Lydia of the Pines/Chapter 7

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Lydia of the Pines by Honoré Willsie
VII. The Republican Candidate

pp. 110–127.



"Nature counts no day as wasted."

The Murmuring Pine.

AMOS and Kent caught Charlie by either arm as his hands clutched for Levine's throat. Marshall did not stir out of his chair. During the remainder of the episode his face wore a complacent expression that, though Lydia did not consciously observe it at the time, returned to her in after years with peculiar significance.

"Here! Here! This won't do, my young Indian!" cried Amos.

"Let me get at him!" panted Charlie.

Lydia moved away from Lizzie and Margery. The three had automatically jumped to grab Adam's collar for Adam always assisted in a fight, human or otherwise. She ran over to the Indian.

"Charlie," she pleaded, looking up into his face, "you mustn't hurt Mr. Levine. He's my best friend. And it is not polite to come to call at my house and make a row, this way."

"That's right," commented Marshall. "Do your fighting outdoors."

John had not stirred from his chair. He looked up at the Indian and said slowly and insolently, "Get out of here! You know what I can do to you, don't you? Well, get out before I do it!"

Charlie returned John's look of contempt with one of concentrated hatred. Then he turned to Kent.

"Come on, Kent," he growled and followed by his friend, he marched out of the kitchen door.

"Whew!" said Amos, "talk about civilizing Indians!"

Lydia was trembling violently. "What made him act so— Did you hurt his sister, Mr. Levine?"

"Didn't even know he had a sister," returned John, coolly relighting his cigar.

Marshall rose and stretched his fat body. "Well, you serve up too much excitement for me, Amos. I'll be getting along. Come, Margery."

"Wait and we'll all have some coffee," said Lizzie. "Land, I'm all shook up."

"Pshaw! 'twan't anything. Kent should have had more sense than to bring him in here," said Levine.

"Why, he's usually perfectly lovely," protested Lydia. "Goes to parties with the girls and everything."

"I wouldn't go to a party with a dirty Indian," said Margery, her nose up in the air.

"What do you know about parties, chicken?" asked Marshall, buttoning her coat for her.

"Mama says I can go next year when I enter High School," replied Margery.

"First boy, white or Indian, that comes to call on you before you're eighteen, I'll turn the hose on," said Dave, winking at the men.

Amos and John laughed and Dave made his exit in high good humor.

When the door had closed Amos said, "Any real trouble with the boy, John?"

"Shucks, no!" returned Levine. "Forget it!"

And forget it they did while the November dusk drew to a close and the red eyes of the stove blinked a warmer and warmer glow. About eight o'clock, after a light supper, Levine started back for town. He had not been gone five minutes when a shot cracked through the breathless night air.

Amos started for the door but Lizzie grasped his arm. "You stay right here, Amos, and take care of the house."

"What do you s'pose it was?" whispered Lydia. "I wish Mr. Levine was here. He's sheriff."

"That's what I'm afraid of—that something's happened, to him—between his being sheriff and his other interests. I'll get my lantern."

"Wait! I'll have to fill it for you," said Lydia.

So it was that while Amos fumed and Lydia sought vainly for a new wick, footsteps sounded on the porch, the door opened and Billy Norton and his father supported John Levine into the living-room. Levine's overcoat showed a patch of red on the right breast.

"For God's sake! Here, put him on the couch," gasped Amos.

"Billy, take Levine's bicycle and get the doctor here," said Pa Norton.

"Hot water and clean cloth, Lydia," said Amos. "Let's get his clothes off, Norton."

"Don't touch me except to cut open my clothes and pack the wound with ice in a pad of rags," said John weakly. Then he closed his eyes and did not speak again till the doctor came.

Lydia trembling violently could scarcely carry the crushed ice from Lizzie to her father. No one spoke until the gentle oozing of the blood yielded to the freezing process. Then Amos said in a low voice to Pa Norton,

"What happened?"

"Can't say. Billy and I were coming home from town when we heard the shot ahead of us. It took us a minute or two to come up to Levine. He was standing dazed like, said the shot had come from the lake shore way and that's all he knew about it."

The beat of horses' hoofs on the frozen ground broke the silence that followed. In a moment Dr. Fulton ran into the room. Lydia seized Florence Dombey and hurried to the kitchen, nor did she leave her station in the furthest corner until the door closed softly after the doctor. Amos came out into the kitchen and got a drink at the water pail.

"Doc got the bullet," said Amos. "Grazed the top of the lungs and came to the surface near the backbone. Lord, that was a narrow escape!"

"Will he—will he die?" whispered Lydia.

