Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter VIII. The Shropshire and the Crusader
"For, among the rich and gay, Fine, and grand, and decked in laces, None appear more glad then they, With happier hearts, or happier faces."
Every one told mother for a week before the wedding that she would be sick when it was over, and sure enough she was. She had been on her feet too much, and had so many things to think about, and there had been such a dreadful amount of work for her and Candace, even after all the neighbours helped, that she was sick in bed and we couldn't find a thing she could eat, until she was almost wild with hunger and father seemed as if he couldn't possibly bear it a day longer.
After Candace had tried everything she could think of, I went up and talked it over with Sarah Hood, and she came down, pretending she happened in, and she tried thickened milk, toast and mulled buttermilk; she kept trying for two days before she gave up. Candace thought of new things, and Mrs. Freshett came and made all the sick dishes she knew, but mother couldn't even taste them; so we were pretty blue, and we nearly starved ourselves, for how could we sit and eat everything you could mention, and mother lying there, almost crying with hunger?
Saturday morning I was hanging around her room hoping maybe she could think of some least little thing I could do for her, even if no more than to bring a glass of water, or a late rose to lay on her pillow; it would be better than not being able to do anything at all. After a while she opened her eyes and looked at me, and I scarcely knew her. She smiled the bravest she could and said: "Sorry for mother, dear?"
I nodded. I couldn't say much, and she tried harder than ever to be cheerful and asked: "What are you planning to do to-day?"
"If you can't think of one thing I can do for you, guess I'll go fishing," I said.
Her eyes grew brighter and she seemed half interested.
"Why, Little Sister," she said, "if you can catch some of those fish like you do sometimes, I believe I could eat one of them."
I never had such a be-hanged time getting started. I slipped from the room, and never told a soul even where I was going. I fell over the shovel and couldn't find anything quick enough but my pocket to put the worms in, and I forgot my stringer. At last, when I raced down the hill to the creek and climbed over the water of the deep place, on the roots of the Pete Billings yowling tree, I had only six worms, my apple sucker pole, my cotton cord line, and bent pin hook. I put the first worm on carefully, and if ever I prayed! Sometimes it was hard to understand about this praying business. My mother was the best and most beautiful woman who ever lived. She was clean, and good, and always helped "the poor and needy who cluster round your door," like it says in the poetry piece, and there never could have been a reason why God would want a woman to suffer herself, when she went flying on horseback even dark nights through rain or snow, to doctor other people's pain, and when she gave away things like she did--why, I've seen her take a big piece of meat from the barrel, and a sack of meal, and heaps of apples and potatoes to carry to Mandy Thomas--when she gave away food by the wagonload at a time, God couldn't have wanted her to be hungry, and yet she was that very minute almost crying for food; and I prayed, oh how I did pray! and a sneaking old back- ended crayfish took my very first worm. I just looked at the sky and said: "Well, when it's for a sick woman, can't You do any better than that?"
I suppose I shouldn't have said it, but if it had been your mother, how would you have felt? I pinched the next worm in two, so if a crayfish took that, it wouldn't get but half. I lay down across the roots and pulled my bonnet far over my face and tried to see to the bottom. I read in school the other day:
"And by those little rings on the water I know The fishes are merrily swimming below."
There were no rings on the water, but after a while I saw some fish darting around, only they didn't seem to be hungry; for they would come right up and nibble a tiny bit at my worm, but they wouldn't swallow it. Then one did, so I jerked with all my might, jerked so hard the fish and worm both flew off, and I had only the hook left. I put on the other half and tried again. I prayed straight along, but the tears would come that time, and the prayer was no powerful effort like Brother Hastings would have made; it was little torn up pieces mostly: "O Lord, please do make only one fish bite!" At last one did bite good, so I swung carefully that time, and landed it on the grass, but it was so little and it hit a stone and was killed. I had no stringer to put it back in the water to keep cool, and the sun was hot that day, like times in the fall. Stretched on the roots, with it shining on my back, and striking the water and coming up from below, I dripped with heat and excitement.
I threw that one away, put on another worm, and a big turtle took it, the hook, and broke my line, and almost pulled me in. I wouldn't have let go if it had, for I just had to have a fish. There was no help from the Lord in that, so I quit praying, only what I said when I didn't know it. Father said man was born a praying animal, and no matter how wicked he was, if he had an accident, or saw he had just got to die, he cried aloud to the Lord for help and mercy before he knew what he was doing.
