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ADDISON'S "WAR" WITH TIBBETTS
MAY-DAY came and passed; and according to custom thereabouts the boys were now hanging May-baskets to the girls, evenings. On the night of May 4th, Addison, Thomas, Halstead, Ned Wilbur and I set off with two May-baskets apiece, eight in all, for the Corners where we intended to hang several to the girls living there, and also to visit three farmhouses near the grist-mill, two miles beyond.
There was no moon, but the night was still and warm, with the spring brooks roaring and the frogs peeping in the swamps. Theodora and Ellen wanted to go; and at length it was agreed that they and Catherine Edwards with Thomas should set off together, taking neighbor Edwards' horse and wagon, and drive over past the Corners, about a mile and a half, to what was locally known as "the picnic grove." There was a cart trail leading off the highway into this grove, and here they agreed to turn in quietly, hitch up the horse and wait for us boys to come on afoot after we had hung a number of baskets at the Corners. They were to take no part in the frolic at the Corners, but wait there for us to join them, later.
As it chanced they were obliged to wait much longer than they or we expected. For we were hotly chased by a party of the Corners girls and boys, and only saved ourselves from capture by taking refuge in the woods half a mile to the northward, where we lay hidden for an hour or more before our pursuers retired and gave up the search.
In consequence, it was past ten o'clock before we were able to reach the picnic grove. Thomas and the girls, in fact, had come to the conclusion that we had been taken captive and shut up for the night. We explained our absence and recounted our adventures; then, leaving the horse and wagon concealed in the grove, we proceeded along the road to Miller Harland's house, half a mile distant, to hang a basket for Alice Harland.
I do not know how late it had grown, for none of us carried a watch, but presume that it must have been past eleven o'clock.
"It will be too bad to knock on their door and rouse them all at this time of night," Theodora said. "Let's pin the basket to the front door and go away without knocking, this time. Alice will find it in the morning."
This less boisterous plan was adopted; and after pinning up a basket for Alice we went on toward the house of a farmer, named Merrill, to leave a basket there for his daughter Lizzie.
There was a long hill to climb and we had reached the summit when we heard a horse and wagon, toiling slowly up from the other side.
"Wonder who is out at this time o' night?" exclaimed Thomas in a low voice, for in that sparsely settled community, it was somewhat unusual to find persons abroad at that hour.
"Maybe the Merrills, themselves," said Catherine. "Let's get out of sight." Thereupon we all covertly left the road and hid in a clump of hemlock shrubs on the south side of it, till the wagon should pass us.
It came slowly up the hill. "Guess they've got a heavy load," whispered Ned. He and Addison peeped out as the team went by. "It's one man alone," whispered Addison, for it was starlight and not uncommonly dark. "What's that he's got in the hind part of the wagon?"
"Looks like a barrel," said Ned. "'Tis a barrel." The wagon had passed by this time and we all stepped forth.
"That looks like Tibbetts' old express wagon," said Tom. "I believe it is, and I shouldn't wonder if that was Tibbetts, himself, driving."
We had started to go on down the hill, when Addison suddenly said, "You go ahead and hang the baskets. I'm going back along."
"What for?" said Tom.
"O, I've got a reason," replied Addison.
"Don't, Ad," said Theodora. "I wouldn't go chasing after that man."
Addison laughed. "Needn't wait for me at the grove. I shall be at home by the time you are," he said and hurried back along the road, in the wake of the team that had passed.
We went on and hung a May-basket for Lizzie Merrill, then retraced our steps to the grove and all rode homeward. There was little fun in it; it was too late at night.
On the orchard hill, just below the Old Squire's, we overtook Addison.
"Well, what did you find out?" Tom asked him.
"O, not much," he replied, evasively; but we noticed that he seemed jolly and a good deal amused about something. He would not answer any questions that night.
Next forenoon, however, while he and I were ploughing in the south field, I asked him if that were really Tibbetts whom we had seen the previous night.
"No," said Addison, "that was Simeon Davis, our new school agent. But 'twas Tibbetts' horse and wagon," he continued after a moment, "and I think I've got that old sinner in a tight place."
"Do you think it was a barrel of rum?" I asked.
