Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter IX. "Even So"
"All things whatsoever ye would That men should do to you, Do ye even so to them."
Our big girls and boys always made a dreadful fuss and said we would catch every disease you could mention, but mother and father were set about it, just like the big rocks in the hills. They said they, themselves, once had been at the mercy of the people, and they knew how it felt. Mother said when they were coming here in a wagon, and she had ridden until she had to walk to rest her feet, and held a big baby until her arms became so tired she drove while father took it, and when at last they saw a house and stopped, she said if the woman hadn't invited her in, and let her cook on the stove, given her milk and eggs, and furnished her a bed to sleep in once in a while, she couldn't have reached here at all; and she never had been refused once. Then she always quoted: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
Father said there were men who made a business of splitting hairs, and of finding different meanings in almost everything in the Bible. I would like to have seen any one split hairs about that, or it made to mean something else. Of all the things in the Bible that you had to do because it said to, whether you liked it or not, that was the one you struck oftenest in life and it took the hardest pull to obey. It was just the hatefulest text of any, and made you squirm most. There was no possible way to get around it. It meant, that if you liked a splinter new slate, and a sharp pencil all covered with gold paper, to make pictures and write your lessons, when Clarissa Polk sat next you and sang so low the teacher couldn't hear until she put herself to sleep on it, "I wisht I had a slate! I wisht I had a slate! I wisht I had a slate! Oh I wisht I had a slate!"--it meant that you just had to wash up yours and stop making pictures yourself, and pass it over; you even had to smile when you offered it, if you did it right. I seldom got through it as the Lord would, for any one who loaned Clarissa a slate knew that it would come back with greasy, sweaty finger marks on it you almost had to dig a hole to wash off, and your pencil would be wet. And if there were the least flaw of crystal in the pencil, she found it, and bore down so hard that what she wrote never would come off.
The Lord always seemed bigger and more majestic to me, than at any other time, when I remembered that He could have known all that, and yet smiled as He loaned Clarissa His slate. And that old Bible thing meant, too, that if you would like it if you were travelling a long way, say to California to hunt gold, or even just to Indiana, to find a farm fit to live on--it meant that if you were tired, hungry, and sore, and would want to be taken in and fed and rested, you had to let in other people when they reached your house. Father and mother had been through it themselves, and they must have been tired as could be, before they reached Sarah Hood's and she took them in, and rested and fed them, even when they were only a short way from the top of the Little Hill, where next morning they looked down and stopped the wagon, until they chose the place to build their house. Sarah Hood came along, and helped mother all day, so by night she was settled in the old cabin that was on the land, and ready to go to work making money to build a new one, and then a big house, and fix the farm all beautiful like it was then. They knew so well how it felt, that they kept one bed in the boys' room, and any man who came at dusk got his supper, to sleep there, and his breakfast, and there never was anything to pay. The girls always scolded dreadfully about the extra washing, but mother said she slept on sheets when she came out, and some one washed them.
One time Sally said: "Mother, have you ever figured out how many hundred sheets you've washed since, to pay for that?"
Mother said: "No, but I just hope it will make a stack high enough for me to climb from into Heaven."
Sally said: "The talk at the church always led me to think that you flew to Heaven."
Mother answered: "So I get there, I don't mind if I creep."
Then Sally knew it was time to stop. We always knew. And we stopped, too!
We had heard that "All things" quotation, until the first two words were as much as mother ever needed repeat of it any more, and we had cooked, washed for, and waited on people travelling, until Leon got so when he saw any one coming--of course we knew all the neighbours, and their horses and wagons and carriages--he always said: "Here comes another `Even So!'" He said we had done "even so" to people until it was about our share, but mother said our share was going to last until the Lord said, "Well done, good and faithful servant," and took us home. She had much more about the stranger at the gate and entertaining angels unawares; why, she knew every single thing in the Bible that meant it was her duty to feed and give a bed to any one, no matter how dirty or miserable looking he was! So when Leon came in one evening at dusk and said, "There's another `Even So' coming down the Little Hill!" all of us knew that we'd have company for the night, and we had.
I didn't like that man, but some of the others seemed to find him amusing. Maybe it was because I had nothing to do but sit and watch him, and so I saw more of him than the ones who came and went all the time. As long as there was any one in the room, he complained dreadfully about his sore foot, and then cheered up and talked, and he could tell interesting things. He was young, but he must have been most everywhere and seen everything. He was very brave and could stand off three men who were going to take from him the money he was carrying to buy a piece of land in Illinois. The minute the grown folks left the room to milk, do the night feeding, and begin supper, he twisted in his chair and looked at every door, and went and stood at the back dining-room window, where he could see the barn and what was out there, and coming back he took a peep into father's and mother's room, and although he limped dreadfully when he came, he walked like any one when he went over and picked up father's gun and looked to see if it were loaded, and seemed mighty glad when he found it wasn't. Father said he could load in a flash when it was necessary, but he was dubious about a loaded gun in a house full of children. Not one of us ever touched it, until the boys were big enough to have permission, like Laddie and Leon had. He said a gun was such a great "moral persuader," that the sight of one was mostly all that was needed, and nobody could tell by looking at it whether it was loaded or not. This man could, for he examined the lock and smiled in a pleased way over it, and he never limped a step going back to his chair. He kept on complaining, until father told him before bedtime that he had better rest a day or two, and mother said that would be a good idea.
