Linden Tree Leaves

Genealogy and Ancestry Explorations

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Nona’s Stories: The Train-Riding St. Bernard

When Ray and I arrived in Laredo, where he had a job in a new Power Plant as Power Dispatcher, we took an apartment with a Mrs. Foster. Her apartment house was near the Railroad, and a nembur of Railroad Engineers roomed there.

We had been there several months when late on afternoon two Engineers arrived with the largest and most beautiful St. Bernard dog I ever saw.

I think his head must have been twelve inches across. They said he had jumped into their cab as it started moving and they couldn’t put him off, that it was apparent he was used to riding a train and made himself quite at home.

He was such a nice dog that even Mrs. Foster, who wasn’t, as a rule, fond of dogs—liked him so well she allowed him to stay in the house.

But her green, ill tempered parrot, Polly, was furious. She hated dogs and cats, and would scream at the dog “Get the Hell outtta here!” accompanied with a string of Mexican curse words. Mrs. Foster’s husband had been a Capt. In the Army, and spent much time across the border in old Mexico. The Parrot had been his mascot, and the Mexican soliders has taken great delight in teasing the arrot and teaching it to curse—in both Spanish and English.

Hence “Polly” hated men, too. She would often go down the hallway, rapping on the doors of the Engineers rooms with her beak, saying “get the —- hell outta here!” They took it all In fun and didn’t mind.

When the dog was lying on the floor, “Polly” would walk ‘round and ‘round him, picking up tufts of the hair, especially his tail, in her beak, cursing and scolding, and saying “what the Hell!”

When it was bedtime, the St. Bernard proceeded to jump up on a cot in the hall, lay his head on the pillow, and go to sleep.

For several months the St. Bernard went and came with the Engineers, sometimes he would get off the train at different stations, sometimes he would disappear for days, then be back waiting to board the Engine. They said he appeared to be looking for something or someone, watching from the cab as they traveled. He wore no collar, so the men chipped in and bought him a nice collar so some dog catcher would know he wasn’t a stray.

I wrote Ray’s mother about the dog and his habit of riding the trains.

There came a time when the dog was no longer waiting at the stations for the trains, much to the disappointment of the Engineers—and the rest of us, for we had all grown fond of him. They inquired at every stop on their runs, but no one had seen him. One day a letter came from Mrs. Milam saying she believed, from my description of the St. Bernard, that the same dog had appeared at Ed Myers ranch. It adjoined the Six Mile Milam ranch. The dog was on the Myers front porch one morning when they got up. They had no idea where it had come from, but it’s feet were sore, and it’s coat matted and tangled. They inquired in town, and no one had seen, or was missing, such a dog. So it stayed on at the ranch. It’s collar was missing.

Sometime later, late one afternoon, the dog was lying on the Meyer’s front porch. Mrs. Myers said she heard the dog growling, and was curious, as she had never heard it growl at anything, so went to see about it. It was standing, with it’s hackles raised, looking down the road that led from their house to the main Highway—about a quarter of a mile.

She said there was a man coming up this road toward the house. As she stood at the door, the dog bared it’s teeth, and still growling leaped off the porch and charged down the road toward the man.

There was a shot, and the dog fell, the man turned and ran back to the Highway, stopped a car, got in and drove away.

Mrs. Meyers went to the dog. It was dead. The bullet had struck it in the chest.

When Mr. Meyers came in late that afternoon, he brought the dog to the house and buried it in the back yard. He thought the man was probably a “tramp” or drifter, either looking for work or a “handout.” But, why the St. Bernard, that had been so friendly with everyone else, would seem to want to attack the man puzzled everyone.

I let the Engineers read Mrs. Milam’s letter. They, too, believed it to be the same dog. And, thought since it was plain the dog was used to riding trains, that it probably had belonged to a road show or small circus that had, maybe, gone broke, and the dog was abandoned. That, perhaps the man that killed it had been with the show or circus, and was looking for work at the ranch. And, for some reason, the dog had reason to hate him. That it was one of those stranger than fiction happenings. That probably neither the man or dog knew the other was there. The dog could have caught the scent of the man, and knew who he was. No one will ever know.

But we all felt badly about the fate of the dog. One Engineer said if he ever found out who the man was that killed the dog—it would be the last dog he would ever kill.


