A BUSY YEAR AT THE OLD SQUIRE'S
C. A. STEPHENS
Published by The Old Squire's Bookstore Norway, Maine Copyright, 1922 By C. A. Stephens All rights reserved
Electrotyped and Printed by The Colonial Press Clinton, Mass., U. S. A.
DEDICATED WITH CORDIAL BEST WISHES TO THE THOUSANDS OF READERS WHO HAVE REQUESTED THIS Memorial Edition OF THE C. A. STEPHENS BOOKS
I. Master Pierson Comes Back
II. Cutting Ice at 14 Degrees Below Zero
III. A Bear's "Pipe" in Winter
IV. White Monkey Week
V. When Old Zack Went to School
VI. The Sad Abuse of Old Mehitable
VIII. When We Hunted the Striped Catamount
IX. The Lost Oxen
XI. When We Walked the Town Lines
XII. The Rose-Quartz Spring
XIII. Fox Pills
XIV. The Unpardonable Sin
XV. The Cantaloupe Coaxer
XVI. The Strange Disappearance of Grandpa Edwards
XVII. Our Fourth of July at the Den
XVIII. Jim Doane's Bank Book
XIX. Grandmother Ruth's Last Load of Hay
XX. When Uncle Hannibal Spoke at the Chapel
XXI. That Mysterious Daguerreotype Saloon
XXII. "Rainbow in the Morning"
XIII. When I Went After the Eyestone
XXIV. Borrowed for a Bee Hunt
XXV. When the Lion Roared
XXVI. Uncle Solon Chase Comes Along
XVII. On the Dark of the Moon
XXVIII. Halstead's Gobbler
XXIX. Mitchella Jars
XXX. When Bears Were Denning Up
XXXI. Czar Brench
XXII. When Old Peg Led the Flock
XXXIII. Witches' Brooms
XXXIV. The Little Image Peddlers
XXXV. A January Thaw
XXXVI. Uncle Billy Murch's Hair-Raiser
XXXVII. Addison's Pocketful of Auger Chips
A Busy Year at the Old Squire's
MASTER PIERSON COMES BACK
Master Joel Pierson arrived the following Sunday afternoon, as he had promised in his letter of Thanksgiving Day eve, and took up his abode with us at the old Squire's for the winter term of school.
Cousin Addison drove to the village with horse and pung to fetch him; and the pung, I remember, was filled with the master's belongings, including his school melodeon, books and seven large wall maps for teaching geography. For Master Pierson brought a complete outfit, even to the stack of school song-books which later were piled on the top of the melodeon that stood in front of the teacher's desk at the schoolhouse. Every space between the windows was covered by those wall maps. No other teacher had ever made the old schoolhouse so attractive. No other teacher had ever entered on the task of giving us instruction with such zeal and such enthusiasm. It was a zeal, too, and an enthusiasm which embraced every pupil in the room and stopped at nothing short of enlisting that pupil's best efforts to learn.
Master Pierson put life and hard work into everything that went on at school—even into the old schoolhouse itself. Every morning he would be off from the old Squire's at eight o'clock, to see that the schoolhouse was well warmed and ready to begin lessons at nine; and if there had been any neglect in sweeping or dusting, he would do it himself, and have every desk and bench clean and tidy before school time.
What was more, Master Pierson possessed the rare faculty of communicating his own zeal for learning to his pupils. We became so interested, as weeks passed, that of our own accord we brought our school books home with us at night, in order to study evenings; and we asked for longer lessons that we might progress faster.
My cousin Halstead was one of those boys (and their name is Legion) who dislike study and complain of their lessons that they are too long and too hard. But strange to say, Master Joel Pierson somehow led Halse to really like geography that winter. Those large wall maps in color were of great assistance to us all. In class we took turns going to them with a long pointer, to recite the lesson of the day. I remember just how the different countries looked and how they were bounded—though many of these boundaries are now, of course, considerably changed.
When lessons dragged and dullness settled on the room, Master Joel was wont to cry, "Halt!" then sit down at the melodeon and play some school song as lively as the instrument admitted of, and set us all singing for five or ten minutes, chanting the multiplication tables, the names of the states, the largest cities of the country, or even the Books of the Bible. At other times he would throw open the windows and set us shouting Patrick Henry's speech, or Byron's Apostrophe to the Ocean. In short, "old Joel" was what now would be called a "live wire." He was twenty-two then and a student working his own way through Bates College. After graduating he migrated to a far western state where he taught for a year or two, became supervisor of schools, then State Superintendent, and afterwards a Representative to Congress. He is an aged man now and no word of mine can add much to the honors which have worthily crowned his life. None the less I want to pay this tribute to him—even if he did rub my ears at times and cry, "Wake up, Round-head! Wake up and find out what you are in this world for." (More rubs!) "You don't seem to know yet. Wake up and find out about it. We have all come into the world to do something. Wake up and find out what you are here for!"—and then more rubs!
It wasn't his fault if I never fairly waked up to my vocation—if I really had one. For the life of me I could never feel sure what I was for! Cousin Addison seemed to know just what he was going to do, from earliest boyhood, and went straight to it. Much the same way, cousin Theodora's warm, generous heart led her directly to that labor of love which she has so faithfully performed. As for Halstead, he was perfectly sure, cock-sure, more than twenty times, what he was going to do in life; but always in the course of a few weeks or months, he discovered he was on the wrong trail. What can be said of us who either have no vocation at all, or too many? What are we here for?
In addition to our daily studies at the schoolhouse, we resumed Latin, in the old sitting-room, evenings, Thomas and Catherine Edwards coming over across the field to join us. To save her carpet, grandmother Ruth put down burlap to bear the brunt of our many restless feet—for there was a great deal of trampling and sometimes outbreaks of scuffling there.
Thomas and I, who had forgotten much we had learned the previous winter, were still delving in AEsop's Fables. But Addison, Theodora and Catherine were going on with the first book of Caesar's Gallic War. Ellen, two years younger, was still occupied wholly by her English studies. Study hours were from seven till ten, with interludes for apples and pop-corn.
Halstead, who had now definitely abandoned Latin as something which would never do him any good, took up Comstock's Natural Philosophy, or made a feint of doing so, in order to have something of his own that was different from the rest of us. Natural philosophy, he declared, was far and away more important than Latin.
Memory goes back very fondly to those evenings in the old sitting-room, they were so illumined by great hopes ahead. Thomas and I, at a light-stand apart from the others, were usually puzzling out a Fable—The Lion, The Oxen, The Kid and the Wolf, The Fox and the Lion, or some one of a dozen others—holding noisy arguments over it till Master Pierson from the large center table, called out, "Less noise over there among those Latin infants! Caesar is building his bridge over the Rhine. You are disturbing him."
Addison, always very quiet when engrossed in study, scarcely noticed or looked up, unless perhaps to aid Catherine and Theodora for a moment, with some hard passage. It was Tom and I who made Latin noisy, aggravated at times by pranks from Halstead, whose studies in natural philosophy were by no means diligent. At intervals of assisting us with our translations of Caesar and the Fables, Master Pierson himself was translating the Greek of Demosthenes' Orations, and also reviewing his Livy—to keep up with his Class at College. But, night or day, he was always ready to help or advise us, and push us on. "Go ahead!" was "old Joel's" motto, and "That's what we're here for." He appeared to be possessed by a profound conviction that the human race has a great destiny before it, and that we ought all to work hard to hurry it up and realize it.
