by Alice Hegan Rice
I hope your passenger hasn't missed his train, observed the
ferryman to Mr. Jimmy Fallows, who sat on the river bank with the
painter of his rickety little naphtha launch held loosely in his hand.
Mr. Opp? said Jimmy. I bet he did. If there is one person in the
world that's got a talent for missing things, it's Mr. Opp. I never
seen him that he hadn't just missed gettin' a thousand dollar job, or
inventin' a patent, or bein' hurt when he had took out a accident
policy. If he did ketch a train, like enough it was goin' the wrong
Jimmy had been waiting since nine in the morning, and it was now
well past noon. He was a placid gentleman of curvilinear type, short of
limb and large of girth. His trousers, of that morose hue termed by the
country people plum, reached to his armpits, and his hat, large and
felt and weather-beaten, was only prevented from eclipsing his head by
the stubborn resistance of two small, knob-like ears.
Mr. Opp ain't been back to the Cove for a long while, has he?
asked the ferryman, whose intellectual life depended solely upon the
crumbs of information scattered by chance passers-by.
Goin' on two years, said Mr. Fallows. Reckon he's been so busy
formin' trusts and buyin' out railways and promotin' things generally
that he ain't had any time to come back home. It's his step-pa's
funeral that's bringin' him now. The only time city folks seem to want
to see their kin folks in the country is when they are dead.
Ain't that him a-comin' down the bank? asked the ferryman, shading
his eyes with his hands.
Mr. Fallows, with some difficulty, got to his feet.
Yes, that's him all right. Hustlin' to beat the band. Wonder if he
takes me for a street car.
Coming with important stride down the wharf, and whistling as he
came, was a small man of about thirty-five. In one hand he carried a
large suit-case, and in the other a new and shining grip. On both were
painted, in letters designed to be seen, D. Webster Opp, Kentucky.
In fact, everything about him was evidently designed to be seen. His
new suit of insistent plaid, his magnificent tie sagging with the
weight of a colossal scarf-pin, his brown hat, his new tan shoes, all
demanded individual and instant attention.
The only insignificant thing about Mr. Opp was himself. His slight,
undeveloped body seemed to be in a chronic state of apology for failing
properly to set off the glorious raiment wherewith it was clothed. His
pock-marked face, wide at the temples, sloped to a small, pointed chin,
which, in turn, sloped precipitously into a long, thin neck. It was Mr.
Opp's eyes, however, that one saw first, for they were singularly
vivid, with an expression that made strangers sometimes pause in the
street to ask him if he had spoken to them. Small, pale, and red of
rim, they nevertheless held the look of intense hungerhunger for the
hope or the happiness of the passing moment.
As he came bustling down to the water's-edge he held out a friendly
hand to Jimmy Fallows.
How are you, Jimmy? he said in a voice freighted with importance.
Hope I haven't kept you waiting long. Several matters of business come
up at the last and final moment, and I missed the morning train.
Jimmy, who was pouring gasolene into a tank in the launch, treated
the ferryman to a prodigious wink.
Oh, not more'n four or five hour, he said, casting side glances of
mingled scorn and admiration at Mr. Opp's attire. It is a good thing
it was the funeral you was tryin' to get to instid of the death-bed.
Oh, that reminds me, said Mr. Opp, suddenly exchanging his air of
cheerfulness for one of becoming gravitywhat time is the funeral
obsequies going to take place?
Whenever we git there, said Jimmy, pushing off the launch and
waving his hand to the ferryman. You're one of the chief mourners, and
I'm the undertaker; there ain't much danger in us gettin' left.
Mr. Opp deposited his baggage carefully on the seat, and spread his
coat across the new grip to keep it from getting splashed.
How long was Mr. Moore sick? he asked, fanning himself with his
Well, said Jimmy, he was in a dangerous and critical condition
for about twenty-one years, accordin' to his own account. I been seein'
him durin' that time on a average of four times a day, and last night
when I seen him in his coffin it was the first time the old gentleman
failed to ask me to give him a drink on account of his poor health.
Is Ben there? asked Mr. Opp, studying a time-table, and making a
note in his memorandum-book.
Your brother Ben? Yes; he come this mornin' just before I left. He
was cussin' considerable because you wasn't there, so's they could go
on and git through. He wants to start back to Missouri to-night.
Is he out at the house?
No; he's at Your Hotel.
Mr. Opp looked up in surprise, and Jimmy chuckled.
That there's the name of my new hotel. Started up sence you went
away. Me and old man Tucker been running boardin'-houses side by side
all these years. What did he do last summer but go out and git him a
sign as big as the side of the house, and git Nick Fenny to paint 'Our
Hotel' on it; then he put it up right across the sidewalk, from the
gate clean out to the road. I didn't say nothin', but let the boys keep
on a-kiddin' me till the next day; then I got me a sign jus' like his,
with 'Your Hotel' on it, and put it up crost my sidewalk. He'd give a
pretty if they was both down now; but he won't take his down while mine
is up, and I ain't got no notion of taking it down.
Yes, said Mr. Opp, absently, for his mind was still on the
time-table; I see that there's an accommodation that departs out of
Coreyville in the neighborhood of noon to-morrow. It's a little
unconvenient, I'm afraid, but do you think you could get me back in
time to take it?
Why, what's yer hurry? asked Jimmy, steering for mid-stream. I
thought you'd come to visit a spell, with all them bags and things.
Mr. Opp carelessly tossed back the sleeve of the coat, to display
more fully the name on the suit-case. Them's drummers' samples, he
said almost reverentlythe finest line of shoes that have ever been
put out by any house in the United States, bar none.
Why, I thought you was in the insurance business, said Jimmy.
Oh, no; that was last year, just previous to my reporting on a
newspaper. Thisand Mr. Opp tried to spread out his hands, but was
slightly deterred by the size of his cuffsthis is the chance I been
looking for all my life. It takes brains and a' educated nerve, and a
knowledge of the world. I ought to create considerable capital in the
next few years. And just as soon as I doand Mr. Opp leaned earnestly
toward Jimmy, and tapped one finger upon the palm of his other
handjust as soon as I do, I intend to buy up all the land lying
between Turtle Creek and the river. There's enough oil under that there
ground to ca'm the troubled waters of the Pacific Ocean. You remember
old Mr. Beeker? Well, he told me, ten years ago, that he bored a well
for brine over there, and it got so full of black petroleum he had to
abandon it. Now, I'm calculating on forming a stock company,you and
Mr. Tucker, I and old man Hager, and one or two others,and buying up
that ground. Then we'll sink a test well, get up a derrick and a'
engine, and have the thing running in no time. The main thing is a
competent manager. You know I'm thinking seriously of taking it myself?
It's too big a proposition to run any risks with.
Here, say, wait a minute; how long have you had this here shoe
job? Jimmy caught madly at the first fact in sight to keep him from
being swept away by the flood of Mr. Opp's oily possibilities.
I taken it last week, said Mr. Opp; had to go all the way to
Chicago to get my instructions, and to get fitted out. My territory is
a specially important one; four counties, all round Chicago.
I was in Chicago oncet, said Jimmy, his eyes brightening at the
memory. By golly! if the world is as big in every direction as it is
in that, she's a whopper!
The wind, freshening as they got under way, loosened the canvas
overhead, and Mr. Opp rose to buckle it into place. As he half knelt in
the bow of the boat, he lifted his face to the cool breeze, and took a
deep breath of satisfaction. The prosaic river from Coreyville to the
Cove was the highway he knew best in the world. Under the summer
sunshine the yellow waters lost their sullen hue, and reflected patches
of vivid red and white from the cottages and barns that dotted the
I don't consider there's any sceneries in the country that'll even
begin to compare with these here, Mr. Opp announced, out of the depths
of his wide experience. Just look at the sunshine pouring forth around
the point of the island. It spills through the trees and leaks out over
the water just like quicksilver. Now, that's a good thought! It's
perfectly astounding, you might say surprising, how easy thoughts come
to me. I ought to been a writer; lots of folks have said so. Why, there
ain't a day of my life that I don't get a poem in my head.
Shucks! observed Jimmy Fallows. I'd as lief read figgers on a
tow-boat as to read poetry. Old man Gusty used to write poetry, but he
couldn't get nobody to print it, so he decided to start a newspaper at
the Cove and chuck it full of his own poems. He bought a whole printin'
outfit, and set it up in Pete Aker's old carpenter shop out there at
the edge of town, opposite his home. But 'fore he got his paper started
he up and died. Yes, sir; and the only one of his poems that he ever
did git in print was the one his wife had cut on his tombstone.
Mr. Opp was not listening. With his head bared and his lips parted
he was indulging in his principal weakness. For Mr. Opp, it must be
confessed, was given to violent intoxication, not from an extraneous
source, but from too liberal draughts of his own imagination. In
extenuation, the claims of genius might be urged, for a genius he
unquestionably was in that he created something out of nothing. Out of
an abnormal childhood, a lonely boyhood, and a failure-haunted manhood,
he had managed to achieve an absorbing career. Each successive
enterprise had loomed upon his horizon big with possibilities, and
before it sank to oblivion, another scheme, portentous, significant,
had filled its place. Life was a succession of crises, and through them
he saw himself moving, now a shrewd merchant, now a professional man,
again an author of note, but oftenest of all a promoter of great
enterprises, a financier, and man of affairs.
While he was thus mentally engaged in drilling oil-wells, composing
poetry, and selling shoes, Jimmy Fallows was contemplating with
fascinated wonder an object that floated from his coat pocket. From a
brown-paper parcel, imperfectly wrapped, depended a curl of golden
hair, and it bobbed about in the breeze in a manner that reduced Mr.
Fallows to a state of abject curiosity.
So intent was Jimmy upon his investigation that he failed to hold
his course, and the launch swung around the end of the island with such
a sudden jerk that Mr. Opp took an unexpected seat.
As he did so, his hand touched the paper parcel in his pocket, and
realizing that it was untied, he hastily endeavored, by a series of
surreptitious manoeuvers, to conceal what it contained. Feeling the
quizzical eye of his shipmate full upon him, he assumed an air of
studied indifference, and stoically ignored the subterranean chuckles
and knowing winks in which Mr. Fallows indulged.
Presently, when the situation had become poignant, Mr. Opp observed
that he supposed the funeral would take place from the church.
I reckon so, said Jimmy, reluctantly answering to the call of the
conversational rudder. I told the boys to have a hack there for you
and Mr. Ben and Miss Kippy.
I don't think my sister will be there, said Mr. Opp, with dignity;
she seldom or never leaves the house.
Reckon Mr. Ben will have to take keer of her now, said Jimmy; she
surely will miss her pa. He never done a lick of work since I knowed
him, but he was a nice, quiet old fellow, and he certainly was good to
pore Miss Kippy.
Mr. Moore was a gentleman, said Mr. Opp, and he sighed.
Ain't she got any kin on his side? No folks except you two
That's all, said Mr. Opp; just I and Ben.
Gee! that's kind of tough on you all, ain't it?
But the sympathy was untimely, for Mr. Opp's dignity had been
touched in a sensitive place.
Our sister will be well provided for, he said, and the
conversation suffered a relapse.
Mr. Opp went back to his time-tables and his new note-book, and for
the rest of the trip Jimmy devoted himself to his wheel, with
occasional ocular excursions in the direction of Mr. Opp's coat pocket.
Lying in the crook of the river's elbow, with the nearest railroad
eighteen miles away, Cove City, familiarly known as the Cove, rested
serenely undisturbed by the progress of the world. Once a day, at any
time between sundown and midnight, it was roused from its drowsiness by
the arrival of the mail-boat, and, shaking itself into temporary
wakefulness, sat up and rubbed its eyes. This animation was, however,
of short duration, for before the packet had whistled for the next
landing, the Cove had once more settled back into slumber.
Main Street began with a shabby, unpainted school-house, and
following dramatic sequence, ended abruptly in the graveyard. Two
cross-streets, which had started out with laudable ideas of
independence, lost courage at Main Street and sought strength in union;
but the experiment was not successful, and a cow-path was the result.
The only semblance of frivolity about the town was a few straggling
cottages on stilts of varying height as they approached the river; for
they seemed ever in the act of holding up their skirts preparatory to
wading forth into the water.
On this particular summer afternoon Cove City was less out of crimp
than usual. The gathering of loafers that generally decorated the empty
boxes piled along the sidewalk was missing. The old vehicles and
weary-looking mules which ordinarily formed an irregular fringe along
the hitching rail were conspicuously absent. A subdued excitement was
in the air, and at the slightest noise feminine heads appeared at
windows, and masculine figures appeared in doorways, and comments were
exchanged in low tones from one side of the street to the other. For
the loss of a citizen, even a poor one, disturbs the surface of
affairs, and when the event brings two relatives from a distance, the
ripples of excitement increase perceptibly.
Mr. Moore had been a citizen-in-law, as it were, and had never been
considered in any other light than poor Mrs. Opp's widower. Mrs. Opp's
poor widower might have been a truer way of stating it, but even a town
has its parental weaknesses.
For two generations the Opp family had been a source of mystery and
romance to the Cove. It stood apart, like the house that held it, poor
and shabby, but bearing a baffling atmosphere of gentility, of
superiority, and of reserve.
Old women recalled strange tales of the time when Mrs. Opp had come
to the Cove as a bride, and how she refused to meet any of the
townspeople, and lived alone in the old house on the river-bank,
watching from hour to hour for the wild young husband who clerked on
one of the river steamers. They told how she grew thin and white with
waiting, and how, when her two boys were small, she made them stand
beside her for hours at a time, watching the river and listening for
the whistle of his boat. Then the story went that the gay young husband
stopped coming altogether, and still she watched and waited, never
allowing the boys out of her sight, refusing to send them to school, or
to let them play with other children. By and by word was brought that
her husband had been killed in a quarrel over cards, and little Mrs.
Opp, having nothing now to watch for and to wait for, suddenly became
Old Aunt Tish, the negro servant, was the only person who ever
crossed the threshold, and she told of a strange life that went on
behind the closely curtained windows, where the sunlight was never
allowed to enter, and lamps burned all day long.
Yas, 'm, she used to say in answer to curious questionings; hit's
jes like play-actin' all de time. The Missis dress herself up, an'
'tend like she's a queen or a duke or somethin', an' dat little D. he
jes acts out all dem fool things she tells him to, an' he ain't never
bein' hisself at all, but jes somebody big and mighty and grand-like.
When the boys were half-grown, a stranger appeared in the Cove, a
dapper little man of about fifty in a shabby frock-coat and a shabbier
high hat, kind of face and gentle of voice, but with the dignity of
conscious superiority. The day of his arrival he called upon Mrs. Opp;
the second day he took a preacher with him and married her. Whatever
old romance had led to this climax could only be dimly guessed at by
the curious townspeople.
For two years Mr. Moore fought for the mind of his old sweetheart as
he had long ago fought for her heart. He opened the house to the
sunshine, and coaxed the little lady back into the world she had
forgotten. The boys were sent to school, the old games and fancies were
forbidden. Gradually the color returned to her cheeks, and the light to
Then little Kippy was born, and happiness such as seldom comes to
one who has tasted the dregs of life came to the frail little woman in
the big four-poster bed. For ten days she held the baby fingers to her
heart, and watched the little blossom of a maid unfold.
But one black night, when the rain beat against the panes, and the
moan of the river sounded in her ears, she suddenly sat up in bed: she
had heard the whistle of his boat! Full of dumb terror she crept
to the window, and with her face pressed against the glass she waited
and watched. The present was swallowed up in the past. She was once
more alone, unloved, afraid. Stealthily snatching a cloak, she crept
down into the garden, feeling her way through the sodden grass, and the
jimpson weed which the rain had beaten down.
And ever since, when children pass the house on their way to school,
they peep through the broken fence rails, and point out to one another,
in awed tones, the tree under which Miss Kippy's mother killed herself.
Then they look half-fearfully at the windows in the hope of catching a
glimpse of Miss Kippy herself.
For Kippy had had a long illness in her thirteenth year which left
her with the face and mind of a little child, and kindly, shabby Mr.
Moore, having made the supreme effort of his life, from this time on
ceased to struggle against the weakness that for half a lifetime had
beset him, and sought oblivion in innocuous but perpetual libations.
The one duty which he recognized was the care of his invalid daughter.
As soon as they were old enough, the boys launched their small craft
and set forth to seek their fortunes. Ben, with no cargo on board but
his own desires, went west and found a snug and comfortable harbor,
while D. Webster, the hope of his mother and the pride of the town, was
at thirty-five still putting out to sea, with all sail set, only to
find himself again and again aground on the sandbars of the old
Jimmy Fallows, being the boastful possessor of the fleetest horse in
town, was the first to return from the funeral. Extricating himself
with some difficulty from the narrow-seated buggy, he held out his hand
to Mrs. Fallows. But that imposing lady, evidently offended with her
jovial lord, refused his proffered aid, and clambered out over the
wheel on the other side.
Mrs. Fallows, whose architectural effects were strictly
perpendicular, cast a perpetual shadow of disapproval over the life
partner whom it had pleased Providence to bestow upon her. Jimmy was a
born satirist; he knew things are not what they seem, and he wickedly
rejoiced thereat. To his literal, pious-minded wife he at times seemed
the incarnation of wickedness.
Sweeping with dignity beneath the arching sign of Your Hotel, she
took her seat upon the porch, and, disposing her sable robes about her,
folded her mitted hands, and waited to see the people return from the
Jimmy, with the uncertain expression of one who is ready to
apologize, but cannot remember the offense, hovered about uneasily,
casting tempting bits of conversational bait into the silence, but
failing to attract so much as a nibble of attention.
Miss Jemima Fenny was over to the funeral from Birdtown. Miss Jim
is one of 'em, ain't she?
There was no response.
Had her brother Nick with her. He's just gettin' over typhoid
fever; looks about the size and color of a slate pencil. I bet, in
spite of Miss Jim's fine clothes, they ain't had a square meal for a
month. That's because she kept him at school so long when he orter been
at work. He did git a job in a newspaper office over at Coreyville not
long 'fore he was took sick. They tell me he's as slick as a onion
about newspaper work.
Continued silence; but Jimmy boldly cast another fly:
Last funeral we had was Mrs. Tucker's, wasn't it? Old man Tucker
was there to-day. Crape band on his hat is climbin' up; it'll be at
high mast ag'in soon.
Dense, nerve-racking silence; but Jimmy made one more effort:
The Opps are coming back here to-night to talk things over before
Ben goes on to Missouri. He counts on ketchin' the night boat. It won't
give him much time, will it?
But Mrs. Fallows, unrelaxed, stared fixedly before her; she had
taken refuge in that most trying of all rejoinders, silence, and the
fallible Jimmy, who waxed strong and prospered upon abuse, drooped and
languished under this new and cruel form of punishment.
It was not until a buggy stopped at the door, and the Opp brothers
descended, that the tension was in any way relieved.
Jimmy greeted them with the joy of an Arctic explorer welcoming a
Come right on in here, in the office, he cried hospitably; your
talkin' won't bother me a speck.
But Ben abruptly expressed his desire for more private quarters, and
led the way up-stairs.
The low-ceiled room into which he ushered D. Webster was of such a
depressing drab that even the green and red bed-quilt failed to
disperse the gloom. The sole decoration, classic in its severity, was a
large advertisement for a business college, whereon an elk's head grew
out of a bow of ribbon, the horns branching and rebranching into a
forest of curves and flourishes.
The elder Opp took his seat by the window, and drummed with
impatient fingers on the sill. He was small, like his brother, but of a
compact, sturdy build. His chin, instead of dwindling to a point, was
square and stubborn, and his eyes looked straight ahead at the thing he
wanted, and neither saw nor cared for what lay outside. He had been
trying ever since leaving the cemetery to bring the conversation down
to practical matters, but D. Webster, seizing the first opportunity of
impressing himself upon his next of kin, had persisted in indulging in
airy and time-destroying flights of fancy.
The truth is that our Mr. Opp was not happy. In his secret heart he
felt a bit apologetic before the material success of his elder brother.
Hence it was necessary to talk a great deal and to set forth in detail
the very important business enterprises upon which he was about to
Presently Ben Opp looked at his watch.
See here, he interrupted, that boat may be along at any time.
We'd better come to some decision about the estate.
D. Webster ran his fingers through his hair, which stood in valiant
defense of the small bald spot behind it.
Yes, yes, he said; business is business. I'll have to be off
myself the very first thing in the morning. This funeral couldn't have
come at a more unfortunate time for me. You see, my special
But Ben saw the danger of another bolt, and checked him:
How much do you think the old house is worth?
D. Webster drew forth his shiny note-book and pencil and made
I should say, he said, as one financier to another, that
including of the house and land and contents of same, it would amount
to the whole sum total of about two thousand dollars.
That is about what I figured, said Ben; now, how much money is in
D. Webster produced a formidable packet of letters and papers from
his inside pocket and, after some searching, succeeded in finding a
statement, which set forth the fact that the Ripper County Bank held in
trust one thousand dollars, to be divided between the children of Mary
Opp Moore at the death of her husband, Curtis V. Moore.
One thousand dollars! said Ben, looking blankly at his brother,
Why, for heaven's sake, what have Mr. Moore and Kippy been living on
all these years?
D. Webster moved uneasily in his chair. Oh, they've managed to get
along first rate, he said evasively.
His brother looked at him narrowly. On the interest of a thousand
dollars? He leaned forward, and his face hardened: See here, have you
been putting up cash all this time for that old codger to loaf on? Is
that why you have never gotten ahead?
D. Webster, with hands in his pockets and his feet stretched in
front of him, was blinking in furious embarrassment at the large-eyed
To think, went on Ben, his slow wrath rising, of your staying
here in Kentucky all these years and handing out what you made to that
old sponger. I cut loose and made a neat little sum, married, and
settled down. And what have you done? Where have you gotten? Anybody
that would let himself be imposed upon like that deserves to fail. Now
what do you propose to do about this money?
Mr. Opp did not propose to do anything. The affront offered his
business sagacity was of such a nature that it demanded all his
attention. He composed various denunciatory answers with which to
annihilate his brother. He hesitated between two courses, whether he
should hurl himself upon him in righteous indignation and demand
physical satisfaction, or whether he should rise in a calm and manly
attitude and wither him with blighting sarcasm. And while the decision
was pending, he still sat with his hands in his pockets, and his feet
stretched forth, and blinked indignantly at the ornate elk.
The estate, continued Ben, contempt still in his face, amounts at
most to three thousand dollars, after the house is sold. Part of this,
of course, will go to the maintenance of Kippy.
At mention of her name, Mr. Opp's gaze dropped abruptly to his
What about Kippy? She's going to live with you, ain't she? he
Ben Opp shook his head emphatically. She certainly is not. I
haven't the slightest idea of burdening myself and family with that
But see here, said Mr. Opp, his anger vanishing in the face of
this new complication, you don't know Kippy; she's just similar to a
little child, quiet and gentle-like. Never give anybody any trouble in
her life. Just plays with her dolls and sings to herself all day.
Exactly, said Ben; twenty-five years old and still playing with
dolls. I saw her yesterday, dressed up in all sorts of foolish toggery,
talking to her hands, and laughing. Aunt Tish humors her, and her
father humored her, but I'm not going to. I feel sorry for her all
right, but I am not going to take her home with me.
D. Webster nervously twisted the large seal ring which he wore on
his forefinger. Then what do you mean, he said hesitatinglywhat do
you want to do about it?
Why, send her to an asylum, of course. That's where she ought to
have been all these years.
Mr. Opp, sitting upon the small of his back, with one leg wrapped
casually about the leg of the chair, stared at him for a moment in
consternation, then, gathering himself together, rose and for the first
time since we have met him seemed completely to fill his checked
Send Kippy to a lunatic asylum! he said in tones so indignant that
they made his chin tremble. You will do nothing whatever of the kind!
Why, all she's ever had in the world was her pa and Aunt Tish and her
home; now he's gone, you ain't wanting to take the others away from her
too, are you?
Well, who is going to take care of her? demanded Ben angrily.
I am, announced D. Webster, striking as fine an attitude as ever
his illustrious predecessor struck; you take the money that's in the
bank, and leave me the house and Kippy. That'll be her share and mine.
I can take care of her; I don't ask favors of nobody. Suppose I do lose
my job; I'll get me another. There's a dozen ways I can make a living.
There ain't a man in the State that's got more resources than me. I got
plans laid now that'll revolutionize
Yes, said Ben, quietly, you always could do great things.
D. Webster's egotism, inflated to the utmost, burst at this prick,
and he suddenly collapsed. Dropping limply into the chair by the table,
he held his hand over his mouth to hide his agitation.
There'sthere's one thing, he began, swallowing violently, and
winking after each word, that II can't doand that's to leave
asisterto dieamong strangers.
And then, to his mortification, his head went unexpectedly down upon
his arms, and a flood of tears bedimmed the radiance of his
From far down the river came the whistle of the boat, and, in the
room below, Jimmy Fallows removed a reluctant ear from the stove-pipe
Melindy, he said confidentially, entirely forgetting the late
frost, I never see anybody in the world that stood as good a show of
gittin' the fool prize as that there D. Opp.
The old Opp House stood high on the river-bank and gazed lonesomely
out into the summer night. It was a shabby, down-at-heel,
dejected-looking place, with one side showing faint lights, above and
below, but the other side so nailed up and empty and useless that it
gave the place the appearance of being paralyzed down one side and of
having scarcely enough vitality left to sustain life in the other.
To make matters worse, an old hound howled dismally on the
door-step, only stopping occasionally to paw at the iron latch and to
whimper for the master whose unsteady footsteps he had followed for
In the front room a shaded lamp, turned low, threw a circle of light
on the table and floor, leaving the corners full of vague, uncertain
shadows. From the wide, black fireplace a pair of rusty and battered
andirons held out empty arms, and on the high stone shelf above the
opening, flanked on each side by a stuffed owl, was a tall,
square-faced clock, with the hour-hand missing. The minute-hand still
went on its useless round, and behind it, on the face of the clock, a
tiny schooner with all sail set rocked with the swinging of the
The loud ticking of the clock, and the lamentations of the hound
without, were not the only sounds that disturbed the night. Before the
empty fireplace, in a high-backed, cane-bottomed chair, slept an old
negress, with head bowed, moaning and muttering as she slept. She was
bent and ashen with age, and her brown skin sagged in long wrinkles
from her face and hands. On her forehead, reaching from brow to faded
turban, was a hideous testimony to some ancient conflict. A large,
irregular hole, over which the flesh had grown, pulsed as sentiently
and imperatively as a naked, living heart.
A shutter slammed sharply somewhere in the house above, and
something stirred fearfully in the shadow of the room. It was a small
figure that crouched against the wall, listening and watching with the
furtive terror of a newly captured coyotethe slight figure of a woman
dressed as a child, with short gingham dress, and heelless slippers,
and a bright ribbon holding back the limp, flaxen hair from her
strange, pinched face.
Again and again her wide, frightened eyes sought the steps leading
to the room above, and sometimes she would lean forward and whisper in
agonized expectancy, Daddy? Then when no answer came, she would
shudder back against the wall, cold and shaking and full of dumb
Suddenly the hound's howling changed to a sharp bark, and the old
negress stirred and stretched herself.
What ails dat air dog? she mumbled, going to the window, and
shading her eyes with her hand. You'd 'low to hear him tell it he done
heared old master coming up de road.
That somebody was coming was evident from the continued excitement
of the hound, and when the gate slammed and a man's voice sounded in
the darkness, Aunt Tish opened the door, throwing a long, dim patch of
light out across the narrow porch and over the big, round
Into the light came Mr. Opp, staggering under the load of his
baggage, his coat over his arm, his collar off, thoroughly spent with
the events of the day.
Lord 'a' mercy! said Aunt Tish, if hit ain't Mr. D.! I done give
you up long ago. I certainly is glad you come. Miss Kippy's jes
carrying on like ever'thing. She ain't been to baid for two nights, an'
I can't do nothin' 't all wif her.
Mr. Opp deposited his things in a corner, and, tired as he was,
assumed an air of authority. It was evident that a man was needed, a
person of firmness, of decision.
I'll see that she goes to bed at once, he said resolutely. Where
is she at?
She's behind de door, said Aunt Tish; she's be'n so skeered ever
sence her paw died I can't do nothin' wif her.
Kippy, said Mr. Opp, sternly, come out here this minute.
But there was no response. Going to the corner where his coat lay,
he took from the pocket a brown-paper parcel.
Say, Kippy, he said in a greatly mollified tone, I wish you would
come on out here and see me. You remember brother D., don't you? You
ought to see what I brought you all the way from the city. It's got
At this the small, grotesque figure, distrustful, suspicious, ready
to take flight at a word, ventured slowly forth. So slight she was, and
so frail, and so softly she moved, it was almost as if the wind blew
her toward him. Every thought that came into her brain was instantly
reflected in her hypersensitive face, and as she stood before him
nervously plucking her fingers, fear and joy struggled for supremacy.
Suddenly with a low cry she snatched the doll from him and clasped it
to her heart.
Meanwhile Aunt Tish had spread a cloth on the table and set forth
some cold corn dodger, a pitcher of foaming butter-milk, and a plate of
cold corned beef. The milk was in a battered pewter pitcher, but the
dish that held the corn bread was of heavy silver, with intricate
chasings about the rim.
Mr. Opp, with his head propped on his hand, ate wearily. He had been
up since four o'clock that morning, and to-morrow he must be up at
daybreak if he was to keep his engagements to supply the dealers with
the greatest line of shoes ever put upon the market. Between now and
then he must decide many things: Kippy must be planned for, the house
gone over, and arrangements made for the future. Being behind the
scenes, as it were, and having no spectator to impress, he allowed
himself to sink into an attitude of extreme dejection. And Mr. Opp,
shorn of the dignity of his heavily padded coat, and his imposing
collar and tie, and with even his pompadour limp upon his forehead,
failed entirely to give a good imitation of himself.
