Fiction

THE BLUE STONE

RODERICK LULL October 1 1947
Fiction

THE BLUE STONE

RODERICK LULL October 1 1947

THE BLUE STONE

RODERICK LULL

THE PROBLEM was who was going to marry my sister, and it was an old problem by the time the blue stone appeared. Kate is tall and lithe and brown and two years younger than I. She’s far better-looking than the rest of the family, and had so long a procession of suitors that I had forgotten the names and the faces of the first ones. Finally the competition was narrowed down to Peter Ramsay and Shane Murphy and it was clear that the contest wats coming to its end.

It had become a pitifully unequal contest.

They would sit around our house in the cool of the evening, while Ramsay talked to Kate. He was a fair talker and an imposing man in a way, with just the beginning of a paunch. A coming man in the county he made that clear without ever exactly putting it into words. He had the line air of confidence a young girl admires.

And Shane Murphy, the teacher, who was fluent enough for his classes of young fry, stared at Kate with the eyes of a discouraged puppy and said

less and less. I don’t want to give you the idea he was a milksop. Far from it. But he was on the shy side, and there was just no boasting in him.

1 used to upbraid him: “Look here, Shane. You haven’t the drive of a pullet. You let Peter Ramsay walk over you like a rug. How do you expect to get anywhere with an up-and-coming, ambitious girl like Kate?”

He’d just shake his head. He was a good-sized, nice-looking fellow with broad shoulders and intelligent black eyes. He had a head on him, too. but you’d never know it now. “It’s no good, George. I’m just a hick schoolteacher, and Pete’s got the second-best real-estate business around here. I heard they’re going to elect him vicepresident of the Civic Club too. I haven’t anything to offer, George.”

I told him that was nonsense. I mentioned the books he was planning to write some day, and the art icle he’d writ ten for the Scholastic Quarterly. I spoke of the time they had him on the radio during the Parent-Teachers’ hour. I said Kate had always been fond of him. They were words thrown to the wind.

“I guess I’m not a lucky man, George,” he said.

“Luck! Great Scott!”

You may gather from this that I favored Shane and opposed Peter Ramsay. You’re right. But I’d learned long ago not to try to force my ideas on my sister. She was that kind of a girl, now and forever.

BY THE time Hallahan, the peddler, showed up, the race seemed almost run. Kate hadn’t given Ramsay an answer yet, but the time was close. Ramsay had got his vice-presidency of the Civic Club and there was talk of electing him to the board

of the county Chamber of Commerce. There was no holding him.

As for Shane, he was teaching school, going through the motions like a weary prize fighter. He’d even given up an essay he’d planned to enter in a teachers’ prize contest.

“I just haven’t the heart for anything, George,” he said. “No ideas. Don’t worry about, me.”

The four of us were at my house the Sunday when Hallahan, t he peddler, came by with his high-piled rig.

An old-fashioned peddler is a curiosity these days, but Hallahan was one. He’d been a peddler all his life, he liked being a peddler, and he could see no reason why the passing fashions of the time should affect, him" He had the usual stock of drab things, like pots and pans, that people needed, and bright things, like fancy shawls, that people didn’t need but wanted with their hearts. We were old friends, Hallahan and I, and I was always glad to see him.

I had left, the house and was out in the yard, looking at the fish pond, when I heard the clattering of Hallahan’s rig.

“Greetings,” Hallahan said. “You’re not looking as well as you did last year. I’m glad you’re here because the other day I came on a book and—”

We talked for a time there, near the fishpond. Then I called to the people in the house to come out.

They came, with Ramsay lagging behind after all, an executive of tli Civic Club had no use for peddler My sister bought a scarf, because she liked Hallahan, though it cost more than it. would have in a store. Shane bought a tattered volume of Irish verse that Hallahan swore he’d brought over himself from the old country in better days.

“I’ve nothing much this trip,” Hallahan said. “Just the old things that go year in and year out. But I do have this.” He reached into a small box and came up with a rough blue stone, an inch or so across.

We all stared at it. It didn’t look like much, just the kind of stone you might find in any stream bed and my sister said so.

Hallahan nodded. “It does that,” he said softly. “And maybe it is I don’t pretend to know. But it’s supposed to be a lucky stone.”

