Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XVII. In Faith Believing
"Nor could the bright green world around A joy to her impart, For still she missed the eyes that made The summer of her heart."
Soon as she had the piano, Shelley needed only the Paget man to make her happy as a girl could be; and having faith in that prayer, I decided to try it right away. So I got Laddie to promise surely that he'd wake me when he got up the next morning.
I laid my clothes out all ready; he merely touched my foot, and I came to, slipped out with him, and he helped me dress. We went to the barn when the morning was all gray.
"What the dickens have you got in your head now, Chicken?" he asked. "Is it business with the Fairies?"
"No, this is with the Most High," I said solemnly, like father. "Go away and leave me alone."
"Well of all the queer chickens!" he said, but he kissed me and went.
I climbed the stairs to the threshing floor, then the ladder to the mow, walked a beam to the wall, there followed one to the east end, and another to the little, high-up ventilator window. There I stood looking at the top of the world. A gray mist was rising like steam from the earth, there was a curious colour in the east, stripes of orange and flames of red, where the sun was coming. I folded my hands on the sill, faced the sky, and stood staring. Just stood, and stood, never moving a muscle. By and by I began to think how much we loved Shelley, how happy she had been at Christmas the way she was now, and how much all of us would give in money, or time, or love, to make her sparkling, bubbling, happy again; so I thought and thought, gazing at the sky, which every second became a grander sight. Little cold chills began going up my back, and soon I was talking to the Lord exactly as if He stood before me on the reddest ray that topped our apple trees.
I don't know all I said. That's funny, for I usually remember to the last word; but this time it was so important, I wanted it so badly, and I was so in earnest that words poured in a stream. I began by reminding Him that He knew everything, and so He'd understand if what I asked was for the best. Then I told Him how it looked to us, who knew only a part; and then I went at Him and implored and beseeched, if it would be best for Shelley, and would make her happy, to send her the Paget man, and to be quick about it. When I had said the last word that came to me, and begged all I thought becoming--I don't think with His face, that Jesus wants us to grovel to Him, at least He looks too dignified to do it Himself--I just stood there, still staring.
I didn't expect to see a burning bush, or a pillar of fire, or a cloud of flame, or even to hear a small, still voice; but I watched, so I wouldn't miss it if there should be anything different in that sunrise from any other I ever had seen, and there was not. Not one thing! It was so beautiful, and I was so in earnest my heart hurt; but that was like any other sunrise on a fine July morning. There wasn't the least sign that Jesus had heard me, and would send the man; yet before I knew it, I was amazed to find the feeling creeping over me that he was coming. If I had held the letter in my hand saying he would arrive on the noon train, I couldn't have grown surer. Why, I even looked down the first time I moved, to see if I had it; but I was certain anyway. So I looked steadily toward the east once more and said, "Thank you, with all my heart, Lord Jesus," then I slowly made my way down and back to the house.
Shelley was at the orchard gate, waiting; so I knew they had missed me, and Laddie had told them where I was and not to call. She had the strangest look on her face, as she asked: "Where have you been?"
I looked straight and hard at her and said, "It's all right, Shelley. He's going to come soon"; but I didn't think it was a thing to mouth over, so I twisted away from her, and ran to the kitchen to see if breakfast had all been eaten. I left Shelley standing there with her eyes wide, also her mouth. She looked about as intelligent as Mehitabel Heasty, and it wouldn't have surprised me if she had begun to jump up and down and say there were snakes in her shoes. No doubt you have heard of people having been knocked silly; I knew she was, and so she had a perfect right to look that way, until she could remember what she was doing, and come back to herself. Maybe it took her longer, because mother wasn't there, to remind her about her mouth, and I didn't propose to mention it.
At breakfast, mother said father was going to drive Frank home in the carriage, and if I would like, I might go along. I would have to sit on the back seat alone, going; but coming home I could ride beside and visit with father. I loved that, for you could see more from the front seat, and father would stop to explain every single thing. He always gave me the money and let me pay the toll. He would get me a drink at the spring, let me wade a few minutes at Enyard's riffles, where their creek, with the loveliest gravel bed, ran beside the road; and he always raced like wildfire at the narrows, where for a mile the railroad ran along the turnpike.
We took Frank to his office, stopped a little while to visit Lucy, and give her the butter and cream mother sent, went to the store to see Peter, and then to the post-office. From there we could see that the veranda of the hotel across the street was filled with gayly dressed people, and father said that the summer boarders from big cities around must be pouring in fast. When he came out with the mail he said he better ask if the landlord did not want some of mother's corn and milk fed spring chickens, because last year he had paid her more than the grocer. So he drove across the street, stopped at the curb, and left me to hold the team.
Maybe you think I wasn't proud! I've told you about Ned and Jo, with their sharp ears, dappled sides, and silky tails, and the carriage almost new, with leather seats, patent leather trimmings, and side lamps, so shiny you could see yourself in the brass. We never drove into the barn with one speck of mud or dust on it. That was how particular mother was.
I watched the team carefully; I had to if I didn't want my neck broken; but I also kept an eye on that veranda. You could see at a glance that those were stylish women. Now my mother liked to be in fashion as well as any one could; so I knew she'd be mightily pleased if I could tell her a new place to set her comb, a different way to fasten her collar, or about an unusual pattern for a frock.
I got my drink at the spring, father offered to stop at the riffle, but I was enjoying the ride so much, and I could always wade at home, although our creek was not so beautiful as Enyard's, but for common wading it would do; we went through the narrows, like two shakes of a sheep's tail, then we settled down to a slow trot, and were having the loveliest visit possible, when in the bundle on my lap, I saw the end of something that interested me. Mr. Agnew always made our mail into a roll with the Advocate and the Agriculturist on the outside, and because every one was so anxious about their letters, and some of them meant so much, I felt grown and important while holding the package.
