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Squire Phin written by American author Holman Day. This book is one of many works by him. It has already Published in 1905. Now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as blurred or missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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CHAPTER I—“HARD-TIMES” WHARFF COCKS HIS NOSE TO SNIFF TROUBLE
CHAPTER II—“HIME” LOOK’S HOMECOMING WITH AN ELEPHANT
CHAPTER III—FROM THE MOUTH OF MARRINER AMAZEEN
CHAPTER IV—SQUIRE PHIN FINDS HYMEN’S TORCH BURNING HIS FINGERS
CHAPTER V—HIRAM LOOK MEETS KLEBER WILLARD BRIEFLY AND BRISKLY
CHAPTER VI—SQUIRE PHIN HAS A WORD OF BUSINESS WITH KING BRADISH
CHAPTER VII—THE BUSINESS OF HUMAN HEARTS
CHAPTER VIII—SQUIRE PHIN ACTS AS PEACEMAKER
CHAPTER IX—SUMNER BADGER MAKES A WILL AND, UNWITTINGLY, A DISCLOSURE
CHAPTER X—HIRAM LOOK PULLS IN SIMON PEAK FROM THE FLOTSAM OF LIFE
CHAPTER XI—THE COMBINATION THAT PROVED TOO MUCH
CHAPTER XII—THE LIVELY FIRST APPEARANCE OF “THE LOOK BROTHERS
CHAPTER XIII—THE “COME-UPPANCE” OF CAPTAIN NYMPHUS BODFISH
CHAPTER XIV—THE PACT OF “ORPHAN HILL”
CHAPTER XV—SOME OF THE POSSIBILITIES IN A “CORNET BRASS BAND”
CHAPTER XVI—THE DISAPPOINTING “TEST CASE” OF SUMNER BADGER,
CHAPTER XVII—WHAT DEVELOPED AT THE FORUM IN ASA BRICKETT’S STORE,
CHAPTER XVIII—YANKEE DISPOSITION IS NOT EXACTLY UNDERSTOOD,
CHAPTER XIX—SQUIRE PHIN SEES AND REPLEVINS WHAT BELONGS TO HIM
CHAPTER XX—PALERMO’S “MARCH MEETIN’”
CHAPTER XXI—WHY HIRAM LOOK WENT OUT OF THE CIRCUS BUSINESS
CHAPTER XXII—HOW SYLVENA WILLARD “TRIED IT ON THE DOG,”
CHAPTER XXIII—HIRAM LOOK’S TWO LIVELY BUSINESS ENGAGEMENTS
CHAPTER XXIV—THE CREDIT SHEET, AFTER THE LOOK
CHAPTER XXV—AQUARIUS WHARFF SEES SOMETHING BESIDES HARD TIMES
“You can’t stop me from loving you. God knows I can’t stop myself.
“Miss Lu-ce-e-e had a par-ret,
An’ she kep’ it in the gar-ret,
An’ she fed it on a car-ret,
An’ she called him J. Iscar-ret,
“An’ the par-ret had a feather
That was blue in stormy weather,
Or ‘twas red,—I donno whether,
But ‘twas either one or t’ether,
—Favourite Song of “Hard-times” Wharff.
The village sounds in Palermo that sleepy afternoon were only the “summer snorin’s,” as Marriner Amazeen used to say. There was the murmur of flies buzzing lazily around some banana, skins which curled limply in the August sun in front of Asa Brickett’s store. At the side of the building, in a patch of shade, a half-dozen old men, jack-knifed on a rickety settee, droned in intermittent conversation. From open kitchen windows along the village street came subdued sounds of the after-dinner work of the housewives—clash of cutlery and clatter of dishes. In a dusty maple whose lower branches had taken toll from passing loads of hay, a cicada shrilled his long-drawn note, like an almost interminable yawn.
“First August fiddler I’ve heard,” commented one of the old men in the shade. “As old Drew used to say in his Rural Intelligencer:
“When August’s locusts wind their horn
Then first you know, Good Summer’s gone!”
“Well, you don’t have to walk very fur in this sun to find out that she ain’t gone yit,” remarked an old man who had just arrived. He picked a few fresh burdock leaves and stuffed them into the crown of his cotton hat. “Some one ought to make ’Quar’us Wharff come in here out o’ that sun,” he growled, scowling at a figure that stood on the corner of Brickett’s store platform, as straight and stiff as the gnawed hitching-post on the opposite corner.
With cadence fully as sleepy as the other sounds of the languorous afternoon, a squeaking whiffle-tree came down the avenue of elms that bordered the street.
The whiffle-tree was attached to a surrey that showed a city smartness of paint and trimmings under the dust. The bulk of the man on the front seat strained his linen coat. The two ladies on the back seat, evidently his wife and daughter, fairly crushed the springs with their weight.
The portly man pulled up at the watering trough in Palermo’s little square and grunted over the wheel. When the horses began to wallow in the tub, plunging their reeking noses almost to their eyes, he handed the reins to his wife and walked toward the store, his gaze upon a bunch of wilted bananas that dangled just inside the door.
The six gaunt men in the shade surveyed this triple display of city avoirdupois with disfavour. Somehow it all seemed a silent boast of urban prosperity.
“I don’t reckon his woman needs to hang onto them reins very tight,” grunted Uncle Lysimachus Buck. “It’s all them horses can do to walk with that load—much less run away.”
“All city folks do is stuff themselves mornin’, noon and night, and then ’tween meals,” said Marriner Amazeen. “He’s after suthin’ to eat now, and I’ll bet ye on it.”
“How much for a dozen of those bananas?” asked the rotund man, addressing the individual who stood so stiffly on the corner of the platform.
“Wind sou’ by one p’int to the west, havin’ swung from west by nothe,” was the reply. He did not look at his questioner, but kept his head straight and his nose in the air.
“That ain’t nothin’ but ’Quar’us havin’ a weather-vane spell,” apologised Brickett, appearing in the door and lounging against the side of the building. He drawled, “I’ll sell ye fifteen for a quarter. Help yourself.”
The stranger broke off the fruit, stuffed it into his wide pockets, placed the change in Brickett’s languid palm, and went back to his carriage, casting an eye of scorn on the platform sentinel as he repassed him.
