A Daughter of Martha
By Ivy Williams Stone
It was almost a year after Gloria’s marriage before her father acknowledged the news. Even then his message was brief:
“Tell my little girl I am sending her a strange wedding gift. She is to keep them always. The dirt diggings for diamonds get larger and larger. Regular mines. I hope to get rich quickly now.”
This letter, like all his previous ones, had been opened. The Kirkman family now knew it was useless to hope for the safe passage of money. Considering the various means of travel, it was strange that the letters ever got through at all.
When the gift arrived, it proved to be a half-open crate that need not be opened for inspection. It was legibly marked that it contained twelve ornamental gourds — value nothing. They had been picked from the luxuriant vines that Margaret Kirkman remembered having grown about their old home. The natural smooth surface had been carved with native scenes. The handles of some were queerly twisted, some were straight, some made a complete circle. But every gourd was decorated with finely sketched scenes. There were trek wagons, drawn by many oxen. There was a fording scene, with a wagon half tipped. There were native women washing at the river; kafirs in full war array, with shields and spears. One showed a monkey, caught, because he could not pull his sugar-filled paw from the tiny hole in a squash. Gloria laughed at the grimace the artist had made on the wizened face. When you tipped the gourds from end to end, the seeds rattled, producing a queer, hollow sound.
Gloria felt an unexplainable thrill as she unpacked this gift. A symbol of her childhood, it must contain some hidden meaning, for it was evident that great care had been used upon the engravings. And how the seeds rattled!
“Let’s cut one of ‘em open and see what it’s like inside,” Rodney Whitman was always inquisitive and he reached for his knife as he spoke, but Gloria drew her gourds quickly away.
“Oh, no,” she cried, “I don’t want them cut. I shall keep them always. Just as they are. The seeds would not grow, anyway. It is too cold here.” Thus from the time she was twenty she guarded the gift from the father. The gourds were placed on the what-not in the marvelous parlor. They were examined by native and visitor alike, and became a symbol of the father who never came with the fortune in diamonds which he had predicted.
The gourds and the what-not stood between the glass-domed wax flowers and the Franklin stove. The big square piano filled a generous space. A store carpet covered the entire floor, the straw under it creaking as you stepped carefully over the red roses. As a wedding gift, Jonas had given her a marvelous new luxury, a hanging lamp, with lilacs painted on the shade. You pulled it down to trim the wick and replenish the oil, and pushed it up after lighting. Its soft rays reached all corners of the room. A white bear skin rug lay before the Franklin stove, and a musical album that played “Coming Through the Rye” decorated a marble-topped table. Everlasting daisies in carved wooden vases filled each corner. It was a room of wonders, but they were inherited. Only the gourds really exclusively belonged to Gloria.
She soon learned that the visionary, dreamy expression of Jonas’ eyes was indicative of his disposition and temperament. He planned for tomorrow; built for future generations. The petty, trivial incidents of every day life worried him not. He lived in an exalted atmosphere, incapable of stooping to small bickerings. In all his leisure moments he either studied law or wrote poetry. He did not care to know when his two children quarreled. He was impatient with little Anna, whose malady baffled him. She defied discipline, played perilously on the banks of creeks, or between the feet of horses. She did not know or understand fear, and rushed blindly to the aid of her pets or any afflicted animal. Jonas expected meals to be cooked whether the wood box was full or empty. From his visionary dreams he was incapable of reaching down to the daily routine and everyday tasks which had to be performed in the home. He issued orders to his son and his employees, then he trusted implicitly to their honor to carry them out. He was often sadly disappoined, but more often, never learned of the results. He was frequently away from home, making long trips to his saw mill, another to his store in the town, forty miles away. When the sawmill broke down, the men lounged around on full pay. While at the sawmill, his store was robbed. While away from the farm, the water was run too long on one piece of grain, while another field scorched.
Gloria saw that his clothes never lacked buttons; that his linen was never scorched in the ironing; that his socks which were now store made, never had a hole. Jonas accepted her ministrations gratefully. It was wonderful to transfer the burden of home-making to willing shoulders. How she obtained the water which washed his linens was not his worry. There was a good well and a good boy. How she procured the wood which heated the irons which she used on his linens was not his problem. There was wood in the nearby hills, horses and wagons, idle men and axes.