As he sat thus, with one hand hanging limply over the back of the
chair, he felt something touch it softly, dumbly, as a dog might.
Looking down, he discovered Miss Kippy sitting on the floor, close
behind him, watching him with furtive eyes. In one arm she cradled the
new doll, and in the other she held his coat.
Mr. Opp patted her cheek: Whatever are you doing with my coat? he
Miss Kippy held it behind her, and nodded her head wisely: Keeping
it so you can't go away, she whispered. I'll hold it tight all night.
To-morrow I'll hide it.
But I'm a business man, said Mr. Opp, unconsciously straightening
his shoulders. A great deal of responsibility depends on me. I've got
to be off early in the morning; but I'm coming back to see you real
oftenevery now and then.
Miss Kippy's whole attitude changed. She caught his hand and clung
to it, and the terror came back to her eyes.
You mustn't go, she whispered, her body quivering with excitement.
It'll get me if you do. Daddy kept It away, and you can keep It away;
but Aunt Tish can't: she's afraid of It, too! She goes to sleep, and
then It reaches at me through the window. It comes down the chimney,
therewhere you see the brick's loose. Don't leave me, D. Hush, don't
you hear It?
Her voice had risen to hysteria, and she clung to him, cold and
shaken by the fear that possessed her.
Mr. Opp put a quieting arm about her. Why, see here, Kippy, he
said, didn't you know It was afraid of me? Look how strong I am! I
could kill It with my little finger.
Could you? asked Miss Kippy, fearfully.
Yes, indeed, said Mr. Opp. Don't you ever be scared of anything
whatsoever when Brother D.'s round. I'm going to take care of you from
This me is bad, announced Miss Kippy; the other me is good. Her
name is Oxety; she has one blue eye and one brown.
Well, Oxety must go to bed now, said Mr. Opp; it must be getting
But Miss Kippy shook her head. You might go 'way, she said.
Finding that he could not persuade her, Mr. Opp resorted to
strategy: I'll tell you what let's me and you do. Let's put your
slippers on your hands.
This proposition met with instant approval. It appealed to Miss
Kippy as a brilliant suggestion. She assisted in unbuttoning the single
straps and watched with glee as they were fastened about her wrists.
[Illustration: 'Don't leave me']
Now, said Mr. Opp, with assumed enthusiasm, we'll make the
slippers walk you up-stairs, and after Aunt Tish undresses you, they
shall walk you to bed. Won't that be fun?
Miss Kippy's fancy was so tickled by this suggestion that she put it
into practice at once, and went gaily forth up the steps on all fours.
At the turn she stopped, and looked at him wistfully:
You'll come up before I go to sleep? she begged; Daddy did.
Half an hour later Aunt Tish came down the narrow stairway: She
done gone to baid now, laughin' an' happy ag'in, she said; she never
did have dem spells when her paw was round, an' sometimes dat chile jes
as clear in her mind as you an' me is.
What is it she's afraid of? asked Mr. Opp.
Aunt Tish leaned toward him across the table, and the light of the
lamp fell full upon her black, bead-like eyes, and her sunken jaws, and
on the great palpitating scar.
De ghosties, she whispered; dey been worriting dat chile ever'
chance dey git. I hear 'em! Dey wait till I take a nap of sleep,
den dey comes sneakin' in to pester her. She says dey ain't but one,
but I hears heaps ob 'em, some ob 'em so little dey kin climb onder de
crack in de door.
Look a-here, Aunt Tish, said Mr. Opp, sternly, don't you ever
talk a word of this foolishness to her again. Not one word, do you
Yas, sir; dat's what Mr. Moore allays said, an' I don't talk
to her 'bout hit, I don't haf to. She done knows I know. I been livin'
heah goin' on forty years, sence 'fore you was borned, an' you can't
fool me, chile; no, sir, dat you can't.
Well, you must go to bed now, said Mr. Opp, looking up at the
clock and seeing that it was half-past something though he did not know
I never goes to baid when I stays here, announced Aunt Tish; I
sets up in de kitchen an' sleeps. I's skeered dat chile run away; she
'low she gwine to some day. Her paw ketched her oncet gittin' in a boat
down on de river-bank. She ain't gwine, while I's here, no sir-ee! I
never leaves her in de daytime an' her paw never leaves her at night,
dat is, when he's livin'.
After she had gone, Mr. Opp ascended the stairway, and entered the
room above. A candle sputtered on the table, and in its light he saw
the wide, four-poster bed that had been his mother's, and in it the
frail figure of little Miss Kippy. Her hair lay loose upon the pillow,
and on her sleeping face, appealing in its helplessness, was a smile of
perfect peace. The new doll lay on the table beside the candle, but
clasped tightly in her arms was the coat of many checks.
For a moment Mr. Opp stood watching her, then he drew his
shirt-sleeve quickly across his eyes. As he turned to descend, his new
shoes creaked painfully and, after he had carefully removed them, he
tiptoed down, passed through the sitting-room and out upon the porch,
where he sank down on the step and dropped his head on his arms.
The night was very still, save for the croaking of a bullfrog, and
the incessant scraping of a cedar-tree against the corner of the roof.
From across the river, faint sparks of light shone out from cabin
windows, and, below, a moving light now and then told of a passing
scow. Once a steamboat slipped weirdly out of the darkness, sparkling
with lights, and sending up faint sounds of music; but before the waves
from the wheel had ceased to splash on the bank below, she was
swallowed up in the darkness, leaving lonesomeness again.
Mr. Opp sat staring out into the night, outwardly calm, but inwardly
engaged in a mortal duel. The aggressive Mr. Opp of the gorgeous
raiment and the seal ring, the important man of business, the ambitious
financier, was in deadly combat with the insignificant Mr. Opp, he of
the shirt-sleeves and the wilted pompadour, the delicate, sensitive,
futile Mr. Opp who was incapable of everything but the laying down of
his life for the sake of another.
A dull line of light hovered on the horizon, and gradually the woods
on the opposite shore took shape, then the big river itself, gray and
shimmering, with streaks on the water where a snag broke the swift
Mr. D., he heard Aunt Tish calling up the back stairs, you better
git out of baid; hit's sun-up.
He rose stiffly and started back to the kitchen. As he passed
through the front room, his eyes fell upon his new suit-case full of
the treasured drummers' samples. Stooping down, he traced the large
black letters with his finger and sighed deeply.
Then he got up resolutely and marched to the kitchen door.
Aunt Tish, he said with authority, you needn't mind about
hurrying breakfast. I find there's very important business will keep me
here in the Cove for the present.
There were two methods of communication in Cove City, both of which
were equally effective. One was the telephone, which from a single,
isolated case had developed into an epidemic, and the other, which
enjoyed the dignity of precedence and established custom, was to tell
Both of these currents of information soon overflowed with the news
that Mr. D. Webster Opp had given up a good position in the city, and
expected to establish himself in business in his native town. The
nature of this business was agitating the community at large in only a
degree less than it was agitating Mr. Opp himself.
One afternoon Jimmy Fallows stood with his back to his front gate,
suspended by his armpits from the pickets, and conducted business after
his usual fashion. As a general retires to a hill-top to organize his
forces and issue orders to his subordinates, so Jimmy hung upon his
front fence and conducted the affairs of the town. He knew what time
each farmer came in, where the Helping Hands were going to sew, where
the doctor was, and where the services would be held next Sunday. He
was coroner, wharf-master, undertaker, and notary, and the only thing
in the heavens above or the earth below concerning which he did not
attempt to give information was the arrival of the next steamboat.
As he stood whittling a stick and cheerfully humming a tune of other
days, he descried a small, alert figure coming up the road. The pace
was so much brisker than the ordinary slow gait of the Cove that he
recognized the person at once as Mr. Opp. Whereupon he lifted his voice
and hailed a boy who was just vanishing down the street in the opposite
Nick! he called. Aw, Nick Fenny! Tell Mat Lucas that Mr. Opp's
Connection being thus made at one end of the line, he turned to
effect it at the other. Howdy, Brother Opp. Kinder dusty on the river,
Well, we are experiencing considerable of warm weather at
this juncture, said Mr. Opp, affably.
Mat Lucas has been hanging round here all day, said Jimmy. He
wants you to buy out a half-interest in his dry-goods store. What do
you think about it?
Well, said Mr. Opp, thrusting his thumbs into the armholes of his
waistcoat, I am considering of a great variety of different things. I
been in the dry-goods business twice, and I can't say but what it ain't
a pretty business. Of course, he added with a twinge, my specialty
Yes, said Jimmy; but the folks here all gets their shoes at the
drug store. Mr. Toddlinger's been carrying a line of shoes along with
his pills and plasters ever sence he went into business.
Mr. Opp looked up at the large sign overhead. If you and Mr. Tucker
wasn't both in the hotel business, I might be thinking of considering
This proposition tickled Jimmy immensely. Chuckles of amusement
agitated his rotund figure.
Why don't you buy us both out? he asked. We could sell out for
nothing and make money.
Why, there's three boarders sitting over at Our Hotel now, said
Mr. Opp, who rather fancied himself in the rôle of a genial host.
Yes, said Jimmy. Old man Tucker's had 'em hanging out on the line
all morning. I don't guess they got strength enough to walk around much
after the meals he give 'em.
Of course, said Mr. Opp, wholly absorbed in his own affairs, this
is just temporarily for the time being, as it were. In a year or so,
when my financial condition is sorter more established in a way, I
intend to put through that oil-wells proposition. The fact that I am
aiming at arriving to is what would you think the Cove was at present
most in need of?
Elbow-grease, said Jimmy, promptly. The only two things that we
ain't got that a city has, is elbow-grease and a newspaper.
For a moment there was a silence, heavy with significance. Mr.
Fallows's gaze penetrated the earth, while Mr. Opp's scanned the
heavens; then they suddenly looked at each other, and the great idea
An editor! Mr. Opp's whole being thrilled responsive to the call.
The thought of dwelling above the sordid bartering of commercial life,
of being in a position to exercise those mental powers with which he
felt himself so generously endowed, almost swept him off his feet. He
had been a reporter once; for two golden weeks he had handed in
police-court reports that fairly scintillated with verbal gems plucked
at random from the dictionary. But the city editor had indicated as
kindly as possible that his services were no longer required, vaguely
suggesting that it was necessary to reduce the force; and Mr. Opp had
assured him that he understood perfectly, and that he was ready to
return at any future time. That apprenticeship, brief though it was,
served as a foundation upon which Mr. Opp erected a tower of dazzling
What's the matter with you takin' Mr. Gusty's old printin'-shop and
startin' up business for yourself? asked Jimmy.
Do you reckon she'd sell it? asked Mr. Opp, anxiously.
Sell it? said Jimmy. Why, she's 'most ready to give it away to
keep from having to pay Pete Aker's rent for the shop. SayMr.
Gallup, he called up the street to a man who was turning the corner,
is Mrs. Gusty at home?
The man, thus accosted, turned and came toward them.
Who is Mr. Gallop? asked Mr. Opp.
He's the new telephone girl, said Jimmy, with relish; ain't been
here but a month, and he's doing the largest and most profitable trade
in tending to other folks's business you ever seen. Soft! Why, he must
'a' been raised on a pillowHe always puts me in mind of a highly
educated pig: it sorter surprises and tickles you to see him walkin'
round on his hind legs and talking like other people. Other day one of
the boys, just to devil him, ast him to drive his team out home. I
liked to 'a' died when I seen him tryin' to turn the corner, pullin'
'Gee' and hollerin' 'Haw' with every breath. Old mules got their legs
in a hard knot trying to do both at once, and the boys says when Gallop
got out in the country he felt so bad about it he got down and
'pologized to the mules. How 'bout that, Gallopdid you! he concluded
as the subject of the conversation arrived upon the scene.
The new-comer, a plump, fair young man, who held one hand clasped
affectionately in the other, blushed indignantly, but said nothing.
This here is Mr. Opp, went on Jimmy; he wants to see Mrs. Gusty.
Do you know whether he will ketch her at home or not?
Mr. Gallop was by this time paying the tribute of many an admiring
glance to every detail of Mr. Opp's costume, and Mr. Opp, realizing
this, assumed an air of cosmopolitan nonchalance, and toyed
indifferently with his large watch-fob.
When Mr. Gallop's admiration and attention had become focused upon
Mr. Opp's ring, he suddenly turned on the faucet of his conversation,
and allowed such a stream of general information to pour forth that Mr.
Opp quite forgot to look imposing.
Mrs. Gusty telephoned early this morning to Mrs. Dorsey that she
would come over and help her make preserves. Mrs. Dorsey got a big load
of peaches from her father across the river. He's been down with the
asthma, and had to call up the doctor twice in the night. And the
doctor couldn't get the right medicine in town, and had me call up the
city. They are going to send it down on the Big Sandy, but she's
stuck in the locks, and goodness knows when she'll get here. She's
Excuse me, interrupted Mr. Opp, politely but firmly, I've got to
see Mrs. Gusty on very important business. Have you any idea whatsoever
of when she will return back home?
Yes, said Mr. Gallop, eager to oblige. She's about home by this
time. Miss Lou Diker is making her a dress, and she telephoned she'd be
by to try it on 'bout four o'clock. I'll go up there with you, if you
want me to.
Why don't you drive him! suggested Jimmy. You can borrow a pair
of mules acrost the street.
Mr. Opp, said Mr. Gallop, feelingly, as they walked up Main
Street, I wouldn't treat a' insect like he treats me.
Oh, you mustn't mind Jimmy, said Mr. Opp, kindly; he always sort
of enjoys a little joke as he goes along. Why, I wouldn't be at all
surprised if he even made a joke on me sometime. How long have you been
in Cove City?
Just a month, said Mr. Gallop. It must look awful little to you,
after all the big cities you been used to.
Mr. Opp lengthened his stride. Yes, he said largely; quite small,
quite little, in fact. No place for a business man; but for a
professional man, a man that requires leisure to sort of cultivate his
brain and that means to be a influence in the community, it's a good
place, a remarkably good place.
A hint, however vague, dropped into the mind of Mr. Gallop, caused
instant fermentation. From long experience he had become an adept at
extracting information from all who crossed his path. A preliminary
interest, a breath or two of flattery by way of anesthetic, and his
victim's secret was out before he knew it.
Reckon you are going up to talk insurance to Mrs. Gusty, he
No; oh, no, said Mr. Opp. I formerly was in the insurance
business, some time back. Very little prospects in it for a man of my
nature. I have to have a chance to sorter spread out, you knowto use
my own particular ideas about working things out.
What is your especial line? asked Mr. Gallop, deferentially.
Shoe Mr. Opp began involuntarily, then checked
himselfjournalism, he said, and the word seemed for the moment
completely to fill space.
At Mrs. Gusty's gate Mr. Gallop stopped.
I guess I ought to go back now, he said regretfully; the
telephone and telegraph office is right there in my room, and I never
leave them day or night except just this one hour in the afternoon.
It's awful trying. The farmers begin calling each other up at three
o'clock in the morning. Say, I wish you'd step in sometime. I'd just
love to have you. But you are so busy and got so many friends, you
won't have much time for me, I guess.
Mr. Opp thought otherwise. He said that no matter how pressed he was
by various important duties, he was never too busy to see a friend. And
he said it with the air of one who confers a favor, and Mr. Gallop
received it as one who receives a favor, and they shook hands warmly
Mr. Opp, absorbed in the great scheme which was taking definite form
in his mind, did not discover until he reached the steps that some one
was lying in a hammock on the porch.
It was a dark-haired girl in a pink dress, with a pink bow in her
hair and small bows on the toes of her high-heeled slippersthe very
kind of person, in fact, that Mr. Opp was most desirous of avoiding.
Fortunately she was asleep, and Mr. Opp, after listening in vain at
the door for sounds of Mrs. Gusty within, tiptoed cautiously to the
other end of the porch and took his seat on a straight-backed settee.
Let it not for a moment be supposed that Mr. Opp was a stranger to
the fascinations of femininity. He had been inoculated at a tender age,
and it had taken so completely, so tragically, that he had crept back
to life with one illusion sadly shattered, and the conviction firm
within him that henceforth he was immune. His attitude toward the
subject remained, however, interested, but cautioussuch as a good
little boy might entertain toward a loaded pistol.
As he sat very straight and very still on the green settee, he tried
to compose his mind for the coming interview with Mrs. Gusty. Directly
across the road was Aker's old carpenter-shop, a small, square,
one-story edifice, shabby, and holding out scant promise of
journalistic possibilities. Mr. Opp, however, seldom saw things as they
were; he saw them as they were going to be. Before five minutes had
elapsed he had the shop painted white, with trimmings of red, new panes
in the windows, ground glass below and clear above, an imposing sign
over the door, and the roadway blocked with eager subscribers. He would
have to have an assistant, of course, some one to attend to the general
details; but he would have charge of everything himself. He would edit
a paper, comprehensive in its scope, and liberal in its views. Science,
art, religion, society, and politics would all be duly chronicled.
Politics! Why, his paper would be an organan organ of the Democratic
At the thought of being an organ, Mr. Opp's bosom swelled with such
pride that his settee creaked, and he glanced apprehensively toward the
other end of the porch.
The young lady was still asleep, with her head resting on her bare
arm, and one foot hanging limply below her ruffled petticoat.
Suddenly Mr. Opp leaned forward and viewed her slipper with
interest. He had recognized the make! It was xxx-aa. He had carried a
sample exactly like it, and had been wont to call enthusiastic
attention to the curve of the instep and the set of the heel. He now
realized that the effect depended entirely on the bow, and he seriously
considered writing to the firm and suggesting the improvement.
In the midst of his reflections the young lady stirred and then sat
up. Her hair was tumbled, and her eyes indicated that she had been
indulging in recent tears. Resting her chin on her palms, she gazed
gloomily down the road.
Mr. Opp, at the other end of the porch, also gazed gloomily down the
road. The fact that he must make his presence known was annihilated by
the yet more urgent fact that he could think of nothing to say. A
bumblebee wheeled in narrowing circles above his head and finally
lighted upon his coat-sleeve. But Mr. Opp remained immovable. He was
searching his vocabulary for a word which would gently crack the
silence without shattering it to bits.
The bumblebee saved the situation. Detecting some rare viand in a
crack of the porch midway between the settee and the hammock, and
evidently being a bibulous bee, it set up such a buzz of excitement
that Mr. Opp looked at it, and the young lady looked at it, and their
Excuse me, said Mr. Opp, rather breathlessly; you was asleep, and
I come to see Mrs. Gusty, anderthe fact isI'm Mr. Opp.
At this announcement the young lady put her hand to her head, and by
a dexterous movement rearranged the brown halo of her hair, and twisted
the pink bow into its proper, aggressive position.
Mother'llbe back soon,she spoke without embarrassment, yet
with the hesitation of one who is not in the habit of speaking for
herself,IIdidn't know I was going to sleep.
No, said Mr. Opp; then added politely, neither did I. Silence
again looming on the horizon, he plunged on: I think I used to be in
the habit of seeing you when you waseryounger, didn't I?
Up at the store. She smiled faintly. You bought me a bag of
pop-corn once with a prize in it. It was a breastpin; I've got it yet.
Mr. Opp scowled slightly as he tried to extract an imaginary
splinter from his thumb. Do youerattend school? he asked, taking
refuge in a paternal attitude.
I'm finished, she said listlessly. I've been going to the Young
Ladies' Seminary at Coreyville.
Didn't you taken to it? asked Mr. Opp, wishing fervently that Mrs.
Gusty would return.
Oh, yes, said his companion, earnestly. I love it; I was a
special. I took music and botany and painting. I was in four concerts
last year and played in the double duets at the commencements. During
the pause that followed, Mr. Opp considered various names for his
newspaper. Mother isn't going to let me go back, the soft, drawling
voice continued; she says when a girl is nineteen she ought to settle
down. She wants me to get married.
Mr. Opp laid The Cove Chronicle and The Weekly Bugle aside for
further consideration, and inquired politely if there was any special
person whom Mrs. Gusty desired for a son-in-law.
Oh, no, said the girl, indifferently; she hasn't thought of
anybody. But I don't want to get marriedyet. I want to go back to the
seminary and be a music teacher. I hate it here, every bit of it. It's
so stupidand lonesome, and
A break in her voice caused Mr. Opp to postpone a decision of the
day on which his paper was to be published, and to give her his
undivided attention. Distress, even in beauty, was not to be withstood,
and the fact that she was unusually pretty had been annoying Mr. Opp
ever since she had spoken to him. As she turned her head away and wiped
her eyes, he rose impulsively and moved toward her:
Say, look a-here now, you ain't crying, are you? he asked.
She shook her head in indignant denial.
Welleryou don't seem exactly happy, as you might say,
suggested Mr. Opp, boldly.
I'm not, she confessed, biting her lip. I oughtn't to talk to you
about it, but there isn't anybody here that would understand. They
think I'm stuck up when I talk about books and music andand other
kind of people. They just keep on doing the same stupid things till
they get old and die. Only mother won't even let me do stupid things;
she says I bother her when I try to help around the house.
Can't you sew or make mottoes or something? asked Mr. Opp, very
vague as to feminine accomplishments.
What's the use? asked the girl. Mother does everything for me.
She always says she'd rather do it than teach me how.
Don't you take to reading? asked Mr. Opp.
Oh, yes, she said; I used to read all the time down at school;
but there never is anything to read up here.
The editor-elect peopled the country with similar cases, and he
immediately saw himself as a public benefactor supplying starved
subscribers with a bountiful repast of weekly news.
Won't you sit down? asked the girl, interrupting his reflections.
I don't know what can be keeping mother.
Mr. Opp looked about for a chair, but there was none. Then he
glanced at his companion, and saw that she was holding aside her pink
skirt and evidently offering him a seat beside her in the hammock. He
advanced a step, retreated, then weakly capitulated. Sitting very
rigid, nursing his hat on his knees, and inserting his forefinger
between his neck and his collar as if to breathe better, he remarked
that it was getting warmer all the time.
This isn't anything to what it will be later, said the girl; it
keeps on getting hotter and dustier all the time. I don't believe
there's such a stupid, poky, little old place anywhere else in the
world. You ought to be mighty glad you don't live here.
Mr. Opp cleared his throat with some dignity. I expect to remain
here permanent now. Iwellthe truth is, I have decided to operate a
No! cried the girl, incredulously. Not in the Cove!
In the Cove, repeated Mr. Opp, firmly. There's great need here
for a live, enterprising newspaper. It's a virgin field, you might say.
There never was a place that needed a public voice more. My paper is
going to be a voice that hears all sides of a question; it's going to
appeal to the aged and the young and all them that lies between.
It will be mighty grand for us! said his companion, with interest.
When is it going to start?
Definite plans being decidedly nebulous, Mr. Opp wisely confined
himself to generalities. He touched casually on his remarkable fitness
for the work, his wide experience, his worldly knowledge. He hinted
that in time he expected to venture into even deeper literary
waterspoetry, and a novel, perhaps. As he talked, he realized that
for the second time that day he was looked upon with approval. Being
accepted at his own estimate proved a new and exhilarating sensation.
It was pleasant on the wide porch, with the honeysuckle shutting out
the sun, and the long, yellow blossoms filling the air with fragrance.
It was pleasant to hear the contented chuckle of the hens and the
sleepy hum of the bees, and the sound of his own voice; but most of all
it was pleasant, albeit disconcerting, to glance sidewise occasionally
and find a pair of credulous brown eyes raised to his in frank
admiration. What if the swing of the hammock was making him dizzy and
one foot had gone to sleep? These were minor considerations unworthy of
And just to think, the girl was saying, that you may be right
across the road! I won't mind staying at home so much if you'll let me
come over and see you make the newspaper.
You might like to assist sometime, said Mr. Opp, magnanimously, at
the same time cautiously removing a fluttering pink ribbon from his
knee. I could let you try your hand on a wedding or a 'bituary, or
something along that line.
Oh, really? she cried, her eyes brightening. I'd just love to. I
can write compositions real nice, and you could help me a little.
Yes, agreed Mr. Opp; I could learn you to do the first draft, and
I could put on the extra touches.
So engrossed did they become in these plans that they did not hear
the click of the gate, or see the small, aggressive lady who came up
the walk. She moved with the confident air of one who is in the habit
of being obeyed. Her skirt gave the appearance of no more daring to
hang wrong than her bonnet-strings would have presumed to move from the
exact spot where she had tied them under her left ear. Her small,
bright eyes, slightly crossed, apparently saw two ways at once, for on
her brief journey from the gate to the porch, she decapitated two
withered geraniums on the right, and picked up a stray paper and some
dead leaves on the left.
Guin-never! she called sharply, not seeing the couple on the
porch, who's been tracking mud in on my clean steps?
The girl rose hastily and came forward. Mother, she said, here's
Mrs. Gusty glanced up from one to the other, evidently undecided how
to meet the situation. But the hesitancy was not for long; Mr. Opp's
watch-fob, glittering in the sunlight, symbolized such prosperity that
she hastily extended a cordial hand of welcome.
You don't mean to tell me Guin-never has been keeping you out here
on the porch instead of taking you in the parlor? And hasn't she given
you a thing to drink? Well, just wait till I get my things off and I'll
fix a pitcher of lemonade.
Let me do it, Mother, said Guinevere, eagerly; I often do it at
I'd hate to drink what you make, said Mrs. Gusty, waving her
aside. You show Mr. Opp in the parlor. No; I'll open the shutters:
you'd get your hands dirty. She bustled about with that tyrannical
capability that reduces every one near it to a state of helpless
The parlor was cool and dark, and Mr. Opp felt around for a chair
while the refractory shutter was being opened. When at last a shaft of
light was admitted, it fell full upon a sable frame which hung above
the horse-hair sofa, and inclosed a glorified certificate of the
births, marriages, and deaths in the house of Gusty. Around these
written data was a border realistically depicting the seven ages of man
and culminating in a legend of gold which read
From the Cradle to the Grave.
While Mr. Opp was standing before this work of art, apparently
deeply interested, he was, in reality, peeping through a crack in the
shutter. The sunlight was still filtering through the honeysuckle
vines, making dancing, white patches on the porch, the bees were
humming about the blossoms, and Miss Guinevere Gusty was still sitting
in the hammock, her chin in her palms, gazing down the road.
When Mrs. Gusty returned, she bore a glass pitcher of lemonade, a
plate of crisp gingersnaps, and a tumbler of crushed ice, all of which
rested upon a tray which was covered with her strawberry centerpiece, a
mark of distinction which, unfortunately, was lost upon her guest.
Mr. Opp, being a man of business, plunged at once into his subject,
presenting the matter so eloquently and using so much more persuasion
than was necessary that he overshot the mark. Mrs. Gusty was not
without business sagacity herself, and when Mr. Opp met a possible
objection before it had ever occurred to her, she promptly made use of
Of course, said Mr. Opp, as a final inducement, I'd be glad to
run in some of Mr. Gusty's poetical pieces from time to time.
This direct appeal to her sentiment so touched Mrs. Gusty that she
suggested they go over to the shop at once and look it over.
For a moment after the door of his future sanctum was thrown open
Mr. Opp was disconcerted. The small, dark room, cluttered with all
manner of trash, the broken window-panes, the dust, and the cobwebs,
presented a prospect that was far from encouraging; but after an
examination of the presses, his courage revived.
After a great deal of talk on Mr. Opp's part, and some shrewd
bargaining on Mrs. Gusty's, the stupendous transaction was brought to a
close, to the eminent satisfaction of both parties.
* * * * *
It was late that night before Mr. Opp retired. He sat in the open
window of his bedroom and looked out upon the river. The cool night air
and the quiet light of the stars calmed the turmoil in his brain.
Gradually the colossal schemes and the towering ambitions gave way to
an emotion to which the editor-elect was by no means a stranger. It was
a little white-faced Fear that lurked always in a corner of his heart,
and could be kept down only by brave words and aggressive deeds.
He sat with his trembling knees hunched, and his arms awkwardly
clasped about them, an absurd atom in the great cosmic order; yet the
soul that looked out of his squinting, wistful eyes held all the
potentialities of life, and embodied the eternal sadness and the
eternal inspiration of human endeavor.
It is no small undertaking to embark in an untried ship, upon
unknown waters, in the teeth of opposing gales. But Mr. Opp sailed the
sea of life as a valiant mariner should, self-reliant, independent,
asking advice of nobody. He steered by the guidance of his own peculiar
moral compass, regardless of the rough waters through which it led him.
Having invested the major portion of his savings in the present
venture, it was necessary to begin operations at once; but events
conspired to prevent him. Miss Kippy made many demands upon his time
both by day and night; she had transferred her affection and dependence
from her father to him, and he found himself sorely encumbered by this
new responsibility. Moreover, the attitude of the town toward the
innovation of a newspaper was one of frank skepticism, and it proved a
delicate and arduous task to create the proper public sentiment. In
addition to these troubles, Mr. Opp had a yet graver matter to hinder
him: with all his valor and energy he was suffering qualms of
uncertainty as to the proper method of starting a weekly journal.
To be sure, he had achieved a name for the papera name so
eminently satisfactory that he had already had it emblazoned upon a
ream of office paper. The Opp Eagle had sprung full-syllabled from
his teeming brain, and had been accepted over a hundred competitors.
But naming the fledgling was an easy matter compared with getting it
out of the nest; and it was not until the instalment of his competent
staff that Mr. Opp accomplished the task.
This important transaction took place one morning as he sat in his
new office and struggled with his first editorial. The bare room, with
the press in the center, served as news-room, press-room, publication
office, and editorial sanctum. Mr. Opp sat at a new deal table, with
one pen behind his ear, and another in his hand, and gazed for
inspiration at the brown wrapping-paper with which he had neatly
covered the walls. His mental gymnastics were interrupted by the
appearance at the door of Miss Jim Fenton and her brother Nick.
