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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesShavings - Chapter 17
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Shavings - Chapter 17 Post by :ndennis Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2401

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Shavings - Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

The next morning found Jed heavy-eyed and without appetite, going through the form of preparing breakfast. All night, with the exception of an hour or two, he had tossed on his bed alternately fearing the worst and telling himself that his fears were groundless. Of course Charlie Phillips had not stolen the four hundred dollars. Had not he, Jed Winslow, loudly proclaimed to Ruth Armstrong that he knew her brother to be a fine young man, one who had been imprudent, it is true, but much more sinned against than sinning and who would henceforth, so he was willing to swear, be absolutely upright and honest? Of course the fact that a sum of money was missing from the Orham National Bank, where Phillips was employed, did not necessarily imply that the latter had taken it.

Not necessarily, that was true; but Charlie had, in Jed's presence, expressed himself as needing money, a sum approximately that which was missing; and he had added that he would do almost anything to get it. And--there was no use telling oneself that the fact had no bearing on the case, because it would bear heavily with any unprejudiced person--Charlie's record was against him. Jed loyally told himself over and over again that the boy was innocent, he KNEW he was innocent. But-- The dreadful "but" came back again and again to torment him.

All that day he went about in an alternate state of dread and hope. Hope that the missing four hundred might be found, dread of--many possibilities. Twice he stopped at the bank to ask Captain Sam concerning it. The second time the captain was a trifle impatient.

"Gracious king, Jed," he snapped. "What's the matter with you? 'Tain't a million. This institution'll probably keep afloat even if it never turns up. And 'twill turn up sooner or later; it's bound to. There's a chance that I left it at old Sage's. Soon's the old cuss gets back and I can catch him by telephone I'll find out. Meanwhile I ain't worryin' and I don't know why you should. The main thing is not to let anybody know anything's missin'. Once let the news get out 'twill grow to a hundred thousand afore night. There'll be a run on us if Gab Bearse or Melissa Busteed get goin' with their throttles open. So don't you whisper a word to anybody, Jed. We'll find it pretty soon."

And Jed did not whisper a word. But he anxiously watched the inmates of the little house, watched Charles' face when he came home after working hours, watched the face of his sister as she went forth on a marketing expedition, even scrutinized Babbie's laughing countenance as she came dancing into the shop, swinging Petunia by one arm. And it was from Babbie he first learned that, in spite of all Captain Hunniwell's precautions, some one had dropped a hint. It may as well be recorded here that the identity of that some one was never clearly established. There were suspicions, centering about the bank messenger, but he stoutly denied having told a living soul.

Barbara, who was on her way home from school, and had rescued the long-suffering Petunia from the front fence where she had been left suspended on a picket to await her parent's return, was bubbling over with news and giggles.

"Oh, Uncle Jed," she demanded, jumping up to perch panting upon a stack of the front elevations of birdhouses, "isn't Mr. Gabe Bearse awfully funny?"

Jed sighed. "Yes," he said, "Gabe's as funny as a jumpin' toothache."

The young lady regarded him doubtfully. "I see," she said, after a moment, "you're joking again. I wish you'd tell me when you're going to do it, so Petunia and I would know for sure."

"All right, I'll try not to forget to remember. But how did you guess I was jokin' this time?"

"'Cause you just had to be. A jumping toothache isn't funny. I had one once and it made me almost sick."

"Um-hm. W-e-e-ll, Gabe Bearse makes 'most everybody sick. What set you thinkin' about him?"

"'Cause I just met him on the way home and he acted so funny. First he gave me a stick of candy."

Mr. Winslow leaned back in his chair.

"What?" he cried. "He gave you a stick of candy? GAVE it to you?"

"Yes. He said: 'Here, little girl, don't you like candy?' And when I said I did he gave me a stick, the striped peppermint kind it was. I'd have saved a bite for you, Uncle Jed, only I and the rest ate it all before I remembered. I'm awfully sorry."

"That's all right. Striped candy don't agree with me very well, anyway; I'm liable to swallow the stripes crossways, I guess likely. But tell me, did Gabe look wild or out of his head when he gave it to you?"