Rodney Whitman regarded his new mother with small concern. His own mother having been too ill to trace his movements, he had lived much upon his own resources and supplied his own pastimes. If he did the tasks which his father allotted, there was no comment. If he ignored the orders, there was no punishment. He did not like to cut wood, much preferring to read the numerous books which he found in the library. Rodney disliked the farm, longed to live in town and run the store, hated the isolation of the saw mill. Results always seemed to require too much effort. Withal he was bright, inoffensive and tolerant. His secret hopes were to possess a store of his own.
He had early learned to conceal all unpleasant truths from his father. Before Gloria came, the dishes could remain unwashed, and there had been no one to make him carry water. The bread could go unbaked, and there had been no one able to make him cut wood. The family could subsist without butter, if he had to pasture the cows. He had learned to ingratiate himself into his father’s good graces.
The library contained many marvelous books, which made Gloria begrudge the hours necessary for household tasks. There were histories, poetry and the better novels of the period. Roe’s stirring romances of country life in America; Ouida’s novels of French and English wartime; Shakespeare’s complete works. Mark Twain’s tales were coming in, too, and Rodney owned a leather bound copy of The Prince and the Pauper.
Water had to be drawn from the well and carried to the reservoir on the rear of the stove. Wood had to be cut; cows had to be milked. The milk was kept in an outdoor cellar, so the cream could rise for the semi-weekly churning. There were always hired men, never late for meals. Mixing bread was a daily ritual. In spite of the fact that it was painted, the kitchen floor contained many grease spots.
The moss roses had suffered from neglect. Some of the glass was broken in the conservatory. The lily pond in the center of the lawn was overgrown with weeds. Little Anna would wander off into the nearby hills, staying for hours, ignoring Gloria’s frantic calls. The fluting irons required a skill exceeding that of knitting. Washing on a board consumed many hours. Pigs were forever breaking into the fields. During the years of his widowerhood, Jonas’ home had been wastefully managed. Gloria found half sacks of flour, abandoned and discarded. A barrel of dried fruit had gone wormy. Sacks of rice and sego had become the home of mice. Anna had carried fruit and sugar to her play house at the creek’s edge. The uneaten portion of every meal had been thrown to the dogs, who were over surfeited and lazy. Gloria thought of the years of poverty which she and her family had endured. She looked at the ruined flour and remembered the time she had given her mother the last slice of bread. She tried to tell the story to the children, but Rodney began to read and little Anna looked vacant and uncomprehending.
Gloria rose at five and labored until ten. She rejoiced that she had strength to serve Jonas, to make little comforts possible, to act as his bulwark against the continuous press of petty annoyances. She felt that the children would eventually come to appreciate the comforts which she added to the home. She felt that Rodney would become ashamed when she cut wood rather than ask him. She felt that before long he would appreciate the necessity of carrying the heavy buckets of water for her.
That spring little Peter was born. His coming brought new duties to Gloria, but his dimples and smiles were a compensation. Anna considered him a new pet, and her affections became a menace. And Gloria, looking at this marvelous creation, her first child, saw in him the power of vision, like his father; the lank, sinewy body of her brothers, and the curl of her own hair in a dark brown shade. Every night she knelt and prayed:
“God give my child his father’s brains and my energy.”
On Saturday night, Jonas looked more than usually preoccupied.
“If you will all attend,” he announced as the family assembled for supper. Instantly they were all attention. “My half sister, Catherine Peesley and daughter are coming here from England. She is a widow. They have had a bare existence since the Civil War closed so many cotton mills. They will make their home with us.”
“Two more women!” moaned Rodney.
The announcement of Catherine’s coming was soon followed by her arrival. She was plump, short and placid. Her head was crowned by an immense twist of brown hair, her fat, dimpled hands were so white and smooth that Gloria knew they had not done much work in a cotton mill. She immediately assumed the role of “star guest,” and it was evident that her daughter Victoria waited upon her mother’s slightest whim.
Victoria, beautiful in her well molded features, lovable in her quiet disposition, pulsing with youth, had no chance for self expression or simple pleasures. Every night and every morning, she combed her mother’s wealth of hair for an hour. Whenever a window was opened, Victoria hastily draped a shawl about Catherine’s shoulders. She filled her mother’s plate with the best foods, taking only a scanty portion for herself. She placed a footstool under her feet and removed her shoes at night. Every morning Victoria carried a breakfast tray to the guest chamber. Catherine had such a desire for cream and butter and hot breads that Gloria found it necessary to increase her mixings. Jonas bought another milk cow, and Gloria now churned three times a week. Catherine sat in the parlor by the wax flowers and the gourds. She played little, tinkling melodies on the piano and read novels.
