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"An' how did the master fale about that?" asked McGill, who had been a school-master himself.
"W'y he jes let him have it good an' tight right around his shins. Tom walked off an' never wunst said thank yeh, sir. He didn' wear uz good close in them days 's 'e does now, by a long shot. His mother's farm's in the timber, an' slow to open; so many stumps and the like; an' 'f 'is uncle down 't Moscow had n't a' tuck him up, he 'd 'a' been a-plowin' in thatair stickey yaller clay 'v Hubbard township yit. But you know ole Tom Grayson, his father's brother, seein' 's Tom wuz named for him, an' wuz promisin' like, an' had the gift of the gab, he thought 's how Tom mought make 'n all-fired smart lawyer ur doctor, ur the like; an' seein' 's he had n' got no boy to do choores about, he takes Tom an' sends him to school three winters, an' now I believe he's put him to readin' law."
"Yis, I know he went into Blackman's office last May," said McGill.
"Ole Tom Grayson's never done nothin' fer the ole woman nur little Barb'ry, there, an' little Barb'ry's the very flower of the flock, accordin' to my tell," Mely went on. "Mrs. Grayson sticks to the ole farm, yeh know, an' rents one field to pap on the sheers, an' works the rest uv it by hirin'. She sets a mighty sight uv store by Tom. Talks about 'im by the hour. She 'lows he'll be a-gittin' to Congress nex' thing. But I d' know" and here Mely shook her head. "High nose stumped his toes," says I. "Jes look how he 's a-carryin' on with Rache, now.”
"She's older 'n he is," said the clerk, knowing that even this half unfavorable comment would be a comfort to one so far removed from rivalry with her as Mely.
"Three years ef she's a day," responded Mely promptly. "Jest look at that Lockwood. He's like a colt on the outside of a paster fence, now,”—and Mely giggled heartily at Lockwood's evident discomfiture.
In gossip and banter the time went by, until some one proposed to "turn the Bible." I do not know where this form of sortilege originated; it is probably as old as Luther's Bible. One can find it practiced in Germany to-day as it is in various parts of the United States. "Come, Sophronia, you and me will hold the key," said Lockwood, who was always quick to seize an advantage.
These two, therefore, set themselves to tell the fortunes of the company. The large iron key to the front door and a short, fat little pocket-Bible were the magic implements. The ward end of the key was inserted between the leaves of the Bible at the first chapter of Ruth; the book was closed and a string
bound so tightly about it as to hold it firmly to the key. The ring end of the key protruded. This was carefully balanced on the tips of the forefingers of Lockwood and Sophronia Miller, so that the Bible hung between and below their hands. A very slight motion, unconscious and invisible, of either of the supporting fingers would be sufficient to precipitate the Bible and key to the floor.
"Who can say the verse?" asked Lockwood.
"I know it like a book," said Virginia Miller.
"You say it, Ginnie," said her sister, "but whose turn first?"
The two amateur sorcerers, with fingers under the key-ring, sat face to face in the dim light of the candle, their right elbows resting on their knees as they bent forward to hold the Bible between them. The others stood about with countenances expressing curiosity and amusement.
"Rachel first," said Henry Miller; "everybody wants to know who in thunderation Rache will marry, ef she ever marries anybody. I don't believe even the Bible can tell that. Turn fer Rachel Albaugh, and let's see how it comes out. Say the verse, Ginnie."
"Letter A," said Virginia Miller, solemnly; and then she repeated the words like a witch saying a charm:
"Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried.'"
The key did not turn. It was manifest, therefore, that Rachel would never marry any man whose name began with the first letter of the alphabet. The letter B was called, and again the solemn charm was repeated; the company resting breathless to the end. The Bible and key refused to respond for B, or C, or D, or E, or F. But when Ginnie Miller announced "Letter G," it was with a voice that betrayed a consciousness of having reached a critical point in her descent of the alphabet; there was a rustle of expectation in the room, and even McGill, standing meditatively with his hands behind his back, shifted his weight from his left foot to his right so as to have a better view of any antics the Bible might take a notion to perform. Just as Virginia Miller reached the words "and where thou diest will I die," the key slipped off Sophronia's fingers first, and the book fell to the floor.
"G stands for Grayson," said McGill gravely, but he pronounced his "G" so nearly like "J" that a titter went around the room.
