The Bondboy
217 Pages
English
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The Bondboy

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217 Pages
English

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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Bondboy, by George W. (George Washington) Ogden
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it , give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.org
Title: The Bondboy Author: George W. (George Washington) Ogden Release Date: November 30, 2009 [eBook #30567] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 ***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE BONDBOY***
E-text prepared by Roger Frank and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team (http://www.pgdp.net)
THE BONDBOY
By G. W. Ogden
Trail’s End Claim Number One The Land of Last Chance The Rustler of Wind River The Duke of Chimney Butte The Flockmaster of Poison Creek
Copyright A. C. McClurg & Co. 1922 Published October, 1922 Copyrighted in Great Britain Printed in the United States of America
I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII. IX. X. XI. XII. XIII. XIV. XV. XVI. XVII. XVIII. XIX. XX. XXI. XXII. XXIII.
CONTENTS Delivered Into Bondage A Dry-Salt Man The Spark in the Clod A Stranger at the Gate The Secret of the Clover Blood Deliverance Will He Tell? The Sealed Envelope Let Him Hang Peter’s Son The Sunbeam on the Wall Until the Day Break Deserted The State vs. Newbolt “She Cometh Not” He Said The Blow of a Friend A Name and a Message The Shadow of a Dream “The Penalty Is Death!” Ollie Speaks A Summons of the Night Lest I Forget
1 21 47 66 84 99 114 126 152 166 171 188 210 228 241 249 259 276 304 311 325 341 359
The Bondboy
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CHAPTER I DELIVERED INTO BONDAGE
Sarah Newbolt enjoyed in her saturnine, brooding wa y the warmth of April sunshine and the stirring greenery of awakening life now beginning to soften the brown austerity of the dead winter earth. Beside her kitchen wall the pink cones of rhubarb were showing, and the fat buds of the lilacs, which clustered coppicelike in her dooryard, were ready to unlock and flare forth leaves. On the porch with its southern exposure she sat in her low , splint-bottomed rocker, leaning forward, her elbows on her knees. The sun tickled her shoulders through her linsey dress, and pictured her, grotesquely foreshortened, upon the nail-drawn, warped, and beaten floor. Her hands, nursing her cheeks, chin pivoted in their palms, were large and toil-distorted, great-jointed like a man’s, and all the feminine softness with which nature had endowed her seemed to have been overcome by the masculine cast of frame and face which the hardships of her life had developed. She did not seem, crouched there like an old cat warming herself in the first keen fires of spring, conscious of anything about her; of the low house, with its battered eaves, the sprawling rail-fence in front of it, out of which the gate was gone, like a tooth; of the wild bramble of roses, o r the generations of honeysuckle which had grown, layer upon layer–the under stratum all dead and brown–over the decaying arbor which led up to the cracked front door. She did not seem conscious that time and poverty had wasted the beauties of that place; that shingles were gone from the outreaching eaves, torn away by March winds; that stones had fallen from the chimney, squatting broad-shouldered at the weathered gable; that panes were missing from the windows, their places supplied by boards and tacked-on cloth, or that pil lows crowded into them, making it seem a house that stopped its ears agains t the unfriendly things which passengers upon the highway might speak of it. Time and poverty were pressing upon Sarah Newbolt a lso, relaxing there that bright hour in the sun, straying away from her troubles and her vexations like an autumn butterfly among the golden leaves, unmindful of the frost which soon must cut short its day. For, poor as she was in all that governments put imposts upon, and men list in tax returns and carry to steel vaults to hoard away, Sarah Newbolt had her dreams. She had no golden past; there was no golden future ready before her feet. There was no review for her in those visions of happy days and tender memories, over which a woman half closes her eyes and smiles, or over the incense of which a man’s heart softens. Behind her stretched a wake of turbulence and strife; ahead of her lay the banked clouds of an unsettled and insecure future. But she had her dreams, in which even the poorest of us may indulge when our taskmaster in the great brickworks of this hot and heavy world is not hard by and pressing us forward with his lash. She had her dreams of what never was and never could be; of old longings, old heart-hungers, old hopes, and loves which never had come near for one moment’s caress of her toil-hardened hand. Dreams which roved the world and soothed the ache in her heart by their very extravagance, which even her frugal conscience could not chide; dreams which drew hot tears upon her cheeks, to trickle down among her knotted fingers and tincture the bitterness of things unrealized. The crunch of wheels in the road now startled her f rom her profitless
