Holcomb had reasoned with Freme and had threatened him with discharge a dozen times, his example being a bad one for the French Canadians under his immediate care. As a last resort he had taken Belle Pollard, Freme’s sweetheart, a waitress at Morrison’s, into his confidence. If Belle could keep Freme sober over Sunday—it was impossible to keep him away from her—Holcomb would speak a good word to Thayor for Freme and Belle and then they could both get a place as caretakers of the house during the coming winter, be married in the fall and so live happy ever after.
The girl promised, and the next Saturday the test came.
“If Freme will let liquor alone,” he had written to Thayor the day these final arrangements were completed, “you couldn’t have a better man or a better girl, but I’m afraid we’ll have to move Bill Morrison’s bar-room into Canada to accomplish it.”
The result of this bargain Holcomb learned from the girl herself as she sat in his cabin, the glow of a swinging lamp lighting up her face.
On Saturday night, as usual, so Belle said, the Clown, his wages in his pocket, had sat in one corner of Morrison’s bar-room, the heels of his red-socked feet clutched in the rung of his chair. A moment before there had been a good-natured, rough-and-tumble wrestle as he and another lumber jack grappled. The Clown had thrown his antagonist fairly, the lumberjack’s shoulders striking the rough floor with a whack that made things jingle. The next moment the two had treated one another at the bar, and with a mutual, though maudlin appreciation of each other had gone back to their respective chairs among the line tilted against the wall.
At that moment she had opened the bar-room door and announced supper. Instantaneously the front legs of the line of tilted chairs came to the floor with a bang. The Clown reached the girl and the half-open door first.
“Blast you, Freme Skinner,” she said, “be you a-goin’ in or out?”
“Wall, I swow, Belle,” remarked the Clown, steadying himself and turning his bleary eyes on the closed door, “you be techier ’n a sp’ilt colt, ain’t ye?”
Soon the long table was filled by the hungry crowd. They sat heavily in their chairs, their coats off, their hair slicked down for the occasion. The Clown was seated at one end of the table, nearest the swing door leading to the kitchen. He wore a red undershirt, cut low about his bull neck. It was Belle’s ring that dangled from one ear. Loosing the strap about his waist he began to sing:
“My gal has a bright blue eye,
And she steps like a fox in the snow;
And a thousand miles I’d tra-vel
To find her other beau.”
Then in crescendo:
“She used to live in Stove-pipe City—”
Here the girl kicked the swing door and appeared with the first assortment of bird dishes.
“Here, boys, you’ll kinder have to sort ’em out for yerselves,” she laughed, her eager eyes watching the Clown.