Si Klegg is a web novel completed by John McElroy.
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Just then the whistle blew for a stop.
“What’n the world are they stoppin’ here for?” groaned Si. “Some woman’s got a dozen aigs or a pound o’ b.u.t.ter that she wants to send to town. I s’pose we’ll stop here until she finishes churnin’, or gits another aig to make up a dozen. I never did see sich putterin’ along.”
The Deacon was deeply absorbed in an editorial on “President Lincoln’s duty in this Crisis,” and paid no attention. Shorty craned his long neck out of the window.
“Some gal’s stopped the train to git on,” he reported to Si. “She’s apparently been payin’ a visit to a house up there a little ways, and they’ve brung her down in a buggy with her trunk. She’s dressed up fit to kill, and she’s purtier than a peach-blossom. Jehosephat, Si, I believe she’s the very same gal that you was castin’ sheep’s eyes at when you was home. Yes, it is.”
“Annabel?” gasped Si.
“What’s that?” said the Deacon, rousing to interest, but carefully putting his thumb down to mark the place where he left off.
“Shorty thinks Annabel is out there gittin’ on the train.”
“Eh,” said the Deacon, shoving up his spectacles and taking a good look.
“It certainly is. She’s been down here to see the Robinses, who live out here somewhere. I’ll jest go out and bring her in here.”
CHAPTER VI. THE BOYS IN THE OLD HOME ON BEAN BLOSSOM CREEK.
THE Deacon had been afraid to telegraph directly to his wife that he was bringing the boys home. He knew the deadly alarm that would seize mother and daughters at the very sight of the yellow telegraph envelope directed to them. They would interpret it to mean that Si was dead, and probably in their grief fail to open the envelope and read the message.
So at Jeffersonville he sent a message to Sol Pringle, the agent and operator at the station. The Deacon remembered the strain the former message had been on the young operator’s intelligence, besides he himself was not used to writing messages, and so, regardless of expense, he conveyed his thoughts to Sol in this wise:
Deer Sol: put yore thinkin’ cap on, and understand just what Ime sayin’. I want you to send word out to the house at once that Ime comin’ home this evenin’ on the accommodation train, and bringing the boys. Be keerful and doant make a fool of yourself and skeer the wimmin fokes.
Respectfully yores, Josiah Klegg.
Sol had plenty of time to study that dispatch out, and he not only sent word as desired, but he communicated the news to all who came to the station. The result was there was quite a crowd of friends there to greet the home-comers.
The reception of the message had thrown the household into a flurry of joyful expectancy. It was far better news than the Deacon’s last letter had led them to antic.i.p.ate. After a few moments of tearful e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.n and mutual kissing over it, mother and daughters began to get everything in readiness to give the returning ones the warmest, most cheerful welcome. Abraham Lincoln was summoned in from his rail-splitting, which he had been pursuing quite leisurely during the Deacon’s absence, and stirred to spasmodic energy under Maria’s driving to cut an additional supply of dry wood, and carry it into every room in the house, where little Sammy Woggles, the orphan whom the Deacon and Mrs. Klegg were bringing up, built cheer-shedding fires. Mrs. Klegg had her choicest young chickens killed, and after she and Amanda had robbed every other room of whatever they thought would add to the comfort of Si’s, she set herself to work preparing a supper which would outdo all her previous efforts.
Hours before the train was due Maria had Abraham Lincoln bring out the spring-wagon and hitch the horses to it. Then he had to lay in a bed of clean straw, and upon this was placed a soft feather bed, blankets and pillows. Maria decided that she would drive to the station herself.
“Never do in the world,” said she, “to trust them skittish young horses, what hain’t done a lick o’ work since Pap went away, to that stoopid darky. They’d surely run away and break his neck, which ‘d be no great loss, and save lots o’ provisions, but they’d smash that new wagon and break their own necks, which are worth more’n $200 apiece.”