I could hear the roosters in the barnyard, the turkey gobbler, and the old ganders screamed once in a while, and sometimes a bird sang a skimpy little fall song; nothing like spring, except the killdeers and larks; they were always good to hear--and then the dinner bell rang. I wished I had been where I couldn't have heard that, because I didn't intend going home until I had a fish that would do for mother if I stayed until night. If the best one in the family had to starve, we might as well all go together; but I wouldn't have known how hungry I was, if the bell hadn't rung and told me the others were eating. So I bent another pin and tried again. I lost the next worm without knowing how, and then I turned baby and cried right out loud. I was so thirsty, the salty tears running down my cheeks tasted good, and doing something besides fishing sort of rested me; so I looked around and up at the sky, wiped my face on the skirt of my sunbonnet, and put on another worm. I had only one more left, and I began to wonder if I could wade in and catch a fish by hand; I did teeny ones sometimes, but I knew the water there was far above my head, for I had measured it often with the pole; it wouldn't do to try that; instead of helping mother any, a funeral would kill her, too, so I fell back on the Crusaders, and tried again.
Strange how thinking about them helped. I pretended I was fighting my way to the Holy City, and this was the Jordan just where it met the sea, and I had to catch enough fish to last me during the pilgrimage west or I'd never reach Jerusalem to bring home a shell for the Stanton crest. I pretended so hard, that I got braver and stronger, and asked the Lord more like there was some chance of being heard. All at once there was a jerk that almost pulled me in, so I jerked too, and a big fish flew over my head and hit the bank behind me with a thump. Of course by a big fish I don't mean a red horse so long as my arm, like the boys bring from the river; I mean the biggest fish I ever caught with a pin in our creek. It looked like the whale that swallowed Jonah, as it went over my head. I laid the pole across the roots, jumped up and turned, and I had to grab the stump to keep from falling in the water and dying. There lay the fish, the biggest one I ever had seen, but it was flopping wildly, and it wasn't a foot from a hole in the grass where a muskrat had burrowed through. If it gave one flop that way, it would slide down the hole straight back into the water; and between me and the fish stood our cross old Shropshire ram. I always looked to see if the sheep were in the meadow before I went to the creek, but that morning I had been so crazy to get something for mother to eat, I never once thought of them--and there it stood!
That ram hadn't been cross at first, and father said it never would be if treated right, and not teased, and if it were, there would be trouble for all of us. I was having more than my share that minute, and it bothered me a lot almost every day. I never dared enter a field any more if it were there, and now it was stamping up and down the bank, shaking its head, and trying to get me; with one flop the fish went almost in the hole, and the next a little away from it. Everything put together, I thought I couldn't stand it. I never wanted anything as I wanted that fish, and I never hated anything as I hated that sheep. It wasn't the sheep's fault either; Leon teased it on purpose, just to see it chase Polly Martin; but that was more her doings than his.
She was a widow and she crossed our front meadow going to her sister's. She had two boys big as Laddie, and three girls, and father said they lived like "the lilies of the field; they toiled not, neither did they spin." They never looked really hungry or freezing, but they never plowed, or planted, they had no cattle or pigs or chickens, only a little corn for meal, and some cabbage, and wild things they shot for meat, and coons to trade the skins for more powder and lead--bet they ate the coons--never any new clothes, never clean, they or their house. Once when father and mother were driving past, they saw Polly at the well and they stopped for politeness sake to ask how she was, like they always did with every one. Polly had a tin cup of water and was sopping at her neck with a carpet rag, and when mother asked, "How are you, Mrs. Martin?" she answered: "Oh I ain't very well this spring; I gest I got the go-backs!"