It is quite wonderful what an influence for good a wide-awake teacher, like Master Pierson, can exert in a school of forty or fifty boys and girls like ours in the old Squire's district, particularly where many of them "don't know what they are in the world for," and have difficulty in deciding on a vocation in life.
At that time there was much being said about a Universal Language. As there are fifty or more diverse languages, spoken by mankind, to say nothing of hundreds of different dialects, and as people now travel freely to all parts of the earth, the advantages of one common language for all nations are apparent to all who reflect on the subject. At present, months and years of our short lives are spent learning foreign languages. A complete education demands that the American whose mother tongue is the English, must learn French, German, Spanish and Italian, to say nothing of the more difficult languages of eastern Europe and the Orient. Otherwise the traveler, without an interpreter, cannot make himself understood, and do business outside his own country.
The want of a common means of communication therefore has long been recognized; and about that time some one had invented a somewhat imperfect method of universal speech, with the idea of having everybody learn it, and so be able to converse with the inhabitants of all lands without the well-nigh impossible task of learning five, or ten, or fifty different languages.
The idea impressed everybody as a good one, and enjoyed a considerable popularity for a time. But practically this was soon found to be a clumsy and inadequate form of speech, also that many other drawbacks attended its adoption.
But the main idea held good; and since that time Volapuk, Bolak, Esperanto and Ido have appeared, but without meeting with great success. The same disadvantages attend them, each and all.
In thinking the matter over and talking of it, one night at the old Squire's, that winter, Master Pierson hit on the best, most practical plan for a universal language which I have ever heard put forward. "Latin is the foundation of all the modern languages of Christendom," he said. "Or if not the foundation, it enters largely into all of them. Law, theology, medicine and philosophy are dependent on Latin for their descriptive terms. Without Latin words, modern science would be a jargon which couldn't be taught at all. Without Latin, the English language, itself, would relapse to the crude, primitive Saxon speech of our ancestors. No one can claim to be well educated till he has studied Latin.
"Now as we have need to learn Latin anyway, why not kill two birds with one stone, and make Latin our universal language? Why not have a colloquial, every-day Latin, such as the Romans used to speak in Italy? In point of fact, Latin was the universal language with travelers and educated people all through the Middle Ages. We need to learn it anyhow, so why not make it our needed form of common speech?"
I remember just how earnest old Joel became as he set forth his new idea of his. He jumped up and tore round the old sitting-room. He rubbed my ears again, rumpled Tom's hair, caught Catherine by both her hands and went ring-round-the-rosy with her, nearly knocking down the table, lamp and all! "The greatest idea yet!" he shouted. "Just what's wanted for a Universal Language!" He went and drew in the old Squire to hear about it; and the old Squire admitted that it sounded reasonable. "For I can see," he said, "that it would keep Latin, and the derivation of words from it, fresh in our minds. It would prove a constant review of the words from which our language has been formed.
"But Latin always looked to me rather heavy and perhaps too clumsy for every-day talk," the old gentleman remarked. "Think you could talk it?"
"Sure!" Master Pierson cried. "The old Romans spoke it. So can we. And that's just what I will do. I will get up a book of conversational Latin—enough to make a Common Language for every-day use." And in point of fact that was what old Joel was doing, for four or five weeks afterwards. He had Theodora and Catherine copy out page after page of it—as many as twenty pages. He wanted us each to have a copy of it; and for a time at least, he intended to have it printed.
A few days ago I came upon some of those faded, yellow pages, folded up in an old text book of AEsop's Latin Fables—the one Tom and I were then using; and I will set down a few of the sentences here, to illustrate what Master Pierson thought might be done with Latin as a universal language.
Master Pierson's Universal Language in Latin, which he named Dic from dico, meaning to speak.
1 It is time to get up. = Surgendi tempus est. 2 The sun is up already. = Sol jamdudum ortus. 3 Put on your shoes. = Indue tibi ocreas. 4 Comb your head. = Pecte caput tuum. 5 Light a candle and build a fire. = Accende lucernum, et fac ut luceat faculus. 6 Carry the lantern. We must water = Vulcanum in cornu geras. the horses. Equi aquatum agenda sunt. 7 It is a very hot day. = Dies est ingens aestus. 8 Let's go to the barn. = Jam imus horreum. 9 Grind the axes. = Acuste ascias. 10 It is near twelve o'clock. = Instat hora duodecima. 11 It is time for dinner. = Prandenti tempus adest. 12 Please take dinner with us. = Quesso nobiscum hodie sumas prandiolum. 13 Make a good fire. = Instruas optimum focum. 14 This chimney smokes. = Male fumat hic caminus. 15 The wood is green. = Viride est hoc lignum. 16 Fetch kindling wood. = Affer fomitem. 17 Lay the table cloth. = Sterne mappam. 18 Dinner is ready. = Cibus est appositus. 19 Don't spoil it by delay. = Ne corrumpatur mora vestra. 20 Sit down. = Accumbe. 21 This is my place. = Hic mihi locus. 22 Let him sit next me. = Assideat mihi. 23 Say grace, or ask a blessing. = Recita consecrationem. 24 Give me brown bread. = Da mihi panem atrum. 25 I am going to school. = Eo ad scholam. 26 What time is it? = Quota est hora? 27 It is past seven. = Praeteriit hora septima. 28 The bell has rung. = Sonuit tintinnabulum. 29 Go with me. = Vade mecum. 30 The master will soon be here. = Brevi praeceptor aderit. 31 I am very cold. = Valde frigeo. 32 My hands are numb. = Obtorpent manus. 33 Mend the fire. = Apta ignem.
I have copied out only a few of the shorter sentences. There were, as I have said, fully twenty pages of it, enough for quite a respectable "Universal Language," or at least the beginnings of one. Perhaps some ambitious linguist will yet take it up in earnest.
CUTTING ICE AT 14 DEGREES BELOW ZERO
Generally speaking, young folks are glad when school is done. But it wasn't so with us that winter in the old Squire's district, when Master Pierson was teacher. We were really sad, in fact quite melancholy, and some of the girls shed tears, when the last day of school came and "old Joel" tied up the melodeon, took down the wall maps, packed up his books and went back to his Class in College. He was sad himself—he had taken such interest in our progress.
"Now don't forget what you have learned!" he exclaimed. "Hang on to it. Knowledge is your best friend. You must go on with your Latin, evenings."
"You will surely come back next winter!" we shouted after him as he drove away.
"Maybe," he said, and would not trust himself to look back.
The old sitting-room seemed wholly deserted that Friday night after he went away. "We are like sheep without a shepherd," Theodora said. Catherine and Tom came over. We opened our Latin books and tried to study awhile; but 'twas dreary without "old Joel."
Other things, however, other duties and other work at the farm immediately occupied our attention. It was now mid-January and there was ice to be cut on the lake for our new creamery.
