Laddie, A True Blue Story
Gene Stratton Porter
Part 6 out of 9
"Well then, I will."
"Can Laddie spell `Terra del Fuego?'" she whispered.
"Are you sure?"
"I have heard him do it over and over for father."
The Princess forgot I was so sick, forgot her horse, forgot
everything. She threw her head back and her hands up, until her
horse stopped in answer to the loosened line, and she laughed and
laughed. She laughed until peal on peal re-echoed from our Big
Woods clear across the west eighty. She laughed until her
ringing notes set my slow pulses on fire, and started my numbed
brain in one last effort. I stood up and took her lovely face
between my palms, turning it until I could see whether the
thought that had come to me showed in her eyes, and it did.
"Oh you darling, splendid Princess!" I cried. "You missed it on
purpose to let Laddie beat! You can spell it too!"
The Horn of the Hunter
"The dusky night rides down the sky,
And ushers in the morn:
The hounds all join in glorious cry,
The huntsman winds his horn."
Leon said our house reminded him of the mourners' bench before
any one had "come through." He said it was so deadly with Sally
and Shelley away, that he had a big notion to marry Susie Fall
and bring her over to liven things up a little. Mother said she
thought that would be a good idea, and Leon started in the
direction of Falls', but he only went as far as Deams'. When he
came back he had a great story to tell about dogs chasing their
sheep, and foxes taking their geese. Father said sheep were only
safe behind securely closed doors, especially in winter, and
geese also. Leon said every one hadn't as big a barn as ours,
and father said there was nothing to prevent any man from
building the sized barn he needed to shelter his creatures in
safety and comfort, if he wanted to dig in and earn the money to
put it up. There was no answer to that, and Mr. Leon didn't try
to make any. Mostly, he said something to keep on talking, but
sometimes he saw when he had better quit.
I was having a good time, myself. Of course when the fever was
the worst, and when I never had been sick before, it was pretty
bad, but as soon as I could breathe all right, there was no pain
to speak of, and every one was so good to me. I could have Bobby
on the footboard of my bed as long as I wanted him, and he would
crow whenever I told him to. I kept Grace Greenwood beside me,
and spoiled her dress making her take some of each dose of
medicine I did, but Shelley wrote that she was saving goods and
she would make her another as soon as she came home. I made
mother put red flannel on Grace's chest and around her neck,
until I could hardly find her mouth when she had to take her
medicine, but she swallowed it down all right, or she got her
nose held, until she did. She was not nearly so sick as I was,
though. We both grew better together, and, when Dr. Fenner
brought me candy, she had her share.
When I began to get well it was lovely. Such toast, chicken
broth, and squirrels, as mother always had. I even got the
chicken liver, oranges, and all of them gave me everything they
had that I wanted--I must almost have died to make them act like
Laddie and father would take me up wrapped in blankets and hold
me to rest my back. Father would rock me and sing about "Young
Johnny," just as he had when I was little. We always laughed at
it, we knew it was a fool song, but we liked it. The tune was
smooth and sleepy-like and the words went:
"One day young Johnny, he did go,
Way down in the meadow for to mow.
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!
He scarce had mowed twice round the field,
When a pesky sarpent bit him on the heel,
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!
He threw the scythe upon the ground,
An' shut his eyes, and looked all round,
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!
He took the sarpent in his hand,
And then ran home to Molly Bland,
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!
O Molly dear, and don't you see,
This pesky sarpent that bit me?
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!
O Johnny dear, why did you go,
Way down in the meadow fot to mow?
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!
O Molly dear, I thought you knowed
'Twas daddy's grass, and it must be mowed,
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-n an-incty, noddy O!
Now all young men a warning take,
And don't get bit by a rattlesnake.
Li-tu-di-nan-incty, tu-di-nan-incty, noddy O!"
All of them told me stories, read to me, and Frank, one of my big
gone-away brothers, sent me the prettiest little book. It had a
green cover with gold on the back, and it was full of stories and
poems, not so very hard, because I could read every one of them,
with help on a few words. The piece I liked best was poetry. If
it hadn't been for that, I'm afraid, I was having such a good
time, I'd have lain there until I forgot how to walk, with all of
them trying to see who could be nicest to me. The ones who
really could, were Laddie and the Princess, except mother.
Laddie lifted me most carefully, the Princess told the best
stories, but after all, if the burning and choking grew so bad I
could scarcely stand it, mother could lay her hand on my head and
say, "Poor child," in a way that made me work to keep on
breathing. Maybe I only THOUGHT I loved Laddie best. I guess if
I had been forced to take my choice when I had the fever, I'd
have stuck pretty tight to mother. Even Dr. Fenner said if I
pulled through she'd have to make me. I might have been lying
there yet, if it hadn't been for the book Frank sent me, with the
poetry piece in it. It began:
"Somewhere on a sunny bank, buttercups are bright,
Somewhere 'mid the frozen grass, peeps the daisy white."
I read that so often I could repeat it quite as well with the
book shut as open, and every time I read it, I wanted outdoors
worse. In one place it ran:
"Welcome, yellow buttercups, welcome daisies white,
Ye are in my spirit visioned a delight.
Coming in the springtime of sunny hours to tell,
Speaking to our hearts of Him who doeth all things well."
That piece helped me out of bed, and the blue gander screaming
opened the door. It was funny about it too. I don't know WHY it
worked on me that way; it just kept singing in my heart all day,
and I could shut my eyes and go to sleep seeing buttercups in a
gold sheet all over our Big Hill, although there never was a
single one there; and meadows full of daisies, which were things
father said were a pest he couldn't tolerate, because they spread
so, and he grubbed up every one he found. Yet that piece filled
our meadow until I imagined I could roll on daisies. They might
be a pest to farmers, but sheets of them were pretty good if you
were burning with fever. Between the buttercups and the daisies
I left the bed with a light head and wobbly legs.
Of course I wasn't an idiot. I knew when I looked from our south
window exactly what was to be seen. The person who wrote that
piece was the idiot. It sang and sounded pretty, and it pulled
you up and pushed you out, but really it was a fool thing, as I
very well knew. I couldn't imagine daisies peeping through
frozen grass. Any baby should have known they bloomed in July.
Skunk cabbage always came first, and hepatica. If I had looked
from any of our windows and seen daisies and buttercups in March,
I'd have fallen over with the shock. I knew there would be
frozen brown earth, last year's dead leaves, caved-in apple and
potato holes, the cabbage row almost gone, puddles of water and
mud everywhere, and I would hear geese scream and hens sing. And
yet that poem kept pulling and pulling, and I was happy as a
queen--I wondered if they were for sure; mother had doubts--the
day I was wrapped in shawls and might sit an hour in the sun on
the top board of the back fence, where I could see the barn,
orchard, the creek and the meadow, as you never could in summer
because of the leaves. I wasn't looking for buttercups and
daisies either. I mighty well knew there wouldn't be any.
But the sun was there. A little taste of willow, oak and maple
was in the air. You could see the buds growing fat too, and you
could smell them. If you opened your eyes and looked in any
direction you could see blue sky, big, ragged white clouds, bare
trees, muddy earth with grassy patches, and white spots on the
shady sides where unmelted snow made the icy feel in the air,
even when the sun shone. You couldn't hear yourself think for
the clatter of the turkeys, ganders, roosters, hens, and
everything that had a voice. I was so crazy with it I could
scarcely hang to the fence; I wanted to get down and scrape my
wings like the gobbler, and scream louder than the gander, and
crow oftener than the rooster. There was everything all ice and
mud. They would have frozen, if they hadn't been put in a house
at night, and starved, if they hadn't been fed; they were not at
the place where they could hunt and scratch, and not pay any
attention to feeding time, because of being so bursting full.
They had no nests and babies to rejoice over. But there they
were! And so was I! Buttercups and daisies be-hanged! Ice and
mud really! But if you breathed that air, and shut your eyes,
north, you could see blue flags, scarlet lilies, buttercups,
cattails and redbirds sailing over them; east, there would be
apple bloom and soft grass, cowslips, and bubbling water, robins,
thrushes, and bluebirds; and south, waving corn with wild rose
and alder borders, and sparrows, and larks on every fence rider.
Right there I got that daisy thing figured out. It wasn't that
there were or ever would be daisies and buttercups among the
frozen grass; but it was forever and always that when this FEEL
came into the air, you knew they were COMING. THAT was what
ailed the gander and the gobbler. They hadn't a thing to be
thankful for yet, but something inside them was swelling and
pushing because of what was coming. I felt exactly as they did,
because I wanted to act the same way, but I'd been sick enough to
know that I'd better be thankful for the chance to sit on the
fence, and think about buttercups and daisies. Really, one old
brown and purple skunk cabbage with a half-frozen bee buzzing
over it, or a few forlorn little spring beauties, would have set
me wild, and when a lark really did go over, away up high, and a
dove began to coo in the orchard, if Laddie hadn't come for me, I
would have fallen from the fence.
I simply had to get well and quickly too, for the wonderful time
was beginning. It was all very well to lie in bed when there was
nothing else to do, and every one would pet me and give me
things; but here was maple syrup time right at the door, and the
sugar camp most fun alive; here was all the neighbourhood crazy
mad at the foxes, and planning a great chase covering a circuit
of miles before the ground thawed; here was Easter and all the
children coming, except Shelley--again, it would cost too much
for only one day--and with everything beginning to hum, I found
out there would be more amusement outdoors than inside. That was
how I came to study out the daisy piece. There was nothing in
the silly, untrue lines: the pull and tug was in what they made
you think of.
I was still so weak I had to take a nap every day, so I wasn't
sleepy as early at night, and I heard father and mother talk over
a lot of things before they went to bed. After they mentioned
it, I remembered that we hadn't received nearly so many letters
from Shelley lately, and mother seldom found time to read them
aloud during the day and forgot, or her eyes were tired, at
"Are you worrying about Shelley?" asked father one night.
"Yes, I am," answered mother.
"What do you think is the trouble?"
"I'm afraid things are not coming out with Mr. Paget as she
"If they don't, she is going to be unhappy?"
"That's putting it mildly."
"Well, I was doubtful in the beginning."