"Don't you know better than to spell Grayson with a J, Mr. McGill?" asked Rachel. McGill did not see the drift of the question, and before he could reply, Lockwood, without looking up, broke in with: "What are you talking about, all of you? It's not the last name, it's the given name you go by."
"Oh!” cried Mely McCord, in mild derision, "George begins with G. I did n't think of that."
"Yis," said McGill, reflectively, "that's a fact; George does begin with Jay too."
"I tell you it's the last name," said Tom, laughing.
"I tell you it is n't," said Lockwood, doggedly; but Henry Miller, seeing a chance for disagreeable words, made haste to say: "Come, boys, it's the good-natured one that'll win. Hang up the Bible once more and let's see if it 'll drop for Lockwood when it gets to L, or for Tom when we come to T. I don't more than half believe in the thing. It never will turn for me on anything but Q, and they a'n't no girl with Q to her name this side of Jericho except Queen Brooks, an' she lives thirteen miles away an' 's engaged to another feller, and I would n't look at her twiste if she wuz n't, nur she 't me like 's not. Come, Ginnie, gee-up your oxen. Let's have H."
The Bible refused to turn at H. "Rachel won't marry you, Henry Miller," said the county clerk.
"No," said Henry, "Rache an' me 's always been first-rate friends, but she knows me too well to fall in love with me, an' I'm the only feller in this end of the county that's never made a fool of myself over Rachel."
Neither would the Bible turn at I, J, or K. But at L it turned.
"Of course it'll turn at L, when Lockwood's got hold of the key," said Tom with another laugh. "That 's what he took hold for."
"That's the same as saying I don't play fair," said Lockwood, with irritation.
"Fair and square a'n't just your way, George. But there's no use being cross about it."
"Come, boys, if you're going to quarrel over the Bible you can't have it," said Rachel, who loved tranquillity. "As for me, I'm going to marry whoever I please, and I won't get married till I please, Bible or no Bible"; and she untied the string, put the rusty key in the door, and laid the plump little book in its old place on the mantel-piece, until it should be wanted again for religious disputation or fortune-telling.
Grayson went rattling on with cheerful and good-natured nonsense, but George Lockwood, pushed into the shade by Tom's ready talk and by Rachel's apparent preference for him, was not in a very good humor, and departed early in company with McGill. After all the
rest had gone, Barbara Grayson had to remind Tom more than once of the lateness of the hour, for nine o'clock was late in that day.
"Send him home, Rachel," she said, "at halfpast nine; he 'll never go while you look goodnatured." When, taking her brother by the arm, Barbara led him to the gate, Rachel followed, almost as reluctant to close the evening as Tom himself.
WINNING AND LOSING.
THE next Friday evening Grayson and Lockwood were again brought together; this time in the miscellaneous store of Wooden & Snyder, in which George Lockwood was the only clerk. Here after closing-time the young men of the village were accustomed to gratify their gregarious propensities; this was a clubroom, where, amid characteristic odors of brown sugar, plug tobacco, new calico, vinegar, whisky, molasses, and the dressed leather of boots and shoes, social intercourse was carried on by a group seated on the top of nailkegs, the protruding ends of shoe-boxes, and the counters that stretched around three sides of the room. Here were related again all those stock anecdotes which have come down from an antiquity inconceivably remote, but which in every village are yet told as having happened three or four miles away, and three or four years ago, to the intimate friend of the narrator's uncle. The frequency of such assemblies takes off something of their zest; where everybody knows all his neighbor's history and has heard everybody else's favorite story, a condition of mental equilibrium ensues, and there is no exchange of electricities. The new-comer, or the man who has been away, is a heaven-send in a village; he stirs its stagnant intellect as a fresh breeze, and is for the time the hero of every congregation of idlers.
Such a man on this evening was Dave Sovine, the son of a settler from one of the Channel Islands. Four years ago, when but sixteen years old, Dave had unluckily waked up one summer morning at daybreak. Looking out of the little window in the end of the loft of his father's house, he had contemplated with disgust a large field of Indian corn to be "plowed out" that day under a June sun. So repulsive to his nature was the landscape of young maize and the prospect of toil, that he dressed himself, tied up his spare clothes in a handkerchief, and taking his boots in his hand, descended noiselessly the stairway which was in the outside porch of the house. Once on the ground, he drew on his boots and got away toward the Wabash, where he shipped as cook on a flat-boat bound for New Orleans. No
Lockwood got down off the ledge in a sluggish way, and walked around the end of the counter to the stove-pipe which ran from the box-stove in the store up through the office above. I say, Tom!" he called.
