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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Rise of Roscoe Paine By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 23937

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The rain, which I expected would follow the squall, did not come until late that night, and it was still falling heavily the next morning. It was a warm rain, however, and, after breakfast, I walked up to the village. I said nothing, even to Mother, about the happenings in the bay, and Dorinda, who had asked many sarcastic questions concerning the state of my blue trousers-if I had "mistook 'em for a bathin' suit" and the like-seemed satisfied with my hurried explanation that I had gotten overboard. "Though how you fell in feet fust," she observed, "I don't see." She had mended my brown pair, sitting up until after two to do so.

Lute informed me that he had been up to the post-office. "Everybody's talkin' about them Coltons," he declared. "I see their automobile last night, myself. The Colton girl, she come into the store. My! she's a stunner, ain't she! Sim waited on her, himself, and gave her the mail. She wanted to buy some cheese-for a rabbit, she said. I never heard of feeding a rabbit on cheese, did you, Ros?"

"No," I replied, laughing. It was not worth while to explain.

"Nor nobody else, but her! I guess," continued Lute, "likely she was just jokin'. Anyhow, Sim was all out of cheese, but he had some nice print butter, just in. She didn't want no butter, though."

"Humph!" sniffed Dorinda. "Did Sim Eldredge cal'late she wanted to feed the rabbit butter? Was the Colton girl alone?"

"No. There was a young feller with her; the one that's visitin' 'em. Carver his name is-Victor Carver. Did you ever hear such a name in your life? Afore I'd name a child of mine Victor!"

"Um-hm. Well, I wouldn't waste time worryin' about that, if I was you. Look here, Lute Rogers, you didn't say anything about Roscoe's talk with Mr. Colton, did you?"

"No, no! no, no! Course I didn't."

"You sure?"

"Yes. 'Taint likely I would, would I? Cap'n Jed was on hand, as usual, and he was full of questions, but he didn't get anything out of me. 'What did Colton say to Ros?' he says. 'How do I know what he said?' says I. 'I wan't there, was I?' 'Where was you that forenoon?' he says. 'Forenoon!' says I, 'that shows how much you know about it. 'Twas three o'clock in the afternoon.' Oh, I had the laugh on him!"

Dorinda looked at me and shook her head.

"It's too bad, Roscoe," she said. "But I was afraid of it as soon as I found he'd sneaked off to the post-office. I cal'late it's all over town by now."

"What do you mean by that?" Lute's dignity was outraged. "All over town! I never told him nothin'."

"No. Only that Ros and Mr. Colton were together and 'twas three o'clock in the afternoon. And goodness knows how much more! DO be quiet! Seems sometimes as if I should lose patience with you altogether. Is this Carver the Colton girl's young man? Are they engaged?"

"I don't know. I guess he's keepin' company with her, by the looks. I got as nigh to 'em as I could, but I didn't hear much they said. Only, just as they was goin' out, he said somethin' about goin' for a little spin in the car. She said no, her father would want his letters. Carver, he said, why not send Oscar home-that's the chauffeur, you know-with the letters, and he'd run the car himself. She kind of laughed, and said she guessed not, she'd taken one trip with him already that day and she didn't believe she cared for another. He seemed kind of put out about it, I thought."

I had been feeling rather provoked at Lute for giving Captain Jed the information concerning my interview with Colton; but, somehow, this other bit of news restored my good humor. When I started for the village I did not take the short cut across the fields, but followed my regular route, the path by the bluff and the Shore Lane. I was no longer fearful of meeting my new neighbors. The memory of the happenings in the bay was a delightful solace to my wounded self-respect. I chuckled over it as I walked through the dripping pines of the little grove. No matter how contemptuously indifferent that girl might pretend to be she would not forget what had taken place; that she had been obliged to obey my orders; that I had carried her to that skiff; that I had saved her from a danger-not a great danger, and against her will, of course-but saved her nevertheless. She was under an obligation to me; she could not help herself. How that must gall her. I remembered the look on her face as I rowed away. Sweet was revenge. And Victor-Victor was a joke.

When I reached the Lane I looked over at the Colton mansion. The rain had given the carpenters and painters an enforced holiday, and, except for the chauffeur, whom I could see through the open door of the garage, there was no one in sight. I think I was a little disappointed. If "Big Jim" had appeared and hailed me with another offer for the land I should not have dodged. I was ready for him. But neither he, or any one else, appeared and I walked on.

