He had had all the restaurant and hotel trade. Men coming up in motors or on horseback, dusty and tired, had eaten and drunk at his squalid tables, swearing at the food but unable to get anything better. And now here was a woman who covered her counters with snowy oilcloth—who had shining urns of coffees, delectable pots of baked beans, who put up in neat boxes lunches that made men rush back for more and more and more—and whose sandwiches were the talk of the coast!
It had to be stopped.
The only way to stop it was to make it uncomfortable for Jane. There were many ways in which the thing could be done—by small and subtle persecutions, by insinuations, by words bandied from one man’s evil mouth to another. Tillotson had done the thing before. But he found as the days went on that he had not before had a Jane to deal with. She was linked in the minds of most of the men with a whiteness like that of her own spotless shop.
Gradually Jane became aware of a sinister undercurrent. She found herself dealing with forces that threatened her. There were men who came into her shop to buy, and who stayed to say things that set her cheeks flaming. She mentioned none of these things to Henry or Atwood or Tommy. But she spoke once to O-liver.
“Tillotson must be at the bottom of it. Two drunken loafers stumbled in the other day, straight from the hotel. And when I telephoned to Tillotson to come and get them he laughed at me.”
Tillotson was the sheriff. It was an office which he did not honor. In a month or two his term would be up. O-liver riding alone into the mountains stated the solution: “I’ve got to beat Tillotson.”
But first he had things to say to Jane. Since his talk with his father he had known that it must come. He had stayed away from her as much as possible. It had not been a conspicuous withdrawal, for she was very busy and had little time for him. Tommy’s mother kept her little home in order and looked after the invalid, so that Jane could give undivided attention to her growing business. O-liver saw her most often at the shop, when he stopped in for a pot of beans—eating them on the spot and discoursing on many things.
“My Boston grandmother baked beans like this,” he told her on one occasion. “She was a great little woman, Jane, as essentially of the East as you are of the West. She held to the traditions of the past; you are blazing new ways for women, selling sandwiches in the market-place. By Jove, it was superb the way you did it, Jane!”
She was always in a glow when he left her. Here was a man different from her father, different from Henry Bittinger and Atwood Jones. She smiled a little as she thought of Atwood. He had asked her to marry him. He had told her of the things he had ahead of him that he wanted her to share. And he had been much downcast when she had refused him. She had, he felt, smudged the brightness of his splendid future. He couldn’t understand a woman throwing away a thing like that.