Henry Wallace Phillips.

Red Saunders online

. (page 6 of 9)
Online LibraryHenry Wallace PhillipsRed Saunders → online text (page 6 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

last "Time!" he shouted gleefully, kicked the can over and gathered
up its treasures in his handkerchief.

"Now, Mr. Cat, we're going to do some real eating," said he. "Just
sit right down and make yourself at home - this is kind of fun, by
Jinks!" Down went the eggs and down went the loaf of bread in
generous slices, never forgetting a fair share for the cat.

"Woosh! I feel better!" cried Red, "and now for some sleep." He
swung up into the hay-loft, spread the blanket on the still
fragrant old hay, and rolled himself up in a trice.

"I did a good turn when I came on here," he mused. "If I have got
only one relation, she's a dandy - so pretty and quiet and nice.
She's a marker for all I've got, is Mattie."

The cat came up, purring and "making bread." He sniffed feline
fashion at Red's face.

"Foo! Shoo! Go 'way, pussy! Settle yourself down and we'll pound
our ear for another forty miles. I like you first rate when you
don't walk on my face." He stretched and yawned enormously. "Yes
sir! Mattie's all right," said he. "A-a-a-ll ri-" and Chantay
Seeche Red was in the land of dreams. Here, back in God's country,
within twenty miles of the place where he was born, the wanderer
laid him down again, and in spite of raid and foray, whisky and
poker-cards, wear-and-tear, hard times, and hardest test of all,
sudden fortune, he was much the same impulsive, honest, generous,
devil-may-care boy who had left there twenty-four years ago.


The next morning when Red awoke,
arrows of gold were shooting through
the holes in the old barn, and outside, the bird
life, the twittering and chirping, the fluent
whistle and the warble, the cackle and the
pompous crow, were in full chorus.

"Where am I at, this time?" said he, as
he took in the view. "Oh, I remember!" and
his heart leapt. "I'm in my own home, by
the Lord!"

He went down to the brook and washed,
drying hands and face on the silk neckerchief,
which is meant for use as well as for decoration.

In the meantime, Miss Mattie had
awakened, with a sense of something delightful at
hand, the meaning of which escaped her for
the time. And then she remembered, and
sprang out of bed like a girl. She went to
the window, threw open the shutters and let
the stirring morning air flow in. This had
been her habit for a long time. The window
faced away from the road, and no one could
see who was not on Miss Mattie's own premises.

But this morning Red had wandered
around. Stopping at the rose bushes he
picked a bud.

"That has the real old-time smell," he said,
as he held it to his nose. "Sweetbriars are
good, and I don't go back on 'em, but they
ain't got the fram these fellers have."

Bud in hand he walked beneath Miss
Mattie's windows, and he was the first thing her
eye fell upon.

Her startled exclamation made him look up
before she had time to withdraw.

"Hello there!" he called joyfully. "How
do you open up this day? You look pretty
well!" he added with a note of admiration.
Miss Mattie had the wavy hair which is never
in better order than when left to its own
devices. Her idea of coiffure was not the most
becoming that could have been selected, as
she felt that a "young" style of hair dressing
was foolish for a single woman of her years.
Now, with the pretty soft hair flying, her
eyes still humid with sleep, and a touch of
color in her face from the surprise, relieved
against the fleecy shawl she had thrown about
her shoulders, she was incontestably both a
discreet and pretty picture. Yet Miss Mattie
could not forget the bare feet and night-gown,
although they were hidden from masculine
eyes by wood and plaster, and she was
embarrassed. Still, with all the super-sensitive
fancies, Miss Mattie had a strong back-bone
of New England common-sense. She
answered that she felt very well indeed, and, to
cover any awkwardness, inquired what he had
in his hand.

"Good old rose," replied Red. "Old-time
smeller - better suited to you than to me - ketch!"

At the word he tossed it, and Miss Mattie
caught it dexterously. Red had an
exceedingly keen eye for some things, and he noticed
the certainty of the action. He hated
fumblers. "A person can do things right if they've
got minds that work," was one of his pet
sayings. "'Taint the muscles at all - it's in the
head, and I like the kind of head that's in use
all the time." Therefore this small affair made
an impression on him.

"Why, you could be a baseball player," said he.

"I used to play with Joe, when I was a
girl," said Miss Mattie, smiling. "I always
liked boy's play better than I did girl's. Joe
taught me how to throw a ball, too. He said
he wouldn't play with me unless I learned not
to 'scoop it,' girl fashion. I suppose you will
be wanting breakfast?" There was a hint of
sarcasm in the doubt of the inquiry.

