Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XV. Laddie, the Princess, and the Pie
"O whistle, and I'll come to you, my lad."
Candace was baking the very first batch of rhubarb pies for the season and the odour was so tempting I couldn't keep away from the kitchen door. Now Candace was a splendid cook about chicken gizzards--the liver was always mother's--doughnuts and tarts, but I never really did believe she would cut into a fresh rhubarb pie, even for me. As I reached for the generous big piece I thought of Laddie poor Laddie, plowing away at his Crusader fight, and not a hint of victory. No one in the family liked rhubarb pie better than he did. I knew there was no use to ask for a plate.
"Wait--oh wait!" I cried.
I ran to the woodshed, pulled a shining new shingle from a bale stacked there, and held it for Candace. Then I slipped around the house softly. I didn't want to run any one's errands that morning. I laid the pie on the horseblock and climbed the catalpa carefully, so as not to frighten my robins. They were part father's too, because robins were his favourite birds; he said their song through and after rain was the sweetest music on earth, and mostly he was right; so they were not all my robins, but they were most mine after him; and I owned the tree. I hunted the biggest leaf I could see, and wiped it clean on my apron, although it was early for much dust. It covered the pie nicely, because it was the proper shape, and I held the stem with one hand to keep it in place.
If I had made that morning myself I couldn't have done better. It was sunny, spring air, but it was that cool, spicy kind that keeps you stopping every few minutes to see just how full you can suck your lungs without bursting. It seemed to wash right through and through and make you all over. The longer you breathed it the clearer your head became, and the better you felt, until you would be possessed to try and see if you really couldn't fly. I tried that last summer, and knocked myself into jelly. You'd think once would have been enough, but there I was going down the road with Laddie's pie, and wanting with all my heart to try again.
Sometimes I raced, but I was a little afraid the pie would shoot from the shingle and it was like pulling eye teeth to go fast that morning. I loved the soft warm dust, that was working up on the road. Spat! Spat! I brought down my bare feet, already scratched and turning brown, and laughed to myself at the velvety feel of it. There were little puddles yet, where May and I had "dipped and faded" last fall, and it was fun to wade them. The roadsides were covered with meadow grass and clover that had slipped through the fence. On slender green blades, in spot after spot, twinkled the delicate bloom of blue-eyed grass. Never in all this world was our Big Creek lovelier. It went slipping, and whispering, and lipping, and lapping over the stones, tugging at the rushes and grasses as it washed their feet; everything beside it was in masses of bloom, a blackbird was gleaming and preening on every stone, as it plumed after its bath. Oh there's no use to try--it was just spring when it couldn't possibly be any better.
But even spring couldn't hold me very long that morning, for you see my heart was almost sick about Laddie; and if he couldn't have the girl he wanted, at least I could do my best to comfort him with the pie. I was going along being very careful the more I thought about how he would like it, so I was not watching the road so far ahead as I usually did. I always kept a lookout for Paddy Ryan, Gypsies, or Whitmore's bull. When I came to an unusually level place, and took a long glance ahead, my heart turned right over and stopped still, and I looked long enough to be sure, and then right out loud some one said, "I'll do something!" and as usual, I was the only one there.
For days I'd been in a ferment, like the vinegar barrel when the cider boils, or the yeast jar when it sets too close to the stove. To have Laddie and the Princess separated was dreadful, and knowing him as I did, I knew he never really would get over it. I had tried to help once, and what I had done started things going wrong; no wonder I was slow about deciding what to try next. That I was going to do something, I made up my mind the instant Laddie said he was not mad at me; that I was his partner, and asked me to help; but exactly what would do any good, took careful thought.
