Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter IV. The Last Day in Eden
"'Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore, And coming events cast their shadows before."
Of course the baby was asleep and couldn't be touched; but there was some excitement, anyway. Father had come from town with a letter from the new school teacher, that said she would expect him to meet her at the station next Saturday. Mother thought she might as well get the room ready and let her stay at our house, because we were most convenient, and it would be the best place for her. She said that every time, and the teacher always stayed with us. Really it was because father and mother wanted the teacher where they could know as much as possible about what was going on. Sally didn't like having her at all; she said with the wedding coming, the teacher would be a nuisance. Shelley had finished our school, and the Groveville high school, and instead of attending college she was going to Chicago to study music. She was so anxious over her dresses and getting started, she didn't seem to think much about what was going to happen to us at home; so she didn't care if Miss Amelia stayed at our house. May said it would be best to have the teacher with us, because she could help us with our lessons at home, and we could get ahead of the others. May already had decided that she would be at the head of her class when she finished school, and every time you wanted her and couldn't find her, if you would look across the foot of mother's bed, May would be there with a spelling book. Once she had spelled down our school, when Laddie was not there.
Father had met Peter Dover in town, and he had said that he was coming to see Sally, because he had something of especial importance to tell her.
"Did he say what it was?" asked Sally.
"Only what I have told you," replied father.
Sally wanted to take the broom and sweep the parlour.
"It's clean as a ribbon," said mother.
"If you go in there, you'll wake the baby," said Lucy.
"Will it kill it if I do?" asked Sally.
"No, but it will make it cross as fire, so it will cry all the time Peter is here," said Lucy.
"I'll be surprised if it doesn't scream every minute anyway," said Sally.
"I hope it will," said Lucy. "That will make Peter think a while before he comes so often."
That made Sally so angry she couldn't speak, so she went out and began killing chickens. I helped her catch them. They were so used to me they would come right to my feet when I shelled corn.
"I'm going to kill three," said Sally. "I'm going to be sure we have enough, but don't you tell until their heads are off."
While she was working on them mother came out and asked how many she had, so Sally said three. Mother counted us and said that wasn't enough; there would have to be four at least.
After she was gone Sally looked at me and said: "Well, for land's sake!"
It was so funny she had to laugh, and by the time I caught the fourth one, and began helping pick them, she was over being provoked and we had lots of fun.
The minute I saw Peter Dover he made me think of something. I rode his horse to the barn with Leon leading it. There we saw Laddie.
"Guess what!" I cried.
"Never could!" laughed Laddie, giving Peter Dover's horse a slap as it passed him on the way to a stall.
"Four chickens, ham, biscuit, and cake!" I announced.
"Is it a barbecue?" asked Laddie.
"No, the extra one is for the baby," said Leon. "Squally little runt, I call it."
"It's a nice baby!" said Laddie.
"What do you know about it?" demanded Leon.
"Well, considering that I started with you, and have brought up two others since, I am schooled in all there is to know," said Laddie.
"Guess what else!" I cried.
"More?" said Laddie. "Out with it! Don't kill me with suspense."
"Father is going to town Saturday to meet the new teacher and she will stay at our house as usual."
Leon yelled and fell back in a manger, while Laddie held harness oil to his nose.
"More!" cried Leon, grabbing the bottle.
"Are you sure?" asked Laddie of me earnestly.
"It's decided. Mother said so," I told him.
"Name of a black cat, why?" demanded Laddie.
"Mother said we were most convenient for the teacher."
"Aren't there enough of us?" asked Leon, straightening up sniffing harness oil as if his life depended on it.
"Any unprejudiced person would probably say so to look in," said Laddie.
"I'll bet she'll be sixty and a cat," said Leon. "Won't I have fun with her?"
"Maybe so, maybe not!" said Laddie. "You can't always tell, for sure. Remember your Alamo! You were going to have fun with the teacher last year, but she had it with you."
Leon threw the oil bottle at him. Laddie caught it and set it on the shelf.
"I don't understand," said Leon.
"I do," said Laddie dryly. "This is one reason." He hit Peter Dover's horse another slap.
