ask me to. I wish t you d go on away from here.
Mr. Woodmansee, won t you make her go way? I
don t know anything about your old Augustus! Ma!
Where s ma? Botherin the life and soul out o me
with her old Augustus! The idea! Ma!" And Miss
Pollock burst into a fit of crying and begged to be
taken into the house; she never was treated so in
her life; the key to the side door was under the
kitchen step, if ma was out; she couldn t help it if
Augustus Biddle took out forty marriage licenses;
regular old Molly he was, anyhow; she wouldn t
176 FOLKS BACK HOME
have him if he was the last man on earth. She wished
she had never laid eyes on him.
Mrs. Biddle walked out of the front gate, but
turned to see the tearful Miss Pollock being sup
ported on Mr. Woodmansee s arm and led into the
house, comforted by him in words that she could
not hear, but whose substantial import she could
imagine as well as the rest of the neighborhood. It
gave her pride a rude shock to hear her son charac
terized as a " regular old Molly, * and indignantly
rejected as a possible husband by a snip of a girl
that wasn t fit to black his shoes for him. He was too
good for her, so he was, if she only knew it. She d
tell her so too the next time she saw her. The very
Mrs. Biddle went back to her own house and got
little Clarence Longbrake to come over and crawl
through the cellar window and open the back door
for her. This was her homecoming; this her wel
come. She went through into the parlor and opened
the shutters. The plants she had prized so highly
stood yellow and rigid. She plucked a leaf and it
crackled in her grasp. Papers were scattered all
about. The bottom of the stove seemed bursting
with ashes which had spilled out on the carpet. The
bureau drawers were half pulled out, and from them
poured a cascade of soiled collars and rumpled
shirts. All the lessons of neatness which she had
THE ELOPEMENT 177
taught him for years were forgotten the minute her
back was turned. No; she would not do him that in
justice. He would have been all right if he hadn t
been led away. But that the tender watch care of
a mother all these years should have been as a dream
of the night as soon as a silly girl with a doll s face
looked at him Oh, that was hard, that was hard
to bear! This was her homecoming; this her wel
come. She sank into a chair and crumbled the
dry leaf in her fingers. Her eyes burned. She won
dered at it a moment, for she was a woman not
used to weep. All of a sudden, she caught an inward,
quivering breath and the tempest of her grief and
loneliness burst forth. Like Jeremiah amid the ruins
of Jerusalem, she wept as she mused on the former
But when the storm had overpast, she roused her
self and set about straightening up the house. She
went out to the grocer s and the butcher s and got
materials for supper. She expected Augustus home
by then. The potatoes and the coffee she set on the
back of the stove to keep warm for him. She would
not fry the steak until he got home. As it grew
later and later she went oftener to the door to listen
for him. Once she was sure she heard him open the
front gate, but it was only her imagination. At last
she cooked the meat herself and sat down alone to
eat what she could.
178 FOLKS BACK HOME
As it came on to nine o clock, his bedtime ever
since he was twelve years old, she remembered that
his bed had probably not been made for the day.
One glance showed her that it had not been made
or the linen changed since she had left, and she had
been so particular to tell him about it. Something
saddened her as she stripped off the sheets, wrinkled
and twisted into ropes. For thirty years he had not
slept away from home, not since the time he had
gone with her to York State on a visit. How many
times had she heard him say his prayer at that
bed and had called out to him from the sitting
" Good night! Sleep tight! "
She turned the covers back all ready for him and
sat down to wait. It was very late for him. The town
clock struck ten. She went into the sitting room and
wound and set the old clock on the shelf. Overcome
by an impulse she could not restrain, she went out
on the back porch and, looking into the blackness
of the night, called out as of old time:
But only an echo came back to her. Slowly she
turned and went inside.
THE ELOPEMENT 179
" The preacher didn t appear to notice where
you changed that one into a three, did he, Augus
" No," said Augustus.
" At any rate, he didn t say anything about it,
" No," said Augustus.
"But, laws! I won t be thirty-nine till November.
I was jist about Carrie s age now when she was
" Uh-huh. How old are you, Augustus? "
"Who? Me? I ll be forty the last of Septem
They sat before the grate fire in the bridal cham
ber of the Eagle Hotel in Sunbury after a supper
at which the landlord had surpassed himself. There
were four kinds of cake and eight kinds of preserves
on the table, not " boughten stuff," either. The land
lord s wife had put up all the preserves herself, they
had so much fruit on the lot.
