’ to be proud of, any of us. Can’t
expect much else, maybe! I tell ye, Sime, I know how you felt about the
school bus’ness. After they folded mother’s hands--and I can see ’em
folded now just as I did when I tiptoed into the settin’-room where
they’d laid her out--I didn’t have no more jelly tarts to set out on the
desk when I opened my dinner-pail at school, and I used to stay in
at recess so that the girls couldn’t see the holes in the seat of my
pants.”

He stood and looked away and fingered the folds of skin on his wrinkled
neck as though there were an ache there.

“I’m glad to believe,” he said softly and brokenly, “that God ain’t mean
enough to let dead mothers ever know how their little gaffers get along
after their mother hands are folded and they can’t ’tend and do any
longer.”

After a little time he turned to the wife, and his eyes were wet.

“I ain’t all hard spots, sissy,” he affirmed impulsively. “Most often
it’s the softest places that have the hardest calluses over ’em. I’m a
pretty soft old fool, myself. Most think I ain’t, but I am. I’ve made my
mistakes and they was bad ones. Sime, there, has made just as bad ones
as me. You’ve made yours, sissy, but don’t make any more--don’t!”

He patted her cheek with a tenderness that no one ever saw before in
Hiram Look.

“We’ve sort of found out each other all at once. Let’s call this place
here ‘Orphan Hill’ and always remember it. Let’s kind of brace from now
on. We can’t be angels, none of us. We’ve been too much handicapped. But
we can brace!”

He didn’t seem to dare to trust himself to talk any longer, but closed
the doors on the girl and called to her that she must be very quiet
while the van stood in the farmer’s yard, explaining that he would
secure food for her.

Then he perched himself beside Peak and drove on, each busy with his own
thoughts.

The woman of the house promptly appeared at the door when the van swung
into the yard.

“Well, it’s best for you that you did stop on your way back,” she
snapped. “You never paid a single mite of attention to me when you went
past this morning, but kept goin’ like the mill-tail of Tophet. I said
to my husband that peddlers’ teams was gettin’ pretty stuck up, prancin’
past with four horses and not payin’ no attention when, a lady comes
to the door sacking a bag of rags. Now here they be. Have you got your
st’ilyards? I suppose you have and that you cheat as much as----”

“That woman seems to be the open-faced, self-windin’ kind,” Hiram
growled to Peak through the corner of his mouth. Then he interrupted
her.

“You’d better buy a good pair of far-sighted specs from the next peddler
that comes along this way, marm,” he suggested with some insolence.
“You’ll be able to tell the diff’rence, then, between a tin rag peddler
or a rag tin peddler, or whatever you call ’em, and two gentlemen
ridin’ out for pleasure to take the air. Now, to come to bus’ness--will
you sell me a baitin’ for my horses, and three lunches--two to be et on
the spot and one to be took away?”

Her first impulse, evidently, was to refuse this blunt request. But
Hiram waved a bill at her. She called a freckled youth from the barn and
continued to stare at the vehicle and the two strangers.

When the boy led away the horses, after Hiram and Peak had unhooked
them from the cart, the woman broke her silence and there was suppressed
excitement in her tones.

“I’ve got you placed. You’re the circus man that’s come back to live
down to P’lermo, and this is one of your carts, and you’ve come up here
to help catch that dratted el’phunt that’s been rampagin’ ’round here
since noon. You ain’t come none too soon, Mr. Circuser. You’ll have a
nice bill to pay in this neighbourhood--and you can start right in by
settlin’ with us first of all. You come here, the two of ye.”

In silent amazement the men followed her around the ell.

“There’s where he come through,” she rasped, pointing to two lengths of
a picket fence laid flat; “there’s where he went out.” On the opposite
side of the garden more lengths of fence were cast down. “Half the
pickets busted where he stepped on ’em! Three of our little Sopsyvine
trees knocked down, and there--look there!”

She had evidently reserved this climax. She pointed to the slope of a
little hillock.

“Two webs of ‘Fruit of the Loom’ that was bleach-in’, all trampled and
torn and gurried up! A ding-blamed el’phunt and a dozen men skyhootin’
acrost herer without aye, yes or no and not payin’ the least attention
to anything underfoot! I say if you’re the circus man from P’lermo
you’ve got a good nice bill to settle in these parts.”

“_My_ elephant!” demanded Hiram, amazedly, tapping himself with his
knuckles on his breast and staring from Peak to the woman.

“I don’t know of any other fool that’s keepin’ el’phunts for pets or
raisin’ ’em for market,” she retorted. “If an old gray gob o’ meat
with ragged ears and dirty feet as big as saucepans--as you can see by
the smooches on my unbleached cotton--is your el’phunt, then it _is_
your el’phunt with a passul of howlin’ men after him, and my husband
chasin’ off along with the rest instead of stayin’ here and protectin’
his home and his wife.”

“Do you suppose it’s Imogene got away?” gasped Hiram, staring at Peak.

“Well, for a guess I should say it was,” replied that friend,
unconsolingly. “Elephants are not as common as woodchucks around here.”

The two men stared away up the hillock and across the field to the fence
that bordered it. There was no need of asking the woman the course of
the parade. A huge gap in the fence and torn bushes in the adjacent
woodlot marked the route.

“I consider that a man that introduces el’phunts into a quiet country
neighbourhood is worse than he would be if he put damanite bumbs under
folks’ houses,” sputtered the woman.

“You just shut your mouth for a minute and let me think, will ye?”
 roared Hiram. “Sime,” he went on after a little reflection, “you’ve
got to go along with the--the----” He saw the woman’s eyes fixed on
him inquisitively and he checked himself. “You deliver the goods,” he
directed, “right to Phin and he’ll do the rest. Get along just as
soon as the horses are baited and don’t forget the lunch for the--the
gayzelle,” he added for the benefit of the curious woman. “I’ll take
my grub in my hand and chase up Imogene. There’s no knowin’ what them
farmers will da with her if I don’t. Here’s a two-dollar bill,” he
said hastily to the woman. “That’s lib’ral pay for three lunches and
hoss-baitin’.”

“I never heard of gay-zelles eatin’ lunch,” she said, suspicion in her
tones. “I s’pose you’ve got a wild man o’ Borneo in that cart to let
loose on us next.”

“It’s no matter what we’ve got,” retorted Hiram. “You give me my grub in
my hand and let me get away.”

He went stamping into the kitchen and she foh lowed him with some
apprehension. Five minutes later he trotted at his best gait across
the field along the trail of Imogene and her pursuers, munching ham
sandwiches and scattering crumbs upon the breeze.

A stern chase is always a long one, and after Hiram had crossed the
woodlot he found himself on a parallel road where there were still other
indignant women and clamorous farmers to shake off when they hailed him
as the presumptive owner of the fugitive elephant and sought to collect
damages.

“A Kansas cyclone is a kitten beside of her,” he muttered as he surveyed
one scene of devastation after another and hurried on.

“Them farmers must be aggravatin’ Imogene something awful to make her
cut up this way. But I don’t blame her. If I had a trunk and weighed
twenty-seven hundred pounds I’d smash down what she ain’t finished up.
She and me agrees on farmers.”

So, scattering right and left profanity and promises to settle, he
toiled on, his tall hat in his hand and the perspiration streaming
down his face. There was no such thing as keeping the trail in a team.
Through copses and meadows, down water-courses and valleys and across
farm dooryards the animal had led her pursuers. The trail was devious,
too, as though Imogene, harassed on all sides, had kept turning, either
to attack or dodge. In one place a considerable array of various samples
of trousers cloth fluttering from a barbed wire fence indicated that
there had been a hasty retreat. Hiram stopped and surveyed this scene
with grim satisfaction.

“You pocketed ’em in this corner, dum ’em,” he muttered. “Bully for
you, old gal!”

The showman, in his many twistings and turnings along the trail, stopped
taking note of his general direction of progress, and just before dusk,
leg-weary and panting, found himself coursing down a hillock that
was strangely familiar. He suddenly stopped in the midst of trampled,
tattered and bedraggled cotton sheeting and stared about him. He had
come’ back to the place where he had started on the chase and for a
moment thought he had unconsciously crossed his own trail somewhere and
had followed back. A woman’s voice, shrill with anger, hailed him from
the ell window.

“’Tain’t enough, is it, for your tarnation old el’-phunt to hooroosh
over our primises once, but she and her rag-tag must come back and
slambang through again!”

The farmer came out of the barn, mopping his brow.

“They ain’t five minutes ahead of ye,” he said. “I should ’a’ kept
right on chasin’, but I had to stop off and do my chores. I reckon
they’ll catch her pretty quick. She’s about beat out.”

Hiram slouched down the hill, puffing.

“But there ain’t no use in ’em catchin’ her,” continued the farmer.
“It will be like catchin’ smallpox. You can’t do nothin’ sensible with
it when you do get it.”

“If you infernal fools would let her alone she’d be all right and go
home,” bellowed Hiram over his shoulder as he leaped across the highway
fence and began to run with his last remaining strength.

A quarter of an hour later, after struggling in the dusk through an
alder swamp, he came out in the rear of some farm buildings. He saw men
sprinkled in straggly line about a barn, men who leaned on pitchforks
and clubs and guns.

“Where is she?” he shouted at the first man he came across--an
individual who was scratched by bushes and brambles and whose blue,
drilling overalls hung about him in shreds.

“Ain’t much need of askin’ that if you’ll listen a minit,” returned the
elephant hunter surlily.

From the bam came frantic neighings of horses and melancholy lowings
of cows. An occasional crash, rattle or clatter indicated that either
Imogene was trying to get comfortably into a safe shelter, in spite of
the interference of farming tools, or that the terrified inmates were
struggling to get out.

In the house a woman could be heard plaintively mourning, once in a
while her voice breaking into a scream as some fresh and louder tumult
sounded in the barn.

“That’s the widder Abilene Snell that owns this stand,” explained the
man solemnly. “She was jest gittin’ over the hysterics she had this
noon. Us and el’phunt was here once before this to-day. She’s an awful
high-strung woman. I shouldn’t wonder if this second trip would fix
her.”

The showman did not hesitate.

He clapped his hat on his head and rushed into the barn. The men flocked
together, the word having passed that Hime Look had at last arrived to
claim his own.

For a little space there was utter silence in the barn---Imogene
evidently listening in an attempt to determine whether this new arrival
were friend or foe. Then there sounded joyful trumpetings as the
exhausted and frightened animal recognised her master. The men could
hear Hiram’s voice soothing her, and after a time he appeared at the
tie-up door.

“I’ve got another time and place,” he said, addressing them as they came
crowding up to him, “for tellin’ you all what I think of a parsul of men
that will chase a poor elephant nearly to death. I ain’t goin’ to tell
you now. I’ve been runnin’ too long. I ain’t got breath enough. When I
start in to tell you I shall need a lot of it.”

“Well, we got your brother Phin’s word to come after her,” said one
of the bystanders, sulkily. “There ain’t any of us got any partic’lar
relish for an el’phunt bee, but we come ’cause he asked us to.”

“You may be good barn-raisers,” returned the showman angrily, “but what
you snoozers don’t know about elephants would make up the most that’s so
about ’em.”

Several women came to the door of the house and one of the men called to
them:

“Tell Mis’ Snell that the man that owns the animile has come to git her.
There ain’t no more danger.”

The mournings within ceased promptly and a plump and fair matron
appeared among the women on the door-stoop.

“What have you got to say for yourself, lettin’ loose such critters
to ruin and destroy?” she demanded, with the ready and hot anger that
succeeds fright.

Hiram, still framed in the tie-up door, took off his hat gallantly.

“It ain’t any doin’s of mine, marm,” he said. “Prob’ly a kinder or
sweeter-tempered elephant than Imogene is has never teased for peanuts
over a guard-rope. But it don’t improve no dispositions to be chased by
a pack of goramuses--it wouldn’t improve your disposition, it wouldn’t
improve mine.”

“Don’t you go to classin’ me with your menagerie, yourself included,”
 she snapped. “What I want to know is, who’s goin’ to pay me for the
damage that’s been done here to-day? It ain’t goin’ to be no shillin’
and a thank-ye settlement, now, I can tell ye that.”

Hiram came out of the tie-up door and trudged forward a few steps.

“I’m a widder, but you needn’t think you are goin’ to jew me one cent’s
wuth,” she flung at him.

“I’ve got forty thousand dollars in the bank, and I don’t care who knows
the same,” retorted Hiram, “and I stand good for all bills incurred by
me or Imogene--now don’t you forget that for a second.”

He started across the yard toward the widow, for this arm’s-length
conversation, with so many eavesdroppers, annoyed him. The persecuted
Imogene had been trying to squeeze through the narrow alley from the
barn floor. Now that she had recovered her friend and defender she did
not propose to lose him again. With an eagerness candid and child-like,
she sought safety at his side.

“I want you to understand that though I’m a widder I ain’t without
friends and protectors,” said Mrs. Snell. “The bill for damages will be
sent to Cap’n Nymphus Bodfish, at P’lermo, and he’ll have full power to
act for me. And now if you’ll take your el’phunt in tow and git off my
primises I’ll be much obleeged to you. I’ve been through all I want to
for one day.”

The name of Bodfish acted on the showman almost galvanically.

“Him,” he muttered, “settle with him? Not by a----”

He strode across the yard.

“You and me----” He began, but at that instant Imogene, who had heard
his voice in the space before the barn, whirled from her attempt to
squeeze through the tie-up and crashed out through the big doors. With
screams the women jammed back into the entry and slammed the door. The
men in the yard ran in all directions.

“Go back, Imogene!” the showman shouted wrathfully, but the anxious
beast ambled sidewise toward him, waving her trunk appealingly.

He jumped at her and threw up his arms. She stopped and gazed
reproachfully, and came toward him again.

“I say, she won’t hurt a soul,” he shouted, but the women kept up their
clamour in the house, and the men were hidden in the dusk. Then his
anger wreaked itself on the only thing in sight--and that was the amazed
Imogene.

There was a pile of fitted wood in the yard, and he began to bombard her
with it. She retreated a few steps, and then bowing her devoted head,
received the missiles meekly, yet with an evident determination to stay
that touched the showman’s heart.

“Poor old gal,” he muttered, “you’re worth all the rest put together.
But there ain’t no Widder Snell goin’ to pass me and my bus’ness along
to Cap Nymp’ Bodfish, and if this is the place where that old wharf-rat
thinks he’s goin’ to nest in the sweet by-and-by--well, no man ever
kicked me in the face and eyes of the public before!”

He set his teeth with obstinate resolve and walked up and rapped on the
widow’s door. When it was not opened to him he pushed vigorously,
and two women who had been holding it ran away into the sitting-room,
screaming that the elephant was coming.

But it was only Hiram who appeared to the terrified widow, backed into a
corner and surrounded by her retinue of comforters.

“Mis’ Snell,” said Hiram, bowing low and striving for an especial
purpose of his own to put his best foot forward, “a man ain’t to be
judged by first appearances nor while standin’ in a dooryard in the dark
tryin’ to handle an elephant that’s been scared to death by tomrotted
fools. Now, I can see that you’re a lady that’s used to the world and
that’s too polite and ladylike to refuse to have an understand when a
gentleman comes to you humbly like I do.”

He noted the little flush on the widow’s fair cheek and reflected that
Captain Bodfish displayed eminent good taste.

“I hope it won’t ever be said of me that I didn’t know my manners,”
 replied Mrs. Snell, with pride, but visibly affected by Hiram’s gallant
admiration and homage.

“And as it is allus best when talkin’ private and personal bus’ness
to make that bus’ness strickly personal and private,” continued Hiram,
bowing to the women, who now stood back from the widow, “I feel that
I ain’t askin’ too great a favour from you, Mis’ Snell, if you could
arrange it so that we could have the room to ourselves.”

The women retired to the kitchen with no very good grace.

As Hiram began to speak there was a queer fumbling and rustling at the
window, and the widow turned and with difficulty repressed a cry. There
stood Imogene, with the lamp-light touching the broad head pushed close
to the glass. She was blinking appealing eyes, and with the “thumb” of
her trunk was feeling along the sash in an aimless, selfconscious way.

“Now, marm,” expostulated the showman, “that elephant is tamer than a
tab cat, ’cause a cat will scratch and that elephant wouldn’t harm
a hair--a single spear of your--your--” (Hiram let it come out, but
bashfully)--“your pretty head. It’s affection that brings her to that
window--affection for me. She’s the only one in the world that cares a
rap for me--but it shows that I ain’t all bad when an animile can love
me like that.”

He sighed and the widow looked at him with new interest. She apparently
forgot the elephant at the window, and in a few minutes she certainly
had forgotten Imogene’s presence, for she was leaning forward toward
Hiram and listening intently.

The women were listening as intently at the crack of the kitchen door,
but Hiram spoke low and rapidly and they could not understand. But the
interview must have altered Mrs. Snell’s opinion of Hiram Look, for at
the end of half-an-hour she came to the kitchen door and said:

“I wish you’d plan to stay here with me to-night, Nellie.”

The young woman assented.

“My nerves ain’t jest all right yet,” continued the widow, and then she
looked them all boldly in the eye, though her cheeks were red, “and I’ve
asked Mr. Look to stop all night and put his elephant in the barn.
It would be an awful traipse for him to travel ’way back to P’lermo
to-night, and I really feel that I could get to like elephants, he has
talked to me so nice about ’em.”

She went to a cupboard in a corner, took down a box of sweetmeats,
carried them into the sitting-room, and, to the inexpressible horror
of the women, shoved up the window at which Imogene was still wistfully
fumbling. With fingers that trembled at first she dropped a few bits of
the candy into the animal’s moist “porringer,” and Imogene tucked them
into her mouth and munched with supreme satisfaction. The widow fed the
candy to the last bit, manifestly enjoying the comments on her bravery.

Then she carried the lantern to the barn when Hiram led the elephant
away to domicile her for the night.

“I don’t want to draw no wrong conclusions nor do anyone wrong in my
thoughts,” said Mrs. Wes Johnson, on her way home that evening, speaking
to a woman who walked with her. “But if I was any judge I should say
that Cap’n Nymphus Bodfish better be lookin’ to his buttons in a certain
quarter.”

“By the style she spit out there before us all tonight, you might think
her intentions was serious toward him,” commented the other.

“I know they’re serious,” replied the other with decision. “Nymp’ has
made his brags already, and I’m knowin’ to it that she’s been havin’
extra sewin’ done.”

“You don’t s’pose she’d mitten him now, do you?’ asked the other in
horrified tones.

“Well, I don’t want to wrong nobody,” said Mrs Johnson, “but if I was
goin’ to say, I shouldn’t be that Cap Nymp’ Bodfish would get Abby Snell
till I see ’em comin’ down the aisle together. I tell ye, when a man’s
got forty thousand to put into the bank ’side of the twenty thousand
that Number One left to ye, a woman does a little second-thought
thinkin’.”

The Widow Snell stayed awake a long time that night, listening to the
distant rumble of Hiram’s snores shuddering under the door of the best
room. Possibly she was fulfilling Mrs. Johnson’s prediction about second
thoughts.



CHAPTER XV--SOME OF THE POSSIBILITIES IN A “CORNET BRASS BAND”

AS FIGURED BY ITS PROMOTER, HIRAM LOOK


               Open order and forward march!

               Major in bearskin and stiffer than starch,

               Knees like a thoroughbred--he’s the kind!

               And all the musicianers marchin’ behind,

               Then poum-ta-roum! Oh, ain’t it grand

               To march with the Atkinson Full Brass Band?

                        --From “Village Ballads.”


When Hiram turned in at the dooryard of the Look place next day it was
late in the afternoon, and he was riding in the rear of a farmer’s beach
waggon, his long legs dangling over the tail-board. Imogene followed
docilely at the end of a rope, her affectionate gaze on her master.

Squire Phin and Peak, who had been sitting on the porch, came along to
greet the new arrival and congratulate him.

“Well, it’s taken leg-work a lot and head-work a lot,” said Hiram with
a sigh of relief as he slid stiffly down from his perch. “Look-a-there!”
 He pointed to the horse that had drawn the waggon. “Had two runaways and
one smash-up before I got that invented.”

Two saplings were lashed to the thills and extended beyond the bit-rings
through which they were thrust. The horse was unable to turn his head to
look behind, and for further precaution the apprehensive country youth
who drove had tied his ragged coat around the animal’s head like a
muffler.

“I never saw a section, hoss-kind and human-kind both, get so
foolish over one mild and inoffensive elephant before,” Hiram went on
disgustedly. “I should have been home before this, but I stayed and
squared up. Went along the whole trail and, as you might say, settled
damages along the right o’ way. They ain’t got no kick comin’. Ain’t
that so, son?” he demanded, addressing the youth on the seat.

“I don’t see how anyone could be any perficker a gent,” said the driver,
warmly. “Our folks lost a row and a half of nurs’ry stock and one cosset
lamb stepped on and squashed, and Mr. Look just up and slapped what it
come to right down into dad’s fist, with a half a dollar extry for a
laylock bush that we didn’t make no account of. And at Abby Snell’s,
where the most damage was done, why, you jest ought to hear Abby
tell----”

“Well, that’s all right, son,” interrupted Hiram, hastily. “All is I
wanted to stand square up that way, and give the gossips a chance to
chaw on something sweet ’stead of something sour.” He handed the youth
a silver dollar. “That’s for yourself, son,” he said, “and now you’d
better be hustling for home ‘fore dark.” He looked more comfortable when
the waggon went clattering away under the elms.

“I guess what they don’t know about Abby Snell down this way jest yet
awhile won’t hurt ’em any,” he muttered as he led away Imogene into
the barn, and into the companionship of the eight horses once more
assembled. “Sime is such a soft old fool he would think I am in love,
and Phin would pitch into me on account of my temper for gittin’ even,
the same as he allus does.”

“Hiram,” said his brother, when the showman joined the two men on the
porch, “I want to ask your pardon for trying to stop you yesterday. Mr.
Peak has told me how you managed at the other end. At this end it all
worked to perfection. Wat Mayo only knows that she _ran_ away on account
of a mistaken notion that she would be helping him, and that she loved
him too much to _stay_ away.”

“There’s mighty few cases where women’s concerned when judicious lyin’
ain’t a benefit all ’round,” said Hiram, lighting his cigar.

“It’s only the strong natures that want and can stand the whole truth,”
 replied the Squire, sighing. “I did what I thought was for the best.”

“He’s a cosset and allus will be and you warmed his milk for him,”
 snorted Hiram. “That’s all right! You ain’t done anything wrong. Any
other kind of feedin’ would give him an attack of love-colic that would
tie him up into knots so that he’d never get untangled.”

He smoked in silence for a little while.

“Ain’t there any ding-blasted thing in this world that the critter knows
how to do?” he demanded. “There’s no young and pretty girl that’s goin’
to stay very hard in love with a swipe in a liv’ry stable, no matter how
she tries. I pity the poor little gaffer, Phin. We had a talk together
on the road--me and her and Sime here. I ain’t all bristles, Phin. I’d
do somethin’ for the feller if I could--anything short of charity, and
I’ll be cussed if I’ll give money to an able-bodied man that’s able to
earn it. She’d hate him then, if there’s anything to her, and if she
didn’t I’d hate her--and there you have it. Gad! I don’t understand how
a chap can grow to be over twenty-one and not know how to do some one
thing.”

“If his folks had taught him to play a fiddle instead of a cornet,” said
the Squire, “he might have been able to fiddle for dances and earn an
oyster supper and a dollar-fifty once in a while, as old Eb Lancaster
does.”

“Does the Mayo boy know how to play the cornet?” asked Hiram, with
reviving interest.

“His folks paid that bandmaster, that has his summer cottage down on
Prout’s Point, two hundred dollars and over for lessons to Wat.”

“But can he _play?_” persisted Hiram.

“How should I know?” snapped the Squire impatiently. “All I know is he
near drove me crazy with his practising--and nigh every one else in the
village.” But after a moment he went on with gentler tone:

“Yes, Hiram, some of the men around here who understand such things say
that Wat Mayo plays wonderfully well. I remember that the bandmaster
used to brag about him, but what with folks jawing about the noise he
made, and his natural laziness, he hasn’t done anything with it. And
a bulldog might as well try to chew with a set of store teeth as a man
start out to earn a living in Palermo with a cornet.”

“Well, he’ll earn one from now on,” said Hiram.

The two men stared at him.

“He’s jest the man I’ve been lookin’ for,” said the showman. “Life ain’t
worth livin’ for me without band music. I’m homesick for it. Wat Mayo
can consider himself hired as the teacher and leader of ‘Look’s Cornet
Band,’ and I’ll bet you ten dollars I’ll have twenty men practisin’ in
Hobbs’s hall before next Saturday night.”

“You’ll never find twenty men in this place who can afford to buy band
instruments,” objected the Squire.

“I’ll buy ’em myself,” cried Hiram, stoutly. “Great Caesar, what’s a
little expense beside good band music when a man’s hungry for it? I’ll
buy the instruments, I’ll buy the uniforms--it’ll be my band, and I’ll
buy a bearskin cap for Sime, here, six feet tall, and advertise him
for the tallest drum-major in the State. Why, hustlin’ Cicero, men,” he
cried, as his enthusiasm warmed his showman’s heart, “I can make Look’s
Cornet Band an organisation that will be wanted in ev’ry parade from
Quoddy to the Scarb’ro clam flats. And when your young friend Wat Mayo,
Phin, gets ahead of that band in his spick-and-span uniform, you won’t
have any more trouble about any critter ever cuttin’ him out with his
wife. Why, she’ll love him to death!” He stamped his big foot on the
piazza and laughed.

“I knew there was something I was hankerin’ for,” he chuckled. “’Twas
a band. Why, we can serenade you, Phin, when you get elected Congressman
or hog-reeve or culler of staves or to some other high office.”

“Of course, you are able to have such a plaything, Hime,” said the
Squire, without enthusiasm, “and if it helps poor Wat Mayo to get out
of his troubles I reckon the rest of us ought to be willing to stand the
hullabaloo.”

With a rather grim smile he left them and went around into his kitchen.

