Ben Stone at OakdaleŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďYouíve been very good indeed to me, Mrs. Jones Ė almost like a mother,Ē returned Ben. ďI donít know how Iíll ever be able to repay you.Ē
ďNow donít talk that way. Goodness gracious! ainít yíu fussed íround amusiní Jimmy, a-fixiní squirrel traps aní swings aní things for him? Thatís moreín squared any little thing I could do for yíu to make yíu comfítable.Ē
ďLook!Ē cried Jimmy. ďThe little dog is hungry. See him begging. Heís hungry, mom. Canít I feed him?Ē
Pilot was sitting on his haunches, his forward paws drooping as he turned his head to look from one to another beseechingly.
ďíCourse yíu can feed him,Ē said the widow quickly. ďI sorter forgot about him. Lemme look, aní Iíll see if Iíve got a bone in the pantry.Ē
She found some bones and scraps, which she brought forth on a plate, and Jimmy, begging the privilege, was permitted to feed Pilot, who expressed his appreciation by a sharp bark and such frantic wagging of his tail that his whole body was shaken from side to side all the way to his forward shoulders.
When supper was over, to satisfy Jimmy, Ben was compelled to tell about the football game, and this he did with such modesty that the listeners, who had not witnessed the contest, were given no inkling as to how conspicuously he had figured in it. He was even fair and generous enough to accord Hayden all the credit the fellow deserved.
At the first mention of Bernís name the blind lad uttered a cry of astonishment and alarm, reaching out a trembling hand to touch his brother.
ďBen! Ben!Ē he exclaimed. ďItís not Bern Hayden who Ė who used to live in Hilton Ė not that fellow?Ē
ďYes, Jerry, itís the same fellow. He lives here in Oakdale now.Ē
ďBut, Ben, he Ė why, you know what he did. You know Ė Ē
ďIím not likely to forget it, Jerry.Ē
ďHe hates you.Ē
ďThereís not an atom of love lost between us,Ē was the grim retort.
ďHe made you go away from Hilton.Ē
ďAnd he tried to drive me out of Oakdale, but he failed in that, Jerry. He came mighty near it, itís true, and only for the good friends I made here he would have succeeded. His old father even went to Prof. Richardson, at the academy, and tried to poison his mind.Ē
ďOh, Iím afraid of them, Ben! I know Bern Hayden would do anything to hurt you Ė anything.Ē
ďYou neednít be afraid. Roger Eliot is my friend; his father is, too, and Mr. Eliot has fully as much strength and influence in Oakdale as Lemuel Hayden.Ē
ďThatís right,Ē confirmed Mrs. Jones, ďand heís lived here lots longer. Everybody knows Urian Eliot íround these parts; aní, even if he is a rich man and rather tight and close in business dealinís, they do say heís honest aní just. íCourse heís got his enemies, sameís anybody has; but even the wust on íem canít point out no crooked thing heís ever done.Ē
Nevertheless, it was no easy matter to calm and reassure the agitated blind boy. Presently, after they had talked for a time, Mrs.
Jones lighted a small hand-lamp and gave it to Ben, saying:
ďI wonít keep yíu up no longer, for I know yíu must be tired aní want to go to bed Ė anyhow, Iím dead sartain your brother is plumb pegged out. But to-morrer is the day of rest, aní yíu can sleep jest as late as yíu want to.Ē
Good nights were said, and the brothers mounted the narrow back stairs, Ben assisting Jerry while the little dog scrambled up behind them. When at last they were in the privacy of Benís room, he questioned Jerry.
ďI didnít want to ask too many things before people,Ē he said, ďbecause I thought perhaps there might be something you wouldnít care to answer; but I donít understand how it was that I found you, tired and worn out, tramping to Oakdale. How did Uncle Asher happen to let you leave his home?Ē
ďUncle Asher is dead,Ē said Jerry.
