E-text prepared by Al Haines
ROD OF THE LONE PATROL
H. A. CODY
Author of "If Any Man Sin," "The Chief of the Ranges," "The Long Patrol," "The Frontiersman," Etc., Etc.
"A boy's will is the wind's will, And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." —LONGFELLOW.
McClelland and Stewart Publishers ——— Toronto Copyright, 1916, George H. Doran Company Made in U. S. A.
Three Little Boys
DOUGLAS, KENNETH AND NORMAN,
Who are anxious to become Boy Scouts,
This Book is
I. A WAIF OF THE NIGHT II. GIVING AND RECEIVING III. THE WIDOW'S VISIT IV. RODNEY DEVELOPS V. CAPTAIN JOSH TAKES A HAND VI. A NEW FRIEND VII. CHUMS VIII. THE CHUMS TO THE RESCUE IX. WHYN X. HIS FIRST "GOOD TURN" XI. MISS ARABELLA'S "AFFAIR" XII. SCOUT WORK XIII. THE VISIT XIV. UNEXPECTED ASSISTANCE XV. IN THE CITY XVI. WHYN DECIDES XVII. ANNA ROYANNA XVIII. THE WAY OF THE HEART XIX. THE SURPRISE XX. THE ISLAND ADVENTURE XXI. THE ROUNDING UP XXII. A NEW ADVENTURE XXIII. FIRST AID XXIV. THE PRODIGAL SON XXV. DRIFT-LOGS XXVI. THE BEST "GOOD-TURN" XXVII. JIMMY XXVIII. EXCITEMENT AT THE ANCHORAGE XXIX. THE TROOPS DECIDE XXX. THE NIGHT RUN XXXI. BETTER THAN A FAIRY TALE
ROD OF THE LONE PATROL
A WAIF OF THE NIGHT
Parson Dan chuckled several times as he sipped his hot cocoa before the fire. It was an open fire, and the flames licked around an old dry root which had been brought with other driftwood up from the shore. This brightly-lighted room was a pleasing contrast to the roughness of the night outside, for a strong late October wind was careening over the land. It swirled about the snug Hillcrest rectory, rattling any window which happened to be a little loose, and drawing the forked-tongued flames writhing up the large commodious chimney.
When the third chuckle had been emitted, Mrs. Royal laid aside the paper she had been reading and looked somewhat curiously at her husband.
"The missionary meeting must have been very amusing to-night, Daniel," she remarked. "It is too bad that I didn't go."
"Oh, no, it wasn't the meeting which was amusing," was the reply. "But I must say it was the best one I ever attended. That missionary had a great story to tell and he told it well. There was a good attendance, too, especially for such a cold night. But you can't guess, my dear, who was there."
"No, no," and the parson rubbed his hands in glee and gave another boyish chuckle. "Give it up, eh?" and his eyes sparkled as he turned them upon his wife's puzzled face.
"I thought so. You could never guess, for you would never think of Captain Josh."
"No, surely not, Daniel!" and Mrs. Royal, now all attention, drew her chair a little closer to the fire. "What in the world took him there to-night? I never knew him to go to church, let alone to a missionary meeting."
"Oh, that is easily explained, dear. His only son, you know, is in the Yukon, and he was anxious to hear about that country. He was certainly the most interested person there, and after the meeting was over, he walked right up to Mr. Dicer and asked him if he had met his son."
"And had he?" Mrs. Royal inquired.
"Yes; knew him well. Now, the way those two men did talk would have done your heart good. To think of Captain Josh chatting with a missionary, when for years he has been so much down on missions and missionaries. That is one on the old captain, and I shall not forget it when I see him again, ho, ho," and Parson Dan leaned back in his comfortable chair and fairly shook with merriment.
"I hope that his interest will keep up," was Mrs. Royal's comment, as she picked up the paper she had laid aside. "Perhaps he will learn that missionaries are of some use in the world after all."
"I am afraid not, Martha," the parson returned, as he reached for his pipe and tobacco lying on a little stand by his side. "It is only his son which made him interested to-night, and that is as far as it goes."
"It might be the beginning, though, Daniel, who can tell? I always liked Jimmy. He and Alec got on so well together. Do you know what day this is?"
"Ay, ay, Martha," and the clergyman's face grew grave, and a slight mistiness dimmed his eyes. "I haven't forgotten it."
"He would have been twenty-five to-day, Daniel."
"I know it, and it seems only yesterday that I went for old Doctor Paddock. It was a night something like this, and I was so afraid that we would not get back in time."
The fire danced cheerily before them, and the clock on the mantel ticked steadily as the two sat for some time in silence, gazing thoughtfully upon the blazing sticks.
"I dreamed last night that I saw him," Mrs. Royal at length remarked. "He was a baby, and had on his little white dress. He looked up into my face and smiled, just like he used to do. I gave a cry of joy and put out my arms to take him. At that I awoke, and he disappeared. Oh, Daniel, we didn't value him enough when we had him—and now he's gone."
"And do you remember, Martha, what plans we made for his future? Our hopes have been sadly shattered."
"We have only his memory with us now, Daniel," was the quiet reply. "I always think of him as a baby, or as a strong manly boy coming home from school. But for that precious recollection I hardly know how I could bear up at all."
Scarcely had she finished speaking, when a faint knock sounded upon the front door. They both started and listened attentively, thinking that perhaps it was only the wind. But when the knock was repeated, Parson Dan rose quickly to his feet, crossed the room and entered the outer hall. As he unlocked and opened the front door, a shaving of cold wind whipped into the room, while the inky night rose suddenly before him like a great perpendicular wall. For a few seconds he could see nothing, but as his eyes became accustomed to the blackness, he beheld a dim form standing before him. Then a large bundle was thrust suddenly into his arms, and the figure disappeared. He thought he heard a sob borne on the night air as he stood in the door-way clutching the burden imposed upon him. But perhaps it was only the wailing of the wind he heard. He was too dazed to be sure of himself as he stood there peering forth into the night, expecting some one to enter, or at least to speak and explain the meaning of this strange behaviour. But none of these things happened, so, still bewildered, he closed the door with his foot and made his way back into the living-room.
"Daniel, Daniel! what are you standing there in the draught for?" his wife remonstrated. "You will get your death of cold."
She ceased abruptly, however, when she saw her husband enter with the strange bundle in his arms.
"What is it?" she gasped, rising quickly to her feet.
"Don't know," was the reply. "It's alive, anyway, whatever it is, for it's beginning to wriggle. Here, take it."
But Mrs. Royal shrank back, and raised her hands as if to protect herself.
"It won't hurt you, dear. What are you afraid of?"
"But it's alive, you say. It might not be safe to have it in the house. Where did it come from?"
Before a reply could be given, the bundle gave a vigorous twist, while a muffled squeal came from beneath the clothes, which almost caused the parson to drop his burden upon the floor. But that sound stirred Mrs. Royal to immediate action. No longer did she hesitate, but stepping forward relieved her husband of his charge.
"It is a baby!" she cried, at the same time drawing aside the shawl and exposing the chubby face of a child nestling within. A pair of bright blue eyes looked up into hers, and a queer little chuckle of delight came from the small rose-bud of a mouth. So pleased was it to have its face uncovered, that it performed the rest of the job itself, and by means of a few strenuous kicks disengaged its feet from their covering and stuck them straight up into the air.
"Bless its little heart!" was Mrs. Royal's motherly comment. "It is going to make itself at home, anyway."
Seating herself before the fire, she laid aside the shawl and straightened out the baby's mussed garments. They were clothes of the plainest, but spotlessly clean.
Parson Dan stood watching his wife with much interest. This little waif of the night appealed to him in a remarkable manner.
"Who do you suppose left it here?" he at last asked. "It is no child of this parish, I feel quite sure of that."
"Perhaps it was an angel who did it," Mrs. Royal replied. "It may be that the good Lord has taken compassion upon our loneliness since we lost Alec and has given us this in his stead."
"No, I cannot believe that, Martha. I do not for a moment doubt that such a thing is possible, oh, no. But that old shawl and those plain clothes do not look much like heavenly robes, do they? I think that the hands which made that little white dress were human hands such as ours, and the sob which I heard to-night was not the sob of an angel but of a heart-broken mother."
"Well, she is the angel, then, whoever she is," Mrs. Royal insisted, "and perhaps she will come for the baby to-morrow."
"Oh, do you think so, Martha?" and there was a note of anxiety in the parson's voice. "How nice it would be to keep it."
"Why do you say 'it,' Daniel? Why don't you say 'her'?"
"I never knew before that it was a 'her,'" and the parson chuckled as he stroked his clean-shaven chin with the fingers of his right hand.
"You didn't?" and his wife looked her surprise. "Why, any one who has the least knowledge of babies can tell a boy from a girl at the first glance. There is always a marked difference in the way they behave."
"Ah, is that so, dear?"
"Certainly. A boy as a rule is cranky when he wakes. But do you notice how good natured this baby is? and how she lies so quietly in my lap, looking wonderingly into the fire? And notice how delicately she is formed; how perfect her face; how slight her neck, and how tiny her arms and hands. Oh, it is always easy for a woman to tell which is which."
"What shall we call her, Martha?" and Parson Dan drew up his chair and sat down.
"I have been thinking of that, Daniel, but have not decided yet. I always liked Deborah; it is such a good strong name."