Mother said Polly looked as if she'd been born with the "go- backs," and had given them to all her children, her home, garden, fields, and even the fences. We hadn't a particle of patience with such people. When you are lazy like that it is very probable that you'll live to see the day when your children will peep through the fence cracks and cry for bread. I have seen those Martin children come mighty near doing it when the rest of us opened our dinner baskets at school; and if mother hadn't always put in enough so that we could divide, I bet they would. If Polly Martin had walked up as if she were alive, and had been washed and neat, and going somewhere to do some one good, Leon never would have dreamed of such a thing as training the Shropshire to bunt her. She was so long and skinny, always wore a ragged shawl over her head, a floppy old dress that the wind whipped out behind, and when she came to the creek, she sat astride the foot log, and hunched along with her hands; that tickled the boys so, Leon began teasing the sheep on purpose to make it get her. But inasmuch as she saw fit to go abroad looking so funny, that any one could see she'd be a perfect circus if she were chased, I didn't feel that it was Leon's fault. If, like the little busy bee, she had "improved each shining hour," he never would have done it. Seems to me, she brought the trouble on her own head.
First, Leon ran at the Shropshire and then jumped aside; but soon it grew so strong and quick he couldn't manage that, so he put his hat on a stick and poked it back and forth through a fence crack, and that made the ram raving mad. At last it would butt the fence until it would knock itself down, and if he dangled the hat again, get right up and do it over. Father never caught Leon, so he couldn't understand what made the sheep so dreadfully cross, because he had thought it was quite peaceable when he bought it. The first time it got after Polly, she threw her shawl over its head, pulled up her skirts, and Leon said she hit just eleven high places crossing an eighty-acre field; she came to the house crying, and father had to go after her shawl, and mother gave her a roll of butter and a cherry pie to comfort her.
The Shropshire never really got Polly, but any one could easily see what it would do to me if I dared step around that stump, and it was dancing and panting to begin. If whoever wrote that "Gentle Sheep, pray tell me why," piece ever had seen a sheep acting like that, it wouldn't have been in the books; at least I think it wouldn't, but one can't be sure. He proved that he didn't know much about anything outdoors or he wouldn't have said that sheep were "eating grass and daisies white, from the morning till the night," when daisies are bitter as gall.
Flop! went the fish, and its tail touched the edge of the hole. Then I turned around and picked up the pole. I put my sunbonnet over the big end of it, and poked it at the ram, and drew it back as Leon did his hat. One more jump and mother's fish would be gone. I stood on the roots and waved my bonnet. The sheep lowered its head and came at it with a rush. I drew back the pole, and the sheep's forefeet slid over the edge, and it braced and began to work to keep from going in. The fish gave a big flop and went down the hole. Then I turned Crusader and began to fight, and I didn't care if I were whipped black and blue, I meant to finish that old black-faced Shropshire. I set the pole on the back of its neck and pushed with all my might, and I got it in, too. My, but it made a splash! It wasn't much good at swimming either, and it had no chance, for I stood on the roots and pushed it down, and hit it over the nose with all my might, and I didn't care how far it came on the cars, or how much money it cost, it never would chase me, and make me lose my fish again.
I didn't hear him until he splashed under the roots and then I was so mad I didn't see that it was Laddie; I only knew that it was someone who was going to help out that miserable ram, so I struck with all my might, the sheep when I could hit it, if not, the man.
"You little demon, stop!" cried Laddie.
I got in a good one right on the ram's nose. Then Laddie dropped the sheep and twisted the fish pole from my fingers, and I pushed him as hard as I could, but he was too strong. He lifted the sheep, pulled it to the bank, and rolled it, worked its jaws, and squeezed water from it, and worked and worked.
"I guess you've killed it!" he said at last.
"Goody!" I shouted. "Goody! Oh but I am glad it's dead!"
"What on earth has turned you to a fiend?" asked Laddie, beginning work on the sheep again.
"That ram!" I said. "Ever since Leon made it cross so it would chase Polly Martin, it's got me oftener than her. I can't go anywhere for it, and to-day it made me lose a big fish, and mother is waiting. She thought maybe she could eat some."
Then I roared; bet I sounded like Bashan's bull.
"Dear Lord!" said Laddie dropping the sheep and taking me in his wet arms. "Tell me, Biddy! Tell me how it is."
