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- True to Himself - 2/44 -
Kate was equally unsuccessful; and we might have starved but for a lucky incident that happened just as we were ready to give up in despair.
Walking along the road one day, I saw Farmer Tilford's bull tearing across the field toward a gate which had been accidentally left open. The Widow Canby, absorbed in thought and quite unconscious of the danger that threatened her, was just passing this gate, when I darted forward and closed it just a second before the bull reached it. I did not consider my act an heroic one, but the Widow Canby declared it otherwise.
"You are a brave boy," she said. "Who are you?"
I told her, coloring as I spoke. But she laid a kindly hand upon my shoulder.
"Even if your father was guilty, you are not to blame," she said, and she made me tell her all about myself, and about Kate, and the hard luck we were having.
The Widow Canby lived in an old-fashioned house, surrounded on three sides by orchards several acres in extent. She was well to do, but made no pretence to style. Many thought her extremely eccentric but that was only because they did not know her.
The day I came to her assistance she made me stay to supper, and when I left it was under promise to call the next day and bring my sister along.
This I did, and a long conversation took place, which resulted in Kate and myself going to live with the widow-- I to take care of the garden and the orchards, and my sister to help with the housekeeping, for which we received our board and joint wages of fifteen dollars per month.
We could not have fallen into better hands. Mrs. Canby was as considerate as one would wish, and had it not been for the cloud upon our name we would have been content.
But the stain upon our family was a source of unpleasantness to us. I fully believed my father innocent, and I wondered if the time would ever come when his character would be cleared.
My duties around Widow Canby's place were not onerous, and I had plenty of chance for self-improvement. I had finished my course at the village school in spite of the calumny that was cast upon me, and now I continued my studies in private whenever the opportunity offered.
I was looked down upon by nearly every one in the village. To strangers I was pointed out as the convict's son, and people reckoned that the "Widder Canby wasn't right sharp when she took in them as wasn't to be trusted."
I was not over-sensitive, but these remarks, which generally reached my ears sooner or later, made me very angry. What right had people to look down on my sister and myself? It was not fair to Kate and me, and I proposed to stand it no longer.
It was a lovely morning in September, but I was in no mood to enjoy the bright sunshine and clear air that flooded the orchard. I had just come from the depot with the mail for Mrs. Canby, and down there I had heard two men pass opinions on my father's case that were not only uncharitable but unjust.
I was therefore in no frame of mind to put up with Duncan Woodward's actions, and when he spoke of giving me a good drubbing I prepared to defend myself.
"Two can play at that game, Duncan," I replied.
"Ho! ho! Do you mean to say you can stand up against me?" he asked derisively.
"I can try," I returned stoutly. "I'm sure now that you have no business here."
"Why, you miserable little thief--"
"Stop that! I'm no thief, if you please."
"Well, you're the son of one, and that's the same thing."
"My father is innocent, and I won't allow any one, big or little, to call him a thief," I burst out. "Some day he will be cleared."
"Not much!" laughed Duncan. "My father knows all about the case. I can tell you that."
"Then perhaps he knows where the money went to," I replied quickly. "I know he was very intimate with my father at that time."
Had I stopped to think I would not have spoken as I did. My remark made the young man furious, and I had hardly spoken before Duncan hit me a stinging blow on the forehead, and, springing upon me, bore me to the ground.
AN ASSAULT ON THE ROAD
I knew Duncan Woodward would not hesitate to attack me. He was a much larger fellow than myself, and always ready to fight any one he thought he could whip.
Yet I was not prepared for the sudden onslaught that had been made. Had I been, I might have parried his blow.
But I did not intend to be subdued as easily as he imagined. The blow on my forehead pained not a little, and it made me mad "clear through."
"Get off of me!" I cried, as Duncan brought his full weight down upon my chest.
"Not much! Not until you promise to keep quiet about this affair," he replied.
"If you don't get off, you'll be mighty sorry;" was my reply, as I squirmed around in an effort to throw him aside.
Suddenly he caught me by the ear, and gave that member a twist that caused me to cry out with pain.
"Now will you do as I say?" he demanded.
Again he caught my ear. But now I was ready for him. It was useless to try to shake him off. He was too heavy and powerful for that. So I brought a small, but effective weapon into play. The weapon was nothing more than a pin that held together a rent in my trousers made the day previous. Without hesitation I pulled it out and ran it a good half-inch into his leg.
The yell be gave would have done credit to a wild Indian, and he bounded a distance of several feet. I was not slow to take advantage of this movement, and in an instant I was on my feet and several yards away.
Duncan's rage knew no bounds. He was mad enough to "chew me up," and with a loud exclamation he sprang after me, aiming a blow at my head as he did so.
I dodged his arm, and then, gathering myself together, landed my fist fairly and squarely upon the tip of his nose, a blow that knocked him off his feet and sent him rolling to the ground.
To say that I was astonished at what I had done would not express my entire feelings. I was amazed, and could hardly credit my own eyesight. Yet there he lay, the blood flowing from the end of his nasal organ. He was completely knocked out, and I had done the deed. I did not fear for consequences. I felt justified in what I had done. But I wondered how Duncan would stand the punishment.
With a look of intense bitterness on his face he rose slowly to his feet. The blood was running down his chin, and there were several stains upon his white collar and his shirt front. If a look could have crushed me I would have been instantly annihilated.
"I'll fix you for that!" he roared. "Roger Strong, I'll get even with you, if it takes ten years!"
"Do what you please, Duncan Woodward," I rejoined. "I don't fear you. Only beware how you address me in the future. You will get yourself into trouble."
"I imagine you will be the one to get into trouble," he returned insinuatingly.
"I'm not afraid. But-- hold up there!" I added, for Duncan had begun to move off toward the fence.
"I want you to hand over the pears you picked."
"Very well. Then I'll report the case to Mrs. Canby."
Duncan grew white.
"Take your confounded fruit," he howled, throwing a dozen or more of the luscious pears at my feet. "If I don't get even with you, my name isn't Duncan Woodward!"
And with this parting threat he turned to the fence, jumped over, and strode down the road.
In spite of the seriousness of the affair I could not help but laugh. Duncan had no doubt thought it a great lark to rob the widow's orchard, never dreaming of the wrong he was doing or of the injury to the trees. Now his nose was swollen, his clothes soiled, and he had suffered defeat in every way.
I had no doubt that he would do all in his power to get even with me. He hated me and always had. At school I had surpassed him in our studies, and on the ball field I had proved myself a superior player.
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