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Girl standing in wild undergrowth, casting milkwood seeds to the breeze.

The Children's Story Garden

Advertising for a Thief


BETTY always loved rainy days when she was visiting at her grandfather's. Because for rainy days she saved the greatest treat of all the wonderful things there were to do in this country paradise. It was playing in the attic!

This afternoon a steady beating rain and a northeast wind made the dark September day an ideal one for poking behind the old chests and into the cupboards back by the chimney. Betty had been "pretending" some of the exciting parts of the Waverly novels. The gloomy corners, the deep chests, the closets whose contents could scarcely be seen, even the hanging strings of onions all helped in creating an air of mystery and romance.

Now Betty was ready to settle down on the deep seat of the little window that came almost to the floor, and read further in Redgauntlet As she curled up, her hand felt a knob under the window sill. She pulled out a drawer which she had never found before. Inside were some small old calf-bound books and a yellow newspaper. Betty looked at the newspaper. Such a small sheet, and such heavy black type. Then her eye was caught by the curious words of the column headed "Advertisements:"

Whoever stole a lot of hides, on the fifth of the present month, is hereby informed that the owner has a sincere desire to be his friend. If poverty tempted him to this false step, tie owner will keep the whole transaction secret, and will gladly put him in the way of obtaining money by means more likely to bring him peace of mind.

What an amazing advertisement! Just then Betty heard her grandmother coming upstairs to the attic.

"Grandmother!" cried Betty almost before that lady had reached the top step. "Listen to this," and Betty read her the strange advertisement.

Grandmother finished pulling out from a trunk the quilts that she wanted before she replied. Then she sat down on an old chair and said:

"I haven't thought of that for years. It is an interesting story. Grandfather and I put that advertisement in the paper."

"You did! Please tell me about it," begged Betty.

"Well, grandfather had been working on a quantity of valuable hides, tanning them with especial care. One night he thought he heard a noise coming from the barn, and he went to the kitchen door. But all he saw in the darkness was a man, staggering under a heavy load, entering the yard of the Townsend place. The next morning the hides were gone.

"At that time the tenant house on the Townsend farm was occupied by a wretched family, the father of which was so discouraged that he was drunk a great deal of the time and seemed perfectly worthless. They were really our nearest neighbors, and we used frequently to find their starved old cow in our young corn, tools borrowed and returned broken, and all manner of things done to annoy.

"So of course grandfather's first impulse was to go straight to this man and accuse him of the theft. But, as we talked it over, he suddenly decided on a different course of action. "We knew that the wife and children were suffering from actual want, which we had tried in vain to relieve, and it seemed too bad to add this disgrace to their misfortunes So grandfather determined to try putting this notice in the paper.

"We heard nothing of it for three days after the paper was out. Then, just after we had put the cat down cellar, and were about to light the candle for bed, we heard a knock at the shed door. It was rainy and cold, just such a night as this will be."

Grandmother unconsciously patted the quilts in her lap.

"I felt certain instantly who it was, and, sure enough, grandfather opened to find our neighbor, hat pulled down over his eyes, hides upon his shoulder. For an instant he did not speak, then he muttered, 'I've brought these back, Mr. Savery. "Where shall I put them?'

"Wait until I can light a lantern, and I will go to the barn with thee,' grandfather answered. 'Then perhaps thou wilt come in and tell me how this happened.'

"While they were out I flew around, down to the vault for a pumpkin pie, boiled the kettle for coffee and got down a cured beef to slice. When they came in, I spoke up: 'Neighbor, I thought perhaps a bite of supper would be good for thee.'

"He was just inside the door, and I remember he wheeled with his back to me so quickly that I thought he was going right out. Instead, he leaned his arm against the door and buried his face in the crook of his elbow, and I declare I was frightened the way his shoulders shook and heaved. Grandfather motioned to me to keep quiet, and in a few minutes, without turning around, the poor fellow said in a choked voice, catching his breath as a child does after hard sobbing:

"'It's the first time I ever stole anything. I don't know what's come over me, with the drink and the quarrels' I never'd thought I'd come to this, but now since I've started down hill everybody gives me a kick — except you. Yet how I hated you for the meals you sent to the wife and children! She's sick — they're starving. I stole the hides, meaning to sell them the first chance I got. Then I read your notice in the paper. 'What's the use —— ' his voice was smothered with those awful sobs.

"Grandfather's voice was just as gentle and friendly, without a bit of that soft pity that would have stirred up the man's bitter pride.

"'Tonight begins a new life, my friend.' he said,' Thou art still young and it is in thy power to make up for lost time. Promise me that thou wilt not touch liquor for a year, and to-morrow I will employ thee at good wages. Thy boy can help earn, too, at least pick up stones in the south pasture. Forget the hides — that was thy first theft, and thy last. Come, eat now, and drink some of Mary's coffee. She will always make it for thee when it will help quiet the craving. Keep up a brave heart, man, for the sake of thy wife and children.'

"With that our guest sat down at the table, though at first he couldn't eat; and I left them, thinking he might feel easier with no woman about. When I returned he had gone, having finished what I had put before him. Grandfather said that he had promised solemnly, God helping him, to lead a different life if grandfather would only stand by him."

"That was a funny way to treat a thief," said Betty thoughtfully, her eyes on the overgrown little path to the Townsend place that could still be distinguished in the dark afternoon. "And did he keep good?"

"Indeed he did!" said grandmother. "He was our right-hand man for years. It seemed that he loved every animal on this farm because it was grandfather's."

"It's no wonder everybody loves grandfather," said Betty. "Let's go downstairs and find him."

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In The Children's Story Garden. Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugénie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Notes and links

Advertising for a Thief
The setting is imaginary. The story proper is retold from "Social Hours With Friends," by Mary S. Wood. The main events are true. (Historical Notes.)