A TRUE BLUE STORY
GENE STRATTON PORTER
LEANDER ELLIOT STRATTON
"The Way to Be Happy Is to Be Good"
I. Little Sister II. Our Angel Boy III. Mr. Pryor's Door IV. The Last Day in Eden V. The First Day of School VI. The Wedding Gown VII. When Sally Married Peter VIII. The Shropshire and the Crusader IX. "Even So" X. Laddie Takes the Plunge XI. Keeping Christmas Our Way XII. The Horn of the Hunter XIII. The Garden of the Lord XIV. The Crest of Eastbrooke XV. Laddie, the Princess, and the Pie XVI. The Homing Pigeon XVII. In Faith Believing XVIII. The Pryor Mystery
LADDIE, Who Loved and Asked No Questions. THE PRINCESS, From the House of Mystery. LEON, Our Angel Child. LITTLE SISTER, Who Tells What Happened. MR. and MRS. STANTON, Who Faced Life Shoulder to Shoulder. SALLY and PETER, Who Married Each Other. ELIZABETH, SHELLEY, MAY and Other Stanton Children. MR. and MRS. PRYOR, Father and Mother of the Princess. ROBERT PAGET, a Chicago Lawyer. MRS. FRESHETT, Who Offered Her Life for Her Friend. CANDACE, the Cook. MISS AMELIA, the School Mistress. Interested Relatives, Friends, and Neighbours.
"And could another child-world be my share, I'd be a Little Sister there."
"Have I got a Little Sister anywhere in this house?" inquired Laddie at the door, in his most coaxing voice.
"Yes sir," I answered, dropping the trousers I was making for Hezekiah, my pet bluejay, and running as fast as I could. There was no telling what minute May might take it into her head that she was a little sister and reach him first. Maybe he wanted me to do something for him, and I loved to wait on Laddie.
"Ask mother if you may go with me a while."
"Mother doesn't care where I am, if I come when the supper bell rings."
"All right!" said Laddie.
He led the way around the house, sat on the front step and took me between his knees.
"Oh, is it going to be a secret?" I cried.
Secrets with Laddie were the greatest joy in life. He was so big and so handsome. He was so much nicer than any one else in our family, or among our friends, that to share his secrets, run his errands, and love him blindly was the greatest happiness. Sometimes I disobeyed father and mother; I minded Laddie like his right hand.
"The biggest secret yet," he said gravely.
"Tell quick!" I begged, holding my ear to his lips.
"Not so fast!" said Laddie. "Not so fast! I have doubts about this. I don't know that I should send you. Possibly you can't find the way. You may be afraid. Above all, there is never to be a whisper. Not to any one! Do you understand?"
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Something serious," said Laddie. "You see, I expected to have an hour or two for myself this afternoon, so I made an engagement to spend the time with a Fairy Princess in our Big Woods. Father and I broke the reaper taking it from the shed just now and you know how he is about Fairies."
I did know how he was about Fairies. He hadn't a particle of patience with them. A Princess would be the Queen's daughter. My father's people were English, and I had heard enough talk to understand that. I was almost wild with excitement.
"Tell me the secret, hurry!" I cried.
"It's just this," he said. "It took me a long time to coax the Princess into our Big Woods. I had to fix a throne for her to sit on; spread a Magic Carpet for her feet, and build a wall to screen her. Now, what is she going to think if I'm not there to welcome her when she comes? She promised to show me how to make sunshine on dark days."
"Tell father and he can have Leon help him."
"But it is a secret with the Princess, and it's HERS as much as mine. If I tell, she may not like it, and then she won't make me her Prince and send me on her errands."
"Then you don't dare tell a breath," I said.
"Will you go in my place, and carry her a letter to explain why I'm not coming, Little Sister?"
"Of course!" I said stoutly, and then my heart turned right over; for I never had been in our Big Woods alone, and neither mother nor father wanted me to go. Passing Gypsies sometimes laid down the fence and went there to camp. Father thought all the wolves and wildcats were gone, he hadn't seen any in years, but every once in a while some one said they had, and he was not quite sure yet. And that wasn't the beginning of it. Paddy Ryan had come back from the war wrong in his head. He wore his old army overcoat summer and winter, slept on the ground, and ate whatever he could find. Once Laddie and Leon, hunting squirrels to make broth for mother on one of her bad days, saw him in our Big Woods and he was eating SNAKES. If I found Pat Ryan eating a snake, it would frighten me so I would stand still and let him eat me, if he wanted to, and perhaps he wasn't too crazy to see how plump I was. I seemed to see swarthy, dark faces, big, sleek cats dropping from limbs, and Paddy Ryan's matted gray hair, the flying rags of the old blue coat, and a snake in his hands. Laddie was slipping the letter into my apron pocket. My knees threatened to let me down.
"Must I lift the leaves and hunt for her, or will she come to me?" I wavered.
"That's the biggest secret of all," said Laddie. "Since the Princess entered them, our woods are Enchanted, and there is no telling what wonderful things may happen any minute. One of them is this: whenever the Princess comes there, she grows in size until she is as big as, say our Sally, and she fills all the place with glory, until you are so blinded you scarcely can see her face."
"What is she like, Laddie?" I questioned, so filled with awe and interest, that fear was forgotten.
"She is taller than Sally," said Laddie. "Her face is oval, and her cheeks are bright. Her eyes are big moonlit pools of darkness, and silken curls fall over her shoulders. One hair is strong enough for a lifeline that will draw a drowning man ashore, or strangle an unhappy one. But you will not see her. I'm purposely sending you early, so you can do what you are told and come back to me before she even reaches the woods."
"What am I to do, Laddie?"
"You must put one hand in your apron pocket and take the letter in it, and as long as you hold it tight, nothing in the world can hurt you. Go out our lane to the Big Woods, climb the gate and walk straight back the wagon road to the water. When you reach that, you must turn to your right and go toward Hoods' until you come to the pawpaw thicket. Go around that, look ahead, and you'll see the biggest beech tree you ever saw. You know a beech, don't you?"
"Of course I do," I said indignantly. "Father taught me beech with the other trees."
"Well then," said Laddie, "straight before you will be a purple beech, and under it is the throne of the Princess, the Magic Carpet, and the walls I made. Among the beech roots there is a stone hidden with moss. Roll the stone back and there will be a piece of bark. Lift that, lay the letter in the box you'll find, and scamper to me like flying. I'll be at the barn with father."
"Is that all?"
"Not quite," said Laddie. "It's possible that the Fairy Queen may have set the Princess spinning silk for the caterpillars to weave their little houses with this winter; and if she has, she may have left a letter there to tell me. If there is one, put it in your pocket, hold it close every step of the way, and you'll be safe coming home as you were going. But you mustn't let a soul see it; you must slip it into my pocket when I'm not looking. If you let any one see, then the Magic will be spoiled, and the Fairy won't come again."
"No one shall see," I promised.
"I knew you could be trusted," said Laddie, kissing and hugging me hard. "Now go! If anything gets after you that such a big girl as you really wouldn't be ashamed to be afraid of, climb on a fence and call. I'll be listening, and I'll come flying. Now I must hurry. Father will think it's going to take me the remainder of the day to find the bolts he wants."
We went down the front walk between the rows of hollyhocks and tasselled lady-slippers, out the gate, and followed the road. Laddie held one of my hands tight, and in the other I gripped the letter in my pocket. So long as Laddie could see me, and the lane lay between open fields, I wasn't afraid. I was thinking so deeply about our woods being Enchanted, and a tiny Fairy growing big as our Sally, because she was in them, that I stepped out bravely.
Every few days I followed the lane as far back as the Big Gate. This stood where four fields cornered, and opened into the road leading to the woods. Beyond it, I had walked on Sunday afternoons with father while he taught me all the flowers, vines, and bushes he knew, only he didn't know some of the prettiest ones; I had to have books for them, and I was studying to learn enough that I could find out. Or I had ridden on the wagon with Laddie and Leon when they went to bring wood for the cookstove, outoven, and big fireplace. But to walk! To go all alone! Not that I didn't walk by myself over every other foot of the acres and acres of beautiful land my father owned; but plowed fields, grassy meadows, wood pasture, and the orchard were different. I played in them without a thought of fear.
The only things to be careful about were a little, shiny, slender snake, with a head as bright as mother's copper kettle, and a big thick one with patterns on its back like those in Laddie's geometry books, and a whole rattlebox on its tail; not to eat any berry or fruit I didn't know without first asking father; and always to be sure to measure how deep the water was before I waded in alone.
But our Big Woods! Leon said the wildcats would get me there. I sat in our catalpa and watched the Gypsies drive past every summer. Mother hated them as hard as ever she could hate any one, because once they had stolen some fine shirts, with linen bosoms, that she had made by hand for father, and was bleaching on the grass. If Gypsies should be in our west woods to-day and steal me, she would hate them worse than ever; because my mother loved me now, even if she didn't want me when I was born.
But you could excuse her for that. She had already bathed, spanked, sewed for, and reared eleven babies so big and strong not one of them ever even threatened to die. When you thought of that, you could see she wouldn't be likely to implore the Almighty to send her another, just to make her family even numbers. I never felt much hurt at her, but some of the others I never have forgiven and maybe I never will. As long as there had been eleven babies, they should have been so accustomed to children that they needn't all of them have objected to me, all except Laddie, of course. That was the reason I loved him so and tried to do every single thing he wanted me to, just the way he liked it done. That was why I was facing the only spot on our land where I was in the slightest afraid; because he asked me to.
If he had told me to dance a jig on the ridgepole of our barn, I would have tried it.
