I rode on, thinking little of this new experience, as I remember, so filled was I with the hate of John Rucker which almost made me forget my love for my mother. Perhaps the one was only the reverse side of the other. I had made up my mind what to do. I would try hard not to kill Rucker, though I tried him and condemned him to death in my own mind several times for every one of the eighty miles I rode; but I knew that this vengeance was not for me.
I would take my mother away from him, though, in spite of everything; and she and I would move on to a new home, somewhere, living happily together for the rest of our lives.
I was happy when I thought of this home, in which, with my new-found, fresh strength, my confidence in myself, my knack of turning my hand to any sort of common work, my ability to defend her against everything and everybody—against all the Ruckers in the world—my skill in so many things that would make her old age easy and happy, I would repay her for all this long miserable time,—the cruelty of Rucker when she took me out of the factory while he was absent, the whippings she had seen him give me, the sacrifices she had made to give me the little schooling I had had, the nights she had sewed to make my life a little easier, the tears she dropped on my bed when she came and tucked me in when I was asleep, the pangs of motherhood, and the pains worse than those of motherhood which she had endured because she was poor, and married to a beast.
I would make all this up to her if I could. I went into Madison, much as a man goes to his wedding; only the woman of my dreams was my mother. But I felt as I did that night when I returned to Tempe after my first summer on the canal—full of hope and anticipation, and yet with a feeling in my heart that again something would stand in my way.
THE END OF A LONG QUEST
I went to seek my mother in my best clothes. I had bought some new things in Milwaukee, and was sure that my appearance would comfort her greatly. Instead of being ragged, poverty-stricken, and neglected-looking, I was a picture of a clean, well-clothed working boy. I had on a good corduroy suit, and because the weather was cold, I wore a new Cardigan jacket. My shirt was of red flannel, very warm and thick; and about my neck I tied a flowered silk handkerchief which had been given me by a lady who was very kind to me once during a voyage by canal, and was called “my girl” by the men on the boat. I wore good kip boots with high tops, with shields of red leather at the knees, each ornamented with a gilt moon and star—the nicest boots I ever had; and I wore my pants tucked into my boot-tops so as to keep them out of the snow and also to show these glories in leather. With clouded woolen mittens on my hands, given me as a Christmas present by Mrs. Fogg, Captain Sproule’s sister, that winter I worked