The Flight of Pony Baker - A Boy's Town Story
by W. D. Howells
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


A Boy's Town Story






Annie Kilburn. 12mo.

April Hopes. 12mo.

Between the Dark and Daylight. New Edition. 12mo.

Boy Life. Illustrated. 12mo.

Boy's Town. Illustrated. Post 8vo.

Certain Delightful English Towns. Illustrated. 8vo. Traveller's Edition, Leather.

Christmas Every Day, and Other Stories. Illustrated. 12mo. Holiday Edition. Illustrated. 4to.

Coast of Bohemia. Illustrated. 12mo.

Criticism and Fiction. Portrait. 16mo.

Day of Their Wedding. Illustrated. 12mo.

Familiar Spanish Travels. Illustrated. 8vo.

Fennel and Rue. Illustrated. New Edition. 12mo.

Flight of Pony Baker. Post 8vo.

Hazard of New Fortunes. New Edition. 12mo.

Heroines of Fiction. Illustrated. 2 vols. 8vo.

Imaginary Interviews. 8vo.

Imperative Duty. 12mo. Paper.

Impressions and Experiences. New Edition. 12mo.

Kentons. 12mo.

Landlord at Lion's Head. Illustrated. New Edition. 12mo.

Letters Home. 12mo.

Library of Universal Adventure. Illustrated. 8vo, Cloth. Three-quarter Calf.

Literary Friends and Acquaintance. Illustrated. 8vo.

Literature and Life. 8vo.

Little Swiss Sojourn. Illustrated. 32mo.

London Films. Illustrated. 8vo. Traveller's Edition, Leather.

Miss Bellard's Inspiration. 12mo.

Modern Italian Poets. Illustrated. 12mo.

Mother and the Father. Illustrated. New Edition. 12mo.

Mouse-Trap, A Likely Story, The Garroters, Five-o'Clock Tea. Illustrated. New Edition. 12mo.

My Literary Passions. New Edition. 12mo.

My Mark Twain. Illustrated. 8vo.

My Year in a Log Cabin. Illustrated. 32mo.

Open-Eyed Conspiracy. 12mo.

Pair of Patient Lovers. 12mo.

Parting and a Meeting. Illustrated. Square 32mo.

Quality of Mercy. New Edition. 12mo.

Questionable Shapes. Ill'd. 12mo.

Ragged Lady. Illustrated. New Edition. 12mo.

Roman Holidays. Illustrated. 8vo. Traveller's Edition, Leather.

Seven English Cities. Illustrated. 8vo. Traveller's Edition, Leather.

Shadow of a Dream. 12mo.

Son of Royal Langbrith. 8vo.

Stops of Various Quills. Illustrated. 4to. Limited Edition.

Story of a Play. 12mo.

The Seen and Unseen at Stratford-on-Avon. Crown 8vo.

Their Silver Wedding Journey. Illustrated. 2 vols. Crown 8vo. In 1 vol. New Edition. 12mo.

Through the Eye of a Needle. New Edition. 12mo.

Traveller from Altruria. New Edition. 12mo.

World of Chance. 12mo.


A Letter of Introduction. Illustrated. 32mo.

A Likely Story. Illustrated. 32mo.

A Previous Engagement. 32mo. Paper.

Evening Dress. Illustrated. 32mo.

Five-o'Clock Tea. Illustrated. 32mo.

Parting Friends. Illustrated. 32mo.

The Albany Depot. Illustrated. 32mo.

The Garroters. Illustrated. 32mo.

The Mouse-Trap. Illustrated. 32mo.

The Unexpected Guests. Illustrated. 32mo.


Published September, 1902.
























The Flight of Pony Baker

The Flight of Pony Baker



If there was any fellow in the Boy's Town fifty years ago who had a good reason to run off it was Pony Baker. Pony was not his real name; it was what the boys called him, because there were so many fellows who had to be told apart, as Big Joe and Little Joe, and Big John and Little John, and Big Bill and Little Bill, that they got tired of telling boys apart that way; and after one of the boys called him Pony Baker, so that you could know him from his cousin Frank Baker, nobody ever called him anything else.

You would have known Pony from the other Frank Baker, anyway, if you had seen them together, for the other Frank Baker was a tall, lank, tow-headed boy, with a face so full of freckles that you could not have put a pin-point between them, and large, bony hands that came a long way out of his coat-sleeves; and the Frank Baker that I mean here was little and dark and round, with a thick crop of black hair on his nice head; and he had black eyes, and a smooth, swarthy face, without a freckle on it. He was pretty well dressed in clothes that fitted him, and his hands were small and plump. His legs were rather short, and he walked and ran with quick, nipping steps, just like a pony; and you would have thought of a pony when you looked at him, even if that had not been his nickname.

That very thing of his being dressed so well was one of the worst things that was done to him by his mother, who was always disgracing him before the other boys, though she may not have known it. She never was willing to have him go barefoot, and if she could she would have kept his shoes on him the whole summer; as it was, she did keep them on till all the other boys had been barefoot so long that their soles were as hard as horn; and they could walk on broken glass, or anything, and had stumped the nails off their big toes, and had grass cuts under their little ones, and yarn tied into them, before Pony Baker was allowed to take his shoes off in the spring. He would have taken them off and gone barefoot without his mother's knowing it, and many of the boys said that he ought to do it; but then she would have found it out by the look of his feet when he went to bed, and maybe told his father about it.

Very likely his father would not have cared so much; sometimes he would ask Pony's mother why she did not turn the boy barefoot with the other boys, and then she would ask Pony's father if he wanted the child to take his death of cold; and that would hush him up, for Pony once had a little brother that died.

Pony had nothing but sisters, after that, and this was another thing that kept him from having a fair chance with the other fellows. His mother wanted him to play with his sisters, and she did not care, or else she did not know, that a girl-boy was about the meanest thing there was, and that if you played with girls you could not help being a girl-boy. Pony liked to play with his sisters well enough when there were no boys around, but when there were his mother did not act as if she could not see any difference. The girls themselves were not so bad, and they often coaxed their mother to let him go off with the other boys, when she would not have let him without. But even then, if it was going in swimming, or fishing, or skating before the ice was very thick, she would show that she thought he was too little to take care of himself, and would make some big boy promise that he would look after Pony; and all the time Pony would be gritting his teeth, he was so mad.

Once, when Pony stayed in swimming all day with a crowd of fellows, she did about the worst thing she ever did; she came down to the river-bank and stood there, and called to the boys, to find out if Pony was with them; and they all had to get into the water up to their necks before they could bear to answer her, they were so ashamed; and Pony had to put on his clothes and go home with her. He could see that she had been crying, and that made him a little sorry, but not so very; and the most that he was afraid of was that she would tell his father. But if she did he never knew it, and that night she came to him after he went to bed, and begged him so not to stay in swimming the whole day any more, and told him how frightened she had been, that he had to promise; and then that made him feel worse than ever, for he did not see how he could break his promise.

She was not exactly a bad mother, and she was not exactly a good mother. If she had been really a good mother she would have let him do whatever he wanted, and never made any trouble, and if she had been a bad mother she would not have let him do anything; and then he could have done it without her letting him. In some ways she was good enough; she would let him take out things to the boys in the back yard from the table, and she put apple-butter or molasses on when it was hot biscuit that he took out. Once she let him have a birthday party, and had cake and candy-pulling and lemonade, and nobody but boys, because he said that boys hated girls; even his own sisters did not come. Sometimes she would give him money for ice-cream, and if she could have got over being particular about his going in swimming before he could swim, and pistols and powder and such things, she would have done very well.

She was first-rate when he was sick, and nobody could take care of him like her, cooling his pillow and making the bed easy, and keeping everybody quiet; and when he began to get well she would cook things that tasted better than anything you ever knew: stewed chicken, and toast with gravy on, and things like that. Even when he was well, and just lonesome, she would sit by his bed if he asked her, till he went to sleep, or got quieted down; and if he was trying to make anything she would help him all she could, but if it was something that you had to use a knife with she was not much help.

It always seemed to Pony that she begrudged his going with the boys, and she said how nice he used to keep his clothes before, and had such pretty manners, and now he was such a sloven, and was so rude and fierce that she was almost afraid of him. He knew that she was making fun about being afraid of him; and if she did hate to have him go with some of the worst boys, still she was willing to help in lots of ways. She gave him yarn to make a ball with, and she covered it for him with leather. Sometimes she seemed to do things for him that she would not do for his sisters, and she often made them give up to him when they had a dispute.

She made a distinction between boys and girls, and did not make him help with the housework. Of course he had to bring in wood, but all the fellows had to do that, and they did not count it; what they hated was having to churn, or wipe dishes after company. Pony's mother never made him do anything like that; she said it was girls' work; and she would not let him learn to milk, either, for she said that milking was women's work, and all that Pony had to do with the cow was to bring her home from the pasture in the evening.

