'Eggzac'ly,' said David Brower, laughing. 'An' then she shall have the best harness in the market.'
Hope did not seem to comprehend all the rustic metaphors that had been applied to her. A look of puzzled amusement came over her face, and then she ran away into the garden, her hair streaming from under her white sun-bonnet.
'Never see sech a beauty! Beats the world,' said Uncle Eb in a whisper, whereat both David and Elizabeth shook their heads.
'Lord o' mercy! Don't let her know it,' Elizabeth answered, in a low tone. 'She's beginning to have-'
Just then Hope came by us leading her pet filly that had been born within the month. Immediately Mrs Brower changed the subject.
'To have what?' David enquired as soon as the girl was out of hearing.
'Suspicions,' said Elizabeth mournfully. 'Spends a good deal of her time at the looking-glass. I think the other girls tell her and then that young Livingstone has been turning her head.'
'Turning her head!' he exclaimed.
'Turning her head,' she answered. 'He sat here the other day and deliberately told her that he had never seen such a complexion and such lovely hair.'
Elizabeth Brower mocked his accent with a show of contempt that feebly echoed my own emotions.
'That's the way o' city folks, mother,' said David.
'It's a bad way,' she answered. 'I do not thank he ought to come here. Hope's a child yet, and we mustn't let her get notions.'
'I'll tell him not t' come any more,' said David, as he and Uncle Eb rose to go to their work.'
'I'm 'fraid she ought not to go away to school for a year yet,' said Elizabeth, a troubled look in her face.
'Pshaw, mother! Ye can't keep her under yer wing alwus,' said he. 'Well, David, you know she is very young and uncommonly—' she hesitated.
'Han'some,' said he, 'we might as well own up if she is our child.'
'If she goes away,' continued Elizabeth, 'some of us ought t' go with her.'
Then Uncle Eb and David went to their work in the fields and I to my own task That very evening they began to talk of renting the farm and going to town with the children.
I had a stent of cording wood that day and finished it before two o'clock Then I got my pole of mountain ash, made hook and line ready, dug some worms and went fishing. I cared not so much for the fishing as for the solitude of the woods. I had a bit of thing to do. In the thick timber there was a place where Tinkle brook began to hurry and break into murmurs on a pebble bar, as if its feet were tickled. A few more steps and it burst into a peal of laughter that lasted half the year as it tumbled over narrow shelves of rock into a foamy pool. Many a day I had sat fishing for hours at the little fall under a birch tree, among the brakes and moss. No ray of sunlight ever got to the dark water below me—the lair of many a big fish that had yielded to the temptation of my bait. Here I lay in the cool shade while a singular sort of heart sickness came over me. A wild partridge was beating his gong in the near woods all the afternoon. The sound of the water seemed to break in the tree-tops and fall back upon me. I had lain there thinking an hour or more when I caught the jar of approaching footsteps. Looking up I saw Jed Feary coming through the bushes, pole in hand.
'Fishin'?' he asked.
'Only thinking,' I answered.
'Couldn't be in better business,' said he as he sat down beside me.
More than once he had been my father confessor and I was glad he had come.
'In love?' he asked. 'No boy ever thinks unless he's in love.'
'In trouble,' said I.
'Same thing,' he answered, lighting his pipe. 'Love is trouble with a bit of sugar in it—the sweetest trouble a man can have. What's the matter?'
'It's a great secret,' I said, 'I have never told it. I am in love.'
'Knew it,' he said, puffing at his pipe and smiling in a kindly way. 'Now let's put in the trouble.'
'She does not love me,' I answered.
'Glad of it,' he remarked. 'I've got a secret t, tell you.'
'What's that?' I enquired.
'Wouldn't tell anybody else for the world, my boy,' he said, 'it's between you an' me.'
'Between you an' me,' I repeated.
'Well,' he said, you're a fool.'
'That's no secret,' I answered much embarrassed.
'Yes it is,' he insisted, 'you're smart enough an' ye can have most anything in this world if ye take the right road. Ye've grown t' be a great big strapping fellow but you're only—sixteen?'
'That's all,' I said mournfully.
'Ye're as big a fool to go falling in love as I'd be. Ye're too young an' I'm too old. I say to you, wait. Ye've got to go t' college.'
'College!' I exclaimed, incredulously.
'Yes! an' thet's another secret,' said he. I tol' David Brower what I thought o' your writing thet essay on bugs in pertickier—an' I tol' 'im what people were sayin' o' your work in school.'
'What d' he say?' I asked.
'Said Hope had tol' him all about it—that she was as proud o' you as she was uv her curls, an' I believe it. "Well," says I, "y' oughter sen' that boy t' college." "Goin' to," says he. "He'll go t' the 'Cademy this fall if he wants to. Then he can go t' college soon's he's ready." Threw up my hat an' shouted I was that glad.'
As he spoke the old man's face kindled with enthusiasm. In me he had one who understood him, who saw truth in his thought, music in his verse, a noble simplicity in his soul. I took his hand in mine and thanked him heartily. Then we rose and came away together.
'Remember,' he said, as we parted at the corner, 'there's a way laid out fer you. In God's time it will lead to every good thing you desire. Don't jump over the fence. Don't try t' pass any milestun 'fore ye've come to it. Don't mope. Keep yer head cool with philosophy, yer feet warm with travel an' don't worry bout yer heart. It won't turn t' stun if ye do keep it awhile. Allwus hev enough of it about ye t' do business with. Goodbye!'
Gerald Brower, who was a baby when I came to live at Faraway, and was now eleven, had caught a cold in seed time, and he had never quite recovered. His coughing had begun to keep him awake, and one night it brought alarm to the whole household. Elizabeth Brower was up early in the morning and called Uncle Eb, who went away for the doctor as soon as light came. We ate our breakfast in silence. Father and mother and Grandma Bisnette spoke only in low tones and somehow the anxiety in their faces went to my heart. Uncle Eb returned about eight o'clock and said the doctor was coming. Old Doctor Bigsby was a very great man in that country. Other physicians called him far and wide for consultation. I had always regarded him with a kind of awe intensified by the aroma of his drugs and the gleam of his lancet. Once I had been his patient and then I had trembled at his approach. When he took my little wrist in his big hand, I remember with what reluctance I stuck out my quivering tongue, black, as I feared with evidences of prevarication.
He was a picture for a painter man as he came that morning erect in his gig. Who could forget the hoary majesty of his head—his 'stovepipe' tilted back, his white locks flying about his ears? He had a long nose, a smooth-shaven face and a left eye that was a trifle turned. His thoughts were generally one day behind the calendar. Today he seemed to be digesting the affairs of yesterday. He was, therefore, absentminded, to a degree that made no end of gossip. If he came out one day with shoe-strings flying, in his remorse the next he would forget his collar; if one told him a good joke today, he might not seem to hear it, but tomorrow he would take it up in its turn and shake with laughter.
I remember how, that morning after noting the symptoms of his patient, he sat a little in silent reflection. He knew that colour in the cheek, that look in the eye—he had seen so much of it. His legs were crossed and one elbow thrown carelessly over the back of his chair. We all sat looking at him anxiously. In a moment he began chewing hard on his quid of tobacco. Uncle Eb pushed the cuspidor a bit nearer. The doctor expectorated freely and resumed his attitude of reflection. The clock ticked loudly, the patient sighed, our anxiety increased. Uncle Eb spoke to father, in a low tone, whereupon the doctor turned suddenly, with a little grunt of enquiry, and seeing he was not addressed, sank again into thoughtful repose. I had begun to fear the worst when suddenly the hand of the doctor swept the bald peak of benevolence at the top of his head. Then a smile began to spread over his face. It was as if some feather of thought had begun to tickle him. In a moment his head was nodding with laughter that brought a great sense of relief to all of us. In a slow, deliberate tone he began to speak:
'I was over t' Rat Tupper's t'other day,' said he, 'Rat was sitting with me in the door yard. Purty soon a young chap came in, with a scythe, and asked if he might use the grindstun. He was a new hired man from somewhere near. He didn't know Rat, an' Rat didn't know him. So Rat o' course had t' crack one o' his jokes.
'"May I use yer grindstun?" said the young feller.
'"Dunno," said Rat, "I'm only the hired man here. Go an' ask Mis' Tupper."
'The ol' lady had overheard him an' so she says t' the young feller, "Yes—ye can use the grindstun. The hired man out there'll turn it fer ye."
'Rat see he was trapped, an' so he went out under the plum tree, where the stun was, an' begun t' turn. The scythe was dull an' the young feller bore on harder'n wuz reely decent fer a long time. Rat begun t' git very sober lookin'.
'"Ain't ye 'bout done," said he.
'"Putty nigh," said the young feller bearin' down a leetle harder all the time.
'Rat made the stun go faster. Putty soon he asked agin, "Ain't ye done yit?"
'"Putty nigh!" says the other, feeling o' the edge.
'"I'm done," said Rat, an' he let go o' the handle. "I dunno 'bout the scythe but I'm a good deal sharper'n I wuz."
'"You're the hired man here ain't ye?" said the young feller.
'"No, I ain't," said Rat. "'D rather own up t' bein' a liar than turn that stun another minnit."
As soon as he was fairly started with this droll narrative the strain of the situation was relieved. We were all laughing as much at his deliberate way of narration as at the story itself.
Suddenly he turned to Elizabeth Brower and said, very soberly, 'Will you bring me some water in a glass?'
Then he opened his chest of medicine, made some powders and told us how to give them.
'In a few days I would take him into the big woods for a while,' he said. 'See how it agrees with him.'
Then he gathered up his things and mother went with him to the gig.
Humour was one of the specifics of Doctor Bigsby. He was always a poor man. He had a way of lumping his bills, at about so much, in settlement and probably never kept books. A side of pork paid for many a long journey. He came to his death riding over the hills one bitter day not long after the time of which I write, to reach a patient.
The haying over, we made ready for our trip into the woods. Uncle Eb and Tip Taylor, who knew the forest, and myself, were to go with Gerald to Blueberry Lake. We loaded our wagon with provisions one evening and made ready to be off at the break of day.
