THE ROSE-COLORED CHAIR
Little did Sam Baxter realize what was in store for Ann and himself when he upset the lamp on their precious, auction-lot chair.
ON A day of paling sunshine and fluttering leaves, of slow-moving clouds shadowing the Atlantic, Sam Baxter came up the beach road toward River Bourgeoise whistling, somewhat laboriously, a hymn. Sam’s whiskered face was lean and hale. His age registered more in his legs; after being doubled all day in the rowboat, fishing and what-not, they had trouble in straightening themselves and holding the ground. They wobbled a little, negotiating the hill. “ ’Lo, Sam!” “ ’Lo, George.” Sam, his head lowered as if studying some ever-present peculiarity •eo-nneeted with the surface of the earth, had difficulty, when so ad-
dressed, in discovering immediately the exact whereabouts of the salutation; but, when he did, his face lit up as though the clouds had suddenly parted, disclosing the glory of Heaven. “How’s it cornin’, Sam?” “Pretty fair, George; pretty fair.”
Still whistling the same hymn, he passed the drug store—Gld Doc Jacobs’. As usual, he glanced up at old Doc’s clock to see if it read ten minutes after five—it never was many seconds fast or slow. Arrived at the cottage, he went into the shed in the back garden to get the smell of fish off his hands, put himself to rights, and then entered the kitchen door.
She came hurrying from the parlor: a little, plump woman, reminiscent, in her jerky runs about the house, in her bright discerning eye, of the domestic hen. “Evenin’, Sam Baxter.”
As he had done for thirty years he kissed her as if he was still courting her, and she kissed him back the same way. Then, Sam forced into his trousers’ pocket a hand forever grasping an imaginary oar and produced three greasy dollar bills smelling faintly of fish. These he laid unconcernedly on the window ledge.
“Victor Doucet bought ’em soon as I beached,” he told her. “Sea bass Saved me haulin’’em up to the shed. Wasn’t a thing in the pots; tried ’em four times. Dave Savard got eleven in his. Some well over two pounds.” Ann, busy with the supper, spoke more to the potatoes than to her husband.
“Gain nothin’ by envyin’ Dave Savard anything he’s a right to.”
“Ain’t envyin’ him, Annie.”
“Well, set you down to your supper. You’re to wash and get into your blue suit later. We’re goin’ visitin’.” “Where to?” She put a deep bowl of her famous fish chowder in front of him. “Didn’t Dave tell you?” “Said nothin’ to me.” “Well, Mary’s asked us in after supper. Seems like Dave’s brother— him that died over to Halifax—left him two hundred dollars, and while he’s down there last week he buys Mary a radio.” She sat down opposite him. “It come this mornin’.”
Sam continued to play his spoon. “That so?” he remarked mildly. “And Mary says it’s jest the same as bein’ in New York—or Boston. Music’s sent through the air—in some fashion. What they’ll invent next only the Lord knows.” Ann Baxter spoke with rare reverence.
When Sam looked up his eyes rested on the crumpled three dollars. The money was Ann’s. He had been its custodian—nothing more—and would be so again with similar amounts until such time as he could transfer the responsibility to her. But it connected thoughts with Dave Savard. With more of that stuff on the window ledge Dave had bought a radio for Mary. Last summer he and Dave had been partners, in a way of speaking; shared their luck. But Dave had kind of separated a little, bought some new lobster pots, done better for himself. Sam Baxter didn’t altogether regret the separation. Dave wasn’t much of a church-goer and the empty row boat was a relief after the coarse utterances occasioned by a scarcity of lobsters.
'T'HE Savard family, father, mother and four grown-up children, lived next door. Dana Crispin was there from the garage, setting up the radio. All evening he had been manipulating screws, adjusting wires and turning dials with deft fingers. So far, he had produced nothing in the way of music other than a noise which sounded as if all the gulls on the coast were trying to out-screech each other. Sam watched intently, his gray-blue eyes like the distant sea. Then—quite unexpectedly—the listeners heard an orchestra—the throbbing syncopations of a jazz orchestra.