"Why, no. He just looked--oh--oh, you know, Uncle Jed--MYSter'ous-- that's how he looked, MYSter'ous."

"Hum! Well, I'm glad to know he wan't crazy. I've known him a good many years and this is the first time I ever knew him to GIVE anybody anything worth while. When I went to school with him he gave me the measles, I remember, but even then they was only imitation--the German kind. And now he's givin' away candy: Tut, tut! No wonder he looked--what was it?--mysterious. . . . Hum. . . . Well, he wanted somethin' for it, didn't he? What was it?"

"Why, he just wanted to know if I'd heard Uncle Charlie say anything about a lot of money being gone up to the bank. He said he had heard it was ever and ever so much--a hundred hundred dollars--or a thousand dollars, or something--I don't precactly remember, but it was a great, big lot. And he wanted to know if Uncle Charlie had said how much it was and what had become of it and--and everything. When I said Uncle Charlie hadn't said a word he looked so sort of disappointed and funny that it made me laugh."

It did not make Jed laugh. The thought that the knowledge of the missing money had leaked out and was being industriously spread abroad by Bearse and his like was very disquieting. He watched Phillips more closely than before. He watched Ruth, and, before another day had passed, he had devised a wonderful plan, a plan to be carried out in case of alarming eventualities.

On the afternoon of the third day he sat before his workbench, his knee clasped between his hands, his foot swinging, and his thoughts busy with the situation in all its alarming phases. It had been bad enough before this new development, bad enough when the always present danger of Phillips' secret being discovered had become complicated by his falling in love with his employer's daughter. But now-- Suppose the boy had stolen the money? Suppose he was being blackmailed by some one whom he must pay or face exposure? Jed had read of such things; they happened often enough in novels.

He did not hear the door of the outer shop open. A month or more ago he had removed the bell from the door. His excuse for so doing had been characteristic.

"I can't stand the wear and tear on my morals," he told Ruth. "I ain't sold anything, except through the mail, since the winter really set in. And yet every time that bell rings I find myself jumpin' up and runnin' to wait on a customer. When it turns out to be Gabe Bearse or somebody like him I swear, and swearin' to me is like whiskey to some folks--comfortin' but demoralizin'."

So the bell having been removed, Jed did not hear the person who came into and through the outer shop. The first sign of that person's presence which reached his ears was an unpleasant chuckle. He turned, to see Mr. Phineas Babbitt standing in the doorway of the inner room. And--this was the most annoying and disturbing fact connected with the sight--the hardware dealer was not scowling, he was laughing. The Winslow foot fell to the floor with a thump and its owner sat up straight.

"He, he, he!" chuckled Phineas. Jed regarded him silently. Babbitt's chuckle subsided into a grin. Then he spoke.

"Well," he observed, with sarcastic politeness, "how's the great Shavin's Jedidah, the famous inventor of whirlagigs? He, he, he!"

Jed slowly shook his head. "Phin," he said, "either you wear rubbers or I'm gettin' deaf, one or the other. How in the world did you get in here this time without my hearin' you?"

Phineas ignored the question. He asked one of his own. "How's the only original high and mighty patriot this afternoon?" he sneered.

The Winslow hand caressed the Winslow chin.

"If you mean me, Phin," drawled Jed, "I'm able to sit up and take nourishment, thank you. I judge you must be kind of ailin', though. Take a seat, won't you?"

"No, I won't. I've got other fish to fry, bigger fish than you, at that"

"Um-hm. Well, they wouldn't have to be sperm whales to beat me, Phin. Be kind of hard to fry 'em if they was too big, wouldn't it?"

"They're goin' to fry, you hear me. Yes, and they're goin' to sizzle. He, he, he!"

Mr. Winslow sadly shook his head. "You must be awful sick, Phin," he drawled. "That's the third or fourth time you've laughed since you came in here."

His visitor stopped chuckling and scowled instead. Jed beamed gratification.

"That's it," he said. "Now you look more natural. Feelin' a little better . . . eh?"