Then I forgot I was a Crusader, and told him all about it as well as I could for choking, and when I finished he bathed my hot face, and helped me from the roots. Then he went and looked down the hole I showed him and he cried out quicklike, and threw himself on the grass, and in a second up came the fish. Some one had rolled a big stone in the hole, so the fish was all right, not even dead yet, and Laddie said it was the biggest one he ever had seen taken from the creek. Then he said if I'd forgive him and all our family, for spoiling the kind of a life I had a perfect right to lead, and if I'd run to the house and get a big bottle from the medicine case quick, he would see to it that some place was fixed for that sheep where it would never bother me again. So I took the fish and ran as fast as I could, but I sent May back with the bottle, and did the scaling myself. No one at our house could do it better, for Laddie taught me the right way long ago, when I was small, and I'd done it hundreds of times.
Then I went to Candace and she put a little bit of butter and a speck of lard in a skillet, and cooked the fish brown. She made a slice of toast and boiled a cup of water and carried it to the door; then she went in and set the table beside the bed, and I took in the tray, and didn't spill a drop. Mother never said a word; she just reached out and broke off a tiny speck and nibbled it, and it stayed; she tried a little bigger piece, and another, and she said: "Take out the bones, Candace!" She ate every scrap of that fish like the hungriest traveller who ever came to our door, and the toast, and drank the hot water. Then she went into a long sleep and all of us walked tiptoe, and when she waked up she was better, and in a few days she could sit in her chair again, and she began getting Shelley ready to go to music school.
I have to tell you the rest, too. Laddie made the ram come alive, and father sold it the next day for more than he paid for it. He said he hoped I'd forgive him for not having seen how it had been bothering me, and that he never would have had it on the place a day if he'd known. The next time he went to town he bought me a truly little cane rod, a real fishing line, several hooks, and a red bobber too lovely to put into the water. I thought I was a great person from the fuss all of them made over me, until I noticed Laddie shrug his shoulders, and reach back and rub one, and then I remembered.
I went flying, and thank goodness! he held out his arms.
"Oh Laddie! I never did it!" I cried. "I never, never did! I couldn't! Laddie, I love you best of any one; you know I do!"
"Of course you didn't!" said Laddie. "My Little Sister wasn't anywhere around when that happened. That was a poor little girl I never saw before, and she was in such trouble she didn't know what she was doing. And I hope I'll never see her again," he ended, twisting his shoulder. But he kissed me and made it all right, and really I didn't do that; I just simply couldn't have struck Laddie.
Marrying off Sally was little worse than getting Shelley ready for school. She had to have three suits of everything, and a new dress of each kind, and three hats; her trunk wouldn't hold all there was to put in it; and father said he never could pay the bills. He had promised her to go, and he didn't know what in this world to do; because he never had borrowed money in his life, and he couldn't begin; for if he died suddenly, that would leave mother in debt, and they might take the land from her. That meant he'd spent what he had in the bank on Sally's wedding, and all that was in the Underground Station, or maybe the Station money wasn't his.
Just when he was awfully bothered, mother said to never mind, she believed she could fix it. She sent all of us into the orchard to pick the fine apples that didn't keep well, and father made three trips to town to sell them. She had big jars of lard she wouldn't need before butchering time came again, and she sold dried apples, peaches, and raspberries from last year. She got lots of money for barrels of feathers she'd saved to improve her feather beds and pillows; she said she would see to that later. Father was so tickled to get the money to help him out that he said he'd get her a pair of those wonderful new blue geese like Pryors had, that every one stopped to look at. When there was not quite enough yet, from somewhere mother brought out money that she'd saved for a long time, from butter and eggs, and chickens, and turkeys, and fruit and lard, and things that belonged to her. Father hated to use it the worst way, but she said she'd saved it for an emergency, and now seemed to be the time.
She said if the child really had talent, she should be about developing it, and while there would be many who would have far finer things than Shelley, still she meant her to have enough that she wouldn't be the worst looking one, and so ashamed she couldn't keep her mind on her work. Father said, with her face it didn't make any difference what she wore, and mother said that was just like a man; it made all the difference in the world what a girl wore. Father said maybe it did to the girl, and other women; what he meant was that it made none to a man. Mother said the chief aim and end of a girl's life was not wrapped up in a man; and father said maybe not with some girls, but it would be with Shelley: she was too pretty to escape. I do wonder if I'm going to be too pretty to escape, when I put on long dresses. Sometimes I look in the glass to see if it's coming, but I don't suppose it's any use. Mother says you can't tell a thing at the growing age about how a girl is going to look at eighteen.