For three years the old Squire had been breeding a herd of Jerseys. There were sixteen of them: Jersey First, Canary, Jersey Second, Little Queen, Beauty, Buttercup, and all the rest. Each one had her own little book that hung from its nail on a beam of the tie-up behind her stall. In it were recorded her pedigree, dates, and the number of pounds of milk she gave at each milking. The scales for weighing the milk hung from the same beam. We weighed each milking, and jotted down the weight with the pencil tied to each little book. All this was to show which of the herd was most profitable, and which calves had better be kept for increase.
This was a new departure in Maine farming. Cream-separators were as yet undreamed of. A water-creamery with long cans and ice was then used for raising the cream; and that meant an ice-house and the cutting and hauling home of a year's stock of ice from the lake, nearly two miles distant.
We built a new ice-house near the east barn in November; and in December the old Squire drove to Portland and brought home a complete kit of tools—three ice-saws, an ice-plow or groover, ice-tongs, hooks, chisels, tackle and block.
Everything had to be bought new, but the old Squire had visions of great profits ahead from his growing herd of Jerseys. Grandmother, however, was less sanguine.
It was unusually cold in December that year, frequently ten degrees below zero, and there were many high winds. Consequently, the ice on the lake thickened early to twelve inches, and bade fair to go to two feet. For use in a water-creamery, ice is most conveniently cut and handled when not more than fifteen or sixteen inches thick. That thickness, too, when the cakes are cut twenty-six inches square, as usual, makes them quite heavy enough for hoisting and packing in an ice-house.
Half a mile from the head of the lake, over deep, clear water, we had been scraping and sweeping a large surface after every snow, in order to have clear ice. Two or three times a week Addison ran down and tested the thickness; and when it reached fifteen inches, we bestirred ourselves at our new work.
None of us knew much about cutting ice; but we laid off a straight base-line of a hundred feet, hitched old Sol to the new groover, and marked off five hundred cakes. Addison and I then set to work with two of our new ice-saws, and hauled out the cakes with the ice-tongs, while Halstead and the old Squire loaded them on the long horse-sled,—sixteen cakes to the load,—drew the ice home, and packed it away in the new ice-house.
Although at first the sawing seemed easy, we soon found it tiresome, and learned that two hundred cakes a day meant a hard day's work, particularly after the saws lost their keen edge—for even ice will dull a saw in a day or two. We had also to be pretty careful, for it was over deep black water, and a cake when nearly sawed across is likely to break off suddenly underfoot.
Hauling out the cakes with tongs, too, is somewhat hazardous on a slippery ice margin. We beveled off a kind of inclined "slip" at one end of the open water, and cut heel holes in the ice beside it, so that we might stand more securely as we pulled the cakes out of the water.
For those first few days we had bright, calm weather, not very cold; we got out five hundred cakes and drew them home to the ice-house without accident.
The hardship came the next week, when several of our neighbors—who always kept an eye on the old Squire's farming, and liked to follow his lead—were beset by an ambition to start ice-houses. None of them had either experience or tools. They wanted us to cut the ice for them.
We thought that was asking rather too much. Thereupon fourteen or fifteen of them offered us two cents a cake to cut a year's supply for each of them.
Now no one will ever get very rich cutting ice, sixteen inches thick, at two cents a cake. But Addison and I thought it over, and asked the old Squire's opinion. He said that we might take the new kit, and have all we could make.
On that, we notified them all to come and begin drawing home their cakes the following Monday morning, for the ice was growing thicker all the while; and the thicker it got, the harder our work would be.
They wanted about four thousand cakes; and as we would need help, we took in Thomas Edwards and Willis Murch as partners. Both were good workers, and we anticipated having a rather fine time at the lake.
In the woods on the west shore, nearly opposite where the ice was to be cut, there was an old "shook" camp, where we kept our food and slept at night, in order to avoid the long walk home to meals.
On Sunday it snowed, and cleared off cold and windy again. It was eight degrees below zero on Monday morning, when we took our outfit and went to work. Everything was frozen hard as a rock. The wind, sweeping down the lake, drove the fine, loose snow before it like smoke from a forest fire. There was no shelter. We had to stand out and saw ice in the bitter wind, which seemed to pierce to the very marrow of our bones. It was impossible to keep a fire; and it always seems colder when you are standing on ice.
It makes me shiver now to think of that week, for it grew colder instead of warmer. A veritable "cold snap" set in, and never for an hour, night or day, did that bitter wind let up.
We would have quit work and waited for calmer weather,—the old Squire advised us to do so,—but the ice was getting thicker every day. Every inch added to the thickness made the work of sawing harder—at two cents a cake. So we stuck to it, and worked away in that cruel wind.
On Thursday it got so cold that if we stopped the saws even for two seconds, they froze in hard and fast, and had to be cut out with an ax; thus two cakes would be spoiled. It was not easy to keep the saws going fast enough not to catch and freeze in; and the cakes had to be hauled out the moment they were sawed, or they would freeze on again. Moreover, the patch of open water that we uncovered froze over in a few minutes, and had to be cleared a dozen times a day. During those nights it froze five inches thick, and filled with snowdrift, all of which had to be cleared out every morning.
Although we had our caps pulled down over our ears and heavy mittens on, and wore all the clothes we could possibly work in, it yet seemed at times that freeze we must—especially toward night, when we grew tired from the hard work of sawing so long and so fast. We became so chilled that we could hardly speak; and at sunset, when we stopped work, we could hardly get across to the camp. The farmers, who were coming twice a day with their teams for ice, complained constantly of the cold; several of them stopped drawing altogether for the time. Willis also stopped work on Thursday at noon.
The people at home knew that we were having a hard time. Grandmother and the girls did all they could for us; and every day at noon and again at night the old Squire, bundled up in his buffalo-skin coat, drove down to the lake with horse and pung, and brought us a warm meal, packed in a large box with half a dozen hot bricks.
Only one who has been chilled through all day can imagine how glad we were to reach that warm camp at night. Indeed, except for the camp, we could never have worked there as we did. It was a log camp, or rather two camps, placed end to end, and you went through the first in order to get into the second, which had no outside door. The second camp had been built especially for cold weather. It was low, and the chinks between the logs were tamped with moss. At this time, too, snow lay on it, and had banked up against the walls. Inside the camp, across one end, there was a long bunk; at the opposite end stood an old cooking-stove, that seemed much too large for so small a camp.
At dusk we dropped work, made for the camp, shut all the doors, built the hottest fire we could make, and thawed ourselves out. It seemed as though we could never get warmed through. For an hour or more we hovered about the stove. The camp was as hot as an oven; I have no doubt that we kept the temperature at 110 deg.; and yet we were not warm.
"Put in more wood!" Addison or Thomas would exclaim. "Cram that stove full again! Let's get warm!"
We thought so little of ventilation that we shut the camp door tight and stopped every aperture that we could find. We needed heat to counteract the effect of those long hours of cold and wind.
By the time we had eaten our supper and thawed out, we grew sleepy, and under all our bedclothing, curled up in the bunk. So fearful were we lest the fire should go out in the night that we gathered a huge heap of fuel, and we all agreed to get up and stuff the stove whenever we waked and found the fire abating.
