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In My Youth by  James Baldwin
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THE RUSE

[453]

I
T was very late in the night when Jonathan returned home—and he was alone. We heard him as he led the filly into the barn and with extreme quietness to her stall. Father rose, and lighting the old tin lantern, went out to have an opportunity with him. My own temporary sleeping quarters being in the haymow, I could not help being an involuntary although very interested listener to all that was said.

"Is that thee, Jonathan?" and father's voice trembled with emotion.

"I reckon 'tain't nobody else," was the petulant reply.

"Well, thee has occasioned me a great deal of anxiety, and I venture to say that thy name is on the tongue of every man and woman in the New Settlement."

"I don't keer if it is."

"But is thee aware that thy riding away with Esther Fox and not coming back till this late hour will cause a vast amount of scandal?"

"I didn't ride away with no Fox, I rid away with a Lamb—and we hain't nary one of us none the wuss for it, nother."

"But what has thee done with Esther—with the Lamb as thee insists upon calling her?"

"Well, I hain't done nothin' wrong with her, I tell thee that," answered Jonathan in a tone half-exultant, half- [454] defiant. "I s'pose thee'd like to know all about it, wouldn't thee?"

"Yes, I want a full account of thy transactions," and father spoke huskily and with grim decision. "If thee ever expects to be received again into our family as an adopted son, thee must clear thy skirts of all blame in this matter."

"Well, I kinder reckon I can do that," returned Jonathan, straightening himself up and pulling at his galluses. "My coat tails hain't been draggled the least mite and if thee'll only listen to reason I'll prove it to thee."

"My mind is free to consider whatever thee has to say," answered father.

And so the two sat down upon the edge of the feed box, with the faint glimmer of the tine lantern playing upon their features, and the young man in his characteristic homely manner, related his story.

"Well, it was Patience, she put me up to it. When I heerd her sayin' her piece about that there tarnal young feller lockin' the bars, it set me to thinkin' whether I mightn't ride off with Esther, jist like that feller done with his gal; for thee knows Old Enick, he's always been dead set ag'inst me havin' her. So I told Patience about it and she says, 'Go ahead'; and her and Charity and Esther, they put their heads together and made up the whole thing, how we'd fool Old Enick and ride double over to Dashville and take the short cut in spite of the tarnal Discipline  and everything else. And Patience she even seen Henry Meredith, and Henry he seen Judge Davis about it and made it up with him how he was to splice us in a hurry, as quick as we got to his offist. And Charity she fixed it with Isaac Wilson and [455] his wife how we was to stay at their house a day or two till we found out how Old Enick was a-takin' it. For thee knows Isaac's wife, she's Esther's mother's own aunt, and she's named after her, and she's always kinder had a likin' for her."

"Yes, I know," said father dryly. "Go on with thy narrative."

"Well, it was Patience, she put me up to it," continued Jonathan. "She's purty slick, I tell thee, when it comes to cunnin'. I seen all the time that she wasn't quite clear in her mind about us takin' the short cut. 'It's a mighty pore way of gittin' spliced,' she said, 'and it's sure to land you both outside of Our Society; for you'll be turned out of meetin' without mercy,' she said. And then Esther, she would begin to cry; cause she didn't know what to do; for it's a turble thing to be turned out of meetin'."

"I know all that, too," said father, growing impatient. "Go on with thy narrative."

"Well, it was Patience, she put us up to it; and she said, 'If you can only skeer Old Enick right bad, maybe he'll give his consent at the last minute, and then you can get spliced right, after all.' And she said to me, 'Lochinvar, if I was thee, I would try it.' And I told her I would. So, when we rid away on the filly, Esther and me, we went kinder slow; for we wanted to give Old Enick another chance. We was sure he'd foller us, and we didn't keer if he did; for everything was fixed up, and we knowed that he couldn't help hisself, no matter how ugly he wanted to be."

He paused a few minutes to give the filly some grain, and then resumed his story.

"It was Patience, she put us up to it. When we rid [456] away, we didn't go in no hurry, for we wanted him to foller us. But after a while we got to the river, and we seen Dashville in plain sight on t'other side, and there wa'n't no sign of him nowhere. Then I said to Esther, 'I guess, maybe, we'll have to be spliced by the short cut, after all. Thy grandfăther, he don't seen to be a follerin' us very brisk.' And jist then we come to the ferry, and she begun to cry.

"The ferryboat was on t'other side, and the feller that runs it, he was settin' at the eend of it, a-fishin'. Me and Esther, we lighted from the filly, and I hollered to him to come and take us acrost. But he was e'en-a-most ketchin' a big black bass that was teasin' his hook, and he hollered back to us to wait a bit till he yanked the fish in. I hollered to him that we was in right smart of a hurry; but he jist kep' on fishin' for that there black bass as if it was the onliest thing under the sun. I hollered ag'in, and let on as if I was hoppin' mad about it, but he jist kep' on. Seems to me we stood on the bank, waitin' for the tarnal feller, fully a half an hour. By'm-by, the black bass it swum away without takin' the hook, and the feller poled his boat acrost to where we was standin'. I was so tarnal mad that I felt like lickin' him, and I think I would 'a' done it, too, if it hadn't been for Esther. I kinder hated for her to see me a-fightin'."

"Thee would have disgraced thyself and thy relations, and I am glad thee restrained thy temper," said father; "but go on with thy narrative."