Miss Jim was an anomaly in the community, being by theory a
spinster, and by practice a double grass-widow. Capable and
self-supporting, she attracted the ne'er-do-wells as a magnet attracts
needles, but having been twice induced to forego her freedom and accept
the bonds of wedlock, she had twice escaped and reverted to her
original type and name. Miss Jim was evidently a victim of one of
Nature's most economical moods; she was spare and angular, with a long,
wrinkled face surmounted by a scant fluff of pale, frizzled hair. Her
mouth slanted upward at one corner, giving her an expression unjustly
attributed to coquetry, when in reality it was due to an innocent and
pardonable pride in an all-gold eye-tooth.
But it was her clothes that brought misunderstanding, misfortune,
and even matrimony upon Miss Jim. They were sent her by the boxful by a
cousin in the city, and the fact was unmistakable that they were
clothes with a past. The dresses held an atmosphere of evaporated
frivolity; flirtations lingered in every frill, and memories of old
larks lurked in every furbelow. The hats had a jaunty list to port, and
the colored slippers still held a dance within their soles. One old
bird of paradise on Miss Jim's favorite bonnet had a chronic wink for
the wickedness he had witnessed.
It was this wink that attracted Mr. Opp as he looked up from his
arduous labors. For a disconcerting moment he was uncertain whether it
belonged to Miss Jim or to the bird.
Howdy, Mr. Opp, said the lady in brisk, businesslike tones. I was
taking a crayon portrait home to Mrs. Gusty, and I just stopped in to
see if I couldn't persuade you to take my brother to help you on the
newspaper. You remember Nick, don't you?
Mr. Opp glanced up. A skeleton of a boy, with a shaven head, was
peering eagerly past him into the office, his keen, ferret-like eyes
devouring every detail of the printing-presses.
He knows the business, went on Miss Jim, anxiously pulling at the
fingers of her gloves. He's been in it over a year at Coreyville. He
wants to go back; but I ain't willing till he gets stronger. He ain't
been up but two weeks.
Mr. Opp turned impressively in his revolving chair, the one luxury
which he had deemed indispensable, and doubtfully surveyed the
applicant. The mere suggestion of his leaning upon this broken reed
seemed ridiculous; yet the boy's thin, sallow face, and Miss Jim's
imploring eyes, caused him to hesitate.
Well, you see, he said, with thumbs together and his lips pursed,
after the manner of the various employers before whom he had stood in
the past, we are just making a preliminary start, and we haven't
engaged our staff yet. I am a business man and a careful one. I don't
feel justified in going to no extra expense until 'The Opp Eagle' is,
in a way, on its feet.
Oh, that's all right, said the boy; I'll work a month for
nothing. Lots of fellows do that on the big papers.
Miss Jim plucked warningly at his sleeve, and Mr. Opp, seeing that
Nick's enthusiasm had led him beyond his depth, went gallantly to the
Not at all, he said hastily; that ain't my policy. I think I
might contrive to pay you a small, reasonable sum down, and increase it
in ratio as the paper become more prosperous. Don't you think you
better sit down?
No, sir; I'm all right, said the boy, impatiently. I can do 'most
anything about a paper, setting type, printing, reporting, collecting,
'most anything you put me at.
Such timely knowledge, in whatever guise it came, seemed
Heaven-sent. Mr. Opp gave a sigh of satisfaction.
If you feel that you can't do any better than accepting the small
sum that just at present I'll have to offer you, why, I think we can
come to some arrangement.
That's mighty nice in you, said Miss Jim, jerking her head forward
in order to correct an undue backward gravitation of her bonnet. If
ever you want a crayon portrait, made from life or enlarged from a
photograph, I'll make you a special price on it. I'm just taking this
here one home to Mrs. Gusty; she had it done for Guin-never's
Miss Jim removed the wrappings and disclosed a portrait of Miss
Guinevere Gusty, very large as to eyes and very small as to mouth. She
handed it to Mr. Opp, and called attention to its fine qualities.
Just look at the lace on that dress! Mrs. Fallows picked a whole
pattern off on her needles from one of my portraits. And did you notice
the eyelashes; you can actually count 'em! She had four buttons on her
dress, but I didn't get in but three; but I ain't going to mention it
to Mrs. Gusty. Don't you think it's pretty?
Mr. Opp, who had been smiling absently at the portrait, started
guiltily. Yes, he said confusedly; yes, ma'am, I think she is. Then
he felt a curious tingling about his ears and realized, to his
consternation, that he was blushing.
She's too droopin' a type for me, said Miss Jim, removing an
ostrich tip from her angle of vision; then she continued in a side
whisper: Say, would you mind making Nick take this bottle of milk at
twelve o'clock, and resting a little? He ain't as strong as he lets on,
and he has sort of sinking spells 'long about noon.
Receiving the bottle thus surreptitiously offered, and assisting the
lady to gather up her bundles, Mr. Opp bowed her out, and turned to
face the embarrassing necessity of giving instructions to his new
employee. He was relieved to find, however, that the young gentleman in
question possessed initiative; for Nick had promptly removed his coat,
and fallen to work, putting things to rights with an energy and ability
that caused Mr. Opp to offer up a prayer of heartfelt gratitude.
All the morning they worked silently, Mr. Opp toiling over his
editorial, with constant references to a small dictionary which he
concealed in the drawer of the table, and Nick giving the presses a
thorough and much-needed overhauling.
At the noon-hour they shared their lunch, and Mr. Opp, firm in the
authority invested in him by Miss Jim, demanded that Nick should drink
his milk, and recline at length upon the office bench for twenty
minutes. It was with great difficulty that Nick was persuaded to submit
to this transferred coddling; but he evidently realized that
insubordination at the start of his career would be fatal, and,
moreover, his limbs ached and his hands trembled.
It was in the intimacy of this, their first, staff meal, that they
discussed the policy of the paper.
Of course, said Mr. Opp, we have got a vast undertaking in front
of us. For the next few months we won't scarcely have time to draw a
natural breath. I am going to put every faculty I own on to making 'The
Opp Eagle' a fine paper. I expect to get here at seven o'clock A.M.,
and continue to pursue my work as far into the midnight hours as may
need be. Nothing in the way of pleasure or anything else is going to
pervert my attention. Of course you understand that my mind will be
taken up with the larger issues of things, and I'll have to risk a
dependence on you to attend to the smaller details.
All right, said Nick, gratefully; you won't be sorry you trusted
me, Mr. Opp. I'll do my level best. When will we get out the first
Wellerthe truth is, said Mr. Opp, I haven't, as you might
say, accumulated sufficient of material as yet. You see, I have a great
many irons in the fire, and besides opening up this office, I am the
president of a company that's just bought up twenty acres of ground
around here. The biggest oil proposition
Yes, sir, interrupted Nick; but don't you think we could get
started in two weeks, with the ads and the contributors' letters from
other counties, and a story or two I could run in, and your editorial
I've got two advertisements, said Mr. Opp; but I don't intend to
rest content until every man in the Cove has got a card in. Now, about
these contributors from other counties?
I can manage that, said Nick. I'll write to some girl or fellow I
know in the different towns, and ask them to give me a weekly letter.
They sign themselves 'Gipsy' or 'Fairy' or 'Big Injun' or something
like that, and tell what's doing in their neighborhood. We'll have to
fix the letters up some, but they help fill in like everything.
Mr. Opp's spirits rose at this capable coöperation.
Youerlike the name? he asked.
'The Opp Eagle'? said Nick. Bully!
Such unqualified approval went to Mr. Opp's head, and he rashly
broke through the dignity that should hedge about an editor.
I don't mind reading you some of my editorial, he said urbanely;
it's the result of considerable labor.
He opened the drawer and took out some loosely written pages, though
he knew each paragraph by heart. Squaring himself in his
revolving-chair, and clearing his throat, he addressed himself
ostensibly to the cadaverous youth stretched at length before him, but
in imagination to all the southern counties of the grand old
Commonwealth of Kentucky.
His various business experiences had stored such an assorted lot of
information in his brain that it was not unlike a country store in the
diversity of its contents. His style, like his apparel, was more ornate
and pretentious than what lay beneath it. There were many words which
he knew by sight, but with which he had no speaking acquaintance. But
Mr. Opp had ideals, and this was the first opportunity he had ever had
to put them before his fellow-men.
The great bird of American Liberty, he read impressively, has
soared and flown over the country and lighted at last in your midst.
'The Opp Eagle' appears for the first time to-day. It is no money
scheme in which we are indulging; we aim first and foremost to fulfil a
much-needed want in the community. 'The Opp Eagle' will tell the people
what you want to know better and at less expense than any other method.
It will aim at bringing the priceless gems of knowledge within the
reach of everybody. For what is bread to the body if you do not also
clothe the mind spiritually and mentally?
We will boom this, our native, city. If possible, I hope to get the
streets cleaned up and a railroad, and mayhap in time lamp-posts. This
region has ever been known for its great and fine natural resources,
but we have been astounded, you might say astonished, in recent visits
to see its naked and crude immensities, which far exceeds our most
sanguine expectations. So confident are we that a few of our most
highly respectable citizens have, at the instigation of the Editor of
'The Opp Eagle,' bought up the land lying between Turtle Creek and the
river, and as soon as a little more capital has been accumulated,
intend to open up a oil proposition that will astonish the eyes of the
In all candor, we truly believe this favored region of ours to have
no equal in underground wealth nowhere upon this terrestrial earth,
albeit we are not of globe-trotter stock nor tribe. We will endeavor to
induce the home people to copy after the wise example of a few of our
leading citizens and buy up oil rights before the kings of Bonanzas
from the Metropolitan cities discover our treasure and wrench it from
our grasp. 'The Opp Eagle' will, moreover, stand for temperance and
reform. We will hurl grape and cannister into the camps of the
saloonatics until they flee the wrath to come. Will also publish a
particular statement of all social entertainments, including weddings,
parties, church socials, and funerals. In conclusion, would say that we
catch this first opportunity to thank you in collective manner herein
for the welcome you have ordained 'The Opp Eagle.'
Mr. Opp came to a close and waited for applause; nor was he
Gee! I wish I could write like that! said Nick, rising on his
elbow. I can do the printing all right, and hustle around for the
news; but I never know how to put on the trimmings.
Mr. Opp laid a hand upon his shoulder; he was fast developing a
fondness for the youth.
It's a gift, he said sympathetically, that I am afraid, my boy,
nobody can't learn you.
Can I come in? said a voice from outside, and Mr. Gallop peeped
around the open door.
Walk in, cried Mr. Opp, while Nick sprang to his feet. We are
just by way of finishing up the work at hand, and have a few minutes of
I just wanted to know if you'd help us get up a town band, said
Mr. Gallop. I told the boys you'd be too busy, but they made me come.
I asked Mr. Fallows if you was musical; but I wouldn't repeat what he
Oh, Jimmy is just naturally humoristic, said Mr. Opp. Go along
and tell me what he remarked.
Well, said Mr. Gallop, indignantly, he said you was a expert on
the wind-pipe! Mr. Tucker, I believe it was, thought you used to play
No, said Mr. Opp; it was the cornet. I was considerable of a
performer at one time.
Well, we want you for the leader of our band, said Mr. Gallop. We
are going to have blue uniforms and give regular concerts up on Main
Nick Fenny began searching for a pencil.
You know, went on Mr. Gallop, rapidly, the last show boat that
was here had a calliope, and there's another one coming next week. All
I have to do is to hear a tune twice, then I can play it. Miss
Guin-never Gusty is going up to Coreyville next week, and she says
she'll get us some new pieces. She's going to select a plush
self-rocker for the congregation to give the new preacher. They're
keeping it awful secret, but I heard 'em mention it over the telephone.
The preacher's baby has been mighty sick, and so has his mother, up at
the Ridge; but she's got well again. Well, I must go along now. Ain't
Before Mr. Opp had ceased showing Mr. Gallop out, his attention was
arrested by the strange conduct of his staff. That indefatigable youth
was writing furiously on the new wall-paper, covering the clean brown
surface with large, scrawling characters.
Mr. Opp's indignation was checked at its source by the radiant face
which Nick turned upon him.
I've got another column! he cried; listen here:
'A new and handsome Show Boat will tie up at the Cove the early
part of next week. A fine calliope will be on board.'
'Miss Guinevere Gusty will visit friends in Coreyville soon.'
'The new preacher will be greatly surprised soon by the gift of a
fine plush rocking-chair from the ladies of the congregation.'
'The infant baby of the new preacher has been sick, but is better
'Jimmy Fallows came near getting an undertaking job at the Ridge
last week, but the lady got well.'
And that ain't all, he continued excitedly; I'm going out now to
get all the particulars about that band, and we'll have a long story
Mr. Opp, left alone in his office, made an unsuccessful effort to
resume work. The fluttering of the Eagle's wings preparatory to
taking flight was not the only thing that interfered with his power of
concentration. He did not at all like the way he felt. Peculiar
symptoms had developed in the last week, and the quinine which he had
taken daily had failed to relieve him. He could not say that he was
sick,in fact, he had never been in better health,but there was a
strange feeling of restlessness, a vague disturbance of his innermost
being, that annoyed and puzzled him. Even as he tried to solve the
problem, an irresistible impulse brought him to his feet and carried
him to the door. Miss Guinevere Gusty was coming out of her gate in a
soft, white muslin, and a chip hat laden with pink roses.
Anything I can do for you up street? she called across pleasantly
to Mr. Opp.
Why, thank youno, the fact iswell, you see, I find it necessary
for me to go up myself. Mr. Opp heard himself saying these words with
great surprise, and when he found himself actually walking out of the
office, leaving a large amount of unfinished work, his indignation knew
The sun is awful hot. Ain't you goin' to wear a hat? drawled Miss
Mr. Opp put his hand to his head in some embarrassment, and then
assured her that he very often went without it.
They sauntered slowly down the dusty road. On one side the trees
hedged them in, but on the other stretched wide fields of tasseled corn
over which shimmered waves of summer heat. White butterflies fluttered
constantly across their path, and overhead, hidden somewhere in the
branches, the birds kept up a constant song. The August sun, still high
in the heavens, shone fiercely down on the open road, on the ragweed by
the wayside, on the black-eyed Susans nodding at the light; but it fell
most mercilessly of all upon the bald spot on the head of the
unconscious Mr. Opp, who was moving, as in an hypnotic state, into the
land of romance.
By all the laws of physics, Mr. Opp during the months that ensued,
should have stood perfectly still. For if ever two forces pulled with
equal strength in opposite directions, love and ambition did in the
heart of our friend the editor. But Mr. Opp did not stand still; on the
contrary, he seemed to be moving in every direction at once.
In due time The Opp Eagle made its initial flight, and received
the approbation of the community. The first page was formal, containing
the editorial, a list of the subscribers, a notice to tax-payers, and
three advertisements, one of which requested the lady public to please
note that the hats put out by Miss Duck Brown do not show the wire
composing the frame.
But the first page of the Eagle was like the front door of a
house: when once you got on the other side of it, you were in the
family, as it were, formality was dropped, and an easy atmosphere of
familiarity prevailed. You read that Uncle Enoch Siller had Sundayed
over at the Ridge, or that Aunt Gussy Williams was on the puny list,
and frequently there were friendly references to Ye Editor or Ye
Quill Driver, for after soaring to dizzy heights in his editorials,
Mr. Opp condescended to come down on the second page and move in and
out of the columns, as a host among his guests.
It is painful to reflect what would have been the fate of the
infatuated Mr. Opp in these days had it not been for the faithful Nick.
Nick's thirst for work was insatiable; he yearned for responsibility,
and was never so happy as when gathering news. He chased an item as a
dog might chase a rat, first scenting it, then hunting it down, and
after mutilating it a bit, proudly returning it to his master.
Mr. Opp was enabled, by this competent assistance, to spare many a
half-hour in consultation with Miss Guinevere Gusty concerning the
reportorial work she was going to do on the paper. The fact that nobody
died or got married delayed all actual performance, but in order to be
ready for the emergency, frequent calls were deemed expedient.
It became part of the day's program to read her his editorial, or
consult her about some social item, or to report a new subscriber, his
self-esteem meanwhile putting forth all manner of new shoots and
bursting into exotic bloom under the warmth of her approval.
Miss Gusty, on her part, was acquiring a new interest in her
surroundings. In addition to the subtle flattery of being consulted,
she was the recipient of daily offerings of books, and music, and
drugstore candy, and sometimes a handful of flowers, carefully
concealed in a newspaper to escape the vigilant eye of Jimmy Fallows.
On several occasions she returned Mr. Opp's calls, picking her way
daintily across the road, and peeping in at the window to make sure he
It was at such times that the staff of The Opp Eagle misconducted
itself. It objected to a young woman in the press-room; it disapproved
of the said person sitting at the deal table in confidential
conversation with the editor; it saw no humor in her dipping the
pencils into the ink-well, and scrawling names on the new office
stationery; and when the point was reached that she moved about the
office, asking absurd questions and handling the type, the staff could
no longer endure it, but hastened forth to forget its annoyance in the
pursuit of business.
Moreover, the conduct of the chief, as Nick was pleased to call Mr.
Opp, was becoming more and more peculiar. He would arrive in the
morning, his pockets bristling with papers, and his mind with projects.
He would attack the work of the day with ferocious intensity, then in
the midst of it, without warning, he would lapse into an apparent
trance, his hands in his pockets, his eyes on the ceiling, and such a
smile on his face as one usually reserves for a camera.
Nick did not know that it was the song of the siren that was calling
Mr. Opp, who, instead of lashing himself to the mast and steering for
the open sea, was letting his little craft drift perilously near the
No feature of the proceedings was lost upon Mrs. Gusty. She applied
the same method to her daughter that she did to her vines, tying her
firmly to the wall of her own ability, and prescribing the direction
and length to which she should grow. The situation would need pruning
later, but for the present she studied conditions and bided her time.
Meanwhile the Eagle was circling more widely in its flight. Mr.
Opp's persistent and eloquent articles pertaining to the great oil
wealth of the region had been reinforced by a favorable report from the
laboratory in the city to which he had sent a specimen from the spring
on Turtle Creek. Thus equipped with wings of hope, and a small ballast
of fact, the Eagle went soaring on its way, and in time attracted the
attention of a party of capitalists who were traveling through the
State, investigating oil and mineral possibilities.
One epoch-making day, the editor was called up over the
long-distance telephone, and, after answering numerous inquiries, was
told that the party expected to spend the following night in the Cove.
This important event took place the last of November, and threw the
town into great excitement. Mr. Opp received the message early in the
morning, and immediately set to work to call a meeting of the Turtle
Creek Land Company.
This here is one of the most critical moments in the history of
Cove City, he announced excitedly to Nick. It's a most fortunate
thing that they've got me here to make the preliminary arrangements,
and to sort of get the thing solidified, as you might say. I'll call a
meeting for eleven o'clock at Your Hotel. You call up old man Hager and
the preacher, and I will undertake to notify Jimmy Fallows and Mr.
The preacher ain't in town; he's out at Smither's Ridge, marrying a
couple. I got the whole notice written out beforehand.
Well, tear it up, said Mr. Opp. I've engaged a special hand to do
all weddings and funerals.
Nick looked hurt; this was the first time his kingdom had been
invaded. He kicked the door sullenly.
I can't get the preacher if he's out at Smither's Ridge.
Nick, said Mr. Opp, equally hurt, is that the way for a
subordinate reporter to talk to a' editor? You don't seem to realize
that this here is a very serious and large transaction. There may be
hundreds of dollars involved. It's a' awful weight of responsibility
for one man. I'm willing to finance it and conduct the main issues, but
I've got to have the backing of all the other parties. Now it's with
you whether the preacher gets there or not.
Shall I hunt up Mat Lucas, too? asked Nick as he started forth.
No; that's my branch of the work: butsayNick, your sister will
have to be there; she owns some shares.
All right, said Nick; her buggy is hitched up in front of
Tucker's. I'll tell her to wait till you come.
Mr. Opp was not long in following. He walked down the road with an
important stride, his bosom scarcely able to accommodate the feeling of
pride and responsibility that swelled it. He was in a position of
trust; his fellow-citizens would look to him, a man of larger
experience and business ability, to deal with these moneyed strangers.
He would be fair, but shrewd. He knew the clever wiles of the
capitalists; he would meet them with calm but unyielding dignity.
It was in this mood that he came upon Miss Jim, who was in the act
of disentangling a long lace scarf from her buggy whip. Her flushed
face and flashing eyes gave such unmistakable signs of wrath that Mr.
Opp glanced apprehensively at the whip in her hand, and then at Jimmy
Fallows, who was hitching her horse.
Howdy, Mr. Opp, she said. It's a pleasure to meet a gentleman,
after what I've seen.
I hope, said Mr. Opp, that our friend here ain't been indulging
in his customary
It ain't Mr. Fallows, she broke in sharply; it's Mr. Tucker. He
ain't got the feeling of a broomstick.
Now, Miss Jim, began Jimmy Fallows in a teasing tone; but the lady
turned her back upon him and addressed Mr. Opp.
You see this portrait, she said angrily, pulling it out from under
the seat. It took me four weeks, including two Sunday afternoons, to
make it. I begun it the second week after Mrs. Tucker died, when I seen
him takin' on so hard at church. He was cryin' so when they took up the
collection that he never even seen the plate pass him. I went right
home and set to work on this here portrait, thinking he'd be glad and
willing to buy it from me. Wouldn't you, if you was a widower?
Mr. Opp gazed doubtfully at the picture, which represented Mr.
Tucker sitting disconsolately beside a grave, with a black-bordered
handkerchief held lightly between his fingers. A weeping-willow drooped
above him, and on the tombstone at his side were two angels supporting
the initials of the late Mrs. Tucker.
Why, Miss Jim, insisted Fallows, you're askin' too much of old
man Tucker to expect him to keep on seein' a tombstone when he's got
one eye on you and one eye on the Widow Gusty. He ain't got any hair on
top of his head to part, but he's took to partin' it down the back, and
I seen him Sunday trying to read the hymns without his spectacles. He
started up on 'Let a Little Sunshine In' when they was singing 'Come,
ye Disconsolate.' You rub out the face and the initials on that there
picture and keep it for the nex' widower. Ketch him when he's still
droopin'. You'll get your money back. Your mistake was in waiting too
Speaking of waiting, said Mr. Opp, impatiently, there's a call
meeting of the Turtle Creek Land Co. for this morning at eleven at Your
Hotel. Hope it's convenient, Jimmy.
Oh, yes, said Jimmy; we got more empty chairs at Your Hotel than
anything else. What's the meeting for? Struck gold?
Mr. Opp imparted the great news.
Oh, my land! exclaimed Miss Jim, will they be here to-day?
Not until to-morrow night, explained Mr. Opp. This here meeting
this morning is for the stock-holders only. We got to kinder outline
our policy and arrange a sort of basis of operation.
Well, said Miss Jim, I'll take the portrait up to Mrs. Gusty's
and ask her to take care of it for me. I don't know as I can do the
face over into somebody else's, but I can't afford to lose it.
It was afternoon before the stock-holders could all be brought
together. They assembled in the office of Your Hotel in varying states
of mind ranging from frank skepticism to intense enthusiasm.
Mr. Tucker represented the conservative element. He was the rich man
of the town, with whom economy, at first a necessity, had become a
luxury. No greater proof could have been desired of Mr. Opp's
persuasive powers than that Mr. Tucker had invested in a hundred shares
of the new stock. He sat on the edge of his chair, wizen, anxious,
fidgety, loaded with objections, and ready to go off half-cocked. Old
man Hager sat in his shadow, objecting when he objected, voting as he
voted, and prepared to loosen or tighten his purse-strings as Mr.
Mat Lucas and Miss Jim were independents. They had both had
sufficient experience in business to know their own minds. If there was
any money to be made in the Cove or about it, they intended to have a
part in it.
Mr. Opp and the preacher constituted the Liberal party. They
furnished the enthusiasm that floated the scheme. They were able to
project themselves into the future and prophesy dazzling probabilities.
Jimmy Fallows, alone of the group, maintained an artistic attitude
toward the situation. He was absolutely detached. He sat with his chair
tilted against the door and his thumbs in his armholes, and treated the
whole affair as a huge joke.
The matter up for immediate consideration, Mr. Opp was saying
impressively, is whether these here gentlemen should want to buy us
out, we would sell, or whether we would remain firm in possession, and
let them lease our ground and share the profits on the oil.
Well, I'm kinder in favor of selling out if we get the chance,
urged Mr. Tucker in a high, querulous voice. To sell on a rising
market is always a pretty good plan.
After we run up ag'in' them city fellows, said Mat Lucas, I'll be
surprised if we git as much out as we put in.
Gentlemen, protested Mr. Opp, this here ain't the attitude to
assume to the affair. To my profoundest belief there is a fortune in
these here lands. The establishment of 'The Opp Eagle' has, as you
know, been a considerable tax on my finances, but everything else I've
got has gone into this company. It's a great and glorious opportunity,
one that I been predicting and prophesying for these many years. Are we
going to sell out to this party, and let them reap the prize? No; I
trust and hope that such is not the case. In order to have more capital
to open up the mines, I advocate the taking of them in.
I bet they been advocating the taking of us in, chuckled Jimmy.
Well, my dear friends, suppose we vote on it, suggested the
Reach yer hand back there in the press, Mr. Opp, and git the
lead-pencil, said Jimmy, without moving.
The motion before the house, said Mr. Opp, is whether we will
sell out or take 'em in. All in favor say 'Aye.'
There was a unanimous vote in the affirmative, although each member
interpreted the motion in his own way.
Very well, said Mr. Opp, briskly; the motion is carried. Now we
got to arrange about entertaining the party.
Mr. Tucker, whose brain was an accommodation stopping at each
station, was still struggling with the recent motion when this new
thought about entertainment whizzed past. The instinct of the landlord
awoke at the call, and he promptly switched off the main line and went
down the side track.
Gallop was here while ago, Jimmy was saying, with a satisfied
glance at Mr. Tucker; said they wanted me to take keer of 'em. I'll
'commodate all but the preachers. If there are any preachers, Mr.
Tucker kin have 'em. I have to draw the line somewheres. I can't stand
'em 'Brother-Fallowsing' me. Last time the old woman corralled one and
brought him home, he was as glad to find me to work on as she'd 'a'
be'n to git some fruit to preserve. 'Brother,' he says, reaching out
for my hand, 'do you ever think about the awful place you are going to
when you die?' 'You bet,' says I; 'I got more friends there than
anywhere.' And Jimmy's laugh shook the stove-pipe.
How many gentlemen are coming to-morrow? asked Miss Jim, who was
sitting in a corner as far as possible from Mr. Tucker.
Ten, said Jimmy. Now, you wouldn't think it, but this here hotel
has got six bedrooms. I've tooken care of as many as twenty at a time,
easy, but I'll be hanged if I ever heard of such foolishness as every
one of these fellers wantin' a room to hisself.
I've got three rooms empty, said Mr. Tucker.
Well, that leaves one over, said Mat Lucas. I'd take him out
home, but we've got company, and are sleeping three in a bed now.
Mr. Opp hesitated; then his hospitality overcame his discretion.
Just consider him my guest, he said. I'll be very pleased to
provide entertainment for the gentleman in question.
Not until the business of the day was over, and Mr. Opp was starting
home, did he realize how tired he was. It was not his duties as an
editor, or even as a promoter, that were telling on him; it was his
domestic affairs that preyed upon his mind. For Mr. Opp not only led a
strenuous life by day, but by night as well. Miss Kippy's day began
with his coming home, and ended in the morning when he went away; the
rest of the time she waited.
Just now the problem that confronted him was the entertainment of
the expected guest. Never, since he could remember, had a stranger
invaded that little world where Miss Kippy lived her unreal life of
dreams. What effect would it have upon her? Would it be kinder to hide
her away as something he was ashamed of, or to let her appear and run
the risk of exposing her deficiency to uncaring eyes? During the months
that he had watched her, a fierce tenderness had sprung up in his
heart. He had become possessed of the hope that she might be rescued
from her condition. Night after night he patiently tried to teach her
to read and to write, stopping again and again to humor her whims and
indulge her foolish fancies. More than once he had surprised a new look
in her eyes, a sudden gleam of sanity, of frightened understanding; and
at such times she would cling to him for protection against that
strange thing that was herself.
As he trudged along, deep in thought, a white chrysanthemum fell at
his feet. Looking up, he discovered Miss Guinevere Gusty, in a red
cloak and hat, sitting on the bank with a band-box in her lap.
His troubles were promptly swallowed up in the heart-quake which
ensued; but his speech was likewise, and he stood foolishly opening and
shutting his mouth, unable to effect a sound.
I am waiting for the packet to go down to Coreyville, announced
Miss Gusty, straightening her plumed hat, and smiling. Mr. Gallop says
it's an hour late; but I don't care, it's such a grand day.
Mr. Opp removed his eyes long enough to direct an inquiring glance
at the heavens and the earth. Is it? he asked, finding his voice. I
been so occupied with business that I haven't scarcely taken occasion
to note the weather.
Why, it's all soft and warm, just like spring, she continued,
holding out her arms and looking up at the sky. I've been wishing I
had time to walk along the river a piece.
I'll take you, said Mr. Opp, eagerly. We can hear the whistle of
the boat in amply sufficient time to get back. Besides, it is a hour
She hesitated. You're real sure you can get me back?
Perfectly, he announced. I might say in all my experience I never
have yet got a lady left on a boat.
Miss Guinevere, used to being guided, handed him her band-box, and
followed him up the steep bank.
