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Kansas Sources : Electronic Books

Short Works, by Marcet & Emanuel Haldeman-Julius

with an introduction by Thomas Fox Averill
and an afterword by Gene DeGruson,
curator of the Haldeman-Julius Collection, Pittsburg State University

collected and reprinted by the Washburn Center for Kansas Studies, 1992

Table of Contents

Introduction by Thomas Fox Averill

THE HALDEMAN-JULIUS SHORT STORIES:
IN, BUT NOT OF, THE SMALL TOWN

    The stories included in this volume give a whimsical, lighthearted look at the small town, mostly through the eyes of characters Robert and Janet Graham. Robert, like Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, is a farmer and writer; Janet, like Marcet Haldeman-Julius, is a bank officer. And Fallon is very much the Girard, Kansas, where the Haldeman-Juliuses lived and worked. This writing couple also collaborated on two novels--Dust (1921) and Violence (1923).
    Not highly dramatic, these are very much "told" stories, reportorial in the same way as William Allen White's volumes of short stories: In Our Town, God's Puppets, Stratagems and Spoils.
    But they are much more irreverent and satirical than White's. They do not see the small town as utopia. Instead, they explore the best and worst of life in the small town. The Haldeman-Juliuses, of course, were writing as two prominent citizens. They were definitely in the town, but they were not also of the town. Their short stories both celebrate and criticize small town life, which puts them in the main stream of small-town literature at the beginning of this century.
    "Caught" most clearly explores both the advantages (security, prominence) and disadvantages (the suffocation of the soul, the death of dreams) of the small town. Gordon Hamilton is a sort of Everyman, the blank slate on which the small town might write: "Here's a young fellow…with splendid health and fairly good looks. No serious vices. Has an enormous capacity for work, but uses up all his energy with facile space-writing, leaving none for the sustained, concentrated effort necessary for creative work. Favorite sport: none. Feels best when doing nothing violent. Indifferent to business, probably because he has not been associated with it. Finds he avoids anything he doesn't understand; typical American in this. Equally indifferent to God. May give Him more thought when older. Not an educated person at all; has no particular reverence for facts. Prefers a good book to anyone's companionship, but usually gets on well with men, and is quite popular with women. Doesn't sound like such a bad inventory; but just the same, his life so far is a failure—financially and artistically."
    Gordon leaves California for "near-visioned, close-fisted Kansas" and becomes a "romanticist in a world of realism." He is immediately financially successful, and the tension between success and stalled artistic creativity becomes central in the story. Soon Gordon is walking around a community he feels very much a part of, thinking it not "such a bad little town, after all." He sees it as "trim," "well-kept," and "neat," the people "sensible and kindly." He concludes: "The whole world couldn't be artists."
    After Gordon settles into the town, his conflict is rekindled by his old friend Oliver, who accuses him of having settled down to "peace, prosperity, and Philistinism." Trying to recapture his old creative dream, Gordon rushes home to write a story. His theme: "A man ever so rich who is ever so poor, bound by the chains of prosperity, while his soul suffocates as surely as those stifled by lack of means." Before his story is written, of course, Gordon decides to get some "real" work out of the way. He rewrites the Itch-O advertising that gave him his financial start in the town. He never does get to his story; his soul is irrevocably suffocated.
    All these Haldeman-Julius stories ask the question of how one can stay in the small town and avoid the suffocated soul. The three p's of Peace, Prosperity, and Philistinism are strong forces, always ready to overpower. Part of their strength comes from the fact that they are exactly why so many people seek out and enjoy small-town life. Nell and Ambrose Fenner in "The Girl in the Snappy Roadster," for example, seem to fear life, to fear their own imaginations. Ambrose is the opposite of what Gordon Hamilton was at the beginning of "Caught," yet the two end up more similar than different: "He was afraid of people, things--life. No one knew it better than Ambrose himself. He nestled into Watsonville and Nell's companionship in much the way that a woodchuck nestles into its winter burrow." The Haldeman-Juliuses reinforce this similarity in a summary of Nell and Ambrose Fenner's life: "There was work to be done and they both liked to work and plan, and build and 'make good.' In their own quiet way, they were both happy, contented and successful." Here, their life is not so different from Gordon Hamilton's.
    And like Gordon Hamilton's, their lives are interrupted by an outsider who exposes them for what they are. Fanny Harris, in a"snappy, sand-colored roadster, black wheels gleaming, polished nickel hound in full leap on its radiator," flashes into town and brings fantasies of travel, money, and extramarital sex. Both Nell and Ambrose experiment, but, in the end, settle back down to the three p's. Their conclusion: "Better less business and less to worry about." That applies to monkey business as well.
    But the Haldeman-Juliuses are not only exposing the three p's, the soul-suffocating security of the small town. They are also exploring solutions in their more positive characters. The story of Bessie Jones, "Comtesse du Jones," shows that with a creative use of the imagination one need not be entirely caught in the small town. When Robert Graham gives Bessie the book that introduces her to the French court, he is initiating her into a whole new world (just as Fannie does for Nell and Ambrose), and it has a positive effect on her: "And through it all, with her own children and other people's, dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, canaries and love birds, the ubiquitous Dutchesse de Grammont, colts and calves, chickens and pigs, perpetually flocking about her, Bessie moved through the long summer, happy because in her heart was now a song, a rainbow, a fairy bubble of illusion. Fact and romance moved in her fructifying soul, side by side, without conflict."
    The story's humor comes from Bessie's increasing inability to balance fact and romance. Romance takes over, and so the Haldeman-Juliuses introduce Peter Breeze, who is all fact and no romance, and who thus has much in common with the other Haldeman-Julius characters who live by the three p's. Bessie's illusions are shattered by the prosaic, but—importantly—she doesn't give up. In a humorous ending, she agrees to embark on another route. She is agreeing to continue letting her imagination creatively take part in her world. And this time she will have more of a chance to maintain her balance. In fact, Bessie will become more like Robert and Janet Graham--a part of the small town, but connected by imagination to the wider world as well. "It's a process," explains Robert, "and we call it--progress."
    This double role plays an important part in the most literal of these stories, "The Unworthy Coopers." Robert's practical joke on Fallon is possible because of his position in town: "He had never ceased to be amused by the harmless foibles of the small town in which he lived. Though on cordial terms with his neighbors, he was always a little aloof, never quite of them." This is what separates Robert Graham, and most likely the Haldeman- Juliuses, from the characters of Gordon Hamilton, Ambrose Fenner, and Peter Breeze. It is also what keeps him on his toes (and the town on its): they are good for one another. "The Unworthy Coopers" shows that every town needs its charity case as well as a Robert Graham to hold it to its charitable responsibilities.
    The most complex of the stories, "Dreams and Compound Interest," clearly shows how the Grahams are at once in the town but not really of the town. Robert is, in the story, like a Gordon Hamilton who has gone ahead to write artistically: "It wasn't as if it were a question of whether or not Robert could write. The utilitarian side to his gift was as clear as lucrative as her own banking methods. Years spent with newspapers and magazines had taught him how to turn out articles that were always in demand at a good figure. But this spark that was 'different,' that experimented--Janet did not want it smothered; she wanted passionately to help kindle it into flame."
    But like Robert and Janet, other people are infused with an ambition that goes beyond the small town and the three p's. Joe Harvey is trying to find "the dual-purpose cow, a Holstein and a Shorthorn in one." Like Robert Graham, he needs financial support to see his dream come true. And, like Robert's, his dream is a long shot. But Joe Harvey is more of the small town. He has debts.
    Though Robert has no more chance of success--perhaps even less, with his intellectualized, somewhat ephemeral play of Machiavelli, Voltaire, and Chesterton--his means are greater. His wife is the banker, who can at once reduce Joe Harvey to a "practical stockman who could be successful, forever pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp; dreaming among cows--a dream that was an ominous crescendo of disappointment." So, Robert's dream will win out. He is not really of the small town. "Dreams and Compound Interest" is the most interesting of the stories because it makes this point at once so coldly and yet ambiguously. The identification of Janet with Joe Harvey's wife, Fannie, and the final unfairness and irony of the story give it a complexity the other stories do not quite attain.
    Still, these stories are an important look at small town Kansas life around the 1920s. They show people variously succeeding and failing in their attempts to live richly in a town too rooted in peace, prosperity, and Philistinism. Like much other literature of the small town, they work by showing characters whose somewhat stale but contented routines are suddenly interrupted by outsiders or by uncommon events. Their reactions to the interruptions, to the chances to change their lives, reveal their character. If they react with imagination, they grow. Like Bessie Jones, they become balancers of reality and romance. If they react with fear, they become trapped, caught like Gordon Hamilton.
    In some way, this must have been the predicament of the Haldeman-Juliuses themselves. Marcet, who grew up in Girard, had also been on the Broadway stage and had been connected to a wider world all through her life. Her aunt was Jane Addams of Hull House, Chicago. Emanuel, who was born in Philadelphia, had grown up in large cities, worked in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles as a writer and had come to Girard to work on the Socialist newspaper, the Appeal to Reason. He was used to an intellectual community. From their own careers as banker/writer and publisher/writer, it is obvious that they continued to grow in the Kansas small town, even to prosper intellectually and creatively. In part, these stories of the perils and rewards of small town life are proof of their success.
--Thomas Fox Averill
Professor of English, Washburn University of Topeka

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Caught

I

    To understand why Gordon Hamilton, half-baked author of still unwritten masterpieces, youngster of twenty-five, who knew a little about everything and a great deal about little--to understand why Gordon decided to shake the stardust from his soul and leave his world of phrases, poems, and pigments for near-visioned, close-fisted Kansas, to be a Pagan in the mazes of Presbyterianism, romanticist in a world of realism, blower of bubbles in a stone quarry--to understand this, one must give heed to Sylvia.
    Sylvia's soft, golden hair was bobbed; her laughter had a merry lilt; the round, childlike, violet eyes were fringed with heavy, curling lashes, and in the soft fabrics dyed by her own rosy fingers into rare, intoxicating colors, she seemed like some dainty creature who had strayed from fairyland. Her brilliant loveliness completely captured the sensitive, beauty-worshipping youth. And when, just as everyone thought he had nearly won her, she suddenly veered to his own chum and shack mate, Oliver Mercer, who dabbled in oils and played the piano. Radnor-by-the-Sea became impossible for Gordon. He felt that he must go away from California, far away from Sylvia and Oliver and from the colony of friends who knew of his bitter disappointment.
    His first thought was of Radnor-by-the-Sea's great-aunt, Greenwich Village; but in Fallon, Kansas, a job was waiting for him on the Middle West's most popular weekly. In fact, between unfinished novels, Gordon had made his living for several years by writing many of this paper's editorials, for which he received five dollars a column (set in eight-point solid, eighteen ems wide), and frequent invitations to come to Fallon for steady work at thirty dollars a week, with--important item--traveling expenses included.
    Radnor-by-the-Sea, with its vaulting ambitions, self-consumed with talk, was caviar and pretzels; the Midland Weekly, with its large circulation and medical ads, was a thick slice of bread and butter.
    Heavy of heart and weary of spirit, Gordon purchased his ticket.
    "But what on earth will you do in Fallon?" demanded Oliver, stirred into making an unwelcome call.
    "Work," Gordon answered stiffly.
    "I certainly can't imagine one doing anything else in Kansas. You know, of course, that a wretch found with a bottle of beer may receive a more severe sentence than that given to the gentleman who kills his neighbor."
    "It'll be the same here soon enough."
    "But Kansas is so prosperous and completely populated by taxpayers and auto owners," Oliver persisted.
    Gordon was in no mood for humor.
    "I hope the environment will be uncongenial," he returned savagely. "Then I'll be driven to finish some of my stories and plays."
    "Don't think it!" warned Oliver soberly. "I was born and raised in one of those small Middle Western towns, and I know them. It'll get you, sure. There's something in their atmosphere that's deadening to certain kinds of impulse. Before you know it, you'll be joining the No-Tobacco League, receiving honors in lodges, going to funerals, and becoming an all-around useful member of society."
    Gordon smiled at the suggested incongruity, but there was no mistaking the real earnestness in Oliver's voice as he added awkwardly: "I know how you feel toward me just now and I can't say much, but you're too big to be lost. Don't do it. I swear to you, you're making the mistake of your life."
    I shan't stay over a year, at most," Gordon assured him, hastily, more moved than he cared to admit by the sincerity of Oliver's protest. "Even a drop of the real thing ought to survive that long."
    "Well, whatever you do," laughed Oliver, "don't take to marching in parades and wearing badges."
    Radnor-by-the-Sea was not more than a day's ride behind him when Sylvia began to seem ever so slightly remote, and Oliver more forgivable than Gordon could have conceived possible a week earlier.
     "Old Man Travel is getting in his licks on Old Man Time," he commented inwardly. "Funny how objectively one can see the whole world and himself through a Pullman window. Here's a young fellow," his thoughts ran on, "with splendid health and fairly good looks. No serious vices. Has an enormous capacity for work, but uses up all his energy with facile space-writing, leaving none for the sustained, concentrated effort necessary for creative work. Favorite sport: none. Feels best when doing nothing violent. Indifferent to business, probably because he has not been associated with it. Finds he avoids anything he doesn't understand; typical American in this. Equally indifferent to God. May give Him more thought when older. Not an educated person at all; has no particular reverence for facts. Prefers a good book to anyone's companionship, but usually gets on well with men, and is quite popular with women. Doesn't sound like such a bad inventory; but just the same, his life so far is a failure--financially and artistically."
    Unconsciously dropping into the first person, he went on with, "Well, what of it? The world needs divine bums. As soon as I get a couple of hundred dollars ahead in Fallon, I'll go straight to Paris, where poverty is beautiful, to my own kind of people: cynical French skeptics; morose, pessimistic Russians; melancholy Rumanians; wine-drinking old priests who live in untidy rooms and know how to laugh; atheists; polite, gorgeously dressed Turks; Chinamen; magnificent failures in art, letters, and love; women who are not too particular; and pickpockets off duty. What difference does it make if I spend my last quarter once a month? But I'll keep a grip on myself and buckle down to real work."
    With this resolve in his heart, Gordon was not disconcerted when, descending from the train, he was obliged to look twice to find in which direction Fallon lay. The little town of thirty-five hundred much preferred to welcome newcomers at about three o'clock of a sunshiny Saturday afternoon. At that hour, with the Square swarming with farmers, a hundred or more rigs tied to the iron rail surrounding the courthouse yard, and all makes of cars parked at the curbing, it seemed to warrant the boosters' proud phrase of "City of the Second Class." On Saturday, too, Rimpkey's redecorated restaurant overflowed; children flocked in and out of the two movie houses; a lively crowd gathered around Tawley-the-real-estate-man's weekly demonstration of the Lally farm lighting system--a good show in itself--and Recker of the Kandy Kitchen was obliged to hire extra help to dish up the ice cream sodas for the countrywomen enjoying their favorite dissipation.
    Decidedly, on Saturday one could not but be impressed with the bustle and activity. But Gordon came on a Tuesday morning, at an early hour, when even Kansas City is quiet. To his unprejudiced eye, Fallon appeared to be three homes, a barn, and a chicken house.
    "Fine," he grunted as he passed Canton's lumberyard. "Just what I wanted--a deserted village. All the more reason why I'll duck out as soon as I get a reasonable reserve."
    To his amusement, it was necessary to ring a gong to waken the owner of the shabby little hotel.

II

    Getting into the swing of his work next morning was a simple matter for Gordon. After a hearty reception by Mr. Rhodes, the publisher, who made no effort to conceal his satisfaction over his arrival, he was given a pleasant corner and told to "go to it."
    By noon he was turning out editorials and articles, thoroughly at home in the two-story, box-like building.
    After dinner, Mr. Rhodes brought to Gordon's desk a short, fat man whom he introduced as Professor Tomlin McPherson, one of the Midland's regular advertisers.
    "I sell a peach of an article," the professor explained, with enthusiasm. "It's called Itch-O and there's no salve can beat it. The fact is"--he dropped his voice confidentially--"it's made from one of my grandmother's recipes. I did humanity a service when I put it on the market. I have testimonials from every state in the Union," he ended, with unmistakable pride.
    "I'll keep Itch-O in mind if I develop symptoms," Gordon promised gravely.
    "Everything in the advertising," declared the professor.
    "Frank Rhodes has told me about you, and I thought you might look over this circular letter I've written. It ain't up to snuff when it comes to grammar. If you'll put it in good shape, I'll pay you five beans."
    Gordon took the much-edited sheet, and, as he read, discovered possibilities of many times five dollars.
    "Is this all you send to a person who inquires about Itch- O?" he demanded. "My dear sir, I'm afraid you don't understand the advertising game."
    "What d'ye mean?" questioned the Professor. "My stuff pulls fine, once I get it fixed up."
    Gordon's answer was a wise, incredulous smile.
    "I've increased my business by half in three years," insisted the professor.
    "Which only proves what you could have done," returned Gordon. "You don't seem to realize," he continued, "that when one has an ailment, he is intensely interested in it. He is ready to read a library about it. He wants to know the cause of it, its nature, and its characteristics. This circular takes it for granted that the inquirer merely wants Itch-O. He wants more. He wants information."
    "Say," exclaimed the professor, impressed, "I believe you've got the right dope. Can you turn it out?"
    "Yes, I can let you have a well written dissertation that will cover thirty-two pages in agate."
    "I'll give you a hundred dollars for it."
    "Make it two and it'll be in your hands tonight."
    "All right," agreed the professor, heavily. "It's a bargain."
    Gordon accepted the assignment and went to the Britannica from which he emerged, saturated with scientific lore. Never had Itch-O's praises been sung so well, never had its virtues been described so rapturously. The phrases of eulogy galloped from his Underwood. Itch-O became literature.
    The professor was delighted, and that very evening, as he wrote the promised check, he added that he would appreciate more such suggestions and work.
    On his way to a night lunch counter for a belated meal, Gordon remembered nervously that he had covenanted with himself to stay merely long enough to save a couple hundred dollars for the great journey. But how could he have dreamed that the entire fortune would be acquired the first day? Really, in all decency, he owed it to Mr. Rhodes to remain at least a few weeks. He would leave, of course, and that shortly, but there was no reason why he should break his streak of luck when it had only begun. Never before had he earned so much at one time.
    The next day, taking the advice of Mr. Rhodes, he dropped into the First State Bank to deposit his check. Mrs. Graham, the friendly little vice-president, waited on him and introduced him to the president, James Osborne, who had already heard of him.
    "You'll get good service here," said the gruff, dignified man. "Fallon is always glad to welcome hustling young folks."
    It was a new experience for Gordon to receive such cordiality from a bank president. The thrill was indescribable.
    When he strolled about after supper, he noticed the trim post office with its well kept lawn, the imposing high school building, and the neat churches. It wasn't such a bad little town, after all, he reflected. To be sure, the general impression was that of unutterable commonplaceness, and there was a pitiful lack of understanding of beauty, either of line or of color. The most pretentious house was, architecturally, quite the most terrible. But the people seemed unusually sensible and kindly. The whole world couldn't be artists.
    "It's that money-in-the-bank feeling working," he murmured in droll dismay. "Wouldn't Oliver be triumphant if he knew I was actually beginning to apologize for Fallon."
    His meditations were interrupted by a tall, spare man and the professor, who explained, with an air of proud proprietorship,"This is the young chap I was telling you about. Mr. Hamilton, meet Mr. Burns, the next state senator from this district."
    Ten minutes later, Gordon was richer by fifty dollars. Mr. Burns was, indeed, running for office, and it was Gordon's new job to pen his advertisements, his letters of acceptance, his statements to the county press, and other literature intended to turn an apparently honest man into a senator.
    At the end of the tenth perfect day, Gordon, smiling to himself, checked over his accounts. He realized that he had a corner on writing in Fallon and felt an amused worry over the monster of the income tax which, at this rate, would soon menace him. Immediately he decided to conceal the visitations of Madam Money. Certainly, he would not leave, for the present. He would stay in Fallon until he had cleaned up a couple of thousand. Paris could wait a few months. Paris, like Radnor-by-the-Sea, began to seem remote.
    As the new consciousness of his own market value began to sink deeper, his courage and initiative grew. Before many weeks had passed, he decided to enlarge his scale of activities. Going into Mr. Rhodes's office, he announced suddenly that he intended to resign.
    The publisher was more than surprised. As Gordon had expected, he was worried.
    "Why, my dear fellow, you are scarcely settled down," he temporized.
    "I've been here long enough to know it's no place for me," Gordon answered firmly.
    "May I ask why?"
    "It's simply this, Mr. Rhodes: you brought me here at a measly thirty-dollar salary and you've loaded me with the work of two men. If I'm to do two men's work, I must have two men's pay."
    "It's true you have made yourself worth more to me than thirty a week," Mr. Rhodes admitted graciously. "I don't mind telling you that I am considering giving you a raise."
    "Then, now is the time," returned Gordon. "It isn't only the money I'm concerned over," he continued sharply. "I don't like the way a lot of things are handled in this office. The paper has a large circulation, but it could have twice as many subscribers if it had more pep and we employed more efficient methods. If I'm to stay, I'll have to be given more authority. I must be managing editor, with a salary of seventy-five a week and the understanding that, as soon as I put on a hundred thousand more readers, that amount will be doubled."
    There was a long discussion. Mr. Rhodes was not the sort of man to be easily bullied, but he had become convinced of Gordon's unusual abilities. The Midland had, for the past year, been losing ground, and he had learned from bitter experience that Fallon was not an alluring point for brilliant young men. The matter ended with Gordon issuing forth a full-fledged managing editor at the demanded salary. The inspired gambler had placed everything on a small pair and had come off victorious.

III

    Before the year passed, he played for even greater stakes, risking all his chips in the supreme hazard of matrimony, and, true to his streak, won, not only genuine happiness, but greater prosperity. It was Mr. Rhodes who was first impressed with the desirability of marriage for Gordon. For, after the momentous interview which more than doubled the young man's salary, he threw up his hands and muttered words to the effect that one could never be sure of single men. If only this positive minded person were married--with, perchance, a family--ah, then he, Frank Rhodes, could use very different tactics. At which point he made a quick census of the town and instantly thought of Ruth Sterling.
    If Ruth could be interested! All Fallon stood a little in awe of her. She had been reared so differently from the rest of the small-towners. She had come to her parents late in their lives, and, her mother dying while she was a baby, her father had brought her up himself. She had been sent to a convent school, then to Paris, and had flitted back and forth with him between the little town and the East until his death, when she was eighteen. People had wondered what she would "do"; but, alone as she was, she had clung passionately to the place where her father had spent his life; and during the two years that had passed she had learned, under Janet Graham's wise guidance, to enjoy managing the conservative investments left to her. These were all in Kansas, and Mr. Rhodes shrewdly guessed that it would be no easy task to persuade her to leave Fallon.
    Gordon was drawn to her the first time they met. He liked the sweet tranquillity of her fresh, young face, the well-groomed, carefully netted dark hair, her trim figure, perfect poise, and unmistakable good breeding. Mr. Rhodes and his wife had invited them for a Sunday afternoon auto trip, and during the whole ride Gordon and Ruth talked together in the tonneau. It seemed to them scarcely less than a miracle that they had read the same books, liked the same plays, had so many valuations in common, could laugh with the same tender amusement at Fallon's institutions, and sigh the same sigh for interesting places and people.
    Gordon told her of the changes he had already effected in the Midland Weekly, of his big plans for its future, of his need for utterance, and even outlined in detail some of his unfinished writings. As Ruth listened intently, she became more and more aware of the dynamic possibilities of this dark, charming youth, more and more intrigued by his winning personality, so baffling in its mixture of commercial practicality and inspired idealism. Never, it seemed to Gordon, had he known anyone with such understanding. He felt doubly sure of himself, baptized with a reborn confidence in his artistic future. By the time they reached home, their friendship was established.
    Marriage, after a few months of companionship, was the logical, natural step for both. Gordon's yearning for sparkling, restless little Sylvia had been a disturbing, disintegrating force.
    In his love for Ruth was a rare quality of trust and comradeship. How he adored the hominess of her! He knew instinctively that children would bring to her the same deep joy which he realized with a new thrill would be his if he were to be a father. Together, he felt, they would find life a long adventure, always rich in new emotions, new thoughts, and new experiences. Each day would be full of growth and achievement. It was all so simple, too, for Ruth still lived in the old family homestead. There was no initial outlay necessary, no assuming of serious responsibilities. It seemed a part of Gordon's streak to marry thus.
    This faculty of being successful continued to develop with Midas-like rapidity. Literally, whatever he touched turned into dollars. It became an accepted conclusion in Fallon that anything he might do would be profitable. He traded some unimproved land for a modern, well-equipped farm, which he ran on shares, going in for thoroughbred Poland Chinas. Through his skillful advertising, the Hamilton Hog Sales became famous in three states and brought prices that made Fallon gasp. He organized a cooperative elevator with the farmers' money and his own luck. It was a go from the start. At his direction, Itch-O's capitalization was increased by two hundred per cent, the stock was sold, a liberal block transferred as commission to himself, and the entire business put completely under his capable management. From the day he leased the Midland Weekly, its profits steadily increased.
    He was the most listened-to man at the town's Commercial Club. His say-so was final, because his promises were golden and certain to actualize. The County Fair Association, which he started, and to which he sold some of his wife's land for the ground, drew thirty thousand people the first season, and Gordon rightly was given the credit. He was looked up to as a pillar of boost, a man who was putting Fallon on the map, a genius at organization.
    He raised ten thousand dollars and placed a corporation in control of the town's best drug store, with himself as president.
    It occurred to him that Fallon's volume of trade would grow immeasurably if it were more available by car line to the miners of the nearby camps; and, getting together sixty-five thousand dollars of the necessary funds in the county, he secured the balance in Kansas City. He was elected president of the new road. As one out of every six persons in the surrounding country owned a car, he decided that it would be an excellent thing to give the town a twenty-five thousand dollar garage, properly incorporated, with a vague system of profit rebates to the stockholders, of whom there were many. Again he was elected president. He went into coal mining and helped to open up the yet unexploited local oil fields, and every venture with which he was connected was a success. Always serene, always at leisure, always ready to organize any enterprise and assume its presidency, his word, spoken with delightful courtesy, was law. In less than seven years, he was the wealthiest man in the county. Southeastern Kansas had never known anyone like Gordon Hamilton. He was something new.
    He had long since observed that, while for a few the church was a sincere expression of their religious faith, for the majority of the people of Fallon it was more in the nature of a club, and one of the obvious stepping-stones toward dignity and prominence. Without hypocrisy, professing nothing, he began to attend Presbyterian services and functions with consistent regularity. When a vacancy occurred on the Board of Trustees, he was unanimously elected to fill it. Followed thereupon the swift placing of the church on a sound business basis and the remodeling of the nondescript building into a stately gothic edifice. It was not large, but in drab little Fallon it stood, with its pure lines and glowing windows, challenging in its beauty, a pearl set in lead. As Gordon sat, on Sundays, in the family pew, with Ruth and their children, he knew that all the town thought him a paragon of respectability; and, although he could not explain why, he felt that he thoroughly deserved this reputation--that, at bottom, he always had been solid.
    Ruth was quietly proud of him, and their emotional life flowed smoothly, but she was often deeply troubled because of the scarcity of money. They were worth many times what she had been when they were married, but there was always a flock of outstanding notes which, with their interest, had to be met. It was Gordon's method. If he wished to invest in a project, he borrowed, sometimes using Ruth's splendid securities as collateral. The debt paid, it meant that they had accumulated just that much more principal. This knowledge recompensed Gordon for all the necessary sacrifices and economies. There came a day, however, when Ruth rebelled.
    "Why do you want to go into any more things?" she asked him desperately, when he brought her a note to sign with him for ten thousand dollars, that they might purchase an interest in a steam coal shovel company.
    "For the fun of making more and the satisfaction of having it, dear heart," was the prompt answer.
    "Do you know, Gordon," she asked slowly, her gray eyes strangely calm, "do you know that in order to make life livable and happy for us all, I have been obliged to borrow at the First State Bank for the last two years?"
    "What?" Gordon was genuinely shocked.
    "I owe a thousand dollars there."
    "A thousand dollars!" echoed Gordon. "This is terrible."
    "I used to think so," Ruth smiled bravely, "until Janet Graham made me see that it was merely absurd. She says there are half a dozen other women--wives of progressive Fallon men--doing the same ridiculous thing for lack of proper spunk."
    "But I don't understand," groped Gordon in real perplexity. "What have you borrowed it for?"
    "Mostly for little things, dear; for the extras--the things that take the edges off everyday living and put charm and distinction into it; for household necessities; for the new sheets and counterpanes when you insisted we wait another year--thought you would buy the eighty acres that joined the farm; for the kitchen stove when you thought we should get along with the old one which was wearing out Sally's nerves; for the new lawn mower; for the extra wages I pay--one couldn't keep a superior maid for what you stipulate, Gordon; for the new privet hedge-- it cost twice what you think--and the lovely climbing roses; for little charities; for gifts from the children and myself at the graceful moment. It's a long list. Shall I go on?"
    "But why didn't you tell me?"
    "I did, dear, each time," Ruth answered quietly. "And each time you were so final, you delivered such an ultimatum, that I couldn't bear to argue with you. I feel as you do about people who wrangle. Perhaps it wasn't quite frank, but, you see, I could usually understand that you honestly--often just because you were a man--couldn't comprehend the reasonableness of what I asked. If we had been seriously involved, I shouldn't have let a penny slip, but it suddenly dawned on me that there was absolutely no need for this petty scrimping and saving.
    "Why, Gordon," she hurried on, "Father and I used to take wonderful trips, we collected rare books, I bought the smartest of clothes, and yet there was always plenty. Now we can't afford a single luxury. We've never been away together since we were married--I haven't been East for five years, and I dress like a frump."
    "Ruth, what nonsense!" Gordon interrupted brusquely. "You
know you get your frocks in Kansas City and always look remarkably well."
    "I pass, but that's all," she corrected. "And I shouldn't do that if I didn't get what I felt I must from the bank. Oh, my dear," she pleaded, "do see the humorous side of it! It isn't as if you were naturally stingy, and I shouldn't care if there were any use in it; but we have enough--so much more than enough. Yet here we are, so strapped that I must borrow for what I consider essentials. Actually, Gordon, it seems more of a problem when I want a new hat than when we need a new silo."
    Gordon came over to her and put his arms round her tenderly.
    "I see your point, dear heart. You make me feel like a brute, but you know I've never gone into anything to which you haven't agreed. As soon as we swing this steam shovel deal we will stop. It shall be the end. I will give myself to writing. You know that is what I have always planned."
    "You must square up at the bank, first," persisted Ruth.
    "Renew the note."
    "No. Janet doesn't want me to." "Do you mean to say she won't?" Gordon demanded,
incredulously.
    "She didn't say she wouldn't, and she made it very clear they would lend us any amount we wanted; but you know she's been like an elder sister to me, and she made me feel that I was being awfully foolish in not having a talk with you and putting a stop to this way of doing. I am going to pay it, Gordon. I shall sell one of my mortgages."
    "Cash in capital? I won't consent to it."
    "I can't see what's to be gained by paying interest when I have the money."
    "But, my dear child, then the capital will be gone. Renew the note, and the next dividend from the Midland shall go toward it."
    "No," Ruth resisted with gentle stubbornness. "I need that to take the children East to the Montessori school, so they can have a month of it and I can get a better idea of the method."
    "Ruth, we simply cannot afford that this year," Gordon was earnest. "You've been such a splendid pal--we've made so much together. I've always felt you were with me. I can't understand what's come over you."
    "I've told you, dear. I've recovered my sense of proportion and I mean to keep it. I won't be poor any longer, merely to make more when we have enough now to live beautifully. There's neither rhyme nor reason in it. It's changing you, too, Gordon."
    "I guess I have changed," he laughed easily. "I was a queer dub lolling around waiting for something real to show up. I remember I wanted a couple of hundred dollars for Paris--to be a boulevardier--to meet strange failures. But, instead, I became a success. Are you sorry?"
    "Not if you are sure you aren't," Ruth answered soberly.
    Then, after a moment, she added very low, "Only sometimes--forgive me if I hurt you, darling--I'm afraid you will feel, too late, that your life has been a failure."

