Laddie, A True Blue Story
Gene Stratton Porter
Part 5 out of 9
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.
Laddie Takes the Plunge
"This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And, when he thinks, good, easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do."
Watch me take the plunge!" said Laddie.
"`Mad frenzy fires him now,'" quoted Leon.
It was Sunday after dinner. We had been to church and Sunday-
school in the forenoon, and we had a houseful of company for
dinner. All of them remained to spend the afternoon, because in
our home it was perfectly lovely. We had a big dinner with
everything good to start on, and then we talked and visited and
told all the news. The women exchanged new recipes for cooking,
advised each other about how to get more work done with less
worry, to doctor their sick folks, and to make their dresses. At
last, when every thing was talked over, and there began to be a
quiet time, father would reach across the table, pick up a paper
and read all the interesting things that had happened in the
country during the past week; the jokes too, and they made people
think of funny stories to tell, and we just laughed. In the
Agriculturist there were new ways to farm easier, to make land
bear more crops; so he divided that with the neighbours, also how
to make gardens, and prune trees. Before he finished, he always
managed to work in a lot about being honest, kind, and loving
He and mother felt so good over Leon, and by this time they were
beginning to see that they were mighty glad about the money too.
It wouldn't have been so easy to work, and earn, and pay back all
that for our school, roads, and the church; and every day you
could see plainer how happy they felt that they didn't have to do
it. Because they were so glad about these things, they invited
every one they met that day; but we knew Saturday mother felt
that probably she would ask a crowd, from the chickens, pie, and
cake she got ready. When the reading part was over, and the
women were beginning to look at the clock, and you knew they felt
they should go home, and didn't want to, Laddie arose and said
that, and Leon piped up like he always does and made every one
laugh. Of course they looked at Laddie, and no one knew what he
meant, so all the women and a few of the men asked him.
"Watch me, I said," laughed Laddie as he left the room.
Soon Mrs. Dover, sitting beside the front window, cried: "Here
he is at the gate!"
He was on his horse, but he hitched it and went around the house
and up the back way. Before long the stair door of the sitting-
room opened, and there he stood. We stared at him. Of course he
was bathed, and in clean clothing to start with, but he had
washed and brushed some more, until he shone. His cheeks were as
smooth and as clear pink as any girl's, his eyes blue-gray and
big, with long lashes and heavy brows. His hair was bright brown
and wavy, and he was so big and broad. He never had been sick a
day in his life, and he didn't look as if he ever would be.
And clothes DO make a difference. He would have had exactly the
same hair, face, and body, wearing a hickory shirt and denim
trousers; but he wouldn't have looked as he did in the clothes he
wore at college, when it was Sunday there, or he was invited to a
party at the President's. I don't see how any man could possibly
be handsomer or look finer. His shirt, collar, and cuffs were
snow-white, like everything had to be before mother got through
with it; his big loose tie almost reached his shoulders; and our
men could do a thing no other man in the neighbourhood did: they
could appear easier in the finest suit they could put on than in
their working clothes.
Mother used to say one thing she dreaded about Sunday was the
evident tortures of the poor men squirming in boots she knew
pinched them, coats too tight, and collars too high. She said
they acted like half-broken colts fretting over restriction.
Always she said to father and the boys when they went to buy
their new clothes: "Now, DON'T join the harness fighters! Get
your clothing big enough to set your bodies with comfort and
I suppose those other men would have looked like ours if their
mothers had told them. You can always see that a man needs a
woman to help him out awful bad.
Of course Laddie knew he was handsome; he had to know all of them
were looking at him curiously, but he stood there buttoning his
glove and laughing to himself until Sarah Hood asked: "Now what
are you up to?"
He took a step toward her, ran one hand under her lanternjawed
chin, pulled her head against his side and turned up her face.
"Sarah," he said, "'member the day we spoiled the washing?"
Every one laughed. They had made jokes about it until our
friends knew what they meant.
"What are you going to spoil now?" asked Sarah.
"The Egyptians! The `furriners.' I'm going right after them!"
"Well, you could be in better business," said Sarah Hood sharply.
Laddie laughed and squeezed her chin, and hugged her head against
"Listen to that, now!" he cried. "My best friend going back on
me. Sarah, I thought you, of all people, would wish me luck."
"I do !" she said instantly. "And that's the very reason I don't
want you mixed up with that mysterious, offish, stuck-up mess."
"Bless your dear heart!" said Laddie, giving her a harder squeeze
than ever. "You got that all wrong, Sarah. You'll live to see
the day, very shortly, when you'll change every word of it."
"I haven't done anything but get surer about it every day for two
years, anyway," said Sarah Hood.
"Exactly!" said Laddie, "but wait until I have taken the plunge!
Let me tell you how the Pryor family strikes me. I think he is a
high-tempered, domineering man, proud as Lucifer! For some
cause, just or not, he is ruining his life and that of his family
because he so firmly believes it just; he is hiding here from his
home country, his relatives, and friends. I think she is,
barring you and mother, the handsomest woman of her age I ever
All of them laughed, because Sarah Hood was nearly as homely as a
woman could grow, and maybe other people didn't find our mother
so lovely as we thought her. I once heard one of her best
friends say she was "distinctly plain." I didn't see how she
could; but she said that.
"--and the most pitiful," Laddie went on. "Sarah, what do you
suppose sends a frail little woman pacing the yard, and up and
down the road, sometimes in storm and rain, gripping both hands
over her heart?"
"I suppose it's some shameful thing I don't want you mixed up
with!" said Sarah Hood promptly, and people just shouted.
"Sarah," said Laddie, "I've seen her closely, watched her move,
and studied her expression. There's not one grain of possibility
that you, or mother, or Mrs. Fall, or any woman here, could be
any closer connected with SHAME. Shame there is," said Laddie,
"and what a word! How it stings, burns, withers, and causes
heart trouble and hiding; but shame in connection with that
woman, more than shame thrust upon her, which might come to any
of us, at any time, shame that is her error, in the life of a
woman having a face like hers, Sarah, I am ashamed of you! Your
only excuse is that you haven't persisted as I have until you got
to see for yourself."
"I am not much on persistence in the face of a locked door, a
cast-iron man with a big cane, and two raving bulldogs," said
Mrs. Hood. "Wait, young man! Just wait until he sets them on
Laddie's head went back and how he laughed.
"Hist! A word with you, Sarah!" he said. "'Member I have a sort
of knack with animals. I never yet have failed with one I
undertook to win. Now those bulldogs of Pryors' are as mild as
kittens with a man who knows the right word. Reason I know,
Sarah, I've said the word to them, separately and collectively,
and it worked. There is a contrast, Sarah, between what I say
and do to those dogs, and the kicks and curses they get from
their owner. I'll wager you two to one that if you can get Mr.
Pryor to go into a `sic-ing' contest with me, I can have his own
dogs at his throat, when he can't make them do more than to lick
They laughed as if that were funny.
"Well, I didn't know about this," said Sarah. "How long have you
lived at Pryors'?"
You couldn't have heard what Laddie said if he'd spoken; so he
waited until he could be heard, and it never worried him a speck.
He only stood and laughed too; then, "Long enough," he said, "to
know that all of us are making a big and cruel mistake in taking
them at their word, and leaving them penned up there weltering in
misery. What we should do, is to go over there, one at a time,
or in a body, and batter at the door of their hearts, until we
break down the wall of pride they have built around them, ease
their pain, and bring them with us socially, if they are going to
live among us. You people who talk loudly and often about loving
God, and `doing unto others,' should have gone long ago, for
Jesus' sake; I'm going for the sake of a girl, with a face as
sweet, and a heart as pure, as any accepted angel at the foot of
the throne. Mother, I want a cup of peach jelly, and some of
that exceptionally fine cake you served at dinner, to take to our
Mother left the room.
"Father, I want permission to cut and carry a generous chestnut
branch, burred, and full fruited, to the young woman. There is
none save ours in this part of the country, and she may never
have seen any, and be interested. And I want that article about
foot disease in horses, for Mr. Pryor. I'll bring it back when
Father folded the paper and handed it to Laddie, who slipped it
in his pocket.
"Take the finest branch you can select," father said, and I
almost fell over.
He had carried those trees from Ohio, before I had been born, and
mother said for years he wrapped them in her shawl in winter and
held an umbrella over them in summer, and father always went red
and grinned when she told it. He was wild about trees, and
bushes, so he made up his mind he'd have chestnuts. He planted
them one place, and if they didn't like it, he dug them up and
set them another where he thought they could have what they
needed and hadn't got the last place. Finally, he put them, on
the fourth move, on a little sandy ridge across the road from the
wood yard, and that was the spot. They shot up, branched,
spread, and one was a male and two were females, so the pollen
flew, the burrs filled right, and we had a bag of chestnuts to
send each child away from home, every Christmas. The brown
leaves and burrs were so lovely, mother cut one of the finest
branches she could select and hung it above the steel engraving
of "Lincoln Freeing the Slaves," in the boys' room, and nothing
in the house was looked at oftener, or thought prettier. That
must have been what was in the back of Laddie's head when he
wanted a branch for the Princess.
Mother came in with the cake and jelly in a little fancy basket,
and Laddie said: "Thank you! Now every one wish me luck! I'm
going to ride to Pryors', knock at the door, and present these
offerings with my compliments. If I'm invited in, I'm going to
make the effort of my life at driving the entering wedge toward
social intercourse between Pryors and their neighbours. If I'm
not, I'll be back in thirty minutes and tell you what happened to
me. If they refuse my gifts, you shall have the jelly, Sarah;
I'll give Mrs. Fall the olive branch, bring back the paper, and
eat the cake to console my wounded spirits."
