XVIII. Kate Takes the Bit in Her Teeth
 

The hackman was obliging, for after delivering the mail and some parcels, he took Kate to her home. While she waited for him, she walked the ravine bank planning about the mill which was now so sure that she might almost begin work. Surely she might as soon as she finished figuring, for she had visited the Court House in Hartley and found that George's deeds were legal, and in proper shape. Her mind was filled with plans which this time must succeed.

As she approached the house she could see the children playing in the yard. It was the first time she ever had been away from them; she wondered if they had missed her. She was amazed to find that they were very decidedly disappointed to see her; but a few pertinent questions developed the reason. Their grandmother had come with her sister; she had spent her time teaching them that their mother was cold, and hard, and abused them, by not treating them as other children were treated. So far as Kate could see they had broken every rule she had ever laid down for them: eaten until their stomachs were out of order, and played in their better clothing, until it never would be nice again, while Polly shouted at her approach: "Give me the oranges and candy. I want to divide them."

"Silly," said Kate. "This is too soon. I've no money yet, it will be a long time before I get any; but you shall each have an orange, some candy, and new clothing when I do. Now run see what big fish you can catch."

Satisfied, the children obeyed and ran to the creek. Aunt Ollie, worried and angered, told Adam to tell his father that Mother was home and for him to come and take her and grandmother to Walden at once. She had not been able to keep Mrs. Holt from one steady round of mischief; but she argued that her sister could do less, with her on guard, than alone, so she had stayed and done her best; but she knew how Kate would be annoyed, so she believed the best course was to leave as quickly as possible. Kate walked into the house, spoke to both women, and went to her room to change her clothing. Before she had finished, she heard George's voice in the house demanding: "Where's our millionaire lady? I want a look at her."

Kate was very tired, slowly relaxing from intense nerve strain, she was holding herself in check about the children. She took a tighter grip, and vowed she would not give Mrs. Holt the satisfaction of seeing her disturbed and provoked, if she killed herself in the effort at self-control. She stepped toward the door.

"Here," she called in a clear voice, the tone of which brought George swiftly.

"What was he worth, anyway?" he shouted.

"Oh, millions and millions," said Kate, sweetly, "at least I think so. It was scarcely a time to discuss finances, in the face of that horrible accident."

George laughed. "Oh, you're a good one!" he cried. "Think you can keep a thing like that still? The cats, and the dogs, and the chickens of the whole county know about the deeds the old Land King had made for his sons; and how he got left on it. Served him right, too! We could here Andrew swear, and see Adam beat his horse, clear over here! That's right! Go ahead! Put on airs! Tell us something we don't know, will you? Maybe you think I wasn't hanging pretty close around that neighbourhood, myself!"

"Spying?" cried Kate.

"Looking for timber," he sneered. "And never in all my life have I seen anything to beat it. Sixteen hundred and fifty acres of the best land in the world. Your share of land and money together will be every cent of twelve thousand. Oh, I guess I know what you've got up your sleeve, my lady. Come on, shell out! Let's all go celebrate. What did you bring the children?"

Kate was rapidly losing patience in spite of her resolves.

"Myself," she said. "From their appearance and actions, goodness knows they needed me. I have been to my father's funeral, George; not to a circus."

"Humph!" said George. "And home for the first time in seven years. You needn't tell me it wasn't the biggest picnic you ever had! And say, about those deeds burning up -- wasn't that too grand?"

"Even if my father burned with them?" she asked. "George, you make me completely disgusted."

"Big hypocrite!" he scoffed. "You know you're tickled silly. Why, you will get ten times as much as you would if those deeds hadn't burned. I know what that estate amounts to. I know what that land is worth. I'll see that you get your share to the last penny that can be wrung out of it. You bet I will! Things are coming our way at last. Now we can build the mill, and do everything we planned. I don't know as we will build a mill. With your fifteen thousand we could start a store in Hartley, and do bigger things."

"The thing for you to do right now is to hitch up and take Aunt Ollie and your mother home," said Kate. "I'll talk to you after supper and tell you all there is to know. I'm dusty and tired now."