I remember how hopefully we started that morning with Elizabeth Brower and Hope waving their handkerchiefs on the porch and David near them whittling. They had told us what to do and what not to do over and over again. I sat with Gerald on blankets that were spread over a thick mat of hay. The morning air was sweet with the odour of new hay and the music of the bobolink. Uncle Eb and Tip Taylor sang merrily as we rode over the hills.
When we entered the shade of the big forest Uncle Eb got out his rifle and loaded it. He sat a long time whispering and looking eagerly for game to right and left. He was still a boy. One could see evidences of age only in his white hair and beard and wrinkled brow. He retained the little tufts in front of his ears, and lately had grown a silver crescent of thin and silky hair that circled his throat under a bare chin. Young as I was I had no keener relish for a holiday than he. At noon we halted beside a brook and unhitched our horses. Then we caught some fish, built a fire and cooked them, and brewed our tea. At sunset we halted at Tuley Pond, looking along its reedy margin, under purple tamaracks, for deer. There was a great silence, here in the deep of the woods, and Tip Taylor's axe, while he peeled the bark for our camp, seemed to fill the wilderness with echoes. It was after dark when the shanty was covered and we lay on its fragrant mow of balsam and hemlock. The great logs that we had rolled in front of our shanty were set afire and shortly supper was cooking.
Gerald had stood the journey well. Uncle Eb and he stayed in while Tip and I got our jack ready and went off in quest of a dugout He said Bill Ellsworth had one hid in a thicket on the south side of Tuley. We found it after an hour's tramp near by. It needed a little repairing but we soon made it water worthy, and then took our seats, he in the stern, with the paddle, and I in the bow with the gun. Slowly and silently we clove a way through the star-sown shadows. It was like the hushed and mystic movement of a dream. We seemed to be above the deep of heaven, the stars below us. The shadow of the forest in the still water looked like the wall of some mighty castle with towers and battlements and myriads of windows lighted for a fete. Once the groan of a nighthawk fell out of the upper air with a sound like that of a stone striking in water. I thought little of the deer Tip was after. His only aim in life was the one he got with a gun barrel. I had forgotten all but the beauty of the scene. Suddenly Tip roused me by laying his hand to the gunwale and gently shaking the dugout. In the dark distance, ahead of us, I could hear the faint tinkle of dripping water. Then I knew a deer was feeding not far away and that the water was falling from his muzzle. When I opened my jack we were close upon him. His eyes gleamed. I shot high above the deer that went splashing ashore before I had pulled my trigger. After the roar of the gun had got away, in the distant timber, Tip mentioned a place abhorred of all men, turned and paddled for the landing.
'Could 'a killed 'im with a club,' said he snickering. 'Guess he must a looked putty tall didn't he?'
'Why?' I asked.
'Cos ye aimed into the sky,' said he. 'Mebbe ye thought he was a bird.'
'My hand trembled a little,' said I.
''Minds me of Bill Barber,' he said in a half-whisper, as he worked his paddle, chuckling with amusement.
'How's that?' I asked.
'Nothin' safe but the thing he shoots at,' said he. 'Terrible bad shot. Kills a cow every time he goes huntin'.'
Uncle Eb was stirring the fire when we came whispering into camp, and Gerald lay asleep under the blankets.
'Willie couldn't hit the broadside of a bam,' said Tip. 'He don't take to it nat'ral.'
'Killin' an' book learnin' don't often go together,' said Uncle Eb.
I turned in by the side of Gerald and Uncle Eb went off with Tip for another trip in the dugout. The night was chilly but the fire flooded our shanty with its warm glow. What with the light, and the boughs under us, and the strangeness of the black forest we got little sleep. I heard the gun roar late in the night, and when I woke again Uncle Eb and Tip Taylor were standing over the fire in the chilly grey of the morning. A dead deer hung on the limb of a tree near by. They began dressing it while Gerald and I went to the spring for water, peeled potatoes, and got the pots boiling. After a hearty breakfast we packed up, and were soon on the road again, reaching Blueberry Lake before noon. There we hired a boat of the lonely keeper of the reservoir, found an abandoned camp with an excellent bark shanty and made ourselves at home.
That evening in camp was one to be remembered. An Thomas, the guide who tended the reservoir, came over and sat beside our fire until bedtime. He had spent years in the wilderness going out for nothing less important than an annual spree at circus time. He eyed us over, each in turn, as if he thought us all very rare and interesting.
'Many bears here?' Uncle Eb enquired.
'More plenty 'n human bein's,' he answered, puffing lazily at his pipe with a dead calm in his voice and manner that I have never seen equalled except in a tropic sea.
'See 'em often?' I asked.
He emptied his pipe, striking it on his palm until the bowl rang, without answering. Then he blew into the stem with great violence.
'Three or four 'n a summer, mebbe,' he said at length.
'Ever git sassy?' Uncle Eb asked.
He whipped a coal out of the ashes then and lifted it in his fingers to the bowl of his pipe.
'Never real sassy,' he said between vigourous puffs. 'One stole a ham off my pyazz las' summer; Al Fifield brought 't in fer me one day—smelt good too! I kep' savin' uv it thinkin' I'd enjoy it all the more when I did hev it. One day I went off cuttin' timber an' stayed 'til mos' night. Comin' home I got t' thinkin' o' thet ham, an' made up my mind I'd hev some fer supper. The more I thought uv it the faster I hurried an' when I got hum I was hungrier'n I'd been fer a year. When I see the ol' bear's tracks an' the empty peg where the ham had hung I went t' work an' got mad. Then I started after thet bear. Tracked 'im over yender, up Cat Mountin'.'
Here Ab paused. He had a way of stopping always at the most interesting point to puff at his pipe. It looked as if he were getting up steam for another sentence and these delays had the effect of 'continued in our next'.
'Kill 'im?' Uncle Eb asked.
'Licked him,' he said.
'Huh!' we remarked incredulously.
'Licked 'im,' he repeated chucking. 'Went into his cave with a sledge stake an' whaled 'im—whaled 'im 'til he run fer his life.'
Whether it was true or not I have never been sure, even to this day, but Ab's manner was at once modest and convincing.
'Should 'a thought he'd 'a rassled with ye,' Uncle Eb remarked.
'Didn't give 'im time,' said Ab, as he took out his knife and began slowly to sharpen a stick.
'Don't never wan' t' rassle with no bear,' he added, 'but hams is too scurce here 'n the woods t' hev 'em tuk away 'fore ye know the taste uv 'em. I ain't never been hard on bears. Don't seldom ever set no traps an' I ain't shot a bear fer mor'n 'n ten year. But they've got t' be decent. If any bear steals my vittles he's goin' t' git cuffed bard.'
Ab's tongue had limbered up at last. His pipe was going well and he seemed to have struck an easy grade. There was a tone of injury and aggrievement in his talk of the bear's ingratitude. He snailed over his whittling as we laughed heartily at the droll effect of it all.
'D'ye ever hear o' the wild man 'at roams 'round'n these woods?' he asked.
'Never did,' said Uncle Eb.
'I've seen 'im more times 'n ye could shake a stick at,' said Ab crossing his legs comfortably and spitting into the fire. 'Kind o' thank he's the same man folks tells uv down 'n Paradise Valley there—'at goes 'round 'n the clearin' after bedtime.'
'The night man!' I exclaimed.
'Guess thet's what they call 'im,' said Ab. 'Curus man! Sometimes I've hed a good squint at 'im off 'n the woods. He's wilder 'n a deer an' I've seen 'im jump over logs, half as high as this shanty, jest as easy as ye 'd hop a twig. Tried t' foller 'im once er twice but tain' no use. He's quicker 'n a wil' cat.'
'What kind of a lookin' man is he?' Tip Taylor asked.
'Great, big, broad-shouldered feller,' said Ab. 'Six feet tall if he's an inch. Hed a kind of a deerskin jacket on when I seen 'im an' breeches an' moccasins made o' some kind o' hide. I recollec' one day I was over on the ridge two mile er more from the Stillwater goin' south. I seen 'im gittin' a drink at the spring there 'n the burnt timber. An' if I ain't mistaken there was a real live panther playin' 'round 'im. If 't wa'n't a panther 'twas pesky nigh it I can tell ye. The critter see me fast an' drew up 'is back. Then the man got up quickerin' a flash. Soon 'she see me—Jeemimey! didn't they move. Never see no human critter run as he did! A big tree hed fell 'cross a lot o' bush right 'n his path. I'll be gol dummed if 'twan't higher 'n my head! But he cleared it—jest as easy as a grasshopper'd go over a straw. I'd like t' know wher he comes from, gol dummed if I wouldn't. He's the consarndest queerest animal 'n these woods.'
Ab emphasised this lucid view of the night man by an animated movement of his fist that held the big hunting knife with which he whittled. Then he emptied his pipe and began cutting more tobacco.
'Some says 'e 's a ghost,' said Tip Taylor, splitting his sentence with a yawn, as he lay on a buffalo robe in the shanty.
'Shucks an' shoestrings!' said Ab, 'he looks too nat'ral. Don't believe no ghost ever wore whiskers an' long hair like his'n. Thet don't hol' t' reason.'
This remark was followed by dead silence. Tip seemed to lack both courage and information with which to prolong the argument.
Gerald had long been asleep and we were all worn out with uphill travelling and the lack of rest. Uncle Eb went out to look after the horses that were tethered near us. Ab rose, looked up through the tree-tops, ventured a guess about the weather, and strode off into the darkness.
We were five days in camp, hunting, fishing, fighting files and picking blueberries. Gerald's cough had not improved at all—it was, if anything, a bit worse than it had been and the worry of that had clouded our holiday. We were not in high spirits when, finally, we decided to break camp the next afternoon.
The morning of our fourth day at Blueberry Uncle Eb and I crossed the lake, at daylight, to fish awhile in Soda Brook and gather orchids then abundant and beautiful in that part of the woods. We headed for camp at noon and were well away from shore when a wild yell rang in the dead timber that choked the wide inlet behind us. I was rowing and stopped the oars while we both looked back at the naked trees, belly deep in the water.
