Children's Theatre

DOREEN CORPS April 15 1945

Children's Theatre

DOREEN CORPS April 15 1945



ONE SPRING dad got interested in the influence of the planets on planting times and sent five dollars to Vancouver for a book on astrology.

It told him this year the season would be late. He got all excited because he’d seen what he’d figured were a lot of confirming signs—the geese were late flying north, snow was slow leaving the timber line in the mountains above our valley, and houseflies were dull and stupid. So he put in his seed potatoes a month later than the rest of the valley.

Mother worried about him not farming like everybody else and said maybe our place would really pay if he wouldn’t get so absorbed in his ideas. But nothing stopped dad when he thought he was right. When mother was upset with dad she banged the stove with the pots and things, but she never showed how really mad she was until she started housecleaning. The day he came home from Firland with a telescope for watching stars he’d spent $15 on she kept newspapers on the spotless kitchen floor three days, and you dared walk only on those papers.

That astrology was all right; he got a wonderful crop. But when he got to the buyers down the valley

with his first truckload of potatoes he was loo late for anything but a miserable price; everybody else had a good crop, too, and the market was glutted. He turned the truck right around, drove back and began dumping some of the potatoes into the pigpen for the shoats to root among. Mother wanted to know if it wasn’t better to get a few cents a bag than nothing, but dad was mad clear through and said he wouldn’t let those robbers have his potatoes at any price. Mother then asked what he figured we’d live on that winter but he wouldn’t answer, just kept throwing the crop away, and mother went back to the house to start cleaning the attic.

Dad was a terribly proud man. At supper that night he said, “I’ll have no more dealings with those potato buyers. Next year I’m putting in apple trees.”

Mother banged the stove with the skillet. “Maybe you’d better,” she said. “Apples don’t know anything about Jupiter. But what will we live on between now and the year the trees start bearing?”

Dad didn’t answer this and we finished the rest of the meal in silence.

As usual, that September the air had considerable

haze-in it, mostly from slash burning in the mountains. It made things exciting when you went to school mornings. The dew sparkled with cold on the grass, and as you teetered on the big pine log that we used as a footbridge across the creek you breathed in big lungfuls of the perfume of distant burning wood. The haze didn’t usually clear away until sometime in October.

Suddenly dad seemed to get interested in this haze. He got to dropping his work to stare at it thoughtfully. Once he spent all afternoon tramping across the meadow, down to the little hollow beyond the maple clearing and even about a mile down the road to the highway below us, just to stare at it from all different angles.

Other times he rubbed his chin and looked at the pile of potatoes in the pigpen, at the even bigger pile beside the potato field and at the thousands of hills that had never even been dug. One morning when I came down to breakfast mother was banging pots moderately hard. Dad had lit out with the truck before anybody was up, and without saying a word. Mother guessed, I’m sure, he’d been struck by some idea he didn’t want to talk about and had gone to Firland either to see about it or buy something. He must have returned that night because there he was next morning at breakfast, and hurrying with it to escape mother’s questioning. “Henry Slade,” she said, exasperated, “if you won’t tell me what you’re up to this time—!”

Dad gulped his coffee, grinned, kissed her quick, put on his hat, winked at me, ducked out and disappeared toward the hollow beyond the maple clearing, whistling. “Go watch him,” mother said to me. I dawdled a while, pretending to do chores, then slipped down to the hollow and peered through the willow undergrowth.

The creek rushed past this clearing; it was the place

Dad’s astrology brought him a good potato crop but it didn’t foretell the fix he’d get into when he tried to sell it—in bottles

where we played pirates or robbers’ den. In the centre of it dad now seemed to be building a fireplace with boulders. There were several brand-new kegs lying around, a big wooden tub, a metal thing that looked like a wash boiler, and a lot of thin copper tubing. He’d also toted several sacks of potatoes there and had made a pile of them.

I skinned out quick; dad got upset when anybody found out what he was doing before he was ready to talk. I had a notion mother wouldn’t like this. Those kegs and things hadn’t been on the place before; he must have taken that trip to buy them, and they probably cost money. But I wasn’t prepared for the way she took it when I described what I’d seen.

