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April 25, 19—.
I thought it had all happened, that is, everything that was going to happen for the next ten years, but it seemed that the excitement of the last few weeks was but a beginning, and a very humble beginning at that! We had just gotten over the sensation of the fire and the arrest of the negro, and school was in running order again and life in general had resumed the even tenor of its ways, when, without warning, the sky fell on the house of Adams. They say that coming events cast their shadows before, and that everything works out according to a fixed rule, but this could only have been the exception that proved the rule. Having battered around this wicked world for twenty years I thought I was prepared for all the shocks that human flesh is heir to, and that no matter what happened there was a special rule of etiquette to fit it, but there was nothing in all my experience, nor in the Ten Commandments, nor Hoyle, nor Avogadro’s Hypothesis, nor Grimm’s Law, that prepared me for what happened next.
Saturday was the fateful day. Saturday is the day on which everything happens to me. I was born on Saturday; it was on Saturday I met you and landed headfirst into the Winnebago circus; it was on Saturday I heard the news that I was not to go to college, and, I suppose, in the order of human events, I shall die on Saturday.
On this Saturday morning—can it be only yesterday?—I sat in the doorway peacefully knitting and occasionally gazing off into space as my thoughts wandered, flitting from subject to subject like the yellow butterflies that flashed from flower to flower. The sunshine sprayed over the roof and glinted on my amber needles, until it seemed that I was knitting sunshine right into the socks. I was filled with a vast contentment that throbbed in my temples and quivered in my toes; from head to foot I was “in tune with the infinite.” That morning father and I had gone over our accounts and our balance was so satisfactory that we figured in another year we could finish paying off the mortgage.
When I complimented father on his talent for stock farming, he said simply: “It’s all owing to you. You put new life into us again. We never could have done it alone. Besides, I reckon most of the sharp bargaining in horseflesh was done by you. You got more out of people than I ever did. You’ve kept up the collections, too. You never got cheated once. You’re certainly worth your salt as a business manager, child.”
Imagine it! Calling me his business manager! I wasn’t an absolute good-for-nothing, then.
All these things went serenely through my mind as I sat there knitting in the sunshine, and laying my plans for summer pleasures. I would take the Wenonahs and go off camping somewhere in the woods for a week or two and give them a taste of real life in the open. The picture of that little camp rose vividly before me, and I planned out the details minutely. We would have to have a tent—somewhere or other I must acquire this necessary article. A humorous thought came to me of moving the schoolhouse out into the woods for a camper’s dwelling, and in imagination I saw it bumping along behind us on our journey, with Justice walking along beside it, carrying the chimney in his arms. I laughed aloud at my incongruous fancies, startling a hen that was clucking at my feet so that she fled with a scandalized squawk, stopping a few yards away to look around at me inquiringly, as if trying to figure out what was coming from me next. The hen broke up my fancies and I returned to my knitting with a start to find I had dropped several stitches and had a place in the heel of my sock that looked like the stem end of an apple. I raveled back and painstakingly re-knitted the heel, then I laid my knitting in my lap and gazed dreamily up the road, resting my eyes on the tender greenness of the fields.
Sitting thus I saw an automobile coming into view along the road. I watched it idly, glittering in the sunlight. To my surprise it turned into our lane and approached the house. I went down to the drive to meet it; tourists frequently stopped at the houses for water or for directions, and I would save these people the trouble of getting out of the car. The big machine rolled up to the drive and came to a standstill with a soft sliding of brakes.
Then a loud, hearty voice called out, “Why here she is now! Katherine Adams, don’t you know me? Don’t suppose you do, with these infernal glasses on.”
I looked hard at the man in the long linen dust coat and tourist cap who sat alone in the car; then my eyes nearly popped out of my head.
“Why, Judge Dalrymple!” I exclaimed, starting forward with a cry of joy and seizing the outstretched hand. “Where did you come from? Are you touring? How did you ever happen to stop here?” I tumbled the questions out thick and fast.
“I didn’t ‘happen’ to stop here,” said the Judge in his decisive way. “I’ve been rolling over these endless roads for three days on purpose to get here. Lord, what a God-forsaken country! And now that I am here at last,” he added, “aren’t you going to ask me in? Where’s your father?”