“Ah, Gloria, my child,” Catherine always spoke to her brother’s wife as if she were an infant, “what a marvelous story this Under Two Flags is! The heroism of Cigaretta! She died for the man she loved — her heart pierced by the bullet intended for him. They don’t make such women any more, Gloria. I’ve read the book ten times, and it gets lovelier every time. And Dora Thorne!” Aunt Catherine wiped real tears from her eyes, and glanced out of the window toward the neglected lawn and the dried-up lily pond. “I had only the dole! It isn’t in real life like it is in the books!” She folded her hands, raised her feet, and the alert Victoria slipped the footstool under them.
“Gloria,” added Aunt Catherine, “I think I should like a dish of cream — clotted cream, with my biscuits at supper. Biscuits — butter and cream!” she smiled in happy anticipation.
A few nights later Gloria fancied she heard stealthy steps on the stairs. She did not rouse, but the next morning she found the cellar door unlatched and the cream taken from the pans she had expected to skim.
“Some animal has been getting into the milk cellar,” she announced at dinner. “I can’t imagine what kind it was, for nothing was tipped over, but all the cream was skimmed from the pans. That is why you have no cream with your pudding.”
Victoria flushed vividly and nearly choked on a gulp of water. Aunt Catherine remained placid and unconcerned. “We all have to make sacrifices,” she remarked. “I can get along with just butter.”
Rodney was all concern over Victoria, lest she choke, but he glanced first at his Aunt Catherine, suspicion in his eyes. He spent the afternoon in the tool shop, refusing to let Anna watch him. That night he was the last to retire. The next morning, the cellar door was again unlatched, and the clotted cream taken. Victoria did not come down as usual to take up Aunt Catherine’s breakfast. But presently Aunt Catherine appeared, looking aggrieved and martyrlike.
“Victoria has a sprained hand,” she complained. “Some rogue put a trap on the door and the poor child –”
Rodney was penitent! He had thought to incriminate Aunt Catherine, but had had no intention of hurting Victoria.
“Who will comb my hair?” lamented Aunt Catherine, “her hand will be sore for a month.”
Gloria put sage tea packs on Victoria’s hand. That night a little daughter was born. The little round head had a single, long golden hair. Gloria ran it through her fingers, and felt the crinkly texture. “Curly, but not red,” she exulted. Aunt Catherine, pressed into service, was bemoaning her lack of sleep. Victoria, in spite of her own pain, hushed the wails of Anna and little Peter. Jonas arrived with the dawn, looking harrassed and worried. He was irritated with the evident friction in his home, angry because he found the reservoir empty, and the wood box bare of fuel.
Jonas Whitman had homesteaded his farm. Later he had taken advantage of the additional homestead act, and thus obtained another quarter section. A one time neighbor had become dissatisfied, and Jonas had purchased his homestead. The proud possessor of three adjoining quarter sections, he yearned to complete the square. The coveted remaining quarter, “the north eastern quarter,” to be exact, contained a spring which rose at the extreme edge of the claim, where Cripple Creek supplied the waters which irrigated the Whitman fields. Jonas had right to all the water of this creek. But this was not enough. He wanted more land; more water. He wanted to be sole owner of a section of land. From generations of landless fathers back in England, the yearning to hold lands had come as an insatiable inheritance. While he had looked dreamed, his brain had actually been planning and scheming how to obtain possession of that desirable quarter section.