Sometimes when there was company she would let him bring in a boy to the second table, and she gave them all the preserves and cake that they could eat. The kind of company she had was what nearly all the mothers had in the Boy's Town; they asked a whole lot of other mothers to supper, and had stewed chicken and hot biscuit, and tea and coffee, and quince and peach preserves, and sweet tomato pickles, and cake with jelly in between, and pound-cake with frosting on, and buttered toast, and maybe fried eggs and ham. The fathers never seemed to come; or, if the father that belonged in the house came, he did not go and sit in the parlor with the mothers after supper, but went up-town, to the post-office, or to some of the lawyers' offices, or else a store, and talked politics.

Pony never thought his mother was good looking, or, rather, he did not think anything about that, and it always seemed to him that she must be a pretty old woman; but once when she had company, and she came in from the kitchen with the last dish, and put it on the table, one of the nicest of the other mothers came up, and put her arm around Pony's mother, and said:

"How pretty you do look, Mrs. Baker! I just want to kiss you on those red cheeks. I should say you were a girl, instead of having all those children."

Pony was standing out on the porch with his five sisters, and when he looked in through the door, and saw his mother with her head thrown back laughing, and her face flushed from standing over the stove to cook the supper, and her brown hair tossed a little, he did think that she was very nice looking, and like the girls at school that were in the fourth reader; and she was very nicely dressed, too, in a white muslin dress, with the blue check apron she had been working in flung behind the kitchen door, as she came into the sitting-room carrying the dish in one hand. He did not know what the other mother meant by saying "all those children"; for it was a small family for the Boy's Town, and he thought she must just be fooling.

Sometimes his mother would romp with the children, or sing them funny, old-fashioned songs, such as people used to sing when the country was first settled and everybody lived in log cabins. When she got into one of her joking times she would call Pony "Honey! Honey!" like the old colored aunty that had the persimmon-tree in her yard; and if she had to go past him she would wind her arm around his head and mumble the top of it with her lips; and if there were any of the fellows there, and Pony would fling her arm away because he hated to have her do it before them, she would just laugh.

Of course, if she had been a good mother about everything else Pony would not have minded that, but she was such a very bad mother about letting him have fun, sometimes, that Pony could not overlook it, as he might have done. He did not think that she ought to call him Pony before the boys, for, though he did not mind the boys' calling him Pony, it was not the thing for a fellow's mother, and it was sure to give them the notion she babied him at home. Once, after she called him "Pony, dear!" the fellows mocked her when they got away, and all of them called him "Pony, dear!" till he began to cry and to stone them.

But the worst of her ways was about powder, and her not wanting him to have it, or not wanting him to have it where there was fire. She would never let him come near the stove with it, after one of the fellows had tried to dry his powder on the stove when it had got wet from being pumped on in his jacket-pocket while he was drinking at the pump, and the fellow forgot to take it off the stove quick enough, and it almost blew his mother up, and did pretty nearly scare her to death; and she would not let him keep it in a bottle, or anything, but just loose in a paper, because another of the fellows had begun to pour powder once from a bottle onto a coal of fire, and the fire ran up the powder, and blew the bottle to pieces, and filled the fellow's face so full of broken glass that the doctor was nearly the whole of that Fourth of July night getting it out. So, although she was a good mother in some things, she was a bad mother in others, and these were the great things; and they were what gave him the right to run off.



Pony had a right to run off from some of the things that his father had done, but it seemed to him that they were mostly things that his mother had put his father up to, and that his father would not have been half as bad if he had been let alone. In the Boy's Town the fellows celebrated Christmas just as they did Fourth of July, by firing off pistols and shooting crackers, and one Christmas one of the fellows' pistols burst and blew the ball of his thumb open, and when a crowd of the fellows helped him past Pony's house, crying and limping (the pain seemed to go down his leg, and lame him), Pony's mother made his father take Pony's pistol right away from him, and not let him have it till after New Year's; and what made it worse was that Pony had faithfully kept his promise to her that he would not fire anything out of his pistol but paper wads, while all the other fellows were firing shot, and tacks, and little marbles, out of theirs; and some of them tried to shame him into breaking his word, and he had to stand their calling him cry-baby, and everything.

Then, she would not let his father get him a gun to go hunting with, because he would have to fire something besides wads out of that, and would be sure to kill himself. Pony told her that he would not kill himself, and tried to laugh her out of the notion, but it was no use, and he never had a gun till he was twelve years old; he was nine at the time I mean. One of the fellows who was only eight was going to have a gun as soon as his brother got done with his.

She would hardly let his father get him a dog, and I suppose it was something but Pony's disappointment about the gun that made her agree to the dog at last; even then she would not agree to his having it before it had its eyes open, when the great thing about a puppy was its not having its eyes open, and it was fully two weeks old before he was allowed to bring it home, though he was taken to choose it before it could walk very well, and he went every day afterwards to see how it was getting along, and to watch out that it did not get changed with the other little dogs. The first night after he got it to his own house, the dog whined so with homesickness that it kept everybody awake till Pony went to the woodshed, where it was in the clothes-basket, and took it into his own bed; then it went to sleep, and did not whine a bit. His father let him keep it there that one night, but the next he made him put it out again, because he said it would get the house full of fleas; and he said if it made much more trouble he would make Pony take it back.

He was not a very good father about money, because when Pony went to ask him for a five-cent piece he always wanted to know what it was for, and even when it was for a good thing a fellow did not always like to tell. If his father did not think it was a good thing he would not let Pony have it, and then Pony would be ashamed to go back to the boys, for they would say his father was stingy, though perhaps none of them had tried to get money from their own fathers.

Every now and then the fellows tried to learn to smoke, and that was a thing that Pony's father would not let him do. He would let him smoke the drift-wood twigs, which the boys picked up along the river shore and called smoke-wood, or he would let him smoke grapevine or the pods of the catalpa, which were just like cigars, but he was mean about real tobacco. Once, when he found a cigar in Pony's pocket, he threw it into the fire, and said that if he ever knew him to have another he would have a talk with him.

He was pretty bad about wanting Pony to weed his mother's flower-beds and about going regularly to school, and always getting up in time for school. To be sure, if a show or a circus came along, he nearly always took Pony in, but then he was apt to take the girls, too, and he did not like to have Pony go off with a crowd of boys, which was the only way to go into a show; for if the fellows saw you with your family, all dressed up, and maybe with your shoes on, they would make fun of you the next time they caught you out.

He made Pony come in every night before nine o'clock, and even Christmas Eve, or the night before Fourth of July, he would not let him stay up the whole night. When he went to the city, as the boys called the large town twenty miles away from the Boy's Town, he might get Pony a present or he might not, but he would not promise, because once when he promised, he forgot it, and then Pony's mother scolded him.

There were some boys' fathers in the Boy's Town who were good fathers, and let their children do whatever they pleased, and Pony could not help feeling rather ashamed before these boys. If one of that sort of fellows' fathers passed a crowd of boys, they would not take any notice of their boys; but if Pony's father came along, he would very likely say, "Well, Pony!" or something like that, and then all the fellows would hollo, "Well, Pony! Well, Pony!" and make fun of his father, when he got past, and walk like him, or something, so that Pony would be so mad he would hardly know what to do. He hated to ask his father not to speak to him, or look at him, when he was with the fellows, but it seemed to him as if his father ought to know better without asking.

There were a great many things like that which no good father would have done, but the thing that made Pony lose all patience, and begin getting ready to run off right away, was the way his father behaved when Pony got mad at the teacher one day, and brought his books home, and said he was not going back to that school any more. The reason was because the teacher had put Pony back from third reader to the second and made him go into a class of little fellows not more than seven years old. It happened one morning, after a day when Pony had read very badly in the afternoon, and though he had explained that he had read badly because the weather was so hot, the teacher said he might try it in the second reader till the weather changed, at any rate; and the whole school laughed. The worst of it was that Pony was really a very good reader, and could speak almost the best of any of the boys; but that afternoon he was lazy, and would not pay attention.

At recess, after the teacher had put him back, all the fellows came round and asked him what he was going to do now; and he just shut his teeth and told them they would see; and at noon they did see. As soon as school was dismissed, or even before, Pony put all his books together, and his slate, and tied them with his slate-pencil string, and twitched his hat down off the peg, and strutted proudly out of the room, so that not only the boys but the teacher, too, could see that he was leaving school. The teacher looked on and pretended to smile, but Pony did not smile; he kept his teeth shut, and walked stiffly through the door, and straight home, without speaking to any one. That was the way to do when you left school in the Boy's Town, for then the boys would know you were in earnest; and none of them would try to speak to you, either; they would respect you too much.

Pony's mother knew that he had left school as soon as she saw him bringing home his books, but she only looked sorry and did not say anything. She must have told his father about it when he came to dinner, though, for as soon as they sat down at the table his father began to ask what the trouble was. Pony answered very haughtily, and said that old Archer had put him back into the second reader, and he was not going to stand it, and he had left school.

"Then," said his father, "you expect to stay in the second reader the rest of your life?"