Among the neighbors for whom we were cutting ice was Rufus Sylvester. He was not a very careful or prosperous farmer, and not likely to be successful at dairying. But because the old Squire and others were embarking in that business, Rufus wished to do so, too. He had no ice-house, but thought he could keep ice buried in sawdust, in the shade of a large apple-tree near his barn; and I may add here that he tried it with indifferent success for three years, and that it killed the apple-tree.
On Saturday of that cold week he came to the lake with his lame old horse and a rickety sled, and wanted us to cut a hundred cakes of ice for him. The prospect of our getting our pay was poor. Saturday, moreover, was the coldest, windiest day of the whole week; the temperature was down to fourteen degrees below.
Halse and Thomas said no; but he hung round, and teased us, while his half-starved old horse shivered in the wind; and we finally decided to oblige him, if he would take the tongs and haul out the cakes himself, as we sawed them. It would not do to stop the saws that day, even for a moment.
Rufus had on an old blue army overcoat, the cape of which was turned up over his head and ears, and a red woolen "comforter" round his neck. He wore long-legged, stiff cowhide boots, with his trousers tucked into the tops.
Addison, Thomas and I were sawing, with our backs turned to Rufus and to the wind, and Rufus was trying to haul out a cake of ice, when we heard a clatter and a muffled shout. Rufus had slipped in! We looked round just in time to see him go down into that black, icy water.
Addison let go the saw and sprang for one of the ice-hooks. I did the same. The hook I grabbed was frozen down; but Addison got his free, and stuck it into Rufus's blue overcoat. It tore out, and down Rufus went again, head and ears under. His head, in fact, slid beneath the edge of the ice, but his back popped up.
Addison struck again with the hook—struck harder. He hooked it through all Rufus's clothes, and took a piece of his skin. It held that time, and we hauled him out.
He lay quite inert on the ice, choking and coughing.
"Get up! Get up!" we shouted to him. "Get up and run, or you'll freeze!"
He tried to rise, but failed to regain his feet, and collapsed. Thereupon Addison and Thomas laid hold of him, and lifted him to his feet by main strength.
"Now run!" they cried. "Run before your clothes freeze stiff!" The man seemed lethargic—I suppose from the deadly chill. He made an effort to move his feet, as they bade him, but fell flat again; and by that time his clothes were stiffening.
"He will freeze to death!" Addison cried. "We must put him on his sled and get him home!"
Thereupon we picked him up like a log of wood, and laid him on his horse-sled.
"But he will freeze before we can get this old lame horse home with him!" exclaimed Thomas. "Better take him to our camp over there."
Addison thought so, too, and seizing the reins and whip, started for the shore. The old horse was so chilled that we could hardly get him to hobble; but we did not spare the whip.
From the shore we had still fifteen or twenty rods to go, in order to reach the camp back in the woods. Rufus's clothes were frozen as stiff as boards; apparently he could not move. We feared that the man would die on our hands.
We snatched off one of the side boards of his sled, laid him on it, and, taking it up like a stretcher, started to carry him up through the woods to the camp.
By that time his long overcoat and all the rest of his clothes were frozen so stiff and hard that he rolled round more like a log than a human body.
The path was rough and snowy. In our haste we stumbled, and dropped him several times, but we rolled him on the board again, rushed on, and at last got him inside the camp. Our morning fire had gone out. Halse kindled it again, while Addison, Thomas and I tried to get off the frozen overcoat and long cowhide boots.
The coat was simply a sheet of ice; we could do nothing with it. At last we took our knives and cut it down the back, and after cutting open both sleeves, managed to peel it off. We had to cut open his boots in the same way. His under-coat and all his clothes were frozen. There appeared to be little warmth left in him; he was speechless.
But just then we heard some one coming in through the outside camp. It was the old Squire.
Our farmhouse, on the higher ground to the northwest, afforded a view of the lake; and the old gentleman had been keeping an eye on what went on down there, for he was quite far-sighted. He saw Sylvester arrive with his team, and a few minutes later saw us start for the shore, lashing the horse. He knew that something had gone wrong, and hitching up old Sol, he had driven down in haste.
"Hot water, quick!" he said. "Make some hot coffee!" And seizing a towel, he gave Sylvester such a rubbing as it is safe to say he had never undergone before.
Gradually signs of life and color appeared. The man began to speak, although rather thickly.
By this time the little camp was like an oven; but the old Squire kept up the friction. We gave Rufus two or three cups of hot coffee, and in the course of an hour he was quite himself again.
We kept him at the camp until the afternoon, however, and then started him home, wrapped in a horse-blanket instead of his army overcoat. He was none the worse for his misadventure, although he declared we tore off two inches of his skin!
On Sunday the weather began to moderate, and the last four days of our ice-cutting were much more comfortable. It had been a severe ordeal, however; the eighty-one dollars that we collected for it were but scanty recompense for the misery we had endured.
A BEAR'S "PIPE" IN WINTER
After ice-cutting came wood-cutting. It was now the latter part of January with weather still unusually cold. There were about three feet of snow on the ground, crusted over from a thaw which had occurred during the first of the month. In those days we burned from forty to fifty cords of wood in a year.
There was a wood-lot of a hundred acres along the brook on the east side of the farm, and other forest lots to the north of it. Only the best old-growth maple, birch and beech were cut for fuel—great trees two and three feet in diameter.
The trunks were cut into eight-foot lengths, rolled on the ox-sleds with levers, and then hauled home to the yard in front of the wood-house, where they lay in four huge piles till March, when all hands turned to, with axes and saws, and worked it up.
It was zero weather that week, but bright and clear, with spicules of frost glistening on every twig; and I recollect how sharply the tree trunks snapped—those frost snaps which make "shaky" lumber in Maine.
Addison, Halstead and I, with one of the old Squire's hired men, Asa Doane, went to the wood-lot at eight o'clock that morning and chopped smartly till near eleven. Indeed, we were obliged to work fast to keep warm.
Addison and I then stuck our axes in a log and went on the snow crust up to the foot of a mountain, about half a mile distant, where the hardwood growth gave place to spruce. We wanted to dig a pocketful of spruce gum. For several days Ellen and Theodora had been asking us to get them some nice "purple" gum.
As we were going from one spruce to another, Addison stopped suddenly and pointed to a little round hole with hard ice about it, near a large, overhanging rock across which a tree had fallen. "Sh!" he exclaimed. "I believe that's a bear's breath-hole!"
We reconnoitered the place at a safe distance. "That may be Old Three Paws himself," Addison said. "If it is, we must put an end to him." For "Old Three Paws" was a bear that had given trouble in the sheep pastures for years.
After a good look all round, we went home to dinner, and at table talked it over. The old Squire was a little incredulous, but admitted that there might be a bear there. "I will tell you how you can find out," he said. "Take a small looking-glass with you and hold it to the hole. If there is a bear down there, you will see just a little film of moisture on the glass from his breath."
We loaded two guns with buckshot. Our plan was to wake the bear up, and shoot him when he broke out through the snow. Bears killed a good many sheep at that time; the farmers did not regard them as desirable neighbors.
