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At the sign of the Jack o'Lantern online

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"We have not made up our minds," responded Harlan. "We shall stay here
this Summer, anyway, as I have some work to do which can be done only in a
quiet place."

"Quiet!" muttered the old gentleman, "quiet place! If I might venture to
suggest, I should think you would find any other season more agreeable for
prolonged mental effort. In Summer there are distractions - - "

"Yes," put in Dorothy, "in Summer, one wants to be outdoors, and I am
going to keep chickens and a cow, but my husband hopes to have his book
finished by September."

"His book!" repeated Mr. Bradford, in genuine astonishment. "Am I actually
addressing an author?"

He beamed upon Harlan in a way which that modest youth found positively

"A would-be author only," laughed Harlan, the colour mounting to his
temples. "I've done newspaper work heretofore, and now I'm going to try
something else."

"My dear sir," said Mr. Bradford, rising, "I must really beg the privilege
of clasping your hand. It is a great honour for Judson Centre to have an
author residing in its midst!"

Taking pity upon Harlan, Dorothy hastened to change the subject. "We hope
it may be," she observed, lightly, "and I wonder, Mr. Bradford, if you
could not give me some good advice?"

"I shall be delighted, my dear madam. Any knowledge I may possess is
trebly at your service, for the sake of the distinguished author whose
wife you have the honour to be, for the sake of your departed relative,
who was my friend, my Colonel, and last, but not least, for your own

"It is only about a maid," said Dorothy.

"A - - my dear madam, I beg your pardon?"

"A maid," repeated Dorothy; "a servant."

"Oh! A hired girl, or more accurately, in the parlance of Judson Centre,
the help. Do I understand that it is your desire to become an employer of

"It is," answered Dorothy, somewhat awed by the solemnity of his tone, "if
help is to be found. I thought you might know where I could get some

"If I might be permitted to suggest," replied Mr. Bradford, after due
deliberation, "I should unhesitatingly recommend Mrs. Sarah Smithers, who
did for your uncle during the entire period of his residence here and
whose privilege it was to close his eyes in his last sleep. She is at
present without prospect of a situation, and I believe would be very ready
to accept a new position, especially so desirable a position as this, in
your service."

"Thank you. Could you - could you send her to me?"

"I shall do so, most assuredly, providing she is willing to come, and
should she chance not to be agreeably disposed toward so pleasing a
project, it will be my happiness to endeavour to persuade her." Drawing
out a memorandum book and a pencil, the old gentleman made an entry upon a
fresh page. "The multitudinous duties in connection with the practice of
my profession," he began - "there, my dear madam, it is already attended
to, since it is placed quite out of my power to forget."

"I am greatly obliged," said Dorothy.

"And now," continued the visitor, "I must go. I fear I have already
outstayed the limitation of a formal visit, such as the first should be,
and it is not my desire to intrude upon an author's time. Moreover, my own
duties, slight and unimportant as they are in comparison, must ultimately
press upon my attention."

"Come again," said Harlan, kindly, following him to the door.

"It will be my great pleasure," rejoined the guest, "not only on your own
account, but because your personality reminds me of that of my departed
friend. You favour him considerably, more particularly in the eyes, if I
may be permitted to allude to details. I think I told you, did I not, that
he was my Colonel and I was privileged to serve under him in the war?
My - oh, I walked, did I not? I remember that it was my intention to come
in a carriage, as being more suitable to a formal visit, but Mr. Blake had
other engagements for his vehicle. Dear sir and madam, I bid you good

So saying, he went downhill, briskly enough, yet stumbling where the way
was rough. They watched him until the bobbing, bell-shaped crown of the
ancient head-gear was completely out of sight.

"What a dear old man!" said Dorothy. "He's lonely and we must have him
come up often."

"Do you think," asked Harlan, "that I look like Uncle Ebeneezer?"

"Indeed you don't!" cried Dorothy, "and that reminds me. I want to take
that picture down."

"To burn it?" inquired Harlan, slyly.

"No, I wouldn't burn it," answered Dorothy, somewhat spitefully, "but
there's no law against putting it in the attic, is there?"

"Not that I know of. Can we reach it from a chair?"

Together they mounted one of the haircloth monuments, slipping, as Dorothy
said, until it was like walking on ice.

"Now then," said Harlan, gaily, "come on down, Uncle! You're about to be
moved into the attic!"

The picture lunged forward, almost before they had touched it, the heavy
gilt frame bruising Dorothy's cheek badly. In catching it, Harlan turned
it completely around, then gave a low whistle of astonishment.

Pasted securely to the back was a fearsome skull and cross-bones, made on
wrapping paper with a brush and India ink. Below it, in great capitals,
was the warning inscription: "LET MY PICTURE ALONE!"

"What shall we do with it?" asked Harlan, endeavouring to laugh, though,
as he afterward admitted, he "felt creepy." "Shall I take it up to the

"No," answered Dorothy, in a small, unnatural voice, "leave it where it

While Harlan was putting it back, Dorothy, trembling from head to foot,
crept around to the back of the easel which bore Aunt Rebecca's portrait.
She was not at all surprised to find, on the back of it, a notice to this

"I don't doubt it," said Dorothy, somewhat viciously, when Harlan had
joined her. "What kind of a woman do you suppose she could have been, to
marry him? I'll bet she's glad she's dead!"

Dorothy was still wiping blood from her face and might not have been
wholly unprejudiced. Aunt Rebecca was a gentle, sweet-faced woman, if her
portrait told the truth, possessed of all the virtues save self-assertion
and dominated by habitual, unselfish kindness to others. She could not
have been discourteous even to Claudius Tiberius, who at this moment was
seated in state upon the sofa and purring industriously.



"I've ordered the typewriter," said Dorothy, brightly, "and some nice new
note-paper, and a seal. I've just been reading about making virtue out of
necessity, so I've ordered 'At the Sign of the Jack-o'-Lantern' put on our
stationery, in gold, and a yellow pumpkin on the envelope flap, just above
the seal. And I want you to make a funny sign-board to flap from a pole,
the way they did in 'Rudder Grange.' If you could make a wooden
Jack-o'-Lantern, we could have a candle inside it at night, and then the
sign would be just like the house. We can get the paint and things down in
the village. Won't it be cute? We're farmers, now, so we'll have to
pretend we like it."

Harlan repressed an exclamation, which could not have been wholly inspired
by pleasure.

"What's the matter?" asked Dorothy, easily. "Don't you like the design for
the note-paper? If you don't, you won't have to use it. Nobody's going to
make you write letters on paper you don't like, so cheer up."

"It isn't the paper," answered Harlan, miserably; "it's the typewriter."
Up to the present moment, sustained by a false, but none the less
determined pride, he had refrained from taking his wife into his
confidence regarding his finances. With characteristic masculine
short-sightedness, he had failed to perceive that every moment of delay
made matters worse.

"Might I inquire," asked Mrs. Carr, coolly, "what is wrong with the

"Nothing at all," sighed Harlan, "except that we can't afford it." The
whole bitter truth was out, now, and he turned away wretchedly, ashamed to
meet her eyes.

It seemed ages before she spoke. Then she said, in smooth, icy tones:
"What was your object in offering to get it for me?"

"I spoke impulsively," explained Harlan, forgetting that he had never
suggested buying a typewriter. "I didn't stop to think. I'm sorry," he
concluded, lamely.

"I suppose you spoke impulsively," snapped Dorothy, "when you asked me to
marry you. You're sorry for that, too, aren't you?"


"You're not the only one who's sorry," she rejoined, her cheeks flushed
and her eyes blazing. "I had no idea what an expense I was going to be!"

"Dorothy!" cried Harlan, angrily; "you didn't think I was a millionaire,
did you? Were you under the impression that I was an active branch of the
United States Mint?"

"No," she answered, huskily; "I merely thought I was marrying a gentleman
instead of a loafer, and I beg your pardon for the mistake!" She slammed
the door on the last word, and he heard her light feet pattering swiftly
down the hall, little guessing that she was trying to gain the shelter of
her own room before giving way to a tempest of sobs.

Happy are they who can drown all pain, sorrow, and disappointment in a
copious flood of tears. In an hour, at the most, Dorothy would be her
sunny self again, penitent, and wholly ashamed of her undignified
outburst. By to-morrow she would have forgotten it, but Harlan, made of
sterner clay, would remember it for days.

"Loafer!" The cruel word seemed written accusingly on every wall of the
room. In a sudden flash of insight he perceived the truth of it - and it

"Two months," bethought; "two months of besotted idleness. And I used to
chase news from the Battery to the Bronx every day from eight to six!
Murders, smallpox, East Side scraps, and Tammany Hall. Why in the
hereafter can't they have a fire at the sanitarium, or something that I
can wire in?"