Of course every one laughed; they couldn't help it. I watched
father and he laughed hardest of the men, but mother was more
stiff-lipped about it; she couldn't help a little, though. And I
noticed some of those women acted as if they had lost something.
Maybe it was a chance to gossip about Laddie, for he hadn't left
them a thing to guess at, and mother says the reason gossip is so
dreadful is because it is always GUESSWORK. Well, that was all
fair and plain. He had told those people, our very best friends,
what he thought about everything, the way they acted included.
He was carrying something to each member of the Pryor family, and
he'd left a way to return joking and unashamed, if they wouldn't
let him in. He had fixed things so no one had anything to guess
at, and it would look much worse for the Pryors than it would for
him, if he did come back.
I wondered if he had been born that smart, or if he learned it in
college. If he did, no wonder Leon was bound to go. Come to
think of it, though, mother said Laddie was always like that.
She said he never bit her when he nursed; he never mauled her as
if she couldn't be hurt when he was little, he never tore his
clothes and made extra work as he grew, and never in his life
gave her an hour's uneasiness. But I guess she couldn't have
said that about uneasiness lately, for she couldn't keep from
looking troubled as all of us followed to the gate to see him
How they joked, and tried to tease him! But they couldn't get a
breath ahead. He shot back answers as fast as they could ask
questions, while he cut the branch and untied the horse. He gave
the limb and basket to mother to hold, kissed her good-bye, and
me too, before he mounted. With my arms around his neck--I never
missed a chance to try to squeeze into him how I loved him--I
whispered: "Laddie, is it a secret any more?"
He threw back his head and laughed the happiest.
"Not the ghost of a secret!" he said. "But you let me do the
talking, until I tell you." Then he went on right out loud:
"I'm riding up the road waving the banner of peace. If I suffer
repulse, the same thing has happened to better men before, so
I'll get a different banner and try again."
Laddie mounted, swept a circle in the road, dropped Flos on her
knees in a bow, and waved the branch. Leon began to sing at the
top of his voice, "Nothing but leaves, nothing but leaves," while
Laddie went flashing up the road.
The women went back to the house; the men stood around the gate,
watched him from sight, talked about his horse, how he rode, and
made wagers that he'd get shut out, like every one did, but they
said if that happened he wouldn't come back. Father was annoyed.
"You heard Laddie say he'd return immediately if they wouldn't
let him in," he said. "He's a man of his word. He will either
enter or come home at once."
It was pitch dark and we had supper before some of them left;
they never stayed so late. After we came from church, father
read the chapter and we were ready for bed; still Laddie hadn't
come back. And father liked it! He just plain liked it! He
chuckled behind the Advocate until you could see it shake; but
mother had very little to say, and her lips closed tight.
At bedtime he said to mother: "Well, they don't seem in a hurry
about sending the boy back."
"Did you really think he WOULD be sent back?" asked mother.
"Not ordinarily," said father, "no! If he had no brain, no wit,
no culture, on an animal basis, a woman would look twice before
she'd send him away; but with such fanatics as Pryors, one can't
always tell what will happen."
"In a case like this, one can be reasonably certain," said
"You don't know what social position they occupied at home.
Their earmarks are all good. We've no such notions here as they
"Thank God for so much, at any rate," said mother. "How old
England would rise up and exult if she had a man in line with
Laddie's body, blood and brain, to set on her throne. This talk
about class and social position makes me sick. Men are men, and
Laddie is as much above the customary timber found in kings and
princes, physically and mentally, as the sky is above the earth.
Talk me no talk about class! If I catch it coming from any of
mine, save you, I will beat it out of them. He has admitted he's
in love with the girl; the real question is, whether she's fit to
be his wife."
"I should say she appears so," said father.
"Drat appearances!" cried mother. "When it's a question of
lifetime misery, and the soul's salvation of my son, if things go
wrong, I've no time for appearances. I want to know!"
He might have known he would make her angry when he laughed. She
punched the pillow, and wouldn't say another word; so I went to
sleep, and didn't miss anything that time.
Next morning at breakfast Laddie was beaming, and father hardly
waited to ask the blessing before he inquired: "Well, how did
you make it, son?"
Laddie laughed and answered: "Altogether, it might have been
That was all he would say until Miss Amelia started to school,
then he took me on his lap and talked as he buttoned my coat.
"Thomas met me at the gate," he said, "and held my horse while I
went to the door. One of their women opened it, and I inquired
for Mr. Pryor. She said he was in the field looking at the
horses, so I asked for Miss Pryor. She came in a minute, so I
gave her the branch, told her about it, and offered the jelly and
cake for her mother. The Princess invited me to enter. I told
her I couldn't without her father's permission, so I went to the
field to see him. The dogs were with him and he had the surprise
of his life when his man-eaters rolled at my feet, and licked my
"What did he say?" chuckled father.
"Told Thomas they'd been overfed and didn't amount to a brass
farthing; to take them to the woods and shoot them. Thomas said
he'd see to it the very first thing in the morning, and then Mr.
Pryor told him he would shoot him if he did."
"Charming man to work for," said mother.
"Then I told him I'd been at the house to carry a little gift to
his wife and daughter, and to inquire if I might visit an hour,
and as he was not there, I had come to the field to ask him.
Then I looked him in the eye and said: `May I?'
"`I'll warrant the women asked you to come in,' he said.
"`Miss Pryor was so kind,' I answered, `but I enter no man's
house without his permission. May I talk with your daughter an
hour, and your wife, if she cares to see me?'
"`It makes no earthly difference to me,' he said, which was not
gracious, but might have been worse, so I thanked him, and went
back to the house. When I knocked the second time, the Princess
came, and I told her the word was that it made `no difference to
her father' if I came in, so she opened the door widely, took my
hat and offered me a seat. Then she went to the next room and
said: `Mother, father has given Mr. Stanton permission to pay us
a call. Do you feel able to meet him?' She came at once,
offering her hand and saying: `I have already met Mr. Stanton so
often, really, we should have the privilege of speaking.'"
"What did she mean by that?" asked mother.
"She meant that I have haunted the road passing their place for
two years, and she'd seen me so frequently that she came to
"Umph!" said mother.
"Laddie tell on!" I begged.
"Well, I sharpened all the wits I had and went to work. I never
tried so hard in my life to be entertaining. Of course I had to
feel my way. I'd no idea what would interest a delicate, high-
bred lady"--mother sniffed again--"so I had to search and probe,
and go by guess until I saw a shade of interest, then I worked in
more of the same. It was easy enough to talk to the Princess--
all young folks have a lot in common, we could get along on fifty
topics; it was different with the housebound mother. I did my
best, and after a while Mr. Pryor came in. I asked him if any of
his horses had been attacked with the trouble some of the
neighbours were having, and told him what it was. He had the
grace to thank me. He said he would tell Thomas not to tie his
horse at the public hitching rack when he went to town, and once
he got started, he was wild to talk with a man, and I'd no chance
to say a word to the women. He was interested in our colleges,
state, and national laws, in land development, and everything
that all live men are. When a maid announced dinner I apologized
for having stayed so long, and excused myself, because I had been
so interested, but Mrs. Pryor merely said: `I'm waiting to be
offered your arm.'
"Well, you should have seen me drop my hat and step up. I did my
best, and while I talked to him a little, I made it most to the
women. Any one could see they were starved for company, so I
took the job of entertaining them. I told some college jokes,
funny things that had happened in the neighbourhood, and
everything of interest I could think up. I know we were at the
table for two hours with things coming and going on silver
Mother sat straight suddenly.
"Just what did they have to eat, and how did they serve it?" she
"Couldn't tell if I were to be shot for it, mummy," said Laddie.
"Forgive me! Next time I'll take notes for you. This first
plunge, I had to use all my brains, not to be a bore to them; and
to handle food and cutlery as the women did. It's quite a
process, but as they were served first, I could do right by
waiting. I never was where things were done quite so elaborately
"And they didn't know they would have company until you went to
"Well, they must have thought likely, there was a place for me."
"Umph!" said mother. "Fine idea! Then any one who drops in can
be served, and see that they are not a mite of trouble. Candace,
always an extra place after this!"
Father just shouted.
"I thought you'd get something out of it!" he said.
"Happy to have justified your faith!" replied mother calmly. "Go
"That's all!" said Laddie. "We left the table and talked an hour
more. The women asked me to come again; he didn't say anything
on that subject; but when he ordered my horse, he asked the
Princess if she would enjoy a little exercise, and she said she
would, so he told Thomas to bring their horses, and we rode
around the section, the Princess and I ahead, Mr. Pryor
following. Where the road was good and the light fine enough
that there was no danger of laming a horse, we dropped back, one
on either side of him, so we could talk. Mrs. Pryor ate the cake
and said it was fine; and the `conserve,' she called it,
delicious as she ever had tasted. She said all our fruits here
had much more flavour than at home; she thought it was the dryer
climate and more sunshine. She sent her grateful thanks, and she
wants your recipe before next preserving time."
Mother just beamed. My! but she did love to have the things she
cooked, bragged on.
"Possibly she'd like my strawberries?" she said.
"There isn't a doubt about it," said Laddie. "I've yet to see
the first person who doesn't."
"Is that all?" asked mother.
"I can think of nothing more at this minute," answered Laddie.
"If anything comes to my mind later, I won't forget to tell you.
