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Amos Grimshaw was there in our dooryard the day that the old ragged woman came along and told our fortunes--she that was called Rovin' Kate, and was said to have the gift of "second sight," whatever that may be. It was a bright autumn day and the leaves lay deep in the edge of the woodlands. She spoke never a word but stood pointing at her palm and then at Amos and at me.
I was afraid of the old woman--she looked so wild and ragged. I have never seen a human being whose look and manner suggested a greater capacity for doing harm. Yet there was a kindly smile on her tanned face when she looked at me. Young as I was, the truth came home to me, somehow, that she was a dead but undeparted spirit and belonged to another world. I remember the tufts of gray hair above her blue eyes; the mole on the side of her aquiline nose; her pointed chin and small mouth. She carried a cane in her bony right hand and the notion came to me that she was looking for bad boys who deserved a cudgeling.
Aunt Deel nodded and said:
"Ayes, Kate--tell their fortunes if ye've anything to say--ayes!"
She brought two sheets of paper and the old woman sat down upon the grass and began to write with a little stub of a pencil. I have now those fateful sheets of paper covered by the scrawls of old Kate. I remember how she shook her head and sighed and sat beating her forehead with the knuckles of her bony hands after she had looked at the palm of Amos. Swiftly the point of her pencil ran over and up and down the sheet like the movements of a frightened serpent. In the silence how loudly the pencil seemed to hiss in its swift lines and loops.
My aunt exclaimed "Mercy!" as she looked at the sheet; for while I knew not, then, the strange device upon the paper, I knew, by and by, that it was a gibbet. Beneath it were the words: "Money thirst shall burn like a fire in him."
She rose and smiled as she looked into my face. I saw a kind, gentle glow in her eyes that reassured me. She clapped her hands with joy. She examined my palm and grew serious and stood looking thoughtfully at the setting sun.
I see, now, her dark figure standing against the sunlight as it stood that day with Amos in its shadow. What a singular eloquence in her pose and gestures and in her silence! I remember how it bound our tongues--that silence of hers! She covered her eyes with her left hand as she turned away from us. Slowly her right hand rose above her head with its index finger extended and slowly came down to her side. It rose again with two fingers showing and descended as before. She repeated this gesture until her four bony fingers had been spread in the air above her. How it thrilled me! Something jumped to life in my soul at the call of her moving hand. I passed a new gate of my imagination, I fancy, and if I have a way of my own in telling things it began that moment.
The woman turned with a kindly smile and sat down in the grass again and took the sheet of paper and resting it on a yellow-covered book began to write these words:
"I see the longing of the helper. One, two, three, four great perils shall strike at him. He shall not be afraid. God shall fill his heart with laughter. I hear guns, I hear many voices. His name is in them. He shall be strong. The powers of darkness shall fear him, he shall be a lawmaker and the friend of God and of many people, and great men shall bow to his judgment and he shall--"
She began shaking her head thoughtfully and did not finish the sentence, and by and by the notion came to me that some unpleasant vision must have halted her pencil.
Aunt Deel brought some luncheon wrapped in paper and the old woman took it and went away. My aunt folded the sheets and put them in her trunk and we thought no more of them until--but we shall know soon what reminded us of the prophet woman.
The autumn passed swiftly. I went to the village one Saturday with Uncle Peabody in high hope of seeing the Dunkelbergs, but at their door we learned that they had gone up the river on a picnic. What a blow it was to me! Tears flowed down my cheeks as I clung to my uncle's hand and walked back to the main street of the village. A squad of small boys jeered and stuck out their tongues at me. It was pity for my sorrows, no doubt, that led Uncle Peabody to take me to the tavern for dinner, where they were assuaged by cakes and jellies and chicken pie.
When we came out of the tavern we saw Benjamin Grimshaw and his son Amos sitting on the well curb. Each had a half-eaten doughnut in one hand and an apple in the other. I remember that Mr. Grimshaw said in a scolding manner which made me dislike him:
"Baynes, I'm glad to see you're so prosperous. Only the rich can afford to eat in taverns. Our dinner has cost us just three cents, an' I wouldn't wonder if I was worth about as much as you are."
