The YOUNG ARE SOMETIMES RIGHT
Romance, high comedy and a mutinous mudhole
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
THE FISHING VILLAGE of Cableville, Nova Scotia, has but one road. As it was originally clawed out of a rocky side of the cliff, there are many hazards in its course. Far below he the fish wharves and the blue waters of the Basin. Up above are the perilous pastures for cows — experienced creatures who have learned to enjoy the rigorous pleasures of mountain grazing.
Two miles of this road. then, are solidly built on ledge, but Deep Hollow is another matter. Here is mud sometimes hub-deep.
One noon of a pleasant day a group of road workers, bossed by Captain Danny Gale -town councillor of the village and general factotum sat down to eat their lunches in Deep Hollow. They had spent the hours from seven in the morning until noon in hard labor over the muck and mud of this particular spot. These men were of varying ages and, deliberately or not, the camp was conspicuously divided between the old and the young. Graeme Sanders, a vigorous young man in his early twenties, having finished his sandwiches and pie before the others, went to the edge of the road and stixxl there gazing out over the Basin.
“Don’t ye go for strainin’ your eyesight so.” advised I Jerb Elm, another worker of about the same age. "I seen er come ashore fifteen minutes ago.”
"Her? Who you meaning?” Graeme did not bother to turn his big shoulders.
"Sanky. of course. I seen her dory shove into the Cove, where she keeps 'er down shore. She’ll bo along directly. No need"—Herb shaded his voice to a subtle anxiety which
sent the others into smothered chuckles of approval—“to be gittin’ your eyes in such a bad shape ye have to go to the expense of havin’ an oculist, Graeme.”
“Shut up, Herb,” advised the young man easily. “You talk too much.”
Captain Danny, father of Sanky, broke in hastily: “My girl will sure be pleased to see the way we fixed this road. We’ve done an awful dose of work just since she’s been gone this mornin’.” He swept a match flame across the bowl of his pipe.
“I don’t know about that,” stated Graeme. “I’m not so awful stuck on the job.”
“There ye go agin, a-haulin’ over your smart talk.” remarked a ferret-faced individual by name of Toad Mullins, so-called because of the warty condition of his countenance.
“You know what I mean as well as I do.” Graeme’s deep voice rumbled with irritation. “Why don’t you dump crushed stone here first? Or even iron ore as a filler? But no, you go on spilling that light gravel day after day. And what becomes of it?” His level gaze rested first on Toad Mullins, then on Cap’n Danny, and he became faintly oratorical. “I’ll tell you what becomes of it. It sinks plumb out of sight, beyond soundings even, taking the town’s money with it. But you’ve always hung to gravel, and you always will. I’d like to see the highway commissioner some day. I’d give him an earache he wouldn’t forget in a hurry. You fellows”—his slow glance briefly touched four or five of the older men —“might have to sing small. Crushed stone is the stuff. Ever heard of a Scotsman called McAdam? He thought so. too. He proved it.”
“You know jest about everything, don’t you?” enquired Cap’n Danny with ominous tranquillity. "Listen to this, matey. I’ve worked this road, man and boy. for thirty years. I don’t gainsay ye got hook leamin’ -college and all that gear, with a heavy ballast of dictionaries but sometimes, me line laddie buck, ye have to learn by doin’.”
“Haw, haw!" bellowed Toad Mullins.
Graeme gave them all a cold half-smile. “When I’m town councillor. I'll have things different.” he said.
“What?" Cap’n Danny nearly bit the stem of his pipe in two. “What you say?”
"You heard me. cap’n.” The young man’s poise was superb. “I decided yesterday to run.”
Consternation rested on the rugged features of Cap’n Danny. Here was a statement almost amounting to treason. He felt outraged and slightly stunned.
Herb Elm. sometimes referred to as The Twig, because of the skinniness of his legs and arms, at this point rose to extend his hand in mock ceremony.
“Congratulations, sir! I suppose ye can count on your own ma votin’ for ye; and maybe old Pop Dinsmore, if you promise to bail him out o’ jail reg’lar.”
“Haw, haw!” shouted Toad Mullins.
A shrill horn tooted at the top of the hill. Cap’n Danny waved his hand.
“There she blows,” he cried, as his face broke into a sudden smile. “Don’t take Sanky long to come a-spankin’ over the road, once she’s landed her dory t’ the Cove.”
A small car stood outlined for a moment against
the sky. and then swiftly swooped down into the hollow.
“Hey, watch out there or you'll capsize in the ruts!' warned Graeme.
The car came on in a series of jerks and dodges. Sanky's bright hair, shoulder length, blew this way and that. She laughed at them, and seemed in the fleeting space of a second to be giving a special smile to both Herb Elm and Graeme Sanders. She wore pretty clothes, did Sanky. She had a precocious taste. Her apparel was suited to her style.
