would never come, and he gets red in the face when
his father asks, " How did you cut your lip so,
Eddie? " It still mortifies him almost to death to be
made to sit with the girls in school, but, somehow,
he begins to look at them with more interest, and
if he is very bold, he may slip the fairest of them a
note that reads: " Dear Gracie I thought I would
THE ELOPEMENT 157
write you a letter I love you so good-by from Eddie
We think this is most amusing, but in our hearts
we know that we are only trying to carry it off with
a laugh, while inwardly we tremble for the children.
We remember our own lives, and we fetch a sigh
and say, " Ah, Lord ! What they ve got to go
through with!" And yet what can we do? It is as
if they were at the crisis of a deadly fever. It seems
as if we can t sit still and wait; we must be doing
for them. And yet what we do, though with the best
intent, may be only murder of body and souf. The
time is come when they are no longer ours; they
are partly their own. With a girl, the problem is
simpler, but the boy is like the fisherman in the
Arabian tale that finds the leaden bottle in which
is sealed up an Afreet. Very potent is the Afreet,
very potent for good let us hope, for good but
also very potent for evil, as we cannot forget. We
would not have our sons miss finding the bottle, and
yet who of us but has seen the day when the Afreet s
cruel shape darkened the heaven over our heads
and menaced our lives, when we wished we knew
the magic word that could conjure the evil Djinn
into the vase again, that we might hurl it far, far
out to sea? And no such word exists.
The widow Biddle was not taken by surprise when
her son s time of peril came. The leaden bottle was
158 FOLKS BACK HOME
found, but never was unsealed. She knew that what
Augustus needed was a mother s tender watch care.
That watch care was not relaxed one moment in
thirty years. She meant him to marry some day, but
that day was like the moon that the little child won
ders to see go about as it does. It was always off
yonder. She looked about her and saw the foolish
matches and the wrangling homes, and resolved that
her boy should not throw himself away if she could
help it. There was no need for hurry, because a man
can always get married, no matter how old he is. She
knew that while in theory it is the man that asks,
in practice it is the woman that arranges conversa
tion so that the man must say, " Will you marry
me?" or else feel like a natural-born slink. She did
not propose to have her Augustus crowded up in a
corner that way. When she found the right kind of
a girl she would do the arranging of the conversa
tion; she would secure the propinquity that provokes
love. She had not yet found the right girl; of late
years she had not prosecuted the search with much
diligence. It seemed to her that Augustus was just
about as well off as he was. He had a comfortable
home. She looked after him and took care of him,
laid out his clean linen, and told him when to go
and get his hair cut. There were no children whoop
ing and howling around and tracking up the house.
Augustus appeared to be satisfied. Probably a tiger
THE ELOPEMENT 159
brought up on the bottle, kept in a cage and fed
on mush and milk, would never regret the absence
of butcher s meat. But leave the door open
Worried for fear he would not wind the clock, but
otherwise calm in her mind, Mrs. Biddle went on a
visit to her folks back in York State. If a man is
not steady and settled down when he is going on
forty years old, when will he be, I should like to
know? So the tiger s cage door was left on the
Alas for men! They need watching all the time,
even when they are past forty. In a town like Minu-
ca Center they generally get it, too. There is no
lack of interest in other people in such a place. The
Center hummed like a beehive when it saw Augustus
Biddle taking the girls out buggy riding, some of
the old maids, too, who the men folks were sure
were fairly eating their hearts because they were not
married and working hard every day and Sunday,
too, for board and clothes. Along in the latter part
of January, when Mrs. Biddle had been gone a
month or so, it was generally agreed that the situ
ation was critical and that something ought to be
done about it.
" W y, if his ma knowed the way he was a-actin ,"
vowed Sarepta Downey to Mrs. Lester Pettitt,
" she d jist about go up."
"Well, I don know s I blame him much," de-
160 FOLKS BACK HOME
clared Mrs. Pettitt. " Anybody that s be n kep un
der the way he has all his life. If I was a man, I d fly
round amongs em, too, come a good chance."
" Oh, he ain t a-flyin round amongs em now
no more," corrected Sarepta. " Huh-uh. Not now.
He s got all through with that. I don t know where
your eyes are at that you hadn t seen that. He s got
her all picked out, bless your soul."
"W y, Carrie Pollock!"
" Carrie Pollock? W y, I thought Frank Wood-
mansee was goin with her."
" Well, so he is and so s Augustus."
" If he gets her away from Frank Woodmansee
he s a dandy," put in Mr. Pettitt, who laid down his
paper to listen to the gossips. " Why, Frank Wood-
mansee d tole a bird down out of a tree with his
talk. Best man ever Blackwell had on a tin wagon.
