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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesShavings - Chapter 21
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Shavings - Chapter 21 Post by :alex77 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2327

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Shavings - Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI

A child spends time and thought and energy upon the building of a house of blocks. By the time it is nearing completion it has become to him a very real edifice. Therefore, when it collapses into an ungraceful heap upon the floor it is poor consolation to be reminded that, after all, it was merely a block house and couldn't be expected to stand.

Jed, in his own child-like fashion, had reared his moonshine castle beam by beam. At first he had regarded it as moonshine and had refused to consider the building of it anything but a dangerously pleasant pastime. And then, little by little, as his dreams changed to hopes, it had become more and more real, until, just before the end, it was the foundation upon which his future was to rest. And down it came, and there was his future buried in the ruins.

And it had been all moonshine from the very first. Jed, sitting there alone in his little living-room, could see now that it had been nothing but that. Ruth Armstrong, young, charming, cultured-- could she have thought of linking her life with that of Jedidah Edgar Wilfred Winslow, forty-five, "town crank" and builder of windmills? Of course not--and again of course not. Obviously she never had thought of such a thing. She had been grateful, that was all; perhaps she had pitied him just a little and behind her expressions of kindliness and friendship was pity and little else. Moonshine--moonshine--moonshine. And, oh, what a fool he had been! What a poor, silly fool!

So the night passed and morning came and with it a certain degree of bitterly philosophic acceptance of the situation. He WAS a fool; so much was sure. He was of no use in the world, he never had been. People laughed at him and he deserved to be laughed at. He rose from the bed upon which he had thrown himself some time during the early morning hours and, after eating a cold mouthful or two in lieu of breakfast, sat down at his turning lathe. He could make children's whirligigs, that was the measure of his capacity.

All the forenoon the lathe hummed. Several times steps sounded on the front walk and the latch of the shop door rattled, but Jed did not rise from his seat. He had not unlocked that door, he did not mean to for the present. He did not want to wait on customers; he did not want to see callers; he did not want to talk or be talked to. He did not want to think, either, but that he could not help.

And he could not shut out all the callers. One, who came a little after noon, refused to remain shut out. She pounded the door and shouted "Uncle Jed" for some few minutes; then, just as Jed had begun to think she had given up and gone away, he heard a thumping upon the window pane and, looking up, saw her laughing and nodding outside.

"I see you, Uncle Jed," she called. "Let me in, please."

So Jed was obliged to let her in and she entered with a skip and a jump, quite unconscious that her "back-step-uncle" was in any way different, either in feelings or desire for her society, than he had been for months.

"Why did you have the door locked, Uncle Jed?" she demanded. "Did you forget to unlock it?"

Jed, without looking at her, muttered something to the effect that he cal'lated he must have.

"Um-hm," she observed, with a nod of comprehension. "I thought that was it. You did it once before, you know. It was a ex-eccen- trick, leaving it locked was, I guess. Don't you think it was a-- a--one of those kind of tricks, Uncle Jed?"

Silence, except for the hum and rasp of the lathe.

"Don't you, Uncle Jed?" repeated Barbara.

"Eh? . . . Oh, yes, I presume likely so."

Babbie, sitting on the lumber pile, kicked her small heels together and regarded him with speculative interest.

"Uncle Jed," she said, after a few moments of silent consideration, "what do you suppose Petunia told me just now?"

No answer.

"What do you suppose Petunia told me?" repeated Babbie. "Something about you 'twas, Uncle Jed."

Still Jed did not reply. His silence was not deliberate; he had been so absorbed in his own pessimistic musings that he had not heard the question, that was all. Barbara tried again.

"She told me she guessed you had been thinking AWF'LY hard about something this time, else you wouldn't have so many eccen-tricks to-day."

Silence yet. Babbie swallowed hard:

"I--I don't think I like eccen-tricks, Uncle Jed," she faltered.

Not a word. Then Jed, stooping to pick up a piece of wood from the pile of cut stock beside the lathe, was conscious of a little sniff. He looked up. His small visitor's lip was quivering and two big tears were just ready to overflow her lower lashes.

"Eh? . . . Mercy sakes alive!" he exclaimed. "Why, what's the matter?"

