THE PERVERSE BEHAVIOUR OF AN OLD MAN AND A YOUNG MAN
When old Allan Delcher slept with
his fathers being so found in the big chair,
with the worn, leather-bound Bible open in his lap the
revived but still tender faith of Aunt Bell Hardwick
was bitten as by frost. And this though the Bible
had lain open at that psalm in which David is said
to describe the corruption of a natural man a
psalm beginning, “The fool hath said in his
heart, ‘There is no God.’”
For it straightway appeared that the
dead man had in life done a perverse and inexplicable
thing, to the bitter amazement of those who had learned
to trust him. On the day after he sent a blasphemous
grandson from his door he had called for Squire Cumpston,
announcing to the family his intention to make an
entirely new will a thing for which there
seemed to be a certain sad necessity.
When he could no longer be reproached
it transpired that he had left “to Allan Delcher
Linford, son of one Clayton Linford,” a beggarly
pittance of five thousand dollars; and “to my
beloved grandson, Bernal Linford, I give, devise and
bequeath the residue of my estate, both real and personal.”
Though the husband of her niece wore
publicly a look of faith unimpaired, and was thereby
an example to her, Aunt Bell declared herself to be
once more on the verge of believing that the proofs
of an overseeing Providence, all-wise and all-loving,
were by no means overwhelming; that they were, indeed,
of so frail a validity that she could not wonder at
people falling away from the Church. It was a
trying time for Aunt Bell. She felt that her
return to the shadow of the cross was not being made
enough of by the One above. After years of running
after strange gods, the Episcopal service as administered
by Allan had prevailed over her seasoned skepticism:
through its fascinating leaven of romance with
faint and, as it seemed to her, wholly reverent hints
of physical culture the spirit may be said
to have blandished her. And now this turpitude
in a man of God came to disturb the first tender rootlings
of her new faith.
The husband of her niece had loyally
endeavoured to dissuade her from this too human reaction.
“God has chosen to try me for
a purpose, Aunt Bell,” he said very simply.
“I ought to be proud of it eager for
any test and I am. True, in these
last years I had looked upon grandfather’s fortune
as mine not only by implied promise, but
by all standards of right even of integrity.
For surely a man could not more nearly forfeit his
own rights, in every moral aspect, than poor Bernal
has though I meant always to stand by him.
So you see, I must conclude that God means to distinguish
me by a test. He may even subject me to others;
but I shall not wince. I shall welcome His trials.
He turned upon her the face of simple faith.”
“Did you speak to that lawyer
about the possibility of a contest of proving
“I did, but he saw no chance whatever.”
Aunt Bell hereupon surveyed her beautifully
dimpled knuckles minutely, with an affectionate pride a
pride not uncritical, yet wholly convinced.
“Of course,” added Allan
after a moment’s reflection, “there’s
no sense in believing that every bit of one’s
hard luck is sent by God to test one. One must
in all reverence take every precaution to prove that
the disaster is not humanly remediable. And this,
I may say, I have done with thoroughness with
“Bernal may be dead,”
suggested Aunt Bell, brightening now from an impartial
admiring of the toes of her small, plump slippers.
“God forbid that he should be
cut off in his unbelief but then, God’s
will be done. If that be true, of course, the
matter is different. Meantime we are advertising.”
“I wish I had your superb faith,
Allan. I wish Nancy had it....”
Her niece’s husband turned his
head and shoulders until she had the three-quarters
view of his face.
“I have faith, Aunt Bell.
God knows my unworthiness, even as you know it and
I know it but I have faith!”
The golden specks in his hazel eyes
blazed with humility, and a flush of the same virtue
mantled his perfect brow.
Such news of Bernal Linford as had
come back to Edom, though meagre and fragmentary,
was of a character to confirm the worst fears of those
who loved him. The first report came within a
year after his going, and caused a shaking of many
An estimable farmer, one Caleb Webster,
living on the outskirts of Edom, had, in a blameless
spirit of adventure, toured the Far West, at excursion
rates said to be astounding for cheapness. He
had met the unfortunate young man in one of the newer
mining towns along his exciting route.