“Sime,” said the showman after he had smoked reflectively for some
time, “I have taken you in with me as a sort of a side partner. It’s
no use--there’s a few things that Phin and I can’t hitch hosses on, and
they are things that’s derned important to me. No matter what they are,
not jest now, at any rate. But I don’t mind tellin’ you that there’s
more comin’ out of that Palermo Cornet Band than biff-bangs and
toodle-oos. The thought of gettin’ it up was an inspiration--that’s what
it was. You see now what comes of doin’ a good deed! Gettin’ that girl
back makes us talk about Mayo, and from Mayo to a job for him, and thus
around to the band. Yess’r, a good deed brings it own reward. Now, I
ain’t popular with the people of this place. I want to be popular, but
I never could cater to the old moss-backs by soft-soapin’ ’em. To do
what I’ve set out to do I need to have a followin’. Now I’m goin’ to
start that band, pay ’em wages when they play, furnish free concerts
and music for dances, and if I ain’t popular then, why, I don’t know my
people, that’s all.”

“Goin’ to run for office, I persume?” suggested Simon.

“Run for your grandmother!” snorted Hiram. “What have I ever done to you
that you should twit me that style? No, s’r, I’ll jest say this much to
you, Sime. There’s a certain old son of a pickerel that I’m layin’
for in this town, and I’m goin’ to have him. I’m goin’ to walk one way
acrost him and then come back the same way and wipe my feet on him. I
tell ye, Sime, when an old harker that has got plenty of his own, jest
gets out his knife and lets the financial blood out of a poor old man
and a strugglin’ boy, only for the sake of lettin’ it, then if he don’t
get it handed to him here--well, I may be lodged in another part of hell
from him and shan’t be able to see what is passed to him there. So it’s
me for him in this life! I tell you, Sime, our trip to Square Harbour
wa’n’t all for nothin’. We done a good deed and we are gettin’ our pay
passed right back to us.”

With this curious but entirely characteristic reflection on the
dispensations of Providence, Hiram tossed away his cigar butt and
answered the supper call of Aunt Rhoda.



CHAPTER XVI--THE DISAPPOINTING “TEST CASE” OF SUMNER BADGER,

A “SAMPLE CITIZEN” OF PALERMO


               There once was a Quaker, Orasmus Nute,

               With a physog. as stiff as a cowhide boot,

               And he skippered a ship from Georgetown, Maine,

               In the ’way back days of the pirates’ reign.

               And the story I tell it has to do

               With Orasmus Nute and a black flag crew--

               The tale of the upright course he went

               In the face of a certain predicament.

                   --Ballad of “Orasmus Nute.”


There was at least one secret in his life that “Fig-ger-Four” Avery
kept. He never told what inspired Imogene to make her dash for liberty.

Squire Phin didn’t exactly understand the tableau he had beheld, and
charitably refrained from mentioning to his brother how music, as
rendered by Uncle Wharff, failed to soothe the savage breast. As for
Hiram, he did not seem to be interested enough to ask any questions.

Whenever he mentioned the elephant’s escapade to Peak, he referred to
the affair with a sort of grim blithesomeness.

Weeks afterward, when the first damp, swirling snow of winter was
clotting itself on the windows of the little sitting-room, he sat for a
long time, figuring in a grimy account book with a stubby lead pencil.
Every once in a while he chuckled.

“J. B. Sawtelle,” he murmured, “items: four begonies and three geraniums
mashed in front yard, one washin’ scattered hoorah-ste’-boy--say, Sime,
Imogene with a night gown on one tush and a pair of J. B.’s flannel
drawers flyin’ distress from the other, and sheddin’ assorted articles
such as found on a well-regulated clothes-line, as she hurrooped down
through the beech growth, must have been worth double the price of a
high-dive feature.”

His shoulders, hunched in the rocking-chair, shook with suppressed
mirth.

Peak, his slippered feet resting on the rail of the Franklin stove,
surveyed the shoulders and the back of Hiram’s head with scowling
disapproval.

“Some might think you relished chances to throw away money,” he growled,
with a freedom of criticism accorded the favourite. Simon now appeared
to be settled as a fixture in the showman’s household. The old horse
Joachim had died with the first frosts, and the battered van lurched
under one of the poplars, exposed to the beating of the elements.

“What bills do you think Imogene incurred on that trip--now, jest for a
guess?” demanded Hiram, in high good humour. “I’ve been figgerin’ it for
fun.”

“It reely must be a good deal like a joke book,” observed Peak, with
fine satire.

“I can set and pee-ruse them figgers,” said Hiram, slapping the little
book on his knee and chuckling afresh, “and think how Imogene must have
looked passin’ through them way stations, as you might say, and then
think how them farmers and old maids and women-folks run and squawked
and hollered, and I get fuller of tickles inside than a settin’ hen is
full of clucks. The trouble with you is, Sime, you ain’t got no humour.”

“Well, I’ve had mostly troubles in my time, and I ain’t got no forty
thousand dollars in the bank, either,” said Peak, sourly.

“Say, you’ve been twittin’ me about that forty thousand a good
deal lately,” snorted Hiram, glaring around over the back of the
rocking-chair. “You ain’t begretchin’ me my own, be ye?”

“Ev’ry man’s welcome to all he’s got, for all o’ me. I ain’t ever had
nothin’. I don’t ever expect to have anything. But I tell ye, a
man don’t gain in the long run by slingin’ his money around too
permiscuous.”

Hiram whirled in his chair and put his little book into his pocket.

“For more’n a fortnit now, Sime, you’ve been slurrin’ more or less.
You’ve got some kind of a duflicker’s egg that you’re settin’ on. Now
come off’n the nest and if you’ve got any cacklin’ to do, out with it so
that I can join in!”

Simon was too certain of his position as a favourite to be backed down.

“I guess if speech of the people is correct,” he replied sturdily, “it’s
well enough known why you’re ticklin’ out when you think of Imogene’s
trip up-country.”

“F’r instance, now,” suggested Hiram, his face very hard.

Peak bent and poked the fire, sniffing disdainfully.

“F’r instance, I said,” repeated the showman.

“Say, look-a-here, Hime,” snapped Peak, whirling in his chair in his
turn, “do you think for a minute that I don’t know why you’ve been
makin’ all these trips up-country lately--and you a-sayin’ that you’ve
got to go up and transact a little more bus’ness about them damages of
Imogene’s? Now it’s about time to take some of the cuss of the thing
off’n that elephant.”

“F’r instance, I said!” yelled Hiram, standing up and clacking his
fingers imperiously under Peak’s nose. “Out with it!”

“Don’t you suppose I know that you’re courtin’ that tow-headed widder
that’s got a farm and twenty thousand dollars in the bank? Do you think
that you can fool me that’s summered and wintered with you? You’re
courtin’ her, that’s what you’re doin’, and you’re layin’ it all off
onto that elephant. Now don’t give me no more flim-flam. ’Tain’t
professional. It’s pickin’ me up for a sucker.”

The narrow eyes of the giant sparkled with suspicion and with the
jealousy of the companion who is being supplanted and realises it.

For a little while Hiram stood and glared at him and then sat down in
his chair again. Either a sense of guilt, craft or desire to placate a
friend caused him to moderate his demeanour.

“See here, Sime,” he began, lighting a cigar to keep himself in
countenance, “you have figgered the thing all wrong. You know I ain’t
a marryin’ man. You and me neither of us is. I want you to live with me
and you’re goin’ to.”

“I should think that the both of us has suffered enough from women as
it is,” grumbled the giant. “Both of us knows the other’s troubles
with ’em. And now for you to go and ram yourself right into the
bramble-bush again, and me here to advise you, makes me mad and
disgusted. I’m thinkin’ of you first of all, Hime. I ain’t selfish. But
I can see jest how it’s goin’ to be: you’re goin’ to git hitched and
then the first thing she’ll do will be to put the spittoon in the
woodshed and kick me out-doors. I thought you knowed more than to do
it--I honest thought so.”

Peak bowed his head in grief.

“In my whole life long I never was judged right yet by any human bein’,”
 wailed Hiram. “And now here you go off the handle jest like the rest.
_You_ know what Nymp’ Bodfish done to me. _You_ know what I propose to
do to Nymp’ Bodfish. That’s all there is to it. He wants her and the
twenty thousand, and he’d ’a’ had her a year ago if he wasn’t hangin’
off about bein’ a farmer. He wants her to sell and put the money into a
schooner, and he’s jest as much reckonin’ on that as on flood tide when
the moon’s right. His heart is set on it. I’m goin’ to make him the
sickest man ’tween here and the North Pole.”

“There was a man once that give an elephant a chaw of terbacker,”
 related Simon, “and when the doctors was tryin’ to fit some of the least
mussed-up pieces together at the hospital, he opened his eyes and said:
‘It was a good one on the elephant, wasn’t it?’ and then give one hiccup
and died.”

“If you was only jest--well, say, ‘Figger-Four,’ and made such talk to
me,” snarled Hiram, “I’d drive you right down through the floor there,
like I’d drive a tent peg. But I’m willin’ to argue with _you_, Sime,
and if that don’t show that I’m a friend of yours, then I don’t know
what does.” He wiped his flushed face. “You understand, I can’t bust
this thing in a minit.”

“Didn’t you yourself ketch him right in a caper that would queer him
with any decent woman--lug-gin’ off another man’s wife ’cause he was
hired to?”

“Don’t you know that would be givin’ away the trouble of the young
Mayos--and them livin’ together now like turtledoves?” roared Hiram.
“Look at my brother Phin--one of God’s own gentlemen, if there ever
was one. Him a-breakin’ his heart and misjudged and old Willard’s girl
passin’ him by be-. cause he smashed King Bradish before her face
and eyes--and Bradish with the last word to her! Don’t you suppose my
brother could square himself with her by just one word of what he knows?
But will he do it after he has passed ’Rissy Mayo his word that so
long as she behaves herself he won’t give her away to any livin’ soul?
You can say he’s a fool if you want to, but I tell ye, Sime, when a man
has got as far along in life as Phin has without breakin’ his solemn
word, you can’t blame him if he’d rather gnaw himself inside than have
those whom he gives away scorch him outside.”

He had furiously puffed his cigar down to the end. Now he lighted
another.

“I never approved of him carin’ a snap for the Willard girl, Sime. I
don’t like her. I don’t like the breed. But this lovin’ of folks ain’t
to be regulated jest the way you’d like to have it. If my brother can
keep his mouth shut about King Bradish’s rottenness when, as you might
say, it’s a wife at stake for him, then I guess I can keep still when
it’s only a grudge that I’m workin’.”

“Then it ain’t no wife in your case?” pursued Peak, suspiciously.

“I tell ye, all I can do now is to hint,” insisted Hiram, evading the
main question. “I’ve jest got her on the anxious seat. It’s the way I
struck up her interest first of all. I couldn’t have got near her with
a ten-foot pole if I hadn’t got her curiosity started by hints. Then,
of course, she wanted to know what I meant and I’ve been puttin’ her off
ever since. You never saw a woman so worked up as she is, Sime--never.
She can’t hardly stand it till I come again. Then she lets into me to
tell her all about Cap Bodfish. She don’t want to leave go of him till
she knows definite. I reckon she wants to have him around so as to peel
him when she does find out that there really is something in what I
hint.” The showman chuckled again. “And it’s kind of what you might call
a lingerin’ death for him--one of the slow kind like bein’ gnawed by
ants. Ev’ry time he goes up to see her she don’t know whuther to love
him or club him off’n the premises--and she blows hot and she blows cold
all in one minit, and if he ain’t the wust puzzled man that ever tried
to box compass in the sea of matrimony, then I’ll eat the celluloid peel
in a side-show lemonade.”

“Don’t he suspect what it all means?” inquired Peak, beginning to
appreciate the situation with the malice of a man who has been fooled
and enjoys seeing others in the same boat.

“Keeps a-grabbin’ ev’ry which way like a man that hears a moskeeter
buzzin’ round him in the night,” giggled Hiram. “I’ve set right in the
other room sev’ral times and he didn’t know I was there, and I’ve heard
him coax and beg and guess and promise and almost blubber, and me behind
the door in t’other room swellin’ up and swellin’ up and then lettin’ it
out through my nose easy, and then swellin’ up again. I don’t believe I
shall be able to stand very much of that. I’m li’ble to bust some time.”

“I should think it would be well wuth list’nin’ to,” agreed Peak. Then
he said artlessly: “I like fun myself. Why can’t I go along with you
after this? Then there won’t be no such thing as her gettin’ her cobweb
around you.”

“You talk as though I was runnin’ matinées up-country,” said Hiram, the
red on his bristly cheeks. He detected Peak’s selfish apprehension, and
the giant’s gaze shifted under his scowl. “I never had any trouble
in runnin’ my own bus’ness yet and I don’t expect to have to call in
understudies right away.”

In considerable dudgeon he marched along to a narrow secretary in the
corner and began to mumble figures in an undertone as he went over
his accounts. Peak sat gazing into the fire, twirling his huge thumbs
thoughtfully.

The sound of some one stamping off snow on the porch broke upon the
silence of the two. The visitor came in without knocking and, fumbling
his way along the dark entry, opened the sitting-room door.

It was old Sumner Badger, the wet snow splotching his faded overcoat.

“’Pears to be one o’ these ’ere sticky storms,” he observed amiably,
pulling a chair up before the stove.

“Yes, seems to hang to _you_ like dollar bills do,” retorted Hiram,
snapping around from the secretary and squinting over his glasses. Then
he went on with his figuring, talking half aloud. Badger surveyed the
back of his head for some time and then said:

“It’s about that money you want to borrow of me, Capt’in.” Badger always
bestowed this title in moments when he wanted to placate.

“Then you’ve collected from Willard, have you?” inquired Hiram, gruffly,
over his shoulder. “Huh, you’ve been long enough about it. Ever since
last fall.”

“Well, I’ve seen the Jedge,” faltered Badger; “jest come from his office
to here. He says the town can’t raise no money to take up town notes not
till town meetin’ in March. He says it will be made all right to me if
I’ll wait. Now he give me to understand that I’d git seven per cent, all
hunky if I didn’t hurry things and--no, s’r, honest to Lucifer if I said
a word about your wantin’ the money,” he expostulated as Hiram swung
angrily to face him.

“I told you I’d kill you if you did,” roared Hiram. “And I didn’t,
Capt’in! No, s’r, when it’s money concerned I can keep my mouth shet.
Ain’t I kept it shet all these years about the Jedge havin’ it?”

“Let’s see!” remarked Hiram, with a sly look in his eye, as though he
wished to test this Palermo voter. “How much money does Palermo owe,
anyway?”

“I don’t have the least idee,” blandly returned Badger, crossing his
knees. “We all trust the Jedge to ’tend to that. _He_ knows.”

“So you are goin’ to let your money stay with the Judge, hey?”

“Well--blorh hum! Well, as I was sayin’, Jedge Willard seems to
be perfickly square about makin’ it right and--and--well, Capt’in,
nat’rally it’s--it’s bus’ness--well, to make it an object to shift you
might---there’s the taxes, too----”

“You old harker,” cried Hiram, irefully, “what you want me to say is
that I’ll pay you eight per cent.! ‘You’ve been whifflin’ back and forth
for two months between Judge Willard and me. I thought you got all ready
to die a while ago. What are you waitin’ for--to place your money out at
eight per cent, first?”

“I ain’t goin’ to die,” blurted Badger. “A man’s got the right to change
his mind, ain’t he? And they’ve found out about that Mis’ Achorn. She
used a wax hand to make folks believe ’twas some one dead that was
touchin’ ’em and---”

“Shet up!” barked Hiram. “Do you think I’ve been in the circus line
thirty years to need to have fakes explained to me? It’s bus’ness I want
to talk with you, Sum. Don’t you read your town report, you fool? Don’t
you know that Judge Willard says there over his name that this town owes
only a little over two thousand dollars? And yet you know, yourself,
that he has borrowed seven thousand from you on a town note! Don’t you
stop to think about those things? And now I’ll tell you something
to make your hair curl! I have found out that there are twenty-five
thousand dollars’ worth of town notes held around here by just such old
blind moles as you are that he has told to keep still. Lord knows how
many more there are. I don’t imagine that some would let it out if you
took a knife to ’em.”

He wiped the perspiration from his face and gazed at Badger as though he
expected the information to wilt him. The avenger of the wrongs of the
Looks was not entirely ready with the thunderbolt that he was
forging for the town treasurer of Palermo, but the serenity of the
dollar-blinded Badger exasperated him. For a test he wanted to see how
one citizen of Palermo would receive the disclosure.

“I tell you your treasurer is fooling the whole of ye!” he shouted. “He
has stolen from your town.” The creditor blinked at him. “Now will you
sit by and let him fool you with his talk of makin’ it right? Now will
you try to screw eight per cent, out of me who’s tryin’ to bring him to
the ring bolt? Now will you hand that note over to me or pitch in and
collect it yourself?”

To Hiram’s intense astonishment Badger slowly leaned forward, set his
elbows on his knees, began to tap his finger-tips together, winked one
eye, and smiled shrewdly and composedly.

“Don’t you worry none about Coll Willard,” he said. “He’s a financier.”
 He rolled the word over his tongue. “His folks was financiers before
him. Nobody can’t fool him. He’s sly. So’m I. He’s ready to help the
sly folks. You’ve got money, but you ain’t no financier. You’re jest a
circus man. And we ain’t your monkeys, here in P’lermo. If you want your
nuts pulled out of the fire, pull ’em out yourself.”

Hiram got up and stamped around the room in an ecstasy of rage.

“I’m a good mind to let you all go to Tophet by the short cut, your
tails tied together with kerosened rags,” he gasped. “Here I am, givin’
up time and money to save this town from being lugged into bankruptcy,
and what do I get? I get laughed at! Damn it!” he stormed, “there’s your
last town report! Look for yourself! He’s lied there under oath.”

With the words he threw a pamphlet into Badger’s lap. The old man
promptly tossed the report upon the table.

“You’d better stop tryin’ to work out your old grudge on Jedge Willard,”
 he advised, with a bland sapience that made the showman grit his teeth.
“If he finds out that you’re a-slanderin’ him he’s li’ble to have the
law on ye.”

“If I should stand up in town meetin’ and call on you to rise and
say whether or not you hold a town note for seven thousand dollars, I
suppose you’ll lie, won’t you?”

“I shall allus stand behind the man who has allus helped to put some
extry dollars in my pocket,” said the old man, stiffly.

Hiram seized him by the arm, hustled him to the door and thrust him out
into the entry.

“If you wasn’t rank poison I’d chop you up and feed you to Imogene,” he
shouted as he slammed the door. “If you come into my house again I’ll
take chances and do it.”

The door opened promptly and the unterrified Badger poked in his head.

“I don’t s’pose you’re goin’ back on your brother Phin as a legal
adviser, be ye?” he inquired. “Well, he advised me to hang onto my town
note for a while and keep still till I heard from him. It wa’n’t two
hours ago that he told me the same thing. Now I----”

But when Hiram clutched a chair with a threatening motion Badger fled.

“Sime,” said the showman, “I’m blasted glad I had them carts painted
up. It’s me and you for the road again next season, both of us with our
knives out for blood and our little tin dippers held ready to catch
it. I’m sick of tryin’ to do favours for anyone. I never saw such an
ungrateful town as this one is.”

He looked sullenly out into the driving snow.

“The band seems to be doin’ well,” said Peak. “They’re havin’ three
rehearsals a week and are pretty nigh blowin’ their lungs out. You can’t
ask nothin’ better from the band than what you’re gittin’.”

Hiram turned from the window and gave his friend and confidant a long
and searching stare.

“Peak,” said he, “sometimes when you talk to me I think you’re in with
the rest a-tryin’ to do me.”

Simon surveyed him with eyes mutely expostulating.

“Other times I think you are a dummed fool. You can take your pick. Now
I am goin’ out to associate with some one that ain’t tryin’ to pick my
pocket the whole dog-blessed time nor spreadin’ on hair-oil talk when it
ain’t called for.”

He trudged out to the barn where Imogene was spending the winter
in dignified ease, occupying a corner of the building that had been
sheathed and boarded for her comfort. Here “Figger-Four” Avery tended a
little air-tight stove, relegated to the post of menial.

Hiram sat in silent communion with Imogene until the dusk came down.
Once in a while he fed to her a lump of candy. Each time she curved down
her trunk he poked a thick finger against it roguishly.

“I’ll bet ye know who sent ’em to ye--now, don’t ye?” he would
chuckle, when Imogene gazed down on him with amiable blinkings.



CHAPTER XVII--WHAT DEVELOPED AT THE FORUM IN ASA BRICKETT’S STORE,

TO AN OBBLIGATO BY LOOK’S CORNET BRASS BAND


               “Always a seat for another,

                   Providin’ we squeeze ’em tight;

               Stampin’ in from the smother,

                   For ’tis snowin’ hard to-night.

               Time for a bit o’ smokin’,

                   Time for another tale,

               Time for a little jokin’,

                   Waitin’ here for the mail.”

                   --Ballad of “The Grocery Store.”


I think there’s more git-up and ginger in a fife and drum,” said Uncle
Lysimachus Buck. He had cocked his ear to listen. Then he held his cane
beside his lips and fingered imaginary stops.

The windows of Hobbs’s hall, across the street from Asa Brickett’s
store, shed their yellow gleams out upon the crisp winter night. A band
rehearsal was going on there. The loafers who hovered about the stove
in the store could hear the voice of the leader haranguing his men, then
the robust attack on the tune--bass horns bellowing “oomp-pah oomps,”
 cornets blaring and clarinets wailing; then the false note, the wavering
in the melody and the sharp command of a voice, at which the music
shredded out into jargon and ceased. More harangue and away they all
went again from the start!

“If the dummed calves ever git so they can play a whole piece to once it
will be wuth while list’nin’,” growled Marriner Amazeen, settling down
once more to his whittling, after he had cocked his ear for a time.

“Near’s I can find out, Hime ain’t lettin’ ’em practise nothin’ but
them high-diddle-diddle circus tunes,” observed Uncle Buck. “Now, you
take a fife and drum in ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me,’ or a good fiddler
in ‘The Devil’s Dream’ or ‘Miss McCloud’s Reel,’ or even an accordion
in ‘Alice, Where Be Ye?’ and, by swanny, you’ve got the real old
ear-ticklers. But this squeaky-weaky, biff, bang, boom stuff ain’t music
no more’n poundin’ on a tin wash-boiler is.”

But when Brickett began knocking a soap box into pieces for firewood,
Uncle Buck bawled at him angrily.

“Band tootlin’ don’t keep _me_ warm,” said Brickett, as he stuffed the
fuel into the stove. “Any time my system of runnin’ things in this store
don’t suit the loafers, said loafers know what they can do.”

“Ain’t no need of goin’ ’round makin’ noise jest for the sake of
makin’ it,” replied Buck.

“Then you whistle whilst I pound boxes,” said the storekeeper, grinning,
“and p’raps it’ll remind you of a fife and drum.”

“Shet up a little while, won’t ye, now?” asked Micajah Dunham,
wistfully. “Here I drive clear in from my place on band-practisin’
nights so’s to git a little music, and you run your clack so that a
feller can’t hear.” He sat on the edge of a box, his purchases heaped in
his lap, his fur cap on the floor in order that the earlappers might
not obstruct his hearing. “Here’s a piece now that they play well,” he
added, with the air of conviction of one who had followed faithfully the
work of the new Palermo band.

The men around the stove listened, Uncle Buck tapping his cane
appreciatively.

“There! Ain’t that good?” sighed Dunham as the band came down the
homestretch and wound up the selection in a fine burst of melody.

“I guess there ain’t no doubt but what Wat Mayo is hunky-dory as a
musicianer,” agreed Amazeen. “I hear that the Port boys are gittin’ up a
band, and they’re even talkin’ of one over to Newry Gore, and are goin’
to have Wat to teach both of ’em. I s’pose it’s all right for him to
spend his time that way and earn a dollar, but it don’t seem much like
man’s work to me.”

“I s’pose you think the only real bus’ness a man ought to foller is to
raise pertaters and fat shotes?” sarcastically observed Dunham. “I tell
ye, I admire the Mayo boy’s spunk in makin’ something out of himself
instead of a day-labourer. You can’t fit square pegs into round holes.
He’s been woke up and put into the job that he fits. Now he’ll amount
to some thing. Folks gen’rally amount to something when they git woke
up--if it ain’t too late,” he added with a sigh. He snuggled his heap of
parcels together on his knees. “I ought to be goin’ home,” he said, half
to himself. “But, I swan, I’d like to hear one more tune.”

“You seem to be livin’ pretty well nowadays out to your house,” remarked
Uncle Buck, with a sly look at the bundles.

“’Tain’t no more than bringin’ up the gen’ral av’rage, when you think
of what we’ve missed to our house,” was Dunham’s stout rejoinder. He
was ready nowadays to meet fearlessly the malicious thrusts of his old
neighbours, with his new gospel of life.

The music recommenced again across the street. This time the band was
playing an accompaniment for a cornet solo by its leader. The notes,
dulcet in the distance, seemed almost phrasing a song. Dunham’s eyes
moistened with the sudden emotion of his simple nature.

“I know you all have a good deal of fun behind my back about the way
I’ve shifted over,” he said, quietly. “I know that it makes you laugh
to hear me go ’round preachin’ about gittin’ a little something out of
life as you go along. I don’t care if you do laugh. Laugh! The more ye
laugh, the less you’ll growl. But me and my wife has woke up, and we
don’t care who knows it, and if some of the rest of you would wake up,
too, you’d find that the only thing the sun shines for ain’t to raise
crops and make freckles.”

“P’raps if all of us could git holt of a ready-made, grown-up daughter,
as good as the one you’ve got, we might improve some,” said Buck, with a
wink at his associates in “hector.”

“P’raps you could,” Dunham answered, simply and earnestly.

“Well, it makes a pretty good berth for a poor girl, ’Caje,” said
a man behind the stove. “Most anyone would like to be adopted into a
fam’ly like yours.”

“It ain’t that way, neighbours,” Dunham said softly, his face in the
direction of the music. “When we adopted ’Liza Haskell we was gettin’
the best end of the bargain, if ye want to put it on that kind of a
basis. We was both all corners before--sharp corners at that. I ain’t
backward about ownin’ up--we f’it, me and Esther, like fury, and we
didn’t know what was the matter with us. But somehow there don’t seem to
be any corners in our house now. Them that ain’t filled with new chairs
and pictur’s is all full o’ sunshine. There ain’t a room in the house
that looks like it used to--with the furniture standin’ round jest as
though it had been used at a funeral last and was where the undertaker
arranged it. We didn’t know what the matter was, I say--me and Esther
didn’t. We don’t know jest how it’s come about nov. But we do know
that we’ve adopted something besides a poor little girl--we’ve adopted
sunshine and sweetness and comfort and new notions about livin’ and
lovin’ and havin’.”