Her face got white, she was so mad; grabbing broom and mop she started cleaning the house, not stopping until it was time to get noon dinner together. When dad came in to wash she spoke for the first time. “Well! So you decided to make whisky out of your potatoes!”

His grin faded and he glared around at me.

She rapped the table. “Answer me, Henry!”

Dad fairly squirmed. “Now be reasonable. All I aim to do is get my money out of this crop—”

“Have you thought of the danger you’re exposing us to, let alone the—”

Dad brightened. “Stop worrying, will you? I’ve figured every angle. Notice the haze in the air in this country? Nobody’ll notice a thing. And when I was in Firland I asked about selling it. Say, that town’s wide open, and with all the loggers there they pay—”

“You’re not even going to get me to argue this time,” said mother, starting to take her apron off. “If we can’t make this place pay without breaking the law, I’m finished.”

“Yes?” asked dad, sort of drawling. He sat down, deliberately. Generally he ducked out when mother showed signs of really getting going, but this time he faced it.

“Yes,” said mother firmly. “I’m going and I’m taking the children. You know very well father will take me in if he has to—and under the circumstances, you’ll agree, he’ll think he has to.”

I SUDDENLY pinched Hazel to keep her from jumping up and down and whooping at the thought of going to grandfather’s. Often we’d been promised we’d some day visit our grandfather, whom we’d never seen, but it never came about. Grandfather, it seemed, never liked dad and never thought he’d amount to anything and dad swore none of us would ever visit him until we drove up in a brand-new car. So far the best we did was the truck, bought secondhand the one year dad figured the weather straight.

“Deserting me when my back’s against the wall, eh?” asked dad, quietly but sort of sarcastically.

Mother gasped. “I’m doing nothing of the sort—” “And I trust you realize,” dad went on, “that in going home under the circumstances—without a new dress even, or clothes for the kids—you admit to him he was right about me?”

Mother suddenly remembered Hazel and me and shooed us out while they argued, but already I knew we wouldn’t go to grandfather’s that year. Mother was terribly proud, too, about some things. She wouldn’t take a trip to town unless she was what she called decently dressed. She never even wrote to her folks unless the news was good. Besides dad was an awfully convincing talker; he could generally talk her out of things even if he didn’t make her feel better ábout them.

It turned out just that way. Pretty soon he came out of the house without saying anything to us, and we went in to finish a cold dinner while mother, white with anger, continued housecleaning. I’ve seen her do some pretty thorough jobs when she was mad but this

was the finest so far. She scrubbed the kitchen floor, polished the stove, beat the rugs, washed the woodwork, took down and cleaned the stovepipes and was starting to clean the milkshed, opening off the kitchen, when it came time to get supper. Dad stayed down in the hollow all day, finishing his fireplace, putting the boiler on it and bending the copper tubing so it would coil through one of the little kegs.

He was right about the haze completely hiding the wisp of smoke that rose from what I learned was called the still. We children were forbidden to play near that hollow any more. 1 understood, 1 forget how, that what dad was doing was dangerous and mustn’t be talked about. There wasn’t much liquor in British Columbia then, and we often heard of people getting arrested for making it to sell. Dad never drank himself. That was one thing about dad. Though he bought a drink now and then it was because he liked to spend time hearing himself talk.

The effect on dad of having this gadget to pin his hopes on was curiously good. Though he had to make trips often to the hollow to tend the fire, fuss with the potato mash in the tubs and change kegs under the drip, on the whole he did twice as much regular work around the place. Absorbed in this new hobby he forgot about watching the weather and went ahead with putting new foundations under the barn where one end sagged, enlarging the root cellar, fixing the roof so it wouldn’t leak in the house and he even cut quite a swath in the long-unfinished clearing.

Just the same mother got no friendlier to the idea. She didn’t talk about it any more or even refer to the hollow. She was putting up with it, her silence made clear, only for the time being and because there wasn’t much else that could be done.