The path wound in and out among the trees, now losing itself in the
woods, now coming out upon the open river. The whole world was a riot
of crimson and gold, and it was warm with that soft echo of summer that
brings some of its sweetness, and all of its sadness, but none of its
Mr. Opp walked beside his divinity oblivious to all else. The
sunlight fell unnoticed except when it lay upon her face; the only
breeze that blew from heaven was the one that sent a stray curl
floating across her cheek. As Mr. Opp walked, he talked, putting forth
every effort to please. His burning desire to be worthy of her led him
into all manner of verbal extravagances, and the mere fact that she was
taller than he caused him to indulge in more lofty and figurative
language. He captured fugitive quotations, evolved strange metaphors,
coined words, and poured all in a glittering heap of eloquence before
As he talked, his companion moved heedlessly along beside him,
stopping now and then to gather a spray of goldenrod, or to gaze
absently at the river through some open space in the trees. For Miss
Guinevere Gusty lived in a world of her owna world of vague
possibilities, of half-defined longings, and intangible dreams. Love
was still an abstract sentiment, something radiant and breathless that
might envelop her at any moment and bear her away to Elysium.
As she stooped to free her skirt from a detaining thorn, she pointed
down the bank.
There's some pretty sweet-gum leaves; I wish they weren't so far
Where? demanded Mr. Opp, rashly eager to prove his gallantry.
'Way down over the edge; but you mustn't go, it's too steep.
Not for me, said Mr. Opp, plunging boldly through the underbrush.
The tree grew at a sharp angle over the water, and the branches were
so far up that it was necessary to climb out a short distance in order
to reach them. Mr. Opp's soul was undoubtedly that of a knight-errant,
but his body, alas! was not. When he found himself astride the slender,
swaying trunk, with the bank dropping sharply to the river flowing
dizzily beneath him, he went suddenly and unexpectedly blind. Between
admiration for himself for ever having gotten there, and despair of
ever getting back, lay the present necessity of loosening his hold long
enough to break off a branch of the crimson leaves. He tried opening
one eye, but the effect was so terrifying that he promptly closed it.
He pictured himself, a few moments before, strolling gracefully along
the road conversing brilliantly upon divers subjects; then he bitterly
considered the present moment and the effect he must be producing upon
the young lady in the red cloak on the path above. He saw himself
clinging abjectly to the swaying tree-trunk, only waiting for his
strength or the tree to give away, before he should be plunged into the
That's a pretty spray, called the soft voice from above; that one
above, to the left.
Mr. Opp, rallying all his courage, reached blindly out in the
direction indicated, and as he did so, he realized that annihilation
was imminent. Demonstrating a swift geometrical figure in the air, he
felt himself hurling through space, coming to an abrupt and awful pause
when he struck the earth. Perceiving with a thrill of surprise that he
was still alive, he cautiously opened his eyes. To his further
amazement he found that he had landed on his feet, unhurt, and that in
his left hand he held a long branch of sweet-gum leaves.
Why, you skinned the cat, didn't you? called an admiring voice
from above. I was just wondering how you was ever going to get down.
Mr. Opp crawled up the slippery bank, his knees trembling so that he
could scarcely stand.
Yes, he said, as he handed her the leaves; those kind of athletic
acts seem to just come natural to some people.
You must be awful strong, continued Guinevere, looking at him with
Mr. Opp sank beside her on the bank and gave himself up to the full
enjoyment of the moment. Both hands were badly bruised, and he had a
dim misgiving that his coat was ripped up the back; but he was happy,
with the wild, reckless happiness of one to whom Fate has been
unexpectedly kind. Moreover, the goal toward which all his thought had
been rushing for the past hour was in sight. He could already catch
glimpses of the vision beautiful. He could hear himself storming the
citadel with magic words of eloquence. Meanwhile he nursed the band-box
and smiled dumbly into space.
From far below, the pungent odor of burning leaves floated up, and
the air was full of a blue haze that became luminous as the sun
transfused it. It enveloped the world in mystery, and threw a glamour
over the dying day.
It's so pretty it hurts, said the girl, clasping her hands about
her knees. I love to watch it all, but it makes the shivers go over
memakes me feel sort of lonesome. Don't it you?
Mr. Opp shook his head emphatically. It was the one time in years
that down in the depths of his soul he had not felt lonesome. For as
Indian summer had come back to earth, so youth had come back to Mr.
Opp. The flower of his being was waking to bloom, and the spring tides
were at flood.
A belated robin overhead, unable longer to contain his rapture,
burst into song; but Mr. Opp, equally full of his subject, was unable
to utter a syllable. The sparkling eloquence and the fine phrases had
evaporated, and only the bare truth was left.
Guinevere, having become aware of the very ardent looks that were
being cast upon her, said she thought the boat must be about due.
Oh, no, said Mr. Opp; that is, I was about to saywhyersay,
Miss Guin-never, do you think you could ever come to keer about me?
Guinevere, thus brought to bay, took refuge in subterfuge. WhyMr.
OppI'm not old enough for you.
Yes, you are, he burst forth fervently. You are everything for
me: old enough, and beautiful enough, and smart enough, and sweet
enough. I never beheld a human creature that could even begin to think
about comparing with you.
Guinevere, in the agitation of the moment, nervously plucked all the
leaves from the branch that had been acquired with such effort. It was
with difficulty that she finally managed to lift her eyes.
You've been mighty good to me, she faltered, andand made me
lots happier; but II don't care in the way you mean.
Is there anybody else? demanded Mr. Opp, ready to hurl himself to
destruction if she answered in the affirmative.
Oh, no, she answered him; there never has been anybody.
[Illustration: 'Why, Mr. Opp, I'm not old enough']
Then I'll take my chance, said Mr. Opp, expanding his narrow
chest. Whatever I've got out of the world I've had to fight for. I
don't mind saying to you that I was sorter started out with a handicap.
You know my sistershe's awell, a' invalid, you might say, and while
her pa was living, my fortunes wasn't what you might call as favorable
as they are at present. I never thought there would be any use in my
considering getting married till I met you, then I didn't seem able
somehow to consider nothing else. If you'll just let me, I'll wait.
I'll learn you to care. I won't bother you, but just wait patient as
long as you say. And this from Mr. Opp, whose sands of life were
already half-run! All I ask for, he went on wistfully, is a little
sign now and then. You might give me a little look or something just to
keep the time from seeming too long.
It was almost a question, and as he leaned toward her, with the
sunlight in his eyes, something of the beauty of the day touched him,
too, just as it touched the weed at his feet, making them both for one
transcendent moment part of the glory of the world.
Guinevere Gusty, already in love with love, and reaching blindly out
for something deeper and finer in her own life, was suddenly engulfed
in a wave of sympathy. She involuntarily put out her hand and touched
The sun went down behind the distant shore, and the light faded on
the river. Mr. Opp was almost afraid to breathe; he sat with his eyes
on the far horizon, and that small, slender hand in his, and for the
moment the world was fixed in its orbit, and Time itself stood still.
Suddenly out of the silence came the long, low whistle of the boat.
They scrambled to their feet and hurried down the path, Mr. Opp having
some trouble in keeping up with the nimbler pace of the girl.
I'll be calculatin' every minute until the arrival of the boat
to-morrow night, he was gasping as they came within sight of the
wharf. I'll be envyin' every
Where's my band-box? demanded Guinevere. Why, Mr. Opp, if you
haven't gone and left it up in the woods!
Five minutes later, just as the bell was tapping for the boat to
start, a flying figure appeared on the wharf. He was hatless and
breathless, his coat was ripped from collar to hem, and a large
band-box flapped madly against his legs as he ran. He came down the
home-stretch at a record-breaking pace, stepped on board as the
gang-plank was lifted, deposited his band-box on the deck, then with a
running jump cleared the rapidly widening space between the boat and
the shore, and dropped upon the wharf.
He continued waving his handkerchief even after the boat had rounded
the curve, then, having edited a paper, promoted a large enterprise,
effected a proposal, and performed two remarkable athletic stunts all
in the course of a day, Mr. Opp turned his footsteps toward home.
The next day dawned wet and chilly. A fine mist hung in the trees,
and the leaves and grasses sagged under their burden of moisture. All
the crimson and gold had changed to brown and gray, and the birds and
crickets had evidently packed away their chirps and retired for the
By the light of a flickering candle, Mr. D. Webster Opp partook of a
frugal breakfast. The luxurious habits of the Moore household had made
breakfast a movable feast depending upon the time of Aunt Tish's
arrival, and in establishing the new régime Mr. Opp had found it
necessary to prepare his own breakfast in order to make sure of getting
to the office before noon.
As he sipped his warmed-over coffee, with his elbows on the red
table-cloth, and his heels hooked on the rung of the chair, he recited
to himself in an undertone from a very large and imposing book which
was propped in front of him, the leaves held back on one side by a
candlestick and on the other by a salt-cellar. It was a book which Mr.
Opp was buying on subscription, and it was called An Encyclopedia of
Wonder, Beauty, and Wisdom. It contained pellets of information on all
subjects, and Mr. Opp made it a practice to take several before
breakfast, and to repeat the dose at each meal as circumstances
permitted. An editor, he told Nick, has got to keep himself
instructed on all subjects. He has got to read wide and continuous.
As a rule he followed no special line in his pursuit of knowledge,
but with true catholicity of taste, took the items as they came,
turning from a strenuous round with Abbeys and Abbots, to enter with
fervor into the wilds of Abyssinia. The straw which served as
bookmark pointed to-day to Ants, and ordinarily Mr. Opp would have
attacked the subject with all the enthusiasm of an entomologist. But
even the best regulated minds will at times play truant, and Mr. Opp's
had taken a flying leap and skipped six hundred and thirty-two pages,
landing recklessly in the middle of Young Lochinvar. For the
encyclopedia, in its laudable endeavor not only to cover all
intellectual requirements, but also to add the crowning grace of
culture, had appended a collection of poems under the title Favorites,
Old and New.
Mr. Opp, thus a-wing on the winds of poesy, had sipped his tepid
coffee and nibbled his burnt toast in fine abstraction until he came
upon a selection which his soul recognized. He had found words to the
music that was ringing in his heart. It was then that he propped the
book open before him, and determined not to close it until he had made
the lines his own.
Later, as he trudged along the road to town, he repeated the verses
to himself, patiently referring again and again to the note-book in
which he had copied the first words of each line.
At the office door he regretfully dismounted from Pegasus, and
resolutely turned his attention to the business of the day. His desire
was to complete the week's work by noon, spend the afternoon at home in
necessary preparation for the coming guest, and have the following day,
which was Saturday, free to devote to the interest of the oil company.
In order to accomplish this, expedition was necessary, and Mr. Opp,
being more bountifully endowed by nature with energy than with any
other quality, fell to work with a will. His zeal, however, interfered
with his progress, and he found himself in the embarrassing condition
of a machine which is geared too high.
He was, moreover, a bit bruised and stiff from the unusual
performances of the previous day, and any sudden motion caused him to
wince. But the pain brought recollection, and recollection was instant
It was hardly to be expected that things would deviate from their
usual custom of becoming involved at a critical time, so Mr. Opp was
not surprised when Nick was late and had to be spoken to, a task which
the editor always achieved with great difficulty. Then the
printing-press had an acute attack of indigestion, and no sooner was
that relieved than the appalling discovery was made that there were no
more good S's in the type drawer.
Use dollar-marks for the next issue, directed Mr. Opp, and I'll
wire immediate to the city.
We're kinder short on 'I's' too, said Nick. You take so many in
Mr. Opp looked injured. I very seldom or never begin on an 'I,' he
You get 'em in somehow, said Nick. Why, the editor over at
Coreyville even said 'Our Wife.'
Yes, said Mr. Opp, I will, too,that iser
The telephone-bell covered his retreat.
Hello! he answered in a deep, incisive voice to counteract the
effect of his recent embarrassment, Office of 'The Opp Eagle.' Mr.
Toddlinger? Yes, sir. You say you want your subscription stopped! Well,
now, wait a minutesee here, I can explain that but the other party
had evidently rung off.
Mr. Opp turned with exasperation upon Nick:
Do you know what you went and did last week? He rose and, going to
the file, consulted the top paper. There it is, he said, just
identical with what he asserted.
Nick followed the accusing finger and read:
Mr. and Mrs. Toddlinger moved this week into their new horse and
Before explanations could be entered into, there was a knock at the
door. When it was answered, a very small black boy was discovered
standing on the step. He wore a red shirt and a pair of ragged
trousers, between which strained relations existed, and on his head was
the brim of a hat from which the crown had long since departed. Hanging
on a twine string about his neck was a large onion.
He opened negotiations at once.
Old Miss says fer you-all to stop dat frowin' papers an' sech like
trash outen de winder; dey blows over in our-all's yard.
He delivered the message in the same belligerent spirit with which
it had evidently been conveyed to him, and rolled his eyes at Mr. Opp
as if the offense had been personal.
Mr. Opp drew him in, and closed the door. Diderdid Mrs. Gusty
send you over to say that? he asked anxiously.
Yas, sir; she done havin' a mad spell. What's dat dere machine
It's a printing-press. Do you think Mrs. Gusty is mad at me?
Yas, sir, emphatically; she's mad at ever'body. She 'lows
she gwine lick me ef I don't tek keer. She done got de kitchen so full
o' switches hit looks jes lak outdoors.
I don't think she would really whip you, said Mr. Opp, already
feeling the family responsibility.
Naw, sir; she jes 'low she gwine to. What's in dem dere little
Type, said Mr. Opp. You go back and tell Mrs. Gusty that Mr. Opp
says he's very sorry to have caused her any inconvenience, and he'll
send over immediate and pick up them papers.
You's kinder skeered of her, too, ain't you? grinned the
ambassador, holding up one bare, black foot to the stove. My mammy she
sasses back, but I runs.
Well, you'd better run now, said Mr. Opp, who resented such
insight; but, see here, what's that onion for?
To 'sorb disease, said the youth, with the air of one who is
promulgating some advanced theory in therapeutics; hit ketches it
'stid of you. My pappy weared a' onion fer put-near a whole year, an'
hit 'sorbed all de diseases whut was hangin' round, an' nary a one
never teched him. An' one day my pappy he got hongry, an' he et dat
dere onion, an' whut you reckon? He up an' died!
Well, you go 'long now, said Mr. Opp, and tell Mrs. Gusty just
exactly verbatim what I told you. What did you say was your name?
Val, said the boy.
Mr. Opp managed to slip a nickel into the dirty little hand without
Nick's seeing him. Nick was rather firm about these things, and
disapproved heartily of Mr. Opp's indiscriminate charities.
Gimme nudder one an' I'll tell you de rest ob it, whispered Val on
Mr. Opp complied.
Valentine Day Johnson, he announced with pride; then pocketing his
prize, he vanished around the corner of the house, forgetting his
office of plenipotentiary in his sudden accession of wealth.
Once more peace settled on the office, and Mr. Opp was engrossed in
an article on The Greatest Petroleum Proposition South of the Mason
and Dixon Line, when an ominous, wheezing cough announced the arrival
of Mr. Tucker. This was an unexpected catastrophe, for Mr. Tucker's day
for spending the morning at the office was Saturday, when he came in to
pay for his paper. It seemed rather an unkind trick of Fate's that he
should have been permitted to arrive a day too soon.
The old gentleman drew up a chair to the stove, then deliberately
removed his overcoat and gloves.
It was when he took off his overshoes, however, that Mr. Opp and
Nick exchanged looks of despair. They had a signal code which they
habitually employed when storms swept the office, but in a calm like
this they were powerless.
Mighty sorry to hear about that uprisin' in Guatemala, said Mr.
Tucker, who took a vivid interest in foreign affairs, but remained
quite neutral about questions at home.
Mr. Opp moved about the office restlessly, knowing from experience
that to sit down in the presence of Mr. Tucker was fatal. The only
chance of escape lay in motion. He sharpened his pencils, straightened
his desk, and tied up two bundles of papers while Mr. Tucker's address
on the probable future of the Central American republics continued.
Then Mr. Opp was driven to extreme measures. He sent himself a
telegram. This ruse was occasionally resorted to, to free the office
from unwelcome visitors without offending them, and served incidentally
to produce an effect which was not unpleasant to the editor.
Scribbling a message on a telegraph-blank procured for the purpose
from Mr. Gallop, Mr. Opp handed it secretly to Nick, who in turn
vanished out of the back door only to reappear at the front. Then the
editor, with much ostentation, opened the envelop, and, after reading
the contents, declared that he had business that would require
immediate action. Would Mr. Tucker excuse him? If so, Nick would hold
But, protested Mr. Tucker, resisting the effort to force him into
his overcoat, I want to talk over this oil business. We don't want to
take any risks with those fellows. As I was a-saying to Mr. Hager
Yes, said Mr. Opp, taking his own hat from a nail, and apparently
in great haste, I know, of course. You are exactly right about it.
We'll just talk it over as we go up-street, and linking his arm
through Mr. Tucker's, he steered him up the muddy channel of Main
Street, and safely into the harbor of Our Hotel, where he anchored him
breathless, but satisfied.
Having thus disposed, to the best of his ability, of his business
for the week, Mr. Opp turned his attention to his yet more arduous
domestic affairs. The menu for the guest's dinner had weighed rather
heavily upon him all day, for he had never before entertained in his
own home. His heart had been set on turkey; but as that was out of the
question, he compromised on a goose, adhering tenaciously to the
It was easier to decide on the goose than it was to procure it, and
some time was consumed in the search. Mr. Opp brought all his mental
powers to bear on the subject, and attacked the problem with a zeal
that merited success.
When he reached home at noon with his arm full of bundles, Aunt Tish
met him with lamentations.
Dey ain't but one clean table-cloth, an' hit's got a hole in hit,
an' I can't find no sheets to put on de company baid, an' dere ain't
three cups an' saucers in de house what belongs to theyselves. I
shorely doan know what you thinkin' 'bout, Mr. D., to go an' ast
company fer. We-all never does hab company. An' Miss Kippy she be'n
habin' a sort er spell, too, cryin' to herself, an' won't tell me
whut's de matter.
Mr. Opp shook the raindrops from his hat-brim, and laid the goose
tenderly on the table; then he stepped inside the dining-room door, and
stood watching the childish figure that sat on the floor before the
fire. She was putting artificial flowers on her head, and every time
they fell off, she dropped her head on her knees and sobbed softly to
herself. Again and again she made the experiment, and again and again
the faded roses came tumbling into her lap.
I'll fix 'em, said Mr. Opp, coming up behind her; don't you cry
about it, Kippy; I can make them stay, easy. He searched around in the
clothes-press until he found a paper box, which he tied securely upon
Miss Kippy's head.
Now try it, he cried; put the flowers on your head; they'll
Timidly, as if afraid of another disappointment, she tried, and when
the flowers were caught in the box, she gave a sigh of satisfaction and
Well, sence I j'ined de church! exclaimed Aunt Tish, who had been
watching proceedings from the doorway; then she added, as Mr. Opp came
into the hall: Hit beats my time de way you handles dat pore chile.
Sometimes she got jes good sense as you an' me has. She ast me t'other
day if she wasn't crazy. I 'lowed no indeedy, dat crazy folks was lock
up in a lunatic asylum. An' she says 'Where?' 'Up at Coreyville,' I
say. She went on playin' jes as nice and happy. De chile's all right ef
she don't git a fool notion; den dey ain't nobody kin make out what she
wants inceptin' you. She been cryin' over dem flowers ever sence
Why didn't you come after me? demanded Mr. Opp.
Jes to tie a box on her haid? asked Aunt Tish. Lor', I thought
you was busy makin' dem newspapers.
So I am, said Mr. Opp, but whenever Miss Kippy gets to crying, I
want you to come direct after me, do you hear? There ain't anything
more important than in keeping her from getting worried. Now, let's
have a look at that there table-cloth.
All afternoon Mr. Opp encountered difficulties that would have
disheartened a less courageous host. With the limited means at hand it
seemed impossible to entertain in a manner befitting the dignity of the
editor of The Opp Eagle. But Mr. Opp, though sorely perplexed, was
not depressed, for beneath the disturbed surface of his thoughts there
ran an undercurrent of pure joy. It caused him to make strange,
unnatural sounds in his throat which he meant for song; it made him
stop every now and then in his work to glance tenderly and
reminiscently at the palm of his right hand, once even going so far as
to touch it softly with his lips. For since the last sun had set there
had been no waking moment but had held for him the image of a golden
world inhabited solely by a pair of luminous eyes, one small hand, and,
it must be added, a band-box.
Through the busy afternoon Mr. Opp referred constantly to his watch,
and in spite of the manifold duties to be performed, longed impatiently
for evening to arrive. At five o'clock he had moved the furniture from
one bedroom to another, demonstrated beyond a possibility of doubt that
a fire could not be made in the parlor grate without the chimney
smoking, mended two chairs, hung a pair of curtains, and made three
errands to town. So much accomplished, he turned his attention to the
most difficult task of all.
Kippy, he said, going to the window where she was gleefully
tracing the course of the raindrops as they chased down the pane. Stop
a minute, Kippy. Listen; I want to talk to you.
Miss Kippy turned obediently, but her lips continued the dumb
conversation she was having with the rain.
How would you like, said Mr. Opp, approaching the subject
cautiously, to play like you was a grown-up ladyjust for to-night,
Miss Kippy looked at him suspiciously, and her lips stopped moving.
Heretofore she had resisted all efforts to change her manner of dress.
There's a gentleman a-coming, continued Mr. Opp, persuasively;
he's going to remain over till to-morrow, and Aunt Tish is cooking
that large goose for him, and I've been fixing up the spare room. We
are all endeavoring to give him a nice time. Don't you want to dress up
Will it make him glad? asked Miss Kippy.
Mr. Opp expiated on the enjoyment it would give the unknown guest to
see Kippy in the blue merino dress which Aunt Tish had gotten out of
Mrs. Opp's old trunk up-stairs.
And you'll let Aunt Tish arrange your hair up like a lady? went on
Mr. Opp, pushing the point.
Yes, said Miss Kippy, after a moment, Oxety will. She will make
Good! said Mr. Opp. And if you will sit nice and quiet and never
say a word all through supper, I'll get you a book with pictures in it,
representing flowers and things.
Roses? asked Miss Kippy, drawing a quick breath of delight; and
when Mr. Opp nodded, she closed her eyes and smiled as if heaven were
within sight. For Miss Kippy was like a harp across which some rough
hand had swept, snapping all the strings but two, the high one of
ecstasy and the low one of despair.
At six o'clock Mr. Opp went up to make his toilet. The rain, which
had been merely rehearsing all day, was now giving a regular
performance, and it played upon the windows, and went trilling through
the gutters on the roof, while the old cedar-tree scraped an
accompaniment on the corner of the porch below. But, nothing daunted,
Mr. Opp donned his bravest attire. Cyclones and tornadoes could not
have deterred him from making the most elaborate toilet at his command.
To be sure, he turned up the hem of his trousers and tied a piece of
oilcloth securely about each leg, and he also spread a handkerchief
tenderly over his pink necktie; but these could be easily removed after
he heard the boat whistle.
He dressed by the light of a sputtering candle before a small mirror
the veracity of which was more than questionable. It presented him to
himself as a person with a broad, flat face, the nose of which appeared
directly between his eyes, and the mouth on a line with the top of his
ears. But he made allowances for these idiosyncrasies on the part of
the mirror; in fact, he made such liberal allowances that he was quite
satisfied with the reflection.
I'll procure the hack to bring the company back in, he said to
Aunt Tish rather nervously as he passed through the kitchen. You
assist Miss Kippy to get arranged, and I'll carry up the coal and set
the table after I return back home. I can do it while the company is up
in his room.
All the way into town, as he splashed along the muddy road, he was
alternately dreading the arrival of one passenger, and anticipating
joyfully, the arrival of another. For as the time approached the
impending presence of the company began to take ominous form, and Mr.
Opp grew apprehensive.
At the landing he found everything dark and quiet. Evidently the
packet was unusually late, and the committee appointed to meet it and
conduct the guests to their various destinations was waiting somewhere
uptown, probably at Your Hotel. Mr. Opp paused irresolute: his soul
yearned for solitude, but the rain-soaked dock offered no shelter
except the slight protection afforded by a pile of empty boxes.
Selecting the driest and largest of these, he turned it on end, and by
an adroit adjustment of his legs, succeeded in getting inside.
Below, the river rolled heavily past in the twilight, sending up
tiny juts of water to meet the pelting rain. A cold, penetrating mist
clung to the ground, and the wind carried complaining tales from earth
to heaven. Everything breathed discomfort, but Mr. Opp knew it not.
His soul was sailing sunlit seas of bliss, fully embarked at last
upon the most magic and immortal of all illusions. Sitting cramped and
numb in his narrow quarters, he peered eagerly into the darkness,
watching for the first lights of the Sunny South to twinkle
through the gloom. And as he watched he chanted in a sing-song ecstasy:
She is coming, my own, my sweet;
Were it ever so airy a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead;
Would start and tremble under her feet,
And blossom in purple and red.
When Miss Guinevere Gusty tripped up the gang-plank of the Sunny
South late that afternoon, vainly trying to protect herself from
the driving rain, she was met half-way by the gallant old captain.
Tradition had it that the captain had once cast a favorable eye upon
her mother; but Mrs. Gusty, being cross-eyed, had looked elsewhere.
We are a pudding without plums, he announced gaily, as he held the
umbrella at an angle calculated to cause a waterspout in the crown of
her hatnot a lady on board. All we needed was a beautiful young
person like you to liven us up. You haven't forgotten those pretty
tunes you played for me last trip, have you?
Guinevere laughed, and shook her head. That was just for you and
the girls, she said.
Well, it'll be for me and the boys this time. I've got a nice lot
of gentlemen on board, going down to your place, by the way, to buy up
all your oil-lands. Now I know you are going to play for us if I ask
My goodness! are they on this boat? asked Guinevere, in a flutter.
I am so glad; I just love to watch city people.
Yes, said the captain; that was Mr. Mathews talking to me as you
came aboardthe one with the white beard. Everything that man touches
turns to money. That glum-looking young fellow over there is his
secretary. Hinton is his name; curious sort of chap.
Guinevere followed his glance with eager interest. The solemn one
with the cap pulled over his eyes? she asked.
The captain nodded. All the rest are inside playing cards and
having a good time; but he's been moping around like that ever since
they got on board. I've got to go below now, but when I come back,
you'll play some for me, won't you?
Guinevere protested violently, but something within her whispered
that if the captain was very insistent she would render the selection
which had won her a gold medal at the last commencement.
Slipping into the saloon, she dropped quietly into one of the very
corpulent chairs which steamboats particularly affect, and, unobserved,
proceeded to give herself up to the full enjoyment of the occasion. The
journey from Coreyville to the Cove, in the presence of the
distinguished strangers, had assumed the nature of an adventure. Giving
her imagination free rein, Miss Gusty, without apology, transported the
commonplace group of business men at the card-table into the wildest
realms of romance. The fact that their language, appearance, and manner
spoke of the city, was for her a sufficient peg upon which to hang
innumerable conjectures. So deep was she in her speculations that she
did not hear the captain come up behind her.
Where have you been hiding? he asked in stentorian tones. I was
afraid you'd gotten out on deck and the wind had blown you overboard.
Don't you think it's about time for that little tune? We are forty
minutes late now, and we'll lose another half-hour taking on freight at
Smither's Landing. I've been banking on hearing that little dance-piece
you played for me before.
I can't playbefore them, said Guinevere, nervously.
The captain laughed. Yes, you can; they'll like it. Mr. Mathews
said something mighty pretty about you when you came on board.
He didn'thonest? said Guinevere, blushing. Oh, truly, Captain,
I can't play! But even as she spoke she unbuttoned her gloves. Her
accomplishment was clamoring for an exhibition, and though her spirit
failed her, she twirled the piano-stool and took her seat.
The group of men at the table, heretofore indifferent to
proceedings, looked up when a thundering chord broke the stillness. A
demure young girl, with gentle, brown eyes, was making a furious and
apparently unwarranted attack upon the piano. Her one desire evidently
was to get inside of the instrument. With insinuating persistence she
essayed an entrance through the treble, and, being unable to effect it,
fell upon the bass, and exhausted a couple of rounds of ammunition
there. The assault on both flanks being unsuccessful, she resorted to
strategy, crossing her hands and assailing each wing of the enemy from
an unexpected quarter. When this move failed, she evidently became
incensed, and throwing aside diplomacy, rallied all her forces,
charging her artillery up to the highest note, then thundering down to
the lowest, beating down the keys as fast as they dared to rise. In the
midst of the carnage, when the clamor was at its height and victory
seemed imminent, she suddenly paused, with one hand in air and her head
gently inclined, and, tapping out two silvery bugle-notes of truce,
raised the siege.
The appalling silence that ensued might have hung above a
battle-field of slain and wounded. The captain bit his mustache.
That wasn't exactly the one I meant, he said. I want that little
dance-tune with the jingle to it.
Miss Gusty, disappointed and surprised at the effect which her
masterpiece had failed to produce, was insisting with flushed cheeks
that she could play no more, when the gentleman who was called Mr.
Mathews rose from the table and came toward her. His hair and pointed
beard were white, but his eyes were still young, and he looked at her
while he spoke to the captain.
I beg your pardon, Captain, he was saying in smooth, even tones,
can't you persuade the young lady to sing something for us?
I never took vocal, said Guinevere, looking at him frankly. I'm
making a specialty of instrumental.
The gentleman looked sidewise at his companions and stroked his
beard gravely. But you do sing? he persisted.
Just popular music, said Guinevere. I was going to take 'The Holy
City' and 'The Rosary' last year, but the vocal teacher got sick.
In response to a very urgent invitation, she took her seat again,
and this time sang a sentimental ditty concerning the affairs of one
Merry Little Milly in the Month of May.
