by Joseph C. Lincoln
Mr. Gabriel Bearse was happy. The prominence given to this statement is not meant to imply that Gabriel was, as a general rule, unhappy. Quite the contrary; Mr. Bearse's disposition was a cheerful one and the cares of this world had not rounded his plump shoulders. But Captain Sam Hunniwell had once said, and Orham public opinion agreed with him, that Gabe Bearse was never happy unless he was talking. Now here was Gabriel, not talking, but walking briskly along the Orham main road, and yet so distinctly happy that the happiness showed in his gait, his manner and in the excited glitter of his watery eye. Truly an astonishing condition of things and tending, one would say, to prove that Captain Sam's didactic remark, so long locally accepted and quoted as gospel truth, had a flaw in its wisdom somewhere.
And yet the flaw was but a small one and the explanation simple. Gabriel was not talking at that moment, it is true, but he was expecting to talk very soon, to talk a great deal. He had just come into possession of an item of news which would furnish his vocal machine gun with ammunition sufficient for wordy volley after volley. Gabriel was joyfully contemplating peppering all Orham with that bit of gossip. No wonder he was happy; no wonder he hurried along the main road like a battery galloping eagerly into action.
He was on his way to the post office, always the gossip- sharpshooters' first line trench, when, turning the corner where Nickerson's Lane enters the main road, he saw something which caused him to pause, alter his battle-mad walk to a slower one, then to a saunter, and finally to a halt altogether. This something was a toy windmill fastened to a white picket fence and clattering cheerfully as its arms spun in the brisk, pleasant summer breeze.
The little windmill was one of a dozen, all fastened to the top rail of that fence and all whirling. Behind the fence, on posts, were other and larger windmills; behind these, others larger still. Interspersed among the mills were little wooden sailors swinging paddles; weather vanes in the shapes of wooden whales, swordfish, ducks, crows, seagulls; circles of little wooden profile sailboats, made to chase each other 'round and 'round a central post. All of these were painted in gay colors, or in black and white, and all were in motion. The mills spun, the boats sailed 'round and 'round, the sailors did vigorous Indian club exercises with their paddles. The grass in the little yard and the tall hollyhocks in the beds at its sides swayed and bowed and nodded. Beyond, seen over the edge of the bluff and stretching to the horizon, the blue and white waves leaped and danced and sparkled. As a picture of movement and color and joyful bustle the scene was inspiring; children, viewing it for the first time, almost invariably danced and waved their arms in sympathy. Summer visitors, loitering idly by, suddenly became fired with the desire to set about doing something, something energetic.
Gabriel Bearse was not a summer visitor, but a "native," that is, an all-the-year-round resident of Orham, and, as his fellow natives would have cheerfully testified, it took much more than windmills to arouse HIS energy. He had not halted to look at the mills. He had stopped because the sight of them recalled to his mind the fact that the maker of these mills was a friend of one of the men most concerned in his brand new news item. It was possible, barely possible, that here was an opportunity to learn just a little more, to obtain an additional clip of cartridges before opening fire on the crowd at the post office. Certainly it might be worth trying, particularly as the afternoon mail would not be ready for another hour, even if the train was on time.
At the rear of the little yard, and situated perhaps fifty feet from the edge of the high sand bluff leading down precipitously to the beach, was a shingled building, whitewashed, and with a door, painted green, and four windows on the side toward the road. A clamshell walk led from the gate to the doors. Over the door was a sign, very neatly lettered, as follows: "J. EDGAR W. WINSLOW. MILLS FOR SALE." In the lot next to that, where the little shop stood, was a small, old-fashioned story-and-a-half Cape Cod house, painted a speckless white, with vivid green blinds. The blinds were shut now, for the house was unoccupied. House and shop and both yards were neat and clean as a New England kitchen.
Gabriel Bearse, after a moment's reflection, opened the gate in the picket fence and walked along the clamshell walk to the shop door. Opening the door, he entered, a bell attached to the top of the door jingling as he did so. The room which Mr. Bearse entered was crowded from floor to ceiling, save for a narrow passage, with hit- or-miss stacks of the wooden toys evidently finished and ready for shipment. Threading his way between the heaps of sailors, mills, vanes and boats, Gabriel came to a door evidently leading to another room. There was a sign tacked to this door, which read, "PRIVATE," but Mr. Bearse did not let that trouble him. He pushed the door open.
The second room was evidently the work-shop. There were a circular saw and a turning lathe, with the needful belts, and a small electric motor to furnish power. Also there were piles of lumber, shelves of paint pots and brushes, many shavings and much sawdust. And, standing beside a dilapidated chair from which he had evidently risen at the sound of the door bell, with a dripping paint brush in one hand and a wooden sailor in the other, there was a man. When he saw who his visitor was he sat down again.
He was a tall man and, as the chair he sat in was a low one and the heels of his large shoes were hooked over its lower rounds, his knees and shoulders were close together when he bent over his work. He was a thin man and his trousers hung about his ankles like a loose sail on a yard. His hair was thick and plentiful, a brown sprinkled with gray at the temples. His face was smooth-shaven, with wrinkles at the corners of the eyes and mouth. He wore spectacles perched at the very end of his nose, and looked down over rather than through them as he dipped the brush in the can of paint beside him on the floor.
"Hello, Shavin's," hailed Mr. Bearse, blithely.
The tall man applied the brush to the nude pine legs of the wooden sailor. One side of those legs were modestly covered forthwith by a pair of sky-blue breeches. The artist regarded the breeches dreamily. Then he said:
His voice was a drawl, very deliberate, very quiet, rather soft and pleasant. But Mr. Bearse was not pleased.
"Don't call me that," he snapped.
The brush was again dipped in the paint pot and the rear elevation of the pine sailor became sky-blue like the other side of him. Then the tall man asked:
"Call you what?"
"Gab. That's a divil of a name to call anybody. Last time I was in here Cap'n Sam Hunniwell heard you call me that and I cal'lated he'd die laughin'. Seemed to cal'late there was somethin' specially dum funny about it. I don't call it funny. Say, speakin' of Cap'n Sam, have you heard the news about him?"
He asked the question eagerly, because it was a part of what he came there to ask. His eagerness was not contagious. The man on the chair put down the blue brush, took up a fresh one, dipped it in another paint pot and proceeded to garb another section of his sailor in a spotless white shirt. Mr. Bearse grew impatient.
"Have you heard the news about Cap'n Sam?" he repeated. "Say, Shavin's, have you?"
The painting went serenely on, but the painter answered.
"Well, Gab," he drawled, "I—"
"Don't call me Gab, I tell you. 'Tain't my name."
"Sho! Ain't it?"
"You know well enough 'tain't. My name's Gabriel. Call me that— or Gabe. I don't like to be called out of my name. But say, Shavin's—"
"Well, Gab, say it."
"Look here, Jed Winslow, do you hear me?"
"Yes, hear you fust rate, Gabe—now."
Mr. Bearse's understanding was not easily penetrated; a hint usually glanced from it like a piece of soap from a slanting cellar door, but this time the speaker's tone and the emphasis on the "now" made a slight dent. Gabriel's eyes opened.
"Huh?" he grunted in astonishment, as if the possibility had never until that moment occured to him. "Why, say, Jed, don't you like to be called 'Shavin's'?"
No answer. A blue collar was added to the white shirt of the sailor.
"Don't you, Jed?" repeated Gabe.
Mr. Winslow's gaze was lifted from his work and his eyes turned momentarily in the direction of his caller.
"Gabe," he drawled, "did you ever hear about the feller that was born stone deef and the Doxology?"
"Eh? What— No, I never heard it."
The eyes turned back to the wooden sailor and Mr. Winslow chose another brush.
"Neither did he," he observed, and began to whistle what sounded like a dirge.
Mr. Bearse stared at him for at least a minute. Then he shook his head.
"Well, by Judas!" he exclaimed. "I—I—I snum if I don't think you BE crazy, same as some folks say you are! What in the nation has— has your name got to do with a deef man and the Doxology?"
"Eh? . . . Oh, nothin'."
"Then what did you bust loose and tell me about 'em for? They wan't any of MY business, was they?"
"No-o. That's why I spoke of 'em."
"What? You spoke of 'em 'cause they wan't any of my business?"
"Ye-es . . . I thought maybe—" He paused, turned the sailor over in his hand, whistled a few more bars of the dirge and then finished his sentence. "I thought maybe you might like to ask questions about 'em," he concluded.
Mr. Bearse stared suspiciously at his companion, swallowed several times and, between swallows, started to speak, but each time gave it up. Mr. Winslow appeared quite oblivious of the stare. His brushes gave the wooden sailor black hair, eyes and brows, and an engaging crimson smile. When Gabriel did speak it was not concerning names.
"Say, Jed," he cried, "HAVE you heard about Cap'n Sam Hunniwell? 'Bout his bein' put on the Exemption Board?"
His companion went on whistling, but he nodded.
"Um-hm," grunted Gabe, grudgingly. "I presumed likely you would hear; he told you himself, I cal'late. Seth Baker said he see him come in here night afore last and I suppose that's when he told you. Didn't say nothin' else, did he?" he added, eagerly.
Again Mr. Winslow nodded.