When everything was almost ready, Leon came in one day and said: "Shelley, what about improving your hair? Have you tried your wild grape sap yet?"
Shelley said: "Why, goodness me! We've been so busy getting Sally married, and my clothes made, I forgot all about that. Have you noticed the crock in passing? Is there anything in it?"
"It was about half full, once when I went by," said Leon. "I haven't seen it lately."
"Do please be a dear and look, when you go after the cows this evening," said Shelley. "If there's anything in it, bring it up."
"Do it yourself for want of me, The boy replied quite manfully,"
quoted Leon from "The Little Lord and the Farmer." He was always teasing.
"I think you're mean as dirt if you don t bring it," said Shelley.
Leon grinned and you should have heard the nasty, teasing way he said more of that same piece:
"Anger and pride are both unwise, Vinegar never catches flies----"
I wondered she didn't slap him. You could see she wanted to. "I can get it myself," she said angrily.
"What will you give me to bring it?" asked Leon, who never missed a chance to make a bargain.
"My grateful thanks. Are they not a proper reward?" asked Shelley.
"Thanks your foot!" said Leon. "Will you bring something pretty from Chicago for Susie Fall's Christmas present?"
Every one laughed, but Leon never cared. He liked Susie best of any of the girls, and he wanted every one to know it. He went straight to her whenever he had a chance, and he'd already told her mother to keep all the other boys away, because he meant to marry her when he grew up, and Widow Fall said that was fair enough, and she'd save her for him. So Shelley said she would get him something for Susie, and Leon brought the crock. Shelley looked at it sort of dubious-like, tipped it, and stared at the dirt settled in the bottom, and then stuck in her finger and tasted it. She looked at Leon with a queer grin and said: "Smarty, smarty, think you're smart!" She threw the creek water into the swill bucket. No one said a word, but Leon looked much sillier than she did. After he was gone I asked her if she would bring him a Christmas present for Susie now, and she said she ought to bring him a pretty glass bottle labelled perfume, with hartshorn in it, and she would, if she thought he'd smell it first.
Shelley felt badly about leaving mother when she wasn't very well; but mother said it was all right, she had Candace to keep house and May and me, and father, and all of us to take care of her, and it would be best for Shelley to go now and work hard as she could, while she had the chance. So one afternoon father took her trunk to the depot and bought the tickets and got the checks, and the next day Laddie drove to Groveville with father and Shelley, and she was gone. Right at the last, she didn't seem to want to leave so badly, but all of them said she must. Peter's cousin, who had gone last year, was to meet her, and have a room ready where she boarded if she could, and if she couldn't right away, then the first one who left, Shelley was to have the place, so they'd be together.
There were eight of us left, counting Candace and Miss Amelia, and you wouldn't think a house with eight people living in it would be empty, but ours was. Everything seemed to wilt. The roses on the window blinds didn't look so bright as they had; mother said the only way she could get along was to keep right on working. She helped Candace all she could, but she couldn't be on her feet very much, so she sat all day long and peeled peaches to dry, showed Candace how to jelly, preserve, and spice them, and peeled apples for butter and to dry, quantities more than we could use, but she said she always could sell such things, and with the bunch of us to educate yet, we'd need the money.
When it grew cold enough to shut the doors, and have fire at night, first thing after supper all of us helped clear the table, then we took our slates and books and learned our lessons for the next day, and then father lined us against the wall, all in a row from Laddie down, and he pronounced words--easy ones that divided into syllables nicely, for me, harder for May, and so up until I might sit down. For Laddie, May and Leon he used the geography, the Bible, Roland's history, the Christian Advocate, and the Agriculturist. My, but he had them so they could spell! After that, as memory tests, all of us recited our reading lesson for the next day, especially the poetry pieces. I knew most of them, from hearing the big folks repeat them so often and practise the proper way to read them. I could do "Rienzi's Address to the Romans," "Casablanca," "Gray's Elegy," or "Mark Antony's Speech," but best of all, I liked "Lines to a Water-fowl." When he was tired, if it were not bedtime yet, all of us, boys too, sewed rags for carpet and rugs. Laddie braided corn husks for the kitchen and outside door mats, and they were pretty, and "very useful too," like the dog that got his head patted in McGuffey's Second.
