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- Green Fancy - 3/51 -
"Thanks!" shouted the late passenger after the receding tail light, and dashed up the steps to the porch that ran the full length of Hart's Tavern. In the shelter of its low-lying roof, he stopped short and once more peered down the dark, rain-swept road. A flash of lightning revealed the flying automobile. He waited for a second flash. It came an instant later, but the car was no longer visible. He shook his head. "I hope the blamed old fool knows what he's doing, hitting it up like that over a wet road. There'll be a double funeral in this neck of the woods if anything goes wrong," he reflected. Still shaking his head, he faced the closed door of the Tavern.
A huge, old-fashioned lantern hung above the portal, creaking and straining in the wind, dragging at its stout supports and threatening every instant to break loose and go frolicking away with the storm.
The sound of the rain on the clap-board roof was deafening. At the lower end of the porch the water swished in with all the velocity of a gigantic wave breaking over a ship at sea. The wind howled, the thunder roared and almost like cannon-fire were the successive crashes of lightning among the trees out there in the path of fury.
There were lights in several of the windows opening upon the porch; the wooden shutters not only were ajar but were banging savagely against the walls. Even in the dim, grim light shed by the lantern he could see that the building was of an age far beyond the ken of any living man. He recalled the words of the informing sign-post: "Established in 1798." One hundred and eighteen years old, and still baffling the assaults of all the elements in a region where they were never timid!
It may, in all truth, be a "shindy," thought he, but it had led a gallant life.
The broad, thick weather-boarding, overlapping in layers, was brown with age and smooth with the polishing of time and the backs, no doubt, of countless loiterers who had come and gone in the making of the narrative that Hart's Tavern could relate. The porch itself, while old, was comparatively modern; it did not belong to the century in which the inn itself was built, for in those far-off days men did not waste time, timber or thought on the unnecessary. While the planks in the floor were worn and the uprights battered and whittled out of their pristine shapeliness, they were but grandchildren to the parent building to which they clung. Stout and, beyond question, venerable benches stood close to the wall on both sides of the entrance. Directly over the broad, low door with its big wooden latch and bar, was the word "Welcome," rudely carved in the oak beam. It required no cultured eye to see that the letters had been cut, deep and strong, into the timber, not with the tool of the skilled wood carver but with the hunting knife of an ambitious pioneer.
A shocking incongruity marred the whole effect. Suspended at the side of this hundred-year-old doorway was a black and gold, shield-shaped ornament of no inconsiderable dimensions informing the observer that a certain brand of lager beer was to be had inside.
He lifted the latch and, being a tall man, involuntarily stooped as he passed through the door, a needless precaution, for gaunt, gigantic mountaineers had entered there before him and without bending their arrogant heads.
THE FIRST WAYFARER LAYS HIS PACK ASIDE AND FALLS IN WITH FRIENDS
The little hall in which he found himself was the "office" through which all men must pass who come as guests to Hart's Tavern. A steep, angular staircase took up one end of the room. Set in beneath its upper turn was the counter over which the business of the house was transacted, and behind this a man was engaged in the peaceful occupation of smoking a corn-cob pipe. He removed the pipe, brushed his long moustache with the back of a bony hand, and bowed slowly and with grave ceremony to the arrival.
An open door to the right of the stairway gave entrance to a room from which came the sound of a deep, sonorous voice, employed in what turned out to be a conversational solo. To the left another door led to what was evidently the dining-room. The glance that the stranger sent in that direction revealed two or three tables, covered with white cloths.
"Can you put me up for the night?" he inquired, advancing to the counter.
"You look like a feller who'd want a room with bath," drawled the man behind the counter, surveying the applicant from head to foot. "Which we ain't got," he added.
"I'll be satisfied to have a room with a bed," said the other.
"Sign here," was the laconic response. He went to the trouble of actually putting his finger on the line where the guest was expected to write his name.
"Can I have supper?"
"Food for man and beast," said the other patiently. He slapped his palm upon a cracked call-bell, and then looked at the fresh name on the page. "Thomas K. Barnes, New York," he read aloud. He eyed the newcomer once more. "And automobile?"
