E-text prepared by Al Haines
The book's Frontispiece was missing. There were no other illustrations.
HOW JANICE DAY WON
HELEN BEECHER LONG
Author of "Janice Day the Young Homemaker," "The Testing of Janice Day," "The Mission of Janice Day," Etc.
Illustrated by Corinne Turner
The Goldsmith Publishing Co. Cleveland
Copyright, 1917, by Sully & Kleinteich
I. TROUBLE FROM NEAR AND FAR II. "TALKY" DEXTER, INDEED III. "THE SEVENTH ABOMINATION" IV. A RIFT IN THE HONEYMOON V. "THE BLUEBIRD—FOR HAPPINESS" VI. THE TENTACLES OF THE MONSTER VII. SWEPT ON BY THE CURRENT VIII. REAL TROUBLE IX. HOW NELSON TOOK IT X. HOW POLKTOWN TOOK IT XI. "MEN MUST WORK WHILE WOMEN MUST WEEP" XII. AN UNEXPECTED EMERGENCY XIII. INTO THE LION'S DEN XIV. A DECLARATION OF WAR XV. AND NOW IT IS DISTANT TROUBLE XVI. ONE MATTER COMES TO A HEAD XVII. THE OPENING OF THE CAMPAIGN XVIII. HOPEWELL SELLS HIS VIOLIN XIX. THE GOLD COIN XX. SUSPICIONS XXI. WHAT WAS IN THE PAPER XXII. DEEP WATERS XXIII. JOSEPH US COMES OUT FOR PROHIBITION XXIV. ANOTHER GOLD PIECE XXV. IN DOUBT XXVI. THE TIDE TURNS XXVII. THE TEMPEST XXVIII. THE ENEMY RETREATS XXIX. THE TRUTH AT LAST XXX. MARM PARRADAY DOES HER DUTY
HOW JANICE DAY WON
TROUBLE FROM NEAR AND FAR
At the corner of High Street, where the lane led back to the stables of the Lake View Inn, Janice Day stopped suddenly, startled by an eruption of sound from around an elbow of the lane—a volley of voices, cat-calls, and ear-splitting whistles which shattered Polktown's usual afternoon somnolence.
One youthful imitator expelled a laugh like the bleating of a goat:
"Na-ha-ha-ha! Ho! Jim Nar-ha-nay! There's a brick in your hat!"
Another shout of laugher and a second boy exclaimed:
"Look out, old feller! You'll spill it!"
All the voices seemed those of boys; but this was an hour when most of the town lads were supposed to be under the more or less eagle eye of Mr. Nelson Haley, the principal of the Polktown school. Janice attended the Middletown Seminary, and this chanced to be a holiday at that institution. She stood anxiously on the corner now to see if her cousin, Marty, was one of this crowd of noisy fellows.
With stumbling feet, and with the half dozen laughing, mocking boys tailing him, a bewhiskered, rough-looking, shabby man came into sight. His appearance on the pleasant main thoroughfare of the little lakeside town quite spoiled the prospect.
Before, it had been a lovely scene. Young Spring, garbed only in the tender greens of the quickened earth and the swelling buds of maple and lilac, had accompanied Janice Day down Hillside Avenue into High Street from the old Day house where she lived with her Uncle Jason, her Aunt 'Mira, and Marty. All the neighbors had seen Janice and had smiled at her; and those whose eyes were anointed by Romance saw Spring dancing by the young girl's side.
Her eyes sparkled; there was a rose in either cheek; her trim figure in the brown frock, well-built walking shoes of tan, and pretty toque, was an effective bit of life in the picture, the background of which was the sloping street to the steamboat dock and the beautiful, blue, dancing waters of the lake beyond.
An intoxicated man on the streets of Polktown during the three years of Janice Day's sojourn here was almost unknown. There had been no demand for the sale of liquor in the town until Lem Parraday, proprietor of the Lake View Inn, applied to the Town Council for a bar license.
The request had been granted without much opposition. Mr. Cross Moore, President of the Council, held a large mortgage on the Parraday premises, and it was whispered that this fact aided in putting the license through in so quiet a way.
It was agreed that Polktown was growing. The "boom" had started some months before. Already the sparkling waters of the lake were plied by a new Constance Colfax, and the C. V. Railroad was rapidly completing its branch which was to connect Polktown with the Eastern seaboard.
Whereas in the past a half dozen traveling men might visit the town in a week and put up at the Inn, there had been through this Winter a considerable stream of visitors. And it was expected that the Inn, as well as every house that took boarders in the town, would be well patronized during the coming Summer.
To Janice Day the Winter had been lovely. She had been very busy. Well had she fulfilled her own tenet of "Do Something." In service she found continued joy. Janice loved Polktown, and almost everybody in Polktown loved her.
At least, everybody knew her, and when these young rascals trailing the drunken man spied the accusing countenance of Janice they fell back in confusion. She was thankful her cousin Marty was not one of them; yet several, she knew, belonged to the boys' club, the establishment of which had led to the opening of Polktown's library and free reading-room. However, the boys pursued Tim Narnay no farther. They slunk back into the lane, and finally, with shrill whoops and laughter, disappeared. The besotted man stood wavering on the curbstone, undecided, it seemed, upon his future course.
Janice would have passed on. The appearance of the fellow merely shocked and disgusted her. Her experience of drunkenness and with drinking people, had been very slight indeed. Gossip's tongue was busy with the fact that several weak or reckless men now hung about the Lake View Inn more than was good for them; and Janice saw herself that some boys had taken to loafing here. But nobody in whom she was vitally interested seemed in danger of acquiring the habit of using liquor just because Lem Parraday sold it.
The ladies of the sewing society of the Union Church missed "Marm" Parraday's brown face and vigorous tongue. It was said that she strongly disapproved of the change at the Inn, but Lem had overruled her for once.
"And, poor woman!" thought Janice now, "if she has to see such sights as this about the Inn, I don't wonder that she is ashamed."
The train of her thought was broken at the moment, and her footsteps stayed. Running across the street came a tiny girl, on whose bare head the Spring sunshine set a crown of gold. Such a wealth of tangled, golden hair Janice had never before seen, and the flowerlike face beneath it would have been very winsome indeed had it been clean.
She was a neglected-looking little creature; her patched clothing needed repatching, her face and hands were begrimed, and——
"Goodness only knows when there was ever a comb in that hair!" sighed Janice. "I would dearly love to clean her up and put something decent to wear upon her, and——"
She did not finish her wish because of an unexpected happening. The little girl came so blithely across the street only to run directly into the wavering figure of the intoxicated Jim Narnay. She screamed as Narnay seized her by one thin arm.
"What ye got there?" he demanded, hoarsely, trying to catch the other tiny, clenched fist.
"Oh! don't do it! don't do it!" begged the child, trying her best to slip away from his rough grasp.
"Ye got money, ye little sneak!" snarled the man, and he forced the girl's hand open with a quick wrench and seized the dime she held.
He flung her aside as though she had been a wisp of straw, and she would have fallen had not Janice caught her. Indignantly the older girl faced the drunken ruffian.
"You wicked man! How can you? Give her back that money at once! Why, you—you ought to be arrested!"
"Aw, g'wan!" growled the fellow. "It's my money."
He stumbled back into the lane again—without doubt making for the rear door of the Inn barroom from which he had just come. The child was sobbing.
"Wait!" exclaimed Janice, both eager and angry now. "Don't cry. I'll get your ten cents back. I'll go right in and tell Mr. Parraday and he'll make him give it up. At any rate he won't give him a drink for it."
The child caught Janice's skirt with one grimy hand. "Don't—don't do that, Miss," she said, soberly.
"'Twon't do no good. Pop's all right when he's sober, and he'll be sorry for this. I oughter kep' my eyes open. Ma told me to. I could easy ha' dodged him if I'd been thinkin'. But—but that's all ma had in the house and she needed the meal."
"He—he is your father?" gasped Janice.
"Oh, yes. I'm Sophie Narnay. That's pop. And he's all right when he's sober," repeated the child.
Janice Day's indignation evaporated. Now she could feel only sympathy for the little creature that was forced to acknowledge such a man for a parent.
"Ma's goin' to be near 'bout distracted," Sophie pursued, shaking her tangled head. "That's the only dime she had."
"Never mind," gasped Janice, feeling the tears very near to the surface. "I'll let you have the dime you need. Is—is your papa always like that?"
"Oh, no! Oh, no! He works in the woods sometimes. But since the tavern's been open he's been drinkin' more. Ma says she hopes it'll burn down," added Sophie, with perfect seriousness.
Suddenly Janice felt that she could echo that desire herself. Ethically two wrongs do not make a right; but it is human nature to see the direct way to the end and wish for it, not always regarding ethical considerations. Janice became at that moment converted to the cause of making Polktown a dry spot again on the State map.
"My dear!" she said, with her arm about the tangle-haired little Sophie, "I am sorry for—for your father. Maybe we can all help him to stop drinking. I—I hope he doesn't abuse you."
"He's awful good when he's sober," repeated the little thing, wistfully. "But he ain't been sober much lately."
"How many are there of you, Sophie?"
"There's ma and me and Johnny and Eddie and the baby. We ain't named the baby. Ma says she ain't sure we'll raise her and 'twould be no use namin' her if she ain't going to be raised, would it?"
"No-o—perhaps not," admitted Janice, rather startled by this philosophy. "Don't you have the doctor for her?"
"Once. But it costs money. And ma's so busy she can't drag clean up the hill to Doc Poole's office very often. And then—well, there ain't been much money since pop come out of the woods this Spring."
Her old-fashioned talk gave Janice a pretty clear insight into the condition of affairs at the Narnay house. She asked the child where she lived and learned the locality (down near the shore of Pine Cove) and how to get to it. She made a mental note of this for a future visit to the place.
"Here's another dime, Sophie," she said, finding the cleanest spot on the little girl's cheek to kiss. "Your father's out of sight now, and you can run along to the store and get the meal."
"You're a good 'un, Miss," declared Sophie, nodding. "Come and see the baby. She's awful pretty, but ma says she's rickety. Good-bye."