Then they picked the apples. These had to be picked by hand, wrapped in soft paper, packed in barrels, and shipped to Fort Wayne. Where they couldn't reach by hand, they stood on barrels or ladders, and used a long handled picker, so as not to bruise the fruit. Laddie helped with everything through the day, worked at his books at night, and whenever he stepped outside he looked in the direction of Pryors'. He climbed to the topmost limbs of the trees with a big basket, picked it full and let it down with a long piece of clothesline. I loved to be in the orchard when they were working; there were plenty of summer apples to eat yet; it was fun to watch the men, and sometimes I could be useful by handing baskets or heaping up apples to be buried for us.
One night father read about a man who had been hanged for killing another man, and they cut him down too soon, so he came alive, and they had to hang him over; and father got all worked up about it. He said the man had suffered death the first time to "all intents and purposes," so that fulfilled the requirements of the law, and they were wrong when they hanged him again. Laddie said it was a piece of bungling sure enough, but the law said a man must be "hanged by his neck until he was dead," and if he weren't dead, why, it was plain he hadn't fulfilled the requirements of the law, so they were forced to hang him again. Father said that law was wrong; the man never should have been hanged in the first place. They talked and argued until we were all excited about it, and the next evening after school Leon and I were helping pick apples, and when father and Laddie went to the barn with a load we sat down to rest and we thought about what they said.
"Gee, that was tough on the man!" said Leon, "but I guess the law is all right. Of course he wouldn't want to die, and twice over at that, but I don't suppose the man he killed liked to die either. I think if you take a life, it's all right to give your own to pay for it."
"Leon," I said, "some time when you are fighting Absalom Saunders or Lou Wicks, just awful, if you hit them too hard on some tender spot and kill them, would you want to die to pay for it?"
"I wouldn't want to, but I guess I'd have to," said Leon. "That's the law, and it's as good a way to make it as any. But I'm not going to kill any one. I've studied my physiology hard to find all the spots that will kill. I never hit them behind the ear, or in the pit of the stomach; I just black their eyes, bloody their snoots, and swat them on the chin to finish off with."
"Well, suppose they don't study their physiologies like you do, and hit you in the wrong place, and kill you, would you want them hanged by the neck until they were dead, to pay for it?"
"I don't think I'd want anything if I were dead," he said. "I wonder how it feels to die. Now that man knew. I'd like to be hanged enough to find out how it goes, and then come back, and brag about it. I don't think it hurts much; I believe I'll try it."
So Leon took the rope Laddie lowered the baskets with, and threw it over a big limb. Then he rolled up a barrel and stood on it and put my sunbonnet on with the crown over his face, for a black cap, and made the rope into a slip noose over his head, and told me to stand back by the apple tree and hold the rope tight, until he said he was hanged enough. Then he stepped from the barrel. It jerked me toward him about a yard, as he came down smash! on his feet. I held with all my might, but he was too heavy--and falling that way. So he went to trying to fix some other plan, and I told him the sensible thing to do would be for him to hang me, because he'd be strong enough to hold me and I could tell him how it felt just as well. So we fixed me up like we had him, and when Leon got the rope stretched, he wrapped it twice around the apple tree so it wouldn't jerk him as it had me, and when he said "Ready," I stepped from the barrel. The last thing I heard was Leon telling me to say when I was hanged enough. I was so heavy, the rope stretched, and I went down until it almost tore off my head, and I couldn't get a single breath, so of course I didn't tell him, and I couldn't get on the barrel, and my tongue went out, and my chest swelled up, and my ears roared, and I kicked and struggled, and all the time I could hear Leon laughing, and shouting to keep it up, that I was dying fine; only he didn't know that I really was, and at last I didn't feel or know anything more.
When I came to, I was lying on the grass, while father was pumping my arms, and Laddie was pouring creek water on my face from his hat, and Leon was running around in circles, clear crazy. I heard father tell him he'd give him a scutching he'd remember to the day of his death; but inasmuch as I had told Leon to do it, I had to grab father and hold to him tight as I could, until I got breath enough to explain how it happened. Even then I wasn't sure what he was going to do.
