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  • Writer's pictureWilliam F. Stratton

How Pottering Pete Went Into the Real Estate Business

Updated: May 24, 2021

Wayside Tales, April 1903.

Pottering Pete stretched his long arms along the top board of the cemetery fence, and solemnly surveyed the grim array of atones and monuments.

“Dogged ef it hain’t changed even more’n th’ town,” he soliloquized. “Reckon 'bout all th’ folks I know’d twenty-five years ago is camped out here.”

From the depths of a pocket he produced a long and twisted “plug,” from which, with much facial contortion and grinding of teeth, he wrested a large segment, restored the shattered fragments to the pocket, and resumed his soliloquy.

“Wonder what corner they put her in. Ef I hadn’t ’a be’n allers busted I could ’a—”

A faint, pattering sound in the distance attracted his attention. At the foot of a green and gentle slope, little clouds of clay were rising from the surface of the earth and falling back at regular intervals, like an infant geyser.

“Reckon he’ll know,” Pete muttered.

Lazily he clambered over the fence, and slouched down the slope, toward the upheaval.

From the bottom of an oblong excavation a little, wizened old man gazed shrewdly up at the hairy face that peered into the pit—then grinned, toothlessly, and thrust the handle of his shovel up into the palm of Pottering Pete.

“Shake, Misther Pether Patthen!” he exclaimed. “Fer thot’s yer name, or me own’s not Dennis O’Teague. Ye’ll ixcuse me fer not climbin’ up—me back’s thot bad wid th’ rheumatics.”

“Right ye air, Denny,” responded Pete, shaking the shovel handle vigorously. “Still at th’ old job eh? And how’s bizness?”

The little old man leaned heavily on the shovel, and shook his gray head dolefully.

“Shlow, Pether, shlow. It's an unwillln’ thrade I have. Nobody pathronizes me place till they’re driven to It. Oi’m th’ last mon they’ll dale win. But—yersilf, Pether—‘twas in th’ papers thot Misther Pether’s Patthen had found a gould moine out west, an’ we’re wonderin’ is It our Pether thot runned away twinty foive year agone.”

“I reckon it wuz, Denny. Yes, I reckon it wuz.”

“Good fer ye! Manny’s the toime whin folks said ye’d come to a bad end, ’twas Dennis O’Teague told thim to wait ’n’ see. A gould moine! Glory be! I always know’d ye’d get th’ credit ye desarved sometoime, Pether.”

“Waal,” Mr. Patten drawled, “I wuz a needin’ some credit when I hit th’ mine. I wuz a goin’ down hill purty swift. Still, I don’t know as enny partickilar praise orter be comin’ to me fer findin’ th’ mine. I jest kinder fell into it.”

“Shure, it’s yer blessed mither would have joyed to see this day. Manny’s th’ toime th’ Widdy Patthen’s said to mesilf, ‘Ah, Dinny, if me only child would but let me know where he is—”

A small avalanche of damp, unpleasant clay, starting from the vicinity of Pottering Pete’s boot, caromed from Dennis’ head, interrupting the unhappy reminiscence.

“Ginerally didn’t know where I wuz myself,” Pete remonstrated. “But I orter have wrote—yes, I orter have wrote. Reckon I might have borrowed a stamp. But I never thought she’d—Denny, where’d ye put her? I’m a goin’ to give her a moniment that’ll—”

“A monument, is it,” Dennis ejaculated, clawing the clay from his scant hair. “Shure, ye’re too late agin, as ye always was, Pether. She’s got one, th’ saints be praised.”

“What? Who—who did it?” exclaimed Pottering Pete, incredulously.

“’Twas the Burtons, Pether—ould mon Burton ’n’ wife—bekase yer mither, peace to her soul, nursed thim through th’ small-pox whin nobody else would go nigh. D’ye mind the Burtons, Pether, thim as owned th’ foine farm over th’ hill beyant? Manny’s th’ apple ye’ve stole from that orchard, Pether. ’Tis a monument will make yer mouth wather—”

“Whar’bouts is it, Denny?”

“Tis behint ye, Pether, in th’ corner beyant, by th’ little willow— th’ one wid th’ blind angel holdin’ th’ dhruggists’s scales.”