He stood up and piled his parcels upon his arm.

“That’s the way it is to our house nowadays, neighbours. I used to like
to set here the whole ev’nin’ in the store before--but now--well,
when I git to thinkin’ about how home is, why, it takes more than them
pretty tunes to hold me here. There’s music to our house that’s better
than all the brass bands in the world.”

He went out and they heard the jingle of his sleigh-bells threading
through the mellow notes of the cornet.

“He was allus sort of a soft old fool when you got under his shell,”
 scoffed Uncle Buck, grinding his cane against the rusty stove. “What I
can’t understand is how Esther ever come ’round as she did. I allus
thought she was harder’n nails.”

“Oh, it took Squire Phin to warm her ear-wax,” said Amazeen. “And when
you know how to handle a woman like that, why, you’ve got her--that’s
all. I cal’late there ain’t a man in the county that understands human
natur’ better’n Squire Phin does. He can handle ’em all right when he
makes up his mind to.”

Uncle Buck was plainly nettled by Amazeen’s air of easy confidence.

“Well, there’s one woman that he don’t seem to be able to handle--and I
reckon he’d like to at that,” he snorted. “Sylvene Willard ain’t hardly
spoke to him since he knocked her feller down.”

“I don’t cal’late as how you’ve got any right to call King Bradish her
feller,” objected Amazeen.

“I donno why not,” snapped Uncle Buck. “Jedge Willard come right out
after that happened and said that Sylvene and King was goin’ to git
married at Christmas time, and Sylvene didn’t dispute him. It’s past
Christmas time now, to be sure, but as I understand it, King is tied up
in New York by bus’ness and ain’t been able to git back since he went
away a little spell ago.”

“Little spell ago!” cried Amazeen. “He ain’t been back since he went
away that time in the fall when Hime’s el’phunt got loose.”

“Mebbe, but time slides away kind o’ fast,” grudgingly admitted Buck.
“Howsomever, they’ll git married all right when he comes back. If Coll
Willard says so, then they will, that’s all! Phin Look can’t stop it.
His cake was dough when he licked Bradish.”

“As I’ve allus understood the row, King had the right of it,” observed
the man behind the stove.

“Why, the Jedge himself told me,” said Buck, “that all King done in the
world was to step up to the Squire and call him into line for braggin’
round how he’d cut out King the night before and walked home with
Sylvene from the schoolhouse out Dunham’s way. Jedge told me so himself.
That’s comin’ pretty straight!”

“Well, now, that don’t seem like Squire Phin Look,” broke in Amazeen,
wagging his head decisively. “I’ve heard that version, but it don’t seem
like Squire Phin--and we’ve known him a long time, too.”

“He ain’t ever given the lie to the Jedge,” said Buck. “He ain’t ever
said aye, yes or no about it. Nat’rally think, then, he must be ashamed
of it, wouldn’t ye? I tell ye, boys, when there’s a woman in the case we
don’t none of us know what the best of us might do. Squire Phin Look is
an almighty nice man, good and kind-hearted and smarter’n a whip. I’ve
allus stood up for him, and I was in the scheme----” He checked himself
suddenly in some confusion with a side glance at Amazeen. “I was in
hopes that the match wouldn’t come off with Bradish. But the Squire
went and lost his head and kicked up---like the best do sometimes when
there’s a woman in the case. Sylvene Willard ain’t the woman to stand
that kind of bus’ness. You can’t blame her. I say she and Bradish will
git married, and you can mark my word on it.”

A man sat on a bit of board that was laid across an unheaded keg of
nails. He had been listening, elbows on his knees, his brown hands
braiding and unbraiding a length of rope with a sailor’s deftness. This
man was Mate Seekins of the _A. P. Bristol_, home in Palermo for his
midwinter lay-off.

“What do they hear here in town from Bradish?” he inquired. There was
a suppressed note of meaning in his voice that the little crowd did not
catch.

The men about the stove looked at each other. “Nothin’,” at last blurted
Uncle Buck.

“What bus’ness is he a-follerin’ of in New York?” asked Seekins.

“As near’s I’ve ever come to it,” said Buck, “him and the Jedge is in
some kind of financierin’ together and King’s handlin’ that end of it.
But the Jedge don’t put his bus’ness into the _Seaside Oracle_ and King
ain’t the kind that writes letters to be read out loud here in Ase’s
store,” he added grimly. “I s’pose his mother hears reg’lar and the
Jedge and Sylvene, but the Bradishes and the Willards never messed in
very thick with their neighbours. Sum and substance is, we don’t know
not the first dum thing about King Bradish nor his bus’ness, nor why
he closed up bus’ness here in the hurry that he did and got out of the
place. And I donno as I care. I never had no use for the skunk, anyway.”

He pared a corner from a black plug of tobacco, stuck it into his cheek
and relapsed into dignified silence.

The man on the keg braided at his rope-end.

“I shouldn’t want him to do no gre’t amount of financierin’ for me,” he
said at last. “Bradish, I mean.”

“I donno ’bout that,” Amazeen said. “He was allus pretty sharp on a
dicker ’round here.”

“I say I shouldn’t want him to do my financierin’ for me,” persisted
Mate Seekins.

The group waited for him to go on, but he kept at his braiding.

“Well, you’ve gone that fur. Keep on,” commanded Uncle Buck.

“I ain’t no hand to peddle gossip,” said Seekins.

“Who said ye was?” Lysimachus’s tone was indignant. “And there ain’t no.
call for you to hint that we’re gossips here. If you ain’t man enough to
dast to say what you know, then keep still and much good may it do you.”
 But the old man’s eyes gleamed with curiosity. “Half truths are wusser’n
whole lies,” he muttered. “I ain’t no hand to talk and tell,” went on
Seekins, “but when I say I don’t want him to financier for me I mean to
say that I don’t want any man handlin’ my money that keeps drunk as a
fiddler’s hoorah.”

The music from across the street bellowed in louder blast, for the store
door opened with a bang and Hiram Look came stamping in.

“Do me up a slab of cheese and plenty of crackers, Colonel Brickett,”
 he called. “Wider’n that,” he snapped as Brickett set his knife on the
cheese. “Look’s Cornet Brass Band ain’t eatin’ no half rations so long
as old Hime himself is on hand to buy for ’em.”

He beamed on the circle of faces about the stove, for the inspiration of
his favourite tunes made him genial.

“How does that sound to you, old turkles?” he cried, with a backward jab
of his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Hobbs’s hall. “It’s
sort of wakin’ up Palermo, hey?”

“I suppose it will be good enough when they can play without soundin’
like bullfrogs with the croup,” returned Uncle Buck, sulkily. Hiram had
come in at just the time when he had edged forward to put some leading
questions to Mate Seekins. He turned to the sailor again.

“You was sayin’----” he began.

“You never heard nothin’ in your life before but a melodeon and a jew’s
harp, you old Fiji,” shouted Hiram, thrusting forward close to the
stove. “There’s about a half dozen of you old mossbacks that ain’t come
to enough to appreciate what I’m doin’ for this place. But I’ve got the
crowd with me. I’ll show ye in town meeting next March! I can run that
band myself, so fur’s that comes to; but I’m goin’ to make some of
you old hogs of taxpayers chip in to support it. I’m goin’ to have an
article put in appropriating two hundred dollars for band concerts next
summer, and I’ll carry it through.”

“This town won’t vote for no such dum foolishness,” retorted Buck.
He turned to Seekins again, his curiosity mastering his spirit of
controversy.

“You was sayin’ as how----”

“Bet you fifty, and put the money in Brickett’s hands right now,”
 bellowed Hiram, ever eager for opportunities to browbeat the old men of
the village. He dug into his trousers pocket.

“Why don’t you wear that wad o’ money hung round your neck out in
plain sight?” demanded Uncle Lysimachus, angrily. “You seem bound and
determined to have it under our noses all the whol’ time.”

“Put up your stuff,” cried Hiram. “Make a pool if ye want to. I ain’t
afraid of the gang of you.”

He whirled and ran his hale eye along their faces. Dow Babb, who had
been chief of the Palermo hand-tub brigade for many years, unhooked his
toe from his instep, recrossed his legs and said with decision:

“You can’t run the _whole_ of this town, Hime, even if you are runnin’ a
part of it jest now. You wait your turn with your brass band. I’ve been
before town meetin’ for four years, now, a-askin’ and implorin’ the
voters to appropriate enough to repair Hecla and buy some more hose.
They ain’t give me a cent. Now if you go to work and bull through any
such article in the warrant as you’re braggin’ you will, then all I’ve
got to say is that the next time a fire breaks out in the village, your
darned old band can go and play on it. The Hecla comp’ny never will.”
 Uncle Buck, unable to control himself any longer, got up and pounded his
cane on the floor.

“I’ve heard all the tow-rowin’ I want to hear. Here I be tryin’ to talk
with Mr. Seekins about something that amounts to something. And ye can’t
hear yourself think. Take your cheese and your crackers, Hime Look, and
go over and stuff ’em into your toodle-oodlers. Let gentlemun that’s
a-talkin’ serious bus’ness go on with their serious bus’ness. Now,
Seekins, you said as how you’d seen King Bradish drunker’n a fiddler’s
hoorah. What else?”

“I never said I seen him,” returned the man, sullenly.

“It’s the same thing; you meant it. Go ahead.” The old man’s tone was
imperious.

Hiram and the rest of the crowd turned to him, inquiry on their faces.
The showman leaned forward with especial insistence.

“I ain’t no hand to tattle----”

“You said that before, consarn ye!” This persistent delay that baffled
Uncle Buck’s curiosity made him furious.

“No matter what you see or what you didn’t see,” said Hiram. “The
idea is, what do you _know?_” There was no resisting the force of
circumstances. “Well,” roared Seekins, “I know that King Bradish is
keepin’ full of licker in New York and throwin’ money right and left and
over his shoulder--or has been so long’s he had it to throw. He’s gone
to Tophet, that’s what he’s done, and if what I hear up at the other end
is true, he’s got a string hitched to certain parties in this place and
he’s goin’ to drag ’em with him. Now that’s all you’re goin’ to git
out of me,” he concluded, throwing the rope-end into the wood-box and
rising. “I don’t propose to git into no trouble by talkin’ and tellin’.
I’ve seen people that done that. If any’s interested, let ’em go to
New York and to the right people and they’ll find out for themselves.”

He pushed through the little circle and went out of the store.

Hiram seized his crackers and cheese and started after him, overtaking
the sailor in the middle of the square.

One after the other, the old men blunted their noses against the frosty
panes of Brickett’s front window, trying to spy and to hear. But only
the mumble of voices reached them, Hiram’s tone insistent, Seekins’s
deprecatory.

But at last Hiram slapped him cordially on the back and the two
separated. A sudden cessation in the band music showed that the
refreshments had arrived in the hall, and the old men yawned about
Brickett’s stove and one by one went home.

One or two persons saw Hiram Look drive out of the yard of the old place
the next forenoon and take the road toward Square Harbour, his tall hat
projecting just above the high back of his sleigh, and fat ear-muffs
cosily snuggling his ears.

These one or two asked “Figger-Four” Avery about the showman’s
departure, when he came to the store during the day, after a “fig” of
tobacco.

“Here’s what he said to me,” stated Avery: “Says he, ‘I’m goin’ to
Europe, I-rope and A-rope after wild animiles, and I’ll be back when I
git damation good and ready. If you miss feedin’ Imogene on the dot
or let the fire git low in the stove, I’ll warp t’other leg for you.’
There! That’s what he said, and if you can git any more out of it than
what I have, you’re welcome to. I guess you’d better give me another fig
o’ terbacker, Ase, for I’m goin’ to stay pretty clus to that barn till
he gits back.”

“I s’pose you know all about el’phunts now, don’t you, Avery?” inquired
one of the men who lounged about the stove, toasting their shins.

“Wal, I know this much,” said “Figger-Four,” putting away his weed and
buttoning his coat before facing the cold; “I know that an el’phunt
wants meals reg’lar--a lot of it, can’t understand a joke and don’t like
music on the flute. There may be other things about ’em to know, but
they ain’t things that I need in my bus’ness.”



CHAPTER XVIII--YANKEE DISPOSITION IS NOT EXACTLY UNDERSTOOD,

EVEN BY ITS POSSESSORS.


               “Old Zibe Haines had a corn on his toe

               And it ached like ginger ev’ry step he’d go.

               He reckoned that toe had all them pains

               Jest for to hector old Zibe Haines.

               He grabbed up a mallet and a chisel, too,

               And clear’n to the woodpile swore things blue.

               He put that toe on the choppin’ block

               And off he whacked it, slap, ker-chock!

               And he throwed that toe ’bout ha’f a mile--

               Oh, that was old Zibe Haines’s style.

               Tum-diddy-dum and tum-diddy-dee,

               Queer old crab was Haines, was he!”

                   --Narrated by Marriner Amazeen.


Squire Phineas Look, during the life of his love for Sylvena Willard,
had become pretty thoroughly accustomed to having his heart affairs
marked “Continued till next session,” as he half-bitterly termed it in
his meditations.

Coupled with Squire Phin’s natural reserve was that quality of his
trained lawyer mind that was willing to abide delays till “his case was
prepared.”

In some men this would have been timidity.

In others it would have been half-heartedness.

In Squire Phin it was fixity of purpose and the steady loyalty of a
firm, pure, true love that could wait.

Down in Smyrna the summer visitors still listen with mingled emotions to
the story of the loves of Moses Britt and Xoa Emerson.

After they became engaged Moses worked for eight years accumulating
enough money to buy three-eights of a fishing schooner. Xoa toiled
at housework in various families, picked blueberries for the canning
factory, and, by any employment that came to her hand, earned and saved
for the little home that they had planned.

“We won’t get married till we can have our house built and furnished and
ready to step into,” was the mark they had set thriftily for themselves.

The house went up, so old Mell Cowallis remarked, like the way
“Figger-Four” Avery walked--steady by jerks: one year the foundation,
another year the side walls and roof, a third year the chimneys and the
lathing and clapboards--and so on for successive seasons, according as
the fishing prospered and the work-stained fingers of Xoa tucked away
the clinking change and the worn dollar bills.

Now it came to the time when Xoa resolved to fulfill the dream of her
life and have a bow window of ample dimensions, the model of the one
on Sheriff Morton’s big house, where she had worked for years in the
kitchen, envying all the time the luxurious ease of the sheriff’s wife
lolling on a divan in the window. But this window meant postponing the
marriage a year, and with the house so nearly completed Moses had begun
to express an entirely natural anxiety to get married.

Xoa, with the bow window filling her vision, could not understand this
sudden haste in one who had been always as philosophic over delays as
she herself.

“You think more of your old bow winder than you do of me,” cried Moses,
in sudden jealousy. And he sailed away on a trip to the Banks, biting
his stubbly gray beard in pique.

And ere one week had gone a legacy came to Xoa from her aunt
Persis--just enough of a legacy to put on that bow window. So she hired
carpenters in haste and set them at work, determined to have her way
before the return of Moses. On one evening when the expanse of glass in
that window was glowing redly in the beams of the setting sun, the “Xoa
and Laura” sailed up the reach with her flag at half mast, and reported
the loss of Moses Britt and his dory mate, smashed under in a fog by a
roaring steamship.

Those who know say that Xoa knelt all night in her new bow window,
with her face against the glass, and when morning came she called the
carpenters again, and with clamour of hammers and rasp of saws they took
off the bow window and boarded the side of the building up. And then--it
being a case where the solemn ceremony could be deferred till all was
ready--she secured a casket from the city, put into it all the pathetic
old clothes that had been turned over to her with Moses’s dunnage-bag,
called in the parson and the neighbours, and the funeral of Moses
Britt was decorously carried out in a house upon which the soul of the
bridegroom-elect could look down from on high and not take exceptions.

For forty years after that, until death took her, Xoa lived an old maid
in the bow-windowless house.

It is not likely that Squire Phin Look used this case or any others
similar for precedents in heart affairs, as he would have employed
law-court decisions in his legal practice, but he had in his New England
temperament a finer grade of the same iron-stone that is found in such
dispositions as those of Moses and Xoa.

So much for the steadiness and the reserve of his affection in the past.

Since that unfortunate day in the fall there had been something else
than reserve to make him walk hastily past the Willard place, to keep
him away from the little social gatherings in the meeting-house vestry,
and he avoided Sylvena Willard with as much anxiety as she appeared to
avoid him. He was as ashamed of that blow as he would have been of a
crime. Now that the rage of the provocation had departed, he knew that
his act had been a vulgar street affray--there was no other word for it
in his vocabulary.

When some of the jesters in the attorneys’ room at county court
mentioned the affair at the December term with many humorous inquiries,
he was so overwhelmed with shame that he asked continuance for most of
his cases and hurried home.

Yet he heard other things at that term of court that disquieted him
more.

“Why, Look, I _know_ it!” one of his lawyer friends had insisted, when
he ventured to remonstrate at certain gossip. “I don’t know how much
property Judge Willard has got, nor what resources are back of him. But
I do know that he is as pinched for ready money as the devil. I can
talk with you without it’s going any farther; but being a trustee in
a savings bank and a director in a national bank, I come pretty near
knowing when a man is hustling hard for loans, and you can tell how
hard he is hustling from the kind of collateral he is offering. I’ve
got nothing against the Judge, but I’m afraid he’s in over his head with
Bradish. Your Bradish has been a country plunger for a long time--and
the country plunger is the worst of the breed. He thinks he knows it all
and is working the stock market at arm’s length. I know, myself, that
one bucket shop let him down for sixteen thousand in a single blind
pool. Willard seems to have played fox with you folks in Palermo
through it all, and, of course, he’s had a great start of you with his
reputation and all that. But if he’s your town treasurer, as I hear he
is, and custodian of about all the funds of widows and orphans and old
codgers in your town, give him a looking over and do it right away. You
can’t afford to let even a Willard dump the whole of you--especially
when it looks to me as though this Bradish is the chap responsible for
getting him into this mess and has gobbled most of the money.”

But even with that warning to spur him, Squire Look allowed the weeks to
pass without setting about any thorough investigation of Judge Willard’s
finances. If he were any other than Seth Look’s boy---Hiram Look’s
brother, he felt that the case would be different. Whenever he paused
in his work to ponder on the matter and on his duty to the citizens, he
groaned under his breath and put the thing away from him once more.

And as the winter went on the Squire found less and less time to think
upon anything but his own matters.

The State legislature had recognised his modest but just reputation as
one of the best-grounded “straight” lawyers in the State, and on the
recommendation of the judges had selected him as the reviser of the
statutes, a labour that he found exacting and absorbing.

Then on the heels of this work came a syndicate with a scheme for
helping municipalities to instal and own their own water plants, despite
the statutory restrictions that allow towns to assume so much debt and
no more. The syndicate had heard of the Squire’s legal invention of
“water districts” that he had studied out in the dumbly approving
presence of his “Creosote Supreme Court” and expounded to the amazement
of lawyers who studied for a while and then accepted.

And the syndicate would not listen to a nay and laid a certified check
in his hands of a size that would have caused Asa Brickett to swoon had
he realised that so large a consideration had passed over his head, and
on the first warming days of March thousands of picks and shovels were
ready to follow Squire Phineas Look when he had brushed away the last
tangle of litigation.

Uncle Buck had passed the necessary word among the veteran loafers who
used to occupy the lawyer’s shaky chairs.

“He’s busier’n a yaller dog with a tin can of snap-crackers tied to his
tail, and he don’t want nobody up there unless they come on straight
bus’ness.”

So all day long, whether the snow beat against the panes or the sun
shone warm upon his broad back down through the bare elms, the Squire
sat at his big table, his pen busy, scratchity-scratch, or his eyebrows
frowning above some volume of reports, his old dog Eli curled on the
dusty floor at his feet.

And the only ones who stamped up the slippery outside stairs were those
who came on business.

It was on business that Judge Collamore Willard came one snowy, blowy
day in March, the wind whipping his cloak about his skinny legs as he
toiled up the stairs leading to Squire Phin’s office. He came in with
the gust casting a last handful of snow at his back, as a roguish youth
snowballs a figure that is aged and eccentric.

It _was_ a queer figure that sat slowly down in one of the Squire’s
chairs, unwrapping fold on fold of a huge shawl that was coiled about
his head and long, thin neck. He had pulled the mitten from one of
his hands and the gaunt phalanges looked like a bundle of reeds tied
together by skin-strips. The skin was speckled with the brown spots of
age and the hand fluttered as it tugged at the shawl.

The Squire put his knees against the edge of the table, sat back in
his chair, and poised his pen in silent amazement for a moment. Then he
pointed the pen at the stove.

“Better sit close, Judge,” he admonished. “The draughts get to
sky-larking through here pretty lively on windy days.”

“I ought not to have come out this day,” said the old man querulously.
“But I didn’t want to send word to you to come to my office for fear you
would think it strange and not come. And I felt that I had much need to
see you, Lawyer Look.”

“I would have come if you had sent word,” said the Squire, simply. He
did not utter his curt “What can I do for you?” so common with him in
these busy times, but looked at his visitor with inquiring gaze.

“Haven’t you got any influence or control over that fool brother of
yours?” demanded the Judge, bluntly and indignantly.

“I don’t care to reply to questions of that sort put in that fashion,”
 returned the lawyer, knitting his brows.

Willard stared a moment into his face with its hard lines and then
shifted his eyes under the steady gaze of the Squire.

“I don’t mean to be tart with you, Mr. Look,” he said, moderating his
tone, “but I don’t think you ought to let your brother come into this
town, after all that’s happened, and do what he is trying to do to me
and mine. You’re a man of standing and I’m going to say to you that I
think you are above such things.”

His apology was awkward and half-hearted.

“Aren’t you going to handle him and prevent him from making a fool of
himself?”

“I don’t care to enter into any statement to you, Judge Willard, of
certain family discussions that have already occurred between my brother
and myself. I simply want to state for your benefit that I have no
sympathy with certain movements of his. But my brother’s business is his
own, Judge. He has adopted his own manner of living and occupies his own
apartments at our house, and if you care to talk this matter over with
him you’ll find him there at any time. I shall not interfere in his
affairs.”

“I can’t talk with him,” remonstrated the old man. “There isn’t any
sense in him. With him it is either a curse or a blow, and the Willard
family has had enough of both from him. I have come to talk with you,
Mr. Look. Whatever else I have said to you and of you, I’ll acknowledge
that you are a fair man to talk with.”

The lawyer made no reply.

“I’ll say nothing to you of his under-handed tricks to interfere in my
business of loans and private banking,” went on Willard, stroking his
trembling hand along his withered neck. “But now he is going to mix
into town politics with his brass band and his free suppers and free
dances and his circus flapdoodle. It’s hurting this town, Lawyer Look,
and I appeal to you as a good citizen of Palermo to pull him back and
make him behave himself and not bring discredit on the place that I and
mine before me have been proud of so long.” There was some dignity as
well as earnest appeal in the old man’s voice.

“I understand that he has the hoodlums with him,” he went on. “He can
make a lot of trouble in our town meeting this month. We have always got
along so well that it will be a shame to bring uproar and contention and
cheapness into our town affairs, Mr. Look.”

Delicacy of touch at critical moments was not one of Squire Phineas
Look’s attributes. Now he leaned his elbows on the table, locked his
fingers together, and bending toward the old man said bluntly:

“What you mean is, that it would be bad for you if you were defeated
for town treasurer, after your thirty years of service, since that would
mean that your books would be examined.”

He pitied Willard when he crumpled down in his chair. In the silence
the lawyer had the queer thought come to him that the old man’s flabby
neck-skin looked like turkey’s wattles, flushed with dull red as they
were now.

“That is a cruel taunt--an unjust advantage to take of a man who has
served his town so many years, Lawyer Look. I’ll own to you that I do
have some pride in the fact that I have been treasurer of this town so
long. I have set my heart on being reelected. It’s an old man’s whim,
Mr. Look--just an old man’s whim, and it would hurt my feelings cruelly
if the voters allowed your brother to work out his grudge in that way.
If I could only have another year--if I----”

The lawyer, who had been steadily staring into his shifting eyes, broke
in upon his faltering appeal.

“I always hate to see any living creature squirm, whether it’s an
angle-worm on a hook or a man on the rack of his own conscience,” he
said in his blunt, brusque manner. “I never delighted in torturing
anything, Judge. This is something like killing a creature to put it out
of its misery, but I’m not going to beat about the bush.”

Willard had hooked his thin hands around the rungs of his chair and was
staring at the attorney with horror in his eyes.

“I know why you want to be re-elected town treasurer,” went on the
Squire. “You want to cover up the fact that you’re an embezzler of
almost forty thousand dollars of the town’s funds-----Oh, I know what
you are going to say,” he cried, holding up his hand; “you are going to
say that you’ve only hired this money on town’s notes and are going to
pay it back, and that if you can be re-elected no one will be the
wiser. You are begging for time, Judge. But I tell you”--he stood up and
pounded the table--“you have stolen that money! You cannot pay it back.
It’s no use for you to deceive me by stories. Every dollar of property
you have in the world is mortgaged for every cent it is worth, and that
money and the money you have stolen from this town have gone--gone down
into that hole of speculation, to the side of which King Bradish led
with his devilish arts and promises. You’re ruined, Judge Willard,
you’re ruined--and God only knows how many other poor people you will
drag down with you in this town--people whose little capital is all in
your hands! I curse Bradish, first, for I believe if it hadn’t been for
him no Willard would have turned out of the straight path his ancestors
always followed. But I curse you, Judge Willard, for having allowed
yourself to be inveigled into dishonesty and the betrayal of the great
trust that has been placed in your hands. You have called me various
names in the past,” he went on, his eyes flashing and the passionate
anger of the Look temperament getting the better of his self-control; “I
simply want to say to you now that you”--he leaned forward, supporting
himself by his knuckles on the table--“are as miserable a thief as I
ever knew. For when you fall--a man trusted by all--you have taken away
Palermo’s strongest prop of good example from the poor, weak devils who
are trying to be honest in their poverty.”

For a long time the two men looked at each other, the Squire stern and
angry, the Judge writhing in his self-abasement.

Then the old man’s secret passed from his desperate clinch on it. He
trembled like a leaf, but there was a certain air of relief in his
confession and appeal.