Cap’n Danny bawled out something to his daughter about the house key hidden in the window-blind. Herb yelled that he would see her at the community supper that evening. Graeme said nothing at all, but watched her out of sight.
“As trim a little catboat as ever I see,” muttered The Toad thoughtfully.
“All you loafers git back to your jobs!” thundered Cap’n Danny. “Ye been yarnin’ round here long enough.” And his heavy brows drew together in a frown as he recalled the effrontery which had met his ears a few moments ago.
Al' THE SUPPER held in the Town Hall, people came and ate with relish and roared for more. Sanky Gale, to the great disappointment of a number of youths, refused to sit down with them. She helped to serve the tables, and was quick, graceful and almost impossible to talk to. Her smile flashed at them and then was gone. Cap'n Danny in a blue coat with brass buttons—a carefully preserved garment from the days of his sea command—surrounded himself with nourishment of every description and began a brisk meal. Graeme’s mother, a buxom, rosy-cheeked widow, plumped herself beside him, and deftly contrived to sustain a one-sided conversation with all the air of being engaged in lively talk. The cap’n mumbled, gave her an oblique glance now and then, and said “Yes, I reckon that’s so,” or “No, can’t say’s I do.” Naturally the well-meaning woman was unaware of receiving the residue of the captain’s concealed wrath against her son.
Forty people turned out for the supper, and forty people found satisfaction therein. But afterward, when the floor was cleared for the somewhat pious pleasure of square dancing, a sudden chill spread over the function. With scarcely a signal exchanged among them, twelve of the most personable young men and best exp>nents of the Paul Jones, left the hall simultaneously. They gave no excuses, they said no farewells. They simply faded from the party. Graeme was the first to go. The others followed.
Sanky was wearing a dashing red frock and slim, bronzed slippers. In fact, these represented the result of her trip across the Basin earlier that same day. She had looked forward to Graeme’s strong hands guiding her through the dance and Graeme’s shoulder just above her eyes, the fresh, clean smell of him who was more fastidious than the others about his linen. There was none left now in the hall but The Twig and a few substantial males sweating in their early forties.
“They certainly leaked out fast, didn’t they?” Herb was murmuring in her ear. “Well, I ain’t howlin’. Means a lot more time with you, don’t it, sister?”
Sanky’s eyes grew a sultry violet.
“That Graeme sure thinks he’s a whale of a fellow. Thinks he knows everything. I reckon he plans on bein’ Premier or somethin’—when he gits around to it.”
Sanky’s plans were ruined. Herb was to be the foil, slyly handled, for the right effect on Graeme.
Graeme was too sure of himself, too handsome. She intended to give him a home-study course in obstacles. Without a l<x>k in her direction, he had gone and taken the twelve with him.
Herb began to rehearse the oration which Graeme had delivered in Deep Hollow.
“He’s dead right,” said the girl.
“Oh, come now. What does a girl know about such things? In the first place, where would he get the crushed stone he’s blattin’ about?”
“He told me he could rig up some sort of an engine and haul up any amount of it from the shore in buckets.”
“That ain’t crushed stone.”
"It’s the raw material.”
She quoted Graeme’s theories with glib ease. She was not so much defending the absent one as standing up against Herb. She felt that way. Somebody must suffer for the collapsed condition of her vanity.
The Twig saw he was getting nowhere on this line, so he changed his tactics.
“Well, after tell in’ your pop what he’d oughter do, and wishin’ he could jest see the highway commissioner himself, Graeme up and announced he was goin’ to run for town councillor himself. Now ain’t that somethin’ to rile all hands of ’em?”
He was gratified by the girl’s look of astonishment.
Evidently Cap’n Danny had reported nothing of the argument to his daughter.
“Ain’t he got a gall? Guess likely he’s hauled the boys to some kind of a meetin’ now. Wouldn’t surprise me
none. They ain't brass enough in a ship’s bell to match his nerve.”
They swung into a set and made an excellent pair. Herb danced better than Graeme, who was apt to get uneven and energetic.
“Smart-jiggin’ pair, ain’t they?” said Cap’n Danny to the widow.
Mrs. Sanders, rustling in vast folds of watered black silk, said “M-m-m.” She. too, had been bewildered by the unexplained departure of her son. But she had no idea of publicly approving Graeme’s rival.
“Sank y’s got music clean down to her toes,” continued her father with beaming pride. “Ever since she was knee-high, she could sing and dance fit to kill. She used to lift her voice fur glory with the best of ’em at Sunday School. Them old Moody and Sankey tunes was meat and drink to 'er. That’s where she got her nickname, I reckon. ‘Come, sing us some Sankey,’ the kids would coax her.” “She’s a real nice girl, Sanky is,” agreed Mrs. Sanders. “My Graeme thinks the world of ’er.”
“So?” asked Cap’n Danny laconically. "Well, it looks like Herb does, too.”