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excursions among the mist of visions and dreams. She lifted her head like a cow startled from her peaceful grazing, for the vehicle had stopped at the gap in the fence where the gate should have stood warder between its leaning posts. “Well, he’s come,” said she with the resignation of one who finds the long expected and dreaded at hand. A man got out of the buggy and hitched his horse to one of the old gate-posts, first trying it to satisfy himself that it was trustworthy, for stability in even a post on those premises, where everything was going to de cay, seemed unreasonable to expect. He turned up the path, bord ered by blue flags, thrusting their swordpoints through the ground, and strode toward the house, with that uncouth giving at the knees which marks a man who long has followed the plow across furrowed fields. The visitor was tall and bony, brown, dry-faced, an d frowning of aspect. There was severity in every line of his long, loose body; in the hard wrinkles of his forehead, in his ill-nurtured gray beard, which was so harsh that it rasped like wire upon his coat as he turned his head in qu ick appraisement of his surroundings. His feet were bunion-distorted and lumpy in his great coarse shoes; coarse black hair grew down upon his broad, thick-jointed hands; a thicket of eyebrows presented, like achevaux-de-frise, bristling when he drew them down in his peering squint. Sarah Newbolt rose to meet him, tall in the vigor of her pioneer stock. In her face there was a malarial smokiness of color, although it still held a trace of a past brightness, and her meagerness of feature gave her mouth a set of determination which stood like a false index at the beginning of a book or a misleading sign upon a door. Her eyes were black, h er brows small and delicate. Back from her narrow forehead she had drawn her plentiful dark hair in rigid unloveliness; over it she wore a knitted shawl. “Well, Mr. Chase, you’ve come to put us out, I reckon?” said she, a little tremor in her chin, although her voice was steady and her eyes met his with an appeal which lay too near the soul for words. Isom Chase drew up to the steps and placed one knotted foot upon them, standing thus in silence a little while, as if thin king it over. The dust of the highroad was on his broad black hat, and gray upon his grizzly beard. In the attitude of his lean frame, in the posture of his foot upon the step, he seemed to be asserting a mastery over the place which he had invaded to the sad dispersion of Sarah Newbolt’s dreams. “I hate to do it,” he declared, speaking hurriedly, as if he held words but frail vehicles in a world where deeds counted with so much greater weight, “but I’ve been easy on you, ma’am; no man can say that I haven’t been easy.” “I know your money’s long past due,” she sighed, “but if you was to give Joe another chance, Mr. Chase, we could pay you off in time.” “Oh, another chance, another chance!” said he impatiently. “What could you do with all the chances in the world, you and him–w hat did your husband ever do with his chances? He had as many of ’em as I ever did, and what did he ever do but scheme away his time on fool things that didn’t pan out when he ought ’a’ been in the field! No, you and Joe couldn’t pay back that loan, ma’am, not if I was to give you forty years to do it in.” “Well, maybe not,” said she, drawing a sigh from the well of her sad old heart. “The interest ain’t been paid since Peter died, and that’s more than two years now,” said Chase. “I can’t sleep on my rights that way, ma’am; I’ve got to