“God help me, Squire,” he wailed. “No, God cannot help me. But you can.
I am in awful trouble, Squire Look--awful! But it mustn’t be exposed
now, it mustn’t. If I can only tide it over this town meeting I can work
out of it. We got caught on the wrong side, King and I. It happened that
way right along until I knew it was wrong for us to work at arm’s
length from the market. But now that King is up there where he can study
things, we’re coming out all right. We can’t help coming out all right.
I have sat up night after night for weeks, Squire, and figured. I
haven’t slept for weeks and weeks. I have raked and scraped together
all I could and now we are going to win. King has it in his hands.
It’s going to win, I tell you! Only help me to tide it over this town
meeting, Squire. It was a mistake going into it. I realise it now. But
I had to stay in. I was tied up with King. But this time we are going
to win. We can’t help winning. Here’s King’s letter explaining the last
deal.”

He tore at the breast of his frock coat and pulled out a crumpled
envelope.

“Oh, it’s got to come out right now,” the old man mumbled on
appealingly. “I have sat up nights at my desk till my eyes were almost
burned out, planning and figuring. Here’s the letter, Squire. I’m going
to be honest with you at last. You can help me. You’ve got to help me!”

His trembling fingers pulled the letter from the envelope, but the
lawyer motioned it back.

“Excuse me, Judge,” he said, “but I don’t want to touch it. I’d rather
take hold of an adder from Watson’s bog. There’s less poison in the
adder. He has poisoned you through and through, Judge. I know more of
King Bradish in New York than you do. I----”

“It’s your brother that has come back and lied about him!” cried the old
man with reviving passion. “It’s all lies! Lies!”

“I say that I know about King Bradish,” pursued the lawyer with the
calm, dispassionate tone of utter conviction. “He has become a rake, a
spendthrift and a drunkard. He was all three when he lived here, but
he hid his passions. He ran away because he had stolen from you and was
afraid to face your ruin. He has thrown away the money you have sent
to him. You have nothing to hope from him, Judge. If I am cruel I am
at least honest, for now is the time for honesty. You are in an awful
position. Glossing over the situation cannot help you.”

He looked with pity into the gray face of the village magnate, for
he never saw anguish drawn in more agonising lines on the human
countenance. Then the face puckered with the sudden emotion of an old
man, wearied, driven to his last ditch and become a child again. He wept
weakly, and the lawyer sat back in his chair and watched him without a
word, his brows knitted in thought.

At last the old man rose and gathered his shawl about his neck. With a
pitiful attempt he had regained some of the old-time dignity.

“I had no right to come to you, Mr. Look,” he said. “I didn’t realise
how the interview would come out. I hoped that you would control your
brother, that’s all, and give me one chance to save myself from State’s
prison. I can understand perfectly why you should not be willing to
help. I don’t blame you. Probably I should do the same under similar
circumstances. It’s only human nature. Excuse me for giving way, but--it
was pretty sudden for an old man.” His lips quivered.

The Squire overtook him at the door and led him back to his chair
gently, but with a quiet decision that the Judge did not attempt to
resist. Then the lawyer leaned against one corner of the table and
looked down on the man before him.

“It’s bad, Judge Willard! It’s bad,” he said earnestly. “Both of us have
passed our opinions of each other in the past, and it didn’t do either
of us any good. Neither of us will now make any false pretences of
friendship or forgiveness. We’ll leave affairs between us just as they
stand. I am going to own up to you that in an investigation of the
town’s affairs I shall show up badly myself, for I have been knowing to
irregularities for some months and I have no explanation to offer why
I did not report and interfere. It is for my interest, therefore, to
attempt to arrange this matter. It is for the interest of Palermo in
general to arrange it if we can. Your family has been our model of
integrity for a long time. To say nothing of money loss, the showing
up of this terrible thing will have an effect on morals and business
confidence that our poor little town will not recover from in years. It
is on my own and the people’s account that I am willing to say this to
you--and that is: If it is within the power of one man to do it, I will
try to avert this calamity from this town. I cannot tell you just how,
for I do not know myself. I haven’t had time to think about it. It is
too painful to talk about any longer now. Go home and put your
affairs into such shape that I may determine your obligations and your
resources.”

The Judge weakly stammered promises, explanations and appeal, and would
have stayed, but the lawyer, with some impatience, helped him to tuck
his shawl about his neck, handed him his cane and opened the outside
door.

But he stopped him on the threshold.

“If I hear that you have sent one more dollar to Bradish or have had
truck or dealing of any sort with him after this talk of ours, I’ll have
no more to do with the affair. I’m not much of a man to threaten, but
that’s something you can depend upon.”

The lawyer stood at his side window and watched the old man buffeting
his way up the street, the corners of his shawl streaming on the wind,
his slender legs quivering like reeds.

“I’d hate to be cross-examined on a witness stand as to why I made such
a promise to him,” he muttered, and then he put another stick into the
stove, spatted his hands, gave the old dog an affectionate cuff, and
went back to his work.



CHAPTER XIX--SQUIRE PHIN SEES AND REPLEVINS WHAT BELONGS TO HIM

IN MANNER DECIDEDLY SUMMARY


               Then twice and thrice the youth’s parched lips

                   Strive hard to frame the longed-for word;

               And twice and thrice he tries again,

                   Yet not a single sound is heard.

               There’s just an upward flash of eyes

                   Like starlight in a forest pool;

               She may have said, “Take heart, dear one!”

                   She may have said, “Go on, thou fool!”

                        --The “Quaker Wooing.”


Some of the older voters in Palermo relate that once a constable obeyed
the injunction to post a caucus call “in a public place” by sticking the
paper on the wall under the roller towel in Asa Brickett’s store. It
is further related that no one heard of that caucus until it was over,
except the few chosen ones let into the secret.

But the warrant for the annual town meeting in Palermo that March, done
in the best roundhand of the second selectman, one copy tacked onto
the townhouse door, another copy pasted up in the post-office, another
nailed to the round centre post in Brickett’s store, received the
careful attention of every voter.

Each sheet was banded by several broad smooches that distinguished the
articles in the warrant to which especial public interest attached. Each
voter, as he read these, carefully ran his finger along the lines across
the paper, so as not to miss a word, for it was understood that the
new faction in town politics, captained by Hiram Look, had obtained the
insertion of those articles.

One was, “To see if the town will vote a sum of money for the support of
the ‘Look Cornet Brass Band,’ or act anything thereto.”

Popular interest in this measure was shown by a fair amount of
discoloration on the paper.

A deeper tint attached to Article 15: “To see if the town will vote to
pay its floating indebtedness, statement of complete amount of same to
be furnished the voters from his books by the town treasurer prior to
the call for the ballot.”

Article 16 was banded darkest of any. It was: “To see if the town
will vote to oblige its treasurer to secure bonds acceptable to the
selectmen.”

The people discussed these articles freely, but only as evidence that
Hiram Look was still busy at the working out of the old grudge against
the Willard family. No hint that irregularities existed in Judge
Willard’s accounts had been breathed.

First of all, he had borrowed shrewdly from such men as Sumner Badger,
who clung to their little money secrets desperately, secure in their
faith in a Willard.

Squire Phin Look was silent with the silence of a man who walks beneath
an avalanche poised for its plunge, and realises all the danger.

The tempestuous Hiram, with teeth set close and growling under his
breath since his return from New York, was silent from motives ingrained
in his showman’s temperament. The fall of Palermo’s tower of financial
strength was a sensation that he was planning with as full an eye to the
dramatic as he would have planned a slide for life from the peak of the
round-top.

“Blast him,” he muttered to Simon over and over in the moments when he
“had to talk to some one or bust,” as he expressed it, “he has always
put the twisters on our fam’ly before the face and eyes of the people.
It’s there I’ll take him, then! I wouldn’t even joggle him now. I want
him just as high on the pedestal as he can be. Not a whisper, or I’ll
murder you. I want him high, I tell ye! And with these two hands I’ll
push him off whilst they are all lookin’ at him. And he’ll fall a
thousand miles a minute and he’ll light in a cloud of splinters that
will make the sky dark. And then I’ll jump on him and crow three times
and a tiger, whilst the band plays ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’”

During these harangues Peak wriggled his toes in his carpet slippers and
blinked appreciatively, but without venturing a word.

“God!” blurted Hiram, spanking his hands upon his knees, “I’m givin’ him
a taste of the ling’rin’ agony he gave my poor old father till he run
him under ground. I’ve let him know just enough, Sime, to realise
that I’ve got the hooks fast into him. Now let him squirm! There ain’t
nothin’ that ties human natur’ into knots like bein’ sentenced and
knowin’ the day set for the hangin’. Old Coll Willard knows it’s for
town-meetin’ day, and that I’ve got the rope soaped for him. Let him
squirm! He’s a-writin’ two letters a day to that drunk in New York and
firin’ along three telegrams daily, sweatin’ blood all the time. Let him
squirm! I wonder now if he can’t see in his dreams poor old Seth Look
beggin’ for a little leeway on the notes the old pirate had bought up
against our fam’ly. He’s been down on his knees to Phin already.”

Hiram rubbed his rough palms with satisfaction.

“Ain’t your brother li’ble to daub in, seein’ that him and you ain’t
gittin’ along the best ever was jest now?” inquired Peak.

“My brother is a fool in some directions, as I’m free to say both to him
and to inquirin’ friends,” reported Hiram. “But he’s a fool only about
so fur and then he stops. Don’t you set up nights worryin’ about that,
Sime. Phin has got a blister or two from the Willard fam’ly lately and
the swellin’ ain’t gone down yet.”

After freeing his mind on such occasions as this, Hiram lighted another
of his long cigars, hunched down in his chair, and perused figures in a
dog’s-eared notebook with intense satisfaction.

On the afternoon of the day before town meeting something that Squire
Phin had been vaguely dreading happened to him.

He was walking slowly home, avoiding the sidewalk pools that the chill
of late afternoon had crusted. His head was bowed, either in thought or
to watch his steps, and he did not see Sylvena Willard standing at the
gate until she spoke to him.

“Phineas, I would not have troubled you, but the matter is of the utmost
importance. I do not feel like discussing it by the roadside. Won’t you
step to the house?”

He glanced at her with a sort of timidity in his demeanour. Her face,
half shielded by the shawl caught lightly around her head, was very
grave. It seemed to him that her temple locks had more gray in them than
when he saw her last.

He hesitated only for a moment, then opened the iron gate and
accompanied her up the broad path to the porch. Neither spoke on the
way.

In the big, gloomy parlour, in the corners of which old-fashioned
chairs of dark wood seemed to lurk like uncouth animals in the afternoon
shadows, he sat gazing at her, still without speaking.

Her hands picked restlessly at the fringes of the shawl that she had
dropped across her lap.

Beyond the closed double doors that shut off the adjoining room there
sounded music faintly. It was the tinkly melody of an automatic
music box, but the Squire, having no very keen ear for tunes, did not
recognise what this one was playing, only vaguely realising that it was
something he had heard before, probably at a vestry meeting. It seemed
to have a hymn flavour.

“I don’t know enough about business to talk this matter over with you as
it should be discussed, Phin-eas,” she said at last. “I only know that
some dreadful trouble is killing my poor father. And I also know that
your brother is at the bottom of it. I have found out that he wants to
have father dismissed from office to-morrow. Father is old and childish,
Phineas. In the last few months he has grown much more so. He is
breaking down. I can see it, for I have a loving daughter’s eyes. I wish
he did not care for the office. It is only a little one, I know. But the
Willards have been treasurers of the town for many years, and he seems
to have set his heart on holding it. It is a small favour for an old man
to ask, Phineas, and you know that there is no honour that father thinks
as much of as he does an honour from his own people.”

She looked at him wistfully. Yet he missed the old-time frank and candid
friendship in her eyes.

Now it came to him suddenly that the tune on the music box in the other
room was, “Where is My Wandering Boy To-night?”

“It is King’s mother,” she said, noting his look at the closed door.
“She is very lonely nowadays and spends her afternoons with me. She
seems to enjoy listening to the little music box that the Sunday-school
gave to me. I hope it doesn’t disturb you. We have grown used to it here
in the house. As to the office that father----”

“I am only one of the voters in this town,” he said brusquely. The
kindly sympathy had suddenly gone out of his face. A curious feeling
of hostility entered his heart. The sudden angry thought came to him in
these surroundings, and with that element on the other side of the door,
“I’m only Seth Look’s boy, to be pitied, then used, then pitied some
more and tossed aside.”

“There is no one who exerts as much influence as you,” she persisted.
“But I don’t appeal to you to secure for my father an office to which he
is entitled by all fair play.” Her tone was proud now. “I only ask you
to restrain that wretched brother of yours, who apparently has come
back to this town simply and solely to make trouble. He is meddling in
affairs that do not concern him; he is stirring up strife and factions
in our town, and for the credit of Palermo and your family it is your
duty to put him where he belongs.”

The subdued clicking of a spring ratchet had sounded in the other room,
and now the music box started in again on “Where is My Wandering Boy
To-night?”

“Where he belongs, eh?” he said in a voice that he tried to make calm.
“And where would that be?”

“Well, somewhere so far away that we’d never again hear the bellow of
that elephant and the discord of that brass band,” she replied smartly,
for the suppressed sneer in his tone touched her.

“So it’s my wild beast brother who is responsible for all the troubles
of your father, and you want me to cage him and ship him out of town?”

He scowled at the door that shut off the music box and its persistent
operator.

“Night after night my poor old father sits there in his office alone,
white and sick and weak and----”

“I’ve seen a poor old father sit up nights, too,” he broke in, “and he
was sitting up fighting off mortgages and executions and bills of sale
let loose on him by _your_ father before he tucked himself away on his
bed of down. Don’t let us get to comparing fathers, Sylvena! It will not
be profitable.”

His tone was harsh and his eyes flashed.

“But it’s _my_ father,” she cried, “and I’ll fight for him. It’s well to
know who all our enemies are. I was shocked and disappointed, Phineas,
when you----”

“Not one word about that affair--not a word from you!” he commanded.
“You can tell me nothing that I don’t know and understand.”

She paused stammeringly, frightened by his heat. After a moment she rose
and pushed back her chair.

“If I am to class you with your brother,” she began, but he checked her
again by a furious exclamation. He stood up and threw upon his chair the
soft hat that he had been crumpling between his broad palms. The music
box kept on its monotonous tune.

“That’s enough about my brother--enough!” he cried. “You are bound to
have it that he is the man who has made your father sleepless and old,
and childish and haggard. You are facing Hime Look--the Look family, as
though it were your only enemy, when the wolf is behind you, Sylvena,
behind you!”

His voice was so intense that she cast a look over her shoulder
instinctively.

He came close to her, took her by both arms and held her so.

“You listen to me,” he said, with tone of the master. “I don’t know very
well how to make love. I never have known. I even was fool enough and
quixotic enough to think I’d let another man have you if that would make
you happy. But I know now that I wouldn’t. I know that you are mine.
I’m going to be so much of a braggart now--so conceited that you won’t
recognise me! I’m going to say to you that you have never loved any one
else but me, and you never will love any one else. But life has been
too easy for you, Sylvena, and your heart has never been stirred and
awakened like the hearts of some of us poor devils. You have followed
your one duty as you saw it. Others have filched from me, who deserved
it most, this bit of love, that bit of loyalty. Now I, Phineas Look,
stand forth here and demand my own. Understand me! I demand it. You are
mine, Sylvie Willard, because I love you better than myself. You are
mine because you love me. You are mine because you need my arm about you
in the bitterest hour of your life. That hour is now upon you. I’m going
to strike the blow, Sylvie, because it will make you mine.”

His voice trembled in sympathy for her. But he went on:

“It is not my brother who is keeping your father awake. It is King
Bradish, the rascal, the sneak, the drunken villain who has plunged him
into ruin. It has been weeks--yes, months--since you or your father, or
even his own mother, have received a word from him.”

He checked the expostulation that was on her lips. Her eyes were wide
and fixed on his. Her face worked pitifully.

“His mother has lied for him. You have lied for him, Sylvie, because
your father asked it of you. I know all about it. There are times when
a woman’s lie for a man is holy, but not in this case. I say to you that
King Bradish is a profligate drunkard, a thief--a worse than thief,
for he has dragged your father into dishonesty as well as ruin. There!
There’s the bitter blow. Bear it, Sylvie, bear it, for it will make a
truer, nobler woman of you.”

Her knees trembled so that he put his arm about her. The music box
started in once more on the same tune.

With a growl under his breath he placed the half fainting woman on her
chair, strode into the hall and entered the other room by a side door.
He seized the music box from the lap of the astonished and frightened
operator, slammed up a window and threw it as far as he could. Its
plaintive query ceased in a crash.

He found Sylvena on her knees beside the chair, clutching the rungs and
staring into vacancy. He knelt beside her and took her white face into
his strong hands.

“Little girl,” he said, “forgive all of my brutal ways. Forgive what I
just did. But perhaps it was that infernal tune that made me so cruel
with you and so blunt. I love you! I love you! I can’t say that with all
the pretty words that some men use, for I haven’t had practice, Sylvie.
Please put that much to my credit. But I love you. I cannot _say_ any
more---but I can _do!_”

His voice was firm and full of rugged encouragement.

“I have told you the bitter truth about your father. Honesty is best
between folks who are going to be married.” He spoke this with a tone of
conviction that brought her astonished gaze up to meet his. “You had to
know it. I have told you. You are a brave woman, and you can bear it.
You can bear it because from this moment I put my body, my strength, my
brains, my love, my eternal devotion between you and all those who
would be your enemies. Your battles are now my battles. My ways must
henceforth be your ways. I have told your father that I would help. Go
and talk with him, poor girl. The truth is bitter, but it’s time now to
be honest. Don’t say anything to me now. I have said enough for both.
And I am going away to do my best for you and yours, knowing that a good
and true woman will be ready some day to tell me that she loves me best
of all the world.”

He still held her face between his hands, and bent and kissed her on her
forehead and then on her lips. She attempted to say something, but he
gently kissed her once more to check her speech, then rose, took his hat
from the chair and went out of the house.

The old dog was waiting for him on the porch, and gave him an amiable
glance from appreciative eyes.

“It isn’t the sort of wooing that’s laid down in the books, Eli,”
 muttered the Squire; “but I reckon that when you’ve made up your mind
that a thing really belongs to you the best thing to do is to go right
ahead and replevin.”



CHAPTER XX--PALERMO’S “MARCH MEETIN’”

HOW IT WAS PLANNED TO BE RUN, AND HOW IT WAS RUN


                   When a hen is bound to set

                   Seems as if ’tain’t etiket

                   Dousin’ her in water till

                   She’s connected with a chill.

                   Seems as though ’twas skursely right

                   Givin’ her a dreadful fright,

                   Tyin’ rags around her tail,

                   Poundin’ on an old tin pail,

                   Chasin’ her around the yard--

                   Seems as though ’twas kind of hard

                   Bein’ kicked and ammed and shooed

                   ‘Cause she wants to raise a brood.

                        --Meditations by Bill Benson’s Boy.


Palermo’s town house is like a roofed dry goods box, its clapboards
unpainted and weather-beaten. It is perched on the gray ledges of
Cross Hill in the centre of the town in order to accommodate the three
villages, and here in lonely state, with no other building nearer than
half a mile, it faces a buffet from every gale and a drenching from
every storm. It is opened once each year--for the annual town meeting in
March.

Solomon Norton, who combined in his person the duties of Palermo’s
hearse driver, sexton and custodian of public buildings, struggled with
the rusty padlock on the outer door of the town house, and then stamped
in and sniffed at the musty atmosphere. The March sun was just rising,
and Solomon Norton was in good season.

“Canned terbacker smoke and left-over speeches,” he growled. “I donno
which smells wust.”

He forced up the warped windows and began to sweep with a stout broom.
The floor was thickly sprinkled with stale sawdust, in which were
flotsam of charred matches, cigar stubs and pipe dottles. The crumpled
ballots of last year’s election lay scattered everywhere. In a few
moments the March breezes were playing with the dust clouds that rolled
from open doors and windows.

The early vanguard of Palermo’s voters was even then on hand--a few men
grouped around horses of uncertain age, whose points and pedigrees they
were discussing with animation. The first “shift” of the day had already
been made, and a tall man with ginger-coloured whiskers was unbuckling
the harness from a stump-tailed bay horse. The man who had traded with
him was as briskly taking the harness from a rangy gray mare.

“Now honest, Lem,” whined the tall man over his shoulder, “what’s the
‘out’ with her? ’Tain’t fair if you don’t tell me, if it’s anything
dang’rous.”

The other man chuckled, and the tall man repeated his plaintive appeal.
But it was only after the transfer of harness had been completed that
the ex-owner of the gray mare replied:

“It’s understood there ain’t goin’ to be no backin’ outs?” he inquired,
after he had again poked a swelling on the stump-tailed horse’s leg and
noted with satisfaction that the animal did not wince. “I gen’-rally
believe in lettin’ t’other feller find the ‘outs’ for hisself.”

“I ain’t goin’ to cry-baby unless she’s a biter--and swappin’ biters
ain’t no fair,” protested the tall man.

“No danger of her bitin’ anything harder’n porridge with them teeth,”
 said the man called Lem, with great good humour. “I’d jest’s soon tell
ye. She’s high pressur’.”

“Wind’s broke, hey?”

“’Ep!”

“Bad?” The tall man eyed the gray mare with interest.

“Wa-a-al,” drawled the other, buckling the ends of his reins and
preparing to climb into his waggon, “she ain’t blowed out ary cylinder
head yit, but she sartinly does whistle loud enough so’t your wife can
git supper ready on to the table after she begins to hear ye comin’.”

The bystanders laughed, and Lem climbed into his waggon in still greater
good humour. He turned a beaming face on the new owner of the gray mare.

The aforesaid owner of the gray mare was not a whit disconcerted. He
pulled a bit of strap iron from his pocket and pinched it over the
mare’s nostrils.

“There’s some ‘outs’ that’s wusser’n whistlin’,” he said mysteriously
as he adjusted the strap iron. “You might as well git your laugh in now,
Lem. There’s nothin’ like gittin’ in a laugh at one end or t’other of a
trade.”

Most of Lem’s gayety left him, and he looked at the stump-tailed horse
with some anxiety.

“Now look-a-here, Ben,” said he, “I don’t want no circus animile tucked
off onto me to-day, for I’ve took a contract from Hime Look to haul some
of the old lamed-up codgers to town meetin’.”

“You didn’t say nothin’ to me about your contracts,” replied the tall
man, clawing a freckled hand through his beard. “All I got to say is,
lamed-up old codgers better crawl here on their hands and knees instead
of ride with you. Now, you know there ain’t goin’ to be no backin’ outs
on this trade,” he expostulated as he saw a dubious look come on Lem’s
face.

“Who said there was goin’ to be?” retorted the other. He started to lay
the reins down across the dasher with the evident intent of getting out
to investigate his purchase a little closer, when the horse, who had
been peering around at him from the corner of a bloodshot eye, performed
a sudden and surprising action. He whirled his stump of a tail as though
it worked on a pivot, clutched the reins under it, and started with a
jump that lifted both fore wheels of the waggon off the ground.

The man tugged desperately at the reins, his feet against the dasher,
but the “webbin’s” remained fixed under the tail, and the horse kept on
down the muddy road with speed undiminished. When the outfit went out of
sight around a turn the man was down on his knees tugging at the stump
and shouting “Whoa!”

“I reckon,” said the possessor of the gray mare, twirling a strand of
his ginger-coloured beard into a spill and reflectively tickling his
nose, “that Lem has got holt of a pa’snip there that he won’t pull up in
no great hurry. That’s a hoss,” he continued, turning to the bystanders,
who had watched the runaway with astonished silence, “that I got
plastered on to me about three weeks ago and then found out that I’d
got holt of that Iron Tail Ike, as they call him. He’s give more folks a
h’ist than any other hoss in this county.”

“What will happen to Lem?” inquired one of the men.

“It all depends on how high he flies and what he strikes on when he
comes down,” calmly answered the tall man.

“Hoss swappin’ is hoss swappin’, of course,” said another in the group;
“but this sellin’ folks blastin’ powder with red hair on it ain’t very
neighbourly, as I look at it.”

“Any man that grins at me ’cause he thinks he’s got me stuck and sells
himself out to haul voters for that Hiram Look can nat’rally expect
to have somethin’ comin’ to him and can’t blame nobody if it comes,”
 replied the callous tall man. “I’m goin’ to haul men that will vote for
law and order in this town and for them that’s allus led us as citerzens
ought to be led--and that’s with pride and dignity. This slambangin’
style and tryin’ to throw down good men ain’t my notion, and I’m goin’
out to hunt up folks that think my way.”

He hopped over the wheel, tucked his long legs under the waggon seat,
and drove away, the gray mare wheezing past the restraining strap iron.

A man who had been standing in the lee of the town house trying to light
his pipe came away coughing and strangling.

“A chap that runs a threshing machine, like I do, can stand a fair
amount of dust,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes; “but I got
a couple of whiffs from the tail-end of ‘Wolf’ Doughty’s last year’s
speech as it come out o’ that winder there, and I’ll be blamed if it
didn’t almost put me out of bus’ness.” The men in the little crowd
grinned at him.

“I’m hearin’ that it will be a hotter one that ‘Wolf’ makes this year,”
 said one of the men. “He’s got most of the Dunham deestrick crowd lined
up ag’inst Squire Phin’s clique this year.”

“Hime let him have four hundred on a second mo’gidge,” said another.
“You hold a silver dollar in front of ‘Wolf’ and he can’t see over nor
around it.”

“Oh, it goes furder back this time,” returned the first speaker. “The
Dunham deestrickers ain’t ever forgive the Squire for yankin’ the
Haskell girl away from ’em just when they was gittin’ ready to make
a meal off her. It’s lucky the women-folks out that way can’t vote. I
reckon they’d swing town meetin’ ag’inst him.”

“It’s li’ble to be swung, as ’tis,” rejoined another man. “I tell
ye Hime Look is cuttin’ a bigger swath in this town nowadays than most
folks realise. It’s money that talks, and he’s been puttin’ out a lot of
it one way and another.”

“It’s a fact, ain’t it, that him and the Squire don’t hitch at all?”
 queried a bystander as he crooked his leg to light a match.

“Wa-a-al,” drawled another voter humorously, “Hime ain’t tried to black
the Squire’s eye yit, the same as he has most others in town, but I
shouldn’t be a dummed bit surprised if it come to that unless they stop
brustlin’ up at each other.”

“Hime wants to look out for his buttons,” observed the man who had
lighted his pipe. “’Cordin’ to stories that have passed ’round town
since King Bradish went away the shoulder hitters ain’t confined to one
branch of the Look fam’ly.”

Solomon Norton came out and got a huge basket of clean sawdust from the
tail of his waggon.

