"'She's druv him crazy,' a man shouted.
"'An' knocked the socks off him,' said another.
"'Must have been tryin' t' make him into a rag doll,' was the comment of a third.
"'Brown, if yer goin' t' be a womern,' said one, as they surrounded him, 'ye'd ought to put on a longer dress. Yer enough t' scare a hoss.'
"Brown was inarticulate with anger.
"A number of men judging him insane, seized and returned him to his punishment. They heard the unhappy story with loud laughter.
"'You'd better give up an' go to the kitchen. Brown,' said one of them; and there are those who maintain that he got the dinner before he got the trousers."
"Well, God be praised!" said Darrel, when Trove had finished reading the story; "Brooke was unable to foreclose that day, an' the next was Sunday, an' bright an' early on Monday morning I paid the debt."
"Mrs. Vaughn has a daughter," said Trove, blushing.
"Ay; an' she hath a pretty redness in her lip," said Darrel, quickly, "an' a merry flash in her eye. Thou hast yet far to go, boy. Look not upon her now, or she will trip thee. By an' by, boy, by an' by."
There was an odd trait in Darrel. In familiar talk he often made use of "ye"—a shortened you—in speaking to those of old acquaintance. But when there was man or topic to rouse him into higher dignity it was more often "thee" or "thou" with him. Trove made no answer and shortly went away.
In certain court records one may read of the celebrated suit for divorce which enlivened the winter of that year in the north country. It is enough to quote the ringing words of one Colonel Jenkins, who addressed the judge as follows:—
"Picture to yourself, sir, this venerable man, waking from his dream of happiness to be robbed of his trousers—the very insignia of his manhood. Picture him, sir, sitting in calico and despair, mingled with hunger and humiliation. Think of him being addressed as 'wife.' Being called 'wife,' sir, by this woman he had taken to his heart and home. That, your Honour, was ingratitude sharper than a serpent's tooth. Picture him driven from his fireside in skirts,—the very drapery of humiliation,—skirts, your Honour, that came barely to the knees and left his nether limbs exposed to the autumnal breeze and the ridicule of the unthinking. Sir, it is for you to say how far the widow may go in her oppression. If such conduct is permitted, in God's name, who is safe?"
"May it please your Honour," said the opposing lawyer, "having looked upon these pictures of the learned counsel, it is for you to judge whether you ever saw any that gave you greater joy. They are above all art, your Honour. In the galleries of memory there are none like them—none so charming, so delightful. If I were to die to-morrow, sir, I should thank God that my last hour came not until I had seen these pictures of Colonel Jenkins; and it may be sir, that my happiness would even delay the hand of death. My only regret is that mine is the great misfortune of having failed to witness the event they portray. Sir, you have a great responsibility, for you have to judge whether human law may interfere with the working of divine justice. It was the decree of fate, your Honour, following his own word and action, that this man should become as a rag doll in the hands of a termagant. I submit to you that Providence, in the memory of the living, has done no better job."
A tumult of applause stopped him, and he sat down.
Brooke was defeated promptly, and known ever after as "The Old Rag Doll."
The Santa Claus of Cedar Hill
Christmas Eve had come and the year of 1850. For two weeks snow had rushed over the creaking gable of the forest above Martha Vaughn's, to pile in drifts or go hissing down the long hillside. A freezing blast had driven it to the roots of the stubble and sown it deep and rolled it into ridges and whirled it into heaps and mounds, or flung it far in long waves that seemed to plunge, as if part of a white sea, and break over fence and roof and chimney in their downrush. Candle and firelight filtered through frosty panes and glowed, dimly, under dark fathoms of the snow sheet now flying full of voices. Mrs. Vaughn opened her door a moment to peer out. A great horned owl flashed across the light beam with a snap and rustle of wings and a cry "oo-oo-oo," lonely, like that, as if it were the spirit of darkness and the cold wind. Mrs. Vaughn started, turning quickly and closing the door.
"Ugh! what a sound," said Polly. "It reminds me of a ghost story."
"Well," said the widow, "that thing belongs to the only family o' real ghosts in the world."
"What was it?" said a small boy. There were Polly and three children about the fireplace.
"An air cat," said she, shivering, her back to the fire. "They go 'round at night in a great sheet o' feathers an' rustle it, an' I declare they do cry lonesome. Got terrible claws, too!"
"Ever hurt folks?" one of the boys inquired.
"No; but they're just like some kinds o' people—ye want to let 'em alone. Any one that'll shake hands with an owl would be fool enough to eat fish-hooks. They're not made for friendship—those owls."
"What are they made for?" another voice inquired.
"Just to kill," said she, patting a boy's head tenderly. "They're Death flying round at night—the angel o' Death for rats an' rabbits an' birds an' other little creatures. Once,—oh, many years ago,—it seemed so everything was made to kill. Men were like beasts o' prey, most of 'em; an' they're not all gone yet. Went around day an' night killing. I declare they must have had claws. Then came the Prince o' Peace."
"What did he do to 'em, mother?" said Paul—a boy of seven.
"Well, he began to cut their claws for one thing," said the mother. "Taught 'em to love an' not to kill. Shall I read you the story—how he came in a manger?"
"B'lieve I'd rather hear about Injuns," said the boy.
"We shall hear about them too," the mother added. "They're like folks o' the olden time. They make a terrible fuss; but they've got to hold still an' have their claws cut."
Presently she sat down by a table, where there were candles, and began reading aloud from a county paper. She read anecdotes of men, remarkable for their success and piety, and an account of Indian fighting, interrupted, as a red man lifted his tomahawk to slay, by the rattle of an arrow on the buttery door.
It was off the cross-gun of young Paul. He had seen everything in the story and had taken aim at the said Indian just in the nick of time.
She read, also, the old sweet story of the coming of the Christ Child.
"Some say it was a night like this," said she, as the story ended.
Paul had listened, his thin, sober face glowing.
"I'll bet Santa Claus was good to him," said he. "Brought him sleds an' candy an' nuts an' raisins an' new boots an' everything."
"Why do you think so?" asked his mother, who was now reading intently.
"'Cos he was a good boy. He wouldn't cry if he had to fill the wood box; would he, mother?"
That query held a hidden rebuke for his brother Tom.
"I do not know, but I do not think he was ever saucy or spoke a bad word."
"Huh!" said Tom, reflectively; "then I guess he never had no mustard plaster put on him."
The widow bade him hush.
"Er never had nuthin' done to him, neither," the boy continued, rocking vigorously in his little chair.
"Mustn't speak so of Christ," the mother added.
"Wal," said Paul, rising, "I guess I'll hang up my stockin's."
"One'll do, Paul," said his sister Polly, with a knowing air.
"No, 'twon't," the boy insisted. "They ain't half 's big as yours. I'm goin' t' try it, anyway, an' see what he'll do to 'em."
He drew off his stockings and pinned them carefully to the braces on the back of a chair.
"Well, my son," said Mrs. Vaughn, looking over the top of her paper, "it's bad weather; Santa Claus may not be able to get here."
"Oh, yes, he can," said the boy, confidently, but with a little quiver of alarm in his voice. "I'm sure he'll come. He has a team of reindeers. 'An' the deeper the snow the faster they go.'"
Soon the others bared their feet and hung their stockings on four chairs in a row beside the first.
Then they all got on the bed in the corner and pulled a quilt over them to wait for Santa Claus. The mother went on with her reading as they chattered.
Sleep hushed them presently. But for the crackling of the fire, and the push and whistle of the wind, that room had become as a peaceful, silent cave under the storm.
The widow rose stealthily and opened a bureau drawer. The row of limp stockings began to look cheerful and animated. Little packages fell to their toes, and the shortest began to reach for the floor. But while they were fat in the foot they were still very lean in the leg.
Her apron empty, Mrs. Vaughn took her knitting to the fire, and before she began to ply the needles, looked thoughtfully at her hands. They had been soft and shapely before the days of toil. A frail but comely woman she was, with pale face, and dark eyes, and hair prematurely white.
She had come west—a girl of nineteen—with her young husband, full of high hopes. That was twenty-one years ago, and the new land had poorly kept its promise.
And the children—"How many have you?" a caller had once inquired. "Listen," said she, "hear 'em, an' you'd say there were fifteen, but count 'em an' they're only four."
The low, weathered house and sixty acres were mortgaged. Even the wilderness had not wholly signed off its claim. Every year it exacted tribute, the foxes taking a share of her poultry, and the wild deer feeding on her grain.
A little beggar of a dog, that now lay in the firelight, had offered himself one day, with cheerful confidence, and been accepted. Small, affectionate, cowardly, irresponsible, and yellow, he was in the nature of a luxury, as the widow had once said. He had a slim nose, no longer than a man's thumb, and ever busy. He was a most prudent animal, and the first day found a small opening in the foundation of the barn through which he betook himself always at any sign of danger. He soon buried his bones there, and was ready for a siege if, perchance, it came. One blow or even a harsh word sent him to his refuge in hot haste. He had learned early that the ways of hired men were full of violence and peril. Hospitality and affection had won his confidence but never deprived him of his caution.