“Hotel Transylvania, New York City!” pronounced Dana, grinning like a fool. “You don’t say!” “Yes, ma’am. That’s jest what ’tis,” “How d’you know, Dana?” The bright youth explained swiftly, as if the solution was as simple as cranking a car. Sam Baxter didn’t try to. follow him. He had glimpsed the glory of Heaven. Others had come in. The room was full to overflowing and late-comers stood on the porch. Ann hadn’t said a word. She sat next her man, listening and looking and nodding. When Dana switched—that’s what he called it—to Boston they got a cornet solo, The Lost Chord. The player might have been in the room. A hush fell over the audience. Ann’s toil-roughened hand crept mouselike into Sam’s curved one, and he squeezed it a little— about as much as he’d squeeze the handle-shaft of an oar. Then, the solo was rudely interrupted by a return of the screeching gulls.
“Bee-utiful,” said Ann Baxter. “I’m tryin’,” explained Dana, “to get Chicago.” There was a buzz of excitement, whispering, chatter. “It’s hard to believe it,” said Mary Perkins. “I don’t believe it,” announced her mother, an old lady with a face like a pink sea-shell. “Music’s in that there black box—somewhere.” “Oh, grandma, how silly you are!” Dana kept turning the ribbed knobs, first this way, then the other, getting nothing but gulls and rusty winches. At length Dave Savard objected. “Put ’er back to New York,” he bellowed.
“Or—or Boston.” This from Saín Baxter who wanted the rest of The Lost Chord. Dana tried, but now he couldn't get away from the inferno of screeches, squeaks and whistles. “Static,” he told them. “Guess they’re closed down for the night, anyway.” It was late, so the party broke up. In his parlor Sam adjusted eyeglasses liberally embellished with cottonwool and Ann’s sewing thread and read the nightly chapter from the Bible. In bed, twenty minutes later, Ann said: “Mary Savard never had anything she liked better. Dave’s kind to her.”
He agreed. “Only some one leave me two hundred dollars,” he said, “and I’d get you one of them things right away, Ann. Money’s all that’s needed.” “Sticks! Wouldn’t have a noisy thing like that in the house if ’twas made of gold. Now jest you go to sleep and don’t be always envyin’ Dave Savard.” “Never did envy any man, Annie. We’ve got along fairly well for thirty years without wantin’ any of them contraptions, and I guess we can—” She gave him a little back-kick, peremptorily signifying that the conversation—at least her share of it—was over for the night.
BUT Sam got to thinking. And he was still thinking the next day as he was preparing for his annual visit to Arichat. A radio, so he was informed, cost a hundred and fifty dollars. That, of course, was utterly beyond his means. Counting his dimes and quarters, he experienced, for the first time in his life, a deep sense of disappointment in the meager total. This private saving of money—he kept it in a small stone jar hidden in his shed—should not be held against him. The coins, for the most part, had been given him by artists and amateur fishermen during the summer season. They had been put by, year by year, for a very definite purpose: a birthday gift.
Once a year, just before the seventh of November, Sam went over to Arichat. His trip was made the occasion for the replenishing of the Baxters’ stock of household necessities. Ann wrote out a list of items ranging from darning wool to sugar and flour by the sackful, and Sam would work down the list, crossing off each article as it was bought and paid for.
Ann never quite understood how he managed to bring home a birthday gift. For years she had questioned him about the extra eight or nine dollars thus expended, getting no satisfaction other than: “Saved it, Annie—since last November.” In the end she had given up asking, contenting herself with manifestations of rapturous surprise when he undid the parcel. “Land Sakes! Jest what I wanted. How d’you ever happen to think of it?”
Well, he couldn’t get her a radio on seven dollards and thirty cents! Fighting his growing envy of Dave Savard, Sam returned the stone jar to its hiding place in the shed, tied the silver in his handkerchief and went into the house.
Ann had his lunch wrapped in a clean napkin. “Now here’s the list,” she said. “Be sure to get the cups and saucers the same place you got ’em last year. There’s a strip of the window curtain—see?—fastened to the paper. Try Watson and Lamb first. If they can’t match it go over to Scriven’s in the square. Farrington’s, last of all—they’re kind of dear. And be sure to pay the five dollars instalment on the brass bed.”
He nodded bravely, put her purse into his pocket, then struggled into his heavy coat. The ordeal of carrying out Ann’s minute instructions was getting more and more of a task. Sam went about it heroically, with persistence, and a determination not to be coerced by some pretty young saleswoman into taking something not precisely in accord with Ann’s orders.