After all that, when I tried to tell Leon how it felt, he just cried like a baby, and he wouldn't listen to a word, even when he'd wanted to know so badly. He said if I hadn't come back, he'd have gone to the barn and used the swing rope on himself, so it was a good thing I did, for one funeral would have cost enough, when we needed money so badly, not to mention how mother would have felt to have two of us go at once, like she had before. And anyway, it didn't amount to so awful much. It was pretty bad at first, but it didn't last long, and the next day my neck was only a little blue and stiff, and in three days it was all over, only a rough place where the rope grained the skin as I went down; but I never got to tell Leon how it felt; I just couldn't talk him into hearing, and it was quite interesting too; but still I easily saw why the man in the paper would object to dying twice, to pay for killing another man once.
When the apples were picked and the cabbage, beets, turnips, and potatoes were buried, some corn dried in the garret for new meal, pumpkins put in the cellar, the field corn all husked, and the butchering done, father said the work was in such fine shape, with Laddie to help, and there was so much more corn than he needed for us, and the price was so high, and the turkeys did so well, and everything, that he could pay back what mother helped him, and have quite a sum over.
It was Thanksgiving by that time, and all of Winfield's, Lucy's, Sally and Peter, and our boys came home. We had a big time, all but Shelley; it was too expensive for her to come so far for one day, but mother sent her a box with a whole turkey for herself and her friends; and cake, popcorn, nuts, and just everything that wasn't too drippy. Shelley wrote such lovely letters that mother saved them and after we had eaten as much dinner as we could, she read them before we left the table.
I had heard most of them, but I liked to listen again, because they sounded so happy. You could hear Shelley laugh on every page. She told about how Peter's cousin was waiting when the train stopped. They couldn't room together right away, but they were going to the first chance they had. Shelley felt badly because they were so far apart, but she was in a nice place, where she could go with other girls of the school until she learned the way. She told about her room and the woman she boarded with and what she had to eat; she wrote mother not to worry about clothes, because most of the others were from the country, or small towns, and getting ready to teach, and lots of them didn't have nearly as many or as pretty dresses as she did. She told about the big building, the classes, the professors, and of going to public recitals where some of the pupils who knew enough played; and she was working her fingers almost to the bone, so she could next year. She told of people she met, and how one of the teachers took a number of girls in his class to see a great picture gallery. She wrote pages about a young Chicago lawyer she met there, and only a few lines about the pictures, so father said as that was the best collection of art work in Chicago, it was easy enough to see that Shelley had been far more impressed with the man than she had been with the pictures. Mother said she didn't see how he could say a thing like that about the child. Of course she couldn't tell in a letter about hundreds of pictures, but it was easy enough to tell all about a man.
Father got sort of spunky at that, and he said it was mighty little that mattered most, that could be told about a Chicago lawyer; and mother had better caution Shelley to think more about her work, and write less of the man. Mother said that would stop the child's confidences completely and she'd think all the time about the man, and never mention him again, so she wouldn't know what was going on. She said she was glad Shelley had found pleasing, refined friends, and she'd encourage her all she could in cultivating them; but of course she'd caution her to be careful, and she'd tell her what the danger was, and after that Shelley wrote and wrote. Mother didn't always read the letters to us, but she answered every one she got that same night. Sometimes she pushed the pen so she jabbed the paper, and often she smiled or laughed softly.
I liked Thanksgiving. We always had a house full of company, and they didn't stay until we were tired of them, as they did at Christmas, and there was as much to eat; the only difference was that there were no presents. It wasn't nearly so much work to fix for one day as it was for a week; so it wasn't so hard on mother and Candace, and father didn't have to spend much money. We were wearing all our clothes from last fall that we could, and our coats from last winter to help out, but we didn't care. We had a lot of fun, and we wanted Sally and Shelley to have fine dresses, because they were in big cities where they needed them, and in due season, no doubt, we would have much more than they, because, as May figured it, there would be only a few of us by that time, so we could have more to spend. That looked sensible, and I thought it would be that way, too. We were talking it over coming from school one evening, and when we had settled it, we began to play "Dip and Fade." That was a game we made up from being at church, and fall and spring were the only times we could play it, because then the rains filled all the ditches beside the road where the dirt was plowed up to make the bed higher, and we had to have the water to dip in and fade over.