The Babbitt chin beard bristled. Its wearer leaned forward.

"Shut up," he commanded. "I ain't takin' any of your sass this afternoon, Shavin's, and I ain't cal'latin' to waste much time on you, neither. You know where I'm bound now? Well, I'm bound up to the Orham National Bank to call on my dear friend Sam Hunniwell. He, he, he! I've got a little bit of news for him. He's in trouble, they tell me, and I want to help him out. . . . Blast him!"

This time Jed made no reply; but he, too, leaned forward and his gaze was fixed upon the hardware dealer's face. There was an expression upon his own face which, when Phineas saw it, caused the latter to chuckle once more.

"He, he!" he laughed. "What's the matter, Shavin's? You look kind of scared about somethin'. 'Tain't possible you've known all along what I've just found out? I wonder if you have. Have you?"

Still Jed was silent. Babbit grunted.

"It don't make any difference whether you have or not," he said. "But if you ain't I wonder what makes you look so scared. There's nothin' to be scared about, as I see. I'm just cal'latin' to do our dear old chummie, Cap'n Sam, a kindness, that's all. He's lost some money up there to the bank, I understand. Some says it's four thousand dollars and some says it's forty. It don't make any difference, that part don't. Whatever 'tis it's missin' and I'm going to tell him where to find it. That's real good of me, ain't it? Ain't it, Shavin's; eh?"

The little man's malignant spite and evident triumph were actually frightening. And it was quite evident that Jed was frightened. Yet he made an effort not to appear so.

"Yes," he agreed. "Yes, yes, seems 's if 'twas. Er--er-- Where is it, Phin?"

Phineas burst out laughing. "'Where is it, Phin?'" he repeated, mockingly. "By godfreys mighty, I believe you do know where 'tis, Shavin's! You ain't gettin' any of it, are you? You ain't dividin' up with the blasted jailbird?"

Jed was very pale. His voice shook as he essayed to speak.

"Wh-what jailbird?" he faltered. "What do you mean? What--what are you talkin' about, Phin?"

"'What are you talkin' about, Phin?' God sakes, hear him, will you! All right, I'll tell you what I'm talkin' about. I'm talkin' about Sam Hunniwell's pet, his new bookkeeper up there to the bank. I'm talkin' about that stuck-up, thievin' hypocrite of a Charlie Phillips, that's who I'm talkin' about. I called him a jailbird, didn't I? Well, he is. He's served his term in the Connecticut State's prison for stealin'. And I know it."

Jed groaned aloud. Here it was at last. The single hair had parted and the sword had fallen. And now, of all times, now! He made a pitiful attempt at denial.

"It ain't so," he protested.

"Oh, yes, it is so. Six or eight weeks ago--in January 'twas-- there was a drummer in my store sellin' a line of tools and he was lookin' out of the window when this Phillips cuss went by with Maud Hunniwell, both of 'em struttin' along as if common folks, honest folks, was dirt under their feet. And when this drummer see 'em he swore right out loud. 'Why,' says he, 'that's Charlie Phillips, of Middleford, ain't it?' 'His name's Phillips and he comes from Connecticut somewheres,' says I. 'I thought he was in state's prison,' says he. 'What do you mean?' says I. And then he told me. 'By godfreys,' says I, 'if you can fix it so's I can prove that's true I'll give you the biggest order you ever got in this store.' ''Twon't be any trouble to prove it,' says he. 'All you've got to do is look up his record in Middleford.' And I've looked it up. Yes, sir-ee, I've looked it up. Ho, ho!"

Jed, white and shaking, made one more attempt.

"It's all a lie," he cried. "Of course it is. Besides, if you knew so much why have you been waitin' all this time before you told it? If you found out all this--this pack of rubbish in January why did you wait till March before you told it? Humph! That's pretty thin, I--"

Phineas interrupted.

