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 September passed laden with summer perfumes and song and, beneath a blanket of hoar frost, October awoke to send her hazy heralds far across wooded upland and open. Slowly those wreathing mists kissed leaf and fern, as though whispering: "Rest sweetly, until spring brings you back once again."  
So it seemed to the boy, as from the brow of a hill he watched the dawn-haze drift toward the newly-open sun-gates of the eastern sky; for autumn always brought a feeling of sadness to Billy. He missed the twitter of the birds, the thousand and one notes of the wild things he loved and which always passed out and away from his world with the summer. The first hoar frost had come; soon the leaves would turn golden and crimson, the fern-clumps crumple and wither into sere, dead, scentless things. Then with shortening days and darkening skies those leaves and plants would sag to earth and the gaunt arms of the bare trees would lift empty nests toward snow-spitting skies.
No more would the fire-flies weave a gauze of golden stars above the marshlands at the foot of the Causeway. The season of green and blue had lived and died and in its place had been born a season of drab and brown. Summer was gone. The song-birds had migrated. Soon the green rush fields would sway, grey and dead and the bronze woodcocks would whistle away from the bog-lands, for seldom did they tarry after the first frost. Along the creek the red-winged black-birds would be sounding their up-and-away notes. No happy carol to welcome the first glow of dawn! No wonder Billy sighed. Then he lifted his head quickly as, high above him, sounded the whistle of wings. Up from the north a wedgeshaped flock of wild ducks came speeding, white backs flashing as they pitched downward in unbroken formation towards the calling bay-waters.
Billy caught his breath quickly and a glad smile drove the shadow from his face. "Canvasbacks!" he murmured, "They've come early. I bet anythin' the flocks I heard comin' in through the night was canvasbacks, too—an' redhead! I must go right over after breakfast an' tell Teacher Stanhope; he'll be sure to say 'Let's go get 'em.' Oh, gee!"
He turned back toward the house, then paused as the mellow "whirt-o-whirt" of a quail sounded from the sumach which bordered the meadow across the road. "Old Cock quail," he cautioned softly, "I wouldn't give that covey-call too often if I was you. Joe Scraff jest might hear you. Only note safe fer you to whistle is 'Bob White'—but you won't be whistlin' that till spring comes ag'in."
It may be that the white-throated leader of the brown covey in the stubble sensed the murmured warning of his friend, for he did not whistle again. The smile still on his lips, Billy vaulted the rail fence and sought the path to the house.
He found his father, mother and Anson seated at the breakfast table and as he took his place he was conscious of a foreboding of impending storm. The conviction was strengthened when his father's foot, reaching sympathetically underneath the table, touched his ever so gently. With perfect sangfroid he speared a strip of bacon with his fork and held his breath as he waited for the worst. Two taps of that foot meant "On your guard," three taps "Watch out for dodging."
He received two taps and sighed relievedly; then as his mother arose to bring the coffee-pot from the stove he felt three quick and distinct pressures and ducked his head just in time to miss a swinging, open-handed slap from Mrs. Wilson's heavy hand.
Anson, sitting slit-eyed and gleeful close beside him, received the slap with a force that knocked his face into his porridge bowl.
As Mrs. Wilson recovered her balance and squared away for a surer stroke, Croaker swooped in through the open door and, with many muffled croaks, alighted in the center of the table. In his black beak he held another glittering gold piece, which he dropped in front of Mrs. Wilson's plate. Then picking up a fat doughnut from the platter he hopped to the motto God Bless Our Home and perching himself on its gilt frame proceeded to appease his morning's hunger.
Silence fell upon the family after the first gasp of surprise at sight of the gold piece. Even Anson checked his wailing to sit with his pale eyes wider open than ever they had been before and it was he who broke the silence which had fallen—broke it with a husky, fear-ridden voice as he cried:
"Fer goodness sake, Ma, don't touch that gold! It's bewitched, I tell you!"
His mother glared at him. "Humph!" she snorted, "you're bewitched yourself, you poor coward you! Now then, another word out o' you—and you get the strap. Ain't I told you, Anson, time and ag'in, that this dear crow has found old Scroggie's pile? You git up from this table to once; go out and stay within callin' distance; I'll want you back here presently."
