Of course she was not swimming all this time. When she found herself growing weary, she floated on her back for long periods, then propelled herself first upon one side and then upon the other, and all the time the dim misty object in the distance remained as far away as ever. Finally, when she raised her head and looked for it, she was dismayed at being unable to detect it at all. It had vanished.
Then she knew that it had been an optical delusion from the first. There was no island or land in sight. She was alone on the vast deep.
But the heroic woman did not despair. After she had been in the water twenty hours altogether, and was in the last stage of exhaustion, she was picked up by a boat belonging to the search steamer Albatross. For several hours succeeding her rescue she was delirious, but it was not long before she was entirely herself, having given a signal proof of the value of swimming as a lady's accomplishment.
THE WRITING FOUND IN A BOTTLE.
Let me assure the readers, at the beginning of this sketch, that it is strictly true in every particular. I have no ambition to shine as a writer of fiction, and, at the request of a number of friends acquainted with the remarkable circumstances, have sat down to relate, in a straightforward manner as is at my command; the part that I took in the history of the famous Buried Treasure.
Not the least singular part of this strange business was that, of the three individuals concerned two were boys, one being my son Frank (named for his father) and a playmate, Arthur Newman. The latter was thirteen years old, while Frank was only a few months his senior.
They were inseparable playmates from early childhood; and as we lived near a broad, deep inlet, which put in from the Atlantic, they learned to swim at the age of ten, and soon learned to manage a yacht as well as veterans. I was sometimes anxious because of their venturesome disposition, but although they frequently ventured outside, sometimes in very nasty weather, no accident ever befell them, and the parents of both boys gradually learned to dismiss all fear concerning them, under the belief that, as they grew older, they became better fitted to take care of themselves.
One day in March Frank told me that a suspicious brig had been standing off shore for the better part of a week, and he and Arthur had come to the conclusion that it was a pirate. I laughed heartily at their fancy, and assured them that the days of buccaneers and sea rovers were long since past, and they must dismiss all such absurd ideas from their minds.
The following week the Atlantic sea-board was devastated by one of the fiercest storms that had been known for years. Reports of wrecks and disasters to shipping reached us for several days after, and Frank remarked one evening at supper that he believed his suspected pirate was one of the unfortunate vessels that had gone down with all on board. I smiled at his words, but when I learned that the beach was strewn with wreckage, and that a great deal of it had washed into the inlet, I thought it probable that he was right, so far as the fate of the strange ship was concerned.
It was near the close of the month that my boy brought home a tightly corked bottle, which he and Arthur had found while cruising in the inlet. When he said that there was a piece of rolled paper inside, I felt enough curiosity to withdraw the stopper with the aid of a strong corkscrew, and to make an examination.
Sure enough there was a small roll of thick, vellum-like paper, on which, in a cramped hand, evidently written years before, was the following:
"Three feet under the Beacon Tree."
For a minute or two I was puzzled, and then, as if by inspiration, the whole truth burst upon me.
The Beacon Tree was the name of an immense poplar that stood near the mouth of the inlet. The fish-hawks had builded their nests in the forked tops for a half century. I remember hearing my father say it was struck by lightning long before and although its upper branches were shattered, and it had been as dead as a fence-post ever since, yet its immense size, great height, and peculiar, silver-like appearance caused it to become a prominent landmark to the vessels when approaching the coast, and long before I was born it gained the name of the Beacon Tree, by which title it was known to unnumbered hundreds of sailors and sea-faring men.
"There is a treasure buried under that tree," I said to Frank, suppressing my excitement so far as I could. "More than likely it was placed there by some freebooter a long time ago, and these people were awaiting a chance to dig it up."
"Maybe Captain Kidd buried it," suggested the boy.
"Possibly he did, for there is reason to believe that he hid a great deal of treasure along the Atlantic coast. Now, since Arthur was with you when you found this bottle, he has the same claim to the treasure that you have. We will not say anything to his father, and you must take particular care not to give a hint to a living soul. Go over and tell Arthur to come here this evening. I will furnish the shovels and lantern, and when we are sure that no one will see us, we will slip over to the Beacon Tree and dig."
I recall that I was never so absolutely sure of anything in my life as I was that valuable treasure lay buried under the old poplar. My wife, to whom I showed the little roll of paper, expressed a doubt, and smilingly hinted that perhaps I was too much impressed by that brilliant sketch of Edgar A. Poe called "The Gold Bug."
"Of course," I answered, "disappointment may await us, and I know these bottles picked up at sea are frequently frauds; but the age of the writing and the peculiar circumstances convince me that this is genuine. I am sure something will be found under the Beacon Tree."
Meantime Frank had hurried off to acquaint Arthur with the amazing discovery, and to warn him against dropping a hint to any one. My son soon returned with the word that his friend was "b'iling" with excitement, but alas! his parents were going to spend that evening with a neighbor, and since they would not be back until late, there was no possible way of his joining us.
The boys were not more disappointed than I, and the impulse was strong upon me to make the venture without the help of Arthur, meaning, of course that such a proceeding should not affect his share in the find; but it did not strike me that that would be exactly right, and Arthur was informed that we three would attend to the business the following evening.
I could not avoid strolling out to the Beacon Tree the next day. I did so in the most off-hand manner and with the most unconcerned expression I could assume; but had any one scrutinized my countenance, I am sure he would easily have detected the deep agitation under which I was laboring.
I was considerably disturbed, upon examining the immediate surroundings of the tree, to discover signs which looked as if some one had been digging there quite recently.
"The secret has become known and the treasure has been carried off," I gasped, with a rapidly throbbing heart.
Reflection, however, reassured me. No one had seen the writing in the bottle beside myself (though evidently it must have been known to others), and it was certain that if any person had succeeded in unearthing the hidden wealth, he would not have taken the trouble to hide all signs with such extreme care. Closer examination, too, convinced me there had been no digging about the tree at all. And yet I was mistaken.
We three reached the old poplar the next evening between ten and eleven o'clock. Arthur had escaped inquiry by slipping out of his bedroom window after bidding his parents good-night; and, inasmuch as the lantern which I carried was not lit until we arrived at the tree, we were confident of escaping attention. Still I watched sharply, and was greatly relieved to discover no persons abroad at that hour beside ourselves.
Since the treasure was located but three feet below the surface, in sandy soil, I brought only one shovel, while the boys watched me, one holding the lantern, and both casting furtive glances around to guard against eavesdroppers. It would be useless to deny my excitement. My heart at times throbbed painfully, and more than once I was on the point of ceasing until I could regain mastery of myself.
"Pop, you must be nearly deep enough," said Frank, in a guarded undertone.
"I'm pretty near to the place," I replied stopping a minute to draw my handkerchief across my perspiring forehead.
"I'm afraid there's somebody watching us," added Arthur.
"Where?" I asked in affright, staring around in the gloom.
"I thought I saw a man moving out yonder."
"Well, it's too late for him to interfere now," I said, compressing my lips and renewing my digging more determinedly than ever; "I carry a revolver with me, and I don't mean to be robbed."
The next moment my heart gave a great throb, for the shovel struck something hard.
"Hold the lantern down here, Frank, quick!" I commanded in a hoarse voice.
He obeyed, but to my disappointment the object proved to be a large stone.
"I guess it's under that," I whispered, stopping work for a moment.
"Pop, there's another piece of paper," said Frank.
I stooped over and picked it up. I saw that there was writing on it, and holding it up beside the lantern read:
"Dig three feet under the Beacon Tree and you will be an April fool."
Once again the truth flashed across me. The whole thing was a practical joke.
"Boys," said I, "what day of the month is this?"
They reflected a moment and answered:
"Why, it's the first of April."
"Let's go home," I added, stepping out of the excavation, "and here's a half a dollar apiece if you don't tell anybody about it."
As we moved mournfully away I was sure I heard a chuckling laugh somewhere near in the darkness, but the author of it was prudent enough to keep beyond reach.
It was not until three months afterward that I learned all the facts connected with the writing found in a bottle. My neighbor, the father of Arthur Newman, on whom I had played several jokes, adopted this means of retaliating on me. He took my son and his own into his confidence, and I am grieved to say that the young rascals were just as eager as he. When I proposed to make the search on the last day of March, my friend resorted to the subterfuge I have mentioned, so as to insure that it should not take place until the following evening, which was unquestionably appropriate for my first and last essay in digging for buried treasure.
THAT HORNET'S NEST.
There was an indignation meeting of the boys at Bushville school, one sultry day in August. From stress of circumstances it was held at the noon recess, in the piece of woods back of the old stone building, and on the banks of the crystal stream in which the youngsters swam and revelled at morning, noon and night, during the long, delicious days of summer.
All the lads, not quite a score, belonging to the Bushville school, were present at the impromptu convention, but the proceedings were chiefly in charge of the lads, Tom Britt, Dick Culver and Fred Armstrong. There were but a few months' difference in their ages, none of which was more than fourteen years, but all were so much larger and older than the rest that they were looked up to as leaders in everything except study.
It cannot be denied that the three were indolent by nature, inclined to rebel at authority, and their enforced attendance at school was the affliction of their lives. They had given their teachers no end of trouble, and more than once had combined in open rebellion against their instructors. Tom's father was a trustee, and like the parents of many ill-trained youths, including those of Dick and Fred, he could see nothing wrong in the conduct of his son. As a consequence, discipline at times was set at naught in the Bushville institutions, and one of the best teachers ever employed by the district threw up his situation in disgust, and went off without waiting to collect his month's salary.