"Maybe yes," said Leon.
"Shelley to music school, two."
"Yes," said Leon. "Peter Dovers are the greatest expense, and Peter won't happen but once. Shelley will have at least two years in school before it is her turn, and you come next, anyway."
"Shut up!" cried Laddie.
"Thanky! Your orders shall be obeyed gladly."
He laid down the pitchfork, went outside, closed the door, and latched it. Laddie called to him, but he ran to the house. When Laddie and I finished our work, and his, and wanted to go, we had to climb the stairs and leave through the front door on the embankment.
"The monkey!" said Laddie, but he didn't get mad; he just laughed.
The minute I stepped into the house and saw the parlour door closed, I thought of that "something" again. I walked past it, but couldn't hear anything. Of course mother wanted to know; and she would be very thankful to me if I could tell her. I went out the front door, and thought deeply on the situation. The windows were wide open, but I was far below them and I could only hear a sort of murmur. Why can't people speak up loud and plain, anyway? Of course they would sit on the big haircloth sofa. Didn't Leon call it the "sparking bench"? The hemlock tree would be best. I climbed quieter than a cat, for they break bark and make an awful scratching with their claws sometimes; my bare feet were soundless. Up and up I went, slowly, for it was dreadfully rough. They were not on the sofa. I could see plainly through the needles. Then I saw the spruce would have been better, for they were standing in front of the parlour door and Peter had one hand on the knob. His other arm was around my sister Sally. Breathlessly I leaned as far as I could, and watched.
"Father said he'd give me the money to buy a half interest, and furnish a house nicely, if you said `yes,' Sally," said Peter.
Sally leaned back all pinksome and blushful, and while she laughed at him she
"Carelessly tossed off a curl That played on her delicate brow."
exactly like Mary Dow in McGuffey's Third.
"Well, what did I say?" she asked.
"Come to think of it, you didn't say anything."
Sally's face was all afire with dancing lights, and she laughed the gayest little laugh.
"Are you so very sure of that, Peter?" she said.
"I'm not sure of anything," said Peter, "except that I am so happy I could fly."
"Try it, fool!" I said to myself, deep in my throat.
Sally laughed again, and Peter took his other hand from the door and put that arm around Sally too, and he drew her to him and kissed her, the longest, hardest kiss I ever saw. I let go and rolled, tumbled, slid, and scratched down the hemlock tree, dropped from the last branch to the ground, and scampered around the house. I reached the dining-room door when every one was gathering for supper.
"Mother!" I cried. "Mother! Yes! They're engaged! He's kissing her, mother! Yes, Lucy, they're engaged!"
I rushed in to tell all of them what they would be glad to know, and if there didn't stand Peter and Sally! How they ever got through that door, and across the sitting-room before me, I don't understand. Sally made a dive at me, and I was so astonished I forgot to run, so she caught me. She started for the wood house with me, and mother followed. Sally turned at the door and she was the whitest of anything you ever saw.
"This is my affair," she said. "I'll attend to this young lady."
"Very well," said mother, and as I live she turned and left me to my sad fate, as it says in a story book we have. I wish when people are going to punish me, they'd take a switch and strike respectably, like mother does. This thing of having some one get all over me, and not having an idea where I'm going to be hit, is the worst punishment that I ever had. I'd been down the hill and up the hemlock that day, anyway. I'd always been told Sally didn't want me. She proved it right then. Finally she quit, because she was too tired to strike again, so I crept among the shavings on the work bench and went to sleep. I thought they would like to know, and that I was going to please them.
Anyway, they found out, for by the time Sally got back Peter had told them about the store, and the furnished house, and asked father for Sally right before all of them, which father said was pretty brave; but Peter knew it was all right or he couldn't have come like he'd been doing.
After that, you couldn't hear anything at our house but wedding. Sally's share of linen and bedding was all finished long ago. Father took her to Fort Wayne on the cars to buy her wedding, travelling, and working dresses, and her hat, cloak, and linen, like you have when you marry.