Presently there came a heavy step and a quick pull at the latch-string. An odd figure entered in a swirl of snow—a real Santa Claus, the mystery and blessing of Cedar Hill. For five years, every Christmas Eve, in good or bad weather, he had come to four little houses on the Hill, where, indeed, his coming had been as a Godsend. Whence he came and who he might be none had been able to guess. He never spoke in his official capacity, and no citizen of Faraway had such a beard or figure as this man. Now his fur coat, his beard, and eyebrows were hoary with snow and frost. Icicles hung from his mustache around the short clay pipe of tradition. He lowered a great sack and brushed the snow off it. He had borne it high on his back, with a strap at each shoulder.
The sack was now about half full of things. He took out three big bundles and laid them on the table. They were evidently for the widow herself, who quickly stepped to the bedside.
"Come, children," she whispered, rousing them; "here is Santa Claus."
They scrambled down, rubbing their eyes. Polly took the hands of the two small boys and led them near him. Paul drew his hand away and stood spellbound, eyes and mouth open. He watched every motion of the good Saint, who had come to that chair that held the little stockings. Santa Claus put a pair of boots on it. They were copper-toed, with gorgeous front pieces of red morocco at the top of the leg. Then, as if he had some relish of a joke, he took them up, looked them over thoughtfully, and put them in the sack again, whereupon the boy Paul burst into tears. Old Santa Claus, shaking with silent laughter, replaced them in the chair quickly,
As if to lighten the boy's heart he opened a box and took out a mouth-organ. He held it so the light sparkled on its shiny side. Then he put his pipe in his pocket and began to dance and play lively music. Step and tune quickened. The bulky figure was flying up and down above a great clatter of big boots, his head wagging to keep time. The oldest children were laughing, and the boy Paul, he began to smile in the midst of a great sob that shook him to the toes. The player stopped suddenly, stuffed the instrument in a stocking, and went on with his work. Presently he uncovered a stick of candy long as a man's arm. There were spiral stripes of red from end to end of it. He used it for a fiddle-bow, whistling with terrific energy and sawing the air. Then he put shawls and tippets and boots and various little packages on the other chairs.
At last he drew out of the sack a sheet of pasteboard, with string attached, and hung it on the wall. It bore the simple message, rudely lettered in black, as follows:—
"Mery Crismus. And Children i have the honnor to remane, Yours Respec'fully SANDY CLAUS."
His work done, he swung the pack to his shoulders and made off as they all broke the silence with a hearty "Thank you, Santa Claus!"
They listened a moment, as he went away with a loud and merry laugh sounding above the roar of the wind. It was the voice of a big and gentle heart, but gave no other clew. In a moment cries of delight, and a rustle of wrappings, filled the room. As on wings of the bitter wind, joy and good fortune had come to them, and, in that little house, had drifted deep as the snow without.
The children went to their beds with slow feet and quick pulses. Paul begged for the sacred privilege of wearing his new boots to bed, but compromised on having them beside his pillow. The boys went to sleep at last, with all their treasures heaped about them. Tom shortly rolled upon the little jumping-jack, that broke away and butted him in the face with a loud squawk. It roused the boy, who promptly set up a defence in which the stuffed hen lost her tail-feathers and the jumping-jack was violently put out of bed. When the mother came to see what had happened, order had been restored—the boys were both sleeping.
It was an odd little room under bare shingles above stairs. Great chests, filled with relics of another time and country, sat against the walls. Here and there a bunch of herbs or a few ears of corn, their husks braided, hung on the bare rafters. The aroma of the summer fields—of peppermint, catnip, and lobelia—haunted it. Chimney and stovepipe tempered the cold. A crack in the gable end let in a sift of snow that had been heaping up a lonely little drift on the bare floor. The widow covered the boys tenderly and took their treasures off the bed, all save the little wooden monkey, which, as if frightened by the melee, had hidden far under the clothes. She went below stairs to the fire, which every cold day was well fed until after midnight, and began to enjoy the sight of her own gifts. They were a haunch of venison, a sack of flour, a shawl, and mittens. A small package had fallen to the floor. It was neatly bound with wrappings of blue paper. Under the last layer was a little box, the words "For Polly" on its cover. It held a locket of wrought gold that outshone the light of the candles. She touched a spring, and the case opened. Inside was a lock of hair, white as her own. There were three lines cut in the glowing metal, and she read them over and over again:—
"Here are silver and gold, The one for a day of remembrance between thee and dishonour, The other for a day of plenty between thee and want."
She went to her bed, presently, where the girl lay sleeping, and, lifting dark masses of her hair, kissed a ruddy cheek. Then the widow stood a moment, wiping her eyes.
A Christmas Adventure
Long before daylight one could hear the slowing of the wind. Its caravan now reaching eastward to mid-ocean was nearly passed. Scattered gusts hurried on like weary and belated followers. Then, suddenly, came a silence in which one might have heard the dust of their feet falling, their shouts receding in the far woodland. The sun rose in a clear sky above the patched and ragged canopy of the woods—a weary multitude now resting in the still air.
The children were up looking for tracks of reindeer and breaking paths in the snow. Sunlight glimmered in far-flung jewels of the Frost King. They lay deep, clinking as the foot sank in them. At the Vaughn home it was an eventful day. Santa Claus—well, he is the great Captain that leads us to the farther gate of childhood and surrenders the golden key. Many ways are beyond the gate, some steep and thorny; and some who pass it turn back with bleeding feet and wet eyes, but the gate opens not again for any that have passed. Tom had got the key and begun to try it. Santa Claus had winked at him with a snaring eye, like that of his aunt when she had sugar in her pocket, and Tom thought it very foolish. The boy had even felt of his greatcoat and got a good look at his boots and trousers. Moreover, when he put his pipe away, Tom saw him take a chew of tobacco—an abhorrent thing if he were to believe his mother.
"Mother," said he, "I never knew Santa Claus chewed tobacco."
"Well, mebbe he was Santa Claus's hired man," said she.
"Might 'a' had the toothache," Paul suggested, for Lew Allen, who worked for them in the summer time, had an habitual toothache, relieved many times a day by chewing tobacco.
Tom sat looking into the fire a moment.
Then he spoke of a matter Paul and he had discussed secretly.
"Joe Bellus he tol' me Santa Claus was only somebody rigged up t' fool folks, an' hadn't no reindeers at all."
The mother turned away, her wits groping for an answer.
"Hadn't ought 'a' told mother, Tom," said Paul, with a little quiver of reproach and pity. "'Tain't so, anyway—we know 'tain't so."
He was looking into his mother's face.
"Tain't so," Paul repeated with unshaken confidence.
"Mus'n't believe all ye hear," said the widow, who now turned to the doubting Thomas.
And that very moment Tom was come to the last gate of childhood, whereon are the black and necessary words, "Mus'n't believe all ye hear."
The boys in their new boots were on the track of a painter. They treed him, presently, at the foot of the stairs.
"How'll we kill him?" one of them inquired.
"Just walk around the tree once," said the mother, "an' you'll scare him to death. Why don't ye grease your boots?"
"'Fraid it'll take the screak out of 'em," said Paul, looking down thoughtfully at his own pair.
"Well," said she, "you'll have me treed if you keep on. No hunter would have boots like that. A loud foot makes a still gun."
That was her unfailing method of control—the appeal to intelligence. Polly sat singing, thoughtfully, the locket in her hand. She had kissed the sacred thing and hung it by a ribbon to her neck and bathed her eyes in the golden light of it and begun to feel the subtle pathos in its odd message. She was thinking of the handsome boy who came along that far May-day with the drove, and who lately had returned to be her teacher at Linley School. Now, he had so much dignity and learning, she liked him not half so well and felt he had no longer any care for her. She blushed to think how she had wept over his letter and kissed it every day for weeks. Her dream was interrupted, presently, by the call of her brother Tom. Having cut the frost on a window-pane, he stood peering out. A man was approaching in the near field. His figure showed to the boot-top, mounting hills of snow, and sank out of sight in the deep hollows. It looked as if he were walking on a rough sea. In a moment he came striding over the dooryard fence on a pair of snowshoes.
"It's Mr. Trove, the teacher," said Polly, who quickly began to shake her curls.
As the door swung open all greeted the young man. Loosening his snow-shoes, he flung them on the step and came in, a foxtail dangling from his fur cap.
He shook hands with Polly and her mother, and lifted Paul to the ceiling. "Hello, young man!" said he. "If one is four, how many are two?"
"If you're speaking of new boots," said the widow, "one is at least fifteen."
The school teacher made no reply, but stood a moment looking down at the boy.
"It's a cold day," said Polly.
"I like it," said the teacher, lifting his broad shoulders and smiting them with his hands. "God has been house cleaning. The dome of the sky is all swept and dusted. There isn't a cobweb anywhere. Santa Claus come?"
"Yes," said the younger children, who made a rush for their gifts and laid them on chairs before him.
"Grand old chap!" said he, staring thoughtfully at the flannel cat in his hands. "Any idea who it is?"
"Can't make out," said Mrs. Vaughn; "very singular man."
"Generous, too," the teacher added. "That's the best cat I ever saw, Tom. If I had my way, the cats would all be made of flannel. Miss Polly, what did you get?"
"This," said Polly, handing him the locket.
"Beautiful!" said he, turning it in his hand. "Anything inside?"
Polly showed him how to open it. He sat a moment or more looking at the graven gold.
"Strange!" said he, presently, surveying the wrought cases,
Mrs. Vaughn was now at his elbow.
