Down at the barn, the wide threshing floor had been covered with gay rag-rugs, and strewn with tables, couches, and chairs in picturesque profusion. Roomy box-stalls had been carpeted deep with clean straw, curtained off with gaudy bed-quilts, and converted into cozy sleeping apartments. The mow and the stalls had been screened off with lace curtains and blazing counterpanes, and the whole effect was one of Oriental luxury and splendor. Alas, it was only an “effect”! The red-hot parlor stove smoked abominably, the pipe carried other smoke out through the hawmow window, only to let it blow back again. Chill cross-draughts whistled in from cracks too numerous to be stopped up, and the miserable Van Kamps could only cough and shiver, and envy the Tutts and the driver, non-combatants who had been fed two hours before.
Up in the second floor suite there was a roaring fire in the big fireplace, but there was a chill in the room that no mere fire could drive away—the chill of absolute emptiness.
A man can outlive hardships that would kill a woman, but a woman can endure discomforts that would drive a man crazy.
Mr. Ellsworth went out to hunt up Uncle Billy, with an especial solace in mind. The landlord was not in the house, but the yellow gleam of a lantern revealed his presence in the woodshed, and Mr. Ellsworth stepped in upon him just as he was pouring something yellow and clear into a tumbler from a big jug that he had just taken from under the flooring.
“How much do you want for that jug and its contents?” he asked, with a sigh of gratitude that this supply had been overlooked.
Before Mr. Tutt could answer, Mr. Van Kamp hurried in at the door.
“Wait a moment!” he cried. “I want to bid on that!”
“This here jug hain’t fer sale at no price,” Uncle Billy emphatically announced, nipping all negotiations right in the bud. “It’s too pesky hard to sneak this here licker in past Marge’t, but I reckon it’s my treat, gents. Ye kin have all ye want.”
One minute later Mr. Van Kamp and Mr. Ellsworth were seated, one on a sawbuck and the other on a nail-keg, comfortably eyeing each other across the work bench, and each was holding up a tumbler one-third filled with the golden yellow liquid.
“Your health, sir,” courteously proposed Mr. Ellsworth.
“And to you, sir,” gravely replied Mr. Van Kamp.
Ralph and Evelyn happened to meet at the pump, quite accidentally, after the former had made half a dozen five-minute-apart trips for a drink. It was Miss Van Kamp, this time, who had been studying on the mutual acquaintance problem.
“You don’t happen to know the Tylers, of Parkersburg, do you?” she asked.
“The Tylers! I should say I do!” was the unexpected and enthusiastic reply. “Why, we are on our way now to Miss Georgiana Tyler’s wedding to my friend Jimmy Carston. I’m to be best man.”