MoboReader> Literature > The Rise of Roscoe Paine

   Chapter 4 No.4

The Rise of Roscoe Paine By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 22487

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


I sat up on the couch. Mr. Colton knocked the ashes from his cigar, waited an instant, and then repeated his question.

"Did you get my letter?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Oh, you did. I was afraid that man of mine might have forgotten to mail it."

"No, I got it. Won't you-er-won't you sit down?" He pulled the armchair toward him and sat down. I noticed that he had a habit of doing things quickly. His sentences were short and to the point and he spoke and acted like one accustomed to having his own way. He crossed his knees and looked about the little building.

"It is a pleasant day," I observed, for the sake of saying something. He did not seem to hear me, or, if he did, he was not interested in the weather. For my part I found the situation embarrassing. I knew what his next question would be, and I did not know how to answer. Sure enough, he asked it.

"I wrote you to come over to my place this forenoon," he said. "You didn't come."

"No. I-"

"Why not?"

Here was the issue joined. Here, if ever, was the opportunity to assert my independence a la Jed Dean and Alvin Baker. But to assert it now, after he had done the unexpected, after the mountain had come to Mahomet, seemed caddish and ridiculous. So I temporized, weakly.

"I didn't read your letter until about noon," I said.

"I see. Well, I waited until two o'clock and then I decided to hunt you up. I called at your house. The woman there said you were down here. Your mother?"

"No." My answer was prompt and sharp enough this time. It was natural, perhaps, that he should presume Dorinda to be my mother, but I did not like it.

He paid absolutely no attention to the tone of my reply or its curtness. He did not refer to Dorinda again. She might have been my wife or my great-aunt for all he cared.

"This your workshop?" he asked, abruptly. Then, nodding toward the dismembered engine, "What are you? a boat builder?"

"No, not exactly."

"What's the price of a boat like that?" indicating the Comfort with a kick in her direction.

"About two hundred and fifty dollars, I believe," I answered.

"You believe! Don't you know?"

"No. I bought that boat second-hand."

He did not refer to the boat again; apparently forgot it altogether. His next move was to rise and turn toward the door. I watched him, wondering what was going to happen next. He had a habit of jumping from one subject to another which was bewildering.

"What's that fellow doing off there?" he asked, suddenly.

I looked where he was pointing.

"That is Zeb Kendrick," I answered. "He's raking for quahaugs."

"Raking for what hogs?"

"Quahaugs. What you New Yorkers call clams."

"Oh! Sell 'em, does he?"

"Yes."

"Tell him to call at my house next time you see him. And for heaven's sake tell him to come to the servants' door. Don't you people down here have any servants' doors to your houses? There have been no less than fifty peddlers on my porch since yesterday and my butler will die of apoplexy if it keeps on. He's a good one, for a wonder, and I don't want to lose him."

I made no reply to this observation and he did not seem to expect any. He watched Zeb rake for a moment and then he turned back to me.

"Can you come over to my house now?" he asked.

I was not expecting this and again I did not have an answer ready.

"Can you?" he went on. "I've got a business deal to make with you and I'd rather make it there. I've got a lot of carpenters and painters at work and they ask me ten questions a minute. They are unnecessary questions but if I don't answer them the fellows are sure to make some fool mistake or other. They need a governess. If you'll come over with me I'll be in touch with them and you and I can talk just as well. Can come, can't you?"

I did not know what to say. I wanted to say no, that if he had any business with me it could be discussed in that boathouse. I did not like his manner, yet I had a feeling that it was his usual one and that he had not meant to be rude. And I could think of no good reason for not going with him.

"You can come, can't you?" he repeated.

"I suppose I can. But-"

"Of course if you're too busy to leave-"

I remembered the position he had found me in and I rather think I had turned red. He did not smile, but there was a sort of grim twinkle in his eyes.

"I'll come," I said.

"Much obliged. I won't keep you long. Come on."