The lip quivered still more. "I--I don't like to have you not speak to me," sobbed Babbie. "You--you never did it so--so long before."

That appeal was sufficient. Away, for the time, went Jed's pessimism and his hopeless musings. He forgot that he was a fool, the "town crank," and of no use in the world. He forgot his own heartbreak, chagrin and disappointment. A moment later Babbie was on his knee, hiding her emotion in the front of his jacket, and he was trying his best to soothe her with characteristic Winslow nonsense.

"You mustn't mind me, Babbie," he declared. "My--my head ain't workin' just right to-day, seems so. I shouldn't wonder if--if I wound it too tight, or somethin' like that."

Babbie's tear-stained face emerged from the jacket front.

"Wound your HEAD too tight, Uncle Jed?" she cried.

"Ye-es, yes. I was kind of extra absent-minded yesterday and I thought I wound the clock, but I couldn't have done that 'cause the clock's stopped. Yet I know I wound somethin' and it's just as liable to have been my head as anything else. You listen just back of my starboard ear there and see if I'm tickin' reg'lar."

The balance of the conversation between the two was of a distinctly personal nature.

"You see, Uncle Jed," said Barbara, as she jumped from his knee preparatory to running off to school, "I don't like you to do eccen-tricks and not talk to me. I don't like it at all and neither does Petunia. You won't do any more--not for so long at a time, will you, Uncle Jed?"

Jed sighed. "I'll try not to," he said, soberly.

She nodded. "Of course," she observed, "we shan't mind you doing a few, because you can't help that. But you mustn't sit still and not pay attention when we talk for ever and ever so long. I--I don't know precactly what I and Petunia would do if you wouldn't talk to us, Uncle Jed."

"Don't, eh? Humph! I presume likely you'd get along pretty well. I ain't much account."

Barbara looked at him in horrified surprise.

"Oh, Uncle Jed!" she cried, "you mustn't talk so! You MUSTN'T! Why--why, you're the bestest man there is. And there isn't anybody in Orham can make windmills the way you can. I asked Teacher if there was and she said no. So there! And you're a GREAT cons'lation to all our family," she added, solemnly. "We just couldn't ever--EVER do without you."

When the child went Jed did not take the trouble to lock the door after her; consequently his next callers entered without difficulty and came directly to the inner shop. Jed, once more absorbed in gloomy musings--not quite as gloomy, perhaps; somehow the clouds had not descended quite so heavily upon his soul since Babbie's visit--looked up to see there standing behind him Maud Hunniwell and Charlie Phillips.

He sprang to his feet. "Eh?" he cried, delightedly. "Well, well, so you're back, Charlie, safe and sound. Well, well!"

Phillips grasped the hand which Jed had extended and shook it heartily.

"Yes, I'm back," he said.

"Um-hm. . . . And--er--how did you leave Uncle Sam? Old feller's pretty busy these days, 'cordin' to the papers."

"Yes, I imagine he is."

"Um-hm. . . . Well, did you--er--make him happy? Give his army the one thing needful to make it--er--perfect?"

Charlie laughed. "If you mean did I add myself to it," he said, "I did. I am an enlisted man now, Jed. As soon as Von Hindenburg hears that, he'll commit suicide, I'm sure."

Jed insisted on shaking hands with him again. "You're a lucky feller, Charlie," he declared. "I only wish I had your chance. Yes, you're lucky--in a good many ways," with a glance at Maud. "And, speaking of Uncle Sam," he added, "reminds me of--well, of Daddy Sam. How's he behavin' this mornin'? I judge from the fact that you two are together he's a little more rational than he was last night. . . . Eh?"

Phillips looked puzzled, but Maud evidently understood. "Daddy has been very nice to-day," she said, demurely. "Charlie had a long talk with him and--and--"

"And he was mighty fine," declared Phillips with emphasis. "We had a heart to heart talk and I held nothing back. I tell you, Jed, it did me good to speak the truth, whole and nothing but. I told Captain Hunniwell that I didn't deserve his daughter. He agreed with me there, of course."

"Nonsense!" interrupted Maud, with a happy laugh.