"What makes you so still, Augustus?"
" Oh, I don t know."
A long pause.
" You ain t sorry, are you? "
" Huh? "
" I say, you ain t sorry, are you? "
* " W y, no. Oh, no, no."
i8o FOLKS BACK HOME
Another long pause.
" W y, what made you think I was sorry? "
" Oh, nothing, only you was so kind o still. You
right sure you ain t, now? "
" W y, of course not."
Augustus sat looking at the soft-coal fire from
which now and then a cinder fell. The woman rocked
in the rocking chair slowlier and slowlier. She
stopped. Then she spoke as one determined to settle
the matter once and forever.
" Because if you are," she said, " you ve only got
your own self to blame, for it won t be my fault if
you don t have a happy home. Mr. Pollock, he says
to me, Carrie/ he says them was pretty near the
last words he said to me, that is sensible, for toward
the last he was kind o flighty and light-headed
Carrie, he says to me, you ve be n a faithful, true,
and lovin wife to me, you have, he says. And so
I was, and so I ll be to you, Augustus. For I could
have got married many s the time before this, as I
told you this afternoon when we was goin apast
Mumma s place, but seem like I didn t want to while
Carrie was little, but now that she s growed up and
likely to git Frank Woodmansee now any day, I
don t deny but what I was lookin around some, and
I don t care; I don t think twas no more n right
that I should, me not bein thirty-nine till next No
vember, and jist in the prime of life, as you might
THE ELOPEMENT 181
say, and what ud I do if Carrie was to git married
and me all alone in that great big house? And I al
ways did like you, Augustus. Seem like you had
such nice ways about you and understood a woman
so well. Mr. Pollock, he was real good to me, that
is, as good as he knowed how, but he was a kind o
roughlike sometimes. And then ag in you ain t like
some o these men that s raised careful. They re apt
to be dilicate and Nancified, as I told Carrie. And
I knowed all the time that Carrie was jist plumb
distracted about Frank Woodmansee, only he was
kind o half after me for a while there, and she only
took up with you to make him jealous. Now, that s
jist the pine-blank facts I m a-tellin you. You mind
I told you that when we first started out this after
noon so s to kind o git away from your ma till
you got things straightened out like. And I told you
then jist like I tell you now that Carrie s a nice
enough girl, for all she s my daughter, and I wouldn t
say a word ag in her for the world, but she ain t
no kind of a girl to marry a man that s be n brought
up for so long by a woman that s as good a house
keeper as your mother is, because I know she s a
good housekeeper, for everybody says so, and as
near as I can find out, she does jist exactly as I do
in everything, except I always cook a little car
rots with my peas. They taste so much better that
way. But I kin cook em the other way. Now, your
i8a FOLKS BACK HOME
ma s punkin pie is jist mine to a T, because I tasted
hern at a social at Center Street one time. And you
said you got the notion you wanted to git married,
and now was your only chance while your ma was
away, and if you d a* sispicioned she was a-goin to
come back to-day you d a spoke to Carrie before,
and you thought if you got the marriage license it
ud kind o bluff her into takin you, but it wouldn t,
because I know that girl too well, and still you
didn t want to git it in Minuca Center, because if
she didn t have you after all how flat you d feel and
all like that and what should you do, now that you
had paid a dollar for the license, and it seemed like
a waste o money not to make some use of it, and
you ast me yourself now, didn t you? if I wouldn t
marry you, and I said you could change that one
into a three so s nobody d ever notice it, and it
would be all right, for my name is Carrie Pollock
as well as Carrie s is, and you put your arm around
me and hugged me and kissed me. Now, ain t that
" Yes, that s so," said Augustus.
" Well," she said, and began rocking again. She
seemed a little inclined to cry, but she stopped when
she heard the big clock downstairs in the empty
dining room strike slowly and hoarsely.
"Ten o clock," she said. "My! it s late, ain t
THE ELOPEMENT 183
Augustus sat silent for a minute, and then he cried
" I didn t say nothin ," she said.
" Oh . . . oh, . . ." Augustus seemed like one
waking from a dream. " I thought I heard ma callin
me. Ho-hum! I m sleepy, ain t you?"
