William F. Stratton
How Pottering Pete Took A Little Flyer In The Matrimonial Market.
Updated: May 24, 2021
Wayside Tales, February 1904.
BARNEY," drawled Pottering Pete, as the two sat at the little table in Shorty’s place, “I’m a-goin’ to do a little speculatin’.” Old Barney McGlynn extracted the stumpy, black pipe from his grizzled whiskers, and stared incredulously at his employer.
“Speculatin’! Ain’t ye satisfied with findin’ th’ richest gold mine in th’" country, without blowin’ it in by speculatin’? It’s a jolly ye’re givin’ me, Pete.”
“Nary a jolly, Barney,” Pete asserted, gazing admiringly at the profile of a female head he was tracing in the small puddle on the table. “I’m a-goin’ to take a little flyer. I’ve picked my market.”
“Stocks?” asked Barney, anxiously. Pete shook his head.
“Onct more, Barney.”
“Real ’state, then.”
Pottering Pete glanced cautiously about him, then leaned over the table and whispered:
The stumpy, black pipe fell to the floor; Barney’s gnarled hands dropped to his knees, and he glared across the table at his companion.
“A wife, is it?—a boss? Air ye plum crazy, Pete? I’d never a-thought it of ye!”
“What’s th’ matter with matrymony, Barney? Where’d you an’ me be ef it hadn’t a-be’n fer matrymony ?”
“So ye’d waste yer coin on a wife, when ye kin buy a scoldin’ parrot fer five plunks, an’ a fust-class, hidjeous night-mare fer th’ price of three drinks! Matrymony! Hike over to th’ mine, sonny, an’ jump down th’ shaft; it’s quicker—an’ less painful.”
Pottering Pete gave a finishing stroke to the profile, straightened up and grinned.
“’Cause you drew a blank in that lottery, Barney, ain’t no sign I will.”
“There ain’t no prizes in that lottery, Petey. They’re all blanks; it’s a skin game clean through.”
Pete tilted his chair back, shoved his hands into his pockets, and smiled complacently.
“That may be your idee, Barney, but I’ve got a ticket that calls fer a prize, an’ I’m a-goin’ to cash it in.”
Barney groaned, picked up the stumpy pipe, and settled down in his chair with an air of patient resignation.
“Jim Sigsby’s gal, I reckon,” he grunted.
“That skinny critter? Not on yer life!”
“No red-heads in this game, Barney.”
“Well, who’s th’ female? Who’ve ye selected fer gineral over-seer? Perduce yer ticket.”
From the pocket of his flannel shir? Pottering Pete fished a well-worn newspaper clipping and passed it over the table.
“On th’ q. t., Barney. Read that.”
With much wagging of his gray head, and focusing of his solitary eye, Barney spelled out the communication, interjecting his own observations.
“’Middle-aged lady (Humph!), educated, refined, affectionate (Rats!), wishes to correspond with wealthy gentleman, competent to manage her financial affairs. ( Pete, this is orful) Object, matrimony. (Sure!) Address, Box 257, Parson City."
With an expression of intense disgust, Barney tossed the clipping to its owner, and expectorated copiously.
"What d'ye think of it?" asked Pete.
"I don't keer to say. I don't keer to bust up our old friendship."
Pottering Pete laughed softly, and extracted from a second pocket a photograph, and a perfumed letter written in a fine, feminine chirography.
"Squint at them, an' ye’ll change yer mind," he said, confidently. Barney squinted, long and earnestly.
"'Wuss an' wuss," he groaned. "She's too willin'. Ah, ten to one that pitcher ner th' hand-write ain't her'n. It's a salted mine, Petey; don't invest. Ye hain't sent her th' hundred dollars, have ye, Peter?"
"'Lowed I'd send it to-morry."
Barney suddenly reached over the table, seized Pete by the collar of his shirt, and emphasized his remarks by jabs and flourishes of the stumpy pipe.
"Looky here, Peter Patton This hain't my funeral, but I'm th' chief mourner. I've prospected with ye, an' starved with ye, an' fit Injuns an' alkali with ye, an' I'll be cussed ef I go back on ye now. Listen to me—an' quit pullin'.”
"Pete, there ain't a man this side th' Great Divide that kin lay it over ye in findin' pay dirt er guessin' on an assay, but when it comes to women ye'r crazier ner a locoed bronk. Ef ye send that hundred dollars ye'll never see th' woman, but th' whole fool bizness'll leak out, an' ye'll never bear th' last of it. I'm not a-going to set still an' see ye played fer a sucker an' a idjut."