"Now hold on," said mother. "So was I; but what are you going to
do? I can't go through the world with my girls, and meet men for
them. I trained them just as carefully as possible before I
started them out; that was all I could do. Shelley knows when a
man appears clean, decent and likable. She knows when his
calling is respectable. She knows when his speech is proper, his
manners correct, and his ways attractive. She found this man all
of these things, and she liked him accordingly. At Christmas she
told me about it freely."
"Have you any idea how far the thing has gone?"
"She said then that she had seen him twice a week for two months.
He seemed very fond of her. He had told her he cared more for
her than any girl he ever had met, and he had asked her to come
here this summer and pay us a visit, so she wanted to know if he
"Of course you told her yes."
"Certainly I told her yes. I wish now we'd saved money and you'd
gone to visit her and met him when she first wrote of him. You
could have found out who and what he was, and with your
experience you might have pointed out signs that would have
helped her to see, before it was too late."
"What do you think is the trouble?"
"I wish I knew! She simply is failing to mention him in her
letters; all the joy of living has dropped from them, she merely
writes about her work; and now she is beginning to complain of
homesickness and to say that she doesn't know how to endure the
city any longer. There's something wrong."
"Had I better go now?"
"Too late!" said mother, and I could hear her throat go wrong and
the choke come into her voice. "She is deeply in love with him;
he hasn't found in her what he desires; probably he is not coming
any more; what could you do?"
"I could go and see if there is anything I could do?"
"She may not want you. I'll write her to-morrow and suggest that
you or Laddie pay her a visit and learn what she thinks."
"All right," said father.
He kissed her and went to sleep, but mother was awake yet, and
she got up and stood looking down at the church and the two
little white gravestones she could see from her window, until I
thought she would freeze, and she did nearly, for her hands were
cold and the tears falling when she examined my covers, and felt
my face and hands before she went to bed. My, but the mother of
a family like ours is never short of a lot of things to think of!
I had a new one myself. Now what do you suppose there was about
Of course after having lived all her life with father and Laddie,
Shelley would know how a man should look, and act to be right;
and this one must have been right to make her bloom out in winter
the way other things do in spring; and now what could be wrong?
Maybe city girls were prettier than Shelley. But all women were
made alike on the outside, and that was as far as you could see.
You couldn't find out whether they had pure blood, true hearts,
or clean souls. No girl could be so very much prettier than
Shelley; they simply were not made that way. She knew how to
behave; she had it beaten into her, like all of us. And she knew
her books, what our schools could teach her, and Groveville, and
Lucy, who had city chances for years, and there never was a day
at our house when books and papers were not read and discussed,
and your spelling was hammered into you standing in rows against
the wall, and memory tests--what on earth could be the matter
with Shelley that a man who could make her look and act as she
did at Christmas, would now make her unhappy? Sometimes I wanted
to be grown up dreadfully, and again, times like that, I wished
my bed could stay in mother's room, and I could creep behind
father's paper and go to sleep between his coat and vest, and
have him warm my feet in his hands forever.
This world was too much for me. I never worked and worried in
all my life as I had over Laddie and the Princess, and Laddie
said I, myself, never would know how I had helped him. Of course
nothing was settled; he had to try to make her love him by
teaching her how lovable he was. We knew, because we always had
known him, but she was a stranger and had to learn. It was
mighty fine for him that he could force his way past the dogs,
Thomas, the other men, her half-crazy father, and through the
locked door, and go there to try to make her see, on Sunday
nights, and week days, every single chance he could invent, and
he could think up more reasons for going to Pryors' than mother
could for putting out an extra wash.
Now just as I got settled a little about him, and we could see
they really wanted him there, at least the Princess and her
mother did, and Mr. Pryor must have been fairly decent or Laddie
never would have gone; and the Princess came to our house to
bring me things to eat, and ask how mother was, and once to learn
how she embroidered Sally's wedding chemise, and social things
like that; and when father acted as if he liked her so much he
hadn't a word to say, and mother seemed to begin to feel as if
Laddie and the Princess could be trusted to fix it up about God;
and the old mystery didn't matter after all; why, here Shelley
popped up with another mystery, and it belonged to us. But
whatever ailed that man I couldn't possibly think. It had got to
be him, for Shelley was so all right at Christmas, it made her
look that pretty we hardly knew her.
I was thinking about her until I scarcely could study my lessons,
so I could recite to Laddie at night, and not fall so far behind
at school. Miss Amelia offered to hear me, but I just begged
Laddie, and father could see that he taught me fifty things in a
lesson that you could tell to look at Miss Amelia, she never
knew. Why, he couldn't hear me read:
"We charged upon a flock of geese,
And put them all to flight
Except one sturdy gander
That thought to show us fight,"--
without teaching me that the oldest picture in all the world was
made of a row of geese, some of which were kinds we then had--the
earth didn't seem so old when you thought of that--and how a
flock of geese once wakened an army and saved a city, and how far
wild geese could fly without alighting in migration, and
everything you could think of about geese, only he didn't know
why eating the same grass made feathers on geese and wool on
sheep. Anyway, Miss Amelia never told you a word but what was in
the book, and how to read and spell it. May said that father was
very much disappointed in her, and he was never going to hire
another teacher until he met and talked with her, no matter what
kind of letters she could send. He was not going to help her get
a summer school, and O my soul! I hope no one does, for if they
do, I have to go, and I'd rather die than go to school in the
Leon came in about that time with more fox stories. Been in
Jacob Hood's chicken house and taken his best Dorking rooster,
and father said it was time to do something. He never said a
word so long as they took Deams', except they should have barn
room for their geese, but when anything was the matter at Hoods'
father and mother started doing something the instant they heard
of it. So father and Laddie rode around the neighbourhood and
talked it over, and the next night they had a meeting at our
schoolhouse; men for miles came, and they planned a regular old-
fashioned foxchase, and every one was wild about it.
Laddie told it at Pryors' and the Princess wanted to go; she
asked to go with him, and if you please, Mr. Pryor wanted to go
too, and their Thomas. They attended the meeting to tell how
people chase foxes in England, where they seem to hunt them most
of the time. Father said: "Thank God for even a foxchase, if it
will bring Mr. Pryor among his neighbours and help him to act
sensibly." They are going away fifteen miles or farther, and
form a big circle of men from all directions, some walking in a
line, and others riding to bring back any foxes that escape, and
with dogs, and guns, they are going to rout out every one they
can find, and kill them so they won't take the geese, little
pigs, lambs, and Hoods' Dorking rooster. Laddie had a horn that
Mr. Pryor gave him when he told him this country was showing
signs of becoming civilized at last; but Leon grinned and said
he'd beat that.
Then when you wanted him, he was in the wood house loft at work,
but father said he couldn't get into mischief there. He should
have seen that churn when it was full of wedding breakfast! We
ate for a week afterward, until things were all moulded, and we
didn't dare anymore. One night I begged so hard and promised so
faithfully he trusted me; he did often, after I didn't tell about
the Station; and I went to the loft with him, and watched him
work an hour. He had a hollow limb about six inches through and
fourteen long. He had cut and burned it to a mere shell, and
then he had scraped it with glass inside and out, until it shone
like polished horn. He had shaved the wool from a piece of
sheepskin, soaked, stretched, and dried it, and then fitted it
over one end of the drumlike thing he had made, and tacked and
bound it in a little groove at the edge. He put the skin on damp
so he could stretch it tight. Then he punched a tiny hole in the
middle, and pulled through it, down inside the drum, a sheepskin
thong rolled in resin, with a knot big enough to hold it, and not
tear the head. Then he took it under his arm and we slipped
across the orchard below the Station, and went into the hollow
and tried it.
It worked! I almost fell dead with the first frightful sound.
It just bellowed and roared. In only a little while he found
different ways to make it sound by his manner of working the
tongue. A long, steady, even pull got that kind of a roar. A
short, quick one made it bark. A pull half the length of the
thong, a pause, and another pull, made it sound like a bark and a
yelp. To pull hard and quick, made it go louder, and soft and
easy made it whine. Before he had tried it ten minutes he could
do fifty things with it that would almost scare the livers out of
those nasty old foxes that were taking every one's geese, Dorking
roosters, and even baby lambs and pigs. Of course people
couldn't stand that; something had to be done!
Even in the Bible it says, "Beware of the little foxes that spoil
the vines," and geese, especially blue ones, Dorking roosters,
lambs, and pigs were much more valuable than mere vines; so Leon
made that awful thing to scare the foxes from their holes that's
in the Bible too, about the holes I mean, not the scaring. I
wanted Leon to slip to the back door and make the dumb-bell--
that's what he called it; if I had been naming it I would have
called it the thunder-bell--go; but he wouldn't. He said he
didn't propose to work as he had, and then have some one find
out, and fix one like it. He said he wouldn't let it make a
sound until the night before the chase, and then he'd raise the
dead. I don't know about the dead; but it was true of the
living. Father went a foot above his chair and cried: "Whoo-
pee!" All of us, even I, when I was waiting for it, screamed as
if Paddy Ryan raved at the door. Then Leon came in and showed
us, and every one wanted to work the dumb-bell, even mother.
Leon marched around and showed off; he looked "See the conquering
hero comes," all over. I never felt worse about being made into
a girl than I did that night.
I couldn't sleep for excitement, and mother said I might as well,
for it would be at least one o'clock before they would round-up
in our meadow below the barn. All the neighbours were to shut up
their stock, tie their dogs, or lead them with chains, if they
took them, so when the foxes were surrounded, they could catch
them alive, and save their skins. I wondered how some of those
chasing people, even Laddie, Leon, and father--think of that!
father was going too--I wondered how they would have liked to
have had something as much bigger than they were, as they were
bigger than the foxes, chase them with awful noises, guns and
dogs, and catch them alive--to save their skins. No wonder I
couldn't sleep! I guess the foxes wouldn't either, if they had
known what was coming. Maybe hereafter the mean old things would
eat rabbits and weasels, and leave the Dorking roosters alone.