My uncle made no reply and we passed on to a store nearly opposite the well, where I became deeply interested in a man who had tapped me in the stomach with his forefinger while he made a sound like the squealing of a rat. Then he said to Uncle Peabody:
"Look at that man out there by the well! He's the richest man in this section o' country. He owns half o' this village. I wouldn't wonder if he was worth fifty thousand dollars at least. What do ye suppose he spent for his dinner?"
"Three cents," said my uncle.
"Guess again--it was a cent and a half. He came in here and asked how much were the doughnuts. I told him they were a cent a piece. He offered me three cents for four of them--said it was all the change he had. He and his boy are eating them with some apples that they had in their pockets."
I remember how my uncle and the man laughed as the latter said: "His wealth costs too much altogether. 'Tain't worth it"--a saying which my uncle often quoted.
Thus early I got a notion of the curious extravagance of the money worshiper. How different was my uncle, who cared too little for money!
At Christmas I got a picture-book and forty raisins and three sticks of candy with red stripes on them and a jew's-harp. That was the Christmas we went down to Aunt Liza's to spend the day and I helped myself to two pieces of cake when the plate was passed and cried because they all laughed at my greediness. It was the day when Aunt Liza's boy, Truman, got a silver watch and chain and her daughter Mary a gold ring, and when all the relatives were invited to come and be convinced, once and for all, of Uncle Roswell's prosperity and be filled with envy and reconciled with jelly and preserves and roast turkey with sage dressing and mince and chicken pie. What an amount of preparation we had made for the journey, and how long we had talked about it! When we had shut the door and were ready to get into the sleigh our dog Shep came whining around us. I shall never forget how Uncle Peabody talked to him.
"Go back, Shep--go back to the house an' stay on the piaz," he began. "Go back I tell ye. It's Christmas day an' we're goin' down to ol' Aunt Liza's. Ye can't go way down there. No, sir, ye can't. Go back an' lay down on the piaz."
Shep was fawning at my uncle's foot and rubbing his neck on his boot and looking up at him.
"What's that ye say?" Uncle Peabody went on, looking down and turning his ear as if he had heard the dog speak and were in some doubt of his meaning. "Eh? What's that? An empty house makes ye terrible sad on a Chris'mas day? What's that? Ye love us an' ye'd like to go along down to Aunt Liza's an' play with the children?"
It was a clever ruse of Uncle Peabody, for Aunt Deel was softened by his interpretation of the dog's heart and she proposed:
"Le's take him along with us--poor dog! ayes!"
Then Uncle Peabody shouted:
"Jump right into the sleigh--you ol' skeezucks!--an' I'll cover ye up with a hoss blanket. Git in here. We ain't goin' to leave nobody alone on Chris'mas day that loves us--not by a jug full--no, sir! I wouldn't wonder if Jesus died for dogs an' hosses as well as for men."
Shep had jumped in the back of the sleigh at the first invitation and lay quietly under his blanket as we hurried along in the well-trod snow and the bells jingled. It was a joyful day and old Shep was as merry and well fed as the rest of us.
How cold and sad and still the house seemed when we got back to it in the evening! We had to drive to a neighbor's and borrow fire and bring it home with us in a pail of ashes as we were out of tinder. I held the lantern for my uncle while he did the chores and when we had gone to bed I fell asleep hearing him tell of Joseph and Mary going to pay their taxes.
In the spring my uncle hired a man to work for us--a noisy, brawny, sharp-featured fellow with keen gray eyes, of the name of Dug Draper. Aunt Deel hated him. I feared him but regarded him with great hope because he had a funny way of winking at me with one eye across the table and, further, because he could sing and did sing while he worked--songs that rattled from his lips in a way that amused me greatly. Then, too, he could rip out words that had a new and wonderful sound in them. I made up my mind that he was likely to become a valuable asset when I heard Aunt Deel say to my Uncle Peabody:
"You'll have to send that loafer away, right now, ayes I guess you will."