He could get more eggs and butter from the farm
ers wives for less tinware than any man goin .
Blackwell kicked like a steer when Frank got too
big feelin to drive a wagon and wanted to come
in and be in the store, but he just had to give in to
him. Terrible ambitious, Frank is. And now Black-
well don t do nothin but brag how smart Frank is.
He jist about runs the whole concern. He s a little
too daggon smart, I think. You mark now if he
don t eucher Blackwell out o everything and have
THE ELOPEMENT 161
it all to himself in about two years. Oh, he s bound
" Carrie ll do well to get him then," said his wife.
"Well, I don* know about that. Frank s terrible
selfish, and outside o business they ain t a great
deal to Frank. He s the best one of the whole tribe.
The rest is jest common on ry."
" Carrie thinks a lot of Augustus," said Miss
Downey. " He s real well educated, Augustus is, and
knows a lot o poetry. He s good to his ma and
handy around the house, always doin something to
help the women folks. Oh, Frank ll have to git his
feet in under him if he s goin to keep her. Augus
tus is rushin her for all he s worth. Hadn t a be n
for him, Carrie and her ma wouldn t ever a went
no place. Frank wouldn t never think of it, but now
since Augustus got to comin" around w y Carrie
and her ma has be n to more places than they ever
was in their born days before. Reg lar foot race it
is; whichever one o them gits there first the other
one takes her ma some place."
" So s to keep in with Carrie," suggested Mrs.
" Well, I don* know," answered Sarepta. " Look
like to me, Frank, he d like to git Carrie, she s so
pretty, and he d like to git her ma, she got such a
good head for business. Why, law me! if it hadn t
a* be n for her, Jim Pollock wouldn t amounted to
162 FOLKS BACK HOME
anything, and after he died she got more out o the
farm on sheers n he ever did workin it himself, and
here they re livin in town and havjn everything
nice. Yes, sir, Frank wants her, too, and " Sarepta
leaned over and laughed against the back of her
hand " look like to me that since Augustus started
in to cut out Frank with Carrie, he thought he
might as well make a good job of it and cut him out
with her ma, too."
"Tchk! The land!" ejaculated Mrs. Pettitt.
" Carrie s a right pretty girl," mused Mr. Pettitt.
" I be n havin my eye on Carrie this good while
now." He looked at his wife out of the corner of
his eye. She was very busy with an apron of Janey s
she was hemming. She was painfully jealous-hearted,
and Lester Pettitt loved to tease. " But if I was to
be left a widower right sudden, I don t know but
I d kind o shine up to Ma Pollock."
"O you!" burst out Mrs. Pettitt, unable to re
" Yes," pursued Mr. Pettitt, " she d suit me bout
as well as any of em. Good lookin , too, she is.
Women like Caroline Boyce don t no more n git
good and ripe till they re along about forty. Now,
ma, here, when she s forty, you know what she ll
look like? Why, a two weeks washin done up in
a bedspread." He winked at Sarepta, who knew that
if there was one thing that Mrs. Pettitt dreaded
THE ELOPEMENT 163
worse than death itself it was fat. She was just a
plump little body now, but her sister Polly Ann was
considered "a sight!" She weighed three hundred
pounds, and always used to hop over the hot-air
registers in the aisle of Center Street church. She
was afraid to step on them lest she break through.
" Caroline Pollock s more n forty," said Mrs. Pet-
titt, with much asperity. " Look at that big, grown
" Oh, no, she ain t," corrected Sarepta. " She mar
ried Jim Pollock when she wasn t but eighteen, and
Carrie s only nineteen now. She ain t a day over
thirty-nine. She s jist about Augustus Biddle s age."
" Gus ort to let Frank have the girl and him go
for her ma," said Mr. Pettitt. " Man like him, raised
by hand, as you might say, ud never git along with
a young girl. You know what Caroline Pollock is,
but Carrie, law! she don know what she is herself.
Man marry her, he s got to take her sight unseen
and trust to luck. My! my! How many of em gits
fooled. Now, me, f r instance But what s the use? "
Mr. Pettitt sighed and sadly shook his head.
Mrs. Pettitt speared him with a look, but he pre
tended not to notice. Sarepta saw that it was time
to make a diversion.
" My land! " said she, " if Augustus Biddle should
marry Caroline Pollock, his ma would just naturally
paw up the ground! W y, them two ud no more git
164 FOLKS BACK HOME
along together than I don* know what. Mercy!