Oh yes, there was one thing: You couldn't keep Mr. Pryor from
talking about Leon. He must have taken a great fancy to him. He
talked until he worried the Princess, and she tried to keep him
away from the subject, but his mind seemed to run on it
constantly. When we were riding she talked quite as much as he,
and it will hustle us to think what the little scamp did, any
bigger than they do. Of course, father, you understood the price
Mr. Pryor made on one of his very finest colts was a joke.
There's a strain of Arab in the father--he showed me the record--
and the mother is bluegrass. There you get gentleness and
endurance combined with speed and nerve. I'd trade Flos for that
colt as it stands to-day. There's nothing better on earth in the
way of horse. His offer is practically giving it away. I know,
with the records to prove its pedigree, what that colt would
bring him in any city market."
"I don't like it," said mother. "I want Leon to have a horse,
but a boy in a first experience, and reckless as he is, doesn't
need a horse like that, for one thing, and what is more
important, I refuse to be put under any obligations to Pryors."
"That's the reason Mr. Pryor asked anything at all for the horse.
It is my opinion that he would be greatly pleased to give it to
Leon, if he could do what he liked."
"Well, that's precisely the thing he can't do in this family,"
said mother sternly.
"What do you think, father?" asked Laddie.
"I think Amen! to that proposition," said father; "but I would
have to take time to thresh it out completely. It appeals to me
that Leon is old enough to recognize the value of the animal; and
that the care of it would develop and strengthen his character.
It would be a responsibility that would steady him. You could
teach him to tend and break it."
"Break it!" cried Laddie. "Break it! Why father, he's riding it
bareback all over the Pryor meadow now, and jumping it over logs.
Whenever he leaves, it follows him to the fence, and the Princess
says almost any hour of the day you look out you can see it
pacing up and down watching this way and whinnying for him to
"And your best judgment is----?"
Laddie laughed as he tied my hood strings. "Well I don't feel
about the Pryors as the rest of you do," he said. "If the money
isn't claimed inside the time you specified, I would let Leon and
Mr. Pryor make their own bargain. The boy won't know for years
that it is practically a gift, and it would please Mr. Pryor
immensely. Now run, or you'll be late!"
I had to go, so I didn't know how they settled it, but if they
wouldn't let Leon have that horse, it was downright mean. What
if we were under obligations to Mr. Pryor? We were to Sarah
Hood, and half the people we knew, and what was more, we LIKED to
When I came from school that night father had been to town. He
had an ax and was opening a big crate, containing two of the
largest, bluest geese you ever saw. Laddie said being boxed that
way and seeing them so close made them look so big; really, they
were no finer than Pryors', where he had got the address of the
place that sold them. Mother was so pleased. She said she had
needed a new strain, for a long time, to improve her feathers;
now she would have pillows worth while, in a few years. They put
them in the barn where our geese stayed over night, and how they
did scream. That is, one of them did; the other acted queerly
and father said to Laddie that he was afraid the trip was hard on
it. Laddie said it might have been hurt, and mother was worried
too. Before she had them an hour, she had sold all our ganders;
spring had come, she had saved the blue goose eggs, set them
under a hen, raised the goslings with the little chickens, never
lost one, picked them and made a new pair of pillows too fine for
any one less important than a bishop, or a judge, or Dr. Fenner
to sleep on. Then she began saving for a featherbed. And still
the goose didn't act as spry or feel as good as the gander. He
stuck up his head, screamed, spread his wings and waved them, and
the butts looked so big and hard, I was not right certain whether
it would be safe to tease him or not.
The first person who came to see them was Sarah Hood, and she
left with the promise of a pair as soon as mother could raise
them. Father said the only reason mother didn't divide her hair
with Sarah Hood was because it was fast, and she couldn't.
Mother said gracious goodness! she'd be glad to get rid of some
of it if she could, and of course Sarah should have first chance
at it. Hadn't she kept her over night so she could see her new
home when she was rested, and didn't she come with her, and help
her get settled, and had she ever failed when we had a baby, or
sickness, or trouble, or thrashers, or a party? Of course she'd
gladly divide, even the hair of her head, with Sarah Hood. And
father said, "Yes, he guessed she would, and come to think of it,
he'd just as soon spare Sarah part of his," and then they both
laughed, when it was nothing so very funny that I could see.
The next caller the geese had was Mrs. Freshett. My! she thought
they were big and fine. Mother promised her a couple of eggs to
set under a hen. Father said she was gradually coming down the
scale of her feelings, and before two weeks she'd give Isaac
Thomas, at least, a quill for a pen. Almost no one wrote with
them any more, but often father made a few, and showed us how to
use them. He said they were gone with candles, sand boxes, and
snuff. Mother said she had no use for snuff, but candles were
not gone, she'd make and use them to the day of her death, as
they were the nicest light ever invented to carry from room to
room, or when you only wanted to sit and think. Father said
there was really no good pen except the quill you sharpened
yourself; and while he often used steel ones like we children had
at school to write to the brothers and sisters away, and his
family, he always kept a few choice quills in the till of his
chest, and when he wrote a deed, or any valuable paper, where
there was a deal with money, he used them. He said it lent the
dignity of a past day to an important occasion.
After mother and Mrs. Freshett had talked over every single thing
about the geese, and that they were like Pryors' had been
settled, Mrs. Freshett said: "Since he told about it before all
of us, and started out the way he did, would it be amiss to ask
how Laddie got on at Pryors'?"
"Just the way I thought he would," said mother. "He stayed until
all of us were in bed, and I'd never have known when he came in,
if it were not a habit of his always to come to my door to see if
I'm sleeping. Sometimes I'm wakeful, and if he pommels my pillow
good, brings me a drink, and rubs my head a few strokes with his
strong, cool hands, I can settle down and have a good night's
rest. I was awake when he came, or I'd never have known. It was
almost midnight; but they sat two hours at the table, and then
all of them rode."
"Not the Missus?"
"Oh no! She's not strong enough. She really has incurable heart
trouble, the worst kind there is; her daughter told me so."
"Then they better look out," said Mrs. Freshett. "She is likely
to keel over at a breath."
"They must know it. That's why she keeps so quiet."
"And they had him to supper?"
"It was a dinner served at night. Yes. He took Mrs. Pryor in on
his arm, and it was like a grand party, just as they fixed for
themselves, alone. Waiters, and silver trays, and things carried
in and out in courses."
"My land! Well, I s'pose he had enough schoolin' to get him
through it all right!"
My mother's face grew red. She never left any one in doubt as to
what she meant. Father said that "was the Dutch of it." And
mother always answered that if any one living could put things
plainer than the English, she would like to hear them do it.
"He certainly had," said mother, "or they wouldn't have invited
him to come again. And all mine, Mrs. Freshett, knew how to sit
properly at the table, and manage a knife, fork and napkin,
before they ever took a meal away from home."
"No 'fence," laughed Mrs. Freshett. "I meant that maybe his
years of college schoolin' had give him ways more like theirs
than most of us have. For all the money it takes to send a boy
to college, he ought to get somethin' out of it more than jest
fillin' his head with figgers, an' stars, an' oratin'; an' most
always you can see that he does."
"It is contact with cultivated people," said mother. "You are
always influenced by it, without knowing it often."
"Maybe you are, bein' so fine yourself," said Mrs. Freshett.
"An' me too, I never get among my betters that I don't carry home
a lot I put right into daily use, an' nobody knows it plainer. I
come here expectin' to learn things that help me, an' when I go
home I know I have."
"Why, thank you," said mother. "I'm sure that is a very nice
compliment, and I wish I really could feel that it is well
"Oh I guess you do!" said Mrs. Freshett laughing. "I often
noticed you makin' a special effort to teach puddin' heads like
me somethin', an' I always thank you for it. There's a world in
right teachin'. I never had any. So all I can pick up an'
hammer into mine is a gain for me an' them. If my Henry had
lived, an' come out anything like that boy o' yourn an' the show
he made last Sunday, I'd do well if I didn't swell up an' bust
with pride. An' the little tow-haired strip, takin' the gun an'
startin' out alone after a robber, even if he wa'n't much of a
man, that was downright spunky. If my boys will come out
anywhere near like yourn, I'll be glad."
"I don't know how my boys will come out," said mother. "But I
work, pray, hope, and hang to them; that's all I know to do."
"Well, if they don't come out right, they ought to be bumped!"
said Mrs. Freshett. "After all the chances they've had! I don'
know jest how Freshett was brung up, but I'd no chance at all.
My folks--well, I guess the less said--little pitchers, you know!
I can't see as I was to blame. I was the youngest, an' I knew
things was wrong. I fought to go to school, an' pap let me
enough that I saw how other people lived. Come night I'd go to
the garret, an' bar the trapdoor; but there would be times when I
couldn't help seein' what was goin' on. How'd you like chances
such as that for a girl of yourn?"
"Dreadful!" said mother. "Mrs. Freshett, please do be careful!"
"Sure!" laughed Mrs. Freshett. "I was jest goin' to tell you
about me an' Josiah. He come to our house one night, a stranger
off the road. He said he was sick, an' tired, an' could he have
a bed. Mother said, `No, for him to move on.' He tried an' he
couldn't. They was somethin' about him--well, you know how them
things go! I wa'n't only sixteen, but I felt so sorry for him,
all fever burned and mumblin', I helped pap put him to bed, an'
doctored him all I could. Come mornin' he was a sick man. Pap
went for the county doctor, an' he took jest one look an' says:
`Small pox! All of ye git!'