“Maria, how can you talk so?” said the gentle Mrs. Klegg reprovingly.
“It’s a sin to speak so lightly o’ death o’ a feller-creature.”
“Well, if he’s a feller-creature o’ mine,” returned the sprightly Maria, “the Lord made a slack-twisted job of him some dark night out o’
remnants, and couldn’t find no gumption to put in him. He gave him an alligator’s appet.i.te instid. And ain’t I tryin’ to save his life?
Besides, I’m nearly dead to see Si. I want to be the first to see him.”
This aroused Amanda, but Maria stood on her rights as the elder sister, had her way, as she usually did, and drove away triumphantly fully two hours before train-time.
Upon her arrival at the station she quickly recognized that she was the central figure in the gathering crowd, and she would have been more than a young woman if she had not made the most of her prominence.
Other girls were there with their fathers and mothers who had brothers who had been in the three months’ service, or were now in three years regiments, or who had been discharged on account of disability, or who had been in this battle or that, but none of them a brother who had distinguished himself in the terrible battle about which everybody was now talking, who had helped capture a rebel flag, who had been wounded almost to death, who had been reported dead, and who was now coming home, a still living evidence of all this. No boy who had gone from Bean Blossom Creek neighborhood had made the figure in the public eye that Si had, and Maria was not the girl to hide the light of his achievements under a bushel. She was genially fraternal with those girls who had brothers still in the service, affable to those whose brothers had been in, but were now, for any reason, out, but only distantly civil to those whose brothers had not enlisted. Of these last was Arabella Widgeon, whose father had been one of the earliest immigrants to the Wabash, and was somewhat inclined to boast of his Old Virginia family. He owned a larger farm than the Deacon’s, and Arabella, who was a large, showy girl, a year or two older than Maria, had been her schoolmate, and, Maria thought, disposed to “put on airs” over her. Arabella’s brother Randolph was older than Si, but had chosen to continue his studies at Indianapolis rather than engage in “a war to free the n.i.g.g.e.rs.” But Arabella had developed an interest in the war since she had met some engaging young gentlemen who had come through the neighborhood on recruiting duty, and was keeping up a fitful correspondence with two or three of them.
“It must be very nice, Maria,” said Arabella, with a show of cordiality, but which Maria interpreted as an attempt to patronize, “to have your brother back home with you again.”
“It certainly will be. Miss Widgeon,” answered Maria, with strictly “company manners.” “One who has never had a brother exposed to the constant dangers of army life can hardly understand how glad we all feel to have Si s.n.a.t.c.hed from the very jaws of death and brung back to us.”
“That’s a little love-tap that’ll settle several scores with Miss Frills,” Maria chuckled to herself. “Partickerly the airs she put on over all us girls when she was running around to singing-school and church with that Second Lieutenant, who ain’t got across the Ohio River yet, and I don’t believe he intends to. Sol Pringle tells me all his letters to her are postmarked Jeffersonville.”
Arabella took no seeming notice of the shot, but came back sweetly:
“I am awfully glad that your brother was not hurt so badly as at first reported. He couldn’t be, and be able to come home now. These papers do magnify everything so, and make no end of fuss over little things as well as big ones, I was very much alarmed at first, for fear Si might be really badly hurt.”
This was too much for Maria. Her company manners slid off like a drop of water from a cabbage leaf, and she answered hotly:
“I’d have you know. Miss Widgeon, the papers don’t magnify the matter.
They don’t make a fuss over nothing. They don’t begin to tell all the truth. None o’ them can. My brother was nearer dead than any man who ever lived. Nothing but the favor of G.o.d and Klegg grit pulled him through. It’d killed a whole house full o’ Randy Widgeons or that Second Lieutenant. I remember Randy Widgeon turning pale and a’most fainting when he run a fish-hook in his finger. If it ain’t nothing, why don’t Randy Widgeon go down there a little while, with the rest o’ the boys, and do his share?”