It was a day—the one day in the year—when Sam Baxter was a man of wealth. He was conscious of that simply because the amount of money he carried necessitated unusual caution. In Ann’s purse was twenty, sometimes as much as twenty-five dollars, and although he had one time and another during the past twelve months, earned it for her, once in her possession it was no longer his. In fact, he had no exact knowledge of where Ann stored the money, though he fancied it was in the cracked china tea-pot in the kitchen cupboard.
The ways of getting to Arichat are many. Sam solved the problem by arranging weeks ahead, to drive in with Dana Crispin who made the trip for his father once or twice every week. Rain or shine, Dana left punctually at ten o’clock in the morning. He was not so prompt on his return. It all depended. Sometimes he left Arichat before supper; sometimes later; and one year Ann Baxter appeared, worried and palpitating, in George Crispin’s office just as the clock was striking eleven. “Now don’t you worry, Mrs. Baxter. Sam and Dana’ll be along shortly — if they have to leave the old truck on the road.”
This morning she gave a little pull to his coat-sleeves, picked off one or two white hairs from the shoulders, brushed his hat, watched him put it on, then stepped back to see the full effect of her man about to honor Arichat with a visit. “I ought to ’a given your whiskers a trim,” she judged, surveying him, her head to one side. “Well, take care of yourself, Sam Baxter—and I’ll be expectin’ you back round eight or nine.”
IN ARICHAT he made all the purchases before setting off for Hollands to pay the quarterly reckoning on the brass bed. So far, during his peregrinations, he had seen nothing at seven dollars he fancied as a birthday gift. He kept peering in the shop windows. Near the furnishing house of Holland and Holland a crowd gathered around a dismantled store arrested his attention. It was an auction sale.
Before Sam could properly decide whether he wanted to look in or not, he was drawn through the doorway and pushed and elbowed, till all escape seemed barred. He
watched the auctioneer—a smartly-dressed young fellow with a small wooden hammer in a lady-like hand, his enamelled hair shining like silver under a brilliant electric bulb—sell or otherwise “give away” a pair of bronze candlesticks, a handsome clock, a mahogany table, and an inlaid writing-desk. Then he diverted his audience’s attention to a rose-colored armchair.
“Now, men! what’s the use of wasting your time—and mine? You’re getting this stuff at your own price—let’s work fast. A rose-colored armchair! What’s it worth? Let’s get down to business—as the shark said to the bathing girl.”
He delivered his sentences with the noise and velocity of an express train.
“An armchair, men! Good as new. Nothing wrong with it except the price I’ll knock it down for. Rosecolored armchair, fit to place in your best drawing-room. Heavy—solid—finest mohair. Part of the furniture of the same society dame who’s gone wheer she don’t need no chairs. Sits on a cloud, playing a flute. Well, what’s the bid, gents?”
Not a sound from his audience.
“A chair, men; a chair!” he rattled on as though in explanation of what he had said previously. “At your own price! Come home from a tough day at the office, or the race-track—it’s all the same—sit down in that chair and your troubles are wafted away. Think you was in paradise. Take a flop in it, Izzy, to show ’em!”
Izzy, the auctioneer’s silent, monkey-like lieutenant, flopped.
“See that? Like sitting in the lap of your best girl! Well, what’s the bid, men? Take that chair home to the wife and she’ll let you stay out nights for a month.” The exhorter paused for breath, then exploded, violently: “A chair, gents! A rose-colored armchair! You don’t have to feed it hay! It’s a chair, not a pink elephant! Well, what say?”
From the back of the room came the pipe: “One
The auctioneer looked as if that single dollar bid had sped across the intervening space and pierced his heart like a bullet. He shook his head to clear his brain, his silver hair heliographing on the ceiling.
“A dollar?” he agonized. “What you bidding for? The cut-glass castors? They go with the chair, buddy. Castors and chair— they’re all of the same piece. Say, listen! Queens and princesses have sat in that armchair, ruling the destinies of millions. I’m telling you. Look a the Russian carving down the legs! That’s art, that is. Take a good look at it and tell the folks back home you’ve seen something. Carvings, cut-glass castors, rose-colored mohair—that, men, and I give you my solemn word for it—that is a chair.”
Sam Baxter was much impressed. The chair would be an acquisition to their parlor; ’twould hold Dave Savard and his radio at an even break. He visualized Ann sitting in it with the Savard family gathered around her.