"Of course not," answered Amos, with a quick glance at the blanched little face. "He's got to have good nursing and he can't be moved. Lizzie's as good a nurse as any one could want. Doctor'll be back at midnight and stay the rest of the night."

"Who did it, Daddy?"

Amos shook his head. "It might have been Charlie Jackson or it might have been a dozen others. A sheriff's liable to have plenty of enemies. Billy started a bunch hunting."

Lydia shivered.

"Go to bed, child," said Amos. "We're going to be busy in this house for a while."

"I want to see him first, please, Daddy."

"Just a peek then, don't make a noise."

Already the living room had a sick room aspect. The light was lowered and the table was littered with bandages and bottles. Lydia crept up to the couch and stood looking down at the gaunt, quiet figure.

John opened his eyes and smiled faintly. "Making you lots of trouble, young Lydia."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Lydia. "Just get well, we don't mind the trouble."

"I've got to get well, so's you and I can travel," whispered Levine. "Good night, dear."

Lydia swallowed a sob. "Good night," she said.

At first, Amos planned to have Lydia stay out of school to help, but Levine grew so feverishly anxious when he heard of this that the idea was quickly given up and Ma Norton and a neighbor farther up the road arranged to spend the days turn about, helping Lizzie.

As soon as the shooting was known, there was a deluge of offers of help. All the organizations to which Levine belonged as well as his numerous acquaintances were prodigal in their offers of every kind of assistance.

But John fretfully refused. He would have no nurse but Lizzie, share no roof but Amos'. "You're the only folks I got," he told Amos again and again.

The shooting was a seven days' wonder, but no clue was found as to the identity of the would-be assassin. Charlie Jackson had spent the evening with Kent. As the monotony of Levine's convalescence came on, gossip and conjecture lost interest in him. John himself would not speak of the shooting.

It was after Christmas before John was able to sit up in Amos' arm chair and once more take a serious interest in the world about him. Lydia, coming home from school, would find Adam howling with joy at the gate and John, pale and weak but fully dressed, watching for her from his arm chair by the window. The two had many long talks, in the early winter dusk before Lydia started her preparations for supper. One of these particularly, the child never forgot.

"Everybody acted queer about Charlie Jackson, at first," said Lydia, "but now you're getting well, they're all just as crazy about him as ever."

"He'll kill some one in a football scrimmage yet," was John's comment.

"No, the boys say he never loses his temper. The rest of them do. I wish girls played football. I bet I'd make a good quarterback."

John laughed weakly but delightedly. "You must weigh fully a hundred pounds! Why, honey, they'd trample a hundred pounds to death!"

"They would not!" Lydia's voice was indignant. "And just feel my muscles. I get 'em from swimming."

John ran his hand over the proffered shoulders and arm. "My goodness," he said in astonishment. "Those muscles are like tiny steel springs. Well, what else would you like to be besides quarterback, Lydia?"

"When I was a little girl I was crazy to be an African explorer. And I'd still like to be, only I know that's not sensible. Adam, for Pete's sake get off my feet."

Adam gave a slobbery sigh and withdrew a fraction of an inch. Levine watched Lydia in the soft glow of the lamp light. Her hair was still the dusty yellow of babyhood but it was long enough now to hang in soft curls in her neck after she had tied it back with a ribbon. She was still wearing the sailor suits, and her face was still thin and childish for all she was a sophomore.

"I don't suppose you could explore," said Levine, meditatively.

"Oh, I could, if I had the money to outfit with, but I'll tell you what I really would like best of all." Lydia hitched her chair closer to Levine and glanced toward the kitchen where Lizzie was knitting and warming her feet in the oven. "I'd like to own an orphan asylum. And I'd get the money to run it with from a gold mine. I would find a mine in New Mexico. I know I could if I could just get out there."

"Seems to me all your plans need money," suggested John.

"Yes, that's the trouble with them," admitted Lydia, with a sigh. "And I'll always be poor—I'm that kind."

"What are you really going to do with yourself, Lydia, pipe dreams aside?"

"Well, first I'm going to get an education, clear up through the University. 'Get an education if you have to scrub the streets to do it,' was what Mother always said. 'You can be a lady and be poor,' she said, 'but you can't be a lady and use poor English.' And then I'm going to be as good a housekeeper as Mrs. Marshall and I'm going to dress as well as Olga Reinhardt, and have as pretty hands as Miss Towne. And I'm never going to move out of the home I make. Maybe I'll get married. I suppose I'll have to 'cause I want at least six children, and some one's got to support them. And I'll want to travel a good deal."