Then he climbed painfully back to his seat. With a grunt he pulled the reluctant horses back from the trough, where they were now making pretence of drinking, sucked his tongue at them pantingly and proceeded on his “carriage tour of the coast.”
As the horses plodded into the sun-glare from under the village elms, the portly man swung around and said to his wife and daughter: “The town pump and the town clock and the town fool, fifty houses bunched around ’em and everybody asleep! My God, think of living in a place like this all your life.”
“The old man standing on the store platform wasn’t crazy, was he, papa?” the daughter inquired.
“Why don’t you use your eyes once in a while, Belle?” the fat man snorted. “The way country towns let old lunatics run at large is something awful.”
He whipped up and the surrey clattered across the bridge at the head of the cove. There was a puff of cool air from the shadows where the tide gurgled about the weedy piles, and the three people went on around the hill with the tang of the salt smell in their nostrils, and in their minds a totally erroneous idea of Palermo and one of its institutions.
Fat city men are sometimes too matter-of-fact to understand the eccentricities of genius. This traveller simply went on—out of Palermo and out of this story—he and his wife and his daughter, his reeking horses and smart surrey. He beheld Aquarius Wharff actually engaged in his biggest job of prognostication—-snuffing at the first of a train of events that “ripped open” Palermo—and yet he only clucked to his horses and drove on and never realised what he had observed.
“Hard-times” Wharff had been standing for quite two hours in the broiling sun on the extreme corner of Asa Brickett’s grocery store platform. His attitude was familiar enough to his townsmen. He was on the tripod, so to speak, as a soothsayer, though it is hardly proper, perhaps, to speak of one leg as a tripod. He wearily balanced himself, shifting feet from time to time. His dingy old felt hat had the crown pinched to a peak and, before and behind, the broad brim was similarly pinched to peaks. The effect was somewhat that of a general’s chapeau, and its ludicrous illusion was heightened by a considerable assortment of rooster’s tail feathers thrust into the crown.
When “Hard-times”—a name more generally employed locally than Aquarius—stood on one foot in front of Brickett’s store, his hat flattened fore and aft—‘twas known by local observers that he was having one of his “weather-vane spells.” Now, this little fancy harmed no one, and it was agreed in Palermo that no other resident could smell a change of weather so far ahead as Aquarius Wharff.
If he stood on two feet, well balanced, and glowered grimly, he was merely indulging in a fancy for his own amusement. Though he never explained his ruminations to any one, it was suspected that he revelled in a proud triumph of the imagination and felt all the haughtiness of a bald-headed eagle. Certain it is that Palermo respected his abstraction and did not smile when he stroked his plumage and fixed a still more piercing gaze on the horizon.
Aquarius Wharff believed—and his townsmen agreed—that as a weather-vane he was distinctly serviceable to Palermo. He would inveigh against the inaccuracy of the dingy, rusty arrow on the Union Meeting-house, and then would perk his nose into the wind, and rotate himself on his wavering leg to show his own superior manageability. When he permitted himself to play eagle it was purely for his own relaxation.
When he was not engaged in either pursuit Aquarius Wharff was a mild and neighbourly man who lived with his “old maid” sister, Virgo, in the little brown house beyond the currier shop. His twin delusions were his only “outs,” and his tolerant neighbours in Palermo had long ago ceased to pay any attention to his divagations. But when a man stands for two hours in the broiling sun in one attitude he makes a picture that disturbs his friends. Uncle Lysimachus Buck, whose chair was propped against the side of the store in the shade, desisted from “teaming” a worried caterpillar with his cane and called querously: “For timenation’s sake, ’Quar’us, come set down out o’ the sun, do! It makes me steam and sweat to look at ye.”
“Wind quart’rin’ to west’ard, mack’rel sky, sign o’ rain, hard times gen’rally and nothin’ ’cept air put into doughnut holes nowadays,” croaked Aquarius without turning his head; “I jest see six crows fly s’uth’ards from the Cod-Head spruces, and that means somethin’ ’sides a heavy fog.”
He shifted to his other leg and set his neck more stiffly, and continued at his feat of endurance with the pertinacity of an Indian fakir.
“He’ll git sunstruck, sure’s Tophet’s a poor place to store powder in,” commented Buck. His snappy tones indicated that his selfishness at being annoyed by the figure in the sun’s glare was more provoked than his solicitude.
“Why don’t you git under a tree and rest?” he demanded. “An’ if you’re bound and determined to play dog-vane, then hold an emb’rel over yourself. Swan, if it don’t make me dizzy to watch him!” Uncle Buck took off his cotton hat and turned the burdock leaves in the crown to bring their cool surface next to his bald head.
“I’ve thought at times that ’Quar’us was losin’ his mind some—more’n what runs in the family,” observed Dow Babb, unhooking his toe from behind his ankle and immediately retwisting his long, gaunt legs in the other direction. His townsmen had nicknamed him “Fly” Babb on account of this trait.
“He ain’t nobody’s fool, ’Quar’us ain’t,” remarked Brickett, who, in the midday dearth of traffic, was lounging at the shady side of the store. “Them Wharffses is weather-struck and always was so, ’way back. It runs in the fam’ly—seems to! Old Gran’ther Wharff, you know, kept a di’ry of storms, droughts, hot and cold streaks and all such, till the day he died, and his son Zodiac figured out of that di’ry all the signs of storms and so forth. I’ve got ’em writ some’ere in my desk—change o’ wind, birds’ flyin’s, bugs’ actions, cobweb signs on the grass and all! Yass’r, the weather streak runs in the family, all right.”
“I reckon it must ’a’ been runnin’ hard in Zodiac Wharff,” snorted Buck, “to make him saddle sech names on to his children as ’Quarius, Capri-cornus, A-rees, Virgo and—what was that light-complected one that went West and got lugged off by a terronado? I can never think of that dum name!”
“Sagittar’us, wa’n’t it?” suggested Brickett.
“Ye-e-aw, that’s it, and he called them ‘Signs of the Zodiac,’ Zode did. No wonder the most of ’em died young in that fam’ly! Names like them would kill yaller dogs.”
“’Quar’us, ain’t you comin’ in out o’ that blaze o’ sun?” rasped Buck.
