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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 15417

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

I looks up, and that was how I got acquainted with Martha. She was eating one herself, setting up in the tree like a boy. In her lap was a book she had been reading. She was leaning back into the fork two limbs made so as not to tumble.

"Well," I says, "can I have one?"

"You've eaten it already," she says, "so there isn't any use begging for it now."

I seen she was a tease, that girl, and I would of give anything to of been able to tease her right back agin. But I couldn't think of nothing to say, so I jest stands there kind o' dumb like, thinking what a dern purty girl she was, and thinking how dumb I must look, and I felt my face getting red. Doctor Kirby would of thought of something to say right off. And after I got back to camp I would think of something myself. But I couldn't think of nothing bright, so I says:

"Well, then, you give me another one!"

She gives the core of the one she has been eating a toss at me. But I ketched it, and made like I was going to throw it back at her real hard. She slung up her arm, and dodged back, and she dropped her book.

I thinks to myself I'll learn that girl to get sassy and make me feel like a dumb-head, even if she is purty. So I don't say a word. I jest picks up that book and sticks it under my arm and walks away slow with it to where they was a stump a little ways off, not fur from the crick, and sets down with my back to her and opens it. And I was trying all the time to think of something smart to say to her. But I couldn't of done it if I was to be shot. Still, I thinks to myself, no girl can sass me and not get sassed back, neither.

I hearn a scramble behind me which I knowed was her getting out of that tree. And in a minute she was in front of me, mad.

"Give me my book," she says.

But I only reads the name of the book out loud, fur to aggervate her. I had on purty good duds, but I kind of wisht I had on my Injun rig then. You take the girls that always comes down to see the passenger train come into the depot in them country towns and that Injun rig of mine and Looey's always made 'em turn around and look at us agin. I never wisht I had on them Injun duds so hard before in my life. But I couldn't think of nothing bright to say, so I jest reads the name of that book over to myself agin, kind o' grinning like I got a good joke I ain't going to tell any one.

"You give me my book," she says agin, red as one of them harvest apples, "or I'll tell Miss Hampton you stole it and she'll have you and your show arrested."

I reads the name agin. It was "The Lost Heir." I seen I had her good and teased now, so I says: "It must be one of these here love stories by the way you take on over it."

"It's not," she says, getting ready to cry. "And what right have you got in our wood-lot, anyhow?"

"Well," I says, "I was jest about to move on and climb out of it when you hollered to me from that tree."

"I didn't!" she says. But she was mad because she knowed she HAD spoke to me first, and she was awful sorry she had.

"I thought I hearn you holler," I says, "but I guess it must of been a squirrel." I said it kind o' sarcastic like, fur I was still mad with myself fur being so dumb when we first seen each other. I hadn't no idea it would hurt her feelings as hard as it did. But all of a sudden she begins to wink, and her chin trembled, and she turned around short, and started to walk off slow. She was mad with herself fur being ketched in a lie, and she was wondering what I would think of her fur being so bold as to of spoke first to a feller she didn't know.

I got up and follered her a little piece. And it come to me all to oncet I had teased her too hard, and I was down on myself fur it.

"Say," I says, kind of tagging along beside of her, "here's your old book."

But she didn't make no move to take it, and her hands was over her face, and she wouldn't pull 'em down to even look at it.

So I tried agin.

"Well," I says, feeling real mean, "I wisht you wouldn't cry. I didn't go to make you do that."

She drops her hands and whirls around on me, mad as a wet hen right off.

"I'm not! I'm not!" she sings out, and stamps her feet. "I'm not crying!" But jest then she loses her holt on herself and busts out and jest natcherally bellers. "I hate you!" she says, like she could of killed me.

That made me kind of dumb agin. Fur it come to me all to oncet I liked that girl awful well. And here I'd up and made her hate me. I held the book out to her agin and says:

"Well, I'm mighty sorry fur that, fur I don't feel that-a-way about you a-tall. Here's your book."

Well, sir, she snatches that book and she gives it a sling. I thought it was going kersplash into the crick. But it didn't. It hit right into the fork of a limb that hung down over the crick, and it all spread out when it lit, and stuck in that crotch somehow. She couldn't of slung it that way on purpose in a million years. We both stands and looks at it a minute.

"Oh, oh!" she says, "what have I done? It's out of the town library and I'll have to pay for it."