THE BLIND FUGITIVE
Ben was startled. ďDead,Ē he cried, aghast Ė ďUncle Asher dead?Ē
ďYes,Ē answered Jerry, sitting on the edge of the bed, ďhe was took off sudden, Ben. He didnít live much moreín an hour after he was struck down. It was apoplexy or something like that. The doctor, he couldnít do anything. Uncle, he never spoke but once, and that was just before he went. Of course I was awful scat, Ben, but I was in the room, and I heard him whispering my name. I went to the bed and felt for his hands. One of them didnít have any strength, and it was stone cold. The other was cold, too, but I felt it grip my wrist, and then, sort of husky and choky, Uncle Asher said, ĎThe will, itís iní Ė and that was all. He never finished; he couldnít. I donít believe it was ten minutes after that when they told me he was gone.Ē
Ben seemed to be stupefied by the intelligence of this tragedy. ďUncle Asher dead!Ē he repeated, apparently finding it difficult to comprehend the situation. ďHe was good to you, wasnít he, Jerry?Ē
ďAlways. He wouldnít talk about you, Ben; all heíd say was that nobody knowed what had become of you. But he was good to me, and he said Iíd always be taken care of.Ē
ďIím sorry,Ē said Ben simply, brushing away the tears which welled into his eyes. ďAs long as he was good to you, I donít mind what he thought about me, for I suppose he had reasons to believe I was bad.Ē
ďI wanted to tell you all about it when we met back there on the road,Ē said Jerry; ďbut I thought perhaps it wasnít best to talk too much before other people. I was afraid to talk, Ben, and Iíve got good reasons to be afraid. Listen, Ben; I ran away.Ē
ďYou Ė you what?Ē gasped the older lad in great astonishment.
ďI ran away, Ben. I didnít even wait till the funeral was over.Ē
ďWhat made you do that?Ē
ďBecause Ė because they were going to send me off to some institution for poor and helpless children. I heard them talking about it, the doctor and the lawyer and one or two of the neighbors. They didnít know I heard them, but I couldnít help listening. The lawyer had come, and he said heíd drawn up Uncle Asherís will four years ago. It was in a safety deposit vault at the bank. I heard him telling that there wasnít no provision made for me in that will. Something was left to the housekeeper and one or two distant relatives, and all the rest went to benevolent institutions; I was left out.
ďOf course I thought of you, Ben, the very first thing, and I wanted to let you know; but there wasnít nobody who could tell me where you were. It was pretty hard to think mebbe Iíd be shut up in some institution and kept there and never, never find you again. When I thought about that all alone in my room I got desperate, Ben. All that was left to me was my little dog, Pilot, that uncle had bought for me and trained to lead me round; and I was afraid theyíd take Pilot away from me, too. So that night I packed up a few things, and took the violin Uncle Asher had given me, and took Pilot, and we stole out of the house and ran away.
ďI told Pilot just what I was going to do, and, honest and true, I believe he understood what I said. I told him Uncle Asher was gone, and that if we didnít run away mebbe folks would separate us and we couldnít be together no more. Heíd never been outside that town before, Ben, but when we took to the road in the night he just kept going straight ahead without once trying to turn back. Neednít nobody ever tell me some dogs donít understand as much as human folks.
ďIíd took along some bread and doughnuts out of the pantry, and, when it come morning and I could feel the sun shining, we had breakfast side of a little brook, after which we crept into the bushes and hid all day long. I heard people going by on the road, but I told Pilot to keep still, and he minded. There was enough food left for supper, and the next night we tramped it again all night long, stopping only two or three times to rest. In the morning I had breakfast off some apples I found in an orchard. Pilot he left me, and I thought mebbe heíd deserted for good, and I guess I cried, Ben; but he hadnít gone far, and after a while he come back with an old bone heíd found, and that served him for breakfast. We got into a shed and slept there till it was dark and we could travel some more.Ē
ďOh, Jerry,Ē cried Ben sympathetically Ė ďoh, Jerry, it must have been terrible!Ē He seated himself beside the blind lad, about whose shoulders his arm was tenderly flung. The little dog, half dozing on the floor, rolled a contented, satisfied eye toward them and closed it again.
