Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XII. The Horn of the Hunter
"The dusky night rides down the sky, And ushers in the morn: The hounds all join in glorious cry, The huntsman winds his horn."
Leon said our house reminded him of the mourners' bench before any one had "come through." He said it was so deadly with Sally and Shelley away, that he had a big notion to marry Susie Fall and bring her over to liven things up a little. Mother said she thought that would be a good idea, and Leon started in the direction of Falls', but he only went as far as Deams'. When he came back he had a great story to tell about dogs chasing their sheep, and foxes taking their geese. Father said sheep were only safe behind securely closed doors, especially in winter, and geese also. Leon said every one hadn't as big a barn as ours, and father said there was nothing to prevent any man from building the sized barn he needed to shelter his creatures in safety and comfort, if he wanted to dig in and earn the money to put it up. There was no answer to that, and Mr. Leon didn't try to make any. Mostly, he said something to keep on talking, but sometimes he saw when he had better quit.
I was having a good time, myself. Of course when the fever was the worst, and when I never had been sick before, it was pretty bad, but as soon as I could breathe all right, there was no pain to speak of, and every one was so good to me. I could have Bobby on the footboard of my bed as long as I wanted him, and he would crow whenever I told him to. I kept Grace Greenwood beside me, and spoiled her dress making her take some of each dose of medicine I did, but Shelley wrote that she was saving goods and she would make her another as soon as she came home. I made mother put red flannel on Grace's chest and around her neck, until I could hardly find her mouth when she had to take her medicine, but she swallowed it down all right, or she got her nose held, until she did. She was not nearly so sick as I was, though. We both grew better together, and, when Dr. Fenner brought me candy, she had her share.
When I began to get well it was lovely. Such toast, chicken broth, and squirrels, as mother always had. I even got the chicken liver, oranges, and all of them gave me everything they had that I wanted--I must almost have died to make them act like that!
Laddie and father would take me up wrapped in blankets and hold me to rest my back. Father would rock me and sing about "Young Johnny," just as he had when I was little. We always laughed at it, we knew it was a fool song, but we liked it. The tune was smooth and sleepy-like and the words went:
"One day young Johnny, he did go, Way down in the meadow for to mow. Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O! He scarce had mowed twice round the field, When a pesky sarpent bit him on the heel, Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O! He threw the scythe upon the ground, An' shut his eyes, and looked all round, Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O! He took the sarpent in his hand, And then ran home to Molly Bland, Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O! O Molly dear, and don't you see, This pesky sarpent that bit me? Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O! O Johnny dear, why did you go, Way down in the meadow fot to mow? Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O! O Molly dear, I thought you knowed 'Twas daddy's grass, and it must be mowed, Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-n an-incty, noddy O! Now all young men a warning take, And don't get bit by a rattlesnake. Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!"
All of them told me stories, read to me, and Frank, one of my big gone-away brothers, sent me the prettiest little book. It had a green cover with gold on the back, and it was full of stories and poems, not so very hard, because I could read every one of them, with help on a few words. The piece I liked best was poetry. If it hadn't been for that, I'm afraid, I was having such a good time, I'd have lain there until I forgot how to walk, with all of them trying to see who could be nicest to me. The ones who really could, were Laddie and the Princess, except mother. Laddie lifted me most carefully, the Princess told the best stories, but after all, if the burning and choking grew so bad I could scarcely stand it, mother could lay her hand on my head and say, "Poor child," in a way that made me work to keep on breathing. Maybe I only thought I loved Laddie best. I guess if I had been forced to take my choice when I had the fever, I'd have stuck pretty tight to mother. Even Dr. Fenner said if I pulled through she'd have to make me. I might have been lying there yet, if it hadn't been for the book Frank sent me, with the poetry piece in it. It began:
"Somewhere on a sunny bank, buttercups are bright, Somewhere 'mid the frozen grass, peeps the daisy white."
I read that so often I could repeat it quite as well with the book shut as open, and every time I read it, I wanted outdoors worse. In one place it ran:
"Welcome, yellow buttercups, welcome daisies white, Ye are in my spirit visioned a delight. Coming in the springtime of sunny hours to tell, Speaking to our hearts of Him who doeth all things well."
That piece helped me out of bed, and the blue gander screaming opened the door. It was funny about it too. I don't know why it worked on me that way; it just kept singing in my heart all day, and I could shut my eyes and go to sleep seeing buttercups in a gold sheet all over our Big Hill, although there never was a single one there; and meadows full of daisies, which were things father said were a pest he couldn't tolerate, because they spread so, and he grubbed up every one he found. Yet that piece filled our meadow until I imagined I could roll on daisies. They might be a pest to farmers, but sheets of them were pretty good if you were burning with fever. Between the buttercups and the daisies I left the bed with a light head and wobbly legs.
Of course I wasn't an idiot. I knew when I looked from our south window exactly what was to be seen. The person who wrote that piece was the idiot. It sang and sounded pretty, and it pulled you up and pushed you out, but really it was a fool thing, as I very well knew. I couldn't imagine daisies peeping through frozen grass. Any baby should have known they bloomed in July. Skunk cabbage always came first, and hepatica. If I had looked from any of our windows and seen daisies and buttercups in March, I'd have fallen over with the shock. I knew there would be frozen brown earth, last year's dead leaves, caved-in apple and potato holes, the cabbage row almost gone, puddles of water and mud everywhere, and I would hear geese scream and hens sing. And yet that poem kept pulling and pulling, and I was happy as a queen--I wondered if they were for sure; mother had doubts--the day I was wrapped in shawls and might sit an hour in the sun on the top board of the back fence, where I could see the barn, orchard, the creek and the meadow, as you never could in summer because of the leaves. I wasn't looking for buttercups and daisies either. I mighty well knew there wouldn't be any.
But the sun was there. A little taste of willow, oak and maple was in the air. You could see the buds growing fat too, and you could smell them. If you opened your eyes and looked in any direction you could see blue sky, big, ragged white clouds, bare trees, muddy earth with grassy patches, and white spots on the shady sides where unmelted snow made the icy feel in the air, even when the sun shone. You couldn't hear yourself think for the clatter of the turkeys, ganders, roosters, hens, and everything that had a voice. I was so crazy with it I could scarcely hang to the fence; I wanted to get down and scrape my wings like the gobbler, and scream louder than the gander, and crow oftener than the rooster. There was everything all ice and mud. They would have frozen, if they hadn't been put in a house at night, and starved, if they hadn't been fed; they were not at the place where they could hunt and scratch, and not pay any attention to feeding time, because of being so bursting full. They had no nests and babies to rejoice over. But there they were! And so was I! Buttercups and daisies be-hanged! Ice and mud really! But if you breathed that air, and shut your eyes, north, you could see blue flags, scarlet lilies, buttercups, cattails and redbirds sailing over them; east, there would be apple bloom and soft grass, cowslips, and bubbling water, robins, thrushes, and bluebirds; and south, waving corn with wild rose and alder borders, and sparrows, and larks on every fence rider.
