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Two for a Cent
by [?]

They were not nearly so yellow as the sky when Abercrombie walked up on the porch and sat down upon an immemorial bench, for the sky was every shade of yellow, the color of tan, the color of gold, the color of peaches. Across the street and beyond a vacant lot rose a rampart of vivid red brick houses and it seemed to Abercrombie that the picture they rounded out was beautiful — the warm, earthy brick and the sky fresh after the rain, changing and gray as a dream. All his life when he had wanted to rest his mind he had called up into it the image those two things had made for him when the air was clear just at this hour. So Abercrombie sat there thinking about his young days.

Ten minutes later another man turned the corner of the street, a different sort of man, both in the texture of his clothes and the texture of his soul. He was forty-six years old and he was a shabby drudge, married to a woman, who, as a girl, had known better days. This latter fact, in the republic, may be set down in the red italics of misery.

His name was Hemmick — Henry W. or George D. or John F. — the stock that produced him had had little imagination left to waste either upon his name or his design. He was a clerk in a factory which made ice for the long southern summer. He was responsible to the man who owned the patent for canning ice, who, in his turn was responsible only to God. Never in his life had Henry W. Hemmick discovered a new way to advertise canned ice nor had it transpired that by taking a diligent correspondence course in ice canning he had secretly been preparing himself for a partnership. Never had he rushed home to his wife, crying: “You can have that servant now, Nell, I have been made general superintendent.” You will have to take him as you take Abercrombie, for what he is and will always be. This is a story of the dead years.

When the second man reached the house he turned in and began to mount the tipsy steps, noticed Abercrombie, the stranger, with a tired surprise, and nodded to him.

“Good evening,” he said.

Abercrombie voiced his agreement with the sentiment.

“Cool” — the newcomer covered his forefinger with his handkerchief and sent the swatched digit on a complete circuit of his collar band. “Have you rented this?” he asked.

“No, indeed, I’m just — resting. Sorry if I’ve intruded — I saw the house was vacant — “

“Oh, you’re not intruding!” said Hemmick hastily. “I don’t reckon anybody could intrude in this old barn. I got out two months ago. They’re not ever goin’ to rent it any more. I got a little girl about this high,” he held his hand parallel to the ground and at an indeterminate distance, “and she’s mighty fond of an old doll that got left here when we moved. Began hollerin’ for me to come over and look it up.”

“You used to live here?” inquired Abercrombie with interest.

“Lived here eighteen years. Came here ‘n I was married, raised four children in this house. Yes, sir. I know this old fellow.” He struck the door-post with the flat of his hand. “I know every leak in her roof and every loose board in her old floor.”

Abercrombie had been good to look at for so many years that he knew if he kept a certain attentive expression on his face his companion would continue to talk — indefinitely.

“You from up north?” inquired Hemmick politely, choosing with habituated precision the one spot where the anemic wooden railing would support his weight. “I thought so,” he resumed at Abercrombie’s nod. “Don’t take long to tell a Yankee.”

“I’m from New York.”

“So?” The man shook his head with inappropriate gravity. “Never have got up there, myself. Started to go a couple of times, before I was married, but never did get to go.”

He made a second excursion with his finger and handkerchief and then, as though having come suddenly to a cordial decision, he replaced the handkerchief in one of his bumpy pockets and extended the hand toward his companion.