I was gripping it tight when I noticed the end of one letter much wider and fatter than any I ever had seen, so when father was not looking I began pushing it a little at one end, and pulling it at the other, to work it up, until I could read the address. I got it out so far I thought every minute he'd notice, and tell me not to do that, but I could only see Stanton. All of us were Stanton, so it might be for me, for that matter. Jerry might be sending me pictures, or a book, he did sometimes, but there was an exciting thing about it. Besides being fatter than it looked right at the end, it was plastered with stamps--lots of them, enough to have brought it clear around the world. I pushed that end back, pulled out the other, and took one good look. I almost fell from the carriage. I grabbed father's arm and cried: "Stop! Stop this team quick. Stop them and see if I can read."
"Are you crazy, child?" asked father, but he checked the horses.
"No, but you are going to be in a minute," I said. "Look at that!"
I yanked the letter from the bundle, and held it over. I thought I could read, but I was too scared to be sure. I thought it said in big, strong, upstanding letters, Miss Shelley Stanton, Groveville, Indiana. And in the upper corner, Blackburn, Yeats and Paget, Counsellors of Law, 37 to 39 State St., Chicago. I put my finger on the Paget, and looked into father's face. I was no fool after all. He was not a bit surer that he could read than I was, from the dazed way he stared.
"You see!" I said.
"It says Paget!" he said, like he would come nearer believing; it if he heard himself pronounce the word.
"I thought it said `Paget,'" I gasped, "but I wanted to know if you thought so too."
"Yes, it's Paget plain enough," said father, but he acted like there was every possibility that it might change to Jones any minute. "It says `Paget,' plain as print."
"Father!" I cried, clutching his arm, "father, see how fat it is!
There must be pages and pages! Father, it wouldn't take all that to tell her he didn't like her, and he never wanted to see her again. Would it, father?"
"It doesn't seem probable," said father.
"Father don't you think it means there's been some big mistake, and it takes so much to tell how it can be fixed?"
"It seems reasonable."
I gripped him tighter, and maybe shook him a little.
"Father!" I cried. "Father, doesn't it just look hurry, all over? Can't you speed up a little? They have all day to cool off. Oh father, won't you speed a little?"
"That I will!" said father. "Get a tight hold, and pray God it is good word we carry."
"But I prayed the one big prayer to get this," I said. "It wouldn't be sent if it wasn't good. The thing to do now is to thank the Lord for `all his loving kindnesses,' like mother said.
Drive father! Make them go!"
At first he only touched them up; I couldn't see that we were getting home so fast; but in a minute a cornfield passed like a streak, a piece of woods flew by a dark blur, a bridge never had time to rattle, and we began to rock from side to side a little. Then I gripped the top supports with one hand, the mail with the other, and hung on for dear life. I took one good look at father.
His feet were on the brace, his face was clear, even white, his eyes steely, and he never moved a muscle. When Jo thought it was funny, that he was loose in the pasture, and kicked up a little behind, father gave him a sharp cut with the whip and said: "Steady boy! Get along there!"
Sometimes he said, "Aye, aye! Easy!" but he never stopped a mite. We whizzed past the church and cemetery, and scarcely touched the Big Hill. People ran to their doors, even to the yards, and I was sure they thought we were having a runaway, but we were not. Father began to stop at the lane gate, he pulled all the way past the garden, and it was as much as he could do to get them slowed down so that I could jump out by the time we reached the hitching rack. He tied them, and followed me into the house instead of going to the barn. I ran ahead calling: "Shelley! Where is Shelley?"
"What in this world has happened, child?" asked mother, catching my arm.
"Her letter has come! Her Paget letter! The one you looked for until you gave up. It's come at last! Oh, where is she?"
"Be calmer, child, you'll frighten her," said mother.
May snatched the letter from my fingers and began to read all that was on it aloud. I burst out crying.
"Make her give that back!" I sobbed to father. "It's mine! I found it. Father, make her let me take it!"
"Give it to her!" said father. "I rather feel that it is her right to deliver it."
May passed it back, but she looked so disappointed, that by how she felt I knew how much I wanted to take it myself; so I reached my hand to her and said: "You can come along! We'll both take it! Oh where is she?"
"She went down in the orchard," said mother. "I think probably she's gone back where she was the other day."
Gee, but we ran! And there she was! As we came up, she heard us and turned.
"Shelley!" I cried. "Here's your letter! Everything is all right! He's coming, Shelley! Look quick, and see when! Mother will want to begin baking right away!"
Shelley looked at me, and said coolly: "Paddy Ryan! What's the matter?"
"Your letter!" I cried, shoving it right against her hands. "Your letter from Robert! From the Paget man, you know! I told you he was coming! Hurry, and see when!"
She took it, and sat there staring at it, so much like father, that it made me think of him, so I saw that she was going to have to come around to it as we did, and that one couldn't hurry her. She just had to take her time to sense it.
"Shall I open it for you?" I asked, merely to make her see that it was time she was doing it herself.
Blest if she didn't reach it toward me!--sort of woodenlike. I stuck my finger under the flap, gave it a rip across and emptied what was inside into her lap. Bet there were six or seven letters in queer yellow envelopes I never before had seen any like, and on them was the name, Robert Paget, while in one corner it said, "Returned Dead Letter"; also there was a loose folded white sheet. She sat staring at the heap, touching one, another, and repeating "Robert Paget?" as she picked each up in turn.
"What do you suppose it means?" she asked May. May examined them.
"You must read the loose sheet," she advised. "No doubt that will explain."
But Shelley never touched it. She handled those letters and stared at them. Father and mother came through the orchard and stood together behind us, so father knelt down at last, reached across Shelley's shoulder, picked one up and looked at it.
"Have you good word, dear?" asked mother of Shelley.
"Why, I don't understand at all," said Shelley. "Just look at all these queer letters, addressed to Mr. Paget. Why should they be sent to me? I mustn't open them. They're not mine. There must be some mistake."
"These are dead letters," said father. "They've been written to you, couldn't be delivered, and so were sent to the Dead Letter Office at Washington, which returned them to the writer, and unopened he has forwarded them once more to you. You've heard of dead letters, haven't you?"
"I suppose so," said Shelley. "I don't remember just now; but there couldn't be a better name. They've come mighty near killing me."
"If you'd only read that note!" urged May, putting it right into her fingers.