One morning mother looked drawn and worried and dad kept his own face low over his plate of salty pork. He had on his good boots and hat so we knew he was going into Firland. He got the truck ready, then brought a whole lot of full bottles from the hollow, put them in and hid them under bags of potatoes. It wasn’t until after he’d cranked the engine that mother even came out on the porch. “Well,” said dad, taking

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! off his hat and smiling, “aren’t you even going to wish me luck?” Then he grinned.

When dad grinned that way you always had to smile back, a little, no matter how mad you were, and when mother smiled, a little uncertainly, he squeezed her so hard I heard her shirtwaist snap. There was a choke in her voice as she said, “If they catch you—”

“They won’t catch me, understand?” His voice was rough. “There’s nothing to worry about. I know just where I’m taking it; they’re paying me cash and I’ll quit as soon as I’ve got what’s coming to us.”

We watched him drive down the dusty road. My, but he did look fine, sitting up there on the truck seat, not an ounce of fat on him anywhere and his back straight as a rod. I swelled with pride to think how wonderful he was, how generous and smart. There was nobody in the whole world who knew as much about everything as dad, I felt. I told mother I never even wanted to go to grandfather’s if it meant going without dad and she smiled sort of queerly as she told me not to worry, that we’d probably never go anywhere. Hazel and I prayed hard for him that night.

1 NEVER saw dad look so fine or so important as the time he returned, two days later. Grandly he stepped down from the truck seat to reveal a new hat, suit, and a brand-new pair of boots, which he carefully dusted with a Î new handkerchief from his hip pocket, j Mother ran from the house and into his j arms, almost crying, she was so j relieved. When he got his arms free I he threw the canvas off the truck. There were sacks of sugar, rice and flour, and tins of syrup. “There’s our fall supplies,” said dad with considerable satisfaction. For himself he’d bought a chest of new tools; for mother a new dress, shoes, some other clothes and a big box of candy.

Hazel screamed when he handed her the biggest doll I ever saw, and I about died when he put in my arms a real boy’s size .22. Giving out presents was just old pie for dad. As a climax he unbuttoned his new coat, took out a shiny new wallet and showed a big chunk of folding money. “Didn t think it was smart to open a bank account in Firland so soon,” he said, carelessly. “This goes behind the brick in the chimney.”

Mother didn’t say much and she didn’t open her box of candy but we didn’t notice until later, being too excited.

Dad got the stuff in the house and I noticed that he had some new bottles, which he sneaked as quick as he could to the hollow. I told mother about those bottles but she didn’t say anything; she looked like she had kind of expected it. That night they argued for a long time in bed, mostly mumbling, then I heard dad say, “Oh, let up. Be reasonable. If it’s a clean product and ¡ I give value received, what harm—?” Then mother’s answer blazed, “Go on, j stay in the liquor business! You ! promised you’d quit when you had j your return and you’re not keeping your promise!”

“Want to see us poor for life, is that it?” asked dad sarcastically. “Well— for once we’ll build up a bank account.

J If I can get 50 more gallons to those I people by the time the haze clears off—”

“Very well, Henry. As long as you go on I’ll touch neither that money nor 1 anything you buy with it. A fine lesson

I think I fell asleep about that moment and must have dreamed about my new .22 because I woke thinking about it and shot downstairs to fondle it a while. Besides there’d be pancakes with the new flour and syrup, and candy afterward.

But the table was set with the same breakfast we’d been having for days— salt pork, fried potatoes, coffee and potato mush. I set up a howl. “You eat this and keep still,” said mother in a tone that silenced me at once. But she couldn’t silence Hazel, who rolled on the floor and beat her knees when she understood that mother’d taken everything dad had brought—all the supplies, the new clothes, the candy, my gun and Hazel’s doll—and had locked them all up in the milkshed. Dad came in, looking almost as grim as she, and said, “Aw, give them something at least,” but mother wouldn’t answer—she just kept frying potatoes in the skillet.

“Where’s the key to the milkshed?” asked dad.

Mother shrugged. “You know the price of that key,” she said.

Dad suddenly went white with anger. “All right,” he said. “Then I’ll be stubborn too.” And he sat down to eat the breakfast that was on the table.