"Did he? Did he? What else did he say?"
The tall man seemed to consider.
"Well," he drawled, at length, "seems to me I remember him sayin'— sayin'—"
"Yes? Yes? What did he say?"
"Well—er—seems to me he said good night just afore he went home."
The disappointed Gabriel lost patience. "Oh, you DIVILISH fool head!" he exclaimed, disgustedly. "Look here, Jed Winslow, talk sense for a minute, if you can, won't you? I've just heard somethin' that's goin' to make a big row in this town and it's got to do with Cap'n Sam's bein' app'inted on that Gov'ment Exemption Board for drafted folks. If you'd heard Phineas Babbitt goin' on the way I done, I guess likely you'd have been interested."
It was plain that, for the first time since his caller intruded upon his privacy, the maker of mills and sailors WAS interested. He did not put down his brush, but he turned his head to look and listen. Bearse, pleased with this symptom of attention, went on.
"I was just into Phineas' store," he said, "and he was there, so I had a chance to talk with him. He's been up to Boston and never got back till this afternoon, so I cal'lated maybe he hadn't heard about Cap'n Sam's app'intment. And I knew, too, how he does hate the Cap'n; ain't had nothin' but cuss words and such names for him ever since Sam done him out of gettin' the postmaster's job. Pretty mean trick, some folks call it, but—"
Mr. Winslow interrupted; his drawl was a trifle less evident.
"Congressman Taylor asked Sam for the truth regardin' Phineas and a certain matter," he said. "Sam told the truth, that's all."
"Well, maybe that's so, but does tellin' the truth about folks make 'em love you? I don't know as it does."
Winslow appeared to meditate.
"No-o," he observed, thoughtfully, "I don't suppose you do."
"No, I . . . Eh? What do you mean by that? Look here, Jed Winslow, if—"
Jed held up a big hand. "There, there, Gabe," he suggested, mildly. "Let's hear about Sam and Phin Babbitt. What was Phineas goin' on about when you was in his store?"
Mr. Bearse forgot personal grievance in his eagerness to tell the story.
"Why," he began, "you see, 'twas like this: 'Twas all on account of Leander. Leander's been drafted. You know that, of course?"
Jed nodded. Leander Babbitt was the son of Phineas Babbitt, Orham's dealer in hardware and lumber and a leading political boss. Between Babbitt, Senior, and Captain Sam Hunniwell, the latter President of the Orham National Bank and also a vigorous politician, the dislike had always been strong. Since the affair of the postmastership it had become, on Babbitt's part, an intense hatred. During the week just past young Babbitt's name had been drawn as one of Orham's quota for the new National Army. The village was still talking of the draft when the news came that Captain Hunniwell had been selected as a member of the Exemption Board for the district, the Board which was to hold its sessions at Ostable and listen to the pleas of those desiring to be excused from service. Not all of Orham knew this as yet. Jed Winslow had heard it, from Captain Sam himself. Gabe Bearse had heard it because he made it his business to hear everything, whether it concerned him or not—preferably not.
The war had come to Orham with the unbelievable unreality with which it had come to the great mass of the country. Ever since the news of the descent of von Kluck's hordes upon devoted Belgium, in the fall of 1914, the death grapple in Europe had, of course, been the principal topic of discussion at the post office and around the whist tables at the Setuckit Club, where ancient and retired mariners met and pounded their own and each other's knees while they expressed sulphurous opinions concerning the attitude of the President and Congress. These opinions were, as a usual thing, guided by the fact of their holders' allegiance to one or the other of the great political parties. Captain Sam Hunniwell, a lifelong and ardent Republican, with a temper as peppery as the chile con carne upon which, when commander of a steam freighter trading with Mexico, he had feasted so often—Captain Sam would have hoisted the Stars and Stripes to the masthead the day the Lusitania sank and put to sea in a dory, if need be, and armed only with a shotgun, to avenge that outrage. To hear Captain Sam orate concerning the neglect of duty of which he considered the United States government guilty was an experience, interesting or shocking, according to the drift of one's political or religious creed.
Phineas Babbitt, on the contrary, had at first upheld the policy of strict neutrality. "What business is it of ours if them furriners take to slaughterin' themselves?" he wanted to know. He hotly declared the Lusitania victims plaguey fools who knew what they were riskin' when they sailed and had got just what was comin' to 'em—that is, he was proclaiming it when Captain Sam heard him; after that the captain issued a proclamation of his own and was proceeding to follow words with deeds. The affair ended by mutual acquaintances leading Captain Sam from the Babbitt Hardware Company's store, the captain rumbling like a volcano and, to follow up the simile, still emitting verbal brimstone and molten lava, while Mr. Babbitt, entrenched behind his counter, with a monkey wrench in his hand, dared his adversary to lay hands on a law- abiding citizen.
When the Kaiser and von Tirpitz issued their final ultimatum, however, and the President called America to arms, Phineas, in company with others of his breed, appeared to have experienced a change of heart. At all events he kept his anti-war opinions to himself and, except that his hatred for the captain was more virulent than ever since the affair of the postmastership, he found little fault with the war preparations in the village, the organizing of a Home Guard, the raising of funds for a new flag and flagpole and the recruiting meeting in the town hall.
At that meeting a half dozen of Orham's best young fellows had expressed their desire to fight for Uncle Sam. The Orham band— minus its first cornet, who was himself one of the volunteers—had serenaded them at the railway station and the Congregational minister and Lawyer Poundberry of the Board of Selectmen had made speeches. Captain Sam Hunniwell, being called upon to say a few words, had said a few—perhaps, considering the feelings of the minister and the feminine members of his flock present, it is well they were not more numerous.
"Good luck to you, boys," said Captain Sam. "I wish to the Almighty I was young enough to go with you. And say, if you see that Kaiser anywheres afloat or ashore give him particular merry hell for me, will you?"
And then, a little later, came the news that the conscription bill had become a law and that the draft was to be a reality. And with that news the war itself became a little more real. And, suddenly, Phineas Babbitt, realizing that his son, Leander, was twenty-five years old and, therefore, within the limits of the draft age, became once more an ardent, if a little more careful, conscientious objector.
He discovered that the war was a profiteering enterprise engineered by capital and greed for the exploiting of labor and the common people. Whenever he thought it safe to do so he aired these opinions and, as there were a few of what Captain Hunniwell called "yellow-backed swabs" in Orham or its neighborhood, he occasionally had sympathetic listeners. Phineas, it is only fair to say, had never heretofore shown any marked interest in labor except to get as much of it for as little money as possible. If his son, Leander, shared his father's opinions, he did not express them. In fact he said very little, working steadily in the store all day and appearing to have something on his mind. Most people liked Leander.
Then came the draft and Leander was drafted. He said very little about it, but his father said a great deal. The boy should not go; the affair was an outrage. Leander wasn't strong, anyway; besides, wasn't he his father's principal support? He couldn't be spared, that's all there was about it, and he shouldn't be. There was going to be an Exemption Board, wasn't there? All right—just wait until he, Phineas, went before that board. He hadn't been in politics all these years for nothin'. Sam Hunniwell hadn't got all the pull there was in the county.
And then Captain Sam was appointed a member of that very board. He had dropped in at the windmill shop the very evening when he decided to accept and told Jed Winslow all about it. There never were two people more unlike than Sam Hunniwell and Jed Winslow, but they had been fast friends since boyhood. Jed knew that Phineas Babbitt had been on a trip to Boston and, therefore, had not heard of the captain's appointment. Now, according to Gabriel Bearse, he had returned and had heard of it, and according to Bearse's excited statement he had "gone on" about it.
"Leander's been drafted," repeated Gabe. "And that was bad enough for Phineas, he bein' down on the war, anyhow. But he's been cal'latin', I cal'late, to use his political pull to get Leander exempted off. Nine boards out of ten, if they'd had a man from Orham on 'em, would have gone by what that man said in a case like Leander's. And Phineas, he was movin' heavens and earth to get one of his friends put on as the right Orham man. And now—NOW, by godfreys domino, they've put on the ONE man that Phin can't influence, that hates Phin worse than a cat hates a swim. Oh, you ought to heard Phineas go on when I told him. He'd just got off the train, as you might say, so nobody'd had a chance to tell him. I was the fust one, you see. So—"
"Was Leander there?"
"No, he wan't. There wan't nobody in the store but Susie Ellis, that keeps the books there now, and Abner Burgess's boy, that runs errands and waits on folks when everybody else is busy. That was a funny thing, too—that about Leander's not bein' there. Susie said she hadn't seen him since just after breakfast time, half past seven o'clock or so, and when she telephoned the Babbitt house it turned out he hadn't been there, neither. Had his breakfast and went out, he did, and that's all his step-ma knew about him. But Phineas, he. . . . Eh? Ain't that the bell? Customer, I presume likely. Want me to go see who 'tis, Shavin's—Jed, I mean?"
But the person who had entered the outer shop saved Mr. Bearse the trouble. He, too, disregarded the "Private" sign on the door of the inner room. Before Gabriel could reach it that door was thrown open and the newcomer entered. He was a big man, gray-mustached, with hair a grizzled red, and with blue eyes set in a florid face. The hand which had opened the door looked big and powerful enough to have knocked a hole in it, if such a procedure had been necessary. And its owner looked quite capable of doing it, if he deemed it necessary, in fact he looked as if he would rather have enjoyed it. He swept into the room like a northwest breeze, and two bundles of wooden strips, cut to the size of mill arms, clattered to the floor as he did so.