He talked so much we couldn't do our lessons or spell very well, but it was Friday and we'd have another chance Saturday, so it didn't make so much difference. Father said the traveller must be tired and sleepy and Leon should take a light and show him to bed. He stayed so long father went to the foot of the stairway, and asked him why he didn't come down and he said he was in bed too. The next morning he was sleepy at breakfast and Laddie said it was no wonder, because Leon and the traveller were talking when he went upstairs. The man turned to father and said: "That's a mighty smart boy, Mr. Stanton." Father frowned and said: "Praise to the face is open disgrace. I hope he will be smart enough not to disgrace us, anyway."
The traveller said he was sure he would be, and we could see that he had taken a liking to Leon, for he went with him to the barn to help do the morning feeding. They stayed so long mother sent me to call them, and when I got there, the man was telling Leon how foolish it was for boys to live on a farm; how they never would amount to anything unless they went to cities, and about all the fun there was there, and how nice it was to travel, even along the roads, because every one fed you, and gave you a good bed. He forgot that walking had made his foot lame, and I couldn't see, to save me, why he was going to spend his money to buy a farm, if he thought a town the only place where it was fit to live.
He stayed all Saturday, and father said Sunday was no suitable time to start on a journey again, and the man's foot was bad when father was around, so it would be better to wait until Monday. The traveller tagged Leon and told him what a fine fellow he was, how smart he was, and to prove it, Leon boasted about everything he knew, and showed the man all over the farm.
I even saw them pass the Station in the orchard, and heard Leon brag how father had been an agent for the Governor; but of course he didn't really show him the place, and probably it would have made no difference if he had, for all the money must have been spent on Sally's wedding. Of course father might have put some there he had got since, or that money might never have been his at all, but it seemed as if it would be, because it was on his land.
Sunday evening all of us attended church, but the traveller was too tired, so when Leon said he'd stay with him, father thought it was all right. I could see no one wanted to leave the man alone in the house. He said they'd go to bed early, and we came in quite late. The lamp was turned low, the door unlocked, and everything in place. Laddie went to bed without a candle, and said he'd undress and slip in easy so as not to waken them.
In the morning when he got up the traveller's bed hadn't been slept in, and neither had Leon's. The gun was gone, and father stared at mother, and mother stared at Laddie, and he turned and ran straight toward the Station, and in a minute he was back, whiter than a plate. He just said: "All gone!" Father and mother both sat down suddenly and hard. Then Laddie ran to the barn and came back and said none of the horses had been taken. Soon they went into the parlour and shut the door, and when they came out father staggered and mother looked exactly like Sabethany. Laddie ran to the barn, saddled Flos and rode away. Father wanted to ring an alarm on the dinner bell, like he had a call arranged to get all the neighbours there quickly if we had sickness or trouble, and mother said: "Paul, you shall not! He's so young! We've got to keep this as long as we can, and maybe the Lord will help us find him, and we can give him another chance."
Father started to say something, and mother held up her hand and just said, "Paul!" and he sank back in the chair and kept still. Mother always had spoken of him as "the Head of the Family," and here he wasn't at all! He minded her quickly as I would.
When Miss Amelia came downstairs they let her start to school and never told her a word, but mother said May and I were not to go. So I slipped out and ran through the orchard to look at the Station, and sure enough! the stone was rolled back, the door open and the can lying on the floor. I slid down and picked it up, and there was one sheet of paper money left in it stuck to the sides. It was all plain as a pikestaff. Leon must have thought the money had been spent, and showed the traveller the Station, just to brag, and he guessed there might be something there, and had gone while we were at church and taken it. He had all night the start of us, and he might have a horse waiting somewhere, and be almost to Illinois by this time, and if the money belonged to father, there would be no Christmas; and if it happened to be the money the county gave him to pay the men who worked the roads every fall, and Miss Amelia, or collections from the church, he'd have to pay it back, even if it put him in debt; and if he died, they might take the land, like he said; and where on earth was Leon? Knew what he'd done and hiding, I bet! He needed the thrashing he would get that time, and I started out to hunt him and have it over with, so mother wouldn't be uneasy about him yet; and then I remembered Laddie had said Leon hadn't been in bed all night. He was gone too!