This was something that Pony had never thought of before; but he said he did not care, and he was not going to have old Archer put him back, anyway, and he began to cry.

It was then that his mother showed herself a good mother, if ever she was one, and said she thought it was a shame to put Pony back and mortify him before the other boys, and she knew that it must just have happened that he did not read very well that afternoon because he was sick, or something, for usually he read perfectly.

His father said, "My dear girl, my dear girl!" and his mother hushed up and did not say anything more; but Pony could see what she thought, and he accused old Archer of always putting on him and always trying to mortify him.

"That's all very well," said his father, "but I think we ought to give him one more trial; and I advise you to take your books back again this afternoon, and read so well that he will put you into the fourth reader to-morrow morning."

Pony understood that his father was just making fun about the fourth reader, but was in earnest about his going back to school; and he left the table and threw himself on the lounge, with his face down, and cried. He said he was sick, and his head ached, and he could not go to school; his father said that he hoped his headache would wear off in the course of the afternoon, but if he was worse they would have the doctor when he came home from school.

Then he took his hat and went out of the front door to go up town, and Pony screamed out, "Well, I'll run off; that's what I'll do!"

His father did not take any notice of him, and his mother only said, "Pony, Pony!" while his sisters all stood round frightened at the way Pony howled and thrashed the lounge with his legs.

But before one o'clock Pony washed his face and brushed his hair, and took his books and started for school. His mother tried to kiss him, but he pushed her off, for it seemed to him that she might have made his father let him stay out of school, if she had tried, and he was not going to have any of her pretending. He made his face very cold and hard as he marched out of the house, for he never meant to come back to that house any more. He meant to go to school that afternoon, but as soon as school was out he was going to run off.

When the fellows saw him coming back with his books they knew how it was, but they did not mock him, for he had done everything that he could, and all that was expected of anybody in such a case. A boy always came back when he had left school in that way, and nobody supposed but what he would; the thing was to leave school; after that you were not to blame, whatever happened.

Before recess it began to be known among them that Pony was going to run off, because his father had made him come back, and then they did think he was somebody; and as soon as they got out at recess they all crowded round him and began to praise him up, and everything, and to tell him that they would run off, too, if their fathers sent them back; and so he began to be glad that he was going to do it. They asked him when he was going to run off, and he told them they would see; and pretty soon it was understood that he was going to run off the same night.

When school was out a whole crowd of them started with him, and some of the biggest fellows walked alongside of him, and talked down over their shoulders to him, and told him what he must do. They said he must not start till after dark, and he must watch out for the constable till he got over the corporation line and then nobody could touch him. They said that they would be waiting round the corner for him as soon as they had their suppers, and one of them would walk along with him to the end of the first street and then another would be waiting there to go with him to the end of the next, and so on till they reached the corporation line. Very likely his father would have the constable waiting there to stop him, but Pony ought to start to run across the line and then the fellows would rush out and trip up the constable and hold him down till Pony got safe across. He ought to hollo, when he was across, and that would let them know that he was safe and they would be ready to let the constable up, and begin to run before he could grab them.

Everybody thought that was a splendid plan except Archy Hawkins, that all the fellows called Old Hawkins; his father kept one of the hotels, and Old Hawkins used to catch frogs for the table; he was the one that the frogs used to know by sight, and when they saw him they would croak out: "Here comes Hawkins! Here comes Hawkins! Look out!" and jump off the bank into the water and then come up among the green slime, where nobody but Old Hawkins could see them. He was always joking and getting into scrapes, but still the boys liked him and thought he was pretty smart, and now they did not mind it when he elbowed the big boys away that were talking to Pony and told them to shut up.

"You just listen to your uncle, Pony!" he said. "These fellows don't know anything about running off. I'll tell you how to do it; you mind your uncle! It's no use trying to get away from the constable, if he's there, for he'll catch you as quick as lightning, and he won't mind these fellows any more than fleas. You oughtn't try to start till along about midnight, for the constable will be in bed by that time, and you won't have any trouble. You must have somebody to wake you up, and some of the fellows ought to be outside, to do it. You listen to your grandfather! You ought to tie a string around your big toe, and let the string hang out of the window, the way you do Fourth of July eve; and then just as soon as it strikes twelve, the fellows ought to tug away at the string till you come hopping to the window, and tell 'em to stop. But you got to whisper, and the fellows mustn't make any noise, either, or your father will be out on them in a minute. He'll be watching out, to-night, anyway, I reckon, because—"

Old Hawkins was walking backward in front of Pony, talking to him, and showing him how he must hop to the window, and all at once he struck his heel against a root in the sidewalk, and the first thing he knew he sat down so hard that it about knocked the breath out of him.

All the fellows laughed, and anybody else would have been mad, but Old Hawkins was too good-natured; and he got up and brushed himself, and said: "Say! let's go down to the river and go in, before supper, anyway."

Nearly all the fellows agreed, and Old Hawkins said: "Come along, Pony! You got to come, too!"

But Pony stiffly refused, partly because it seemed to him pretty mean to forget all about his running away, like that, and partly because he had to ask his mother before he went in swimming. A few of the little fellows kept with him all the way home, but most of the big boys went along with Old Hawkins.

One of them stayed with Pony and the little boys, and comforted him for the way the rest had left him. He was a fellow who was always telling about Indians, and he said that if Pony could get to the Indians, anywhere, and they took a fancy to him, they would adopt him into their tribe, if it was just after some old chief had lost a son in battle. Maybe they would offer to kill him first, and they would have to hold a council, but if they did adopt him, it would be the best thing, because then he would soon turn into an Indian himself, and forget how to speak English; and if ever the Indians had to give up their prisoners, and he was brought back, and his father and mother came to pick him out, they might know him by some mark or other, but he would not know them, and they would have to let him go back to the Indians again. He said that was the very best way, and the only way, but the trouble would be to get to the Indians in the first place. He said he knew of one reservation in the north part of the State, and he promised to find out if there were any other Indians living nearer; the reservation was about a hundred miles off, and it would take Pony a good while to go to them.

The name of this boy was Jim Leonard. But now, before I go the least bit further with the story of Pony Baker's running away, I have got to tell about Jim Leonard, and what kind of boy he was, and the scrape that he once got Pony and the other boys into, and a hair-breadth escape he had himself, when he came pretty near being drowned in a freshet; and I will begin with the hair-breadth escape, because it happened before the scrape.



Jim Leonard's stable used to stand on the flat near the river, and on a rise of ground above it stood Jim Leonard's log-cabin. The boys called it Jim Leonard's log-cabin, but it was really his mother's, and the stable was hers, too. It was a log stable, but up where the gable began the logs stopped, and it was weather-boarded the rest of the way, and the roof was shingled.

Jim Leonard said it was all logs once, and that the roof was loose clap-boards, held down by logs that ran across them, like the roofs in the early times, before there were shingles or nails, or anything, in the country. But none of the oldest boys had ever seen it like that, and you had to take Jim Leonard's word for it if you wanted to believe it. The little fellows nearly all did; but everybody said afterwards it was a good thing for Jim Leonard that it was not that kind of roof when he had his hair-breadth escape on it. He said himself that he would not have cared if it had been; but that was when it was all over, and his mother had whipped him, and everything, and he was telling the boys about it.

He said that in his Pirate Book lots of fellows on rafts got to land when they were shipwrecked, and that the old-fashioned roof would have been just like a raft, anyway, and he could have steered it right across the river to Delorac's Island as easy! Pony Baker thought very likely he could, but Hen Billard said:

"Well, why didn't you do it, with the kind of a roof you had?"

Some of the boys mocked Jim Leonard; but a good many of them thought he could have done it if he could have got into the eddy that there was over by the island. If he could have landed there, once, he could have camped out and lived on fish till the river fell.

It was that spring, about fifty-four years ago, when the freshet, which always came in the spring, was the worst that anybody could remember. The country above the Boy's Town was under water, for miles and miles. The river bottoms were flooded so that the corn had to be all planted over again when the water went down. The freshet tore away pieces of orchard, and apple-trees in bloom came sailing along with logs and fence rails and chicken-coops, and pretty soon dead cows and horses. There was a dog chained to a dog-kennel that went by, howling awfully; the boys would have given anything if they could have saved him, but the yellow river whirled him out of sight behind the middle pier of the bridge, which everybody was watching from the bank, expecting it to go any minute. The water was up within four or five feet of the bridge, and the boys believed that if a good big log had come along and hit it, the bridge would have been knocked loose from its piers and carried down the river.

Perhaps it would, and perhaps it would not. The boys all ran to watch it as soon as school was out, and stayed till they had to go to supper. After supper some of their mothers let them come back and stay till bedtime, if they would promise to keep a full yard back from the edge of the bank. They could not be sure just how much a yard was, and they nearly all sat down on the edge and let their legs hang over.