Here was my chance coming right at me. She was far up the road, riding Maud like racing. I began to breathe after a while, like you always do, no matter how you are worked up, and with my brain whirling, I went slowly toward her. How would I manage to stop her? Or what could I say that would help Laddie? I was shaking, and that's the truth; but through and over it all, I was watching her too. I only wish you might have seen her that morning. Of course the morning was part of it. A morning like that would make a fence post better looking. Half a mile away you could see she was tipsy with spring as I was, or the song sparrows, or the crazy babbling old bobolinks on the stakes and riders. She made such a bright splash against the pink fence row, with her dark hair, flushed cheeks, and red lips, she took my breath. Father said she was the loveliest girl in three counties, and Laddie stretched that to the whole world. As she came closer, smash! through me went the thought that she looked precisely as Shelley had at Christmas time; and Shelley had been that way because she was in love with the Paget man. Now if the Princess was gleaming and flashing like that, for the same reason, there wasn't any one for her to love so far as I knew, except Laddie.
Then smash! came another thought. She had to love him! She couldn't help herself. She had all winter, all last summer, and no one but themselves knew how long before that, and where was there any other man like Laddie? Of course she loved him! Who so deserving of love? Who else had his dancing eyes of deep tender blue, cheeks so pink, teeth so white, such waving chestnut hair, and his height and breadth? There was no other man who could ride, swim, leap, and wrestle as he could. None who could sing the notes, do the queer sums with letters having little figures at the corners in the college books, read Latin as fast as English, and even the Greek Bible. Of course she loved him! Every one did! Others might plod and meander, Laddie walked the tired, old road that went out of sight over the hill, with as prideful a step as any king; his laugh was as merry as the song of the gladdest thrush, while his touch was so gentle that when mother was in dreadful pain I sometimes thought she would a little rather have him hold her than father.
Now, he was in this fearful trouble, the colour was going from his face, his laugh was a little strained, and the heartache almost more than he could endure--and there she came! I stepped squarely in the middle of the road so she would have to stop or ride over me, and when she was close, I stood quite still. I was watching with my eyes, heart, and brain, and I couldn't see that she was provoked, as she drew rein and cried: "Good morning, Little Queer Person!"
I had supposed she would say Little Sister, she had for ages, just like Laddie, but she must have thought it was queer for me to stop her that way, so she changed. I was in for it. I had her now, so I smiled the very sweetest smile that I could think up in such a hurry, and said, "Good morning," the very politest I ever did in all my life. Then I didn't know what to do next, but she helped me out.
"What have you there?" she asked.
"It's a piece of the very first rhubarb pie for this spring, and I'm carrying it to Laddie," I said, as I lifted the catalpa leaf and let her peep, just to show her how pie looked when it was right. I bet she never saw a nicer piece.
The Princess slid her hand down Maud's neck to quiet her prancing, and leaned in the saddle, her face full of interest. I couldn't see a trace of anything to discourage me; her being on our road again looked favourable. She seemed to think quite as much of that pie as I did. She was the finest little thoroughbred. She understood so well, I was sorry I couldn't give it to her. It made her mouth water all right, for she drew a deep breath that sort of quivered; but it was no use, she didn't get that pie.
"I think it looks delicious," she said. "Are you carrying it for Candace?"
"No! She gave it to me. It's my very own."
"And you're doing without it yourself to carry it to Laddie, I'll be bound!" cried the Princess.
"I'd much rather," I said.
"Do you love Laddie so dearly?" she asked.
My heart was full of him right then; I forgot all about when I had the fever, and as I never had been taught to lie, I told her what I thought was the truth, and I guess it was: "Best of any one in all this world!"
The Princess looked across the field, where she must have seen him finishing the plowing, and thought that over, and I waited, sure in my mind, for some reason, that she would not go for a little while longer.
"I have been wanting to see you," she said at last. "In fact I think I came this way hoping I'd meet you. Do you know the words to a tune that goes like this?"
Then she began to whistle "The Merry Farmer Boy." I wish you might have heard the flourishes she put to it.
"Of course I do," I answered. "All of us were brought up on it."
