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The Rise of Roscoe Paine By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 23317

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The post-office was at Eldredge's store, and Eldredge's store, situated at the corners, where the Main Road and the Depot Road-which is also the direct road to South Denboro-join, was the mercantile and social center of Denboro. Simeon Eldredge kept the store, and Simeon was also postmaster, as well as the town constable, undertaker, and auctioneer. If you wanted a spool of thread, a coffin, or the latest bit of gossip, you applied at Eldredge's. The gossip you could be morally certain of getting at once; the thread or the coffin you might have to wait for.

I scarcely know why I went to Eldredge's that morning. I did not expect mail, and I did not require Simeon's services in any one of his professional capacities. Possibly Lute's suggestion had some sort of psychic effect and I stopped at the post-office involuntarily. At any rate, I woke from the trance in which the encounter with the automobile had left me to find myself walking in at the door.

The mail was not yet due, to say nothing of having arrived or been sorted, but there was a fair-sized crowd on the settees and perched on the edge of the counter. Ezra Mullet was there, and Alonzo Black and Alvin Baker and Thoph Newcomb. Beriah Doane and Sam Cahoon, who lived in South Denboro, were there, too, having driven over behind Beriah's horse, on an errand; that is, Beriah had an errand and Sam came along to help him remember it. In the rear of the store, by the frame of letter boxes, Captain Jedediah Dean was talking with Simeon.

Alvin Baker saw me first and hailed me as I entered.

"Here's Ros Paine," he exclaimed. "He'll know more about it than anybody else. Hey, Ros, how many hired help does he keep, anyhow? Thoph says it's eight, but I know I counted more'n that, myself."

"It's eight, I tell you," broke in Newcomb, before I could answer. "There's the two cooks and the boy that waits on 'em-"

"The idea of having anybody wait on a cook!" interrupted Mullet. "That's blame foolishness."

"I never said he waited on the cooks. I said he waited on them-on the family. And there's a coachman-"

"Why do they call them kind of fellers coachmen?" put in Thoph. "There ain't any coach. I see the carriages when they come-two freight cars full of 'em. There was a open two-seater, and a buckboard, and that high-wheeled thing they called a dog-cart."

Beriah Doane laughed uproariously. "Land of love!" he shouted. "Does the dog have a cart all to himself? That's a good one! You and me ain't got no dog, Sam, but we might have a couple of cat-carts, hey? Haw! haw!"

Thoph paid no attention to this pleasantry. "There was the dog-cart," he repeated, "and another thing they called the 'trap.' But there wan't any coach; I'll swear to it."

"Don't make no difference," declared Alvin; "there was a man along that SAID he was the coachman, anyhow. And a big minister-lookin' feller who was a butler, and two hired girls besides the cooks. That's nine, anyhow. One more'n you said, Thoph."

"And that don't count the chauffeur, the chap that runs the automobiles," said Alonzo Black. "He's the tenth. Say, Ros," turning to me, "how many is there, altogether?"

"How many what?" I asked. It was my first opportunity to speak.

"Why, hired help-servants, you know. How many does Mr. Colton keep?"

"I don't know how many he keeps," I said. "Why should I?"

The group looked at me in amazement. Thoph Newcomb voiced the general astonishment.

"Why should you!" he repeated. "Why shouldn't you, you mean! You're livin' right next door to 'em, as you might say! My soul! If I was you I cal'late I'd know afore this time."

"No doubt you would, Thoph. But I don't. I didn't know the Coltons had arrived until I came by just now. They have arrived, I take it."

Arrived! There was no question of the arrival, nor of its being witnessed by everyone present, myself and the South Denboro delegates excepted. Newcomb and Baker and Mullet and Black began talking all together. I learned that the Colton invasion of Denboro was a spectacle only equaled by the yearly coming of the circus to Hyannis, or the opening of the cattle show at Ostable. The carriages and horses had arrived by freight the morning before; the servants and the family on the afternoon train.

"I see 'em myself," affirmed Alonzo. "I was as nigh to 'em as I be to you. Mrs. Colton is sort of fleshy, but as handsome a woman as you'd want to see. I spoke to her, too. 'It's a nice day,' I says, 'ain't it?'"