"I'm sure it was," said Addison. "I followed along after the wagon as close as I dared and once or twice got quite near. When at last he stopped at Tibbetts' store, I went around through a field and came up close behind the place. Tibbetts was there waiting for him and came out, but did not have a lantern. They scarcely spoke; and as soon as they could get the barrel out of the wagon, they took the horse and wagon into Tibbetts' stable. I slipped round the corner while they were unharnessing and smelled of the barrel. It smelled rummy. I rolled it just a little easy, too, and heard it swash. Then Tibbetts and Davis came back to the platform of the store and opened the bulkhead door there, leading into the cellar. They made scarcely a bit of noise and worked pretty fast, too. In half a minute they had that barrel down the stairs and rolled it away in the cellar. I couldn't tell what part of the-cellar they had put it, for as soon as they got the barrel down the stairs, Tibbetts came back and, sticking his head out, glanced around and listened, then eased the bulkhead door down.
"After that they were down cellar there for fifteen or twenty minutes, and I guess they sampled the liquor, for when they came out Davis was sort of smacking his lips and I heard him say, 'Pooty good stuff, Mr. Tibbetts,' and Tibbetts said, "Twill do.'
"And now," continued Addison with great satisfaction, "I think I know how that old fox has managed to get his liquor so long and beat the Law. We have all wondered how he did it, and have had the officers watching for him at the village and at the railroad station where his other goods and groceries come. But his liquor does not come that way at all. It comes over this hilly country road to the west, from over New Hampshire way somewheres. No one ever has thought of watching that road, for it doesn't seem to lead anywhere, you know. But that's the route the rum comes by; and Davis — the man he put in for school agent — does the hauling, between days."
"But do you suppose you have got evidence enough to convict him in court?" I asked; — for I had heard a great deal about liquor cases since I came to the Old Squire's.
"I don't know," replied Addison a little doubtfully. "It takes strong evidence, for half the jurymen nearly always favor the rum-seller; and if we were to summon Simeon Davis as a witness, he would most likely swear it was a barrel of kerosene, or vinegar. These old topers always side with the rum-seller and will commit perjury, without turning a hair, in a liquor case.
"But I've got another plan," Addison continued, in a lower tone. "I think I can use this to trap Tibbetts another way. Perhaps it will not work, for he is as cunning as Old Nick, himself; but if it does work, I'll make him dance like a rat on a hot stove, see if I don't!"
My curiosity was much excited; but Addison would not say anything more that day.
Two evenings after, while he and I were on the way to the post office together, to get the papers, he told me he was going to say a word to Tibbetts that night. "You watch and see how he takes it," he added.
We went into the store and after standing about a few moments, till nobody else chanced to be near, Addison called for our mail, and as Tibbetts handed it to him, asked, "How does that barrel o' rum sell — the one you got in last Tuesday night at about twelve o'clock?"
Tibbetts started perceptibly and looked very hard at Addison, but did not reply.
"O, you are wasting time being so sly about it," Addison went on, coolly, "I know all about it, who hauled it, where it came from and where you've been getting all your other liquor for a year past. And the County Attorney will soon know, too."
Tibbetts, who had been visibly alarmed, now began to grin a little at the injudicious manner in which Addison threw out his information, from mere bravado.
As soon as we were outside the store and on our way home, I asked Addison if it was not foolish to tell Tibbetts anything about it beforehand. "He thought you were a greenhorn," said I. "You've been and warned him now, and he will have time to get things all fixed before you can do anything."
"That was just what I wanted him to think," replied Addison. "But you wait and see. You know he has had the name of stopping letters at the post office. Two or three times folks have suspected him. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't; I don't know. I am sure he has no more principle than to do it. A man who will break the law constantly in one thing, is likely to in another, if he takes the notion. But it is a saucy business, breaking open another person's letter, you know, a state's prison offense. A liquor trial he would get out of, somehow; but if we could catch him stopping letters, we could make it hot for him. But I am not going to say anything more of this just now, and don't you," Addison continued.