"It is a good old name, anyway," was the somewhat reluctant assent. "But she is sure to get 'Debbie,' or 'Deb,' which I dislike very much."
"Oh, that all depends upon what a child is called at home, Daniel. If we begin at once to call her Deborah, people will do the same."
"Very well, Martha, if you wish to call her Deborah, I have no objection. But——"
Here the parson paused, leaned over and picked up a small piece of white paper lying upon the floor. He glanced carelessly at it at first, but as he read the words written thereon his eyes opened wide. He looked at his wife, who was intently watching the baby, and an amused expression broke over his face. Then came the inevitable chuckle.
"What is it now, Daniel?" his wife questioned. "That is the fourth time you've chuckled already to-night. It seems to take very little to amuse you."
"Suppose the baby isn't a girl after all, dear?" the parson replied, ignoring his wife's sarcastic remark.
"Not a girl! What do you mean?"
"Suppose she should be a boy, after all?"
"The idea is ridiculous, Daniel. Don't you suppose I know a girl from a boy?"
"Very well, then, read that," and the clergyman handed her the slip of paper.
"Please take care of Rodney. I will come for him some day. The Lord will reward you even if I can't.
As Mrs. Royal read this brief note, a peculiar expression overspread her face. She uttered no word, but her head drooped lower over the baby and she remained very still. Her husband at once realising how she felt, laid his hand upon hers.
"There, there, dear," he soothed. "I didn't mean to make you feel badly. It was only a little mistake after all, and I am really glad it is a boy, for if will make us think that we have Alec with us again."
Mrs. Royal looked up and brushed away a tear. At that instant the baby gave a vigorous kick, accompanied by a peculiar gurgle of delight, at which the two attendants laughed heartily.
"That's right, little man," and the parson nodded his head approvingly. "You're pleased, too, are you, to know that we've found out that you are a boy? You didn't want to be called Deborah, Debbie, or Deb, did you? Rodney suits you better, eh? How do you like the name, Martha?"
"Very well, indeed," and Mrs. Royal gave a sigh of relief. "It removes quite a load from my mind. But, there," she added, "I must put him to bed. It isn't good for a baby to be up so late. Come, Rodney," and she lifted the little one in her arms, "kiss your——"
"Grandad," the parson assisted as his wife paused. "We shall teach him to call me that, eh? It will be better than 'daddy.'"
"You look after him, Daniel, while I make his bed ready. Don't let him fall. There, that's good," and Mrs. Royal stepped back to view the baby lying in her husband's arms.
Lighting a candle which was standing on tin mantel over the fire-place, she went upstairs and stopped before a door on the left of the hall-way This she opened and softly entered. The room was small, but neat and cosy. Every piece of furniture was in its proper place, and the bed looked as if it had been recently made. The walls were adorned with various articles, from a number of shelves, filled with books for boys, to snow-shoes, fishing-rods, a rifle, and college colours. It had been several years since any one had slept in that room, but not a day had passed during that period that Mrs. Royal had not entered and sat for a while in the big easy chair by the side of the bed. Everything was there just as Alec had left it, though a few things had been added since.
One of these was a crib which had been his. This was standing in a corner of the room with the little pillow and white spread in perfect order. For a few moments Mrs. Royal stood looking down upon the small cot associated with such sweet memories. Then she placed the candle upon a small table and set earnestly to work. First she removed the clothes and mattress and carried the crib into her own room across the hall. Going back for the clothes, she carried them downstairs, and spread them upon the backs of several chairs for them to warm before the fire.
Parson Dan watched her intently, but made no comment. He fully realised how risky it was to speak just then. He knew how much it meant for his wife to disturb that little cot and make it ready for a strange child. Neither did he wish to say anything, for he himself was deeply stirred as memories of other days rushed upon him. When at last Rodney was carefully covered and sound asleep in the crib upstairs, they both stood looking down upon his sweet round face.
"Poor little waif," Mrs. Royal remarked. "He is somebody's child, and perhaps his mother is longing for him at this very moment."
"There is no doubt about it," her husband replied. "That sob which I heard to-night is still ringing in my ears, and I know it was the sob of a heart-broken mother."
GIVING AND RECEIVING
The baby awoke bright and early the next morning, in fact too early for Mr. and Mrs. Royal. The former, especially, enjoyed the hour from six to seven, when, as he once said, he obtained his "beauty sleep." But the little stranger of the night was no respecter of persons. He lifted up his voice at the unnatural hour of five, and by means of a series of gurgles, whoops, and complaints, drove all sleep from drowsy eyes. He was not in the least abashed in the presence of strangers, but standing in his crib, he rattled the side, and yelled shouts of baby defiance at the other occupants of the room.
"I didn't know that he could stand alone," the parson remarked as he first saw Rodney scramble to his feet. "How old do you suppose he is?"
"About fourteen months, I should judge, Daniel," his wife replied. "He may be older, though. One can't always tell."
"He's a stirring lad, anyway, Martha, and we shall have our hands full. Won't you need some help, dear? How would it do to get a woman in occasionally to assist with the work, as the baby will take so much of your time?"
"That will not be necessary, Daniel. By the look of things now we shall be up earlier each morning, and one hour then is worth two later in the day."
After the parson had lighted the fire in the cooking-stove, and also the one in the living-room, he went to the barn to milk. He kept one Jersey cow which supplied enough milk for the house. This was a fine animal, and the pride of the neighbourhood, as it had taken the first prize at the large Exhibition held that very fall in the city.
The rectory was situated upon land known as "The Glebe," about fifty acres in extent, which had been granted to the Church by the Crown in Loyalist days. About one-third of this was under cultivation, producing hay and oats for the horse and cow, as well as all the vegetables needed for the table. Several acres were given up to pasturage, while the remainder was wooded. The Royals were, therefore, most comfortably situated, and quite independent. A small orchard provided them with apples, the taste of which was well known to every person in the parish, especially the children, for Parson Dan seldom started forth without his pockets filled with Russets, Pippins, or Fameuse. Mrs. Royal had her hens, and no eggs seemed as large and fresh as the ones she often sent to some sick or aged person, in the parish.
While Mrs. Royal was looking after the baby, the parson fed his horse, "Sweepstakes," and milked "Brindle," the cow. He then turned the latter loose, and drove her down the lane to the feeding-ground beyond.
"There is a stray cow out in the pasture," the clergyman informed his wife as he sipped his coffee.
"Whose is it?" was the somewhat absent-minded reply, for Mrs. Royal's attention was upon Rodney, who was creeping gaily about the floor, examining every nook, and making himself perfectly at home.
"I don't know whose it is," the parson retorted, a little nettled at his wife's question. "I can tell you about every man, woman, and child in this parish; I know all the horses and dogs, and can give you their pedigrees. But I draw a line at cows, pigs, hens, and cats. I am fond enough of them, but there is a limit to the things I can remember. I forget too much as it is. And, by the way, that reminds me that I must go to Hazlewood to-day. Joe Bradley told me last night that his mother is ill, and wishes to see me. He came all the way to the meeting on purpose to tell me, and to think that I nearly forgot all about it! It was that young rascal, though, who did it," and the parson turned his eyes upon the baby. "Do you think that you can make out alone with him, Martha? I fear that I shall be away all day, as there are several other calls I must make at Hazlewood."
"Oh, I shall make out all right," was the reply. "But there are several things you might bring me from the store on your way home. I will make out a list for you, as you would be sure to forget them."
It was almost dusk when Parson Dan returned from his long journey, tired and hungry.
"How is the boy?" he asked as he entered the house, after having stabled Sweepstakes.
"He's as good as gold, Daniel," Mrs. Royal replied. "But I am worried about Brindle. She hasn't come in yet, and I cannot see her anywhere in the pasture."
"She's with that strange cow, no doubt, Martha, and I shall go after her at once. It will be too dark if I wait until supper is over."
Parson Dan was absent for about an hour, and it was dark when he returned to the rectory. He looked disappointed.
"Brindle is gone," was the news he imparted to his wife. "I found where the fence was broken down. That strange cow must have done it, for I never knew Brindle to do such a thing. I wonder how that cow got in there, anyway. It is a complete mystery to me. I tried to follow the cows through the woods, but it got so dark that I was forced to give up the search. I must be off early in the morning or there will be no milk for the wee lad's breakfast."
"And none for our coffee, Daniel," was his wife's reminder. "Milk will be a very poor substitute for cream, but it will be better than nothing."
"That's quite true, Martha. It's been a long time since we've been without milk or cream in the house. But we can stand it better than the baby. Poor little chap, he must not starve, even if we have to borrow some from our neighbours. I hope Rodney has not tired you too much to-day, dear. It has been years since you had the care of a baby."
"It has been a great joy, Daniel, to have the laddie with me. He slept several hours, and when he woke he was so good and full of fun. At times I imagined he was Alec playing on the floor with his blocks. He was very sweet when I put him to bed to-night. He never misses his mother. How soon a baby forgets."
"But I venture to say that his mother hasn't forgotten him," and the parson's face grew serious as he recalled that sob of the night before. "I have been thinking of her all through the day, and wondering who she is, and why she left her baby at our door."
"And so have I, Daniel. I had the idea that she would return, and several times I started at the least noise, expecting to see her at the door."