Shelley still sat there.
"I'm afraid of it," she said exactly like I'd have spoken if there had been a big rattlesnake coming right at me, when I'd nothing at hand to bruise it.
Laddie and Leon came from the barn. They had heard me calling, seen May and me run, and then father and mother coming down, so they walked over.
"What's up?" asked Leon. "Has Uncle Levi's will been discovered, and does mother get his Mexican mines?"
"What have you got, Shelley?" asked Laddie, kneeling beside her, and picking up one of the yellow letters.
"I hardly know," said Shelley.
"I brought her a big letter with all those little ones and a note in it, and they are from the Paget man," I explained to him. "But she won't even read the note, and see what he writes. She says she's afraid."
"Poor child! No wonder!" said Laddie, sitting beside her and putting his arm around her. "Suppose I read it for you. May I?"
"Yes," said Shelley. "You read it. Read it out loud. I don't care."
She leaned against him, while he unfolded the white sheet.
"Umph!" he said. "This does look bad for you. It begins: `My own darling Girl.'"
"Let me see!" cried Shelley, suddenly straightening, and reaching her hand.
Laddie held the page toward her, but she only looked, she didn't offer to touch it.
"`My own darling Girl:'" repeated Laddie tenderly, making it mean just all he possibly could, because he felt so dreadfully sorry for her--" `On my return to Chicago, from the trip to England I have so often told you I intended to make some time soon----'"
"Did he?" asked mother.
"Yes," answered Shelley. "He couldn't talk about much else. It was his first case. It was for a friend of his who had been robbed of everything in the world; honour, relatives, home, and money. If Robert won it, he got all that back for his friend and enough for himself--that he could--a home of his own, you know! Read on, Laddie!"
"`I was horrified to find on my desk every letter I had written you during my absence returned to me from the Dead Letter Office, as you see.'"
"Good gracious!" cried mother, picking up one and clutching it tight as if she meant to see that it didn't get away again.
"Go on!" cried Shelley.
"`I am enclosing some of them as they came back to me, in proof of my statement. I drove at once to your boarding place and found you had not been there for weeks, and your landlady was distinctly crabbed. Then I went to the college, only to find that you had fallen ill and gone to your home. That threw me into torments, and all that keeps me from taking the first train is the thought that perhaps you refused to accept these letters, for some reason. Shelley, you did not, did you? There is some mistake somewhere, is there not----'"
"One would be led to think so," said father sternly. "Seems as if he might have managed some way----"
"Don't you blame him!" cried Shelley. "Can't you see it's all my fault? He'd been coming regularly, and the other girls envied me; then he just disappeared, and there was no word or anything, and they laughed and whispered until I couldn't endure it; so I moved in with Peter's cousin, as I wrote you; but that left Mrs. Fleet with an empty room in the middle of the term, and it made her hopping mad. I bet anything she wouldn't give the postman my new address, to pay me back. I left it, of course. But if I'd been half a woman, and had the confidence I should have had in myself and in him---- Oh how I've suffered, and punished all of you----!"
"Never you mind about that," said mother, stroking Shelley's hair. "Likely there isn't much in Chicago to give a girl who never had been away from her family before, `confidence' in herself or any one else. As for him--just disappearing like that, without a word or even a line---- Go on Laddie!"
"`Surely, you knew that I was only waiting the outcome of this trip to tell you how dearly I love you. Surely, you encouraged me in thinking you cared for me a little, Shelley. Only a little will do to begin with----'"
"You see, I did have something to go on!" cried Shelley, wiping her eyes and straightening up.
"`No doubt you misunderstood and resented my going without coming to explain, and bid you good-bye in person, but Shelley, I simply dared not. You see, it was this way: I got a cable about the case I was always talking of, and the only man who could give the testimony I must have was dying!'"
"For land's sake! The poor boy!" cried mother, patting Shelley's shoulder.
"`An hour's delay might mean the loss of everything in the world to me, even you. For if I lost any time, and the man escaped me, there was no hope of winning my case, and everything, even you, as I said before, depended on him----'"
"Good Lord! I mean land!" cried Leon.
"`If I could catch the train in an hour, I could take a boat at New York, and go straight through with no loss of time. So I wrote you a note that probably said more than I would have ventured in person, and paid a boy to deliver it.'"
"Kept the money and tore up the note, I bet!" said May.
"`I wrote on the train, but found after sailing that I had rushed so I had failed to post it in New York. I kept on writing every day on the boat, and mailed you six at Liverpool. All the time I have written frequently; there are many more here that this envelope will not hold, that I shall save until I hear from you.'"
"Well, well!" said father.
"`Shelley, I beat death, reached my man, got the testimony I had to have, and won my case.'"
"Glory!" cried mother. "Praise the Lord!"
"`Then I scoured England, and part of the continent, hunting some interested parties; and when I was so long finding them, and still no word came from you, I decided to come back and get you, if you would come with me, and go on with the work together.'"
"Listen to that! More weddings!" cried Leon. He dropped on his knees before Shelley. "Will you marry me, my pretty maid?" he begged.
"Young man, if you cut any capers right now, I'll cuff your ears!" cried father. "This is no proper time for your foolishness!"
"`Shelley, I beg that you will believe me, and if you care for me in the very least, telegraph if I may come. Quick! I'm half insane to see you. I have many things to tell you, first of all how dear you are to me. Please telegraph. Robert.'"
"Saddle a horse, Leon!" father cried as he unstrapped his wallet.
"Laddie, take down her message."
"Can you put it into ten words?" asked Laddie.
"Mother, what would you say?" questioned Shelley.
Leon held up his fingers and curled down one with each word. "Say, `Dear Robert. Well and happy. Come when you get ready.'"
"But then I won't know when he's coming," objected Shelley. "You don't need to," said Leon. "You can take it for granted from that epistolary effusion that he won't let the grass grow under his feet while coming here. That's a bully message! It sounds as if you weren't crazy over him, and it's a big compliment to mother. Looks as if she didn't have to know when people are coming--like she's ready all the time."
"Write it out and let me see," said Shelley.
