Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XIV. The Crest of Eastbrooke
"Sow;--and look onward, upward, Where the starry light appears,-- Where, in spite of coward's doubting, Or your own heart's trembling fears, You shall reap in joy the harvest You have sown to-day in tears."
Any objections to my beginning to break ground on the west eighty to-day?" asked Laddie of father at breakfast Monday morning.
"I had thought we would commence on the east forty, when planning the work."
"So had I," said Laddie. "But since I thought that, a very particular reason has developed for my beginning to plow the west eighty at once, and there is a charming little ditty I feel strongly impelled to whistle every step of the way."
Father looked at him sharply, and so, I think, did all of us. And because we loved him deeply, we saw that his face was a trifle pale for him; his clear eyes troubled, in spite of his laughing way. He knew we were studying him too, but he wouldn't have said anything that would make us look and question if he had minded our doing it. That was exactly like Laddie. He meant it when he said he hated a secret. He said there was no place on earth for a man to look for sympathy and love if he couldn't find it in his own family; and he never had been so happy since I had been big enough to notice his moods as he had been since all of us knew about the Princess. He didn't wait for father to ask why he'd changed his mind about the place to begin.
"You see," he said, "a very charming friend of mine expressed herself strongly last night about the degrading influence of farming, especially that branch of agriculture which evolves itself in a furrow; hence it is my none too happy work to plow the west eighty where she can't look our way without seeing me; and I have got to whistle my favourite `toon' where she must stop her ears if she doesn't hear; and then it will be my painful task, I fear, to endeavour to convince her that I am still clean, decent, and not degraded."
"Oh Laddie!" cried mother.
"Abominable foolishness!" roared father like he does roar once in about two years.
"Isn't it now?" asked Laddie sweetly. "I don't know what has got into her head. She has seen me plowing fifty times since their land has joined ours, and she never objected before."
"I can tell you blessed well!" said mother. "She didn't care two hoots how much my son plowed, but it makes a difference when it comes to her lover."
"Maw, you speak amazing reckless," said Laddie, "if I thought there was anything in that feature of the case, I'd attempt a Highland fling on the ridgepole of our barn."
"Be serious!" said father sternly. "This is no laughing matter."
"That's precisely why I am laughing," said Laddie. "Would it help me any to sit down and weep? I trow not! I have thought most of the silent watches--by the way they are far from silent in May--and as I read my title clear, it's my job to plow the west eighty immejit."
Father tried to look stern, but he just had to laugh.
"All right then, plow it!" he said.
"What did she say?" asked mother.
"Phew!" Laddie threw up both hands. "She must have been bottled some time on the subject. The ferment was a spill of considerable magnitude. The flood rather overwhelmed me, because it was so unexpected. I had been taking for granted that she accepted my circumstances and surroundings as she did me. But no, kind friends, far otherwise! She said last night, in the clearest English I ever heard spoken impromptu, that I was a man suitable for her friend, but I would have to change my occupation before I could be received on more than a friendly footing."
"`On more than a friendly footing'?" repeated mother.
"You have her exact words," said Laddie. "Kindly pass the ham."
"What did you say?"
"Nothing! I am going to plow the answer. Please don't object to my beginning this morning."
"You try yourself all winter to get as far as you have, and then upset the bowl like this?" cried mother.
"Softly, mummy, softly!" said Laddie. "What am I to do? I've definitely decided on my work. I see land and life, as you and father taught me, in range and in perspective far more than you've got from it. You had a first hand wrestle. The land I covet has been greatly improved already. I can do what I choose with it, making no more strenuous effort than plowing; and I am proud to say that I love to plow. I like my feet in the soil. I want my head in the spring air. I can become almost tipsy on the odours that fill my nostrils. Music evolved by the Almighty is plenty good enough for me. I'm proud of a spanking big team, under the control of a touch or a word. I enjoy farming, and I am going to be a farmer. Plowing is one of the most pleasing parts of the job. Sowing the seed beats it a little, from an artistic standpoint, either is preferable to haying, threshing, or corn cutting: all are parts of my work, so I'm going to begin.
Mother, I hope you don't mind if I take your grays. I'll be very careful; but the picture I present to my girl to-day is going to go hard with her at best, so I'd like to make it level best."
