THERE was a calendar on the wall of Jeff Crane’s kitchen with a date-pad on it. The month displayed was October, and through the days, from the first to the sixteenth, a pencil had been drawn, signifying that they were dead and done for. Jeff regarded the calendar intently for several moments. Days were going rather leaden-footed lately. He had never known them go so slowly as from the time that Ann Moore and he had arranged to be married oh Wednesday, October 23rd. It was now Thursday morning, the hour nine o’clock or thereabouts, the day, consequently, in the springtime of its young and short life. Jeff had no desire to be gruff or snappy or discourteous to Father Time, but a hint to him to open his engine and get a bit of speed on might not be out of place so he went over to the calendar and crossed off Thursday, seventeenth of the October. It made the gap between now and next Wednesday seem a little less like the space between the worlds. Five days more and then the day of days!
Though he had inconsiderately blotted out this inoffensive Thursday so summarily, Jeff had a great deal to do in it. He had to start almost at once to make the trip to Bishopsburg, for he had important business there. First and foremost he had to pay a visit to a jeweller’s shop and bring away from it a little gold hoop ring. Ann and he had made the trip some days before to do the selecting and it had been left to have a small inscription engraved on the inside of the ring. Then in a certain tailor’s shop there should be, this day, a very chastely glorious suit of clothes, Jeff’s wedding garments—and some garments too! Black morning coat, soberly splendid vest, lavender-grey trousers. With shiny topper, patent shoes, and grey kid gloves, Jeff was going to cut a figure of unsurpassed magnificence. It had been suggested that he should be married in his aviator’s uniform, but he thought it might savor of swank, moreover his available uniforms were worse for wear, so he had decided, in the interests of modesty and economy, to go to the altar in the decorous duds of civil life, as became a peace-loving man. When Ann and he got back from their honeymoon and settled down to everyday life, the resplendent garments would come in useful for church-going occasions. It was not outside the bounds of possibility that they might help him to land a churchwarden’s job in course of time. Greater miracles have happened.
Then there was a notable pastry cook in Bishopsburg, whose specialty was wedding-cakes. Unless he had slacked on his job there should be in his emporium, in a state of completion, a wedding cake of considerable dimensions and gorgeousness. It was Jeff’s job to transport it homewards in his plane, as he had small confidence in railway trains, and risky things like those. This Thursday, therefore, though blacked out so gracelessly, was nevertheless a day of some importance.
HAVING done the deed to the calendar, Jeff looked round the house to see that everything was all right before he started the flight. He knew it was, for he had gone through every room a dozen times since early morning; still, nothing like making absolutely sure, so he did it again. The kitchen with a fine, new stove ail fixed up, its polished steel trimmings more resplendent than ever, thanks to Jeff’s rubbings, the dining-room with the new suite, bevelled-glass sideboard, Morris chairs, and everything; in the corner the piano, looking all kinds of sweet harmonies, so much so that Jeff couldn’t resist the temptation of unlocking it and tinkling a few of the notes. Then there was the bedroom with the grand brass bed and the white maple furnishings, and the spare room, scarcely less glorious. But Jeff lingered longest in the back-kitchen. In a convenient situation was a metal-box-machine-like contraption, with a motor attachment. He pictured Ann seated on a chair by the side of it, as if she were merely chaperoning it, dressed for the drawing room and reading a novel, while the patent washer got through the family washing for the week. Then he shivered at what might have been, as he glanced at the set-tubs. Man’s inhumanity to man might have made countless people mourn, but his inhumanity to woman had a tougher record, especially where the washing of clothes was concerned.
The inside inspection finished, Jeff went without. There was a little two-stalled stable, and the day they came back from the honeymoon one cow and one pony would be in residence in the stalls. The loft above was filled with hay, and oats and feed choked the grain-boxes. Then the hen run had been put into shape, and the house patched up, and the roosters and chickens all were waiting on Fairleigh’s farm for the Crane family to get started. Even a cat had been provided, and just as soon as Jeff and the Missus entered their abode, it would be there, all primed up to get after mice and rat marauders. Some house!
“You’ve said it!” responded Jeff to the reflection.
HE LOCKED everything up carefully, though there was no policeman and no crime in the vicinity, then looked skywards. It was a grand morning, the best that October can do—and at its best it is unbeatable—a cool golden morning that would ripen to glorious heat, and die away in mists with suggestion of frost in them. Jeff felt like playing leap-frog, or doing something equally frivolous and juvenile, so he walked over to the hangar, outside which stood the plane, all primed up and overhauled, and apparently as keen to get going as Jeff was. Fairleigh and his hired man, who had followed Jeff round the premises, aided him with the starting of the plane, and with a whirr and a rush the flying man took the air.