This selection met with prompt favor, and the men left their cards,
and gathered about the piano, demanding an encore.
Miss Guinevere's voice was very small, and her accompaniment very
loud, but, in her effort to please, she unconsciously became dramatic
in her expression, and frowned and smiled and lifted her brows in
sympathy with the emotions of the damsel in the song. And Miss
Guinevere's eyes being expressive and her lips very red, the result
proved most satisfactory to the audience.
One stout young man in particular expressed himself in such
unrestrained terms of enthusiasm, that Guinevere, after singing several
songs, became visibly embarrassed. Upon the plea of being too warm she
made her escape, half-promising to return and sing again later on.
Flushed with the compliments and the excitement, and a little
uncertain about the propriety of it all, she hurried through the
swing-door and, turning suddenly on the deck, stumbled over something
in the darkness.
It proved to be a pair of long legs that were stretched out in front
of a silent figure, who shot a hand out to restore Miss Gusty to an
upright position. But the deck was slippery from the rain, and before
he could catch her, she went down on her knees.
Did it hurt you? a voice asked anxiously.
It don't matter about me, answered Guinevere, just so it didn't
spoil my new dress. I'm afraid there's an awful tear in it.
I hope not, said the voice. I'd hate to be guilty of dress
slaughter even in the second degree. Sure you are not hurt? Sit down a
minute; here's a chair right behind you, out of the wind.
Guinevere groped about for the chair. Mother can mend it, she went
on, voicing her anxiety, if it isn't too bad.
And if it is? asked the voice.
I'll have to wear it, anyhow. It's brand splinter new, the first
one I ever had made by a sure-enough dressmaker.
My abominable legs! muttered the voice.
Guinevere laughed, and all at once became curious concerning the
person who belonged to the legs.
He had dropped back into his former position, with feet
outstretched, hands in pockets, and cap pulled over his eyes, and he
did not seem inclined to continue the conversation.
She drew in deep breaths of the cool air, and watched the big
side-wheel churn the black water into foam, and throw off sprays of
white into the darkness. She liked to be out there in the sheltered
corner, watching the rain dash past, and to hear the wind whistling up
the river. She was glad to be in the dark, too, away from all those
gentlemen, so ready with their compliments. But the sudden change from
the heated saloon to the cold deck chilled her, and she sneezed.
Her companion stirred. If you are going to stay out here, you ought
to put something around you, he said irritably.
I'm not very cold. Besides, I don't want to go in. I don't want
them to make me sing any more. Mother'll be awfully provoked if I take
cold, though. Do you think it's too damp?
There's my overcoat, said the man, indifferently; you can put
that around you if you want to.
She struggled into the large sleeves, and he made no effort to help
You don't like music, do you? she asked naïvely as she settled
back in her chair.
Well, yes, he said slowly. I should say the thing I dislike least
in the world is music.
Then why didn't you come in to hear me play? asked Guinevere,
emboldened by the darkness.
Oh, I could hear it outside, he assured her; besides, I have a
pair of defective lamps in my head. The electric lights hurt my eyes.
He struck a match as he spoke to relight his pipe, and by its flare
she caught her first glimpse of his face, a long, slender, sensitive
face, brooding and unhappy.
I guess you are Mr. Hinton, she said as if to herself.
He turned with the lighted match in his hand. How did you know
The captain told me. He pointed out you and Mr. Mathews, but he
didn't tell me any of the rest.
A branch of your education that can afford to remain neglected,
said Mr. Hinton as he puffed at his pipe.
The door of the saloon swung open, and the chubby gentleman appeared
in the light, shading his eyes, and calling out that they were all
waiting for the little canary-bird.
I don't want to go, whispered Guinevere, shrinking back into the
The chubby gentleman peered up and down the deck, then, assailed by
a gust of wind, beat a hasty retreat.
I don't like him, announced Guinevere, drawing a breath of relief.
It isn't just because he's fat and ugly; it's the silly way he looks
What a pity you can't tell him so! said her companion, dryly.
Such blasphemy might do him good. He is the scion of a distinguished
family made wealthy by the glorious sale of pork.
Are all the gentlemen millionaires? asked Guinevere in awe.
Present company excepted, qualified Hinton.
It'll seem awful small to them down in the Cove. Why, we haven't
got room enough at the two hotels to put them all up.
Oh, you live there, do you?
Yes; I've just been up at Coreyville spending the night. I used to
hate it down at the Cove, it was so little and stupid; but I like it
There was a long silence, during which each pursued a widely
different line of thought.
We have got a newspaper at the Cove now, announced Guinevere.
It's an awful nice paper, called 'The Opp Eagle.'
Opp? repeated Hinton. Oh, yes, that was the man I telephoned to.
What sort of chap is he, anyhow?
He's awfully smart, said Guinevere, her cheeks tingling. Not so
much book learning, but a fine brain. The preacher says he's got a
natural gift of language. You ought to see some of his editorials.
Hiding his light under a bushel, isn't he?
That's just it, said Guinevere, glad to expatiate on the subject.
If Mr. Opp could get in a bigger place and get more chances, he'd have
a lot more show. But he won't leave Miss Kippy. She's his sister, you
know; there is only the two of them, and she's kind of crazy, and has
to have somebody take care of her. Mother thinks it's just awful he
don't send her to an asylum, but I know how he feels.
Is he a young man? asked Mr. Hinton.
Wellno, not exactly; he's just seventeen years and two months
older than I am.
Oh, said Hinton, comprehensively.
There was another long pause, during which Guinevere turned things
over in her mind, and Mr. Hinton knocked the ashes from his pipe.
I think girls seem a good deal older than they are, don't you? she
Some girls, Hinton agreed.
How old would you take me for?
In the dark?
Oh, that's not fair, said Guinevere. I'm eighteen, and lots of
people take me for twenty.
That is when they can see you, said Hinton.
Guinevere decided that she did not like him. She leaned back in her
corner and tried not to talk. But this course had its disadvantage, for
when she was silent he seemed to forget she was there.
Once he took a turn up and down the deck, and when he came back, he
stood for a long time leaning over the rail and gazing into the water.
As he turned to sit down she heard him mutter to himself:
... That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
Guinevere repeated the words softly to herself, and wondered what
they meant. She was still thinking about them when a dim red light in
the distance told her they were approaching the Cove. She slipped off
the heavy overcoat and began to put on her gloves.
Hello! we are getting in, are we? asked Hinton, shaking himself
into an upright position. Is that Cove City where the big red light
bores into the water like a corkscrew?
They moved to the bow of the boat and watched as it changed its
course and made for the opposite shore.
Did you mean, said Guinevere, absently, that you wanted it all to
end like that? For us to just go out into nothing, like the river gets
lost in the ocean?
Hinton glanced at her in surprise, and discovered that there was an
unusually thoughtful face under the sweeping brim of the red hat. The
fact that she was pretty was less evident to him than the fact that she
was wistful. His mood was sensitive to minor chords.
I guess you are eighteen, he said, and he smiled, and
Guinevere smiled back, and the chubby gentleman, coming suddenly out
upon them, went in again and slammed the door.
The lights on the landing twinkled brighter and brighter, and
presently figures could be seen moving here and there. The steamer,
grumbling with every chug of the wheel, was brought around, and the
roustabouts crowded along the rail, ready to make her fast.
Guinevere and Hinton stood on the upper deck under his umbrella and
Directly below them on the dock a small, fantastic figure made
frantic efforts to attract their attention. He stood uncovered,
regardless of the rain, madly waving his hat.
Is that anybody you know? asked Hinton.
Guinevere, who was watching the lights on the water, started
Where? she asked.
Down to the rightthat comical little codger in the checked suit.
Guinevere looked, then turned upon Hinton eyes that were big with
indignation. Why, of course, she said; that's Mr. Opp.
As Willard Hinton stood on the porch of Your Hotel and waited for
his host for the night to call for him, he was in that state of black
dejection that comes to a young man when Ambition has proposed to
Fortune, and been emphatically rejected. For six years he had worked
persistently and ceaselessly toward a given goal, doing clerical work
by day and creative work by night, going from shorthand into longhand,
and from numerical figures into figures of speech. For the way that
Hinton's soul was traveling was the Inky Way, and at its end lay
Hinton had taken himself and his work seriously, and served an
apprenticeship of hard study and conscientious preparation. So zealous
was he, in fact, that he had arrived at the second stage of his great
enterprise with a teeming brain, a practised hand, and a pair of
affected eyes over which the oculists shook their heads and offered
For four months he had implicitly obeyed orders, attending only to
his regular work, eating and sleeping with exemplary regularity, and
spending all of his spare time in the open air. But the ravages made in
the long nights dedicated to the Muses were not to be so easily
repaired, and his eyes, instead of improving, were growing rapidly
worse. The question of holding his position had slipped from a matter
of months into weeks.
As he stood on the porch, he could hear the bustle of entertainment
going on within the limited quarters of Your Hotel. Jimmy Fallows was
in his element. As bartender, head waiter, and jovial landlord he was
playing a triple bill to a crowded house. Occasionally he opened the
door and urged Hinton to come inside.
Mr. Opp'll be here 'fore long, he would say. He's expecting you,
but he had to stop by to take his girl home. You better step in and get
But Hinton, wrapped in the gloom of his own thoughts, preferred to
remain where he was. Already he seemed to belong to the dark, to be a
thing apart from his fellow-men. He shrank from companionship and
sympathy as he shrank from the light. He longed to crawl away like a
sick animal into some lonely corner and die. Whichever way he turned,
the great specter of darkness loomed before him. At first he had
fought, then he had philosophically stood still, now he was retreating.
Again and again he told himself that he would meet it like a man, and
again and again he shrank back, ready to seek escape anywhere, anyhow.
O God, if I weren't so damnably young! he cried to himself,
beating his clenched hand against his brow. More than half my life yet
to live, and in the dark!
The rattle of wheels and the stopping of a light in front of the
hotel made him pull himself together.
The small gentleman in the checked suit whom he had seen on the
wharf strode in without seeing him. He paused before he opened the door
and smoothed his scanty locks and rearranged his pink necktie. Then he
drew in his chin, threw out his chest, and with a carefully prepared
smile of welcome entered.
The buzz within increased, and it was some minutes before the door
opened again and Jimmy Fallows was heard saying:
He's round here some place. Mr. Hinton! Oh, here you are! Let me
make you acquainted with Mr. Opp; he's going to take you out to his
house for the night.
No sooner had Hinton's hand been released from Mr. Opp's cordial
grasp than he felt that gentleman's arm thrust through his, and was
aware of being rapidly conducted down the steps and out to the vehicle.
On no possible account, Mr. Opp was saying, with Hinton's grip in
one hand and two umbrellas in the other, would I have allowed myself
to be late, except that it was what you might consider absolutely
necessary. Now, you get right in; just take all that robe. No, the grip
can go right here between my feet. We trust that you will not regard
the weather in any ways synonymous with the state of our feelings of
Mr. Hinton remarked rather shortly that the weather never mattered
to him one way or another.
That's precisely like myself, Mr. Opp went on. I come of very
sturdy, enduring stock. For a man of my size I doubt if you'd find a
finer constitution in the country. You wouldn't particularly think it
to look at me, now would you?
Hinton looked at the small, stooping figure, and at the peaked,
sallow face, and said rather sarcastically that he would not.
Strong as an ox, declared Mr. Opp.
Just here the horse stumbled, and they were jerked violently
Mr. Opp apologized. Just at present we are having a little
difficulty with our country roads. We have taken the matter up in 'The
Opp Eagle' last week. All these things take time to regulate, but we
are getting there. This oil boom is going to revolutionize things. It's
my firm and abiding conviction that we are on the eve of a great
change. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if this town grew to be
one of the principalest cities on the Ohio River.
To be a worthy eyrie for your 'Eagle'? suggested Hinton.
'The Opp Eagle,' corrected Mr. Opp. I don't know as you know that
I am the sole proprietor, as well as being the editor in addition.
No, said Hinton, I did not know. How does it happen that a man
with such responsibilities can take time to dabble in oil-wells?
You don't know me, said Mr. Opp, with a paternal smile at his own
ability. Promoting and organizing comes as natural to me as breathing
the atmosphere. I am engineering this scheme with one hand, the Town
Improvement League with another, and 'The Opp Eagle' with another.
Then, in a minor kind of way, I am a active Odd Fellow, first cornetist
in the Unique Orchestra, and a director in the bank. And beside, Mr.
Opp concluded with some coyness, there is the natural personal social
diversions that most young men indulge in.
By this time they had reached the gray old house on the river-bank,
and Mr. Opp hitched the horse and held the lantern, while Hinton
stepped from one stony island to another in the sea of mud.
Just enter right into the dining-room, said Mr. Opp, throwing open
the door. Unfortunately we are having a temporary difficulty with the
parlor heating apparatus. If you'll just pass right on up-stairs, I'll
show you the guest-chamber. Be careful of your head, please!
With pomp and dignity Mr. Hinton was conducted to his apartment, and
urged to make known any possible want that might occur to him.
I'll be obliged to leave you for a spell, said Mr. Opp, in order
to attend to the proper putting up of the horse. If you'll just
consider everything you see as yours, and make yourself entirely at
home, I'll come up for you in about twenty minutes.
Left alone, Hinton went to the bureau to pin a paper around the
lamp, and as he did so he encountered a smiling face in the mirror. The
face was undoubtedly his, but the smile seemed almost to belong to a
stranger, so long had it been since he had seen it.
He made a hasty toilet, and sat down with his back to the light to
await his summons to dinner. The large room, poorly and scantily
furnished, gave unmistakable evidence of having been arranged
especially for his coming. There was no covering on the floor, there
were no pictures on the wall; but the wall-paper was of a sufficiently
decorative character to warrant the absence of other adornment. It may
be said to have been a botanical paper, for roses and lilies and
sunflowers and daisies grew in riotous profusion. The man who hung the
paper evidently was of a scientific turn, for in matching the strips he
had gained some results in cross-grafting that approached the
After sufficient time had elapsed to have stabled half a dozen
horses, Hinton, whose appetite was becoming ravenous, went into the
hall and started down the steps. When half-way down he heard a crash of
china, and saw his host, in his shirt-sleeves, staggering under a large
tray overcrowded with dishes.
Beating a hasty retreat, he went quietly up the steps again, but not
before he heard a querulous voice remonstrate:
Now, Mr. D., if you ain't done busted two plates and a tea-cup!
Retiring to his room until the trouble should be adjusted, Hinton
once more contemplated the floral paper. As he sat there, the door
creaked slightly, and looking up, he thought he saw some one peeping at
him through the crack. Later he distinctly heard the rustle of
garments, a stealthy step, and the closing of the door across the hall.
At last Mr. Opp came somewhat noisily up the steps and, flinging
wide the door, invited him to descend. In the dining-room below the
scene was nothing short of festal. All the candlesticks were filled
with lighted candles, an American flag was draped across the top of the
clock, and the little schooner that rocked behind the pendulum seemed
fired with the determination to get somewhere to-night if it never did
again. Even the owls on each end of the mantel wore a benignant look,
and seemed to beam a welcome on the honored guest.
But it was the dining-table that held the center of the stage, and
that held everything else as well. The dinner, through its sequence of
soup, meat, salad, and desert, was displayed in lavish hospitality.
Cove etiquette evidently demanded that no square inch of the
table-cloth should remain unoccupied.
Seated at the table, with hands demurely folded, was the most
grotesque figure that Hinton had ever seen. Clad in a queer,
old-fashioned garment of faded blue cloth, with very full skirt and
flowing sleeves, with her hair gathered into a tight knot at the back
of her head, and a necklace of nutshells about her neck, a strange
little lady sat and watched him with parted lips and wide, excited
If you'll just sit here opposite my sister, said Mr. Opp, not
attempting an introduction, I'll as usual take my customary place at
the head of the board.
It was all done with great éclat, but from the first there were
unmistakable signs of nervousness on the part of the host. He left the
table twice before the soup was removed, once to get the napkins which
had been overlooked, and once to persuade his sister not to put the
baked potatoes in her lap.
When the critical moment for the trial of strength between him and
the goose arrived, he was not in good condition. It was his first
wrestling match with a goose, and his technical knowledge of the art
consisted in the meager fact that the strategic point was to become
master of the opponent's legs. The fowl had, moreover, by nature of its
being, the advantage of extreme slipperiness, an expedient recognized
and made use of by the gladiators of old.
Mr. Opp, limited as to space, and aware of a critical audience, rose
to the occasion, and with jaw set and the light of conquest in his eye
entered the fray. He pushed forward, and pulled back, he throttled, he
went through facial and bodily contortions. The match was conducted in
the catch hold, first down to lose style, and the honors seemed
equally divided. At last, by the adroit administration of a left-leg
stroke, Mr. Opp succeeded in throwing his adversary, but unfortunately
he threw it too far.
The victory, though brilliant, was not without its casualties. The
goose, in its post-mortem flight, took its revenge, and the overturned
cranberries sent a crimson stain across the white cloth, giving a
sanguinary aspect to the scene.
When order was restored and Mr. Opp had once more taken his seat,
the little lady in the blue dress, who had remained quiet during the
recent conflict, suddenly raised her voice in joyous song.
Now, Kippy, warned Mr. Opp, putting a restraining hand on her arm,
and looking at her appealingly. The little lady shrank back in her
chair and her eyes filled as she clasped his hand tightly in both of
As I was remarking, Mr. Opp went steadily on, trying to behave as
if it were quite natural for him to eat with his left hand, the real
value of the underground product in this country has been but fairly
made apparent, and now that you capitalists are coming in to take a
hold, there's no way of forming a idea of the ultimate result.
Hinton, upon whom no phase of the situation had been lost, came
valiantly to Mr. Opp's rescue. He roused himself to follow his host's
lead in the conversation; he was apparently oblivious to the many
irregularities of the dinner. In fact, it was one of the rare occasions
upon which Hinton took the trouble to exert himself. Something in the
dreary old room, with its brave attempt at cheer, in the half-witted
little lady who was making such superhuman efforts to be good, and
above all in the bombastic, egotistical, ignorant editor who was trying
to keep up appearances against such heavy odds, touched the best and
deepest that was in Hinton, and lifted him out of himself. Gradually he
began to take the lead in the conversation. With great tact he relieved
Mr. Opp of the necessity of entertaining, and gave him a chance to eat
his dinner. He told stories so simple that even Miss Kippy loosened her
hold on her brother's hand to listen.
When the sunset of the dinner in the form of a pumpkin pie had
disappeared, the gentlemen retired to the fire.
Don't you smoke? asked Hinton, holding a match to his pipe.
Why, yes, said Mr. Opp, I have smoked occasional. It's amazing
how it assists you in creating newspaper articles. One of the greatest
editorials I ever turned out was when I had a cigar in my mouth.
Then why don't you smoke?
Mr. Opp glanced over his shoulders at Aunt Tish, who, with Miss
Kippy's doubtful assistance, was clearing the table.
I don't mind telling you, he said confidentially, that up to the
present time I've experienced a good many business reverses and
considerable family responsibility. I hope now in a year or two to be
able to indulge them little extra items. The lack of money, he added
somewhat proudly, is no disgrace; but I can't deny it's what you might
Hinton smiled. I think I've got a cigar somewhere about me. Here it
is. Will you try it?
Mr. Opp didn't care if he did, and from the manner in which he
lighted it, and from the way in which he stood, with one elbow on the
high mantel-shelf and his feet gracefully crossed, while he blew
curling wreaths toward the ceiling, it was not difficult to reckon the
extent of his self-denial.
Do you indulge much in the pleasure of reading? he asked, looking
at Hinton through the cloud of smoke.
I did, said Hinton, drawing a deep breath.
It's a great pastime, said Mr. Opp. I wonder if you are familiar
with this here volume. He took from the shelf The Encyclopedia of
Wonder, Beauty, and Wisdom.
Hardly a thumb-nail edition, said Hinton, receiving it with both
Say, it's a remarkable work, said Mr. Opp, earnestly; you ought
to get yourself one. Facts in the first part, and the prettiest poetry
you ever read in the back: a dollar down and fifty cents a month until
paid for. Here, let me show you; read that one.
I can't see it, said Hinton.
I'll get the lamp.
Never mind, Opp; it isn't that. You read it to me.
Mr. Opp complied with great pleasure, and having once started, he
found it difficult to stop. From Lord Ullin's Daughter he passed to
Curfew, hence to Barbara Frietchie and Young Lochinvar, and as he
read Hinton sat with closed eyes and traveled into the past.
He saw a country school-house, and himself a youngster of eight
competing for a prize. He was standing on a platform, and the children
were below him, and behind him was a row of visitors. He was paralyzed
with fear, but bursting with ambition. With one supreme effort he began
Oh, the young Lochinvar has came out of the west!
He got no further; a shout from the big boys and a word from the
teacher, and he burst into tears and fled for refuge to his mother. How
the lines brought it all back! He could feel her arms about him now,
and her cheek against his, and hear again her words of comfort. In all
the years since she had been taken from him he had never wanted her so
insistently as during those few moments that Mr. Opp's high voice was
doing its worst for the long-suffering Lochinvar.
Mr. D., said a complaining voice from the doorway, Miss Kippy
won't lemme tek her dress off to go to baid. She 'low she gwine sleep
Mr. Opp abruptly descended from his elocutionary flight, and asked
to be excused for a few moments.
Just a little domestic friction, he assured Hinton; you can
glance over the rest of the poems, and I'll be back soon.
Hinton, left alone, paced restlessly up and down the room. The
temporary diversion was over, and he was once more face to face with
his problem. He went to the table, and, taking a note from his pocket,
bent over the lamp to read it. The lines blurred and ran together, but
a word here and there recalled the contents. It was from Mr. Mathews,
who preferred writing disagreeable things to saying them. Mr. Mathews,
the note said, had been greatly annoyed recently by repeated errors in
the reports of his secretary; he was neither as rapid nor as accurate
as formerly, and an improvement would have to be made, or a change
would be deemed advisable.
Delicate tact! sneered Hinton, crushing the paper in his hand.
Courtesy sometimes begets a request, and the shark shrinks from
conferring favors. And I've got to stick it out, to go on accepting
condescending disapproval until a 'change is deemed advisable.'
He dropped his head on his arms, and so deep was he in his bitter
thoughts that he did not hear Mr. Opp come into the room. That
gentleman stood for a moment in great embarrassment; then he stepped
noiselessly out, and heralded his second coming by rattling the
The wind had risen to a gale, and it shrieked about the old house
and tugged at the shutters and rattled the panes incessantly.
You take the big chair, urged Mr. Opp, who had just put on a fresh
log and sent the flames dancing up the chimney; and here's a pitcher
of hard cider whenever you feel the need of a little refreshment. You
ain't a married man I would judge, Mr. Hinton.
Thank the Lord, no! exclaimed Hinton.
Well, said Mr. Opp, pursing his lips and smiling, you know that's
just where I think us young men are making a mistake.
Matrimony, said Hinton, is about the only catastrophe that hasn't
befallen me during my short and rocky career.
See here, said Mr. Opp, I used to feel that way, too.
Before you met her? suggested Hinton.
Mr. Opp looked pleased but embarrassed. I can't deny there is a
young lady, he said; but she is quite young as yet. In fact, I don't
mind telling you she's just about half my age.
Hinton, instead of putting two and two together, added eighteen to
eighteen. And you are about thirty-six? he asked.
Exactly, said Mr. Opp, surprised. I am most generally considered
a long sight younger.
From matrimony the conversation drifted to oil-wells, then to
journalism, and finally to a philosophical discussion of life itself.
Mr. Opp got beyond his depth again and again, and at times he became so
absorbed that he gave a very poor imitation of himself, and showed
signs of humility that were rarely if ever visible.
Hinton meantime was taking soundings, and sometimes his plummet
stopped where it started, and sometimes it dropped to an unexpected
Well, he said at last, rising, we must go to bed. You'll go on
climbing a ladder in the air, and I'll go on burrowing like a mole in
the ground, and what is the good of it all? What chance have either of
us for coming out anywhere? You can fool yourself; I can't: that's the
Mr. Opp's unusual mental exertions had apparently affected his
entire body, his legs were tightly wrapped about each other, his arms
were locked, and his features were drawn into an amazing pucker of
That ain't it, he said emphatically, struggling valiantly to
express his conviction: this here life business ain't run on any such
small scale as that. According to my notion, or understanding,
it'swellwhat you might call, in military figures, a fight. He
paused a moment and tied himself if possible even into a tighter knot,
then proceeded slowly, groping his way: Of course there's some that
just remains around in camp, afraid to fight and afraid to desert, just
sort of indulging in conversation, you might say, about the rest of the
army. Then there is the cowards and deserters. But a decent sort of a
individual, or rather soldier, carries his orders around with him, and
the chief and principal thing he's got to do is to follow them. What
the fight is concerning, or in what manner the general is a-aiming to
bring it all correct in the end, ain't, according to my conclusion, a
particle of our business.
Having arrived at this point of the discussion in a somewhat heated
and indignant state, Mr. Opp suddenly remembered his duties as host.
With a lordly wave of the hand he dismissed the subject, and conducted
Hinton in state to his bed-chamber, where he insisted upon lighting the
fire and arranging the bed.
[Illustration: It was Mr. Opp saying his prayers"]
Hinton sat for a long time before undressing, listening to the wind
in the chimney, to the scrape, scrape of the cedar on the roof, and to
the yet more dismal sounds that were echoing in his heart. Everything
about the old house spoke of degeneration, decay; yet in the midst of
it lived a man who asked no odds of life, who took what came, and who
lived with a zest, an abandon, a courage that were baffling.
Self-deception, egotism, cheap optimismcould they bring a man to this
state of mind? Hinton wondered bitterly what Opp would do in his
position; suppose his sight was threatened, how far would his foolish
self-delusion serve him then?
But he could not imagine Mr. Opp, lame, halt, or blind, giving up
the fight. There was that in the manegotism, courage, whatever it
wasthat would never recognize defeat, that quality that wins out of a
life of losing the final victory.
Before he retired, Hinton found there was no drinking water in his
room, and, remembering a pitcher full in the dining-room, he took the
candle and softly opened his door. The sudden cold draft from the hall
made the candle flare, but as it steadied, Hinton saw that an old cot
had been placed across the door opposite his, as if on guard, and that
beside it knelt an ungainly figure in white, with his head clasped in
his hands. It was Mr. Opp saying his prayers.
The visit of the capitalists marked the beginning of a long and
profitable spell of insomnia for the Cove. The little town had gotten a
gnat in its eye when Mr. Opp arrived, and now that it had become
involved in a speculation that threatened to develop into a boom, it
found sleep and tranquillity a thing of the past.
The party of investigators had found such remarkable conditions that
they were eager to buy up the ground at once; but they met with
At a meeting which will go down to posterity in the annals of Cove
City, the Turtle Creek Land Company, piloted by the intrepid Mr. Opp,
had held its course against persuasion, threats, and bribes. There was
but one plank in the company's platform, and that was a determination
not to sell. To this plank they clung through the storm of opposition,
through the trying calm of indifference that followed, until a truce
Finally an agreement was reached by which the Turtle Creek Land
Company was to lease its ground to the capitalists, receive a given per
cent. of the oil produced, and maintain the right to buy stock up to a
large and impossible amount at any time during the ensuing year.
Close upon this contract came men and machinery to open up a test
well. For weeks hauling was done up the creek bottom, there being no
road leading to the oil spring where the first drilling was to be done.
The town watched the operations with alternate scorn and interest.
It was facetious when water and quicksands were encountered, and
inclined to be sarcastic when work was suspended on account of the
weather. But one day, after the pipe had been driven to a considerable
depth and the rock below had been drilled for six inches, the drill
suddenly fell into a crevice, and upon investigation the hole was found
to be nearly full of petroleum.
The Cove promptly went into a state of acute hysteria. Speculation
spread like the measles, breaking out in all manner of queer and
unexpected places. Everybody who could command a dollar promptly
converted it into oil stock. Miss Jim Fenton borrowed money from her
cousin in the city, and plunged recklessly; the Missionary Band raffled
off three quilts and bought a share with the proceeds; Mr. Tucker
foreclosed two mortgages on life-long friends in order to raise more
money; while the amount of stock purchased by Mr. D. Webster Opp was
limited only by his credit at the bank.
The one note of warning that was sounded came from Mrs. Fallows, who
sat on the porch of Your Hotel, and, like the Greek Chorus, foretold
the disasters that would befall, and prophesied nothing but evil for
the entire enterprise. Even the urbane Jimmy became ruffled by her
insistent iteration, and declared that she put him in mind of a darned
But Mrs. Fallows's piping note was lost in the gale of enthusiasm.
Farmers coming into town on Saturday became infected and carried the
fever into the country. The entire community suspended business to
discuss the exciting situation.
These were champagne days for Mr. Opp. Life seemed one long,
sparkling, tingling draft and he was drinking it to Guinevere. If her
eyes drooped and she met his smile with a sigh, he saw it not, for the
elixir had gone to his head.
Compelled to find some outlet for his energy, he took advantage of
the Cove's unwonted animation and plunged into municipal reform. The
Opp Eagle demanded streets, it demanded lamp-posts, it demanded
temperance. The right of pigs to take their daily siesta in the middle
of Main Street was questioned and fiercely denied. Dry-goods boxes,
which for years had been the only visible means of support for divers
youths of indolent nature, were held up to such scathing ridicule that
the owners were forced to remove them.
The policies suggested by Mr. Opp, the editor, were promptly acted
upon by Mr. Opp, the citizen. So indignant did he become when he read
his own editorials that nothing short of immediate action was to be
considered. He arranged a reform party and appointed himself leader.