"Hello, Jed!" he hailed, in a voice which measured up to the rest of him. Then, noticing Mr. Bearse for the first time, he added: "Hello, Gabe, what are you doin' here?"
Gabriel hastened to explain. His habitual desire to please and humor each person he met—each person of consequence, that is; very poor people or village eccentrics like Jed Winslow did not much matter, of course—was in this case augmented by a particular desire to please Captain Sam Hunniwell. Captain Sam, being one of Orham's most influential men, was not, in Mr. Bearse's estimation, at all the sort of person whom it was advisable to displease. He might—and did—talk disparagingly of him behind his back, as he did behind the back of every one else, but he smiled humbly and spoke softly in his presence. The consciousness of having just been talking of him, however, of having visited that shop for the express purpose of talking about him, made the explaining process a trifle embarrassing.
"Oh, howd'ye do, howd'ye do, Cap'n Hunniwell?" stammered Gabriel. "Nice day, ain't it, sir? Yes, sir, 'tis a nice day. I was just— er—that is, I just run in to see Shavin's here; to make a little call, you know. We was just settin' here talkin', wan't we, Shavin's—Jed, I mean?"
Mr. Winslow stood his completed sailor man in a rack to dry.
"Ya-as," he drawled, solemnly, "that was about it, I guess. Have a chair, Sam, won't you? . . . That was about it, we was sittin' and talkin' . . . I was sittin' and Gab—Gabe, I mean—was talkin'."
Captain Sam chuckled. As Winslow and Mr. Bearse were occupying the only two chairs in the room he accepted the invitation in its broad sense and, turning an empty box upon end, sat down on that.
"So Gabe was talkin', eh?" he repeated. "Well, that's singular. How'd that happen, Gabe?"
Mr. Bearse looked rather foolish. "Oh, we was just—just talkin' about—er—this and that," he said, hastily. "Just this and that, nothin' partic'lar. Cal'late I'll have to be runnin' along now, Jed."
Jed Winslow selected a new and unpainted sailor from the pile near him. He eyed it dreamily.
"Well, Gabe," he observed, "if you must, you must, I suppose. Seems to me you're leavin' at the most interestin' time. We've been talkin' about this and that, same as you say, and now you're leavin' just as 'this' has got here. Maybe if you wait—wait—a—"
The sentence died away into nothingness. He had taken up the brush which he used for the blue paint. There was a loose bristle in it. He pulled this out and one or two more came with it.
"Hu-um!" he mused, absently.
Captain Sam was tired of waiting.
"Come, finish her out, Jed—finish her out," he urged. "What's the rest of it?"
"I cal'late I'll run along now," said Mr. Bearse, nervously moving toward the door.
"Hold on a minute," commanded the captain. "Jed hadn't finished what he was sayin' to you. He generally talks like one of those continued-in-our-next yarns in the magazines. Give us the September installment, Jed—come."
Mr. Winslow smiled, a slow, whimsical smile that lit up his lean, brown face and then passed away as slowly as it had come, lingering for an instant at one corner of his mouth.
"Oh, I was just tellin' Gabe that the 'this' he was talkin' about was here now," he said, "and that maybe if he waited a space the 'that' would come, too. Seems to me if I was you, Gabe, I'd—"
But Mr. Bearse had gone.
Captain Hunniwell snorted. "Humph!" he said; "I judge likely I'm the 'this' you and that gas bag have been talkin' about. Who's the 'that'?"
His companion was gazing absently at the door through which Gabriel had made his hurried departure. After gazing at it in silence for a moment, he rose from the chair, unfolding section by section like a pocket rule, and, crossing the room, opened the door and took from its other side the lettered sign "Private" which had hung there. Then, with tacks and a hammer, he proceeded to affix the placard to the inner side of the door, that facing the room where he and Captain Sam were. The captain regarded this operation with huge astonishment.
"Gracious king!" he exclaimed. "What in thunder are you doin' that for? This is the private room in here, ain't it?"
Mr. Winslow, returning to his chair, nodded.
"Ya-as," he admitted, "that's why I'm puttin' the 'Private' sign on this side of the door."
"Yes, but— Why, confound it, anybody who sees it there will think it is the other room that's private, won't they?"
Jed nodded. "I'm in hopes they will," he said.
"You're in hopes they will! Why?"
"'Cause if Gabe Bearse thinks that room's private and that he don't belong there he'll be sartin sure to go there; then maybe he'll give me a rest."
He selected a new brush and went on with his painting. Captain Hunniwell laughed heartily. Then, all at once, his laughter ceased and his face assumed a troubled expression.
"Jed," he ordered, "leave off daubin' at that wooden doll baby for a minute, will you? I want to talk to you. I want to ask you what you think I'd better do. I know what Gab Bearse— Much obliged for that name, Jed; 'Gab's' the best name on earth for that critter—I know what Gab came in here to talk about. 'Twas about me and my bein' put on the Exemption Board, of course. That was it, wan't it? Um-hm, I knew 'twas. I was the 'this' in his 'this and that.' And Phin Babbitt was the 'that'; I'll bet on it. Am I right?"
"Sure thing!" continued the captain. "Well, there 'tis. What am I goin' to do? When they wanted me to take the job in the first place I kind of hesitated. You know I did. 'Twas bound to be one of those thankless sort of jobs that get a feller into trouble, bound to be. And yet—and yet—well, SOMEBODY has to take those kind of jobs. And a man hadn't ought to talk all the time about how he wishes he could do somethin' to help his country, and then lay down and quit on the first chance that comes his way, just 'cause that chance ain't—ain't eatin' up all the pie in the state so the Germans can't get it, or somethin' like that. Ain't that so?"
"Seems so to me, Sam."
"Yes. Well, so I said I'd take my Exemption Board job. But when I said I'd accept it, it didn't run across my mind that Leander Babbitt was liable to be drafted, first crack out of the box. Now he IS drafted, and, if I know Phin Babbitt, the old man will be down on us Board fellers the first thing to get the boy exempted. AND, I bein' on the Board and hailin' from his own town, Orham here, it would naturally be to me that he'd come first. Eh? That's what he'd naturally do, ain't it?"
His friend nodded once more. Captain Sam lost patience.
"Gracious king!" he exclaimed. "Jed Winslow, for thunder sakes say somethin'! Don't set there bobbin' your head up and down like one of those wound-up images in a Christmas-time store window. I ask you if that ain't what Phin Babbitt would do? What would you do if you was in his shoes?"
Jed rubbed his chin.
"Step out of 'em, I guess likely," he drawled.
"Humph! Yes—well, any self-respectin' person would do that, even if he had to go barefooted the rest of his life. But, what I'm gettin' at is this: Babbitt'll come to me orderin' me to get Leander exempted. And what'll I say?"
Winslow turned and looked at him.
"Seems to me, Sam," he answered, "that if that thing happened there'd be only one thing to say. You'd just have to tell him that you'd listen to his reasons and if they seemed good enough to let the boy off, for your part you'd vote to let him off. If they didn't seem good enough—why—"
"Why, then Leander'd have to go to war and his dad could go to—"
"Eh? Go on. I want to hear you say it. Where could he go?"
Jed wiped the surplus paint from his brush on the edge of the can.
"To sellin' hardware," he concluded, gravely, but with a twinkle in his eye.
Captain Sam sniffed, perhaps in disappointment. "His hardware'd melt where I'D tell him to go," he declared. "What you say is all right, Ed. It's an easy doctrine to preach, but, like lots of other preacher's doctrines, it's hard to live up to. Phin loves me like a step-brother and I love him the same way. Well, now here he comes to ask me to do a favor for him. If I don't do it, he'll say, and the whole town'll say, that I'm ventin' my spite on him, keepin' on with my grudge, bein' nasty, cussed, everything that's mean. If I do do it, if I let Leander off, all hands'll say that I did it because I was afraid of Phineas and the rest would say the other thing. It puts me in a devil of a position. It's all right to say, 'Do your duty,' 'Stand up in your shoes,' 'Do what you think's right, never mind whose boy 'tis,' and all that, but I wouldn't have that old skunk goin' around sayin' I took advantage of my position to rob him of his son for anything on earth. I despise him too much to give him that much satisfaction. And yet there I am, and the case'll come up afore me. What'll I do, Jed? Shall I resign? Help me out. I'm about crazy. Shall I heave up the job? Shall I quit?"
Jed put down the brush and the sailor man. He rubbed his chin.
"No-o," he drawled, after a moment.
"Oh, I shan't, eh? Why not?"
"'Cause you don't know how, Sam. It always seemed to me that it took a lot of practice to be a quitter. You never practiced."
"Thanks. All right, then, I'm to hang on, I suppose, and take my medicine. If that's all the advice you've got to give me, I might as well have stayed at home. But I tell you this, Jed Winslow: If I'd realized—if I'd thought about the Leander Babbitt case comin' up afore me on that Board I never would have accepted the appointment. When you and I were talkin' here the other night it's queer that neither of us thought of it. . . . Eh? What are you lookin at me like that for? You don't mean to tell me that YOU DID think of it? Did you?"