Behind me, Ramsay snorted. Hallahan looked at him, very briefly. “It came from India, I’m told. And maybe that’s a fiction and maybe it’s the truth, and who can say for sure?”

Shane took the stone and turned it over. A man whose specialty is Irish folklore is a lover of legend and he looked at it with interest. “I know,” he said. “A wishing stone. A thing like the monkey’s paw.”

“No,” Hallahan said. “Not that. I’ve no faith in wishing things myself. I put. t hem down as superstitions, not fit for the intelligent mind. I’m told this stone will bring luck to certain people—certain people only, mind you. Even then it won’t do all the work by itself. Not by any means, sir—it isn’t, so to say, the saviour of the spineless. It just sort of helps things along when it gets the right cooperation.”

Shane smiled. “A lucky piece,” he said. “And clear from India. What do you ask for it, Mr. Hallahan?”

Hallahan shook his head doubtfully. “Who can place a value on a lucky piece, sir? It may be worth all, and it may be worth nothing, and no one can say. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You take it, and if it doesn’t work for you there’s no harm done. And if it does—well, I’ll be back in a season or so and we can talk it over then.”

That was the way Shane got the lucky stone. Ramsay started to make a joke about it, but Kate stopped him. After all, she said, it did no harm to go along with an old man when he was trying to be nice— he’d taken no money for it. He was Irish, and everyone knew the Irish had faith in lucky pieces, just as they had faith in the little people.

“Anyway,” she said, “it’s a pretty stone.”

A week or two went by, and nothing changed. Nothing more was heard of the lucky stone, and I began to wonder if Shane had thrown it away. But then, he couldn’t very well do that, for it still belonged to Hallahan and he was simply holding it on a loan basis.

ONE EVENING I went down to see him. He lived in a big, pleasant room in Mrs. McCreery’s old house. The furniture was all turn-ofthe-century, the electric lights were wired gas fixtures and there were books everywhere, overrunning their shelves and the tables and chairs. It was a noble room.

I said, “Whatever became of that blue stone?” “That? Oh, it’s here.” Shane opened a desk drawer and I noticed, approvingly, that he knew just where it was. “I can’t say that it’s done any good.”

“Remember what Hallahan told you. It’s not supposed to work by itself.”

Shane smiled and picked up the little stone. “It would be good to be able to believe things like that. I suppose millions of people do.”

I said “Don’t be superior. Why, I remember a piece I read one time—I’ve forgotten who wrote if now, but it was a famous man, a professor of some sort—that told some remarkable things about what talismans have done. Things that could be proved—well, almost proved. I’ll look it up for you.” He was still smiling, but there was a new interest in his eyes. “I’d like to see it, of course. But it’s ridiculous. After all, George.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Curious things happen. You know what Shakespeare says—‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ It never pays to be too sure, Shane.”

“That was three centuries ago. How’s Kate?”

“Fine. When I left the house she was fixing to go out with Pete. She was looking mighty nice,

Continued, on page 29

Luck, like love, is where you find it, Shane discovered with the help of a peddler and a girl called Kate

The Blue Stone

Continued from page 21

too. I think they’re going to a dance at Sheridan.”

He said, “Oh,” and rustled some papers on the desk, then picked up the stone again and dropped it with a little thud.

“I’ll be going,” I said. “You might drop over tomorrow night. Pete Ramsay’s going out of town. He’s got a big deal coming up in the south. Says it’s a mighty big deal.”

Shane looked sad. When I left his room he was playing with the stone, turning it over and over in his hands, examining it in detail. And just as I closed the door he began to clean the fingermarks from it with a handkerchief.

Now, it wouldn’t be right to say this lucky stone changed Shane all of a sudden, but he seemed more assured the next time he came around. More talkative. Of course, Ramsay’s absence had something to do with that— there wasn’t anybody holding the floor all the time.

Kate was nice to him too. She’d always liked Shane, even if he wasn’t a driving character. She smiled at him and made him welcome. And she didn’t make any cracks when all of his change spilled out on the floor through a hole in his pocket and the blue stone was among it. She just said it was fun to have a pocket piece like the stone, something with a real story to it.