ďI canít tell you all we did and all we went through, Ben,Ē the blind lad continued; ďbut we managed to get along somehow, though I was always scat for fear theyíd catch me and take me back. I played on the violin and sometimes I sang, and Jerry he would sit up on his haunches and beg, and people gave us some money. Thatís how we were able to live and buy food.Ē
ďIt was a marvel you were not caught, Jerry. Perhaps no one searched for you.Ē
ďOh, yes, they did,Ē declared the blind boy quickly Ė ďyes, they did, Ben. It was three nights ago I was stopping at a house in a little village where some kind folks agreed to put me up when I heard somebody knocking at the door. It gave me a start, and I listened. I heard a man talking to the man of the house, and he was asking about me. He described me Ė a little blind boy with a fiddle and a dog. I hadnít undressed for bed, and that was lucky. I called Pilot softly, and somehow we got down the back stairs and out of the house before they came up to that room to look for me. Again we tramped it all night long, though it was awful cold and I shivered and almost froze every time we stopped to rest. Everywhere I went I asked for you, and I kept praying to find you, Ben, though it didnít seem that there was any chance. I guess, though, that prayer was heard.Ē
ďIt was, Jerry; it must have been. Something led you to me, and something guarded you from capture until you had found me.Ē
ďBut what if they find me now, Ben Ė what can we do?Ē
The older lad meditated a moment. ďI can take care of you, Jerry,Ē he said. ďIím strong, and I can work. Iíll have to give up school for a time and find work again.Ē
ďBut you know, Ben Ė you know they think youíre bad. They might separate us on that account. Iím sure they would.Ē
ďAnd only for Bern Hayden,Ē exclaimed Ben bitterly, ďIíd never have such a reputation! Weíll do the best we can, Jerry; donít you worry. Fortune has seemed to favor me here in Oakdale, and I feel sure everything is bound to come out all right in the end. We wonít be separated, little brother; weíll stick together.Ē
CLOUDS GATHER AGAIN
Again Ben Stone found himself confronted by a problem that demanded immediate solution. It disturbed his pillow long after Jerry, wearied to the extreme, was sleeping soundly; and when at last he slept it gave him troubled dreams.
He was first to waken in the morning, and, when he would have slept still longer, the great question swooped upon him and tore away the last shred of slumber. The little dog welcomed him with wagging tail as he crept softly out of bed that he might not disturb his sleeping brother. He was nearly dressed when Jerry awoke with a startled cry, sitting up on the bed and thrusting out his thin arms, his hands spread open as if to hold away some fearsome thing. In a twinkling Ben was at the bed, speaking reassuringly to Jerry.
ďOh Ė oh, is it you, brother?Ē gasped the blind boy, as he felt himself gathered into the embrace of Benís strong arms. ďI thought they had caught me. I thought they were going to take me back.Ē
ďYou were only dreaming, Jerry. Youíre quite safe with me.Ē Tenderly he caressed the little lad, who, trembling, clung to him.
ďYou wonít let them take me away, will you, Ben?Ē
ďNo, Jerry, they shall not take you away.Ē
Mrs. Jones would have had them down to breakfast, but when she came to call them they had eaten from Benís small store of apples and sandwiches, and they seemed quite happy and contented, so that she had no glimpse of the threatening shadow which hovered near.
During the greater part of that Sunday the brothers remained in the little room, having many things to talk about and being unwilling to advertise for the general public the fact that Jerry was in Oakdale. Late in the afternoon, however, they walked out together, turning westward to avoid the main part of the village and passing the academy. Before reaching Turkey Hill they left the road and set off across the fields toward a grove of pines upon the shore of Lake Woodrim. Pilot, unleashed, frisked before them. On the shore of Bear Cove they found a seat beneath one of those pines where the ground was carpeted with soft brown needles.
They were sitting there, talking, when a small, flat-bottomed punt containing a single occupant rounded Pine Point in full view and was paddled toward them. The person in the boat was Spotty Davis, who, despite the fact that it was Sunday, had been fishing. He discovered them almost immediately, and, recognizing Ben, called loudly:
ďHello, Stoney, old fel; what ju doiní? Thought mebbe I could ketch a pickírel or two here in the cove.Ē
Although Ben had not found Spottyís friendship wholly unwelcome, he was now far from pleased by the chapís appearance. It was too late to get away, however, and so he waited until Davis, paddling straight in, grounded the punt upon a bit of gravelly beach and sprang out. Pilot regarded the stranger doubtfully, growling a little.
ďSay, whoís your friend, Stoney?Ē inquired Spotty, advancing unhesitatingly. ďGee! what an ugly lookiní dog!Ē he added, with a derisive grin. ďDonít let him chaw me up, will ye?Ē
ďDown, Pilot! Be still!Ē commanded Jerry. And, although he obeyed, the dog continued to regard Davis with suspicious eyes.
ďThis is my brother Jerry,Ē explained Ben. ďHe arrived in Oakdale last night. Jerry, this is one of my friends, Tim Davis.Ē
ďYour brother, hey?Ē said Spotty, taking the thin hand Jerry held forth. ďSay, whatís the matter with his blinkers? They look awful funny.Ē
ďHeís blind,Ē explained Ben in a low tone.
ďSho! Canít see nothiní? Jerusalem! thatís tough. Canít he really see nothiní at all?Ē
ďAs far as sight is concerned, he canít distinguish daylight from darkness.Ē
ďWhew!Ē breathed Spotty, sitting down and staring at Jerry. ďI never see nobody like that before. You never told me about him, Ben; youíve never said much of anything about your folks.Ē
ďI thought possibly you had heard some stories from Bern Hayden.Ē
ďWell, not much; he just sorter knocked you, and I síposed that was ícause he was sore on you. Say, I guess you proved that you could play football yesterday. Bern didnít have much on you in that game. Wasnít it tough I got knocked out? Them fellers kind of picked me out and soaked me. Theyíve always had a grudge against me, them Clearporters. Last time I played baseball against them Harry Hutt spiked me, and that put me out of the game, too. Eliot he was mad, ícause he said I wasnít hurt so bad I couldnít play; and I sípose he was mad yesterday, too. Heís awful stiff-necked sometimes; but you certainly got on his soft side through what you done for his sister, and I guess heíd back you up in anything. He brought Hayden to terms all right when Bern tried to force you off the team by gettiní the fellers to quit. I wish youíd heard a few things Bern had to say yesterday ícause Roger invited you to ride home in the automobile.Ē
ďIím decidedly glad I didnít hear them,Ē returned Ben. ďAll I ask is that Bern Hayden keeps away from me and lets me alone.Ē
ďHe didnít like it much when some of the fellers said we couldnít ever won that game only for you. That was a hard pill for him to swaller. Heís always used me all right, in a way, though I know he thinks heís betterín I am ícause his fatherís got the dough. I donít think itís right, either, for some folks to have so much money and other folks to have so little. Now thereís lots of things Iíd like if I only had the chink to buy íem. Look aí the rotten old fishiní tackle Iíve got in that boít; if I had money Iíd buy an elegant jointed rod, a triple action reel, a silk line, and any amount of hooks and flies and baits. How long is your brother goiní to stay?Ē Spotty concluded suddenly with that question.
ďI Ė I donít know about that,Ē faltered Ben. ďWe havenít quite decided. Isnít it pretty late in the season for fish to bite?Ē he asked, seeking to turn the drift of conversation.
ďGuess ítis,Ē admitted Davis. ďI ainít had a bite. We can generally ketch pickírel pretty late, though.Ē
Ben rose and assisted Jerry to his feet. ďI think weíll go back,Ē he said.