The successor of this gentleman was Mr. Lathrop, a young man barely turned twenty, with a beardless face, a mild blue eye, a gentle voice, and such a soft winning manner that the three leaders gave an involuntary sniff of contempt when they first saw him and agreed that he would not last more than a week at the most.
"We'll let up on him, for a few days," Tom explained to some of his friends, "so as to give him time to get acquainted. I b'lieve in letting every fellow have a show, but he's got to walk mighty straight between now and the end of this week," added the youth impressively; "I ain't in favor of standing any nonsense."
A nodding of heads by Dick and Fred showed that Tom had voiced their sentiments.
But, somehow or other, Mr. Lathrop was different from the teachers that had preceded him. He never spoke angrily or shouted, and his first act on entering the schoolroom was to break up the long tough hickory "gad" lying on his desk and to fling it out of the window. The next thing he did, after calling the school to order, was to tell the gaping, open-eyed children the most entertaining story to which they had ever listened. The anecdote had its moral too, for woven in and out and through its charming meshes was the woof of a life of heroic suffering, of trial and reward.
At its conclusion, the teacher said to the pupils that if they were studious and transgressed no rules, he would be glad to tell them another story the next day, if they would remain a few minutes after the hour of dismissal. The treat was such a rare one that all the girls and most of the boys resolved to earn the right to enjoy it.
"I'm going to hear the yarn, too," muttered Tom Britt, "for he knows how to tell 'em, but as for behaving myself that depends."
On the following afternoon, when five o'clock arrived (in those days most of the country schools opened at eight and closed at five, with an hour at noon, and not more than two weeks vacation in summer. I have attended school on more than one Saturday, Fourth of July and Christmas), the school was all expectation. When Mr. Lathrop saw the bright eyes turned eagerly toward him, a thrill of pleasure stirred his heart, for he felt that his was the hand to sow good seed, or this was the soil where it could be made to spring up and bear fruit a hundred fold.
"I am glad," said he, in his winning voice, "to know that you have done well and earned the right to hear the best story that I can tell. You have been studious, obedient and careful to break no rules, and I am sure that as we become better acquainted, we shall like each other and get on well together.
"I wish I could say you had all done well, but it grieves me to tell you, what you know, that one boy has neglected his lessons, been tardy or so indifferent to my wishes that it would not be right that he should be allowed to sit with the rest of you and listen to the incident I am about to relate. I refer to Thomas Britt. Thomas, you will please take your books and hat and go home."
The words came like a thunderclap. No one expected it, least of all the youth himself. Every eye was turned toward him and his face flushed scarlet. He quickly rallied from the daze into which he was thrown at first, and with his old swagger, looked at the teacher and replied with an insolence that was defiance itself:
"My father is trustee, and I've as much right here as you or any one else, and I'm going to stay till I'm ready to go home and you can't——" but, before he had completed his defiant sentence, the slightly built teacher was at his side and had grasped the nape of his coat. It seemed to the lad, that an iron vise had caught his garment and a span of horses were pulling at him. He clutched desperately at everything within reach and spread his legs apart and curled up his toes in the effort to hook into something that would stay proceedings, but it was in vain. Out he came from the seat, and to the awed children who were looking on it seemed that his body was elongated to double its length during the process,—and he was run through the open door, and his hat tossed after him. Then the teacher walked quietly back to his seat behind the desk on the platform, and without the slightest sign of flurry or mental disturbance, he told one of the sweetest and most delightful incidents to which his pupils had ever listened. He closed with the promise to give them another at the end of the week, if they continued in the good course on which they were so fairly started.
"He catched me foul," explained the indignant Tom Britt the following day in discussing his hurried exit from the schoolroom; "if he had only let me know he was coming, it would be him that dove out the door instead of me."
The sullen youth did not receive much sympathy at first, for Mr. Lathrop was steadily winning the affections of the pupils; but Dick and Fred rebelled at such quiet submission to authority, and acted so sullenly that they, too, were shut out from the privilege of listening to the next story related by the teacher to the rest of the school. It had been agreed among the three boys that they should refuse to depart when ordered to do so by the instructor, and that when he made a move toward them, they would assail him simultaneously and rout him "horse, foot and dragoons."
But the business was conducted with such a cyclone rush that the plan of campaign was entirely overturned. Before the rebels could combine, all three were out doors, so shaken up that they agreed that a new system of resistance would have to be adopted.
And thus it came about that at the noon recess, one day of the following week, the boys of Bushville school gathered in the cool shade of the woods to listen to the plan of the three malcontents for destroying the authority of the school. It was mainly curiosity on the part of the younger portion, who had little sympathy with the motives of the leaders and were quite sure they would meet with failure.
"I've made up my mind that I won't stand it," announced Tom, after the situation had been freely discussed; "no boy with any spirit will allow a teacher to run him out of school in the style he served me."
"What then made you let him do it?" asked little freckled-face Will Horton, from where he lay on the ground.
"Didn't I tell you he catched me foul?" demanded Tom, glaring at the urchin; "if I'd knowed what was coming things would have been different."
"Dick and Fred knowed he was coming for them," added Will, "for he walked clear across the schoolroom."
"You've got too much to say," retorted Dick Culver, angrily; "when we want your advice we'll ask for it."
"Well, boys, you had better make up your minds to behave yourselves and then there won't be any trouble," was the sensible advice of Jimmy Thompson, who had perched himself on a log, and was swinging his bare feet back and forth; "Mr. Lathrop is the best teacher we ever had and he suits the rest of us first rate."
"Of course he suits all boys that ha'n't any spirit," was the crushing response of the leader, "but I've a plan that'll teach him that me and Dick and Fred ain't that kind of chaps."
"How are you going to help yourself?"
After several mysterious hints and nods of the head, Tom revealed his stupendous scheme for bringing the teacher to terms.
"You know the big hornet's nest over in Bear Hollow?"
Inasmuch as there wasn't a boy in the crowd who hadn't shied stones at the object named (always without hitting it), no further information was necessary.
"Well, I'm going to put that nest in the teacher's desk, and when he comes in, takes his seat and raises the lid, won't there be music?"
The scheme was so prodigious that for a full half minute all stared open mouthed at their leader without speaking.
"The teacher never locks his desk at noon, so it will be easy enough to slip it in before he gets back."
"But when he opens the desk and the hornets sail out, what will become of us?" was the pertinent inquiry of Will Horton.
"Why the minute the things begin to swarm out I'll yell, and we'll all rush out doors."
"Won't the teacher do the same thing?"
"But he'll be the last and he'll catch it the worst. He'll be right among the critters, and they'll just go for him, so his head will swell up like a bushel basket and we'll have a week's vacation. By that time he'll learn how to treat us fellers."
"I am," was the proud reply; "come on and I'll show you."
As he spoke, Tom sprang to his feet and started on a trot toward Bear Hollow, with the others streaming after him.
It cannot be denied that the youth displayed considerable pluck and coolness when he came to the test. There hung the hornet's nest from the lower limb of an oak, so near the ground that it could be easily reached by one of the larger boys. It was gray in color and of enormous size. It resembled in shape an overgrown football or watermelon, pendant by one end. In some portions faint ridges were visible, like the prints left by tiny wavelets on the sand. Near the base was a circular opening about as large as an old-fashioned penny. This was the door of the hornets' residence, through which all the occupants came and went.
The boys halted at a safe distance, and even Tom paused a few minutes to make a reconnoissance before going nearer.
"You fellows stay here, and don't any of you throw stones or yell!" he said, in a guarded undertone; "for if them hornets find out what is up, they'll come swarming out by the million and sting us all to death."
The promise was readily made, and Tom went forward like a hero, the eyes of all of his playmates fixed upon him. It was noticed be carried a large silken handkerchief in his hand—one that he had secured at home for this special purpose.
He advanced stealthily until within some ten feet, when he halted again. With his gaze centered on the gray, oblong object, he saw one of the dark insects suddenly crawl to view through the opening.
"I wonder if he suspects anything," thought Tom, half disposed to turn about and run; "no—he's all right," he added, as the hornet spread his wings, and shot off like a bullet through the air.
Still intently watching the orifice, the boy moved softly forward until directly under the nest. Then, with the deliberation of a veteran, he deftly enfolded it with the large silk handkerchief, easily wrenched it loose from its support, tied the covering over the top so securely that not an inhabitant of the nest could possibly escape, and rejoined in triumph his companions.
"Now you'll see fun!" he exclaimed, as he led the whole party trooping in the direction of the schoolhouse; "keep mum, and don't tell any of the girls what's up."
It was a grand scheme and it looked as if there could be no hitch in it. What compunctions the other boys might have felt against the attempt to cause pain to their teacher were forgotten in the excitement of the coming sport.
The residents of the oblong home must have been surprised, to put it mildly, when they found the house swinging along, in the grasp of some great giant, themselves enveloped in gloom, and the only avenue of escape sealed up. They hummed, and buzzed and raised a tempest within, but it was in vain: they were prisoners and must remain such until the ogre chose to release them.