Right there I got that daisy thing figured out. It wasn't that there were or ever would be daisies and buttercups among the frozen grass; but it was forever and always that when this feel came into the air, you knew they were coming. That was what ailed the gander and the gobbler. They hadn't a thing to be thankful for yet, but something inside them was swelling and pushing because of what was coming. I felt exactly as they did, because I wanted to act the same way, but I'd been sick enough to know that I'd better be thankful for the chance to sit on the fence, and think about buttercups and daisies. Really, one old brown and purple skunk cabbage with a half-frozen bee buzzing over it, or a few forlorn little spring beauties, would have set me wild, and when a lark really did go over, away up high, and a dove began to coo in the orchard, if Laddie hadn't come for me, I would have fallen from the fence.
I simply had to get well and quickly too, for the wonderful time was beginning. It was all very well to lie in bed when there was nothing else to do, and every one would pet me and give me things; but here was maple syrup time right at the door, and the sugar camp most fun alive; here was all the neighbourhood crazy mad at the foxes, and planning a great chase covering a circuit of miles before the ground thawed; here was Easter and all the children coming, except Shelley--again, it would cost too much for only one day--and with everything beginning to hum, I found out there would be more amusement outdoors than inside. That was how I came to study out the daisy piece. There was nothing in the silly, untrue lines: the pull and tug was in what they made you think of.
I was still so weak I had to take a nap every day, so I wasn't sleepy as early at night, and I heard father and mother talk over a lot of things before they went to bed. After they mentioned it, I remembered that we hadn't received nearly so many letters from Shelley lately, and mother seldom found time to read them aloud during the day and forgot, or her eyes were tired, at night.
"Are you worrying about Shelley?" asked father one night.
"Yes, I am," answered mother.
"What do you think is the trouble?"
"I'm afraid things are not coming out with Mr. Paget as she hoped."
"If they don't, she is going to be unhappy?"
"That's putting it mildly."
"Well, I was doubtful in the beginning."
"Now hold on," said mother. "So was I; but what are you going to do? I can't go through the world with my girls, and meet men for them. I trained them just as carefully as possible before I started them out; that was all I could do. Shelley knows when a man appears clean, decent and likable. She knows when his calling is respectable. She knows when his speech is proper, his manners correct, and his ways attractive. She found this man all of these things, and she liked him accordingly. At Christmas she told me about it freely."
"Have you any idea how far the thing has gone?"
"She said then that she had seen him twice a week for two months.
He seemed very fond of her. He had told her he cared more for her than any girl he ever had met, and he had asked her to come here this summer and pay us a visit, so she wanted to know if he might."
"Of course you told her yes."
"Certainly I told her yes. I wish now we'd saved money and you'd gone to visit her and met him when she first wrote of him. You could have found out who and what he was, and with your experience you might have pointed out signs that would have helped her to see, before it was too late."
"What do you think is the trouble?"
"I wish I knew! She simply is failing to mention him in her letters; all the joy of living has dropped from them, she merely writes about her work; and now she is beginning to complain of homesickness and to say that she doesn't know how to endure the city any longer. There's something wrong."
"Had I better go now?"
"Too late!" said mother, and I could hear her throat go wrong and the choke come into her voice. "She is deeply in love with him; he hasn't found in her what he desires; probably he is not coming any more; what could you do?"
"I could go and see if there is anything I could do?"
"She may not want you. I'll write her to-morrow and suggest that you or Laddie pay her a visit and learn what she thinks."
"All right," said father.
He kissed her and went to sleep, but mother was awake yet, and she got up and stood looking down at the church and the two little white gravestones she could see from her window, until I thought she would freeze, and she did nearly, for her hands were cold and the tears falling when she examined my covers, and felt my face and hands before she went to bed. My, but the mother of a family like ours is never short of a lot of things to think of!
I had a new one myself. Now what do you suppose there was about that man?
Of course after having lived all her life with father and Laddie, Shelley would know how a man should look, and act to be right; and this one must have been right to make her bloom out in winter the way other things do in spring; and now what could be wrong? Maybe city girls were prettier than Shelley. But all women were made alike on the outside, and that was as far as you could see. You couldn't find out whether they had pure blood, true hearts, or clean souls. No girl could be so very much prettier than Shelley; they simply were not made that way. She knew how to behave; she had it beaten into her, like all of us. And she knew her books, what our schools could teach her, and Groveville, and Lucy, who had city chances for years, and there never was a day at our house when books and papers were not read and discussed, and your spelling was hammered into you standing in rows against the wall, and memory tests--what on earth could be the matter with Shelley that a man who could make her look and act as she did at Christmas, would now make her unhappy? Sometimes I wanted to be grown up dreadfully, and again, times like that, I wished my bed could stay in mother's room, and I could creep behind father's paper and go to sleep between his coat and vest, and have him warm my feet in his hands forever.
This world was too much for me. I never worked and worried in all my life as I had over Laddie and the Princess, and Laddie said I, myself, never would know how I had helped him. Of course nothing was settled; he had to try to make her love him by teaching her how lovable he was. We knew, because we always had known him, but she was a stranger and had to learn. It was mighty fine for him that he could force his way past the dogs, Thomas, the other men, her half-crazy father, and through the locked door, and go there to try to make her see, on Sunday nights, and week days, every single chance he could invent, and he could think up more reasons for going to Pryors' than mother could for putting out an extra wash.
Now just as I got settled a little about him, and we could see they really wanted him there, at least the Princess and her mother did, and Mr. Pryor must have been fairly decent or Laddie never would have gone; and the Princess came to our house to bring me things to eat, and ask how mother was, and once to learn how she embroidered Sally's wedding chemise, and social things like that; and when father acted as if he liked her so much he hadn't a word to say, and mother seemed to begin to feel as if Laddie and the Princess could be trusted to fix it up about God; and the old mystery didn't matter after all; why, here Shelley popped up with another mystery, and it belonged to us. But whatever ailed that man I couldn't possibly think. It had got to be him, for Shelley was so all right at Christmas, it made her look that pretty we hardly knew her.
