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Chapter 11

HOW JIM LEONARD PLANNED FOR PONY BAKER TO RUN OFF ON A RAFT

Now we have got to go back to Pony Baker again. The summer went along till it got to be September, and the fellows were beginning to talk about when school would take up. It was almost too cold to go in swimming; that is, the air made you shiver when you came out, and before you got your clothes on; but if you stood in the water up to your chin, it seemed warmer than it did on the hottest days of summer. Only now you did not want to go in more than once a day, instead of four or five times. The fellows were gathering chinquapin acorns most of the time, and some of them were getting ready to make wagons to gather walnuts in. Once they went out to the woods for pawpaws, and found about a bushel; they put them in cornmeal to grow, but they were so green that they only got rotten. The boys found an old shanty in the woods where the farmer made sugar in the spring, and some of the big fellows said they were coming out to sleep in it, the first night they got.

It was this that put Jim Leonard in mind of Pony’s running off again. All the way home he kept talking to Pony about it, and Pony said he was going to do it yet, some time, but when Jim Leonard wanted him to tell the time, he would only say, “You’ll see,” and wag his head.

Then Jim Leonard mocked him and dared him to tell, and asked him if he would take a dare. After that he made up with him, and said if Pony would run off he would run off, too; and that the way for them to do would be to take the boards of that shanty in the woods and build a raft. They could do it easily, because the boards were just leaned up against the ridge-pole, and they could tie them together with pawpaw switches, they were so tough, and then some night carry the raft to the river, after the water got high in the fall, and float down on it to the city.

“Why, does the river go past the city?” Pony asked.

“Of course it does,” said Jim Leonard, and he laughed at Pony. “It runs into the Ohio there. Where’s your geography?”

Pony was ashamed to say that he did not suppose that geography had anything to do with the river at the Boy’s Town, for it was not down on the map, like Behring Straits and the Isthmus of Suez. But he saw that Jim Leonard really knew something. He did not see the sense of carrying the raft two miles through the woods when you could get plenty of drift-wood on the river shore to make a raft of. But he did not like to say it for fear Jim Leonard would think he was afraid to be in the woods after dark, and after that he came under him more than ever. Most of the fellows just made fun of Jim Leonard, because they said he was a brag, but Pony began to believe everything he said when he found out that he knew where the river went to; Pony had never even thought.

Jim was always talking about their plan of running off together, now; and he said they must fix everything so that it would not fail this time. If they could only get to the city once, they could go for cabin-boys on a steamboat that was bound for New Orleans; and down the Mississippi they could easily hide on some ship that was starting for the Spanish Main, and then they would be all right. Jim knew about the Spanish Main from a book of pirate stories that he had. He had a great many books and he was always reading them. One was about Indians, and one was about pirates, and one was about dreams and signs, and one was full of curious stories, and one told about magic and how to do jugglers’ tricks; the other was a fortune-telling book. Jim Leonard had a paper from the city, with long stories in, and he had read a novel once; he could not tell the boys exactly what a novel was, but that was what it said on the back.

After Pony and he became such friends he told him everything that was in his books, and once, when Pony went to his house, he showed him the books. Pony was a little afraid of Jim Leonard’s mother; she was a widow woman, and took in washing; she lived in a little wood-colored house down by the river-bank, and she smoked a pipe. She was a very good mother to Jim, and let him do whatever he pleased—go in swimming as much as he wanted to, stay out of school, or anything. He had to catch drift-wood for her to burn when the river was high; once she came down to the river herself and caught drift-wood with a long pole that had a nail in the end of it to catch on with.

By the time school took up Pony and Jim Leonard were such great friends that they asked the teacher if they might sit together, and they both had the same desk. When Pony’s mother heard that, it seemed as if she were going to do something about it. She said to his father:

“I don’t like Pony’s going with Jim Leonard so much. He’s had nobody else with him for two weeks, and now he’s sitting with him in school.”

Pony’s father said, “I don’t believe Jim Leonard will hurt Pony. What makes you like him, Pony?”

Pony said, “Oh, nothing,” and his father laughed.

“It seems to be a case of pure affection. What do you talk about together?”

“Oh, dreams, and magic, and pirates,” said Pony.

His father laughed, but his mother said, “I know hell put mischief in the child’s head,” and then Pony thought how Jim Leonard always wanted him to run off, and he felt ashamed; but he did not think that running off was mischief, or else all the boys would not be wanting to do it, and so he did not say anything.