"What did she say?" asked Newcomb.

"She didn't say nothin'. Engine was makin' such a noise she didn't hear, I presume likely."

"Humph!" sniffed Baker, evidently envious; "I guess she heard you, all right. Fellers like you make me tired. Grabbin' every chance to curry favor with rich folks! Wonder you didn't tell her you drove a fish-cart and wanted her trade! As for me, I'm independent. Don't make no difference to me how well-off a person is. They're human, just the same as I am, and I don't toady to 'em. If they want to talk they can send for me. I'll wait till they do."

"Hope you've got lots of patience, Alvin," observed Mullet drily. During the hilarity which followed, and while the offended apostle of independence was trying to think of a sufficiently cutting reply, I walked to the rear of the store.

Our letter box was Number 218, in the center of the rack, and, as I approached, I glanced at it involuntarily. To my surprise there was a letter in it; I could see it through the glass of the box door. Lute had, as I knew, got the mail the previous evening and the morning's mail had not yet arrived. Therefore this letter must have been written by some one in Denboro and posted late the night before or early that morning. It was not the custom for Denboro residents to communicate with each other through the medium of the post. They preferred to save the two cents stamp money, as a general thing. Bills sometimes came by mail, but this was the tenth, not the first, of the month; and, besides, our bills were paid.

I reached into my pocket for my keys, unlocked the box and took out the letter. The envelope was square, of an expensive quality, and eminently aristocratic. It was postmarked Denboro, dated that morning, and addressed in a sharp, clear masculine hand unfamiliar to me, to "Roscoe Paine, Esq." The "Esq." would have settled it, if the handwriting had not. No fellow-townsman of my acquaintance would address me, or any one else, as Esquire. Misters and Captains were common enough, but Esquires-no.

It was a Denboro custom, when one received a mysterious letter, to get the fullest enjoyment out of the mystery before solving it. I had known Dorinda Rogers to guess, surmise and speculate for ten minutes before opening a patent medicine circular. But, though mysteries were uncommon enough in my life, I think I should have reached the solution of this one in the next second-in fact, I had torn the end from the envelope-when I was interrupted.

It was Captain Dean who interrupted me. He had evidently concluded his conversation with the postmaster and now was bearing down majestically upon me, like a ten thousand ton steamer on a porgie schooner.

"Hey, you-Ros!" he roared. He was at my elbow, but he roared just the same. Skipper of a coaster in his early days, he had never outgrown the habit of pitching his voice to carry above a fifty-mile gale. "Hey, Ros. See here; I want to talk to you."

I did not want to talk with any one, particularly with him. He was the individual who, according to Lute, had bracketed Mr. Rogers and myself as birds of a feather, the remark which was primarily responsible for my ill humor of the morning. If he had not said that, and if Lute had not quoted the saying to me, I might have behaved less like a fool when that automobile overtook me, I might not have given that young idiot, whose Christian name it seemed was Victor, the opportunity to be smart at my expense. That girl with the dark eyes might not have looked at me as if I were a worm or a June bug. Confound her! what right had she to look at me like that? Victor, or whatever his name was, was a cub and a cad and as fresh as the new paint on Ben Small's lighthouse, but he had deigned to speak. Whereas that girl-!

No, I did not want to talk with Jedediah Dean. However, he wanted to talk to me, and what he wanted he usually got.

Captain Dean was one of Denboro's leading citizens. His parents had been as poor as Job's turkey, but Jedediah had determined to get money and now he had it. He was reputed to be worth "upwards of thirty thousand," owned acres and acres of cranberry swamps, and the new house he had just built was almost as big as it was ugly, which is saying considerable. He had wanted to be a deacon in the church and, though the church was by no means so eager, deacon he became. He was an uncompromising Democrat, but he had forced himself into the Board of Selectmen, every other member a Republican. He was director in the Denboro bank, and it was town talk that his most ardent desire at the present time was to see his daughter Helen-Nellie, we all called her-married to George Taylor, cashier of that bank. As George and Nellie were "keeping company" it seemed likely that Captain Jed would be gratified in this, as in all other desires. He was a born boss, and did his best to run the town according to his ideas. Captain Elisha Warren, who lived over in South Denboro and was also a director in the bank, covered the situation when he said: "Jed Dean is one of those fellers who ought to have a big family to order around. The Almighty gave him only one child and so he adopted Denboro and is bossin' that."