I choked with rage and longing all the way to school. If you’ve never lived in a place where candy is something you get once in three months — and especially if you’ve never gone two months with just enough sweets to flavor y our food—you won’t understand what Hazel and I felt, knowing all that stuff was locked up.

At supper we had salt pork again and more potatoes, and stewed prunes with nothing but the natural sugar. Dad finally had to tell us he didn’t want to hear any more whining and after that there wasn’t much of anything said by anybody.

A week later dad made another trip, bringing back another wad of money, that he put behind the brick, and some more new bottles, which he took down to the hollow without bothering to hide them from mother. We didn’t ask why he didn’t bring any supplies. We weren’t eating much besides salt pork and potatoes when he returned from his third trip. “Still mad?” dad asked mother, as he put some more money behind that brick. “There’s almost $1,000 there. When are you going to get on to yourself?”

She was darning one of my socks — what there was left of it from previous darnings—and said nothing.

“As soon as it’s safe I’m going to open that bank account.”

“I’ll never touch a cent of it,” said mother, quietly.

“Look,” said dad with exasperation, “I told you that as soon as the haze clears away—”

“Forget it,” said mother, wearily.

nP^HOUGH the haze still hung on, JL mother was jumpy about strangers. One afternoon, while dad was busy in the hollow, the Rev. Meatley drove up in his Model T. Mother was doubly worried then, for the Reverend hated liquor like sin, and was pretty severe when the Sloans one time tried making some potato whisky. But fortunately he was in a hurry this time and didn’t get out of his car. “Just came by to tell about the rally to be held on the church grounds next Saturday,” he said. “Our M.P. will be there and wants to acquaint the valley with important facts regarding the coming election. Bring your lunch and stay all da"'. Later the Rev. Purser will

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visit us for some wholesome and enter-

taining reviving.”

I didn’t jump up and down, because I knew mother wouldn’t like me to, until the Reverend had left. It wasn’t often we got to see many people at a time.

Mother told dad and he guessed a little relaxation wouldn’t hurt us— “though that’s just like them to ask you to listen to a politician and not offer to furnish the grub. Bring your own lunch!” Dad laughed and some of the tension we’d been under eased off.

Saturday I was up with the sun, without being rousted out, to get my chores done early. Mother packed the lunch while dad turned the stock out to pasture and gave the chickens double feed, for we didn’t expect to be back by ¡ nightfall. Then we cleaned up; dad put on his new clothes and mother her usual good dress. Hazel and I got in i the back of the truck with the lunch and dad put in a couple of bottles. “Just cider,” he told mother hastily when her eyes narrowed. “Want to smell?” It was cider and mother was mollified.

Then dad got another idea. He asked mother, “Can you get a ride back with the Turners?” She asked why, and he answered that he might as well take that money in the house with him, then after the rally take the truck on down to Firland and go to the bank.

We wished dad hadn’t mentioned that money because mother looked setlipped again. She shrugged. “I don’t care what you do about it,” she said. “Of course we can return with the Turners.”

Dad ran in the house, came right out again, patted his breast and said, “Almost $1,000 there.” He started the truck and about an hour after sunup we batted down the valley road.

Everybody left farm behind that day, I think. Todd Sanders and his father came tearing by on their horses, and we saw the Sloans, the Waddells and the Turners in their wagons—the Waddells even had their hired man.

Considering it was October it warmed up surprisingly and it was downright hot when we sighted the church and the village. Trucks and wagons arrived in droves and already the picnic grounds adjoining the church milled with people. There was a wooden platform, where I supposed they’d give the speeches, and men sweated to put up a lemonade-and-pop stand. People gathered, by families or by parts of the valley where they came from, around the long picnic tables with benches nailed to them. Small children toddled between the groups, pursued by flustered mothers and older sisters. Men in shirt sleeves moved off, away from the women and children, to talk crops. The Rev. Meatley greeted everybody and introduced them to an importantlooking man, the Member of Parliament.

I spotted the Turners—Billy Turner went to our school—and they hollered back at us to join them and we did and dad moved off to talk with the men but gave me two-bits, when mother wasn’t looking, to buy pop with, and pretty soon there was the biggest crowd you ever saw—200 or 300 people, I’m sure.