At the Corners, Sim Eldredge shouted to me from the platform of his store.

"Hi, Ros!" he shouted. "You! Ros Paine! come here a minute, will you?"

I did not want to see him. I had intended avoiding the post-office altogether. But I crossed to the platform.

"Say, Ros," he asked eagerly, "what's this about you and Mr. Colton?"

I was annoyed.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Why, you know, don't you? He come to see you and you went to see him over to his house. You had a reg'lar argument, I understand. About the Shore Lane, wan't it?"

"Who told you that?" I inquired, sharply.

"Why, nobody told me, exactly. Lute Rogers and Cap'n Jed was here last night and they got a-goin' as usual. The Cap'n does love to stir up Lute, and he commenced hintin' about somethin' of the kind. I don't know as they was hints, either, but Lute thought they was."

He grinned. I understood.

"I see," I said. "Well, what did Lute say?"

"I suppose he'd say he never said a word, but after he'd gone there was a kind of general sentiment that Colton wanted to buy the Shore Lane land off you, and that you and he had some words about it. Anyhow, you didn't sell the land, did you?"

"Suppose I did, or didn't; what of it?"

"Why, nothin', nothin'. Only, I tell you, Ros-" he looked carefully about to make sure no one was listening; "I tell you; it's just this way. I can understand how you feel about it. You know Dean and some of the others are sore on Mr. Colton 'cause he's got more money than they have, and they want to make all the trouble for him they can. Jed's got an idea that he's after that Lane, to close it off, and he's stirrin' up sentiment against its bein' closed. He's talkin' about the town buyin' it. Now of course I know your position. You want to get just as high a price as you can afore you sell."

"That's my position, is it?"

"It would be the position of any sensible man, wouldn't it? I don't blame you. Now, what I wanted to say was this." He bent forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Why don't you let me handle this thing for you? I can do it better'n you. I see Cap'n Jed every night, you might say. And I see consider'ble of Mr. Colton. He knows I'm postmaster in this town and sort of prominent. All the smart folks ain't in the Board of Selectmen. I'll keep you posted; see? You just set back and pretend you don't want to sell at all. Colton, he'll bid and Jed and his gang'll bid. I'll tell each what the other bids, and we'll keep her jumpin'. When we get to the last jump, we'll sell-and not afore. Of course Mr. Colton 'll get it, in the end."

"Oh, he will! What makes you think so?"

"What makes me think so? Don't be foolish. Ain't he a millionaire? How can Denboro stand up against a millionaire? I tell you, Ros, it's money counts in this world, and it pays to stand in with them that's got it. I'm goin' to stand in with Mr. Colton. But I'll pretend to stand in with Dean just as much. I can help a whole lot. Why, I shouldn't wonder if, between us, we could get-er-er-I don't know how much, for that land. What do you say?"

I smiled. "It's very kind of you, Sim, to be willing to go to so much trouble on my account," I observed. "I didn't know there was such disinterested kindness in Denboro."

Sim seemed a bit put out. "Why," he stammered, "I-I-of course I presumed likely you'd be willin' to pay me a little commission-or-or-somethin'. I thought I might be a sort of-er-agent for you. I've handled consider'ble real estate in my time-and-you see what I mean, don't you?"

"Yes," I said, drily; "I see. Well, Sim, if I decide to engage an agent I'll let you know. Good morning."

"But, hold on, Ros! I-"

I did not "hold on." I walked across the road and entered the bank. Alvin Baker met me in the vestibule. He seized my hand and shook it violently.

"I declare," he exclaimed, "it does me good to shake hands with a feller that's got the grit you have. It does so! We're all proud of you."

"Much obliged, Alvin, I'm sure. But why?"

He winked and nudged me with his elbow.

"You know why, all right," he whispered. "Wouldn't sell him the land, would you? Tell me: Did he make you a real bid for it? Lute as much as said he did."

For a person who had told nothing, Lute seemed to have "as much as said" a good many things. I shook my head.

"So you think I shouldn't sell the land?" I asked.

"Course you shouldn't-not to him. Ain't there such things as public spirit and independence? But I'll tell you somethin' more, Ros," mysteriously. "You may have a chance to sell it somewhere else."