"That's what I do!" said Red. "You
must just hustle down and get things to
boiling, or I'll throw bricks through the windows.
I've been up for the last two hours."

"Why! I don't believe it!" said Miss Mattie.

"No more do I, but it seems like it,"
replied Red. "Don't you want the fire started?
Come down and open up the house."

When Miss Mattie appeared at the door, in
he strode with an armful of wood, dropping
it man-fashion, crash! on the floor.

"Skip out of the way!" said he. "I'll show
you how to build a fire!"

The early morning had been the most
desolate time to Miss Mattie. As the day warmed
up the feeling of loneliness vanished, perhaps
to return at evening, but not then with the
same absoluteness as when she walked about
the kitchen to the echo of her own footsteps
in the morning.

Now the slamming and the banging which
accompanied Red's energetic actions rang in
her ears most cheerily. She even found a
relish in the smothered oath that heralded
the thrust of a splinter in his finger. It
was very wicked, but it was also very much

Red arose and dusted off his knees. "Now
we're off!" he said as the fire began to roar.
"What's next?"

"If you'd grind the coffee, Will?" she suggested.

"Sure! Where's the hand organ?"

He put the mill between his knees, and
converted the beans to powder, to the tune of
"Old dog Tray" through his nose, which Miss
Mattie found very amusing.

She measured out the coffee, one spoonful
for each cup, and one for the pot. Red
watched her patiently, and when she had
finished, he threw in the rest of the contents of
the mill-drawer. "I like it fairly strong," said
he in explanation.

"Now, Will!" protested Miss Mattie.
"Look at you! That will be as bitter as boneset!"

"Thin her up with milk and she'll be all
right," replied Red.

"Well, such wasteful ways I never did see.
Nobody'd think you were a day over fifteen."

"I'm not," said Red stoutly, "and,"
catching her chin in his hand and turning her face
up toward him - "Nobody'd put your score
much higher than that neither, if they trusted
to their eyes this morning."

The compliment hit so tender a place that
Miss Mattie lacked the resolution to tear it
out, besides, it was so honest that it sounded
much less like a compliment than a plain
statement of fact. She bent hastily over the fire.
"I'm glad I look young, Will," she said softly.

"So'm I!" he assented heartily. "What's
the sense in being old, anyhow? I'm as
limber and good for myself as ever I was, in spite
of my forty years."

"You're not _forty_ years old!" exclaimed
Miss Mattie. "You're joking!"

"Nary joke - forty round trips from flying
snow to roses since I hit land, Mattie - why,
you were only a little girl when I left
here - don't you remember? You and your folks
came to see us the week before I left. I got
a thrashing for taking you and Joe to the
millpond, and helping you to get good and wet.
The thrashing was one of the things that gave
me a hankering for the West. Very liberal
man with the hickory, father. Spare the
clothes and spoil the skin was his motto. He
used to make me strip to the waist - phee-hew!
Even a light breeze rested heavy on my back
when dad got through with me - say, Mattie,
perhaps I oughtn't to say so, now that he's
gone, but I don't think that's the proper way
to use a boy, do you?"

"No, I don't," said Miss Mattie. "Your
father meant well, but his way was useless and

"I've forgiven him the whole sweep," said
Red. "But damn me! If I had a boy I
wouldn't club the life out of him - I'd try to
reason with him first, anyhow. Makes a boy
as ugly as anybody else to get the hide whaled
off his back for nothing - once in a while he
needs it. Boy that's got any life in him gets
to be too much occasionally and then a
warming is healthful and nourishing. Lord!
You'd think I was the father of my country
to hear me talk, wouldn't you? If somebody'd
write a book, 'What Red Saunders don't
know about raising children' it would be full
of valuable information - how's that breakfast
coming on?"

"All ready - sit right down, Will."

"Go you!" cried Red, and incautiously
flung himself upon one of the kitchen chairs,
which collapsed instantly and dropped him to
the floor.

"Mercy on us! Are you hurt?" cried Miss
Mattie, rushing forward.

"Hurt?" said Red. "Try it! - Just jump
up in the air and sit on the floor where you
are now, and see if you get hurt! Oh, no!
I'm not hurt, but I'm astonished beyond
measure, like the man that tickled the mule.
I'll take my breakfast right here - shouldn't
wonder a bit if the floor went back on me and
landed me in the cellar - no sir! I won't get
up! Hand me the supplies, I know when I'm
well off. If you want to eat breakfast with
me come sit on the floor. I'm not going to
have my spine pushed through the top of my
head twice in the same day."