So I clasped the note, set my teeth, and climbed over the gate. I walked fast and kept my eyes straight before me. If I looked on either side, sure as life I would see something I never had before, and be down digging up a strange flower, chasing a butterfly, or watching a bird. Besides, if I didn't look in the fence corners that I passed, maybe I wouldn't see anything to scare me. I was going along finely, and feeling better every minute as I went down the bank of an old creek that had gone dry, and started up the other side toward the sugar camp not far from the Big Woods. The bed was full of weeds and as I passed through, away! went Something among them.
Beside the camp shed there was corded wood, and the first thing I knew, I was on top of it. The next, my hand was on the note in my pocket. My heart jumped until I could see my apron move, and my throat went all stiff and dry. I gripped the note and waited.
Father believed God would take care of him. I was only a little girl and needed help much more than a man; maybe God would take care of me. There was nothing wrong in carrying a letter to the Fairy Princess. I thought perhaps it would help if I should kneel on the top of the woodpile and ask God to not let anything get me.
The more I thought about it, the less I felt like doing it, though, because really you have no business to ask God to take care of you, unless you KNOW you are doing right. This was right, but in my heart I also knew that if Laddie had asked me, I would be shivering on top of that cordwood on a hot August day, when it was wrong. On the whole, I thought it would be more honest to leave God out of it, and take the risk myself. That made me think of the Crusaders, and the little gold trinket in father's chest till. There were four shells on it and each one stood for a trip on foot or horseback to the Holy City when you had to fight almost every step of the way. Those shells meant that my father's people had gone four times, so he said; that, although it was away far back, still each of us had a tiny share of the blood of the Crusaders in our veins, and that it would make us brave and strong, and whenever we were afraid, if we would think of them, we never could do a cowardly thing or let any one else do one before us. He said any one with Crusader blood had to be brave as Richard the Lion-hearted. Thinking about that helped ever so much, so I gripped the note and turned to take one last look at the house before I made a dash for the gate that led into the Big Woods.
Beyond our land lay the farm of Jacob Hood, and Mrs. Hood always teased me because Laddie had gone racing after her when I was born. She was in the middle of Monday's washing, and the bluing settled in the rinse water and stained her white clothes in streaks it took months to bleach out. I always liked Sarah Hood for coming and dressing me, though, because our Sally, who was big enough to have done it, was upstairs crying and wouldn't come down. I liked Laddie too, because he was the only one of our family who went to my mother and kissed her, said he was glad, and offered to help her. Maybe the reason he went was because he had an awful scare, but anyway he WENT, and that was enough for me.
You see it was this way: no one wanted me; as there had been eleven of us, every one felt that was enough. May was six years old and in school, and my mother thought there never would be any more babies. She had given away the cradle and divided the baby clothes among my big married sisters and brothers, and was having a fine time and enjoying herself the most she ever had in her life. The land was paid for long ago; the house she had planned, builded as she wanted it; she had a big team of matched grays and a carriage with side lamps and patent leather trimmings; and sometimes there was money in the bank. I do not know that there was very much, but any at all was a marvel, considering how many of us there were to feed, clothe, and send to college. Mother was forty-six and father was fifty; so they felt young enough yet to have a fine time and enjoy life, and just when things were going best, I announced that I was halfway over my journey to earth.
You can't blame my mother so much. She must have been tired of babies and disliked to go back and begin all over after resting six years. And you mustn't be too hard on my father if he was not just overjoyed. He felt sure the cook would leave, and she did. He knew Sally would object to a baby, when she wanted to begin having beaus, so he and mother talked it over and sent her away for a long visit to Ohio with father's people, and never told her. They intended to leave her there until I was over the colic, at least. They knew the big married brothers and sisters would object, and they did. They said it would be embarrassing for their children to be the nieces and nephews of an aunt or uncle younger than themselves. They said it so often and so emphatically that father was provoked and mother cried. Shelley didn't like it because she was going to school in Groveville, where Lucy, one of our married sisters, lived, and she was afraid I would make so much work she would have to give up her books and friends and remain at home. There never was a baby born who was any less wanted than I was. I knew as much about it as any one else, because from the day I could understand, all of them, father, mother, Shelley, Sarah Hood, every one who knew, took turns telling me how badly I was not wanted, how much trouble I made, and how Laddie was the only one who loved me at first. Because of that I was on the cordwood trying to find courage to go farther. Over and over Laddie had told me himself. He had been to visit our big sister Elizabeth over Sunday and about eight o'clock Monday morning he came riding down the road, and saw the most dreadful thing. There was not a curl of smoke from the chimneys, not a tablecloth or pillowslip on the line, not a blind raised. Laddie said his heart went—just like mine did when the Something jumped in the creek bed, no doubt. Then he laid on the whip and rode.
He flung the rein over the hitching post, leaped the fence and reached the back door. The young green girl, who was all father could get when the cook left, was crying. So were Shelley and little May, although she said afterward she had a boil on her heel and there was no one to poultice it. Laddie leaned against the door casing, and it is easy enough to understand what he thought. He told me he had to try twice before he could speak, and then he could only ask: "What's the matter?"
Probably May never thought she would have the chance, but the others were so busy crying harder, now that they had an audience, that she was first to tell him: "We have got a little sister."
"Great Day!" cried Laddie. "You made me think we had a funeral! Where is mother, and where is my Little Sister?"
He went bolting right into mother's room and kissed her like the gladdest boy alive; because he was only a boy then, and he told her how happy he was that she was safe, and then he ASKED for me.
He said I was the only living creature in that house who was not shedding tears, and I didn't begin for about six months afterward. In fact, not until Shelley taught me by pinching me if she had to rock the cradle; then I would cry so hard mother would have to take me. He said he didn't believe I'd ever have learned by myself.
He took a pillow from the bed, fixed it in the rocking chair and laid me on it. When he found that father was hitching the horses to send Leon for Doctor Fenner, Laddie rode back after Sarah Hood and spoiled her washing. It may be that the interest he always took in me had its beginning in all of them scaring him with their weeping; even Sally, whom father had to telegraph to come home, was upstairs crying, and she was almost a woman. It may be that all the tears they shed over not wanting me so scared Laddie that he went farther in his welcome than he ever would have thought of going if he hadn't done it for joy when he learned his mother was safe. I don't care about the reason. It is enough for me that from the hour of my birth Laddie named me Little Sister, seldom called me anything else, and cared for me all he possibly could to rest mother. He took me to the fields with him in the morning and brought me back on the horse before him at noon. He could plow with me riding the horse, drive a reaper with me on his knees, and hoe corn while I slept on his coat in a fence corner. The winters he was away at college left me lonely, and when he came back for a vacation I was too happy for words. Maybe it was wrong to love him most. I knew my mother cared for and wanted me now. And all my secrets were not with Laddie. I had one with father that I was never to tell so long as he lived, but it was about the one he loved best, next after mother. Perhaps I should never tell it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the family knew. I followed Laddie like a faithful dog, when I was not gripping his waving hair and riding in triumph on his shoulders. He never had to go so fast he couldn't take me on his back. He never was in too big a hurry to be kind. He always had patience to explain every shell, leaf, bird, and flower I asked about. I was just as much his when pretty young girls were around, and the house full of company, as when we were alone. That was the reason I was shivering on the cordwood, gripping his letter and thinking of all these things in order to force myself to go farther.
I was excited about the Fairies too. I often had close chances of seeing them, but I always just missed. Now here was Laddie writing letters and expecting answers; our Big Woods Enchanted, a Magic Carpet and the Queen's daughter becoming our size so she could speak with him. No doubt the Queen had her grow big as Shelley, when she sent her on an errand to tell Laddie about how to make sunshine; because she was afraid if she went her real size he would accidentally step on her, he was so dreadfully big.
Or maybe her voice was so fine he could not hear what she said. He had told me I was to hurry, and I had gone as fast as I could until Something jumped; since, I had been settled on that cordwood like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island. I had to get down some time; I might as well start.
I gripped the letter, slid to the ground, and ran toward the big gate straight before me. I climbed it, clutched the note again, and ran blindly down the road through the forest toward the creek. I could hurry there. On either side of it I could not have run ten steps at a time. The big trees reached so high above me it seemed as if they would push through the floor of Heaven. I tried to shut my ears and run so fast I couldn't hear a sound, and so going, I soon came to the creek bank. There I turned to my right and went slower, watching for the pawpaw thicket. On leaving the road I thought I would have to crawl over logs and make my way; but there seemed to be kind of a path not very plain, but travelled enough to follow. It led straight to the thicket. At the edge I stopped to look for the beech. It could be reached in one breathless dash, but there seemed to be a green enclosure, so I walked around until I found an entrance. Once there I was so amazed I stood and stared. I was half indignant too.
Laddie hadn't done a thing but make an exact copy of my playhouse under the biggest maiden's-blush in our orchard. He used the immense beech for one corner, where I had the apple tree. His Magic Carpet was woolly-dog moss, and all the magic about it, was that on the damp woods floor, in the deep shade, the moss had taken root and was growing as if it always had been there. He had been able to cut and stick much larger willow sprouts for his walls than I could, and in the wet black mould they didn't look as if they ever had wilted. They were so fresh and green, no doubt they had taken root and were growing. Where I had a low bench under my tree, he had used a log; but he had hewed the top flat, and made a moss cover. In each corner he had set a fern as high as my head. On either side of the entrance he had planted a cluster of cardinal flower that was in full bloom, and around the walls in a few places thrifty bunches of Oswego tea and foxfire, that I would have walked miles to secure for my wild garden under the Bartlett pear tree. It was so beautiful it took my breath away.
"If the Queen's daughter doesn't like this," I said softly, "she'll have to go to Heaven before she finds anything better, for there can't be another place on earth so pretty."