“He was kind of nursin’
a feller that had the consumption,” ran the
gossip of Mr. Webster, “some one he’d fell
in with out in them parts, that had gone there to
git cured. But, High Mighty! the way them two
carried on at all hours wasn’t goin’ to
cure no one of nothin’! Specially gamblin’,
which was done right in public, you might say, though
the sharpers never skinned me none, I’ll say
that! But these two was at it every night, and
finally they done just like I told the young fools
they’d do they lost all they had.
They come into the Commercial House one night where
I was settin’ lookin’ over a time-table,
both seemin’ down in the mouth. And all
to once this sick young man Mr. Hoover,
his name was bust out cryin’ him
bein’ weak or mebbe in liquor or somethin’.
“‘Every cent lost!’
he says, the tears runnin’ down those yellow,
sunk cheeks of his. But Bernal seems to git chipper
again when he sees how Mr. Hoover is takin’
it, so he says, ’Haven’t you got a cent
left, Hoover? Haven’t you got anythin’
at all left? Just think,’ he says, ’what
I stood to win on that last turn, if it’d come
my way at four to one,’ he says,
or somethin’ like that; them gamblin’ terms
is too much for me. ‘Hain’t you got
nothin’ at all left?’ he says.
“Then this Hoover still
cryin’, mind you he says, ’Not
a cent in the world except forty dollars in my trunk
upstairs that I saved out to bury me with and
they won’t send me another cent,’ he says,
’because I tried ‘em.’
“It sounded awful to hear him
talkin’ like that about his own buryin’,
but it didn’t phase Bernal none.
he says, kind of sniffy like. ’Why, man,
what could you do for forty dollars? Don’t
you know such things are very outrageous in price
here? Forty dollars why,’
he says, ’the very best you could do would be
one of these plain pine things with black cloth tacked
on to it, and pewter trimmin’s if any,’
he says. ’Think of pewter trimmin’s!’
“‘Say,’ he says,
when Hoover begun to look up at him, ’you run
and dig up your old forty and I’ll go back right
now and win you out a full satin-lined, silver-trimmed
one, polished mahogany and gold name-plate, and there’ll
be enough for a clock of immortelles with the hands
stopped at just the hour it happens,’ he says.
‘And you want to hurry,’ he says, ‘it
ought to be done right away with that cough
“Me? Gosh, I felt awful I
wanted to drop right through the floor, but this Hoover,
he says all at once, still snufflin’, mind you:
’Say, that’s all right,’ he says.
‘If I’m goin’ to do it at all, I
ought to do it right for the credit of my folks.
I ought to give this town a flash of the right thing,’
“Then he goes upstairs, leaning
on the balusters, and gets his four ten-dollar bills
that had been folded away all neat at the bottom of
his trunk, and before I could think of anythin’
wholesome to say I was that scandalised they
was goin’ off across the street to the Horseshoe
Gamin’ Parlour, this feller Hoover seemin’
very sanguine and asking Bernal whether he was sure
they was a party in town could do it up right after
they’d went and won the money for it.
“Well, sir, I jest set there
thinkin’ how this boy Bernal Linford was brought
up for a preacher, and ‘Jest look at him now!’
I says to myself and I guess it was mebbe
an hour later I seen ’em comin’ out of
the swingin’ blinds in the door of this place,
and a laffin’ fit to kill themselves. ‘High
Mighty! they done it!’ I says, watchin’
’em laff and slap each other on the back till
Hoover had to stop in the middle of the street to
cough. Well, they come into the Commercial office
where I am and I says, ‘Well, boys, how much
did you fellers win?’ and Hoover says, ‘Not
a cent! We lost our roll,’ he says.
’It’s the blamedest funniest thing I ever
heard of,’ he says, just like that, laffin’
again fit to choke.
see anythin’ to laff at,’ I says.
‘How you goin’ to live?’
“‘How’s he goin’
to die?’ says Bernal, ‘without a cent to
do it on?’
“‘That’s the funny
part of it,’ says Hoover. ’Linford
thought of it first. How can I die now?
It wouldn’t be square,’ he says ’me
without a cent!’
“Then they both began to laugh but
me, I couldn’t see nothin’ funny about
“Wal, I left early next mornin’,
not wantin’ to have to refuse ’em a loan.”