Over the hillside and across the lake he sailed, until he was up well over three thousand feet. Then the leapfrog spirit took possession of him. Descending at a gentle gradient at eighty mile speed, he put the machine nose down, then pulling the control lever as far back as it could go with one firm pull, the ship reared vertically upwards and over. Upside down with the ground visible below, he cut off his engine, easing and gradually bringing the stick to neutral. When the steepness of the nose-dive decreased, he switched the engine on again, and bore away from the loop for the South and Bishopsburg.
THE jeweler proved himself a man of his word, and the ring was waiting all bedded in a box of white velvet, this Jeff tucked into his vest pocket. The suit was tried on, proving to be all that had been prophesied of it. The cake was finished and a dream of sugared loveliness. The last two Jeff stowed away in the bus, and, Bishopsburg having no further attraction for him, he soared away homewards. There was a last task, however, to discharge so he swerved sufficiently out of his direct way and headed for Paradise Corners, the little hamlet near his own settlement. He had to interview the parson, an essential person in the delightful drama to be played on the following Wednesday.
Jeff, approaching the place, was a little doubtful as to the exact spot for landing, circling round several times near the ground to pick out the likeliest place. Finally he decided on a long, roomy flat field quite near the vicarage. It was a hay field whose crop, naturally, had been cut months past. Some little distance from the field was the house of its owner, old John Peterson, a celebrity in the neighborhood for his great wealth and his mighty ability in sticking to it. Jeff made a good landing, pegged the plane down, threw a tarpaulin over the engine and fuselage, and was about to cross lots to the parsonage. He had taken less than half a dozen steps in the direction of his destination, when a bawled summons pulled him up.
“Hi there!” it said, and Jeff hied, if that meant stop.
Over the meadow came Peterson, hobbling as fast as he could. Jeff awaited him, a grin on his face.
“Don’t hurry, Mr. Peterson, I’ve most of the rest of the day,” he said.
“Aint you trespassing?” the old man demanded.
“Guess I am,” Jeff admitted. “This field looked the likeliest landing place, so I just naturally dropped into it.”
“To say nothing about the damage to standing crop,” added Peterson.
“Crop?” echoed Jeff looking about.
“Good grass there,” said Peterson. “Nourishment for cattle all the time till snow flies.”
“Can’t see I’ve damaged it a whole lot,” remarked Jeff. “Still, there may be a blade or two with backs broken.”
“Trespass and damage means money,” said Peterson, who never lost a chance.
“Real money, or just joke money?” Jeff inquired, thinking the old chap might have, at bottom, his own notions of humor.
“Real money—the only kind I know,” replied Peterson. “And I don’t hold with them kind of machines. Flying in the face of the Lord as it seems to me.”
“Well, a man can be no worse for getting a trifle nearer heaven,” said Jeff.
“If God had intended men to fly, he’d have created him with wings on,” retorted Peterson.
“Just in the same way as he brought us into the world with clothes on,” grinned Jeff.
“Anyway, ’bout this trespass and damage,” Peterson returned to the main topic.
“Put a price on it, so long as you don’t break me,” said Jeff.
“A dollar for the trespass, half for the damage,” replied Peterson.
“Seventy-five cents and a quarter,” Jeff responded. “Won’t do to have me go broke. I’m getting married next week.”
“Cash money!” insisted Peterson.
“Cash money,” agreed Jeff, handing over the dollar. “Nothing to pay for the air above the lot?”
“We throw that in free, with the sunlight," grinned Peterson, pocketing the bill. “Yes, I did hear you were getting married. The Moore girl, eh? Well, it’s all a gamble. ’Taint much money you’ll be getting with her.”
Jeff couldn’t do what he’d have liked to do, as age has certain immunities, but at the sacrilegious reference to Ann he would have liked to take Mr. Peterson and drop him into a nice deep spot in the middle of the lake. Being deprived of this satisfaction, he was curt.
“I want to leave the plane here for maybe fifteen minutes or so. Any charge for rent?” he asked.
“No, not this time, we’ll let it go with the rest. Going over to the parson’s, eh? Watch him, for they’re all alike.
They’ll take a dollar for a wedding if they can get no more, but light-headed folks spend like fools at a time like that,” said Peterson, walking away.