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Nona’s Stories: Baseball and Horseshoes

As a ball player, I Ieft much to be desired—according to Ralph and Harry—he, especially was very scornful of the way I pitched a ball.

I threw a ball “overhanded” (whatever that was.) and I couldn’t “throw straight” or put the ball over the “plate,” in fact, I couldn’t “hit the side of a barn” and, besides, I couldn’t “throw a ball hard enough” for him to hit it.

All very convenient excuses when he struck out, and I was the pitcher. But I could outrun either of them on home runs. They said it was because I was so “skinny.” I was a skinny little kid. It was just natural. Grandma Burns said I was a “thin little thing,” and Aunt Em swore if she had me for a while, she could “put some meat on my bones.” I was perfectly healthy, and I ate plenty—I was just skinny.

Well, one day we were playing ball, Harry was up to bat, and had two strikes against him—I was pitching, and he was complaining to Ralph that I wasn’t throwing the ball hard enough and that was the reason he couldn’t hit it. So, just as I threw the ball as hard as I could—Harry looked at Ralph instead of the watching the ball—and it hit him squarely in the face, which I had not intended, though he claimed I did it on purpose—and that I broke his nose—it wasn’t broken, but he did have a nose bleed, and a very sore nose for a few days. Ralph asked him it I threw it that ball hard enough to suit him?

Harry said I was a dangerous menace and he was never going to play ball with me again—but he did, and after that, he watched more and talked less. He said a baseball in my hand was a deadly weapon and it should be against the law.

I was a little better at pitching horseshoes, tho they claimed it was pure accidental luck when I pitched a “ringer” and would tell each other to “stand clear,” that I “pitched wild.” Which I didn’t. It was just their way of pestering me. To get even, I would ask Harry if he would like me to hang a horseshoe on his nose? That usually shut him up—he was just a little afraid if he pushed me too far, I just might do it.


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Nona’s Stories: Winter and Strawberry’s Car

On cold winter nights, when the blizzards howled around the house—like a “banshee” was the way Aunt Em described the wailing winds—and the snow piled high—we sat on the braided rugs around the big  fireplace.

Dad usually made a big bowl of popcorn for us. Ralph collected all the “baling wire” from the used bales of hay, and with a pair of pliars, bent the wire into shapes of all kinds of animals.

Mother sewed or worked on quilts—there was always one in the frame.

Dad wrote articles for several farm magazines—”Prosperous Famer,” “Cappers,” etc., as well as an occasional article for hunting and outdoor magazines, and for the Trenton Tribune. It had originally been called “Trenton Review” and was the first newspaper in Trenton, founded by Dad’s and Aunt Laura’s first cousin, Harry Diggs. Aunt Laura was typesetter for the early paper, before she became Post Mistress. Dad was Assistant Post Master. He wrote articles for the Trenton Tribune up until a few years before he died.

Tom Holmes, son of Dr. W.C. Holmes, related to Grandma Burns, bought the paper from Harry Diggs, and changed the name to Trenton Tribune.

Throughout the winters, the fire in the big fireplace never went out. Late in the evening Dad would put a big hardwood “backlog” in the fireplace—in the very back. It, along with wood placed in front of it—would burn all evening. Then, at bedtime, Dad would heap ashes over it, the next morning it would be a big mound of red hot coals. This kept the living room from getting chilled—Dad would take a shove-shovel full of the red hot coals to the kitchen to start the fire in the big iron cookstove. Of course, no one had natural gas then. And we, being two miles out in the country, didn’t have electricity—not may homes in town had it. They used kerosene lamps as we did.

It was Ralph and Harry’s chore to bring in enough wood for the fireplace—except the big backlogs which were too heavy for them, and Dad took care of those—and for the big stove in the kitchen. It was my duty to bring in the kindling. Dutch was too young and so was never expected to do any chores. Often the snow was knee deep for days at a time.

Winter or summer, we did our chores. They had to be done daily, and Dad couldn’t do all of them. There was much more to be done in the summer, tho, because of all the garden and fruit canning, etc. But, the chickens had to be fed and ice broken on their drinking water, eggs gathered—but there were not as many eggs in the winter. Often they would be frozen solid! We were used to being out in the cold and snow, for we had to walk the two miles to school every morning and home in the evening on school days. Except during a severe blizzard when there was no school.

