Open main menu

 

CHAPTER VI

In which Lionel Clarence makes his escape


I BELIEVE there is something good about that boy!" said Mrs. Sampson, with conviction.

"He 's the most finished type of pagan I ever clapped eyes on!" answered the Reverend Ezra Sampson, with equal conviction.

"But after all, the boy's heart 's in the right place," protested the mother.

"Which can seldom be said of his body! Mehetabel Wilkins tells me that he comes and tortures her daily, hanging by his toes from the big maple in front of her house."

"But what harm does that do Mehetabel?"

"It 's all the boy's artfully contrived punishment, for impounding his goat. She tells me that it 's slowly driving her crazy, the awful sight of that boy swinging up there by his two toes, head down. She even offered him a fishing-pole of split bamboo and a custard pie, if he would stop."

"Yes, he is pagan!" sighed the mother.

"And always will be," added the Preacher, remembering certain shrugs and gestures with which Lonely had resented a late attempt at timely guidance and advice.

"I would give a great deal to know what will grow in that weed-garden of idleness twenty years from now!" said the Preacher's wife. And she sighed again.

"He 's so like a wild animal,—as soon as he sees a door close on him he starts to fret and fidget," she went on.

"Yes, and his barbarian young soul hates restraint just the same as his barbarian young body!" added the man of the cloth. Only that morning Mrs. Sampson and Lonely had been closeted together in the sewing-room; there she had made a patient and serious effort to get somewhere near the heart of the abashed boy. Yet when any approach was made to the matter of his general morality and the higher life of the spirit. Lonely only squirmed and squinted, or hunched up one shoulder and listened meekly to the end. So Mrs. Sampson had been forced to go back to the original object of the conversation, the unsatisfactory condition of Lionel Clarence's health and his sudden untoward fretfulness. Old Doctor Ridley, in fact, had suggested that Lionel Clarence be taken away from his books for a few months, and be made to knock around and rough it a bit. And surely, thought Mrs. Sampson, as she put the reluctant Lonely through his catechism, here was a child who held the key to rough and rugged health.

"I could do something with him, mebbe," confessed Lonely, with airy condescension, "if you'd only get them curls o' his cut off!"

"And you would try to stand an example to my boy?"

"Sure," said Lonely, eagerly. "I 'd learn him tumblin' and slack-wire work in less 'n a week!"

"Do you still smoke, Lonely?"

"'Most every day," answered the boy, truthfully. "Got to do it, swimmin'-time, to keep down fever and ague!"

"But surely that is bad for you?"

"Yep, cane is—turns your blood into water! I go in for grapevine, mostly, with punk for swimmin' days!"

Once more the mother of Lionel Clarence sighed helplessly.

Pg 154a - Lonely O'Malley.png
"Do you fight?"

"I've quit fightin', in this town!" answered Lonely, the scarred and victorious, an Alexander with no more worlds to conquer.

And although the outcome of their private talk talk was somewhat uncertain, and the most that she could report to her husband was "That he at least lives up to his barbarian code," she finally decided that Lionel Clarence should be handed over to the temporal care of Lonely.
SHOT DOWN HIS QUARRY
The New Boy entered into his tutorship with such pride and enthusiasm that Lionel Clarence's mother still again protested there was something good about the boy, and in her gratitude of heart overfed him on jelly-roll and ginger cookies.

Her first qualm of doubt came unexpectedly, a day or two later, when she was quietly and busily picking green currants for a deep-river pie.

Seeing an unexpected stir and movement at the back of the garden, she peered circumspectly through the bush, and there beheld Lonely, with drawn bow and arrow, calmly stalking one of her Silver Dorking hens. She saw him shadow the mildly protesting fowl from bush to bush, and when at last a favorable chance offered, deliberately take aim and shoot down his quarry. Before she could quite recover from her astonishment, the boy had seized the stunned chicken, promptly wrung its neck, and disappeared with it, through the hole in the back fence. That Lionel Clarence later joined in the dance about the pot, and made away with more than half of the carcass, and vowed it was the finest chicken he had ever eaten, were facts which, naturally enough, were never revealed to Mrs. Sampson.

Lionel Clarence, however, was not destined to remain long under the dubious guardianship of Lonely O'Malley. His fretfulness increased, his usually abnormal appetite fell away, he complained of headache and sore throat, and when old Doctor Ridley was finally sent for it was only too plain to that assuager of Chamboro's ills that the boy was suffering from a well-developed attack of measles.

Lionel Clarence's Grandmother Horton was hurriedly sent for, and came post-haste to Chamboro to help in the nursing. The house was kept dark and quiet, and Lonely, pending the closing of school for the summer holidays, found this second solitude weigh heavily on his exuberant young soul.

