The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XXII. Autumn Days
There's a wonderful charm in the autumn days, When Earth to her rest is returning; When the hills are drowned in a purple haze, When the wild grape sweetens, and all in a blaze Of crimson the maples are turning.
When autumn came to the Souris valley and touched the trees with crimson and gold, it found that some progress had been made on the farm that was getting its second chance.
Down on the river flat the hay had been cut and gathered into two stacks, which stood beside the stable, and the two Watson cows now fattened on the rich growth of aftergrass.
The grain, which had been an abundant crop, had been threshed and drawn at once to the elevator, for there was no place to store it; but as the price was one dollar a bushel for the best, and seventy cents for the poorest, John Watson had no cause for complaint. The stable, which he had built of poles, was now roofed by a straw stack and was intended for a winter shelter for the two cows.
In the early spring Pearl had planted a bed of Polly's poppies, and all summer long they had flamed red and brilliant against the poplar grove behind the house, which sheltered them from the winds. The weeds around the buildings were all cut down and the scrub cleaned out for a garden the next year. In the holidays the boys had fenced this with peeled poplar poles.
A corner of the wheat-field before the house had already been used for a garden, and had been a great source of delight and also of profit to the family. The boys had complained a little at first about having to pull mustard and shepherd's purse and french-weed, with which the farm was infested, but Pearl presented weed-pulling in a new light. She organized two foraging parties, who made raids upon the fields and brought back the spoils of war. Patsey was Roderick Dhu, who had a henchman bold, called Daniel the Redhanded. Bugsey was Alan-bane, and Tommy was to have been his henchman, Thomas Trueman, but Tommy had strong ideas about equal rights and would be Alan-bane's twin brother, Tommy-bane, or nothing. They were all dark-visaged, eagle-eyed Highlanders, who made raids upon the Lowlands to avenge ancient wrongs.
Pearl had learned about the weeds at school, and soon had her whole family, including Aunt Kate, organized into a weed-fighting brigade. Even the golden dandelion was ruthlessly cut down, and Mary, who was strong on experiments, found out that its roots were good to eat. After that any dandelion that showed its yellow face was simply inviting destruction.
In school Pearl was having a very happy time, and she and her teacher were mutually helpful to each other. Pearl's compositions were Mr. Donald's delight. There was one that he carried with him and often found inspiration in to meet the burdens of his own monotonous life. The subject was "True Greatness," and was suggested by a lesson of that name in the reader. Needless to say, Pearl's manner of treating the subject was different from the reading lesson.
"A person can never get true greatness," she wrote, "by trying for it. You get it when you're not looking for it. It's nice to have good clothes--it makes it a lot easier to act decent--but it is a sign of true greatness to act when you haven't got them just as good as if you had. One time when Ma was a little girl they had a bird at their house, called Bill, that broke his leg. They thought they would have to kill him, but next morning they found him propped up sort of sideways on his good leg, singing! That was true greatness. One time there was a woman that had done a big washing and hung it on the line. The line broke and let it all down in the mud, but she didn't say a word, only did it over again; and this time she spread it on the grass, where it couldn't fall. But that night a dog with dirty feet ran over it. When she saw what was done, she sat down and didn't cry a bit. All she said was: 'Ain't it queer that he didn't miss nothing!' That was true greatness, but it's only people who have done washings that know it! Once there was a woman that lived near a pig-pen, and when the wind blew that way it was very smelly, indeed; and at first when she went there to live she couldn't smell anything but straight pig, but when she lived there a while she learned to smell the clover blossoms through it. That was true greatness."
* * *
Camilla's wedding had been a great event in Pearl's life. It had taken place early one Wednesday morning in the church at Millford. It was a pretty wedding, the paper said. The altar of the church was banked high with wild roses, whose sweet perfume made Pearl think of school-books--she always kept her books full of rose petals, and to her it was a real geography smell.
Mr. Burrell and Mr. Grantley both took part in the ceremony, to show there was no hard feelings, Pearl thought, for Camilla was a Presbyterian and Jim was a Methodist.
Mr. Francis brought Camilla in, and Pearl followed. Jim and the doctor stood at the altar, while down from the choir-gallery, which seemed to be overflowing with roses, came the strains of the wedding-march. Pearl had never heard it before, but it seemed to her now as if she had always known it, for in it throbbed the very same joy that was beating in her own heart. It was all over in a minute and they were coming down the aisle, her hand on the doctor's arm. The carriage was waiting for them at the door, and they drove back to the house, everybody talking and laughing and throwing rice.