He arose, went around and knelt beside mother. He took her, chair and all, in his arms:
"Best of mothers! on my breast Lean thy head, and sink to rest."
She quoted. Mother laughed.
"Mammy," he asked bending toward her, "am I clean?"
"You goose!" she said, putting her arms around him and holding him tight.
"Gander love," said Laddie, turning up his face for a kiss. "Honest mother, you have been through nigh unto forty years of it, tell me, can a man be a farmer and keep neat enough not to be repulsive to a refined woman?"
"Your father is the answer," said mother. "All of you know how perfectly repulsive he is and always has been to me."
"`Repulsive,"' said father. "That's an ugly word!"
"There are a whole lot of unpleasant things that peep around corners occasionally," said Laddie. "But whoever of you dear people it was that showed Mr. Pryor the Crest of Eastbrooke, brought out this particular dragon for me to slay."
"Tut, tut! Now what does that mean?" said father. "Have we had a little exhibition of that especial brand of pride that goes before a fall?"
"We have! and I take the tumble," said Laddie. "Watch me start! `Jack fell down and broke his crown.' Question--will `Jill come tumbling after?'"
My heart stopped and I was shaking in my bare feet, because I wore no shoes to shake in. Oh my soul! No matter how Laddie jested I knew he was almost killed; the harder he made fun, the worse he was hurt. I opened my mouth to say I did it, I had to, but Leon began to talk.
"Well, I think she's smart!" he cried. "If she was going to give you the mitten, why didn't she do it long ago?"
"She had to find out first whether there were a possibility of her wanting to keep it," said Laddie.
"You're sure you are all signed, sealed, and delivered on this plowing business, are you?" asked Leon.
"Dead sure!" said Laddie.
"All right, if you like it!" said Leon. "None for me after college! But say, you can be a farmer and not plow, you know. You go trim the trees, and work at cleaner, more gentlemanly jobs. I'll plow that field. I'd just as soon as not. I plowed last year and you said I did well, didn't you, father?"
"Yes, on the potato patch," said father. "A cornfield is a different thing. I fear you are too light."
"Oh but that was a year ago!" cried Leon.
He pushed back his chair and went to father.
"Just feel my biceps now! Most like steel!" he boasted. "A fellow can grow a lot in a year, and all the riding I've been doing, and all the exercise I've had. Cert' I can plow that meadow."
"You're all right, shaver," said Laddie. "I'll not forget your offer; but in this case it wouldn't help. Either the Princess takes her medicine or I take mine. I'm going to live on land: I'm going to plow in plain sight of the Pryor house this week, if I have to hire to Jacob Hood to get the chance. May I plow, and may I take the grays, father?"
"Yes!" said father roundly.
"Then here goes!" said Laddie. "You needn't fret, mother. I'll not overheat them. I must give a concert simultaneous with this plowing performance, and I'm particular about the music, so I can't go too fast. Also, I'll wrap the harness."
"Goodness knows I'm not thinking about the horses," said mother.
"No, but if they turned up next Sunday, wind-broken, and with nice large patches of hair rubbed from their sides, you would be! If you were me, would you whistle, or vocalize to start on?"
Mother burst right out crying and laid her face all tear-wet against him. Laddie kissed her, and wiped away the tears, teased her, and soon as he could he bolted from the east door; but I was closest, so I saw plainly that his eyes were wet too. My soul and body! And I had done it! I might as well get it over.
"I showed Mr. Pryor the trinket," I said.
"How did you come to do that?" asked father sternly.
"When he was talking with mother. He told her Laddie would be `wasted' farming----"
"That's what he said. Mother told him you had always farmed and you were a `power in this community.' She told him about what you did, because you wanted to, and what you could do if you chose, about holding office, you know, and that seemed to make him think heaps more of you, so I thought it would be a good thing for him to know about the Crusaders too, and I ran and got the crest. I thought it would help----"
"And so it will," said mother. "They constantly make the best showing they can, we might as well, too. The trouble is they got more than they expected. They thought they could look down on us, and patronize us, if they came near at all; when they found we were quite as well educated as they, had as much land, could hold prominent offices if we chose, and had the right to that bauble, they veered to the other extreme. Now they seem to demand that we quit work----"
"Move to the city, `sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,'" suggested father.