"Yes," he said. "I thought of it."
"You DID! Well, I swear! Then why in thunder didn't you—"
He was interrupted. The bell attached to the door of the outer shop rang. The maker of windmills rose jerkily to his feet. Captain Sam made a gesture of impatience.
"Get rid of your customer and come back here soon as you can," he ordered. Having commanded a steamer before he left the sea and become a banker, the captain usually ordered rather than requested. "Hurry all you can. I ain't half through talkin' with you. For the land sakes, MOVE! Of all the deliberate, slow travelin'—"
He did not finish his sentence, nor did Winslow, who had started toward the door, have time to reach it. The door was opened and a short, thickset man, with a leathery face and a bristling yellow- white chin beard, burst into the room. At the sight of its occupants he uttered a grunt of satisfaction and his bushy brows were drawn together above his little eyes, the latter a washed-out gray and set very close together.
"Humph!" he snarled, vindictively. "So you BE here. Gabe Bearse said you was, but I thought probably he was lyin', as usual. Did he lie about the other thing, that's what I've come here to find out? Sam Hunniwell, have you been put on that Draft Exemption Board?"
"Yes," he said, curtly, "I have."
The man trembled all over.
"You have?" he cried, raising his voice almost to a scream.
"Yes, I have. What's it matter to you, Phin Babbitt? Seems to have het you up some, that or somethin' else."
"Het me up! By—" Mr. Phineas Babbitt swore steadily for a full minute. When he stopped for breath Jed Winslow, who had stepped over and was looking out of the window, uttered an observation.
"I'm afraid I made a mistake, changin' that sign," he said, musingly. "I cal'late I'll make another: 'Prayer meetin's must be held outside.'"
"By—," began Mr. Babbitt again, but this time it was Captain Sam who interrupted. The captain occasionally swore at other people, but he was not accustomed to be sworn at. He, too, began to "heat up." He rose to his feet.
"That'll do, Babbitt," he commanded. "What's the matter with you? Is it me you're cussin'? Because if it is—"
The little Babbitt eyes snapped defiance.
"If it is, what?" he demanded. But before the captain could reply Winslow, turning away from the window, did so for him.
"If it is, I should say 'twas a pretty complete job," he drawled. "I don't know when I've heard fewer things left out. You have reason to be proud, both of you. And now, Phineas," he went on, "what's it all about? What's the matter?"
Mr. Babbitt waved his fists again, preparatory to another outburst. Jed laid a big hand on his shoulder.
"Don't seem to me time for the benediction yet, Phineas," he said. "Ought to preach your sermon or sing a hymn first, seems so. What did you come here for?"
Phineas Babbitt's hard gray eyes looked up into the big brown ones gazing mildly down upon him. His gaze shifted and his tone when he next spoke was a trifle less savage.
"He knows well enough what I came here for," he growled, indicating Hunniwell with a jerk of his thumb. "He knows that just as well as he knows why he had himself put on that Exemption Board."
"I didn't have myself put there," declared the captain. "The job was wished on me. Lord knows I didn't want it. I was just tellin' Jed here that very thing."
"Wished on you nothin'! You planned to get it and you worked to get it and I know why you did it, too. 'Twas to get another crack at me. 'Twas to play another dirty trick on me like the one you played that cheated me out of the post office. You knew they'd drafted my boy and you wanted to make sure he didn't get clear. You—"
"That'll do!" Captain Hunniwell seized him by the shoulder. "That's enough," cried the captain. "Your boy had nothin' to do with it. I never thought of his name bein' drawn when I said I'd accept the job."
"WHAT? Why, you little sawed-off, dried-up, sassy son of a sea cook! I'll—"
Winslow's lanky form was interposed between the pair; and his slow, gentle drawl made itself heard.
"I'm sorry to interrupt the experience meetin'," he said, "but I'VE got a call to testify and I feel the spirit aworkin'. Set down again, Sam, will you please. Phineas, you set down over there. Please set down, both of you. Sam, as a favor to me—"
But the captain was not in a favor-extending mood. He glowered at his adversary and remained standing.
"Phin—" begged Winslow. But Mr. Babbitt, although a trifle paler than when he entered the shop, was not more yielding.
"I'm particular who I set down along of," he declared. "I'd as soon set down with a—a rattlesnake as I would with some humans."
Captain Sam was not pale, far from it.
"Skunks are always afraid of snakes, they tell me," he observed, tartly. "A rattlesnake's honest, anyhow, and he ain't afraid to bite. He ain't all bad smell and nothin' else."
Babbitt's bristling chin beard quivered with inarticulate hatred. Winslow sighed resignedly.
"Well," he asked, "you don't mind the other—er—critter in the menagerie sittin', do you? Now—now—now, just a minute," he pleaded, as his two companions showed symptoms of speaking simultaneously. "Just a minute; let me say a word. Phineas, I judge the only reason you have for objectin' to the captain's bein' on the Exemption Board is on account of your son, ain't it? It's just on Leander's account?"
But before the furious Mr. Babbitt could answer there came another interruption. The bell attached to the door of the outer shop rang once more. Jed, who had accepted his own invitation to sit, rose again with a groan.
"Now I wonder who THAT is?" he drawled, in mild surprise.
Captain Hunniwell's frayed patience, never noted for long endurance, snapped again. "Gracious king! go and find out," he roared. "Whoever 'tis 'll die of old age before you get there."
The slow smile drifted over Mr. Winslow's face. "Probably if I wait and give 'em a chance they'll come in here and have apoplexy instead," he said. "That seems to be the fashionable disease this afternoon. They won't stay out there and be lonesome; they'll come in here where it's private and there's a crowd. Eh? Yes, here they come."
But the newest visitor did not come, like the others, uninvited into the "private" room. Instead he knocked on its door. When Winslow opened it he saw a small boy with a yellow envelope in his hand.
"Hello, Josiah," hailed Jed, genially. "How's the president of the Western Union these days?"
The boy grinned bashfully and opined the magnate just mentioned was "all right." Then he added:
"Is Mr. Babbitt here? Mr. Bearse—Mr. Gabe Bearse—is over at the office and he said he saw Mr. Babbitt come in here."
"Yes, he's here. Want to see him, do you?"
"I've got a telegram for him."
Mr. Babbitt himself came forward and took the yellow envelope. After absently turning it over several times, as so many people do when they receive an unexpected letter or message, he tore it open.
Winslow and Captain Sam, watching him, saw his face, to which the color had returned in the last few minutes, grow white again. He staggered a little. Jed stepped toward him.
"What is it, Phin?" he asked. "Somebody dead or—"
Babbitt waved him away. "No," he gasped, chokingly. "No, let me be. I'm—I'm all right."
Captain Sam, a little conscience-stricken, came forward. "Are you sick, Phin?" he asked. "Is there anything I can do?"
Phineas glowered at him. "Yes," he snarled between his clenched teeth, "you can mind your own darned business."
Then, turning to the boy who had brought the message, he ordered: "You get out of here."
The frightened youngster scuttled away and Babbitt, the telegram rattling in his shaking hand, followed him. The captain, hurrying to the window, saw him go down the walk and along the road in the direction of his store. He walked like a man stricken.
Captain Sam turned back again. "Now what in time was in that telegram?" he demanded. Jed, standing with his back toward him and looking out of the window on the side of the shop toward the sea, did not answer.
"Do you hear me?" asked the captain. "That telegram struck him like a shock of paralysis. He went all to pieces. What on earth do you suppose was in it? Eh? Why don't you say somethin'? YOU don't know what was in it, do you?"
Winslow shook his head. "No," he answered. "I don't know's I do."
"You don't know as you do? Well, do you GUESS you do? Jed Winslow, what have you got up your sleeve?"
The proprietor of the windmill shop slowly turned and faced him. "I don't know's there's anything there, Sam," he answered, "but— but I shouldn't be much surprised if that telegram was from Leander."
"Leander? Leander Babbitt? What . . . Eh? What in thunder do YOU want?"
The last question was directed toward the window on the street side of the shop. Mr. Gabriel Bearse was standing on the outside of that window, energetically thumping on the glass.
"Open her up! Open her up!" commanded Gabe. "I've got somethin' to tell you."
Captain Sam opened the window. Gabriel's face was aglow with excitement. "Say! Say!" he cried. "Did he tell you? Did he tell you?"
"Did who tell what?" demanded the captain.
"Did Phin Babbitt tell you what was in that telegram he just got? What did he say when he read it? Did he swear? I bet he did! If that telegram wan't some surprise to old Babbitt, then—"
"Do you know what 'twas—what the telegram was?"
"Do I? You bet you I do! And I'm the only one in this town except Phin and Jim Bailey that does know. I was in the telegraph office when Jim took it over the wire. I see Jim was pretty excited. 'Well,' says he, 'if this won't be some jolt to old Phin!' he says. 'What will?' says I. 'Why,' says he—"
"What was it?" demanded Captain Sam. "You're dyin' to tell us, a blind man could see that. Get it off your chest and save your life. What was it?"