The ruse which Addison hit on for waking the bear was to blow black pepper down the hole through a hollow sunflower stalk. He had an idea that this would set the bear sneezing. In view of what happened, I laugh now when I remember our plans for waking that bear.
Directly after dinner we set off for the wood-lot with our guns and pepper. Cold as it was, Ellen and Theodora went with us, intending to stand at a very safe distance. Even grandmother Ruth would have gone, if it had not been quite so cold and snowy. Although minus one foot, Old Three Paws was known to be a savage bear, that had had more than one encounter with mankind.
While the rest stood back, Addison approached on tiptoe with the looking-glass, and held it to the hole for some moments. Then he examined it and looked back at us, nodding. There was moisture on it.
The girls climbed upon a large rock among the spruces. The old Squire, with one of the guns, took up a position beside a tree about fifty feet from the "hole." He posted Asa, who was a pretty good shot, beside another tree not far away. Halstead and I had to content ourselves with axes for weapons, and kept pretty well to the rear.
Addison was now getting his pepper ready. Expectancy ran high when at last he blew it down the hole and rushed back. We had little doubt that an angry bear would break out, sneezing and growling.
But nothing of the sort occurred. Some minutes passed. Addison could not even hear the faintest sneeze from below. He tiptoed up and blew in more pepper.
Cutting a pole, Addison then belabored the snow crust about the hole with resounding whacks—still with no result.
After this we approached less cautiously. Asa broke up the snow about the hole and cleared it away, uncovering a considerable cavity which extended back under the partially raised root of the fallen tree. Halstead brought a shovel from the wood-piles; and Addison and Asa cut away the roots of the old tree, and cleared out the frozen turf and leaves to a depth of four or five feet, gradually working down where they could look back beneath the root. We had begun to doubt whether we would find anything there larger than a woodchuck.
At last Addison got down on hands and knees, crept in under the root, and lighted several matches.
"There's something back in there," he said. "Looks black, but I cannot see that it moves."
Asa crawled in and struck a match or two, then backed out. "I believe it's a bear!" he exclaimed, and he wanted to creep in with a gun and fire; but the old Squire advised against that on account of the heavy charge in so confined a space.
Addison had been peeling dry bark from a birch, and crawling in again, lighted a roll of it. The smoke drove him out, but he emerged in excitement. "Bears!" he cried. "Two bears in there! I saw them!"
Asa took a pole and poked the bears cautiously. "Dead, I guess," said he, at last. "They don't move."
Addison crept in again, and actually passed his hand over the bears, then backed out, laughing. "No, they are not dead!" he exclaimed. "They are warm. But they are awfully sound asleep."
"Let's haul them out!" cried Asa; and they now sent me to the wood-sled for two or three small trace-chains. Asa then crawled in and slipped a chain about the body of one of the bears. The other two chains were hooked on; and then they slowly hauled the bear out, the old Squire standing by with gun cocked—for we expected every moment that the animal would wake.
But even when out on the snow crust the creature lay as inert as a dead bear. It was small. "Only a yearling," the old Squire said. None of us were now much afraid of them, and the other one was drawn out in the same way. Their hair was glossy and as black as jet. Possibly they would have weighed seventy-five pounds each. Evidently they were young bears that had never been separated, and that accounted for their denning up together; old bears rarely do this.
We put them on the wood-sled and hauled them home. They lay in a pile of hay on the stable floor all night, without a sign of waking up; and the next morning we hauled them to the cellar of the west barn. Under this barn, which was used mainly for sheep and young cattle, there were several pigsties, now empty. The dormant young bears were rolled into one of these sties and the sty filled with dry leaves, such as we used for bedding in the barns.
About a fortnight afterward a young doctor named Truman, from the village, desired very much to see the bears in their winter sleep. He got into the sty, uncovered them, and repeatedly pricked one of them with a needle, or penknife, without fairly waking it. But salts of ammonia, held to the nostrils of the other one, produced an unexpected result. The creature struck out spasmodically with one paw and rolled suddenly over. Doctor Truman jumped out of the sty quite as suddenly. "He's alive, all right," said the doctor.
The bears were not disturbed again, and remained there so quietly that we nearly forgot them. It was now the second week of March, and up to this time the weather had continued cold; but a thaw set in, with rain for two or three days, the temperature rising to sixty degrees, and even higher.
On the third night of the thaw, or rather, in the early morning, a great commotion broke out at the west barn. It waked the girls first, their room being on that side of the farmhouse. At about two o'clock in the morning Ellen came to our door to rouse Addison and me.
"There's a fearful racket up at the west barn," she said, in low tones. "You had better see what's wrong."
Addison and I threw on our clothes, went down quietly, so as not to disturb the old Squire, and were getting our lanterns ready, when he came from his room; for he, too, had heard the disturbance. We then sallied forth and approached the end door of the barn. Inside, the young cattle were bellowing and bawling. Below, in the barn cellar, sheep were bleating, and a shoat was adding its raucous voice to the uproar. Above it all, however, we could hear eight old turkeys and a peacock that were wintering in the west barn, "quitting" and "quuttering" aloft, where they roosted on the high beams.
The young cattle, seventeen head, were tied facing the barn floor. All of them were on their feet, pulling back at their stanchions in a great state of alarm. But the real trouble seemed now to be aloft in the dark roof of the barn, among the turkeys. Addison held up the lantern. Nothing could be seen so far up there in the dark, but feathers came fluttering down, and the old peacock was squalling, "Tap-pee-yaw!" over and over.
We fixed a lantern on the end of a long bean-pole and thrust it high up. Its light revealed those two young bears on one of the high beams of the barn!
One of them had the head of a turkey in his mouth, and was apparently trying to bolt it; and we discovered later that they had had trouble with the shoat down in the cellar. The shoat was somewhat scratched, but had stood them off.
Several of the sheep had their fleeces torn, particularly one old Cotswold ram, which also had a bleeding nose. Evidently the barn had been the scene of a protracted fracas. The bears must have climbed for the turkeys as a last resort. How they reached the beam we did not know, unless by swarming up one of the bare posts of the barn.
To drive them down, Addison climbed on a scaffold and thrust the lantern close up to the one with the turkey's head in its mouth. The bear struck at the lantern with one paw, started back, but lost its claw-hold on the beam and fell, turkey and all, eighteen or twenty feet to the barn floor.
The old Squire and I sprang aside in great haste; but so far as we could see, the bear never stirred after it struck the floor. Either the fall broke its neck, or else the turkey's head choked it to death.
When menaced with the lantern, the other bear slid down one of the barn posts, tail first, and was driven into a horse stall at the far end of the barn. There we succeeded in shutting it up, and in the morning gave it a breakfast of corn-meal dough and apples, which it devoured with great avidity.
We had no particular use for a bear, and a week later sold this youngster to Doctor Truman. He soon tired of his new pet, however, and parted with it to a friend who kept a summer hotel in the White Mountains.
The other bear—the one that fell from the high beam—had the handsomest black, glossy pelt I have ever seen. Grandmother Ruth insisted on having it tanned and made into a rug. She declared jocosely that it should be given to the first one of our girls who married. Ellen finally fell heir to it, and carried it with her to Dakota.