"Strange?" she inquired.
"Well, long ago," said he, "I heard of one like it. Some time it may solve the mystery of your Santa Claus."
An ear of the teacher had begun to swell and redden.
"Should have pulled my cap down," said he, as the widow spoke of it. "Frost-bitten years ago, and if I'm out long in the cold, I begin to feel it."
"Must be very painful," said Polly, as indeed it was.
"No," said he, with a little squint as he touched the aching member. "It's good—I rather like it. I wouldn't take anything for that ear. It—it—" He hesitated, as if trying to recall the advantages of a chilled ear. "Well, I shouldn't know I had any ears if it weren't for that one. Come, Paul, put on your cap an' mittens. We'll take a sack and get some green boughs for your mother."
He put on snow-shoes, wrapped the boy snugly in a shawl, and, seating him on a snowboat, made off, hauling it with a rope over white banks and hollows toward the big timber. The dog, Bony, came along with them, wallowing to his ears and barking merrily. Since morning the sun had begun to warm the air, and a light breeze had risen. The boy sat bracing on a rope fastened before and looped around him. As they went along he was oversown with sparkling crystals. They made his cheeks tingle, and almost took his breath as he went plunging into steep hollows. Often he tipped over and sank in the white deep. Then Trove hauled him out, brushed him a little, and set him back on the boat again. Snow lay deep and level in the woods—a big, white carpet, seamed with tiny tracks and figured with light and shadow. Trove stopped a moment, looking up at the forest roof. They could hear a baying of hounds in the far valley. Down the dingle near them a dead leaf was drumming on a bough—a clock of the wood telling the flight of seconds. Above, they could hear the low creak of brace and rafter and great waves of the upper deep sweeping over and breaking with a loud wash on reefs of evergreen. The little people of this odd winter land had begun to make roads from tree to tree and from thicket to thicket. A partridge had broken out of her cave, and they followed the track of her snow-shoes down the side-hill to a little brook. Under its ice roof they could hear the tinkling water. Above them the brook fell from a rock shelf, narrow and high as a man's head. The fall was muted to a low murmur under its vault of ice.
"Come, Paul," said Trove, as he lifted the small boy; "here's a castle of King Frost. There are thousands in his family, and he's many castles. Building new ones every day somewhere. Goes north in the spring, and when he moves out they begin to rot and tumble."
He cleared a space for the boy to stand upon. Then he brushed away the snow blanket flung loosely over the vault of ice. A wonderful bit of masonry stood exposed. Near its centre were two columns, large and rugose, each tapering to a capital and cornice. Between them was a deep lattice of crystal. Some bars were clear, some yellow as amber, and all were powdered over with snow, ivory-white. Under its upper part they could see a grille of frostwork, close-wrought, glistening, and white. It was the inner gate of the castle, and each ray of light, before entering, had to pay a toll of its warmth. On either side was a rough wall of ice, with here and there a barred window. The snow cleared away, they could hear the song of falling water. The teacher put his ear to the ice wall. Then he called the boy.
"Listen," said he; "it's the castle bell." Indeed, the whole structure rang like a bell, if one put his ear down to hear it.
"See!" said he, presently, stirring a heap of tiny crystals in his palm. "Here are the bricks he builds with, and the water of the brook is his mortar."
Near the bank was an opening partly covered with snow. It led to a cavern behind the ice curtain under the rock floor of the brook above.
The teacher took off his snow-shoes. In a moment they had crawled through and were crouching on a frosty bed of pebbles. A warm glow lit the long curtain of ice. Beams of sunlight fell through windows oddly mullioned with icicles and filtered in at the lattice of crystal. They jewelled the grille of frostwork and flung a sprinkle of gold on the falling water. The breath of the waterfall, rising out of bubbles, filled its castle with the very wine of life. The narrow hall rang with its music.
"See the splendour of a king's home," said the teacher, his eyes brimming.
The boy, young as he was, had seen and felt the beauty and mystery of the place, and never forgot it.
"See how it sifts the sunlight to take the warmth out of it," the teacher continued. "Warmth is poison to the King, and every ray of light is twisted and turned upside down to see if he has any in his pocket."
They could now hear a loud baying on the hill above.
As they turned to listen, a young fox leaped in at the hole and, as he saw them, checked a foot in the air. He was panting, his tongue out, and blood was dripping from his long fur at the shoulder. He turned, stilling his breath a little as the hounds came near. Then he trembled,—a pitiful sight,—for he was near spent and between two perils.
"Come—poor fellow!" said the teacher, stroking him gently.
The fox ran aside, shaking with fear, his foot lifted appealingly. With a quick movement the teacher caught him by the nape of his neck and thrust him into the sack. The leader now had his nose in the hole.
"Back there!" Trove shouted, kicking at him.
In a moment he had rolled a heavy stone to the hole and made it too small for the hounds to enter. Half a dozen of them were now baying outside.
"We'll give him air," said the teacher, as he cut a hole in the sack and tied it. "Don't know how we'll get him out of here alive. They'd be all over me like a pack of wolves."
He stood a moment thinking. Bony had wriggled away from Paul and begun to bark loudly.
"I've an idea," said the teacher, as he cut the foxtail from his cap. Then he rubbed it in the blood and spittle of the fox and tied it to the stub tail of Bony. The dog's four feet were scented in the same manner. The smell of them irked him sorely. His hair rose, and his head fell with a sense of injury. He made a rush at his new tail and was rudely stopped.
"He's fresh, and they'll not be able to catch him," said the young man, as Paul protested. "Wouldn't hurt anything but the tail if they did."
Then breaking the ice curtain, as far from the hole as possible, he gave Bony a spank and flung him out on the snow above with a loud "go home." The pack saw him and scrambled up the bank in full cry. He had turned for a glance at his new tail, but seeing the pack rush at him started up the hillside with a yelp of fear and the energy of a wildcat. When the two came out of the cavern they saw him leaping like a rabbit in the snow, his hair on end, his brush flying, and the hounds in full pursuit.
"My stars! See that dog run," said the teacher, laughing, as he put on his snow-shoes. "He don't intend to be caught with such a tail and smell on him."
He put the sack over his shoulder.
"All aboard, Paul," said he; "now we can go home in peace."
Coming down out of the woods, they saw a pack of hounds digging at one side of the stable. Bony had gone to his refuge under the barn floor.
As he entered, one of them had evidently caught hold of his new tail, and the pack had torn it in shreds. Two hunters came along shortly, and, after a talk with the teacher, took their dogs away. But for three days Bony came not forth and was seen no more of men, save only when he crept to the hole for a lap of water and to seize a doughnut from the hand of Paul, whereupon he retired promptly.
"He ain't going to take any chances," said the widow, laughing.
When at last he came forth, it was with a soft step and new resolutions. And a while later, when Trove heard Darrel say that caution was the only friend of weakness, he understood him perfectly.
"Not every brush has a fox on it," said the widow, and the words went from lip to lip until they were a maxim of those country-folk.
And Trove was to think of it when he himself was like the poor dog that wore a fox's tail.
A Day at the Linley Schoolhouse
A remarkable figure was young Sidney Trove, the new teacher in District No. 1. He was nearing nineteen years of age that winter.
"I like that," he said to the trustee, who had been telling him of the unruly boys—great, hulking fellows that made trouble every winter term. "Trouble—it's a grand thing I—but I'm not selfish, and if I find any, I'll agree to divide it with the boys. I don't know but I'll be generous and let them have the most of it. If they put me out of the schoolhouse, I'll have learned something."
The trustee looked at the six feet and two inches of bone and muscle that sat lounging in a chair—looked from end to end of it.
"What's that?" he inquired, smiling.
"That I've no business there," said young Mr. Trove.
"I guess you'll dew," said the trustee. "Make 'em toe the line; that's all I got t' say."
"And all I've got to do is my best—I don't promise any more," the other answered modestly, as he rose to leave.
Linley School was at the four corners in Pleasant Valley,—a low, frame structure, small and weathered gray. Windows, with no shade, or shutter, were set, two on a side, in perfect apposition. A passing traveller could see through them to the rocky pasture beyond. Who came there for knowledge, though a fool, was dubbed a "scholar." It was a word sharply etched in the dialect of that region. If one were to say skollur-r-r, he might come near it. Every winter morning the scholar entered a little vestibule which was part of the woodshed. He passed an ash barrel and the odour of drying wood, hung cap and coat On a peg in the closet, lifted the latch of a pine door, and came into the schoolroom. If before nine, it would be noisy with shout and laughter, the buzz of tongues, the tread of running feet. Big girls, in neat aprons, would be gossiping at the stove hearth; small boys would be chasing each other up and down aisles and leaping the whittled desks of pine; little girls, in checked flannel, or homespun, would be circling in a song play; big boys would be trying feats of strength that ended in loud laughter. So it was, the first morning of that winter term in 1850. A tall youth stood by the window. Suddenly he gave a loud "sh—h—h!" Running feet fell silently and halted; words begun with a shout ended in a whisper. A boy making caricatures at the blackboard dropped his chalk, that now fell noisily. A whisper, heavy with awe and expectation, flew hissing from lip to lip—"The teacher!" There came a tramping in the vestibule, the door-latch jumped with a loud rattle, and in came Sidney Trove. All eyes were turned upon him. A look of rectitude, dovelike and too good to be true, came over many faces.