What a time they d have. I sh d think somebuddy d
up and let that pore woman away off yan in York
State know what kind o doin s they was goin on
around here. Wouldn t she come home jist a-flukin ?
My! Well, I must be gittin along. Here tis most
bedtime and me settin here runnin on about my
neighbors as if I didn t have anything better to do.
Well, good night, all. When you comin over, Mis
Pettitt? You hain t come to see me in a long time.
You, too, Mr. Pettitt. Oh, I can see; you needn t
bring the light. Snow s goin awful fast, ain t it?
Well, good night."
The door had no more than shut on her when Mrs.
Pettitt exploded with pent-up fury. "WHAT did
you go and talk like that for before that woman
when you know when you kno-o-o-ow that she
runs and tells everything that she hears? "
Mr. Pettitt threw up one arm as if to shield his
head and cried in mock terror, " Help! help! help! "
She was determined not to let him see her smile.
" Oh, it s nothing to laugh at. I declare! you re more
of a child than Janey is right now. I don t know
what possessed you to say such a thing before
" Say what? " inquired the innocent Mr. Pettitt.
" Oh, you know very well. That about you gittin
fooled in me, for one thing."
THE ELOPEMENT 165
"Well, didn t I? Didn t you promise the preacher
you d obey me? Well, do you? No, you don t. Didn t
I command you last night to sew that button on
my vest? Yes, I did. Is it sewed on? No, it hain t.
You don t care if I go round town lookin like a
scarecrow and people pointin the ringer o scorn
at me. I ll bet my second wife won t "
" Oh, hush up and gimme that vest. I forgot all
about it as slick as a whistle. I ll sew it on now while
I think of it. Well, land of love! Did you ever hear
the beat o them two fellows tryin to cut each other
out with two women at once? The idy! "
" What I want to know is what Ma Biddle ll do
with Augustus. He s gittin most too big now to
be stuck with a pin."
" I hope she won t come home till he gets mar
" Oh, somebody 11 write to her before."
" Who? W y, anybody. I know fifty that ud ask
for nothin better. I wouldn t put it past you, for
" ME? Me tell her? W y, Lester Pettitt, you re
the meanest white man that ever lived! W y, I d no
more think o doin such a thing Go on away from
me. Go on, I tell you. I m mad now. The idy of
sayin Go way, now-ah. Come a huggin and kiss-
in around me after sayin Lester-rah! If you do
166 FOLKS BACK HOME
that again, now I ll I ll stick you with a pin. Sh!
You ll wake up Janey."
Somebody did write and tell Mrs. Biddle, and it
wasn t Augustus, either. It just goes to show how
if you escape Scylla you fall into Charybdis. Be too
lax with children, and they run wild and terrify the
neighborhood; be too strict with them and they be
come expert dissimulators, preserving the form of
truth, but denying the power thereof. So it was that
Augustus s letters, while professing to give all the
news of the Center, omitted that which would have
been even more interesting to her than it was to
her neighbors. Who it was that sent the postal card
on which was written: " When the cat s away, the
mice will play," is not certainly known, for it was
not signed. When it got to Mrs. Biddle it had much
the same effect upon her as the appearance of the
fingers of a man s hand that came out of the wall
and wrote upon the plaster had upon the revelers at
Belshazzar s feast. It put a stop to all her enjoy
ment. She worried and worried about what it could
mean. Then came a letter signed which gave her
the interpretation. Her kingdom was about to be
divided and given to another. She packed her trunk
after she answered the letter.
It may be regarded as significant that Frank
Woodmansee should have met her at the train. They
had a long conference together. " Wootsy " Morton,
THE ELOPEMENT 167
the depot operator, saw them talking and called up
Augustus on the telephone.
" Say, Biddle! " he said, his hand making a tube
over the transmitter, " is that you, Biddle? This is
Morton at the depot. Say, your ma came in on No.
4. Why didn t you Yes, on No. 4. Why, Frank
Woodmansee met her. Him and her is holdin a
confab on the platform now. Didn t you know she
was comin ho Hello! Are you there yet? Hello,
Central! What did you cut us off for? You did, too.
Huh? Well, he don t answer. Say; ring em up
" Don t answer," said Central in her prim, flat,
The hand phone in Augustus s office swung vio
lently on its double cord as Augustus slammed the
door shut and locked it, after taking a paper from
a desk drawer and thrusting it into his pocket. His
horse and buggy were in the shed, and he drove up
Columbus Street, looking behind him fearfully.
