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At the sign of the Jack o'Lantern online

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one hundred of it was promised for a typewriter? Harlan had parted with
his managing editor on terms of great dignity, announcing that he had
forsworn journalism and would hereafter devote himself to literature. The
editor had remarked, somewhat cynically, that it was a better day for
journalism than for literature, the fine, inner meaning of the retort not
having been fully evident to Harlan until he was some three squares away
from the office.

Much chastened in spirit, and fully ready to accept his wife's estimate of
him, he went on downhill into Judson Centre.

It was the usual small town, the post-office, grocery, meat market, and
general loafing-place being combined under one roof. Near by was the
blacksmith shop, and across from it was the inevitable saloon. Far up in
the hills was the Judson Centre Sanitarium, a worthy institution of some
years standing, where every human ailment from tuberculosis to fits was
more or less successfully treated.

Upon the inmates of the sanitarium the inhabitants of Judson Centre lived,
both materially and mentally. Few of them had ever been nearer to it than
the back door, but tales of dark doings were widely prevalent throughout
the community, and mothers were wont to frighten their young offspring
into obedience with threats of the "san-tor-i-yum."

"Now what do you reckon ails _him_?" asked the blacksmith of the
stage-driver, as Harlan went into the village store.

"Wouldn't reckon nothin' ailed him to look at him, would you?" queried the
driver, in reply.

Indeed, no one looking at Mr. Carr would have suspected him of an
"ailment." He was tall and broad-shouldered and well set up, with clear
grey eyes and a rosy, smooth-shaven, boyish face which had given him the
nickname of "The Cherub" all along Newspaper Row. In his bearing there was
a suggestion of boundless energy, which needed only proper direction to
accomplish wonders.

"You can't never tell," continued the driver, shifting his quid. "Now,
I've took folks up there goin' on ten year now, an' some I've took up
looked considerable more healthy than I be when I took 'em up. Comin'
back, howsumever, it was different. One young feller rode up with me in
the rain one night, a-singin' an' a-whistlin' to beat the band, an' when I
took him back, a month or so arterward, he had a striped nurse on one side
of him an' a doctor on t' other, an' was wearin' a shawl. Couldn't hardly
set up, but he was a-tryin' to joke just the same. 'Hank,' says he, when
we got a little way off from the place, 'my book of life has been edited
by the librarians an' the entire appendix removed.' Them's his very words.
'An',' says he, 'the time to have the appendix took out is before it does
much of anythin' to your table of contents.'

"The doctor shut him up then, an' I didn't hear no more, but I remembered
the language, an' arterwards, when I got a chanst, I looked in the
school-teacher's dictionary. It said as how the appendix was sunthin'
appended or added to, but I couldn't get no more about it. I've hearn tell
of a 'devil child' with a tail to it what was travellin' with the circus
one year, an' I've surmised as how mebbe a tail had begun to grow on this
young feller an' it was took off."

"You don't say!" ejaculated the blacksmith.

By reason of his professional connection with the sanitarium, Mr. Henry
Blake was, in a sense, the oracle of Judson Centre, and he enjoyed his
proud distinction to the full. Ordinarily, he was taciturn, but the
present hour found him in a conversational mood.

"He's married," he went on, returning to the original subject. "I took him
an' his wife up to the Jack-o'-Lantern last night. Come in on the nine
forty-seven from the Junction. Reckon they're goin' to stay a spell,
'cause they've got trunks - one of a reasonable size, an' 'nother that
looks like a dog-house. Box, too, that's got lead in it."

"Books, maybe," suggested the blacksmith, with unexpected discernment.
"Schoolteacher boarded to our house wunst an' she had most a car-load of
'em. Educated folks has to have books to keep from losin' their

"Don't take much stock in it myself," remarked the driver. "It spiles most
folks. As soon as they get some, they begin to pine an' hanker for more. I
knowed a feller wunst that begun with one book dropped on the road near
the sanitarium, an' he never stopped till he was plum through college. An'
a woman up there sent my darter a book wunst, an' I took it right back to
her. 'My darter's got a book,' says I, 'an' she ain't a-needin' of no
duplicates. Keep it,' says I, 'fer somebody that ain't got no book."

"Do you reckon," asked the blacksmith, after a long silence, "that they're
goin' to live in the Jack-o'-Lantern?"

"I ain't a-sayin'," answered Mr. Blake, cautiously. "They're educated, an'
there's no tellin' what educated folks is goin' to do. This young lady,
now, that come up with him last night, she said it was 'a dear old place
an' she loved it a'ready.' Them's her very words!"

