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OPIE READ'S SELECT WORKS
Old Ebenezer The Jucklins My Young Master A Kentucky Colonel On the Suwanee River A Tennessee Judge
Works of Strange Power and Fascination
Uniformly bound in extra cloth, gold tops, ornamental covers, uncut edges, six volumes in a box,
Sold separately, $1.00 each.
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Opie Read's Select Works
Author of "My Young Master," "The Jucklins," "On the Suwanee River," "A Kentucky Colonel," "A Tennessee Judge," "The Colossus," "Emmett Bonlore," "Len Gansett," "The Tear in the Cup and Other Stories," "The Wives of the Prophet."
Chicago Laird & Lee, Publishers
Copyrighted 1897, by Wm. H. Lee. (All Rights Reserved.)
1. Sam Lyman 7
2. The Noted Advocate 14
3. The Timely Oracle 21
4. A Fog Between Them 38
5. The Belle of the Town 49
6. Humbled Into the Dust 55
7. The Wedding Breakfast 63
8. Suppressing the News 70
9. At Church 83
10. The Old Fellow Laughed 91
11. In the Lantern Light 100
12. Wanted to Dream 112
13. In a Magazine 122
14. Nothing Remarkable in It 132
15. Must Leave the Town 143
16. Sawyer's Plan 155
17. At the Creek 164
18. At the Wagon Maker's Shop 174
19. A Restless Night 181
20. Afraid in the Dark 191
21. With Old Jasper 197
22. The "Boosy" 207
23. After an Anxious Night 222
24. At Mt. Zion 235
25. At Nancy's Home 249
26. Out in the Dark 262
27. The Revenge 270
28. A Gentleman Mule-Buyer 278
29. Gone Away 294
30. The Home 306
31. There Came a Check 316
32. Laughed at His Weakness 326
33. The Petition 338
In more than one of the sleepy neighborhoods that lay about the drowsy town of Old Ebenezer, Sam Lyman had lolled and dreamed. He had come out of the keen air of Vermont, and for a time he was looked upon as a marvel of energy, but the soft atmosphere of a southwestern state soothed the Yankee worry out of his walk, and made him content to sit in the shade, to wait for the other man to come; and, as the other man was doing the same thing, rude hurry was not a feature of any business transaction. Of course the smoothing of Lyman's Yankee ruffles had taken some time. He had served as cross-tie purchaser for a new railway, had kept books and split slabs for kindling wood at a saw mill; then, as an assistant to the proprietor of a cross-roads store, he had counted eggs and bargained for chickens, with a smile for a gingham miss and a word of religious philosophy for the dame in home-spun. But he was now less active, and already he had begun to long for easier employment; so he "took up" school at forty dollars a month. In the Ebenezer country, the school teacher is regarded as a supremely wise and hopelessly lazy mortal. He is expected to know all of earth, as the preacher is believed to know all of heaven, and when he has once been installed into this position, a disposition to get out of it is branded as a sacrilege. He has taken the pedagogic veil and must wear it. But Lyman was not satisfied with the respect given to this calling; he longed for something else, not of a more active nature, it is true, but something that might embrace a broader swing. The soft atmosphere had turned the edge of his physical energy, but his mind was eager and grasping. His history was that dear fallacy, that silken toga which many of us have wrapped about ourselves—the belief that a good score at college means immediate success out in the world. And he had worked desperately to finish his education, had taken care of horses and waited upon table at a summer resort in the White Mountains. His first great and cynical shock was to find that his "accomplishment" certificate was one of an enormous edition; that it meant comparatively nothing in the great brutal world of trade; that modesty was a drawback, and that gentleness was as weak as timidity. And repeated failures drove him from New England to a community where, it had been said, the people were less sharp, less cold, and far less exacting. He was getting along in years when he took up the school—past thirty-five. He was tall, lean, and inclined toward angularity. He had never been handsome, but about his honest face there was something so manly, so wholesome, so engaging, that it took but one touch of sentiment to light it almost to fascinating attractiveness. Children, oftener than grown persons, were struck with his kindly eyes; and his voice had been compared with church music, so deep and so sacred in tone; and yet it was full of a whimsical humor, for the eyes splashed warm mischief and the mouth was a silent, half sad laugh.
It was observed one evening that Lyman passed the post-office with two sheep-covered books under his arm, and when he had gone beyond hearing, old Buckley Lightfoot, the oracle, turned to Jimmie Bledsoe, who was weighing out shingle nails, and said:
"Jimmie, hold on there a moment with your clatter."
"Can't just now, Uncle Buckley. Lige, here, is in a hurry for his nails."
"But didn't I tell you to hold on a moment? Look here, Lige," he added, clearing his throat with a warning rasp, "are you in such a powerful swivit after you've heard what I said? I ask, are you?"
"Well," Lige began to drawl, "I want to finish coverin' my roof before night, for it looks mighty like rain. And I told him I was in a hurry."
"You told him," said the old man. "You did. I have been living here sixty odd year, and so far as I can recollect this is about the first insult flung in upon something I was going to say. Weigh out his nails for him, Jimmie, and let him go. But I don't know what can be expected of a neighborhood that wants to go at such a rip-snort of a rush. Weigh out his nails, Jimmie, and let him go."
"Oh, no!" Lige cried, and Jimmie dropped the nail grabs into the keg.
"Oh, yes," Uncle Buckley insisted. "Just go on with your headlong rush. Go on and don't pay any attention to me."
"Jimmie," said Lige, "don't weigh out them nails now, for if you do I won't take 'em at all."
"Now, Lige," the old man spoke up, "you are talking like a wise and considerate citizen. And now, Jimmie, after this well merited rebuke, are you ready to listen to what I was going to say?"
"I am anxious and waiting," Jimmie answered.
"All right," the old oracle replied. He cleared his throat, looked about, nodded his head in the direction taken by Sam Lyman, and thus proceeded: "Observation, during a long stretch of years, has taught me a great deal that you younger fellows don't know. Do you understand that?"
"We do," they assented.
"Well and good," the old man declared, nodding his head. "I say well and good, for well and good is exactly what I mean. You know that's what I mean, don't you, Jimmie?"
"Mighty well, Uncle Buckley."
"All right; and how about you, Lige?"
"I know it as well as I ever did anything," Lige agreed.
"Well and good again," said the old man. "And this leads up properly to the subject. You boys have just seen Sam Lyman pass here. But did you notice that he had law books under his arm?"
"I saw something under his arm," Jimmie answered.
"Ah," said the old man, tapping his forehead. "Ah, observation, what a rare jewel! Yes, sir, he had law books, and what is the meaning of this extraordinary proceedin'? It means that Sam Lyman is studying law, and that his next move will be to break away from the school-teaching business."
"Impossible," Lige cried.
The old man shook his head. "It might seem so to the unobservant," he replied, "but in these days of stew, rush and fret, there is no telling what men may attempt to do. Yes, gentlemen, he is studying law, and the first thing we know he will leave Fox Grove and try to break into the town of Old Ebenezer. And it is not necessary for me to point out the danger of leaving this quiet neighborhood for the turmoil and ungodly hurry of that town. Now you can weigh out the nails, Jimmie."
THE NOTED ADVOCATE.
Lyman must long have indulged his secret study before the observation of old Buckley Lightfoot fell upon it, for, at the close of the school term a few weeks later, the teacher announced that he had formed a co-partnership with John Caruthers, the noted advocate of Old Ebenezer, and that together they would practice law in the county seat. He offered to the people no opportunity to bid him good-bye, for that evening, with his law library under his arm, he set out for the town, twenty miles away. Old Uncle Buckley, Jimmie and Lige followed him, but he had chosen a trackless path, and thus escaped their reproaches.
The noted advocate, John Caruthers, had an office in the third story of a brick building, which was surely a distinction, being so high from the ground and in a brick house, too. There he spent his time smoking a cob pipe and waiting for clients. His office was a small room at the rear end of the building. The front room, the remainder of the suite, was a long and narrow apartment, occupied by the Weekly Sentinel, the county newspaper, published by J. Warren, not edited at all, and written by lawyers and doctors about town. The great advocate paid his rent with political contributions to the newspaper, and the editor discharged his rental obligations by supporting the landlord for congress, a very convenient and comforting arrangement, as Caruthers explained to Lyman.
"I don't see how we could be more fortunately situated," said he, the first night after the co-partnership had been effected. "What do you think of it?"
"I don't know that I could improve on an arrangement that doesn't cost any money," Lyman answered. He sat looking about the room, at the meager furniture and the thin array of books. "We've got a start, anyway, and I don't think Webster could have done anything without a start. Are all these our books?"
"Yes," said Caruthers, shaking his sandy head. "That is, they are ours as long as they are here. Once in awhile a man may come in and take one; but the next day, or the next minute, for that matter, we can go out and get another. The Old Ebenezer bar has a circulating library." He yawned and continued: "I think we ought to do well here, with my experience and your learning. They tell me you can read Greek as well as some people can read English."
"Yes, some people can't read English."
"I guess you are right," Caruthers laughed. "But they say you can read Greek like shelling corn, and that will have a big effect with a jury. Just tell them that the New Testament was written in Greek, and then give them a few spurts of it, and they've got to come. I had a little Latin and I did very well with it, but a fellow came along who knew more of it than I did and crowded me out of my place."
Just then the editor came in. He looked about, nodded at Lyman, whom he had met earlier in the day, and then sat down, with a sigh.
"Well, I have got a good send off for you fellows—already in type, but I lack eighty cents of having money enough to get my paper out of the express office."
No one said anything, for this was sad news. Warren continued: "Yes, I lack just eighty cents. It's about as good a notice as I ever read, and it's a pity to let it lie there and rust. Of course I wouldn't ask either of you for the money: That wouldn't look very well. Eighty cents, two forties. I could go to some of the advertisers, but an advertiser loses respect for a paper that needs eighty cents."
"Warren," said Caruthers, "I'd like to see your paper come out, for I want to read my roast on the last legislature, but I haven't eighty cents."
Lyman sat looking about with a dozing laugh on his lips: "Are you sure you'll not need eighty cents every week?" he asked.
The editor's eyes danced a jig of delight. "I may never need it again," he declared.