"Good morning!" said the young man, removing his cap, coat, and overshoes. Some nodded, dumb with timidity. Only a few little ones had the bravery to speak up, as they gave back the words in a tone that would have fitted a golden text. He came to the roaring stove and stood a moment, warming his hands. A group of the big boys were in a corner whispering. Two were sturdy and quite six feet tall,—the Beach boys.
"Big as a bull moose," one whispered,
"An' stouter," said another.
The teacher took a pencil from his pocket and tapped the desk.
"Please take your seats," said he.
All obeyed. Then he went around with the roll and took their names, of which there were thirty-four.
"I believe I know your name," said Trove, smiling, as he came to Polly Vaughn.
"I believe you do," said she, glancing up at him, with half a smile and a little move in her lips that seemed to ask, "How could you forget me?"
Then the teacher, knowing the peril of her eyes, became very dignified as he glanced over the books she had brought to school. He knew it was going to be a hard day. For a little, he wondered if he had not been foolish, after all, in trying a job so difficult and so perilous. If he should be thrown out of school, he felt sure it would ruin him—he could never look Polly in the face again. As he turned to begin the work of teaching, it seemed to him a case of do or die, and he felt the strength of an ox in his heavy muscles.
The big boys had settled themselves in a back corner side by side—a situation too favourable for mischief. He asked them to take other seats. They complied sullenly and with hesitation. He looked over books, organized the school in classes, and started one of them on its way. It was the primer class, including a half dozen very small boys and girls. They shouted each word in the reading lesson, laboured in silence with another, and gave voice again with unabated energy. In their pursuit of learning they bayed like hounds. Their work began upon this ancient and informing legend, written to indicate the shout and skip of the youthful student:—
"You're afraid," the teacher began after a little. "Come up here close to me."
They came to his chair and stood about him. Some were confident, others hung back suspicious and untamed.
"We're going to be friends," said he, in a low, gentle voice. He took from his pocket a lot of cards and gave one to each.
"Here's a story," he continued. "See—I put it in plain print for you with pen and ink. It's all about a bear and a boy, and is in ten parts. Here's the first chapter. Take it home with you to-night—"
He stopped suddenly. He had turned in his chair and could see none of the boys. He did not move, but slowly took off a pair of glasses he had been wearing.
"Joe Beach," said he, coolly, "come out here on the floor."
There was a moment of dead silence. That big youth—the terror of Linley School—was now red and dumb with amazement. His deviltry had begun, but how had the teacher seen it with his back turned?
"I'll think it over," said the boy, sullenly.
The teacher laid down his book, calmly, walked to the seat of the young rebel, took him by the collar and the back of the neck, tore him out of the place where his hands and feet were clinging like the roots of a tree, dragged him roughly to the aisle and over the floor space, taking part of the seat along, and stood him to the wall with a bang that shook the windows. There was no halting—it was all over in half a minute.
"You'll please remain there," said he, coolly, "until I tell you to sit down."
He turned his back on the bully, walked slowly to his chair, and opened his book again.
"Take it home with you to-night," said he, continuing his talk to the primer class. "Spell it over, so you won't have to stop long between words. All who read it well to-morrow will get another chapter."
They began to study at home. Wonder grew, and pleasure came with labour as the tale went on.
He dismissed the primer readers, calling the first class in geography. As they took their places he repaired the broken seat, a part of which had been torn off the nails. The fallen rebel stood leaning, his back to the school. He had expected help, but the reserve force had failed him.
"Joe Beach—you may take your seat," said the teacher, in a kind of parenthetical tone.
"Geography starts at home," he continued, beginning the recitation. "Who can tell me where is the Linley schoolhouse?"
A dozen hands went up.
"You tell," said he to one.
"It's here," was the answer.
A boy looked thoughtful.
"Nex' t' Joe Linley's cow-pastur'," he ventured presently,
"Will you tell us?" the teacher asked, looking at a bright-eyed girl.
"In Faraway, New York," said she, glibly.
"Tom Linley, I'll take that," said the teacher, in a lazy tone. He was looking down at his book. Where he sat, facing the class, he could see none of the boys without turning. But he had not turned. To the wonder of all, up he spoke as Tom Linley was handing a slip of paper to Joe Beach. There was a little pause. The young man hesitated, rose, and walked nervously down the aisle.
"Thank you," said the teacher, as he took the message and flung it on the fire, unread. "Faraway, New York;" he continued on his way to the blackboard as if nothing had happened.
He drew a circle, indicating the four points of the compass on it. Then he mapped the town of Faraway and others, east, west, north, and south of it. So he made a map of the county and bade them copy it. Around the county in succeeding lessons he built a map of the state. Others in the middle group were added, the structure growing, day by day, until they had mapped the hemisphere.
At the Linley schoolhouse something had happened. Cunning no sooner showed its head than it was bruised like a serpent, brawny muscles had been easily outdone, boldness had grown timid, conceit had begun to ebb. A serious look had settled upon all faces. Every scholar had learned one thing, learned it well and quickly—it was to be no playroom.
There was a recess of one hour at noon. All went for their dinner pails and sat quietly, eating bread and butter followed by doughnuts, apples, and pie.
The young men had walked to the road. Nothing had been said. They drew near each other. Tom Linley looked up at Joe Beach. In his face one might have seen a cloud of sympathy that had its silver lining of amusement.
"Powerful?" Tom inquired, soberly.
"What?" said Joe.
"Powerful?" Tom repeated.
"Powerful! Jiminy crimps!" said Joe, significantly.
"Why didn't ye kick him?"
"Huh! dunno," said Joe, with a look of sadness turning into contempt.
"Scairt?" the other inquired.
"Scairt? Na—a—w," said Joe, scornfully.
"What was ye, then?"
There was an outbreak of laughter.
"You was goin' t' help," said Joe, addressing Tom Linley.
A moment of silence followed.
"You was goin' t' help," the fallen bully repeated, with large emphasis on the pronoun.
"Help?" Tom inquired, sparring for wind as it were.
"You was licked 'fore I had time."
"Didn't dast—that's what's the matter—didn't dast," said big Joe, with a tone of irreparable injury.
"Wouldn't 'a' been nigh ye fer a millyun dollars," said Tom, soberly.
"'Twant safe; that's why."
"'Fraid o' him! ye coward!"
"No; 'fraid o' you."
"'Cos if one o' yer feet had hit a feller when ye come up ag'in that wall," Tom answered slowly, "there wouldn't 'a' been nuthin' left uv him."
All laughed loudly.
Then there was another silence. Joe broke it after a moment of deep thought.
"Like t' know how he seen me," said he.
"'Tis cur'us," said another.
"Guess he's one o' them preformers like they have at the circus—" was the opinion of Sam Beach. "See one take a pig out o' his hat las' summer."
"'Tain't fair 'n' square," said Tom Linley; "not jest eggzac'ly."
"Gosh! B'lieve I'll run away," said Joe, after a pause. "Ain' no fun here for me."
"Better not," said Archer Town; "not if ye know when yer well off."
"Wal, he'd see ye wherever ye was an' do suthin' to ye," said Archer. "Prob'ly he's heard all we been sayin' here."
"Wal, I ain't said nuthin' I'm 'shamed of," said Sam Beach, thoughtfully.
A bell rang, and all hurried to the schoolhouse. The afternoon was uneventful. Those rough-edged, brawny fellows had become serious. Hope had died in their breasts, and now they looked as if they had come to its funeral. They began to examine their books as one looks at a bitter draught before drinking it. In every subject the teacher took a new way not likely to be hard upon tender feet. For each lesson he had a method of his own. He angled for the interest of the class and caught it. With some a term of school had been as a long sickness, lengthened by the medicine of books and the surgery of the beech rod. They had resented it with ingenious deviltry. The confusion of the teacher and some incidental fun were its only compensations. The young man gave his best thought to the correction of this mental attitude. Four o'clock came at last—the work of the day was over. Weary with its tension all sat waiting the teacher's word. For a little he stood facing them.
"Tom Linley and Joe Beach," said he, in a low voice, "will you wait a moment after the others have gone? School's dismissed."
There was a rush of feet and a rattle of dinner pails. All were eager to get home with the story of that day—save the two it had brought to shame. They sat quietly as the others went away. A deep silence fell in that little room. Of a sudden it had become a lonely place.
The teacher damped the fire and put on his overshoes.
"Boys," said he, drawing a big silver watch, "hear that watch ticking. It tells the flight of seconds. You are—eighteen, did you say? They turn boys into oxen here in this country; just a thing of bone and muscle, living to sweat and lift and groan. Maybe I can save you, but there's not a minute to lose. With you it all depends on this term of school. When it's done you'll either be ox or driver. Play checkers?"
"I'll come over some evening, and we'll have a game. Good night!"
The Tinker at Linley School
Every seat was filled at the Linley School next morning. The tinker had come to see Trove and sat behind the big desk as work began.