May, Candace, and Miss Amelia were going to Deams' to wait, and
when the round-up formed a solid line, they planned to stand
outside, and see the sport. If they had been the foxes, maybe
they wouldn't have thought it was so funny; but of course, people
just couldn't have even their pigs and lambs taken. We had to
have wool to spin yarn for our stockings, weave our blankets and
coverlids, and our Sunday winter dresses of white flannel with
narrow black crossbars were from the backs of our own sheep, and
we had to have ham to fry with eggs, and boil for Sunday night
suppers, and bacon to cook the greens with--of course it was all
Before it was near daylight I heard Laddie making the kitchen
fire, so father got right up, Leon came down, and all of them
went to the barn to do the feeding. I wanted to get up too, but
mother said I should stay in bed until the house was warm,
because if I took more cold I'd be sick again. At breakfast May
asked father about when they should start for Deams' to be ahead
of the chase, and he said by ten o'clock at least; because a fox
driven mad by pursuit, dogs, and noise, was a very dangerous
thing, and a bite might make hy----the same thing as a mad dog.
He said our back barn door opening from the threshing floor would
afford a fine view of the meet, but Candace, May, and Miss Amelia
wanted to be closer. I might go with them if they would take
good care of me, and they promised to; but when the time came to
start, there was such a queer feeling inside me, I thought maybe
it was more fever, and with mother would be the best place for
me, so I said I wanted to watch from the barn. Father thought
that was a capital idea, because I would be on the east side,
where there would be no sun and wind, and it would be perfectly
safe; also, I really could see what was going on better from that
height than on the ground.
The sun was going to shine, but it hadn't peeped above Deams'
strawstack when father on his best saddle horse, and Laddie on
Flos, rode away, their eyes shining, their faces red, their blood
pounding so it made their voices sound excited and different.
Leon was to go on foot. Father said he would ride a horse to
death. He just grinned and never made a word of complaint.
Seemed funny for him.
"I was over having a little confidential chat with my horse, last
night," he said, "and next year we'll be in the chase, and we'll
show you how to take fences, and cut curves; just you wait!"
"Leon, DON'T build so on that horse," wailed mother. "I'm sure
that money was stolen like ours, and the owner will claim it! I
feel it in my bones!"
"Aw, shucks!" said Leon. "That money is mine. He won't either!"
When they started, father took Leon behind him to ride as far as
the county line. He said he would go slowly, and it wouldn't
hurt the horse, but Leon slipped off at Hoods', and said he'd go
with their boys, so father let him, because light as Leon was,
both of them were quite a load for one horse. Laddie went to
ride with the Princess. We could see people moving around in
Pryors' barnyard when our men started. Candace washed, Miss
Amelia wiped the dishes, May swept, and all of them made the
beds, and then they went to Deams', while I stayed with mother.
When she thought it was time, she bundled me up warmly, and I
went to the barn. Father had the east doors standing open for
me, so I could sit in the sun, hang my feet against the warm
boards, and see every inch of our meadow where the meet was to
be. I was really too warm there, and had to take off the scarf,
untie my hood, and unbutton my coat.
It was a trifle muddy, but the frost had not left the ground yet,
the sparrows were singing fit to burst, so were the hens. I
didn't care much for the music of the hen, but I could see she
meant well. She liked her nest quite as much as the red velvet
bird with black wings, or the bubbly yellow one, and as for baby
chickens, from the first peep they beat a little naked, blind,
wobbly tree bird, so any hen had a right to sing for joy because
she was going to be the mother of a large family of them. A hen
had something was going to be the mother of a large family of
them. A hen had something to sing about all right, and so had
we, when we thought of poached eggs and fried chicken. When I
remembered them, I saw that it was no wonder the useful hen
warbled so proudlike; but that was all nonsense, for I don't
suppose a hen ever tasted poached eggs, and surely she wouldn't
be happy over the prospect of being fried. Maybe one reason she
sang was because she didn't know what was coming; I hardly think
she'd be so tuneful if she did.
Sometimes the geese, shut in the barn, raised an awful clatter,
and the horses and cattle complained about being kept from the
sunshine and fresh air. You couldn't blame them. It was a
lovely day, and the big upper door the pleasantest place. I
didn't care if the fox hunters never came, there was so much to
see, hear, and smell. Everything was busy making signs of
spring, and one could become tired of ice and snow after a while,
and so hungry for summer that those first days which were just
hints of what was coming were almost better than the real thing
when it arrived. Bud perfume was stronger than last week, many
doves and bluebirds were calling, and three days more of such
sunshine would make cross-country riding too muddy to be
pleasant. I sat there thinking; grown people never know how much
children do think, they have so much time, and so many bothersome
things to study out. I heard it behind me, a long, wailing,
bellowing roar, and my hood raised right up with my hair. I was
in the middle of the threshing floor in a second, in another at
the little west door, cut into the big one, opening it a tiny
crack to take a peep, and see how close they were.
I could see nothing, but I heard a roar of dreadful sound
steadily closing in a circle around me. No doubt the mean old
foxes wished then they had let the Dorking roosters alone.
Closer it came and more dreadful. Never again did I want to hear
such sounds coming at me; even when I knew what was making them.
And then away off, beyond Pryors', and Hoods', and Dovers', I
could see a line of tiny specks coming toward me, and racing
flying things that must have been people on horses riding back
and forth to give the foxes no chance to find a hiding place. No
chance! Laddie and the Princess, Mr. Pryor and father, and all
of them were after the bad old foxes; and they were going to get
them; because they'd have no chance--Not with a solid line of men
with raving dogs surrounding them, and people on horseback racing
after them, no! the foxes would wish now that they had left the
pigs and lambs alone. In that awful roaring din, they would
wish, Oh how they would wish, they were birds and could fly! Fly
back to their holes like the Bible said they had, where maybe
they LIKED to live, and no doubt they had little foxes there,
that would starve when their mammies were caught alive, to save
To save their skins! I could hear myself breathe, and feel my
teeth click, and my knees knock together. And then! Oh dear!
There they came across our cornfield. Two of them! And they
could fly, almost. At least you could scarcely see that they
touched the ground. The mean old things were paying up for the
pigs and lambs now. Through the fence, across the road, straight
toward me they came. Almost red backs, nearly white beneath,
long flying tails, beautiful pointed ears, and long tongues, fire
red, hanging from their open mouths; their sleek sides pulsing,
and that awful din coming through the woods behind them. One
second, the first paused to glance toward either side, and threw
back its head to listen. What it saw, and heard, showed it. I
guess then it was sorry it ever took people's ham, and their
greens, and their blankets; and it could see and hear that it had
no chance--to save its skin.
"Oh Lord! Dear Lord! Help me!" I prayed.
It had to be me, there was no one else. I never had opened the
big doors; I thought it took a man, but when I pushed with all my
might--and maybe if the hairs of our heads were numbered, and the
sparrows counted, there would be a little mercy for the foxes--I
asked for help; maybe I got it. The doors went back, and I
climbed up the ladder to the haymow a few steps and clung there,
praying with all my might: "Make them come in! Dear Lord, make
them come in! Give them a chance! Help them to save their
skins, O Lord!"
With a whizz and a flash one went past me, skimmed the cider
press, and rushed across the hay; then the other. I fell to the
floor and the next thing I knew the doors were shut, and I was
back at my place. I just went down in a heap and leaned against
the wall and shook, and then I laughed and said: "Thank you,
Lord! Thank you for helping with the door! And the foxes! The
beautiful little red and white foxes! They've got their chance!
They'll save their skins! They'll get back to their holes and
their babies! Praise the Lord!"
I knew when I heard that come out, that it was exactly like my
father said it when Amos Hurd was redeemed. I never knew father
to say it so impressively before, because Amos had been so bad,
people really were afraid of him, and father said if once he got
started right, he would go at it just as hard as he had gone at
wrongdoing. I suppose I shouldn't have said it about a fox, when
there were the Dorkings, and ham, and white wool dresses, and all
that, but honestly, I couldn't remember that I cared particularly
whether Amos Hurd was redeemed or not; he was always lovely to
children; while I never in all my life had wanted anything worse
than I wanted those foxes to save their skins. I could hear them
pant like run out dogs; and I could hear myself, and I hadn't
been driven from my home and babies, maybe--and chased miles and
Then I just shook. They came pounding, roaring and braying right
around the barn, and down the lane. The little door flew open
and a strange man stuck in his head.
"Shut that door!" I screamed. "You'll let them in on me, and
they bite! They're poison! They'll kill me!"
I hadn't even thought of it before.
"See any foxes?" cried the man.
"Two crossed our barnyard headed that way!" I cried back,
pointing east. "Shut the door!"
The man closed it and ran calling as he went: "It's all right!
They crossed the barnyard. We've got them!"
I began to dance and beat my hands, and then I stopped and held
my breath. They were passing, and the noise was dreadful. They
struck the sides of the barn, poked around the strawstack, and
something made me look up, and at the edge of the hay stood a fox
ready to spring. If it did, it would go from the door, right
into the midst thereof. Nothing but my red hood sailing straight
at it, and a yell I have, drove it back. No one hit the barn
again, the line closed up, and went on at a run now, they were so
anxious to meet and see what they had. Then came the beat of
hoofs and I saw that all the riders had dropped back, and were
behind the line of people on foot. I watched Laddie as he flew
past waving to me, and I grabbed my scarf to wave at him. The
Princess flashed by so swiftly I couldn't see how she looked, and
then I heard a voice I knew cry: "Ep! Ep! Over Lad!" And I
almost fell dead where I stood. Mr. Pryor sailed right over the
barnyard fence into the cornfield, ripping that dumb-bell as he
went, and neck and neck, even with him, on one of his finest
horses, was our Leon. His feet were in the stirrups, he had the
reins tight, he almost stood as he arose, his face was crimson,
his head bare, his white hair flying, the grandest sight you ever
saw. At the top of my voice I screamed after them, "Ep! Ep!
Over lad!" and then remembered and looked to see if I had to
chase back the foxes, but they didn't mind only me, after what
they had been through. Then I sat down suddenly again.
Well! What would father think of that! Leon kill a horse of
ours indeed! There he was on one of Mr. Pryor's, worth as much
as six of father's no doubt, flying over fences, and the creek
was coming, and the bank was steep behind the barn. I was up
again straining to see.
"Ep! Ep! Over!" rang the cry.
There they went! Laddie and the Princess too. I'll never spend
another cent on paper dolls, candy, raisins, or oranges. I'll
give all I have to help Leon buy his horse; then I'm going to
begin saving for mine.