“Don’t buther me when I’m prognosticatin’,” replied the stubborn meteorologist; “ain’t you gittin’ all your weather from me free—and hard times all ’round us at that—wind shiftin’s and signs and portents and all the wonders of the heavens? Then lemme alone. Kingbird chasin’ a crow,” he went on with his eye on the horizon, where the dwarf spruces bristled on Cod-Head like spikes on a huge quillpig. “And ’tain’t all weather that’s a-comin’ this way to-day.”
“Spite o’ that loony streak in the Wharffses they have done some pretty tol’lable s’prisin’ things,” observed Dow Babb, untwisting his legs and reversing his clutch. “There’s somethin’ else in ’em besides that weather crack. Now, we all know here in P’ler-mo that ’Quar’us can smell a weather change quick’s a groundhog can. Born with the faculty, you might say. Takes it from old Zode, and even further back, for that matter. But him and Virgo, both of ’em, take somethin’ different than the weather streak from the mother’s side. She was old Rudd Goffses’ girl of Smyrna Mills, and old Rudd could cast a mist.”
“I’ve heard he could,” vouchsafed Marriner Amazeen, striking the dottle from his clay pipe into his hard palm with a flare of sparks and preparing for a refill.
“He was born with a caul, Rudd was.”
“Heard that, too,” tersely agreed Amazeen. “Old Aunt Spencer ’fore she died was tellin’ my mother that the caul was just like lace, and came down all ‘round his face, and they had to untie it where it was knotted behind jest like a woman’s veil.”
“Yass’r, he had the second sight and the seventh sense, and he could really magick folks, Rudd could,” Babb went on; “and there’s people alive right over in Smyrna to-day that’ll tell you what they’ve seen with their two eyes. ’Tain’t no use for us to poo-hoo things that was before our time, just ’cause we didn’t see ’em. I tell you, the old sirs could do things we couldn’t, and Rudd was one of the best o’ the lot in the magickin’ line. One day down to Smyrna, in the Guild deestrick, he cast a mist on much as a dozen people at once, and they thought they saw a Braymy rooster of old Matherson’s haulin’ off a twenty foot log up street. Whilst they was standin’ gawpin’, ’long come old Zene Sparks and says, ‘What ye standin’ here for, all on ye?’
“‘Ain’t it enough of a thing to stand around for when a rooster is haulin’ off a log like that?’ asked one o’ the crowd, pointin’ his finger.
“Zeke ups and says, ‘That rooster must be owin’ all on ye money by the way you’re lookin’ at him. He ain’t doin’ anything except walk along with an oat straw hitched to his tail!’
“And that’s all there was to it, so fur’s Zene could see. The mist wasn’t cast on him, you understand, for he wasn’t there at the start-off.”
There followed an interval of meditative silence, broken at length by the slow voice of Amazeen, beginning another chronicle.
“I’ve heard tell,” he droned, “of Rudd bettin’ ten bushels of oats down to the old blacksmith shop that used to set where the curry shop sets now, that he would put his head right against the butt of a hemlock log that laid in the yard and crawl right through it lengthwise and come out o’ the little end. They took him up—the three or four that was there—and he got down on his hands and knees, and they all swear to a man that he went right out o’ sight into that log. Up come a man that the mist wasn’t over, and when they told him what kind of a hen was on he vowed and declared that he couldn’t see nothin’ out o’ the way but old Rudd Goff crawlin’ along the top of the log, and then the man up and gave Rudd a jeerously old swat with his gad-stick, and Rudd come hopping off that log in a hurry, now, I tell you. And all could see him then. He laid his hands on the tingly place and he let into that man hot and heavy, so fur’s language would take him. If Rudd’s tongue had been a horsewhip that man would have ridges all over him. But as it was they haw-hawed old Rudd off’n the premises. He could cast a mist, though, there ain’t no doubt about that! And there was lots of old sirs that could.”
Babb retwisted his legs with a nervous snap as he concluded.
The little group in the shade gazed on the solitary figure bathed in the beating August sunshine. For a moment he ceased to be in their eyes merely old “Hard-Times” Wharff. They stared at him with a bit of superstitious respect, as they always did when they remembered how the blood of old Rudd Goff was in him.
“You’ve got to own up that there are queer things in this world.” mumbled Amazeen.
The old man on the platform revolved slightly on his single leg of support. He slowly swung his head from side to side, his eyes still on the horizon line.
“They’ve lit five times and ris’ five times and circled five times and now lit again,” he cried.
“Who’s lit?” demanded Uncle Buck snappishly.
“Well, what if they have? They know enough to get down out of the sun. Come in here, ’Quar’us, with us. I can hear what few brains you’ve got sizzlin’ like a pan o’ tomcod a-fryin’!”
“Over the hills! Crows a-flyin’ and crows a-watch-in’! Hard times comin’, that’s what I guess.”
“I s’pose there’s really a name for that—that—well, the sense for knowin’ that somethin’ is comin’ in the weather line or mebbe the line o’ trouble,” pursued Amazeen, puffing meditatively. It was a placid afternoon for quiet and contemplative discourse of this sort.
Little breezes wavered along the shady side of Brickett’s store and stirred the grasses. Other breezes skylarked through the wide-open front doors of the store and came out at the side door near the old men. Inside the store the breezes did what the people of Palermo usually did when they visited Brickett’s emporium—they swapped commodities. The breezes brought their little treasures of pure, salty fragrance from the cove and took away queer little whiffs of spices that were stacked in wooden boxes, sickish-sweet scents from the tobacco “figs,” aroma of coffee and tea, flavourings from the candy show case and more pungent odours of kerosene and dried herring.
“Now a dog,” stated Amazeen, “don’t really have no common sense like human bein’s, but then a dog knows when any one’s goin’ to die in a neighbourhood, and don’t he git out front o’ the house and stick his nose straight up in the air and lally-hoo till some one kicks him gallywest? That’s a sense of knowin’ ahead o’ time, and he’s born with it—and that’s somethin’ how ’tis with ’Quar’us. Them as says he’s just loony ain’t watched him same’s I have.”
The old man on the platform had shifted his legs again. The breeze fluttered his long hair and the sun was stealing the last of the original colour from his yellowed garments. The men in the shade were silent, partly from slumbrous laziness, partly because their slow minds were once again revolving one of their stock problems: What mysterious faculty of divination did “Hard-Times” Wharff possess?