"Exactly!" said mother. "They'll have to find out we are running our own business; but I'm sorry it fell to Laddie to show them. You could have done it better. It will come out all right. The Princess is not going to lose a man like Laddie on account of how he makes his money."
"Don't be too confident," said father. "With people of their stripe, how much money a man can earn, and at what occupation, constitute the whole of life."
She wasn't too confident. Yesterday she had been so happy she almost flew. To-day she kept things going, and sang a lot, but nearly every time you looked at her you could see her lips draw tight, a frown cross her forehead, and her head shake. Pretty soon we heard a racket on the road, so we went out. There was Laddie with the matched team of carriage horses and a plow. Now, in dreadfully busy times, father let Ned and Jo work a little, but not very much. They were not plow horses; they were roadsters. They liked to prance, and bow their necks and dance to the carriage. It shamed them to be hitched to a plow. They drooped their heads and slunk along like dogs caught sucking eggs. But they were a sight on the landscape. They were lean and slender and yet round too, matched dapple gray on flank and side, with long snow-white manes and tails. No wonder mother didn't want them to work. Laddie had reached through the garden fence and hooked a bunch of red tulips and yellow daffodils. The red was at Jo's ear, and the yellow at Ned's, and they did look fine. So did he! Big, strong, clean, a red flower in his floppy straw hat band; and after he drove through the gate, he began a shrill, fifelike whistle you could have heard a half mile:
"See the merry farmer boy, tramp the meadows through, Swing his hoe in careless joy, while dashing off the dew. Bobolink in maple high, trills a note of glee, Farmer boy in gay reply now whistles cheerily."
The chorus was all whistle, and it was written for folks who could. It went up until it almost split the echoes, and Laddie could easily sail a measure above the notes. He did it too. As for me, I kept from sight. For a week Laddie whistled and plowed. He wore that tune threadbare, and got an almost continuous pucker on his lips. Leon said if he didn't stop whistling, and sing more, the girls would think he was doing a prunes and prisms stunt. So after that he sang the words, and whistled the chorus. But he made no excuse to go, and he didn't go, to Pryors'. When Sunday came, he went to Westchester to see Elizabeth, and stayed until Monday morning. Not once that week did the Princess ride past our house, or her father either. By noon Monday Laddie was back in the field, and I had all I could bear. He was neither whistling nor singing so much now, because he was away at the south end, where he couldn't be seen or heard at Pryors'. He almost scoured the skin from him, and he wore his gloves more carefully than usual. If he soiled his clothing in the least, and it looked as if he would make more than his share of work, he washed the extra pieces at night.
Tuesday morning I hurried with all my might, and then I ran to the field where he was. I climbed on the fence, sat there until he came up, and then I gave him some cookies. He stopped the horses, climbed beside me and ate them. Then he put his arms around me and hugged me tight.
"Laddie, do you know I did it?" I wailed.
"Did you now?" said Laddie. "No, I didn't know for sure, but I had suspicions. You always have had such a fondness for that particular piece of tinware."
"But Laddie, it means so much!"
"Doesn't it?" said Laddie. "A few days ago no one could have convinced me that it meant anything at all to me, or ever could. Just look at me now!"
"Don't joke, Laddie! Something must be done."
"Well, ain't I doing it?" asked Laddie. "Look at all these acres and acres of Jim-dandy plowing!"
"Don't!" I begged. "Why don't you go over there?"
"No use, Chicken," said Laddie. "You see her exact stipulation was that I must change my occupation before I came again."
"What does she want you to do?"
"Law, I think. Unfortunately, I showed her a letter from Jerry asking me to enter his office this fall."
"Hadn't you better do it, Laddie?"
"How would you like to be shut in little, stuffy rooms, and set to droning over books and papers every hour of the day, all your life, and to spend the best of your brain and bodily strength straightening out other men's quarrels?"
"Oh Laddie, you just couldn't!" I cried.
"Precisely!" said Laddie. "I just couldn't, and I just won't!"
"What can you do?"