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foreclose to save myself.” “Yes, you’ve been easy, even if we did give you up our last cow on that there inter-est,” she allowed. “You’ve been as kind and easy over it, I reckon, Mr. Chase, as a body could be. Well, I reckon me and Joe we’ll have to leave the old place now.” “Lord knows, I don’t see what there is to stay for!” said Chase feelingly, sweeping his eyes around the wired-up, gone-to-the-devil-looking place. “When a body’s bore children in a place,” she said earnestly, “and nussed ’em, and seen ’em fade away and die; and when a body’s lived in a house for upward of forty years, and thought things in it, and everything––” “Bosh!” said Isom Chase, kicking the rotting step. “I know it’s all shacklety now,” said she apologetically, “but it’s home to me and Joe!” Her voice trembled over the words, and she wiped her eyes with the corner of her head-shawl; but her face remained as immobile as features cast in metal. When one has wept out of the heart for years, as Sarah Newbolt had wept, the face is no longer a barometer over the tempests of the soul. Isom Chase was silent. He stood as if reflecting his coming words, trying the loose boards of the siding with his blunt thumb. “Peter and I, we came here from Kentucky,” said she, looking at him with a sidelong appeal, as if for permission to speak the profitless sentiments of her heart, “and people was scarce in this part of Missouri then. I rode all the way a-horseback, and I came here, to this very house, a bride.” “I didn’t take a mortgage on sentiment–I took it on the land,” said Chase, out of humor with this reminiscent history. “You can’t understand how I feel, Mr. Chase,” said she, dropping her arms at her sides hopelessly. “Peter–he planted them laylocks and them roses.” “Better ’a’ planted corn–and tended to it!” grunted Chase. “Well, you can grub ’em all up and take ’em away with you, if you want ’em. They don’t pay interest –I suppose you’ve found that out.” “Not on money,” said she, reaching out her hand tow ard a giant lilac with a caressing, tender air. “Sit down,” said he in voice of command, planting himself upon the porch, his back against a post, “and let’s you and I have a little talk. Where do you expect to go when you leave here; what plans have you got for the future?” “Lord, there’s not a clap-board in this world that I can poke my head under and lay claim to its shelter!” said she, sitting again in her low rocker, shaking her head sadly. “Your boy Joe, he’ll not be able to command man’s w ages for three or four years yet,” said Chase, studying her averted face as if to take possession of even her thoughts. “He’ll not be able to do much toward supportin’ you, even if he could light on to a steady, all-the-year job, which he can’t, the way times is.” “No, I don’t reckon he could,” said she. “And if I was to let you two stay on here I wouldn’t be any nearer bein’ paid back that four hundred dollar loan in two or three years than I am now. It’s nearly five hundred now, with the interest pilin’ u p, and it’ll be a thousand before you know it. It’d take that boy a lifetime to pay it off.” “Peter failed,” she nodded; “it was a burden on him that hackled him to the grave. Yes, I reckon you’re right. But there’s no tellin’ how Joe he’ll turn out, Mr. Chase. He may turn out to be a better manager than his pap was.”
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“How old is he?” asked Chase. “Most nineteen,” said she, some kind of a faraway h ope, indefinable and hazy, lifting the cloud of depression which had fal len over her, “and he’s uncommon big and stout for his age. Maybe if you’d give Joe work he could pay it off, interest and all, by the time he’s twenty-one.” “Not much need for him,” said Chase, shaking his head, “but I might–well, I might figure around so I could take him over, on ce rtain conditions, you understand? It all depends on your plans. If you haven’t anywhere to go when you leave this house, you’re bound to land on the county.” “Don’t tell me that, Mr. Chase–don’t tell me that!” she begged, pressing her battered hands to her eyes, rocking and moaning in her chair. “What’s the use of puttin’ the truth back of you when you’re bound to come face up to it in the end?” he asked. “I was talkin’ to Judge Little, of the county court, about you this morning. I told him I’d have to foreclose and take possession of this forty to save myself. “‘It’ll throw her and that boy on the county,’ he says. ‘Yes, I reckon it will,’ I told him, ‘but no man can say I’ve been hard on ’em.’” “Oh, you wouldn’t throw me on the county at the end of my days, Mr. Chase!” she appealed. “Joe he’ll take care of me, if you’ll only give him a chance–if you’ll only give him a chance, Mr. Chase!” “I meant to take that up with you,” said he, “on the conditions I spoke of a minute ago.” He turned to her, as if for her consent to give expression to his mysterious terms. She nodded, and he went on: “In the winter time, ma’am, to tell you the plain truth, Joe wouldn’t be worth wages to me, and in the summer not very much. A boy that size and age eats his head off, you might say. “But I’ll make you this offer, out of consideration of my friendship for Peter, and your attachment for the old place, and all of that stuff: I’ll take Joe over, under writing, till