"Well, but how often are you going to print a notice of the firm?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"Well, I didn't know but your paper might get stuck in the express office every time you have something about us. It's likely to go that way, you know. I've got a few dollars—"
The editor grabbed his hand: "I want to welcome you to our town," he cried. "You come here with energy and new life. Now, Caruthers, what the deuce are you laughing at? You know that no one appreciates a man of force and ideas more than I do. Just let me have the eighty, Mr. Lyman, for I've got a nigger ready to turn the press. Now, I'm ten thousand times obliged to you," he effusively added as Lyman gave him the money.
He hastened out and Caruthers leaned back with a lazy laugh. "He told the truth about needing the money. I've known his paper to be stuck in the throat of the press, and all for the want of fifty cents. I'm glad you let him have it. He's not a bad fellow. He lives in the air. Every time he touches the earth he gets into trouble."
"So do we all," Lyman replied, "and nearly always on account of money. I wish there wasn't a penny in the world."
"Sometimes there isn't, so far as I am concerned," Caruthers said. "No, sir," he added, "they keep money out of my way. And I want to tell you that I'm not a bad business man, either. But I'm close to forty and haven't laid up a cent, and nothing that I can ever say in praise of myself can overcome that fact. I don't see, however, why you should be a failure. You have generations of money makers behind you."
"Yes, hundreds of years behind me," said Lyman. "And the vein was worked out long before I came on. There is no failure more complete than the one that comes along in the wake of success. But I am not going to remain a failure. I'll strike it after awhile."
"I think you have struck it now," replied Caruthers. "Business will liven up in a day or two. When a thing touches bottom it can't go any further down, but it may rise."
"Yes," said Lyman, "unless it continues to lie there."
"But we must stir it up," Caruthers declared. "We've got the enterprise all right—we've got the will, and now all that's needed is something for us to take hold of."
"That's about so," Lyman agreed. "Unless a man has something to lift, he can never find out how strong he is."
And thus they talked until after the midnight hour, until Caruthers, his feet on a table, his head thrown back, his pipe between the fingers of his limp hand, fell asleep. Lyman sat there, more thoughtful, now that he felt alone. At the threshold of a new venture, we look back upon the hopes that led us into other undertakings, and upon many a failure we bestow a look of tender but half reproachful forgiveness. The trials and the final success of other men make us strong. And with his mild eyes set in review, Lyman thought that never before had he found himself so well seasoned, so well prepared to do something. He listened to the grinding of the press, to the midnight noises about the public square, the town muttering in its sleep. "I am advancing" he mused, looking about him. "I was not content to skimp along in New England, nor to buy cross-ties, nor to singe the pin feathers off a chicken at night, nor to worry with the feeble machinery of a dull schoolboy's head. And I will not be content merely to sit here and wait for clients that may never come. I am going to do something."
THE TIMELY ORACLE.
A year passed by. Caruthers dozed with his cob pipe between the fingers of his limp hand, waiting for clients whose step was not heard upon the stairs. But the office had not been wholly without business. Once a man called to seek advice, which was given, free, as an advertisement for more work from his neighborhood, and once Lyman had defended a man charged with the theft of a sheep. The mutton was found in the fellow's closet and the hide of the animal was discovered under his bed; and with such evidence against him it was not expected that a lawyer could do much, so, when the prisoner was sentenced to the penitentiary, Caruthers congratulated his partner with the remark: "That was all right. We can't expect to win every time. But we were not so badly defeated; you got him off with one year, and he deserved two. To cut a thief's sentence in two ought to help us."
"Among the other thieves," Lyman suggested.
"Oh, yes," Caruthers spoke up cheerfully. "A lawyer's success depends largely upon his reputation among thieves."
"Or at least among the men who intend to stretch the law. Let me see; we have been in business together just one year, and our books balance with a most graceful precision. We are systematic, anyway."
"Yes," Caruthers replied, letting his pipe fall to the floor, "system is my motto. No business, properly systematized, is often better than some business in a tangle."
Warren, the editor, appeared at the door. "Are you busy?" he asked.
"Well, we are not in what you might call a rush," Lyman answered. "Are you busy?" he inquired, with a twinkle in his eye.
Before answering, Warren stepped into the room and sat down with a distressful sigh. "I am more than that," he said, dejectedly. "I am in hot water, trying to swim with one hand."
"What's the trouble?"
"Oh, a sort of summer, fall, spring and winter complaint." He took out a note book, turned over the leaves, returned it to his pocket and said: "I lack just sixty-five, this time."
"Dollars?" Lyman asked.
Warren gave him a quick, reproachful look. "Now, Judge, what airs have I ever put on to cause you to size me up that way? Have I ever shown any tax receipts? Have I ever given any swell dinners? Sixty-five cents is the amount I am short, Judge, and where I am to get it, the Lord only knows. My paper is lying over yonder in the express office, doing no good to anybody, but they won't let me take it out and stamp intelligence upon it. The town sits gaping for the news, with a bad eye on me; but what can I do with a great corporation arrayed against me? For sixty-five cents I could get the paper out, and it's full of bright things. The account of your defense of the sheep thief is about as amusing a thing as I ever read, and it will be copied all over the country; it would put a nation in a good humor irrespective of party affiliations, but sixty-five millions of people are to be cheated, and all on account of sixty-five cents, one cent to the million."
"Things are down to a low mark when you have to make your estimates on that basis. One cent to the million," said Lyman with a quiet laugh.
"Distressful," Warren replied. "The country was never in such a fix before. Why, last year about this time I raised eighty cents without any trouble at all."
"Yes," said Lyman, "you raised it of me."
"That's a fact," Warren admitted. "But do you think the country is as well off now as it was then?"
"Not financially, but it may be wiser."
"Now, look here, Judge, am I to accept this as an insinuation?"
"How so?" Lyman asked, looking up, his eyes full of mischief.
"Why, speaking of being wiser. I don't know but you meant—well, that you were too wise to help me out again. You can't deny that the notice of the partnership was all right."
"We have no complaint to enter on that ground," Caruthers drawled.
"Pardon me, Chancellor, but it wasn't your put-in," Warren replied. "Your suggestions are worth money and you ought not to throw them away. But the question is, can I get sixty-five cents out of this firm?"
"Warren," said Lyman, "I am in sympathy with your cheerful distress."
"But are you willing to shoulder the debt of sixty-five millions of people? Are you in a position to do that?"
"No," Caruthers drawled, leaning over with a strain and picking up his pipe from the floor.
"Chancellor," said the editor, "as wise as you are, your example is sometimes pernicious and your counsel implies evil."
"Oh, I am simply speaking for the firm," Caruthers replied. "As an individual Lyman can do as he pleases with his capital. Come in, sir."
Some one was tapping at the door, and Lyman, looking around, recognized the short and wheezing bulk of Uncle Buckley Lightfoot, the oracle. He almost tumbled out his chair to grasp the old fellow by the hand; and then, smoothing his conduct, he introduced him, with impressive ceremony.
"Yes, sir," said the old man, sitting down and looking about, "he got away from us a little the rise of a year ago, and I don't think Fox Grove has been the same since then; and it is a generally accepted fact that the children don't learn more than half as much. Me and Jimmie and Lige agreed on this point, and that settled it so far as the community was concerned. And Sammy, we hear that you have got to be a great lawyer. A man came through our county not long ago and boasted of knowing you, and a lawyer must amount to a good deal when folks go about boasting that they know him. And look here, my wife read a piece out of the paper about you—yes, sir, read it off just like she was a talkin'; and when she was done I 'lowed that maybe, after all, you hadn't done such an unwise thing to throw yourself headlong into the excitement of this town. And mother she said that no matter where a man went, he could still find the Lord if he looked about in the right way, and I didn't dispute her, but just kept on a sittin' there, a wallopin' my tobacco about in my mouth. Yes, sir; I am powerful tickled to see you."
Long before he had reached the end of his harangue, Warren had taken hold of his arm. "It was my paper your wife read it in," he said in tones as solemn as grace over meat. "I am the editor of the paper, and two dollars will get it every week for a year."
The old man shrugged himself out of the editor's imploring clasp, and looked at him. "Why," said he, "you don't appear to be more than old enough to have just come out of the tobacco patch, a picking off worms, along with the turkeys. But, in the excitement of the town, boys, I take it, are mighty smart. However, my son, I ain't got any particular use for a paper, except to have a piece read out of it once in awhile, but I'll tell you what I'll do. If you'll agree to print some pieces that Sammy will write for you, I'll take your paper. He was always a writin' and a tearin' it up when he boarded with me, and I was sorry to see him wastin' his labor in that way when he mout have been out in the woods shootin' squirrels; so if you'll agree——"
"I print his sketches every week, and some of them have been stolen by the big city papers," the editor cried, unable longer to restrain himself.
"Then I didn't know what I was missin'. Two dollars, you say? Well; here you are, sir, and now you just rip me off a paper every week. See if that's a two dollar bill."
"It's a five," Warren gasped.
"Glad it's that much; change it, please."
"I'll go out and get it changed."
"Don't put yourself to that much trouble. Give it to Sammy and I bet he'll change it in a jiffy, for it don't take a lawyer more than a minute to do such things."
Caruthers looked up with a squint in his eye.
"I think," said Lyman, "that we'd better let him go out and get the change; that is, unless my partner can accommodate us."
"I have nothing short of a twenty," Caruthers replied, shutting his eyes.
"Then run along, son, and fetch me the change," said the old man. "But hold on a minute," he added, as Warren made a glad lunge toward the door. "Be sure that the money changers in the temple don't cheat you, for I hear they are a bad lot, and me and Jimmie and Lige have agreed that they ought to have been lashed out long ago."
"They have never succeeded in getting any money out of me," Warren laughed; and as he was going out he said to Lyman: "I am going to flash this five in the face of the Express Company. I didn't know before that your pen was made of a feather snatched from an angel's wing."
"Yes, sir," Uncle Buckley began, looking at Lyman, and then at Caruthers, "we have missed him mightily. Mother says he was the most uncertain man to cook for she ever run across. Sometimes he'd eat a good deal, and then for days, while he was a studyin' of his law, and especially when he was a writin' and a tearin' up, he wouldn't eat hardly anything. So you see he kept things on the dodge all the time, and that of itself was enough to make him interestin' to the women folks. We've had it pretty lively out in Fox Grove. The neighbors all wanted me to split off and go along with them into the new party, but I told 'em all my ribs was made outen hickory and was Andy Jackson Democrat. But the new party swept everything and got into power; and I want to know if anybody ever saw such a mess as they made of the legislature."