It was strange that Sally didn't want mother to go, but she said the trip would tire her too much. Mother said it was because Sally could coax more dresses from father. Anyway, mother told him to set a limit and stick to it. She said she knew he hadn't done it as she got the first glimpse of Sally's face when they came back, but the child looked so beautiful and happy she hadn't the heart to spoil her pleasure.
The next day a sewing woman came; and all of them were shut up in the sitting-room, while the sewing machine just whizzed on the working dresses. Sally said the wedding dress had to be made by hand. She kept the room locked, and every new thing that they made was laid away on the bed in the parlour bedroom, and none of us had a peep until everything was finished. It was awfully exciting, but I wouldn't pretend I cared, because I was huffy at her. I told her I wouldn't kiss her goodbye, and I'd be glad when she was gone.
Sally said the school-ma'am simply had to go to Winters', or some place else, but mother said possibly a stranger would have some ideas, and know some new styles, so Sally then thought maybe they had better try it a few days, and she could have her place and be company when she and Shelley left. Shelley was rather silent and blue, and before long I found her crying, because mother had told her she couldn't start for Chicago until after the wedding, and that would make her miss six weeks at the start.
Next day word was sent around that school was to begin the coming Monday; so Saturday afternoon the people who had children large enough to go sent the biggest of them to clean the schoolhouse. May, Leon, and I went to do our share. Just when there were about a bushel of nut shells, and withered apple cores, and inky paper on the floor, the blackboard half cleaned, and ashes trailed deep between the stove and the window Billy Wilson was throwing them from, some one shouted: "There comes Mr. Stanton with Her."
All of us dropped everything and ran to the south windows. I tell you I was proud of our big white team as it came prancing down the hill, and the gleaming patent leather trimmings, and the brass side lamps shining in the sun. Father sat very straight, driving rather fast, as if he would as lief get it over with, and instead of riding on the back seat, where mother always sat, the teacher was in front beside him, and she seemed to be talking constantly. We looked at each other and groaned when father stopped at the hitching post and got out. If we had tried to see what a dreadful muss we could make, things could have looked no worse. I think father told her to wait in the carriage, but we heard her cry: "Oh Mr. Stanton, let me see the dear children I'm to teach, and where I'm to work."
Hopped is the word. She hopped from the carriage and came hopping after father. She was as tall as a clothes prop and scarcely as fat. There were gray hairs coming on her temples. Her face was sallow and wrinkled, and she had faded, pale-blue eyes. Her dress was like my mother had worn several years before, in style, and of stiff gray stuff. She made me feel that no one wanted her at home, and probably that was the reason she had come so far away.
Every one stood dumb. Mother always went to meet people and May was old enough to know it. She went, but she looked exactly as she does when the wafer bursts and the quinine gets in her mouth, and she doesn't dare spit it out, because it costs five dollars a bottle, and it's going to do her good. Father introduced May and some of the older children, and May helped him with the others, and then he told us to "dig in and work like troopers," and he would take Miss Pollard on home.
"Oh do let me remain and help the dear children!" she cried.
"We can finish!" we answered in full chorus.
"How lovely of you!" she chirped.
Chirp makes you think of a bird; and in speech and manner Miss Amelia Pollard was the most birdlike of any human being I ever have seen. She hopped from the step to the walk, turned to us, her head on one side, playfulness in the air around her, and shook her finger at us.
"Be extremely particular that you leave things immaculate at the consummation of your labour," she said. "`Remember that cleanliness is next to Godliness!'"
"Two terms of that!" gasped Leon, sinking on the stove hearth. "Behold Job mourning as close the ashes as he can."
Billy Wilson had the top lid off, so he reached down and got a big handful of ashes and sifted them over Leon. But it's no fun to do anything like that to him; he only sank in a more dejected heap, and moaned: "Send for Bildad and Zophar to comfort me, and more ashes, please."
"Why does the little feathered dear touch earth at all? Why doesn't she fly?" demanded Silas Shaw.
"I'm going to get a hundred wads ready for Monday," said Jimmy Hood. "We can shoot them when we please."
"Bet ten cents you can't hit her," said Billy Wilson. "There ain't enough of her for a decent mark."
"Let's quit and go home," proposed Leon. "This will look worse than it does now by Monday night."
