Eugene Wood.

Folks back home online

. (page 6 of 17)
Online LibraryEugene WoodFolks back home → online text (page 6 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

couldn t you get me a little knife, a little, little one,
and slip it to me, slip it to me when they ain t look
ing? You know that without the shedding of blood
there is no remission of sins, and this is a dread
fully wicked place."

She had to put him off and quiet him the best she
could. She knew how to talk to him.


One morning Mr. Bailey did not come out of his
room when it was unlocked. In some way he had
wrenched the wire grating loose from his window
and had climbed down a rope made from his bed

Mr. Herkelrode had one of the paupers hitch up
the big wagon and drive to town with him right
after breakfast. He pulled up in front of the little
house where Mrs. Bailey lived. Little Curg Emer
son, with his books under his arm, was at the front
fence yodeling for Ira to come out. Mr. Herkelrode
knocked at the front door, but there was no answer.
He hearkened. There was a sonorous, masculine
voice within reciting something. Between verses
there was stillness. Mr. Herkelrode came down from
the front porch very quietly and tiptoed around to
the side window. He peeped in and stood staring.
Then he sat down very suddenly with his head in his
hands and gulped hard. Two or three times he tried
to get up before he succeeded. When he came to
the front fence he was as white as a sheet.

" Bub," he whispered to little Curg, " run down
to the courthouse and get Constable Halloran.
Tell him to come right quick. Tell him to bring
his revolver. Tell him something awful has happened.
When you go past the blacksmith shop, ask Mr.
Perkypile if he won t hurry right up. Run now."

Then he went over to the pauper sitting in the

wagon and nodded. " Drive across to that hitching
post yan and tie up and come over here. Easy now."
When the pauper came in at the gate Mr. Herkel-
rode said: " Don t make no noise. He s in there. You
can look in if you want to. I don t. I got enough.
Don t let him see you."

The man peeped in and came away trembling.
" He had a chopping bowl full of something," he
whispered, " and he was dipping his finger in it and
sprinkling it on a kind of pulpit thing by the door.
I heard him say something about the altar at the
door of the tabernacle of the congregation."

"Lord!" groaned Mr. Herkelrode, shaking his
head. " He must have had a terrible time with her
before he finished her. Prints of her hands all over
the wall and he s jist covered with it. I bet she
fought with him to keep him from the children.
Did you see em? O my Lord! Hear him now."

" Accept, O Lord," the oratorical voice rang out,
" this sacrifice of blood for the remission of sins.
Bring these Thy servants into Thine everlasting
habitations where " There was a silence, and then
a long, whimpering wail: " O that this cup might
, have passed from me! " and then the terrible sound
of a man sobbing.

Mr. Herkelrode sighed: "I woosh t them men d
hurry up and come."


HARLEY RODEHAVER was walking down
Center Street with the prettiest girl in
Minuca Center. Her name was M ree
Hutchins. It was in the afternoon, and a warm June
shower had just cleared away and left the sky a
purple blue. In the spoonlike hollows of the red
brick sidewalk little pools of water shuddered and
made widening O s when sparkling drops fell from
the clean, wet leaves above, where hid a robin sing
ing ecstatically of love. The low-slanting rays of
sunlight tangled in the spreading meshes of the girl s
brown hair. The scarlet ribbon of her mouth parted
in a flattered smile from her white incisors that
crossed ever so little. She turned her head up to
look at the tall young fellow who walked beside her,
her firm-fleshed cheeks glowed with a color like
azaleas, and her big, long-fringed eyes had the blue
of gentian blossoms in them. Her skirt just showed
her trim-set ankles and her pretty feet. Something
about her, delicate but wholesome, made you look
well at her while you might, as you look well at
cherry trees in bloom.



The robin overhead sounded the perfect octave of
their mood. What they said we need not listen to
his labored compliments, her pouting, self-conscious:
"Aw, yes, you! You tell that to every girl, I reck
on." The words of love never do quite go to the
tune of it.

She was Tom Hutchins daughter. He owned the
linseed-oil mills down by the depot, rich as cream,
and thought the world and all of her. She had a
younger brother, Sam, but he was such a wild,
healthy, noisy creature that nobody in the house had
a minute s peace while he was in it, whereas old
Sallie, the housekeeper, and Nanno, the upstairs
girl, worshiped and adored Miss M ree and put up
with all her bossy ways without a murmur. Such is
the power of beauty. But she was a good-hearted
little thing, too, and, for all her pa was well off and
they kept two girls, she could cook and run the
house as well as any poor girl, and her Battenberg
was renowned.