"Well, I have some slight curiosity to learn what they are," she said. "Would you kindly repeat them for me?"
"Yes," I said. "This is the first verse:
"`See the merry farmer boy tramp the meadows through, Swing his hoe in careless joy while dashing off the dew. Bobolink in maple high----'
"Of course you can see for yourself that they're not. There isn't a single one of them higher than a fence post. The person who wrote the piece had to put it that way so high would rhyme with reply, which is coming in the next line."
"I see!" said the Princess.
"`Bobolink in maple high, trills a note of glee Farmer boy a gay reply now whistles cheerily.'
"Then you whistle the chorus like you did it."
"You do indeed!" said the Princess. "Proceed!"
"`Then the farmer boy at noon, rests beneath the shade, Listening to the ceaseless tune that's thrilling through the glade. Long and loud the harvest fly winds his bugle round, Long, and loud, and shrill, and high, he whistles back the sound.'"
"He does! He does indeed! I haven't a doubt about that!" cried the Princess. "`Long, and loud, and shrill, and high,' he whistles over and over the sound, until it becomes maddening. Is that all of that melodious, entrancing production?"
"No, evening comes yet. The last verse goes this way:
"`When the busy day's employ, ends at dewy eve, Then the happy farmer boy, doth haste his work to leave, Trudging down the quiet lane, climbing o'er the hill, Whistling back the changeless wail, of plaintive whip-poor-will,'--
and then you do the chorus again, and if you know how well enough you whistle in, `whip-poor-will,' 'til the birds will answer you. Laddie often makes them."
"My life!" cried the Princess. "Was that he doing those bird cries? Why, I hunted, and hunted, and so did father. We'd never seen a whip-poor-will. Just fancy us!"
"If you'd only looked at Laddie," I said.
"My patience!" cried the Princess. "Looked at him! There was no place to look without seeing him. And that ear-splitting thing will ring in my head forever, I know."
"Did he whistle it too high to suit you, Princess?"
"He was perfectly welcome to whistle as he chose," she said, "and also to plow with the carriage horses, and to bedeck them and himself with the modest, shrinking red tulip and yellow daffodil."
Now any one knows that tulips and daffodils are not modest and shrinking. If any flowers just blaze and scream colour clear across a garden, they do. She was provoked, you could see that.
"Well, he only did it to please you," I said. "He didn't care anything about it. He never plowed that way before. But you said he mustn't plow at all, and he just had to plow, there was no escaping that, so he made it as fine and happy as possible to show you how nicely it could be done."
"Greatly obliged, I'm sure!" cried the Princess. "He showed me! He certainly did! And so he feels that there's `no escaping' plowing, does he?"
Then I knew where I was. I'd have given every cent of mine in father's chest till, if mother had been in my place. Once, for a second, I thought I'd ask the Princess to go with me to the house, and let mother tell her how it was; but if she wouldn't go, and rode away, I felt I couldn't endure it, and anyway, she had said she was looking for me; so I gripped the shingle, dug in my toes and went at her just as nearly like mother talked to her father as I could remember, and I'd been put through memory tests, and descriptive tests, nearly every night of my life, so I had most of it as straight as a string.
"Well, you see, he can't escape it," I said. "He'd do anything in all this world for you that he possibly could; but there are some things no man can do."
"I didn't suppose there was anything you thought Laddie couldn't do," she said.
"A little time back, I didn't," I answered. "But since he took the carriage horses, trimmed up in flowers, and sang and whistled so bravely, day after day, when his heart was full of tears, why I learned that there was something he just couldn't do; not to save his life, or his love, or even to save you."
"And of course you don't mind telling me what that is?" coaxed the Princess in her most wheedling tones.
"Not at all! He told our family, and I heard him tell your father. The thing he can't do, not even to win you, is to be shut up in a little office, in a city, where things roar, and smell, and nothing is like this----"
I pointed out the orchard, hill, and meadow, so she looked where I showed her--looked a long time.