"I was bound I wouldn't go, but pap made me, an' the doctor said
he'd send a man who'd had it; so I started, but I felt so bad,
come a chanct when they got to Groveville, I slipped out an' went
back. The man hadn't come, so I set to work the best I knowed.
'Fore long Josiah was a little better an' he asked who I was, an'
where my folks went, an' I told him, an' he asked WHY I came back
an' I didn't know what to say, so I jest hung my head an'
couldn't face him. After a while he says, `All right! I guess I
got this sized up. If you'll stay an' nuss me through, I'll be
well enough to pull you out, by the time you get it, an' soon as
you're able we'll splice, if you say so.'
"`Marry me, you mean?' says I. They wa'n't ever any talk about
marryin' at our house. `Sure!' says he. `You're a mighty likely
lookin' girl! I'll do fair by ye.' An' he always has, too! But
I didn't feel right to let him go it blind, so I jest up and
says. `You wouldn't if you knowed my folks!' `You look as
decent as I do,' says he; `I'll chance it!' Then I tole him I
was as good as I was born, an' he believed me, an' he always has,
an' I was too! So I nussed him, but I didn't make the job of it
he did. You 'member he is pitted considerable. He was so strong
I jest couldn't keep him from disfigerin' himself, but he tied
me. I begged to be loose, an' he wouldn't listen, so I got a
clean face, only three little scars, an' they ain't deep to speak
of. He says he looks like a piece of side meat, but say! they
ain't nothin' the matter with his looks to me!
"The nuss man never did come, but the county doctor passed things
in the winder, till I was over the worst, an' Josiah sent for a
preacher an' he married us through the winder--I got the writin's
to show, all framed an' proper. Josiah said he'd see I got all
they was in it long that line, anyway. When I was well, hanged
if he didn't perdooce a wad from his clothes before they burnt
'em, an' he got us new things to wear, an' a horse, an' wagon,
an' we driv away here where we thought we could start right, an'
after we had the land, an' built the cabin, an' jest as happy as
heart could wish, long come a man I'd made mad once, an' he tole
everythin' up and down. Josiah was good about it. He offered to
sell the land, an' pull up an' go furder. `What's the use?' says
I. `Hundreds know it. We can't go so far it won't be like to
follow us; le's stay here an' fight it.' `All right,' says
Josiah, but time an' ag'in he has offered to go, if I couldn't
make it. `Hang on a little longer,' says I, every time he knew I
was snubbed an' slighted. I never tole what he didn't notice. I
tried church, when my children began to git a size I wanted 'em
to have right teachin', an' you come an' welcomed me an' you been
my friend, an' now the others is comin' over at last, an'
visitin' me, an' they ain't a thing more I want in life."
"I am so glad!" said mother. "Oh my dear, I am so glad!"
"Goin' right home an' tell that to Josiah," said Mrs. Freshett,
jumping up laughing and crying like, "an' mebby I'll jest spread
wings and fly! I never was so happy in all my life as I was
Sunday, when you ast me before all of them, so cordial like, an'
says I to Josiah, `We'll go an' try it once,' an' we come an'
nobody turned a cold shoulder on us, an' I wa'n't wearin' specks
to see if they did, for I never knowed him so happy in all his
days. Orter heard him whistle goin' home, an' he's tryin' all
them things he learned, on our place, an' you can see it looks a
heap better a'ready, an' now he's talkin' about buildin' in the
spring. I knowed he had money, but he never mentioned buildin'
before, an' I always thought it was bekase he 'sposed likely we'd
have to move on, some time. 'Pears now as if we can settle, an'
live like other folks, after all these years. I knowed ye didn't
want me to talk, but I had to tell you! When you ast us to the
weddin', and others began comin' round, says I to Josiah, `Won't
she be glad to know that my skirts is clear, an' I did as well as
I could?' An' he says, `That she will! An' more am I,' says he.
`I mighty proud of you,' says he. Proud! Think of that! Miss
Stanton, I'd jest wade fire and blood for you!"
"Oh my dear !" said mother. "What a dreadful thing to say!"
"Gimme the chanct, an' watch if I don't," said Mrs. Freshett.
"Now, Josiah is proud I stuck it out! Now, I can have a house!
Now, my children can have all the show we can raise to give 'em!
I'm done cringin' an' dodgin'! I've always done my best;
henceforth I mean to hold up my head an' say so. I sure can't be
held for what was done 'fore I was on earth, or since neither.
You've given me my show, I'm goin' to take it, but if you want to
know what's in my heart about you, gimme any kind of a chanct to
prove, an' see if I don't pony right up to it!"
Mother laughed until the tears rolled, she couldn't help it. She
took Mrs. Freshett in her arms and hugged her tight, and kissed
her mighty near like she does Sarah Hood. Mrs. Freshett threw
her arms around mother, and looked over her shoulder, and said to
me, "Sis, when you grow up, always take a chanct on welcomin' the
stranger, like your maw does, an' heaven's bound to be your home!
My, but your maw is a woman to be proud of!" she said, hugging
mother and patting her on the back.
"All of us are proud of her!" I boasted.
"I doubt if you are proud enough!" cried Mrs. Freshett. "I have
my doubts! I don't see how people livin' with her, an' seein'
her every day, are in a shape to know jest what she can do for a
person in the place I was in. I have my doubts!"
That night when I went home from school mother was worrying over
the blue goose. When we went to feed, she told Leon that she was
afraid it was weak, and not getting enough to eat when it fed
with the others. She said after the work was finished, to take
it out alone, and give it all it would eat; so when the horses
were tended, the cows milked, everything watered, and the barn
ready to close for the night, Laddie took the milk to the house,
while Leon and I caught the blue goose, carried her to the well,
and began to shell corn. She was starved to death, almost. She
ate a whole ear in no time and looked for more, so Leon sent me
after another. By the time that was most gone she began to eat
slower, and stick her bill in the air to help the grains slip
down, so I told Leon I thought she had enough.
"No such thing!" said Leon. "You distinctly heard mother tell me
to give her `all she would eat.' She's eating, isn't she? Go
bring another ear!"
So she was, but I was doubtful about more.
Leon said I better mind or he would tell mother, so I got it.
She didn't begin on it with any enthusiasm. She stuck her bill
higher, stretched her neck longer, and she looked so funny when
she did it, that we just shrieked. Then Leon reached over, took
her by the bill, and stripped her neck to help her swallow, and
as soon as he let go, she began to eat again.
"You see!" said Leon, "she's been starved. She can't get enough.
I must help her!"
So he did help her every little bit. By that time we were
interested in seeing how much she could hold; and she looked so
funny that Leon sent me for more corn; but I told him I thought
what she needed now was water, so we held her to the trough, and
she tried to drink, but she couldn't swallow much. We set her
down beside the corn, and she went to eating again.
"Go it, old mill-hopper!" cried Leon.
Right then there was an awful commotion in the barn, and from the
squealing we knew one of the horses was loose, and fighting the
others. We ran to fix them, and had a time to get Jo back into
his stall, and tied. Before we had everything safe, the supper
bell rang, and I bet Leon a penny I could reach the house while
he shut the door and got there. We forgot every single thing
about the goose.
At supper mother asked Leon if he fed the goose all she would
eat, and I looked at him guilty-like, for I remembered we hadn't
put her back. He frowned at me cross as a bear, and I knew that
meant he had remembered, and would slip back and put her inside
when he finished his supper, so I didn't say anything.
"I didn't feed her ALL she would eat!" said Leon. "If I had,
she'd be at it yet. She was starved sure enough! You never saw
anything like the corn she downed."
"Well I declare!" said mother. "Now after this, take her out
alone, for a few days, and give her as much as she wants."
"All right!" chuckled Leon, because it was a lot of fun to see
her run her bill around, and gobble up the corn, and stick up her
The next day was Saturday, so after breakfast I went with Leon to
drive the sheep and geese to the creek to water; the trough was
so high it was only for the horses and cattle; when we let out
the geese, the blue one wasn't there.
"Oh Leon, did you forget to come back and put her in?"
"Yes I did!" he said. "I meant to when I looked at you to keep
still, and I started to do it, but Sammy Deam whistled, so I went
down in the orchard to see what he wanted, and we got to planning
how to get up a fox chase, and I stayed until father called for
night, and then I ran and forgot all about the blame old goose."
"Oh Leon! Where is she? What will mother say? 'Spose a fox got
"It wouldn't help me any if it had, after I was to blame for
leaving her outside. Blast a girl! If you ever amounted to
anything, you could have put her in while I fixed the horses. At
least you could have told me to."
I stood there dumblike and stared at him. He has got the
awfulest way of telling the truth when he is scared or provoked.
Of course I should have thought of the goose when he was having
such a hard fight with the horses. If I'd been like he was, I'd
have told him that he was older, mother told HIM to do it, and it
wasn't my fault; but in my heart I knew he did have his hands
full, and if you're your brother's keeper, you ought to HELP your
brother remember. So I stood gawking, while Leon slowly turned
whiter and whiter.
"We might as well see if we can find her," he said at last, so
slow and hopeless like it made my heart ache. So he started
around the straw stack one way, and I the other, looking into all
the holes, and before I had gone far I had a glimpse of her, and
it scared me so I screamed, for her head was down, and she didn't
look right. Leon came running and pulled her out. The swelled
corn rolled in a little trail after her, and the pigs ran up and
began to eat it. Pigs are named righter than anything else I
"Busted!" cried Leon in tones of awe; about the worst awe you
ever heard, and the worst bust you ever saw.