"Because this boy has learnt to swear like a pirate--ayes--he has!"
Uncle Peabody didn't know it but I myself had begun to suspect it, and that hour the man was sent away, and I remember that he left in anger with a number of those new words flying from his lips. A forced march to the upper room followed that event. Uncle Peabody explained that it was wicked to swear--that boys who did it had very bad luck, and mine came in a moment. I never had more of it come along in the same length of time.
One day in the spring when the frogs were chanting in the swamp land, they seemed to be saying, "Dunkelberg, Dunkelberg, Dunkelberg, Dunkelberg," from morning to bedtime. I was helping Uncle Peabody to fix the fence when he said:
"Hand me that stake, Bub. Don't be so much of a gentleman."
I handed the stake to him and then I said:
"Uncle Peabody, I want to be a gentleman."
"A gentleman!" he exclaimed as he looked down at me thoughtfully.
"A grand, noble gentleman with a sword and a gold watch and chain and diamonds on," I exclaimed.
He leaned against the top rail of the fence and looked down at me and laughed.
"Whatever put that in yer head?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know--how do ye be it?" I demanded.
"They's two ways," said he. "One is to begin 'fore you're born and pick out the right father. T'other is to begin after you're born and pick out the right son. You can make yerself whatever you want to be. It's all inside of a boy and it comes out by and by--swords and gold and diamonds, or rags an' dirt an' shovels an' crowbars."
I wondered what I had inside of me.
"I guess I ain't got any sword in me," I said.
"When you've been eating green apples and I wouldn't wonder," he answered as he went on with his work.
"Once I thought I heard a watch tickin' in my throat," I said hopefully.
"I don't mean them things is really in ye, but the power to git 'em is in ye," said Uncle Peabody. "That's what I mean--power. Be a good boy and study yer lessons and never lie, and the power'll come into ye jest as sure as you're alive."
I began to watch myself for symptoms of power.
After I ceased to play with the Wills boy Uncle Peabody used to say, often, it was a pity that I hadn't somebody of my own age for company. Every day I felt sorry that the Wills boy had turned out so badly, and I doubt not the cat and the shepherd dog and the chickens and Uncle Peabody also regretted his failures, especially the dog and Uncle Peabody, who bore all sorts of indignities for my sake.
In the circumstances I had to give a good deal of time to the proper education of my uncle. Naturally he preferred to waste his time with shovels and rakes. But he soon learned how to roll a hoop and play tag and ball and yard off and how to run like a horse when I sat on his shoulders. It was rather hard on him, after his work in the fields, but he felt his responsibility and applied himself with due diligence and became a very promising child. I also gave strict attention to his talent for story-telling. It improved rapidly. Being frank in my criticism he was able to profit by all his failures in taste and method, so that each story had a fierce bear in it and a fair amount of growling by and by. But I could not teach him to sing, and it was a great sorrow to me. I often tried and he tried, but I saw that it wasn't going to pay. He couldn't make the right kind of a noise. Through all this I did not neglect his morals. If he said an improper word--and I regret to say that he did now and then--I promptly corrected him and reported his conduct to Aunt Deel, and if she was inclined to be too severe I took his part and, now and then, got snapped on the forehead for the vigor of my defense. On the whole it is no wonder that Uncle Peabody wearied of his schooling.
One day when Uncle Peabody went for the mail he brought Amos Grimshaw to visit me. I had not seen him since the day he was eating doughnuts in the village with his father. He was four years older than I--a freckled, red-haired boy with a large mouth and thin lips. He wore a silver watch and chain, which strongly recommended him in my view and enabled me to endure his air of condescension.
He let me feel it and look it all over and I slyly touched the chain with my tongue just to see if it had any taste to it, and Amos told me that his grandfather had given it to him and that it always kept him "kind o' scairt."
"For fear I'll break er lose it an' git licked," he answered.
We went and sat down on the hay together, and I showed him the pennies I had saved and he showed me where his father had cut his leg that morning with a blue beech rod.
