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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER XIX CROAKER BRINGS A GIFT
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 It was Sunday. Anson, with eyes close-shut and suds dripping from his freckled nose, was having his weekly ear and neck cleansing, his mother's strong hands applying the coarse wash-cloth. Billy stood by, anticipating his turn, his eyes straying occasionally to the long "muzzle-loader" hanging on the deer-prong rack. Tomorrow the duck-season opened and he was wondering how he was going to contrive to sneak the old gun down and give it a thorough cleaning. Suddenly he became aware that operations in the vicinity of the wash-basin had become suspended. He glanced across to find his mother's gaze fixed sternly upon him. Anson was looking mightily pleased.  
"I want'a know how you got them ink blots on your good clothes. Have you been a'wearin' 'em to school?" asked Mrs. Wilson.
So that was it? Anson had "peached"! Billy swallowed hard. His mind reviewed the days of the past two weeks. Again he saw a pair of blue eyes, misty with love and feeling; heard a voice whose cadence was sweeter than honey saying, "My! Billy, you are so different from any other boy I've ever met; and you always wear such nice clothes, too." Oh those wonderful, joy-filled days! What boy would not have risked far more than he had risked to win such commendation from the girl of all girls.
"Well?" His mother's voice dispelled the vision. "Are you goin' to answer me, Willium?"
Billy squared his shoulders. Yes, he would do as she would wish. He would confess. But the best of intentions go oft awry and Billy's present ones were suddenly sidetracked by a giggle from Anson, a giggle freighted with malice, triumph and devilish joy at his predicament.
Now, a boy may make up his mind to die a hero, but no boy cares to be ushered out by gibes and "I-told-you-so's." Billy promptly adopted new tactics. "This ain't my suit, Ma," he said.
Mrs. Wilson started so at his words that she rammed the cake of soap into Anson's mouth.
"Not yourn? Then whose is it?" she cried in amazement.
"It's Anse's. We must have got 'em mixed when we was dressin'."
"Willium, are you lyin' to me? If you are it's goin' to be the costliest lie you ever told."
Billy returned her angry gaze without a flicker of an eyelid. The reproach in his grey eyes was enough to make any mother ashamed of having doubted, and, as a matter of natural consequence, anger her the more. "How do you know that's Anson's suit?" she shot at Billy, between rubs. "How do you know it, you young imp, you?"
Billy moved forward, halting a safe distance from his mother. "You'll remember, Ma, that Anse's pants has two hip pockets, an mine only one."
"Yes, that's so."
"An' his coat has two inside pockets, an' mine only one."
"I remember that, too. Well?"
Billy removed the coat he was wearing and passed it over to his mother. She turned it inside out, and inspected it closely.
"That's Anson's coat all right," she affirmed. "Now twist about so's I kin see them hip pockets in the pants."
Billy did so. Then, there being nothing more left to do, he stepped back to watch the fireworks.
Stunned into inaction by the ease and suddenness with which Billy had turned the tables against him Anson had only time to take one longing glance toward the door. His mother had lifted the razor-strop from its nail and as he made a frenzied leap toward safety her strong hand gripped him by the wet hair. "Swish" fell the strop and Anson's wail of woe rent the Sabbath air. In vain he squirmed, cried, protested his innocence.
Having gotten nicely warmed up to her work Mrs. Wilson turned a deaf ear to his wails. "You would try to put off your dirty tracks on your brother, would you?" Swish-swish. "I'll teach you to wear your good clothes to school. I'll teach you to lie to me, you bad, deceitful, ungrateful boy, you!
"Now," she panted, having reached the limit of her strength, "you go upstairs with Willium and change clothes. Not another word, er I'll start in on you all over ag'in. Off you go, both o'you. And Willium," she called after them, "when you get into your own suit, don't you ferget to come here fer your scrubbin'."
When Billy reached the loft, Anson was standing in the center of the room, smashing with clenched fists at the empty air. Billy sat down on his bed and grinned. "You will run straight into trouble, in spite of all I say, Anse," he said gently. "It's all your own fault; you will be a tattle-tale."
Anson turned on him. "You mean sneak!" he gasped, "you've been wearin' my Sunday clothes 'stead of your own, an' I didn't know it."
Billy nodded. "You see, Anse, I knowed that sooner or later you was bound to tell Ma, so I played safe, that's all."
Anson, still sniffling, finished his undressing. Billy nursed his knee in his hands and watched him. "'Course," he remarked, at length, "you'll be for tellin' Ma soon's she calms down a bit an' is ready to listen, but Anse I wouldn't do it if I was you."
"Well, you kin bet I jest will do it," promised Anson.
Billy stood up. "I'll tell you what I'm willin' to do, Anse," he suggested. "If you'll keep mum about this thing, I'll let you come duck-shootin' with me an' Maurice tomorrow."
Anson shook his head. "I don't want'a go duck-shootin'," he said. "I know jest what you fellers 'ud do; you'd get me in all the bog-holes an' make me carry your ducks. No sir, I'm goin' to tell Ma."
Billy tried further inducements. "I'll give you my new red tie an' celluloid collar," he offered.
"Then," said Billy sorrowfully, turning toward the door, "I guess there's only one thing fer me to do."
"An' what's that?" asked Anse, apprehensively.
"Go an' tell Croaker an' Ringdo the whole business, an' let that crow an' swamp-coon 'tend to you."
"Hold on, Bill, wait a minute," Anson quavered. "I've changed my mind, I'll take the tie an' collar an' call it square."
Billy turned and came back slowly to where he sat. "Anse," he said. "I ain't wantin' to see you witch-chased, so I'll jest give you the tie an' collar an' say not a word to Croaker er Ringdo; an' if you'll tell me somethin' I want'a know I'll let you sleep with my rabbit-foot charm underneath your piller."
Anson almost sobbed his relief. "I'll do it," he agreed. "What is it you want'a know, Bill?"
"I want'a know all you know about them men that are workin' Hinter's borin' outfit. Why ain't they ever seen outside that tall fence Scroggie's built 'round the derrick, an' why did he build that fence, anyways?"
Anson looked troubled. "Supposin' I don't know—" he began, but Billy shook his head.
"I happen to know you do know. 'Course you needn't tell, if you don't want to," he said. "You kin keep what you know to yourself an' take your chances with witches. I was jest givin' you a last chance, that's all."
He turned once more to the door but Anson jumped up and caught him by the arm. "Bill," he gasped. "I don't know why Hinter built that fence, cross my heart, I don't. But I'll tell you all I know about the men who're runnin' the rig. I been workin' fer the tool-dresser after school, fer a quarter a night. I've heard quite a lot o' talk among them fellers. Blamed if I could make hea............
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