The bidding was brisker now. Sam heard the cries of sevens, eights, and nines. As the bidding passed from shooting range of the dimes and quarters in Sam’s handkerchief the chair grew by leaps and bounds in importance and in beauty. He wanted it; wanted it frantically, to take home to Ann. He’d need to bid, if he meant to have it, before it was sold for nine dollars and fifty cents. His heart fluttering a little he cried: “Ten!” Instead of letting him take the chair for that sum, the auctioneer suspended operations to remove his coat. A long drawnout harangue followed about the culture of Cape Breton people in general and the stupidity of those present. He was ready to wait, so he said, until any prospective buyer went round to Hollands to price any armchair they had resembling this one.
“Know how much they’d ask you for it?” he yelled. “Fifty dollars! All right; go see for yourselves. I’ll wait.”
“A gent says eleven. Eleven it is. I’m tired.” The wooden hammer was precipitan tly raised. “Going at eleven—”
Some inexplicable and utterly diabolical spirit prompted Sam to say:
The hammer came down! The chair was his! Sam’s fingers were too unsteady to undo the knot in his handkerchief. Izzy had to do it for him. He counted out seven dollars in silver, took the five dollar bill left in Ann’s purse and gave Izzy the twelve dollars.
IT WAS dark when they reached River Bourgeoise. Dana drove past the garage to deposit Sam and his many parcels outside the cottage. Ann’s breath had filmed the window several times, and now, seeing the motor truck come to a stop, she came running out.
His confirmation was a shade lugubrious in tone.
“That’s me, Annie.”
Between them they carried the various packages into the house. The chair came last of all. They handled it with difficulty; it was so heavy. .Ann withheld her inquiries. But while the canvas wrappings were being removed she kept darting little glances at it, pretending not to notice anything unusual till Sam was ready to proclaim it. Finally it stood revealed, roseate in all its splendor and magnificence! Ann’s mouth remained open, shaped like a bantam’s egg.
“Sam Baxter! For goodness gracious sake!”
A pale tongue crept between his teeth and slowly moistened his lips.
“A feller said a queen had set in it,” he began half-heartedly, trying to smile at her. “So I reckoned it would suit you fine, Annie.”
Ann was audibly clucking. “Where’d you—?”
“Up to an auction sale—right there next to Hollands. Jest set in it, Annie—to see how you look.”
Mrs. Baxter wiped the ghost of a tear from her left eye, took a few steps toward the chair, hesitated while she picked a few pieces of canvas thread from the mohair, then settled very gently, a little self-consciously, between the rose-colored arms.
Over the distant sea in Sam Baxter’s eyes had come a thin mist. “Look a picture,” he managed to say. “Jest knew you would, too ”
She was studying him now, her hands folded in her lap. “Better tell me what ’tis, Sam,” she said quite evenly. “How much did you—?”
“Twel—” It was like confessing to his Maker. “Twelve dollars.”
She held her peace.
“Had to,” he went on, “to get it. Started with seven—all the money J’d saved.”
“Then yon was forced to take five dollars from the purse?”_
He nodded, still keeping his smile, his head bowed to meet the punishment of her wrath.
“Guess you didn’t bring the window curtains then?”
“Brought everything you had marked on the list. Ann.”
“What didn’t you do, Sam Baxter?” Once again he tried, penitently, to moisten his lips. “Had to let that installment go, Annie.”
Mrs. Baxter, her bright eyes fixed resolutely on her erring husband, didn’t move for a while. Then she said resignedly: “Well, if it comes to that—I guess they can afford to wait a month or so. We’ve paid ’em right along—every time the agent’s called.” She rose carefully, walked over to him and imprinted a moist kiss on his cheek. “It’s a lovely chair,” she enthused. “Bee-utiful! The bee-utifulest chair ever I seen, Sam.”
She kissed him again, then became wildly excited over the supper. “C lean forgot all about it,” she cried, running into the kitchen. “That chair’s enough to—. Come eat right away, Sam.”
THE following day while Sam was visiting his lobster pots, Mary Savard was called in. Then Sally, her eldest daughter, was summoned. Later, Mrs. Crispin came round with Doc Jacobs’ wife. Listening in awed amazement and belief to Ann’s recital of its former glory they pronounced the armchair the loveliest thing they had seen in a long, long time. And on Sunday, at church, the Baxters never appeared to better advantage. Nothing would do but that several people should come back with them, along with Parson Williams, to view Ann Baxter’s birthday gift. It was worth a hundred dollars!