From bill to breast she was wide open, and the hominy spilling.
We just stood staring at her, and then Leon began to kick the
pigs; because it would be no use to kick the goose; she would
never know. Then he took her up, carried her into the barn, and
put her on the floor where the other geese had stayed all night.
We stood and looked at her some more, as if looking and hoping
would make her get up and be alive again. But there's nothing in
all this world so useless as wishing dead things would come
alive; we had to do something.
"What are you going to tell mother?"
"Shut up!" said Leon. "I'm trying to think."
"I'll say it was as much my fault as yours. I'll go with you.
I'll take half whatever they do to you."
"Little fool!" said Leon. "What good would that do me?"
"Do you know what they cost? Could you get another with some of
your horse money?"
I saw it coming and dodged again, before I remembered the
"All right!" I said. "If that's the way you are going to act,
Smarty, I'll lay all the blame on you; I won't help you a bit,
and I don't care if you are whipped until the blood runs."
Then I went out of the barn and slammed the door. For a minute I
felt better; but it was a short time. I SAID that to be mean,
but I did care. I cared dreadfully; I was partly to blame, and I
knew it. Coming around the barn, I met Laddie, and he saw in a
flash I was in trouble, so he stopped and asked: "What now,
"Come into the barn where no one will hear us," I said.
So we went around the outside, entered at the door on the
embankment, and he sat in the wheelbarrow on the threshing floor
while I told him. I thought I felt badly enough, but after I saw
Laddie, it grew worse, for I remembered we were short of money
that fall, that the goose was a fine, expensive one, and how
proud mother was of her, and how she'd be grieved, and that was
trouble for sure.
"Run along and play!" said Laddie, "and don't tell any one else
if you can help it. I'll hide the goose, and see if I can get
another in time to take the place of this one, so mother won't be
I walked to the house slowly, but I was afraid to enter. When
you are all choked up, people are sure to see it, and ask fool
questions. So I went around to the gate and stood there looking
up and down the road, and over the meadow toward the Big Woods;
and all at once, in one of those high, regular bugle calls, like
they mostly scream in spring, one of Pryors' ganders split the
echoes for a mile; maybe farther.
I was across the road and slinking down inside the meadow fence
before I knew it. There was no thought or plan. I started for
Pryors' and went straight ahead, only I kept out of line with our
kitchen windows. I tramped through the slush, ice, and crossed
fields where I was afraid of horses; but when I got to the top of
the Pryor backyard fence, I stuck there, for the bulldogs were
loose, and came raving at me. I was going to be eaten alive, for
I didn't know the word Laddie did; and those dogs climbed a fence
like a person; I saw them the time Leon brought back Even So. I
was thinking what a pity it was, after every one had grown
accustomed to me, and had begun loving me, that I should be
wasted for dog feed, when Mr. Pryor came to the door, and called
them; they didn't mind, so he came to the fence, and crossest you
ever heard, every bit as bad as the dogs, he cried: "Whose brat
are you, and what are you doing here?"
I meant to tell him; but you must have a minute after a thing
"God of my life!" he fairly frothed. "What did anybody send a
dumb child here for?"
"Dumb child!" I didn't care if Mr. Pryor did wear a Crown of
Glory. It wasn't going to do him one particle of good, unless he
was found in the way of the Lord. "Dumb child!" I was no more
dumb than he was, until his bulldogs scared me so my heart got
all tangled up with my stomach, my lungs, and my liver. That
made me mad, and there was nothing that would help me to loosen
up and talk fast, like losing my temper. I wondered what kind of
a father he had. If he'd been stood against the wall and made to
recite, "Speak gently," as often as all of us, perhaps he'd have
remembered the verse that says:
"Speak gently to the little child;
Its love be sure to gain;
Teach it in accents soft and mild;
It may not long remain."
I should think not, if it had any chance at all to get away! I
was so angry by that time I meant to tell him what I thought.
Polite or not polite, I'd take a switching if I had to, but I
wasn't going to stand that.
"You haven't got any God in your life," I reminded him, "and no
one sent me here. I came to see the Princess, because I'm in
awful trouble and I hoped maybe she could fix up a way to help
"Ye Gods!" he cried. He would stick to calling on God, whether
he believed in Him or not. "If it isn't Nimrod! I didn't
recognize you in all that bundling."
Probably he didn't know it, but Nimrod was from the Bible too!
By bundling, he meant my hood and coat. He helped me from the
fence, sent the bulldogs rolling--sure enough he did kick them,
and they didn't like it either--took my hand and led me straight
into the house, and the Princess was there, and a woman who was
her mother no doubt, and he said: "Pamela, here is our little
neighbour, and she says she's in trouble, and she thinks you may
be of some assistance to her. Of course you will be glad if you
"Surely!" said the Princess, and she introduced me to her mother,
so I bowed the best I knew, and took off my wet mitten, dirty
with climbing fences, to shake hands with her. She was so
gracious and lovely I forgot what I went after. The Princess
brought a cloth and wiped the wet from my shoes and stockings,
and asked me if I wouldn't like a cup of hot tea to keep me from
taking a chill.
"I've been much wetter than this," I told her, "and I never have
taken a chill, and anyway my throat's too full of trouble to
"Why, you poor child!" said the Princess. "Tell me quickly! Is
your mother ill again?"
"Not now, but she's going to be as soon as she finds out," I
said, and then I told them.
They all listened without a sound until I got where Leon helped
the goose eat, and from that on Mr. Pryor laughed until you could
easily see that he had very little feeling for suffering
humanity. It was funny enough when we fed her, but now that she
was bursted wide open there was nothing amusing about it; and to
roar when a visitor plainly told you she was in awful trouble,
didn't seem very good manners to me. The Princess and her mother
never even smiled; and before I had told nearly all of it, Thomas
was called to hitch the Princess' driving cart, and she took me
to their barnyard to choose the goose that looked most like
mother's, and all of them seemed like hers, so we took the first
one Thomas could catch, put it into a bag in the back of the
cart, and then we got in and started for our barn. As we reached
the road, I said to her: "You'd better go past Dovers', for if
we come down our Little Hill they will see us sure; it's baking
"All right!" said the Princess, so we went the long way round the
section, but goodness me! when she drove no way was far.
When we were opposite our barn she stopped, hitched her horse to
the fence, and we climbed over, and slipping behind the barn,
carried the goose around to the pen and put it in with ours. She
said she wanted the broken one, because her father would enjoy
seeing it. I didn't see how he could! We were ready to slip
out, when our geese began to run at the new one, hiss and scream,
and make such a racket that Laddie and Leon both caught us. They
looked at the goose, at me, the Princess, and each other, and
neither said a word. She looked back a little bit, and then she
laughed as hard as she could. Leon grew red, and he grinned
ashamed-like, so she laughed worse than ever. Laddie spoke to
me: "You went to Mr. Pryor's and asked for that goose?"
"She did not!" said the Princess before I could answer. "She
never asked for anything. She was making a friendly morning call
and in the course of her visit she told about the pathetic end of
the goose that was expected to lay the golden egg--I mean stuff
the Bishop's pillow--and as we have a large flock of blue geese,
father gave her one, and he had the best time he's had in years
doing it. I wouldn't have had him miss the fun he got from it
for any money. He laughed like home again. Now I must slip away
before any one sees me, and spoils our secret. Leon, lad, you
can go to the house and tell your little mother that the feeding
stopped every pain her goose had, and hereafter it looks to you
as if she'd be all right."
"Miss Pryor," said Leon, "did you care about what I said at you
in church that day?"
"`Thou art all fair, my love. There is no spot in thee.' Well,
it was a little pointed, but since you ask a plain question, I
have survived it."
"I'm awfully sorry," said Leon. "Of course I never would, if I'd
known you could be this nice."
The Princess looked at Laddie and almost gasped, and then both of
them laughed. Leon saw that he had told her he was sorry he said
she was "fair, and no spot in her."
"Oh I don't mean that!" he said. "What I do mean is that I thank
you awful much for the goose, and helping me out like such a
brick of a good fellow, and what I wish is, that I was as old as
Laddie, and he'd hump himself if he got to be your beau."
The Princess almost ran. Laddie and I followed to the road,
where he unhitched the horse and helped her in. Then he stood
stroking its neck, as he held the bridle.
"I don't know what to say!" said Laddie.
"In such case, I would counsel silence," advised the Princess.
"I hope you understand how I thank you."
"I fail to see what for. Father gave the goose to Little Sister.
Her thanks and Leon's are more than enough for him. We had great
"I insist on adding mine. Deep and fervent!"
"You take everything so serious. Can't you see the fun of this?"
"No," said Laddie. "But if you can, I am glad, and I'm thankful
for anything that gives me a glimpse of you."
"Bye, Little Sister," said the Princess, and when she loosened
the lines the mud flew a rod high.
Keeping Christmas Our Way
"I remember, I remember
How my childhood fleeted by,--
The mirth of its December,
And the warmth of its July."
When dusk closed in it would be Christmas eve. All day I had
three points--a chair beside the kitchen table, a lookout melted
through the frost on the front window, and the big sitting-room
All the perfumes of Araby floated from our kitchen that day.
There was that delicious smell of baking flour from big snowy
loaves of bread, light biscuit, golden coffee cake, and cinnamon
rolls dripping a waxy mixture of sugar, butter, and spice, much
better than the finest butterscotch ever brought from the city.