“I’m a-goin' to foller this lead to th' end," Pete growled. "Ye kin gamble on that.”
"Then jump th' keers an' go to her. Ef ye don't find a gold brick at th' end of th' trail, bring her back with ye, an' kick old Barney McGlynn down th' shaft."
Pottering Pete folded his long arms and gazed reflectively out of the open door.
"There's only one man," he muttered, "that has license to stick his nose into my bizness without gittin' it broke off, an' that's old Barney Mc Glynn. He allers could see furder with his one eye than most fellers kin with two, an' I reckon I'll take his advice oncet more.”
"I'm a-goin' to jump th' eight-forty tomorry mornin' an' tackle th' matrymonial market—fer a limited time only. Ef it pans out I'll invest— heavy. Ef it don't a refined an' effecshunate blonde, objeck matrymony, is a-goin' to lose th' chance of her life."
Mr. Patton's friends would have bad some difficulty in recognizing him as he slouched lazily along a street in the suburbs of Parson City the following afternoon. A cheap suit of checked "hand-me-downs" flapped and fluttered on his bony frame, a narrow-brimmed derby perched jauntily amid his flowing locks, and he endured with commendatory fortitude the torture of a towering collar bound by a gorgeous tie. He halted before a shabby frame building and surveyed it dubiously.
"Reckon this must be th' cage of my turtle-dove," he soliloquized. "Her letter sez direct reply to number 257.”
The social circles in which Mr. Patton was a shining light considered it an unnecessary and superfluous ceremony to knock at a door before entering, and as to this point of etiquette Mr. Patton had not risen above his environments; he gently opened the door and stepped into a grimy and uncarpeted hall. The door at the farther end being invitingly ajar, Mr. Patton approached it noiselessly and peered into the adjoining room.
In a corner of the scantily furnished apartment a red-nosed individual, with a crop of stubbly beard, ripe for the sickle, dozed in a wobbly rocking-chair. Two women in slovenly garb conversed in guarded tones across a rickety table littered with letters, newspapers and writing material.
"Jolly Hanscomb along till we hear further from this Patton," the elder female was saying, while the other listened with poised pen. "Patton seems easy and promising. If he has half what he claims I've no objection to becoming his blushing bride—until I'm ready to break away, with a fat slice of his property."
"In which case you'll not forget my customary percentage," added the younger lady, as she dipped her pen in the ink. Then she sprang up with a suppressed scream, for Pottering Pete stood in the room, hat in hand, bowing awkwardly.
"What th’ell!" sputtered the man in the chair, opening his bleary eyes and struggling to his feet. The elder woman silenced him with a gesture, and turned to the intruder.
"May I ask the nature of your business here?" she said, scanning the visitor suspiciously.
"Yes, ma'am, ye kin," Pete responded, languidly. "I'm th' privut sec'tery of Mr. Peter Patton, an' I'm a-lookin' fer a young lady, objeck matrymony, by th' name of Tyce, Miss May N. Tyce. Mebbe I've rounded up th’ wrong herd."
The woman smiled with a cordiality and copiousness that accentuated the crow's-feet about her sharp eyes. "Please be seated," she exclaimed. "This is indeed a most joyful surprise, Mr.—“
"McGlynn," Pete prompted, accepting the proffered chair, and carefully depositing the derby on the bare floor, within easy reach. "So ye're Miss Tyce, eh? Ye don't favor th' photygraff no great sight."
"That photo was taken only one year ago, Mr. McGlynn,” explained the beaming Miss Tyce, as the younger woman and the red-nosed individual hastily disappeared. "Since then the cares of business and sudden financial responsibilities have left their marks, but with some strong, manly companion to assume those burdens, my youthful beauty will soon return.”
"Sure it would," assented Pete, gallantly. "Ennybody kin see it hain't gone far."
Miss Tyce simpered and lowered her eyes.
"Mr. Patton got yer little billy due all right," Pete continued, meditatively twirling his thumbs and surveying the smoke-stained ceiling. "He 'lowed it warn't safe to risk th' money in th' mail, so he sent me—him bein' consid'able under th’ weather jest at present. Wants me to fetch ye right back.”
Miss Tyce moved her chair a little nearer the private secretary, clasped her hands together, and gazed up at him rapturously.