"Well, you needn't try to fix up any shenanigan for me," he said. "I know to within five hundred dollars of what your share of that estate is worth, and I'll see that you get it."

"No one has even remotely suggested that I shouldn't have my share of that estate," said Kate.

While he was gone, Kate thought intently as she went about her work. She saw exactly what her position was, and what she had to do. Their talk would be disagreeable, but the matter had to gone into and gotten over. She let George talk as he would while she finished supper and they ate. When he went for his evening work, she helped the children scale their fish for breakfast and as they worked she talked to them, sanely, sensibly, explaining what she could, avoiding what she could not. She put them to bed, her heart almost sickened at what they had been taught and told. Kate was in no very propitious mood for her interview with George. As she sat on the front porch waiting for him, she was wishing with all her heart that she was back home with the children, to remain forever. That, of course, was out of the question, but she wished it. She had been so glad to be with her mother again, to be of service, to hear a word of approval now and then. She must be worthy of her mother's opinion, she thought, just as George stepped on the porch, sat on the top step, leaned against a pillar, and said: "Now go on, tell me all about it."

Kate thought intently a second. Instead of beginning with leaving Friday morning: "I was at the Court House in Hartley this morning," she said.

"You needn't have done that," he scoffed. "I spent most of the day there Monday. You bet folks shelled out the books when I told them who I was, and what I was after. I must say you folks have some little reason to be high and mighty. You sure have got the dough. No wonder the old man hung on to his deeds himself. He wasn't so far from a King, all right, all right."

"You mean you left your work Monday, and went to the Court House in Hartley and told who you were, and spent the day nosing into my father's affairs, before his sons had done anything, or you had any idea what was to be done?" she demanded.

"Oh, you needn't get so high and mighty," he said. "I propose to know just where I am, about this. I propose to have just what is coming to me -- to you, to the last penny, and no Bates man will manage the affair, either."

Suddenly Kate leaned forward.

"I foresee that you've fixed yourself up for a big disappointment," she said. "My mother and her eldest son will settle my father's estate; and when it is settled I shall have exactly what the other girls have. Then if I still think it is wise, I shall at once go to work building the mill. Everything must be shaved to the last cent, must be done with the closest economy, I must come out of this with enough left to provide us a comfortable home."

"Do that from the first profits of the mill," he suggested.

"I'm no good at 'counting chickens before they're hatched,'" said Kate. "Besides, the first profits from the mill, as you very well know, if you would ever stop to think, must go to pay for logs to work on, and there must always be a good balance for that purpose. No. I reserve enough from my money to fix the home I want; but I shall wait to do it until the mill is working, so I can give all my attention to it, while you are out looking up timber."

"Of course I can do all of it perfectly well," he said. "And it's a man's business. You'll make me look like fifty cents if you get out among men and go to doing a thing no woman in this part of the country ever did. Why, it will look like you didn't trust me!"

"I can't help how it will look," said Kate. "This is my last and only dollar; if I lose it, I am out for life; I shall take no risk. I've no confidence in your business ability, and you know it. It need not hurt your pride a particle to say that we are partners; that I'm going to build the mill, while you're going to bring in the timber. It's the only way I shall touch the proposition. I will give you two hundred dollars for the deed and abstract of the ravine. I'll give your mother eight hundred for the lot and house, which is two hundred more than it is worth. I'll lay away enough to rebuild and refurnish it, and with the remainder I'll build the dam, bridge, and mill, just as quickly as it can be done. As soon as I get my money, we'll buy timber for the mill and get it sawed and dried this winter. We can be all done and running by next June."

"Kate, how are you going to get all that land sold, and the money in hand to divide up that quickly? I don't think it ever can be done. Land is always sold on time, you know," he said.

Kate drew a deep breath. "This land isn't going to be sold," she said. "Most of the boys have owned their farms long enough to have enabled them to buy other land, and put money in the bank. They're going to form a pool, and put in enough money to pay the girls the share they have agreed to take; even if they have to borrow it, as some of the younger ones will; but the older ones will help them; so the girls are to have their money in cash, in three months. I was mighty glad of the arrangement for my part, because we can begin at once on our plans for the mill."