But the chair didn’t radiate rose-colored joy without a reaction of gray trouble! Holland’s collecting agent began threatening them with the removal of their brass bed. Ann paid him from a dwindling purse. The five dollars’ deficit in their household budget became more and more of a problem. It gained momentum. It rolled over them many times a week, each time a little heavier, a little more cruelly.
The fishing season was over and Sam found it increasingly difficult to get work. He made a little, here and there, hauling sand, cutting wood, but it was barely enough to keep things going. Try how they might—Sam went tobaccoless—Ann scrimped on food—they weren’t able to reach the blessed sunshine beyond the gloom of debt. C
With an empty corn-cob between his teeth, Sam Baxter began to brood over the question of money. Money! How necessary it was, after all! All that was needed to banish the thickening atmosphere surrounding them was a fifty dollar bill, something he might find lying on the beach. Money! He hated it.
He went inside and tried to communicate some of his thoughts to Ann. She stopped working to interrupt him, po-
tently. “Whatever’s cornin’ over you, Sam Baxter!” she chided. “Never have I heard you wishin’ for money. That’s the sin of this world, Sam Baxter—as you yourself have often told me. Money ain’t everything, is it? Jest you stop displeasin’ the Lord. We’ve got health and plenty of plain wholesome food. Want nothin’ more, ’cept happiness. And there ain’t a couple in this village, Sam, who . . . who . . .
She returned to her dishes.
Sam went into the parlor and lit the oil-lamp. The sight of the rose-colored armchair sort of cheered him up a bit. He pulled it nearer the table so the light wouldn’t fall on Ann’s eyes while he was reading a chapter.
How it happened Sam Baxter never knew. He thought he hadn’t touched it, but the lamp seemed to slide off the table. It toppled into the armchair and, amid the tinkle of breaking glass, hideous flame burst to life.
When Mrs. Baxter reached the parlor door, her first thought was that Sam had taken a fit. The light from the kitchen faintly revealed him writhing and twisting in the armchair.
“Sam! What is it?” she cried.
His voice was choked with pain. “The oil-lamp—fell—from the table. Near had the house afire.” A pungent smell of smoke and burning coal oil spread like a blanket. Ann was speechless. “I jest managed to grab my heavy overcoat in time,” he said. “Bring a candle, Ann.”
Under the candlelight a sorry mess lay revealed. The coal oil had stained the carpet, the lamp was smashed, the rosecolored armchair absolutely ruined! In wretched silence Sam began removing the broken glass, piling it on his still smoking overcoat.
“It’s . . . it’s fair spoiled the chair, Annie.”
She kept back her tears. “And the carpet,” she said. “And your winter coat.” Then, suddenly, almost fiercely: “Did you get burned?”
“Jest a little singe, Annie.” He held up his hand. “ ’Tain’t nothin’ to worry over.”
She examined the hand attentively under the candlelight. “You’d better run over to Doc Blodgett right away,” she advised, “and get it fixed.”
Sam dismissed the matter. “Sticks, Ann!—that’s nothin’. It’s the chair I’m thinkin’ of.”
They reviewed that ornament in a crestfallen quiet. In the seat was a burned spot the size of a dinner-plate; the side too, was hopelessly scorched.
“Did my best to save it,” said Sam. “Bring a damp cloth, Annie—let’s see what we can do with her.”
Mrs. Baxter laid the candle on the table and ran into the kitchen. Sam hadn’t moved when she returned. Beside him the candle-flame was trying to reach the ceiling. Cloth in hand, Ann regarded her husband dubiously.
“Painin’ you, Sam?”
He started. “No. No, Annie. I was jest thinkin’ a little; that’s all.”
“No good thinkin’. The damage is done now. Hold the candle so’s I can see what I’m doin’.”
She dropped to her knees and commenced sponging. The mohair came off, the burnt canvas breaking under the weight of her hand, disclosing a dark hole into the recesses of the chair. Mrs. Baxter shook her head slowly, regretfully.
“Maybe,” said Sam, “we can get someone to re-line it, and—and—” he had to stop.