Everything seemed to join to help the young rebel. The girls were playing so far from the school building, that they gave no heed to the procession which passed into the structure. One glance told Tom that it was without an occupant, and he strode hastily to the desk, the others pausing near the door, ready to dash out in the event of disaster.
The desk was unlocked and Tom raised the lid. The nest was laid on its side, in the middle, but it was so big that he had to displace several books to make room for it. Then the knots were untied, the handkerchief flirted free, the lid lowered, and the deed was done.
Tom joined his companions with a radiant face. "Not a word," he cautioned, "be extra good this afternoon; even I'll try to behave myself for once, but we won't have to wait long."
"S'posin' them hornets lift the lid of the desk and come out before the teacher gets here?" suggested Will Horton.
"What are you talking about?" was the scornful question of Dick Culver; "how can a hornet raise the lid of a desk?"
"I don't mean that one will do it, but, if they all join together and put their shoulders to it, they'll lift more than you think."
But this contingency was too vague to be feared. A quarter of an hour later, Mr. Lathrop entered the building with his brisk step, bidding such children as he met a pleasant good afternoon, and hanging his hat on the peg in the wall behind his desk, rang the bell for the children to assemble, and took his seat in his chair on the platform.
The observant instructor quickly saw that something unusual was in the wind. There was a score of signs that he detected in the course of a few minutes, but he could have no idea what it all meant. He was on the alert, however, and did not remain long in suspense.
The first hint was the sound of loud and angry buzzing within his desk. While wondering what it meant, and in doubt whether to investigate, he observed a hornet emerging through the key-hole. Before it could shake itself free, he shoved him back with his key, which was inserted and turned about, so effectually blocking the opening, that the insects were held secure.
The teacher read the whole story, and it needed only a brief study of Tom Britt's actions to make sure that he was the guilty one.
Much to the disappointment of the boys, Mr. Lathrop seemed to find no occasion for opening his desk. It remained closed through the whole afternoon and, when the moment for dismissal arrived, the only one to remain was Tom Britt, who, while conducting himself fairly well, had made a bad failure with every recitation. His mind seemed to be too pre-occupied with some other matter to absorb book knowledge.
The boys loitered around the playground, waiting to see the end of it all. Tom sat with his hands supporting his head, and his elbow on the desk, morose, sullen and disappointed.
"I wonder if he suspects anything," he muttered; "I don't see how he can, for nobody told him. It's queer he has never opened his desk all the afternoon. I never knew him to do anything like that before—Gracious alive!"
Just then Tom felt as if some one had jabbed a burning needle into his neck. Almost at the same instant came a similar dagger thrust on the top of his head, where he always wore his hair short. Uttering a gasp of affright, he leaped from his seat, with a score of fierce hornets buzzing about his ears. The terrified glance around the room showed that the teacher had slipped noiselessly out of the door, but, before doing so, he had raised the lid of his desk to its fullest extent.
The next moment Tom bounded through the door, striking at the insects that were doing painful execution about the exposed parts of his body. It was not until after a long run that he was entirely freed of them and was able to take an inventory of his wounds.
It was a lesson the lad never forgot. In the final contest between him and his teacher, he was conquered and he admitted it. Mr. Lathrop made a study of his character, and having proven himself physically his master, set out to acquire the moral conquest that was needed to complete the work. It need hardly be added that he succeeded, for he was a thoughtful, conscientious instructor of youth, who loved his work, and who toiled as one who knows that he must render an account of his stewardship to Him who is not only loving and merciful, but just.
A YOUNG HERO.
Reuben Johnson leaned on his hoe, and, looking up at the sun, wondered whether, as in the Biblical story, it had not been stationary for several hours. He was sure it was never so long in descending to the horizon.
"Wake up, Rube," sharply called his Uncle Peter, smartly hoeing another row a few paces behind him, "doan be idlin' your time; de sun am foah hours high yit."
The nephew started and raised his implement, but stopped. He was staring at the corner of the fence just ahead, where sat the jug of cold water, with the Revolutionary musket leaning against the rails. The crows were so annoying that the double-loaded weapon was kept ready to be used against the pests when they ventured too near.
"See dar, uncle!" said Rube in a scared voice. The old man also ceased work, adjusted his iron-rimmed spectacles, and looked toward the fence.
Within a few feet of where the flint lock musket inclined against the rails, a yellow dog was trying to push his way through. Watching his efforts for a few minutes, the elder said:
"Rube, I wish we had de gun; dat dog ain't peaceable."
"He am mad; dis ain't de place fur us."
"Slip down to de fence and got de gun; dat's a good boy!"
"Gracious!" gasped the youth; "it am right dar by de dog."
"He won't notice you; run behind him and be quick 'bout it, or he'll chaw us bofe to def."
"He'll chaw me suah if I goes near him," was the reply of Rube, who felt little ardor for the task his relative urged upon him.
"Ain't it better dat one ob us should go dead, dan bofe should be obstinguished?" asked the uncle reproachfully.
"Dat 'pends which am de one to go dead; if it am me, it am better for you, but I don't see whar I'm to come in; 'spose you see wheder you can got de gun—"
"Dar he comes!" whispered Uncle Pete.
Sure enough the cur, having twisted his body between the rails, began trotting toward the couple that were watching him with such interest.
There was good reason for fear, since the canine was afflicted with the rabies in the worst form. He showed no froth at the jaws, for animals thus affected do not, but his eyes were fiery, his mouth dry, the consuming fever burning up all moisture. He moaned as if in pain, his torture causing him to snap at everything in reach. He had bitten shrubbery, branches, wood and other objects, and now made for the persons with the purpose of using his teeth on them.
"Rube," said his uncle, "stand right whar you am! No use ob runnin', for he'll cotch you; when he gets nigh 'nough bang him wid your hoe; if dat don't fotch him, I'll gib him anoder whack and dat'll finish him suah."
Fate seemed to have ordered that the younger person should hold the van in the peril, though he was tempted to take his place by his relative, so that the attack of the dog should be met by both at the same instant. This promised to be effective, but the time was too brief to permit any plan of campaign.
The brute was already within a hundred yards of Rube, who, with his hoe drawn back, as though it were a club, tried to calm his nerves for the struggle. He would have fled, had he not known that that would draw pursuit to himself. He was inclined to urge his uncle to join him in a break for freedom, the two taking diverging routes. Since the canine could not chase both at the same time, such a course was certain to save one, but, inasmuch as the youth was at the front, he knew he must be the victim, and the prospect of a mad dog nipping at his heels, with fangs surcharged with one of the most fearful venoms known, was too terrifying to be borne. He, therefore, braced himself, and, with a certain dignity and courage, held his ground.
A dog suffering from the rabies often shows odd impulses. This one was within fifty feet of Rube, when he turned at right angles and trotted toward the other side of the cornfield.
"Now's your time, chile!" called Uncle Pete; "got de gun quick, and if he comes back we'll be ready for him."
It was the first suggestion that struck the nephew favorably, and he acted upon it at once. The dog might change his mind again and return to the attack, in which event no weapon could equal a loaded gun.
As Rube ran with his broad-brimmed hat flapping in his eyes, he kept glancing over his shoulder, to make sure the brute was not following him, while his uncle held his position, with his hoe grasped and his eye fixed on the animal, trotting between the hills of corn. He managed also to note the action of his nephew, who was making good time, and whose progress caused the hearts of the two to heat high with hope.
Had the fence ahead of the dog been open, doubtless he would have soon passed out of sight; but, as if recalling his trouble in entering the field, and possibly seeing his error in leaving two victims, he stopped only an instant in front of the rails, when he turned and came at a swifter gait than before, straight for Uncle Pete.
The latter stared a second or two and then shouted:
"Quick, Rube! he means me dis time!" And he dashed off, not to join his nephew, but to reach the side of the field opposite the nose of the animal.
By this time the youth had his hands on the smoothbore musket and his courage came back. He saw his uncle crashing over the hills, the picture of dismay, while the dog rapidly gained on him.
"Hey dar! hey dar!" shouted Rube, breaking into a run and trying to draw attention to himself. But the brute only sped the faster. He was near the middle of the procession, but gaining on the fugitive, who had thrown aside his hoe, flung his hat to the ground, and was making better progress than when he used to run races with the boys in his younger days.
The fence was near and he strained every nerve. It looked as if man and dog would reach it at the same moment, but the former put forth an extra spurt and arrived a pace or two ahead, with the cur at his heels.
Rube, however, was not far to the rear. Seeing the crisis had come, he stopped short, brought the musket to his shoulder, and, taking the best aim he could, let fly with the whole load that clogged several inches of the barrel.
He did not observe at the moment of pressing the trigger that his uncle and the dog were in line, but it could have made no difference, since the shot had to be made at that instant or not at all.
Just as the weapon was fired, Uncle Pete with a great bound cleared the fence, landing on his hands and knees; and, rolling over on his back, kicked the air with such vigor that his shoes flew off, one after the other, as if keeping time with his frenzied outcries.
The yellow cur was scared, as a shark is sometimes driven off by the loud splashing of a swimmer, and, though he leaped the fence, he wheeled again, and, without harming the man, ran down the highway toward the Woodvale school.
For a moment after firing, Rube Johnson believed he was killed. The flint shot a spark among the powder grains, there was a flash, a hiss, and then, as the fire worked its way to the charge inside, the explosion came and he toppled over, half stunned, with the gun flying a dozen feet away.