The newly arrived grandmother, indeed, would not even allow Lonely on the premises, and daily reported that Lionel Clarence's fever was worse, and flurried and worried about, drawing blinds, and issuing orders, and demanding silence. And Lionel, imprisoned in his hot and stuffy little room, looked petulantly out at the dreamy blue sky, and heard the play-cries and the street sounds, and hunted for cool spots on his pillow, and whined and cried a great deal, and devoutly wished that after all he had run off with the circus and been a pink lemonade man.

It was a hot and cloudless day in June. The tree-tops stirred lazily, the bees droned murmurously about Chamboro's empty gardens, the shadows stood flat and black on the almost deserted streets of the little town.

Lonely could stand it no longer. He securely tied Shivers, so as not to be followed, and then, making a wide detour, noiselessly and circumspectly entered the Sampson garden by way of the well-known hole in the back fence.

Under the shadow of the pear-tree he whistled three times. Receiving no answer to this summons, he gave vent to a muffled owl-hoot, pregnant, stirring, unmistakable.

A moment later a languid head was thrust out of a carefully curtained window, and Lionel Clarence was whistling down at him, weakly but gleefully. He wa3 in his white night-gown, and there was an ice-bag bound about his flushed forehead.

"Sick?" asked Lonely, with fine superfluity.

"Sick o' staying cooped up here," said Lionel Clarence, wrathfully, with considerably more energy than Lonely had looked for.

Now one of the keenest disappointments of Lonely's life had always been the fact that he was not afflicted with some great and incurable malady,[1] During all the first part of the small-fruit season he firmly argued with himself that he had consumption, often not being able to take a deep breath without pain, and often feeling with gratified concern about what he deemed the lobe of his left lung, a good two inches below the waist-line. At other times, especially after swallowing countless cherry-stones for the delectation of two entranced country cousins, he decided that his threatened ailment was one of the heart, and against the day of his sudden and untimely death prepared a long and elaborate list of benefactions, disposing of everything from his new invention for making clay marbles [2] to a box-kite which had been reputed to be the strongest "puller" in all Chamboro.

So he gazed up at Lionel Clarence

enviously, wondering why luck should be so against him.

"Been having any fun?" asked the patient, wistfully.

"Swimmin', and all that!" answered Lonely.

Lionel Clarence made a clicking sound, with his tongue against the roof his mouth, which was meant to convey his poignant appreciation of such joys, as well as his regret that they were now beyond his reach.

He leaned further out of the window, pulling off the ice-bag as he looked down.

"S'pose you gettin' lots of jelly and stuff?" asked Lonely, cheeringly.

The patient shook his head sorrowfully.

"They 're half starving me up here!" he declared, with rising wrath.

Lonely took his turn at head- wagging, sympathetically.

"And shut up in this poke of a room all day!" lamented the invalid.

"You don't look so sick!" said Lonely.

"I don't believe I am!" said Lionel Clarence, slowly, and with some mysterious inward illumination.

He wriggled still further out into the air of freedom, looked cautiously about him, and then said with great determination:

"I 'm going to hook away from here! I 'm all hot and sticky and itchy, and I 'm going to have a swim!"

The other boy half-heartedly warned him back, yet, even while telling him that it was a pretty bad thing to be sick, enlarging vividly and enthusiastically on the beautiful warmth of the water of late, and the new spring-board the gang had put up over the diving-hole.

The natural outcome of their talk was that Lonely meekly obeyed Lionel Clarence's reckless and imperious order to put the ladder up to the window, and while this was being done he himself was poking a pair of wobbly legs into his Sunday velvet trousers.

Then he rolled up the bed-rug, and, along with one of the pillows, thrust it artfully down between the sheets, so that when covered at the top with a handkerchief and ice-bag, it would take a second glance to discover that the muffled bundle was not really a sleeping patient.

This done, he crept carefully down the ladder, which was later restored to its place by the driving-shed, and in two minutes more was following closely on Lonely's heels in a short cut for the swimming-hole.

The breeze had died down, the noonday sun was at its hottest, the river lay shadowy and limpid and alluring. Lonely's heels had already flashed up in the air and disappeared into the quiet depths just under the new diving-board, and the feel of the shallower water to Lionel Clarence's tentative foot was both mildly cool and cogently alluring.

"Do you think I 'd better, Lonely?" he asked, with his mind already made up. The other boy shook the water from his russet hair, just emerged from touching bottom, grunted, turned easily on his back, and floated there luxuriously, now and then emitting from between his pursed-up lips a little fountain-like jet of sparkling water.

"Do you think I 'd better risk it?" repeated Lionel Clarence, already up to his knees.

"'Course; come on—may as well have the game as the name, now you 're here!" and Lonely lay there motionless, blinking placidly up at the strong sunlight.

The sick boy took his "duck" with a gasp, recovered his balance, and struck out for mid-stream with that loose-jointed vigor peculiar to the beginner.

