THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER
Hayesboro took Peter into its heart of hearts and then sighed for more to give him. This town is like the old man’s horse whose natural gait is running away when it is not asleep. Peter woke it up and it took the bit in its mouth and bolted with him, while Peter clung to the saddle and had the time of his young poetic life.
Mother accepted Peter with her usual placidity. She took him into her room and I suppose she examined him physically, for I saw her give him a dose of sarsaparilla tea every morning he was with us. I bought her five spools of the finest silk thread, ranging in shade from gray to lavender, to begin on a crocheted tie and pair of socks for him. Daddy was as good as gold to him and fell immediately into Judge Vandyne’s attitude toward him. I knew he would. Eph maintained the dignity of the haphazard family at meal-times, and waited on Peter worshipfully at all others. The black beauty in the kitchen was heard to remark to the house-girl:
“I hope that white man’s skin will stretch, for I shore am going to stuff it. He am a insult to any respectable skillet or pot.” She did, and at times I trembled for the poet.
He read to Miss Henrietta Spain’s school the poem on “Space” which the Literary Opinion had copied; and he was the greatest possible success. Most of it I feel sure the school didn’t understand. But just as he finished the last two lines—those lines the magazine had called “as perfect in winged lyric quality as any lines in the English language could be”—the Byrd, whom Sam had groomed carefully and brought in from the brier-patch for the occasion, rose, and, with his freckles black with the intensity of his comprehension of the poem, spread his little arms and said:
“I fly! I fly!”
“I fly! I fly, too!” A little chubkin in a blue muslin dress just behind him jumped to her feet and echoed him before they could be repressed.
“That was the most perfect tribute I shall ever receive,” Peter said, that night out on the porch, after Sam had gone home, carrying the exhausted Byrd, who even in sleep held in one hand the handle of a full basket he had begged from mother, and in the other tightly grasped a sack in which were two “little ones” daddy had got for him. These treasures happened to be young rabbits, and Sam said he would charge daddy with the damages.
“Good old Sam,” said Peter, as we stood at the gate by the old lilac, who was beginning to beplume himself more richly than any of his compatriots in Hayesboro—in honor of Peter, I felt sure—and watched Sam and the Byrd jog away in the wagon down Providence Road. “He’ll make his mark on his generation yet, Betty. This is just a temporary eclipse of the effulgence of a young planet that will shine with the warm light of humanity when the time comes. There is no man like him. O Samboy!”