Jim Leonard was there, holloing and running up and down the bank, and showing the other boys things away out in the river that nobody else could see; he said he saw a man out there. He had not been to supper, and he had not been to school all day, which might have been the reason why he would rather stay with the men and watch the bridge than go home to supper; his mother would have been waiting for him with a sucker from the pear-tree. He told the boys that while they were gone he went out with one of the men on the bridge as far as the middle pier, and it shook like a leaf; he showed with his hand how it shook.

Jim Leonard was a fellow who believed he did all kinds of things that he would like to have done; and the big boys just laughed. That made Jim Leonard mad, and he said that as soon as the bridge began to go, he was going to run out on it and go with it; and then they would see whether he was a liar or not! They mocked him and danced round him till he cried. But Pony Baker, who had come with his father, believed that Jim Leonard would really have done it; and at any rate, he felt sorry for him when Jim cried.

He stayed later than any of the little fellows, because his father was with him, and even all the big boys had gone home except Hen Billard, when Pony left Jim Leonard on the bank and stumbled sleepily away, with his hand in his father's.

When Pony was gone, Hen Billard said: "Well, going to stay all night, Jim?"

And Jim Leonard answered back, as cross as could be, "Yes, I am!" And he said the men who were sitting up to watch the bridge were going to give him some of their coffee, and that would keep him awake. But perhaps he thought this because he wanted some coffee so badly. He was awfully hungry, for he had not had anything since breakfast, except a piece of bread-and-butter that he got Pony Baker to bring him in his pocket when he came down from school at noontime.

Hen Billard said, "Well, I suppose I won't see you any more, Jim; good-bye," and went away laughing; and after a while one of the men saw Jim Leonard hanging about, and asked him what he wanted there, at that time of night; and Jim could not say he wanted coffee, and so there was nothing for him to do but go. There was nowhere for him to go but home, and he sneaked off in the dark.

When he came in sight of the cabin he could not tell whether he would rather have his mother waiting for him with a whipping and some supper, or get to bed somehow with neither. He climbed softly over the back fence and crept up to the back door, but it was fast; then he crept round to the front door, and that was fast, too. There was no light in the house, and it was perfectly still.

All of a sudden it struck him that he could sleep in the stable-loft, and he thought what a fool he was not to have thought of it before. The notion brightened him up so that he got the gourd that hung beside the well-curb and took it out to the stable with him; for now he remembered that the cow would be there, unless she was in somebody's garden-patch or corn-field.

He noticed as he walked down towards the stable that the freshet had come up over the flat, and just before the door he had to wade. But he was in his bare feet and he did not care; if he thought anything, he thought that his mother would not come out to milk till the water went down, and he would be safe till then from the whipping he must take, sooner or later, for playing hooky.

Sure enough, the old cow was in the stable, and she gave Jim Leonard a snort of welcome and then lowed anxiously. He fumbled through the dark to her side, and began to milk her. She had been milked only a few hours before, and so he got only a gourdful from her. But it was all strippings, and rich as cream, and it was smoking warm. It seemed to Jim Leonard that it went down to his very toes when he poured it into his throat, and it made him feel so good that he did not know what to do.

There really was not anything for him to do but to climb up into the loft by the ladder in the corner of the stable, and lie down on the old last year's fodder. The rich, warm milk made Jim Leonard awfully sleepy, and he dropped off almost as soon as his head touched the corn-stalks. The last thing he remembered was the hoarse roar of the freshet outside, and that was a lulling music in his ears.

The next thing he knew, and he hardly knew that, was a soft, jolting, sinking motion, first to one side and then to another; then he seemed to be going down, down, straight down, and then to be drifting off into space. He rubbed his eyes, and found it was full daylight, although it was the daylight of early morning; and while he lay looking out of the stable-loft window and trying to make out what it all meant, he felt a wash of cold water along his back, and his bed of fodder melted away under him and around him, and some loose planks of the loft floor swam weltering out of the window. Then he knew what had happened. The flood had stolen up while he slept, and sapped the walls of the stable; the logs had given way, one after another, and had let him down, with the roof, into the water.

He got to his feet as well as he could, and floundered over the rising and falling boards to the window in the floating gable. One look outside showed him his mother's log-cabin safe on its rise of ground, and at the corner the old cow, that must have escaped through the stable door he had left open, and passed the night among the cabbages. She seemed to catch sight of Jim Leonard when he put his head out, and she lowed to him.

Jim Leonard did not stop to make any answer. He clambered out of the window and up onto the ridge of the roof, and there, in the company of a large gray rat, he set out on the strangest voyage a boy ever made. In a few moments the current swept him out into the middle of the river, and he was sailing down between his native shore on one side and Delorac's Island on the other.

All round him seethed and swirled the yellow flood in eddies and ripples, where drift of all sorts danced and raced. His vessel, such as it was, seemed seaworthy enough. It held securely together, fitting like a low, wide cup over the water, and perhaps finding some buoyancy from the air imprisoned in it above the window. But Jim Leonard was not satisfied, and so far from being proud of his adventure, he was frightened worse even than the rat which shared it. As soon as he could get his voice, he began to shout for help to the houses on the empty shores, which seemed to fly backward on both sides while he lay still on the gulf that swashed around him, and tried to drown his voice before it swallowed him up. At the same time the bridge, which had looked so far off when he first saw it, was rushing swiftly towards him, and getting nearer and nearer.

He wondered what had become of all the people and all the boys. He thought that if he were safe there on shore he should not be sleeping in bed while somebody was out in the river on a roof, with nothing but a rat to care whether he got drowned or not.

Where was Hen Billard, that always made fun so; or Archy Hawkins, that pretended to be so good-natured; or Pony Baker, that seemed to like a fellow so much? He began to call for them by name: "Hen Billard—O Hen! Help, help! Archy Hawkins, O Archy! I'm drowning! Pony, Pony, O Pony! Don't you see me, Pony?"

He could see the top of Pony Baker's house, and he thought what a good, kind man Pony's father was. Surely he would try to save him; and Jim Leonard began to yell: "O Mr. Baker! Look here, Mr. Baker! It's Jim Leonard, and I'm floating down the river on a roof! Save me, Mr. Baker, save me! Help, help, somebody! Fire! Fire! Fire! Murder! Fire!"

By this time he was about crazy, and did not half know what he was saying. Just in front of where Hen Billard's grandmother lived, on the street that ran along the top of the bank, the roof got caught in the branches of a tree which had drifted down and stuck in the bottom of the river so that the branches waved up and down as the current swashed through them. Jim Leonard was glad of anything that would stop the roof, and at first he thought he would get off on the tree. That was what the rat did. Perhaps the rat thought Jim Leonard really was crazy and he had better let him have the roof to himself; but the rat saw that he had made a mistake, and he jumped back again after he had swung up and down on a limb two or three times. Jim Leonard felt awfully when the rat first got into the tree, for he remembered how it said in the Pirate Book that rats always leave a sinking ship, and now he believed that he certainly was gone. But that only made him hollo the louder, and he holloed so loud that at last he made somebody hear.

It was Hen Billard's grandmother, and she put her head out of the window with her night-cap on, to see what the matter was. Jim Leonard caught sight of her and he screamed, "Fire, fire, fire! I'm drownding, Mrs. Billard! Oh, do somebody come!"

Hen Billard's grandmother just gave one yell of "Fire! The world's a-burnin' up, Hen Billard, and you layin' there sleepin' and not helpin' a bit! Somebody's out there in the river!" and she rushed into the room where Hen was, and shook him.

He bounced out of bed and pulled on his pantaloons, and was down-stairs in a minute. He ran bareheaded over to the bank, and when Jim Leonard saw him coming he holloed ten times as loud: "It's me, Hen! It's Jim Leonard! Oh, do get somebody to come out and save me! Fire!"

As soon as Hen heard that, and felt sure it was not a dream, which he did in about half a second, he began to yell, too, and to say: "How did you get there? Fire, fire, fire! What are you on? Fire! Are you in a tree, or what? Fire, fire! Are you in a flat-boat? Fire, fire, fire! If I had a skiff—fire!"

He kept racing up and down the bank, and back and forth between the bank and the houses. The river was almost up to the top of the bank, and it looked a mile wide. Down at the bridge you could hardly see any light between the water and the bridge.

Pretty soon people began to look out of their doors and windows, and Hen Billard's grandmother kept screaming, "The world's a-burnin' up! The river's on fire!" Then boys came out of their houses; and then men with no hats on; and then women and girls, with their hair half down. The fire-bells began to ring, and in less than five minutes both the fire companies were on the shore, with the men at the brakes and the foremen of the companies holloing through their trumpets.

Then Jim Leonard saw what a good thing it was that he had thought of holloing fire. He felt sure now that they would save him somehow, and he made up his mind to save the rat, too, and pet it, and maybe go around and exhibit it. He would name it Bolivar; it was just the color of the elephant Bolivar that came to the Boy's Town every year. These things whirled through his brain while he watched two men setting out in a skiff towards him.

