Mr. Spicer was a bachelor, approaching 50, wiry, leathery, deliberative, and very diffident in company. But, despite his apparent uneasiness when chance threw him into the society of females, Dick was looking about for a wife. The stillness of the long evenings and the solitary Sundays implanted a great yearning for the companionship of a good wife in his lonely heart. In looking about the selector’s view was very limited. There was not an unmarried woman of suitable years within a radius of twelve miles. Of all the approachable females, he admired Mrs. Clinton the most, and his only hope lay in the fact that Clinton was in feeble health and reported to be sustaining life precariously with one lung.
Clinton held a block about a mile up the creek, and Spicer paid him occasional abrupt and unceremonious visits there. Sometimes he would lean against a door-jamb, with not more than his head inside, and pass a few remarks relative to nothing in particular, in an irresponsible sort of way; but more frequently he just stood about outside, and criticised the poultry in audible soliloquy, or reflected aloud upon Clinton’s ridiculous notions about dairy work and vegetable-growing. However, he always displayed a proper neighbourly concern in inquiring after Clinton’s health before leaving.
“Y’ain’t feelin’ no better, I s’pose?” he would ask, with an appearance of anxious interest that quite touched the sick man.
Clinton was always feeling “pretty bad.” He said as much in his dull, heavy manner, and Dick would go off to indulge in contemplation, and consult his dog.
Spicer did not wish Clinton to die, he did not want to hurry him up; he was a patient, dispassionate man, and the possibility of his neighbour’s early demise entered into his calculations merely as a probable circumstance which, however regrettable, could not reasonably be overlooked.
Clinton substantiated predictions, and obligingly died within a reasonable time, and Dick rode solemnly in the funeral cortege, behind the drays, on a lame cart-horse borrowed from Canty for the occasion.
After the funeral he looked in upon the widow and, feeling inspired to say something consolatory and encouraging, expressed his belief that she wouldn’t mourn much about Peter.
“’Tain’t worth while,” he said.
Dick’s command of language was only sufficient to enable him to say the thing he meant once in a dozen tries, and on this occasion he was conscious the moment he had spoken that the sentiment expressed was hardly appropriate to the occasion. Before he could frame an apology the disconsolate widow attacked him with a spear-grass broom and stormed him out of the house. He walked home thoughtfully, afflicted with a nettle-rash and a vague idea that perhaps he had not made an altogether satisfactory beginning.
But Spicer was not cast down. He had resolved upon a plan of courtship, and the object of his first manoeuvre was to break his intentions gently to the widow. This he thought to accomplish by hanging round the house a good deal. He would haunt her selection in the cool of the evening, or, in his more audacious moments, perch himself on the chock-and-log fence running by the side of the house, and whistle an unmelodious and windy jig, which was intended to convey some idea of his airy nonchalance and peace of mind.
It was a long time before Dick progressed from the fence to the wood-heap, and meanwhile the widow had not seemed to pay any particular attention to his movements. He sometimes addressed her with a portentous truth bearing upon the dieting of laying hens, or the proper handling of cows, or the medical treatment of ailing chickens; but usually satisfied himself with a significant grin and a queer twist of the head that was his idea of sheer playfulness and waggery. The neighbours came to notice him overlooking the selection or perched on the fence supervising the weather and things generally, and predicted that there would be “a marryin’” up the creek presently.
Presently! Spicer did nothing hastily, nothing to lead anybody to believe that he had not all eternity to come and go on. He never considered the flight of time, and had made many calculations that carried him on to the end of the next century without discovering any incongruity.
He did arrive at the wood-heap eventually, though. Mrs. Clinton’s boy John was too young to wield an axe with any effect, and one afternoon Dick lounged over to the logs, took up the axe, and examined it with an air of abstraction. He weighed it carefully in his hand, and satisfied his curiosity by trying it on a log. When he had chopped about half a ton of wood he appeared satisfied that it was a pretty good axe. That evening he chuckled all the way up the creek, and all the time it took to prepare his tea, and towards bed-time confided to Griffin, with more chuckles, his opinion that it was “’bout’s good ’s done.”
“She can’t go back on that,” he said with assurance.
But Spicer lingered at this stage for a long time; he cut all the wood the widow needed, and did other little things about the selection, and often sat on the fence, as usual, and gradually grew to be quite at home there. The widow accepted his services now as a matter of course, and though she was often betrayed into expressions of great impatience, Dick remained oblivious, and worked out his courtship in his own ponderous way.
His next step towards strengthening his position was when he took it upon himself to put several palings on the roof of Mrs. Clinton’s house. This was a decided advance, and when the buxom little woman thanked him, his odd screw of the face and sidelong nod clearly conveyed the impression that he was beginning to regard himself as a “perfect devil amongst the women.” There was more chuckling that evening, and further confidences for the dog. After this Spicer ceased working seriously on his own selection, and slowly extended his sphere at the widow’s. He did some gardening, and repaired the fences, and dictated improvements, but it was not till eighteen months after Clinton’s death that he made his great stroke. It was on Sunday afternoon that Dick discovered Mrs. Clinton in hot pursuit of the boy John, with one shoe in her hand and one on her foot. John was in active rebellion, and yelling his contempt for the maternal authority. Spicer rose to the occasion. He secured boy John, took off his belt, and proceeded to strap the unfilial youth—to give him a grave, judicious, and fatherly larruping—under the eye of his mother. Then the selector drew off to consider and weigh the important step he had taken, with the result that, half an hour after, he hung his head in at the kitchen door, and said abruptly:
“Treaser, when’s it to be?”
“Meanin’ which?” asked the unconscious widow.
The widow thought for a moment, and said, just as if she were contemplating the sale of a few eggs:
“This day month’ll suit me.”
“Done,” said Spicer.
Then he felt called upon to make some kind of a demonstration, and edged up to Mrs. Clinton in a fidgeting sort of way, and when near enough made as if to kiss her, paused half-way in doubt, and then didn’t.
“The man’s a fool,” said the stout little widow composedly.
They were married though, under conditions of great secrecy, at the parson’s house in the township, with the blinds down. It was with great difficulty Dick was convinced of the necessity of witnesses.