“Put on plenty this year, Sol,” called one of the men. “It’ll be needed
to sop up the blood.”

The soil of the town-house yard, soggy from the March rains, began to
thaw as the sun grew higher and warmer. In increasing numbers waggons
gullied and rutted it. Mud dripped from the wheels and was splattered
on the backs of the voters. Men arrived in pairs or in fours, in narrow
buggies or in double-seated waggons, whose bodies bumped upon the axles
as the wheels slumped into the highway honey-pots. The seiners from the
Cove road, whose horses were their dories, clubbed together and came
in hay-racks. To the front rail of one of these a joker had fastened
a sprit-sail, and the lead horse had a pennant floating from a little
staff set into his bridle.

Before nine o’clock the yard was well filled with men, most of them
assembled in knots that constantly changed personnel as voters trudged
through the sticky ooze from one to the other, shouting jovial greetings
or mumbling certain confidences in undertone. The town clerk, the
selectmen and a constable or two had gone into the town house, trailing
mud upon Solomon Norton’s fresh sawdust; but the main body of the voters
remained outside. The assemblage wore a general air of expectancy.

But the citizens of Palermo were certainly not expecting one spectacle
that day.

When the Willard family carriage scraped its muddy wheels against the
platform in front of the town house Squire Phineas Look was the first to
lift the flap and step out. He gave his hand to Judge Collamore
Willard, whose thin leg trembled as he put out his foot to grope for the
platform.

The space before the door was thronged with men, and the Squire, who
held the old town treasurer’s arm, waited for them to open a passage.

There was a certain grave dignity on the Squire’s face that morning that
the men of Palermo had not been accustomed to see there before. Their
old, free-and-easy greeting seemed out of place now. It was not because
they were astonished at beholding him in company with Judge Willard.
Nor was it the presence of the Judge that restrained them. Somehow, Phin
Look was different, and they instinctively realised it. His isolation
during the past few months while he had been engrossed in his work, the
knowledge that the outside world had begun to give him honour and money,
accounted for a part of the respect that Squire Phin suddenly detected
in the eyes of his townsmen, but there was something in his bearing more
potent still--the intangible aura of the man who had suddenly come to
full knowledge of himself and his abilities.

That intangible something had been in his face, in the poise of his
body, in the straightening of his shoulders and the lift of his chin
ever since he had walked out of the parlour of the Willard house. It is
not surprising that the assembled voters of Palermo did not understand
it, because Squire Phin did not wholly understand it himself. He passed
among them with quiet greetings that made those upon whom they fell
grow warm with pleasure and pride. Selfaggrandisement can bestow no
such favours. The people of Palermo, unconsciously almost, had suddenly
elevated their best citizen to the height his merit but not his modesty
claimed. And through that subtle attribute that attaches to such
elevations they were correspondingly proud of him.

The voters closed in behind the two and followed them into the town
house, mumbling surmises to account for this astonishing situation.

“Politics makes strange bedfellers, so they say,” observed Deacon
Burgess, squinting at the Squire and the feeble old man whom he was
leading, “but if them two there don’t have nightmares and git to kickin’
each other it will be somethin’ to be talked about in words that ain’t
laid down in the dictionary.”

But the surge into the town house was promptly succeeded by a rush for
outdoors. The bellow of band music summoned them.

Fully appreciating what the dramatic stood for, Hiram Look had timed
his arrival carefully. He wanted all the voters to witness it. His eight
horses drew the band chariot, whose gilt and glass were resplendent,
even through the mud-streakings. The showman drove, perched upon the
high seat, his new silk hat flashing in the March sun. But the hat was
dwarfed on that occasion.

Simon Peak sat beside him, and for the first time since Palermo had
known him Simon Peak was really erect. It was his initial appearance as
drum-major of the “Look Cornet Brass Band.” His trousers were white,
his coat was crimson, with huge yellow shoulder knots, and an absolutely
gigantic bearskin shako towered from his head. When the big waggon swung
into the town-house yard the voters got a peep at the new uniforms of
the bandmen and, inspired by the gorgeous spectacle and by the lively
music, broke into a cheer.

Hiram’s grim features relaxed. He wheeled his horses skilfully and
brought the big cart to a standstill opposite the crowded platform,
twisted the reins about the brake bar, arose and removed his hat.

The ruling passion of the mob is the same in Palermo as it is in the
metropolis.

“Speech!” yelled the crowd enthusiastically above the blare of the
instruments.

“It ain’t no time, gents, for speeches now and here,” said Hiram Look
in the first silence. “I only want to present to you, the voters of the
town of Palermo, your new brass band, with the tallest drum-major in
New England, if not in the whole world. It’s a band that no one can be
ashamed of. It has taken enterprise and hard work to _get_ it to goin’.
It needs a boost from the voters of this town to _keep_ it goin’. A word
to the wise is sufficient. This ain’t no time for speeches, as I’ve just
said, but I want to ask you, one and all, to show me and this band here
to-day that you appreciate it when a man comes into the place and lets
out a few reefs and tries to get the grand old town of Palermo sailin’
on a new tack.”

It was the younger men who cheered now, as they had cheered before.
The older voters, from natural gravity and other reasons of a personal
nature, were silent. Many of them went back into the town house
grumbling about “hitchin’ circus fol-de-rols on to a bus’ness town
meetin’.”

This faction, which was a very considerable one, glared when the band
marched in behind its Gargantuan major and set the windows to rattling
with one of its liveliest airs. In the close, low-ceiled room the uproar
of the instruments and the clamour of the drums made hideous din of the
music.

“I’ll be deefer’n a haddock if this keeps up,” growled Uncle Lysimachus
Buck to Marriner Amazeen. “There don’t seem to be no law and order to
nothin’ in this town nowadays. It strikes me it’s about time for P’lermo
to set down on Hime Look, and set down so hard that he won’t get the
creases out of him for awhile.”

The town clerk, a thin, hump-shouldered little man, stood beside a
rickety table on the platform, his huge cane poised ready to pound for
order, and waiting with manifest impatience for the band to finish. He
began to whack the table the moment the echoes of the music died away,
and while the voters were shuffling to their places on the settees read
the warrant for the meeting in a shrill voice.

Hiram Look had planned to win the first move that day and elect a
moderator from his own faction. The keynote of his canvass had been
“Give some one else a show!” His whole campaign had been an attempt to
stir factional feeling in town.

“It’s a mighty dead-and-alive place that let’s one clique run it year
after year and lead you all by the nose,” he had stormily argued. “You
might’s well have an emp’ror for life and be done with it.”

He had promptly won the element that is always jealous of those in
authority, almost as promptly enrolled the unstable element that is
ready to follow new gods when a band leads the procession, and after
a little effort had succeeded in convincing many voters, who had never
stopped to think of the matter before, that they were being cheated of
their rights of representation in town affairs. He had talked to them
until they were bitter with his own bitterness. But he did not let drop
one word of the sensation that he planned to precipitate.

The moment the clerk stopped reading “Wolf” Doughty was on his feet with
a fiery harangue that wound up in denunciation of the men who had bossed
the town so long. He declared that it was time for a new deal, and
nominated Deacon Burgess as moderator. The band attempted to play when
he finished, but the little clerk rapped it into silence, though he
split his table in doing so. The name of Deacon Burgess was uproariously
seconded by Hiram’s claque.

But Squire Phin had been prepared for just such an outbreak. He arose
and said that he would assume that Mr. Doughty’s remarks had reference
to him, who had served the town as moderator for so many years. He
reminded the voters that he had acted in the capacity because he had
annually been requested to preside by the unanimous voice of the voters.
He had always felt that others should share in this honour, he said, and
this year he should do what he had before intended to do--refuse the use
of his name.

There was so much of gentle rebuke in his tone, and in his air such
quiet dignity, that Doughty’s flaming speech became a piece of insolence
that the voters were manifestly anxious to repudiate.

At this psychological moment, foreseen by the Squire’s sagacity, one of
his lieutenants nominated the teacher of the high school at the upper
village, and the natural, sudden impulse of the meeting did the rest.

Deacon Burgess was snowed under.

Hiram Look, in the midst of his adherents, fully understood all the
guile under this apparently innocent manoeuvre, and twisted his trailing
moustache and glared at his brother with malice.

In a similar manner the rest of Hiram’s slate was broken. He had trained
his speakers to go against the opposition with all the force of their
lungs and their invective. But the opposition didn’t appear to be there.
It was like fighting the summer breeze with a park of artillery. The old
office-holders were no longer candidates. New ones appeared, introduced
in calm, earnest speeches--men against whom no word could be said. Under
such circumstances the assaults by Hiram’s cabal began to sound like
bombastic nonsense, and there was too much Yankee hard-headedness in
that town meeting to listen patiently.

Violent sentiments were greeted with laughter, and the men who persisted
in attacking the old régime were hooted down.

While the tellers were counting votes for the third selectman Hiram
signalled his band to play up. But the moderator ordered silence and
sent two constables to enforce his commands.

Hiram, endeavouring to shout remonstrance, was threatened with expulsion
from the hall. He had lost his grip on the situation.

His supporters had not deserted him, by any means, but they were too
confused to act in concert. The new men were better men than their own
candidates. They were nominated with a certain spontaneity that disarmed
the opposition. Each time the polling was in progress Hiram stood on
a settee waving handfuls of ballots and shouting the name of his
candidate. But many voters who accepted slips from him secretly dropped
them upon the sawdust floor at a word whispered to them as they filed
along toward the ballot box.

It was not until the meeting reached the election of a town treasurer
that the opposition saw its real opportunity.

The Squire, who had made no nominating speech up to this time, secured
recognition from the moderator before Hiram’s lieutenant could struggle
to his feet, even though the showman had reached over two settees and
thrust a broad hand against his back.

The lawyer walked to the little space before the platform and stood
there, his hands behind him, his expression amiable, yet with something
of that new determination in it that Palermo had just begun to note.

“The hankering for new brooms is a natural and proper one,
fellow-townsmen,” he said, “and I am glad that Palermo has shown so
much good sense here to-day. We have chosen an admirable board of town
officers up to this time, and I am sure that those still to be elected
will be just as good and true men. You are now to choose a treasurer for
the town. We have plenty of good material for other officers, but I
want to say to you earnestly I am convinced that we have only one man in
Palermo who by training and ability is suited to be our treasurer.

“It is an office that requires tact and good judgment, even though the
sums that pass through the hands of our treasurer are not large.
These qualifications are possessed in abundant measure by the present
incumbent of the office. But there is a personal reason why we should
reelect Judge Willard, and in a little town like ours--a neighbourhood,
you may call it, almost--a personal reason of this nature should
sway us. Judge Willard’s father and grandfather before him were town
treasurers. The office has become associated with the family name. It
will be recalled by you that no Willard has ever charged the town one
cent for his services. It is one of those peculiar cases where the
rule of rotation in office is overweighed by sentiment. I’ll confess
to having sentiment myself about this matter. I’d as soon be a party
to cutting down our big elm where Lafayette sat in the shade while his
dinner was being cooked at the old tavern.”

His face grew grave.

“I hardly think I need to state to the voters here to-day that the very
fact of my standing forth to make this plea for Judge Willard indicates
how necessary I think it is to put aside my personal feelings for the
sake of the town.”

The expression on the faces of the listeners showed that they fully
understood his allusion. It required no very close observation to see
that Phineas Look, appealing for his old enemy, had won the majority of
his townsmen to his side.

“I had heard that certain persons were planning to make a cowardly
attack on him here to-day, and I did not propose to have my attitude
toward him misunderstood, townsmen.”

The Squire shouted this.

“In Judge Willard’s presence I apologise for my frankness, but I say to
you that he is an old man, to whom certain small things--small honours,
if you care to say it--have much significance. I don’t believe the
voters of this town will venture to wound an old man by any lack of
generosity here to-day. I don’t believe they will listen to attacks made
on him to satisfy selfish spite. I ask you, therefore, to treat this
aged citizen with the consideration that is due to him. I ask you to
nominate him by acclamation.”

He put both of his hands out to them, palms up, and smiled upon them
with appeal in his eyes.

“That’s the way I feel about the town treasurer-ship, neighbours, and if
the most of you don’t feel that way, too, I shall be disappointed. Will
you not make it by acclamation?”

So accustomed were his townsmen to see the Squire at the head of their
meetings that there was a chorus of “Ayes!” A half dozen men popped up
and seconded his proposal. Squire Phin did not attempt to speak above
this clamour, but smilingly motioned toward the moderator and took his
seat beside Judge Willard.

The aged treasurer, during the time that the lawyer was speaking, sat
twisting his thin hands under his shawl. His head swayed from side to
side with a tremulousness that no one had observed in him before. His
eyes were fixed appealingly on the face of his sponsor.

“You set down!” roared a voice. The voters turned and beheld Hiram
shaking his fist at the man who was striving to present the name of the
opposition candidate. “Set down, I tell ye! I’ll ’tend to the rest of
this thing myself and do it right.”

“Question! Question!” shouted many voices.

But the showman was not to be choked off. He leaped upon a settee and
roared, vibrating his fists above his head, until by dint of bellowing
he had driven the others into silence.

“I’m a voter in this town, and I don’t propose to have bus’ness rammed
through without discussion. I know how some of you feel toward me. You
think that ev’rything I try to do I’m doin’ just to make trouble. You
give me the big end to h’ist ev’ry time. But I’m good for it!”

He brandished his long arms above their heads.

Again the voices broke out into cries of “Question! We want to vote!”

“Vote! Vote!” he screamed, unable to control his passion. He had
intended to lead up to his sensation more skilfully. In his rage he now
fired it at them like a bombshell.

“Vote for what? For a thief to be your town treasurer? For a man that
has stolen forty thousand dollars from this town? That’s what you’re
votin’ for. I can prove what I say. Now do you want to vote?”

He leaned far over, propping himself on the shoulders of the man in
front of him, and gave them look for look. His sound eye blazed.

He thrust out his arm and shook his long finger at the cowering Judge.

“Ask him how many town notes are out with his name on ’em!” he yelled.
“Ask him--your honest old town treasurer, who has skun you as he would
skin a woodchuck, who has cheated, has stolen------”

But now fifty men were on their feet howling threats and epithets at
him.

“What shall I do?” screamed the moderator, leaning from the platform
and appealing to the Squire.

“Tell the band to play! Pass the word. Tell the band to play,” the
lawyer replied. And the band, not understanding in that din of voices
from whom the order had emanated, struck into one of its most clamorous
selections, and kept on doggedly despite the hoarse objurgations of
Hiram. He finally stood up and wiped his dripping face and let them go
on. But he swore under his breath with the vigour of a captain whose own
guns had been trained on him.

While he stood there, high on the settee, waiting for the band to play
through to the end, Hiram singled out several men in the crowd with his
eye, and promptly on the heels of the last blare he shouted:

“Sumner Badger--you, there, Sum Badger! You, Ezra Mayo! You, Nelson
Clark! You are hidin’ town notes with Collamore Willard’s name on ’em.
You can’t stand up here in town meetin’ and say that you aren’t. This
town thinks it only owes two thousand. Ask those men, you voters!
They’ve let Collamore Willard have fifteen thousand between ’em. Ask
’em!”

He waited, and the assemblage turned amazed and inquiring gaze on the
men.

Badger stood up first.

“I’m free to say, and I’ll swear it on a stack of Bibles, that there
ain’t a cent owin’ me from this town.”

“You’re an old liar,” yelled Hiram.

“I’ll bet you five thousand dollars, even money, and put it into the
hands of any one you say?” Badger shrieked excitedly. “And there’s a
taste of your own med’cine that you’ve been so willin’ to ladle out to
the rest of us. Put up or shet up!”

This sturdy retort caught Hiram napping, and his open mouth and the
confusion on his face showed it.

The other men whom he had called upon leaped up and made similar
overtures of wagers.

The crowd began to laugh boisterously.

For the first few moments the voters had wavered between shocked
astonishment and anger. But the town understood so well the showman’s
extravagances of speech and actions that on second thought this last
performance seemed only another of his prodigious bluffs. Now to behold
him badgered in the same fashion in which he had badgered Palermo, and
backing away from the bets, was too much for their risibilities. The
more they laughed the more utter became his confusion. The whole thing
had turned out so differently from what he expected.

“I’ll bet ye five thousand to two,” shrilled Badger, excited by his
success and by the applause. “And I’ll stump ye to bet! I’ll stump ye!”

The mirth broke out again, for Hiram pulled out his handkerchief and
scrubbed it over his reddening face.

“This has gone far enough, townsmen!” called the Squire. “It isn’t
seemly to conduct town affairs in this manner.”

He had mounted the platform, and his firm tones quieted them.

“It isn’t seemly, either, for an irresponsible person to lose his head
and make accusations that he cannot back up. It is a deplorable thing
that has just happened here, townsmen.”

They all became grave with his gravity.

“No personal feelings of my own shall check me from saying that a man
who stands up in a public place and perpetrates criminal libel deserves
the severest punishment that the law has for such a crime. But under the
circumstances I ask from you this one bit of forbearance: It is that
you will forget what this person has said here and allow him to go, on
condition that he will not repeat his offence, here or elsewhere. If
he does--” the Squire’s face grew hard and stern--“I will prosecute him
myself, brother though he be of mine.”

For a moment there was utter silence, and then, with callused palms and
thudding boots, the voters roared their applause.

Hiram strode off the settee and into the centre aisle, and was about to
speak, his face black with rage.

“Not another word, sir,” the Squire shouted. “Not one word, or I’ll
withdraw my protection.”

But Hiram whirled at the door on his way out, unable to repress the
furious indignation that surged to his lips. He began to understand
the manner in which he had been cheated out of his vengeance. His anger
shifted from the voters, who had so blindly followed, to the man who had
led them--and that man was his brother.

“I’ll bet ye ten thousand dollars to one that I know who lifted the lid
that let the old rat out of his trap,” he shouted. His eye flamed redly
on Phineas. “It took ready money to do it. It was your money, Phin Look!
Some of it was money that I earnt! Our old father turned in his grave
this day. I stand here before the whole of you and tell you, Phin Look,
that you are a----”

“Constables, put that man out of this meeting!” commanded the Squire in
stentorian tones, and three brawny men who had followed Hiram down the
aisle and appeared to be awaiting just such an order hustled the showman
out of doors with much alacrity.

Simon Peak marshalled the band behind him, and in a little while the big
waggon went rumbling out of the yard.

But the band did not play.

Later in the day, when this business was reached, the articles in the
warrant relating to the “Look Cornet Brass Band” and the investigation
of the accounts of the town treasurer, as well as the article requiring
bondsmen for the same, were killed by a hilarious viva voce vote.

On their homeward way, after a long pause, Squire Look said:

“Judge Willard, you have been able to see some of the visible results to
me for my share in helping you compound your felony. You are man enough
to understand what it means to go through a public scene like that with
a brother, who was right, even if he was misguided. I am ashamed to meet
him; I am almost ashamed to look my townsmen in the eye.”

“But you agreed that it would have been worse the other way,” quavered
the old man.

“There are people who talk of the right path,” broke out the lawyer
impatiently, “as though it were like this village road branching
from the four corners here; that all you need to do is to look at the
guide-board and go on. I may have got tangled up at that four corners
where you and I met the other day, Judge Willard, but I want to tell you
that I see a mighty straight road ahead of me now.”

He clutched the old man’s arm and spoke low so that the driver on the
other side of the leather flap might not hear.

“You have got to liquidate, Judge. You have got to put every cent
of property you have in the world into my hands in order that I may
untangle it. You may be town treasurer in name, but not one dollar of
the funds shall you handle. The widows and the orphans and the old folks
in this town must be paid to the last farthing. You are going out of
business---do you understand? You will resign the town treasurership
when I tell you to--and that will be when your books can be safely
turned over to some one else. You need not worry about exposure, for
the men who were paid and surrendered their town notes to me have their
tongues tied fast and solid by methods that I understand how to work.
Now for your own tongue! If you breathe one word to your daughter that I
supplied the money to square this thing, or that you owe me a cent,
I’ll drop you and your affairs as I’d drop a hot plate on to a brick
sidewalk. And you know what will happen then!” A moment later the Squire
checked the old man’s mingled promises and thanks with an impatient word
and sank back into a corner of the carriage. His ponderings could not
have been very satisfying, for he scowled and growled.



CHAPTER XXI--WHY HIRAM LOOK WENT OUT OF THE CIRCUS BUSINESS

FOR GOOD AND ALL


          Now study the ways of the world, my son; oh, study the ways of life!

          It’s the hustling chap that gets the cash or the girl he wants for his
wife;

          It’s the fellow that spots the place to grab, as Chance goes swinging
by,

          Who gets his dab in the juiciest place and the biggest plum in the
pie.

                   --Philosophy of S. Peak.


It was almost the first of the warming days of April. Muddy little
brooks ran beside the highway, robins bounced along the turf, the waves
in the Cove sparkled in the mellow sunshine, and the silver poplars in
the Look dooryard bristled with catkins as long as one’s finger. One of
them dropped lightly upon the knee of the abstracted Hiram Look, sitting
in his chair on the porch, and he jumped and cuffed it, thinking it was
a green worm.

“First spring I’ve seen them things for a good many years,” he growled,
squinting up into the branches. “For that matter, it’s the first spring
I’ve seen a good many things,” he added bitterly. He slouched down in
his chair, his hat-brim low over his eyes, smoked his long cigar and
watched the approach of Simon Peak, who was picking his way up the muddy
road.

“There’s thirty-seven of ’em to-day, Hime,” said Simon, tossing a
packet of letters into the showman’s lap. “Some of ’em’s fat, and
there ought to be con-sid’able good readin’ for us.” He licked his lips
expectantly.

Hiram joggled down the contents of an envelope and nipped off the edge
with broad nails. He passed the contents over to Peak, who fixed his
spectacles on his nose and promptly began to read aloud, his general air
showing that this was a regular daily programme.

****

“‘Look & Peak--Gents: Seeing your ad. respecting show you are going to
start out with in near future, I would like side-show privilege for my
wife, who is the celebrated Fat Emma, with beard two feet long. She----

“Nothing to it!” growled Hiram, breaking in with disgust. “Tear it up.”

“But there’s some kind of funny stuff about her here,” appealed Simon,
running his eye down the page. “It makes good readin’.”

“Frame it, then, if you want to,” retorted the showman gruffly. “I don’t
want to listen to no such sculch.” He was nipping at the edge of another
envelope.

Simon took advantage of the pause.

“I see your brother steppin’ into Judge Willard’s office same as usual
this noon,” he said.

“He can step into Tophet three times a day and fry steak if he wants
to,” snapped Hiram ungraciously.

“Well, you asked me to keep tabs on him when I see him go in there, and
I’m doin’ it, ain’t I? I don’t see no need of yappin’ my head off when
I’m tellin’ you what you wanted me to tell you.” Simon was plainly
indignant.

“You show altogether too much relish for stickin’ your nose into other
folks’ bus’ness,” said Hiram, still in bad temper.

“You’re gittin’ to be wusser’n a quill-pig to live with,” Simon flung
back. “I don’t git more’n two decent words out of you from one day’s end
to another. I ain’t no husk door-mat for you to wipe your feet on, even
if I am poor and you’ve got your old forty thousand in the bank.”

“You go ahead with your readin’,” barked Hiram, slapping open a letter.
“You want to get so that you can unpin that mouth o’ your’n without
saying forty thousand dollars ev’ry time, or I may stick my fist down
your gullet some day.”

The giant read on sullenly.

“‘Messers. Look & Peak---------’”

“‘Gentlemen Sirs!’” thundered Hiram. “Ain’t I told you more’n five
hundred times how to read that? We ain’t ‘_Messers_.’”

Peak surveyed the tyrant with baleful gaze and started to read again.

While they were absorbed in their quarrel a woman had come tip-toeing
up the street past the muddy spots, and now she stood in front of the
porch--a thin, wiry, alert woman. Her voice startled them. She tripped
a few steps nearer and curtsied with extravagant politeness. Both arose
and doffed their plug hats before they saw her face. She tossed her head
to throw back a draggly plume that rested against her rouged cheek and
stared at them.

“You don’t hold your ages as well as I do, boys,” she commented
flippantly.

“It’s the old army game, gents,” squalled the parrot from his cage
overhead, excited by this new arrival, gay in colours and ribbons.

“It’s _her!_” gasped Hiram.

“It’s Signory Rosy-elly!” choked the giant.

She came up and sat down beside them sociably in one of the porch
chairs.

“Honest, boys, it was some time before I could place those names,” she
chattered. “‘Look & Peak’s Consolidated Aggregation,’ says I to myself.
‘Look & Peak,’ I says. And, thinks I, them two old codgers must have
gone to Kingdom Come. ‘Look & Peak,’ says I,” she went on cheerfully,
oblivious of the grim stares. “It’s their sons, I says, and so I come
right along, for I need the job.”

“Didn’t that ad. say,” demanded Hiram, “that there wa’n’t goin’ to be no
personal interviews till later arranged for?”

She poked each in turn with her parasol, “Oh, I knew if it was their
boys I’d be taken on after I’d explained the romantic part, which I
couldn’t do in a letter. But I don’t have to tell _you_, boys.” She
poked them jocosely again.

“A little old, you say?”

They had not spoken.

“Why, not a bit of it for a jay-town circuit. Of course, it isn’t
a three-ringer job for me any more, or else I wouldn’t be down here
talking to Look & Peak. But I’m still good for it all--rings, banners,
hurdles, rump-cling gallop, and the blazing hoop for the wind-up. You
know what I can do, boys. Remember old times. Take me on for old times’
sake.” She gave each one the leer of the faded coquette.

Hiram was the first to recover, for the edge of his regret had been
dulled by the long course of treatment he had received from Simon. This
worn-out creature completed the job.

“Ain’t you ashamed to face us two?” he rasped. “You that run away from
_me_ and ruined _him?_”

“My sakes!” she cried. “You ain’t so unprofessional as to remember all
that silliness against me, are you? I was only a girl then, and you
couldn’t expect me to love you--either of you. I’m a poor widow now,”
 she sighed, “and I need work. You don’t mean to say that you’ve been
layin’ up grudges against me all these years--the two of you? What would
your wives have said?”

“We never got married,” returned Look and Peak in mournful duet.

“You’re lucky!” she snapped. “I married a cheap, worthless renegade,
and he stole my money and ran away. He fell off a trapeze and broke his
neck, and I was glad of it.”