Saturday Addison asked the Old Squire if he and I could drive to the village, to get us each a pair of summer shoes and some calico shirts, by way of a summer outfit. Permission being obtained, Gram, who knew nothing of Addison's schemes, suggested that Halstead should go with us, to purchase similar articles. Addison looked slightly nonplussed at this proposition, and at first opposed it, offering to buy the articles for Halse, and fetch them home to be tried on. Gram insisted that Halstead should go, however, and go he did; but after we had reached the village, and Halstead was at the shoe store, Addison made a signal to me to come away and leave him there. He and I then drove off together. At first I was much in the dark as to what was on foot. Addison explained it, however, as we went along.
"I want to see the County Attorney," said he. "I am going to notify him, in advance, that I shall mail a letter for him at our post office, Monday morning. I shall tell him that folks have suspected Tibbetts of opening other persons' letters, and that if he is that sort of postmaster, we want to find him out; and that this letter is to be a test — a decoy letter.
"I am going to explain about the liquor barrel," Addison continued. "Also some other facts, and ask Attorney Foster to be on the lookout Monday evening for a letter from me, mailed at our office. For I think that Tibbetts, when he sees a letter from me to the County Attorney in the office, will stop it and break it open, to find out what is going on. I am pretty sure he will, for he is just that kind of man. So I am setting a trap for him — a regular bear-trap; and if once I get his old paw into it, he has got to do as I tell him, or I'll have his skin nailed up to dry on my barn-door!"
This project on Addison's part excited me not a little. I do not think that the spirit which animated him was a wholly amiable one; but perhaps it was justifiable as such matters go.
"To make it all the surer," Ad went on, "I am going to call at the village post office, as we go back, and have a little talk with the postmaster there, who knows me pretty well. The mail bag from our small office at the Corners, you know, is taken to the village office first and is there opened and the letters put in the village bag. I am going to have a little talk with the postmaster there, give him a hint of what is on foot, and ask him to take particular notice of the letters that come from our office, Monday forenoon, to see whether there is one for the County Attorney. I want him to take such careful notice that he can testify if he should be called as a witness. You see," Ad continued, "if we can show that a letter was mailed at our office which never reached the village office we shall have a tight squeeze on Tibbetts' fingers, particularly as it is a letter about him and his illegal traffic."
When we reached Attorney Foster's office I sat and held the horse while Addison made his call. He had to wait some time, and when he at length got an audience the matter came near miscarrying altogether; for Attorney Foster said it was an irregular affair which he did not care to have any connection with. But when Ad had made the whole matter plain and told what we had seen the night we hung the May-baskets, the lawyer finally laughed and bade him go ahead, adding that if Tibbetts was innocent no harm would be done him or anybody else.
We drove back to the village, where Addison saw the postmaster as he had planned. We then looked up Halse and drove home.
Addison and I had been so much engrossed in his project that we hurriedly bought calico shirts two or three sizes too large for us, much to Gram's disgust. Halse had bought an excellent fit; and he blurted out at the supper table that we had run off and left him at the village, and that he believed we had driven a good ways, for Old Sol was in a sweat when we came back. No questions were asked, however, and the topic of conversation was changed.
Next day Addison wrote his letter to the County Attorney, stating what we had seen a few nights previously; but it was largely a repetition of what he had already told him. Monday morning we went to the office and mailed it. Before starting, however, Addison showed the envelope to the Old Squire and asked him to bear in mind that on that day we went to the post office to mail such a letter. The old gentleman wished to know why he was writing such a letter and what it contained. Ad explained briefly, not entirely to the Old Squire's satisfaction, although he did not say much.
On our way to the Corners Mr. Wilbur overtook and gave us a ride. Addison bethought himself to show the letter to him, and asked him to take notice, after we got to the office, that he mailed it that morning, and to remember the day and the date. Mr. Wilbur said he would do so, but he looked a little curious, and to satisfy him Addison gave him a hint as to what was on foot.
When we reached the post office Ad went in alone at first, so that Tibbetts would see him. Afterwards, when Mr. Wilbur came in, Addison stepped up and dropped the letter into the letter box. I was standing near, and saw Tibbetts glance at us when the cover of the slip rattled. We then came away.
The next day, in the afternoon, the Old Squire drove to the village; and Gram sent us down with him to change our calico shirts for smaller ones. Addison seized this opportunity to see the postmaster, and learned from him that no letter to the County Attorney had passed through the mail that day. "He may be holding it," the postmaster suggested. "I will keep watch for a week."
