In the morning I asked at every house if the people knew Mrs. Rucker, and where she had gone, but got no help. One woman knew her, and had employed her as a seamstress; but had found the house vacant the last time she had sent her work.
“Is she a relative of yours?” she asked.
“She is my—” I remember I stopped here and looked away a long time before I could finish the reply, “She is my mother.”
“And where were you, my poor boy,” said she, “when she moved?”
“I was away at work,” I replied.
“Well,” said she, “she left word for you somewhere, you may be sure of that. Where did you stay last night?”
“I sat under a tree,” said I, “in the yard—up where we used to live.”
“And where did you get breakfast?” she asked.
“I wasn’t hungry,” I answered. “I’ve been hunting for my mother since daylight.”
“You poor child!” said she. “Come right into the kitchen and I’ll get you some breakfast. Come in, and we’ll find out how you can find your mother!”
While she got me the breakfast which I needed as badly as any meal I ever ate, she questioned me as to relatives, friends, habits, and everything which a good detective would want to know in forming a theory as to how a clue might be obtained. She suggested that I find every man in the village who had a team and did hauling, and ask each one if he had moved Mr. Rucker’s family.
“Why didn’t she write to you?” she finally queried.
“She didn’t know where I was,” I replied.
“Did she ever leave word for you anywhere,” asked the woman, “before you ran away?”
“We had a place we called our post-office,” I answered. “An old hollow apple-tree. We used to leave letters for each other in that. It is the tree I sat under all night.”
“Look there,” said the woman. “You’ll find her! She wouldn’t have gone without leaving a trace.”
Without stopping to thank her for her breakfast and her sympathy, I ran at the top of my speed for the old apple-tree. I felt in the hollow—it seemed to be filled with nothing but leaves. Just as I was giving up, I touched something stiffer than an autumn leaf, and pulling it out found a letter, all discolored by wet and mold, but addressed to me in my mother’s handwriting. I tore it open and read:
“My poor, wandering boy: We are going away—I don’t know where. This only I know, we are going west to settle somewhere up the Lakes. The lawsuit is ended, and we got the money your father left me, and are going west to get a new and better start in the world. If you will write me at the post-office in Buffalo, I will inquire there for mail. I wonder if you will ever get this! I wonder if I shall ever see you again! I shall find some way to send word to you. Mr. Rucker says he knows the captain of the boat you work on, and can get his address for me in Syracuse—then I will write you. I am going very far away, and if you ever see this, and never see me again, keep it always, and whenever you see it remember that I would always have died willingly for you, and that I am going to build up for you a fortune which will give you a better life than I have lived. Be a good boy always. Oh, I don’t want to go, but I have to!”