He led the way and I followed, rebellious, and angry, not so much with him as with myself. I wished now that I had gone over to the Colton place when I first received the summons to court, instead of making proclamations of defiance to mother and Lute Rogers. This seemed such a complete backdown. As we passed the house I saw Lute peering from the barn. I devoutly hoped he might not see me, but he did. His mouth opened and he stared. Then, catching my eye, he winked triumphantly. I wanted to punch his head.

The King of New York walked briskly on in silence until we were just at the edge of the grove by the Shore Lane. Then he stopped and turned to me.

"You own all this land, don't you?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Humph! Get a good view from here."

I admitted that the view was good. At that particular point it embraced nearly the whole of the bay in front, and a large portion of the village at the side.

He waved his hand toward the cluster of houses.

"There are eighteen hundred people in this town, they tell me," he said. "Permanent residents, I mean. What do they all do?"

"Do?"

"Yes. How do they get a living? They must get it somehow. In the regular summer resorts they squeeze it out of the city people, I know that. But there aren't so many cottagers and boarders here. What do you all do for a living?"

I told him that most of masculine Denboro fished or farmed or kept store.

"Which do you do?" he asked. "You said you weren't a boat-builder."

"I'm not doing anything at present," I replied, shortly.

"Out of a job?"

"You might call it that. Is this a part of the business you wished to see me about, Mr. Colton?"

I was boiling inwardly and a little of the heat was expressed in my tone. I don't know whether he took the hint or merely lost interest in the subject. At any rate his reply was a brief "No," and we continued our walk.

As we reached the Shore Lane he paused again, and I thought he was about to speak. He did not, however, and we crossed the boundary line of my property and entered the Colton grounds. As we drew nearer to the house I was surprised to see how large it was. When the Atwaters owned it I was an occasional caller there, for old Major Atwater was fond of shooting and sometimes borrowed my decoys. But, since it changed hands, I had not been nearer to it than the Lane. With the new wing and the other additions it was enormous. It fairly reeked of money, though, so far as I was a judge, the taste shown in rebuilding and decorating was good. We turned the corner, where Asa Peters, the head carpenter, came hurrying up. Asa looked surprised enough to see me in company with his employer and regarded me wonderingly. "Mr. Colton," he said, "I wanted to ask you about them skylights." I stepped back out of hearing, but I inferred from Colton's actions that the question was another one of the "unnecessary" ones he had so scornfully referred to in the boathouse.

"Jackass!" he exclaimed, as he rejoined me. I judged he was classifying Asa, but, if so, he did not trouble to lower his voice. "Come on, Paine," he added, and we passed a long line of windows, hung with costly curtains, and stepped up on a handsome Colonial portico before two big doors.

The doors were opened by an imposing personage in dark blue and brass buttons, who bowed profoundly before Colton and regarded me with condescending superiority. This personage, whom I recognized, from Alvin's description, as the "minister-lookin'" butler, led us through a hall about as large as our sitting-room, dining-room and kitchen combined, but bearing no other resemblance to these apartments, and opened another door, through which, bowing once more, he ushered us. Then he closed the door, leaving himself, to my relief, outside. It had been a long time since I was waited upon by a butler and I found this specimen rather overpowering.

The room we were in was the library, and, though it was bigger and far more sumptuous than the library I remembered so well as a boy, the sight of the books in their cases along the walls gave me a feeling almost of homesickness. My resentment against my millionaire neighbor increased. Why should he and his have everything, and the rest of us be deprived of the little we once had?

Colton seated himself in a leather upholstered chair and waved his hand toward another.

"Sit down," he said. He took a cigar from his pocket. "Smoke?" he asked.

I was a confirmed smoker, but I was not going to smoke one of his cigars-not then.

"No thank you," said I. He did not comment on my refusal, but lit the cigar himself, from the stump of his former one. Then he crossed his legs and proceeded, with characteristic abruptness, to his subject.

