We rode back to our colts.
Pap Spooner was about sixty-five years old, and the greatest miser in San Lorenzo County. He lived on less than a dollar a day, and allowed the rest of his income to accumulate at the rate of one per cent, a month, compound interest.
When Ajax and I first made his acquaintance he was digging post-holes. The day, a day in September, was uncommonly hot. I said, indiscreetly: “Mr. Spooner, why do you dig post-holes?”
With a queer glint in his small, dull grey eyes he replied, curtly: “Why are you boys a-shootin’ quail—hey? ’Cause ye like to, I reckon. Fer the same reason I like ter dig post-holes. It’s jest recreation— to me.”
When we were out of earshot Ajax laughed.
“Recreation!” said my brother. “Nothing will ever recreate him. Of all the pinchers——”
“Shush-h-h!” said I. “It’s too hot.”
Our neighbours told many stories of Pap Spooner. Even that bland old fraud, John Jacob Dumble, admitted sorrowfully that he was no match for Pap in a horse, cattle, or pig deal; and George Leadham, the blacksmith, swore that Pap would steal milk from a blind kitten. The humorists of the village were of opinion that Heaven had helped Pap because he had helped himself so freely out of other folks’ piles.
In appearance Andrew Spooner was small, thin, and wiry, with the beak of a turkey-buzzard, the complexion of an Indian, and a set of large, white, very ill-fitting false teeth, which clicked like castanets whenever the old man was excited.
Now, in California, “Pap” is a nom de caresse for father. But, so far as we knew, Pap had no children; accordingly we jumped to the conclusion that Andrew Spooner got his nickname from a community who had rechristened the tallest man in our village “Shorty” and the ugliest “Beaut.” The humorists knew that Pap might have been the father of the foothills, the George Washington of Paradise, but he wasn’t.
Later we learned that Pap had buried a wife and child. And the child, it seems, had called him “Pap.” We made the inevitable deduction that such paternal instincts as may have bloomed long ago in the miser’s heart were laid in a small grave in the San Lorenzo Cemetery. Our little school-marm, Alethea-Belle Buchanan, said (without any reason): “I reckon Mr. Spooner must have thought the world of his little one.” Whereupon Ajax replied gruffly that as much could be said, doubtless, of a—vulture.
The word “vulture” happened to be pat, apart from the shape of Andrew Spooner’s nose, because we were in the middle of the terrible spring which succeeded the dry year. Even now one does not care to talk about that time of drought. During the previous twelve months the relentless sun had destroyed nearly every living thing, vegetable and animal, in our county. Then, in the late