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KATHERINE TO THE WINNEBAGOS
April 27, 19--.
Oh, My Winnies:
How can I tell it? Father died to-day. Heart failure, brought on by excitement over the fire and the coming of Judge Dalrymple. Think of it!
After all these years of hard work and grinding poverty and bitter disappointment, to fall just at the moment when success and prosperity were within reach. Oh, the terrible irony of Life!
Your broken-hearted Katherine.
KATHERINE TO THE WINNEBAGOS
May 9, 19--.
Thanks, a thousand times, for all the beautiful, comforting letters you wrote. When did anyone ever have such friends as I? Everyone has been so kind, so sympathetic. The whole countryside turned out to help us. Judge Dalrymple and Justice are still here, straightening up father's affairs.
The farm and the stock are to be sold. Mother is sick; father's death was a great shock to her. As soon as she is better she and I are going home with Judge Dalrymple for a visit. We are going to motor back with him and Justice--won't it be glorious? Justice is going back home to live. He and his father have become great pals; it is perfect joy to watch them going about like two boys, arm in arm. You never see one without the other any more. Now that they are together it is possible to see quite a resemblance, but Justice is much handsomer than his father ever could have been. Sandhelo acted just as though he remembered the Judge from last summer; he squealed when he saw him and put his nose into his pocket. We had a council about what should become of Sandhelo and finally decided that he was to be sent home to Judge Dalrymple's to be a pet for Antha and Anthony. Sandhelo nodded solemnly when we told him, as much as to say it was all right with him. I have a queer feeling all the time that that mule is more than half human. He has such an uncanny way of taking people's affairs into his own hands, sometimes. Did he not recognize Justice in the road that night when I would have fled from him, thinking he was the negro, Solomon, and didn't he scare Solomon into confessing that he had set fire to Elijah b.u.t.ts' cotton storehouse?
To-morrow is May 10th, the date that school closes in this district, and I have planned a farewell celebration for the scholars. I am going to give them "for keeps" all the things that came from the House of the Open Door, besides all the splendid things that came for Christmas, to be the property of the Corners schoolhouse from that time on henceforward, to make of it another House of the Open Door.
May 10th, Evening.
Another amazing day! Do you know, I half believe that I have been transported in a dream back to the land of witches and fairies, and have to keep pinching myself to make sure I'm still myself, Katherine Adams, and not some other girl who has gotten into my shoes by mistake. I have a dreadful fear that I will find my real self sitting in the road somewhere, tumbled off old Major's back as he ambled along, reading in some book of romance the wonderful things that are happening to this new, strange self. And presently it will be time to go home and help with supper, and romance will come to an end with the closing of the book.
But I guess I'm real, all right. Before the door stands Judge Dalrymple's car, latest model; its loud, raucous voice containing no hint of elfin horns as it announces the return of Justice and his father from a spin in the country. Beside me on the table is the deed of sale of our property, made out to one Jim Wiggin, and drawn up on very substantial-looking paper; and on my wrist sparkles the beautiful little gold watch which is a very tangible souvenir of this last amazing day. It ticks away companionably, as if to rea.s.sure me of its realness. I have named it Thomas Tickle, and we are going to be inseparable friends.
You remember I told you I had planned a little last-day-of-school celebration for the scholars? Well!!! As it turned out, it made the Pageant look like five cents' worth of laundry soap by comparison. When I got to school in the morning I found the schoolhouse draped with flags and bunting, inside and outside, and my desk piled a foot high with great red roses.
Then the people began to arrive. It seemed the whole county was there. My eyes began to pop out of my head as one after another of the celebrities began to arrive. The School Board from Spencer came _en phalanx_, and in marching order behind them came the high school pupils with Justice at their head. The parents of the pupils were all there in state and it soon became evident that we would have to hold our closing exercises outdoors, as the schoolhouse would not hold one-tenth of the crowd.
I was rushing around like a fire engine with the steering gear gone, trying to find things for various mothers to sit on, when I was conscious of a solemn hush, and with a flourish the county school commissioners drove up and with them came Miss Fairlee, the Commission Lady.