In a pure democracy all the marriageable youths
would have been her suitors, but Minuca Center is
a strict plutocracy, so only those that were already
of the nobility or that gave promise of " being
somebody " some day dared approach. And not
always these. There were worthy youths that sidled
up to her at church socials and stammered out:
" Please, may I be your company home? " only to


have her turn away from them with a light titter
at their presumption, while they slunk back with
the sweat oozing from their palms and a prickling
in the roots of their hair.

Mrs. Hutchins implanted these principles in her
daughter s bosom as she had striven to implant them
in her husband s. Both Tom and she had originally
been Baptists, but as soon as he began to rise in the
world she made him take a pew in the Episcopal
church. She had very high ideas, Mrs. Hutchins
had. She was an invalid. She suffered from a " com
plication," if you know what that is. The doctors
couldn t tell what was the matter with her, and she
had tried them all, even to that man down in Colum
bus that tells what will cure you just by holding a
lock of your hair in his hand. They all did her good
for a while, but not permanently, and she came to
see that she was doomed to live a " shut-in " life.
She bore her lot with patient resignation, though
there were those that said she was just as well able
to get up and go about her work as they were, only
she was too plagued lazy to do anything but lie
around and read novels and have people make a fuss
over her. But nobody ever said that to Tom Hutch
ins. Every time he came into the house he went up
to her room first thing and asked: " How you feel
ing, ma? "

Whatever she said or did was all right, and the


only time in his life he ever crossed her was when
he insisted that the baby should be named Mary,
after his mother, who died when he was little, and
his sister Mary, who had raised him. Mrs. Hutchins
had chosen Genevieve there was such a lovely
character by that name in " The Earl s Pro ud
Daughter," which she had just finished but Tom
said no, it would have to be Mary, and that ended
it. Mrs. Hutchins softened the asperity of the old-
fashioned name into Marie, pronounced with the ac
cent on the last syllable" M ree." That was the
way they called it in French, Mrs. Hutchins said.

M ree had been calling on Minnie De Wees when
Harley met her. She showed Minnie a diamond ring.
Ed Coffinberry had given it to her. Yes, it was an
engagement ring. Minnie is dreadfully plain-spoken
at times. She asked M ree right out: " M ree, do you
love him? " and looked at her very seriously. M ree
said: " W y-y-y, course I do, goosie. Isn t it lovely?
Cost eighty dollars. He bought it down to Colum

" Well, I reckon she does," Mrs. De Wees said,
when Minnie told her about it " much s she kin
anybody. But laws! I pity the man that gets to be
M ree Hutchins husband."

Now, Ed Coffinberry was not only ten years older
than M ree in age, but he was forty years older than
her in his ways. He was the cashier of the Farmers


National Bank, and was already looked up to by all.
He was solemn and serious enough to be President
of the United States. He dressed well, but with a
punctilious sobriety that captured confidence and
held it as a magnet captures and holds a needle. He
was smooth-shaven, rather lean about the jaws,
parted his ashy-blond hair smoothly on one side, and
had a clear, steady eye, a thin, straight nose, straight
eyebrows, and what is called " a noble forehead."
He rarely smiled. He was a listener of the first order
of merit, and a man of few words, but those well
chosen and extremely sensible. People liked to get
his opinion of things. It was plain to see he was
destined to rise in the world, to " be somebody."

What Ed Coffinberry saw in M ree was a mystery
to some. I know. A man is not always wise. Under
that cold exterior lurked a passion fierce, intense.
Others had looked upon Tom Hutchins daughter
and wished for her; Ed Coffinberry set his teeth and
vowed to possess her. Something of his purpose
looked out of his steel-blue eyes and fascinated her
with a sense of his power. They say the women like
a man that can boss them. He was just that kind
a faithful husband, but the one to rule his own

Now, M ree also ruled her own house. She did
not think it all out in so many words, but there were
moments when she felt a sort of rebellion. When Ed

looked at her she just had to do as he said, and she
wasn t sure she was going to like that always. And
then the love making had been so pitifully brief and
uneventful. Of course she liked him, and all that,
and he liked her, but she wished she had left him
dangling a while, and had not said " Yes," quite so
soon. It seemed kind of an imposition to ask her to
settle down to housekeeping without going around
more, seeing more fellows, and all like that. She
had been to the governor s inauguration ball down
at Columbus the year before, but that was so long
ago; she was only a girl then. A subtle discontent
assailed her.