"Travel takes money," John reminded her.

"Not always. There was The Man Without a Country, but I wouldn't want to have what he had. Seems to me it was a little thing he said after all. Mr. Levine, why did he feel so terrible about the poem?"

"What poem?" asked Levine.

Lydia cleared her throat.

"'Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own, my native land?'

—and you know the rest."

John Levine looked at Lydia strangely. There was a moment's pause, then she said, "But I don't understand just what it all means."

"Lots of us don't," commented John, briefly. "But if I had a son I'd beat understanding of it into him with a hickory club."

Lydia's jaw dropped. "But—but wouldn't you beat it into your daughter?"

"What's the use of trying to teach patriotism to anything female?" There was a contemptuous note in Levine's voice that touched Lydia's temper.

"Well, there's plenty of use, I'd have you know!" she cried. "Why, I was more interested in Civil Government last year than any of the boys except Charlie Jackson."

Levine laughed, then said soberly, "All right, Lydia, I'd be glad to see what you can do for your country. When you get that orphan asylum, put over the door, 'Ducit Amor Patriæ.'"

Lydia looked at him clearly. "You just wait and see."

She went soberly toward the kitchen for her apron, and Levine looked after her with an expression at once wistful and gentle. Lydia looked up "Ducit Amor Patriae" in a phrase book the next day. She liked the sound of it.

By the middle of January, Levine was sufficiently recovered to leave. The Saturday before he left occurred another conversation between him and Lydia that cemented still further the quaint friendship of the two.

It snowed heavily all day. Lydia had put in the morning as usual cleaning the house. This was a very methodical and thorough process now, and when it was finished the cottage shone with cleanliness. In the afternoon, she dug a path to the gate, played a game of tag in the snow with Adam, then, rosy and tired, established herself in Amos' arm chair with a book. Lizzie was taking a long nap. The dear old soul had been exhausted by the nursing. Levine lay on the couch and finally asked Lydia to read aloud to him. She was deep in "The Old Curiosity Shop" and was glad to share it with her friend.

During the remainder of the afternoon John watched the snowflakes or Lydia's sensitive little red face and listened to the immortal story.

Suddenly he was astonished to hear Lydia's voice tremble. She was reading of little Nell's last sickness. "She was dead. Dear, patient, noble Nell was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God. Not one who had lived and suffered death."

Lydia suddenly broke off, bowed her yellow head on the book and broke into deep, long drawn sobs that were more like a woman's than a child's.

John rose as quickly as he could. "My dearest!" he exclaimed. "What's the matter?" He pulled her from the arm chair, seated himself, then drew her to his knees.

"I can't bear it!" sobbed Lydia. "I can't. Seems sometimes if I couldn't have little Patience again I'd die! That's the way she looked in her coffin, you remember? 'F-fresh from the hand of God—not one who h-had lived and s-suffered death.' O my little, little sister!"

John took "The Old Curiosity Shop" from the trembling fingers and flung it upon the couch. Then he gathered Lydia in his arms and hushed her against his heart.

"Sweetheart! Sweetheart! Why, I didn't realize you still felt so! Think how happy Patience must be up there with God and her mother! You wouldn't wish her back!"

"If I believed that I could stand it—but there isn't any God!"

Levine gasped. "Lydia! Hush now! Stop crying and tell me about it."

He rocked slowly back and forth, patting her back and crooning to her until the sobs stopped.

"There!" he said. "And what makes you think there's no God, dear?"

"If there was a God, He'd answer prayers. Or He'd give some sign." Lydia lifted a tear-stained face from John's shoulder. "He's never paid any attention to me," she said tensely. "I've tried every way to make Him hear. Sometimes in the dusk, I've taken Adam and we've gone deep into the woods and I've sat and thought about Him till—till there was nothing else in the world but my thought of Him. And I never got a sign. And I've floated on my back in the lake looking up into the sky trying to make myself believe He was there—and I couldn't. All I knew was that Mother and Patience were dead and in coffins in the ground."

Levine's sallow face was set with pain. "Why, child, this isn't right. You're too young for such thoughts! Lydia, do you read the Bible?"

She nodded. "I've tried that too—but Jesus might have believed everything He said was true, yet there mightn't have been a word of truth in it. Do you believe in God?"

John's hold on the thin hands tightened. He stared long and thoughtfully at the snowflakes sifting endlessly past the window.

