Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter XXV
News spreads fast in a country village. Scarcely an hour had passed when it was generally known that Jefferson Pettigrew had come home from Montana with a few hundred dollars in money, bringing with him a rich boy who could buy out all Burton. At least that is the way the report ran.
When the two new arrivals had finished supper and come out on the hotel veranda there were a dozen of Jefferson Pettigrew's friends ready to welcome him.
"How are you, Jefferson, old boy?" said one and another.
"Pretty well, thank you. It seems good to be home."
"I hear you've brought back some money."
"Yes, a few hundred dollars."
"That's better than nothing. I reckon you'll stay home now."
"I can't afford it, boys."
"Are ye goin' back to Montany?"
"Yes. I know the country, and I can make a middlin' good livin' there."
"I say, is that boy thats with you as rich as they say?"
"I don't know what they say."
"They say he's worth a million."
"Oh no, not so much as that. He's pretty well fixed."
"Hasn't he got a father livin'?"
"No, it's his father that left the money."
"How did you happen to get in with him?"
"Oh, we met promiscuous. He took a sort of fancy to me, and that's the way of it."
"Do you expect to keep him with you?"
"He talks of goin' back to Montana with me. I'll be sort of guardian to him."
"You're in luck, Jeff."
"Yes, I'm in luck to have pleasant company. Maybe we'll join together and buy a mine."
"Would you mind introducin' him?"
"Not at all," and thus Rodney became acquainted with quite a number of the Burton young men. He was amused to see with what deference they treated him, but preserved a sober face and treated all cordially, so that he made a favorable impression on those he met.
Among those who made it in their way to call on the two travelers was Lemuel Sheldon, the rich man of the village.
"How do you do, Jefferson?" he said condescendingly.
"Very well, sir."
"You have been quite a traveler."
"Yes, sir; I have been to the far West."
"And met with some success, I am told."
"Yes, sir; I raised money enough to get home."
"I hear you brought home a few hundred dollars."
"Oh, well," said the squire patronizingly, "that's good beginning."
"It must seem very little to a rich man like you, squire."
"Oh, no!" said the squire patronizingly. "You are a young man. I shouldn't wonder if by the time you get as old as I am you might be worth five thousand dollars."
"I hope so," answered Mr. Pettigrew demurely.
"By the way, you have brought a young man with you, I am told."
"I should like to make his acquaintance. He is rich, is he not?"
"I wish I was as rich."
"You don't say so! About how much do you estimate he is worth?"
"I don't think it amounts to quite as much as a quarter of a million. Still, you know it is not always easy to tell how much a person is worth."
"He is certainly a VERY fortunate young man," said the squire, impressed. "What is his name?"
"The name sounds aristocratic. I shall be glad to know him."
"Rodney," said Mr. Pettigrew. "I want to introduce you to Squire Sheldon, our richest and most prominent citizen."
"I am glad to meet you, Squire Sheldon," said Rodney, offering his hand.
"I quite reciprocate the feeling, Mr. Ropes, but Mr. Pettigrew should not call me a rich man. I am worth something, to be sure."
"I should say you were, squire," said Jefferson. "Rodney, he is as rich as you are."
"Oh no," returned the squire, modestly, "not as rich as that. Indeed, I hardly know how much I am worth. As Mr. Pettigrew very justly observed it is not easy to gauge a man's possessions. But there is one difference between us. You, Mr. Ropes, I take it, are not over eighteen."
"Only sixteen, sir."
"And yet you are wealthy. I am rising fifty. When you come to my age you will be worth much more."
"Perhaps I may have lost all I now possess," said Rodney. "Within a year I have lost fifty thousand dollars."
"You don't say so."
"Yes; it was through a man who had charge of my property. I think now I shall manage my money matters myself."
"Doubtless you are right. That was certainly a heavy loss. I shouldn't like to lose so much. I suppose, however, you had something left?"
"Oh yes," answered Rodney in an indifferent tone.
"He must be rich to make so little account of fifty thousand dollars," thought the squire.
"How long do you propose to stay in town, Mr. Pettigrew?" he asked.
"I can't tell, sir, but I don't think I can spare more than three or four days."
"May I hope that you and Mr. Ropes will take supper with me tomorrow evening?"
"Say the next day and we'll come. Tomorrow I must go to my uncle's."
"Oh very well!"
Squire Sheldon privately resolved to pump Rodney as to the investment of his property. He was curious to learn first how much the boy was worth, for if there was anything that the squire worshiped it was wealth. He was glad to find that Mr. Pettigrew had only brought home five hundred dollars, as it was not enough to lift the mortgage on his uncle's farm.
After they were left alone Jefferson Pettigrew turned to Rodney and said, "Do you mind my leaving you a short time and calling at my uncle's?"
"Not at all, Mr. Pettigrew. I can pass my time very well."
Jefferson Pettigrew directed his steps to an old fashioned farmhouse about half a mile from the village. In the rear the roof sloped down so that the eaves were only five feet from the ground. The house was large though the rooms were few in number.
In the sitting room sat an old man and his wife, who was nearly as old. It was not a picture of cheerful old age, for each looked sad. The sadness of old age is pathetic for there is an absence of hope, and courage, such as younger people are apt to feel even when they are weighed down by trouble.
Cyrus Hooper was seventy one, his wife two years younger. During the greater part of their lives they had been well to do, if not prosperous, but now their money was gone, and there was a mortgage on the old home which they could not pay.
"I don't know whats goin' to become of us, Nancy," said Cyrus Hooper. "We'll have to leave the old home, and when the farm's been sold there won't be much left over and above the mortgage which Louis Sheldon holds."
"Don't you think the squire will give you a little more time, Cyrus?"
"No; I saw him yesterday, and he's sot on buyin' in the farm for himself. He reckons it won't fetch more'n eighteen hundred dollars."
"Thats only six hundred over the mortgage."
"It isn't that Nancy. There's about a hundred dollars due in interest. We won't get more'n five hundred dollars."
"Surely, Cyrus, the farm is worth three thousand dollars."
"So it is, Nancy, but that won't do us any good, as long as no one wants it more'n the squire."
"I wish Jefferson were at home."
"What good would it do? I surmise he hasn't made any money. He never did have much enterprise, that boy."
"He was allus a good boy, Cyrus."
"That's so, Nancy, but he didn't seem cut out for makin' money. Still it would do me good to see him. Maybe we might have a home together, and manage to live."
Just then a neighbor entered.
"Have you heard the news?" she asked.
"No; what is it?"
"Your nephew Jefferson Pettigrew has got back."
"You don't mean so. There, Jefferson, that's one comfort."
"And they say he has brought home five hundred dollars."
"That's more'n I thought he'd bring. Where is he?"
"Over at the tavern. He's brought a young man with him, leastways a boy, that's got a lot of money."
"Yes; he's from New York, and is a friend of Jefferson's."
"Well, I'm glad he's back. Why didn't he come here?"
"It's likely he would if the boy wasn't with him."
"Perhaps he heard of my misfortune."
"I hope it'll all come right, Mr. Hooper. My, if there ain't Jefferson comin' to see you now. I see him through the winder. I guess I'll be goin'. You'll want to see him alone."