A Piece in the Paper

The Chronic Loafer arose from the bench and stepped to the edge of the
porch. He rested his left hand on the pillar, thrust his right hand into
his pocket and gazed searchingly at the mountains.

“What’s keepin’ you so quiet to-day?” asked the Teacher, lifting his eyes
from the county paper. “One might suppose from the way you was watchin’
those mountains, you was expectin’ them to come over here so you could go
fishin’.”

The Loafer turned and looked down on the pedagogue. There was pity in his
eyes and disdain lurking about the corners of his mouth.

“Well, you don’t feel hurt, do you?” snapped the Teacher.

“I guess you never fished,” was the reply.

“To tell the truth I prefer more active pursuits.” The learned man said
this with the air of one who was in the front rank in the great battle of
life. “I prefer doin’ things to loungin’ along a creek tryin’ to catch a
few small trout that never did me any harm.”

“I thot you’d never fished much,” said the Loafer, letting himself down
on the steps and getting out his pipe. “Ef you hed you’d know that half
the pleasure of it is gittin’ to the stream. You figure on how nice it’ll
be ’hen you’re away from the dusty road, in the woods, lyin’ in the grass
’longside of a cool, gurglin’ pool, with the trout squabblin’ among
themselves to git at your bait. You arrive there, an’ first thing you set
on a rattlesnake. That makes you oneasy fer the rest o’ the day. Then you
find you’ve left your bait-can at home an’ stirs up some yeller-jackets,
ez you are huntin’ under rocks fer worms. You lays down your extry hooks
where you can find ’em quick, an’ then ’hen you need ’em you discovers
they’re in your foot. No, sir, ef I was wantin’ to go fishin’ in them
mo’ntains, an’ I hed the power, I’d tell ’em to git back five mile so I’d
hev furder to walk to reach the run.”

“I hain’t got nawthin’ agin your idees o’ fishin’,” said the Patriarch
from his place on the bench between the Tinsmith and the G. A. R. Man,
“but what you say about expectin’ is ridic’lous. You was sayin’ a bit
ago that you was goin’ to hev chicken an’ waffles fer supper to-night.
You’ve put in a fine day expectin’ it. But ef you goes home an’ sets down
to sausage an’ zulicks, I can see things flyin’ ’round your shanty most
amazin’. All the joys o’ expectation ’ll be wiped outen your mind by
dissypintment.”

“But you are talkin’ o’ great expectations, Gran’pap,” said the Loafer.
“They result in great dissypintments. I’ve been speakin’ o’ the leetle
things o’ life. Now there’s the old soldier.” He pointed to the veteran.
“He was eight year expectin’ to git a pension. He talked o’ nawthin’
else. Ef he’d only git it he’d be happy. Well, he got it, an’ he lost the
pleasure o’ lookin’ for’a’d to it. Is he satisfied? No. He’s jest put in
wouchers claimin’ that th’ee new diseases hev cropped out on him an’ that
he laid the foundations fer ’em in the Wilderness thirty year ago. He
wants a raise. He’s happy agin, fer he is expectin’.”

The G. A. R. Man arose.

“I’m goin’ home,” he said, “an’ I guess I might ez well stop in at your
place an’ tell your missus to never mind the chicken an’ waffles ez
you’ve hed enough fun jest expectin’ ’em.”

“Well, that would be a good idee,” the Loafer drawled. “But you’d better
jest yell it to her over the fence. You know she’s ben expectin’ chicken
an’ waffles, too.”

The veteran dropped back to his place on the bench.

The Patriarch nudged him and said pleasantly, “Why don’t you go on?”

“I guesst I’d better wait fer the stage an’ git the news,” was the
growling reply.

“You hain’t answered my first question yet,” said the Teacher to the
Loafer. “You was standin’ there half an hour lookin’ at them mountains
as though they was made of chicken an’ waffles. You were thinkin’ of
somethin’.”

“True,” the Loafer replied. “I was thinkin’ o’ Reginal’ Deeverox an’ Lord
Desmon.”