The line closed up, a solid wall of men with sticks, clubs and
guns; the dogs ranged outside, and those on horseback stopped
where they could see best; and inside, raced back and forth, and
round and round, living creatures. I couldn't count they moved
so, but even at that distance I could see that some were poor
little cotton tails. The scared things! A whack over the head,
a backward toss, and the dogs were mouthing them. The long
tailed, sleek, gracefully moving ones, they were foxes, the foxes
driven from their holes, and nothing on earth could save their
skins for them now; those men meant to have them.
I pulled the doors shut suddenly. I was so sick I could scarcely
stand. I had to work, but at last I pushed the west doors open
again. I don't think the Lord helped me any that time, for I
knew what it took--before, they just went. Or maybe He did help
me quite as much, but I had harder work to do my share, because I
felt so dizzy and ill. Anyway, they opened. Then I climbed the
upright ladder to the top beam, walked it to the granary, and
there I danced, pounded and yelled so that the foxes jumped from
the hay, leaped lightly to the threshing floor, and stood looking
and listening. I gave them time to hear where the dreadful
racket was, and then I jumped to the hay and threw the pitchfork
at them. It came down smash! and both of them sprang from the
door. When I got down the ladder and where I could see, they
were so rested they were hiking across the cornfield like they
never had raced a step before; and as the clamour went up behind
me, that probably meant the first fox had lost its beautiful red
and white skin, they reached our woods in safety. The doors went
shut easier, and I started to the house crying like any
blubbering baby; but when mother turned from the east window, and
I noticed her face, I forgot the foxes.
"You saw Leon!" I cried.
"That I did!" she exulted, rocking on her toes the same as she
does at the Meeting House when she is going to cry, "Glory!" any
minute. "That I did! Ah! the brave little chap! Ah! the fine
Her cheeks were the loveliest pink, and her eyes blazed. I
scarcely knew her.
"What will father say?"
"If his father isn't every particle as proud of him as I am this
day, I've a big disappointment coming," she answered. "If Mr.
Pryor chose to let him take that fine horse, and taught him how
to ride it, father should be glad."
"If he'd gone into the creek, you wouldn't feel so fine."
"Ah! but he didn't! He didn't! He stuck to the saddle and
sailed over in one grand, long sweep! It was fine! I hope--to
my soul, I hope his father saw it!"
"He did!" I said. "He did! He was about halfway down the lane.
He was where he could see fine."
"You didn't notice----?"
"I was watching if Leon went under. What if he had, mother?"
"They'd have taken him out, and brought him to me, and I'd have
worked with all the strength and skill God has given me, and if
it were possible to us, he would be saved, and if it were not, it
would be a proud moment for a woman to offer a boy like that to
the God who gave him. One would have nothing to be ashamed of!"
"Could you do it, like you are now, and not cry, mother?" I asked
"Patience no!" said she. "Before long you will find out, child,
that the fountain head of tears and laughter lies in the same
spot, deep in a woman's heart. Men were made for big things!
They must brave the wild animals, the Indians, fight the battles,
ride the races, till the fields, build the homes. In the making
of a new country men must have the thing in their souls that
carried Leon across the creek. If he had checked that horse and
gone to the ford, I would have fallen where I stood!"
"Father crossed the ford!"
"True! But that's different. He never had a chance at a horse
like that! He never had time for fancy practice, and his nose
would have been between the pages of a book if he had. But
remember this! Your father's hand has never faltered, and his
aim has never failed. All of us are here, safe and comfortable,
through him. It was your father who led us across the
wilderness, and fended from us the wildcat, wolf, and Indian. He
built this house, cleared this land, and gave to all of us the
thing we love. Get this in your head straight. Your father rode
a plow horse; he never tried flourishes in riding; but no man can
stick in the saddle longer, ride harder, and face any danger with
calmer front. If you think this is anything, you should have
seen his face the day he stood between me and a band of Indians,
we had every reason to think, I had angered to the fighting
"Tell me! Please tell me!" I begged.
All of us had been brought up on that story, but we were crazy to
hear it, and mother loved to tell it, so she dropped on a chair
"We were alone in a cabin in the backwoods of Ohio. Elizabeth
was only nine months old, and father always said a mite the
prettiest of any baby we ever had. Many of the others have
looked quite as well to me, but she was the first, and he was so
proud of her he always wanted me to wait in the wagon until he
hitched the horses, so he would get to take and to carry her
himself. Well, she was in the cradle, cooing and laughing, and I
had my work all done, and cabin shining. I was heating a big
poker red-hot, and burning holes into the four corners of a board
so father could put legs in it to make me a bench. A greasy old
squaw came to the door with her papoose on her back. She wanted
to trade berries for bread. There were berries everywhere for
the picking; I had more dried than I could use in two years. We
planted only a little patch of wheat and father had to ride three
days to carry to mill what he could take on a horse. I baked in
an outoven and when it was done, a loaf of white bread was by far
the most precious thing we had to eat. Sometimes I was caught,
and forced to let it go. Often I baked during the night and hid
the bread in the wheat at the barn. There was none in the cabin
that day and I said so. She didn't believe me. She set her
papoose on the floor beside the fireplace, and went to the
cupboard. There wasn't a crumb there except cornbread, and she
didn't want that. She said: `Brod! Brod!'
"She learned that from the Germans in the settlement. I shook my
head. Then she pulled out a big steel hunting knife, such as the
whites traded to the Indians so they would have no trouble in
scalping us neatly, and walked to the cradle. She took that
knife loosely between her thumb and second finger and holding it
directly above my baby's face, she swung it lightly back and
forth and demanded: `Brod! Brod!'
"If the knife fell, it would go straight through my baby's head,
and Elizabeth was reaching her little hands and laughing. There
was only one thing to do, and I did it. I caught that red-hot
poker from the fire, and stuck it so close her baby's face, that
the papoose drew back and whimpered. I scarcely saw how she
snatched it up and left. When your father came, I told him, and
we didn't know what to do. We knew she would come back and bring
her band. If we were not there, they would burn the cabin, ruin
our crops, kill our stock, take everything we had, and we
couldn't travel so far, or so fast, that on their ponies they
couldn't overtake us. We endangered any one with whom we sought
refuge, so we gripped hands, knelt down and told the Lord all
about it, and we felt the answer was to stay. Father cleaned the
gun, and hours and hours we waited.
"About ten o'clock the next day they came, forty braves in war
paint and feathers. I counted until I was too sick to see, then
I took the baby in my arms and climbed to the loft, with our big
steel knife in one hand. If your father fell, I was to use it,
first on Elizabeth, then on myself. The Indians stopped at the
woodyard, and the chief of the band came to the door, alone.
Your father met him with his gun in reach, and for a whole
eternity they stood searching each other's eyes. I was at the
trapdoor where I could see both of them.
"To the depths of my soul I enjoyed seeing Leon take the fence
and creek: but what was that, child, to compare with the timber
that stood your father like a stone wall between me and forty
half-naked, paint besmeared, maddened Indians? Don't let any
showing the men of to-day can make set you to thinking that
father isn't a king among men. Not once, but again and again in
earlier days, he fended danger from me like that. I can shut my
eyes and see his waving hair, his white brow, his steel blue
eyes, his unfaltering hand. I don't remember that I had time or
even thought to pray. I gripped the baby, and the knife, and
waited for the thing I must do if an arrow or a shot sailed past
the chief and felled father. They stood second after second,
like two wooden men, and then slowly and deliberately the chief
lighted his big pipe, drew a few puffs and handed it to father.
He set down his gun, took the pipe and quite as slowly and
deliberately he looked at the waiting band, at the chief, and
then raised it to his lips.
"`White squaw brave! Heap much brave!' said the chief.
"`In the strength of the Lord. Amen!' said father.
"Then he reached his hand and the chief took it, so I came down
the ladder and stood beside father, as the Indians began to file
in the front door and out the back. As they passed, every man of
them made the peace sign and piled in a heap, venison, fish, and
game, while each squaw played with the baby and gave me a gift of
beads, a metal trinket, or a blanket she had woven. After that
they came often, and brought gifts, and if prowling Gypsies were
pilfering, I could look to see a big Indian loom up and seat
himself at my fireside until any danger was past. I really got
so I liked and depended on them, and father left me in their care
when he went to mill, and I was safe as with him. You have heard
the story over and over, but to-day is the time to impress on you
that an exhibition like THIS is the veriest child's play compared
with what I have seen your father do repeatedly!"
"But it was you, the chief said was brave!"
"I had to be, baby," she said. "Mother had no choice. There's
only one way to deal with an Indian. I had lived among them all
my life, and I knew what must be done."
"I think both of you were brave," I said, "you, the bravest!"
"Quite the contrary," laughed mother. "I shall have to confess
that what I did happened so quickly I'd no time to think. I only
realized the coal red iron was menacing the papoose when it drew
back and whimpered. Father had all night to face what was coming
to him, and it was not one to one, but one to forty, with as many
more squaws, as good fighters as the braves, to back them. It
was a terror but I never have been sorry we went through it
together. I have rested so securely in your father ever since."
"And he is as safe in you," I insisted.
"As you will," said mother. "This world must have her women
quite as much as her men. It is shoulder to shoulder, heart to
The clamour in the meadow arose above our voices and brought us
back to the foxes.
"There goes another!" I said, the tears beginning to roll again.
"It is heathenish business," said mother. "I don't blame you!
If people were not too shiftless to care for their stuff, the
foxes wouldn't take their chickens and geese. They never get
"Hoods aren't shiftless!" I sobbed.
"There are always exceptions," said mother, "and they are the
exception in this case."
The door flew open and Leon ran in. He was white with
excitement, and trembling.
"Mother, come and see me take a fence on Pryor's Rocket!" he
Mother had him in her arms.
"You little whiffet!" she said. "You little tow-haired whiffet!"
Both of them were laughing and crying at the same time, and so
"I saw you take one fence and the creek, Weiscope!" she said,
holding him tight, and stroking his hair. "That will do for to-
day. Ride the horse home slowly, rub it down if they will allow
you, and be sure to remember your manners when you leave. To
trust such a child as you with so valuable a horse, and for Mr.
Pryor to personally ride with you and help you, I think that was
a big thing for a man like him to do."
"But, mother, he's been showing me for weeks, or I couldn't have
done it to-day. It was our secret to surprise you. When I get
my horse, I'll be able to ride a little, as well as Mr. Laddie."
