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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER XXIII MR. HINTER PROVES A PUZZLE
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 October's second morning dawned sullen and grey, with a chill wind banking slate-hued clouds in the sky. Deacon Ringold, taking the short cut across the stubble-fields to Wilson's, shivered as he glanced back at the black lines his feet had cut through the crisp white frost, and decided to put on his woolen underclothes right away. The deacon had important and disturbing news to convey to his neighbor and had started out early to seek his counsel.  
As he climbed the rail fence his eyes swept the Settlement below, resting at length on the jail-like wall in the edge of the Scroggie timber, above which the tall derrick protruded like a white, scarred face. "Humph!" he mused, "Scroggie and Hinter must either have struck water, or give up. Their rig's quiet after chuggin' away day and night for weeks."
He glanced in the opposite direction to the blue smoke rising above the Wilson cedars. Then, as he prepared to climb down, he apparently changed his mind, for instead of taking the path to Tom Wilson's he walked briskly down toward the walled in derrick. Reaching it he paused and an exclamation of surprise escaped him. On the door of the wall an iron padlock had been fastened. There was no sign of human life about the place but within the walls could be heard the fierce growling of dogs. Ringold backed away and eyed the tall derrick. There was mystery here and he didn't relish mysteries. And there was a pungent, salty smell about the place—the smell that oily machinery gives off when put under intense heat.
The deacon was curious to learn what caused that smell. He approached a little closer to the walls and scrutinized the ground carefully. It was stained with black patches of something and he saw that the planks of the wall and the portion of the derrick showing above it also were stained a greenish-black. He ran a finger over a greasy splash and sniffed. Then he backed away slowly, now nodding his head. He knew what had happened, just as well as though he had seen it. The careless drillers had exploded a barrel of coal-oil, and perhaps wrecked the drill. Yes, nothing surer. That had been the explosion which shook the windows of his home and awoke him several nights ago. Keeler and Wilson had heard it too. Well, it was too bad after all the trouble and expense Scroggie had gone to to find water for the Settlement.
So the deacon went thoughtfully on his way to Wilson's. He found Tom Wilson breakfasting alone. To the deacon's look of surprise his neighbor vouchsafed the information that a glad and glorious band of young people had been "cuttin' up" nearly all night there, and the boys and Ma were sleepin' in, like.
Ringold hung his hat on the stovepoker and got down to business at once. "Say, Tom, I've had an offer for my back hundred. Don' know whether to sell or not. Thought I'd like to hear what you'd advise."
Wilson drained his cup and set it down in the saucer, methodically. The news did not seem to surprise him. "Who made the offer, Hinter?" he asked.
The deacon started. "Yes, did he tell you about it?"
"No," Wilson pushed back his chair and felt for his pipe, "but he seems to want to own the whole Settlement. He made me an offer for my place and he tried to buy Cobin Keeler's farm, too, so Cobin says."
"When, Tom, when?" asked Ringold, eagerly.
"Last night. At least that's when he made me my offer an' he must have gone across to Cobin's after he left me. Cobin jest left here not ten minutes ago. He come over to tell me all about it."
The deacon sat silent, thinking. "What's their game, Tom?" he asked suddenly.
"His game you mean."
"No, I don't either, I mean his and Scroggie's game; of course Scroggie's behind him."
"Yes," agreed Wilson, "I guess maybe he is. But, Deacon, I don't know what their game is; wish I did."
"Did you talk sell, Tom?" asked Ringold, anxiously.
"No sir," his neighbor answered promptly, "I should say not."
"And Cobin—he ain't any head at all, poor Cobin—did he talk sell?"
Wilson laughed. "Not Cobin. He's quite satisfied with his little farm, I guess. No, Hinter didn't get much satisfaction from either of us."
The deacon jumped up and reached for his hat. "Tom, I'm goin' to saddle your roan and go ask a few questions of the other farmers, if you don't mind."
"Good idea," agreed his neighbor. "Here, you best set down and have a cup of coffee and I'll saddle him, myself."
"No coffee, thanks; had breakfast; I'll go 'long with you. Oh, by the way, Tom, I know now what caused that explosion t'other night," and the deacon proceeded to relate his investigation of the walled-in well.
Wilson listened interestedly, until Ringold was through. "Well, they've been careful enough about hidin' their good work, at any rate," he said. "You'd think they had somethin' mighty precious inside them walls the way they've guarded it; but I'm sorry if they've met with an accident," he added. "Hinter did really seem anxious to get water."
They went out to the stable and Wilson saddled the roan. "I'll be back in an hour or so," called the deacon as he rode away.
He was as good as his word. Wilson was just finishing the morning's milking, when the deacon returned. "No other offers, Tom," he said. "Looks as though they were after this particular strip of territory. Anyhow it's agreed that none of us will sell or rent without consultin' the others, so I guess we can wait on Hinter's game all right."
"Didn't see Scraff, did you?" asked Wilson.
"No, I didn't. Joe had left for Bridgetown to bring in a couple of duck-hunters to old man Swanson's. Clevelanders, they are, so I didn't see him."
"I'm afraid Joe'll sell, if he gets a good offer," reflected Wilson.
"No, he'll stick with the rest of us," cried Ringold, emphatically, "and I'll tell you why. It's just like his contrariness to do the very thing the others won't do, but let me tell you somethin'. The very minute he makes a move I put the screws on him tight. Let him so much as whisper 'sell' an' he'll pay me every cent he owes me, with interest. No, Tom, we needn't feel scarey about Joe Scraff."
"Well," laughed Wilson, "if anybody kin make Joe toe the scratch it's you, Deacon. Didn't see anythin' of Hinter on your rounds, did you?"
"No, but I met Scroggie. That feller improves on acquaintance, Tom, he does so! He ain't half bad after you get to know him. He seems to want to be neighborly, and while I think he's backing Hinter in some way I've an idea he's watching him pretty close."
"Say anythin' to him about Hinter's offer to buy?"
"Nary a word but I asked him what he intended to do with the Scroggie hardwoods. He told me that he had sold it to a lumber company. He says there'll be a big camp of cutters and sawyers down here this winter. I said I supposed he'd be goin' back to the States jest as soon as he got things cleared up here, an' you ought to see the queer look he gave me.
"'I'm not sure that I'll go back to the States,' he said, 'it all depends; besides............
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