Read CHAPTER XV of Mr. Opp , free online book, by Alice Hegan Rice, on ReadCentral.com.

The warning note sounded by Mrs. Fallows at the beginning of the oil boom was echoed by many before the summer was over.  The coldest thing in the world is an exhausted enthusiasm, and when weeks slipped into months, and notes fell due, and the bank became cautious about lending money, a spirit of distrust got abroad, and a financial frost settled upon the community.

Notwithstanding these conditions, “The Opp Eagle” persistently screamed prosperity.  It attributed the local depression to the financial disturbance that had agitated the country at large, and assured the readers that the Cove was on the eve of the greatest period in its history.

“The ascending, soaring bubble of inflated prices cannot last much longer,” one editorial said; “the financial flurry in the Wall Streets of the North were pretty well over before we become aware of it, in a major sense.  ‘The Opp Eagle’ has in the past, present, and future waged noble warfare against the calamity jays.  Panic or no panic, Cove City refuses to remain in the backgrounds.  There has been a large order for job-work in this office within the past ten days, also several new and important subscribers, all of which does not make much of a showing for hard times, at least not from our point of looking at it.”

But in the same issue, in an inconspicuous corner, were a couple of lines to the effect that “the editor would be glad to take a load of wood on subscription.”

The truth was that it required all of Mr. Opp’s diplomacy to rise to the occasion.  The effort to meet his own obligations was becoming daily more embarrassing, and he was reduced to economies entirely beneath the dignity of the editor of “The Opp Eagle.”  But while he cheerfully restricted his diet to two meals a day, and wore shirt-fronts in lieu of the genuine article, he was, according to Nick’s ideas, rashly extravagant in other ways.

“What did you go and buy Widow Green’s oil-shares back for?” Nick demanded upon one of these occasions.

“Well, you see,” explained Mr. Opp, “it was purely a business proposition.  Any day, now, things may open up in a way that will surprise you.  I have good reason to believe that those shares are bound to go up; and besides,” he added lamely in an undertone, “I happen to know that that there lady was in immediate need of a little ready money.”

“So are we,” protested Nick; “we need every cent we can get for the paper.  If we don’t get ahead some by the first of the year, we are going under, sure as you live.”

Mr. Opp laid a hand upon his shoulder and smiled tolerantly.  “Financiers get used to these fluctuations in money circles.  Don’t you worry, Nick; you leave that to the larger brains in the concern.”

But in spite of his superior attitude of confidence, Nick’s words rankled in his mind, and the first of the year became a time which he preferred not to consider.

One day in September the mail-packet brought two letters of great importance to Mr. Opp.  One was from Willard Hinton, the first since his operation, and the other was from Mr. Mathews, stating that he would arrive at the Cove that day to lay an important matter of business before the stock-holders of the Turtle Creek Land Company.

Mr. Opp rushed across the road, a letter in each hand, to share the news with Guinevere.

“It’s as good as settled,” he cried, bursting in upon her, where she sat at the side door wrestling with a bit of needlework.  “Mr. Mathews will be here to-day.  He is either going to open up work or sell out to a syndicate.  I’m going to use all my influence for the latter; it’s the surest and safest plan.  Miss Guin-never,” his voice softened, “this is all I been waiting for to make my last and final arrangement with your mother.  It was just yesterday she was asking me what I’d decided to do, and I don’t mind telling you, now it’s all over, I never went to bed all last night just sat up trying to figure it out.  But this will settle it.  I’ll be in a position to have a little home of my own and take care of Kippy, too.  I don’t know as I ever was so happy in all my life put together before.”  He laughed nervously, but his eyes anxiously studied her averted face.

“Then there’s more news,” he plunged on, when she did not speak “a letter from Mr. Hinton.  I thought maybe you’d like to hear what he had to say.”

Guinevere’s scissors dropped with a sharp ring on the stepping-stone below, and as they both stooped to get them, their fingers touched.  Mr. Opp ardently seized her hand in both of his, but unfortunately he seized her needle as well.