“There ain’t no disputin’ that he’s foretold full a dozen line gales that was comin’ to rip the stuffin’ out o’ things ’long the coast,” said Brickett. “That much we all know! Time the school-house was burned down he had it all predicted out—leastways, he told ’round that the critter with red tongue and crackling teeth and all out doors for a gizzard was comin’ towards our village—and that’s a fire, ain’t it? He’s seen shrouds in candles for fifty fam’lies in P’lermo, I’ll bet you, just come to count ’em up! There’s somethin’—somethin’—‘lectricity—or hypnotickism, or somethin’! These scientists will git it figured out some day!”
They all pondered in silence, the hush of the sultry afternoon drowsily brooding. In the store shed a stub-tailed horse dozed uneasily between the thills of Dow Babb’s beach waggon, occasionally thudding his hoof in the soft soil, trying to dislodge the clustering flies. Somewhere in the maple tree the cicada whirred in long, shrill diminuendo.
“I ain’t no sp’tu’list or nothin’ of that sort,” broke out Uncle Buck. “And I don’t b’lieve in no sech things like you’re talkin’ about, nor that any Wharff that ever lived was anything except cracked—like that old one-legged her’n out there,” he added, directing an eye of disfavour on Aquarius. “I tell you if they could cast mists in the old times, then why can’t they do it now, when everything is so much improved—-telefoams and telegraphts and ’lectric cars and all that? Any man that ever claimed to see a rooster haul off a log was a dum liar if he said so.”
Dow Babb flipped his legs together indignantly.
“’Tain’t any particular politeness to call my rel’tives names, is it?” he demanded. “Furdermore, uncle never said he see the rooster act’ly haul a log; he said it looked as if he had done it, ’cause the mist had been cast.”
“Ain’t nothin’ in it no one way or t’other,” persisted Uncle Buck doggedly. “’Tain’t reasonable, ’tain’t Christian, and whatever ’tis it’s works of Satan, and I, as a church member, ain’t goin’ to stand by and let things like that be said without aye, yes or no to ’em!” He thudded his fist on his knee.
“I’ll bet there is such things as magic and—aw—well, you can call it witchcraft,” cried Babb, rather hampered in argument by lack of terms. “Come now, I’ll bet you!”
“What do you propose to do—call up your Uncle Ben from Turtle Knoll graveyard or—or leave it out to old Wind-cutter, there?” queried Buck, sarcastically, with a hook of his thumb toward the Palermo human weather vane.
Babb was clearly nonplussed for a moment, but his face suddenly lighted up. He untangled his legs, crawled out of his chair and cried:
“I’ll leave it out to the man that P’lermo is always ready to leave out all questions to—and that’s Squire Phin Look, by thunder!”
He shook his skinny finger at the dingy windows over Brickett’s store.
“If he don’t know there ain’t nobody does,” observed Brickett, clicking his yellow teeth with decision.
“Why should he know? ’Tain’t law, nor nothin’ that goes with law,” persisted Buck.
“You see if he don’t know,” retorted Babb. “It wa’n’t lo’din’ a jackass with books when Squire Look went through college. Now let’s go up and ask him, boys—what ye say?”
“Oh, holler to him to come down here,” drawled Amazeen, loath to leave his seat. “There ain’t chairs enough in his office to go ’round amongst us—and I’ve been sick of the smell of law books ever since I lost my bound’ry line case.”
Therefore Babb threw back his head and bawled huskily, “Squire Phin! Squire Phin Look!” From his mouth, as from the mouths of all Palermo, the title sounded like “Square.” At the second call they heard a chair’s legs pushed squeakingly on the floor and an answering bellow that was jovial though wordless. And those who had straightened up to listen lounged lazily down again to wait for him.
A rickety outside stairway led up to the Squire’s office.
On the old tin sign between the dusty front windows was:
Attorney and Notary
The purr of the coffee grinder in the store beneath was a frequent obbligato to the conferences between Squire Phin and his clients, and the savour of spice and odour of kerosene stole up through the floor cracks to mingle with the decidedly athletic fragrance of the Squire’s blackened T. D. pipe.
Once he forgot one of those sooty-hued pipes and left it in the attorney’s room at county court, and the young lawyers got ribbons and hung it from a chandelier with a card reading, “Erected in Memory of Phin Look.” Squire Look patiently hunted for that pipe when he went to county court again, for its stoutness, after many months of careful seasoning, appealed to his taste. But he never looked as high as the chandelier.
Folks who knew Squire Phin well declared that he had never looked high enough in life—not as high as his merits entitled. Men who understood such things said that he knew enough law to match any judge on the State bench, but in middle life he was still sitting up in his little office over Brickett’s store, smoking his pipe and reading his fat law books, with their shiny, hand-smooched bindings.
“Well, boys!” he said, as he came out upon the landing above them and leaned over the rail. “What do you want to do—nominate me for Congress at a mass-meeting?”
Without waiting for a reply he jammed a round-topped straw hat upon his thick hair and came down the stairs with solid tread. A fat and fuzzy old dog followed on his heels with tread comically similar. “I had two of ’em once,” he was wont to say, “Eli and Uli, but I gave away Uli to another lawyer and kept Eli.”
“They say, Squire Look,” began Uncle Buck, as soon as the lawyer came within hearing, “that you can tell us whether old ‘Hard-Times’ there ought to be hitched up on town hall cupoly as a vane or sent to the insane ’sylum.”
“It ain’t fair to put it that way,” remonstrated Dow Babb, and he proceeded to state the point of contention.
The two deep lines on either side of the Squire’s straight mouth curved away, and his round, smooth-shaven face beamed upon them humorously.
“It isn’t the first time, gentlemen,” he said, “that the motives of a philanthropist have been misconstrued by the people to whom he has presented himself and his services.”
“What I contend,” broke in Dow Babb, “is that ’Quar’us has a sort of seventh sense to smell happening ahead. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s like what a dog has to make him go to howlin’ when some one’s goin’ to die.”
“Well, you ought to ask Eli about that,” suggested the Squire, his smile broader. “That seems to be right in his line,” and then, looking down into the humid eyes of the dog, he asked, “Eli, why do you howl when some one is going to die?”