"Paine," he began, "you own this land next to me, you say. Your property ends at the fence this side of that road we just crossed, doesn't it?"

"It ends where yours begins," I announced.

"Yes. Just this side of that road."

"Of the Shore Lane. It isn't a road exactly."

"I don't care what you call it. Road or lane or cow-path. It ends there?"

"Yes."

"And it IS your land? It belongs to you, personally, all of it, free and clear?"

"Why-yes; it does." I could not see what business of his my ownership of that land might be.

"All right. I asked that because, if it wasn't yours, if it was tied up or mortgaged in any way, it might complicate matters. But it isn't."

"No."

"Good! Then we can get down to brass tacks and save time. I want a piece of that land."

I looked at him.

"You want-?" I repeated, slowly.

"I want a strip of your land. Want to buy it, of course. I don't expect you to give it to me. What's it worth, by the acre, say?"

I did not answer. All at once I was beginning to see a light. Captain Jed Dean's mysterious conversation at the post-office was beginning to lose some of its mystery.

"Well?" asked Colton, impatiently. Then, without waiting longer, he added:

"By the way, before you name a figure, answer me one more question. That road-or lane, or whatever it is-that is yours, too? Doesn't belong to the town?"

The light was growing more brilliant. I could see breakers ahead.

"No," I replied, slowly. "It is a private way. It belongs to me."

"Good! Well, what's that land of yours worth by the acre?"

I shook my head. "I scarcely know," I said. "I've never figured it that way."

"I don't care how you figure it. Here, let's get down to a business proposition. I want to buy a strip of that land from the Lower Road-that's what you call the one above here, isn't it?-to the beach. The strip I want is about three hundred feet wide, for a guess. It extends from my fence to the other side of that grove by the bluff. What will you sell it for?"

The breakers were close ab

oard. However, I dodged them momentarily.

"Why do you want to buy?" I asked.

"For reasons."

"I should think you had land enough already."

"I thought I had, but it seems I haven't. Well, what's your price for that strip?"

"Mr. Colton, I-I'm afraid-"

"Never mind that. I suppose you're afraid you'll make the price too low. Now, see here, I'm a busy man. I haven't time to do any bargaining. Name your price and, if it's anywhere within reason, we won't haggle. I expect to pay more than anyone else would. That's part of my fine for being a city man and not a native. Gad! the privilege is worth the money. I'll pay the fine. What's the price?"

"But why do you want to buy?"

"For reasons of my own, I tell you. They haven't anything to do with your selling."

"I'm not so sure."

"What do you mean by that?"

"That strip takes in the Shore Lane, Mr. Colton."

"I know it."

"And, if you buy, I presume the Lane will be closed."

He looked at me, surprised, and, I thought, a little annoyed.

"Well?" he said; "suppose it is?"

"But it will be, won't it?"

"You bet your life it will! What of it?"

"Then I don't know that I care to sell."

He leaned back in his chair.

"You don't care to sell!" he repeated, slowly. "What the devil do you mean by that?"

"What I said. And, besides, Mr. Colton, I-"

He interrupted me.

"Why don't you care to sell?" he demanded. "The land is no good to you, is it?"

"Not much. No."

"Humph! Are you so rich that you've got all the money you want?"

I was angry all through. I rose from my chair.

"Good day, Mr. Colton," I said.

"Here!" he shouted. "Hold on! Where are you going?"

"I can't see that there is any use of our talking further."

"No use? Why-There! there! sit down. It's none of my business how rich you are, and I beg your pardon. Sit down. Sit down, man, I tell you!"

I sat down, reluctantly. He threw his cigar, which had gone out, into the fireplace and lit another.

"Say," he said, "you surprise me, Paine. What do you mean by saying you won't sell that land? You don't know what I'll pay for it yet."

"No, I don't."