Lott Gascom, whose slanting, shifting eyes were fit companions for his shaggy, unkempt hair, lived in Cripple Creek canyon and operated a cheese factory. His premises were uninviting and littered. A pack of ferocious hounds lay about, making travel hazardous for any strangers who passed. His daughter Lulu was his sole companion. She rode the range for the cows, and aided her father in the manufacture of cheese. Lott Gascom had little regard for law and order. He could not homestead for there were secret details of his earlier life which naturalization would have revealed. But cheese making required cows and cows required pasture, so he had fenced in that particular quarter section which Jonas Whitman coveted. Whenever he felt that this particular pasture needed more water than the spring afforded, he tapped the Whitman carefully banked ditches. For several years Jonas Whitman made no comment. He did not even raise the question of ownership on the land. With a fine regard for the brains of a man who wrote poetry and read law, other neighbors assumed that Lott had gained possession, and went about their own tasks. Lott Gascom smiled secretly. These westerners were easy. He was getting free pasture and free water, and a fine price for his cheese. Once, as a means of toying with trouble, he drove in a calf that belonged to the Whitman ranch and branded it for his own. Still there was no complaint. The Whitman boys came regularly for cheese, always on horse back, always with a stout whip to quiet the dogs.
But Jonas Whitman had been biding his time. He had made frequent trips to the land office, and knew what he was doing. Early one spring morning Gloria found him consulting the family Bible. “I wanted to know Rodney’s exact age,” he explained. “He will soon be twenty-one.”
Presently lumber arrived from the mill and window sash and door frames came by freight. Jonas soon followed, and all these supplies were hauled to the very edge of the land fenced in by Lott Gascom. Without having previously disclosed his plans, Jonas wakened Rodney before dawn one morning and urged him to dress hurriedly.
“You are twenty-one today, my son. I am taking you to file on land.”
“I don’t care to own land,” grumbled Rodney sleepily.
“Don’t worry about owning the land,” laughed Jonas. “Some day you will thank me. Now, all you do is sign the papers. I do all the rest.”
“I hate cows and plows,” continued Rodney, unconscious of his rhyme.
But his protests were unavailing. Hardly aware of what he was doing, Rodney was hurried to the land office. There, still somewhat confused, he signed the necessary papers that he was twenty-one years of age; that he desired to homestead land; that the desired piece he wanted was the northeast quarter of section — it was too confusing to remember. Jonas Whitman did the talking, and paid the fees. Hurriedly the return trip was made. All other work was suspended. All hands were pressed into service. The fence which Lott Gascom had flaunted to the world was cut, and in a very short time a one room “residence” was built on the new claim. By night furniture, bedding and food supplies had been moved over. And Rodney Whitman, twenty-one, slept in his own bed, in his own house, on his own homestead.
“I don’t want to live here alone,” he protested with more vehemence than he had ever shown. “I don’t want this ground. I hate plowing.”
“I will attend to the cultivation,” answered his father. “I have borne all of Lott Gascom’s thievery against this day. I wanted him to hold the land until you were of age. Now, let him try to pasture his cows here. Let him try to grow grass with my water. Let him steal another calf.”
“I won’t live here five years,” asserted Rodney.
“Did you not notice that I paid heavily for the land? $1.25 per acre, so that you need live here only fourteen months. If I had not paid, you would have had to stick it out five years to gain title. A whole, unbroken section all my own!” he cried exultingly. “Six hundred and forty acres of land, with water! How many titled lords, back in England, would exchange places with me!”
Rodney was not thinking of lords, nor of free lands. He was thinking of the delicate curve of Victoria’s neck, and felt a surge of anger at Aunt Catherine who kept her virtually a slave.
Lott Gascom’s shifting eyes drew together in a heavy scowl when Jonas Whitman called upon him the next morning, and ordered him to move his cows.
“Revenge I will have!” he shook his fist at the smiling Jonas, and his voice rose to a trembling crescendo. “I will have my fence back. My cows die — we make no cheese — we starve!” He waved his hand toward Lulu, who at sixteen had blossomed into full womanhood. Her black curls, her red cheeks, heightened with a gay ribbon, gave a transitory charm to her slattern beauty. “My dogs,” Lott gave a loud call and the pack gathered around him eager for action — “my dogs they know how to kill.”
Jonas closed his saw mill. He had been losing money on it for years. He began to check over the grocery lists, omitting items which he considered luxuries. He ignored Aunt Catherine’s request for a daily fire in the parlor. He ignored her complaint that the butter was getting scarce, and that there was not even an occasional dish of cream. The price of a car of grain which he shipped east went to purchase a gravelly, pointed hill near the railroad tracks. Its sage and oak brush growth was thin and scraggly. It did not even have a value as pasture.
“You already have more land than you can cultivate,” protested Gloria, thinking of the many things which the children needed.
The visionary expression came again into his eyes.