NEVER had Jeff had an experience that jarred so severely on his finer sentiments. Considering cash in such a divine connection! Peterson was a miserable excrescence on the face of an otherwise lovely world. He wondered if, and then why, God made Petersons. The slight to the plane, the implied slur on Ann and the divine institution of marriage, the mercenary spirit generally of the wizened old piece of leather, pricked Jeff deeply. The mischief was that you could only sting a bird like that in one spot—his pocket book. In every other direction his hide was as hard to penetrate as that of a rhinoceros, and Jeff had as much chance of bombing him there as of piercing armor-plate with a pea-shooter.
However, with the desire to do Mr. Peterson a return favor—perhaps not at all justifiable, and certainly not on sacred ground—Jeff entered the parsonage. The parson helped to dispel some of the grouchiness that had settled o’er Jeff’s soul. He was in appropriately great feather over the coming welding, and promised to lay himself out in the largest way to do justice to the event. There were to be little flower girls, spreading posies in the triumphant way, there was to be an augmented choir who would sing, “The Voice that Breathed o’er Eden” as Paradise Comers had never heard it sung before and “O Perfect Love” in a way that would be a perpetual dream in time to come. Then a bunch of airmen were coming down from one place and another, to see Jeff leave the single drome, and give him the proper kind of a whirl-off.
IF THE Village Blacksmith could pat himself on the back at the close of the day, and comfort himself with the thought of “something attempted, something done” Jeff Crane had much more reason to do so, when he reached home, and, in the garden over a pipe, reflected on the affairs of the day. The only rift in the lute of the day’s music had been Peterson, the only crease in the rose leaves, the only speck of unpleasantness. Jeff was not a man to judge harshly or harbor an unforgiving spirit, but old Peterson had left a sore, twinging spot on Jeff Crane. He was a blight on an otherwise satisfactory world, and in the mind of the reflecting man was a desire to show to Mr. Peterson his stern disapproval of the unneighborly mulcting of the sum of one dollar, the slighting of the airbus, and greatest and least forgivable of all his reference to Ann in terms of money, and his introduction of the bargaining spirit into the divine institution of holy matrimony.
He knew Peterson’s reputation. The old man lived money, ate, drank, breathed money, had scraped and gathered it as the sole occupation of a long life, beginning in in a small way, and expanding as his means and abilities developed. He owned great tracts of land in the vicinity, lands bought when their mineral value was unsuspected, often secured by the foreclosing of mortgages on large pieces of land for comparatively small debts. In recent years his wealth had grown vastly with the development of the mining country. He had sold parcels for great prices, fostered the formation of mining companies to whom he had sold pieces of his territories, taking a good round sum in cash and letting the remainder of the purchase price stand on mortgage, not infrequently getting a fat instalment down, and, later on, when some default was made in the fulfilment of the mortgage terms, getting back the whole of the partly developed property into his hands. With the growth of his wealth, his life and ideals had remained the same. He banned his relatives, lacked friends and not caring to have them, suspected the rest of the world to be like himself, ever meditating raids on its neighbors’ possessions. He grudged himself the price of the very scraps of food he ate.
“I’d better get to bed,” said Jeff, as eleven chimed from the bells of Ste. Adelaide. “Another day to cross off in the morning! I guess it’s real sinful to wish the precious time would speed faster, but It’s only to next Wednesday; it can go as slow as it likes after that.”
JEFF was up a little later than usual. Then he crossed off another day before it had had a fair chance to get going, washed and shaved, ate a bit of breakfast at Fairleigh’s place, and prepared to go over to Bramhope. He was not going in the ship this time, but risking his life in Fairleigh’s buggy, behind a pony that could make all of four miles an hour, if you kept the persuader going pretty steadily. While the fiery untamed was being brushed and otherwise valeted, preparatory to being backed into the shafts of the Fairleigh family chariot, Jeff walked along the road for the sake of a bit of exercise. He had promised to go slow, to give the leisurely horse a chance to catch up with him. The air was cool and sweet, the crimson and gold of the autumn foliage sending a deeper sense of brightness and color into the hearts of men, and especially that of Jeff Crane. Friday—four clear days after to-day, and then the great event. It was a great kind of a world. People called it a vale of sorrow and tears and gloomy names like that, but how could they? They must be rumly constituted persons, with ingrowing grouches producing inflammatory results. He came to a cottage by the wayside. On the opposite side of the road, half-way down a field was a gash in the ground, and in the gash the man who lived in the cottage was having a hard fight with fortune, with—so far as Jeff knew—the luck always with the enemy with the bigger guns. Franklin was known to Jeff before he set out to woo mine fortune on his own behalf. He had worked in one of the Bramhope pits, a young, driving, ambitious fellow, with lots of grit and dreams backed by real ability and the supreme gift of tireless industry. He lacked money, a serious lack when one tackles a mine prospect. Then he was married and had a large family, which—the world says—is a handicap in a fight such as Franklin was putting up. Of course children cost money. You can’t have the luxuries of life without paying something for them, and Franklin’s children had to be fed, to have some clothes and shoes, and at times they necessitated the outlay of money in other ways. People often said that the man would really be much better off if he had stuck to his job in the Bramhope mines, with a regular pay coming to him every second week, but that’s where you buck up against the spirit in some men that bids them turn from the small prudences in life, and embark their all on the larger venture. These men have made the world—not the safe men who have walked the beaten track, and stuck to the ruts.
