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and waiting for you. Jump into my gasoline chariot and we'll be there in an eye-twink. Ready?”
"How about my things?” asked Laurie, indicating her household goods.
"Hi, you, Abraham Lincoln Palm Beach Jackson!” yelled Hopkins, interrogating heated space.
“Yas, Boss, yas, sir!" answered one of the negroes, melting into view.
“Where's your good-for-nothing brother?
“Right hyar, sir," answered that gentleman himself, appearing with a pleased grin.
Napoleonically folding his hands underneath the tail of his wrinkled blue serge jacket Mr. Hopkins flashed his eye at the trunks and crates, and observed:
“Get a cart, gather up that truck yonder, and fetch it along after us. Understand?"
“Yas, Boss. Yess-ee," responded Abraham Lincoln Palm Beach Jackson.
“Shall I give you a leg up?” Mr. Hopkins then asked The McAllister, seeing him make ready to enter the
From discreet background Laurie vehemently shook her head. If one thing more than another vexed her grandfather to the bursting point, that one thing was being offered assistance before he asked for it. Her constant duty was to watch him carefully till he reached the danger mark, then to aid him at the last nick of time.
“Stubborner than a baby, hain't he?” asked Mr. Hopkins very admiringly and far too loudly.
The McAllister was not in the least deaf, but Hunnerton Hopkins had no other explanation of the old gentleman's ignoring of him. To be deaf and dumb under attacks from the common people was Andrew McAllister's majestic method of escaping from them.
Hopkins helped Laurie to her seat, boxed her in with a bang, jumped to his own, and cried, “Now we're off !”
He suited the action to the word, but in front of the dilapidated store he slowed to a standstill.
“How about canned cow?” he asked intensely of Laurie.
“Canned what?” she questioned, knitting her brows over it in vain.
“Cow,” he repeated. “No fresh milk in this part of the world.”
“Oh, yes,” she replied, comprehending at last. Her brows knitted closer as she studied the store. For in addition to a home-inked sign of "FANCY GRO CERIES”—with the N printed upside down of course, there being some rural germ which always afflicts this letter badly—the window erupted at intervals with the utterly unrelated words "SHOES,” “CIGARS,” “DRUGS,” “POST OFFICE,” “FERTILIZERS” — the whole in a building not much more spacious than a coal bin, and just about as clean. “I think I won't buy anything here, but will wait till we come to a real store, Mr. Hopkins.”
“I'm afraid there's nothing more real this side of the New Jerusalem," he remarked, scratching his head with eloquence.
“Oh, well,” said Laurie, vaguely brave. She stepped out of the car.
“I'll go with you and introduce you to the proprietor,” said Hopkins, doing it; at least he tried to be introductory, getting as far as “Here, Lem Menzies, here's a good customer.”
But this happened to be the moment when Lem Menzies was being postmaster to the extent of checking some stamps.
“Shucks, you put me all out,” he murmured, impatiently patient. “Hush up, Hun, and wait on you own self lak you always do."
“You want yeast and coal oil,” said "Hun," establishing himself capably behind the counter.
“Do I?” asked Laurie, heartily hoping not.
“Yeast, coal oil, matches, flour, baking powder, and roach paste," said Hopkins expertly.
“What is made with roach paste?” asked the girl timidly. It was a kitchen condiment of which she had never before heard.
“Dead roaches,” he answered. “Most satisfactory product of this pleasant land. Tea, coffee, sugar, butter, and fly paper."
“You seem to be provisioning me for a desert island,” she said, her heart sinking.
“That's about it,” he said, letting fall the admission by accident owing to his absorption in the task of wrapping the baking powder. A real estate man can, with neatness and finality, tie up a sale, tie up a customer, tie up a parcel of land, but he can not tie up a bundle.
“Salt, crackers, cocoa,” murmured Laurie. It was her turn to play.
“Soap," scored Hopkins triumphantly.
“That's all,” she said definitely, remembering her purse.
“No, it isn't,” he answered, just as definitely. “Crackers, molasses, white bacon."
This last turned out to be a salt-incrusted variety of raw pork, smelling as if it had once gone bad in
its career but was now taking a slight turn for the better.
“It will be a long while before either of us eat that," prognosticated the girl firmly.
“I'll teach you how to cook it when we get up to the house," promised Hopkins, wrapping it in a newspaper. “When you're hungry it eats good as fried chicken."
Leaving the wildly swaddled provisions to be picked up by Abraham Lincoln Palm Beach Jackson and his brother, and leaving the items and the money to be audited by Lem Menzies of the single mind, Hopkins was soon whirling his patrons on their way again.
As she looked about her first on this side, then on that, seeing nothing but vast stretches of coarse sword grass growing from still vaster stretches of sand, the girl felt that the desert island theory was being strengthened by every turn of the wheel.
The most depressing thing about the landscape was that it unrolled, not in new vistas, but in endless repetitions of the old. A newcomer could get hopelessly lost in one acre of it. Each piece of palmetto scrub was exactly like the next piece. The pine tree back of you was the replica of the pine tree in front of you. And all of the pine trees were in a bad state of repair, owning charred stumps of arms and blasted heads. Quite a number of them were dead; some of the corpses leaned starkly back in the arms of a live brother, but most of them preferred to fall across the road. Owing to this the car was soon gazelling again.
“Ain't she a bird?” asked the owner proudly, as the three of them alighted back in their seats after a little airing incident to a passage over one of the logs. “She can climb a tree, jump a fence, do most everything for
me that I want 'cept open a gate. Got a car, Miss McAllister?"
"No," she answered.
“Bicycle?” he besought, his blue eyes widening tragically. Under the loosening of his grip on the steering wheel, his car was skipping like fleas.
“Hadn't you better hold on to it?” she asked.
“It's a Fode,” he announced, delightedly mentioning a make that usually did not stand for glory. “Knows its way in the dark. But say, Miss McAllister, don't you even own a wheelbarrow?"
"Not even that,” she admitted.
“My, my, my!” he ejaculated, a few bars of “Old Black Joe" coming from him again. “Well it's lucky we stocked up good down yonder,” he concluded philosophically. Then after whizzing a full quarter of a mile in silence he ended the sentence, “For you never would be able to walk it, would you?”
"No," she answered thoughtfully. Her few steps from the car to the store had taught her that hot sand can clog the feet worse than the shackles of sin that we hear about on Sunday.
After going another mile Hopkins cried jubilantly, “Coming to good roads, see?”
True, the bumping was much less, but "good roads" merely meant that the ruts were mended by being faithfully overlaid with pine needles. Not yet resident enough to appreciate this big fact at its real value, Miss McAllister took a leaf out of her grandfather's book, and was silent.