Conversation between these two parents lapsed after this. It sank to definite obscurity when the captain confided that the last piece of cocoanut pie he ate tasted as if it had been made of whiskbrooms and shavings. The
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w idow bridled. She had made that cocoanut pie that very morning. But Cap’n Danny was a widower with a substantial bank account; and Mrs. Sanders, bereaved many years ago of a worthless husband, found strength to overkxik his rudeness.
Sanky grew' so difficult during the next half hour that Herb gave up in disgust and left the hall. As he went out of the door he observed Mrs. Sanders circling with cautious grandeur in the stilf embrace of Cap’n Danny Gale. “Them Sanders,” muttered Herb, “give me a pain. Graeme’s after Sanky. And Graeme’s ma is after the cap’n.” He spat outward into the night, and clattered off.
THERE is a certain small and dismal room at the rear of the Cableville postoffice. Now and then under urgent need for privacy, a group will gather there. And to a shuttered wñndow of this room Herb Elm bent his steps. “Maybe Graeme’s baitin’ his trawl for election right now,” he thought, and walked softly in the shadowed alley.
He had guessed shrewdly. A pale light filtered through the chinks of a shutter. By stooping a little, the eavesdropper could peer through a narrow crack and observe the activities within. What he saw and heard detained him for a quarter of an hour. Graeme, full of talk and gestures, stood apart from the others. He spoke with authority. He mentioned the road, its poor management, the criminal waste of funds. He stated what he would try to do if he were boss, and why. The young men listened. Now and then they would nod or light a thoughtful cigarette.
“There's no reason on earth why I should not be town councillor as w'ell as Cap’n Danny. He’s a good and honest man, but he's outdated. The village would benefit by a change. It’s my money, your money, everybody’s money that goes to thunder in those muddy hollows. Lord knows we work hard enough for it.”
The young men agreed more by attitude than by voice.
“There’s another thing.” Graeme pounded one fist into the cupped palm of his other hand. “If we could get the highway commissioner himself down fiere instead of his inspector, I’d be willing to bet my bottom dollar we’d convince him of conditions and get an additional grant for proper improvements.”
They stared at him. They asked him how he could manage such a f<x>l notion. What the everlasting blazes did he think he was, anyhow —the Governor-General?
“That’s exactly the reason why you fellows never get anywhere!” Graeme cried. “You see an obstacle, and right away you lie down and howl about it. with your hind legs up in the air like yellow pups. Your brains are rusting like old cables.”
Herb, chilled by the night air, waited to hear no more. He kept a small store of his own a few rods away, and there he went. He lighted a kerosene lamp and sat down near a pot-bellied stove. The Twig was perfectly able to assemble ideas and sort them out. He did so now'. After half an hour of deliberation, an astonishing plan came to him. Upon further consideration, he grew’ so exuberant that he picked up a mouth harp and began to play on it a hybrid tune called “Hallelujah, I’m a bum!” Perhaps Herb would not have felt so elated had he known that at that very moment Graeme was walking home with Sanky, and that Cap’n Danny was escorting if not gallantly, then certainly capably— the widow Sanders to her snug cottage situated a few juices this side of Deep Hollow.
“Please don’t be so cross,” Graeme pleaded with his companion. "I had important business. I tell you. I came hack to the hall just as soon as I could.”
Slinky remained icily silent.
“But, of course,” he added in mild sarcasm, “you had Herb to dance with.” “Herb left at a quarter past nine. And
after that I had the loveliest time dancing with Uncle Billy Cone—he doesn’t know' a Paul Jones from a mizzenmast.”
Graeme ignored this extravagant pleasantry'. “Herb left? What for?”
“How should I know? How should I know anything?”
Her escort’s thoughts now ran tvo ways. Herb had left the dance early. Why? And Sanky was mad as hops. “You know I’m fond of you, darlin’. You’ve got the prettiest hair in the world.” He bent his head until his sm<x>th, clear-skinned cheek rested against the pale gold of her curls.
“How kind of you !” she snapped. “Others have told me the same thing.”
“See here, I wrant to know something. And you tell me the truth.” He shook her by her shoulder. “Do you love Herb Elm, or do you love me?”
Her mood was shaken by the rough emotion in his voice. Quickly he drew her
“You kiss me, Sanky Gale. I’m sick of this silly nonsense.”
He lifted her chin until she felt the muscles of her throat go taut. She felt his lips on hers. The pounding of his heart made her a little afraid. But she struggled free.
“Any man who pretends to be a friend of my father, and then does everything he can to”—she panted over the words—"to fool the very person who—well, Herb Elm doesn’t take a job and then work against the man who gave it to him. You're nothing but a low-dowm sneak !”
She had not meant to say these things. They rushed out in a flood of hoarded resentment. Somehow, some way, she must hurt this big young man who had so coolly deserted her without a word of excuse.
“So that’s the way we’re heading into the wind.” All the affection, all the indulgent wheedling, had vanished from his voice. “I suppose Herb has been spilling this stuff to you, though what he knows about it, I can’t see. If this is your answer, don’t worry. I won’t bother you again. Good night.” He strode off.