Ann’s fingers were now inside the hole trying to discover the extent of the damage to the canvas. She could feel several strange bundles. They felt loose on top. From one of them she pulled off a bit of paper and before she realized what was happening she had withdrawn her hand and was regarding a ten-dollar bill! Two suppressed gasps of astonishment came simultaneously! Two pairs of unbelieving eyes focussed on the money as if it were a rattlesnake!
“That there’s a ten-dollar bill, ain’t it?” said Sam in a hushed voice.
Without replying, Mrs. Baxter laid it on the chair-arm, once more put her hand into the hole, felt around, peeped at something, then got to her feet shaking with fright.
“There’s hundreds of ’em. The same” —she pointed—“as that there.”
They stood staring at each other, the candle in Sam’s hand rattling in its socket, the grease falling on the carpet. In silence he passed it to her, to go to the window curtains and draw the blinds.
A slow, painstaking, nerve-racking search brought forth a fortune in five and ten dollar bills tied', most of them, in packages, hidden in the bottom of the rose-colored chair. The business of exhausting the gold-mine and counting its wealth lasted well into the night. There were, they found, three hundred of the larger denomination and a hundred and fifty of the smaller: in all, three thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars. Sam carried the money into the kitchen where, hollow-eyed and yellow, he and Ann sat facing each other over the table piled high with bills.
It was Sam who eventually broke the silence. His request was natural. “Will you—get me a glass of cold water, Annie?” Mrs. Baxter, weak from excitement, found her legs singularly unsteady. She drank a glass herself. “What are we goin’ to do, Sam?”
“Don’t know. All this money. It kind of scares me.”
She spoke through white lips, dry as parchment despite the water. “There was that robbery up to Sydney—three year ago—read it in the Sunday papers. They never ketched ’em, eithér. Some bank or other over to Sydney—where you got the chair. About ten thousand dollars, if I remember right. Maybe—” her eyes
strayed to the table.
Sam Baxter shifted. “I was thinkin’,” he said, “of them two fellers—you remember—over to Dalhousie—shot the Sheen Milling Company’s cashier and grabbed the pay-roll. Year ago last October. Five thousand—mostly in fives and tens.”
“It’s stolen money, Sam!” Ann was convincing. “It’s stolen—sure as we set here lookin’ at it!”
“That’s what ’tis.” They were quiet a moment. “Or if ’tisn’t, then it’s counterfeit.”
“Stolen,” repeated Mrs. Baxter. “Stolen. Every one of them bills is marked!”
“Eh?” He blinked. “That’s right, too. Them numbers is all known.”
“The minute one of them bills is seen, they’ll—!”
“What we goin’ to do, Ann?” Sam broke in.
“Better take it round to Joe Bourque’s right away.”
“This time of night?”
“First thing in the mornin’, then.” “Maybe Joe won’t—”
“And tell him jest how we found it.” “He’d have to put us under arrest, Ann. Besides what’s to prevent him suspectin’ us? Joe’s got to do his duty.” “There’s the lamp—the chair—the—” Sam’s gaunt head moved slowly from side to side. “We’d have to go along with him up to Arichat. Couldn’t say a thing if they choose to suspect us. Facts are facts, Annie. S’posin’ it belonged to that cashier that was killed up to Dalhousie! Chances are we could clear ourselves, but jest the same we—”
“Sam Baxter!” Ann’s voice was a degree crisper. “You know well as I do that nobody’s goin’ to believe we—”
“I know, Annie. But many an innocent man has spent his life in prison before today. This money”—he glanced fearfully at the table—“is circumstantial evidence as they call it. Found in our possession. Well”—he was rolling his words now as though his mouth were full of them—“if it is part of the money stolen from that murdered cashier—”
Ann, shuddering violently, broke into a pathetic little wail.
Sam took her in his arms, pressed her greying head into the hollow of his shoulder. “Annie,” he said very quietly, “I’m goin’ to bury that there money. Fury it in the back garden.” If they was to hold me while they probed the matter, you’d be left here alone . . and I couldn’t bear to think of you . . reckon they might possibly keep me a long while, too.”
He waited for her to speak his attention captivated by the money on the table. “Lordy! it’s a powerful temptation—all this wealth. And it come jest when we needed . . If we was to keep jest five of them ten-dollar bills, Annie—”
’Tain’t turnin’ your old head, is it?” she demanded, with sudden fierceness. “You go bury it right now—If you’ve a mind to—and get it over with! Minute you try to pass one of them bills, Sam Baxter, they’d have you up in prison in a jiffy. Guess you know that well as I do.” “Reckon you’re right, Annie.”