There was the tempting odour of boiling ham and baking pies. The
air was filled with the smell of more herbs and spices than I
knew the names of, that went into mincemeat, fruit cake, plum
pudding, and pies. There was a teasing fragrance in the spiced
vinegar heating for pickles, a reminder of winesap and rambo in
the boiling cider, while the newly opened bottles of grape juice
filled the house with the tang of Concord and muscadine. It
seemed to me I never got nicely fixed where I could take a sly
dip in the cake dough or snipe a fat raisin from the mincemeat
but Candace would say: "Don't you suppose the backlog is halfway
down the lane?"
Then I hurried to the front window, where I could see through my
melted outlook on the frosted pane, across the west eighty to the
woods, where father and Laddie were getting out the Christmas
backlog. It was too bitterly cold to keep me there while they
worked, but Laddie said that if I would watch, and come to meet
them, he would take me up, and I might ride home among the
Christmas greens on the log.
So I flattened my nose against the pane and danced and fidgeted
until those odours teased me back to the kitchen; and no more did
I get nicely located beside a jar of pudding sauce than Candace
would object to the place I had hung her stocking. It was my
task, my delightful all-day task, to hang the stockings. Father
had made me a peg for each one, and I had ten feet of mantel
front along which to arrange them. But it was no small job to do
this to every one's satisfaction. No matter what happened to any
one else, Candace had to be pleased: for did not she so manage
that most fowls served on mother's table went gizzardless to the
carving? She knew and acknowledged the great importance of
trying cookies, pies, and cake while they were hot. She was
forever overworked and tired, yet she always found time to make
gingerbread women with currant buttons on their frocks, and pudgy
doughnut men with clove eyes and cigars of cinnamon. If my own
stocking lay on the hearth, Candace's had to go in a place that
satisfied her--that was one sure thing. Besides, I had to make
up to her for what Leon did, because she was crying into the
corner of her apron about that.
He slipped in and stole her stocking, hung it over the
broomstick, and marched around the breakfast table singing to the
"Ha, ha, ha, who wouldn't go--
Up on the housetop click, click, click?
Down through the chimney,
With good Saint Nick----"
words he made up himself. He walked just fast enough that she
couldn't catch him, and sang as he went:
"Ha, ha, ha, good Saint Nick,
Come and look at this stocking, quick!
If you undertake its length to fill,
You'll have to bust a ten-dollar bill.
Who does it belong to? Candace Swartz.
Bring extra candy,--seven quarts----"
She got so angry she just roared, so father made Leon stop it,
but I couldn't help laughing myself. Then we had to pet her all
day, so she'd cheer up, and not salt the Christmas dinner with
her tears. I never saw such a monkey as Leon! I trotted out to
comfort her, and snipped bites, until I wore a triangle on the
carpet between the kitchen and the mantel, the mantel and the
window, and the window and the kitchen, while every hour things
grew more exciting.
There never had been such a flurry at our house since I could
remember; for to-morrow would be Christmas and bring home all the
children, and a house full of guests. My big brother, Jerry, who
was a lawyer in the city, was coming with his family, and so were
Frank, Elizabeth, and Lucy with theirs, and of course Sally and
Peter--I wondered if she would still be fixing his tie--and
Shelley came yesterday, blushing like a rose, and she laughed if
you pointed your finger at her.
Something had happened to her in Chicago. I wasn't so sure as I
had been about a city being such a dreadful place of noise, bad
air, and wicked people. Nothing had hurt Shelley. She had grown
so much that you could see she was larger. Her hair and face--
all of Shelley just shone. Her eyes danced, she talked and
laughed all the time, and she hugged every one who passed her.
She never loved us so before. Leon said she must have been
homesick and coming back had given her a spell. I did hope it
would be a bad one, and last forever. I would have liked for all
our family to have had a spell if it would have made them act and
look like Shelley. The Princess was not a speck lovelier, and
she didn't act any nicer.
If I could have painted, I'd have made a picture of Shelley with
a circle of light above her head like the one of the boy Jesus
where He talked with the wise men in the temple. I asked father
if he noticed how much prettier and nicer she was, and he said he
did. Then I asked him if he thought now, that a city was such a
bad place to live in, and he said where she was had nothing to do
with it, the same thing would happen here, or anywhere, when
life's greatest experience came to a girl. That was all he would
say, but figuring it out was easy. The greatest experience that
happened to our girls was when they married, like Sally, so it
meant that Shelley had gone and fallen in love with that lawyer
man, and she liked sitting on the sofa with him, and no doubt she
fixed his ties. But if any one thought I would tell anything I
saw when he came they were badly mistaken.
All of us rushed around like we were crazy. If father and mother
hadn't held steady and kept us down, we might have raised the
roof. We were all so glad about getting Leon and the money back;
mother hadn't been sick since the fish cured her; the new blue
goose was so like the one that had burst, even father never
noticed any difference; all the children were either home or
coming, and after we had our gifts and the biggest dinner we ever
had, Christmas night all of us would go to the schoolhouse to see
our school try to spell down three others to whom they had sent
saucy invitations to come and be beaten.
Mother sat in the dining-room beside the kitchen door, so that
she could watch the baking, brewing, pickling, and spicing. It
took four men to handle the backlog, which I noticed father
pronounced every year "just a little the finest we ever had," and
Laddie strung the house with bittersweet, evergreens, and the
most beautiful sprays of myrtle that he raked from under the
snow. Father drove to town in the sleigh, and the list of things
to be purchased mother gave him as a reminder was almost a yard
The minute they finished the outdoor work Laddie and Leon began
bringing in baskets of apples, golden bellflowers, green pippins,
white winter pearmains, Rhode Island greenings, and striped
rambos all covered with hoarfrost, yet not frozen, and so full of
juice you had to bite into them carefully or they dripped and
offended mother. These they washed and carried to the cellar
ready for use.
Then they cracked big dishes of nuts; and popped corn that popped
with the most resounding pops in all my experience--popped a
tubful, and Laddie melted maple sugar and poured over it and made
big balls of fluff and sweetness. He took a pan and filled it
with grains, selected one at a time, the very largest and
whitest, and made an especial ball, in the middle of which he put
a lovely pink candy heart on which was printed in red letters:
"How can this heart be mine, yet yours, unless our hearts are
one?" He wouldn't let any of them see it except me, and he only
let me because he knew I'd be delighted.
It was almost dusk when father came through the kitchen loaded
with bundles and found Candace and the girls still cooking.
We were so excited we could scarcely be gathered around the
supper table, and mother said we chattered until she couldn't
hear herself think. After a while Laddie laid down his fork and
looked at our father.
"Have you any objection to my using the sleigh to-morrow night?"
Father looked at mother.
"Had you planned to use it, mother?"
Mother said: "No. If I go, I'll ride in the big sled with all
of us. It is such a little way, and the roads are like glass."
So father said politely, as he always spoke to us: "Then it will
give me great pleasure for you to take it, my son."
That made Leon bang his fork loudly as he dared and squirm in his
chair, for well he knew that if he had asked, the answer would
have been different. If Laddie took the sleigh he would harness
carefully, drive fast, but reasonably, blanket his horse, come
home at the right time, and put everything exactly where he found
it. But Leon would pitch the harness on some way, race every
step, never think of his steaming horse, come home when there was
no one so wild as he left to play pranks with, and scatter the
harness everywhere. He knew our father would love to trust him
the same as he did Laddie. He wouldn't always prove himself
trustworthy, but he envied Laddie.
"You think you'll take the Princess to the spelling bee, don't
you?" he sneered.
"I mean to ask her," replied Laddie.
"Maybe you think she'll ride in our old homemade, hickory
cheesebox, when she can sail all over the country like a bird in
a velvet-lined cutter with a real buffalo robe."
There was a quick catch in mother's breath and I felt her hand on
my chair tremble. Father's lips tightened and a frown settled on
his face, while Laddie fairly jumped. He went white to the lips,
and one hand dropped on the table, palm up, the fingers closing
and unclosing, while his eyes turned first to mother, and then to
father, in dumb appeal. We all knew that he was suffering. No
one spoke, and Leon having shot his arrow straight home, saw as
people so often do in this world that the damage of unkind words
could not easily be repaired; so he grew red in the face and
At last Laddie drew a deep, quivering breath. "I never thought
of that," he said. "She has seemed happy to go with me several
times when I asked her, but of course she might not care to ride
in ours, when she has such a fine sleigh of her own."
Father's voice fairly boomed down the length of the table.
"Your mother always has found our sleigh suitable," he said.
The fact was, father was rarely proud of it. He had selected the
hickory in our woods, cut it and hauled it to the mill, cured the
lumber, and used all his spare time for two winters making it.
With the exception of having the runners turned at a factory and
iron-bound at a smithy, he had completed it alone with great
care, even to staining it a beautiful cherry colour, and fitting
white sheepskins into the bed. We had all watched him and been
so proud of it, and now Leon was sneering at it. He might just
as well have undertaken to laugh at father's wedding suit or to
make fun of "Clark's Commentaries."
Laddie appealed to mother: "Do you think I'd better not ask
He spoke with an effort.
"Laddie, that is the first time I ever heard you propose to do
any one an injustice," she said.
"I don't see how," said Laddie.
"It isn't giving the Princess any chance at all," replied mother
"You've just said that she has seemed pleased to accompany you
before, now you are proposing to cut her out of what promises to
be the most delightful evening of the winter, without even giving
her the chance to say whether she'd go with you or not. Has she
ever made you feel that anything you offered her or wanted to do
for her was not good enough?"
"Never!" exclaimed Laddie fervently.