"Then how do you know you won't sell it? I never had anything yet-except my wife and family-that I wouldn't sell for a price. Look here! I haven't got time to do any Down-East horse-jockeying. I'll make you an offer. I'll give you five hundred dollars cash for that strip of land. What do you say?"

I didn't say anything. Five hundred dollars was a generous offer. I couldn't help thinking what Mother and I might do with that five hundred dollars.

"What do you say?" he repeated.

I answered, Yankee fashion, with another question. "Mr. Colton," I asked, "why do you want to close that Shore Lane?"

"Because I do. What difference does it make to you why I want to close it?"

"That Lane has been used by Denboro people for years. It is almost a public necessity."

He puffed twice on his cigar before he spoke again. When he did it was in a different tone.

"I see," he said. "Humph! I see. Paine, does the town pay you rent for the use of that road?"

"No."

"Has it been bidding to buy it?"

"No."

"Is any one else after it?"

"No-o. I think not. But-"

"You THINK not. That means you're not sure. You've had a bite somewhere. Somebody has been nibbling at your hook. Well, they've got to bite quick and swallow some to get ahead of me. I want that road closed and I'm going to have it closed, sooner or later. I'd prefer it sooner."

"But why do you want to close it?"

Before he could answer there came a knock at the door. The butler appeared.

"I beg your pardon, sir-" he began. His master cut him short.

"Tell 'em to wait," he ordered. "I can't see any one now, Johnson. If it is that damned carpenter he can wait."

"It isn't the carpenter, sir," explained Johnson. "It's Mrs. Colton, sir. She wishes to know if you have bought that road. She says three of those 'orrid fishcarts have gone by in the last hour, sir, and they are making her very nervous. That's all, sir."

"Tell her I've bought it," snapped the head of the house. "Get out."

The butler obeyed orders. Colton turned to me.

"You heard that, Paine," he said. "That's my reason, the principal one. I bought this place principally on account of Mrs. Colton's health. The doctors said she needed quiet and rest. I thought she could have them here-God knows the place looked forsaken enough-but it appears she can't. Whenever she or I sit on the veranda or at a window we have to watch a procession of jays driving smelly fish carts through that lane of yours, or be stared at by a gang of countrymen hanging over the fence. It's a nuisance. It is bad enough for me or my daughter and our guests, but it will be the ruination of my wife's nerves, and I can't stand for that. You see the position I'm in. You heard what I told that butler. I said I had bought the road. You wouldn't make me a liar, would you? I'll give you five hundred for that bunch of sand. You couldn't get more for it if you sold it by the pound, like tea. Say yes, and close the deal."

I shook my head.

"I understand your position, Mr. Colton," I said, "but I can't say yes. Not now, at any rate."

"Why not? Isn't five hundred enough?"

"It's a good offer."

"Then why not accept it?"

"Because, if I were certain that I wanted to sell, I could not accept any offer just now."

"Why not? See here! are you afraid the town will be sore because the road is closed?"

"It would be a great inconvenience to them."

"It's a greater one to me as it is. Can you afford to be a philanthropist? Are you one of those public-spirited citizens we read about?"

He was sneering now, and my anger, which had lessened somewhat when he spoke of his wife's ill health, was rising again.

"Are you?" he repeated.

"I don't know as to that. But, as I said a while ago, Mr. Colton, I couldn't sell that land to you now."

"Why not?"

"Because, if there were no other reason, I promised not to sell it without telling another person first."

He threw down his cigar and stood up. I rose also.

"I see," he said, with sarcasm. "I knew there was something beside public spirit. You think, by hanging off and playing me against this other sucker, you can get a higher price. Well, if that's the game, I'll keep him busy."

He took out his watch, glanced at it, and thrust it back into his pocket.

"I've wasted time enough over this fool thing," he declared. "Now that I know what the game is we'll talk to the point. It's highway robbery, but I might have expected to be robbed. I'll give you six hundred for that land."

