BARGAIN DAY AT TUTT HOUSE
By George Randolph Chester (1869- )
Humorous Short Stories
[From McClure's Magazine, June, 1905; copyright, 1905, by the S.S.
McClure Co.; republished by the author's permission.]
Just as the stage rumbled over the rickety old bridge, creaking and
groaning, the sun came from behind the clouds that had frowned all the
way, and the passengers cheered up a bit. The two richly dressed
matrons who had been so utterly and unnecessarily oblivious to the
presence of each other now suspended hostilities for the moment by
mutual and unspoken consent, and viewed with relief the little,
golden-tinted valley and the tree-clad road just beyond. The
respective husbands of these two ladies exchanged a mere glance, no
more, of comfort. They, too, were relieved, though more by the
momentary truce than by anything else. They regretted very much to be
compelled to hate each other, for each had reckoned up his vis-à-vis
as a rather proper sort of fellow, probably a man of some achievement,
used to good living and good company.
Extreme iciness was unavoidable between them, however. When one
stranger has a splendidly preserved blonde wife and the other a
splendidly preserved brunette wife, both of whom have won social
prominence by years of hard fighting and aloofness, there remains
nothing for the two men but to follow the lead, especially when
directly under the eyes of the leaders.
The son of the blonde matron smiled cheerfully as the welcome light
flooded the coach.
He was a nice-looking young man, of about twenty-two, one might judge,
and he did his smiling, though in a perfectly impersonal and correct
sort of manner, at the pretty daughter of the brunette matron. The
pretty daughter also smiled, but her smile was demurely directed at
the trees outside, clad as they were in all the flaming glory of their
autumn tints, glistening with the recent rain and dripping with gems
that sparkled and flashed in the noonday sun as they fell.
It is marvelous how much one can see out of the corner of the eye,
while seeming to view mere scenery.
The driver looked down, as he drove safely off the bridge, and shook
his head at the swirl of water that rushed and eddied, dark and muddy,
close up under the rotten planking; then he cracked his whip, and the
horses sturdily attacked the little hill.
Thick, overhanging trees on either side now dimmed the light again,
and the two plump matrons once more glared past the opposite
shoulders, profoundly unaware of each other. The husbands took on the
politely surly look required of them. The blonde son's eyes still
sought the brunette daughter, but it was furtively done and quite
unsuccessfully, for the daughter was now doing a little glaring on her
own account. The blonde matron had just swept her eyes across the
daughter's skirt, estimating the fit and material of it with contempt
so artistically veiled that it could almost be understood in the dark.
The big bays swung to the brow of the hill with ease, and dashed into
a small circular clearing, where a quaint little two-story building,
with a mossy watering-trough out in front, nestled under the shade of
majestic old trees that reared their brown and scarlet crowns proudly
into the sky. A long, low porch ran across the front of the structure,
and a complaining sign hung out announcing, in dim, weather-flecked
letters on a cracked board, that this was the "Tutt House." A
gray-headed man, in brown overalls and faded blue jumper, stood on the
porch and shook his fist at the stage as it whirled by.
"What a delightfully old-fashioned inn!" exclaimed the pretty
daughter. "How I should like to stop there over night!"
"You would probably wish yourself away before morning, Evelyn,"
replied her mother indifferently. "No doubt it would be a mere siege
The blonde matron turned to her husband. The pretty daughter had been
looking at the picturesque "inn" between the heads of this lady and
"Edward, please pull down the shade behind me," she directed. "There
is quite a draught from that broken window."
The pretty daughter bit her lip. The brunette matron continued to
stare at the shade in the exact spot upon which her gaze had been
before directed, and she never quivered an eyelash. The young man
seemed very uncomfortable, and he tried to look his apologies to the
pretty daughter, but she could not see him now, not even if her eyes
had been all corners.
They were bowling along through another avenue of trees when the
driver suddenly shouted, "Whoa there!"
The horses were brought up with a jerk that was well nigh fatal to the
assortment of dignity inside the coach. A loud roaring could be heard,
both ahead and in the rear, a sharp splitting like a fusillade of
pistol shots, then a creaking and tearing of timbers. The driver bent
"Gid ap!" he cried, and the horses sprang forward with a lurch. He
swung them around a sharp bend with a skillful hand and poised his
weight above the brake as they plunged at terrific speed down a steep
grade. The roaring was louder than ever now, and it became deafening
as they suddenly emerged from the thick underbrush at the bottom of
"Caught, by gravy!" ejaculated the driver, and, for the second time,
he brought the coach to an abrupt stop.
"Do see what is the matter, Ralph," said the blonde matron
Thus commanded, the young man swung out and asked the driver about it.
"Paintsville dam's busted," he was informed. "I been a-lookin' fer it
this many a year, an' this here freshet done it. You see the holler
there? Well, they's ten foot o' water in it, an' it had ort to be
stone dry. The bridge is tore out behind us, an' we're stuck here till
that water runs out. We can't git away till to-morry, anyways."
He pointed out the peculiar topography of the place, and Ralph got
back in the coach.