“Oh, I am so sorry!” she said.  “Wait, let me do it,” and with a compassion which he considered nothing short of divine she extricated the needle, and comforted the wounded member.  Mr. Opp would have gladly suffered the fate of a St. Sebastian to have elicited such sympathy.

“Is is Mr. Hinton better?” she asked, still bending over his hand.

“Hinton?” asked Mr. Opp.  “Oh, I forgot; yes.  I’ll read you what he says.  He got his nurse to write this for him.

Dear Opp:  The die is cast; I am a has-been.  I did not expect anything, so I am not disappointed.  The operation was what they called successful.  The surgeon, I am told, did a very brilliant stunt; something like taking my eyes out, playing marbles with them, and getting them sewed back again all in three minutes and a half.  The result to the patient is of course purely a minor consideration, but it may interest you to know that I can tell a biped from a quadruped, and may in time, by the aid of powerful glasses, be able to distinguish faces.

    With these useful and varied accomplishments I have decided to
    return to the Cove.  My modest ambition now is to get out of the way,
    and the safest plan is to keep out of the current.

You will probably be a Benedick by the time I return.  My heartiest congratulations to you and Miss Guinevere.  Words cannot thank either of you for what you have done for me.  All I can say is that I have tried to be worthy of your friendship.

What’s left of me is

Yours,

Willard Hinton.”

Mr. Opp avoided looking at her as he folded the sheets and put them back in the envelop.  The goal was bright before his eyes, but quicksands dragged at his feet.

“And he will find us married, won’t he, Miss Guin-never?  You’ll be ready just as soon as I and your mother come to a understanding, won’t you?  Why, it seems more like eleven years than eleven months since you and me saw that sunset on the river!  There hasn’t been a day since, you might say, that hasn’t been occupied with you.  All I ask for in the world is just the chance for the rest of my life of trying to make you happy.  You believe that, don’t you, Miss Guin-never?”

“Yes,” she said miserably, gazing out at the little arbor Hinton had made for her beneath the trees.

“Well, I’ll stop by this evening after the meeting, if it ain’t too late,” said Mr. Opp.  “You’ll you’ll be glad if everything culminates satisfactory, won’t you?”

“I’m glad of everything good that comes to you,” said Guinevere so earnestly that Mr. Opp, who had lived on a diet of crumbs all his life, looked at her gratefully, and went back to the office assuring himself that all would be well.

The visit of Mr. Mathews, while eagerly anticipated, could not have fallen on a less auspicious day.  Aunt Tish, the arbiter of the Opp household, had been planning for weeks to make a visit to Coreyville, and the occasion of an opportune funeral furnished an immediate excuse.

“No, sir, Mr. D., I can’t put hit off till to-morrow,” she declared in answer to Mr. Opp’s request that she stay with Miss Kippy until after the stock-holders’ meeting.  “I’s ’bleeged to go on dat night boat.  De funeral teks place at ten o’clock in de mawnin’, an’ I’s gwine be dar ef I has to swim de ribber.”

“Was he a particular friend, the one that died?” asked Mr. Opp.

“Friend?  Bunk Bivens?  Dat onery, good-fer-nothin’ olé half-strainer?  Naw, sir; he ain’t no friend ob mine.”

“Well, what makes you so pressing and particular about attending his funeral?” asked Mr. Opp.

“’Ca’se I ’spise him so.  I been hating dat nigger fer pretty nigh forty year, an’ I ain’t gwine lose dis chanst ob seein’ him buried.”

“But, Aunt Tish,” persisted Mr. Opp, impatiently, “I’ve got a very important and critical meeting this afternoon.  The business under consideration may be wound up in the matter of a few minutes, and then, again, it may prolong itself into several consecutive hours.  You’ll have to stay with Kippy till I get home.”

The old woman looked at him strangely.  “See dis heah hole in my haid, honey?  ’Member how you and Ben uster ast Aunt Tish what mek hit?  Dat nigger Bunk Bivens mek hit.  He was a roustabout on de ribber, an’ him an’ yer paw fell out, an’ one night when you was a baby he follow yer paw up here, an’ me an’ him had hit out.”

“But where was my father?” asked Mr. Opp.