But his fear for his relative brought him to his feet, and he hurried to the old gentleman, who was climbing uncertainly to an upright posture.
"What's de matter?" asked Rube; "you ain't bit."
"I know dat; I warn't yellin' on dat 'count."
"What fur den?"
"You black rascal, you shot me instid ob de yaller dog."
"Lemme see," said Rube, turning his uncle round and scanning him from head to foot.
"I done pepper you purty well, uncle, but dare ain't any ob de slugs dat hit yer—only de fine bird shot."
"How many ob dem?" was the rueful question.
"I don't tink dar's more dan five or six hundred; Aunt Jemimer can gib her spar time de next six weeks pickin' 'em out; she'll enj'y it, but dat shot ob mine scared off de mad dog, and yer oughter be tankful to me, uncle, all yer life."
It was recess at the Woodvale school, and the forty-odd boys and girls were having a merry time on the playgrounds, which included the broad highway. Within the building, Mr. Hobbs, the young teacher was busy "setting copies," his only companion just then being Tod Clymer, a pale-faced cripple, who, unable to take part in the sports of the other boys, preferred to stay within doors and con his lessons, in which he was always far in advance of the rest.
A strange confusion outside caused him to raise his head and look through the window near him.
"Oh, Mr. Hobbs," he said, "there's a mad dog!"
The teacher started up, and saw the yellow cur running about the grounds, snapping at the children, while a couple of boys had already raised the fearful cry, and there was a scattering in all directions. Although without any weapon, the instructor was on the point of hurrying out to the help of the children, when he observed the canine coming toward the outer door. He tried to close it in his face, but the brute was too quick and was inside before he could be stopped. He made for the second door, leading into the session-room, but, in this instance, the teacher slammed it shut just in time.
Instead of going out the dog slunk into the entry and crawled under a bench, so nearly behind the outer door that he was invisible to any one beyond.
"Mr. Hobbs," said Tod Clymer a moment later, "will you please help me out of the window?"
"I think you are safer here," replied the teacher, "for he cannot reach you, but you will not be able to get away from him outside."
"I want to leave, please, very much."
It was a strange request, and the teacher waited some minutes before complying, but the heart of the lame boy was so set upon it, that he finally assisted him to the window furthest from where the dog was crouching, gently lifted him down to the ground, and then passed his crutches to him.
"Now, Tod," said he kindly, "don't tarry a moment, for there's no saying how soon he will be outside again. The other children are away, but you cannot run like them."
"Thank you," replied Tod, who never forgot to be courteous, as he carefully adjusted the collars of his crutches under his shoulders.
Mr. Hobbs motioned from the window for several of the boys to keep off. With a natural curiosity, they were stealing closer to the building, in the hope of finding out what the rabid dog was doing.
The teacher, seeing his gestures were understood, turned back, when to his surprise, he noticed the top of Tom Clymer's straw hat, as it slowly rose and sank, moving along the front of the building toward the front door.
Instead of hurrying off, as he should have done, the lad was making his way toward the very spot where the dreadful animal was crouching.
"Why, Tod, what are you doing?" called Mr. Hobbs through the open window; "you will surely be bitten."
Instead of replying or heeding the words, the lad turned his pale face toward his friend and shook his head, as a warning for him to make no noise. Then he resumed his advance to the open outer door, doing so with great care and stealth, as if afraid of being heard by the brute.
The entrance to the old Woodvale school building was reached by two steps, consisting of the same number of broad high stones worn smooth by the feet of the hundreds of children that had trod them times without number. To make his way into the entry where the pupils hung their hats and bonnets on the double rows of pegs, Tod had to move slowly and carefully use his crutches. Being tipped with iron he could not set them down on the smooth stones without causing noise.
But he acted without hesitation. The teacher read his purpose and knew it was useless to try to check him. He leaned his head out of the window and held his breath, while he watched him.
Tod never faltered, though none could have understood the danger he ran better than he. He had a brother and sister among the children that had scattered in such haste before the snapping cur, and who were gathering again around the building despite the warning gesture of the teacher.
He could not know whether they had all escaped or not, but he was sure that if the dog came forth again, more than one of them must suffer, and in those days there was no Pasteur with his wonderful cure to whom the afflicted ones could be taken.
Tod did not tremble, though it seemed to him the brute must hear the tumultuous throbbing of his heart and rush forth. Puny as was his strength, he meant that, if he did so, he would steady himself on his one support, and grasping the other with both hands, strike the dog with might and main. It is doubtful whether the blow would have stunned the dog, for the little fellow's confidence in himself was greater than his bodily powers warranted.
At the moment he rested the end of the crutch on the smooth surface of the second stone, it slipped, and only by a strong wrench did he save himself from falling. The noise was heard by the animal, who was not six feet distant, and he emitted another moan, which can never be forgotten by those that have heard it.
Certain that the cur was about to rush forth, Tod steadied himself on the single crutch, and, reversing the other, held it firmly in his weak hands. He knew the shuffling sound was caused by the animal moving: uneasily about the entry, and it was strange he did not burst through the open door. But he did not do so, and, like a flash, the cripple shifted his weapon in place under his shoulder. Then, with the same coolness he had shown from the first, he reached his hand forward and grasped the latch.
The smart pull he gave, however, did not stir it. It resisted the effort, as though it was fastened in position. If such were the fact, his scheme was futile.
Setting down both crutches, Tod now leaned against the jamb to prevent himself from falling, seized the handle with both hands, and drew back suddenly and with all his might. This time the door yielded and was closed.
As it did so, the rabid animal flung himself against it with a violence that threatened to carry it off its hinges, but it remained firm and he was a prisoner.
"You are a hero!" called the teacher in a voice tremulous with suppressed emotion.
"I guess we've got him fast, but look out, Mr. Hobbs, that he doesn't reach you."
"I think there is little danger of that," said the other, looking anxiously at the inner door, "but we must get help to dispose of him before he can do further injury."
By this time, so many of the children had come back to the playgrounds that several of those living near were sent home for assistance. It quickly arrived; for Reuben Johnson and his uncle lost no time in spreading the news, and three young men, each with a loaded gun, appeared on the scene, eager to dispose of the dangerous animal. The latter was at such disadvantage that this was done without trouble or risk.
Providentially none of the children had been bitten, though more than one underwent a narrow escape. Such animals as had felt the fangs of the rabid cur were slain, and thus no harm resulted from the brief run of the brute.
Bushrod, or "Bush" Wyckoff was only twelve years old when he went to work for Zeph Ashton, who was not only a crusty farmer, but one of the meanest men in the country, and his wife was well fitted to be the life partner of such a parsimonious person.
They had no children of their own, and had felt the need for years of a willing, nimble-footed youngster to do the odd chores about the house, such as milking cows, cutting and bringing in wood, running of errands, and the scores of odd little jobs which are easy enough for boys, but sorely try the stiff and rheumatic limbs of a man in the decline of life.
Bush was a healthy little fellow—not very strong for his years, but quick of movement, bright-witted, willing, and naturally a general favorite. The misfortunes which suddenly overtook his home roused the keenest sympathy of his neighbors. His father was a merchant in New York, who went to and from the metropolis each week day morning and evening, to his pleasant little home in New Jersey. One day his lifeless body was brought thither, and woe and desolation came to the happy home. He was killed in a railway accident.
The blow was a terrible one, and for weeks it seemed as if his stricken widow would follow him across the dark river; but her Christian fortitude and her great love for their only child sustained her in her awful grief, and she was even able to thank her Heavenly Father that her dear boy was spared to her.
But how true it is that misfortunes rarely come singly. Her husband had amassed a competency sufficient to provide comfortably for those left behind; but his confidence in his fellow-men was wofully betrayed. He was one of the bondsmen of a public official who made a hasty departure to Canada, one evening, leaving his business in such a shape that his securities were compelled to pay fifty thousand dollars. Two others were associated with Mr. Wyckoff, and with the aid of their tricky lawyers they managed matters so that four-fifths of the loss fell upon the estate of the deceased merchant.
The result swept it away as utterly as were the dwellings in the Johnstown Valley by the great flood. The widow and her boy left their home and moved into a little cottage, with barely enough left to keep the wolf of starvation from the door.
It was then that Bush showed the stuff of which he was made. He returned one afternoon and told his mother, in his off-hand way, that he had engaged to work through the summer months for Mr. Ashton, who not only agreed to pay him six dollars a month, but would allow him to remain at home over night, provided, of course, that he was there early each morning and stayed late enough each day to attend to all the chores.
The tears filled the eyes of the mother as she pressed her little boy to her heart, and comprehended his self-sacrificing nature.
"You are too young, my dear child, to do this; we have enough left to keep us awhile, and I would prefer that you wait until you are older and stronger."
"Why, mother, I am old enough and strong enough now to do all that Mr. Ashton wants me to do. He explained everything to me, and it won't be work at all, but just fun."
"Well, I hope you will find it so, but if he does not treat you kindly, you must not stay one day."
Bush never complained to his mother, but he did find precious little fun and plenty of the hardest kind of work. The miserly farmer bore down heavily on his young shoulders. He and his wife seemed to be continually finding extra labor for the lad. The little fellow was on hand each morning, in stormy as well as in clear weather, at daybreak, ready and willing to perform to the best of his ability whatever he was directed to do. Several times he became so weak and faint from the severe labor, that the frugal breakfast he had eaten at home proved insufficient, and he was compelled to ask for a few mouthfuls of food before the regular dinner hour arrived. Although he always remained late, he was never invited to stay to supper, Mr. Ashton's understanding being that the mid-day meal was the only one to which the lad was entitled.