Of course, we were bundled up and dressed warmly, and suffered no ill effects from the cold. Every night before going to bed Dad went out to the big barn to be sure the milk cows and mules—we didn’t have any horses—were safe and warm in their stalls, and had plenty hay for the long, cold night. Stock was very valuable then and was well cared for. A farm couldn’t be run without the mules. No one had tractors then. Mules did all the work.

I remember the first car I ever saw or rode in. It belonged to the mailman on our route. His name was Sparkman—his nickname was “Strawberry.” He had red hair and a very florid face—probably because he was out in all kinds of weather delivering the mail. But he never delivered it in his beloved little red car! He was a close friend of Dad’s. And would come out to our house on Sundays and take us kids for a ride.

It frightened the horses half to death, and there was many a run-a-way—and angry farmers—when their teams ran away, overturning wagons, scattering contents all along the roads. So “Strawberry” only drove his car on Sundays when there wasn’t likely to be any wagons with produce on the roads. When he did see a wagon coming, he would pull off the road and wait until the wagon was well past before starting the car again. Most farmers considered the car an infernal, no good contraption which wouldn’t last long, and go the way of other new-fangled gagets—the sooner the better—and no sane man would want one, anyway, much less ride in one of the dangerous things at such high speeds. I think it’s top speed was about 20 miles an hour—in those days of wagon travel– 20 miles an hour was “break-neck” speed, and living dangerously.

Grandma Burns refused to set foot in such a thing. And, I’m sure, must have said a prayer to our Guardian Angels when any of us kids “took our lives in our hands” and went for a ride in the little red car.


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Nona’s Stories: Found Treasure

This is a story of found treasure, and a story I wouldn’t tell lest no one believe it, except for the fact that Ray’s youngest brother, Gene, and sister, Maidie, still live at Uvalde and know all about it. Jean and Bud, too, have heard the Milams talk about it many times.

In the early Spring most ranchers bun the pack-rat nests—piles of branches, sticks, grass, etc. the rats have collected, usually piled up around clumps of prickly-pear or low shrubs.

Under this “nest” is a maze of rat tunnels and holes. Rattlesnakes den up in these to hibernate during the Winter, and its really to get rid of the rattlesnakes, always a danger to the stock, that the “nests” are burned.

This is a somewhat time consuming task as all the dead grass, and brush around the rat nest must be cut and raked away as a “fire ring,” so as not to start a grass and brush fire.

One must have a hoe to do this, and to kill the rattlers if they crawl out of the holes. After the nests are burned, cynide powder is poured into the holes, and dirt tamped down to kill any rattlers in the holes.

Ray and I didn’t have time to do this as we were kept busy with the ranch chores and looking after the livestock.

So Pop Milam brought a Mexican man out from town to burn the rat nests.

He slept in the bunkhouse, but I prepared his meals along with ours.

He had only been at the ranch a few days when one evening he failed to return to the bunk house. We were worried that he may have been bitten by a rattlesnake or had an accident. Ray went out to the bunk house several times during the night to see if he had returned, but he wasn’t there.

All the saddle horses were accounted for, and we were puzzled as to why he would walk to the big pasture.

The last time we had seen him was very early that morning. And he was hurrying toward the highway which was about the distance of two city blocks from the ranch house. We spoke to him, but he hardly spoke to us, and didn’t return for breakfast.

We knew there were no rat rests there as it was part of the “trap” around the ranch house, so we wondered a little about it at the time.

A big gate opened off the main highway and a road led down to the ranch house.

A few months earlier a man with his wife and two children, in a truck loaded with camping equipment, had appeared at the ranch house to ask for permission to dig for treasure.

We told him he would have to talk to Pop Milam, so he waited around until late that afternoon when Pop Milam came out from town, as he did almost every afternoon for the eggs. There were about 150 or 200 White Leghorn hens, and a bushel basket of eggs every day. These supplied one of the store in town with “fresh country eggs.”

Pop Milam told the man to go ahead and dig all he wanted to, but that there was no buried treasure there. He had heard that rumor all his life and that was all it was, just a rumor. The only stipulation was that he was to fill in any holes he dug so the stock wouldn’t step into them and break a leg. And he was not to leave any gates open or cut any fences—unforgiveable “sins” on any ranch.