"We're practically on a flood-made island," he exclaimed, with one eye
on the pretty daughter, "and we shall have to stop over night at that
quaint, old-fashioned inn we passed a few moments ago."
The pretty daughter's eyes twinkled, and he thought he caught a swift,
direct gleam from under the long lashes—but he was not sure.
"Dear me, how annoying," said the blonde matron, but the brunette
matron still stared, without the slightest trace of interest in
anything else, at the infinitesimal spot she had selected on the
The two men gave sighs of resignation, and cast carefully concealed
glances at each other, speculating on the possibility of a cigar and a
glass, and maybe a good story or two, or possibly even a game of poker
after the evening meal. Who could tell what might or might not happen?
When the stage drew up in front of the little hotel, it found Uncle
Billy Tutt prepared for his revenge. In former days the stage had
always stopped at the Tutt House for the noonday meal. Since the new
railway was built through the adjoining county, however, the stage
trip became a mere twelve-mile, cross-country transfer from one
railroad to another, and the stage made a later trip, allowing the
passengers plenty of time for "dinner" before they started. Day after
day, as the coach flashed by with its money-laden passengers, Uncle
Billy had hoped that it would break down. But this was better, much
better. The coach might be quickly mended, but not the flood.
"I'm a-goin' t' charge 'em till they squeal," he declared to the
timidly protesting Aunt Margaret, "an' then I'm goin' t' charge 'em a
least mite more, drat 'em!"
He retreated behind the rough wooden counter that did duty as a desk,
slammed open the flimsy, paper-bound "cash book" that served as a
register, and planted his elbows uncompromisingly on either side of
"Let 'em bring in their own traps," he commented, and Aunt Margaret
fled, ashamed and conscience-smitten, to the kitchen. It seemed awful.
The first one out of the coach was the husband of the brunette matron,
and, proceeding under instructions, he waited neither for luggage nor
women folk, but hurried straight into the Tutt House. The other man
would have been neck and neck with him in the race, if it had not been
that he paused to seize two suitcases and had the misfortune to drop
one, which burst open and scattered a choice assortment of lingerie
from one end of the dingy coach to the other.
In the confusion of rescuing the fluffery, the owner of the suitcase
had to sacrifice her hauteur and help her husband and son block up the
aisle, while the other matron had the ineffable satisfaction of being
kept waiting, at last being enabled to say, sweetly and with the
most polite consideration:
"Will you kindly allow me to pass?"
The blonde matron raised up and swept her skirts back perfectly flat.
She was pale but collected. Her husband was pink but collected. Her
son was crimson and uncollected. The brunette daughter could not have
found an eye anywhere in his countenance as she rustled out after her
"I do hope that Belmont has been able to secure choice quarters," the
triumphing matron remarked as her daughter joined her on the ground.
"This place looked so very small that there can scarcely be more than
one comfortable suite in it."
It was a vital thrust. Only a splendidly cultivated self-control
prevented the blonde matron from retaliating upon the unfortunate who
had muddled things. Even so, her eyes spoke whole shelves of volumes.
The man who first reached the register wrote, in a straight black
scrawl, "J. Belmont Van Kamp, wife, and daughter." There being no
space left for his address, he put none down.
"I want three adjoining rooms, en suite if possible," he demanded.
"Three!" exclaimed Uncle Billy, scratching his head. "Won't two do ye?
I ain't got but six bedrooms in th' house. Me an' Marg't sleeps in
one, an' we're a-gittin' too old fer a shake-down on th' floor. I'll
have t' save one room fer th' driver, an' that leaves four. You take
Mr. Van Kamp cast a hasty glance out of the window, The other man was
getting out of the coach. His own wife was stepping on the porch.
"What do you ask for meals and lodging until this time to-morrow?" he
The decisive moment had arrived. Uncle Billy drew a deep breath.
"Two dollars a head!" he defiantly announced. There! It was out! He
wished Margaret had stayed to hear him say it.
The guest did not seem to be seriously shocked, and Uncle Billy was
beginning to be sorry he had not said three dollars, when Mr. Van Kamp
stopped the landlord's own breath.
"I'll give you fifteen dollars for the three best rooms in the house,"
he calmly said, and Landlord Tutt gasped as the money fluttered down
under his nose.
"Jis' take yore folks right on up, Mr. Kamp," said Uncle Billy,
pouncing on the money. "Th' rooms is th' three right along th' hull
front o' th' house. I'll be up and make on a fire in a minute. Jis'
take th' Jonesville Banner an' th' Uticky Clarion along with ye."
As the swish of skirts marked the passage of the Van Kamps up the wide
hall stairway, the other party swept into the room.
The man wrote, in a round flourish, "Edward Eastman Ellsworth, wife,
"I'd like three choice rooms, en suite," he said.
"Gosh!" said Uncle Billy, regretfully. "That's what Mr. Kamp wanted,
fust off, an' he got it. They hain't but th' little room over th'
kitchen left. I'll have to put you an' your wife in that, an' let your
boy sleep with th' driver."
The consternation in the Ellsworth party was past calculating by any
known standards of measurement. The thing was an outrage! It was not
to be borne! They would not submit to it!
Uncle Billy, however, secure in his mastery of the situation, calmly
quartered them as he had said. "An' let 'em splutter all they want
to," he commented comfortably to himself.
The Ellsworths were holding a family indignation meeting on the broad
porch when the Van Ramps came contentedly down for a walk, and brushed
by them with unseeing eyes.
"It makes a perfectly fascinating suite," observed Mrs. Van Kamp, in a
pleasantly conversational tone that could be easily overheard by
anyone impolite enough to listen. "That delightful old-fashioned
fireplace in the middle apartment makes it an ideal sitting-room, and
the beds are so roomy and comfortable."
"I just knew it would be like this!" chirruped Miss Evelyn. "I
remarked as we passed the place, if you will remember, how charming it
would be to stop in this dear, quaint old inn over night. All my
wishes seem to come true this year."
These simple and, of course, entirely unpremeditated remarks were as
vinegar and wormwood to Mrs. Ellsworth, and she gazed after the
retreating Van Kamps with a glint in her eye that would make one
understand Lucretia Borgia at last.
Her son also gazed after the retreating Van Kamp. She had an exquisite
figure, and she carried herself with a most delectable grace. As the
party drew away from the inn she dropped behind the elders and
wandered off into a side path to gather autumn leaves.
Ralph, too, started off for a walk, but naturally not in the same
"Edward!" suddenly said Mrs. Ellsworth. "I want you to turn those
people out of that suite before night!"
"Very well," he replied with a sigh, and got up to do it. He had
wrecked a railroad and made one, and had operated successful corners
in nutmegs and chicory. No task seemed impossible. He walked in to see
"What are the Van Kamps paying you for those three rooms?" he asked.
"Fifteen dollars," Uncle Billy informed him, smoking one of Mr. Van
Kamp's good cigars and twiddling his thumbs in huge content.
"I'll give you thirty for them. Just set their baggage outside and
tell them the rooms are occupied."
"No sir-ree!" rejoined Uncle Billy. "A bargain's a bargain, an' I
allus stick to one I make."
Mr. Ellsworth withdrew, but not defeated. He had never supposed that
such an absurd proposition would be accepted. It was only a feeler,
and he had noticed a wince of regret in his landlord. He sat down on
the porch and lit a strong cigar. His wife did not bother him. She
gazed complacently at the flaming foliage opposite, and allowed him to
think. Getting impossible things was his business in life, and she had
confidence in him.
"I want to rent your entire house for a week," he announced to Uncle
Billy a few minutes later. It had occurred to him that the flood might
last longer than they anticipated.
Uncle Billy's eyes twinkled.
"I reckon it kin be did," he allowed. "I reckon a ho-tel man's got a
right to rent his hull house ary minute."
"Of course he has. How much do you want?"
Uncle Billy had made one mistake in not asking this sort of folks
enough, and he reflected in perplexity.
"Make me a offer," he proposed. "Ef it hain't enough I'll tell ye. You
want to rent th' hull place, back lot an' all?"
"No, just the mere house. That will be enough," answered the other
with a smile. He was on the point of offering a hundred dollars, when
he saw the little wrinkles about Mr. Tutt's eyes, and he said
"Sho, ye're jokin'!" retorted Uncle Billy. He had been considered a
fine horse-trader in that part of the country. "Make it a hundred and
twenty-five, an' I'll go ye."
Mr. Ellsworth counted out some bills.
"Here's a hundred," he said. "That ought to be about right."
"Fifteen more," insisted Uncle Billy.
With a little frown of impatience the other counted off the extra
money and handed it over. Uncle Billy gravely handed it back.
"Them's the fifteen dollars Mr. Kamp give me," he explained. "You've
got the hull house fer a week, an' o' course all th' money that's
tooken in is your'n. You kin do as ye please about rentin' out rooms
to other folks, I reckon. A bargain's a bargain, an' I allus stick to
one I make."
Ralph Ellsworth stalked among the trees, feverishly searching for
squirrels, scarlet leaves, and the glint of a brown walking-dress,
this last not being so easy to locate in sunlit autumn woods. Time
after time he quickened his pace, only to find that he had been fooled
by a patch of dogwood, a clump of haw bushes or even a leaf-strewn
knoll, but at last he unmistakably saw the dress, and then he slowed
down to a careless saunter.
She was reaching up for some brilliantly colored maple leaves, and was
entirely unconscious of his presence, especially after she had seen
him. Her pose showed her pretty figure to advantage, but, of course,
she did not know that. How should she?
Ralph admired the picture very much. The hat, the hair, the gown, the
dainty shoes, even the narrow strip of silken hose that was revealed
as she stood a-uptoe, were all of a deep, rich brown that proved an
exquisite foil for the pink and cream of her cheeks. He remembered
that her eyes were almost the same shade, and wondered how it was that
women-folk happened on combinations in dress that so well set off
their natural charms. The fool!