She didn t show her engagement ring to Harley
Rodehaver. She liked him; he was real nice, so tall
and strong, and he had such pretty eyes. Dark eyes
they were, kind of sad and mournful, although he
was a regular cut-up. They reminded her of er of
er oh, you know! That fellow in " Strathmore."

Harley had been graduated from Otterbein Uni
versity the year before there is a university every
four miles in Ohio and had come to Minuca Cen
ter to read law with his Uncle John, Judge Rode
haver. He had been very diligent and had delighted
the old gentleman with his intelligence and his in
dustry, but it was summer now and he was relax
ing somewhat. He was a fine tennis player, and he
could pick a banjo and sing college songs to per-


fection. But it was when he turned his full and
vibrant barytone to songs like " Because I Love
You, Dear," that the cold shivers ran all over you
and you felt sort of sorry about something, you
didn t know what, unless it was that your life was
empty and that more was coming to you by rights
than you ever would get. Mrs. Hutchins often in
vited him to come and sing for a poor " shut-in."
He used to go up and visit her, and once she kissed
him for his poor, dead mother, whom she had never
seen or heard tell of before.

Ed Coffinberry did not like it very well that Har-
ley called so often, but what could he do? They
had two or three little tiffs about it, but Ed always
got M ree s eye, and she made it up with him. But
the grand flare-up came when the younger crowd
got up a straw ride and dance out at Silver Lake and
invited M ree. Ed was invited, too, though it wasn t
quite his set, but when he heard Harley was to be
there he told her she shouldn t go a step. Anyhow,
his people were strict Methodists, as are most of the
inhabitants of Logan County, and as cashier of the
bank it wouldn t do for him to attend.

" What s the reason I can t go? " demanded M ree
angrily. " What have you got to say about it? Since
when did you get to be my boss? "

Ed s eyes looked very serious as he answered:
" I m not trying to boss you, dearie. I am only say-


ing that I don t think it proper for you when you
are engaged to me "

" Think I m going to poke round home all the
time and never go any place or see anything just
because I m engaged to you? Well, I guess not. I
guess not. I think you re a little previous with your
authority, Mr. Coffinberry. I d like to know what
there is about a little dance among the young peo
ple that isn t proper as you call it."

Remembering what he had heard the preachers
say about the unabashed and shameless license of
the ballroom, Ed began: "Don t you think it s
wrong for a girl to let herself be hugged by a fellow
while they go capering around a room, away out
there at Silver Lake at all hours of the night "

"Who are you talking to?" she stormed, scarlet
with rage at the prurient prudery the man displayed.
" Do you think I d let anybody hug me? In public,
that is. You don t know what you re talking about.
You think "

" That s what they do at dances. They "

" No, they don t, either now. In the square
dances and in the two-steps and waltzes the gentle
man "

" Well, M ree," he said, " we won t discuss it. I
don t think a girl with any self-respect would "

" Do you think my pa would let me dance if he
thought it wasn t respectable? My ma taught me to


dance when I was a little thing, before she took
down sick. I guess they know as much about what s
respectable and what isn t as you do. Oh, I m dis
gusted with you!"

" M ree -" he began.

" If you think I m the kind that would act the
way you said, what do you want to marry me for?.
And, furthermore, if you re going to make a fuss
every time there s any little party or anything, why,
we ll just consider the engagement at an end, Mr.

She made her mouth a straight line, lifted her
eyebrows, and almost shut her eyes as she slowly
turned her head from him and his magnetic gaze till
she steadfastly regarded the Rogers group, " Weigh
ing the Baby," on a stand by the front window, in
full view of the street when the shades were up.

" Do you mean that, M ree? " he asked solemnly,
vainly trying to catch her eye.

She tapped her tiny foot impatiently, just like
Bessie in " Bessie s Secret," but made no other an

" M ree, do you mean that? "

" Please address me as Miss Hutchins. Yes, I do
mean that."

He rose. " Good-by, M ree," he said.

" Good-by."