One night Shane came over with a little stack of manuscripts and hemmed and hawed around. Then said he’d been thinking he might send something in to the essay contest after all. It couldn’t do any harm, and he’d been writing a piece just to pass the idle hours. He had a theory on how to teach Irish verse and legend without ramming it down the children’s reluctant throats.

Well, I said, that sounded fine to me, and let’s hear it. So he read it to us and it seemed to have its merits. It was hardly revolutionary, hut so far as I knew it was the kind of thing you’d enter in that sort of a contest. Kate sat there listening, nodding now and again, and when he was done she said warmly, “I think that’s splendid, Shane. Just splendid.”

His eyes were shining. “Do you really, Kate?”

“Of course I do, Shane.”

“Then I better go home and start copying it. I haven’t much time. The deadline comes first of the week.”

It was a fine cool night and I walked a way with him. He said, “You know, George, it seemed to me Kate was pretty friendly tonight.”

He was looking for the answer he wanted the way a pup looks for a handout. “She’s always friendly with you, Shane. When you’ve got something to say she’s right there listening. She naturally likes men who do things— men with some get-up-and-go. And when Ramsay comes back—”

“Oh, yes,” he said, and I knew I’d stepped on the pup’s toes. “Yes. Ramsay. When is he coming back, George?”

“He said he’d he away quite some time, though he hopes to come home for a day now and then. He’ll he hack inside of six weeks for sure—he wouldn’t miss the opening of deer season. He never does. The fact is, he’s asked Kate to go hunting with him the first day.”

“Oh. I guess he’s quite a shot?” “Fair,” I said. “Fair to middling and maybe a trifle better than that. Why?” “I was just wondering. I guess Kate likes to hunt.”

I could practically see the thought

forming inside of his mind. He was trying to push himself out of his shell, and he was carrying that lucky blue stone around in his pocket.

“Sure she does, Shane. She grew up in the country and it comes natural to her. All the men she ever knew were good shots, so it’s a thing she expects of a man. If you want to try, there’s a good book in the library about it. And I could lend you a rifle. There’s a big element of luck to hunting. A lucky man will beat a good man in the field every time. After all, finding something to shoot is where the luck comes in.” When I got back home Kate was just hanging up the telephone, looking pleased and flattered. “It was Pete. He called me long distance, all that way.”

I said sourly, “How’s his deal?”

“He says it looks fine, but he’s got an awful lot of work to do.”

THE NEXT day Shane called me.

He had his essay in the mail—he’d worked most of the night finishing it. And now would I lend him that rifle I’d mentioned?

I took it over, slipping the case under my coat so Kate wouldn’t see it. Shane had the book from the library and he’d gone carefully through the sighting and aiming instructions.

I said, “Now listen, my lad. What do you want to do?”

“Well, I thought I might like to do a little deer hunting. It seems a shame to live in good game country and not take advantage of it. And a man can alway use a hobby and—”

It was like a kid pulling a mask over his face—that transparent.

I said, “Take your coat off. Now listen to me. First learn how to hold this thing. Remember that it’s got to be snug against your shoulder or it’ll knock your silly ears off. Remember that you support it with the bones of your body as well as your muscles. Watch—”

1 took him through the routine— holding, sighting, the trigger squeeze, tracking—half a dozen times. 1 kept my eye on him until he had a rough idea of what it was about.

It was all very silly, of course. Butthen, a man doesn’t carry a rock around in his pocket without a reason.

I hoped, naturally, that Shane would t urn out to be a horn shot. He wasn’t. Two weeks later when I took him out in the country I saw that it was going to be a long haul. In a reasonable length of time he might learn to hit a buck deer if it wasn’t more than fifty yards away, if he didn’t get nervous, if the wind was right, if luck was holding him by the hand—and if the buck was tethered. It was like that.

“You’re coming fine,” I said. “Though I’d pin more faith on that essay than your shooting.”

He put the rifle down, looking discouraged, and I hurried back into the breach. “But as I said, if a man gets lucky out hunting he’s all right. The more 1 think of it, the more important I know luck is. Just you hang on to that stone.”

He looked annoyed. “I wish you’d stop talking about thatstone, George. After all, I’m not so childish as to have any faith in it.”

I said, “Have you got the stone in your pocket, Shane? Or haven’t you?” He looked sheepish. And that was all there was to that conversation.