I did not answer. I was holding my temper by main strength and I could not trust myself to speak.

"Well?" he sneered. "That shakes your public spirit some, hey? What do you say?"

"No," I answered, and started for the door.

"What!" he could hardly believe his ears. "By the Lord Harry! the fellow is crazy. Six hundred and fifty then, you infernal robber."

"No."

"NO! Say, what in thunder do you mean?"

"I mean that you may go to the devil," I retorted, and reached for the door knob.

But before my fingers touched it there was the sound of laughter and voices in the hall. The knob was turned from without. I stepped back and to one side involuntarily, as the door opened and into the library came, not the butler, but a young lady, a girl in an automobile coat and bonnet. And, following her, a young man.

"Father," said the young lady, "Johnson says you've bought that horrid road. I'm so glad! When did you do it?"

"Congratulations, Mr. Colton," said the young man. "We just passed a cart full of something-seaweed, I believe it was-as we came along with the car. Oscar had to slow down to squeeze by, and we certainly were swept by ocean breezes. By Jove! I can smell them yet. I-"

The young lady interrupted him.

"Hush, Victor," she said. "I beg your pardon, Father. I thought you were alone. Victor, we're intruding."

The open door had partially screened me from the newcomers. But Colton, red and wrathful, had not ceased to glare in my direction and she, following his gaze, saw me. She did not recognize me, I think-probably I had not made sufficient impression upon her mind even for casual remembrance-but I recognized her. She was the girl with the dark eyes, whose look of contemptuous indifference had so withered my self-esteem. And her companion was the young chap who, from the tonneau of the automobile that morning, had inquired the way to Bayport.

The young man turned lazily. "Are we?" he said. "I-What! Why, Mabel, it's the humorist!"

Then she recognized me. I could feel the blood climbing from my toes to the roots of my hair. I was too astonished and chagrined to speak or even move, though I wanted to move very much indeed. She looked at me and I at her. Then she turned coldly away.

"Come, Victor," she said.

But Victor was his own blase self. It took more than a trifle to shake his calm. He laughed.

"It's the humorist," he repeated. "Reuben, how are you?"

Colton regarded the three of us with amazement.

"What?" he began. "Mabel, do you-"

But I had recovered my powers of locomotion. I was on my way out of that library.

"Here!" shouted Colton. "Stop!"

I did not stop. Feeling as I did at that moment it would have been distinctly unpleasant for the person who tried to stop me. The girl was in my way and, as I approached, she drew her skirts aside. No doubt it was my imagination which made her manner of doing it seem like an insult, but, imagination or reality, it was the one thing necessary to clench my resolution. Now when she looked at me I returned the look with interest. I strode through the doorway and across the hall. The butler would have opened the outer door for me, but I opened it myself to the imminent danger of his dignified nose. As I stepped from the portico I heard behind me a roar from Big Jim Colton and a shout of laughter from Victor.

I walked home at top speed. Only once did I look back. That was just as I was about to enter the grove on the other side of the Shore Lane. Then I turned and saw, at the big window at the end of the "Newport villa," a group of three staring in my direction: Colton, his daughter and that cub Victor. The distance was too great to see the expression of their faces, but I knew that two of them, at least, were laughing-laughing at me.

I did not laugh.

Lute was waiting for me by the gate and ran to meet me. He was wild with excitement.

"He came after you, didn't he?" he cried, grabbing at my coat sleeve. "You went over to his house with him, didn't you! I see you and at fust I couldn't scurcely believe it. What did he want? What did he say?"

I did not answer. He ran along beside me, still clinging to my sleeve.

"What did he want?" he repeated. "What did he say to you? What did you say to him? Tell a feller, can't you?"

"I told him to go to the devil," I answered, savagely.

Lute let go of my sleeve.

"You-you-By time, you're stark loony!" he gasped; and collapsed against the gate post.

I went into the house, up the back stairs to my room, and shut the door.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares