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- Galusha the Magnificent - 1/87 -


GALUSHA THE MAGNIFICENT

by

JOSEPH C. LINCOLN

GALUSHA THE MAGNIFICENT

CHAPTER I

Mr. Horatio Pulcifer was on his way home. It was half-past five of a foggy, gray afternoon in early October; it had rained the previous day and a part of the day before that and it looked extremely likely to rain again at any moment. The road between Wellmouth Centre, the village in which Mr. Pulcifer had been spending the afternoon, and East Wellmouth, the community which he honored with his residence, was wet and sloppy; there were little puddles in the hollows of the macadam and the ruts and depressions in the sand on either side were miniature lakes. The groves of pitch pines and the bare, brown fields and knolls dimly seen through the fog looked moist and forsaken and dismal. There were no houses in sight; along the East Wellmouth road there are few dwellings, for no one but a misanthrope or a hermit would select that particular section as a place in which to live. Night was coming on and, to accent the loneliness, from somewhere in the dusky dimness a great foghorn groaned at intervals.

It was a sad and deserted outlook, that from the seat of Mr. Pulcifer's "flivver" as it bounced and squeaked and rattled and splashed its way along. But Mr. Pulcifer himself was not sad, at least his appearance certainly was not. Swinging jauntily, if a trifle ponderously, with the roll of the little car, his clutch upon the steering wheel expressed serene confidence and his manner self-satisfaction quite as serene. His plaid cap was tilted carelessly down toward his right ear, the tilt being balanced by the upward cock of his cigar toward his left ear. The light- colored topcoat with the soiled collar was open sufficiently at the throat to show its wearer's chins and a tasty section of tie and cameo scarf-pin below them. And from the corner of Mr. Pulcifer's mouth opposite that occupied by the cigar came the words and some of the tune of a song which had been the hit of a "Follies" show two seasons before. No, there was nothing dismal or gloomy in Mr. Horatio Pulcifer's appearance as he piloted his automobile toward home at the close of that October afternoon.

And his outward seeming did not belie his feelings. He had spent a pleasant day. At South Wellmouth, his first port of call, he had strengthened his political fences by dropping in upon and chatting with several acquaintances who prided themselves upon being "in the know" concerning local political opinion and drift. Mr. "Raish" Pulcifer--no one in Ostable county ever referred to him as Horatio-- had already held the positions of town clerk, selectman, constable and postmaster. Now, owing to an unfortunate shift in the party vote, the public was, temporarily, deprived of his services. However, it was rumored that he might be persuaded to accept the nomination for state representative if it were offered to him. His acquaintances at South Wellmouth had that day assured him there was "a good, fair fightin' chance" that it might be.

Then, after leaving South Wellmouth, he had dined at the Rogers' House in Wellmouth Centre, "matching" a friend for the dinners and "sticking" the said friend for them and for the cigars afterward. Following this he had joined other friends in a little game in Elmer Rogers' back room and had emerged from that room three dollars and seventy-two cents ahead. No wonder he sang as he drove homeward. No wonder he looked quite care free. And, as a matter of fact, care free he was, that is, as care free as one is permitted to be in this care-ridden world. Down underneath his bright exterior there were a few cankers which might have gnawed had he permitted himself to think of them, but he did not so permit. Mr. Pulcifer's motto had always been: "Let the other feller do the worryin'." And, generally speaking, in a deal with Raish that, sooner or later, was what the other fellow did.

The fog and dusk thickened, Mr. Pulcifer sang, and the flivver wheezed and rattled and splashed onward. At a particularly dark spot, where the main road joined a cross country byroad, Raish drew up and climbed out to light the car lamps, which were of the old- fashioned type requiring a gas tank and matches. He had lighted one and was bending forward with the match ready to light the other when a voice at his elbow said:

"I beg your pardon, but--but will you kindly tell me where I am?"