"I might compromise on stock," he said. "I could follow the same occupation as her father, and with better success. Neither he nor his men get the best results from horses. They don't understand them, especially the breeds they are attempting to handle. Most Arab horsemen are tent dwellers. They travel from one oasis to another with their stock. At night their herds are gathered around them as children. As children they love them, pet them, feed them. Each is named for a divinity, a planet or a famous ruler, and the understanding between master and beast is perfect. Honestly, Little Sister, I think you have got to believe in the God of Israel, in order to say the right word to an Arabian horse; and I know you must believe in the God of love. A beast of that breed, jerked, kicked, and scolded is a fine horse ruined. If I owned half the stock Mr. Pryor has over there, I could put it in such shape for market that I could get twice from it what his men will."
"Are Thomas and James rough with the horses?"
"`Like master, like man,' " quoted Laddie. "They are! They are foolish with the Kentucky strain, and fools with the Arab; and yet, that combination beats the world. But I must get on with the P.C. job."
He slid from the fence, took a drink from his water jug, and pulled a handful of grass for each horse. As he stood feeding them, I almost fell from the top rail.
"Laddie!" I whispered. "Look! Mr. Pryor is halfway across the field on Ranger."
"So?" said Laddie. "Now I wonder----"
"Shall I go?"
"No indeed !" said Laddie. "Stay right where you are. It can't be anything of much importance."
At first it didn't seem to be. They talked about the weather, the soil, the team. Laddie scooped a handful of black earth, and holding it out, told Mr. Pryor all about how good it was, and why, and he seemed interested. Then they talked about everything; until if he had been Jacob Hood, he would have gone away. But just at the time when I expected him to start, he looked at Laddie straight and hard.
"I missed you Sabbath evening," he said.
Then I looked at him. He had changed, some way. He seemed more human, more like our folks, less cold and stern.
"I sincerely hope it was unanimous," said Laddie.
Mr. Pryor had to laugh.
"It was a majority, at any rate."
Laddie stared dazed. You see that was kind of a joke. An easy one, because I caught it; but we were not accustomed to expecting a jest from Mr. Pryor. Not one of us dreamed there was a joke between his hat crown and his boot soles. Then Laddie laughed; but he sobered quickly.
"I'm mighty sorry if Mrs. Pryor missed me," he said. "I thought of her. I have grown to be her devoted slave, and I hoped she liked me."
"You put it mildly," said Mr. Pryor. "Since you didn't come when she expected you, we've had the worst time with her that we have had since we reached this da--ah--er--um--this country."
"Could you make any suggestion?" asked Laddie.
"I could! I would suggest that you act like the sensible fellow I know you to be, and come as usual, at your accustomed times."
"But I'm forbidden, man!" cried Laddie.
Ugh! Such awful things as Mr. Pryor said.
"Forbidden!" he cried. "Is a man's roof his own, or is it not? While I live, I propose to be the head of my family. I invite you! I ask you! Mrs. Pryor and I want you! What more is necessary?"
"Two things," said Laddie, just as serenely. "That Miss Pryor wants me, and that I want to come."
"D'ye mean to tell me that you don't want to come, eh? After the fight you put up to force your way in!"
Laddie studied the sky, a whimsy smile on his lips.
"Now wasn't that a good fight?" he inquired. "I'm mighty proud of it! But not now, or ever, do I wish to enter your house again, if Miss Pryor doesn't want, and welcome me."
Then he went over, took Mr. Pryor's horse by the head, and began working with its bridle. It didn't set right some way, and Mr. Pryor had jerked, spurred, and mauled, until there was a big space tramped to mortar. Laddie slid his fingers beneath the leather, eased it a little, and ran his hands over the fretful creature's head. It just stopped, stood still, pushed its nose under his arm, and pressed against his side. Mr. Pryor arose in one stirrup, swung around and alighted. He looped an arm through the bridle rein, and with both hands gripped his whipstock.
"How the devil do you do it?" he asked, as if he were provoked.
"First, the bridle was uncomfortable; next, you surely know, Mr. Pryor, that a man can transfer his mental state to his mount."
Laddie pointed to the churned up earth.
"That represents your mental state; this"--he slid his hand down the neck of the horse--"portrays mine."
Mr. Pryor's face reddened, but Laddie was laughing so heartily he joined in sort of sickly-like.