“Dey was ‘sputin’ right heah in dis heah kitchen where we’s standin’ at, an’ dat mean, bow-laigged nigger didn’t have no better manners den to ‘spute wif a gentleman dat was full.  An’ pore Miss she run in so skeered an’ white an’ she say, ’Aunt Tish, don’t let him hurt him; he don’t know what he’s sayin’,’ she baig, an’ I tell her to keep yer paw outen de way an’ I tek keer ob Bunk.”

“And did he fight you?” asked Mr. Opp, indignantly.

“Naw, sir; I fit him.  We put nigh tore up de floor ob de kitchen.  Den he bust my haid open wif de poker, an’ looks lak I been losing my knowledge ever sence.  From dat day I ’low I’s gwine to git even if it took me till I died, an’ now dat spiteful old devil done died fust.  But I’s gwine see him buried.  I want to see ’em nail him up in a box and th’ow dirt on him.”

Aunt Tish ended the recital in a sing-song chant, worked up to a state of hysteria by the recital of her ancient wrong.

Mr. Opp sighed both for the past and the present.  He saw the futility of arguing the case.

“Well, you’ll stay until the boat whistles?” he asked.  “Sometimes it is two hours late.”

“Yas, sir; but when dat whistle toots I’s gwine.  Ef you is heah, all right; ef you ain’t, all right:  I’s gwine!”

As Mr. Opp passed through the hall he saw Miss Kippy slip ahead of him and conceal herself behind the door.  She carried something hidden in her apron.

“Have you learned your reading lesson to say to brother D. to-night?” he asked, ignoring her behavior.  “You are getting so smart, learning to read handwriting just as good as I can!”

But Miss Kippy only peeped at him through the crack in the door and refused to be friendly.  For several days she had been furtive and depressed, and had not spoken to either Aunt Tish or himself.

On the way to his office Mr. Opp was surprised to see Mr. Gallop leaning out of the window of his little room beckoning frantically.  It was evident that Mr. Gallop had a secret to divulge, and Mr. Gallop with a secret was as excited as a small bird with a large worm.

“Just come in a minute and sit down,” he fluttered; “you’ll have to excuse the looks of things.  Having just this one room for telegraph office and bedroom and everything crowds me up awful.  I’ve been trying to fix my lunch for half an hour, but the telephone just keeps me busy.  Then, besides, Mr. Mathews was here; he came down on the launch at twelve o’clock.  Now, of course I know it ain’t right to repeat anything I hear over the long-distance wire, but being such a good friend of yours, and you being such a friend of mine why, Mr. Opp there ain’t anybody in the world I owe more to than I do to you, not only the money you’ve lent me from time to time, but your standing up for me when everybody was down on me and ”

“Yes; but you was remarking about Mr. Mathews?” Mr. Opp interrupted.

“Yes; and I was saying I never make a practice of repeating what I hear, but he was talking right here in the room, and I was mixing up a little salad dressing I promised Mrs. Fallows for the social, it’s to be over at Your Hotel this evening there’s the telephone!”

Mr. Opp sat on the edge of the sofa, the rest of it being occupied with gaily embroidered sofa pillows, specimens, the town declared, of Mr. Gallop’s own handiwork.  In fact, the only unoccupied space in the room was on the ceiling, for between his duties as operator and housekeeper Mr. Gallop still found time to cultivate the arts, and the result of his efforts was manifest in every nook and corner.

“It was Mrs. Gusty getting after Mr. Toddlinger for sending vanilla extract instead of lemon,” explained Mr. Gallop, who had stopped to hear the discussion.

“Well, as I was saying, Mr. Mathews called up somebody in the city almost as soon as he got here Now you’ve got to promise me you won’t tell a living soul about this.”

Mr. Opp promised.

“He said to telegraph New York party that terms were agreed on, and to mail check at once to Clark, and tell him to keep his mouth shut.  Then the other end said something, and Mr. Mathews said:  ’We can’t afford to wait.  You telegraph at once; I’ll manipulate the crowd down here.’  They talked a lot more, then he said awful low, but I heard him:  ’Well, damn it! they’ve got to.  There’s too much at stake.’”