The little girl was away like the wind, her broken shoes clattering over the flagstones. Janice looked after her and sighed. There seemed a sudden weight pressing upon her mind. The sunshine was dimmed; the sweet odors of Spring lost their spice in her nostrils. Instead of strolling down to the dock as she had intended, she turned about and, with lagging step, took her homeward way.
The sight of this child's trouble, the thought of Narnay's weakness and what it meant to his unfortunate family, brought to mind with crushing force Janice's own trouble. And this personal trouble was from afar.
Amid the kaleidoscopic changes in Mexican affairs, Janice's father had been laboring for three years and more to hold together the mining properties conceded to him and his fellow-stockholders by the administration of Porfirio Diaz. In the battle-ridden State of Chihuahua Mr. Broxton Day was held a virtual prisoner, by first one warring faction and then another.
At one time, being friendly with a certain chief of the belligerents, Mr. Day had taken out ore and had had the mine in good running condition. Some money had flowed into the coffers of the mining company. Janice benefited in a way during this season of plenty.
Now, of late, the Yaquis had swept down from the mountains, Mr. Day's laborers had run away, and his own life was placed in peril again. He wrote little about his troubles to his daughter, living so far away in the Vermont village, but his bare mention of conditions was sufficient to spur Janice's imagination. She was anxious in the extreme.
"If Daddy would only come home on a visit as he had expected to this Spring!" was the longing thought now in her mind. "Oh, dear me! What matter if the season does change? It won't bring him back to me. I'd—I'd sell my darling car and take the money and run away to him if I dared!"
This was a desperate thought indeed, for the Kremlin automobile her father had bought Janice the year before remained the apple of her eye. That very morning Marty had rolled it out of the garage he and his father had built for it, and started to overhaul it for his cousin. Marty had become something of a mechanic since the arrival of the Kremlin at the Day place.
The roads were fast drying up, and Marty promised that the car would soon be in order. But the thought now served to inspire no anticipation of pleasure in Janice's troubled mind.
She passed Major Price just at the foot of Hillside Avenue. The major was Polktown's moneyed man—really the magnate of the village. His was the largest house on the hill—a broad, high-pillared colonial mansion with a great, shaded, sloping lawn in front. An important looking house was the major's and the major was important looking, too.
But Janice noted more particularly than ever before that there were many purple veins distinctly lined upon the major's nose and cheeks and that his eyes were moist and wavering in their glance. He used a cane with a flourish; but his legs had an unsteadiness that a cane could not correct.
"Good day! Good day, Miss Janice! Happy to see you! Fine Spring weather—yes, yes," he said, with great cordiality, removing his silk hat. "Charming weather, indeed. It has tempted me out for a walk—yes, yes!" and he rolled by, swinging his cane and bobbing his head.
Janice knew that nowadays the major's walks always led him to the Lake View Inn. Mrs. Price and Maggie did their best to hide the major's missteps, but the children on the streets, seeing the local magnate making heavy work of his journey back up the hill, would giggle and follow on behind, an amused audience. This was another victim of the change in Polktown's temperance situation.
Poor Major Price——
"Hi, Janice! Did you notice the 'still' the major's got on?" called the cheerful voice of Marty, her cousin. "He's got more than he can carry comfortably already; Walky Dexter will be taking him home again. He did the other night."
"No, Marty! did he?" cried the troubled girl.
"Sure," chuckled Marty. "Walky says he thinks some of giving up the express business and buyin' himself a hack. Some of these old soaks around town will be glad to ride home under cover after a session at Lem Parraday's place. Think of Walky as a 'nighthawk'!" and Marty, who was a short, freckled-faced boy several years his cousin's junior, went off into a spasm of laughter.
"Don't, Marty!" cried Janice, in horror. "Don't talk so lightly about it! Why, it is dreadful!"
"What's dreadful? Walky getting a hack?"
"Be serious," commanded his cousin, who really had gained a great deal of influence over the thoughtless Marty during the time she had lived in Polktown. "Oh, Marty! I've just seen such a dreadful thing!"
"Hullo! What's that?" he asked, eyeing her curiously and ceasing his laughter. He knew now that she was in earnest.
"That horrid old Jim Narnay—you know him?"
"Sure," agreed Marty, beginning to grin faintly again.
"He was intoxicated—really staggering drunk. And he came out of the back door of the Inn, and some boys chased him out on to the street, hooting after him. Perry Grimes and Sim Howell and some others. Old enough to know better——"
"He, he!" chuckled Marty, exploding with laughter again. "Old Narnay's great fun. One of the fellows the other day told him there was a brick in his hat, and he took the old thing off to look into it to see if it was true. Then he stood there and lectured us about being truthful. He, he!"
"Oh, Marty!" ejaculated Janice, in horror. "You never! You don't! You can't be so mean!"
"Hi tunket!" exploded the boy. "What's the matter with you? What d'ye mean? 'I never, I don't, I can't'! What sort of talk is that?"
"There's nothing funny about it," his cousin said sternly. "I want to know if you would mock at that poor man on the street?"
"Why not?" demanded Marty. "He's only an old drunk. And he is great fun."
"He—he is disgusting! He is horrid!" cried the girl earnestly. "He is an awful, ruffianly creature, but he's nothing to laugh at. Listen, Marty!" and vividly, with all the considerable descriptive powers that she possessed, the girl repeated what had occurred when little Sophie Narnay had run into her drunken parent on the street.
Marty was a boy, and not a thoughtful boy at all; but, as he listened, the grin disappeared from his face and he did not look like laughing.
"Whew! The mean scamp!" was his comment. "Poor kid! Do you s'pose he hurts her?"
"He hurts her—and her mother—and the two little boys—and that unnamed baby—whenever he takes money to spend for drink. It doesn't particularly matter whether he beats her. I don't think he does that, or the child would not love him and make excuses for him. But tell me, Marty Day! Is there anything funny in a man like that?"
"Whew!" admitted the boy. "It does look different when you think of it that way. But some of these fellers that crook their elbows certainly do funny stunts when they've had a few!"
"Marty Day!" cried Janice, clasping her hands, "I didn't notice it before. But you even talk differently from the way you used to. Since the bar at the Inn has been open I believe you boys have got hold of an entirely new brand of slang."
"Huh?" said Marty.
"Why, it is awful! I had been thinking that Mr. Parraday's license only made a difference to himself and poor Marm Parraday and his customers. But that is not so. Everybody in Polktown is affected by the change. I am going to talk to Mr. Meddlar about it, or to Elder Concannon. Something ought to be done."
"Hi tunket! There ye go!" chuckled Marty. "More do something business. You'd better begin with Walky."
"Begin what with Walky?"
"Your temperance campaign, if that's what you mean," said the boy, more soberly.
"Not Walky Dexter!" exclaimed Janice, amazed. "You don't mean the liquor selling has done him harm?"
"Well," Marty said slowly, "Walky takes a drink now and then. Sometimes the drummers he hauls trunks and sample-cases for give him a drink. As long as he couldn't get it in town, Walky never bothered with the stuff much. But he was a little elevated Saturday night—that's right."
"Oh!" gasped Janice, for the town expressman was one of her oldest friends in Polktown, and a man in whom she took a deep interest.
A slow grin dawned again on Marty's freckled countenance. "Ye ought to hear him when he's had a drink or two. You called him 'Talkworthy' Dexter; and he sure is some talky when he's been imbibing."
"Oh, Marty, that's dreadful!" and Janice sighed. "It's just wicked! Polktown's been a sleepy place, but it's never been wicked before."
Her cousin looked at her admiringly. "Hi jinks, Janice! I bet you got it in your mind to stir things up again. I can see it in your eyes. You give Polktown its first clean-up day, and you've shook up the dry bones in general all over the shop. There's going to be something doing, I reckon, that'll make 'em all set up and take notice."
"You talk as though I were one of these awful female reformers the funny papers tell about," Janice said, with a little laugh. "You see nothing in my eyes, Marty, unless it's tears for poor little Sophie Narnay."
The cousins arrived at the old Day house and entered the grass-grown yard. It was an old-fashioned, homely place, a rambling farmhouse up to which the village had climbed. There was plenty of shade, lush grass beneath the trees, with crocuses and other Spring flowers peeping from the beds about the front porch, and sweet peas already breaking the soil at the side porch and pump-bench.
A smiling, cushiony woman met Janice at the door, while Marty went whistling barnward, having the chores to do. Aunt 'Mira nowadays usually had a smile for everybody, but for Janice always.
"Your uncle's home, Janice," she said, "and he brought the mail."
"Oh!" cried the girl, with a quick intake of breath. "A letter from daddy?"
"Wal—I dunno," said the fleshy woman. "I reckon it must be. Yet it don't look just like Brocky Day's hand of write. See—here 'tis. It's from Mexico, anyway."
The girl seized the letter with a gasp. "It—it's the same stationery he uses," she said, with a note of thankfulness. "I—I guess it's all right. I'll run right up and read it."
She flew upstairs to her little room—her room that looked out upon the beautiful lake. She could never bring herself to read over a letter from her father first in the presence of the rest of the family. She sat down without removing her hat and gloves, pulled a tiny hairpin from the wavy lock above her ear and slit the thin, rice-paper envelope. Two enclosures were shaken out into her lap.
"TALKY" DEXTER, INDEED!
The moments of suspense were hard to bear. There was always a fluttering at Janice's heart when she received a letter from her father. She always dreamed of him as a mariner skirting the coasts of Uncertainty. There was no telling, as Aunt 'Mira often said, what was going to happen to Broxton Day next.
First of all, on this occasion, the young girl saw that the most important enclosure was the usual fat letter addressed to her in daddy's hand. With it was a thin, oblong card, on which, in minute and very exact script, was written this flowery note:
"With respect I, whom you know not, venture to address you humbly, and in view of the situation of your honorable father, the Senor B Day, beg to make known to you that the military authorities now in power in this district have refused him the privilege of sending or receiving mail. Yet, fear not, sweet Senorita; while the undersigned retains the boon of breath and the power of brain and arm, thy letters, if addressed in my care, shall reach none but thy father's eye, and his to thee shall be safely consigned to the government mails beyond the Rio Grande.
Who the writer of this peculiar communication was, Janice had no means of knowing. In the letter from her father which she immediately opened, there was no mention of Juan Dicampa.
