It was the first of April, and Julius
Barrett, aged fourteen, perched on his father’s
gatepost, watched ruefully the low descending sun,
and counted that day lost. He had not succeeded
in “fooling” a single person, although
he had tried repeatedly. One and all, old and
young, of his intended victims had been too wary for
Julius. Hence, Julius was disgusted and ready
for anything in the way of a stratagem or a spoil.
The Barrett gatepost topped the highest
hill in Valley View. Julius could see the entire
settlement, from “Young” Thomas Everett’s
farm, a mile to the west, to Adelia Williams’s
weather-grey little house on a moonrise slope to the
east. He was gazing moodily down the muddy road
when Dan Chester, homeward bound from the post office,
came riding sloppily along on his grey mare and pulled
up by the Barrett gate to hand a paper to Julius.
Dan was a young man who took life
and himself very seriously. He seldom smiled,
never joked, and had a Washingtonian reputation for
veracity. Dan had never told a conscious falsehood
in his life; he never even exaggerated.
Julius, beholding Dan’s solemn
face, was seized with a perfectly irresistible desire
to “fool” him. At the same moment
his eye caught the dazzling reflection of the setting
sun on the windows of Adelia Williams’s house,
and he had an inspiration little short of diabolical.
“Have you heard the news, Dan?” he asked.
“No, what is it?” asked Dan.
“I dunno’s I ought to
tell it,” said Julius reflectively. “It’s
kind of a family affair, but then Adelia didn’t
say not to, and anyway it’ll be all over the
place soon. So I’ll tell you, Dan, if you’ll
promise never to tell who told you. Adelia Williams
and Young Thomas Everett are going to be married.”
Julius delivered himself of this tremendous
lie with a transparently earnest countenance.
Yet Dan, credulous as he was, could not believe it
all at once.
“Git out,” he said.
“It’s true, ’pon
my word,” protested Julius. “Adelia
was up last night and told Ma all about it. Ma’s
her cousin, you know. The wedding is to be in
June, and Adelia asked Ma to help her get her quilts
and things ready.”
Julius reeled all this off so glibly
that Dan finally believed the story, despite the fact
that the people thus coupled together in prospective
matrimony were the very last people in Valley View
who could have been expected to marry each other.
Young Thomas was a confirmed bachelor of fifty, and
Adelia Williams was forty; they were not supposed
to be even well acquainted, as the Everetts and the
Williamses had never been very friendly, although no
open feud existed between them.
Nevertheless, in view of Julius’s
circumstantial statements, the amazing news must be
true, and Dan was instantly agog to carry it further.
Julius watched Dan and the grey mare out of sight,
fairly writhing with ecstasy. Oh, but Dan had
been easy! The story would be all over Valley
View in twenty-four hours. Julius laughed until
he came near to falling off the gatepost.
At this point Julius and Danny drop
out of our story, and Young Thomas enters.
It was two days later when Young Thomas
heard that he was to be married to Adelia Williams
in June. Eben Clark, the blacksmith, told him
when he went to the forge to get his horse shod.
Young Thomas laughed his big jolly laugh. Valley
View gossip had been marrying him off for the last
thirty years, although never before to Adelia Williams.
“It’s news to me,” he said tolerantly.
Eben grinned broadly. “Ah,
you can’t bluff it off like that, Tom,”
he said. “The news came too straight this
time. Well, I was glad to hear it, although I
was mighty surprised. I never thought of you and
Adelia. But she’s a fine little woman and
will make you a capital wife.”
Young Thomas grunted and drove away.
He had a good deal of business to do that day, involving
calls at various places the store for molasses,
the mill for flour, Jim Bentley’s for seed grain,
the doctor’s for toothache drops for his housekeeper,
the post office for mail and at each and
every place he was joked about his approaching marriage.
In the end it rather annoyed Young Thomas, He drove
home at last in what was for him something of a temper.
How on earth had that fool story started? With
such detailed circumstantiality of rugs and quilts,
too? Adelia Williams must be going to marry somebody,
and the Valley View gossips, unable to locate the
man, had guessed Young Thomas.
When he reached home, tired, mud-bespattered,
and hungry, his housekeeper, who was also his hired
man’s wife, asked him if it was true that he
was going to be married. Young Thomas, taking
in at a glance the ill-prepared, half-cold supper
on the table, felt more annoyed than ever, and said
it wasn’t, with a strong expression not
quite an oath for Young Thomas never swore,
unless swearing be as much a matter of intonation
as of words.
