Miss Calista's Peppermint Bottle by Lucy
Miss Calista was perplexed. Her nephew, Caleb
Cramp, who had been her right-hand man for
years and whom she had got well broken into her
ways, had gone to the Klondike, leaving her to fill
his place with the next best man; but the next best
man was slow to appear, and meanwhile Miss Calista
was looking about her warily. She could afford
to wait a while, for the crop was all in and the fall
ploughing done, so that the need of a successor to
Caleb was not as pressing as it might otherwise
have been. There was no lack of applicants, such as
they were. Miss Calista was known to be a kind
and generous mistress, although she had her
"ways," and insisted calmly and immovably upon
wholehearted compliance with them. She had a
small, well-cultivated farm and a comfortable
house, and her hired men lived in clover. Caleb
Cramp had been perfection after his kind, and
Miss Calista did not expect to find his equal. Nevertheless,
she set up a certain standard of requirements;
and although three weeks, during which
Miss Calista had been obliged to put up with the
immature services of a neighbour's boy, had
elapsed since Caleb's departure, no one had as yet
stepped into his vacant and coveted shoes.
Certainly Miss Calista was somewhat hard to
please, but she was not thinking of herself as she
sat by her front window in the chilly November
twilight. Instead, she was musing on the degeneration
of hired men, and reflecting that it was high
time the wheat was thrashed, the house banked,
and sundry other duties attended to.
Ches Maybin had been up that afternoon to negotiate
for the vacant place, and had offered to give
satisfaction for smaller wages than Miss Calista had
ever paid. But he had met with a brusque refusal,
scarcely as civil as Miss Calista had bestowed on
drunken Jake Stinson from the Morrisvale Road.
Not that Miss Calista had any particular prejudice
against Ches Maybin, or knew anything
positively to his discredit. She was simply unconsciously
following the example of a world that exerts
itself to keep a man down when he is down
and prevent all chance of his rising. Nothing succeeds
like success, and the converse of this is likewise
true—that nothing fails like failure. There was
not a person in Cooperstown who would not have
heartily endorsed Miss Calista's refusal.
Ches Maybin was only eighteen, although he
looked several years older, and although no flagrant
misdoing had ever been proved against him,
suspicion of such was not wanting. He came of a
bad stock, people said sagely, adding that what was
bred in the bone was bound to come out in the
flesh. His father, old Sam Maybin, had been a shiftless
and tricky rascal, as everybody knew, and had
ended his days in the poorhouse. Ches's mother
had died when he was a baby, and he had come up
somehow, in a hand-to-mouth fashion, with all the
cloud of heredity hanging over him. He was always
looked at askance, and when any mischief came to
light in the village, it was generally fastened on
him as a convenient and handy scapegoat. He was
considered sulky and lazy, and the local prophets
united in predicting a bad end for him sooner or
later; and, moreover, diligently endeavoured by
their general treatment of him to put him in a fair
way to fulfil their predictions. Miss Calista, when
she had shut Chester Maybin out into the chill
gloom of the November dusk, dismissed him from
her thoughts. There were other things of more moment
to her just then than old Sam Maybin's hopeful
There was nobody in the house but herself, and
although this was neither alarming nor unusual, it
was unusual—and Miss Calista considered it
alarming—that the sum of five hundred dollars
should at that very moment be in the upper right-hand
drawer of the sideboard, which sum had
been up to the previous day safe in the coffers of
the Millageville bank. But certain unfavourable
rumours were in course of circulation about that
same institution, and Miss Calista, who was
nothing if not prudent, had gone to the bank that
very morning and withdrawn her deposit. She intended
to go over to Kerrytown the very next day
and deposit it in the Savings Bank there. Not another
day would she keep it in the house, and,
indeed, it worried her to think she must keep it even
for the night, as she had told Mrs. Galloway that
afternoon during a neighbourly back-yard chat.
"Not but what it's safe enough," she said, "for
not a soul but you knows I've got it. But I'm not
used to have so much by me, and there are always
tramps going round. It worries me somehow. I
wouldn't give it a thought if Caleb was here. I
s'pose being all alone makes me nervous."