“So’m I,” grunted Hiram, casting a soulful glance at Simon. “No, I
ain’t, either,” he corrected himself hastily. “I’m sorry he didn’t live
to torment you. No,” he roared, “I ain’t sorry for anything, except it
was poor Sime Peak’s money the two of you got away with.”

Peak sighed.

“But I want to say to you, Signory Rosy-elly,” went on Hiram, tipping
his hat to one side and hooking his thumb into the armhole of his vest,
“it wa’n’t _my_ money you got, and it never will be my money you’ll get.
You just made the mistake of your life when you run away from me, and
you can chew that cud for the rest of your life.”

“He’s got forty thousand dollars in the bank,” hoarsely whispered Simon
behind his hand, willing to add his mite to her discomfiture.

“Correct!” agreed Hiram. It was really a moment worth waiting for
through the years, he reflected.

“Twenty can play as well as one,” croaked the parrot, his beady eye
pressed between the bars of his cage.

The signora glanced up at this new speaker, eyed Absalom with a sage
look that he seemed to return, and, after a moment of thought, said:

“Thanks for the suggestion, old chap! Three can play as well as two.
Now, Look, you know that I’m always outspoken and straight to the point.
No tinderhanded bluff for me. I’m going to sue you for ten thousand!”

“Crack ’em down, gents!” remarked Absalom with grim patness.

Hiram could not resist casting a malevolent stare at the unconscious
humourist in the cage.

For one startled moment he stared at the woman in fear, and then,
recovering composure, tilted his cigar in the corner of his mouth with
cocky assurance.

“I want to know,” he blurted sarcastically. “Breach of promise, I
_per_-sume?”

“Good aim! You’ve rung the bell!” replied the lady coolly.

The impudence of the bare suggestion fetched a gasp from both men.

Hiram was striving to be haughtily indifferent and disdainful. But this
thrust was too much for his composure. He felt one of those old-time
fits of rage come bristling up the back of his head, the fury of old,
when he had tried to wither that same giddy creature in his spasms of
jealousy.

But she broke in on him with the same icy assurance that used to put him
out of countenance.

“I know all that, Look. But how are you going to prove that I’ve been
married? Where are you going to hunt for witnesses? Professional people
are like wild geese--roosting on air and moulting their names like
feathers. You two are going to seem like a couple of old frauds standing
up in court against me! You haven’t got the first elements of acting to
you! Observe how I take my cue! Jury a-listening! I’ve been hunting the
world over for you. You hid here. Here I find you--I, a poor, deserted
woman, whose life has been wrecked by your faithlessness. Me with a
crape veil, a sniff in my nose, crushed-creature face make-up and a
smart lawyer, such as I have in mind this very minute. And the jury
knowing that you’ve got the money! Why, Look, you can save thousands by
handing me your bankbook!”

In his fury Hiram grabbed her chair and tipped it forward violently in
order to dump her off his sacred porch. She flew out into space with
a flutter of skirts, landed as lightly as a cat, and pirouetted on one
toe, crooking her arms in the professional pose that invites applause.

“This is the first time Signora Rosyelli, champion bareback rider, ever
tried to ride a mule,” she chirped, “but you see she can do it and make
her graceful dismount to the music of the band. I’ll be at the tavern
down here two days, ready to listen to any kind of talk that combines
pleasure and profit. After that you take your own chances.”

She tossed to each of them a kiss from her finger-tips and went
switching jauntily down the road.

“That beats Tophet and repeat!” remarked Simon after a time. He had
watched her nearly out of sight.

Hiram held his peace.

“What are you goin’ to do?” his friend inquired falteringly at last.

“Fight her!” roared Hiram, leaping to his feet and striding up and down
the porch. “Fight her clear’n to the high, consolidated Supreme Court
aggregation of the United States, or whatever they call it!”

“Nobody has ever beat her out yit, except Delly-bunko, and we ain’t in
his class,” sighed Simon, with much despondency.

“You don’t think, do you, that I’m goin’ to set down and lap my thumb
and finger and peel her off ten thousand dollars?’”

“Well, it’s lucky that you’ve got a brother that’s the smartest lawyer
in the county,” said Peak, with an attempt at consolation. “He has
showed that much out pretty plain, even to me. I never see him manage
anywhere, except in town meetin’, but I----”

Hiram had been sunk in reverie, but this unfortunate remark brought him
out of it.

“Hain’t I told you never to mention my brother to me except when I ask
you to?” he demanded fiercely. “I don’t want any man that I ain’t spoke
to for four weeks slung into my face. Hain’t I goin’ to take to the ro’d
again to get rid of him? If he was the last lawyer on God’s footstool he
couldn’t take a case for me.”

He resumed his striding.

“Why don’t you and she git married, and we’ll all live here happy ever
after?” suggested Peak, wistfully, following a period of pondering. “If
it was in a book it would end off like that--sure pop!”

“Well, there ain’t no book to this, not by a dum-sight!” replied Hiram
tartly.

“But it would settle one thing, and you ain’t hitched up in any other
direction,” persisted Simon stubbornly, yet warily. Hiram’s renewed
visits up country since he had so definitely and precipitately retired
from town affairs in Palermo had again been stirring the jealous fears
of the anxious old “grafter.” He feared the widow Abilene Snell with the
fear of the bird that sees the hunter approaching its nest.

“I thought I told you never to twit me on that point again,” snarled
Hiram, trying to be calm.

“I ain’t twittin’,” expostulated Simon. “If you hadn’t got so touchy
lately you would see that I ain’t twittin’. But if you ain’t no idee of
gittin’ married up country, why, you----”

“You--shet--up!” shouted Hiram, with a wag of his head for each word.

Long silence followed.

“So you’re bound to go to court?” asked Peak, recovering courage when he
saw Hiram peering at him wistfully, as though seeking encouragement.

“Low court--high court--clear’n to the ridge-pole---clear’n to the
cupoly, and then I’ll shin the weather-vane with the Star-Spangled
Banner of justice between my teeth.” He slapped his hand on his knee.

“I heard a breach of promise trial once, a long time ago,” related
Simon, half closing his eyes in reminiscence. “Of course this ain’t
nothin’ to do with you and your case, but I can’t help sayin’ that that
trial was the funniest thing I ever heard. I never laughed so hard in my
life. It beat a show, that trial did. ’Twas all of twenty years ago,
and I’ll bet the people down there laugh yet when they see that feller
walk along the street. Them letters he wrote was----Is there letters in
your case, Hiram?”

He turned an innocent gaze on the showman.

Hiram mopped his face.

“I--I b’lieve there was,” he faltered. “She flung out somethin’ about
havin’ ’em now. Mebbe she has. A cussed woman never loses anything
that you want her to.”

“Oh, prob’ly your letters ain’t like his letters,” continued Simon,
trying to console. “You’ve got sense about such things.

“But I remember that them letters that that feller wrote was certainly
the squashiest--why, ev’ry one of ‘em seemed to woggle jest like a
tumbler of jelly--sweet and sloppy, as you might say. It bein’ so long
ago when you wrote to her, I don’t suppose you remember just what you
wrote, do you?”

His stare was still full of innocence.

Hiram was sitting looking down into a knot-hole, a hot flush crawling
up from under his collar. He took off his plug hat and scuffed his wrist
across his steaming forehead.

“But prob’ly yours was all good sense,” Simon went on. “Why, there was
men lugged right out of that court-room in hysterics, and had to be
pounded on the back by dep’ty sheriffs to bring ’em to. I remember
one letter called her ‘Ittikins, Pittikins, Popsy Sweet,’ and she was
settin’ there in the court-room with a face on her sourer’n a dill
pickle. Thought I’d die a-laughin’! Of course you didn’t git no such
sculch as that into your letters, and so the trial won’t be funny. But
you bein’ so prominunt now and havin’ forty thousand in the bank, and
bein’ known to a good many people ’round up country since Imogene’s
scrape there took you out amongst folks----”

Hiram couldn’t detect any hidden meaning in Simon’s guileless mien
and reference to “up country,” and though he stared hard, he did not
interrupt. “As I say, bein’ now, as you might call it, a solid citizen,
it will certainly tickle folks somethin’ tremendous if there is any such
mushiness in your trial.”

A student in physiognomy might have read that memory was playing havoc
with Hiram Look’s resolution.

“I was tryin’ to think,” went on Peak, knuckling his forehead, “what it
was that the signory was tellin’ me that time when she rode away with
me. She’s such a liar that there ain’t no tellin’ nothin’ by what she
says, but it seems to me she told me that you called her something like
‘Sweety-tweety’ or ‘Tweeny-weeny girlikins’--somethin’ like that. She
lied, prob’ly, and of course you’d never put anything like that into a
letter. How them newspapers do like to string out things--funny kind
of things--when a man is prominunt and has got money in the bank! Folks
can’t help laughin’--they jest nat’rally can’t, Hime! There you’ll be
settin’ in that court-room lookin’ ugly as a gibcat, and her lawyer’ll
be readin’ them letters with that kind of sassy----”

Hiram got up, kicked his chair off the porch, and in rage that he
couldn’t control he shook his fist under Peak’s nose.

“Twit me another word--just one other word--and I’ll drive that old nose
of your’n clear’n up into the roof of your head!”

He stumped away around the corner of the house and disappeared in the
barn.

“If the Court ain’t mistook,” soliloquised Simon, settling himself into
a more comfortable position in his chair, “Hime Look has got at least
three elephants on his hands now. He’s got one out there in the barn
with him that eats hay, one down to the tavern that eats money, and one
up country that will eat him, if he don’t look out.” Then he spread his
handkerchief over his face and went to sleep.

Hiram waked him up an hour or so later.

“Sime,” he said humbly, “I’ve been out there set-tin’ down on the hay
and rememberin’ back about what I wrote to her--and it’s all of it
pretty clear in my mind, ’cause I never wrote love letters to any one
else. And I can’t face it. I can’t set in court and hear it. I couldn’t
ever face any one that knowed me here or elsewhere.

“I couldn’t start on the ro’d with a circus and have the nerve to stand
in front of the big tent after it and bark like I used to. There’d be
somebody there a-knowin’ to it, and they’d grin me out of bus’ness. I’d
be backed into the stall. No, I can’t do it. If I git to talkin’ with
her again there’ll be murder done. It can’t be known that I’m havin’ any
truck with her. I can’t ever see her again. You got to go down, Sime,
and see what she’ll compromise for.”

“It has got to be compromised, has it?” asked the other earnestly. A
little gleam in his eye showed that he had something on his mind--a
doubt that he wanted to satisfy at last.

“Now the only way for us to go into this thing, Hime,” he said, “is
for both of us to be square and open. Don’t you yap out at me that I’m
nosin’ into your bus’ness or tryin’ to twit. But if you want this whole
thing fixed up secret, so that--so that--” he gulped--“so that your
widder up country won’t get track of it, then it’s only right for you to
tell me whuther your intentions up that way is serious.”

For a little while Hiram scowled at his companion in perfectly fiendish
manner.

“You talk about bein’ persistent!” he growled. “Talk about a bull-dog
hangin’ to a tramp’s leg! For four months conversation between us ain’t
ever took a turn but what you’ve tried to get your little gimlet into
me. Now ’cause you’ve got me into a corner you’re out with an auger.
Well, I’ll tell you, dum blast ye! I’m courtin’ Mis’ Snell, and I’m
goin’ to have her if she’ll have me. There! Chaw on that gumdrop a
while!”

The showman glared at Peak and the latter shifted his gaze.

“Much obliged,” he said. “There’s nothin’ like having straight facts to
go on.”

He clapped his hat hard onto his head with a hollow tunk.

“What’s the final instructions?” he inquired.

“Nothin’ but to settle it as cheap as you can and shet her blasted
mouth,” returned Hiram, setting his elbows on his knees and looking
again into the knot-hole.

If he had changed his steady gaze from the knothole two hours later, it
was not apparent to Simon Peak when he returned.

“I wrassled with her, Hime, just as tough and tight as though it was
my own money that I was handlin’. If I done it right or not I donno. I
ain’t ever been used to talkin’ about so much money before. But I’ve got
her beat down to,” he drew a long breath, “sixty-six hundred, and
she swears she won’t take a cent less. You know how set she gits on a
thing!”

Hiram bored him suspiciously with his eye for a moment and snarled:

“It sounds to me as though she was goin’ to get five thousand and you
was pers’nally lookin’ after your little old sixteen hundred.”

A couple of tears squeezed out and down over the giant’s flabby cheeks.

“There ain’t a day passed since you got back from up country, Hime, but
what you’ve misjudged me some way, somehow. You misjudged me years ago.
You’re doin’ it this minit. And it’s all on account of some missabul
woman that I’m misjudged. I wish they was all in----”

His voice broke here and he turned away.

Sudden contrition, and as sudden fear that Peak, offended, might desert
him in his need, assailed Hiram.

“I ain’t responsible for what I’m sayin’ to-day, Sime,” he pleaded. “You
know what has happened to stir me up. I’ve been stirred up all my life,
somehow. You’ll have to overlook it in me. There ain’t nobody I ever
got along with better’n I have with you--when all is said. I’ll show
you later that I appreciate it, too. We’ll get along together all right
after this. All is, you must see me through and keep her mouth plugged.”

Then the two tall hats bent together in earnest conference.

That evening one of Hiram Look’s horses, hitched to Hiram’s best
carriage, pranced up to the door of Fyles’ tavern, and the thin woman
hopped in lightly, snuggled herself down beside Simon Peak, and away
they went.

In Simon’s inside pocket was one of Hiram’s bankbooks showing deposits
of a generous amount in one of the savings banks at the county shire.
Between its leaves was tucked an order signed by Hiram Look, and
directing that money should be paid over to Simon Peak, who would be
identified by one of the showman’s friends in the city. There were
blank spaces in the order for the insertion of the amount of money to be
drawn.

“I’m going to show you what I think of you, Sime,” Hiram had declared in
a burst of enthusiasm. “You said I misjudged you. Well, here’s showin’
you that I ain’t. I’m goin’ to leave that order blank ’cause I believe
in you. I’ll bet you’re friend enough of mine to beat her down another
notch. I’ll bet you can do it. Fill in the amount and draw when it’s
settled. Stay till you get them letters, put her on a train and come
back, and I’ll show ye that Hime Look appreciates a friend in need.”

It was a piece of impulsiveness that worried the showman considerably
during the next day or two, as he sat watching for the head of the gray
horse to come bobbing around the alders. His hard life had taught him to
distrust men’s honesty and faith. He wondered as he sat there what had
influenced him to put so much trust in Peak on the spur of the moment.

“It’s on account of gittin’ softened up by women, that’s what it is,”
 he grunted in soliloquy. “There I was with a tin can tied to my tail and
runnin’ around in a circle and afraid of the two of ’em. No, I ain’t
afraid of Abby Snell! But it’s wuth more than one five thousand dollars
to keep it away from her that I ever fell in love with a circus woman
and wrote such letters as----”

Again the red flush came up from under his collar.

“Yes, I have trusted Sime,” he would mumble aloud, after he had stared
at the corner of the alders until his eye ached. “I’ve trusted him, I
say! But when your old neighbours and your own brother skins you, then
it’s time to turn to strangers and get used white. It’s your own folks
that do you the wust--it allus has been so, it prob’ly allus will be
so. But---I could go to the shire and ’tend to that bus’ness and crawl
back on my hands and knees before this. She was a-goin’ to telegraft for
them letters, cuss her!”

On the third day, when “Figger-Four” Avery bobbed back from the
post-office with the mail, there was a thick packet among the letters
that Hiram opened first with trembling fingers, for he had recognised
Simon Peak’s handwriting.

It was the letter wrapped around the bankbook that Hiram tackled first.
He skimmed it with his one eye bulging like a rabbit’s. It was in a way
an apologetic letter, and yet it was flavoured with a note of complaint.
Simon Peak went on to state that he had thought it all over prayerfully.
Each time that a woman had come into their affairs he had been
misjudged. Now that his suspicions as to the up-country widow had
been confirmed, he could plainly see that he would sooner or later be
misjudged again and, being old, he could not endure any more griefs of
the sort, seeing that Hiram was his best and his only friend. He was too
tender-hearted to stand it--and, besides, he had heard that the
widow was neater than wax and smarter than a hornet, and under her
administration spittoons and general freedom would have to be abandoned.
Moreover, he believed that the conscience of Signora Rosyelli had
troubled her ever since the episode of the sixteen hundred dollars.
Furthermore, letting her have all that money to go away with and do with
as she liked wouldn’t be the retribution that she deserved. It was too
much money for a woman to handle----

Hiram yanked open the bankbook and glared at the balance. There had been
a withdrawal of ten thousand dollars.

In the more crucial moments of his life Hiram Look had frequently
refrained from anathema. Some situations were made too matter-of-fact by
cursing. Now he stood up, shoved his arms above his head, gulped a half
a dozen times, blew out his breath with a “Poof!” and sat down again.

After wiping his forehead with the flat of his hand he went on with the
letter.

Simon apologised for having overstepped the first estimates, but
explained that he had acted thus for reasons that must appeal to Hiram.
The sum was sufficient to make the signora want to stick to him, and
that would keep her away from Hiram. He had destroyed the letters and
buttoned the money into his inside pocket, and told her if she wanted
to enjoy any of it she must marry him. He said that as her husband he
should control affairs absolutely. The writer pointed out that this was
real retribution to such a woman, and he assured Hiram that he would
always strive to make her realise her position daily and hourly. Under
such circumstances the small extra amount that he had taken was moderate
salary indeed for the services he was rendering an old friend, and he
trusted that Hiram would hereafter enjoy life, knowing that a woman who
had betrayed him was getting punished for her infidelity.

The postscript stated that he had kept the team as a wedding present,
and they were going to do the gift-sale graft at fairs from the
carriage--having now the necessary capital. With deep regard for him and
all inquiring friends, they were, etc.

Hiram’s eye at last found the knot-hole in the platform, and he sat with
his elbows on his knees and regarded it for a long time. At first his
face was ridged and knotted with fury that his moving lips could not
express. Then there came grief in the puckers around his mouth--the
grief of a man who felt that the whole world was against him.

He, sitting there--he who had not dared to meet the grinning voters
of Palermo since that town meeting, the man who now held this riddled
bankbook and that unspeakable letter crumpled in his grasp was the same
man who had boasted that no one had ever “done” him!

He pulled off his tall hat in order to wipe his damp forehead.

He regarded its fuzzy nap with growing malevolence. Somehow, it seemed
to suggest the braggart, the showman, grafting women, Simon Peaks and
the atmosphere of tricksters. He set it upon the platform, stamped it
into shapelessness, and then kicked it with all his might. It landed in
the top of the lilac bush.

“Crack ’em down, gents!” squalled the parrot excitedly. He had been
watching his master with solicitude for many hours, and this sudden
activity reassured him.

Hiram glanced up at Absalom with a vindictiveness that should have
warned the bird, and then sat down in his chair. He turned over Simon’s
letter, flattened it on his bankbook, and began to write on the surface
with a stubby lead pencil that he had licked carefully:

“For Sale--One band waggon, one swan chariot, three lion cages, one
round-top----”

He was interrupted.

Squire Phin came up the little path from the road and took a seat on the
porch.

Hiram bent his brows in a scowl and looked at him, pencil poised above
the paper.

“I’ll make my business brief, brother,” said the lawyer, with a wistful
humility that pricked Hiram a bit, despite his rancour. “I realise how
you feel toward me, and I have not come upon your porch without good
reason. You may not have noticed that I have been away for a day or two,
for you haven’t been very much interested in my movements for some time.
But I have been absent. I’ve been at the shire on some law business.

“One of my friends who is a trustee in the Union Savings Bank mentioned
to me that one Simon Peak, accompanied by a strange woman, had drawn ten
thousand dollars on your order, after having been identified by one
of the traders near by. I was inter-: ested enough to want to see that
order, and----”

“Say, ain’t I got any bus’ness of any kind that I can ’tend to myself
without some one pokin’ in their nose?” demanded Hiram with fury.

“I plead guilty to being a meddler, Hiram,” returned the Squire calmly.
“But I’ve taken the chances. I figured you could not dislike me any more
for doing this than you did before. And whatever else we are, you are my
brother, and Simon Peak is a man of whom I have always been distrustful.
I saw that the amount in the order had been filled in by some one else
than yourself. I didn’t know then what deal you could have with Peak. I
don’t know now, for I didn’t believe a word of the yarn he told me---but
the amount of the matter is, Hiram, I took measures to have Peak and his
companion followed and apprehended. I interviewed them privately; I made
them disgorge, and here is your money--all except a couple of hundred
dollars. I gave them that much and the team so that they could get out
of the State and not annoy you any more. You’ll not see them again. I
told them that I’d put the two of them into State prison as blackmailers
if they showed up here.”

He laid a thick wallet upon his brother’s lap.

“If I have meddled in your affairs, brother, forgive me. But I couldn’t
stand by and see two thieves run away with what you have worked so hard
to earn.”

Hiram fumbled at the package a moment and then banged it down on the
platform, his face working with emotion whose nature was not easily to
be determined.

“Just one moment, Hiram, before you reproach me,” said the Squire
hastily. “Wait! Not a word’ from you now! I’m going to take advantage of
this opportunity and be honest with you. You were right that day in town
meeting, brother. If in everything in this world we must hew to the line
of justice, you were right that day. But I tell you, Hiram, you and I
both have seen that it isn’t always safe to hew to the line. I stood
there fighting for the financial peace and confidence of our little
town, but most of all for the woman I love, and when you got in the way
I struck you. That’s the truth of it, brother. And I’m afraid I’d do it
again, Hiram, for you can’t expect the perfect man to come out of the
Look family. The only thing I can promise you, brother, is to be honest
with you, and I am that--square with you through thick and thin, and I
will always be that. But you have got to keep your hands off my
treasures---and you know what they are!”

He held out his open palm and smiled.

“Can’t you take my hand on that, brother Hiram?”

“I’ve got just a little favour to ask of you, Phin,” said Hiram, his
hands still at his side. “I want you to leave me here on this porch ten
minutes so that I can get fit to grip your hand. I can do a good deal
of helpful thinkin’ in ten minutes, Phin. And when I come ’round the
corner of that house, boy, it will be the differentest man you ever see.
And I want you to put out your hand and shake just as if I was home for
the first time after all those years--and I guess that’s the fact of the
case, brother.”

When the Squire, with head bowed and with a smile on his lips, reached
the corner of the house Hiram hailed him. There was such a queer note in
his brother’s voice that the lawyer whirled in some astonishment.

Hiram stood, the points of his long moustache tightly gripped in one
hand under his chin, as though he were trying to pull down the corners
of his lips that were spreading into a broader and rather foolish smile.

“I just wanted to warn you, Phin,” he chuckled, “that I’ve got a little
something in the way of--of---well, as you said, ‘treasures’ to talk
about.”

“Treasures!” repeated the lawyer, wonderingly.

“Well, that’s what she is!” blurted Hiram. “And you don’t ever have to
apologise for what you did to me. I know how it is. I’ve got a critter
to walk over in the same way.” And with this enigmatic statement he
waved a hand at his brother and went back to his chair.

He began to frown again as he wrote.

“It’s goin’ to be a clean sale,” he muttered. “I don’t never in all my
life want to see a circus, hear of a circus, talk with a circus man----”

The parrot hooked his beak around a wire and rattled away jovially:

“Crack ’em down, gents!” he shrieked.

Hiram shot an angry glance and an oath at the cage.

“No, sir, never! They may molasses ye over at first, but it’s only to
make ye easier to swaller. Own folks don’t do that. You know just where
to find ’em, there’s that much about ’em. It’s goin’ to be a clean
sale. Think of it--me a man that has been through it all from A to Z
being held up by----”

“Twenty can play it as well as one!” remarked the parrot.

It was a hideous scowl that Hiram flashed up.

“Not only trimmin’ me, but makin’ me run the risk of goin’ to court and
havin’ it trailed out from Clew to Erie!”

“It’s the old army game, gents!” the parrot squalled. His tone was
nerve-racking.

Hiram rose, yanked the bottom out of the cage, caught the squawking bird
after considerable damage to a forefinger, wrung his neck, walked down
to the road, and flung him far over the opposite stone wall. When he
came back he caught the battered hat from the top of the lilac bush and
sent it after the deceased Absalom.

Then, sucking his bleeding finger at intervals, he went on writing his
advertisement.



CHAPTER XXII--HOW SYLVENA WILLARD “TRIED IT ON THE DOG,”

WITH HAPPY RESULTS


          Dan’l and Dunk and the yaller dog

               Were owners and crew of the Pollywog,

               A hand-line smack that cuffed the seas, ’tween ’Tinicus

                   Head and Point Quahaug.

                   Dunk owned half and Dan owned half, and the yaller

                        dog was also “joint”;

               They fished and ate

               And swapped their bait,

                   And allus agreed on every point.

                        --“Ballads of the Banks.”


It did not surprise the people of Palermo when the word passed that
Judge Collamore Willard had decided to retire from business.

His callers had noticed his failing strength through the winter months,
his unsteady gait, the tremulous wavering of his hands when he scrabbled
among the papers on his table. They ascribed all this to the infirmities
of age. Gossip that he had lost money, or that there was some basis for
the sensational charges flung at him by Hiram Look, fell upon barren
soil of belief in Palermo. Local confidence in the Willard fortunes and
Willard integrity was too strong to be weakened thus.

Old men, spinsters and widows came straggling in, after persistent
drumming at them by the Squire, to receive the sums due them. The
process of settlements covered many days, and the lawyer had need of all
his patience.

For old folks, even when the money was in their hands, stood by the
Judge’s table and begged him to take it back.

“Banks is failin’ and thieves is stealin’,” was their lament. “There
ain’t nobody ever done so well by us as you, Judge. It won’t bother you
none to take care of just this little. We won’t say nothin’ about your
havin’ it.”

At times like these the Judge turned a wistful gaze on the lawyer, and
with something of appeal in his eyes. But he met; always the shake of
the head and the tightening of the lips.

“You can’t afford to take a single chance, Judge,” the Squire had
told him at the beginning of the business. “You must not owe one man a
dollar. Your books and your papers will be your own, then. And they must
be burned. Evidence of this sort must not haunt your last days or your
family after you are gone. Forgive me for having made the conditions
that I have, but it is the only way out for all of us.”

Those in town who were at first surprised that Squire Look had been
accepted as the Judge’s man of business found ready explanation in the
public quarrel of the Look brothers, and the fact that the Squire was
better qualified than any one else in Palermo to manage the affairs of
an old man whose grip on them had slipped.