It was wonderful how the sound of my own voice gave me courage, even if it did seem a little strange. So I hurried to the beech, knelt and slipped the letter in the box, and put back the bark and stone. Laddie had said that nothing could hurt me while I had the letter, so my protection was gone as soon as it left my hands.
There was nothing but my feet to save me now. I thanked goodness I was a fine runner, and started for the pawpaw thicket. Once there, I paused only one minute to see whether the way to the stream was clear, and while standing tense and gazing, I heard something. For an instant it was every bit as bad as at the dry creek. Then I realized that this was a soft voice singing, and I forgot everything else in a glow of delight. The Princess was coming!
Never in all my life was I so surprised, and astonished, and bewildered. She was even larger than our Sally; her dress was pale green, like I thought a Fairy's should be; her eyes were deep and dark as Laddie had said, her hair hung from a part in the middle of her forehead over her shoulders, and if she had been in the sun, it would have gleamed like a blackbird's wing. She was just as Laddie said she would be; she was so much more beautiful than you would suppose any woman could be, I stood there dumbly staring. I wouldn't have asked for any one more perfectly beautiful or more like Laddie had said the Princess would be; but she was no more the daughter of the Fairy Queen than I was. She was not any more of a Princess. If father ever would tell all about the little bauble he kept in the till of his big chest, maybe she was not as near! She was no one on earth but one of those new English people who had moved on the land that cornered with ours on the northwest. She had ridden over the roads, and been at our meeting house. There could be no mistake.
And neither father nor mother would want her on our place. They didn't like her family at all. Mother called them the neighbourhood mystery, and father spoke of them as the Infidels. They had dropped from nowhere, mother said, bought that splendid big farm, moved on and shut out every one. Before any one knew people were shut out, mother, dressed in her finest, with Laddie driving, went in the carriage, all shining, to make friends with them. This very girl opened the door and said that her mother was "indisposed," and could not see callers. "In-dis-posed!" That's a good word that fills your mouth, but our mother didn't like having it used to her. She said the "saucy chit" was insulting. Then the man came, and he said he was very sorry, but his wife would see no one. He did invite mother in, but she wouldn't go. She told us she could see past him into the house and there was such finery as never in all her days had she laid eyes on. She said he was mannerly as could be, but he had the coldest, severest face she ever saw.
They had two men and a woman servant, and no one could coax a word from them, about why those people acted as they did. They said 'orse, and 'ouse, and Hengland. They talked so funny you couldn't have understood them anyway. They never plowed or put in a crop. They made everything into a meadow and had more horses, cattle, and sheep than a county fair, and everything you ever knew with feathers, even peacocks. We could hear them scream whenever it was going to rain. Father said they sounded heathenish. I rather liked them. The man had stacks of money or they couldn't have lived the way they did. He came to our house twice on business: once to see about road laws, and again about tax rates. Father was mightily pleased at first, because Mr. Pryor seemed to have books, and to know everything, and father thought it would be fine to be neighbours. But the minute Mr. Pryor finished business he began to argue that every single thing father and mother believed was wrong. He said right out in plain English that God was a myth. Father told him pretty quickly that no man could say that in his house; so he left suddenly and had not been back since, and father didn't want him ever to come again.
Then their neighbours often saw the woman around the house and garden. She looked and acted quite as well as any one, so probably she was not half so sick as my mother, who had nursed three of us through typhoid fever, and then had it herself when she was all tired out. She wouldn't let a soul know she had a pain until she dropped over and couldn't take another step, and father or Laddie carried her to bed. But she went everywhere, saw all her friends, and did more good from her bed than any other woman in our neighbourhood could on her feet. So we thought mighty little of those Pryor people.
Every one said the girl was pretty. Then her clothes drove the other women crazy. Some of our neighbourhood came from far down east, like my mother. Our people back a little were from over the sea, and they knew how things should be, to be right. Many of the others were from Kentucky and Virginia, and they were well dressed, proud, handsome women; none better looking anywhere. They followed the fashions and spent much time and money on their clothes. When it was Quarterly Meeting or the Bishop dedicated the church or they went to town on court days, you should have seen them—until Pryors came. Then something new happened, and not a woman in our neighbourhood liked it. Pamela Pryor didn't follow the fashions. She set them. If every other woman made long tight sleeves to their wrists, she let hers flow to the elbow and filled them with silk lining, ruffled with lace. If they wore high neckbands, she had none, and used a flat lace collar. If they cut their waists straight around and gathered their skirts on six yards full, she ran hers down to a little point front and back, that made her look slenderer, and put only half as much goods in her skirt. Maybe Laddie rode as well as she could; he couldn't manage a horse any better, and aside from him there wasn't a man we knew who would have tried to ride some of the animals she did.
If she ever worked a stroke, no one knew it. All day long she sat in the parlour, the very best one, every day; or on benches under the trees with embroidery frames or books, some of them fearful, big, difficult looking ones, or rode over the country. She rode in sunshine and she rode in storm, until you would think she couldn't see her way through her tangled black hair. She rode through snow and in pouring rain, when she could have stayed out of it, if she had wanted to. She didn't seem to be afraid of anything on earth or in Heaven. Every one thought she was like her father and didn't believe there was any God; so when she came among us at church or any public gathering, as she sometimes did, people were in no hurry to be friendly, while she looked straight ahead and never spoke until she was spoken to, and then she was precise and cold, I tell you.
Men took off their hats, got out of the road when she came pounding along, and stared after her like "be-addled mummies," my mother said. But that was all she, or any one else, could say. The young fellows were wild about her, and if they tried to sidle up to her in the hope that they might lead her horse or get to hold her foot when she mounted, they always saw when they reached her, that she wasn't there.
But she was here! I had seen her only a few times, but this was the Pryor girl, just as sure as I would have known if it had been Sally. What dazed me was that she answered in every particular the description Laddie had given me of the Queen's daughter. And worst of all, from the day she first came among us, moving so proud and cold, blabbing old Hannah Dover said she carried herself like a Princess—as if Hannah Dover knew HOW a Princess carried herself!—every living soul, my father even, had called her the Princess. At first it was because she was like they thought a Princess would be, but later they did it in meanness, to make fun. After they knew her name, they were used to calling her the Princess, so they kept it up, but some of them were secretly proud of her; because she could look, and do, and be what they would have given anything to, and knew they couldn't to save them.
I was never in such a fix in all my life. She looked more as Laddie had said the Princess would than you would have thought any woman could, but she was Pamela Pryor, nevertheless. Every one called her the Princess, but she couldn't make reality out of that. She just couldn't be the Fairy Queen's daughter; so the letter couldn't possibly be for her.
She had no business in our woods; you could see that they had plenty of their own. She went straight to the door of the willow room and walked in as if she belonged there. What if she found the hollow and took Laddie's letter! Fast as I could slip over the leaves, I went back. She was on the moss carpet, on her knees, and the letter was in her fingers. It's a good thing to have your manners soundly thrashed into you. You've got to be scared stiff before you forget them. I wasn't so afraid of her as I would have been if I had known she WAS the princess, and have Laddies letter, she should not. What had the kind of girl she was, from a home like hers, to teach any one from our house about making sunshine? I was at the willow wall by that time peering through, so I just parted it a little and said: "Please put back that letter where you got it. It isn't for you."
She knelt on the mosses, the letter in her hand, and her face, as she turned to me, was rather startled; but when she saw me she laughed, and said in the sweetest voice I ever heard: "Are you so very sure of that?"
"Well I ought to be," I said. "I put it there."
"Might I inquire for whom you put it there?"
"No ma'am! That's a secret."
You should have seen the light flame in her eyes, the red deepen on her cheeks, and the little curl of laughter that curved her lips.
"How interesting!" she cried. "I wonder now if you are not Little Sister."
"I am to Laddie and our folks," I said. "You are a stranger."
All the dancing lights went from her face. She looked as if she were going to cry unless she hurried up and swallowed it down hard and fast.
"That is quite true," she said. "I am a stranger. Do you know that being a stranger is the hardest thing that can happen to any one in all this world?"
"Then why don't you open your doors, invite your neighbours in, go to see them, and stop your father from saying such dreadful things?"
"They are not my doors," she said, "and could you keep your father from saying anything he chooses?"
I stood and blinked at her. Of course I wouldn't even dare try that.
"I'm so sorry," was all I could think to say.
I couldn't ask her to come to our house. I knew no one wanted her. But if I couldn't speak for the others, surely I might for myself. I let go the willows and went to the door. The Princess arose and sat on the seat Laddie had made for the Queen's daughter. It was an awful pity to tell her she shouldn't sit there, for I had my doubts if the real, true Princess would be half as lovely when she came—if she ever did. Some way the Princess, who was not a Princess, appeared so real, I couldn't keep from becoming confused and forgetting that she was only just Pamela Pryor. Already the lovely lights had gone from her face until it made me so sad I wanted to cry, and I was no easy cry-baby either. If I couldn't offer friendship for my family I would for myself.
"You may call me Little Sister, if you like," I said. "I won't be a stranger."
"Why how lovely!" cried the Princess.
You should have seen the dancing lights fly back to her eyes. Probably you won't believe this, but the first thing I knew I was beside her on the throne, her arm was around me, and it's the gospel truth that she hugged me tight. I just had sense enough to reach over and pick Laddie's letter from her fingers, and then I was on her side. I don't know what she did to me, but all at once I knew that she was dreadfully lonely; that she hated being a stranger; that she was sorry enough to cry because their house was one of mystery, and that she would open the door if she could.
"I like you," I said, reaching up to touch her curls.