She picked up the gold piece and, fondling it lovingly, waited until Anson had passed outside. Then with characteristic deliberation she placed it safely away beneath her saucer, thereby signifying that the incident was closed for the time being.
It was not until Billy had finished his breakfast and was about to slip quietly out that his mother spoke again. Then fixing him with cold, accusing eyes, she said: "I want 'a know what you had to do with scarin' the new teacher so he won't never come back to the Valley School ag'in, Willium."
Billy, who had anticipated what was coming, gave a well-feigned start.
"Why, Ma," he cried, in amazement, "you don't mean to say he's gone?"
"Yes, he's gone an' I s'pose you're satisfied, you and your outlaw companions in crime. Cobin Keeler stopped by this mornin' and he told us the teacher left his writ' resign in his hands. He declares he won't risk his life among a lot of young savages."
"I think that Mr. Johnston went a little too far there," Wilson ventured.
"You shet right up, Tom!" commanded his wife. "Ain't it nuthin' to you that your son grows up wild and uneddicated?"
"But he had no right to call us savages, Ma," protested Billy.
"Oh, hadn't he then! Well, who up and deliberately stole his horse, I'd like to know?" Mrs. Wilson held her breath waiting for the answer.
"Nobody stole his horse," replied Billy. "The poor thing was so lean an' hungry that it weaved when it walked; all we did was sneak it out o' the school-yard an' hide it where there was good pasture."
"Well, maybe that ain't stealin' it, but if it ain't what would you call it, Willium?"
"I'd call it bein' kind to dumb animals," spoke up Wilson, his eyes meeting the angry ones of his wife.
"Listen, Ma," said Billy gently. "That old Johnston was awful mean to us kids, there's no mistake about that. He whipped us fer nothin', an' what's worse, he was always sneerin' at us fer being low-born an' ignorant, an' that meant sayin' things ag'in our folks. But we was willin' to stand all that, cause we'd promised Teacher Stanhope that we'd do our best to put up with the teacher in his place. But, Ma, if you could'a seen that poor ol' horse, so starved that every rib showed like the ridges in your wash-board, lookin' over that school-yard fence at the long grass an' beggin' with his hungry eyes fer jest a bite—"
Billy paused and rolled a bread crumb. When he looked up his eyes were dark. "Anse has told you that it was me who sneaked him out o' the yard, an' led him away where he could feed an' rest an' get the sores made by the hard saddle an' hickory healed, an' Anse didn't lie fer once. I did do it, an' I'd do it ag'in.
"What's more, Ma, that ol' horse is goin' to stay right where he is, belly-deep in clover, till it gets so cold we'll have to stable him. Then he's goin' to have all the good hay an' oats he wants."
Mrs. Wilson could scarcely believe her ears. "You don't mean that havin' took him you had any thoughts of keepin' him, Willium?" she managed to say.
"Yes, Ma'am; I mean jest that. You see, Ma, that ol' horse don't belong to Teacher Johnston any more. We bought him."
"Bought him!" exclaimed man and woman in a breath.
Billy nodded. "Me an' Jim Scroggie bought him from Mr. Johnston, an' we got a receipt provin' our ownership, too, you bet. This is how we did it. 'Long 'bout the second er third day after ol' Thomas disappeared me an' Jim met up with Johnston walkin' home from school to Fairfield where he boards. Jim had fifty dollars, all his own, an' we'd planned jest what we'd say to the teacher.
"First off when he sees us, he asks us if we'd happened to find any tracks of his horse. It was funny to see his snakey eyes callin' us liars at every polite word we said to him. Finally he comes right out flat-footed an' tells us that he knows we had somethin' to do with ol' Thomas wanderin' off, an' he says he's goin' to make our fathers pay fer his loss."
"Course we got real scared then—leastwise Johnston thought we was—an' Jim he ups an' tells him that we fergot to latch the gate an' let the horse out. Then Johnston got real mean—meaner than I ever see him get, an' that's sayin' quite a lot. He said he would turn back with us an' interview—that's the word he used, whatever it means............
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