IV

    It was so unlike Ruth to be anything but sympathetic that her words left a profound impression. After supper, as he listened to her moving about, putting the little folks to bed, he went over their conversation. Was he, after all, a fool to have left the adventures of the soul for the game of piling dollar on dollar for the sheer sport of piling? Made restless by his thoughts, he put on his hat for a walk downtown. As he strolled, he became more serious. Was it true, he asked himself, that he was being caught in the meshes of his own success? Was it really a misfortune that his luck had been so unfailing? And had it been luck, or ability? A toss-up, he concluded.
    "Surely," he argued, "a man ought to be able to establish two distinct selves--one, the money-maker for so many hours a day; the other, a dweller in the halls of art. I must take time to write. But isn't it rather inane to say everlastingly, 'I must write,' as though the world needed more books. Rather childish that."
    At least, he decided, he could start off with one story--a story of his own soul on its pilgrimage to Parnassus, halting a moment in the temple of the money-changers and remaining there.
    "That ought to make a good theme," he murmured. "A man ever so rich who is ever so poor, bound by the chains of poverty, while his soul suffocates as surely as those stifled by lack of means."
    But wasn't it possible, he wondered, to have just enough property to ensure comfort, and just enough soul to enjoy it to the full? That was what Ruth wanted. She was right, too; but hang it all, he had the habit of seeing opportunities. He hadn't even tapped the ones offered in this little town. And what a future he could give his children!
    Suppose he had written a novel--half a dozen? Would it really have counted for more in the world than what he had actually accomplished? Would he have created any more, truly? The Midland Weekly's circulation was doubled. Itch-O was a useful and favorite national commodity.
    Hundreds of grateful letters poured into his office every day. Ruth was still in love with him. He cherished her and their two sturdy boys and beautiful baby daughter. The town and county looked up to him. What if he had never had all this joy, success, and power? But he did have them and now he would not, could not, be without them. His old world--Silvia, Radnor-by-the-Sea with its temperament and poverty, New York, Paris--was not even in his mind. Then why this pricking of conscience, this conviction that, in spite of his logic, he had allowed himself and his standards to be subtly, irrevocably cheapened?
    His eye was attracted by the glaring red of a poster in front of the town's best movie house, and he stopped to look. It was a picturization of Pierrot and the Moon Maiden. But before he could examine the lithograph with any care, he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard an excited voice exclaim, "If it isn't Gordon! Gordon Hamilton, the long-lost, the plutocratic, small-town Croesus!"
    "Oliver!" returned Gordon, "Radnor-by-the-Sea's old thumper of the Steinway! What are you doing here in Fallon, Kansas?"
    "On a mission of art and beauty--see there," Oliver indicated the poster. "It cannot be shown to jazz; it needs the interpretative music which I have composed myself."
    "Do you track a picture and play the piano in movie houses
like this?"     "Preaching the doctrine of the sublime."
    Gordon laughed lightly at the intended exaggeration.
    "But seriously," Oliver continued, "the work does need ambassadors of the muse--"
    "Pioneers of aestheticism, torchbearers of the overman, advance agents of the supersoul and--"
    "Stop!" commanded Oliver.
    "And Sylvia--she is here with you spreading the gospel of beauty?"
    "Oh, Sylvia!" Oliver shrugged his shoulders in an expressive gesture. "She is out of my life. You escaped because you could not win her; I escaped because I did."
    Gordon shuddered as he reflected on Oliver's fleeing to this solid goal, banging out incidental melodies to a five-reel film. And yet, was it so different from his own effort to earn a couple of hundred for possibly a futile journey to Paris?
    "I've heard about you, Gordon," said Oliver. "How you married and settled down to peace, prosperity, and Philistinism as, you may happen to remember, I once prophesied you would."
    "I'm not peaceful, though I am prosperous, and, I suppose, a thoroughgoing Philistine."
    "You, with your long drawn out theories of literary expression, with your everlasting talk about what you were to write, with your real gift--you in this little town, just making money. It's a shame."
    "Oh, I know," fenced Gordon. "I'm still young enough, and only this evening I outlined a story which I shall work on tonight."
    "You won't write it," declared Oliver flatly. "I can see that."
    "You think I am quite hopeless?"
    "Absolutely. One must be ready to make great sacrifices. Take myself. I might be a money-maker, too, but see what I do. I get only my expenses and twenty-five dollars a week, but I am happy, because every evening and sometimes twice a day I give this little gem of fantasy a background of music."
    "You really are happy?"
    "I am that. Next season I am to go out with A Midsummer Night's Dream. Only an artist can comprehend the joy I have in creating my own compositions. I could draw on a rich repertoire, but I prefer to dip into my own well."
    Gordon noticed the burning, farseeing eyes, the pale skin, the deep lines from nostrils to the sensitive mouth, the nervous movements of the thin lips. And his clothes--how cheap!
    "If this is happiness," thought Gordon, as both entered the crude little house for the first show, "thank Heaven, I am not of it!"
    Oliver went to the piano with the air of a Carnegie Hall soloist. Gordon wondered whether this might be because of a lack of humor or of an over-abundance of it. Or was the man able to persuade himself that he was before a great audience thirsting for his art? His gestures were most profound. The piano, alas! was no instrument for this throbbing soul. Gordon saw very little of the picture, though what he watched was exquisite. The musician held him. Oliver had spoken the truth. It was plain that, as he played, he was lifted up into a world of poetry and ecstasy. Sincerity and happiness shone from his face. He did not seem to realize, as did Gordon, that he was pouring his music into stone ears. None of his efforts would make the slightest elevation of tone in Fallon. A thousand such ambassadors would leave it untouched.
    During the wait between the first and second shows, Oliver seated himself by Gordon, who could not help hearing the little rustlings and whisperings as the townsfolk noticed their financier associating with this odd, minstrel-like stranger. It irritated Gordon to find that he felt conspicuous and uncomfortable.
    "You did well," he said kindly.
    Oliver ate up this thin slice of praise. "It's nothing compared to the things I am doing for A Midsummer Night's Dream. I've been thinking," he went on impetuously, "that since you are so well off, you might do something for a poor artist. You cannot help yourself, why not help me?"
    "How?"
    "By lending me enough to lease outright one set of reels. I'll pay you back someday, if I can; and if I can't you will, at least, have rendered some service to art."
    "How much will you want?"
    "I don't know. I'll write you. I may need five or six hundred, and I may need more. It ought to be a good investment. Instead of getting only twenty-five a week, I'll often clear twenty-five a night when I play to my own show."
    "You have the right idea--"
    "I know so many movie owners; I can arrange more dates than I can handle."
    "I'll do it," promised Gordon grimly, "not to help art, but to show you what I have been up against. You will make money, and, being cautious, you will save. You will lease a few more pictures, square yourself up with me, and go into the business on a larger scale. You will understand what has kept me from writing. You will become too occupied to compose."
    "No danger of that," laughed Oliver confidently. "You will really help me? I hate to ask it of you, but--you understand."
    "I understand you better than you think. I am going to undo this sordid little world of yours and send you on the road to peace, prosperity, and Philistinism. My dear fellow, you are soon to realize that this art for art's sake--this will to suffer, this sacrifice--is all bluff, except in youth--a pose! You may think you look down on me as a defaulter, but you envy me my success."
    "Not at the price you've paid for it."
    "Wait and see," was Gordon's cryptic answer.

V

    As he made his way home late that evening, after saying good-bye to his old friend, his mind was full. He was sure Oliver's was no standard, and yet he could not deny that at one time it had been his own.
    "I must merely make a slight change in my life," he told himself. "I must buy and sell, handle my business transactions, edit the Weekly, and boost Itch-O; but I must remember, as Ruth does, that these things are a means, not an end. I'll put all these thoughts and emotions into a story, and if, when it's finished, it's no good, I'll be able to live my regular life without further qualms."
    Athrob with this urge for expression, his imagination began to picture situations and characters, and he was already making mental notes of sentences, when he was stopped by the professor, now only a minority stockholder and assistant manager in the temple that issued such enormous quantities of salves for the anointing of the trusting.
    "I say, Mr. Hamilton; just a minute."
    Gordon paused, impatient.
    "You know we haven't had a new piece of literature in a dog's age."
    "Well, what of it?" Gordon asked sharply. "The receipts seem to be coming in right along."
    "Just the same we ought to get out something new and classy--something catchy."
    "Get it done. For heaven's sake, are you helpless? Must I write every word?"
    "There's no one can do it as well."
    "Perfect nonsense! We'll have to employ some live wire who can attend to the detail work. I'm getting sick and tired of it. I must have time to live, to think, to create."
    This was a new Gordon. Confused, the professor found an excuse to go.
    "Always Itch-O, Itch-O," thought Gordon disgustedly. "It's high time I came to myself."
    He reached home a few minutes later and hurried to the library. There he found Ruth lying on the couch reading.
    "Hello, dear," she smiled pleasantly, noting the look of suppressed excitement in his eyes. "What have you been made president of tonight?"
    "President of my own soul. I've come home to work."
    "A set of bylaws for a new corporation?"
    "No. I've had enough of this endless money grubbing."
    Ruth's eyebrows arched slightly, but her tone was warm as she exclaimed, "You don't mean--?"
    "That I've come home full of inspiration. I'm going to work on a story."
    She rose quickly. "The library is yours, old dear. I'll make some coffee."
    Alone, Gordon sat down before his Corona and typed, "The Seeker." Then he thought hard. He wrote a while hurriedly, tore out the sheet. Before he adjusted another, he recalled his recent meeting with the professor and cussed him roundly. In his own journey to Parnassus, this fat little man had stopped him with a fat little temptation, and since then he had been bowing before the god of Itch-O.
    He searched for his pipe and lost himself in a whirlwind of chaotic reflections. One thought, however, dominated--that of the necessity for a new booklet--a clever one. Oh, the professor's evil spirit! How it persisted!
    "I know why I can't write tonight," Gordon grumbled. "It's this wretched pamphlet. It has to be done. When I get it out of the way, I'll be free to go ahead with a clear mind."
    From then on, the typewriter clicked without a halt. Again did the praises of Itch-O rise in symphonic volume, with the glorious climax that "the trial treatment is free."
    When, hours later, Ruth, heeding a sudden silence, came in with a dainty tray, Gordon lay back in his chair, exhausted. A lump swelled in his throat as his tired mind admitted that once more he had been caught.
    "You've been working hard," Ruth said tenderly. "You look worn out. Will you show me what have you written?"
    Embarrassed, he turned down the pages.
    "I wasn't in the mood, precious, I--"
    "But what have you been doing?"
    "Nothing, nothing; just a little matter that's been hanging over me. I'll tackle the story tomorrow evening. Well, shall we get to sleep?"

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Dreams and Compound Interest

I

    The Square was all but deserted. Even the time-worn courthouse, centered among weeds and scrawny catalpas seemed dozing, and the little county seat's one stone-fronted building, the First State Bank, with blinds drawn, appeared to have shut its eyes wearily after one more fussy day in heavy harness.
    Inside, Bob, the youthful teller, was clacking away at the Burroughs, jerking his skinny, stringy neck each time he yanked the handle. The cashier mumbled solemnly as he stacked the twenties in five-hundred dollar piles. James Osborne, the president—bag-eyed, with a stern, inexorable face, a rock-ribbed jaw, and heavy figure—sat writing letters. And at her desk near his, Janet Graham, the girlish vice-president, was going over belligerent-looking mortgages.
    Her mind was far from southeastern Kansas. Mechanically, she would note the dates on the interest coupons, and then, after jotting down a memorandum, she would stop and think a moment of her husband, Robert. His letter, which had come from New York on the noon train, was on her mind and in her heart. She slipped it out of its envelope and read it again. It told her that the managers could not even consider his play. It was too highbrow. That sort of thing would not go. "And probably they are right," he added.
    "You know, dear," he wrote candidly, "it takes only a few days' peddling to transform a philosophical comedy into a tragedy. They were nice to me. I didn't expect so much attention. I should not have been surprised at complete indifference, if not rebuffs. Instead, I was taken out to dine by three potentates, and on each occasion told how utterly absurd I was to put my energy into this style of work. And I guess it's the truth, sweetheart."
    Intuition as well as judgment whispered to Janet that in Robert's very absurdities lay his power. Any number of clever men could manufacture the popular current play and straightforward, interesting story. But to write sparkling moonshine that left the bemused reader uncomfortably conscious that, while apparently talking in the absurdest fashion, the author had somehow given a penetrating criticism of life--this was left for the few who, when their genius had ripened, wrote for all time.
    That The Miracle Man had a touch of this quality, Janet was as positive as Robert was doubtful. He had brought it to her, saying in his gentle naive way, "Of course, Janet, no civilized human being should write a play with such persons as these in it. I'm afraid the very characters are enough to queer its chances."
    In a modern setting, this droll comedy presented a group of rare spirits in commonplace, sordid environments. Voltaire had become a fishmonger; Chesterton, a plumber; Shaw, a "gimme-the-rent" Irish landlord; Shakespeare, a successful movie owner; Poe, an undertaker; Dante, an Italian ice cream vendor; Beethoven, a pianist in a Fourteenth Street theatre orchestra; Juliet, a worker in a box factory, and Hamlet, alas, not Romeo,--her dopey husband.
    There were others, all similarly situated. Their immediate lives were materialistic, but the artist in them strove for their pasts. In Hamlet's one-room domicile, this extraordinary company gathered to plot an escape from the actual and regain their former glories; but, each innately hostile to the others, their plans collapsed in utter disappointment. Their effort to organize genius was as futile as an attempt to persuade an eagle, an angel, a demon, and a fish to pull together for one purpose. The play presupposed a degree of culture. Otherwise the delicate nuances of irony were lost. If it was talky in places, it was scintillating talk. It was actable in the right atmosphere. But Janet, always just, had to admit that she could not wholly blame the commercial managers.
    "I gave them up," wrote Robert, "and went down to Washington Square, where I met several young men and women who are interested in a little theatre. I found them receptive, even cordial. They probably thought the play just freakish enough to command attention. There won't be a chance this spring, but they will try it out early next fall if--notice the if--if I put up twenty-five hundred dollars to guarantee them against loss. If it is less, they agree to rebate the difference, though between ourselves I rather question the value of their promises. It seems to be quite taken for granted there will be some loss. They summer at Provincetown, and I can go up with them to work on the scenery and costumes. The play will be presented at least six times, which is fair. I have also been to see the publisher of whom I spoke in my last letter. He will publish the play if it is produced on the stage, if--another if--if we guarantee five hundred in case the first edition of a thousand falls flat. I know how you feel, darling, but I am strongly convinced that I should go home and forget about it. I have had lots of fun writing this thing. Why go further? Think it over carefully, Janet!"
    Practical judgment told her to call it off, but Robert's dreams were hers. She wanted him to have a fair chance. Three thousand dollars was a lot of money, but who would have known Thomas Hardy if he hadn't financed his first novel? Suppose many of the initial thousand of the published play should be left? Weren't the remainders of others' early editions cherished now by the discriminating world? It wasn't as if it were a question whether or not Robert could write. The utilitarian side to his gift was clear and as lucrative as her own banking methods. Years spent with newspapers and magazines had taught him how to turn out articles that were always in demand at a good figure. But this spark that was "different," that experimented--Janet did not want it smothered; she wanted, passionately, to help kindle it into flame.

II

    When they were married, three years before, many papers carried items about them. She was, they said, precisely the sort of young woman that alarmists of not so very long ago were lifting their voice against in warning. She had not been long out of college when the death of the head of her family called her to take that place and make its third generation of country bankers. She had accepted cheerfully what seemed to her a clear duty to "carry on," and had settled down in her little native town. It had never occurred to her, once Robert had found he could continue his work from there, that she should not combine a business and domestic life, and systematizing her day, she took as much pride in her cozy home as in the dividends the bank declared.
    Blessed with a happy, enthusiastic temperament, she gave an impression of buoyant youth that made her seem much less than her thirty years; her compact little figure radiated charm and vitality, and sunny chestnut hair curled about a merry, piquant face, lighted by warm, friendly, brown eyes that registered infinite shades of feeling. Often carefree as a child's, sometimes they were luminous with wisdom.
    As she returned to the Harvey mortgage, which she had deserted for Robert's letter, she frowned her dissatisfaction. Here was a man who should not be in arrears, a farmer who could make money. Where others less able than he were meeting their obligations promptly, Harvey was lagging behind, letting interest grow into the dread monster of compound interest. The conviction grew in Janet's mind, that if Robert were to have the means to bring his play before the public, Harvey would be one of the men who would have to pay up.
    "Jim," she called suddenly to Osborne, "this second coupon of the Harveys fell due several weeks ago. That makes them two years back in their interest. It totals around seven hundred dollars. Don't you think we should have Joe and his wife secure it by a chattel mortgage on their growing crops?"
    James Osborne was of the old school. He had been cashier under Janet's father, and had taught her practically all she knew of the business. He seemed uncompromisingly stern, but she had found that under a gruff exterior beat one of the kindest of hearts. Both Osborne and Janet, like many country bankers, applied themselves to farmers' problems. They knew when to be easy and when to tighten the reins. And as the Grahams and Osborne owned two-thirds of the stock, what they decided was law. When Osborne was sometimes too conservative, a trifle old-fogy, perhaps, Janet might have been too venturesome. Together they struck a balance, one that encouraged healthy dividends twice a year.
    "Yes," agreed Osborne, grimly, "we'll have to do something all right. Joe is on one of his buying tears right now. Just look at this." And he handed Janet a check.
    "On us for four hundred dollars!" she exclaimed and, seeing some penciling in the lower left-hand corner, read: "Part payment on Buckeye McKinley Segis."
    "Can you beat it? He is overdrawn now."
    Janet's lips set closely. Robert's dreams would never become tangible realities if a few more Harveys were to nest under the shelter of the First State Bank.
    "It came through Kansas City this morning," observed Osborne.
    "I see it is a sight draft dated from Illinois. He is probably at some stock show. Jim, what do you think of that man?"
    "Well, it's hard telling," replied Osborne. "He's a sort of genius, he is. But his dreams are big for his pocketbook, so he lets them lop over into other people's. He used to do first-rate until he got this high grade stock craze and took the notion that he was appointed by the gods to develop the dual-purpose breed of cattle. We've lent him money off and on for the last fifteen years.
    There was a time when all he had to do was ask for it; but somehow he seems to be going down hill lately. You know how things stand as well as I do. We've got to put our foot down and put it down hard."
    "He always seems so superior to his wife," mused Janet.
    "But I suppose," she added shrewdly, "that is because he gets out so much and mingles with stimulating people, while she is so tied at home. She and the two older boys about run the dairy. I notice one of the daughters helps deliver the milk."
    A vigorous rattling at the door interrupted them. As the teller opened it, Janet saw a large, stolid woman, in a straight, rusty coat that concealed any possible grace. Held tightly was a huge armful of baby, and clinging to her skirts was a bewitching- faced little butterfly of a girl.
    "How do you do, Mrs. Harvey?" said the young man, easily.
    "Just fine, Bob," returned the woman in a deep, pleasant voice. "Is Mrs. Graham in?"
    "Come back here, Fanny," invited Janet, rising and going to open the door to a semiprivate office. "Do sit down and unwrap the baby. How old is he now?" she asked, watching Mrs. Harvey divest the infant of the heavy outer blanket.
    "Four months. But it ain't a boy. It's a girl."
    "Oh, so she is," returned Janet placidly. Long ago she had learned when in doubt to take it for granted that every child was a future president. "What a darling! And you call her--?"
    "Pearl."
    "Of course," thought Janet. "Pearl or Pansy. The more prosaic the mother, the more poetic the name."
    "This here one's Marie," continued Mrs. Harvey. "She'll be two in May."
    "My baby will be one in May!" exclaimed Janet. "So this is what she will be like in a year from now. It doesn't seem possible they can grow so rapidly." With tender curiosity she looked at the little girl, whose appealing violet eyes, chiseled features, and exquisite body made Janet wonder profoundly how Fanny Harvey could have produced such a lovely creature. "She is adorable," she enthused sincerely, and went briskly to get some paper and a pencil for Marie to play with while she and Mrs. Harvey talked.
    "Give me Pearl," she suggested, "while you take off your coat and Marie's. It's so warm in here I'm afraid you may catch cold when you go out. These spring days are very deceptive. I'm going to take off the rest of this wee lamb's wraps." And she was soon cooing down mother-fashion into the little face. "Marie two years, and this one four months! Seven children already, and Fanny not more than three years older than I!" she thought. "Well, for women like her, motherhood is as incidental as for their stock."
    "I've never seen your baby," ventured Mrs. Harvey.
    "Here is a picture of her taken at eleven weeks," said Janet proudly. And with Pearl still in her arms she went to get it.
    "My, ain't she sweet!"
    "She is quite different now," answered her mother softly."I know someone who is most awfully hungry," she laughed, for little Pearl had begun to rummage in the folds of Janet's smart frock. "It's impossible even to try to think until one's baby is contented. I know from experience. Come into the directors' room; it's more secluded." And as they sat down at the long table, she added, "When Gloria was younger she used to have her dinner here every afternoon."
    "Yes," said Mrs. Harvey with eager interest. "I told Joe they must take the baby over here to you."
    It struck Janet as odd that Joe and Fanny Harvey had speculated upon where she nursed her baby. "Yes," she smiled, "but now I feed her when I put her to sleep before I come in the afternoon, and then the first thing when I reach home. She does splendidly. I think I shan't wean her until the hot summer is over."
    Mrs. Harvey nodded her approval. "It's best not to," she said with authority. Then, with a gesture dramatic in its simplicity, she opened her waist a trifle further. A jagged, ugly scar crossed the breast against which little Pearl lay.
    Janet's eyes misted with quick tears. "Oh, my dear, did you have to go through that?"
    "The sixth," said Mrs. Harvey, with a significant glance at Marie. "And she had to go on one. But this," with a touch of her roughened fingers on Pearl's hair, "this has two. You have no trouble?"
    "None at all," Janet answered gratefully.
    Mrs. Harvey sighed. It was a sigh that told as much as her words. "I have a hard time with all my children," she confided. "Before they come, too. Seems like I can't hardly get through my work. Joe used to tell me how you was always here in the bank every day. I've heard folks wonder how you get any time to give to Gloria." Janet noticed the easy use of her baby's name, as if it had been often on Mrs. Harvey's tongue. "But I tell 'em, 'Land! I wish I could give as much time to mine.' It worries me how I have to let them go, but there's only one pair of hands--"
    "They are beautiful children," said Janet warmly, drawing Marie close. "I wonder if Gloria will be quite as enchanting.
    Wonderful little souls! There is nothing like them."
    The faces of the two women filled with expression. A genuine sweetness, a certain sound experience shone from both. They talked of their children. Gloria was eleven months and walking everywhere. Marie had walked at the end of ten. And her little legs were straight? But one could see! Pearl had the colic badly. Had Fanny used one of the bands that go over the shoulders and under the shirt? They didn't slip and kept the little stomachs so warm.
    Johnny was just starting to school and found the two mile walk pretty far. Joe hoped soon to be able to buy a pony for the children to drive. They have been promised one for a year, but Gladys had been put off from her music for more than that. She seemed so pale this spring. Did she have enough vegetables with iron in them, spinach and carrots and such? A warm intimacy, as real as the fundamental facts upon which it rested, drew the two together. Gentleness and motherhood possessed the room. On the soft, ample bosom little Pearl slept.
    The clock sounded the half hour, and a ripple of uneasiness flowed between them. Janet became acutely conscious that time was passing. Now, with little Pearl asleep, was the time to talk. She was aware, too, from the tension in Mrs. Harvey's silence that she, also, was gathering her forces for some difficult utterance. They must get down to business. Yet, somehow, it was harder than usual. Heretofore, she had always dealt with Joe, and thus had not been made poignantly cognizant of the Harvey's struggle. Women had the capacity to give the most ordinary transaction emotional coloring, while men usually impersonalized most deals. They knew how to keep their feelings in one compartment and cold facts in another. Janet's generous heart longed to give instead of demand, but the latter had to be done, if not by her, then by Jim. There was no point in shifting responsibility. And, besides, there was Robert's letter from New York. She was quiet a moment longer, then a little abruptly, "I'm awfully glad you came in this afternoon, because I was just going to write you. We must do something about this back interest. It can't be allowed to pile up as it is doing now. In the first place, it isn't good business on our part, nor fair to our stockholders; and, then, it just makes it that much harder for you, Fanny, if you let your interest compound. You must clear some of it up. Mr. Osborne and I think we shall have to ask for a chattel on your growing wheat and corn as security."
    Mrs. Harvey's face clouded. "You know, we would've paid if we could. If we get any kind of crop, we'll turn over as much as we can spare and live. I don't think you ought to ask for a mortgage on the only thing we've got we can call our own."
    "Fanny," said Janet gently but with unmistakable firmness,"I am sure Joe is perfectly straight, but when he owes as much as he does here and then goes to Illinois and writes a check on us for four hundred dollars that reads 'part payment on Buckeye McKinley Segis,' we are certainly going to see to it that we are protected, and that when you harvest your wheat this summer, some of it is coming to us and not going into more stock. If it is what you were planning to do anyway--and I take your word for it when you say it is--you surely can't consistently object."
    "Joe knows what he is doing when he buys the best," said Mrs. Harvey with spirit. "It isn't for you to criticize his methods."
    "Not his methods," agreed Janet evenly, "but the results of those methods. Why didn't you have a better wheat crop last year?"
    "The Hessian flies got into it, and besides, it jointed before winter set in."
    "The chances are neither would have happened if you had turned your stock on it."
    "How do you know we didn't?"
    "My dear," replied Janet, "it's our business to know. It was because your fences weren't stockproof. Isn't that true? And wasn't that because Joe was here and there and everywhere?"
    "He makes more buying and selling stock than raising it. He knows the best way to advertise his stuff is at the shows. And he sure hopes to breed the dual-purpose cow, a Holstein and Shorthorn in one. He's got more brains than any other farmer around here."
    "I know he has brains, Fanny," admitted Janet willingly.
    "And he understands stock. I realize, too, that your farm is worth more than enough to clear the mortgage, the interest, and all expenses, and then leave a wide margin. We are not worried about the loan. But you don't think we want to foreclose, do you? That's not our way. You tell Joe to stay at home and stick to either milk or beef. He dreams too much about this dual-purpose cow," Janet continued sharply. "He wants beef and milk for the same breed--we haven't got it yet. We may get it, at some distant time. Many stockmen believe it. Personally, I have my doubts. A cow eats forty pounds of feed a day, let us say--if she's a Holstein it goes to milk; if she's a Shorthorn it goes to beef. That food can't do both. You can't get something for nothing. Joe means well, but why doesn't he work along established lines and leave this problem to the moneyed faddists and experiment stations? He ought to think of you and these children."
    "You're not thinking of them much, Janet Graham," retorted Mrs. Harvey bitterly, "or you'd knock off that compound interest. I don't see what cause you have to kick about our being slow, when every day we put off paying you you're getting ten per cent on the back interest, besides the regular six and a half on the mortgage."
    Both women were hardening. But Janet, accustomed to dealing with all sorts of people, explained patiently: "You rented money from us which, invested, has brought you milk and calves. Rented to someone else, it would have brought us in rent promptly. And you can't tell how much or how little not having that income may have cost us. Money produces just as surely as a cow produces. Frankly, I, for one, need our share of this particular rent very much."
    "If our wheat had done better, we could've paid it all.
Even then, if our alfalfa hadn't been winter froze and--"
    "Fanny," broke in Janet quickly, "I'm going to talk plain English to you. It's just people like your husband who justify compound interest. He is honest in intention, but if we were too easy he would let his debts run and run and accumulate. There must be some penalty that makes it too expensive not to meet his obligations. You have splendid land and good stock, and you can pay every dollar you owe, if you'll stick to the dairy business with good grade, and some registered, animals. You know, I'm not against fine blood. On the contrary. But I think Joe has no business to go into it to the point where this present situation is the result."
    "He'll never be content until he breeds the animal he's working for. To him all the money in the world will never be worth that."
    Slow tears gathered in Mrs. Harvey's tired eyes and trickled down her flushed cheeks. "Maybe you think I haven't talked to him, Janet. A man who knows farming like him, and me working like I do, and the three older children helping so willing. I wish to God he could get this breed. It isn't only the money it would bring us, though you know how such stuff sells. But it would be the peace. He's found the right kind of bull up in Illinois. Here's his telegram."
    As she fumbled for it, there arose before Janet the picture of Joe Harvey--a man of middle age, above medium height, dressed always with a certain careless style, shoes polished, great, capable hands, heavy dark hair with touches of gray growing thick on a massive head, positive jaw, and eyes that gleamed like new steel when he was making one of his "trades"; genial, square in all his dealings, but quick to see and take every legitimate advantage. A practical stockman who could be successful, forever pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp; dreaming among cows--a dream that was an ominous crescendo of disappointment.
    Simultaneously there flashed into her mind Robert with his whimsical smile, his dear eyes shadowed with visions, and his play of Machiavelli and Voltaire and Chesterton. Another idealist, but her own, whom she would stand by with every bit of intelligence and every ounce of determination, yes, just as Fanny Harvey was standing by hers.
    "Here's his night letter," said Mrs. Harvey. "It come this
morning."
    Janet read: "Have Found Exactly Animal Looking For Holstein Will Cross With Nell Beachwood Arrange Loan For One Thousand Put It Through For Me Girl I Depend On You."
    The stillness deepened until little Pearl's breathing and the friction of Marie's pencil on the paper vied with the tick of the clock in distinctness. In the eyes of each of the women flowed the reflected light of her husband's radiant dream. Harvey's called for a thousand, Robert's for three.
    To Janet, imaginative, sensitive soul that she was, the moment seemed woven of the very tissue of tragedy. She must play her part in frustrating one man's creative triumph, that another's might be quickened; in condemning Joe Harvey to the common level, that Robert might advance toward brilliant achievement. It was cruel! Then the good sense that usually guided Janet through the mists of her sympathies reasserted itself. Clearly, it was not for her to finance the Harvey's castles. She and Robert had their own castles.
    "Can't be done," she said decidedly, and there was finality in her voice. "We hold a chattel on stock now that we took because Joe almost convinced Mr. Osborne and myself that it was his one chance to win out. That was when he bought the Shorthorn, Nell Beachwood. She was all that was necessary to attain the perfect result. Now he has her and it is still the same story--it is another animal he needs."
    "Nell Beachwood did drop some fine calves. He is getting them better and better."
    "I'm awfully sorry, but it can't be done," repeated Janet.
    "Even if he did produce what he's after I question if he could exploit the new breed successfully. It's the turning point for you, Fanny."
    "We can give a chattel on our growing crop as security for this loan," pleaded Mrs. Harvey desperately.
    "We expect that, as I showed you before, to protect the back seven hundred," Janet reminded her. "We can't loan another dollar until you begin to clean up what you owe and get things in shape. I wish we didn't have to, honestly, but we must protect Joe's sight draft. I warned him myself the next time he drew on us in that way we could not honor his check."
    "That'd be a raw trick!" blazed Mrs. Harvey.
    "I've explained," said Janet patiently, torn by the bitter disappointment she was causing.
    She rose quietly. Marie, caught by the note of pain and anger in her mother's tone, crowded against her. Waking, Pearl began to fret. The two women might have been trying to converse from different stars.
    Janet knew that in Mrs. Harvey's present mood discussion was useless. She held out her arms to take the baby while the mother put on her wraps. Then, quite unconscious of their faultless teamwork, the two pairs of practiced hands rolled little Pearl in the heavy blanket. As the rose petal cheek, so like her own little Gloria's, rested on Janet's shoulder, she touched it tenderly with her lips. The movement, the look in her eyes, no mother could misunderstand. Mrs. Harvey melted a trifle.
    "It isn't everyone she takes to like you. Here, Marie, give Mrs. Graham her pencil."
    Marie clung to it.
    "Oh, do let her keep it."
    "No," insisted Mrs. Harvey, "she's got to learn to give up the things she wants. She may as well begin now." And as Janet opened the door for her, she added stiffly, "Good-bye."
    When it had closed behind them, Osborne asked, "Have a good talk?"
    "Yes," replied Janet wearily. "She came in about that check. Wanted to borrow a thousand."
    "A thousand!" Osborne fairly snorted.
    "Oh, I made her understand she couldn't have it," Janet assured him. "They'll come to time. The compound interest will act as a spur. Jim, my heart aches for that woman." And to herself she added, "Fanny Harvey, for whom I thought, like her stock, for whom there were so few problems--"
    Janet went back to her desk, where, pushing aside the mortgages, she wrote hastily to Robert, pouring forth her faith in his dreams and urging that between them they could afford the three thousand.

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The Unworthy Coopers

I

    Perhaps the one thing which, more than any other, branded Annie Cooper as belonging to the unworthy poor was that impish, short laugh, which so strongly suggested a freckle-faced, unruly boy. It was not so much that she would heed none of the sound advice the good Kansans heaped upon her, but that she would go into nervous fits of laughter about it at the very moment when she was expected to be solemn and ashamed. People like to be charitable—but it is irritating when the object of one's charity is plainly amused.
    Annie and Jake, with their children--Daisy, a big-eyed little thing of six, Jimmie, a fat, bumptious boy of two, and a wizened baby of eight or nine months--were supported by the town, by the county, by the interchurch committee, and by various warm hearted individuals. All Fallon agreed that they were hopelessly unworthy.
    Annie's strength lay in her nonresistance. She would simply throw herself, figuratively, on the community's doorstep, and when sympathetic souls came to her rescue, she would laugh about it, as if to say, "I knew you'd come." If some housewife gave her washing to do, she would demand twice as much soap and starch as could possibly be needed, and then openly complain that the money wasn't half enough. Annie, to be liked, should have given the good people a dollar's worth of satisfaction for each dime of charity; instead, she made them uncomfortable.
    When Fallon felt that it had reached its limit, and the interchurch committee, Janet Graham, and the Reverend Whitaker had all come to the end of their combined patience and resources, they induced the County Commissioners to allot Annie eight dollars a week for food. This stipend, with much grumbling, and, later, with a sweeping gesture of liberality, they paid into the hands of Miss Elizabeth Nelson. To Miss Elizabeth, whose forties were beginning to hang a little heavily about her slender, close-drawn shoulders, Christianity meant a rare degree of selflessness. She spent the money meticulously, getting fully three times as much out of it as the careless Annie could have bought for herself. No mother ever regulated the diet of her most cherished children with more care and thought. She studied the subject in books, and consulted the home economics teacher in the high school, with a resulting schedule of balanced rations that was impeccable. Moreover, it was tasty. The only trouble with it was that Annie and Jake didn't like it. Therefore, Annie let Miss Elizabeth's compound get rancid while she cheerfully spent Janet Graham's wash money for lard of the best and purest brand. Likewise, Nutola, which frequently graced Miss Elizabeth's own table, grew stale while Annie bought butter at sixty cents a pound. Fortune-wrecking eggs and precious flour, which should have gone into wholesome bread, were sketchily beaten up into indigestible pancakes and flapjacks.
    In vain did Miss Elizabeth expostulate. Annie always agreeably promised to reform, only to break her word without a qualm. In vain did Miss Elizabeth and Mrs. Graham explain that it was no more than fair that Annie should take her wash money to purchase some of the essentials for a home in which the whole equipment consisted of two beds, a stove, table, and rocker. Why not get, for instance, a bureau at the secondhand store, since she hadn't a drawer in the house? Or some much needed dishes, a couple of chairs, or even a mirror? The answer was very simple, and Miss Elizabeth understood it only too well. "Never buy," had become Annie's motto, "what may possibly be given to you."
    "And Annie is right," said Robert Graham.
    It would not have been so bad if he had said this to Janet when they were alone; but he actually said it before Annie herself.
    He and Janet, the children tucked away safely in bed, were at dinner. It was one of the hours they most enjoyed. They liked to compare notes after the full days spent by Janet in her bank and her well run home, and by Robert with his large farm and with his writing. The writing he took very seriously, the farming lightly.
    His favorite joke was to the effect that there were three kinds of farmers--tired, retired, and rubber-tired. With a genial smile, he would readily admit that he himself belonged in the third class.
    As they lingered over coffee, and Robert smoked his cigar, the conversation ranged wide and free. It often came to Janet with a little thrill that, although they had been married five years and had two children, she would rather talk with him than anyone she knew. There was a quality to Robert's mind that made him, as a conversationalist, irresistible.
    He had never ceased to be amused by the harmless foibles of the small town in which he lived. Though on cordial terms with his neighbors, he was always a little aloof, never quite of them.
    Tonight, hearing Annie's voice in the kitchen, Robert exclaimed, "Have her in, Janet. That woman is a joy. She is wholly genuine; so close to life, so elemental, with such unconscious humor. She is too good to be true."
    Janet failed to rise to his enthusiasm. "She isn't a joy to me," she returned, wearily. "And if Annie wants to keep her children, she would better not be so high-handed. If Elizabeth Nelson weren't a saint and hadn't stood by me this morning, and the Reverend Whitaker, too, I'd have had a rough time before the Commissioners. They want to send Jake again to the county farm, the children to a state institution, and then let Annie take care of herself."
    Robert chuckled. "Don't worry," he advised. "They'll never do it. Fallon wouldn't stand for it. What! Take children from a hard working woman? Never! And Annie knows it."
    "But she isn't hard working. That's just the point. She doesn't work and she doesn't want to. Why should she? She has found that everything comes to her without it. They're such an unworthy lot. What did she do yesterday? Bought four cans of Prince Albert for Jake, and chicken at the top price. That's what she's here for now. It has caused a riot."
    "Go on, have her in," urged Robert. And without waiting for Janet's consent, he called, "Annie! O Annie; come here."
    Annie shambled in. She liked Robert. He understood her, she felt. Mrs. Graham was all right, but she was always lecturing her, like Miss Elizabeth.
    "So you've got 'em all mad at you again, have you, Annie?" jibed Robert.
    Annie displayed the gaps where teeth properly belonged.
    She had probably six sound ones in her head. Her eyes were a dull gray and puzzled one with their lack of expression, except when she laughed. Then they would squint, seeming to darken. Her skin was like sandpaper, and of the same dull color as her hair, on which the dust seemed to rest in little grains. She was as thin as a rail, and yet it was said that she could eat half a ham at a sitting. She was goblin-like, tiny--a veritable gnome of a woman.
    Whatever she wore refused to fit, seeming to lie snugly on her round back and hang downward in front of her because of that everlasting stoop. She usually wore a red woolen cap, round, and, like Annie's own nose, journeying to a distant peak. And Annie was always dirty. It seemed that she had been born dirty. Now, as she stood grinning sheepishly, but unrepentantly, up at Robert, she reminded Janet of a little street gamin.
    "Well, you're right, Annie," encouraged Robert.
    "Absolutely. You have the right technique. Instead of letting the givers of charity kick you, kick the givers. And incidentally, this is the way to get a great deal more out of them. You make them mad, you drive them to threats of all sorts, but they always come back with a full basket. If you don't like Nutola, rest assured you will get butter. They won't dare refuse. You have the whole town buncoed."
    "Aw, it ain't that, Mr. Graham," she laughed. "That grease just don't set right on my stomach. It makes me deathly sick, it does, Mr. Graham. And just because I'm poor is no reason why I should be made sick, is it, Mr. Graham?"
    As she looked at him for an answer, she laughed again— that pigwidgeon laugh.
    "Of course it isn't. Tell me the truth, Annie. How much do you get a week, all told?"
    "I never figured it up," she sniggered.
    "Let's figure it up right now."
    "Well, Miss Elizabeth always sends over the eight dollars' worth she spends for the county. And Mrs. Graham pays my rent, and has the milkman leave two quarts of milk every morning. The lumber yard gives me all the wood I can use, and the McMahons let me have free ice when I want it, and the Colburns give me a ton of coal whenever I say I need it, and the stingy Gregory lets me go into his mill and fill my sack with fifty pounds of flour whenever it's empty, and the doctor comes now whenever I send for him, and the city gives me my lights and water, and--"
    "Stop, Annie. That's plenty. You could get away with murder. It's unbelievable."
    "I've always been used to plenty. I can't stint myself, even if I am poor."
    "Lovely!" exclaimed Robert, crowing with her.
    "They don't have to give if they don't want to."
    "That's why they will always give you just as much as you wish. It's characteristic of the human animal, my dear Annie, that it'll give far more to those who neither need nor deserve help than to those who do. Instinctively the world hates the thrifty poor and the thrifty rich."
    Janet refused to be amused. Annie knew well enough how near she had come to losing her children, and here she was the very next day making light of the whole situation, joking about it with Robert. Besides, there was something so annoying about her way of just sitting down and saying, "I need this and this and this, and if you don't want to give it to me, you can just keep it." Like last Sunday, for instance, when Daisy had arrived with a note, which read--
    "Deer Mrs. Gram Dasey needs a bath she got her underclose with her butt she needs a noo pare of stockings Annie p s she cant wash herself."
    And as Janet ruefully tubbed the little mudlark and dressed her, putting on a pair of stockings, she wondered why on earth she did it.
    "Why didn't your mother wash you?" she asked.
    "Cause I like this pretty white tub better" was the succinct answer. "My mamma says I can come over here every Sunday and let you bath me."
    "A true Cooper," Janet reflected.
    For two years Jake had insisted that he was not able to work, but the county doctor had told him sternly that there was nothing wrong--not a thing but ingrown laziness. The Commissioners had said it, and the ladies of the interchurch committee had said it, too.
    "I think I cam give Jake a job," Janet had suggested.
    "Well, maybe you could give it to him," Annie had smirked in that provoking way of hers, "but that ain't saying he can do it, because he can't. He always worked hard when he could. There was all them years when you was gone from Fallon, and then later, when we lived away from here. He was always a good provider, Jake was, and now that he can't work, I don't blame him none."
    Recalling various stages in their adventurous hand-to-mouth life, Janet found it hard to conjure the vision of a providing Jake. But Annie was now fully launched. There had been the time when he had been on the bridge gang and had been getting good pay--she could have anything she wanted then--and by spells he had mined and made good money.
    It was too aggravating to industrious folk to see an apparently able-bodied man doing nothing. Annie was urged to leave him. It would be simply too much, thought Fallon, if there should be another little Cooper. The town discussed it openly. Decidedly, it was Jake who particularly exasperated them--Jake and his talk of being sick, when anyone could see with half an eye that it was only an excuse to get himself supported. But at last his frequent announcement that he was not long for this earth impressed Miss Elizabeth. She spoke to one of the doctors, asking if he would examine him.
    "Examine that good-for-nothing lazybones!" he fairly blazed. "What he needs is a good dose of hard work."
    Miss Elizabeth's bump of moral obligation was too pronounced, however, to let the matter rest. She took the problem to the Reverend Whitaker. His care being for the bodies as well as the souls of his flock, he did not stop until he had found a doctor kindhearted enough to give Jake a thorough going over.
    "He hasn't long to live," was the doctor's verdict. "A sort of creeping paralysis. What he needs is perfect rest and a careful diet."
    The Commissioners snorted. Ever since they had been dealing with Jake Cooper, he had been like this. He had managed to take in the doctor. Anybody could see for himself.
    Yet there he sat, leaning back in the old rocker, black, malevolent eyes looking out of an ashen, gaunt, shaggily whiskered face. He was about to die, and no one would believe him. No one but Annie. How he hated them with their superior chatter, scolding her when she brought a dying man a little tobacco. And at last he took to his bed. For a while he could keep the baby occupied, with her playthings beside him, while Annie went on sly foraging expeditions, but soon he was sickeningly ill. Annie did her slovenly best and during several months they lived with a gruesome cheerfulness, until Fallon, its self-respect once more lashed to the limit, moved Jake to its little hospital, with the promise that he should stay there until he died.