I was thinking about her until I scarcely could study my lessons, so I could recite to Laddie at night, and not fall so far behind at school. Miss Amelia offered to hear me, but I just begged Laddie, and father could see that he taught me fifty things in a lesson that you could tell to look at Miss Amelia, she never knew. Why, he couldn't hear me read:
"We charged upon a flock of geese, And put them all to flight Except one sturdy gander That thought to show us fight,"--
without teaching me that the oldest picture in all the world was made of a row of geese, some of which were kinds we then had--the earth didn't seem so old when you thought of that--and how a flock of geese once wakened an army and saved a city, and how far wild geese could fly without alighting in migration, and everything you could think of about geese, only he didn't know why eating the same grass made feathers on geese and wool on sheep. Anyway, Miss Amelia never told you a word but what was in the book, and how to read and spell it. May said that father was very much disappointed in her, and he was never going to hire another teacher until he met and talked with her, no matter what kind of letters she could send. He was not going to help her get a summer school, and O my soul! I hope no one does, for if they do, I have to go, and I'd rather die than go to school in the summer.
Leon came in about that time with more fox stories. Been in Jacob Hood's chicken house and taken his best Dorking rooster, and father said it was time to do something. He never said a word so long as they took Deams', except they should have barn room for their geese, but when anything was the matter at Hoods' father and mother started doing something the instant they heard of it. So father and Laddie rode around the neighbourhood and talked it over, and the next night they had a meeting at our schoolhouse; men for miles came, and they planned a regular old- fashioned foxchase, and every one was wild about it.
Laddie told it at Pryors' and the Princess wanted to go; she asked to go with him, and if you please, Mr. Pryor wanted to go too, and their Thomas. They attended the meeting to tell how people chase foxes in England, where they seem to hunt them most of the time. Father said: "Thank God for even a foxchase, if it will bring Mr. Pryor among his neighbours and help him to act sensibly." They are going away fifteen miles or farther, and form a big circle of men from all directions, some walking in a line, and others riding to bring back any foxes that escape, and with dogs, and guns, they are going to rout out every one they can find, and kill them so they won't take the geese, little pigs, lambs, and Hoods' Dorking rooster. Laddie had a horn that Mr. Pryor gave him when he told him this country was showing signs of becoming civilized at last; but Leon grinned and said he'd beat that.
Then when you wanted him, he was in the wood house loft at work, but father said he couldn't get into mischief there. He should have seen that churn when it was full of wedding breakfast! We ate for a week afterward, until things were all moulded, and we didn't dare anymore. One night I begged so hard and promised so faithfully he trusted me; he did often, after I didn't tell about the Station; and I went to the loft with him, and watched him work an hour. He had a hollow limb about six inches through and fourteen long. He had cut and burned it to a mere shell, and then he had scraped it with glass inside and out, until it shone like polished horn. He had shaved the wool from a piece of sheepskin, soaked, stretched, and dried it, and then fitted it over one end of the drumlike thing he had made, and tacked and bound it in a little groove at the edge. He put the skin on damp so he could stretch it tight. Then he punched a tiny hole in the middle, and pulled through it, down inside the drum, a sheepskin thong rolled in resin, with a knot big enough to hold it, and not tear the head. Then he took it under his arm and we slipped across the orchard below the Station, and went into the hollow and tried it.
It worked! I almost fell dead with the first frightful sound. It just bellowed and roared. In only a little while he found different ways to make it sound by his manner of working the tongue. A long, steady, even pull got that kind of a roar. A short, quick one made it bark. A pull half the length of the thong, a pause, and another pull, made it sound like a bark and a yelp. To pull hard and quick, made it go louder, and soft and easy made it whine. Before he had tried it ten minutes he could do fifty things with it that would almost scare the livers out of those nasty old foxes that were taking every one's geese, Dorking roosters, and even baby lambs and pigs. Of course people couldn't stand that; something had to be done!
Even in the Bible it says, "Beware of the little foxes that spoil the vines," and geese, especially blue ones, Dorking roosters, lambs, and pigs were much more valuable than mere vines; so Leon made that awful thing to scare the foxes from their holes that's in the Bible too, about the holes I mean, not the scaring. I wanted Leon to slip to the back door and make the dumb-bell-- that's what he called it; if I had been naming it I would have called it the thunder-bell--go; but he wouldn't. He said he didn't propose to work as he had, and then have some one find out, and fix one like it. He said he wouldn't let it make a sound until the night before the chase, and then he'd raise the dead. I don't know about the dead; but it was true of the living. Father went a foot above his chair and cried: "Whoo- pee!" All of us, even I, when I was waiting for it, screamed as if Paddy Ryan raved at the door. Then Leon came in and showed us, and every one wanted to work the dumb-bell, even mother. Leon marched around and showed off; he looked "See the conquering hero comes," all over. I never felt worse about being made into a girl than I did that night.
I couldn't sleep for excitement, and mother said I might as well, for it would be at least one o'clock before they would round-up in our meadow below the barn. All the neighbours were to shut up their stock, tie their dogs, or lead them with chains, if they took them, so when the foxes were surrounded, they could catch them alive, and save their skins. I wondered how some of those chasing people, even Laddie, Leon, and father--think of that! father was going too--I wondered how they would have liked to have had something as much bigger than they were, as they were bigger than the foxes, chase them with awful noises, guns and dogs, and catch them alive--to save their skins. No wonder I couldn't sleep! I guess the foxes wouldn't either, if they had known what was coming. Maybe hereafter the mean old things would eat rabbits and weasels, and leave the Dorking roosters alone.
May, Candace, and Miss Amelia were going to Deams' to wait, and when the round-up formed a solid line, they planned to stand outside, and see the sport. If they had been the foxes, maybe they wouldn't have thought it was so funny; but of course, people just couldn't have even their pigs and lambs taken. We had to have wool to spin yarn for our stockings, weave our blankets and coverlids, and our Sunday winter dresses of white flannel with narrow black crossbars were from the backs of our own sheep, and we had to have ham to fry with eggs, and boil for Sunday night suppers, and bacon to cook the greens with--of course it was all right.
Before it was near daylight I heard Laddie making the kitchen fire, so father got right up, Leon came down, and all of them went to the barn to do the feeding. I wanted to get up too, but mother said I should stay in bed until the house was warm, because if I took more cold I'd be sick again. At breakfast May asked father about when they should start for Deams' to be ahead of the chase, and he said by ten o'clock at least; because a fox driven mad by pursuit, dogs, and noise, was a very dangerous thing, and a bite might make hy----the same thing as a mad dog. He said our back barn door opening from the threshing floor would afford a fine view of the meet, but Candace, May, and Miss Amelia wanted to be closer. I might go with them if they would take good care of me, and they promised to; but when the time came to start, there was such a queer feeling inside me, I thought maybe it was more fever, and with mother would be the best place for me, so I said I wanted to watch from the barn. Father thought that was a capital idea, because I would be on the east side, where there would be no sun and wind, and it would be perfectly safe; also, I really could see what was going on better from that height than on the ground.
The sun was going to shine, but it hadn't peeped above Deams' strawstack when father on his best saddle horse, and Laddie on Flos, rode away, their eyes shining, their faces red, their blood pounding so it made their voices sound excited and different. Leon was to go on foot. Father said he would ride a horse to death. He just grinned and never made a word of complaint. Seemed funny for him.