Mrs. Dunn sighed, patted her swelled
face, and said she was sorry; she had hoped it was
true, for her man had decided to go west. They
were to go in a month’s time. Young Thomas
sat down to his supper with the prospect of having
to look up another housekeeper and hired man before
planting to destroy his appetite.
Next day, three people who came to
see Young Thomas on business congratulated him on
his approaching marriage. Young Thomas, who had
recovered his usual good humour, merely laughed.
There was no use in being too earnest in denial, he
thought. He knew that his unusual fit of petulance
with his housekeeper had only convinced her that the
story was true. It would die away in time, as
other similar stories had died, he thought. Valley
View gossip was imaginative.
Young Thomas looked rather serious,
however, when the minister and his wife called that
evening and referred to the report. Young Thomas
gravely said that it was unfounded. The minister
looked graver still and said he was sorry he
had hoped it was true. His wife glanced significantly
about Young Thomas’s big, untidy sitting-room,
where there were cobwebs on the ceiling and fluff
in the corners and dust on the mop-board, and said
nothing, but looked volumes.
“Dang it all,” said Young
Thomas, as they drove away, “they’ll marry
me yet in spite of myself.”
The gossip made him think about Adelia
Williams. He had never thought about her before;
he was barely acquainted with her. Now he remembered
that she was a plump, jolly-looking little woman, noted
for being a good housekeeper. Then Young Thomas
groaned, remembering that he must start out looking
for a housekeeper soon; and housekeepers were not
easily found, as Young Thomas had discovered several
times since his mother’s death ten years before.
Next Sunday in church Young Thomas
looked at Adelia Williams. He caught Adelia looking
at him. Adelia blushed and looked guiltily away.
“Dang it all,” reflected
Young Thomas, forgetting that he was in church.
“I suppose she has heard that fool story too.
I’d like to know the person who started it;
man or woman, I’d punch their head.”
Nevertheless, Young Thomas went on
looking at Adelia by fits and starts, although he
did not again catch Adelia looking at him. He
noticed that she had round rosy cheeks and twinkling
brown eyes. She did not look like an old maid,
and Young Thomas wondered that she had been allowed
to become one. Sarah Barnett, now, to whom report
had married him a year ago, looked like a dried sour
For the next four weeks the story
haunted Young Thomas like a spectre. Down it
would not. Everywhere he went he was joked about
it. It gathered fresh detail every week.
Adelia was getting her clothes ready; she was to be
married in seal-brown cashmere; Vinnie Lawrence at
Valley Centre was making it for her; she had got a
new hat with a long ostrich plume; some said white,
some said grey.
Young Thomas kept wondering who the
man could be, for he was convinced that Adelia was
going to marry somebody. More than that, once
he caught himself wondering enviously. Adelia
was a nice-looking woman, and he had not so far heard
of any probable housekeeper.
“Dang it all,” said Young
Thomas to himself in desperation. “I wouldn’t
care if it was true.”
His married sister from Carlisle heard
the story and came over to investigate. Young
Thomas denied it shortly, and his sister scolded.
She had devoutly hoped it was true, she said, and it
would have been a great weight off her mind.
“This house is in a disgraceful
condition, Thomas,” she said severely.
“It would break Mother’s heart if she could
rise out of her grave to see it. And Adelia Williams
is a perfect housekeeper.”
“You didn’t use to think
so much of the Williams crowd,” said Young Thomas
“Oh, some of them don’t
amount to much,” admitted Maria, “but Adelia
is all right.”
Catching sight of an odd look on Young
Thomas’s face, she added hastily, “Thomas
Everett, I believe it’s true after all.
Now, is it? For mercy’s sake don’t
be so sly. You might tell me, your own and only
sister, if it is.”
“Oh, shut up,” was Young
Thomas’s unfeeling reply to his own and only
Young Thomas told himself that night
that Valley View gossip would drive him into an asylum
yet if it didn’t let up. He also wondered
if Adelia was as much persecuted as himself.
No doubt she was. He never could catch her eye
in church now, but he would have been surprised had
he realized how many times he tried to.
The climax came the third week in
May, when Young Thomas, who had been keeping house
for himself for three weeks, received a letter and
an express box from his cousin, Charles Everett, out
in Manitoba. Charles and he had been chums in
their boyhood. They corresponded occasionally
still, although it was twenty years since Charles had
The letter was to congratulate Young
Thomas on his approaching marriage. Charles had
heard of it through some Valley View correspondents
of his wife. He was much pleased; he had always
liked Adelia, he said had been an old beau
of hers, in fact. Thomas might give her a kiss
for him if he liked. He forwarded a wedding present
by express and hoped they would be very happy, etc.