“Mighty souls!” the Patriarch cried. “Reginal’ Deeverox an’ Lord Desmon!
You are the greatest man fer makin’ acquaintances I ever seen.”

“Deeverox was that new segare drummer that come th’oo here yesterday,
wasn’t he?” the Tinsmith inquired.

“No,” the Loafer responded. “He was never a segare drummer ez fur ez I
know. He was the real hair to the Earldom of Desmon.”

“Desmon! An’ where in all nations is Desmon?” the Patriarch exclaimed.

“Englan’,” was the calm reply.

“Then I s’pose you was fussin’ ’round Englan’ last week, ’hen we thot ye
was wisitin’ your ma’s folks in Buzzard Walley,” cried the Tinsmith. “Now
what air you givin’ us?”

“‘Hen I told you uns I was wisitin’ Mother’s folks, I sayd what was
true.” The Loafer was undisturbed by the storm he had raised and spoke
very slowly, emphasizing his words by a shake of his pipe. “You see it
was this ’ay. The man I was speakin’ of was called Lord Desmon, tho’ his
reg’lar name was Earl o’ Desmon. His pap’s name was Lord Desmon, too, an’
so was his gran’pap’s. Before his gran’pap died, his pap’s older brother,
that is the uncle o’ the man I’m referrin’ to, merried a beautiful maid
who was workin’ about the placet. The old man cast him off an’ he went to
South Ameriky, leavin’ a son who went be the name o’ Reginal’ Deeverox.
Be rights this Deeverox should ’a’ hed the property, bein’ the hair o’
the oldest son. He didn’t know it tho’, an’ his uncle didn’t take the
trouble to hunt him up ’hen the gran’pap died, but jest settled down on
the farm himself.”

“What in the name o’ common sense is an earl?” asked the Miller. “What
does he do?”

“Nawthin’,” the Loafer explained. “In Englan’ an earl is a descendant o’
them ez first cleared the land. He usually hes a good bit o’ property an’
farms it on the half.”

“What gits me is jest how many o’ them Lord Desmons they was,” the
Tinsmith interposed.

“There was the original gran’pap–he’s one. Then there was his son that
merried the maid an’ ought to ’a’ ben earl–he is two. Next there was
his brother who got the property–he is th’ee. His son makes four, an’
Reginal’ Deeverox, whose right name was Lord Desmon, is five.”

“That there name Lord seemed to run in the family,” said the Miller. “I
don’t wonder they got mixed. Why didn’t they hev a Joe or a Jawhn?”

“Was these here some o’ your pap’s friends?” asked the Patriarch.

“I only wished he hed ’a’ knowd them,” the Loafer answered. “I don’t
think he did tho’. Mebbe he was acquainted with Alice Fairfax, but I
never heard him speak o’ her an’ _The Home an’ Fireplace_ never mentioned
him ez bein’ at her castel. I guessed ef Pap hed ’a’ been there he would
’a’ told me, fer he wasn’t much on keepin’ things secret.”

The Patriarch brought his stick down on the floor with a vigorous bang.

“See here,” he cried, “what has got into you anyway? Ef you knows
anything about this here Lord Desmon, Reginal’ Deeverox, Alice Fairfax
business, out with it, I sais. ’Hen you hears a piece o’ news ye jest set
an’ smiles all over it to yourself like ez tho’ you was tormentin’ us. Ez
ef we cared! Let anybody else hev a bit o’ news tho’ an’ you don’t give
’em no rest tell you’ve wormed it out of ’em–not tell you’ve wormed it
all out of ’em.”

“Now see here,” was the spirited answer, “it ain’t jest that I should be
accused this ’ay. _The Home an’ Fireplace_ magazine was layin’ ’round the
counter a whole week afore I even looked at it. I s’posed you’d all ben
readin’ it. That’s why I thot ye might help me out.”

“Shucks! So all this here is nothin’ but somethin’ you’ve been readin’ in
the paper,” the Teacher sneered.