“Reckon I am, too! They’d recognize the number, trace where it come from, and both of us—!” Her dried lower lip continued to tremble after she had stopped speaking. “Go bury it! I’ll up to bed.”— and she added, fearfully— “in the dark!” “And be careful you ain’t heard or seen,” she said, in quaking misery. “I’ll be waitin’ you, upstairs. No matter how long you take, Sam—I’ll be waitin’.” In his back garden, Sam Baxter buried the money, tightly packed in a tin box, three feet under the ground. His only witnesses were the stars, and his Maker. Ann didn’t speak to him when he came upstairs, but he knew she had waited by the gleam of her eyes on the pillow. He slept fitfully, and rose at his usual hour, six o’clock, to get in enough wood for the day, light the fire in the stove, and set the coffee. At seven he left to put in a day’s work, sawing cord-wood for Mr. Ives, up the hill.
ANN spread a bit of lace over the seat ix of the armchair, but she no longer sat in it when Sam read a chapter. They stayed in the kitchen. Gradually, a weekby-week development, the deserted chair and its concomitant little mound in the back garden began to haunt them, to hush them, to influence their ways, their conversation, their thoughts, in terms of secrecy and fear. The restfulness and simple peace of their evenings mysteriously vanished, leaving in the wake a gathering cloud, an air surcharged with nervousness and disquiet.
Ann’s eyes lost their lustre.
L\TE one night, Sam, hoping that Ann 1 was sleeping, heard her sigh.
He felt for her hand and squeezed it. ‘‘We should have telled Joe Bourque the minute we found it—like you asked me to.”
“Yes, Sam, that’s what we should have done.”
“What ever come over me—last November—to take that five dollars of yours —right out of your purse, Annie—and knowing it was for the brass bed—and—” his whispering trailed away. “And I was jest lyin’ here thinkin’, Annie. S’posin’ Dave Savard’s dog came snoopin’ round the garden—got to smellin’ something. Money’s got a powerful smell.”
“A dog couldn’t very well root it up,” she breathed, “the way you’ve got it buried.”
“Not so sure. Anyways, if Dave saw the dog scratchin’ and scratchin’—he’d be bound to get suspicious-like, and then—” In muted voices they discussed this new worry and came to another mutual decision. Sam Baxter, feeling like a ghoul, rose from his bed, went out into the dark night, dug up the tin box and hid it under the kitchen floorboards. The money was packed tight—the box all too small for it —and in some way a ten dollar bill had partly worked its way under the lid. Not wishing to undo the arrangement of wire wound about the box, Sam, with many misgivings, extracted the bill. He hid it between the pages of a dictionary which with five other books—none of them were, ever touched save by Ann’s featherduster—lay on a high shelf in the kitchen. This he kept secret from Ann, realizing that it marked the first time in thirty years he had not bared his heart to her.
WINTER had settled on the coast and was leaving it grudgingly. The sudden and complete change affecting the Baxters ceased, gradually, to be a village topic of discussion. The Baxters kept to themselves. Sam was no longer seen sitting on the porch of an evening, no longer heard whistling a hymn coming round Doc Jacobs’ drug store. He didn’t attend church of a Sunday; Ann went alone.
And yet, although Sam refused to go to church, he continued to read a chapter from the Bible every night.
“Sam, if anything was ever to happen to me you’d never touch that money, would you?”
“Never, Annie.” Slowly he closed the good book and, over his battered eyeglasses, studied her. “Nothin’* goin’ to happen to you, Annie, dear.”
“Never can tell,” she replied. “Reason •I mentioned it is this. If you was jailed— for that’s what would happen right away, I’d be feelin’ for you no matter if I was dead and gone.”
Sam Baxter choked in silence, then he said: “Don’t need to worry, Ann. I ain’t ever goin’ to touch that tin box agen.”
Mrs. Baxter’s prognostications about her health were partly determined the following week. It was the end of April, and the flowers in the back garden were dancing for joy. The doctor, old Ezra Blodgett, couldn’t, exactly, diagnose the sickness. “Kind of run-down, Sam,” he decided. “She’ll pick up now with better weather. Bin a hard winter. ’Tain’t nothing to worry about.” He made out a prescription, which Doc Jacobs filled and charged to Sam’s growing account.
