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CHAPTER VIII.

SOMETHING DOING.

Wilder couldn't sleep that night.

"Something queer happened at the meeting," he told Nora. "I can't understand exactly what it means, just yet; but I'll find out before I need another shave."

So on Sunday afternoon he walked up to Lake View and interviewed Mr. Jarrod as follows:

"Tell me, dear boy, what's the joke? It was awfully funny, and I laughed as much as anybody. But what's your idea? Just to guy the people?"

"My idea," said Jarrod, calmly, "is to sue you and Easton in the courts and make you vacate wherever you've taken possession of public property."

"What! Sue me!"

"Exactly; you and Easton."

Wilder's merry face grew thoughtful.

"Do you mean it?" he asked, a bit uneasily.

"Certainly."

Wilder thought again. Then he laughed.

"Why, it would ruin old Easton," he remarked, cheerfully; "ruin him entirely. But he deserves it. I'd like to see his face when he has to give up! It's what he's always been afraid of—that people would some day wake up and make it hot for him."

"How about yourself?" asked Jarrod.

"Oh, it would ruin me, too, if you carried out the plan," admitted Wilder. "But you won't carry it out."

"Why not?"

"Because you can do better."

"In what way?"

"See here, Mr. Jarrod," drawing his chair closer; "I take it we're friends, and can talk this over confidentially. What Tamawaca needs ain't to get back the few lots we've built on, but to improve what there is left. We need new walks and driveways and a lot of public improvements. We need to clear up the rubbish and make things look decent. We need a new hotel, and a lot of other things to please the people and make 'em happier and more comfortable."

"That's true," said Jarrod. "But why, as one of the owners of Tamawaca, have n't you attended to these things?"

"Me? How could I? I've only got a third interest, and the man don't live that can wring a nickel out of Easton for public improvements. I've quarrelled with him and fought with him for years to try to get something done; but he just won't. Says he has n't got the money; and perhaps that's true, for we lose money here every year."

"Oh, you do, eh?"

"Of course. Everything the company owns is run at a loss—electric light plant, water works, ferries, hotel, boat liveries—everything! By hard work Nora and I manage to make a bare living from our little mercantile enterprises and the cottages we own and rent—just a bare living. But the company property is a dead one. If things were kept up better we might sell some more lots, and get more people here, and so make a little money; but Easton don't see it that way."

"How does he see it?"

"Why, he just wants to putter 'round and lose money. I've tried to buy him up, so as to make something of the place myself; but he won't sell. That is, he would n't sell before this. But I imagine he would now."

"Because if we sue him he will lose it all?"

"You've hit the nail on the head! Listen, dear boy: you take your committee to Easton tomorrow and threaten to sue him if he won't sell out for—say, er—thirty thousand dollars. That's all the property's worth. He'll sell, or my name ain't Wilder. Get an option to purchase within thirty days."

"And then?"

Wilder turned half around and gave a solemn wink.

"Then if the cottagers can't raise the money, I'll raise it for 'em!"

"Good!" exclaimed Jarrod. "I think they'll raise it."

"And I think they won't," returned Wilder, smiling sweetly. "They're a bunch of oysters. Whenever I try to raise a few hundreds by subscription to build a new walk, they throw me down."

"Because it is your property," suggested Jarrod. "You and Easton owe a duty to the cottagers to keep the walks in repair at your own expense."

"Well, it'll all be different if we can get the old man to sell out."

"Will you assist us?" asked the lawyer.

"Sure thing. I'll agree to take ten thousand for my third, although it cost me a good deal more years ago. That'll leave twenty thousand for Easton's share, and it's all he deserves. But never mind the details. You just get that option for thirty thousand, and the game's won."

"I'll try," promised Jarrod.

Nora saw that her better half wore a broad smile when he returned to her.

"What's the result, presh?" she asked—the endearing term being a contraction of "precious."

"The result has n't happened yet," he answered, evasively; "but when it does my dream will come true, little wife, and I'll own Tamawaca."

"That's nice," she replied. Then, as he turned toward the door: "Are you going out again?"

"Why, I promised Nancy Todd that I'd stay with her father while she went to Kochton on an errand," he said, resuming his usual cheery manner. "Old Todd's all crippled up with rheumatism and helpless as an infant in arms. Nancy has n't any one to leave him with, so I told her I'd look after the old man myself."

"I'm glad you did, presh," said the little woman, earnestly. "It'll do Nancy a world of good to get away from him for a time. She's all used up with the nursing and worry. And while you're over at Todd's I'll drop in and see poor Mrs. Jones, who is sick in bed and needs cheering up. We'll both be back by supper-time, I guess."

That was the way with the Wilders. Sharks in business and the tenderest and sweetest of all humanity when anyone needed a helping hand.

I once heard an irascible old cottager exclaim: "Damn the Wilders' scheming heads!" And then, after a pause: "But God bless their kindly hearts!" It was the epitome of their characters, expressed in a nutshell. How we all swore at them—yet how we loved them!