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The Postmaster

Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  Produced by Roger Frank, Mary Meehan, and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at


  Author of "The Depot Master," "Cap'n Warrens Wards," "Cap'n Eri," "Mr. Pratt," etc.

  _With Four Illustrations_ _By_ HOWARD HEATH

  A. L. BURT COMPANY _Publishers New York_

  _Copyright, 1912, by_ D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

  Copyright, 1911, 1912, by the Curtis Publishing Company Copyright, 1911, 1912, by the Ainslee Magazine Company Copyright, 1912, by the Ridgeway Company

  Published, April, 1912

  Printed in the United States of America


  _Seems to me I never saw her look prettier._]








  "So you're through with the sea for good, are you, Cap'n Zeb," says Mr.Pike.

  "You bet!" says I. "Through for good is just _what_ I am."

  "Well, I'm sorry, for the firm's sake," he says. "It won't seem naturalfor the _Fair Breeze_ to make port without you in command. Cap'n, you'regoin' to miss the old schooner."

  "Cal'late I shall--some--along at fust," I told him. "But I'll get overit, same as the cat got over missin' the canary bird's singin'; and I'llhave the cat's consolation--that I done what seemed best for me."

  He laughed. He and I were good friends, even though he was ship-ownerand I was only skipper, just retired.

  "So you're goin' back to Ostable?" he says. "What are you goin' to doafter you get there?"

  "Nothin'; thank you very much," says I, prompt.

  "No work at _all_?" he says, surprised. "Not a hand's turn? Goin' to bea gentleman of leisure, hey?"

  "Nigh as I can, with my trainin'. The 'leisure' part'll be all right,anyway."

  He shook his head and laughed again.

  "I think I see you," says he. "Cap'n, you've been too busy all your lifeeven to get married, and--"

  "Humph!" I cut in. "Most married men I've met have been a good dealbusier than ever I was. And a good deal more worried when business wasdull. No, sir-ee! 'twa'n't that that kept me from gettin' married. I'vebeen figgerin' on the day when I could go home and settle down. If I'dhad a wife all these years I'd have been figgerin' on bein' able tosettle up. I ain't goin' to Ostable to get married."

  "I'll bet you do, just the same," says he. "And I'll bet you somethin'else: I'll bet a new hat, the best one I can buy, that inside of a yearyou'll be head over heels in some sort of hard work. It may not beseafarin', but it'll be somethin' to keep you busy. You're too good aman to rust in the scrap heap. Come! I'll bet the hat. What do you say?"

  "Take you," says I, quick. "And if you want to risk another on mymarryin', I'll take that, too."

  "Go you," says he. "You'll be married inside of three years--or five,anyway."

  "One year that I'll be at work--steady work--and five that I'm married.You're shipped, both ways. And I wear a seven and a quarter, soft hat,black preferred."

  "If I don't win the first bet I will the second, sure," he says,confident. "'Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands,' you know.Well, good-by, and good luck. Come in and see us whenever you get to NewYork."

  We shook hands, and I walked out of that office, the office that hadbeen my home port ever since I graduated from fust mate to skipper. Andon the way to the Fall River boat I vowed my vow over and over again.

  "Zebulon Snow," I says to myself--not out loud, you understand; for,accordin' to Scriptur' or the Old Farmers' Almanac or somethin', afeller who talks to himself is either rich or crazy and, though I waswell enough fixed to keep the wolf from the door, I wa'n't by no meansso crazy as to leave the door open and take chances--"Zebulon Snow,"says I, "you're forty-eight year old and blessedly single. All your lifeyou've been haulin' ropes, or bossin' fo'mast hands, or tryin' to makeharbor in a fog. Now that you've got an anchor to wind'ard--now that theone talent you put under the stock exchange napkin has spread out sothat you have to have a tablecloth to tote it home in, don't you be afool. Don't plant it again, cal'latin' to fill a mains'l next time,'cause you won't do it. Take what you've got and be thankful--andcareful. You go ashore at Ostable, where you was born, and settle downand be somebody."

  That's about what I said to myself, and that's what I started to do. Imade Ostable on the next mornin's train. The town had changed a wholelot since I left it, mainly on account of so many summer folks buyin'and buildin' everywhere, especially along the water front. The fewreg'lar inhabitants that I knew seemed to be glad to see me, which Itook as a sort of compliment, for it don't always foller by aconsider'ble sight. I got into the depot wagon--the same horse wasdrawin' it, I judged, that Eben Hendricks had bought when I was aboy--and asked to be carted to the Travelers' Inn. It appeared thatthere wa'n't any Travelers' Inn now, that is to say, the name of it hadbeen changed to the Poquit House; "Poquit" bein' Injun or Portygee orsomethin' foreign.

  But the name was the only thing about that hotel that was changed. Thegrub was the same and the wallpaper on the rooms they showed to melooked about the same age as I was, and wa'n't enough handsomer tocount, either. I hired a couple of them rooms, one to sleep in and smokein, and t'other to entertain the parson in, if he should call,which--unless the profession had changed, too--I judged he would dopretty quick. I had the rooms cleaned and papered, bought some dyspepsymedicine to offset the meals I was likely to have, and settled down tobe what Mr. Pike had called a "gentleman of leisure."

  Fust three months 'twas fine. At the end of the second three itcommenced to get a little mite dull. In about two more I found my mindwas shrinkin' so that the little mean cat-talks at the breakfast tablewas beginnin' to seem interestin' and important. Then I knew 'twas timeto doctor up with somethin' besides dyspepsy pills. Ossification wassettin' in and I'd got to do somethin' to keep me interested, even if Ipaid for Pike's hats for the next generation.

  You see, there was such a sameness to the programme. Turn out in themornin', eat and listen to gossip, go out and take a walk, smoke, talkwith folks I met--more gossip--come back and eat again, go over andwatch the carpenters on the latest summer cottage, smoke some more, eatsome more, and then go down to the Ostable Grocery, Dry Goods, Boots andShoes and Fancy Goods Store, or to the post-office, and set around withthe gang till bedtime. That may be an excitin' life for a jellyfish, ora reg'lar Ostable loafer--but it didn't suit me.

  I was feelin' that way, and pretty desperate, the night when WinthropAdams Beanblossom--which wa'n't the critter's name but is nigh enough tothe real one for him to cruise under in this yarn--told me the story
ofhis life and started me on the v'yage that come to mean so much to me. Ididn't know 'twas goin' to mean much of anything when I started in. Butthat night Winthrop got me to paddlin', so's to speak, and, later on,come Jim Henry Jacobs to coax me into deeper water; and, after that, thecombination of them two and Miss Letitia Lee Pendlebury shoved me in allunder, so 'twas a case of stickin' to it or swimmin' or drownin'.

  I was in the Ostable Store that evenin', as usual. 'Twas almost nineo'clock and the rest of the bunch around the stove had gone home. I wasfillin' my pipe and cal'latin' to go, too--if you can call a tavern likethe Poquit House a home. Beanblossom was in behind the desk, his funnylittle grizzly-gray head down over a pile of account books and papers,his specs roostin' on the end of his thin nose, and his pen scratchin'away like a stray hen in a flower bed.

  "Well, Beanblossom," says I, gettin' up and stretchin', "I cal'late it'stime to shed the partin' tear. I'll leave you to figger out whether tospend this week's profits in government bonds or trips to Europe and goand lay my weary bones in the tomb, meanin' my private vault on thesecond floor of the Poquit. Adieu, Beanblossom," I says; "remember me atmy best, won't you?"

  He didn't seem to sense what I was drivin' at. He lifted his head out ofthe books and papers, heaved a sigh that must have started somewheresdown along his keelson, and says, sorrowful but polite--he was alwayspolite--"Er--yes? You were addressin' me, Cap'n Snow?"

  "Nothin' in particular," I says. "I was just askin' if you intendedspendin' your profits on a trip to Europe this summer."

  Would you believe it, that little storekeepin' man looked at me throughhis specs, his pale face twitchin' and workin' like a youngster's whenhe's tryin' not to cry, and then, all to once, he broke right down,leaned his head on his hands and sobbed out loud.

  I looked at him. "For the dear land sakes," I sung out, soon's I couldcollect sense enough to say anything, "what is the matter? Is anybodydead or--"

  He groaned. "Dead?" he interrupted. "I wish to heaven, I was dead."

  "Well!" I gasps. "_Well!_"

  "Oh, why," says he, "was I ever born?"

  That bein' a question that I didn't feel competent to answer, I didn'ttry. My remark about goin' to Europe was intended for a joke, but if myjokes made grown-up folks cry I cal'lated 'twas time I turned serious.

  "What _is_ the matter, Beanblossom?" I says. "Are you in trouble?"

  For a spell he wouldn't answer, just kept on sobbin' and wringin' histhin hands, but, after consider'ble of such, and a good manyunsatisfyin' remarks, he give in and told me the whole yarn, told me allhis troubles. They were complicated and various.

  Picked over and b'iled down they amounted to this: He used to have anincome and he lived on it--in bachelor quarters up to Boston. Nigh as Icould gather he never did any real work except to putter in librariesand collect books and such. Then, somehow or other, the bank the heft ofhis money was in broke up and his health broke down. The doctors said hemust go away into the country. He couldn't afford to go and do nothin',so he has a wonderful inspiration--he'll buy a little store in what hecalled a "rural community" and go into business. He advertises, "CountryStore Wanted Cheap," or words to that effect. Abial Beasley's widow hadthe "Ostable Grocery, Dry Goods, Boots and Shoes and Fancy Goods Store"on her hands. She answers the ad and they make a dicker. Said dickertook about all the cash Beanblossom had left. For a year he had beenfightin' along tryin' to make both ends meet, but now they was so furapart they was likely to meet on the back stretch. He owed 'most athousand dollars, his trade was fallin' off, he hadn't a cent and nobodyto turn to. What should he do? _What_ should he do?

  That was another question I couldn't answer off hand. It was plainenough why he was in the hole he was, but how to get him out wasdifferent. I set down on the edge of the counter, swung my legs andtried to think.

  "Hum," says I, "you don't know much about keepin' store, do you,Beanblossom? Didn't know nothin' about it when you started in?"

  He shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Cap'n Snow," he says. "Why should I?I never was obliged to labor. I was not interested in trade. I neversupposed I should be brought to this. I am a man of family, Cap'n Snow."

  "Yes," I says, "so'm I. Number eight in a family of thirteen. But thatnever helped me none. My experience is that you can't count much on yourrelations."

  Would I pardon him, but that was not the sense in which he had used theword "family." He meant that he came of the best blood in New England.His ancestors had made their marks and--

  "Made their marks!" I put in. "Why? Couldn't they write their names?"

  He was dreadful shocked, but he explained. The Beanblossoms and theirgang were big-bugs, fine folks. He was terrible proud of his family.During the latter part of his life in Boston he had become interested ingenealogy. He had begun a "family tree"--whatever that was--but he neverfinished it. The smash came and shook him out of the branches; thatwa'n't what he said, but 'twas the way I sensed it. And now he had cometo this. His money was gone; he couldn't pay his debts; he couldn't haveany more credit. He must fail; he was bankrupt. Oh, the disgrace! andlikewise oh, the poorhouse!

  "But," says I, considerin', "it can't be so turrible bad. You don't owebut a thousand dollars, this store's the only one in town and Abial usedto do pretty well with it. If your debts was paid, and you had a littlecash to stock up with, seems to me you might make a decent v'yage yet.Couldn't you?"

  He didn't know. Perhaps he could. But what was the use of talkin' thatway? For him to pick up a thousand would be about as easy as for aparalyzed man with boxin' gloves on to pick up a flea, or words to thateffect. No, no, 'twas no use! he must go to the poorhouse! and so forthand so on.

  "You hold on," I says. "Don't you engage your poorhouse berth yet. Youkeep mum and say nothin' to nobody and let me think this over a spell. Ineed somethin' to keep me interested and ... I'll see you to-morrowsometime. Good night."

  I went home thinkin' and I thought till pretty nigh one o'clock. Then Idecided I was a fool even to think for five minutes. Hadn't I sworn tobe careful and never take another risk? I was sorry for poor oldWinthrop, but I couldn't afford to mix pity and good legal tender; thatwas the sort of blue and yeller drink that filled the poor-debtors'courts. And, besides, wasn't I pridin' myself on bein' a gentleman ofleisure. If I got mixed up in this, no tellin' what I might be led into.Hadn't I bragged to Pike about--Oh, I _was_ a fool!