"Don't you ever git licked?" he asked.
"No," I answered.
"I guess that's because you ain't got any father," he answered. "I wish I hadn't. There's nobody so mean as a father. Mine makes me work every day an' never gives me a penny an' licks me whenever I do anything that I want to. I've made up my mind to run away from home."
After a moment of silence he exclaimed:
"Gosh! It's awful lonesome here! Gee whittaker! this is the worst place I ever saw!"
I tried to think of something that I could say for it.
"We have got a new corn sheller," I said, rather timidly.
"I don't care about your corn shellers," he answered with a look of scorn.
He took a little yellow paper-covered book from his pocket and began to read to himself.
I felt thoroughly ashamed of the place and sat near him and, for a time, said nothing as he read.
"What's that?" I ventured to ask by and by.
"A story," he answered. "I met that ragged ol' woman in the road t'other day an' she give me a lot of 'em an' showed me the pictures an' I got to readin' 'em. Don't you tell anybody 'cause my ol' dad hates stories an' he'd lick me 'til I couldn't stan' if he knew I was readin' 'em."
I begged him to read out loud and he read from a tale of two robbers named Thunderbolt and Lightfoot who lived in a cave in the mountains. They were bold, free, swearing men who rode beautiful horses at a wild gallop and carried guns and used them freely and with unerring skill, and helped themselves to what they wanted.
He stopped, by and by, and confided to me the fact that he thought he would run away and join a band of robbers.
"How do you run away?" I asked.
"Just take the turnpike and keep goin' toward the mountains. When ye meet a band o' robbers give 'em the sign an' tell 'em you want to join."
He went on with the book and read how the robbers had hung a captive who had persecuted them and interfered with their sport. The story explained how they put the rope around the neck of the captive and threw the other end of it over the limb of a tree and pulled the man into the air.
He stopped suddenly and demanded: "Is there a long rope here?"
I pointed to Uncle Peabody's hay rope hanging on a peg.
"Le's hang a captive," he proposed.
At first I did not comprehend his meaning. He got the rope and threw its end over the big beam. Our old shepherd dog had been nosing the mow near us for rats. Amos caught the dog who, suspecting no harm, came passively to the rope's end. He tied the rope around the dog's neck.
"We'll draw him up once--it won't hurt him any," he proposed.
I looked at him in silence. My heart smote me, but I hadn't the courage to take issue with the owner of a silver watch. When the dog began to struggle I threw my arms about him and cried. Aunt Deel happened to be near. She came and saw Amos pulling at the rope and me trying to save the dog.
"Come right down off'm that mow--this minute," said she.
When we had come down and the dog had followed pulling the rope after him, Aunt Deel was pale with anger.
"Go right home--right home," said she to Amos.
"Mr. Baynes said that he would take me up with the horses," said Amos.
"Ye can use shank's horses--ayes!--they're good enough for you," Aunt Deel insisted, and so the boy went away in disgrace.
I blushed to think of the poor opinion he would have of the place now. It seemed to me a pity that it should be made any worse, but I couldn't help it.
"Where are your pennies?" Aunt Deel said to me.
I felt in my pockets but couldn't find them.
"Where did ye have `em last?" my aunt demanded.
"On the haymow."
"Come an' show me."
We went to the mow and search for the pennies, but not one of them could we find.
I remembered that when I saw them last Amos had them in his hand.
"I'm awful 'fraid for him--ayes I be!" said Aunt Deel. "I'm 'fraid Rovin' Kate was right about him--ayes!"
"What did she say?" I asked.
"That he was goin' to be hung--ayes! You can't play with him no more. Boys that take what don't belong to `em--which I hope he didn't--ayes I hope it awful--are apt to be hung by their necks until they are dead--jest as he was goin' to hang ol' Shep--ayes!--they are!"
Again I saw the dark figure of old Kate standing in the sunlight and her ragged garments and bony hands and heard the hiss of her flying pencil point. I clung to my aunt's dress for a moment and then I found old Shep and sat down beside him with my arm around his neck. I did not speak of the story because I had promised not to and felt sure that Amos would do something to me if I did.