XTEXT MORNING broke with a drizzle 3-^> of rain, but Captain Danny decided that the road work could be done. The dismal day was intensified by an atmosphere of strain among the workers.
“What in tarnation ails the boys this momin’?” demanded the grizzled boss. “They act like a pack o’ deckhands plannin’ a mutiny. I’d like to tan ’em all with a rope’s end.”
“Oh.” smiled Herb, “I reckon they’re tired out with the meetin’ they held last night.”
“Meetin’? Talk sense, young man.”
“Didn’t you see ’em all leave the hall early after the supper?” Herb glanced about to see if his confidences'were being overheard. He came nearer the captain. “Graeme’s got more gall than all the rest of ’em put together. I ain’t savin’ he ain’t a good worker and all that, but seein’ he got this road work through you in the first place” —Herb smiled again—“you kind of depend on him and the rest of the boys to vote right, don’t ye?”
“Get on with what you’re drivin’ at,” advised Captain Danny.
Herb then related what he had seen and heard the previous evening.
The bluff old seaman was visibly disturbed. The young man at this point added a few more suggestions, fitting them with crafty precision into the listener’s mind.
The vision of Sanky’s flying hair, red skirts, slim silken ankles was like a beacon for his scheming.
“I think I ran bring up the subject easylike,” he finished. “Let ’em chew on it a while.”
Captain Danny frowned and made no comment. Abruptly he stepped over to the younger group.
“Loren. ye ain’t got near enough sand in that hole. Dump in another cartful.
Graeme, what the devil are ye doin’ with all that mess o’ little stones?”
"I’m dumping them into the hole first as a foundation. Sand’s no good.” He looked straight into the old seaman’s ice-blue eyes. “It sinks out of sight. Wheels mire up to the hubs.”
Captain Danny sfixxi four-square as if braced for a northeaster.
“You pitch them dirty, pee-wee little pebbles straight off this cliff, Graeme Sanders, and ye do it now ! I’m boss around here, and when I say sand, I mean sand.” ‘Haw, haw,” roared Toad Mullins.
There was a hush among the workers. Part of a minute passed with no word spoken. And in the end the young men were disappointed. With no retort whatever, Graeme bent to his heap of stones, and contrived to pitch them over the edge of the road with wordless insolence.
As the day progressed, matters went from bad to worse. A horse team and a battered old truck got stuck in the very hole of the morning’s argument. The rain made muck of the clay. Graeme was quite willing to put his big shoulders into the task of pulling out the vehicles, yet this glaring demonstration of the road’s condition added fury to the captain’s temper.
During the latter part of the afternoon, rain began to fall in good earnest.
“Well, boys, guess we’ll have to call it off. At sea, a bit of rain don’t hurt nobody. But on land, you lily-livered sons-of-sponges have to run home.” i
“I’ll stay,” said Graeme quietly. “In fact, I think I’d better. Some one ought to be near here to haul out the mail stage when she comes back again this afternoon.”
“Dam your tough hide!” yelled Captain Danny. “Any more of your smart talk, and I’ll fire you!”
The younger group were ready for actual battle, but they were again cheated.
“Just as you prefer, of course,” said Graeme. “But if you need me along about mail-time, I’ll be reading a new book I just got on road engineering right there in that window.” He nodded toward his mother’s cottage, just beyond the Hollow. "But I wouldn’t lift a finger if Wales himself came along and got buried to the gunnels. Not unless”—he sweetened his voice to an irritating decorousness—“you told me to, Cap’n Danny.”
HTHAT evening Graeme came into Herb’s 3store.
“See here, Graeme,” Herb began at once, “hold your jaw a minute while I say something. I hope you take it right.”
“You’ve said plenty already—and in the wrong company.”
“You know who I’m meaning. Lay off my girl, Herb, or I’ll split your bones into kindling.”
Herb’s bright, narrow eyes blinked uneasily. “Wait a minute, Graeme. Don’t go off half-cock. You kind of took the wind out of my sails yesterday. I don’t say I’ll not vote for ye as town councillor—and I don’t say I will. I feel sort of bound to the cap’n.”
“What are you driving at, Herb?”
“Well, it may sound queer, cornin’ from me. but I think ye’re dead right about the road. It needs different treatment. But it won’t do to git the cap’n all riled up. I was kind of wonderin’ if we couldn’t play a little trick on him; nuthin’ co hurt, but jest to prove he ain’t been goin’ at things right.” “You’ve changed your tune mighty quick, seems to me,” growled his customer. “What’s the idea?”
Herb ignored the unpleasant tone. “Maybe you won’t think much of it. But I know a man whose wife’s cousin married the road commissioner.”
Graeme paused in lighting his cigarette, the match flaming between his fingers.