The old man began to move uneasily and to glance about with an anxious expression in his eye. "Sammy," said he, "of course I know you, but I ain't expected to know everybody."
"Yes," said Lyman, smiling at him.
"Well, it just occurred to me whether I wa'n't jest a little brash to let that young feller off with that money. In the excitement of the town he might forget to come back."
"Don't worry; he'll be back. There he comes now."
Warren came in, his face beaming, and gave the old man the money due him. Uncle Buckley looked at him a moment, and then, with an air of contrite acknowledgment, shook his head as he seriously remarked:
"I done you an injury jest now, by sorter questionin' whether you wouldn't run off with that change, and I want to ask your pardon."
"Oh, that's all right," Warren laughed.
"No, it ain't all right, and I want to apologize right here in the presence of——"
"All right, you may tie it on as a ribbon if you want to, but it isn't necessary. Now you sit over here with me and tell me all about yourself and your neighborhood, for I'm going to give you a write-up that'll be a beauty to behold. You fellows go ahead with your nodding, and don't pay any attention to us. But you want to listen. Come to my sanctum, Mr. Lightfoot."
"I reckon it's safe," said the old man, following him. Caruthers turned his slow eyes upon Lyman. "Has that old fellow got any money?" he asked.
"Well, he's not a pauper."
"Suppose we could strike him for a hundred for six months?"
"No, he's a friend of mine."
"But," said Caruthers, "if we are going to raise money we'll have to borrow from friends. Our enemies won't let us have it."
"That's true, but our enemies in protecting themselves should not be permitted to drive us against our friends. That old man would let me have every cent he has. But he has labored more than forty years for his competence, and I will not rob him of a penny."
"Rob him," Caruthers spoke up with energy. "We'll pay him back."
"Oh, you know how. With a little money we can get a start. We can rent an office on the ground floor, and then business will come."
"Yes," said Lyman, "but I don't want that old man to be mixed up in the excitement. Suppose we try the bank."
"You try it. McElwin does not care for me particularly. Suppose you go over and see him. Offer him a mortgage on our library."
"I'll do it. Wait until Uncle Buckley has been pumped; I want to bid him good-bye."
"Go through there, and see him on your way out. The bank will be closed pretty soon."
"All right. But don't hang a hope on the result."
Lyman shook hands with Uncle Buckley, and then went across the street to the First National Bank, the financial pride of Old Ebenezer. The low brick building stood as a dollar mark, to be stared at by farmers who had heard of the great piles of gold heaped therein, and James McElwin, as with quick and important step he passed along the street, was gazed upon with an intentness almost religious. Numerous persons claimed kinship with him, and the establishment of third or fourth degree of cousinhood had lifted more than one family out of obscurity. The bank must have had a surplus of twenty thousand dollars, a glaring sum in the eyes of the grinding tradesmen about the public square. An illustrated journal in the East had printed McElwin's picture, together with a brief history of his life. The biographer called him a self-made man, and gave him great credit for having scrambled for dimes in his youth, that he might have dollars in middle life. That he had once gone hungry rather than pay more than the worth of a meal at an old negro's "snack house," was set forth as a "sub-headed" virtue. He had married above him, the daughter of a neighboring "merchant," whose name was stamped on every shoe he sold. The old man died a bankrupt, but the daughter, the wife of the rising capitalist, remained proud and cool with dignity. The union was illustrated with one picture, a girl, to become a belle, a handsome creature, with a mysterious money grace, with a real beauty of hair, mouth and eyes. The envious said that circumstances served to make an imperious simpleton of her.
It was this man, with these connections, that Lyman crossed the street to see. But to the lawyer it was not so adventurous as grimly humorous. His Yankee shrewdness had pronounced the man a pretentious fraud.
The banker was in his private office, busy with his papers. Lyman heard him say to the negro who took in his name: "Mr. Lyman! I don't know why he should want to see me. But tell him to come in."
As Lyman entered the banker looked up and said: "Well, sir."
Lyman sat down and crossed his legs. The banker looked at his feet, then at his head.
"Mr. McElwin," said Lyman, "we have not met before, though I, of course, have seen you often, but——"
"Well, sir, go on."
"Yes, that's what I am doing. I say that we have not met, but I board at the house of a relative of yours, and I therefore feel that I know you."
"Board with a relative of mine?" the banker gasped.
"Yes, with Jasper Staggs, and I want to tell you that he is about as kind hearted an old fellow as I ever met, quaint and accommodating. He is a cousin of yours, I believe."
"Well,—er, yes. But state your business, if you please. I am very busy."
"I presume so, sir, but I am afraid that my business may not strike you in a very favorable way. I want to borrow one hundred dollars."
"Upon what collateral, sir?"
"Mainly upon the collateral of honor."
The banker looked at him. Lyman continued: "I feel that such a statement in a bank sounds like the echo of an idle laugh, but I mention honor first, because I value it most. I also have, or represent, a law library."
"Is it worth a hundred dollars?"
"Well, I can't say that it is, but I should think that the library, reinforced by my honor, is worth that much."
The banker began to stroke his brown beard. "So you have come here to joke, sir——"
"Oh, not at all," Lyman broke in, "this is a serious matter."
"It might be if I were to let you have the money."
"That isn't so bad," Lyman laughed. "But seriously, I am in much need of a hundred dollars, and if you'll let me have it for six months I will pay it back with interest."
"I can't do it, sir."
"You mean that you won't do it."
"You heard me, sir."
"I realize the bad form in which I present my case, Mr. McElwin, and I know that if you had made a practice of doing business in this way you would not have been nearly so successful, but I will pledge you my word that if you will let me have the money——"
"Good day, sir, good day."
Lyman walked out, not feeling so humorous as when he went in. He looked up and down the dingy, drowsy street. At first he might have been half amused at his failure, tickled with the idea of describing it to Caruthers and the newspaper man, but a sense of humiliation came to him. He knew that in the warfare of business his operation was but a guerrilla's dash, and he was ashamed of himself; and yet he reflected that his great enemy might have been gentler to him. He walked slowly down the street, without an objective point; he passed the group of village jokers, sitting in front of the drug store, with their chairs tipped back against the wall; he passed the planing mill, with its rasping noise, and in his whimsical fancy it sounded like the Town Council snoring. He loitered near a garden where plum trees were in bloom; he looked over at a solemn child digging in the dirt; he caught sight of a pale man with the mark of death upon him, lying near a window, slowly fanning himself. He spoke to the child and the wretched little one looked up and said: "I am digging a grave for my pa." Lyman leaned heavily upon the fence; his heart was touched, and taking out a small piece of money he tossed it to the boy. The grave digger took it up, looked at it a moment in sad astonishment, put it aside and returned to his work.
The office was deserted when Lyman returned. Caruthers had not hung a hope on the result of the attempted negotiations.
A FOG BETWEEN THEM.
The following afternoon when Lyman went to the office, having spent the earlier hours in the court house, to assure the Judge that he had no motions to make, and no case to be passed over to the next term—he found Caruthers with his feet on the table.
"Getting hot," said Caruthers.
"Is it? I thought we had been playing freeze-out," Lyman replied, throwing his hat upon the table and sitting down.
"Then you didn't do anything with his Royal Flush?"
"Brother McElwin? No. He fenced with his astonishment until he could find words, and then he granted me the privilege to retire."
"Wouldn't take a mortgage on the library?"
"No; he said it wasn't worth a hundred."
"But you assured him that it was."
"No; I had to acknowledge that it wasn't."
"You are a fool."
"Yes, perhaps; but I'm not a thief."
"No! But it's more respectable to be a thief than a pauper."
"It is not very comforting to be both—to know that you are one and to feel that you are the other."
"Lyman, that sort of doctrine may suit a long-tailed coat, a white necktie and a countenance pinched by piety, but it doesn't suit me."
"It suits me," Lyman replied. "I was brought up on it. I think mother baked it in with the beans."
"Watercolor nonsense!" said Caruthers. "My people were as honest as anybody, but they didn't teach me to look for the worst of it."
"But didn't they teach you that without a certain moral force there can be no real and lasting achievement?"
Caruthers turned and nodded his head toward the bank. "Is there any moral force over there? Did you notice any saintly precepts on his wall? I don't think you did. But wasn't there many a sign that said, 'get money'?"
"Caruthers, you join with the rest of this town in the belief that McElwin is a great man. I don't. He is a community success, a neighborhood's strong man, but in the hands of the giants who live in the real world he is a weakling."
"He is strong enough, though, not to tremble at the sound of a footstep at the door, and that's exactly what we sit here doing day after day. The joy of the hoped-for client is driven away by the fear of the collector." He was silent for a moment, and then he said: "I don't feel that there's any advantage in being hooked up with a saint."
"I don't know," Lyman replied. "I never tried it."
"I have," said Caruthers, looking at him.
Lyman laughed and rubbed his hands together. "You are the only one that has ever insinuated such a compliment, if you mean that I am a saint. But I hold that there's quite a stretch between a saint and a man who has a desire simply to be honest. Saint—" He laughed again. "Why, the people where I was brought up called me a rake."
"They were angels. But why don't you say where you were 'raised.' Why do you say 'brought up?' You were not brought up; you were raised."
"Yes, that's true, I guess. But we raised vegetables where I was brought up."
"Yes, some cabbages. Round about here, though, they appear to make pumpkins more of a specialty. But come a little nearer with your meaning concerning the saint. I take it that you are tired of the partnership. Am I right?"
"Well," Caruthers spoke up, "we haven't done anything and we have no prospects."
"You are right," said Lyman. "But I am poorer and you are about as well off as you were."
"Do you mean to insinuate—"
"Oh, I don't insinuate, though it's a habit among the people where I was brought up."
"If you don't insinuate, what then? what do you mean?"
"That you've got about all the money I had."
"The devil, you say!"
"I didn't mention the devil. I didn't think it was necessary to speak in the third person of one who is already present."
