"He wouldn't give a cent," announced Mrs. Pottle, blotting up the nucleus of a tear on her cheek with the tip of her gloved finger. "'Not one red cent,' was the way he put it."
"What did you want a red cent for, honey?" inquired Mr. Pottle, absently, from out the depths of the sporting page. "Who wouldn't give you a red cent?"
"Old Felix Winterbottom," she answered.
Mr. Pottle put down his paper.
"Do you mean to say you tackled old frosty-face Felix himself?" he demanded with interest and some awe.
"I certainly did," replied his wife. "Right in his own office."
Her spouse made no attempt to conceal his admiration.
"What did you say; then what did he say; then what did you say?" he queried.
"I was very polite," Mrs. Pottle answered, "and tactful. I said 'See here, now, Mr. Winterbottom, you are the richest man in the county, and yet you have the reputation of being the most careful with your money----'"
"I'll bet that put him in a good humor," said Mr. Pottle in a murmured aside.
"You know perfectly well, Ambrose, that old Felix Winterbottom is never in a good humor," said his wife. "After talking with him, I really believe the story that he has never smiled in his life. Well, anyhow, I said to him, 'See here now, Mr. Winterbottom, I'm going to give you a chance to show people your heart is in the right place, after all. The Day Nursery we ladies of the Browning-Tagore Club of Granville are starting needs just one thousand dollars. Won't you let me put you down for that amount?'"
Mr. Pottle whistled.
"Did he bite you?" he asked.
"I thought for a minute he was going to," admitted Mrs. Pottle, "and then he said, 'Are the Gulicks interested in this?' I said, 'Of course, they are. Mrs. P. Bradley Gulick is Chairman of the Pink Contribution Team, and Mrs. Wendell Gulick is Chairman----' 'Stop,' said Mr. Winterbottom, giving me that fishy look of his, like a halibut in a cake of ice, 'in that case, I wouldn't give a cent, not one red cent. Good-day, Mrs. Pottle.' I went."
Mr. Pottle wagged his head sententiously.
"You'll never get a nickel out of him now," he declared. "Never. You might have known that Felix Winterbottom would not go into anything the Gulicks were in. And," added Mr. Pottle thoughtfully, "I can't say that I blame old Felix much."
"Ambrose!" reproved Mrs. Pottle, but her rebuke lacked a certain whole-heartedness, "The Gulicks are nice people; the nicest people in Granville."
"That's the trouble with them," retorted Mr. Pottle, "they never let you forget it. That's what ails this town; too much Gulicks. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either."
She did not attempt rebuttal, beyond saying,
"They're our oldest family."
"Bah," said Mr. Pottle. He appeared to smolder, and then he flamed out,
"Honest, Blossom, those Gulicks make me just a little bit sick to the stummick. Just because some ancestor of theirs came over in the Mayflower, and because some other ancestor happened to own the farm this town was built on, you'd think they were the Duke of Kackiack, or something. The town grew up and made 'em rich, but what did they ever do for the town?"
"Well," began Mrs. Pottle, more for the sake of debate than from conviction, "there's Gulick Avenue, and Gulick Street, and Gulick Park----"
"Oh, they give their name freely enough," said Mr. Pottle. "But what did they give to the Day Nursery fund?"
"They did disappoint me," Mrs. Pottle admitted. "They only gave fifty dollars, which isn't much for the second wealthiest family in town, but Mrs. P. Bradley Gulick said we could put her name at the head of the list----"
Mr. Pottle's affable features attained an almost sardonic look.
"Oho," he said, pointedly. "Oho."
He flamed up again,
"That's exactly the amount those pirates added to the rent of my barber shop," he stated, and then, passion seething in his ordinarily amiable bosom, he went on, "A fine lot, they are, to be snubbing a self-made man like Felix Winterbottom, and turning up their thin, blue noses at Felix Winterbottom's tannery."
"Ambrose," said his wife, with lifted blonde eyebrows, "please don't make suggestive jokes in my presence."