"Such commendable prudence!" she exclaimed. "Ah, I see that I may safely trust him with my affairs. And such ardor! The dear man! I yearn to be with him,"—the eyes drooped again—"but it will require a few days' preparation, Mr. McGlynn, only a few days—after you give me the money. As I informed him, if it were a few weeks later—when the regular returns from my investments are due—I should not ask him for this favor.”
"Can't wait no few days," said Pete, decisively. "Told me not to give ye th' stuff onless ye come to-day. He's a-needin' ye, bad.”
Miss Tyce laughed pleasantly and glanced furtively toward the door through which her two companions had disappeared.
"Since Peter—I must call him Peter—since Peter is so insistent I shall obey. I can be ready in a few hours—after a little shopping—the purchase of a modest bridal trousseau. So the dear boy is ill? Nothing serious, I trust, Mr, McGlynn."
Pete shifted uneasily in his chair, avoiding Miss Tyce's inquiring gaze. The lady wrung her hands and leaned forward in an agony of alarm.
"Tell me," she implored. "I have the right to know all. What ails my dear boy?”
Pete looked wearily around the room, cleared his throat, leaned toward Miss Tyce and whispered.
"He's—he's got 'em agin!"
"Got—what? I don't under—”
“‘Leeryum tremmin's! Snakes!"
Miss Tyce recoiled, horrified.
“Sh—sh—sh!” Pete hissed, warningly. “We’re a-tryin’ to keep it quiet. But I can’t see a innocent, fine-look’ woman with prospects, like you, imposed on. Yes ma’am, snakes! Th’ real article! Violent! ’Tween you an’ me, Miss Tyce, Tain’t no wonder that his fust wife died so sudden, in th’ night. He might nigh killed his three youngest children this time, before we could overpower ‘im.”
"Children!" gasped Miss Tyce. "And his wife died suddenly—in the night! Really, Mr. McGlynn. this is quite—sad!"
"Turrible, turrible!" Pete groaned, drawing the ends of the resplendent necktie across his eyes. "But I've done th' square thing by givin' ye th' tip."
Miss Tyce's sharp eyes assumed a stony glare. Her thin lips closed tightly, and she meditated, as though solving a perplexing problem. Then she arose and flung out her arms tragically. "Shall I desert him in his affliction," she cried. "Never! My duly is clear! The money—the money, Mr. McGlynn! In two short hours I shall be ready to fly to his side."
Pottering Pete leisurely replaced the derby on his head, rose to his feet, and drew forth a plethoric wallet."A hundred dollars is a big pile fer Mr. Patton to let go of now," he observed, hesitatingly, "though he don't know it. We dassent tell him' bout th' accident to th' mine; th' doc said it might make him wuss."
"Accident to the mine?" repeated Miss Tyce, eagerly eying the fat wallet.
"Yep. Struck an underground river yisterday. Mine flooded. Water runnin' out th' top of th' shaft. Pete ain't wuth a tinker's cuss."
Miss Tyce turned pale, and leaned against the rickety table. Then, with a cat-like movement, she snatched the wallet from Pete's hand.
"You scoundrel!" she shrieked "How dare you threaten me. Help, Bill, help!”
The red-nosed man appeared with suspicious suddenness and rushed toward Mr. Patton. who promptly retreated—un-pursued. Reaching the street, he continued his departure at an unwonted gait, the gaudy neck-tie fluttering behind him.
"Beats all," he muttered, "how a jay kin git took in. Reckon' I'd better hustle fer home, before sumbody swipes these here store clothes. Th' city ain't no place fer a sucker."
The waiting Barney seized him as he swung from the train, pulled him into the furthermost corner of Shorty's place, pushed him into a chair, and whispered solicitously:
"Well, what's th' verdfck?"
"Barney," said Pete, solemnly, "she's a peach."
"Ye didn't give her th' money, did ye. Pete?"
"She got th' wallet an', contents—an' th' show was wuth it."
"An' ye're a-goin' to marry her! Pete Patton, ye're surely th' biggest dern—“
"Who sed ennything 'bout marryin'?" Mr. Patton growled, as he produced a lightly wrapped roll of bills.
“Ef ever open yer head 'bout this I’ll knock it off. What ye goin' to have, Barney, Name yer pizen. We’re ‘bout to celebrate th' occashun of me monkyin’ with the matrimonial market—fer a limited time only—while an effeshunnate blonde, object marrymony, is a-figgerin’ how much bridle trewso she kin buy, with a wallet full of corn shucks.”