"There are two kinds of people," said the teacher, after all were seated—"those that command—those that obey. No man is fit to command until he has learned to obey—he will not know how. The one great thing life has to teach you is—obey. There was a young bear once that was bound to go his own way. The old bear told him it wouldn't do to jump over a precipice, but, somehow, he couldn't believe it and jumped. 'Twas the last thing he ever did. It's often so with the young. Their own way is apt to be rather steep and to end suddenly. There are laws everywhere,—we couldn't live without them,—laws of nature, God, and man. Until we learn the law and how to obey it, we must go carefully and take the advice of older heads. We couldn't run a school without laws in it—laws that I must obey as well as you. I must teach, and you must learn. The two first laws of the school are teach and learn—you must help me to obey mine; I must help you to obey yours. And we'll have as much fun as possible, but we must obey."
Then Trove invited Darrel to address the school.
"Dear children," the tinker began with a smile, "I mind ye're all looking me in the face, an' I do greatly fear ye. I fear I may say something ye will remember, an' again I fear I may not. For when I speak to the young—ah! then it seems to me God listens. I heard the teacher speaking o' the law of obedience. Which o' ye can tell me who is the great master—the one ye must never disobey?"
"Yer father," said one of the boys.
"Nay, me bright lad, one o' these days ye may lose father an' mother an' teacher an' friend. Let me tell a story, an' then, mayhap, ye'll know the great master. Once upon a time there was a young cub who thought his life a burden because he had to mind his mother. By an' by a bullet killed her, an' he was left alone. He wandered away, not knowing' what to do, and came near the land o' men. Soon he met an old bear.
"'Foolish cub! Why go ye to the land o' men?' said the old bear. 'Thy legs are not as long as me tail. Go home an' obey thy mother.'
"'But I've none to obey,' said the young bear; an' before he could turn, a ball came whizzing over a dingle an' ripped into his ham. The old bear had scented danger an' was already out o' the way. The cub made off limping, an' none too quickly. They followed him all day, an' when night came he was the most weary an' bedraggled bear in the woods. But he stopped the blood an' went away on a dry track in the morning. He came to a patch o' huckleberries that day and began to help himself. Then quick an' hard he got a cuff on the head that tore off an ear and knocked him into the bushes. When he rose there stood the old bear. "'Ah, me young cub,' said he, 'ye'll have a master now.'
"'An' no more need o' him,' said the young bear, shaking his bloody head.
"'Nay, ye will prosper,' said the old bear. 'There are two ways o' learning,—by hearsay an' by knocks. Much ye may learn by knocks, but they are painful. There be two things every one has to learn,—respect for himself; respect for others. Ye'll know, hereafter, in the land o' men a bear has to keep his nose up an' his ears open—because men hurt. Ye'll know better, also, than to feed on the ground of another bear—because he hurts. Now, were I a cub an' had none to obey, I'd obey meself. Ye know what's right, do it; ye know what's wrong, do it not.'
"'One thing is sure,' said the young bear, as he limped away; 'if I live, there'll not be a bear in the woods that'll take any better care of himself.'
"Now the old bear knew what he was talking about. He was, I maintain, a wise an' remarkable bear. We learn to obey others, so that by an' by we may know how to obey ourselves. The great master of each man is himself. By words or by knocks ye will learn what is right, and ye must do it. Dear children, ye must soon be yer own masters. There be many cruel folk in the world, but ye have only one to fear—yerself. Ah! ye shall find him a hard man, for, if he be much offended, he will make ye drink o' the cup o' fire. Learn to obey yerselves, an' God help ye."
Thereafter, many began to look into their own hearts for that fearful master, and some discovered him.
A Rustic Museum
That first week Sidney Trove went to board at the home of "the two old maids," a stone house on Jericho Road, with a front door rusting on idle hinges and blinds ever drawn. It was a hundred feet or more from the highway, and in summer there were flowers along the path from its little gate and vines climbing to the upper windows. In winter its garden was buried deep under the snow. One family—the Vaughns—came once in awhile to see "the two old maids." Few others ever saw them save from afar. A dressmaker came once a year and made gowns for them, that were carefully hung in closets but never worn. To many of their neighbours they were as dead as if they had been long in their graves. Tales of their economy, of their odd habits, of their past, went over hill and dale to far places. They had never boarded the teacher and were put in a panic when the trustee came to speak of it.
"He's a grand young man," said he; "good company—and you'll enjoy it."
They looked soberly at each other. According to tradition, one was fifty-four the other fifty-five years of age. An exclamation broke from the lips of one. It sounded like the letter y whispered quickly.
"Y!" the other answered.
"It might make a match," said Mr. Blount, the trustee, smiling.
"Y! Samuel Blount!" said the younger one, coming near and smiting him playfully on the elbow. "You stop!"
Miss Letitia began laughing silently. They never laughed aloud.
"If he didn't murder us," said Miss S'mantha, doubtfully.
"Nonsense," said the trustee; "I'll answer for him."
"Can't tell what men'll do," she persisted weakly. "When I was in Albany with Alma Haskins, a man came 'long an' tried t' pass the time o' day with us. We jes' looked t'other way an' didn't preten' t' hear him. It's awful t' think what might 'a' happened."
She wiped invisible tears with an embroidered handkerchief. The dear lady had spent a good part of her life thinking of that narrow escape.
"If he wa'n't too partic'lar," said Miss Letitia, who had been laughing at this maiden fear of her sister.
"If he would mind his business, we—we might take him for one week," said Miss S'mantha. She glanced inquiringly at her sister.
Letitia and S'mantha Tower, "the two old maids," had but one near relative—Ezra Tower, a brother of the same neighbourhood.
There were two kinds of people in Faraway,—those that Ezra Tower spoke to and those he didn't. The latter were of the majority. As a forswearer of communication he was unrivalled. His imagination was a very slaughter-house, in which all who crossed him were slain. If they were passing, he looked the other way and never even saw them again. Since the probate of his father's will both sisters were of the number never spoken to. He was a thin, tall, sullen, dry, and dusty man. Dressed for church of a Sunday, he looked as if he had been stored a year in some neglected cellar. His broadcloth had a dingy aspect, his hair and beard and eyebrows the hue of a cobweb. He had a voice slow and rusty, a look arid and unfruitful. Indeed, it seemed as if the fires of hate and envy had burned him out.
The two old maids, feeling the disgrace of it and fearing more, ceased to visit their neighbours or even to pass their own gate. Poor Miss S'mantha fell into the deadly mire of hypochondria. She often thought herself very ill and sent abroad for every medicine advertised in the county paper. She had ever a faint look and a thin, sickly voice. She had the man-fear,—a deep distrust of men,—never ceasing to be on her guard. In girlhood, she had been to Albany, Its splendour and the reckless conduct of one Alma Haskins, companion of her travels, had been ever since a day-long perennial topic of her conversation. Miss Letitia was more amiable. She had a playful, cheery heart in her, a mincing and precise manner, and a sweet voice. What with the cleaning, dusting, and preserving, they were ever busy. A fly, driven hither and thither, fell of exhaustion if not disabled with a broom. They were two weeks getting ready for the teacher. When, at last, he came that afternoon, supper was ready and they were nearly worn out.
"Here he is!" one whispered suddenly from a window. Then, with a last poke at her hair, Miss Letitia admitted the teacher. They spoke their greeting in a half whisper and stood near, waiting timidly for his coat and cap.
"No, thank you," said he, taking them to a nail. "I can do my own hanging, as the man said when he committed suicide."
Miss S'mantha looked suspicious and walked to the other side of the stove. Impressed by the silence of the room, much exaggerated by the ticking of the clock, Sidney Trove sat a moment looking around him. Daylight had begun to grow dim. The table, with its cover of white linen, was a thing to give one joy. A ruby tower of jelly, a snowy summit of frosted cake, a red pond of preserved berries, a mound of chicken pie, and a corduroy marsh of mince, steaming volcanoes of new biscuit, and a great heap of apple fritters, lay in a setting of blue china. They stood a moment by the stove,—the two sisters,—both trembling in this unusual publicity. Miss Letitia had her hand upon the teapot.
"Our tea is ready," said she, presently, advancing to the table. She spoke in a low, gentle tone.
"This is grand!" said he, sitting down with them. "I tell you, we'll have fun before I leave here."
They looked up at him and then at each other, Letitia laughing silently, S'mantha suspicious. For many years fun had been a thing far from their thought.
"Play checkers?" he inquired.
"Afraid we couldn't," said Miss Letitia, answering for both.
She shook her head, smiling.
"I don't wish to lead you into recklessness," the teacher remarked, "but I'm sure you wouldn't mind being happy."
Miss S'mantha had a startled look.
"In—in a—proper way," he added. "Let's be joyful. Perhaps we could play 'I spy.'"
"Y!" they both exclaimed, laughing silently.
"Never ate chicken pie like that," he added in all sincerity. "If I were a poet, I'd indite an ode 'written after eating some of the excellent chicken pie of the Misses Tower.' I'm going to have some like it on my farm."
In reaching to help himself he touched the teapot, withdrawing his hand quickly.
"Burn ye?" said Miss S'mantha.
"Yes; but I like it!" said he, a bit embarrassed. "I often go and—and put my hand on a hot teapot if I'm having too much fun."
They looked up at him, puzzled.
"Ever slide down hill?" he inquired, looking from one to the other, after a bit of silence.
"Oh, not since we were little!" said Miss Letitia, holding her biscuit daintily, after taking a bite none too big for a bird to manage.
"Good fun!" said be. "Whisk you back to childhood in a jiffy. Folks ought to slide down hill more'n they do. It isn't a good idea to be always climbing."