He was about three trees away, now, and a panic akin to that which
hunters describe as "buck ague" seized him. He decided that he really
had no excuse for coming any nearer. It would not do, either, to be
seen staring at her if she should happen to turn her head, so he
veered off, intending to regain the road. It would be impossible to do
this without passing directly in her range of vision, and he did not
intend to try to avoid it. He had a fine, manly figure of his own.
He had just passed the nearest radius to her circle and was proceeding
along the tangent that he had laid out for himself, when the unwitting
maid looked carefully down and saw a tangle of roots at her very feet.
She was so unfortunate, a second later, as to slip her foot in this
very tangle and give her ankle ever so slight a twist.
"Oh!" cried Miss Van Kamp, and Ralph Ellsworth flew to the rescue. He
had not been noticing her at all, and yet he had started to her side
before she had even cried out, which was strange. She had a very
"May I be of assistance?" he anxiously inquired.
"I think not, thank you," she replied, compressing her lips to keep
back the intolerable pain, and half-closing her eyes to show the fine
lashes. Declining the proffered help, she extricated her foot, picked
up her autumn branches, and turned away. She was intensely averse to
anything that could be construed as a flirtation, even of the mildest,
he could certainly see that. She took a step, swayed slightly, dropped
the leaves, and clutched out her hand to him.
"It is nothing," she assured him in a moment, withdrawing the hand
after he had held it quite long enough. "Nothing whatever. I gave my
foot a slight wrench, and turned the least bit faint for a moment."
"You must permit me to walk back, at least to the road, with you," he
insisted, gathering up her armload of branches. "I couldn't think of
leaving you here alone."
As he stooped to raise the gay woodland treasures he smiled to
himself, ever so slightly. This was not his first season out,
"Delightful spot, isn't it?" he observed as they regained the road and
sauntered in the direction of the Tutt House.
"Quite so," she reservedly answered. She had noticed that smile as he
stooped. He must be snubbed a little. It would be so good for him.
"You don't happen to know Billy Evans, of Boston, do you?" he asked.
"I think not. I am but very little acquainted in Boston."
"Too bad," he went on. "I was rather in hopes you knew Billy. All
sorts of a splendid fellow, and knows everybody."
"Not quite, it seems," she reminded him, and he winced at the error.
In spite of the sly smile that he had permitted to himself, he was
He tried the weather, the flood, the accident, golf, books and three
good, substantial, warranted jokes, but the conversation lagged in
spite of him. Miss Van Kamp would not for the world have it understood
that this unconventional meeting, made allowable by her wrenched
ankle, could possibly fulfill the functions of a formal introduction.
"What a ripping, queer old building that is!" he exclaimed, making one
more brave effort as they came in sight of the hotel.
"It is, rather," she assented. "The rooms in it are as quaint and
delightful as the exterior, too."
She looked as harmless and innocent as a basket of peaches as she said
it, and never the suspicion of a smile deepened the dimple in the
cheek toward him. The smile was glowing cheerfully away inside,
though. He could feel it, if he could not see it, and he laughed
"Your crowd rather got the better of us there," he admitted with the
keen appreciation of one still quite close to college days.
"Of course, the mater is furious, but I rather look on it as a lark."
She thawed like an April icicle.
"It's perfectly jolly," she laughed with him. "Awfully selfish of us,
too, I know, but such loads of fun."
They were close to the Tutt House now, and her limp, that had entirely
disappeared as they emerged from the woods, now became quite
perceptible. There might be people looking out of the windows, though
it is hard to see why that should affect a limp.
Ralph was delighted to find that a thaw had set in, and he made one
more attempt to establish at least a proxy acquaintance.
"You don't happen to know Peyson Kingsley, of Philadelphia, do you?"
"I'm afraid I don't," she replied. "I know so few Philadelphia people,
you see." She was rather regretful about it this time. He really was a
clever sort of a fellow, in spite of that smile.
The center window in the second floor of the Tutt House swung open,
its little squares of glass flashing jubilantly in the sunlight. Mrs.
Ellsworth leaned out over the sill, from the quaint old sitting-room
of the Van Kamp apartments!
"Oh, Ralph!" she called in her most dulcet tones. "Kindly excuse
yourself and come right on up to our suite for a few moments!"
It is not nearly so easy to take a practical joke as to perpetrate
one. Evelyn was sitting thoughtfully on the porch when her father and
mother returned. Mrs. Ellsworth was sitting at the center window
above, placidly looking out. Her eyes swept carelessly over the Van
Kamps, and unconcernedly passed on to the rest of the landscape.
Mrs. Van Kamp gasped and clutched the arm of her husband. There was no
need. He, too, had seen the apparition. Evelyn now, for the first
time, saw the real humor of the situation. She smiled as she thought
of Ralph. She owed him one, but she never worried about her debts. She
always managed to get them paid, principal and interest.
Mr. Van Kamp suddenly glowered and strode into the Tutt House. Uncle
Billy met him at the door, reflectively chewing a straw, and handed
him an envelope. Mr. Van Kamp tore it open and drew out a note. Three
five-dollar bills came out with it and fluttered to the porch floor.