"Do tell!"

"That's c'rrect, an' as I said before, when you're dealin' with educated
folks, you're swimmin' in deep water with the shore clean out o' sight.
Education was what ailed him." By a careless nod Mr. Blake indicated the
Jack-o'-Lantern, which could be seen from the main thoroughfare of Judson

"I've hearn," he went on, taking a fresh bite from his morning purchase of
"plug," "that he had one hull room mighty nigh plum full o' nothin' but
books, an' there was always more comin' by freight an' express an' through
the post-office. It's all on account o' them books that he's made the
front o' his house into what it is. My wife had a paper book wunst,
a-tellin' 'How to Transfer a Hopeless Exterior,' with pictures of houses
in it like they be here an' more arter they'd been transferred. You bet I
burnt it while she was gone to sewin' circle, an' there ain't no book come
into my house since."

Mr. Blake spoke with the virtuous air of one who has protected his home
from contamination. Indeed, as he had often said before, "you can't never
tell what folks'll do when books gets a holt of 'em."

"Do you reckon," asked the blacksmith, "that there'll be company?"

"Company," snickered Mr. Blake, "oh, my Lord, yes! A little thing like
death ain't never going to keep company away. Ain't you never hearn as how
misery loves company? The more miserable you are the more company you'll
have, an' vice versey, etcetery an' the same."

"Hush!" warned the blacksmith, in a harsh whisper. "He's a-comin'!"

"City feller," grumbled Mr. Blake, affecting not to see.

"Good-morning," said Harlan, pleasantly, though not without an air of
condescension. "Can you tell me where I can find the stage-driver?"

"That's me," grunted Mr. Blake. "Be you wantin' anythin'?"

"Only to pay you for taking us up to the house last night, and to arrange
about our trunks. Can you deliver them this afternoon?"

"I ain't a-runnin' of no livery, but I can take 'em up, if that's what
you're wantin'."

"Exactly," said Harlan, "and the box, too, if you will. And the things
I've just ordered at the grocery - can you bring them, too?"

Mr. Blake nodded helplessly, and the blacksmith gazed at Harlan,
open-mouthed, as he started uphill. "Must sure have a ailment," he
commented, "but I hear tell, Hank, that in the city they never carry
nothin' round with 'em but perhaps an umbrell. Everythin' else they have

"Reckon it's true enough. I took a ham wunst up to the sanitarium for a
young sprig of a doctor that was too proud to carry it himself. He was
goin' that way, too - walkin' up to save money - so I charged him for
carryin' up the ham just what I'd have took both for. 'Pigs is high,' I
told him, 'same price for one as for 'nother,' but he didn't pay no
attention to it an' never raised no kick about the price. Thinkin' 'bout
sunthin' else, most likely - most of 'em are."

Harlan, most assuredly, was "thinkin' 'bout sunthin' else." In fact, he
was possessed by portentous uneasiness. There was well-defined doubt in
his mind regarding his reception at the Jack-o'-Lantern. Dorothy's parting
words had been plain - almost to the point of rudeness, he reflected,
unhappily, and he was not sure that "a brute" would be allowed in her
presence again.

The bare, uncurtained windows gave no sign of human occupancy. Perhaps she
had left him! Then his reason came to the rescue - there was no way for her
to go but downhill, and he would certainly have seen her had she taken
that path.

When he entered the yard, he smelled smoke, and ran wildly into the house.
A hasty search through all the rooms revealed nothing - even Dorothy had
disappeared. From the kitchen window, he saw her in the back yard, poking
idly through a heap of smouldering rubbish with an old broomstick.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, breathlessly, before she knew he was
near her.

Dorothy turned, disguising her sudden start by a toss of her head. "Oh,"
she said, coolly, "it's you, is it?"

Harlan bit his lips and his eyes laughed. "I say, Dorothy," he began,
awkwardly; "I was rather a beast, wasn't I?"

"Of course," she returned, in a small, unnatural voice, still poking
through the ruins. "I told you so, didn't I?"

"I didn't believe you at the time," Harlan went on, eager to make amends,
"but I do now."

"That's good." Mrs. Carr's tone was not at all reassuring.

There was an awkward pause, then Harlan, putting aside his obstinate
pride, said the simple sentence which men of all ages have found it
hardest to say - perhaps because it is the sign of utter masculine
abasement. "I'm sorry, dear, will you forgive me?"