"'Fraid we couldn't stan' it," said Miss S'mantha, tentatively. Under all her man-fear and suspicion lay a furtive recklessness.
"Y, no!" the other whispered, laughing silently.
The pervading silence of that house came flooding in between sentences. For a moment Trove could hear only the gurgle of pouring tea and the faint rattle of china softly handled. When he felt as if the silence were drowning him, he began again:—
"Life is nothing but a school. I'm a teacher, and I deal in rules. If you want to kill misery, load your gun with pleasure."
"Do you know of anything for indigestion?" said Miss S'mantha, charging her sickly voice with a firmness calculated to discourage any undue familiarity.
"Just the thing—a sure cure!" said he, emphatically.
"Come high?" she inquired.
"No, it's cheap and plenty."
"Where do you send?"
"Oh!" said he; "you will have to go after it."
"What is it called ?"
"Fun," said the teacher, quickly; "and the place to find it is out of doors. It grows everywhere on my farm. I'd rather have a pair of skates than all the medicine this side of China."
She set down her teacup and looked up at him. She was beginning to think him a fairly safe and well-behaved man, although she would have been more comfortable if he had been shut in a cage.
"If I had a pair o' skates," said she, faintly, with a look of inquiry at her sister, "I dunno but I'd try 'em."
Miss Letitia began to laugh silently.
"I'd begin with overshoes," said the teacher, "A pair of overshoes and a walk on the crust every morning before breakfast; increase the dose gradually."
The two old maids were now more at ease with their guest. His kindly manner and plentiful good spirits had begun to warm and cheer them. Miss S'mantha even cherished a secret resolve to slide if the chance came.
After tea Sidney Trove, against their protest, began to help with the dishes. Miss S'mantha prudently managed to keep the stove between him and her. A fire and candles were burning in the parlour. He asked permission, however, to stay where he could talk with them. Tunk Hosely, the man of all work, came in for his supper. He was an odd character. Some, with a finger on their foreheads, confided the opinion that he was "a little off." All agreed he was no fool—in a tone that left it open to argument. He had a small figure and a big squint. His perpetual squint and bristly, short beard were a great injustice to him. They gave him a look severer than he deserved. A limp and leaning shoulder complete the inventory of external traits. Having eaten, he set a candle in the old barn lantern.
"Wal, mister," said he, when all was ready, "come out an' look at my hoss."
The teacher went with him out under a sky bright with stars to the chill and gloomy stable.
"Look at me," said Tunk, holding up the lantern as he turned about. "Gosh all fish-hooks! I'm a wreck."
"What's the matter?" Sidney Trove inquired.
"All sunk in—right here," Tunk answered impressively, his hand to his chest.
"How did it happen?"
"Kicked by a boss; that's how it happened," was the significant answer. "Lord! I'm all shucked over t' one side—can't ye see it?"
"A list t' sta'b'rd—that's what they call it, I believe," said the teacher.
"See how I limp," Tunk went on, striding to show his pace. "Ain't it awful!"
"How did that happen?"
"Sprung my ex!" he answered, turning quickly with a significant look. "Thrown from a sulky in a hoss race an' sprung my ex. Lord! can't ye see it?"
The teacher nodded, not knowing quite how to take him.
"Had my knee unsot, too," he went on, lifting his knee as he turned the light upon it. "Jes' put yer finger there," said he, indicating a slight protuberance. "Lord! it's big as a bog spavin."
He had planned to provoke a query, and it came.
"How did you get it?"
"Kicked ag'in," said Tunk, sadly. "Heavens! I've had my share o' bangin'. Can't conquer a skittish hoss without sufferin' some—not allwus. Now, here's a boss," he added, as they walked to a stall. "He ain't much t' look at, but—"
He paused a moment as he neared the horse—a white and ancient palfrey. He stood thoughtfully on "cocked ankles," every leg in a bandage, tail and mane braided,
"Get ap, Prince," Tunk shouted, as he gave him a slap. Prince moved aside, betraying evidence of age and infirmity.
"But—" Tunk repeated with emphasis.
"Ugly?" the teacher queried.
"Ugly!" said Tunk, as if the word were all too feeble for the fact in hand. "Reg'lar hell on wheels!—that's what he is. Look out! don't git too nigh him. He ain't no conscience—that hoss ain't."
"Is he fast?"
"Greased lightnin'!" said Tunk, shaking his head. "Won twenty-seven races."
"You're a good deal of a horseman, I take it." said the teacher.
"Wal, some," said he, expectorating thoughtfully. "But I don't have no chance here. What d'ye 'spect of a man livin,' with them ol' maids ?"
He seemed to have more contempt than his words would carry.
"Every night they lock me upstairs," he continued with a look of injury; "they ain't fit fer nobody t' live with. Ain't got no hoss but that dummed ol' plug."
He had forgotten his enthusiasm of the preceding moment. His intellect was a museum of freaks. Therein, Vanity was the prodigious fat man, Memory the dwarf, and Veracity the living skeleton. When Vanity rose to show himself, the others left the stage.
Tunk's face had become suddenly thoughtful and morose. In truth, he was an arrant and amusing humbug. It has been said that children are all given to lying in some degree, but seeing the folly of it in good time, if, indeed, they are not convinced of its wickedness, train tongue and feeling into the way of truth. The respect for truth that is the beginning of wisdom had not come to Tunk. He continued to lie with the cheerful inconsistency of a child. The' hero of his youth had been a certain driver of trotting horses, who had a limp and a leaning shoulder. In Tunk, the limp and the leaning shoulder were an attainment that had come of no sudden wrench. Such is the power of example, he admired, then imitated, and at last acquired them. One cannot help thinking what graces of character and person a like persistency would have brought to him. But Tunk had equipped himself with horsey heroism, adorning it to his own fancy. He had never been kicked, he had never driven a race or been hurled from a sulky at full speed. Prince, that ancient palfrey, was the most harmless of all creatures, and would long since have been put out of misery but for the tender consideration of his owners. And Tunk—well, they used to say of him, that if he had been truthful, he couldn't have been alive.
"Sometime," Trove thought, "his folly may bring confusion upon wise heads."
An Event in the Rustic Museum
Sidney Trove sat talking a while with Miss Letitia. Miss S'mantha, unable longer to bear the unusual strain of danger and publicity, went away to bed soon after supper. Tunk Hosely came in with a candle about nine.
"Wal, mister," said he, "you ready t' go t' bed?"
"I am," said Trove, and followed him to the cold hospitality of the spare room, a place of peril but beautifully clean. There was a neat rag carpet on the floor, immaculate tidies on the bureau and wash table, and a spotless quilt of patchwork on the bed. But, like the dungeon of mediaeval times, it was a place for sighs and reflection, not for rest. Half an inch of frost on every window-pane glistened in the dim light of the candle.
"As soon as they unlock my door, I'll come an' let ye out in the mornin'," Tunk whispered.
"Are they going to lock me in?"
"Wouldn't wonder," said Tunk, soberly.
"What can ye 'spect from a couple o' dummed ol' maids like them?"
There was a note of long suffering in his half-whispered tone,
"Good night, mister," said he, with a look of dejection. "Orter have a nightcap, er ye'll git hoar-frost on yer hair."
Trove was all a-shiver in the time it took him to undress, and his breath came out of him in spreading shafts of steam. Sheets of flannel and not less than half a dozen quilts and comfortables made a cover, under which the heat of his own blood warmed his body. He became uncomfortably aware of the presence of his head and face, however. He could hear stealthy movements beyond the door, and knew they were barricading it with furniture. Long before daylight a hurried removal of the barricade awoke him. Then he heard a rap at the door, and the excited voice of Tunk.
"Say, mister! come here quick," it called.
Sidney Trove leaped out of bed and into his trousers. He hurried through the dark parlour, feeling his way around a clump of chairs and stumbling over a sofa. The two old maids were at the kitchen door, both dressed, one holding a lighted candle. Tunk Hosely stood by the door, buttoning suspenders with one hand and holding a musket in the other. They were shivering and pale. The room was now cold.
"Hear that!" Tunk whispered, turning to the teacher.
They all listened, hearing a low, weird cry outside the door.
"Soun's t' me like a raccoon," Miss S'mantha whispered thoughtfully.
"Or a lamb," said Miss Letitia.
"Er a painter," Tunk ventured, his ear turning to catch the sound.
"Let's open the door," said Sidney Trove, advancing.
"Not me," said Tunk, firmly, raising his gun.
Trove had not time to act before they heard a cry for help on the doorstep. It was the voice of a young girl. He opened the door, and there stood Mary Leblanc—a scholar of Linley School and the daughter of a poor Frenchman. She came in lugging a baby wrapped in a big shawl, and both crying.
"Oh, Miss Tower," said she; "pa has come out o' the woods drunk an' has threatened to kill the baby. Ma wants to know if you'll keep it here to-night."
The two old maids wrung their hands with astonishment and only said "y!"
"Of course we'll keep it," said Trove, as he took the baby,
"I must hurry back," said the girl, now turning with a look of relief.
Tunk shied off and began to build a fire; Miss S'mantha sat down weeping, the girl ran away in the darkness, and Trove put the baby in Miss Letitia's arms.
"I'll run over to Leblanc's cabin," said he, getting his cap and coat. "They're having trouble over there."