WHITE MONKEY WEEK
Cutting and drawing the year's supply of firewood to the door occupied us for a week; and following this we boys had planned to take matters easy awhile, for the old Squire was to be away from home. Asa Doane had left us, too, for a visit to his folks. As it chanced, however, a strenuous emergency arose.
A year previously the old Squire had made an agreement with a New York factory, to furnish dowels and strips of clear white birch wood, for piano keys and passementerie.
At that time passementerie was coming into use for ladies' dresses. The fine white-birch dowels were first turned round on small lathes and afterwards into little bugle and bottle-shaped ornaments, then dyed a glistening black and strung on linen threads.
On our own forest lots we had no birch which quite met the requirements. But another lumberman, an acquaintance of the old Squire's, named John Lurvey (a brother of old Zachary Lurvey), who owned lots north of ours, had just what we needed to fill the order.
Lumbermen are often "neighborly" with each other in such matters, and with John Lurvey the old Squire made a kind of running contract for three hundred cords of white-birch "bolts" from a lakeside lot. Each one made a memorandum of the agreement in his pocket note-book; and as each trusted the other, nothing more exact or formal was thought necessary.
The white birch was known to be valuable lumber. We were to pay two thousand dollars for it on the stump,—one thousand down,—and have two "winters" in which to get it off and pay the balance of the money. And here it may be said that in the Maine woods a winter is supposed to mean the snowy season from November till April.
Meanwhile other ventures were pressing. In company with a Canadian partner, the old Squire was then getting spruce lumber down the St. Maurice River at Three Rivers, in the Province of Quebec. This New York birch contract was deferred a year, the plan being finally to get off the birch in March of the second winter, when the crews and teams from two other lumber-camps could conveniently be sent to the lake, and make a quick job of it.
But in December of that second winter John Lurvey died suddenly of pneumonia. His property passed into the hands of his wife, who was by no means easy-going. She overhauled this note-book agreement, took legal advice of a sharp lawyer, and on February 21st sent us legal notification that the agreement would expire on February 28th, the last day of winter, according to the calendar. The notification also demanded payment of the second thousand dollars. Her scheme, of course, was to get the money in full and cut us off, in default, from removing the birch lumber from the lot. The old Squire himself had gone to Canada.
The notification came by letter, and as usual when the old Squire was away, grandmother Ruth opened his mail to see what demanded our attention. We were all in the sitting-room, except Halstead, who was away that evening.
"What can this mean?" grandmother suddenly exclaimed, and handed the letter to Addison. He saw through it instantly, and jumped up in excitement.
"We're trapped!" he cried. "If we don't get that birch off next week we shall lose two thousand dollars!"
Grandmother was dismayed. "Oh, that wicked woman!" she cried. "Why, winter always means through sledding!"
"I'm afraid not, in law," said Addison, looking puzzled. "Winter ends either the first or the twenty-first of March. I think a good argument could be made in court for the twenty-first. But she may be right, and it's too late to take chances. The only thing to do is to get that lumber off right away."
Addison and I went out to the stable to talk the matter over; we did not want to excite grandmother any further. At best, she had a good deal to worry her that winter.
"Now what can we do?" Addison exclaimed. Five or six days would be required to get the old Squire home from Canada.
"And what could he do after he got here?" Addison asked. "The teams and the choppers are all off at the lumber-camps."
"Let's take our axes and go up there and cut what birch we can next week," said I, in desperation.
"Oh, we boys couldn't do much alone in so short a time," replied Addison.
Still, we could think of nothing else; and with the loss of two thousand dollars staring us in the face, we began planning desperately how much of that birch we could save in a week's time. In fact, we scarcely slept at all that night, and early the next morning started out to rally what help we could.
Willis Murch and Thomas Edwards volunteered to work for us, and take each a yoke of oxen. After much persuasion our neighbor Sylvester promised to go with a team, and to take his son Rufus, Jr. Going on to the post-office at the Corners, we succeeded in hiring two other young men.
But even with the help of these men we could account for scarcely a seventh part of the contract, since one chopper could cut not more than a cord and a half of birch bolts in a day; and moreover, the bolts had to be removed from the lot.
But as we rushed round that forenoon, it occurred to Addison to hire a horse-power and circular saw that was owned by a man named Morefield, who lived near the wood-sheds of the railway-station, six miles from the old Squire's. It was a rig used for sawing wood for the locomotives.
Hurrying home, we hitched up, drove to the station, and succeeded in engaging Morefield and his saw, with two spans of heavy horses.
But other cares had now loomed up, not the least among them being the problem of feeding our hastily collected crew of helpers and their teams sixteen miles off in the woods. Just across the lake from the lot where the birch grew there was a lumber-camp where we could set up a stove and do our cooking; and during the afternoon we packed up supplies of pork, beans and corned beef, while in the house grandmother and the girls were baking bread. I had also to go to the mill, to get corn ground for the teams.
Theodora and Ellen were eager to go and do the cooking at the camp; but grandmother knew that an older woman of greater experience was needed in such an emergency, and had that morning sent urgent word to Olive Witham,—"Aunt Olive," as we called her,—who was always our mainstay in times of trouble at the old farm.
She was about fifty-five years old, tall, austere, not wholly attractive, but of upright character and undaunted courage.
By nine that evening everything was ready for a start; and sunrise the next morning saw us on the way up to the birch lot, Aunt Olive riding in the "horse-power" on a sled, which bore also a firkin of butter, a cheese, a four-gallon can of milk, a bag of bread and a large basket of eggs.
One team did not get off so early, neighbor Sylvester's. He was to start two hours later and draw up to camp the heaviest part of our supplies, consisting of half a barrel of pork, two bushels of potatoes, a peck of dry beans, a hundredweight of corned beef and two gallons of molasses.
Twelve miles of our way that morning was by a trodden winter road, but the last four miles, after crossing Lurvey's Stream, had to be broken through three feet of snow in the woods, giving us four hours of tiresome tramping.
We reached the lot at one o'clock, and during the afternoon set up the horse-power on the lake shore, at the foot of the slope where the white birch grew. We also contrived a log slide, or slip, down which the long birch trunks could be slid to the saw and cut up into four-foot bolts. For our plan now was to fell the trees and "twitch" them down-hill with teams to the head of this slip. By rolling the bolts, as they fell from the saw, down an incline and out on the ice of the lake, we would remove them from Mrs. Lurvey's land, and thereby comply with the letter of the law, by aid of which she was endeavoring to rob us and escheat our rights to the birch.
There were ten of us. Each knew what was at stake, and all worked with such good-will that by five o'clock we had the saw running. The white birches there were from a foot up to twenty-two inches in diameter, having long, straight trunks, clear of limbs from thirty to forty feet in length. These clear trunks only were used for bolts.
Plying their axes, Halstead, Addison, Thomas and Willis felled upward of forty trees that night, and these were all sawn by dark. On an average, five trees were required for a cord of bolts; but with sharp axes such white-birch trees can be felled fast. Morefield tended the saw and drove the horses in the horse-power; the rest of us were kept busy sliding the birch trunks down the slip to the saw, and rolling away the bolts.