II

    One morning in the following week, the Grahams' telephone jangled. Into Janet's ear came placidly the hospital nurse's voice:
    "Mrs. Graham, will you tell Annie Cooper that Jake's dead."
    "When did he go?"
    "Between one and two this morning. I thought late last evening there was a change and suggested we send for Annie, but the doctor said it was such a bad night we'd better not call her out."
    "We'll come right around."
    "Well, you see, we've already sent the body to Shane's."
    "All right, then. I'll let her know."
    When Annie arrived, she was crying. "Daisy come home from school and told me her papa was dead," she mourned.
    Janet put her arms around her comfortingly. He had been a poor reed to lean upon, always, and at the end an unconscionable burden; but, after all, she reflected, they had shared each other's ups and downs; together they had made their forays, put over their little tricks on Fallon. For years they had been as open to each other as two books. Undoubtedly he had been the one person with whom Annie had been able to be utterly herself, whose shiftless slant of mind and gypsy point of view had been her own; the one human being who had been irrevocably ranged on her side against the whole hostile world. In short, as Annie would have put it, he had been her man. Now there would be no one with whom she could talk—unless it was Robert, who took such delight in her unworthiness and, Janet admitted, aided and abetted her in it.
    In the present crisis, Annie, the eternally inept, was waiting for Providence, in the form of the world at large, to rise to the emergency. Janet took charge capably. Two telephone calls and the chief details were arranged. Annie's pastor was, as always, to be depended upon. Yes, he said in low sympathetic tones, he would conduct the services. Mrs. Graham was to tell Annie she should have anything she wished. He would look after the pallbearers and the music, too--was there any special hymn? Would they have the funeral in the church?
    Through Janet's mind flashed the thought that a pitiful sense of loneliness must arise if the few who would attend were sprinkled in the commodious building. Annie's empty, uncurtained front room was equally out of the question. The undertaking parlor was clearly the only place.
    Her tears now quite dry, Annie agreed serenely, and as Janet hung up the receiver she remarked carelessly—"Of course, if my parlor set'd have come, it would've been nice to have it at home."
    "Your what?"
    "My parlor set. I'm a-getting it from a mail-order house. Sixty-five dollars. I've paid down three."
    Janet smothered the words on her lips, since clearly this
was no time for rebuke. Later she and Mr. Shane, the undrtaker, held a practical conversation, while Annie pressed Jake's suit. And for the time being, Janet dismissed from her mind the whole Cooper family.
    Not until late in the afternoon did she realize with a start that she had forgotten quite the most important detail of all. The grave! How perfectly terrible if she had not happened to remember. And for a moment she was harrowed by visions of the Cooper funeral cortege arriving at the cemetery, only to find no place to deposit poor Jake. Just why, she wondered irritably, had this particular funeral become her funeral, anyway? She would, she decided, get Miss Elizabeth, and they would attend to this matter together. For of course it must be attended to and at once. If a dead man is to be buried, he must, forsooth, have a grave in which to lie.
    She hunted out a black hat and mourning veil and thus armed went to collect Annie and her brood. She found her messy and cheerful, trying to give the pastor some sort of data as to Jake's life, but unable to tell where he was born or what was his mother's name.
    Perhaps it was Annie's own suddenly renewed faith in family ties that took Janet to Jake's sister, to whom it had been so useless to apply during the dead man's life.
    Mrs. Litchfield was a handsome, matronly woman with white hands that contrasted oddly with Annie's dirty, chapped ones.
    "Sit down, Annie," she said kindly. "Sit down, Mrs. Graham. I've been so wrought up all day. I don't want Jake buried in a charity grave. I'd rather pay for it myself." There was a breaking in her voice. Memories were crowding. "I'd like to have done for him," she hurried on. "But you know how it is, Mrs. Graham. You know yourself. There'd have been no end to it. No end at all. And my husband wasn't willing. You can't have trouble in your own home."
    "No, you can't," agreed Janet simply, for there was something in the woman's face that was convincing.
    ogether, they went to the cemetery. Under Annie's black veil, her little face and squinting eyes had their goblin look. In the wind-tossed, twilit rain, she seemed more than ever like a troll creature who lived in a cave or a mound. They hunted up a sexton and selected the spot--one lying near charming woods on a smooth grassy slope. Mrs. Litchfield reentered the car and gathered Annie's baby to her.
    "Mrs. Graham," she murmured in her warm, throaty voice, her expanding heart pouring forth gifts, "wouldn't my grandbaby's things just fit her? We've got lots of little clothes she could wear, Annie."
    At the undertaking establishment, Mr. Shane met them halfway down the aisle of kitchen cabinets and baby buggies. He led them upstairs, between the lounges and davenports, mattresses and stiff rockers, to a door. Opened, it revealed a tiny room, with bright linoleum on the floor. He turned on the electric light directly above Jake. The little group huddled awkwardly in the door, looking at the head, which now seemed almost majestic.
    Presently, moved by real interest, Janet stepped into the room. Annie followed and, gazing at the face that had domineered over her so long, burst into quiet weeping. Janet herself was surprised at its still strength. For the first time, the malevolent eyes, so full of bitter contempt and rebellion, were veiled.
    "Come, Annie," said Mrs. Litchfield, "don't take on. We'd better go."
    The selection of the casket, which the county was to supply, was plainly on her mind. Evidently the same stigma did not apply to this as to a grave at Fallon's expense.
    Shane snapped off the light and shut the door, leading the way to a larger white room where footfalls were deadened by a soft gray rug. The mirrored panels let down and behind each was a coffin. He solemnly displayed a gray and a black.
    "Which do you want, Annie?" asked Mrs. Litchfield, solicitously. "You're the one to be suited. I like the gray one. Which do you like, Mrs. Graham?"
    Annie's eye was drawn to the filmy interiors. "It's hard to choose," she murmured. "They're both awful pretty."
    "To my mind," announced the undertaker, "the gray one's the best."
    "She's the one to be suited," reiterated Mrs. Litchfield.
    "I'll take the gray," decided Annie, her eyes bright with pleasure in the color and pretty fluffiness. She sighed. For once she could enjoy luxury without remonstrances.
    Janet had not been at home an hour when telephone messages from Fallon's leading citizens began to pour in, offering their cars. Even Gordon Hamilton put his beautiful Cadillac sedan at Annie's service. Mrs. Litchfield called to ask Annie's shoe number.
    Didn't Mrs. Graham think her shoes were awfully shabby? And could she use a nice brown coat? Miss Elizabeth telephoned to say that she was sending butter and a chicken--she knew how much Annie liked them. Janet wondered what Miss Elizabeth, dear, kind Miss Elizabeth, would say if she were to tell her that Annie, instead of offering to pay three dollars a month on the fifty dollars that the county was expending for Jake's casket, was buying a five-piece
    It took Janet an hour to get Annie and Daisy dressed. Her own best black suit was pressed into service. She spent fifteen minutes draping the new mourning veil over the neat borrowed hat, and she superintended personally the washing of Annie's face and neck. Gloves hid the uncleansable hands. Mrs. Litchfield had purchased the shoes, and for once Annie's heels were not run down.
    She looked nice, reflected Janet. Many a woman might well have envied her that slim, hipless figure.
    The impossible achieved, Janet suddenly felt enormously proud of her. Annie, the grotesque, actually looked like a thoroughly respectable human being. True, there was still that stoop to her shoulders, that elfish point to her nose, but the smart lines of the suit were not to be completely thwarted, even by Annie. She was clean and she was trim.
    As they went up the stairs, Janet could see the Reverend Whitaker, in from a long drive, brushing his coat in the back of the store. Annie went straight, with impressive boldness, to the gray casket. She began to cry quietly as she took her seat.
    Members of the interchurch committee, Miss Elizabeth, and the Grahams had all sent flowers, so the casket was laden with wreaths and sprays. Carnations in Janet's own baskets nodded on the windowsills, and a great vase of white chrysanthemums flowered beautifully on a stand. The twenty-odd chairs were all occupied, filling the little room. The atmosphere left nothing to be desired in the way of correctness, as the Reverend Whitaker took his place.
    The music was perfect, and his talk was excellent. As the last hymn was being sung, Janet reflected, with her usual quiet satisfaction of anything well done, that it really had been a faultless funeral.
    She was quite as startled as anyone when, the hymn finished, the Reverend Whitaker said quietly, "At the request of Mr. Cooper, Mr. Graham has a few words to say to you."
    Janet's heart jumped. Now what was Robert going to do? Why hadn't he told her of this? It must have been because he knew that she, hating any jarring note, would not have approved of it. Of course, she was confident that, whatever it might be, Robert could dispose of it with graciousness, but nevertheless she was gripped by a disturbing sense of uneasiness. The others were simply curious. It was quite out of the ordinary, but they had implicit faith in the pastor, and Robert's tone was in keeping with the dignity and form of the occasion.
    "Some days before Jake--Mr. Cooper--was taken to the hospital," he began, "I was called to the Cooper home, and a certain document was entrusted to my hands. I promised Mr. Cooper that its contents should be faithfully placed before the people assembled at his funeral. I think it might have been better," he continued quietly, "if I were to tell you what is in the paper, rather than read the very words he used, for the language is a little involved. The meaning however is clear. Mr. Cooper had left a will."
    There was not the slightest demonstration, but Janet felt that the word "will" had shocked them. She was beginning to show her distress by the dark crimson mantling her face. It rushed over her suddenly that Robert was capable of anything. Yes, he was. There was in him the same kobold-like quality that there was in Annie. For a fact. Oh, why didn't he sit down? What had Jake to bequeath to anyone? It was absurd. Preposterous.
    "This will," went on Robert, "is very simple, and it was Mr. Cooper's hope that it would be carried out to the letter. He told me he was worried about his wife and children, and that he had given much thought to their welfare after his death."
    The men and women were now plainly embarrassed. Never had they heard such nonsense at a funeral, and so far it had been such a satisfactory one. What could Mr. Graham be driving at, they wondered.
    "He disposed of the whole matter in a manner that left his mind at rest," said Robert evenly--far too evenly, thought Janet, suddenly suspicious. She knew that quiet tone of her husband's, that mischievous delight in pricking the equanimity of people whom he considered a shade too self-satisfied, the glee with which he upset conceptions of the fitness of things. She had loved that whimsicality of his--as much a part of his very self as the clear gray to his eyes, so kind and with such a warming laughter bubbling up through their dreamy depths. But never before had it prompted him to poor taste. If Jake really had left this extraordinary document, which she began to doubt, why hadn't she heard of it from Annie? Yet the charming, mellifluous voice was certainly very convincing.
    "Mr. Cooper--Jake--has willed a four-room house to Annie."
    The situation was becoming painful, with Janet not the only one who was suffering. Everyone felt ill at ease--all but Annie, who looked at Robert with a childlike trust, not knowing at what he was aiming, but feeling sure that it was all for her happiness.
    "This four-room house is to be built of substantial material. The labor of erecting it is to be supplied by a committee of the labor unions of Fallon. The material must be paid for, however. Jake asks that the house cost at least twelve hundred dollars. The three banks, he writes in his will, shall give one hundred dollars each. The four grocers shall each give twenty-five dollars. The other business men around the Square are to stand their share."
    There was no nodding or shaking of heads. There was no wagging of jaws in protest or approval. There was only an immovability among his listeners, as if they were in a deep, breathless slumber.
    "As spokesman for one of the banks," said Robert, with a slight nod toward Janet, "let me say that the first hundred dollars are at the disposal of the building committee. The will goes on further to say that in the rear of the four-room affair is to be a little hog and chicken house. The hog and chickens are to be supplied by a committee of the Farmers' Cooperative Association.
    This committee is also to provide at least two hundred bushels of corn and other suitable feed. As for furnishing the house there will be no need for a parlor set as Annie has already secured one that will please the most fastidious. However, there will be need for all sorts of things--chairs, tables, bedding,rugs, linoleum, cupboards, table linen, cooking utensils, and the like. These are to be contributed by the people. Each is to do his or her best. He states definitely that the things are not to be too old nor are they to require any expenditure in the way of repairs."
    Annie was bobbing her head quickly, as if in endorsement.
    "Jake hopes that no one will try to break his will," continued Robert, with the same disarming matter-of-factness. "He told me he could imagine no greater sin than to fail to carry out the will of a dead man. He provides further that the county is to levy no taxes on this home nor is the city to charge for the lights or water. There are further articles--clothes, curtains, pictures, and a reasonable amount of money to purchase necessaries. He states very specifically that the county is to improve on its eight dollars a week. This, says the will, is quite insufficient. The interchurch committee is to have this matter in hand. Furthermore, Jake wills that, in view of the fact that the doctors would not help him as they should, they shall chip in to meet the cost of a simple, dignified stone on his grave. He says the cashier of any one of the banks can be given the duty of attending to this provision. I have already had the legality of this document passed upon. Judge Murdock, a jurist for whom I have the profoundest respect--a man who, as you all know, is thoroughly versed in the law--says there is no questioning the fact that Jake had both a moral and legal right to draw this up."
    Handing the will to the pastor, Robert added quietly, "I know Jake's heart was in this matter, and I, for one, shall do my part in carrying out his wishes. I hope the community will respond with the same simplicity with which he showed his faith in us."
    There was no discussion, of course. A wave of the undertaker's hand invited the people to view the body and pass out.
    But once the solemnity of the funeral itself had been passed over and the people could talk as they pleased, Jake's demands were pronounced outrageous. It was sheer impudence. Jake--a beggar, a taker of favors for many years--Jake to leave such a will. Bosh! The thing was not worth talking about.
    Annie merely laughed and said, "Let anybody dare stand out against a dead man's will. They'll do as Jake said. You'll see."
    "Don't you think," Janet asked her husband dryly, "it was rather strange that Jake, the shortsighted, should suddenly have become so farseeing at the very end?"
    To which thrust Robert replied with unruffled tranquillity, "If you mean to imply, my dear, that I suggested the idea of a will, you are quite right. But I can assure you that Jake accepted it wholeheartedly. He dictated it all."

III.

    When the First State Bank of Fallon, of which Janet was vice-president, entered a hundred dollars to the credit of the Jacob Cooper Building Fund, the others grumbled, but paid their share. Each wanted equal justification for a place in the orchestra of patronizing complaint. The money was raised in less than ten days, and then the committee called the labor unions together for a decision. The members argued that it wasn't the right season. There was so much building going on. Better wait until things got a little duller. They said all that, but when the material had been dumped on a lot presented by Gordon Hamilton, Fallon's foremost businessman, the workers appeared and put up the house.
    On a certain Saturday afternoon, two months after Jake's funeral, a considerable portion of Fallon's population seemed headed toward the Coopers'. On one farmer's wagon were a sow and nine squealing pigs. Annie looked them over as they were pushed into the pen, and remarked that it was a shame they didn't send some already weaned instead of these tiny creatures. As for the house, hadn't the people with their own ears heard Jake's will giving her four rooms? It was a disgrace, that's what it was, for a town to be so stingy. As Annie was to have butter, the committee from the farmers' co-operative sent a fine little Holstein cow.
    Annie's look spoke her disgust. "I hate the milk from them things. It's too thin. Why didn't you bring me a Jersey?" she demanded flatly.
    When the furniture began piling in, she called attention to the fact that most of the pieces would never respond to polish. She hoped people would realize once for all that a worn-out thing was just as worn-out for her as for anybody else. Folks seemed to think she could take any useless old relic and make it serve.
    The givers were properly apologetic. They were pleased when her criticisms were slight, and showed her how several matters could be remedied with a little labor and money. Annie saw to it that they left the money.
    Before evening there was a cuckoo clock on the wall, a number of pictures--including one of Roosevelt surrounded by all the little Roosevelts, and another of Custer's Last Charge, a plush album, and a "Home, Sweet Home" thing of beads strung on silk framed in strips made of the sweetest little clam shells.
    Annie took it all very casually. Hadn't her Jake laid down the conditions in the will? What else was there for Fallon to do?
    And how right she was, too; for had not Fallon taken exactly the same view, albeit with much grumbling about these exasperating, unworthy Coopers--Jake, the dead, leaving the impress of the Cooper characteristic and Annie, with her nervous laugh, seeing to it that Fallon did what was expected of it?
    It was late in the evening, when the last things had been brought and everyone had gone, that Robert Graham strolled in.
    "Well, Annie," he smiled, "you seem to have had some housewarming."
    "Aw, it hasn't been so bad," admitted Annie, with the inevitable grin, "but then, it's just like I told Mrs. Graham time and again. Jake always was a good provider."

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The Girl in the Snappy Little Roadster

    A snappy, sand-colored roadster, black wheels gleaming, polished nickel hound in full leap on its radiator, flashed down beautiful woodland-bordered Highway 71. Fannie Harris, a catchy tune on her lips, had been driving for an hour in the April sunshine through the mountainless Ozark Mountains of Missouri.
    Fannie was as snappy as her shining new roadster. Five feet four in height, weighing not more than one hundred and fifteen pounds, she was a trim thing. Her rather plain face was not pretty, but it was vivacious and intelligent. Although she was twenty-seven, her blonde hair worn in a long bob with curls clustering around her neck made her look not more than the twenty-four to which she admitted. She had sharp, lively blue eyes. In her simple stylish clothes she caught the eye and filled it. Moreover Fannie had a way with men. In a quiet, unobtrusive, cautious fashion she was experienced. She had long since decided that she preferred married men of substantial position. They were careful and never talked. She had a prejudice against drug store sheiks, and had definitely decided that she didn't like "kids." Fannie was quick, resourceful, inventive. She could turn her hand to almost anything.
    The evening before she had sold, on a bluff, an order to a wholesale grocery house in Joplin--a firm that owned a building the size of a city block--the idea of giving each restaurant-owner-customer a supply of free meal checks, with the name of the wholesale house on the back and also the name and slogan of its brand of Super Special Coffee. "Even the last drop is good." She had sold the idea as a goodwill feature. This particular firm had about three hundred restaurants on its customers list; and her initial order was for $2,000. Some order. And here she was a free lance; no job; no plant; no connection.
    With the order in her handbag, her thoughts abuzz and the catchy tune triumphantly on her lips, she had driven out of Joplin to settle upon some definite plan. An hour later, as she stopped at a filling station, her eye fell on signs which assured her that she was in "Watsonville, Population 300," in the heart of "the land of a million smiles" and that she "couldn't go wrong in the Ozarks."
    "What a dump!" she thought, uninterestedly appraising the hamlet that squatted dusty and unpaved beside the wide gray ribbon over which life flowed so ceaselessly. She saw one bank, two garages, three filling stations, two eating houses, one hardware store, two grocery stores, with meat departments in connection, and in what was obviously an old store building--a newspaper plant. The lettering on the window panes announced: "Watsonville Beacon. It Covers Ward County Like the Dew."
    Fannie had held several jobs around printing offices and on weekly papers. She knew job printing, advertising--in fact, everything about a small town sheet.
    "Why not?" she asked herself. "For what I need the Watsonville Beacon may do as well as any other shop." The next moment Fannie had swept into the Beacon office.
    She saw a quiet, olive complexioned fellow of medium height who was beginning to be slightly bald, and a pretty dark-haired woman with sparkling, whimsical brown eyes, several years younger than herself; a trifle shorter, too, and considerably plumper. They were, they explained, Ambrose and Nell Fenner, owners and editors of the Beacon. Swiftly, cleverly, Fannie propositioned them. Both were bewildered at the prospect of a $2,000 order.
    "Why," stammered Ambrose, "I would need a power cutter and a power stitcher. Those meal checks would have to printed about forty on and that would take money."
    Fannie had already sized up the plant's equipment. It consisted of one linotype, a small hand cutter, a foot stitcher, and some cases of type. Ambrose told her frankly that the circulation was 700.
    "I'll bet," thought Fannie shrewdly, "that they get their paper from Kansas City by parcel post! A roll of stitching wire must last them a year. They buy job ink a pound at a time, and ink for the Beacon in five-pound cans!"
    In this surmise she was correct. The gross business from the Beacon was $85 per week; from job printing $45--total gross $130; net profit, $55. The rates for advertising were $30 for a local page, $35 for Chevrolet, Ford, and Konjola; twenty-five cents an inch for local businessmen.
    And here was a $2,000 order! Fannie's proposition was that she be taken in on the novelty job printing end--fifty-fifty of the profits. Ambrose and Nell were to supply the plant and the materials. She, Fannie, was to give the ideas, get the orders, and attend to their handling. She planned to sell the same restaurant ticket idea in Little Rock, Wichita, Springfield, Topeka, Tulsa, and other good-sized cities in a half-dozen states. She would circularize individual restaurant owners. She would offer the general public imprinted stationery at a dollar per package. She would--oh, she would burn up the world. Fascinated, yet unbelieving, the Fenners asked to have until the next day to decide.
    At home in their neatly painted one-story house, not more than a three-minute walk from the office, they discussed Fannie. They discussed her far into the night.
    Nell had been born and raised in Watsonville. She had been eighteen and a senior in high school when Ambrose bought the moving picture theater there for $300 and she applied for and held the job of ticket seller. The year before Ambrose had received his degree from the Kansas University School of Journalism, and Fenner, Sr., owner and editor of the Fallon Press, had wanted to give him a start in the business of newspaper publishing, but Ambrose felt there wasn't room for him in Fallon, Kansas. The business was just large enough for one man. So his father bought him the little moving picture theater in Watsonville. This was in 1925 before the talkie craze had killed the silent movie business. Ambrose worked at his job faithfully and cleared $24 a week in the tourist season and $16 a week in the winter months. When his father died, Ambrose moved down the linotype, the press, and the rest of the equipment, and sold the name of the Fallon paper and good will for $2,000. It was better, he thought, to start a paper of his own in Watsonville because it was a smaller place and there could be no danger of another paper starting up in competition as it might in a town as large a Fallon, with its 2,600 population. Besides, he reasoned, he could continue running the movie place in addition.
    Moreover, the owner of the one paper in Watsonville had moved his plant to Diamond, the county seat of Diamond county, sixteen miles from Watsonville, where he could get the county printing and start off with a circulation of 1,700. This left the field open to Ambrose.
    He felt that with two enterprises he would be justified in marrying. For two years he had been "going" with Nell Shand. He liked her and felt easier with her than he ever had with any woman.
    He had had his dreams, of course, of being deeply and romantically in love, but this he told himself was never to be. For one thing he was not likely to meet anyone here in Watsonville who could inspire in him such a passion. To be sure, at K. U. there had been plenty of girls of all kinds, but he had been shy with them. Just why he scarcely could have explained, for if he had really wished he could have had more than one light-of-love or serious sweetheart. But he did not like the idea of being involved. He was afraid of people, things--life. No one knew it better than Ambrose himself. He nestled into Watsonville and Nell's companionship in much the way that a woodchuck nestles into its winter burrow.
    Nell, of course, had seen too many movies to relinquish her dreams without some qualms. What if a Ramon Navarro or Jack Gilbert or John Barrymore should suddenly appear? Then she thought of all the men of her acquaintance. Not one of them measured up to Ambrose. She knew she was warmer and more vital than he was. But she knew too she would be happier married. She was curious, but not curious enough to experiment. Or was she? She admitted to herself that she really never had had the chance--not at least with anyone who attracted her. If some of the men in the movies could have come to Watsonville it might have been different. But that, she knew, was an amusing hypothetical possibility. In this world one had to be practical. It was not likely she would find anyone nicer than Ambrose and some deep instinct told her she must never experiment with him.
    She agreed, readily enough, to be married. Both felt it was a stroke of luck when they were able to purchase their neat house for $1,200. The payments were $15 a month and the last payment would be cleared in the autumn of 1935.
    Ambrose, who had a taste for literature, fitted up his own library with a thousand of his father's books for which he cared most, including those by Ingersoll, Paine, Huxley, and Schopenhauer. In their own quiet way Ambrose and Nell were free-thinkers and spent many happy hours living vicariously the lives of others more daring and lucky than themselves and following the thoughts of modern-minded men and women. Ambrose, infolded upon himself, assimilated these thoughts and experience. Through his reading he lived inwardly a life as intensive as his outer life was humdrum. But Nell was not so easily satisfied with an existence that was only reflected, however sensitively. She was often restless. She knew that she had much that should be a source of deep sweet gratification to her. And she took honest pleasure in her small successes as a wife and co-editor. Within her own limitations she had progressed far. Yet all the same she was often uneasy with perturbed longings for a more varied life, for richer, fuller emotions.
    The other books for which Ambrose felt no affection were put up for sale in the office of the Beacon. He sold about $3.65 worth of books a week, which meant the supply would not be exhausted for thirteen years. Whenever he found anything, he advertised it dutifully in the Beacon and then put it up for sale.
    Motorists were always dropping things. He had a little counter full of such objects, including a combination can opener and corkscrew, a Ford jack, and a thermos bottle.
    Nell and Ambrose soon settled into a pleasant jog. They worked contentedly from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. Nell, self-taught, ran the linotype. Ambrose got the ads. Together they wrote the paper. They hired no help, not even a boy.
    Neither of them ever chased around. She was his first woman. He was her first man. Neither ever even thought of an affair with anyone else--never a chance, of course, but never the thought, and it takes the thought first to bring the chance and usually the chance comes. She didn't because without promising in so many words she had agreed she wouldn't. The promise had been implied. Ambrose had agreed in the same way, and they had gone on, each with this first experience and no thought of a change--no chance for a change. Eternally together--all day, eating together, going together, sleeping together. And here they were after three years, Ambrose at twenty-nine and Nell at twenty-three, still getting along well, liking each other, and never tired of each other—each taking the other for granted. He had never sent her into raptures.
    There had been early thoughts of ecstasy, but marriage had brought them none. To the Fenners the marriage bed was a bed for sleep.
    There were expectations of thrills, but no thrills. Just wholesome, clean, healthy, sane, sensible unexcitement with Ambrose. There was work to be done and they both liked to work and plan and build and"make good." In their own quiet way, they were happy, contented and successful.
    Then--the snappy roadster, the quick push of brakes, and Fannie Harris with her disconcerting talk of $2,000 orders.
    Toward morning Ambrose and Nell decided to accept and drifted into restless troubled sleep.
    Business turned good quickly. Business went up--that is, Fannie Harris' end. The Beacon and the local job printing still hovered around $130 a week. The other end was working quickly towards $130 per day. Prosperity was in sight.
    But Fannie Harris was experimental and she tried out a nibble of Ambrose. She was simple and direct about it. She wanted him to join her in a trip to Joplin to see the wholesale grocery concern for a new order, this time a larger one, for the idea had worked. It had been good advertising. Nell, staying at home to watch the office and set a stack of copy, waved them a cheery good-bye. They should be gone about three hours, Nell figured, an hour to get there, an hour to do business, and an hour to get back.
    Well, maybe another hour to eat lunch. Four hours. That should be plenty. But seven hours passed and no Ambrose and Fannie. What had happened? A movie? That would have taken up two hours of the extra three hours. Maybe they had dropped in to solicit some other business. Maybe not.
    Nell was not a prim prude. She was a laughing, generous, understanding, friendly person. She never criticized "bad" people.
    She rarely met them, and when she did they were business-like with her just as "good" people were. The only difference lay in the fact that the "bad" ones didn't gossip and criticize. The "good" ones, Nell thought, were always saying mean things about other people.
    Besides, the "bad" people were always a little more attractive, a little more interesting, a little more romantic--or, at least, Nell felt sure they were. But it was all a guess, because they never brought any of that sort of thing to this young married woman.
    There was an atmosphere about her that seemed to say: "I'm Ambrose Fenner's wife. It would be foolish to approach me, because I belong entirely to him." She never even thought of an affair with anyone else. Nor, she was sure, had Ambrose.
    She confessed to herself that if he had never experimented it was because he, too, had never had the right opportunity, not really. This was the first time a Fannie Harris had come into their lives. Nell knew she wasn't as nice looking as Fannie Harris--yes, that is to say, she hadn't the neat, trim figure. Fannie had snake hips. Nell's hips were too heavy. But Nell knew that her face was prettier and that many men might find her the more likable. There was something hard in Fannie, while for all her quiet competence Nell was a warm, soft sort of person. Fannie, except when she was talking, was so plain, too. Then her face lit up. It looked actually pretty. And, Nell realized, Fannie had something more important than prettiness--dash and style.
    When Ambrose reached home at 9 o'clock that Tuesday night, Nell knew what had happened. She felt it. There were so many things she knew about her man. She knew his blood pressure before and after, and she knew here was a man who was spent. He had been untrue to her, unfaithful. She knew it without taking a second look. But she didn't feel mad. She was only annoyed at that guilty look Ambrose gave her. Why didn't he speak up and say he had had an affair? She could have forgiven that.
    That night Ambrose talked about how tired he was--oh, so tired—"a hard day; I'll sleep like a log tonight." But Nell understood this chatter. Ambrose, she thought with a quiet smile, was preparing her for zero weather. He wanted to sleep and nothing else, as though Nell really cared. She would have preferred to hear him say: "I'm tired because I've had a woman today; I don't want any more for the present--just sleep." A spent man.
    The next morning, at the office, Fannie went about her work without a thought of the previous day's experience with Ambrose. The victory at the office of the Joplin Wholesale Grocery Company appealed to her more. Here was another $2,000 order. Her share would be at least $300. Not bad. Only Ambrose and Nell thought about things besides business. Ambrose acted oddly when near Fannie, thought Nell. His feigned indifference fairly screamed. Nell looked calmly at Fannie and thought her rather nice—as a man's woman. She wondered how many men she had had. How long had she done such things? Did she get any fun out of it? Did she mind being found out? Did she get that snappy sand-colored roadster from some married man, or from some lover? Surely she never earned it. Did she take money from men? Maybe. But then, here she was working--working as hard as any. And making more money than the firm of Ambrose and Nell had ever taken in. Nell didn't feel resentment; she was curious. She didn't feel that Ambrose had done a terrible thing. But she knew Ambrose had not enjoyed the experience, and she could see that Fannie hadn't either.
    Nell was right about Ambrose. He had not enjoyed his party with Fannie. She had been so matter-of-fact about it. To be sure, he was matter-of-fact with Nell, but he thought a stolen affair should be different, with sudden rushes of blood, sudden excitements. But Fannie wasn't that way. She had felt no kick from this episode with him. She hadn't hoped, hadn't thought much, had just taken him on the chance and, disappointed after a chance, went along rather indifferently.
    Disappointed--no, not that exactly, for she had known such married men before. They ran to form, of a type.
    Furtive, nervous, frightened pecks at love. Afraid to be found out. Afraid to be talked about. Afraid to be seen going to a hotel. Afraid to be thought immoral, not themselves seeing anything bad in what had been done, but not liking to be talked about by people who did not approve. Guilty—all through it—guilty with Fannie, guilty when at home with Nell. Maybe that was the thrill of it--the secret excitement of not being found out. No, there was no fun in that.
    Well, at any rate, the affair was a failure and Ambrose rather felt it would never come up again. Fannie would go about her business and let him alone—that way. Nell wouldn't find out since she knew nothing now and nothing would happen again.
    Nell knew, but said nothing—and for a very good reason.
    She didn't know what to say. She couldn't lecture him. That would be silly. She rather honestly told herself she might have done the same thing had there been a chance. But there had always been an invisible wall around her, and she had taken that wall for granted, though she wasn't the kind who felt her virtue was her most precious possession. Of course, the affair had been casual, but then Nell didn't see anything bad about anything that was casual, if only it had had some meaning while it was being lived through.
    Nell wondered if she would ever have her own experiences. Would she go out with some other man? Would she give herself to him? Would she feel guilty, ashamed, or just interested? Thought poured through her.
    Ambrose was glad of the chance to leave the office for a round of the stores to pick up copy. Nell, her typesetting finished, turned to Fannie, who stopped figuring on how much stock would be needed to finish the Joplin order.
    "Now, please, Nell, don't ask me about yesterday," Fannie opened, her voice friendly and low.
    "I didn't intend to, Fannie; I'm not a snooper."
    "You're not out of sorts with me? I didn't mean anything to hurt you. I don't want your man, Nell, dear, so please forget about it. The next time I have to go on such a trip you can go with me. I'd just as leave take you as Ambrose. I like you, Nell. I like Ambrose, too, but I don't want him. I really don't want any man. You understand me, don't you? I guess I'm different from other women. I've known lots of men, but I've been in love only once, and he didn't like me at all. The other men liked me, but they were all so scared. You don't know what sneaking cowards men are—the married ones, I mean. That takes all the fun out of it."
    "Was Ambrose a sneaking coward?"
    "Promise not to tell? This is just between us. He's afraid of you. I don't think you'll ever have cause to worry about him again. He's had his big bust. He'll be a good little boy from now on. He's yours as long as you want him. Don't worry, Nell. Let's you and me be friends. I promise you—honest, Nell—on my word of honor, hope to die, if I don't tell the truth—I'll never take him on again."
    When Ambrose returned he gave each a furtive look, as though to size up the lie of the land. Nell and Fannie were laughing together. They were really friendly. Ambrose felt relieved. That meant the end of that. He would stay away from the fire. No more chances. No more playing with danger.
    The next day Nell got up from her linotype.
    "All copy's set," she announced. "Fannie's going to Tulsa to try to land that order she's been working on. If you can't go with her then I'd like the two days off and go with her. Is it all right with you?"
    "Of course, honey," Ambrose stammered. "Turn about is fair play. I went on the picnic the other day, you ought to go next. I'm sure you'll like Tulsa—it's a big town—over a hundred thousand people. You've never been in a bigger place than Joplin. That's a village compared to Tulsa. Tulsa has some real skyscrapers. Lots of big oil men—big oil men—"
    Ambrose's voice trailed off--big oil men--big oil men—Fannie must be known there—big oil men—Fannie might—would—introduce Nell to some old friends—maybe big oil men—big oil men have bad reputations. They are always in sex scrapes. It's the easy money and easy ways—Tulsa—an immoral city. Lots of big oil men—
    "Why, sure, honey, you've been working so hard. It'll put new pep into you. And try to land the order. The two of you ought to bring home a bigger order than the one we got in Joplin. There are some big oil--I mean some big wholesale grocery outfits in Tulsa. Try them all."
    This was Tuesday. They left Watsonville early Wednesday morning to be gone until Thursday night. It wasn't much of a ride from southeastern Missouri to northeastern Oklahoma—good roads, pleasant weather—in four hours they were there.
    Thursday afternoon Ambrose received a telegram. It was the first personal telegram he had received since his father died three years before. There was no telegraph office in Watsonville, so the message was phoned from the Western Union office in Neosho. They would not be home Thursday night. The deal was practically closed, just one more visit at the biggest concern. They would leave Friday morning and be home in the afternoon.
    Thoughts popped in and out—Tulsa—big oil men—Fannie the experienced—Nell the mystery—would she be open-minded about such things? Surely not. She had been brought up too strictly. Did she know about his own time in Joplin? Did Fannie tell her about the afternoon in the Connor Hotel? Did she—
    The train whistled out, so Ambrose knew the mail was ready. He went and got his little batch, and the first letter to strike his eye was one from the Tulsa Wholesale Grocery Company. He opened it quickly. It was a printed order form. In pencil, carbonned, Ambrose read: "Confirmation." Then came: "O.K. order for restaurant meal checks. Terms as agreed in memorandum. $2,500. Terms: 30 days, 2 percent F.O.B. Tulsa."
    "That's funny," Ambrose muttered. "They have the order.
    It's dated yesterday. They sold that house yesterday afternoon and they mailed out the usual confirmation. They've been in Tulsa all day today after having landed the business. And they'll be there over night. In Tulsa—big town—big oil men—"
    Ambrose slept that night, but not too well. He was sure his wife was being led around by Fannie Harris. Led where? What were they doing? Who were they playing around with? What kind of men? His Nell! But he couldn't get himself into any sort of anger.
    He didn't care for Nell less. He wanted her back in Watsonville, back here in this bed where she belonged, back in the office
setting type. Better a little less business than such uneasiness.
    Someone might steal her—that could happen. Big oil men—any kind of men—they could do anything with an innocent country girl—well, at least a small town girl born and bred. He didn't want to lose her. Better to lose Fannie. That would merely mean less business.
    Maybe he could keep bringing in the business without her. But Nell—to lose her meant to lose everything. The business couldn't carry the expense of a typesetter. They cost lots of money--wages high, union hours. There would be nothing left after paying him. And he would do less than Nell could turn out. Everything depended on Nell's return. His whole life was built around her. If she didn't come back--if she fell victim to the foul play of some big oil man—then everything was at an end. And with that he fell asleep. When he woke up he picked up the thread of his argument and went right on with the guess whether the pair would be back today—Friday.
    They had promised in that wire, but that wire had lied—a plain lie—deception—
there was no deal to close—it had been closed—Fannie Harris' influence—already at work on Nell.
    What'll I say to her? he asked himself in fear. Scold? No. That won't do. Show her the confirmation? No, she'll see it when she looks over the mail. It's all Fannie's fault. She's a bad egg. If she hadn't been so easy I wouldn't have gone to that hotel with her. No man propositions a respectable woman. I wish I hadn't. She isn't my kind. And not so pretty. Kinda nice shape. Nifty figure. But outside of being just a little too plump, Nell is better looking--younger, too.
    The sand-colored roadster drove up with a rush. Fannie and Nell laughed and kidded as they got out and ran into the office of the Beacon. Ambrose pretended he was busy--indifferent.
    "Hello, there," Nell called. "Glad to see us back again? How was batching? You rascal, you didn't step out on me while I was gone, did you?"
    "No, of course not," Ambrose argued, troubled by the new note in her banter. "What'd I want to do that for? Busy around here. Worked like a slave."
    "Well, listen, we got the order--and what a time we had landing it. But it's ours. Leave it to good old sex appeal--it always works. We got into that gay old dog's office and instead of kicking us out for trying to sell him he wouldn't let us drag ourselves away."
    Fannie was already at her desk checking up and stock and figuring a new order.
    "It took a long time to get him to come across," Ambrose reflected.
    "Oh, not so long. Getting the actual order was a cinch. It was getting away from those men--that was the job. They would insist on lunches, on dinners, on shows. They had us running around like trained fleas."
    "They? Who's they?"
    "There were two of them--one for each of us, if you must
know. I had the president of the Tulsa Wholesale Grocery ompany—fancy that, my boy. Fannie called up one of her old friends and he joined up for a time--he's a big oil man--"
    Behind in her work, Nell hurried to her linotype and was soon at work setting her batch of copy. Ambrose pulled and read proof. Nell quit at about four and did some hurried shopping for dinner, which she cooked and had ready for Ambrose when he came in at five-thirty.
    Ambrose ate slowly, without zeal. He was wondering. He wanted to ask questions, especially about the confirmation, which she hadn't seen. But why ask? She already admitted having gone out with a strange business man and a big oil man. What was there to explain? He could only wonder how far it had gone. There might have been drinking. Necking. Worse!
    "So you got the order at last?" Ambrose repeated.
    "Yes, we got it but not as the wire said. Fannie thought out that foolish little lie. I wouldn't have written it if I'd had time to think. I didn't stop to question. We just stayed around because we both wanted a good time. There was no business reason. So that's that."
    "That's that? I should say so--telling your husband what isn't true--out with strange men--two nights in Tulsa--I--I---"
    "Now don't choke," Nell broke in. "I haven't anything to be afraid of--or to be ashamed of. I'm not lying to you now. I told you right off about the parties--"
    "Yes, but what kind of parties--what happened--"
    "Now just what do you mean? Do you mean did I do what you did at the Connor?"
    The fat was in the fire.
    "The Connor? What about the Connor?"
    "What about the Connor? What about that? Don't stammer like that. Don't blush. Don't lie. I know what a man and a woman do at a hotel where they register as man and wife under a phony name."
    "So Fannie has been talking--"
    "I knew it before Fannie opened her mouth. I knew the moment you stepped into the house that night. She merely admitted what I already knew."
    "How can a woman talk about such things? Such things should be sacred—"
    "Sacred? Bunk! You mean secret. Listen, stop lying. I know everything, and I haven't criticized you. That's closed. What I did in Tulsa is none of your business. You can't make me tell unless I want to, and maybe I'll want to some time, but not right now. You haven't a kick coming. If you want to imagine the worst, go right ahead. I don't care a hang. Think what you please. If I did what you think I did then--oh, what's the use of this argument? Let's not spoil our dinner."
    "I'm not scolding. I'm not suspicious. Nell, you know I care for you more than anything or anyone in the world. I wouldn't dream of getting along without you. Whatever you did, that's your business, as you say. All I can add is that I'm sorry for what I did in Joplin, and if you'll forgive me I'll never step out again. Not as long as I live."
    "Since you put it that way I'll make the same promise--but that doesn't mean I did what you did, though I may have. Just wouldn't you like to know? Oh, boy, how you're going to keep wondering and asking yourself. I'll let you sweat a while."
    "I'm not trying to squeeze anything out of you, Nell, honey. I'm sorry, and you've forgiven me. Now the thing to do is to get rid of Fannie. I've had enough."
    "Get rid of Fannie? Why, do you know what that means? You'll have to buy her off. She's really a half partner in the job printing end of the business. She may stick you for a fancy price. You better study that over carefully."
    "No, my mind is made up. I've had enough. Better less business and less to worry about. I've had enough of big business and, besides, we may be able to keep it going as now even though she goes away. I'll pay her a fair price and say quits."
    Fannie was open to reason. She gave serious thought to Ambrose's invitation to make a buy or sell proposition. She offered to sell out for $2,500. Ambrose argued her down to $750, paid her off and called it a day.
    A certified check in her handbag, Fannie sprang into her shiny sand-colored roadster, waved to Ambrose, and shouted: "See you in church!" And to Nell she said: "Good-bye, Nell, dear. If you ever get to Tulsa again let me know, for that's where I'm going--to the city of the big sugar daddies--the big oil men who do things in a big way."
    The roadster pulled out of Watsonville, leaving Ambrose at the desk in front and Nell at her linotype. They worked for several minutes without a word.
    "I'm glad she's gone," Ambrose announced, apropos of nothing.
    "She's a good sort," Nell called over. "I like her. Lots of people would consider her fast and all that sort of thing, but I know her well. She's really nice--nice in a human sort of way. And a good head on her shoulders. A peach of a business woman."
    "A business woman! Yes, but it's all mixed up with something besides cold business."
    "She sure knows her groceries."
    And that was the end of the argument. By evening they were their old selves. The wholesale grocery idea died out and the gross receipts fell to $130 a week, where they remained week after week, month after month. The net was $55, but Ambrose was happy, in his own cautious way. Nell did her work well, was a little more cheerful for months after the Tulsa visit—and never told what had happened.