"Will! You are the most ridiculous
person I ever did see!" said Miss Mattie, and
she laughed till she cried in sheer
light-heartedness. "But there's a chair you can
trust - come on now."

"Well, if you'll take your solemn oath that
this one has no moustache to deceive me,"
said Red doubtfully. "It looks husky - well,
I'll try it - Hooray! She didn't give an inch.
This kind of reminds me of the time Jimmy
Hendricks came back from town and walked
off the edge of the bluff in the dark. It just
happened that Old Scotty Ferguson's cabin
was underneath him. Jim took most of the
roof off with him as he went in. He sat
awhile to figure out what was trumps, having
come a hundred and fifty feet too fast to do
much thinking. Then, 'Hello!' he yells.
Old Scotty was a sleeper from 'way back, but
this woke him up.

"'Hello!' says he. 'Was'er matter?'

"Jim saw he wasn't more than half awake
yet, so he says, 'Why, I was up on the bluff
there, Scotty, and seeing it was such a short
distance I thought I'd drop in!'

"'Aw ri',' grunted Scotty. 'Make y'self t'
home,' and with that he rolls over.

"Jim couldn't wait for morning, and though
his leg was pretty badly sprained, he made the
trip all the way round the trail and woke us
up to tell us how he'd gone through
Ferguson's roof and the old man asked him to make
himself at home. Next morning there was
Scotty out in front of his cabin, his thumbs in
his vest holes, looking up.

"'What's the matter, Scotty?' says I.

"'Well, I wisht you'd tell me what in the
name of God went through that roof!' says he.

"I swallered a laugh cross-ways and put on
a serious face. 'Must have been a rock,' says I.

"'Rock nothin'!' says he. 'If it had been
a rock 'twould have stayed in the cabin,
wouldn't it! Well, there ain't the first blasted
thing of any shape nor description in there but
the hole - you can go in and look for yourself.'

"It cost Scotty one case of rye to make us
forget those circumstances."

"I should have thought the man would be
killed, striking on the roof that way," said
Miss Mattie.

"Oh, no! Roof was made of quaking-asp
saplings, just about strong enough to break
his fall. Scotty was the sleeper, though! It
wasn't hardly natural the way that man could
pound his ear through thick and thin. He
had quite a surprising time of it once. He'd
been prospecting 'round the Ruby refractory
ore district and he came out at Hank Cutter's
saw-mill, just at sun-down. Hank's place was
full of gold rushers, so Old Scotty thought
he'd sleep out-doors in peace and quiet. He
discovered some big boxes, that Hank was
making for ore bins for the new mill, and as
the ground was kind of damp from a
thunder-shower they had that day, he spreads his
blanket inside the box and goes to sleep; ore
bins have to be smooth and dust tight, so it
wasn't a bad shanty.

"Well, there came a jar and waked him up.
The box was rolling a little, and going along,
going along forty mile an hour. Scotty lit a
match and found he was in a kind of big
tunnel but the wall was flying by so fast, he
couldn't make out just what kind of a tunnel
it was. Now, he'd gone to sleep in peace and
quiet on a side hill, and to wake up and find
himself boat-riding in a tunnel was enough
to surprise anybody. First he pinched
himself to see if it was Hank's pie, or a cold fact,
found it was a fact, then he lit another match
and leaned over and looked at the black water
underneath, but this made the box tip so it
scart him and he settled down in the bottom
again. He didn't try to think - what was the
use? No man living could have figured things
out with the few facts Scotty had before him.
All of a sudden the box made a rush and shot
out into the air, and Scotty felt they were
falling. 'God sakes!' he says to himself.
'What's next, I wonder?' Then they hit the
water below with a ker-flap that nearly
telescoped Scotty and sent the spray flying. After
that they went along smooth again. 'Well,'
says Scotty, 'I don't know where I am, nor
who I am, nor what's happened, nor who's it,
nor nothing about this game. So far I ain't
been hurt, though, and I might just as well
lie down and get a little more rest.'

"It was broad daylight when he woke up
again, and a man was looking into the box.
'Hello, pardner!' he says. 'I hope you've
had a pleasant journey - do you always travel
this way?'

"Scotty raised up and found his craft was
aground - high and dry - no water within a
hundred feet of it. On one side was quite a
little town.

"'Say,' says he, 'could I trouble you to tell
me where I am, friend?'

"'You're at Placerville,' answers the other.

"'Placerville!' yells Scotty, 'and I went to
sleep at Cutter's Mill, sixty-five miles from
here! - what are you giving us, man?'

"'I'm putting it to you straight,' says the
stranger. 'Take a look around you.'

