Tim called to his sister and found that not so much as a hair of her head had been harmed, and it was the same with himself. All was darkness in their confined quarters, but the wrenched framework gave them plenty of air to breathe.
Who can picture the feelings of the father, when he saw the collapse of the roof of the barn and knew that his two children were beneath? He rushed thither like a madman, only to be cheered to the highest thankfulness the next moment at hearing their muffled assurances that both were all right. A brief vigorous application of his axe and the two were helped out into the open air, neither the worse for their dreadful experience.
The parent could hardly believe what had been done by his boy, when Maggie told him, until an examination for himself showed that it was true. He declared that neither he nor anyone would have thought of the means and applied it with such lightning quickness. It certainly was an extraordinary exhibition of presence of mind and deserved all the praise given to it. The Brereton Intelligencer devoted half a column to a description of the exploit and prophesied that that "young man" would be heard from again. For weeks and months there was nothing at the disposal of Mr. Hunter which was too good for his boy and it is probable that the indulgence of that period had something to do with making Tim dissatisfied with the prospect of spending all his life as a "hewer of stone."
Gradually as the effects of the remarkable rescue wore off, the impatience of the parent grew until we have seen him on the point of calling to account the boy who had really been the means of saving two lives, for his own was as much imperilled as the sister's. Once more she appealed to that last recourse, and once more it did not fail her. When he recalled that dreadful scene, he could not help feeling an admiring gratitude for his boy. Although silent and reserved some time later, when the three gathered round the table for their evening meal, nothing unpleasant was said by the parent, though the sharp-witted Tim felt a strong suspicion of the cause of his father's reserve.
Later in the evening, the latter sat down by the table in the sitting room and took up his copy of the Brereton Intelligencer, which had arrived that afternoon. He always spent his Thursday evenings in this manner, unless something unusual interfered, the local news and selected miscellany affording enough intellectual food to last him until retiring time.
While he was thus occupied, Tim and Maggie played checkers, there being little difference in their respective skill. They were quiet, and when necessary to speak, did so in low tones, so as not to disturb the parent.
An hour had passed, when he suddenly turned, with his spectacles on his nose, and looked at the children. The slight resentment he still felt toward Tim caused him to address himself directly to his sister:
"Maggie, do you know who has been writing these articles in the paper for the last few weeks?"
She held a king suspended as she was on the point of jumping a couple of Tim's and asked in turn:
"They are signed 'Mit' and each paper for the last two or three months has had one of them."
"No, sir; I do not know who wrote them."
"Well, whoever he is he's a mighty smart fellow."
"Maybe it's a 'she,'" suggested Maggie, as she proceeded to sweep off the board the two kings of Tim that had got in the path of her single one.
"Fudge! no woman can write such good sense as that. Besides, some of them have been on the tariff, the duties of voters, the Monroe Doctrine and politics: what does any woman know about such themes as those?"
"Don't some women write about them?"
"I haven't denied that, but that doesn't prove that they know anything of the subjects themselves."
The miss could make no suitable response to this brilliant remark and did not attempt to do so, while Tim said nothing at all, as if the subject had no attraction to him.
By and by the parent uttered a contemptuous sniff. He was reading "Mit's" contribution, and for the first time came upon something with which he did not agree.
"He's 'way off there," remarked the elder, as if speaking to himself.
"What is it, father?" asked Maggie, ceasing her playing for the moment, for her affection always led her to show an interest in whatever interested him.
"The article is the best I have read until I get toward the end. Listen: 'No greater mistake can be made than for a parent to force a child into some calling or profession for which he has no liking. The boy will be sure to fail.' Now, what do you think of that?"
"The latter part sounds very much like what you said to me this afternoon."
"It isn't that, which is true enough, but the idea that a boy knows better than his father what is the right profession for him to follow. That doctrine is too much like Young America who thinks he knows it all."
"Read on, father; let me hear the rest."
The father was silent a minute or two, while he skimmed through the article.
"It isn't worth reading," he remarked impatiently, thereby proving that he had been hit by the arguments which he found difficult to refute. Maggie made no comment, but smiled significantly at Tim across the board, as they resumed their game.
In truth, Mr. Hunter had come upon some sentiments that set him to thinking, such, for instance, as these: "It may be said with truth in many cases, that the father is the best judge of what the future of his son should be. In fact no one can question this, but the father does not always use that superior knowledge as he should. Perhaps he has yielded to the dearest wish of the mother that their son should become a minister. The mother's love does not allow her to see that her boy has no gifts as a speaker and no love for a clergyman's life. He longs to be a lawyer or doctor. Will any one deny that to drive the young man into the pulpit is the greatest mistake that can be made?