He walked out in the hall very slowly. He ex-


pected her to call him back. With grave delibera
tion he put on his hat and moved toward the door.
He turned the doorknob. She spoke. He listened.
She said: "Hope I never see you again!" He
couldn t see her, but as the door slammed she made
a face at him.

She was provoked at herself, though, the next
second. It was such a spiteful thing to say. And to
make a face at him! Well, she told her mother, she
knew it was awful to act that way, but she was so
mad at him. Talk like that to her. Huh! Well!

" You ll have to give him his ring back," said Mrs.

" Laws! I never thought about it. I don t care. I
don t want his old ring if I ve got to take him with
it. My heavens! "

" It s a real nice ring."

" Yes, kind of." She looked at it as it bristled with
spikes of particolored light. " I oughtn t to talk to
you, ought I, ma? Gets you all upset and nervous.
Well, I m not going to bother my head any more
about it. Just dismiss it from my thoughts. Good
night, ma. I m going to take the ring off and send
it back to him to-morrow if I think of it."

The next day she met Harley at Palmer s, playing
tennis. He asked her if she was going to the dance.
She said she was afraid not. She d like to, awfully,
but she couldn t go alone very well, and


Quite a crowd went out to the lake; rode over in
two big wagons, and had a gay time. Never got
home till daylight. There was a big talk about it,
for most of the girls and some of the boys belonged
to Center Street M. E. Old Uncle Billy Nicholson
went about like a roaring lion, demanding that the
offenders be " churched," every last one of them.
He said it was just awful, the way Methodists were
getting so worldly. They didn t pay any more atten
tion to the " Discipline " than if there wasn t such
a book. But it was generally agreed that the easiest
way was the best way. It would have about de
populated the Epworth League if the dancers had
been put out of the church. Uncle Billy was all right,
but he was kind of old fogy. He didn t believe in
letting the women folks wear feathers or artificial
flowers; he was against an organ and a choir in the
church; he didn t believe in Christmas trees or oys
ter suppers or strawberry festivals or anything. Oh,
religion, of course. He believed in that. You know
what I mean.

People were so busy talking about it, though,
that they quite overlooked how constantly Harley
Rodehaver was with M ree Hutchins the week after
the dance, calling every evening and walking with
her afternoons.

One day they went over to the B. & I. depot just
about the time the south-bound accommodation was


due. They stood at the far end of the platform, Har-
ley talking very earnestly and pleadingly, and M ree
poking at a crack in the boards with her parasol.
Finally, just as the train whistled, she looked up and
said: "Well, all right," and Harley bought two
round-trip tickets to Marysville, the county seat of
Knox, which is the next county to Logan.

Now, Henry Wolf, the county clerk of Knox, was
a great political friend of Tom Hutchins, and when
Harley gave M ree s name when he applied for the
license, Henry asked: "Tom Hutchins daughter?"

Harley said: "Yes."

" How old is the lady? "

" Nineteen, aren t you, M ree? " scowling at her
and nodding ever so slightly. But M ree was look
ing at a real handsome fellow across the hall in
the recorder s office, and she answered: " Why,
no; I won t be eighteen till the fourteenth of next

" Just excuse me a moment," said Henry, and
stepped into the next room, closing the door after
him. There was a long-distance telephone in there.

" Why didn t you tell him you were nineteen? "
whispered Harley.

" Well, but, Harley, I m not."

" But you could have said you were, couldn t
you? "

" O Harley, and tell a story? " She opened her


big eyes, as if all her life she had done nothing but
tell the truth.

After a long time Mr. Wolf came back. He stood
at the counter, upending his pencil and pushing
it through his fingers and then upending it again.
" If I was you two," he said finally, " I d go talk it
over with the old folks. You got lots o* time. You
don t need to be in no hurry. You re both young

Harley said they wanted to get married right

" Well, I don t know how you kin," said Henry.
" Not in this county, anyways. Because they won t
marry you without a license, and I ain t agoing to
give you one."

" Why not? " demanded Harley.

" You don t want no secret marriage. It looks
awful green, really it does. And it makes all kinds
of trouble afterwards when " He stopped and
looked at M ree. She turned her back to him and
began to blush. Harley got red, too. " Why not?
Well, I tell you why not. Because her pa says No/
and for you two to come right straight back home.
Tom Hutchins is my friend, and for that reason, if
for no other, I wouldn t give you the license. Now,
you take my advice, and "

" Come on, M ree," said Harley, and pushed her
out of the office.