Miss Calista was still rather nervous when she
went to bed that night, but she was a woman of
sound sense and was determined not to give way to
foolish fears. She locked doors and windows carefully,
as was her habit, and saw that the fastenings
were good and secure. The one on the dining-room
window, looking out on the back yard, wasn't; in
fact, it was broken altogether; but, as Miss Calista
told herself, it had been broken just so for the last
six years, and nobody had ever tried to get in at it
yet, and it wasn't likely anyone would begin tonight.
Miss Calista went to bed and, despite her worry,
slept soon and soundly. It was well on past midnight
when she suddenly wakened and sat bolt upright
in bed. She was not accustomed to waken in
the night, and she had the impression of having
been awakened by some noise. She listened
breathlessly. Her room was directly over the dining-room,
and an empty stovepipe hole opened up
through the ceiling of the latter at the head of her
There was no mistake about it. Something or
some person was moving about stealthily in the
room below. It wasn't the cat—Miss Calista had
shut him in the woodshed before she went to bed,
and he couldn't possibly get out. It must certainly
be a beggar or tramp of some description.
Miss Calista might be given over to nervousness
in regard to imaginary thieves, but in the presence
of real danger she was cool and self-reliant. As
noiselessly and swiftly as any burglar himself, Miss
Calista slipped out of bed and into her clothes.
Then she tip-toed out into the hall. The late moonlight,
streaming in through the hall windows, was
quite enough illumination for her purpose, and she
got downstairs and was fairly in the open doorway
of the dining-room before a sound betrayed her
Standing at the sideboard, hastily ransacking the
neat contents of an open drawer, stood a man's figure,
dimly visible in the moonlight gloom. As Miss
Calista's grim form appeared in the doorway, the
midnight marauder turned with a start and then,
with an inarticulate cry, sprang, not at the courageous
lady, but at the open window behind him.
Miss Calista, realizing with a flash of comprehension
that he was escaping her, had a
woman-like impulse to get a blow in anyhow; she
grasped and hurled at her unceremonious caller
the first thing that came to hand—a bottle of peppermint
essence that was standing on the sideboard.
The missile hit the escaping thief squarely on the
shoulder as he sprang out of the window, and the
fragments of glass came clattering down on the sill.
The next moment Miss Calista found herself alone,
standing by the sideboard in a half-dazed fashion,
for the whole thing had passed with such lightning-like
rapidity that it almost seemed as if it were
the dissolving end of a bad dream. But the open
drawer and the window, where the bits of glass
were glistening in the moonlight, were no dream.
Miss Calista recovered herself speedily, closed the
window, lit the lamp, gathered up the broken glass,
and set up the chairs which the would-be thief had
upset in his exit. An examination of the sideboard
showed the precious five hundred safe and sound
in an undisturbed drawer.
Miss Calista kept grim watch and ward there until
morning, and thought the matter over exhaustively.
In the end she resolved to keep her own
counsel. She had no clue whatever to the thief's
whereabouts or identity, and no good would come
of making a fuss, which might only end in throwing
suspicion on someone who might be quite innocent.
When the morning came Miss Calista lost no
time in setting out for Kerrytown, where the
money was soon safely deposited in the bank. She
heaved a sigh of relief when she left the building.
I feel as if I could enjoy life once more, she said to
herself. Goodness me, if I'd had to keep that
money by me for a week itself, I'd have been a raving
lunatic by the end of it.
Miss Calista had shopping to do and friends to
visit in town, so that the dull autumn day was well
nigh spent when she finally got back to Cooperstown
and paused at the corner store to get a
bundle of matches.