When the wedding breakfast was over, and Jim and Camilla had gone on the train, Pearl and the doctor and Mr. and Mrs. Francis drove back to the house. Everything was just as they had left it--the flowers were still on the table, and the big clock in the hall was still going, though it seemed a long, long time that they had been away. Mrs. Francis was quite worn out by the efforts of the morning, and said she must go and rest. Would Pearl box up the wedding cake in the little white boxes? "It is a severe strain to lose Camilla," she said, "even for two weeks. Two weeks is fourteen days, and that means forty-two meals without her."
"We'll attend to the wedding-cake, and put away the presents and run things generally," the doctor said.
In the dining-room Dr. Clay cut up wedding-cake and packed it in boxes for mailing, while Pearl quickly cleared away the dishes. She was quite a pretty little girl in her white silk dress. She was tall and slight, and lithe and graceful in her movements, with pansy-brown eyes and a smooth, olive skin that neither sun nor wind could roughen. But the beauty of her face was in the serene expression which comes only to people whose hearts are brave and sweet and honest.
The doctor watched her with a great admiration in his face. "Pearl, how old are you?" he asked suddenly.
"I am fifteen," she answered.
He took one of her shapely little sunburnt hands and held it gently in his; then with his other hand he took a pearl ring from his pocket and was about to slip it on her finger, but, suddenly changing his mind, he laid it in her hand instead.
Pearl gave an exclamation of delight.
"It's yours, Pearl," he said. "Put it on."
She put it on her finger, her eyes sparkling with pleasure.
"Oh, Doctor Clay!" she said, breathlessly.
He, smiling, watched her as she held her hand up to look at it. "It is just a remembrance, dear," he said, "of some one who thinks that there is no little girl in the world like you."
When Pearl went home, she gave an account of the wedding to her family.
"Gettin' married ain't so much when you get right up to it," she said. "They had a terrible busy time getting ready for it that morning. Mrs. Francis was a long way more excited than Camilla, and broke quite a few dishes, but they were all her own; she didn't get into any of Camilla's. She set fire to her hair when she was curling it, but after that she did fine. Camilla looked after everything and wrote down in a notebook all the things Mrs. Francis is to cook while she is away. Camilla's a little bit afraid that she'll burn the house down, but the neighbours are all going to try to see after things for her. Camilla had her hair done the loveliest I ever saw, all wavy, but not frizzy. We went to the church and got that done before we came back to the house to eat. Camilla had a big bunch of roses that Jim gave her, tied with white satin ribbon, and mind you, they didn't cut off the ends, that's how free they were with the ribbon. I held them along with mine while Jim put on the ring--that's mostly an account of the what I was for--and Jim kissed her right before every one, and so did Mrs. Francis, and so did I, and that was all until we came to the house, and then Mrs. Francis kissed her again and did me, too, when she got started, and kissed Jim, too, and he kissed me, and we had a great time. The meal was called a breakfast, but say, kids, there was eating for you! Maybe you think a breakfast is mostly porridge and toast and the like o' that. Well, now, there wasn't a sign of porridge--oyster soup came first."
"Wha's 'at?" Danny asked. The wedding details had reached the place where Danny's interest began.
"They're the colour of gray stones, only they're soft, and if you shut your eyes they're fine, and while you're wondering whether or not you'll swallow them, they slip down and you begin to look for another; and then there was little dabs of fried fish laid on a lettuce leaf, with a sprig of parsley beside it, and a round of lemon. They took the lemon in their fingers and squeezed it over their fish. It looked a little mussy to me, but I guess it's manners all right; and then there was olives on a little glass dish, and every one took one--they taste like willow bark in spring. Mrs. Burrell said she just loved them, and et a lot. I think that's carryin' your manners too far. I et the one I took and thought I did well. Mr. Burrell asked the blessin', and gave Jim and Camilla lots of good advice. He said to be sure and get mad one at a time. And then we had lots of other stuff to eat, and we went to the train, and Camilla told me to watch that Mrs. Francis didn't let the tea-kettle boil dry while I was there, and I guess that was all."
But of the incident of the pearl ring, strangely enough, she said not a word.
