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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWest Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 11
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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 11 Post by :cshawl Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :2928

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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 11

BOOK II CHAPTER XI

Shay, coming up the walk, distinctly heard what he said.

"What's the matter, Bill?" he inquired, pausing. "Did she throw the hooks into you?"

Landover glared at him balefully. "You go to hell, damn you," he snarled, and walked away.

"Soapy" rubbed his chin dubiously as he watched the retreating figure. Pursing his thin lips, he turned his attention to an unoffending stump six or eight feet away and scowled at it vindictively. He was turning something over in his mind, and he was manifestly in a state of indecision. Ruminating, he spoke aloud, perhaps for the benefit of a Portuguese farm-hand who happened to be approaching from the opposite direction, but who still had some rods to cover before he was within hearing distance.

"Gee, he's getting to be as decent and democratic as any of us. Shows what association will do for a man. Two months ago he would have been too high and mighty to tell me to go to hell. If he keeps on at this rate, he'll be worth payin' attention to in a couple of months more. Won't he, Bill?" This to the farmhand, who obligingly halted.

Mr. Shay made constant and impartial use of the name Bill. Except in a very few instances, he applied it to all males over the age of two, and he did it so genially that resentment was rare. Americans, Britons, Irishmen, Portuguese, Spaniards, Indians, Swedes,--all races, in fact, except the Hebrew,--came under the sweeping appellation. His Hebrew acquaintances were addressed by the name of Ike.

It so happened that this particular "Bill" was lamentably slow in picking up the English language. It was even said that he prided himself on being halfwitted. However, being an exceedingly dull creature, he was quite naturally a polite one. He was a good listener. You could speak English to him by the hour and never be annoyed by verbal interruptions. At regular intervals he would insert a shrug of the shoulders, or nod his head, or lift an eye-brow, or spread out his hands, or purse his lips,--and he never smiled unless you did.

Perceiving that some sort of an answer was expected, "Bill" wisely shrugged his shoulders. "Soapy" interpreted the shrug as affirmative,--having a distinct advantage over "Bill," who hadn't the faintest idea which it was,--and proceeded to go a little deeper into the matter.

"Now, as I was saying, this Landover guy is up against something, Bill. She handed him something he didn't like. Right on the nose, too, if I'm any judge. What do you suppose it was, Bill?"

"Bill" nodded his head very earnestly.

"That's what I think," said "Soapy," fixing his hearer with a moody, speculative frown. "Now, I know something about this Landover guy that she don't know. I suppose A. A. will give me an awful panning if I up and tell her what I saw that day. He seems to think it's a secret."

There was a slight pause, suggesting to "Bill" that he ought to frown as if also in doubt.

"At the same time, I think she ought to be told, don't you, Bill?"

This called for something definite. So Bill scratched his left ear.

"In the first place, she's too nice a girl to be hitched up with a Priscilla like him. Now, I don't know what happened here a couple of minutes ago, but it looks to me as if she needs a little moral support. It strikes me that this would be a good time to tell her. What do you think about it, Bill?"

Always on the lookout for rising inflections, "Bill" was ever in a position to give prompt replies. He could dispose of the most profound questions almost before they were out of the speaker's mouth. His answer to "Soapy's" query was a broad grin,--for he had detected a sly twinkle in the speaker's eye. He also shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands,--and, to clinch the matter, he winked.

"Now, I don't want to take this important step without being backed-up by some clever, intelligent feller like you, Bill," went on "Soapy." "It's all for her good,--and A. A.'s, too, although he won't see it in that light. If you say you think she ought to be told, that's enough for me. If you say she oughtn't,--why, nothing doing. It's up to you, Bill."

"Bill" was plainly at sea. You can't decide a question that lacks an interrogation point. So all that "Bill" could do was to stare blankly at "Soapy" and wait for something tangible to turn up. Mr. Shay suddenly appreciated the poor fellow's dilemma and supplied the necessary relief.

"What say, Bill?"

Whereupon "Bill" started to shake his head, but, catching the scowl of disapproval on "Soapy's" brow, hastily changed his reply to a vigorous nod.

"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Shay. "That completely clears my conscience. So long, Bill."

And half a minute later he presented himself at Ruth Clinton's cabin.

"Goodness!" exclaimed Mrs. Spofford, as she opened the door. She also opened her eyes very wide, and sent a startled, apprehensive glance over her shoulder into the warm, fire-lit interior. "What do you want?" she demanded querulously of the unexpected visitor.

Mr. Shay took off his hat. "I'd like a few words with Miss Clinton," he said. "I saw her come in, so she's not out. It's important, ma'am. She will hear something to her advantage, as they say in the personals."

