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- Viola Gwyn - 2/63 -
times bigger than she was. He was bigger than anybody else in all the world.
The little border town in Kentucky, despite its population of less than a thousand, was the biggest city in the world. There was no doubt about that either in Kenneth's loyal little mind. It was bigger than Philadelphia--(he called it Fil-LEF-ily),--where his mother used to live when she was a little girl, or Massashooshoo, where Minda's father and mother comed from.
He was secretly distressed by the superior physical proportions of his "Auntie" Rachel. There was no denying the fact that she was a great deal taller than his mother. He had an abiding faith, however, that some day his mother would grow up and be lots taller than Minda's mother. He challenged his toddling playmate to deny that his mother would be as big as hers some day, a lofty taunt that left Minda quite unmoved.
Nevertheless, he was very fond of "Auntie" Rachel. She was good to him. She gave him cakes and crullers and spread maple sugar on many a surreptitious piece of bread and butter, and she had a jolly way of laughing, and she never told him to wash his hands or face, no matter how dirty they were. In that one respect, at least, she was much nicer than his mother. He liked Mr. Carter, too. In fact, he liked everybody except old Boose, the tin pedlar, who took little boys out into the woods and left them for the wolves to eat if they were not very, very good.
He was four when they brought Mr. Carter home in a wagon one day. Some men carried him into the house, and Aunt Rachel cried, and his mother went over and stayed a long, long time with her, and his father got on his horse and rode off as fast as he could go for Doctor Flint, and he was not allowed to go outside the house all day,--or old Boose would get him.
Then, one day, he saw "Auntie" Rachel all dressed in black, and he was frightened. He ran away crying. She looked so tall and scary,---like the witches Biddy Shay whispered about when his grandma was not around,--the witches and hags that flew up to the sky on broomsticks and never came out except at night.
His father did the "chores" for '"Auntie" Rachel for a long time, because Mr. Carter was not there to attend to them.
There came a day when the buds were fresh on the twigs, and the grass was very green, and the birds that had been gone for a long time were singing again in the trees, and it was not raining. So he went down the road to play in Minda's yard. He called to her, but she did not appear. No one appeared. The house was silent. "Auntie" Rachel was not there. Even the dogs were gone, and Mr. Carter's horses and his wagon. He could not understand. Only yesterday he had played in the barn with Minda.
Then his grandma came hurrying through the trees from his own home, where she had been with grandpa and Uncle Fred and Uncle Dan since breakfast time. She took him up in her arms and told him that Minda was gone. He had never seen his grandma look so stern and angry. Biddy Shay had been there all morning too, and several of the neighbours. He wondered if it could be the Sabbath, and yet that did not seem possible, because it was only two days since he went to Sunday school, and yesterday his mother had done the washing. She always washed on Monday and ironed on Tuesday. This must be Tuesday, but maybe he was wrong about that. She was not ironing, so it could not be Tuesday. He was very much bewildered.
His mother was in the bedroom with grandpa and Aunt Hettie, and he was not allowed to go in to see her. Uncle Fred and Uncle Dan were very solemn and scowling so terribly that he was afraid to go near them.
He remembered that his mother had cried while she was cooking breakfast, and sat down a great many times to rest her head on her arms. She had cried a good deal lately, because of the headache, she always said. And right after breakfast she had put on her bonnet and shawl, telling him to stay in the house till she came back from grandpa's. Then she had gone away, leaving him all alone until Biddy Shay came, all out of breath, and began to clear the table and wash the dishes, all the while talking to herself in a way that he was sure God would not like, and probably would send her to the bad place for it when she died.
After a while all of the men went out to the barn-lot, where their horses were tethered. Uncle Fred and Uncle Dan had their rifles. He stood at the kitchen window and watched them with wide, excited eyes. Were they going off to kill Indians, or bears, or cattymunks? They all talked at once, especially his uncles,--and they swore, too. Then his grandpa stood in front of them and spoke very loudly, pointing his finger at them. He heard him say, over and over again:
"Let them go, I say! I tell you, let them go!"
He wondered why his father was not there, if there was any fighting to be done. His father was a great fighter. He was the bestest shot in all the world. He could kill an Injin a million miles away, or a squirrel, or a groundhog. So he asked Biddy Shay.
"Ast me no questions and I'll tell ye no lies," was all the answer he got from Biddy.