"I do not wish to deprive the mother of her baby," the parson thoughtfully mused, "but how I should like to keep him! He seems to belong to us. In fact, he has made himself perfectly at home already."
Parson Dan was astir unusually early the next morning. He stood before the rectory looking up and down the road, uncertain which course to take in search of the missing Brindle.
"Let me see," he considered, "that fence is down on the upper side, and most likely those cows have made their way up the road. I guess I had better hunt there first."
As he stood there his eyes roamed over the scene before him. The rectory was situated upon a gentle elevation, surrounded by tall, graceful elms, and large branching maples. Below the road was the parish church, standing where it had stood for almost one hundred years, amid its setting of elms, maples, and oaks. Nearby was the cemetery, where the numerous shafts of marble and granite could be plainly seen from the road. To the right and left were pretty cottages, for the most part closed, as they belonged to people from the city, who, like the swallows, having spent their summer in this beautiful spot, had flitted at the approach of winter. Beyond stretched the St. John River, one of the finest sheets of water in the province, or even in Eastern Canada. This morning it appeared like a magic mirror, with not a breath of wind ruffling its placid surface.
Parson Dan's heart filled with pride and peace as he gazed upon the entrancing scene. Seldom had it looked so beautiful, and he believed that the early morning hour had much to do with its attractiveness.
"Glorious, glorious!" he murmured, "and so few abroad to see it. How the spirit of peace is brooding over river and land! Marvellous are Thy works, O Lord, and Thy mercies are renewed every morning."
He was aroused from his meditation by the sound of foot-steps upon the road. Glancing quickly around, he saw a tall, powerfully-built man approaching, carrying in his right hand a large stick, which he brought down upon the ground with a resounding thump. His clothes were rough; a heavy pair of boots encased his feet, while an old soft felt hat covered a head crowned with a wealth of iron-grey hair. He seemed like a veritable patriarch of ancient Hebrew days, and this likeness was intensified by his aquiline nose, keen eagle-like eyes, and a long beard sweeping his expansive chest. A smile lightened his face as he approached.
"Good mornin', parson," was his cheery greeting. "Ye're abroad early."
"Oh, good morning, captain," was the hearty reply. "We seem to be the only persons astir, eh?"
"More's the pity, parson. Don't see the like of that every day," and the captain waved his stick through the air. "Fine sight, that."
"It certainly is," the clergyman assented, "and how few are abroad to see it. But say, captain, you haven't seen anything of my cow, have you?"
"Ho, ho, that's a sudden jump, isn't it, parson?"
"A sudden what?"
"A sudden jump from the sublime to the ridiculous; from a scene like that to a cow."
"Not when you have no milk or cream, captain. Brindle has broken out of the pasture, and I have no idea where she can be."
"Did ye pray this mornin' that ye might find her, parson?"
"No, I can't say that I did," was the somewhat reluctant reply, for Parson Dan was well accustomed to Captain Josh's thrusts.
"Ah, that's too bad. The missionary said night before last that we must pray if we expect to receive, didn't he?"
"Yes, captain, he did."
"And he told us more'n that, parson. He said that we couldn't expect to receive unless we gave."
"Yes, he said that also."
"And by jingo, he was right, too," and the captain brought his stick down upon the road with a bang. "I've tried it, and it has turned out just as the missionary said it would."
"You have!" and the clergyman looked his astonishment. "I am so glad, captain, to know that you have come to view things in a different light. I was pleased to see you at the missionary meeting, and I am so thankful that you were benefited by what you heard. Won't you tell me how you proved Mr. Dicer's words to be true?"
"Would ye like to know, parson?" and a sly twinkle shone in the captain's eyes as he asked the question.
"Certainly. Go ahead."
"And ye won't feel hurt?"
"Feel hurt! Why should I?"
"Well, ye see, it concerns yer cow, and no matter how a man might feel about the welfare of others, when it comes to himself and his own personal property, it makes a great difference."
"I do not understand your meaning, captain," and the clergyman's voice had a note of sharpness. "What has the missionary meeting to do with my cow?"
"Considerable, parson, considerable. When I went home from that meetin', sez I to my wife, 'Betsey, I have learned a new wrinkle to-night, which may be of much use to us.' She asked me what I meant, so I up and told her what the missionary had said about givin' and receivin'. He laid it down very plain that unless a man gave to the Lord's work, he couldn't expect to prosper. Now, didn't he?"
"That's what he said," and the clergyman nodded his assent.
"Well, then, sez I to Betsey, 'Betsey, we've never prospered, because we've never given anything.'
"'But what have we to give?' sez she.
"'Nothin' much,' sez I, 'except our old cow Bess.'
"'Oh, we can't give her,' sez she. 'We'll have no milk if we do.'
"'But we'll get more in return,' sez I. 'The missionary said so, and I want to prove his words.' Well, the long and short of it is, that I took Bess early the next mornin' and turned her into your pasture afore you were up. Betsey was lookin' pretty glum when I got back home, but I told her to cheer up, fer the Lord would prosper us as we had given Him our cow."
"Captain Josh Britt!" the parson exclaimed. "I am astonished at you! How could you think of doing such a thing?"
"Why, what's wrong with that?" and the captain tried to look surprised. "Isn't it scriptural? I thought by givin' Bess to you, I was givin' her to the Church, and in that way she could be used fer the Lord's work."
"Oh, I see," and the clergyman stroked his chin in a thoughtful manner.
"Yes, and I tell ye it succeeded like a charm," the captain continued. "I gave up Bess, and, lo and behold, she came back last sight bringin' another cow with her."
"My cow, eh?" the parson queried.
"Sure. But didn't it prove the missionary's words to be true: 'Give, and ye'll receive more in return?' We gave up our only cow and now we have two."
Parson Dan made no immediate reply, for he was too deeply grieved to speak. His faint hope that a change had come over Captain Josh was now dispelled. For years he had mocked at church-going, and all things connected with religion. And so this was but another of his many tricks. But he must not let this scoffer off without a word of rebuke.
"Captain Josh," and the parson's voice was stern, "when you put your cow into my pasture you knew that she would come back, didn't you?"
"Why, what makes ye think so, parson?"
"Didn't you know that she would break down almost any fence?"
"Yes, I suppose I did."
"And that she would naturally take my cow with her?"
As the captain did not answer, the parson continued.
"You did it merely to make a scoff at religion, and have a joke to tell at the store for others to laugh at. Oh, I know your tricks well enough. I have striven to live peaceably with all men, but you have sorely tried me on various occasions. Whatever good I have done in this parish, you have endeavoured to undo it by your scoffs and actions. I often wonder why you do such things to oppose me."
Into the captain's face came an expression of surprise mingled with anger. He had never heard the clergyman speak to him so plainly before, and he resented it.
"You have had your say, parson, and I have the cow," he retorted, "so we are quits. Come and take her out of my yard if ye dare."
"I don't intend to try, captain. If you wish to injure your own soul by stealing Brindle you may do so. I can get another, only it will be hard on the little chap not to get his milk. I see it is no use for us to continue this conversation any further," and the clergyman turned to go.
"Hold on, parson," the captain cried, as he took a quick step forward. "D'ye mean the wee lad which was left at yer door t'other night?"
"Why, yes," the clergyman replied, in surprise, as he turned around. "How did you hear about him?"
"H'm, ye can't keep anything in this place a secret fer twenty-four hours. Trust the women to find out, especially about a baby, ha, ha!"
"Well, what of it?" and the parson looked keenly into the captain's eyes.
"Ob, nothin', except that if the wee chap has to go without his milk because I have Brindle, it makes all the difference in the world, see?"
"And you will let me have the cow without any fuss?"
"Sure. I'll bring her right over, and milk her fer ye, too. And, see here, parson, I didn't mean to offend ye. I know that I am a queer cranky cuss, but I never meant to keep Brindle. I only wanted to have a little fun, that's all. You've gone up a peg in my estimation since I heard that ye'd taken in that poor little waif. Shake on it, and let bygones be bygones."
So there in the middle of the road on this peaceful morning, the two neighbours clasped hands, and as Parson Dan walked slowly back to his house there was a sweet peace in his heart, and his eyes were a little misty as he opened the door.
THE WIDOW'S VISIT
Parson Dan spent most of the day in visiting his people in the parish, and accordingly had little time to give to Rodney. But after supper he began to romp with the wee man much to Mrs. Royal's amusement. There was considerable excitement for a while as the clergyman, on all-fours, carried the baby through the kitchen, into the dining-room, and back again. The boy shivered with delight as he sat perched upon the broad back. Forgotten were all parish cares as the venerable man gave himself up to the little waif. He had become a child again, and had entered that kingdom where children are the uncrowned monarchs, and the strong and the aged are willing subjects, yea, even most abject slaves.
In the midst of this hilarious frolic, the door of the dining-room, leading into the hall, was suddenly opened, and a woman entered. She was dressed all in black which costume was well in keeping with her face, which bore the same expression it did the day she buried her husband two years before. Her sober face grew a shade more sober as her eyes rested upon the undignified scene before her, and she was about to turn and hurry back out of doors, when the parson caught sight of her. His face, flushed with the excitement of the romp, took a deeper hue when he saw Mrs. Marden standing before him. He scrambled to his feet, and plunked Rodney down upon the floor, much to that young gentleman's disgust. He at once set up a dismal howl, which took Mrs. Royal some time to silence when she had him alone in the kitchen.