In a moment, she was in his arms. "It was partly my fault," she admitted,
generously, from the depths of his coat collar. "I think there must be
something in the atmosphere of the house. We never quarrelled before."

"And we never will again," answered Harlan, confidently. "What have you
been burning?"

"It was a mattress," whispered Dorothy, much ashamed. "I tried to get a
bed out, but it was too heavy."

"You funny, funny girl! How did you ever get a mattress out, all alone?"

"Dragged it to an upper window and dumped it," she explained, blushing,
"then came down and dragged it some more. Claudius Tiberius didn't like to
have me do it."

"I don't wonder," laughed Harlan. "That is," he added hastily, "he
couldn't have been pleased to see you doing it all by yourself. Anybody
would love to see a mattress burn."

"Shall we get some more? There are plenty."

"Let's not take all our pleasure at once," he suggested, with rare tact.
"One mattress a day - how'll that do?"

"We'll have it at night," cried Dorothy, clapping her hands, "and when the
mattresses are all gone, we'll do the beds and bureaus and the haircloth
furniture in the parlour. Oh, I do so love a bonfire!"

Harlan's heart grew strangely tender, for it had been this underlying
childishness in her that he had loved the most. She was stirring the ashes
now, with as much real pleasure as though she were five instead of

As it happened, Harlan would have been saved a great deal of trouble if he
had followed out her suggestion and burned all of the beds in the house
except two or three, but the balance between foresight and retrospection
has seldom been exact.

"Beast of a smudge you're making," he commented, choking.

"Get around to the other side, then. Why, Harlan, what's that?"

"What's what?"

She pointed to a small metal box in the midst of the ashes.

"Poem on Spring, probably, put into the corner-stone by the builder of the

"Don't be foolish," she said, with assumed severity. "Get me a pail of

With two sticks they lifted it into the water and waited, impatiently
enough, until they were sure it was cool. Then Dorothy, asserting her
right of discovery, opened it with trembling fingers.

"Why-ee!" she gasped.

Upon a bed of wet cotton lay a large brooch, made wholly of clustered
diamonds, and a coral necklace, somewhat injured by the fire.

"Whose is it?" demanded Dorothy, when she recovered the faculty of

"I should say," returned Harlan, after due deliberation, "that it belonged
to you."

"After this," she said, slowly, her eyes wide with wonder, "we'll take
everything apart before we burn it."

Harlan was turning the brooch over in his hand and roughly estimating its
value at two thousand dollars. "Here's something on the back," he said.
"'R. from E., March 12, 1865.'"

"Rebecca from Ebeneezer," cried Dorothy. "Oh, Harlan, it's ours! Don't you
remember the letter said: 'my house and all its contents to my beloved
nephew, James Harlan Carr'?"

"I remember," said Harlan. But his conscience was uneasy, none the less.


The First Caller

As Mr. Blake had heard, there was "one hull room mighty nigh plum full o'
nothin' but books"; a grievous waste, indeed, when one already "had a
book." It was the front room, opposite the parlour, and every door and
window in it could be securely bolted from the inside. If any one desired
unbroken privacy, it could be had in the library as nowhere else in the

The book-shelves were made of rough pine, unplaned, unpainted, and were
scarcely a seemly setting for the treasure they bore. But in looking at
the books, one perceived that their owner had been one who passed by the
body in his eager search for the soul.

Here were no fine editions, no luxurious, costly volumes in full levant.
Illuminated pages, rubricated headings, and fine illustrations were
conspicuous by their absence. For the most part, the books were simply but
serviceably bound in plain cloth covers. Many a paper-covered book had
been bound by its purchaser in pasteboard, flimsy enough in quality, yet
further strengthened by cloth at the back. Cheap, pirated editions were so
many that Harlan wondered whether his uncle had not been wholly without
conscience in the matter of book-buying.

Shelf after shelf stretched across the long wall, with its company of mute
consolers whose master was no more. The fine flowering of the centuries,
like a single precious drop of imperishable perfume, was hidden in this
rude casket. The minds and hearts of the great, laid pitilessly bare, were
here in this one room, shielded merely by pasteboard and cloth.