He left them and hurried off on his way to the little cabin.
Loud cries of the baby rang in that abode of silence. It began to kick and squirm with determined energy. Poor Miss Letitia had the very look of panic in her face. She clung to the fierce little creature, not knowing what to do. Miss S'mantha lay back in a fit of hysterics. Tunk advanced bravely, with brows knit, and stood looking down at the baby.
"Lord! this is awful!" said he. Then a thought struck him. "I'll git some milk," he shouted, running into the buttery.
The baby thrust the cup away, and it fell noisily, the milk streaming over a new rag carpet.
"It's sick; I'm sure it's sick," said Miss Letitia, her voice trembling. "S'mantha, can't you do something?"
Miss S'mantha calmed herself a little and drew near.
"Jes' like a wil'cat," said Tunk, thoughtfully. "Powerful, too," he added, with an effort to control one of the kicking legs.
"What shall we do?" said Miss Letitia.
"My sister had a baby once," said Tunk, approaching it doubtfully but with a studious look.
He made a few passes with his hand in front of the baby's face. Then he gave it a little poke in the ribs, tentatively. The effect was like adding insult to injury.
"If 'twas mine," said Tunk, "which I'm glad it ain't—I'd rub a little o' that hoss liniment on his stummick,"
The two old maids took the baby into their bedroom. It was an hour later when Trove came back. Tunk sat alone by the kitchen fire. There was yet a loud wail in the bedroom.
"What's the news?" said Tunk, who met him at the door.
"Drunk, that's all," said Trove. "I took this bottle, sling-shot, and bar of iron away from him. The woman thought I had better bring them with me and put them out of his way."
He laid them on the floor in a corner.
"I got him into bed," he continued, "and then hid the axe and came away. I guess they're all right now. When I left he had begun to snore."
"Wal,—we ain't all right," said Tunk, pointing to the room. "If you can conquer that thing, you'll do well. Poor Miss Teeshy!" he added, shaking his head.
"What's the matter with her?" Trove inquired.
"Kicked in the stummick 'til she dunno where she is," said Tunk, gloomily.
He pulled off his boots.
"If she don't go lame t'morrer, I'll miss my guess," he added. "She looks a good deal like Deacon Haskins after he had milked the brindle cow."
He leaned back, one foot upon the stove-hearth. Shrill cries rang in the old house.
"'Druther 'twould hev been a painter," said Tunk, sighing.
"More used to 'em," said Tunk, sadly.
They listened a while longer without speaking.
"Ye can't drive it, ner coax it, ner scare it away, ner do nuthin' to it," said Tunk, presently.
He rose and picked up the things Trove had brought with him. "I'll take these to the barn," said he; "they'd have a fit—if they was t' see 'em. What be they?"
"I do not know what they are," said Trove.
"Wal!" said Tunk. "They're queer folks—them Frenchmen. This looks like an iron bar broke in two in the middle."
He got his lantern, picked up the bottle, the sling-shot, and the iron, and went away to the barn.
Trove went to the bedroom door and rapped, and was admitted. He went to work with the baby, and soon, to his joy, it lay asleep on the bed. Then he left the room on tiptoe, and a bit weary.
"A very full day!" he said to himself.
"Teacher, counsellor, martyr, constable, nurse—I wonder what next!"
And as he went to his room, he heard Miss S'mantha say to her sister, "I'm thankful it's not a boy, anyway."
A Day of Difficulties
All were in their seats and the teacher had called a class. Carlt Homer came in.
"You're ten minutes late," said the teacher.
"I have fifteen cows to milk," the boy answered.
"Where do you live?"
"'Bout a mile from here, on the Beach Plains."
"What time do you begin milking?"
"'Bout seven o'clock."
"I'll go to-morrow morning and help you," said the teacher. "We must be on time—that's a necessary law of the school."
At a quarter before seven in the morning, Sidney Trove presented himself at the Homers'. He had come to help with the milking, but found there were only five cows to milk.
"Too bad your father lost so many cows—all in a day," said he. "It's a great pity. Did you lose anything?"
"Have you felt to see?"
The boy put his hand in his pocket.
"Not there—it's an inside pocket, way inside o' you. It's where you keep your honour and pride."
"Wal," said the boy, his tears starting, "I'm 'fraid I have."
"Enough said—good morning," the teacher answered as he went away.
One morning a few days later the teacher opened his school with more remarks.
"The other day," said he, "I spoke of a thing it was very necessary for us to learn. What was it?"
"To obey," said a youngster.
"Obey what?" the teacher inquired.
"Law," somebody ventured.
"Correct; we're studying law—every one of us—the laws of grammar, of arithmetic, of reading, and so on. We are learning to obey them. Now I am going to ask you what is the greatest law in the world?"
There was a moment of silence. Then the teacher wrote these words in large letters on the blackboard; "Thou shalt not lie."
"There is the law of laws," said the teacher, solemnly. "Better never have been born than not learn to obey it. If you always tell the truth, you needn't worry about any other law. Words are like money—some are genuine, some are counterfeit. If a man had a bag of counterfeit money and kept passing it, in a little while nobody would take his money. I knew a man who said he killed four bears at one shot. There's some that see too much when they're looking over their own gun-barrels. Don't be one of that kind. Don't ever kill too many bears at a shot."
After that, in the Linley district, a man who lied was said to be killing too many bears at a shot.
Good thoughts spread with slow but sure contagion. There were some who understood the teacher. His words went home and far with them, even to their graves, and how much farther who can say? They went over the hills, indeed, to other neighbourhoods, and here they are, still travelling, and going now, it may be, to the remotest corners of the earth. The big boys talked about this matter of lying and declared the teacher was right.
"There's Tunk Hosely," said Sam Price. "Nobody'd take his word for nuthin'."
"'Less he was t' say he was a fool out an' out," another boy suggested.
"Dunno as I'd b'lieve him then," said Sam. "Fer I'd begin t' think he knew suthin'."
A little girl came in, crying, one day.
"What is the trouble?" said the teacher, tenderly, as he leaned over and put his arm around her.
"My father is sick," said the child, sobbing.
"Very sick?" the teacher inquired.
For a moment she could not answer, but stood shaken with sobs.
"The doctor says he can't live," said she, brokenly.
A solemn stillness fell in the little schoolroom. The teacher lifted the child and held her close to his broad breast a moment.
"Be brave, little girl," said he, patting her head gently. "Doctors don't always know. He may be better to-morrow."
He took the child to her seat, and sat beside her and whispered a moment, his mouth close to her ear. And what he said, none knew, save the girl herself, who ceased to cry in a moment but never ceased to remember it.
A long time he sat, with his arm around her, questioning the classes. He seemed to have taken his place between her and the dark shadow.
Joe Beach had been making poor headway in arithmetic.
"I'll come over this evening, and we'll see what's the trouble. It's all very easy," the teacher said.
He worked three hours with the young man that evening, and filled him with high ambition after hauling him out of his difficulty.
But of all difficulties the teacher had to deal with, Polly Vaughn was the greatest. She was nearly perfect in all her studies, but a little mischievous and very dear to him. "Pretty;" that is one thing all said of her there in Faraway, and they said also with a bitter twang that she loved to lie abed and read novels. To Sidney Trove the word "pretty" was inadequate. As to lying abed and reading novels, he was free to say that he believed in it.
"We get very indignant about slavery in the south," he used to say; "but how about slavery on the northern farms? I know people who rise at cock-crow and strain their sinews in heavy toil the livelong day, and spend the Sabbath trembling in the lonely shadow of the Valley of Death. I know a man who whipped his boy till he bled because he ran away to go fishing. It's all slavery, pure and simple."
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground," said Ezra Tower.
"If God said it, he made slaves of us all," said young Trove. "When I look around here and see people wasted to the bone with sweat and toil, too weary often to eat the bread they have earned, when I see their children dying of consumption from excess of labour and pork fat, I forget the slaves of man and think only of these wretched slaves of God."
But Polly was not of them the teacher pitied. She was a bit discontented; but surely she was cheerful and well fed. God gave her beauty, and the widow saw it, and put her own strength between the curse and the child. Folly had her task every day, but Polly had her way, also, in too many things, and became a bit selfish, as might have been expected. But there was something very sweet and fine about Polly. They were plain clothes she wore, but nobody save herself and mother gave them any thought. Who, seeing her big, laughing eyes, her finely modelled face, with cheeks pink and dimpled, her shapely, white teeth, her mass of dark hair, crowning a form tall and straight as an arrow, could see anything but the merry-hearted Polly?
"Miss Vaughn, you will please remain a few moments after school," said the teacher one day near four o'clock. Twice she had been caught whispering that day, with the young girl who sat behind her. Trove had looked down, stroking his little mustache thoughtfully, and made no remark. The girl had gone to work, then, her cheeks red with embarrassment.
"I wish you'd do me a favour, Miss Polly," said the teacher, when they were alone.
She blushed deeply, and sat looking down as she fussed with her handkerchief. She was a bit frightened by the serious air of that big young man.
"It isn't much," he went on. "I'd like you to help me teach a little. To-morrow morning I shall make a map on the blackboard, and while I am doing it I'd like you to conduct the school. When you have finished with the primer class I'll be ready to take hold again."
She had a puzzled look.