I never had seen her that I did not want to. They were like I thought they would be. Father and Laddie and some of us had wavy hair, but hers was crisp—and it clung to your fingers, and wrapped around them and seemed to tug at your heart like it does when a baby grips you. I drew away my hand, and the hair stretched out until it was long as any of ours, and then curled up again, and you could see that no tins had stabbed into her head to make those curls. I began trying to single out one hair.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I want to know if only one hair is strong enough to draw a drowning man from the water or strangle an unhappy one," I said.
"Believe me, no!" cried the Princess. "It would take all I have, woven into a rope, to do that."
"Laddie knows curls that just one hair of them is strong enough," I boasted.
"I wonder now!" said the Princess. "I think he must have been making poetry or telling Fairy tales."
"He was telling the truth," I assured her. "Father doesn't believe in Fairies, and mother laughs, but Laddie and I know. Do you believe in Fairies?"
"Of course I do!" she said.
"Then you know that this COULD be an Enchanted Wood?"
"I have found it so," said the Princess.
"And MAYBE this is a Magic Carpet?"
"It surely is a Magic Carpet."
"And you might be the daughter of the Queen? Your eyes are 'moonlit pools of darkness.' If only your hair were stronger, and you knew about making sunshine!"
"Maybe it is stronger than I think. It never has been tested. Perhaps I do know about making sunshine. Possibly I am as true as the wood and the carpet."
I drew away and stared at her. The longer I looked the more uncertain I became. Maybe her mother was the Queen. Perhaps that was the mystery. It might be the reason she didn't want the people to see her. Maybe she was so busy making sunshine for the Princess to bring to Laddie that she had no time to sew carpet rags, and to go to quiltings, and funerals, and make visits. It was hard to know what to think.
"I wish you'd tell me plain out if you are the Queen's daughter," I said. "It's most important. You can't have this letter unless I KNOW. It's the very first time Laddie ever trusted me with a letter, and I just can't give it to the wrong person."
"Then why don't you leave it where he told you?"
"But you have gone and found the place. You started to take it once; you would again, soon as I left."
"Look me straight in the eyes, Little Sister," said the Princess softly. "Am I like a person who would take anything that didn't belong to her?"
"No!" I said instantly.
"How do you think I happened to come to this place?"
"Maybe our woods are prettier than yours."
"How do you think I knew where the letter was?"
I shook my head.
"If I show you some others exactly like the one you have there, then will you believe that is for me?"
"Yes," I answered.
I believed it anyway. It just SEEMED so, the better you knew her. The Princess slipped her hand among the folds of the trailing pale green skirt, and from a hidden pocket drew other letters exactly like the one I held. She opened one and ran her finger along the top line and I read, "To the Princess," and then she pointed to the ending and it was merely signed, "Laddie," but all the words written between were his writing. Slowly I handed her the letter.
"You don't want me to have it?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. "I want you to have it if Laddie wrote it for you—but mother and father won't, not at all."
"What makes you think so?" she asked gently.
"Don't you know what people say about you?"
"Some of it, perhaps."
"Do you think it is true?"
"Not that you're stuck up, and hateful and proud, not that you don't want to be neighbourly with other people, no, I don't think that. But your father said in our home that there was no God, and you wouldn't let my mother in when she put on her best dress and went in the carriage, and wanted to be friends. I have to believe that."
"Yes, you can't help believing that," said the Princess.
"Then can't you see why you'll be likely to show Laddie the way to find trouble, instead of sunshine?"
"I can see," said the Princess.
"Oh Princess, you won't do it, will you?" I cried.
"Don't you think such a big man as Laddie can take care of himself?" she asked, and the dancing lights that had begun to fade came back. "Over there," she pointed through our woods toward the southwest, "lives a man you know. What do his neighbours call him?"
"Stiff-necked Johnny," I answered promptly.
"And the man who lives next him?"
Her finger veered to another neighbour's.
"The girls of that house?"
"What about the man who lives over there?"
"He beats his wife."
"And the house beyond?"
"Mother whispers about them. I don't know."
"And the woman on the hill?"
"She doesn't do anything but gussip and make every one trouble."
"Exactly!" said the Princess. "Yet most of these people come to your house, and your family goes to theirs. Do you suppose people they know nothing about are so much worse than these others?"
"If your father will take it back about God, and your mother will let people in—my mother and father both wanted to be friends, you know."
"That I can't possibly do," she said, "but maybe I could change their feelings toward me."
"Do it!" I cried. "Oh, I'd just love you to do it! I wish you would come to our house and be friends. Sally is pretty as you are, only a different way, and I know she'd like you, and so would Shelley. If Laddie writes you letters and comes here about sunshine, of course he'd be delighted if mother knew you; because she loves him best of any of us. She depends on him most as much as father."
"Then will you keep the secret until I have time to try—say until this time next year?"
"I'll keep it just as long as Laddie wants me to."
"Good!" said the Princess. "No wonder Laddie thinks you the finest Little Sister any one ever had."
"Does Laddie think that?" I asked
"He does indeed!" said the Princess.
"Then I'm not afraid to go home," I said. "And I'll bring his letter the next time he can't come."
"Were you scared this time?"
I told her about that Something in the dry bed, the wolves, wildcats, Paddy Ryan, and the Gypsies.
"You little goosie," said the Princess. "I am afraid that brother Leon of yours is the biggest rogue loose in this part of the country. Didn't it ever occur to you that people named Wolfe live over there, and they call that crowd next us 'wildcats,' because they just went on some land and took it, and began living there without any more permission than real wildcats ask to enter the woods? Do you suppose I would be here, and everywhere else I want to go, if there were any danger? Did anything really harm you coming?"
"You're harmed when you're scared until you can't breathe," I said. "Anyway, nothing could get me coming, because I held the letter tight in my hand, like Laddie said. If you'd write me one to take back, I'd be safe going home."
"I see," said the Princess. "But I've no pencil, and no paper, unless I use the back of one of Laddie's letters, and that wouldn't be polite."
"You can make new fashions," I said, "but you don't know much about the woods, do you? I could fix fifty ways to send a message to Laddie."
"How would you?" asked the Princess.
Running to the pawpaw bushes I pulled some big tender leaves. Then I took the bark from the box and laid a leaf on it.
"Press with one of your rings," I said, "and print what you want to say. I write to the Fairies every day that way, only I use an old knife handle."
She tried. She spoiled two or three by bearing down so hard she cut the leaves. She didn't even know enough to write on the frosty side, until she was told. But pretty soon she got along so well she printed all over two big ones. Then I took a stick and punched little holes and stuck a piece of foxfire bloom through.
"What makes you do that?" she asked.
"That's the stamp," I explained.
"But it's my letter, and I didn't put it there."
"Has to be there or the Fairies won't like it," I said.
"Well then, let it go," said the Princess.
I put back the bark and replaced the stone, gathered up the scattered leaves, and put the two with writing on between fresh ones.
"Now I must run," I said, "or Laddie will think the Gypsies have got me sure."
"I'll go with you past the dry creek," she offered.
"You better not," I said. "I'd love to have you, but it would be best for you to change their opinion, before father or mother sees you on their land."
"Perhaps it would," said the Princess. "I'll wait here until you reach the fence and then you call and I'll know you are in the open and feel comfortable."
"I am most all over being afraid now," I told her.
Just to show her, I walked to the creek, climbed the gate and went down the lane. Almost to the road I began wondering what I could do with the letter, when looking ahead I saw Laddie coming.
"I was just starting to find you. You've been an age, child," he said.
I held up the letter.
"No one is looking," I said, "and this won't go in your pocket."
You should have seen his face.
"Where did you get it?" he asked.
I told him all about it. I told him everything—about the hair that maybe was stronger than she thought, and that she was going to change father's and mother's opinions, and that I put the red flower on, but she left it; and when I was done Laddie almost hugged the life out of me. I never did see him so happy.
"If you be very, very careful never to breathe a whisper, I'll take you with me some day," he promised.
Our Angel Boy
"I had a brother once—a gracious boy, Full of all gentleness, of calmest hope, Of sweet and quiet joy,—there was the look Of heaven upon his face."
It was supper time when we reached home, and Bobby was at the front gate to meet me. He always hunted me all over the place when the big bell in the yard rang at meal time, because if he crowed nicely when he was told, he was allowed to stand on the back of my chair and every little while I held up my plate and shared bites with him. I have seen many white bantams, but never another like Bobby. My big brothers bought him for me in Fort Wayne, and sent him in a box, alone on the cars. Father and I drove to Groveville to meet him. The minute father pried off the lid, Bobby hopped on the edge of the box and crowed—the biggest crow you ever heard from such a mite of a body; he wasn't in the least afraid of us and we were pleased about it. You scarcely could see his beady black eyes for his bushy topknot, his wing tips touched the ground, his tail had two beautiful plumy feathers much longer than the others, his feet were covered with feathers, and his knee tufts dragged. He was the sauciest, spunkiest little fellow, and white as muslin. We went to supper together, but no one asked where I had been, and because I was so bursting full of importance, I talked only to Bobby, in order to be safe.
After supper I finished Hezekiah's trousers, and May cut his coat for me. School would begin in September and our clothes were being made, so I used the scraps to dress him. His suit was done by the next forenoon, and father never laughed harder than when Hezekiah hopped down the walk to meet him dressed in pink trousers and coat. The coat had flowing sleeves like the Princess wore, so Hezekiah could fly, and he seemed to like them.
His suit was such a success I began a sunbonnet, and when that was tied on him, the folks almost had spasms. They said he wouldn't like being dressed; that he would fly away to punish me, but he did no such thing. He stayed around the house and was tame as ever.
When I became tired sewing that afternoon, I went down the lane leading to our meadow, where Leon was killing thistles with a grubbing hoe. I thought he would be glad to see me, and he was. Every one had been busy in the house, so I went to the cellar the outside way and ate all I wanted from the cupboard. Then I spread two big slices of bread the best I could with my fingers, putting apple butter on one, and mashed potatoes on the other. Leon leaned on the hoe and watched me coming. He was a hungry boy, and lonesome too, but he couldn't be forced to say so.