So Laddie wrote it, and she looked at it a long time, it seemed to me, at last she said: "I don't like that `get.' It doesn't sound right. Wouldn't `are' be better?"
"Come when you are ready," repeated Laddie. "Yes, that's better.
`Get' sounds rather saucy."
"Why not put it, `Come when you choose?'" suggested mother. "That will leave a word to spare, so it won't look as if you had counted them and used exactly ten on purpose, and it doesn't sound as if you expected him to make long preparations, like the other. That will leave it with him to start whenever he likes."
"Yes! yes!" cried Shelley. "That's much better! Say, `Come when you choose!'"
"Right!" said Laddie as he wrote it. "Now I'll take this!"
"Oh no you won't!" cried Leon. "Father told me to saddle my horse. She's got enough speed in her to beat yours a mile. I take that! Didn't you say for me to saddle, father?"
"Such important business, I think I better," said Laddie, and Leon began to cry.
"I think you should both go," said Shelley. "It is so important, and if one goes to make a mistake, maybe the other will notice it."
"Yes, that's the best way," said mother.
"Yes, both go," said father.
It was like one streak when they went up the Big Hill. Father shook his head. "Poor judgment--that," he said. "Never run a horse up hill!"
"But they're in such a hurry," Shelley reminded him.
"So they are," said father. "In this case I might have broken the rule myself. Now come all of you, and let the child get at her mail."
"But I want you to stay," said Shelley. "I'm so addle-pated this morning. I need my family to help me."
"Of course you do, child," said mother. "Families were made to cling together, and stand by each other in every circumstance of life--joy or sorrow. Of course you need your family."
May began sorting the letters by dates so Shelley could start on the one that had been written first. Father ran his knife across the top of each, and cut all the envelopes, and Shelley took out the first and read it; that was the train one. In it he told her about sending the boy with the note again, and explained more about how it was so very important for him to hurry, because the only man who could help him was so sick. We talked it over, and all of us thought the boy had kept the money and torn up the note. Father said the way would have been to send the note and pay the boy when he came back; but Shelley said Mr. Paget would have been gone before the boy got back, so father saw that wouldn't have been the way, in such a case.
Next she read one written on the boat. He told more about sending the boy; how he loved her, what it would mean to both of them if he got the evidence he wanted and won his first case; and how much it would bring his friend. The next one told it all over again, and more. In that he wrote a little about the ocean, the people on board the ship, and he gave Shelley the name of the place where he was going and begged her to write to him. He told her if the ship he was on passed another, they were going to stop and send back the mail. He begged her to write often, and to say she forgave him for starting away without seeing her, as he had been forced to.
The next one was the same thing over, only a little more yet. In the last he had reached England, the important man was still living, but he was almost gone, and Mr. Paget took two good witnesses, all the evidence he had, and went to see him; and the man saw it was no use, so he made a statement, and Robert had it all written out, signed and witnessed. For the real straight sense there was in that letter, I could have done as well myself.
It was a wild jumble, because Robert was so crazy over having the evidence that would win his case; and he told Shelley that now he was perfectly free to love her all she would allow him. He said he had to stay a while longer to find his friend's people so they would get back their share of the money, but it was not going to be easy to locate them. You wouldn't think the world so big, but maybe it seemed smaller to me because as far as I could see from the top of our house, was all I knew about it. After Shelley had read the letters, and the note again, father heaved a big sigh that seemed to come clear from his boot soles and he said: "Well Shelley, it looks to me as if you had found a man. Seems to me that's a mighty important case for a young lawyer to be trusted with, in a first effort."
"Yes, but it was for Robert's best friend, and only think, he has won!"
"I don't see how he could have done better if he'd been old as Methuselah, and wise as Solomon," boasted mother.
"But he hasn't found the people who must have back their money," said May. "He will have to go to England again. And he wants to take you, Shelley. My! You'll get to sail on a big steamer, cross the Atlantic Ocean, and see London. Maybe you'll even get a peep at the Queen!"
Shelley was busy making a little heap of her letters; when the top one slid off I reached over and put it back for her. She looked straight at me, and smiled the most wonderful and the most beautiful smile I ever saw on any one's face, so I said to her: "You see! I told you he was coming!"
"I can't understand it!" said Shelley.
"You know I told you."
"Of course I do! But what made you think so?"
"That was the answer. Just that he was coming."
"What are you two talking about?" asked mother.
Shelley looked at me, and waited for me to tell mother as much as I wanted to, of what had happened. But I didn't think things like that were to be talked about before every one, so I just said:
"Oh nothing! Only, I told Shelley this very morning that the Paget man was coming soon, and that everything was going to be all right."
"You did? Well of all the world! I can't see why."
"Oh something told me! I just felt that way."
"More of that Fairy nonsense?" asked father sharply.
"No. I didn't get that from the Fairies."
"Well, never mind!" said Shelley, rising, because she saw that I had told all I wanted to. "Little Sister did tell me this morning that he was coming, that everything would be made right, and it's the queerest thing, but instantly I believed her. Didn't I sing all morning, mother? The first note since Robert didn't come when I expected him in Chicago, weeks ago."
"Yes," said mother. "That's a wonderfully strange thing. I can't see what made you think so."
"Anyway, I did!" I said. "Now let's go have dinner. I'm starving."
I caught May's hand, and ran to get away from them. Father and mother walked one on each side of Shelley, while with both hands she held her letters before her. When we reached the house we just talked about them all the time. Pretty soon the boys were back, and then they told about sending the telegram. Leon vowed he gave the operator a dime extra to start that message with a shove, so it would go faster.
"It will go all right," said Laddie, "and how it will go won't be a circumstance to the way he'll come. If there's anything we ought to do, before he gets here, we should hustle. Chicago isn't a thousand miles away. That message can reach him by two o'clock, it's probable he has got ready while he was waiting, so he will start on the first train our way. He could reach Groveville on the ten, to-morrow. We better meet it."
"Yes, we'll meet it," said mother. "Is the carriage perfectly clean?"
Father said: "It must be gone over. Our general manager here ordered me to speed up, and we drove a little coming from town."
