It so happened that there was a certain spinster whom Sam Price had been
trying to make up his mind to marry for ten years or more, and it was that
gentleman's habit to spend at least one day in the month in Harwich for the
purpose of paying his respects. In spite of the fact that his horse had been
"stun lame" the night before, Mr. Price was able to start for Harwich, via
Brampton, very early the next morning. He was driving along through Northcutt's
woods with one leg hanging over the wheel, humming through his nose what we may
suppose to have been a love-ditty, and letting his imagination run riot about
the lady in question, when he nearly fell out of his wagon. The cause of this
was the sight of fat Tom coming around a corner, with Jethro Bass behind him.
Lem Hallowell and the storekeeper had kept their secret so well that Sam, if he
was thinking about Jethro at all, believed him at that moment to be seated in
the Throne Room at the Pelican House, in the capital.
Mr. Price, however, was one of an adaptable nature, and by the time he had
pulled up beside Jethro he had recovered sufficiently to make a few remarks on
farming subjects, and finally to express a polite surprise at Jethro's return.
"But you come a little mite late, hain't you, Jethro?" he asked finally, with
all of the indifference he could assume.
"H-how's that, Sam—how's that?"
"It's too bad,—I swan it is,—but Lem Hallowell rode over to Harwich last
night and indicted the town for that piece of road by the Four Corners. Took
Will Wetherell along with him."
"D-don't say so!" said Jethro.
"I callate he done it," responded Sam, pulling a long face. "The court'll hev
to send an agent to do the job, and I guess you'll hev to foot the bill,
"C-court'll hev to app'int an agent?"
"Er—you a candidate—Sam—you a candidate?"
"Don't know but what I be," answered the usually wary Mr. Price.
"G-goin' to Harwich—hain't you?"
"Mebbe I be, and mebbe I hain't," said Sam, not able to repress a
"M-might as well be you as anybody, Sam," said Jethro, as he drove on.
It was not strange that the idea, thus planted, should grow in Mr. Price's
favor as he proceeded. He had been surprised at Jethro's complaisance, and he
wondered whether, after all, he had done well to help Chester stir people up at
this time. When he reached Harwich, instead of presenting himself promptly at
the spinster's house, he went first to the office of Judge Parkinson, as became
a prudent man of affairs.
Perhaps there is no need to go into the details of Mr. Price's discomfiture
on the occasion of this interview. The judge was by nature of a sour
disposition, but he haw-hawed so loudly as he explained to Mr. Price the
identity of the road agent that the judge of probate in the next office thought
his colleague had gone mad. Afterward Mr. Price stood for some time in the
entry, where no one could see him, scratching his head and repeating his
favorite exclamation, "I want to know!" It has been ascertained that he omitted
to pay his respects to the spinster on that day.
Cyamon Johnson carried the story back to Coniston, where it had the effect of
eliminating Mr. Price from local politics for some time to come.
That same morning Chester Perkins was seen by many driving wildly about from
farm to farm, supposedly haranguing his supporters to make a final stand against
the tyrant, but by noon it was observed by those naturalists who were watching
him that his activity had ceased. Chester arrived at dinner time at Joe
Northcutt's, whose land bordered on the piece of road which had caused so much
trouble, and Joe and half a dozen others had been at work there all morning
under the road agent whom Judge Parkinson had appointed. Now Mrs. Northcutt was
Chester's sister, a woman who in addition to other qualities possessed the only
sense of humor in the family. She ushered the unsuspecting Chester into the
kitchen, and there, seated beside Joe and sipping a saucer of very hot coffee,
was Jethro Bass himself. Chester halted in the doorway, his face brick-red,
words utterly failing him, while Joe sat horror-stricken, holding aloft on his
fork a smoking potato. Jethro continued to sip his coffee.
"B-busy times, Chester," he said, "b-busy times."
Chester choked. Where were the burning words of denunciation which came so
easily to his tongue on other occasions? It is difficult to denounce a man who
insists upon drinking coffee.
"Set right down, Chester," said Mrs. Northcutt, behind him.
Chester sat down, and to this day he cannot account for that action. Once
seated, habit asserted itself; and he attacked the boiled dinner with a ferocity
which should have been exercised against Jethro.
"I suppose the stores down to the capital is finer than ever, Mr. Bass,"
remarked Mrs. Northcutt.
"So-so, Mis' Northcutt, so-so."
"I was there ten years ago," remarked Mrs. Northcutt, with a sigh of
reminiscence, "and I never see such fine silks and bonnets in my life. Now I've
often wanted to ask you, did you buy that bonnet with the trembly jet things for
"That bonnet come out full better'n I expected," answered Jethro, modestly.
"You have got taste in wimmin's fixin's, Mr. Bass. Strange? Now I wouldn't
let Joe choose my things for worlds."
So the dinner progressed, Joe with his eyes on his plate, Chester silent, but
bursting with anger and resentment, until at last Jethro pushed back his chair,
and said good day to Mrs. Northcutt and walked out. Chester got up instantly and
went after him, and Joe, full of forebodings, followed his brother-in-law!