They started from the shore a little above him, and they meant to row slanting across to his tree, but the current, when they got fairly into it, swept them far below, and they were glad to row back to land again without ever getting anywhere near him. At the same time, the tree-top where his roof was caught was pulled southward by a sudden rush of the torrent; it opened, and the roof slipped out, with Jim Leonard and the rat on it. They both joined in one squeal of despair as the river leaped forward with them, and a dreadful "Oh!" went up from the people on the bank.

Some of the firemen had run down to the bridge when they saw that the skiff was not going to be of any use, and one of them had got out of the window of the bridge onto the middle pier, with a long pole in his hand. It had an iron hook at the end, and it was the kind of pole that the men used to catch drift-wood with and drag it ashore. When the people saw Blue Bob with that pole in his hand, they understood what he was up to. He was going to wait till the water brought the roof with Jim Leonard on it down to the bridge, and then catch the hook into the shingles and pull it up to the pier. The strongest current set close in around the middle pier, and the roof would have to pass on one side or the other. That was what Blue Bob argued out in his mind when he decided that the skiff would never reach Jim Leonard, and he knew that if he could not save him that way, nothing could save him.

Blue Bob must have had a last name, but none of the little fellows knew what it was. Everybody called him Blue Bob because he had such a thick, black beard that when he was just shaved his face looked perfectly blue. He knew all about the river and its ways, and if it had been of any use to go out with a boat, he would have gone. That was what all the boys said, when they followed Blue Bob to the bridge and saw him getting out on the pier. He was the only person that the watchman had let go on the bridge for two days.

The water was up within three feet of the floor, and if Jim Leonard's roof slipped by Blue Bob's guard and passed under the bridge, it would scrape Jim Leonard off, and that would be the last of him.

All the time the roof was coming nearer the bridge, sometimes slower, sometimes faster, just as it got into an eddy or into the current; once it seemed almost to stop, and swayed completely round; then it just darted forward.

Blue Bob stood on the very point of the pier, where the strong stone-work divided the current, and held his hooked pole ready to make a clutch at the roof, whichever side it took. Jim Leonard saw him there, but although he had been holloing and yelling and crying all the time, now he was still. He wanted to say, "O Bob, save me!" but he could not make a sound.

It seemed to him that Bob was going to miss him when he made a lunge at the roof on the right side of the pier; it seemed to him that the roof was going down the left side; but he felt it quiver and stop, and then it gave a loud crack and went to pieces, and flung itself away upon the whirling and dancing flood. At first Jim Leonard thought he had gone with it; but it was only the rat that tried to run up Blue Bob's pole, and slipped off into the water; and then somehow Jim was hanging onto Blue Bob's hands and scrambling onto the bridge.

Blue Bob always said he never saw any rat, and a good many people said there never was any rat on the roof with Jim Leonard; they said that he just made the rat up.

He did not mention the rat himself for several days; he told Pony Baker that he did not think of it at first, he was so excited.

Pony asked his father what he thought, and Pony's father said that it might have been the kind of rat that people see when they have been drinking too much, and that Blue Bob had not seen it because he had signed the temperance pledge.

But this was a good while after. At the time the people saw Jim Leonard standing safe with Blue Bob on the pier, they set up a regular election cheer, and they would have believed anything Jim Leonard said. They all agreed that Blue Bob had a right to go home with Jim and take him to his mother, for he had saved Jim's life, and he ought to have the credit of it.

Before this, and while everybody supposed that Jim Leonard would surely be drowned, some of the people had gone up to his mother's cabin to prepare her for the worst. She did not seem to understand exactly, and she kept round getting breakfast, with her old clay pipe in her mouth; but when she got it through her head, she made an awful face, and dropped her pipe on the door-stone and broke it; and then she threw her check apron over her head and sat down and cried.

But it took so long for her to come to this that the people had not got over comforting her and trying to make her believe that it was all for the best, when Blue Bob came up through the bars with his hand on Jim's shoulder, and about all the boys in town tagging after them.

Jim's mother heard the hurrahing and pulled off her apron, and saw that Jim was safe and sound there before her. She gave him a look that made him slip round behind Blue Bob, and she went in and got a table-knife, and she came out and went to the pear-tree and cut a sucker.

She said, "I'll learn that limb to sleep in a cow-barn when he's got a decent bed in the house!" and then she started to come towards Jim Leonard.



As I said, it was in the spring that Jim Leonard's hair-breadth escape happened. But it was late in the summer of that very same year that he got Pony Baker and all the rest of the boys into about one of the worst scrapes that the Boy's Town boys were ever in.

At first, it was more like a dare than anything else, for when Jim Leonard said he knew a watermelon patch that the owner had no use for, the other boys dared him to tell where it was. He wagged his head, and said that he knew, and then they dared him to tell whose patch it was; and all at once he said it was Bunty Williams's, and dared them to come and get the melons with him. None of the boys in the Boy's Town would take a dare, and so they set off with Jim Leonard, one sunny Saturday morning in September.

Some of the boys had their arms round one another's necks, talking as loud as they could into one another's faces, and some whooping and holloing, and playing Indian, and some throwing stones and scaring cats. They had nearly as many dogs as there were boys, and there were pretty nearly all the boys in the neighborhood. There seemed to be thirty or forty of them, they talked so loud and ran round so, but perhaps there were only ten or eleven. Hen Billard was along, and so were Piccolo Wright and Archie Hawkins, and then a great lot of little fellows.

Pony Baker was not quite a little fellow in age; and there was something about him that always made the big boys let him go with their crowd. But now, when they passed Pony's gate and his mother saw them, and because it was such a warm morning and she thought they might be going down to the river and called out to him, "You mustn't go in swimming, Pony, dear; you'll get the ague," they began to mock Pony as soon as they got by, and to hollo, "No, Pony, dear! You mustn't get the ague. Keep out of the water if you don't want your teeth to rattle, Pony, dear!"

This made Pony so mad that he began to cry and try to fight them, and they all formed in a ring round him and danced and whooped till he broke through and started home. Then they ran after him and coaxed him not to do it, and said that they were just in fun. After that they used Pony first-rate, and he kept on with them.

Jim Leonard was at the head, walking along and holloing to the fellows to hurry up. They had to wade the river, and he was showing off how he could hop, skip, and jump through, when he stepped on a slippery stone and sat down in the water and made the fellows laugh. But they acted first-rate with him when they got across; they helped him to take off his trousers and wring them out, and they wrung them so hard that they tore them a little, but they were a little torn already; and they wrung them so dry that he said they felt splendid when he got them on again. One of his feet went through the side of the trouser leg that was torn before it got to the end, and made the fellows laugh.

When the boys first started Jim said he had got to go ahead so as to be sure that they found the right patch. He now said that Bunty Williams had two patches, one that he was going to sell the melons out of, and the other that he was going to let them go to seed in; and it was the second melon patch that he had deserted.

But pretty soon after they got over the river he came back and walked with the rest of the boys, and when they came to a piece of woods which they had to go through, he dropped behind. He said it was just the place for Indian, and he wanted to be where he could get at them if they started up when the boys got by, as they would very likely do.

Some of the big fellows called him a cowardy-calf; but he said he would show them when the time came, and most of the little boys believed him and tried to get in front. It was not long before he stopped and asked, What if he could not find the right patch? But the big boys said that they reckoned he could if he looked hard enough, and they made him keep on.

One of the dogs treed a squirrel, and Jim offered to climb the tree and shake the squirrel off; but Hen Billard said his watermelon tooth was beginning to trouble him, and he had no time for squirrels. That made all the big boys laugh, and they pulled Jim Leonard along, although he held back with all his might and told them to quit it. He began to cry.

Pony Baker did not know what to make of him. He felt sorry for him, but it seemed to him that Jim was acting as if he wanted to get out of showing the fellows where the patch was. Pony lent him his handkerchief, and Jim said that he had the toothache, anyway. He showed Pony the tooth, and the fellows saw him and made fun, and they offered to carry him, if his tooth ached so that he could not walk, and then suddenly Jim rushed ahead of the whole crowd.

They thought he was trying to run away from them, and two or three of the big fellows took after him, and when they caught up with him, the rest of the boys could see him pointing, and then the big boys that were with him gave a whoop and waved their hats, and all the rest of the boys tore along and tried which could run the fastest and get to the place the soonest.

They knew it must be something great; and sure enough it was a watermelon patch of pretty near an acre, sloping to the south from the edge of the woods, and all overrun with vines and just bulging all over with watermelons and muskmelons.

The watermelons were some of the big mottled kind, with lightish blotches among their darker green, like Georgia melons nowadays, and some almost striped in gray and green, and some were those big, round sugar melons, nearly black. They were all sizes, but most of them were large, and you need not "punk" them to see if they were ripe. Anybody could tell that they were ripe from looking at them, and the muskmelons, which were the old-fashioned long kind, were yellow as gold.

Now, the big fellows said, you could see why Bunty Williams had let this patch go to seed. It was because they were such bully melons and would have the best seeds; and the fellows all agreed to save the seeds for Bunty, and put them where he could find them. They began to praise Jim Leonard up, but he did not say anything, and only looked on with his queer, sleepy eyes, and said his tooth ached, when the fellows plunged down among the melons and began to burst them open.