“The day will come when this railroad will double track and gravel will be needed. The man who owns that point at that time will have a small fortune.”
Perhaps it was all true, but Gloria felt the pressing urge of immediate needs. Money for winter clothing was not forthcoming. She saw a picture in a farm magazine of a new kind of garment which you made with knitting needles. It was called a sweater. The picture was certainly alluring. She could knit! In an abandoned closet there were skeins and skeins of yarn, purchased for some forgotten purpose, before her marriage. Little Peter and the infant Nancy, and the frail Anna could yet have warm clothing. Hour after hour she worked, picking up the pattern, urging her fingers until they became nimble again. Aunt Catherine hinted for warm biscuits; still Gloria knitted. Rodney came for food supplies which Victoria, blushing prettily, got together for him. Gloria did not care whether the older people were fed or not. She carefully stored away enough milk to supply the three little children for the entire day, and applied herself to her task.
“There seems to be no milk.” Aunt Catherine’s monotone was gently complaining. “Not even milk, let alone cream.”
“Rodney or Victoria will have to do the milking,” Gloria did not even look up. Click — click, flew the needles — she must finish her sock before dark.
Aunt Catherine lost her placidity. “Did I hear you aright?” She assumed a dignified, statuesque attitude. “Do you infer that my Victoria shall milk a cow? Are we not guests in my brother’s home? Do you know that my mother was fifth lady in waiting to Queen Victoria until she married my father? Do you know that the king once falconed on my grandfather’s estate? Are guests expected to work? My child do menial work — never!”
Click — click — click flew Gloria’s needles. The dark would come all too soon. Suddenly she remembered the day she had snatched the whip from the stage driver. Now she was snatching the whip of indolence from Aunt Catherine.
“Those who do not work, do not eat.” She was surprised at her own courage.
Victoria sensed a quarrel and hoped to avert it. She was amiable and hated dissension. She snatched up a shawl and picked up a bucket.
“I would rather milk than comb mother’s hair!” she cried as she ran out of the house. She, too, was brave beyond her expectations. Aunt Catherine stood gaping at the door where Victoria had disappeared.
“That my daughter should work,” she moaned. “To what depths have I fallen!”
Rodney, on his daily visit, saw Victoria trudging toward the barnyard and felt a respect for her pluck. “Hi, Vic,” he called, “I’ll milk two to your one; is it a go?”
As she knitted and purled, Gloria thought of the Prince and the Pauper, the book which had never been read. How she longed to go up there for seclusion — for peace, for a brief respite from the cares which seemed to crush in upon her. Fingers, hurry. Socks must be made for the three children. Six pairs, at least. And three sweaters.
Gloria washed the dishes after the others slept. There were not so many, for Aunt Catherine had refused to set a table. There had been milk a plenty, for Rodney’s contest with Victoria had resulted in brimming pails. There was milk for breakfast too. She sliced bacon and set the mush to soak, mixed the bread and washed the milk buckets. As she opened the door to throw out the last water, a slender dark form stepped into the shaft of light.
“Lady,” it was the voice of a boy and Gloria lost her sudden sense of fear, “lady, could you give me a job and a place to sleep, and a meal?”
The Whitman door had never been closed against the wayfarer. That was an unwritten code. Although there were none too many provisions in the pantry, Gloria opened the door wider and motioned for him to enter. A slender, refined, well-dressed boy stood before her. He was evidently not of the common order of tramps. The valise which he carried was made of leather. His clothes were new, his shoes substantial and shiny.
“My name is Francis Conrad. My folks came originally from Iowa. I am thirteen and I want work. I am strong. I can learn. I don’t want wages. Only a place to stay.” He twirled a new felt hat nervously as he made his plea. His eyes wandered longingly to the table, where stood a pan of milk.
Gloria fed him and asked no embarrassing questions. When he had eaten she took him up to the store room, where there was still a vacant bed.
After all the tasks were finished she took up her lamp. There was still a half inch of oil. Perhaps she could look at the illustrations in that book. Perhaps she could read a little — just a very little. Surely they would not flog a true Prince of England. She held her lamp in one hand and went into the library.
