Author: Habberton, John, 1842-1921
Married people — Fiction
West (U.S.) — Social life and customs — Fiction
General stores — Fiction
Caleb Wright: A Story of the West
A STORY OF THE WEST
“THE JERICHO ROAD”
LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY
J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith
|VII.||An Active Partner||108|
|IX.||A Western Spectre||137|
|X.||She wanted to know||150|
|XI.||Caleb’s Newest Project||163|
|XIV.||Fun with a Camera||211|
|XV.||Cause and Effect||224|
|XVIII.||The Tabby Party||281|
|XIX.||Days in the Store||299|
|XX.||Profit and Loss||316|
|XXI.||Cupid and Corn-meal||332|
|XXII.||Some Ways of the West||348|
|XXIII.||After the Storm||366|
|XXIV.||How it came about||381|
ALL people who have more taste than money are as one in the conviction that people with less money than taste suffer more keenly day by day, week by week, year by year, than any other class of human beings.
Of this kind of sufferer was Philip Somerton, a young man who had strayed from a far-western country town to New York to develop his individuality and make his fortune, but especially to enjoy the facilities which a great city offers (as every one knows, except the impecunious persons who have tried it) to all whose hearts hunger for whatever is beautiful, refining, and also enjoyable.
To some extent Philip had succeeded, for he quickly adapted himself to his new surroundings; and as he was intelligent, industrious, and of good habits, he soon secured a clerkship which enabled him to pay for food, shelter, and clothing, and still have money enough for occasional books and music and theatre tickets, and to purchase a few articles of a class over which the art editor of Philip’s favorite morning newspaper raved delightfully by the column. Several years later he was still more fortunate; for he met Grace Brymme, a handsome young woman who had quite as much intelligence and taste as he, and who, like Philip, had been reared in a country town. That in New York she was a saleswoman in a great shop called a “department store” was not in the least to her discredit; for she was an orphan, and poor, and with too much respect to allow herself to be supported by relatives as poor as she, or to be “married off” for the sole purpose of securing a home. When Philip declared his love and blamed himself for having formed so strong an attachment before he had become financially able to support a wife in the style to which his sweetheart’s refinement and cleverness entitled her, the young woman, who was quite as deep in love as he, replied that in so large a city no one knew the affairs of inconspicuous people, so there was no reason why they should not marry, and she retain her business position and salary under the only name by which her employers and business associates would know her, and together they would earn a modest competence against the glorious by and by.
So they married, and told only their relatives, none of whom was in New York, and out of business hours the couple occupied a small apartment and a large section of Paradise, and together they enjoyed plays and concerts and pictures and books and bric-à-brac as they had never imagined possible when they were single; and when there was nothing special in the outer world to hold their attention they enjoyed each other as only warm-hearted and adaptive married people can.
But marriage has no end of unforeseen mysteries for people who really love each other, and some of these obtruded themselves unexpectedly upon Philip and Grace, and gave the young people some serious moments, hours, and days. At first these disturbers were repelled temporarily by gales of kisses and caresses, but afterwards Grace’s warm brown eyes would look deeper than they habitually were, and Philip would feel as if he had lost the power of speech. It was merely that each wished to be more and do more for the sake of the other. Philip knew that Grace was the sweetest, handsomest, cleverest, noblest woman in the world, and that the world at large had the right to know it. Grace thought Philip competent to illumine any social circle, and to become a leader among men; but how was the world to know of it while he and she were compelled to remain buried alive in a city in which no one knew his next-door neighbor except by sight? In her native village deserving young men frequently became partners of their employers, but Philip assured her that in New York no such recognition could be expected. The best he could hope for was to retain his position, be slowly promoted, and some day rank with the highest clerks.
One evening Philip, who ordinarily reached home later than his wife, stood in the door of the apartment when Grace appeared. He quieted the young woman with a rapturous smile, and said, with much lover-like punctuation:—
“All of our troubles are ended, dear girl. We can live as we wish, and buy everything we wish. To-night—at once, if you like—we can afford to tell the whole world that we are no longer a mere clerk and a saleswoman.”
Grace at once looked more radiant than her husband had ever seen her; she exclaimed:—
“Oh, Phil! Tell me all about it! Quick!”
“I will, my dear, if you’ll loosen your arms—or one of them—for a moment, so that I can get my hand into my pocket. I’ve inherited old Uncle Jethro’s property. I don’t know how much it amounts to, but he was a well-to-do country merchant, and here’s a single check, on account, for a thousand dollars.”