But for the dry limbs, here and there, they would have looked like masts of sunken ships. In a moment another wild whoop came rushing over the water. Thinking it might be somebody in trouble we worked about and pulled for the mouth of the inlet. Suddenly I saw a boat coming in the dead timber. There were three men in it, two of whom were paddling. They yelled like mad men as they caught sight of us, and one of them waved a bottle in the air.
'They're Indians,' said Uncle Eb. 'Drunk as lords. Guess we'd better git out o' the way.'
I put about and with a hearty pull made for the other side of the lake, three miles away. The Indians came after us, their yells echoing in the far forest. Suddenly one of them lifted his rifle, as if taking aim at us, and, bang it went the ball ricocheting across our bows.
'Crazy drunk,' said Uncle Eb, 'an' they're in fer trouble. Pull with all yer might.'
I did that same putting my arms so stiffly to their task I feared the oars would break.
In a moment another ball came splintering the gunwales right between us, but fortunately, well above the water line. Being half a mile from shore I saw we were in great peril. Uncle Eb reached for his rifle, his hand trembling.
'Sink 'em,' I shouted, 'an' do it quick or they'll sink us.'
My old companion took careful aim and his ball hit them right on the starboard bow below the water line. A splash told where it had landed. They stopped yelling. The man in the bow clapped his hat against the side of the boat.
'Guess we've gin 'em a little business t' ten' to,' said Uncle Eb as he made haste to load his rifle.
The Indian at the bow was lifting his rifle again. He seemed to reel as he took aim. He was very slow about it. I kept pulling as I watched him. I saw that their boat was slowly sinking. I had a strange fear that he would hit me in the stomach. I dodged when I saw the flash of his rifle. His ball struck the water, ten feet away from us, and threw a spray into my face.
Uncle Eb had lifted his rifle to shoot again. Suddenly the Indian, who had shot at us, went overboard. In a second they were all in the water, their boat bottom up.
'Now take yer time,' said Uncle Eb coolly, a frown upon his face.
'They'll drown,' said I.
'Don't care if they do, consam 'em,' he answered. 'They're some o' them St Regis devils, an' when they git whisky in 'em they'd jes' soon kill ye as look at ye. They am' no better 'n rats.'
We kept on our way and by and by a wind came up that gave us both some comfort, for we knew it would soon blow them ashore. Ab Thomas had come to our camp and sat with Tip and Gerald when we got there. We told of our adventure and then Ab gave us a bad turn, and a proper appreciation of our luck, by telling us that they were a gang of cut-throats—the worst in the wilderness.
'They'd a robbed ye sure,' he said. 'It's the same gang 'at killed a man on Cat Mountain las' summer, an' I'll bet a dollar on it.'
Tip had everything ready for our journey home. Each day Gerald had grown paler and thinner. As we wrapped him in a shawl and tenderly helped him into the wagon I read his doom in his face. We saw so much of that kind of thing in our stern climate we knew what it meant. Our fun was over. We sat in silence, speeding down the long hills in the fading light of the afternoon. Those few solemn hours in which I heard only the wagon's rumble and the sweet calls of the whip-poor-will-waves of music on a sea of silence-started me in a way of thought which has led me high and low these many years and still invites me. The day was near its end when we got to the first big clearing. From the top of a high hill we could see above the far forest, the red rim of the setting sun, big with winding from the skein of day, that was now flying off the tree-tops in the west.
We stopped to feed the horses and to take a bite of jerked venison, wrapped ourselves warmer, for it was now dunk and chilly, and went on again. The road went mostly downhill, going out of the woods, and we could make good time. It was near midnight when we drove in at our gate. There was a light in the sitting-room and Uncle Eb and I went in with Gerald at once. Elizabeth Brower knelt at the feet of her son, unbuttoned his coat and took off his muffler. Then she put her arms about his neck while neither spoke nor uttered any sound. Both mother and son felt and understood and were silent. The ancient law of God, that rends asunder and makes havoc of our plans, bore heavy on them in that moment, I have no doubt, but neither murmured. Uncle Eb began to pump vigorously at the cistern while David fussed with the fire. We were all quaking inwardly but neither betrayed a sign of it. It is a way the Puritan has of suffering. His emotions are like the deep undercurrents of the sea.
If I were writing a novel merely I should try to fill it with merriment and good cheer. I should thrust no sorrow upon the reader save that he might feel for having wasted his time. We have small need of manufactured sorrow when, truly, there is so much of the real thing on every side of us. But this book is nothing more nor less than a history, and by the same token it cannot be all as I would have wished it. In October following the events of the last chapter, Gerald died of consumption, having borne a lingering illness with great fortitude. I, who had come there a homeless orphan in a basket, and who, with the God-given eloquence of childhood had brought them to take me to their hearts and the old man that was with me as well, was now the only son left to Elizabeth and David Brower. There were those who called it folly at the time they took us in, I have heard, but he who shall read this history to the end shall see how that kind of folly may profit one or even many here in this hard world.
It was a gloomy summer for all of us. The industry and patience with which Hope bore her trial, night and day, is the sweetest recollection of my youth. It brought to her young face a tender soberness of womanhood—a subtle change of expression that made her all the more dear to me. Every day, rain or shine, the old doctor had come to visit his patient, sometimes sitting an hour and gazing thoughtfully in his face, occasionally asking a question, or telling a quaint anecdote. And then came the end.
The sky was cold and grey in the late autumn and the leaves were drifted deep in the edge of the woodlands when Hope and I went away to school together at Hillsborough. Uncle Eb drove us to our boarding place in town. When we bade him goodbye and saw him driving away, alone in the wagon, we hardly dared look at each other for the tears in our eyes.
David Brower had taken board for us at the house of one Solomon Rollin—universally known as 'Cooky' Rollin; that was one of the first things I learned at the Academy. It seemed that many years ago he had taken his girl to a dance and offered her, in lieu of supper, cookies that he had thoughtfully brought with him. Thus cheaply he had come to life-long distinction.
'You know Rollin's Ancient History, don't you?' the young man asked who sat with me at school that first day.
'Have it at home,' I answered, 'It's in five volumes.'
'I mean the history of Sol Rollin, the man you are boarding with,' said he smiling at me and then he told the story of the cookies.
The principal of the Hillsborough Academy was a big, brawny bachelor of Scotch descent, with a stem face and cold, grey, glaring eyes. When he stood towering above us on his platform in the main room of the building where I sat, there was an alertness in his figure, and a look of responsibility in his face, that reminded me of the pictures of Napoleon at Waterloo. He always carried a stout ruler that had blistered a shank of every mischievous boy in school. As he stood by the line, that came marching into prayers every morning he would frequently pull out a boy, administer a loud whack or two, shake him violently and force him into a seat. The day I began my studies at the Academy I saw him put two dents in the wall with the heels of a young man who had failed in his algebra. To a bashful and sensitive youth, just out of a country home, the sight of such violence was appalling. My first talk with him, however, renewed my courage. He had heard I was a good scholar and talked with me in a friendly way about my plans. Both Hope and I were under him in algebra and Latin. I well remember my first error in his class. I had misconstrued a Latin sentence. He looked at me, a smile and a sneer crowding each other for possession of his face. In a loud, jeering tone he cried: 'Mirabile dictu!'
I looked at him in doubt of his meaning.
'Mirabile dictu!' he shouted, his tongue trilling the r.
I corrected my error.
'Perfect!' he cried again. 'Puer pulchre! Next!'
He never went further than that with me in the way of correction. My size and my skill as a wrestler, that shortly ensured for me the respect of the boys, helped me to win the esteem of the master. I learned my lessons and kept out of mischief. But others of equal proficiency were not so fortunate. He was apt to be hard on a light man who could be handled without over-exertion.
Uncle Eb came in to see me one day and sat awhile with me in my seat. While he was there the master took a boy by the collar and almost literally wiped the blackboard with him. There was a great clatter of heels for a moment. Uncle Eb went away shortly and was at Sol Rollin's when I came to dinner.
'Powerful man ain't he?' said Uncle Eb.
'Rather,' I said.
'Turned that boy into a reg'lar horse fiddle,' he remarked. 'Must 'ave unsot his reason.'
'Unnecessary!' I said.
'Reminded me o' the time 'at Tip Taylor got his tooth pulled,' said he. 'Shook 'im up so 'at he thought he'd had his neck put out o' ji'nt.'
Sol Rollin was one of my studies that winter. He was a carpenter by trade and his oddities were new and delightful. He whistled as he worked, he whistled as he read, he whistled right merrily as he walked up and down the streets—a short, slight figure with a round boyish face and a fringe of iron-grey hair under his chin. The little man had one big passion—that for getting and saving. The ancient thrift of his race had pinched him small and narrow as a foot is stunted by a tight shoe. His mind was a bit out of register as we say in the printing business. His vocabulary was rich and vivid and stimulating.
'Somebody broke into the arsenic today,' he announced, one evening, at the supper table.
'The arsenic,' said somebody, 'what arsenic?'
'Why the place where they keep the powder,' he answered.
'Oh! the arsenal.'
'Yes, the arsenal,' he said, cackling with laughter at his error. Then he grew serious.
'Stole all the ambition out of it,' he added.
'You mean ammunition, don't you, Solomon?' his wife enquired.
'Certainly,' said he, 'wasn't that what I said.'
When he had said a thing that met his own approval Sol Rollin would cackle most cheerfully and then crack a knuckle by twisting a finger. His laugh was mostly out of register also. It had a sad lack of relevancy. He laughed on principle rather than provocation. Some sort of secret comedy of which the world knew nothing, was passing in his mind; it seemed to have its exits and its entrances, its villain, its clown and its miser who got all the applause.
While working his joy was unconfined. Many a time I have sat and watched him in his little shop, its window dim with cobwebs. Sometimes he would stop whistling and cackle heartily as he worked his plane or drew his pencil to the square. I have even seen him drop his tools and give his undivided attention to laughter. He did not like to be interrupted—he loved his own company the best while he was 'doin' business'. I went one day when he was singing the two lines and their quaint chorus which was all he ever sang in my hearing; which gave him great relief, I have no doubt, when lip weary with whistling:
Sez I 'Dan'l Skinner, I thank yer mighty mean To send me up the river, With a sev'n dollar team' Lul-ly, ul—ly, diddie ul—ly, diddleul—lydee, Oh, lul-ly, ul—ly, diddle ul—ly, diddle ul—ly dee.