Outsiders saw only the relations of client and lawyer.

Even such an insider as the Squire himself had been seeing not much else
during the weeks that had elapsed since the town meeting.

For on the first day of the many on which he came to Judge Willard’s
office he had met Sylvena, and she had such a new, strange, even
disquieting light in her eyes that he had blurted something that gave
her final and complete proof that he understood his musty law books
better than he did a woman’s heart.

“Sylvie,” he said, “I have been ashamed of myself ever since. I had no
right to take advantage just because you asked a favour of me that a
friend ought to be ready and willing to grant. I’m an old brute, and I
know it. You asked me to help your father, and I reached out across your
heart and your needs and grabbed as a robber grabs at a pocketbook. I’m
ashamed of it. I ought to know that that isn’t the way to win a woman,
but I reckon I don’t know much of anything outside of my law. No, don’t
try to forgive me! I’ve got the old grip on myself again. You needn’t
worry!”

And she, with her heart stirring ever since that day when for the first
time a true man’s earnest, eager, imperious love had claimed her--she
who had come to him again yearning for a confirmation even, sweeter, bit
her lips when he whirled and left her, gazed after him with eyes that
filled, and then--well, then she stamped her foot and muttered something
that it would have astonished the Squire to hear.

He did not see her on every visit. But sometimes she was on the porch,
and when the weather grew warmer she was often busy with her shrubs on
the lawn.

The constant reserve on his part appeared to be contriteness for having
once presumed in a trying moment.

Her reserve was something that developed into an air that closely
resembled irritability, and he couldn’t understand it in the least.
It made him draw a little more closely into his shell. He thought
that perhaps memory of his fault stirred hotly within her when she saw
him--perhaps as the memory of that kiss burned even now on his lips.

Therefore matters of the Squire’s heart were in fully as bad a way as
matters of the Judge’s pocket.

With the true status of her father’s position, financially and morally,
Sylvena was mercifully unacquainted, for when she had fearfully
questioned him he had as fearfully paltered and denied.

The old dog Eli was the only one who was really cheered by the visits of
Phineas Look to the Willard place.

At first he had sat on the door-step of the office, meditatively gazing
out across the Cove.

Then one day he remarked a very pretty lady who was surveying him from
the window of the house, and was apparently motioning to him. But as Eli
had never found that pretty ladies were at any time much interested in
fuzzy old dogs, he reckoned he must be mistaken about the beckoning.
However, he gently wagged his tail in order to be on the safe side of
agreeability. Then he looked away with some embarrassment.

“Well, if that isn’t like master, like dog, may I be blessed,” stated
the lady in the window to herself with much decision.

She came to the door, opened it a bit, and called through the crack with
impatient tone:

“Here, you old fool, come in here and get a bite to eat. I’d like to
speak out in just that same way to some one else,” she added.

Eli promptly detected something like hostility in the voice and stopped
wagging his tail. He hunched down his head and dropped his ears.

The lady surveyed him with disfavour.

“I suppose if I get down on my knees and put out both hands and smile
and say, ‘Doggie, doggie, dear, good doggie, come here!’ why, then
doggie will condescend to come. But I won’t do it!”

She closed the door with an emphatic slam that made Eli jump, and went
back to the window.

But something in the mien of the old dog, who sat wistfully eyeing the
closed door, touched her heart.

“I’m blaming him for something he don’t know--something he don’t
understand,” she murmured at last, pity in her eyes. She went to the
door and opened it wide. Then she stooped forward and wriggled her
fingers coaxingly as she said:

“You nice old fellow, come here.”

He hesitated.

She pursed her lips and invited him with crisp little noises that
sounded like kisses. She must have realised the suggestiveness of these
sounds, for she suddenly blushed furiously and began to call to the dog
softly and winningly.

He came, his shaggy ears cocked up with expectancy, his tail expressing
his most genial appreciation of the invitation.

That was Eli’s first visit to the Willard kitchen in company with the
pretty lady.

If he’d had a tongue that could speak, instead of merely loll in
thankful gusto after his repasts in that kitchen, he could have told
Squire Phin of a pretty lady with red cheeks and a touch of gray at her
temples who often snuggled her face close to his tousled ears and spoke
in a tone sometimes that amazed him mightily, and who one day rose in
haste, drove some tears from her eyes, and said with the determination
of a woman who has searched and found:

“You’d better come along, too, Eli, for it’s business that concerns that
master of yours!”

And she started from the kitchen straight for her father’s office, the
old dog waddling at her heels.

Five minutes before that Squire Phin had pushed his elbows into the
papers on the big table, leaned forward with clasped fingers, and said:

“We’ve got now, Judge, where we can see the way clear. I have turned
into money for you everything except this house and contents. The
mortgage on it has been paid.”

The Judge began a stammering inquiry, but the lawyer checked him.

“I’ve got to tell you the truth about it, Judge. I advanced the money
myself to do it. About three thousand dollars are due you from men who
will pay some time but can’t now without being hard put to it to raise
the money. I’ll take those accounts and advance the cash. We have paid
every cent you owe and squared with every depositor.”

The lawyer stared at the old man in silence for a time.

“I’ll be frank and say that in order to bring about this settlement I
have put in every cent of money I have saved, all that Hiram paid me,
and have used certain fees I have received lately from several large
cases. But I am the only creditor you have. I want you to sign these
notes, running to me, for that will be business. But I want to say to
you, Judge, that I shall not press for payment, nor shall I say one word
to any living soul that you owe me a cent or are not solvent. There is a
residue banked and subject to your order sufficient for you to continue
your usual way of living. Wait a moment until I have finished! I have
asked you to lie to Sylvena, to contradict some truths that I blurted to
her in my folly. It was a big thing to ask of a father, but you owe me
for lying publicly on your behalf. I fear that both of us are sad liars!
If you by word or look or action ever let your daughter know that you
have lost your fortune I will withdraw my promise to you and put you to
the wall. And that threat is the truth, so help me God!”

The old Judge licked his trembling lips and took the notes that the
Squire handed him for signature.

“You needn’t feel under any obligation to me, Judge Willard,” went on
the lawyer. “I’ll square myself somehow, sometime. We’ll consider it
straight business.”

“But I know it isn’t straight business,” replied the Judge brokenly.
“I know that you have done for me what no other man of my whole
acquaintance would have done. I may guess at part of your reason for
it, Phineas. But that reason doesn’t absolve me from the obligation I
am under to you. I’m too broken now to plan or promise. I am an old
man--too old to start anew. But I don’t believe that God will take me
out of this world until I have in some way shown you that I appreciate
all you have done for me and can prove to you that I am sorry for the
past. I mean that with all the sincerity of an old man that will be
judged Above for his deeds on earth sooner than you, Phineas!”

The eyes of both men were moist, and in a moment of impulsiveness the
Squire reached across the table and took the Judge’s hand. But when a
visitor’s touch rattled the outside latch of the door a flash of the old
Look family feeling caused him to suddenly twitch away. He felt, with
a certain shame, that he did not want any one to catch him shaking the
hand of Collamore Willard.

It was the Judge’s daughter.

She held the door open until Eli had entered, too, with the apologetic
demeanour of one who knew certain things and was therefore apprehensive.

“Father,” she said, her eyes brilliant, her cheeks flushed, but glorious
in all her aspect, with the poise of a woman who has fully resolved and
therefore dares, “will I be interrupting you and Phineas too much if I
take a moment of your time?”

“I--I think our business is about finished,” said the Judge,
falteringly. He put his hand over the notes that he had just signed.

“I have come here,” she went on, “because it is a matter that both
of you should listen to at the same time. It is simply this, father:
Phineas Look has spoken his love for me and has shown his love for me.
As we all know that he is a man whose word is sacred, I take it for
granted that he is still of the same mind. There have been troubles
between our families in which I have had no share, but which at your
request I respected in some measure. I have allowed you to make other
promises for me without my sanction, for you are my father and it has
been the custom in the Willard family to honour parents and gainsay them
in little.

“I have now decided that it is cowardice instead of loyalty that has
swayed me--for if I were truly loyal to your wishes I would not be
loving with all my heart and soul the man you have forbidden me to love.
The Willards have not been cowards. I know I am disobeying you, father.
But my mind is made up. It will be no use for you to make it harder for
us both by cruel words. That portion of property that was to have
been mine I surrender willingly to Kleber. My husband does not want my
fortune.”

The face of the old man contracted with a sudden grimace of shame and
pain. Squire Phin, who had been staring at her, his palms outspread
on the table to prop himself, pushed some papers over the notes spread
before the Judge and trembled in every muscle.

She flashed a sudden look that was half-indignation into his burning
eyes.

“Have I not been unwomanly enough without your making me coax you and
wheedle you to me, as I have had to woo your old dog?” she demanded,
stamping her foot. And then seeing that he swayed dizzily at the table,
confounded by the situation, she came close, reached across over the
scattered papers and patted his broad hand.

“Now what have you got to say to me, Phineas?” she whispered. “I know
you can talk, for I have listened to you with my heart in my mouth.”

But even while the Judge was scrambling up from his chair with
stammering words on his lips, even as the Squire seized the white hand
that fluttered above his own, another visitor entered the office.

This visitor--and a very obstreperous visitor it was--threw his hat upon
the table, squared his elbows and glared at the three in turn.

It was Captain Kleber Willard of the _Lycurgus Webb_. His dark seaman’s
face was streaked with purple blotches, his eyes were bloodshot and
sullen, and it was apparent that passion and liquor had combined to give
Captain Willard an unamiable temper. His gaze first singled the Squire
with an especially furious squint of hatred, but his father spoke to him
and he whirled on the Judge.

“Why didn’t you do as you agreed?” he shouted. “Me to Buenos Ayres and
back, off earnin’ a dollar, where I couldn’t protect myself, and you
promisin’ to keep that deal covered! Why didn’t you do it, I say?”

The old man turned a pitiful glance on his daughter and attempted to
quiet the angry man with words spoken close to his ear, but the Captain
twisted away from him.

“It’s time the whole of this family knows what the others are about,” he
raged. “I ain’t doin’ anything that I’m ashamed of. The rest of ye see
to it that you ain’t, either. I tell ye I won’t keep still. Sylvene
Willard is old enough to know bus’ness, or she can leave the room. If
some that I can see here had any instincts of a gentleman they’d get
out, too, when a family is talkin’ its bus’ness. I tell you, father,
you’ve got to explain to me how you let me get dropped for ten thousand.
You didn’t send Bradish the margins as you agreed. You dropped him, too.
It’s no use for you to hush-a-bye me. I know you did it.

“The _Webb_ wasn’t a half a day in New York when Bradish came down to
show me the documents. It was there in black and white. You backed out
and dumped us. You dumped Bradish. He hasn’t got the price of a meal.
I tell you I won’t shut up! If you had gone in on that last deal that
Bradish told you about we’d have cleaned up a fortune. We depended on
you, the both of us, to furnish the money. You didn’t do it. You
sent King up there and then backed out on him. There isn’t any other
explanation for it--you backed out on him. It only needed money and you
didn’t send it.”

He stamped around the room, picked up his hat, threw it down again and
went on with his bitter complaints.

Squire Phin stood leaning against the edge of the table, very grave, and
kept his silence. But there were two deep wrinkles between his eyes,
and the lids narrowed slowly. On his own account the blatant, brutal
bursting in of this man at the greatest, the sweetest, holiest moment of
his life had shocked and angered him. The words that he wanted to speak
to her were choking in his throat. On their account the presence of the
man, his selfish stormings and threats and complaints, exasperated him
in his pity for the trembling old man, and the sister, who was at her
brother’s side as he tramped about the room, pleading with him to be
silent and to explain to her.

At last Captain Willard plumped himself down in the chair that his
father had vacated and thumped his hard fist on the table.

“The sum total is, father, you’ve got to settle with me,” he shouted.
“You promised to protect me and you didn’t. It’s up to you to make
good.”

He had from time to time been casting angry glances at the lawyer.

“If you’ve got any bus’ness here, Mr. Lawyer Look,” he said insolently,
“I wish you’d ’tend to it and get out. My father and I don’t want
audiences when we talk over family matters, and we don’t usually have
audiences, either.”

Squire Phin understood the dumb appeal in the eyes of the Judge. This
unruly son had hold of one end of his secret and was tugging away
vigorously. The father realised that the son had the right to demand
certain explanations. But revelations made to this explosive person
could not be kept away from the daughter. And over the Judge’s head
swung the threat of the grim lawyer, sealed with its oath.

With instant pity for the old man’s agony of apprehension, the Squire
acted. He stepped into the affairs of the Willard family with the happy
consciousness that now he had a right to be there.

“Captain Kleber,” he said, “I have been retained by your father as his
legal adviser. I have been that for some time. You may discuss family
affairs with him at your leisure and in whatever privacy you wish.
On account of the state of Judge Willard’s health he has left all his
business affairs to me. The matter that you have mentioned is one of
business. You will please come to my office with me, _now_.”

He dwelt on the last word significantly. He took his hat from the table
and went and stood by the door.

When the lawyer had begun to speak the Captain hooked himself forward in
his chair, his fingers clutching air, his face working with rage.

“It was the only thing that King Bradish told me that I didn’t believe,”
 he shouted. “One of the Look family hired as a lawyer by my father? I
swore it wasn’t so! If it is so, damme if I don’t make you all sick here
in this place. If it is so----”

“It certainly is so, Captain,” broke in the Squire, stepping back into
the room. “You will kindly refrain from making any more comments on the
matter. Come to my office with me.”

“Comments!” shouted the seaman. “Comments! I ain’t got language enough
to make comments! Old Dan’l Webster in his palmiest days couldn’t talk
fast enough to express it. I’ll bet a thousand to one I know what the
trouble is with you, father. I’ll bet it’s just as King said it was.
That skin lawyer has got next to you and robbed you--he and his brother,
the two of ’em! There’s a good reason for your not havin’ money to
protect your own son if the Look family has got their claws in here. Do
you hear me, Sylvene? A thousand to one the dogs have ruined this
family! Why didn’t you send the old man to the lunatic asylum before you
let him ram us underground this way?”

In his fury he had been clutching up the papers on the table and
throwing them about. Now he suddenly bent forward with goggling eyes,
his hands on the arms of the chair, and stared long at some slips of
paper that he had uncovered.

He picked them up one after the other, his hands trembling so violently
that the sheets crackled.

“Four notes runnin’ to Phineas Look and signed by Collamore Willard!” he
yelled. “Four notes and each for five thousand dollars. Four notes! Look
at ’em!”

He staggered up and thrust them under the astonished gaze of Sylvena,
but with one stride the Squire was there and ripped them from his grasp.

“He has robbed us, Sylvene! He’s robbed us,” the Captain went on,
mouthing like a madman. “He’s got all our money and put us in debt to
him beside. The thief! The land pirate!”

He was making for the lawyer with his fists upraised, but Squire Phin
struck them down and forced the furious man back into his chair. He held
him there, glowering down on him with a menace that would have quelled a
wild beast.

“Go ahead, Phin Look,” whimpered the Captain; “put on another scar to
match the one your brother made!”

“I propose you shall listen to reason, Kleber,” Squire Phin fairly
hissed, “even if I have to hold you by the throat while I give you the
truth. I tell you again to come to my office, and if I fail to satisfy
you, then the law is open to you.”

The seaman sank back in his chair limply and the lawyer left him. But as
he turned to Sylvena with a look of infinite pity on his face, Captain
Willard leaped up.

“Don’t you see now that he has done father and us out of every dollar,
Sylvene?” he wailed. “Don’t you believe me when I say----”

But she came forward hastily and put both her hands into the Squire’s,
looked up at him trustfully and said:

“I believe in my--my--husband, that is to be, and that is the first and
the surest duty of a good wife!” The Squire put his arm about her, bent
down and kissed her, a happy sob in his throat choking back the words he
wanted to say.

The son stared at them a moment, his jaw dropping, whirled on his father
with a curse, and then clacking his fists together in impotent rage,
rushed out of the office with a bang of the door that made the little
building shiver.

With his one free hand the Squire put the crumpled notes to his teeth
and began quietly to tear at them.

He caught her looking at him with wistful inquiry in which there was
absolute trust.

“I don’t know my Bible as well as I do the revised statutes, Sylvie,” he
said, smiling at her, “but I believe there is a passage somewhere
that states that a good wife is better than much fine gold, yea, more
precious than rubies and all beautiful gems. Now with the thorough
understanding that the Bible is right, let us sit down and have a little
family conference about some things that a wife should know.” He brushed
from her hair and shoulders the bits of torn paper, drew her on his knee
and began to talk. The old Judge sat opposite, gazing mistily out of the
window in the direction his son had taken.

For the first and the last time in his life Squire Phin did not tell the
whole truth to the woman he loved.

But the sad, though unclouded resignation in the eyes of the woman,
and the dumb gratitude on the face of the old man opposite when he had
finished, made his lie a holy one.



CHAPTER XXIII--HIRAM LOOK’S TWO LIVELY BUSINESS ENGAGEMENTS

WITH CAPTAIN NYMPHUS BODFISH OF THE “EFFORT”


               Old Zibe Haines walked out one day,

               And a barbed wire fence it stopped his way.

               Never climbed over, never crawled through,

               But he bit that wire right plumb in two.

                        --Ballads of “Gumption.”


Hiram Look was approaching Palermo village and letting his horse
walk up the long Witch-Run hill. He was in the middle of the seat of a
brand-new top carriage. His elbows were on his knees and he was gazing
at the reflection of himself in the bright dasher of the carriage.
Occasionally he broke out into mellow chucklings.

“I’d have given ten dollars if Phin and all close pers’nal friends had
been there with me to see it,” he soliloquised. “Me behind the wistery
on the porch of the widder’s, a-takin’ it all in, and he not knowin’
I was there! Phew! Lemme git out a few more of them laughs I’ve had to
swaller!”

He leaned back and haw-hawed boisterously, to the renewed astonishment
of the horse, who stopped and bent his head around to gaze at his
master.

“G’long!” shouted the showman. “I’ve told you all about it three times
already on the way down. I had to tell some one.”

When the horse plodded on he set his elbows on his knees again and went
on with his delighted monologue. He was rolling it again over his tongue
with smacks of relish.

“Yess’r, I had him dead to rights! Had the very letters he’s been
writin’ to that other string to his bow. And then to have him whine to
the widder that he’d writ’ ’em ’cause he felt sometimes that she
was gittin’ ready to throw him over and he didn’t want to git left
altogether! Why, the dum fool! To tumble down like that at the first
puff she give him! Me? Why, I’d ’a’ lied till there was six inches
of glare ice in Tophet! I’d ’a’ said I didn’t know how to write! I’d
’a’ said that I’d been sassin’ Jim the Penman’s grandmother and he was
gittin’ back at me. But he jest caved. I allus knowed he was a fool.

“And me a-settin’ there with my thumb in my vest armhole, takin’ it all
in and fattin’ on the ribs! Why, I’ve heard men git down and beg, I’ve
seen dogs set up on end and whine for a bone, I’ve seen a cat coax for
milk-strainin’s, but never nothin’ like the way that man got down and
rolled over and jumped through and played dead for that widder.

“Cap Nymp’ Bodfish, you kicked me once, and ’twas in the face and eyes
of the public, and you was due to git a lot of trouble. I might have
kicked you back; I might have gone on and broke a few of your arms and
legs and et cet’ry. But it wouldn’t have been a scientific job like
this. No, s’r, it wouldn’t have been real soul-satisfyin’. I never got
no great consolation out of lickin’ a man.”

Hiram sighed at his recollections in that line. But his face cleared
immediately.

“Him with his tongue out and his mouth all made up for that twenty
thousand and the widder! Him as had made his brags about her, and now
has got to face the grinnin’s and the sneerin’s! It will be lin-g’rin’
agony, that’s what it will.

“Lordy mighty, will I ever forgit the face he made up when he see me
behind that wistery! O-h-h-h, I shall wake up in the night and laugh
till I set the roosters to crowin’. Him a-drivin’ out of the yard with
the widder givin’ him a few final lambastes with her tongue and me
a-stickin’ my head out through the wistery. He a-tumin’ ’round to git
a last look at her and seein’ me and realisin’ then--yass’r, realisin’!
And his wheel ketched on a post and he fell down into the bottom of the
waggon and began to push against the post like he was tryin’ to shove
off a dory--clean forgittin’ he was in a team! Oh, what a state that
man’s mind must have been in!”

Hiram rolled to and fro on the carriage seat in an ecstasy of mirth.

“Never’ll forgit what she said to him then.

“‘Take your reins and back up,’ says she. ‘I don’t want people
’round here to think you’re drunk as well as a complete fool, you old
hump-backed, tarfingered garsoline tank! A pretty farmer you’d make--and
don’t know a waggon from a dory! Git out of my yard and don’t never let
me set eyes on you ag’in. I’ve got a man as is a man,’ and she pointed
to me, and I swow I couldn’t help it! I set my thumb to my nose and give
him the real, old-fashioned waggle. Ow, haw, haw! Ow, haw, haw!”

“And then she come right to me and give me a pat on the back and
says: ‘It didn’t need any of them writin’s to make me give him his
come-uppance, Mr. Look. I never give a snap of my finger for him,
anyway, since I met you. Ow, hee-hee!”

“You seem to be feelin’ ’bout as gay as they make ‘em,” called a voice
from the roadside.

Hiram started up and wiped the tears of merriment from his eyes.

Two men were standing by the highway fence, men whose solemn faces were
streaked by perspiration. One of them carried a small rifle. The other
was “Sawed-Off” Purday, the Palermo deputy-sheriff. He was armed with a
club.

“Guess you must have heard the news about your friend,” said Purday,
with accent on the last word. “Nothin’ else would make you any more
tickleder. P’raps you’ve seen him along the ro’d. If you have we’ll be
much obleeged for a clue.”

“Seen who?” demanded Hiram, thinking at first that the men referred to
Captain Nymphus Bodfish. He eyed their weapons and felt a qualm of fear,
for he didn’t know what the exasperated skipper might have prepared for
him.

“Klebe Willard.”

“Klebe Willard!” There was relief as well as astonishment in Hiram’s
tone.

“Well, there’s been hell to pave and no pitch hot down in the village,”
 said Doughty, nothing loath to impart sensational news. “There’s four
possys out after Cap Willard and this is one of ’em. He’s took to the
woods somewheres and there ain’t no knowin’ where. But I reckon I’ll
catch him if I only get onto one clue,” he added, confidently. “No one
ever got away from me yet. Howsomever, it’s leg-weary work, this cuttin’
acrost pastures and plowed land. You say you ain’t seen hide nor hair of
him?”

“I ain’t said nothin’ about it,” retorted Hiram. “But I ain’t seen him,
if that’s what you’re after. Why in Tophet don’t you tell a man what the
critter has done instead of standin’ there and chawin’ ter-backer with
that infernal eight-day motion?”

“It ain’t altogether clear jest what it was all about,” related Doughty,
calmly. “All that’s known is that Klebe come whoopin’ into the village
from Square Harbour to-day and tore into his father’s office and then
come out and hot-footed home as though Old Nick was after him. In an
hour or so the old Judge went down to Klebe’s house, and it seems from
what the neighbours say that Klebe had been tea-in’ up in the meantime
and jawin Myry, and a little while after the Judge come in he got to
goin’ it worse about somethin’ or other. There ain’t much head nor tail to
stories, but as near as I can find out he went to lick the old man,
bein’ crazy drunk, I reckon, and Myry stepped in between, and he floored
the two of ’em and kicked over one of the young ones and took to the
woods howlin’ like a looservee. It’s bad bus’ness.”

Purday spat far and sighed dolefully.

“Your brother and Sylvene has sort of took charge there to Klebe’s
house,” the deputy went on. “The old Judge ‘come to’ ’fore I left the
village. But the doc says Myry is in a turrible bad way with the tunk
she got. It won’t be none surprisin’ if murder comes out of it. It’s a
glister for the Willard fam’ly, that’s what it is!”

He shifted his club to the other hand and started over the fence.

“Come along, Bragg,” he commanded. “It’s more’n li’ble that he kept to
the Bunganuck ridge.”

Hiram had no desire to ask further questions. He lashed his hors’e and
rattled away toward the village at his best speed.

It had been one of those unseasonably hot May days, humid and
sweltering, with thunder-heads boiling above the horizon and a menace in
the steaming quietness of nature.

When Hiram turned in at the yard of the Look place the low sun was
dipping behind an ominously purple curtain in the west, and there was a
jarring growl of thunder behind the hills.

His brother was not at home.

“He may need old Hime for somethin’ or other,” he muttered as
“Figger-Four” Avery bobbed into the barn leading the horse. “It ain’t
especially the place for me to go buttin’ in, under the circumstances,
but I’m a right-hand man for Phin when he needs help, and he knows it
now.”

He hurried away down the street, casting an occasional glance over his
shoulder at the purple-black curtain of cloud. “It looks as though it
was goin’ to be a ripper,” he commented.

In the yard of the Kleber Willard place little groups of villagers were
talking in hushed tones.

“How be they now inside there, Uncle Buck?” inquired Hiram,
solicitously.

“Them that’s still inside is in a mighty bad way,” replied the old
man, grimly. He added yet more grimly, “And them that’s outside is most
likely wuss off than that.”

“Them that’s outside!” repeated Hiram, smartly.

“That’s what I said. After the Judge come round into his senses they
thought it was all right to leave him on the sofy till they got ready
to take him home, and in the gen’ral confusion here he’s got away. Took
both of Klebe’s young ones with him, the little boy and the little girl,
and Lord only knows where he’s got to. I tell ye ’twa’n’t safe to
leave him alone! An old man with the bang he got ’side of the head
ain’t gittin’ back into his right senses all in a minit.”

“What are you standin’ around here for, all of ye?” indignantly demanded
Hiram, raising his voice. “Why ain’t you out tryin’ to find the lost?”

“Why ain’t _you?_” retorted Uncle Lysimachus. “There’s fifty gone after
’em already and the ro’d is still open. They didn’t take it with
’em.”

The Squire had heard his brother’s voice in the yard and he came to the
door, his face haggard and grief-stricken.

“It’s an awful thing, brother,” he murmured when Hiram hastened to him.
“Myra is still insensible and the doctor fears a fracture of the skull.
But my worst fear now is for Judge Willard and the children.”

He cast a troubled look at the sky.

“Doesn’t anyone get a word from them?” he asked wistfully.