“Phil!” exclaimed Grace, placing her hands on her husband’s face and pushing it gently backward, while her cheeks glowed, and her lips parted, and her eyes seemed to melt.
“That makes me far happier than I was,” said Phil, “though I didn’t suppose that could be possible. Your face is outdoing itself. I didn’t suppose money could make so great a difference in it.”
“‘Tisn’t the money,” Grace replied slowly, “and yet, I suppose it is. But we won’t reason about it now. We can do what we most wish—tell the world that we’re married; for that, I’d gladly have become a beggar. But do tell me all about it.”
Philip placed his wife in an easy chair, took a letter from his pocket, and said:—
“I suppose this will explain all more quickly than I could tell it. ‘Tis a lawyer’s letter. Listen:—
“‘Philip Somerton, Esq.,—
“‘Dear Sir: We are charged to inform you that your uncle, Jethro Somerton, died a few days ago, and made you the sole beneficiary of his will, on condition that you at once proceed to Claybanks, and assume charge of the general store and other business interests that were his, and that you provide for his clerk, Caleb Wright, for the remainder of said Wright’s natural life, and to the satisfaction of the said Wright. In the event of any of these stipulations not being met, the entire property is to be divided among several (specified) benevolent associations, subject to a life annuity to Caleb Wright, and you are to retire from the business without taking any of the proceeds.
“‘By the terms of the will we are instructed, (through your late uncle’s local attorney) to send you the enclosed check for One Thousand ($1000) Dollars, to provide for the expenses of your trip to Claybanks, and to enable you to procure such things as you may wish to take with you, the Claybanks stores not being stocked with a view to the trade of city people; but our bank will defer payment of the same until we are in receipt of enclosed acknowledgment, duly signed before a notary public, of your acceptance under the terms of your uncle’s will, a copy of which we enclose.
“‘Trace & Stubb,
“‘For counsel of Jethro Somerton, deceased.'”
“How strange!” murmured Grace, who seemed to be in a brown study.
“Is that all it is?” asked Phil.
“No, you silly dear; you know it isn’t. But you’ve scarcely ever mentioned your uncle to me; now it appears that you must have been very dear to him. I can’t understand it.”
“Can’t, eh? That’s somewhat uncomplimentary to me. I suppose the truth is that Uncle Jethro couldn’t think of any one else to leave his money to; for he was a widower and childless. My dear dead-and-gone father was his only brother, and he had no sisters, so I’m the only remaining male member of the family.”
“But what sort of man was he? Do tell me something about him.”
“I wish I knew a lot of pleasant things to tell, but I know little of him except what I heard when I was a boy. Father, in whom family affection was very strong, loved him dearly, yet used to be greatly provoked by him at times; for uncle’s only thought was of money—perhaps because he had nothing else to think of, and he wrote advice persistently, with the manner of an elder brother—a man whose advice should be taken as a command. When I started East I stopped off and tramped three miles across country to call on him, for the letter he wrote us when father died was a masterpiece of affection and appreciation. I had never seen him, and I’m ashamed to say, after what has just occurred, that after our first interview I had no desire to see him again. His greeting was fervent only in curiosity; he studied my face as if I were a possible customer who might not be entirely trustworthy. Then he made haste to tell me, with many details, that he was the principal merchant and business man in the county, where he had started thirty years before, with no capital but his muscles and wits. He intimated that if I cared to remain with him a few months on trial, and succeeded in impressing him favorably, I might in time earn an interest in his business; but I thought I had seen enough of country stores and country ways to last me for life; so I made the excuse that as my parents were dead and my sisters married, I felt justified in going to New York to continue my studies. When he asked me what I was studying, I was obliged to reply, ‘Literature and art,’ at which statement he sneered—I may say truthfully that he snorted—and at once became cooler than before; so I improved my first opportunity, between customers’ visits, to say that it was time for me to be starting back to the railway station. In justice to myself, however, as well as to him, I could not start without telling him how greatly his letter about my father had affected me. For a moment he was silent: he looked thoughtful, and as tender, I suppose, as a burly, hard-natured man could look; then he said:—
“‘Your father was one of the very elect, but—’
“I quickly interrupted with, ‘I’m not very religious, but I won’t listen to a word of criticism of one of the elect—least of all, of my father. Good by, uncle.’ He made haste to say that the only two men of the Somerton family shouldn’t part in anger; and when he learned that I had walked three miles through the darkness and November mud, and intended to walk back to the station, he told a man who seemed to be his clerk,—Caleb Wright, evidently the man mentioned in this extraordinary letter,—to get out some sort of conveyance and drive me over. While Caleb was at the stables, my uncle questioned me closely as to my capital and business prospects. I was not going to be outdone in personal pride, so I replied that, except for some mining stocks which some one had imposed upon my father, and were down to two cents per share, I’d exactly what he had told me he began with,—muscle and wits. He saw that I had no overcoat,—boys and young men in our part of the country seldom had them,—so he pressed one upon me, and when I tried to decline it, he said, ‘For my dead brother’s sake,’ which broke me down. When I reached the train, I found in the overcoat pockets some handkerchiefs, gloves, hosiery, neckwear, and several kinds of patent medicines, which evidently he thought trustworthy; there was also a portemonnaie containing a few small notes and some coin. I wrote, thanking him, as soon as I found employment; but he never answered my letter, so I was obliged to assume that he had repented of his generosity and wished no further communication with me.”