But for his love for his mother, Bush would have given up more than once. His tasks were so severe and continuous that many a time he was hardly able to drag himself homeward. Every bone in his body seemed to ache, and neither his employer nor his wife ever uttered a pleasant or encouraging word.
But no word of murmuring fell from his lips. He resolutely held back all complaints, and crept away early to his couch under the plea that it was necessary in order to be up betimes. The mother's heart was distressed beyond expression, but she comforted herself with the fact that his term of service was drawing to a close, and he would soon have all the rest and play he wanted.
Bush allowed his wages to stand until the first of September, when his three months expired. He had counted on the pride and happiness that would be his when he walked into the house and tossed the whole eighteen dollars in his mother's lap. How her eyes would sparkle, and how proud he would be!
"Lemme see," said the skinflint, when settling day arrived; "I was to give you four dollars a month, warn't I?"
"It was six," replied Bush, respectfully.
"That warn't my understanding, but we'll let it go at that; I've allers been too gin'rous, and my heart's too big for my pocket. Lemme see."
He uttered the last words thoughtfully, as he took his small account-book from his pocket, and began figuring with the stub of a pencil. "Three months at six dollars will be eighteen dollars."
"Yes, sir; that's right."
"Don't interrupt me, young man," sternly remarked the farmer, frowning at him over his spectacles. "The full amount is eighteen dollars—Kerrect—L—em—m—e see; you have et seven breakfasts here; at fifty cents apiece that is three dollars and a half. Then, l—em—m—e see; you was late eleven times, and I've docked you twenty-five cents for each time; that makes two dollars and seventy-five cents."
Inasmuch as Bush's wages amounted hardly to twenty-five cents a day, it must be admitted that this was drawing it rather strong.
"L—em—m—e see," continued Mr. Ashton, wetting the pencil stub between his lips, and resuming his figuring; "your board amounts to three dollars and a half; your loss of time to two seventy-five; that makes six and a quarter, which bein' took from eighteen dollars, leaves 'leven seventy-five. There you are!"
As he spoke, he extended his hand, picked up a small canvas bag from the top of his old-fashioned writing-desk, and tossed it to the dumfounded boy. The latter heard the coins inside jingle, as it fell in his lap, and, as soon as he could command his voice, he swallowed the lump in his throat, and faintly asked:
"Is that—is that right, Mr. Ashton?"
"Count it and see for yourself," was the curt response.
This was not exactly what Bush meant, but he mechanically unfastened the cord around the throat of the little bag, tumbled the coins out in his hat and slowly counted them. They footed up exactly eleven dollars and seventy-five cents, proving that Mr. Ashton's figuring was altogether unnecessary, and that he had arranged the business beforehand.
While Bush was examining the coins, his heart gave a sudden quick throb. He repressed all signs of the excitement he felt, however.
"How do you find it?" asked the man, who had never removed his eyes from him, "Them coins have been in the house more'n fifty year—that is, some of 'em have, but they're as good as if they's just from the mint, and bein' all coin, you can never lose anything by the bank bustin'."
"It is correct," said Bush.
"Ar' you satisfied?"
"Then sign this receipt, and we're square."
The lad sat down at the desk and attached his name in a neat round hand to the declaration that he had received payment in full for his services from Mr. Zephaniah Ashton, up to the first of September of the current year.
"This is all mine, Mr. Ashton?"
"Of course—what do you mean by axin' that?"
"Good-day," grunted the miser, turning his back, as a hint for him to leave—a hint which Bush did not need, for he was in a tumult of excitement.
"That is the queerest thing that ever happened," he said to himself when he reached the public highway, and began hurrying along the road in the direction of Newark. "If he had paid me my full wages I would have told him, but all these are mine, and I shall sell them; won't Professor Hartranft be delighted, but not half as much as mother and I will be."
That evening Mr. Ashton and his wife had just finished their supper when Professor Hartranft, a pleasant, refined-looking gentleman, knocked at their door.
"I wish to inquire," said he, after courteously saluting the couple, "whether you have any old coins in the house."
"No," was the surly response of the farmer, "we don't keep 'em."
"But you had quite a collection."
"I had 'leven dollars and seventy-five cents' worth, but I paid 'em out this mornin'."
"To a boy named Bushrod Wyckoff?"
"They were given to him unreservedly?—that is, you renounce all claim upon them?"
"What the blazes ar' you drivin' at?" demanded the angry farmer. "I owed him 'leven dollars and seventy-five cents for wages, and I paid him purcisely that amount, and have his receipt in full. I'd like to know what business it is of yours anyway."
Now came the professor's triumph.
"Young Wyckoff called at my office this afternoon, and I bought a number of the coins from him."
"What!" exclaimed the amazed farmer, "you didn't pay him nothin' extra for that rusty old money, did you? You must be crazy."
"I did, and shall make a handsome thing of it. For instance, among the coins which you gave him was a copper penny, with a liberty cap, of 1793; I paid Bush three dollars for that; I gave him twenty-five dollars for a half dime coined in 1802; twenty dollars for a quarter dollar of 1827; the same sum for a half dollar, fillet head, of 1796; and, what caps all, five hundred dollars for a silver dollar of 1804. There are only five or six of the latter in existence, and I shall sell this specimen for at least eight hundred dollars. Mr. Ashton, sometimes a mean man overreaches himself, and it looks as though you had made a mistake. I bid you good-day, sir."
The numismatist spoke the truth; and when the miserly old farmer realized how completely he had turned the tables on himself, it is enough to say that his feelings may be "better imagined than described."
A BATTLE IN THE AIR.
One of the most interesting towns I ever visited is New Braunfels, Texas. It was founded by a colony of Germans, and experienced the most distressing trials during its early days; but it is now a picture of thrift and industry. The cowboy who attempts to ride through New Braunfels, with his revolvers displayed, is promptly pulled off his mustang and compelled to pay a round fine for violating a city ordinance. If he undertakes to "kick," it won't help him a bit, and probably will increase the penalty imposed. Our German cousins propose to run that town to suit themselves, and they succeed quite well.
The rivers of Texas are subjected to violent rises, often as great as twenty feet in an hour or less. Such sudden floods play havoc with the bridges along the bank, but I noticed in riding into New Braunfels an ingenious arrangement of the wooden structure by which, no matter how high the stream may rise, the bridge accommodates itself, and floats on the surface, while securely held from being carried away by the current.
But I set out to tell you a true incident of what happened a few years since, to a bright, lively youngster, sixteen years old, who lives in New Braunfels, and is brimful of pluck. His name is Lee Hemingway; he is an orphan, and if his life is spared, he is certain to be heard from when he reaches man's estate.
Prof. McInery, the well-known naturalist, spent several weeks last spring in the neighborhood of New Braunfels, hunting ornithological specimens for his collection, and he offered fifty dollars to any one who would bring him an eagle's nest, with living eaglets or with eggs in it.
When Lee Hemingway learned of the offer, he determined to earn it. It was rather early in the season for our emblematical birds to hatch their young, but, by carefully watching a pair, he succeeded in finding where their nest was made. It was on the summit of an almost insurmountable bowlder, rising nearly a hundred and twenty-five feet in the valley of the Guadaloupe.
The bravest man might well shrink from attempting to scale the perpendicular sides of this mass of rock, but as young Hemingway gazed longingly up the side to the nest, he noticed that the stone had become coated, in the course of time, with earth, which was covered with tangled vines and stunted vegetation.
"I believe I can climb that," thought the sturdy lad, after scrutinizing the herculean task, and watching one of the eagles soaring far above the summit. "I think there is enough foothold, and I can use the vines to help pull me up; but, if the eagles should catch me at it, they would make music."
It was the birds that caused him more dread than the forty odd yards of rock. We knew their fierce nature, and, if they discovered his designs against their home, as they were almost certain to do, they would assail him with a fury that must be resistless in his cramped position.
The professor advised him not to make the attempt, but the daring youth had to earn his own living, and the prize of fifty dollars was too tempting to be resisted.
"I'll do it!" he exclaimed, after considering the question, "if you will keep watch with your gun for the eagles."
"Of course I'll do that," replied the professor, delighted with the prospect of securing that which he had sought so long in vain.
The preparations for the work were simple. With a basket, furnished with a lid, slung to his back, in which to secure the eggs or eaglets, young Hemingway began his laborious and dangerous ascent, while the professor, gun in hand, watched him from the ground below.
The boy quickly proved the possession of unusual skill as a climber. With the help of the vines he went steadily upward, hunting secure places for his feet and testing every support before trusting his weight to it. Once or twice, the professor thought the lad had made a mistake and was on the point of paying the penalty, but he never faltered nor slipped. Higher and higher he ascended until at last the feat was accomplished, and the very summit reached.
His heart throbbed with pleasure when he discovered two young eagles in the nest. They were no more than a couple of days old, and he had no trouble in placing them and a portion of the nest in the basket, which was again strapped to his back, and, after a brief rest, he started to descend.