Uncle Peabody seemed to feel very badly when he learned how Amos had turned out.
"Don't say a word about it," said he. "Mebbe you lost the pennies. Don't mind 'em."
Soon after that, one afternoon, Aunt Deel came down in the field where we were dragging. While she was talking with Uncle Peabody an idea occurred to me and the dog and I ran for the house. There was a pan of honey on the top shelf of the pantry and ever since I had seen it put there I had cherished secret designs.
I ran into the deserted house, and with the aid of a chair climbed to the first shelf and then to the next, and reached into the pan and drew out a comb of honey, and with no delay whatever it went to my mouth. Suddenly it seemed to me that I had been hit by lightning. It was the sting of a bee. I felt myself going and made a wild grab and caught the edge of the pan and down we came to the floor--the pan and I--with a great crash.
I discovered that I was in desperate pain and trouble and I got to my feet and ran. I didn't know where I was going. It seemed to me that any other place would be better than that. My feet took me toward the barn and I crawled under it and hid there. My lip began to feel better, by and by, but big and queer. It stuck out so that I could see it. I heard my uncle coming with the horses. I concluded that I would stay where I was, but the dog came and sniffed and barked at the hole through which I had crawled as if saying, "Here he is!" My position was untenable. I came out. Shep began trying to clean my clothes with his tongue. Uncle Peabody stood near with the horses. He looked at me. He stuck his finger into the honey on my coat and smelt it.
"Well, by--" he stopped and came closer and asked.
"Bee stung me," I answered.
"Where did ye find so much honey that ye could go swimmin' in it?" he asked.
I heard the door of the house open suddenly and the voice of Aunt Deel.
"Peabody! Peabody! come here quick," she called.
Uncle Peabody ran to the house, but I stayed out with the dog.
Through the open door I heard Aunt Deel saying: "I can't stan' it any longer and I won't--not another day--ayes, I can't stan' it. That boy is a reg'lar pest."
They came out on the veranda. Uncle Peabody said nothing, but I could see that he couldn't stand it either. My brain was working fast.
"Come here, sir," Uncle Peabody called.
I knew it was serious, for he had never called me "sir" before. I went slowly to the steps.
"My lord!" Aunt Deel exclaimed. "Look at that lip and the honey all over him--ayes! I tell ye--I can't stan' it."
"Say, boy, is there anything on this place that you ain't tipped over?" Uncle Peabody asked in a sorrowful tone. "Wouldn't ye like to tip the house over?"
I was near breaking down in this answer:
"I went into the but'ry and that pan jumped on to me."
"Didn't you taste the honey?"
"No," I drew in my breath and shook my head.
"Liar, too!" said Aunt Deel. "I can't stan' it an' I won't."
Uncle Peabody was sorely tried, but he was keeping down his anger. His voice trembled as he said:
"Boy, I guess you'll have to--"
Uncle Peabody stopped. He had been driven to the last ditch, but he had not stepped over it. However, I knew what he had started to say and sat down on the steps in great dejection. Shep followed, working at my coat with his tongue.
I think that the sight of me must have touched the heart of Aunt Deel.
"Peabody Baynes, we mustn't be cruel," said she in a softer tone, and then she brought a rag and began to assist Shep in the process of cleaning my coat. "Good land! He's got to stay here--ayes!--he ain't got no other place to go to."
"But if you can't stan' it," said Uncle Peabody.
"I've got to stan' it--ayes!--I can't stan' it, but I've got to--ayes! So have you."
Aunt Deel put me to bed although it was only five o'clock. As I lay looking up at the shingles a singular resolution came to me. It was born of my longing for the companionship of my kind and of my resentment. I would go and live with the Dunkelbergs. I would go the way they had gone and find them. I knew it was ten miles away, but of course everybody knew where the Dunkelbergs lived and any one would show me. I would run and get there before dark and tell them that I wanted to live with them, and every day I would play with Sally Dunkelberg. Uncle Peabody was not half as nice to play with as she was.