Mat Lucas, he made Superintendent of Streets; Mr. Gallop, chairman of
the Committee on City Lights. In fact, he formed enough committees to
manage a Presidential campaign.
The attitude of the town toward him was that of a large lump of
dough to a small cake of yeast. It was willing to be raised, but
doubtful of the motive power.
I'd feel surer, said Jimmy Fallows, if his intellect was the
standard size. It appears so big to him he can't get his language
ready-made; he has to have it made to order.
But since the successful management of the oil-wells, Mr. Opp's
opinion was more and more considered. In the course of a short time the
office of The Opp Eagle became the hub about which the township
One afternoon in March the editor was sitting before his deal table,
apparently in the most violent throes of editorial composition.
Nick, who was impatiently waiting for copy, had not dared to speak
for an hour, for fear of slipping a cog in the intricate machinery of
creation. The constant struggle to supply The Opp Eagle with
sufficient material to enable it to fly every Thursday was telling upon
the staff; he was becoming irritable.
Well? he said impatiently, as Mr. Opp finished the tenth page and
gathered the large sheets into his hand.
Yes, yes, to be sure, said Mr. Opp, guiltily; I am at your
disposal. Just finishing a little private correspondence of a personal
nature that couldn't wait over.
Ain't that copy? demanded Nick, fixing him with an indignant eye.
Well, no, said Mr. Opp, uneasily. The fact is, I haven't been
able to accomplish any regular editorial this week. Unusual pressure of
outside business ander
How long is she going to stay down in Coreyville? Nick asked, with
a contemptuous curl of his lip.
Mr. Opp paused in the act of addressing the envelop, and gave Nick a
look that was designed to scorch.
May I inquire to who you refer? he asked with dignity.
Nick's eyes dropped, and he shuffled his feet. I just wanted to put
it in the paper. We got to fill up with something.
Well, said Mr. Opp, slightly conciliated, you can mention that
she has gone back to attend the spring term at the Young Ladies'
Gone back to school again? exclaimed Nick, unable to control his
curiosity. What for?
To attend the spring term, repeated Mr. Opp, guardedly. Then he
added in a burst of confidence: Nick, has it ever occurred to you that
Mrs. Gusty was what you might term a peculiar woman?
But Nick was not interested in the psychological idiosyncrasies of
the Gusty family. The Opp Eagle was crying for food, and Nick would
have sacrificed himself and his chief to fill the vacancy.
See here, Mr. Opp, do you know what day it is? It's Monday, and
we've got two columns to fill. New subscriptions are coming in all the
time. We've got to live up to our reputation.
Extremely well put, agreed Mr. Opp; the reputation of the paper
must be guarded above all things. I like to consider that after my
mortal remains has returned to dust, my name will be perpetuated in
this paper. That no monument in marble will be necessary, so long as
'The Opp Eagle' continues to circulate from home to home, and to
Can't you write some of it down? suggested Nick; it would fill up
a couple of paragraphs. Part of it you used before, but we might change
it around some.
Never, said Mr. Opp. On no consideration would I repeat myself in
print. I'll just run through my box here, and see what new material I
have. Here's something; take it down as I dictate.
'Pastor Joe Tyler is holding divine service every second Sunday in
Cove City. He has had thirty conversions, and on Saturday was presented
with a $20.00 suit of clothing from and by this community, and a barrel
of flour, which fully attests what a general church awakening will
accomplish in the direction of good. No one should think of endeavoring
to rear their children or redeem society without the application of the
gospel twice per month.'
Now, if you can keep that up, said Nick, hopefully, we'll get
through in no time.
But Mr. Opp had gone back to his letter, and was trying to decide
whether it would take one stamp or two. When he felt Nick's reproachful
eye upon him, he put the envelop resolutely in his pocket.
You've already said that work would be resumed at the oil-wells as
early as the inclemency of the weather would permit, haven't you?
We've had it in every issue since last fall, said Nick.
Well, now, let's see, said Mr. Opp, diving once more into his
reserve box. Here, take this down: 'Mr. Jet Connor had his house burnt
last month, it being the second fire he has had in ten years.
Misfortunes never come single.'
All right, encouraged Nick. Now can't you work up that idea about
the paper offering a prize?
Mr. Opp seized his brow firmly between his palms and made an heroic
effort to concentrate his mind upon the business at hand.
Just wait a minute till I get it arranged. Now write this: 'The
Opp Eagle has organized a club called the B.B.B. Club, meaning the
Busy Bottle-Breakers Club. A handsome prize of a valued nature will be
awarded the boy or girl which breaks the largest number of whisky and
beer bottles before the first of May.' The boats to Coreyville run
different on Sunday, don't they, Nick?
Nick, who had unquestioningly taken the dictation until he reached
his own name, glanced up quickly, then threw down his pen and sighed.
I'm going up to Mr. Gallop's, he said in desperation; he's got
his mind on things here in town. I'll see what he can do for me.
Mr. Opp remorsefully allowed him to depart, and gazed somewhat
guiltily at the unaccomplished work before him. But instead of making
reparation for recent delinquency, he proceeded to make even further
inroads into the time that belonged to The Opp Eagle.
Moving stealthily to the door, he locked it, then pulled down the
shade until only a strip of light fell across his table. These
precautions having been observed, he took from his pocket a number of
letters, and, separating a large typewritten one from several small
blue ones, arranged the latter in a row before him according to their
dates, and proceeded, with evident satisfaction, to read them through
twice. Then glancing around to make quite sure that no one had crawled
through the key-hole, he unlocked a drawer, and took out a key which in
turn unlocked a box from which he carefully took a small object, and
contemplated it with undisguised admiration.
It was an amethyst ring, and in the center of the stone was set a
pearl. He held it in the narrow strip of light, and read the
inscription engraved within: Guinevere forever.
For Miss Guinevere Gusty, ever plastic to a stronger will, had
succumbed to the potent combination of absence and ardor, and given her
half-hearted consent for Mr. Opp to speak to her mother. Upon that
lady's unqualified approval everything would depend.
Mr. Opp had received the letter a week ago, and he had immediately
written to the city for a jeweler's circular, made his selection, and
received the ring. He had written eight voluminous and eloquent
epistles to Guinevere, but he had not yet found the propitious moment
in which to call upon Mrs. Gusty. Every time he started, imperative
business called him elsewhere.
As he sat turning the stone in the sunlight and admiring every
detail, the conviction oppressed him that he could no longer find any
excuse for delay. But even as he made the decision to face the ordeal,
his eye involuntarily swept the desk for even a momentary reprieve. The
large typewritten letter arrested his attention; he took it up and
Dear Opp: Do you know any nice, comfortable place in your
neighborhood for a man to go blind in? I'll be in the hospital
another month, and after that I am to spend the summer out of
in joyful anticipation of an operation which I am assured
will probably be unsuccessful. Under the peculiar circumstances
not particular about the scenery, human or natural; the whole
resolves itself into a matter of flies and feather-beds. If you
of any place where I can be reasonably comfortable, I wish
drop me a line. The ideal place for me would be a neat pine box
underground, with a dainty bunch of daisies overhead.
P.S. I sent you a box of my books last week. Chuck out what you
don't want. The candy was for your sister.
Mr. Opp, with the letter still in his hand, suddenly saw a way out
of his difficulty: he would make Hinton's request an excuse for a call
upon Mrs. Gusty. No surer road to her good graces could he travel than
by seeking her advice.
Replacing the ring in the drawer and the letters in his pocket, he
buttoned up his coat, and with a stern look of determination went out
of the office. At the Gusty gate he encountered Val, who was on all
fours by the fence, searching for something.
What's the matter, Val? asked Mr. Opp. Lost something?
Val raised a pair of mournful eyes. Yas, sir; you bet I is. Done
lost a penny Mr. Jimmy Fallows gimme for puttin' my fisty in my mouf.
Putting your fist in your mouth! repeated Mr. Opp, surprised. Can
you perform that act?
Val promptly demonstrated; but just as he was midway, a peremptory
voice called from a rear window:
Val! You Val! You better answer me this minute!
Val cowered lower behind the fence, and violently motioned Mr. Opp
to go on.
Iseris Mrs. Gusty feeling well to-day? asked Mr. Opp, still
lingering at the gate.
Jes tolerable, said Val, lying flat on his back and speaking in
guarded tones. Whenever she gits to beatin' de carpets, an' spankin'
de beds, and shakin' de curtains, I keeps outen de way.
Do you thinkerthaterI better go in? asked Mr. Opp, sorely
in need of moral support.
Yas, sir; she's 'spectin' yer.
This surprising announcement nerved Mr. Opp to open the gate.
It is said that the best-drilled soldiers dodge when they first face
the firing-line, and if Mr. Opp's knees smote together and his body
became bathed in profuse perspiration, it should not be attributed to
lack of manly courage.
In response to his knock, Mrs. Gusty herself opened the door. The
signs that she had been interrupted in the midst of her toilet were so
unmistakable that Mr. Opp promptly averted his eyes. A shawl had been
hastily drawn about her shoulders, on one cheek a streak of chalk
awaited distribution, and a single bristling curl-paper, rising
fiercely from the top of her forehead, gave her the appearance of a
You'll have to excuse me, Mr. Opp, she said firmly, putting the
door between them. I can't come out, and you can't come in. Did you
Well, yes, said Mr. Opp, looking helplessly at the blank door.
You see, there is a matter I have been considering discussing with you
for a number of weeks. It's a
If it's waited this long, I should think it could wait till
to-morrow, announced the lady with decision.
Mr. Opp felt that his courage could never again stand the strain of
the last few moments. He must speak now or never.
It's immediate, he managed to gasp out. If you could arrange to
give me five or ten minutes, I won't occupy more than that.
Mrs. Gusty considered. I am looking for company myself at five
o'clock. That wouldn't give you much time.
Ample, urged Mr. Opp; it's just a little necessary transaction,
as it were.
Mrs. Gusty reluctantly consented.
You go on in the parlor, then, she said. I'll be in as quick as I
can. You won't more than have time to get started, though.
Mr. Opp passed into the parlor and hung his hat on the corner of a
large, unframed canvas that stood on the floor with its face to the
wall. The room had evidently been prepared for a visitor, for a fire
was newly kindled and a vase of flowers adorned the table. But Mr. Opp
was not making observations. He alternately warmed his cold hands at
the fire, and fanned his flushed face with his handkerchief. He was too
nervous to sit still, yet his knees trembled when he moved about. It
was only when he touched the little packet of letters in his breast
pocket that his courage revived.
At last Mrs. Gusty came in with a rustle of garments suggestive of
Sunday. Even in his confusion Mr. Opp was aware that there was
something unusual in her appearance. Her hair, ordinarily drawn taut to
a prim knot at the rear, had burst forth into curls and puffs of an
amazing complexity. Moreover, her change of coiffure had apparently
affected her spirits, for she, too, was flurried and self-conscious and
glanced continually at the clock on the mantel.
I'll endeavor not to intrude long on your time, began Mr. Opp,
politely, when they were seated side by side on the horse-hair sofa.
Youercan't be in total ignorance of the subject thaterI mean
to bring forward. He moistened his lips, and glanced at her for
succor, but she was adamant. I want to speak with you, he plunged on
desperatelythat is, I thought I had better talk with you about Mr.
Who? blazed forth Mrs. Gusty in indignant surprise.
Mr. Hinton, said Mr. Opp, breathlessly, a young friendly
acquaintance of mine. Wants to get board for the summer, you know;
would like a nice, quiet place and all that, Mrs. Gusty. I thought I'd
consult you about it, Mrs. Gusty, if you don't mind.
She calmly fixed one eye upon him and one upon the clock while he
went into particulars concerning Mr. Hinton. When he paused for breath,
she folded her arms and said:
Mr. Opp, if you want to say what you come to say, you haven't got
but four minutes to do it in.
Oh, yes, said Mr. Opp, gratefully, but helplessly; I was just
coming to that point. It's a matterthaterwell you might say it is
in a way pertainingto
Guin-never! snapped Mrs. Gusty, unable longer to stand his
hesitation. I'd have been a deaf-mute and a fool to boot not to have
known it long ago. Not that I've been consulted in the matter. She
lifted a stiffened chin, and turned her gaze upward.
You have, declared Mr. Opp, earnestly; that is, you will be.
Everything is pending on you. There has been no steps whatever taken by
Miss Guin-never or Irather I might say by her. I can't say but what I
have made some slight preliminary arrangements. He paused, then went
on anxiously: I trust there ain't any personal objections to the
Mrs. Gusty made folds in her black-silk skirt and creased them down
with her thumb-nail. No, she said shortly; far as I can see,
Guin-never would be doing mighty well to get you. You'd be a long sight
safer than a good-looking young fellow. Of course a man being so much
older than a girl is apt to leave her a widow. But, for my part, I
believe in second marriages.
Mr. Opp felt as if he had received a hot and cold douche at the same
time; but the result was a glow.
Then you don't oppose it, Mrs. Gusty, he cried eagerly. You'll
write her you are willing?
Not yet, said Mrs. Gusty; there's a condition.
There ain't any condition in the world I won't meet to get her, he
exclaimed recklessly, his fervor bursting its bounds. You don't know
how I feel about that young lady. Why, I'd live on bread and water all
the rest of my life if it would make her happy. There hasn't been a
hour since I met her that she hasn't held my soulas you might sayin
the pa'm of her hand.
People don't often get it so bad at our age, remarked Mrs. Gusty,
sarcastically, and Mr. Opp winced.
The condition, went on Mrs. Gusty, that I spoke about, was your
sister. Of course I never would consent to Guin-never living under the
same roof with a crazy person.
The hope which was carrying Mr. Opp to the dizziest heights dropped
to earth at this unexpected shaft, and for a moment he was too stunned
Kippy? he began at last, and his voice softened at the name. Why,
you don't understand about her. She's just similar to a little child. I
told Miss Guin-never all about her; she never made any objections.
Youyouwouldn't ask me to make any promises along that line? Abject
entreaty shone from Mr. Opp's eyes; it was a plea for a change of
sentence. She had asked of him the only sacrifice in the world at which
he would have faltered. Don'tdon't put it like that! he pleaded,
laying his hand on her arm in his earnestness. I'm all she's got in
the world; I've kind of become familiar with her ways, you know, and
can manage her. She'll love Miss Guin-never if I tell her to. She
shan't be a bit of care or trouble; I and Aunt Tish will continue on
doing everything for her. You won't refuse your consent on that
account, will you? You'll promise to say yes, now won't you, Mrs.
A slight and ominous cough in the doorway caused them both to start.
Mr. Tucker, in widower's weeds, but with a jonquil jauntily thrust
through his buttonhole, stood with his hand still on the knob,
evidently transfixed by the scene he had witnessed.
For a moment the company was enveloped in a fog of such dense
embarrassment that all conversation was suspended. Mrs. Gusty was the
first to emerge.
Howdy, Mr. Tucker, she said, rustling forward in welcome. I
didn't think you'd get here before five. Mr. Opp just dropped in to
consult me aboutabout boarding a friend of his. Won't you draw up to
Mr. Tucker edged forward with a suspicious eye turned upon Mr. Opp,
who was nervously searching about for his hat.
There it is, by the door, said Mrs. Gusty, eager to speed his
departure; and as they both reached for it, the picture upon which it
hung toppled forward and fell, face upward, on the floor. It was the
portrait of Mr. Tucker mourning under the willow-tree which Miss Jim
had left with Mrs. Gusty for safe-keeping.
Mr. Opp went home across the fields that evening instead of through
the town. He was not quite up to any of his rôleseditor, promoter, or
reformer. In fact, he felt a desperate need of a brief respite from all
histrionic duties. A reaction had set in from the excitement of the
past week, and the complication involved in Mrs. Gusty's condition
puzzled and distressed him. Of course, he assured himself repeatedly,
there was a way out of the difficulty; but he was not able to find it
just yet. He had observed that Mrs. Gusty's opinions became fixed
convictions under the slightest opposition, whereas Guinevere's firmest
decision trembled at a breath of disapproval. He sighed deeply as he
meditated upon the vagaries of the feminine mind.
Overhead the bare trees lifted a network of twigs against a dull
sky, a cold wind stirred the sedge grass, and fluttered the dry leaves
that had lain all winter in the fence corners. Everything looked old
and worn and gray, even Mr. Opp, as he leaned against a gaunt, white
sycamore, his head bent, and his brows drawn, wrestling with his
Suddenly he lifted his head and listened, then he smiled. In the
tree above him a soft but animated conversation was in progress. A few
daring birds had braved the cold and the wind, and had ventured back to
their old trysting-place to wait for the coming of the spring. No hint
of green had tinged the earth, but a few, tiny, pink maple-buds had
given the secret away, and the birds were cuddled snugly together,
planning, in an ecstasy of subdued enthusiasm, for the joyous days to
Mr. Opp listened and understood. They were all whispering about one
thing, and he wanted to whisper about it, too. It was the simple theme
of love without variationslove, minus problems, minus complications,
minus consequences. He took out his little packet of letters and read
them through; then, unmindful of the chill, he stretched himself under
the tree and listened to the birds until the twilight silenced them.
When he reached home at last, Miss Kippy met him at the door with a
happy cry of welcome.
D., she said, with her arm through his, and her cheek rubbing his
sleeve, I've been good. I've let my hair stay up all day, and Aunt
Tish is making me a long dress like a lady. She looked at him shyly
and smiled, then she pulled his head down and whispered, If I'm very
good, when I grow up, can I marry Mr. Hinton?
Miss Kippy, too, had been listening to the bird-song.
It was May when Willard Hinton arrived at the Cove and took up his
abode at Mrs. Gusty's. For the first week he kept to his bed, but at
the end of that time he was able to crawl down to the porch and, under
the protection of dark glasses and a heavy shade, sit for hours at a
time in the sunshine. The loss of his accustomed environment, the ennui
that ensues from absolute idleness, the consciousness that the light
was growing dimmer day by day, combined to plunge him into abysmal
He shrank from speaking to any one, he scowled at a suggestion of
sympathy, he treated Mr. Opp's friendly overtures with open
discourtesy. Conceiving himself on the rack of torture, he set his
teeth and determined to submit in silence, but without witnesses.
One endless day dragged in the wake of another, and between them lay
the black strips of night that were heavy with the suggestion of
another darkness pending. When sleep refused to come, he would go out
into the woods and walk for hours, moody, wretched, and sick to his
innermost soul with loneliness.
The one thing in the whole dreary round of existence that roused in
him a spark of interest was his hostess. She bestowed upon him the same
impersonal attention that she gave her fowls. She fed him and cared for
him and doctored him as she saw fit, and after these duties were
performed, she left him to himself, pursuing her own vigorous routine
in her own vigorous way.
Hinton soon discovered that Mrs. Gusty was temperamental. Her
intensely energetic nature demanded an emotional as well as a physical
outlet. Sometime during the course of each day she indulged in
emotional fireworks, bombs of anger, rockets of indignation, or set
pieces of sulks and pouts.
These periodic spells of anger acted upon her like wine: they warmed
her vitals and exhilarated her; they made her talk fluently and
eloquently. As a toper will accept any beverage that intoxicates, so
Mrs. Gusty accepted any cause that would rouse her. At stated intervals
her feelings demanded a stimulant, and obeying the call of nature, she
went forth and got angry.
Hinton came to consider these outbursts as the one diversion in a
succession of monotonous hours. He tabulated the causes, and made bets
with himself as to the strength and duration of each.
Meanwhile the sun and the wind and the silence were working their
miracle. Hinton was introduced to nature by a warlike old rooster whose
Hellenic cast of countenance had suggested the name of Menelaus. A
fierce combat with a brother-fowl had inevitably recalled the great
fight with Paris, and upon investigation Hinton found that the speckled
hen was Helen of Troy! This was but the beginning of a series of
discoveries, and the result was an animated and piquant version of
Greek history, which boldly set aside tradition, and suggested many
possibilities heretofore undreamed of.
Early one morning as Hinton was wandering listlessly about the yard
he heard the gate click, and, looking up, saw Mr. Opp hurrying up the
walk with a large bunch of lilacs in one hand and a cornet in the
Good morning, said that gentleman, cheerily. Mighty glad to see
you out enjoying the beauties of nature. I haven't got but a moment in
which to stop; appointment at eight-fifteen. We are arranging for a
concert soon up in Main Street, going to practise this afternoon. I'll
be glad to call by for you if you feel able to enjoy some remarkable
Hinton accepted the proffered bouquet, but made a wry face at the
None of your concerts for me, he said brusquely. It would
interfere too seriously with my own musical job of getting in tune with
Mornin', Mr. Opp, said Mrs. Gusty from the dining-room window.
There ain't many editors has time to stand around and talk this time
Just paused a moment in passing, said Mr. Opp. Wanted to see if I
couldn't induce our young friend here to give us a' article for 'The
Opp Eagle.' Any nature, you know; we are always metropolitan in our
taste. Thought maybe he'd tell us some of his first impressions of our
Hinton smiled and shook his head. You'd better not stir up my
impressions about anything these days; I am apt to splash mud.
We can stand it, said Mr. Opp, affably. If Cove City needs
criticism and rebuke, 'The Opp Eagle' is the vehicle to administer it.
You dictate a few remarks to my reporter, and I'll feature it on the
front editorial column.
Hinton's eyes twinkled wickedly behind his blue glasses. I'll give
you an article, he said, but no name is to be signed.
Mr. Opp, regretting the stipulation, but pleased with the promise,
was turning to depart when Mrs. Gusty appeared once more at the window.
What's the matter with the oil-wells? she demanded, as she dusted
off the sill. Why don't they open up? You can't use bad weather for an
excuse any longer.
It wasn't the weather, said Mr. Opp, with the confident and
superior manner of one who is conversant with the entire situation.
This here delay has been arranged with a purpose. I and Mr. Mathews
has a plan that will eventually yield every stock-holder in the Cove
six to one for what he put into it.
Intend selling out to a syndicate? asked Hinton.
Mr. Opp looked at him in surprise.
Well, yes; I don't mind telling you two, but it mustn't go any
farther. The oil prospects in this region are of such a great magnitude
that we can't command sufficient capital to do 'em justice. I and Mr.
Mathews are at present negotiating with several large concerns with a
view to selling out the entire business at a large profit. You can't
have any conception of the tac' and patience it takes to manage one of
these large deals.
Who was that man Clark that was down here last week? asked Mrs.
Gusty, impressed, in spite of herself, at being taken into the
confidence of such a man of affairs.
Mr. Opp's face clouded. Now that was a very unfortunate thing about
Clark. He was sent down by the Union Syndicate of New York city to make
a report on the region, and he didn't get the correct ideas in the case
at all. If they hadn't sent such a poor man, the whole affair might
have been settled by now.
Wasn't his report favorable? asked Hinton.
He hasn't made it yet, said Mr. Opp; but he let drop sundry
casual remarks to me that showed he wasn't a man of fine judgment at
all. I went over the ground with him, and pointed out some of the
places where we calculated on drilling; but he was so busy making
measurements and taking notes that he didn't half hear what I was
He stayed at Our Hotel, said Mrs. Gusty. Mr. Tucker said he had
as mean a face as ever he looked into.
Who said so? asked Hinton.
She tossed her head and flipped her duster at him, but it was
evident that she was not displeased.
By the way, Mr. Opp, she said, I'm thinking about letting
Guin-never come home week after next. Guess you ain't sorry to hear
On the contrary, Mr. Opp was overcome with joy. Letters were
becoming less and less satisfying, and the problem suggested by Mrs.
Gusty was still waiting solution.
If you'll just mention the date, he said, trying to keep his
countenance from expressing an undue amount of rapture, I'll make a
business trip down to Coreyville on purpose to accompany her back
But Mrs. Gusty declined to be explicit. She deemed it unwise to
allow a mere man to know as much as she did upon any given subject.
Hinton's editorial appeared in the next issue of The Opp Eagle. It
was a clever and cutting satire on the impressions of a foreigner
visiting America for the first time. Hinton interviewed himself
concerning his impressions of the Cove. He approached the subject with
great seriousness, handling village trifles as if they were municipal
cannon-balls. He juggled with sense and nonsense, with form and
substance. The result shot far over the heads of the country
subscribers, and hit the bull's-eye of a big city daily.
Mr. Opp's excitement was intense when he found that an editorial
from The Opp Eagle had been copied in a New York paper. The fact that
it was not his own never for a moment dimmed the glory of the
We are getting notorious, he said exultingly to Hinton. There are
few, if any, papers that in less than a year has extended its influence
as far as the Atlantic Ocean. Now I am considering if it wouldn't be a
wise and judicious thing to get you on the staff permanentwhile you
are here, that is. Of course you understand I am invested up pretty
close; but I'd be willing to let you have a little of my oil stock in
payment for services.
Hinton laughingly shook his head. Whenever you run short of
material, you can call on me. The honor of seeing my humble efforts
borne aloft on the wings of 'The Opp Eagle' will be sufficient reward.
Having once conceived it as a favor that was in his power to bestow,
Mr. Opp lost no opportunity for inviting contributions from the
As Hinton's strength returned, Mr. Opp adopted him as a protégé, at
first patronizing him, then consulting him, and finally frankly
appealing to him. For during the long afternoon walks which they got
into the habit of taking together, Mr. Opp, in spite of bluster and
brag and evasion, found that he was constantly being embarrassed by a
question, a reference, a statement from his young friend. It was the
first time he had ever experienced any difficulty in keeping his head
above the waves of his own ignorance.
You see, he said one day by way of explanation, my genius was
never properly tutored in early youth. It's what some might regard as a
remarkable brain that could cope with all the different varieties of
enterprises that I have engaged in, with no instruction or guidance but
just the natural elements that God give it in the beginning.
But in spite of Mr. Opp's lenient attitude toward his intellectual
short-comings, it was evident that upon the serene horizon of his
egotism small clouds of humility were threatening to gather.
Hinton, restlessly seeking for something to fill the vacuum of his
days, found Mr. Opp and his paper a growing source of diversion. The
Opp Eagle, at first an object of ridicule, gradually became a point of
interest in his limited range of vision. Under his suggestions it was
enlarged and improved, and induced to publish news not strictly local.
Mr. Opp, meanwhile, was buzzing as persistently and ineffectually as
a fly on a window-pane. The night before Guinevere's return, he found
that, in order to accomplish all that he was committed to, it would be
necessary to spend the night at the office.
The concert for which the Unique Orchestra had been making night
hideous for two weeks had just come to a successful close, and the
editor found himself at a late hour tramping out the lonely road that
led to the office with the prospect of a couple of hours' work to do
before he could seek a well-earned rest upon the office bench.
He was flushed with his double triumph as director and cornet
soloist, and still thrilled by the mighty notes he had breathed into
his beloved instrument.
The violin sobs, the flute complains, the drum insists, but the
cornet brags, and Mr. Opp found it the instrument through which he
could best express himself.
It was midnight, and the moon, one moment shining brightly and the
next lost behind a flying cloud, sent all sorts of queer shadows
scurrying among the trees. Mr. Opp thought once that he saw the figure
of a man appear and disappear in the road before him, but he was so
engrossed in joyful anticipation of the morrow that he gave the
incident no attention. As he was passing the Gusty house, he was rudely
plunged from sentiment into suspicion by the sight of a figure
stealthily moving along the wall beneath the front windows.
Mr. Opp crouched behind the fence to watch him, but the moon took
that inopportune moment to sink into a bank of clouds, and the yard was
left in darkness. No sound broke the stillness save the far-off bark of
a dog or an occasional croak from a bullfrog. Mr. Opp waited and
listened in a state of intense suspense. Presently he heard the
unmistakable sound of a window being cautiously raised, and then just
as cautiously lowered. Summoning all his courage, he skirted the yard
and hid in the bushes near the house. Nothing was to be seen or heard.
He watched for a light at any of the windows, but none came.
The rash desire to capture the burglar single-handed, and thus
distinguish himself in the eyes of Guinevere's mother, caused Mr. Opp
to stiffen his knees and assume a fierce and determined expression. But
he was armed only with his cornet, which, though often deadly as an
instrument of attack, has never been recognized as a weapon of defense.
There seemed no alternative but to waken Hinton and effect a
simultaneous attack from within and without.
After throwing a few unsuccessful pebbles at Hinton's window, Mr.
Opp remembered a ladder he had seen at the back of the barnyard.
Shaking as if with the ague, but breathing dauntless courage, he
departed in great excitement to procure it.
Unfortunately another party was in possession. A dozen guinea-fowls
were roosting on the rungs, and when he gave them to understand they
were to vacate they raised an outcry that would have quelled the ardor
of a less valiant knight.
But the romantic nature of the adventure had fired Mr. Opp's
imagination. He already saw himself lightly dusting his hands after
throttling the intruder, and smiling away Mrs. Gusty's solicitude for
his safety. Meanwhile he staggered back to the house with his burden,
dodging fearfully at every shadow, and painfully aware that his heart
was beating a tattoo on his ear-drums.
Placing the ladder as quietly as possible under Hinton's window, he
cautiously began the ascent. The sudden outburst of the guineas had set
his nerves a-quiver, and what with his breathless condition, and a
predisposition to giddiness, he found some difficulty in reaching the
sill. When at last he succeeded, he saw, by the light of the now
refulgent moon, the figure of Hinton lying across the foot of the bed,
dressed, but asleep. The opening not being sufficiently large to admit
him, he thrust in his head and whispered hoarsely through his
Hinton! I say, Hinton, there's a burglar in the house!
Hinton started up, and stared dully at the excited apparition.
Hush! whispered Mr. Opp, dramatically, lifting a warning hand.
I've been tracking the scoundrel for half an hour. He's in the house
now. We'll surround him. We'll bind him hand and foot. You get the
front door open, and I'll meet you on the outside. It's all planned;
just do as I say.
Hinton, who was springing for the door, paused with his hand on the
knob. What's that?