"Sometimes a father, with an only son, perhaps, intends that he shall be trained to follow in his footsteps. The boy has a dislike for that calling or profession,—a dislike that was born with him and which nothing can remove. His taste runs in a wholly different channel; whatever talent he has lies there. While it may be convenient for him to step into his parent's shoes, yet he should never be forced to do so, but be allowed to select that for which he has an ability and toward which he is drawn. Parents make such sad mistakes as these, and often do not awake to the fact until it is too late to undo the mischief that has been done. Let them give the subject their most thoughtful attention and good is sure to follow."
It was these words, following on the talk he had had with Maggie a short time before that set Mr. Hunter to thinking more deeply than he had ever done over the problem in which his son was so intimately concerned. After his children had retired and he was left alone, he turned over the paper and read the article again. It stuck to him and he could not drive it away. Laying the journal aside, he lit his pipe and leaned back in his chair.
"It is not pleasant," he mused, "to give up the idea of Tim becoming my successor, for he is the only one I have ever thought of as such. But there is force in what 'Mit' says about driving a boy into a calling or profession that he hates; he will make a failure of it, whereas he might become very successful if left to follow his own preferences. I wonder who 'Mit' is; his articles are the best I have ever read in the Intelligencer; I must ask the editor, so I can have him out here and talk over this question which is the biggest bother I ever had."
Before Maggie and Tim separated to go to their rooms, and while at the top of the stairs they whispered together for a few minutes. The parent had got thus far in his musings, when he heard the voice of Maggie calling from above:
"Father, do you think 'Mit' is a smart fellow?"
"Of course, even though I may not agree with all his views," replied the parent, wondering why his child was so interested.
"Would you like to know who he is?"
"Of course, but you told me you didn't know."
"I didn't at that time, but I have learned since. If you will spell the name backwards and put it before your surname, you will have that of the youth who wrote the articles you admire so much."
The parent did as suggested, and behold! the name thus spelled out was that of his only son, whose writings he had praised before the young man's face.
When the chuckling Tim told his sister the secret as he paused to kiss her good-night at the head of the stairs, he did not dream that she would reveal it to their father; but, before he could exact a promise, she emitted the truth, despite his attempts to place his hand over her mouth. Then she darted off, and, humiliated and chagrined, he went to his own room.
But the parent was given more to think about. He was pleasant to both the next morning at breakfast and made no reference to the matter that was in the minds of all. Just as the meal was finished, he remarked:
"Tim, the load of stone is ready and we will take it over to Montvale to-day; wouldn't you like to go with us?"
"Thank you, father; I shall be glad to go."
"All right; as soon as you and Maggie are through with your nonsense, come out to the wharf and join us."
The method of transporting stone from the Brereton quarries to Montvale, on the other side of the river, was simple. The canal ran directly in front of the quarries, and there the boat was loaded with the heavy freight. It was then drawn by horse through the canal Denville, several miles to the north, where the waterway touched the level of the Castaran river. Passing through a lock, the boat was pulled across the stream by means of a rope, and wheel arrangement (a heavy dam furnishing comparatively deep and smooth water), when another lock admitted it to the canal on the opposite side.
The boat, which lay against the bank of the canal near the quarries, was loaded so heavily that it was brought as low in the water as was safe. Then a horse was hitched fast, and with Tim driving, and with Warren and his father and two men on board, the craft began slowly moving against the sluggish current.
The start was made in the morning, and before the forenoon was half gone they were at the lower end of Denville, where preparations were quickly made for crossing the river. The horse was taken on board, the boat securely fastened by a strong rope at the bow and stern, so as to hold her broadside against the current, and then the contrivance began dragging her slowly toward the opposite shore.
During the spring months and the period of high water, a great many rafts of lumber descend the Castaran, though the number is not so great of late years as formerly. They are sold at various points along the river, and occasionally two or three rafts float down stream during the summer months. A long sweeping paddle (sometimes a couple) at either end of the raft enable the men to clear the abutments of the bridges and to shoot the rapids at different points.
The canal boat, with its cargo of stone had no more than fairly left the eastern side, when a large raft was observed emerging from between two abutments of the bridge above. The men at the oars began toiling with them with a view of working the structure toward the rapids, through which the only safe passage can be secured.