Mr. Bearse leaned forward and whispered. There was no real reason why he should whisper, but doing so added a mysterious, confidential tang, so to speak, to the value of his news.
"'Twas from Leander—from Phin's own boy, Leander Babbitt, 'twas. 'Twas from him, up in Boston and it went somethin' like this: 'Have enlisted in the infantry. Made up my mind best thing to do. Will not be back. Have written particulars.' That was it, or pretty nigh it. Leander's enlisted. Never waited for no Exemption Board nor nothin', but went up and enlisted on his own hook without tellin' a soul he was goin' to. That's the way Bailey and me figger it up. Say, ain't that some news? Godfreys, I must hustle back to the post office and tell the gang afore anybody else gets ahead of me. So long!"
He hurried away on his joyful errand. Captain Hunniwell closed the window and turned to face his friend.
"Do you suppose that's true, Jed?" he asked. "Do you suppose it CAN be true?"
Jed nodded. "Shouldn't be surprised," he said.
"Good gracious king! Do you mean the boy went off up to Boston on his own hook, as that what's-his-name—Gab—says, and volunteered and got himself enlisted into the army?"
"Shouldn't wonder, Sam."
"Well, my gracious king! Why—why—no wonder old Babbitt looked as if the main topsail yard had fell on him. Tut, tut, tut! Well, I declare! Now what do you suppose put him up to doin' that?"
Winslow sat down in his low chair again and picked up the wooden sailor and the paint brush.
"Well, Sam," he said, slowly, "Leander's a pretty good boy."
"Yes, I suppose he is, but he's Phin Babbitt's son."
"I know, but don't it seem to you as if some sorts of fathers was like birthmarks and bow legs; they come early in life and a feller ain't to blame for havin' 'em? Sam, you ain't sorry the boy's volunteered, are you?"
"Sorry! I should say not! For one thing his doin' it makes my job on the Exemption Board a mighty sight easier. There won't be any row there with Phineas now."
"No-o, I thought 'twould help that. But that wan't the whole reason, Sam."
"Reason for what? What do you mean?"
"I mean that wan't my whole reason for tellin' Leander he'd better volunteer, better go up to Boston and enlist, same as he did. That was part, but 'twan't all."
Captain Sam's eyes and mouth opened. He stared at the speaker in amazement.
"You told him to volunteer?" he repeated. "You told him to go to Boston and— YOU did? What on earth?"
Jed's brush moved slowly down the wooden legs of his sailor man.
"Leander and I are pretty good friends," he explained. "I like him and he—er—hum—I'm afraid that paint's kind of thick. Cal'late I'll have to thin it a little."
Captain Sam condemned the paint to an eternal blister.
"Go on! go on!" he commanded. "What about you and Leander? Finish her out. Can't you see you've got my head whirlin' like one of those windmills of yours? Finish her OUT!"
Jed looked over his spectacles.
"Oh!" he said. "Well, Leander's been comin' in here pretty frequent and we've talked about his affairs a good deal. He's always wanted to enlist ever since the war broke out."
"Why, sartin. Just the same as you would, or—or I hope I would, if I was young and—and," with a wistful smile, "different, and likely to be any good to Uncle Sam. Yes, Leander's been anxious to go to war, but his dad was so set against it all and kept hollerin' so about the boy's bein' needed in the store, that Leander didn't hardly know what to do. But then when he was drawn on the draft list he came in here and he and I had a long talk. 'Twas yesterday, after you'd told me about bein' put on the Board, you know. I could see the trouble there'd be between you and Phineas and—and—well, you see, Sam, I just kind of wanted that boy to volunteer. I—I don't know why, but—" He looked up from his work and stared dreamily out of the window. "I guess maybe 'twas because I've been wishin' so that I could go myself—or—do SOMETHIN' that was some good. So Leander and I talked and finally he said, 'Well, by George, I WILL go.' And—and—well, I guess that's all; he went, you see."
The captain drew a long breath.
"He went," he repeated. "And you knew he'd gone?"
"No, I didn't know, but I kind of guessed."
"You guessed, and yet all the time I've been here you haven't said a word about it till this minute."
"Well, I didn't think 'twas much use sayin' until I knew."
"Well, my gracious king, Jed Winslow, you beat all my goin' to sea! But you've helped Uncle Sam to a good soldier and you've helped me out of a nasty row. For my part I'm everlastin' obliged to you, I am so."
Jed looked pleased but very much embarrassed.
"Sho, sho," he exclaimed, hastily, "'twan't anything. Oh, say," hastily changing the subject, "I've got some money 'round here somewheres I thought maybe you'd take to the bank and deposit for me next time you went, if 'twan't too much trouble."
"Trouble? Course 'tain't any trouble. Where is it?"
Winslow put down his work and began to hunt. From one drawer of his work bench, amid nails, tools and huddles of papers, he produced a small bundle of banknotes; from another drawer another bundle. These, however, did not seem to satisfy him entirely. At last, after a good deal of very deliberate search, he unearthed more paper currency from the pocket of a dirty pair of overalls hanging on a nail, and emptied a heap of silver and coppers from a battered can on the shelf. Captain Hunniwell, muttering to himself, watched the collecting process. When it was completed, he asked:
"Is this all?"
"Eh? Yes, I guess 'tis. I can't seem to find any more just now. Maybe another batch'll turn up later. If it does I'll keep it till next time."
The captain, suppressing his emotions, hastily counted the money.
"Have you any idea how much there is here?" he asked.
"No, I don't know's I have. There's been quite consider'ble comin' in last fortni't or so. Summer folks been payin' bills and one thing or 'nother. Might be forty or fifty dollars, I presume likely."
"Forty or fifty! Nearer a hundred and fifty! And you keep it stuffed around in every junk hole from the roof to the cellar. Wonder to me you don't light your pipe with it. I shouldn't wonder if you did. How many times have I told you to deposit your money every three days anyhow? How many times?"
Mr. Winslow seemed to reflect.
"Don't know, Sam," he admitted. "Good many, I will give in. But— but, you see, Sam, if—if I take it to the bank I'm liable to forget I've got it. Long's it's round here somewheres I—why, I know where 'tis and—and it's handy. See, don't you?"
The captain shook his head.
"Jed Winslow," he declared, "as I said to you just now you beat all my goin' to sea. I can't make you out. When I see how you act with money and business, and how you let folks take advantage of you, then I think you're a plain dum fool. And yet when you bob up and do somethin' like gettin' Leander Babbitt to volunteer and gettin' me out of that row with his father, then—well, then, I'm ready to swear you're as wise as King Solomon ever was. You're a puzzle to me, Jed. What are you, anyway—the dum fool or King Solomon?"
Jed looked meditatively over his spectacles. The slow smile twitched the corners of his lips.
"Well, Sam," he drawled, "if you put it to vote at town meetin' I cal'late the majority'd be all one way. But, I don't know"—; he paused, and then added, "I don't know, Sam, but it's just as well as 'tis. A King Solomon down here in Orham would be an awful lonesome cuss."
Upon a late September day forty-nine years and some months before that upon which Gabe Bearse came to Jed Winslow's windmill shop in Orham with the news of Leander Babbitt's enlistment, Miss Floretta Thompson came to that village to teach the "downstairs" school. Miss Thompson was an orphan. Her father had kept a small drug store in a town in western Massachusetts. Her mother had been a clergyman's daughter. Both had died when she was in her 'teens. Now, at twenty, she came to Cape Cod, pale, slim, with a wealth of light brown hair and a pair of large, dreamy brown eyes. Her taste in dress was peculiar, even eccentric, and Orham soon discovered that she, herself, was also somewhat eccentric.
As a schoolteacher she was not an unqualified success. The "downstairs" curriculum was not extensive nor very exacting, but it was supposed to impart to the boys and girls of from seven to twelve a rudimentary knowledge of the three R's and of geography. In the first two R's, "readin' and 'ritin'," Miss Thompson was proficient. She wrote a flowery Spencerian, which was beautifully "shaded" and looked well on the blackboard, and reading was the dissipation of her spare moments. The third "R," 'rithmetic, she loathed.
Youth, even at the ages of from seven to twelve, is only too proficient in learning to evade hard work. The fact that Teacher took no delight in traveling the prosaic highways of addition, multiplication and division, but could be easily lured to wander the flowery lanes of romantic fiction, was soon grasped by the downstairs pupils. The hour set for recitation by the first class in arithmetic was often and often monopolized by a hold-over of the first class in reading, while Miss Floretta, artfully spurred by questions asked by the older scholars, rhapsodized on the beauties of James Fenimore Cooper's "Uncas," or Dickens' "Little Nell," or Scott's "Ellen." Some of us antiques, then tow-headed little shavers in the front seats, can still remember Miss Floretta's rendition of the lines:
"And Saxon—I am Roderick Dhu!"
The extremely genteel, not to say ladylike, elocution of the Highland chief and the indescribable rising inflection and emphasis on the "I."
These literary rambles had their inevitable effect, an effect noted, after a time, and called to the attention of the school committee by old Captain Lycurgus Batcheldor, whose two grandchildren were among the ramblers.