"I didn't see you, Mrs. Marden," the parson gasped, as he tried to recover his breath as well as his composure.
"So I observe," was the somewhat sarcastic reply, as the visitor surveyed her rector. "I knocked long and loud, but as there was no response, I took the liberty to enter. I am sorry that I have intruded. Perhaps I had better go."
"No, no, you must not think of such a thing," the parson replied, as he handed her a chair, and then struggled quickly into his coat, which he had cast aside at the beginning of the frolic. He was annoyed at Mrs. Marden's intrusion into the privacy of his family life, especially when he was off guard. He knew that she had come on some important business, as she otherwise never darkened the rectory door.
"You've become quite a family man, so I understand," she began. "It's the first time that I've seen the baby. I suppose you'll put him in the Orphan Home in the city."
"No, I shall do nothing of the sort," was the emphatic reply. "He shall stay here until his mother comes for him."
"H'm," and the widow tossed her head in a knowing manner, "then you'll have him on your hands for a long time. Do you for a moment imagine that a mother who is heartless enough to leave her baby with total strangers, will come for him? Not a bit of it. Mark my word, she's only too glad to be rid of it, and is off somewhere now having a good time. I should be very careful, if I were you, about bringing up such a child. You can't tell who his parents are, and he may inherit all their bad qualities."
The clergyman made no reply. He merely stroked his chin, and thought of the sob he had heard at the door that dark night.
"Such a child," Mrs. Marden continued, in her most doleful voice, "is sure to bring trouble upon you sooner or later. But, then, we all have our troubles, and must expect them. Ever since poor Abner was taken from me my life has been full of trials and tribulations. He was very good to me, and we were so happy."
At this point the widow produced her handkerchief, and wiped away the tears which were flowing down her cheeks. Parson Dan knew, and all the neighbours knew, that if Mrs. Marden's life was "full of trials and tribulations" after her husband's death, Mr. Marden had more than his share of them before he died, due directly to his wife's incessant nagging.
"Yes, I have my troubles," and the widow resumed her tale of woe. "They never cease, for just as soon as one is removed another springs up."
"Why, what's wrong now?" the parson queried.
"What! haven't you heard?" and the visitor looked sharply at the clergyman.
"No, I can't say that I have, especially of late."
"Dear me, and it's the talk of the whole parish. But, then, I suppose you've been so taken up with this new addition to your family that you have had no time to give to the cares of the widow and the fatherless."
A perceptible shade of annoyance passed over Parson Dan's face, and a sharp word of retort sprang to his lips. He repressed this, however, and answered as gently as possible.
"You know, Mrs. Marden," he began, "that often I am the last person to hear what is being said throughout the parish. I try not to listen to all the gossip which takes place, as I have more important things to occupy my mind. So——"
"And you don't consider my troubles important enough to listen to, eh?" Mrs. Marden interrupted. "Well, I declare. I never heard the like of that, and you my clergyman, too."
"Let me explain, please," the parson continued. "As I said, I seldom listen to gossip, because so much of it is of such a frivolous nature. Therefore, when anything of real importance is talked about, as a rule I do not hear that, either. In that way I have missed your story, Mrs. Marden. But when you come yourself to tell me, that makes all the difference, and I am ever ready to listen."
While Parson Dan was thus enduring with considerable patience his wearisome visitor, Rodney was creeping about the kitchen floor in a most lively manner. The dining-room door was ajar, and at last when Mrs. Royal's back was turned, he reached forth a small chubby hand, opened the door and entered. The parson saw him, but paid no attention to his movements. Mrs. Marden, however, who was sitting with her back to the door, was so occupied with her load of troubles that she neither saw nor heard the baby's entrance. On all-fours Rodney glided behind the widow's chair. Here against the wall stood a tall, slender cabinet, the lower shelves of which were filled with books, while above were various knick-knacks, all neatly arranged. It took Rodney but a second to scramble to his feet, and balance himself by clutching firmly at the cabinet which was not fastened to the wall. Then the inevitable happened. The cabinet at first trembled, and then began to fall. Parson Dan saw it coming, and with a cry he leaped to his feet, and caught it as it was about to crash upon Mrs. Marden's head. He could not, however, stop the knick-knacks, and so tea-cups, saucers, work-basket, a china dog, and numerous other articles were showered upon the widow, thus adding to her woes.
With a startled cry Mrs. Marden sprang to her feet, certain that the ceiling had fallen upon her. Hearing the confusion, Mrs. Royal rushed into the room, rescued Rodney unhurt from the ruins, and carried him back into the kitchen. The clergyman at once turned his attention to his visitor.
"I trust that you are not hurt," he remarked. "I am so sorry that this accident happened."
"I'm not hurt," was the feeble response, "but I feel very faint," and the widow sank into a chair, and closed her eyes. "There, I feel better now," she continued, breathing heavily. "Oh, what a shock that gave me! My troubles never cease. Just think, I might have been killed if the good Lord had not stopped that thing from falling."
The clergyman repressed a smile as he well knew that the Lord had nothing to do with it. He kept his thoughts to himself, however, and busied himself with picking up the various articles and broken fragments which strewed the floor.
"What an awful baby he is," Mrs. Marden at length, exclaimed. "If he can do such a terrible thing now, what will he do when he grows up? It is not safe to have such a child in your house."
"Why, any child would have done the same," the parson replied. "He didn't mean any harm."
"He didn't! Why, what else did he mean, then? Children should be taught to behave themselves. I never allowed a child of mine to climb up and pull things over. Poor dear Abner often said that I was the one woman in the whole parish who knew how to bring up children. But, there, I must go. My head is aching badly, and I know that I shall get no rest to-night. Oh, what troubles we poor mortals are heir to in this mundane sphere."
"You must not walk, Mrs. Marden," Parson Dan insisted. "I shall drive you home. It will take me only a few minutes to harness Sweepstakes."
"But I'm afraid it will be too much trouble," was the reply.
"Not at all, not at all, Mrs. Marden, I shall be only too glad to do it." In fact the rector was most anxious to get his visitor out of the house before she began to pour forth her tale of woe, which he believed she had forgotten. But in this he was doomed to disappointment.
"Just a minute, parson," the widow began. "I haven't told you yet the object of my visit here to-night."
"Doesn't your head trouble you too much to bother with it now?" the clergyman asked, trying to look as sympathetic as possible. "Suppose you wait until you feel better."
"No, I can't do that, for it might be too late. Just think what might become of me and my poor fatherless children if I put it off until to-morrow."
"Oh, is it as serious as that, Mrs. Marden?"
"Indeed it is, and it is but another example of how the widow is oppressed. If poor Abner was only alive! But now that he is gone, people think that they can do what they like with a lonely widow."
"What, has any one been trying to injure you, Mrs. Marden?"
"Yes, that's just it. Tom Dunker is the one, and he's trying to get the lighthouse from me."
"Ah, so that's it?" and the parson gave a deep sigh.
"Yes. He's had the promise of it, so I understand. I've looked after that lighthouse ever since Abner died, and I have never failed in my duty once. But Tom Dunker, the sneak, wants it. He's a Government supporter, and thinks he ought to have it for what he did at the last election. Abner voted opposition, and though they let me keep it ever since he died, the Dunkers have been making such a fuss about it that something has to be done to pacify them."
"I am very sorry to hear this, Mrs. Marden," and Parson Dan placed his hand to his forehead. This news troubled him, for he saw breakers ahead.
"I knew that you would be sorry," the widow replied, "and so I have come to ask you to write to headquarters. A letter from you explaining the whole matter will have much effect."
The Bunkers were members of his flock, and Parson Dan was well aware how troublesome they could become if things did not go their way. But when his duty was clear he never hesitated, and as this was a case where it was necessary to protect the weak against the strong, he promised the widow that he would write at once on her behalf.
So at last the clergyman was free from the woman of many troubles, and with a deep sigh of relief he sought the kitchen where Mrs. Royal had Rodney all ready for bed.
The entire parish of Hillcrest soon took much interest in Rodney the waif. Tongues became loosened and people freely expressed their opinion about Parson Dan's action in taking the child into his house. Some were most harsh in their criticism, especially Tom Dunker, who had been defeated in the lighthouse affair owing to the letter the parson had written on behalf of Widow Marden. He was very angry, and nursed his wrath against the day when he could get even with the clergyman.
"We don't want a boy like that at the rectory," he complained. "He should have been sent to the Orphanage or the Poor House. We pay the parson's salary, an' we have a right to say who is to live by means of the money we give."
Now, Tom Dunker contributed only one dollar a year to the support of the Church, and he always gave that in a most begrudging manner. He even refused to give this small amount after the parson sided with the widow.
There were others, however, who stood loyally by their rector. They praised him for what he had done, and did all they could to assist him.
Thus this discussion was general throughout the parish for several weeks. Some were sure that they saw the woman who had left the child at the rectory. She had taken the early steamer the next morning for the city, so they said. Though the stories were somewhat different yet all agreed that the woman was beautiful, though her face was very sad, as if she had been weeping bitterly, and had not slept at all during the night.
Although the Royals heard faint rumours at times of what was being said, they went on their way undisturbed, happy in the feeling that they had done their duty, and pouring out their affection upon the little lad who had become so dear to their lonely hearts.