" She ll most likely walk over," he said to himself,
" specially if she s got somebody to carry her grip
sack. She ll go to the office first and then she ll go
to the house, and if I ain t there, w y, then her and
Woodmansee ll go on up to Tain t quite as much
time as I d like to have, but still I laid out to
i68 FOLKS BACK HOME
go easy about it and not plunge in headlong this
He jumped out at the Pollocks house, hurriedly
tied his horse, and went around by the side door, at
which he knocked. Mrs. Pollock answered the sum
"Where s Carrie?" he gasped and pushed his
way in. He felt a kind of goneness in his insides.
" W y, she s I don t know where she is, Mr.
Biddle. Some girl come along a while ago and pirted
for her and she put on her things and went out. I
guess she won t be gone long."
" How long? "
"W y, I don t really know; half an hour, mebby,
or mebby an hour."
Augustus sank down into a chair apathetically,
his hands drooping between his knees, and his head
bent forward. He had not counted on her being from
" Don t you think you could find her? " he asked,
after a while.
"W y, I don t know as I could." Then as she
noted the expression in his face, Mrs. Pollock cried
out, "Augustus Biddle! What is the matter? You
look like you d lost every friend on earth."
" Ma s come home," he said, and licked his lips.
" She didn t send me no word she was comin .
* Wootsy Morton telephoned me he seen her and
THE ELOPEMENT 169
Frank Woodmansee holdin a confab on the depot
platform. I ll jist bet you anything " He got up
and walked the floor. " If he has now if he has, I ll
break his neck, I will, by Godfrey!"
"W y, Mr. Biddle!"
" I don t care. Tattlin on me. Consarn his pic
" You ain t saw your ma yet? "
" No, I hain t." He paused. " I don t know as I
jist exactly wanted to see her till till afterwards.
You don t know where Carrie is? "
"W y, no, I don t. She started out What did
you want to see her about? "
" Why-ah," said Augustus, turning his hat in his
hands, " I kind o thought mebby she d like to take
a ride over to Sunbury with me."
" To Sunbury? And your mother jist come back
Augustus nodded as he looked into her face with
a sort of pitiful smile and a doglike wistfulness. It
was as much as to say, " Don t you understand
why? " Mrs. Pollock stooped to pick a raveling off
the floor and rose up red in the face. " I was over
to Sunbury Friday and stepped into the county
clerk s office " He broke off suddenly and his
mouth hung open as if he had just thought of some
thing. " Would you be willin " he said, gulped,
flushed, and went on " would you be willin to go
1 70 FOLKS BACK HOME
for a little ride with me summers out of the way
till I got kind o cammed down? Ma comin home
this away kind o upset me. I woosht you would
" W y ah " The widow hesitated.
" I woosht you would now," he persisted. " I d
ah I d like to talk to you about somepin."
"Wy ah, I expect mebby I could," said the
widow slowly. " If you didn t go too far."
To Augustus, who looked every minute to see
Vengeance coming around the corner of the house,
it seemed an age before Mrs. Pollock got herself
ready for the drive, but, terrified as he was, he could
not help but recognize the fact that she had put in
the time well. She was a fine-looking woman and
no mistake, but Augustus could not tarry to ad
mire, so anxious was he to flee from the wrath to
come. The neighbors noticed when he drove away
that he kept looking around all the time. Minnie
De Wees said to her mother, " I jist bet you they s
somepin up. Now, you mark; they s a hen on, sure
as shootin ." Afterwards she bragged no little of her
gift of prophecy.
Mrs. Biddle and Frank Woodmansee stopped at
the coal office. It was locked up. They knocked on
the door. There was no answer. Mrs. Biddle went
to the window and shaded it with her hand so as
to see in. The objects within looked familiar to her,
THE ELOPEMENT 171
even the paperweight carved out of a piece of
cannel coal. They made her homesick for the sight
of her son. But the hand phone dangling on its cord
and the books left lying open, fretted her; it looked
so slack and careless. She wanted to get in and
straighten things up. He used to be so particular,
but now, since that woman had got after him, he
was letting everything go.
" Well, he ain t h-yur," said Frank Woodmansee.
He noticed people stopping to look at him carry
ing Mrs. Biddle s gripsack and smiling so knowing.
He told himself again that everything was fair in
love and war, but he wasn t so sure of it as he had
" No, he ain t h-yur," assented Mrs. Biddle, with
a sigh. " I reckon we d better go on around to the
house, and if he ain t there I can leave the gripsack
with Mis Longbrake I expect you re kind o tired
luggin it around and then we ll go up and see
that woman." There was a cluck in her voice as she
spoke the last words.
But the Biddle house was as deserted as the Bid-
die coal office. When the widow realized with a cold
sickness at her heart that she was locked out of her
own house, she sighed and went next door. Mrs.