"Well, we went on to the boat, me and the filly and Esther, and the feller was jist pushin' off into the water, when we heerd a great clatterin' of horse's hufs, and we looked up, and there come Old Enick on his gray mare, a-gallopin' right down to the river. He hollered to the [457] feller on the boat, and told him to wait, but the feller jist kep' on and didn't so much as look around. He said to me that he was in a hurry to git acrost to see if there wa'n't a fish on the line he had set there; and he said he wouldn't turn back for nobody.

"Old Enick, he come a-poundin' down to the river, and jist as the boat bunped ag'inst t'other side, he rid up and stopped at the landin' on this side. He was all out of breath, and so was the gray mare, but he didn't seem a bit mad. As soon as he could git his breath a leetle, he hollered out to Esther and axed her where she was goin' to. She hollered back and told him that we was goin' to Dashville to be spliced, and the jedge was 'spectin' us and the papers was all writ up ready to be signed. And Enick, he hollers ag'in and says he won't allow no sich thing, and tells her she must go right back home with him on the gray mare.

"Then I hollers back to him, and I says, 'Esther ain't a-goin' to do no sich thing. She ain't no Fox, she's a Lamb, and she's promised to b'long to me. If thee won't give her leave to be spliced the right way, then her and me, we'll take the short cut, and thee cain't help thyself.'

"Then Enick, he hollered to me that he wouldn't never allow any sich thing to be did; and I guess we stood and hollered back and forth acrost the river longer'n it takes to break up a settin' hen. Then I led the filly out of the boat and up to a stump by the road, and me and Esther we let on as if we was a-goin' to ride right off into the town. Old Enick, he hollered to the feller in the boat to come and git him, but the feller was in great hopes of that there black bass ag'in, and he let on not to hear him. I seen that Esther's grandfăther was beginnin' to melt, [458] and so I tetched on a com-promise that I'd been thinkin' of all along.

" 'Enick Fox,' I hollered, 'thee sees that Esther and me, we're bound to git spliced and thee cain't help it. We'd like to git spliced the right way, but if thee won't let us, then it will be thy fault if we go ag'inst the Discipline. I know thee donít like me, but I'm bound and set on havin' Esther; and if thee will only sign a little paper that I have already writ out, we'll go right back home with thee and be good friends with thee as long as we live!'

"Then he hollered out and axed me what it was that was writ on that piece of paper, and I took it out of my hat linin' and read it to him so loud that the ferryboat feller, he laughed and skeered his black bass clean away.

"It was Patience, she put me up to it, and it was her that writ it with her own quill pen on a leaf of her copybook. Here is it, făther; thee may read it."

He took from his hat a carefully folded bit of bluish foolscap, and father bending low over the feeble flickering lantern, read aloud the writing that was on it:

"To the Dry Forks Monthly Meeting—

Dear Friends:

     "I hereby give my consent to the marriage of my granddaughter, Esther Lamb, with my young friend Jonathan Dudley, provided they get married in accordance with the rules of our Discipline.

"E. FOX."

"That's it," exclaimed Jonathan. "It was all writ jist so, 'ceptin' the name, and I read it to him as loud as I could. Then Enick, he hummed and hawed and kicked the sand a little bit, and at last he hollered back and said [459] he reckoned that when young folks made up their minds to git spliced, the Old Feller hisself couldn't stop 'em with all his fire and brimstun. And he said he'd rather see one of his datters in her grave than to let her be spliced to anybody ag'inst the Discipline, and as to his granddatter, he reckoned if she could stand it to live with a Dudley he could maybe stand it to let her have one of 'em, but he vowed and declared that he never could  begin to stand it if she got spliced to me ag'inst the Discipline.

"Then I hollered back to him, and I says, 'What's thee goin' to do about this here little writin' I've jist read to thee?'

"And he hollers and says, 'I reckon I'll sign it. Thee come back to this side with Esther and thy filly, and I'll sign it, and then we'll all ride home together. 'Tain't no use for us to be a-hagglin' over this matter forever.

"I seen from the way he spoke that he was clean beat; and Esther she was so glad that she begun to cry ag'in. Jist then the ferryboat feller, he ketched his fishin'-line on to a snag and lost his hook and us and the filly we went back on to the boat. He wanted me to pay him another levy for ferryin' us over; but I told him we had changed our minds and that, seein' we had rued the bargain, it was for him to give me back the levy I had paid him when we first went on to his boat. The feller, he got mad, and I had e'en a great mind to fling him into the river; but Esther, she kinder pacified me.

"When we got back to this side, there was Enick, a-holdin' his gray mare by the bridle. He shuck hands with us both, and I never dreamt that he could be so friendly and nice to anybody. And then I laid the piece of paper up ag'inst the smooth part of his saddle and give [460] him my piece of keel to write with, and he signed his name, jist as thee sees it there. Then he shuck hands with us ag'in, and called us his children and said he reckoned we might as well ride back home together. So he got on the gray mare, and I got on the filly, and Esther she up behind me, and we left the ferryboat feller on the landin' a-sayin' bad words about us.

"When we got to Enick's big gate, Esther, she slipped off of the filly's back and run to the house. But we'd made it up to give in at the monthly meetin' in next Third-month, and Enick, he agreed to it. And so thee sees I hain't done no bad thing to-day a-tryin' to be like that there young Lockin'-the-bars, have I?"

"I am glad that thee has done so well," said father, taking his hand; "and I am glad that thy troubles have been so happily adjusted. We shall all rejoice to have so capable a young woman as Esther Lamb become a member of our family, and it is very pleasing to know that Friend Enoch has consented to it."

The candle in the old lantern had burned down to the socket. Its little light flickered desperately for a moment, and then vanished. The barn was in total darkness. And as father groped his way back to his couch, I heard the Seth Thomas clock strike twelve.

Thus ended a most eventful day.


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