'Mr Rollin!' I said.
Yes siree,' said he, pausing in the midst of his chorus to look up at me.
'Where can I get a piece of yellow pine?'
'See 'n a minute,' he said. Then he continued his sawing and his song, '"Says I Dan Skinner, I thank yer mighty mean"—what d' ye want it fer?' he asked stopping abruptly.
'Going to make a ruler,' I answered.
'"T' sen' me up the river with a seven dollar team,"' he went on, picking out a piece of smooth planed lumber, and handing it to me.
'How much is it worth?' I enquired.
He whistled a moment as he surveyed it carefully.
''Bout one cent,' he answered seriously.
I handed him the money and sat down awhile to watch him as he went on with his work. It was the cheapest amusement I have yet enjoyed. Indeed Sol Rollin became a dissipation, a subtle and seductive habit that grew upon me and on one pretext or another I went every Saturday to the shop if I had not gone home.
'What ye goin' t' be?'
He stopped his saw, and looked at me, waiting for my answer.
At last the time had come when I must declare myself and I did.
'A journalist,' I replied.
'What's that?' he enquired curiously.
'An editor,' I said.
'A printer man?'
'A printer man.'
'Huh!' said he. 'Mebbe I'll give ye a job. Sairey tol' me I'd orter t' 'ave some cards printed. I'll want good plain print: Solomon Rollin, Cappenter 'n J'iner, Hillsborough, NY—soun's putty good don't it.'
'Beautiful,' I answered.
'I'll git a big lot on 'em,' he said. 'I'll want one for Sister Susan 'at's out in Minnesoty—no, I guess I'll send 'er tew, so she can give one away—an' one fer my brother, Eliphalet, an' one apiece fer my three cousins over 'n Vermont, an' one fer my Aunt Mirandy. Le's see-tew an' one is three an' three is six an' one is seven. Then I'll git a few struck off fer the folks here—guess they'll thank I'm gittin' up 'n the world.'
He shook and snickered with anticipation of the glory of it. Pure vanity inspired him in the matter and it had in it no vulgar consideration of business policy. He whistled a lively tune as he bent to his work again.
'Yer sister says ye're a splendid scholar!' said he. 'Hear'n 'er braggin' 'bout ye t'other night; she thinks a good deal o' her brother, I can tell ye. Guess I know what she's gain' t' give ye Crissmus.'
'What's that?' I asked, with a curiosity more youthful than becoming.
'Don't ye never let on,' said he.
'Never,' said I.
'Hear'n 'em tell,' he said,' 'twas a gol' lockup, with 'er pictur' in it.'
'Oh, a locket!' I exclaimed.
'That's it,' he replied, 'an' pure gol', too.'
I turned to go.
'Hope she'll grow up a savin' woman,' he remarked. ''Fraid she won't never be very good t' worlt.'
'Why not?' I enquired.
'Han's are too little an' white,' he answered.
'She won't have to,' I said.
He cackled uproariously for a moment, then grew serious.
'Her father's rich,' he said, 'the richest man o' Faraway, an I guess she won't never hev anything t' dew but set'n sing an' play the melodium.'
'She can do as she likes,' I said.
He stood a moment looking down as if meditating on the delights he had pictured.
'Gol!' he exclaimed suddenly.
My subject had begun to study me, and I came away to escape further examination.
I ought to say that I have had and shall have to chronicle herein much that would seem to indicate a mighty conceit of myself. Unfortunately the little word 'I' throws a big shadow in this history. It looms up all too frequently in every page for the sign of a modest man. But, indeed, I cannot help it, for he was the only observer of all there is to tell. Now there is much, for example, in the very marrow of my history—things that never would have happened, things that never would have been said, but for my fame as a scholar. My learning was of small account, for, it must be remembered, I am writing of a time when any degree of scholarship was counted remarkable among the simple folk of Faraway.
Hope took singing lessons and sang in church every Sunday. David or Uncle Eb came down for us often of a Saturday and brought us back before service in the morning. One may find in that town today many who will love to tell him of the voice and beauty and sweetness of Hope Brower those days, and of what they expected regarding her and me. We went out a good deal evenings to concerts, lectures at the churches or the college, or to visit some of the many people who invited us to their homes.
We had a recess of two weeks at the winter holidays and David Brower came after us the day the term ended. O, the great happiness of that day before Christmas when we came flying home in the sleigh behind a new team of greys and felt the intoxication of the frosty air, and drove in at dusk after the lamps were lit and we could see mother and Uncle Eb and Grandma Bisnette looking out of the window, and a steaming dinner on the table! I declare! it is long since then, but I cannot ever think of that time without wiping my glasses and taking a moment off Tip Taylor took the horses and we all came in where the kettle was singing on the stove and loving hands helped us out of our wraps. The supper was a merry feast, the like of which one may find only by returning to his boyhood. Mack! that is a long journey for some of us.
Supper over and the dishes out of the way we gathered about the stove with cider and butternuts.
'Well,' said Hope, 'I've got some news to tell you—this boy is the best scholar of his age in this county.'
'Thet so?' said David.
Uncle Eb stopped his hmnmer that was lifted to crack a butternut and pulled his chair close to Hope's. Elizabeth looked at her daughter and then at me, a smile and a protest in her face.
'True as you live,' said Hope. 'The master told me so. He's first in everything, and in the Town Hall the other night he spelt everybody down.'
'What! In Hillsborough?' Uncle Eb asked incredulously.
'Yes, in Hillsborough,' said Hope, 'and there were doctors and lawyers and college students and I don't know who all in the match.'
'Most reemarkable!' said David Brower.
'Treemenjious!' exclaimed Uncle Eb.
'I heard about it over at the mills t'day,' said Tip Taylor.
'Merd Dieu!' exclaimed Grandma Bisnette, crossing herself.
Elizabeth Brower was unable to stem this tide of enthusiasm. I had tried to stop it, but, instantly, it had gone beyond my control. If I could be hurt by praise the mischief had been done.
'It's very nice, indeed,' said she soberly. 'I do hope it won't make him conceited. He should remember that people do not always mean what they say.'
'He's too sensible for that, mother,' said David.
'Shucks!' said Uncle Eb, 'he ain' no fool if he is a good speller—not by a dum sight!'
'Tip,' said David, 'you'll find a box in the sleigh 'at come by express. I wish ye'd go'n git it.'
We all stood looking while Tip brought it in and pried off the top boards with a hatchet.
'Careful, now!' Uncle Eb cautioned him. 'Might spile sumthin'.'
The top off, Uncle Eb removed a layer of pasteboard. Then he pulled out a lot of coloured tissue paper, and under that was a package, wrapped and tied. Something was written on it. He held it up and tried to read the writing.
'Can't see without my spectacles,' he said, handing it to me.
'For Hope,' I read, as I passed it to her.
'Hooray!' said Uncle Eb, as he lifted another, and the last package, from the box.
'For Mrs Brower,' were the words I read upon that one.
The strings were cut, the wrappers torn away, and two big rolls of shiny silk loosened their coils on the table. Hope uttered a cry of delight. A murmur of surprise and admiration passed from one to another. Elizabeth lifted a rustling fold and held it to the lamplight We passed our hands over the smooth sheen of the silk.
'Wall, I swan!' said Uncle Eb. 'Jes' like a kitten's ear!'
'Eggzac'ly!' said David Brower.
Elizabeth lifted the silk and let it flow to her feet Then for a little she looked down, draping it to her skirt and moving her foot to make the silk rustle. For the moment she was young again.
'David,' she said, still looking at the glory of glossy black that covered her plain dress.
'Well, mother,' he answered.
'Was you fool enough t' go'n buy this stuff fer me?'
'No, mother—it come from New York City,' he said.
'From New York City?' was the exclamation of all.
Elizabeth Brower looked thoughtfullyy at her husband.
'Clear from New York City?' she repeated.
'From New York City,' said he.
'Wall, of all things!' said Uncle Eb, looking over his spectacles from one to another.
'It's from the Livingstone boy,' said Mrs Brower. 'I've heard he's the son of a rich man.'
''Fraid he took a great fancy t' Hope,' said David.
'Father,' said the girl, you've no right to say that. I'm sure he never cared a straw for me.'
'I don't think we ought to keep it,' said Mrs Brower, looking up thoughtfullyy.
'Shucks and shavin's!' said Uncle Eb. 'Ye don't know but what I had it sent myself.'
Hope went over and put her arms around his neck.
'Did you, Uncle Eb?' she asked. 'Now you tell me the truth, Uncle Eb.'
'Wouldn't say 't I did,' he answered, 'but I don' want 'a see ye go sendin' uv it back. Ye dunno who sent it.'
'What'll I do with it?' Mrs Brower asked, laughing in a way that showed a sense of absurdity. 'I'd a been tickled with it thirty years ago, but now-folks 'ud think I was crazy.'
'Never heard such fol de rol,' said Uncle Eb. 'If ye move t' the village it'll come handy t' go t' meetin' in.'
That seemed to be unanswerable and conclusive, at least for the time being, and the silk was laid away. We sat talking until late bedtime, Hope and I, telling of our studies and of the many people we had met in Hillsborough.
We hung up our stockings just as we had always done Christmas Eve, and were up betimes in the morning to find them filled with many simple but delightful things, and one which I treasure to this day—the locket and its picrure of which I had been surreptitiously informed.
At two o'clock we had a fine dinner of roast turkey and chicken pie, with plenty of good cider, and the mince pie, of blessed memory, such as only a daughter of New England may dare try to make.
Uncle Eb went upstairs after dinner and presently we heard him descending with a slow and heavy foot I opened the stair door and there he stood with the old bass viol that had long lain neglected in a dusty corner of the attic. Many a night I had heard it groan as the strings loosened, in the years it had lain on its hack, helpless and forgotten. It was like a dreamer, snoring in his sleep, and murmuring of that he saw in his dreams. Uncle Eb had dusted and strung it and glued its weaker joints. He sat down with it' the severe look of old upon his face, and set the strings roaring as he tuned them. Then he brought the sacred treasure to me and leaned it against my shoulder.