Longbrake had been watching her and came to meet
her with, " W y, I declare if it ain t Mis Biddle! My!
how well you re lookin ! It done you lots o good to
172 FOLKS BACK HOME
go away fer a spell. Come in, won t you, and set a
" No, thank you. I got to go right on. I d like
to leave my gripsack here, if you don t mind."
"W y, certainly. Clarence, take Mis Biddle s
gripsack and set it over there by the bureau. Take
your han kerchief, Clarence. How many times have
I got to speak to you about snufflin that way? I
s pose you come fer the weddin , Mis Biddle."
"What weddin ?" snapped Mrs. Biddle.
" W y, Augustus and Carrie Pollock. I says to
Mr. Longbrake when he come home and told me
about it, It s funny, I says, that "
" Is he married? " demanded Mrs. Biddle of Mrs.
Longbrake and of Frank Woodmansee, turning first
to one and then the other.
" I says to Mr. Longbrake, W y, what does he
want to git married over to Sunbury fer? I says.
Well, he says, that s whur he got the license out,
"It ain t so!" cried Frank Woodmansee. "It
ain t so! Carrie Pollock?"
" Carrie Pollock," asserted Mrs. Longbrake, bow
ing her head, closing her eyes, and primming her
lips. " Nineteen years old. That s what the license
said. Mr. Longbrake seen it when he was over to
Sunbury, and Mr. Curl, the county clerk of Union
County, he ast him if he knowed them parties, and
THE ELOPEMENT 173
Mr. Longbrake he said he did, and " The sentence
dwindled into nothing, for, with one look of mutual
rage, Mrs. Biddle and Frank Woodmansee turned
and hurried down the front walk. They would go
up to Carrie Pollock s and have this thing straight
" I reckon he feels right bad to git the mitten that
way," said Mrs. Longbrake, as she watched them
go up the street. " It kind o s prised him, pears
like. I don t reckon Mis Biddle likes it any too well,
either, looks o things. Clarence, I declare I don
know what I ll do to you if you behave that way
before people again. I was mortified to death at
Frank Woodmansee rang the Pollock doorbell
and rang and rang. They seemed fated to be
shut out on all sides. All the neighboring windows
that gave on the Pollock house concealed each an
anxious watcher. Minnie De Wees, who lived in the
third house, and could not see very well from there,
actually went out on the front porch to look, but
her boldness was condemned by all. They said that
was a little too much. Mrs. Biddle and Frank Wood
mansee talked very earnestly together in low tones,
and Minnie De Wees nearly went out of her mind
because she could not hear them. They gave one
more ring and stood waiting. Then they heard the
gate latch click; turning around, they beheld Carrie
174 FOLKS BACK HOME
Pollock entering the yard. Woodmansee gave her a
"Why, how do you do, Mrs. Biddle? " said the
girl, and then turned demurely to greet the man.
" How do you do, Mr. Woodmansee? I thought you
were in New York State, Mrs. Biddle. Aren t you
home rather unexpected? "
Mrs. Biddle glared at the girl. "What have you
done with my son?" she demanded. "Ain t you
asha-a-med of yourself to stand there talkin to me
in that way after the way you ve be n a-actin ? And
you dare " she gulped " you dare to look me in
the face, you you Oh, for half a cent, I d
Where s your mother? To take advantage of my ab
sence in such a way when you knowed I was away
from home and couldn t take care of him. It s a pity,
it s a pity I couldn t leave home a minute to go and
visit the only relations I got an some of em I
hadn t saw for thirty years, but you must go and
Where s your mother? Can t you talk? "
(You ought to hear Minnie De Wees get that off.
She can do it to perfection.)
Carrie Pollock looked at the mother in amaze
" Why, what s the matter? " she gasped.
" They re tellin it around that you re goin to
marry Augustus Biddle," said Frank Woodmansee.
" Who s tellin it around? " demanded Carrie.
THE ELOPEMENT 175
" I d thank people to mind their own business and
not go round with a whole pack o lies about other
folks. It ain t so. Now!"
" I s pose you don t know nothin at all about his
gittin a marriage license over to Sunbury to marry
you," sneered Mrs. Biddle. " I s pose you didn t hear
nothin at all about that."
" No, I didn t; not till you jist now told me I
didn t hear one word about it." Frank Woodmansee
looked as if a great load had been taken off his mind.
Mrs. Biddle was still suspicious.
" I s pose you want me to think Augustus went
and got that license and you givin him no encour
" Who, him? " Miss Pollock bridled angrily. " I
don t care what you think. I guess I don t go round
tellin folks I m a-goin to marry em before they