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- A Sappho of Green Springs - 5/32 -
All of which Jack noted, and was wise. He had got all he wanted-- at present. He gathered up his reins.
"Thank you so much, and your brother, too, Miss Cynthia," he said, without looking up. Then, adding, with a parting glance and smile, "But don't tell Bob how stupid I was," he swiftly departed.
In half an hour he was at the Green Springs Hotel. As he rode into the stable yard, he noticed that the coach had only just arrived, having been detained by a land-slip on the Summit road. With the recollection of Bob fresh in his mind, he glanced at the loungers at the stage office. The boy was not there, but a moment later Jack detected him among the waiting crowd at the post-office opposite. With a view of following up his inquiries, he crossed the road as the boy entered the vestibule of the post-office. He arrived in time to see him unlock one of a row of numbered letter- boxes rented by subscribers, which occupied a partition by the window, and take out a small package and a letter. But in that brief glance Mr. Hamlin detected the printed address of the "Excelsior Magazine" on the wrapper. It was enough. Luck was certainly with him.
He had time to get rid of the wicked sparkle that had lit his dark eyes, and to lounge carelessly towards the boy as the latter broke open the package, and then hurriedly concealed it in his jacket- pocket, and started for the door. Mr. Hamlin quickly followed him, unperceived, and, as he stepped into the street, gently tapped him on the shoulder. The boy turned and faced him quickly. But Mr. Hamlin's eyes showed nothing but lazy good-humor.
"Hullo, Bob. Where are you going?"
The boy again looked up suspiciously at this revelation of his name.
"Home," he said, briefly.
"Oh, over yonder," said Hamlin, calmly. "I don't mind walking with you as far as the lane."
He saw the boy's eyes glance furtively towards an alley that ran beside the blacksmith's shop a few rods ahead, and was convinced that he intended to evade him there. Slipping his arm carelessly in the youth's, he concluded to open fire at once.
"Bob," he said, with irresistible gravity, "I did not know when I met you this morning that I had the honor of addressing a poet-- none other than the famous author of 'Underbrush.'"
The boy started back, and endeavored to withdraw his arm, but Mr. Hamlin tightened his hold, without, however, changing his careless expression.
"You see," he continued, "the editor is a friend of mine, and, being afraid this package might not get into the right hands--as you didn't give your name--he deputized me to come here and see that it was all square. As you're rather young, for all you're so gifted, I reckon I'd better go home with you, and take a receipt from your parents. That's about square, I think?"
The consternation of the boy was so evident and so far beyond Mr. Hamlin's expectation that he instantly halted him, gazed into his shifting eyes, and gave a long whistle.
"Who said it was for ME? Wot you talkin' about? Lemme go!" gasped the boy, with the short intermittent breath of mingled fear and passion.
"Bob," said Mr. Hamlin, in a singularly colorless voice which was very rare with him, and an expression quite unlike his own, "what is your little game?"
The boy looked down in dogged silence.
"Out with it! Who are you playing this on?"
"It's all among my own folks; it's nothin' to YOU," said the boy, suddenly beginning to struggle violently, as if inspired by this extenuating fact.
"Among your own folks, eh? White Violet and the rest, eh? But SHE'S not in it?"
"Hand me over that package. I'll give it back to you again."
The boy handed it to Mr. Hamlin. He read the letter, and found the inclosure contained a twenty-dollar gold-piece. A half- supercilious smile passed over his face at this revelation of the inadequate emoluments of literature and the trifling inducements to crime. Indeed, I fear the affair began to take a less serious moral complexion in his eyes.
"Then White Violet--your sister Cynthia, you know," continued Mr. Hamlin, in easy parenthesis--"wrote for this?" holding the coin contemplatively in his fingers, "and you calculated to nab it yourself?"
The quick searching glance with which Bob received the name of his sister, Mr. Hamlin attributed only to his natural surprise that this stranger should be on such familiar terms with her; but the boy responded immediately and bluntly:--
"No! SHE didn't write for it. She didn't want nobody to know who she was. Nobody wrote for it but me. Nobody KNEW FOLKS WAS PAID FOR PO'TRY BUT ME. I found it out from a feller. I wrote for it. I wasn't goin' to let that skunk of an editor have it himself!"
