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The Flat-Iron Lot
by [?]

“O my soul, gran’ther!” breathed Mary, clasping her little brown hands. “O my soul!” Her face grew curiously mature. It seemed to mirror his. She leaned forward, in a deadly earnestness. “Gran’ther,” said she, “did they settle here first? Or–or was it Sudleigh?”

Now, indeed, was Nicholas Oldfield the herald of news good both to tell and hear.

“The fust settlement,” said he, as if he read it from the book of fate, “was made in Tiverton, on the sixteenth day of the month; the second in Sudleigh, on the twenty-fifth.”

“So, when you guessed at the date, and told parson to have the celebration then, you got it right?”

“I got it right,” replied Nicholas quietly. “But pa’son shall see the rec’ids, an’ I’ll recommend him to put ’em under lock an’ key.”

The two sat there and looked at each other, with an outwelling of great content. Then Mary passed her mug, and while Nicholas filled it, he gave her an oft-repeated charge:–

“Don’t you open your head now, Mary. All this is between you an’ me. I’ll just mention it to pa’son, an’ make up my mind whether he sees the meanin’ on’t. But don’t you say one word to your father an’ mother. To them it don’t signify.”

Mary nodded wisely. She knew, with the philosophy of a much older experience, that she and gran’ther lived alone in a nest of kindly aliens. As if their mention evoked a foreign presence, her mother’s voice sounded that instant from the door:–

“Mary, why under the sun didn’t you come back? I sent word for you to run over with her, father, an’ have some supper. Well, if you two ain’t thick!”.

“We’re havin’ a dish o’ discourse,” returned Nicholas quietly.

Young Nick’s Hattie was forty-five, but she looked much younger. Extreme plumpness had insured her against wrinkles, and her light brown hair was banded smoothly back. Hattie’s originality lay in a desire for color, and therein she overstepped the bounds of all decorum. It was customary to see her barred across with enormous plaids, or stripes going the broad way; and so long had she lived under such insignia that no one would have known her without them. She came in with soft, heavy footfalls, and sat down in the little rocking-chair at Mr. Oldfield’s right hand. She smiled at him, somewhat nervously.

“Well, father,” said she, “you got home!”

Nicholas helped himself to another half cup of tea, after holding the teapot tentatively across to Mary’s mug.

“Yes,” he answered, in his dry and gentle fashion, “I’ve got home.”

Hattie began rocking, in a rapid staccato, to punctuate her speech.

“Well,” she began, “I’ll say my say an’ done with it. There’s goin’ to be a town-meetin’ to-night, an’ Nicholas sent me over to mention it. ‘Father’ll want to be on hand,’ says he.”

Mr. Oldfield pushed back his cup, and then his chair. He bent his keen blue eyes upon her.

“Town meetin’ this time o’ year?” said he. “What for?”

“Oh, it’s about the celebration. Old Mr. Eaton”–

“What Eaton?”

“William W.”

“He that went away in war time, an’ made money in wool? Old War-Wool Eaton?”

Nicholas nodded, at her assent, and his look blackened. He knew what was coming.

“Well, he sent word he meant to give us a clock, same as he had other towns, an’ he wanted we should have it up before the celebration.”

“Yes,” said Nicholas Oldfield, “he’ll give us a clock, will he? I knew he would. I’ve said ’twas comin’. He give one to Saltash; he’s gi’n ’em all over the county. Do you know what them clocks be? They’ve got letters round the dial, in place o’ figgers; an’ the letters spell out, ‘In Memory of Me.’ An’ down to Saltash they’ve gi’n up sayin’ it’s quarter arter twelve, or the like o’ that. They say it’s O minutes past I.”

He glared at her. Young Nick’s Hattie thought she had never heard father speak with such bitterness; and indeed it was true. Never before had he been assailed on his own ground; it seemed as if the whole township now conspired to bait him.