  Which was all right, only, after listenin' to the breakfast conversationat the Poquit House, down I goes to the store and afore the forenoon wasover I was Winthrop Adams Beanblossom's silent partner to the extent oftwenty-five hundred dollars. I was busy once more and glad of it, eventhough Pike _was_ goin' to get a hat free.

  This was in January. By early March I was twice as busy and not half asglad. You see I'd cal'lated that the store was all right, all it neededwas financin'. Trade was just asleep, taking a nap, and I could wake itup. I was wrong. Trade was dead, and, barrin' the comin' of a prophet orsome miracle worker to fetch it to life, what that shop was reallysufferin' for was an undertaker. My twenty-five hundred was funeralexpenses, that's all.

  But the prophet came. Yes, sir, he came and fetched his miracle withhim. One evenin', after all the reg'lar customers, who set around inchairs borrowin' our genuine tobacco and payin' for it with counterfeitfunny stories, had gone--after everybody, as we cal'lated, had clearedout--Beanblossom and I set down to hold our usual autopsy over theremains of the fortni't's trade. 'Twas a small corpse and didn't takelong to dissect. We'd lost twenty-one dollars and sixty-eight cents, andthe only comfort in that was that 'twas seventy-six cents less than thetwo weeks previous. The weather had been some cooler and less stuff hadsp'iled on our hands; that accounted for the savin'.

  Beanblossom--I'd got into the habit of callin' him "Pullet" 'cause hisgeneral build was so similar to a moultin' chicken--he vowed he couldn'tunderstand it.

  "I think I shall give up buyin' so liberally, Cap'n Snow," says he. "Ifwe didn't keep on buyin' we shouldn't lose half so
much," he says.

  "Yes," says I, "that's logic. And if we give up sellin' we shouldn'tlose the other half. You and me are all right as fur as we go, Pullet,and I guess we've gone about as fur as we can."

  "Please don't call me 'Pullet,'" he says, dignified. "When I think ofwhat I once was, it--"

  "S-sh-h!" I broke in. "It's what I am that troubles me. I don't darethink of that when the minister's around--he might be a mind-reader. No,Pul--Beanblossom, I mean--it's no use. I imagined because I could run athree-masted schooner I could navigate this craft. I can't. I know twiceas much as you do about keepin' store, but the trouble with that exampleis the answer, which is that you don't know nothin'. We might justexactly as well shut up shop now, while there's enough left to squarethe outstandin' debts."

  He turned white and began the hand-wringin' exercise.

  "Think of the disgrace!" he says.

  "Think of my twenty-five hundred," says I.

  "Excuse me, gentlemen," says a voice astern of us; "excuse me forbuttin' in; but I judge that what you need is a butter."

  Pullet and I jumped and turned round. We'd supposed we was alone and tosay we was surprised is puttin' it mild. For a second I couldn't makeout what had happened, or where the voice came from, or who 'twas thathad spoke--then, as he come across into the lamplight I recognized him.'Twas Jim Henry Jacobs, the livin' mystery.

  _As he come across into the lamplight I recognized him._]

  Jim Henry was middlin'-sized, sharp-faced, dressed like a ready-tailoredadvertisement, and as smooth and slick as an eel in a barrel of sweetile. Accordin' to his entry on the books of the Poquit House he hailedfrom Chicago. He'd been in Ostable for pretty nigh a month and nobodyhad been able to find out any more about him than just that, which is asome miracle of itself--if you know Ostable. He was always ready totalk--talkin' was one of his main holts--but when you got throughtalkin' with him all you had to remember was a smile and a flow ofwords. He was at the seashore for his health, that he always give you tounderstand. You could believe it if you wanted to.

  He'd got into the habit of spendin' his evenin's at Pullet's store,settin' around listenin' and smilin' and agreein' with folks. He was theonly feller I ever met who could say no and agree with you at the sametime. Solon Saunders tried to borrow fifty cents of him once and whenthe pair of 'em parted, Saunders was scratchin' his head and lookin'puzzled. "I can't understand it," says Solon. "I would have swore he'dlent it to me. 'Twas just as if I had the fifty in my hand. I--I thankedhim for it and all that, but--but now he's gone I don't seem to be noricher than when I started. I can't understand it."