“Exact. An’ ef you’d read the same piecet I guess you’d ben worrit, too.”

“Reginal’ Deeverox–Deeverox.” The Patriarch was thinking hard and
talking to himself. “I don’t mind that piecet, an’ I read most o’ that
paper,” he said, looking up. “What page was it on?”

“I don’t mind the number,” the Loafer answered, “but it begins on a page
that hes a pictur o’ the house o’ Miss Annie Milliken in Tootlesbury,
Massachusetts, an’ a long letter from her sayin’ how she hed been bed-rid
fer thirty year tell a kind friend recommended Dr. Tarball’s Indian
Wegetable Pacific.”

“Now I do recklect somethin’ about that caset,” the Tinsmith interposed.
“It was a fight over a bit o’ property an’ a girl.”

“Exact,” said the Loafer.

“Well, how d’ye know it’s so?” the Miller asked. “Because it’s in the
paper is no sign it’s true.”

“See here,” was the sharp reply, “do you s’pose ’hen they is so much in
this world that’s true the editor o’ _The Home an’ Fireplace_ ’ud go to
the trouble o’ makin’ up lies to print? Why, it wouldn’t pay.”

The Miller was about to argue against this proposition, but the
Patriarch leaned over and laid a hand on his knee, checking him.

“Jest wait tell we find out who got the property,” the old man said.

“An’ the girl,” cried the Tinsmith.

“That’s jest what I’ve ben tryin’ to find out,” said the Loafer.
Forthwith he plunged into the history of Reginald Devereux and Lord
Desmond. “You see I found the paper on the counter yesterday ez I was
waitin’ for the mail. I remember now ’most everything that was in that
piecet, an’ most a mighty puzzlin’ piecet it was, too. It begin at a
placet called Fairfax Castel, which was the home o’ Alice Fairfax, who
the paper sayd was most tremendous good-lookin’, bein’ tall an’ willowy,
with gold-colored hair an’ what it called _p-a-t-r-i-c-i-a-n_ cast o’
features. She was twenty year old an’ hed an income o’ ten thousand pound
a year.”

“Pound o’ what?” inquired the Patriarch.

“The paper didn’t tell. It jest sayd pound.”

“That’s the way with them editors,” cried the old man. “They allus
forgits important points. They expects a man to know everything.”

“I guess that them must ’a’ ben pound o’ somethin’ they raised on the
place,” the Tinsmith suggested.

“That’s jest the way I looked at it,” the Loafer continued. “It didn’t
make no difference, anyhow, ez long ez she hed somethin’ to live on.
This here Lord Desmon hed a placet near hers an’ used to ride over every
day regular an’ set up with her. He was tall an’ hed keen black eyes.
Wherever he went he tuk with him a hound he called _M-e-p-h-i-s-t-o_ or
somethin’ like that.”

“Now ye mind that he hed no real claim on the Desmon placet an’ he knowd
it. Before his pap died he hed called him to his bedside an’ sayd to him,
‘Beware of a man with an eagle tattooed on his right arm. He’s the real
hair.’ So Lord re’lized that he was livin’ on a farm that belonged to the
son o’ his pap’s brother. He knowd that afore his uncle died he’d sent
word home that his son an’ hair could be told be the eagle. Of course the
warnin’ made Lord kind o’ oneasy at first, but ez the years went by an’
he heard nawthin’ o’ his cousin he concided that the ole man hed jest ben
th’owin’ a scare inter him. Meantime he’d ben doin’ wery well with Alice
Fairfax, an’ things was all goin’ his way. Then a strange artist come
th’oo the walley. He was paintin’—-”

The Patriarch interrupted with a hilarious chuckle.

“Now, boys, look out,” he cried. “They never yit was a painter that
wasn’t catchin’ with the weemen. Ye mind Bill Spiegelsole’s widdy an’ how
she’d fixed it up to merry Joe Dumple? She hired a regular painter to
come out from town to put a new coat on the house, an’ he made himself
so all-fired handy ’round the placet mendin’ stove-pipes, puttin’ in
glass an’ slickin’ up the furnitur’ she took him afore Joe got there.”