"Until she does, then, do you think it would be quite manly and
honourable to make decisions for her? You say you never thought
of anything except a pleasant time with her; possibly she feels
the same. Unless she changes, I would scarcely let a boy's
foolish tongue disturb her pleasure. Moreover, as to the matter
of wealth, your father may be as rich as hers; but they have one,
we have many. If what we spend on all our brood could be
confined to one child, we could easily duplicate all her
luxuries, and I think she has the good sense to realize the fact
as quickly as any one. I've no doubt she would gladly exchange
half she has for the companionship of a sister or a brother in
her lonely life."
Laddie turned to father, and father's smile was happy again.
Mother was little but she was mighty. With only a few words she
had made Leon feel how unkind and foolish he had been, quieted
Laddie's alarm, and soothed the hurt father's pride had felt in
that he had not been able to furnish her with so fine a turnout
as Pryors had.
Next morning when the excitement of gifts and greetings was over,
and Laddie's morning work was all finished, he took a beautiful
volume of poems and his popcorn ball and started across the
fields due west; all of us knew that he was going to call on and
offer them to the Princess, and ask to take her to the spelling
bee. I suppose Laddie thought he was taking that trip alone, but
really he was surrounded. I watched him from the window, and my
heart went with him. Presently father went and sat beside
mother's chair, and stroking her hand, whispered softly: "Please
don't worry, little mother. It will be all right. Your boy will
come home happy."
"I hope so," she answered, "but I can't help feeling dreadfully
nervous. If things go wrong with Laddie, it will spoil the day."
"I have much faith in the Princess' good common sense," replied
father, "and considering what it means to Laddie, it would hurt
me sore to lose it."
Mother sat still, but her lips moved so that I knew she was
making soft little whispered prayers for her best loved son. But
Laddie, plowing through the drift, never dreamed that all of us
were with him. He was always better looking than any other man I
ever had seen, but when, two hours later, he stamped into the
kitchen he was so much handsomer than usual, that I knew from the
flush on his cheek and the light in his eye, that the Princess
had been kind, and by the package in his hand, that she had made
him a present. He really had two, a beautiful book and a
necktie. I wondered to my soul if she gave him that, so she
could fix it! I didn't believe she had begun on his ties at that
time; but of course when he loved her as he did, he wished she
It was the very jolliest Christmas we ever had, but the day
seemed long. When night came we were in a precious bustle. The
wagon bed on bobs, filled with hay and covers, drawn by Ned and
Jo, was brought up for the family, and the sleigh made spick-and-
span and drawn by Laddie's thoroughbred, stood beside it. Laddie
had filled the kitchen oven with bricks and hung up a comfort at
four o'clock to keep the Princess warm.
Because he had to drive out of the way to bring her, Laddie
wanted to start early; and when he came down dressed in his
college clothes, and looking the manliest of men, some of the
folks thought it funny to see him carefully rake his hot bricks
from the oven, and pin them in an old red breakfast shawl. I
thought it was fine, and I whispered to mother: "Do you suppose
that if Laddie ever marries the Princess he will be good to her
as he is to you?"
Mother nodded with tear-dimmed eyes, but Shelley said: "I'll
wager a strong young girl like the Princess will laugh at you for
babying over her."
"Why?" inquired Laddie. "It is a long drive and a bitter night,
and if you fancy the Princess will laugh at anything I do, when I
am doing the best I know for her comfort, you are mistaken. At
least, that is the impression she gave me this morning."
I saw the swift glance mother shot at father, and father laid
down his paper and said, while he pretended his glasses needed
polishing: "Now there is the right sort of a girl for you. No
foolishness about her, when she has every chance. Hurrah for the
It was easy to see that she wasn't going to have nearly so hard a
time changing father's opinion as she would mother's. It was not
nearly a year yet, and here he was changed already. Laddie said
good-bye to mother--he never forgot--gathered up his comfort and
bricks, and started for Pryors' downright happy. We went to the
schoolhouse a little later, all of us scoured, curled, starched,
and wearing our very best clothes. My! but it was fine. There
were many lights in the room and it was hung with greens. There
was a crowd even though it was early. On Miss Amelia's table was
a volume of history that was the prize, and every one was looking
and acting the very best he knew how, although there were cases
where they didn't know so very much.
Our Shelley was the handsomest girl there, until the Princess
came, and then they both were. Shelley wore one of her city
frocks and a quilted red silk hood that was one of her Christmas
gifts, and she looked just like a handsome doll. She made every
male creature in that room feel that she was pining for him
alone. May had a gay plaid frock and curls nearly a yard long,
and so had I, but both our frocks and curls were homemade; mother
would have them once in a while; father and I couldn't stop her.
But there was not a soul there who didn't have some sort of gift
to rejoice over, and laughter and shouts of "Merry Christmas!"
filled the room. It was growing late and there was some talk of
choosers, when the door opened and in a rush of frosty air the
Princess and Laddie entered. Every one stopped short and stared.
There was good reason. The Princess looked as if she had
accidentally stepped from a frame. She was always lovely and
beautifully dressed, but to-night she was prettier and finer than
ever before. You could fairly hear their teeth click as some of
the most envious of those girls caught sight of her, for she was
wearing a new hat!--a black velvet store hat, fitting closely
over her crown, with a rim of twisted velvet, a scarlet bird's
wing, and a big silver buckle. Her dress was of scarlet cloth
cut in forms, and it fitted as if she had been melted and poured
into it. It was edged around the throat, wrists, and skirt with
narrow bands of fur, and she wore a loose, long, silk-lined coat
of the same material, and worst of all, furs--furs such as we had
heard wealthy and stylish city ladies were wearing. A golden
brown cape that reached to her elbows, with ends falling to the
knees, finished in the tails of some animal, and for her hands a
muff as big as a nail keg.
Now, there was not a girl in that room, except the Princess, an
she had those clothes, who wouldn't have flirted like a peacock,
almost bursting with pride; but because the Princess had them,
and they didn't, they sat stolid and sullen, and cast glances at
each other as if they were saying: "The stuck-up thing!"
"Thinks she's smart, don't she?"
Many of them should have gone to meet her and made her welcome,
for she was not of our district and really their guest. Shelley
did go, but I noticed she didn't hurry.
The choosers began at once, and Laddie was the first person
called for our side, and the Princess for the visitors'. Every
one in the room was chosen on one side or the other; even my name
was called, but I only sat still and shook my head, for I very
well knew that no one except father would remember to pronounce
easy ones for me, and besides I was so bitterly disappointed I
could scarcely have stood up. They had put me in a seat near the
fire; the spellers lined either wall, and a goodly number that
refused to spell occupied the middle seats. I couldn't get a
glimpse of Laddie or the home folks, or worst of all, of my
I never could bear to find a fault with Laddie, but I sadly
reflected that he might as well have left me at home, if I were
to be buried where I could neither hear nor see a thing. I was
just wishing it was summer so I could steal out to the cemetery,
and have a good visit with the butterflies that always swarmed
around Georgiana Jane Titcomb's grave at the corner of the
church. I never knew Georgiana Jane, but her people must have
been very fond of her, for her grave was scarlet with geraniums,
and pink with roses from earliest spring until frost, and the
bright colours attracted swarms of butterflies. I had learned
that if I stuck a few blossoms in my hair, rubbed some sweet
smelling ones over my hands, and knelt and kept so quiet that I
fitted into the landscape, the butterflies would think me a
flower too, and alight on my hair, dress, and my hands, even.
God never made anything more beautiful than those butterflies,
with their wings of brightly painted velvet down, their bright
eyes, their curious antennae, and their queer, tickly feet.
Laddie had promised me a book telling all about every kind there
was, the first time he went to a city, so I was wishing I had it,
and was among my pet beauties with it, when I discovered him
bending over me.
He took my arm, and marching back to his place, helped me to the
deep window seat beside him, where with my head on a level, and
within a foot of his, I could see everything in the whole room.
I don't know why I ever spent any time pining for the beauties of
Georgiana Jane Titcomb's grave, even with its handsome headstone
on which was carved a lamb standing on three feet and holding a
banner over its shoulder with the fourth, and the geraniums,
roses, and the weeping willow that grew over it, thrown in. I
might have trusted Laddie. He never had forgotten me; until he
did, I should have kept unwavering faith.
Now, I had the best place of any one in the room, and I smoothed
my new plaid frock and shook my handmade curls just as near like
Shelley as ever I could. But it seems that most of the ointment
in this world has a fly in it, like in the Bible, for fine as my
location was, I soon knew that I should ask Laddie to put me
down, because the window behind me didn't fit its frame, and the
night was bitter. Before half an hour I was stiff with cold; but
I doubt if I would have given up that location if I had known I
would freeze, because this was the most fun I had ever seen.
Miss Amelia began with McGuffey's spelling book, and whenever
some poor unfortunate made a bad break the crowd roared with
laughter. Peter Justice stood up to spell and before three
rounds he was nodding on his feet, so she pronounced "sleepy" to
him. Some one nudged Pete and he waked up and spelled it, s-l-e,
sle, p-e, pe, and because he really was so sleepy it made every
one laugh. James Whittaker spelled compromise with a k, and
Isaac Thomas spelled soap, s-o-a-p-e, and it was all the funnier
that he couldn't spell it, for from his looks you could tell that
he had no acquaintance with it in any shape. Then Miss Amelia
gave out "marriage" to the spooniest young man in the district,
and "stepfather" to a man who was courting a widow with nine
children; and "coquette" to our Shelley, who had been making
sheep's eyes at Johnny Myers, so it took her by surprise and she
joined the majority, which by that time occupied seats.