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Comtesse du Jones

I

    Born and raised on the farm, Bessie Jones loved everything on it, from the brown Cochin Bantam hen, just large enough for an elf's mount, to the thick necked, glossy black stallion, who snuggled his velvety nose so softly against her cheek—a cheek tanned by constant exposure to Kansas sun, but still firm and rounded. Dave and the twins, Edwin and Ernest (big, strapping boys now), Margaret, Bob, Doris, William T., Barby, and little George—this lively brood and the active years of endless duties had left their inevitable traces; Bessie looked all of her forty-two years, but her pleasant face seemed to declare that of slight importance.
    Her life, if full to overflowing, was not complex. Again with child, she clucked her cheery round among her children and their pets, her stock and her fowls, as contentedly as one of her numerous hens, pleasantly conscious of her capabilities, and basking in the genial atmosphere of her husband's approval.
    Absorbed in his hardware and implement store, Phil Jones was content to leave the farm to his wife. What spare time he had was occupied in fulfilling his obligations as president of Fallon's Chamber of Commerce, Worshipful Master of the Masons, member of the Board of Education, and Chancellor-Commander of the Knights of Pythias.
    He was used to Bessie and could not have conceived of himself as married to anyone else. She was a part of him, just as their children were. He especially liked her homey, housewifely temperament, in a day of women given over to bridge and foolish clubs and unnecessary dabbling in business. He understood perfectly that, successful as her farm was, Bessie never conceived of it as an enterprise. To her, the farm and the household were one. She raised her hogs, that she might provide her large family with delicious spiced hams, and handled cows, that her children might have all they wished of clotted cream, cheeses, and unsalted butter, which she churned daily. The skimmed milk helped to feed the hogs. And it was for them that she raised her corn; the oats were for her horses and the kaffir and rye fed the chickens that came to her table crisply fried or boiled with noodles. She fattened a few steers and sheep, that they might have fresh beef and mutton, and into her cellar went piles of home-raised potatoes, and apples gathered by the children for pies and roasting in the long winter evenings by the hearth fire. In her cupboards were rows of finely flavored jellies from fruit in her own orchard. Even walnuts, hickories, and pecans, the children's eager hands picked.
    Merely to think of her was to conjure to one's mind delicious plenty--flocks of snowy ducks and huge gray geese, bronze turkeys, pearl guineas, and cooing pigeons.
    Under her hand, the farm yielded a rich comfort. She was a bit odd, thought the town—bearing so many children with such obvious pride and delight; taking such satisfaction in fulfilling all of the farm life's insistent demands--but she was so friendly and good tempered, so warmly hospitable, that it was impossible not to respond to her. Besides, brought up as she had been, so near Fallon and educated in its schools, she knew every one in the little county seat and surrounding country and was taken quite simply where a stranger would have had to run the gauntlet of comment.
    She and Janet Graham, vice-president of the First State Bank, where Phil and Bessie did their business, had been friends ever since Janet could remember; and as Robert Graham, Janet's husband, was a "gentleman farmer," Janet frequently consulted Bessie on problems of agriculture and animal husbandry.
    Robert had gone in heavily for poultry, but, occupied as he was with his new novel, it happened frequently that for two or three days at a time he would forget the hens' existence, and would leave such details as the care of five hundred chickens to his versatile Janet; so she was not particularly surprised when, one evening at dinner, Robert declared that he was at too critical a point in his story to give any attention to a large straw packed hamper containing two hundred Rhode Island Red eggs, which had been deposited at the bank that afternoon.
    "But Robert," protested Janet reasonably, "both your incubators are full, and you haven't a hen that wants to set. What am I to do with them?"
    "Anything you like--just so I don't have to be bothered. Why don't you 'phone Bessie Jones, and see if she'll lend you some hens?"
    Janet, too much of a farmer herself to ask such a favor casually, went over to the Joneses to discuss the matter. She found Bessie, clean and sweet in her simple, freshly laundered frock of pink gingham and white organdy, lovely in the first fullness of her approaching maternity, sitting on the wide steps of her back porch, surrounded by flower-filled vases and little children, her lap full of sweet peas and nasturtiums, which she was arranging in the bowl that five-year-old Barby held up for her, happily intent upon her pretty task. Silence flooded the quiet, well ordered barnyard, a peace broken only by occasional night noises, the suppressed twittering of little chicks, and the laughter of the older children and their friends. In Bessie's blue eyes were reflected the peace and beauty she found in her home.
    "Why, sure," she smiled, when Janet had made known her errand. "Sure, I'll let you have all I got." And gently disengaging a couple of furry kittens and a flop-eared puppy from among the flowers in her lap, she led Janet, with the children eddying around them, to the chicken house, where the two women began with practiced hands to stroke the hens they found on nests, ascertaining quickly, by the degree of broodiness, which could be depended upon for setting, even if moved from their own nests.
    "How many do you want?"
    "Honestly, Bessie, I'm ashamed to say."
    "Aw! Don't be foolish. I know how Robert is."
    "Bessie, you're a dear. There really ought to be fourteen. I don't like to put more than fifteen of those Rhode Island eggs under one hen. What do you think about it? I'll bring over laying hens to replace them."
    "You'll do no such thing. Use 'em till you're through with 'em. Just put leg bands on 'em and keep 'em till next fall, if you like. I'll tell you what," she added, "you put your eggs in the nests tonight, Janet, and I'll bring over the hens tomorrow. You ought to let your eggs lie quiet twenty-four hours anyway, you know. And I'll like the ride in the cool of the evening."
    To Robert, looking from his study window the next day, she made a quaint picture, driving up his gravel road in a fine old phaeton, surrounded by half a dozen dogs, with five or six small boys hanging on behind and Barby firmly astride the horse in the shafts, the whole cortege flapping and cackling.
    "Bessie," he laughed, "you have as many followers as the lady of whom I have just been reading. What do you think of the Pompadour, Bessie?" he added impishly.
    "Who?" Bessie's tone was blank.
    "Bessie Jones, you surely don't mean you have never heard of her? What is the world coming to when intelligent women like you, mothers of the rising generation, know so little and care so little for the famous women who've made history? Bessie, I am going to lend you this book. And when you've read it, I want your opinion."
    Bessie's glance at the somber brown volume was not enthusiastic. "I don't have much time to read," she ventured; "and when I do, I like something real excitin'. There's a book in the front room downstairs that I started the other day, when I was waitin' for Janet to go with me to the Parent-Teachers meetin'. It seemed real good. I don't mind takin' that."
    "One of the books downstairs, was it?" exclaimed Robert derisively. "Bessie, those are only my policemen. I keep them there to ward off people from my real library upstairs--from books like this. You are too superior a woman to want trash. You deserve one of the best. And as for exciting--well!"
    Too shrewd to be entirely taken in by Robert's apparent flattery, yet touched and made curious by it, Bessie held out her capable looking hand.
    "Well, it won't hurt me to try it, I suppose," she conceded.

II

    Little did she suspect how memorable this quiet moment was to be. Later, when she looked back, she saw that it marked the entrance into a new world. Yet how narrowly had she missed her great adventure! The brown book with its black trimmings looked so dull; the title of the introduction, with the queer hieroglyphical name, "Choisy-le-Roi," was so unintelligible. But her pride had been touched by Robert's half-comprehended condescension of manner, and the fine texture of the paper and clear print told her the quality of the book, and warned her that it should not tarry long in a house where half a dozen canaries fluttered about uncaged, kittens chose their own lounging places unmolested, and curious puppies ran snuffling noses over strange objects, which little fingers were as eager to investigate. She had been foolish to bring such a treasure home and she wasn't interested in it anyway. Thus Bessie to herself. Well, she had said she would read it, so she would read it, so she would. Then it would be off her mind. Sheer willpower held her at first; but later the brown boards became the great bronze gates of the grounds of Madame de Pompadour's palace; and through them Bessie passed from her farm into the subtle, romantic world of the marquise—into her very life.
    Bessie read on with the peculiar absorption of the person who, reading but seldom, becomes genuinely interested. Louis the Fifteenth, heretofore less than a name, no more definitely placed in her mind than one of the Pharaohs, France, even time itself--for what had the eighteenth century ever meant to Bessie Jones?--all became real.
    As she came to the end, her mind was crowded with thoughts of the Marquise de Pompadour's beauty and dignity, the horror of Damien's death--could a time that had produced such a woman countenance such tortures?--a curious wonder at the tale she had read, a tale that stirred her the deeper because it was true.
    The next day Bessie went about in a strange dreaminess, the world of the night before more vivid than the actual one about her. If only she could see how this Madame de Pompadour looked. And even the miserable du Barry, so slightingly alluded to by the marquise's chronicler! And the King! Of course, since they had been real, there must be pictures of them, so she would ask Robert; her heart beat with excitement at the thought. But she would wait until her work was done. As it was her day to clean the brooder house, broom and oilcan in hand and mite killer at her side, she went through her usual task with habitual thoroughness. But her mind was busy with the marquise's defense of Latude's charges; for suddenly it had become of importance to Bessie that she keep her faith in her new-found friend--a friend whose kindliness was as fragrant as the perfume of Bessie's own flowers.
    It didn't occur to her as strange that she, brought up in a Presbyterian atmosphere, taught to accept the Ten Commandments literally, should find it so simple to delight in a life where all were broken with a smile. Something deeply human in Bessie had been touched by all that was so deeply human in the marquise; and with the Pompadour's own capacity for friendship Bessie offered hers.
    Robert accepted the return of the book that evening.
    "And what will you have now, Bessie?" he asked, too absorbed in his own thoughts to be further amused.
    But her answer, "I'd like to read du Barry," brought the old teasing look into his eyes.
    "What! You surely haven't finished this one!"
    Bessie laughed. "I sure did, Robert Graham. You were right, too. It was as excitin' as anything I ever did hear of. It was most time to get up when I quit. The roosters were a-crowin' a'ready. Phil says he hasn't known me to do such a thing since we been married. I'm going to take the next one slower. What's the matter with me, Janet?" she demanded, suddenly flustered. "Look at the way Robert's starin' at me--"
    "Bessie Jones!" murmured Robert solemnly, "I should think you would want to read of du Barry. Observe, Janet, she has the same blue eyes, the same ash-blonde hair--and I'll venture it's long too, Bessie--and, as I live, the same dark eyebrows and eyelashes. Bessie, did you ever feel you had lived before?"
    Bessie's eyes flashed. "Well, if I did, I'll bet I was never the common thing this book says she was."
    "Wait until you really know her, Bessie," remonstrated Robert, sternly. "You'll find her far, far kinder than the marquise. She wasn't at all unlike you--loved dogs and children.
    And she was warmhearted and magnanimous. Read what the Goncourts have to say of her generosity to Marie Antoinette, who, you'll find, had been so steadily unkind to her, in her earlier days. She hadn't much of a mind, the comtesse, but she had a great heart. In her journal she will tell you, in her own way, everything about herself, just as the Pompadour did in hers. You must read the journal first, by all means."
    And Bessie read--this time slowly, absorbing every detail, every picture. Had she been the friend addressed, she could not have taken it more personally, been more completely held. It was as if each day she received a letter from "Jeanne"--for so Bessie thought of the Comtesse du Barry. And Bessie knew at once, by intuition, that this Jeanne was far more of her own kind than the brilliant, discriminating Pompadour. Without loving the marquise less, Bessie lived and breathed with the comtesse, her own pure mind, by some strange alchemy, accepting her friend's amours but purging them of all grossness. Unthinkable, of course, such actions for herself or the people of Fallon! Yet she justified easily the standards of the French court. "They were so honest and simple about it," she thought. She even went so far as to wonder what Fallon would think of her if it knew how lenient she was.
    Each day found her more deeply absorbed in the romance and beauty and luxury of the period. Its charm enveloped her like a fairy mist, through which she saw her farm and her children in enchanting colors, drawing them into the picture. A snow-white peacock and one resplendent in iridescence, each with his mate, appeared as if by magic, and to Phil's startled inquiry Bessie answered tranquilly: "I sold those two registered heifers and bought them. They look so pretty on the place. And besides," she added, practically, "they'll more than pay for themselves with their little ones."
     To their large assortment of collies and bird dogs was added a stately wolfhound, and in the smooth pasture that stretched between the house and the public road Bessie began excavations for a lily pond.
    Phil was astonished. "How much is it going to cost you?" he exclaimed.
    "Not a penny," Bessie answered, trying to evade the bobbing head of little George as he clung about her neck. "I'm letting anyone take the dirt for the hauling of it, and there are three wagons being loaded out there now."
    "But why not make a regular stock pond out of it?"
    "We already have one in the big pasture. We don't need this, you see. It's just to look pretty. I want it to be like one they might have had at Choisy-le-Roi or at Luciennes--and be all white with lilies." Her voice trailed dreamily, and the children, clustering with intent eyes about her, caught eagerly the reflection of her vision. "I guess," she added sensibly, with one of her typically sudden descents to fact, "I'll stock the pond in the big pasture with fish. We might as well raise our own."
    Phil laughed heartily. "Good heavens, Bessie, what next? You have filled the air and the land, now you're going to populate the water! Well, go to it. I'm for you."
    And the lily pond was only a forerunner. With the aid of her children and a blueprint sent down at her request from the State Agricultural College, she evolved a stately formal garden, and at its end, against a background of young lilacs and hollyhocks, nestling among madonna and tiger lilies, iris, phlox, and Japanese anemones, there glimmered an entrancing fairy pool.
    True, it would be many a day before the garden would come into its fullness, and meanwhile the pool had to be emptied by hand, and water carried in tubs from the pump; but Bessie and her children saw it always in its ultimate perfection.
    There came, too, a tennis court; and in the rose garden a little rustic throne doubly dear to Bessie because Dave (a trifle condescendingly) and the twins had made it. Forthwith her skilful fingers fashioned from tissue paper and tarlatan, cheesecloth and Christmas tinsel, little costumes for her own and Janet's children; and Bessie and her retinue began to play at fetes. Janet and Robert were amazed at the completeness and accuracy with which the revels were adapted and reproduced from du Barry's.
    So real had "Jeanne" now become to Bessie, that there was often in her heart an ache to see, to touch her. She strained against the long interval that had elapsed between their lives, feeling in this love for one so beautiful, so wistful, so tragically tossed to and from the depths, a lilt unlike anything that her comfortable, deep entity with Phil, or her brooding tenderness for her children, had to offer. Du Barry's friends were Bessie's; so too her enemies.
    She named her fowls for these various personages. There was the Comtesse de Berne, a hateful old hen that tried to peck every time Bessie came to look at the eggs. She had always to lift her by the comb and the back of the neck, as you would a kitten. And the smooth, silky Persian cat, so charming and so two-faced, was the Marechale de Mirepoix; while the old lame pot hound, who had proved herself such a good watchdog, was Chon. The proud turkey cock, who ruled over the whole flock, was Choiseul, of course, though Bessie spent many an hour, while her hands were busy at humdrum tasks, trying to determine what attitude to take toward this minister, whose appointment the Pompadour had considered her greatest feat of statesmanship and whom du Barry had found so difficult and inimical. The gentle white turkey hen was the duke's gracious wife; but for his sister, Duchesse de Grammont, Bessie reserved the parrot, so cross and treacherous to all but her one or two favorites. There was much discussion as to who should have the honor of being the Duc d'Aiguillon, and for a time this nomination was left open, until, a majestic swan arriving, the children conferred the dukedom upon him by acclamation. One after another, the entire court of Louis XV came to life in Bessie's barnyard. Day by day, the children listened to the fascinating tales that their mother retold in her own language, and learned to know these famous folk.
    And Bessie, poring over the Goncourt's life of the comtesse, came upon her expense accounts and was bespelled by them.
    For there were itemized all du Barry's frocks--frocks such as only she and fairy princesses ever wore. There Bessie discovered satin foundations embroidered with knots of rose-colored spangles, gold folds forming waves, bouquets of spangles enameled with rubies, robes of blonde lace over foundations of silver, chicory-colored borders of puffs with bouquets in the openings, innumerable knots of jasmine, jeweled robes edged with silver.
    Bessie would find her breath coming quickly at the vision of such loveliness. She felt no envy, only a rich delight, as when she rejoiced in a starlit sky. And, indeed, were not du Barry's costumes woven of clouds and of starlight? They were not of this world surely--not, at any rate, of the earth of which Fallon and Fallon's clothes were a part. Wonderful, unbelievably as they were, Bessie knew them as well as her own modest dresses. Not one preserved by the historians escaped her. Not a hat, not a slipper or parasol, not a cloak or negligee. And her vases and snuffboxes, pin cases and goblets, basins for flowers, her fruit dishes, the furnishings of her bedroom and salon, on throughout the whole of Luciennes, to the berries on the armchairs--Bessie could remember all.
    Robert and Janet were astounded at the amount that had been absorbed by the "Comtesse." At first, Robert had given Bessie the title purely in jest, declaring that, as she spent so much time with du Barry and the folk of Louis's court, she must have a rank in keeping; but Bessie took it simply, and the children caught it up with delight, so that, slipping more and more constantly into use, it soon became her recognized appellation, affording the Grahams infinite amusement at some of the incongruities involved.
    "Countess," Maggie would call, "the apple butter's boilin' over."
    "Hi, Barby! Where's the Countess?" Dave would yell from the barn.
    "I dunno."
    "Well, you better find her--quick. That new cow she got last week's havin' a calf down here."
    Or it might be, "Say, Henriette" (for so Maggie had become in token of her mother's affectionate acknowledgement of her capabilities), "the Dook dee Richelloo's a-trompin' on Princess Adelaide's goslings. Ask the Countess where she wants me to put 'em."

III

   And through it all, with her own children and other people's, dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, canaries and love birds, the ubiquitous Duchesse de Grammont, colts and calves, chickens and pigs, perpetually flocking about her, Bessie moved through the long summer, happy because in her heart was now a song, a rainbow, a fairy bubble of illusion. Fact and romance moved in her fructifying soul, side by side, without conflict.
    A phrase about the Marquise de Pompadour sometimes floated through her head—"After having been more than the Queen, she exercised greater sway than the King." "That's me!" she would think. "I'm like a queen here, sure enough; and no king ever had such loving subjects nor more power over 'em."
    Lured backward by du Barry's references to the Grand Monarque and Madame de Maintenon, Bessie lived throug the reign of Louis the Fourteenth, whom, thanks to Robert's kindly teaching, she now (as did her children) spoke of carefully as Louis Quatorze; through the period of Madame de Chateaurous; then turned once more to her first love, the Marquise de Pompadour, and again, with the adored du Barry as a starting-point, dove into the life of Marie Antoinette.
    "I like her," she explained to Robert, "because she died like a queen ought to; and I like that wonderful Madame Roland. I like folks to have spunk."
    "But, my dear Comtesse, that was just what your friend lacked."
    "And don't it make your heart break to think how she wanted to live and couldn't?" was Bessie's irrelevant answer, the easy tears filling her blue eyes at the abrupt remembrance of du Barry's futile resistance. "She was just like a lost child, at the end, with the whole world turning against her--for nothing. I guess I'd have acted just the same." And a wave of indignation dried the tears.
    "O Bessie," laughed Robert, "what a perfect reader you are! Do you know, if it weren't for people like you there would be no use writing books."
    "Now quit your kidding, Robert Graham," was her brisk rejoinder.
    She was reliving, one afternoon, du Barry's later days at Luciennes, when a lively ringing of the telephone jangled its way into her consciousness.
    "It's Mr. Graham, and he wants you, Countess," announced Henriette from the house.
    Bessie made her leisurely way, majestic as she now was with child, and accompanied as usual by a numerous retinue, into her dining room.
    "Yourself, is it, Comtesse?" came Robert's fine voice over the wire. "I should like to bring to supper a descendant of the Duc de Brissac--he would hold the title, himself, Bessie, if France were still a monarchy."
    Bessie's brain whirled. "Robert Graham! You surely ain't talkin' sense!"
    "I surely am. Pierre de Brissac is his name, and he was born in France. I used to know him when we were children; but he's Anglicized it now to Peter Breeze. Phil'll like him, too."
    For once the little Joneses saw their mother flustered.
    Company was no event at the Comtesse's table, but never had she dreamed of entertaining a de Brissac--a descendant of Jeanne du Barry's last lover! On went Bessie's finest linen, her prettiest company china; and into their Sunday clothes went all the children.
    The house was swiftly swept and dusted, shades were pulled to just the right height, curtains shaken out, imaginary flies swatted; the house was made a bower of flowers, and her most delicious supper was prepared. Her little court moved to her command, quickly, deftly.
    And finally she saw them coming--all in Phil's big car: Robert and Janet and Phil, and--the Duc de Brissac. Shyness overwhelmed Bessie; her fingers grew cold, her throat ached with the excitement and tension of the moment. And yet she would have found it almost impossible to put into words what she expected.
    Just so might a child have felt, had she known that within the moment she was actually to see and to touch the hand of the fairy prince who had awakened Sleeping Beauty. The remote, the marvelous were incredibly to emerge from the very midst of the familiar and the commonplace; her two worlds--the vivid one of her mind and the routine one of her flesh--were to blend for a never to be forgotten hour. To touch the hand of this stranger, to talk with him, to have him at her table, would be to touch, to talk with, to entertain du Barry, Louis, and all his court. Small wonder that before this miracle Bessie faltered, eager, but deeply abashed.
    Phil's laconic, "Meet my wife and kids, Mr. Breeze," gave her a distinct shock. For the first time she dared really to look at her guest; and even as she began to regain her usual poise her heart sank. Why, he was just--just an ordinary person, without even that differentiating quality that made Robert Graham stand out as distinct from all Fallon. Breeze was "well-dressed," to be sure; his large, horn rimmed glasses had a sophisticated air, and his pleasant face, if a bit smug, was keen enough. But his whole manner, a trifle too obviously genial, seemed proudly and boomingly to proclaim him a professional mixer. Bessie could feel Phil silently applauding him.
    "Please to meet you," she said coolly, distaste unconsciously creeping into her voice.
    Robert came to her rescue. "To Bessie," he explained, "you should introduce Pierre by his rightful title, Phil. Comtesse du Jones, let me present Monsieur le Duc de Brissac. Mrs. Jones is deeply interested in French history of the period of your illustrious forbear, Pierre.
    Breeze took refuge behind a rumbling, would-be contagious laugh. "See here, folks," he protested good-naturedly, "you can't hold a fellow responsible for his ancestors, now can you? You wouldn't do that, Mrs. Jones, now would you? Nor you, Mrs. Graham? Even if your family did use to live in France, we're a hundred per cent American now."
    "Now you're talkin'," exclaimed Phil; and Robert agreed easily with, "Of course. You see, Bessie, how much civilization accomplishes. Peter Breeze is here organizing for the Kiwanis. As a result of the Madame de Pompadours and the Diderots and Molieres, as a result of the revolutions and assassinations of du Barrys and Duc de Brissacs, we get Peter here, the Kiwanis clubs, good sound Fallon standards--isn't that right, Peter?"
    "You've hit it that time, old man. Times change. And we got to have progress. And about tonight," Breeze diverged deftly,"tell me again who is president of the First National Bank."
    Phil eagerly supplied the name.
    "And what'd you say was the name of the merchant that runs the big dry goods store on the west side? You got to get your leading citizens in it, you know. By Jiminy! but this town certainly does need a Kiwanis club. Something to put a little pep into it. There ain't a "welcome sign" anywhere as you come driving in. And those iron rails around the courthouse—say, folks,"—his tone became confidentially earnest,—"they really ought to come out—d'you know that? This town's for progress and autos, what? If people have got to come in with horses, let 'em hitch 'em somewheres off the square."
    He launched eagerly into further suggestions for improving Fallon.
    After Bessie had taken up the supper and they were all seated at the table, she observed him silently, noting every detail. The hot evening in early September was none too kind to Breeze. Sweat trickled down his glossy cheeks, wilting his stiff collar. In an effort to make the Joneses feel that he was of their own kind, he displayed the most careless of manners, shoveling in the excellent food with a gusto as he talked.
    Robert was right, thought Bessie. The world had indeed gone backward. Instead of Madame du Barry, so beautiful that her worst slanderers were stricken into silence before her, so gracious and brave in adversity that the good nuns of her prison adored her; instead of the Duc de Brissac, giving new dignity to his beloved by the depth and restraint of his passion, here was this Kiwanis organizer, and herself, awkward and countrified, trying to pretend that a rambling, old, badly built house and a prosaic farm were a chateau and Luciennes. Slowly her disillusion penetrated still deeper.
    Conscious of what he had done, and already full of compunction, Robert did not go with the others.
    "I'm like you, Bessie," he explained; "I have very little taste for Kiwanis and Rotary clubs."
    The perfume from the vine-covered porch enveloped them; and standing there in the twilight, watching the departing car, disappointment chastened Bessie's sweet face and gave it an illusive wistfulness. It seemed to Robert, for a moment, that he had a glimpse of how Bessie might have looked, had she lived in that other time and in that other environment for which she longed.
    Under the tan, hidden away in this mother of many children, there was the possibility of a rarely charming woman. Yet, for years— until he had lent her that Pompadour book—he differentiated her from their other neighbors only by the size of her family and the superiority of her poultry.
    "Come," she said, turning to Robert, "I want to show you our new little colt; and you know I have ten hens and my big two-hundred-and-fifty egg incubator hatching. The chicks began coming out this morning. I like to bring off a brood in September. It'll be the last one this year, and I've just had real good luck. You must see them."
    As they went down the cellar stairs, the squeals of puppies were blurred by the manifold cheeping of two-hundred-odd fluffy bits of life.
     "Like flowers, ain't they?" murmured Bessie, lifting them on her hands as lightly as the blossoms they seemed to her. There was a warm silence as her children entered with her into the delicate ecstasy of the moment.
    "I'm thinkin'," she said with a smile, "that we'll have something a heap nicer than this in a few hours. If it was a girl, I was a-goin' to call her Marie Antoinette—just to show there was no hard feelin'. But now, somehow since this evenin'—somehow," she broke out desperately, "somehow I'm wondering if du Barry and all the rest of 'em mightn't seem as differ'nt from what I've been thinkin' as this Mr. Breeze turned out. Seems as if I've been actin' kinda foolish like with all this pretendin' and livin' in a dream."
    "Why, Comtesse," returned Robert gently, "Pierre is like you and myself; he simply yielded to the perpetual leveling—cavaliers turning Roundheads—that's all. It's a process and we call it—progress."
    "I feel terribly guilty, Bessie," he went on, "but—I have another world, if you want it."
    "Another?"
    "Hundreds of them. Suppose we let the next one be Mrs. Thrale's. How congenial you two should be! And you will love her friends—Sam Johnson, Boswell, the Italian fiddler, and—"
    "Do you know any of their descendants?" Bessie asked suspiciously.
    But Robert noticed with satisfaction that she seemed less shaken. His tone carried conviction. "I guarantee you, Bessie, that this time there will not be a single descendant."