“Excuse me,” said I, blushing furiously. “I was so taken by surprise at seeing you that I even forgot my own name, to say nothing of my manners. Come right in.”
I settled him in the best chair in the house, brought him a glass of water and left him talking to mother in his hearty way while I went out in search of father. Father was painting a shed when I found him, and he came just the way he was, with streaks of paint on his jumper and overalls. If he had had any inkling of what he was being summoned to——!
Judge Dalrymple was just as pleased to meet father in his paint-streaked jumper as if he had been a senator in a silk hat, and after the first moment of embarrassment father felt as if the Judge were an old-time friend.
Then the Judge began to explain why he had come, and the bomb dropped on the roof of the house of Adams. I couldn’t comprehend it at first any more than father could. It sounded like a page out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But it seemed that he knew all about the company my father had lost his money in last summer, and he and some other men bought it up and set it on its feet again. War orders had suddenly boomed it and it was now solid as a rock. The original stockholders still held their shares and would draw their dividends as soon as they were declared, which Judge Dalrymple prophesied would be soon. Our days of struggling were over. We were “hard-uppers” no longer; we were “well off” at last. I left the Judge and father talking over the details of the business and wandered aimlessly around the dooryard, trying to comprehend the meaning of what had happened to us, and capering as each new thing occurred to me. My narrow horizon had suddenly rolled back and the whole world lay before me. College—travel—study—return to my beloved friends in the east—best doctors for mother—all those things kaleidoscoped before me, leaving me giddy and faint. I seized a hoe and began to demolish an ant hill for sheer exuberance of spirits.
“What’s the matter, have you had a sunstroke?” asked Justice Sherman, suddenly appearing beside me from somewhere.
“Worse than that, it’s an earthquake,” I replied. “Take a deep breath, Justice Sherman, because you’re going to need it in a minute.”
Then I told him about father’s investing his money in the western oil company last summer and apparently losing it, and how the company had unexpectedly come to life again.
“Whew!” said Justice, looking dazed for a minute; then he expressed the sincerest joy at our good fortune I have ever heard one mortal express at the prosperity of another. But after his congratulations were all made he stopped short as if he had just thought of something and then he said slowly, “I suppose you’ll be going away from here now; moving out west, possibly to San Francisco?” It seemed to me that he looked very sober at the thought.
“Not if I know it,” I replied decisively. “It’ll be the east for me, if I go anywhere, where the Winnebagos have their hunting grounds.”
“You are going away then?” asked Justice composedly.
“I don’t know,” I replied truthfully. “Nothing is settled yet. Give us time to catch our breath. In the meantime, come in and meet our guest, the new president of the Pacific Refining Company, who came to tell us the good news.”
Justice assumed an exaggerated air of dignity and formality that upset my composure so I could hardly keep my face straight as I walked into the house.
“Oh, Judge,” I called blithely, “here is the rest of the happy family. Justice, this is Judge Dalrymple.”
Then the second bomb dropped.
For, at the sight of Justice, Judge Dalrymple sprang out of his chair with a hoarse sound in his throat as if he were choking, and stood staring at him as if he had seen a ghost. Justice looked fit to drop.
“Father!” he said weakly.
“Justice!” said Judge Dalrymple with dry lips. “How did you get here? Where have you been all this time?”
“Out west,” replied Justice.
“Why didn’t you tell us where you were??” asked the Judge, sitting down heavily again.
“I merely followed your instructions,” replied Justice with dignity. “You told me to get out; that you didn’t ever want to hear from me again, and I took you at your word.”
“I was a fool, a blind fool, and in a great rage when I said that. I didn’t mean it,” said the Judge, in a choking voice.
“But you said it, nevertheless,” replied Justice, “and I was hot-headed and went.”
“What have you been doing all this time?” asked the Judge curiously.
“Roughing it,” replied Justice, in the tone of one who has great adventures to tell, “until I came here and turned into a professor.” A humorous twinkle lit up his eye as he mentioned the word “Professor.”