There were two or three children playing about the door, a red-cheeked boy about four or five years old, and the girls with him older.
They all knew Jeff and came out to meet him as he shouted a merry greeting to them. He had only two hands and a couple more children rushed out of the house and wanted to lay hold of some part of an arm or hand, he sat down on the turf mound that served as fence.
“Little ones next me, bigger ones next them. Stand up, and let’s measure! Like a little row of steps!” said Jeff. ‘Heads up, hands to your sides, shoulders square! Chins out and tummies in! Some soldiers! Fine! Now sit down, drill being over, and tell me what’s going on. Mother busy in the house, I bet! Daddy working hard down in the pit there, eh! Hurry up and get big and then we’ll all go off riding in the airship. I guess you’re all coming over to the Church next Wednesday, and not to say your catechism either, or make bobs to the Bishop?”
There was no response to his question, but a pathetic gravity came into the faces of the children, particularly the three elder girls, who seemed about eleven and nine and seven. Jeff was rather puzzled.
“What’s coming off next Wednesday?” he inquired.
“You’re getting married,” was the chorused reply.
“Then you’re coming to see me get married?” he pursued.
Again there was no answer, and he fancied he saw the lip of one little girl tremble. Jeff’s heart was all glowing tenderly in an instant. He grabbed the child and set her on his knee.
“What’s the trouble, little Eileen?” he asked, patting the head of the child.
“We can’t come to the wedding,” said the eldest child bravely.
“Who says you can’t?” demanded Jeff. “I say you are, and mind it isn’t only a wedding, but there is going to be a spread for the kids and races for candy and nuts and oranges and suchlike. Who is going to keep you away? Not mother and father I’m sure, for I expect to see them there.”
“No they wouldn’t keep us away, if they could help it,” explained the eldest girl. “But we can’t come, all the same. We’ve got no clothes.”
THEN the full meaning of the tragedy came over Jeff. He and the fine clothes, Ann and her fine clothes, the visitors and local guests who’d be out in their best. The children of the well-to-do folks, or the regular wage-earning people would be there, but this brood of the independent, big-hearted fighter, would have to stop away because of the pinch of the battle-stress on the little home.
“All daddy’s money has gone into the mine,” said the gravely wise eldest child. “And until the luck comes our way we are going to do without lots of things. Then, when the luck turns we’ll have plenty of nice things and good clothes. So that’s why we can’t come to the wedding.”
Jeff was aghast, humiliated, dumfounded. Here he had been grinning and chuckling to himself all along the road about the goodness of the world and the happiness in it. It wasn’t the kind of world he had cracked it up as being after all. In some ways it was a rotten, misfit kind of a world. For men, and perhaps women, who could fend for themselves it was not so bad, but he hated a world in which misery and sorrow and deprivations had to fall on children. If Franklin was not the stiff-backed independent kind of chap he was he, Jeff would have bundled the kids then and there into some kind of a conveyance, trundled them over to Bramhope, and fitted them out with wedding garments. What a rotten thing it was when fathers and mothers like Franklin had backs like pokers, and independence that fairly ached for a challenging fight!
“Don’t you tell me, any one of you, that you’re not coming to that wedding,” he said. “I’m going to have a few words of talk with your daddy and your mammy, and perhaps they’ll change their minds. They say the kids are going to sing for us, and some of them are going to pelt Ann and me with flowers, and if one of you kids doesn’t paste me in the eye with a buttercup or something I’ll feel really hurt. Well, I want to run down and have a word with your daddy, so if you’ll watch out for Mr. Fairleigh and hold him up when he comes along I’ll be ever so much obliged."