The editor sat with his hat in his hand, and blinked at the operator:  “Manipulate,” he said in a puzzled tone, “did he use that particular word?”

Mr. Gallop nodded.

“He may have been referring to something else,” said Mr. Opp, waiving aside any disagreeable suspicion.  “Mr. Mathews is a business gentleman.  He’s involved in a great many ventures, something like myself.  You wouldn’t think from what you heard that er that he was contemplating not acting exactly fair with us, would you?”

Mr. Gallop, having delivered himself of his information, did not feel called upon to express a personal opinion.

“If you ever say I told you a word of this, I’ll swear I didn’t,” he said.  “It was just because you were such a good friend, and there’s that ’phone again!”

During the early hours of the afternoon, Mr. Opp was oppressed with a vague uneasiness.  He made several attempts to see Mr. Mathews, but that gentleman was closeted with his stenographer until five o’clock, the hour named for the meeting.

All feeling of distrust was banished, however, when Mr. Mathews made his way through the crowd of stock-holders that filled the office of Your Hotel, and took his stand by the desk.  He was so bland and confident, so satisfied with himself and the world and the situation, that, as Jimmy Fallows remarked, “You kinder looked for him to purr when he wasn’t talking.”

He set forth at great length the undoubted oil wealth of the region, he complimented them on their sagacity and foresight in buying up the Turtle Creek ground, he praised the Cove in general and that distinguished citizen, the editor of “The Opp Eagle,” in particular.  The enterprise upon which they had embarked, he said, had grown to such proportions that large capital was required to carry it on.  Owing to the recent depression in the money market, the Kentucky company did not feel able properly to back the concern, so it had been agreed that if a good offer was made to buy it, it should be accepted.  It was with such an offer, Mr. Mathews said, that he had come to them to-day.

A stir of excitement met this announcement, and Miss Jim Fenton waved her lace scarf in her enthusiasm.

“Some time ago,” went on Mr. Mathews, graciously acknowledging the applause, “the Union Syndicate of New York sent an expert, Mr. Clark, down here to report on the oil conditions in this region.”  Mr. Opp’s eyes became fixed on Mr. Mathews’s face, and his lips parted.  “The report was so entirely satisfactory,” continued Mr. Mathews, “that the following offer has been made.”

Mr. Opp rose immediately.  “Excuse me, sir, there is er rather, there must be some little mistake just at this juncture.”

All eyes were turned upon him, and a murmur of dissent arose at an interruption at such a critical point.

Mr. Mathews gave him permission to proceed.

“You see I Mr. Clark, that is,” Mr. Opp’s fingers were working nervously on the back of the chair before him, “him and myself went over the ground together, and I well, I must say I don’t consider him a competent judge.”

Mr. Mathews smiled.  “I am afraid, Mr. Opp, that your opinion is overruled.  Mr. Clark is a recognized authority, although,” he added significantly, “of course the most expert make mistakes at times.”

“That ain’t the point,” persisted Mr. Opp; “it’s the conflicting difference in what he said to me, and what he’s reported to them.  He told me that he didn’t consider our prospects was worth a picayune, and if the wells were drilled, they probably wouldn’t run a year.  I didn’t believe him then; but you say now that he is a expert and that he knows.”

Mr. Mathews’s tolerance seemed limitless.  He waited patiently for Mr. Opp to finish, then he said smoothly: 

“Yes, yes; I understand your point perfectly, Mr. Opp.  Mr. Clark’s remarks were injudicious, but he was looking at all sides of the question.  He saw me after he saw you, you know, and I was able to direct his attention to the more favorable aspects of the case.  His report was entirely favorable, and I guess that is all that concerns us, isn’t it?” He embraced the room with his smile.