"Indeed?"

"Yes, sir-ee! indeed! There's other public-spirited folks in Denboro as well as you. I know who they be and I stand in with 'em pretty close, too. I'm goin' to help you all I can."

"That's very kind of you, Alvin."

"No, no. I'm glad to do it. Shan't charge you nothin', neither."

"That's kinder still."

"No, 'tain't. . . Hold on a minute, Ros. Don't go. As I say, I'm goin' to work tooth and nail to get the town to buy that Lane property of yours. I'll stick out for you're gettin' a good price for it. I'll use all my influence."

"Thank you."

"You needn't thank me. It's a matter of principle. We'll show these city folks they ain't the whole ship, cargo and all. . . . Hold on a second more. Ros, I-er-I wonder if you'd do a little favor for me."

"What is it, Alvin?"

"Why, it's this way. I've got a note here in the bank; put it there when I bought the power engine for my cat-boat. Hundred and fifty dollars, 'tis. You're a pretty good friend of George Taylor, cashier here, and I was wonderin' if you'd mind puttin' in a word with him about my gettin' it renewed when it comes due. Just tell him you think I'm all right, and a good risk, or somethin' like that."

I could not help smiling. Alvin seemed to find encouragement in the smile.

"George thinks consider'ble of you," he said. "And Captain Jed-he's one of the directors-he will, too, now that you've stood up to Colton. Just put in a word for me, will you? And don't forget I'm a friend of yours, and I'm strong for your gettin' a good, fair price from the town. Remember that, won't you?"

"I won't forget, Alvin. Good-by."

I left him and went into the bank. Henry Small, the bookkeeper, was at his desk. I walked over to speak to him, but he, looking up from his figures, spoke first. There was, or so it seemed to me, a different note in his greeting. It was more hearty, I thought. Certainly he regarded me with a new and curious interest.

"Morning, Ros," he said. "Well, how are you these days?"

I answered that I was well, and was moving on but he detained me.

"Lively times ahead, hey," he whispered.

"What sort of times?" I asked.

He winked. "I guess you know, if anybody does," he observed. "All right, you'll have good friends on your side. I ain't saying anything, of course, but I'm on, all right."

He winked again. I walked back to the cashier's window. Taylor had, evidently, seen me talking with

the bookkeeper, for he was standing by the little gate, waiting for me.

"Hello, Ros," he said. "Glad to see you. Come in."

George Taylor was a type of smart country boy grown to manhood in the country. His tone, like his manner, was sharp and quick and businesslike, but he spoke with the Down-East twang and used the Cape phrases and metaphors. He was younger than I, but he looked older, and, of late, it had seemed to me that he was growing more nervous. We shook hands.

"Glad to see you," he said again. "I was hoping you'd drift in. I presumed likely you might. Sit down."

I took the proffered chair. He looked at me with much the same curious interest that Small had shown.

"We've been hearing about you," he said. "You've been getting yourself talked about."

I mentally cussed Lute once more for his loquacity.

"I'll break the fellow's neck," I declared, with emphasis.

He laughed. "Don't do that yet awhile," he said. "The market is in bad enough shape as it is. If his neck was broke the whole of Wall Street would go to pot."

"Wall Street? What in the world has Lute got to do with Wall Street?"

"Lute! Oh, I see! Yes, Lute's been doing considerable talking, but it ain't his neck I mean. Say, Ros, what did you do to him, anyway? You stirred him up some, judging by what he said to me."

"Who said? What?"

"Why, Colton. He was in here yesterday. Opened what he called a household account; that was his main business. But he asked about you, along with it."

This explained some things. It was clear now why Small had appeared so interested. "Oh!" I said.

"You bet he did. Wanted to know if I knew you, and what you were, and so on. I told him I knew you pretty well. 'What sort of a fellow is he? A damn fool?' he asked. I strained the truth enough to say you were a pretty good fellow and a long ways from that kind of a fool, according to my reckoning. 'Umph!' says he. 'Is he rich?' I told him I guessed you wan't so rich that you got round-shouldered lugging your money. 'Why?' says I, getting curious. 'Have you met him, Mr. Colton? If you have you ought to have sized him up yourself. I always heard you were a pretty fair judge.' He looked at me kind of funny. 'I thought I was,' says he, 'but you seem to raise a new variety down here.' Then I guess he thought he'd said enough. At any rate, he walked off. What did you and he say to each other, Ros?"