'There that's a Crissmus present fer ye, Willie,' said he. 'It may help ye t' pass away the time once in a while.'
I thanked him warmly.
''S a reel firs'-class instrument,' he said. 'Been a rip snorter 'n its day.' He took from his bosom then the old heart pin of silver that he had always worn of a Sunday.
'Goin' t' give ye thet, too,' he said. 'Dunno's ye'll ever care to wear it, but I want ye should hev sumthin' ye can carry'n yer pocket t' remember me by.'
I did not dare trust myself to speak, and I sat helplessly turning that relic of a better day in my fingers.
'It's genuwine silver,' said he proudly.
I took his old hand in mine and raised it reverently to my lips.
'Hear'n 'em tell 'bout goin' t' the village, an' I says t' myself, "Uncle Eb," says I, "we'll hev t' be goin'. 'Tain' no place fer you in the village."'
'Holden,' said David Brower, 'don't ye never talk like that ag'in. Yer just the same as married t' this family, an' ye can't ever git away from us.'
And he never did until his help was needed in other and fairer fields, I am sure, than those of Faraway—God knows where.
Tip Taylor was, in the main, a serious-minded man. A cross eye enhanced the natural solemnity of his countenance. He was little given to talk or laughter unless he were on a hunt, and then he only whispered his joy. He had seen a good bit of the world through the peek sight of his rifle, and there was something always in the feel of a gun that lifted him to higher moods. And yet one could reach a tender spot in him without the aid of a gun. That winter vacation I set myself to study things for declamation—specimens of the eloquence of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay and James Otis and Patrick Henry. I practiced them in the barn, often, in sight and hearing of the assembled herd and some of those fiery passages were rather too loud and threatening for the peace and comfort of my audience. The oxen seemed always to be expecting the sting of the bull whip; they stared at me timidly, tilting their ears every moment, as if to empty them of a heavy load; while the horses snorted with apprehension. This haranguing of the herd had been going on a week or more when Uncle Eb and I, returning from a distant part of the farm, heard a great uproar in the stable. Looking in at a window we saw Tip Taylor, his back toward us, extemporising a speech. He was pressing his argument with gestures and the tone of thunder. We listened a moment, while a worried look came over the face of Uncle Eb. Tip's words were meaningless save for the secret aspiration they served to advertise. My old companion thought Tip had gone crary, and immediately swung the door and stepped in. The orator fell suddenly from his lofry altitude and became a very sober looking hired man.
'What's the matter?' Uncle Eb enquired.
'Practicin',' said Tip soberly, as he turned slowly, his face damp and red with exertion.
'Fer what?' Uncle Eb enquired.
'Fer the 'sylum, I guess,' he answered, with a faint smile.
'Ye don' need no more practice,' Uncle Eb answered. 'Looks t' me as though ye was purty well prepared.'
To me there was a touch of pathos in this show of the deeper things in Tip's nature that had been kindled to eruption by my spouting. He would not come in to dinner that day, probably from an unfounded fear that we would make fun of his flight—a thing we should have been far from doing once we understood him.
It was a bitter day of one of the coldest winters we had ever known. A shrieking wind came over the hills, driving a scud of snow before it The stock in the stables, we all came in, soon after dinner, and sat comfortably by the fire with cider, checkers and old sledge. The dismal roar of the trees and the wind-wail in the chimney served only to increase our pleasure. It was growing dusk when mother, peering through the sheath of frost on a window pane, uttered an exclamation of surprise.
'Why! who is this at the door?' said she. 'Why! It's a man in a cutter.' Father was near the door and he swung it open quickly. There stood a horse and cutter, a man sitting in it, heavily muffled. The horse was shivering and the man sat motionless.
'Hello!' said David Brower in a loud voice.
He got no answer and ran bareheaded to the sleigh.
'Come, quick, Holden,' he called, 'it's Doctor Bigsby.'
We all ran out then, while David lifted the still figure in his arms.
'In here, quick!' said Elizabeth, opening the door to the parlour. 'Musn't take 'im near the stove.'
We carried him into the cold room and laid him down, and David and I tore his wraps open while the others ran quickly after snow.
I rubbed it vigorously upon his face and ears, the others meantime applying it to his feet and arms, that had been quickly stripped. The doctor stared at us curiously and tried to speak.
'Get ap, Dobbin!' he called presently, and ducked as if urging his horse. 'Get ap, Dobbin! Man'll die 'fore ever we git there.'
We all worked upon him with might and main. The white went slowly out of his face. We lifted him to a sitting posture. Mother and Hope and Uncle Eb were rubbing his hands and feet.
'Where am I?' he enquired, his face now badly swollen.
'At David Brower's,' said I.
'Huh?' he asked, with that kindly and familiar grunt of interrogation.
'At David Brower's,' I repeated.
'Well, I'll have t' hurry,' said he, trying feebly to rise. 'Man's dyin' over—' he hesitated thoughtfully, 'on the Plains,' he added, looking around at us.
Grandma Bisnette brought a lamp and held it so the light fell on his face. He looked from one to another. He drew one of his hands away and stared at it.
'Somebody froze?' he asked.
'Yes,' said I.
'Hm! Too bad. How'd it happen?' he asked. 'I don't know.'
'How's the pulse?' he enquired, feeling for my wrist.
I let him hold it in his hand.
'Will you bring me some water in a glass?' he enquired, turning to Mrs Brower, just as I had seen him do many a time in Gerald's illness. Before she came with the water his head fell forward upon his breast, while he muttered feebly. I thought then he was dead, but presently he roused himself with a mighty effort.
'David Brower!' he called loudly, and trying hard to rise, 'bring the horse! bring the horse! Mus' be goin', I tell ye. Man's dyin' over—on the Plains.'
He went limp as a rag then. I could feel his heart leap and struggle feebly.
'There's a man dyin' here,' said David Brower, in a low tone. 'Ye needn't rub no more.
'He's dead,' Elizabeth whispered, holding his hand tenderly, and looking into his half-closed eyes. Then for a moment she covered her own with her handkerchief, while David, in a low, calm tone, that showed the depth of his feeling, told us what to do.
Uncle Eb and I watched that night, while Tip Taylor drove away to town. The body lay in the parlour and we sat by the stove in the room adjoining. In a half-whisper we talked of the sad event of the day.
'Never oughter gone out a day like this,' said Uncle Eb. 'Don' take much t' freeze an ol' man.'
'Got to thinking of what happened yesterday and forgot the cold,' I said.
'Bad day t' be absent-minded,' whispered Uncle Eb, as he rose and tiptoed to the window and peered through the frosty panes. 'May o' got faint er sumthin'. Ol' hoss brought 'im right here—been here s' often with 'in'.'
He took the lantern and went out a moment. The door creaked upon its frosty hinges when he opened it.
'Thirty below zero,' he whispered as he came in. 'Win's gone down a leetle bit, mebbe.'
Uncanny noises broke in upon the stillness of the old house. Its timbers, racked in the mighty grip of the cold, creaked and settled. Sometimes there came a sharp, breaking sound, like the crack of bones.
'If any man oughter go t' Heaven, he had,' said Uncle Eb, as he drew on his boots.
'Think he's in Heaven?' I asked.
'Hain't a doubt uv it,' said he, as he chewed a moment, preparing for expectoration.
'What kind of a place do you think it is?' I asked.
'Fer one thing,' he said, deliberately, 'nobody'll die there, 'less he'd ought to; don't believe there's goin' t' be any need o' swearin' er quarrellin'. To my way o' thinkin' it'll be a good deal like Dave Brower's farm—nice, smooth land and no stun on it, an' hills an' valleys an' white clover aplenty, an' wheat an' corn higher'n a man's head. No bull thistles, no hard winters, no narrer contracted fools; no long faces, an' plenty o' work. Folks sayin' "How d'y do" 'stid o' "goodbye", all the while—comin' 'stid o' gain'. There's goin' t' be some kind o' fun there. I ain' no idee what 'tis. Folks like it an' I kind o' believe 'at when God's gin a thing t' everybody he thinks purty middlin' well uv it.'
'Anyhow, it seems a hard thing to die,' I remarked.
'Seems so,' he said thoughtfully. 'Jes' like ever'thing else—them 'at knows much about it don' have a great deal t' say. Looks t' me like this: I cal'ate a man hes on the everidge ten things his heart is sot on—what is the word I want—?'
'Treasures?' I suggested.
'Thet's it,' said he. 'Ev'ry one hes about ten treasures. Some hev more—some less. Say one's his strength, one's his plan, the rest is them he loves, an' the more he loves the better 'tis fer him. Wall, they begin t' go one by one. Some die, some turn agin' him. Fin's it hard t' keep his allowance. When he's only nine he's lost eggzac'ly one-tenth uv his dread o' dyin'. Bime bye he counts up—one-two-three-four-five-an' thet's all ther is left. He figgers it up careful. His strength is gone, his plan's a fillure, mebbe, an' this one's dead an' thet one's dead, an' t'other one better be. Then 's 'bout half-ways with him. If he lives till the ten treasures is all gone, God gives him one more—thet's death. An' he can swop thet off an' git back all he's lost. Then he begins t' think it's a purty dum good thing, after all. Purty good thing, after all,' he repeated, gaping as he spoke.
He began nodding shortly, and soon he went asleep in his chair.
We went back to our work again shortly, the sweetness and the bitterness of life fresh in our remembrance. When we came back, 'hook an' line', for another vacation, the fields were aglow with colour, and the roads where Dr Bigsby had felt the sting of death that winter day were now over drifted with meadow-music and the smell of clover. I had creditably taken examination for college, where I was to begin my course in the fall, with a scholarship. Hope had made remarkable progress in music and was soon going to Ogdensburg for instruction.