"What?" came out of the pipe.
"Dave Sovine says he can beat you at any game you choose. Come down and try him." Grayson was bending over a law-book with. only a tallow candle for light. Studying the law of common carriers was, in his opinion, dull business for a fellow with good red blood in his veins. He heard the murmur of conversation below, and for the last half-hour he had longed to put the book up beside its sheepskin companions on the shelves and join the company in the store. This banter decided him.
pursuit or inquiry was made by his family, and his eye significantly, and involuntarily disthe neighbors suspected that his departure closing a vein of exultant deviltry which made was not a source of regret. At Shawneetown the cool-blooded Lockwood recoil a little; the flat-boat was suddenly left without a cook. however, George felt that it would be a satisDave had been sent up in the town with a faction to see Tom's pride reduced. little money to lay in supplies of coffee and sugar; instead of coming back, he surreptitiously shipped as cabin-boy on the steamboat Queen of the West, which was just leaving the landing, bound also for the "lower country." Sovine had afterward been in the Gulf, he had had adventures in Mexico, and he had contrived to pick up whatever of evil was to be learned in every place he visited. He had now come home ostensibly "to see the folks," but really to gratify his vanity in astonishing his old acquaintances by an admirable proficiency in deviltry. His tales of adventure were strange and exciting, and not likely to shrink in the telling. The youth of Moscow listened with open-mouthed admiration to one who, though born in their village, had seen so much of the world and broken every one of the commandments. For his skill at cards they soon had not only admiration but dread. He had emptied the pockets of his companions by a kind of prestidigitation quite incomprehensible to them. He seemed to play fairly, but there was not a loafer in Moscow who had not become timid about playing with Dave; the long run of luck was ever on his side. It was much more amusing to his companions to hear him, with ugly winks and the complacent airs of a man who feels sure that he had cut his eyeteeth, tell how he had plucked others in gambling than to furnish him with new laurels at their own expense.
On this particular evening Dave Sovine lounged on one of the counters, with a stack of unbleached "domestic," cloth for a bolster, while his bright patent-leather shoes were posed so as to be in plain view. Thus comfortably fixed, he bantered the now wary and rather impecunious "boys" for a game of poker, euchre, seven-up, or anything to pass away the time. George Lockwood, as representing the proprietors of the store, sat on a ledge below the shelves with his feet braced on a box under the counter. He was still smarting from his discomfiture with Rachel Albaugh, and he was also desirous of investigating Dave Sovine's play without risking his own "fips" and "bits" in the game. So, after revolving the matter in his mind as he did every matter, he said to Dave, with a half-sinister smile:
"Tom Grayson's upstairs in Blackman's office. Maybe you might get up a game with him. He plays a stiff hand, and he a'n't afraid of the Ole Boy at cards, or anything else, for that matter."
"You call him down," said Dave, winking
"I'll come down a little minute and try just three games and no more," he said. Then he closed the book with a thump and went down the outside stairway, which was the only means of egress from the law-office, and was let into the back door of the store by George Lockwood. He got an empty soap-box and set it facing the nail-keg on which Dave Sovine had placed himself for the encounter. A half-barrel with a board on top was put between the players, and served for table on which to deal and throw the cards; the candle rested on the rusty box-stove which stood, winter and summer, midway between the counters. Lockwood snuffed the candle and then, with an affectation of overlistlessness, placed himself behind Sovine, so as to command a view of his cards and of all his motions.
Tom had prudence enough to insist on playing for small stakes of a twelve-and-a-half-cent bit at a game; his purse was not heavy enough for him to venture greater ones. At first the larger number of games fell to Grayson, and his winnings were considerable to one who had never had more than money enough for his bare necessities. He naturally forgot all about the law of common carriers and the limit of three games he had prescribed himself.