"No. I'm walking."
"Didn't I hear you just come up in a car?"
"A fellow gave me a lift from the cross-roads."
"I see. My name is Jones, Putnam Jones. I run this place. My father an' grandfather run it before me. Glad to meet you, Mr. Barnes. We used to have a hostler here named Barnes. What's your idea fer footin' it this time o' the year?"
"I do something like this every spring. A month or six weeks of it puts me in fine shape for a vacation later on," supplied Mr. Barnes whimsically.
Mr. Jones allowed a grin to steal over his seamed face. He re-inserted the corn-cob pipe and took a couple of pulls at it.
"I never been to New York, but it must be a heavenly place for a vacation, if a feller c'n judge by what some of my present boarders have to say about it. It's a sort of play-actor's paradise, ain't it?"
"It is paradise to every actor who happens to be on the road, Mr. Jones," said Barnes, slipping his big pack from his shoulders and letting it slide to the floor.
"Hear that feller in the tap-room talkin'? Well, he is one of the leading actors in New York,--in the world, for that matter. He's been talkin' about Broadway for nearly a week now, steady."
"May I enquire what he is doing up here in the wilds?"
"At present he ain't doing anything except talk. Last week he was treadin' the boards, as he puts it himself. Busted. Up the flue. Showed last Saturday night in Hornville, eighteen mile north of here, and immediately after the performance him and his whole troupe started to walk back to New York, a good four hunderd mile. They started out the back way of the opery house and nobody missed 'em till next mornin' except the sheriff, and he didn't miss 'em till they'd got over the county line into our bailiwick. Four of 'em are still stoppin' here just because I ain't got the heart to turn 'em out ner the spare money to buy 'em tickets to New York. Here comes one of 'em now. Mr. Dillingford, will you show this gentleman to room eleven, and carry his baggage up fer him? And maybe he'll want a pitcher of warm water to wash and shave in." He turned to the new guest and smiled apologetically.
"We're a little short o' help just now, Mr. Barnes, and Mr. Dillingford has kindly consented to--"
"My God!" gasped Mr. Dillingford, staring at the register. "Some one from little old New York? My word, sir, you--Won't you have a--er-- little something to drink with me before you--"
"He wants something to eat," interrupted Mr. Jones sharply. "Tell Mr. Bacon to step up to his room and take the order."
"All right, old chap,--nothing easier," said Mr. Dillingford genially. "Just climb up the elevator, Mr. Barnes. We do this to get up an appetite. When did you leave New York?"
Taking up a lighted kerosene lamp and the heavy pack, Mr. Clarence Dillingford led the way up the stairs. He was a chubby individual of indefinite age. At a glance you would have said he was under twenty- one; a second look would have convinced you that he was nearer forty- one. He was quite shabby, but chin and cheek were as clean as that of a freshly scrubbed boy. He may not have changed his collar for days but he lived up to the traditions of his profession by shaving twice every twenty-four hours.
Depositing Barnes' pack on a chair in the little bedroom at the end of the hall upstairs, he favoured the guest with a perfectly unabashed grin.
"I'm not doing this to oblige old man Jones, you know. I won't attempt to deceive you. I'm working out a daily bread-bill. Chuck three times a day and a bed to sleep in, that's what I'm doing it for, so don't get it into your head that I applied for the job. Let me take a look at you. I want to get a good square peep at a man who has the means to go somewhere else and yet is boob enough to come to this gosh-awful place of his own free will and accord. Darn it, you LOOK intelligent. I don't get you at all. What's the matter? Are you a fugitive from justice?"
Barnes laughed aloud. There was no withstanding the fellow's sprightly impudence.
"I happen to enjoy walking," said he.
"If I enjoyed it as much as you do, I'd be limping into Harlem by this time," said Mr. Dillingford sadly. "But, you see, I'm an actor. I'm too proud to walk."
"Up against poor business, I presume?"
"Up against no business at all," said Mr. Dillingford. "We couldn't
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