Nothing was seen of the parent eagles, and he was congratulating himself on his good fortune, when bang went the professor's gun. At the same moment a shadow flitted over his head, and looking up he saw that instead of one, both of the eagles had arrived.
The lad had not descended half-way and the professor's shot did not harm either of them. They landed on the summit of the rocks, and, if a bird can feel astonishment, they must have felt it when they looked around and discovered nothing of their home.
But the great American bird is not the one to submit tamely to such an outrage. They began an immediate investigation, and, when they caught sight of a boy scrambling down the side of the rocks with a basket strapped to his back, from which came a number of familiar squeak-like chirpings, they had no trouble in understanding matters.
The style in which they went for that same boy was a sight to behold. There was no hesitation or maneuvering; but, with outstretched wings and hoarse screeches, they dashed toward him like a couple of cyclones. The youth saw that he was caught in a desperate fix, for he had no weapons, and had to cling to the vines with one hand to save himself from being dashed to the ground below.
He ducked his head to ward off their beaks and talons from his eyes, and tried hard to beat them back with his free hand.
This was impossible. Their beaks struck him repeatedly in the head, bringing blood, which flowed over his face and almost blinded him, while they savagely buffeted him with their great wings, until he was in danger of being knocked from his position.
Meanwhile, the alarmed professor could do nothing for his young friend. The eagles kept so close to him, that, if he tried, he was as likely to hit one as the other. He walked back and forth, on the alert for such a chance, and fortunately had not long to wait. One of the furious birds, circled off a few feet, as if to gather impetus for a decisive charge, when, taking a quick aim, the gentleman fired.
The shot was unerring and killed the female. She fluttered into a large sapling that sprouted from a large crevice in the rocks, about eight feet above the boy's head, and lay motionless. Although nearly blinded by blood, young Hemingway now attempted a feat which he was convinced offered the only means of saving his life.
He drew himself up to the foot of the tree, and once there, braced himself firmly with his feet, and tied his handkerchief around his forehead, to keep the blood out of his eyes. Seizing the dead bird by the feet, he swung it around with might and main and struck the male, which had continued beating him incessantly.
It was a strange weapon—a dead eagle against a live one, and the boy's constrained position prevented his using it with much effect. So lacking, indeed, were the blows in force, that the male flew directly at his face. The sorely beset lad dropped the dead bird and fastened both hands around the throat of his assailant. The latter fought desperately, but the young hero never released his grip, until it ceased its struggles. Then he flung it from him, and it tumbled downward to the professor's feet.
This gentleman had done his best to help his young friend, but was unable to do so. The lad, after resting awhile, picked his way down to the ground, where his feet had hardly touched when he fainted in the professor's arms. He soon rallied, however, though his wounds were so severe that he was obliged to keep his bed for several weeks.
The two eaglets were found uninjured, and were safely carried to the professor's home, as were the bodies of the dead birds. They were mounted by Professor McInery, who, in consideration of the danger undergone by the boy, and the two extra birds, presented Lee with $100, and no one will deny that the money was well earned.
WHO SHALL EXPLAIN IT?
Let me begin by saying that I was never a believer in signs, omens, or the general superstitions which, it must be admitted, influence most people to a greater or less degree. I have been the thirteenth guest at more than one table, without my appetite being affected; I have tipped over my salt-cellar without a twinge of fear; I have never turned aside to avoid passing under a leaning ladder, and I do not care a jot whether the first glimpse of the new moon is over my right or left shoulder.
I had a little boy Bob, who was fourteen years old on the last anniversary of American independence. Being our only son, his mother and myself held him close to our hearts. In fact, I am sure no little fellow was ever regarded with more affectionate love than our Bob. The painful story which, with much hesitation, I have set out to tell is one, therefore, that no member of our little family can ever forget.
We always tried to act the part of sensible parents toward our little boy. He never stepped inside of a school-house until he was seven years old, and, when he did so, it was to stay only a brief while. It was six months before he became acquainted with every letter of the alphabet, and no youngster of his years ever ruined more clothing than he. The destruction of shoes, hats, and trousers was enough to bankrupt many a father, and it often provoked a protest from his mother. I have seen him, within a half hour after having his face scrubbed until it shone like an apple, present himself in such ragged attire and with so soiled a countenance, that it took a second glance to identify him.
And yet, as I sit here writing by the evening lamp, I am glad to recall that I never scolded Bob. I would have been sadly neglectful of my duty had I failed to reprove and advise him, and I am sure he honestly strove to obey my wishes; but the sum and substance of it all was, he couldn't do it. He was a vigorous little fellow, overrunning with animal spirits, high health, and mischief; and it was a pleasure to me to see him laying the firm foundation of a lusty constitution, which, in later years, could laugh at disease.
And then when he did take a start in his studies, he advanced with a speed that astonished his teacher. At the age of twelve there was not a girl or boy in school (and some of them were several years older than he) who could hold his own with him. I took some credit to myself for all this, for I believed it was largely due to the common-sense I used in his early youth. The foundation was strong and secure, and the building erected upon it was upon solid rock.
During the last two or three years I suffered from a great fear. Between the school-house and our home was a mill-pond, which in many places was fully a dozen feet deep. I knew what a temptation this was to the boys during the long, sultry summer weather, and there was not a day when a dozen youngsters, more or less, were not frolicking and splashing in it.
One afternoon, when I sauntered thither, I found fully a score of them in the height of enjoyment, and the wildest and most reckless fellow was my Bob. When he observed me standing on the shore he was so anxious to astonish me that he ventured into the water up to his chin, I shouted to him to come to shore, for he was in fearful peril, and it needed only a few inches further advance for him to drown before help could reach him.
"Bob," said I, in a voice and manner that could not be mistaken, "if you ever do that again I'll whip you within an inch of your life."
"I won't, pop," he replied, in such meek tones that, parent-like, my heart reproached me at once.
"Now," I added more gently, "every boy ought to learn to swim, and until he is able to do so, he should keep out of deep water. If you will promise me that you will never venture into a depth above your waist until a good swimmer, you may bathe here; otherwise you shall never come near it."
He gave me his promise, and, telling him that he had been in the water long enough for that afternoon, I asked him to dress himself and come home with me.
I felt that I had been weak. I ought to have forbidden him ever to enter the mill-pond unless in my company, and thus that which followed never could have occurred. I did not tell his mother what had taken place, for I knew she would insist on a strict prohibition of his aimless swimming efforts.
To tell the truth, there were two reasons why I did not forbid Bob to enter the mill-pond. I knew it would be the most cruel kind of punishment, and, I may as well confess it, I didn't believe the boy would obey me if he gave the pledge. The temptation was too strong to be resisted. Alas! how often our affection closes our eyes to the plainest duty!
And now I have reached a point which prompts me to ask the question at the head of this sketch, "Who Shall Explain It?" I have my own theory, which I shall submit, with no little diffidence, later on.
It was on Saturday afternoon, the ninth of last August, that I became a victim to a greater depression of spirits than I had known for years. I felt nothing of it during the forenoon, but it began shortly after the midday meal and became more oppressive with each passing minute. I sat down at my desk and wrote for a short time. I continually sighed and drew deep inspirations, which gave me no relief. It was as if a great and increasing weight were resting on my chest. Had I been superstitious, I would have declared that I was on the eve of some dreadful calamity.
Writing became so difficult and distasteful that I threw down my pen, sprang from my chair, and began rapidly pacing up and down the room. My wife had gone to the city that morning to visit her relatives, and was not to return until the following day; so I was alone, with only two servants in the house.
I couldn't keep the thoughts of Bob out of my mind. Saturday being a holiday, I had allowed him to go off to spend the afternoon as he chose; and, as it was unusually warm, there was little doubt where and how he was spending it. He would strike a bee-line for that shady mill-pond, and they would spend hours plashing in its cool and delicious depths.
I looked at the clock; it was a few minutes past five, and Bob ought to have been home long ago. What made him so late?
My fear was growing more intense every minute. The boy was in my mind continually to the exclusion of everything else. Despite all my philosophy and rigid common-sense, the conviction was fastening on me that something dreadful had befallen him.
And what was that something? He had been drowned in the mill-pond. I glanced out of the window, half expecting to see a party bearing the lifeless body homeward. Thank Heaven, I was spared that woful sight, but I discerned something else that sent a misgiving pang through me.
It was Mrs. Clarkson, our nearest neighbor, rapidly approaching, as if the bearer of momentous tidings.
"She has come to tell me that Bob is drowned," I gasped, as my heart almost ceased its beating.
I met her on the threshold, with a calmness of manner which belied the tumult within. Greeting her courteously, I invited her inside, stating that my wife was absent.
"I thank you," she said, "but it is not worth while. I thought I ought to come over and tell you."
"Tell me what?" I inquired, swallowing the lump in my throat.
"Why, about the awful dream I had last night."
I was able to smile faintly, and was partly prepared for what was coming.
"I am ready to hear it, Mrs. Clarkson."
"Why, you know it was Friday night, and I never had a dream on a Friday night that didn't come true—never! Where's Bob?" she abruptly asked, peering around me, as if to learn whether he was in the hall.
"He's off somewhere at play."
"Oh, Mr. Havens, you'll never see him alive again!"
Although startled in spite of myself, I was indignant.
"Have you any positive knowledge, Mrs. Clarkson, on the matter?"
