The Uncollected Short Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott

By Duncan Campbell Scott, edited by Tracy Ware



How Uncle David Rouse Made His Will



    No, stranger, there hasn’t been a tragedy of any kind in Mutton Corners nor round about for some time now. It was never much of a place for things to happen in, anyway; everybody was that set in their ways, a scandal would have got starved out before it got started, our people was naturally so inquisitive. There was the McRobie family as moved over from the Second Line, and the first night they was here they pulled their blinds down, and old Bill Weatherby and Uncle Amos Trill walked right into the house to find out what was goin’ on that they were so shy about. The McRobies behaved theirselves arter that; they saw there wasn’t a bit of use tryin’ on any games they had played over on the Second Line if they were to be checked up that close. So you can see how inquisitive we are and how shy anybody in Mutton Corners would be about havin’ anythin’ tragical happen on the premises. We are all clear Grits, too, forty-seven solid votes every election, and old Dave Rouse was the only Tory in the place, and he behaved that way to be cussed. Somehow he never could get his vote polled. He used to try, but, you know, little accidents will happen, and, try as hard as he liked, he could never get close enough to the pollin’ booth. He’s dead now, so the boys have no further trouble with him.
    But that remembers me that the only tragedy that ever happened in these parts was when this same Uncle Dave Rouse made his will. That was a real terrible time. You see the old man said he had considerable money, and he proved it by not spendin’ anythin’. You couldn’t get a cent out of him nohow. He’d just sit round the barroom of the Alexandria Palace Hotel, right here in Mutton Corners, County of Leeds, and talk about the great responsibility of havin’ money and how timid he was about doin’ harm with all the money he had got together. He never married, and his two nephews was that wrought up over how he would leave his fortune that they hated one another pretty powerful; and they hated the old man, too.
    Well, one of them nephews was George, and he was of no account, anyway, except for his brother Jacob to sharpen his teeth on. But Jacob was the most unpopulariest man in the whole of Mutton Corners. Yes, Jake was [Page 139] mean enough to get up in the night and bite his mother. He would never pay anybody anythin’; he was earnin’ good money, too, but it seemed to grow onto him like a skin; and it was real painful for the neighbors to see him wince if you asked him to part with any of it. And Jake was a sudden sort of speaker and always catchin’ people up as wanted to be pleasant with him. If the road was slushy and slippy, a fine day though, and somebody was to be cheerful and say, “Well, Jake, fine day overhead!” he’d grunt out, “Ain’t no walkin’ overhead!” That’s just the sort of a mean cuss he was, and he made the mistake of marryin’ a girl from outside—one of the Jance girls from the Second Line, Minerva Jance. Yes, stranger, she was a fierce dresser, and wore big hats that had everythin’ on ’em but the cookstove, a real profane person, too. Why, I heard her say to Parson Eberts one day when he said somethin’ real solemn about “Likin’ to hear God’s voice in the thunderstorm.” She whipped out as pert as a jay, “I like to hear it behind the kitchen door about that time!” So, you see, Jacob Rouse wasn’t very popular in Mutton Corners, what with his bein’ so mean hisself and his wife so up-and-comin’. Why, even old Doc Passmore was down on them, and he was gentle as a turtle dove. Jake looked so mortified if ever the Doc asked him for money that he said he’d rather cut off a leg than do it; and there was three children, and Mrs. Jake said nobody else knew just what to give her in the spring but Doctor Passmore, and they always ran after him as if they didn’t owe him more’n a hundred dollars. One day, after one of the children had swallowed a quarter and the Doc had pumped it out of him he was so annoyed he couldn’t help tellin’ Uncle Dave about it.
    “I wouldn’t have been so mad,” he let on, “but they didn’t even offer me the quarter!”
    “Well, it is a shame,” said Dave, “almost anybody would have give you that quarter, Doc; it makes me tremble to think what’ll become o’ that boy, he’s that mean, and it’s a big responsibility for me to leave him my money. Why, he lit right out on me the other day because he saw me speakin’ to George and called me a spider and all the names! Bein’ rich ain’t the fun it’s cracked up to be. One’s own flesh and blood, too! Why, Doc, I’ve a mind to help you collect that bill of yourn.”