Pottering Pete was gone a long time. When he returned, Dennis had ascended to the surface, and was industriously scraping clay from his shoes.

“Denny,” said Pottering Pete—there was a suspicious tremor in his voice—“I’m agoin’ to see old Burton.”

"Tis a long journey we’ll be makin’ thin, Perther,” observed Dennis, looking up quizzically. "Tis for him I’m diggin’ this day. Th funeral’s this afternoon—an’ he’s betther off than th’ wlddy.”

"Hey? What's th’ matter with th’ wldder?” demanded Pottering Pete.

"Tis a sade tale,Pether—a tale of sickness—- an’ th’ children dyin’—-an’ payin' security debts—on’ droughts, an’ panic—till all goes but th’ home eighty, an’t hey has to borry on that—an’ th’ mortgage is foreclosed, an’ Clubbs gits th’ place tomorry, lavin’ th’ widdy widout kith ner kin, ner roof fer her head, ner dollar fer her pocket.”

“Who’s Clubbs” asked Mr. Patten, hoarsely.

“Ye don’t know him, Pether. He come since ye lift. It’s a foine gentlemon he is, wid a heart of brass, an’ th’ eye of a salted codfish, an’—by all th’ saints, thot do be him comin’ now!”

Pottering Pete, following Dennis’ gaze, beheld a small, skinny man tying a large, bony horse to the cemetery fence.

“Maybe he do be havin’ a mortgage on th’ Burton lot, here, an’ is comin' to sthop th’ funeral till it’s paid,” Dennis suggested, ironically.

The small, skinny man hurried through the gate and ambled down the slope. As he neared Pottering Pete he removed his hat, bowed obsequiously and smiled profusely.

“Mr. Patten, I believe. My name is Clubbs, Simeon K. Clubbs, real estate and loans. Happy to make your acquaintance, Mr. Patten.”

Mr. Patten certainly did not see the extended hand, for his own right hand wandered back to a hip pocket, while the left was transformed into a knotty fist.

“Welcome back to your native heath, my dear sir,” continued the unabashed Mr. Clubbs. “Welcome back; truly, fortune favors the brave. Let me be among the first to congratulate you, and to proffer my humble services should you desire to make a few investments.”

“Our little city is on the eve of an era of prosperity, sir. The financial clouds that have so long obscured the national horizon are being swiftly dispersed, and a glowing future awaits us.”

“Jedging from what I’ve heered sence I struck town this mornin’ there’s a glowin’ future awaitin’ fer you,” growled Pottering Pete.

“Thank you, my dear sir, thank you. I do not deny, Mr. Patten, that I have prospered, and that my business is promising. Perhaps you would like to try the real estate business—with me. Splendid investment, sir, splendid! We would pull together famously. You furnish the capital, and I furnish the brains—that is—ah—hm-m-m— this open grave reminds me, Mr. Patten, that one of my dearest friends has been called to his reward. Sad, sir, very sad—”

Mr. Patten drew a deep breath, and irrigated the atmosphere to windward of Mr. Clubbs with fluid extract of the “plug” so copiously that Mr. Clubbs shifted his position hastily.

"I was a-thinkin’, remarked Mr. Patten, meditatively—”I was a-thinkln’ ’bout a small farm—say eighty acres. An' ef it suited, I might go Into th' real estate bisness for a limited—"

"Eighty acres? Yes, sir, exactly! This way, Mr. Patten, to my buggy. Only a short drive, sir. This eighty will suit you—I’ll make it suit you and we'll then discuss our partnership."

How’s th’ title?” inquired Pottering Pete, as he climbed into the dilapidated vehicle.

“Straight as a string,” asserted Mr. Clubbs cheerfully, encouraging the bony horse into a shambling trot. “Own the place myself—that is, I hold the certificate. Get my deed from the sheriff this evening. Foreclosure you see. Year for redemption expires this evening. Widow can’t raise the money."

"Wldder Burton, I reckon," remarked Pottering Pete, carelessly.

“Yea. Just so. She’s—”

"’Pears kinder rough fer us to be prowlin’ 'round th' place when th’ funeral’s gotten’ ready, don’t it?”