Caruthers started and took his feet off the table. Lyman regarded him with a cool smile.
"Lyman, I thought that we might have parted friends."
"We can at least part as acquaintances," Lyman replied. "Until a few moments ago I was willing to stand a good deal from you; that part of your principles that I do not like I was willing to ascribe to a difference of opinion, but just now you called me a fool because I had refused to declare those books to be worth a hundred dollars. Up to that time we might have parted in reasonably good humor, but since then I haven't thought very well of you. And you'll have to take it back before you leave."
"You say I'll have to take it back."
"Yes, that's what I said."
"I never had to take anything back."
"No? Then you are about to encounter a new phase of life. Singular, isn't it, that we never know when we are about to stumble upon something new."
"You don't mean——"
"I don't know that I do. But I mean that you'll take that back or carry away a thrashing that will make you stagger. Did you ever see a man wabbling off after a thrashing that he was hardly able to carry? Sad sight sometimes. The last man that I whipped weighed about forty pounds more than I do. He presumed on his weight. But he soon found out that his flesh was very much in his way. He was a saw mill man and a bully; and it so tickled Uncle Buckley that nothing would do but I must come to his house and live as one of the family. Out at Fox Grove a man who won't be imposed upon stands high."
"Lyman, I don't want any trouble, and——"
"Oh, it won't be any trouble."
"And I acknowledge that I was hasty. I take it back, and here's my hand on it."
"I'm obliged to you for taking it back, Caruthers, but I don't want to take your hand. I don't understand it, but a spiritual something seems to have arisen between us."
"All right," said Caruthers, "but I hope we don't part as enemies."
"Oh, no, not as enemies. You speak of parting as if you were the one who has to vacate."
"Yes, I have rented an office over on the other side of the square, on the ground floor."
"It is very kind of you to leave me here," said Lyman. "You might have ordered me out. I am glad you didn't."
"Such a proceeding could never have entered my head," Caruthers replied. "In fact, I thought that if the separation must come you would rather stay here. You appear to have a fondness for that clanking old press out there."
"Yes, I can make it grind out my rent. When are you going to vacate the premises?" Lyman asked, his grave countenance lighted with a smile.
"Now, or rather in a very few minutes."
"Is there anything holding you?"
"Come Lyman, old man, don't jog me that way. And I wish you wouldn't look at me with that sort of a smile. Everybody says you have the kindest face in the world——"
"Without a bristle to hide its sweetness," Lyman broke in.
"Yes," Caruthers assented, "the innocence of a boy grown to manhood without knowing it."
"And you have remained to tell me this?"
"Oh, I'll go now," said Caruthers, getting up.
"I wish you would. Up to a very short time ago I thought you one of the most whimsically entertaining men I ever met, but as I said just now, a spiritual disparagement has arisen between us, a thick fog, and I wish you would clear the atmosphere."
"Well," said Caruthers, "I am off. I don't know what to take with me," he added, looking about. "I suppose I owe you more or less, and I'll leave things just as they are until I am prepared to face a statement."
"All right. Good day."
"But you won't shake hands?"
"Yes, through the fog," said Lyman, holding out his hand. Caruthers grasped it, dropped it, as if he too felt that it came through a fog, and hastened out. Just outside he met Warren coming in. "What's he looking so serious about?" the editor asked.
"Sit down," said Lyman. "Don't take the chair he had—the other one, that's it. Well, we have split the law trust and he goes across the square to open a new office."
"Is that so? Well, I reckon there's a good deal of the wolf about him. Yes, sir, he has seen me bleeding under the heel of the Express Company, without so much as giving me the——"
"Moist eye of sympathy," Lyman suggested.
"That's all right, and it fits. Say, you are more of a writer than a lawyer. And that's exactly in line with what I came in to tell you. I got a half column ad. this morning from a patent medicine concern in the North, and they want an additional write-up. It all comes through your sketches."
"Do you think so?"
"I know it. A drummer told me this morning that he had heard some fellows talking about my paper in a St. Louis hotel, the best hotel in the town, mind you—and I can see from the exchanges that the Sentinel is making tracks away out yonder in the big road. And it's all owing to that quaint Yankee brain of yours, Lyman. Yes, it is. Why, the best lawyers in this town have written for my paper. The Circuit Judge reviewed the life of Sir Edmond Saunders, whoever he was, and Capt. Fitch, the prosecuting attorney, wrote two columns on Napoleon, to say nothing of the hundreds of things sent in by the bar in general, and it all amounted to nothing, but you come along in the simplest sort of a way and make a hit."
"I'm glad you think so."
"Oh, it's not a question of think; I know it. And now I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll let this law end of the building take care of itself and we'll give our active energies to the paper. You do the editing and I'll do the business. You put stuff into the columns and I'll wrestle with the express agent. And I'll divide with you."
"Warren," said Lyman, getting up and putting his hands on the newspaper man's shoulders, "there's no fog between you and me."
Warren looked up with a smile. He was a young fellow with a bright face, and the soft curly hair of a child. "Fog? No, sunshine. There couldn't be any fog where you are, Lyman. I'm not much of a scholar. I've had to squirm so much that I haven't had time to study, but I know a man when I see him, and I don't see how any woman could give you much attention without falling in love with you, hanged if I do."
Lyman blushed and shook him playfully. "I am delighted to pool distresses with you," he said, "but don't try to flatter me. Women laugh at me," he added, sitting down.
"No, they laugh with you. But that's all right. Now, let's talk over our prospects."
THE BELLE OF THE TOWN.
Once in a long while Banker McElwin made it a policy to gather up a number of his boastful relations, reinforced by a number of friends, and then conduct the party to the house of another kinsman, where he would give them an evening of delight. He did not give notice of these gracious recognitions, preferring to make the event sweeter with surprise. On his part it was a generous forgetfulness of self-importance—it was as if a placid and beneficent moon had come to beam upon a cluster of stars. To the men he would quote stocks, as if, a lover of letters, he were giving a poem to a "mite society." Upon the ladies he would smile and throw off vague hints of future silks and fineries.
One evening this coterie gathered at the home of Jasper Staggs. Old Jasper, in his earlier days, had been a town marshal, and it was his boast that he had arrested Steve Day, the desperado who had choked the sheriff and defied the law. This great feat was remembered by the public, and old Jasper nursed it as a social pension. But it did not bring in revenue sufficient to sustain life, so he made a pretense of collecting difficult accounts while his wife and "old maid" daughter did needlework and attended to the few wants of one boarder, Sam Lyman. The "banker's society" recognized the Staggs family in the evening of the day which followed Sam Lyman's call at the First National, and was in excitable progress while Lyman, in ignorance of it all, prolonged his talk with Warren. In the family sitting room the banker talked of the possibility of a panic in Wall Street. In the parlor the younger relatives were playing games, with Annie Staggs, the old maid, as director of ceremonies. After a time they hit upon the game of forfeits. Miss Eva McElwin, the great man's daughter, fell under penalty, and the sentence was that she should go through the ceremony of marriage with the first man who came through the door. At that moment Sam Lyman entered the room. He was greeted with shouts and clapping of hands, and he drew back in dismay, but Miss Annie ran to him and led him forward. Eva McElwin, with a pout, turned to some one and said:
"What, with that thing?"
"Oh, you've got to," was shouted. "Yes, you have."
"Well, what is expected of me?" Lyman asked.
"Why," Miss Annie cried, "you've got to marry a young lady, the belle of Old Ebenezer."
He had often gazed at the girl, in church, had been struck by her beauty, but had shared the belief of the envious—that she was a charming "simpleton."
"Well, don't you think you'd better introduce us?"
"Oh, no, it will be all the funnier."
"Marry, and get acquainted afterwards, eh? Well, I guess that is the rule in society. I beg your pardon," he added, speaking to Miss McElwin, "for not appearing in a more appropriate garb, but as there seems to be some hurry in the matter, I haven't the time nor the clothes to meet a more fashionable demand. I am at your service."
He offered his arm and the girl took it with a laugh, but with more of scorn than of good humor.
"Take your places here," Miss Annie said. And then she cried: "Oh, where is Henry Bostic? We'll have him perform the ceremony. He'll make it so deliriously solemn." She ran away and soon returned, with a young man serious enough to have divided the pulpit with any circuit rider in the country.
The ceremony was performed, and then began the congratulations. "Oh, please quit," Miss McElwin pleaded. "I'm tired of it. Zeb," she said, turning to a bold looking young man, "tell them to quit."
"Here," he commanded, "we've got enough of this, so let's start on something else. Let's play old Sister Phoebe. Why the deuce won't they let us dance?"
"Henry," said Miss Annie, stepping out upon the veranda with the serious young man, "they always called you queer, but I must say that you know how to perform a marriage ceremony."
"I trust so," he answered.
"You do; and when you are ordained——"
"I was ordained this morning."
"What!" she cried. "Then the marriage came near being actual. It only required the license."
"The last legislature repealed the marriage license law," he replied.
"Mercy on me!" she cried.
"Mercy on them," said the young man who had been regarded as queer.
She took hold of a post to steady herself. She heard the deep voice of the banker; the droning tone of "Old Sister Phoebe" came from the parlor.
"Don't tremble so. It can't be helped now," said the young man. "It's nothing to cry about. How did I know? You said you wanted me to perform a marriage ceremony, and I did. How did I know it was in fun? You didn't say so. The father and mother were in the other room. They could have come in and objected. How did I know but that they had given their consent, and stayed in the other room for sentimental reasons? I am not supposed to know everything."
"Oh, but who will tell Cousin McElwin?" she sobbed. "And who will tell Zeb Sawyer? Oh, it's awful, and it's all your fault, and you know it. You are crazy, that's what you are."
"Well, you can exercise your own opinion about that. You people have all along said that I would never do anything, but if I haven't done something tonight to stir up the town——"
"Oh, you malicious thing. I don't know what to do! Oh, I don't know what is to become of me!"
"It's all very well to cry, for marriages are often attended by tears, but you should not call me malicious. Mr. McElwin laughed when my mother told him I was going to preach, and it almost broke her heart."
"Revengeful creature," she sobbed, clinging to the post.