"Not a bit of nonsense. We agreed that no one was good enough for you. But I told him I wanted that daughter very much indeed and, provided she was agreeable and was willing to wait until the war was over and I came back; taking it for granted, of course, that I--"

He hesitated, bit his lip and looked apprehensively at Miss Hunniwell. Jed obligingly helped him over the thin ice.

"Provided you come back a major general or--or a commodore or a corporal's guard or somethin'," he observed.

"Yes," gratefully, "that's it. I'm sure to be a high private at least. Well, to cut it short, Jed, I told Captain Hunniwell all my past and my hopes and plans for the future. He was forgiving and forbearing and kinder than I had any right to expect. We understand each other now and he is willing, always provided that Maud is willing, too, to give me my opportunity to make good. That is all any one could ask."

"Yes, I should say 'twas. . . . But Maud, how about her? You had consider'ble of a job makin' her see that you was worth waitin' for, I presume likely, eh?"

Maud laughed and blushed and bade him behave himself. Jed demanded to be told more particulars concerning the enlisting. So Charles told the story of his Boston trip, while Maud looked and listened adoringly, and Jed, watching the young people's happiness, was, for the time, almost happy himself.

When they rose to go Charlie laid a hand on Jed's shoulder.

"I can't tell you," he said, "what a brick you've been through all this. If it hadn't been for you, old man, I don't know how it might have ended. We owe you about everything, Maud and I. You've been a wonder, Jed."

Jed waved a deprecating hand. "Don't talk so, Charlie," he said, gruffly.

"But, I tell you, I--"

"Don't. . . . You see," with a twist of the lip, "it don't do to tell a--a screech owl he's a canary. He's liable to believe it by and by and start singin' in public. . . . Then he finds out he's just a fool owl, and has been all along. Humph! Me a wonder! . . . A blunder, you mean."

Neither of the young people had ever heard him use that tone before. They both cried out in protest.

"Look here, Jed--" began Phillips.

Maud interrupted. "Just a moment, Charlie," she said. "Let me tell him what Father said last night. When he went out he left me crying and so miserable that I wanted to die. He had found Charlie's letter and we--we had had a dreadful scene and he had spoken to me as I had never heard him speak before. And, later, after he came back I was almost afraid to have him come into the room where I was. But he was just as different as could be. He told me he had been thinking the matter over and had decided that, perhaps, he had been unreasonable and silly and cross. Then he said some nice things about Charlie, quite different from what he said at first. And when we had made it all up and I asked him what had changed his mind so he told me it was you, Jed. He said he came to you and you put a flea in his ear. He wouldn't tell me what he meant, but he simply smiled and said you had put a flea in his ear."

Jed, himself, could not help smiling faintly.

"W-e-e-ll," he drawled, "I didn't use any sweet ile on the job, that's sartin. If he said I pounded it in with a club 'twouldn't have been much exaggeration."

"So we owe you that, too," continued Maud. "And, afterwards, when Daddy and I were talking we agreed that you were probably the best man in Orham. There!"

And she stooped impulsively and kissed him.

Jed, very much embarrassed, shook his head. "That--er--insect I put in your pa's ear must have touched both your brains, I cal'late," he drawled. But he was pleased, nevertheless. If he was a fool it was something to have people think him a good sort of fool.

It was almost four o'clock when Jed's next visitor came. He was the one man whom he most dreaded to meet just then. Yet he hid his feelings and rose with hand outstretched.

"Why, good afternoon, Major!" he exclaimed. "Real glad to see you. Sit down."

Grover sat. "Jed," he said, "Ruth tells me that you know of my good fortune. Will you congratulate me?"

Jed's reply was calm and deliberate and he did his best to make it sound whole-hearted and sincere.

"I sartin do," he declared. "Anybody that wouldn't congratulate you on that could swap his head for a billiard ball and make money on the dicker; the ivory he'd get would be better than the bone he gave away. . . . Yes, Major Grover, you're a lucky man."

To save his life he could not entirely keep the shake from his voice as he said it. If Grover noticed it he put it down to the sincerity of the speaker.

"Thank you," he said. "I realize my luck, I assure you. And now, Jed, first of all, let me thank you. Ruth has told me what a loyal friend and counselor you have been to her and she and I both are very, very grateful."