Mr. Day did say, however, that he seemed to have incurred the particular enmity of the Zapatist chief then at the head of the district because he was not prepared to bribe him personally and engage his ragged and barefoot soldiery to work in the mine.
He did not say that his own situation was at all changed. Rather, he joked about the half-breeds and the pure-blood Yaquis then in power about the mine. Either Mr. Broxton Day had become careless because of continued peril, or he really considered these Indians less to be feared than the brigands who had previously overrun this part of Chihuahua.
However, it was good to hear from daddy and to know that—up to the time the letter was written, at least—he was all right. She went down to supper with some cheerfulness, and took the letter to read aloud, by snatches, during the meal.
A letter from Mexico was always an event in the Day household. Marty was openly desirous of emulating "Uncle Brocky" and getting out of Polktown—no matter where or how. Aunt 'Mira was inclined to wonder how the ladies of Mexico dressed and deported themselves. Uncle Jason observed:
"I've allus maintained that Broxton Day is a stubborn and foolish feller. Why! see the strain he's been under these years since he went down to that forsaken country. An' what for?"
"To make a fortune, Dad," interposed Marty. "Hi tunket! Wisht I was in his shoes."
"Money ain't ev'rything," said Uncle Jason, succinctly.
"Well, it's a hull lot," proclaimed the son.
"I reckon that's so, Jason," Aunt Almira agreed. "It's his money makin' that leaves Janice so comfterble here. And her automobile——"
"Oh, shucks! Is money wuth life?" demanded Mr. Day. "What good will money be to him if he's stood up against one o' them dough walls and shot at by a lot of slantindicular-eyed heathen?"
"Hoo!" shouted Marty. "The Mexicans ain't slant-eyed like Chinamen and Japs."
"And they ain't heathen," added Aunt Almira. "They don't bow down to figgers of wood and stone."
"Besides, Uncle," put in Janice, softly, and with a smile, "it is adobe not dough they build their houses of."
"Huh!" snorted Uncle Jason. "Don't keer a continental. He's one foolish man. He'd better throw up the whole business, come back here to Polktown, and I'll let him have a piece of the old farm to till."
"Oh! that would be lovely, Uncle Jason!" cried Janice, clasping her hands. "If he only could retire to dear Polktown for the rest of his life and we could live together in peace."
"Hi tunket!" exclaimed Marty, pushing back his chair from the supper table just as the outer door opened. "He kin have my share of the old farm," for Marty had taken a mighty dislike to farming and had long before this stated his desire to be a civil engineer.
"At it ag'in, air ye, Marty?" drawled a voice from the doorway. "If repetition of what ye want makes detarmination, Mart, then you air the most detarmined man since Lot's wife—and she was a woman, er-haw! haw! haw!"
"Come in, Walky," said Uncle Jason, greeting the broad and ruddy face of his neighbor with a brisk nod.
"Set up and have a bite," was Aunt 'Mira's hospitable addition.
"No, no! I had a snack down to the tavern, Marthy's gone to see her folks terday and I didn't 'spect no supper to hum. I'm what ye call a grass-widderer. Haw! haw! haw!" explained the local expressman.
Walky's voice seemed louder than usual, his face was more beaming, and he was more prone to laugh at his own jokes. Janice and Marty exchanged glances as the expressman came in and took a chair that creaked under his weight. The girl, remembering what her cousin had said about the visitor, wondered if it were possible that Walky had been drinking and now showed the effects of it.
It was true, as Janice had once said—the expressman should have been named "Talkworthy" rather than "Walkworthy" Dexter. To-night he seemed much more talkative than usual.
"What were all you younkers out o' school so early for, Marty?" he asked. "Ain't been an eperdemic o' smallpox broke out, has there?"
"Teachers' meeting," said Marty. "The Superintendent of Schools came over and they say we're going to have fortnightly lectures on Friday afternoons—mebbe illustrated ones. Crackey! it don't matter what they have," declared this careless boy, "as long as 'tain't lessons."
"Lectures?" repeated Walky. "Do tell! What sort of lectures?"
"I heard Mr. Haley say the first one would proberbly be illustrated by a collection of rare coins some rich feller's lent the State School Board. He says the coins are worth thousands of dollars."
"Lectures on coins?" cackled Walky. "I could give ye a lecture on ev'ry dollar me and Josephus ever airned! Haw! haw! haw!"
Walky rolled in his chair in delight at his own wit. Uncle Jason was watching him with some curiosity as he filled and lit his pipe.
"Walky," he drawled, "what was the very hardest dollar you ever airned? It strikes me that you allus have picked the softest jobs, arter all."
"Me? Soft jobs?" demanded Walkworthy, with some indignation. "Ye oughter try liftin' some o' them drummers' sample-cases that I hatter wrastle with. Wal!" Then his face began to broaden and his eyes to twinkle. "Arter all, it was a soft job that I airned my hardest dollar by, for a fac'."
"Let's have it, Walky," urged Marty. "Get it out of your system. You'll feel better for it."
"Why, ter tell the truth," grinned Walky, "it was a soft job, for I carried five pounds of feathers in a bolster twelve miles to old Miz' Kittridge one Winter day when I was a boy. I got a dollar for it and come as nigh bein' froze ter death as ever a boy did and save his bacon."
"Do tell us about it, Walky," said Janice, who was wiping the supper dishes for her aunt.
"I should say it was a soft job—five pounds of feathers!" burst out Marty.
"How fur did you haf to travel, Walky?" asked Aunt 'Mira.
"Twelve mile over the snow and ice, me without snowshoes and it thirty below zero. Yes, sir!" went on Walky, beginning to stuff the tobacco into his own pipe from Mr. Day's proffered sack. "That was some job! Miz Bob Kittridge, the old lady's darter-in-law, give me the dollar and the job; and I done it.
"The old lady lived over behind this here very mountain, all alone on the Kittridge farm. The tracks was jest natcherly blowed over and hid under more snow than ye ever see in a Winter nowadays. I believe there was five foot on a level in the woods.
"There'd been a rain; then she'd froze up ag'in," pursued Walky. "It put a crust on the snow, but I had no idee it had made the ice rotten. And with Mr. Mercury creepin' down to thirty below—jefers-pelters! I'd no idee Mink Creek had open air-holes in it. I ain't never understood it to this day.
"Wal, sir! ye know where Mink Creek crosses the road to Kittridge's, Jason?"
Mr. Day nodded. "I know the place, Walky," he agreed.
"That's where it happened," said Walky Dexter, nodding his head many times. "I was crossin' the stream, thinkin' nothin' could happen, and 'twas jest at sunup. I'd come six mile, and was jest ha'f way to the farm. I kerried that piller-case over my shoulder, and slung from the other shoulder was a gun, and I had a hatchet in my belt.
"Jefers-pelters! All of a suddint I slumped down, right through the snow-crust, and douced up ter my middle inter the coldest water I ever felt I did, for a fac'!
"I sprung out o' that right pert, ye kin believe; and then the next step I went down ker-chug! ag'in—this time up ter my armpits."
"Crackey!" exclaimed Marty. "That was some slip. What did you do?"
"I got out o' that hole purty careful, now I tell ye; but I left my cap floatin' on the open pool o' water," the expressman said. "Why, I was a cake of ice in two minutes—and six miles from anywhere, whichever way I turned."
"Oh, Walky!" ejaculated Janice, interested. "What ever did you do?"
"Wal, I had either to keep on or go back. Didn't much matter which. And in them days I hated ter gin up when I'd started a thing. But I had ter git that cap first of all. I couldn't afford ter lose it nohow. And another thing, I'd a froze my ears if I hadn't got it.
"So I goes back to the bank of the crick and cut me a pole. Then I fished out the cap, wrung it out as good as I could, and clapped it on my head. Before I'd clumb the crick bank ag'in that cap was as stiff as one o' them tin helmets ye read about them knights wearin' in the middle ages—er-haw! haw! haw!
"I had ter laig it then, believe me!" pursued the expressman. "Was cased in ice right from my head ter my heels. Could git erlong jest erbout as graceful as one of these here cigar-store Injuns—er-haw! haw! haw!
"I dunno how I made it ter Ma'am Kittridge's—but I done it! The old lady seen the plight I was in, and she made me sit down by the kitchen fire just like I was. Wouldn't let me take off a thing.
"She het up some kinder hot tea—like ter burnt all the skin off my tongue and throat, I swow!" pursued Walky. "Must ha' drunk two quarts of it, an' gradually it begun ter thaw me out from the inside. That's how I saved my feet—sure's you air born!
"When I come inter her kitchen I clumped in with feet's big as an elephant's an' no more feelin' in them than as though they'd been boxes and not feet. If I'd peeled off that ice and them boots, the feet would ha' come with 'em. But the old lady knowed what ter do, for a fac'.
"Hardest dollar ever I airned," repeated Walky, shaking his head, "and jest carryin' a mess of goose feathers——
"Hullo! who's this here comin' aboard?"
Janice had run to answer a knock at the side door. Aunt 'Mira came more slowly with the sitting room lamp which she had lighted.
"Well, Janice Day! Air ye all deef here?" exclaimed a high and rather querulous voice.
"Do come in, Mrs. Scattergood," cried the girl.
"I declare, Miz Scattergood," said Aunt 'Mira, with interest, "you here at this time o' night? I am glad to see ye."
"Guess ye air some surprised," said the snappy, birdlike old woman whom Janice ushered into the sitting room. "I only got back from Skunk's Holler, where I been visitin', this very day. And what d'ye s'pose I found when I went into Hopewell Drugg's?"
"Goodness!" said Aunt 'Mira. "They ain't none o' them sick, be they?"
"Sick enough, I guess," exclaimed Mrs. Scattergood, nodding her head vigorously: "Leastways, 'Rill oughter be. I told her so! I was faithful in season, and outer season, warnin' her what would happen if she married that Drugg."
"Oh, Mrs. Scattergood! What has happened?" cried Janice, earnestly.
"What's happened to Hopewell?" added Aunt 'Mira.
"Enough, I should say! He's out carousin' with that fiddle of his'n—down ter Lem Parraday's tavern this very night with some wild gang of fellers, and my 'Rill hum with that child o' his'n. And what d'ye think?" demanded Mrs. Scattergood, still excitedly. "What d'ye think's happened ter that Lottie Drugg?"