The canine, who was squatting on the grass, thumped his tail agitatedly and uttered a short “Wuff!”
“Can you talk dog well enough to understand?” asked the lawyer of Buck.
“Now, Squire,” pleaded Babb whiningly, “you tell us straight. This ain’t foolin’. We ain’t been able to coax the old sir off’n that platform so fur this afternoon. He was like that on the days before the line storms and on them other times. He don’t act out a weather vane usually more’n a half hour on a stretch and then sets down and chaws tobacker with us like a human bein’!”
“You’ve asked me some pretty tough questions,” said the lawyer, dismissing his jocularity. He leaned the shiny shoulders of his threadbare frock coat against the clapboards, careless of the white smooches that were immediately transferred to the cloth. “Now, as to the casting of a mist by the old chaps we have heard of in this section, I’ll say that perhaps they had the same power as some of the Hindoos that travellers describe. Men whose words ought to be good assert that to all appearances some of those fellows throw the end of a rope into the air and climb up and up, and so out of sight.”
Uncle Buck pronged a mighty chew of tobacco out of the side of his jaw with his tongue and tossed it afar into the milkweed stalks that grew beside the horse shed. He snorted his unbelief.
“You might just as soon tell me,” he declared, “as how that quid o’ mine could turn into a royal Bengal tiger and come roarin’ back here to chaw me up.”
“I wisht a plug o’ tobacker would chase you once,” declared Amazeen. “P’raps you wouldn’t be borrowin’ so much of it all the time if you got one good scare.”
Squire Phin was evidently about to explain to his fellow townsmen more explicitly regarding the mysteries of the East, as related by veracious investigators, when he was interrupted by the cause of all the argument.
“Hard-Times” Wharff suddenly came down upon both feet, put his hand to his brow, peered up the highway where it snaked into the distant spruce growth, and cried in a very human tone of rural astonishment:
“Well, dod-butter doughnuts, holes and all, ’tain’t no wonder the crows kept a-flyin’! Hard times is a-comin’ to town a-ridin’ on a pony. Come here and see ’em!”
Led by Babb, striding on legs that worked like calipers, the old men flocked around the corner of the store into the sunshine, each uttering his own characteristic note of astonishment as he swung into view of the road.
Squire Phin leisurely followed. But the spectacle in the highway was sufficient to make him stare at the approaching procession with surprise that almost equalled the emotion of his more naïve townsmen.
AND TROUBLE AND A FEW OTHER THINGS
“Go ask your mother for fifteen cents
To see the elephant jump the fence,
He jumps so high that he’ll hit the sky,
And he won’t come down till the Fourth of July.”
AGRIMY, wrinkled and slouchy elephant, pudging ahead and straining at his rusty harness, followed by eight horses plodding two and two, was drawing a train of vehicles whose outlines were almost hidden by the dust cloud rolling up from under the scuffing hoofs. Through puffs of dust, glass surfaces sparkled dully, and there was an occasional glint of gilt. The leading waggon could be more plainly seen.
“It’s a reg’lar circus cart,” said Brickett, wonderingly.
They all perceived that the shape of the waggon’s body was the simulacrum of a large caravel whose bow and stern rose high in the air.
There was a gilded, life-size female figure at the bow and a companion figure at the stern. The only man in sight was perched on a high seat let into the fore part of the waggon, the converging lines of the bow meeting just above his head.
“But there ain’t been no circus advertised ’round here,” cried Uncle Lysimachus Buck, as he stared.
The strange train of vehicles swung wide at the head of the cove to cross the creek bridge.
“There’s six of ’em,” commented Amazeen, as the waggons presented their broadsides, “and it’s a circus, dummed if ’tain’t.”
One waggon was fastened behind another. Three vans with huge mirrors in the sides were following the big boat-waggon in the lead; the fifth vehicle had a circular body scalloped like a sea shell, and a painted figure held a canopy over it; sixth and last trundled a little red cart of the kind made familiar by circus chariot races.
The driver of this strange outfit guided his dripping horses and the huge piloter across the bridge. He cracked a big whip over them, and they came up the short rise toward Brickett’s store, gallantly surging to the work, the faded bridle pompons nodding above the horses’ heads, the dust swirling behind. The elephant shuffled briskly, ragged ears flapping and trunk swaying.
The breeze on top of the hill volleyed the dust back on the procession, and when the driver pulled up in the little square with a mighty bellow of “Whoa!” he and his outfit were almost invisible. As the white cloud settled away and revealed the waggons the little group on Brickett’s platform stared open-mouthed at every feature. The gilding was dingy, the paint blistered and cracked, the mirrors streaked and grimy, but the elephant and the chariots and the circus glamour were all there.
The man who sat on the high seat wore a dusty tall hat, cocked back so far as to almost rest on his neck. A linen duster was buttoned closely under his gray whiskers—prolongations of his bristling moustache—descending in two trailing streams and framing a smoothly shaved chin. This elderly stranger set his elbows on his knees, the reins hanging loosely, leaned forward and leisurely surveyed the group on the platform. One eye was set and immovable—a glass eye. The other roved and twinkled and shuttled and blinked in lively style.
“Let’s see,” he began, a keen glint in his movable eye, “isn’t there a cheap lawyer in this place named Phineas Look?”
The movable eye fell upon Squire Phin. It glittered for an instant more brightly. The muscles of the hard face seemed to twitch a little. But he said no more, and with a curious intentness awaited a reply.
The Squire had started at the sound of the stranger’s voice. Then he shoved his hands deep into his trousers pockets and stared hard at the man, his brows knotting slowly, as though he were endeavouring to recall something.
“I don’t know who you be, nor where you come from, nor I don’t care,” snapped Amazeen; “but I want to say to you, mister, that you’d better call the leadin’ man in P’lermo by a different name, ’specially when he’s standin’ here in hearin’!” He shook an indignant cane at the man and swung and pointed it at Phineas.
At this instant a raucous voice squalled a long, loud “Yah-h-h!” A cage was hung to one of the figures of the big waggon, whose seats showed a former use as a band chariot. A ragged, gray parrot was in the cage. He clutched a bar in his warty claws, rapped his bill violently and yelled:
“Crack ’em down, gents! It’s the old army game!”