I treated Billy to some pop and bought candy for myself, then we played hide - and - seek, very hard, among the people and wagons, then ran spang into a bunch of men laughing very hard behind the wagons. “Hand it to Hank Taggart,” one man was saying. “He knows what you need to hear speeches on!” There was more laughter at this and I saw a red-faced man taking bottles and glasses out of a I car and laying them on a board over I two sawhorses. “Only a dime a drink,

gentlemen,” he was saying. “See if the M.P.’ll take a drink,” said somebody. “Can’t get him to—he’s with Meatley,” said a third, and everybody laughed again.

We shinned out of there, played some more, forgot about it, then looked up our crowd. Mother was setting the food and cider bottles out on our table. Mr. Turner came up in his shirt sleeves with dad and said the food looked mighty good and dad said yes, then Mr. Turner said it was a mite raw, Hank Taggart selling it on church grounds and dad agreed with him. Mr. Turner wondered where Hank got it, then asked dad why he didn’t take his coat off and dad answered he wasn’t hot and they moved on again. Mother told us to play some more, that the food wouldn’t be ready for an hour yet.

ABOUT ll everybody got to eating, and in the quiet the Rev. Meatley mounted the platform. “Friends and neighbors,” he began, but didn’t get any farther because suddenly a terrible row broke out among the wagons. Two men spilled out, slugging and kicking at each other—Todd Sanders and Joe Rains. Todd gave Joe an uppercut that landed him in the dust, right in front of everybody, then started gouging, but folks got them separated.

“I knew things wouldn’t be quiet long, with Hank Taggart passing that out,” said Mr. Turner, and dad nodded. The Reverend got down from the platform and walked toward Todd and Joe, mad as a hornet. The crowd closed and we couldn’t see anything more. “Eat your lunch,” said mother, sharply.

“Meatley’s got a couple of provincials here today,” said Mr. Turner. “Taggart’s done for.”

“That so?” asked dad, his mouth full of sandwich.

When the crowd opened Hank Taggart was led out, dragging his feet, between two tall, sort of quiet men. “The provincials,” said Mr. Turner.

The Reverend got back on the platform, real quick. “Friends and neighbors,” he began again, as if nothing had happened. He said how wonderful it was to have this fine day and how pleased he was to have this turnout and how proud to have in our very midst our representative in Parliament to give us a first-hand report on the coming election. We ate while he talked, which kept even the children quiet, and suddenly a voice behind me said, “Who belongs to them two bottles on this table?”

“I do,” said dad, looking around. “Cider in ’em. Why?”

It was one of the tall quiet men. “Just want to look at them, that’s all.” Mrs. Turner gasped, “Why, of all the nerve!” but the man uncorked one bottle anyway, sniffed at it, started to put it back with an apology then lifted it high and glanced at the label. He looked at dad sharply. “Where did you get this bottle?”

“Why, in Firland,” said dad.

The Rev. Meatley had been frowning while all the talking went on and now he stopped dead and everybody stared our way. I saw mother’s hand creep toward her throat. The man said to dad, “Who’s handwriting is this on this hottle?” I’d seen dad write those dates in pencil on the labels and stick them on his bottles. Dad thought a minute, then said, “It’s my handwriting, of course. What of it?”

“That so!” said the man, fishing a label from his pocket. “This is from one of the bottles we took off Taggart. This your handwriting, too?” It was marked in pencil exactly the same way.

“It’s a crazy coincidence,” said dad, swallowing. “I never had anything to do with Hank Taggart.”

“Better come over here and talk things over with me and my buddy,” said the officer. “We’re trying to find out where Taggart gets his stuff . . . Maybe you can help us.” Dad looked at mother, just once, then turned to go. There was the most dreadful silence for a minute.

nPHEN everybody started talking at once. “The idea! Coming right to your table!” gabbled Mrs. Turner. “It must be a mistake,” said Mr. Turner. “Of course it is,” said somebody else. Mother had been standing like a grey statue through all this. Suddenly she came to life, jerked Hazel away from the table, took me by the hand and pushed us toward our truck. She told me to work the spark while she cranked it. The engine went off with a roar and mother told Hazel to get onto the seat with me. Hazel started to cry when she understood we were leaving the picnic ground but mother wasted no time arguing—just gave her a slap that jolted her into silence, jerked her onto the seat and a second later we moved out of the meadow and on our way home.