Then there broke loose a sound of revelry by day. My scholars did the folk dances and gave the little play I taught them; the Camp Fire Girls held a ceremonial meeting and gave demonstrations of poncho rolling, camp cooking, etc., while the boys had an exhibition of the articles they had made from wood, out of the Dan Beard book.
Then in a speech, which was more earnest than eloquent, I gave to the school the furnishings from the House of the Open Door, together with the graphophone, the lantern and the slides, to have and to hold, to be the foundation of a new House of the Open Door. There was tumultuous applause, and I sat down, red and perspiring, and my part of the show was over.
Thereupon, up rose Absalom b.u.t.ts, punched in the back as I could see by three or four of the other boys, and, swallowing his fourteen-year-old embarra.s.sment as well as he could, he thrust into my hands a little blue velvet case, mumbling the while, "It's yours. From the school. In token of our--of our----"
Here he forgot his speech, looked around wildly, and then burst out:
"We're givin' it to you because you showed us such a good time, and we're sorry you're goin' away!" Then he fled to his place and hid his blushes behind Henry Smoot's red head.
I opened the case and took out a dear little gold wrist watch. I started to thank them, but choked utterly when I thought of the sacrifices it must have cost some of those people to help buy that watch.
But this was no time for tears. The main dish of the feast was being brought in. The chief of the County school commissioners, the guest of honor, rose pompously and made his way to the front after being ceremoniously introduced by Elijah b.u.t.ts. After much clearing of the throat he began a flowery speech about the fame that had been gained throughout the county by the little schoolhouse at our Corners on account of its Red Cross activities and Patriotic Pageants; how it had been made the social center for the people all around and had helped educate them to better things; how the boys and girls had learned more useful things from me than from anyone else who had ever taught there; and how Miss Fairlee, who had come from the East to study rural school conditions in our section had been quite carried away with my work, and so on, _ad infinitum_.
Then, having loaded his cannon very carefully, so to speak, he proceeded to fire it into the crowd with telling effect. The County school commissioners, he announced with a fine air of jocularity, had heard that I was carrying the schoolhouse around with me wherever I went, and as they were afraid it might get mislaid some day they had voted to build a new brick schoolhouse on a foundation; one that couldn't be moved. A new schoolhouse for our district! n.o.body had ever dared hope for such a thing, not even in their wildest dreams. And it seems that I had precipitated all this good fortune!
Later on I happened to hear this same commissioner congratulating Elijah b.u.t.ts on the good teacher he had picked, and Elijah swelled up like a pouter pigeon and replied:
"Yes, sir, I spotted her for a good one the minute I laid eyes on her. It was me that persuaded the Board to hire her when some of them was holdin'
back, favorin' a different kind of female. Yessir, it was me that picked her!"
Justice, who had also overheard the conversation, winked solemnly and we both fled where we could have our laugh out unnoticed.
But the best part of it all came after the Big Show was over. Miss Fairlee came up and took me by the arm and strolled away with me.
"My dear," she said, "would you consider leaving this place and coming East with me? I need an a.s.sistant in my Social Settlement work for the summer, and there's no one I've met in the whole country that would fill the bill as well as you. For handling difficult situations you are a perfect marvel. Your talents are wasted out here--anyone can carry on the work that you have started so wonderfully. Won't you please come?"
We talked about it a bit, and where do you suppose this Social Settlement is? Where but in the one spot on earth that I'd rather be than any other!
The same city, my dears, that has the honor of being your home! It's all settled now, and I am to go, after my visit to the Dalrymples. Mother is going into a big Sanitarium, and I am going to work with Miss Fairlee through the summer.
Clear the track! The Winnebago Special is about to start once more! O my Winnies, don't you see the miracle of it all? Here I was, pining to live in a House by the Side of the Road, when all the time I _was_ living in a House by the Side of the Road! It was my little despised schoolhouse. I was sent here by fate to prove myself worthy or unworthy of what she had in store for me. I was taken away from you that I might come back to a richer, fuller life than I had dreamed of in the old days. It is all part of a Plan, so big and wonderful that I lose my breath when I think of it.
But whatever the Plan may turn out to be in the future, there's only one thing about it that interests me now, and that is, I'm coming back to you. I'm coming back! Back to my Winnies! Hang out the latchstring and remove everything breakable, for the wanderer is coming home!
Your thrice-blessed Katherine.