"Leon, don't," said mother, gripping him tighter.
"You must bear in mind, word about that money may come any day."
"Aw, it won't either," said Leon, pulling away. "And say,
mother, that dumb-bell was like country boys make in England. He
helped me hunt the wood and showed me, and I couldn't ride and
manage it, so he had it all day, and you should have heard him
make it rip. Say, mother, take my word, he was some pumpkins in
England. I bet he ordered the Queen around, when he was there!"
"No doubt!" laughed mother, kissing him and pushing him from the
Some people are never satisfied. After that splendid riding and
the perfect day, father, Leon, and Laddie came home blaming every
one, and finding fault, and trying to explain how it happened,
that the people from the east side claimed two foxes, and there
was only one left for the west side, when they had seen and knew
they had driven three for miles. They said they lost them in our
I didn't care one speck. I would as lief wear a calico dress,
and let the little foxes have their mammies to feed them; and I
was willing to bet all my money that we would have as much ham,
and as many greens next summer as we ever had. And if the foxes
took Hoods' Dorkings again, let them build a coop with safe
foundations. The way was to use stone and heap up dirt around it
in the fall, to be perfectly sure, and make it warmer.
We took care of our chickens because we had to have them. All
the year we needed them, but most especially for Easter. Mother
said that was ordained chicken time. Turkeys for Thanksgiving,
sucking pigs for Christmas, chickens for Easter, goose, she
couldn't abide. She thought it was too strong. She said the egg
was a symbol of life; of awakening, of birth, and the chickens
came from the eggs, first ones about Easter, so that proved it
was chicken time.
I am going to quit praying about little things I can manage
myself. Father said no prayer would bring an answer unless you
took hold and pulled with all your being for what you wanted. I
had been intending for days to ask the Lord to help me find where
Leon hid his Easter eggs. It had been the law at our house from
the very first, that for the last month before Easter, aside from
what mother had to have for the house, all of us might gather
every egg we could find and keep them until Easter. If we could
locate the hiding place of any one else, we might take all
theirs. The day before Easter they were brought in, mother put
aside what she required, and the one who had the most got to sell
all of them and take the money. Sometimes there were two
washtubs full, and what they brought was worth having, for sure.
So we watched all year for safe places, and when the time came we
almost ran after the hens with a basket. Because Laddie and Leon
were bigger they could outrun us, and lots of hens laid in the
barn, so there the boys always had first chance. Often during
the month we would find and take each other's eggs a dozen times.
We divided them, and hid part in different places, so that if
either were found there would still be some left.
Laddie had his in the hopper of the cider press right on the
threshing floor, and as he was sure to get more than I had
anyway, I usually put mine with his. May had hers some place,
and where Leon had his, none of us could find or imagine. I
almost lay awake of nights trying to think, and every time I
thought of a new place, the next day I would look, and they
wouldn't be there. Three days before Easter, mother began to
cook and get the big dinner ready, and she ran short of eggs.
She told me to go to the barn and tell the boys that each of them
must send her a dozen as quickly as they could. Of course that
was fair, if she made both give up the same number. So I went to
The lane was muddy, and as I had been sick, I wore my rubbers
that spring. I thought to keep out of the deep mud, where horses
and cattle trampled, I'd go up the front embankment, and enter
the little door. My feet made no sound, and it so happened that
the door didn't either, and as I started to open it. I saw Leon
disappearing down the stairway, with a big sack on his back. I
thought it was corn for the horses, and followed him, but he went
to the cow stable door and started toward the lane, and then I
thought it was for the pigs, so I called Laddie and told him
about the eggs. He said he'd give me two dozen of his, and Leon
could pay him back. We went together to get them, and there was
only one there.
Wasn't that exactly like Leon? Leave ONE for the nest egg! If
he were dying and saw a joke or a trick, he'd stop to play it
before he finished, if he possibly could. If he had no time at
all, then he'd go with his eyes twinkling over the thoughts of
the fun it would have been if he possibly could have managed it.
Of course when we saw that one lonely egg in the cider hopper,
just exactly like the "Last Rose of Summer, left to pine on the
stem," I thought of the sack Leon carried, and knew what had been
in it. We hurried out and tried to find him, but he was
swallowed up. You couldn't see him or hear a sound of him
Mother was as cross as she ever gets. Right there she made a new
rule, and it was that two dozen eggs must be brought to the house
each day, whether any were hidden or not. She had to stop baking
until she got eggs. She said a few times she had used a goose
egg in custard. I could fix that. I knew where one of our gray
geese had a nest, and if she'd cook any goose egg, it would be a
gray one. Of course I had sense enough not to take a blue one.
So I slipped from the east door, crossed the yard and orchard
corner, climbed the fence and went down the lane. There was the
creek up and tearing. It was half over the meadow, and the
floodgate between the pasture and the lane rocked with the rush
of water; still, I believed I could make it. So I got on the
fence and with my feet on the third rail, and holding by the top
one, I walked sidewise, and so going reached the floodgate. It
was pretty wobbly, but I thought I could cross on the run. I
knew I could if I dared jump at the other end; but there the
water was over the third rail, and that meant above my head.
It was right at that time of spring when you felt so good you
thought you could do most anything, except fly--I tried that
once--so I went on. The air was cold for all the sun shone, the
smell of catkin pollen, bursting buds, and the odour of earth
steaming in the sun, was in every breath; the blackbirds were
calling, and the doves; the ganders looked longingly at the sky
and screamed a call to every passing wild flock, and Deams'
rooster wanted to fight all creation, if you judged by the
boasting he was doing from their barnyard gate. He made me think
of eggs, so I set my jaws, looked straight ahead, and scooted
across the floodgate to the post that held it and the rails of
the meadow fence. I made it too, and then the fence was easy,
only I had to double quite short, because the water was over the
third rail there, but at last it was all gone, and I went to the
fence corner and there was the goose on the nest, laying an egg.
She had built on a little high place, among puddles, wild rose
bushes, and thorns, and the old thing wouldn't get off. She just
sat there and stuck out her head and hissed and hissed. I never
noticed before that geese were so big and so aggravating. I
wasn't going to give up, after that floodgate, so I hunted a big
stick, set it against her wing, pushed her off and grabbed three
eggs and ran. When I got to the fence, I was in a pickle for
sure. I didn't know what in the world to do with the eggs.
At last I unbuttoned my coat, put them in my apron front,
gathered it up, and holding it between my teeth, started back. I
had to double more than ever on account of the eggs, and when I
reached the floodgate it rocked like a branch in the wind; but I
had to get back, so I rested and listened to the larks a while.
That was a good plan. They were calling for mates, and what they
said was so perfectly lovely, you couldn't think of anything
else; and the less you thought about how that gate rocked, and
how deep and swift the water ran, the better for you. At last
one lark went almost from sight and he rang, twisted and trilled
his call, until my heart swelled so big it hurt. I crossed on
the jump with no time to think at all. That was a fine plan, for
I made it, but I hit the post so hard I broke the middle egg. I
was going to throw it away, but there was so much starch in my
apron it held like a dish, and it had been clean that morning,
now the egg soiled it anyway, so I ran and got home all right.
Mother was so pleased about the eggs she changed the apron and
never said a word, except to brag on me. She said she couldn't
keep house without me, and I guess that was a fact. I came in
handy a lot of times. But at dinner when she scolded the boys
about the eggs, and told them I brought the goose eggs for her
custard, else there would have been no pie, father broke loose,
and I thought he was going to whip me sure. He told mother all
about the water and the gate, and how I had to cross, and he
said, `it was a dispensation of Providence that we didn't have a
funeral instead of celebrating Easter,' so I said:
"Well, if you think I came so near drowning myself, when you
rejoice because Christ is risen from the dead, you can be glad I
am too, and that will make it all the better."
The boys laughed, but father said it was no laughing matter. I
think that speech saved me from going on the threshing floor, for
he took me on his lap when I thought I'd have to go, and told me
never, never to do anything like that again, and then he hugged
me until I almost broke. Gracious! He should have seen us going
to school some days. Why, we even walked the top rail when it
was the only one above water, and we could cross the bridge if we
wanted to. At least when Laddie or Miss Amelia was not around,
Leon was so bursting full he scarcely could eat, and Laddie
looked pretty glum when he had to admit he had no eggs; so Laddie
had to hand over the whole two dozen. Leon didn't mind that, but
he said if he must, then all of us should stay in the dining-room
until he brought them, because of course he couldn't walk
straight and get them in broad daylight with us watching, and not
show where they were. Father said that was fair, so Leon went
out and before so very long he came back with the eggs.
I thought until my skull almost cracked, about where he COULD
have gone, and I was almost to the place where the thing seemed
serious enough that I'd ask the Lord to help me find Laddie's
eggs, when mother sent me to the garret for red onion skins. She
had an hour to rest, and she was going to spend it fixing
decorations for our eggs. Of course there were always red and
black aniline ones, and yellow and blue, but none of us ever like
them half so well as those mother coloured, herself.
She took the dark red skins and cut boys, girls, dogs, cats,
stars, flowers, butterflies, fish, and everything imaginable, and
wet the skins a little and laid them on very white eggs that had
been soaked in alum water to cut the grease, and then wrapped
light yellow skins over, and then darker ones, and at last layer
after layer of cloth, and wet that, and roasted them an hour in
hot ashes and then let them cool and dry, before unwrapping.
When she took them out, rubbed on a little grease and polished
them--there they were! They would have our names, flowers,
birds, animals, all in pale yellow, deep rich brown, almost red,
and perfectly beautiful colours, while you could hunt and hunt
before you found everything on one egg. And sometimes the onion
skins slipped, and made things of themselves that she never put
I was coming from the bin with an apron full of skins and I
almost fell over. I couldn't breathe for a long time. I danced
on my toes, and held my mouth to keep from screaming. On the
garret floor before me lay a little piece of wet mud, and the
faintest outline of a boot, a boot about Leon's size. That was
all I needed to know. As soon as I could hold steady, I took the
skins to mother, slipped back and hunted good; and of course I
had to find them--grainsacks half full of them--carried in the
front door in the evening, and up the front stairs, where no one
went until bedtime, unless there were company. Away back under
the eaves, across the joists, behind the old clothing waiting to
be ripped, coloured and torn for carpet rangs and rugs, Mr. Leon
had almost every egg that had been laid on the place for a month.