"Say," demanded Captain Lycurgus, "how old does a young-one have to be afore it's supposed to know how much four times eight is? My Sarah's Nathan is pretty nigh ten and HE don't know it. Gave me three answers he did; first that 'twas forty-eight, then that 'twas eighty-four and then that he'd forgot what 'twas. But I noticed he could tell me a whole string about some feller called Lockintar or Lochinvar or some such outlandish name, and not only his name but where he came from, which was out west somewheres. A poetry piece 'twas; Nate said the teacher'd been speakin' it to 'em. I ain't got no objection to speakin' pieces, but I do object to bein' told that four times eight is eighty-four, 'specially when I'm buyin' codfish at eight cents a pound. I ain't on the school committee, but if I was—"
So the committee investigated and when Miss Thompson's year was up and the question arose as to her re-engagement, there was considerable hesitancy. But the situation was relieved in a most unexpected fashion. Thaddeus Winslow, first mate on the clipper ship, "Owner's Favorite," at home from a voyage to the Dutch East Indies, fell in love with Miss Floretta, proposed, was accepted and married her.
It was an odd match: Floretta, pale, polite, impractical and intensely romantic; Thad, florid, rough and to the point. Yet the married pair seemed to be happy together. Winslow went to sea on several voyages and, four years after the marriage, remained at home for what, for him, was a long time. During that time a child, a boy, was born.
The story of the christening of that child is one of Orham's pet yarns even to this day. It seems that there was a marked disagreement concerning the name to be given him. Captain Thad had had an Uncle Edgar, who had been very kind to him when a boy. The captain wished to name his own youngster after this uncle. But Floretta's heart was set upon "Wilfred," her favorite hero of romance being Wilfred of Ivanhoe. The story is that the parents being no nearer an agreement on the great question, Floretta made a proposal of compromise. She proposed that her husband take up his stand by the bedroom window and the first male person he saw passing on the sidewalk below, the name of that person should be given to their offspring; a sporting proposition certainly. But the story goes on to detract a bit from the sporting element by explaining that Mrs. Winslow was expecting a call at that hour from the Baptist minister, and the Baptist minister's Christian name was "Clarence," which, if not quite as romantic as Wilfred, is by no means common and prosaic. Captain Thad, who had not been informed of the expected ministerial call and was something of a sport himself, assented to the arrangement. It was solemnly agreed that the name of the first male passer-by should be the name of the new Winslow. The captain took up his post of observation at the window and waited.
He did not have to wait long. Unfortunately for romance, the Reverend Clarence was detained at the home of another parishioner a trifle longer than he had planned and the first masculine to pass the Winslow home was old Jedidah Wingate, the fish peddler. Mrs. Diadama Busteed, who was acting as nurse in the family and had been sworn in as witness to the agreement between husband and wife, declared to the day of her death that that death was hastened by the shock to her nervous and moral system caused by Captain Thad's language when old Jedidah hove in sight. He vowed over and over again that he would be everlastingly condemned if he would label a young-one of his with such a crashety-blank-blanked outrage of a name as "Jedidah." "Jedidiah" was bad enough, but there WERE a few Jedidiahs in Ostable County, whereas there was but one Jedidah. Mrs. Winslow, who did not fancy Jedidah any more than her husband did, wept; Captain Thad's profanity impregnated the air with brimstone. But they had solemnly sworn to the agreement and Mrs. Busteed had witnessed it, and an oath is an oath. Besides, Mrs. Winslow was inclined to think the whole matter guided by Fate, and, being superstitious as well as romantic, feared dire calamity if Fate was interfered with. It ended in a compromise and, a fortnight later, the Reverend Clarence, keeping his countenance with difficulty, christened a red-faced and protesting infant "Jedidah Edgar Wilfred Winslow."
Jedidah Edgar Wilfred grew up. At first he was called "Edgar" by his father and "Wilfred" by his mother. His teachers, day school and Sunday school, called him one or the other as suited their individual fancies. But his schoolmates and playfellows, knowing that he hated the name above all else on earth, gleefully hailed him as "Jedidah." By the time he was ten he was "Jed" Winslow beyond hope of recovery. Also it was settled locally that he was "queer"—not "cracked" or "lacking," which would have implied that his brain was affected—but just "queer," which meant that his ways of thinking and acting were different from those of Orham in general.
His father, Captain Thaddeus, died when Jed was fifteen, just through the grammar school and ready to enter the high. He did not enter; instead, the need of money being pressing, he went to work in one of the local stores, selling behind the counter. If his father had lived he would, probably, have gone away after finishing high school and perhaps, if by that time the mechanical ability which he possessed had shown itself, he might even have gone to some technical school or college. In that case Jed Winslow's career might have been very, very different. But instead he went to selling groceries, boots, shoes, dry goods and notions for Mr. Seth Wingate, old Jedidah's younger brother.
As a grocery clerk Jed was not a success, neither did he shine as a clerk in the post office, nor as an assistant to the local expressman. In desperation he began to learn the carpenter's trade and, because he liked to handle tools, did pretty well at it. But he continued to be "queer" and his absent-minded dreaminess was in evidence even then.
"I snum I don't know what to make of him," declared Mr. Abijah Mullett, who was the youth's "boss." "Never know just what he's goin' to do or just what he's goin' to say. I says to him yesterday: 'Jed,' says I, 'you do pretty well with tools and wood, considerin' what little experience you've had. Did Cap'n Thad teach you some or did you pick it up yourself?' He never answered for a minute or so, seemed to be way off dreamin' in the next county somewheres. Then he looked at me with them big eyes of his and he drawled out: 'Comes natural to me, Mr. Mullett, I guess,' he says. 'There seems to be a sort of family feelin' between my head and a chunk of wood.' Now what kind of an answer was that, I want to know!"
Jed worked at carpentering for a number of years, sometimes going as far away as Ostable to obtain employment. And then his mother was seized with the illness from which, so she said, she never recovered. It is true that Doctor Parker, the Orham physician, declared that she had recovered, or might recover if she cared to. Which of the pair was right does not really matter. At all events Mrs. Winslow, whether she recovered or not, never walked abroad again. She was "up and about," as they say in Orham, and did some housework, after a fashion, but she never again set foot across the granite doorstep of the Winslow cottage. Probably the poor woman's mind was slightly affected; it is charitable to hope that it was. It seems the only reasonable excuse for the oddity of her behavior during the last twenty years of her life, for her growing querulousness and selfishness and for the exacting slavery in which she kept her only son.
During those twenty years whatever ambition Jedidah Edgar Wilfred may once have had was thoroughly crushed. His mother would not hear of his leaving her to find better work or to obtain promotion. She needed him, she wailed; he was her life, her all; she should die if he left her. Some hard-hearted townspeople, Captain Hunniwell among them, disgustedly opined that, in view of such a result, Jed should be forcibly kidnaped forthwith for the general betterment of the community. But Jed himself never rebelled. He cheerfully gave up his youth and early middle age to his mother and waited upon her, ran her errands, sat beside her practically every evening and read romance after romance aloud for her benefit. And his "queerness" developed, as under such circumstances it was bound to do.
Money had to be earned and, as the invalid would not permit him to leave her to earn it, it was necessary to find ways of earning it at home. Jed did odd jobs of carpentering and cabinet making, went fishing sometimes, worked in gardens between times, did almost anything, in fact, to bring in the needed dollars. And when he was thirty-eight years old he made and sold his first "Cape Cod Winslow windmill," the forerunner of the thousands to follow. That mill, made in some of his rare idle moments and given to the child of a wealthy summer visitor, made a hit. The child liked it and other children wanted mills just like it. Then "grown-ups" among the summer folk took up the craze. "Winslow mills" became the fad. Jed built his little shop, or the first installment of it.
Mrs. Floretta Winslow died when her son was forty. A merciful release, Captain Sam and the rest called it, but to Jed it was a stunning shock. He had no one to take care of now except himself and he did not know what to do. He moped about like a deserted cat. Finally he decided that he could not live in the old house where he was born and had lived all his life. He expressed his feelings concerning that house to his nearest friend, practically his sole confidant, Captain Sam.
"I can't somehow seem to stand it, Sam," he said, solemnly. "I can't stay in that house alone any longer, it's—it's too sociable."
The captain, who had expected almost anything but that, stared at him.
"Sociable!" he repeated. "You're sailin' stern first, Jed. Lonesome's what you mean, of course."
Jed shook his head.
"No-o," he drawled, "I mean sociable. There's too many boys in there, for one thing."
"Boys!" Captain Sam was beginning to be really alarmed now. "Boys! Say—say, Jed Winslow, you come along home to dinner with me. I bet you've forgot to eat anything for the last day or so— been inventin' some new kind of whirlagig or other—and your empty stomach's gone to your head and made it dizzy. Boys! Gracious king! Come on home with me."
Jed smiled his slow smile. "I don't mean real boys, Sam," he explained. "I mean me—I'm the boys. Nights now when I'm walkin' around in that house alone I meet myself comin' round every corner. Me when I was five, comin' out of the buttery with a cooky in each fist; and me when I was ten sittin' studyin' my lesson book in the corner; and me when I was fifteen, just afore Father died, sittin' all alone thinkin' what I'd do when I went to Boston Tech same as he said he was cal'latin' to send me. Then—"
He paused and lapsed into one of his fits of musing. His friend drew a breath of relief.