A year had gone, nearly, since Jed Feary had cautioned me about falling in love. I had kept enough of my heart about me 'to do business with', but I had continued to feel an uncomfortable absence in the region of it. Young men at Hillsborough—many of whom, I felt sure, had a smarter look than I—had bid stubbornly for her favour. I wondered, often, it did not turn her head—this tribute of rustic admiration. But she seemed to be all unconscious of its cause and went about her work with small conceit of herself. Many a time they had tried to take her from my arm at the church door—a good-natured phase of youthful rivalry there in those days—but she had always said, laughingly, 'No, thank you,' and clung all the closer to me. Now Jed Feary had no knowledge of the worry it gave me, or of the peril it suggested. I knew that, if I felt free to tell him all, he would give me other counsel. I was now seventeen and she a bit older, and had I not heard of many young men and women who had been engaged—aye, even married—at that age? Well, as it happened, a day before she left us, to go to her work in Ogdensburg, where she was to live with her uncle, I made an end of delay. I considered carefully what a man ought to say in the circumstances, and I thought I had near an accurate notion. We were in the garden—together—the playground of our childhood.
'Hope, I have a secret to tell you,' I said.
'A secret,' she exclaimed eagerly. 'I love secrets.'
'A great secret,' I repeated, as I felt my face burning.
'Why—it must be something awful!'
'Not very,' I stammered. Having missed my cue from the beginning, I was now utterly confused.
'William!' she exclaimed, 'what is the matter of you.'
'I—I am in love,' said I, very awkwardly.
'Is that all?' she answered, a trace of humour in her tone. 'I thought it was bad news.'
I stooped to pick a rose and handed it to her.
'Well,' she remarked soberly, but smiling a little, as she lifted the rose to her lips, 'is it anyone I know?'
I felt it was going badly with me, but caught a sudden inspiration.
'You have never seen her,' I said.
If she had suspected the truth I had turned the tables on her, and now she was guessing. A quick change came into her face, and, for a moment, it gave me confidence.
'Is she pretty?' she asked very seriously as she dropped the flower and looked down crushing it beneath her foot.
'She is very beautiful—it is you I love, Hope.'
A flood of colour came into her cheeks then, as she stood a moment looking down at the flower in silence.
'I shall keep your secret,' she said tenderly, and hesitating as she spoke, 'and when you are through college—and you are older—and I am older—and you love me as you do now—I hope—I shall love you, too—as—I do now.'
Her lips were trembling as she gave me that sweet assurance—dearer to me—far dearer than all else I remember of that golden time—and tears were coursing down her cheeks. For myself I was in a worse plight of emotion. I dare say she remembered also the look of my face in that moment.
'Do not speak of it again,' she said, as we walked away together on the shorn sod of the orchard meadow, now sown with apple blossoms, 'until we are older, and, if you never speak again, I shall know you—you do not love me any longer.'
The dinner horn sounded. We turned and walked slowly back
'Do I look all right?' she asked, turning her face to me and smiling sweetly.
'All right,' I said. 'Nobody would know that anyone loved you—except for your beauty and that one tear track on your cheek.'
She wiped it away as she laughed.
'Mother knows anyway,' she said, 'and she has given me good advice. Wait!' she added, stopping and turning to me. 'Your eyes are wet!'
I felt for my handkerchief.
'Take mine,' she said.
Elder Whitmarsh was at the house and they were all sitting down to dinner as we came in.
'Hello!' said Uncle Eb. 'Here's a good-lookin' couple. We've got a chicken pie an' a Baptis' minister fer dinner an' both good. Take yer pew nex' t' the minister,' he added as he held the chair for me.
Then we all bowed our heads and I felt a hearty amen for the elder's words:
'O Lord, may all our doing and saying and eating and drinking of this day be done, as in Thy sight, for our eternal happiness—and for Thy glory. Amen.'
We have our secrets, but, guard them as we may, it is not long before others have them also. We do much talking without words. I once knew a man who did his drinking secretly and his reeling in public, and thought he was fooling everybody. That shows how much easier it is for one to fool himself than to fool another. What is in a man's heart is on his face, and is shortly written all over him. Therein is a mighty lesson.
Of all people I ever knew Elizabeth Brower had the surest eye for looking into one's soul, and I, myself, have some gift of penetration. I knew shortly that Mrs Brower—wise and prudent woman that she was—had suspected my love for Hope and her love for me, and had told her what she ought to say if I spoke of it.
The maturity of judgement in Hope's answer must have been the result of much thought and counsel, it seemed to me.
'If you do not speak again I shall know you do not love me any longer,' she had said. They were brave words that stood for something very deep in the character of those people—a self-repression that was sublime, often, in their women. As I said them to myself, those lonely summer days in Faraway, I saw in their sweet significance no hint of the bitterness they were to bring. But God knows I have had my share of pleasure and no more bitterness than I deserved.
It was a lonely summer for me. I had letters from Hope—ten of them—which I still keep and read, often with something of the old pleasure—girlish letters that told of her work and friends, and gave me some sweet counsel and much assurance between the lines.
I travelled in new roads that vacation time. Politics and religion, as well as love, began to interest me. Slavery was looming into the proportion of a great issue, and the stories of cruelty and outrage on the plantations of the South stirred my young blood and made it ready for the letting of battle, in God's time. The speeches in the Senate were read aloud in our sitting-room after supper—the day the Tribune came—and all lent a tongue to their discussion. Jed Feary was with us one evening, I remember, when our talk turned into long ways, the end of which I have never found to this day. Elizabeth had been reading of a slave, who, according to the paper, had been whipped to death.
'If God knows 'at such things are bein' done, why don't he stop 'em?' David asked.
'Can't very well,' said Jed Feary.
'Can, if he's omnipotent,' said David.
'That's a bad word—a dangerous one,' said the old poet, dropping his dialect as he spoke. 'It makes God responsible for evil as well as good. The word carries us beyond our depth. It's too big for our boots. I'd ruther think He can do what's doable an' know what's knowable. In the beginning he gave laws to the world an' these laws are unchangeable, or they are not wise an' perfect. If God were to change them He would thereby acknowledge their imperfection. By this law men and races suffer as they struggle upward. But if the law is unchangeable, can it be changed for a better cause even than the relief of a whipped slave? In good time the law shall punish and relieve. The groans of them that suffer shall hasten it, but there shall be no change in the law. There can be no change in the law.'
'Leetle hard t' tell jest how powerful God is,' said Uncle Eb. 'Good deal like tryin' t' weigh Lake Champlain with a quart pail and a pair o' steelyards.'
'If God's laws are unchangeable, what is the use of praying?' I asked.
'He can give us the strength to bear, the will to obey him an' light to guide us,' said the poet. 'I've written out a few lines t' read t' Bill here 'fore he goes off t' college. They have sumthin' t' say on this subject. The poem hints at things he'd ought 'o learn purty soon—if he don't know 'em now.'
The old poet felt in his pockets as he spoke, and withdrew a folded sheet of straw-coloured wrapping paper and opened it. I was 'Bill'-plain 'Bill'—to everybody in that country, where, as you increased your love of a man, you diminished his name. I had been called Willie, William and Billy, and finally, when I threw the strong man of the township in a wrestling match they gave me this fail token of confidence. I bent over the shoulder of Jed Feary for a view of the manuscript, closely written with a lead pencil, and marked with many erasures.
'Le's hear it,' said David Brower.
Then I moved the lamp to his elbow and he began reading:
'A talk with William Brower on the occasion of his going away to college and writ out in rhyme for him by his friend Jedediah Feary to be a token of respect.
The man that loses faith in God, ye'll find out every time, Has found a faith in his own self that's mighty nigh sublime. He knows as much as all the saints an' calls religion flighty, An' in his narrow world assumes the place o' God Almighty.
But don't expect too much o' God, it wouldn't be quite fair If fer everything ye wanted ye could only swap a prayer; I'd pray fer yours an' you fer mine an' Deacon Henry Hospur He wouldn't hev a thing t' do but lay a-bed an' prosper.
If all things come so easy, Bill, they'd hev but little worth, An' someone with a gift O' prayer 'ud mebbe own the earth. It's the toil ye give t' git a thing—the sweat an' blood an' trouble We reckon by—an' every tear'll make its value double.
There's a money O' the soul, my boy, ye'll find in after years, Its pennies are the sweat drops an' its dollars are the tears; An' love is the redeemin' gold that measures what they're worth, An' ye'll git as much in Heaven as ye've given out on earth.
Fer the record o' yer doin'—I believe the soul is planned With an automatic register t, tell jest how ye stand, An' it won't take any cipherin' t' show that fearful day, If ye've multiplied yer talents well, er thrown 'em all away.
When yer feet are on the summit, an' the wide horizon clears, An' ye look back on yer pathway windin' thro' the vale o' tears; When ye see how much ye've trespassed an' how fur ye've gone astray, Ye'll know the way o' Providence ain't apt t' be your way.
God knows as much as can be known, but I don't think it's true He knows of all the dangers in the path o' me an' you. If I shet my eyes an' hurl a stone that kills the King o' Siam, The chances are that God'll be as much surprised as I am.
If ye pray with faith believin', why, ye'll certnly receive, But that God does what's impossible is more than I'll believe. If it grieves Him when a sparrow falls, it's sure as anything, He'd hev turned the arrow if He could, that broke the sparrow's wing.
Ye can read old Nature's history thet's writ in rocks an' stones, Ye can see her throbbin' vitals an' her mighty rack o' hones. But the soul o' her—the livin' God, a little child may know No lens er rule o' cipherin' can ever hope t' show.
There's a part o' Cod's creation very handy t' yer view, Al' the truth o' life is in it an' remember, Bill, it's you. An' after all yer science ye must look up in yer mind, An' learn its own astronomy the star o' peace t' find.
There's good old Aunt Samanthy Jane thet all her journey long Has led her heart to labour with a reveille of song. Her folks hev robbed an' left her but her faith in goodness grows, She hasn't any larnin', but I tell ye Bill, she knows!
She's hed her share o' troubles; I remember well the day We took her t' the poorhouse—she was singin' all the way; Ye needn't be afraid t' come where stormy Jordan flows, If all the larnin' ye can git has taught ye halfshe knows.'
I give this crude example of rustic philosophy, not because it has my endorsement—God knows I have ever felt it far beyond me—but because it is useful to those who may care to know the man who wrote it. I give it the poor fame of these pages with keen regret that my friend is now long passed the praise or blame of this world.