     “You can’t do that,” said the Doc, for he was discouraged about the quarter.
     “Well, maybe not all by myself,” says Uncle Dave, who could see about as far a distance as most folks. “But we might do it together.”
     “Well!” said the Doc, rather dubified.
     “Look here, Doc, if I can collect that money for you, will you look after me right along and not charge me anythin’ for it?” [Page 140]
    “Yes, sure,” says Doc Passmore. He was that annoyed that he was ready to do anythin’ to get his money, and anyway he was a dead game sport, was the Doc, and so those two sharpened old villains put their heads together.
    Stranger, it couldn’t have been more’n a week before somethin’ queer happened round Jake Rouse’s place. There, settin’ right in the dooryard one evenin’, and, mind you, on the front step, and they never thought o’ usin’ the front door, sat Uncle Dave Rouse. He looked about like the last run of shad, his face all thin and gormed lookin’, with about three colors of yaller in it. Dave had done what some old soldier had told him they done in the army when they wanted to be sent to the hospital. He put some tobacco under his armpits, and it did make his face look like a bad dream, and no mistake. One of Jake’s kids seen him first, and began to fire mud at him and guy him, and pretty soon Jake come round the corner. “Get out o’ here, you old rooter!” says he.
    “O, Jake! and me dyin’ and not even allowed to die on my own flesh and blood.”
    “No,” says Jake. “Lift yourself out of that, soilin’ up our front doorstep, and go and lay down on George’s, where you’ve left all your money.”
    “No, I haven’t,” says Dave. “Indeed, no!” Just then out come Jake’s wife.
    “Get some hot water,” says Jake, “and scald the old pirate.” But she had heard what the old man had said.
    “Indeed I won’t,” says she, all alferbility. “How can you speak to poor Uncle David like that, and him so sick?” At first Jake didn’t see what she was after, but she made him see quick enough. “Why, it’s like Providence to see dear Doctor Passmore drivin’ by,” Minerva went on. “Call him, Jake, and see if he can’t do somethin’ to minister to poor Uncle David.” She had been a school teacher, and had some beautiful words when she wanted to use them. Jake growled out somethin’ and went out to stop Doc Passmore, who was drivin’ by with one of his boys. The old man pulled a long face when he saw Dave, and felt his pulse. “He hasn’t got long to live,” says he.
    “Not long enough to make my will?” groaned Uncle Dave.
    “Haven’t ye made yer will?” says the Doc. But old Dave went into a sort of fit and didn’t answer.
    “How careless these wealthy people are! The idea of Mr. Rouse dyin’ without a will,” says the Doc. “The property’ll be divided between you and George.” Well, they couldn’t stand that. [Page 141]
    “Carry him into the house,” said Minerva, and she and Jake laid hold of him and lugged him in right through the front door. But the Doc stepped back just as if he was goin’ away.
    “I’ll say good-evenin’, Mrs. Rouse,” he said.
    “You’re not goin’ away, Dr. Passmore!” says Mrs. Jake.
    “Why, you don’t want me, do you?”
    “You wouldn’t desert a dyin’ man, and you the family physician?” she says.
    “Well, Mrs. Rouse, I’m sick of this all-work-and-no-pay sort of business, and I don’t step in until you pay my bill.”
    “I won’t pay him a cent!” Jake ripped out.
    “Pay him for my sake,” gasps Uncle Dave. “I only want to die on my own flesh and blood and have strength enough to make my will. It’ll be all the better for you and yours, Jake, in the end.”
    “Get the money for the old fraud,” says Mrs. Jake, between her teeth, and they left Dave groanin’ on the hall floor while they went down into the stockin’ and paid the doctor one hundred and thirty-five cold dollars, and he signed a receipt.
    “Now, I don’t mind fixin’ him up so as he can make his will,” says the Doc, “though it will be a hard job; he’s that far gone.” So they went back to Dave, who was feelin’ pretty bad on the floor in the hall.