“I thought maybe that somehow,” went on Herb, “we might work it to git him down
here himself. Let him ride over the road, jest as if it happened all reg’lar.”
Because of the angry confusion of Graeme’s mind, he failed to grasp the coincidence of Herb’s suggestions. He listened, saying little, but his thoughts glowed.
Herb said he would let him know later how things worked out. Maybe they couldn’t arrange anything but it would do no harm to try.
That very night Graeme held his second meeting.
The day’s road work had helped to solidify the younger group into a staunch unit. They admired their leader because he was strong, because he had ideas, and was not afraid to stand up to Captain Danny. Many a man during a slack fishing season was glad 'of road w'ork, and w'ould hesitate to forego the cash it meant in his pocket.
Without explaining the source of his information, Graeme told his followers at the meeting that he had heard of a way of getting the road commissioner down to see the work on Deep Hollow. These young men yelled their approval. Their delight grew fanciful. They mentioned the everlastin’ bouncin’ they’d give him. They’d show the commissioner a road he wouldn’t forget in a hurry. They slapped their thighs. Humor climbed to extravagance. They calmed down after a while, to map out a definite course of action.
“On every turn, every hill, boys, every sharp curve. I know' plenty who will help when the time comes, ’specially in Deep Hollow. We’ll pile them up there,” said Graeme.
If there was storm in Graeme’s heart, there w-as tempest in Sanky’s. In the space of a few' days she changed from a sensible, pretty girl into a minx of uncertain temper. The bread w'as burned. The biscuits were frequently lumps of underdone dough. And one evening, when she had not seen Graeme for a number of days, she launched forth on such a perverse defense of the young man that the captain w'orked up to a fine bellow' and sent her off to bed in a tantrum of tears.
Feeling among the road workers did not improve. The younger faction w'orked solidly together. The older ones worked as they ahvays had, honestly enough but without skill or interest. Herb Elm alone seemed undisturbed.
Late one afternoon, Graeme entered Herb’s store. As he stepped over the threshold. Toad Mullins hailed him from across the road.
“Ain’t no use goin’ in there, Graeme, he’s gone.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t he coming back soon?”
“That’s jest it. Is he or ain’t he?”
“Speak up, and tell me what’s eating you. Toad.”
“Truth of the matter is, I don’t know. The cap’n, he don’t know. He’s steppin’ up and down handsome, I can tell you.”
Graeme recrossed the road and stood frowning down at the insignificant Toad.
“I ain’t savin’ there’s truth on either side, mind that. All I know is, that Herb Elm left yisterday afternoon and crossed the Basin in a fishin’ dory. And Sanky went with him.”
“Yesterday? Didn’t they come back?”
“Nope; neither of ’em.”
“I hope you’re not meaning what I think you mean.”
“I ain’t savin’ I mean anything. I’ve jest told ye the plain and simple facts.” A large figure came around the next tum in the road. “There’s Cap’n Danny now, as sure as I’m a sinner,” said Toad. “Why don’t you ask him yourself, seein’ you w'on’t believe me?”
Graeme took a step forward, but hesitated. “He’s worried,” he thought. “He’s w'orried sick. I can tell by looking at him.” And his own heart quickened with fear.
So they let him pass. A few paces behind the old man, Graeme fell in and follow'ed
him. Followed him along the crooked Cableville road, up and down the steep hills until, with surprise, he saw the captain turn into his own gate.
Before Graeme could reach the sitting room, he heard the captain's voice.
“She jest left a note savin’ she was crossin’ the Basin on a little matter of business, and would not be home that night. I didn't say nuthin’ to nobody jest then. I waited. Tisn't like her a mite. She’s always been fair and square with me. but she’s been actin’ kind of queer lately, all uppity and highstrung. And Herb, well”—the captain paused and cleared his throat—“he’s been sweet on ’er for a considerable time. But to run away like this, the both of ’em, and not say nary a word.” His big shoulders sagged.
“I don’t believe it!” suddenly roared Graeme from the door.
His mother and the captain jumped in surprise.
“No?” growled the captain. “Well, I happen to know that gals is uncertain as a ketch in a howler. I don’t know, I don’t know.”
NEITHER of the absent ones returned the second night, though watchful eyes combed the Basin all day. The thin flames of wicks in lamp chimneys trembled in the strong breath of gossip which raged at supper bibles.
Once there came a rumor that the runaways had been seen, but there was little definite news to work on.
During those troubled days Mrs. Sanders also made an unexplained trip across the Basin. She mentioned white yam for mittens, as her errand.
“Don’t fret yourself into a stew, boy,” she coaxed her son after her return. “Things is never as bad as they look.”
“Oh, you’ve got Cap’n Danny,” he burst forth with childish vehemence, “but I’ve lost Sanky for ever.”
The rains finally stopped. Then came a thick soup of fog. Work on the road was temporarily abandoned.