"Certainly I have; didn't I just tell you about my dream?"
"A fudge for your dream!" I exclaimed, impatiently; "I don't believe in any such nonsense."
"I pity you," she said, though why I should be pitied on that account is hard to understand.
"But what was your dream?"
"I saw your Bob brought home drowned. Oh, I can see him now," she added, speaking rapidly, and making a movement as if to wring her hands; "his white face—his dripping hair and clothes—his half-closed eyes—it was dreadful; it will break his mother's heart—"
"Mrs. Clarkson, did you come here to tell me that?"
"Why, of course I did; I felt it was my duty to prepare you—"
"Good day," I answered, sharply, closing the door and hastily entering my study.
She had given me a terrible shock. My feelings were in a tumult difficult to describe. My philosophy, my self-command, my hard sense and scepticism were scattered to the winds, I had fought against the awful fear, and was still fighting when my neighbor called; but her visit had knocked every prop from beneath me.
She had hardly disappeared when I was hurrying through the woods by the shortest route to the mill-pond. I knew Bob had been there, and all that I expected to find was his white, ghastly body in the cold, cruel depths.
"Oh, my boy!" I wailed, "I am to blame for your death! I never should have permitted you to run into such danger. I should have gone with you and taught you to swim—I can never forgive myself for this—never, never, never. It will break your mother's heart—mine is already broken—"
"Pop, just watch me!"
Surely that was the voice of my boy! I turned my head like a flash, and there he was, with his hands together over his head, and in the act of diving into the mill-pond. Down he went with a splash, his head quickly reappearing, as he flirted the hair and water out of his eyes, and struck out for the middle of the pond.
"What are you doing, Bob?"
"You just wait and see, pop."
And what did that young rascal do but swim straight across that pond and then turn about and swim back again, without pausing for breath? Not only that, but, when in the very deepest portion, he dove, floated on his back, trod water, and kicked up his heels like a frisky colt.
"How's that, pop? You didn't know I could swim, did you?" he asked, as he came smilingly up the bank.
"I had no idea of such a thing," I replied, my whole being fluttering with gratitude and delight; "I think I'll have to reward you for that."
And when he had donned his clothes, and we started homeward, I slipped a twisted bank-bill into his hands. I am really ashamed to tell its denomination, and Bob and I never hinted anything about it to his mother.
And now as to the question, Who shall explain it? I think I can. I have a weakness for boiled beef and cabbage. The meat is healthful enough, but, as every one knows, or ought to know, cabbage, although one of the most digestible kinds of food when raw, is just the opposite in a boiled state. I knew the consequences of eating it, but in the absence of my good wife that day I disposed of so much that I deserved the oppressive indigestion that followed.
That fact, I am convinced, fully explains the dreadful "presentiment" which made me so miserable all the afternoon.
On our way home we passed the house of Mrs. Clarkson. I could not forbear stopping and ringing her bell. She answered it in person.
"Mrs. Clarkson, Bob is on his way home from swimming, and I thought I would let him hear about that wonderful dream—"
But the door was slammed in my face.
I said at the opening of this sketch that I "had" a boy named Bob. God be thanked, I have him yet, and no lustier, brighter, or more manly youth ever lived, and my prayer is that he may be spared to soothe the declining years of his father and mother, whose love for him is beyond the power of words to tell.
A FOOL OR A GENIUS.
Josiah Hunter sat on his porch one summer afternoon, smoking his pipe, feeling dissatisfied, morose and sour on account of his only son Tim, who, he was obliged to confess to himself, gave every indication of proving a disappointment to him.
Mr. Hunter was owner of the famous Brereton Quarry & Stone Works, located about a mile above the thriving village of Brereton, on the eastern bank of the Castaran river, and at a somewhat greater distance below the town of Denville. The quarry was a valuable one and the owner was in comfortable circumstances, with the prospect of acquiring considerable more of a fortune out of the yield of excellent building stone. The quarry had been worked for something like ten years, and the discovery that he had such a fine deposit on his small farm was in the minds of his neighbors equivalent to the finding of a gold mine, for as the excavation proceeded, the quality of the material improved and Mr. Hunter refused an offer from a company which, but for the stone, would have been a very liberal price for the whole farm.
Mr. Hunter had been a widower ever since his boy was three years old, and the youth was now fourteen. His sister Maggie was two years his senior, and they were deeply attached to each other. Maggie was a daughter after her father's own heart,—one of those rare, sensible girls who cannot be spoiled by indulgence, who was equally fond of her parent and who stood unflinchingly by her brother in the little differences between father and son, which, sad to say, were becoming more frequent and serious with the passing weeks and months. It is probable that the affection of the parent for the daughter prevented him from ever thinking of marrying again, for she was a model housekeeper, and he could not bear the thought of seeing anyone come into the family and usurp, even in a small degree, her functions and place.
Mr. Hunter was getting on in years, and nothing was more natural than that he should wish and plan that Tim should become his successor in the development of the valuable quarry that was not likely to give out for many a year to come. But the boy showed no liking for the business. He was among the best scholars in the village school, fond of play and so well advanced in his studies that his parent determined to begin his practical business training in earnest. He looked upon a college education as a waste of so many years, taken from the most precious part of a young man's life, and it must be said that Tim himself showed no wish to attend any higher educational institution.
Tim had assisted about the quarry, more or less for several years. Of course he was too young to do much in the way of manual labor, but there were many errands that he ran, beside helping to keep his father's accounts. He wrote an excellent hand, was quick in figures and had such a command of language that all his parent had to do was to tell him the substance of the letter he wished written, to have the boy put it in courteous but pointed and clear form. The elder had never detected an error in the computations of the younger, who had no trouble at all when the operations included difficult fractions.
All this was good in its way, but it could not be denied that Tim had no liking for the business itself. His father had told him repeatedly that he must prepare himself for the active management of the stone works, and that to do so required something more than quickness in figures and skill in letter writing. But it was in vain. Tim was never at the works unless by direct command of his parent, and seized the first opportunity to get away.
"No person can succeed in a business which he dislikes," remarked Mr. Hunter to Maggie who on this summer afternoon sat on the front porch, plying her deft needle, while the waning twilight lasted, with Bridget inside preparing the evening meal.
"I think that is true, father," was her gentle reply.
"And that boy hates the stone business and I can't understand why he should."
"Isn't it also true, father, that one cannot control his likes and dislikes? Tim has told me he can't bear the thought of spending his life in getting out great blocks of stone and trimming them into shape for building. He said he wished he could feel as you do, but there's no use of his trying."
"Fudge!" was the impatient exclamation; "what business has a boy of his years to talk or think about what sort of business he prefers? It is my place to select his future avocation and his to accept it without a growl."
"He will do that, father."
"Of course he will," replied the parent with a compression of his thin lips and a flash of his eyes; "when I yield to a boy fourteen years old, it will be time to shift me off to the lunatic asylum."
"Why, then, are you displeased, since he will do what you wish and do it without complaint?
"I am displeased because he is dissatisfied and has no heart in his work. He shows no interest in anything relating to the quarries and it is becoming worse every day with him."
"Didn't he help this forenoon?"
"Yes, because I told him he must be on hand as soon as he was through breakfast and not leave until he went to dinner."
"Did you say nothing about his working this afternoon?"
"No; I left that out on purpose to test him."
"What was the result?"
"I haven't seen hide or hair of him since; I suppose he is off in the woods or up in his room, reading or figuring on some invention. Do you know where he is?"
"He has been in his room almost all the afternoon and is there now."
"I guess you have answered that question," replied Maggie laying aside her sewing because of the increasing shadows, and looking across at her father with a smile.
"That's what makes me lose all patience. What earthly good is it for him to sit in his room drawing figures of machines he dreams of making, or scribbling over sheets of paper? If this keeps up much longer, he will take to writing poetry, and the next thing will be smoking cigarettes and then his ruin will be complete."
Maggie's clear laughter rang out on the summer air. She was always overflowing with spirits and the picture drawn by her parent and the look of profound disgust on his face as he uttered his scornful words stirred her mirth beyond repression.
"What are you laughing at?" he demanded, turning toward her, though without any anger in his tones, for he could never feel any emotion of that nature toward such a daughter.
"It was the idea of Tim writing poetry or rhyme and smoking cigarettes. I'll guarantee that he will never do either."
"Nor anything else, you may as well add."
"I'll guarantee that if he lives he will do a good many things that will be better than getting out and trimming stone."
This was not the first time that Maggie had intimated the same faith, without going into particulars or giving any idea upon what she based that faith. The parent looked sharply at her and asked:
"What do you mean? Explain yourself."
But the daughter was not yet ready to do so. She had her thoughts or dreams or whatever they might be, but was not prepared as yet to share them with her parent. He was not in the mood, and for her to tell all that was in her mind would be to provoke an outburst that would be painful to the last degree. She chose for the present to parry.
"How can I know, father, what ambition Tim has? He is still young enough to change that ambition, whatever it may be."
"And he's got to change it, as sure as he lives! I am tired of his fooling; he is fourteen years old, big, strong, and healthy; if he would take hold of the work and show some interest in it, he would be able in a couple of years to take charge of the whole business and give me a rest, but he is frittering away valuable time until I've made up my mind to permit it no longer."