NOW he'd see what he'd get for taking Laddie's!
Then I stopped short. What I thought most made me sick, but I
didn't propose to lie in bed again for a year at least, for it
had its bad parts as well as its good; so I went straight and
whispered to Laddie. He never looked pleased at all, so I knew I
had been right. He kissed me, and thanked me, and then said
slowly: "It's mighty good of you, Little Sister, but you see it
wouldn't be FAIR. He found mine himself, so he had a right to
take them. But I don't dare touch his, when you tell me where
they are. I never in a month of Sundays would have looked for
them in the house. I was going to search the wood house and
smoke house this afternoon. I can't take them. But thank you
just as much."
Then I went to father and he laughed. How he did laugh!
"Laddie is right!" he said at last. "He didn't find them, and he
mustn't take them. But you may! They're yours! That front door
scheme of Leon's was fairly well, but it wasn't quite good
enough. If he'd cleaned his feet as he should, before he crossed
mother's carpet and climbed the stairs, he'd have made it all
right. `His tracks betrayed him,' as tracks do all of us, if we
are careless enough to leave any. The eggs are yours, and to-
night is the time to produce them. Where do you want to hide
Well of all things! and after I had stumbled on them without
pestering the Lord, either! Just as slick as anything! Mine! I
never ever thought of it. But when I did think, I liked it. The
more I thought, the funnier it grew.
"Under mother's bed," I whispered. "But I never can get them.
They're in wheat sacks, and full so high, and they'll have to be
handled like eggs."
"I'll do the carrying," laughed father. "Come show me!"
So we took all those eggs, and put them under mother's bed.
Of course she and Candace saw us, but they didn't hunt eggs and
they'd never tell. If ever I thought I'd burst wide open! About
dusk I saw Leon coming from the barn carrying his hat at his
side--more eggs--so I ran like a streak and locked the front
door, and then slipped back in the dining-room and almost
screamed, when I could hear him trying it, and he couldn't get
in. After a while he came in, fussed around, and finally went
into the sitting-room, and the key turned and he went upstairs.
I knew I wouldn't dare look at him when he came down, so I got a
reader and began on a piece I just love:
"A nightingale made a mistake;
She sang a few notes out of tune:
Her heart was ready to break,
And she hid away from the moon."
When I did get a peep, gracious but he was black! Maybe it
wasn't going to be so much fun after all. But he had the money
last year, and the year before, and if he'd cleaned his feet
well--I was not hunting his eggs, when I found them. "His tracks
betrayed him," as father said. I was thankful supper was ready
just then, and while it was going on mother said: "As soon as
you finish, all bring in your eggs. I want to wrap the ones to
colour to-night, and bury them in the fireplace so they will
colour, dry, and be ready to open in the morning."
No one said a word, but neither Laddie nor Leon looked very
happy, and I took awful bites to keep my face straight. When all
of us finished May brought a lot from the bran barrel in the
smoke house, but Laddie and Leon only sat there and looked silly;
it really was funny.
"I must have more eggs than this?" said mother. "Where are they
to come from?"
Father nodded to me and I said: "From under your bed!"
"Oh, it was you! And I never once caught you snooping!" cried
"Easy son!" said father. "That will do. You lost through your
own carelessness. You left wet mud on the garret floor, and she
saw it when mother sent her for the onion skins. You robbed
Laddie of his last egg this morning; be a good loser yourself!"
"Well, anyway, you didn't get 'em," said Leon to Laddie.
"And she only found them by accident!"
Then we had a big time counting all those eggs, and such another
heap as there was to sell, after mother filled baskets to cook
with and colour. When the table was cleared, Laddie and Leon
made tallow pencils from a candle and wrote all sorts of things
over eggs that had been prepared to colour. Then mother boiled
them in copperas water, and aniline, and all the dyes she had,
and the boys polished them, and they stood in shining black, red,
blue and yellow heaps. The onion ones would be done in the
morning. Leon had a goose egg and mother let him keep it, so he
wrote and wrote on it, until Laddie said it would be all writing,
and no colour, and he boiled it in red, after mother finished,
and polished it himself. It came out real pretty with roses on
it and lots of words he wouldn't let any of us read; but of
course it was for Susie Fall.
Next morning he slipped it to her at church. When we got home,
all of us were there except Shelley, and we had a big dinner and
a fine time and Laddie stayed until after supper, before he went
"How is he making it?" asked Sally.
You could see she was making it all right; she never looked
lovelier, and mother said Peter was letting her spend away too
much money on her clothes. She told him so, but Peter just
laughed and said business was good, and he could afford it, and
she was a fine advertisement for his store when she was dressed
"All I know is," said mother, "that he goes there every
whipstitch, and the women, at least, seem glad to have him. He
says Mr. Pryor treats him decently, and that is more than he does
his own family and servants. He and the girl and her mother are
divided about something. She treats her father respectfully, but
she's in sympathy with mother."
"Laddie can't find out what the trouble is?"
"I don't think that he tries."
"Maybe he'd feel better not to know," said Peter.
"Possibly!" said mother.
"Nonsense!" said father.
"You seem to be reconciled," said Elizabeth.
"That girl would reconcile a man to anything," said father.
"Not to the loss of his soul, I hope," said mother stiffly.
"Souls are not so easy to lose," said father. "Besides, I am
counting on Laddie saving hers."
The Garden of the Lord
"With what content and merriment,
Their days are spent, whose minds are bent
To follow the useful plow."
That spring I decided if school didn't stop pretty soon, I'd run
away again, and I didn't in the least care what they did to me.
A country road was all right and it was good enough, if it had
been heaped up, leveled and plenty of gravel put on; and of
course our road would be fine, because father was one of the
commissioners, and as long as he filled that office, every road
in the county would be just as fine as the law would allow him to
make it. I have even heard him tell mother that he "stretched it
a leetle mite," when he was forced to by people who couldn't seem
to be made to understand what was required to upbuild a nation.
He said our language was founded on the alphabet, and to master
it you had to begin with "a". And he said the nation was like
that; it was based on townships, and when a township was clean,
had good roads, bridges, schoolhouses, and churches, a county was
in fine shape, and when each county was in order, the state was
right, and when the state was prosperous, the nation could
rejoice in its strength.
He said Atlas in the geography book, carrying the world on his
back, was only a symbol, but it was a good one. He said when the
county elected him to fill an important office, it used his
shoulder as a prop for the nation, so it became his business to
stand firmly, and use every ounce of strength and brains he had,
first of all to make his own possessions a model, then his
township, his county, and his state, and if every one worked
together doing that, no nation on earth had our amount of
territory and such fine weather, so none of them could beat us.
Our road was like the barn floor, where you drove: on each side
was a wide grassy strip, and not a weed the length of our land.
All the rails in the fences were laid straight, the gates were
solid, sound, and swung firmly on their beams, our fence corners
were full of alders, wild roses, sumac, blackberry vines, masses
of wild flowers beneath them, and a bird for every bush. Some of
the neighbours thought that to drive two rails every so often,
lay up the fences straight, and grub out the shrubs was the way,
but father said they were vastly mistaken. He said that was such
a shortsighted proceeding, he would be ashamed to indulge in it.
You did get more land, but if you left no place for the birds,
the worms and insects devoured your crops, and you didn't raise
half so much as if you furnished the birds shelter and food. So
he left mulberries in the fields and fence corners and wild
cherries, raspberries, grapes, and every little scrub apple tree
from seeds sown by Johnny Appleseed when he crossed our land.
Mother said those apples were so hard a crane couldn't dent them,
but she never watched the birds in winter when the snow was
beginning to come and other things were covered up. They swarmed
over those trees until spring, for the tiny sour apples stuck
just like oak leaves waiting for next year's crop to push them
off. She never noticed us, either. After a few frosts, we could
almost get tipsy on those apples; there was not a tree in our
orchard that had the spicy, teasing tang of Johnny Appleseed's
apples. Then too, the limbs could be sawed off and rambo and
maiden's-blush grafted on, if you wanted to; father did on some
of them, so there would be good apples lying beside the road for
passers-by, and they needn't steal to get them. You could graft
red haws on them too, and grow great big, little haw-apples, that
were the prettiest things you ever saw, and the best to eat.
Father said if it didn't spoil the looks of the road, he wouldn't
care how many of his neighbours straightened their fences. If
they did, the birds would come to him, and the more he had, the
fewer bugs and worms he would be troubled with, so he would be
sure of big crops, and sound fruit. He said he would much rather
have a few good apples picked by robins or jays, than untouched
trees, loaded with wormy falling ones he could neither use nor
sell. He always patted my head and liked every line of it when I
recited, sort of tearful-like and pathetic:
"Don't kill the birds! the happy birds,
That bless the field and grove;
So innocent to look upon,
They claim our warmest love."
The roads crossing our land were all right, and most of the
others near us; and a road is wonderful, if it is taking you to
the woods or a creek or meadow; but when it is walking you
straight to a stuffy little schoolhouse where you must stand up
to see from a window, where a teacher is cross as fire, like Miss
Amelia, and where you eternally HEAR things you can't see, there
comes a time about the middle of April when you had quite as soon
die as to go to school any longer; and what you learn there
doesn't amount to a hill of beans compared with what you can find
out for yourself outdoors.
Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be
built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade,
swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in
winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide
open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought
to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a
valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories,
capes, and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your
arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickory-nuts, subtracting
walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You
could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure.
You could spell everything in sight and this would teach you the
words that are really used in the world. Every single one of us
could spell incompatibility, but I never heard father, or the
judge, or even the Bishop, put it in a speech.
If you simply can't have school THAT way, then you should be shut
in black cells, deep under the ground, where you couldn't see, or
hear a sound, and then if they'd give you a book and candle and
Miss Amelia, and her right-hand man, Mister Ruler, why you might
learn something. This way, if you sat and watched the windows
you could see a bird cross our woods pasture to the redbird swamp
every few minutes; once in a while one of my big hawks took your
breath as he swept, soared, sailed, and circled, watching the
ground below for rabbits, snakes, or chickens. The skinny old
blue herons crossing from the Wabash to hunt frogs in the cowslip
swale in our meadow, sailed so slow and so low, that you could
see their sharp bills stuck out in front, their uneven, ragged
looking feathers, and their long legs trailing out behind. I bet
if Polly Martin wore a blue calico dress so short her spindle-
shanks showed, and flew across our farm, you couldn't tell her
from a heron.