"Scotty looked and there was all kinds of
wreckage, from a dead beef critter to a wheel

"'What in nation's all this?' says he.

"'Washout,' says the man. 'Cloud burst
up on the divide - worst we've ever
had - your box is about high water mark - you see
there was water enough for awhile - I reckon
you're about the only thing that came through

"'Well, wouldn't that knock you?' says Scotty.

- "Whilst the rest of the folk at the mill
was taking to the high ground for their lives,
with the water roaring and tearing through
the gulch, Scotty had peacefully gone off in
his little boat, down the creek, and instead of
going over the rapids, where he'd have been
done, for all his luck, the box ambles through
the flume they was building for the new mill.
Of course there was the jounce over the tail
race, but that hadn't hurt him much, and after,
he rocked in the cradle of the deep, until he
got beached at Placerville.

"'Come along, friend,' says Scotty to the
feller, 'you and me are going to have a little
drink on this, if it is the last act.' And I
reckon probably they made it two, for when
Scotty got back again he was in a condition
that made everybody believe that he'd only
guessed at the story he told. But they found
out afterward it was a solemn fact. Mattie,
give us some more coffee."

Thus abruptly recalled to Fairfield, Miss
Mattie started up.

"Well, Will, it does seem as if that was a
dangerous country to live in," said she.

"Oh, not so awful!" said Red. "Just as
many people die here as they do there - this
world's a dangerous place to live in, wherever
you strike it, Mattie."

"That's so," said she, thoughtfully.

"And now," said Red, pushing back his
chair, "it's time I got to work and left you to
do the housework undisturbed."

"What are you going to do, Will?"

"First place, there's fences and things to
be tinkered up, I see. I suppose a millionaire
like me ought to hire those things done, but
I'd have measles of the mind if I sat around
doing nothing."

"I have been wanting to get the place in
good order for some time," said Miss Mattie,
"but what with the money I had to spend for
this and that, and not being able to get
Mr. Joyce to come in for a day's work when I
wanted him, it's gone on, until there is a good
deal of wrack to it."

"We'll wrack it t'other way round in no
time - got any tools here?"

"Out in the barn is what's left of father's
tools - people have borrowed 'em and forgot
to return 'em, and they've rusted or been
lost until I'm afraid there ain't many of 'em

"Well, I'll get along to-day somehow, and
later on we'll stock up - want any help around
the house?"

"Thank you, no, Will."

"Then I'm off."

It was almost with a feeling of terror that
Miss Mattie beheld him root up the fence.
Her idea of repairing was to put in a picket
here and there where it was most needed;
Red's was to knock it all flat first, and set it
up in A1 condition afterward. So, in two
hours' time he straightened up and snapped
the sweat from his brow, beholding the slain
pickets prone on the grass with thorough
satisfaction. Yet he felt tired, for the day was
already hot with a moist and soaking
sea-coast heat, to which the plainsman was
unaccustomed. A three-quarter-grown boy passed
by, lounging on the seat of a farm waggon.

"Hey!" hailed Red. The boy stopped and
turned slowly around.

"Yes, sir," he answered courteously enough.

"Want a job?" said Red.

"Well, I dunno," replied the boy. He was
much astonished at the appearance of his
interrogator, and he was a cautious New
England boy to boot.

"_You_ don't know?" retorted Red. "Well,"
with some sarcasm, "d'ye suppose I could
find out at the post-office?"

The boy looked at Red with a twinkle in his
eye, and a comical drawing of his long mouth.

"I calc'late if you cud fin' out anyweres,
'twould be there," said he.

Red laughed. He had noticed the busy
post-mistress rushing out of her store to
waylay anyone likely to have information on any
subject, a stream of questions proceeding from
her through the door.

"Say, you got anything particular to do?"

"No, sir - leastways th'ain't no hurry about it."

"Can I buy stuff to make a fence with,
around here?"

"Yes, sir - Mister Pettigrew's got all kinds
of buildin' material at his store - two mile over
yonder," pointing with the whip.

"You drive over there for me, and get
some - just like this here - pickets and posts
and whatever you call them long pieces, and
I'll make it right with you."

"Yes, sir - how much will I get?"

"Oh, tell him to fill the waggon up with
it, and I'll send back what I don't
want - hustle, now, like a good boy; I want to get
shut of this job; I liked it better before I begun."