"Lydia," he said, at last. "I'll admit that my faith in the hereafter and in an All-seeing God has been considerably shaken as I've grown older. But I'll admit too, that I've refused to give the matter much thought. I tell you what I'll do. Let's you and I start on our first travel trip, right now! Let's start looking for God, together. He's there all right, my child. But you and I don't seem to be able to use the ordinary paths to get to Him. So we'll hack out our own trail, eh? And you'll tell me what your progress is—and where you get lost—and I'll tell you. It may take us years, but we'll get there, by heck! Eh, young Lydia?"

Lydia looked into the deep black eyes long and earnestly. And as she looked there stole into her heart a sense of companionship, of protection, of complete understanding, that spread like a warm glow over her tense nerves. It was a sense that every child should grow up with, yet that Lydia had not known since her mother's death.

"Oh!" she cried, "I feel happier already. Of course we'll find Him. I'll begin my hunt to-morrow."

John smoothed her tumbled hair gently. "We're great friends, aren't we, Lydia! I've an idea you'll always believe in me no matter what folks say, eh?"

"You bet!" replied Lydia solemnly.

John Levine went back to his duties as sheriff and Lydia and Amos and Lizzie missed him for a long time. But gradually life fell back into the old routine and spring, then summer, were on them almost before they realized winter was gone.

Lydia did well at school, though she still was an isolated little figure among her schoolmates. The cooking teacher added sewing to the course, after Christmas, and Lydia took up "over and over stitch" at the point where her gentle mother had left off five years before. She progressed so famously that by the time school closed she had learned how to use a shirtwaist pattern and how to fit a simple skirt. With her plans for a summer of dress-making she looked with considerable equanimity on the pretty spring wardrobes of her schoolmates.

They saw less than ever of Levine when summer came, for he was beginning his campaign for Congressman. He came out occasionally on Sunday and then he and Lydia would manage a little stroll in the woods or along the lake shore when they would talk over their progress in the Spiritual Traveling they had undertaken in January. Lydia had decided to give the churches a chance and was deliberately attending one Sunday School after another, studying each one with a child's simple sincerity.

One source of relief to Lydia during the summer was that Mrs. Marshall and Margery spent two months in the East. Lydia had faithfully kept in touch with Margery ever since her promise had been given to Dave Marshall. But she did not like the banker's daughter—nor her mother. So again as far as playmates were concerned Lydia spent a solitary summer.

Yet she was not lonely. Never before had the lake seemed so beautiful to her. Sitting on the little pier with Adam while her father worked in his garden, she watched the sunset across the water, night after night. There was nothing that seemed to bring her nearer to a sense of God than this. Night after night the miracle, always the same, always different. The sun slipped down behind the distant hills, the clouds turned purple in the Western hill tops, fading toward the zenith to an orange that turned to azure as she watched. The lake beneath painted the picture again, with an added shimmer, a more mysterious glow. Little fish flashed like flecks of gold from the water, dropping back in a shower of amethyst. Belated dragon flies darted home. And the young girl watching, listening, waiting, felt her spirit expand to a demand greater than she could answer.

Amos was keenly interested in Levine's campaign. His attitude toward politics was curiously detached, when one considered that he was saturated with information—both as to state and national politics. He was vicious in his criticism of the Democrats, ardent in his support of the Republicans, yet it never seemed to occur to him that it was his political duty to do anything more than talk. He seemed to feel that his ancestors in helping to launch the government had forever relieved him from any duty more onerous than that of casting a vote.

He did, however, take Lydia one September evening just before school opened to hear John make a speech in the Square. Lydia up to this time had given little heed to the campaign, but she was delighted with the unwonted adventure of being away from home in the evening.

It was a soft, moonlit night. The old Square, filled with giant elms, was dotted with arc lights that threw an undulating light on the gray mass of the Capitol building. When Amos and Lydia arrived the Square was full of a laughing, chattering crowd. Well dressed men and women from the University and the lake shore, workingmen, smoking black pipes, pushing baby carriages, while their wives in Sunday best hung on their arms. Young boys and girls of Lydia's age chewed gum and giggled. Older boys and girls kept to the shadows of the elms and whispered. On the wooden platform extended from the granite steps of the Capitol, a band dispensed dance music and patriotic airs, breaking into "America" as Levine made his way to the front of the platform.

Almost instantly the crowd became quiet. A curious sort of tenseness became apparent as Levine began to speak.

Lydia stared up at him. He looked very elegant to her in his frock coat and gray trousers. She was filled with pride at the thought of how close and dear he was to her. She wished that the folk about her realized that she and her shabby father were intimate with the hero of the evening.

The first part of the address interested Lydia very little. It concerned the possibility of a new Post Office for Lake City and made numerous excursions into the matter of free trade. It did not seem to Lydia that in spite of their attitude of tenseness, the people around her were much more interested than she.