"I'll get it fur you," I says. But it wasn't no easy job. If I shook that limb it would tumble into the crick. But I clumb the tree and eased out on that limb as fur as I dast to. And, of course, jest as I got holt of the book, that limb broke and I fell into the crick. But I had the book. It was some soaked, but I reckoned it could still be read.

I clumb out and she was jest splitting herself laughing at me. The wet on her face where she had cried wasn't dried up yet, and she was laughing right through it, kind o' like the sun does to one of these here May rainstorms sometimes, and she was the purtiest girl I ever seen. Gosh!-how I was getting to like that girl! And she told me I looked like a drowned rat.

Well, that was how Martha and me was interduced. She wasn't more'n sixteen, and when she found out I was a orphan she was glad, fur she was one herself. Which Miss Hampton that lived in that house had took her to raise. And when I tells her how I been travelling around the country all summer she claps her hands and she says:

"Oh, you are on a quest! How romantic!"

I asts her what is a quest. And she tells me. She knowed all about them, fur Martha was considerable of a reader. Some of them was longer and some of them was shorter, them quests, but mostly, Martha says, they was fur a twelvemonth and a day. And then you are released from your vow and one of these here queens gives you a whack over the shoulder with a sword and says: "Arise, Sir Marmeluke, I dub you a night." And then it is legal fur you to go out and rescue people and reform them and spear them if they don't see things your way, and come between husband and wife when they row, and do a heap of good in the world. Well, they was other kind of quests too, but mostly you married somebody, or was dubbed a night, or found the party you was looking fur, in the end. And Martha had it all fixed up in her own mind I was in a quest to find my father. Fur, says she, he is purty certain to be a powerful rich man and more'n likely a earl.

The way I was found, Martha says, kind o' pints to the idea they was a earl mixed up in it somewhere. She had read a lot about earls, and knew their ways. Mebby my mother was a earl's daughter. Earl's daughters is the worst fur leaving you out in baskets, going by what Martha said. It is a kind of a habit with them, fur they is awful proud people. But it was a lucky way to start life, from all she said, that basket way. There was Moses was left out that way, and when he growed up he was made a kind of a president of the hull human race, the same as Ruzevelt, a

nd figgered out the twelve commandments. Martha would of give anything if she could of only been found in a basket like me, I could see that. But she wasn't. She had jest been left a orphan when her folks died. They wasn't even no hopes she had been changed at birth fur another one. But I seen down in under everything Martha kind o' thought mebby one of them nights might come a-prancing along and wed her in spite of herself, or she would be carried off, or something. She was a very romanceful kind of girl.

When I seen she had it figgered out I was in a quest fur some high-mucky-muck fur a dad, I didn't tell her no different. I didn't take much stock in them earls and nights myself. So fur as I could see they was all furriners of one kind or another. But that thing of being into a quest kind of interested me, too.

"How would I know him if I was to run acrost him?" I asts her.

"You would feel an Intangible Something," she says, "drawing you toward him."

I asts her what kind of a something. I make out from what she says it is some like these fellers that can find water with a piece of witch hazel switch. You take a switch of it between your thumbs and point it up. Then you shut your eyes and walk backwards. When you get over where the water is the witch hazel stick twists around and points to the ground. You dig there and you get a good well. Nobody knows jest why that stick is drawed to the ground. It is like one of these little whirlygig compasses is drawed to the north. It is the same, Martha says, if you is on a quest fur a father or a mother, only you have got to be worthy of that there quest, she says. The first time you meet the right one you are drawed jest like the witch hazel. That is the Intangible Something working on you, she says. Martha had learnt a lot about that. The book that had fell in the crick was like that. She lent it to me.

Well, that all sounded kind of reasonable to me. I seen that witch hazel work myself. Old Blindy Wolfe, whose eyes had been dead fur so many years they had turned plumb white, had that gift, and picked out all the places fur wells that was dug in our neighbourhood at home. And I makes up my mind I will watch out fur that feeling of being drawed wherever I goes after this. You can't tell what will come of them kind of things. So purty soon Martha has to milk the cow, and I goes along back to camp thinking about that quest and about what a purty girl she is, which we had set there talking so long it was nigh sundown and my clothes had dried onto me.

When I got over to camp I seen they must be something wrong. Looey was setting in the grass under the wagon looking kind of sour and kind of worried and watching the doctor. The doctor was jest inside the tent, and he was looking queer too, and not cheerful, which he was usually.