"No, the Gospel is not revengeful, but it humbles pride, for that is a service done the Lord. Step in there and see if Mr. McElwin has anything to laugh about now. He laughed at my poor mother when he knew that all her earthly hope was centered in me. Well, I'll bid you good night."
"Oh, no," she cried, seizing him. "You shall not leave me to face it all. You shall not."
"No, that wouldn't be right. I'll face it."
HUMBLED INTO THE DUST.
Lyman found favor with the company, that is, with the exception of Eva McElwin, whose position demanded a certain reserve. He had sought to engage her in conversation, and she had listened as if struck with the tone of his voice, but she turned suddenly away, remembering, doubtless, that she was present as an act of condescension, and that for the time being she was the social property not of any stranger, but of her "poor kin." Lyman looked after her with a smile and a merry twinkle of mischief in his eye. He had heard it said that her complexion was of a sort that would never freckle, and he was amused at his having remembered a remark so trivial. He had looked into her eyes, had plunged into them, he fancied, for she had merely glanced up at him: and he thought of the illumined-blue that mingles in the rainbow, and he mused that he had never seen a head so fine, so gracefully poised. And then he speculated upon the petulant waste of her life. Almost divine could have been her mission; what a balm in a house of sickness and distress. He thought of the pale man whom he had seen lying near the window; he fancied himself thus doomed to lie and waste slowly away, and he pictured the delight it would be to see her enter the room, like an angel sent to soothe him with her smile. She turned toward him to listen to a worshiping cousin, and Lyman saw her lips bud into a pout, and it was almost a grief to see her so spoiled and so shallow.
"Well, I see you are getting acquainted right along," said Zeb Sawyer, speaking to Lyman. "A man doesn't have to live here long before he knows everybody. But I'm kept so busy that I haven't much time for society."
"What business are you in?" Lyman asked.
"Mules; nothing but mules. Oh, well, occasionally I handle a horse or so, but I make a specialty of buying and selling mules. Good deal of money in it, I tell you. McElwin used to do something in that line himself. Yes, sir, and he paid me a mighty high compliment the other day—he said I was about as good a judge of mules as he ever saw, and that, coming from a man as careful as he is, was mighty high praise, I tell you. Helloa, what's up?"
From the family sitting room had come a roar and a noise like the upsetting of chairs. And into the parlor rushed McElwin, followed by his wife, Staggs, Mrs. Staggs, and the white and terrified Miss Annie.
"A most damnable outrage!" McElwin shouted, making straight for Lyman. "I mean you, sir," he cried, shaking his fist at Lyman. "You, sir. You try to bunco me and now you conspire with an imbecile to humble me into the dust. I mean you, sir. You have married my daughter. That fool is an ordained preacher, and your sockless legislature did away with marriage licenses."
Lyman looked about and saw Miss Eva faint in her mother's arms; he saw terror in the faces about him, and his cheek felt the hot breath of Sawyer's rage. He stepped back, for the banker's hand was at his throat.
"Pardon me," he said, with a quietness that struck the company with a becalming awe. "Pardon me, but I did not know that there was any conspiracy. Is there a doctor present? If there's not, send for one to attend the young lady."
Some one ran out. McElwin stood boiling with fury. Sawyer thrust forth his hand. Lyman knocked it up. "I will not step back for you," he said. "I have committed no outrage and I am not here to be insulted and pounced upon. Mr. McElwin, you ought to have sense enough to look calmly upon this unfortunate joke." He turned, attracted by a wail from Mrs. McElwin. Again he addressed the banker, now not so furious as awkwardly embarrassed. "They were playing and the young lady was to go through the marriage ceremony with the first man to enter the room, a common farce hereabouts, as you know; and I was the first man to enter. Don't blame me for a playful custom, or the action of a populist legislature."
"That may be all true, sir, but how could you presume, even in fun, to stand up with her? How is she?" he demanded, turning toward a woman who had just come from a room whither they had taken the "bride."
"Oh, she is all right. She was more scared than hurt."
He gave her a look of contempt, as if he had been hit with a sarcasm; and then he addressed himself to Lyman. "I ask, sir, how you could presume to stand up with her?"
"Well, I was told that I had to."
"And you were willing enough, no doubt."
"I didn't hang back very much; they didn't have to tear my clothes."
"But I wish they had torn your flesh, as you have torn mine. Who ever knew of so disgraceful and ridiculous a situation? It beats anything I ever heard of."
"But it can be made all right," said old man Staggs. "Nobody's hurt."
"We can get a divorce," Zeb Sawyer suggested.
"Yes," said Lyman, "but our friends, the populists, have enacted rather peculiar divorce laws. And without some vital cause, the application must be signed by both parties. It's in the nature of a petition."
"Well, that can be arranged," McElwin declared, with a sigh. "Annie, is Eva better?"
"Thank you. And you must pardon me for talking to you as I did just now, for I was never so upset in my life. Cousin Jasper, I wish you would have my carriage ordered. Annie, tell Mrs. McElwin that we will go home at once. Mr. Lyman, let me see you a moment in private."
Lyman followed him out upon the veranda. He had not analyzed his own feelings, but he was conscious of a strange victory.
"Mr. Lyman, you came to me and wanted to borrow a hundred dollars."
"Well, I can let you have it."
"No, I thank you."
"What, you don't want it?"
"Well, it wouldn't look exactly right for a rich man's son-in-law to borrow money so soon after marriage."
"Confound your impudence, sir—I beg your pardon."
"I thank you," said Lyman.
"You thank me? What for?"
"For begging my pardon."
"Come, that is all nonsense, Mr. Lyman. Tell my wife that I'll be ready in a moment," he shouted with his head thrust in at the door. "The most absurd of nonsense," he said, turning back to Lyman. "It will raise a horse laugh throughout the county, and will then be dismissed as a good joke on me. Yes, sir, on me. And now will you agree to conform to the requirements of that ridiculous legislature, and sign the petition to the court?"
"I haven't been informed that the legislature requires me to sign any petition. And I have no favors to ask of the court."
"Is it possible, Mr. Lyman, that you do not see the necessity of it?"
"And is it possible, Mr. McElwin, that you do not see the humor of it?"
"The absurdity, yes. But I see no fun in it. I am a dignified man, sir."
"Of course you tell me this in confidence—that you are a dignified man. All right—I won't say anything about it. But even dignity sometimes stands in need of advice. Go home and get a good night's sleep."
"Do you mean that you won't agree—"
"Mr. Lyman, I have heard that you are one of the kindest hearted of men."
"Oh, then you have heard of me? And I was not an entire stranger when I called at your bank? Yes, I suppose I have been what they were pleased to term a good fellow, and it strikes me that I have got the worst end of the bargain all along; so now, for once in my life, I am going to be mean. I will not sign your petition, Mr. McElwin."
"What, sir, do you mean it?"
"Yes, I mean it. I cannot afford to surrender a position so deliciously absurd."
"Then I will compel you, sir." He began to choke with anger.
"All right. I suppose you will invite me to be present."
"I will compel you to leave this town."
"What! After forming so strong an attachment?"
"You are not a gentleman, sir."
"No? Well, I have married into a pretty good family."
"I will not bandy words with you. But I will see you, and perhaps when you least expect it."
"Very well. Good night, and please remember that there is no humor in the law, that the statutes do not recognize a joke, and that, for the present at least, the young woman is my wife."
THE WEDDING BREAKFAST.
At the breakfast table the next morning old man Staggs spread himself back with a loud laugh as Lyman entered the room. His wife looked at him with sharp reproof.
"Jasper, you ought to be ashamed of yourself," she said. "It is a sin to laugh at a trouble. Sit down, Mr. Lyman."
"Cousin Sam," said Lyman, and the old man roared again. "Well, sir," he declared, with the tears streaming out of his eyes, "I never saw anything like it in my life. It knocked him, knocked him prosperous, as old Moxey used to say. Best joke I ever heard of."
"Jasper, don't," his wife pleaded. "For my sake don't. I am afraid he'll never speak to us again."
"Well, what of that? Can we coin his words and pass them for money? And he has never given us anything but words. He has been promising Annie a silk dress since she was fourteen. Won't speak to us again. What do you want? More promises? I'm gettin' tired of 'em. Why, he has even flung ridicule on my arrest of that desperate man, the most dangerous fellow that ever trod shoe leather. And, as Mr. Lyman don't appear to be upset, I'm glad the thing happened."
"But nearly all the blame falls on me," Miss Annie whimpered. "I am afraid ever to meet him again."
"Oh, you are afraid he won't make you another promise. Well, that would be a terrible loss. Lyman, jest help yourself to that fried ham. Tilt up the dish, and dip out some of the gravy. Sorry we haven't got cakes and maple syrup; wish we had some angel's food. Rather a strange weddin' breakfast with the bride not present."
"Did—did Mrs. Lyman entirely recover before she was taken home?" Lyman asked.
Miss Annie looked up. "I think it was nearly all put on," she said.
"Why, Annie Milburn Staggs!" her mother exclaimed. "How can you say such a thing! I don't know what's come over you and your father. I'm getting so I'm afraid to hear you speak, you shock me so."
"That's right, Annie," said the old man. "Say exactly what you think. To tell the truth, I'm gettin' sorter tired of bein' trod under by the horse that McElwin rides. And if I was you, Lyman, I'd stand right up to him."
"That's about where you'll find me standing. I am sorry for the young woman, but—"
"Don't worry over her," Miss Annie spoke up. "I believe she's laughing alone right now over the absurdity of it. Why, anybody would, and she's no more than human."
"I suppose she denounced me," said Lyman.
"Yes, in a way. She had to keep time with her mother. But they are madder at Henry Bostic than at anyone else. And really, he's the only one that's guilty. But I don't blame him much. The McElwins have always made fun of him."
"What are you going to do, Lyman?" the old man asked.
"Nothing. I am satisfied."
"Don't say that, Mr. Lyman," the old woman pleaded. "Don't distress a proud family."
"Madam," Lyman replied, "I am ready to kneel and beg the pardon of a heart in distress, but senseless pride doesn't appeal to me. I can compare families with the McElwins when it comes to that, and putting my judgment aside, I can be as proud as they are. They have money, but that is all, and they would be but paupers compared with the really rich. There are no great names in their family, while from my family have sprung orators, novelists and poets."