The man and his family pitched their tent under a big live oak tree about half a mile from the ranch house and he dug around that poor tree until he almost uprooted it.

They carried water from the ranch house, and we gave them milk, butter, and eggs, as we had more than we could use.

Sometimes we could see him digging by the light of a lantern at night.

The children told us their father had a treasure map and was going to dig up a lot of money.

He finally gave up, though, and went back East.

There was about a month’s time after he left, and when the Mexican man came to work at the ranch.

And to get back to him—the next morning after we had last seen him, we started out to look for him on horseback. We decided to start where we had last seen him.

Riding up toward the highway, not far from the ranch house, there was a little clearing where there were no trees or shrubs. We saw something strange—out in the middle of the little clearing was a pile of mesquite branches with fresh green leaves on them.

So we investigated. When we removed them there was the rust-coated clear imprint  of an old iron kettle with three little “feet” about an inch and a half long. The kind used to cook over campfires, of iron. The kettle came to the ground level. The lid must have been exposed. Right across the road from this was the ruins of an old Stagecoach waystation and Inn. The foundation and stones and rubble from the walls were still there.

There were signs of a lot of digging done over the years all around it.

This road was part of the old Spanish Trail. It also wound its way across the Saunders ranch on the other side of Uvalde and, after all the years, the trail across our ranch was clearly discernable, no trees or brush grew on it.

Evidently the Mexican man had just stumbled onto the old iron pot with it’s lid exposed, while he was rounding up a horse to ride that day. When Pop Milam came out from town we took him to the nearby clearing and showed him the imprint of the iron pot. He was flabbergasted. He went back to town and tried to locate the Mexican man, but he was nowhere to be found. All the other Mexicans claimed they hadn’t seen him. And he was never seen around town after that.

We could only guess that he had somehow managed to take whatever treasure he had found to old Mexico. He didn’t own a car. But he could have been the only one that could have put the fresh green branches over the rust coated imprint clearly showed that it had certainly been there. If he hadn’t put those branches with the green leaves on them there, we probably would never have found that hole, the branches just couldn’t go unnoticed. That was his mistake.

He left a few clothes in the bunk house that he never returned for.


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Nona’s Stories: Home Alone and Tramps

Spring. And school was out on a Friday.

Early on Monday morning, Dad left for Uvalde to buy cotton seed and  grain for Spring planting of the fields.

He also intended to hire men to help with the field work, and a housekeeper, so Polly, Laurance and Oscar B. could be home. Dad wanted the family to be together as much as possible, lest we become strangers to each other.

The there little ones had been living with Grandpa and Grandma Saunders during the school term.

Their house was about a mile from ours, but, there was little time during Winter to visit as we had to leave before daylight to have time to drive the four miles to Knippa school, and it was dark when we got home during the short days of Winter.

And there were the daily chores to be done.

Dad returned late that Monday evening, alone, and looking worried. To our questions he answered that we would have a family conference after supper, and would talk then.

He told us then that he was unable to find any men to help with the field work. The Mexican men didn’t know anything about farm work—(that was mostly ranching country). They preferred to work on ranches where their work was mostly riding horses, etc. and thought farm work would be too hard—and too hot.

Dad said he interviewed several middle age women, but they thought it would be too lonesome so far out in the country, and didn’t want to be responsible “for a house full of motherless children” – and some so small.”  Dad said he assured them we were well-behaved children, and would cause no problems. He offered them a very good salary, but none were willing to take the job.

Dad said that on the long ride home he had done a lot of thinking and planning.

Polly, Laurance and Oscar B. would have to continue living with Grandpa and Grandma Saunders and Aunt Laura for the summer.

Ralph and Harry could handle the planters and cultivators, as they would be riding. Our farm mules were well trained and docile, so would be easy to handle. The crops must be planted, else there would be no harvest in the Fall. Dad would do the heavy work.

Sometimes they would be working the fields too far from home to come home at noon, so would have to take their lunches and a canvas bag of water for each of them.

They would have to be in the fields by daybreak, so as to take advantage of all the daylight hours. Being so short-handed every hour had to count.

That would leave Dutch and myself all alone at home all day.

