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PAGE 3

The Devil and Daniel Webster
by [?]

“In the midst of life—” said the stranger, kind of pious. “Listen!” Then a bell began to toll in the valley and Jabez Stone listened, with the sweat running down his face. For he knew it was tolled for Miser Stevens and that he was dead.

“These long-standing accounts,” said the stranger with a sigh; “one really hates to close them. But business is business.”

He still had the bandanna in his hand, and Jabez Stone felt sick as he saw the cloth struggle and flutter.

“Are they all as small as that?” he asked hoarsely.

“Small?” said the stranger. “Oh, I see what you mean. Why, they vary.” He measured Jabez Stone with his eyes, and his teeth showed. “Don’t worry, Mr. Stone,” he said. “You’ll go with a very good grade. I wouldn’t trust you outside the collecting box. Now, a man like Dan’l Webster, of course—well, we’d have to build a special box for him, and even at that, I imagine the wingspread would astonish you. But, in your case, as I was saying—”

“Put that handkerchief away!” said Jabez Stone, and he began to beg and to pray. But the best he could get at the end was a three years’ extension, with conditions.

But till you make a bargain like that, you’ve got no idea of how fast four years can run. By the last months of those years, Jabez Stone’s known all over the state and there’s talk of running him for governor—and it’s dust and ashes in his mouth. For every day, when he gets up, he thinks, “There’s one more night gone,” and every night when he lies down, he thinks of the black pocketbook and the soul of Miser Stevens, and it makes him sick at heart. Till, finally, he can’t bear it any longer, and, in the last days of the the last year, he hitches up his horse and drives off to see Dan’l Webster. For Dan’l was born in New Hampshire, only a few miles from Cross Corners, and it’s well known that he has a particular soft spot for old neighbors.

It was early in the morning when he got to Marshfield, but Dan’l was up already, talking Latin to the farmhands and wrestling with the ram, Goliath, and trying out a new trotter and working up speeches to make against John C. Calhoun. But when he heard a New Hampshireman had come to see him, he dropped everything else he was doing, for that was Dan’l’s way. He gave Jabez Stone a breakfast that five men couldn’t eat, went into the living history of every man and woman in Cross Corners, and finally asked him how he could serve him.

Jabez Stone allowed that it was a kind of mortgage case.

“Well, I haven’t pleaded a mortgage case in a long time, and I don’t generally plead now, except before the Supreme Court,” said Dan’l, “but if I can, I’ll help you.”

“Then I’ve got hope for the first time in ten years,” siad Jabez Stone, and told him the details.

Dan’l walked up and down as he listened, hands behind his back, now and then asking a question, now and then plunging his eyes at the floor, as if they’d bore through it like gimlets. When Jabez Stone had finished, Dan’l puffed out his cheeks and blew. Then he turned to Jabez Stone and a smile broke over his face like the sunrise over Monadncock.

“You’ve certainly given yourself the devil’s own row to hoe, Neighbor Stone,” he said, “but I’ll take your case.”

“You’ll take it?” said Jabez Stone, hardly daring to believe.

“Yes,” said Dan’l Webster. “I’ve got about seventy-five other things to do and the Missouri Compromise to straighten out, but I’ll take your case. For if two New Hampshiremen aren’t a match for the devil, we might as well give the country back to the Indians.”

Then he shook Jabez Stone by the hand and said, “Did you come down here in a hurry?”

“Well, I admit I made time,” said Jabez Stone.

“You’ll go back faster,” siad Dan’l Webster, and he told ’em to hitch up Constitution and Constellation to the carriage. They were matched grays with one white forefoot, and they stepped like greased ligtning.

Well, I won’t describe how excited and pleased the whole Stone family was to have the great Dan’l Webster for a guest, when they finally got there. Jabez Stone had lost his hat on the way, blown off when they overtook a wind, but he didn’t take much account of that. But after supper he sent the family off to bed, for he had most particular business with Mr. Webster. Mrs. Stone wanted them to sit in the front parlor, but Dan’l Webster knew front parlors and said he preferred the kitchen. So it was there they sat, waiting for the stranger, with a jug on the table between them and a bright fire on the hearth—the stranger being scheduled to show up on the stroke of midnight, according to specifications.