Then every one began talking at once. Suddenly May seized the poker and began pounding on the top of the stove for order.
"We must clean this up," she said. "We might as well finish. Maybe you'll shoot wads and do what you please, and maybe you won't. Her eyes went around like a cat that smells mice. If she can spell the language she uses, she is the best we've ever had."
That made us blink, and I never forgot it. Many times afterward while listening to people talk, I wondered if they could spell the words they used.
"Well, come on, then!" said Leon. He seized the broom and handed it to Billy Wilson, quoting as he did so, "Work, work, my boy, be not afraid"; and he told Silas Shaw as he gave him the mop, to "Look labour boldly in the face!" but he never did a thing himself, except to keep every one laughing.
So we cleaned up as well as we could, and Leon strutted like Bobby, because he locked the door and carried the key. When we reached home I was sorry I hadn't gone with father, so I could have seen mother, Sally, Candace, and Laddie when first they met the new teacher. The shock showed yet! Miss Amelia had taken off her smothery woollen dress and put on a black calico, but it wasn't any more cheerful. She didn't know what to do, and you could see plainly that no one knew what to do with her, so they united in sending me to show her the place. I asked her what she would like most to see, and she said everything was so charming she couldn't decide. I thought if she had no more choice than that, one place would do as well as another, so I started for the orchard. Quick as we got there, I knew what to do. I led her straight to our best cling peach tree, told her to climb on the fence so she could reach easily, and eat all she chose. We didn't dare shake the tree, because the pigs ran on the other side of the fence, and they chanked up every peach that fell there. Those peaches were too good to feed even father's finest Berkshires.
By the time Miss Amelia had eaten nine or ten, she was so happy to think she was there, she quit tilting her head and using big words. Of course she couldn't know how I loved to hear them, and maybe she thought I wouldn't know what they meant, and that they would be wasted on me. If she had understood how much spelling and defining I'd heard in my life, I guess she might have talked up as big as she could, and still I'd have got most of it. When she reached the place where she ate more slowly, she began to talk. She must have asked me most a hundred questions. What all our names were, how old we were, if our girls had lots of beaus, and if there were many men in the neighbourhood, and dozens of things my mother never asked any one. She always inquired if people were well, if their crops were growing, how much fruit they had, and how near their quilts were finished.
I told her all about Sally and the wedding, because no one cared who knew it, after I had been pounded to mince-meat for telling. She asked if Shelley had any beaus, and I said there wasn't any one who came like Peter, but every man in the neighbourhood wanted to be her beau. Then she asked about Laddie, and I was taking no risks, so I said: "I only see him at home. I don't know where he goes when he's away. You'll have to ask him."
"Oh, I never would dare," she said. "But he must. He is so handsome! The girls would just compel him to go to see them."
"Not if he didn't want to go," I said.
"You must never, never tell him I said so, but I do think he is the handsomest man I ever saw."
"So do I," I said, "and it wouldn't make any difference if I told him."
"Then do you mean you're going to tell him my foolish remark?" she giggled.
"No use," I said. "He knows it now. Every time he parts his hair he sees how good looking he is. He doesn't care. He says the only thing that counts with a man is to be big, strong, manly, and well educated."
"Is he well educated?"
"Yes, I think so, as far as he's gone," I answered. "Of course he will go on being educated every day of his life, same as father. He says it is all rot about `finishing' your education. You never do. You learn more important things each day, and by the time you are old enough to die, you have almost enough sense to know how to live comfortably. Pity, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Miss Amelia, "it's an awful pity, but it's the truth.
Is your mother being educated too?"
"Whole family," I said. "We learn all the time, mother most of any, because father always looks out for her. You see, it takes so much of her time to manage the house, and sew, and knit, and darn, that she can't study so much as the others; so father reads all the books to her, and tells her about everything he finds out, and so do all of us. Just ask her if you think she doesn't know things."
"I wouldn't know what to ask," said Miss Amelia.
"Ask how long it took to make this world, who invented printing, where English was first spoken, why Greeley changed his politics, how to make bluebell perfumery, cut out a dress, or cure a baby of worms. Just ask her!"