"Oh, my, Mrs. Scattergood! What has happened to poor little Lottie?" Janice cried.
"Why," said 'Rill Drugg's mother, lowering her voice a little and moderating her asperity. "The poor little thing's goin' blind again, I do believe!"
"THE SEVENTH ABOMINATION"
Sorrowful as Janice Day was because of the report upon little Lottie Drugg's affliction, she was equally troubled regarding the storekeeper himself. Janice had a deep interest in both Mr. Drugg and 'Rill Scattergood—"that was," to use a provincialism. The girl really felt as though she had helped more than a little to bring the storekeeper and the old-maid school-teacher together after so many years of misunderstanding.
It goes without saying that Mrs. Scattergood had given no aid in making the match. Indeed, as could be gathered from what she said now, the birdlike woman had heartily disapproved of her daughter's marrying the widowed storekeeper.
"Yes," she repeated; "there I found poor, foolish 'Rill—her own eyes as red as a lizard's—bathing that child's eyes. I never did believe them Boston doctors could cure her. Yeou jest wasted your money, Janice Day, when you put up fer the operation, and I knowed it at the time."
"Oh, I hope not, Mrs. Scattergood!" Janice replied. "Not that I care about the money; but I do, do hope that little Lottie will keep her sight. The poor, dear little thing!"
"What's the matter with Lottie Drugg?" demanded Marty, from the doorway. Walky Dexter had started homeward, and Marty and Mr. Day joined the women folk in the sitting room.
"Oh, Marty!" Janice exclaimed, "Mrs. Scattergood says there is danger of the poor child's losing her sight again."
"And that ain't the wust of it," went on Mrs. Scattergood, bridling. "My darter is an unfortunate woman. I knowed how 'twould be when she married that no-account Drugg. He sartainly was one 'drug on the market,' if ever there was one! Always a-dreamin' an' never accomplishin' anything.
"Now Lem Parraday's opened that bar of his'n—an' he'd oughter be tarred an' feathered for doin' of it—I 'spect Hopewell will be hangin' about there most of his time like the rest o' the ne'er-do-well male critters of this town, an' a-lettin' of what little business he's got go to pot."
"Oh, Miz Scattergood," said Aunt 'Mira comfortably, "I wouldn't give way ter sech forebodin's. Hopewell is rather better than the ordinary run of men, I allow."
Uncle Jason chuckled. "It never struck me," he said, "that Hopewell was one o' the carousin' kind. I'd about as soon expec' Mr. Middler to cut up sech didoes as Hope Drugg."
Mrs. Scattergood flushed and her eyes snapped. If she was birdlike, she could peck like a bird, and her bill was sharp.
"I reckon there ain't none of you men any too good," she said; "minister, an' all of ye. Oh! I know enough about men, I sh'd hope! I hearn a lady speak at the Skunk's Holler schoolhouse when I was there at my darter-in-law's last week. She was one o' them suffragettes ye hear about, and she knowed all about men and their doin's.
"I wouldn't trust none o' ye farther than I could sling an elephant by his tail! As for Hopewell Drugg—he never was no good, and he never will be wuth ha'f as much again!"
"Well, well, well," chuckled Uncle Jason, easily. "How did this here sufferin-yet l'arn so much about the tribes o' men? I 'spect she was a spinster lady?"
"She was a Miss Pogannis," was the tart reply.
"Ya-as," drawled Mr. Day. "It's them that's never summered and wintered a man that 'pears ter know the most about 'em. Ev'ry old maid in the world knows more about bringin' up children than the wimmen that's had a dozen."
"Oh, yeou needn't think she didn't know what she was talkin' abeout!" cried Mrs. Scattergood, tossing her head. "She culled her examples from hist'ry, as well as modern times. Look at Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! All them men kep' their wimmen in bondage.
"D'yeou s'pose Sarah wanted to go trapesing all over the airth, ev'ry time Abraham wanted ter change his habitation?" demanded the argumentative suffragist. "Of course, he always said God told him to move, not the landlord. But, my soul! a man will say anything.
"An' see how Jacob treated Rachel——"
"Great Scott!" ejaculated Uncle Jason, letting his pipe go out. "I thought Jacob was a fav'rite hero of you wimmen folks. Didn't he sarve—how many was it?—fourteen year, for Rachel?"
"Bah!" exclaimed the old lady. "I 'spect she wished he'd sarved fourteen year more, when she seen the big family she had to wash and mend for. Don't talk to me! Wimmen's never had their rights in this world yet, but they're goin' to get 'em now."
Here Aunt 'Mira broke in to change the topic of conversation to one less perilous: "I never did hear tell that Hopewell Drugg drank a drop. It's a pity if he's took it up so late in life—and him jest married."
"Wal! I jest tell ye what I know. There's my 'Rill cryin' her eyes out an' she confessed that Drugg had gone down to the tavern to fiddle, and that he'd been there before. She has to wait on store evenin's, as well as take care of that young one, while he's out carousin'."
"Carousin'! Gosh!" exploded Marty, suddenly. "I know what it is. There's a bunch of fellers from Middletown way comin' over to-night with their girls to hold a dance. I heard about it. Hopewell's goin' to play the fiddle for them to dance by. Tell you, the Inn's gettin' to be a gay place."
"It's disgustin whatever it is!" cried Mrs. Scattergood, rather taken aback by Marty's information, yet still clinging to her own opinion. It was not Mrs. Scattergood's nature to scatter good—quite the opposite. "An' no married man should attend sech didoes. Like enough he will drink with the rest of 'em. Oh, 'Rill will be sick enough of her job before she's through with it, yeou mark my words."
"Oh, Mrs. Scattergood," Janice said pleadingly, "I hope you are wrong. I would not want to see Miss 'Rill unhappy."
"She's made her bed—let her lie in it," said the disapproving mother, gloomily. "I warned her."
Later, both Janice and Marty went with Mrs. Scattergood to see her safely home. She lived in the half of a tiny cottage on High Street above the side street on which Hopewell Drugg had his store. Had it not been so late, Janice would have insisted upon going around to see "Miss 'Rill," as all her friends still called, the ex-school teacher, though she was married.
As they were bidding their caller good night at her gate, a figure coming up the hill staggered into the radiance of the street light on the corner. Janice gasped. Mrs. Scattergood ejaculated:
"What did I tell ye?"
Marty emitted a shrill whistle of surprise.
"What d'ye know about that?" he added, in a low voice.
There was no mistaking the figure which turned the corner toward Hopewell Drugg's store. It was the proprietor of the store himself, with his fiddle in its green baize bag tightly tucked under his arm; but his feet certainly were unsteady, and his head hung upon his breast.
They saw him disappear into the darkness of the side street. Janice Day put her hand to her throat; it seemed to her as though the pulse beating there would choke her.
"What did I tell ye? What did I tell ye?" cried the shrill voice of Mrs. Scattergood. "Now ye'll believe what I say, I hope! The disgraceful critter! My poor, poor 'Rill! I knew how 'twould be if she married that man."
It chanced that Janice Day's Bible opened that night to the sixth of Proverbs and she read before going to bed these verses:
"These six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto him.
"A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood.
"An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief.
"A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."
A RIFT IN THE HONEYMOON
Janice could not call at the little grocery on the side street until Friday afternoon when she returned from Middletown for over Sunday. While the roads were so bad that she could not use her car in which to run back and forth to the seminary she boarded during the school days near the seminary.
But 'Rill Drugg and little Lottie were continually in her mind. From Walky Dexter, with whom she rode home to Polktown on Friday, she gained some information that she would have been glad not to hear.
"Talk abeout the 'woman with the sarpint tongue,'" chuckled Walky. "We sartain sure have our share of she in Polktown."
"What is the matter now, Walky?" asked Janice, gaily, not suspecting what was coming. "Has somebody got ahead of you in circulating a particularly juicy bit of gossip?"
"Huh!" snorted the expressman. "I gotter take a back seat, I have. Did ye hear 'bout Hopewell Drugg gittin' drunk, an' beatin' his wife, an' I dunno but they say by this time that it's his fault lettle Lottie's goin' blind again——"
"Oh, Walky! it can't be true!" gasped the girl, horrified.
"What can't? That them old hens is sayin' sech things?" demanded the driver.
"That Lottie is truly going blind?"
"Dunno. She's in a bad way. Hopewell wants to send her back to Boston as quick's he can. I know that. And them sayin' that he's turned inter a reg'lar old drunk, an' sich."
"What do you mean, Walky?" asked Janice, seriously. "You cannot be in earnest. Surely people do not say such dreadful things about Mr. Drugg?"
"Fact. They got poor old Hopewell on the dissectin' table, and the way them wimmen cut him up is a caution to cats!"
"What women, Walky?"
"His blessed mother-in-law, for one. And most of the Ladies Aid is a-follerin' of her example. They air sayin' he's nex' door to a ditch drunkard."
"Why, Walky Dexter! nobody would really believe such talk about Mr. Drugg," Janice declared.
"Ye wouldn't think so, would ye? We've all knowed Hopewell Drugg for years an' years, and he's allus seemed the mildest-mannered pirate that ever cut off a yard of turkey-red. But now—Jefers-pelters! ye oughter hear 'em! He gits drunk, beats 'Rill Scattergood, that was, and otherwise behaves himself like a hardened old villain."
"Oh, Walky! I would not believe such things about Mr. Drugg—not if he told them to me himself!" exclaimed Janice.
"An' I reckon nobody would ha' dreamed sech things about him if Marm Scattergood hadn't got home from Skunk's Holler. I expect she stirred up things over there abeout as much as her son and his wife'd stand, and they shipped her back to Polktown. And Polktown—includin' Hopewell—will hafter stand it."
"It is a shame!" cried Janice, with indignation. Then she added, doubtfully, remembering the unfortunate incident she and Marty and Mrs. Scattergood had viewed so recently: "Of course, there isn't a word of truth in it?"
"That Hopewell's become a toper and beats his wife?" chuckled Walky. "Wal—I reckon not! Maybe Hopewell takes a glass now and then—I dunno. I never seen him. But they do say he went home airly from the dance at Lem Parraday's t'other night in a slightly elevated condition. Haw! haw! haw!"
"It is nothing to laugh at," Janice said severely.