In a daze of astonishment father, mother and I watched this unexpected meeting and reconciliation between father and son. In due time we had all the story. Judge Dalrymple had set his heart on having his oldest son, Justice, become a lawyer like himself, and go into his law firm as junior partner. But Justice had no liking for the law. All he wanted to do was tinker with electrical things. It was the only thing in the world he cared for. When he got through college and his father insisted upon his entering the law school he flatly refused. There was a scene and he and his father quarreled bitterly. His father told him he could either go to law school or get out and hoe for himself and he chose the latter. He left home. All the while he had been in college he had been working on an electrical device to enable deaf men to receive wireless messages. He now went to work on this and finished it, and, boylike, thought his fortune was made. But it seemed fortune had turned her back on him. He had no money himself to market the device and he could not succeed in interesting anyone with capital. He spent many weary days, going from one place to another with his invention, only to meet with failure on all sides. He had always had delicate health and the long hours he had spent indoors working on his beloved experiments finally told on him and he developed a throat trouble which made it impossible for him to stay in the north. One day, in a moment of great discouragement, he threw his invention into the New York harbor and sorrowfully gave up his dream of being an inventor. He was down and out but still too proud to write home and ask help from his father. He had a chance to act as chauffeur for a party of ladies who wanted to tour the west and in this manner he made his way to Texas. He worked there on a sheep ranch for a number of months; then, seized with a desire to see the country, he worked his way through the Territory and into Arkansas, and finally into the township of Spencer, where he was attacked by robbers one night on the road, robbed of all his belongings and left lying there with his head cut open. Then it was that he had wandered into our stable, was found, and nursed back to health.
Our climate agreed with him so well that he decided to stay for a while, and got the position of teaching in the high school at Spencer, which wasn’t very hard work. The long walk or drive in the open, back and forth every day, and his sleeping in the airy shack, gradually worked a cure to his throat, and brought back the health he had lost through overwork and disappointment.
Besides—just listen to this, will you—he said that I had given him such an amazing new outlook on life that he wanted to stay as near to me as he could and learn my philosophy. He had been utterly discouraged when he came, had lost his grip on things, and didn’t care a hang what became of him, but I had put new life and ambition back into him. Imagine it! My philosophy!
He had resolved to have nothing more to do with his father after he had turned him out, and dropped the name of Dalrymple, going by the name of Justice Sherman. His full name was Justice Sherman Dalrymple.
Thus ended the mystery of the scholarly sheep herder. The son of my Judge Dalrymple! I couldn’t believe it, but it was true beyond a doubt. I did know a hawk from a handsaw, after all. No wonder he had looked so sad sometimes when he thought no one was watching him, with such memories to brood over! No wonder he had acted so queerly when I told him what we had done to Antha and Anthony up on Ellen’s Isle. They were his younger brother and sister!
Judge Dalrymple was speaking to Sherman again. “So you threw your invention into the New York Harbor, did you?” he said regretfully. “It’s too bad, because some one to whom you showed it has been writing and writing to the house about it. I couldn’t forward the letter because I had no idea where you were. The Government wants to try out your invention. I never dreamed that those fool experiments you were forever making amounted to anything. I see now you were wiser than I. Come home, boy, and tinker all you like. We’ll throw the lawyer business into the discard. Could you build up your thingummyjig again?”
At this astonishing news Justice began whooping like a wild Indian. “Could I build it up again?” he shouted. “Just give me a chance. Just watch me!” He seized me around the waist and began jigging with me all over the floor.
“Save the pieces,” I panted, sinking into a chair and making a vain attempt to smooth back my flying hair.
Then I noticed that Judge Dalrymple was looking at me with eyes filled with awe, not to say fear.
“Girl, what are you?” he asked in a strange voice. “Are you Fate? Every time I come in touch with you, you work some miracle in my household. First you perform a magic in my two younger children, and then when I attempt to make some slight return for your great service and seek you out, I find that you have also drawn my other child to you from out of the Vast and worked as great a miracle in him. Are you human or superhuman, that you can play with people’s destinies like that? Under what star were you born, anyway?”
“Weren’t any stars at all,” I replied, laughing. “The sun was shining!”
O my Winnies, what a day this has been! The sun rose exactly as on any other day, without any warning of what was coming, and yet before he set the world had been turned topsy turvy for five people! Isn’t life glorious, though? Mercy, but I’m glad I was born!
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