It was Mrs. Gusty's commanding tones from a front window: He's
round at the side of the house. He's been after my guineas! I saw him a
minute ago going across the yard with a ladder. Shoot him if you can.
Shoot him in the leg, so he can't get away. Quick! Quick!
Mr. Opp had only time to turn from the window when he felt the
ladder seized from below and jerked violently forward. With a terrific
crash he came down with it, and found himself locked in a close
struggle with the supposed burglar. To his excited imagination his
adversary seemed a Titan, with sinews of steel and breath of fire. The
combatants rolled upon the ground and fought for possession of each
other's throats. The conflict, while fierce, was brief. As Hinton and
Mrs. Gusty rushed around the corner of the house, the fighters shouted
in unison, I've got him! and Mr. Opp, opening one swollen eye, gazed
down into the mild but bloody features of little Mr. Tucker!
With the instinct that always prompted him to apologize when any one
bumped into him, he withdrew his hands immediately from Mr. Tucker's
throat and began vehement explanations. But Mr. Tucker still clung to
his collar, sputtering wrathful ejaculations. Mrs. Gusty, wrapped in a
bed-quilt, and with her unicorn horn at its most ferocious angle, held
the lamp on high while Hinton rushed between the belligerents.
Excited and incoherent explanations followed, and it was not until
Mr. Opp, who was leaning limply against a tree, regained his breath
that the mystery was cleared up.
If you will just listen here at me a moment, he implored, holding
a handkerchief to his bruised face. We are one and all laboring under
a grave error. It's my belief that there ain't any burglar whatsoever
here at present. Mr. Hinton forgot his key and had to climb in the
window. I mistaken him for the burglar, and Mrs. Gusty, here, from what
she relates, mistaken me for him, and not knowing Mr. Hinton had come
in, telephoned our friend Mr. Tucker, and me and Mr. Tucker might be
said, in a general way, to have mistaken each other for him.
A pretty mess to get us all into! exclaimed Mrs. Gusty. A man
made his fortune once 'tending to his own business.
But, Mrs. Gusty began Mr. Opp, indignantly.
Hinton interrupted. You would better put something on that eye of
yours. It will probably resemble a Whistler 'Nocturne' by morning. What
are you looking for?
The object lost proved to be Mr. Opp's cherished cornet, and the
party became united in a common cause and joined in the search. Some
time elapsed before the horn was found under the fallen ladder, having
sustained internal injuries which subsequently proved fatal.
When dawn crept into the dingy office of The Opp Eagle, the editor
was watching for it. He was waiting to welcome the day that would bring
back Guinevere. As Hope with blindfold eyes bends over her harp and
listens to the faint music of her one unbroken string, so Mr. Opp, with
bandaged head, bent over his damaged horn and plaintively evoked the
only note that was left therein.
Those who have pursued the coy goddess of happiness through the
mazes of the labyrinth of life, know well how she invites her victim on
from point to point, only to evade capture at the end. Mr. Opp rose
with each summer dawn, radiant, confident, and expectant, and each
night he sat in his window with his knees hunched, and his brows drawn,
and wrestled with that old white-faced fear.
Two marauders were harassing the editor these days, dogging his
footsteps, and snapping at him from ambush. One was the wolf that howls
at the door, and the other was the monster whose eyes are green.
Since the halcyon days that had wafted Miss Guinevere Gusty back to
the shore of the Cove, Mr. Opp had not passed a serene hour out of her
presence. His disposition, though impervious to the repeated shafts of
unkind fortune, was not proof against the corrosive effect of jealousy.
If he could have regarded Willard Hinton in the light of a hated
rival, and met him in fair and open fight, the situation would have
been simplified. But Hinton was the friend of his bosom, the man who,
he had declared to the town, possessed the grandest intelligence he
had ever encountered in a human mind. He admired him, he respected
him, and, in direct contradiction to the emotion that was consuming
him, he trusted him.
Concerning Miss Guinevere Gusty's state of mind, Mr. Opp permitted
himself only one opinion. He fiercely denied that she was absent-minded
and listless when alone with him; he refused to believe his own eyes
when he saw a light in her face when she looked at Hinton that was
never there for him. He preferred to exaggerate to himself her
sweetness, her gentleness, her loyalty, demanding nothing, and
continuing to give all.
His entire future happiness, he assured himself, hung upon the one
question of little Miss Kippy. For four months the problem had been a
matter for daily, prayerful consideration, but he was still in the
When he was with Guinevere the solution seemed easy. In explaining
away the difficulties to her, he explained them away to himself, also.
It was only a matter of time, he declared, before the oil-well would
yield rich profit. When that time arrived, he would maintain two
establishments, the old one for Miss Kippy, and a new and elegant one
for themselves. Mr. Opp used the hole in the ground as a telescope
through which he viewed the stars of the future.
But when he was alone with Kippy, struggling with her whims, while
he tried to puzzle out the oldest and most universal of
conundrums,that of making ends meet,the future seemed entirely
blotted out by the great blank wall of the present.
The matter was in a way complicated by the change that had come over
Miss Kippy herself. Two ideas alternately depressed and elated her. The
first was a fixed antipathy to the photograph of Miss Guinevere Gusty
which Mr. Opp had incased in a large hand-painted frame and installed
upon his dresser. At first she sat before it and cried, and later she
hid it and refused for days to tell where it was. The sight of it made
her so unhappy that Mr. Opp was obliged to keep it under lock and key.
The other idea produced a different effect. It had to do with Hinton.
Ever since his visit she had talked of little else. She pretended that
he came to see her every day, and she spread her doll dishes, and
repeated scraps of his conversation, and acted over the events of the
dinner at which he had been present. The short gingham dresses no
longer pleased her; she wanted long ones, with flowing sleeves like the
blue merino. She tied her hair up in all manner of fantastic shapes,
and stood before the glass smiling and talking to herself for hours.
But there were times when her mind paused for a moment at the normal,
and then she would ask frightened, bewildered questions, and only Mr.
Opp could soothe and reassure her.
D., she said one night suddenly, how old am I?
Mr. Opp, whose entire mental and physical powers were concentrated
upon an effort to put a new band on his old hat, was taken off his
guard. Twenty-six, he answered absently.
A little cry brought him to her side.
No, she whispered, shivering away from him, yet clinging to his
sleeve, that's a lady that's grown up! Ladies don't play with dolls.
But I want to be grown up, too. D., why am I different? I want to be a
lady; show me how to be a lady!
Mr. Opp gathered her into his arms, along with his hat, a pair of
scissors, and a spool of thread.
Don't, Kippy! he begged. Now, don't cry like that! You are
getting on elegant. Hasn't brother D. learned you to read a lot of
pieces in your first reader? And ain't we going to begin on handwriting
next? Wouldn't you like to have a slate, and a sponge to rub out with?
In an instant her mood veered.
And a basket? she cried eagerly. The children carry a basket,
too. I see them when I peep through the shutters. Can I have a basket,
The network of complexities that was closing in upon Mr. Opp
apparently affected his body more than his spirits. He seemed to
shrivel and dwindle as the pressure increased; but the fire in his eyes
shone brighter than before.
None of his folks live long over forty, said Mrs. Fallows,
lugubriously; they sorter burn themselves out.
Hinton, meanwhile, utterly unaware of being the partial cause of the
seismic disturbance in the editorial bosom, pursued the monotonous
routine of his days. It had taken him only a short time to adapt
himself to the changes that the return of the daughter of the house had
brought about. He had anticipated her arrival with the dread a nervous
invalid always feels toward anything that may jolt him out of his
habitual rut. He held a shuddering remembrance of her musical
accomplishments, and foresaw with dread the noisy crowd of young people
she might bring about the house.
But Guinevere had slipped into her place, an absent-minded, dreamy,
detached damsel, asserting nothing, claiming nothing, bending like a
flower in the high winds of her mother's wrath.
Hinton watched the dominating influence nip every bud of
individuality that the girl ventured to put forth, and he determined to
interfere. During the long months he had spent with Mrs. Gusty he had
discovered a way to manage her. The weak spot in her armor was pride of
intellect; she acknowledged no man her superior. By the use of
figurative language, and references to esoteric matters, he was always
able to baffle and silence her. His joy in handling her in one of her
tempers was similar to that of controlling a cat-boat in squally
weather. Both experiences redounded to his masculine supremacy.
One hot August day, he and Mrs. Gusty had just had an unusually
sharp round, but he had succeeded, by alternate compliment and sarcasm,
in reducing her to a very frustrated and baffled condition.
It was Sunday, the day the Cove elected for a spiritual wash-day. In
the morning the morals of the community were scrubbed and rinsed in the
meeting-house, and in the afternoon they were hung out on the line to
dry. The heads of the families sat in their front yards and dutifully
tended the children, while their wives flitted from house to house,
visiting the sick and the afflicted, and administering warnings to the
delinquent. It was a day in which Mrs. Gusty's soul reveled, and she
demanded that Guinevere's soul should revel likewise.
It was with the determination that Guinevere should occasionally be
allowed the privilege of following her own inclinations that Hinton
hurled himself into the breach.
I'll go, Mother, said Guinevere; but it's so hot. We went to see
everybody last Sunday. I thought I'd rather stay home and read, if you
Mrs. Gusty tossed her head in disgust, and turned to Hinton.
Now, ain't that a Gusty for you! I never saw one that didn't want
to set down to the job of living. Always moping around with their nose
in a book. I never was a reader, never remember wasting a' hour on a
book in my life, and yet I never saw the time that I wasn't able to
hold my own with any Gusty living.
In short, said Hinton, sympathetically, to quote a noted
novelist, you have never considered it necessary to add the incident of
learning to the accident of brains.
Mrs. Gusty tied her bonnet-strings in a firmer knot as she looked at
him uncertainly, then, not deigning to cast another glance in the
direction of her daughter, who was disappearing up the stairs, swept
out of the house.
Hinton looked at his watch; it was not yet two o'clock. The
afternoon threatened to be a foretaste of eternity. He went out on the
porch and lay in the hammock, with his hands clasped across his eyes.
He could no longer see to read or to write. The doctor said the
darkness might close in now at any time, after that the experiment of
an operation would be made, and there was one chance in a hundred for
the partial restoration of the sight.
Having beaten and bruised himself against the bars of Fate, he now
lay exhausted and passive in the power of his jailer. He had tried to
run his own life in his own way, and the matter had been taken out of
his hands. He must lie still now and wait for orders from headquarters.
The words of Mr. Opp, spoken in the low-ceiled, weird old dining-room,
came vividly back to him: What the fight is concerning, or in what
manner the general is a-aiming to bring it all correct in the end,
ain't, according to my conclusion, a particle of our business.
And Hinton, after a year of rebellion and struggle and despair, had
at last acknowledged a superior officer and declared himself ready to
take whatever orders came.
As he lay in the hammock he turned his head at every noise within
the house, and listened. He had become amazingly dependent upon a soft,
drawling voice which day after day read to him for hours at a time. At
first he had met Guinevere's offers of help with moody irritability.
Pray, don't bother about me, he had said. I am quite able to look
after myself; besides, I like to be alone.
But her unobtrusive sympathy and childish frankness soon conquered
his pride. She read to him from books she did not understand, played
games with him, and showed him new walks in the woods. And
incidentally, she revealed to him her struggling, starving, wistful
soul that no one else had ever discovered.
She never talked to him of her love affair, but she dwelt vaguely on
the virtues of duty and loyalty and self-sacrifice. The facts in the
case were supplied by Mrs. Gusty.
Hinton looked at his watch again, and groaned when he found it was
only a quarter past two. Feeling his way cautiously along the porch and
down the steps, he moved idly about the yard. He could not distinguish
Menelaus from Paris now, and Helen of Troy was no longer to be
At long intervals a vehicle rattled past, leaving a cloud of dust
behind. The air shimmered with the heat, and the low, insistent buzzing
of bees beat on his ears mercilessly. He wondered impatiently why
Guinevere did not come down, then checked himself as he remembered the
constant demands he made upon her time.
At three o'clock he could stand it no longer. He felt a queer, dull
sensation about his head, and he constantly drew his hand across his
eyes to dispel the impression of a mist before them.
Oh, Miss Guinevere! he called up to her window. Would you mind
coming down just for a little while!
Guinevere's head appeared so promptly that it was evident it had
been lying on the window-sill.
Is it time for your medicine? she asked guiltily. Mother said it
didn't come till four.
Oh, no, said Hinton, with forced cheerfulness; it isn't that. You
remember the old song, don't you, 'When a man's afraid, a beautiful
maid is a cheering sight to see'?
She disappeared from the window, and in a moment joined him behind
the screen of honeysuckles on the porch. The hammock hung, inviting
ease, but neither of them took it. She sat primly on the
straight-backed, green settee, and he sat on the step at her feet with
his hat pulled over his eyes.
What an infernal nuisance I have been to you! he said ruefully;
but no more than I have been to myself. The only difference was that I
had to stand it, and you stood it out of the goodness of that kind
little heart of yours. Well, it's nearly over now; I'm expecting to go
to the city any day. I guess you'll not be sorry to get rid of me, will
you, Miss Guinevere?
Instead of answering, she drew a quick breath and turned her head
away. When she did speak, it was after a long pause.
I like the way you say my name. Nobody says it like that down
Guinevere? he repeated.
She nodded. When you say it like that, I feel like I was another
person. It makes me think of flowers, and poetry, and the wind in the
trees, and all those things I've been reading you out of your books.
Guin-never and Guinevere don't seem the same at all, do they?
They aren't the same, he said, and you aren't the same girl I met
on the boat last March. I guess we've both grown a bit since then. You
know I was rather keen on dying about that time,'in love with easeful
death,'well, now I am not keen about anything, but I am willing to
play the game out.
They sat in silence for a while, then he said slowly, without
raising his eyes: I am not much good at telling what I feel, but
before I go away I want you to know how much you've helped me. You have
been the one light that was left to show me the way down into the
A soft touch on his shoulder made him lift his head. Guinevere was
bending toward him, all restraint banished from her face by the
compassion and love that suffused it.
[Illustration: 'Oh, my God, it has come']
Instinctively he swayed toward her, all the need of her crying out
suddenly within him, then he pulled himself sharply together, and,
resolutely thrusting his hands in his pockets, rose and took a turn up
and down the porch.
Do you mind reading to me a little? he asked at length. There are
forty devils in my head to-day, all hammering on the back of my
eyeballs. I'll get my Tennyson; you like him better than you do the
others. Wait; I'm going.
But she was up the steps before him, eager to serve, and determined
to spare him every effort.
Through the long afternoon Guinevere read, stumbling over the
strange words and faltering through the difficult passages, but vibrant
to the beauty and the pathos of it all. On and on she read, and the sun
went down, and the fragrance of dying locust bloom came faintly from
the hill, and overhead in the tree-tops the evening breeze murmured its
world-old plaint of loneliness and longing.
Suddenly Guinevere's voice faltered, then steadied, then faltered
again, then without warning she flung her arms across the back of the
bench, and, dropping her head upon them, burst into passionate sobs.
Hinton, who had been sitting for a long time with his hands pressed
over his eyes, sprang up to go to her.
Guinevere, he said, what's the matter? Don't cry, dear! Then, as
he stumbled, a look of terror crossed his face and he caught at the
railing for support. Where are you? he asked sharply. Speak to me!
Give me your hand! I can't seeI can'toh, my God, it has come!
The warning note sounded by Mrs. Fallows at the beginning of the oil
boom was echoed by many before the summer was over. The coldest thing
in the world is an exhausted enthusiasm, and when weeks slipped into
months, and notes fell due, and the bank became cautious about lending
money, a spirit of distrust got abroad, and a financial frost settled
upon the community.
Notwithstanding these conditions, The Opp Eagle persistently
screamed prosperity. It attributed the local depression to the
financial disturbance that had agitated the country at large, and
assured the readers that the Cove was on the eve of the greatest period
in its history.
The ascending, soaring bubble of inflated prices cannot last much
longer, one editorial said; the financial flurry in the Wall Streets
of the North were pretty well over before we become aware of it, in a
major sense. 'The Opp Eagle' has in the past, present, and future waged
noble warfare against the calamity jays. Panic or no panic, Cove City
refuses to remain in the backgrounds. There has been a large order for
job-work in this office within the past ten days, also several new and
important subscribers, all of which does not make much of a showing for
hard times, at least not from our point of looking at it.
But in the same issue, in an inconspicuous corner, were a couple of
lines to the effect that the editor would be glad to take a load of
wood on subscription.
The truth was that it required all of Mr. Opp's diplomacy to rise to
the occasion. The effort to meet his own obligations was becoming daily
more embarrassing, and he was reduced to economies entirely beneath the
dignity of the editor of The Opp Eagle. But while he cheerfully
restricted his diet to two meals a day, and wore shirt-fronts in lieu
of the genuine article, he was, according to Nick's ideas, rashly
extravagant in other ways.
What did you go and buy Widow Green's oil-shares back for? Nick
demanded upon one of these occasions.
Well, you see, explained Mr. Opp, it was purely a business
proposition. Any day, now, things may open up in a way that will
surprise you. I have good reason to believe that those shares are bound
to go up; and besides, he added lamely in an undertone, I happen to
know that that there lady was in immediate need of a little ready
So are we, protested Nick; we need every cent we can get for the
paper. If we don't get ahead some by the first of the year, we are
going under, sure as you live.
Mr. Opp laid a hand upon his shoulder and smiled tolerantly.
Financiers get used to these fluctuations in money circles. Don't you
worry, Nick; you leave that to the larger brains in the concern.
But in spite of his superior attitude of confidence, Nick's words
rankled in his mind, and the first of the year became a time which he
preferred not to consider.
One day in September the mail-packet brought two letters of great
importance to Mr. Opp. One was from Willard Hinton, the first since his
operation, and the other was from Mr. Mathews, stating that he would
arrive at the Cove that day to lay an important matter of business
before the stock-holders of the Turtle Creek Land Company.
Mr. Opp rushed across the road, a letter in each hand, to share the
news with Guinevere.
It's as good as settled, he cried, bursting in upon her, where she
sat at the side door wrestling with a bit of needlework. Mr. Mathews
will be here to-day. He is either going to open up work or sell out to
a syndicate. I'm going to use all my influence for the latter; it's the
surest and safest plan. Miss Guin-never,his voice softened,this
is all I been waiting for to make my last and final arrangement with
your mother. It was just yesterday she was asking me what I'd decided
to do, and I don't mind telling you, now it's all over, I never went to
bed all last nightjust sat up trying to figure it out. But this will
settle it. I'll be in a position to have a little home of my own and
take care of Kippy, too. I don't know as I ever was so happy in all my
life put together before. He laughed nervously, but his eyes anxiously
studied her averted face.
Then there's more news, he plunged on, when she did not speaka
letter from Mr. Hinton. I thought maybe you'd like to hear what he had
Guinevere's scissors dropped with a sharp ring on the stepping-stone
below, and as they both stooped to get them, their fingers touched. Mr.
Opp ardently seized her hand in both of his, but unfortunately he
seized her needle as well.
Oh, I am so sorry! she said. Wait, let me do it, and with a
compassion which he considered nothing short of divine she extricated
the needle, and comforted the wounded member. Mr. Opp would have gladly
suffered the fate of a St. Sebastian to have elicited such sympathy.
Isis Mr. Hinton better? she asked, still bending over his hand.
Hinton? asked Mr. Opp. Oh, I forgot; yes. I'll read you what he
says. He got his nurse to write this for him.
Dear Opp: The die is cast; I am a has-been. I did not expect
anything, so I am not disappointed. The operation was what they
called successful. The surgeon, I am told, did a very brilliant
stunt; something like taking my eyes out, playing marbles with
and getting them sewed back again all in three minutes and a
The result to the patient is of course purely a minor
but it may interest you to know that I can tell a biped from a
quadruped, and may in time, by the aid of powerful glasses, be
to distinguish faces.
With these useful and varied accomplishments I have decided to
return to the Cove. My modest ambition now is to get out of the
and the safest plan is to keep out of the current.
You will probably be a Benedick by the time I return. My
congratulations to you and Miss Guinevere. Words cannot thank
of you for what you have done for me. All I can say is that I
tried to be worthy of your friendship.
What's left of me is
Mr. Opp avoided looking at her as he folded the sheets and put them
back in the envelop. The goal was bright before his eyes, but
quicksands dragged at his feet.
And he will find us married, won't he, Miss Guin-never?
You'll be ready just as soon as I and your mother come to a
understanding, won't you? Why, it seems more like eleven years than
eleven months since you and me saw that sunset on the river! There
hasn't been a day since, you might say, that hasn't been occupied with
you. All I ask for in the world is just the chance for the rest of my
life of trying to make you happy. You believe that, don't you, Miss
Yes, she said miserably, gazing out at the little arbor Hinton had
made for her beneath the trees.
Well, I'll stop by this evening after the meeting, if it ain't too
late, said Mr. Opp. You'llyou'll beglad if everything culminates
satisfactory, won't you?
I'm glad of everything good that comes to you, said Guinevere so
earnestly that Mr. Opp, who had lived on a diet of crumbs all his life,
looked at her gratefully, and went back to the office assuring himself
that all would be well.
The visit of Mr. Mathews, while eagerly anticipated, could not have
fallen on a less auspicious day. Aunt Tish, the arbiter of the Opp
household, had been planning for weeks to make a visit to Coreyville,
and the occasion of an opportune funeral furnished an immediate excuse.
No, sir, Mr. D., I can't put hit off till to-morrow, she
declared in answer to Mr. Opp's request that she stay with Miss Kippy
until after the stock-holders' meeting. I's 'bleeged to go on dat
night boat. De funeral teks place at ten o'clock in de mawnin', an' I's
gwine be dar ef I has to swim de ribber.
Was he a particular friend, the one that died? asked Mr. Opp.
Friend? Bunk Bivens? Dat onery, good-fer-nothin' ole half-strainer?
Naw, sir; he ain't no friend ob mine.
Well, what makes you so pressing and particular about attending his
funeral? asked Mr. Opp.
'Ca'se I 'spise him so. I been hating dat nigger fer pretty nigh
forty year, an' I ain't gwine lose dis chanst ob seein' him buried.
But, Aunt Tish, persisted Mr. Opp, impatiently, I've got a very
important and critical meeting this afternoon. The business under
consideration may be wound up in the matter of a few minutes, and then,
again, it may prolong itself into several consecutive hours. You'll
have to stay with Kippy till I get home.
The old woman looked at him strangely. See dis heah hole in my
haid, honey? 'Member how you and Ben uster ast Aunt Tish what mek hit?
Dat nigger Bunk Bivens mek hit. He was a roustabout on de ribber, an'
him an' yer paw fell out, an' one night when you was a baby he follow
yer paw up here, an' me an' him had hit out.
But where was my father? asked Mr. Opp.
Dey was 'sputin' right heah in dis heah kitchen where we's standin'
at, an' dat mean, bow-laigged nigger didn't have no better manners den
to 'spute wif a gentleman dat was full. An' pore Miss she run in so
skeered an' white an' she say, 'Aunt Tish, don't let him hurt him; he
don't know what he's sayin',' she baig, an' I tell her to keep yer paw
outen de way an' I tek keer ob Bunk.
And did he fight you? asked Mr. Opp, indignantly.
Naw, sir; I fit him. We put nigh tore up de floor ob de kitchen.
Den he bust my haid open wif de poker, an' looks lak I been losing my
knowledge ever sence. From dat day I 'low I's gwine to git even if it
took me till I died, an' now dat spiteful old devil done died fust. But
I's gwine see him buried. I want to see 'em nail him up in a box and
th'ow dirt on him.
Aunt Tish ended the recital in a sing-song chant, worked up to a
state of hysteria by the recital of her ancient wrong.
Mr. Opp sighed both for the past and the present. He saw the
futility of arguing the case.
Well, you'll stay until the boat whistles? he asked. Sometimes it
is two hours late.
Yas, sir; but when dat whistle toots I's gwine. Ef you is heah, all
right; ef you ain't, all right: I's gwine!
As Mr. Opp passed through the hall he saw Miss Kippy slip ahead of
him and conceal herself behind the door. She carried something hidden
in her apron.
Have you learned your reading lesson to say to brother D.
to-night? he asked, ignoring her behavior. You are getting so smart,
learning to read handwriting just as good as I can!
But Miss Kippy only peeped at him through the crack in the door and
refused to be friendly. For several days she had been furtive and
depressed, and had not spoken to either Aunt Tish or himself.
On the way to his office Mr. Opp was surprised to see Mr. Gallop
leaning out of the window of his little room beckoning frantically. It
was evident that Mr. Gallop had a secret to divulge, and Mr. Gallop
with a secret was as excited as a small bird with a large worm.
Just come in a minute and sit down, he fluttered; you'll have to
excuse the looks of things. Having just this one room for telegraph
office and bedroom and everything crowds me up awful. I've been trying
to fix my lunch for half an hour, but the telephone just keeps me busy.
Then, besides, Mr. Mathews was here; he came down on the launch at
twelve o'clock. Now, of course I know it ain't right to repeat anything
I hear over the long-distance wire, but being such a good friend of
yours, and you being such a friend of minewhy, Mr. Opp there ain't
anybody in the world I owe more to than I do to you, not only the money
you've lent me from time to time, but your standing up for me when
everybody was down on meand
Yes; but you was remarking about Mr. Mathews? Mr. Opp interrupted.
Yes; and I was saying I never make a practice of repeating what I
hear, but he was talking right here in the room, and I was mixing up a
little salad dressing I promised Mrs. Fallows for the social,it's to
be over at Your Hotel this eveningthere's the telephone!
Mr. Opp sat on the edge of the sofa, the rest of it being occupied
with gaily embroidered sofa pillows, specimens, the town declared, of
Mr. Gallop's own handiwork. In fact, the only unoccupied space in the
room was on the ceiling, for between his duties as operator and
housekeeper Mr. Gallop still found time to cultivate the arts, and the
result of his efforts was manifest in every nook and corner.
It was Mrs. Gusty getting after Mr. Toddlinger for sending vanilla
extract instead of lemon, explained Mr. Gallop, who had stopped to
hear the discussion.
Well, as I was saying, Mr. Mathews called up somebody in the city
almost as soon as he got hereNow you've got to promise me you won't
tell a living soul about this.
Mr. Opp promised.
He said to telegraph New York party that terms were agreed on, and
to mail check at once to Clark, and tell him to keep his mouth shut.
Then the other end said something, and Mr. Mathews said: 'We can't
afford to wait. You telegraph at once; I'll manipulate the crowd down
here.' They talked a lot more, then he said awful low, but I heard him:
'Well, damn it! they've got to. There's too much at stake.'
The editor sat with his hat in his hand, and blinked at the
operator: Manipulate, he said in a puzzled tone, did he use that
Mr. Gallop nodded.
He may have been referring to something else, said Mr. Opp,
waiving aside any disagreeable suspicion. Mr. Mathews is a business
gentleman. He's involved in a great many ventures, something like
myself. You wouldn't think from what you heard thaterthat he was
contemplating not acting exactlyfair with us, would you?
Mr. Gallop, having delivered himself of his information, did not
feel called upon to express a personal opinion.
If you ever say I told you a word of this, I'll swear I didn't, he
said. It was just because you were such a good friend, andthere's
that 'phone again!
During the early hours of the afternoon, Mr. Opp was oppressed with
a vague uneasiness. He made several attempts to see Mr. Mathews, but
that gentleman was closeted with his stenographer until five o'clock,
the hour named for the meeting.
All feeling of distrust was banished, however, when Mr. Mathews made
his way through the crowd of stock-holders that filled the office of
Your Hotel, and took his stand by the desk. He was so bland and
confident, so satisfied with himself and the world and the situation,
that, as Jimmy Fallows remarked, You kinder looked for him to purr
when he wasn't talking.
He set forth at great length the undoubted oil wealth of the region,
he complimented them on their sagacity and foresight in buying up the
Turtle Creek ground, he praised the Cove in general and that
distinguished citizen, the editor of The Opp Eagle, in particular.
The enterprise upon which they had embarked, he said, had grown to such
proportions that large capital was required to carry it on. Owing to
the recent depression in the money market, the Kentucky company did not
feel able properly to back the concern, so it had been agreed that if a
good offer was made to buy it, it should be accepted. It was with such
an offer, Mr. Mathews said, that he had come to them to-day.
A stir of excitement met this announcement, and Miss Jim Fenton
waved her lace scarf in her enthusiasm.
Some time ago, went on Mr. Mathews, graciously acknowledging the
applause, the Union Syndicate of New York sent an expert, Mr. Clark,
down here to report on the oil conditions in this region. Mr. Opp's
eyes became fixed on Mr. Mathews's face, and his lips parted. The
report was so entirely satisfactory, continued Mr. Mathews, that the
following offer has been made.
Mr. Opp rose immediately. Excuse me, sir, there iserrather,
there must be some little mistake just at this juncture.
All eyes were turned upon him, and a murmur of dissent arose at an
interruption at such a critical point.
Mr. Mathews gave him permission to proceed.
You seeIMr. Clark, that is,Mr. Opp's fingers were working
nervously on the back of the chair before him,him and myself went
over the ground together, andIwell, I must say I don't consider him
a competent judge.
Mr. Mathews smiled. I am afraid, Mr. Opp, that your opinion is
overruled. Mr. Clark is a recognized authority, although, he added
significantly, of course the most expert make mistakes at times.