I think mother was the maddest I’ve ever seen her. I asked no questions— her jaw was too set. She had the throttle wide open and it didn’t seem any time before we sighted our road, turned up it and drew up before our house in a cloud of dust. She ordered Hazel to stay on the porch and run to tell us if she sighted anybody coming, then turned to me and told me to lead her to that still in the hollow. It shocked me a little to realize she’d never seen that still and didn’t know where it was.

The fire burned low under the boiler and only the thinnest wisp of smoke went up. “Empty those bottles in the creek,” she said. There was an axe in the chopping block and with it she began ripping into the kegs. “Won’t dad get sore?” I asked.

“Do as I tell you,” she snapped, breathing hard. Two or three blows of the axe and the kegs broke in, spilling the potato mash into the swiftly flowing creek. She had me throw the broken keg staves into the fire while she lit into the copper tubing with the axe and pushed the boiler off its boulder foundations. Though the swift creek quickly carried away the mash its odor mingled strongly with the rank undergrowth. There was a pool a few yards up from the hollow, formed years ago when some beavers dammed the stream, and into this mother threw the boiler and coils and barrel hoops. She was in the highest housecleaning mood I’d ever seen.

She finished by throwing the boulders from the fireplace into the pools, and the bottles—I’d looked at several of them and saw those pencilled dates on almost all. I don’t think mother’s cleanout took over half an hour. When she was through her face and arms were black with ashes and mud and her dress was a sight but somehow she looked happy. “That’s one job I’ve been meaning to ggt at for a long time,” she said. “Now we can go back to the church grounds with a clear conscience.’

As we came past the maple clearing on the way back to the house I asked the question I hadn’t dared before. “Mother—was that man selling some of the whisky dad made?”

“It looks that way,” said mother, grimly. Then she remembered and added, “Not a word about this, understand? Let me explain this to your father.”

1 promised and we went into the honse to clean up. I was surprised to see by the kitchen clock it was just past noon; it seemed impossible so much had happened since morning. It took

mother a while to clean her dress the way she wanted it, though Hazel and I were dying to go back and finish our lunch. We started the truck finally and just then a car drove up alongside us and one of the tall quiet men got out. “Is this the Slade place?” he asked.

Mother answered, right away and very clearly, “I am Mrs. Slade. Whom do you wish to see?”

“Sorry, lady. Got a search warrant for this property. Want to see it?”

“For what reason?” she asked, just as j clearly.

“Suspicion of liquor being made on j your place.”

“There’s no liquor being made on j this place,” she said, right away.

I was sitting beside mother and ! suddenly I slipped my hand under her arm. She pressed her elbow against me and I could feel how terribly tense she j was.

“Sorry, lady. Got to do my duty and ! look.”

Mother got down from the truck. “I’ll show you around,” she said.

“Thanks,” he said. “The boy will do.”

I didn’t dare look at mother. When we were beyond earshot of the house, he said, “All right, son. Now show me where your dad makes his moonshine.”

Dad often told me that when you’re in a tight place the best thing is to tell the truth. So I said, “Dad’s not making moonshine.”

“All right, son. Just show me around.”

I took him along the meadow, up the path toward school, through the potato patch. All the time he scanned the air and sniffed. “All right,” he said, finally. “Why are you avoiding that place beyond them maples? Take me there.”

I felt scared but couldn’t think of a reason for not taking him to the hollow. We emerged from the brush and he stared around for several minutes, j “Been a fire here lately?” he asked, j The ashes from the burned barrel staves still smoked a little.

“Yes,” I said, my voice strangling in my throat. I felt for some reason I was being disloyal to dad and that I should lie but I couldn’t think of any j lies that sounded very convincing.

“What sort of fire?”