he’s twenty-one, at ten dollars a month and all found, winter and summer through, and allow you to stay right on here in the house, with a couple of acres for your chickens and garden patch and your posies and all the things you set store on and prize. I’ll do this for you, Missis Newbolt, but I wouldn’t do it for any other human being alive.” She turned slowly to him, an expression of mingled amazement and fear on her face. “You mean that you want me to bind Joe out to you till he’s his own man?” said she. “Well, some call it by that name,” nodded Chase, “but it’s nothing more than any apprenticeship to any trade, except–oh, well, there ain’t no difference, except that there’s few trades that equal the one the boy’ll learn under me, ma’am.” “You’re askin’ me to bind my little son–my only chi ld left to me of all that I bore–you want me to bind him out to you like a nigger slave!” Her voice fell away to a whisper, unable to bear the horror that grew into her words. “Better boys than him have been bound out in this n eighborhood!” said Chase sharply. “If you don’t want to do it,don’tdo it. That’s all I’ve got to say. If you’d rather go to the poorhouse than see your son in steady and honorable employment, in a good home, and learning a business under a man that’s
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made some success of it, that’s your lookout, not mine. But that’s where you’ll land the minute you set your foot out in that road. Then the county court’ll take your boy and bind him out to somebody, and you’ll have no word to say in the matter, at all. But you can suit yourself.” “It–kind of–shook me,” she muttered, the mother-love, the honor and justice in her quailing heart shrinking back before the threat of that terrible disgrace–the poorhouse. The shadow of the poorhouse had stood in her way for years. It had been the fear of Peter when he was there, and his last word was one of thankfulness to the Almighty that he had been permitted to die in a freeman’s bed, under his own humble roof. That consolation was to be denied her; the shadow of the poorhouse had advanced until it stood now at her door. One step and it would envelop her; the taint of its blight would wither her heart. Sarah Newbolt had inherited that dread of publicly confessed poverty and dependence. It had come down to her through a long line of pioneer forebears who feared neither hardship, strife nor death, so that it might come to them without a master and under the free sky. Only the disgraced, the disowned, the failures, and the broken-minded made an end in the poorhouse in those vigorous days. It was a disgrace from which a family never could hope to rise again. There, on the old farm with Peter she had been poor, as poor as the poorest, but they had been free to come and go. “I know I’ve got the name of being a hard man and a money-grabber and a driver,” said Chase with crabbed bitterness, “but w ho is it that gives that reputation to me? People that can’t beat me and take advantage of me and work money out of me by their rascally schemes! I’m not a hard man by nature –my actions with you prove that, don’t they?” “You’ve been as kind as a body could expect,” she answered. “It’s only right that you should have your money back, and it ain’t been your fault that we couldn’t raise it. But we’ve done the best we could.” “And that best only led you up to the poorhouse door,” said he. “I’m offering you a way to escape it, and spend the rest of your days in the place you’re attached to, but I don’t seem to get any thanks for it.” “I am thankful to you for your offer–from the bottom of my heart I’m thankful, Mr. Chase,” she hastened to declare. “Well, neither of us knows how Joe’s going to turn out,” said he. “Under my training he might develop into a good, sober farmer, one that knows his business and can make it pay. If he does, I promise you I’ll give him a chance on this place to redeem it. I’ll put him on it to farm on shares when he fills out his time under me, my share of the crops to apply to the debt. Would that be fair?” “Nobody in this world couldn’t say it wasn’t generous and fair of you, and noble and kind, Mr. Chase,” she declared, her face showing a little color, the courage coming back into her eyes. “Then you’d better take up my offer without any more foolishness,” he advised. “I’ll have to talk it over with Joe,” said she. “He’s got nothing to do with it, I tell you,” prote sted Chase, brushing that phase of it aside with a sweep of his hairy hand. “You, and you alone, are responsible for him till he’s twenty-one, and it’s your duty to keep him off the county and away from the disgrace of pauperism, and yourself as well.”
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