    “Don’t try to move him at all until I give him a hyperdermott; he’s about as low as the law allows. While I’m givin’ it you get his bed ready.”
    “Indeed I will,” says Minerva; “poor Uncle Dave’ll have my best bed and anythin’ else to make his last days happy.” She gave Jake a look that would have made any other man behave hisself for a year, and rushed off. After David got the hyperdermott runnin’ round in him his groans sounded a little cheerfuller, and by and by they carried him into the best room, but the Doc wouldn’t hear to havin’ him undressed. No, it would bring on a relapsus and maybe give him a chill, as he’d always been used to sleep in his clothes. So they pulled off his boots and in he went, between the sheets, just as he was. Doc Passmore said he nearly died laughin’ to see that old yaller face of Dave’s stickin’ out from under the bedspread. But Minerva never winked an eye, she was that determined to have Uncle Dave make his will.
    “Where am I” says he, liftin’ an eyelid, “in heaven?”
    “No,” says Jake’s wife, soft and low, “you’re just in our comfortable bed, dear uncle; don’t be worried.” [Page 142]
    “Goin’ to die on my own flesh and blood! Well, George would never ’a done this for me! An angel must have led me to your doorstep instead o’ his. Look how I am soilin’ up all your beautiful sheets.”
    “Now, don’t annoy yourself about that, dear Uncle Dave, just get to feelin’ a little bit stronger.”
    “I want to make my will, Doc; do you think I’ll hold out till I get it done?”
    “Prob’ly, if you don’t excite yourself and if it isn’t too long!”
    “Well, it’ll be long enough to get some people in I know of,” says he, swivillin’ his eye round to Jake’s wife, “and I wish my kind nephew would go for Lawyer Spragge!” Both the old foxes knew that Lawyer Spragge was away, and that if he could get anybody it was a new young fellow that had just come to Mutton Corners and didn’t know much of anythin’, and you couldn’t expect him to, as he hadn’t been riz here. So Jake went off and his wife says to him, “Hurry, Jake, and don’t bother to hitch, just take the Doc’s horse.” They was all excited up, but steady enough to be as mean as that. “And don’t let George see you goin’ for the lawyer; you know what a bad, corrupt man he is and he would disturb Uncle David in his last hours if he knew how sick he was.”
    After Jake was gone the Doc felt Dave’s pulse and said he was pretty weak, would Mrs. Rouse be so kind as to get a little whiskey? and she brought out a gallon jar and said, “Just help yourself, doctor. Poor Uncle David won’t want for a little comfort in his last hours.”
    By and by, after Dave and the Doc had hit the jar several times, he felt his pulse again and said, “He wants a little nourish’ food now.” “Why, sure,” said Minerva; “it’s past supper time; how neglectful of me, and you must be hungry, too, Doctor Passmore.” Well, afore long she had picked up a dandy little supper and had somethin’ special for Dave. They had killed a calf and she took the sweetbreads out of the critter and fixed ’em up on toast. Dave said they were “delicious” and he “wouldn’t forget his dear niece Minerva in his will.” The Doc said he must only eat a mouthful or two, they was bad for the heart, and he took the dish away and wolfed them down hisself.
    Jake seemed to be away a long time, and Uncle Dave had two bad turns and the Doc had to give him a hyperdermott and some more whiskey. When Jake came back, of course, he had the young lawyer fellow with him. He wore gold eye-glasses and looked pretty solemn when he saw how bad Uncle Dave looked. “He was nearly gone once,” says the Doc, “and there ain’t much left of him; you’d better get to work, young man.” [Page 143]
    “Can he draw a good will?” says Dave, feeble-like. “He looks so young and I woundn’t like anythin’ to come between Jake and his wife and my property, so they wouldn’t have the free enjoyment of it.” The young man swallowed and tried to swell hisself out and said, “Never fear, sir. No will that I ever drew has been successfully contested.”
    “This is prob’ly your first,” says Uncle Dave, and he almost had another relapsus.