ďWhatís your hurry?Ē asked Davis. ďItís kinder comfítable here. The wind donít cut into this cove, and the sunís warm.Ē
But they left him, and, after they had passed through the grove and were recrossing the open field beyond, Jerry said: ďSomehow, I donít like your friend, Ben. Thereís something about his voice and the way he talks that I donít like.Ē
ďOh, I reckon heís a harmless fellow, and he was one of the first in Oakdale to be really friendly toward me; I canít forget that.Ē
When they reached the house they learned that Roger Eliot had been there asking for them.
ďHe seemed real disappíinted,Ē said the widow. ďPíraps yíuíd better walk íround to his house aní see him.Ē
But it was late and growing dark, and Ben decided not to call on Roger that night.
Stone appeared at school the following day wearing a gravely troubled face, which led Eliot to question him, and he was on the point of telling Roger everything and asking his advice when several other boys came up and the opportunity was lost. All day long Benís mind dwelt on the perplexing problem, and gradually he came to believe there was only one solution; he must give up school, leave Oakdale, and find a job of some sort by which he could support himself and Jerry. It meant the shattering of all his plans, but he faced the alternative bravely, and even became a bit more relieved and cheerful when he had decided to accept it as the only thing that could be done.
When the boys came out for practice that afternoon neither Stone nor Hayden was with them. Spotty Davis was on hand, however, and, after a consultation with the coach, Roger called Spotty aside for the purpose of telling him as kindly as possible that he would be no longer needed upon the team.
Davis instantly showed his resentment and anger. Hayden, coming up, heard him shrilly saying:
ďThatís all right, Mr. Eliot, you can fire me. Iíve seen other fellers knocked out in football games, and they wasnít fired. Mebbe youíll need me yet, and mebbe you wonít get me if you do.Ē With which he walked away and sat down alone on one of the lower rows of seats, his sly face wearing a sour expression of resentment and anger.
Practice was begun without Stone. In the midst of it he appeared, wearing his plain, homespun clothes, and called to the captain.
ďRoger,Ē he said, ďI canít play football any more.Ē
Eliot uttered an exclamation of surprise. ďWhy not, Ben? Whatís the matter now?Ē
ďI told you my story some time ago; youíre the only one who has ever heard it from me. Uncle Asher, who took my blind brother to care for, is dead, and now someone must look after Jerry. I havenít money enough to attend school and take care of him too, so Iím going to leave school. I must find work; Iíve settled on that.Ē
ďOh, say, thatís too bad, Stone, old chap! Now donít be hasty; letís think this matter over. Perhaps my father will do something for Jerry.Ē
Ben shook his head. ďI couldnít permit my brother to accept charity, Roger; I thank you very much for the generous thought, but Iíve made up my mind. Iíve left the suit you loaned me, and everything else, in the gym. Perhaps Iíll see you again to-morrow before we leave Oakdale. I couldnít practice to-night if I wanted to, for Jerry is all alone. I went to see him after school was over and tell him my decision; thatís why I wasnít here promptly. Donít say anything to the rest of the fellows now. Iíd like to bid them all good-by, but I donít want to do so here at this time.Ē
Roger found it useless to advance argument, and finally Ben departed, watched by the eyes of Hayden, who had sauntered past in time to catch a few words of the conversation.
Five minutes later Hayden excused himself and left the field in the wake of Spotty Davis, who was finally going away in a sullen and resentful frame of mind.
Stone went down into the village to purchase a pair of shoes for Jerry, whose footwear was almost wholly gone to the uppers. In his timidity the blind boy had remained all day long in that room at Mrs. Jonesí, again beset by fear that the pursuers he dreaded might find him; and he was even unwilling to be seen in the village with his brother.
Ben spent some time selecting the shoes, for he wished to get a stout and serviceable pair at a moderate price, which was no easy matter. Having made the purchase at last, he was on the point of leaving when the shopkeeper said:
ďThere was a man here in town a while ago asking for a boy by your name, only the front part of his name was Jerry instead of Ben, and the man said he was blind.Ē
For a moment Benís heart ceased to beat. ďHow long ago was that?Ē he asked huskily.ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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