"Nor nothin' ter cry over," promptly returned Walkworthy Dexter. "What's a drink or two? It ain't never hurt me. Why should it Hopewell?"
"Don't argue with me, Walky Dexter!" Janice exclaimed, much exasperated. "I—I hate it all—this drinking. I never thought of it much before. Polktown has been free of that curse until lately. It is a shame the bar was ever opened at the Lake View Inn. And something ought to be done about it!"
Walky had pulled in his team for her to jump down before Hopewell Drugg's store. "Jefers-pelters!" murmured the driver, scratching his head. "If that gal detarmines to put Lem Parraday out o' the licker business, mebbe—mebbe I'd better go down an' buy me another drink 'fore she does it. Haw! haw! haw!"
Hopewell Drugg's store was a very different looking shop now from its appearance that day when Janice had led little blind Lottie up from the wharf at Pine Cove and delivered her to her father for safe keeping.
Then the goods had been dusty and fly-specked, and the interior of the store dark and musty. Now the shelves and showcases were neatly arranged, everything was scrupulously clean, and it was plain that the reign of woman had succeeded the pandemonium of man.
There was nobody in the store at the moment; but from the rear the sobbing tones of a violin took up the strains of "Silver Threads Among the Gold." Janice listened. There seemed, to her ear, a sadder strain than ever in Hopewell's playing of the old ballad. For a time this favorite had been discarded for lighter and brighter melodies, for the little family here on the by-street had been wonderfully happy.
They all three welcomed Janice Day joyfully now. The storekeeper, much sprucer in dress than heretofore, smiled and nodded to her over the bridge of his violin. His wife, in a pretty print house dress, ran out from her sitting room where she was sewing, to take Janice in her arms. As for little Lottie, she danced about the visitor in glee.
"Oh, Janice Day! Oh, Janice Day! Looker me!" she crowed. "See my new dress? Isn't it pretty? And Mamma 'Rill made it for me—all of it! She makes me lots and lots of nice things. Isn't she just the bestest Mamma 'Rill that ever was?"
"She certainly is," admitted Janice, laughing and kissing the pretty child. But she looked anxiously into the beautiful blue eyes, too. Nothing there betrayed growing visual trouble. Yet, when Lottie Drugg was stone-blind, the expression of her eyes had been lovely.
"Weren't you and your papa lucky to get such a mamma?" continued Janice with a swift glance over her shoulder at Hopewell.
The storekeeper was drawing the bow across the strings softly and just a murmur came from them as he listened. His eyes, Janice saw, were fixed in pride and satisfaction upon his wife's trim figure.
On her part, Mrs. Drugg seemed her usual brisk, kind self. Yet there was a cheerful note lacking here. The honeymoon for such a loving couple could not yet have waned; but there was a rift in it.
'Rill wanted to talk. Janice could see that. The young girl had been the school teacher's only confidant previous to her marriage to Hopewell Drugg, and she still looked upon Janice as her dearest friend. They left Lottie playing in the back room of the store and listening to her father's fiddle, while 'Rill closed the door between that room and the dwelling.
"Oh, my dear!" Janice hastened to ask, first of all, "is it true?"
'Rill flushed and there was a spark in her eye—Janice thought of indignation. Indeed, her voice was rather sharp as she asked:
"Is what true?"
"About Lottie. Her eyes—you know."
"Oh, the poor little thing!" and instantly the step-mother's countenance changed. "Janice, we don't know. Poor Hopewell is 'most worried to death. Sometimes it seems as though there was a blur over the child's eyes. And she has never got over her old habit of shutting her eyes and seeing with her fingers, as she calls it."
"Ah! I know," the girl said. "But that does not necessarily mean that she has difficulty with her vision."
"That is true. And the doctor in Boston wrote that, at times, there might arise some slight clouding of the vision if she used her eyes too much, if she suffered other physical ills, even if she were frightened or unhappy."
"The last two possibilities may certainly be set aside," said Janice, with confidence. "And she is as rosy and healthy looking as she could be."
"Yes," said 'Rill.
"Then what can it be that has caused the trouble?"
"We cannot imagine," with a sigh. "It—it is worrying Hopewell, night and day."
"He—he is changed a great deal, Janice," whispered the bride.
Janice was silent, but held 'Rill's hand in her own comforting clasp.
"Don't think he isn't good to me. He is! He is! He is the sweetest tempered man that ever lived! You know that, yourself. And I thought I was going to make him—oh!—so happy."
"Hush! hush, dear!" murmured Janice, for Mrs. Drugg's eyes had run over and she sobbed aloud. "He loves you just the same. I can see it in the way he looks at you. And why should he not love you?"
"But he has lost his cheerfulness. He worries about Lottie, I know. There—there is another thing——"
She stopped. She pursued this thread of thought no further. Janice wondered then—and she wondered afterward—if this unexplained anxiety connected Hopewell Drugg with the dances at the Lake View Inn.
"THE BLUEBIRD—FOR HAPPINESS"
Could it be possible that Janice Day had alighted from Walky Dexter's old carryall at the little grocery store for still another purpose? It was waning afternoon, yet she did not immediately make her way homeward.
Mrs. Beaseley lived almost across the street from Hopewell Drugg's store, and Nelson Haley, the principal of Polktown's graded school, boarded with the widow. Janice ran in to see her "just for a moment." Therefore, it could scarcely be counted strange that the young school principal should have caught the girl in Mrs. Beaseley's bright kitchen when he came home with his satchel of books and papers.
"There! I do declare for't!" ejaculated the widow, who was a rather lugubrious woman living in what she believed to be the remembrance of "her sainted Charles."
"There! I do declare for't! I git to talkin' and I forgit how the time flies. That's what my poor Charles uster say—he had that fault to find with me, poor soul. I couldn't never seem to git the vittles on the table on time when I was young.
"I was mindin' to make you a shortcake for your supper to-night, Mr. Haley, out o' some o' them peaches I canned last Fall! But it's so late——"
"You needn't hurry supper on my account, Mrs. Beaseley," said Nelson, cheerily, and without removing his gloves. "I find I've to go downtown again on an errand. I'll not be back for an hour."
Janice was smiling merrily at him from the doorway.
Mrs. Beaseley began to bustle about. "That'll give me just time to toss up the shortcake," she proclaimed. "Good-bye, Janice. Come again. Mr. Haley'll like to walk along with you, I know."
Mrs. Beaseley was blind to what most people, in Polktown knew—that Janice and the schoolteacher were the very closest of friends. Only their years—at least, only Janice's youth—precluded an announced engagement between them.
"Wait until I can come home and get a square look at this phenomenal young man whom you have found in Polktown," Daddy had written, and Janice would not dream of going against her father's expressed wish.
Besides, Nelson Haley was a poor young man, with his own way to make in the world. His work in the Polktown school had attracted the attention of the faculty of a college not far away, and he had already been invited to join the teaching staff of that institution.
Janice had been the young man's inspiration when he had first come to Polktown, a raw college graduate, bent only on "teaching for a living" and on earning his salary as easily as possible. Awakened by his desire to stand well in the estimation of the serious-minded girl—eager to "make good" with her—Nelson Haley had put his shoulder to the wheel, and the result was Polktown's fine new graded school, with the young man himself at the head of it.
Nelson was good looking—extremely good looking, indeed. He was light, not dark like Janice, and he was muscular and sturdy without being at all fleshy. The girl was proud of him—he was always so well-dressed, so gentlemanly, and carried himself with such an assured air. Daddy was bound to be pleased with a young man like Nelson Haley, once he should see the schoolteacher!
In his companionship now, Janice rather lost sight of the troubles that had come upon her of late. Nelson told her of his school plans as they strolled down High Street.
"And I fancy these lectures and readings the School Committee are arranging will be a good thing," the young man said. "We'll slip a little extra information to the boys and girls of Polktown without their suspecting it."
"Sugar-coated pills?" laughed Janice.
"Yes. The old system of pounding knowledge into the infant cranium isn't in vogue any more."
"Poor things!" murmured Janice Day, from the lofty rung of the scholastic ladder she had attained. "Poor things! I don't blame them for wondering: 'What's the use?' Marty wonders now, old as he is. There is such a lot to learn in the world!"
They talked of other things, too, and it was the appearance of Jim Narnay weaving a crooked trail across High Street toward the rear of the Inn that brought back to the girl's mind the weight of new trouble that had settled upon it.
"Oh, dear! there's that poor creature," murmured Janice. "And I haven't been to see how his family is."
"Who—Jim Narnay's family?" asked Nelson.
"You'd better keep away from such people, Janice," the young man said urgently.
"You don't want to mix with such folk, my dear," repeated the young man, shaking his head. "What good can it do? The fellow is a drunken rascal and not worth striving to do anything for."
"But his family? The poor little children?" said Janice, softly.
"If you give them money, Jim'll drink it up."
"I believe that," admitted Janice. "So I won't give them money. But I can buy things for them that they need. And the poor little baby is sick. That cunning Sophie told me so."
"Goodness, Janice!" laughed Nelson, yet with some small vexation. "I see there's no use in opposing your charitable instincts. But I really wish you would not get acquainted with every rag-tag and bob-tail in town. First those Trimminses—and now these Narnays!"
Janice laughed at this. "Why, they can't hurt me, Nelson. And perhaps I might do them good."
"You cannot handle charcoal without getting some of the smut on your fingers," Nelson declared, dogmatically.
"But they are not charcoal. They are just some of God's unfortunates," added the young girl, gently. "It is not Sophie's fault that her father drinks. And maybe it isn't altogether his fault."
"What arrant nonsense!" exclaimed Nelson, with some exasperation. "It always irritates me when I hear these old topers excused. A man should be able to take a glass of wine or beer or spirits—or let it alone."
"Yes, indeed, Nelson," agreed Janice, demurely. "He ought to."
The young man glanced sharply into her rather serious countenance. He suspected that she was not agreeing with him, after all, very strongly. Finally he laughed, and the spark of mischief immediately danced in Janice Day's hazel eyes.
"That is just where the trouble lies, Nelson, with drinking intoxicating things. People should be able to drink or not, as they feel inclined. But alcohol is insidious. Why! you teach that in your own classes, Nelson Haley!"
"Got me there," admitted the young school principal, with a laugh. Then he became sober again, and added: "But I can take a drink or leave it alone if I wish."