"I was over having a little confidential chat with my horse, last night," he said, "and next year we'll be in the chase, and we'll show you how to take fences, and cut curves; just you wait!"
"Leon, don't build so on that horse," wailed mother. "I'm sure that money was stolen like ours, and the owner will claim it! I feel it in my bones!"
"Aw, shucks!" said Leon. "That money is mine. He won't either!"
When they started, father took Leon behind him to ride as far as the county line. He said he would go slowly, and it wouldn't hurt the horse, but Leon slipped off at Hoods', and said he'd go with their boys, so father let him, because light as Leon was, both of them were quite a load for one horse. Laddie went to ride with the Princess. We could see people moving around in Pryors' barnyard when our men started. Candace washed, Miss Amelia wiped the dishes, May swept, and all of them made the beds, and then they went to Deams', while I stayed with mother. When she thought it was time, she bundled me up warmly, and I went to the barn. Father had the east doors standing open for me, so I could sit in the sun, hang my feet against the warm boards, and see every inch of our meadow where the meet was to be. I was really too warm there, and had to take off the scarf, untie my hood, and unbutton my coat.
It was a trifle muddy, but the frost had not left the ground yet, the sparrows were singing fit to burst, so were the hens. I didn't care much for the music of the hen, but I could see she meant well. She liked her nest quite as much as the red velvet bird with black wings, or the bubbly yellow one, and as for baby chickens, from the first peep they beat a little naked, blind, wobbly tree bird, so any hen had a right to sing for joy because she was going to be the mother of a large family of them. A hen had something was going to be the mother of a large family of them. A hen had something to sing about all right, and so had we, when we thought of poached eggs and fried chicken. When I remembered them, I saw that it was no wonder the useful hen warbled so proudlike; but that was all nonsense, for I don't suppose a hen ever tasted poached eggs, and surely she wouldn't be happy over the prospect of being fried. Maybe one reason she sang was because she didn't know what was coming; I hardly think she'd be so tuneful if she did.
Sometimes the geese, shut in the barn, raised an awful clatter, and the horses and cattle complained about being kept from the sunshine and fresh air. You couldn't blame them. It was a lovely day, and the big upper door the pleasantest place. I didn't care if the fox hunters never came, there was so much to see, hear, and smell. Everything was busy making signs of spring, and one could become tired of ice and snow after a while, and so hungry for summer that those first days which were just hints of what was coming were almost better than the real thing when it arrived. Bud perfume was stronger than last week, many doves and bluebirds were calling, and three days more of such sunshine would make cross-country riding too muddy to be pleasant. I sat there thinking; grown people never know how much children do think, they have so much time, and so many bothersome things to study out. I heard it behind me, a long, wailing, bellowing roar, and my hood raised right up with my hair. I was in the middle of the threshing floor in a second, in another at the little west door, cut into the big one, opening it a tiny crack to take a peep, and see how close they were.
I could see nothing, but I heard a roar of dreadful sound steadily closing in a circle around me. No doubt the mean old foxes wished then they had let the Dorking roosters alone. Closer it came and more dreadful. Never again did I want to hear such sounds coming at me; even when I knew what was making them. And then away off, beyond Pryors', and Hoods', and Dovers', I could see a line of tiny specks coming toward me, and racing flying things that must have been people on horses riding back and forth to give the foxes no chance to find a hiding place. No chance! Laddie and the Princess, Mr. Pryor and father, and all of them were after the bad old foxes; and they were going to get them; because they'd have no chance--Not with a solid line of men with raving dogs surrounding them, and people on horseback racing after them, no! the foxes would wish now that they had left the pigs and lambs alone. In that awful roaring din, they would wish, Oh how they would wish, they were birds and could fly! Fly back to their holes like the Bible said they had, where maybe they liked to live, and no doubt they had little foxes there, that would starve when their mammies were caught alive, to save their skins.
To save their skins! I could hear myself breathe, and feel my teeth click, and my knees knock together. And then! Oh dear! There they came across our cornfield. Two of them! And they could fly, almost. At least you could scarcely see that they touched the ground. The mean old things were paying up for the pigs and lambs now. Through the fence, across the road, straight toward me they came. Almost red backs, nearly white beneath, long flying tails, beautiful pointed ears, and long tongues, fire red, hanging from their open mouths; their sleek sides pulsing, and that awful din coming through the woods behind them. One second, the first paused to glance toward either side, and threw back its head to listen. What it saw, and heard, showed it. I guess then it was sorry it ever took people's ham, and their greens, and their blankets; and it could see and hear that it had no chance--to save its skin.
"Oh Lord! Dear Lord! Help me!" I prayed.
It had to be me, there was no one else. I never had opened the big doors; I thought it took a man, but when I pushed with all my might--and maybe if the hairs of our heads were numbered, and the sparrows counted, there would be a little mercy for the foxes--I asked for help; maybe I got it. The doors went back, and I climbed up the ladder to the haymow a few steps and clung there, praying with all my might: "Make them come in! Dear Lord, make them come in! Give them a chance! Help them to save their skins, O Lord!"
With a whizz and a flash one went past me, skimmed the cider press, and rushed across the hay; then the other. I fell to the floor and the next thing I knew the doors were shut, and I was back at my place. I just went down in a heap and leaned against the wall and shook, and then I laughed and said: "Thank you, Lord! Thank you for helping with the door! And the foxes! The beautiful little red and white foxes! They've got their chance! They'll save their skins! They'll get back to their holes and their babies! Praise the Lord!"
I knew when I heard that come out, that it was exactly like my father said it when Amos Hurd was redeemed. I never knew father to say it so impressively before, because Amos had been so bad, people really were afraid of him, and father said if once he got started right, he would go at it just as hard as he had gone at wrongdoing. I suppose I shouldn't have said it about a fox, when there were the Dorkings, and ham, and white wool dresses, and all that, but honestly, I couldn't remember that I cared particularly whether Amos Hurd was redeemed or not; he was always lovely to children; while I never in all my life had wanted anything worse than I wanted those foxes to save their skins. I could hear them pant like run out dogs; and I could hear myself, and I hadn't been driven from my home and babies, maybe--and chased miles and miles, either.
Then I just shook. They came pounding, roaring and braying right around the barn, and down the lane. The little door flew open and a strange man stuck in his head.
"Shut that door!" I screamed. "You'll let them in on me, and they bite! They're poison! They'll kill me!"
I hadn't even thought of it before.
"See any foxes?" cried the man.
"Two crossed our barnyard headed that way!" I cried back, pointing east. "Shut the door!"
The man closed it and ran calling as he went: "It's all right! They crossed the barnyard. We've got them!"