By dark we had made a beginning of our hard week's task, and in the gathering dusk plodded across the lake to the old lumber-camp, expecting to find Aunt Olive smiling and supper ready.
But here disappointment awaited us. Sylvester, with the sled-load of supplies, had not come, did not arrive, in fact, till half an hour later, and then with his oxen only. Disaster had befallen him on the way. While crossing Lurvey's Stream, the team had broken through the ice where the current beneath was swift. He had saved the oxen; but the sled, with our beef pork, beans and potatoes, had been drawn under and carried away, he knew not how far, under the ice.
A stare of dismay from the entire hungry party followed this announcement. It looked like no supper—after a hard day's work! Worse still, to Addison and myself it looked like the crippling of our whole program for the next five days; for a lumber crew is much like an army; it lives and works only by virtue of its commissariat.
But now Aunt Olive rose to the emergency. "Don't you be discouraged, boys!" she exclaimed. "Give me twenty minutes, and you shall have a supper fit for a king. You shall have white monkey on toast! Toast thirty or forty slices of this bread, boys," she added, laughing cheerily. "Toast it good and brown, while I dress the monkey!"
Addison, Thomas and I began toasting bread over the hot stove, but kept a curious eye out for that "white monkey."
Of course it was figurative monkey. Aunt Olive put six quarts of milk in a kettle on the stove, and as it warmed, thickened it slightly with about a pint of corn-meal.
As it grew hotter, she melted into it a square of butter about half the size of a brick, then chipped up fine as much as a pound of cheese, and added that slowly, so as to dissolve it.
Last, she rapidly broke, beat and added a dozen eggs, then finished off with salt and a tiny bit of Cayenne pepper, well stirred in.
For five minutes longer she allowed the kettleful to simmer on the stove, while we buttered three huge stacks of toast.
The monkey was then ready. All hands gathered round with their plates, and in turn had four slices of toast, one after another, each slice with a generous ladleful of white monkey poured over it.
It was delicious, very satisfying, too, and gave one the sense of being well fed, since it contained all the ingredients of substantial food. As made by Aunt Olive, this white monkey had the consistency of moderately thick cream. It slightly resembled Welsh rabbit, but we found it was much more palatable and whole-some, having more milk and egg in it, and far less cheese.
We liked it so well that we all wanted it for breakfast the next morning—and that was fortunate, since we had little else, and were exceedingly loath to lose a day's time sending teams down home, or elsewhere, for more meat, beans and potatoes.
There were several families of French-Canadians living at clearings on Lurvey's Stream, three miles below the lake; and since I was the youngest and least efficient axman of the party, they sent me down there every afternoon to buy milk and eggs, for more white monkey. Of cheese and butter we had a sufficient supply; and the yellow corn-meal which we had brought for the teams furnished sheetful after sheetful of johnny-cake, which Aunt Olive split, toasted, and buttered well, as a groundwork for the white monkey.
And for five days we ate it as we toiled twelve hours to the day, chopping, hauling and sawing birch!
We had a slight change of diet on the fourth day, when Aunt Olive cooked two old roosters and a chicken, which I had coaxed away from the reluctant French settlers down the stream.
But it was chiefly white monkey every day; and the amount of work which we did on it was a tribute to Aunt Olive's resourcefulness. The older men of the party declared that they had never slept so well as after those evening meals of white monkey on johnny-cake toast. Beyond doubt, it was much better for us than heavier meals of meat and beans after days of hard labor.
From half an hour before sunrise till an hour after sunset, during those entire five days, the tall white birches fell fast, the saw hummed, and the bolts went rolling out on the ice-clad lake.
I never saw a crew work with such good-will or felt such enthusiasm myself as during those five days. We had the exhilarating sensation that we were beating a malicious enemy. Every little while a long, cheery whoop of exultation would be raised and go echoing across the lake; and that last day of February we worked by the light of little bonfires of birch bark till near midnight.
Then we stopped—to clear the law. And I may state here, although it must sound like a large story, that during those five working days the ten of us felled, sawed and rolled out on the ice two hundred and eighty-six cords of white-birch bolts. Of course it was the saw and the two relieving spans of horses which did the greater part of the work, the four axmen doing little more than fell the tall birch-trees.
The next day, after a final breakfast of white monkey, we went home triumphant, leaving the bolts on the ice for the time being. All were tired, but in high spirits, for victory was ours.
Two days later the old Squire came home from Three Rivers, entirely unaware of what had occurred, having it now in mind to organize and begin what he supposed would be a month's work up at the birch lot for the choppers and teams from the two logging-camps farther north.
Neither grandmother Ruth nor the rest of us could resist having a little fun with him. After supper, when we had gathered in the sitting-room, grandmother quietly handed him Mrs. Lurvey's letter, with the notification about the birch.
"This came while you were away, Joseph," she said to him, while the rest of us, sitting very still, looked on, keenly interested to see how he would take it.
The old Squire unfolded the letter and began reading it, then started suddenly, and for some moments sat very still, pondering the notification. "This bids fair to be a serious matter for us," he said, at last. "We have lost that birch contract, I fear, and the money that went into it.
"And I have only my own carelessness to thank for it," he added, looking distressed.
Theodora could not stand that another minute. She stole round behind the old Squire's chair, put her arms about his neck, and whispered something in his ear.
"What!" he exclaimed, incredulously.
"Yes!" she cried to him.
"Impossible, child!" said he.
"No, it isn't!" shouted Addison. "We've got that birch off, sir. It is all sawn up in bolts and out on the lake!"
"What, in a week?" exclaimed the old Squire.
"All in five days, sir!" cried Addison and I.
The old gentleman sat looking at us in blank surprise. He was an experienced lumberman, and knew exactly what such a statement as ours implied.
"Not three hundred cords?" said he, gravely.
"Close on to that, sir!" cried Addison.
Thereupon we all began to tell him about it at once. None of us could remain quiet. But it was not till we had related the whole story, and told him who had helped us, along with Addison's scheme of hiring the horse-power and saw, that he really believed it. He sprang up, walked twice across the sitting-room, then stopped short and looked at us.
"Boys, I'm proud of you!" he exclaimed. "Proud of you! I couldn't have done as well myself."
"Yes, Joseph, they're chips of the old block!" grandmother chimed in. "And we've beaten that wicked woman!"
Mrs. Lurvey, as I may add here, was far from sharing in our exultation. She was a person of violent temper. It was said that she shook with rage when she heard what we boys had done. But her lawyer advised her to keep quiet.
During the next two weeks the birch bolts were drawn to our mill, four miles down Lurvey's Stream, and sawn into thin strips and dowels, then shipped in bundles, by rail and schooner from Portland, to New York; and the contract netted the old Squire about twenty-five hundred dollars above the cost of the birch.
But as I look back on it, I am inclined to think that Aunt Olive was the real heroine of that strenuous week.