"Oh, Nelson! You don't use alcoholic beverages, do you?" cried Janice, quite shocked. "Oh! you don't, do you?"
"My, my! See what a little fire-cracker it is!" laughed Nelson. "Did I say I was in the habit of going into Lem Parraday's bar and spending my month's salary in fiery waters?"
"Oh, but Nelson! You don't approve of the use of liquor, do you?"
"I'm not sure that I do," returned the young man, more gravely. "And yet I believe in every person having perfect freedom in that as well as other matters."
"Anarchism!" cried Janice, yet rather seriously, too, although her lips smiled.
"I know the taste of all sorts of beverages," the young man said. "I was in with rather a sporty bunch at college, for a while. But I knew I could not afford to keep up that pace, so I cut it out."
"Oh, Nelson!" Janice murmured. "It's too bad!"
"Why, it never hurt me," answered the young schoolmaster. "It never could hurt me. A gentleman eats temperately and drinks temperately. Of course, I would not go into the Lake View Inn and call for a drink, now that I am teaching school here. My example would be bad for the boys. And I fancy the School Committee would have something to say about it, too," and he laughed again, lightly.
They had turned into Hillside Avenue and the way was deserted save for themselves. The warm glow of sunset lingered about them. Lights twinkling in the kitchens as they went along announced the preparation of the evening meal.
Janice clasped her hands over Nelson's arm confidingly and looked earnestly up into his face.
"Nelson!" she said softly, "don't even think about drinking anything intoxicating. I should be afraid for you. I should worry about the hold it might get upon you——"
"As it has on Jim Narnay?" interrupted the young man, laughing.
"No," said Janice, still gravely. "You would never be like him, I am sure———"
"Nor will drink ever affect me in any way—no fear! I know what I am about. I have a will of my own, I should hope. I can control my appetites and desires. And I should certainly never allow such a foolish habit as tippling to get a strangle hold on me."
"Of course, I know you won't," agreed Janice.
"I thank goodness I'm not a man of habit, in any case," continued Nelson, proudly. "One of our college professors has said: 'There is only one thing worse than a bad habit—and that's a good habit.' It is true. No man can be a well-rounded and perfectly poised man, if he is hampered by habits of any kind. Habits narrow the mind and contract one's usefulness in the world——"
"Oh, Nelson!" excitedly interrupted Janice. "See the bluebird! The first I have seen this Spring. The dear, little, pretty thing!"
"Good-night!" exploded the school teacher, with a burst of laughter. "My little homily is put out of business. A bluebird, indeed!"
"But the bluebird is so pretty—and so welcome in Spring. See! there he goes." Then she added softly, still clinging to Nelson's arm:
"'The bluebird—for happiness.'"
THE TENTACLES OF THE MONSTER
The sweet south wind blew that night and helped warm to life the Winter-chilled breast of Mother Earth. Her pulses leaped, rejuvenated; the mellowing soil responded; bud and leaf put forth their effort to reach the sun and air.
At Janice Day's casement the odors of the freshly-turned earth and of the growing things whispered of the newly begun season. The ruins of the ancient fortress across the lake to the north still frowned in the mists of night when Janice left her bed and peered from the open window, looking westward.
Behind the mountain-top which towered over Polktown it was already broad day; but the sun would not appear, to gild the frowning fortress, or to touch the waters of the lake with its magic wand, for yet several minutes.
As the first red rays of the sun graced the rugged prospect across the lake, Janice went through the barnyard and climbed the uphill pasture lane. She was bound for the great "Overlook" rock in the second-growth, from which spot she never tired of looking out upon the landscape—and upon life itself.
Janice Day took many of her problems to the Overlook. There, alone with the wild things of the wood, with nothing but the prospect to tempt her thoughts, she was wont to decide those momentous questions that come into every young girl's life.
As she sped up the path past the sheep sheds on this morning, her feet were suddenly stayed by a most unexpected incident. Janice usually had the hillside to herself at this hour; but now she saw a dark figure huddled under the shelter, the open side of which faced her.
"A bear!" thought Janice. Yet there had not been such a creature seen in the vicinity of Polktown for years, she knew.
She hesitated. The "bear" rolled over, stretched himself, and yawned a most prodigious yawn.
"Goodness, mercy, me!" murmured Janice Day. "It's a man!"
But it was not. It was a boy. Janice popped down behind a boulder and watched, for at first she had no idea who he could be. Certainly he must have been up here in the sheepfold all night; and a person who would spend a night in the open, on the raw hillside at this time of year, must have something the matter with him, to be sure.
"Why—why, that's Jack Besmith! He worked for Mr. Massey all Winter. What is he doing here?" murmured Janice.
She did not rise and expose herself to the fellow's gaze. For one thing, the ex-drug clerk looked very rough in both dress and person.
His uncombed hair was littered with straw and bits of corn-blades from the fodder on which he had lain. His clothing was stained. He wore no linen and the shoes on his feet were broken.
Never in her life had Janice Day seen a more desperate looking young fellow and she was actually afraid of him. Yet she knew he came of a respectable family, and that he had a decent lodging in town. What business had he up here at her uncle's sheepfold?
Janice continued her walk no farther. She remained in hiding until she saw Jack Besmith stumble out of the sheep pasture and down the hill behind the Day stables—taking a retired route toward the village.
Coming down into the barnyard once more, Janice met Marty with a foaming milk pail.
"Hullo, early bird!" he sang out. "Did you catch the worm this morning?"
Janice shuddered a trifle. "I believe I did, Marty," she confessed. "At least, I saw some such crawling thing."
"Hi tunket! Not a snake so early in the year?"
"I don't know," and his cousin smiled, yet with gravity.
"Huh?" queried the boy, with curiosity, for he saw that something unusual had occurred.
Janice gravely told him whom she had seen in the sheepfold. "And, Marty, I believe he must have been up there all night—sleeping outdoors such weather as this. What for, do you suppose?"
Marty professed inability to explain; but after he had taken the milk in to his mother, he slipped away and ran up to the sheep pasture himself.
"I say, Janice," he said, grinning, when he came back. "I can solve the mystery, I can."
"What mystery?" asked his cousin, who was flushed now with helping her aunt get breakfast.
"The mystery of the 'early worm' that you saw this mornin'." He brought his hand from behind him and displayed an empty, amber-colored flask on which was a gaudy label announcing its contents to have been whiskey and sold by "L. Parraday, Polktown."
"Oh, dear! Is that the trouble with the Besmith boy?" murmured Janice.
"That's how he came to lose his job with Massey."
"Poor fellow! He looked dreadful!"
"Oh, he's a bad egg," said her cousin, carelessly.
Janice hurried through breakfast, for the car was to be brought forth to-day. Marty had been fussing over it for almost a week. The wind was drying up the roads and it was possible for Janice to take a spin out into the open country.
Marty's prospects of enjoying the outing, however, were nipped before he could leave the table.
"Throw the chain harness on the colts, Marty," said his father. "The 'tater-patch is dry enough to put the plow in. And I'll want ye to help me."
"Oh—Dad! I got to help Janice get her car out. This ain't no time to plow for 'taters," declared Marty.
"Your mouth'll be open wider'n anybody else's in the house for the 'taters when they're grown," said Uncle Jason, calmly. "You got to do your share toward raisin' 'em."
"Oh, Dad!" ejaculated the boy again.
"Now, Marty, you stop talkin'!" cried his mother.
"Huh! you wanter make a feller dumb around here, too. S'pose Janice breaks down on the road?" he added, with reviving hope.
"I guess she'll find somebody that knows fully as much about them gasoline buggies as you do, Son," observed Uncle Jason, easily. "You an' me'll tackle the 'tater field."
When his father spoke so positively Marty knew there was no use trying to change him. He frowned, and muttered, and kicked the table leg as he got up, but to no avail.
Janice, later, got into her car and started for a ride. She put the Kremlin right at the hill and it climbed Hillside Avenue with wonderful ease. The engine purred prettily and not a thing went wrong.
"Poor Marty! It's too bad he couldn't go, too," she thought. "I'd gladly share this with somebody."
Nelson, she knew, was busy this forenoon. It took no little of his out-of-school time to prepare the outline for the ensuing week's work. Besides, on this Saturday morning, there was a special meeting of the School Committee, as he had told her the afternoon before. Something to do with the course of lectures before mentioned. And the young principal of Polktown's graded school was very faithful to his duties.
She thought of Mrs. Drugg and little Lottie; but there was trouble at the Drugg home. Somehow, on this bright, sweet-smelling morning, Janice shrank from touching anything unpleasant, or coming into communication with anybody who was not in attune with the day.
She was fated, however, to rub elbows with Trouble wherever she went and whatever she did. She ran the Kremlin past the rear of Walky Dexter's place and saw Walky himself currying Josephus and his mate on the stable floor. The man waved his currycomb at her and grinned. But his well-known grimace did not cheer Janice Day.
"Dear me! Poor Walky is in danger, too," thought the young girl. "Why! the whole of Polktown is changing. In some form or other that liquor selling at the Inn touches all our lives. I wonder if other people see it as plainly as I do."
She ran up into the Upper Middletown Road, as far out as Elder Concannon's. The old gentleman—once Janice Day's very stern critic, but now her staunch friend—was in the yard when Janice approached in her car. He waved a cordial hand at her and turned away from the man he had been talking with.
"Well, there ye have it, Trimmins," the girl heard the elder say, as her engine stopped. "If you can find a man or two to help you, I'll let you have a team and you can go in there and haul them logs. There's a market for 'em, and the logs lie jest right for hauling. You and your partner can make a profit, and so can I."
Then he said to Janice: "Good morning, child! You're as fresh to look at as a morning-glory."
She had nodded and smiled at the patriarchal old gentleman; but her eyes were now on the long and lanky looking woodsman who stood by.
"Good day, Mr. Trimmins," she said, when she had returned Elder Concannon's greeting. "Is Mrs. Trimmins well? And my little Virginia and all the rest of them?"
"The fambly's right pert, Miss," Trimmins said.
Janice had a question or two to ask the elder regarding the use of the church vestry for some exercises by the Girl's Guild of which she had been the founder and was still the leading spirit.