Maybe he wanted to try life in a city, where the traveller had said everything was so grand; but he must have known that he'd kill his mother if he went, and while he didn't kiss her so often, and talk so much as some of us, I never could see that he didn't run quite as fast to get her a chair or save her a step. He was so slim and light he could race for the doctor faster than Laddie or father, either one. Of course he loved his mother, just as all of us did; he never, never could go away and not let her know about it. If he had gone, that watchful-eyed man, who was lame only part of the time, had taken the gun and made him go. I thought I might as well save the money he'd overlooked, so I gripped it tight in my hand, and put it in my apron pocket, the same as I had Laddie's note to the Princess, and started to the barn, on the chance that Leon might be hiding. I knew precious well I would, if I were in his place. So I hunted the granaries, the haymow, the stalls, then I stood on the threshing floor and cried: "Leon! If you're hiding come quick! Mother will be sick with worrying and father will be so glad to see you, he won't do anything much. Do please hurry!"
Then I listened, and all I could hear was a rat gnawing at a corner of the granary under the hay. Might as well have saved its teeth, it would strike a strip of tin when it got through, but of course it couldn't know that. Then I went to every hole around the haystack, where the cattle had eaten; none were deep yet, like they would be later in the season, and all the way I begged of Leon to come out. Once a rooster screamed, flew in my face and scared me good, but no Leon; so I tried the corn crib, the implement shed, and the wood house, climbing the ladder with the money still gripped in one hand. Then I slipped in the front door, up the stairs, and searched the garret, even away back where I didn't like to very well. At last I went to the dining- room, and I don't think either father or mother had moved, while Sabethany turned to stone looked good compared with them. Seemed as if it would have been better if they'd cried, or scolded, or anything but just sit there as they did, when you could see by their moving once in a while that they were alive. In the kitchen Candace and May finished the morning work, and both of them cried steadily. I slipped to May, "Whose money was it?" I whispered. "Father's, or the county's, or the church's?"
"All three," said May.
"The traveller took it."
"How would he find it? None of us knew there was such a place before."
"Laddie seemed to know!"
"Oh Laddie! Father trusts him about everything."
"They don't think he told?"
"Of course not, silly. It's Leon who is gone!"
"Leon may have told about the Station!" I cried. "He didn't touch the money. He never touched it!"
Then I went straight to father. Keeping a secret was one thing; seeing the only father you had look like that, was another. I held out the money.
"There's one piece old Even So didn't get, anyway," I said. "Found it on the floor of the Station, where it was stuck to the can. And I thought Leon must be hiding for fear he'd be whipped for telling, but I've hunted where we usually hide, and promised him everything under the sun if he'd come out; but he didn't, so I guess that traveller man must have used the gun to make him go along."
Father sat and stared at me. He never offered to touch the money, not even when I held it against his hand. So I saw that money wasn't the trouble, else he'd have looked quick enough to see how much I had. They were thinking about Leon being gone, at least father was. Mother called me to her and asked: "You knew about the Station?"
"On the way back from taking Amanda Deam her ducks this summer."
"Leon was with you?"
"He found it."
"What were you doing?"
"Sitting on the fence eating apples. We were wondering why that ravine place wasn't cleaned up, when everywhere else was, and then Leon said there might be a reason. He told about having seen a black man, and that he was hidden some place, and we hunted there and found it. We rolled back the stone, and opened the door, and Leon went in, and both of us saw a can full of money."
"We didn't touch it, mother! Truly we didn't! Leon said we'd found something not intended for children, and we'd be whipped sick if we ever went near or told, and we never did, not even once, unless Leon wanted to boast to the traveller man, but if he showed him the place, he thought sure the money had all been spent on the wedding and sending Shelley away."
Father's arms shot out, and his head pitched on the table. Mother got up and began to walk the floor, and never went near or even touched him. I couldn't bear it. I went and pulled his arm and put the bill under his hand.
"Leon didn't take your money! He didn't! He didn't! I just know he didn't! He does tricks because they are so funny, or he thinks they'll be, but he doesn't steal! He doesn't touch a single thing that is not his, only melons, or chicken out of the skillet, or bread from the cellar; but not money and things. I take gizzards and bread myself, but I don't steal, and Leon or none of us do! Oh father, we don't! Not one of us do! Don't you remember about `Thou shalt not,' and the Crusaders? Leon's the best fighter of any of us. I'm not sure that he couldn't even whip Laddie, if he got mad enough! Maybe he can't whip the traveller if he has the gun, but, father, Leon simply couldn't take the money. Laddie will stay home and work, and all of us. We can help get it back. We can sell a lot of things. Laddie will sell Flos before he'll see you suffer so; and all of us will give up Christmas, and we'll work! We'll work as hard as ever we can, and maybe you could spare the little piece Joe Risdell wants to build his cabin on. We can manage about the money, father, indeed we can. But you don't dare think Leon took it! He never did! Why, he's yours! Yours and mother's!"
Father lifted his head and reached out his arms.
"You blessing!" he said. "You blessing from the Lord!"
Then he gave me a cold, stiff kiss on the forehead, went to mother, took her arm, and said: "Come, mommy, let's go and tell the Lord about it, and then we'll try to make some plan. Perhaps Laddie will be back with word soon."