Mother went to planning what else should be done.
"Don't do anything!" cried Shelley. "The house is all right. There's no need to work and worry into a sweat. He won't notice or care how things look."
"I miss my guess if he doesn't notice and care very much indeed," said mother emphatically. "Men are not blind. No one need think they don't see when things are not as they should be, just because they're not cattish enough to let you know it, like a woman always does. Shelley, wouldn't you like to ride over and spend the afternoon with the Princess?"
"Nope!" said Shelley. "It's her turn to come to see me. Besides, you don't get me out of the way like that. I know what you'll do here, and I intend to help."
"Do you need one of the boys at the house?" asked father, and if you'll believe it, both of them wanted to stay.
Father said he must have one to help wash the carriage and do a little fixing around the barn; so he took Leon, but he didn't like to go. He said: "I don't see what all this fuss is about, anyway. Probably he'll be another Peter."
Shelley looked at him: "Oh Mr. Paget isn't nearly so large as Peter," she said, "and his hair is whiter than yours, while his eyes are not so blue."
"Saints preserve us!" cried Leon. "Come on, father, let's only dust the carriage! He's not worth washing it for."
"Is he like that?" asked mother anxiously.
"Wait and see!" said Shelley. "Looks don't make a man. He has proved what he can do."
Then all of us went to work. Before night we were hunting over the yard, and beside the road, to see if we could find anything to pick up. Six chickens were in the cellar, father was to bring meat and a long list of groceries from town in the morning. He was to start early, get them before train time, put them under the back seat, and take them out after he drove into the lane, when he came back. That made a little more trouble for father, but there was not the slightest necessity for making Mr. Paget feel that he had ridden in a delivery wagon.
Next morning I wakened laughing softly, because some one was fussing with my hair, patting my face, and kissing me, so I put up my arms and pulled that loving person down on my pillow, and gave back little half-asleep kisses, and slept on; but it was Shelley, and she gently shook me and began repeating that fool old thing I have been waked up with half the mornings of my life:
"Get up, Little Sister, the morning is bright, The birds are all singing to welcome the light, Get up; for when all things are merry and glad, Good children should never be lazy and sad; For God gives us daylight, dear sister, that we May rejoice like the lark and work like the bee."
Usually I'd have gone on sleeping, but Shelley was so sweet and lovely, and she kissed me so hard, that I remembered it was going to be a most exciting day, so I came to quick as snap and jumped right up, for I didn't want to miss a single thing that might happen.
The carriage was shining when it came to the gate, so was father.
I thought there was going to be a vacant seat beside him, and I asked if I might go along. He said: "Yes, if mother says so." He always would stick that in. So I ran to ask her, and she didn't care, if Shelley made no objections. I was just starting to find her, when here she came, all shining too, but Laddie was with her. I hadn't known that he was going, and I was so disappointed I couldn't help crying.
"What's the matter?" asked Shelley.
"Father and mother both said I might go, if you didn't care."
"Why, I'm dreadfully sorry," said Shelley, "but I have several things I want Laddie to do for me."
Laddie stooped down to kiss me good-bye and he said: "Don't cry, Little Sister. The way to be happy is to be good."
Then they drove to Groveville, and we had to wait. But there was so much to do, it made us fly to get all of it finished. So mother sent Leon after Mrs. Freshett to help in the kitchen, while Candace wore her white dress, and waited on the table. Mother cut flowers for the dining table, and all through the house. She left the blinds down to keep the rooms cool, chilled buttermilk to drink, and if she didn't think of every single, least little thing, I couldn't see what it was. Then all of us put on our best dresses. Mother looked as glad and sweet as any girl, when she sat to rest a little while. I didn't dare climb the catalpa in my white dress, so I watched from the horse block, and when I saw the grays come over the top of the hill, I ran to tell. As mother went to the gate, she told May and me to walk behind, to stay back until we were spoken to, and then to keep our heads level, and remember our manners. I don't know where Leon went. He said he lost all interest when he found there was to be another weak-eyed towhead in the family, and I guess he was in earnest about it, because he wasn't even curious enough to be at the gate when Mr. Paget came.
Father stopped with a flourish, Laddie hurried around and helped Shelley, and then Mr. Paget stepped down. Goodness, gracious, sakes alive! Little? Towhead? He was taller than Laddie. His hair was most as black as ink, and wavy. His eyes were big and dark; he was broad and strong and there was the cleanest, freshest look about him. He put his arm spang around Shelley, right there in the road, and mother said: "Hold there! Not so fast, young man! I haven't given my consent to that."
He laughed, and he said: "Yes, but you'ah going to!" And he put his other arm around mother, so May and I crowded up, and we had a family reunion right between the day lilies and the snowball bush. We went into the house, and he liked us, his room, and everything went exactly right. He was crazy about the cold buttermilk, and while he was drinking it Leon walked into the dining-room, because he thought of course Mr. Paget and Shelley would be on the davenport in the parlour. When he saw Robert he said lowlike to Shelley: "Didn't Mr. Paget come? Who's that?"
Shelley looked so funny for a minute, then she remembered what she had told him and she just laughed as she said: "Mr. Paget, this is my brother."
Robert went to shake hands, and Leon said right to his teeth: "Well a divil of a towhead you are!"
"Towhead?" said Robert, bewildered-like.
"Shelley said you were a little bit of a man, with watery blue eyes, and whiter hair than mine."
"Oh I say!" cried Robert. "She must have been stringin' you!"
Leon just whooped; because while Mr. Paget didn't talk like the 'orse, 'ouse people, he made you think of them in the way he said things, and the sound of his voice. Then we had dinner, and I don't remember that we ever had quite such a feast before. Mother had put on every single flourish she knew. She used her very best dishes, and linen, and no cook anywhere could beat Candace alone; now she had Mrs. Freshett to help her, and mother also. If she tried to show Mr. Paget, she did it! No visitor was there except him, but we must have been at the table two hours talking, and eating from one dish after another. Candace liked to wear her white dress, and carry things around, and they certainly were good.