"Laddie is at work in the barn," he said.
"I'm going to play in the creek," I answered.
Crossing our meadow there was a stream that had grassy banks, big trees, willows, bushes and vines for shade, a solid pebbly bed; it was all turns and bends so that the water hurried until it bubbled and sang as it went; in it lived tiny fish coloured brightly as flowers, beside it ran killdeer, plover and solemn blue herons almost as tall as I was came from the river to fish; for a place to play on an August afternoon, it couldn't be beaten. The sheep had been put in the lower pasture; so the cross old Shropshire ram was not there to bother us.
"Come to the shade," I said to Leon, and when we were comfortably seated under a big maple weighted down with trailing grapevines, I offered the bread. Leon took a piece in each hand and began to eat as if he were starving. Laddie would have kissed me and said: "What a fine treat! Thank you, Little Sister."
Leon was different. He ate so greedily you had to know he was glad to get it, but he wouldn't say so, not if he never got any more. When you knew him, you understood he wouldn't forget it, and he'd be certain to do something nice for you before the day was over to pay back. We sat there talking about everything we saw, and at last Leon said with a grin: "Shelley isn't getting much grape sap is she?"
"I didn't know she wanted grape sap."
"She read about it in a paper. It said to cut the vine of a wild grape, catch the drippings and moisten your hair. This would make it glossy and grow faster."
"What on earth does Shelley want with more hair than she has?"
"Oh, she has heard it bragged on so much she thinks people would say more if she could improve it."
I looked and there was the vine, dry as could be, and a milk crock beneath it.
"Didn't the silly know she had to cut the vine in the spring when the sap was running?"
"Bear witness, O vine! that she did not," said Leon, "and speak, ye voiceless pottery, and testify that she expected to find you overflowing."
"Too bad that she's going to be disappointed."
"She isn't! She's going to find ample liquid to bathe her streaming tresses. Keep quiet and watch me."
He picked up the crock, carried it to the creek and dipped it full of water.
"That's too much," I objected. "She'll know she never got a crock full from a dry vine."
"She'll think the vine bled itself dry for her sake."
"She isn't that silly."
"Well then, how silly is she?" asked Leon, spilling out half. "About so?"
"Not so bad as that. Less yet!"
"Anything to please the ladies," said Leon, pouring out more. Then we sat and giggled a while.
"What are you going to do now?" asked Leon.
"Play in the creek," I answered.
"All right! I'll work near you."
He rolled his trousers above his knees and took the hoe, but he was in the water most of the time. We had to climb on the bank when we came to the deep curve, under the stump of the old oak that father cut because Pete Billings would climb it and yowl like a wildcat on cold winter nights. Pete was wrong in his head like Paddy Ryan, only worse. As we passed we heard the faintest sounds, so we lay and looked, and there in the dark place under the roots, where the water was deepest, huddled some of the cunningest little downy wild ducks you ever saw. We looked at each other and never said a word. Leon chased them out with the hoe and they swam down stream faster than old ones. I stood in the shallow water behind them and kept them from going back to the deep place, while Leon worked to catch them. Every time he got one he brought it to me, and I made a bag of my apron front to put them in. The supper bell rang before we caught all of them. We were dripping wet with creek water and perspiration, but we had the ducks, every one of them, and proudly started home. I'll wager Leon was sorry he didn't wear aprons so he could carry them. He did keep the last one in his hands, and held its little fluffy body against his cheeks every few minutes.
"Couldn't anything be prettier than a young duck."
"Except a little guinea," I said.
"That's so!" said Leon. "They are most as pretty as quail. I guess all young things that have down are about as cunning as they can be. I don't believe I know which I like best, myself."
"I mean tame. Things we raise."
"I'll take guineas."
"I'll say white turkeys. They seem so innocent. Nothing of ours is pretty as these."
"But these are wild."
"So they are," said Leon. "Twelve of them. Won't mother be pleased?"
She was not in the least. She said we were a sight to behold; that she was ashamed to be the mother of two children who didn't know tame ducks from wild ones. She remembered instantly that Amanda Deam had set a speckled Dorking hen on Mallard duck eggs, where she got the eggs, and what she paid for them. She said the ducks had found the creek that flowed beside Deams' barnyard before it entered our land, and they had swum away from the hen, and both the hen and Amanda would be frantic. She put the ducks into a basket and said to take them back soon as ever we got our suppers, and we must hurry because we had to bathe and learn our texts for Sunday-school in the morning.
We went through the orchard, down the hill and across the meadow until we came to the creek. By that time we were tired of the basket. It was one father had woven himself of shaved and soaked hickory strips, and it was heavy. The sight of water suggested the proper place for ducks, anyway. We talked it over and decided that they would be much more comfortable swimming than in the basket, and it was more fun to wade than to walk, so we went above the deep place, I stood in the creek to keep them from going down, and Leon poured them on the water. Pigs couldn't have acted more contrary. Those ducks LIKED us. They wouldn't go to Deams'. They just fought to swim back to us. Anyway, we had the worst time you ever saw. Leon cut long switches to herd them with, and both of us waded and tried to drive them, but they would dart under embankments and roots, and dive and hide.
Before we reached the Deams' I wished that we had carried them as mother told us, for we had lost three, and if we stopped to hunt them, more would hide. By the time we drove them under the floodgate crossing the creek between our land and the Deams' four were gone. Leon left me on the gate with both switches to keep them from going back and he ran to call Mrs. Deam. She had red hair and a hot temper, and we were not very anxious to see her, but we had to do it. While Leon was gone I was thinking pretty fast and I knew exactly how things would happen. First time mother saw Mrs. Deam she would ask her if the ducks were all right, and she would tell that four were gone. Mother would ask how many she had, and she would say twelve, then mother would remember that she started us with twelve in the basket—Oh what's the use! Something had to be done. It had to be done quickly too, for I could hear Amanda Deam, her boy Sammy and Leon coming across the barnyard. I looked around in despair, but when things are the very worst, there is almost always some way out.
On the dry straw worked between and pushing against the panels of the floodgate, not far from me, I saw a big black water snake. I took one good look at it: no coppery head, no geometry patterns, no rattlebox, so I knew it wasn't poisonous and wouldn't bite until it was hurt, and if it did, all you had to do was to suck the place, and it wouldn't amount to more than two little pricks as if pins had stuck you; but a big snake was a good excuse. I rolled from the floodgate among the ducks, and cried, "Snake!" They scattered everywhere. The snake lazily uncoiled and slid across the straw so slowly that—thank goodness! Amanda Deam got a fair look at it. She immediately began to jump up and down and scream. Leon grabbed a stick and came running to the water. I cried so he had to help me out first.
"Don't let her count them!" I whispered.
Leon gave me one swift look and all the mischief in his blue eyes peeped out. He was the funniest boy you ever knew, anyway. Mostly he looked scowly and abused. He had a grievance against everybody and everything. He said none of us liked him, and we imposed on him. Father said that if he tanned Leon's jacket for anything, and set him down to think it over, he would pout a while, then he would look thoughtful, suddenly his face would light up and he would go away sparkling; and you could depend upon it he would do the same thing over, or something worse, inside an hour. When he wanted to, he could smile the most winning smile, and he could coax you into anything. Mother said she dreaded to have to borrow a dime from him, if a peddler caught her without change, because she knew she'd be kept paying it back for the next six months. Right now he was the busiest kind of a boy.
"Where is it? Let me get a good lick at it! Don't scare the ducks!" he would cry, and chase them from one bank to the other, while Amanda danced and fought imaginary snakes. For a woman who had seen as many as she must have in her life, it was too funny. I don't think I could laugh harder, or Leon and Sammy. We enjoyed ourselves so much that at last she began to be angry. She quit dancing, and commenced hunting ducks, for sure. She held her skirts high, poked along the banks, jumped the creek and didn't always get clear across. Her hair shook down, she lost a sidecomb, and she couldn't find half the ducks.
"You younguns pack right out of here," she said. "Me and Sammy can get them better ourselves, and if we don't find all of them, we'll know where they are."
"We haven't got any of your ducks," I said angrily, but Leon smiled his most angelic smile, and it seemed as if he were going to cry.
"Of course, if you want to accuse mother of stealing your ducks, you can," he said plaintively, "but I should think you'd be ashamed to do it, after all the trouble we took to catch them before they swam to the river, where you never would have found one of them. Come on, Little Sister, let's go home."
He started and I followed. As soon as we got around the bend we sat on the bank, hung our feet in the water, leaned against each other and laughed. We just laughed ourselves almost sick. When Amanda's face got fire red, and her hair came down, and she jumped and didn't go quite over, she looked a perfect fright.
"Will she ever find all of them?" I asked at last.
"Of course," said Leon. "She will comb the grass and strain the water until she gets every one."
I looked at Leon. He was so intently watching an old turkey buzzard hanging in the air, he never heard the call that meant it was time for us to be home and cleaning up for Sunday. It was difficult to hurry, for after we had been soaped and scoured, we had to sit on the back steps and commit to memory verses from the Bible. At last we waded toward home. Two of the ducks we had lost swam before us all the way, so we knew they were alive, and all they needed was finding.
"If she hadn't accused mother of stealing her old ducks, I'd catch those and carry them back to her," said Leon. "But since she thinks we are so mean, I'll just let her and little Sammy find them."