At Christmas they were greatly surprised when a letter from Boston reached them, with a post-office order enclosed for one dollar.
"I am hungry for news of my baby," so the letter ran, "and will you please drop me a line to let me know how he is. I hope to send more money when I can. The above address will find me.
Parson Dan held the post-office order in his hand for some time after he had read the letter. His eyes stared straight before him into the fire, though he saw nothing there.
"That money goes into the bank, Martha," he at length remarked. "I shall open an account in Rodney's name. I could not use that money as it would weigh too heavily upon my conscience. A sacrifice has been made, there is no doubt of that. It is the price of blood, as truly as was the water brought to David from the well of Bethlehem."
"You are quite right, Daniel," his wife replied. "Something tells me that she is a good true woman, and that Rodney need never be ashamed of her. But do you notice her name, 'Anna Layor'?"
"Don't let that worry you, dear. I have the feeling that it is not her real name. Anyway, until we are sure let the boy keep ours."
That night Parson Dan wrote a long letter in answer to the brief one he had received that day. It was all about Rodney—in fact, a complete life history of the lad from the cold night he had been left at the rectory. Far away in the big American city a few days later, in a scantily furnished room, it was read by a woman whose tears fell upon the pages as she eagerly drank in every word which told her of the welfare of her darling child.
The next year Rodney's mother wrote every month, enclosing one dollar each time. This amount was duly deposited in the bank to the child's account. This was kept up with great regularity for several years, and during that time numerous letters were exchanged. The ones from the mother were always very brief, and never once did she mention anything about herself. It was all of Rodney she wrote, for her heart seemed full of love and longing for the child.
"Your letters are all too short," she once wrote. "I read them over and over again, and as you describe my little darling, how I long to see him and clasp him in my arms. God grant I may ere long have that blessed privilege. He is enshrined in my heart, and his sweet face is ever before me. I console myself with the thought that he is safe and well provided for. Some day, I feel sure, I shall to a certain extent repay you for all that you have done for him and me."
When Rodney was five years old, the money from his mother began to increase. At first it was two dollars a month, then three, and at last five. This somewhat worried the Royals, for they believed that Rodney's mother was in better circumstances, and would soon return for her boy. Their faces always grew very grave and their hearts heavy as they discussed this with each other. They dreaded the thought of parting with the little lad who had so completely won their affection.
Rodney was rapidly developing into a strong sturdy lad. He was the joy of the house, and though of a most loveable disposition, he was like a will-o'-the-wisp, full of fun and life. He spent most of the time out of doors in summer among the birds and flowers. There was hardly a creature in the vicinity of the rectory which he did not know. He found birds' nests in the most unlikely places, and he often caused Parson Dan many a tramp, as he eagerly pointed out his numerous treasures in tree, field, or vine-covered fence. It was often hard for the clergyman to keep up with his young guide, who sped on before, his bare, curly hair gleaming like gold in the sun. Then, when he had parted several small bushes and exposed the nest of a grey-bird or a robin, his cheeks would glow with animation, and his eyes sparkle with delight. Parson Dan found more pleasure in watching this joy-thrilled lad than in the tiny eggs which were exhibited for his benefit.
This was an almost daily occurrence through the summer. Then at night, when tired with his day's rambles, Rodney would rest his head upon the soft pillow while Mrs. Royal read him to sleep. Stories he loved, and never wearied of them. One by one the books were brought from the Room of Sacred Memories until the boy knew them all.
"Did you read all of those books when you were little, Grandma?" Rodney once asked.
"Not when I was little, dear," was the quiet reply. "But I read them to a little boy, though, who was as fond of them then as you are now."
"Whose little boy was he, Grandma?"
"He was my little boy, Rodney."
"Was he? Isn't that funny? I didn't know that. What was his name?"
"It was Alec."
"And where is he now?"
"He grew to be a big man, and one day he went away from home, and—and I never saw him again."
"What are you crying for, Grandma?" the boy, asked, suddenly noticing that tears were streaming down Mrs. Royal's cheeks.
"I was thinking of my boy Alec, dear. He went away and never came back."
"Why didn't he?"
"Because he was killed."
"Oh!" and Rodney clasped his hands together,
"How was he killed, Grandma?"
"He was on a train which ran off the track. Many people were killed, and Alec was one of them."
"And that was his room, was it?" Rodney asked. "And those were his books which he had when he was a little boy?"
"Yes, dear. But go to sleep now, and I shall tell you more about Alec some other time."
So free was the life which Rodney led, that some of the neighbours often shook their heads, and prophesied trouble.
"If that boy Rod Royal isn't looked after more'n he is he will come to a bad end, mark my word," Tom Dunker ponderously remarked to his wife one evening. "He's runnin' wild, that's what he is."
"Well, what can you expect of a pauper child?" his wife replied.
"Oh, I know that, Jane. I'm not blamin' him; he can't help it. But them who has the bringin' up of him are at fault. What do the Royals know about the trainin' of a child? Didn't the only chick they ever had go wild, an' him a parson's son, too? I went to school with Alec, an' I tell ye they kept a tight rein on him. I was sure that he'd be a parson like his dad. But, no, sirree, jist as soon as he got his freedom, he kicked over the traces like a young colt, an' went away."
Rodney gave the neighbours numerous causes for criticism. Unconsciously and boy-like, he did things which were often misconstrued as downright badness, whereas the boy had not the slightest intention of doing anything wrong. He was simply natural, while many of his critical elders were most unnatural. They had their own hide-bound rules of what was proper, so they found it impossible to enter into the child's world, and look at things from his point of view.
One Sunday Rodney took a kitten with him to church. The little pet was smuggled in beneath his coat. So dearly did he love it that he could not bear to be parted with it during church time for fear that something would happen to it. And, besides, he liked to have it with him, that he might cuddle it during the service, which to him was long and uninteresting. There would have been no trouble if the kitten had been content to remain beneath its master's coat. But, alas, when the organ struck up for the first hymn, it began to wriggle vehemently in an effort to get its head out to see where the peculiar noise came from. Rodney tried to keep it back and soothe its fears. But all in vain, for the kitten suddenly slipped from his grasp, and sprang out into the aisle. Rodney instantly darted after his pet, and seized it just as it was about to disappear beneath the pulpit steps. Triumphantly he carried it back to the seat where Mrs. Royal was sitting.
To the latter it was only an amusing incident, as she understood the spirit in which it was done. But to many in the church it was a most disgraceful thing, and formed a choice topic of conversation for the rest of the day in various households. They could not, and in truth did not wish to remember the excellent sermon Parson Dan delivered that morning. The picture of a little curly-headed boy speeding up the aisle after the kitten obscured everything else.
It was that very week when Rodney made his next break, which branded him as a red-handed criminal to several in the parish. The Ladies' Aid Society was meeting at the rectory on a beautiful afternoon. There was a good attendance, and the members freely discussed many questions of vital interest.
The conversation at last drifted off to the training of children. This was brought about most deftly by Mrs. Harmon, solely for Mrs. Royal's benefit. Mrs. Harmon had no children, and, as is generally the case, she considered herself a great authority as to how children should be managed. There was no half-way measure in her system of training. She knew, and that ended it.
Mrs. Harmon was ably supported by Miss Arabella Simpkins, a woman of uncertain age, exceedingly precise, and subject to severe attacks of "nerves." Her thin lips remained tightly compressed as she listened for some time to the conversation. As mothers who had brought up children told how difficult a problem it was, Miss Arabella's eyes gleamed with a scornful pity, and her nose tilted higher in the air than ever. Then when at last she did open her lips, she uttered words laden with great wisdom. It was disgraceful, so she said, the way children were indulged at the present day. It was seldom that you could find parents who had any real control over their offspring. Oh, yes, she knew.
Scarcely had she finished speaking ere Rodney appeared at the door, barefooted, hatless, his blouse dirty, his cheeks aglow, and his eyes blazing with excitement. In his grimy hands he clasped some precious treasure. He hesitated for an instant when he saw so many women in the room. But nothing could restrain him. He had made a marvellous discovery, and wished to show it to others.
Miss Arabella was right before him, a few feet away. For her he darted, and dropped suddenly into her lap a big-eyed, hump-back toad. Instantly there followed a wild shriek of terror, as the spinster leaped from her chair, sending the innocent toad sprawling upon the floor. The strain was too much for Miss Arabella, and she properly collapsed, much to the consternation of the assembled women.
By the time she was revived, Rodney, the culprit, was nowhere in sight. He had rescued his precious toad, and had fled from the house, greatly puzzled over the confusion which had been made over his simple action. Little did he know, much less care, that for years to come he would be considered a "bad boy" by many of the leading people of Hillcrest, and totally unfit to associate with other children of the parish.
But Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal understood, and as they kissed him that night as he stood before them in his little nightgown, they knew that there was nothing bad about him. In truth they were somewhat pleased that Miss Arabella had at last been jarred out of her rigid self-complacency.
CAPTAIN JOSH TAKES A HAND
Rodney did not attend the country school until he was over seven years of age. It was more than a mile away, and the Royals could not bear the thought of the little lad walking the whole of that distance when he was but six. He had lost nothing, however, by not attending before. In fact he had gained much, for both Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal had carefully instructed him so that when he did go to school he was far ahead of boys and girls of his own age.