They had lots of fun. At first they cut a few melons open with their knives, but that was too slow, and pretty soon they began to jump on them and split them with sharp-edged rocks, or anything, to get them open quick. They did not eat close to the rind, as you do when you have a melon on the table, but they tore out the core and just ate that; and in about a minute they forgot all about saving the seeds for Bunty Williams and putting them in one place where he could get them.

Some of the fellows went into the edge of the woods to eat their melons, and then came back for more; some took them and cracked them open on the top rail of the fence, and then sat down in the fence corner and plunged their fists in and tore the cores out. Some of them squeezed the juice out of the cores into the shells of the melons and then drank it out of them.

Piccolo Wright was stooping over to pull a melon and Archie Hawkins came up behind him with a big melon that had a seam across it, it was so ripe; and he brought it down on Piccolo's head, and it smashed open and went all over Piccolo. He was pretty mad at first, but then he saw the fun of it, and he took one end of the melon and scooped it all out, and put it on in place of his hat and wore it like a helmet. Archie did the same thing with the other end, and then all the big boys scooped out melons and wore them for helmets. They were all drabbled with seeds and pulp, and some of the little fellows were perfectly soaked. None of them cared very much for the muskmelons.

Somehow Pony would not take any of the melons, although there was nothing that he liked so much. The fellows seemed to be having an awfully good time, and yet somehow it looked wrong to Pony. He knew that Bunty Williams had given up the patch, because Jim Leonard said so, and he knew that the boys had a right to the melons if Bunty had got done with them; but still the sight of them there, smashing and gorging, made Pony feel anxious. It almost made him think that Jim Leonard was better than the rest because he would not take any of the melons, but stayed off at one side of the patch near the woods, where Pony stood with him.

He did not say much, and Pony noticed that he kept watching the log cabin where Bunty Williams lived on the slope of the hill about half a mile off, and once he heard Jim saying, as if to himself: "No, there isn't any smoke coming out of the chimbly, and that's a sign there ain't anybody there. They've all gone to market, I reckon."

It went through Pony that it was strange Jim should care whether Bunty was at home or not, if Bunty had given up the patch, but he did not say anything; it often happened so with him about the things he thought strange.

The fellows did not seem to notice where he was or what he was doing; they were all whooping and holloing, and now they began to play war with the watermelon rinds. One of the dogs thought he smelled a ground-squirrel and began to dig for it, and in about half a minute all the dogs seemed to be fighting, and the fellows were yelling round them and sicking them on; and they were all making such a din that Pony could hardly hear himself think, as his father used to say. But he thought he saw some one come out of Bunty's cabin, and take down the hill with a dog after him and a hoe in his hand.

He made Jim Leonard look, and Jim just gave a screech that rose above the din of the dogs and the other boys, "Bunty's coming, and he's got his bulldog and his shotgun!" And then he turned and broke through the woods.

All the boys stood still and stared at the hill-side, while the dogs fought on. The next thing they knew they were floundering among the vines and over the watermelon cores and shells and breaking for the woods; and as soon as the dogs found the boys were gone, they seemed to think it was no use to keep on fighting with nobody to look on, and they took after the fellows.

The big fellows holloed to the little fellows to come on, and the little fellows began crying. They caught their feet in the roots and dead branches and kept falling down, and some of the big fellows that were clever, like Hen Billard and Archie Hawkins, came back and picked them up and started them on again.

Nobody stopped to ask himself or any one else why they should be afraid of Bunty if he had done with his melon patch, but they all ran as if he had caught them stealing his melons, and had a right to shoot them, or set his dog on them.

They got through the woods to the shore of the river, and all the time they could hear Bunty Williams roaring and shouting, and Bunty Williams's bulldog barking, and it seemed as if he were right behind them. After they reached the river they had to run a long way up the shore before they got to the ripple where they could wade it, and by that time they were in such a hurry that they did not stop to turn up their trousers' legs; they just splashed right in and splashed across the best way they could. Some of them fell down, but everybody had to look out for himself, and they did not know that they were all safe over till they counted up on the other side.

Everybody was there but Jim Leonard, and they did not know what had become of him, but they were not very anxious. In fact they were all talking at the tops of their voices, and bragging what they would have done if Bunty had caught them.

Piccolo Wright showed how he could have tripped him up, and Archie Hawkins said that snuff would make a bulldog loosen his grip, because he would have to keep sneezing. None of them seemed to have seen either Bunty's shotgun or his bulldog, but they all believed that he had them because Jim Leonard said so, just as they had believed that Bunty had got done with his melon patch, until all at once one of them said, "Where is Jim Leonard, anyway?"

Then they found out that nobody knew, and the little fellows began to think that maybe Bunty Williams had caught him, but Hen Billard said: "Oh, he's safe enough, somewheres. I wish I had him here!"

Archie Hawkins asked, "What would you do to him?" and Hen said: "I'd show you! I'd make him go back and find out whether Bunty really had a bulldog with him. I don't believe he had."

Then all the big boys said that none of them believed so, either, and that they would bet that any of their dogs could whip Bunty's dog.

Their dogs did not look much like fighting. They were wet with running through the river, and they were lying round with their tongues hanging out, panting. But it made the boys think that something ought to be done to Jim Leonard, if they could ever find him, and some one said that they ought to look for him right away, but the rest said they ought to stop and dry their pantaloons first.

Pony began to be afraid they were going to hurt Jim Leonard if they got hold of him, and he said he was going home; and the boys tried to keep him from doing it. They said they were just going to build a drift-wood fire and dry their clothes at it, and they told him that if he went off in his wet trousers he would be sure to get the ague. But nothing that the boys could do would keep him, and so the big fellows said to let him go if he wanted to so much; and he climbed the river bank and left them kindling a fire.

When he got away and looked back, all the boys had their clothes off and were dancing round the fire like Indians, and he would have liked to turn back after he got to the top, and maybe he might have done so if he had not found Jim Leonard hiding in a hole up there and peeping over at the boys. Jim was crying, and said his tooth ached awfully, and he was afraid to go home and get something to put in it, because his mother would whale him as soon as she caught him.

He said he was hungry, too, and he wanted Pony to go over into a field with him and get a turnip, but Pony would not do it. He had three cents in his pocket—the big old kind that were as large as half-dollars and seemed to buy as much in that day—and he offered to let Jim take them and go and get something to eat at the grocery.

They decided he should buy two smoked red herrings and a cent's worth of crackers, and these were what Jim brought back after he had been gone so long that Pony thought he would never come. He had stopped to get some apples off one of the trees at his mother's house, and he had to watch his chance so that she should not see him, and then he had stopped and taken some potatoes out of a hill that would be first-rate if they could get some salt to eat them with, after they had built a fire somewhere and baked them.

They thought it would be a good plan to dig one of these little caves just under the edge of the bank, and make a hole in the top to let the smoke out; but they would have to go a good way off so that the other fellows could not see them, and they could not wait for that. They divided the herrings between them, and they each had two crackers and three apples, and they made a good meal.

Then they went to a pump at the nearest house, where the woman said they might have a drink, and drank themselves full. They wanted awfully to ask her for some salt, but they did not dare to do it for fear she would make them tell what they wanted it for. So they came away without, and Jim said they could put ashes on their potatoes the way the Indians did, and it would be just as good as salt.

They ran back to the river bank, and ran along up it till they were out of sight of the boys on the shore below, and then they made their oven in it, and started their fire with some matches that Jim Leonard had in his pocket, so that if he ever got lost in the woods at night he could make a fire and keep from freezing. His tooth had stopped aching now, and he kept telling such exciting stories about Indians that Pony could not seem to get the chance to ask why Bunty Williams should take after the boys with his shotgun and bulldog if he had given up the watermelon patch and only wanted it for seed.

The question lurked in Pony's mind all the time that they were waiting for the potatoes to bake, but somehow he could not get it out. He did not feel very well, and he tried to forget his bad feelings by listening as hard as he could to Jim Leonard's stories. Jim kept taking the potatoes out to see if they were done enough, and he began to eat them while they were still very hard and greenish under the skin. Pony ate them, too, although he was not hungry now, and he did not think the ashes were as good as salt on them, as Jim pretended. The potato he ate seemed to make him feel no better, and at last he had to tell Jim that he was afraid he was going to be sick.

Jim said that if they could heat some stones, and get a blanket anywhere, and put it over Pony and the stones, and then pour water on the hot stones, they could give him a steam bath the way the Indians did, and it would cure him in a minute; they could get the stones easy enough, and he could bring water from the river in his straw hat, but the thing of it was to get the blanket.

He stood looking thoughtfully down at Pony, who was crying now, and begging Jim Leonard to go home with him, for he did not believe he could walk on account of the pain that seemed to curl him right up. He asked Jim if he believed he was beginning to have the ague, but Jim said it was more like the yellow janders, although he agreed that Pony had better go home, for it was pretty late, anyway.