THE FICTIONAL MIND
THERE is no such thing as realism in fic
tion," declared Lippincott, even more dog
matically than if he thoroughly believed
what he was saying. " It is a contradiction in terms.
It is the marvelous that interests, and no man can
tell a marvelous tale and tell the truth. The people
won t have a true story. They want the mirror held
up to Nature, yes, but at such an angle that the
sedate old dame appears another Nini Pattes-en-Vair.
The fictional mind is at enmity against reason, for it
is not subject to the law of reason, neither indeed can
Scrimgeour sat still, making lines on the table
cloth with his fork. He was not cynical, for he was
but three-and-twenty, and nothing ailed him. The
red in his cheeks clustered about a white spot just
over his newly cut wisdom teeth. That white spot
is the sigillum wherewith Nature certifies the bache
lor s degree of Golden Optimism. Lippincott, on the
other hand, was entitled to be a destructive critic
of the universe, for he had reached the mature age
of thirty-five, and in that gray November light one
THE FICTIONAL MIND 185
sees, if ever, the things of life in their true values.
Having no more of his own to dissect, he was ruth
lessly ripping open Scrimgeour s dolls and scatter
ing their sawdust all about.
Scrimgeour thought on or thought he was
thinking and presently came out with: "Truth is
stranger than fiction." He said this with the air
of a man that has driven at least one hen into the
" It is seldomer met with," admitted Lippincott,
with that superior smile that made his friends often
wish to wring his neck, and proceeded: "But the
saying itself is an illustration of the workings of the
fictional mind. That was what made Tertullian say,
Credo quia impossibile est. It uses the paradox as
astronomers use the parallax."
" For instance " prompted Scrimgeour.
" For instance, the case of Judge Blymire. He was
a prominent lawyer of Palmyra, and had been
county judge of Tadmor County. He had a son. We
were boys together. The first Mrs. Blymire, a deli
cate, romantic woman, lived long enough to give
the baby a name out of the last novel she had read.
She called him Percy. The Palmyra boys democra
tized that to Skinner. Skinner Blymire," mused
Lippincott, dreamily letting his eyes relax their fo
cus, and in that blur, as in the magician s drop of
ink, he saw again the picture of the dusty streets
i86 FOLKS BACK HOME
of an Ohio town, and the foolish, happy, bare
footed boys playing there, as if the years had never
passed. With a sigh, he recalled himself and went
" The judge married again when Percy was four
years old. A stepmother for the boy. I can see your
fictional mind prepare itself for a tale of petty per
secutions and small cruelties. Since the days of Cin
derella this is what is expected of stepmothers, and
yet I never knew of one that was not scrupulously
just. Mrs. Blymire was fairer to Percy than his own
father. He used to give the boy the most terrific
beatings for the least failings, and was perpetually
checking him with, * Don t do this/ and Let that
alone. He was a precise man, and his love for his
son expressed itself in the effort to make the lad a
perfect specimen of grave deportment. Percy idol
ized his stepmother. He loved her drolling and her
keen sense of humor, but his father It is pretty
hard when a son hates his father.
" There is an old saying: * If you have the name,
you might as well have the game/ and when Skin
ner found that his father was bound to believe noth
ing but bad of him he apparently did what he could
to justify the belief. And yet I know now that there
was no evil in the boy, only mischief. He began to
run with a wild crowd of quacking-voiced young
fellows, and sometimes they were out till as late
THE FICTIONAL MIND 187
as ten and eleven o clock at night. One Saturday
evening, he and four or five other hobble-de-hoys
that had been swimming at the Copperas Banks, be
low town, came through the deadly still streets of
Palmyra, cutting up and singing after the fashion
of their kind. It is exasperating, I grant you, but
it is not the greatest sin. Bill McPherson, the police
force of the town, checked them in his bossy, im
portant way. They sauced him, and he arrested
Charley Payne. Took him by the collar and tore it
off. The boy struck at him in anger. Then Bill
clubbed him, and Skinner and the rest interfered. He
declared them all under arrest, and those that didn t
get away he charged with rioting, disorderly con
duct, resisting an officer pretty nearly every mis
demeanor on the books, I think.
. " Word was sent to the parents, and they came
and bailed out their sons. All except Judge Blymire.