Dave cursed his infernal luck, as he called it, and when the twelfth round left Tom about a dollar ahead, he gave the cards a "Virginia poke" whenever it came his turn to cut them; that is to say, he pushed one card out of the middle of the pack, and put it at the back. By this means Dave proposed to "change the luck," as he said; but George Lockwood, who looked over Dave's shoulder, was not for a minute deceived by this manoeuvre. He knew that this affectation of a superstition about luck
and the efficiency of poking the cards was only a blind to cover from inexpert eyes the real sleight by which Dave, when he chose, could deal himself strong hands. Even the Virginia poke did not immediately bring a change, and when Tom had won a dozen games more than Dave, and so was a dollar and a half ahead, and had got his pulses well warmed up, Dave manifested great vexation, and asked Grayson to increase the stakes to half a dollar, so as to give him a chance to recover some of his money before it was time to quit. Tom consented to this, and the proportion of winnings passed to the other side of the board. Dave won sometimes two games in three, sometimes three in five, and Tom soon found a serious inroad made in the small fund of thirteen dollars which he had earned by odd jobs writing and even by harder and homelier work. This money had been hoarded toward a new suit of clothes. He began to breathe hard; he put up his hard-earned half-dollars with a trembling hand; and he saw them pass into Sovine's pocket with a bitter regret; he took his few winnings with eagerness. Every lost half-dollar represented a day's work, and after every loss he resolved to venture but one more, if the luck did not change. But how could he endure to quit defeated? He saw before him weeks of regret and self-reproach; he felt a desperate necessity for recovering his ground. As the loss account mounted, his lips grew dry, the veins in his forehead visibly swelled, and the perspiration trickled from his face. He tried to hide his agitation under an affectation of indifference and amusement, but when he essayed to speak careless words for a disguise, his voice was husky and unsteady, and he kept swallowing, with an effort as though something in his throat threatened him with suffocation. Dave noted these signs of distress in his adversary with a sort of luxurious pleasure; he had in him the instincts of a panther, and the suffering inflicted on another gave an additional relish to his victory.
Lockwood watched the play with a sharp curiosity, hoping to penetrate the secret of Sovine's skill. He felt, also, a certain regret, for he had not expected to see Tom quite so severely punished. At length Tom's last dollar was reached; with a flushed face, he held the coin in his trembling hand for a moment, and then he said bravely: "It might as well go with the rest, if I lose this time," and he laid it down as a single stake, hoping that luck would favor him.
When Dave had pocketed this he leaned back and smiled with that sort of ruthless content that a beast of prey feels when he licks his chops after having enjoyed a meal from his lawful prey.
Tom's losses were relatively great; it was a kind of small ruin that had suddenly overtaken him. A month of writing, if he had it to do, would not have replaced the money, nor was his a nature that could easily brook defeat. The very courage and self-reliance that would have stood him in admirable stead in another kind of difficulty, and that in other circumstances would have been accounted a virtue, were a snare to him now.
"Look here, Dave," he said, with a voice choked by mortification, "give me a chance to win a little of that back," and he laid his pocket-knife on the table.
"Tom, you'd better quit," said three or four voices at once. But Dave rather eagerly laid a half-dollar by Tom's knife and won the knife. He liked this chance to give a certain completeness to the job. Then Tom laid out his silk handkerchief, which he also lost - for the games all went one way now.
"Come, Tom, hold on now," said the chorus.
But Tom was in the torment of perdition. He glared at those who advised him to desist. Then, in a mixture of stupor and desperation, he placed his hat on the board against a dollar and lost that; then he stripped the coat from his back and lost it, and at last his boots went the same way. When these were gone, having nothing further to wager without consigning himself to aboriginal nakedness, he sat in a kind of daze, his eyes looking swollen and bloodshot with excitement.
"Come, Dave," said Lockwood, "give him back his clothes. You 've won enough without taking the clothes off his back."
"That's all you know about it," said Dave, who noted every token of Tom's suffering as an additional element in his triumph. "That may be your Illinois way, but that is n't the way we play in New Orleans. Winnings is winnings where I learnt the game." And he proceeded to lay Tom's things in a neat pile convenient for transportation.
"Aw! come now, Dave," said one and another, "'t a'n't the fair thing to send a fellow home to his folks barefooted and in his shirtsleeves."
But Dave smiled in supercilious contempt at this provincial view of things, and cited the usages of the superior circles to which he had gained admission.