Those on the boat having nothing to do had seated themselves here and there, and were watching their surroundings, as they moved at right angles to the current. The raft was heading toward a point just ahead of the boat, and was so near that Tim, who was sitting beside his father on the cabin, started to his feet and said:
"I believe they are going to strike us."
"Sit down; there is no danger; these people know their business; we shall be well out of their way before they can reach us."
Nevertheless a collision seemed so imminent a moment later, that Mr. Hunter rose to his feet and motioned to those working the rope to give the boat greater speed. At the same time he shouted to the raftsmen:
"Keep off; don't you see we are in danger?"
"Get out of the way, then!" was the reply; "we must go through there."
Such manifestly was their right, and the gentleman again waved his hands to those on both shores. But they saw the danger, and applying all the power at their command, the boat began moving so much faster that Mr. Hunter resumed his seat.
"It's all right now," he remarked; "but it looked mighty squally a minute ago."
The canal boat was now crossing the rapid current, where a passage-way had been left on purpose for rafts. It had not quite reached the middle, toward which the structure was aiming, but its speed was sufficient to take it well out of the way, provided no accident occurred.
And this is just what did occur. The unusual strain on the gearing caused something to give way, and the forward motion of the craft ceased at the very moment it reached the middle of the strong current. Those on the bank who were managing the apparatus saw the trouble at once, and strove desperately to extricate the boat from its perilous situation, but they were powerless.
"For Heaven's sake, keep off!" shouted Mr. Hunter to the raftsmen; "if you don't we shall be ruined!"
As he spoke he caught up a long pole, and pressing one end against the bed of the river exerted himself with might and main to impel the boat forward. He called to the two men to do the same, and under their united propulsion the boat advanced, but at a snail's pace.
The lumbermen, seeing the alarming state of affairs, put forth all their strength to swing the raft over so that it would pass between the boat and the eastern shore. There was scant room for this, but they were hardly less anxious than the imperilled boatmen, to whom the consequences were certain to be more serious than to themselves.
Had the distance been greater they might have succeeded, but under the circumstances it was impossible. Dipping the broad blades of the long oars, balanced at the ends of the raft, the men almost lay on their faces as they held their breath and pushed with every ounce of strength at their command. Then, when they reached the edge of the raft, they bore down so as to lift the blade from the water, ran back to the other side, dipped the oar again and shoved as before.
Meanwhile Mr. Hunter and his assistants were panting and red in the face, as they desperately strove to force the boat from the path of the approaching raft, which came plunging down upon them with increasing speed.
"No use!" he suddenly exclaimed, flinging the wet pole in the center of the boat on top of the stone; "we shall be shivered to atoms! Be ready to jump on the raft as it crushes through us! Leave the horse to take care of himself! Tim, you know how to swim, but jump on the raft with us—Heavens! what have you done, my son?"
A few seconds before the boy had caught up the sharp hatchet lying near the cabin, and intended for use of splitting fuel for the stove. With two quick blows he severed the rope which held the stern. The latter yielded to the strong current dashing against it, and began swinging around, so that it quickly lay parallel with the river, with the bow pointing up stream, and held securely by the rope fastened at that end.
This was no more than fairly done when the enormous raft swept past, so close that the nearest log was heard scraping the entire length of the boat. The impact drove it clear, and before any one beside the boy realized how it was done the entire structure had gone by, no damage was done and all were safe.
"Jim," said Mr. Hunter, a minute after, when the flurry was over, "what a set of fools we were that we didn't think of that."
"I don't agree with you," replied the other, "because no one would have thought of it except that youngster."
"Tim," added the father, placing his hand affectionately on his head, "I am proud of you."
And the little fellow blushed and replied:
"I'm glad I happened to think of it in time, but it was rather close, wasn't it?"
"It couldn't have been more so, and but for you boat and cargo would have been a dead loss, and more than likely some of us would have lost our lives."
That night at the supper table, Mr. Hunter remarked with a meaning smile:
"Maggie, the Hunter family contains a fool and a genius, I'm not the genius and 'Mit' isn't the fool."
"Father, you are not just to yourself," the boy hastened to say; "I have done wrong in not appreciating your kindness or indulgence, and I have resolved to do my best to please you. I think I have some talent for composition and invention, but I can use it just as well, without neglecting the quarries and stone works, and if you will permit, I shall give you all the help I can in the business with the hope that some day, which I pray may be far distant, I shall become your successor."
Tears filled the eyes of all, as the parent, rising from his chair, placed his hand on the head of Tim and said, in a tremulous voice:
"God bless you, my son!"