His father said, “I don’t believe there’s any harm in the fellow. He’s a queer chap.”

“He’s so low down,” said Pony’s mother.

“Well, he has a chance to rise, then,” said Pony’s father. “We may all be hurrahing for him for President some day.” Pony could not always tell when his father was joking, but it seemed to him he must be joking now. “I don’t believe Pony will get any harm from sitting with him in school, at any rate.”

After that Pony’s mother did not say anything, but he knew that she had taken a spite to Jim Leonard, and when he brought him home with him after school he did not bring him into the woodshed as he did with the other boys, but took him out to the barn. That got them to playing in the barn most of the time, and they used to stay in the hay-loft, where Jim Leonard told Pony the stories out of his books. It was good and warm there, and now the days were getting chilly towards evenings.

Once, when they were lying in the hay together, Jim Leonard said, all of a sudden, “I’ve thought of the very thing, Pony Baker.”

Pony asked, “What thing?”

“How to get ready for running off,” said Jim Leonard, and at that Pony’s heart went down, but he did not like to show it, and Jim Leonard went on: “We’ve got to provision the raft, you know, for maybe we’ll catch on an island and be a week getting to the city. We’ve got to float with the current, anyway. Well, now, we can make a hole in the hay here and hide the provisions till we’re ready to go. I say we’d better begin hiding them right away. Let’s see if we can make a place. Get away, Trip.”

He was speaking to Pony’s dog, that always came out into the barn with him and stayed below in the carriage-room, whining and yelping till they helped him up the ladder into the loft. Then he always lay in one corner, with his tongue out, and looking at them as if he knew what they were saying. He got up when Jim Leonard bade him, and Jim pulled away the hay until he got down to the loft floor.

“Yes, it’s the very place. It’s all solid, and we can put the things down here and cover them up with hay and nobody will notice. Now, to-morrow you bring out a piece of bread-and-butter with meat between, and I will, too, and then we will see how it will do.”

Pony brought his bread-and-butter the next day. Jim said he intended to bring some hard-boiled eggs, but his mother kept looking, and he had no chance.

“Let’s see whether the butter’s sweet, because if it ain’t the provisions will spoil before we can get off.”

He took a bite, and he said, “My, that’s nice!” and the first thing he knew he ate the whole piece up. “Well, never mind,” he said, “we can begin to-morrow just as well.”

The next day Jim Leonard brought a ham-bone, to cook greens with on the raft. He said it would be first-rate; and Pony brought bread-and-butter, with meat between. Then they hid them in the hay, and drove Trip away from the place. The day after that, when they were busy talking, Trip dug the provisions up, and, before they noticed, he ate up Pony’s bread-and-butter and was gnawing Jim Leonard’s ham-bone. They cuffed his ears, but they could not make him give it up, and Jim Leonard said:

“Well, let him have it. It’s all spoilt now, anyway. But I’ll tell you what, Pony—we’ve got to do something with that dog. He’s found out where we keep our provisions, and now he’ll always eat them. I don’t know but what we’ll have to kill him.”

“Oh no!” said Pony. “I couldn’t kill Trip!”

“Well, I didn’t mean kill him, exactly; but do something. I’ll tell you what—train him not to follow you to the barn when he sees you going.”

Pony thought that would be a good plan, and he began the next day at noon. Trip tried to follow him to the barn, and Pony kicked at him, and motioned to stone him, and said: “Go home, sir! Home with you! Home, I say!” till his mother came to the back door.

“Why, what in the world makes you so cross with poor Trip, Pony?” she asked.

“I’ll teach him not to tag me round everywhere,” said Pony.

His mother said: “Why, I thought you liked to have him with you?”

“I’m tired of it,” said Pony; but when he put his mother off that way he felt badly, as if he had told her a lie, and he let Trip come with him and began to train him again the next day.

It was pretty hard work, and Trip looked at him so mournfully when he drove him back that he could hardly bear to do it; but Jim Leonard said it was the only way, and he must keep it up. At last Trip got so that he would not follow Pony to the barn. He would look at him when Pony started and wag his tail wistfully, and half jump a little, and then when he saw Pony frown he would let his tail drop and stay still, or walk off to the woodshed and keep looking around at Pony to see if he were in earnest. It made Pony’s heart ache, for he was truly fond of Trip; but Jim Leonard said it was the only way, and so Pony had to do it.