I did not answer immediately. When I did the answer was non-committal. "Oh, we had a business interview," I said.

He nodded. "Well," he observed, "I suppose it's your affair and not mine. But, I tell you this, Ros: if it's what I suppose it is, it'll be everybody's affair pretty soon."

"You think so, do you?"

"I know so. Cap'n Jed's a fighter and he is on the war path. The two sides are lining up already. Whichever way you decide you'll make enemies, of course."

I shrugged my shoulders. The prospect of enemies, more or less, in Denboro, did not trouble me.

"But you'll have to decide," he went on, "who you'll sell to."

"Or not sell at all," I suggested.

"Can you afford to do that? There'll be money-a whole lot of money-in this before it's over, if I know the leaders on both sides. You've got the whip-hand. There'll be money in it. Can you afford to let it slip?"

I did not answer. Suddenly his expression changed. He looked haggard and care-worn.

"By the Almighty," he said, between his teeth, and without looking at me, "I wish I had your chance."

"Why?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing. . . . How's your mother nowadays?"

I told him that my mother was much as usual, and we talked of various things.

"By the way," he said, "I've got some news for you. Nothing surprising. I guess all hands have seen it coming. I'm engaged to be married."

"Good!" said I, with as much heartiness as I could answer; marriage did not interest me. "Congratulations, George. Nellie Dean, of course."

"Yes."

"I'm glad for you. And for her. She'll make you a good wife, I'm sure."

He drew a long breath. "Yes," he said slowly, "Nellie's a good girl."

"When is the-what do they call it? the happy event to take place?"

"In the fall some time, if all goes well. I hope it will."

"Humph! Yes, I should think you might hope as much as that. Why shouldn't it go well?"

"Hey? Oh, of course it will!" He laughed and rose from his chair as several men came into the bank. "I'll have to leave you, Ros," he said. "There's a directors' meeting this morning. They're coming now."

As I passed out of the gate and through the group of directors I noticed that they also regarded me with interest. Two, men from neighboring towns whom I scarcely knew, whispered to each other. Captain Elisha Warren shook hands with me and inquired concerning Mother. The last of the group was Captain Jedediah Dean, and he touched me on the shoulder.

"Ros," he whispered, "you're all right. Understand? I say you're all right."

"Thanks," I answered, briefly.

"I heard about it," he whispered. "Ase Peters said the Grand Panjandrum was cranky as a shark with the toothache all day yesterday. You must tell me the yarn when we get together. I missed you when I called just now, but I'll be down again pretty soon. You won't lose nothin' by this. So long."

As I came down the bank steps Sim Eldredge called across the road.

"Good-by, Ros," he shouted. "Come in again next time you're up street."

In all my period of residence in Denboro I had never before been treated like this. People had never before gone out of their way to shake hands with me. No one had considered it worth while to ask favors of me. Sim and Alvin were not to be taken seriously, of course, and both were looking after their own pocketbooks, but their actions were straws proving the wind to be blowing in my direction. I thought, and smiled scornfully, that I, all at once, seemed to have become a person of some importance.

But my scorn was not entirely sincere. There was a certain gratification in the thought. I might pretend-I had pretended-that Denboro opinion, good or bad, was a matter of complete indifference to me. I had assumed myself a philosopher, to whom, in the consciousness of right, such trifles were of no consequence. But, philosophy or not, the fact remained that I was pleased. People might dislike me-as that lofty Colton girl and her father disliked me, though they could dislike me no more than I did them-but I could compel them to respect me. They already must think of me as a man. And so on-as I walked home through the wet grass. It was all as foolish and childish and ridiculous as it well could be. I deserved what was coming to me-and I got it.

For, as I came down the Lane, I met Oscar, the chauffeur, and a companion, whom I judged to be a fellow servant-the coachman, I learned afterwards-walking in the direction of the village. The rain had ceased, but they wore natty raincoats and caps and had the city air of smartness which I recognized and envied, even in them. The footpath was narrow, but they apparently had no intention of stepping to one side, so I made way for them. They whispered together as they approached and looked at me curiously as we passed. A few steps further on I heard them both burst out laughing. I caught the words, from Oscar, "fool Rube" and "the old man'll make him look-" I heard no more, but as I turned into the grove I saw them both looking after me with broad grins on their faces.

