The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter VII. The Second Chance
For age is opportunity no less Than youth itself, though in another dress, And as the evening twilight fades away The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
Pearl, having taken her resolve to leave school, did not repine, and no one, not even her mother, knew how hard the struggle had been. It all came out afterward that, John Watson, too, in his quiet way, had been thinking of the advantages of farm life for his growing family. So when Pearl proposed it he was ready to rise and second the motion.
Nearly all the land around Millford had been homesteaded, and was being successfully farmed, but there was one quarter-section in the crook of the Souris that had been abandoned. Bill Cavers had entered it some years before, and paid his ten dollar entrance fee, built a little house on it, and farmed it indifferently for two or three years; but poor Bill had to let it go at last. The numerous black whiskey bottles around his miserable buildings told the story. The land was good--it was only four miles from Millford--it could be re-entered on payment of ten dollars. John Watson went out to see the farm and came back well satisfied, so they decided to move out on it as soon as the snow was gone.
By selling the house and lot they had enough money to buy a team of horses, a waggon, and some machinery. For seed grain and everything else that was needed Pearl would take her money. Aunt Kate protested loudly against having Pearlie's money taken, and said if it wasn't that Bill's stone had come so high she'd spend her own rather than have Pearlie's touched. But Pearl stoutly insisted that helping her family in this way was just what she wanted to have done with her money.
Pearl had not seen the farm until she drove out with her father on the first load. "A movin' gen'rally looks sort of sad, doesn't it, Pa?" she said, as she settled herself on the dismembered beds. "But there's nothin' sad about this movin'. We're not goin' because we can't pay the rent, and there's goin' to be a notice of it in the paper, too."
"How do you know that, acushla?" her father asked her.
"I wrote it myself. I was afraid Mr. Evans might forget. He's all cluttered up wid politics, so I wrote it myself, and pinned it on his door."
"What did you say, Pearlie?"
"I wrote this: Mr. and Mrs. John Watson and their interesting family are leaving our midst to live on a farm, hoping to better their circumstances and give the boys a chance to grow up decent."
"Faith, that's puttin' it plain, Pearlie," her father laughed. "You're gettin' to be real handy wid the pen."
"I have a far lovelier one than that done, Pa; but I couldn't bear to have it published in a newspaper, for every pryin' eye to see. So I wrote it out in purple ink, and will just keep it in me scrapbook."
"What was it, Pearlie?"
"I wouldn't say it for everybody, Pa, for they wouldn't understand; but I know you will. This is what I wrote:
Farewell, sweet childhood's happy home, For now we sadly haste away. We'll leave your happy scene with tears-- We tried to leave you yesterday, But fate denied, for Adam Watt Had broke the axle of his dray. Farewell, sweet childhood's happy home, We're going out four weary mile, We've gone to seek another home And may not see you for a while. But every inch of thee is dear, And every stick in thy woodpile. Each mark upon thy wall is linked With deepest meaning and with love, See where young Bugsey spilled the ink, Caused by his youngest brother's shove. See where wee Danny picked a hole-- He knew no better tho', I guess. The patch that covers it from sight Is made of Pearlie's winsey dress. All through the dreary winter time Thou sheltered us from cold so bleak Thou sheltered us from wind and rain, Save where thy kitchen roof did leak. When strangers come to live in thee, And fill thy halls with noise and shout, Still think, dear house, of those who once Did from thy gates go in and out."
"It's just grand," her father said admiringly, "and it's true, too. I don't know where you get the things you think of."
The road lay along the bank of the Souris, which still ran high with the spring floods. The spring came early in Manitoba that year, and already the cattle were foraging through the pastures to be ready for the first blade of grass that appeared. The April sun flooded the bare landscape with its light and heat. From the farm-yards they passed came the merry cackle of hens. Horses and colts galloped gaily around the corrals, and the yellow meadow larks on the fence-posts rang out their glad challenge. The poplar trees along the road were blushing with the green of spring, and up from the river-flats, gray-purple with scrub oak and willow, came the indescribably sweet spring smell.