The next day he went up to grandpa's with his mother to stay, and Uncle Fred told him that his pa had gone off to the war. He believed this, for were not the rifle, the powder horn and the shot flask missing from the pegs over the fireplace, and was not Bob, the very fastest horse in all the world, gone from the barn? He was vastly thrilled. His father would shoot millions and millions of Injins, and they would have a house full of scalps and tommyhawks and bows and arrers.
But he was troubled about Minda. Uncle Fred, driven to corner by persistent inquiry, finally confessed that Minda also had gone to the war, and at last report had killed several extremely ferocious redskins. Despite this very notable achievement, Kenneth was troubled. In the first place, Minda was a baby, and always screamed when she heard a gun go off; in the second place, she always fell down when she tried to run and squalled like everything if he did not wait for her; in the third place, Injins always beat little girls' heads off against a tree if they caught 'em.
Moreover, Uncle Dan, upon being consulted, declared that a good-sized Injin could swaller Minda in one gulp if he happened to be 'specially hungry,--or in a hurry. Uncle Dan also appeared to be very much surprised when he heard that she had gone off to the war. He said that Uncle Fred ought to be ashamed of himself; and the next time he asked Uncle Fred about Minda he was considerably relieved to hear that his little playmate had given up fighting altogether and was living quite peaceably in a house made of a pumpkin over yonder where the sun went down at night.
It was not until sometime after his mother went away,--after the long-to-be-remembered "fooneral," with its hymns, and weeping, and praying,--that he heard the grown-ups talking about the war being over. The redcoats were thrashed and there was much boasting and bragging among the men of the settlement. Strange men appeared on the street, and other men slapped their backs and shook hands with them and shouted loudly and happily at them. In time, he came to understand that these were the citizens who had gone off to fight in the war and were now home again, all safe and sound. He began to watch for his father. He would know him a million miles off, he was so big, and he had the biggest rifle in the world.
"Do you s'pose Pa will know how to find me, grandma?" he would inquire. "'Cause, you see, I don't live where I used to."
And his grandmother, beset with this and similar questions from one day's end to the other, would become very busy over what she was doing at the time and tell him not to pester her. He did not like to ask his grandfather. He was so stern,--even when he was sitting all alone on the porch and was not busy at all.
Then one day he saw his grandparents talking together on the porch. Aunt Hettie was with them, but she was not talking. She was just looking at him as he played down by the watering trough. He distinctly heard his grandma say:
"I think he ought to be told, Richard. It's a sin to let him go on thinking---" The rest of the sentence was lost to him when she suddenly lowered her voice. They were all looking at him.
Presently his grandfather called to him, and beckoned with his finger. He marched up to the porch with his little bow and arrow. Grandma turned to go into the house, and Aunt Hettie hurried away.
"Don't be afraid, Granny," he sang out. "I won't shoot you. 'Sides, I've only got one arrer, Aunt Hettie."
His grandfather took him on his knee, and then and there told him the truth about his father. He spoke very slowly and did not say any of those great big words that he always used when he was with grown-up people, or even with the darkies.
"Now, pay strict attention, Kenneth. You must understand everything I say to you. Do you hear? Your father is never coming home. We told you he had gone to the war. We thought it was best to let you think so. It is time for you to know the truth. You are always asking questions about him. After this, when you want to know about your father, you must come to me. I will tell you. Do not bother your grandma. You make her unhappy when you ask questions. You see, your Ma was once her little girl and mine. She used to be as little as you are. Your Pa was her husband. You know what a husband is, don't you?"
"Yes, sir," said Kenneth, wide-eyed. "It's a boy's father."
"You are nearly six years old. Quite a man, my lad." He paused to look searchingly into the child's face, his bushy eyebrows meeting in a frown.
"The devil of it is," he burst out, "you are the living image of your father. You are going to grow up to look like him." He groaned audibly, spat viciously over his shoulder, and went on in a strange, hard voice. "Do you know what it is to steal? It means taking something that belongs to somebody else."
"Yes, sir. 'Thou shalt not steal.' It's in the Bible."
"Well, you know that Indians and gipsies steal little boys, don't you? It is the very worst kind of stealing, because it breaks the boy's mother's heart. It sometimes kills them. Now, suppose that somebody stole a husband. A husband is a boy's father, as you say. Your father was a husband. He was your dear mother's husband. You
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