"No, a city wouldn't be like this," she said slowly.
"And that isn't even the beginning," I said. "Maybe he could bear that, men have been put in prison and lived through years and years of it, perhaps Laddie could too; I doubt it! but anyway the worst of it is that he just couldn't, not even to save you, spend all the rest of his life trying to settle other people's old fusses. He despises a fuss. Not one of us ever in our lives have been able to make him quarrel, even one word. He simply won't. And if he possibly could be made to by any one on earth, Leon would have done it long ago, for he can start a fuss with the side of a barn. But he can't make Laddie fuss, and nobody can. He never would at school, or anywhere. Once in a while if a man gets so overbearing that Laddie simply can't stand it, he says: `Now, you'll take your medicine!' Then he pulls off his coat, and carefully, choosing the right spots, he just pounds the breath out of that man, but he never stops smiling, and when he helps him up he always says: `Sorry! hope you'll excuse me, but you would have it.' That's what he said about you, that you had to take your medicine----"
I made a mistake there. That made her too mad for any use.
"Oh," she cried, "I do? I'll jolly well show the gentleman!"
"Oh, you needn't take the trouble," I cried. "He's showing you!"
She just blazed like she'd break into flame. Any one could fuss with her all right; but that was the last thing on earth I wanted to do.
"You see he already knows about you," I explained as fast as I could talk, for I was getting into an awful mess. "You see he knows that you want him to be a lawyer, and that he must quit plowing before he can be more than friends with you. That's what he's plowing for! If it wasn't for that, probably he wouldn't; be plowing at all. He asked father to let him, and he borrowed mother's horses, and he hooked the flowers through the fence. Every night when he comes home, he kneels beside mother and asks her if he is `repulsive,' and she takes him in her arms and the tears roll down her cheeks and she says: `Father has farmed all his life, and you know how repulsive he is.'"
I ventured an upward peep. I was doing better. Her temper seemed to be cooling, but her face was a jumble. I couldn't find any one thing on it that would help me, so I just stumbled ahead guessing at what to say.
"He didn't want to do it. He perfectly hated it. Those fields were his Waterloo. Every furrow was a fight, but he was forced to show you."
"Exactly what was he trying to show me?"
"I can think of three things he told me," I answered. "That plowing could be so managed as not to disfigure the landscape----"
"The dunce!" she said.
"That he could plow or do dirtier work, and not be repulsive----"
"The idiot!" she said.
"That if he came over there, and plowed right under your nose, when you'd told him he mustn't, or he couldn't be more than friends; and when you knew that he'd much rather die and be laid beside the little sisters up there in the cemetery than to not be more than friends, why, you'd see, if he did that, he couldn't help it, that he just must. That he was forced----"
"The soldier!" she said.
"Oh Princess, he didn't want to!" I cried. "He tells me secrets he doesn't any one else, unless you. He told me how he hated it; but he just had to do it."
"Do you know why?"
"Of course! It's the way he's made! Father is like that! He has chances to live in cities, make big business deals, and go to the legislature at Indianapolis; I've seen his letters from his friend Oliver P. Morton, our Governor, you know; they're in his chest till now; but father can't do it, because he is made so he stays at home and works for us, and this farm, and township, and county where he belongs. He says if all men will do that the millennium will come to-morrow. I 'spose you know what the millennium is?"
"I do!" said the Princess. "But I don't know what your father and his friend Oliver P. Morton have to do with Laddie."
"Why, everything on earth! Laddie is father's son, you see, and he is made like father. None of our other boys is. Not one of them loves land. Leon is going away as quick as ever he finishes college; but the more you educate Laddie, the better he likes to make things grow, the more he loves to make the world beautiful, to be kind to every one, to gentle animals--why, the biggest fight he ever had, the man he whipped 'til he most couldn't bring him back again, was one who kicked his horse in the stomach. Gee, I thought he'd killed him! Laddie did too for a while, but he only said the man deserved it."