Then we heard their voices as they came down the creek, so Leon reached me his hand and we scampered across the water and meadow, never stopping until we sat on the top rail of our back orchard fence. There we heard another call, but that was only two. We sat there, rested and looked at the green apples above our heads, wishing they were ripe, and talking about the ducks. We could see Mrs. Deam and Sammy coming down the creek, one on each side. We slid from the fence and ran into a queer hollow that was cut into the hill between the never-fail and the Baldwin apple trees.
That hollow was overgrown with weeds, and full of trimmings from trees, stumps, everything that no one wanted any place else in the orchard. It was the only unkept spot on our land, and I always wondered why father didn't clean it out and make it look respectable. I said so to Leon as we crouched there watching down the hill where Mrs. Deam and Sammy hunted ducks with not such very grand success. They seemed to have so many they couldn't decide whether to go back or go on, so they must have found most of them.
"You know I've always had my suspicions about this place," said Leon. "There is somewhere on our land that people can be hidden for a long time. I can remember well enough before the war ever so long, and while it was going worst, we would find the wagon covered with more mud in the morning than had been on it at night; and the horses would be splashed and tired. Once I was awake in the night and heard voices. It made me want a drink, so I went downstairs for it, and ran right into the biggest, blackest man who ever grew. If father and mother hadn't been there I'd have been scared into fits. Next morning he was gone and there wasn't a whisper. Father said I'd had bad dreams. That night the horses made another mysterious trip. Now where did they keep the black man all that day?"
"What did they have a black man for?"
"They were helping him run away from slavery to be free in Canada. It was all right. I'd have done the same thing. They helped a lot. Father was a friend of the Governor. There were letters from him, and there was some good reason why father stayed at home, when he was crazy about the war. I think this farm was what they called an Underground Station. What I want to know is where the station was."
"Maybe it's here. Let's hunt," I said. "If the black men were here some time, they would have to be fed, and this is not far from the house."
So we took long sticks and began poking into the weeds. Then we moved the brush, and sure as you live, we found an old door with a big stone against it. I looked at Leon and he looked at me.
"Hoo-hoo!" came mother's voice, and that was the third call.
"Hum! Must be for us," said Leon. "We better go as soon as we get a little dryer."
He slid down the bank on one side, and I on the other, and we pushed at the stone. I thought we never would get it rolled away so we could open the door a crack, but when we did what we saw was most surprising. There was a little room, dreadfully small, but a room. There was straw scattered over the floor, very deep on one side, where an old blanket showed that it had been a bed. Across the end there was a shelf. On it was a candlestick, with a half-burned candle in it, a pie pan with some mouldy crumbs, crusts, bones in it, and a tin can. Leon picked up the can and looked in. I could see too.
It had been used for water or coffee, as the plate had for food, once, but now it was stuffed full of money. I saw Leon pull some out and then shove it back, and he came to the door white as could be, shut it behind him and began to push at the stone. When we got it in place we put the brush over it, and fixed everything like it had been.
At last Leon said: "That's the time we got into something not intended for us, and if father finds it out, we are in for a good thrashing. Are you just a blubbering baby, or are you big enough to keep still?"
"I am old enough that I could have gone to school two years ago, and I won't tell!" I said stoutly.
"All right! Come on then," said Leon. "I don't know but mother has been calling us."
We started up the orchard path at the fourth call.
"Hoo-hoo!" answered Leon in a sick little voice to make it sound far away. Must have made mother think we were on Deams' hill. Then we went on side by side.
"Say Leon, you found the Station, didn't you?"
"Don't talk about it!" snapped Leon.
I changed the subject
"Whose money do you suppose that is?"
"Oh crackey! You can depend on a girl to see everything," groaned Leon. "Do you think you'll be able to stand the switching that job will bring you, without getting sick in bed?"
Now I never had been sick in bed, and from what I had seen of other people who were, I never wanted to be. The idea of being switched until it made me sick was too much for me. I shut my mouth tight and I never opened it about the Station place. As we reached the maiden's-blush apple tree came another call, and it sounded pretty cross, I can tell you. Leon reached his hand.
"Now, it's time to run. Let me do the talking."
We were out of breath when we reached the back door. There stood the tub on the kitchen floor, the boiler on the stove, soap, towels, and clean clothing on chairs. Leon had his turn at having his ears washed first, because he could bathe himself while mother did my hair.
"Was Mrs. Deam glad to get her ducks back?" she asked as she fine-combed Leon.
"Aw, you never can tell whether she's glad about anything or not," growled Leon. "You'd have thought from the way she acted, that we'd been trying to steal her ducks. She said if she missed any she'd know where to find them."
"Well as I live!" cried mother. "Why I wouldn't have believed that of Amanda Deam. You told her you thought they were wild, of course."
"I didn't have a chance to tell her anything. The minute the ducks struck the water they started right back down stream, and there was a big snake, and we had an awful time. We got wet trying to head them back, and then we didn't find all of them."
"They are like little eels. You should have helped Amanda."
"Well, you called so cross we thought you would come after us, so we had to run."
"One never knows," sighed mother. "I thought you were loitering. Of course if I had known you were having trouble with the ducks! I think you had better go back and help them."
"Didn't I do enough to take them home? Can't Sammy Deam catch ducks as fast as I can?"
"I suppose so," said mother. "And I must get your bathing out of the way of supper. You use the tub while I do Little Sister's hair."
I almost hated Sunday, because of what had to be done to my hair on Saturday, to get ready for it. All week it hung in two long braids that were brushed and arranged each morning. But on Saturday it had to be combed with a fine comb, oiled and rolled around strips of tin until Sunday morning. Mother did everything thoroughly. She raked that fine comb over our scalps until she almost raised the blood. She hadn't time to fool with tangles, and we had so much hair she didn't know what to do with all of it, anyway. When she was busy talking she reached around too far and combed across our foreheads or raked the tip of an ear.
But on Sunday morning we forgot all that, when we walked down the aisle with shining curls hanging below our waists. Mother was using the fine comb, when she looked up, and there stood Mrs. Freshett. We could see at a glance that she was out of breath.
"Have I beat them?" she cried.
"Whom are you trying to beat?" asked mother as she told May to set a chair for Mrs. Freshett and bring her a drink.
"The grave-kiver men," she said. "I wanted to get to you first."
"Well, you have," said mother. "Rest a while and then tell me."
But Mrs. Freshett was so excited she couldn't rest.
"I thought they were coming straight on down," she said, "but they must have turned off at the cross roads. I want to do what's right by my children here or there," panted Mrs. Freshett, "and these men seemed to think the contrivance they was sellin' perfectly grand, an' like to be an aid to the soul's salvation. Nice as it seemed, an' convincin' as they talked, I couldn't get the consent of my mind to order, until I knowed if you was goin' to kiver your dead with the contraption. None of the rest of the neighbours seem over friendly to me, an' I've told Josiah many's the time, that I didn't care a rap if they wa'n't, so long as I had you. Says I, 'Josiah, to my way of thinkin', she is top crust in this neighbourhood, and I'm on the safe side apin' her ways clost as possible.'"
"I'll gladly help you all I can," said my mother.
"Thanky!" said Mrs. Freshett. "I knowed you would. Josiah he says to me, 'Don't you be apin' nobody.' 'Josiah,' says I, 'it takes a pretty smart woman in this world to realize what she doesn't know. Now I know what I know, well enough, but all I know is like to keep me an' my children in a log cabin an' on log cabin ways to the end of our time. You ain't even got the remains of the cabin you started in for a cow shed.' Says I, 'Josiah, Miss Stanton knows how to get out of a cabin an' into a grand big palace, fit fur a queen woman. She's a ridin' in a shinin' kerridge, 'stid of a spring wagon. She goes abroad dressed so's you men all stand starin' like cabbage heads. All hern go to church, an' Sunday-school, an' college, an' come out on the top of the heap. She does jest what I'd like to if I knowed how. An' she ain't come-uppety one morsel.' If I was to strike acrost fields to them stuck-up Pryors, I'd get the door slammed in my face if 'twas the missus, a sneer if 'twas the man, an' at best a nod cold as an iceberg if 'twas the girl. Them as want to call her kind 'Princess,' and encourage her in being more stuck up 'an she was born to be, can, but to my mind a Princess is a person who thinks of some one besides herself once in a while."
"I don't find the Pryors easy to become acquainted with," said mother. "I have never met the woman; I know the man very slightly; he has been here on business once or twice, but the girl seems as if she would be nice, if one knew her."
"Well, I wouldn't have s'posed she was your kind," said Mrs. Freshett. "If she is, I won't open my head against her any more. Anyway, it was the grave-kivers I come about."
"Just what is it, Mrs. Freshett?" asked mother.
"It's two men sellin' a patent iron kiver for to protect the graves of your dead from the sun an' the rain."
"Who wants the graves of their dead protected from the sun and the rain?" demanded my mother sharply.
"I said to Josiah, 'I don't know how she'll feel about it, but I can't do more than ask.'"
"Do they carry a sample? What is it like?"
"Jest the len'th an' width of a grave. They got from baby to six-footer sizes. They are cast iron like the bottom of a cook stove on the under side, but atop they are polished so they shine somethin' beautiful. You can get them in a solid piece, or with a hole in the centre about the size of a milk crock to set flowers through. They come ten to the grave, an' they are mighty stylish lookin' things. I have been savin' all I could skimp from butter, an' eggs, to get Samantha a organ; but says I to her: 'You are gettin' all I can do for you every day; there lays your poor brother 'at ain't had a finger lifted for him since he was took so sudden he was gone before I knowed he was goin'.' I never can get over Henry bein' took the way he was, so I says: 'If this would be a nice thing to have for Henry's grave, and the neighbours are goin' to have them for theirn, looks to me like some of the organ money will have to go, an' we'll make it up later.' I don't 'low for Henry to be slighted bekase he rid himself to death trying to make a president out of his pa's gin'ral."