Rodney got on well with all the scholars except Sammie Dunker, who was eight years old, and a bully to all younger children. When boys of his own age and older were around, Sammie was very quiet. But when they were not present he tyrannised over the little ones to such an extent that existence, especially during the dinner hour, became almost unbearable. He had knocked out several boys younger and smaller than himself, until at last there was no one left to dispute his authority.
Rodney Royal, accordingly, was a new and choice victim. Sammie knew all about him, as he had been freely and severely discussed at his home almost every day as far back as he could remember. Here, then, was a lawful prey, and he gloated over the stories he would have to tell to his father of what he had done to the waif.
At noon-hour, the first day, Sammie made himself very objectionable. He centred his attention upon Rod, for thus his name had now become shortened by every one except the Royals. Rod bore these attacks and insulting remarks as well as he could, and refrained from open hostility. But what Sammie had done and said rankled in his heart and mind for the rest of the day, causing him to lie awake for some time that night thinking it all over.
He confided his thoughts to no one, however, but the next morning as he left for school, there was a new look of determination in his eyes, and he trudged along the road with head held high, and his shoulders thrown back, while occasionally his hands clenched hard together.
For the first half of the noon-hour nothing happened. Whether Sammie divined Rod's purpose is hard to say. Anyway, he devoted his attention to others, especially the little girls, whom he teased unmercifully.
Rod watched this performance with interest, mingled with indignation. Twice he was tempted to interfere, but each time he hesitated and went on with his play. But when at length one little girl began to scream with pain, he could control himself no longer. With flashing eyes he sprang toward the tormentor, and demanded that he should leave Nancy alone.
For an instant only Sammie stared, amazed to think that any one would dare to be so bold with him. He then gave a laugh of contempt, and hit Rod full in the face.
"That's what ye git fer meddlin'," he cried. "Want some more, eh?"
Rod staggered back at the blow, but immediately regaining himself, he sprang swiftly upon his antagonist. So unexpected was the attack, that Sammie was caught off guard, and ere he could raise a hand he received two black eyes, while his nose began to bleed profusely. With a howl of pain and rage, he tried to defend himself, but he could do nothing against that whirlwind of fists which was swirling against him. He endeavoured to dodge and run away, but, catching his foot in the leg of a desk, he fell sprawling to the floor.
By this time some of the older boys had arrived, who cheered lustily as they saw Sammie go down before his young opponent. They looked upon Rod with much interest, and worthy of their attention. In fact, he became quite a hero for the remainder of the day, while the defeated bully, with black eyes, and swollen nose, sat sullenly in his seat, keeping his head bent over his desk, and not daring to look any one in the face. When school was out he did not wait for his usual pranks, but hurried away home as speedily as possible.
Rod said nothing at home about the incident at the school. He was afraid that Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal would be angry if they learned that he had been fighting, especially with Sammie Dunker. And, besides, if he told he would have to explain what had led him into the affray, and he did not wish to tell that he had taken Nancy's part. It would seem too much like boasting, and he had always disliked boasters who figured in some stories Mrs. Royal had read to him.
Next morning as he walked along the road to school carrying his lunch-basket, he was in a different mood from the previous day. Then he had the feeling of a soldier, with nerves high strung going into battle; now he was the victor, with the danger past and trouble over. He believed that Sammie would not bother him again, and that the little girls would look up to him as their natural protector.
He was thinking of these things as he drew near the store. Behind him lumbered a large wagon, drawn by two horses. Tom Dunker, big and burly, held the reins, and as he caught sight of the little boy ahead, a scowl overspread his heavy face. Sammie had given his version of the fight in which Rod was entirely in the wrong. This his parents believed, and, accordingly, were very angry. So as Tom now beheld Rod, he thought it would be a smart thing to give him a great scare.
Rod was walking at one side of the road, and just as the horses' heads were abreast of him, Tom drew them sharply to the left, at the same time yelling at the boy to get out of the way.
Taken by surprise, Rod sprang into the ditch for safety, dropping his basket in his fright, which rolled beneath the horses' feet. This so startled the nervous animals that they leaped quickly forward, and swerved to the right, thus bringing the hind wheel of the wagon against the sharp ends of a pile of cordwood near the road. There was a crash as two of the spokes were ripped from the hub by the impact, while the wood came tumbling down into the road.
With much difficulty Tom checked the horses, and then wild with rage, he turned upon the innocent lad, charging him with having frightened his team.
"I didn't," Rod sturdily replied, coming close to the wagon, his eyes flaming with indignation. "You tried to drive over me, that's what you did."
"How dare ye answer me!" Tom cried, white with wrath. "Ye young villain, ye're nothin' but a pauper, an' should be in the Poor House, instead of livin' with decent people. Ye don't know who yer father an' mother are, do ye? An' no one else does, fer that matter. Ye wouldn't own 'em if ye did."
Rod stood for an instant as if turned to stone. The flush left his cheeks, and his face grew very white. Then his small brown hands clenched hard, and he took a step closer to the wagon.
"You lie!" he shouted. "How dare you say that!"
With a roar Tom clutched the handle of his whip, and the lash suddenly cut the air with a swish. It circled Rod's shoulders, sharply flicking his face, leaving a crimson streak upon the white left cheek.
The lash had scarcely fallen ere a big form hurled itself from the store platform, and bounded along the road. It was Captain Josh who had been an interested spectator of all that had taken place. His eyes gleamed with a dangerous light, and the heavy stick in his right hand struck the ground harder than usual as he strode up to the wagon.
"Ye coward!" he roared, coming between Rod and the irate teamster. "How dare ye strike a little lad like that!"
"He scared me horses on purpose, an' then sassed me," was the surly answer.
"None of yer lyin', Tom Dunker," said the captain laid his left hand upon the top of the side-board, and shook it vehemently. "I saw the whole affair, and don't ye try any of yer lies on me."
"What business is it of yourn, anyway, Josh Britt? It ain't your funeral, is it? You git out of this, an' leave me alone!"
"Not my funeral, eh? It might have been one fer the lad here, though, if you had yer way. I saw ye pull yer horses over to scare him, and when he spoke up to ye like a man, ye slashed him with yer whip. He didn't sass ye, not a bit of it."
"Well, you'll git the same, then, ye old fool," and once more Tom raised his whip to strike.
He was not dealing with a boy now, however, but with the strongest man in Hillcrest. Tom knew this, but in his rage he had thrown reason to the wind. With lightning rapidity Captain Josh reached up, caught Tom by the arm, and in a twinkling brought him sprawling upon the side of the road. With an ugly oath, the teamster tried to regain his feet, but he was helpless in the grip of the captain's powerful arm. He writhed and cursed, but all in vain, and at length was forced to give up the struggle, and sat panting upon the road completely cowed.
By this time several men from the store surrounded the contestants, who watched with much interest the subjection of Tom Dunker. To them Captain Josh paid no heed, but stood glowering over his victim. When he saw that he was subdued he let go his grip, and stepped back a couple of paces.
"Now, git up!" he demanded.
As Tom made no effort to obey, the captain leaned forward, caught him once more in his mighty grip, and lifted him to his feet.
"Stand there, ye wobbly-kneed cur!" he cried.
"I'll have the law of ye," Tom wailed. "If there's B-b-british justice, you'll git it!"
"H'm," the captain snorted. "Ye talk about British justice. Ye may thank yer stars at this very minute that the law hasn't its grip upon ye fer tryin' to kill a harmless boy. But I'll do it instead. I'll be the British justice, judge, lawyers, jury, and the whole dang concern combined. Now, look here, Tom Bunker, you apologise to that youngster fer what ye did to him this mornin'."
Tom's face, livid with rage, took a darker tinge at this command. More on-lookers had now arrived, who jeered and hooted the unfortunate man. It was a great joke to see the boaster at length brought low by quaint old Captain Josh. Such a thing didn't happen every day, and they could well afford to lose any amount of time to see the fun. But it was far from fun for the victim of their sport. He made one more effort to assert himself, and turned furiously upon his captor with words and fists. But two hands gripped him now instead of one, and he was brought down upon the road with such a bang that he yelled with pain, and pleaded for mercy.
"Mercy, d'ye ask?" the captain growled. "There'll be no mercy shown to the like of you till ye do what I say. Yer son got settled yesterday fer actin' the bully, and you'll git far worse to-day if ye don't hurry and do as I tell ye."
"What d'ye want me to say?" Tom moaned.
"Say? Say what ye like, only let it be a decent apology. Tell the boy that ye're sorry, and that sich a thing won't happen again, that's all."
Rod had been a silent and interested spectator of all that had taken place. At first he could not understand the meaning of the captain's words. But when it suddenly dawned upon his mind, he sprang quickly forward.
"I don't want him to do it!" he cried.
"Don't want him to do what?" exclaimed the astonished captain.
"'Pologise. I don't want him to say he's sorry."
"Why not, lad?"
"'Cause he isn't."
"How d'ye know that?"
"His face and eyes say he isn't. If I was sorry for anything, you wouldn't have to make me 'pologise. I'd be only too glad to do it."
There was a dead silence when Rod finished speaking, for all were now anxiously waiting to see what would follow. Even Captain Josh, always so ready with his tongue, was at a loss for words. He stared first at Rod and then at Tom.