Dad said he knew how dangerous it was for two little girls to be alone there all day. In those days there were many “hobos” or “tramps” – they seemed to follow the railroads, and several stopped at our house every week to ask for food and water. The railroads ran in front of our house.

Dad said never to refuse any one food and water, but to say “we” (not I) will be glad to shared we we have.

That a man would be less likely to harm us when we were sharing our food with him, but, if refused food and water, a very hungry and thirsty man might force his way into the house and take food.

Dad had brought some strong harness fastners home with him, and installed them on all the screen doors that night.

He said they wouldn’t prevent someone getting in, but would be more difficult and “maybe buy a little time.”

Dad outlined what we would do.

I would do all the cooking, as Dutch didn’t know how to cook. When a small child, and we were living in North Texas, I had stood in a chair at Grandma Burns’ house and watched old black, white-haired “Aunt Em” cook— “by gosh, and by guess” – and I had learned to cook “Southern style” from her.

I would wash the dishes, Dutch would dry them. I would sweep and mop the floors, Dutch would do the dusting. We would make the beds together. I would carry all the drinking water from the windmill, and keep the water bags filled.

These were square canvas bags with a screw cap on one upper corner, and a strap for hanging. We had half a dozen or more, they hung on nails along the eves of the back porch—in the shade of the overhanging roof. The water soaked through the canvas, the water was kept nice and cold.

Dad coached us on what to do and say when tramps came to the door asking for food and water.

I was always to say “we” to indicate we were not alone. Dutch was to go upstairs and make noise—I was to say “Spring housecleaning” again to indicate we were not alone.

And, the loaded 22 rifle was to be kept leaning against the wall beside the back door—Tramps never came to the front door.

Dad told me to use the gun—if I needed to protect us, that it was lawful to even kill is self-protection or to protect someone else, and, for me to remember I would be responsible for Dutch’s protection as well as my own.

When I protested I couldn’t kill a human, Dad explained that in times of desperation, people discovered they had strengths they never dreamed they had. And if it came to that, I could do what had to be done.

The only things I had ever killed was a rattlesnake that had killed the mother of a nest of rabbits close to our backyard, and a rabid skunk which I killed with a garden hoe.

Dad said that was a dangerous thing to do, as I was lucky the skunk didn’t bite me. In those days rabies was sure and certain a horrible death.

So Dad had taught me how to use a 22 rifle.

I said I couldn’t kill a man—that I would just wound him—to that, Dad answered it would be more merciful to kill outright, than for a man to bleed to death—or die a painful death from gunshot wounds.

He told me if I did have to shoot someone, to remember to call the Sheriff at Uvalde and report it, but, it would take him hours to ride horseback those eight miles.

I didn’t sleep much that night—I kept waking up and thinking “ I can’t kill someone—but, what if I have to!”

Next morning Dad loaded the 22 and stood it against the wall by the back door, loaded his pistol and took it upstairs and left it on the dresser-”In case we were trapped upstairs.”

The next few days were uneventful, no tramps came to the door, and I was feeling more calm.

Then, one morning Dutch and I were upstairs making the beds when we heard a knock at the back door downstairs.

Dad and the boys had already left for the fields.

As calmly as I could, I told Dutch to lock the stairwell door after me, and not to come downstairs no matter what she heard, if I didn’t come back upstairs for her to stay put until Dad came home.

And to make some noise!

I could see through the living room a man standing outside the screen door—and I could also see the screen door was unlatched—after all Dad’s warning to keep the screen doors latched—one of us had left it open.

The loaded gun was leaning against the wall beside the door, but out of sight of the man—to get to it I would have to walk up to that unlocked screen door with the man standing just outside.

Trying to control my shaking knees– and thinking “What if?” I managed to walk up to the door—by that time Dutch was making so much noise upstairs, the man looked startled—I remembered to say “Spring house cleaning” as Dad had told me to.

The man stepped back a step or two and removed his hat and asked if we could spare a little food and water, and said he would be glad to chop stovewood or do other chores to pay for the food—in that instant I knew we had nothing to fear from this man—actions do speak louder than words.

I told him we didn’t need any chores done, and would be glad to share what food we had with him. He thanked me and asked if he could have a drink of water. I gave him a tin cup and told him to help himself to the cold water in the water bags.