"You never told me how you lost your son," said mother, feeling so badly she wiped one of my eyes full of oil.
"Law now, didn't I?" inquired Mrs. Freshett. "Well mebby that is bekase I ain't had a chance to tell you much of anythin', your bein' always so busy like, an' me not wantin' to wear out my welcome. It was like this: All endurin' the war Henry an' me did the best we could without pa at home, but by the time it was over, Henry was most a man. Seemed as if when he got home, his pa was all tired out and glad to set down an' rest, but Henry was afire to be up an' goin'. His pa filled him so full o' Grant, it was runnin' out of his ears. Come the second run the Gin'ral made, peered like Henry set out to 'lect him all by hisself. He wore every horse on the place out, ridin' to rallies. Sometimes he was gone three days at a stretch. He'd git one place an' hear of a rally on ten miles or so furder, an' blest if he didn't ride plum acrost the state 'fore he got through with one trip. He set out in July, and he rid right straight through to November, nigh onto every day of his life. He got white, an' thin, an' narvous, from loss of sleep an' lack of food, an' his pa got restless, said Henry was takin' the 'lection more serious 'an he ever took the war. Last few days before votin' was cold an' raw an' Henry rid constant. 'Lection day he couldn't vote, for he lacked a year of bein' o' age, an' he rid in with a hard chill, an' white as a ghost, an' he says: 'Ma,' says he, 'I've 'lected Grant, but I'm all tuckered out. Put me to bed an' kiver me warm.'"
I forgot the sting in my eyes watching Mrs. Freshett. She was the largest woman I knew, and strong as most men. Her hair was black and glisteny, her eyes black, her cheeks red, her skin a clear, even dark tint. She was handsome, she was honest, and she was in earnest over everything. There was something about her, or her family, that had to be told in whispers, and some of the neighbours would have nothing to do with her. But mother said Mrs. Freshett was doing the very best she knew, and for the sake of that, and of her children, anyone who wouldn't help her was not a Christian, and not to be a Christian was the very worst thing that could happen to you. I stared at her steadily. She talked straight along, so rapidly you scarcely could keep up with the words; you couldn't if you wanted to think about them any between. There was not a quiver in her voice, but from her eyes there rolled, steadily, the biggest, roundest tears I ever saw. They ran down her cheeks, formed a stream in the first groove of her double chin, overflowed it, and dripped drop, drop, a drop at a time, on the breast of her stiffly starched calico dress, and from there shot to her knees.
"'Twa'n't no time at all 'til he was chokin' an' burnin' red with fever, an' his pa and me, stout as we be, couldn't hold him down nor keep him kivered. He was speechifyin' to beat anythin' you ever heard. His pa said he was repeatin' what he'd heard said by every big stump speaker from Greeley to Logan. When he got so hoarse we couldn't tell what he said any more, he jest mouthed it, an' at last he dropped back and laid like he was pinned to the sheets, an' I thought he was restin', but 'twa'n't an hour 'til he was gone."
Suddenly Mrs. Freshett lifted her apron, covered her face and sobbed until her broad shoulders shook.
"Oh you poor soul!" said my mother. "I'm so sorry for you!"
"I never knowed he was a-goin' until he was gone," she said. "He was the only one of mine I ever lost, an' I thought it would jest lay me out. I couldn't 'a' stood it at all if I hadn't 'a' knowed he was saved. I well know my Henry went straight to Heaven. Why Miss Stanton, he riz right up in bed at the last, and clear and strong he jest yelled it: 'Hurrah fur Grant!'"
My mother's fingers tightened in my hair until I thought she would pull out a lot, and I could feel her knees stiffen. Leon just whooped. Mother sprang up and ran to the door.
"Leon!" she cried. Then there was a slam. "What in the world is the matter?" she asked.
"Stepped out of the tub right on the soap, and it threw me down," explained Leon.
"For mercy sake, be careful!" said my mother, and shut the door.
It wasn't a minute before the knob turned and it opened again a little.
I never saw mother's face look so queer, but at last she said softly: "You were thinking of the grave cover for him?"
"Yes, but I wanted to ask you before I bound myself. I heard you lost two when the scarlet fever was ragin' an' I'm goin' to do jest what you do. If you have kivers, I will. If you don't like them when you see how bright and shiny they are, I won't get any either."
"I can tell you without seeing them, Mrs. Freshett," said my mother, wrapping a strand of hair around the tin so tight I slipped up my fingers to feel whether my neck wasn't like a buck-eye hull looks, and it was. "I don't want any cover for the graves of my dead but grass and flowers, and sky and clouds. I like the rain to fall on them, and the sun to shine, so that the grass and flowers will grow. If you are satisfied that the soul of Henry is safe in Heaven, that is all that is necessary. Laying a slab of iron on top of earth six feet above his body will make no difference to him. If he is singing with the angels, by all means save your money for the organ."
"I don't know about the singin', but I'd stake my last red cent he's still hollerin' fur Grant. I was kind o' took with the idea; the things was so shiny and scilloped at the edges, peered like it was payin' considerable respect to the dead to kiver them that-a-way."
"What good would it do?" asked mother. "The sun shining on the iron would make it so hot it would burn any flower you tried to plant in the opening; the water couldn't reach the roots, and all that fell on the slab would run off and make it that much wetter at the edges. The iron would soon rust and grow dreadfully ugly lying under winter snow. There is nothing at all in it, save a method to work on the feelings of the living, and get them to pay their money for something that wouldn't affect their dead a particle."
"'Twould be a poor idea for me," said Mrs. Freshett. "I said to the men that I wanted to honour Henry all I could, but with my bulk, I'd hev all I could do, come Jedgment Day, to bust my box, an' heave up the clods, without havin' to hist up a piece of iron an' klim from under it."
Mother stiffened and Leon slipped again. He could have more accidents than any boy I ever knew. But it was only a few minutes until he came to mother and gave her a Bible to mark the verses he had to learn to recite at Sunday-school next day. Mother couldn't take the time when she had company, so she asked if he weren't big enough to pick out ten proper verses and learn them by himself, and he said of course he was. He took his Bible and he and May and I sat on the back steps and studied our verses. He and May were so big they had ten; but I had only two, and mine were not very long. Leon giggled half the time he was studying. I haven't found anything so very funny in the Bible. Every few minutes he would whisper to himself: "THAT'S A GOOD ONE!"
He took the book and heard May do hers until she had them perfectly, then he went and sat on the back fence with his book and studied as I never before had seen him. Mrs. Freshett stayed so long mother had no time to hear him, but he told her he had them all learned so he could repeat them without a mistake.
Next morning mother was busy, so she had no time then. Father, Shelley, and I rode on the front seat, mother, May, and Sally on the back, while the boys started early and walked.
When we reached the top of the hill, the road was lined with carriages, wagons, spring wagons, and saddle horses. Father found a place for our team and we went down the walk between the hitching rack and the cemetery fence. Mother opened the gate and knelt beside two small graves covered with grass, shaded by yellow rose bushes, and marked with little white stones. She laid some flowers on each and wiped the dust from the carved letters with her handkerchief. The little sisters who had scarlet fever and whooping cough lay there. Mother was still a minute and then she said softly: "'The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.'"
She was very pale when she came to us, but her eyes were bright and she smiled as she put her arms around as many of us as she could reach.
"What a beautiful horse!" said Sally. "Look at that saddle and bridle! The Pryor girl is here."
"Why should she come?" asked Shelley.
"To show her fine clothes and queen it over us!"
"Children, children!" said mother. "'Judge not!' This is a house of worship. The Lord may be drawing her in His own way. It is for us to help Him by being kind and making her welcome."
At the church door we parted and sat with our teachers, but for the first time as I went down the aisle I was not thinking of my linen dress, my patent leather slippers, and my pretty curls. It suddenly seemed cheap to me to twist my hair when it was straight as a shingle, and cut my head on tin. If the Lord had wanted me to have curls, my hair would have been like Sally's. Seemed to me hers tried to see into what big soft curls it could roll. May said ours was so straight it bent back the other way. Anyway, I made up my mind to talk it over with father and always wear braids after that, if I could get him to coax mother to let me.
Our church was quite new and it was beautiful. All the casings were oiled wood, and the walls had just a little yellow in the last skin coating used to make them smooth, so they were a creamy colour, and the blinds were yellow. The windows were wide open and the wind drifted through, while the birds sang as much as they ever do in August, among the trees and bushes of the cemetery. Every one had planted so many flowers of all kinds on the graves you could scent sweet odours. Often a big, black-striped, brown butterfly came sailing in through one of the windows, followed the draft across the room, and out of another. I was thinking something funny: it was about what the Princess had said of other people, and whether hers were worse. I looked at my father sitting in calm dignity in his Sunday suit and thought him quite as fine and handsome as mother did. Every Sabbath he wore the same suit, he sat in the same spot, he worshipped the Lord in his calm, earnest way. The ministers changed, but father was as much a part of the service as the Bible on the desk or the communion table. I wondered if people said things about him, and if they did, what they were. I never had heard. Twisting in my seat, one by one I studied the faces on the men's side, and then the women. It was a mighty good-looking crowd. Some had finer clothes than others—that is always the way—but as a rule every one was clean, neat, and good to see. From some you scarcely could turn away. There was Widow Fall. She was French, from Virginia, and she talked like little tinkly notes of music. I just loved to hear her, and she walked like high-up royalty. Her dress was always black, with white bands at the neck and sleeves, black rustly silk, and her eyes and hair were like the dress. There was a little red on her cheeks and lips, and her face was always grave until she saw you directly before her, and then she smiled the sweetest smile.