AND he got to his feet, crossed the dyke and walked down the slope to the spot where Franklin was hard at his tusk.
“Hello, Jack!” he shouted, when he came to the edge of the quarry. “Hard at it—how are things going?”
He clambered down into the place and shook hands with the dusty, sweaty-faced man who was working at the bottom. Franklin was a man some ten years older than himself, with a strong purposeful face, brown-tanned from dust and exposure to an almost gipsy hue.
“Might be better,” said the man briefly, taking the opportunity to rest. “You know what it’s like, Jeff, when everything seems to be running the wrong way. You’re pinched for time to work things out, and then, until you hit something good and the tide turns, the money just trickles away as through a sieve. And as you know Peterson’s the man you’ve got to walk the chalk line with. No stretching terms a bit in your favor, but everything down on the nail, to the minute, or else—out you go and no more to it.”
“I’d forgotten, if I ever knew that the strip was Peterson’s,” said Jeff. “No, I guess there’s not much lee-way given with him. He’s a great man to stand by the word of the contract when an option’s concerned. Is that how you’re working with him?”
“I paid him so much down when I started, got a six-months’ option on the place, at a fixed price in fixed instalments. And you know just how it is, if you’re hustling hard against time that’s the very minute that results will hang back on you,” he said. “So far there’s nothing big in sight, nothing that will bring the money fellows round me anxious to finance me, but the stuff’s there. I know that but whether I’ll be the lucky man to get to it or not, I can’t say. It’s touch and go with me now, I may tell you between ourselves. I’ve got to come up to the scratch to-morrow with a payment, but I think that’s provided for. I’ve a promise, and expect it will be made good to-night. Then it will be me for Bishopsburg to-morrow, where the money has to be paid to Peterson’s lawyers. So you’re jumping off next Wednesday, Jeff?”
“The next Wednesday as ever is,” grinned Jeff. “All fixed and everything in order. We’re going to have you and the Missus and all the kids there? Wednesday’s to be burglar’s chance here in Paradise Corners—nobody home and all wide open.”
“Maybe we’ll be there,” said Franklin. “We will if we can, and if we’re not there, it won’t mean that we wish Ann and you any poorer luck. You’re marrying a fine girl, Jeff—none finer in all these townships and you’re a lucky man.”
“That’s so,” replied Jeff heartily. “But that doesn’t let you and Mrs. Franklin out, nor the kids either.”
“Well, lots may happen between now and Wednesday,” said Franklin. “Things may begin to go my way. If I can get to-morrow over, as I believe I can, I’ll breathe a bit easier, and maybe be able to take a day or so off. If they don’t—it will mean a long spell of hardest work gone for nothing, a big hope blighted, and—well what’s the use of talking over it? So long, Jeff, and the best of good-luck to you. Flying over to Bramhope?”
“No, Fairleigh’s waiting, I guess, at the road top with the old nag,” Jeff answered.
“That’s right, take no chances with a wedding a week off,” laughed Franklin, taking up his pick again.
“A week nothing,” replied Jeff. “Four clear days, count ’em!”
Fairleigh had not yet shown up, and Mrs. Franklin was standing at the door when Jeff came up the slope, the children about her. She was a bright, good-looking woman, though the finger of care had traced lines on her face.
“Been down having a word with Jack,” said Jeff going over to them. “Just reminding him about what’s coming off Wednesday.”
“What did he say?” she asked.
“A bit too much stress on ‘if’ and words like that to suit me exactly,” replied Jeff.
“Come in and sit down a minute, Jeff,” she said. “You children run off and play. We’d like to come, Jeff, for the sake of you and for Ann’s sake, but you can guess from what the children told you just how it stands. Maybe Jack dropped a hint, though as a rule he won’t talk much about it. It’s touch and go now whether he manages to hold on or everything goes. To-morrow is Saturday, and by two o’clock in the afternoon there’s a payment to be made in Bishopsburg to Peterson’s lawyers. Jack’s got the promise of a loan, but the man has held off until nearly the last minute. First he would, and then he doubted, then he mightn’t and afterwards he might. He’s too near Peterson in some of his deals to let either Jack or me feel comfortable till the money’s actually paid down. The train leaves to-morrow morning at half past ten, and by that time we’ll know whether we have a chance left to make good, or whether we’re down and out. Anyway we’re at the end of our rope. Jack’s certain he has a big thing, a real money-maker, and Peterson seems to know it too, and has hardly been off the place a whole day the last six weeks. If he can get it back with all that Jack’s done, and the money he’s put down, into the bargain, it will suit him exactly. He’ll be simply treating us as he has treated lots of others since he’s been living on other men’s industry in this place. Well, here comes Mr. Fairleigh. Good luck, Jeff, and give my love to Ann. If we can’t get over to the wedding, we’ll slip up to the house some evening when you’re back again.”