But he almost had to carry her. Then we could hear him praying, and he was so anxious, and he made it so earnest it sounded exactly like the Lord was in our room and father was talking right to His face. I tried to think, and this is what I thought: as father left the room, he looked exactly as I had seen Mr. Pryor more than once, and my mother had both hands gripped over her heart, and she said we must not let any one know. Now if something could happen to us to make my father look like the Princess' and my mother hold her heart with both hands, and if no one were to know about it like they had said, how were we any different from Pryors? We might be of the Lord's anointed, but we could get into the same kind of trouble the infidels could, and have secrets ourselves, or at least it seemed as if it might be very nearly the same, when it made father and mother look and act the way they did. I wondered if we'd have to leave our lovely, lovely home, cross a sea and be strangers in a strange land, as Laddie said; and if people would talk about us, and make us feel that being a stranger was the loneliest, hardest thing in all the world. Well, if mysteries are like this, and we have to live with one days and years, the Lord have mercy on us! Then I saw the money lying on the table, so I took it and put it in the Bible. Then I went out and climbed the catalpa tree to watch for Laddie.
Soon I saw a funny thing, such as I never before had seen. Coming across the fields, straight toward our house, sailing over the fences like a bird, came the Princess on one of her horses. Its legs stretched out so far its body almost touched the ground, and it lifted up and swept over the rails. She took our meadow fence lengthwiselike, and at the hitching rack she threw the bridle over the post, dismounted, and then I saw she had been riding astride, like a man. I ran before her and opened the sitting-room door, but no one was there, so I went on to the dining-room. Father had come in, and mother was sitting in her chair. Both of them looked at the Princess and never said a word.
She stopped inside the dining-room door and spoke breathlessly, as if she as well as the horse had raced.
"I hope I'm not intruding," she said, "but a man north of us told our Thomas in the village that robbers had taken quite a large sum of hidden money you held for the county, and church, and of your own, and your gun, and got away while you were at church last night. Is it true?"
"Practically," said my father.
Then my mother motioned toward a chair.
"You are kind to come," she said. "Won't you be seated?"
The Princess stepped to the chair, but she gripped the back in both hands and stood straight, breathing fast, her eyes shining with excitement, her lips and cheeks red, so lovely you just had to look, and look.
"No," she said. "I'll tell you why I came, and then if there is nothing I can do here, and no errand I can ride for you, I'll go.
Mother has heart trouble, the worst in all the world, the kind no doctor can ever hope to cure, and sometimes, mostly at night, she is driven to have outside air. Last night she was unusually ill, and I heard her leave the house, after I'd gone to my room. I watched from my window and saw her take a seat on a bench under the nearest tree. I was moving around and often I looked to see if she were still there. Then the dogs began to rave, and I hurried down. They used to run free, but lately, on account of her going out, father has been forced to tie them at night. They were straining at their chains, and barking dreadfully. I met her at the door, but she would only say some one passed and gave her a fright. When Thomas came in and told what he had heard, she said instantly that she had seen the man.
"She said he was about the size of Thomas, that he came from your direction, that he ran when our dogs barked, but he kept beside the fences, and climbed over where there were trees. He crossed our barnyard and went toward the northwest. Mother saw him distinctly as he reached the road, and she said he was not a large man, he stooped when he ran, and she thought he moved like a slinking, city thief. She is sure he's the man who took your money; she says he acted exactly as if he were trying to escape pursuit; but I was to be sure to tell you that he didn't carry a gun. If your gun is gone, there must have been two, and the other man took that and went a different way. Did two men stop here?"
"No," said father. "Only one."
The Princess looked at him thoughtfully.
"Do you think, Mr. Stanton," she said, "that the man who took the money would burden himself with a gun? Isn't a rifle heavy for one in flight to carry?"
"It is," said father. "Your mother saw nothing of two men?"
"Only one, and she knows he didn't carry a gun. Except the man you took in, no stranger has been noticed around here lately?"
"No one. We are quite careful. Even the gun was not loaded as it stood; whoever took it carried the ammunition also, but he couldn't fire until he loaded."
Father turned to the corner where the gun always stood and then he stooped and picked up two little white squares from the floor.
They were bits of unbleached muslin in which he wrapped the bullets he made.
"The rifle was loaded before starting, and in a hurry," he said, as he held up the squares of muslin. Then he scratched a match, bent, and ran it back and forth over the floor, and at one place there was a flash, and the flame went around in funny little fizzes as it caught a grain of powder here and there. "You see the measure was overrun."
"Wouldn't the man naturally think the gun was loaded, and take it as it stood?"
"That would be a reasonable conclusion," said father.
"But he looked!" I cried. "That first night when you and the boys went to the barn, and the girls were getting supper, he looked at the gun, and he liked it when he saw it wasn't loaded. He smiled. And he didn't limp a mite when I was the only one in the room. He and Leon knew it wasn't loaded, and I guess he didn't load it, for he liked having it empty so well."