"Better go on back home!" Henry called out
after them, and as they got out on the sidewalk they
could hear him laughingly evading the questions of
the clerks as to what was up.

At the depot Harley asked what the fare was to
Mechanicsburg, the county seat of Miami, the next
one to Knox. When he came to count up his money
he found that by the time he had bought two tickets
and paid for the license he would not have more
than $1.80 to pay the minister with. Besides, they
.wouldn t get to Mechanicsburg until after the clerk s
office had closed for the day.

The situation was awful. Harley walked up and
down the platform, scowling and biting his lips. All
of a sudden M ree began to cry. He took her to
his bosom and patted her back soothingly.

" Pa ll scold me," she sniffed. " I just know he

" Never mind, my darling," Harley said, in his
deep, tender voice. " Never mind. I will be there to
protect you, your husband " she thrilled " your
husband in the sight of Gawd." He expelled his
breath and drew it in again through his clinched
teeth: " Ah! Shee-ee-ee! This is terrible! To have the
cup of happiness pressed to one s very lips and then
to have it dashed away! Gee!" He shook his head
in the bitterness of his anguish.

"O Ame! Say, Amos!" yelled the station agent


to a man rattling by on a wagon. " When you go by
Hoover s, tell him they s a "

"Whoa, John! Whoa, Molly! Whoa, there! So!
Stand still, can t you? What say?"

" W y, I said for you to stop and tell Jim Hoover
when you go by there they s a kag o bolts come
up from C lumbus for him on Thirty-three." The
station agent s voice rapidly sank from a bellow to
a parlor tone as he walked over to the wagon. He
gave a sharp backward twitch of his head to call
Amos s attention to the young couple on the plat
form. He put his foot up on the hub of the front

" Got it bad, ain t they? " said Amos.

"O laws! Y ort to hear em. Don t cry, darlin ,
don t cry. I ll purtect ye! "

"Git out!"

" Honest to God. Oh, sick nin , jist sick nin ."

" I jing! I woosh twas me she had hugged up
thataway!" And Amos cackled the falsetto laugh
that men use at certain times.

" Know who she is? " whispered the station agent.
" That s Tom Hutchins girl, up to the Center.
From what I could gather, him and her has run off
to git married and kind o slipped up on it. I m goin
to telefoam up to Hannigan on the Examiner and
put him onto it."

Three long-legged boys in big, droopy, straw-pile


hats, barefooted, wearing hickory shirts and brown
apron-front overalls with straps over the shoulders,
sidled up and stared at Harley and M ree. From time
to time they shut their mouths to swallow, and then
let them fall open again.

" We have our love for solace in this trying hour,"
said Harley, blind to all else but the girl on his
bosom. " Haven t we, dearest? Say that you love me,
won t you, pet? Say it again! Go on away, you!
Skip, now! " Scared by the peremptory stamp of
his foot, the boys retreated a little space and then
halted, staring and inching nearer, lured by the fas
cinating sight.

" Let s get away from this rabble," said Harley,
with stinging emphasis, and they went into the sta
tion. Some of the boys went around to the back
and built up a precarious pedestal of brickbats, on
which they took turns standing and peering through
the grimy window. Others stayed on the platform
about the door. Part of a head and one glaring eye
would stealthily grow out from the door jamb and
then swiftly vanish, only to grow again. Other boys
came. The couple, sitting far apart, could hear them

It was very still.

The roosters crowed a great deal.

The mob of boys, soft-footed and silent, attended
them to the train and watched them to their seat.


When the train drew out, a shrill, derisive chorus
followed. It was a mile before Harley laid his arm
along the back of the seat, and two miles before
M ree got a cinder in her eye.

Mr. Hutchins was waiting for them with a closed
carriage. He took them home in silence. After din
ner they all went into the library. Harley braced
himself when Mr. Hutchins began: "Now, young
man." It was what he expected to hear. How was
he going to support a wife? He had no trade, no
profession. He could not reasonably expect to sup
port himself, let alone a wife, by practicing law for
three years at the very least calculation. Better say
five years. And if he thought if he thought for one
minute that Tom Hutchins was going to keep him
in idleness, why, the sooner he got that notion out
of his head the better. To all of this Harley had one
all-sufficing answer: He loved M ree and M ree

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryEugene WoodFolks back home → online text (page 6 of 17)