This missive confronted him:
MR. J. BELMONT VAN KAMP,
DEAR SIR: This is to notify you that I have rented the entire Tutt
House for the ensuing week, and am compelled to assume possession of
the three second-floor front rooms. Herewith I am enclosing the
fifteen dollars you paid to secure the suite. You are quite welcome to
make use, as my guest, of the small room over the kitchen. You will
find your luggage in that room. Regretting any inconvenience that this
transaction may cause you, I am,
EDWARD EASTMAN ELLSWORTH.
Mr. Van Kamp passed the note to his wife and sat down or a large
chair. He was glad that the chair was comfortable and roomy. Evelyn
picked up the bills and tucked them into her waist. She never
overlooked any of her perquisites. Mrs. Van Kamp read the note, and
the tip of her nose became white. She also sat down, but she was the
first to find her voice.
"Atrocious!" she exclaimed. "Atrocious! Simply atrocious, Belmont.
This is a house of public entertainment. They can't turn us out in
this high-minded manner! Isn't there a law or something to that
"It wouldn't matter if there was," he thoughtfully replied. "This
fellow Ellsworth would be too clever to be caught by it. He would say
that the house was not a hotel but a private residence during the
period for which he has rented it."
Personally, he rather admired Ellsworth. Seemed to be a resourceful
sort of chap who knew how to make money behave itself, and do its
little tricks without balking in the harness.
"Then you can make him take down the sign!" his wife declared.
He shook his head decidedly.
"It wouldn't do, Belle," he replied. "It would be spite, not
retaliation, and not at all sportsmanlike. The course you suggest
would belittle us more than it would annoy them. There must be some
He went in to talk with Uncle Billy.
"I want to buy this place," he stated. "Is it for sale?"
"It sartin is!" replied Uncle Billy. He did not merely twinkle this
time. He grinned.
"Three thousand dollars." Mr. Tutt was used to charging by this time,
and he betrayed no hesitation.
"I'll write you out a check at once," and Mr. Van Kamp reached in his
pocket with the reflection that the spot, after all, was an ideal one
for a quiet summer retreat.
"Air you a-goin' t' scribble that there three thou-san' on a piece o'
paper?" inquired Uncle Billy, sitting bolt upright. "Ef you air
a-figgerin' on that, Mr. Kamp, jis' you save yore time. I give a man
four dollars fer one o' them check things oncet, an' I owe myself them
four dollars yit."
Mr. Van Kamp retired in disorder, but the thought of his wife and
daughter waiting confidently on the porch stopped him. Moreover, the
thing had resolved itself rather into a contest between Ellsworth and
himself, and he had done a little making and breaking of men and
things in his own time. He did some gatling-gun thinking out by the
newel-post, and presently rejoined Uncle Billy.
"Mr. Tutt, tell me just exactly what Mr. Ellsworth rented, please," he
"Th' hull house," replied Billy, and then he somewhat sternly added:
"Paid me spot cash fer it, too."
Mr. Van Kamp took a wad of loose bills from his trousers pocket,
straightened them out leisurely, and placed them in his bill book,
along with some smooth yellowbacks of eye-bulging denominations. Uncle
Billy sat up and stopped twiddling his thumbs.
"Nothing was said about the furniture, was there?" suavely inquired
Uncle Billy leaned blankly back in his chair. Little by little the
light dawned on the ex-horse-trader. The crow's feet reappeared about
his eyes, his mouth twitched, he smiled, he grinned, then he slapped
his thigh and haw-hawed.
"No!" roared Uncle Billy. "No, there wasn't, by gum!"
"Nothing but the house?"
"His very own words!" chuckled Uncle Billy. "'Jis' th' mere house,'
says he, an' he gits it. A bargain's a bargain, an' I allus stick to
one I make."
"How much for the furniture for the week?"
"Fifty dollars!" Mr. Tutt knew how to do business with this kind of
people now, you bet.
Mr. Van Kamp promptly counted out the money.
"Drat it!" commented Uncle Billy to himself. "I could 'a' got more!"
"Now where can we make ourselves comfortable with this furniture?"
Uncle Billy chirked up. All was not yet lost.
"Waal," he reflectively drawled, "there's th' new barn. It hain't been
used for nothin' yit, senct I built it two years ago. I jis' hadn't
th' heart t' put th' critters in it as long as th' ole one stood up."
The other smiled at this flashlight on Uncle Billy's character, and
they went out to look at the barn.
Uncle Billy came back from the "Tutt House Annex," as Mr. Van Kamp
dubbed the barn, with enough more money to make him love all the world
until he got used to having it. Uncle Billy belongs to a large family.
Mr. Van Kamp joined the women on the porch, and explained the
attractively novel situation to them. They were chatting gaily when
the Ellsworths came down the stairs. Mr. Ellsworth paused for a moment
to exchange a word with Uncle Billy.
"Mr. Tutt," said he, laughing, "if we go for a bit of exercise will
you guarantee us the possession of our rooms when we come back?"