He made Pony promise that if he would take him home he would let him get a good way off before he went into the house, so that Pony's father and mother should not see who had brought him. He said that when he had got off far enough he would hollo, and then Pony could go in. He was first-rate to Pony on the way home, and helped him to walk, and when the pain curled him up so tight that he could not touch his foot to the ground, Jim carried him.

Pony could never know just what to make of Jim Leonard. Sometimes he was so good to you that you could not help thinking he was one of the cleverest fellows in town, and then all of a sudden he would do something mean. He acted the perfect coward at times, and at other times he was not afraid of anything. Almost any of the fellows could whip him, but once he went into an empty house that was haunted, and came and looked out of the garret windows, and dared any of them to come up.

He offered now, if Pony did not want to go home and let his folks find out about the melon patch, to take him to his mother's log-barn, and get a witch-doctor to come and tend him; but Pony said that he thought they had better keep on, and then Jim trotted and asked him if the jolting did not do him some good. He said he just wished there was an Indian medicine-man around somewhere.

They were so long getting to Pony's house that it was almost dusk when they reached the back of the barn, and Jim put him over the fence. Jim started to run, and Pony waited till he got out of sight and holloed; then he began to shout, "Father! Mother! O mother! Come out here! I'm sick!"

It did not seem hardly a second till he heard his mother calling back: "Pony! Pony! Where are you, child? Where are you?"

"Here, behind the barn!" he answered.

Pony's mother came running out, and then his father, and when they had put him into his own bed up-stairs, his mother made his father go for the doctor. While his father was gone, his mother got the whole story out of Pony—what he had been doing all day, and what he had been eating—but as to who had got him into the trouble, she said she knew from the start it must be Jim Leonard.

After the doctor came and she told him what Pony had been eating, without telling all that he had been doing, the doctor gave him something to make him feel better. As soon as he said he felt better she began to talk very seriously to him, and to tell him how anxious she had been ever since she had seen him going off in the morning with Jim Leonard at the head of that crowd of boys.

"Didn't you know he couldn't be telling the truth when he said the man had left his watermelon patch? Didn't any of the boys?"

"No," said Pony, thoughtfully.

"But when he pretended that he shouldn't know the right patch, and wanted to turn back?"

"We didn't think anything. We thought he just wanted to get out of going. Ought they let him turn back? Maybe he meant to keep the patch all to himself."

His mother was silent, and Pony asked, "Do you believe that a boy has a right to take anything off a tree or a vine?"

"No; certainly not."

"Well, that's what I think, too."

"Why, Pony," said his mother, "is there anybody who thinks such a thing can be right?"

"Well, the boys say it's not stealing. Stealing is hooking a thing out of a wagon or a store; but if you can knock a thing off a tree, or get it through a fence, when it's on the ground already, then it's just like gathering nuts in the woods. That's what the boys say. Do you think it is?"

"I think it's the worst kind of stealing. I hope my boy doesn't do such things."

"Not very often," answered Pony, thoughtfully. "When there's a lot of fellows together, you don't want them to laugh at you."

"O Pony, dear!" said his mother, almost crying.

"Well, anyway, mother," Pony said, to cheer her up, "I didn't take any of the watermelons to-day, for all Jim said Bunty had got done with them."

"I'm so glad to think you didn't! And you must promise, won't you, never to touch any fruit that doesn't belong to you?"

"But supposing an apple was to drop over the fence onto the sidewalk, what would you do then?"

"I should throw it right back over the fence again," said Pony's mother.

Pony promised his mother never to touch other people's fruit, but he was glad she did not ask him to throw it back over the fence if it fell outside, for he knew the fellows would laugh.

His father came back from going down-stairs with the doctor, and she told him all that Pony had told her, and it seemed to Pony that his father could hardly keep from laughing. But his mother did not even smile.

"How could Jim Leonard tell them that a man would give up his watermelon patch, and how could they believe such a lie, poor, foolish boys?"

"They wished to believe it," said Pony's father, "and so did Jim, I dare say."

"He might have got some of them killed, if Bunty Williams had fired his gun at them," said Pony's mother; and he could see that she was not half-satisfied with what his father said.

"Perhaps it was a hoe, after all. You can't shoot anybody with a hoe-handle, and there is nothing to prove that it was a gun but Jim's word."

"Yes, and here poor Pony has been so sick from it all, and Jim Leonard gets off without anything."

"You are always wanting the tower to fall on the wicked," said Pony's father, laughing. "When it came to the worst, Jim didn't take the melons any more than Pony did. And he seems to have wanted to back out of the whole affair at one time."

"Oh! And do you think that excuses him?"

"No, I don't. But I think he's had a worse time, if that's any comfort, than Pony has. He has suffered the fate of all liars. Sooner or later their lies outwit them and overmaster them, for whenever people believe a liar he is forced to act as if he had spoken the truth. That's worse than having a tower fall on you, or pains in the stomach."

Pony's mother was silent for a moment as if she could not answer, and then she said, "Well, all I know is, I wish there was no such boy in this town as Jim Leonard."



Now, anybody can see the kind of a boy that Jim Leonard was, pretty well; and the strange thing of it was that he could have such a boy as Pony Baker under him so. But, anyway, Pony liked Jim, as much as his mother hated him, and he believed everything Jim said in spite of all that had happened.

After Jim promised to find out whether there was any Indian reservation that you could walk to, he pretended to study out in the geography that the only reservation there was in the State was away up close to Lake Erie, but it was not far from the same canal that ran through the Boy's Town to the lake, and Jim said, "I'll tell you what, Pony! The way to do will be to get into a canal-boat, somehow, and that will take you to the reservation without your hardly having to walk a step; and you can have fun on the boat, too."

Pony agreed that this would be the best way, but he did not really like the notion of living so long among the Indians that he would not remember his father and mother when he saw them; he would like to stay till he was pretty nearly grown up, and then come back in a chief's dress, with eagle plumes all down his back and a bow in his hand, and scare them a little when he first came in the house and then protect them from the tribe and tell them who he was, and enjoy their surprise. But he hated to say this to Jim Leonard, because he would think he was afraid to live with the Indians always. He hardly dared to ask him what the Indians would do to him if they did not adopt him, but he thought he had better, and Jim said:

"Oh, burn you, maybe. But it ain't likely but what they'll adopt you; and if they do they'll take you down to the river, and wash you and scrub you, so's to get all the white man off, and then pull out your hair, a hair at a time, till there's nothing but the scalp-lock left, so that your enemies can scalp you handy; and then you're just as good an Indian as anybody, and nobody can pick on you, or anything. The thing is how to find the canal-boat."

The next morning at school it began to be known that Pony Baker was going to run off on a canal-boat to see the Indians, and all the fellows said how he ought to do it. One of the fellows said that he ought to get to drive the boat horses, and another that he ought to hide on board in the cargo, and come out when the boat was passing the reservation; and another that he ought to go for a cabin-boy on one of the passenger-packets, and then he could get to the Indians twice as soon as he could on a freight-boat. But the trouble was that Pony was so little that they did not believe they would take him either for a driver or a cabin-boy; and he said he was not going to hide in the cargo, because the boats were full of rats, and he was not going to have rats running over him all the time.

Some of the fellows thought this showed a poor spirit in Pony, and wanted him to take his dog along and hunt the rats; they said he could have lots of fun; but others said that the dog would bark as soon as he began to hunt the rats, and then Pony would be found out and put ashore in a minute. The fellows could not think what to do till at last one of them said:

"You know Piccolo Wright?"


"Well, you know his father has got a boat?"

"Yes. Well?"

"Well, and he's got a horse, too; and everything."

"Well, what of it?"

"Get Piccolo to hook the boat and take Pony to the reservation."

The fellows liked this notion so much that they almost hurrahed, and they could hardly wait till school was out and they could go and find Piccolo and ask him whether he would do it. They found him up at the canal basin, where he was fishing off the stern of his father's boat. He was a pretty big boy, though he was not so very old, and he had a lazy, funny face and white hair; and the fellows called him Piccolo because he was learning to play the piccolo flute, and talked about it when he talked at all, but that was not often. He was one of those boys who do not tan or freckle in the sun, but peel, and he always had some loose pieces of fine skin hanging to his nose.

All the fellows came up and began holloing at once, and telling him what they wanted him to do, and he thought it was a first-rate notion, but he kept on fishing, without getting the least bit excited; and he did not say whether he would do it or not, and when the fellows got tired of talking they left him and began to look round the boat. There was a little cabin at one end, and all the rest of the boat was open, and it had been raining, or else the boat had leaked, and it was pretty full of water; and the fellows got down on some loose planks that were floating there, and had fun pushing them up and down, and almost forgot what they had come for. They found a long pump leaning against the side of the boat, with its spout out over the gunwale, and they asked Piccolo if they might pump, and he said they might, and they pumped nearly all the water out after they had got done having fun on the planks.