"And how much do the girls get?" he asked darkly.

"Can't say just yet," said Kate. "The notes and mortgages have to be gone over, and the thing figured out; it will take some time. Mother and Adam began yesterday; we shall know in a few weeks."

"Sounds to me like a cold-blooded Bates steal," he cried. "Who figured out what was a fair share for the girls; who planned that arrangement? Why didn't you insist on the thing going through court; the land belong sold, and equal divisions of all the proceeds?"

"Now if you'll agree not to say a word until I finish, I'll show you the figures," said Kate. "I'll tell you what the plan is, and why it was made, and I'll tell you further that it is already recorded, and in action. There are no minor heirs. We could make an agreement and record it. There was no will. Mother will administer. It's all settled. Wait until I get the figures."

Then slowly and clearly she went over the situation, explaining everything in detail. When she finished he sat staring at her with a snarling face.

"You signed that?" he demanded. "You signed that! You threw away at least half you might have had! You let those lazy scoundrels of brothers of yours hoodwink you, and pull the wool over your eyes like that? Are you mad? Are you stark, staring mad?"

"No, I'm quite sane," said Kate. "It is you who are mad. You know my figures, don't you? Those were the only ones used yesterday. The whole scheme was mine, with help from Mother to the extent of her giving up everything except the home farm."

"You crazy fool!" he cried, springing up.

"Now stop," said Kate. "Stop right there! I've done what I think is right, and fair, and just, and I'm happy with the results. Act decently, I'll stay and build the mill. Say one, only one more of the nasty, insulting things in your head, and I'll go in there and wake up the children and we will leave now and on foot."

Confronted with Kate and her ultimatum, George arose and walked down to the road; he began pacing back and forth in the moonlight, struggling to regain command of himself. He had no money. He had no prospect of any until Aunt Ollie died and left him her farm. He was, as he expressed it, "up against it" there. Now he was "up against it" with Kate. What she decided upon and proposed to do was all he could do. She might shave prices, and cut, and skimp, and haggle to buy material, and put up her building at the least possible expense. She might sit over books and figure herself blind. He would be driving over the country, visiting with the farmers, booming himself for a fat county office maybe, eating big dinners, and being a jolly good fellow generally. Naturally as breathing, there came to him a scheme whereby he could buy at the very lowest figure he could extract; then he would raise the price to Kate enough to make him a comfortable income besides his share of the business. He had not walked the road long until his anger was all gone.

He began planning the kind of horse he would have to drive, the buggy he would want, and a box in it to carry a hatchet, a square, measures, an auger, other tools he would need, and by Jove! it would be a dandy idea to carry a bottle of the real thing. Many a farmer, for a good cigar and a few swallows of the right thing, would warm up and sign such a contract as could be got in no other manner; while he would need it on cold days himself. George stopped in the moonlight to slap his leg and laugh over the happy thought. "By George, Georgie, my boy," he said, "most days will be cold, won't they?"

He had no word to say to Kate of his change of feeling in the matter. He did not want to miss the chance of twitting her at every opportunity he could invent with having thrown away half her inheritance; but he was glad the whole thing was settled so quickly and easily. He was now busy planning how he would spend the money Kate agreed to pay him for the ravine; but that was another rosy cloud she soon changed in colour, for she told him if he was going to be a partner he could put in what money he had, as his time was no more valuable than she could make hers teaching school again -- in other words, he could buy his horse and buggy with the price she paid for the location, so he was forced to agree. He was forced to do a great many things in the following months that he hated; but he had to do them or be left out of the proposition altogether.