Maybe Sarah Hood was not pretty, but there was something about her lean face and shining eyes that made you look twice before you were sure of it, and by that time you had got so used to her, you liked her better as she was, and wouldn't have changed her for anything. Mrs. Fritz had a pretty face and dresses and manners, and so did Hannah Dover, only she talked too much. So I studied them and remembered what the Princess had said, and I wondered if she heard some one say that Peter Justice beat his wife, or if she showed it in her face and manner. She reminded me of a scared cowslip that had been cut and laid in the sun an hour. I don't know as that expresses it. Perhaps a flower couldn't look scared, but it could be wilted and faded. I wondered if she ever had bright hair, laughing eyes, and red in her lips and cheeks. She must have been pretty if she had.
At last I reached my mother. There was nothing scared or faded about her, and she was dreadfully sick too, once in a while since she had the fever. She was a little bit of a woman, coloured like a wild rose petal, face and body—a piece of pink porcelain Dutch, father said. She had brown eyes, hair like silk, and she always had three best dresses. There was one of alpaca or woollen, of black, gray or brown, and two silks. Always there was a fine rustly black one with a bonnet and mantle to match, and then a softer, finer one of either gold brown, like her hair, or dainty gray, like a dove's wing. When these grew too old for fine use, she wore them to Sunday-school and had a fresh one for best. There was a new gray in her closet at home, so she put on the old brown to-day, and she was lovely in it.
Usually the minister didn't come for church services until Sunday-school was half over, so the superintendent read a chapter, Daddy Debs prayed, and all of us stood up and sang: "Ring Out the Joy Bells." Then the superintendent read the lesson over as impressively as he could. The secretary made his report, we sang another song, gathered the pennies, and each teacher took a class and talked over the lesson a few minutes. Then we repeated the verses we had committed to memory to our teachers; the member of each class who had learned the nicest texts, and knew them best, was selected to recite before the school. Beginning with the littlest people, we came to the big folks. Each one recited two texts until they reached the class above mine. We walked to the front, stood inside the altar, made a little bow, and the superintendent kept score. I could see that mother appeared worried when Leon's name was called for his class, for she hadn't heard him, and she was afraid he would forget.
Among the funny things about Leon was this: while you had to drive other boys of his age to recite, you almost had to hold him to keep him from it. Father said he was born for a politician or a preacher, if he would be good, and grow into the right kind of a man to do such responsible work.
"I forgot several last Sabbath, so I have thirteen to-day," he said politely.
Of course no one expected anything like that. You never knew what might happen when Leon did anything. He must have been about sixteen. He was a slender lad, having almost sandy hair, like his English grandfather. He wore a white ruffled shirt with a broad collar, and cuffs turning back over his black jacket, and his trousers fitted his slight legs closely. The wind whipped his soft black tie a little and ruffled the light hair where it was longest and wavy above his forehead. Such a perfect picture of innocence you never saw. There was one part of him that couldn't be described any better than the way Mr. Rienzi told about his brother in his "Address to the Romans," in McGuffey's Sixth. "The look of heaven on his face" stayed most of the time; again, there was a dealish twinkle that sparkled and flashed while he was thinking up something mischievous to do. When he was fighting angry, and going to thrash Absalom Saunders or die trying, he was plain white and his eyes were like steel. Mother called him "Weiscope," half the time. I can only spell the way that sounds, but it means "white-head," and she always used that name when she loved him most. "The look of heaven" was strong on his face now.
"One," said the recording secretary.
"Jesus wept," answered Leon promptly.
There was not a sound in the church. You could almost hear the butterflies pass. Father looked down and laid his lower lip in folds with his fingers, like he did sometimes when it wouldn't behave to suit him.
"Two," said the secretary after just a breath of pause.
Leon looked over the congregation easily and then fastened his eyes on Abram Saunders, the father of Absalom, and said reprovingly: "Give not sleep to thine eyes nor slumber to thine eyelids."
Abram straightened up suddenly and blinked in astonishment, while father held fast to his lip.
"Three," called the secretary hurriedly.
Leon shifted his gaze to Betsy Alton, who hadn't spoken to her next door neighbour in five years.
"Hatred stirreth up strife," he told her softly, "but love covereth all sins."
Things were so quiet it seemed as if the air would snap.
The mild blue eyes travelled back to the men's side and settled on Isaac Thomas, a man too lazy to plow and sow land his father had left him. They were not so mild, and the voice was touched with command: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise."
Still that silence.
"Five," said the secretary hurriedly, as if he wished it were over. Back came the eyes to the women's side and past all question looked straight at Hannah Dover.
"As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman without discretion."
"Six," said the secretary and looked appealingly at father, whose face was filled with dismay.
Again Leon's eyes crossed the aisle and he looked directly at the man whom everybody in the community called "Stiff-necked Johnny."
I think he was rather proud of it, he worked so hard to keep them doing it.
"Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck," Leon commanded him.
Toward the door some one tittered.
"Seven," called the secretary hastily.
Leon glanced around the room.
"But how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity," he announced in delighted tones as if he had found it out by himself.
"Eight," called the secretary with something like a breath of relief.
Our angel boy never had looked so angelic, and he was beaming on the Princess.
"Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee," he told her.
Laddie would thrash him for that.
Instantly after, "Nine," he recited straight at Laddie: "I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?"
More than one giggled that time.
"Ten!" came almost sharply.
Leon looked scared for the first time. He actually seemed to shiver. Maybe he realized at last that it was a pretty serious thing he was doing. When he spoke he said these words in the most surprised voice you ever heard: "I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly."
Perhaps these words are in the Bible. They are not there to read the way Leon repeated them, for he put a short pause after the first name, and he glanced toward our father: "Jesus Christ, the SAME, yesterday, and to-day, and forever!"
Sure as you live my mother's shoulders shook.
Suddenly Leon seemed to be forsaken. He surely shrank in size and appeared abused.
"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up," he announced, and looked as happy over the ending as he had seemed forlorn at the beginning.
"The Lord is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do unto me?" inquired Leon of every one in the church. Then he soberly made a bow and walked to his seat.
Father's voice broke that silence. "Let us kneel in prayer," he said.
He took a step forward, knelt, laid his hands on the altar, closed his eyes and turned his face upward.
"Our Heavenly Father, we come before Thee in a trying situation," he said. "Thy word of truth has been spoken to us by a thoughtless boy, whether in a spirit of helpfulness or of jest, Thou knowest. Since we are reasoning creatures, it little matters in what form Thy truth comes to us; the essential thing is that we soften our hearts for its entrance, and grow in grace by its application. Tears of compassion such as our dear Saviour wept are in our eyes this morning as we plead with Thee to help us to apply these words to the betterment of this community."
Then father began to pray. If the Lord had been standing six feet in front of him, and his life had depended on what he said, he could have prayed no harder. Goodness knows how fathers remember. He began at "Jesus wept" and told about this sinful world and why He wept over it; then one at a time he took those other twelve verses and hammered them down where they belonged much harder than Leon ever could by merely looking at people. After that he prayed all around each one so fervently that those who had been hit the very worst cried aloud and said: "Amen!" You wouldn't think any one could do a thing like that; but I heard and saw my father do it.
When he arose the tears were running down his cheeks, and before him stood Leon. He was white as could be, but he spoke out loudly and clearly.
"Please forgive me, sir; I didn't intend to hurt your feelings. Please every one forgive me. I didn't mean to offend any one. It happened through hunting short verses. All the short ones seemed to be like that, and they made me think——"
He got no farther. Father must have been afraid of what he might say next. He threw his arms around Leon's shoulders, drew him to the seat, and with the tears still rolling, he laughed as happily as you ever heard, and he cried: "'Sweeping through the Gates!' All join in!"
You never heard such singing in your life. That was another wonderful thing. My father didn't know the notes. He couldn't sing; he said so himself. Neither could half the people there, yet all of them were singing at the tops of their voices, and I don't believe the angels in Heaven could make grander music. My father was leading:
"These, these are they, who in the conflict dire——"
You could tell Emanuel Ripley had been in the war from the way he roared:
"Boldly have stood amidst the hottest fire——"
The Widow Fall soared above all of them on the next line; her man was there, and maybe she was lonely and would have been glad to go to him:
"Jesus now says, 'Come up higher——'"
Then my little mother:
"Washed in the blood of the Lamb——"
Like thunder all of them rolled into the chorus:
"Sweepin, through the gates to the New Jerusalem——"
You wouldn't have been left out of that company for anything in all this world, and nothing else ever could make you want to go so badly as to hear every one sing, straight from the heart, a grand old song like that. It is no right way to have to sit and keep still, and pay other people money to sing about Heaven to you. No matter if you can't sing by note, if your heart and soul are full, until they are running over, so that you are forced to sing as those people did, whether you can or not, you are sure to be straight on the way to the Gates.
Before three lines were finished my father was keeping time like a choirmaster, his face all beaming with shining light; mother was rocking on her toes like a wood robin on a twig at twilight, and at the end of the chorus she cried "Glory!" right out loud, and turned and started down the aisle, shaking hands with every one, singing as she went. When she reached Betsy Alton she held her hand and led her down the aisle straight toward Rachel Brown.
When Rachel saw them coming she hurried to meet them, and they shook hands and were glad to make up as any two people you ever saw. It must have been perfectly dreadful to see a woman every day for five years, and not to give her a pie, when you felt sure yours were better than she could make, or loan her a new pattern, or tell her first who had a baby, or was married, or dead, or anything like that. It was no wonder they felt glad. Mother came on, and as she passed me the verses were all finished and every one began talking and moving. Johnny Dover forgot his neck and shook hands too, and father pronounced the benediction. He always had to when the minister wasn't there, because he was ordained himself, and you didn't dare pronounce the benediction unless you were.