And talk! Father, Laddie, and Robert talked over all creation. Every once in a while when mother saw an opening, she put in her paddle, and no one could be quicker, when she watched sharp and was trying to make a good impression. Shelley was very quiet; she scarcely spoke or touched that delicious food. Once the Paget man turned to her, looking at her so fondlike, as he picked up one of her sauce dishes and her spoon and wanted to feed her. And he said: "Heah child, eat your dinnah! You have nawthing to be fussed ovah! I mean to propose to you, and your parents befowr night. That is what I am heah for."
Every one laughed so, Shelley never got the bite; but after that she perked up more and ate a little by herself.
At last father couldn't stand it any longer, so he began asking Robert about his trip to England, and the case he had won. When the table was cleared for dessert, Mr. Paget asked mother to have Candace to bring his satchel. He opened it and spread papers all over, so that father and Laddie could see the evidence, while he told them how it was.
It seemed there was a law in England, all of us knew about it, because father often had explained it. This law said that a man who had lots of money and land must leave almost all of it to his eldest son; and the younger ones must go into law, the army, be clergymen, or enter trade and earn a living, while the eldest kept up the home place. Then he left it to his eldest son, and his other boys had to work for a living. It kept the big estates together; but my! it was hard on the younger sons, and no one seemed even to think about the daughters. I never heard them mentioned.
Now there was a very rich man; he had only two sons, and each of them married, and had one son. The younger son died, and sent his boy for his elder brother to take care of. He pretended to be good, but for sure, he was bad as ever he could be. He knew that if his cousin were out of the way, all that land and money would be his when his uncle died. So he went to work and he tried for years, and a lawyer man who had no conscience at all, helped him. At last when they had done everything they could think of, they took a lot of money and put it in the pocket of the son they wanted to ruin; then when his father missed the money, and the house was filled with policemen, detectives, and neighbours, the bad man said he'd feel more comfortable to have the family searched too, merely as a formality, so he stepped out and was gone over, and when the son's turn came, there was the money on him! That made him a public disgrace to his family, and a criminal who couldn't inherit the estate, and his father went raving mad and tried to kill him, so he had to run away. At first he didn't care what he did, so he came over here. Robert said that man was his best friend, and as men went, he was a decent fellow, so he cheered him up all he could, and went to work with all his might to prove he was innocent, and to get back his family, and his money for him.
When Robert had enough evidence that he was almost ready to start to England, his man got a cable from an old friend of his father's, who always had believed in him, and it said that the bad man was dying--to come quick. So Robert went all of a sudden, like the Dead Letters told about. Now, he described how he reached there, took the old friend of the father of his friend with him, and other witnesses, and all the evidence he had, and went to see the sick man. When Robert showed him what he could prove, the bad man said it was no use, he had to die in a few days, so he might as well go with a clean conscience, and he told about everything he had done. Robert had it all written out, signed and sworn to. He told about all of it, and then he said to father: "Have I made it clear to you?"
Leon was so excited he forgot all the manners he ever had, for he popped up before father could open his head, and cried: "Clear as mud! I got that son business so plain in my mind, I'd know the party of the first part, from the party of the second part, if I met him promenading on the Stone Wall of China!"
Father and Laddie knew so much law they asked dozens of questions; but that Robert man wasn't a smidgin behind, for every clip he had the answer ready, and then he could go on and tell much more than he had been asked. He said as a Case, it was a pretty thing to work on; but it was much more than a case to him, because he always had known that his friend was not guilty; that he was separated from his family, suffering terribly under the disgrace, and they must be also. He had worked for life for his friend, because the whole thing meant so much to both of them. He said he must go back soon and finish up a little more that he should have done while he was there, if it hadn't been that he received no word from Shelley.
"When I didn't heah from heh for so long, and wrote so many letters, and had no reply, I thought possibly some gay `young Lochinvah had come out from the west,' and taken my sweet 'eart," he said, "and while I had my armour on, I made up my mind that I'd give him a fight too. I didn't propose to lose Shelley, if it were in my powah to win heh. I hadn't been able to say to heh exactly what I desiahed, on account of getting a start alone in this country; but if I won this case, I would have ample means. When I secuahed the requiahed evidence, I couldn't wait to finish, so I came straight ovah, to make sure of heh."
He arose and handed the satchel to father.
"I notice you have a very good looking gun convenient," he said. "Would you put these papahs where you consider them safe until I'm ready to return? Our home, our living, and the honah of a man are there, and we are mighty particular about that bag, are we not, Shelley?"
"Well I should think we are!" cried Shelley. "For goodness sake, father, hang to it! Is the man still living? Could you get that evidence over again?"
"He was alive when I left, but the doctors said ten days would be his limit, so he may be gone befowr this."
Father picked up the satchel, set it on his knees, and stroked it as if it were alive.
"Well! Well!" he said. "Now would any one think such a little thing could contain so much?"
Shelley leaned toward Robert.
"Your friend!" she cried, "Your friend! What did he say to you? What did he do?"
"Well, for a time he was wildly happy ovah having the stain removed from his honah, and knowing that he would have his family and faw'tn back; but there is an extremely sad feature to his case that is not yet settled, so he must keep his head level until we work that out. Now about that hoss you wanted to show me----" he turned to Leon.
Mother gave the signal, and we left the table. Father carried the satchel to his chest, made room for it, locked it in and put the key in his pocket. Then our men started to the barn to show the Arab-Kentucky horse. Mr. Paget went to Shelley and took her in his arms exactly like Peter did Sally before the parlour door that time when I got into trouble, and he looked at mother and laughed as he said: "I hope you will excuse me, but I"e been having a very nawsty, anxious time, and I cawn't conform to the rules for a few days, until I become accustomed to the fawct that Shelley is not lost to me. It was beastly when I reached Chicago, had back all my letters, and found she had gone home ill. I've much suffering to recompense. I'll atone for a small portion immediately."
He lifted Shelley right off the floor--that's how big and strong he was--he hugged her tight, and kissed her forehead, cheeks, and eyes.