THEN Jeff suddenly changed his mind, for no particular reason. In the abstract, driving into Bramhope back of the drowsy old nag didn’t seem very preposterous, but when she came ambling along, with a trail of dust bigger than that made by the Children of Israel in the wilderness, rising from her shuffling feet, the waiting traveller decided that he’d rather die some other way than be choked by dust.
“She’s going a bit lame in the nigh foreleg,” said Fairleigh in an apologetic voice as he pulled up.
“And a bit stiff behind, too,” agreed Jeff commiseratingly. “A merciful man’s merciful to his beast. Take her back to the stable. I couldn’t think of riding behind the poor sufferer. I’ll get in with you, and we’ll take the family bus.”
Fairleigh needed no second invitation. He was getting flying-crazy, his wife said, and she lived in daily fear of his going to market with her eggs and butter in a plane.
Three-quarters of an hour later they were in Bramhope, clean, cool, and very much alive.
ANN was so busy with dressmakers and people of that kind that Jeff had more of the evening to himself than he wanted to. He stayed round her house until he was as good as asked to take himself off, and even Ann, deserter that she was, aided a bevy of women who gently but forcefully put him to the door, and bade him make himself scarce.
Fishing was off, these couple of weeks past, and Bramhope pretty dull. Jeff smoked till he got tired of smoking, sat with company till he got tired of it with all its small jokes about weddings, and sat with himself till he wearied of his own society. He went down to the Picture Palace, fell asleep over the “Tribulations of Tottie,” woke when the piano changed its tune for the first time inside an hour, and took himself out into the open air. Thank Heaven, to-morrow would be Saturday, and Saturday over, the week of weeks would dawn—then but three clear days. Time did move, after all. He found the hotel lobby deserted so he made for the sitting-room aloft. He found a paper-backed novel on the table, left by some literary drummer, and tackled it with firm spirit. He had got past three murders, two elopements, and a bomb outrage, when his ear caught an arresting but unmusical sound from the floor below. Some person was having a mild altercation with the landlord.
“A dollar and a half for a room! I’ve stayed here often in old times and never paid more than fifty cents,” said the kicker.
“One dollar and fifty cents!” declared the landlord. “The Conservatives have come into power since that time.”
“And thirty-five cents for breakfast! It’s an outrage.”
“We’ve never forced anybody to eat it yet,” replied the landlord.
“A dollar I’ll give you for room and breakfast, and not one cent more,” said the protesting party.
“Nothing doing,” replied the landlord. “And if I’d the money you’ve got, Mr. Peterson, I’d be ashamed to try to beat a man down that way.”
“You’ve got to beat folks down in this world, or be robbed of your all,” retorted Peterson. “I’ll find what I want in this town for a dollar, or sleep in the fields.”
“Go to it, plenty of room to roll round in there,” was the reply.
JEFF went down into the lobby in time to see Peterson drag himself out, and to hear the indignant plaint of the landlord.
“Millions he’s got, and he’d skin a louse to make leather for his shoes,” said he. “Missed the night-train up to Bishopsburg where he’d likely have got a bed for nothing among friends, and is heartbroken to think he’ll have to pay for his quarters, the mouldy old skin-flint.”
“I hope the downiest bed he finds is a rock dump,” observed Jeff cheerfully, proceeding to relate Peterson’s claim for trespass and damages on the occasion of his landing on the miser’s ground.
“Ever hear the like of it!” exclaimed the landlord. “And he’s going to Bishopsburg to-morrow with no good in his mind. Guess its about that business of Jack Franklin’s prospect. Jack’s got to pay over a big instalment to-morrow, and it’s a question if he’ll be able to do it, and there’s one who’s praying he won’t, and that one’s wambling down the road trying to graft a bed and breakfast. I hope the one smothers him and the next chokes him to make a good job of it.”
With which Christianlike desire he left the unsavory topic, and Jeff sauntered into the street. He wondered what Franklin would be able to do. The thought of the hard-working, fiercely-pressed man harassed him, the picture of the wife and children rose before him disconcertingly. The grievance he had against Peterson was growing like Jonah’s gourd.