Far up in the mountains, amid snow-clad steeps and rock-bound fastnesses,
one finds, perchance, a shell. It is so small a thing that it can be held
in the hollow of the hand; so frail that a slight pressure of the finger
will crush it to atoms, yet, held to the ear, it brings the surge and
sweep of that vast, primeval ocean which, in the inconceivably remote
past, covered the peak. And so, to the eye of the mind, the small brown
book, with its hundred printed pages, brings back the whole story of the

A thin, piping voice, to which its fellows have paid no heed, after a time
becomes silent, and, ceaselessly marching, the years pass on by. Yet that
trembling old hand, quietly laid at last upon the turbulent heart, in the
solitude of a garret has guided a pen, and the manuscript is left. Ragged,
worn, blotted, spotted with candle drippings and endlessly interlined, why
should these few sheets of paper be saved?

Because, as it happens, the only record of the period is there - a record
so significant that fifty years can be reconstructed, as an entire
language was brought to light by a triple inscription upon a single stone.
Thrown like the shell upon Time's ever-receding shore, it is,
nevertheless, the means by which unborn thousands shall commune with him
who wrote in his garret, see his whole life mirrored in his book, know his
philosophy, and take home his truth. For by way of the printed page comes

There was no book in the library which had not been read many times. Some
were falling apart, and others had been carefully sewn together and
awkwardly rebound. Still open, on a rickety table in the corner, was that
ponderous volume with an extremely limited circulation: _The Publishers'
Trade List Annual_. Pencilled crosses here and there indicated books to be
purchased, or at least sent on approval, to "customers known to the

"Some day," said Dorothy, "when it's raining and we can't go out, we'll
take down all these books, arrange them in something like order, and
catalogue them."

"How optimistic you are!" remarked Harlan. "Do you think it could be done
in one day?"

"Oh, well," returned Dorothy; "you know what I mean."

Harlan paced restlessly back and forth, pausing now and then to look out
of the window, where nothing much was to be seen except the orchard, at a
little distance from the house, and Claudius Tiberius, sunning himself
pleasantly upon the porch. Four weeks had been a pleasant vacation, but
two weeks of comparative idleness, added to it, were too much for an
active mind and body to endure. Three or four times he had tried to begin
the book that was to bring fame and fortune, and as many times had failed.
Hitherto Harlan's work had not been obliged to wait for inspiration, and
it was not so easy as it had seemed the day he bade his managing editor

"Somebody is coming," announced Dorothy, from the window.

"Nonsense! Nobody ever comes here."

"A precedent is about to be established, then. I feel it in my bones that
we're going to have company."

"Let's see." Harlan went to the window and looked over her shoulder. A
little man in a huge silk hat was toiling up the hill, aided by a cane. He
was bent and old, yet he moved with a certain briskness, and, as Dorothy
had said, he was inevitably coming.

"Who in thunder - " began Harlan.

"Our first company," interrupted Dorothy, with her hand over his mouth.
"The very first person who has called on us since we were married!"

"Except Claudius Tiberius," amended Harlan. "Isn't a cat anybody?"

"Claudius is. I beg his imperial pardon for forgetting him."

The rusty bell-wire creaked, then a timid ring came from the rear depths
of the house. "You let him in," said Dorothy, "and I'll go and fix my

"Am I right," queried the old gentleman, when Harlan opened the door, "in
presuming that I am so fortunate as to address Mr. James Harlan Carr?"

"My name is Carr," answered Harlan, politely. "Will you come in?"

"Thank you," answered the visitor, in high staccato, oblivious of the fact
that Claudius Tiberius had scooted in between his feet; "it will be my
pleasure to claim your hospitality for a few brief moments.

"I had hoped," he went on, as Harlan ushered him into the parlour, "to be
able to make your acquaintance before this, but my multitudinous
duties - - "

He fumbled in his pocket and produced a card, cut somewhat irregularly
from a sheet of white cardboard, and bearing in tremulous autographic
script: "Jeremiah Bradford, Counsellor at Law."

"Oh," said Harlan, "it was you who wrote me the letter. I should have
hunted you up when I first came, shouldn't I?"

"Not at all," returned Mr. Bradford. "It is I who have been remiss. It is
etiquette that the old residents should call first upon the newcomers.
Many and varied duties in connection with the practice of my profession
have hitherto - " His eyes sought the portrait over the mantel. "A most
excellent likeness of your worthy uncle," he continued, irrelevantly, "a
gentleman with whom, as I understand, you never had the pleasure and
privilege of becoming acquainted."

"I never met Uncle Ebeneezer," rejoined Harlan, "but mother told me a
great deal about him and we had one or two pictures - daguerreotypes, I
believe they were."