"Yes sir-ree!" Uncle Billy assured him. "They shan't nobody take them
rooms away from you fer money, marbles, ner chalk. A bargain's a
bargain, an' I allus stick to one I make," and he virtuously took a
chew of tobacco while he inspected the afternoon sky with a clear
"I want to get some of those splendid autumn leaves to decorate our
cozy apartments," Mrs. Ellsworth told her husband as they passed in
hearing of the Van Kamps. "Do you know those oldtime rag rugs are the
most oddly decorative effects that I have ever seen. They are so rich
in color and so exquisitely blended."
There were reasons why this poisoned arrow failed to rankle, but the
Van Kamps did not trouble to explain. They were waiting for Ralph to
come out and join his parents. Ralph, it seemed, however, had decided
not to take a walk. He had already fatigued himself, he had explained,
and his mother had favored him with a significant look. She could
readily believe him, she had assured him, and had then left him in
The Van Kamps went out to consider the arrangement of the barn. Evelyn
returned first and came out on the porch to find a handkerchief. It
was not there, but Ralph was. She was very much surprised to see him,
and she intimated as much.
"It's dreadfully damp in the woods," he explained. "By the way, you
don't happen to know the Whitleys, of Washington, do you? Most
"I'm quite sorry that I do not," she replied. "But you will have to
excuse me. We shall be kept very busy with arranging our apartments."
Ralph sprang to his feet with a ludicrous expression.
"Not the second floor front suite!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, no! Not at all," she reassured him.
He laughed lightly.
"Honors are about even in that game," he said.
"Evelyn," called her mother from the hall. "Please come and take those
front suite curtains down to the barn."
"Pardon me while we take the next trick," remarked Evelyn with a laugh
quite as light and gleeful as his own, and disappeared into the hall.
He followed her slowly, and was met at the door by her father.
"You are the younger Mr. Ellsworth, I believe," politely said Mr. Van
"Ralph Ellsworth. Yes, sir."
"Here is a note for your father. It is unsealed. You are quite at
liberty to read it."
Mr. Van Kamp bowed himself away, and Ralph opened the note, which
EDWARD EASTMAN ELLSWORTH, ESQ.,
Dear Sir: This is to notify you that I have rented the entire
furniture of the Tutt House for the ensuing week, and am compelled to
assume possession of that in the three second floor front rooms, as
well as all the balance not in actual use by Mr. and Mrs. Tutt and the
driver of the stage. You are quite welcome, however, to make use of
the furnishings in the small room over the kitchen. Your luggage you
will find undisturbed. Regretting any inconvenience that this
transaction may cause you, I remain,
J. BELMONT VAN KAMP.
Ralph scratched his head in amused perplexity. It devolved upon him to
even up the affair a little before his mother came back. He must
support the family reputation for resourcefulness, but it took quite a
bit of scalp irritation before he aggravated the right idea into
being. As soon as the idea came, he went in and made a hide-bound
bargain with Uncle Billy, then he went out into the hall and waited
until Evelyn came down with a huge armload of window curtains.
"Honors are still even," he remarked. "I have just bought all the
edibles about the place, whether in the cellar, the house or any of
the surrounding structures, in the ground, above the ground, dead or
alive, and a bargain's a bargain as between man and man."
"Clever of you, I'm sure," commented Miss Van Kamp, reflectively.
Suddenly her lips parted with a smile that revealed a double row of
most beautiful teeth. He meditatively watched the curve of her lips.
"Isn't that rather a heavy load?" he suggested. "I'd be delighted to
help you move the things, don't you know."
"It is quite kind of you, and what the men would call 'game,' I
believe, under the circumstances," she answered, "but really it will
not be necessary. We have hired Mr. Tutt and the driver to do the
heavier part of the work, and the rest of it will be really a pleasant
"No doubt," agreed Ralph, with an appreciative grin. "By the way, you
don't happen to know Maud and Dorothy Partridge, of Baltimore, do you?
Stunning pretty girls, both of them, and no end of swells."
"I know so very few people in Baltimore," she murmured, and tripped on
down to the barn.
Ralph went out on the porch and smoked. There was nothing else that he
It was growing dusk when the elder Ellsworths returned, almost hidden
by great masses of autumn boughs.
"You should have been with us, Ralph," enthusiastically said his
mother. "I never saw such gorgeous tints in all my life. We have
brought nearly the entire woods with us."
"It was a good idea," said Ralph. "A stunning good idea. They may come
in handy to sleep on."
Mrs. Ellsworth turned cold.
"What do you mean?" she gasped.
"Ralph," sternly demanded his father, "you don't mean to tell us that
you let the Van Kamps jockey us out of those rooms after all?"
"Indeed, no," he airily responded. "Just come right on up and see."
He led the way into the suite and struck a match. One solitary candle
had been left upon the mantel shelf. Ralph thought that this had been
overlooked, but his mother afterwards set him right about that. Mrs.
Van Kamp had cleverly left it so that the Ellsworths could see how
dreadfully bare the place was. One candle in three rooms is drearier
than darkness anyhow.