"Well, I never!" he at length ejaculated. "What d'ye want me to do with him, then?" and he pointed to the man upon the ground.
"Let him go," Rod quickly replied, "He doesn't want to 'pologise, and I don't want him to do it, so there."
"All right, then," the captain assented, "I'll do as ye say. Git up, Tom Bunker, and git out of this. When ye say yer prayers to-night—that is, if ye say them, which I doubt—thank the Lord that ye got out of this scrape without any bones broken."
With that, Captain Josh picked up his stick, and started for home, while the on-lookers went back to the store to discuss Tom Bunker's defeat.
A NEW FRIEND
Rod was late for school, and received a tardy mark. The teacher also spoke quite sharply, and told him that school opened at nine instead of a quarter after. At any other time Rod would have felt keenly this reprimand. But now it did not trouble him, as he had other things to think about. He was very quiet during the morning, and joined in none of the games. Sammie Dunker left him alone, and for once the small girls and boys had peace.
Rod gave hardly a thought to Tom Dunker's action in frightening him. It was what he had said about the Poor House, and his father and mother which worried him. "What did he mean?" he asked himself over and over again. Why did he say that I should go to the Poor House instead of living with decent people, and that I wouldn't own my parents if I knew them? His brain grew hot as he brooded over these words. Other children had their fathers and mothers with them, and why was it that he had never seen his, and knew nothing about them? Mrs. Royal had told him that his mother was living, and several times she had read her letters to him. But she was a vague person, one he had never seen, and in whom he had no special interest. The Royals, and the people he knew in Hillcrest were of more importance to him than his own mother. But now a desire entered his soul to know something about his parents. Were they bad people? he asked himself. Why did they not come to see him? Were they ashamed to do so? he wondered, and was that what Tom meant?
As noon approached, Rod began to feel hungry. He had eaten very little breakfast, as he had been too much interested in a new family of kittens which had been discovered in the barn. The other scholars who had come some distance would have their dinner, and he could not bear the thought of seeing them eating when he was so hungry. He, therefore, planned to spend the hour by himself down by the river.
As the children flocked out of school, Rod moved with them. But the teacher stopped him, and handed to him a small parcel, neatly tied.
"What's that?" Rod asked, much surprised.
"I do not know," was the reply. "Some one left it here this morning."
Then Rod remembered that he had heard a knock, and the teacher had gone to the door, returning shortly with something in her hand. He had not seen the visitor, and so had soon forgotten all about the incident.
Going back to his scat, he untied the string, and unwrapped the brown paper. Then great was his surprise to find a dainty lunch lying within. There were several slices of choice home-made bread, two pieces of cake, a large wedge of pumpkin-pie, and a fine rosy apple.
For a few moments Rod sat staring at the feast before him. Who could have sent it? he wondered, Then all at once he remembered. It was the apple which solved the problem, and he knew that there was only one tree in the neighbourhood which produced such fruit as that. He had often seen the tree from the road, but had never dared to venture near, as it was too close to Captain Josh's house. He knew now where the lunch had come from, and it made him so excited that for awhile he forgot to eat as he sat there thinking it all over.
When Rod went home from school, Mrs. Royal noticed the crimson mark upon his cheek where the whip had struck him. She asked no questions, however, for she wanted Rod to tell of his own free will how it happened. It was after he was in bed, that the boy looked up inquiringly into Mrs. Royal's face, as she stood by his side before bidding him good-night.
"Grandma," he began, "what is a pauper?"
"Oh, it is a person who has no home, and no money, and has to live upon others," was the reply.
"Am I a pauper, grandma?" and the boy's face flushed.
"You a pauper!" Mrs. Royal exclaimed, as she sat down upon a chair by the side of the bed. "What makes you ask such a question, dear? Whoever put such an idea into your head?"
"Tom Dunker said that I am a pauper."
"He did! When did he tell you that?"
"To-day, just before he hit me with his whip and made the mark upon my cheek."
It was all that Mrs. Royal could say. She had become suddenly aroused, feeling sure that something of a serious nature had happened that day.
"Why did he call you a pauper, dear?" she at length asked as calmly as possible.
"'Cause I told him I didn't scare his horses, and make them jump. He got mad, and said I was a pauper, and should be in the Poor House instead of living with decent people. And he said that I didn't know who my father and mother are, and that I would be ashamed of them if I did, that's what he said."
Into Mrs. Royal's eyes came an expression of deep concern, mingled with indignation.
"You poor boy," she soothed, taking his little left hand in hers. "You have had great troubles to-day, have you not?"
"But am I a pauper, grandma?" the boy insisted.
"No, you certainly are not, dear."
"And I shouldn't be in the Poor House?"
"No, no. You are just where you should be, with grandad and me."
"And my father and mother are not bad, and I wouldn't be ashamed of them if I saw them?"
"No, not at all. I never heard of your father, so I think he must be dead. But I believe that your mother is a good, noble woman."
"Why doesn't she come to see me, then?"
"I do not know, dear. But she says that she will come some day. She longs to see you, and in every letter she writes she asks so many questions about you. I have read some of them to you. She wrote many when you were very little, and I have kept every one."
"Have you, grandma? I am so glad. Will you read them to me sometimes?"
"Yes, dear, I shall read you one or two every night."
"Oh, that will be so nice. And I am glad that Tom Dunker was wrong. He didn't know about my mother, did he?"
"Do you think Captain Josh knows, grandma?"
"Why, what makes you think that, Rodney?"
"'Cause he was so kind to me to-day. He took my part, and then brought me such a nice lunch."
"Brought you a lunch!" Mrs. Royal exclaimed, in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you see, when the horses ran over the dinner you gave me this morning it was all knocked out in the road, and I had nothing to eat, so Captain Josh brought me such a nice lunch."
"Did you see him?"
"No, I didn't. But there was a big rosy apple, and I know where it came from. It grew on that tree right by the captain's house."
Mrs. Royal sat very still for some time. She was thinking over what Rod had just told her. Tom Dunker's action troubled her, and she thought how mean it was for him to take revenge on a little child for what her husband had done. But there was compensation, for Captain Josh's kindness interested her greatly. No one had been able to understand the old man, and every one dreaded him. That he had defended Rodney, and then had taken a lunch for him all the way to the schoolhouse was something unusual.
For some time she sat there, and when she at last rose to go downstairs to meet her husband, who had just returned home, Rod was fast asleep. His cares for the present were over, and as Mrs. Royal watched the little curly head lying upon the pillow, she gave a deep sigh as she bent over and kissed him. Must he go through life handicapped? she asked herself, for no fault of his own? Would he always be looked upon as a waif, an ill-starred child, and in the eyes of the world, a pauper?
Parson Dan had come in from a long drive from the outmost portion of his large parish. He was tired and hungry, and enjoyed the supper which was awaiting him. It was then that his wife told him about Rod's experience during the day. The clergyman was deeply interested, and when supper was over, he rose from the table, and instead of taking his pipe, as was his usual habit, he reached for his coat and hat.
"Why, where are you going, Daniel?" his wife asked, in surprise.
"I must see Captain Josh," was the reply. "I want to hear the whole story of to-day's transactions, and to thank him for what he did for our boy. I have never known Rodney to deceive us. But this is such a serious affair, that I must hear the story from some one else who knows."
He was about to open the door when a loud knock sounded on the outside. When it was opened, great was his astonishment to see the very person they had been talking about standing before him.
"Captain Josh! This is a surprise," and the clergyman held out his hand.
"Evenin', parson," was the gruff reply. "Thought I'd make a little call on you and the missus," and he thumped his stick heavily upon the floor as he entered.
Mrs. Royal came quickly forward, shook hands, and offered the visitor a big comfortable chair.
"My, that feels good," the captain exclaimed. "I ain't as young as I used to be, and that walk has puffed me a good deal."
"How would a smoke suit you?" the parson suggested, knowing the captain's fondness for his pipe. "I have some good tobacco here, sent from the city by an old friend of mine."
"He certainly is a good judge of baccy," the captain remarked, after he had filled and lighted his pipe. "A friend like that is worth knowin', eh?" and he slyly winked at Mrs. Royal.
"We have many such friends, I am thankful to say," Mrs. Royal replied, "and we don't have to go to the city for them, either."
"No? Well, I'm real glad to hear that," and the captain blew a big cloud of smoke into the air. "I never made many friends in my life. Guess I was too cranky; at any rate, that's what Betsey says, and I guess she must understand me by this time, ha, ha!"
"You must not judge yourself too harshly, captain," Parson Dan replied. "Anyway, if you don't make many friends, you are able at times to be a friend to others. I wish to thank you for what you did for our little boy to-day."
"So ye've heard all about it, eh?" and the captain fixed his keen eyes upon the parson's face.
"Only partly, captain. Rodney told Mrs. Royal some of the story this evening, and I was just going over to hear it all from you as you entered."
"It was a mean trick that Tom Dunker tried on him to-day," the visitor returned, "and I'm sorry that I didn't give the coward a bigger dose than I did. Oh, how he did squawk when I got both of my hands upon his measly carcass. I guess him and that boy Sammie of his will learn to leave decent people alone after this."
"Why, what about Sammie?" the Royals asked.
"What! haven't ye heard?"
"No, not a word."
"Well, if that doesn't beat all! And Rod never told ye?"