When he went to bed he still had the Franklins and their brood in mind. He woke in the morning with them only second to Ann in his thought! Peterson also had lodgement there. Then he went up to work, being busy till some matter he had to attend to necessitated his going down to put an urgent letter on the mail car of the train. He lingered long enough to see Peterson get aboard the train, among the last of the passengers, having apparently missed some person he was looking for on the platform. There was a grin on his face as he scrambled aboard and nodded to Jeff.
“Darned old vulture!” growled Jeff, wondering where Franklin could be, and whether he had gone on an earlier train. There was not another until half past six.
When the train had pulled out Jeff walked over to the hotel, just to see who might be round. The landlord was there alone, and trouble sat on his face.
“I’m mighty glad to see you, Jeff,” he said, with a sigh of relief. “There’s trouble brewing. You remember the talk we had last night about old Peterson and Jack Franklin? Jack’s man played him along till nigh the last minute, and then threw him. They met here half an hour before train time, and after a lot of hums and haws, and excuses and bluffs and lies, the fellow told Jack he could do nothing for him, and Franklin’s about crazy.”
“Where is he?” inquired Jeff.
“Went off down the lake road, like a man out of his senses,” replied the landlord. “Would listen to nobody, have nobody to accompany him. Peterson and his stand-by have just laid him out. He hasn’t the money, and if he had he couldn’t get up to Bishopsburg in time. Three thousand dollars in hard-earned money, and six months of the toughest work ever a man did, gone at a throw.”
“Bank no help?” inquired Jeff.
“Not in a case like that. It bets on sure things,” the other replied.
A MINUTE later Jeff was on the road, eating up the distance to the lake. He had gone a couple of miles when he came across his man, walking up and down like one frenzied. He scarcely noted Jeff’s approach, and, turned resentfully when the latter spoke to him.
“What’s wrong, Jack?” Jeff asked.
“Wrong! Everything’s wrong!” Franklin answered.
“That’s'pretty bad, but nothing’s ever so far wrong as that,” said Jeff. “I don’t want to butt in, but your man quit in the pinch,eh?”
“Just played me on from day to day, and then, when the train was about whistling in, dropped me with Peterson almost standing by to give me the laugh. All my savings gone, and half a year’s work, day and night, and with it hope and ambition and dreams. There’s the wife waiting at home for the news, and—and the kids, and here I am, down and out,” answered Franklin. “I could have killed the old grinning devil. He was standing near by, pretending to know nothing about what was going on, but he’s primed the whole thing, and the gun was fired by him.”
A lot of fine talk sprang to Jeff’s lips. A man might be down, but he never was out, and so forth. But it was not a matter of fine maxims or platitudinous sayings.
“Just what had you to do, Jack?” he asked. “There was an instalment to pay, wasn’t there?”
“A thousand, at two o’clock, in Bishopsburg. It might as well be a million,” replied Franklin. “I’ve got less than a dollar.”
“And after this, suppose you had been able to pay up?” asked Jeff.
“I’d have had six more months’ leeway, and I’d been into the stuff inside six weeks, and Peterson knows it, and is grinning like hell all the way up to Bishopsburg. It was a winner, Jeff, a sure winner. You know whether I know mining properties, or whether I live on fool’s hopes or not.”
“Come on then, Jack,” said Jeff gripping him by the arm. “It’s after eleven now, and the bank shuts at noon.”
“What do you mean?” asked Franklin his face paling, his-lips tightening.
“I’ve got a loose thousand. I got a wad for nailing Pemberton. There was a piano and a patent washer to come out of it, and I’ve blown a bit beside, and there’s the honeymoon to come, but I’ve enough and if I’d time to consult Ann, she’d tell me to go ahead. I’ll stake you, Jack,” said Jeff.
“But—the devil take your buts, are you coming or aren’t you?”
“It called for pay at the lawyer’s in cash, and maybe they’d find some loophole one way or other,” replied Jack, bewildered. “I mean if I wasn’t there in person.”
“We’ll take no chances of any sort, Jack. I believe in safety first, last, and in-between times. We’ll be there an hour after we get into the air. I’ve got my bus here handy. Not scared of a whiz through the skies, eh? Try it once and you’ll begin to hate your legs afterwards,” said Jeff.
“You mean it, Jeff? Scared! If what you say’s right, there’s nothing on earth or hell to scare me,” answered Franklin.