The Squire took a quick step forward, halted and stared again.
“Twenty can play as well as one!” the parrot squawked. The stranger began to clamber down from the seat and stood revealed as a tall man when he stood upright. The knots smoothed out of the Squire’s brow.
The two men walked slowly toward one another, each with hand outstretched, and they met half way. Hand clutched hand in a grip that made the cords ridge the skin. They gazed for a long time with moistening eyes.
“Hime!” choked out the Squire.
“You poor little cuss, Phin,” the other gulped, as he reached his arm over the Squire’s shoulder and patted his back.
There was rough affection in the gesture, but there was constraint in the stranger’s mien. He displayed the nervous bravado of one who is ashamed and feels that the shame is a weakness.
“I ain’t come home expectin’ that you’re goin’ to treat me anyways like a brother, Phin,” he muttered brokenly. “I ain’t ever been any good to the family. I——”
“Don’t say that, brother Hiram! Don’t!” pleaded the Squire.
“But it’s the God’s truth, Phin. I don’t even know whether father’s—whether he’s——” He stood back and raised entreating eyes to his brother’s face. “You needn’t say it, Phin, boy,” he went on mournfully. “All I can do is thank God that father had one boy that he didn’t have to be ashamed of. I don’t ask you to overlook it—any of it, Phin. I don’t expect you to do it. I ain’t come back for it.”
The old men had been slowly straggling down from the platform, still busied with their survey of this amazing new arrival.
The Squire glanced around at them and spoke guardedly. His tone was gently reproachful.
“Not a word from you or of you for twenty-five years! Hime, I never understood that. Father didn’t understand it!”
“Understand it!” shouted his brother, careless of the throng. “Understand it! Of course you can’t. No man with decency in his soul and honesty in his heart could understand it. I tell ye, Phin, I ain’t worth your while to talk to, I had a little hopes of myself, Phin, a few weeks ago. It came over me all of a sudden. I’ve come back to square one end of it.” He glared at the men who were crowding around them. “But our family end, Phin, can never be squared. I’ve travelled five hundred miles in the sun and dust to pay my honest debts. That much I can do. Then for the road again.” He tossed a pathetic gesture at the elephant and the vans. “I did think of sellin’ ’em along with the rest I sold,” he added wistfully. “I had thought perhaps—I didn’t know, but—well, Phin, it’s better to go on, that’s all.” Here and there from gardens, from little shops and from the houses near by, men were issuing; the cobbler with his canvas apron tucked up, the blacksmith spatting his smutty hands together, and the men who had forgotten to lay down their hoes. All were shouting questions to each other and pointing at the procession that had come to town.
The Squire eyed the approach of these spectators with some uneasiness, but the glance he turned on his brother was full of kindly emotion. He went along and patted Hiram on his broad back.
“There’ll be plenty of time for us to talk it all over, Hime,” he murmured. “I know I shall understand. Let’s go home. I’m still in the old house.” Then with the New England ability to repress emotion he stood back and ran his eye over his brother.
“Well, you certainly aren’t ‘Bean-Pole Look’ any longer,” he cried in his usual cheery tones, loud enough for all to hear.
“And you’ve stocked up yourself, Phin,” returned his brother, with a rather watery smile. “The Looks usually get pussy after forty.”
Uncle Buck was the first of the crowd to stick out his hand.
“I’d know you anywhere for Hime Look, in spite of your plug hat and your weepin’ wilier whiskers,” he cried brusquely. “You ain’t been what you’d exactly call neighbourly last twenty or twenty-five years,” he suggested, with a meaning cock of his eyebrow.
“I didn’t ask permission of the Palermo Tobacker Chawin’ League to go away, and I ain’t asking its permission to come back!” retorted Hiram, bridling.
“Still got your meat-axe temper along, I notice,” said Buck, drily.
“See here,” shouted the new arrival, “we won’t start into any of those old rows, good people.”
He assumed the tone of the showman “barking” at the door of a tent, as though the habit of long years obsessed him. Apparently he could not talk to several persons in any other tone. The throng crowding about him suggested all his usual environment. “Best to have our general wind-up at the start-off,” he declared, running his eye over them; “we’ll drive every tent peg right now. Here I am home again from the wide, wide world, and it’s no one’s business except mine why I’ve come. I own this gear,” a flourish of his hand toward the waggons and the reeking horses, “and why I’ve brought ’em here is my own business, too. Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. You needn’t blink and scowl at me—any of you. I ain’t proud of the way I left this town, but I want to have an understanding here and now. It’s this: The man who proposes to remind me of my going away or my staying away will get what I gave Klebe Willard, and I hope it wasn’t too long ago for you to remember it, one and all.” He clenched his fist and shook it at them. “Yes, I’m just the same old Hime Look, rough and bluff and gruff and tough! No one likes me, and probably no one ever will, and I don’t care! But I can pay my bills.” He rapped this at them, adding an oath like a whipcrack.
A murmur that was almost a growl ran among his listeners, who now numbered a score. “Yes, I did slide out and leave my debts, and I held this town up good and hard, hey? Well, I ain’t crawling back on my hands and knees to you, good people; I’ve come with the goods.” He ripped open his duster and, twisting his tall form and screwing his mouth as he tussled at the job, he pulled a big wallet from under his coat tails—a wallet so fat, so puffy, so rotund that it seemed fairly to groan at its strap and puff with plethora.
The Squire gently seized his brother by the arm, endeavouring to say something to him in an undertone. But that over-wrought person wrenched away and shouted, as he waved his wallet above his head: “No, Phin, it aint no use to hush-baby me. I’ve got to say it to ’em. I’ve been thinking of it too long. It’s boilin’ in me. I always was too mouthy—I’m too mouthy now, and I know it, but I can’t help it. I’m just Hime Look, and I have to talk or bust. They’ve had their chance to lambaste me for twenty-five years behind my back. Now I’m going to talk to their faces.”
Excitedly he tore open the wallet. Packets of bills stuffed every compartment—packets tied with bands and squeezed flat.
With his wallet clutched in one hand and as many of the packets as he could grip with the other, he went around the little circle of bystanders, flapping the ends of the bills under their dodging noses.