I heard Uncle Peabody drive away. I watched him through the open window. I could hear Aunt Deel washing the dishes in the kitchen. I got out of bed very slyly and put on my Sunday clothes. I went to the open window. The sun had just gone over the top of the woods. I would have to hurry to get to the Dunkelbergs' before dark. I crept out on the top of the shed and descended the ladder that leaned against it. I stood a moment listening. The dooryard was covered with shadows and very still. The dog must have gone with Uncle Peabody. I ran through the garden to the road and down it as fast as my bare feet could carry me. In that direction the nearest house was almost a mile away. I remember I was out of breath, and the light growing dim before I got to it. I went on. It seemed to me that I had gone nearly far enough to reach my destination when I heard a buggy coming behind me.
"Hello!" a voice called.
I turned and looked up at Dug Draper, in a single buggy, dressed in his Sunday suit.
"Is it much further to where the Dunkelbergs live?" I asked.
"The Dunkelbergs? Who be they?"
It seemed to me very strange that he didn't know the Dunkelbergs.
"Where Sally Dunkelberg lives."
That was a clincher. He laughed and swore and said:
"Git in here, boy. I'll take ye there."
I got into the buggy, and he struck his horse with the whip and went galloping away in the dusk.
"I reckon you're tryin' to git away from that old pup of an aunt," said he. "I don't wonder. I rather live with a she bear."
I have omitted and shall omit the oaths and curses with which his talk was flavored.
"I'm gittin' out o' this country myself," said he. "It's too pious for me."
By and by we passed Rovin' Kate. I could just discern her ragged form by the roadside and called to her. He struck his horse and gave me a rude shake and bade me shut up.
It was dark and I felt very cold and began to wish myself home in bed.
"Ain't we most to the Dunkelbergs'?" I asked.
"No--not yet," he answered.
I burst into tears and he hit me a sounding whack in the face with his hand.
"No more whimperin'," he shouted. "Do ye hear me?"
He hurt me cruelly and I was terribly frightened and covered my face and smothered my cries and was just a little quaking lump of misery.
He shook me roughly and shoved me down on the buggy floor and said:
"You lay there and keep still; do you hear?"
"Yes," I sobbed.
I lay shaking with fear and fighting my sorrow and keeping as still as I could with it, until, wearied by the strain, I fell asleep.
What an angel of mercy is sleep! Down falls her curtain and away she leads us--delivered! free!--into some magic country where are the things we have lost--perhaps even joy and youth and strength and old friendships.
What befell me that night while I dreamed of playing with the sweet-faced girl I have wondered often. Some time in the night Dug Draper had reached the village of Canton, and got rid of me. He had probably put me out at the water trough. Kind hands had picked me up and carried me to a little veranda that fronted the door of a law office. There I slept peacefully until daylight, when I felt a hand on my face and awoke suddenly. I remember that I felt cold. A kindly faced man stood leaning over me.
"Hello, boy!" said he. "Where did you come from?"
I was frightened and confused, but his gentle voice reassured me.
"Uncle Peabody!" I called, as I arose and looked about me and began to cry.
The man lifted me in his arms and held me close to his breast and tried to comfort me. I remember seeing the Silent Woman pass while I was in his arms.
"Tell me what's your name," he urged.
"Barton Baynes," I said as soon as I could speak.
"Where is your father?"
"In Heaven," I answered, that being the place to which he had moved, as I understood it.
"Where do you live?"
"How did you get here?"
"Dug Draper brought me. Do you know where Sally Dunkelberg lives?"
"Is she the daughter of Horace Dunkelberg?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg," I amended.
"Oh, yes, I know her. Sally is a friend of mine. We'll get some breakfast and then we'll go and find her."
He carried me through the open door of his office and set me down at his desk. The cold air of the night had chilled me and I was shivering.
"You sit there and I'll have a fire going in a minute and get you warmed up."
