During a not inconsiderable period Mr. Fluker indulged the honorable conviction that at last he had found the vein in which his best talents lay, and he was happy in foresight of the prosperity and felicity which that discovery promised to himself and his family. His native activity found many more objects for its exertion than before. He rode out to the farm, not often, but sometimes, as a matter of duty, and was forced to acknowledge that Sam was managing better than could have been expected in the absence of his own continuous guidance. In town he walked about the hotel, entertained the guests, carved at the meals, hovered about the stores, the doctors' offices, the wagon and blacksmith shops, discussed mercantile, medical, mechanical questions with specialists in all these departments, throwing into them all more and more of politics as the intimacy between him and his patron and chief boarder increased.
Now as to that patron and chief boarder. The need of extending his acquaintance seemed to press upon Mr. Pike with ever-increasing weight. He was here and there, all over the county; at the county-seat, at the county villages, at justices' courts, at executors' and administrators' sales, at quarterly and protracted religious meetings, at barbecues of every dimension, on hunting excursions and fishing frolics, at social parties in all neighborhoods. It got to be said of Mr. Pike that a freer acceptor of hospitable invitations, or a better appreciator of hospitable intentions, was not and needed not to be found possibly in the whole state. Nor was this admirable deportment confined to the county in which he held so high official position. He attended, among other occasions less public, the spring sessions of the supreme and county courts in the four adjoining counties: the guest of acquaintance old and new over there. When starting upon such travels, he would sometimes breakfast with his traveling companion in the village, and, if somewhat belated in the return, sup with him also.
Yet, when at Flukers', no man could have been a more cheerful and otherwise satisfactory boarder than Mr. Matt Pike. He praised every dish set before him, bragged to their very faces of his host and hostess, and in spite of his absences was the oftenest to sit and chat with Marann when her mother would let her go into the parlor. Here and everywhere about the house, in the dining-room, in the passage, at the foot of the stairs, he would joke with Marann about her country beau, as he styled poor Sim Marchman, and he would talk as though he was rather ashamed of Sim, and wanted Marann to string her bow for higher game.
Brer Sam did manage well, not only the fields, but the yard. Every Saturday of the world he sent in something or other to his sister. I don't know whether I ought to tell it or not, but for the sake of what is due to pure veracity I will. On as many as three different occasions Sim Marchman, as if he had lost all self-respect, or had not a particle of tact, brought in himself, instead of sending by a negro, a bucket of butter and a coop of spring chickens as a free gift to Mrs. Fluker. I do think, on my soul, that Mr. Matt Pike was much amused by such degradation—however, he must say that they were all first-rate. As for Marann, she was very sorry for Sim, and wished he had not brought these good things at all.
Nobody knew how it came about; but when the Flukers had been in town somewhere between two and three months, Sim Marchman, who (to use his own words) had never bothered her a great deal with his visits, began to suspect that what few he made were received by Marann lately with less cordiality than before; and so one day, knowing no better, in his awkward, straightforward country manners, he wanted to know the reason why. Then Marann grew distant, and asked Sim the following question:
"You know where Mr. Pike's gone, Mr. Marchman?"
Now the fact was, and she knew it, that Marann Fluker had never before, not since she was born, addressed that boy as Mister.
The visitor's face reddened and reddened.
"No," he faltered in answer; "no—no—ma'am, I should say. I—I don't know where Mr. Pike's gone."
Then he looked around for his hat, discovered it in time, took it into his hands, turned it around two or three times, then, bidding good-bye without shaking hands, took himself off.
Mrs. Fluker liked all the Marchmans, and she was troubled somewhat when she heard of the quickness and manner of Sim's departure; for he had been fully expected by her to stay to dinner.
"Say he didn't even shake hands, Marann? What for? What you do to him?"
"Not one blessed thing, ma; only he wanted to know why I wasn't gladder to see him." Then Marann looked indignant.
"Say them words, Marann?"
"No, but he hinted 'em."
"What did you say then?"
"I just asked, a-meaning nothing in the wide world, ma—I asked him if he knew where Mr. Pike had gone."