The horse played a part of no small importance in that country. He was the coin of the realm, a medium of exchange, a standard of value, an exponent of moral character. The man that travelled without a horse was on his way to the poorhouse. Uncle Eb or David Brower could tell a good horse by the sound of his footsteps, and they brought into St Lawrence County the haughty Morgans from Vermont. There was more pride in their high heads than in any of the good people. A Northern Yankee who was not carried away with a fine horse had excellent self-control. Politics and the steed were the only things that ever woke him to enthusiasm, and there a man was known as he traded. Uncle Eb used to say that one ought always to underestimate his horse 'a leetle fer the sake of a reputation'.
We needed another horse to help with the haying, and Bob Dean, a tricky trader, who had heard of it, drove in after supper one evening, and offered a rangy brown animal at a low figure. We looked him over, tried him up and down the road, and then David, with some shrewd suspicion, as I divined later, said I could do as I pleased. I bought the horse and led him proudly to the stable. Next morning an Irishman, the extra man for the haying, came in with a worried look to breakfast.
'That new horse has a chittern' kind of a coff,' he said.
'A cough?' said I.
''Tain't jist a coff, nayther,' he said, 'but a kind of toom!'
With the last word he obligingly imitated the sound of the cough. It threw me into perspiration.
'Sounds bad,' said Uncle Eb, as he looked at me and snickered.
''Fraid Bill ain't much of a jockey,' said David, smiling.
'Got a grand appetite—that hoss has,' said Tip Taylor.
After breakfast Uncle Eb and I hitched him to the light buggy and touched him up for a short journey down the road. In five minutes he had begun to heave and whistle. I felt sure one could have heard him half a mile away. Uncle Eb stopped him and began to laugh.
'A whistler,' said he, 'sure's yer born. He ain't wuth a bag o' beans. But don't ye never let on. When ye git licked ye musn't never fin' fault. If anybody asks ye 'bout him tell 'em he's all ye expected.'
We stood waiting a moment for the horse to recover himself. A team was nearing us.
'There's Bob Dean,' Uncle Eb whispered. 'The durn scalawag! Don't ye say a word now.
'Good-mornin'!' said Dean, smiling as he pulled up beside us.
'Nice pleasant mornin'!' said Uncle Eb, as he cast a glance into the sky.
'What ye standin' here for?' Dean asked.
Uncle Eb expectorated thoughtfullyy.
'Jest a lookin' at the scenery,' said he. 'Purty country, right here! AIwus liked it.'
'Nice lookin' hoss ye got there,' said Dean.
'Grand hoss!' said Uncle Eb, surveying him proudly. 'Most reemarkable hoss.'
'Good stepper, too,' said Dean soberly.
'Splendid!' said Uncle Eb. 'Can go a mile without ketchin' his breath.'
'Thet so?' said Dean.
'Good deal like Lucy Purvis,' Uncle Eb added. 'She can say the hull mul'plication table an' only breathe once. Ye can learn sumthin' from a hoss like thet. He's good as a deestric' school—thet hoss is.'
Yes, sir, thet hoss is all right,' said Dean, as he drove away.
'Righter'n I expected,' Uncle Eb shouted, and then he covered his mouth, shaking with suppressed laughter.
'Skunk!' he said, as we turned the animal and started to walk him home. 'Don't min' bein' beat, but I don't like t' hev a man rub it in on me. I'll git even with him mebbe.'
And he did. It came about in this way. We turned our new purchase into the pasture, and Uncle Eb and I drove away to Potsdam for a better nag. We examined all the horses in that part of the country. At last we chanced upon one that looked like the whistler, save that he had a white stocking on one hind foot.
'Same age, too,' said Uncle Eb, as he looked into his mouth.
'Can pass anything on the road,' said his owner.
'Can he?' said Uncle Eb, who had no taste for slow going. 'Hitch him up an' le's see what he can do.'
He carried us faster than we had ever ridden before at a trot, and coming up behind another team the man pulled out, let the reins loose on his back, and whistled. If anyone had hit him with a log chain the horse could not have moved quicker. He took us by the other team like a flash, on the dead run and three in the buggy.
'He'll do all right,' said Uncle Eb, and paid for the horse.
It was long after dark when we started home, leading him behind, and near midnight when we arrived.
In the morning I found Uncle Eb in the stable showing him to the other help. To my surprise the white stocking had disappeared.
'Didn't jes' like that white stockin',' he said, as I came in. 'Wondered how he'd look without it.'
They all agreed this horse and the whistler were as much alike as two peas in appearance. Breakfast over Uncle Eb asked the Irishman to hitch him up.
'Come Bill,' said he, 'le's take a ride. Dean'll be comm' 'long bym bye on his way t' town with that trotter o' his'n. 'Druther like to meet him.'
I had only a faint idea of his purpose. He let the horse step along at top speed going up the road and when we turned about he was breathing heavily. We jogged him back down the road a mile or so, and when I saw the blazed face of Dean's mare, in the distance, we pulled up and shortly stopped him. Dean came along in a moment.
'Nice mornin'!' said he.
'Grand!' said Uncle Eb.
'Lookin' at the lan'scape ag'in?'
'Yes; I've jes' begun t' see what a putty country this is,' said Uncle Eb.
'How's the boss?'
'Splendid! Gives ye time t' think an' see what yer passin'. Like t' set 'n think once in a while. We don't do enough thinkin' here in this part o' the country.'
'Yd orter buy this mare an learn how t' ride fast,' said Dean.
'Thet one,' said Uncle Eb, squinting at the mare, 'why she can't go fast 'nough.'
'She can't, hey?' said Dean, bridling with injured pride. 'I don't think there's anything in this town can head her.'
'Thunder!' said Uncle Eb, 'I can go by her with this ol' plug easy 'twixt here an' our gate. Ye didn't know what ye was sellin'.'
'If ye pass her once I'll give her to ye,' said he.
'Mean it?' said Uncle Eb.
'Sartin,' said he, a little redder in the face.
'An' if I don't I'll give ye the whistler,' said Uncle Eb as he turned about.
The mare went away, under the whip, before we had fairly started. She was going a fifty shot but in a moment we were lapping upon her hind wheel. Dean threw a startled glance over his shoulder. Then he shouted to the mare. She quickened her pace a little but we kept our position. Uncle Eb was leaning over the dasher his white locks flying. He had something up his sleeve, as they say, and was not yet ready to use it. Then Dean began to shear over to cut us off—a nasty trick of the low horseman. I saw Uncle Eb glance at the ditch ahead. I knew what was coming and took a firm hold of the seat. The ditch was a bit rough, but Uncle Eb had no lack of courage. He turned the horse's head, let up on the reins and whistled. I have never felt such a thrill as then. Our horse leaped into the deep grass running like a wild deer.
'Hi there! hi there!' Uncle Eb shouted, bouncing in his seat, as we went over stones and hummocks going like the wind.
'Go, ye brown devil!' he yelled, his hat flying off as he shook the reins.
The mare lost her stride; we flashed by and came up into the road. Looking back I saw her jumping up and down a long way behind us and Dean whipping her. Uncle Eb, his hands over the dasher, had pulled down to a trot Ahead of us we could see our folks—men and women—at the gate looking down the road at us waving hats and handkerchiefs. They had heard the noise of the battle. Uncle Eb let up on the reins and looked back snorting with amusement. In a moment we pulled up at our gate. Dean came along slowly.
'Thet's a putty good mare,' said Uncle Eb.
'Yer welcome to her,' said Dean sullenly.
'Wouldn't hev her,' said Uncle Eb.
'Why not?' said the trader a look of relief coming over his face.
'Can't go fast enough for my use,' Uncle Eb answered. 'Ye can jest hitch her in here awhile an' the first day ye come over with a hundred dollars ye can hev her 'n the whistler, both on 'em. Thet whistler's a grand hoss! Can hold his breath longer'n any hoss I ever knew!'
The sum named was that we had paid him for the highly accomplished animal. Dean had the manhood to pay up then and there and said he would send for the other horse, which he never did.
'Guess he won't bother us any more when we stop t' look at the scenery,' said Uncle Eb, laughing as Dean drove away. 'Kind o' resky business buyin' hosses,' he added. 'Got t' jedge the owner as well as the hoss. If there's anything the matter with his conscience it'll come out in the hoss somewhere every time. Never knew a mean man t' own a good hoss. Remember, boy, 's a lame soul thet drives a limpin' hoss.'
'No use talkin'; Bill ain' no jedge uv a hoss' said David Brower. 'He'll hev t' hev an education er he'll git t' the poorhouse someday sartin.'
'Wall he's a good jedge o' gals anyway,' said Uncle Eb.
As for myself I was now hopelessly confirmed in my dislike of farming and I never traded horses again.
Late in August Uncle Eb and I took our Black Hawk stallion to the fair in Hillsborough and showed him for a prize. He was fit for the eye of a king when we had finished grooming him, that morning, and led him out, rearing in play, his eyes flashing from under his broad plume, so that all might have a last look at him. His arched neck and slim barrel glowed like satin as the sunlight fell upon him. His black mane flew, he shook the ground with his hoofs playing at the halter's end. He hated a harness and once in it lost half his conceit. But he was vainest of all things in Faraway when we drove off with him that morning.
All roads led to Hillsborough fair time. Up and down the long hills we went on a stiff jog passing lumber wagons with generations enough in them to make a respectable genealogy, the old people in chairs; light wagons that carried young men and their sweethearts, backswoodsmen coming out in ancient vehicles upon reeling, creaking wheels to get food for a year's reflection—all thickening the haze of the late summer with the dust of the roads. And Hillsborough itself was black with people. The shouts of excited men, the neighing of horses, the bellowing of cattle, the wailing of infants, the howling of vendors, the pressing crowd, had begun to sow the seed of misery in the minds of those accustomed only to the peaceful quietude of the farm. The staring eye, the palpitating heart, the aching head, were successive stages in the doom of many. The fair had its floral hall carpeted with sawdust and redolent of cedar, its dairy house, its mechanics' hall sacred to farming implements, its long sheds full of sheep and cattle, its dining-hall, its temporary booths of rough lumber, its half-mile track and grandstand. Here voices of beast and vendor mingled in a chorus of cupidity and distress. In Floral Hall Sol Rollin was on exhibition. He gave me a cold nod, his lips set for a tune as yet inaudible. He was surveying sundry examples of rustic art that hung on the circular railing of the gallery and trying to preserve a calm breast. He was looking at Susan Baker's painted cow that hung near us.