He wrapped me in his coat and went into the back room and built a fire in a small stove and brought me in and set me down beside it. He made some porridge in a kettle while I sat holding my little hands over the stove to warm them, and a sense of comfort grew in me. Soon a boy came bringing a small pail of fresh milk and a loaf of bread. I remember how curiously the boy eyed me as he said to my new friend:
"Captain Moody wants to know if you'll come up to dinner?"
There was a note of dignity in the reply which was new to me, and for that reason probably I have always remembered it.
"Please present my thanks to the Captain and tell him that I expect to go up to Lickitysplit in the town of Ballybeen."
He dipped some porridge into bowls and put them on a small table. My eyes had watched him with growing interest and I got to the table about as soon as the porridge and mounted a chair and seized a spoon.
"One moment, Bart," said my host. "By jingo! We've forgotten to wash, and your face looks like the dry bed of a river. Come here a minute."
He led me out of the back door, where there were a wash-stand and a pail and a tin basin and a dish of soft soap. He dipped the pail in a rain barrel and filled the basin, and I washed myself and waited not upon my host, but made for the table and began to eat, being very hungry, after hastily drying my face on a towel. In a minute he came and sat down to his own porridge and bread and butter.
"Bart, don't dig so fast," said he. "You're down to hard pan now. Never be in a hurry to see the bottom of the bowl."
I have never forgotten the look of amusement in his big, smiling, gray eyes as they looked down upon me out of his full, ruddy, smooth-shaven face. It inspired confidence and I whispered timidly:
"Could I have some more?"
"All you want," he answered, as he put another ladle full in my bowl.
When we had finished eating he set aside the dishes and I asked:
"Now could I go and see Sally Dunkelberg?"
"What in the world do you want of Sally Dunkelberg?" he asked.
"Oh, just to play with her," I said as I showed him how I could sit on my hands and raise myself from the chair bottom.
"Haven't you any one to play with at home?"
"Only my Uncle Peabody."
"Don't you like to play with him?"
"Oh, some, but he can't stand me any longer. He's all tired out, and my Aunt Deel, too. I've tipped over every single thing on that place. I tipped over the honey yesterday--spillt it all over everything and rooend my clothes. I'm a reg'lar pest. So I want to play with Sally Dunkelberg. She knows all kinds o' riddles and games and all about grand ladies and gentlemen and she wears shiny shoes and her hair smells just like roses, and I want to play with her a little while--just a wee little while."
I had unburdened my soul. The above words are quoted not from my memory, but from his, which has always been most reliable. I remember well my thoughts and feelings but not many of my words on a day so distant.
"Forward, march!" said he and away we started for the home of the Dunkelbergs. The village interested me immensely. I had seen it only twice before. People were moving about in the streets. One thing I did not fail to notice. Every man we met touched his hat as he greeted my friend.
"Good morning, Sile," some said, as we passed them, or, "How are you, Comptroller?"
It was a square, frame house--that of the Dunkelbergs--large for that village, and had a big dooryard with trees in it. As we came near the gate I saw Sally Dunkelberg playing with other children among the trees. Suddenly I was afraid and began to hang back. I looked down at my bare feet and my clothes, both of which were dirty. Sally and her friends had stopped their play and were standing in a group looking at us. I heard Sally whisper:
"It's that Baynes boy. Don't he look dirty?"
I stopped and withdrew my hand from that of my guide.
"Come on, Bart," he said.
I shook my head and stood looking over at that little, hostile tribe near me.
"Go and play with them while I step into the house," he urged.
Again I shook my head.
"Well, then, you wait here a moment," said my new-found friend.
He left me and I sat down upon the ground, thoughtful and silent.
He went to the children and kissed Sally and whispered in her ear and passed on into the house. The children walked over to me.
"Hello, Bart!" said Sally.
"Hello!" I answered.
"Wouldn't you like to play with us?"
I shook my head.
Some of them began to whisper and laugh. I remember how beautiful the girls looked with their flowing hair and ribbons and pretty dresses. What happy faces they had! I wonder why it all frightened and distressed me so.
In a moment my friend came out with Mrs. Dunkelberg, who kissed me, and asked me to tell how I happened to be there.