"Good!" Miss Annie cried. "I like to look at you when you talk like that."
"I'll bet you ain't afraid of nobody," the old man declared. "I never saw an eye like yourn that was afraid, and a face, nuther. Oh, when it comes to looks, you are there all right. Well, sir," he added, "the town's stirred up. Old Ebenezer is all of a titter. Afraid to laugh out loud, but she's tickled all the same." The old man leaned back with a chuckle, and in his merriment he slowly clawed at the rim of gray whiskers that ran around under his chin. "I like to see a town tickled," he said.
"Never mind, Jasper," his wife spoke up, "your pride may be humbled one of these days."
"My pride," he laughed. "Why, bless you, I haven't any pride. Cousin McElwin knocked it all out of me when he said, and right to my face, that anybody could have arrested the man that choked the sheriff. I knowed then that something was going to happen to him. Knowed it as well as I knowed my name."
The old woman's hand shook and her cup rattled in the saucer as she put it down. "I hope the Lord will forgive you for bein' so revengeful," she said.
"Don't let that worry you, Tobitha," he replied, rubbing his rim of gray bristles. "The Lord takes care of his own, and I reckon your prayers have made me one of the elected."
"One of the elect, father," said Miss Annie.
"All the same," the old man replied. "Why, just look," he added, glancing through the window—"Just look at the folks out there gazin' at the house. Oh, we live in the center of this town, at present."
"Annie," said the old woman, "pull down the shade. The impudent things!"
"I don't believe I would," the old man tittered as his daughter arose to obey. "It ain't right to rob folks of a pleasure that don't cost us nothin'."
"There's that vicious Mrs. Potter," said Annie, and with a spiteful jerk she pulled down the shade. "We will shut off her malicious view."
"It is to be expected that a bridegroom should be an object of interest," Lyman remarked. "I awoke last night and thought that I heard sleet rattling at the window, but recalling the time of year I knew that it was rice thrown in showers by my friends."
The old lady looked at Lyman: "I am sorry that you're not more serious," she said.
"Serious," Lyman repeated with a twinkling glance at the old man. "I have done everything I can to prove that I am serious. I have just been married."
"Oh, you got it that time, Tobitha. Got it, and I knowed you would."
"Jasper, for goodness sake, hush. Annie, come away from there, a peepin' through at those good-for-nothin' people. They'd better be at work earnin' a livin' for their families, gracious knows. Are you going?" she asked as Lyman arose.
"Yes, to my office, to work for the Sentinel. I am the editor, now."
"Why, you didn't tell us that," said Annie, turning from the window.
"My mind has been engaged with more important matters," he replied, with his hands on the back of the chair, smiling at her. "It was only yesterday that Warren offered to join his misfortune with mine."
The old woman sighed: "I hope you'll be careful not to say things in the street to stir up strife," she said.
"Strife," the old man repeated with a laugh.
"Yes, strife," she insisted. "There are any number of men that would like to get him into trouble, just to please Cousin McElwin."
"I think I can take care of myself," said Lyman, putting on his hat.
SUPPRESSING THE NEWS.
Lyman found Warren almost in hysterical glee, treading air up and down the office. "Ho!" he cried, as the bridegroom entered the office. "Let me get hold of you. Ho!" he shouted louder as he shook Lyman's hand. "Maybe we haven't got the situation by the forelock. Who ever heard of such a thing! Shake again. I didn't hear about it till awhile ago, and then I took a fit and caught another one from it. Glad I held the paper in line with the Grangers."
"Let me sit down," said Lyman.
"That's exactly what you must do, and write like a horse trotting. I've left two columns open, and I want you to spread yourself."
"Something important?" Lyman asked, sitting down.
"Now, what do you want to talk that way for? It's a world beater."
"What do you mean?"
"The marriage, don't you understand? Make two columns out of it and I'll get fifty subscribers before night. Hurry up, I've got a tramp printer waiting for the copy."
"Nonsense," said Lyman, lighting a cigar. "You wouldn't expect a man to write up his own marriage, any more than you would his own funeral."
"If his funeral was as extraordinary as this marriage I would. Finest piece of news I ever heard of. Never heard of anything to beat it; and we'll make the hair rise up in this community like bristles on a dog. Go ahead with it. The tramp's waiting and I am paying him time."
"Sit down," said Lyman. Warren did so reluctantly. Lyman put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "My dear boy," said he, "don't you know it would be very indelicate, not to say vulgar, for us to print a sensational account of that marriage? For a day it might be a news victory, but afterwards it would be a humiliating defeat. To tell you the truth, I am about ready to confess my regret that it happened." He was silent for a moment, as if to take note of Warren's hard breathing. "And if McElwin had come to me more as a man and less like a mad bull I would have agreed to sign the divorce petition. But I don't like to be driven. I am sorry to disappoint you; it is hard to throw cold water on your warm enthusiasm, but I won't write a word about the marriage."
Tears gathered in Warren's eyes. "This life's not worth living," he said. "Nothing but disappointment all the time. No hope; everything dead."
"But you shouldn't hang a hope on a poisonous weed, my boy."
"No matter where I hang one, it falls to the dust. But say, you are not going to sign that paper, are you?"
"Not at present. I am man enough to be stubborn."
"Good!" Warren cried, his wonted enthusiasm beginning to rise. "Don't sign it at all. You've got him on the hip, and you can throw him where you please. I've been waiting two years to get even with him. He stopped his paper because I printed a communication from a farmer denouncing money sharks. All right," he said, getting up, "we can make the paper go anyway. I'll put that tramp on another job."
He went out with a rush and the high spirits of glorious and thoughtless youth. Lyman went to the window and gazed over at the bank. The place looked cool and dignified, the province of a bank when other places of business have been forced to an early opening. Lyman smiled at the reflection that there was no crape on the door, as if he had half expected to find it there. "He couldn't let me have a hundred dollars when I offered to give him a mortgage on the library," he mused. "Said he couldn't, but he was willing enough to offer the money in exchange for another sort of mortgage. I suppose he thinks it strange that I was not bought upon the instant."
"Well," said Warren, entering the room, "I paid the tramp thirty cents for his time and he has gone away happier than if he had been put to work. What are you doing? Looking at dad's temple? Fine prospect."
"Yes, for dad."
"But don't you let him browbeat you out of your rights."
"I won't. The son-in-law has rights which the father-in-law ought to respect. What sort of a fellow is Zeb Sawyer?"
"Good deal of a bully," Warren answered, standing beside Lyman and looking through the window as if to keep company with the survey of the bank. "He managed by industry and close attention to shoot a man, I understand, and that gave him a kind of pull with society, although the fellow didn't die. He's a hustler and makes money, and of course has a firm grip on McElwin's heart. There are worse fellows, although he didn't renew his subscription when the time ran out."
While they were looking the porter opened the door of the bank.
"They are going to transact business just the same," said Lyman.
"Yes, they've got to pull teeth, no matter what has happened. Do you know that there are lots of fellows around town that would like to come up here and congratulate you, but they are afraid of McElwin."
"I wonder Caruthers hasn't come," said Lyman.
"No you don't. You've got no use for him and have told him so. Helloa, yonder comes McElwin and Sawyer. They are crossing the street. By George, I believe they are coming here."
"All right. Let's step back and stand at ease ready to receive them."
"Say, I believe there's going to be trouble here," said Warren. "And if there is you wouldn't mind writing it up, would you?"
"No, I wouldn't mind. Ordinary trouble is not quite so personally embarrassing as a marriage."
"Shall I keep the columns open?" Warren asked, his eyes dancing.
"No, not on an uncertainty."
"But it is not an uncertainty. They are coming up the stairs."
"Let us sit down," said Lyman.
McElwin and Sawyer entered the long composing room, looked about and then walked slowly toward the law office.
"Come in," said Lyman, as they approached the open door.
"You are not alone," McElwin remarked, as he stepped in, followed by Sawyer.
"Neither are you," said Lyman. "Sit down."
"We have not come to sit down, sir."
"Then you must pardon my not rising. This languid spring air makes me tired."
"Sir, we wish to see you in your private office."
"And that is where you find me. This was my public law office, but now it is my private editorial room."
"But your privacy is invaded," said the banker, glancing at Warren.
"So I have observed," Lyman replied, looking at Sawyer.
"Ah, but enough of this. Can we see you alone."
"I don't believe I'd waste any more time beating the bush," said Sawyer. "Let's come to the point."
"That's not a bad suggestion," Lyman replied. "We have about thrashed all the leaves off the bush."
The banker cleared his throat: "Mr. Lyman, even after a night of worried reflection, I am even now hardly able to realize the monstrous outrage that has been committed at the instance of a theologic imbecile, helped by a travesty on law enacted by a general assembly of ditch diggers and plowmen."
"That is a very good speech, Mr. McElwin. But I don't know that any outrage has been committed. Let us call it an irregularity."
"We'll call it an infernal shame," Sawyer declared, swelling.
"No," Warren struck in, "call it a great piece of news gone wrong. If I had my way it would be creeping down between column rules right now."
"Infamous!" cried the banker. "Don't you dare to print a word of it."
"Oh, I'd dare all right enough, if Lyman's modesty didn't forbid it."
"Then, sir, I must condemn your impudence, and commend Mr. Lyman's consideration."
"We are still beating the bush," Sawyer broke in.
"And no scared rabbit has run out," said Lyman.
"We might be after a wolf instead of a rabbit," Sawyer replied. The banker gave him a look of warning.
"Yes," said Lyman, "you might hunt a wolf and find a panther."
"I take that as a threat," the banker spoke up.
"Oh, not at all," Lyman replied. "It was merely to help carry out a figure of speech."
"Let's get to business," said Sawyer.
"All right," Lyman agreed. "But you don't expect me to state the object of your visit."
"No, sir. We can do that easy enough," said McElwin. Then he thrust his hand into his pocket and drew forth a paper. "Mr. Lyman, we have here a petition to the Chancery Court, asking for the setting aside of a ridiculous marriage, the laughing-stock of all matrimonial ceremonies. The entrapped lady's name has been affixed, and we now ask, sir, that you append your signature."
He stepped forward to the table near which Lyman was sitting, and spread out the paper. Lyman smiled and shook his head. "This is so sudden," he remarked, and Warren tittered.