"Shut up!" he ordered. "Why did I wait? Well, now, Shavin's, seein' it's you and I love you so, I'll tell you. At first I was for runnin' right out in the street and hollerin' to all hands to come and hear the good news about Sam Hunniwell's pet. And then thinks I: 'Hold on! don't be in any hurry. There's time enough. Just wait and see what happens. A crook that steals once is liable to try it again. Let's wait and see.' And I waited, and-- He, he, he!--he has tried it again. Eh, Shavin's?"

Jed was speechless. Babbitt, looking like a triumphantly vicious Bantam rooster, crowed on.

"You don't seem to be quite so sassy and talky as you was when I first came in, Shavin's," he sneered. "Guess likely YOU ain't feelin' well now . . . eh? Do you remember what I told you last time I was in this shop? I told you I'd pay my debts to you and Sam Hunniwell if I waited fifty year. Well, here's Hunniwell's pay comin' to him now. He's praised that Phillips thief from one end of Ostable county to the other, told how smart he was and how honest and good he was till--Lord A'mighty, it's enough to turn a decent man's stomach! And not only that, but here's the feller courtin' his daughter. Oh, ho, ho, ho! that's the best of the whole business. That was another thing made me hang off and wait; I wanted to see how the courtin' came along. And it's come along all right. Everybody's onto 'em, hangin' over each other, and lookin' soft at each other. She's just fairly heavin' herself at his head, all hands says so. There ain't been anybody in this town good enough for her till he showed up. And now it's comin' out that he's a crook and a jailbird! And he'll be jailed for stealin' THIS time, too. Ho, ho!"

He stopped, out of breath, to indulge in another long chuckle. Jed leaned forward.

"What are you talkin' about, Phin?" he demanded. "Even allowin' all this--this rigmarole of yours about--about Middleford business-- was true--"

"It is true and you know it is. I believe you've known it all along."

"I say allowin' it is, you haven't any right to say Charlie took this money from the Orham bank. You can't prove any such thing."

"Aw, be still! Prove--prove nothin'. When a cat and a sasser of milk's shut up together and the milk's gone, you don't need proof to know where it's gone, do you? Don't talk to me about proof, Jed Winslow. Put a thief alongside of money and anybody knows what'll happen. Why, YOU know what's happened yourself. You know darn well Charlie Phillips has stole the money that's gone from the bank. Down inside you you're sartin sure of it; and I don't want any better proof of THAT than just your face, Shavin's."

This time Jed did not attempt to contradict. Instead he tried a new hazard.

"Phin," he pleaded, "don't be too hard. Just think of what'll happen if you come out with that--that wild-goose yarn of yours. Think of Maud, poor girl. You haven't got anything against her, have you?"

"Yes, I have. She's stuck-up and nose in the air and looks at me as if I was some sort of--of a bug she wouldn't want to step on for fear of mussin' up her shoes. I never did like her, blast her. But leavin' that all to one side, she's Sam Hunniwell's young-one and that's enough for me."

"But she's his only child, Phin."

"Good enough! I had a boy; he was an only child, too, you'll remember. Where is he now? Out somewheres where he don't belong, fightin' and bein' killed to help Wall Street get rich. And who sent him there? Why, Sam Hunniwell and his gang. You're one of 'em, Jed Winslow. To hell with you, every one of you, daughters and all hands."

"But, Phin--just a minute. Think of what it'll mean to Charlie, poor young feller. It'll mean--"

"It'll mean ten years this time, and a good job, too. You poor fool, do you think you can talk me out of this? You, you sawdust- head? What do you think I came into your hole here for? I came here so's you'd know what I was goin' to do to your precious chums. I wanted to tell you and have the fun of watchin' you squirm. Well, I'm havin' the fun, plenty of it. Squirm, you Wall Street bloodsucker, squirm."

He fairly stood on tiptoe to scream the last command. To a disinterested observer the scene might have had some elements of farce comedy. Certainly Phineas, his hat fallen off and under foot, his scanty gray hair tousled and his pugnacious chin beard bristling, was funny to look at. And the idea of calling Jed Winslow a "Wall Street bloodsucker" was the cream of burlesque. But to Jed himself it was all tragedy, deep and dreadful. He made one more desperate plea.

"But, Phin," he begged, "think of his--his sister, Charlie's sister. What'll become of her and--and her little girl?"