"And so he did!" cried the Princess angrily. "How beastly!"
"That's one reason Laddie sticks so close to land. He says he doesn't meet nearly so many two-legged beasts in the country. Almost every time he goes to town he either gets into a fight or he sees something that makes him fighting mad. Princess, you think this beautiful, don't you?"
I just pointed anywhere. All the world was in it that morning. You couldn't look right or left and not see lovely places, hear music, and smell flowers.
"Yes! It is altogether wonderful!" she said.
"Would you like to live among this all your life, and have your plans made to fix you a place even nicer, and then be forced to leave it and go to a little room in the city, and make all the money you earned off of how much other men fight over business, and land and such perfectly awful things, that they always have to be whispered when Jerry tells about them? Would you?"
"You little dunce!" she cried.
"I know I'm a fool. I know I'm not telling you a single thing I should! Maybe I'm hurting Laddie far more than I'm helping him, and if I am, I wish I would die before I see him; but oh! Princess, I'm trying with all my might to make you understand how he feels. He wants to do every least thing you'd like him to. He will, almost any thing else in the world, he would this-- he would in a minute, but he just can't. All of us know he can't! If you'd lived with him since he was little and always had known him, you wouldn't ask him to; you wouldn't want him to! You don't know what you're doing! Mother says you don't! You'll kill him if you send him to the city to live, you just will! You are doing it now! He's getting thinner and whiter every day. Don't! Oh please don't do it!"
The Princess was looking at the world. She was gazing at it so dazed-like she seemed to be surprised at what she saw. She acted as if she'd never really seen it before. She looked and she looked. She even turned her horse a full circle to see all of it, and she went around slowly. I stepped from one foot to the other and sweat; but I kept quiet and let her look. At last when she came around, she glanced down at me, and she was all melted, and lovely as any one you ever saw, exactly like Shelley at Christmas, and she said: "I don't think I ever saw the world before. I don't know that I'm so crazy about a city myself, and I perfectly hate lawyers. Come to thing of it, a lawyer helped work ruin in our family, and I never have believed, I never will believe----"
She stopped talking and began looking again. I gave her all the time she needed. I was just straining to be wise, for mother says it takes the very wisest person there is to know when to talk, and when to keep still. As I figured it, now was the time not to say another word until she made up her mind about what I had told her already. If Pryors didn't know what we thought of them by that time, it wasn't mother's fault or mine. As she studied things over she kept on looking. What she saw seemed to be doing her a world of good. Her face showed it every second plainer and plainer. Pretty soon it began to look like she was going to come through as Amos Hurd did when he was redeemed. Then, before my very eyes, it happened! I don't know how I ever held on to the pie or kept from shouting, "Praise the Lord!" as father does at the Meeting House when he is happiest. Then she leaned toward me all wavery, and shining eyed, and bloomful, and said: "Did you ever hurt Laddie's feelings, and make him angry and sad?"
"I'm sure I never did," I answered.
"But suppose you had! What would you do?"
"Do? Why, I'd go to him on the run, and I'd tell him I never intended to hurt his feelings, and how sorry I was, and I'd give him the very best kiss I could."
The Princess stroked Maud's neck a long time and thought while she studied our farm, theirs beyond it, and at the last, the far field where Laddie was plowing. She thought, and thought, and afraid to cheep, I stood gripping the shingle and waited. Finally she said: "The last time Laddie was at our house, I said to him those things he repeated to you. He went away at once, hurt and disappointed. Now, if you like, along with your precious pie, you may carry him this message from me. You may tell him that I said I am sorry!"
I could have cried "Glory!" and danced and shouted there in the road, but I didn't. It was no time to lose my head. That was all so fine and splendid, as far as it went, but it didn't quite cover the case. I never could have done it for myself; but for Laddie I would venture anything, so I looked her in the eyes, straight as a dart, and said: "He'd want the kiss too, Princess!"