"Honey swat key Molly pants," returned Mr. Pottle with a touch of bellicosity. "It's no worse than other tanneries; and it's the biggest in the state. Those Gulicks give me a pain, I tell you. You can't pick up a paper without reading, 'Mr. P. Bradley Gulick, one of our leading citizens, unveiled a tablet in the Gulick Hook and Ladder Company building yesterday in honor of his ancestor, Saul Gulick, one of the pioneers who hewed our great state out of the wilderness, and whose cider-press stood on the ground now occupied by the hook and ladder company.' Or 'Mrs. Wendell Gulick read a paper before the Society of Descendants of Officers Above the Rank of Captain on General Washington's Staff on the heroic part played by her ancestor, Major Noah Gulick, at the battle of Saratoga.' If it isn't that it's 'The Spinning Wheel Club met at Mrs. Gulick's palatial residence to observe the anniversary of the birth of Phineas Gulick, the first red-headed baby born in Massachusetts.' Bah, is what I say, Bah!"
He seethed and bubbled and broke out again.
"You'd think to hear them blow that the Gulicks discovered ancestors and had 'em patented. I guess the Pottles had an ancestor or two. Even Felix Winterbottom had ancestors."
"Probably haddocks," said Mrs. Pottle coldly. "He can keep his old red cents."
"He will, never fear," her husband assured her. "After the way he and his family have been treated by the Gulicks, I don't blame him."
Mrs. Pottle pumped up a sigh from the depths of a deep bosom and sank tearfully to a divan.
"And I'd set my heart on it," she sobbed.
"The Day Nursery. And it's to fail for want of a miserable thousand dollars."
"Don't speak disrespectfully of a thousand dollars, Blossom," Mr. Pottle enjoined his spouse. "That's five thousand shaves. And don't expect me to give anything more. You know perfectly well the barber-business is not what it used to be. I can't give another red cent."
Mrs. Pottle sniffed.
"Who asked you for your red cents?" she inquired, with spirit. "I'll make the money myself."
She rose majestically; determination was in her pose, and the light of inspiration was in her bright blue eyes.
"We'll give a pageant," she announced.
"A pageant?" Mr. Pottle showed some dismay. "A show, Blossom?"
"Evidently," she said, "you have not read your encyclopedia under 'P.'"
"I'm only as far as 'ostriches,'" he answered, humbly.
"'A pageant,'" she quoted, "'is an elaborate exhibition or spectacle, a series of stately tableaux or living pictures, frequently historic, and often with poetic spoken interludes.'"
"Ah," beamed Mr. Pottle, nodding understandingly, "a circus!"
"Not in the least, Ambrose. Does your mind never soar? A pageant is a very beautiful and serious thing, with lots of lovely costumes, hundreds of people, horses, historic scenes----" she broke off suddenly. "When was Granville founded?"
He told her. Her eyes sparkled.
"Wonderful," she cried. "This year it will be two hundred years old. We'll give an historic pageant--the Growth of Civilization in Granville."
"It sounds expensive," objected Mr. Pottle.
"Don't be sordid, Ambrose," said his wife.
"I'm not sordid, Blossom," he returned. "I'm a practical man. I know these kermesses and feats. My cousin Julia Onderdonk got up a pageant in Peoria once and now she hasn't a friend in the place. Besides it only netted fourteen dollars for the Bide-a-wee Home. Now, honey, why not give a good, old-fashioned chicken supper in the church hall, with perhaps a minstrel show afterward? That would get my money----"
"Chicken supper! Minstrel show! Oh, Ambrose." His wife's snort was the acme of refinement. "Have you no soul? This pageant will be an inspiring thing. It will make for, I might almost say militate for, a community spirit. Other communities give pageant after pageant. Shall Granville lag behind? Here is a chance for a real community get-together. Here is a chance to give our young people the wonderful history of their native town----"
"And also a chance for all the Gulick tribe to parade around in colonial clothes with spinning wheels under their arms," put in Mr. Pottle.
"I'm afraid we can't avoid that," admitted his wife, ruefully. "After all, they are our oldest family."
"I suppose," she mused, "that Mrs. P. Bradley Gulick would have to be the Spirit of Progress----"
"Progress shouldn't be fat and wall-eyed," interposed Mr. Pottle. She ignored this.
"And I suppose that odious freckled daughter of hers would have to be the Spirit of Liberty or Civilization or something important, and I suppose that pompous Mr. Gulick would have to be the Pioneer Spirit--still, I think it could be managed. Now, you, Ambrose, can be----"
"I don't want to be the spirit of anything," he declared. "Count me out, Blossom."