Phineas snorted. "His sister," he sneered. "All right, I'll think about her all right. She's another stuck-up that don't speak to common folks. Who knows anything about her any more'n they did about him? Better look up her record, I guess. The boy's turned out to be a thief; maybe the sister'll turn out to be--"

"Stop! Be still!"

Jed actually shouted it. Babbitt stopped, principally because the suddenness of the interruption had startled him into doing so. But the pause was only momentary. He stared at the interrupter in enraged amazement for an instant and then demanded: "Stop? Who are you tellin' to stop?"

"You."

"I want to know! Well, I'll stop when I get good and ready and if you don't like it, Shavin's, you can lump it. That Phillips kid has turned out to be a thief and, so far as anybody 'round here knows, his sister may be--"

"Stop!" Again Jed shouted it; and this time he rose to his feet. Phineas glared at him.

"Humph!" he grunted. "You'll make me stop, I presume likely."

"Yes."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, it's got to be so. Look here, Phin, I realize you're mad and don't care much what you say, but there's a limit, you know. It's bad enough to hear you call poor Charlie names, but when you start in on Ruth--on Mrs. Armstrong, I mean--that's too much. You've got to stop."

This speech was made quietly and with all the customary Winslow deliberation and apparent calm, but there was one little slip in it and that slip Babbitt was quick to notice.

"Oh, my!" he sneered. "Ruth's what we call her, eh? Ruth! Got so chummy we call each other by our first names. Ruthie and Jeddie, I presume likely. Aw, haw, haw!"

Jed's pallor was, for the moment, succeeded by a vivid crimson. He stammered. Phineas burst into another scornful laugh.

"Haw, haw, haw!" he crowed. "She lets him call her Ruth. Oh, my Lord A'mighty! Let's Shavin's Winslow call her that. Well, I guess I sized her up all right. She must be about on her brother's level. A thief and--"

"Shut up, Phin!"

"Shut up? YOU tell me to shut up!"

"Yes."

"Well, I won't. Ruth Armstrong! What do I care for--"

The speech was not finished. Jed had taken one long stride to where Babbitt was standing, seized the furious little creature by the right arm with one hand and with the other covered his open mouth, covered not only the mouth, but a large section of face as well.

"You keep quiet, Phin," he drawled. "I want to think."

Phineas struggled frantically. He managed to get one corner of his mouth from behind that mammoth hand.

"Ruth Armstrong!" he screamed. "Ruth Armstrong is--"

The yell died away to a gurgle, pinched short by the Winslow fingers. Then the door leading to the kitchen, the door behind the pair, opened and Ruth Armstrong herself came in. She was pale and she stared with frightened eyes at the little man struggling in the tall one's clutch.

"Oh, Jed," she breathed, "what is it?"

Jed did not reply. Phineas could not.

"Oh, Jed, what is it?" repeated Ruth. "I heard him shouting my name. I was in the yard and I heard it. . . . Oh, Jed, what IS it?"

Babbitt at last managed to wriggle partially clear. He was crazy with rage, but he was not frightened. Fear of physical violence was not in his make-up; he was no coward.

"I'll tell you what it is," he screamed. "I'll tell you what it is: I've found out about you and that stuck-up crook of a brother of yours. He's a thief. That's what he is, a thief and a jailbird. He stole at Middleford and now he's stole again here. And Jed Winslow and you are--"

He got no further, being once more stoppered like a bottle by the Winslow grip and the Winslow hand. He wriggled and fought, but he was pinned and helpless, hands, feet and vocal organs. Jed did not so much as look at him; he looked only at Ruth.

Her pallor had increased. She was trembling.

"Oh, Jed," she cried, "what does he mean? What does he mean by--by 'again--here'?"

Jed's grip tightened over his captive's mouth.

"He doesn't mean anything," he declared, stoutly. "He don't know what he means."

From behind the smothering fingers came a defiant mumble. Ruth leaned forward.

"Jed," she begged, "does he--does he know about--about--"

Jed nodded. She closed her eyes and swayed slightly, but she did not collapse or give way.