"Is 'nt it great!" he gasped, as he made his way through the buoyant and limpid coolness, as near to the glory of flying as mortals are allowed to come. He clambered up on the old black-walnut root in the middle of the river, and there sunned himself contentedly, with his thin young legs swaying gently back and forth in the stream.

There Lonely whiled the time away giving exhibitions of the many fashions of water-travel. He showed Lionel Clarence the awkward and archaic "cow-fashion," and then the methodical, spatty, business-like overhand stroke that went by the name of "sailor-fashion," then he showed what "steamboat-fashion" meant, lying well out on the top of the water, and churning it foamy with his quick heel-strokes. Then he "laid his hair," first on one side, then on the other, then exactly in the middle.

Whereupon the sick boy said the sun was too hot for him, and slipped down into the
 
Pg 165 - Lonely O'Malley.png

"DO YOU THINK I 'D BETTER RISK IT?"

 
coolness again, where he declared that every bit of Itchiness went out of his skin, that he felt all hunky-dory there, and that he was even game for a handicap race back to shore.

Back in the shallows once more, they had the most glorious of water-fights, smiting the smooth surface with the heel of their hands, and sending it rattling like buck-shot upon one another's streaming head and shoulders. Then, at Lonely's timely suggestion, both fell to smoking punk, earnestly and assiduously, to guard against any possible attack of fever and ague.

And just about the precise time that Lionel Clarence was being initiated into the mysteries of the back-dive, his zealous and solicitous grandmother, having fanned his supposedly sleeping face for a good hour and more, came to the conclusion that the patient was over-sleeping himself, and must promptly be fed.

So, having ordered up his broth and lime-water, she hesitatingly gave a gentle little shake to the patient, who straightway fell apart in her astounded hand. There she held what most certainly seemed to her a dismembered grandson, at arm's length, catching her breath hysterically, and battling several minutes for air, before she could call for help.

A hurried search was made. But the patient was not to be found. The household was aroused, Leena was sent helter-skelter off for Doctor Ridley, and the search was extended to the outbuildings and the garden.

By this time word had flown about that the Preacher's son had made his escape, in delirium, and a sudden little wave of commotion swept through the slumberous town. All business came to a standstill; searching parties were hurriedly formed, while every nook and corner of the Sampson household was being looked over and over, ineffectually, for the third and fourth time.

It was old Captain Steiner who reported that he had seen two boys in the river, just above the swimming-hole, and thereby caused a precipitous migration across commons and vacant lots and hay-fields, down to the shadowy river-bank, where nearly all Chamboro arrived, just in time to see the presumably delirious Lionel Clarence take a neat back-dive off the spring-board.

"It's—It's my Lionel Clarence, flinging himself in!"

The lad's father went pale, as he broke into a run, and pantingly called back to old Doctor Ridley, puffing at his heels, the startling news that his son could not swim a stroke. Yet a moment later they saw the newly shorn head emerge from the water, saw the confident stroke and the business-like splutter from the lips. They both stopped speechless on the brink of the swimming-hole, scarcely able to believe their eyes, still too consumed with conflicting emotions to speak.

Lonely, who had caught sight of the advancing army from a distance, had taken a discreet long dive downstream, then another and another; and coming up under a canopy of wild grapevines, had scrambled ashore and secreted himself in the uppermost boughs of a leafy willow.

There he remained, squinting out at the sudden hub-bub, wondering if they would find the clothes he had cached in a hollow log, to escape the danger of "chawing beef" at the hands of the Upper River gang and the men from the Tile Works, who had the habit of not
 
Pg 169 - Lonely O'Malley.png

DICTATING A TRUCE


only tying small boys' shirts into tight knots, but of soaking them in water and pounding the knots with stones, to insure each already tenacious knot against easy undoing.

And Lionel Clarence, finding himself so dramatically discovered, wisely and doggedly swam out to midstream, where he mounted the black-walnut root, and where he remained until a truce was made and his own terms were finally agreed upon.

Leena and Lionel Clarence's grandmother were crying audibly, by this time, declaring it would all be the death of the boy, and pleading for some one to plunge in and rescue the poor lad before it was too late.

But old Doctor Ridley pulled up his coat-sleeve, and thrust his hand down into the water of the swimming-hole.

"Tut, tut!" he exclaimed. "It 's as warm as new milk!"

And he established a dangerous precedent in Chamboro therapeutics by publicly attesting that it would n't do the boy a bit of harm, and that he was vastly mistaken, indeed, if it would n't cool his fever off a bit.

So Lionel Clarence, having been induced to paddle ashore, as the women in the searching party discreetly withdrew, was carefully muffled up in a lap-robe, and driven home in the Barrisons' phaeton.

He was plied with many questions as to what had possessed him to run away in that fashion, and at just what stage he had come back to his senses again, and just how he had fallen into his miraculous knowledge of the art of swimming.