Jethro was standing calmly on the grass plot, whittling a toothpick. Chester
stared at him a moment, and then strode off toward the barn, unhitched his horse
and jumped in his wagon. Something prompted him to take another look at Jethro,
who was still whittling.
"C-carry me down to the road, Chester—c-carry me down to the road?" said
Joe Northcutt's knees gave way under him, and he sat down on a sugar kettle.
Chester tightened up his reins so suddenly that his horse reared, while Jethro
calmly climbed into the seat beside him and they drove off. It was some time
before Joe had recovered sufficiently to arise and repair to the scene of
operations on the road.
It was Joe who brought the astounding news to the store that evening. Chester
was Jethro's own candidate for senior Selectman! Jethro himself had said so,
that he would be happy to abdicate in Chester's favor, and make it
unanimous—Chester having been a candidate so many times, and disappointed.
"Whar's Chester?" said Lem Hallowell.
Joe pulled a long face.
"Just come from his house, and he hain't done a lick of work sence noon time.
Jest sets in a corner—won't talk, won't eat—jest sets thar."
Lem sat down on the counter and laughed until he was forced to brush the
tears from his cheeks at the idea of Chester Perkins being Jethro's candidate.
Where was reform now? If Chester were elected, it would be in the eyes of the
world as Jethro's man. No wonder he sat in a corner and refused to eat.
"Guess you'll ketch it next, Will, for goin' over to Harwich with Lem," Joe
remarked playfully to the storekeeper, as he departed.
These various occurrences certainly did not tend to allay the uneasiness of
Mr. Wetherell. The next afternoon, at a time when a slack trade was slackest, he
had taken his chair out under the apple tree and was sitting with that same
volume of Byron in his lap—but he was not reading. The humorous aspects of the
doings of Mr. Bass did not particularly appeal to him now; and he was, in truth,
beginning to hate this man whom the fates had so persistently intruded into his
life. William Wetherell was not, it may have been gathered, what may be called
vindictive. He was a sensitive, conscientious person whose life should have been
in the vale; and yet at that moment he had a fierce desire to confront Jethro
Bass and—and destroy him. Yes, he felt equal to that.
Shocks are not very beneficial to sensitive natures. William Wetherell looked
up, and there was Jethro Bass on the doorstep.
"G-great resource—readin'—great resource," he remarked.
In this manner Jethro snuffed out utterly that passion to destroy, and
another sensation took its place—a sensation which made it very difficult for
William Wetherell to speak, but he managed to reply that reading had been a
great resource to him. Jethro had a parcel in his hand, and he laid it down on
the step beside him; and he seemed, for once in his life, to be in a mood for
"It's hard for me to read a book," he observed. "I own to it—it's a little
mite hard. H-hev to kind of spell it out in places. Hain't had much time for
readin'. But it's kind of pleasant to l'arn what other folks has done in the
world by pickin' up a book. T-takes your mind off things—don't it?"
Wetherell felt like saying that his reading had not been able to do that
lately. Then he made the plunge, and shuddered as he made it.
"Mr. Bass—I—I have been waiting to speak to you about that mortgage."
"Er—yes," he answered, without moving his head, "er—about the mortgage."
"Mr. Worthington told me that you had bought it."
"Yes, I did—yes, I did."
"I'm afraid you will have to foreclose," said Wetherell; "I cannot reasonably
ask you to defer the payments any longer."
"If I foreclose it, what will you do?" he demanded abruptly.
There was but one answer—Wetherell would have to go back to the city and face
the consequences. He had not the strength to earn his bread on a farm.
"If I'd a b'en in any hurry for the money—g-guess I'd a notified you," said
"I think you had better foreclose, Mr. Bass," Wetherell answered; "I can't
hold out any hopes to you that it will ever be possible for me to pay it off.
It's only fair to tell you that."
"Well," he said, with what seemed a suspicion of a smile, "I don't know but
what that's about as honest an answer as I ever got."
"Why did you do it?" Wetherell cried, suddenly goaded by another fear; "why
did you buy that mortgage?"
But this did not shake his composure.
"H-have a little habit of collectin' 'em," he answered, "same as you do
books. G-guess some of 'em hain't as valuable."
William Wetherell was beginning to think that Jethro knew something also of
such refinements of cruelty as were practised by Caligula. He drew forth his
cowhide wallet and produced from it a folded piece of newspaper which must,
Wetherell felt sure, contain the mortgage in question.
"There's one power I always wished I had," he observed, "the power to make
folks see some things as I see 'em. I was acrost the Water to-night, on my hill
farm, when the sun set, and the sky up thar above the mountain was all golden
bars, and the river all a-flamin' purple, just as if it had been dyed by some of
them Greek gods you're readin' about. Now if I could put them things on paper, I
wouldn't care a haycock to be President. No, sir."
The storekeeper's amazement as he listened to this speech may be imagined.
Was this Jethro Bass? If so, here was a side of him the existence of which no
one suspected. Wetherell forgot the matter in hand.
"Why don't you put that on paper?" he exclaimed.
Jethro smiled, and made a deprecating motion with his thumb.
"Sometimes when I hain't busy, I drop into the state library at the capital
and enjoy myself. It's like goin' to another world without any folks to bother
you. Er—er—there's books I'd like to talk to you about—sometime."