“Smell of it!” he roared. “Don’t it smell good? Look at it! Don’t it look good? If you could eat it, ’twould taste good, you old droolers! Did you ever see so much money before in Palermo? No, you never did. Now, all you that have a claim against me of any kind, meet me at my brother’s office any time after to-day, with your interest figured compound at six per cent. No; reckon it better’n that—and even then I’ll give you a bonus on top. You’ll never be able to sneer again behind Hime Look’s back, you of Palermo. Bring your claims, good people!”
“It’s the old army game, gents!” screamed the gray parrot.
Again the Squire tried anxiously to lead his brother away out of the circle. Perspiration dripped from under the showman’s tall hat. His sound eye blazed.
The other goggled fiercely. It was the anger of a man who was raging as much at himself and at the memory of mistakes and faults as at his auditors, the anger of a man who knew in his own heart that he was not as worthy as these yokels whom he had left behind him in the old home. He wanted to storm down the criticism and the blame that he feared—to scare them into silence. Under it all was shame—the shame of a domineering man who is ashamed to feel shame.
“Hime,” pleaded his brother, “let’s not talk this over in public any longer. The people of Palermo are all good friends of ours. They haven’t been talking about you.”
“No, they haven’t talked about you—that’s right,” shrilled Uncle Buck, who had advanced closely. “No, they’ve thought you was dead—and dead men of your calibre ain’t worth much talkin’ about.”
Hiram whirled away from his brother’s restraint and glowered at the doughty old man.
“I ain’t one mite afraid of you, Hime,” barked Lysimachus, thumping down his cane. “This is the same stick I’ve put across you when I ketched you stealin’ my apples, and if you tackle me I’ll slash you again, though you was grown taller’n Haman.”
He came close to the furious man.
“You might’s well shet up your wallet,” he said; “P’lermo ain’t sufferin’ for your money, much of it as you seem to have.”
“That money won’t be put up till my debts are paid,” shouted Hiram. The old man’s fishy eye bored him with a significance he could not understand. It was evident that Lysimachus had a trump card.
“You can’t pay, dum ye!” shrieked Uncle Buck, now furious in his turn, with the hysterical rage of the senile.
“Why can’t I?” This also was bawled.
“Because your old father mortgaged his farm after you run away, and then after he died your brother Phin worked and paid off every cent that was owed.”
“Twenty can play as well as one!” said the gray parrot.
Hiram, both hands still full of money, rubbed his forearm across his eyes, into which sweat was streaming. His movement knocked off his hat, and it rolled unheeded in the dust. Pitiful bewilderment wrinkled his face.
“And if you’ve never heard of all that, then you can’t have been any decenter about writin’ home and lettin’ your own know about you than you have been about other things I could name.”
Hiram stood, his arms hanging at his side, his lower jaw drooping, his eye shuttling from face to face evasively.
“Kind o’ makes you drop your tail, Hime—that, eh?” jeered Amazeen from his place in the crowd.
As Hiram still drooped there, Uncle Buck ran his cane into the fallen hat, lifted it with a deft toss, ran his elbow around its nap, and set it on Hiram’s head, standing on tip-toe to do it.
The man never moved or blinked.
“There’s your plug hat, Hime,” he said. “It fell off, and pride goeth before a fall.”
At the anti-climax the crowd haw-hawed with the jovial unrestraint of rural jokers.
The Squire’s face was very grave. He came along, gently took the wallet and the money from his brother’s hands, tucked the packets away, restrapped the wallet and stuffed it back into the hip pocket. Hiram still remained motionless, except for the blinking eye that now looked straight at the ground.
Phineas turned to his townsmen:
“Folks,” he said, “I don’t think my brother Hime meant all he said. He was excited and wrought up by coming home, and it was a hard place to put any man in, to meet the old townsmen again as he has had to do. But you see he has come back bringing the money to pay, and I know you are going to give him the credit of his good intentions. We will talk it over some time later, friends. Now I want you to come along home with me, Hime.”
He pushed his brother along toward the big waggon.
“And you done what old Lys says you done?” asked the elder brother suddenly. There was a queer indrawing of the breath after the query. The Squire did not reply.
“God, I ain’t fit for phosphate!” blurted the showman despairingly. “Shame and pride and my dirty disposition—and not writin’—nor nothin,’ thinkin’ you had soured on me—and lettin’ you and dad—oh, Phin, you poor little cuss!”
Down over the hard face that had cynically fronted the world for twenty years from the barker’s rostrum, into the trailing whiskers filtered the tears. This middle-aged, solid, lawyer brother had not as yet assumed his proper perspective in the mind of his elder brother, who had left him a stripling. Hiram did not try to hide his grief from those who stared at him.
“Ain’t I a specimen!” he whimpered.
“I think you are beginnin’ to improve some,” said Uncle Buck, bluntly.
“Your wife won’t want to see me,” moaned Hiram. “I ain’t fit to meet her.”
The crowd laughed anew, for this seemed the best joke of all. The lawyer smiled, but it was a wistful smile.
“I’m the pickedest old bach in town, so set that I even do my own cooking, Hime,” he said. “It is all about the same as it used to be at the old place. There’s plenty of room in the barn for all this,” he nodded toward the waggons, “and plenty to eat for us all—I guess,” he added, with a facetious look at the elephant, and that started the laugh again.
Hiram turned to the crowd as though to address them, but he clutched at his throat, shook his head pathetically, and stumbled toward the big waggon.
“You ain’t the worst feller in the world, Hime,” called a voice encouragingly. ’Twas Marriner Amazeen’s. “But you can’t sass us here in P’lermo any more’n you useter could.”
There was a general mumble, in a more hospitable tone, for the prodigal’s evident contrition had touched them. He threw up his hand and again shook his head despondently.
“It’s a blamed queer outfit to haul into any man’s door-yard, Phin,” he said at last, with wistful apology, as he noticed his brother looking at the elephant with no very eager enthusiasm; “but I’ll fix it right with you.”
He did not remount his seat, but secured a hook from under the big waggon, walked to the elephant and stuck the hook into a slit in the beast’s ragged ear. With a creak and a groan the parade started, the weary horses dragging at the heels of the scuffing pachyderm. Chattering boys spatted along barefoot in the dusty road before, beside, behind; the villagers attended along the sidewalk, and women stood at front gates holding up the little ones to see.
