If You Touch


8. Chapter VIII

During the winter the Poor Boy made two excursions, lasting for a number of days, southward through his valley and beyond. It was supposed by Martha, wild with anxiety, and by Miss Joy, but little less so, that he went alone. As a matter of fact he had companions; Yardsley, the forester and surveyor; Wangog, the Huron chief, taciturn in talk, but a great woodsman; and Stephen Bell, a young man recently come to live in the village and a great favorite with the Poor Boy.

It had developed that there were enough people wrongfully accused of some crime or other in the world to settle the Poor Boy's lands from the big lake all the way to the salt sea. And the main object of his long excursions was to locate upon deep water, navigable for great ships, a site, not for a village, but for a city.

Already his first village had suburbs, and here and there, dotted about among the foot-hills, were villas belonging to a wealthier class of people: Bradleys, Godfreys, Warrens, Warings, etc., families of position and breeding, among whom was a constant round of little dinners and dances to which the Poor Boy dearly loved to be invited.

During the winter, the Poor Boy made two excursions southward through his valley and beyond.

Government by a commission of three was an established and successful fact. Though it must be owned that as the man member and the woman member could never agree about anything, all reins of policy were gathered into the hands of the child.

"A child leads us," was often in the mouths of the village elders, and often anxiety expressed as to what would happen when the child grew up. But that he would grow up was not likely, since he was the very image of what the Poor Boy himself had been at the same age--a charming, straightforward, most honorable boy, touched by the fairy godmother of justice, music, and fancy.

It was wonderful how much the school-children learned with three hours' schooling a day (except Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, when they had none), and how outdoor play the rest of the time was rapidly developing them physically and in the sense of responsibility and judgment. There were no recorded cases of weak eyes, nerves, or hysteria. There were no suicides among the children upon the occasion of failures to pass examinations.

Nor was morbid curiosity allowed to stalk among them, destroying as it went. They were brought up on a newer and more scientific catechism, beginning:

Teacher: Who made you?

Answer: My father and mother.

And among themselves they were encouraged to raise up questions and bring them to their elders for simple and instructive answers. And the punishment for lying to children and frightening them with mysteries was very terrible.

Upon his second long excursion the Poor Boy and his jolly companions (except Wangog, who was taciturn) came to the end of the Poor Boy's lands, a coast of granite sheathed with ice, and beyond, great broken cakes of ice heaving slowly with groans and grinding roars upon the tranquil winter ocean.

Back of the granite barriers the river spread right and left, and then went out to sea in a deep and narrow stream, curiously free from ice. Indeed, there was but little ice in the main basin, and a kind of steam hung over it so that the Poor Boy was compelled and delighted to conclude (with the aid of his companions) that the river toward its mouth must be swollen by warm springs.

"I wonder if ships couldn't come in all the year round?"

He was going to wonder about other things, when the taciturn Wangog grunted and pointed to where the smoke of a steamer lay black along the horizon, and after that, to them closely watching, little by little her black hull rose from the grays and whites and greens of the ice.

She proved to be many kinds of a ship, in rapid succession, but last of all she was a yacht, huge and black and glittering with much brass. She was owned by a great statesman, who, with nothing but his country's welfare at heart, had been accused of high treason, and who, having heard of the Poor Boy's asylum for unfortunates, was making for it as fast as he could.

She came slowly between the headlands and to anchor at last with a splendid splash that glittered in the sun like diamonds....

It was very disappointing. If the Poor Boy, searching a more than half-emptied knapsack, was ever to get home to his own house he must postpone his visit to--Lord Harrow's (yes, that was the name forever and ever) yacht. Why had the Poor Boy and his companions wasted so much time over an empty harbor, when they might just as well have had the yacht arrive in the early morning, giving time for visits, explanations, and lunch?

The Poor Boy began to stamp his feet. There was no sensation in them, and he found that they were frozen. He had come too far, he had exposed himself too much--the sea with its burden of ice groaned and clashed. His companions, so jolly but now (except Wangog, who was taciturn), looked pityingly upon him and began to fade. They vanished. He was all alone. A shrill wind was rising, dusk was descending. He stood and stamped his feet, and two plans fought in his head for recognition and acceptance.

He could board Lord Harrow's great black yacht and be welcomed into the light and the warmth of the great satin-wood saloon with its open fireplace and its Steinway grand. Lord Harrow's daughter, that lovely girl, would minister to him, and Warinaru, the steward, would bring him hot grog in cut crystal, upon a heavy silver tray of George the First's time. They would give him the best state-room, the green and white--white for winter, green for summer--and he would sleep--such a long sleep--with no dreams in it, no worries, no memories--no awakening!

That was one plan--a delightful plan. So easy of accomplishment! He had but to sit in the snow and wait; Lord Harrow would see him and send a boat. No. Lord Harrow's daughter should be the first.... No ... No. How foolish! Don, the spaniel, begins to whine and fret, to put his paws on the bulwarks and bark toward a spot on the shore.

A boat is lowered; Don, the spaniel, leaps in--they row, following the point of his nose, and the Poor Boy is found just in the nick of time....

But the other plan, which was not delightful, was best.

"I told old Martha," the Poor Boy murmured, "to look for me at such a time. Why break her heart for a pair of bright eyes and a glass of hot grog? Why not keep my word? It's only two or three days of torture."

He turned from the river and ran upon his skis, stamping at each step, until he found shelter from the wind. His feet began to tingle and he knew that they were not frozen. But by the time he had a fire going they were numb again.

Between the Poor Boy and his old Martha was not two or three days of torture, but four. During part of the time snow fell, and wind flew into his face from the north.

Late on the fourth day he climbed the cliff upon which his house stood, not because it was the cliff upon which his house stood, but because it was an obstacle in his way. His house might be a month's journey beyond, for all he knew.

At the top of the cliff, among the pines was a young woman. She was by no means the first he had seen that day. But her face was clearer than the other faces had been, and when she darted behind a tree and tried to escape without being seen or spoken to, he ran after her, not knowing why he ran nor why he called her Joy--Joy--Joy! And he did not understand why she in her turn kept calling, "Martha--Martha--come quick--come quick!"

He knew best that she suddenly stopped running, and turned and waited for him, and that as he fell forward she caught him in her arms and began to drag him toward a bright light.

It was a most vivid hallucination. And when he woke in his bed, so warm and all, and Martha bending over him, the first thing he told her--smiling sleepily--was that he had mistaken her for Miss Jocelyn Grey.

"It was the realest sort of an hallucination," he said, "she caught me as I was falling--and of course she was you."

She suddenly stopped running, and turned and waited for him.

"How do you feel, Deary? We--I had a devil of a time with ye."

But the Poor Boy's mind was still upon the vision of Miss Grey.

"I saw her," he said, "and there was a look in her eyes that told me she'd never--never believed I'd done it.... And I was so glad, I tried to run to her for comfort, and all the time she was you. It was all so real--so real. It was a lot realer than some things that really did happen to me yesterday--yesterday morning, before I began to get snow-foolish."

"'Twas the day before yesterday ye came home," said Martha. "And all yesterday ye raved like a lunatic until night, when ye fell asleep, and I knew that all was well."

"Have you sat up with me all the time?"

"Ye forget I have an old female to help me. We took turns."

"You must thank her for me, Martha."

"I'll do that."

"Tell her I am grateful to her, and I think we should give her quite a lot of money, don't you?"