"When I've gone through the fahmality of asking your parents for you, and they have said a gracious `yes,' I'll put the fust one on your lips," he said, setting her down carefully. "In the meantime, you be fixing your mouth to say, `yes,' also, when I propose to you, because it's coming befowr you sleep."
Shelley was like a peach blossom. She reached up and touched his cheek, while she looked at mother all smiling, and sparkling, as she said: "You see!"
Mother smiled back.
"I do, indeed!" she answered.
Leon pulled Mr. Paget's sleeve.
"Aw quit lally-gaggin' and come see a real horse," he said.
Robert put his other arm around Leon, drew him to his side and hugged him as if he were a girl. "I'm so glad Shelley has a lawge family," he said. "Big families are jolly. I'm so proud of all the brothers I'm going to have. I was the only boy at home."
"You haven't told us about your family," said mother.
"No," said Robert, "but I intend to. I have a family! One of the finest on uth. We'll talk about them after this hoss is inspected."
He let Shelley go and walked away, his arm still around Leon. Shelley ran to mother and both of them sobbed out loud.
"Now you see how it was!" she said.
"You poor child!" cried mother. "Indeed I do see how it was. You've been a brave girl. A good, brave girl! Father and I are mighty proud of you!"
"Oh mother! I thought you were ashamed of me!" sobbed Shelley.
"Oh my child!" said mother quavery-like. "Oh my child! You surely see that none of us could understand, as we do now."
She patted Shelley, and told her to run upstairs and lie down for a while, because she was afraid she would be sick.
"We mustn't have a pale, tired girl right now," said mother.
Well!" said Shelley, but she just stood there holding mother.
"Well?" said mother gripping her.
"You see!" said Shelley.
"Child," said mother, "I do see! I see six feet of as handsome manhood as I ever have seen anywhere. His manner is perfect, and I find his speech most attractive. I am delighted with him. I do see indeed! Your father is quite as proud and pleased as I am. Now go to bed."
Shelley held up her lips, and then went. I ran to the barn, where the men were standing in the shade, while Leon led his horse up and down before them, told about its pedigree, its record, how he came to have it. The Paget man stood there looking and listening gravely, as he studied the horse. At last he went over her, and gee! but he knew horse! Then Laddie brought out Flos and they talked all about her, and then went into the barn. Father opened the east doors to show how much land he had, which were his lines; and while the world didn't look quite so pretty as it had in May, still it was good enough. Then they went into the orchard, sat under the trees and began talking about business conditions. That was so dry I went back to the house. And maybe I didn't strike something interesting there!
As I came up the orchard path to a back yard gate, I saw a carriage at the hitching rack in front of the house, so I took a peep and almost fell over. It was the one the Princess had come to Sally's wedding in; so I knew she was in the house visiting Shelley. I went to the parlour and there I had another shock; for lo and behold! in our big rocking chair, and looking as well as any one, so far as you could see--of course you can't see heart trouble, though--sat Mrs. Pryor. The Princess and mother were there, all of them talking, laughing and having the best time, while on the davenport enjoying himself as much as any one, was Mr. Pryor. They talked about everything, and it was easy to see that the Pryor door was open so far as we were concerned, anyway. Mrs. Pryor was just as nice and friendly as she could be, and so was he. Shelley sat beside him, and he pinched her cheek and said: "Something seems to make you especially brilliant today, young woman!"
Shelley flushed redder, laughed, and glanced at mother, so she said: "Shelley is having a plain old-fashioned case of beau. She met a young man in Chicago last fall and he's here now to ask our consent. All of us are quite charmed with him. That's why she's so happy."
Then the Princess sprang up and kissed Shelley, so did Mrs. Pryor, while such a chatter you never heard. No one could repeat what they said, for as many as three talked at the same time.
"Oh do let's have a double wedding!" cried the Princess when the excitement was over a little. "I think it would be great fun; do let's! When are you planning for?"
"Nothing is settled yet," said Shelley. "We've had no time to talk!"
"Mercy!" cried the Princess. "Go make your arrangements quickly!
Hurry up, then come over, and we'll plan for the same time. It will be splendid! Don't you think that would be fine, Mrs. Stanton?"
"I can't see any objections to it," said mother.
"Where is your young man? I'm crazy to see him," cried the Princess. "If you have gone and found a better looking one than mine, I'll never speak to you again."
"She hasn't!" cried Mrs. Pryor calmly, like that settled it. I like her. "They're not made!"
"I am not so sure of that," said Shelley proudly. "Mother, isn't my man quite as good looking, and as nice in every way, as Laddie?"
"Fully as handsome, and so far as can be seen in such a short time, quite as fine," said mother.
I was perfectly amazed at her; as if any man could be!
"I don't believe it, I won't stand it, and I shan't go home until I have seen for myself!" cried the Princess, laughing, and yet it sounded as if she were half-provoked, and I knew I was. The Paget man was all right, but I wasn't going to lose my head over him. Laddie was the finest, of course!
"Well, he's somewhere on the place with our men, this minute," said Shelley, "but you stay for supper, and meet him."
"When you haven't your arrangements made yet! You surely are unselfish! Of course I won't do that, but I'd love to have one little peep, then you bring him and come over to-morrow, so all of us can become acquainted, and indeed, I'm really in earnest about a double wedding."
"Go see where the men are," said Shelley to me.
I went to the back door, and their heads were bobbing far down in the orchard.
"They're under the greening apple tree," I reported.
"If you will excuse us," said Shelley to Mr. and Mrs. Pryor, "we'll walk down a few minutes and prove that I'm right."
"Don't stay," said Mrs. Pryor. "This trip is so unusual for me that I'm quite tired. For a first venture, in such a long time, I think I've done well. But now I'm beginning to feel I should go home."
"Go straight along," said the Princess. "I'll walk across the fields, or Thomas can come back after me."
So Mr. and Mrs. Pryor went away, while the Princess, Shelley, May, and I walked through the orchard toward the men. They were standing on the top of the hill looking over the meadow, and talking with such interest they didn't hear us or turn until Shelley said: "Mr. Paget, I want to present you to Laddie's betrothed--Miss Pamela Pryor."