There were so many songs you couldn't decide which was which to
save you; it was just a pouring jumble of robins, larks, doves,
blackbirds, sparrows, everything that came that early; the red
and the yellow birds had not come yet, or the catbirds or
thrushes. You could hear the thumping wings of the roosters in
Sills' barnyard nearest the schoolhouse, and couldn't tell which
was whipping, so you had to sit there and wonder; and worst of
all you must stand Miss Amelia calmly telling you to pay
attention to your books or you would be kept in, and all the time
you were forced to bear torments, while you watched her walk from
window to window to see every speck of the fight. One day they
had thumped and fought for half an hour; she had looked from
every window in the room, and at last there was an awful
whacking, and then silence. It grew so exciting I raised my
hand, and almost before she nodded permission, "Which whipped?" I
Miss Amelia turned red as a beet. Gee, but she was mad!
"I did!" she said. "Or at least I will. You may remain for it
after school is dismissed."
Now if you are going to be switched, they never do it until they
are just so angry anyway, and then they always make it as hard as
they dare not to stripe you, so it isn't much difference HOW
provoked they are, it will be the same old thrashing, and it's
sure to sting for an hour at least, so you might as well be
beaten for a little more as hardly anything at all. At that
instant from the fence not far from my window came a triumphant
crow that fairly ripped across the room.
"Oh, it was the Dorking!" I said. "No wonder you followed clear
around the room to see him thrash a Shanghai three times his
size! I bet a dollar it was great!"
Usually, I wouldn't have put up more than five cents, but at that
time I had over six dollars from my Easter eggs, and no girl of
my age at our school ever had half that much. Miss Amelia
started toward me, and I braced my feet so she'd get a good jolt
herself, when she went to shake me; she never struck us over the
head since Laddie talked to her that first day; but John Hood's
foot was in the aisle. I thought maybe I'd have him for my beau
when we grew up, because I bet he knew she was coming, and stuck
out his foot on purpose; anyway, she pitched, and had to catch a
desk to keep off the floor, and that made her so mad at him, that
she forgot me, while he got his scolding; so when my turn came at
last, she had cooled down enough that she only marched past to
her desk, saying I was to remain after school. I had to be
careful after that to be mighty good to May and Leon.
When school was out they sat on the steps before the door and
waited. Miss Amelia fussed around and there they sat. Then her
face grew more gobblerish than usual, and she went out and told
them to go home. Plain as anything I heard May say It: "She's
been awful sick, you know, and mother wouldn't allow it." And
then Leon piped up: "You DID watch the roosters, all the time
they fought, and of course all of us wanted to see just as badly
as you did."
She told them if they didn't go right home she'd bring them back
and whip them too; so they had to start, and leave me to my sad
fate. I was afraid they had made it sadder, instead of helping
me; she was so provoked when she came in she was crying, and over
nothing but the plain truth too; if we had storied on her, she'd
have had some cause to beller. She arranged her table, cleaned
the board, emptied the water bucket, and closed the windows.
Then she told me I was a rude, untrained child. I was rude, I
suppose, but goodness knows, I wasn't untrained; that was hard on
father and mother; I had a big notion to tell them; and then, she
never whipped me at all. She said if I wanted her to love me, I
mustn't be a saucy, impudent girl, and I should go straight home
and think it over.
I went, but I was so dazed at her thinking I wanted her to love
me, that I hardly heard May and Leon calling; when I did I went
to the cemetery fence and there they lay in the long grass
"If you cried, we were coming back and pitch into her," said
There was a pointer. Next time, first cut she gave me, I decided
to scream bloody murder. But that would be no Crusader way.
There was one thing though. No Crusader ever sat and heard a
perfectly lovely fight going on, and never even wondered which
May and Leon stepped one on each side, took a hand, and we ran
like Indians, and slid down the hill between the bushes, climbed
the fence, crossed the pasture back of the church, and went to
the creek. There we sat on a log, I told them, and we just
laughed. I didn't know what I could do to pay them, for they
saved me sure as fate that time.
I wished we lived in the woods the way it was when father and
mother were married and moved to Ohio. The nearest neighbours
were nine miles, and there wasn't a dollar for school funds, so
of course the children didn't have to go, and what their fathers
and mothers taught them was all they knew. That would not have
helped me much though, for we never had one single teacher who
knew anything to compare with what father and mother did, and we
never had one who was forever reading books, papers, and learning
more things that help, to teach other people. I wished father
had time to take our school. It would have been some fun to go
to him, because I just knew he would use the woods for the room,
and teach us things it would do some good to know about.
I began debating whether it was a big enough thing to bother the
Lord with: this being penned up in the schoolhouse droning over
spelling and numbers, when you could smell tree bloom, flower
bloom, dozens of birds were nesting, and everything was beginning
to hum with life. I couldn't think for that piece about "Spring"
going over in my head:
"I am coming, I am coming:
Hark! the little bee is humming:
See! the lark is soaring high,
In the bright and sunny sky;
All the birds are on the wing:
Little maiden, now is spring."
I made up my mind that it was of enough importance to call for
the biggest prayer I could think of and that I would go up in the
barn to the top window, stand on a beam, and turn my face to the
east, where Jesus used to be, and I'd wrestle with the Lord for
freedom, as Jacob wrestled with the Angel on the banks of the
Jabbok in the land of Ammon. I was just getting up steam to pray
as hard as ever I could; for days I'd been thinking of it, and I
was nearly to the point where one more killdeer crying across the
sky would have sent me headlong from the schoolhouse anywhere
that my feet were on earth, and the air didn't smell of fried
potatoes, kraut, sweat, and dogs, like it did whenever you sat
beside Clarissa Polk. When I went to supper one night; father
had been to Groveville, and he was busy over his papers. After
he finished the blessing, he seemed worried, at last he said the
funds were all out, and the county would make no appropriation so
school would have to close next week.
Well that beats me! I had faith in that prayer I was going to
make, and here the very thing I intended to ask for happened
before I prayed. I decided I would save the prayer until the
next time I couldn't stand anything another minute, and then I
would try it with all my might, and see if it really did any
good. After supper I went out the back door, spread my arms
wide, and ran down the orchard to the fence in great bounds, the
fastest I ever went in my life. I climbed my pulpit in the
corner and tried to see how much air my lungs would hold without
bursting, while I waved my arms and shouted at the top of my
voice: "Praise ye the Lord! Praised be His holy name!"
"Ker-awk!" cried an old blue heron among the cowslips below me.
I had almost scared it to death, and it arose on flapping wings
and paid me back by frightening me so I screamed as I dodged its
"What is all this?" asked father behind me.
"Come up and take a seat, and I'll try to tell you," I said.
So he stepped on my pulpit and sat on the top rail, while I stood
between his knees, put my arms around his neck, took off his hat
and loosened his hair so the wind could wave it, and make his
head feel cool and good. His hair curled a little and it was
black and fine. His cheeks were pink and his eyes the brightest
blue, with long lashes, and heavier brows than any other man I
ever have seen. He was the best looking--always so clean and
fresh, and you never had to be afraid of him, unless you had been
a bad, sinful child. If you were all right, you would walk into
his arms, play with his hair, kiss him all you pleased, and there
wasn't a thing on earth you couldn't tell him, excepting a secret
you had promised to keep.
So I explained all this, and more too. About how I wanted to
hunt for the flowers, to see which bloomed first, and watch in
what order the birds came, and now it was a splendid time to
locate nests, because there were no leaves, so I could see
easily, and how glad mother would be to know where the blue goose
nested, and her white turkey hen; because she wanted her geese
all blue, and the turkeys all white, as fast as she could manage.
Every little thing that troubled me or that I wanted, I told him.
He sat there and he couldn't have listened with more interest or
been quieter if I had been a bishop, which is the biggest thing
that ever happened at our house; his name was Ninde and he came
from Chicago to dedicate our church when it was new. So father
listened and thought and held his arms around me, and--
"And you think the Lord was at the bottom of the thing that makes
"Well, you always go to Him about what concerns you, and you say,
`Praise the Lord,' when things go to please you."
"I do indeed!" said father. "But I had thought of this running
short of school funds as a calamity. If I had been praying about
it, I would have asked Him to show me a way to raise money to
continue until middle May at least."
I just crumpled up in his arms and began to cry; to save me I
couldn't help it. He held me tight. At last he said: "I think
you are a little overstrained this spring. Maybe you were sicker
than we knew, or are growing too fast. Don't worry any more
about school. Possibly father can fix it."
Next morning when I wakened, my everyday clothes lay across the
foot of the bed, so I called mother and asked if I should put
them on; she took me in her arms, and said father thought I had
better be in the open, and I needn't go to school any more that
spring. I told her I thought I could bear it a few more days,
now it was going to be over so soon; but she said I might stay at
home, father and Laddie would hear me at night, and I could take
my books anywhere I pleased and study when I chose, if I had my
spelling and reading learned at evening. NOW, say the Lord
doesn't help those who call on Him in faith believing!
Think of being allowed to learn your lessons on the top of the
granary, where you could look out of a window above the treetops,
lie in the cool wind, and watch swallows and martins. Think of
studying in the pulpit when the creek ran high, and the wild
birds sang so sweetly you seemed to hear them for the first time
in all your life, and hens, guineas, and turkeys made prime music
in the orchard. You could see the buds swell, and the little
blue flags push through the grass, where Mrs. Mayer had her
flowerbed, and the cowslips greening under the water of the swale
at the foot of the hill, while there might be a Fairy under any
leaf. I was so full, so swelled up and excited, that when I got
ready to pick up a book, I could learn a lesson in a few minutes,
tell all about it, spell every word, and read it back, front, and
sideways. I never learned lessons so quick and so easy in all my
life; father, Laddie, and every one of them had to say so. One
night, father said to Laddie: "This child is furnishing evidence
that our school system is wrong, and our methods of teaching far
"Or is it merely proof that she is different," said Laddie, "and
you can't run her through the same groove you could the rest of
"A little of both," said father, "but most that the system is
wrong. We are not going at children in a way to gain and hold
their interest, and make them love their work. There must be a
better way of teaching, and we should find different teachers.