"Will you please return at three o'clock, Mr. Shay? My niece is resting after the arduous labours of the--"

"I dassent wait," said "Soapy," with a furtive glance over his shoulder. "If he sees me, I'll probably have to change my mind."

"Who is it, Auntie?" called out a clear voice from within.

"'Soapy' Shay," replied the visitor himself.

"Mr. Landover will be here presently, Mr. Shay,--" began the obstacle in the doorway.

"I guess not," broke in "Soapy," forgetting himself so far as to wink. "I expect you haven't heard the news, ma'am. He's had his nose put out of joint."

"Good heavens! His nose out of--"

"Come in, Soapy," cried Ruth.

"Ruth, my dear,--do you know who--do you know what--"

"Sure she knows," again interrupted "Soapy," unembarrassed. "I'm not after anybody's jewels, Mrs. Spofford,--and besides which I am the principal candidate for Sheriff of this bailiwick. You don't suppose a man who's running for the office of sheriff on Mr. A. A. Percival's ticket is going to lift anything before election, do you? Besides which I've made up my mind to be straight as long as I'm on this island, and if I'm elected,--which I will be,--I'm going to see that nobody else does anything crooked. Mr. A.A. Percival is a wise guy,--a mighty wise guy. Says he to me, 'Soapy, you are one of the most expert--'"

"Come inside, Soapy," called out Ruth.

Mr. Shay entered. "You better shut the door, Mrs. Spofford," he said coolly. "What I got to say is private. As I was saying, A. A. says to me, 'Soapy, you are one of the craftiest and slipperiest crooks on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. What you don't know about crime would fill a book about as thick as a postage stamp. There's nobody on this island more fittin' to be an officer of the law. You know everything that an officer of the law ought to know, and besides which you know everything that a thief has to know. So you're going to be elected Sheriff of Trigger Island.' That's what A. A. says to me, and, as usual, he's dead right. Why, ma'am, there ain't a thief in the universe that can fool me. I don't have to have any evidence,--not a grain of it. All I got to do is to just ask 'em why they done it. But what I dropped in to see you about, Miss Ruth, is--Say, you ain't by any chance expecting A. A. to drop in, are you? I wouldn't have him ketch me here for--"

"I am not expecting Mr. Percival, Soapy," she said, her gaze fixed expectantly on the man's face.

"Well, then," said he, "I got a little story to tell you. It's the gospel truth. Just try to forget that I used to be a crook and that in ordinary times I am one of the most gosh-awful liars on earth. But there's absolutely no pleasure in lying nowadays, and as for working at my regular trade, Mrs. Spofford, you needn't be the least bit nervous. It ain't necessary for you to set on that trunk. Take this chair, please. Now, you remember some time back that A. A. and your friend Landover had a mix-up in the last named gentleman's stateroom, and you also must remember that Mr. Landover told you about it and that Mr. Percival never told you anything about it. Well, I was a witness to that fracas. I just happened to be walking along the deck when something caught my eye and I went up close to see what it was. You'd never guess what it was. After looking at it very carefully I discovered it was a port-hole."

Forsaking his whimsical manner, he related tersely in as few words as possible the story of the encounter.

"Now, it's my guess that Mr. Abel Landover didn't speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth when he furnished you with his version of the affair. Am I right, or am I wrong?" he asked, in conclusion.

"I prefer to believe Mr. Landover's story," said Mrs. Spofford stiffly. "Will you be good enough to go now, Mr. Shay?"

"Sure," said "Soapy," rising. "I'm not asking anybody to take my word against his. I'm just telling you, that's all. Good afternoon, ladies."

"It was not Mr. Percival who fired the shot? You are sure of that, Soapy?" Ruth was standing now. Her eyes were very dark and tempestuous.

"Sure as my right name ain't Soapy Shay," returned the witness, holding up his right hand.

"Ruth, it isn't possible that you place any credence in--"

"Thank you for coming, Soapy," interrupted Ruth. "It was very good of you."

"Soapy" lingered at the door, fumbling his dilapidated hat. Mrs. Spofford was staring speechlessly at her niece.

"I'd a little sooner you wouldn't say anything to A. A. about me peaching on him," said "Soapy," somewhat nervously.

"I shall not 'peach' on you, Soapy," said the girl, a joyous smile suddenly illuminating her face.

"Soapy" went out. As he closed the door, he said to himself: "Next time you tell me to go to hell, Abe Landover, I guess you'd better furnish a guide that knows the way."

As soon as the door was closed, Mrs. Spofford turned upon her radiant niece.

"You are not such a fool as to believe that rascal's story, Ruth?"

"I believe every word of it!" cried the girl.

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