* * *
When Thomas Perkins found out that Bud had really gone he was plunged in deepest grief. He came over to where John Watson was ploughing stubble, the very picture of self-pity. "Pretty hard on a man, John, pretty hard," he began as soon as he came within hearing distance, "to lose his only boy and have to hire help; after losin' the twins, too, the year of the frozen wheat--fine little fellows they was, too, supple as a string of suckers. And now, by golly, Bud's gone, John, with the good new eighteen-dollar suit--that's what I paid for it in cold cash in Brandon last winter--and I'll have to keep my hired man on if he don't come back, and this beggar I have, he can eat like a flock of grasshoppers--he just chunks the butter on his bread and makes syrup of his tea. Oh, yes, John, it's rough on a man when he begins to go down the other side of the hill and the bastin' threads are showin' in his hair. It's pretty hard to have to do with hired help. I understand now better'n ever why Billy Winter was cryin' so hard when his third wife died. Billy was whoopin' it up somethin' awful when Mr. Grantley went out to bury the woman, and Mr. Grantley said somethin' to comfort Billy about her bein' in a better place--that was a dead sure bet, anyway--but Billy went right on bawlin'--he didn't seem to take no notice of this better place idea--and after a while he says right out, says he: 'She could do more work than three hired girls, and she was the savin'est one I've had yet.'"
"Bud'll come back," said John Watson, soothingly. "The poor lad is feeling hurt about it--he don't like to have people thinkin' hard of him."
"Wasn't ten dollars a ter'ble fine, John, only eighteen?" Mr. Perkins said.
"It isn't the money I'm thinkin' of, it's feelin's; poor Bud, and him as honest a lad as ever drew breath." John Watson had a shrewd suspicion of who had "plugged" the grain.
"Well, I don't see why he need feel so bad," the other man said. "Nobody minds stealin' from the railways or the elevator men. They'd steal the coppers off a dead man's eyes--eh, what? But where Bud ever got such notions of honesty, I don't know--search me. It's a fine thing to be honest, but it's well to have it under control. Now, there's some kind of sharp tricks I don't hold with. They say that Mrs. George Steadman sold a seven-pound stone in the middle of a crock of butter to Mason here some years ago. She thought he'd ship it away to Winnipeg and nobody'd ever know; but as sure as you're born, when she got home she found it in the middle of her box of tea. He paid her twenty-five cents a pound for it, but, by golly! she paid him fifty cents a pound for it back. Now, I don't hold with that--it was too risky a deal for me. This Mason's a sharp one, I tell you--you'll get up early if you ever get ahead of him. In the airly days, when we all had to go on tick for everything we got at his store--they do say that every time one of us farmers went to town that Mason, as soon as he saw us, would say to his bookkeeper: 'Tom Perkins is in town; put him down for a dollar's worth of sugar and a quarter of chewin' tobacco.'"
Pearl came out with a pail to dig some potatoes in the garden.
"Well, my pretty dear," Mr. Perkins said amiably, "how are you feeling this evening?"
"I am real well, thank you," Pearl said, "and I hope you are, too."
"Well now, my dear, I am not," he said. "You know, of course, that Buddie's gone."
"Yes, I know," said Pearl, "but I know Bud didn't do it. Bud is a good boy, and too honest to do any thing like that. Bud wouldn't plug grain. What does Bud care for a few cents more on every bushel if he has to lie to get it?"
"Look at that now, John!" Mr. Perkins cried, nudging Mr. Watson gaily. "Isn't that a woman for you all over, young and all as she is? They never think how the money comes, the lovely critturs."
"Money isn't everything, Mr. Perkins," said Pearl earnestly.
"Well, my little dear, most of us think it is pretty nearly everything."
"God doesn't care very much about money," she answered. "Look at the sort of people he gives it to."
Mr. Perkins looked at her in surprise. "Upon my word, that's true," he said. "Say, Pearlie, you'll be taking away the preachers' job from them when you get a little bigger, if they're not careful."
Pearl laughed good-humouredly and went on with her potato-digging.
Thomas Perkins went home soon after, and even to him the quiet glory of the autumn evening came with a sense of beauty and of God's overshadowing care. "I kinda wish now," he said to himself, "that I had gone and cleared up the boy's name at first. I can hardly do it now. They would think I hadn't had the nerve to do it at first. Say, what that kid said is pretty near right. Money ain't everything." He was looking at the bars of amethyst cloud that streaked the west, and at the lemon-coloured sky below them. Prairie chickens whirred through the air on their way to a straw pile near by. From the Souris valley behind him came the strident whistle of the evening train as it thundered over the long wooden bridge. A sudden love of his home and family came to Thomas Perkins as he looked over at his comfortable buildings and his broad fields. "If Bud were only over there," he thought, "how good it would be! Poor Bud, wandering to-night without a home, and through no fault of his own."
Just for the moment Mr. Perkins was honestly repentant; then the other side of his nature came back. "I do hope that boy will think to grease' his boots--they'll go like paper if he doesn't," he said.