It was not a loud, aggressive voice; on the contrary, it was hesitating and almost timid, but when one is supposedly alone at twilight on the East Wellmouth road any sort of voice sounding unexpectedly just above one's head is startling. Mr. Pulcifer's match went out, he started violently erect, bumping his head against the open door of the lamp compartment, and swung a red and agitated face toward his shoulder.

"I--beg your pardon," said the voice. "I'm afraid I startled you. I'm extremely sorry. Really I am."

"What the h-ll?" observed Raish, enthusiastically.

"I'm very sorry, very--yes, indeed," said the voice once more. Mr. Pulcifer, rubbing his bumped head and puffing from surprise and the exertion of stooping, stared wide-eyed at the speaker.

The latter was no one he knew, so much was sure, to begin with. The first impression Raish gained was of an overcoat and a derby hat. Then he caught the glitter of spectacles beneath the hat brim. Next his attention centered upon a large and bright yellow suitcase which the stranger was carrying. That suitcase settled it. Mr. Pulcifer's keen mind had diagnosed the situation.

"No," he said, quickly, "I don't want nothin'--nothin'; d'you get me?"

"But--but--pardon me, I--"

"Nothin'. Nothin' at all. I've got all I want."

The stranger seemed to find this statement puzzling.

"Excuse me," he faltered, after a moment's hesitation, during which Raish scratched another match. "I-- You see--I fear--I'm sure you don't understand."

Mr. Pulcifer bent and lighted the second lamp. Then he straightened once more and turned toward his questioner.

"_I_ understand, young feller," he said, "but you don't seem to. I don't want to buy nothin'. I've got all I want. That's plain enough, ain't it?"

"But--but-- All you want? Really, I--"

"All I want of whatever 'tis you've got in that bag. I never buy nothin' of peddlers. So you're just wastin' your time hangin' around. Trot along now, I'm on my way."

He stepped to the side of the car, preparatory to climbing to the driver's seat, but the person with the suitcase followed him.

"Pardon me," faltered that person, "but I'm not--ah--a peddler. I'm afraid I--that is, I appear to be lost. I merely wish to ask the way to--ah--to Mr. Hall's residence--Mr. Hall of Wellmouth."

Raish turned and looked, not at the suitcase this time, but at the face under the hat brim. It was a mild, distinctly inoffensive face--an intellectual face, although that is not the term Mr. Pulcifer would have used in describing it. It was not the face of a peddler, the ordinary kind of peddler, certainly--and the mild brown eyes, eyes a trifle nearsighted, behind the round, gold- rimmed spectacles, were not those of a sharp trader seeking a victim. Also Raish saw that he had made a mistake in addressing this individual as "young feller." He was of middle age, and the hair, worn a little longer than usual, above his ears was sprinkled with gray.

"Mr. Hall, of--ah--of Wellmouth," repeated the stranger, seemingly embarrassed by the Pulcifer stare. "I--I wish to find his house. Can you tell me how to find it?"

Raish took the cigar, which even the bump against the lamp door had failed to dislodge, from the corner of his mouth, snapped the ash from its end, and then asked a question of his own.

"Hall?" he repeated. "Hall? Why, he don't live in Wellmouth. East Wellmouth's where he lives."

"Dear me! Are you sure?"

"Sure? Course I'm sure. Know him well."

"Oh, dear me! Why, the man at the station told me--"

"What station? The Wellmouth depot, do you mean?"

"No, the--ah--the South Wellmouth station. You see, I got off the train at South Wellmouth by mistake. It was the first Wellmouth called, you know, and I--I suppose I caught the name and--ah-- rushed out of the car. I thought--it seemed to be a--a sort of lonely spot, you know--"

"Haw, haw! South Wellmouth depot? It's worse'n lonesome, it's God-forsaken."

"Yes--yes, it looked so. I should scarcely conceive of the Almighty's wishing to remain there long."

"Eh?"

"Oh, it's not material. Pardon me. I inquired of the young man in charge of the--ah--station."


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