"I want to talk to you, Ros," repeated Captain Jed. "Come here."

He led the way to the settee by the calico and dress goods counter. I put the unread letter in my pocket and followed him.

"Set down," he ordered. "Come to anchor alongside."

I came to anchor.

"How's your mother?" he asked. "Matilda was cal'latin' to go down and set with her a spell this afternoon, if she didn't have anything else to do-if Matilda didn't, I mean."

Matilda was his wife. In her husband's company she was as dumb as a broken phonograph; when he was not with her she talked continuously, as if to get even. A call from Matilda Dean was one of the additional trials which made Mother's invalid state harder to bear.

"Course she may not come," Jedediah hastened to say. "She's pretty busy these days. But if she don't have anything else to do she will. I told her she'd better."

"Mother will be charmed," I said. Captain Jed was no fool and he looked at me sharply.

"Um; yes," he grunted. "I presume likely. You're charmed, too, ain't you?"

I was not expecting this. I murmured something to the effect that I was delighted, of course.

"Sartin. Well, that's all right. I didn't get you on this settee to charm you. I want to talk business with you a minute."

"Business! With me?"

"Yup. Or it may be business later on. I've been thinkin' about that Shore Lane, the one that runs through your land. Us town folks use that a whole lot. I cal'late most everybody's come to look at it as a reg'lar public road to the beach."

"Why, yes, I suppose they have," I said, puzzled to know what he was driving at. "It is a public road, practically."

"No, 'tain't, neither. It's a private way, and if you wanted to you could shut it off any day. A good many folks would have shut it off afore this."

"Oh, I guess not."

"I guess yes. I'd shut it off myself. I wouldn't have Tom, Dick and Harry drivin' fish wagons and tip carts full of seawe

ed through my premises free gratis for nothin'."

"Why?" I asked. "What harm does it do?"

"I don't know as it does any. But because a tramp sleepin' on my front piazza might not harm the piazza, that's no reason why I'd let him sleep there."

I laughed. "The two cases aren't exactly alike, are they?" I said. "The land is of no value to us at present. Mother and I are glad to have the Lane used, if it is a convenience, as I suppose it is."

"It's that, sartin. Ros, who owns that land the Lane runs through-you or your mother?"

"It is in my name," I said.

"Um-hm. Well, would you sell it?"

"Sell it! Sell that strip of sand and beach grass! Who would buy it?"

"I don't know as anybody would. I just asked if you'd sell it, that's all."

"Perhaps I would. I presume I should, if I had the chance."

"Ain't had any chance yet, have you?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, nothin', nothin'! Well, you just think it over. If you decide you would sell it and get so fur as fixin' a price on it, let me know, will you?"

"Captain, what in the world do you want of that land? See here! you don't want to shut off the Shore Lane, do you?"

"What in time would I want to shut it off for? I use it as much as anybody, don't I?"

"Then I don't see-"

"Maybe there ain't nothin' TO see. Only, if you decide to sell, let me know. Yes, and don't sell WITHOUT lettin' me know. Understand?"

"No, I don't."

"Well, you understand enough, I cal'late. All I want you to do is to promise not to sell that land the Lane's on without speakin' to me fust. Will you promise that?"

I considered for a moment. "Yes," I said, "I'll promise that. Though I can't imagine what you're driving at."

"You don't need to. Maybe I'm just drivin' blind; I hope I am. That's all I wanted to talk about," rising from the settee. "Oh, by the way," he added, "your neighborhood's honored just now, ain't it? The King of New York's arrived, they tell me."

"King of New York? Oh! I see; you mean the Coltons."

"Sartin. Who else? Met his Majesty yet?"

"No. Have you?"

"I met him when he was down a month ago. Sim Eldredge introduced me right here in the store. 'Mr. Colton,' says Sim, proud but humble, so to speak, 'let me make you acquainted with one of our selectmen, Cap'n Dean. Cap'n, shake hands with Mr. Colton of New York.' We shook, and I cal'late I'd ought to have kept that hand in a glass case ever since. But, somehow or other, I ain't."