"I thought you were going to punish me," she answered, smiling.
"For what?" he inquired.
"Whispering," said she.
"Oh, yes! But you have read Walter Scott, and you know ladies are to be honoured, not punished. I shouldn't know how to do such a thing. When you've become a teacher you'll see I'm right about whispering. May I walk home with you?"
Polly had then a very serious look. She turned away, biting her lip, in a brief struggle for self-mastery.
"If you care to," she whispered.
They walked away in silence.
"Do you dance?" she inquired presently.
"No, save attendance on your pleasure," said he. "Will you teach me?"
"Is there anything I can teach you?" She looked up at him playfully.
"Wisdom," said he, quickly, "and how to preserve blueberries, and make biscuit like those you gave us when I came to tea. As to dancing, well—I fear 'I am not shaped for sportive tricks.'"
"If you'll stay this evening," said she, "we'll have some more of my blueberries and biscuit, and then, if you care to, we'll try dancing."
"You'll give me a lesson?" he asked eagerly.
"If you'd care to have me."
"Agreed; but first let us have the blueberries and biscuit," said he, heartily, as they entered the door. "Hello, Mrs. Vaughn, I came over to help you eat supper. I have it all planned. Paul is to set the table, I'm to peel the potatoes and fry the pork, Polly is to make the biscuit and gravy and put the kettle on. You are to sit by and look pleasant."
"I insist on making the tea," said Mrs. Vaughn, with amusement.
"Shall we let her make the tea?" he asked, looking thoughtfully at Polly.
"Perhaps we'd better," said she, laughing.
"All right; we'll let her make the tea—we don't have to drink it."
"You," said the widow, "are like Governor Wright, who said to Mrs. Perkins, 'Madam, I will praise your tea, but hang me if I'll drink it.'"
"I'm going to teach the primer class in the morning," said Polly, as she filled the tea-kettle.
"Look out, young man," said Mrs. Vaughn, turning to the teacher. "In a short time she'll be thinking she can teach you."
"I get my first lesson to-night," said the young man. "She's to teach me dancing."
"And you've no fear for your soul?"
"I've more fear for my body," said he, glancing down upon his long figure. "I've never lifted my feet save for the purpose of transportation. I'd like to learn how to dance because Deacon Tower thinks it wicked and I've learned that happiness and sin mean the same thing in his vocabulary."
"I fear you're a downward and backsliding youth," said the widow.
"You know what Ezra Tower said of Ebenezer Fisher, that he was 'one o' them mush-heads that didn't believe in hell'? Are you one o' that kind?" Proclaimers of liberal thought were at work there in the north.
"Since I met Deacon Tower I'm sure it's useful and necessary. He's got to have some place for his enemies. If it were not for hell, the deacon would be miserable here and, maybe, happy hereafter."
"It's a great hope and comfort to him," said the widow, smiling.
"Well, God save us all!" said Trove, who had now a liking for both the phrase and philosophy of Darrel. They had taken chairs at the table.
"Tom," said he, "we'll pause a moment, while you give us the fourth rule of syntax."
"Correct," said he, heartily, as the last word was spoken. "Now let us be happy."
"Paul," said the teacher, as he finished eating, "what is the greatest of all laws?"
"Thou shalt not lie," said the boy, promptly.
"Correct," said Trove; "and in the full knowledge of the law, I declare that no better blueberries and biscuit ever passed my lips."
Supper over, Polly disappeared, and young Mr. Trove helped with the dishes. Soon Polly came back, glowing in her best gown and slippers.
"Why, of all things! What a foolish child!" said her mother. For answer Polly waltzed up and down the room, singing gayly.
She stopped before the glass and began to fuss with her ribbons. The teacher went to her side.
"May I have the honour, Miss Vaughn," Said he, bowing politely. "Is that the way to do?"
"You might say, 'Will you be my pardner,'" said she, mimicking the broad dialect of the region.
"I'll sacrifice my dignity, but not my language," said he. "Let us dance and be merry, for to-morrow we teach."
"If you'll watch my feet, you'll see how I do it," said she; and lifting her skirt above her dainty ankles, glided across the floor on tiptoe, as lightly as a fawn at play. But Sidney Trove was not a graceful creature. The muscles on his lithe form, developed in the school of work or in feats of strength at which he had met no equal, were untrained in all graceful trickery. He loved dancing and music and everything that increased the beauty and delight of life, but they filled him with a deep regret of his ignorance.
"Hard work," said he, breathing heavily, "and I don't believe I'm having as much fun as you are."
The small company of spectators had been laughing with amusement.
"Reminds me of a story," said the teacher. "'What are all the animals crying about?' said one elephant to another. 'Why, don't you know?—it's about the reindeer,' said the other elephant; 'he's dead. Never saw anything so sad in my life. He skipped so, and made a noise like that, and then he died.' The elephant jumped up and down, trying the light skip of the reindeer and gave a great roar for the bleat of the dying animal, 'What,' said the first elephant, 'did he skip so, and cry that way?' And he tried it. 'No, not that way but this way,' said the other; and he went through it again. By this time every animal in the show had begun to roar with laughter. 'What on earth are you doing?' said the rhinoceros. 'It's the way the reindeer died,' said one of the elephants.
"'Never saw anything so funny,' said the rhinoceros; 'if the poor thing died that way, it's a pity he couldn't repeat the act.'
"'This is terrible,' said the zebra, straining at his halter. 'The reindeer is dead, and the elephants have gone crazy.'"
"Sidney Trove," said the teacher, as he was walking away that evening, "you'll have to look out for yourself. You're a teacher and you ought to be a man—you must be a man or I'll have nothing more to do with you."
Amusement and Learning
There was much doing that winter in the Linley district. They were a month getting ready for the school "exhibition." Every home in the valley and up Cedar Hill rang with loud declamations. The impassioned utterances of James Otis, Daniel Webster, and Patrick Henry were heard in house, and field, and stable. Every evening women were busy making costumes for a play, while the young rehearsed their parts. Polly Vaughn, editor of a paper to be read that evening, searched the countryside for literary talent. She found a young married woman, who had spent a year in the State Normal School, and who put her learning at the service of Polly, in a composition treating the subject of intemperance. Miss Betsey Leech sent in what she called "a piece" entitled "Home." Polly, herself, wrote an editorial on "Our Teacher," and there was hemming and hawing when she read it, declaring they all had learned much, even to love him. Her mother helped her with the alphabetical rhymes, each a couplet of sentimental history, as, for example:—
"A is for Alson, a jolly young man, He'll marry Miss Betsey, they say, if he can."
They trimmed the little schoolhouse with evergreen and erected a small stage, where the teacher's desk had been. Sheets were hung, for curtains, on a ten-foot rod.
A while after dark one could hear a sound of sleigh-bells in the distance. Away on drifted pike and crossroad the bells began to fling their music. It seemed to come in rippling streams of sound through the still air, each with its own voice. In half an hour countless echoes filled the space between them, and all were as one chorus, wherein, as it came near, one could distinguish song and laughter.
Young people from afar came in cutters and by the sleigh load; those who lived near, afoot with lanterns. They were a merry company, crowding the schoolhouse, laughing and whispering as they waited for the first exhibit. Trove called them to order and made a few remarks.
"Remember," said he, "this is not our exhibition. It is only a sort of preparation for one we have planned. In about twenty years the Linley School is to give an exhibition worth seeing. It will be, I believe, an exhibition of happiness, ability, and success on the great stage of the world. Then I hope to have on the programme speeches in Congress, in the pulpit, and at the bar. You shall see in that play, if I mistake not, homes full of love and honour, men and women of fair fame. It may be you shall see, then, some whose names are known and honoured of all men."
Each performer quaked with fear, and both sympathy and approval were in the applause. Miss Polly Vaughn was a rare picture of rustic beauty, her cheeks as red as her ribbons, her voice low and sweet. Trove came out in the audience for a look at her as she read. Ringing salvos of laughter greeted the play and stirred the sleigh-bells on the startled horses beyond the door. The programme over, somebody called for Squire Town, a local pettifogger, who flung his soul and body into every cause. He often sored his knuckles on the court table and racked his frame with the violence of his rhetoric. He had a stock of impassioned remarks ready for all occasions.
He rose, walked to the centre of the stage, looked sternly at the people, and addressed them as "Fellow Citizens." He belaboured the small table; he rose on tiptoe and fell upon his heels; often he seemed to fling his words with a rapid jerk of his right arm as one hurls a pebble. It was all in praise of his "young friend," the teacher, and the high talent of Linley School.
The exhibition ended with this rare exhibit of eloquence. Trove announced the organization of a singing-school for Monday evening of the next week, and then suppressed emotion burst into noise. The Linley school-house had become as a fount of merry sound in the still night; then the loud chorus of the bells, diminishing as they went away, and breaking into streams of music and dying faint in the far woodland.
One Nelson Cartright—a jack of all trades they called him—was the singing-master. He was noted far and wide for song and penmanship. Every year his intricate flourishes in black and white were on exhibition at the county fair.
"Wal, sir," men used to say thoughtfully, "ye wouldn't think he knew beans. Why, he's got a fist bigger'n a ham. But I tell ye, let him take a pen, sir, and he'll draw a deer so nat'ral, sir, ye'd swear he could jump over a six-rail fence. Why, it is wonderful!"