  Pullet and I had seen him settin' abaft the stove early in the evenin',but, somehow or other, we got the notion that he'd cleared out with theother loafers. However, he hadn't, and he'd heard all we'd been sayin'.

  He walked across to where we was, pulled a shoe box from under thecounter, come to anchor on it and crossed his legs.

  "Gentlemen," he says again, "you need a butter."

  Poor old Pullet was so set back his brains was sort of scrambled, like apan of eggs.

  "Er-er, Mr. Jacobs," he says, "I am very sorry, extremely sorry, but weare all out just at this minute. I fully intended to order some to-day,but I--I guess I must have forgotten it."

  Jacobs couldn't seem to make any more out of this than I did.

  "Out?" he says, wonderin'. "Out? Who's out? What's out? I guess I'vedropped the key or lost the combination. What's the answer?"

  "Why, butter," says Pullet, apologizin'. "You asked for butter, didn'tyou? As I was sayin', I should have ordered some to-day, but--"

  Jim Henry waved his hands. "Sh-h," he says, "don't mention it. Forgetit. If I'd wanted butter in this emporium I should have asked forsomethin' else. I've been givin' this mart of trade some attention forthe past three weeks and I judge that its specialty is bein' able tosupply what ain't wanted. I hinted that you two needed a butter-in. Allright. I'm the goat. Now if you'll kindly give me your attention, I'llelucidate."

  We give the attention. After he'd "elucidated" for five minutes we'dhave given him our clothes. You never heard such a mess of language asthat Chicago man turned loose. He talked and talked and talked. He knewall about the store and the business, and what he didn't know he guessedand guessed right. He knew about Pullet and his buyin' the place, aboutmy goin' in as silent partner--though _that_ nobody was supposed toknow. He knew the shebang wa'n't payin' and, also and moreover, he knewwhy. And he had the remedy buttoned up in his jacket--the name of it wasJames Henry Jacobs.

  "Gentlemen," he says, "I'm a specialist. I'm a doctor of sick business.Ever since my medicine man ordered me to quit the giddy metropolis andthe Grand Central Department Store, where I was third assistant manager,I've been driftin' about seekin' a nice, quiet hamlet and anopportunity. Here's the ham and, if you say the word, here's theopportunity. This shop is in a decline; it's got creepin' paralysis andlocomotive hang-back-tia. There's only one thing that can change thefuneral to a silver weddin'--that's to call in Old Doctor Jacobs. Herehe is, with his pocket full of testimonials. Now you listen."

  We'd been listenin'--'twas by long odds the easiest thing to do--and wekept right on. He had testimonials--he showed 'em to us--and they tookoath to his bein' honest and the eighth business wonder of the world. Hewent on to elaborate. He had a thousand to invest and he'd invest itprovided we'd take him in as manager and give him full swing. He'dguarantee--etcetery and so on, unlimited and eternal.

  "But," says I, when he stopped to eat a throat lozenge, "sellin' goodsis one thing; gettin' the right goods to sell is another. Me andPullet--Mr. Beanblossom here--have tried to keep a pretty fair-sizedstock, but it's the kind of stock that keeps better'n it sells."

  "Sell!" he puts in. "You can sell anything, if you know how. See here,let me prove it to you. You think this over to-night and to-morrowforenoon I'll be on hand and demonstrate. Just put on your smokedglasses and watch me. _I'll_ show you."

  He did. Next mornin' old Aunt Sarah Oliver came in to buy a hank ofblack yarn to darn stockin's with. With diplomacy and patience theaverage feller could conclude that dicker in an hour and a quarter--ifhe had the yarn. Pullet was just out of black, of course, but that JimHenry Jacobs stepped alongside and within twenty minutes he sold AuntSarah two packages of needles, a brass thimble and a half dozen pair ofblue and yellow striped stockin's that had been on the shelves sinceAbial Beasley's time, and was so loud that a sane person wouldn't darewear 'em except when it thundered. She went out of the store with herbundles in one hand and holdin' her head with the other. Then that JimHenry man turned to Pullet and me.

  "Well?" he says, serene and smilin'.

  It was well, all right. At just quarter to twelve that night thearrangements was made. Jacobs was partner in and manager of the "OstableGrocery, Dry Goods, Boots and Shoes and Fancy Goods Store."