The next morning Jim and his horse were absent, ascertaining which fact, the irate Peter started in pursuit. For several days he traced his brother, and finally learned that he was at a hotel on the Iowa border. The landlord said that he couldn’t be seen; he, and a handsome young fellow, with a big trunk, and a tall, thin man, and ex-Judge Bates, were busy together, and had left word they weren’t to be disturbed for a couple of hours on any account. Could Pete hang about the door of the room, so as to see him as soon as possible?—he was his brother. Well, yes; the landlord thought there wouldn’t be any harm in that.
The unscrupulous Peter put his eye to the keyhole; he saw the sheriff daintily dressed, and as pretty a lady as ever was, in spite of her short hair; he heard the judge say:
“By virtue of the authority in me vested by the State of Iowa, I pronounce you man and wife;” and then, with vacant countenance, he sneaked slowly away, murmuring:
“That’s the sort of reward he got, is it? And,” continued Pete, after a moment, which was apparently one of special inspiration, “I’ll bet that’s the kind of deer he said he was goin’ fur on the morning after the chase.”
East Patten was one of the quietest places in the world. The indisposition of a family horse or cow was cause for animated general conversation, and the displaying of a new poster or prospectus on the post-office door was the signal for a spirited gathering of citizens.
Why, therefore, Major Martt had spent the whole of three successive leaves-of-absence at East Patten, where he hadn’t a relative, and where no other soldier lived, no one could imagine. Even professional newsmakers never assigned any reason for it, for although their vigorous and experienced imaginations were fully capable of forming some plausible theory on the subject of the major’s fondness for East Patten, they shrank from making public the results of any such labors.
It was perfectly safe to circulate some purely original story about any ordinary citizen, but there was no knowing how a military man might treat such a matter when it reached his ears, as it was morally sure to do.
Live military men had not been seen in East Patten since the Revolutionary War, three-quarters of a century before the villagers first saw Major Martt; and such soldiers as had been revealed to East Patten through the medium of print were as dangerously touchy as the hair-triggers of their favorite weapons.
So East Patten let the major’s private affairs alone, and was really glad to see the major in person. There was a scarcity of men at East Patten—of interesting men, at least, for the undoubted sanctity of the old men lent no special graces to their features or manners; while the young men were merely the residuum of an active emigration which had for some years been setting westward from East Patten.