“How strange! But the man—Caleb—who drove you to the station, and who seems to be a life pensioner on the estate, and is to be dependent upon us,—how did he impress you?”
“I scarcely remember him, except as a small man with a small face, small beard, a small gentle voice, and pleasanter eyes than country clerks usually have. I remember that his manner seemed very kindly,—after my experience with my uncle’s,—and he said a clever or quaint thing once in a while, as any other countryman might have done. For the rest, he is a Civil War veteran, and about forty years of age—perhaps less, for beards make men look older than they are.”
“And the town with the odd name—Claybanks?”
“I saw it only in the dark, which means I didn’t see it at all. I believe ’tis the county town, and probably it doesn’t differ much from other Western villages of a thousand or two people. ‘Twill be a frightful change from New York, dear girl, for you.”
“You will be there,” replied Grace, with a look that quickly brought her husband’s arms around her. “And you will be prominent among men, instead of merely one man among a dozen in a great office. Every one will know my husband; he won’t any longer go to and from business as unknown as any mere nobody, as you and most other men do in New York. ‘Tis simply ridiculous—’tis unnatural, and entirely wrong, that my husband’s many clever, splendid qualities aren’t known and put to their proper uses. You ought to be the manager of the firm you are with, instead of a mere clerk. I want other people to understand you, and admire you, just as I do, but no one is any one in this great crowded, lonely, dreadful city.”
“There, there!” said Philip. “Don’t make me conceited. Besides, we’ve neglected that check for at least ten minutes. Let’s have another look at it. A thousand dollars!—as much money as both of us have had to spend in a year, after paying our rent! A tenth part of it will be more than enough to take us and our belongings to Claybanks; with the other nine hundred we’ll buy a lot of things with which to delight ourselves and astonish the natives,—silk dresses and other adornments for you, likewise a piano, to replace the one we have been hiring, and some pictures, and bric-à-brac, and we’ll subscribe to a lot of magazines, and—”
“But suppose,” said Grace, “that after reaching there you find the business difficult or unendurable, and wish to come back to New York?”
“Never fear for me! I’m concerned only for you, dear girl. I know Western country places, having been brought up in one; I know the people, and among them you will take place at once as a queen. But queens are not always the most contented of creatures. Their subjects may not be—”
“If my first and dearest subject remains happy,” said Grace, “I shall have no excuse for complaining.”
THE ensuing week was a busy one for Philip and Grace; for to announce an unsuspected marriage and a coming departure at one and the same time to two sets of acquaintances is no ordinary task, even to two social nobodies in New York. Besides, Philip had lost no time in making the legal acknowledgment that was requisite to the cashing of his check, and in spending a portion of the proceeds. A short letter came from Caleb Wright, enclosing one almost equally short from the late Jethro Somerton, which assured Philip of Caleb’s honesty and general trustworthiness, and that the business would not suffer for a few days.
“Caleb is a far better and broader man than I,” Philip’s uncle had written, “but he lacks force and push. I’m satisfied he can’t help it. He is stronger than he looks, and younger too, but he was fool enough to take part in the Civil War, where he got a bullet that is still roaming about in him, besides a thorough malarial soaking that medicine can’t cure. This often makes him dull; sometimes for weeks together. But he knows human nature through and through, and if I had a son to bring up, I’d rather give the job to Caleb than trust myself with it. He has done me a lot of good in some ways, and I feel indebted to him and want him to be well cared for as long as he lives. His salary is small, and he won’t ask to have it increased; but sometimes he’ll insist that you help him with some projects of his own, and I advise you to do it, for he will make your life miserable until you do, and the cost won’t be great. I used to fight him and lose my temper over some of his hobbies, but now I