"Goodness, yes!" agreed the elder. "Do anything you like, Janice, if you can keep those young ones interested in anything besides dancing and parties. Still, what can ye expect of the young gals when their mothers are given up to folly and dissipation?
"There's Mrs. Marvin Petrie and Mrs. Major Price want to be 'patronesses,' I believe they call themselves, of an Assembly Ball, an' want to hold the ball at Lem Parraday's hotel. It's bad enough to have them dances; but to have 'em at a place where liquor is sold, is a sin and a shame! I wish Lem Parraday had lost the hotel entirely, before he got a liquor license."
"Oh, Elder! It is dreadful that liquor should be sold in Polktown," Janice said, from the seat of the automobile. "I'm just beginning to see it."
"That's what it is," said the elder, sturdily.
"It's a shame Mr. Parraday was ever allowed to have a license at the Lake View Inn."
"Wal—it does seem too bad," the elder agreed, but with less confidence in his tone.
"I know they say the Inn scarcely paid him and his wife, and he might have had to give it up this Spring," Janice said.
"Ahem! That would have been unfortunate for the mortgagee," slowly observed the old man.
"Mr. Cross Moore?" Janice quickly rejoined. "Well! he could afford to lose a little money if anybody could."
"Tut, tut!" exclaimed the elder, who had a vast respect for money. "Don't say that, child. Nobody can afford to lose money."
Janice turned her car about soberly. She saw that the ramification of this liquor selling business was far-reaching, indeed. Elder Concannon spoke only too truly.
Where self-interest was concerned most people would lean toward the side of liquor selling.
"The tentacles of the monster have insinuated themselves into our social and business life, as well as into our homes," she thought. "Why—why, what can I do about it? Just me, a girl all alone."
SWEPT ON BY THE CURRENT
Janice picked up Trimmins on the road to town. The lanky Southerner, who lived as a squatter with his ever-increasing family back in the woods, was a soft-spoken man with much innate politeness and a great distaste for regular work. He said the elder had just offered him a job in the woods that he was going to take if he could get a man to help him.
"I heard you talking about it, Mr. Trimmins," the young girl said, with her eyes on the road ahead and her foot on the gas pedal. "I hope you will make a good thing out of it."
"Not likely. The elder's too close for that," responded the man, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Yes. I suppose that Elder Concannon considers a small profit sufficient. He got his money that way—by 'littles and dribbles'—and I fancy he thinks small pay is all right."
"My glo-ree! You bet he does!" said Trimmins. "But the elder never had but one—leastways, two—chillen to raise. He wouldn't ha' got rich very fast with my family—no, sir!"
"Perhaps that is so," Janice admitted.
"Tell ye what, Miss," the woodsman went on to say, "a man ought to git paid accordin' to the mouths there is to home to feed. I was readin' in a paper t'other day that it took ten dollars a week to take proper care of a man and his wife, and there ought to be added to them ten dollars two dollars a week ev'ry time they got a baby."
"Why! wouldn't that be fine?" cried Janice, laughing.
"It sure would be a help," said Trimmins, the twinkle in his eye again. "I reckon both me an' Narnay would 'preciate it."
"Oh! you mean Jim Narnay?" asked Janice, with sudden solemnity.
"Yes ma'am. I'm goin' to see him now. He's a grand feller with the axe and I want him to help me."
Janice wondered how much work would really be done by the two men if they were up in the woods together. Yet Mrs. Narnay and the children might get along better without Jim. Janice had made some inquiries and learned that Mrs. Narnay was an industrious woman, working steadily over her washtub, and keeping the children in comparative comfort when Jim was not at home to drink up a good share of her earnings.
"Are you going down to the cove to see Narnay now, Mr. Trimmins?" Janice asked, as she turned the automobile into the head of High Street.
"Yes, ma'am. That is, if I don't find him at Lem Parraday's."
"Oh, Mr. Trimmins!" exclaimed Janice, earnestly. "Look for him at the house first. And don't you go near Lem Parraday's, either."
"Wal!" drawled the man. "I s'pose you air right, Miss."
"I'll drive you right down to the cove," Janice said. "I want to see little Sophie, and—and her mother."
"Whatever you say, Miss," agreed the woodsman.
They followed a rather rough street coveward, but arrived safely at the small collection of cottages, in one of which the Narnays lived. Jim Narnay was evidently without money, for he sat on the front stoop, sober and rather neater than Janice was used to seeing him. He was whittling a toy of some kind for the little boys, both of whom were hanging upon him.
Their attitude, as well as what Sophie Narnay had told her, assured Janice that the husband and father of the household was not a cruel man when he was sober. The children still loved him, and he evidently loved them.
"Got a job, Jim?" asked Trimmins, after thanking Janice for the ride, and getting out of the automobile.
"Not a smitch of work since I come out of the woods," admitted the bewhiskered man, rising quickly from the stoop to make way for Janice.
"Come on, old feller," said Trimmins. "I want to talk to you. If you are favorable inclined, I reckon I got jest the job you've been lookin' for."
The two went off behind the cottage. Janice did not know then that there was a short cut to High Street and the Lake View Inn.
Sophie came running to the door to welcome the visitor, her thin little arms red and soapy from dish-water.
"I knowed 'twas you," she said, smiling happily. "They told me you was the only girl in town that owned one o' them cars. And I told mom that you must be awful rich and kind. Course, you must be, or you couldn't afford to give away ten cent pieces so easy."
Mrs. Narnay came to the door, too, her arms right out of the washtub; but Janice begged her not to inconvenience herself. "Keep right on with your work and I'll come around to the back and sit on that stoop," said the young girl.
"And you must see the baby," Sophie urged. "I can bring out the baby if I wrap her up good, can't I, Marm?"
"Have a care with the poor child, Sophie," said Mrs. Narnay, wearily. "Where's your pop gone?"
"He's walked out with Mr. Trimmins," said the little girl.
The woman sighed, and Janice, all through her visit, could see that she was anxious about her absent husband. The baby was brought out—a pitifully thin, but pretty child—and Sophie nursed her little sister with much enjoyment.
"I wisht she was twins," confessed the little girl. "It must be awful jolly to have twins in the family."
"My soul, child!" groaned Mrs. Narnay. "Don't talk so reckless. One baby at a time is affliction enough—as ye'll find out for yourself some day."
Janice, leaving a little gift to be hidden from Jim Narnay and divided among the children, went away finally, with the determination that Dr. Poole should see the baby again and try to do something for the poor, little, weakly thing. Trimmins and Jim Narnay had disappeared, and Janice feared that, after all, they had drifted over to the Inn, there to celebrate the discovery of the job they both professed to need so badly.
"That awful bar!" Janice told herself. "If it were not here in Polktown those two ne'er-do-wells would have gone right about their work without any celebration at all. I guess Mrs. Scattergood is right—Mr. Lem Parraday ought to be tarred and feathered for ever taking out that license! And how about the councilmen who voted to let him have it?"
As she wheeled into High Street once more a tall, well groomed young man, with rosy cheeks and the bluest of blue eyes, hailed her from the sidewalk.
"Oh, Janice Day!" he cried. "How's the going?"
"Mr. Bowman! I didn't know you had returned," Janice said, smiling and stopping the car. "The going is pretty good."
"Have you been around by the Lower Road where my gang is working?"
"No," Janice replied. "But Marty says the turnout is being put in and that the bridge over the creek is almost done."
"Good! I'll get over there by and by to see for myself." He had set down a heavy suitcase and still held a traveling bag. "Just now," he added, "I am hunting a lodging."
"Hunting a lodging? Why! I thought you were a fixture with Marm Parraday," Janice said.
"I thought so, too. But it's got too strong for me down there. Besides, it is a rule of the Railroad Company that we shall find board, if possible, where no liquor is sold. I had a room over the bar and it is too noisy for me at night."
"Marm Parraday will be sorry to lose you, Mr. Bowman," Janice said. "Isn't it dreadful that they should have taken up the selling of liquor there?"
"Bad thing," the young civil engineer replied, promptly. "I'm sorry for Marm Parraday. Lem ought to be kicked for ever getting the license," he added vigorously.
"Dear me, Mr. Bowman," sighed Janice. "I wish everybody thought as you do. Polktown needs reforming."
"What! Again?" cried the young man, laughing suddenly. Then he added: "I expect, if that is so, you will have to start the reform, Miss Janice. And—and you'd better start it with your friend, Hopewell Drugg. Really, they are making a fool of him around the Inn—and he doesn't even know it."
"Oh, Mr. Bowman! what do you mean?" called Janice after him; but the young man had picked up his bag and was marching away, so that he did not hear her question. Before she could start her engine he had turned into a side street.
She ran back up Hillside Avenue in good season for dinner. The potato patch was plowed and Marty had gone downtown on an errand. Janice backed the car into the garage and went upstairs to her room to change her dress for dinner. She was there when Marty came boisterously into the kitchen.
"My goodness! what's the matter with you, Marty Day?" asked his mother shrilly. "What's happened?"
"It's Nelson Haley," the boy said, and Janice heard him plainly, for the door at the foot of the stairs was ajar. "It's awful! They are going to arrest him!"
"What do you mean, Marty Day? Be you crazy?" Mrs. Day demanded.
"What's this? One o' your cheap jokes?" asked the boy's father, who chanced to be in the kitchen, too.
"Guess Nelson Haley don't think it's a joke," said the boy, his voice still shaking. "I just heard all about it. There ain't many folks know it yet——"
"Stop that!" cried his mother. "You tell us plain what Mr. Haley's done."
"Ain't done nothin', of course. But they say he has," Marty stoutly maintained.
"Then what do they accuse him of?" queried Mr. Day.
"They accuse him of stealin'! Hi tunket! ain't that the meanest thing ye ever heard?" cried the boy. "Nelson Haley, stealin'. It gets me for fair!"
"Why—why I can't believe it!" Aunt 'Mira gasped, and she sat down with a thud on one of the kitchen chairs.
"I got it straight," Marty went on to say. "The School Committee's all in a row over it. Ye see, they had the coins——"
"Who had what coins?" cried his mother.
"The School Committee. That collection of gold coins some rich feller lent the State Board of Education for exhibition at the lecture next Friday. They only come over from Middletown last night and Mr. Massey locked them in his safe."