"Oh I doubt if you are so damnably calm!" he cried.
"I'm calm enough, so far as that goes," said Laddie. "I'm not denying that I've got about all the heartache I can conveniently carry."
"Do you mind telling me how far this affair has gone?"
"Wouldn't a right-minded man give the woman in the case the first chance to answer that question? I greatly prefer that you ask Miss Pryor."
If ever I felt sorry for any one, I did then for Mr. Pryor. He stood there gripping the whip with both hands and he looked exactly as if the May wind might break him into a thousand tiny pieces, and every one of them would be glass.
"Um--er----" he said at last. "You're right, of course, but unfortunately, Pamela and her mother did not agree with my motives, or my course in coming to this country; and while there is no outward demonstration er--um--other than Mrs. Pryor's seclusion; yet, er--um!--I am forced to the belief that I'm not in their confidence."
"I see!" said Laddie. "And of course you love your daughter as any man would love so beautiful a child, and when she is all he has----" I thought the break was coming right there, but Mr. Pryor clenched his whip and put it off; still, any one watching with half an eye could see that it was only put off, and not for long at that,--"It has been my idea, Mr. Pryor, that the proper course for me was to see if I could earn any standing with your daughter. If I could, and she gave me permission, then I intended coming to you the instant I knew how she felt. But in such a case as this, I don't think I shall find the slightest hesitation in telling you anything you want to know, that I am able."
"You don't know how you stand with her?"
Laddie took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. His feet were planted widely apart, and his face was sober enough for any funeral now. At last he spoke.
"I've been trying to figure that out," he said slowly. "I believe the situation is as open to you as it is to me. She was a desperately lonely, homesick girl, when she caught my eye and heart; and I placed myself on her horizon. In her case the women were slow in offering friendship, because, on account of Mrs. Pryor's seclusion, none was felt to be wanted; then Miss Pryor was different in dress and manner. I found a way to let her see that I wanted to be friends, and she accepted my friendship, and at the same time allowed it go only so far. On a few rare occasions, I've met her alone, and we've talked out various phases of life together; but most of our intercourse has taken place in your home, and in your presence. You probably have seen her meet and entertain her friends frequently. I should think you would be more nearly able to gauge my standing with her than I am."
"You haven't told her that you love her?"
"Haven't I though?" cried Laddie. "Man alive! What do you think I'm made of? Putty? Told her? I've told her a thousand times. I've said it, and sung it and whistled it, and looked it, and lived it. I've written it, and ridden it, and this week I've plowed it! Your daughter knows as she knows nothing else, in all this world, that she has only to give me one glance, one word, one gesture of invitation, to find me before her six feet of the worst demoralized beefsteak a woman ever undertook to handle. Told her? Ye Gods! I should say I've told her!"
If any of Pryors had been outdoors they certainly could have heard Mr. Pryor. How he laughed! He shook until he tottered. Laddie took his arm and led him to the fence. He lifted a broad top rail, pushed it between two others across a corner and made a nice comfortable seat for him. After a while Mr. Pryor wiped his eyes. Laddie stood watching him with a slow grin on his face.
"And she hasn't given the signal you are waiting for?" he asked at last.
Laddie slowly shook his head.
"Nary the ghost of a signal!" he said. "Now we come to Sunday before last. I only intimated, vaguely, that a hint of where I stood would be a comfort--and played Jonah. The whale swallowed me at a gulp, and for all my inches, never batted an eye. You see, a few days before I showed her a letter from my brother Jerry, because I thought it might interest her. There was something in it to which I had paid little or no attention, about my going to the city and beginning work in his law office; to cap that, evidently you had mentioned before her our prize piece of family tinware. There was a culmination like a thunder clap in a January sky. She said everything that was on her mind about a man of my size and ability doing the work I am, and then she said I must change my occupation before I came again."
"And for answer you've split the echoes with some shrill, abominable air, and plowed, before her very eyes, for a week!"
Then Laddie laughed.
"Do you know," he said; "that's a good one on me! It never occurred to me that she would not be familiar with that air, and understand its application. Do you mean to crush me further by telling me that all my perfectly lovely vocalizing and whistling was lost?"