Some of them went into the cabin and found a little stove there, where Pony could cook his meals, and a bunk where he could sleep, or keep in out of the rain, and they said they wished they were going to run off, too. They took more interest than he did, but they paid him a good deal of attention, and he felt that it was great to be going to run off, and he tried not to be homesick, when he thought of being down there alone at night, and nobody near but Piccolo out on the towpath driving the horse.

The fellows talked it all over, and how they would do. They said that Piccolo ought to hook the boat some Friday night, and the sooner the better, and get a good start before Saturday morning. They were going to start with Pony, and perhaps travel all night with him, and then get off and sleep in the woods, to rest themselves, and then walk home; and the reason that Piccolo ought to hook the boat Friday night was that they could have all Saturday to get back, when there was no school.

If the boat went two miles an hour, which she always did, even if she was loaded with stone from Piccolo's father's quarry, she would be fifteen miles from the Boy's Town by daybreak; and if they kept on travelling night and day, and Pony drove the horse part of the time, they could reach the Indian reservation Monday evening, for they would not want to travel Sunday, because it was against the law, and it was wicked, anyway. If they travelled on Sunday, and a storm came up, just as likely as not the boat would get struck by lightning, and if it did, the lightning would run out along the rope and kill the horse and Piccolo, too, if he was riding. But the way for Piccolo to do was always to come aboard when it began to rain, and that would keep Pony company a little, and they could make the horse go by throwing stones at him.

Pony and Piccolo ought to keep together as much as they could, especially at night, so that if there were robbers, they could defend the boat better. Of course, they could not make the horse go by throwing stones at him in the dark, and the way for them to do was for Pony to get out and ride behind Piccolo. Besides making it safer against robbers, they could keep each other from going to sleep by talking, or else telling stories; or if one of them did doze off, the other could hold him on; and they must take turn about sleeping in the daytime.

But the best way of all to scare the robbers was to have a pistol, and fire it off every little once in a while, so as to let them know that the boat was armed. One of the fellows that had a pistol said he would lend it to Pony if Pony would be sure to send it back from the reservation by Piccolo, for he should want it himself on the Fourth, which was coming in about three weeks. Another fellow that had five cents, which he was saving up till he could get ten, to buy a pack of shooting-crackers, said he would lend it to Pony to buy powder, if he only felt sure that he could get it back to him in time. All the other fellows said he could do it easily, but they did not say how; one of them offered to go and get the powder at once, so as to have it ready.

But Pony told him it would not be of any use, for he had promised his mother that he would not touch a pistol or powder before the Fourth. None of the fellows seemed to think it was strange that he should be willing to run away from home, and yet be so anxious to keep his promise to his mother that he would not use a pistol to defend himself from robbers; and none of them seemed to think it was strange that they should not want Piccolo, if he hooked his father's boat, to travel on Sunday with it.

After a while Piccolo came to the little hatch-door, and looked down into the cabin where the boys were sitting and talking at the tops of their voices; but in about a minute he vanished, very suddenly for him, and they heard him pumping, and then before they knew it, they heard a loud, harsh voice shouting, "Heigh, there!"

They looked round, and at the open window of the cabin on the land-side they saw a man's face, and it seemed to fill the whole window. They knew it must be Piccolo's father, and they just swarmed up the gangway all in a bunch. Some of them fell, but these hung on to the rest, somehow, and they all got to the deck of the cabin together, and began jumping ashore, so that Piccolo's father could not catch them. He was standing on the basin bank, saying something, but they did not know what, and they did not stop to ask, and they began to run every which way.

They all got safely ashore, except Jim Leonard; he fell over the side of the boat between it and the bank, but he scrambled up out of the water like lightning, and ran after the rest. He was pretty long-legged, and he soon caught up, but he was just raining water from his clothes, and it made the fellows laugh so that they could hardly run, to hear him swish when he jolted along. They did not know what to do exactly, till one of them said they ought to go down to the river and go in swimming, and they could wring Jim Leonard's clothes out, and lay them on the shore to dry, and stay in long enough to let them dry. That was what they did, and they ran round through the backs of the gardens and the orchards, and through the alleys, and climbed fences, so that nobody could see them. The day was pretty hot, and by the time they got to the river they were all sweating, so that Jim's clothes were not much damper than the others. He had nothing but a shirt and trousers on, anyway.

After that they did not try to get Piccolo to hook his father's boat, for they said that his father might get after them any time, and he would have a right to do anything he pleased to them, if he caught them. They could not think of any other boat that they could get, and they did not know how Pony could reach the reservation without a canal-boat. That was the reason why they had to give up the notion of his going to the Indians; and if anybody had told them that the Indians were going to come to Pony they would have said he was joking, or else crazy; but this was really what happened. It happened a good while afterwards; so long afterwards that they had about forgotten he ever meant to run off, and they had got done talking about it.



Jim Leonard was so mad because he lost his chip-hat in the canal basin, when he fell off the boat (and had to go home bareheaded and tell his mother all about what happened, though his clothes were dry enough, and he might have got off without her noticing anything, if it had not been for his hat) that he would not take any interest in Pony. But he kept on taking an interest in Indians, and he was the most excited fellow in the whole Boy's Town when the Indians came.

The way they came to town was this: The white people around the reservation got tired of having them there, or else they wanted their land, and the government thought it might as well move them out West, where there were more Indians, there were such a very few of them on the reservation; and so it loaded them on three canal-boats and brought them down through the Boy's Town to the Ohio River, and put them on a steamboat, and then took them down to the Mississippi, and put them on a reservation beyond that river.

The boys did not know anything about this, and they would not have cared much if they had. All they knew was that one morning (and it happened to be Saturday) three canal-boats, full of Indians, came into the basin. Nobody ever knew which boy saw them first. It seemed as if all the fellows in the Boy's Town happened to be up at the basin at once, and were standing there when the boats came in. When they saw that they were real Indians, in blankets, with bows and arrows, warriors, squaws, papooses, and everything, they almost went crazy, and when a good many of the Indians came ashore and went over to the court-house yard and began to shoot at quarters and half-dollars that the people stuck into the ground for them to shoot at, the fellows could hardly believe their eyes. They yelled and cheered and tried to get acquainted with the Indian boys, and ran and got their arrows for them, and everything; and if the Indians could only have stayed until the Fourth, which was pretty near now, they would have thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened. Jim Leonard said they belonged to a tribe that had been against the British in the last war, and were the friends of the Long Knives, as they called the Americans. He said that he read it in a book; and he hunted round for Pony Baker, and when he found him he said: "Come here, Pony; I want to tell you something."

Any other time all the other fellows would have crowded around and wanted to know what it was, but now they were so much taken up with the Indians that none of them minded him, and so he got a good chance at Pony alone. Pony was afraid that Jim Leonard wanted him to run off with the Indians, and this was just what he did want.

He said: "You ought to get a blanket and stain your face and hands with walnut juice, and then no one could tell you from the rest of the tribe, and you could go out with them where they're going and hunt buffaloes. It's the greatest chance there ever was. They'll adopt you into the tribe, maybe, as soon as the canal-boats leave, or as quick as they can get to a place where they can pull your hair out and wash you in the canal. I tell you, if I was in your place, I'd do it, Pony."

Pony did not know what to say. He hated to tell Jim Leonard that he had pretty nearly given up the notion of running off for the present, or until his father and mother did something more to make him do it.

Ever since the boys failed so in trying to get Piccolo to hook his father's boat for Pony to run off in, things had been going better with Pony at home. His mother did not stop him from half so many things as she used to do, and lately his father had got to being very good to him: let him lie in bed in the morning, and did not seem to notice when he stayed out with the boys at night, telling stories on the front steps, or playing hide-and-go-whoop, or anything. They seemed to be a great deal taken up with each other and not to mind so much what Pony was doing.

His mother let him go in swimming whenever he asked her, and did not make him promise to keep out of the deep water. She said she would see, when he coaxed her for five cents to get powder for the Fourth, and she let him have one of the boys to spend the night with him once, and she gave them waffles for breakfast. She showed herself something like a mother, and she had told him that if he would be very, very good she would get his father to give him a quarter, so that he could buy two packs of shooting-crackers, as well as five cents' worth of powder for the Fourth. But she put her arms around him and hugged him up to her and kissed his head and said:

"You'll be very careful, Pony, won't you? You're all the little boy we've got, and if anything should happen to you—"

She seemed to be almost crying, and Pony laughed and said: "Why, nothing could happen to you with shooting-crackers"; and she could have the powder to keep for him; and he would just make a snake with it Fourth of July night; put it around through the grass, loose, and then light one end of it, and she would see how it would go off and not make the least noise. But she said she did not want to see it; only he must be careful; and she kissed him again and let him go, and when he got away he could see her wiping her eyes. It seemed to him that she was crying a good deal in those days, and he could not understand what it was about. She was scared at any little thing, and would whoop at the least noise, and when his father would say: "Lucy, my dear girl!" she would burst out crying and say that she could not help it. But she got better and better to Pony all the time, and it was this that now made him ashamed with Jim Leonard, because it made him not want to run off so much.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse