from Brown Book of Boston
The Great Hartsock Boom
by Ellis Parker Butler
Pap Gandy hobbled slowly into the Hartsock post office leaning on his cane and puffing his cob pipe in rhythm with his steps, one puff to each step, and bending down gazed carefully into the glazed pigeon hole that bore the number fourteen. Pap was an old man and his eyes were not as good as they had been and after trying to see through the dusty glass, first with his head tilted one way and then the other, he turned to the brawny young man who leaned lazily across the counter that stood facing the pigeon holes.
"I vum," he said, "Miss Minnie'd ought to wash up this glass some. I can't rightly see into my box for the dirt on it, an' I sort to hate to call Minnie out here for nothin'. Mebby you kin see, Seth. Is there one or two things in number fourteen?"
"Jes' one, Pap," replied Seth, good naturedly.
"All right, all right," said the old man, quickly. "I thought there was jes' one myself. 'Taint nothin' but my box rent due notice, and I won't trouble Miss Minnie fer that today, I guess. Ain't no use troublin' her."
"It'll keep," said Seth.
"I guess so," replied Pap, sinking carefully into the only chair, "but I reckon I'll have to pay it purty soon. It sort o' fools me. Can't never tell whether I got a letter or not, an' I take note it sort o' riles Miss Minnie lately when I ask her what's in number fourteen an' it's only that old notice. I've been meanin' to pay that box rent fer over a month now, but I don't seem to ever happen to have a half dollar by me when I'm down street. How do you like the book business, Seth?"
Seth idly swung the fat book catalogue he had in his hand.
"Well, I dunno as book business is jes' a right name, Pap," he said. "I ain't sold any books so far. Seems like Hartsock folks don't rightly hanker much after books, but mebby it's on account o' the sort I've got on hand. I was jes' a tryin' to figger out some new ones to git when you come in. I reckon Miss Minnie's a good Christian, an' a good milliner, an' I don't hear no complaints 'bout how she runs the post office, but so far as I can see, when it comes to pickin' out books she goes in jes' a leetle too heavy on sermons to suit Hartsock."
He turned and looked reproachfully at the ten volumes of religious essays that constituted his literary stock.
"I'd trade the hull bunch fer a crate o' eggs and count it a good bargain," he said.
Seth (it was hard for Hartsock to call him Mr. Galloway, so it did not) was a brawny young farmer and his bulk filled his side of the post office building to such an extent that he admitted he "felt sort o' cramped up" in it. This was a natural feeling for one who had deserted a hundred acre farm to purchase the twelve by six feet of counter and floor that constituted the Hartsock book and stationery store. Miss Minnie, the former proprietor, was glad to find a purchaser as her time was well occupied by the duties of postmistress and sole milliner of Hartsock, and it was bothersome to be obliged to drop the hat she happened to be trimming and hurry to the front of the store to sell an envelope and a sheet of letter paper for a penny, and beyond this her custom did not extend. As Mr. Galloway kindly took care of the sale of postage stamps she considered the sale of the stationery store a good stroke of business.
The post office was a small frame building, halfway down Main Street. None of the buildings in Hartsock were large, but the post office was the smallest, and between the pine partition with its glass pigeon holes that represented the post office proper and Mr. Galloway's counter there was very little room, so that at mail time, when much of the population of Hartsock crowded into the room, all the men who could find places upon it seated themselves comfortably on Mr. Galloway's counter where they could watch the deft hands of Miss Minnie sliding the papers and letters into the pigeon holes. The overflow of women passed between the torn lace curtains into the small back room that was Miss Minnie's millinery store.
"I've had this store a week now," continued Seth, "and I see I've got to get in some new stuff. There ain't enough calls for stationery to keep a banty hen fat, an' I might as well throw them books away as try to sell 'em. I've sent out to Chicago for some tinware an' socks an' sich like things, an' I figger on having Jed Howarth put in some more shelvin' fer 'em, but so long as I'm runnin' a book store I take it I'd ought to hev some books. A book store that ain't nothin' but tinware an' socks ain't my idee of what a book store'd ought to be, an' I count on givin' Hartsock a plumb up-to-date book store while I'm about it. What ye think o' Dickens, Pap?"
The old man shook his head firmly.
"I wouldn't spend no money on 'em Seth, not if I was you," he said in a conciliating tone, that implied that while Seth's literary taste was good his business experience was faulty. "I wouldn't buy no Dickens on no account. Hartsock's full o' Dickens. Year afore last Rogers' grocery had a bakin' powder scheme thet give away a Dickens book with every pound can fer fifty cents. I know o' eighteen Davy Copperfields myself, right here in town, all got with bakin' powder, an' once folks git books with bakin' powder they count them books sort o' cheap an' they ain't likely to pay money fer things they've got fer nothin' let alone havin' 'em a'ready. You take my advice, Seth, an' don't go an' buy no Dickens."
Seth turned over the leaves of the catalogue.
"How 'bout Last Days of Pomp-pe-eye?" he asked. "She retails for twenty-eight cents. That's cheaper'n bakin' powder books, Pap."
Pap puffed his pipe thoughtfully.
"I dunno, Seth," he said. "'Course you kin git some bakin' powder fer a quarter, but you got to pay fifty fer the best, though sometimes Rogers does let it go at forty-eight. But you got to pay purty close 'round fifty if you want the best."
"Well, I bet you don't git no best when you git a Dickens book throwed in," replied Seth. "You don't git no fifty cents worth o' bakin' powder an' twenty-eight cents worth o' book all fer fifty cents. That stands to reason."
Pap shook his head doubtfully. The ways of commerce passed his understanding.
"Don't you git them Last Days of Pomp-pe-eye' no how," he said, emphatically. "They'd lay along side o' you like them sermons."
"Rogers didn't give them away too, did he?" asked Seth.
"Nope. Not as I know on," said Pap, "but three years ago come next Christmas, Sammy Langworthy was keepin' company with Mary Ann Wiggins an' he give her them 'Last Days' fer a present. They got married the next Summer, June, I think. 'Course as long as they wasn't married Mary Ann kep' the book on the centre table so's it wouldn't get siled, but after they'd been married she got sort o' careless of it an' begun lendin' it out, an' it's been all 'round now, an' them that hasn't read it can git it off Mary Ann an' 'taint likely anybody's goin' to pay fer readin' a book they kin git fer nothin'."
"I guess that's so," admitted Seth, 'I know I wouldn't. It don't stand to reason. Mebby you know some books they haven't got in Hartsock, Pap."
"Well, I dunno as I do," the old man replied, "I ain't much of a hand at books, no ways, though I guess I've read all in Kilo, 'cept one Mandy Gardner got her last birthday, an' I've got my eye on that. It's a centre-tabler yet but last time I was up to Gardner's I look note of a bookmark in it, so mebby she'll let it out purty soon. I've noted that once a girl gits to readin' a book, even if it is a centre-tabler, it purty soon gits started 'round. But as I was sayin', Seth, it sort o' pesters me to remember books I ain't read, but you can't catch me up on knowin' what's in Hartsock a'ready. Ef there's any books owned in the village thet I ain't borried I'd wish to hear on 'em. Leavin' out some o' them Davy Copperfields I reckoned I've borried, off and on, every book in Hartsock, an' I'd take it kindly ef you would lay in some new ones. But go keerful, Seth, go keerful!"
"That's jes what I'm tryin' to do, Pap," said Seth, "but ef 'twasn't fer you I'd of got them 'Last Days' sure. I'm obliged to ye fer stoppin' me off in time. I guess I'll have in make you a sort of advisor on literatoor for the Hartsock Book Store, Pap. I see I can't git along 'thout some one thet knows what books is in Hartsock a'ready. How'd you like the job, Pap?"
The old man chuckled. He was clearly flattered.
"Sort o' literary dictator, hey?" he replied. "Well, I guess it wouldn't be no harder on me than it would on Hartsock."
So Pap Gandy was duly installed as literary advisor, and between Seth and Pap a list of ten books was selected; a list that carefully avoided those works already owned in Hartsock and that, as nearly as was possible to judge by the titles, followed the trend of Hartsock's taste in literature. It was not a simple matter. Several days of consultation were required, but at length the list was completed and the books arrived.
As Seth was removing the paper wrappings of the package and placing the volumes with their brilliant new bindings of red, blue and gold upon the shelf beside the dusty and shopworn religious works, Mrs. Adelia Voorhees entered the post office, bearing in her wake Bishop Wendover.
The bishop was a great man in Hartsock, and a good one everywhere, and his infrequent visits were notable occasions. As Mrs. Voorhees flutteringly peered into her pigeon hole on the post office side, the bishop's kindly eyes placidly roamed over the combination book, tinware and notion store, alighting on the new books. He stepped forward and read their titles as well as those of the sermons.
"Not bad! Not bad! he said in his deep, resonant voice. "Very good selection, Mr. Galloway. I see you combine religion and fiction in your literary wares, but," and his eyes twinkled, "religion seems a little slow of sale, if I may judge by its aged look."
Seth blushed with pleasure.
"That's so," he admitted. "I guess Hartsock likes its sermons by word o' mouth 'stead of printed. Seems so anyhow, the way they don't buy 'em. But I don't lay claim to the credit o' pickin' out these," and his hand swept the fresh volumes. "Pap Gandy gits the blame, I guess. He had most say about it."
"Mr. Gandy has good taste then," the bishop said kindly, "and you may safely rely on his judgment. Did he also suggest this admixture of religious and romantic works?"
"Well, no," said Seth, slowly. "I guess that's my idee. I look at it this way; it don't do to have too much of one thing. Same as tinware -- if a feller only had coffeepots he wouldn't sell much, he's got to have all sorts. I don't care much to read sermons myself, not being brought up to it, but they're all right. But all sermons in a bookstore, I've found out, is worse than all coffeepots in a tin shop. They may sort o' tone up a place but they don't sell like they ought to, an' I take it that half an' half is about right."
The bishop laughed heartily, and as he passed out turned.
"You are right, Mr. Galloway," he said, "but don't let Hartsock indulge in too much fiction. A diet of sweetmeats alone, you know, is bad. I'll depend on you," he said, laughingly, "to make Hartsock read a book of sermons for each novel."
"That young man," he remarked to Mrs. Voorhees, "may not express himself elegantly but he has the right idea. I think Hartsock's literary destiny is safe in his hands. He seems to have an exceptionally good theory. But who is this Mr. Gandy he spoke of?"
"That's him over there in front of Rogers', tossin' horseshoes," said Mrs. Voorhees. "He's the old man I told you of that never comes to church. I'm afraid he's a lost sheep, but I guess he does read purty considerable."
Hence it came about that Mrs. Voorhees reported that, "the bishop he says that Seth Galloway knows what we'd ought to read," and Hartsock, being thoroughly religious and accepting it as the fiat of the bishop, pinned its faith to Seth, while Seth looked on Pap's literary judgment with greater confidence than ever.
"Pap," said Seth, when the old man entered the store that afternoon, "I got a job on hand for you. Books come."
"Don't say!" exclaimed Pap with ill concealed pleasure.
"Well, they didn't take long in sendin' 'em, did they? I vum, they're han'some, Seth, ain't they, now! What might that job he you was talkin' of?"
Seth leaned comfortably across his counter and clasped his hands, as was his habit.
"Well, I reckon you've got to read these new books for me, Tap," he said. "I take it that Hartsock ain't buyin' no pigs in pokes, an' I dunno as they'd buy a book on its looks, not knowin' what was inside o' it. I wouldn't. The bishop was in here awhile ago, an he looked 'em over an' said they was O. K. but I'd like to git some idee of what they are myself, so's I kin talk 'em up like my socks. Great thing to be able to say 'Good? 'Course they're good. I wear 'em myself.' Same with books, Pap. An' I dunno no better judge than you be. The bishop said that hisself."
The old man was manifestly pleased.
"Pshaw, now, you don't mean it!" he protested. But why don't you read 'em yourself. Seth?" He said it for courtesy's sake alone, for his mouth watered for the luscious volumes.
"I'll tell ye why, Pap," said Seth. "You know I'm a good member o' the First Methodist, don't ye?" Well, the bishop said to me, 'You make everybody that reads one o' them books read one o' them sermon books,' he says, an' I take it I've got to count myself in, and blame it, Pap, I jes' can't make up my mind to tackle them sermons. I started in on one this afternoon an' I went to sleep on the middle o' page one. I'm built that way, I guess, so I figger I'd need 'bout ten years apiece on 'em. But you ain't no church member, so I don't figger that what the bishop said lays hold on you, does it?"
"No, Seth, said the old man, quickly. "No. I don't need to read no sermons. You jes' hand down one o' them books an' I'll git to work. I declare, I ain't read a book fer a year."
He caught the crook of his cane over the arm of his chair, and opened the book Seth handed him.
"Stevenson, hey?" he said. "Dunno as I know him. 'New 'Rabian Nights.' Well, I'll soon let you know if Stevenson's any 'count."
He adjusted his spectacles halfway down his nose and peered at the page. Then he removed them, wiped and replaced them and peered at the page again.
"Seems to me," he said, slowly. "Seems to me they git to usin' smaller print every year, Seth. I vum, it's a shame! I can't make out a from b in this book."
Seth reached over the counter and took the book in his hand.
"Oh, it ain't bad, as print goes," he said with the partiality of an owner, "I kin see it plain enough."
"Mebby my eyes is givin' out," said the old man, anxiously. "I can't make head nor tail out of it. S'pose you read a bit aloud."
"I dunno as I'd ought to, Pap," said Seth, doubtfully. "Unless I read some sermon first. I ain't you, you know. I'm one of them the bishop meant."
The old man smiled and thoughtfully nibbed one side of his head with his forefinger.
"Well, you needn't listen? he said, at length, "nor read the sense of it. You jes' spell out the words like, one by one, an' I'll put 'em together an' sense 'em. I guess the bishop can't object to that, can he?"
On this basis Seth read the ten volumes to Pap Gandy. acting merely as a reading machine, and Pap criticized the works freely, dividing them into two classes, those that were worth reading, even if it necessitated reading a book of sermons and those that would be dear at that price. To the Stevenson book he gave his fullest praise.
"I vum," he said, "I believe I'd read a sermon book myself if I couldn't git to read them 'New 'Rabian Nights' no other way. Next time you order you git all o' them Stevenson books you kin."
For awhile Seth's rule that no one could buy one of the new books unless he also purchased a book of sermons seemed destined to quench even the small desire for literature that flickered in Hartsock's mind, but Pap Candy's enthusiastic praise of Stevenson fanned the flame day by day, until one Saturday Jed Spriggs solved the difficulty.
"Tell you what I'll do, Seth," he said. "I'd like to buy that book Pap's been gassin' 'bout, but I pay pew rent reg'lar an' I don't see thet I'd ought to pay no more for sermons than I do. But s'pose you lend me one. I'll give my word I'll read it an' bring it back in good shape, an' I guess that ought to suit the bishop jes' as well."
It was a brilliant idea, and Seth accepted it.
"All right," said Jed. "Gi'me the 'New 'Rabian Mights' an' a sermon book. Gi'me the thinnest one you've got."
It would be too much to say that Seth did a rushin' business after this, but at least he sold a book and loaned a volume of sermons every month or so. The fact that each book he sold had to go the rounds of all the readers before he sold another, and that purchases were sometimes delayed awaiting the return of the thinnest sermon volume made sales somewhat slow, but the time came when all the books Pap could conscientiously recommend were gone, and Seth ordered his second lot, which consisted of all the Stevensonia he could secure in the cheap editions. The postscript to his order read: "Please send me the thinnest book of sermons you have in stock." This was a matter of pure generosity on Seth's part for Hartsock accepted his rules and read even the thicker volumes without complaint, and, to do them justice, many who would never have read theological volumes under ordinary circumstances developed a real liking for them. Among those who naturally avoided such literature various methods were pursued. Sammy Langworthy alternated a chapter of Stevenson and five pages of sermons regularly. Jed Howarth read the romance first and postponed the sermons until the last moment, while Sim Green read his sermons first in order that he might enjoy the story as he said, "without thinkin' all the time o' the preachin' ahead o' me." Joe Mallory, who was of an impetuous nature, read three religious volumes before he had an opportunity to borrow his first romance, and thereafter kept three volumes ahead. Mr. and Mrs. Voorhees compromised and Mrs. Voorhees read the sermons while Mr. Voorhees read the romances. It was generally agreed that this was fair as marriage had made them one.
This was the period of highest intellectual development in Hartsock, and in this as in Howarth's Hill, when you reach the top it is down grade the rest of the way, until you strike the level again. The introduction of the thinnest book of sermons the Chicago dealer had in stock destroyed at once the content with which Hartsock had read the larger volumes, and another circumstance completed Hartsock's downfall.
One afternoon Seth walked down the side street past Rogers' store and as he passed the depot platform, stopped to speak to Pap Gandy, who sat on an egg crate. The old man was bent over a torn and dirty paper which he was reading with the aid of two pair of spectacles. So intent was he that he did not hear Seth until he spoke.
"Why, hello, Pap!" Seth exclaimed. "thought you couldn't see to read! Hev you been a foolin' me, makin' me read all them books out loud to you, you old skeesicks?"
Pap turned quickly and hastily folding the paper, tucked it into his pocket. He smiled sheepishly.
"No, Seth," he said, "no! I wouldn't fool ye. Hope you don't think I'm stone blind yet, do ye? I can make out a leetle when the sun's shinin' bright, but not much. My eyes is pretty bad, Seth."
"Must be mighty interestin' readin' you've got there then," said Seth. "What might it be?"
"Nothin', Seth. nothin'," said the old man, uncomfortably. "Nothin'."
"Don't you tell me that, Pap," Seth said firmly. "You jes' hand out that paper. Ef you've got somethin' that makes you set out here in this sun an' read it, I reckon I need that in my business. Pap. Hand it out."
Pap fumbled in his pocket and slowly drew out the crumpled paper.
"'Taint much, Seth," he said. "I don't reckon it 'ud sell in Hartsock."
Seth seized the paper and turned over the pages rapidly.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" he exclaimed. "Ef Pap Gandy ain't readin' a nickel lib'ry! I didn't think it of you, Pap!"
The old man slid his hat over one ear, squirmed and then braced up.
"Seth, you don't know what you're talkin' about, you don't," he said. "You ain't read this one. This ain't no common one, Seth. This is 'bout Cap. Collins."
"Who might he be?" asked Seth.
"Wonderful man, Seth," said Pap "You ain't no idee o' the brightness o' this here Cap. Collins. You see he's the chief of the detectives an' he's after the fellers thet stole fifty thousand dollars. They were slick them fellers was, but old Cap. Collins was jes' a mite slicker."
Pap chuckled as he recalled certain brilliant counter-plays of the world-renowned detective, and then launched into a rambling exposition of the plot.
When he had finished Seth laughed. "I guess you better let me take it, Pap, I'm 'fraid it ain't good fer boys like you."
"Pap," he said that afternoon, "that's the greatest story I ever read, fer a fact. I'm goin' to write over to Chicago this evenin' an' have 'em send me the whole bunch."
Two days later the Hartsock Book, Stationery and Notion store displayed in its single window all the Cap. Collins series that had been issued. They were "Cap. Collins on the Bowery," Cap. Collins and the Bunko Men," "Cap. Collins in Colorado" and all the other familiar titles. In a week Hartsock was more familiar with the doings of Cap. Collins than with any other character in history. His wisdom, his astuteness, his sleuth-like prowess were discussed and extolled. Pap Gandy and Uncle Billy Redmond almost came to blows over the incident of Cap. Collins and the stage robber, and Daddy Langworthy, a man of seventy years, was observed to turn down the brim of his hat and glance stealthily from under it in the manner of the great detective.
"Seth," said Uncle Billy one day, "don't you reckon you might get a sermon book a leetle thinner than this last one you got? I've read this one through six times now, an' I've got sort o' filled up with it, anyhow. Don't you think mebby there's some jes' a leetle thinner? These here Cap. Collins' a comin' out every week sort o' puts a strain on a feller to keep up with 'em when your sermon books is so thick. I recalleck some time back Brother Smith used to git some leetle sermons once in a while, 'bout so big." He marked the size of an envelope with his hands.
"Oh, yes," Seth said slowly. "I know what you mean! Wonder I didn't ever think of it afore! Tracts, that's what you mean. Temperance tracts an' mission tracts. I'll git some sure."
Thus began the lowest period of Hartsock's literary downfall.
The tracts were eagerly sought, and on sunny days the bench before Rogers' store was filled with men, some reading the latest adventures of Cap. Collins, some reading tracts. Joe Mallory read fifteen at one sitting.
The Cap. Collins pamphlets always arrived on the Friday train and Wednesday and Thursday were spent in vain "guessing" and "reckoning" what Cap. Collins would undertake in the next number. In mystifying Hartsock in this he equalled his mystification of the many rogues with whom he had to contend. If it was decided that probably he would next appear as tracking a train robber he would more likely be found in South America rescuing a rich and beautiful lady from a leper colony. Hartsock waited for the Friday train with greater interest than ever. Joe Mallory even changed the name of his barbershop from "The 16 to 1 Shaving Parlors" to "The Cap. Collins Anatomical and Tonsorial Parlors," and Deacon White called his newest colt "Cap. Collins."
On Friday morning Pap Gandy and Daddy Langworthy hurried into Seth's bookstore. The train from Jefferson was not due for ten minutes, but the store was already full of impatient villagers, for the last number of the Cap. Collins series had been the most thrilling of all. Only by superhuman cleverness had Cap. outwitted Red Handed Mike and escaped from the dank air of the tomb in which he had been locked, leaving his enemy inside beating upon the massive bronze doors. Thus once more the captain had miraculously escapes death, but although free he had not found the missing diamonds nor identified the thief. Hartsock sweltered in the heat of the small post office, waiting for the solution of the greatest of the Cap. Collins mysteries.
"Who stole 'em?" asked Pap, eagerly, as he elbowed him way into the crowd. "Which was it stole 'em?"
Daddy Langworthy pushed after him. "No," he cried, "don't tell. I want to read it. 'Taint fair tellin' --"
"Books ain't come yet," said Sim Green. "Train must be late, I guess. But I'll tell you who stole 'em. Red Handed Mike stole 'em."
Pap Gandy turned on him fiercely. "'Taint so!" he cried. "'Taint so! Wouldn't you naturally s'pose Red Handed Mike stole 'em by the way the story reads? Well, then o' course he didn't steal 'em. Cap. Collins don't fool with sich easy endin's to his stories, I tell you. Nobody but an idiot would think Red Handed Mike --"
Daddy Langworthy turned sharply and raised his hand.
"Don't you call me no idiot, Samuel Gandy!" he shouted. "I say as Sim says, that Red --"
Pap snorted and turned away in disgust.
"Who introduced Cap. Collins here, I'd like to know!" he said to Joe Mallory with great indignation. "I guess I did, didn't I? Well!" He pushed his way, grumbling under his breath, to the counter where Seth stood with his hat set defiantly over one eye. As he was about to speak, the small boys to whom was entrusted the speedy delivery of the mail bag from the depot arrived, and there was a twofold movement in the crowd, one-half moving toward the post office window, and one-half toward Seth.
Sim Green pushed his head through the call window of the post office partition and strained his neck to see the opening of the mailbag. Miss Minnie unlocked the bag and seizing it by the strap on the lower end, emptied its contents in a heap on the distributing table.
"Why!" exclaimed Sim, stretching his neck a little more. "Why!"
Joe Mallory stood on tiptoe behind him and tried to peer into the window, and Sim drew forth his head and turned a dazed face to the men behind him.
"What is it, Sim? What's the matter?" cried several.
"Why!" he gasped, "Seth's bundle didn't come!"
"What's that?" asked Daddy Langworthy. "Didn't come? Oh, pshaw, you're mistook. Sim! I say, Miss Minnie," he called, "didn't them Cap. Collins come?"
There was utter silence in the room except for father Voorhees' asthmatic wheeze. Seth drew his hat a little farther ever one eye and folded his arms.
The regular click, click of Miss Minnie's rubber receipt stamp paused, and over the top of the partition came her voice, gentle but firm.
"No," she said. "Cap. Collins didn't come. Nor he won't come. Seth ain't gettin' him any more."
Every jaw in the room except Miss Minnie's fell open, and men looked into each other's faces mutely.
Pap Gandy raised a trembling hand and extended it toward Seth twice before he could find words.
"Seth -- Seth," he said. "Is it so?"
Seth laughed uneasily.
"I guess it is, Pap," he said.
