“So did you, Mr. Baines. Mighty handy.”
“Oh, me. I had to. I was jest takin’ out reasonable insurance ag’in’ loss....”
“I guess you have a permanent insurance policy against loss, inside your head.”
“Um!...” said Scattergood, slipping his feet into his shoes, preparatory to leaving, “difficulty about that kind of insurance is that most folks lets it lapse ’long about the first week after they’re born.”
HE BORROWS A GRANDMOTHER
The world has come to think of Scattergood Baines as an astute and perhaps tricky business man, or as the political despot of a state. Because this is so it has overlooked or neglected many stories about the man much more indicative of character, and more fascinating of detail than those well-known and often-repeated tales of his sagacity in trading or his readiness in outwitting a political enemy. To one who makes a careful study of Scattergood’s life with a view to writing a truthful biography, he inevitably becomes more interesting and more lovable when seen simply as a neighbor, a fellow townsman of other New Englanders, and as a country hardware merchant. There is a certain charm in the naivete with which he was wont to stick his pudgy finger in the affairs of others with benignant purpose; and it is not easy to believe other tales of hardness, of ruthless beating down of opposition, when one repeatedly comes upon well-authenticated instances in which he has stood quietly hidden behind the scenes to pull the strings and to make his neighbors bow and dance and posture in accordance with some schemes which he has formulated for their greater happiness.
Scattergood loved to meddle. Perhaps that is his dominant trait. He could see nothing moving in the community about him and withhold his hand. If Old Man Bogle set about buying a wheelbarrow, Scattergood would intervene in the transaction; if Pliny Pickett stopped at the Widow Ware’s gate to deliver a message, Scattergood saw an opportunity to unite lonely hearts—and set about uniting them forthwith; if little Sam Kettleman, junior, and Wade Lumley’s boy, Tom, came to blows, Scattergood became peacemaker or referee, as the needs of the moment seemed to dictate. It would be difficult to find a pie in Coldriver which was not marked by his thumb. So it came about that when he became convinced that Grandmother Penny was unhappy because of various restrictions and inhibitions placed on her by her son, the dry-goods merchant, and by her daughter-in-law, he determined to intervene. Scattergood was partial to old ladies, and this partiality can be traced to his earliest days in Coldriver. He loved white hair and wrinkled cheeks and eyes that had once been youthful and glowing, but were dulled and dimmed by watching the long procession of the years.