"What sort of a chap is Colton?" I asked.

"Oh, all right of his kind, I guess. In amongst a gang of high financers like himself he'd size up as a pretty good sport, I shouldn't wonder. And he was polite enough to me, I suppose. But, darn him, I didn't like the way he looked at me! He looked as if-as if-well, I can't tell you how he looked."

"You don't need to," I said, brusquely. "I know."

"You do, hey? He ain't looked at you, has he? No, course he ain't! You said you hadn't met him."

"I've met others of his kind."

"Yes. Well, I'm a hayseed and I know it. I'm just a countryman and he's a millionaire. He'll be the big show in this town from now on. When he blows his nose seven-eighths of this community 'll start in workin' up a cold in the head."

He turned on his heel and started to go.

"Will you?" I asked, slily.

He looked back over his shoulder. "I ain't subject to colds-much," he snapped. "But YOU better lay in a supply of handkerchiefs, Ros."

I smiled. I knew what was troubling him. A little tin god has a pleasant time of it, no doubt, until the coming of the eighteen carat gold idol. Captain Jed had been boss of Denboro-self-appointed to that eminent position, but holding it nevertheless-and to be pushed from his perch by a city rival was disagreeable. If I knew him he would not be dethroned without a fight. There were likely to be some interesting and lively times in our village.

I could understand Dean's dislike of Colton, but his interest in the Shore Lane was a mystery. Why should he wish to buy that worthless strip of land? And what did he mean by asking if I had chances to sell it? Still pondering over this puzzle, I walked toward the front of the store, past the group waiting for the mail, where the discussion concerning the Coltons was still going on, Thoph Newcomb and Alvin Baker both talking at once.

"You ask Ros," shouted Alvin, pounding the counter beside him. "Say, Ros, Newcomb here seems to think that because a feller comes from the city and is rich that that gives him the right to order the rest of us around as if we was fo'mast hands. He says-"

"I don't neither!" yelled Thoph. "What I say is that money counts, and-"

"You do, too! Ros, do YOU intend to get down on your knees to them Coltons?"

I laughed and went on without replying. I left the store and strolled across the road to the bank, intending to make a short call on George Taylor, the cashier, my most intimate acquaintance and the one person in Denboro who came nearest to being my friend.

But George was busy in the directors' room, and, after waiting a few moments in conversation with Henry Small, the bookkeeper, I gave it up and walked home, across the fields this time; I had no desire to meet more automobilists.

Dorinda had finished dusting the dining room and was busy upstairs. I could hear the swish-swish of her broom overhead. I opened the door leading to Mother's bedroom and entered, closing the door behind me.

The curtains were drawn, as they always were on sunny days, and the room was in deep shadow. Mother had been asleep, I think, but she heard my step and recognized it.

"Is that you, Boy?" she asked. If I had been fifty, instead of thirty-one, Mother would have called me "Boy" just the same.

"Yes, Mother," I said.

"Where have you been? For a walk? It is a beautiful morning, isn't it."

Her only way of knowing that the morning was a beautiful one was that the shades were drawn. She had not seen the sunlight on the bay, nor the blue sky; she had not felt the spring breeze on her face, or the green grass beneath her feet. Her only glimpses of the outside world were those which she got on cloudy or stormy days when the shades were raised a few inches and, turning her head on the pillow, she could see beneath them. For six years she had been helpless and bedridden in that little room. But she never complained.

I told her that I had been uptown for a walk.

"Did you meet any one?" she asked.

I said that I had met Captain Dean and Newcomb and the rest. I said nothing of my encounter with the motor car.

"Captain Jed graciously informed me that his wife might be down to sit with you this afternoon," I said. "Provided she didn't have anything else to do; he took pains to add that. You mustn't see her, of course."

She smiled. "Why not?" she asked. "Matilda is a little tiresome at times, but she means well."

"Humph! Mother, I think you would make excuses for the Old Harry himself. That woman will talk you to death."