The present was an elaborate hatrack
of polished buffalo horns, mounted on red plush, with
an inset mirror. Young Thomas set it up on the
kitchen table and scowled moodily at his reflection
in the mirror. If wedding presents were beginning
to come, it was high time something was done.
The matter was past being a joke. This affair
of the present would certainly get out things
always got out in Valley View, dang it all and
he would never hear the last of it.
“I’ll marry,” said
Young Thomas decisively. “If Adelia Williams
won’t have me, I’ll marry the first woman
who will, if it’s Sarah Barnett herself.”
Young Thomas shaved and put on his
Sunday suit. As soon as it was safely dark, he
hied him away to Adelia Williams. He felt very
doubtful about his reception, but the remembrance of
the twinkle in Adelia’s brown eyes comforted
him. She looked like a woman who had a sense
of humour; she might not take him, but she would not
feel offended or insulted because he asked her.
“Dang it all, though, I hope
she will take me,” said Young Thomas. “I’m
in for getting married now and no mistake. And
I can’t get Adelia out of my head. I’ve
been thinking of her steady ever since that confounded
When he knocked at Adelia’s
door he discovered that his face was wet with perspiration.
Adelia opened the door and started when she saw him;
then she turned very red and stiffly asked him in.
Young Thomas went in and sat down, wondering if all
men felt so horribly uncomfortable when they went
Adelia stooped low over the woodbox
to put a stick of wood in the stove, for the May evening
was chilly. Her shoulders were shaking; the shaking
grew worse; suddenly Adelia laughed hysterically and,
sitting down on the woodbox, continued to laugh.
Young Thomas eyed her with a friendly grin.
“Oh, do excuse me,” gasped
poor Adelia, wiping tears from her eyes. “This
is dreadful I didn’t mean
to laugh I don’t know why I’m
laughing but I can’t
She laughed helplessly again.
Young Thomas laughed too. His embarrassment vanished
in the mellowness of that laughter. Presently
Adelia composed herself and removed from the woodbox
to a chair, but there was still a suspicious twitching
about the corners of her mouth.
“I suppose,” said Young
Thomas, determined to have it over with before the
ice could form again, “I suppose, Adelia, you’ve
heard the story that’s been going about you
and me of late?”
Adelia nodded. “I’ve
been persecuted to the verge of insanity with it,”
she said. “Every soul I’ve seen has
tormented me about it, and people have written me
about it. I’ve denied it till I was black
in the face, but nobody believed me. I can’t
find out how it started. I hope you believe,
Mr. Everett, that it couldn’t possibly have arisen
from anything I said. I’ve felt dreadfully
worried for fear you might think it did. I heard
that my cousin, Lucilla Barrett, said I told her,
but Lucilla vowed to me that she never said such a
thing or even dreamed of it. I’ve felt
dreadful bad over the whole affair. I even gave
up the idea of making a quilt after a lovely new pattern
I’ve got because they made such a talk about
my brown dress.”
“I’ve been kind of supposing
that you must be going to marry somebody, and folks
just guessed it was me,” said Young Thomas he
said it anxiously.
“No, I’m not going to
be married to anybody,” said Adelia with a laugh,
taking up her knitting.
“I’m glad of that,”
said Young Thomas gravely. “I mean,”
he hastened to add, seeing the look of astonishment
on Adelia’s face, “that I’m glad
there isn’t any other man because because
I want you myself, Adelia.”
Adelia laid down her knitting and
blushed crimson. But she looked at Young Thomas
squarely and reproachfully.
“You needn’t think you
are bound to say that because of the gossip, Mr. Everett,”
she said quietly.
“Oh, I don’t,” said
Young Thomas earnestly. “But the truth is,
the story set me to thinking about you, and from that
I got to wishing it was true honest, I
did I couldn’t get you out of my head,
and at last I didn’t want to. It just seemed
to me that you were the very woman for me if you’d
only take me. Will you, Adelia? I’ve
got a good farm and house, and I’ll try to make
It was not a very romantic wooing,
perhaps. But Adelia was forty and had never been
a romantic little body even in the heyday of youth.
She was a practical woman, and Young Thomas was a
fine looking man of his age with abundance of worldly
goods. Besides, she liked him, and the gossip
had made her think a good deal about him of late.
Indeed, in a moment of candour she had owned to herself
the very last Sunday in church that she wouldn’t
mind if the story were true.
“I’ll I’ll think of it,”
This was practically an acceptance,
and Young Thomas so understood it. Without loss
of time he crossed the kitchen, sat down beside Adelia,
and put his arms about her plump waist.
“Here’s a kiss Charlie
sent me to give you,” he said, giving it.