Mrs. Pottle assumed a hurt pout.
"For my sake?" she said.
"I'm no actor," he stated.
"Oh, I don't want you to act," she said. "You're to be treasurer."
He wrinkled up his nose and brow into a frown.
"The dirty work," he exclaimed. "That's the way the world over. Us Pottles do the dirty work and the Gulicks get the glory. No, Blossom, no, no, no."
An appealing tear, and another, stole down her pink cheek.
"Mr. Gallup wouldn't have treated me that way," she said. Mr. Gallup had been her first husband.
Mr. Pottle knew resistance was futile.
"Oh, all right. I'll be treasurer."
She smiled. "Now one more tiny favor?"
"I want you to be the Spirit of History and read the historic epilogue."
"Me? I'm no spirit. I'm a boss barber."
"Well, if you don't take the job, I suppose I can get one of the Gulicks."
He considered a second.
"All right," he said. "I'll be the Spirit of History. But understand one thing, right here and now: I will not wear tights."
She conceded him that point.
"Say," he asked, struck by a thought, "how do you know what spirits are going to be in this? Who is going to write this thing, anyhow?"
"I am," said Mrs. Pottle.
"It's not decent," objected Mr. Pottle fervidly. "How can I keep the respect of the community if I go round like this?"
He indicated his pink knees, which blushed like spring rosebuds beneath a somewhat nebulous toga of cheese-cloth.
"If I can't wear pants, I don't want to be the Spirit of History," he added.
"For the fifth and last time," said the tired and harassed voice of Mrs. Pottle, "you cannot wear pants. Spirits never do. That settles it. Not another word, Ambrose. Haven't I trouble enough without my own husband adding to it?"
She pressed her brow as if it ached. Piles of costumes, mostly tinsel and cheese-cloth, shields, tomahawks, bridles and bits of scenery were strewn about the Pottle parlor. She sank into a Morris chair, and stitched fiercely at an angel's wing. Her eyes were the eyes of one at bay.
"It's been one thing after another," she declaimed. "Those Gulicks are making my life miserable. And just now I had a note from Etta Runkle's mother saying that if in the Masque of the Fruits and Flowers of Botts County her little Etta has to be an onion while little Gertrude Crump is a violet, she won't lend us that white horse for the Paul Revere's Ride Scene. So I had to make that hateful stupid child of hers a violet and change Gertrude Crump to an onion and now Mrs. Crump is mad and won't let any of her children appear in the pageant."
"Well," remarked Mr. Pottle, "I don't see why you had to have Paul Revere's Ride anyhow. He didn't ride all the way out here to Ohio, did he?"
"I know he didn't," she replied, tartly, "I didn't want to put him in. But Mrs. Gulick insisted. She said it was her ancestor, Elijah Gulick, who lent Paul Revere the horse. That's why I have to have Paul Revere stop in the middle of his ride and say,
"Gallant stallion, swift and noble,
Lent me by my good friend Gulick,
Patriot, scholar, king of horsemen,
Speed ye, speed ye, speed ye onward!"
Mr. Pottle groaned.
"Is there anything in American history the Gulicks didn't have a hand in?" he asked. "But say, Blossom, that horse of the Runkle's is no gallant stallion. She's the one Matt Runkle uses on his milk route. Every one in town knows Agnes."
"I can't help it," said Mrs. Pottle wearily. "Wendell Gulick, Jr., who plays Paul Revere, insisted on having a white horse, and Agnes was the only one I could get."
"They're the insistingest people I ever knew," observed Mr. Pottle.
His wife gave out the saddest sound in the world, the short sob of thwarted authorship.
"They've just about ruined my pageant," she said. "Mrs. Gulick insisted on having that battle between the settlers and the Indians just because a great, great uncle of hers was in it. I didn't want anything rough like that in my pageant. Besides it happened in the next county, and the true facts are that the Indians chased the settlers fourteen miles, and scalped three of them. Of course it wouldn't do to show a Gulick running from an Indian, so she insisted that I change history around and make the settlers win the battle. None of the nice young men were willing to be Indians and be chased, so I had to hire a tough young fellow named Brannigan--I believe they call him 'Beansy'--and nine other young fellows from the horseshoe works to play Indian at fifty cents apiece."