BEFORE twelve they had the money in bills, Jack was in the observer’s seat in the plane, Jeff on the pilot’s throne. The word was given, the propeller whirled, the engine speeded up, the chocks were withdrawn, and, like a partridge leaving the ground, with a whirr and and upward glide they soared into the air, skimmed over the houses, headed for the lake, and picked up the line of the railway as it wound through the valley. An hour after their start they were gliding down to their landing place in Bishopsburg. Then, afoot again, Jack helped Jeff to run the bus into the little aerodrome on the exhibition grounds.
“I’d like you to come down with me, Jeff,” he said. “That is if you don’t mind having Peterson’s knife into you from now on."
“I’d be disappointed to death if I missed him,” Jeff replied. “And I think it will be in the light of a wipe back at him. I’ve had a sort of grudge against him this while back. We got into some kind of a mix-up, and he stuck me a dollar. I’m getting a tight-wad streak in me some days and some ways, and that dollar has stuck here, right under my Adam’s apple, ever since.”
It was ten minutes to two by the town hall clock as they turned into the lawyer’s office. They walked upstairs, and tapped at the door of a room, within which was. the sound of conversation. Peterson’s voice was easily discernible, for he was, apparently, in good humor and on excellent terms with himself, to judge from his cackling laughter. The laughter, however, froze on his lips, when Franklin entered, with Jeff at his heels.
“No extension,” he-barked, from want off anything really intelligent to say.
“I’m asking no extension,” replied Jack. “I’m here with the money, and I’ll be glad of my receipt, for I want to hustle back.”
“Where did you get it?” yelled Peterson.
“It’s there, anyway,” replied Franklin, while the lawyer did the counting, and gave the receipt.
“And you weren’t on the train, either, and Jeff Crane here wasn’t I’ll gamble,” said Peterson.
“Don’t you do it,” replied Jeff. “They sometimes lose—that is some gamblers do, and you might drop a nickel and die in horrible agony. Train! We came over in that sky bus you thought nothing of the other day. Some real snappy windy day I’m coming round your way to invite you to take a ride, and when I do I won’t ask for a cent, and before the finish I guess I’ll have my dollar’s worth back. Come on, Jack. Your Missus and my Ann must be getting a bit anxious.”
IT WAS after three in the afternoon that Ann heard the roar of the plane in the skies and ran to the door. To her astonishment Jeff wheeled west by north and headed for Paradise Corners, but she noticed that there was a passenger in the car. However, for most of the unusual things Jeff did there was generally a sound reason, which is an excellent thing for a wife-to-be to understand clearly. Fifteen minutes later Mrs. Franklin and the kiddies heard and saw the plane, and ran out into the road.
“Just a minute, Jeff!” said Franklin, and they went into the house. “You’ve given me a thousand and have nothing to show for it.”
“That’s so,” replied Jeff, scratching his head. “I guess a note will be all right.”
“There’s the note,” said Jack, drawing it up and signing it. But when the luck comes there’s going to be something beside a note. There will be a piece of the pie. God bless you, Jeff! I was in deep—right up to the neck and more. You pulled me round, and that thousand and the lift may mean a good many hundred thousands before this thing’s finished.”
“That’s all right, Jack, boy. I had the stuff and you had the hole, so naturally we took the stuff and plugged the hole. But, I say, there’s a lot you can do for me, if you will,” said Jeff.
“Give it a name, that’s all,” replied the other heartily.
“There’s a wedding next Wednesday morning over at the Church at Paradise Corners, and I’m a party to it, and so is Ann,” said Jeff.
“I’ve heard it whispered,” grinned Jack.
“Then there’s a chap called Jack Franklin and his wife who’ve got to be there.”
“They’ll be there, if all goes as well as now,” replied Jack.
“And there’s a bunch of kids—Franklin kids—and they’ve got to be there too. I bet they’re practising now to hit me in the eye with a buttercup, or fetch me a crack with an old shoe, or hand me a rice pudding before it’s cooked,” said Jeff.
“They’ll be there, all eight, if they’ve got to come in their birthday clothes,” promised Jack.
And Jeff swung into the fuselage, the propeller whirled, the engine roared; and away he went for Bramhope, to give an account of his stewardship to Ann. What did she say? What do you think?
She said that the best kind of a wedding present a young couple could have was the love and good-will of hearts that had been in despair made happy; of men and women from whose shoulders heavy burdens had been lifted; of little children who, having tasted something of life’s sharp sorrows, are given its sweets of kindness. And Jeff thought, as usual, that she had dropped the bomb plumb on the objective, which was as things should be.