Jed stirred uneasily. "Sho, sho!" he protested. "I haven't done anything. Don't talk about it, please. I--I'd rather you wouldn't."

"Very well, since you wish it, I won't. But she and I will always think of it, you may be sure of that. I dropped in here now just to tell you this and to thank you personally. And I wanted to tell you, too, that I think we need not fear Babbitt's talking too much. Of course it would not make so much difference now if he did; Charlie will be away and doing what all decent people will respect him for doing, and you and I can see that Ruth does not suffer. But I think Babbitt will keep still. I hope I have frightened him; I certainly did my best."

Jed rubbed his chin.

"I'm kind of sorry for Phin," he observed.

"Are you? For heaven's sake, why?"

"Oh, I don't know. When you've been goin' around ever since January loaded up to the muzzle with spite and sure-thing vengeance, same as an old-fashioned horse pistol used to be loaded with powder and ball, it must be kind of hard, just as you're set to pull trigger, to have to quit and swaller the whole charge. Liable to give you dyspepsy, if nothin' worse, I should say."

Grover smiled. "The last time I saw Babbitt he appeared to be nearer apoplexy than dyspepsia," he said.

"Ye-es. Well, I'm sorry for him, I really am. It must be pretty dreadful to be so cross-grained that you can't like even your own self without feelin' lonesome. . . . Yes, that's a bad state of affairs. . . . I don't know but I'd almost rather be 'town crank' than that."

The Major's farewell remark, made as he rose to go, contained an element of mystery.

"I shall have another matter to talk over with you soon, Jed," he said. "But that will come later, when my plans are more complete. Good afternoon and thank you once more. You've been pretty fine through all this secret-keeping business, if you don't mind my saying so. And a mighty true friend. So true," he added, "that I shall, in all probability, ask you to assume another trust for me before long. I can't think of any one else to whom I could so safely leave it. Good-by."

One more visitor came that afternoon. To be exact, he did not come until evening. He opened the outer door very softly and tiptoed into the living-room. Jed was sitting by the little "gas burner" stove, one knee drawn up and his foot swinging. There was a saucepan perched on top of the stove. A small hand lamp on the table furnished the only light. He did not hear the person who entered and when a big hand was laid upon his shoulder he started violently.

"Eh?" he exclaimed, his foot falling with a thump to the floor. "Who? . . . Oh, it's you, ain't it, Sam? . . . Good land, you made me jump! I must be gettin' nervous, I guess."

Captain Sam looked at him in some surprise. "Gracious king, I believe you are," he observed. "I didn't think you had any nerves, Jed. No, nor any temper, either, until last night. You pretty nigh blew me out of water then. Ho, ho!"

Jed was much distressed. "Sho, sho, Sam," he stammered; "I'm awful sorry about that. I--I wasn't feelin' exactly--er--first rate or I wouldn't have talked to you that way. I--I--you know I didn't mean it, don't you, Sam?"

The captain pulled forward a chair and sat down. He chuckled. "Well, I must say it did sound as if you meant it, Jed," he declared. "Yes, sir, I cal'late the average person would have been willin' to risk a small bet--say a couple of million--that you meant it. When you ordered me to go home I just tucked my tail down and went. Yes, sir, if you didn't mean it you had ME fooled. Ho, ho!"

Jed's distress was keener than ever. "Mercy sakes alive!" he cried. "Did I tell you to go home, Sam? Yes, yes, I remember I did. Sho, sho! . . . Well, I'm awful sorry. I hope you'll forgive me. 'Twan't any way for a feller like me to talk--to you."

Captain Sam's big hand fell upon his friend's knee with a stinging slap. "You're wrong there, Jed," he declared, with emphasis. "'Twas just the way for you to talk to me. I needed it; and," with another chuckle, "I got it, too, didn't I? Ho, ho!"

"Sam, I snum, I--"

"Sshh! You're goin' to say you're sorry again; I can see it in your eye. Well, don't you do it. You told me to go home and think, Jed, and those were just the orders I needed. I did go home and I did think. . . . Humph! Thinkin's a kind of upsettin' job sometimes, ain't it, especially when you sit right down and think about yourself, what you are compared to what you think you are. Ever think about yourself that way, Jed?"