Miss Amelia threw a peach stone through a fence crack and hit a pig. It was a pretty neat shot.
"I don't need ask any of that," she said scornfully. "I know all of it now."
"All right! What is best for worms?" I asked.
"Jayne's vermifuge," said Miss Amelia.
"Wrong!" I cried. "That's a patent medicine. Tea made from male fern root is best, because there's no morphine in it!"
The supper bell rang and I was glad of it. Peaches are not very filling after all, for I couldn't see but that Miss Amelia ate as much as any of us. For a few minutes every one was slow in speaking, then mother asked about cleaning the schoolhouse, Laddie had something to explain to father about corn mould, Sally and the dressmaker talked about pipings--not a bird--a new way to fold goods to make trimmings, and soon everything was going on the same as if the new teacher were not there. I noticed that she kept her head straight, and was not nearly so glib-tongued and birdlike before mother and Sally as she had been at the schoolhouse. Maybe that was why father told mother that night that the new teacher would bear acquaintance.
Sunday was like every other Sabbath, except that I felt so sad all day I could have cried, but I was not going to do it. Seemed as if I never could put on shoes, and so many clothes Monday morning, quite like church, and be shut in a room for hours, to try to learn what was in books, when the world was running over with things to find out where you could have your feet in water, leaves in your hair, and little living creatures in your hands. In the afternoon Miss Amelia asked Laddie to take her for a walk to see the creek, and the barn, and he couldn't escape.
I suppose our barn was exactly like hundreds of others. It was built against an embankment so that on one side you could drive right on the threshing floor with big loads of grain. On the sunny side in the lower part were the sheep pens, cattle stalls, and horse mangers. It was always half bursting with overflowing grain bins and haylofts in the fall; the swallows twittered under the roof until time to go south for winter, as they sailed from the ventilators to their nests plastered against the rafters or eaves. The big swinging doors front and back could be opened to let the wind blow through in a strong draft. From the east doors you could see for miles across the country.
I said our barn was like others, but it was not. There was not another like it in the whole world. Father, the boys, and the hired men always kept it cleaned and in proper shape every day. The upper floor was as neat as some women's houses. It was swept, the sun shone in, the winds drifted through, the odours of drying hay and grain were heavy, and from the top of the natural little hill against which it stood you could see for miles in all directions.
The barn was our great playhouse on Sundays. It was clean there, we were where we could be called when wanted, and we liked to climb the ladders to the top of the haymows, walk the beams to the granaries, and jump to the hay. One day May came down on a snake that had been brought in with a load. I can hear her yell now, and it made her so frantic she's been killing them ever since. It was only a harmless little garter snake, but she was so surprised.
Miss Amelia held her head very much on one side all the time she walked with Laddie, and she was so birdlike Leon slipped him a brick and told him to have her hold it to keep her down. Seemed as if she might fly any minute. She thought our barn was the nicest she ever had seen and the cleanest. When Laddie opened the doors on the east side, and she could see the big, red, yellow, and green apples thick as leaves on the trees in the orchard, the lane, the woods pasture, and the meadow with scattering trees, two running springs, and the meeting of the creeks, she said it was the loveliest sight she ever saw--I mean beheld. Laddie liked that, so he told her about the beautiful town, and the lake, and the Wabash River, that our creek emptied into, and how people came from other states and big cities and stayed all summer to fish, row, swim, and have good times.
She asked him to take her to the meadow, but he excused himself, because he had an engagement. So she stood in the door, and watched him saddle Flos and start to the house to dress in his riding clothes. After that she didn't care a thing about the meadow, so we went back.
Our house looked as if we had a party. We were all dressed in our best, and every one was out in the yard, garden, or orchard. Peter and Sally were under the big pearmain apple tree at the foot of the orchard, Shelley and a half dozen beaus were everywhere. May had her spelling book in one hand and was in my big catalpa talking to Billy Stevens, who was going to be her beau as soon as mother said she was old enough. Father was reading a wonderful new book to mother and some of the neighbours. Leon was perfectly happy because no one wanted him, so he could tease all of them by saying things they didn't like to hear. When Laddie came out and mounted, Leon asked him where he was going, and Laddie said he hadn't fully decided: he might ride to Elizabeth's, and not come back until Monday morning.