I began to dance and beat my hands, and then I stopped and held my breath. They were passing, and the noise was dreadful. They struck the sides of the barn, poked around the strawstack, and something made me look up, and at the edge of the hay stood a fox ready to spring. If it did, it would go from the door, right into the midst thereof. Nothing but my red hood sailing straight at it, and a yell I have, drove it back. No one hit the barn again, the line closed up, and went on at a run now, they were so anxious to meet and see what they had. Then came the beat of hoofs and I saw that all the riders had dropped back, and were behind the line of people on foot. I watched Laddie as he flew past waving to me, and I grabbed my scarf to wave at him. The Princess flashed by so swiftly I couldn't see how she looked, and then I heard a voice I knew cry: "Ep! Ep! Over Lad!" And I almost fell dead where I stood. Mr. Pryor sailed right over the barnyard fence into the cornfield, ripping that dumb-bell as he went, and neck and neck, even with him, on one of his finest horses, was our Leon. His feet were in the stirrups, he had the reins tight, he almost stood as he arose, his face was crimson, his head bare, his white hair flying, the grandest sight you ever saw. At the top of my voice I screamed after them, "Ep! Ep! Over lad!" and then remembered and looked to see if I had to chase back the foxes, but they didn't mind only me, after what they had been through. Then I sat down suddenly again.
Well! What would father think of that! Leon kill a horse of ours indeed! There he was on one of Mr. Pryor's, worth as much as six of father's no doubt, flying over fences, and the creek was coming, and the bank was steep behind the barn. I was up again straining to see.
"Ep! Ep! Over!" rang the cry.
There they went! Laddie and the Princess too. I'll never spend another cent on paper dolls, candy, raisins, or oranges. I'll give all I have to help Leon buy his horse; then I'm going to begin saving for mine.
The line closed up, a solid wall of men with sticks, clubs and guns; the dogs ranged outside, and those on horseback stopped where they could see best; and inside, raced back and forth, and round and round, living creatures. I couldn't count they moved so, but even at that distance I could see that some were poor little cotton tails. The scared things! A whack over the head, a backward toss, and the dogs were mouthing them. The long tailed, sleek, gracefully moving ones, they were foxes, the foxes driven from their holes, and nothing on earth could save their skins for them now; those men meant to have them.
I pulled the doors shut suddenly. I was so sick I could scarcely stand. I had to work, but at last I pushed the west doors open again. I don't think the Lord helped me any that time, for I knew what it took--before, they just went. Or maybe He did help me quite as much, but I had harder work to do my share, because I felt so dizzy and ill. Anyway, they opened. Then I climbed the upright ladder to the top beam, walked it to the granary, and there I danced, pounded and yelled so that the foxes jumped from the hay, leaped lightly to the threshing floor, and stood looking and listening. I gave them time to hear where the dreadful racket was, and then I jumped to the hay and threw the pitchfork at them. It came down smash! and both of them sprang from the door. When I got down the ladder and where I could see, they were so rested they were hiking across the cornfield like they never had raced a step before; and as the clamour went up behind me, that probably meant the first fox had lost its beautiful red and white skin, they reached our woods in safety. The doors went shut easier, and I started to the house crying like any blubbering baby; but when mother turned from the east window, and I noticed her face, I forgot the foxes.
"You saw Leon!" I cried.
"That I did!" she exulted, rocking on her toes the same as she does at the Meeting House when she is going to cry, "Glory!" any minute. "That I did! Ah! the brave little chap! Ah! the fine fellow!"
Her cheeks were the loveliest pink, and her eyes blazed. I scarcely knew her.
"What will father say?"
"If his father isn't every particle as proud of him as I am this day, I've a big disappointment coming," she answered. "If Mr. Pryor chose to let him take that fine horse, and taught him how to ride it, father should be glad."
"If he'd gone into the creek, you wouldn't feel so fine."
"Ah! but he didn't! He didn't! He stuck to the saddle and sailed over in one grand, long sweep! It was fine! I hope--to my soul, I hope his father saw it!"
"He did!" I said. "He did! He was about halfway down the lane. He was where he could see fine."
"You didn't notice----?"
"I was watching if Leon went under. What if he had, mother?"
"They'd have taken him out, and brought him to me, and I'd have worked with all the strength and skill God has given me, and if it were possible to us, he would be saved, and if it were not, it would be a proud moment for a woman to offer a boy like that to the God who gave him. One would have nothing to be ashamed of!"
"Could you do it, like you are now, and not cry, mother?" I asked wonderingly.
"Patience no!" said she. "Before long you will find out, child, that the fountain head of tears and laughter lies in the same spot, deep in a woman's heart. Men were made for big things! They must brave the wild animals, the Indians, fight the battles, ride the races, till the fields, build the homes. In the making of a new country men must have the thing in their souls that carried Leon across the creek. If he had checked that horse and gone to the ford, I would have fallen where I stood!"
"Father crossed the ford!"
"True! But that's different. He never had a chance at a horse like that! He never had time for fancy practice, and his nose would have been between the pages of a book if he had. But remember this! Your father's hand has never faltered, and his aim has never failed. All of us are here, safe and comfortable, through him. It was your father who led us across the wilderness, and fended from us the wildcat, wolf, and Indian. He built this house, cleared this land, and gave to all of us the thing we love. Get this in your head straight. Your father rode a plow horse; he never tried flourishes in riding; but no man can stick in the saddle longer, ride harder, and face any danger with calmer front. If you think this is anything, you should have seen his face the day he stood between me and a band of Indians, we had every reason to think, I had angered to the fighting point."
"Tell me! Please tell me!" I begged.
All of us had been brought up on that story, but we were crazy to hear it, and mother loved to tell it, so she dropped on a chair and began:
"We were alone in a cabin in the backwoods of Ohio. Elizabeth was only nine months old, and father always said a mite the prettiest of any baby we ever had. Many of the others have looked quite as well to me, but she was the first, and he was so proud of her he always wanted me to wait in the wagon until he hitched the horses, so he would get to take and to carry her himself. Well, she was in the cradle, cooing and laughing, and I had my work all done, and cabin shining. I was heating a big poker red-hot, and burning holes into the four corners of a board so father could put legs in it to make me a bench. A greasy old squaw came to the door with her papoose on her back. She wanted to trade berries for bread. There were berries everywhere for the picking; I had more dried than I could use in two years. We planted only a little patch of wheat and father had to ride three days to carry to mill what he could take on a horse. I baked in an outoven and when it was done, a loaf of white bread was by far the most precious thing we had to eat. Sometimes I was caught, and forced to let it go. Often I baked during the night and hid the bread in the wheat at the barn. There was none in the cabin that day and I said so. She didn't believe me. She set her papoose on the floor beside the fireplace, and went to the cupboard. There wasn't a crumb there except cornbread, and she didn't want that. She said: `Brod! Brod!'