"It was a dem irritating, challenging sort of thing," said Mr. Pryor. "I listened to it by the hour, myself, trying to make out exactly what it did mean. It seemed to combine defiance with pleading, and through and over all ran a note of glee that was really quite charming."
"You have quoted a part of it, literally," said Laddie. "`A note of glee'--the cry of a glad heart, at peace with all the world, busy with congenial work."
"I shouldn't have thought you'd have been so particularly joyful."
"Oh, the joy was in the music," said Laddie. "That was a whistle to keep up my courage. The joy was in the song, not in me! Last week was black enough for me to satisfy the most exacting pessimist."
"I wish you might have seen the figure you cut! That fine team, flower bedecked, and the continuous concert!"
"But I did!" cried Laddie. "We have mirrors. That song can't be beaten. I know this team is all right, and I'm not dwarfed or disfigured. That was the pageant of summer passing in review. It represented the tilling of the soil; the sowing of seed, garnering to come later. You buy corn and wheat, don't you? They are vastly necessary. Much more so than the settling of quarrels that never should have taken place. Do you think your daughter found the spectacle at all moving?"
"Damn you, sir, what I should do, is to lay this whip across your shoulders!" cried Mr. Pryor.
But if you will believe it, he was laughing again.
"I prefer that you don't," said Laddie, "or on Ranger either. See how he likes being gentled."
Then he straightened and drew a deep breath.
"Mr. Pryor," he said, "as man to man, I have got this to say to you--and you may use your own discretion about repeating it to your daughter: I can offer her six feet of as sound manhood as you can find on God's footstool. I never in my whole life have had enough impure blood in my body to make even one tiny eruption on my skin. I never have been ill a day in my life. I never have touched a woman save as I lifted and cared for my mother, and hers, or my sisters. As to my family and education she can judge for herself. I offer her the first and only love of my heart. She objects to farming, because she says it is dirty, offensive work. There are parts of it that are dirty. Thank God, it only soils the body, and that can be washed. To delve and to dive into, and to study and to brood over the bigger half of the law business of any city is to steep your brain in, and smirch your soul with, such dirt as I would die before I'd make an occupation of touching. Will you kindly tell her that word for word, and that I asked you to?"
Mr. Pryor was standing before I saw him rise. He said those awful words again, but between them he cried: "You're right! It's the truth! It's the eternal truth!"
"It is the truth," said Laddie. "I've only to visit the offices, and examine the business of those of my family living by law, to know that it's the truth. Of course there's another side! There are times when there are great opportunities to do good; I recognize that. To some these may seem to overbalance that to which I object. If they do, all right. I am merely deciding for myself. Once and for all, for me it is land. It is born in me to love it, to handle it easily, to get the best results from stock. I am going to take the Merriweather place adjoining ours on the west, and yours on the south. I intend to lease it for ten years, with purchase privilege at the end, so that if I make of it what I plan, my work will not be lost to me. I had thought to fix up the place and begin farming. If Miss Pryor has any use whatever for me, and prefers stock, that is all right with me. I'll go into the same business she finds suitable for you. I can start in a small way and develop. I can afford a maid for her from the beginning, but I couldn't clothe her as she has been accustomed to being dressed, for some time. I would do my best, however. I know what store my mother sets by being well gowned. And as a husband, I can offer your daughter as loving consideration as woman ever received at the hands of man. Provided by some miracle I could win her consent, would you even consider me, and such an arrangement?"
"Frankly sir," said Mr. Pryor, "I have reached the place where I would be----" whenever you come to a long black line like that, it means that he just roared a lot of words father never said, and never will--"glad to! To tell the truth, the thing you choose to jestingly refer to as `tinware'--I hope later to convince of the indelicacy of such allusion--would place you in England on a social level above any we ever occupied, or could hope to. Your education equals ours. You are a physical specimen to be reckoned with, and I believe what you say of yourself. There's something so clean and manly about you, it amounts to confirmation. A woman should set her own valuation on that; and the height of it should correspond with her knowledge of the world."
"Thank you!" said Laddie. "You are more than kind! more than generous!"
"As to the arrangements you could make for Pamela," said Mr. Pryor, "she's all we have. Everything goes to her, ultimately. She has her stipulated allowance now; whether in my house or yours, it would go with her. Surely you wouldn't be so callous as to object to our giving her anything that would please us!"