"Undoubtedly, my dear sir. This portrait was painted from his very last
daguerreotype by an artist of renown. It is a wonderful likeness. He was
my Colonel - I served under him in the war. It was my desire to possess a
portrait of him in uniform, but he would never consent, and would not
allow anyone save myself to address him as Colonel. An eccentric, but very
estimable gentleman."

"I cannot understand," said Harlan, "why he should have left the house to
me. I had never even seen him."

"Perhaps," smiled Mr. Bradford, enigmatically, "that was his reason, or
rather, perhaps I should say, if you had known your uncle more intimately
and had visited him here, or, if he had had the privilege of knowing
you - quite often, as you know, a personal acquaintance proves
disappointing, though, of course, in this case - - "

The old gentleman was floundering helplessly when Harlan rescued him. "I
want you to meet my wife, Mr. Bradford. If you will excuse me, I will call

Left to himself, the visitor slipped back and forth uneasily upon his
haircloth chair, and took occasion to observe Claudius Tiberius, who sat
near by and regarded the guest unblinkingly. Hearing approaching
footsteps, he took out his worn silk handkerchief, unfolded it, and wiped
the cold perspiration from his legal brow. In his heart of hearts, he
wished he had not come, but Dorothy's kindly greeting at once relieved him
of all embarrassment.

"We have been wondering," she said, brightly, "who would be the first to
call upon us, and you have come at exactly the right time. New residents
are always given two weeks, are they not, in which to get settled?"

"Quite so, my dear madam, quite so, and I trust that you are by this time
fully accustomed to your changed environment. Judson Centre, while
possessing few metropolitan advantages, has distinct and peculiar
recommendations of an individual character which endear the locality to
those residing therein."

"I think I shall like it here," said Dorothy. "At least I shall try to."

"A very commendable spirit," rejoined the old gentleman, warmly, "and
rather remarkable in one so young."

Mrs. Carr graciously acknowledged the compliment, and the guest flushed
with pleasure. To perception less fine, there would have been food for
unseemly mirth in his attire. Never in all her life before had Dorothy
seen rough cow-hide boots, and grey striped trousers worn with a rusty and
moth-eaten dress-coat in the middle of the afternoon. An immaculate
expanse of shirt-front and a general air of extreme cleanliness went far
toward redeeming the unfamiliar costume. The silk hat, with a bell-shaped
crown and wide, rolling brim, belonged to a much earlier period, and had
been brushed to look like new. Even Harlan noted that the ravelled edges
of his linen had been carefully trimmed and the worn binding of the hat
brim inked wherever necessary.

His wrinkled old face was kindly, though somewhat sad. His weak blue eyes
were sheltered by an enormous pair of spectacles, which he took off and
wiped continually. He was smooth-shaven and his scanty hair was as white
as the driven snow. Now, as he sat in Uncle Ebeneezer's parlour, he seemed
utterly friendless and forlorn - a complete failure of that pitiful type
which never for a moment guesses that it has failed.

"It will be my delight," the old man was saying, his hollow cheeks faintly
flushed, "to see that the elite of Judson Centre pay proper respect to you
at an early date. If I were not most unfortunately a single gentleman, my
wife would do herself the honour of calling upon you immediately and of
tendering you some sort of hospitality approximately commensurate with
your worth. As it is - - "

"As it is," said Harlan, taking up the wandering thread of the discourse,
"that particular pleasure must be on our side. We both hope that you will
come often, and informally."

"It would be a solace to me," rejoined the old gentleman, tremulously, "to
find the niece and nephew of my departed friend both congenial and
companionable. He was my Colonel - I served under him in the war - and until
the last, he allowed me to address him as Colonel - a privilege accorded to
no one else. He very seldom left his own estate, but at his request I
often spent an evening or a Sunday afternoon in his society, and after his
untimely death, I feel the loss of his companionship very keenly. He was
my Colonel - I - - "

"I should imagine so," said Harlan, kindly, "though, as I have told you, I
never knew him at all."

"A much-misunderstood gentleman," continued Mr. Bradford, carefully wiping
his spectacles. "My grief is too recent, at present, to enable me to
discourse freely of his many virtues, but at some future time I shall hope
to make you acquainted with your benefactor. He was my Colonel, and in
serving under him in the war, I had an unusual opportunity to know him as
he really was. May I ask, without intruding upon your private affairs,
whether or not it is your intention to reside here permanently?"

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 2 of 16)