Perversely, it hurt Graeme that the captain came so often to see his mother. Trouble seemed to bring them closer, while he was left floundering in desolate loneliness. “I’ll get out altogether. Sanky won’t even notice I’m gone,” he thought. “The road can go to the devil ... I hope every man, woman and child gets stuck in Deep Hollow forty times a week—and that Cap’n Danny goep plumb down to his chin whiskers.” Then one noon the telephone rang in the post-office. Five minutes later, out shot a boy who worked his skinny legs like pistons as he ran top-speed all the way to Deep Hollow. He burst into the Widow Sander’s kitchen without knocking, and stood there gasping. She was washing the dinner dishes, and Graeme sat gloomily in a rocking chair.
The boy took a long breath which ended in a gush of words.
“Herb Elm jest telephoned from across the Basin. He said that the man about the roads—I fergit his name—was on his way here now. He said you’d know, Graeme, what he meant. Said he didn’t want to give no names, ’count of people listenin’. Said the man would be here about half past two.” Graeme leaped to his feet.
“Are you sure, boy? The road commissioner?”
“I tell ye I can’t rightly remember the name—but I guess that’s about the heft of it.”
Graeme ran out of the kitchen door. The old glow of battle for the road roared again into flame. Exuberantly would he and the boys prepare for the arrival of the road commissioner. Had not all plans been carefully discussed?
Fortunately, most of his followers were busy at the wharves. With inconspicuous diligence and good luck, the original twelve were quickly located. And with this excuse and that, they left their trawl tubs and walked up the steep path to the road.
Toad Mullins, observing them from Herb Elm’s store—which he tended in the latter’s absence—smiled sourly and immediately betook himself to the house of Captain Danny.
“Reckon the time has come.” he mused aloud. “My, my. this town’ll see a dose of ructions afore we’re finished.”
In the meantime, the twelve young men went this way and that with speed and purpose.
“Ye say he’ll heave into sight about halfpast two, Graeme?”
“That was the message.”
“Wa'n’t too busy on his honeymoon to remember his promise, was he?” chuckled one.
“Well, Uncle Tinker’ll let us have his yoke of oxen, and Pop Dinsmore’ll drive his old mule and buggy. King’s got somethin’ he ' calls a horse that’s bound to stop if you give him a chance. Mat said he'd bring his , truck. It can't log off more than twenty miles on the level, so she’ll sure git stuck in the Hollow. And they’s three cows in that pasture close by, and a considerable number of geese and hens and children. The boys is fannin’ around like all possessed. Gosh Graeme, I never thought it’d happen! Couldn’t of been a better day, account of the muck and fog. Heavy goin’, Graeme, heavy goin’. That Herb! I'm bound to say he’s smart. Mustn’t never let on to the cap’n, though. But say, Graeme, where do ye reckon Sanky is, if she ain’t with Herb? And it don’t look like she is now.”
“That,” replied the young politician with freezing dignity, “is not for me to say. Get going on the plans.”
At two o’clock that afternoon, Mrs. Sanders looked out of a window which commanded the best view of the Hollow, What she saw and heard caused her to be more reflective than surprised. “What ails j folks?” she enquired of a mild, pink geranium.
There were the loud voices of oxen drivers, the choking gasps of a motor struggling up hill, the admonishing crack of a whip as an ancient horse clopped into view. A few j geese marched out in bad order, their ranks ! broken by general excitement.
Next, Mrs. Sanders observed Captain Danny and Toad Mullins saunter up and stop at her gate post.
“Maybe it would be better if we wa’n’t out quite so plain in sight of everyone,” Toad suggested to his companion.
“No,” growled the captain, “I aim to see everything first hand.”
At two-fifteen an ox-cart was stuck in the bad hole of Deep Hollow. A horse team, coming close behind, edged into the only available space left at that particular portion of the road. Several children who j spring from nowhere at the first breath of i excitement, arrived on the run. They ranged themselves in the way of every one. Three cows lumbered down from the mountain pasture and waited at the bars, full of natural curiosity. A boy crossed the i road, took a position at the bars as if he | were there for some purjxise. The trafile ¡ jam became, in the space of a few moments, I tight and effective.
Toad and Captain Danny were partially screened by a chokecherry bush. The town councillor looked gloomily inscrutable. The Toad was slyly alert.
By twos and threes, with well-feigned astonishment, came the twelve young men. At two-twenty there was a shout beyond Deep Hollow. Another ox-cart came down the opposite hill, and was immediately held up by the vehicle in the hole. At this point, and with surreptitious speed, the boy at the pasture bars let down the rails. Three cows stepped into the road and arranged themselves in a manner which increased difficulties on every side, cows having a flair for i this sort of thing.
TRUCK, earnestly piloted' by Mat. j J* crept up the grade nearest the Sanders j cottage. And this completed a group of two ox-carts, one horse team, three cows, a mule and wagon approaching from the rear, fourteen children, with more coming every minute, a flock of hens and seven geese all hissing at once.