Somebody has said that there is nothing harder to bear than the contempt and ridicule of servants. For one thing, you cannot resent it without a loss of dignity, and, for another, you may be perfectly sure that theirs is but the reflection of their employers' frame of mind. This encounter shook my self-satisfaction more than a little. It angered me, but it did more than that; it brought back the feeling I had when I left the Colton library, that my defiance was not, after all, taken seriously. That I was regarded by Colton as just what Oscar had termed me, a "fool Rube." When George Taylor told me of the great man's questions concerning my foolishness, I accepted the question as a tribute to my independence. Now I was not so sure.

Dorinda met me at the door.

"You've had two callers," she said.

"So? Who were they?"

"One of 'em was Cap'n Jed. He drove down just after you left. He come to see you about that land, I cal'late."

"Oh, yes. I remember he told me he missed me this morning. So he came here?"

"Um-hm. Him and me had a little talk. He seemed to know consider'ble about your rumpus with Mr. Colton."

"How did he know?"

"He wouldn't say, but I wouldn't wonder if he got a lot from Ase Peters. Ase and he are pretty thick; he's got a mortgage on Ase's house, you know. And Ase, bein' as he's doin' the carpenterin' over to Colton's, hears a lot from the servants, I s'pose likely. Leastways, if they don't tell all their bosses' affairs they're a new breed of hired help, that's all I've got to say. Cap'n Jed says Mr. Colton cal'lates you're a fool."

"Yes. So I've heard. What did the Captain say to that?"

"Seemed to think 'twas a pretty good joke. He said he didn't care how big a fool you was so long's you was feeble-minded on the right side."

So there it was again. My imagined importance in the eyes of the townspeople simmered down to about that. I was an imbecile, but they must pretend to believe me something else because I owned something they wanted. Well, I still owned it.

"Of course," continued Dorinda, "I didn't tell him you was figgerin' not to sell the land at all. If I had, I s'pose he'd have thought-"

She stopped short.

"You suppose what?" I asked.

"Oh, nothin'."

She had said enough. I could guess the rest. I walked to the window and stood, looking out. The clouds were breaking and, as I stood there, a ray of sunlight streamed through a rift and struck the bay just at the spot where the dingy had grounded. The shallow water above the flat flashed into fire. I am not superstitious, as a general thing, but the sight comforted me. It seemed like an omen. There was the one bright spot in the outlook. There, at least, I had not behaved like a "fool Rube." There I had compelled respect and been taken seriously.

Dorinda spoke again.

"You ain't asked who your other caller was," she observed.

"Was there another?"

"Um-hm. I told you there was two. After Cap'n Jed left that chauffeur feller from the big house come here. He fetched a note for you. Here 'tis."

I took the note. It was addressed to me in a man's handwriting, not that of "Big Jim" Colton. I opened the envelope and read:

Roscoe Paine.

Sir: The enclosed is in payment for your work. No receipt is necessary.

Yours truly,

B. VICTOR CARVER.

The "enclosed" was a five-dollar bill.

I stood staring at the note. Then I began to laugh.

"What's the joke?" asked Dorinda, who had not taken her eyes from my face.

"This," said I, handing her the money. She looked at it in astonishment.

"Um-hm," she said, drily. "Well, I-well, a five-dollar bill may be a joke to you, but I ain't familiar enough with one to laugh at it. You don't laugh as if 'twas awful funny, either. Who's the joke on?"

"It's on me, just now.

"Um-hm. I'd be willin' to be joked ten times a day, at that price. And I'd undertake to laugh heartier than you're doin', too. What's it for? the money, I mean."

"It's for some 'work' I did yesterday."

She was more astonished than ever.

"Work! You?" she exclaimed.

"Yes. But don't worry; I shan't do it again."

"Land! THAT wouldn't worry me. What sort of work was it?"

"Oh, I-I picked up something adrift in the bay."

"Um-hm. I see. Somethin' belongin' to the Coltons, I s'pose likely. Why won't you do it again? Ain't they paid you enough?"

Again I laughed. "They have paid me too much," I said, bitterly. "What I picked up wasn't worth the money."

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