Then of a sudden Levine launched his bolt.

"But after all," he said, "my friends, what is free trade or a new Post Office to you or me? Actually nothing, as far as our selfish and personal interests go. And who is not selfish, who is not personal in his attitude toward his community and his country? I frankly admit that I am. I suspect that you are.

"Ladies and gentlemen, twenty miles north of this old and highly civilized city, lies a tract fifty miles square of primitive forest, inhabited by savages. That tract of land is as beautiful as a dream of heaven. Virgin pines tower to the heavens. Little lakes lie hid like jewels on its bosoms. Its soil is black. Fur bearing animals frequent it now as they did a century ago.

"Friends, in this city of white men there is want and suffering for the necessities of life. Twenty miles to the north lies plenty for every needy inhabitant of the town, lies a bit of loam and heaven-kissing pines for each and all.

"But, you say, they belong to the Indians! Friends, they belong to a filthy, degenerate, lazy race of savages, who refuse to till the fields or cut the pines, who spend on whiskey the money allowed them by a benevolent government and live for the rest, like beasts of the field.

"Why, I ask you, should Indians be pampered and protected, while whites live only in the bitter air of competition?

"I am not mincing words to-night. I do not talk of taking the lands from the Indians by crooked methods. You all know the law. An Indian may not sell the lands allotted to him. I want you to send me to Congress to change that law. I want the Indian to be able to sell his acreage."

Levine stopped and bowed. Pandemonium broke loose in the Square. Clapping, hisses, cheers and cat-calls. Lydia clung to her father's arm while he began to struggle through the crowd.

"Well," he said, as they reached the outer edge of the Square and headed for the trolley, "the battle is on."

"But what will the Indians do, Daddy, if they sell their land?" asked Lydia.

"Do! Why just what John intimated. Get out and hustle for a living like the rest of us do. Why not?"

Why not indeed! "What did some of the people hiss for?" asked Lydia.

"Oh, there's a cheap bunch of sentimentalists in the town,—all of 'em, you'll notice, with good incomes,—who claim the Indians are like children, so we should take care of 'em like children. Then there's another bunch who make a fat living looting the Indians. They don't want the reservation broken up. I'm going to sit on the back seat of the car and smoke."

Lydia clambered into the seat beside her father. "Well—but—well, I suppose if Mr. Levine feels that way and you too, it's right. But they are kind of like children. Charlie Jackson's awful smart, but he's like a child too."

"I don't care what they're like," said Amos. "We've babied 'em long enough. Let 'em get out and hustle."

"Do you think Mr. Levine'll get elected?"

Amos shrugged his shoulders. "Never can tell. This is a Democratic town, but Levine is standing for something both Democrats and Republicans want. It'll be a pretty fight. May split the Democratic party."

This was the beginning of Lydia's reading of the newspapers. To her father's secret amusement, she found the main details of Levine's battle as interesting as a novel. Every evening when he got home to supper he found her poring over the two local papers and primed with questions for him. Up to this moment she had lived in a quiet world bounded by her school, the home, the bit of lake shore and wood with which she was intimate, and peopled by her father and her few friends.

With John Levine's speech, her horizon suddenly expanded to take in the city and the vague picture of the reservation to the north. She realized that the eyes of the whole community were focused on her dearest friend. Up on the quiet, shaded college campus—the newspapers told her—they spoke of him contemptuously. He was a cheap politician, full of unsound economic principles, with a history of dishonest land deals behind him. It would be a shame to the community to be represented by such a man. They said that his Democratic opponent, a lawyer who had been in Congress some five terms, was at least a gentleman whose career had been a clean and open book.

When these slurs reached Levine, he answered in a vitriolic speech in which he named the names of several members of the faculty who had profited through the Indian agent in quiet little sales of worthless goods to Indians.

The saloon element, Lydia learned, was against Levine. It wanted the reservation to stand. That the saloon element should be in harmony with them was galling to the college crowd, though the fact that their motives for agreement were utterly different was some solace.

The "fast crowd" were for John. Clubmen, politicians, real estate men were high in his praise. The farmers all were going to vote for him.

Lake City was always interested in the national election but this year, where the presidential candidates were mentioned once, Levine and his opponent were mentioned a hundred times. Ministers preached sermons on the campaign. The Ladies' Aid Society of the Methodist Church, the Needlework Guild of the Episcopalian, the Woman's Auxiliary of the Unitarian, hereditary enemies, combined forces to work for Levine, and the freeing of the poor Indian from bondage.