"And you thought YOU would take it," said Hamlin, his voice resuming its old tone. "Well, George--I mean Bob, your conduct was praiseworthy, although your intentions were bad. Still, twenty dollars is rather too much for your trouble. Suppose we say five and call it square?" He handed the astonished boy five dollars. "Now, George Washington," he continued, taking four other twenty- dollar pieces from his pocket, and adding them to the inclosure, which he carefully refolded, "I'm going to give you another chance to live up to your reputation. You'll take that package, and hand it to White Violet, and say you found it, just as it is, in the lock-box. I'll keep the letter, for it would knock you endways if it was seen, and I'll make it all right with the editor. But, as I've got to tell him that I've seen White Violet myself, and know she's got it, I expect YOU to manage in some way to have me see her. I'll manage the rest of it; and I won't blow on you, either. You'll come back to the hotel, and tell me what you've done. And now, George " concluded Mr. Hamlin, succeeding at last in fixing the boy's evasive eye with a peculiar look, "it may be just as well for you to understand that I know every nook and corner of this place, that I've already been through that underbrush you spoke of once this morning, and that I've got a mare that can go wherever YOU can, and a d----d sight quicker!"
"I'll give the package to White Violet," said the boy, doggedly.
"And you'll come back to the hotel?"
The boy hesitated, and then said, "I'll come back."
"All right, then. Adios, general."
Bob disappeared around the corner of a cross-road at a rapid trot, and Mr. Hamlin turned into the hotel.
"Smart little chap that!" he said to the barkeeper.
"You bet!" returned the man, who, having recognized Mr. Hamlin, was delighted at the prospect of conversing with a gentleman of such decidedly dangerous reputation. "But he's been allowed to run a little wild since old man Delatour died, and the widder's got enough to do, I reckon, lookin' arter her four gals, and takin' keer of old Delatour's ranch over yonder. I guess it's pretty hard sleddin' for her sometimes to get clo'es and grub for the famerly, without follerin' Bob around."
"Sharp girls, too, I reckon; one of them writes things for the magazines, doesn't she?--Cynthia, eh?" said Mr. Hamlin, carelessly.
Evidently this fact was not a notorious one to the barkeeper. He, however, said, "Dunno; mabbee; her father was eddicated, and the widder Delatour, too, though she's sorter queer, I've heard tell. Lord! Mr. Hamlin, YOU oughter remember old man Delatour! From Opelousas, Louisiany, you know! High old sport French style, frilled bosom--open-handed, and us'ter buck ag'in' faro awful! Why, he dropped a heap o' money to YOU over in San Jose two years ago at poker! You must remember him!"
The slightest possible flush passed over Mr. Hamlin's brow under the shadow of his hat, but did not get lower than his eyes. He suddenly HAD recalled the spendthrift Delatour perfectly, and as quickly regretted now that he had not doubled the honorarium he had just sent to his portionless daughter. But he only said, coolly, "No," and then, raising his pale face and audacious eyes, continued in his laziest and most insulting manner, "no: the fact is, my mind is just now preoccupied in wondering if the gas is leaking anywhere, and if anything is ever served over this bar except elegant conversation. When the gentleman who mixes drinks comes back, perhaps you'll be good enough to tell him to send a whisky sour to Mr. Jack Hamlin in the parlor. Meantime, you can turn off your soda fountain: I don't want any fizz in mine."
Having thus quite recovered himself, Mr. Hamlin lounged gracefully across the hall into the parlor. As he did so, a darkish young man, with a slim boyish figure, a thin face, and a discontented expression, rose from an armchair, held out his hand, and, with a saturnine smile, said:--
The two men remained gazing at each other with a half-amused, half- guarded expression. Mr. Hamlin was first to begin. "I didn't think YOU'D be such a fool as to try on this kind of thing, Fred," he said, half seriously.
"Yes, but it was to keep you from being a much bigger one that I hunted you up," said the editor, mischievously. "Read that. I got it an hour after you left." And he placed a little triumphantly in Jack's hand the letter he had received from White Violet.
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