That ain't the point, persisted Mr. Opp; it's the conflicting
difference in what he said to me, and what he's reported to them. He
told me that he didn't consider our prospects was worth a picayune, and
if the wells were drilled, they probably wouldn't run a year. I didn't
believe him then; but you say now that he is a expert and that he
Mr. Mathews's tolerance seemed limitless. He waited patiently for
Mr. Opp to finish, then he said smoothly:
Yes, yes; I understand your point perfectly, Mr. Opp. Mr. Clark's
remarks were injudicious, but he was looking at all sides of the
question. He saw me after he saw you, you know, and I was able to
direct his attention to the more favorable aspects of the case. His
report was entirely favorable, and I guess that is all that concerns
us, isn't it? He embraced the room with his smile.
During the next quarter of an hour Mr. Opp sat with his arms folded
and his eyes bent on the floor and bit his lips furiously. Something
was wrong. Again and again he fought his way back to this conclusion
through the enveloping mazes of Mr. Mathews's plausibility. Why had
they waited so long after drilling that first well? Why, after making
elaborate plans and buying machinery, had they suddenly decided to
sell? Why had Mr. Clark given such contradictory opinions? What did Mr.
Mathews mean by that message from Mr. Gallop's office? Mr. Opp's
private affairs, trembling in the balance, were entirely lost sight of
in his determination for fair play.
Covering his eyes with his hand, and trying not to hear the flood of
argument which Mr. Mathews was bringing to bear upon his already
convinced audience, Mr. Opp attempted to recall all that Mr. Gallop had
He said 'manipulate,' repeated Mr. Opp to himself. I remember
that, and he said 'telegraph New York party that terms were agreed on.'
Then he said 'mail check to Clark; tell him to keep his mouth shut.'
What's he paying Clark for? Why
The motion before the house, Mr. Tucker's piping voice broke in
upon his agitated reasoning, is whether the stock-holders of the
Turtle Creek Land Company is willing to sell out at a rate of seven to
one to the Union Syndicate.
In the buzz of delight that ensued, Mr. Opp found himself standing
on a chair and demanding attention.
Listen here, he cried, pounding on the wall with his hand, I've
got important information that's got to be told: that man Clark is a
rascal. He'she's deceiving his company. He's been paid to make a good
report of our ground. I can't prove it, but I know it. We're taking
part in a fraud; we'rewe're being manipulated.
Mr. Opp almost shrieked the last word in his agony of earnestness;
but before the crowd could fully apprehend his meaning, Mr. Mathews
rose and said somewhat sharply:
What the representative of the Union Syndicate is, or is not,
doesn't concern us in the least. I come to you with a gilt-edged
proposition; all I ask you is to sit tight, and take my advice, and I
guarantee you an immediate return of seven dollars to every one you put
into this concern. Mr. Chairman, will you put it to the vote?
But Mr. Opp again stopped proceedings. As a director in this
company I won't stand for what's going on. I'll telegraph the
syndicate. I'll advertise the whole matter!
Mat Lucas pulled at his sleeve, and the preacher put a restraining
arm about his shoulder. The amazing rumor had become current that the
Cove's stanchest advocate for temperance had been indulging in drink,
and there was nothing in the editor's flushed face and excited manner
to contradict the impression.
If by any chance, Mr. Mathews went on in a steady voice, there
should be a stock-holder who is unwilling to take advantage of this
magnificent offer, we need hardly say that we are prepared to buy his
stock back at the amount he gave for it. He smiled, as if inviting
ridicule at the absurdity of the proposition.
I am unwilling, cried Mr. Opp, tugging at the restraining hands.
I have never yet in all the length and breadth of my experience been
associated with a dishonest act.
Don't! Mr. Opp, don't! whispered Mat Lucas. You're acting like a
crazy man. Don't you see you are losing the chance to make three
That hasn't nothing to do with it, cried Mr. Opp, almost beside
himself. I'll not be a party to the sale. I'll
Mr. Mathews turned to his secretary. Just fix up those papers for
Mr. Opp, and give him a check for what is coming to him. Now, Mr.
Chairman, will you put the matter to the vote?
Amid the hilarious confusion that succeeded the unanimous vote, and
the subsequent adjournment of the meeting, Mr. Opp pushed his way
through the crowd that surrounded Mr. Mathews.
You know what I was alluding at, he shouted through his chattering
teeth. You've carried this through, but I'll blockade you. I am going
to tell the truth to the whole community. I am going to telegraph to
the syndicate and stop the sale.
Mr. Mathews lifted his brows and smiled deprecatingly.
I am sorry you have worked yourself up to such a pitch, my friend,
he said. Telegraph, by all means if it will ease your mind; but the
fact is, the deal was closed at noon to-day.
The long, low whistle of the packet sounded, but Mr. Opp heeded it
not. He was flinging his way across to the telegraph office in a frenzy
of Quixotic impatience to right the wrong of which he had refused to be
Half an hour later, Mr. Opp dragged himself up the hill to his home.
All the unfairness and injustice of the universe seemed pressing upon
his heart. Every muscle in his body quivered in remembrance of what he
had been through, and an iron band seemed tightening about his throat.
His town had refused to believe his story! It had laughed in his face!
With a sudden mad desire for sympathy and for love, he began calling
Kippy. He stumbled across the porch, and, opening the door with his
latch-key, stood peering into the gloom of the room.
The draft from an open window blew a curtain toward him, a white
spectral, beckoning thing, but no sound broke the stillness.
Kippy! he called again, his voice sharp with anxiety.
From one room to another he ran, searching in nooks and corners,
peering under the beds and behind the doors, calling in a voice that
was sometimes a command, but oftener a plea: Kippy! Kippy!
At last he came back to the dining-room and lighted the lamp with
shaking hands. On the hearth were the remains of a small bonfire, with
papers scattered about. He dropped on his knees and seized a bit of
charred cardboard. It was a corner of the hand-painted frame that had
incased the picture of Guinevere Gusty! Near it lay loose sheets of
paper, parts of that treasured package of letters she had written him
As Mr. Opp gazed helplessly about the room, his eyes fell upon
something white pinned to the red table-cloth. He held it to the light.
It was a portion of one of Guinevere's letters, written in the girl's
clear, round hand:
Mother says I can never marry you until Miss Kippy goes to the
Mr. Opp got to his feet. She's read the letter, he cried wildly;
she's learned out about herself! Maybe she's in the woods now, or down
on the bank! He rushed to the porch. Kippy! he shouted. Don't be
afraid! Brother D.'s coming to get you! Don't run away, Kippy! Wait for
me! Wait! and leaving the old house open to the night, he plunged into
the darkness, beating through the woods and up and down the road,
calling in vain for Kippy, who lay cowering in the bottom of a leaking
skiff that was drifting down the river at the mercy of the current.
* * * * *
Two days later, Mr. Opp sat in the office of the Coreyville Asylum
for the Insane and heard the story of his sister's wanderings. Her boat
had evidently been washed ashore at a point fifteen miles above the
town, for people living along the river had reported a strange little
woman, without hat or coat, who came to their doors crying and saying
her name was Oxety, and that she was crazy, and begging them to show
her the way to the asylum. On the second day she had been found
unconscious on the steps of the institution, and since then, the doctor
said, she had been wild and unmanageable.
Considering all things, he concluded, it is much wiser for you
not to see her. She came of her own accord, evidently felt the attack
coming on, and wanted to be taken care of.
He was a large, smooth-faced man, with the conciliatory manner of
one who regards all his fellow-men as patients in varying degrees of
But I'm in the regular habit of taking care of her, protested Mr.
Opp. This is just a temporary excitement for the time being that won't
ever, probably, occur again. Why, she's been improving all winter; I've
learnt her to read and write a little, and to pick out a number of
cities on the geographical atlas.
All wrong, exclaimed the doctor; mistaken kindness. She can never
be any better, but she may be a great deal worse. Her mind should never
be stimulated or excited in any way. Here, of course, we understand all
these things and treat the patient accordingly.
Then I must just go back to treating her like a child again? asked
Mr. Opp, not endeavoring to improve her intellect, or help her grow up
in any way?
The doctor laid a kindly hand on his shoulder.
You leave her to us, he said. The State provides this excellent
institution for just such cases as hers. You do yourself and your
family, if you have one, an injustice by keeping her at home. Let her
stay here for six months or so, and you will see what a relief it will
Mr. Opp sat with his elbow on the desk and his head propped in his
hand, and stared miserably at the floor. He had not had his clothes off
for two nights, and he had scarcely taken time from his search to eat
anything. His face looked old and wizened and haunted from the strain.
Yet here and now he was called upon to make his great decision. On the
one hand lay the old, helpless life with Kippy, and on the other a
future of dazzling possibility with Guinevere. All of his submerged
self suddenly rose and demanded happiness. He was ready to snatch it,
at any cost, regardless of everything and everybodyof Kippy; of
Guinevere, who, he knew, did not love him, but would keep her promise;
of Hinton, whose secret he had long ago guessed. And, as a running
accompaniment to his thoughts, was the quiet, professional voice of the
doctor urging him to the course that his heart prompted. For a moment
the personal forces involved trembled in equilibrium.
After a long time he unknotted his fingers, and drew his
handkerchief across his brow.
I guess I'll go up and see her now, he said, with the gasping
breath of a man who has been under water.
In vain the doctor protested. Mr. Opp was determined.
As the door to the long ward was being unlocked, he leaned for a
moment dizzily against the wall.
You'd better let me give you a swallow of whisky, suggested the
doctor, who had noted his exhaustion.
Mr. Opp raised his hand deprecatingly, with a touch of his old
professional pride. I don't know as I've had occasion to mention, he
said, that I am the editor and sole proprietor of 'The Opp Eagle'; and
that bird, he added, with a forced smile, is, as everybody knows, a
At the end of the crowded ward, with her face to the wall, was a
slight, familiar figure. Mr. Opp started forward; then he turned
fiercely upon the attendant.
Her hands are tied! Who dared to tie her up like that?
It's just a soft handkerchief, replied the matronly woman,
reassuringly. We were afraid she would pull her hair out. She wants
its fixed a certain way; but she's afraid for any of us to touch her.
She has been crying about it ever since she came.
In an instant Mr. Opp was on his knees beside her. Kippy, Kippy
darling, here's brother D.; he'll fix it for you! You want it parted on
the side, don't you, tied with a bow, and all the rest hanging down?
Don't cry so, Kippy. I'm here now; brother D.'ll take care of you.
She flung her loosened arms around him and clung to him in a passion
of relief. Her sobs shook them both, and his face and neck were wet
with her tears.
As soon as they could get her sufficiently quiet, they took her into
her little bedroom.
You let the lady get you ready, urged Mr. Opp, still holding her
hand, and I'll take you back home, and Aunt Tish will have a nice, hot
supper all waiting for us.
But she would let nobody else touch her, and even then she broke
forth into piteous sobs and protests. Once she pushed him from her and
looked about wildly. No, no, she cried, I mustn't go; I am crazy!
But he told her about the three little kittens that had been born under
the kitchen steps, and in an instant she was all a-tremble with
eagerness to go home to see them.
An hour later, Mr. Opp and his charge sat on the river-bank and
waited for the little launch that was to take them back to the Cove. A
curious crowd had gathered at a short distance, for their story had
gone the rounds.
Mr. Opp sat under the fire of curious glances, gazing straight in
front of him, and only his flushed face showed what he was suffering.
Miss Kippy, in her strange clothes and with her pale hair flying about
her shoulders, sat close by him, her hand in his.
D., she said once in a high, insistent voice, when will I be
grown up enough to marry Mr. Hinton?
Mr. Opp for a moment forgot the crowd. Kippy, he said with all the
gentle earnestness that was in him, you ain't never going to grow up
at all. You are just always going to be brother D.'s little girl. You
see, Mr. Hinton's too old for you, just like he paused, then
finished it bravelyjust like I am too old for Miss Guin-never. I
wouldn't be surprised if they got married with each other some day. You
and me will just have to take care of each other.
She looked at him with the quick suspicion of the insane, but he was
ready for her with a smile.
Oh, D., she cried, in a sudden rapture, we are glad, ain't we?
For the next four weeks there was no issue of The Opp Eagle. When
it did make its appearance, it contained the following editorial:
Ye editor has for several weeks been the victim of the La Grip
eventuated into a rising in our left ear. Although we are still
severe and continuous pain, we know that behind the clouds of
suffering the blue sky of health is still shining, and that a
brighter day is coming, as it were.
The night of Mr. Opp's return from Coreyville, he had written a long
letter to Guinevere Gusty telling her of his final decision in regard
to Kippy, and releasing her from her promise. This having been
accomplished, he ceased to fight against the cold and exhaustion, and
went to bed with a hard chill.
Aunt Tish, all contrition for the disasters she thought she had
brought upon the household, served him night and day, and even Miss
Kippy, moved by the unusual sight of her brother in bed, made futile
efforts to assist in the nursing.
When at last he was able to crawl back to the office, he found
startling changes had taken place in the Cove. The prompt payment of
the oil stock-holders by the Union Syndicate had brought about such a
condition of prosperity and general satisfaction as had never before
been known. The civic spirit planted and carefully nourished by The
Opp Eagle burst into bloom under this sudden and unexpected warmth.
Committees, formed the year before, were called upon for reports, and
gratifying results were obtained. The Cove awoke to the fact that it
had lamp-posts, and side-walks and a post-office, with a possibility,
looming large, of a court house.
Nor did this ambition for improvement stop short with the town: it
extended to individuals. Jimmy Fallows was going to build a new hotel;
Mr. Tucker was going to convert his hotel into a handsome private
residence, for which Mrs. Gusty had been asked to select the
wall-paper; Mat Lucas was already planning to build a large store on
Main Street, and had engaged Mr. Gallop to take charge of the dry-goods
department. The one person upon whom prosperity had apparently had a
blighting effect was Miss Jim Fenton. Soon after the receipt of her
check, she had appeared in the Cove in a plain, black tailor suit, and
a small, severe felt hat innocent of adornment. The French-heeled
slippers had been replaced by heavy walking shoes, and the lace scarf
was discarded for a stiff linen collar.
But the state of Miss Jim's mind was not to be judged by the
somberness of her raiment. The novelty of selecting her own clothes, of
consulting her own taste, of being rid of the entangling dangers of
lace ruffles and flying furbelows, to say nothing of unwelcome suitors,
gave her a sense of exhilaration and independence which she had not
enjoyed for years.
In the midst of all these tangible evidences of success, Mr. Opp
found himself indulging in a hand-to-hand struggle with failure. As a
hunter aims at a point well in advance of the flying bird, so he had
aimed at possibilities ahead of the facts, and when events took an
unexpected turn, he was left stranded, his ammunition gone, his
judgment questioned, and his hands empty. He had been conducting his
affairs not on the basis of his present income, but in reference to the
large sums which he confidently believed would accrue from the
The circulation of The Opp Eagle was increasing steadily, but the
growing bird must be fed, and the editor, struggling to meet daily
pressing obligations, was in no condition to furnish the steady demand
All unnecessary diversions were ruthlessly foregone. He resigned
with a pang the leadership of the Union Orchestra, he gave up his
membership with the Odd Fellows. Even his more important duties, as
president of the Town Improvement League, and director in the bank,
were relinquished. For, in addition to his editorials, he had
undertaken to augment his slender income by selling on subscription the
Encyclopedia of Wonder, Beauty, and Wisdom.
It was at this low ebb of Mr. Opp's fortunes that Willard Hinton
returned to the Cove. He was still pale from his long confinement, but
there was an unusual touch of animation about him, the half-surprised
interest of one who has struck bottom, and found it not so bad as he
One dark afternoon in November he made his way over to the office of
The Opp Eagle, and stood irresolute in the door.
That you, Mr. Opp? Or is it Nick? He blinked uncertainly.
Why, it is me, said Mr. Opp. Come right in. I've been so occupied
with engagements that I haven't scarcely had occasion to see anything
of you since you come back. You are getting improved all the time,
ain't you? I thought I saw you writing on a type-writer when I passed
Yes, said Hinton; it's a little machine I got before I came down,
with raised letters on the keyboard. If I progress at the rapid pace I
have started, I'll be an expert before long. Mrs. Gusty was able to
read five words out of ten this morning!
Hope you'll do us an article or two, said Mr. Opp. I don't mind
telling you that things has been what you might name as pressing ever
since that trouble about the oil-wells. I'm not regretting any step
that I taken, and I am endeavoring not to harbor any feelings against
those that went on after I give my word it wasn't a fair transaction.
But if what that man Clark said is true, Mr. Hinton, the Union
Syndicate will never open up another well in this community.
Your conscience proved rather an expensive luxury that time, didn't
it, Mr. Opp? asked Hinton, who had heard as many versions of the
affair as there were citizens in the Cove.
Mr. Opp shrugged his shoulders, and pursed his lips. It's a matter
that I cannot yet bring myself to talk about. After a whole year and
more of associating with me in business and social ways, to think they
wouldn't be willing to take my word for what I said.
But it wasn't to their advantage, said Hinton, smiling. You
forget the amount of money involved.
No, declared Mr. Opp with some heat, you do those gentlemen a
injustice. There ain't a individual of them that is capable of a
dishonest act, any more than you or me. They just lacked the experience
in dealing with a man like Mr. Mathews.
Hinton's smile broadened; he reached over and grasped Mr. Opp's
Do you know you are a rattling good fellow? I am sorry things have
gotten so balled up with you.
I'll pay out, said the editor. It'll take some time, but I've got
a remarkable ability for work in me. I don't mind telling you, though
I'll have to ask you not to mention the fact to no one at present, that
I am considering inventing a patent. It's a sort of improved
type-setter, one of the most remarkable things you ever witnessed. I
never knew till about six months ago what a scientific turn my mind
could take. I've worked this whole thing out in my brain without the
aid of a model of any sort.
In the meanwhile, said Hinton, I hear you will have to sell your
Mr. Opp winced, and the lines in his face deepened. Well, yes, he
said, I have about decided to sell, provided I keep the editorship, of
course. After my patent gets on the market I will soon be in a position
to buy it back.
Mr. Opp, said Hinton, I've got a proposition to make to you. I
have a moderate sum of money in bank which I want to invest in
business. How would you like to sell out the paper to me, lock, stock,
Mr. Opp, whose eyes had been resting on the bills that strewed his
table, looked up eagerly.
You to own it, and me to run it? he asked hopefully.
No, said Hinton; you would help me to run it, I hope, but I would
be the editor. I have thought the matter over seriously, and I believe,
with competent help, I can make the paper an up-to-date,
self-supporting newspaper, in spite of my handicap.
Mr. Opp sat as if stunned by a blow. He had known for some time that
he must sell the paper in order to meet his obligations, but the
thought of relinquishing his control of it never dawned upon him. It
was the pride of his heart, the one tangible achievement in a
wilderness of dreams. Life without Guinevere had seemed a desert; life
without The Opp Eagle seemed chaos. He looked up bewildered.
We'd continue on doing business here in the regular way? he asked.
No, said Hinton; I would build a larger office uptown, and put in
new presses; we could experiment with your new patent type-setter as
soon as you got it ready.
But Mr. Opp was beyond pleasantries. You'd keep Nick? he asked. I
wouldn't consider anything that would cut Nick out.
By all means, said Hinton. I'm counting on you and Nick to
initiate me into the mysteries of the profession. You could be city
editor, and Nickwell, we could make him foreman.
One last hope was left to Mr. Opp, and he clung to it desperately,
not daring to voice it until the end.
The name, he said faintly, would of course remain 'The Opp
Hinton dropped his eyes; he could not stand the wistful appeal in
the drawn face opposite.
No, he said shortly; that's alittle too personal. I think I
should call my paper 'The Weekly News.'
Mr. Opp could never distinctly remember what happened after that. He
knew that he had at first declined the offer, that he had been argued
with, had reconsidered, and finally accepted a larger sum than he had
asked for; but the details of the transaction were like the setting of
bones after an accident.
He remembered that he had sat where Hinton left him, staring at the
floor until Nick came to close the office; then he had a vague
impression of crossing the fields and standing with his head against
the old sycamore-tree where the birds had once whispered of love. After
that he knew that he had met Hinton and Guinevere coming up the river
road hand in hand, that he had gotten home after supper was over, and
had built a bridge of blocks for Miss Kippy.
Then suddenly he had wakened to full consciousness, staggered out of
the house to the woodshed, and shivered down into a miserable heap.
There in the darkness he seemed to see things, for the first time in
his life, quite as they were. His gaze, accustomed to the glittering
promise of the future, peered fearfully into the past, and reviewed the
long line of groundless hopes, of empty projects, of self-deceptions.
Shorn of its petty shams and deceits, and stripped of its counterfeit
armor of conceit, his life lay naked before him, a pitiful, starved,
I've just been similar to Kippy, he sobbed, with his face in his
hands, continually pretending what wasn't so. I acted like I was
young, and good-looking, andand highly educated; and look at me! Look
at me! he demanded fiercely of the kindling-wood.
Mr. Opp had been fighting a long duela duel with Circumstance, and
Mr. Opp was vanquished. The acknowledgment of defeat, even to himself,
gave it the final stamp of verity. He had fought valiantly, with what
poor weapons he had, but the thrusts had been too many and too sure. He
lay clothed in his strange new garment of humility, and wondered why he
did not want to die. He did not realize that in losing everything else,
he had won the greater stake of character for which he had been
unconsciously fighting all along.
The kitchen door opened, and he saw Miss Kippy's figure silhouetted
against the light.
Brother D., she called impatiently, ain't you coming back to play
He scrambled to his feet and made a hasty and somewhat guilty effort
to compose himself.
Yes, I'm a-coming, he answered briskly, as he smoothed his scant
locks and straightened his tie. You go on ahead and gather up the
blocks; I only stopped playing for a little spell.
The marriage of Guinevere Gusty and Willard Hinton took place in
mid-winter, and the account of it, published in the last issue of The
Opp Eagle, proved that the eagle, like the swan, has its death-song.
Like many of the masterpieces of literature, the article had been
written in anguish of spirit; but art, like nature, ignores the
process, and reckons only the result, and the result, in Mr. Opp's
opinion at least, more than justified the effort.
In these strenuous, history-making meanderings of the sands of
life, it ran, we sometimes overlook or neglect particulars in events
which prove of larger importance than appears on the surface. The case
to which we have allusion to is the wedding which was solemnized at
eventide at the residence of the bride's mother. The Gustys may be
justly considered one of the best-furnished families in the county, and
the parlors were only less beautiful than the only daughter there
presiding. The collation served therein was of such a liberal nature
that every guest, we might venture to say, took dinner enough home for
supper. It has seldom been our fate to meet a gentleman of such
intelligent attainments as Mr. Hinton, and his entire future existence,
be it long or short, cannot fail of being thrice blessed by the
companionship of the one who has confided her trust to him,her
choice, world-wide. Although a bachelor ourself, we know what happiness
must be theirs, and with all our heart we vouchsafe them a joyful
voyage across the uncertain billows of Time until their nuptial or
matrimonial bark shall have been safely moored in the haven of
everlasting bliss, where the storms of this life spread not their
Some men spend their lives in the valley, and some are born and die
on the heights; but it was Mr. Opp's fate to climb from the valley to
his own little mountain-top of prosperity, only to have to climb down
on the other side. It was evidence of his genius that in time he
persuaded himself and his fellow-citizens that it was exactly what he
wanted to do.
That there life of managing and promoting was all right in its
way, he said one day to a group of men at the post-office, but a man
owes something to himself, don't he? Now that the town has got well
started, and Mr. Hinton is going to take main charge of the paper, I'll
be freer than I been for years to put some of my ideas into practice.
We are counting on getting you back in the orchestra, said Mr.
Gallop, whose admiration for Mr. Opp retained its pristine bloom.
Mr. Opp shook his head regretfully. No, I'm going to give all my
evenings over to study. This present enterprise I am engaged on
requires a lot of personal application. I sometimes think that I have
in the past scattered my forces too much, in a way.
So persistently did Mr. Opp refer to the mysterious work that was
engrossing him that he reduced Mr. Gallop's curiosity to the
When he was no longer able to stand it, the telegraph operator
determined upon a tour of investigation. The projected presentation of
a new cornet by the Unique Orchestra to its erstwhile leader proved a
slender excuse for a call, and while he knew that, with the exception
of Willard Hinton, no visitor had ever been known to cross the Opp
threshold, yet he permitted desire to overrule delicacy.
It was a blustery December night when he climbed the hill, and he
had to pause several times during the ascent to gain sufficient breath
to proceed. By the time he reached the house he was quite speechless,
and he dropped on the steps to rest a moment before knocking. As he sat
there trying to imagine the flying-machine or torpedo-boat upon which
he felt certain Mr. Opp was engaged, he became aware of voices from
within, and looking up, he saw the window above him was slightly
raised. Overcome by his desire to see his friend at work upon his great
invention, he cautiously tiptoed across the porch and peeped in.
The low-ceilinged old room was bright with firelight, and in the
center of it, with his knees drawn up, his toes turned in, and his
tongue thrust out, sat Mr. Opp, absorbed in an object which he held
between his knees. Miss Kippy knelt before him, eagerly watching
Mr. Gallop craned his neck to see what it was that held their
interest, and at last discovered that they were fitting a dress on a
large china doll.
Miss Kippy's voice broke the silence. You can sew nice, she was
saying; you can sew prettier than Aunt Tish.
[Illustration: 'Can't nobody beat me making skirts']
Can't nobody beat me making skirts, said Mr. Opp, and Mr. Gallop
saw him push his needle through a bit of cloth, with the handle of the
shovel; but sleeves is a more particular proposition. Why, I'd rather
thread three needles than to fix in one sleeve! Why don't you make like
it's summer-time and let her go without any?
Miss Kippy's lips trembled. I want sleeves, D.two of them, and a
lady's hat, with roses on it. We can let her be grown up, can't
Mr. Gallop beat a hasty and shame-faced retreat. Though his idol had
fallen from its pedestal, he determined to stand guard over the
fragments, and from that night on, he constituted himself Mr. Opp's
And Mr. Gallop was not the only one who came forth boldly in
expressions of sympathy and respect for the ex-editor. It was
especially easy for those who had prospered by the oil boom to express
unbounded admiration for the conscientious stand he had taken in the
late transaction. They had done him a grave injustice, they
acknowledged. The wells had been reinvestigated and proved of small
value. The fact that the truth was discovered too late to affect their
luck deepened their appreciation of Mr. Opp.
Willard Hinton, seeing what balm these evidences of approval brought
to Mr. Opp's wounded spirit, determined to arrange for a banquet to the
retiring editor, at which he planned to bring forth as many
testimonials of friendship and good-will as was possible.
The affair was to take place New Year's night, in the dining-room of
Fallows's new Your Hotel. The entire masculine contingent of the Cove
was invited, and the feminine element prepared the supper. There had
never been a social event of such an ambitious nature attempted in the
Cove before, and each citizen took a personal pride in its success.
For a week in advance the town was in violent throes of
speech-writing, cake-baking, salad-mixing, and decorating. Even Mrs.
Fallows warmed to the occasion, and crocheted a candlestick, candle,
flame, and all, to grace the table.
When the night arrived, Jimmy Fallows did the honors. He was
resplendent in his dress-suit, which consisted of a black sateen shirt
and a brown suit of clothes.
When the guests were all seated, Willard Hinton rose, and in a few
brief, pointed remarks, called the attention of the town to the changes
that had been wrought by the indefatigable efforts of one citizen in
particular. He spoke of the debt of gratitude they owed, collectively
and individually, to the late editor of The Opp Eagle, and added that
after Mr. Opp's response, the guests desired, each in turn, to voice
his sentiments upon the subject.
Mr. Opp then rose amid a thunder of applause, and stood for a moment
in pleased but overwhelming embarrassment. Then he put forward one foot
inflated his chest, and began:
Valued brother fellow-beings, I come before you to-night to express
that which there is no words in the English vocabulary to express.
Whatever you may have to say concerning me, or my part in the awakening
of this our native city, I shall listen at with a grateful heart. I
believe in a great future for Cove City. We may not live to see it, but
I believe that the day will arrive when our city shall be the gateway
to the South, when the river front will be not dissimilar to Main
Street, New York. I predict that it reaches a pivot of prominence of
which we wot not of. As for Mr. Hinton, one and all we welcome him amid
our mongst. 'The Opp Eagle' strikes palms with 'The Weekly News,' and
wishes it a lasting and eternal success.
A burst of applause interrupted the flow of his eloquence, and as he
glanced around the room, he saw there was some commotion at the door. A
turbaned head caught his eye, then Aunt Tish's beckoning hand.
Hastily excusing himself, he made his way through the crowd, and
bent to hear her message.
Hit's Miss Kippy, she whispered. I hate to 'sturb you, but she
done crack her doll's head, an' she's takin' on so, I can't do nuffin
't all wif her.
Couldn't you contrive to get her quiet no way at all? asked Mr.
Naw, sir. She mek like dat doll her shore 'nough baby, and she 'low
she gwine die, too, furst chanct she gits. I got Val's mother to stay
wif her till I git back.
All right, said Mr. Opp, hastily. You go right on and tell her
When he reëntered the dining-room, he held his hat in his hand.
I find a urgent matter of business calls me back home; for only a
few moments, I trust, he said apologetically, with bows and smiles.
If the banquet will kindly proceed, I will endeavor to return in ample
time for the final speeches.
With the air of a monarch taking temporary leave of his subjects, he
turned his back upon the gay, protesting crowd, upon the feast prepared
in his honor, upon the speech-making, so dear to his heart. Tramping
through the snow of the deserted street, through the lonely graveyard,
and along the river road, he went to bind up the head of a china doll,
and to wipe away the tears of a little half-crazed sister.
He wears the same checked suit as when we saw him first, worn and
frayed, to be sure, but carefully pressed for the occasion, the same
brave scarf and pin, and watch fob, though the watch is missing.
Passing out of sight with the sleet in his face, and the wind
cutting through his finery, he whistles as he goes, such a plucky,
sturdy, hopeful whistle as calls to arms the courage that lies
slumbering in the hearts of men.