"He said nothing to us about Sammie."
Captain Josh looked first at the clergyman and then at Mrs. Royal with an expression of doubt in his eyes.
"And so ye say he didn't tell ye anything?" he finally blurted out, while his stick came down with a bang upon the carpet. "If any one else had said that I wouldn't believe him. To think of a boy doin' what he did and not rushin' home all excited, and blattin' out his yarn. But, then, I always knew there was extra stuff in that lad. I have had my eyes on him ever since the mornin' I gave him a cow, ho, ho!" and the captain leaned back and laughed heartily as the recollection of the "cow incident" came back to him. "That was my first present," he continued, "but it isn't my last, not by a long jugful, no, sir-ree."
"But what did Rodney do, captain?" the parson enquired. "We are very anxious to hear."
"Do! What did he do, eh? Why, he walked right over Sammie Dunker, that's what he did. Oh, I heard all about it at the store that very night. Sammie has been a regular chip of the old Dunker block ever since he started fer school. He bullied all the little chaps, and had them all scared to a shadder. But when he butted up aginst Rod it was a different proposition, ho, ho! I'd like to have been there."
"Do you mean that Rodney was fighting Sammie Dunker?" the clergyman asked, with a note of severity in his voice. "I am astonished."
"Oh, no, there was no fightin', parson. Sammie didn't fight; that's not the Dunker way. But he hurt little Nancy Garvan, and when Rod told him to stop, he slapped him in the face. Rod then walked into him and gave him two black eyes, a bloody nose, and left him sprawlin' upon the floor. That was all there was about it. Oh, no, there was no fightin'."
"H'm, I see," Parson Dan quietly remarked, while a slight gleam of pride shone in his eyes. He glanced toward his wife, but her head was bent over some sewing she had picked up from the table.
"I've been watchin' that boy of yours fer some time," the captain continued, "and he's the right stuff. I know more about him than ye think. I'd 'a' given my cow to have seen him put that toad into Bella Simpkins' lap, ho, ho, ho! That was the best thing I ever heard, ha, ha, ha!"
"But some of the neighbours think it was sheer badness which made him do it," Mrs. Royal replied.
"I know they do, confound their skins!" the captain roared, springing to his feet in his excitement. "Haven't I heard it on all sides? They twist every blessed thing he does into badness, and then account fer it all by sayin' that he is a pauper. But, by jinks! there isn't an ounce of badness about that boy. I've taken an interest in him simply because—well, mebbe I'm a cranky cuss—and when I see people down on a lad, I like to take his part. And look here, parson, I'm givin' warnin'."
"What warning?" questioned the clergyman, shrinking back from the huge fist which was suddenly thrust toward his face.
"Warnin' to you, parson, not to bury any one I knock out who interferes with that lad of yours. It'll be sich a clear case of suicide that ye won't dare to read the Burial Service over him. Everybody knows now that I've taken that boy under my care, and if any one runs aginst my fists it won't be an accident, but a clear case of self-destruction, and it won't be necessary to hold an inquest."
Both Mr. and Mrs. Royal smiled at the captain's quaint expression of loyalty to Rodney.
"I trust there'll be no more trouble," the clergyman replied. "Come, fill up your pipe again. My city friend would be delighted to know that Rodney's able champion enjoyed the tobacco he sent."
"Well, I don't care if I do," and the captain knocked the cold ashes out of his pipe. "I'll fill up, and then git home. But there is one thing I want to ask ye, and that's what brought me over here to-night. Me and Betsey are pretty lonely at times. We never see a child around the house, and we'd both consider it a special favour if ye'd let yer boy come to see us once in awhile."
"Why, certainly," the parson replied. "I give my consent, and I feel sure that you will, won't you?" and he turned to his wife.
"Yes, captain, I am quite willing for Rodney to go, and it is very thoughtful of you to want him. I hope that he will behave himself."
"No fear of that," the captain eagerly returned. "I've got some fine apples jist waitin' fer him, and several other things to surprise him when he comes. So, good-night, I must be gittin' along."
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and Captain Josh was busy in his little work-shop at the side of his house. He was in a hurry, and his big hands moved swiftly and deftly as he cut the cotton or tied a piece of string. Once or twice he stepped back to view his work, and then a pleased expression appeared upon his face. Occasionally his eyes turned toward the little window above the work-bench until they rested upon the road, leading from the main highway to his house. The captain was expecting company, and this was something remarkable at "The Anchorage," the name of the snug cottage by the riverside.
Within the house Mrs. Britt, too, was busy, and as she moved about the kitchen, her step was lighter than it had been for years. She had just finished making a batch of doughnuts, not the lean kind, mostly holes, but big fat ones, coated with sugar, like thick frost upon the window pane in winter. She was now making apple pies, the kind where the juice runs out into the oven, and some of it sticks to the plate.
Mrs. Britt was known throughout the parish as an excellent cook, though of late years few people were ever allowed the privilege of tasting her dainties. This was her husband's fault, and not hers. She was naturally of a sociable disposition, and fond of company. But Captain Josh's crankiness had antagonised every person in Hillcrest, and it was Mrs. Britt who suffered the most. But she was loyal to her husband, and if people would not come to her home, she would not go to theirs.
At one time Captain Josh had been the most agreeable of companions, and his return from a voyage was always a red-letter day in the parish. His ringing laugh was heard at the store, and every evening his house was filled with neighbours, who dropped in to have a smoke, and listen to the yarns of the old seaman.
But two events coming close together produced a great change in the captain. One was the absence of his only son, Jimmy, who had gone far away to the northland, and never wrote home to his parents. The other, was the loss of his vessel, the Flying Queen, a three-masted schooner, which, loaded with a valuable cargo, lost her bearings, and went ashore in a heavy fog. Owing to Captain Josh's excellent past record, the shipping company was most lenient. He was permitted to retire with a moderate allowance. This amount, together with what he obtained from his few acres of land, and the fish and the fur he took, was quite sufficient to keep him and his wife in moderate comfort.
The loss of his vessel, followed by his retirement, was a severe blow to the captain. He was too old to take command of another ship for new owners, and he chafed at his enforced stay on land. He longed for the sea, for nowhere else did he feel so much at home. His pride was hurt as well. He felt keenly the humiliation, and he believed that his neighbours laughed at him behind his back. Thus for years he brooded over his troubles until they became a vital part of his very being, and soured his former jolly disposition.
There was one redeeming feature, however, to Captain Josh, and that was his intense sympathy for any unfortunate creature, whether man or beast. Let any dumb brute be abused, and it aroused the captain to intense indignation. And so when he found that most of the people in Hillcrest were turned against Parson Dan's lad, simply because he was a waif, he naturally took an interest in the boy, which increased the more people talked. The climax to his interest was reached the day he took Rod's part against Tom Dunker.
On this Saturday morning Captain Josh had tied the last string, and cut off the ends close to the knot. He then glanced once more through the window, and his eyes brightened as he saw the little lad he was expecting not far from the house.
Rod was not walking very fast, for he was on new, and hitherto forbidden ground, and, notwithstanding the invitation, he was not altogether sure of the reception he would receive. He was a trim, looking lad in his well-fitting suit, as clean and neat as Mrs. Royal's hands could make it, while a large straw hat covered his curly hair. He wore neither shoes nor stockings, and his feet and legs were as brown as the sun could make them.
Captain Josh was at the shop door to receive him.
"Ye're late, lad," was his only greeting.
"I'm sorry, captain," was the reply, "but I had to go to the store for grandma. Oh!" and he stopped short as his eyes rested upon the fine full-rigged schooner sitting upon the work-bench.
"How d'ye like it?" the captain asked, delighted at Rod's interest.
"Great!" and the boy stepped cautiously forward, as if afraid that the white sails were wings; to bear the wonderful thing away. "Who made it?" he whispered.
"Oh, some fool."
"What! d'ye call me a fool?" the captain roared, looking so fierce that Rod shrank back a step.
"No, no, no. I didn't mean that. I only, I only——"
"I know, lad, I know," and the captain laughed heartily. "Ye didn't mean any harm. Yes, I made her years ago fer another boy. She's been lyin' here a long time, and so t'other day I got her down, cleaned her up, and put on new sails, thinkin' that perhaps ye might like her."
"What! For me?" Rod asked in surprise.
"Sure, if ye'd like to have her."
Would Rod like to have her? His eyes sparkled, and his hands trembled with excitement as he examined his treasure. What a wonder it was.
"What's her name?" he asked.
"The Flyin' Queen, after the schooner I lost."
"Will she sail?"
"Y'bet. Let's launch her."
From the window Mrs. Britt watched the two as they walked down to the shore. She recalled the day, over twenty years ago, when another little lad had trotted as eagerly as Rod by the captain's side, and it was to sail a small boat, too. Her eyes grew misty as her thoughts went back to that scene. But mingled with this sadness was a feeling of thankfulness that her husband had taken such a strong liking to Rod. Not since Jimmy left had he done such a thing, and she was hopeful that this child would unconsciously change him back to the genial big-hearted man he was when she married him.
Rod was delighted with the Flying Queen, and wading in the water to his knees, he sailed her along the shore. The captain had a pickerel net to look after, which kept him busy for some time. But he missed scarcely anything that Rod was doing, and he was greatly pleased at the boy's delight.