“This here artist wasn’t one o’ that kind,” the Loafer said. “He made
them regular hand-paintin’s they hangs in parlors, an’ done a leetle in
the way o’ portrates. He put up at the tavern an’ then started out fer a
stroll th’oo the Fairfax placet. He hed jest entered the park, the paper
sayd, ’hen—-”

“The what?” asked the Miller.




“The park. Don’t ye know, one o’ them places fixed up special fer walkin’
in, with benches, an’ brick pavements, a fountain, an’ flower-beds an’ a
crowket set. Hain’t ye never seen the one at Horrisburg?”

“Oh, one o’ them!” the Miller said. “Well, I guesst those must ’a’ ben
pound o’ gold Alice Fairfax got a year.”

The Loafer resumed the narrative.

“Ez the artist walked along th’oo the park he heard a scream, follered
be a beautiful girl who run down the road pursued be a ferocious dog.
The paper sayd the great hound was in the act o’ leapin’ at her to catch
her be the neck ’hen the stranger run for’a’d an’ grabbin’ the brute
be the th’oat throttled the life outen him. The anymal’s fiery breath,
the paper sayd, was blowin’ in the artist’s face ’hen his hands closed
on the furry neck. It was a mighty close shave, I should jedge. A
minute later Lord Desmon run up all out o’ wind. The dead beast was his
_M-e-p-h-i-s-t-o_. He thot a heap o’ the hound, an’ the paper sayd that
’hen he looked on the still quiverin’ body of his dead companion he swore
to be _a-v-e-n-g-e-d_. An’ ez he looked up at the stranger that young man
knowd Lord hed it in fer him.

“Alice Fairfax couldn’t thank the artist enough, an’ nawthin’ ’ud do but
he must come up to her house an’ meet her pap. ’Hen the ole man hear the
story he wouldn’t hev it any other way but that the stranger must stop
with them. The paper sayd that he quickly pushed a button—-”

“He done what?” cried the Patriarch.

“He pushed a button an’—-”

“Pushed a button! Well, mighty souls!” the G. A. R. Man exclaimed. “What
a fool thing to do.”

“He pushed a button an’ one o’ the hands appeared. This felly’s name
was Butler an’ he was employed jest a purpose to do chores ’round the
house. The ole man give him orders to hev Reginal’ Deeverox’s–that was
the artist’s name–trunk brought up from the tavern an’ put in the spare
room.”

“I ain’t got it clear yit,” the Miller interposed. “Ef ole man Fairfax
pushed one o’ his own waistcoat buttons how in the name o’ all the
prophets ’ud Butler feel it?”

“Don’t ye s’pose he might ’a’ pushed one o’ Butler’s waistcoat buttons?”
replied the Loafer. “That’s a pint o’ no importance. The main thing is
that Deeverox put up at Fairfax’s an’ from that day things went wrong
with Lord.

“Reginal’ was a wonderful good-lookin’ chap He was six-foot tall an’
wery soople. He’d long, curly hair that flowed over his shoulders like a
golden shower, ez the editor put it. His bearings was free an’ noble. Now
Lord was no slouch either, an’ with his money he was pretty hard fer a
poor painter to beat, yit—-”

“Joe Dumple hed th’ee hundred a year an’ a fifty-acre farm,” the
Patriarch cried, “but choosin’ between him an’ the painter, Bill
Spiegelsole’s widdy tuk—-”

“I’ve told ye afore that this here Deeverox was a portrate painter, an’
ye can’t settle this question be referrin’ to the Spiegelsoles any way.
Ez I was sayin’, Reginal’ hed no money but he hed a brilliant mind. His
face was like an open book, the paper sayd—-”

“That’s rather pecul’ar.” It was the veteran who broke into the story
this time. “There’s Jerry Sprout, who lives beyant Sloshers Mills, he hes
a head jest the shape of a fam’ly Bible, but ye can shoot me ef I can see
how a man could hev a face like an—-”

“Open book,” the Loafer said. “Well, you hev no ’magination. But ef ye
don’t believe what I’m tellin’, you can go git the paper an’ read it
yourself.”