But to all these questions the sleepy patient gave only vague and wandering answers. He had no desire to discredit the delirium tradition, which was given new twists and turns as it traveled from household to household. It was discussed and amended and contradicted, and in time even ascended to the dignity of one of those highly abstruse and quite unsolvable psychological problems [3] over which the more learned heads of Chamboro pondered and argued and disputed for many a month to come.

Two weeks later, however, when Lionel Clarence secretly unearthed a pair of velvet trousers and a little white night-gown from the hollow log where they had lain so long, he found that the Upper River gang had already been there, and had visited on him the tightest and hardest assortment of knots in the history of the Hole. So he decided, at Lonely's mild suggestion, that the two garments should remain in the log for all time, and nothing more be said about them.

If Doctor Ridley had his suspicions in the matter, that kindly old assuager of pain and anxiety said nothing about them, in public.

When he was sewing five neat little cat-gut stitches in Lonely O'Malley's shoulder, however, after an unhappy performance in knife-throwing (in emulation of one of the peerlessly beautiful Mexican ladies attached to the circus side-show), the shrewd old practitioner put a number of more or less disconcerting questions to his patient, as to Lionel Clarence and his swimming abilities. Getting nothing out of the boy, he ventured the remark that Lonely had a streak of yellow in him.

"The yellow that is sometimes almost gold!" he added to himself, as an afterthought. Then he reached in under his coat-tails to that reputedly inexhaustible pocket from which came most of Chamboro's lemondrops and horehound lozenges.

 

He pines upon a maple spray,
The sad-eyed, silly fellow;
And mourns of Autumn all the day
Because one leaf is yellow!

 


  1. Once, on going to visit his Grandmother Lomely for the first time, he had sought to overcome this drawback by walking with a persistent and pathetic limp, for one whole week of dissimulation wantonly and passionately adhering to the statement that he had been a lifelong sufferer from hip disease.
  2. The following is a partial list of Lonely's several inventions:

    An improved water-wheel, to be used for operating churns, sewing-machines, etc. The power was usually carried in through an open window, by means of a light clothes-line, running rather spasmodically over many spool-pulleys. When not attached to anything, both water-wheel and power-line and spool-pulleys spun and rattled away bravely enough; but the invention was never seriously adopted by purblindly conservative grown-ups, so was diverted to rotating a home-made wind-mill which otherwise refused to turn without the aid of water and wind combined. A pair of flannel shoes for Stumpy, Annie Eliza's lame hen, deprived of her toes through frost-bite. While usually placid and companionable. Stumpy, when shod, undeviatingly hid in the lilac bushes and sulked.

    An Eolipile motor, made of two oil-cans mounted on trunnions, with a small boiler attached. Though of no great industrial value. Lonely took the greatest pride in this little engine, in which he imagined lay embodied some key to the reformation of all steam power. His sorrow knew no bounds, accordingly, when he discovered that a scribe named Hero of Alexandria had minutely described his engine, one hundred and fifty years before the Christian Era.

    A dog-harness and cultivator, to expedite the hoeing and weeding of kitchen-gardens, etc. As no dogs sufficiently amenable to discipline could ever be found, to operate this really excellent implement, it fell into disuse.

    An improved cannon, made of brass pump-cylinder, mounted on two barrow- wheels. Powder sufficient for its proper loading and discharge had never been secured.

    A new and greatly improved method of making Angle-Worm Oil—long looked upon as the most effectual lubricant for all intending circus performers. Its only drawback was its over-pungent odor.

    An automatic "bite-announcer" (for use while fishing for mud-cat), made of an old tortion spring, with a slight bell attached. When stuck upright in a stump or dock-crack, it warns the most sleepy-headed fisherman just when to pull in his line.

    A rotating kite-messenger.

    A new form of bullet-mould, especially adapted for Indian warfare.

    A new and improved method of fastening on Indian Feathers—of naturally restricted commercial value.

    And last, but by no means least, a Flying-Machine, made of bamboo fishing-poles, umbrella canes, many old linen sheets, numberless strings and pulleys and springs, and always awaiting just one last pulley or brace or bolt to be finished and perfect. It seems scarcely necessary to add that this Flying-Machine and its over-sanguine maker had many falls in common, mostly from the tops of straw-stacks and stables.

  3. Another equally entrancing problem, which long kept Chamboro at its wits' end, was the question as to how three small sun-fish found their inexplicable way into one of the freshly dug post-holes of Judge Eby's cow-pasture. Some held that these three fish came from subterranean sources; others just as heatedly maintained that pluvial deposit explained their presence, while still others vacillated between scratching their heads in utter bewilderment and half-heartedly believing that some overburdened kingfisher had dropped them in flight. The simple truth of the matter was that the tight-lipped and unbetraying Lonely had dumped the three fish from his bait-pail into the post-hole, on his way home from the river.