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Well, I don't mind your meetin' yourself. I thought first you'd gone off your head, blessed if I didn't. You're a queer critter, Jed. Get those funny notions from readin' so many books, I guess likely. Meetin' yourself! What an idea that is! I suppose you mean that, bein' alone in that house where you've lived since you was born, you naturally get to thinkin' about what used to be."
Jed stared wistfully at the back of a chair.
"Um-hm," he murmured, "and what might have been—and—and ain't."
The captain nodded. Of all the people in Orham he, he prided himself, was the only one who thoroughly understood Jed Winslow. And sometimes he did partially understand him; this was one of the times.
"Now—now—now," he said, hastily, "don't you get to frettin' yourself about your not amountin' to anything and all that. You've got a nice little trade of your own buildin' up here. What more do you want? We can't all be—er—Know-it-alls like Shakespeare, or— or rich as Standard Oil Companies, can we? Look here, what do you waste your time goin' back twenty-five years and meetin' yourself for? Why don't you look ahead ten or fifteen and try to meet yourself then? You may be a millionaire, a—er—windmill trust or somethin' of that kind, by that time. Eh? Ha, ha!"
Jed rubbed his chin.
"When I meet myself lookin' like a millionaire," he observed, gravely, "I'll have to do the way you do at your bank, Sam—call in somebody to identify me."
Captain Sam laughed. "Well, anyhow," he said, "don't talk any more foolishness about not livin' in your own house. If I was you—"
Mr. Winslow interrupted. "Sam," he said, "the way to find out what you would do if you was me is to make sure WHAT you'd do—and then do t'other thing, or somethin' worse."
"Oh, Jed, be reasonable."
Jed looked over his spectacles. "Sam," he drawled, "if I was reasonable I wouldn't be me."
And he lived no longer in the old house. Having made up his mind, he built a small two-room addition to his workshop and lived in that. Later he added a sleeping room—a sort of loft—and a little covered porch on the side toward the sea. Here, in pleasant summer twilights or on moonlight nights, he sat and smoked. He had a good many callers and but few real friends. Most of the townspeople liked him, but almost all considered him a joke, an oddity, a specimen to be pointed out to those of the summer people who were looking for "types." A few, like Mr. Gabriel Bearse, who distinctly did NOT understand him and who found his solemn suggestions and pointed repartee irritating at times, were inclined to refer to him in these moments of irritation as "town crank." But they did not really mean it when they said it. And some others, like Leander Babbitt or Captain Hunniwell, came to ask his advice on personal matters, although even they patronized him just a little. He had various nicknames, "Shavings" being the most popular.
His peculiar business, the making of wooden mills, toys and weather vanes, had grown steadily. Now he shipped many boxes of these to other seashore and mountain resorts. He might have doubled his output had he chosen to employ help or to enlarge his plant, but he would not do so. He had rented the old Winslow house furnished once to a summer tenant, but he never did so again, although he had many opportunities. He lived alone in the addition to the little workshop, cooking his own meals, making his own bed, and sewing on his own buttons.
And on the day following that upon which Leander Babbitt enrolled to fight for Uncle Sam, Jedidah Edgar Wilfred Winslow was forty- five years old.
He was conscious of that fact when he arose. It was a pleasant morning, the sun was rising over the notched horizon of the tumbling ocean, the breeze was blowing, the surf on the bar was frothing and roaring cheerily—and it was his birthday. The morning, the sunrise, the surf and all the rest were pleasant to contemplate—his age was not. So he decided not to contemplate it. Instead he went out and hoisted at the top of the short pole on the edge of the bluff the flag he had set there on the day when the United States declared war against the Hun. He hoisted it every fine morning and he took it in every night.
He stood for a moment, watching the red, white and blue flapping bravely in the morning sunshine, then he went back into his little kitchen at the rear of the workshop and set about cooking his breakfast. The kitchen was about as big as a good-sized packing box and Jed, standing over the oilstove, could reach any shelf in sight without moving. He cooked his oatmeal porridge, boiled his egg and then sat down at the table in the next room—his combined living and dining-room and not very much bigger than the kitchen— to eat. When he had finished, he washed the dishes, walked up to the post office for the mail and then, entering the workshop, took up the paint brush and the top sailor-man of the pile beside him and began work. This, except on Sundays, was his usual morning routine. It varied little, except that he occasionally sawed or whittled instead of painted, or, less occasionally still, boxed some of his wares for shipment.
During the forenoon he had some visitors. A group of summer people from the hotel came in and, after pawing over and displacing about half of the movable stock, bought ten or fifteen dollars' worth and departed. Mr. Winslow had the satisfaction of hearing them burst into a shout of laughter as they emerged into the yard and the shrill voice of one of the females in the party rose above the hilarity with: "Isn't he the WEIRDEST thing!" And an accompanying male voice appraised him as "Some guy, believe me! S-o-o-me guy!" Jed winced a little, but he went on with his painting. On one's forty-fifth birthday one has acquired or should have acquired a certain measure of philosophical resignation.
Other customers or lookers came and went. Maud Hunniwell, Captain Sam's daughter, dropped in on her way to the post office. The captain was a widower and Maud was his only child. She was, therefore, more than the apple of his eye, she was a whole orchard of apples. She was eighteen, pretty and vivacious, and her father made a thorough job of spoiling her. Not that the spoiling had injured her to any great extent, it had not as yet, but that was Captain Sam's good luck. Maud was wearing a new dress—she had a new one every week or so—and she came into the windmill shop to show it. Of course she would have denied that that was the reason for her coming, but the statement stands, nevertheless. She and Jed were great chums and had been since she could walk. She liked him, took his part when she heard him criticized or made fun of, and was always prettily confidential and friendly when they were alone together. Of course there was a touch of superiority and patronage in her friendship. She should not be blamed for this; all Orham, consciously or unconsciously, patronized Jed Winslow.
She came into the inner shop and sat down upon the same upturned box upon which her father had sat the afternoon before. Her first remark, after "good mornings" had been exchanged, was concerning the "Private" sign on the inner side of the door.
"What in the world have you put that sign inside here for?" she demanded.
Mr. Winslow explained, taking his own deliberate time in making the explanation. Miss Hunniwell wrinkled her dainty upturned nose and burst into a trill of laughter.
"Oh, that's lovely," she declared, "and just like you, besides. And do you think Gabe Bearse will go back into the other room when he sees it?"
Jed looked dreamily over his spectacles at the sign. "I don't know," he drawled. "If I thought he'd go wherever that sign was I ain't sure but I'd tack it on the cover of the well out in the yard yonder."
His fair visitor laughed again. "Why, Jed," she exclaimed. "You wouldn't want to drown him, would you?"
Jed seemed to reflect. "No-o," he answered, slowly, "don't know's I would—not in my well, anyhow."
Miss Hunniwell declared that that was all nonsense. "You wouldn't drown a kitten," she said. "I know that because when Mrs. Nathaniel Rogers' old white cat brought all her kittens over here the first of this summer you wouldn't even put them out in the yard at night, to say nothing of drowning them. All six and the mother cat stayed here and fairly swarmed over you and ate you out of house and home. Father said he believed they fed at the first table and you were taking what was left. It was a mercy the old cat decided to lead them back to the Rogers' again or I don't know WHAT might have become of you by this time."
Jed seemed to be thinking; there was a reminiscent twinkle in his eye.
"The old cat didn't lead 'em back," he said. "Nathaniel took 'em back. Didn't I ever tell you about that?"
"No, you didn't. You KNOW you didn't. Mr. Rogers took them back? I can't believe it. He told everywhere about town that he was glad to get rid of the whole family and, as you and the cats seemed to be mutually happy together, he wasn't going to disturb you. He thought it was a great joke on you. And he took them back himself? Why?"
Mr. Winslow rubbed his chin. "I don't know's I'd ought to say anything about it," he said. "I haven't afore. I wouldn't interfere with Nate's sales for anything."
"Sales? Sales of what? Oh, you mean thing! Don't be so provoking! Tell me the whole story this minute."
Jed painted a moment or two. Then he said: "We-ell, Maud, you see those kittens got to be kind of a nuisance. They was cunnin' and cute and all that, but they was so everlastin' lively and hungry that they didn't give me much of a chance. I was only one, you see, and they had a majority vote every time on who should have the bed and the chairs and the table and one thing or 'nother. If I sat down I sat on a cat. If I went to bed I laid down on cats, and when I turned them out and turned in myself they came and laid down on ME. I slept under fur blankets most of June. And as for eatin'— Well, every time I cooked meat or fish they sat down in a circle and whooped for some. When I took it off the fire and put it in a plate on the table, I had to put another plate and a—a plane or somethin' heavy on top of it or they'd have had it sartin sure. Then when I sat down to eat it they formed a circle again like a reg'lar band and tuned up and hollered. Lord a-mercy, HOW they did holler! And if one of the kittens stopped, run out of wind or got a sore throat or anything, the old cat would bite it to set it goin' again. She wan't goin' to have any shirkin' in HER orchestra. I ate to music, as you might say, same as I've read they do up to Boston restaurants. And about everything I did eat was stuffed with cats' hairs. Seemed sometimes as if those kittens was solid fur all the way through; they never could have shed all that hair from the outside. Somebody told me that kittens never shed hair, 'twas only full grown cats did that. I don't believe it. Nate Rogers' old maltee never shed all that alone; allowin' her a half barrel, there was all of another barrel spread around the premises. No-o, those cats was a good deal of a nuisance. Um-hm. . . . Yes, they was. . . ."