You could see her stiffen in the saddle and her fingers grip the reins, but I kept on staring right into her eyes.
"I could come up, you know," I offered.
A dull red flamed in her cheeks and her lips closed tight. One second she sat very still, then a dancing light leaped sparkling into her eyes; a flock of dimples chased each other around her lips like swallows circling their homing place at twilight.
"What about that wonderful pie?" she asked me.
I ran to the nearest fence corner, and laid the shingle on the gnarled roots of a Johnny Appleseed apple tree. Then I set one foot on the arch of the Princess' instep and held up my hands. One second I thought she would not lift me, the next I was on her level and her lips met mine in a touch like velvet woven from threads of flame. Then with a turn of her stout little wrist, she dropped me, and a streak went up our road. Nothing so amazing and so important ever had happened to me. It was an occasion that demanded something unusual. To cry, "Praise the Lord!" was only to repeat an hourly phrase at our house; this demanded something out of the ordinary, so I said just exactly as father did the day the brown mare balked with the last load of seed clover, when a big storm was breaking--"Jupiter Ammon!"
When I had calmed down so I could, I climbed the fence, and reached through a crack for the pie. As I followed the cool, damp furrow, and Laddie's whistle, clear as the lark's above the wheat, thrilled me, I was almost insane with joy. Just joy! Pure joy! Oh what a good world it was!--most of the time! Most of the time! Of course, there were Paget men in it. But anyway, this couldn't be beaten. I had a message for Laddie from the Princess that would send him to the seventh heaven, wherever that was; no one at our house spent any time thinking farther than the first one. I had her kiss, that I didn't know what would do to him, and I also had a big piece of juicy rhubarb pie not yet entirely cold. If that didn't wipe out the trouble I had made showing the old crest thing, nothing ever could. I knew even then, that men were pretty hard to satisfy, but I was quite certain that Laddie would be satisfied that morning. As I hurried along I wondered whether it would be better to give him my gift first, or the Princess'. I decided that joy would keep, while the pie was cold enough, with all the time I had stopped; and if I told him about her first, maybe he wouldn't touch it at all, and it wasn't so easy as it looked to carry it to him and never even once stick in my finger for the tiniest lick--joy would keep; but I was going to feed him; so with shining face, I offered the pie and stood back to see just how happy I could get.
"Mother send it?" asked Laddie.
People were curious that morning, as if I had a habit of stealing pie. I only took pieces of cut ones from the cellar when mother didn't care. So I explained again that Candace gave it to me, and I was free to bring it.
"Oh I see!" said Laddie.
After nearly two weeks of work, the grays had sobered down enough to stand without tying; so he wound the lines around the plow handle, sat on the beam, and laid aside his hat, having a fresh flower in the band. Once he started a thing, he just simply wouldn't give up. He unbuttoned his neckband until I could see his throat where it was white like a woman's, took out his knife and ate that pie. Of course we knew better than to use a knife at the table, but there was no other way in the field. He ate that pie, slowly and deliberately, and between bites he talked. I watched him with a wide grin, wondering what in this world he would say, in a minute. I don't think I ever had quite such a good time in all my life before, and I never expect to again. He was saying: "Talk about nectar and ambrosia! Talk about the feasts of Lucullus! Talk about food for the Gods!"
I put on his hat, sat on the ground in front of him, and was the happiest girl in the world, of that I am quite sure. When the last morsel was finished, Laddie looked at me steadily.
"I wonder," he said, "I wonder if there's another man in the world who is blest with quite such a loving, unselfish little sister as mine?" Then he answered himself: "No! By all the Gods, ant half-Gods, I swear it--No!"
It was grand as a Fourth of July oration or the most exciting part when the Bishop dedicated our church. I couldn't hold in another second, I could hear my heart beat.