When his Mercury had speeded on the
journey at a faster gait than Red would have
given him credit for, the architect strode
down to the blacksmith's shop. There was a
larger crowd than usual around the forge, as
the advent of the stranger had gotten into
the wind, and the village Vulcan was a person
who not only looked the whole world in the
face, but no one of the maiden ladies of
Fairfield could have excelled his interest in
looking the whole world as much in the inside
pocket as possible. The blacksmith was
emphatically a gossip, as well as a hardworking,
God-fearing man.

"Say, there he comes now, Mr. Tuttle!"
cried one of the loungers, and nudged the
smith to look.

"Well, let him come!" retorted the smith,
testily, jamming a shoe in the fire with
unnecessary force; as a matter of fact, he was
embarrassed. The loungers huddled together
for moral support, as the big cow-man loomed
through the doorway.

"Good morning, friends!" said he.

"Good morning, sir!" replied the
blacksmith, rubbing his hands on his apron. "Nice
day, sir?"

"For the sake of good fellowship, I'll say
'yes' to that," responded Red. "But if you
want my honest opinion on the subject, it's
damn hot."

"'Tis that," assented the smith, and a
silence followed.

"Say, who's your crack fence-builder
around here?" asked Red. "The man that
can make two pickets grow where only one
grew before and do it so easy that it's a
pleasure to sit and look at him?"

"Hey?" inquired the smith, not precisely
getting the meaning of the address.

"Why, I've got a fence to build," exclaimed
Red. "And now I want some help - want it
so bad, I'll produce to the extent of three a
day and call it a day from now 'till six
o'clock - any takers here? Make your bets while the
little ball rolls."

The loungers understood the general drift
of this and pricked up their ears, as did the
blacksmith. "Guess one of the boys will help
you," said the latter.

"Well, who's it?" asked Red, glancing at
the circle of faces. Three dollars a day was
enormous wages in that part of the country.
Nobody knew just what to say.

"Oh, well!" cried Red, "let's everybody
run - I reckon I can find something to do for
the five of you - are you with me?"

"Yes, sir," they said promptly.

"Can I borrow a hammer or so off you, old
man?" questioned Red of the smith.

"Certainly, sir," returned the latter heartily.
"Take what you want."

"Much obliged - and the gate hinges are
out of whack - Miss Saunders' place, you
know - come over and take a squint at 'em
in the near by-and-by, will you? May as well
fix it up all at once - come on, boys!"

It was thus that the greatest enterprise that
Fairfield had seen in many a day was
undertaken. Miss Mattie was simply astounded as
the army bore down upon the house.

"Whatever in the world is Cousin Will
doing?" said she; but resting strong in the faith
that it was necessarily all right, she was
content to wait for dinner and an explanation.
Not so the post-mistress. The agonies of
unrequited curiosity the worthy woman
suffered that morning until she at last summoned
up her resolution and asked the smith plump
out and out what it all meant, would have to
be experienced to be appreciated. And the
smith kept her hanging for a while, too,
saying to himself in justification, that it wasn't
right the way that old gal had to get into
everybody's business. The smith was like
some of the rest of us; he could see through
a beam if it was in his own eye.


There was a great din of whacking and hammering that morning. Red
worked like a horse, now that he had company. A sudden thought
struck him and he went into the house.

"Mattie," said he.

"Well, Will?"

"I see a use for the rest of that nice big roast of beef I smell in
the oven - let's have all these fellers stay to dinner, and give 'em
one good feed - what do you say?"

"Why, I'd like to. Will - but I don't know - where'll I set them?"

"Couple of boards outside for a table - let them sit on boxes or
something - got plates and things enough?"

"My, yes! Plenty of such things, Will."

"Then if it ain't too much trouble for you, we'll let it go."

"No trouble at all, Will - it will be a regular picnic."

"Boys, you'll eat with me this day," said Red.

They spread the board table beneath an old apple tree, and cleaned
up for the repast in the kitchen storm-shed with an apologetic,
"Sorry to trouble you, Miss Saunders," or such a matter as each
went in.

Just as Miss Mattie was withdrawing the meat from the oven, there
came a knock at the door.

"Goodness, gracious!" she exclaimed. "Who can that be now? Will,
will you see who that is? I can't go."

"Sure!" said Red, and went to the door. There stood two women of
that indefinite period between forty and sixty, very decently
dressed and with some agitation visible in the way they fussily
adjusted various parts of their attire.

They started at the sudden spectacle of the huge man who said
pleasantly, "Howderdo, ladies!"

"Why, how do you do?" replied the taller instantly, and in a voice
she had never heard before. "I hope you're well, sir?" A remark

1 2 3 4 6 8 9

Online LibraryHenry Wallace PhillipsRed Saunders → online text (page 6 of 9)