Mr. Pottle looked anxious.
"I know that Beansy Brannigan," he said. "How is that gang behaving?"
"Oh, pretty well. But ten Indians at fifty cents an Indian is five dollars, and we c-can't afford it."
She was tearful again.
"Already the costumes have cost four hundred dollars and more. We'll be lucky to make expenses if the Gulicks keep on putting in expensive scenes," she moaned.
She busied herself with the angel's wing, then paused to ask, "Ambrose, have you learned your historical epilogue?"
For answer he sprang to his feet, wrapped his cheese-cloth toga about him, struck a Ciceronian attitude, and said loudly:
"Who am I, oh list'ning peoples?
His'try's spirit, stern and truthful!
Come I here to tell you fully,
Of our Granville's thrilling story,
How Saul and other noble Gulicks,
And a few who shall be nameless,
Hewed a city from the forests,
Blazed the way for civ'lization."
"Stop," cried Mrs. Pottle. "I can't bear to hear another word about those Gulicks. You know it well enough."
"There are a few things I wish I could have put in," remarked Mr. Pottle, wistfully.
His tone made her look up with quick interest.
"What do you mean?" she inquired.
"Oh, I found out a thing or two," he replied, "when I was down at the capital last week. I happened to drop into the state historical society's library and run over some old records."
"P. Bradley Gulick told me I didn't have to go down there to get the facts. He'd give them to me, he said. So he did. Some of them."
"Ambrose, what do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing. All I will say is this: I'm a patient man and can be pestered a lot, but just let one of these Gulicks pester me a little too much one of these days, and I'll rear up on my hind legs, that's all."
There was a glint in his eye, and she saw it.
"Ambrose," she said, "if you do anything to spoil my pageant, I'll never forgive you."
"Your pageant? It's just as I said it would be. We Pottles will do the dirty work and the Gulicks will grab the glory. They've behaved so piggish that everybody in town is sore at them, and I don't see how the pageant is going to come out on top. You'd probably have gotten that thousand from old Felix Winterbottom if it hadn't been for them. Then you wouldn't have to be losing a pound a day over this pageant. Now if you'd only gotten up a nice old-fashioned chicken supper, and a minstrel show----"
"Ambrose! Go put on your trousers!"
Despite Mr. Pottle's pessimistic predictions, there was not a vacant seat or an unused cubic foot of air in the Granville Opera House that clinging Spring night, when the asbestos curtain, tugged by tyro hands, jerkily ascended on the prologue of the Grand Historical Pageant of the Growth of Civilization in Granville for the Benefit of the Browning-Tagore Club's Day Nursery. Those who did not have relatives in the cast appeared to have been lured thither by a certain morbid curiosity as to what a pageant was. Their faces said plainly that they were prepared for anything.
After the orchestra had raced through "Poet and Peasant," with the cornet winning by a comfortable margin, Mrs. P. Bradley Gulick, somewhat short of breath and rendered doubly wall-eyed by an inexpert make-up, appeared in red, white and blue cheese-cloth, and announced in a high voice that she was the Spirit of Progress and would look on with a kindly, encouraging eye while history's storied page was turned and spread before them, and, she added, in properly poetic language, she would tell them what it was all about. The audience gave her the applause due the dowager of the town's leading family, and not one hand-clap more. Mr. P. Bradley Gulick, bony but impressive, in a Grecian robe, appeared and proclaimed that he was the Spirit of Civilization. A Ballet of the Waters followed, and as a climax, Evelyn Gulick, age thirteen, in appropriate green gauze, announced:
"Who am I, oh friends and neighbors?
I'm the Spirit of the Waters,
Lordly, swift, Monongahela;
Argosies float on my bosom----"
She tapped her narrow chest, and a look of horror crept into her face; her mind seemed to be groping for something. Tremulously she repeated,
"Argosies float on my bosom."
"And fleets of ships with treasures laden."
Receipts from tickets $1,250.00
Expenses, including rent, music,
scenery, costumes, and damages, $1,249.17
"Dear Mrs. Pottle:
"I never laughed at anything in my life till I saw your pageant. I pay for what I get.
"P. S. Inclosed is my check for one thousand dollars for the Day Nursery."