During the next quarter of an hour Mr. Opp sat with his arms folded and his eyes bent on the floor and bit his lips furiously.  Something was wrong.  Again and again he fought his way back to this conclusion through the enveloping mazes of Mr. Mathews’s plausibility.  Why had they waited so long after drilling that first well?  Why, after making elaborate plans and buying machinery, had they suddenly decided to sell?  Why had Mr. Clark given such contradictory opinions?  What did Mr. Mathews mean by that message from Mr. Gallop’s office?  Mr. Opp’s private affairs, trembling in the balance, were entirely lost sight of in his determination for fair play.

Covering his eyes with his hand, and trying not to hear the flood of argument which Mr. Mathews was bringing to bear upon his already convinced audience, Mr. Opp attempted to recall all that Mr. Gallop had told him.

“He said ‘manipulate,’” repeated Mr. Opp to himself.  “I remember that, and he said ‘telegraph New York party that terms were agreed on.’  Then he said ‘mail check to Clark; tell him to keep his mouth shut.’  What’s he paying Clark for?  Why ”

“The motion before the house,” Mr. Tucker’s piping voice broke in upon his agitated reasoning, “is whether the stock-holders of the Turtle Creek Land Company is willing to sell out at a rate of seven to one to the Union Syndicate.”

In the buzz of delight that ensued, Mr. Opp found himself standing on a chair and demanding attention.

“Listen here,” he cried, pounding on the wall with his hand, “I’ve got important information that’s got to be told:  that man Clark is a rascal.  He’s he’s deceiving his company.  He’s been paid to make a good report of our ground.  I can’t prove it, but I know it.  We’re taking part in a fraud; we’re we’re being manipulated.”

Mr. Opp almost shrieked the last word in his agony of earnestness; but before the crowd could fully apprehend his meaning, Mr. Mathews rose and said somewhat sharply: 

“What the representative of the Union Syndicate is, or is not, doesn’t concern us in the least.  I come to you with a gilt-edged proposition; all I ask you is to sit tight, and take my advice, and I guarantee you an immediate return of seven dollars to every one you put into this concern.  Mr. Chairman, will you put it to the vote?”

But Mr. Opp again stopped proceedings.  “As a director in this company I won’t stand for what’s going on.  I’ll telegraph the syndicate.  I’ll advertise the whole matter!”

Mat Lucas pulled at his sleeve, and the preacher put a restraining arm about his shoulder.  The amazing rumor had become current that the Cove’s stanchest advocate for temperance had been indulging in drink, and there was nothing in the editor’s flushed face and excited manner to contradict the impression.

“If by any chance,” Mr. Mathews went on in a steady voice, “there should be a stock-holder who is unwilling to take advantage of this magnificent offer, we need hardly say that we are prepared to buy his stock back at the amount he gave for it.”  He smiled, as if inviting ridicule at the absurdity of the proposition.

“I am unwilling,” cried Mr. Opp, tugging at the restraining hands.  “I have never yet in all the length and breadth of my experience been associated with a dishonest act.”

“Don’t!  Mr. Opp, don’t!” whispered Mat Lucas.  “You’re acting like a crazy man.  Don’t you see you are losing the chance to make three thousand dollars?”

“That hasn’t nothing to do with it,” cried Mr. Opp, almost beside himself.  “I’ll not be a party to the sale.  I’ll ”

Mr. Mathews turned to his secretary.  “Just fix up those papers for Mr. Opp, and give him a check for what is coming to him.  Now, Mr. Chairman, will you put the matter to the vote?”

Amid the hilarious confusion that succeeded the unanimous vote, and the subsequent adjournment of the meeting, Mr. Opp pushed his way through the crowd that surrounded Mr. Mathews.

“You know what I was alluding at,” he shouted through his chattering teeth.  “You’ve carried this through, but I’ll blockade you.  I am going to tell the truth to the whole community.  I am going to telegraph to the syndicate and stop the sale.”

Mr. Mathews lifted his brows and smiled deprecatingly.

“I am sorry you have worked yourself up to such a pitch, my friend,” he said.  “Telegraph, by all means if it will ease your mind; but the fact is, the deal was closed at noon to-day.”

The long, low whistle of the packet sounded, but Mr. Opp heeded it not.  He was flinging his way across to the telegraph office in a frenzy of Quixotic impatience to right the wrong of which he had refused to be a part.