"Oh, no! Not as bad as that. And poor Matilda doesn't talk much at home, I'm afraid."

"Her husband sees to that; I don't blame him. By the way, the Captain had a queer bee in his bonnet this morning. He seems to be thinking of buying some of our property."

I told her of Jedediah's interest in the Shore Lane and his hint concerning its possible purchase. She listened and then said thoughtfully:

"What have you decided to do about it, Roscoe?"

"I haven't decided at all. What do you think, Mother?"

"It seems to me that I shouldn't sell, at least until I knew his reason for wanting to buy. It would be different if we needed the money, but, of course, we don't."

"Of course," I said, hastily. "But why not sell? We don't use the land."

"No. But the Denboro people need that Lane. They use it a great deal. If it were closed it would put many of them to a great inconvenience, particularly those who get their living alongshore. Every one in Denboro has been so kind to us. I feel that we owe them a debt we never can repay."

"No one could help being kind to you, Mother. Oh! I have another piece of news. Did you know that our new neighbors, the Coltons, have arrived?"

"Yes. Dorinda told me. Have you met any of them?"

"No."

"Dorinda says Mrs. Colton is an invalid. Poor woman! it must be hard to be ill when one has so much to enjoy. Dorinda says they have a very pretty daughter."

I made no comment. I was not interested in pretty daughters, just then. The memory of the girl in the auto was too fresh in my mind.

"Did you go to the post-office, Roscoe?" asked Mother. "I suppose there were no letters. There seldom are."

Then I remembered the letter in my pocket. I had forgotten it altogether.

"Why, yes, there was a letter, a letter for me. I haven't read it yet."

I took the envelope from my pocket and drew out the enclosure. The latter was a note, very brief and very much to the point. I read it.

"Well, by George!" I exclaimed, angrily.

"What is it, Roscoe?"

"It appears to be a summons from what Captain Jed called the King of New York. A summons to appear at court."

"At court?"

"Oh, not the criminal court. Merely the palace of his Majesty. Just listen."

This was the letter:

Roscoe Paine, Esq.

Dear Sir:

I should like to see you at my house this-Thursday-forenoon, on a matter of business. I shall expect you at any time after ten in the morning.

Yours truly,

JAMES W. COLTON.

"From Mr. Colton!" exclaimed Mother. "Why! what can he want of you?"

"I don't know," I answered. "And I don't particularly care."

"Roscoe!"

"Mother, did you ever hear such a cool, nervy proposition in your life? He wants to see me and he orders me to come to him. Why doesn't he come to me?"

"I suppose he didn't think of it. He is a big man in New York and he has been accustomed to having people come at his convenience. It's his way of doing things, I suppose."

"Then I don't like the way. This is Denboro, not New York. He will expect me at any time after ten, will he? Well, as Mullet said to Alvin Baker just now at the post-office, I hope he has lots of patience. He'll need it."

"But what can he want of you?"

"I don't know. Wants to look over his nearest jay neighbor, I should imagine, and see what sort of a curio he is. He thinks it may be necessary to put up barbed wire fences, I suppose."

"Roscoe, don't be narrow-minded. Mr. Colton's ways aren't ours and we must make allowances."

"Let him make a few, for a change."

"Aren't you going to see him?"

"No. At least not until I get good and ready."

Dorinda came in just then to ask Mother some questions concerning dinner, for, though Mother had not seen the dining room since that day, six years ago, when she was carried from it to her bedroom, she kept her interest in household affairs and insisted on being consulted on all questions of management and internal economy. I rose from my chair and started toward the door.

"Are you going, Roscoe?" asked Mother.

"Yes."

"Where?"

"Oh, just out of doors; perhaps to the boat-house."

"Boy."

"Yes, Mother?"

"What is the matter? Something has gone wrong; I knew it as soon as you came in. What is it?"

"Nothing. That is, nothing of any consequence. I'm a little out of sorts to-day and that man's letter irritates me. I'll get over it. I'll be back soon. Good-by, Mother."

"Good-by, Boy."

I went out through the dining room and kitchen, to the back yard, where, seating myself on Lute's favorite resting place, the wash bench, I lit my pipe and sat thinking, gloomily thinking.

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