When Jonas came home he promptly engaged this new boy to do all the chores. The task of enforcing employment upon Rodney was too much for his father, the boy contending that if he had to prove up on land, he should not be expected to do anything else. Jonas accepted the newcomer for what he said he was, and asked no questions. Through the vicissitudes of pioneering and railroading, he had come to respect the silences of men. But it was pitifully evident that this boy was not accustomed to hard labor. His hands were soft and tender. One day of pitching hay to the cattle, and his hands were blistered. Gloria knitted him a pair of mittens. His feet became frost-bitten, and he suffered with chillblains. Still, he stuck pluckily to the work.
One day in the early spring Jonas requested him to go to Lott Gascom’s for cheese.
Francis was eagerly willing to serve. He took the money for the cheese, and the burlap sack in which to carry it. Yes, he knew the way. He had seen the house when he rode for a lost calf.
“That man keeps dogs. Sort of nasty ones, you know. Here, take my buckskin coat. Be careful,” said Jonas.
Lott Gascom had waited a long while, hoping Jonas Whitman would send his son for cheese. He chafed under the sting of losing such valuable pasture. The knowledge that Jonas had let him play a bluff until Rodney was of proper age, was galling. There was no redress; no come back. It was all lawful. Besides, he was not a citizen of the United States. But some of his ancestors had known how to knife an adversary in the back, and the shifting eyes and the unkempt hair covered a brain that watched for revenge.
Twilight came early in Cripple Creek Canyon. While the sun had not set when Francis rode away from the Whitman home, shadows were gathering as he approached the dilapidated premises of Lott Gascom. Lulu was in the house dividing her time between a lovely new book with a yellow cover and the scanty evening meal. Lott leaned against the wall in a broken chair. The sound of approaching hoofs reached his ear. Instantly he was alert. A customer was coming. The sale of another cheese would be acceptable. It meant more tobacco, more corn meal, another of those books for Lulu. Pleasure turned to exultation when Lott recognized the buckskin coat of Jonas Whitman. He let the horseman come fairly close, then whistled quickly, fiercely. The seven dogs rushed from under the house like an advancing horde; they threw themselves at the old plow horse which floundered helplessly under their attack. They leaped upward, joyously eager for the permission to give battle.
“Nice doggies! Nice doggies!” called Francis. But his voice had no weight against their cries. He reached out his hand to pat the nearest head, thinking to be friendly, and his reward was a quick, sharp bite. He screamed in fright. The horse plunged wildly, the dogs leaped higher in the joy of conflict. The largest of the pack caught Francis’ foot in a terrific grip, against which the boy had no chance. He lost his hold on the bridle, the old horse gave another plunge, and the boy fell to the ground. Lott Gascom at first felt that Rodney had become womanish. Where was his whip, which had heretofore put fear into the dogs? Where was his horse, so skilled in kicking? Well, the revenge was plenty. He called the dogs off, and sauntered up to the prostrate boy.
“Guess your dad won’t jump my land again,” he began and stopped open mouthed. This boy was not Rodney Whitman. This boy was white-faced — his hand bore ugly teeth marks. Blood was oozing from his foot above his shoe. Francis had fainted. Lott Gascom was frightened into silence. But he did get out his old light wagon and took the suffering boy back to the ranch. Jonas Whitman did not need to ask questions. Francis was laid tenderly on the kitchen couch, and all flew to obey Gloria’s orders. They put up a bed in the parlor, beside the wax flowers and the big piano. Aided with a lantern, Anna gathered sagebrush leaves for tea. These Gloria steeped and used rags dipped in the tea to bind the wounds. But a flush rose to Francis’ face, and no fever reducing perspiration appeared. His whole body became hot and dry. In moments of spasmodic sleep he called wildly; “Nice doggie! Nice doggie!”
Jonas sent to the city for turpentine. He knew a doctor who had used it on a man who was hurt on the railroad. Still the fever did not subside. Aunt Catherine forgot to complain. Victoria milked the cows without comment. Rodney came and hoed feverishly in the garden, cutting off weeds and potatoes alike, or stood white faced at the parlor door.
“Nice doggie!” called Francis. “I’ll write to mother!”
Gloria felt she could do no more. If there was a mother somewhere for this boy, she should know of his sickness. But the boy had been reticent and evasive about his family; he had written no letters and received no mail. So Gloria went up to the store room and found his valise. There were his regular clothes. Another suit; several shirts. Plenty of store made socks. Down at the bottom of the valise, in a neat leather folder, she found what she sought. A card said simply:
“In case of accident, notify my father Judge Truman Conrad.”