The parent knocked the bowl of his pipe against the column of the porch and shook his head in a way that showed he meant every word he said. Maggie was troubled, for she had feared an outbreak between him and Tim, and it seemed to be impending. She dreaded it more than death, for any violence by her beloved parent toward her equally beloved brother would break her heart. That parent, naturally placid and good-natured, had a frightful temper when it was aroused. She could never forget that day when in a quarrel with one of his employes, he came within a hair of killing the man and for the time was a raging tiger.
There was one appeal that Maggie knew had never failed her, though she feared the day would come when even that would lose its power. She reserved it as the last recourse. When she saw her father rise to his feet, and in the gathering gloom noted the grim resolute expression on his face, she knew the crisis had come.
"Tell him to come down-stairs; we may as well have this matter settled here and now."
"Father," she said in a low voice of the sweetest tenderness, "you will not forget what he did two years ago?"
The parent stood motionless, silent for a minute, and then gently resumed his seat, adding a moment later,
"No; I can never forget that; never mind calling him just now."
And what it was that Tim Hunter did "two years ago" I must now tell you.
Bear in mind that Tim Hunter was twelve years old at the time, being the junior by two years of his sister Maggie.
On the day which I have in mind, he had spent the forenoon fishing, and brought home a mess of trout for which he had whipped one of the mountain brooks, and which furnished the family with the choicest sort of a meal. The father complimented him on his skill, for that was before the parent's patience had been so sorely tried by the indifference of the lad toward the vocation to which the elder meant he should devote his life. He left the lad at liberty to spend the rest of the day as he chose, and, early in the afternoon, he proposed to his sister that they should engage in that old game of "jackstones" with which I am sure you are familiar.
Years ago the country lads and lassies generally used little bits of stones, instead of scraggly, jagged pieces of iron, with which they amuse themselves in these days. Tim had seen some of the improved jackstones; and, borrowing one from a playmate, he made a clay mould from it, into which he poured melted lead, repeating the operation until he had five as pretty and symmetrically formed specimens as one could wish. It was with these in his hands, that he led the way to the barn for a game between himself and sister.
The big, spacious structure was a favorite place for spending their leisure hours. The hard, seedy floor, with the arching rafters overhead could not be improved for their purpose. The shingles were so far aloft that the shade within was cool on sultry summer days, and it was the pleasantest kind of music to hear the rain drops patter on the roof and the wind whistle around the eaves and corners. The mow where the hay was stored was to the left, as you entered the door, and under that were the stalls where the horses munched their dinner and looked solemnly through the opening over the mangers at the two children engaged at play. Between where they sat and the rafters, the space was open.
Maggie took her seat in the middle of the floor, and her brother placed himself opposite. Before doing so, he stepped to the nearest stall and picked up a block of wood six inches in diameter and two feet in length. This he laid on the floor and seated himself upon it, tossing the jackstones to his sister to begin the game.
She was his superior, for her pretty taper fingers were more nimble than his sturdy ones, and, unless she handicapped herself by certain conditions, she invariably won in the contest of skill. She tossed them one after the other, then two or three or more at a time, snatching up the others from the floor and going through the varied performance with an easy perfection that was the wonder of Tim. Once or twice, she purposely missed some feat, but the alert lad was sure to detect it, and declared he would not play unless she did her best, and, under his watchful eye, she could not escape doing so. As I have said, the only way to equalize matters was for her to handicap herself, and even then I am compelled to say she was more often winner than loser.
Sitting on the block of wood tipped up on one end, Tim kept his eyes on the bits of metal, popping up in the air and softly dropping into the extended palm, and wondered again why it was so hard for him to do that which was so easy for her. Finally she made a slip, which looked honest, and resigned the stones to him.
Now, you know that in playing this game, you ought to sit on the floor or ground; for if your perch is higher, you are compelled to stoop further to snatch up the pieces and your position is so awkward that it seriously interferes with your success.
The very first scramble Tim made at the stones on the floor was not only a failure, but resulted in a splinter catching under the nail of one of his fingers. Maggie laughed.
"Why do you sit way up there?" she asked; "you can't do half as well as when you are lower down like me."
"I guess you're right," he replied, as he pushed the block away and imitated her. "I 'spose I'll catch the splinters just the same."
"There's no need of it; you mustn't claw the stones, but move your hand gently, just as I do. Now, watch me."
"It's a pity that no one else in the world is half as smart as you," replied the brother with fine irony, but without ill nature. "Ah, wasn't that splendid?"
Which remark was caused by the plainest kind of fluke on the part of Maggie, who in her effort to instruct her brother, forgot one or two nice points, which oversight was fatal.
"Well," said she, "I didn't fill my fingers with splinters."
"Nor with jackstones either; if I can't do any better than you I'm sure I can't do any worse."
"Well, Smarty, what are you waiting for?"
"For you to pay attention."
"I'm doing that."
With cool, careful steadiness, Tim set to work, and lo! he finished the game without a break, performing the more difficult exploits with a skill that compelled the admiration of his sister.
"I'm glad to see that you're not such a big dunce as you look; I've been discouraged in trying to teach you, but you seem to be learning at last."
"Wouldn't you like me to give you a few lessons?"
"No; for, if you did, I should never win another game," was the pert reply; "I wonder whether you will ever be able to beat me again."
"Didn't you know that I have been fooling with you all the time, just as I fool a trout till I get him to take the hook?"
Maggie stared at him with open mouth for a moment and then asked in an awed whisper:
"No; I didn't know that: did you?"
"Never mind; the best thing you can do is to tend to bus'ness, for I'm not going to show you a bit of mercy."
During this friendly chaffing, both noticed that the wind was rising. It moaned around the barn, and enough of it entered the window far above their heads for them to feel it fan their cheeks. An eddy even lifted one of the curls from the temple of the girl. This, however, was of no special concern to them, and they continued their playing.
Each went through the next series without a break. Tim was certainly doing himself honor, and his sister was at a loss to understand it. But you know that on some days the player of any game does much better than on others. This was one of Tim's best days and one of Maggie's worst, for he again surpassed her, though there could be no doubt that she did her very best, and she could not repress her chagrin. But she was too fond of her bright brother to feel anything in the nature of resentment for his success.
"There's one thing certain," she said, shaking her curly head with determination; "you can't beat me again."
"I wouldn't be so rash, sister; remember that I mean bus'ness to-day."
"Just as if you haven't always done your best; it's you that are bragging, not I."
Tim had taken the stones in his right hand with the purpose of giving them the necessary toss in the air, when a blast of wind struck the barn with a force that made it tremble. They distinctly felt the tremor of the floor beneath them. He paused and looked into the startled face of his sister with the question:
"Hadn't we better run to the house?"
"No," she replied, her heart so set on beating him that she felt less fear than she would have felt had it been otherwise; "it's as safe here as in the house; one is as strong as the other; if you want to get out of finishing the game, why, I'll let you off."
"You know it isn't that, Maggie; but the barn isn't as strong as the house."
"It has stood a good many harder blows than this; don't you see it has stopped? Go on."
"All right; just as you say," and up went the pronged pieces and were caught with the same skill as before. Then he essayed a more difficult feat and failed. Maggie clapped her hands with delight, and leaned forward to catch up the bits and try her hand.
At that instant something like a tornado or incipient cyclone struck the barn. They felt the structure swaying, heard the ripping of shingles, and casting his eyes aloft, Tim saw the shingles and framework coming down upon their heads.
It was an appalling moment. If they remained where they were, both would be crushed to death. The door was too far away for both to reach it; though it was barely possible that by a quick leap and dash he might get to the open air in the nick of time, but he would die a hundred times over before abandoning his sister. The open window was too high to be reached from the floor without climbing, and there was no time for that.
The action of a cyclone is always peculiar. Resistless as is its power, it is often confined to a very narrow space. The one to which I am now referring whipped off a corner of the roof, so loosening the supports that the whole mass of shingles and rafters covering the larger portion came down as if flung from the air above, while the remainder of the building was left unharmed, the terrified horses not receiving so much as a scratch.
There was one awful second when brother and sister believed that the next would be their last. Then Tim threw his arm around the neck of Maggie and in a flash drew her forward so that she lay flat on her face and he alongside of her; but the twinkling of an eye before that he had seized the block of wood, rejected some time before as a chair, and stood it on end beside his shoulder, keeping his right arm curved round it so as to hold it upright in position, while the other arm prevented Maggie from rising.
"Don't move?" he shouted amid the crashing of timbers and the roaring of the gale; "lie still and you won't be hurt."
She could not have disobeyed him had she tried, for the words were in his mouth when the fearful mass of timber descended upon them.
Do you understand what Tim Hunter did? Had the mass of timber descending upon him and his sister been unchecked, they would not have lived an instant. Had it been shattered into small fragments by the cyclone, the ingenious precaution which a wonderful presence of mind enabled hint to make, would have been of no avail.
Take a block of seasoned oak, six inches through, and two feet in height, and interpose it squarely against an approaching body and it is almost as powerful in the way of resistance as so much metal. It would take an ironclad to crush it to pulp, by acting longitudinally or along its line of length. This block stood upright, and received a portion of the rafters, covered by the shingles and held them aloft as easily as you can hold your hat with your outstretched arm. From this point of highest support, the debris sloped away until it rested on the floor, but the open space, in which the brother and sister lay, was as safe as was their situation, before the gale loosened the structure.