"And he is going to tell?" she whispered.

A furious mumble from behind the fingers and a venomous flash from the Babbitt eyes were answers sufficient.

"Oh, Jed," she pleaded, "what SHALL we do?"

For the instant a bit of the old Jed came to the surface. His lip twitched grimly as he looked down at the crimson face above his own hand.

"I ain't sartin--yet," he drawled. "How do you start in killin' a--a snappin' turtle? I ain't tackled the job since I was a boy."

Phineas looked as if he could have furnished some points on the subject. His eyes were bulging. Then all three heard the door of the outer shop open.

Ruth looked desperately about her. She hastened to the door by which she had entered. "There's some one coming," she whispered.

Jed glanced over his shoulder. "You go away," he whispered in reply. "Go away, Ruth. Hurry!"

Her hand was on the latch of the door, but before she could open it the other door, that leading from the outer shop, opened and Leonard Grover came in. He stared at the picture before him--at Ruth Armstrong's pale, frightened face, at Babbitt struggling in his captor's clutch, at Jed.

"Why!" he exclaimed. "What is it?"

No one answered. Phineas was the only one who stirred. He seemed anxious to turn the tableau into a moving picture, but his success was limited. The Major turned to Ruth.

"What is it?" he asked again.

She was silent. Grover repeated his question, addressing Jed this time.

"Well?" he asked, sharply. "What is the trouble here? What has that fellow been doing?"

Jed looked down at his wriggling captive. "He's--he's--" he stammered. "Well, you see, Major, he . . . Hum . . . well, I'm afraid I can't tell you."

"You can't tell me! What on earth-- Mrs. Armstrong, will you tell me?"

She looked at him appealingly, pitifully, but she shook her head.

"I--I can't," she said.

He looked from one to the other. Then, with a shrug, he turned to the door.

"Pardon me for interrupting," he observed. "Good afternoon."

It was Ruth who detained him. "Oh, please!" she cried, involuntarily. He turned again.

"You wish me to stay?" he asked.

"Oh--oh, I don't know. I--"

She had not finished the sentence; she was falteringly trying to finish it when Mr. Babbitt took the center of the stage. Once more he managed to free himself from Jed's grip and this time he darted across the shop and put the workbench between himself and his enemy.

"I'll tell you what it is," he screamed. "I've found out some things they don't want anybody to know, that's what. I've found out what sort of folks they are, she and her brother. He's a common-- Let go of me! By--"

The scream ended in another mumble. Jed had swarmed over the bench and once more pinned him fast.

"You'll have to excuse me, Major," he panted. "I--I can't help it. This feller's got what ailed the parrot--he talks too darn much. He's got to stop! He's GOT to!"

But Grover was paying little attention. He was looking at Ruth.

"Mrs. Armstrong," he asked, "has he been saying--saying things he should not say about you? Is that the trouble?"

She answered without returning his look.

"Yes," she said, almost in a whisper. "About me and--and my-- Yes, that was it."

The Major's eyes flashed. "Let go of him, Jed," he commanded. Jed hesitated.

"If I do he'll blow up again," he said.

"Let go of him."

Jed let go. Phineas caught his breath and opened his mouth. Major Grover stepped in front of him and leveled a forefinger straight at the crimson Babbitt nose.

"Stop!" he ordered, sharply.

"Stop? What right have you got to tell me to stop? By--"

"Stop! Listen to me. I don't know what you've been saying about this lady--"

"I ain't been saying anything, except what I know, and that is that--"

"Stop! And I don't care. But I know about you, sir, because it is my business to know. The Government has had its eye on you for some time and it has asked me to look into your record. I have looked into it. You are not a very dangerous person, Mr. Babbitt, but that is because of your lack of ability to harm, not because of any good will on your part toward the United States. You have done all the harm you could, you have talked sedition, you've written and talked against the draft, you have corresponded with German agents in Boston and New York."

"That's a lie."