"Yes, not unexpected, but sudden. I must have time to think."
"To think? How long, sir?"
"Well, say about six months."
"There's no use wasting words with this fellow," said Sawyer. "We'll make him sign it."
Lyman looked at him. "I understand that you are a buyer and seller of mules," he remarked. "That may account for your impulsiveness. But at present you are not in the mule market, that is, not as a buyer."
"Come," said McElwin, "we don't want any trouble."
"But if we have it," Lyman replied, "let it come on before it is time to go to press. Warren wants news."
McElwin bit his brown lip, and Sawyer fumed.
"Don't put it off too long," said Warren. "I've hired a negro to turn the press."
"This is infamous!" the banker shouted, stamping the floor. "It is beyond belief." Then he strove to calm himself. "Mr. Lyman, I ask you, as a man, to sign this petition."
"The interview has wrought upon my nerves, Mr. McElwin, and if I should sign it now the Court might look upon my signature as obtained under coercion."
"Ridiculous, sir. I never saw a man more quiet."
"That is the mistake of your agitated eye. My nerves are in a tangle."
"Let me fix it," said Sawyer, swelling toward Lyman.
Lyman smiled at him: "You are pretty heavy in the shoulders, Mr. Sawyer, but you slope down too fast. I don't believe your legs are very good. You might say that I don't slope enough, or not at all, but I'm wire, Yale-drawn. You are meaty, vealy, the boys would say, but if you think that you'd feel healthier and more contented toward the world after a closer association with me—"
"Come, none of that," the banker interrupted. And then to Lyman he added: "I appeal to your reason, sir."
"A bad thing to appeal to when it sits against you. It is like appealing to a wind blowing toward you. But before I forget it I should like to ask what this man Sawyer has to do with it?"
"He and my daughter are engaged, sir."
"Well," said Lyman, "that might have been, but they are not now. Let me ask you an impertinent question: Does she love him?"
Sawyer started. The banker shifted his position. "I told you that they were engaged," said McElwin.
"I know you did, and that is the reason I asked you if she loves him. Let me ask another impertinent question: Didn't you appeal to her to marry him?"
"Who suggested that—that impudence, sir?"
"You did. Didn't you tell her that he was the most promising young man in the neighborhood and that she must marry him? Hold on a moment. And didn't your wife take the young woman's part, declaring that she looked higher, and wasn't she finally compelled to yield?"
"I will not answer such shameless questions."
"Well, then, I must bid you good day."
"Without signing this petition?"
"Without so much as reading it. But I will agree to do this. When your daughter comes to me and tells me that she loves Mr. Sawyer, that her happiness depends upon him, then I will sign it. At present I am her protector."
The banker snorted, but calmed himself. "You a protector—a mediator! Sir, you continue to insult me."
"He ought to be kicked out of his own office," Sawyer swore.
"Yes, but it would take a mule, rather than a mule driver. But I don't want anything more to say to you. I know your history; you wouldn't hesitate to shoot a man in the back, but when it comes to a face to face fight, you are a coward. Shut up. Not a word out of you. Mr. McElwin, I sympathize with your wife and your daughter, but I am not at all sorry for you. Good morning."
The angry visitors strode out, with many a gesture of unspeakable anger. "Well," said Warren, "that beats anything I ever saw. How did you learn so much about his family affairs? Who told you?"
"You told me Sawyer's history, and I made a bold guess at the rest."
"And you nailed him. Well, I'll swear if it ain't a jubilee. But there's no news in it for me."
"There may be some day," Lyman replied.
On the following Sunday, which in fact was the day after the scene in the office, Lyman went to church. There were several churches in Old Ebenezer, but he chose the one which was the religious affiliation of the banker's family. A number of clean looking young fellows stood outside to gaze at the girls going in, and they nudged one another and giggled as they saw Lyman approaching. He pretended not to notice them, going straightway into the church. Most of the pews were free, and he sat down about the middle of the house and began carefully to look about over the congregation. A strange feeling possessed him, and he looked back with a thrill when he heard the rustle of skirts in the doorway. At last he saw her and he thought that Zeb Sawyer came with her to the door. The banker and his stately wife came in, but Lyman had no eye for them. He sat almost in a trance, gazing at the young woman as she walked slowly down the opposite aisle. She reminded him of a peach tree blooming in the early spring, there was so much pink and the rich color of cream about her. She sat down not far from him and he gazed at the silk-brown hair on the back of her neck. Once she looked around but her eye did not rest on him. She sang with the congregation, and he selected a sweet tone for her voice, and smiled afterward to discover that it was in the voice of a plain woman seated near her. Some one sat down beside him, and he was surprised to find Caruthers.
The lawyer was surprised too, and he made a motion as if to move away.
"Never mind," whispered Lyman, "stay where you are."
"Thank you," Caruthers whispered in turn. "I didn't know but that fog was still between us."
"It is, and that's the reason we didn't recognize each other sooner."
"Then I'd better move."
"It is not necessary. I can stand it if you can."
"All right. Deuce of an affair you've got into."
"Yes, rather out of the ordinary."
"Has the old man offered you money to turn loose?"
"He offered to lend me a small sum."
"Why don't you make him give you a big sum?"
"Because I am not a scoundrel."
"No. Because you are weak. I would."
"Yes," Lyman whispered. "Because you are a scoundrel."
"Don't say that to me."
"Sit over there," said Lyman.
Caruthers moved away, and Lyman sat gazing at the young woman. "I am going to be of service to her," he mused. "And one of these days when she finds herself really in love she will thank me. She is dazzling, but I don't believe I could love her. I don't believe she has very much sense. She looks like a painting. I'd like to see her in an empire gown. I wonder what she thinks of me. Perhaps she doesn't." He smiled at himself, and then became aware that the preacher was in the heated midst of his sermon.
While the congregation was moving out, with greetings in low voices, and with many a smiling nod, the banker caught sight of Lyman, and made a noise as if puffing out a mouthful of smoke. His wife, who was slightly in front, glanced back at him.
"That wretched Lyman," he said, leaning toward her.
"Where?" she asked.
"Over at the right, but don't look at him. Everybody is staring at us."
"Where is Eva?"
"You ought to know," he answered.
"She is coming, just behind us."
They passed out. Lyman saw Zeb Sawyer standing at the door. He bowed to Mr. and Mrs. McElwin and continued to stand there, waiting for the young woman. She came out. She said something, and catching the expression of her face Lyman thought she must have remonstrated with him. But she permitted him to join her, and they walked away slowly. Lyman overtook them.
"Pardon me," he said to her, paying no attention to Sawyer, "but do you realize the scandalous absurdity of your action at his moment?"
"Sir!" Her graceful neck stiffened as she looked at him.
"Don't you know that it is not in good form to receive the attentions of an old lover so soon after marriage?"
She stopped, jabbed the ground with her parasol and laughed. But in a moment she had repented of her merriment. "I wish you would go away," she said. "You have already caused me tears enough."
"What, so soon? The beautific smile, rather than the tear should be the emblem of the honeymoon. But this is not what I approached you to say. I wish to ask when I may expect a visit from you."
"I, visit you!"
"Yes. To ask me to sign the petition to the Court."
"I ask you now, sir."
"There!" said Sawyer, walking close beside the young woman.
"In the name of the love you bear this man?"
She looked at him with a blush. "In the name of my father, my mother and myself," she said.
"Oh," said he, "you are not the simple-minded beauty I expected to find. I suspect that your flatterers have not given you a fair chance. It is difficult to look through the dazzle and estimate the intelligence of a queen."
"Really! You come with a new flattery. My father's money—"
"Miss, or madam, your father is a pauper in comparison with the man who loves nature. He is a slave, living the life of a slave-driver. He is proud of you, not because you are a woman, but because you are, to him, a picture in a gilt frame."
"I just know everybody is looking at us," she said.
"You mean that you are afraid some of them may not be looking."
"Really! You are impudent, Mr.——"
"Have you forgotten your own name? Oh, by the way, your maiden name was McElwin, I believe."
She halted again to laugh. "Oh, this is too funny for anything," she said. "Isn't it, Zeb?"
"It won't be if your father looks around."
"He is too near the bank to look around now," Lyman replied. "He must keep his eyes on the temple."
"Zeb," she said, "why do you let this man talk that way? I thought you had more spirit."
"He has the spirit of anger, but not of courage," Lyman remarked.
"Eva," said Sawyer, "out in the Fox Grove neighborhood this man is known as a desperado."
"That phase of character was forced upon me, madam," Lyman replied, "and I had to accept it. Just as this man has been compelled to accept the name of notorious bully and coward, which was forced upon him. He gained some little prestige by shooting an unarmed man, and has been afraid to meet him since. The people have found this out, and hence his name of coward."
"It's a—" Sawyer hesitated.
"It's a what?" Lyman asked.
"A soft word," said the young woman.
"A gentleman uses soft words in the presence of ladies," Sawyer replied.
"And a weak man uses a weak word in apology for a weak character," Lyman spoke up.
"Oh, I never heard anything like this before," the young woman declared. "I didn't know that men could be so entertaining."
"The potted plant astonished at the virility of the weed," said Lyman. "But I must leave you here. My office is up there. Mr. Sawyer knows where it is. His name appears on my list of callers. No, thank you, I cannot dine with you today."
"Oh, how impertinent," she laughed. "Nobody asked you, sir."
"No, but I'll ask you. My partner is up there now, with his oil stove lighted and the coffee hot. We have some broken dishes, and some cups that are cracked with age. Won't you come up and dine with us?"
"Why, I thought you boarded with Cousin Jasper Staggs. And ain't he the funniest thing? I like him ever so much."
"I do board with him, but I often dine out. Won't you come up and have a box of sardines?"
"No, I thank you. Wait a moment. When are you going to sign that petition for father?"
"When am I going to sign it for you?"
"Why, as soon as you can."
"No. But as soon as you comply with all the requirements of sentimental rather than of statute law."
THE OLD FELLOW LAUGHED.
"You are a pestiferous son-in-law," said Warren, as Lyman entered the room. "And I have taken possession of your private quarters," he added, pointing to a pile of country newspapers. "I have brought them in here to see if I could gouge some state news out of them. I know you don't like that sort of drudgery."