The doctor looks at me like he don't skeercly know me. Which he don't. He has one of them quiet kind of drunks on. Which Looey explains is bound to come every so often. He don't do nothing mean, but jest gets low-sperrited and won't talk to no one. Then all of a sudden he will go down town and walk up and down the main streets, orderly, but looking hard into people's faces, mostly women's faces. Oncet, Looey says, they was big trouble over it. They was in a store in a good-sized town, and he took hold of a woman's chin, and tilted her face back, and looked at her hard, and most scared her to death, and they was nearly being a riot there. And he was jailed and had to pay a big fine. Since then Looey always follers him around when he is that-a-way.

Well, that night Doctor Kirby is too fur gone fur us to have our show. He jest sets and stares and stares at the fire, and his eyes looks like they is another fire inside of his head, and he is hurting outside and in. Looey and me watches him from the shadders fur a long time before we turns in, and the last thing I seen before I went to sleep was him setting there with his face in his hands, staring, and his lips moving now and then like he was talking to himself.

The next day he is asleep all morning. But that day he don't drink any more, and Looey says mebby it ain't going to be one of the reg'lar pifflicated kind. I seen Martha agin that day, too-twicet I has talks with her. I told her about the doctor.

"Is he into a quest, do you think?" I asts her.

She says she thinks it is remorse fur some crime he has done. But I couldn't figger Doctor Kirby would of done none. So that night after the show I says to him, innocent-like:

"Doctor Kirby, what is a quest?" He looks at me kind of queer.

"Wherefore," says he, "this sudden thirst for enlightenment?"

"I jest run acrost the word accidental-like," I told him.

He looks at me awful hard, his eyes jest natcherally digging into me. I felt like he knowed I had set out to pump him. I wisht I hadn't tried it. Then he tells me a quest is a hunt. And I'm glad that's over with. But it ain't. Fur purty soon he says:

"Danny, did you ever hear of Lady Clara Vere de Vere?"

"No," I says, "who is she?"

"A lady friend of Lord Tennyson's," he says, "whose manners were above reproach."

"Well," I says, "she sounds kind of like a medicine to me."

"Lady Clara," he says, "and all the other Vere de Veres, were people with manners we should try to imitate. If Lady Clara had been here last night when I was talking to myself, Danny, her manners wouldn't have let her listen to what I was talking about."

"I didn't listen!" I says. Fur I seen what he was driving at now with them Vere de Veres. He thought I had ast him what a quest was because he was on one. I was certain of that, now. He wasn't quite sure what he had been talking about, and he wanted to see how much I had hearn. I thinks to myself it must be a awful funny kind of hunt he is on, if he only hunts when he is in that fix. But I acted real innocent and like my feelings was hurt, and he believed me. Purty soon he says, cheerful like:

"There was a girl talking to you to-day, Danny."

"Mebby they was," I says, "and mebby they wasn't." But I felt my face getting red all the same, and was mad because it did. He grinned kind of aggervating at me and says some poetry at me about in the spring a young man's frenzy likely turns to thoughts of love.

"Well," I says, kind of sheepish-like, "this is summer-time, and purty nigh autumn." Then I seen I'd jest as good as owned up I liked Martha, and was kind of mad at myself fur that. But I told him some more about her, too. Somehow I jest couldn't help it. He laughs at me and goes on into the tent.

I laid there and looked at the fire fur quite a spell, outside the tent. I was thinking, if all them tales wasn't jest dern foolishness, how I wisht I would really find a dad that was a high-muckymuck and could come back in an automobile and take her away. I laid there fur a long, long time; it must of been fur a couple of hours. I supposed the doctor had went to sleep.

But all of a sudden I looks up, and he is in the door of the tent staring at me. I seen he had been in there at it hard agin, and thinking, quiet-like, all this time. He stood there in the doorway of the tent, with the firelight onto his face and his red beard, and his arms stretched out, holding to the canvas and looking at me strange and wild. Then he moved his hand up and down at me, and he says:

"If she's fool enough to love you, treat her well-treat her well. For if you don't, you can never run away from the hell you'll carry in your own heart."

And he kind of doubled up and pitched forward when he said that, and if I hadn't ketched him he would of fell right acrost the fire. He was plumb pifflicated.

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