You'll have to try the school next year yourself, Laddie."
"I have a little plan about a piece of land I am hoping to take
before then," answered Laddie. "It's time for me to try my wings
at making a living, and land is my choice. I have fully decided.
I stick to the soil!"
"Amen!" cried father. "You please me mightily. I hate to see
sons of mine thriving on law, literally making their living out
of the fruit of other men's discord. I dislike seeing them
sharpen their wits in trade, buying at the lowest limit,
extorting the highest. I don't want their horizons limited by
city blocks, their feet on pavements, everything under the sun in
their heads that concerns a scheme to make money; not room for an
hour's thought or study in a whole day, about the really vital
things of life. After all, land and its products are the basis
of everything; the city couldn't exist a day unless we feed and
clothe it. In the things that I consider important, you are a
king among men, with your feet on soil you own."
"So I figure it," said Laddie.
"And you are the best educated man I have reared," said father.
"Take this other thought with you: on land, the failure of the
bank does not break you. The fire another man's carelessness
starts, does not wipe out your business or home. You are not in
easy reach of contagion. Any time you want to branch out, your
mother and I will stand back of you."
"Thank you!" said Laddie. "You backed none of the others. They
would resent it. I'll make the best start I can myself, and as
they did, stand alone."
Father looked at him and smiled slowly.
"You are right, as always," he said. "I hadn't thought so far.
It would make trouble. At any rate, let me inspect and help you
select your land."
"That of course!" said Laddie.
I suspect it's not a very nice thing for me to tell, but all of
us were tickled silly the day Miss Amelia packed her trunk and
left for sure. Mother said she never tried harder in all her
days, but Miss Amelia was the most distinctly unlovable person
she ever had met. She sympathized with us so, she never said a
word when Leon sang:
"Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts fading away,
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still--"
while Miss Amelia drove from sight up the Groveville road.
As he sang Leon stretched out his arms after her vanishing form.
"I hope," he said, "that you caught that touching reference to
`the dear ruin,' and could anything be expressed more beautifully
and poetically than that `verdantly still?'"
I feel sorry for a snake. I like hoptoads, owls, and shitepokes.
I envy a buzzard the way it can fly, and polecats are beautiful;
but I never could get up any sort of feeling at all for Miss
Amelia, whether she was birdlike or her true self. So no one was
any gladder than I when she was gone.
After that, spring came pushing until you felt shoved. Our
family needed me then. If they never had known it before, they
found out there was none too many of us. Every day I had to
watch the blue goose, and bring in her egg before it was chilled,
carrying it carefully so it would not be jarred. I had to hunt
the turkey nests and gather their eggs so they would be right for
setting. There had to be straw carried from the stack for new
nests, eggs marked, and hens set by the dozen. Garden time came,
so leaves had to be raked from the beds and from the dooryard.
No one was busier than I; but every little while I ran away, and
spent some time all by myself in the pulpit, under the hawk oak,
or on the roof.
Coming from church that Sunday, when we reached the top of the
Big Hill, mother touched father's arm. "Stop a minute," she
said, and he checked the horses, while we sat there and wondered
why, as she looked and looked all over the farm, then, "Now drive
to the top of the Little Hill and turn, and stop exactly on the
place from which we first viewed this land together," she said.
"You know the spot, don't you?"
"You may well believe I know it," said father. "I can hit it to
the inch. You see, children," he went on, "your mother and I
arranged before the words were said over us"--he always put it
that way--I never in my life heard him say, "when we were
married"; he read so many books he talked exactly like a book--
"that we would be partners in everything, as long as we lived.
When we decided the Ohio land was not quite what we wanted, she
sent me farther west to prospect, while she stayed at home and
kept the baby. When I reached this land, found it for sale, and
within my means, I bought it, and started home happy. Before I'd
gone a mile, I turned to look back, and saw that it was hilly,
mostly woods, and there was no computing the amount of work it
would require to make it what I could see in it; so I began to
think maybe she wouldn't like it, and to wish I had brought her,
before I closed the deal. By the time I returned home, packed
up, and travelled this far on the way back with her, there was
considerable tension in my feelings--considerable tension,"
repeated father as he turned the horses and began driving
carefully, measuring the distance from Hoods' and the bridge. At
last he stopped, backed a step, and said: "There, mommy, did I
hit the spot?"
"You did!" said mother, stepping from the carriage and walking up
beside him. She raised one hand and laid it on the lamp near
him. He shifted the lines, picked up her hand, and held it
tight. Mother stood there looking, just silently looking. May
jabbed me in the side, leaned over and whispered:
"Could we but stand where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o'er,
Not our Little Creek, nor dinner getting cold,
Could fright us from that shore."
I couldn't help giggling, but I knew that was no proper time, so
I hid my head in her lap and smothered the sound the best I
could; but they were so busy soft-soddering each other they
didn't pay a bit of attention to us.
It was May now, all the leaves were fresh and dustless,
everything that flowered at that time was weighted with bloom,
bees hummed past, butterflies sailed through the carriage, while
birds at the tops of their voices, all of them, every kind there
was, sang fit to split; friendly, unafraid bluebirds darted
around us, and talked a blue streak from every fence rider. Made
you almost crazy to know what they said. The Little Creek flowed
at our feet across the road, through the blue-flag swamp, where
the red and the yellow birds lived. You could see the sun flash
on the water where it emptied into the stream that crossed
Deams', and flowed through our pasture; and away beyond the Big
Hill arose, with the new church on top, the graveyard around it,
the Big Creek flashing at its base. In the valley between lay
our fields, meadows, the big red barn, the white house with the
yard filled with trees and flowering shrubs, beyond it the
garden, all made up, neat and growing; and back of it the orchard
in full bloom.
Mother looked and looked. Suddenly she raised her face to
father. "Paul," she said, "that first day, did you ever dream it
could be made to look like this?"
"No!" said father. "I never did! I saw houses, barns, and
cleared fields; I hoped for comfort and prosperity, but I didn't
know any place could grow to be so beautiful, and there is
something about it, even on a rainy November day, there is
something that catches me in the breast, on the top of either of
these hills, until it almost stifles me. What is it, Ruth?"
"The Home Feeling!" said mother. "It is in my heart so big this
morning I am filled with worship. Just filled with the spirit of
She was rocking on her toes like she does when she becomes too
happy at the Meeting House to be quiet any longer, and cries,
"Glory!" right out loud. She pointed to the orchard, an immense
orchard of big apple trees in full bloom, with two rows of peach
trees around the sides. It looked like a great, soft, pinkish
white blanket, with a deep pink border, spread lightly on the
"We planted that way because we thought it was best; how could we
know how it would look in bloom time? It seems as if you came to
these hilltops and figured on the picture you would make before
you cleared, or fenced a field."
"That's exactly what I did," said father. "Many's the hour, all
told, that I have stopped my horse on one of these hilltops and
studied how to make the place beautiful, as well as productive.
That was a task you set me, my girl. You always considered
BEAUTY as well as USE about the house and garden, and wherever
you worked. I had to hold my part in line."
"You have made it all a garden," said mother. "You have made it
a garden growing under the smile of the Master; a very garden of
the Lord, father."
Father drew up her hand and held it tight against his heart.
"Your praise is sweet, my girl, sweet!" he said. "I have tried,
God knows I have tried, to make it first comfortable, then
beautiful, for all of us. To the depths of my soul I thank Him
for this hour. I am glad, Oh I am so glad you like your home,
Ruth! I couldn't endure it if you complained, found fault and
wished you lived elsewhere."
"Why, father!" said my mother in the most surprised voice. "Why,
father, it would kill me to leave here. This is ours. We have
made it by and through the strength of the Lord and our love for
each other. All my days I want to live here, and when I die, I
want to lie beside my blessed babies and you, Paul, down by the
church we gave the land for, and worked so hard to build. I love
it, Oh I love it! See how clean and white the dark evergreens
make the house look! See how the big chestnuts fit in and point
out the yellow road. I wish we had a row the length of it!"
"They wouldn't grow," said father. "You mind the time I had
finding the place those wanted to set their feet?"
"I do indeed!" said mother, drawing her hand and his with it
where she could rub her cheek against it. "Now we'll go home and
have our dinner and a good rest. I'm a happy woman this day,
father, a happy, happy woman. If only one thing didn't worry
"Must there always be a `fly in the ointment,' mother?"
She looked at him with a smile that was like a hug and kiss, and
she said: "I have found it so, father, and I have been happy in
spite of it. Where one has such wide interests, at some point
there is always a pull, but in His own day, in His own way, the
Lord is going to make everything right."
"`Thy faith hath made thee whole,'" quoted father.
Then she stepped into the carriage, and he waited a second, quite
long enough to let her see that he was perfectly willing to sit
there all day if she wanted him to, and then he slowly and
carefully drove home, as he always did when she was in the
carriage. Times when he had us children out alone, he went until
you couldn't see the spokes in the wheels. He just loved to
"speed up" once in a while on a piece of fine road to let us know
how going fast felt.
Mother sat there trembling a little, smiling, misty-eyed. I was
thinking, for I knew what the "fly in the ointment" was. She had
a letter from Shelley yesterday, and she said there wasn't a
reason on earth why father or Laddie should spend money to come
to Chicago, she would soon be home, she was counting the hours,
and she never wanted to leave again. In the start she didn't
want to go at all, unless she could stay three years, at the very
least. Of course it was that dreadful man, who had made her so
beautiful and happy, and then taken away all the joy; how COULD a
man do it? It was the hardest thing to understand.
Next morning mother was feeling fine, the world was lovely, Miss
Amelia was gone, May was home to help, so she began housecleaning
by washing all the curtains. She had been in the kitchen to show
Candace how. I had all my work done, and was making friends with
a robin brooding in my very own catalpa tree, when Mr. Pryor rode
up, tied his horse, and started toward the gate. I knew he and
father had quarrelled; that is, father had told him he couldn't
say "God was a myth" in this house, and he'd gone home mad as
hops; so I knew it would be something mighty important that was
bringing him back. I slid from the tree, ran and opened the
gate, and led the way up the walk. I opened the front door and
asked him in, and then I did the wrong thing. I should have
taken his hat, told him to be seated, and said I would see if I
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