"The Temple of Healing," as Dorothy had christened it in a happier moment,
stood on a distant hill, all but hidden now by trees and shrubbery. A
column of smoke curled lazily upward against the blue, but there was no
immediate prospect of a fire of the "news" variety.

Harlan stood at the window for a long time, deeply troubled. The call of
the city dinned relentlessly into his ears. Oh, for an hour in the midst
of it, with the rumble and roar and clatter of ceaseless traffic, the
hurrying, heedless throng rushing in every direction, the glare of the sun
on the many-windowed cliffs, the fever of the struggle in his veins!

And yet - was two months so long, when a fellow was just married, and
hadn't had more than a day at a time off for six years? Since the "cub
reporter" was first "licked into shape" in the office of _The Thunderer_,
there had been plenty of work for him, year in and year out.

"I wonder," he mused, "if the old man would take me back on my job?

"I can see 'em in the office now," went on Harlan, mentally, "when I go
back and tell 'em I want my place again. The old man will look up and say:
'The hell you do! Thought you'd accepted a position on the literary
circuit as manager of the nine muses! Better run along and look after 'em
before they join the union.'

"And the exchange man will yell at me not to slam the door as I go out,
and I'll be pointed out to the newest kid as a horrible example of
misdirected ambition. Brinkman will say: 'Sonny, there's a bloke that got
too good for his job and now he's come back, willing to edit The Mother's

"It'd be about the same in the other offices, too," he thought. "'Sorry,
nothing to-day, but there might be next month. Drop in again sometime
after six weeks or so and meanwhile I'll let you know if anything turns
up. Yes, I can remember your address. Don't slam the door as you go out.
Most people seem to have been born in a barn.'

"Besides," he continued to himself, fiercely, "what is there in it?
They'll take your youth, all your strength and energy, and give you a
measly living in exchange. They'll fill you with excitement till you're
never good for anything else, any more than a cavalry horse is fitted to
pull a vegetable wagon. Then, when you're old, they've got no use for

Before his mental vision, in pitiful array, came that unhappy procession
of hacks that files, day in and day out, along Newspaper Row, drawn by
every instinct to the arena that holds nothing for them but a meagre,
uncertain pittance, dwindling slowly to charity.

"That's where I'd be at the last of it," muttered Harlan, savagely, "with
even the cubs offering me the price of a drink to get out. And
Dorothy - good God! Where would Dorothy be?"

He clenched his fists and marched up and down the room in utter despair.
"Why," he breathed, "why wasn't I taught to do something honest, instead
of being cursed with this itch to write? A carpenter, a bricklayer, a
stone-mason, - any one of 'em has a better chance than I!"

And yet, even then, Harlan saw clearly that save where some vast cathedral
reared its unnumbered spires, the mason and the bricklayer were without
significance; that even the builders were remembered only because of the
great uses to which their buildings were put. "That, too, through print,"
he murmured. "It all comes down to the printed page at last."

On a table, near by, was a sheaf of rough copy paper, and six or eight
carefully sharpened pencils - the dull, meaningless stone waiting for the
flint that should strike it into flame. Day after day the table had stood
by the window, without result, save in Harlan's uneasy conscience.

"I'm only a tramp," he said, aloud, "and I've known it, all along."

He sat down by the table and took up a pencil, but no words came.
Remorsefully, he wrote to an acquaintance - a man who had a book published
every year and filled in the intervening time with magazine work and
newspaper specials. He sealed the letter and addressed it idly, then
tossed it aside purposelessly.

"Loafer!" The memory of it stung him like a lash, and, completely
overwhelmed with shame, he hid his face in his hands.

Suddenly, a pair of soft arms stole around his neck, a childish, tear-wet
cheek was pressed close to his, and a sweet voice whispered, tenderly:
"Dear, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry I can't live another minute unless you tell
me you forgive me!"

* * * * *

"Am I really a loafer?" asked Harlan, half an hour later.

"Indeed you're not," answered Dorothy, her trustful eyes looking straight
into his; "you're absolutely the most adorable boy in the whole world, and
it's me that knows it!"

"As long as you know it," returned Harlan, seriously, "I don't care a hang
what other people think."

"Now, tell me," continued Dorothy, "how near are we to being broke?"

Obediently, Harlan turned his pockets inside out and piled his worldly
wealth on the table.