“My brother disbelieves in the const.i.tutionality of this war, and denies that we have any right to take away other people’s slaves,” said Arabella loftily. “I s’pose he’s a right to his opinions.”
“A poor excuse’s better’n none,” retorted Maria. “I noticed that he didn’t turn out last Summer to keep John Morgan from stealing our people’s horses, and robbing their stores and houses. S’pose he thought it unconst.i.tutional to let a nasty rebel gorilla shoot at him. It’s very convenient to have opinions to keep you from doin’ things that you’re afraid to do.”
The dialog was approaching the volcanic stage, when a poorly-dressed, sad-faced woman, with a babe in her arms, edged through the crowd to Maria, and said timidly, for she had never been accounted by the Kleggs as in their set:
“Miss Maria, I don’t s’pose you know me, but I do so want to git a chance to speak to your pap as soon as he gets here, and before all these people gits hold of him. Mebbe he’s found out something about poor Jim. I can’t believe that Jim was killed, and I keep hopin’ that he got away somehow, and is in one o’ them hospitals. Mebbe your pap knows. I know you think Jim was bad and rough, but he was mighty good to me, and he’s all that I had. I’m nearly dead to hear about him, but I can’t write, nor kin Jim. I’ve bin tryin’ to make up my mind to come over to your house, and ax you to write for me.”
“Of course, you can, you poor, dear woman,” said Maria, her mood changing at once from fierceness to loving pity. “You shall be the first one to speak to Pap and Si after me. Why didn’t you come over to see us long ago. We’d only bin too glad to see you, and do all we could for you. Yes, I know you.
“You’re Polly Blagdon, and live down by the sawmill, where your husband used to work. You look tired and weak carrying that big baby. Let me hold him awhile and rest you. Sit down there on that box. I’ll make Sol Pringle clear it off for you.”
[Ill.u.s.tration: “ARABELLA CURLED HER LIP AT SEEING MARIA TAKE THE BABY.”
Arabella curled her nose, at seeing Maria take the unwashed baby in her arms, to the imminent danger of her best gown, but Maria did not notice this, and was all loving attention to the baby and its mother.
It seemed an age until the whistle of the locomotive was heard. The engine had to stop to take water at the creek, several hundred yards from the station, and Maria’s impatience to see Si and be the first to speak to him could not brook the delay.
“Come along, Mrs. Blagdon,” she called, and with the baby still in her arms, she sped down the cinder track to the pumping station, and then along the line of freight cars until she recognized her father’s face looking from the caboose, which was still beyond the bridge. She shouted joyously at him.
“Maria’s out there, waitin’ for us, and she’s got a baby in her arms.
What do you suppose she thinks we want a baby for?”
“‘Spect she’s been practicin’ on it, so’s to take care o’ us, Si,” said Shorty. “I believe we’ve been more trouble to your father than we wuz to our mothers when we wuz teethin’.”
“I’ve bin repaid for all, more’n repaid for all,” said the Deacon; “especially since I’m once more back home, and out o’ the reach o’ the Sheriffs o’ Tennessee. I’ll stay away from Chattanoogy till after the Grand Jury meets down there. If it does its dooty there’ll be several bills with Josiah Klegg’s name entirely too conspicuous.”
“I want to be able to git out to the next covenant meetin’, Pap,” said Si with a grin, “and hear you confess to the brethren and sisters all that you’ve bin up to down at Chattanoogy.”
“Well, you won’t git there,” said the Deacon decisively. “We don’t allow n.o.body in there who hain’t arrived at the years o’ discreetion, which’ll keep you out for a long time yit.”
The train pulled over across the bridge, and handing the baby to its mother, Maria sprang in, to recoil in astonishment at the sight of Annabel’s blushing face.
“You mean thing,” said Maria, “to steal a march on me this way, when I wanted to be the first to see Si. Where in the world did you come from, and how did you find out he was comin’ home on this train? Si, you didn’t let her know before you did us, did you?”
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