"She learned that from the Germans in the settlement. I shook my head. Then she pulled out a big steel hunting knife, such as the whites traded to the Indians so they would have no trouble in scalping us neatly, and walked to the cradle. She took that knife loosely between her thumb and second finger and holding it directly above my baby's face, she swung it lightly back and forth and demanded: `Brod! Brod!'
"If the knife fell, it would go straight through my baby's head, and Elizabeth was reaching her little hands and laughing. There was only one thing to do, and I did it. I caught that red-hot poker from the fire, and stuck it so close her baby's face, that the papoose drew back and whimpered. I scarcely saw how she snatched it up and left. When your father came, I told him, and we didn't know what to do. We knew she would come back and bring her band. If we were not there, they would burn the cabin, ruin our crops, kill our stock, take everything we had, and we couldn't travel so far, or so fast, that on their ponies they couldn't overtake us. We endangered any one with whom we sought refuge, so we gripped hands, knelt down and told the Lord all about it, and we felt the answer was to stay. Father cleaned the gun, and hours and hours we waited.
"About ten o'clock the next day they came, forty braves in war paint and feathers. I counted until I was too sick to see, then I took the baby in my arms and climbed to the loft, with our big steel knife in one hand. If your father fell, I was to use it, first on Elizabeth, then on myself. The Indians stopped at the woodyard, and the chief of the band came to the door, alone. Your father met him with his gun in reach, and for a whole eternity they stood searching each other's eyes. I was at the trapdoor where I could see both of them.
"To the depths of my soul I enjoyed seeing Leon take the fence and creek: but what was that, child, to compare with the timber that stood your father like a stone wall between me and forty half-naked, paint besmeared, maddened Indians? Don't let any showing the men of to-day can make set you to thinking that father isn't a king among men. Not once, but again and again in earlier days, he fended danger from me like that. I can shut my eyes and see his waving hair, his white brow, his steel blue eyes, his unfaltering hand. I don't remember that I had time or even thought to pray. I gripped the baby, and the knife, and waited for the thing I must do if an arrow or a shot sailed past the chief and felled father. They stood second after second, like two wooden men, and then slowly and deliberately the chief lighted his big pipe, drew a few puffs and handed it to father. He set down his gun, took the pipe and quite as slowly and deliberately he looked at the waiting band, at the chief, and then raised it to his lips.
"`White squaw brave! Heap much brave!' said the chief.
"`In the strength of the Lord. Amen!' said father.
"Then he reached his hand and the chief took it, so I came down the ladder and stood beside father, as the Indians began to file in the front door and out the back. As they passed, every man of them made the peace sign and piled in a heap, venison, fish, and game, while each squaw played with the baby and gave me a gift of beads, a metal trinket, or a blanket she had woven. After that they came often, and brought gifts, and if prowling Gypsies were pilfering, I could look to see a big Indian loom up and seat himself at my fireside until any danger was past. I really got so I liked and depended on them, and father left me in their care when he went to mill, and I was safe as with him. You have heard the story over and over, but to-day is the time to impress on you that an exhibition like this is the veriest child's play compared with what I have seen your father do repeatedly!"
"But it was you, the chief said was brave!"
"I had to be, baby," she said. "Mother had no choice. There's only one way to deal with an Indian. I had lived among them all my life, and I knew what must be done."
"I think both of you were brave," I said, "you, the bravest!"
"Quite the contrary," laughed mother. "I shall have to confess that what I did happened so quickly I'd no time to think. I only realized the coal red iron was menacing the papoose when it drew back and whimpered. Father had all night to face what was coming to him, and it was not one to one, but one to forty, with as many more squaws, as good fighters as the braves, to back them. It was a terror but I never have been sorry we went through it together. I have rested so securely in your father ever since."
"And he is as safe in you," I insisted.
"As you will," said mother. "This world must have her women quite as much as her men. It is shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, business."
The clamour in the meadow arose above our voices and brought us back to the foxes.
"There goes another!" I said, the tears beginning to roll again.
"It is heathenish business," said mother. "I don't blame you! If people were not too shiftless to care for their stuff, the foxes wouldn't take their chickens and geese. They never get ours!"
"Hoods aren't shiftless!" I sobbed.
"There are always exceptions," said mother, "and they are the exception in this case."
The door flew open and Leon ran in. He was white with excitement, and trembling.
"Mother, come and see me take a fence on Pryor's Rocket!" he cried.
Mother had him in her arms.
"You little whiffet!" she said. "You little tow-haired whiffet!"
Both of them were laughing and crying at the same time, and so was I.
"I saw you take one fence and the creek, Weiscope!" she said, holding him tight, and stroking his hair. "That will do for to- day. Ride the horse home slowly, rub it down if they will allow you, and be sure to remember your manners when you leave. To trust such a child as you with so valuable a horse, and for Mr. Pryor to personally ride with you and help you, I think that was a big thing for a man like him to do."
"But, mother, he's been showing me for weeks, or I couldn't have done it to-day. It was our secret to surprise you. When I get my horse, I'll be able to ride a little, as well as Mr. Laddie."
"Leon, don't," said mother, gripping him tighter.
"You must bear in mind, word about that money may come any day."
"Aw, it won't either," said Leon, pulling away. "And say, mother, that dumb-bell was like country boys make in England. He helped me hunt the wood and showed me, and I couldn't ride and manage it, so he had it all day, and you should have heard him make it rip. Say, mother, take my word, he was some pumpkins in England. I bet he ordered the Queen around, when he was there!"
"No doubt!" laughed mother, kissing him and pushing him from the door.
Some people are never satisfied. After that splendid riding and the perfect day, father, Leon, and Laddie came home blaming every one, and finding fault, and trying to explain how it happened, that the people from the east side claimed two foxes, and there was only one left for the west side, when they had seen and knew they had driven three for miles. They said they lost them in our Big Woods.
I didn't care one speck. I would as lief wear a calico dress, and let the little foxes have their mammies to feed them; and I was willing to bet all my money that we would have as much ham, and as many greens next summer as we ever had. And if the foxes took Hoods' Dorkings again, let them build a coop with safe foundations. The way was to use stone and heap up dirt around it in the fall, to be perfectly sure, and make it warmer.
We took care of our chickens because we had to have them. All the year we needed them, but most especially for Easter. Mother said that was ordained chicken time. Turkeys for Thanksgiving, sucking pigs for Christmas, chickens for Easter, goose, she couldn't abide. She thought it was too strong. She said the egg was a symbol of life; of awakening, of birth, and the chickens came from the eggs, first ones about Easter, so that proved it was chicken time.