"Three hundred and seventy-four dollars and sixteen cents," she said, when
she had finished counting. "Why, we're almost rich, and a little while ago
you tried to make me think we were poor!"

"It's all I have, Dorothy - every blooming cent, except one dollar in the
savings bank. Sort of a nest egg I had left," he explained.

"Wait a minute," she said, reaching down into her collar and drawing up a
loop of worn ribbon. "Straight front corset," she observed, flushing,
"makes a nice pocket for almost everything." She drew up a chamois-skin
bag, of an unprepossessing mouse colour, and emptied out a roll of bills.
"Two hundred and twelve dollars," she said, proudly, "and eighty-three
cents and four postage stamps in my purse.

"I saved it," she continued, hastily, "for an emergency, and I wanted some
silk stockings and a French embroidered corset and some handmade lingerie
worse than you can ever know. Wasn't I a brave, heroic, noble woman?"

"Indeed you were," he cried, "but, Dorothy, you know I can't touch your

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Because - because - because it isn't right. Do you think I'm cad enough to
live on a woman's earnings?"

"Harlan," said Dorothy, kindly, "don't be a fool. You'll take my whole
heart and soul and life - all that I have been and all that I'm going to
be - and be glad to get it, and now you're balking at ten cents that I
happened to have in my stocking when I took the fatal step."

"Dear heart, don't. It's different - tremendously different. Can't you see
that it is?"

"Do you mean that I'm not worth as much as two hundred and twelve dollars
and eighty-three cents and four postage stamps?"

"Darling, you're worth more than all the rest of the world put together.
Don't talk to me like that. But I can't touch your money, truly, dear, I
can't; so don't ask me."

"Idiot," cried Dorothy, with tears raining down her face, "don't you know
I'd go with you if you had to grind an organ in the street, and collect
the money for you in a tin cup till we got enough for a monkey? What kind
of a dinky little silver-plated wedding present do you think I am, anyway?
You - - "

The rest of it was sobbed out, incoherently enough, on his hitherto
immaculate shirt-front. "You don't mind," she whispered, "if I cry down
your neck, do you?"

"If you're going to cry," he answered, his voice trembling, "this is the
one place for you to do it, but I don't want you to cry."

"I won't, then," she said, wiping her eyes on a wet and crumpled
handkerchief. In a time astonishingly brief to one hitherto unfamiliar
with the lachrymal function, her sobs had ceased.

"You've made me cry nearly a quart since morning," she went on, with
assumed severity, "and I hope you'll behave so well from now on that I'll
never have to do it again. Look here."

She led him to the window, where a pair of robins were building a nest in
the boughs of a maple close by. "Do you see those birds?" she demanded,
pointing at them with a dimpled, rosy forefinger.

"Yes, what of it?"

"Well, they're married, aren't they?"

"I hope they are," laughed Harlan, "or at least engaged."

"Who's bringing the straw and feathers for the nest?" she asked.

"Both, apparently," he replied, unwillingly.

"Why isn't she rocking herself on a bough, and keeping her nails nice, and
fixing her feathers in the latest style, or perhaps going off to some fool
bird club while he builds the nest by himself?"

"Don't know."

"Nor anybody else," she continued, with much satisfaction. "Now, if she
happened to have two hundred and twelve feathers, of the proper size and
shape to go into that nest, do you suppose he'd refuse to touch them, and
make her cry because she brought them to him?"

"Probably he wouldn't," admitted Harlan.

There was a long silence, then Dorothy edged up closer to him. "Do you
suppose," she queried, "that Mr. Robin thinks more of his wife than you do
of yours?"

"Indeed he doesn't!"

"And still, he's letting her help him."

"But - - "

"Now, listen, Harlan. We've got a house, with more than enough furniture
to make it comfortable, though it's not the kind of furniture either of us
particularly like. Instead of buying a typewriter, we'll rent one for
three or four dollars a month until we have enough money to buy one. And
I'm going to have a cow and some chickens and a garden, and I'm going to
sell milk and butter and cream and fresh eggs and vegetables and chickens
and fruit to the sanitarium, and - - "

"The sanitarium people must have plenty of those things."

"But not the kind I'm going to raise, nor put up as I'm going to put it
up, and we'll be raising most of our own living besides. You can write
when you feel like it, and be helping me when you don't feel like it, and
before we know it, we'll be rich. Oh, Harlan, I feel like Eve all alone in
the Garden with Adam!"