In due course, Ramsay reappeared. The deal was moving along, he said. It looked like it might turn out even bigger than he’d hoped. He brought Kate a very pretty set of dishes, which he said were for her,hope chest. He laughed heartily, and Kate giggled.

Then he mentioned the coming deer season, and I got my lick in. “If you don’t mind, Shane and I’ll go along with you. I wasn’t going out opening day this year, but Shane suggested it. Seems he’s itching for his buck.”

Ramsay laughed. “Shane? Does he know which end of a rifle the bullet comes out of? I don’t want to be involved in any suicides.”

“He might be quite a shot, Pete,” I said. “You never know. I was thinking we might go to the Scoggins place.” His ears perked up at that. Old Man Scoggins has the best deer land in the country but he won’t let anybody shoot there except a few friends. Pete looked a little undecided.

“The Scoggins place has deer on it,” he said. “Hut the fact is, Scoggins and I—”

“I know all about it,” I said. Pete and Scoggins had split wide open over a real-estate deal. “I can fix it with Old Man Scoggins. It won’t be any trouble at all. And I’m hankering to get out in those woods of his, over toward the mountain.”

Pete snorted. “His woods! Why, if you want deer hunting, you want to go down along the stream where those big meadows are. That’s where you’ll get your buck.”

“Maybe yes and maybe no,” I said. “As for me, I’ll take the woods.”

Pete shook his head, the way you shake it at a backward child. “Okay,” he said. “It’s up to you. Kate and I’ll try the meadows and you and Shane can have the woods and we’ll see how we come out. Only you’ll have to do the fixing with Scoggins.”

Shane dropped in later on, and I told him we were going to make a party of it opening day. He looked nervous, but managed to put up a bold front. Be mighty good to get a buck, he observed confidently. Mighty good.

The next day I met Old Man Scoggins. We had a talk, and he was very co-operative. He had no use for Pete Ramsay, but he liked me and was well disposed toward Shane.

THE BIG news came three days before deer season opened. Shane came tearing over with an air-mail envelope in his hand. He’d won second prize in the essay contest and he was as excited as if it had been the Nobel prize. There wasn’t much in it financially, but according to him it was the kind of thing that built you up in your profession.

“That’s fine, Shane,” I said. “You told the paper yet?”

“No. It would seem like blowing my own horn. And it was only the second prize.”

I made him go right over with his letter. And 1 phoned the editor, just to make sure there’d be no slip-up. The paper came out two days later with the story all over the front page. They ran Shane’s picture and the caption said it was a unique honor for anyone in our little town to win such a prize.

That night Kate gave a little party, with a cake she baked herself and a bottle of sherry. She praised Shane so much he blushed like a girl, and she didn’t pay any attention to Ramsay’s glumness. Ramsay sat in a corner and smoked and grunted. The only time he really spoke up was when I said something about going hunting the next day. He laughed sarcastically and said Shane would be smarter if he stayed home and wrote some more essays, instead of playing around with anything as dangerous as a gun. Shane didn’t say anything, but he set his jaw and gave Ramsay a long, hard look. It was a look that said he meant business, and no fooling.

We got away at dawn in the morning and drove out to Scoggins’ place.

“Are you still going to try those woods?” Pete asked me.

“Sure. Why not?”

“You wouldn’t want to make a little wager on it, would you?”

“Well,” I said, “I wouldn’t mind betting fifty we beat you.” The supercilious way of him made my hackles rise.

“Done,” he said. “You might as well pay me now.” Shane looked at me as though I’d lost my mind.

We split up then, Kate and Ramsay going down toward the meadows, and Shane and I starting up into the timber. I led the way. We didn’t see a thing for three hours. Just before eleven we came into a little glade near one corner of the Scoggins property, and there was Shane’s buck.

It was a fine buck, and not over forty yards away. I took a quick look at Shane trying to bring his rifle to his shoulder. He had a green tinge to his face and I yelled “Quick! Shoot!” The buck broke for cover and Shane fired. There was the blast of the gun, followed by a tremendous silence. The glade was empty.

Shane looked at me. “I missed him,” he said. “I missed that easy shot.”