"And that were answer enough to hurt his feelin's. What you want to know where Matt Pike's gone for, Marann?"
"I didn't care about knowing, ma, but I didn't like the way Sim talked."
"Look here, Marann. Look straight at me. You'll be mighty fur off your feet if you let Matt Pike put things in your head that hain't no business a-bein' there, and special if you find yourself a-wantin' to know where he's a-perambulatin' in his everlastin' meanderin's. Not a cent has he paid for his board, and which your pa say he have a' understandin' with him about allowin' for his absentees, which is all right enough, but which it's now goin' on to three mont's, and what is comin' to us I need and I want. He ought, your pa ought to let me bargain with Matt Pike, because he know he don't understan' figgers like Matt Pike. He don't know exactly what the bargain were; for I've asked him, and he always begins with a multiplyin' of words and never answers me."
On his next return from his travels Mr. Pike noticed a coldness in Mrs. Fluker's manner, and this enhanced his praise of the house. The last week of the third month came. Mr. Pike was often noticed, before and after meals, standing at the desk in the hotel office (called in those times the bar-room) engaged in making calculations. The day before the contract expired Mrs. Fluker, who had not indulged herself with a single holiday since they had been in town, left Marann in charge of the house, and rode forth, spending part of the day with Mrs. Marchman, Sim's mother. All were glad to see her, of course, and she returned smartly, freshened by the visit. That night she had a talk with Marann, and oh, how Marann did cry!
The very last day came. Like insurance policies, the contract was to expire at a certain hour. Sim Marchman came just before dinner, to which he was sent for by Mrs. Fluker, who had seen him as he rode into town.
"Hello, Sim," said Mr. Pike as he took his seat opposite him. "You here? What's the news in the country? How's your health? How's crops?"
"Jest mod'rate, Mr. Pike. Got little business with you after dinner, ef you can spare time."
"All right. Got a little matter with Pink here first. 'Twon't take long. See you arfter amejiant, Sim."
Never had the deputy been more gracious and witty. He talked and talked, outtalking even Mr. Fluker; he was the only man in town who could do that. He winked at Marann as he put questions to Sim, some of the words employed in which Sim had never heard before. Yet Sim held up as well as he could, and after dinner followed Marann with some little dignity into the parlor. They had not been there more than ten minutes when Mrs. Fluker was heard to walk rapidly along the passage leading from the dining-room, to enter her own chamber for only a moment, then to come out and rush to the parlor door with the gig-whip in her hand. Such uncommon conduct in a woman like Mrs. Pink Fluker of course needs explanation.
When all the other boarders had left the house, the deputy and Mr.
Fluker having repaired to the bar-room, the former said:
"Now, Pink, for our settlement, as you say your wife think we better have one. I'd 'a' been willin' to let accounts keep on a-runnin', knowin' what a straightforrards sort o' man you was. Your count, ef I ain't mistakened, is jes' thirty-three dollars, even money. Is that so, or is it not?"
"That's it, to a dollar, Matt. Three times eleben make thirty-three, don't it?"
"It do, Pink, or eleben times three, jes' which you please. Now here's my count, on which you'll see, Pink, that not nary cent have I charged for infloonce. I has infloonced a consider'ble custom to this house, as you know, bo'din' and transion. But I done that out o' my respects of you an' Missis Fluker, an' your keepin' of a fa'r—I'll say, as I've said freckwent, a very fa'r house. I let them infloonces go to friendship, ef you'll take it so. Will you, Pink Fluker?"
"Cert'nly, Matt, an' I'm a thousand times obleeged to you, an'—"
"Say no more, Pink, on that p'int o' view. Ef I like a man, I know how to treat him. Now as to the p'ints o' absentees, my business as dep'ty sheriff has took me away from this inconsider'ble town freckwent, hain't it?"
"It have, Matt, er somethin' else, more'n I were a expectin', an'—"
"Jes' so. But a public officer, Pink, when jooty call on him to go, he got to go; in fack he got to goth, as the Scripture say, ain't that so?"
"I s'pose so, Matt, by good rights, a—a official speakin'."
Mr. Fluker felt that he was becoming a little confused.