The prospect fired his imagination, for, in common with most men, a
chicken-ranch had appealed strongly to Harlan ever since he could

"Well," he began, slowly, in the tone which was always a signal of

"Won't it be lovely," she cried ecstatically, "to have our own bossy cow
mooing in the barn, and our own chickens for Sunday dinner, and our own
milk, and butter, and cream? And I'll drive the vegetable waggon and you
can take the things in - - "

"I guess not," interrupted Harlan, firmly. "If you're going to do that
sort of thing, you'll have people to do the work when I can't help you.
The idea of my wife driving a vegetable cart!"

"All right," answered Dorothy, submissively, wise enough to let small
points settle themselves and have her own way in things that really
mattered. "I've not forgotten that I promised to obey you."

A gratified smile spread over Harlan's smooth, boyish face, and,
half-fearfully, she reached into her sleeve for a handkerchief which she
had hitherto carefully concealed.

"That's not all," she smiled. "Look!"

"Twenty-three dollars," he said. "Why, where did you get that?"

"It was in my dresser. There was a false bottom in one of the small
drawers, and I took it out and found this."

"What in - " began Harlan.

"It's a present to us from Uncle Ebeneezer," she cried, her eyes sparkling
and her face aglow. "It's for a coop and chickens," she continued,
executing an intricate dance step. "Oh, Harlan, aren't you awfully glad we

Seeing her pleasure he could not help being glad, but afterward, when he
was alone, he began to wonder whether they had not inadvertently moved
into a bank.

"Might be worse places," he reflected, "for the poor and deserving to move
into. Diamonds and money - what next?"


Mrs. Smithers

The chickens were clucking peacefully in their corner of Uncle Ebeneezer's
dooryard, and the newly acquired bossy cow mooed unhappily in her
improvised stable. Harlan had christened the cow "Maud" because she
insisted upon going into the garden, and though Dorothy had vigorously
protested against putting Tennyson to such base uses, the name still held,
out of sheer appropriateness.

Harlan was engaged in that pleasant pastime known as "pottering." The
instinct to drive nails, put up shelves, and to improve generally his
local habitation is as firmly seated in the masculine nature as
housewifely characteristics are ingrained in the feminine soul. Never
before having had a home of his own, Harlan was enjoying it to the full.

Early hours had been the rule at the Jack-o'-Lantern ever since the
feathered sultan with his tribe of voluble wives had taken up his abode on
the hilltop. Indeed, as Harlan said, they were obliged to sleep when the
chickens did - if they slept at all. So it was not yet seven one morning
when Dorothy went in from the chicken coop, singing softly to herself, and
intent upon the particular hammer her husband wanted, never expecting to
find Her in the kitchen.

"I - I beg your pardon?" she stammered, inquiringly.

A gaunt, aged, and preternaturally solemn female, swathed in crape, bent
slightly forward in her chair, without making an effort to rise, and
reached forth a black-gloved hand tightly grasping a letter, which was
tremulously addressed to "Mrs. J. H. Carr."

"My dear Madam," Dorothy read.

"The multitudinous duties in connection with the practice of my
profession have unfortunately prevented me, until the present hour,
from interviewing Mrs. Sarah Smithers in regard to your requirements.
While she is naturally unwilling to commit herself entirely without a
more definite idea of what is expected of her, she is none the less
kindly disposed. May I hope, my dear madam, that at the first
opportunity you will apprise me of ensuing events in this connection,
and that in any event I may still faithfully serve you?

"With kindest personal remembrances and my polite salutations to the
distinguished author whose wife you have the honour to be, I am, my
dear madam,

"Yr. most respectful and obedient servant,

"Jeremiah Bradford.

"Oh," said Dorothy, "you're Sarah. I had almost given you up."

"Begging your parding, Miss," rejoined Mrs. Smithers in a chilly tone of
reproof, "but I take it it's better for us to begin callin' each other by
our proper names. If we should get friendly, there'd be ample time to
change. Your uncle, God rest 'is soul, allers called me 'Mis' Smithers.'"

Somewhat startled at first, Mrs. Carr quickly recovered her equanimity.
"Very well, Mrs. Smithers," she returned, lightly, reflecting that when in
Rome one must follow Roman customs; "Do you understand all branches of
general housework?"

"If I didn't, I wouldn't be makin' no attempts in that direction," replied

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 3 of 16)