We played it like that, because it was as near as we could come to working out a song Isaac Thomas sang every time he got happy. He had a lot of children at home, and more who had died, from being half-fed and frozen, mother thought; and he was always talking about meeting the "pore innocents" in Heaven, and singing that one song. Every time he made exactly the same speech in meeting. It began like reciting poetry, only it didn't rhyme, but it sort of cut off in lines, and Isaac waved back and forth on his feet, and half sung it, and the rags waved too, but you just couldn't feel any thrills of earnestness about what he said, because he needed washing, and to go to work and get him some clothes and food to fill out his frame. He only looked funny, and made you want to laugh. It took Emanuel Ripley to raise your hair. I don't know why men like my father, and the minister, and John Dover stood it; they talked over asking Isaac to keep quiet numbers of times, but the minister said there were people like that in every church, they always came among the Lord's anointed, and it was better to pluck out your right eye than to offend one of them, and he was doubtful about doing it. So we children all knew that the grown people scarcely could stand Isaac's speech, and prayer, and song, and that they were afraid to tell him plain out that he did more harm than good. Every meeting about the third man up was Isaac, and we had to watch him wave, and rant, and go sing-songy:
"Oh brethering and sistering--ah, It delights my heart--ah to gather with you, In this holy house of worship--ah. In his sacred word--ah, The Lord--ah tells us, That we are all his childring--ah. And now, lemme exhort you to-night--ah, As one that loves you--ah, To choose that good part, that Mary chose--ah, That the worrrr-uld kin neither give ner take away--ah."
That went on until he was hoarse, then he prayed, and arose and sang his song. Other men spoke where they stood. Isaac always walked to the altar, faced the people, and he was tired out when he finished, but so proud of himself, so happy, and he felt so sure that his efforts were worth a warm bed, sausage, pancakes, maple syrup, and coffee for breakfast, that it was mighty seldom he failed to fool some one else into thinking so too, and if he could, he wouldn't have to walk four miles home on cold nights, with no overcoat. In summer, mostly, they let him go. Isaac always was fattest in winter, especially during revivals, but at any time mother said he looked like a sheep's carcass after the buzzards had picked it. It could be seen that he was perfectly strong, and could have fed and clothed himself, and Mandy and the children, quite as well as our father did us, if he had wanted to work, for we had the biggest family of the neighbourhood. So we children made fun of him and we had to hold our mouths shut when he got up all tired and teary-like, and began to quaver:
"Many dear childurn we know dew stan' Un toon ther harps in the better lan', Ther little hans frum each soundin' string, Bring music sweet, wile the Anguls sing, Bring music sweet, wile the Anguls sing,-- We shell meet them agin on that shore, We shell meet them agin on that shore, With fairer face, un angel grace, Each loved un ull welcome us ther. "They uster mourn when the childurn died, Un said goo-bye at the river side, They dipped ther feet in the glidin' stream, Un faded away, like a loveli dream, Un faded away like a loveli dream."
Then the chorus again, and then Isaac dropped on the front seat exhausted, and stayed there until some good-hearted woman, mostly my mother, felt so sorry about his shiftlessness she asked him to go home with us and warmed and fed him, and put him in the traveller's bed to sleep. The way we played it was this: we stood together at the edge of a roadside puddle and sang the first verse and the chorus exactly as Isaac did. Then I sang the second verse, and May was one of the "many dear childurn," and as I came to the lines she dipped her feet in the "glidin' stream," and for "fading away," she jumped across.
Now May was a careful little soul, and always watched what she was doing, so she walked up a short way, chose a good place, and when I sang the line, she was almost birdlike, she dipped and faded so gracefully. Then we laughed like dunces, and then May began to sway and swing, and drone through her nose for me, and I was so excited I never looked. I just dipped and faded on the spot. I faded all right too, for I couldn't jump nearly across, and when I landed in pure clay that had been covered with water for three weeks, I went down to my knees in mud, to my waist in water, and lost my balance and fell backward.
A man passing on horseback pried me out with a rail and helped me home. Of course he didn't know how I happened to fall in, and I was too chilled to talk. I noticed May only said I fell, so I went to bed scorched inside with red pepper tea, and never told a word about dipping and fading. Leon whispered and said he bet it was the last time I would play that, so as soon as my coat and dress were washed and dried, and I could go back to school, I did it again, just to show him I was no cowardy-calf; but I had learned from May to choose a puddle I could manage before I faded.