“Mother burned some rubbish.”

He asked no more questions but ! poked around for himself, walking to the pool and glancing in briefly, then sauntering down the creek a piece. That creek flowed pretty fast but I wondered if it had carried away all the j mash. Finally he nodded and told me i to take him back to his car. He didn’t j stop to speak to mother—just got in his j car and drove away, fast.

I tried to tell mother how miserable j I felt at not being able to steer the man away from the hollow but she didn’t | seem to hear much of what I said. She j was sitting by the kitchen table, staring into space, and she sat there a long time. Hazel cried a little when I said it was too late to go hack to the picnic, but mother paid no attention to her either. I went to feed the j chickens and look after the pigs. When I came back she moved kind of list| lessly. “Did the man say where your father is?” she asked.

I’d forgotten to ask the man about j dad.

“Well, he’s got the money with him j to pay his fine,” she said, bitterly. . . j “In case anything happens.”

I WOKE up about midnight, thinking 1 dad must be coming home, but it was the rain, pelting down on the shakes of the roof. 1 lay awake a long time and wondered how he’d get home j and hoped he wasn’t caught in the rain. Then I remembered about the

two men carrying off Hank Taggart and wondered if they could have taken dad somewhere the same way, but I couldn’t imagine dad letting anybody do that to him. When I again awoke it was morning and still raining. My first thought was a wild hope the creek would be running too high to let us cross to school so I hurried to dress. 1 scrambled downstairs to the kitchen and was surprised to see an old suitcase open on the floor and mother making up bundles in sheets. “Help me with breakfast,” she said. “Then you must help me pack.”

“Aren’t we going to school?”

“Not in this valley. Anyway it’s Sunday. As soon as your father returns I’m taking you to your grandfather’s.” Something in her tone kept me from jumping up and down. She sounded hopeless and unhappy. “But,” I said, “I thought dad didn’t want you to go until we had a new car to drive up in.” She smiled, ever so faintly. “I’m afraid the old truck will have to do. We’d go now but I don’t know when he’ll be back and we can’t leave the stock to die.”

Then I realized we were leaving dad and I began to cry. Mother said I mustn’t cry and turned her own face away and started getting breakfast.

The idea of leaving dad for always made me sad all day. The day continued drizzly and cold and dark. The cows humped for comfort against the harn and the chickens looked bedraggled and miserable. Everything 1 saw made me gloomy. In the tool shed I I looked at the sled dad began making j for me the fall before. Long ago I learned he either had to finish a job in a few days or he lost interest. You were never disappointed though; he always made the plans for the next project j sound so interesting you never remem -I bered the last one.

The day was so dark mother kept the ; lamp on the kitchen table lit as she sat on the floor sorting out dad’s things I from hershis old collar buttons from her pins and buttons, his old shirts and useless socks. On the table lay the telescope he’d bought to watch stars, • the kit of tools he sent for when he j figured on taking a correspondence ! course in veterinary surgery, and the j divining rod he paid $20 for to locate I oil in the ground. Things looked pretty i dismal with all those tied-up bundles ¡ around. I felt sad when I went to bed.

Well, dad didn’t come home for four j days. It rained steadily, the wind j whipping it up and sending it, moaning, j down the chimney or in wild flurries against the windows. Mother began looking pretty strained as she waited for dad. She was so determined to leave that she never bothered to make j us try to go to school. Finally I blurted ¡ out a question I couldn’t contain any j longer, “Mother—is dad in jail?”

Her answer was very quiet. “I don’t know, son. I’ve been thinking of taking the truck in to see if he needs help, but I’ve been afraid to leave you to do everything alone.”

This rather hurt me. “Aw, I can take care of things.” I was thrilled at the thought of taking care of things alone; besides—I might get in the ! milkshed, somehow, and fire off that ! .22, just once.

Mother smiled at me, sort of queerly.

! “We’ll see how the weather is I tomorrow.”

The rain just pelted down during j supper. Suddenly Hazel screamed and j pointed at one of the windows. The j beam of two headlights cut the darkness through the rain. We heard I an automobile engine race, then die.