"That is all right. But why do you call me a pestiferous son-in-law?"
"I saw you through the window."
"With the lady and the mule?" said Lyman sitting down. "I asked them in to dine with me."
"Where? You say Staggs has nothing but a 'snack' on Sunday."
"Up here, to eat crackers and sardines."
"Extravagant pauper. I'm glad they didn't come."
"I knew they wouldn't."
"Did she ask you to sign the populistic petition?"
"Yes, but not in the name of love for the mule."
"In whose name, then?"
"Of her father, her mother, and herself."
"Are you going to sign it?"
"Not until she convinces me that she loves the mule, and I don't believe she can ever do that. She has a contempt for him, and I believe she is glad that her affairs are temporarily tied up. She's charming."
"There you go, falling in love with a strange woman."
"No, I am not in love with her, but I am naturally interested in her. I believe she has sense."
"Rather too pretty for that."
"No, she is handsome, but pretty is not the word. I'll warrant you she can run like a deer."
"You are gone," said Warren.
"No, I am simply an admirer. But admiration may be the crumbling bank overlooking the river. I may fall," he added, with a laugh.
"Don't. She has been taught to despise a real man. Let the other side of the house have the trouble."
"Yes," said Lyman. "It is better to be under the heel of the express company than under the heel of love."
"Don't say that," Warren objected, with a rueful shake of his head. "Some things are too serious to be joked over. It is all right to make light of love, for that is a light thing, but an express company is heavy. You are restless."
Lyman had got up and begun to walk about the room. "Yes, the bright day calls on me to come out."
"Isn't it the memory of a bright face that calls on you?"
"No. Well, I'll leave you."
"Won't you sit down to a sardine?"
"No. I'll stroll over to see old Jasper, and take cold pot-luck with him."
Old Jasper, his wife and daughter were seated at the table when Lyman entered the dining room. "Just in time," the old fellow cried. "We are waiting for you, although we didn't expect you. We didn't know but you'd gone up to McElwin's to dinner. Sit down."
Annie laughed, but the old woman looked distressed. "Jasper, you know you didn't think any such a thing. And if you did, how could you? Mr. Lyman doesn't intrude himself where he's not invited. And you know that McElwin is so particular."
Lyman frowned. It was clear that Mrs. Staggs, in her ignorance and in her awe of the man at the bank, could not feel a respect for intelligence and the refinement of a book-loving nature. "You may think me rude," said Lyman, "but I should not regard dining at his house a great privilege. Leaving out the respect I have for the young woman, it would not be as inspiring a meal as a canned minnow on a baize table."
"Why, Mr. Lyman, how can you say that?" the old woman cried.
"Madam, the fishes were divided among the thousands when the Son of Man fed the multitude, and that was a more inspiring meal than could have been provided by Solomon in all his glory."
The old man let his knife fall with a clatter. "Oh, he got you then!" he cried. "He set a trap for you and you walked right into it. All you've got to do is to set a trap for a woman, and she'll walk into it sooner or later."
"For goodness sake, hush, Jasper. A body would think you were the worst enemy I have on the face of the earth."
"Enemy! Who said anything about enemy? I was talking about a trap. But it's all right. We saw you, Lyman."
"Yes, and we didn't know it was going to happen," said Annie. "Everybody was watching you. And I heard a woman say that she admired your courage. I did, I'm sure."
"I didn't feel that I was exhibiting any degree of courage," Lyman replied. "All I had to fear was the young woman."
"But the man is—"
"A coward," Lyman broke in.
Old Staggs struck the table with his fist. "I always said it!" he shouted. "And he's another one that made light of my arrest of the man that choked the sheriff. Coward! of course he is."
Mrs. Staggs objected. No one whom McElwin had chosen for a son-in-law could be a coward. She admitted that he was not as gentle as one could wish. His life had been led out of doors. But he was a shrewd business man and would make a good husband. It was all well enough in some instances to permit girls to choose for themselves, but a girl was often likely to make a sad mistake, particularly a girl whose home life had been surrounded by every luxury. Love was a very pretty thing, but it couldn't live so long as poverty, the most real thing in the world. The old man winked at Lyman. He said that age might soften a man, but that it nearly always hardened a woman. It was rare to see a woman's temper improve with age, while many a sober minded man became a joker in his later years. Mrs. Staggs retorted that women had enough to make them cross. "They have an excuse for scoldin'," she said.
"Nobody has so good an argument as the scold," the old man replied.
"They have men, and that's argument enough," said his wife.
The old fellow laughed. "She put it on me a little right there," he declared. "Yes, sir, I've got a steel trap clamped on my foot this minute. But what do you think of the situation now, Lyman; I mean your situation?"
"I don't know of any material change."
"But of course you are going to sign the petition," said Mrs. Staggs. "Everybody agrees that you must, before court meets. And that reminds me, I met Henry Bostic's mother today. The old lady doesn't appear to be at all grieved over the part her son took in the affair. It would nearly kill me if a son of mine had made such a blunder."
"It was no blunder on his part, and I don't blame him," said Annie. "No one thought enough of his pretensions to ask him if he had been ordained. And besides, Cousin McElwin had made fun of him."
"And a preacher can stand anything rather than ridicule," Lyman declared. "He may forgive all sorts of abuses, but cry 'Go up, old bald head!' and immediately he calls for the she-bears."
"And gives thanks when he hears the bears breaking the bones of his enemies," said the old man.
"I don't blame him," replied Lyman. "Ridicule is the bite of the spider, and it ought not to be directed against the man who dedicates his life to sacred work."
The old woman gave him a nod of approval:
"You are right," she said. "But young Henry ought not to have been revengeful."
"No, not as the ordinary man is revengeful," Lyman assented, "but we serve the Lord when we humble a foolish pride. I don't think McElwin could have done a crueler thing than to have crushed the mother's heart with ridicule for the son."
"But about the petition," said Annie. "You will sign it, won't you?"
"But why should you refuse. To annoy her?"
"No, to protect her."
"She would be awfully angry if she thought you presumed to pose as her protector. But let us change the subject. The whole town is talking about it, so let us talk of something else. Are you going to church tonight?"
"Yes, with you, if you don't object."
"Oh, I couldn't object, but—but don't you think it might cause remark, after what has happened?"
"There you go, leading back to it. Sawyer walked home with her; did that cause remark?"
"Yes, in a way; and I believe she will wait for the divorce before she goes with him again."
"Then she will be free of his company for some time to come. Well," he added, "I won't go to church. I'll go up stairs and read myself to sleep."
IN THE LANTERN LIGHT.
An account of the marriage, written by an effusive correspondent, was published in a newspaper at the State Capital; and a few days later the same journal contained an editorial bearing upon the subject, taking the populistic party to task for its lamentable want of sense in legislation. The State press took the matter up, and then the "paragrapher" had his season of merry-making. "We have always heard it declared," said one, "that marriage is a plunge in the dark, but a preacher over at Old Ebenezer proves that it is all a joke." And this from another one: "'What do you think of young Parson Bostic?' was asked of Banker McElwin. 'I didn't think he was loaded,' the financier replied." It was said that a great batch of this drivel was cut out, credited and sent to McElwin, and Lyman accused Warren, but he denied it, though not with convincing grace.
One evening a picnic was given on the lawn of a prominent citizen. It had been heralded as a moonlight event, but the moon was sullen and the light was shed from paper lanterns hung in the trees. There was to be no dancing and no forfeit games, for McElwin was still raw, and the master of the gathering on the lawn would not dare to throw sand on the spots where the rich man's prideful skin had been raked off. The entertainment was to consist of talk among the older ones, chatter among the slips of girls and striplings of men, with music for all.
"You will have to go to write it up," Warren said to Lyman.
"It won't be necessary to go," Lyman replied. "We can hold a pleasanter memory of such events if we don't really see them. I can write of it from a distance."
"Yes, but that isn't enterprise, and we want to prove to these people that we are enterprising. They must see you on the ground."
"You will go, then?"
"That's what I meant when I said all right."
"And you didn't mean that you'd simply look over the fence and then come away?"
"No, I mean that I'll go and be a fool with the rest of them."
"That's all I ask. Here's an invitation. You'll have to show it at the gate."
"Why don't you go, Warren?"
"It would be absurd."
"Why? Your clothes might be worse."
"There are a good many observations that don't apply to clothes. The entertainment is to be given by the Hon. Mr. S. Boyd. One time, with great reluctance, he lifted a grinding heel off my head. I owe him five dollars."
"And it would be embarrassing to meet him, by invitation, on his own lawn."
"Yes. I'll pay him one of these days, but of course he doesn't know that."
"Probably he doesn't even suspect it," said Lyman.
"No. He's dull, and not inclined to be speculative."
"I should take him to be wildly adventurous."
"He let you have five dollars."
"Oh, I see. But that's all right. He'll treat you well. Say, he may pass cigars with a gilt band around them. Put a few in your pocket for me."
"I might have a chance to sneak a whole box."
"Come, don't rub the lamp. Rub the ring and get two cigars. I'll sit up and wait for them. If Boyd asks you why I have been dodging him, tell him I'm not well."
The lawn was a spread of blue grass, beneath trees with low, hanging boughs, and through the misty light and moving shadows the house looked like a castle. The air was vibrant with the music of the "string" band, gathered from the livery stable and the barber shop; and mingled with the music as if it were a part of the sound, was the half sad scent of the crushed geranium. At the gate a black man, in a long coat buttoned to the ground, took Lyman's card of invitation. From groups of white came the laugh of youth, and from darker gatherings came the hum of talk. Lyman shook hands with nearly every one whom he met, laughing; and his good humor was an introduction to persons he had never seen before. He felt that he was a part of a joke which everyone was enjoying. The Hon. S. Boyd came forward and shook hands with him.
"I am delighted to welcome you to my grounds," said the great man, speaking as if he had invited Lyman to hunt in a forest of a thousand acres. "And your partner, will he be here?"
"No, he's not very well this evening," Lyman answered, walking slowly, arm-hooked with the great man.
"I am sorry to hear it. A man of wonderful energy, sir. Quite the sort of a man we need in Old Ebenezer. And I am glad to see that his paper is picking up. I was over at the State Capital the other day, and the Governor spoke of something taken from its columns."