He let Percy stay in jail. Depend upon it, before the
last bell rang for church next morning, the whole
town knew all about it, and how the judge had said
to Mrs. Blymire: If he d been home at nine o clock,
like I told him to, this wouldn t have happened. I
hope it will be a lesson to him.
" We all looked at the Blymire pew, but only the
judge and his wife stood up at the * Dearly beloved
brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places.
We hoped that something would move the old man,
i88 FOLKS BACK HOME
but he stiffened himself with anything but an hum
ble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart/ He knew
that the people were looking at him and whisper
ing, but he was sure that he was doing the right
thing for his son s temporal and eternal welfare. I
watched Alice Prouty, for she and Percy were boy-
and-girl sweethearts as all Palmyra knew. It was
plain that she had been crying.
" I remember going past and looking at the un
responsive jail windows that hot Sunday afternoon
and wondering what was happening to Skinner. A.s
I lingered, Bill McPherson came along, dragging a
drunken woman he had arrested over across the
tracks. She had been fighting, and she was scream
ing out such words as made all the windows of the
houses near the jail come down in a hurry, stifling
though the day was. After she was locked up, I
could hear her yelling, the bare walls of the cala
boose making her voice sound hollow, as if some
one were speaking in a cistern.
" I have often pictured the boy lying on the bare
board in his dark cell, weeping himself to sleep
that Saturday night, rousing at intervals to weep
again at the thought that he alone of all his com
panions was left to endure its shame. I can fancy
him waking at the first blush of day, sore on his hips
and shoulders from his hard bed, alive again to his
misery which merciful sleep had removed far from
THE FICTIONAL MIND 189
him for a few hours. The jailer gives him his half
loaf of sour bakers bread and the long tin cup of
water. Then he sits and waits. He hears the church
bells ringing, and he knows that the other boys are
out on the streets talking about him and his
throat swells again and his eyes smart with the salt
tears. Then comes stillness, broken only by the buzz
ing of the bluebottles against the high-up, immov
able windows. He watches the streaks of sunlight
slide slowly along the wall; he reads what pred
ecessors have written on the plaster, and his soul
gags at it. Is he such as that? The loneliness is un
bearable, and then comes this yelling woman he
thought it was his father relented at last and, as
he hears her cursing for hours together, how gladly
would he have back that loneliness! v
" When I think of all this, I cannot see how Judge
Blymire could have let his son stay there one hour.
Yet he thought it was for the boy s good. He suf
fered, too, but it was as the Roman father suffered.
Never was there a juster judge on the Tadmor
County bench. It was Mrs. Blymire that saved Percy
from working out his fine on the stone pile. When
she saw that persuasion would not soften that hard
old heart, she put her foot down/ and the judge
went to the mayor s court Monday morning and
brought Percy back with him.
" Take off your coat, sir, he said sternly.
190 FOLKS BACK HOME
" What are you going to do, father? asked Mrs.
" I m going to give this young man the soundest
whipping he ever had/ he answered.
" * No. He has been punished enough. If you beat
him, you must beat me, too. And the judge, as he
looked into her eyes, saw that he was a conquered
" From that day Percy treated his father with a
cold deference that was more insolent than words.
There was a lot of the Blymire in him, too. His
mother hoped for the best and tried to smooth
things over, but one morning something went
wrong in court, and the judge came home to his
midday dinner cross. Percy declined some dish, and
the judge snarled at him: I suppose it ain t good
enough for my gentleman. He s more used to bread
" The right kind of a father wouldn t have left
his son to taste the bread and water, impudently
" Don t you answer back to me, you young jail
bird. Are you going to eat that?
" Then get away from my table. If you don t like
what s set before you, provide for yourself.
" * Father, you don t mean that, protested Mrs.
THE FICTIONAL MIND 191
" I do. Every word of it. But he knew in his
heart that he was more in anger than in earnest.
" Percy flung out of the room, ran upstairs, and
a few minutes later, as they sat in silence, they heard
the front door slam. The father ate stolidly, pretend
ing not to hear. When he had gone, Mrs. Blymire
found on her dressing table a penciled note from
Percy, bidding her good-by, thanking her for her
kindness to him, but wishing never to see his father
again in life. That wish came true. They never
looked into each other s face after that day, for one s
eyes had closed in death when the other bent over
" Poor Alice! She and Mrs. Blymire mingled their
tears as she told how Percy had said to her he was
going away; he didn t say where, but she was never
to forget him.