There were still live coals in the big cast iron stove, and half a pot of coffee left from Dad’s breakfast—he was the only one that drank coffee. There were also several biscuits left from breakfast.

I scrambled six eggs—the man looked so thin and hungry—took the biscuits, honey and butter and the eggs—and coffee out to the man—he had sat down on the edge of the porch.

After he had finished eating, he thanked me, and seemed really grateful, and went on his way.

There were many more tramps stopping at our house that summer, but, none ever harmed us, or bothered us in any way.

I was about twelve years old, and Dutch was three years younger, and we soon lost our fear of being alone all day. And I stopped having nightmares that I would have to kill a human. I didn’t even have to kill another rabid animal—but, I did kill a few more rattlesnakes!

Dad told us he had seen a Titan Tractor in town—first one in those parts, and had decided to go back and buy it, which he did. In those days, motors had to be start by cranking—that was before the days of push-button starters.

People came for miles around to see the tractor, first they had ever seen.

Later Harry broke his arm trying to crank it.


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Nona’s Stories: Thresher


Not long ago I wrote you the story of how the threshing crews went from farm to farm (when I was a child) each farmer helping his neighbors, they in turn helped him when the threshing crew came to his farm.

Usually about 30 men worked with the threshing—some hauling the wheat, oats, or whatever, to the thresher, some doing the sacking of the grain, some sewing the tops of the sacks together with strong cord and long curved needles—about six to eight inches long, made specially for the purpose.

Below is an explanation of the different operations of the thresher. This is just like the one that used to come to our place.

  1. This is the long belt—made of specially treated, thick leather, that ran the thresher. The belt was driven by a gasoline or kerosene driven motor, not shown in the picture (to the left).
  2. Hay on a wagon being fed into the “hopper” by men with hay forks—sometimes called “pitch forks.”
  3. Pipe discharging the straw into a straw-stack.
  4. Pipe discharging the grain—it was “caught” in 100 lb “grass” or sometimes called “toesacks”.
  5. Hay hopper.
  6. Is another thresher—not being used.


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Nona’s Stories: Mud Fight

One hot, sticky afternoon Ralph, Harry and I were sitting under the big oak tree in the front yard, modeling animals, etc. out of mud.

I ran out of mud to work with, and felt it was too hot to go get more water and soil to make more, so asked Harry to lend me some of his. He took a great glob, and I felt rather ungratuitously—flung it at me, striking me in the chest.

I peeled it off, and, saying if that’s the way he felt, I didn’t want any of his old mud—I threw it back—hitting him in the neck—the throwing erupted into a full-fledged mud fight—with tme, as usual, getting the worst of it, as my throwing ability was notoriously inaccurate. Soon I had mud in my clothes, face, and in my hair. Ralph thought it the better part of wisdom for them to try to wash the mud off me before Mother saw me. So, it was decided to try to wash the mud off in the water trough in the horse lot. But, that was a mistake of no little magnitude. Having no towel, the muddy water ran down my neck, and down all over my dress in a muddy mess. They tried to wash the mud out of my hair—and I thought Harry took quite unnecessary glee in ducking my head under water—they didn’t dare unbraid my hair as they didn’t know how to rebraid it.

Finally, we all had to go to the house—I knew just how those miserable, bedraggled chickens felt after a hard rain and they walked around the yard with their wet feathers drooping. And I felt a kinship with that old saying “mad as a wet hen.”

Mother took one shocked look at me and said “What on earth?” Harry offered the suggestion that “maybe I fell in the water trough?” and “What in the world was I doing in the holes lot?” Harry “thought maybe to get some water?”

I was too near strangled by the repeated dunkings to say anything. I had to take a bath, change my clothes, and Mother had to wash my hair—it was too long for me to manage. She sat me on the porch for my hair to dry, with orders that I was to sit there until suppertime to have time to reflect on my misdeeds, and maybe I would hereafter remember that I was never to go into the horse lot, for it was no a fit play to play.

Harry and Ralph sat under the oak tree and laughed at me—I consoled myself by making faces, and sticking my tongue out at them.

Later, I was told, if I thought I had learned my lesson, and if my hair was dry, I could come inside to have my hair braided before supper.