“Come, come; no argyin’.” The Patriarch was in his soothing mood. “What
become o’ Lord?”

“Lord hated Reginal’ with a bitter hatred, the paper sayd, because of the
death of _M-e-p-h-i-s-t-o_, an’ now, ez Alice Fairfax begin to look not
onkindly on the handsome stranger, his cup was more embittered an’ he
wowed revenge. Things kept gittin’ hotter an’ hotter ’round the castel.
Ole man Fairfax was tickled to death with Reginal’ an’ ’sisted on him
stayin’ all summer. Lord come over regular every day, spyin’ ’round an’
settin’ up with Alice ’hen he’d git a chancet. Time an’ agin, the paper
sayd, he asted her to be his own, but she spurned him. The last time
he asted her was at a huntin’ party they hed at the castel. Everybody
in the county was there–Lord Mussex, Duke Dumford, Earl Minnows, Lady
Montezgewy an’ a lot of others–all over to hunt.”

“Hunt what?” asked the Miller.

“Well, I s’pose they would be likely to drive five or six mile over to
Fairfax’s to hunt eggs–wouldn’t they?” roared the Loafer. “Hunt what?
Mighty souls! What would they hunt? Foxes, of course. The whole party
started off after the hounds, Alice Fairfax an’ Lord Desmon leadin’
with—-”

“Hol’ on!” cried the Patriarch. “Did you say weemen an’ all, a-huntin’
foxes? That Englan’ must be a strange placet. Why, it ain’t safe to
trust a woman with a gun. Oh, what a pictur! S’pose we was to go huntin’
that ’ay with our weemen.” The old man leaned back and shook. “Pictur it!
Jest pictur it! Why, they ’ud be blowed afore they got to the top o’ the
first ridge.”

“An’ we’d hev to spend most of our time lettin’ the bars up an’ down so
they could git th’oo the fences,” the Tinsmith said.

“Well, the weemen over there was along–least that’s what the article
sayd,” the Loafer continued. “They got track o’ a fox an’ final catched
him in a lonely bit o’ woods. They give his tail to Lady Montezgewy,
who—-”

“She couldn’t ’a’ made much of a hat outen jest the tail,” said the G. A.
R. Man.

“Well, the article doesn’t explain much about that. It sais while these
things is occurrin’ we will take the reader to another part o’ the fiel’
where Lord Desmon kneels at the feet of Alice Fairfax. The paper sais she
sais, ‘I loves another.’ ‘What,’ sais he, the paper sais, springin’ to
his feet an’ makin’ a movement ez tho’ graspin’ an unseen foe. ‘What,’ he
sais, ‘that low painter varlet!’ Jest then, the paper sais, the bushes
was pushed aside an’ forth jumped Reginal’ Deeverox. ‘You here, Miss
Fairfax?’ he sais, the paper sais. ‘I’ve hunted fer ye fur an’ near.’ In
his eagerness to reach her side a twig cot his coat-sleeve an’ tore it
wide open. The paper sais ez Lord Desmon looked upon the splendid figure
of his rival he seen there on his arm–What? the paper sais. An eagle!”

“Now, watch for a good ole wrastle,” cried the Patriarch.

“You’re wrong, Gran’pap,” said the Loafer. “They didn’t dast fight afore
a lady. Instead Lord jest ground his teeth. The paper sayd he knowd that
the lost hair o’ the broad acres o’ the Desmons hed come to claim his
own.”

The Miller’s clay pipe fell to the floor and shattered into a hundred
pieces.

“Well, I’ll swan!” he exclaimed. “Why, this here artist was one o’ them
Desmon boys ye was speakin’ of first off, wasn’t he?”

“What happened next?” inquired the Teacher.

“The article didn’t tell,” the Loafer replied. “It cut right off there
an’ carried the reader back to Fairfax Castel. It was evenin’ an’ they
was hevin’ a hunt ball.”