Lockwood at length lent Tom the money to redeem his garments, and the necessity which obliged him to borrow from the man who had got him into the scrape was the bitterest of all the bitter elements in Tom's defeat. He went out into the fresh air and walked home mechanically. His dashing, headlong ways had already partly alienated his uncle, and the
only hope of Tom's retaining his assistance long enough to complete his law studies lay in the chance that his relative might fail to hear of this last escapade. It was clear to Tom without much canvassing of the question that he could not borrow from him the money to replace what he had gotten from Lockwood to redeem his clothes. He entered the garden by the back gate, climbed up to the roof of the wood-shed by means of a partition fence, and thence managed to pull himself into the window of his own chamber as stealthily as possible, that his uncle's family might not know that he had come home at half-past twelve. He stood a long while in the breeze at the open window watching the shadows of clouds drift over the moonlit prairie, which stretched away like a shoreless sea from the back of his uncle's house. He could not endure to bring his thoughts all at once to bear on his affairs; he stood there uneasily and watched these flitting black shadows come and go, and he gnashed his teeth with vexation whenever a full sense of his present misery and his future perplexities drifted over him.
(Tom sat looking out of the window. Ever since his gambling scrape he had imagined his mother's plaintive voice excusing him in this way. It was not the first time that he had had to be pulled out of disasters produced by his own rashness, and it seemed such an unmanly thing for him to come home with his troubles; but he must pay Lockwood quickly, lest any imprudent word of that not very friendly friend should reach his uncle's ears. Nothing but the fear of bringing on them greater evil could have scourged him into facing his mother and sister with the story of his gambling. Once in their presence, his wretched face had made it evident that he was in one of those tight places which were ever recurring in his life. He made a clean breast of it; your dashing, dare-devil fellow has less temptation to lie than the rest of us. And now he had told it all, he made it a sort of atonement to keep back nothing,— and he sat there looking out of the window at the steady dropping of a summer rain which had pelted him ever since he had set out from Moscow. He looked into the rain and listened to the quivering voice of his disappointed mother as she rummaged her drawer to take enough to meet his debt from the dollars accumulated by her own and Barbara's toil and management - dollars put by as a sinking fund to clear the farm of debt.] But most of all he dreaded the time when Barbara should speak. She sat at the other window of the room with her face bent down over her sewing, which was pinned to her dress at the knee. She had listened to his story, but she had not uttered a word, and her silence filled him with foreboding. Tom watched the flock of bedraggled and down-hearted chickens creeping about under the eaves of the porch to escape the rain, and wondered whether it would not be better to kill himself to get rid of himself. His mother fumbled long and irresolutely in the drawer, looking up to talk every now and then, mostly in order to delay as long as possible the painful parting with her savings.
He shut the window and went to bed at last, and by the time daylight arrived he had turned over every conceivable expedient. There was nothing for him but to accept the most disagreeable of all of them. He would have to draw on the slender purse of his mother and Barbara, for Lockwood's was a debt that might not be put off, and he could see no present means of earning money. He purposed to make some excuse to go home again on Saturday. It would be dreadful to meet Barbara's reproaches, and to see his mother's troubled face. How often he had planned to be the support of these two, but he seemed doomed to be only a burden; he had dreamed of being a source of pride to them, but again and again he had brought them mortification. Had he been less generous or more callous he would not have minded it so much. But as it was, his intolerable misery drove him to castle-building. He comforted himself with the reflection that he could make it all right with the folks at home when once he should get into practice. Barbara should have an easier time then. How often had he drawn drafts on the imaginary future for consolation!
III. PAYING THE FIDDLER.
"You didn't mean no harm, Tommy," said Mrs. Grayson," I know you did n't." She was fumbling in the drawer of a clothes-press, built by the side of the chimney in the sitting-room of the Grayson farm-house in Hubbard township. She kept her money in this drawer concealed under a collection of miscellaneous articles.
"I know you did n't mean no harm, Tommy; I know you did n't; but it's awful hard on Barb'ry an' me, partin' with this money. Dave Sovine 's a wicked wretch to bring such trouble on two women like us, that 's had such a hard time to git on, an' nobody left to work the place. Out uv six children, you an' Barb'ry 's all that's left alive. It's hard on a woman to be left without her husband, an' all but the two youngest children dead."
Here she stopped ransacking the drawer to wipe her eyes. She gave way to her grief the more easily because she still lacked resolution to devote her earnings to filling up the gap made by Tom's prodigality. And in every trouble her mind reverted involuntarily to the