Mrs. Ellsworth took in all the desolation, the dismal expanse of the
now enormous apartments, the shabby walls, the hideous bright spots
where pictures had hung, the splintered flooring, the great, gaunt
windows—and she gave in. She had met with snub after snub, and cut
after cut, in her social climb, she had had the cook quit in the
middle of an important dinner, she had had every disconcerting thing
possible happen to her, but this—this was the last bale of straw.
She sat down on a suitcase, in the middle of the biggest room, and
Ralph, having waited for this, now told about the food transaction,
and she hastily pushed the last-coming tear back into her eye.
"Good!" she cried. "They will be up here soon. They will be compelled
to compromise, and they must not find me with red eyes."
She cast a hasty glance around the room, then, in a sudden panic,
seized the candle and explored the other two. She went wildly out into
the hall, back into the little room over the kitchen, downstairs,
everywhere, and returned in consternation.
"There's not a single mirror left in the house!" she moaned.
Ralph heartlessly grinned. He could appreciate that this was a
characteristic woman trick, and wondered admiringly whether Evelyn or
her mother had thought of it. However, this was a time for action.
"I'll get you some water to bathe your eyes," he offered, and ran into
the little room over the kitchen to get a pitcher. A cracked
shaving-mug was the only vessel that had been left, but he hurried
down into the yard with it. This was no time for fastidiousness.
He had barely creaked the pump handle when Mr. Van Kamp hurried up
from the barn.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Mr. Van Kamp, "but this water belongs
to us. My daughter bought it, all that is in the ground, above the
ground, or that may fall from the sky upon these premises."
The mutual siege lasted until after seven o'clock, but it was rather
one-sided. The Van Kamps could drink all the water they liked, it made
them no hungrier. If the Ellsworths ate anything, however, they grew
thirstier, and, moreover, water was necessary if anything worth while
was to be cooked. They knew all this, and resisted until Mrs.
Ellsworth was tempted and fell. She ate a sandwich and choked. It was
heartbreaking, but Ralph had to be sent down with a plate of
sandwiches and an offer to trade them for water.
Halfway between the pump and the house he met Evelyn coming with a
small pail of the precious fluid. They both stopped stock still; then,
seeing that it was too late to retreat, both laughed and advanced.
"Who wins now?" bantered Ralph as they made the exchange.
"It looks to me like a misdeal," she gaily replied, and was moving
away when he called her back.
"You don't happen to know the Gately's, of New York, do you?" he was
quite anxious to know.
"I am truly sorry, but I am acquainted with so few people in New York.
We are from Chicago, you know."
"Oh," said he blankly, and took the water up to the Ellsworth suite.
Mrs. Ellsworth cheered up considerably when she heard that Ralph had
been met halfway, but her eyes snapped when he confessed that it was
Miss Van Kamp who had met him.
"I hope you are not going to carry on a flirtation with that
overdressed creature," she blazed.
"Why mother," exclaimed Ralph, shocked beyond measure. "What right
have you to accuse either this young lady or myself of flirting?
Mrs. Ellsworth suddenly attacked the fire with quite unnecessary
Down at the barn, the wide threshing floor had been covered with gay
rag-rugs, and strewn with tables, couches, and chairs in picturesque
profusion. Roomy box-stalls had been carpeted deep with clean straw,
curtained off with gaudy bed-quilts, and converted into cozy sleeping
apartments. The mow and the stalls had been screened off with lace
curtains and blazing counterpanes, and the whole effect was one of
Oriental luxury and splendor. Alas, it was only an "effect"! The
red-hot parlor stove smoked abominably, the pipe carried other smoke
out through the hawmow window, only to let it blow back again. Chill
cross-draughts whistled in from cracks too numerous to be stopped up,
and the miserable Van Kamps could only cough and shiver, and envy the
Tutts and the driver, non-combatants who had been fed two hours
Up in the second floor suite there was a roaring fire in the big
fireplace, but there was a chill in the room that no mere fire could
drive away—the chill of absolute emptiness.
A man can outlive hardships that would kill a woman, but a woman can
endure discomforts that would drive a man crazy.
Mr. Ellsworth went out to hunt up Uncle Billy, with an especial solace
in mind. The landlord was not in the house, but the yellow gleam of a
lantern revealed his presence in the woodshed, and Mr. Ellsworth
stepped in upon him just as he was pouring something yellow and clear
into a tumbler from a big jug that he had just taken from under the
"How much do you want for that jug and its contents?" he asked, with a
sigh of gratitude that this supply had been overlooked.
Before Mr. Tutt could answer, Mr. Van Kamp hurried in at the door.
"Wait a moment!" he cried. "I want to bid on that!"
"This here jug hain't fer sale at no price," Uncle Billy emphatically
announced, nipping all negotiations right in the bud. "It's too pesky
hard to sneak this here licker in past Marge't, but I reckon it's my
treat, gents. Ye kin have all ye want."