Judge Conrad, the austere judge who came regularly to their own county seat to mete out justice! What sort of justice had he issued to his son, to send him away from home. Only forty miles away, they were wondering where their son was.
There was but one thing to do. Gloria went out to the milk cellar, and from the dirt floor she pulled up a small crock. In the bottom tinkled a few coins. Whether the children had shoes or not, this egg money was needed now. Without returning to the house for a wrap or to explain her absence, she turned into the road toward the station and the post office. It was three miles, but this was urgent. A message must go to Judge Truman Conrad, or else the boy would die.
Click, click, the portentous words went over the wire:
“Bring a doctor and a carriage and dog bite medicine to the ranch of Jonas Whitman to save your son Francis.”
The precious egg money was nearly all gone, but it made no difference.
Dawn brought no improvement. Rodney looked sick, Jonas was deathly white. The boy on the bed moaned and tossed in his fever. “Nice doggie! Nice doggie!” he called. Gloria had done her best. She had spent her last dollar; she had prayed, while Jonas thought her sleeping.
Then came a welcome sound on the small stones which formed the back dooryard. Victoria came rushing in with the news; a carriage had arrived, a beautiful black carriage with two prancing horses. There were three men, one with a bag.
“Just like the king, coming to my grandfather’s estate,” Aunt Catherine was all importance. Yes, there was a sick boy here; yes, he had been bitten by dogs. Yes, she had helped care for him. What lovely horses!
It took only a few moments for the doctor to give Francis a quieting medicine; to swab the ugly wounds with a dark brown liquid which he called iodine. They prepared a bed in the carriage; the doctor asked short, terse questions which Gloria answered with clarity.
“Your sage tea and turpentine were all that saved him,” the doctor’s verdict sounded like paeans of joy to Gloria.
“I thought he had gone to California!” The frantic father was no longer the grave, austere judge. “I never dreamed he would hide out so near home. He wants to study bugs and beetles and bees! I want him to study law. And rather than study law, he ran away!”
When they were ready to leave, Francis was conscious enough to smile his gratitude to Gloria. Judge Conrad drew a card from his pocket, wrote on it quickly and handed it to Gloria. “If you ever need help,” he said gravely, “send or bring this card to me.”
“Here, Mrs. Whitman,” the doctor handed Gloria the partial bottle of iodine, “if you ever have another such case, this may help you more than sage tea.” His glance swept the entire room, resting on the gourds on the what-not.
“Those are certainly unique,” he picked up one and examined it critically. “Don’t suppose you would care to sell me one?” He reached for the gourd with the curved handle, where the trapped monkey squirmed vainly to escape with his sugar. “I’ll give you twenty-five dollars for it!” he laughed.
Gloria thought of the empty crock in the cellar floor; of the coming winter and its needs. But there was her father’s admonition: “Keep them with you always.”
“They are not for sale.” Her answer was almost a whisper.
They were gone. The driver guiding his team carefully, to avoid all possible jars. Aunt Catherine craned her neck to catch the last fleeting glimpse of the shiny carriage. Gloria went back into the parlor, littered with the confusion of a sick room, still smelling of the turpentine and sage. One of the wax domes had been cracked, some of the everlasting daisies had been ground into the carpet. But the twelve gourds still remained intact on the what-not.
But in the kitchen Rodney was groping in the empty wood box for whittling material. Victoria was combing Aunt Catherine’s hair. The empty milk buckets stood upon the table. Peter had come downstairs. He was crouched up against the wall behind the stove, whimpering for milk.
“All it needed to make it look exactly like a king’s carriage, was a coat-of-arms,” Aunt Catherine’s voice was droningly even. “A coat-of-arms does add distinction to an estate. I should love one done in blue and gold. The Whitman family are entitled to one, too. King George, when he falconed on my grandfather’s estate, gave them one. I declare Gloria, I can’t see why you refused to sell that gourd to the doctor. Twenty-five dollars would have been most welcome. A new brush and comb would be most acceptable.”
Gloria made no answer. She merely took up the milk buckets and set out for the barn. As she passed the cellar, she put the crock back in its hiding place and dropped forty cents, the remains from the telegram, into it. It meant the price of one little shoe for one little foot.