There was much laughing and clapping of hands for a time, but
when Miss Amelia had let them have their fun and thinned the
lines to half a dozen on each side who could really spell, she
began business, and pronounced the hardest words she could find
in the book, and the spellers caught them up and rattled them off
"Incompatibility," she gave out, and before the sound of her
voice died away the Princess was spelling: "I-n, in, c-o-m, com,
in com, p-a-t, pat, incompat, i, incompati, b-i-l, bil,
incompatibil, i, incompatibili, t-y, ty, incompatibility."
Then Laddie spelled "incomprehensibility," and they finished up
the "bilities" and the "alities" with a rush and changed
McGuffey's for Webster, with five on Laddie's side and three on
the Princess', and when they quit with it, the Princess was
alone, and Laddie and our little May facing her.
From that on you could call it real spelling. They spelled from
the grammars, hyperbole, synecdoche, and epizeuxis. They spelled
from the physiology, chlorophyll, coccyx, arytenoid, and the
names of the bones and nerves, and all the hard words inside you.
They tried the diseases and spelled jaundice, neurasthenia, and
tongue-tied. They tried all the occupations and professions, and
went through the stores and spelled all sorts of hardware, china
and dry goods. Each side kept cheering its own and urging them
to do their best, and every few minutes some man in the back of
the house said something that was too funny. When Miss Amelia
pronounced "bombazine" to Laddie our side cried, "Careful,
Laddie, careful! you're out of your element!"
And when she gave "swivel-tree" to the Princess, her side
whispered, "Go easy! Do you know what it is? Make her define
They branched over the country. May met her Jonah on the
mountains. Katahdin was too much for her, and Laddie and the
Princess were left to fight it out alone. I didn't think Laddie
liked it. I'm sure he never expected it to turn out that way.
He must have been certain he could beat her, for after he
finished English there were two or three other languages he knew,
and every one in the district felt that he could win, and
expected him to do it. It was an awful place to put him in, I
could see that. He stood a little more erect than usual, with
his eyes toward the Princess, and when his side kept crying,
"Keep the prize, Laddie! Hold up the glory of the district!" he
ground out the words as if he had a spite at them for not being
so hard that he would have an excuse for going down.
The Princess was poised lightly on her feet, her thick curls,
just touching her shoulders, shining in the light; her eyes like
stars, her perfect, dark oval face flushed a rich red, and her
deep bosom rising and falling with excitement. Many times in
later years I have tried to remember when the Princess was
loveliest of all, and that night always stands first.
I was thinking fast. Laddie was a big man. Men were strong on
purpose so they could bear things. He loved the Princess so, and
he didn't know whether she loved him or not; and every
marriageable man in three counties was just aching for the chance
to court her, and I didn't feel that he dared risk hurting her
Laddie said, to be the man who conquered the Princess and to whom
she lifted her lips for a first kiss was worth life itself. I
made up my mind that night that he knew just exactly what he was
talking about. I thought so too. And I seemed to understand why
Laddie--Laddie in his youth, strength, and manly beauty, Laddie,
who boasted that there was not a nerve in his body--trembled
before the Princess.
It looked as if she had set herself against him and was working
for the honours, and if she wanted them, I didn't feel that he
should chance beating her, and then, too, it was beginning to be
plain that it was none too sure he could. Laddie didn't seem to
be the only one who had been well drilled in spelling.
I held my jaws set a minute, so that I could speak without Laddie
knowing how I was shivering, and then I whispered: "Except her
eyes are softer, she looks just like a cardinal."
Laddie nodded emphatically and moving a step nearer laid his
elbow across my knees. Heavens, how they spelled! They finished
all the words I ever heard and spelled like lightning through a
lot of others the meaning of which I couldn't imagine. Father
never gave them out at home. They spelled epiphany, gaberdine,
ichthyology, gewgaw, kaleidoscope, and troubadour. Then Laddie
spelled one word two different ways; and the Princess went him
one better, for she spelled another three.
They spelled from the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar, Potiphar, Peleg,
Belshazzar, Abimelech, and a host of others I never heard the
minister preach about. Then they did the most dreadful thing of
all. "Broom," pronounced the teacher, and I began mentally, b-r-
o-o-m, but Laddie spelled "b-r-o-u-g-h-a-m," and I stared at him
in a daze. A second later Miss Amelia gave out "Beecham" to the
Princess, and again I tried it, b-e-e-c-h, but the Princess was
spelling "B-e-a-u-c-h-a-m-p," and I almost fell from the window.
They kept that up until I was nearly crazy with nervousness; I
forgot I was half frozen. I pulled Laddie's sleeve and whispered
in his ear: "Do you think she'll cry if you beat her?"
I was half crying myself, the strain had been awful. I was torn
between these dearest loves of mine.
"Seen me have any chance to beat her?" retorted Laddie.
Miss Amelia seemed to have used most of her books, and at last
picked up an old geography and began giving out points around the
coast, while Laddie and the Princess took turns snatching the
words from her mouth and spelling them. Father often did that,
so Laddie was safe there. They were just going it when Miss
Amelia pronounced, "Terra del Fuego," to the Princess. "T-e-r-r-
a, Terra, d-e-l, del, F-i-e-u-g-o," spelled the Princess, and sat
down suddenly in the midst of a mighty groan from her side,
swelled by a wail from one little home district deserter.
"Next!" called Miss Amelia.
"T-e-r-r-a, Terra, d-e-l, del, F-e-u-g-o," spelled Laddie.
"Wrong!" wailed Miss Amelia, and our side breathed one big groan
in concert, and I lifted up my voice in that also. Then every
one laughed and pretended they didn't care, and the Princess came
over and shook hands with Laddie, and Laddie said to Miss Amelia:
"Just let me take that book a minute until I see how the thing
really does go." It was well done and satisfied the crowd, which
clapped and cheered; but as I had heard him spell it many, many
times for father, he didn't fool me.
Laddie and the Princess drew slips for the book and it fell to
her. He was so pleased he kissed me as he lifted me down and
never noticed I was so stiff I could scarcely stand--and I did
fall twice going to the sleigh. My bed was warm and my room was
warm, but I chilled the night through and until the next
afternoon, when I grew so faint and sleepy I crept to Miss
Amelia's desk, half dead with fright--it was my first trip to ask
an excuse--and begged: "Oh teacher, I'm so sick. Please let me
I think one glance must have satisfied her that it was true, for
she said very kindly that I might, and she would send Leon along
to take care of me. But my troubles were only half over when I
had her consent. It was very probable I would be called a baby
and sent back when I reached home, so I refused company and
started alone. It seemed a mile past the cemetery. I was so
tired I stopped, and leaning against the fence, peeped through at
the white stones and the whiter mounds they covered, and wondered
how my mother would feel if she were compelled to lay me beside
the two little whooping cough and fever sisters already sleeping
there. I decided that it would be so very dreadful, that the
tears began to roll down my cheeks and freeze before they fell.
Down the Big Hill slowly I went. How bare it looked then! Only
leafless trees and dried seed pods rattling on the bushes, the
sand frozen, and not a rush to be seen for the thick blanket of
snow. A few rods above the bridge was a footpath, smooth and
well worn, that led down to the creek, beaten by the feet of
children who raced it every day and took a running slide across
the ice. I struck into the path as always; but I was too stiff
to run, for I tried. I walked on the ice, and being almost worn
out, sat on the bridge and fell to watching the water bubbling
under the glassy crust. I was so dull a horse's feet struck the
bridge before I heard the bells--for I had bells in my ears that
day--and when I looked up it was the Princess--the Princess in
her red dress and furs, with a silk hood instead of her hat, her
sleigh like a picture, with a buffalo robe, that it was whispered
about the country, cost over a hundred dollars, and her
thoroughbred mare Maud dancing and prancing. "Bless me! Is it
you, Little Sister?" she asked. "Shall I give you a ride home?"
Before I could scarcely realize she was there, I was beside her
and she was tucking the fine warm robe over me. I lifted a pair
of dull eyes to her face.
"Oh Princess, I am so glad you came," I said. "I don't think I
could have gone another step if I had frozen on the bridge."
The Princess bent to look in my face. "Why, you poor child!" She
exclaimed, "you're white as death! Where are you ill?"
I leaned on her shoulder, though ordinarily I would not have
offered to touch her first, and murmured: "I am not ill,
outdoors, only dull, sleepy, and freezing with the cold."
"It was that window!" she exclaimed. "I thought of it, but I
That roused me a little.
"Oh Princess," I cried, "you mustn't blame Laddie! I knew it was
too cold, but I wouldn't tell him, because if he put me down I
couldn't see you, and we thought, but for your eyes being softer,
you looked just like a cardinal."
The Princess hugged me close and laughed merrily. "You darling!"
Then she shook me up sharply: "Don't you dare go to sleep!" she
said. "I must take you home first."
Once there she quieted my mother's alarm, put me to bed, drove
three miles for Dr. Fenner and had me started nicely on the road
to a month of lung fever, before she left. In my delirium I
spelled volumes; and the miracle of it was I never missed a word
until I came to "Terra del Fuego," and there I covered my lips
and stoutly insisted that it was the Princess' secret.
To keep me from that danger sleep on the road, she shook me up
and asked about the spelling bee. I thought it was the grandest
thing I had ever seen in my life, and I told her so. She
gathered me close and whispered: "Tell me something, Little
The minx! She knew I thought that a far finer title than hers.
"Would Laddie care?" I questioned.
"Not in the least!"
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