"No, it's the truth. I have copies of your letters and the Government has the originals. They are not very dangerous, but that is because you are not big enough to be dangerous. The authorities have left you pretty much to my discretion, sir. It rests with me whether to have you taken in charge and held for trial or merely to warn you and watch you. Very well. I warn you now and you may be certain that you are watched. You'll stop your silly, seditious talk at once and you'll write no more letters like those I have seen. If you do it will be a prison term for you as sure as I stand here. Do you understand?"

Apparently Phineas understood. His face was not as red as it had been and there was a different look in his eye. Jed's rough handling had not frightened him, but the Major's cold, incisive tones and the threat of a term in prison had their effect. Nevertheless he could still bluster.

"You can't talk to me that way," he sputtered. "I--I ain't scared of you even if you are all dressed up in fuss and feathers like a hand-organ monkey. This is a free country."

"Yes, it is. For decent people it is absolutely free. The other sort have to be put where they can't interfere with that freedom. Whether you, Babbit, remain free or not depends entirely upon what you do--and say. Is this perfectly clear?"

Phineas did not answer the question directly. For a moment he stood there, his fists clenching and unclenching, and his eyes snapping. Then he turned away.

"All right," he said, sullenly. "I hear what you say. Now I can go, I presume likely--unless you've got some more lyin' and bullyin' to do. Get out of my way, Shavin's, you fool."

But Grover had not finished with him.

"Just a minute," he said. "There is one thing more. I don't know what it is, and I don't wish to know, but evidently you have been saying, or threatening to say, something concerning this lady, Mrs. Armstrong, which should not be said. You are not to mention her name. Do you understand that?"

The little hardware dealer almost jumped from the floor as his rage again got the better of him.

"The blazes I ain't!" he shrieked. "Who says I ain't? Is that any of your business, Mr.--Mr. Brass Monkey? What's you or the United States gov'ment got to say about my mentionin' names? To the devil with the United States and you, too! You hear that?"

Major Grover smiled. "Yes," he said, quietly. "I hear it. So does Mr. Winslow here, and Mrs. Armstrong. They can be called as witnesses if it is necessary. You had better let me finish, Babbitt. As I say, you are not to mention Mrs. Armstrong's name, you are not to repeat or circulate any scandal or story reflecting upon her character--"

"Or her brother's either," put in Jed, eagerly. "Tell him he can't talk against Charlie, either."

"Certainly. You are not to repeat or circulate anything derogatory to the character of either Mrs. Armstrong or Mr. Phillips. In any way derogatory."

Phineas tossed both fists in the air.

"You can't order me around that way," he yelled. "Besides, if you knew what I know about that gang you'd--"

"Hush! I don't want to know anything you know--or pretend to know. As for ordering you about--well, we'll see."

"I tell you you can't. You ain't got the right."

"Perhaps not. But I have the right to use my discretion--my judgment in your case. And my judgment is that if I hear one scandalous story about town reflecting upon the character of Mrs. Armstrong or her brother--yes, or her friends--I shall know who is responsible and I shall have you arrested and held for trial as an enemy of the country. You condemned the United States to the devil only a moment ago in my hearing. Do you think that would help you in court, Babbitt? I don't."

The little man's face was a sight. As Jed said afterward, he looked as if he would have enjoyed biting his way out of the shop.

"Huh!" he snarled; "I see. You're all in together, the whole lot of you. And you, you brass buttons, you're usin' your soldierin' job to keep your friends out of trouble. . . . Huh! Yes, that's what you're doin'."

The Major's smile was provokingly cool.

"Perhaps I am," he admitted. "But I shouldn't advise you to forget what I have just told you, Babbitt. I mean every word of it."

It was Ruth who spoke next. She uttered a startled exclamation.

"There's some one coming up the walk," she cried. "Listen."

Sure enough, heavy footsteps sounded upon the walk leading from the front gate to the shop. Jed ran to the window.

"It's Sam," he exclaimed. "Good heavens above! It's Sam Hunniwell, of all folks--now!"

Grover looked from one face to the other.

"Is there any particular reason why Captain Hunniwell shouldn't come?" he asked.