"Ain't you goin' to have them ever?" Pap asked tremulously.
"I guess not, Pap," said Seth.
"Why not?" enquired Pap.
"Well, you see, Pap," Seth said, avoiding the other faces and looking only at the old man, "Miss Minnie she read that last number and she thinks Cap. Collins ain't fit readin' for Hartsock, so she wrote over an' stopped my order. That's why."
Pap sniffed angrily.
"An' do you mean to tell me, Seth Galloway, that you're goin' to let Miss Minnie run your business after what you've seen of her pickin' out books?" Pap asked.
Seth laughed again, but weakly.
"I guess so, Pap," he said, "I guess mebby I am. Anyhow, I'm goin' to marry her."
There followed a hum of conversation, remonstrances addressed alike to Seth and Miss Minnie, and general complaints, but only two men left the post office. They were Daddy Langworthy and Sim Green. In a few minutes Daddy Langworthy returned, and as he entered Sim galloped past on the Langworthy mare, lashing her with a willow switch. The men in the post office crowded hastily toward the door and Daddy Langworthy waved his hand.
"It's Sim Green," he shouted, "he's goin' to Jefferson to git Cap. Collins."
A week later Seth called on the minister, and that good man entering his parlor, smiled kindly as was his way when a prospective bridegroom visited him.
"Good day, Seth," he said, breaking the subject gently, as was also his way. "You have set the day, have you?"
But Seth did not return the smile. "No," he said gravely, "We haven't yet. It ain't that I've come to see you about. I'm troubled about Cap. Collins. I guess it's my fault Hartsock's gone crazy over him. I meant all right but I guess I misunderstood what the bishop meant. Miss Minnie has made it plain I've been doin' wrong by settin' Hartsock to readin' Cap. Collins, an' I guess it's my place to set it right. That's what I come to you for."
"I see," said the minister, graciously. "You want me to preach a sermon --"
"No," interrupted Seth. "Sermons won't do any good. You ain't read Cap. Collins or you'd know it takes more than sermons to break away from him. Election time might do it, if the fight was close, but there ain't an election 'till Spring."
"Well?" enquired the minister."
"Well," said Seth, "I guess since I started the thing I'd ought to do my part to end it. Miss Minnie looks at it that way, too. I give her credit for the idee. I wanted to buy her an engagement ring but she says to me 'Seth, don't you! You take the money an' go to the minister an' do what you'd ought to.' So that's why I'm here. An' what I want you to do is to take this money an' git the red-hottest exhorter you kin git an' have the biggest revival you kin have. I guess I know Hartsock an' I guess a good old-fashioned revival is 'bout the only thing that can down Cap. Collins in Hartsock right now."
When Seth returned to his store Pap Gandy was sitting in the only chair. As Seth entered he arose.
"Seth," he said, "s'pose you could lend me one o' them sermon books?"
Seth stared at him in surprise.
"What you want it for?" he asked.
"I ain't had a thing to read this week, Seth," the old man said, "an' I want it to read."
"You ain't gone back on Cap. Collins hev you, Pap?" asked Seth.
"Yes, I hev!" Pap declared stoutly, "I've gone plumb back on him. Cap. Collins ain't the man I took him to be, Seth, by no manner of means. I could do better myself. Who you think stole them diamonds?"
Seth's face brightened.
"Who did?" he asked eagerly.
"Red Handed Mike did," said Pap.
Seth breathed a long satisfied sigh.
"I'm glad to know it, Pap," he said. "I couldn't very well read it, but I've been worried over it. I'm glad Bowery Liz didn't steal 'em anyway. I don't like the idee of wimmen doin' sich things."
The curtains at the back of the store parted and Miss Minnie tripped across the floor and laid her hand softly on Pap's shoulder.
"I heard a little of what you said, Pap," she said, "and I am so glad you have given up reading that vile stuff. You have such an influence in Hartsock and can do so much good by suggesting better books. That Cap. Collins stuff is so wretched."
"Ain't it?" agreed Pap. "There ain't no sense to it. Now just look who he makes out stole them diamonds!"
Miss Minnie smiled sweetly.
"Yes, indeed!" she said. "They are such foolish books. Who did you say stole the diamonds, Pap?"