"You think you're pretty slick," said Leon. "But if we could see north to the cross road we could watch you turn west, and go past Pryors to show yourself off, or try to find the Princess on the road walking or riding. I know something I'm saving to tell next time you get smart, Mr. Laddie."
Laddie seemed annoyed and no one was quicker to see it than Leon.
Instantly he jumped on the horse block, pulled down his face long as he could, stretched his hands toward Laddie, and making his voice all wavery and tremulous, he began reciting from "Lochiel's Warning," in tones of agonizing pleading:
"Laddie, Laddie, beware of the day! For, dark and despairing, my sight, I may seal, But man cannot cover what God would reveal; 'Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore, And coming events cast their shadows before."
That scared me. I begged Leon to tell, but he wouldn't say a word more. He went and talked to Miss Amelia as friendly as you please, and asked her to take a walk in the orchard and get some peaches, and she went flying. He got her all she could carry and guided her to Peter and Sally, introduced her to Peter, and then slipped away and left her. Then he and Sally couldn't talk about their wedding, and Peter couldn't squeeze her hand, and she couldn't fix his tie, and it was awful. Shelley and her boys almost laughed themselves sick over it, and then she cried, "To the rescue!" and started, so they followed. They captured Miss Amelia and brought her back, and left her with father and the wonderful book, but I'm sure she liked the orchard better.
I took Grace Greenwood under my arm, Hezekiah on my shoulder, and with Bobby at my heels went away. I didn't want my hair pulled, or to be teased that day. There was such a hardness around my heart, and such a lump in my throat, that I didn't care what happened to me one minute, and the next I knew I'd slap any one who teased me, if I were sent to bed for it. As I went down the lane Peter called to me to come and see him, but I knew exactly how he looked, and didn't propose to make up. There was not any sense in Sally clawing me all over, when I only tried to help mother and Lucy find out what they wanted to know so badly. I went down the hill, crossed the creek on the stepping-stones, and followed the cowpath into the woods pasture. It ran beside the creek bank through the spice thicket and blackberry patches, under pawpaw groves, and beneath giant oaks and elms. Just where the creek turned at the open pasture, below the church and cemetery, right at the deep bend, stood the biggest white oak father owned. It was about a tree exactly like this that an Englishman wrote a beautiful poem in McGuffey's Sixth, that begins:
"A song to the oak, the brave old oak, Who hath ruled in the greenwood long; Here's health and renown to his broad green crown, And his fifty arms so strong."
I knew it was the same, because I counted the arms time and again, and there were exactly fifty. There was a pawpaw and spice hedge around three sides of this one, and water on the other. Wild grapes climbed from the bushes to the lower branches and trailed back to earth again. Here, I had two secrets I didn't propose to tell. One was that in the crotch of some tiptop branches the biggest chicken hawks you ever saw had their nest, and if they took too many chickens father said they'd have to be frightened a little with a gun. I can't begin to tell how I loved those hawks. They did the one thing I wanted to most, and never could. When I saw them serenely soar above the lowest of the soft fleecy September clouds, I was wild with envy. I would have gone without chicken myself rather than have seen one of those splendid big brown birds dropped from the skies. I was so careful to shield them, that I selected this for my especial retreat when I wanted most to be alone, and I carefully gathered up any offal from the nest that might point out their location, and threw it into the water where it ran the swiftest.
I parted the vines and crept where the roots of the big oak stretched like bony fingers over the water, that was slowly eating under it and baring its roots. I sat on them above the water and thought. I had decided the day before about my going to school, and the day before that, and many, many times before that, and here I was having to settle it all over again. Doubled on the sak roots, a troubled little soul, I settled it once more.