"I just thought I would come," I said as I twisted a button on my coat, and would say no more to her.
"Mr. Wright, you're going to take him home, are you?" Mrs. Dunkelberg asked.
"Yes. I'll start off with him in an hour or so," said my friend. "I am interested in this boy and I want to see his aunt and uncle."
"Let him stay here with us until you're ready to go."
"I don't want to stay here," I said, seizing my friend's hand.
"Well, Sally, you go down to the office and stay with Bart until they go."
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" the man asked of me.
"I don't know," I said.
"That means yes," said the man.
Sally and another little girl came with us and passing a store I held back to look at many beautiful things in a big window.
"Is there anything you'd like there, Bart?" the man asked.
"I wisht I had a pair o' them shiny shoes with buttons on," I answered in a low, confidential tone, afraid to express, openly, a wish so extravagant.
"Come right in," he said, and I remember that when we entered the store I could hear my heart beating.
He bought a pair of shoes for me and I would have them on at once, and that made it necessary for him to buy a pair of socks also. After the shoes were buttoned on my feet I saw little of Sally Dunkelberg or the other people of the village, my eyes being on my feet most of the time.
The man took us into his office and told us to sit down until he could write a letter.
I remember how, as he wrote, I stood by his chair and examined the glazed brown buttons on his coat and bit one of them to see how hard it was, while Sally was feeling his gray hair and necktie. He scratched along with his quill pen as if wholly unaware of our presence.
Soon a horse and buggy came for us and I briefly answered Sally's good-by before the man drove away with me. I remember telling him as we went on over the rough road, between fields of ripened grain, of my watermelon and my dog and my little pet hen.
I shall not try to describe that home coming. We found Aunt Deel in the road five miles from home. She had been calling and traveling from house to house most of the night, and I have never forgotten her joy at seeing me and her tender greeting. She got into the buggy and rode home with us, holding me in her lap. Uncle Peabody and one of our neighbors had been out in the woods all night with pine torches. I recall how, although excited by my return, he took off his hat at the sight of my new friend and said:
"Mr. Wright, I never wished that I lived in a palace until now."
He didn't notice me until I held up both feet and called: "Look a' there, Uncle Peabody."
Then he came and took me out of the buggy and I saw the tears in his eyes when he kissed me.
The man told of finding me on his little veranda, and I told of my ride with Dug Draper, after which Uncle Peabody said:
"I'm goin' to put in your hoss and feed him, Comptroller."
"And I'm goin' to cook the best dinner I ever cooked in my life," said Aunt Deel.
I knew that my new friend must be even greater than the Dunkelbergs, for there was a special extravagance in their tone and manner toward him which I did not fail to note. His courtesy and the distinction of his address, as he sat at our table, were not lost upon me, either. During the meal I heard that Dug Draper had run off with a neighbor's horse and buggy and had not yet returned. Aunt Deel said that he had taken me with him out of spite, and that he would probably never come back--a suspicion justified by the facts of history.
When the great man had gone Uncle Peabody took me in his lap and said very gently and with a serious look:
"You didn't think I meant it, did ye?--that you would have to go 'way from here?"
"I don't know," was my answer.
"Course I didn't mean that. I just wanted ye to see that it wa'n't goin' to do for you to keep on tippin' things over so."
I sat telling them of my adventures and answering questions, flattered by their tender interest, until milking time. I thoroughly enjoyed all that. When I rose to go out with Uncle Peabody, Aunt Deel demanded my shoes.
"Take 'em right off," said she. "It ain't a goin' to do to wear 'em common--no, sir-ee! They're for meetin' or when company comes--ayes!"
I regretfully took off the shoes and gave them to her, and thereafter the shoes were guarded as carefully as the butternut trousers.
That evening as I was about to go up-stairs to bed, Aunt Deel said to my uncle:
"Do you remember what ol' Kate wrote down about him? This is his first peril an' he has met his first great man an' I can see that Sile Wright is kind o' fond o' him."
I went to sleep that night thinking of the strange, old, ragged, silent woman.
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