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Kinks

. . . It being Saturday morning and the fifteenth of
April, the Reverend Stephen Maynard was thinking about God and
Liberty Bonds. Letting delicate problems of theology remain
unpondered, he walked down to the First State Bank of Fallon, where
he scissored the interest coupons from forty handsomely engraved
instruments which proved on the face of them that the government
was indebted to him in the sum of four thousand dollars. Though a
Morgan in the riches of the spirit, Stephen was a true Maynard in
the wealth that can be weighed and counted. Like the long line of
his self-indifferent, scholarly forbears who had been in the
Presbyterian service since the days of Calvin himself, he was
unencumbered with the responsibilities of possession; and yet,
according to their standard, he was a financier. No other Maynard
had owned so vast an accumulation. Stephen, the first to have left
questions of religion long enough to acquire the sheckels, actually
had been so foresighted as to purchase, some twenty-odd years
before, a policy that happened to mature when Uncle Sam found
himself short of funds. Maynard had dumped the fortune into the lap
of the Treasury Department. And this morning, true to its written
pledge, the Republic met its interest obligation of some ninety
dollars without so much as batting an eye.
"Why don't you register them, Dr. Maynard?" suggested
James Osborne, the bank's president. In his voice was the note of
respect all Fallon used toward the kindly minister. "This way, you
know, they're just like currency. It'd be the same as losing four
thousand in bills if they're lost or stolen."
Stephen's eyes rested with tranquil appraisement on the
rows of steel safety boxes in the vault. With its complicated
bolts, the half-open massive steel door, so gleaming in its silver
greyness, seemed a bulwark of security.
Osborne followed his thought. "I know," he laughed in a
pleased manner, "but nothing's proof against some o' the new
methods. We advise this to all our customers who hold their bonds
as an investment."
"Yes, yes, I think it may not be a bad idea," agreed
Stephen. "I'll speak to Mrs. Maynard and see what she says."
Matters of finance disposed of, Stephen began to cogitate
on his next day's sermon. With sly humor, he frequently catalogued
his colleagues by the days on which they prepared their
pronouncements. When, as a young man of twenty-five, he had begun
his pastorship, over thirty years before, he had drafted each new
sermon on the very next day after the last one had been delivered.
Now it was the day before he was to preach. This was indicative of
his own evolution for it covered a steady shedding of orthodoxy,
beginning with Monday sermons which had warned a shuddering world
that their infants were raw material for damnation and that there
was a real place burning limitless supplies of sulphur and
brimstone. It was only at the end of ten years that he had begun to
write his discourses on Wednesday, and Hell had become a state of
mind, so to speak. Five years later it was Thursday, and infants
were no longer held personally responsible. And now, on Saturday,
Stephen was outlining a kindly talk that was inclined to jolly
rather than bulldoze sinners into salvation. There was less of a
threat to the wicked and more of history, and science, and
philosophy. It was a friendly sort of religion, with no aim to
injure anyone's feelings.
More than once he had been offered the opportunity to take
a larger church, for Stephen's sermons, at all periods of his
development, had been too stamped by intellectuality to go
unnoticed. But life in friendly little Fallon had seemed a small
price to pay for the leisure to read and study and collect the
books he coveted. Books were his passion. In them for many years he
had lived a wide-ranging, vivid life, and possibly because he
himself was so placid by nature, so mental, so lacking in spark, he
revelled, with delicious amusement and understanding, in the rather
lurid wake of those in whose veins red fire had pulsed. Love of
adventure was in his conscious mind, though only subconsciously in
his nature.
Fallonites boasted without petty rancor of his attainment.
He was their scholar and they felt, somehow, included in his
superiority. At the same time, there was almost a maternal quality
in their collective attitude toward him. His slender, aristocratic
figure, his hair which, except for liberal streaks of grey, was
still gold, his long delicately-veined hands, his wistful,
beautiful face with its clear triangular blue eyes, thin fine lips,
delicate nostrils and high narrow forehead, all held appeal for
them. And when, from time to time, his old seminary classmates
rebelled at a seeming waste of what they felt might have been a
brilliant life, Stephen's reply was invariably the same.
"There is nowhere I could be of more use. I know everyone
here so well. Why, I have known half of them since they were big-
eyed, wondering babies. I have taken them into the church, married
them, buried their parents, baptized their children. I know them as
their own mothers know them. They have faith in me." His friends
understood. He shrank from the impersonality, the business
obligations, and the bustle of a large charge. He never had
weakened in his early determination to keep his life uncluttered,
to possess at all costs the leisure to live simply and humanly.
This determination and Stephen's sense of values were
shared in large measure by his wife. With an innate comprehension
of all that good taste demanded of the mistress of a manse, she was
like a very part of himself--charming, restrained. Brought up in a
stately old home and surrounded by every luxury, Mary Maynard,
nevertheless, in conforming to the restrictions of her married
life, had found the same finely-spun pleasure that a conventional
hostess feels in a perfectly appointed dinner table, or a poet in
the rigid laws of a sonnet. The memory of her, after a meeting,
lingered like an exquisite perfume. If occasionally she doubted the
propriety of some of the books over which Stephen chuckled so
heartily and worried a trifle over his broadening sense of humor
and diminishing orthodoxy, the sweetness of his character was too
unmistakable to permit of her discomfort becoming acute. She had
been a wonderful manager, so that even with Stephen's small salary
they had contrived not only to send their son, an only child, to
college but to save each year the tidy sums necessary to meet the
insurance premiums, and thereby bring the colossal fortune of four
thousand to invest in Liberty Bonds.
Stephen was thinking tenderly of her as he approached the
two-story, white-painted, frame parsonage next to the church. At
first he scarcely noticed a five-passenger Buick which stood at his
door, and which was somewhat newer than the one his congregation
had given him on the thirtieth anniversary of his pastorship. But
as he observed the car, he became curious, for heaped in the
tonneau were hundreds of pamphlets that one could see at first
glance to be tracts, some printed in colors.
Stephen entered his library, where he found waiting for
him a distinguished looking man of austere countenance. He must
have been about fifty-five, at least six feet tall, thin, except
that his shoulders were excessively broad. He was bald to the point
of shininess. Sharp, hatchet features seemed to focus in a long and
projecting nose, and his thin lips were, even in repose, pressed
together so firmly that there were always two deep furrows from his
nostrils to the sides of his wide mouth. Like Stephen's own, his
eyes were a clear blue grey. His face was entirely shaven, but his
eyebrows were enormous enough to serve any modest person as a
moustache. Indeed, those eyebrows were like the voice of a mighty
power. They were still as black as jet, and met in an almost
unbroken line. The stranger introduced himself as the Reverend
Jonathan Bryant Trench, of Bloomington, Illinois--all of which was
impressive, for Stephen knew hazily that this Illinois city was a
fairly large one, with probably a hundred thousand population,
which made the Reverend Dr. Jonathan Bryant Trench just about
thirty times more significant than this modest Fallon pastor, whose
own town could, at best, boast of only thirty-five hundred.
"I am on indefinite leave," said the visitor, after a
vague disposal of formalities of identification; "motoring around
for my health."
"Will you take my pulpit tomorrow?" Stephen asked
cordially, thinking how satisfying it would be to save his own
ideas for the following Sunday.
"I'll be glad to. I'm restless if I can't get before a
congregation at least once each week."
"You may have mine for both services."
"Thank you." And there was a ring of sincerity in it. The
man was happy, and Stephen was as happy to be relieved.
Their talk drifted easily into channels familiar to both.
"There are all sorts of kinks in people," said the visiting
minister, and those kinks must be ironed out. From my experience I
have learned that it takes a very hot iron to remove any kinks,
either in a laundry on in a church. We can't heat the iron to a
fair heat--it must be red hot, and it must wipe out everything that
comes in its way."
This was said with a positiveness that did not invite
argument. Stephen agreed dismissingly and tried to change the
subject, but the other would not be halted. He assaulted the
weaknesses of the human family, showed how it must be ruled with a
strong hand, and laid down the law that the minister who was
tolerant was a menace to the work of Christianizing an un-Christian
world of sinners, who but for the unyielding work of the Trenches
would be doomed. During the years he had spent in the ministry,
Stephen had come to know the most extreme species of straight-as-a-
die-and-hard-as-a-nail preacher, but soon he admitted that here was
the last word in orthodoxy. It was disconcerting to feel the
forcefulness of this man whose conception of saving sinners was to
blast them away from unrighteousness, when of late he himself had
come to resort to a mild form of tugging. It made him wonder if he
might not have slipped back a little.
"The trouble with the average minister," said Trench, in
that clinching way of his, "is that he has become fat on the job.
Yes, brother, fat! And no real Christian has a right to become fat.
It is a sure sign that he is sleeping while the world is falling
into deeper seas of sin. The preachers are compromising. To the
common people, they issue a command; to the middle class, it's a
bit of friendly advice; but to the rich, it's now merely a case of
throwing out a few suggestions."
In his slow gentle way, Stephen murmured, "Perhaps you are
right--I think we rather have adopted the custom of allowing two
per cent off for cash."
The Reverend Dr. Jonathan Bryant Trench met this bit of
repartee with a stare of such genuine horror that Stephen began to
squirm a little. Perhaps, he told himself ruefully, he had been
losing his sense of proportion. It certainly had been changing. He
had not realized how much until this moment. He had been feeling so
comfortable, so easy about it all. For the most part, the sinners
were so mild in their sin that it seemed far-fetched to become
excited about them; the virtues themselves too obvious and petty to
shout about. He had come to believe that no amount of talk nor
influence from without could put into any man the cardinal
qualities of sincerity, loyalty, tenderness, and love of truth. One
only could shape and develop what already was there and that far
more successfully by unconscious example and friendly interest. But
here was a fellow preacher who wanted militant proselytizing, who
wanted to scorch and burn the faltering children of a weak and
wavering form of animal life. Stephen became reflective. Once he
too had thought as the Reverend Doctor Jonathan Bryant Trench.
Perhaps this imposing, earnest man was right--he had grown stale on
the job. It might be just because he knew his congregation so well
that he could not judge them wisely. They had come to seem his own
children, and he was fond and foolish over them.
Appreciating his listener's attentiveness, the visitor
warmed to his topic. All during the bright spring afternoon, the
two men, so different in temperament yet bound by their mutual open
acceptance of the same doctrine, sat conversing in the library. All
through the appetizing evening meal, and later, on the porch, far
into the night, the Reverend Jonathan Bryant Trench pressed his
theme. "We must iron out the kinks, brother, every one of them."
These were the words that ran in Stephen's ears as his guest
finally went to his room.
The next day the entire congregation, accustomed to
Stephen's unfailing courtesy in the pulpit as out of it, suddenly
felt, with their paddings of self-satisfaction ruthlessly jerked
from them, oddly wayward and stumbling. Measured by immediate
response, the Reverend Jonathan Bryant Trench was an unqualified
success. His was more than a sermon; it was a clarion call. He did
not merely talk; he trumpeted. Here was the real thing and Fallon
was quick to catch it straight from its vibrating source. His
supremacy was complete. His flaming word roused them from their
lethargy. Nineteen came forward to profess their repentance and
faith.
II.
At half-past two the following morning, Fallon was
awakened by the prolonged whining of its siren, which, at that
hour, announced disaster. In dozens of homes men began to slip
hurriedly into their clothes.
"It must be a fire on the Square," Stephen surmised, as
his wife reported that "central," bombarded by questioners, refused
to answer. "They may need all the help they can get"; and soon he,
too, with an unaccustomed tingling of his nerves, was on his way to
the Square, but when he reached it he saw no signs of flames,
although the whole town seemed to be gathered in great excitement
and disarray before the First State Bank. James Osborne was
standing a little apart, talking with the sheriff.
"A bad business," he exclaimed, as Stephen came up to him.
"And one of the neatest jobs you can imagine. Burned their way
through the steel door of the vault, jerked off the doors of all
the steel safety boxes, helped themselves, took what cash they
could lay their hands on, and left. Never touched the safe, but
they must have got all of twenty-five thousand dollars in Liberty
Bonds. No, there's been no train. The night watchman saw a strange
car, though, on this side; saw it go out of town pretty fast not
long before he discovered there was something wrong. We've got to
organize the posses in a hurry."
Ordinarily, Stephen would have returned home, leaving such
violent excitement to younger men, but tonight, whether it was
because he too was swimming in the electrical excitement that
bathed the entire crowd, or whether it was because his own four
thousand of bonds made the chase a personal matter, he impulsively
offered his car. There were three other machines in the posse, with
five men in each. Their instructions were to stay together for
twenty miles due south, where they were to scatter, two going east
for twenty miles, and two west the same distance, after which all
were to head north back to town. Similar posses were being started
from Fallon in each of the other directions.
Stephen drove the second car, and once they were out on
the road the spirit of adventure sent his heart pounding. Just so
had he felt often, lying on his old leather couch in the library,
but this time, he told himself unbelievingly, it was real. He,
Stephen Maynard, was actually chasing a bandit. How good it seemed.
To be sure, he didn't know exactly what he might do if he should
meet the burglar. When it came to that, it was for these silent,
nervous, heavily armed men to do the work of capturing the law-
breaker. His job, he decided, was simply and wholly to manipulate
the car. Never before had he driven so rapidly. The leader set the
pace at forty miles and the others did their best to keep him in
sight.
About eighteen miles out of Fallon, there was a loud
report. As with a single voice, five mouths exploded, "Puncture!"
The car stopped, the four pursuers descended, and hailing the two
rear cars they crowded in among the other men, leaving Stephen to
change his tire and go on alone. In the darkness, filled with
mysterious rustlings and strange noises, he decided, with more
nervousness than whimsicality that, bonds or no bonds, he would
ignore any wandering bandits who might pass. He was letting down
the notches of his jack, some fifteen minutes later, when the
lights of a car coming behind him winked out suddenly. Several
shots were fired. Stephen sprang into his Buick and started its
engine, but as he was moving off, two men jumped on his running
boards, one on either side shoving an automatic in his face.
"What do you fellows want?" he asked sharply.
"You! What are you doin' out this time o' night and
startin' to run away when you're halted? Where're you goin'?"
In a flash, Stephen realized that they must be a posse
from the next county gathering in from the north to their home, and
that they had mistaken him for the robber. Feeling perfectly safe,
knowing that he should have no trouble in finally establishing his
identity, an impish, almost schoolboyish wish seized him to play
with the situation, to identify himself in the flesh, as he so
often had in his mind, with a vivid, dashing personality. How much
we would enjoy allowing himself, for a few moments, the sensations
of a bandit. Why not!
"Hold up your hands."
Stephen hesitated.
"Hold 'em up, I say, or I'll shoot."
This was not debatable, and he obeyed.
"Who are you?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Stephen replied.
But in spite of himself, an habitual sense of propriety forced him
to add with much dignity: "I am pastor of the Presbyterian Church
in Fallon. I was with a posse chasing the bandit, when I had a
blow-out."
Laughter greeted this announcement. "That's a good one,
boys! From what I've heard of old Dr. Maynard he'd be likely to be
out chasing bandits. You picked the wrong person that time. You
come along with us and tell that story to the county attorney. And,
see here, you drive this car right down to Broken Arrow and we'll
sit behind you here with our guns in our hands. Don't try any funny
business. We can't be monkeyed with."
Two minutes later, Stephen was continuing his drive,
rather uneasily, towards the neighboring county seat, guns pointed
at his back, the other cars of the posse trailing in behind him.
All were convinced that here, at last, was a great catch. It was
something to feel proud about, something to discuss for a long
time. And Stephen was thinking how wonderful it was to be taken for
a genuine lawbreaker.
It was a thrill that took on piquancy when he reached
Broken Arrow's red brick jail. Many times when he had gone to read
and talk to the prisoners in the one at Fallon, he had felt that he
was an intruder in a world which he realized possessed its own
strange standards as definite as those of his own. He had been
sensitively aware of their quiet contempt for anyone who would
never dare as they had dared. Their recklessness, though put to
unjustifiable ends, was nevertheless a colorful quality beside
which his own deep-seated passiveness seemed pale. Always within
himself he had become slightly apologetic.
But now, what a difference! In the dawn, the faces of the
two dozen or so men and boys who lined the sidewalk and closed in
behind him as he was conducted to the jail reflected a veritable
awe. It was clear, too, that even the county officials were
impressed with the report of the new prisoner's banditry, and
through the open door of the sheriff's office, Stephen caught sight
of eyes peering through the bars of the cells. Though there was
nothing to be seen of the prisoners but their eyes and their
fingers clutching the grating, Stephen felt as if invisible wires
were flung out from himself to each, and flooding along these wires
came wave upon wave of their worshipful admiration and glorified
curiosity.
The county attorney surveyed him without losing the
rigidity of countenance he had set in place before the crowd had
entered. Mr. Edward Holt was not over thirty-two and he was popular
because he took his work and himself seriously, and because, though
his veneer was a trifle more polished, at bottom he really was one
of the crowd he served. He was referred to always as "a rising
young man," one who would go to Congress some day. He had a clean,
alert face, was conscientious in everything he did, and was
scrupulously honest. He was the kind of fellow who would make good
at anything--up to a certain point.
"So, we've got you," he greeted Stephen, taking in every
detail of his appearance. Tugging and pulling at the unaccustomed
labor of changing his tire, he had become dust-begrimed and
dishevelled. Excitement brightened his eyes and flushed his cheeks.
No Fallonite would have believed it possible for him to present
such a disordered aspect.
Conscious of this, he allowed himself to feel as he
looked, stared defiantly into young Holt's face, and, which a
slight swagger, returned recklessly, "Yes, you've got me!"
"What's your name?"
"You don't like the one I gave you. What name do you
want?"
"That's right!" exclaimed the sheriff. "He must have
enough names to fill a telephone book. Here's his gun." And he
handed Holt a repeater which one of Stephen's posse had left in his
car. "He claims he's Dr. Maynard of Fallon."
The county attorney smiled. "Anyone can see at a glance
that he is of the criminal type," he announced to the crowd. "This
is to say, the superior criminal. Not a roughneck, but one who uses
his brains. You see that narrow forehead and long jaw? Absolutely
the mental type of criminal. And do you notice his sleepy eyes?
Sort of like a dreamer? I've read books on it. A rare catch,
Sheriff."
"I suppose," said Stephen, still with his indefinable
swagger, "it's no use to tell you you've made a mistake."
"None whatever," returned Holt shortly. "The best thing
for you is to make a full confession and save us a lot of bother."
Stephen bowed. "Since you're so sure I'm the man I'll tell
everything."
"It'll get you a shorter term."
"Exactly," agreed Stephen softly, now as wholly in his
part as the most finished actor, and, artist-like, enjoying it all
objectively. "Of course, gentlemen, I do not usually go in for bank
robberies in the night time, but I just couldn't resist this one. I
don't like night work. Keeps me up all hours and breaks my regular
habits. This sort of thing was all right in my younger days, but
I've had enough. I prefer the day. That's the reason for most of
these daylight bank holdups--the boys are getting away from this
night work, and before long it'll be a thing of the past."
Stephen could tell that his listeners behind the bars and
outside of them were hanging literally on every word. An
exhilarating sense of creative power poured through him. "For the
last two years," he continued smoothly, "I've been devoting myself
mainly to stepping up to the cashier's window and asking him to do
the hard work for me. I usually get more that way because the money
is all in sight and what is in the vault can be gotten easily
enough. At night one can't expect such friendly cooperation. It is
quite my favorite method, though I admit I always get a great deal
of stimulation out of simple holdups and payroll clerks. That's
profitable, too, but it takes a lot of energy to find out just when
the clerk is to pass any particular place. I'm absolutely through
with holding up ordinary citizens. It doesn't pay, my friends,
really, it doesn't. People carry so little with them. What one
finds in the usual pocket is mostly junk. It's all right for
beginners, but I've had my day of apprenticeship, and for me a bank
is the only thing worth taking a shot at."
"Have you ever been caught?" asked the county attorney,
wide-eyed and awed.
Stephen's laugh was a masterpiece of condescension.
"How often?" asked the sheriff, respectfully.
"Oh, more times that I can reel off just now. I've been in
jails, but not of late. My recent visits represent work of a more
technical nature, and sent me to the penitentiary, though I have
always succeeded in getting out--either through my own wits or
through the wits of some lawyers. There's no need in hiding
anything for I'm so well known it'll all come out in good time. As
you say, it is only a matter of the amount of bother I save you, so
I might as well confess right here and now that I have broken
several jails and laid out a guard or two."
The crowd glanced at Stephen's unhandcuffed wrists and
shifted uneasily on its feet. He acknowledged the unspoken
compliment by an expressive shrug of his shoulders. "What else
could you expect?" he inquired, with well-assumed surprise. "You
surely don't think a man like myself can go about his work so many
years and not have to send an occasional fool to the happy hunting
grounds? But I assure you," he added with a real shudder at his
misdeeds, "I assure you I don't like messy jobs. I like to come
away clean, without anything that looks like a bungle. No decent
man likes to murder. A man who takes his work seriously likes to
come through with no unnecessary blood. Personally, and I say this
without boasting, it always hurts my pride to have to stop my work
long enough to kill."
"You confess that you have actually committed murder?"
"How could it be otherwise?"
"How many?"
Stephen considered. "It would be impossible to say," he
replied. "It's not easy to keep track of such things. You really
don't know for sure until you have read about them in the papers,
and they're not always likely to tell the exact truth, are they?"
"That's right," echoed a deputy. "You can't always believe
what you read."
"But one thing for sure," and Stephen's manner became
earnest. "I've never murdered a woman. I draw the line there."
"Do you use knockout drops?" one asked him.
He could feel the crowd shiver with horror as he
answered,"No, I just crack them on the head. But the last one was a
railway mail clerk and I had to shoot him. Ah, there," he enthused,
"there is a real art--holding up a mail train. I don't do it very
often--I'm getting along in years. One has to get off in the most
outlandish places. It just wears a person out. Besides, you have to
haul those heavy mail sacks, and sometimes you take an ordinary
batch instead of the registered mail. And even when you do get the
registered stuff you have to go floundering through a lot of truck.
No, give me the banks. Everything nice and clean and the money all
put up in neat packages."
Stephen chuckled inwardly at the success of this nonsense.
Never before had he stood on such a pinnacle. Decades of passing on
the message had won him loving and respectful, or perhaps patient,
audiences. Here for the first time was an enraptured one, and in
the midst of his humorous appreciation of its credulity, he felt a
delighted pride in his new ability as a fictionist. How this
experience made those long self-tiring sermons seem grey and
remote! Here was a sermon of romance! He was the pirate with knife
in mouth. The little demon that makes all mankind enjoy passing for
what is not was having a delirious dissipation. The sense of
excitement, born of the danger which would have been hovering over
him had he been the master criminal he now felt himself to be
quickened Stephen's blood and gave him the subtle sensation of
achievement. He felt he would like to go on and on in this new
personality--forget forever his old monotonous life.
But before his hearers could gather themselves for more
questions, the jail door was opened abruptly and Stephen's own
posse thrust in before them--his hands in iron rings--the Reverend
Jonathan Bryant Trench. The two men stared at each other
speechlessly. Stephen, recovering himself, exclaimed quickly, "This
is absurd! This is the Reverend Doctor Trench!"
"The Reverend Doctor Bunkum. He's a bank robber, an' we
got him with the bonds, the money--why we even got the tools an'
the acetylene torch which he had hidden under the church books."
"And here is his confederate," exclaimed young Holt,
triumphantly indicating Stephen. "Our men caught him. They are a
desperate pair!"
The Fallonites looked blankly at Stephen, who felt a
sudden and unaccustomed embarrassment. But he was not unequal to
the situation. "These gentlemen," he explained, "were so determined
I should be the bandit that I hadn't the heart to disappoint them.
They will tell you they found listening to me helped to while away
the time until you came."
The crowd seemed unable for a moment to grasp the truth.
It was not until the Fallon posse vociferously explained that
Stephen was a character of the whitest hue that Broken Arrow, with
uneasy laughter and considerable petulance, realized how completely
it had been taken in. With Stephen there was secretly a little
disappointment, a sense of anticlimax, as he saw his role stripped
so soon of its costume and color. But these emotions fled as he
reflected over Trench's success in passing himself as a minister.
Incredulous as he was, he could not deny the conclusiveness of the
evidence, gone into thoroughly by young Holt, who was firmly
determined never again to be the victim of such a practical joke as
Stephen's.
He permitted him to visit Trench alone in his cell. The
man had not lost the slightest trace of ministerial accent. His
manner was as distant and forbidding as ever.
"Are you sure you, too, are not playing a jest?" Stephen
asked gently.
"This is no matter for jesting," declared Trench, sternly.
"I haven't the slightest chance, for I have been caught red-handed
and it will not go easy with me, unless you and some others use
your influence in my behalf."
"But you preached as one touched by inspiration--"
"Of course I did--with me preaching is a labor of love. I
am a preacher by choice, not by profession. I don't know any other
way in which I can do the world more good."
There was no mistaking the man's sincerity. Stephen was
sure there was no trace of irony in his voice. "I used to do a lot
of these things, but since I got into my great work I have done
only enough to keep me in money while going from place to place on
my mission. One act like this, every year or two, provides me with
sufficient funds."
"But, my friend, why take such ghastly risks? Why not take
up a collection at the close of your services?"
Trench frowned. "It cramps me to beg for pennies," he
explained irritably. "No, no, I prefer to give them the message and
not bother about parting them from some filthy money. I ask no
favors from them and that gives me more freedom to emphasize my
lesson."
"And you really are a bandit, a bank robber?"
Trench looked annoyed. "You can put it that way. But I
don't like that kind of life. It is dull and grey and gives one no
contact with interesting people. I prefer to expound the gospel. In
the winning of souls there is color and joy. Take yesterday, when
nineteen came forward. There was real achievement. What are a dozen
banks beside one soul?"
The two men sat in the bleak little cell, much as they had
sat the day before in Stephen's library, still bound by an open
acceptance of the same doctrine, separated by their diametrically
opposite temperaments, inhabitants of different worlds.
"You will never understand my feelings," sighed Trench. In
his tone was profound resignation.
"I am not so sure, not so sure," murmured Stephen. "You, a
bank robber, striding into pulpits--it is not so different, is it,
from my romancing for the Broken Arrow folk? It comes to us all,
Trench, this paradoxical desire to be something other than one's
real self." His clear eyes looked deep into Trench's. "It is not
impossible," he urged, "that you eventually should become a
minister. A sentence honestly served, and a fresh start--all this
experience would be of value to you." But there was no answering
light in the other's face.
"That is not my way," he returned, with dignity. "I cannot
change my method of earning a living. I am called for a time, it
seems, to preach behind bars."
And even before he left, Stephen heard him exhorting his
brothers in sin. Stirred by his eloquence, their repentance, in
time, might become abject.
"He is ironing out the kinks," thought Stephen, with his
usual twinkle. But, as he drove homeward and mused upon the whole
episode, it came to him that Trench would iron and iron and never
get them, for here in the pair of them was as strange a kink as
any--the kink that could make a preacher long to be a bandit, and a
bandit long to be a preacher.

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Crooks and Croesus

An Unfinished Short Story

It was a payday Saturday at the coal mines of southeastern
Kansas, and from noon the First State Bank of Fallon had been
crowded from counter to door with people of every nationality, all
pushing one another in friendly rivalry for attention. At one
window, Mrs. Graham, the vice-president, a merry, friendly, little
woman in her early thirties, was waiting on Italian and French in
their own tongues.
"Hello, Guido," she smiled, as a superb young Italian,
followed by a beautiful French girl, elbowed his way to her wicket.
"Why, what's the matter?" she asked quickly, as she saw the blaze
in his black eyes and noticed the tear stained face of his young
wife.
"I no write him!" declared Guido, wrathfully, shoving in
his open passbook with two checks separated from the rest. "Him,
nor him," he indicated specifically.
Janet Graham looked at the checks. "This is certainly
Felice's handwriting," she commented firmly, as she picked up the
first one. "This one may not be," she added, as her practiced eye
scrutinized the record.
"Felice no write him," reiterated Guido, emphatically.
Janet became conscious of dozens of eyes, bovine or fox-
like in their curiosity. With a low request to the teller to take
her place, she opened the door to an already occupied office, and
with an authoritative "Come" led the way through it to the
director's room. A bright fire cracked cheerily on the hearth, and
as soon as they were seated around it, she asked in a pleasantly
matter-of-fact tone: "Who do you think, Felice, could have signed
this second check?"
"I don't know who signed either of them. I didn't."
Janet noticed the set lips, the brilliant eyes. In her
trim white-topped boots, dark, close-fitting suit, and smart hat of
soft velvet with the wide frill of chiffon, framing the delicate
face like petals, a flower-like quality was added to the charm of
Felice's youth. Janet had feared for the child when, at sixteen,
she had married the hot tempered, half-Americanized Guido; felt a
sense of personal responsibility because they had met at one of the
dances given by her club for young people from the nearby coal
camps. The eyes of Felice forced to meet Mrs. Graham's were full of
unplumbed depths of defiance and suffering.
"Guido, will you go around to the front window and ask for
Mr. Osborne? Then tell him we want him back here."
As the sinewy, lithe fellow closed the door, she leaned
forward and put her arms around Felice.
"Honey," she said earnestly, "you don't realize what you
may get us all into if you keep insisting that you didn't sign that
first check. I have noticed how rapidly Guido has been drawing out
the insurance money your mother left you. Did you want to put some
of it by and then lose your courage? You have a perfect right to
draw your own money, my dear, but if you insist you didn't and we
have to make good that amount, you will be, as the hard old phrase
goes, 'party to a fraud.' I am sure you must know who signed the
second one. Just be frank with me; tell me the whole story, and I
give you my word that no one shall come to any harm."
"I didn't sign either of them," persisted the girl, "and I
don't know any more than you do who did."
"Felice!" Janet's tone was stern.
"I don't. I can't tell you anything when I don't know
anything. I didn't sign either of them. I didn't."
To Janet's ear, this vehemence did not ring true. For a
moment the snapping of the pine logs was the only sound. When she
spoke, her low, sympathetic voice was vibrant with understanding.
"Felice, why is it you don't want Guido to know?"
At the kind tone the slender shoulders suddenly heaved as
the girl shook with noiseless, convulsive sobs. Two feverish hands
clung to Janet's.
"If you will only trust me!" the older woman exclaimed,
bending to catch the repeated, whispered exclamation: "I didn't
sign them."
Janet was puzzled. She was convinced that her little
friend was lying; and yet, of course, all things were possible. She
was relieved to see Guido and the heavy figure of the president
bearing down upon them.
"What's all the trouble?" Mr. Osborne demanded, abruptly.
"Can't make head nor tail out of this fellow's jabber."
Handing him the checks in question, she briefly stated the
case.
"Tell 'em to come in next Tuesday," he directed in a tone
that Guido and Felice understood as a dismissal. "And tell 'em to
keep their mouths shut," he added. As Janet arose, he detained her
with a brusque "Wait."
"I've been talking with Gordon Hamilton," he explained.
"The Bigger Fallon Oil Company wants us to give it a written
endorsement for its new booklet."
"I suppose," said Janet slowly, "we'll have to do it."
"Well, why not?" returned Osborne. "Isn't it a properly
incorporated company and already an excellent depositor? Astounding
how the money is pouring in. Gordon knows how to make the coin come
rolling. It's a slick game."
"You've said it, Jim," flashed Janet. "I wish we didn't
have to have the bank's name associated with it."
"It's all perfectly legitimate," observed Osborne.
"To induce people to go down into their pockets for oil
stock that's worthless?"
"What right have you to say that?" interposed Osborne.
"Haven't some of Gordon's wells been record breakers? It's all a
gamble. And if this new drilling turns out right, he'll give these
people a square deal."
"Yes, if," retorted Janet. "Do you think it likely in the
part of the country where this company has taken up its leases?
Have you noticed how much of the money is being split into salaries
between the five promoters? Their personal balance sheets on our
own ledgers show that. And the bulk of it going into Gordon's
pocket. Between ourselves, Jim, wasn't that the intention when the
company was organized? Certainly, it was. We both know it."
"Is it your idea that we might turn him down in some way?"
questioned Osborne curiously.
"And offend him? When directly or indirectly he throws us
a fifth of our best loans and as many of our deposits? Hardly."
"He'll be around one day next week to go into more detail
as to what he wants," said Osborne. "About this other matter,
Janet. We're not detectives. Since we're under Pinkerton's
protection, better drop a wire to their Kansas City office and let
them handle it."
During the remainder of the busy afternoon, as Mrs. Graham
stood at her wicket, she could not shake off the two convictions
that to endorse Gordon's company would be lending herself to
further a fraud and that the case of Guido's checks was not one of
simple forgery. The latter opinion was concurred in by the well-
dressed, businesslike man who presented his Pinkerton credentials
on Monday morning. After careful comparison with other checks
signed by Felice, he brushed aside all doubt of the fact that the
first signature in question was in her handwriting. The body of the
first one was, he pointed out, in the same handwriting as the
endorsement on both, and though cleverly disguised, the same hand
had written out, signed and endorsed the second one. Could any of
the people in the bank recall who had cashed them?
Osborne, Janet, the cashier, assistant cashier, and Bob,
the teller, searched their memories. It was Bob, it developed, who
had honored the first one. Yes, he remembered the man, remembered
he had never seen him before, but he was sure the signature was
Felice's; it was made out to "Cash" and the amount was not large--
twenty-five dollars--so he took a chance. Everyone did once in a
while, and the fellow had looked honest. When he came in with a
second check for fifty dollars, they had chatted together casually.
Since apparently nothing had been said about the first check, he
had concluded the second one must be all right. Besides, the
stranger was someone who knew Guido and Felice well, of that Bob
was certain; but he wasn't a foreigner--didn't have an accent,
anyway. Questioned more closely by Detective McNairn, Bob described
a young chap, tall, blue eyed, very tan, with a lot of light, curly
hair.
With this meager description and the two checks, the
detective disappeared until the following afternoon, when he turned
up with a photograph which Bob was pretty sure was the fellow,
though he added cautiously that he wasn't positive enough to have
any one arrested because of his word on the matter. Janet was then
instructed to take the picture and find out if Guido or Felice
could identify it. If they could, she was to induce them to bring
in some of this chap's handwriting--in a letter or on an envelope--
if at all possible. McNairn didn't want to meet them himself, he
explained, as he had already done so in the camp where he had been
following his own method. Guido had told his story to everyone. The
whole neighborhood was agog with interest and curiosity.
"There you are!" exclaimed Osborne gruffly. "We've got to
find this fellow and make a lesson out of him. Think of his nerve
in getting by with this game twice. We'll have to put the fear of
the law into these people or we'll be bothered to death with just
this sort of petty attempt. You don't know this county, McNairn. Or
perhaps you do not know that our jail is always full to overflowing
with booze runners and people up for every crime on the calendar.
Law breaking is altogether too common around here. A thing like
this mustn't be allowed to pass."
"The pretty little French woman seems to be in this deal,
hand and glove with the chap we're trying to locate," commented the
detective.
"If she is," interrupted Janet quickly, "it's through
ignorance and fear. No harm must come to her--that must be
understood amongst us right now. Somehow, I can't help feeling that
when you do locate this young fellow you will find extenuating
circumstances which may exonerate him, too."
Her hopes sank, however, after her interview that
afternoon with the Michaelettis. Guido at once recognized the
photograph as Felice's cousin, Jacques. He was French, all right,
but his folks had died when he was a kid and until he was of age
he'd lived with different families, working for his board and
clothes in the winter time, with fifteen dollars a month additional
in the summer. Yes, they'd bring a letter with his handwriting.
This from Guido. Felice agreed nervously. She still denied all
knowledge of the checks, still insisted she had never seen either
of them before. It was plain that her husband was convinced of the
truth of her story.
From the time they brought in a letter written by Jacques,
which was handed over to McNairn, events moved with surprising
rapidity. In less than a week that efficient gentleman walked into
the bank with the calm announcement: "Well, Mrs. Graham, there's
someone you may like to see over at the county's hotel. Shall I
take you to him? You'll find him a hard customer."
Janet scarcely knew what she had expected. Certainly not
this hard-faced, sullen youth who resisted so rudely all her
advances. Determined to deal with the matter in a thoroughly human
way, she asked to see him alone and compelled herself to forget
that they were in a jail, but to all her pleadings that he should
tell her a frank story, to all her promises that if he did so she
would see to it that he was released if she had to make good the
amount out of her own pocket, Jacques merely looked at his hands or
regarded her with a noncommittal stare.
Had he been in need of money? Had Felice helped him out of
some difficulty? Or was it, perhaps, the other way around? Had
Felice, herself, been in need and intimidated by Guido? Had he
meant to help her? She, Mrs. Graham, would understand and the
secret would be safe with her. Surely, he must know that it wasn't
the money itself over which the bank was concerned; it was the fact
of the forgery and the attempt to defraud. If there had been some
unusual pressure or some unselfish motive behind it, they didn't
want to treat him like an ordinary criminal.
To his stubborn silence she opposed all her charm and
experience. "Jacques," she pressed, earnestly, "I've always tried
to help young people, to help them keep out of trouble and get out
once they had had the misfortune to become involved. I can't bear
to think I have to take a hand in sending a young chap like you to
the pen. It's too terrible. Won't you give me a chance to
straighten this thing out? You can't deny that you passed both the
checks. Why did you sign one of them? Did you do it without
Felice's knowledge?"
"I didn't sign any checks." The muttered words were so
gruff and low that Janet was not positive she had heard.
"Did Felice sign both of them?"
"I don't know who signed either of them."
"But, Jacques," insisted Janet, reasonably, "you do know,
for you cashed them."
"I don't know."
"Did Felice ask you to do it?"
Jacques gave her a long, queer look, but, as she waited
expectantly, she realized he did not intend to answer, and, try as
she might, not another word could she get out of him. As she left
the sordid, ill-smelling jail, a wave of despair poured over her.
Knowing Osborne as she did, she saw the boy's future already
settled. She would have all she could do to persuade him that they
should not prosecute Felice. And who could blame him? No one
understood better than herself, as she had told Jacques, that it
was not the matter of the paltry seventy-five dollars that would
make the president relentless. It was the wrong to the bank.
"Outrage," he called it. The fact that having put it over once,
Jacques had grown more daring, adventuring a second time for a
larger amount, hurt Osborne's pride. As he had told McNairn, he
would put the fear of the law into the whole bunch. They should
learn, once and for all, what it meant to trifle with a bank--all
banks--and the First State Bank of Fallon in particular.
Janet admitted to herself that she shared his feelings of
indignation, that the lesson was one which should and must be
driven home. In the abstract, she was in full sympathy with
Osborne, but when she called to mind the vigorous young man, aglow
with health, his whole life still to be lived, and visualized him
in the penitentiary, it all seemed too cruel. The boy had had no
bringing up. Right and wrong were so much a matter of training. Bob
should have been more careful. Weren't they to blame for letting
him get away with his first mistake? Hadn't he had lesson enough?
There flitted through her mind faces of the different boys
and girls who had come to her trustingly for help and
understanding, and who, righted after their first mistakes, had
come out well in the end. "All of us yield to our lesser selves. We
all do what we know isn't right," she murmured, thinking of what
concessions to her own conscience Gordon's request meant. She was
in no mood to find that charming gentleman waiting for her when she
reached the bank.
"It's like this, Janet," he explained in his pleasant,
persuasive voice, as soon as they were seated by the fire in the
directors' room. "As Jim probably told you, I'm getting out some
new literature boosting the Bigger Fallow Oil Company and from now
on I'd like the money which is to be placed to the Company's credit
sent in care of this bank. And I'd like to have a good letter of
endorsement from you and Jim--on bank letter head, of course. Just
tell them the facts," he added, easily, "how long you've known me,
how long I've done business here, my standing in the town; that I'm
straightforward in all my dealings--you know the line of stuff.
Might put in that all the men locally interested are sound business
men. People have such confidence in banks and bankers, " he smiled.
The snapping of the pine logs was like little jerks that
pulled Janet back to the Saturday afternoon when she, Guido, and
Felice had sat in this very room. Perhaps Felice and Jacques, when
they committed what before the law was a crime, had felt as she,
Janet Graham, was now feeling.
"Why, Janet," exclaimed Gordon, surprised by her silence
and slow tracing of a figure with her pencil. "I can't see that
I've asked any great favor. What's the matter?"
"Suppose," she asked, slowly, "you don't strike oil?"
"My dear friend," said Gordon, affably, "I never promised
we will. I merely show that there is already oil in this county. I
say frankly, very frankly, there is a risk. Do you question that
these strangers will get their share of all the dividends?"
It was on Janet's lips to say "I question the dividends,"
but her conscience was not too thoroughly commercialized to
antagonize so good a customer unless she were ready to force an
issue. Instead, she found herself saying quietly, "What an absurd
question, Gordon."
"Then what's the hitch?"
After all, Janet asked herself, dully, what was the hitch?
Was she responsible for the gullibility of people? Probably the
sort who bought oil stock from strangers would put their money into
something else equally doubtful. As Gordon had said, he had asked
her to write only the truth. A man who did Gordon Hamilton's volume
of orderly banking business certainly had the right to ask for an
endorsement. She must be getting hypercritical. Men weren't made
any straighter than James Osborne, and he was for it.
"There isn't any hitch, Gordon," she said, quietly. "Wait
a moment and I'll dictate the letter now."
"I said exactly the truth, Robert," she explained to her
husband, as they compared notes and discussed their day's doings
that evening after their two children were in bed. "My conscience
ought to be clear. But I know how adroitly he'll work it into his
booklet; what its effect will be. What's the use of bluffing
myself? I'm really as culpable as he is. And what's the real
difference, Robert, between Gordon and Jacques? They've both
obtained money under false pretenses."
"The difference between crook and Croesus," murmured
Robert, whimsically, "which, my dear, is all the difference in a
world that kicks little thieves and kowtows to big ones."
Then, seeing the real trouble in his wife's face, usually
so sunny, he added gently: "I shouldn't worry, dear. What Gordon
does with the facts you gave him isn't your fault. The longer I
know him, the more I realize what a genius he is. I know his faults
and weaknesses as well as you do. But he's a big man; you can't get
around that."
Oh, I know," she conceded, quickly. "I guess I'm just
upset because of this other matter. They came up at the same time
and knowing Felice so well, I can't take an impersonal view as Jim
can. I dare say I'll see it all differently after a good night's
rest."
But after the preliminary hearing the next day in the
dingy room which served as the justice's court in which Jacques was
bound over to the district court on the double charge of forgery
and uttering forged instruments, she became more perplexed than
ever. She had suffered for Felice at that hearing, had felt a
frankly admitted relief when the girl persisted without a slip in
her original statement that she knew nothing about the checks. But
after it was all over and Jacques once more in jail, she had taken
the quivering girl to her own home and had plead with her a last
time for the truth.
"Felice," she said, "if you did sign the one check you are
doing a terrible thing in letting Jacques go to prison for you.
Sooner or later you will suffer for it, far more than he will. I
know you are afraid of what Guido will do, but--"
"He would kill me if--"
"If he knew?" supplied Janet, after the girl had come to
full stop.
Felice shot her a quick look. "No. If I had done it. There
ain't nothing for him to know. Oh, Mrs. Graham," she sobbed, heart-
brokenly, "don't let them send Jacques to jail. He's good. It's the
first time he ever did anything wrong."
"Felice," asked Janet, "can you get Guido to let Jacques
have enough to reimburse the bank? Couldn't he lend it to him and
Jacques repay him later? We are going to make good the seventy-five
dollars to you. If he did this, I could persuade Mr. Osborne to
withdraw the case."
"No, no, no, no, no," gasped the girl in terror. "I
wouldn't ask him for anything in the world. He might think I--"
"Yes," urged Janet, "you--"
"Wasn't as angry at Jacques as he is," she finished,
weakly.
"My dear, Jacques will surely go to prison unless you tell
a straight story or Guido or someone else makes good the amount.
Hasn't Jacques any friends.?"
"No one but me. We was always pals ever since we was
little."
"Why do you think he wanted the money?"
"He says he never cashed those checks."
"But our teller has identified him positively as the man
who did. And you know he was located in western Kansas largely
through his handwriting. There is no doubt about that."
In the end, Janet let the law take its course. There was,
at the time of the trial, a strike on, and the crowd which flocked
in from the camps to listen seemed to justify Osborne's opinion
that it was not the amount but the principle involved which made
the matter a serious one. Jacques plead guilty to "uttering forged
instruments," but steadfastly denied he had actually forged one. He
was sentenced, according to Kansas statutes, to not more than five
years for each instrument.
Jacques had been gone six months, when Felice came into
the bank and asked to see Janet alone.
"Mrs. Graham," asked the girl, very white, "will Jacques
have to stay in prison ten years?"
"Only three-fourths of that time if he behaves himself."
"But that is--that is--"
"Seven and a half years."
"Mrs. Graham, I can't sleep nights thinking of it--him
there."
Janet thought to herself of her own worried hours and
compunctions. Try as she might she could not escape a sense of
personal responsibility. How would she have looked at it if her own
little son had grown to manhood and had been handed the same deal
from some one else. Jacques deserved to be punished, certainly, but
it seemed so wildly disproportionate to the offense.
Meanwhile, there was Gordon Hamilton raking in his
profits. And how cunning he was! Two small wells had been struck--
and soon played out, though in the other company of which he was a
majority stockholder and which operated in the real oil district a
five hundred barrel well had been shot. Pictures of it figured
conspicuously in his literature. How cleverly he worked them in,
and how technically honest he was. No one ever tripped him into
telling what was not strictly true--according to the letter. There
was no comeback on anything he said. How adroitly he had arranged
the rebating to himself of a large share of the other promoters'
"salaries." Even Janet could have proven nothing.
All this had been in her mind during her visit to the
penitentiary to see Jacques. Even Robert was a little impatient
with her over her continued concern. The warden's report had been
disheartening. Jacques was "hard" and "disobedient." He had refused
to talk to her, looking at her with bitter, resentful eyes.
"You know, Felice," she now said, wearily, "the longer one
waits, the harder it is to undo a wrong."
"Isn't there any way to get him out?" the girl pleaded.
"I--Mrs. Graham--I--I--"
"Yes?"
"I--it's just like you said that day. It's harder on me
than on Jacques. I did sign that first check. And, oh, I wanted to
tell you, but I was afraid. Nothing you could have done would have
kept Guido from doing something terrible to me. Now you see, it was
my money and Guido was shooting craps--you know, gambling--and I
wanted to put some of it away so he couldn't get it, and then one
day I saw one of them booklets Mr. Hamilton gets out and I showed
it to Jacques and he said it must be all right. It wasn't like we
didn't know him, but everything he did made money and how everybody
looked up to him. We knew everything he said must be true."
"Couldn't you have persuaded Guido to put some of it into
a trust deposit?"
"I might, but Jacques said this oil stock would make us so
much more. Guido's different than Jacques and me. You see, he
hasn't been in America so very long. He don't understand things
like we do. So we drew the first twenty-five dollars, but when I
found Jacques had drawn fifty more I was real scared and said I
didn't know nothing and then I was afraid to say I did. Oh, Mrs.
Graham, Guido don't know and, please, Mrs. Graham, don't tell him."
She searched in her near-silk handbag for a handkerchief
and after drying her tears brought forth the seventy-five shares
from it depths. "I know they're better'n money because they're sure
to bring in those dividends like Mr. Hamilton told about, though we
haven't got any yet," she added simply. "If I make up this way to
the bank what it had to pay back to Guido, do you think you can get
Jacques out?"
"I'll see what can be done," Janet promised.
"As she sat once more alone, her cheeks blazing, she grew
steadily more indignant with Gordon. What she had felt vaguely all
along had become crystallized into a concrete example. So Gordon,
with his talk of possible high profits, had been at the bottom of
it all. Well, then, Gordon should do his part in straightening it
out.
"Gordon," she said, coldly, when she had secured his
number over the phone. "I wish you would come over to the bank some
time today. There's a matter I'd like to discuss with you."
"I'll be with you right away," was the genial answer. Even
in her anger, Janet noted that, as usual, Gordon, the busiest man
in the community, was always at leisure.
His charm was disarming; she felt her indignation waning
before it. Quietly she held out the stock certificates. "For sale,"
she said unsmilingly.
There was something in her steady brown eyes, in her even
tone, that made Gordon uncomfortable. "Who wants to dispose of
them?" he asked curiously.
"I do. Do you remember Jacques Cavellie whom we sent up
six months ago?"
"Why, yes," Gordon recalled. "I do remember Robert's
saying you felt the case keenly because you knew his family or some
such matter. He said you were quite upset."
"I was upset," admitted Janet grimly. "I think you will
be, too, Gordon, when you know the boy cashed those forged checks
to buy this stock. Do you think if I were to take it to Jim he
would think the bank should accept it at its face value?"
"As I myself shall be glad to do?" smiled Gordon. "I'm
sure I can't say. I can speak only for myself,' and he drew out his
checkbook. "Let me know if I can help in any other way," he added.
"I may call on you."
And she did. As she admitted to Robert, without Gordon's
influence it would have been impossible to get the boy out--so
determined Jacques seemed to thwart their attempts to help him. It
was not until he had served over a year that they were finally
successful. . . .

Return to Top of Page

Embers: A Play in One Act

Characters

DAN THAYER, now a farmer; formerly Sheriff of Fallon County.
AMANDA, Dan's wife.
CHARLIE BEST, an ex-convict.
EDWARD EVANS, owner of the county's largest newspaper and
recognized as influential in politics.

(Stage directions of right and left are to be taken from the
audience's viewpoint.)

TIME--The Present. About six o'clock of a summer afternoon.

SCENE--The Thayers' combination living and dining room pleasantly
papered and rag-carpeted, with an open kitchen door on the right. A
screen door opening outside faces the audience. It is but one step
above a narrow walk which leads to a white picket gate. Beyond this
is the barnyard. To the right of the door in the rear wall is a
window; there is another window to the left. Flower boxes, filled
with geraniums are outside both open windows. Spotless lace
curtains, pinned up, reveal neat, black screens. In the upper left
corner is a Victrola; to the right and reaching under the window is
a "duo-fold" well supplied with cushions. Between the door and the
right window is a sideboard. To the right of this window and
diagonally across the corner is a china closet which almost reaches
the framework of the door to the kitchen at the right. On the wall
at the audience's side of the kitchen door hangs a wall phone, over
which is a shelf. On this are a clock and a brown satchel. On the
left wall a large calendar hangs just above a battered rolltop
desk, covered with magazines and papers, an atlas, and a Bible. The
door in the left wall is closed. In the center of the room is a
round table, with white cloth, partially set. Hanging from the
ceiling, over the dinner table, is a large lamp, with a painted
glass globe surrounded by a ring of dangling glass. To the left of
the dinner table a huge comfortable rocker waits invitingly. A
half-dozen chairs are set around in odd places. All the furniture
is golden oak. The atmosphere is cheery, and suggests prosperous,
substantial occupants.

At rise of curtain, AMANDA is discovered setting the
table. She is about forty-eight, good-natured, tall, and heavy.
Like most Kansas women, her voice is loud, high-pitched, and
lacking in modulation. She is wearing a bright bungalow apron over
a clean gingham dress.
EVANS enters from outside without knocking. He is in shirt
sleeves, soft collar, belt, and light, tan-colored pants. He is
about fifty, above medium height, with a slightly heavy stomach and
rather florid complexion. He appears to be disappointed.

AMANDA [hopefully]--Did you get anywheres with him?
EVANS [shakes head impatiently]--The best I could do with
him was to get him to promise he'd think it over some more.
AMANDA--I can't think what's holdin' him back. He's just
as strong as ever, an' I know he's still got a hankering for the
old life--calls it the sportiest profession in the world.
EVANS--We just must get him to change his mind. Farming's
all right, but this county needs its old Sheriff again. I pulled
Fallon County out of the mud with three million dollars' worth of
concrete roads [waves his hand out toward the road in front of the
house] and now I want to pull the county out of disorder.
AMANDA--Dan's the man to do it.
EVANS--Everything's setting pretty and ready to go. I've
got an editorial all written [draws folded sheet of paper from his
pocket] and if only Dan would say the word I'd have it in the
Fallon Sun tomorrow afternoon.
AMANDA--With you behind him, Mr. Evans, it would be easy.
EVANS--A walk-away--not, mind you, because I want Dan, but
because Dan is the right man for the right place--a place at which
he has made good.
AMANDA--Read it to me. It's been so long since I've seen
Dan's name in the papers it'd kinda make me feel queer.
EVANS [unfolding paper slowly]--It's for the good of the
county, that's all.
[A stranger appears at the door. He looks in slowly and
knocks. He is powerfully built, about fifty-seven, with a pale face
deeply lined and may more haggard by a week's growth of beard.]
EVANS--Who's that?
AMANDA--Don't know. [To the newcomer] What do you want?
THE NEWCOMER--I'm a stranger--my name is Peters. I'm
bumming through to work in the western wheat fields. I'm hungry and
I'm tired--I want to eat, and I want to sleep.
EVANS--That's putting it plain, I'll say. You want to eat
and you want to sleep.
AMANDA [looks at him fixedly, as though he were familiar
and yet not able to place him]--All right, I'll feed you; I always
cook a-plenty.
EVANS--But he ought to do something for his food and bed--
work.
PETERS--I ain't afraid to work.
EVANS [to Amanda]--He should cut some wood.
AMANDA--There ain't a wood-pile yet.
[Peters laughs quietly.]
EVANS--Let him milk then.
AMANDA--I did the milking over an hour ago.
PETERS--I'll clean out the barn while I'm waitin' for
supper. [To Evans] That's fair, ain't it? [Evans, feeling that he
has made his point, nods.] Nothin's fairer. [Peters goes away.]
AMANDA--He says he's a stranger, but he keeps remindin' me
of someone we've handled, but I can't make out who.
EVANS--He doesn't look good to me. Very likely you've met
him--in jail, when you and Dan were in charge. It's just such
characters that are a menace to the county. And it's for just such
that we need Dan again. [Comes back to his editorial.] Listen to
this, Mrs. Thayer, and imagine its effect on the voters. [Reads]
"In Fallon County, where jetty columns of smoke pour steadily from
the coal shafts and, melting into plumy mists, float softly over
the surrounding wheat fields; where the miner's rickety shanty
squats next door to the comfortable, well-built farmhouse and in
the pastures the Italian's goats graze side by side with the
Holsteins of native Kansans; where, at evening, from between
splendid walls of growing corn the farmers see the grimy miners
clattering home in their little Fords; where men from twenty
countries, speaking as many languages, mingle but seldom mix--in
this county is to be found every brand of lawlessness from simple
traffic in corn-whiskey to the most cold-blooded Black Hand
murders. In this county, therefore, the selection of a Sheriff
becomes of almost as much moment as that of a Governor. This year,
the townsfolk and farmers, tired of being held up in broad
daylight, of having their village banks and stores robbed, know to
a man who they want. As with one voice Fallon County demands the
return of Dan Thayer--Dan, who as plainclothesman on the Kansas
City police force, as head house-detective in a large hotel, as
special agent for the Kansas City Southern, as chief of police in
this county's largest city, and for many years the county's capable
Sheriff, has arrested more burglars, pickpockets, murderers,
cattle, horse, silk and auto thieves that probably any other man in
the Southwest. Dan Thayer must quit farming because Fallon County
needs him once more as its Sheriff." [Folds up the sheet and
returns it to his hip pocket.]
AMANDA--It's wonderful--and true, every word of it.
EVANS--He'll be nominated--hands down. And then the
election sure. Think Mrs. Thayer, what it'll mean to you, to get
away from the monotony of the farm for two years. You can come back
later. There's plenty of time for retiring on this quarter-section.
AMANDA--I've been thinkin' about that very thing.
EVANS--Think of the Sheriff's quarters in the new sixty
thousand dollar jail--steam heat and electric lights. How does that
sound? And the county's big car. And meeting lots of people and
never being lonesome.
AMANDA--I'll talk to Dan tonight--after supper. He always
feels better then.
EVANS--Try your best, Mrs. Thayer. And if he says yes,
give me a ring [points to phone]. I want to run this statement
soon. [He walks towards door.]
AMANDA--I'll do my best.
EVANS [As he goes out]--Do better than your best.
AMANDA [alone, returns to her work. She gets an extra
chair for the stranger, and as she puts it in its place at the
table she stops a moment, looking in the direction of the barn. She
goes for a plate and as she places it on the table she stops and
looks again toward the barn, still puzzled and wondering. Mutters]-
-He does seem familiar--somethin' about him--
[Dan enters through open kitchen doorway. He has a long
Yankee head covered with thin gray hair and a strong face, clean-
shaven except for a mustache. His eyes are hard and gray, his hands
big and capable. He has on heavy work shoes, brown soiled pants and
a blue shirt, open at the neck. He walks slowly, his whole manner
expressing poise and self-command. As soon as Amanada sees him she
leaves for the room to the left, where she gets Dan's brown leather
house-slippers. Meanwhile, he deposits himself in a chair near the
phone, and begins unlacing his shoes. By the time the first shoe is
off, Amanda is back, dropping the slippers at his feet.]
AMANDA--You ought to be proud--the way Evans is after you.
DAN [with the old zest flooding his heart for a moment]--
It brings up a whole lot of what's gone before. [He looks up at a
brown satchel on shelf over phone.] Thrills and excitements.
AMANDA [also looking at satchel]--That, and good money,
besides--more than farming. And with the children all married and
gone, it'll mean company and friends--
DAN [looking at his slippered feet]--I can't make out what
it is that's holding me back.
AMANDA--You're strong as ever--and fearless.
DAN [with obvious pride, his voice a little louder]--My
record's been good, but there's something I can't shake off.
AMANDA--It can't be anything.
DAN [mysteriously]--It's this--I'm fifty-five.
AMANDA--What of it? You don't look it--You never act it.
DAN--But my eye and my hand--are they as quick? If they
want me, isn't it for what I was. Of course if I thought I could--
AMANDA--Oh Dan! You can do as well.
DAN--I can farm better. Just now I was holding the two
handles of my walking cultivator--the breeze rattled the corn
leaves--the reins were behind my neck--I turned the soil toward the
corn roots--and I walked in time with the big horses. Something in
me stirred. Mandy, maybe it's because I came from the farm to start
with, but sometimes it seems to me I'm just like the stalks I tend.
I've soaked in sun and rain. The soil's in my veins like it is in
their sap.
AMANDA--It's like Mr. Evans says. There's plenty of time
for farming when you get older. Heavens knows farming ain't always
been all sleepin' on feathers for us.
DAN--I know what you're thinking about. Them years--when
we was young--before I went in for man-hunting--come that flood an'
tuk every durned thing we had in the way of crops. Lord! To think
how I sold those thirty odd hogs for a cent an' a quarter and give
them two fine mule colts to the doctor to settle that bill. An' the
cows--four of 'em--fifteen dollars apiece. Then sez I to you,
"Let's say good-bye to nothin'!"
AMANDA [nods, memories crowding her]--I'll never forget
it--the wagon with its oilcloth cover, packed with furniture--the
emptied barn and house, and me standing in the doorway.
DAN--An' the rain just a pourin'. Up I picked you in my
arms and carried you to the wagon an' off we drove--
AMANDA--Just leavin' the doors and gates standin' open. As
though we didn't care what happened.
DAN--An' then I started to teamin'.
AMANDA--An' then come that first chance to be a--
DAN--A man-hunter. There I lay in coat, an' cap, an' high
boots, in the deep snow under a hedge, watchin' for three nights--
the kind o' nights that snow just creaked sharp-like and popped if
you stepped on it--and finally saw them two steal up--just like the
mine operator had been warned by his maid. [The muscles of Dan's
right hand tighten.] "Throw up your hands!" sez I. An' I marched
'em right down the middle of the street that way. Got five dollars
a night an' was recommended to the police force for it, too.
AMANDA [pride in her voice]--You've always made good just
like that, Dan, an' you will once again if you'll let Mr. Evans
announce you for the office.
DAN--If only I wasn't fifty-five. I'd like to be on the
edge of my nerves once more, feel power an' authority, be looked up
to--if only I dared trust myself to risk it.
AMANDA--It ain't like it used to be when we was in the
dirty, old little jail. Now you won't have to do it alone--you can
let others do the hard jobs--
DAN--Others? Suppose I was to meet another man like
Charlie Best. [At the sound of his name, Amanda starts and turns
her eyes suddenly in the direction of the barn. She then turns and
looks straight ahead.] My, but he was a tough one. Wonder what's
become of him?
AMANDA--He swore by all that's holy that if ever he got
out again he'd do for you.
DAN--He meant it, too.
AMANDA--Yes, he meant it, I know he did.
DAN--But he was put in for life, and he's not the sort to
get his sentence commuted for good conduct. More'n likely 'n not
he's dead by now. Folks like Charlie Best don't live long in
confinement. [He looks up into his wife's face and notices her
frightened look.] What's ailin' you? You look scared--
AMANDA [getting herself together]--Oh, nuthin'. I was just
thinkin'--just reminded that we are going to have company for
supper.
DAN--Company?
AMANDA--Yes, a stranger--says his name is Peters. On his
way west to the wheat fields lookin' for work. He's cleanin' out
the barn an' I promised to call him for supper an' let him sleep
here. [Goes to the door and calls] Say! Come on in! [Dan seats
himself at the right side of the table. Amanda leaves for the
kitchen and makes several hurried trips back and forth, bringing in
huge dishes of food. When everything is set in its place, she takes
the chair facing the audience. The stranger comes in slowly,
dropping his hat on the table near the door. It is beginning to get
dark.]
DAN [without looking up]--Sit down, pardner. [He takes a
seat opposite Dan.]
PETERS--Nice farm you got here. [The two men look into
each other's eyes. Peter's jaw drops a little and he turns his eyes
to the plate before him. Dan continues staring at him.]
DAN--Yes--rich soil.
PETERS--You like farming, eh?
DAN [still staring at him]--I like living things, and the
feel of the earth under my feet.
PETERS--I used to farm--years ago--done other things, too.
DAN--Farming's best--to sow in the Spring, bring in the
crops in the Summer and Fall, and rest by the fire in the Winter.
I've done other things too, besides farmin'. But I like the pull of
the lines in my hands and the flow of the milk under my fingers.
PETERS--You don't look like a man who's always done
farmin'.
DAN [his voice louder]--I ain't. I've been Sheriff of this
here county, an' I've just been asked to run again.
AMANDA (nervously)--And he'll get elected, too. This
county knows my man--know him for what he is. Not a drop of
coward's blood in his veins. [It's growing darker.]
DAN [noticing the need of light]--Better light the lamp,
Mother. It's gettin' real dark. [Amanda gets up and goes for a
match. While she is lighting the lamp the two men eat quickly and
generously, without looking up at each other and yet betraying
quite simply that their minds are not thinking about the steaming
dishes before them.]
PETERS--Being a Sheriff ain't a cinch. It's not the
callin' for an old man. [Dan stops eating and stares at dish in the
center of the table.] Just like being a great crook ain't for an
old man. [This significant remark registers fully with both Dan and
Amanda. The lamp lighted, Amanda returns to her chair and eats
rather feebly. The men, having satisfied the big craving for food,
are now practically through, though they continue nibbling for some
time. The room is now dark, except for the good, strong light which
the lamp throws down on the table and on the faces of the three
sitting around it.]
DAN--A man what's done what I've done has learned a few
tricks and might be able to keep at it even after he might be
considered a little old. [Amanda nods her head abruptly.] Why, take
that there satchel up there over the phone. It's full of proof that
I've had plenty of kick in me.
PETERS--Proof of a man's kick don't mean that the kick is
still there.
AMANDA--Not always, but with Dan Thayer, it's different.
The best people in the county wouldn't be so strong for him comin'
back if they didn't feel he was still there.
DAN--I am still there. What I've done before I can do
today--now. You've got me thinkin' o' old times, pardner. [He is
watching Peters with intenseness.] Let me show you a thing or two.
[He gets up slowly and stands erect, his full height impressing
Peters. Amanda also gets up and takes two of the large dishes and
carries them to the kitchen. She makes several trips back and
forth, though she does not clear away everything on the table. Dan
walks, with firm steps, to the shelf over the phone and brings down
the satchel. He places it on the table.] These here old weapons is
to me kinda like his paint and costumes is to an actor. Every one
of 'em was took off 'n someone I arrested. [Opens the satchel.]
Look at this here little 28 Hopkins and Allen with this piece o'
the handle shot off. I shot it out o' the feller's hand while he
was holdin' it on me. [Dan lays the gun ont he table. Peters picks
it up curiously.] And look at here. Just look at this homemade
scabbard fastened together with three reg'lar shoe buttons. Fixed
it so the top would look like part of his suspenders and the rest,
with the gun in it, hang down under his overalls. Took that off a
boy only fifteen. Nobody ever knew where he got hold o' it--see its
long, slender barrel. But he held up a hardware store right near
here. [Dan's eyes suddenly brighten. His voice softens.] This
here's the gun that I packed myself for twenty-six years. [His
fingers caress tenderly a 41 Colt, pearl-handled and with an
engraved silver plated barrel.] I bought it up'n South Dakota. And
this one--see it? Just lift it once. [Peters takes it.] See what a
fine wood-handled handgrip it's got. Funny, ain't it, what men'll
fight over. One can understand 'em killing each other over a woman
[Peters shakes his head soberly], but this gun done murder over an
engine.
PETERS--An engine?
DAN--Yes, sir, the engineer and fireman got to fightin'
over her. Bob Nichols was the engineer's name an' he set all kinds
of store by her. Got to thinkin' the fireman didn't fire her right.
They come to words an' then to blows an' finally Bob pulled off and
shot. Two deputies went to his house to arrest him but he had gone
an' hid in a cornfield. An' when they tried to take him he held 'em
off with this gun. They come back to town to get help an', sez I,
"I'll go myself alone, then." As soon as I got there I calls out
"Come on in, Bob." [Dan, reliving the scene, warms dramatically to
his story.] "Dan," he sez, "that you, Dan?" "Sure is, Bob," I
answered--me an' him raised right together. "Well, I'll come with
you," he sez, "but not with them two would-bes!"
PETERS--An' did he come?
DAN--Sure. But he got off easy. The engineer wouldn't
appear nor prefer charges against him. He was dyin'--the other
feller--an' he knew it. Said he'd haunt anyone who mixed in. I
charged him with "dischargin' firearms in the city of Billetsburg
without bein' duly authorized to do so." [Dan's tone becomes that
of a court clerk.] Later he killed another man out in Idaho an' was
found guilty an' paroled an' he's out now. Had a letter from him
not so long ago.
PETERS--Everybody don't get off so easy, do they? [There
is a pressure in his voice that does not escape Amanda, but Dan is
apparently unmindful and absorbed in the reconstruction of the
past.]
DAN [indifferently]--Nope. This here 38 Colt--a black man
killed his wife with it an' was sent to the pen. He's there yet.
An' this little 22 Smith and Western--see it? a nine-year-old boy
tuk it an' began playin' with it--found it in his mother's dressin'
table drawer. Him an' another youngster. An' he pulled it on him
an' killed him. Poor kids. It nearly drove both mothers crazy.
AMANDA--They was both nice women--I knew 'em well.
DAN--An' this little dull automatic Colt--see, you can
pretty near hide it in the palm o' your hand--a man bought it
apurpose for his wife to kill a man that was followin' her 'round
out to one of the mining camps here. She did it, too. Then the
husband--he come in an' give himself up. They both got free,
though. But say, pardner, these here poison knives is the meanest
things. See, they ain't much bigger'n a reg'lar pocket knife. See
the place on the blade to steady 'em with your thumb. Just put you
own thumb there, once. [Dan hands the weapon to Peters.]
PETERS--Suppose the poison's no good now.
DAN--Oh, I guess it'd do the trick all right if you had a
mind to stick me with it, pardner. [Both laugh mechanically.] They
don't slash with them things, you understand--just stick 'em in
quick an 'pull em right out. Don't have to cut a big artery, nor
nothin'. [He bends over to adjust Peter's thumb on it and Peters
makes quick stabs with it into the air.]
PETERS--That sure is smooth.
DAN [pulls a horn-handled weapon out of its leather
sheath]--Talkin' about slashin' though, here's a one-edged dirk
that done a nasty job.
PETERS--Let's see it. [Takes it and Dan and Amanda notice
the tenderness and possessiveness with which he runs his hand along
its edge.] Say, but this is a great knife. [Warms] A fellow can do
all sorts of things with a knife like this--travellin' 'round like
I am. You know--skin rabbits an' all such. I don't suppose you'd
part with it, would you? How'd you come to get this one--Say, I bet
it's got a story.
DAN [seems to sense a sinister note under the apparent
innocent curiosity. His own voice, as he answers, is that of the
born story teller.]--You're right there, pardner. I got it off 'n a
man named Charlie Best. A man just about your height--lots heavier,
though. You remind me of him a lot. [The tone is the essence of
carelessness, but Amanda notices that the stranger shoots him a
suspicious glance. Dan's eyes are tranquil again.] You're so
interested in knives; here's a dagger. Eye-talian fell in love with
a durned nice girl out here at one o' the camps--wanted to marry
her. Her mother looked him up an' found he had a dago wife in the
Old Country an' told him to quit comin' to see her girl. He up and
stabbed the mother with this an' the girl, too--she didn't die for
a week or two, though--and then killed himself.
PETERS--I like this one better. ([Fondles the dirk.] I'd
sure like to take it with me.
DAN--Don't think I'd like to part with it.
PETERS--G'wan. Show me the rest 'o them things. I like to
hear about 'em. And the folks that used 'em. Poor devils. Say,
didn't you ever get hurt yourself?
DAN--Oh, sure. The time I was agent for the Kansas City
Southern an' those two boys--say, Mandey, [turns to her] where's
them pictures of the folks I tuk diff'runt times?
AMANDA--I know what you want. [Gives him a significant
look. Gets up from the table and goes into the room at left.]
DAN--I'll show you when she brings 'em. They held up the
train an' I just happened to be on--covered three hundred and
seventy miles territory, you know--of course, I threw up my hands
with the rest, [Dan is acting the part] but I watched my chance an'
when he comes to me he happened to turn his eyes just a little to
the person to the right o' me--like this. An' with my left hand
like this I knocked down his gun, pulls out my own with my right
and holds it on him, his goes off as I knocked it down and shot me
through my belly and his next shot hit through my hat. But I
wounded him and as he backed off the car he stepped right into a
little ditch. It took me six months to catch his buddy, though.
[Holds out his hand for the stranger's inspection, an amusing note
of complacency in his voice.] I got a bullet right in the fat o' my
thumb. [Peters moves the bullet to and fro under the skin and upper
flesh.]
PETERS--A doctor could get that out for you easy, couldn't
he? [Grins.]
DAN [meeting the grin with a twinkle in his grey eyes and
a good-natured shrug of the shoulders]--Well, I s'ppose so, but
what'd be the use? I've carried it a long time now. I'll let it
set.
PETERS--Besides, it ought to help you get a raft of votes
if you run again.
AMANDA--Here's the pictures. [Hands them to him and takes
her seat again, a bit of crocheting in her hands, but her attention
frankly on Dan's recital and its reception.]
DAN--See, that is the boy that stole about nine thousand
dollars' worth of diamonds--a bell hop. We managed to get them back
for the lady. Pardner, you got no idea o' all that goes on in big
hotels. Now, here's the mate to the fellow that shot me--the one I
was tellin' you about [diverges to the next, throwing his picture
across the table]. An' this fellow was wanted for blowin' up a
postoffice. [Throws across another.] Here's a silk thief that lay
under a culvert all day to shoot me when I passed because I'd found
an' taken the silk goods he's stolen. [Dan stops talking while
Peters looks over the pictures. Dan holds one up for a few seconds
and then looks hastily at the man. He flings Best's old picture to
Amanda, who, by her look, lets him know she realizes what is in his
mind.]
PETERS--What's that picture your woman's got? [He takes it
and studies it carefully.] Charlie Best. Kinda a young feller.
Looks hefty.
DAN--Yes--that's the one I took the dirk from--the one you
got such a hankering for. [Rising] Well, time to put 'em up an' hit
the hay, pardner. [Yawns] Got to get up at four tomorrow. [Dan
holds open the satchel to receive the dirk which is still in
Peter's hand.]
PETERS--Don't know why, but like you say, I got a
hankering for it. I just seem to have tuk a notion to it. I ain't
got the money to buy it now, but if you'll sell it to me, I'll send
you the first pay I get. [Amanda gives Dan an uneasy look.]
AMANDA--I thought you said you didn't want to part with
it.
DAN--No. I don't believe as I do. I'm kinda keepin' it for
the man I took it off of--if he ever comes around. That Charlie
Best, the hefty one.
PETERS [the dirk still in his hand]--What'd you say he
did? DAN--Killed a man in Monet, Missouri, in a Frisco eatin'
house--over the usual. A woman. The Sheriff of Berry County
arrested him an' put him in jail at Cassville. Best, he broke jail,
an' there wasn't no clue to capture him by. The Sheriff come up to
Joplin to get the force there to help him and they come up and got
me at Billetsburg to see what I could do. I got trace o' him
through an old girl of his there and chased him to Litchfield,
Illinois, and from Litchfield--there I found out where he'd gone
from a neighbor woman of his grandmother's who'd read a letter o'
his out loud--from Litchfield, I followed him to Sante Rose, New
Mexico, and from there (he left before I got there) to Denver. And
at Denver, I located the place where he'd worked and the porter at
the hotel where he'd stayed give me the information that he'd gone
to Ogden, Utah, and when I got to Ogden I found he'd gone to Salt
Lake and there, by the Jumpin' Juniper, I found him. He was cookin'
at a little dump of a hotel. [Apparently stirred by the excitement
of the memory, Dan becomes dramatic, reproducing the scene that
follows with clear-cut gestures.] I went into the hotel washroom
an' there over the swingin' doors between it and the kitchen I seen
him. Yes, sir. I just rolled up the towels that was there real
quick like and stuck 'em down in a corner. Then begun washing'
[Dan, on his feet, goes through the motions, all of which he can
feel are followed by Peters with a breathless absorption and a
tightening of the brawny, but too pale, fingers on the handle of
the dirk.] Yes, sir, with my hands still drippin' [shakes imaginary
drops from his fingers] with water still on my face and in my hair-
-I had lots of it then, too, pardner--like you must have had once.
I calls out "Say, young feller, where's your clean towels?" He has
a steel and a butcher knife in his hand. I'll never forget it. An'
he sez, "There's plenty right there on the rack." An' I sez,
"Where?" With that he look an' seeing there was none, he laid down
his knife an' steel and rollin' up an' holdin' his apron with one
hand, he reached up with the other to hand me down some out o' the
cupboard. An' with that I gripped him. [Hands clenched, his eyes
flashing from the remembered combat and the tension of the moment,
Dan looks into the blazing eyes of Peters who has risen slowly, his
knife held as if ready to strike. Evenly, almost softly, in marked
contrast to his loud voice when telling about the fight.] Charlie,
that was some fight, wasn't it?
PETERS--You called in the police. [His voice is hard,
dry.] Had 'em stalled. Got the pinchers on my wrist, put the Oregon
boot on me, and then kep' the handcuffs and leg chain on all the
way from Utah to Monet.
DAN [not asking a question, but making a simple
statement]--How'd I 'uv brought you without? I've handled many a
man, Charlie, but never one as fightin' mad as you was that whole
trip. I know you always swore you'd get me some day. Well, here I
am. I know'd you when I saw you sit down. Ain't none of these here
guns loaded, and you got the very knife you was used to in your
hand. [Dan's tone is neither taunting nor timid. He almost seems
friendly, wholly impersonal, at any rate.]
PETERS [shrugging his shoulders]--What's the use? It ain't
that I'm afraid to an' it ain't that I can't. It's just . . . [He
fumbles for words.] Oh, listenin' to you here was like listenin' to
a story about someone I knowed well, but not really me. What I
think about most when I think about it at all is: What was the
feelin' like for that girl that made me willin' to kill Jake. She
don't mean no more to me now than any other stranger--if you know
what I'm tryin' to say. Funny though, it was my feelin' against you
for taking me--somehow your chasin' an' chasin' me all over the
country like that, so persistin'--that got my goat--it was that
feelin' against you I felt the longest of all the old feelin's.
DAN--I know how you hated me, all right. Lots o' folks
said they'd do for me, but I never thought nothin' about any of 'em
except you.
PETERS--I had it in mind. That's what brung me back to
this country. Though I didn't know this was your place when I
stopped in. But as you sat there showing them things--I knew you
wasn't
the same person neither. I ain't got nothin' against you.--friendly
an' oldish-like--burnt out, like me. [Dan starts and looks
helplessly at Amanda, who understands, and involuntarily looks at
the phone.] It's that smart young feller that took me--me that was
full of wantin' to live. What good would it do me like I am now to
harm you like you are? That ain't what I mean either. [A helpless
gesture acknowledges his inarticulateness. He throws the knife into
the open satchel and, completely released, sits. Amanda closes it,
carries it to the shelf, and exits into the kitchen.]
DAN--Sure, I understand. [He, too, reseats himself at the
table.] We ain't either of us the same folks. How'd you get out?
You was sent up for life.
PETERS--Oh, saved the life of a guard in some trouble an'
he took it on hisself to keep workin' at it till I got pardoned. I
served nineteen years, though. God!
DAN--An' you don' know whatever come o' her?
PETERS [his hand makes a little motion of utter
indifference]--I tell you it all seems like it happened to someone
else. I'd 'av' give the rest 'o my life even ten years ago to have
had the chance I've had here tonight--you all alone here with your
woman an' me with the old knife in my hands and the drop on you
with your hands up like mine was that time. I used to lie in my
cell an' just dream an' dream of such a time. But now [his face
becomes convulsed in an agony of effort to express himself] when it
comes, it just don't mean nothin' to me.
DAN--I knew you'd come if you ever got out an' I knew you
was someone to be afraid of--but I never felt any fear of you--
until tonight. I didn't show it, but it was here [touches his
heart]. And bluffs ain't goin' to pass it over.
[Dan reaches into his hip pocket and draws out his pipe
and bag of tobacco. Peters, seeing him and anxious to break the
strain, reaches into his own pocket for his pipe. He fumbles
around, but finds no tobacco. Dan finishes loading his pipe and
hands the sack to Peters who fills from it slowly. Dan lights a
match and holds it for Peters, who puffs slowly and heavily,
releasing the smoke with a big sigh. Dan lights his own pipe and
also puffs slowly.]
DAN [aloud, but really unconsciously expressing his
thoughts]--Friendly an' oldish-like--burnt out.
CURTAIN

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These Bones Will Rise Again

I.

"It's like this, Mr. Graham. There"--and old Henry
Wishropp's sweeping gesture as much as said "Fallon, Kansas"--
"there we live only a little while, but here"--his right fist,
clenched loosely, made a knuckle-down motion toward the cemetery
ground--"here we stays for a long time, almost forever, you might
say, now mighn't you?--that is, if we get the place ready while
we're still around an' can make things tip-top so's them what comes
after us'll have an example to go by." The huge freckled hand,
showing its history of capable toil, continued to emphasize his
oft-repeated philosophy: "Ain't it funny that folks don't seem to
realize they're not a-goin' to be here forever? If they did, they'd
see quick enough it's more important how this home looks than the
houses they live in."
This was Wishropp's one and sufficient explanation of an
interest which, begun as an avocation, now amounted to an
obsession. It was, too, his only justification for insisting upon
the Grahams' consent to the sacrifice of more land from their fine
farm. For over an hour he had been piloting them from one end to
the other of the little cemetery, discussing old and new
boundaries.
"Of course," he admitted reluctantly, "I know how you feel
about it--this askin' for two more acres when we've already got
five from you, but we've just got to have 'em--they's no two ways
about it," and he turned appealingly to Janet, whom he had known
since her babyhood.
"But, as Mr. Graham says--"
"I know what he says," broke in Wishropp, "but it ain't a-
goin' to hurt the farm a mite. Why, it's goin' to improve it. I'm
gonna make this like a park--all nice grass, an' shrubbery, an'
trees."
"Of course," interrupted Janet, "it was a mistake for
grandfather to have given the first acre. You see how it keeps
encroaching."
"But sometime you're both a-goin' to lay here, ain't you,
Janet--you an' Robert?" Wishropp demanded. "An' when you do, you
won't worry about 'croachin' on the farm."
"The land is so valuable," suggested Robert mildly, "that-
-"
"But I'm tellin' you, your land'll go up in price. We'll
make this spot handsomer than the courthouse square an' more an'
more folks'll bury here."
Janet felt a little dubious of his economics, but Wishropp
continued to argue with a persuasiveness so compelling that, in
spite of their better judgment, the Grahams found themselves fin-
ally capitulating and agreeing to accept a nominal sum from the
Endowment Fund of which Wishropp was chief promoter and treasurer.
With a crusader's zeal he consoled them with the estimate that
these two acres would supply a hundred lots each, which, sold at
twenty-five dollars, would net five thousand for a great cause.
Furthermore, since Fallon was a small place--less than thirty-five
hundred--the Graham farm would now be safe for decades.
"It's wonderful, Mr. Wishropp, how you devote yourself so
unselfishly to the thankless task of improving and beautifying this
spot." Janet's words, spoken with a quiet sincerity, were as meat
to his ribs.
"It won't always be thankless. Some day, the people'll
learn what it all means."
"You are a voice in the wilderness, Wishropp," said
Robert, meaning it as purring humor rather than praise. This hale,
tireless, task-assuming man of seventy interested him. He liked his
magnificent figure, measuring six feet two from the top of his
massive head, with its thick frosty white thatch, to the soles of
his large and, at this moment, unshod feet, for he had been mowing
in the dew when the Grahams joined him.
Studying him, Robert reflected on Wishropp's past as Janet
had painted it--how, like most of the old men in Fallon, he had
come to Kansas in its early days, and, beginning as a modest
farmer, had acquired more and more land, until, becoming an expert
in wheat values, he had started an elevator, which in its turn had
led to a mill. For twenty years its growth and the leisurely
development of the little town had filled his life. But now the
light of service was in his eyes--blue as the sky on a clear winter
day. That was what he made one think of, Janet decided--with his
fine physique, rosy cheeks, and moustache and brows like drifts of
snow--the beauty of winter.
With a warming smile on his face, he responded chattily to
Robert: "For five years now--ever since I quit my business, I've
give all my time, and you know what I get--"
"Not a penny, Robert," Janet exclaimed, as though to
impress her skeptical husband with Wishropp's complete
disinterestedness.
"I don't want money for what I do," he expanded. "I got
plenty."
The Grahams knew how true this was. Jane, vice-president
of Fallon's oldest bank, was as familiar as Wishropp himself with
his large account, his fat time certificates, municipal bonds, and
mortgages. No, indeed! There was not the trace of a mercenary
motive in his activities, which made him all the more diverting to
Robert, front-porch farmer and half-arrived novelist.
"When I was sixty-five," continued Wishropp, ruminating,
"I turned over my business to my sons, an' Ned an' Will an' Fred've
made good, too. They tell me lots of folks said then I'd retired to
die, but instead I just got ready to die, an' that's been keepin'
me so busy I ain't had time for the dyin' itself, yet." His hearty
laughter, cascading out between heavy chuckles, was irresistibly
infectious.
"And to look at you," Robert assured him, "I should say
you wouldn't get around to it for another quarter of a century."
"Mebbe yes an' mebbe no. But I've made up my mind to get
this in apple pie order before I set back an' rest. My sons run the
business that takes care of us now; my woman she's a great church
worker and she worries all the time 'bout what's goin' happen to
our souls. She's always at me lately. But I tell 'er all our lives-
-an' we've been married nearly fifty years--it's been my job to
provide for these here mortal bodies of ourn an' I ain't a-goin' to
fall down at the very end. No, sir, Mr. Graham, I wouldn't live a
year on a place that was every whichaway an' I ain't a-goin' to lie
forever in a cemetery that is, neither. I want my last home to be
the best of all."
"Emperors have felt just so," Robert assured him
seriously, more and more delighted with this floundering effort to
express an impulse which, old as the race, its roots deep in man's
primitive nature, had, in the pyramids of Egypt and tombs of
ancient Rome, flowered bewilderingly into such arresting
articulation. Drained through Wishropp's innate heaviness, it had
emerged here in Fallon merely as a vehement gesture for scrupulous
order. At this moment, his face was positively illumined.
"Ain't it different from what it uster be?" The question
was in reality a shout of achievement.
"Different? No word for it!" This from Janet.
"Yes, Mr. Graham. It was a shame--five years ago. A shame,
for there wasn't no walks, no decent fences, crazy mounds on the
graves, the stones topplin' an' everything skwee-gee."
"Skwee-gee--exactly the word."
"An' look at it now. Janet can remember the rotten fences
I pulled down before I put in that there hedge. I trim it myself.
An' the flower beds, an' that shrubbery--I put 'em."
"It really is getting to be a show place," Robert agreed.
"Lying here is something to look forward to, isn't it Janet?"
"Come," Wishropp urged. "Take a look at my own lot." He
led them to the north end and stopped on a hill, from which could
be seen the green roof of the Graham home--a pleasant farm house,
with open country to its east and the beginning of the town to its
west. "Here is where I'm a-goin' to be put," Wishropp announced,
"with my head to the north. On my left will be my woman. On my
right will be my oldest son. On her left will be the second son.
Then their children will be over here an' my daughter over there,
an'--"
"I hope none of your plans fall down," murmured Robert.
"Such careful specifications should be observed."
"Don't worry, it'll be like I told you"--and into
Wishropp's eyes flared a fanatical light. "Our souls can go
wherever my woman says. But here I'm the boss. Say, you folks walk
over to my car while I fetch my lawn mower an' I'll run you home."
As Janet and Robert neared the big Studebaker, they smiled
in appreciation of the tonneau's typical load. One could never look
in without seeing spades, a leveller, rakes, scythes and sickles.
"I suppose the lawn mower is to go in, too," suggested
Robert as Janet succeeded with difficulty in making a place for
herself.
"Pretty crowded, ain't it?" laughed Henry as he adjusted
it, "but I guess you can squeeze in."
"What does Mrs. Wishropp think of your doing work like
this on Sunday?" asked Robert wickedly.
Wishropp sighed. "There's a heap o' things mother don't
like that I do. She thinks all this fussin' out here is
foolishness."
As he spoke there flashed before Janet's eyes the picture
of his "woman." Really of almost medium height, Henry's huge bulk
made her seem positively diminutive. Though she came no higher than
his shoulder, in innumerable ways she ruled him, and her towering
sons and matronly daughters still felt when with her the old
accustomed compulsion toward the strict obedience she invariably
had exacted. One wondered sometimes how such indomitable will could
be compassed in such a button of a person. She was vibrant with
vitality, and her merry brown eyes, though faded a bit, could
sparkle and snap.
All her life Suffie Wishropp had been interested in
everything, with a flair for the new. With a deaf ear to Henry's
protests, she had supervised the installation of a bathroom and the
addition of a sleeping porch to their pebble-dash home next the
flour mill. Henry had complained:
"We've always slep' inside an' had the toilet outside; now
you want to sleep outside an' have the toilet inside. 'Taint
sensible."
But Suffie, relentlessly progressive, had gone ahead with
her plans. Followed thereupon the departure of the Round Oak stove
from the living room. In its place had come a pipeless furnace, to
which Henry had offered an injured: "I always like to set by the
stove an' read my paper, but you can't set by that thing"--pointing
to the large register in the center of the floor--"who can set with
his stockin' feet on that?"
Also, there had been the incident of the union suit.
Henry's growl of rejection had been violent: "I want shirts that
are shirts an' drawers that are drawers. Them ain't one nor the
other." "Union suits are more healthy." "Tain't nothing of the
kind. Gimme back my shirts an' drawers." But they had been banished
forever, and Henry had surrendered with a final protest: "These
durned things don't keep my socks up like the drawers did." So
Suffie had bought him a pair of garters. Henry had examined the
contraption with unfriendly eyes. "Patented 1901" he had read on
one of the bits of metal. "It's a crazy day we've come to when we
have to keep your socks up with patented machines."
Suffie belonged to the Fallon Study Club, and, thrilling
to her belated education, read papers which bristled with
grammatical errors and cracked with homely wit and sound
information. Children adored her, for she was an inexhaustible
supply of candy, small toys, and surprises. A busy, bustling,
kindly soul, she luxuriated frankly in the leisure which had come
to her after more than forty hard-working years. It was impossible
to resist her. Her appreciation of the gamey tang of living was so
genuine that it stirred one's own. And Janet could imagine just how
scornfully this old lady, so avid of life, would observe her
Henry's absorption in death's habitation.
Like a hammer striking on glass, his voice, directed
toward herself, scattered Janet's reflections: "I got somethin' to
say to you," he announced confidentially, subtly excluding Robert
beside him. "Private an' particuler. Somethin' that ought to be
did. I'll come out to your place soon and put it before you." Of
course, the Grahams knew it would have to do with their own lot. He
was always making suggestions in this way, and while everybody
usually evaded, he still kept at them, knowing in time he would win
them over. There was a vast patience in his make up. He could
afford to wait. What he missed accomplishing during his lifetime
could be handled by the swollen Endowment Fund after his death. In
addition to working hard himself, he would oversee the sexton. When
he wasn't with the "dear departed," he was visiting the living and
lining them up. At home, he wrote carefully conceived letters,
informing Mrs. Widby of Hannibal, Missouri, that the little stone
of her baby girl needed resetting; suggesting to Walt McAllister,
now a prosperous merchant in Flint, Michigan, that it was a good
time to erect a stately monument to his mother, and offering to
give the matter his personal attention; giving to Mr. Thompson, in
Alberta, the news that the earth over his wife's grave was sinking
and pointing out that the lot should be releveled. He was always
helping to adjust delicate details, increasing the Endowment Fund
with the commissions which he executed conscientiously.

II.

From the moment that Wishropp had gazed for the last time
upon Janet's grandmother, beautiful in her soft grey chiffon, rare
old lace, and snowy hair, the petal-like skin of her regal face and
artist hands crumpled by her ninety-one years, he had been
intending to broach the inevitable reminder.
"Your gran'ma always tol' me, Janet, that when she went,
you was a-goin' to move your gran'pa and the two little boys they
lost before she come out west, an' bring 'em all here to lie aside
her."
"I'm afraid you'll find it quite an undertaking, dear,"
protested Robert mildly, when Janet had repeated Wishropp's words.
"I suppose so. But I did promise grandmother, and you see,
I understand exactly how she felt. The rest of the family is here.
We'll be here, too, sometime. Would you like to have the children
and me buried somewhere far from where you'd be?"
"Personally," returned Robert, callously, "I don't care a
snap where any of us are buried."
In the face of her husband's indifference, Janet found
Wishropp's wholehearted approbation of the project comforting, if
somewhat too effusive.
"You're right to go ahead this way, Janet," he reassured
her. "Families should be together. That's what I always say. Why,
if I thought Suffie an' the children wasn't a-goin' to be here with
me"--and his gesture completed the unfinished sentence far more
eloquently than words. "Time an' time again," he assured her as
they stood appraisingly in the trim, close-clipped Robinson lot
that nestled so peacefully under the branches of a pine, "time and
again I've said to your gran'ma: 'Mrs. Robinson, why don't you move
Gran'pa Robinson here?' She always liked this spot, you know,
Janet. She used to say to me in that gran'lady way of hers, 'Henry,
do you know, if somebody'd take the trouble this could be made into
one of the prettiest cemeteries, lyin' so sweet on this here slope,
by this han'some little stream. I'd like to feel I was goin' to
sleep the beautiful sleep in a garden, wouldn't you?' Them's her
very words. It was her, you might say, who first set me to
thinkin'. An' then when I'd suggest that about gran'pa, she'd
always say, 'Yes, I ought never to have taken him back east. But my
little boys were there. When I die, Janet'll see to buryin' us all
here together'. "
Janet nodded a trifle mistily.
"Jus' step here a minute," continued Wishropp, warming
into enthusiasm, "while we're a-talkin' of such things--you see, on
this avenoo, there's no one but your kin except this here one. And
his wife's way over there. She's there an' he's here. Don't look
right any way you take it, now does it? For your folks nor his. If
you say the word, I'll move 'im."
"Oh," protested Janet, abashed. "I couldn't--why, I
haven't any right--"
"If you'll pay for the movin' and whatever expenses comes
up, you can have this lot. It never really belonged to 'im. His
folks'd have moved 'im long ago, but they never had the money
handy."
"I'd have to see them first," Janet fenced.
"If I see 'em an' they say it's a go, will it be all right
with you?"
"Why, I suppose so," she agreed, reluctantly. "though I
don't exactly like the idea--someone who isn't--"
"Now, you leave it to me," commanded Wishropp, kindly. "I
got the good of the cemetery at heart, Janet. I'm tellin' you
there's been lots o' haphazard buryin' done that's just naturally
got to be straightened out."
He lost no time in correcting this particular error, as
Janet discovered later when she came in search of him to say that
her own family had arrived. "There, now," Wishropp murmured,
contentedly, "I just got 'im settled over there, an' that's more
like. We'll bury your folks this evenin' when it's nice an' cool."
On her way home Janet met Robert. "A letter for you from a
second cousin," he exclaimed, an impish light in his eyes. "She
understands you're rearranging the family's bones and she is
shipping Cousin Charlotte to go in the Robison lot. What was that
song your mammy used to sing?"
"I don't know, I'm sure."
"I've got it!" And he hummed: "Lawd, he thought he'd make
a man, li'l bit o' dust an' li'l bit o' san'--dese bones gwine rise
again!"
"For Heaven's sake, Robert Graham! Don't make a joke of it
all. I've got to bury Grandfather and Grandmother's little boys
this evening."
"Going to have a minister, choir--that sort of thing?" The
innocent seriousness of Robert's face would have deceived anyone
but his wife.
"Don't be absurd," she answered
brusquely. "But I do not want any sense of the ludicrous poking in
its gargoyle head. I must feel a little of the reverence and
solemnity due to death. I owe grandmother that much. If it were you
and our children--"
But Robert was obdurate. "Oh, well," he yawned, "there is
nothing to death but the dying. That, now, is a great adventure."
"Of course, my dear, of course, but Grandmother always
felt our bodies were precious caskets, and at the end settings that
had lost their pearls. I'm glad Mr. Wishropp is sensitive."
"Sensitive!" And Robert collapsed into a hearty laugh.
"Just wait and see how delighted he will be over Cousin Charlotte's
arrival."
And when he heard the news that evening Henry Wishropp's
face more than fulfilled Robert's prophecy. "People are wakin' up,
aren't they?" he beamed. "You've got the people to thinkin'? The
Ashmans are rearranging their folks. And Mrs. Derby's gonna bring
her husband up from New Orleans. All of the Critendens but two--
Tom's wife an' baby--are on one side of the cemetery an' they're
goin' to buy the lot next to them--it's empty--an' move them two
over here."
In spite of herself, Janet felt slightly appalled. She
could fairly hear Robert singing: "Dese bones gwine rise again!"
"Don't you think, Mr. Wishropp," she suggested, "that
there's been enough moving for a while?"
"Well, it's good to get it done when folks is in the
notion," he insisted. "Did I tell you," he went on serenely, "that
when your Aunt Milly died your Uncle Charlie spoke to me an' he
sez, sez he: 'Wishropp, I wish old Deborah--our old nurse there--
could be moved over to the side o' the lot instead 'o the middle.
That'd give room for me here side o' Milly. I'll tend to it
sometime.' Why don't you write to 'im, Janet, while you're a-doin'
it?"
But Janet had had more than enough. She shook her head.
"I've already disturbed four. Maybe another year."
However, Wishropp was not to be deflected. Within a week
came a letter to Janet from Uncle Charles himself, no less, asking
that she attend to the moving of old Deborah so that he might, when
the time came, lie comfortably beside Aunt Mildred. Uncle Charles'
requests were not to be set aside lightly, and Janet found herself
meekly fulfilling this one. But his, which she justly felt should
have been the end, proved to be only the beginning.
The Robinsons, root, stem and branch, seemed bent on
collecting themselves and each other. From north, east, south and
west they arrived, sometimes announced by wire, sometimes by a
prelude of detailed letters. The climax came the day the express
man called Janet to state bluntly that a large box was awaiting her
disposal.
"I think, Mrs. Graham," he ventured calmly, "you better
come see it instead of me fetching it out. There's someone in it."
After a hasty trip to the station, which revealed that the
box was from a strange address but surely intended for herself,
Janet telephoned Robert a trifle wildly.
"You must have a letter on that untidy desk of yours
telling me about it. For Heaven's sake, look it up."
Fifteen minutes later, he appeared, much amused, waving an
opened envelope.
"It's from the daughter of an old friend of your mother's.
Her mother is buried here and she asks that you attend to having
little Elizabeth placed beside her."
"She was always so close to mother's heart," the letter
ran. "Mother was so wonderful about her. Though she died before
most of us were born, Elizabeth has been part of our family. Kansas
seems so far from Canada, and I should never have dared to ask you
to take so much trouble if Mr. Henry Wishropp had not told me of
your interest in the cemetery. It will be such a comfort to know
little Elizabeth will be in one which always will be kept
beautiful."
To his surprise, Robert saw gathering in his wife's
expressive face, usually so sunny, a distracted, harassed look. It
became more noticeable after she had grimly attended to little
Elizabeth's descent into mother earth. It exploded into words that
evening as they sat on the pleasant porch, cheery with yellow
wicker and gay chintz.
"I tell you, Robert Graham, something has to be done.
Henry Wishropp has utterly lost all sense of proportion. He moves
people around out there as if they were just so many potatoes. He's
hipped on the subject. Directly or indirectly, he has been the
cause of twenty-three changes. Yes, he has, and now he's thinking
of moving all the old soldiers buried in the plot for the nameless
dead. Wants them nearer the center of the grounds."
"'Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Dese bones gwine rise again'."
The lightly hummed words were barely audible.
Janet gave him a look. "You're responsible for a lot of
it, too," she accused, with only half playful bitterness. "Yes, you
are--egging him on, commending him. And I can tell you Mrs.
Wishropp doesn't like it, either--nor his children."
"No?"
"Indeed, they do not. His children are perfectly frank
about it and today when he brought me in from the cemetery we
picked up Mrs. Wishropp. Her eyes were just snapping. 'At it again,
Henry?' she asked, and her voice was simply simmering with scorn.
'Well, there's no fool like an old one.' Then she turned to me and
said right before him: 'I declare to goodness, I'm getting ashamed
to own him. To think that no one is safe in their own graves any
more 'count of my man.' 'Now, Suffie,' he began, but she cut right
in with, 'There's a limit, Henry Wishropp. There's a limit! And it
has been reached.' I must say," concluded Janet, with uneasiness in
her own voice, "I entirely agree with her. Why, today when I was
out seeing about that little Elizabeth I stepped over to our own
lot and, of course, Henry Wishropp came tagging along and what do
you think he wanted to do this time?"
"Dese bones?" asked Robert with an expressive gesture.
"Exactly. And who should it be now? He's worried because
Grandmother is on the left side of Grandfather when Mother is on
the right side of father. It disturbs his whole sense of order.
He's like a housewife who has to see all the pictures hanging
crooked on her walls when a touch will set them straight. He wants
to switch Mother over to Father's left. He looked at me so
earnestly. 'Now, you know, Janet,' he said in that confidential way
of his, like a mother encouraging a shy child to speak a piece,
'now, you know, Janet, it can be did. Then your lot'd be perfect.'
That's what's always in his mind. Perfection. Perfect order.
Perfect symmetry. Nothing else satisfies him. I used to think there
was a certain finality in burial, that there was a--a--well, a
certain sacredness about graves--and now I see--well, I see that--"
"Dese bones--"
"Can, at any rate--whenever anyone wishes.

III.

Wishropp, through all this, seemed to be drinking of the
elixir of youth. Life had opened before him new portals of
achievement and, warmed by the magic exhilaration of complete
concentration upon a congenial task, he beamed his happiness upon a
newly responsive world. "A voice in the wilderness," Robert had
jestingly called him, and such Wishropp actually had come to feel
himself. The glory of having an long-unheeded message listened to--
and not only listened to but enthusiastically accepted--would that
not have rejuvenated a much older and more stolid man? He was the
militant crusader with the goal already in sight.
Henry would have been the first to admit gladly that Janet
had been correct when she had accused Robert of playing an
important role in these activities. Delighted with Wishropp's
unflagging zeal, he not infrequently had joined him in trips about
Fallon and the county. The Strumbergers, the Allens, the Lees, the
Ottermans, the Tiffins, the Bakers, the Platts, the Seligmans, the
Stevens, the Miners, and the Crowells were all visited and won over
to Wishropp's suggestions. Never had Wishropp, even in his moments
of wildest visioning, ever dared to hope for half the interest and
liberal contributions that now came without an effort.
"There is an awakening!" Robert burst forth. "You will be
able to go to your rest with an easy heart, Wishropp, knowing that
everything is shipshape."
Henry nodded his agreement. It was clear, thought Robert,
amusedly, that in one case at least a scheme of continuity had
functioned with an evenness and consistency that was flawless.
There had been nothing to dampen Wishropp's ecstasy, nothing to
sour his joy, nothing to run counter to his planning.
Not until Janet's report of Suffie's reproof had Robert
suspected the shadow on Wishropp's sun. At first, no more than the
merest flicker had been caused by his wife's lack of interest in
his project. Indeed, Wishropp had been scarcely conscious of it.
And as her disapproval took form and substance he had thought, in
his simplicity, that he could overcome it.
"I'm a-doin' it for you, Mother," he would argue. "For you
an' the children. If you wasn't goin' to lie there I wouldn't take
a bit o' interest myself."
Softened by the warmth in his tone, Suffie would respond
reasonably enough. "Well, my land, Henry, I'll own I liked the
notion of makin' it pretty. But for what do the children and I need
to have every other person took up and moved here and there in
every which direction? It's disgraceful movin' the dead about so."
"I'm doin' 'em a favor. Most like if they knew, some of
'em'd hate as much as me bein' mixed with other folks where they
don't belong. It ain't right. Mr. Graham understands. He didn't use
to. But he's smart. An' now he thinks like me."
"He's laughin' at you all the while like, up his sleeve."
Thus the astute Suffie. "And so is everybody else," she would
continue, firmness rather than actual sharpness in her voice.
"Folks do as you ask 'em because you don't let 'em alone till they
do."
"They'll thank me for it when they come to die. An' so
will you. Some can't look beyond the minute they're livin' in."
"An' what about you when you come to die, Henry Wishropp?"
Suffie would flame, her round face eloquent with unfeigned worry.
"Thinkin' so much about where we're all a-goin' to be buried is
stealin' from you what few thoughts you ever did have about the
world to come."
Over and over they reiterated the same arguments until
conviction of the truth of this statement gathered distinctness in
Suffie's mind. Henry's dream of creating a perfect cemetery loomed
before his wife a menacing shadow over his very soul. Her
disapproval became frank hostility toward the whole concept. Henry
was dogged; Suffie determined; the struggle between them all the
more intense because the emotions involved were ones concerning
which both were only half articulate. Poor Suffie! With all her
briskness and volubility, how could she explain to Henry the depth
of her longing concern and fears for him? And Henry--with his
fundamental passion for order and his newfound opportunity to
express it in terms of social service--how should be convince her
of the compulsion under which he labored? Both could only flounder,
while straining nerves inflicted deep scars on the mutual good
fellowship and affectionate understanding that until now, in all
their long years together, never had been seriously threatened.
There were days, when, realizing this, Suffie's very spirit ached.
She was, she felt, facing a critical situation.
Not that anyone in Fallon was given a chance to suspect
that this was her attitude. The children might be indiscreet--and
were. But until the day she freed her mind to Janet, when Suffie
had spoken of her husband in public it had been to praise him
roundly for all his sacrifice of time and energy. As Suffie herself
put it she "always stood up for him." "He don't see how it all
looks to other folks." The arrival of little Elizabeth, however,
was for Suffie, as for Janet, quite the last fillip. In both their
minds was the conclusion that, as Suffie had said, the limit had
been reached. Something drastic had to be done and done quickly.
Having made this decision, Suffie Wishropp was too dynamic and
resourceful not to take prompt action.
Her blow fell upon Henry, striking him down overnight.
When, in response to his request that they come to his
house, the Grahams drew up at his curb and saw him coming heavily
out to their car, they were shocked into stunned silence. The bloom
had been driven from his cheeks. His voice--always so vibrant--was
shaking. His hands, so strong, so capable, were trembling.
"What in the world has happened?" Robert asked.
"Something had to happen to spoil it all," Wishropp
gasped. "It couldn't go--it was too good to be true."
"But what is it? Maybe we can help you."
"Mebbe," and hope flickered in the newly-dulled eyes.
"That's why I asked you to come round. It's my woman. Suffie. You
know how she talked, Janet. She's a-doin' it a-purpose--though it's
like her to take up a thing just because it's new. But this--she
must have gone clean out of her mind--a good church member like her
who believes in resurrections an' such. You got to help me." There
was panic in his voice.
Thus pressed, Robert, all malicious glee, and Janet, torn
by her divided sympathies went with Wishropp up the wide walk and
into the homey living room where Suffie bustled with cordial
hospitality to welcome and seat them about the inviting hearth. Her
eyes held a peaceful look as of profound tranquility achieved after
storm. "I know why you've come this evenin'," she smiled, "but it
ain't no use to argue with me, Mr. Graham, an' I shouldn't think
poor Janet'd want to--the way she's been imposed upon. My mind's
made up and Henry knows it ain't my way to be shaken. This
catalogue has got me so convinced that I'm goin' to see that it
convinces the children too. My land! I ain't tryin' to convince
Henry! He can be buried in his cemetery if he likes. He sets such
store by it--I ain't sayin' a word against it--but if he does he'll
lie by himself. What was good enough for the martyrs is good enough
for me. I'm positively a-goin' to be cremated."

Return to Top of Page

Fleas

I.

Self-improvement struck Fallon. It swept the little Kansas
town and spread over the country, leaving in its wake broad
concrete roads with stately curves, dozens of newly paved streets,
privet hedges, freshly painted houses, a shower of ornamental
shrubs on lawns landscaped for the first time, a county farm agent,
a Chamber of Commerce instead of the old Commercial Club, a new
secretary paid no less than two hundred and fifty a month--a
fabulous sum for Fallon--a County Fair Association, and, in the
hearts of many, a restless determination to improve and grow with
and beyond their town.
Here and there the more daring of the younger generation
pulled up stakes and went. When one of Fallon's favorite sons
ventured to New York and within his first season won a place in
light opera, all the other young bloods were fired with dreams and
longings. Among them all none brooded more profoundly and
hopelessly than Arthur Brown.
Arthur was Fallon born and Fallon bred, Fallon educated
and Fallon married. Never had he been farther away than Kansas
City. Nor had Bertha. Their five children had come catapulting in
too rapid succession to permit trips, even short ones. To Janet
Graham, vice-president of the First State Bank where the Browns did
their modest business, they had seemed for several years steeped in
middle-aged settledness, but gradually her sympathetic perceptions
made her aware that in each a weary, yearning spirit of youth still
was fitfully struggling. They were conscious vaguely of having been
cheated of something. Observant and analytical, Janet soon found
this couple occupying her mind, not only because of the little
drama their lives unfolded but because it set her thinking more
concretely about all Fallon.
Bertha--soon again to become a mother, depressed about
herself, and anxious because of Arthur--caught eagerly at the
understanding she read in the kind brown eyes. Timidly,
incoherently at first, denying her own fears, she confided them to
Janet. Bertha was disposed to be philosophical. If much had been
missed had not more been gained? How could she, looking at the
cluster of faces, feeling the flutter of life within her, admit
that her early marriage with Arthur had been a mistake? If only
Arthur could have taken this sensible view, she would have felt her
life a happy one. But she was becoming conscious of his quiet
restlessness.
"Of course, I know it's because I'm nervous now and sort
o' worn out," she explained. "A body can start trouble where there
isn't any. And he always makes a lot over the children, but he
don't seem to like himself--"
"How do you mean?"
"Oh, Janet, I could hardly tell you--it isn't exactly that
he's cross--it's just--well, he just seems to be always brushing me
aside. He's kind in a way, but he won't talk over anything with me-
-he don't take any interest--he just sits, an' thinks, an' thinks.
It seems to make him angry if I even come around and then again
he'll be tenderer than ever. It isn't just because this new baby's
coming. I wish it was that, in a way, because--well, that could be
easier to understand. Sometimes I just feel that he--don't love me
any more.
The low voice told Janet all too eloquently the struggle
with which Bertha had approached this half-admitted conviction. She
was like a child fancying some bogeyman but tremulously confident
that anything so terrible could not be. In terror and unbelief, she
was realizing Arthur's simple transition from emotion to a cool, if
friendly, indifference. The fear was real. The darkness had taken
shape. Bertha stared at its face. Arthur wanted to be free.
Yet, if only Bertha could have known it, Arthur too was
terrified by the encroaching of the monstrous fact. His approach to
its admission had been as reluctant, as circuitous, as her own. At
first, dreaming during the long intervals between sales in the
clothing store where he clerked, and smoking his cheap cigar on the
porch of his mortgaged little place, he admitted to himself merely
that his whole life had been a senseless blunder.
He told himself stoutly that he cared for Bertha as much
as ever. Yes, more. She was a brick. And the children--of course,
he would do anything on earth for them. Wasn't he dragging out a
death in life for them? Down to the store every morning. Open it
up. Sweep it out. Sell shirts and collars. Shoes and neckties. Home
for lunch. Babies fussing. Children shouting. Bedlam. Furniture
that he had slaved to purchase, scuffed. The cat that had collided
with a crock of grease--lying right on the davenport which had
taken him nine months to buy. Bertha, hot and tired-looking. None
too tidy. Uninviting, all of it. Of course, she didn't like such
things better than he did. She couldn't see everything. One pair of
hands couldn't do it all. But that was the way it was, just the
same. Then what? Back to the store. At night, home to supper. Dead
tired. Smoke a little, read a little. The next day the whole thing
over.
To do him justice these thoughts had been mulling in his
head for months before he began to dwell on the idea that new
places, new people, the chance to do something worthwhile might yet
be possible. At the same time he began to be more and more
irritated by Bertha's air of calm acceptance. Tied to a woman who
didn't care--that's what he was. It suited her, this life.
To look at Arthur, one less discerning and sensitive than
Janet never would have guessed the acids of discontent that ravaged
his soul. His slick blond hair was in the latest pompadour. His
suit, bought at dealer price from his employer, always was pressed,
his manner monotonous in its even courtesy. Fallon crept on its way
scarcely conscious of him. In Arthur Janet saw all chafing,
dissatisfied husbands; in Bertha their resigned, complacent
partners. When she talked with either of them there arose before
her interminable lines of suffering creatures on a great, endless
treadmill, most of them convinced that nothing could be done about
it--the few who would step out of the procession pulled back by
their companions.
But Arthur--drab little creature though he is--thought
Janet, with a pitying sigh for Bertha, Arthur will at least make
the effort to break away--to reach newer pastures.

II.

Then came the County Fair. With it came Arthur's uncle,
Ludwig Schmidt, and Arthur found himself riding suddenly into
prominence on a tidal wave of notoriety. For temperamental Ludwig
was one of the attractions of the fair--old Ludwig and his trained
fleas. Ludwig was an artist in a sense. He understood to the full
the rapture that comes to the man who labors to realize a result
that creates the impression of perfect spontaneity. His fleas were
infallible. They went through their antics without a hitch.
"Now this," Ludwig would say to the unbelieving crowd,
"now this one here--Napoleon Bonaparte--he understands everything I
say to him, 'Jump, Napoleon Bonaparte, jump'." And Napoleon
Bonaparte, infinitesimal atom, would gather himself with exactness
and dignity and--jump.
"King Henry, the Eighth," Ludwig would call, love in his
tone, "to the front." King Henry the Eighth would advance to the
center of the little platform. Ludwig would hold out a tiny wire
hoop. "Through!" he would command. King Henry the Eighth would hop
through.
They marched in battalions, divided, met, redivided,
halted. Fallon was genuinely amused. The fame of it spread. And the
incredulous and skeptical who came to scoff remained to chuckle.
Even Robert Graham, novelist and playwright, and of all mortals the
most aloof and inimical in spirit to fairs, parades, lodges, and
all such institutions, even Robert went to watch the exhibition.
Unlike the others he found greater entertainment in old Ludwig than
was afforded by the fleas. In Robert's wholly appreciative society
the impressario expanded and grew communicative.
"Of course," he admitted generously, "there are other flea
trainers, and there are other trained fleas, but there ain't nobody
else has more than a dozen working at a time--and me, I have fifty.
Always I am training new ones. Always I work. Always I plan new
stunts. And my fleas!"
"One can see they are a fine set," encouraged Robert.
"I used to get them from sailors. But now I breed my own--
clean ones. I keep and train only the best."
"It is wonderful. How can you make them understand?"
"Simple. I take the new flea and say 'jump,' and touch
him. He jumps by himself--he hits the glass. Always when he jumps
by himself he hits it. Always when I say 'jump' he finds he can
jump free. After a while he waits for me to speak. My best one of
all I lost yesterday--Emperor Nero. He knew so much, that flea, but
Roger, my dog, he killed him by accident. Always I have trusted
Roger, but never again. Always I have carried some of my fleas on
him in his nice thick, warm coat. Now I try to get my nephew Arthur
to come with me and take care of them in Roger's place."
"Is he going to?"
"He tells me tomorrow. It was his own grandfather who
trained the first ones. I promise him to leave him my business.
There's no one else to carry on the family work. Why should he stay
here in this burg when he can have a future like mine? The world's
before him. He'd be foolish to stay here doing nothing."
"I hope," Ludwig went on, after a reflective pause, "that
he won't be like another young feller I tried to give a chance
oncet. I gave him a real opportunity--a chance for real progress--
but he got huffy and thought he knowed it all."
"So he did go out with you?"
"Yes, but only for a while. He thought he knew a lot, but
it wasn't much. He was with me only three months when he acted like
he knew more than me--me who has been in this business from before
he was born. He kept saying he wanted to go in business for
hisself. I told him he was too young an' inexperienced, but he was
a bighead and thought different. So I gave him a chance. I let him
have seven of my best fleas and my best wishes to start him out in
life."
"That strikes me as generous."
"It was. I started with only six. He had seven. But
instead of breeding more and training new ones, he just worked what
I gave him. An' when they died or was crippled he didn't have push
enough to get hisself a new supply. Didn't keep his mind on his
job. But I think Arthur will be different. If he keeps his heart in
his work an' don't let nothing interfere with his study, I
guarantee he will make progress."
"Ambition, push, application, honesty," murmured Robert,
"yes, Arthur may have these qualities--and then go up--go up as
high as his ambition lets him."
"Well, I'll soon find out. The experience'll do him good."
"If he's made of the right stuff," Robert agreed, "he may
become something."
As Ludwig put it, the idea that anyone would hesitate
seemed incredible, but at home Robert heard a very different
version from his wife.
"Robert," Janet burst out, "Bertha Brown just left. Came
over to see if you and I wouldn't talk to Arthur. And what do you
think--that uncle of Arthur's, that old vagabond who goes around to
fairs with those fleas, is trying to get Arthur to give up his good
job and go off and leave Bertha. Did you ever hear of anything so
crazy?"
"What is so awful about it?"
Janet gave him a quizzical look. "It amuses you, doesn't
it?"
"Of course it does." returned Robert placidly. "Can you
imagine the throes Arthur must be in--to go or not to go--his wide-
visioned, man-of-the-world uncle urging him to take his true place
among the stars, and his selfish, self-centered wife striving to
hold him down? Janet, my dear, there is true democracy for you, the
one democracy in which most people are sincere--the democracy of
misery. Poor Arthur."
"Poor Arthur," scoffed Janet. "I suppose that would be a
man's point of view. It's poor Bertha I'm thinking."
"He can support her just as well--"
"And leave her to bring up that family--"
"Doesn't she do it anyway?"
"And have the new baby all alone--"
"Well, it's her sixth, isn't it?"
"Exactly. As if that made her need love and comfort any
the less."
"Now, now Janet, be reasonable," murmured Robert, the
mischievous light in his gray eyes belying his otherwise serious
face and argumentative manner. "It's the man's one chance for
freedom--for growth, Uncle Ludwig is opportunity knocking at the
door. There isn't any close bond between Arthur and Bertha. He is
simply a meal ticket. Why, they'll really be glad to get away from
each other. You've said it yourself, often--that for some time
Arthur has been pulling on the lines."
"Maybe so. But all the more reason he needs the sight of
his obligations to remind him of them. Bertha is nearly frantic.
They have a cow to care for, and the interest on the mortgage to
keep up, and she can't run the washing machine now--Arthur always
helps her Monday mornings before he goes to work. He'd probably
send her the money all right, but a woman needs a husband, and
Bertha's a frail little thing." Janet's face was flushed with
generous indignation. "It'll simply mean they'll fight through and
later, when their children are older and can help at home and their
place is paid for--"
"Arthur will still be clerking in the clothing store and
they will buy a little Ford perhaps and be just as dull as now.
Really, Janet, if Arthur goes he may find when he's away that
Bertha means more to him than he thinks. He's a good-hearted,
affectionate boy at bottom, but he does need a chance."
"Never mind, Robert," said Janet evenly. "You know what's
right as well as I do. And Bertha thinks you'd be the one person in
town he'd really listen to. Remember, this is a question of life
and death to her--he's insignificant and will be anywhere, behind a
counter or exhibiting fleas, while she's a real little woman.
That's the matter in a nutshell, and I'm going to stand by her--
through this particular foolishness at any rate."
"Before I reach a conclusion," insisted Robert, with a
great show of fairness, "I must hear Arthur's side."

III.

To Robert's whimsical delight he found the young man in
even greater perturbation than he had imagined. To Arthur, indeed,
it was the supreme test.
As he sat in the Graham's warm-hued, spacious library
where he had sought out Robert, the novelist found the suppressed
excitement of this drab fellow curiously appealing.
"Why, Mr. Graham," he exclaimed, "Uncle Ludwig plans to go
to London this fall, then through France. He's been clear around
the world twice already." It was plain that the visions of strange
ports danced before the pale blue eyes. "I thought maybe Bertha'd
be willing," he added sadly, "but she's dead set against it. Acts
as if I'd be deserting her. Don't you think that's unreasonable.
Mr. Graham? Lots of men travel for their living. But Bertha says if
I go, it might as well be the end. Of course," he went on, his
voice monotonous even in his emotion, "Uncle Ludwig always speaks
as if I'd be taking Roger's place. I don't exactly like that--
taking a dog's place."
"No, no, Arthur," murmured Robert, "I think your uncle is
asking you to go with him simply because his deepest wish is to
have the family art perpetuated."
Arthur's face glowed. "Yes, Mr. Graham, that really is it.
I knew you would understand! And the fleas themselves, there's a
fortune right there. You know Bertha threw it up that with all his
traveling around he hasn't got as far ahead as we have with fifteen
hundred paid on our home. But, as Uncle Ludwig says, the fleas are
worth--well a person can't say just how much because they don't
have any regular market value, but they're a tremendous capital if
you use 'em right. The value of anything is really the income you
can get from it, isn't it? I can't keep from feeling it's my
chance--sometimes, Mr. Graham, it just seems to me I was made to go
up to a bigger life."
"I'm sure of it," encouraged Robert, heartily, "you must
be or you wouldn't long for it."
"That's what I think," exclaimed the young man. "Now,
Bertha--she's satisfied. She says a person can be just as contented
in one place as another. It's what you are; not where you are. But
Uncle Ludwig says he'd feel buried alive here in this hole. He says
he'd stifle. That's the way I feel sometimes, Mr. Graham--stifled."
"Yes," agreed Robert, kindly, "I'm sure you do, Arthur."
"Seems as if I can't see my way clear." There was genuine
anguish in the young man's voice. "I want to do what's square by
Bertha, but, somehow, when you get to thinking that you have only
one life and could be so happy in it--something tells me I'd be
happy with Uncle Ludwig--it seems wicked to go on being unhappy."
Robert nodded. "You have the true hedonist viewpoint,
Arthur. Some of the greatest minds of all ages have held as you do.
But, of course, there is another side, you know, though between
ourselves I lean to your view. I'll tell you what," he suggested,
"why not have Mrs. Graham in? She's broad and just. She likes you
both, too. And she's known you all your lives. Until now she's
heard only Bertha's side of the case. I'd really like to have her
hear yours."
Arthur was not enthusiastic. "Don't you think women always
sort of hang together?" he objected. But Robert brushed this aside,
rejoicing in his impish soul at the prospect of Janet actually
confronted with Arthur and his version of an age-old problem. For
antipodean as Robert's and Janet's temperaments were, their sense
of the ludicrous was mutual.
"It's like this, Janet," he announced boldly, when she had
joined them, "I've told Arthur plainly that I think he ought to go.
Surely you agree too that a man's first duty is to develop himself
to his fullest?"
"And you feel, do you, Arthur," she demanded, "that you
can develop much more fully handling and training fleas than
handling and training your own children?"
"Well I--I--that is," stammered Arthur. "You see, Mrs.
Graham--"
"Yes, I do see," sighed Janet. "I have seen for some time.
Bertha sees too--at last. She is very bitter, Arthur. She says if
you were trapped by youth into this marriage with her, she was just
as much trapped as yourself. But she is not going to try to keep
you if you want to go. She comprehends the folly of that, at
least."
"What do you mean?" faltered Arthur.
"That she has finally made up her mind not to say anything
more. I just came from your house, and she said to tell you that
you were to feel quite free to decide."
"Then I'll go," he beamed, seeming in that second to shake
from his shoulders the last ten years of his life. Indicatively,
his way lay not towards home, but toward the fair grounds to shout
the good news to Uncle Ludwig.
It was discussed thoroughly in Bat Blake's barber shop and
Jenny Drexel's little red brick house where she sat and sewed for
all Fallon. It spread from there to the stores and filtered down to
supper tables. Within five hours everyone knew all about it. People
stopped Arthur on the street to ask him the truth of the rumor, to
congratulate him, to wish him well and ask how long he would be
gone.
"About a year," he answered joyfully.

IV.

Packing was as pure torture to Arthur as to Bertha, who
moved through these unbelievable hours with mingled feelings of
unreality and desolation. It had come to pass--a happening of
which, for some time, she had felt as certain and yet which had
seemed as remote as her own death. Arthur was leaving her. True, he
would send her money, but he would be gone. As she laid out his
underwear and shirts their very familiarity smote her. To press the
suits, sew on the buttons, do all the accustomed little tasks,
knowing it was for the last time was almost more than her will
could accomplish. Surely Arthur could not realize the madness, the
sheer cruelty, of what he was doing.
"Why, it's just--it's just as if my arm was being torn,
muscle by muscle from my body," she thought wildly. "It isn't
right. I won't let him!"
Yet all the while her iron moved with methodical evenness
or her needle flew with unvarying efficiency. Only the slow tears,
dropped on her work, told of the pangs through which she was
passing. At last her agony of spirit having reached its climax, she
began to sink into the anesthesia of mental exhaustion.
"He just doesn't care for me," she muttered wearily. "I
might as well face it and be done with it. If he did he wouldn't
go, and if he doesn't love me what's the good of his staying. Well,
I suppose I'm not the only wife whose husband has got tired of
her."
Her mind traveled back to the first years of their
marriage. What an affectionate, gay, gentle boy he had been. And
now he could do this to her. And to his children. With this thought
her anger blazed again. But presently it too dulled, leaving her
conscious only of dizziness--a sense of physical illness. She
wished, vindictively, that she would die. But then, what about the
children? If he was going to fail them she must not. She would
gather herself together. And at once. Let him go! She would be both
mother and father. She, at least, would meet her responsibilities,
face with courage the consequences of all her mistakes, yes, make
her life and the lives of every one of her six children count.
With each of these thoughts the consciousness of her own
fortitude grew, became a staff on which she could lean more and
more heavily. With it came a withering contempt for Arthur's
selfishness, his lack, as Bertha put it, of stamina. A weakling,
that's what he was. And what did she want with a weakling who could
be coaxed off by any old bum? Well, at least, he was not leaving
her for some other woman. There was a thought to sustain one. Small
comfort perhaps, but so extreme was Bertha's need that she seized
upon this knowledge, hugged it to her very soul, actually managing
to warm herself at these few all but dead ashes of what had once
been such a cheery little fire.
Arthur, perfectly conscious of much that Bertha was
thinking, strengthened his resolution with the conviction that she
was unreasonable. If she wanted to make a tragedy of what was
merely a change of business, he couldn't help it. If she chose to
distrust his loyalty--for now that he was going Arthur easily
convinced himself that his love was quite as strong as ever--that
was not his fault, was it? And that night as he lay down to sleep
he felt again as when a little boy he had felt the night before
Christmas. Tomorrow! Not in fifteen years had he so looked forward
to a tomorrow.
Yet, when the morning came, to his own disgust, Arthur was
the victim of a new indecision. Bertha's tired, reproachful eyes,
red and swollen from crying, her tightly-folded lips, her body
heavy with his child, the very thinness and hard-worked look of her
hands in contrast to her still prettily rounded and youthful arms--
all wrung his heart. The older children, warned by their mother to
silence, watched him with abashed, disapproving eyes. Already they
had heard others discuss Arthur's departure. He was going away from
them--their father. And it was making their mother bitterly
unhappy. That much they understood thoroughly. Arthur felt their
hostility and it hurt him. But he was even more hurt by the joyous
unconsciousness of the younger ones. They trusted him so! Well,
hang it all, he wasn't deserving of them. Again he reiterated his
justification. Lots of men traveled for their living. Of course
they did. He wasn't going to weaken now. Naturally, the parting was
certain to be hard--especially for himself, so unused to partings,
but once the break was made--a lump swelled in his throat. He was
torn as never before in his drab life. Yet some deep inner voice
bade him rejoice in his very pain. Dimly he knew that in it lay
growth. It was his first upward thrust in many years, and it came
because he was leaving. Yes, it was just as he had known it would
be--this new experience was going to develop him. He must not
weaken now. Every impulse in him cried out to go, every longing
echoed it. He did not want to stay on--in Fallon. Yet instinct,
deeper than impulse, training subtler that longings carried him
against his will, heavy-footed, to Uncle Ludwig.
"I've got to stay," he faltered to the glowering old man.
"You aren't married. You can't understand. I've got a family, you
see. I know I was cut out for this work and travel--but--"
Oddly enough the old trainer's thought was identical with
Bertha's. "You've got no stamina." he snapped.
"I guess that's it," agreed Arthur meekly, looking as if
already ten years had limped by. The set of his body was the set of
the middle-aged, of those who no longer have the right to dream.
The bright coming and going of the vision left him more depressed
than ever. As he thought of Uncle Ludwig and pictured to himself
the different towns he was visiting, the store seemed intolerable.
One day Robert noticed Arthur's face seemed happier than
it had for some time. He asked the reason and Arthur smiled. "I've
made a change. A fellow gets sort of stale being always in one
place, don't you think, Mr. Graham? I've been in the east side
store so long. I think that was what made me so restless when Uncle
Ludwig was here. I feel better now. A few days ago I quit and went
over to the store on the west side of the square. They seem to
appreciate me more and it's different."
"You've jumped from the east side to the west side!"
exclaimed Robert heartily. "Well, now, my congratulations. That's
quite a jump, Arthur."
"Well, it wasn't altogether easy, Mr. Graham," agreed
Arthur, seriously. "But I'm sure glad I've made it, and I'm glad,
now, I didn't go with Uncle Ludwig and the fleas."
When he had passed on, Robert laughed lightly, then
sobered. The episode lingered with him. "Fleas!" he would say to
himself, ironically, "Fleas!"

Return to Top of Page

Afterword by Gene DeGruson

The fiction of Marcet and Emanuel Haldeman-Julius is
deeply rooted in autobiography, a trait not uncommon to other
authors. The names, places, and events in these collected works
often parallel those in the Haldeman-Juliuses' lives. Fallon, for
example, is clearly a fictitious name for Girard, Kansas, and the
county in which it was situated. Its name, however, was taken from
Fallon, Nevada, a World War I Socialist commune supported by Fred
D. Warren, E. N. Richardson, Charles Lincoln Phifer, and others
formerly associated with the influential Appeal to Reason of
Girard. The Haldeman-Juliuses themselves had been investors in this
co-operative enterprise--offering, among other things, joint
subscriptions to Fallon's Co-Operative Colonist and the Appeal to
Reason, with which they had been associated since 1915 and which
they had purchased outright in 1919, the year the Nevada Colony
Corporation went into receivership. Thus, the use of Fallon's name
not only served as a cloak to protect them from any possible
repercussions in using the name of Girard in fiction, but also
served as a subtle memorial for the utopian Nevada community which
had intrigued such well-known authors as Aldous Huxley and Carey
McWilliams.
It is not surprising that the details about the town are
accurate. Marcet was born in Girard on June 18, 1887, the daughter
of Dr. Henry Winfield and Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman. Her father,
for reasons of health left Mitchellville, Iowa, in 1884 and
established the Bank of Girard. His wife became president of that
bank upon his death on March 13, 1905, thus becoming the first
female bank president in Kansas and vying with Kathrine R. Williams
of Indiana for the distinction of being the first such in America.
Marcet's story is most succinctly told by Alexander
Woollcott in his New Yorker profile of June 20, 1925: Marcet, he
states, "had rebelled at the confines of Girard and come on to New
York to go on the stage. She was the daughter of Girard's foremost
and wealthiest citizen, but she did not like Kansas. The elder
Haldeman--physician, banker, musician, philosopher, autocrat of the
little Kansas town and holder of formidable mortgages on the
farmlands roundabout--had died and Marcet, under the stage name of
Jeanne Marcet, was braving it out alone at the Three Arts Club. . .
.
"Then came news from Girard that Mrs. Haldeman had died. A
wise and gracious lady was Mrs. Haldeman, less celebrated in the
outside world than her sister, Jane Addams of Hull House, but not
less highly regarded in Girard. It is possible that she had small
confidence in her daughter's career as an actress: it is certain
she had great patience with it. To Marcet she willed the Haldeman
fortune, with no stipulations dictated by the inordinate vanity of
the dead. She left it all to her daughter with a single condition.
Marcet was to enter into her inheritance only after she had dwelt
for a whole year in Girard. If, thereafter, she preferred New York
and the hard benches of the managers' waiting rooms, it would at
least not be because she did not really know how pleasant life
could be in Girard, especially if one lived in its finest house and
in the Spring twilight could motor out along the new roads and look
at all the newly planted fields on which one held the mortgage."
Earlier Marcet had attended Bryn Mawr College for three
years, where her group of best friends included a number of future
writers: poet Marianne Moore, novelist Bryher (then Winifred
Ellerman), and children's author Elsie Singmaster. She was
graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1910, after
which she signed a contract with pre-Hollywood Cecil B. DeMille.
Mrs. Haldeman's death on March 19, 1915, brought her back to Girard
and her destiny: meeting and falling in love with Emanuel Julius, a
young Jewish Socialist journalist who was hired by the Appeal in
September 1915.
Born on July 30, 1889, in Philadelphia to a bookbinder,
David Julius, and his wife Elizabeth, Emanuel had left school at
the age of thirteen. Despite a lack of formal education, he became
a reporter for the New York Call, the Milwaukee Leader, the Chicago
World, and the Los Angeles Citizen and Social-Democrat, before
returning to New York to become Sunday editor of the Call. A co-
worker on the Leader and World had been Carl Sandburg; back in New
York he had become the familiar of many names now famous in
American literature, including the Algonquin Club members,
centering around those associated with the New Yorker, co-founded
by Harold Ross and Jane Grant, the latter from Girard. Lured by the
prestige of the Appeal and a ten-dollar weekly raise in salary, he
left New York for Girard as an associate editor.
Marcet Haldeman and Emanuel Julius were introduced by Mrs.
Walter Wayland. Soon after arriving in Girard, Julius made the
observation that the area had only two interesting women: one an
art teacher in Fort Scott, the other the vice president of a Girard
bank. He pursued the banker, and within six months, on June 1,
1916, they were wedded at the Addams homestead in Cedarville,
Illinois. Six months after the wedding, their name was legally
changed to the now familiar "Haldeman-Julius." They were soon
starting a family, raising registered cattle, and writing fiction
together.
Their third year of marriage was one of an astounding
series of successes. The couple purchased major interests of the
Appeal to Reason. Being approached by Marian Wharton, head of the
English department of the socialist People's College of Fort Scott
(and the mother of Meridel LeSueur), Emanuel started printing
pocket-sized paperbacks containing the full texts of quotations
Mrs. Wharton had used in her 1917 textbook, Plain English.
Advertising the books in the Appeal at five dollars for fifty
titles, he was delighted with reader response. The titles went into
third and fourth editions before he finally decided it was
economically feasible to have stereotype plates cast of the best-
selling titles. Called the People's Pocket Series and the Appeal's
Pocket Series, they evolved within a few years' time into the
Little Blue Books, printed at the rate of 40,000 a day and
purchased all over the English-speaking world.
Also during this period the fruits of Marcet and Emanuel's
literary collaboration began meeting with success. "Dreams and
Compound Interest" appeared in the April 1919 issue of the
Atlantic. Ellery Sedgwick, the monthly's editor, sent high praise
and a hundred dollars for the unsolicited story, finding it
"accurate, human, and novel." Even more encouraging was his request
for another story in the Fallon series. Six months later "Caught"
appeared in the November Atlantic, followed by "The Unworthy
Coopers" in May 1921. Further, their joint novel, Dust, had been
published by Brentano's to enthusiastic reviews in March, and by
September had gone into its fifth large printing. Their earlier
works, a book of fairy tales by Marcet and sketches, short stories,
and plays by Emanuel, had been self-printed. Now the professional
press was paying them for their efforts, and their own publishing
venture was to enter the annals of American cultural history:
Haldeman-Julius "turned from the socialist transforming of society
to the more acceptable, yet equally nonconformist, task of
enlarging the American public's cultural horizons through cheap
paperback books. The 1920s and 1930s saw the wide expansion of
popular culture; by the mass production of books Haldeman-Julius
joined that process, but by introducing the classics and heterodox
ideas--sex education, for example--into the process, he gave to it
his own stamp" (American Reformers, ed. Alden Whitman [New York: H.
W. Wilson Co., 1985], p. 388).
There is evidence that Marcet started a Montessori school
for her children as stated in these stories; Emanuel did write a
play rejected by the Provincetown Players in which George Bernard
Shaw and G. K. Chesterton are characters; a vegetable oil butter
substitute and cereal coffee were indeed produced by the Girard
Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of the Appeal; etc., etc., etc.
No matter how farfetched some of these details may appear, research
will usually show that they are based upon fact.
Marcet died of cancer on February 13, 1941; Emanuel
accidentally drowned in his swimming pool on July 31, 1951; their
publishing house was burned to the ground on July 4, 1978, just
months before being declared a National Historic Landmark.
Like their stories, their lives reflect the title of a
1922 Kansas City Journal-Post article: "Kansas Triumphs over
Bohemia."
Gene DeGruson
Curator of the Haldeman-Julius Collection
Pittsburg State University
 

Return to Top of Page

Bibliography

Periodicals

"Caught." The Atlantic 124 (Nov. 1919): 628-639.

"Comtesse du Jones." The Atlantic 131 (Feb. 1923): 219-228.

"Crook and Croesus: An Unpublished Short Story." Porter Library
Bulletin 5 (Apr. 1, 1971): [1]-2, 17-24.

"Dreams and Compound Interest." The Atlantic 123 (Apr. 1919): 444-
451.

"Fleas." Haldeman-Julius Monthly 1 (Dec. 1924): 41-50.

"The Girl in the Snappy Roadster." The Debunker and the American
Parade 14 (Feb. 1931): 3-24.

"Kinks." Haldeman-Julius Monthly 2 (July 1925): 103-114.

"These Bones Will Rise Again." Haldeman-Julius Monthly 2 (Oct.
1925): 432-442.

"The Unworthy Coopers." The Atlantic 127 (May 1921): 614-623.

Books

Caught and Dreams and Compound Interest. Five Cent Pocket Series
No. 334. Girard, Kan.: Haldeman-Julius Company, [1923].
10,000 copies printed; reprinted, 1924, 10,000 copies;
reprinted, 1930, 2,500 copies; reprinted, 1959, 2,000
copies.

Embers: A Play in One Act. Ten Cent Pocket Series No. 396. Girard,
Kan.: Haldeman-Julius Company, [1923]. 10,000 copies
printed; reprinted, 1924, 10,000 copies; reprinted, 1930,
2,500 copies.

Five Short Stories by Marcet and E. Haldeman-Julius, with an
introduction by Thomas Fox Averill. Little Balkans Vintage
Series No. 1. Pittsburg, Kan.: Little Balkans Press, 1982.
150 copies printed at the Ted Watts Art Studio, Oswego, Kan.

The Girl in the Snappy Roadster. Little Blue Book No. 1605. Girard,
Kan.: Haldeman-Julius Publications, 1931. 3,000 copies
printed; reprinted, 1947, 2,000 copies; reprinted, 1959,
2,000 copies.

The Unworthy Coopers and Comtesse Du Jones. Pocket Series No. 454.
Girard, Kan.: Haldeman-Julius Company, [1923]. 10,000 copies
printed; reprinted, 1924, 10,000 copies.

 


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