Mrs. Bates and Adam administered the Bates estate promptly and efficiently. The girls had their money on time, the boys adjusted themselves as their circumstances admitted. Mrs. Bates had to make so many trips to town, before the last paper was signed, and the last transfer was made, that she felt she could not go any farther, so she did not. Nancy Ellen had reached the point where she would stop and talk a few minutes to Kate, if she met her on the streets of Hartley, as she frequently did now; but she would not ask her to come home with her, because she would not bring herself in contact with George Holt. The day Kate went to Hartley to receive and deposit her check, and start her bank account, her mother asked her if she had any plan as to what she would do with her money. Kate told her in detail. Mrs. Bates listened with grim face: "You better leave it in the bank," she said, "and use the interest to help you live, or put it in good farm mortgages, where you can easily get ten per cent."

Kate explained again and told how she was doing all the buying, how she would pay all bills, and keep the books. It was no use. Mrs. Bates sternly insisted that she should do no such thing. In some way she would be defrauded. In some way she would lose the money. What she was proposing was a man's work. Kate had most of her contracts signed and much material ordered, she could not stop. Sadly she saw her mother turn from her, declaring as she went that Kate would lose every cent she had, and when she did she need not come hanging around her. She had been warned. If she lost, she could take the consequences. For an instant Kate felt that she could not endure it then she sprang after her mother.

"Oh, but I won't lose!" she cried. "I'm keeping my money in my own hands. I'm spending it myself. Please, Mother, come and see the location, and let me show you everything."

"Too late now," said Mrs. Bates grimly, "the thing is done. The time to have told me was before you made any contracts. You're always taking the bit in your teeth and going ahead. Well, go! But remember, 'as you make your bed, so you can lie.'"

"All right," said Kate, trying to force a laugh. "Don't you worry. Next time you get into a tight place and want to borrow a few hundreds, come to me."

Mrs. Bates laughed derisively. Kate turned away with a faint sickness in her heart and when half an hour later she met Nancy Ellen, fresh from an interview with her mother, she felt no better -- far worse, in fact -- for Nancy Ellen certainly could say what was in her mind with free and forceful directness. With deft tongue and nimble brain, she embroidered all Mrs. Bates had said, and prophesied more evil luck in three minutes than her mother could have thought of in a year. Kate left them with no promise of seeing either of them again, except by accident, her heart and brain filled with misgivings. "Must I always have 'a fly in my ointment'?" she wailed to herself. "I thought this morning this would be the happiest day of my life. I felt as if I were flying. Ye Gods, but wings were never meant for me. Every time I take them, down I come kerflop, mostly in a 'gulf of dark despair,' as the hymn book says. Anyway, I'll keep my promise and give the youngsters a treat."

So she bought each of them an orange, some candy, and goods for a new Sunday outfit and comfortable school clothing. Then she took the hack for Walden, feeling in a degree as she had the day she married George Holt. As she passed the ravine and again studied the location her spirits arose. It was a good scheme. It would work. She would work it. She would sell from the yards to Walden and the surrounding country. She would see the dealers in Hartley and talk the business over, so she would know she was not being cheated in freight rates when she came to shipping. She stopped at Mrs. Holt's, laid a deed before her for her signature, and offered her a check for eight hundred for the Holt house and lot, which Mrs. Holt eagerly accepted. They arranged to move immediately, as the children were missing school. She had a deed with her for the ravine, which George signed in Walden, and both documents were acknowledged; but she would not give him the money until he had the horse and buggy he was to use, at the gate, in the spring.

He wanted to start out buying at once, but that was going too far in the future for Kate. While the stream was low, and the banks firm, Kate built her dam, so that it would be ready for spring, put in the abutments, and built the bridge. It was not a large dam, and not a big bridge, but both were solid, well constructed, and would serve every purpose. Then Kate set men hauling stone for the corner foundations. She hoped to work up such a trade and buy so much and so wisely in the summer that she could run all winter, so she was building a real mill in the Bates way, which way included letting the foundations freeze and settle over winter. That really was an interesting and a comfortable winter.

Kate and George both watched the children's studies at night, worked their plans finer in the daytime, and lived as cheaply and carefully as they could. Everything was going well. George was doing his best to promote the mill plan, to keep Kate satisfied at home, to steal out after she slept, and keep himself satisfied in appetite, and some ready money in his pockets, won at games of chance, at which he was an expert, and at cards, which he handled like a master.