I “Stay indoors,” said mother sharply.

It was dad, though. We heard his I step on the porch then he was indoors 1 and closing the door behind him,

quietly. He looked around, at first smiled a little uncertainly, then grinned, took off his hat and took a step toward mother. She stopped him, firmly. “It’s no use, Henry.” She pointed to the bundles. “I’m leaving —and at sunup.”

Kis grin faded. “Well,” he said, “I guess I can’t expect much else—after what happened.”

“Were you in trouble?” asked mother.

Dad looked at his fingernails. “Well, I was, kinda.” He paused. “Lucky I had that money along. It took most of it to pay the fine.”

Mother gasped. “Almost—almost


Dad looked extremely uncomfortable. “I guess 1 wasn’t very smart. They said they’d sent somebody up here to search the place, so when I was brought up before the judge I made a clean breast of the whole thing. Later I found out there wasn’t any evidence. I couldn’t figure that out but it was too late to do anything about it.”

There was a pause. “I’m sorry,” said mother, simply. But she made no move toward him.

“I sold the potato crop,” said dad.

Mother’s jaw dropped. “You—


“Yeah,” said dad. “I dropped in at the buyers. Figured you were right. It’s better to get a few cents a bushel for them than nothing. Only—” he brightened — “something’s happened and prices have gone up. They paid me $300 down. I’m to get the rest when I deliver.”

“What did you do with the money?” asked mother.

Dad lifted his head and looked mother square in the eye. “I spent it.”

“Spent it? Three hundred dollars?”

“Yes,” said dad, keeping his steady look. “I knew you’d go this time. I knew there was nothing I could say, after what happened, tnat’d keep you. Just what you were afraid of happened. I saw the way you looked at the picnic grounds and wasn’t surprised when you ran off. I guess it was pretty humiliating for you.”

“I didn’t run off,” began mother, indignantly. “I—”

“So I figured there was just one last thing I could do . . . before you left me.”

“I don’t understand,” said mother.

“Your father said when you married me that you’d never have a decent dress and would always eat the bread of poverty. He said I’d never amount to anything and I swore you’d never go back, even for a visit, until the day you could drive up in a new car. Well, I’m sorry it took me so long to find the car I want him to see you in, but it’s outside. Take a look at it through the window.”

{WHOOPED and ran to the window, crowding out Hazel. Dimly through the rain I could see polished metal gleaming in the window light. I yelled, “Mother—come and look! It’s a beauty !”

But mother wouldn’t come and look. She was staring in fascinated horror at dad. “You spent ... all that moneyon a car?”

“Of course,” he said. “That $300 is just the down payment, too. I’ll pay the rest when I get the money for the crop. I guess it’ll about take it all. But I’ve got pride too, Ada. I’ll be hanged if I’ll let that old beezark say ‘I told you so’ to you. Now you can hold your head up when you get there and won’t have to explain anything except to say, maybe, that we didn’t get alotjg together so well.”

The strangest expression crept over mother’s face; you couldn’t tell it she

wanted to laugh or cry. “And you didn’t buy . . . any supplies?”

“Supplies?” He looked puzzled. “Why, no—I spent everything on the car. Anyway I forgot them.”

“But there’s almost nothing left to eat on the place!”

I kept very still. Maybe they’d have to open that milkshed door—if we stayed.

Mother stared at dad several minutes, that queer expression still on her face. “Henry Slade,” she managed to say at last, “you never failed to come home just before winter with some useless gadget, did you?”

“Useless?” asked dad. Then he understood and squeezed her tight and

she buried her face in his shoulder and j moaned a little. “Oh, I don’t know as it’s been so useless, that gadget,” he said, winking at me over her shoulder.

Mother smoothed his hair. “What in the world would you have lived on, all ' alone without us?”

“I’d have gotten along. This winter’s going to be the mildest in years. There’s hardly any color in the dogwoods and the creeks are running extra low. It won’t start for a long while yet and if you want to go to your folks for a visit there’ll be time.”

I looked outdoors again, trying to see the car. But I couldn’t see it. The rain had turned to snow that already fell thickly.