He swung around, finishing what he was saying as he turned, the Princess took a swift step toward him, then, at the same time, both of them changed to solid tombstone, and stood staring, and so did all of us, while no one made a sound. At last the Paget man drew a deep, quivery breath and sort of shook himself as he gazed at her.
"Why, Pam!" he cried. "Darling Pam, cawn it possibly be you?"
If you ever heard the scream of a rabbit when the knives of a reaper cut it to death, why that's exactly the way she cried out.
She covered her eyes with her hands. He drew back and smiled, the red rushed into his face, and he began to be alive again. Laddie went to the Princess and took her hands.
"What does this mean?" he begged.
She pulled away from him, and went to the Paget man slowly, her big eyes wild and strained.
"Robert!" she cried. "Robert! how did you get here? Were you hunting us?"
"All ovah England, yes," he said. "Not heah! I came heah to see Shelley. But you? How do you happen to be in this country?"
"We've lived on adjoining land for two years!"
"You moved heah! To escape the pity of our friends?"
"Father moved! Mother and I had no means, and no refuge. We were forced. We never believed it! Oh Robert, we never--not for a minute! Oh Robert, say you never did it!"
"Try our chawming cousin Emmet your next guess!"
"That devil! Oh that devil!"
She cried out that hurt way again, so he took her tight in his arms; but sure as ever Laddie was my brother, he was hers, so that was all right. When they were together you wondered why in this world you hadn't thought of it the instant you saw him alone. They were like as two peas. They talked exactly the same, only he sounded much more so, probably from having just been in England for weeks, while in two years she had grown a little as we were. We gazed at them, open-mouthed, like as not, and no one said a word.
At last Mr. Paget looked over the Princess' shoulder at father and said: "I can explain this, Mr. Stanton, in a very few wuds. I am my friend. The case was my own. The evidence I secuahed was for myself. This is my only sisteh. Heh people are mine----"
"The relationship is apparent," said father. "There is a striking likeness between you and your sister, and I can discern traces of your parents in your face, speech and manner."
"If you know my father," said Robert, "then you undehstand what happened to me when I was found with his money on my pehson, in the presence of our best friends and the police. He went raving insane on the instant, and he would have killed me if he hadn't been prevented; he tried to; has he changed any since, Pam?"
The Princess was clinging to him with both hands, staring at him, wonder, joy, and fear all on her lovely face.
"Worse!" she cried. "He's much worse! The longer he broods, the more mother grieves, the bitterer he becomes. Mr. Stanton, he is always armed. He'll shoot on sight. Oh what shall we do?"
"Miss Pamela," said Leon, "did your man Thomas know your brother in England?"
"All his life."
"Well, then, we'd better be doing something quick. He tied the horses and was walking up and down the road while he waited, and he saw us plainly when we crossed the wood yard a while ago. He followed us and stared so, I couldn't help noticing him."
"Jove!" cried Robert. "I must have seen him in the village this morning. A man reminded me of him, then I remembered how like people of his type are, and concluded I was mistaken. Mr. Stanton, you have agreed that the evidence I hold is sufficient. Pam cawn tell you that while I don't deny being full of tricks as a boy, they weh not dirty, not low, and while father always taking Emmet's paht against me drove me to recklessness sometimes, I nevah did anything underhand or disgraceful. She knows what provocation I had, and exactly what happened. Let heh tell you!"
"I don't feel that I require any further information," said father. "You see, I happen to be fairly well acquainted with Mr. Pryor."
"He made us use that name here," explained the Princess.
"Well, his name is Paget!" said Robert angrily.
Laddie told me long ago he didn't believe it was Pryor.
"Then, if you are acquainted with my father, what would you counsel? Unless I'm prepahed to furnish the central figyah of interest in a funeral, I dare not meet him, until he has seen this evidence, had time to digest it, and calm himself."
Shelley caught him by the arm. No wonder! She hadn't been proposed to, or even had a kiss on her lips. She pulled him.
"You come straight to the house," she said. "Thomas may tell your father he thought he saw you."
That was about as serious as anything could be, but nothing ever stopped Leon. He sidled away from father, repeating in a low voice:
"`For sore dismayed, through storm and shade His child he did discover; One lovely hand she stretched for aid, And one was round her lover--'"
Shelley just looked daggers at him, but she was too anxious to waste any time.
"Would Thomas tell your father?" she asked the Princess.
"The instant he saw him alone, yes. He wouldn't before mother."
"Hold one minute!" cried father. "We must think of our mother, just a little. Shelley, you and the girls run up and explain how this is. Better all of you go to the house, except Mr. Paget. He'll be safe here as anywhere. Mr. Pryor will stop there, if he comes. So it would be best for you to keep out of sight, Robert, until I have had a little talk with him."
"I'll stay here," I offered. "We'll talk until you get Mr. Pryor cooled off. He can be awful ragesome when he's excited, and it doesn't take much to start him."
"You're right about that!" agreed Robert.
So we sat under the greening and were having a fine visit while the others went to break the news gently to mother that the Pryor mystery had gone up higher than Gilderoy's kite. My! but she'd be glad! It would save her many a powerful prayer. I was telling Robert all about the time his father visited us, and what my mother said to him, and he said: "She'd be the one to talk with him now. Possibly he'd listen to her, until he got it through his head that his own son is not a common thief."
"Maybe he'll have to be held, like taking quinine, and made to listen," I said.
"That would be easy, if he were not a walking ahsenal," said Robert. "You have small chance to reason with a half-crazy man while he is handling a pistol."
He meant revolver.
"But he'll shoot!" I cried. "The Princess said he'd shoot!"
"So he will!" said Robert. "Shoot first, then find out how things are, and kill himself and every one else with remorse, afterward. He is made that way."
"Then he doesn't dare see you until he finds out how mistaken he has been," I said, for I was growing to like Robert better every minute longer I knew him. Besides, there was the Princess, looking like him as possible, and loving him of course, like I did Laddie, maybe. And if anything could cure Mrs. Pryor's heart trouble, having her son back would, because that was what made it in the first place, and even before them, there was Shelley to be thought of, and cared for.