“You hold the fort here, Phin,” returned Hiram with bluff assurance.
“I’ll find ’em if I have to rake from here to Smyrna with a
fine-toothed comb. I’m gittin’ to be the greatest finder you ever see,
Phin. I found the Mayo girl, I found myself at last, I found a woman
to-day who’ll have me, and now I’ll find the ones you want or die
tryin’. Don’t you worry, Phin. It’s old Hime for ’em now.”

He started away on the trot, with no very clear idea of what he would do
first, but anxious to be moving.

Brickett was standing with shoulder set against the side of his door,
one eye on the shower that was crawling up the sky, the other on a man
who sat in a waggon before the store and who endeavoured to engage him
in conversation. “Hard-Times” Wharff was in his favourite position on
one corner of the platform, his sharp nose tilted toward the heavens and
his long hair waving in the first whispers from the approaching tempest.
A man who was on the other corner of the platform stepped down as the
showman came up. This person accosted Hiram brusquely.

“I’ve got a little bus’ness with you, mister,” he said.

It was Captain Nymphus Bodfish, saturnine and resolute.

Hiram was about to return an impatient retort about “other matters to
attend to just then,” when he caught a word of the conversation between
Brickett and the man in the waggon.

“Donno who it could be, _I’m_ sure,” said Brickett.

“I allus knew there was _some_ fools up this way,” said the man, with
rough jest, “but I didn’t reckon that any of them was fool enough to
start in a dory right out past Cod Head in the teeth o’ that thing
comin’ up there.”

He nodded a languid head at the big cloud.

“I tell ye,” insisted Bodfish, pressing close to Hiram, “your’n and my
bus’ness will have to be ‘tended to right now.”

“Did you say that you saw a dory makin’ out past Cod Head?” shouted
Hiram at the man in the waggon, looking past and over Bodfish with an
utter disregard that made the skipper grit his teeth.

“’Ep! Saw it as I was comin’ up the Cove ro’d,” returned the man.

“I donno who in sanup it can be,” repeated Brickett.

“With fifty men huntin’ for Judge Coll Willard and them two young ones,
that old man wand’rin’ somewheres out his senses, you ain’t got brains
enough to guess who it is in that dory?” fairly screamed Hiram. “It’s
blastnation lucky for you, Ase Brickett, that a man don’t need to do any
thinkin’ to run his lungs, or you’d die for lack of air.”

“I say I’ve got bus’ness----” recommenced Bodfish.

“Yes, and I’ve got bus’ness with _you!_” barked Hiram, rushing at him so
furiously that Bodfish staggered back. “This is the bus’ness: You come
with me as fast as your legs will take you and start that old garsoline
plunker of your’n. Hiper!”

“Not on your life! Not for you!” roared Bodfish. “I’ll fight you to a
standstill first!”

Hiram did not waste words with the man. He drove both his broad hands
against his breast, rushed him backward to the store wall and choked him
until his tongue lolled.

“Will ye? Will ye go?” he kept saying.

But each time he loosened his grip the skipper only cursed or cried for
help. He was struggling madly all the time, but Hiram’s strength and
passion were too much for him.

“I don’t b’lieve in abusin’ no man,” observed Brickett from his door.
“I reckon you’d better let that man go, Hime Look. You can’t sass and
browbeat and bang round ev’ry one in this place.”

“You fools,” panted Hiram, “Judge Willard and those children are in that
dory. There is no one else who would try to go out of this place into
that storm. It’s Judge Willard, I tell you! You are goin’ to take me
out, Nymp’ Bodfish, if I have to tear you apart and lug you down to your
packet in pound packages. I’ll kill the man that interferes. Will you
go, I say?”

He fell upon the skipper with such desperate fury that when he again
released his clutch the man staggered away dizzily in his iron grip.

They disappeared around the corner of the storehouse and in a little
while the sharp “plock-plock” of the _Effort’s_ engine barked in the
interim of the thunder crashes.

“Them Looks is sartinly the desp’ritest critters when they git started I
ever see,” remarked the man in the waggon, after he had watched the two
men out of sight.

“Well, if he weighed bigger’n that el’phunt of his he wouldn’t lug
me and my own bo’t off on no such wild-goose chase as he’s goin’ on,”
 growled Brickett, getting ready to shut his big doors. He was apparently
unconvinced regarding the occupants of the dory. “That was about the
biggest piece of nerve I ever saw showed out, and I’ve seen some good
ones in my day.”

“And I’ve seen some good old showers in _my_ time,” remarked the man in
the waggon, picking up his reins. “But”--a crackling explosion
interrupted him---“this is sartinly the king of old lingers.”

He larruped his horse around the corner into the shed, for the big trees
were beginning to twist and moan and the big drops to lash the dust.



CHAPTER XXIV--THE CREDIT SHEET, AFTER THE LOOK

AND THE WILLARD FAMILIES STRIKE THEIR BALANCES


               If we could write upon his gravestun’s face

               A list of what he’d done to help this place,

               We’d have a roll of honour to his fame,

               But we should publish all our village shame.

               There’d be a list of heirs and all their fights;

               The sorrows and the heart-aches over rights;

               There’d be the frowns, the snarls, the sneers and scorn

               Out of the leavin’s of our dead men born.

               There’d be the threats and mutt’rin’s of divorce

               And all the griefs that spring from Trouble’s source.

               ‘Twas better that this calendar was crossed

               With note:--“By order of J. Brown nol pressed.”


That’s how it’s been with her ever sence she come to,” said Mrs. Arad
Tolman, with a jab of her head toward the closed door of an inner
room. There were moanings and cries on the other side of the door as
incoherent as the laments of an animal in distress.

Mrs. Tolman was busy over a brew of herbs that simmered in a little
saucepan on the Kleber Willard cook stove. Ranged around the kitchen
walls sat men and women. Some of the folks in the yard had hurried home
when the tempest broke. Others had taken shelter in the house, making
the storm an excuse for their curiosity.

“Sylvene and the Squire is doin’ what they can with her,” went on Mrs.
Tolman, stirring at the brew, “but she is in a turrible to-do, now I can
tell you! She don’t seem to mind the tunk on her head. That ain’t’ her
lamentation. But the way she’s takin’ on about them childern is enough
to melt a heart of stone. It was the first thing she began dingin’ away
about when she come to--just as if she smelt trouble in the air.”

“What’s been told her about the childern?” inquired Marriner Amazeen,
gazing at the closed door with pity on his seamed face.

“Only that they’ve been took care of at the neighbour’s till mornin’.
But you can’t stuff that excuse down a mother’s thro’t. Talkin’ and
tellin’ don’t fool ’em.”

“They’ve gone to Kingdom Come in that old dory, along with the Judge,
and she senses it,” said Uncle Buck, from his corner. “Them sensin’s is
mysterious, but they’re so.”

The lightnings were now fluttering in far-flung sheets that lit up the
kitchen windows palely. The worst of the tempest was over. But the wind
bellowed without and the rain sprayed fiercely upon the dripping panes.

“First it’s the childern and then it’s whiff over and a-takin’ on about
Klebe--‘poor, darlin’ Klebe,’ she calls him, ‘out there in the storm and
the rain.’ Well, I’d poor darlin’ a man o’ mine that fetched me a clip
like that and then run away.”

“Howsomever, Myry’s allus been quite a nagger--quite a nagger at usyal
times,” observed Uncle Buck, with mild reproof. “She prob’ly realises
now, when her eyes is open by her trouble, that a man can’t be hectored
only about so fur.”

Several men in the kitchen looked at their wives with significance in
their gaze.

A woman was beginning a dissertation on her views of the marriage
situation when there came a beating of wet feet on the stoop without,
and a man trudged in, soggy and dripping. The blast threw a fistful of
water at his back as he slammed the door behind him.

“They’ve got Klebe,” he announced briefly, standing close to the stove.
“How’s the woman?”

“’Tain’t the outside of her head now--it’s the inside of her heart
that’s ailin’,” said Mrs. Tolman. “She wants her childern and her
husband, spite of what he’s done to her.”

“They caught him up in the Bunganuck woods,” explained the man, replying
to rapid questions. “Purday took him and done a good job at it. And the
whole pack and possy of ’em was draggleder’n wet mushrats. They’re
dryin’ Klebe off down in the s’lectmen’s office now, and I reckon
they’ll keep him here to-night and take him to jail ter-morrer.”

“Has he been told about the children?”

“Yas, had to tell him. He’s been fightin’ like a cattymaran ever since
he was took, and Purday got tuckered out and told him so’s to break his
sperit. And it done it quick, now, I can tell ye!”

“Northin’ from outside?” The question was put with a glance seaward
and a mournful inflection of the voice, as though with certainty of the
worst.

“Northin’.” The reply was equally mournful.

The little group lowered their heads and sat in silence as at a funeral.

In the hush the door of the inner room opened, and Squire Phin came into
the kitchen.

“Have you brought news?” he asked anxiously, putting his hand on the
shoulder of the new arrival.

The man repeated his story.

While the Squire stood there with head down, pondering, there was a
commotion in the other room. Again the door opened, and a comely woman
whose features were twisted by grief and suffering appeared. A cloth
was wrapped around her forehead, and her lips were swollen from sobbing.
Though Sylvena Willard strove with all her gentle strength to restrain
her, the woman tore away and came into the kitchen.

“Bring me my children,” she cried, staring from one to the other with
eyes glazed and sunken by woe. “Where’s Klebe? Send him after the
children. Something has happened. What is it? Don’t drive me mad,
neighbours! What is it?”

Her voice rose in a shriek. She ran first to one man and then to
another-, clasping her thin hands around their arms. The men were
unresponsive and embarrassed. Hysteria was upon her.

Squire Phin, with his strong hands and his comforting words, was at last
able to draw her away toward the inner room.

“Oh, Phineas Look,” she wailed, “tell me where my babies are.”

“They are in God’s hands, child,” he replied, his heart in his tones.
“Take courage. I am goin’ away now to bring some one. Take courage.”

While she stared at him with frightened, puzzled gaze he put her into
Sylvena Willard’s arms.

“Do your best with her, Sylvie, until I come back,” he whispered. “I am
going to get Kleber. The awful load that has come upon this household is
one that husband and wife should bear together. Do your best with her,
little woman! For I shall be gone a bit of a while. I am going to tell
your brother a story that he needs to hear.”

He hurried away.

During the long hour that elapsed the stricken woman sat in the kitchen
close by the outer door, motionless and speechless, her eyes fixed on
the latch. All of Sylvena’s coaxings could not draw her back to the
inner room.

The Squire came first into the room. Behind him was Captain Kleber
Willard, and jostling at his back were Deputy Sheriff Purday and his
helper, alert and officious. They wore the air of officers who knew that
this method of handling a prisoner was not regular, but who had been
overmastered by the Squire’s authority. With the group was another man,
the venerable pastor of the village church, whom they had overtaken
making his way with a lantern along the tempest-strewn street toward the
house of mourning.

Willard stepped inside the door, his knees bending lifelessly at each
step, his head wagging low between his shoulders.

His bloodshot eyes rolled shamefacedly from countenance to countenance.
The solemn regard of his neighbours shifted to the worn floor. They had
no consolation for him. His face began to pucker with the grimace of the
strong man who is trying to hold back the tears.

“Where are our little ones, Kleber?” His wife had thrown herself upon
him. She screamed the question over and over.

“Squire Look--Parson Emmons--some one--oh, for God’s sake--tell her!”

His sobs choked him. With his arm about his wife he stumbled away to a
corner of the room, dragging her with him, and while the neighbours sat
silent and sympathetic, the women sobbing softly, the men grinding
their rough knuckles into their palms, the husband and the wife, their
foreheads against the wall, washed away in the first tears they had ever
shed in a common woe all the wrack of the petty quarrels, the little
heart-burnings, the frettings and the misunderstandings--all so mean and
small in this shadow of the mightiest tragedy in their lives.

After many, many minutes they were quiet, and clung to each other like
people in the dark, afraid.

Captain Willard trembled until his teeth rattled together. He
was nerving himself to face the picture of his guilt and his
ingratitude--his crime! That was it! His crime.

It was a picture on which the true light had been shed by Squire Phineas
Look, whispering to him in a corner of the selectmen’s office.

For some minutes the lawyer and the clergyman had been conversing apart
in an undertone, and now the minister came along to the husband and wife
and gently drew them away from the corner.

“Kleber and Myra,” he said, “it was not many years ago that I stood
before you in this house in the presence of almost the same neighbours
who are here now, and I joined your hands in wedlock. I have watched
with sorrow and disappointment the wretched troubles that have come into
your home life--needless troubles, foolish troubles. This is not a time
for a sermon. But it is a time for a friend to speak a word to you. I
could have said much to you before, but I refrained, for I realised that
your hearts were stubborn and froward, never having been touched by the
softness of true love and forbearance. It is the cruel and chastening
hand of trouble that does it now. I believe that now your home and your
hearts are swept clean of the anger and pride and selfishness and the
little vices that ruin homes. I believe that you are now willing to
shoulder together the awful burden that has been placed upon you.”

The woman’s face grew white, and she swayed into her husband’s arms.
Willard stood gasping for his breath.

“I married your bodies once before, Kleber and Myra. To-night I am going
to marry your hearts and your souls, for, God pity you both, you cannot
stand alone and bear this horror.”

The people in the kitchen were too raptly engaged to hear the outside
door open. The Squire stood in the shadow near it, and a soft “Hist!”
 engaged his attention.

Hiram’s head was thrust through the opening. He was bareheaded, his
clothing was in shreds, and the lamplight shed feeble gleams on a
hideous black and blue circle around his sound eye.

When the Squire advanced on tiptoe Hiram seized his arm, pulled him
outside and, softly as he had opened it, he closed the door.

“I’ve got ’em,” he whispered excitedly. “It was a God-awful trip,
Phin, but I got ’em! It was old Hime for ’em!”

“You saved them!” gasped his brother.

“Sounder’n nuts. But there wa’n’t no time to spare. Old Judge flat on
his back in the dory and them two little children huddled down side
of him squealin’ for him to wake up! Heard ’em above the roar of the
wind, Phin! I guess it was God’s way of leadin’ me to ’em. I’ve got
’em waitin’ ’round the corner of the house here. When the old Judge
come to the second time he was right as a trivet. Didn’t have no idee
how he happened to be out in that dory. Kind o’ dreamed he was runnin’
away from a devil or somethin’ and savin’ the children--and I don’t
blame him for thinkin’ it was the devil, for that Klebe----”

“Hush, brother,” said the Squire gently; “there have been strange
heart-stirrings about here to-day.”

“You’re right, Phin,” replied the showman heartily. “I guess mine’s been
stirred, too. ’Cause when I undertook to thank Nymp’ Bodfish at the
wharf after we got back for havin’ been so kind and gentlemanly as to
take me down the bay and save the Judge and the young ones, he drawed
off and got in one pelt at my eye, and I didn’t chase him nor want to.
I tell ye, I’ve got jest as good a disposition as any one when I’ve got
half a chance to show it.”

He poked the puffiness under his eye and muttered to himself:

“I guess I reelly am gettin’ to be pretty fair-minded, ’cause if he’d
a-blacked the two of ’em I’m willin’ to acknowledge that he wouldn’t
have been more’n half square with me for what I’ve done to him.”

The suddenness of this news of rescue had dizzied the Squire for a
moment, but he now pushed his brother toward the corner of the house
with a slap on the back that made Hiram cringe.

“Bring them in, Hime! This is your triumph!” He threw open the kitchen
door with a slam that brought the eyes of all in the kitchen around with
a startled snap. The minister paused. The father and mother stared in
affright.

“Bring them along, brother!” shouted the Squire joyously. “Here’s Hero
Hiram Look,” he announced, “and his salvage from the sea!”

One child was asleep in the Judge’s arms. The other clung to Hiram’s
hand and blinked at the light streaming from the open door. The mother
screamed and would have dashed upon them, but the Squire gently held her
back.

“Wait, this is a wedding!” he cried. “Hands together this way! God bless
you and yours. Now, Brother Hime, bring the wedding presents.”

“I ain’t a very extry lookin’ sight to come to a weddin’,” said the
showman, “but I didn’t come to your first one, Klebe, and I didn’t send
no present. All is, I’ve tried to square myself at this second one,
and my best wishes for everlastin’ happiness goes along with ’em,” he
added wistfully.

He put the sleeping child into the mother’s arms and stood back to let
the Judge advance toward his son with the light of forgiveness in his
eyes.

“Oh, father!” wept Kleber, stumbling forward and dragging himself on his
knees toward the old man. “I didn’t know! I didn’t know until the Squire
told me.”

“Stand up, my boy,” said the Judge, putting out his trembling hand. “All
of us know better now, and some knowledge is bought at cruel prices.”

It was without a word that Hiram took the hand that Kleber Willard put
out to him when he turned from his father after a time. But as they
stood there clinging to each other Hiram leaned forward with a flash of
humour that relieved the situation, whispering:

“That black eye, Klebe, is the dot, period, full stop, set down after
the very last fight of my whole life, and I got it for your sake.”

“Come, people!” called the Squire from the doorway. “Come away with me
now. The wedding is over. The night is getting late and the stars are
out again.”

He smiled across the room at Sylvena as he said it.

Then he began with jocular pokings to push the folks out of the door,
and even subjected Deputy-Sheriff Purday to that treatment when the
zealous officer came along to have a private word with him.

“But look-a-here, Squire,” protested Purday, hanging back, “Klebe is
really under arrest, you know, and you understand what the law is.”

“Deputy,” the Squire said, holding him by the arm a moment, “under the
circumstances the highest law I know of is this: ‘What God hath joined
together let no man put asunder.’”

He pointed to the mother and the father with the children between them.

“The grand jury of human hearts returns no indictment. Go home.”

He pushed Purday out behind the last straggler and slammed the door and
bolted it on the inside.



CHAPTER XXV--AQUARIUS WHARFF SEES SOMETHING BESIDES HARD TIMES

IN THE SUNSET


               Slowly he passed, for he stopped to pick

               The stones from the road with his old crook stick.

               Rolled them left and rolled them right

               From early morning till late at night.

               And to wondering folk who paused to ask

               The reasons that prompted this self-set task

               He said, with a smile for their doubting gaze,

               “I’m simply helpin’ ye mend your ways!”


It was August again. The flies buzzed lazily in the late afternoon
hush, and the knife-nicked bench in the shade cast by Asa Brickett’s
store had its accustomed row of old men, who buzzed in conversation as
lazily as the flies.

“This has been about the tejousest summer I ever put through,”
 complained Uncle Lysimachus Buck, after a yawn. “Ev’rything seems to be
deader’n the latch on a bulkhead door.”

“Mebbe it’s because Hime Look has settled up country on the Snell farm,”
 observed Marriner Amazeen with a bit of malice.

“Reports is that he’s givin’ ’em a little flavour of circus right
along in that section,” said Dow Babb.

“Feller from that way was tellin’ me that Hime has been doin’ a job of
breakin’ up with that el’phunt hitched to the plow. Hime allowed as how
P. T. Barnum tells in his book that he used an el’phunt to plow with,
and he wa’n’t goin’ to let no P. T.’s git ahead of _him_. Ev’ry hoss
that come along past stuck up ears and tail and tried to climb a tree
and pull the tree up after. Feller said that one of the neighbours went
to Hime fin’ly and said that he’d been readin’ in some tormented book
erruther that in old days the Romans, or some of them old sirs, whoever
they be, used to sacrifice animiles when there was any good luck had
come to ’em and they wanted to celebrate account of it. Neighbour
hinted that marryin’ Abby Snell was good enough luck for any man to brag
of, and wanted to know why Hime didn’t offer Imogene up as a sacrifice.
Told Hime the neighbours would git up a bee, if he did, and club in with
him mighty enthusiastic.”

Babb unlocked his legs and chuckled.

“Hime spoke up and told the neighbour as how ’twas Imogene that had
made the match ’tween him and Abby, and that if it come to a choice of
gittin’ along without the el’phunt or a cook stove Abby’d let the cook
stove go ev’ry time. Didn’t get much satisfaction out of Hime, now I
tell ye!”

“I donno of any one that ever did,” said Marriner Amazeen.

“Cap Nymp’ Bodfish licked him once, time o’ the May gale, there,” stated
Uncle Buck. “Cap Nymps told me he did.”

“Say, do you s’pose if he’d ever licked Hime Look he’d a-hid off in the
woods all next day and then sold the _Effort_ for a song and scooted
to Hackenny, for all we know of him here?” demanded Amazeen. “No, s’r,
there was no one ever done Hime Look in this world, except his own
brother in town meetin’, and then t’was Look eat Look.”

“Curi’s how things has all come around the last year,” mused Lysimachus.
“The Squire married to Sylvene and settled in the Willard house and the
old Judge actin’ as proud of him as----”

Brickett interrupted here, coming from the inside of the store, where he
had been perusing his daily paper.

“Why shouldn’t he be proud of him?” he demanded, his thumb on an item,
his glasses on the end of his nose. “You listen here a minute.”

He began to read in a sing-song manner:

“A well-founded rumour from the State House is to the effect that the
Governor has tendered the vacant Supreme Court judgeship to the Hon.
Phineas Look, of Palermo. Mr. Look’s legal qualifications are too well
known in this State to need comment. It is understood that he is in
no sense an active candidate, and the honour has been tendered by the
Governor to the Palermo man by the Executive’s initiative, the Governor
following his frequently expressed intention of letting certain
appointments within his gift seek the man. A Supreme Court judgeship
is certainly not an office to be hawked among politicians, and such an
appointment will be a credit to the State and the Bar. Mr. Look is----”

Brickett ran his eye down the column.

“There’s pretty nigh a whole colume here about him,” he said. “But there
ain’t any need of readin’ it. It’s matters we’re all knowin’ to about
him. Papers was lookin’ for somethin’ to fill up with, I persume.”

He flopped the sheet.

“What I wanted in pertickler to call your attention to,” he went on,
“was something reel interestin’. It says here that a man has shot
himself in a New York lodging-house, and from marks on his clothes and
his papers it is supposed that he is King Bradish, who was at one time
well known in certain sportin’ quarters. That must be our King Bradish,
don’t you s’pose so?”

“Prob’ly,” said Uncle Buck without great interest. “And I’m glad he done
it before he’d skun the last cent out of his poor old mother. I guess
she ain’t got much left, as it is.”

“Well, signs and wonders never cease,” sighed Marriner Amazeen,
relighting his pipe; “as I said when I witnessed Sum Badger’s new will
t’other day,” he continued between puffs.

“Haskell’s girl gits it, does she?” asked Babb.

“Yas! Sence ’Caje Dunham whirled ’round and showed some signs of
bein’ human, Sum found that he was in a class by himself as the meanest
man in town, and he got jealous of ’Caje.”

“It won’t hurt this place none if some of the rest of ’em runs races
of the same sort,” said Buck.

The click of the key in the lock above their heads startled them.

Squire Phin was coming down the stairs, shoving the key of his office
into his trousers.

“We’ve jest been list’nin’ to some news about you, Squire,” called one
of the group on the bench.

Squire Phin came around the corner of the stairway, put his hands behind
his back and smiled at them.

“What now, neighbours?” he inquired.

“Says here in Ase’s paper that you’re goin’ to be a judge,” replied
Buck.

“Well, that _is_ news,” said the Squire, and yet with a quizzical cock
to his eyebrows that indicated that he was in no measure surprised.

“Go ’long with you! You knowed it all the time!” snorted Buck.

“I always believe in giving my old neighbours all the news I can when
they want it,” the lawyer said humorously, “for news has been scarce in
town lately. I’m going to give you something straight now. You will hear
this before the newspapers do: I have written to the Governor declining
that honour with grateful thanks.”

“Won’t be a judge?” queried Amazeen with astonishment,

“I’d rather be Phin Look, lawyer,” said the Squire, with a queer little
glint in his eyes.

“I’ll bet you ten dollars I know why,” snapped Uncle Buck, with the
frankness of an old friend. “A man that knows was telling me that all
you have to do is set up there in your office and rake in money hand
over fist, sellin’ law to the big corporations. And a Supreme Court
judge only gits five thousand a year.”

His gimlet eye bored the Squire, and a question that his curiosity had
prompted for a long time popped out of his mouth.

“A man what ought to know told me that you was clearin’ fifteen thousand
dollars a year out of law. Now, Squire, I stump you to say that he lied.
Did he, or didn’t he?”

The lawyer so thoroughly appreciated the character of Uncle Buck that
this attack was flavoured for him with delicious humour. He came close
to the old man and put his hands on his hips as he straddled before him.

“I’m goin’ to tell you the honest truth, Uncle Lys,” he said.

The inquisitor pulled himself forward.

“If a man is a Supreme Court judge in this State he must be away from
home almost three-quarters of his time. Now the straight facts of the
case are----”

He whirled on his heel and pointed up the street. They all could see
the gate of the Willard place. A woman was standing there waiting, and
against her pretty white gown was silhouetted the figure of a shaggy
dog.

“Now, the straight facts are, Uncle Lys, my wife wants me home every
night to help water the garden. I’ve coaxed and teased, but she won’t
let me be a judge.”

A pucker of mirth came around his lips.

“It’s awful to be bossed around that way by a woman, Uncle Lys.”

“Oh, you darnation fool!” snorted the old man, making a swipe at the
lawyer with his cane.

Squire Phin dodged in mock terror and went away laughing.

Uncle Aquarius Wharff had come up and taken his favourite position on
the platform to study the evening skies.

“How is it looking to-night?” asked the lawyer, kindly humouring the old
man’s vagary.

“Clouds is master fine things with the sun-fire behind ’em, ain’t
they, Squire?” returned Uncle Wharff. “Look at ’em, all splattered
with colours that the cherubim has been busy all day a-mixin’ so’s to
have ‘em ready for the sunset time. Blazin’ with glory, that’s what they
be! Seems as if you could jump off’n Witch-Run Hill straight into the
hereafter. Sometimes it has seemed to me that p’raps the angels do open
the gates once in a while at sunset time jest to see if they are well
’iled ag’inst the Gre’t Day of the Hereafter. It’s a spankin’ fine
prospect out there now, Squire. You take that mixtur’ of gold and roses
and all them colours that make your heart feel swelly inside, and it
means settled weather for a long time to come, Squire, for a long time
to come!”

The lawyer patted the shoulder of the old man’s sun-faded coat.

“God bless you for a prophet, Uncle Aquarius,” he said gently.

Then he stepped off the platform and started up the street, waving a
greeting to the white figure at the gate. She came to meet him, with
shining eyes, and they went in hand in hand.


THE END





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