"Ummmm!" said father. "What it would save in this world if a child only knew when to talk and when to keep still. Little Sister, the next time you see a stranger examine my gun when I'm not in the room, suppose you take father out alone and whisper to him about it."
"Yes, sir," I said.
The way I wished I had told that at the right time made me dizzy, but then there were several good switchings I'd had for telling things, besides what Sally did to me about her and Peter. I would have enjoyed knowing how one could be sure. Hereafter, it will be all right about the gun, anyway.
"Could I take my horse and carry a message anywhere for you? Are both your sons riding to tell the neighbours?"
Father hesitated, but it seemed as if he stopped to think, so I just told her: "Laddie is riding. Leon didn't take a horse."
Father said there was nothing she could do, so she took my hand and we started for the gate.
"I do hope they will find him, and get back the money, and give him what he deserves!" she cried.
"Yes, father and mother are praying that they'll find him," I said. "It doesn't seem to make the least difference to them about the money. Father didn't even look at a big paper piece I found where it was hidden. But they are anxious about the man. Mother says he is so young, we just must find him, and keep this a secret, and give him another chance. You won't tell, will you?"
The Princess stood still on our walk, and then of all things! if she didn't begin to go Sabethany-like. The colour left her cheeks and lips and she shivered and shook and never said one word. I caught her arm. "Say, what ails you?" I cried. "You haven't gone and got heart trouble too, have you?"
She stood there trembling, and then, wheeling suddenly, ran back into the house, and went to my mother. On her knees, the Princess buried her face in mother's breast and said: "Oh Mrs. Stanton! Oh, if I only could help you!"
She began to cry as if something inside her had broken, and she'd shake to pieces.
Mother stared above her head at father, with her eyebrows raised high, and he waved his hand toward me. Mother turned to me, but already she had put her arms around the Princess, and was trying to hold her together.
"What did you tell her that made her come back?" she asked sternlike.
"You forgot to explain that the man was so young, and you wanted to keep it a secret and give him another chance," I said. "I just asked her not to tell."
Mother looked at father and all the colour went from her face, and she began to shake. He stared at her, then he opened her door and lifted the Princess with one arm, and mother with the other, and helped them into mother's room, stepped back and closed the door. After a while it opened and they came out together, with both mother's arms around the Princess, and she had cried until she staggered. Mother lifted her face and kissed her, when they reached the door and said: "Tell your mother I understand enough to sympathize. Carry her my love. I do wish she would give herself the comfort of asking God to help her."
"She does! Oh, I'm sure she does!" said the Princess. "It's father who has lost all judgment and reason."
Father went with her to the gate, and this time she needed help to mount her horse, and she left it to choose its way and go where it pleased on the road. When father came in he looked at mother, and she said: "I haven't the details, but she understands too well. The Pryor mystery isn't much of a mystery any more. God help their poor souls, and save us from suffering like that!"
She said so little and meant so much, I couldn't figure out exactly what she did mean, but father seemed to understand.
"I've often wondered," he said, but he didn't say what he wondered, and he hurried to the barn and saddled our best horse and came in and began getting ready to ride, and we knew he would go northwest. I went back to the catalpa tree and wondered myself; but it was too much for me to straighten out: just why my mother wanting to give the traveller man another chance would make the Princess feel like that. If she had known my mother as I did, she'd have known that she always wanted to give every man a second chance, no matter whether he was young or old.
Then I saw Laddie coming down the Big Hill beside the church, but he was riding so fast I thought he wouldn't want to bother with me, so I slid from the tree, and ran to tell mother. She went to the door and watched as he rode up, but you could see by his face he had not heard of them.
"Nothing, but I have some men out. I am going east now," he said. "I wish, father, you would rub Flos down, blanket her, and if you can, walk her slowly an hour while she cools off. I am afraid I've ruined her. How much had you there?"
"I haven't stopped to figure," said father. "I think I'd better take the horse I have ready and go on one of the northwest roads.
The Pryor girl was here a few moments ago, and her mother saw a man cross their place about the right time last evening. He ran and acted suspiciously when the dogs barked. But he was alone and he didn't have a gun."
"Was she sure?"
"Then it couldn't have been our man, but I'll ride in that direction and start a search. They would keep to the woods, I think! You'd better stay with mother. I'll ask Jacob Hood to take your place."
So Laddie rode away again without even going into the house, and mother said to father: "What can he be saying to people, that the neighbours don't come?"
Father answered: "I don't know, but if any one can save the situation, Laddie will."
Mother went to bed, while father sat beside her reading aloud little scraps from the Bible, and they took turns praying. From the way they talked to the Lord, you could plainly see that they were reminding Him of all the promises He had made to take care of people, comfort those in trouble, and heal the broken-hearted.