“Quite some cute little mess o’ men and ! critters, ain’t they?" remarked Toad.
The captain grunted uncivilly.
Graeme Sanders next appeared. He went directly to the seat of the trouble. Capably he set about extracting the ox-cart from the hole. He timed his assistance to correspond with the expected arrival of the dignitary, in order to exhibit the herculean procedure necessary in a case of this kind. He hunted for boards. He asked Mat if he had a cable handy. Other young workers stepped forward and volunteered to help. You might have thought them a band of noble pilgrims going about the world for the express purpose of saving it.
Toad Mullins winked at Captain Danny. “Awful sorry, ain't they?” he said.
Deep Hollow at two-thirty was as inextricably packed with men, beasts, wheels, hens, children and oxen as it was possible to be. Graeme and the twelve had done their work well. The confusion was superb.
To add to the clamor, there could now be heard the impatient barking of a horn at the top of the hill beyond the Hollow. A glittering car of greater glory than usually penetrates to the isolated village of Cableville descended slowly into the mêlée. There was a glimpse of a liveried driver at the wheel. A passenger behind partially lowered curtains could be dimly seen on the rear seal.
This limousine instantly became involved with the seething activity of the Hollow.
“Back up, can’t you?” yelled Graeme at the elegant chauffeur of the big car.
But unfortunately the limousine could not back. Following close behind it, was a very small car more or less concealed by the bulk of the first one. This car slid, bumper to bumper, into the larger shadow, much as a pilot fish attends a shark. In the growing disturbance, no one paid any attention to it. And now, by a bit of bad judgment, the driver of the limousine interlocked his left front wire wheel with the hub of a wooden wheel of the ox-cart. Whereupon everything became enmeshed in a snarl of profanity.
As he lent his great strength to the emergency, Graeme’s mind buzzed with delighted thoughts. “Guess the high and mighty gent in the lim will get a first-hand idea of our roads after this. If he doesn’t help us to get more money, 111 eat my liât.”
The mournful nvxfing of three depraved cows echoed through the Hollow. A hen, finding evêry esca fie blocked, fluttered up to the august hood of the limousine, from which vantage she uttered squawk after squawk of utter panic.
It was exactly at this moment that Mrs. Sanders emerged from her front door. Like her son, she had courage. Swishing her ample skirts, she passed the two sentries at her gate and. picking her way among children and ox-carts, reached the limousine. In the hubbub, she was not conspicuous. With promptness, then, she mounted the running board of the car, and frankly stared at the occupant of the rear seat. Indeed, there might have been observed in her scrutiny something akin to an official at an enemy frontier.
Swiftly she thrust her head through the open window and stretched a plump arm toward the person seated in the dim interior.
“You yank off them black whiskers quicker’n blue lightnin’!” she screeched. “You do it afore we put a halter round your neck and run ye out of towfn. Herb Elm!” Her fingers caught and held, and finally yanked, the black whiskers free. She held them in her hand.
Her voice had quelled the racket. There came an orrfinous silence.
“Haw, haw !” Toad Mullin’s jeering laugh shattered the spell.
The captain came plunging around the chokecherry bush. There was a wild rush forward. And such a howl of rage and disappointment went up from the twelve that the very branches overhead trembled in the breeze of it.
Cows m<x)ed. Hens squawked. Children scuttled in every direction. And in a tidal wave of anger, the young workers fell bodily upon the glittering car which held the impersonation of the road commissioner. The d was pulled open. Greedy hands reached in to grab the kicking, yelling, suddenly terrified Herb Elm.
“You dirty, low-down ...” Graeme’s voice rose above the rest. Parting people left and right, he plucked the pseudocommissioner from the young workers as one might take a bone from a pack of dogs. He then lifted Herb by his coat collar out of their midst.
The others now pressed back into a circle of spectators. Graeme held his victim clear of the ground so that his feet wriggled like those of a helpless puppet.
“Come on, boys,” he called to them. "He’s not fit food for sharks, but let’s heave him over into the Basin.” He began to swing Herb back and forth, as if on the final curve he would loose him and let him go sailing through the air.
“A trick you said—to play on Cap’n Danny. The trick was planned to fool us, you skunk. But you won’t be feeling like thinking up any more—not for a good, long time ...” Words failed him.
The twelve, more and more enraged as the full scope of Herb’s trickery dawned on them, closed in again, eager to get at the writhing figure in Graeme's hands. What might have happened next is matter of conjecture, for at this [xint two figures emerged from the car hidden behind the limousine. They picked their way through the tumult ; and to the complete stupefaction of all beholders, one of these figures proved to be Sanky Gale, the other a strange man.
/^RAEME stared at them open-mouthed. ^ Never had Sanky looked prettier or more serene. To him came a thought so cruel, so humiliating that his hands went limp, and Herb dropped among the wheels of car and ox-cart. Herb and Sanky had left Cableville several days ago. And they had gone for the single purpose of planning this trick to fool him, to flout him publicly before the village, his friends and his foes.
Graeme seemed not to remember that he was in a crowd of people. He could only think of Sanky and himself, and his heart seemed bursting with the torture of it. He began speaking. “You did this thing, Sanky Gale; you and that white-livered shrimp of a Herb Elm. He pretended he wanted to help make the road better. Bah ! I see it all now. How could I have been such a blind fool?” He whirled until he looked at the town councillor, “And you, Cap’n Danny, you knew all the time. And Toad Mullins. I never thought it of you, Cap’n. And Sanky—all of you—so mean, so small!”
He was like a young giant overtaken by violence. The glance he threw at them was full of knives. The very animals had become strangely hushed.
“I thought I had friends in this town. I’ve worked like a nigger for you. I’ve never spared myself. I’ve paid no attention to your cheap talk about my college education, though you’re so stupid you hated me for it. I've done more hard work than any five menin this town —to help the town —and you dare, you wizzled-up, no-account, selfish polecats to play this trick on me—and laugh !”
Graeme’s eyes became glazed with a film of fury. Silence still lay on the throng.
“Mother, go into the house.” His voice lowered to a note of deep resonance, and mingled with it was the eternal lapping of waves on the shore below. “Pack up your belongings. We’re leaving Cableville tonight. We’ve had enough.” He seemed to grow tall before their eyes. “And I hope every one of you sink to your souls in your own blasted mud!”
Sanky struggled to reach him. The stranger followed. Upon this man’s face rested a curious expression compounded of amusement, exasperation and a desire to speak.
“Don’t say those awful things to us, Graeme,” begged Sanky. “Wait a minute.”
The stranger was now quite close.
“Young man.’’ he said, and the authority in his voice instantly quieted a growing murmur among the crowd, “one moment, if you please. I do not in the least understand this extraordinary j>eriormance. but let me assure you that if you’re the young man who has been fighting for better roads, then here’s mv hand on it. And moreover, if this particular spot is an example of the roadwork done in Cableville. the people’s money has been wasted. Why has there been no crushed stone used? There is plenty of raw material on the beach; I can see it from here. This mud is awful. I don’t know how we can ever pull out of it.”
The stranger spoke from a position between the limousine and the embedded ox-cart. A feeble wail from Herb rose from the ground. The man glanced down.
“I beg your pardon, young man. I had forgotten for the moment that you had been—er—dropped just here.”
A titter, that most damaging of sounds, fluttered through the crowd, and Herb Elm’s prestige w as destroyed for ever in that
moment. Then the gentleman looked straight into Graeme Sanders’ bewildered eyes.
“Mr. Sanders?” he asked, "I’m the road commissioner.”
That evening Graeme used the third degree on Sanky. He pinched her arm at intervals and then kissed her.
“Come clean, woman, come clean.”
“Well, you see. Graeme, I was cross at you. You think you’re too smart to live, and the way you walked out of the dance that night made me mad. One evening I happened to overhear Toad Mullins and Herb and dad concocting this mean plan to fool you. I listened to every word, and it made me furious. After all, you’ve been grand about the road. I couldn’t bear to have you hurt and disappointed, so I made Herb believe I wanted to help fool you. You knew' w'e crossed the Basin together?”
“Yes,” said Graeme looking grim. “I heard something of the sort.”
“I helped Herb to look up a fine car and a driver to rent. He explained the joke to the garageman over there, and they laughed and thought it a fine piece of business.”
“I’ll punch that garageman’s head the next time I cross the Basin,” promised Graeme.
“But Herb found he couldn’t rent the car and driver until today. He just had to wait around. And, of course, after he got the car he had the long drive around the Basin here. That gave me tw'o day’s time. I don’t know' how I thought I’d manage it, Graeme, but I was bound to get the real commissioner himself and fool them all. And I was lucky. I found out where he was, and went, mere by train. I’d left my roadster purposely at the railroad station up the river, so I could drive him down here if I got him.” Sanky laughed. “Well, they were putting a new road through at the place where the commissioner was, and when some one pointed him out to me I went straight up to him. I was scared to death, so I just started right in and told him the whole story, every word. He coughed, and looked kind of funny.”
“Whatdarned fine nerve,’’smiledGraeme, shaking his head in pride of her.
Sanky leaned into the hollow of his arm.
“And do you know what he said to me. slow-like as if he was talking to himself? ‘The young are sometimes right.’ Then he promised to come.”
“How' could he help himself?” asked Graeme.
“Your mother came over the Basin one day, and she found out about the trick, too, from the garageman. But she didn’t say anything.”
“She certainly made a mess of Herb’s black whiskers, though,” laughed Graeme.
Next day Captain Danny apologized like a gentleman.
“Ye won fair and square on the road, boy, but ye won’t win the election for town councillor.”
And Graeme didn’t.
But he won Sanky—which was better.