No books or teachers were needed to tell me about flowing water and fish, how hawks raised their broods and kept house, about the softly cooing doves of the spice thickets, the cuckoos slipping snakelike in and out of the wild crab-apple bushes, or the brown thrush's weird call from the thorn bush. I knew what they said and did, but their names, where they came from, where they went when the wind blew and the snow fell--how was I going to find out that? Worse yet were the flowers, butterflies, and moths; they were mysteries past learning alone, and while the names I made up for them were pretty and suitable, I knew in all reason they wouldn't be the same in the books. I had to go, but no one will ever know what it cost. When the supper bell rang, I sat still. I'd have to wait until at least two tables had been served, anyway, so I sat there and nursed my misery, looked and listened, and by and by I felt better. I couldn't see or hear a thing that was standing still. Father said even the rocks grew larger year by year. The trees were getting bigger, the birds were busy, and the creek was in a dreadful hurry to reach the river. It was like that poetry piece that says:
"When a playful brook, you gambolled,"
(Mostly that gambolled word is said about lambs)
"And the sunshine o'er you smiled, On your banks did children loiter, Looking for the spring flowers wild?"
The creek was more in earnest and working harder at pushing steadily ahead without ever stopping than anything else; and like the poetry piece again, it really did "seem to smile upon us as it quickly passed us by." I had to quit playing, and go to work some time; it made me sorry to think how behind I was, because I had not started two years before, when I should. But that couldn't be helped now. All there was left was to go this time, for sure. I got up heavily and slowly as an old person, and then slipped out and ran down the path to the meadow, because I could hear Leon whistle as he came to bring the cows.
By fast running I could start them home for him: Rose, Brindle, Bess, and Pidy, Sukey and Muley; they had eaten all day, but they still snatched bites as they went toward the gate. I wanted to surprise Leon and I did.
"Getting good, ain't you?" he asked. "What do you want?"
"Nothing!" I said. "I just heard you coming and I thought I'd help you."
"Where were you?"
"You don't look as if you'd been having much fun."
"I don't expect ever to have any, after I begin school."
"Oh!" said Leon. "It is kind of tough the first day or two, but you'll soon get over it. You should have behaved yourself, and gone when they started you two years ago."
"Think I don't know it?"
Leon stopped and looked at me sharply.
"I'll help you nights, if you want me to," he offered.
"Can I ever learn?" I asked, almost ready to cry.
"Of course you can," said Leon. "You're smart as the others, I suppose. The sevens and nines of the multiplication table are the stickers, but you ought to do them if other girls can. You needn't feel bad because you are behind a little to start on; you are just that much better prepared to work, and you can soon overtake them. You know a lot none of the rest of us do, and some day it will come your turn to show off. Cheer up, you'll be all right."
Men are such a comfort. I pressed closer for more.
"Do you suppose I will?" I asked.
"Of course," said Leon. "Any minute the woods, or birds, or flowers are mentioned your time will come; and all of us will hear you read and help nights. I'd just as soon as not."
That was the most surprising thing. He never offered to help me before. He never acted as if he cared what became of me. Maybe it was because Laddie always had taken such good care of me, Leon had no chance. He seemed willing enough now. I looked at him closely.
"You'll find out I'll learn things if I try," I boasted. "And you will find out I don't tell secrets either."
"I've been waiting for you to pipe up about----"
"Well, I haven't piped, have I?"
"I am not going to either."
"I almost believe you. A girl you could trust would be a funny thing to see."
"Tell me what you know about Laddie, and see if I'm funny."
"You'd telltale sure as life!"
"Well, if you know it, he knows it anyway."
"He doesn't know what I know."
"Well, be careful and don't worry mother. You know how she is since the fever, and father says all of us must think of her. If it's anything that would bother her, don't tell before her."
"Say, looky here," said Leon, turning on me sharply, "is all this sudden consideration for mother or are you legging for Laddie?"
"For both," I answered stoutly.
"Mostly for Laddie, just the same. You can't fool me, missy. I won't tell you one word."
"You needn't!" I answered, "I don't care!"
"Yes you do," he said. "You'd give anything to find out what I know, and then run to Laddie with it, but you can't fool me. I'm too smart for you."
"All right," I said. "You go and tell anything on Laddie, and I'll watch you, and first trick I catch you at, I'll do some telling myself, Smarty."
"That's a game more than one can play at," said Leon. "Go ahead!"