One thing was so curious, I asked May if she noticed, and she had. When they had made such a fuss about money only a short while before, and worked so hard to get our share together, and when they would have to pay back all that belonged to the county and church, neither of them ever even mentioned money then. Every minute I expected father to ask where I'd put the piece I found, and when he opened right at it, in the Bible, he turned on past, exactly as if it were an obituary, or a piece of Sally's wedding dress, or baby hair from some of our heads. He went on hunting places where the Lord said sure and strong that He'd help people who loved Him. When either of them prayed, they asked the Lord to help those near them who were in trouble, as often and earnestly as they begged Him to help them. There were no people near us who were in trouble that we knew of, excepting Pryors. Hard as father and mother worked, you'd have thought the Lord wouldn't have minded if they asked only once to get the money back, or if they forgot the neighbours, but they did neither one.
May said because they were big like that was why all of us loved them so.
I would almost freeze in the catalpa, but as I could see far in all directions there, I went back, and watched the roads, and when I remembered what Laddie had said, I kept an eye on the fields too. At almost dusk, and frozen so stiff I could scarcely hang to the limb, I heard the bulldogs at Pryors' begin to rave. They kept on steadily, and I thought Gypsies must be passing. Then from the woods came a queer party that started across the cornfield toward the Big Meadow in front of the house, and I thought they were hunters. I stood in the tree and watched until they climbed the meadow fence, and by that time I could see plainly.
The traveller man got over first, then Leon and the dogs, and then Mr. Pryor handed Leon the gun, leaped over, and took it. I looked again, and then fell from the tree and almost bursted. As soon as I could get up, and breathe, I ran to the front door, screaming: "Father! Father! Come open the Big Gate. Leon's got him, but he's so tired Mr. Pryor is carrying the gun, and helping him walk!"
Just like one, all of us ran; father crossed the road, and opened the gate. The traveller man wouldn't look up, he just slouched along. But Leon's chin was up and his head high. He was scratched, torn, and dirty. He was wheezing every breath most from his knees, and Mr. Pryor half carried him and the gun. When they met us, Leon reached in his trousers pocket and drew out a big roll of money that he held toward father. "My fault!" he gasped. "But I got it back for you."
Then he fell over and father caught him in his arms and carried him into the house, and laid him on the couch in the dining-room.
Mr. Pryor got down and gathered up the money from the road. He followed into the house and set the gun in the corner.
"Don't be frightened," he said to mother. "The boy has walked all night, and all day, with no sleep or food, and the gun was a heavy load for him. I gathered from what he said, when the dogs let us know they were coming, that this hound took your money. Your dog barked and awakened the boy and he loaded the gun and followed. The fellow had a good start and he didn't get him until near daybreak. It's been a stiff pull for the youngster and he seems to feel it was his fault that this cowardly cur you sheltered learned where you kept your money. If that is true, I hope you won't be hard on him!"
Father was unfastening Leon's neckband, mother was rubbing his hands, Candace was taking off his shoes, and May was spilling water father had called for, all over the carpet, she shook so. When Leon drew a deep breath and his head rolled on the pillow, father looked at Mr. Pryor. I don't think he heard all of it, but he caught the last words.
"`Hard on him! Hard on him!'" he said, the tears rolling down his cheeks. "`This my son, who was lost, is found!'"
"Oh!" shouted Mr. Pryor, slamming the money on the table. "Poor drivel to fit the circumstances. If I stood in your boots, sir, I would rise up in the mighty strength of my pride and pull out foundation stones until I shook the nation! I never envied mortal man as I envy you to-day!"
Candace cried out: "Oh look, his poor feet! They are blistered and bleeding!"
Mother moved down a little, gathered them in her arms, and began kissing them. Father wet Leon's lips and arose. He held out his hand, and Mr. Pryor took it.
"I will pray God," he said, "that it may happen `even so' to you."
Leon opened his eyes and caught only the last words.
"You had better look out for the `Even So's,' father," he said.
And father had to laugh, but Mr. Pryor went out, and slammed the door, until I looked to see if it had cracked from top to bottom; but we didn't care if it had, we were so happy over having Leon back.
I went and picked up the money and carried it to father to put away, and that time he took it. But even then he didn't stop to see if he had all of it.
"You see!" I said, "I told you----"
"You did indeed!" said father. "And you almost saved our reason. There are times when things we have come to feel we can't live without, so press us, that money seems of the greatest importance. This is our lesson. Hereafter, I and all my family, who have been through this, will know that money is not even worth thinking about when the life and honour of one you love hangs in the balance. When he can understand, your brother shall know of the wondrous faith his Little Sister had in him."
"Maybe he won't like what you and mother thought. Maybe we better not tell him. I can keep secrets real well. I have several big ones I've never told, and I didn't say a word about the Station when Leon said I shouldn't."
"After this there will be no money kept on the place," said father. "It's saving time at too great cost. All we have goes into the bank, and some of us will cheerfully ride for what we want, when we need it. As for not telling Leon, that is as your mother decides. For myself, I believe I'd feel better to make a clean breast of it."