One minute later Mr. Van Kamp and Mr. Ellsworth were seated, one on a
sawbuck and the other on a nail-keg, comfortably eyeing each other
across the work bench, and each was holding up a tumbler one-third
filled with the golden yellow liquid.
"Your health, sir," courteously proposed Mr. Ellsworth.
"And to you, sir," gravely replied Mr. Van Kamp.
Ralph and Evelyn happened to meet at the pump, quite accidentally,
after the former had made half a dozen five-minute-apart trips for a
drink. It was Miss Van Kamp, this time, who had been studying on the
mutual acquaintance problem.
"You don't happen to know the Tylers, of Parkersburg, do you?" she
"The Tylers! I should say I do!" was the unexpected and enthusiastic
reply. "Why, we are on our way now to Miss Georgiana Tyler's wedding
to my friend Jimmy Carston. I'm to be best man."
"How delightful!" she exclaimed. "We are on the way there, too.
Georgiana was my dearest chum at school, and I am to be her 'best
"Let's go around on the porch and sit down," said Ralph.
Mr. Van Kamp, back in the woodshed, looked about him with an eye of
"Rather cozy for a woodshed," he observed. "I wonder if we couldn't
scare up a little session of dollar limit?"
Both Uncle Billy and Mr. Ellsworth were willing. Death and poker level
all Americans. A fourth hand was needed, however. The stage driver was
in bed and asleep, and Mr. Ellsworth volunteered to find the extra
"I'll get Ralph," he said. "He plays a fairly stiff game." He finally
found his son on the porch, apparently alone, and stated his errand.
"Thank you, but I don't believe I care to play this evening," was the
astounding reply, and Mr. Ellsworth looked closer. He made out, then,
a dim figure on the other side of Ralph.
"Oh! Of course not!" he blundered, and went back to the woodshed.
Three-handed poker is a miserable game, and it seldom lasts long. It
did not in this case. After Uncle Billy had won the only jack-pot
deserving of the name, he was allowed to go blissfully to sleep with
his hand on the handle of the big jug.
After poker there is only one other always available amusement for
men, and that is business. The two travelers were quite well
acquainted when Ralph put his head in at the door.
"Thought I'd find you here," he explained. "It just occurred to me to
wonder whether you gentlemen had discovered, as yet, that we are all
to be house guests at the Carston-Tyler wedding."
"Why, no!" exclaimed his father in pleased surprise. "It is a most
agreeable coincidence. Mr. Van Kamp, allow me to introduce my son,
Ralph. Mr. Van Kamp and myself, Ralph, have found out that we shall be
considerably thrown together in a business way from now on. He has
just purchased control of the Metropolitan and Western string of
"Delighted, I'm sure," murmured Ralph, shaking hands, and then he
slipped out as quickly as possible. Some one seemed to be waiting for
Perhaps another twenty minutes had passed, when one of the men had an
illuminating idea that resulted, later on, in pleasant relations for
all of them. It was about time, for Mrs. Ellsworth, up in the bare
suite, and Mrs. Van Kamp, down in the draughty barn, both wrapped up
to the chin and both still chilly, had about reached the limit of
patience and endurance.
"Why can't we make things a little more comfortable for all
concerned?" suggested Mr. Van Kamp. "Suppose, as a starter, that we
have Mrs. Van Kamp give a shiver party down in the barn?"
"Good idea," agreed Mr. Ellsworth. "A little diplomacy will do it.
Each one of us will have to tell his wife that the other fellow made
the first abject overtures."
Mr. Van Kamp grinned understandingly, and agreed to the infamous ruse.
"By the way," continued Mr. Ellsworth, with a still happier thought,
"you must allow Mrs. Ellsworth to furnish the dinner for Mrs. Van
Kamp's shiver party."
"Dinner!" gasped Mr. Van Kamp. "By all means!"
Both men felt an anxious yawning in the region of the appetite, and a
yearning moisture wetted their tongues. They looked at the slumbering
Uncle Billy and decided to see Mrs. Tutt themselves about a good, hot
dinner for six.
"Law me!" exclaimed Aunt Margaret when they appeared at the kitchen
door. "I swan I thought you folks 'u'd never come to yore senses. Here
I've had a big pot o' stewed chicken ready on the stove fer two mortal
hours. I kin give ye that, an' smashed taters an' chicken gravy, an'
dried corn, an' hot corn-pone, an' currant jell, an' strawberry
preserves, an' my own cannin' o' peaches, an' pumpkin-pie an' coffee.
Will that do ye?" Would it do! Would it do!!
As Aunt Margaret talked, the kitchen door swung wide, and the two men
were stricken speechless with astonishment. There, across from each
other at the kitchen table, sat the utterly selfish and traitorous
younger members of the rival houses of Ellsworth and Van Kamp, deep in
the joys of chicken, and mashed potatoes, and gravy, and hot
corn-pone, and all the other "fixings," laughing and chatting gaily
like chums of years' standing. They had seemingly just come to an
agreement about something or other, for Evelyn, waving the shorter end
of a broken wishbone, was vivaciously saying to Ralph:
"A bargain's a bargain, and I always stick to one I make."