They provisioned themselves a good many times, but after they talked a while they always got hungry, or Jim Leonard did, and then they dug up their provisions and ate them. Once when he came to spend Saturday afternoon with Pony he had great news to tell him. One of the boys had really run off. He was a boy that Pony had never seen, though he had heard of him. He lived at the other end of the town, below the bridge, and almost at the Sycamore Grove. He had the name of being a wild fellow; his father was a preacher, but he could not do anything with him.

Now, Jim Leonard said, Pony must run off right away, and not wait for the river to rise, or anything. As soon as the river rose, Jim would follow him on the raft; but Pony must start first, and he must take the pike for the city, and sleep in fence corners. They must provision him, and not eat any of the things before he started. He must not take a bundle or anything, because if he did people would know he was running off, or maybe they would think he was a runaway slave from Kentucky, he was so dark-complexioned. At first Pony did not like it, because it seemed to him that Jim Leonard was backing out; but Jim Leonard said that if two of them started off at the same time, people would just know they were running off, and the constable would take them up before they could get across the corporation line. He said that very likely it would rain in less than a week, and then he could start after Pony on the raft, and be at the Ohio River almost as soon as Pony was.



“‘why, you ain’t afraid, are you, Pony?’”


He said, “Why, you ain’t afraid, are you, Pony?” And Pony said he was not afraid; for if there was anything that a Boy’s Town boy hated, it was to be afraid, and Pony hated it the worst of any, because he was sometimes afraid that he was afraid.

They fixed it that Pony was to sleep the next Friday night in the barn, and the next morning, before it was light, he was to fill his pockets with the provisions and run off.

Every afternoon he took out a piece of bread-and-butter with meat between and hid it in the hay, and Jim Leonard brought some eggs. He said he had no chance to boil them without his mother seeing, but he asked Pony if he did not know that raw eggs were first-rate, and when Pony said no, he said, “Well, they are.” They broke one of the eggs when they were hiding them, and it ran over the bread-and-butter, but they wiped it off with hay as well as they could, and Jim Leonard said maybe it would help to keep it, anyway.

When he came round to Pony’s house the next Friday afternoon from school he asked him if he had heard the news, and when Pony said no, he said that the fellow that ran off had been taken up in the city by the watchman. He was crying on the street, and he said he had nowhere to sleep, and had not had anything to eat since the night before.

Pony’s heart seemed to be standing still. He had always supposed that as soon as he ran off he should be free from all the things that hindered and vexed him; and, although he expected to be sorry for his father and mother, he expected to get along perfectly well without them. He had never thought about where he should sleep at night after he got to the city, or how he should get something to eat.

“Now, you see, Pony,” said Jim Leonard, “what a good thing it was that I thought about provisioning you before you started. What makes you look so?”

Pony said, “I’m not looking!”

Jim Leonard said, “You’re not afraid, are you, just because that fellow got took up? You’re not such a cowardy-calf as to want to back out now?”

The tears came into Pony’s eyes.

“Cowardy-calf yourself, Jim Leonard! You’ve backed out long ago!”

“You’ll see whether I’ve backed out,” said Jim Leonard. “I’m coming round to sleep in the barn with you to-night, and help you to get a good start in the morning. And maybe I’ll start myself to-morrow. I will if I can get anybody to help me make the raft and bring it through the woods. Now let’s go up into the loft and see if the provisions are all safe.”

They dug the provisions up out of the hay and Jim Leonard broke one of the eggs against the wall. It had a small chicken in it, and he threw it away. Another egg smelt so that they could hardly stand it.

“I don’t believe these eggs are very good,” said Jim Leonard. “I got them out of a nest that the hen had left; mother said I might have them all.” He broke them one after another, and every one had a chicken in it, or else it was bad. “Well, never mind,” he said. “Let’s see what the bread-and-butter’s like.” He bit into a piece, but he did not swallow any. “Tastes kind of musty; from the hay, I reckon; and the meat seems kind of old. But they always give the sailors spoilt provisions, and this bread-and-butter will do you first-rate, Pony. You’ll be so hungry you can eat anything. Say, you ain’t afraid now, are you, Pony?”

“No, not now,” said Pony, but he did not fire up this time as he did before at the notion of his being afraid.

Jim Leonard said, “Because, maybe I can’t get mother to let me come here again. If she takes a notion, she won’t. But I’m going to watch out, and as soon as supper’s over, and I’ve got the cow into the lot, and the morning’s wood in, I’m going to try to hook off. If I don’t get here to stay all night with you I’ll be around bright and early in the morning, to wake you and start you. It won’t be light now much before six, anyway.”

William Dean Howells

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