We started across the glade when Old Man Scoggins’ voice came up to us from below. “Hey,” Old Man Scoggins yelled. “If you fellows want to come here you can have your buck.”

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Shane yelled like a maniac and tore through the woods. Two hundred yards away Old Man Scoggins was standing beside the dead buck.

“Neck shot,” Old Man Scoggins said. He spit tobacco, an art at which he is an acknowledged expert. “Nice shooting.”

Shane just stood there looking at the buck with his eyes as big as soup plates. He said, “You mean I shot him?”

“Guess so,” Old Man Scoggins said. “Nobody else fired a shot lately.”

“I’ll be damned,” Shane said, and his voice was faint.

“Best buck I’ve seen in some time,” Old Man Scoggins said, and I knew he was telling the truth.

Then he said, “My boy’s coming up this way with the truck later on. We’ll bring him down for you.”

Shane and I worked slowly back toward the meadows. I got one long running shot, but missed. When we finally reached Kate and Pete Ramsay they were sitting on a log, looking tired, and Old Man Scoggins’ truck was just coming along the little narrow road with Pete’s buck in back.

“What luck?” 1 said.

Ramsay made a very impolite sound. “There’s no damn deer in miles of this place,” he said. “I heard a couple of shots—you must have been practicing on the trees.”

The truck drove up and stopped. Old Man Scoggins got out and bit a fresh chew off his plug.

“Here’s your buck, Murphy,” he said. “That head’s worth taking to the taxidermist.”

Ramsay jumped to his feet, ran to the truck and looked at the buck, and when he swung around to face Shane his face was working. “You shot that?”

“Yes,” Shane said. “Yes, I guess I did.”

“Well, all I’ve got to say is that it must have been tied up so it couldn’t move. And somebody must have aimed the rifle for you.”

I wouldn’t have thought Shane had it in him. He certainly wasn’t a fighting man at heart. But l suppose some things will turn any man into a fighting man, especially when the right girl’s around. Shane took two quick steps forward and swung. It was a nice punch, straight and true to the button. And for the next ten minutes Peter Ramsay was with us in body only. He looked peaceful with his eyes closed.

Kate looked at Pete lying there, and then she looked at Shane, and

said, “You know, Shane, I’d have socked him myself if you hadn’t. He’d no right to say a thing like that.” Shane unclenched his right hand and the blue stone fell to the ground. He started. “I didn’t remember I had it in my hand,” he said slowly. “I was just sort of holding the stone, and then when he said that I got mad and—”

“No wonder he’s out so prettily,” I said. “We’ll not mention the stone to him when he comes to. It serves him right anyway.”

Kate picked the stone up and gave it to Shane. “Don’t you go losing that,” she said softly. Then they were looking at each other, and after a minute I knew they’d forgotten anybody else was around.

KATE and Shane got married a month later, and I was best man. It was a big wedding. Everybody in town came, except, of course, Peter Ramsay.

The only other thing you might be interested in happened the best part ot a year later. I’d been out of town for a week and when I came back Kate cornered me right off. She said, “George, I found out something today.” “Go ahead and tell me. I’m your brother, you know.”

“Don’t try to be funny. Old Man Scoggins got drunk and he said you fixed it up with him to run all the deer out of his meadows and up into the woods that day. And he told how he shot a buck and had it waiting there, just the way you asked him to. Shane never even came close to that deer he shot. Probably it’s running still.”

I squirmed a little. “You know the things people say when they’re drunk, Kate, and Shane might have winged his deer. You can’t tell for sure.” “That isn’-t all of it, George.” “Well?”

“Mr. Hallaban came through yesterday. And I just happened to look in our old fishpond and noticed blue stones there like the one he gave Shane. So I wormed the truth out of him. He admitted you handed him the stone before the rest of us came out of the house that day, and asked him to put on that act. I made him tell me all about it, George.”

I grinned at her. “Well,” I said, “I didn’t have anything to do with the essay. You can’t pin that on me.” “But you did the rest of it, George.” “Anyhow, Kate,” I said, “it was a lucky stone. It proved that. A lucky stone can come from anywhere—even our old fishpond. It doesn’t have to come from India.”

Kate laughed. She put her hand on my arm. “It was a lucky stone, George,” she said. “A mighty lucky stone.” if