It was a moment before Jed answered. Then all he said was, "Yes."

"I mean have you done it lately? Just given yourself right up to doin' it?"

Jed sighed. "Ye-es," he drawled. "I shouldn't wonder if I had, Sam."

"Well, probably 'twan't as disturbin' a job with you as 'twas for me. You didn't have as high a horse to climb down off of. I thought and thought and thought and the more I thought the meaner the way I'd acted and talked to Maud seemed to me. I liked Charlie; I'd gone around this county for months braggin' about what a smart, able chap he was. As I told you once I'd rather have had her marry him than anybody else I know. And I had to give in that the way he'd behaved--his goin' off and enlistin', settlin' that before he asked her or spoke to me, was a square, manly thing to do. The only thing I had against him was that Middleford mess. And I believe he's a GOOD boy in spite of it."

"He is, Sam. That Middleford trouble wan't all his fault, by any means!"

"I know. He told me this mornin'. Well, then, if he and Maud love each other, thinks I, what right have I to say they shan't be happy, especially as they're both willin' to wait? Why should I say he can't at least have his chance to make good? Nigh's I could make out the only reason was my pride and the big plans I'd made for my girl. I came out of my thinkin' spell with my mind made up that what ailed me was selfishness and pride. So I talked it over with her last night and with Charlie to-day. The boy shall have his chance. Both of 'em shall have their chance, Jed. They're happy and--well, I feel consider'ble better myself. All else there is to do is to just hope to the Lord it turns out right."

"That's about all, Sam. And I feel pretty sure it's goin' to."

"Yes, I know you do. Course those big plans of mine that I used to make--her marryin' some rich chap, governor or senator or somethin'--they're all gone overboard. I used to wish and wish for her, like a young-one wishin' on a load of hay, or the first star at night, or somethin'. But if we can't have our wishes, why--why-- then we'll do without 'em. Eh?"

Jed rubbed his chin. "Sam," he said, "I've been doin' a little thinkin' myself. . . . Ye-es, consider'ble thinkin'. . . . Fact is, seems now as if I hadn't done anything BUT think since the world was cranked up and started turnin' over. And I guess there's only one answer. When we can't have our wishes then it's up to us to--to--"

"Well, to what?"

"Why, to stick to our jobs and grin, that's about all. 'Tain't much, I know, especially jobs like some of us have, but it's somethin'."

Captain Sam nodded. "It's a good deal, Jed," he declared. "It's some stunt to grin--in these days."

Jed rose slowly to his feet. He threw back his shoulders with the gesture of one determined to rid himself of a burden.

"It is--it is so, Sam," he drawled. "But maybe that makes it a little more worth while. What do you think?"

His friend regarded him thoughtfully. "Jed," he said, "I never saw anybody who had the faculty of seein' straight through to the common sense inside of things the way you have. Maud and I were talkin' about that last night. 'Go home and think and thank God,' you said to me. And that was what I needed to do. 'Enlist and you'll be independent,' you said to Charlie and it set him on the road. 'Stick to your job and grin,' you say now. How do you do it, Jed? Remember one time I told you I couldn't decide whether you was a dum fool or a King Solomon? I know now. Of the two of us I'm nigher to bein' the dum fool; and, by the gracious king, you ARE a King Solomon."

Jed slowly shook his head. "Sam," he said, sadly, "if you knew what I know about me you'd . . . but there, you're talkin' wild. I was cal'latin' to have a cup of tea and you'd better have one, too. I'm heatin' some water on top of the stove now. It must be about ready."

He lifted the saucepan from the top of the "gas burner" and tested the water with his finger.

"Hum," he mused, "it's stone cold. I can't see why it hasn't het faster. I laid a nice fresh fire, too."

He opened the stove door and looked in.

"Hum . . ." he said, again. "Yes, yes . . . I laid it but, I--er-- hum . . . I forgot to light it, that's all. Well, that proves I'm King Solomon for sartin. Probably he did things like that every day or so. . . . Give me a match, will you, Sam?"

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