Mr. Clubbs laughed, and laid his skinny hand caressingly on Mr. Patten’s knobby knee.

“My dear sir, business is business. The wheels of commerce can’t stop because people will die. It’s been an unfortunate affair for the widow, but, fortune of war, Mr. Patten, fortune of war. Up today, down tomorrow. Ha, ha! As practical men, Mr. Patten, as men of affairs, you and I know that business and sympathy won’t mix. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. If I hadn’t got this eighty as I did, I couldn’t offer you such a bargain.”

“What's yer figgers?”

“Now, Mr. Patten, let’s not be hasty. We’ll just go over the place first, and then—here we are, Mr. Patten—the big white house with the red barn. Everything spick and span, clean as a whistle. Old Burton was a model farmer, but he couldn’t keep off of other people’s paper.”

“Just look at that timber, over there, Mr. Patten. Ten acres—mostly poplar. Timber alone is worth what the place cost me,” and Mr. Clubbs chuckled.

“Let’s hitch to th’ fence here, and walk acrost to th’ timber,” suggested Pottering Pete.

“Certainly, certainly, quite right,” assented Mr. Clubbs, leaping out and proceeding to anchor the bony horse to the fence.

Pottering Pete, as he leisurely descended, surreptitiously transferred something from underneath the buggy seat to his capacious pocket.

“I will state, Mr. Patten,” resumed Mr. Clubbs, as they entered the woods, “that the price I shall name you will mean cash, though, of course, your check—”

“Ye’ll git th’ cash—when we trade. I come heeled—fer another kind of investment.”

“Real estate?” queried Mr. Clubbs, anxiously.

‘‘Moniment,” answered Mr. Patten, laconically.

“Oh, monument. Deceased relative? Yes, just so. But you didn't invest? No. Quite right. Excellent. Too much money squandered in such things. A man’s fame and good name should be his monument, Mr. Patten.”

“Sum folks is goin' to git a durn puny moniment,” soliloquized Pottering Pete, in an undertone.

Possibly Mr. Clubbs did not catch the remark, for he was gazing rapturously upward at the top of a tall poplar.

“Just look at this tree, Mr. Patten. Isn’t it a beauty? Two men couldn’t span the trunk with their arms.”

Pottering Pete’s eyes twinkled.

“O, I reckon they could,” he insisted.

“Try it,” suggested Mr. Clubbs, knowingly, extending his arms about the rough trunk.

Pottering Pete stepped around the tree, out of Mr. Clubbs’ sight, drew from his pocket a strong rope halter, and before Mr. Clubbs could comprehend his purpose, the skinny wrists were deftly bound about the tree.

“Why—what!” exclaimed the amazed Clubbs. “Ah, yes, a little joke. Very clever, very clever, indeed, Mr. Patten. Ha! Ha! But, as time is pressing, suppose we go on.”

“I’m afeard ye will go on—and somebody might hear ye,” remarked Pete. “So I’ll finish th’ job.”

He took the big red bandanna from his neck and gagged the sputtering, struggling Clubbs.

“Now, ye kin buck all ye want. Th’ more ye buck th’ tighter ye git. I never cinched a burro eny better. Forchun of war, Clubbsey, forchun of war. Up to-day, down to-morrow. So long, old boy. I’m agoin’ into th’ real estate bizness—fer a limited time, only.”

In a few minutes the enraged Clubbs heard the sound of his rattling buggy on its way toward the town.

That evening, the heart-sick Widow Burton opened an envelope handed her by Dennis O’Teague as she left the cemetery. It contained a receipt from the sheriff in full of all claim against the eighty acres, and a few scrawled and labored lines running thus:

“Widder Burton—this is tu pay fer the moniment with intrust; ef ye hear enny yellin’ back in yer woods let him yell; its Clubbs; mebbe the skinny leetle kuss will slip the gag don’t wurry i told his offis boy clubs wants tu see him at the n w kornur yer woods at 6 p m—and he duz—bad. denis will giv ye this im goin back west on the 4pm Clubbs mite giv me trubel fer goin intu the reel state bizness fer a short time only—respeckfly—PETER PATTEN.”

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