I am going to quit praying about little things I can manage myself. Father said no prayer would bring an answer unless you took hold and pulled with all your being for what you wanted. I had been intending for days to ask the Lord to help me find where Leon hid his Easter eggs. It had been the law at our house from the very first, that for the last month before Easter, aside from what mother had to have for the house, all of us might gather every egg we could find and keep them until Easter. If we could locate the hiding place of any one else, we might take all theirs. The day before Easter they were brought in, mother put aside what she required, and the one who had the most got to sell all of them and take the money. Sometimes there were two washtubs full, and what they brought was worth having, for sure. So we watched all year for safe places, and when the time came we almost ran after the hens with a basket. Because Laddie and Leon were bigger they could outrun us, and lots of hens laid in the barn, so there the boys always had first chance. Often during the month we would find and take each other's eggs a dozen times.
We divided them, and hid part in different places, so that if either were found there would still be some left.
Laddie had his in the hopper of the cider press right on the threshing floor, and as he was sure to get more than I had anyway, I usually put mine with his. May had hers some place, and where Leon had his, none of us could find or imagine. I almost lay awake of nights trying to think, and every time I thought of a new place, the next day I would look, and they wouldn't be there. Three days before Easter, mother began to cook and get the big dinner ready, and she ran short of eggs. She told me to go to the barn and tell the boys that each of them must send her a dozen as quickly as they could. Of course that was fair, if she made both give up the same number. So I went to the barn.
The lane was muddy, and as I had been sick, I wore my rubbers that spring. I thought to keep out of the deep mud, where horses and cattle trampled, I'd go up the front embankment, and enter the little door. My feet made no sound, and it so happened that the door didn't either, and as I started to open it. I saw Leon disappearing down the stairway, with a big sack on his back. I thought it was corn for the horses, and followed him, but he went to the cow stable door and started toward the lane, and then I thought it was for the pigs, so I called Laddie and told him about the eggs. He said he'd give me two dozen of his, and Leon could pay him back. We went together to get them, and there was only one there.
Wasn't that exactly like Leon? Leave one for the nest egg! If he were dying and saw a joke or a trick, he'd stop to play it before he finished, if he possibly could. If he had no time at all, then he'd go with his eyes twinkling over the thoughts of the fun it would have been if he possibly could have managed it. Of course when we saw that one lonely egg in the cider hopper, just exactly like the "Last Rose of Summer, left to pine on the stem," I thought of the sack Leon carried, and knew what had been in it. We hurried out and tried to find him, but he was swallowed up. You couldn't see him or hear a sound of him anywhere.
Mother was as cross as she ever gets. Right there she made a new rule, and it was that two dozen eggs must be brought to the house each day, whether any were hidden or not. She had to stop baking until she got eggs. She said a few times she had used a goose egg in custard. I could fix that. I knew where one of our gray geese had a nest, and if she'd cook any goose egg, it would be a gray one. Of course I had sense enough not to take a blue one. So I slipped from the east door, crossed the yard and orchard corner, climbed the fence and went down the lane. There was the creek up and tearing. It was half over the meadow, and the floodgate between the pasture and the lane rocked with the rush of water; still, I believed I could make it. So I got on the fence and with my feet on the third rail, and holding by the top one, I walked sidewise, and so going reached the floodgate. It was pretty wobbly, but I thought I could cross on the run. I knew I could if I dared jump at the other end; but there the water was over the third rail, and that meant above my head.
It was right at that time of spring when you felt so good you thought you could do most anything, except fly--I tried that once--so I went on. The air was cold for all the sun shone, the smell of catkin pollen, bursting buds, and the odour of earth steaming in the sun, was in every breath; the blackbirds were calling, and the doves; the ganders looked longingly at the sky and screamed a call to every passing wild flock, and Deams' rooster wanted to fight all creation, if you judged by the boasting he was doing from their barnyard gate. He made me think of eggs, so I set my jaws, looked straight ahead, and scooted across the floodgate to the post that held it and the rails of the meadow fence. I made it too, and then the fence was easy, only I had to double quite short, because the water was over the third rail there, but at last it was all gone, and I went to the fence corner and there was the goose on the nest, laying an egg. She had built on a little high place, among puddles, wild rose bushes, and thorns, and the old thing wouldn't get off. She just sat there and stuck out her head and hissed and hissed. I never noticed before that geese were so big and so aggravating. I wasn't going to give up, after that floodgate, so I hunted a big stick, set it against her wing, pushed her off and grabbed three eggs and ran. When I got to the fence, I was in a pickle for sure. I didn't know what in the world to do with the eggs.
At last I unbuttoned my coat, put them in my apron front, gathered it up, and holding it between my teeth, started back. I had to double more than ever on account of the eggs, and when I reached the floodgate it rocked like a branch in the wind; but I had to get back, so I rested and listened to the larks a while. That was a good plan. They were calling for mates, and what they said was so perfectly lovely, you couldn't think of anything else; and the less you thought about how that gate rocked, and how deep and swift the water ran, the better for you. At last one lark went almost from sight and he rang, twisted and trilled his call, until my heart swelled so big it hurt. I crossed on the jump with no time to think at all. That was a fine plan, for I made it, but I hit the post so hard I broke the middle egg. I was going to throw it away, but there was so much starch in my apron it held like a dish, and it had been clean that morning, now the egg soiled it anyway, so I ran and got home all right.
Mother was so pleased about the eggs she changed the apron and never said a word, except to brag on me. She said she couldn't keep house without me, and I guess that was a fact. I came in handy a lot of times. But at dinner when she scolded the boys about the eggs, and told them I brought the goose eggs for her custard, else there would have been no pie, father broke loose, and I thought he was going to whip me sure. He told mother all about the water and the gate, and how I had to cross, and he said, `it was a dispensation of Providence that we didn't have a funeral instead of celebrating Easter,' so I said:
"Well, if you think I came so near drowning myself, when you rejoice because Christ is risen from the dead, you can be glad I am too, and that will make it all the better."
The boys laughed, but father said it was no laughing matter. I think that speech saved me from going on the threshing floor, for he took me on his lap when I thought I'd have to go, and told me never, never to do anything like that again, and then he hugged me until I almost broke. Gracious! He should have seen us going to school some days. Why, we even walked the top rail when it was the only one above water, and we could cross the bridge if we wanted to. At least when Laddie or Miss Amelia was not around, we did.
Leon was so bursting full he scarcely could eat, and Laddie looked pretty glum when he had to admit he had no eggs; so Laddie had to hand over the whole two dozen. Leon didn't mind that, but he said if he must, then all of us should stay in the dining-room until he brought them, because of course he couldn't walk straight and get them in broad daylight with us watching, and not show where they were. Father said that was fair, so Leon went out and before so very long he came back with the eggs.