"Wal!" murmured Uncle Jason.
"Massey brought 'em to the school this morning where the committee held a meeting. I hear the committee left the trays of coins in their room while they went downstairs to see something the matter with the heater. When they come up the trays had been skinned clean—'for a fac'!" exclaimed the excited Marty.
"What's that got to do with Mr. Haley?" demanded Uncle Jason, grimly.
"Why—he'd been in the room. I believe he don't deny he was there. Nobody else was in the buildin' 'cept the janitor, and he was with Massey and the others in the basement.
"Then coins jest disappeared—took wings and flewed away," declared Marty with much earnestness.
"What was they wuth?" asked his father, practically.
"Dunno. A lot of money. Some says two thousand and some says five thousand. Whichever it is, they'll put him under big bail if they arrest him."
"Why, they wouldn't dare!" gasped Mrs. Day.
"Say! Massey and them others has got to save their own hides, ain't they?" demanded the suspicious Marty.
"Wal. 'Tain't common sense that any of the School Committee should have stolen the coins," Uncle Jason said slowly. "Mr. Massey, and Cross Moore, and Mr. Middler——"
"Mr. Middler warn't there," said Marty, quickly. "He'd gone to Middletown."
"Joe Pellet and Crawford there?" asked Uncle Jason.
"All the committee but the parson," his son admitted.
"And all good men," Uncle Jason said reflectively. "Schoolhouse locked?"
"So they say," Marty declared. "That's what set them on Nelson. Only him and the janitor carry keys to the building."
"Who's the janitor?" asked Uncle Jason.
"Benny Thread. You know, the little crooked-backed feller—lives on Paige Street. And, anyway, there wasn't a chance for him to get at the coins. He was with the committee all the time they was out of the room."
"And are they sure Mr. Haley was in there?" asked Aunt 'Mira.
"He admits it," Marty said gloomily. "I don't know what's going to come of it all——"
"Hush!" said Uncle Jason suddenly. "Shut that door."
But it was too late, Janice had heard all. She came down into the kitchen, pale-faced and with eyes that blazed with indignation. She had not removed her hat.
"Come, Uncle Jason," she said, brokenly. "I want you to go downtown with me. If Nelson is in trouble we must help him."
"Drat that boy!" growled Uncle Jason, scowling at Marty. "He's a reg'lar big mouth! He has to tell ev'rything he knows all over the shop."
It seemed to Janice Day as though the drift of trouble, which had set her way with the announcement by her father of his unfortunate situation among the Yaqui Indians, had now risen to an overwhelming height.
'Rill's secret misgivings regarding Hopewell Drugg, little Lottie's peril of blindness, the general tendency of Polktown as a whole to suffer the bad effects of liquor selling at the tavern—all these things had added to Janice's anxiety.
Now, on the crest of the threatening wave, rode this happening to Nelson Haley, an account of which Marty had brought home.
"Come, Uncle Jason," she said again to Mr. Day. "You must come with me. If Nelson is arrested and taken before Justice Little, the justice will listen to you. You are a property owner. If they put Nelson under bail——"
"Hold your hosses," interrupted Uncle Jason, yet not unkindly. "Noah didn't build the ark in a day. We'd best go slow about this."
"Slow!" repeated Janice.
"I guess you wouldn't talk about bein' slow, Jason Day, if you was arrested," Aunt 'Mira interjected.
"Ma's right," said Marty. "Mebbe they'll put him in the cell under the Town Hall 'fore you kin get downtown."
"There ain't no sech haste as all that," stated Uncle Jason. "What's the matter of you folks?"
He spoke rather testily, and Janice looked at him in surprise. "Why, Uncle!" she cried, "what do you mean? It's Nelson Haley who is in trouble."
"I mean to eat my dinner fust of all," said her uncle firmly. "And so had you better, my gal. A man can't be expected to go right away to court an' put up every dollar he's got in the world for bail, until he's thought it over a little, and knows something more about the trouble."
"Why, Jason!" exploded Aunt 'Mira. "Of course Mr. Haley is innocent and you will help him."
"Hi tunket, Dad!" cried Marty. "You ain't goin' back on Nelson?"
Janice was silent. Her uncle did not look at her, but drew his chair to the table. "I ain't goin' back on nobody," he said steadily. "But I can't do nothing to harm my own folks. If, as you say, Marty, them coins is so vallible, his bail'll be consider'ble—for a fac'. If I put up this here property that we got, an'—an' anything happens—not that I say anythin' will happen—where'd we be?"
"What ever do ye mean, Jason Day?" demanded his wife. "That Nelson Haley would run away?"
"Ahem! We don't know how strongly the young man's been tempted," said Mr. Day doggedly.
"Uncle!" cried Janice, aghast.
"Dad!" exclaimed Marty.
"Jase Day! For the land's sake!" concluded Aunt 'Mira.
"Sit down and eat your dinner, Janice," said Uncle Jason a second time, ignoring his wife and son. "Remember, I got a duty to perform to your father as well as to you. What would Broxton Day do in this case?"
"I—I don't know, Uncle Jason," Janice said faintly.
"Fust of all, he wouldn't let you git mixed up in nothin' that would make the neighbors talk about ye," Mr. Day said promptly. "Now, whether Nelson Haley is innercent or guilty, there is bound ter be slathers of talk about this thing and about ev'rybody connected with it."
"He is not guilty, Uncle," said Janice, quietly.
"That's my opinion, too," said Mr. Day, bluntly. "But I want the pertic'lars, jest the same. I want to know all about it. Where there's so much smoke there must be some fire."
"Not allus, Dad," growled Marty, in disgust. "Smoke comes from an oak-ball, but there ain't no fire."
"You air a smart young man," returned his father, coolly. "You'll grow up to be the town smartie, like Walky Dexter, I shouldn't wonder. Nelson must ha' done somethin' to put himself in bad in this thing, and I want to know what it is he done."
"He went into the schoolhouse," grumbled Marty.
"Howsomever," pursued Mr. Day, "if they shut Nelson Haley up on this charge and he ain't guilty, we who know him best will git together and bail him out, if that seems best."
"'If that seems best!'" repeated Aunt 'Mira. "Jason Day! I'm glad the Lord didn't make me such a moderate critter as you be."
"You're a great friend of Nelse Haley—I don't think!" muttered Marty.
But Janice said nothing more. That Uncle Jason did not rush to Nelson's relief as she would have done had it been in her power, was not so strange. Janice was a singularly just girl.
The hurt was there, nevertheless. She could not help feeling keenly the fact that everybody in Polktown did not respond at once to Nelson's need.
That he should be accused of stealing the collection of coins was preposterous indeed. Yet Janice was sensible enough to know that there would be those in the village only too ready and willing to believe ill of the young schoolmaster.
Nelson Haley's character was not wishy-washy. He had made everybody respect him. His position as principal of the school gave him almost as much importance in the community as the minister. But not all the Polktown folk loved Nelson Haley. He had made enemies as well as friends since coming to the lakeside town.
There were those who would seize upon this incident, no matter how slightly the evidence might point to Nelson, and make "a mountain of a molehill." Nelson was a poor young man. He had come to Polktown with college debts to pay off out of his salary. To those who were not intimately acquainted with the school-teacher's character, it would not seem such an impossibility that he should yield to temptation where money was concerned.
But to Janice the thought was not only abhorrent, it was ridiculous. She would have believed herself capable of stealing quite as soon as she would have believed the accusation against Nelson.
Yet she could not blame Uncle Jason for his calm attitude in this event. It was his nature to be moderate and careful. She did not scold like Aunt 'Mira, nor mutter and glare like Marty. She could not, however, eat any dinner.
It was nerve-racking to sit there, playing with her fork, awaiting Uncle Jason's pleasure. Janice's eyes were tearless. She had learned ere this, in the school of hard usage, to control her emotions. Not many girls of her age could have set off finally with Mr. Day for the town with so quiet a mien. For she insisted upon accompanying her uncle on this quest. She felt that she could not remain quietly at home and wait upon his leisurely report of the situation.
First of all they learned that no attempt had been made as yet to curtail the young schoolmaster's liberty; otherwise the situation was quite as bad as Marty had so eagerly reported.
The collection of gold coins, valued at fifteen hundred dollars, had been left in the committee room next to the principal's office in the new school building. It being Saturday, the outer doors of the building were locked—or supposedly so.
Benny Thread, the janitor, was with the four committeemen in the basement for a little more than half an hour. During that half-hour Nelson Haley had entered the school building, using his pass key, had been to his office, and entered the committee room, and from thence departed, all while the committee was below stairs.
He had been seen both going in and coming out by the neighbors. He carried his school bag in both instances. The collection of coins was of some weight; but Nelson could have carried that weight easily.
The committee, upon returning to the second floor and finding the trays empty, had at once sent for Nelson and questioned him. In their first excitement over the loss of the coins, they had been unwise enough to state the trouble and their suspicions to more than one person. In an hour the story, with many additions, had spread over Polktown. A fire before a high wind could have traveled no faster.
Uncle Jason listened, digested, and made up his mind. Although a moderate man, he thought to some purpose. He was soon satisfied that the four committeemen, having got over their first fright, would do nothing rash. And Janice had much to thank her uncle for in this emergency; for he was outspoken, once having formed an opinion in the matter.
Finding the four committeemen in the drugstore, Uncle Jason berated them soundly:
"I did think you four fellers was safe to be let toddle about alone. I swan I did! But here ye ac' jest like ye was nuthin' but babies!
"Jest because ye acted silly and left that money open for the fust comer to pocket, ye hafter run about an' squeal, layin' it all to the fust person that come that way. If Mr. Middler or Elder Concannon had come inter that school buildin', I s'pose it'd ha' been jest the same. You fellers would aimed ter put it on them—one or t'other. I'm ashamed of ye."
"Wal, Jase Day, you're so smart," drawled Cross Moore, "who d'ye reckon could ha' took the coins?"
"Most anybody could. Mr. Haley sartinly did not," Uncle Jason returned, briskly.
"How d'ye know so much?" demanded Massey, the druggist.
"'Cause I know him," rejoined Mr. Day, quite as promptly as before.
"Aw—that's only talk," said Joe Pellet, pulling his beard reflectively. "Mr. Haley's a nice young man——"