" The judge refused to believe that the boy had
run away for good. He expected to smile trium
phantly at the ragged, frowzy wanderer creeping
back after dusk and humbly tapping at the kitchen
door. It hurt him more, though, than he could own,
even to himself, that his son should leave him so, and
often his heart stopped to hearken to the cracking
of the woodwork in the far-along stillness of the
night, but it was only a tired beam stretching itself,
and not the knuckle of the returning prodigal.
When it was too late, he obeyed Mrs. Blymire s ad-
i 9 2 FOLKS BACK HOME
vice to employ detectives, but no word ever came
from the wandering boy, not even a line to his
mother. I don t see why she should have been made
to suffer for another s fault, but then women have
been doing that since Time began.
" The chill nights lengthened into the frozen
nights, and their house was still left unto them
desolate. In my memory there is a silhouette of the
judge standing at his library window, blue against
the orange light of the soft-coal fire. Overhead, the
moon shone fitfully through the clouds, torn by the
bleak wind that made the big pines in the Blymire
dooryard moan and whisper to themselves. He
peered out as if watching for a slim young figure
that never darkened the snows.
" Neighbors noticed that there was always a light
in the kitchen of nights, and once Abby Lumbart,
who had been help at the judge s ever since Percy
was born, let it out accidentally that she had to set
out a * cold piece every night. She was so embar
rassed and made such haste to explain that it was
for the judge, who had a way of waking up hungry
along about two or three o clock in the morning,
that the neighbors pounced down on the news, like
a hawk on a pullet, and it was not very long be
fore all Palmyra knew about the cold piece, and
guessed it was for Percy, in case he should return
unexpectedly late at night.
THE FICTIONAL MIND 193
" It was Mrs. Blymire s constant task to combat
the judge s notion that the boy had taken to a life
of crime. It clung to the old man with the per
sistence of a fixed idea. But nobody outside the
family dreamed of it until after he began to sub
scribe for the Enquirer. He had long abhorred it
with the intense hatred of a war-time Republican
for a Copperhead newspaper. He made some excuse
at the time about reading what the Democrats had
to say for themselves, but that was universally re
jected as being unsatisfactory. Elmer Cox, who was
reading law in the judge s office, observed that he
did not look at the political articles at all, but pored
over the criminal news, which is very fully given in
that paper. One day the old man nearly fainted at
the sight of a paragraph. He read it again and again.
Finally he cut it out and put it in his pocketbook.
He seemed so distressed that Elmer Cox rested not
till he got Henry Enright s Enquirer and found, in
the place that the judge had scissored out, a dis
patch under a Muncie date about a burglar named
Blimeyer breaking into a citizen s house and being
wounded by the man s shooting a load of bird shot
into his legs. The second day s story corrected the
name to Bill Meyer, and added that the man was an
old thief and second-story crook/ Elmer Cox no
ticed what a load was taken from the old judge s
mind, and it was the sentiment of the whole com-
i 9 4 FOLKS BACK HOME
munity, to whom Elmer Cox reported all that he
saw and much that he imagined, that Blymire con
fidently expected all kinds of onriness of Skin
ner, and that he had nobody but himself to blame
for it if the boy did go wrong and wind up behind
" One day, about nine or ten years after Percy
had disappeared, the judge was called up to Marion
to try a case, and in the afternoon, too late to bank
it, quite a large sum of money was paid to him in
settlement of account of an estate for which he was
administrator. He was stopping at the Johnson
House, but fell in with two old cronies, and forgot
to put the money in the hotel safe. It was a warm
night in the early June, so unseasonably warm that
the judge found it hard to go to sleep, and so lay
awake for some time, musing on what had happened
in court during the day and trying to forecast what
was to come on the morrow. Whether he slept or
woke, he suddenly became conscious of another
presence in the room. Rousing to full sense, he saw
against the pale square of the open window the
black shape of the stranger. The faint clink of silver
told the judge that the thief was fumbling in the
pockets of the trousers hung over the chair back.
He smiled grimly in the darkness to think that the
pickings would be but scant, and put his hand un
der the pillow where his pocketbook, with the
THE FICTIONAL MIND 195
widow s money in it, neighbored with his revolver.
The touch of the cross-hatched butt suggested the
question of his legal right to kill the burglar, and
his hand closed around the conformable shape. All