At the corner of Thomas Perkins's farm they turned straight north, following the river.
"There's our farm, Pearlie," her father said.
What Pearl saw was one long field of old stubble, gray and faded, cut out of the scrub, and at the end of the field, against a grove of poplars, stood a little house, so sad, so battered, so broken, that Pearl's stout heart almost sank. It was made of logs and plastered with mud, and had settled down on one side, looking as ungainly and tired as an old horse when he rests on one leg. There was a door in the side next the road, with one window at each side of it--windows with almost everything in them except glass.
Pearl jumped down from the waggon and ran around her new home trying to find something good about it. When her father came in after tying up his horses, he found her almost in tears.
"Pa," she said, "this is sadder than I ever thought it would be. I wish it had been real dirty and shiftless; but look, Pa, they've tried to keep it nice. See, it's been whitewashed, and there's a place you can tell they've had a bit of oil-cloth behind the box the wash basin sat on, to keep the spatters off the wall. And see here, Pa," stooping to pick up a piece of cretonne from the rubbish on the floor--"this has been a paper holder--there's beads sewed on it around the flowers; and do you see yon little shelf? It's got tack marks on it; she's had a white curtain on it, with knitted lace. I know she has, and see, Pa"--looking behind the window casing--"yes, sir, she's had curtains on here, too. There's the tack. She had them tied back, too, and you can see where they've had pictures. I know just what Mrs. Cavers is like--a poor, thin woman, with knots on her knuckles. I could see her face in the house as we drove up to the door, kind of crooked like the house, and gray and weather-beaten, with teeth out. Houses always get to look like the people who live in them. They've tried--at least she has, and she's failed. That's the sad thing to me, Pa--she's tried. If people just set around and let things go to smash and don't care, that's too bad but there's nothing sad about it. But to try your livin' best and still have to go under--that's awful!"
Pearl walked to the window and wiped the cobwebs from it.
"I know how she felt when she was standin' here watchin' fer Bill, hopin' so hard that he's come home right this time, and bring the list of things she asked him to bring with his wheat-ticket. I can see she was that kind, always hopin'; if she wasn't that kind she wouldn't ever have sewed the beads on. She'd stand here and watch for Bill so full of hope and still so black afraid, and then it would come on dark and she couldn't see anything but Perkins's light winkin' through the trees, and then she'd lay out the supper, but not eat a bite herself, but just wait, and wait, and wait. And then when Bill did come she'd run out wid the lantern with her heart thumpin' so, and her knees all weak and wobbly--and Bill, you know how he'd be. Sandy Braden had got the wheat-ticket, and he hadn't paid a bill or bro't a thing for the house, and so at last she saw she was beat and done for; she saw that every hope she had had was a false one."
They were putting up the stove now, and when it was set in place Pearl said: "Let's get a fire goin' now, quick, Pa--and that'll cheer us up."
Her father went to the river and brought water, which they heated on the stove, and then he scrubbed the floor while Pearl cleaned the windows and put up the cheese-cloth curtains she had brought. She went outside to see how the curtains looked, and came back well pleased.
"Pa," she said, "I've got a name for it. We'll call it 'The Second Chance.'"
"For why, Pearlie?" her father asked curiously. "Well, it just came to me as I was lookin' round, what this farm has had to put up with Bill Cavers. Here it is as good a farm as any around here, and it's all run to weeds. I am sure this yard is knee-high with ragweed and lamb's quarter in the summer, and the fields are all grown up with mustard and wild-oats, and they're an abomination to any farm; and so it has just sort, of give up and got discouraged, and now it lets in any old weed that comes along, because it thinks it'll never be any good. But here comes the Watsons, the whole bilin' of them, and I can see over there, Pa"--taking him to the window--"the place the garden will be, all nicely fenced to keep out the cattle; and over there, under the trees, will be the chicken-house, with big white hens swaggerin' in and out of it and down the ravine there will be the pig-pasture, and forninst us will be acres and acres of wheat, and be hind the bluff there will be the oat-field. I can see it, Pa."