I thought until my skull almost cracked, about where he could have gone, and I was almost to the place where the thing seemed serious enough that I'd ask the Lord to help me find Laddie's eggs, when mother sent me to the garret for red onion skins. She had an hour to rest, and she was going to spend it fixing decorations for our eggs. Of course there were always red and black aniline ones, and yellow and blue, but none of us ever like them half so well as those mother coloured, herself.
She took the dark red skins and cut boys, girls, dogs, cats, stars, flowers, butterflies, fish, and everything imaginable, and wet the skins a little and laid them on very white eggs that had been soaked in alum water to cut the grease, and then wrapped light yellow skins over, and then darker ones, and at last layer after layer of cloth, and wet that, and roasted them an hour in hot ashes and then let them cool and dry, before unwrapping. When she took them out, rubbed on a little grease and polished them--there they were! They would have our names, flowers, birds, animals, all in pale yellow, deep rich brown, almost red, and perfectly beautiful colours, while you could hunt and hunt before you found everything on one egg. And sometimes the onion skins slipped, and made things of themselves that she never put on.
I was coming from the bin with an apron full of skins and I almost fell over. I couldn't breathe for a long time. I danced on my toes, and held my mouth to keep from screaming. On the garret floor before me lay a little piece of wet mud, and the faintest outline of a boot, a boot about Leon's size. That was all I needed to know. As soon as I could hold steady, I took the skins to mother, slipped back and hunted good; and of course I had to find them--grainsacks half full of them--carried in the front door in the evening, and up the front stairs, where no one went until bedtime, unless there were company. Away back under the eaves, across the joists, behind the old clothing waiting to be ripped, coloured and torn for carpet rangs and rugs, Mr. Leon had almost every egg that had been laid on the place for a month.
Now he'd see what he'd get for taking Laddie's!
Then I stopped short. What I thought most made me sick, but I didn't propose to lie in bed again for a year at least, for it had its bad parts as well as its good; so I went straight and whispered to Laddie. He never looked pleased at all, so I knew I had been right. He kissed me, and thanked me, and then said slowly: "It's mighty good of you, Little Sister, but you see it wouldn't be fair. He found mine himself, so he had a right to take them. But I don't dare touch his, when you tell me where they are. I never in a month of Sundays would have looked for them in the house. I was going to search the wood house and smoke house this afternoon. I can't take them. But thank you just as much."
Then I went to father and he laughed. How he did laugh!
"Laddie is right!" he said at last. "He didn't find them, and he mustn't take them. But you may! They're yours! That front door scheme of Leon's was fairly well, but it wasn't quite good enough. If he'd cleaned his feet as he should, before he crossed mother's carpet and climbed the stairs, he'd have made it all right. `His tracks betrayed him,' as tracks do all of us, if we are careless enough to leave any. The eggs are yours, and to- night is the time to produce them. Where do you want to hide them?"
Well of all things! and after I had stumbled on them without pestering the Lord, either! Just as slick as anything! Mine! I never ever thought of it. But when I did think, I liked it. The more I thought, the funnier it grew.
"Under mother's bed," I whispered. "But I never can get them. They're in wheat sacks, and full so high, and they'll have to be handled like eggs."
"I'll do the carrying," laughed father. "Come show me!"
So we took all those eggs, and put them under mother's bed.
Of course she and Candace saw us, but they didn't hunt eggs and they'd never tell. If ever I thought I'd burst wide open! About dusk I saw Leon coming from the barn carrying his hat at his side--more eggs--so I ran like a streak and locked the front door, and then slipped back in the dining-room and almost screamed, when I could hear him trying it, and he couldn't get in. After a while he came in, fussed around, and finally went into the sitting-room, and the key turned and he went upstairs. I knew I wouldn't dare look at him when he came down, so I got a reader and began on a piece I just love:
"A nightingale made a mistake; She sang a few notes out of tune: Her heart was ready to break, And she hid away from the moon."
When I did get a peep, gracious but he was black! Maybe it wasn't going to be so much fun after all. But he had the money last year, and the year before, and if he'd cleaned his feet well--I was not hunting his eggs, when I found them. "His tracks betrayed him," as father said. I was thankful supper was ready just then, and while it was going on mother said: "As soon as you finish, all bring in your eggs. I want to wrap the ones to colour to-night, and bury them in the fireplace so they will colour, dry, and be ready to open in the morning."
No one said a word, but neither Laddie nor Leon looked very happy, and I took awful bites to keep my face straight. When all of us finished May brought a lot from the bran barrel in the smoke house, but Laddie and Leon only sat there and looked silly; it really was funny.
"I must have more eggs than this?" said mother. "Where are they to come from?"
Father nodded to me and I said: "From under your bed!"
"Oh, it was you! And I never once caught you snooping!" cried Leon.
"Easy son!" said father. "That will do. You lost through your own carelessness. You left wet mud on the garret floor, and she saw it when mother sent her for the onion skins. You robbed Laddie of his last egg this morning; be a good loser yourself!"
"Well, anyway, you didn't get 'em," said Leon to Laddie.
"And she only found them by accident!"
Then we had a big time counting all those eggs, and such another heap as there was to sell, after mother filled baskets to cook with and colour. When the table was cleared, Laddie and Leon made tallow pencils from a candle and wrote all sorts of things over eggs that had been prepared to colour. Then mother boiled them in copperas water, and aniline, and all the dyes she had, and the boys polished them, and they stood in shining black, red, blue and yellow heaps. The onion ones would be done in the morning. Leon had a goose egg and mother let him keep it, so he wrote and wrote on it, until Laddie said it would be all writing, and no colour, and he boiled it in red, after mother finished, and polished it himself. It came out real pretty with roses on it and lots of words he wouldn't let any of us read; but of course it was for Susie Fall.
Next morning he slipped it to her at church. When we got home, all of us were there except Shelley, and we had a big dinner and a fine time and Laddie stayed until after supper, before he went to Pryors'.
"How is he making it?" asked Sally.
You could see she was making it all right; she never looked lovelier, and mother said Peter was letting her spend away too much money on her clothes. She told him so, but Peter just laughed and said business was good, and he could afford it, and she was a fine advertisement for his store when she was dressed well."
"All I know is," said mother, "that he goes there every whipstitch, and the women, at least, seem glad to have him. He says Mr. Pryor treats him decently, and that is more than he does his own family and servants. He and the girl and her mother are divided about something. She treats her father respectfully, but she's in sympathy with mother."
"Laddie can't find out what the trouble is?"
"I don't think that he tries."
"Maybe he'd feel better not to know," said Peter.
"Possibly!" said mother.
"Nonsense!" said father.
"You seem to be reconciled," said Elizabeth.
"That girl would reconcile a man to anything," said father.
"Not to the loss of his soul, I hope," said mother stiffly.
"Souls are not so easy to lose," said father. "Besides, I am counting on Laddie saving hers."