Ann, however, didn’t improve with the fine weather. She got worse. Ezra Blodgett, though he didn’t actually say to to Sam, feared pneumonia. “She needs nourishment,” he advised. “Good nourishing food; calves-foot jelly, grapes and such-like.”
Sam Baxter made up his mind at once. The terrors of prison were as nothing to the awfulness of losing Ann. He took
the ten dollar bill from the dictionary. With it he bought the best things he could get in the village, grapes, jellies, cream, iron-and-wine tonic, and a hotwater bottle for her cold feet.
He had commenced his summer activities some weeks earlier. Most of the time had been taken in making his old rowboat watertight. But he explained the luxuries to Ann by saying he’d had more than usual good luck with his lobster pots anf fishing lines.
The rest of that day and throughout the longest night he ever remembered, Sam Baxter sat waiting for a solid knock upon the front door. The coming of the police. The inevitable arrest! And the knock came with the morning, after he had carried Ann’s breakfast tray downstairs. Sam stiffened, stood a moment by the kitchen table muttering a prayer for strength. He went to the door and heroically opened it. Outside, on the porch, he saw, not Joe Bourque, but young Mr. Donaldson, the artist!
“Greetings, Sam. Glad to see you again.
I came up a little earlier this year—want to do a lot of work. How have you been, since last September?”
“Pretty fair, sir—considerin’. Wife’s kind of sickly. She’s been in bed for two weeks now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Sam. You don’t look very well yourself. But I’ll tell you why I called, Sam,” chirped the young man. “I wondered if I could hire that boat of yours for this afternoon. There’s a glorious spring feeling I’d love to get on canvas—from the bay.”
Sam forced a little saliva down his parched throat. “Sure, Mr. Donaldson. She’s ship-shape and all that. Jest you go right ahead and take her. She’s right there in the same old place under the bridge.”
“Fine.” The artist squinted through his horn-rimmed glasses at the rosecolored chair. A shaft of sunlight was bringing it into theatrical relief. “Pretty good-looking chair, Sam,” he said. “New, isn’t it? I didn’t see it last summer.”
Into Sam’s loose-hanging cheeks crept a faint bit of pink. “Oh! that!” he dismissed, turning his head. “Second-hand chair. Got it over to Sydney one day.” “Mind if I have a look at it, Sam?”
He hesitated. “No, sir. Come in. ’Tain’t much of a chair. Upset the oil-lamp on it some time back. Got badly burned.”
A moment’s scrutiny and the young artist showed considerable interest.
“Why,” he enthused, “it’s exactly like one of old Miss Salmon’s chairs. Sure you got it in Sydney?”
“Yes, sir,” lied Sam. “Bought her there —at—at an auction sale.”
“An auction sale! Oh! then that explains it. Her household effects were all sold, you see—most of them privately— but quite a lot by public auction. Canadiana, you know. Connoisseurs from all over the country. These chairs—there were two of them—I can tell by the carvings on the legs, the crystal castors, the rose-colored mohair—weren’t of much value. I suppose they found their way to some Sydney auction-room. But there’s no doubt of it, Sam. This chair,”—he was smiling pleasantly—“used to belong to Miss Agatha Salmon. That funny old maid, you know, who lived in Arichat. You must have heard of her. No kith or kin; just herself. Died about two years ago.”
“Couldn’t have been her chair began Sam Baxter.
Mr. Donaldson laughed at his expression of comic bewilderment. “Oh, there’s no doubt of it,”he repeated. “You’ve got hold of one of Agatha’s chairs. She was supposed to be very rich, you know; but, apart from leaving som ething to the Sailors’ Home and the money from the sale of her household possessions to some other charity, she died penniless.”
He went to the door, basked an d beamed on the porch. “Well, I’ll see you again, Sam. I hope Mrs. Baxter will soon recover. Lovely day, isn’t it?”
With a herculean effort Sam saved himself from falling in a heap. Mr. Donaldson had reached the road and was walking away whistling a lively air. Steadying himself, Sam hurried out after him, his face lighting up like a ploughed field under the full glory of the morning’s sun.
“Hey! Mr. Donaldson,” he chanted. “Jest want to tell you that you can have that row boat of mine any time you want it.”