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- Merton of the Movies - 10/62 -
runaway, Merton's in a runaway!" they shrieked, but with none of the sympathy that would have become them. They appeared to rejoice in Merton's plight. "Merton's in a runaway," they joyously chanted.
Suddenly they ceased, frozen with a new and splendid wonder, for their descriptive phrase was now inexact. Merton was no longer in a runaway. But only for a moment did they hesitate before taking up the new chant.
"Looky, looky. He's throwed Merton right off into the dirt. He's throwed Merton right off into the dirt. Oh, looky Merton Gill right down there in the dirt!"
Again they had become exact. Merton was right down there in the dirt, and a frantic, flashing-heeled Dexter was vanishing up the alley at the head of a cloud of dust. The friendly Ransom tots leaped from the fence to the alley, forgetting on her bed of pain the mother who supposed them to be engrossed with picture books in the library. With one accord they ran toward the prostrate horseman, Calvin ahead and Elsie a close second, holding the hand of little Woodrow.
They were presently able to observe that the fleeing Dexter had narrowly escaped running down a motor car inopportunely turning at that moment into the alley. The gallant animal swerved in time, leaving the car's driver and his wife aghast at their slight margin of safety. Dexter vanished to the right up shaded Spruce Street on a Sabbath evening as the first call to evening worship pealed from a neighbouring church tower.
His late rider had erected himself and was beating dust from the new chaps and the front of the new shirt. He picked up the ideal hat and dusted that. Underneath all the flurry of this adventure he was still the artist. He had been set afoot in the desert by a treacherous horse; he must find a water hole or perish with thirst. He replaced the hat, and it was then he observed the motor car bearing down the alley upon him.
"My good gosh!" he muttered.
The Gashwilers had returned a full two hours before their accustomed time. The car halted beside him and his employer leaned out a warmly hostile face.
"What's this mean?" he demanded.
The time was not one to tell Gashwiler what he thought of him. Not only was there a lady present, but he felt himself at a disadvantage. The lady saved him from an instant necessity for words.
"That was our new clothesline; I recognized it at once." The woman seemed to pride herself on this paltry feat.
"What's this mean?" again demanded Gashwiler. He was now a man of one idea.
Again was Merton Gill saved from the need of instant speech, though not in a way he would have chosen to be saved. The three Ransom children ran up, breathless, shouting.
"Oh, Merton, here's your pistol. I found it right in the road there." "We found your pistol right in the dirt there. I saw it first." "You did not; I saw it first. Merton, will you let me shoot it off, Merton? I found your pistol, didn't I, Merton? Didn't I find it right in the road there?" The friendly tots did little step dances while they were thus vocal.
"Be quiet, children," commanded Merton, finding a voice. But they were not to be quelled by mere tones.
"He throwed Merton right off into the dirt, didn't he, Merton? Merton, didn't he throw you right off into the dirt, Merton? Did he hurt you, Merton?" "Merton, will you let me shoot it off just once-- just once, and I'll never ask again?" "He didn't either find it first, Merton." "He throwed you off right into the dirt--didn't he throw you right off into the dirt, Merton?"
With a harsher show of authority, or perhaps merely because he was bearded--so unreasoning are the inhibitions of the young--Gashwiler stilled the tumult. The dancing died. "What's this mean?" he repeated.
"We nearly had an accident," said the lady.
"What's this mean?"
An answer of sorts could no longer be delayed.
"Well, I thought I'd give Dexter a little exercise, so I saddled him up and was going to ride him around the block, when--when these kids here yelled and scared him so he ran away."
"Oh, what a story!" shouted the tots in unison. "What a bad story! You'll go to the bad place," intoned little Elsie.
"I swear, I don't know what's gettin' into you," declared Gashwiler. "Don't that horse get exercise enough during the week? Don't he like his day of rest? How'd you like me to saddle you up and ride you round the block? I guess you'd like that pretty well, wouldn't you?" Gashwiler fancied himself in this bit of sarcasm, brutal though it was. He toyed with it. "Next Sunday I'll saddle you up and ride you round the block--see how you like that, young man."
"It was our clothesline," said the lady. "I could tell it right off."
With a womanish tenacity she had fastened to a minor inconsequence of the outrage. Gashwiler became practical.
"Well, I must say, it's a pretty how-de-do, That horse'll make straight back for the farm; we won't have any delivery horse to- morrow. Sue, you get out; I'll go down the road a piece and see if I can head him off."
"He turned the other way," said Merton.
"Well, he's bound to head around for the farm. I'll go up the road and you hurry out the way he went. Mebbe you can catch him before he gets out of town."
Mrs. Gashwiler descended from the car.
"You better have that clothesline back by seven o'clock to-morrow morning," she warned the offender.
"Yes, ma'am, I will."
This was not spoken in a Buck Benson manner.
"And say"--Gashwiler paused in turning the car--"what you doing in that outlandish rig, anyhow? Must think you're one o' them Wild West cowboys or something. Huh!" This last carried a sneer that stung.
"Well, I guess I can pick out my own clothes if I want to."
"Fine things to call clothes, I must say. Well, go see if you can pick out that horse if you're such a good picker-out."
Again Gashwiler was pleased with himself. He could play venomously with words.
"Yes, sir," said Merton, and plodded on up the alley, followed at a respectful distance by the Ransom kiddies, who at once resumed their vocal exercises.
"He throwed you off right into the dirt, didn't he, Merton? Mer-tun, didn't he throw you off right into the dirt?"
If it were inevitable he wished that they would come closer. He would even have taken little Woodrow by the hand. But they kept far enough back of him to require that their voices should be raised. Incessantly the pitiless rain fell upon him--"Mer-tun, he throwed you off right into the dirt, didn't he, Merton?"
He turned out of the alley up Spruce Street. The Ransom children lawlessly followed, forgetting their good home, their poor, sick mother and the rules she had laid down for their Sabbath recreation. At every moment the shrill cry reached his burning ears, "Mer-tun, didn't he throw you off?" The kiddies appeared to believe that Merton had not heard them, but they were patient. Presently he would hear and reassure them that he had, indeed, been thrown off right into the dirt.
Now he began to meet or pass early churchgoers who would gaze at him in wonder or in frank criticism. He left the sidewalk and sought the centre of the road, pretending that out there he could better search for a valuable lost horse. The Ransom children were at first in two minds about following him, but they soon found it more interesting to stay on the sidewalk. They could pause to acquaint the churchgoers with a matter of common interest. "He throwed Merton off right into the dirt."
If the people they addressed appeared to be doubting this, or to find it not specific enough, they would call ahead to Merton to confirm their simple tale. With rapt, shining faces, they spread the glad news, though hurrying always to keep pace with the figure in the road.
Spruce Street was vacant of Dexter, but up Elm Street, slowly cropping the wayside herbage as he went, was undoubtedly Merton's good old pal. He quickened his pace. Dexter seemed to divine his coming and broke into a kittenish gallop until he reached the Methodist Church. Here, appearing to believe that he had again eluded pursuit, he stopped to graze on a carefully tended square of grass before the sacred edifice. He was at once shooed by two scandalized old ladies, but paid them no attention. They might perhaps even have tickled him, for this was the best grass he had found since leaving home. Other churchgoers paused in consternation, looking expectantly at the approaching Merton Gill. The three happy children who came up with him left no one in doubt of the late happening.
Merton was still the artist. He saw himself approach Dexter, vault into the saddle, put spurs to the beast, and swiftly disappear down the street. People would be saying that he should not be let to ride so fast through a city street. He was worse than Gus Giddings. But he saw this only with his artist's eye. In sordid fact he went up to Dexter, seized the trailing bridle reins and jerked savagely upon them. Back over the trail he led his good old pal. And for other
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