"Why should I?" asked Laddie. "That's only natural on your part.
Your child is your child; no matter where or what it is, you expect to exercise a certain amount of loving care over it. My father and mother constantly send things to their children absent from home, and they take much pleasure in doing it. That is between you and your daughter, of course. I shouldn't think of interfering. But in the meantime, unless Miss Pryor has been converted to the beauties of plowing through my continuous performance of over a week, I stand now exactly where I did before, so far as she is concerned. If you and Mrs. Pryor have no objection to me, if you feel that you could think of me, or find for me any least part of a son's place in your hearts, I believe I should know how to appreciate it, and how to go to work to make myself worthy of it."
Mr. Pryor sat down so suddenly, the rail almost broke. I thought the truth was, that he had heart trouble, himself. He stopped up, choked on things, flopped around, and turned so white. I suppose he thought it was womanish, and a sign of weakness. and so he didn't tell, but I bet anything that he had it--bad!
"I'll try to make the little fool see!" he said.
"Gently, gently! You won't help me any in that mood," said Laddie. "The chances are that Miss Pryor repeated what she heard from you long ago, and what she knows you think and feel, unless you've changed recently."
"That's the amount of it!" cried Mr. Pryor. "All my life I've had a lot of beastly notions in my head about rank, and class, and here they don't amount to a damn! There's no place for them. Things are different. Your mother, a grand, good woman, opened my eyes to many things recently, and I get her viewpoint-- clearly, and I agree with her, and with you, sir!--I agree with you!"
"I am more than glad," said Laddie. "You certainly make a friend at court. Thank you very much!"
"And you will come----?"
"The instant Miss Pryor gives me the slightest sign that I am wanted, and will be welcomed by her, I'll come like a Dakota blizzard! Flos can hump herself on time for once."
"But you won't come until she does?"
"Man alive! I can't!" cried Laddie. "Your daughter said positively exactly what she meant. It was unexpected and it hit me so hard I didn't try to argue. I simply took her at her word, her very explicit word."
"Fool!" cried Mr. Pryor. "The last thing on earth any woman ever wants or expects is for a man to take her at her word."
"What?" cried Laddie.
"She had what she said in her mind of course, but what she wanted was to be argued out of it! She wanted to be convinced!"
"I think not! She was entirely too convincing herself," said Laddie. "It's my guess that she has thought matters over, and that her mind is made up; but I would take it as a mighty big favour if you would put that little piece of special pleading squarely up to her. Will you?"
"Yes," said Mr. Pryor, "I will. I'll keep cool and do my best, but I am so unfortunate in my temper. I could manage slaves better than women. This time I'll be calm, and reason things out with her, or I'll blow out my brains."
"Don't you dare!" laughed Laddie. "You and I are going to get much pleasure, comfort and profit from this world, now that we have come to an understanding."
Mr. Pryor arose and held out his hand. Laddie grasped it tight, and they stood there looking straight at each other, while a lark on the fence post close by cried, "Spring o' ye-ar !" at them, over and over, but they never paid the least attention.
"You see," said Mr. Pryor, "I've been thinking things over deeply, deeply! ever since talking with your mother. I've cut myself off from going back to England, by sacrificing much of my property in hasty departure, if by any possibility I should ever want to return, and there is none, not the slightest! There's no danger of any one crossing the sea, and penetrating to this particular spot so far inland; we won't be molested! And lately--lately, despite the rawness, and the newness, there is something about the land that takes hold, after all. I should dislike leaving now! I found in watching some roots your mother gave me, that I wanted them to grow, that I very much hoped they would develop, and beautify our place with flowers, as yours is. I find myself watching them, watching them daily, and oftener, and there seems to be a sort of home feeling creeping around my heart. I wish Pamela would listen to reason! I wish she would marry you soon! I wish there would be little children. Nothing else on earth would come so close to comforting my wife, and me also. Nothing! Go ahead, lad, plow away! I'll put your special pleading up to the girl."
He clasped Laddie's hand, mounted and rode back to the gate he had entered when he came. Laddie sat on the rail, so I climbed down beside him. He put his arm around me.
"Do I feel any better?" he asked dubiously.