He paused and, apparently having forgotten that he was in the middle of a story, began to whistle lugubriously and to bend all his other energies to painting. Miss Hunniwell, who had laughed until her eyes were misty, wiped them with her handkerchief and commanded him to go on.
"Tell me the rest of it," she insisted. "How did you get rid of them? How did Mr. Rogers come to take them back?"
"Eh? . . . Oh, why, you see, I went over to Nate's three or four times and told him his cat and kittens were here and I didn't feel right to deprive him of 'em any longer. He said never mind, I could keep 'em long as I wanted to. I said that was about as long as I had kept 'em. Then he said he didn't know's he cared about ever havin' 'em again; said he and his wife had kind of lost their taste for cats, seemed so. I—well, I hinted that, long as the tribe was at my house I wan't likely to have a chance to taste much of anything, but it didn't seem to have much effect. Then—"
"Yes, yes; go on! go on!"
"Oh. . . . Then one day Nate he happened to be in here—come to borrow somethin', some tool seems to me 'twas—and the cats was climbin' round promiscuous same as usual. And one of the summer women came in while he was here, wanted a mill for her little niece or somethin'. And she saw one of the animals and she dropped everything else and sang out: 'Oh, what a beautiful kitten! What unusual coloring! May I see it?' Course she was seein' it already, but I judged she meant could she handle it, so I tried to haul the critter loose from my leg—there was generally one or more of 'em shinnin' over me somewhere. It squalled when I took hold of it and she says: 'Oh, it doesn't want to come, does it! It must have a very affectionate disposition to be so attached to you.' Seemed to me 'twas attached by its claws more'n its disposition, but I pried it loose and handed it to her. Then she says again, 'What unusual colorin'! Will you sell this one to me? I'll give you five dollars for it.'"
He stopped again. Another reminder from Miss Hunniwell was necessary to make him continue.
"And you sold one of those kittens for five dollars?" she cried.
"You didn't? Why, you foolish man! Why not?"
"I never had a chance. Afore I could say a word Nate Rogers spoke up and said the kittens belonged to him. Then she saw another one that she hadn't seen afore and she says: 'Oh, that one has more unusual colorin's even than this. I never saw such color in a cat.' Course she meant ON a cat but we understood what she meant. 'Are they a very rare breed?' she asked. Nate said they was and—"
Miss Hunniwell interrupted. "But they weren't, were they?" she cried. "I never knew they were anything more than plain tabby."
Jed shook his head. "Nate said they was," he went on solemnly. "He said they were awful rare. Then she wanted to know would he sell one for five dollars. He said no, he couldn't think of it."
"Why, the greedy old thing!"
"And so he and she had it back and forth and finally they struck a bargain at seven dollars for the one that looked most like a crazy quilt."
"Seven dollars for a CAT? What color was it, for goodness' sake?"
"Oh, all kinds, seemed so. Black and white and maltee and blue and red and green—"
"Green! What ARE you talking about? Who ever saw a green cat?"
"This woman saw one that was part green and she bought it. Then she said she'd take it right along in her car. Said she had a friend that was as loony about cats as she was and she was goin' to fetch her right down the very next day. And a couple of hours after she'd gone Nate and his boy came back with a clothes basket with a board over the top and loaded in the balance of the family and went off with 'em. I ain't seen a hair of 'em since—no, I won't say that quite, but I ain't seen THEM."
"And didn't he give you any of the seven dollars?"
"But you had been feeding those kittens and their mother for weeks."
"But didn't you ASK for anything?"
"We-ll, I told Nate he might maybe leave one of the kittens, so's I could have a—er—souvenir of the visit, but he wouldn't do it. Said those kittens was rare and—er—precious, or words to that effect. He didn't intend to let another go as cheap as he had that one."
"Oh. . . . I see. I remember now; I heard some one saying something, early in July, about the sign on the Rogers' front fence. 'Rare Cats for Sale' they said it was. I think. Of course, I never thought of THOSE kittens. He must have sold them all, for the sign isn't there now."
Jed whistled a few bars. "I don't hardly think he's sold 'em," he said. "I presume likely he's just gone out of the business."
"I don't see why he shouldn't sell them. Green cats ought to sell quickly enough, I should think. Were they green, honest and truly, Jed?"
Mr. Winslow nodded.
"They were that mornin'," he drawled, solemnly.
"That morning? What do you mean?"
"We-ll, you see, Maud, those kittens were into everything and over everything most of the time. Four of 'em had got in here early afore I came downstairs that day and had been playin' hide and hoot amongst my paint pots. They was green in spots, sure enough, but I had my doubts as to its bein' fast color."
Maud laughed joyfully over the secret of the green pussies.
"I wish I might have seen that woman's face after the colors began to wear off her 'rare' kitten," she said.
Jed smiled slightly. "Nathan saw it," he said. "I understood he had to take back the kitten and give up the seven dollars. He don't hardly speak to me nowadays. Seems to think 'twas my fault. I don't hardly think 'twas, do you?"
Miss Hunniwell's call lasted almost an hour. Besides a general chat concerning Leander Babbit's voluntary enlistment, the subject which all Orham had discussed since the previous afternoon, she had a fresh bit of news. The government had leased a large section of land along the bay at East Harniss, the next village to Orham and seven or eight miles distant, and there was to be a military aviation camp there.
"Oh, it's true!" she declared, emphatically. "Father has known that the Army people have been thinking of it for some time, but it was really decided and the leases signed only last Saturday. They will begin building the barracks and the buildings—the—oh, what do they call those big sheds they keep the aeroplanes in?"
"The hangars," said Winslow, promptly.
"Yes, that's it. They will begin building those right away." She paused and looked at him curiously. "How did you know they called them hangars, Jed?" she asked.
"Eh? . . . Oh, I've read about 'em in the newspapers, that's all. . . . H-u-u-m. . . . So we'll have aeroplanes flyin' around here pretty soon, I suppose. Well, well!"
"Yes. And there'll be lots and lots of the flying men—the what- do-you-call-'ems—aviators, and officers in uniform—and all sorts. What fun! I'm just crazy about uniforms!"
Her eyes snapped. Jed, in his quiet way, seemed excited, too. He was gazing absently out of the window as if he saw, in fancy, a procession of aircraft flying over Orham flats.
"They'll be flyin' up out there," he said, musingly. "And I'll see 'em—I will. Sho!"
Miss Hunniwell regarded him mischievously. "Jed," she asked, "would you like to be an aviator?"
Jed's answer was solemnly given. "I'm afraid I shouldn't be much good at the job," he drawled.
His visitor burst into another laugh. He looked at her over his glasses.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing; I—I was just thinking of you in a uniform, that's all."
Jed smiled his slow, fleeting smile.
"I guess likely I would be pretty funny," he admitted. "Any Germans I met would probably die laughin' and that might help along some."
But after Miss Hunniwell had gone he sat for some minutes gazing out of the window, the wistful, dreamy look on his lean, homely face. Then he sighed, and resumed his painting.
That afternoon, about half past five, he was still at his task when, hearing the doorbell ring, he rose and went into the front shop. To his astonishment the shop was empty. He looked about for the expected customer or caller, whoever he or she might be, and saw no one. He stepped to the window and looked out, but there was no one on the steps or in the yard. He made up his mind that he must have dreamed of the bell-ringing and was turning back to the inner room, when a voice said:
"Please, are you the windmill man?"
Jed started, turned again, and stared about him.
"Please, sir, here I am," said the voice.
Jed, looking down, instead of up or on a level, saw his visitor then. That is, he saw a tumbled shock of curls and a pair of big round eyes looking up at him over a stock of weather vanes.
"Hello!" he exclaimed, in surprise.
The curls and eyes came out from behind the stack of vanes. They were parts of a little girl, and the little girl made him a demure little courtesy.
"How do you do?" she said.
Jed regarded her in silence for a moment. Then, "Why, I'm fair to middlin' smart just at present," he drawled. "How do YOU find yourself to-day?"
The young lady's answer was prompt and to the point. "I'm nicely, thank you," she replied, and added: "I was sick at my stomach yesterday, though."
This bit of personal information being quite unexpected, Mr. Winslow scarcely knew what comment to make in reply to it.
"Sho!" he exclaimed. "Was you, though?"
"Yes. Mamma says she is 'clined to think it was the two whole bananas and the choc'late creams, but I think it was the fried potatoes. I was sick twice—no, three times. Please, I asked you something. Are you the windmill man?"
Jed, by this time very much amused, looked her over once more. She was a pretty little thing, although just at this time it is doubtful if any of her family or those closely associated with her would have admitted it. Her face was not too clean, her frock was soiled and mussed, her curls had been blown into a tangle and there were smooches, Jed guessed them to be blackberry stains, on her hands, around her mouth and even across her small nose. She had a doll, its raiment in about the same condition as her own, tucked under one arm. Hat she had none.