Saturday, following, Addison found excuse for going to the village again, and learned that his letter had not appeared at the post office there. We had now no doubt whatever that Tibbetts had stopped the letter and destroyed it after reading the contents. It would have been necessary now merely to obtain the affidavits of the County Attorney and the village postmaster, along with those of Mr. Wilbur and the Old Squire, to put postmaster Tibbetts in an exceedingly unpleasant situation. I suppose it may have been our duty to enforce the law. Crime ought not to be covered tip, nor shielded from its proper penalty. But Addison was a boy who, when he had an object in view, never lost sight of it; he would turn any and every circumstance to account to forward that object. All that winter and spring he had worked to beat Tibbetts and get a school agent appointed who would hire Joel Pierson the following winter. It seemed as if he cared little for anything else.
A few nights afterwards we went to the post office, and on the way there Addison gloated over his victory. "We've got his old paw in the trap," he exclaimed, "and now he shall do as I say, or we'll roast him."
"Well, we are going to have a new postmaster, aren't we?" said I.
"O, I don't know," replied Addison, indifferently. "If Tibbetts will do as I say about the school, I don't much care for turning him out."
"But he isn't fit for postmaster," said I. "A man that will break open letters ought not to be kept in as postmaster."
"Of course he hadn't," replied Ad. "But if he will give in and help hire Joel Pierson, I'll let him go on awhile."
I was not clear in my mind as to this.
"I guess we will stir him up a little, to-night," Ad continued. "He doesn't realize that he is caught yet, you know. So I'm going to rattle the trap chain a little, just to let the old bear see the fix he is in, and then punch him a few times with a pole. I shouldn't wonder if he showed his old teeth and growled, at first. But we have got him hard and fast. You keep your ears open for all he says. He may say or do something that there ought to be a witness for."
We went into the store and Addison asked for the Old Squire's mail. Tibbetts was putting up kerosene for little Mamie Davis who had come in with a can. After she had gone out, he came around to the enclosed space where the post office desk and box frame stood, and handed Addison our mail, without speaking.
Addison took it and said, "Well, Mr. Tibbetts, how does the new barrel hold out? Most time to haul home another one, isn't it?"
The grocer was a heavy, red-faced man; he looked at Addison with an expression of hatred actually venomous.
"Look-a-here, young imppidence, you take your mail and get out of this store," he said in a low but really savage tone.
"O certainly, Mr. Postmaster," Ad replied, going to the door.
"I shouldn't have come into the post office if I had not had business here. I am within my rights."
In the door he stopped, and turning toward Tibbetts who had taken a step after us, said, "By the way, Postmaster, there is something a little queer about a letter that was mailed here last Monday morning at eight o'clock. You probably remember the letter I refer to. It was addressed to the County Attorney at the village. Now you thought, the other day, Postmaster, that I was a greenhorn to say anything about that liquor barrel to you, and to go and write a letter in that way to the County Attorney. But it wasn't so green as it looked. That letter which you stopped and broke open was a decoy letter, mailed here on purpose to trap you."
Tibbetts' angry face changed color a little. "Yes, Postmaster," Addison continued, "we know about your tricks with letters here; that letter was to catch you; and we've caught you. The County Attorney was notified the Saturday before, that this letter was to be mailed Monday morning; and the postmaster at the village was also notified to be on the lookout for it. He is ready to make oath that it was not in the bag, neither on that day nor any day this week."
"No such letter was ever mailed here!" shouted Tibbetts.
"Not too fast, Postmaster," said Addison coolly. "I looked out for that part. I have three witnesses of the fact that I brought the letter here, two of whom can make oath that they saw me put it in the letter box, under your very nose."
Tibbetts was not lacking in intelligence. He perceived at once that he was in a fix. His face had turned quite white, either from rage, or sudden apprehension. The effects of his bad habits suddenly showed in him. We noticed that the hand he thrust out against the case of letter boxes shook and that his coarse hard nerve suddenly failed him. Ad and I, thus far, had stood ready to run, if he attacked us; but now our fear of him abated; we felt instinctively that he would not be able to harm us much.