"Of course you do!" I said stoutly. "You feel whole heaps, and stacks, and piles better. You haven't got him to fight any more, or Mrs. Pryor. It's now only to convince the Princess about how it's all right to plow."
"Small matter, that!" said Laddie. "And easy! Just as simple and easy!"
"Have you asked the Fairies to help you?"
"Aye, aye, sir," said Laddie. "Also the winds, the flowers, the birds and the bees! I have asked everything on earth to help me except you, Little Sister. I wonder if I have been making a mistake there?"
"Are you mad at me, Laddie?"
"'Cause for why?"
"About the old crest thing!"
"Forget it!" laughed Laddie. "I have. And anyway, in the long run, I must be honest enough to admit that it may have helped. It seems to have had its influence with Mr. Pryor, no doubt it worked the same on Mrs. Pryor, and it may be that it was because she had so much more to bank on than she ever expected, that the Princess felt emboldened to make her demand. It may be, you can't tell! Anyway, it's very evident that it did no real harm. And forget my jesting, Chicken. A man can't always cry because there are tears in his heart. I think quite as much of that crest as you do. In the sum of human events, it is a big thing. No one admires a Crusader more than I. No one likes a good fight better. No Crusader ever put up a stiffer battle than I have in the past week while working in these fields. Every inch of them is battlefield, every furrow a separate conflict. Gaze upon the scene of my Waterloo! When June covers it with green, it will wave over the resting place of my slain heart!"
"Oh Laddie!" I sobbed. "There you go again! How can you?"
"Whoo-pee!" cried Laddie. "That's the question! How can I? Got to, Little Sister! There's no other way."
"No," I was forced to admit, "there isn't. What are we going to do now?"
"Life-saver, we'll now go to dinner," said Laddie. "Nothing except the partnership implied in `we' sustains me now. You'll find a way to help me out, won't you, little sister?"
"Of course I will!" I promised, without ever stopping a minute to think what kind of a job that was going to be.
Did you ever wish with all your might that something would happen, and wait for it, expect it, and long for it, and nothing did, until it grew so bad, it seemed as if you had to go on another minute you couldn't bear it? Now I thought when Mr. Pryor talked to her, maybe she'd send for Laddie that very same night; but send nothing! She didn't even ride on our road any more. Of course her father had made a botch of it! Bet I could have told her Laddie's message straighter than he did. I could think it over, and see exactly how he'd do. He'd talk nicely about one minute, and the first word she said, that he didn't like, he'd be ranting, and using unsuitable words. Just as like as not he told her that he'd lay his whip across her shoulders, like he had Laddie. Any one could see that as long as she was his daughter, she might be slightly handy with whips herself; at least she wouldn't be likely to stand still and tell him to go ahead and beat her.
Sunday Laddie went to Lucy's. He said he was having a family reunion on the installment plan. Of course we laughed, but none of us missed the long look he sent toward Pryors' as he mounted to start in the opposite direction.
Everything went on. I didn't see how it could, but it did. It even got worse, for another letter came from Shelley that made matters concerning her no brighter, and while none of us talked about Laddie, all of us knew mighty well how we felt; and what was much worse, how he felt. Father and mother had quit worrying about God; especially father. He seemed to think that God and Laddie could be trusted to take care of the Princess, and I don't know exactly what mother thought. No doubt she saw she couldn't help herself, and so she decided it was useless to struggle.
The plowing on the west side was almost finished, and some of the seed was in. Laddie went straight ahead flower-trimmed and whistling until his face must have ached as badly as his heart. In spite of how hard he tried to laugh, and keep going, all of us could see that he fairly had to stick up his head and stretch his neck like the blue goose, to make the bites go down. And you couldn't help seeing the roundness and the colour go from his face, a little more every day. My! but being in love, when you couldn't have the one you loved, was the worst of all. I wore myself almost as thin as Laddie, hunting a Fairy to ask if she'd help me to make the Princess let Laddie go on and plow, when he was so crazy about it. I prayed beside my bed every night, until the Lord must have grown so tired He quit listening to me, for I talked right up as impressively as I knew how, and it didn't do the least bit of good. I hadn't tried the one big prayer toward the east yet; but I was just about to the place where I intended to do it soon.