“A hunt what?” The Patriarch leaned forward with his hand to his ear.

“A hunt ball–a dance,” the pedagogue explained. “Over there after
huntin’ they always have a dance.”

“Mighty souls! but them English does enjoy themselves,” the old man
murmured. “Goes huntin’ all day–takes the weemen along leavin’ no one
behind to look after the place–then hes a dance after they gits back.
Now ’hen I hunted foxes I was allus so low down tired an’ scratched up be
the briars agin I got home, I was satisfied to draw me boots, rub some
linnyment on me shins an’ go to bed. But go on. I guesst the paper’s
right.”

“That night, walkin’ up an’ down the terrace, Reginal’ Deeverox told
Alice Fairfax the secret o’ his life, the article sayd, how he was Lord
Desmon an’ how the other Lord Desmon was livin’ on stolen property. He
ast her to hev him, an’ ez she didn’t say nawthin’ he jest clasped her
to his boosum, the paper sayd. All this time Lord hed ben watchin’ from
behind a statute. ’Hen the girl run away to tell her pap about it, Lord
stepped out an’ faced Reginal’.

“He sayd, ‘One of us must die.’ With that he catched Deeverox be the
th’oat an’ tried to push him off the terrace. They was a clean drop
o’ fifty foot there, with runnin’ water at the bottom. Reginal’ was
quick an’ grabbed his foe ’round the waist. Back’ard an’ for’a’d they
writhed, the paper sayd, twistin’ an’ cursin’. Now they was on the edge
o’ the precipice, an’ Alice Fairfax, runnin’ to meet her loved one, ez
the article explained, seen dimly outlined in the glare o’ the castel
lights the black figures o’ the cousins ez they fought o’er the terrace
of death. She was spelled. Sudden the one Desmon hurled the other Desmon
from him. They was an awful cry ez the black thing toppled over the
edge, the paper sayd.”

The Loafer put his hand in his coat-pocket and brought it forth full of
crushed tobacco leaves, with which he filled his pipe. Then he lighted a
match and began smoking.

“Well?” cried the men on the bench in unison.

“Well?” repeated the Loafer.

“Which Desmon was it?” asked the Tinsmith.

“That’s jest where I’m stumped,” was the reply. “That’s jest what’s ben
puzzlin’ me, too. Ye see that page hed ben tore out an’—-”

“Mighty souls!” gasped the Patriarch.

“Did ye look fer it?” asked the Miller, rising and moving toward the door.

“Well of course I looked. D’ye s’pose I ain’t ez anxious ez you to know
which Desmon was kilt?”

“What does you mean be gittin’ us anxious,” yelled the old man. “Why
don’t ye keep your troubles to yourself ’stead o’ unloadin’ em on other
folks?”

“Don’t blame me that ’ay,” said the Loafer. “I done the best I could. I
looked all over the store fer that page. I didn’t git no sleep last night
jest from thinkin’ what become of it. Now I mind that last Soturday I
seen a felly from Raccoon Walley carry it off wrapped ’round a pound o’
sugar. I done the best I could fer ye.”

The Teacher arose and walked to the end of the porch. Here he wheeled
about and faced the company, stretching his legs wide apart, throwing out
his chest and snapping his suspenders with his thumbs.

“You should never begin a story if you can’t tell it to the end,” he
said. “I might as well teach my scholars how to add only half down a
column of figures.”

“Yes,” said the Patriarch, “I would like to know most a mighty well which
o’ them Desmon boys was kilt. But I’m too ole to chase a pound o’ sugar
nine mile to Raccoon Walley to find out. They are terrible things, these
struggles caused be onrastless human passions. This here petickler story
is all the more terrible because them boys was cousins. While we do all
feel a bit put out at not knowin’ which of ’em licked, we’ve at least
learned somethin’ ’bout how they lives in Englan’. An’ it should teach us
a lesson o’ thankfulness that we was born an’ raised in a walley where
folks is sensible–that is most of ’em.”