"Oh, we've got you, Tibbetts, don't you think we haven't!" exclaimed Ad. "You walked right into the trap. It isn't a liquor case at all, this time, though we can make a pretty case out of that, if we choose. But it is something, this time, that you cannot get out of by paying a fine. It isn't the Maine Law but Uncle Sam's postal laws that you're foul of. We've got you now where we can handle you. I have been getting this thing ready for you, for some time, and now I've got you where I can break you. I can close your rum hole here, take this post office away from you and put you in the state prison. You cannot stop a letter to the County Attorney for nothing, you know!"
Tibbetts' visage was a study for me as I stood in a species of juvenile fascination, watching him. To this day I can see the purple and white spots that showed on his face. He did not speak, but stood staring at Addison.
"I want you to understand," Addison continued, walking up closer to him now, looking him full in the face with cool scrutiny, speaking, too, with an intensity of suppressed feeling which made me glance at him curiously, "I want you to understand that I have beaten you at last. There's been trouble in this school district for two years; but it was you and I who have really been doing the fighting; and now I've beaten you and got you in a corner; and I'll put the screws on you, too — unless," Addison continued after a little pause, still looking him in the eye, but changing his tone, "unless you want to knuckle down and do as I say about the school. Joel Pierson is a good teacher. Everybody admits that. We want him here next winter. Now, Postmaster, if you give Simeon Davis the word to hire him, right off, pretty quick now, before he is otherwise engaged, why, I may not press this matter, just yet. Understand?"
Still Tibbetts stood looking at Addison, measuring him, so to speak, and pondering the situation, without speaking. I could see that he was somewhat broken up.
"Joel Pierson is going to teach this school next winter anyhow, you see if he doesn't," Addison said confidently. "If you stand out, I'll put you behind bars. When you are gone, we will choose another agent who will hire Master Pierson."
"Wal, I never said anything agin Pierson, or agin hirin' him," Tibbetts said at length in a changed, conciliatory tone. "Did you ever hear me say that I didn't want him?"
"O that's all right, Postmaster," Ad exclaimed, with a grim laugh. "You and I understand each other pretty well. I don't trust you at all, in anything. But if Simeon Davis writes to Joel Pierson Monday morning, offering him the school, I shall know what that means. If he doesn't, the United States marshal will be around here by Wednesday." And with that we came away.
I was, I remember, much staggered in mind by the compact which Ad had made. I asked him as we went home if he thought such a bargain was the right thing. He laughed and said it was the way to get a good school the next winter.
"But what suppose the Old Squire would say?" I asked him.
"Well, I don't mean to say much about this at home for a while," Addison replied. "I'm pretty sure that the County Attorney will not take it up, because, as he said, it is irregular procedure; and I do not think that the postmaster at the village will move in the matter, unless complaint is made. I calculated that I held the game in my own hands; and I've played it in the way I wanted to. I've got Tibbetts where I can chuck his old head under water if he doesn't do as I bid him."
Addison wrote, himself, to Master Pierson on Monday and received a reply from him saying that agent Davis had written that day offering him the school! When Addison read this letter at the supper table Wednesday evening, there was a general exclamation of surprise as well as pleasure. The Old Squire himself appeared to be astonished and puzzled, then recalling the matter of the letter to the County Attorney, the outside of which he had seen, he remarked that it looked as if Tibbetts was trying to curry favor with us.
"That's what I think, sir," said Ad, giving me a nudge to keep quiet.
"Well, well," said Gram. "I can hardly believe it, but Tibbetts may not be so bad after all as we have thought he was; I suppose we ought to have charity."
This ingenuous remark made me feel rather queer; and it amused Addison so much that for some moments he sat fairly shaken with suppressed laughter. "Grandma," he said at length, "don't you waste any charity on Tibbetts. He didn't do this out of any kindness to us, you may be sure."
"I don't believe he did, either!" exclaimed the old lady, promptly rejecting her charity theory. "But I don't see what has got into him."
Theodora and the Old Squire looked more puzzled than ever.
"What has Ad been doing?" the former asked me, after supper; but I would not reveal anything, further than to wink knowingly and exasperatingly. The Old Squire did not learn the particulars of the compact with Tibbetts for a year or more. When he did, he quite disapproved of it, and even declared that Addison, to some extent, rendered himself answerable for compounding an offense against the postal laws.