Mother heard, for she sobbed as she bathed Leon's feet, and when his eyes came open so they'd stay a little while, he kept looking at her so funny, between sips of hot milk.
"Don't cry, mammy!" he said. "I'M all right. Sorry such a rumpus! Let him fool me. Be smart as the next fellow, after this! Know how glad you are to get the money!"
Mother sat back on her heels and roared as I do when I step in a bumblebee's nest, and they get me. Leon was growing better every minute, and he stared at her, and then his dealish, funny old grin began to twist his lips and he cried: "Oh golly! You thought I helped take it and went with him, didn't you?"
"Oh my son, my son!" wailed mother until she made me think of Absalom under the oak.
"Well, I be ding-busted!" said Leon, sort of slow and wondering- like, and father never opened his head to tell him that was no way to talk.
Mother cried more than ever, and between sobs she tried to explain that I heard what the traveller man had said about how bad it was to live in the country; and how Leon was now at an age where she'd known boys to get wrong ideas, and how things looked, and in the middle of it he raised on his elbow and took her in his arms and said: "Well of all the geese! And I 'spose father was in it too! But since it's the first time, and since it is you----! Go to bed now, and let me sleep----But see that you don't ever let this happen again."
Then he kissed her over and over and clung to her tight and at last dropped back and groaned:
"My reputation, O my reputation! I've lost my reputation!"
She had to laugh while the tears were still running, and father and Laddie looked at each other and shouted. I guess they thought Leon was about right after that. Laddie went and bent over him and took his hand.
"Don't be in quite such a hurry, old man," he said. "Before you wink out I have got to tell you how proud I am of having a brother who is a real Crusader. The Lord knows this took nerve! You're great, boy, simply great!"
Leon grabbed Laddie's hand with both of his and held tight and laughed. You could see the big tears squeeze out, although he fought to wink them back. He held to Laddie and said low-like, only for him to hear: "It's all right if you stay by a while, old man."
He began to talk slowly.
"It was a long time before I caught up, and then I had to hide, and follow until day, and he wasn't so very easy to handle. Once I thought he had me sure! It was an awful load, but if it hadn't been for the good old gun, I'd never have got him. When we mixed up, I had fine luck getting that chin punch on him; good thing I worked it out so slick on Absalom Saunders, and while old Even So was groggy I got the money away from him, took the gun, and stood back some distance, before he came out of it. Once we had it settled who walked ahead, and who carried the money and gun, we got along better, but I had to keep an eye on him every minute. To come through the woods was the shortest, but I'm tired out, and so is he. Getting close I most felt sorry for him, he was so forlorn, and so scared about what would be done to him. He stopped and pulled out another roll, and offered me all of it, if I'd let him go. I didn't know whether it was really his, or part of father's, so I told him he could just drop it until I found out. Made him sweat blood, but I had the gun, and he had to mind. I was master then. So there may be more in the roll I gave father than Even So took. Father can figure up and keep what belongs to him. Even So had gone away past Flannigans' before I tackled him, and I was sleepy, cold, and hungry; you'd have thought there'd have been a man out hunting, or passing on the road, but not a soul did we see 'til Pryors'! Say, the old man was bully! He helped me so, I almost thought I belonged to him! My! he's fine, when you know him! After he came on the job, you bet old Even So walked up. Say, where is he? Have you fed him?"
Laddie looked at father, who was listening, and we all rushed to the door, but it must have been an hour, and Even So hadn't waited. Father said it was a great pity, because a man like that shouldn't be left to prey on the community; but mother said she didn't want to be mixed up with a trial, or to be responsible for taking the liberty of a fellow creature, and father said that was exactly like a woman. Leon went to sleep, but none of us thought of going to bed; we just stood around and looked at him, and smiled over him, and cried about him, until you would have thought he had been shipped to us in a glass case, and cost, maybe, a hundred dollars.
Father got out his books and figured up his own and the road money, and Miss Amelia's, and the church's. Laddie didn't want her around, so he stopped at the schoolhouse and told her to stay at Justices' that night, we'd need all our rooms; but she didn't like being sent away when there was such excitement, but every one minded Laddie when he said so for sure.
When father had everything counted there was more than his, quite a lot of it, stolen from other people who sheltered the traveller no doubt, father said. We thought he wouldn't be likely to come back for it, and father said he was at loss what to do with it, but Laddie said he wasn't--it was Leon's--he had earned it; so father said he would try to find out if anything else had been stolen, and he'd keep it a year, and then if no one claimed it, he would put it on interest until Leon decided what he wanted to do with it.
When you watched Leon sleep you could tell a lot more about what had happened to him than he could. He moaned, and muttered constantly, and panted, and felt around for the gun, and breathed like he was running again, and fought until Laddie had to hold him on the couch, and finally awakened him. But it did no good; he went right off to sleep again, and it happened all over. Then father began getting his Crusader blood up, although he always said he was a man of peace. But it was a lucky thing Even So got away; for after father had watched Leon a while, he said if that man had been on the premises, his fingers itched so to get at him, he was positive he'd have vented a little righteous indignation on him that would have cost him within an inch of his life. And he'd have done it too! He was like that. It took a lot, and it was slow coming, but when he became angry enough, and felt justified in it, why you'd be much safer to be some one else than the man who provoked him.