Jed and Ruth were silent. Phineas chuckled malevolently. Jed heard the chuckle and spoke.

"'Twas--'twas Cap'n Sam he was goin' to tell," he whispered, pointing at Babbitt. Ruth caught her breath with a frightened gasp.

Grover nodded. "Oh, I see," he said. "Well, I don't think he will. He'll be more--more--careful, I'm sure. Babbitt, remember."

They heard the captain rattle the latch of the front door. Ruth opened the door behind her. "I must go, Jed," she whispered. "I--I can't stay."

The Major turned. "I'll go with you, Mrs. Armstrong," he said. But Jed leaned forward.

"I--I wish you'd stay, Major Grover," he whispered. "I--I'd like to have you stay here just a minute or two."

Grover hesitated. Ruth went out, closing the living-room door after her. A moment later Captain Sam came into the workshop.

"Hello, Jed!" he hailed. "Why, hello, Major! What--" Then for the first time he saw and recognized the third member of the group. He looked at Phineas and the little man looked at him. The looks were studies in expression.

"Humph!" grunted Captain Sam. "What in time--? . . . Humph! . . . Well, Phin, you look awful glad to see me, I must say. Gracious king, man, don't glower at me like that! I haven't done anything to you, if you'd only have sense enough to believe it."

Babbitt did not answer. He looked as if he were going to burst. Major Grover was regarding him with a whimsical twinkle in his eye.

"Mr. Babbitt and I have just been discussing some points connected with the war," he observed. "I don't know that we agree, exactly, but we have--well, we have reached an understanding."

The captain was plainly puzzled. "Humph!" he grunted. "You don't say! . . . Well, I-- Eh, what is it, Jed?"

If any one had been watching Jed particularly during the recent few minutes they might have observed in his face the dawning of an idea and the changing of that idea into a set purpose. The idea seemed to dawn the moment after he saw Captain Hunniwell coming up the walk. It had become a purpose by the time the captain rattled the latch. While Captain Sam and the major were speaking he had hastened to the old desk standing by the wall and was rummaging in one of the drawers. Now he came forward.

"Sam--" he began, but broke off to address Mr. Babbitt, who was striding toward the door. "Don't go, Phin," he cried. "I'd rather you didn't go just this minute. I'd like to have you stay. Please."

Phineas answered over his shoulder. The answer was a savage snarl and a command for "Shavings" to mind his own business. Grover spoke then.

"Mr. Babbitt," he suggested, "don't you think you had better stay a moment? Mr. Winslow seems to wish it."

Babbitt reached for the handle of the door, but Grover's hand was lightly laid on his shoulder.

"Do stay, Mr. Babbitt," begged the Major, sweetly. "To oblige me, you know."

Phineas swore with such vehemence that the oath might have been heard across the road. What he might have said thereafter is a question. At that moment his attention was caught by something which Jed Winslow had in his hands and he stayed to stare at it. The something was a bundle of crumpled banknotes.

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Shavings - Chapter 18 Shavings - Chapter 18

Shavings - Chapter 18
CHAPTER XVIIIJed came forward, the roll of bills in his hand. He seemed quite oblivious of the Babbitt stare, or, for that matter, of the complete silence which had so suddenly fallen upon the group in the shop. He came forward, smoothing the crumpled notes with fingers which shook a little. He stopped in front of Captain Hunniwell. The captain was gazing at him and at the money. Jed did not meet his friend's eye; he continued to smooth the banknotes. Captain Sam spoke first. "What's that?" he demanded. "What money's that?" Jed's fingers moved
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Shavings - Chapter 13 Shavings - Chapter 13

Shavings - Chapter 13
CHAPTER XIIIOctober passed and November came. The very last of the summer cottages were closed. Orham settled down for its regular winter hibernation. This year it was a bit less of a nap than usual because of the activity at the aviation camp at East Harniss. The swarm of carpenters, plumbers and mechanics was larger than ever there now and the buildings were hastening toward completion, for the first allotment of aviators, soldiers and recruits was due to arrive in March. Major Grover was a busy and a worried man, but he usually found time to
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