The Squire plodded at his brother’s side, his hands behind his back, and Eli waddled near with cautious eye bent on the huge animal.
And thus, after twenty-five years of wandering, returned Palermo’s queer genius, hot-headed Hiram Look, a showman from the time he took pins for admission from his schoolfellows at the door of a tent made of shorts’ sacks, and that was when he wore dresses and had his flaxen hair combed in a “Boston.”
A little way beyond Brickett’s store the elms grew close and tall, stretching their graceful arms across the street. Back from these elms on a gentle slope of lawn stood the Judge Collamore Willard house, the mansion of the village, a square structure of brick, dyed by many years of weather to a sombre red.
The inmates of this dignified house evidently had been affected by the general excitement caused by the halt of the caravan in front of Brickett’s store.
A tall, gaunt old man, whose frock coat flapped about his skinny legs, hurried down the gravelled path to the street, and as the head of the parade approached he opened the iron gate and came out to the side of the highway.
“What’s all this?” he piped in falsetto, addressing one of the villagers who were marching along the sidewalk.
“Hime Look’s come back and brought his circus,” said the passer. The old man started, and his thin lips closed viciously.
As the showman’s eyes fell upon the old man his face also grew set and hard.
“Ain’t old Coll Willard gone to be a moneychanger in hell yet?” he snarled.
The Squire was looking toward the house and did not answer. A woman stood on the front porch, gazing under her palm. Even from the road the grace of her figure showed itself. The soft, light material that drooped away from her upraised arm left its rounded contour and whiteness outlined against the dark hair.
“Hiram Look!” echoed the old man, and he came straight into the middle of the road and stood there, trying to hold himself erect, propping his hand on his back at the waist. He made no move to step aside, and the showman was forced to halt his animals.
“And so it’s Hiram Look come home again?” he rasped, his thin nostrils fluttering. “And how is it he comes parading, instead of sneaking over the back fences as he ought?” He was talking over the showman’s head to the villagers.
The spirit of assertion seemed to have dropped from Hiram. He shook so violently that he set his hand against the elephant to steady himself.
“Judge!” The Squire advanced close to the old man and spoke low. “My brother is considerably unstrung by things that have just happened. Don’t say anything to him now, please don’t! If something must be said later about the old times there’ll be plenty of chance to say it. Wait!” His tone was mild and entreating, but Willard still disdained to glance at him.
“If some one hasn’t told Hiram Look what Palermo thinks of him, it’s time for it to be done, townsmen!” shrieked Willard, his face white, his lips drawn back over some obtrusive false teeth.
The Squire turned toward the distant figure on the porch, appeal and apology in his eyes, though he realised that she could not witness his emotions.
“Better for you to have stayed with the husks and the swine, Hiram Look. You thought you left him for dead, my boy Kleber. Don’t you tell me! You wanted to kill him. My poor boy! To leave me in my old age without my son! And the scar of it on his face to-day! There’s a law for you yet, Hiram Look—a law to make you suffer for that scar. A pretty pair—yes, a pretty pair! Old Seth Look’s pair of steers! And Hiram would have robbed my boy of a wife, and Phin Look thought he could steal my daughter. Now, I’ll tell you both——”
“No, you won’t tell us—not here in the face and eyes of every one in Palermo!” roared Hiram. “I’m ready for your tongue and your law at fittin’ time and place, Coll Willard, but this ain’t the time. I told your son twenty-five years ago that there was such a thing as talking too damn much—and he still talked. Don’t you do it to-day.”
“Do you want to put your mark on the father’s face?” the old man shrieked, hobbling close and poking forward his weasened visage. “Strike me! Kill me! It’s your style, Hiram Look. And it’s your brother’s style to lallygag after a girl that wouldn’t use him for a doormat. The two of you are——”
The showman could restrain himself no longer. He had stood with feet apart as though to root himself in the ground. His hands were hooked behind him.
He hadn’t lost the whole of that Palermo instinct of deference toward the village plutocrat and autocrat who had dominated them all for so many years, even as other Willards had ruled before him. But the choler that drove him forward was the rage of a man who had never learned self-control. His brother leaped to prevent him, but he seized the old man, whipped him off the ground, rushed across the sidewalk and tossed him over the iron fence upon his own lawn, where he lay squawking feebly like a frightened fowl.
The Squire followed, gasping appealing protest, and he stood there clutching the rusty points of the fence when the woman came hastening from the porch.
“I don’t think the Judge is’ hurt a bit, Sylvena,” he faltered. “But he provoked Hime’s awful temper, and I couldn’t stop it.”
Judge Willard had scrambled to his feet, snarling at her when she came to aid him. His rage was now the hysteria of the aged, but after gasping wordlessly he turned and went toward the house. Hiram, his head bowed as though he were ashamed of his burst of rage, had started his caravan, and the crowd followed. Squire Phin remained.
The woman across the fence was mature, yet she had that appearance of freshness that spinsterhood under forty years preserves in the little details. Her face had been flushed by her haste, and the colour crept up to the dark hair, that had just a touch of frost at the temples.
“And it is your brother come home, Phineas?” she asked, gazing after the picturesque spectacle.
“It is Hiram.” His tone was wistful.
“He seems to be fully as—as muscular as ever,” she said, with a little flash of her eyes.
As he seemed searching his mind for suitable apology, she said hastily:
“And I also know what father is, Phineas. I can understand. It is nothing that you have done. But it all seems to be beginning over again, and I hoped it was ended.”
“I guess it’s like the fire in old Ward’s peat bog,” he replied, a wrinkle of humour about his eyes. “It has been burning for twenty years underground and breaks out every little while. I can sympathise with Ward’s peat bog,” he added. “Every now and then, when I think it’s cold and dead and stamped out—my own particular smoulder, you know—there’s a breath of remembrance, when I see you, and I’m all afire again inside. Hard case, isn’t it?”
He didn’t allow his tone to be too serious.
“It isn’t well to speak of such things, Phineas. And not in that way! Somehow, it hasn’t come right for you and me. We mustn’t blame each other. It hasn’t seemed to be our fault.” She cast a glance at the waggons toiling up the street. He gazed at the old man, who had paused half way across the lawn and was querulously shouting “Daughter!”
The Squire leaned a bit further over the fence.
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