After ten o'clock the dog barked, some one tapped, and father went; he always would open the door; you couldn't make him pretend he was asleep, or not at home when he was, and there stood Mr. Pryor. He said they could see the lights and they were afraid the boy was ill, and could any of them help. Father said there was nothing they could do; Leon was asleep. Then Mr. Pryor said: "If he is off sound, so it won't disturb him, I would like to see him again."
Father told him Leon was restless, but so exhausted a railroad train wouldn't waken him, so Mr. Pryor came in and went to the couch. He took off his hat, like you do beside a grave, while his face slowly grew whiter than his hair, and that would be snow-white; then he turned at last and stumbled toward the door. Laddie held it for him, but he didn't seem to remember he was there. He muttered over and over: "Why? Why? In the name of God, why?" Laddie followed to the gate to help him on his horse, because he thought he was almost out of his head, but he had walked across the fields, so Laddie kept far behind and watched until he saw him go safely inside his own door.
I think father and Laddie sat beside Leon all night. The others went to sleep. A little after daybreak, just as Laddie was starting to feed, there was an awful clamour, and here came a lot of neighbours with Even So. Mr. Freshett had found him asleep in a cattle hole in the straw stack, and searched him, and he had more money, and that made Mr. Freshett sure; and as he was very strong, and had been for years a soldier, and really loved to fight, he marched poor Even So back to our house. Every few rods they met more men out searching who came with them, until there were so many, our front yard and the road were crowded. Of all the sights you ever saw, Even So looked the worst. You could see that he'd drop over at much more. Those men kept crying they were going to hang him; but mother went out and talked to them, and said they mustn't kill a man for taking only money. She told them how little it was worth compared with other things; she had Candace bring Even So a cup of hot coffee, lots of bread, and sausage from the skillet, and she said it was our money, and our lad, and we wanted nothing done about it. The men didn't like it, but the traveller did. He grabbed and gobbled like a beast at the hot food and cried, and mother said she forgave him, and to let him go.
Then Mr. Freshett looked awful disappointed, and he came up to father, with his back toward mother, and asked: "That's your say too, Mr. Stanton?" Father grinned sort of rueful-like, but he said to give Even So his money and let him go. He told all about getting ours back, and having had him at the house once before. He brought the money Leon took from him, but the men said no doubt he had stolen that, and Leon had earned it bringing him back, so the traveller shouldn't have it. They took him away on a horse and said they'd let him go, but that they'd escort him from the county. Father told Mr. Freshett that he was a little suspicious of them, and he would hold him responsible for the man's life. Mr. Freshett said that he'd give his word that the man would be safe; they only wanted to make sure he wouldn't come back, and that he'd be careful in the future how he abused hospitality, so they went, and all of us were glad of it.
I don't know what Mr. Freshett calls safe, for they took Even So to Groveville and locked him up until night. Then they led him to the railroad, and made him crawl back and forth through an old engine beside the track, until he was blacker than any negro ever born; and then they had him swallow a big dose of croton oil for his health. That was the only kind thing they did, for afterward they started him down the track and told him to run, and all of them shot at his feet as he went. Hannah Freshett told me at school the next day. Her father said Even So just howled, and flew up in the air, and ducked, and dodged and ran like he'd never walked a step, or was a bit tired. We made a game of it, and after that one of the boys was Even So, and the others were the mob, and the one who could howl nicest, jump highest, and go fastest, could be "It" oftenest.
Leon grew all right faster than you would think. He went to school day after next, and the boys were sick with envy. They asked and asked, but Leon wouldn't tell much. He didn't seem to like to talk about it, and he wouldn't play the game or even watch us. He talked a blue streak about the money. Father was going to write to every sheriff of the counties along the way the man said he had come, and if he could find no one before spring who had been robbed, he said Leon might do what he liked with the money. I used to pretend it was coming to me, and each day I thought of a new way to spend it. Leon was so sure he'd get it he marched right over and asked Mr. Pryor about a nice young thoroughbred horse, from his stables, and when he came back he could get a coltlike one so very cheap that father and Laddie looked at each other and gasped, and never said a word. They figured up, and if Leon got the money, he could have the horse, and save some for college, and from the start he never changed a mite about those two things he wanted to do with it. He had the horse picked out and went to the field to feed and pet it and make it gentle, so he could ride bareback, and mother said he would be almost sick if the owner of the money turned up.
Pulling his boots one night, father said so too, and that the thoughts of it worried him. He said Mr. Pryor had shaded his price so that if the money had to go, he would be tempted to see if we couldn't manage it ourselves. I don't know how shading the price of a horse would make her feel better, but it did, and maybe Leon is going to get it.