    “Sometimes,” says Minerva, “it don’t seem as if I could wash up the things, and this is one o’ them nights.” She sat herself right down to hear Uncle David make his will.
    Well, the young lawyer got to work and wrote out Dave’s full name and the sound mind part of it, and read it over, and it sounded all right. “Now, what are the bequests?” says he.
    “The what?” says Dave.
    “The bequests: what you are goin’ to leave and who you are goin’ to leave it to?”
    “Well, the first bequest is where I want to be buried.”
    “O, rot!” says Jake.
    “Now, Jacob, you keep quiet; it is only natural for Uncle David to have wishes about where he’s to be buried,” said Minerva.
    “Very well,” said the innocent young feller.
    “I want to be buried in Cataraqui Cemetery,” groaned David. The young feller wrote: “I direct my mortal remains to be interred in Cataraqui Cemetery.” “What next?”
    “I want be buried next to John A.”
    “What’s that?” says the lawyer.
    “He’s a rank old Tory,” Jake sputtered.
    “John A. Why, that’s Sir John A. Macdonald, don’t you know?” says the doctor, explainin’ it all kindly to the innocent young chap. “He was the Conservative leader, and he is buried in Cataraqui Cemetery.”
    While the lawyer wrote that down Jake said: “There ain’t no lot there,” mean as could be.
    “Yes, there is, Jacob,” said Dave, mild as milk. “I was down there last week. It will cost more’n a thousand dollars, but it’ll be my long, last home!” With that he had another relapsus, and the Doc had considerable trouble to fetch him up again.
    “Well, what next?” says the lawyer.
    “Well, after you’ve buried me and paid all my debts I want you to take some of my money—be sure you see this is done, Niece Minerva.”
    “I’ll see to it, Uncle David; make your mind easy.” [Page 144]
    “I want you to take some of my money and put a moniment at my head just like the one at John A.’s, just as big, and me on the top just as large as John A.”
    That annoyed Jake terrible. “You old spider,” says he, “that moniment cost as much as twenty thousand dollars!”
    “How you shock me, Jacob: such language to poor Uncle David,” says Minerva.
    “Well, Jake, there may be some of your uncle’s fortune left after that,” says Dave. Well, the lawyer boy put all that down and read it out. “What next?” says he. Just then Dave had a real bad turn, and when they looked for the Doc he wasn’t there. When they were so wrought up with Uncle Dave makin’ his will he had taken the boots and gone outside quiet as a cat.
    “Where is he?” called Jake. “Come here, you old pill-pounder, and give him another shot with the syringe!” But the Doc didn’t seem to hear him.
    “What next?” says the lawyer boy.
    “If there’s anythin’ left arter that,” says Dave, so weak and trembly that the lawyer had to get right over him; “if there’s anythin’ left arter that, put as big a moniment as you can afford to pay for at my feet!”
    Well, Jake and Minerva hardly took in what their dear Uncle David had said, when there was a flash of light and noise enough to wake the dead, and Doc Passmore’s boy yelled “Fire!” in at the door. “The barn’s on fire!”
    But the barn wasn’t on fire, stranger. While the boy was waitin’ he had gathered a lot of straw together, just as his pa had told him to do, and when he went out with Dave’s boots the old Doc set a match to it.
    “Save the horses, Jake!” screamed Minerva, and they rushed out, forgettin’ all about their dear Uncle David. It didn’t take the old man more’n a second to get out o’ that bed, and the way he got through the dark to where Doc Passmore was waitin’ for him in the road with the rig would have licked this feller that won the Marythin race.
    Yes, stranger, that’s the last tragedy we’ve had at Mutton Corners, and a pretty considerable tragedy for Jake Rouse: to clean lose one hundred and thirty-five dollars and to have the best bed all mussed up, to say nothin’ of the whiskey they drunk, and them sweetbreads.
    The lawyer boy didn’t lose anythin’, because Uncle David squared him with a Straits Settlement fifty-cent piece.
    How did Uncle David leave his property when he died? Why, stranger, Uncle Dave didn’t have no property. [Page 145]