"But I thought you told me you didn't read much, Mr. Bass?"
He made no direct reply, but unfolded the newspaper in his hand, and then
Wetherell saw that it was only a clipping.
"H-happened to run across this in a newspaper—if this hain't this county, I
wahn't born and raised here. If it hain't Coniston Mountain about seven o'clock
of a June evening, I never saw Coniston Mountain. Er—listen to this."
Whereupon he read, with a feeling which Wetherell had not supposed he
possessed, an extract: and as the storekeeper listened his blood began to run
wildly. At length Jethro put down the paper without glancing at his companion.
"There's somethin' about that that fetches you spinnin' through the air," he
said slowly. "Sh-showed it to Jim Willard, editor of the Newcastle Guardian.
Er—what do you think he said?"
"I don't know," said Wetherell, in a low voice.
"Willard said, 'Bass, w-wish you'd find me that man. I'll give him five
dollars every week for a letter like that—er—five dollars a week.'"
He paused, folded up the paper again and put it in his pocket, took out a
card and handed it to Wetherell.
James G. Willard, Editor.
"That's his address," said Jethro. "Er—guess you'll know what to do with it.
Er—five dollars a week—five dollars a week."
"How did you know I wrote this article?" said Wetherell, as the card trembled
between his fingers.
"K-knowed the place was Coniston seen from the 'east, knowed there wahn't any
one is Brampton or Harwich could have done it—g-guessed the rest—guessed the
Wetherell could only stare at him like a man who, with the halter about his
neck, has been suddenly reprieved. But Jethro Bass did not appear to be waiting
for thanks. He cleared his throat, and had Wetherell not been in such a
condition himself, he would actually have suspected him of embarrassment.
"W-won't say nothin' about the mortgage—p-pay it when you can."
This roused the storekeeper to a burst of protest, but he stemmed it.
"Hain't got the money, have you?"
"If I needed money, d'ye suppose I'd bought the mortgage?"
"No," answered the still bewildered Wetherell, "of course not." There he
stuck, that other suspicion of political coercion suddenly rising uppermost.
Could this be what the man meant? Wetherell put his hand to his head, but he did
not dare to ask the question. Then Jethro Bass fixed his eyes upon him.
"Hain't never mixed any in politics—hev you n-never mixed any?"
Wetherell's heart sank.
"No," he answered.
"D-don't—take my advice—d-don't."
"What!" cried the storekeeper, so loudly that he frightened himself.
"D-don't," repeated Jethro, imperturbably.
There was a short silence, the storekeeper being unable to speak. Coniston
Water, at the foot of the garden, sang the same song, but it seemed to Wetherell
to have changed its note from sorrow to joy.
"H-hear things, don't you—hear things in the store?"
"Don't hear 'em. Keep out of politics, Will, s-stick to store-keepin' and—and
Jethro got to his feet and turned his back on the storekeeper and picked up
the parcel he had brought.
"C-Cynthy well?" he inquired.
"I—I'll call her," said Wetherell, huskily. "She—she was down by the brook
when you came."
But Jethro Bass did not wait. He took his parcel and strode down to Coniston
Water, and there he found Cynthia seated on a rock with her toes in a pool.
"How be you, Cynthy?" said he, looking down at her.
"I'm well, Uncle Jethro," said Cynthia.
"R-remembered what I told you to call me, hev you," said Jethro, plainly
pleased. "Th-that's right. Cynthy?"
Cynthia looked up at him inquiringly.
"S-said you liked books—didn't you? S-said you liked books?"
"Yes, I do," she replied simply, "very much."
He undid the wrapping of the parcel, and there lay disclosed a book with a
very gorgeous cover. He thrust it into the child's lap.
"It's 'Robinson Crusoe'!" she exclaimed, and gave a little shiver of delight
that made ripples in the pool. Then she opened it—not without awe, for William
Wetherell's hooks were not clothed in this magnificent manner. "It's full of
pictures," cried Cynthia. "See, there he is making a ship!"
"Y-you read it, Cynthy?" asked Jethro, a little anxiously.
No, Cynthia hadn't.
"L-like it, Cynthy—l-like it?" said he, not quite so anxiously.
Cynthia looked up at him with a puzzled expression.
"F-fetched it up from the capital for you, Cynthy—for you."
A strange thrill ran through Jethro Bass as he gazed upon the wonder and
delight in the face of the child.
"F-fetched it for you, Cynthy."
For a moment Cynthia sat very still, and then she slowly closed the book and
stared at the cover again, Jethro looking down at her the while. To tell the
truth, she found it difficult to express the emotions which the event had
"Thank you—Uncle Jethro," she said.
Jethro, however, understood. He had, indeed, never failed to understand her
from the beginning. He parted his coat tails and sat down on the rock beside
her, and very gently opened the book again, to the first chapter.
"G-goin' to read it, Cynthy?"
"Oh, yes," she said, and trembled again.
"Er—read it to me?"
So Cynthia read "Robinson Crusoe" to him while the summer afternoon wore
away, and the shadows across the pool grew longer and longer.