"Oh Laddie!" I shouted, jumping up, "that pie is only the beginning of the good things I have brought you. I have a message, and a gift besides, Laddie!"
"A message and a gift?" Laddie repeated. "What! More?"
"Truly I have a message and a gift for you," I cried, "and Laddie--they are from the Princess!"
His eyes raised to mine now, and slowly he turned Sabethany-like.
"From the Princess!" he exclaimed. "A message and a gift for me, Little Sister? You never would let Leon put you up to serve me a trick?"
That hurt. He should have known I wouldn't, and besides, "Leon feels just as badly about this as any of us," I said. "Have you forgotten he offered to plow, and let you do the clean, easy work?"
"Forgive me! I'm overanxious," said Laddie, his arms reaching for me. "Go on and tell carefully, and if you truly love me, don't make a mistake!"
Crowding close, my arms around his neck, his crisp hair against my lips, I whispered my story softly, for this was such a fine and splendid secret, that not even the shining blackbirds, and the pert robins in the furrows were going to get to hear a word of it. Before I had finished Laddie was breathing as Flos does when he races her the limit. He sat motionless for a long time, while over his face slowly crept a beauty that surpassed that of Apollo in his Greek book.
"And her gift?"
It was only a breath.
"She helped me up, and she sent you this," I answered.
Then I set my lips on his, and held them there a second, trying my level best to give him her very kiss, but of course I could only try.
"Oh, Laddie," I cried. "Her eyes were like when stars shine down in our well! Her cheeks were like mother's damask roses! She smelled like flowers, and when her lips touched mine little stickers went all over me!"
Then Laddie's arms closed around me and I thought sure every bone in my body was going to be broken; when he finished there wasn't a trace of that kiss left for me. Remembering it would be all I'd ever have. It made me see what would have happened to the Princess if she had been there; and it was an awful pity for her to miss it, because he'd sober down a lot before he reached her, but I was sure as shooting that he wouldn't be so crazy as to kiss her hands again. Peter wasn't a patching to him!
That night Laddie rode to Pryors'. When he brought Flos to the gate you could see the shadow of your face on her shining flank; her mane and tail were like ravelled silk, her hoofs bright as polished horn, and her muzzle was clean as a ribbon. I broke one of those rank green sprouts from the snowball bush and brushed away the flies, so she wouldn't fret, stamp, and throw dust on herself. Then Laddie came, fresh from a tubbing, starched linen, dressed in his new riding suit, and wearing top hat and gauntlets. He looked the very handsomest I ever had seen him; and at the same time, he seemed trembling with tenderness, and bursting with power. Goodness sake! I bet the Princess took one good look and "came down" like Davy Crockett's coon. Mother was on his arm and she walked clear to the gate with him.
"Laddie, are you sure enough to go?" I heard her ask him whisper- like.
"Sure as death!" Laddie answered.
Mother looked, and she had to see how it was with him; no doubt she saw more than I did from having been through it herself, so she smiled kind of a half-sad, half-glad smile. Then she turned to her damask rose bush, the one Lucy brought her from the city, and that she was so precious about, that none of us dared touch it, and she searched all over it and carefully selected the most perfect rose. When she borrowed Laddie's knife and cut the stem as long as my arm, I knew exactly how great and solemn the occasion was; for always before about six inches had been her limit. She held it toward him, smiling bravely and beautifully, but the tears were running straight down her cheeks.
"Take it to her," she said. "I think, my son, it is very like."
Laddie took her in his arms and wiped away the tears; he told her everything would come out all right about God, and the mystery, even. Then he picked me clear off the ground, and he tried to see how near he could come to cracking every bone in my body without really doing it, and he kissed me over and over. It hadn't been so easy, but I guess you'll admit that paid. Then he rode away with the damask rose waving over his heart. Mother and I stood beside the hitching rack and looked after him, with our arms tight around each other while we tried to see which one could bawl the hardest.