"Jes' so. Now, Pink, I were to have credics for my absentees 'cordin' to transion an' single-meal bo'ders an' sleepers; ain't that so?"
"I—I—somethin' o' that sort, Matt," he answered vaguely.
"Jes' so. Now look here," drawing from his pocket a paper. "Itom one. Twenty-eight dinners at half a dollar makes fourteen dollars, don't it? Jes' so. Twenty-five breakfasts at a quarter makes six an' a quarter, which make dinners an' breakfasts twenty an' a quarter. Foller me up, as I go up, Pink. Twenty-five suppers at a quarter makes six an' a quarter, an' which them added to the twenty an' a quarter makes them twenty-six an' a half. Foller, Pink, an' if you ketch me in any mistakes in the kyarin' an' addin', p'int it out. Twenty-two an' a half beds—an' I say half, Pink, because you 'member one night when them A'gusty lawyers got here 'bout midnight on their way to co't, rather'n have you too bad cramped, I ris to make way for two of 'em; yit as I had one good nap, I didn't think I ought to put that down but for half. Them makes five dollars half an' seb'n pence, an' which kyar'd on to the t'other twenty-six an' a half, fetches the whole cabool to jes' thirty-two dollars an' seb'n pence. But I made up my mind I'd fling out that seb'n pence, an' jes' call it a dollar even money, an' which here's the solid silver."
In spite of the rapidity with which this enumeration of counter-charges was made, Mr. Fluker commenced perspiring at the first item, and when the balance was announced his face was covered with huge drops.
It was at this juncture that Mrs. Fluker, who, well knowing her husband's unfamiliarity with complicated accounts, had felt her duty to be listening near the bar-room door, left, and quickly afterwards appeared before Marann and Sim as I have represented.
"You think Matt Pike ain't tryin' to settle with your pa with a dollar? I'm goin' to make him keep his dollar, an' I'm goin' to give him somethin' to go 'long with it."
"The good Lord have mercy upon us!" exclaimed Marann, springing up and catching hold of her mother's skirts, as she began her advance towards the bar-room. "Oh, ma! for the Lord's sake!—Sim, Sim, Sim, if you care _any_thing for me in this wide world, don't let ma go into that room!"
"Missis Fluker," said Sim, rising instantly, "wait jest two minutes till I see Mr. Pike on some pressin' business; I won't keep you over two minutes a-waitin'."
He took her, set her down in a chair trembling, looked at her a moment as she began to weep, then, going out and closing the door, strode rapidly to the bar-room.
"Let me help you settle your board-bill, Mr. Pike, by payin' you a little one I owe you."
Doubling his fist, he struck out with a blow that felled the deputy to the floor. Then catching him by his heels, he dragged him out of the house into the street. Lifting his foot above his face, he said:
"You stir till I tell you, an' I'll stomp your nose down even with the balance of your mean face. 'Tain't exactly my business how you cheated Mr. Fluker, though, 'pon my soul, I never knowed a trifliner, lowdowner trick. But I owed you myself for your talkin' 'bout and your lyin' 'bout me, and now I've paid you; an' ef you only knowed it, I've saved you from a gig-whippin'. Now you may git up."
"Here's his dollar, Sim," said Mr. Fluker, throwing it out of the window. "Nervy say make him take it."
The vanquished, not daring to refuse, pocketed the coin, and slunk away amid the jeers of a score of villagers who had been drawn to the scene.
In all human probability the late omission of the shaking of Sim's and Marann's hands was compensated at their parting that afternoon. I am more confident on this point because at the end of the year those hands were joined inseparably by the preacher. But this was when they had all gone back to their old home; for if Mr. Fluker did not become fully convinced that his mathematical education was not advanced quite enough for all the exigencies of hotel-keeping, his wife declared that she had had enough of it, and that she and Marann were going home. Mr. Fluker may be said, therefore, to have followed, rather than led, his family on the return.
As for the deputy, finding that if he did not leave it voluntarily he would be drummed out of the village, he departed, whither I do not remember if anybody ever knew.
The Hotel Experience of Mr. Pink Fluker
A Classic Funny Story
Richard Malcolm Johnston