"Faith, and yer a grand girl at seein' things," her father said, with his slow smile, "and I just hope yer right."
"I'm sure of it," said Pearl, after a pause, "and that's why, we'll call it 'The Second Chance,' for it's a nice kind name, and I like the sound of it, anyway. I am thinkin', maybe that it is that way with most of us, and we'll be glad, maybe, of a second chance. Now, Pa, I don't mind tellin' ye that it was a sore touch for me to have to leave school, and me doin' so well, but I am hopin' still that some time, some place, perhaps, for me, too, like the farm, there may be a second chance. Do you see what I mane, Pa?"
"I see it, acushla," said her father. "And I'm thinkin' maybe there's one for me, too."
And all day long, as John Watson worked, there was a wish in his honest heart, so earnest a wish that it formed a prayer, that he might be able to give his children many of the things that had been denied him; and it came to him, vaguely at first, but growing ever clearer that in Pearlie, Teddy and the rest of them, and his desire to do better for them, than he had done for himself, he was getting his second chance.
The next day saw the whole family moved out and safely landed on the farm. Mrs. Watson, Aunt Kate and Pearlie were soon busy putting up beds and setting the house in order. Teddy, who was fifteen years old, and a strong boy for his age, was set to plow at once on the field in front of the house, for it was still early in April, and there was time to get in some crop. John Watson, when he got his family and household goods safely landed, went to work, assisted by Billy and Jimmy, to prop up the old stables and make them habitable for the two cows.
Mary was given the hardest task of all--to look after her four young brothers--not to let them play in the mud, for obvious reasons; climb trees, which is hard on the clothes; go in bare feet, which is not a safe thing to do until after the 24th of May; or fall in the river, which is a dangerous proceeding at any time. Mary was something of a child-trainer, and knew what fascination the prohibited has for people, and so marched her four young charges down to the river, regaling them, as they went, with terrible stories of drowning and shipwreck. They threw sticks in, pretending they were drowning sailors, but that soon grew monotonous, for the sailors all made their escape and went sailing serenely down the stream. The balm of Gilead trees exuded their healing perfume on the cool breeze that blew ceaselessly up the broad valley; a golden-brown chipmunk raced up a tree and scolded at them from the topmost branches; overhead, in the clear blue of the mid-heaven, a flock of wild geese, with flashing white wings, honked away to the Brandon Hills, en route for that northern lake that no man knows; while a flock of goldfinches, like a shower of marigolds, settled on a clump of willows, singing pauselessly.
"Let's catch them and sell them," said Tommy, who had the stubby hands of a money-maker.
"What'll ye do with the money?" Patsey asked.
But before Tommy could decide between an automobile and an Irish mail, the goldfinches had crossed the river and were fluttering over the purple branches of the leafless saskatoon bushes, which bordered the stream.
A jack-rabbit came gaily leaping down the road behind them, and at sight of him the four boys set off in eager pursuit. Bugsey got right in Tommy's way, which was a fortunate thing for the jack-rabbit, because only for that Tommy would have had him he is pretty sure of that.
After the rabbit had gone from sight and the baffled hunters returned to where Mary sat, Bugsey came in for a good deal of abuse from the other three. Then, to change the conversation, which was rather painful, Bugsey suggested: "What do you bet that fellow hasn't got a nest somewhere around here? Say we have a look for it."
A vigourous search began. Incidentally Tommy found a nest of mice, and Patsey discovered a hawk's nest in a tree and was halfway up before Mary saw him. She made him come straight down--climbing trees was too hard on the clothes; but when she came back from looking up Danny, who had dropped behind to look down a gopher's hole, she found that Patsey had discovered a plan whereby he could climb up for the lovely silver nest and not endanger the safety of his clothes, either. He stood below the tree with the coveted nest in his arms, covered with glory and scratches, but little else.
When the boys got home everybody had something to show but Danny. Tommy had his mouse's nest; Patsey had the hawk's nest; Bugsey had a fungus. Danny was the only empty-handed one, but Pearlie cheered him up wonderfully by predicting that he would get the very first wood-tick when the season opened.