'Very descriptive,' he said when I pressed him for his notion of it. 'Rod Baker's sister Susan made thet cow. Gits tew dollars an' fifty cents every fair time—wish I was dewin 's well.'
'That's one of the most profitable cows in this country,' I said.
'Looks a good deal like a new breed.'
'Yes,' he answered soberly, then he set his lips, threw a sweeping glance into the gallery, and passed on.
Susan Baker's cow was one of the permanent features of the county fair, and was indeed a curiosity not less remarkable than the sacred ox of Mr Barnum.
Here also I met a group of the pretty girls who had been my schoolmates. They surrounded me, chattering like magpies.
'There's going to be a dance at our house tonight,' said one of them, 'and you must come.'
'I cannot, I must go home,' I said.
'Of course!' said a red-cheeked saucy miss. 'The stuck-up thing! He wouldn't go anywhere unless he could have his sister with him.'
Then they went away laughing.
I found Ab Thomas at the rifle range. He was whittling as he considered a challenge from Tip Taylor to shoot a match. He turned and 'hefted' the rifle, silently, and then he squinted over the barrel two or three times.
'Dunno but what I'll try ye once,' he said presently, 'jes t' see.'
Once started they grew red in their faces and shot themselves weary in a reckless contest of skill and endurance. A great hulking fellow, half drunk and a bit quarrelsome, came up, presently, and endeavoured to help Ab hold his rifle. The latter brushed him away and said nothing for a moment. But every time he tried to take aim the man jostled him.
An looked up slowly and calmly, his eyebrows tilted for his aim, and said, 'Go off I tell ye.' Then he set himself and took aim again.
'Le'me hold it,' said the man, reaching for the barrel. 'Shoot better if I do the aimin'.' A laugh greeted this remark. Ab looked up again. There was a quick start in his great slouching figure.
'Take yer hand off o' thet,' he said a little louder than before.
The man, aching for more applause, grew more impertinent Ab quietly handed the rifle to its owner. Then something happened suddenly. It was so quickly over I am not quite sure of the order of business, but anyhow he seized the intruder by the shoulders flinging him down so heavily it knocked the dust out of the grass.
'A fight!' somebody shouted and men and boys came runing from all sides. We were locked in a pushing crowd before I could turn. The intruder lay stunned a moment. Then he rose, bare headed, his back covered with dust, pushed his way out and ran.
Ab turned quietly to the range.
'Hedn't orter t' come an' try t' dew my aimin',' he said mildly, by way of protest, 'I won't hev it.'
Then he enquired about the score and calmly took aim again. The stallion show came on that afternoon.
'They can't never beat thet hoss,' Uncle Eb had said to me.
''Fraid they will,' I answered. 'They're better hitched for one thing.'
'But they hain't got the ginger in 'em,' said he, 'er the git up 'n git. If we can show what's in him the Hawk'll beat 'em easy.'
If we won I was to get the prize but I had small hope of winning. When I saw one after another prance out, in sparkling silver harness adorned with rosettes of ribbon—light stepping, beautiful creatures all of them—I could see nothing but defeat for us. Indeed I could see we had been too confident. I dreaded the moment when Uncle Eb should drive down with Black Hawk in a plain leather harness, drawing a plainer buggy. I had planned to spend the prize money taking Hope to the harvest ball at Rickard's, and I had worked hard to put the Hawk in good fettle. I began to feel the bitterness of failure.
'Black Hawk! Where is Black Hawk?' said one of the judges loudly.
'Owned by David Brower o' Faraway,' said another looking at his card.
Where indeed was Uncle Eb? I got up on the fence and looked all about me anxiously. Then I heard a great cheering up the track. Somebody was coming down, at a rapid pace, riding a splendid moving animal, a knee rising to the nose at each powerful stride. His head and flying mane obscured the rider but I could see the end of a rope swinging in his hand. There was something familiar in the easy high stride of the horse. The cheers came on ahead of him like foam before a breaker. Upon my eyes! it was Black Hawk, with nothing but a plain rope halter on his head, and Uncle Eb riding him.
'G'lang there!' he shouted, swinging the halter stale to the shining flank. 'G'lang there!' and he went by, like a flash, the tail of Black Hawk straight out behind him, its end feathering in the wind. It was a splendid thing to see—that white-haired man, sitting erect on the flying animal, with only a rope halter in his hand. Every man about me was yelling. I swung my hat, shouting myself hoarse. When Uncle Eb came back the Hawk was walking quietly in a crowd of men and boys eager to feel his silken sides. I crowded through and held the horse's nose while Uncle Eb got down.
'Thought I wouldn't put no luther on him,' said Uncle Eb, 'God's gin' 'im a good 'nuff harness.'
The judges came and looked him over.
'Guess he'll win the prize all right,' said one of them.
And he did. When we came home that evening every horse on the road thought himself a trotter and went speeding to try his pace with everything that came up beside him. And many a man of Faraway, that we passed, sent up a shout of praise for the Black Hawk.
But I was thinking of Hope and the dance at Rickard's. I had plenty of money now and my next letter urged her to come home at once.
Hope returned for a few days late in August. Invitations were just issued for the harvest dance at Rickard's.
'You mus' take 'er,' said Uncle Eb, the day she came. 'She's a purty dancer as a man ever see. Prance right up an' tell 'er she mus' go. Don' want 'O let anyone git ahead O' ye.'
'Of course I will go,' she said in answer to my invitation, 'I shouldn't think you were a beau worth having if you did not ask me.'
The yellow moon was peering over Woody Ledge when we went away that evening. I knew it was our last pleasure seeking in Faraway, and the crickets in the stubble filled the silence with a kind of mourning.
She looked so fine in her big hat and new gown with its many dainty accessories of lace and ribbon, adjusted with so much patting and pulling, that as she sat beside me, I hardly dared touch her for fear of spoiling something. When she shivered a little and said it was growing cool I put my arm about her, and, as I drew her closer to my side, she turned her hat, obligingly, and said it was a great nuisance.
I tried to kiss her then, but she put her hand over my mouth and said, sweetly, that I would spoil everything if I did that.
'I must not let you kiss me, William,' she said, 'not—not for all in the world. I'm sure you wouldn't have me do what I think is wrong—would you?'
There was but one answer to such an appeal, and I made myself as happy as possible feeling her head upon my shoulder and her soft hair touching my cheek. As I think of it now the trust she put in me was something sublime and holy.
'Then I shall talk about—about our love,' I said, 'I must do something.'
'Promised I wouldn't let you,' she said. Then she added after a moment of silence, 'I'll tell you what you may do—tell me what is your ideal in a woman—the one you would love best of all. I don't think that would be wicked—do you?'
'I think God would forgive that,' I said. 'She must be tall and slim, with dainty feet and hands, and a pair of big eyes, blue as a violet, shaded with long dark lashes. And her hair must be wavy and light with a little tinge of gold in it. And her cheek must have the pink of the rose and dimples that show in laughter. And her voice—that must have music in it and the ring of kindness and good-nature. And her lips—let them show the crimson of her blood and be ready to give and receive a kiss when I meet her.'
She sighed and nestled closer to me.
'If I let you kiss me just once,' she whispered, 'you will not ask me again—will you?'
'No, sweetheart, I will not,' I answered. Then we gave each other such a kiss as may be known once and only once in a lifetime.
'What would you do for the love of a girl like that?' she whispered.
I thought a moment, sounding depths of undiscovered woe to see if there were anything I should hesitate to suffer and there was nothing.
'I'd lay me doun an' dee,' I said.
And I well remember how, when I lay dying, as I believed, in rain and darkness on the bloody field of Bull Run, I thought of that moment and of those words.
'I cannot say such beautiful things as you,' she answered, when I asked her to describe her ideal. 'He must be good and he must be tall and handsome and strong and brave.'
Then she sang a tender love ballad. I have often shared the pleasure of thousands under the spell of her voice, but I have never heard her sing as to that small audience on Faraway turnpike.
As we came near Rickard's Hall we could hear the fiddles and the calling off.
The windows on the long sides of the big house were open. Long shafts of light shot out upon the gloom. It had always reminded me of a picture of Noah's ark that hung in my bedroom and now it seemed to be floating, with resting oars of gold, in a deluge of darkness. We were greeted with a noisy welcome, at the door. Many of the boys and girls came, from all sides of the big hall, and shook hands with us. Enos Brown, whose long forelocks had been oiled for the occasion and combed down so they touched his right eyebrow, was panting in a jig that jarred the house. His trouser legs were caught on the tops of his fine boots. He nodded to me as I came in, snapped his fingers and doubled his energy. It was an exhibition both of power and endurance. He was damp and apologetic when, at length, he stopped with a mighty bang of his foot and sat down beside me. He said he was badly out of practice when I offered congratulations. The first fiddler was a small man, with a short leg, and a character that was minus one dimension. It had length and breadth but no thickness. He sat with his fellow player on a little platform at one end of the room. He was an odd man who wandered all over the township with his fiddle. He played by ear, and I have seen babies smile and old men dance when his bow was swaying. I remember that when I heard it for the first time, I determined that I should be a fiddler if I ever grew to be a man. But David told me that fiddlers were a worthless lot, and that no wise man should ever fool with a fiddle. One is lucky, I have since learned, if any dream of yesterday shall stand the better light of today or the more searching rays of tomorrow.
'Choose yer partners fer Money Musk!' the caller shouted.
Hope and I got into line, the music started, the circles began to sway. Darwin Powers, an old but frisky man, stood up beside the fiddlers, whistling, with sobriety and vigour, as they played. It was a pleasure to see some of the older men of the neighbourhood join the dizzy riot by skipping playfully in the corners. They tried to rally their unwilling wives, and generally a number of them were dancing before the night was over. The life and colour of the scene, the fresh, young faces of the girls some of them models of rustic beauty—the playful antics of the young men, the merrymaking of their fathers, the laughter, the airs of gallantry, the glances of affection—there is a magic in the thought of it all that makes me young again.