The store was full of men, smoking and chatting
around the fire, and Miss Calista, whose pet abomination
was tobacco smoke, was not at all minded to
wait any longer than she could help. But Abiram
Fell was attending to a previous customer, and Miss
Calista sat grimly down by the counter to wait her
The door opened, letting in a swirl of raw
November evening wind and Ches Maybin. He
nodded sullenly to Mr. Fell and passed down the
store to mutter a message to a man at the further
Miss Calista lifted her head as he passed and
sniffed the air as a charger who scents battle. The
smell of tobacco was strong, and so was that of the
open boxes of dried herring on the counter, but
plainly, above all the commingled odours of a
country grocery, Miss Calista caught a whiff of
peppermint, so strong as to leave no doubt of its
origin. There had been no hint of it before Ches
The latter did not wait long. He was out and
striding along the shadowy road when Miss Calista
left the store and drove smartly after him. It never
took Miss Calista long to make up her mind about
anything, and she had weighed and passed judgement
on Ches Maybin's case while Mr. Fell was
doing up her matches.
The lad glanced up furtively as she checked her
fat grey pony beside him.
"Good evening, Chester," she said with brisk
kindness. "I can give you a lift, if you are going my
way. Jump in, quick—Dapple is a little restless."
A wave of crimson, duskily perceptible under his
sunburned skin, surged over Ches Maybin's face. It
almost seemed as if he were going to blurt out a
blunt refusal. But Miss Calista's face was so
guileless and her tone so friendly, that he thought
better of it and sprang in beside her, and Dapple
broke into an impatient trot down the long hill
lined with its bare, wind-writhen maples.
After a few minutes' silence Miss Calista turned
to her moody companion.
"Chester," she said, as tranquilly as if about to
ask him the most ordinary question in the world,
"why did you climb into my house last night and
try to steal my money?"
Ches Maybin started convulsively, as if he meant
to spring from the buggy at once, but Miss Calista's
hand was on his arm in a grasp none the less firm
because of its gentleness, and there was a warning
gleam in her grey eyes.
"It won't mend matters trying to get clear of me,
Chester. I know it was you and I want an answer—a
truthful one, mind you—to my question. I am
your friend, and I am not going to harm you if you
tell me the truth."
Her clear and incisive gaze met and held irresistibly
the boy's wavering one. The sullen obstinacy of
his face relaxed.
"Well," he muttered finally, "I was just desperate,
that's why. I've never done anything real bad
in my life before, but people have always been
down on me. I'm blamed for everything, and nobody
wants anything to do with me. I'm willing to
work, but I can't get a thing to do. I'm in rags and I
haven't a cent, and winter's coming on. I heard you
telling Mrs. Galloway yesterday about the money. I
was behind the fir hedge and you didn't see me. I
went away and planned it all out. I'd get in some
way—and I meant to use the money to get away
out west as far from here as I could, and begin life
there, where nobody knew me, and where I'd have
some sort of a chance. I've never had any here. You
can put me in jail now, if you like—they'll feed and
clothe me there, anyhow, and I'll be on a level with
The boy had blurted it all out sullenly and half-chokingly.
A world of rebellion and protest against
the fate that had always dragged him down was
couched in his voice.
Miss Calista drew Dapple to a standstill before
"I'm not going to send you to jail, Chester. I believe
you've told me the truth. Yesterday you
wanted me to give you Caleb's place and I refused.
Well, I offer it to you now. If you'll come, I'll hire
you, and give you as good wages as I gave him."
Ches Maybin looked incredulous.
"Miss Calista, you can't mean it."
"I do mean it, every word. You say you have
never had a chance. Well, I am going to give you
one—a chance to get on the right road and make a
man of yourself. Nobody shall ever know about last
night's doings from me, and I'll make it my business
to forget them if you deserve it. What do you
Ches lifted his head and looked her squarely in
"I'll come," he said huskily. "It ain't no use to try
and thank you, Miss Calista. But I'll live my
And he did. The good people of Cooperstown
held up their hands in horror when they heard that
Miss Calista had hired Ches Maybin, and prophesied
that the deluded woman would live to repent
her rash step. But not all prophecies come true.
Miss Calista smiled serenely and kept on her own
misguided way. And Ches Maybin proved so efficient
and steady that the arrangement was continued,
and in due time people outlived their old
suspicions and came to regard him as a thoroughly
smart and trustworthy young man.
"Miss Calista has made a man of Ches Maybin,"
said the oracles. "He ought to be very grateful to
And he was. But only he and Miss Calista and
the peppermint bottle ever knew the precise extent
of his gratitude, and they never told.