NOTE. The following recipe will make a sufficient quantity of "white monkey" for three persons. Put over the fire one pint of new milk in a double boiler. As soon as the milk is warm, stir in one teaspoonful of flour mixed with two tablespoonfuls of cold water. As the milk gets hotter, add slowly, so as to dissolve it, two ounces of cheese, grated or chipped fine. Then add one ounce of butter, a teaspoonful of salt, a dash of Cayenne pepper, and one egg, well beaten and mixed with two tablespoonfuls of cold milk or water. Let the mixture simmer five minutes, then serve hot on wheat bread or brown-bread toast, well browned and buttered.
WHEN OLD ZACK WENT TO SCHOOL
This same week, I think, there was a commotion throughout the town on account of exciting incidents in what was known as the "Mills" school district, four miles from the old Squire's, where a "pupil" nearly sixty years old was bent on attending school—contrary to law!
For ten or fifteen years Zachary Lurvey had been the old Squire's rival in the lumber business. We had had more than one distracting contention with him. Yet we could not but feel a certain sympathy for him when, at the age of fifty-eight, he set out to get an education.
Old Zack would never tell any one where he came from, though there was a rumor that he hailed originally from Petitcodiac, New Brunswick. When, as a boy of about twenty, he had first appeared in our vicinity, he could neither read nor write; apparently he had never seen a schoolhouse. He did not even know there was such a place as Boston, or New York, and had never heard of George Washington!
But he had settled and gone to work at the place that was afterwards known as Lurvey's Mills; and he soon began to prosper, for he was possessed of keen mother wit and had energy and resolution enough for half a dozen ordinary men.
For years and years in all his many business transactions he had to make a mark for his signature; and he kept all his accounts on the attic floor of his house with beans and kernels of corn, even after they represented thousands of dollars. Then at last a disaster befell him; his house burned while he was away; and from the confusion that resulted the disadvantages of bookkeeping in cereals was so forcibly borne in upon him that he suddenly resolved to learn to read, write and reckon.
On the first day of the following winter term he appeared at the district schoolhouse with a primer, a spelling book, a Greenleaf's Arithmetic, a copy book, a pen and an ink bottle.
The schoolmaster was a young sophomore from Colby College named Marcus Cobb, a stranger in the place. When he entered the schoolhouse that morning he was visibly astonished to see a large, bony, formidable-looking old man sitting there among the children.
"Don't ye be scairt of me, young feller," old Zack said to him. "I guess ye can teach me, for I don't know my letters yit!"
Master Cobb called the school to order and proceeded to ask the names and ages of his pupils. When Zack's turn came, the old fellow replied promptly:
"Zack Lurvey, fifty-eight years, five months and eighteen days."
"Zack?" the master queried in some perplexity. "Does that stand for Zachary? How do you spell it?"
"I never spelled it," old Zack replied with a grin. "I'm here to larn how. Fact is, I'm jest a leetle backward."
The young master began to realize that he was in for something extraordinary. In truth, he had the time of his life there that winter. Not that old Zack misbehaved; on the contrary, he was a model of studiousness and was very anxious to learn. But education went hard with him at first; he was more than a week in learning his letters and sat by the hour, making them on a slate, muttering them aloud, sometimes vehemently, with painful groans. M and W gave him constant trouble; and so did B and R. He grew so wrathful over his mistakes at times that he thumped the desk with his fist, and once he hurled his primer at the stove.
"Why did they make the measly little things look so much alike!" he cried.
He wished to skip the letters altogether and to learn to read by the looks of the words; but the master assured him that he must learn the alphabet first if he wished to learn to write later, and finally he prevailed with the stubborn old man.
"Well, I do want to larn," old Zack replied. "I'm goin' the whole hog, ef it kills me!"
And apparently it did pretty near kill him; at any rate he perspired over his work and at times was near shedding tears.
Certain of the letters he drew on paper with a lead pencil and pasted on the back of his hands, so as to keep them in sight. One day he tore the alphabet out of his primer and put it into the crown of his cap—"to see ef it wouldn't soak in," he said. When, after a hard struggle, he was able to get three letters together and spell cat, c-a-t, he was so much pleased that he clapped his hands and shouted, "Scat!" at the top of his voice.
The effect of such performances on a roomful of small boys and girls was not conducive to good order. It was only with difficulty that the young master could hear lessons or induce his pupils to study. Old Zack was the center of attraction for every juvenile eye.
It was when the old fellow first began to write his name, or try to, in his copy book, that he caused the greatest commotion. Only with the most painful efforts did his wholly untrained fingers trace the copy that the master had set. His mouth, too, followed the struggles of his fingers; and the facial grimaces that resulted set the school into a gale of laughter. In fact, the master—a good deal amused himself—was wholly unable to calm the room so long as old Zack continued his exercise in writing.
The children of course carried home accounts of what went on at school; and certain of the parents complained to the school agent that their children were not learning properly. The complaints continued, and finally the agent—his name was Moss—visited the schoolroom and informed old Zack that he must leave.
"I don't think you have any right to be here," Moss said to him. "And you're giving trouble; you raise such a disturbance that the children can't attend to their studies."
Old Zack appealed to Master Cobb, "Have I broken any of your rules?" he asked. The master could not say that he had, intentionally.
"Haven't I studied?" old Zack asked.
"You certainly have," the master admitted, laughing.
But the school agent was firm. "You'll have to leave!" he exclaimed. "You're too old and too big to come here!"
"All the same, I'm comin' here," said old Zack.
"We'll see about that!" cried Moss angrily. "The law is on my side!"
That was the beginning of what is still remembered as "the war at the Mills schoolhouse." The agent appealed to the school board of the town, which consisted of three members,—two clergymen and a lawyer,—and the following day the board appeared at the schoolhouse. After conferring with the master, they proceeded formally to expel old Zack Lurvey from school.
Old Zack, however, hotly defended his right to get an education, and a wordy combat ensued.
"You're too old to draw school money," the lawyer informed him. "No money comes to you for schooling after you are twenty-one, and you look to be three times as old as that!"
Thereupon old Zack drew out his pocketbook and laid down twenty dollars. "There is your money," said he. "I can pay my way."
"But you are too old to attend a district school," the lawyer insisted. "You can't go after you are twenty-one."
"But I have never been," old Zack argued. "I never used up my right to go. I oughter have it now!"
"That isn't the point," declared the lawyer. "You're too old to go. Besides, we are informed that you are keeping the lawful pupils from properly attending to their studies. You must pick up your books and leave the schoolhouse."
Old Zack eyed him in silence. "I'm goin' to school, and I'm goin' here," he said at last.
That was defiance of the board's authority, and the lawyer—a young man—threw off his coat and tried to eject the unruly pupil from the room; but to his chagrin he was himself ejected, with considerable damage to his legal raiment. Returning from the door, old Zack offered opportunity for battle to the reverend gentlemen—which they prudently declined. The lawyer re-entered, covered with snow, for old Zack had dropped him into a drift outside.
Summoning his two colleagues and the schoolmaster to assist him in sustaining the constituted authority, the lawyer once more advanced upon old Zack, who retreated to the far corner of the room and bade them come on.
Many of the smaller pupils were now crying from fright; and the two clergymen, probably feeling that the proceedings had become scandalous, persuaded their colleague to cease hostilities; and in the end the board contented itself with putting a formal order of expulsion into writing. School was then dismissed for that afternoon, and they all went away, leaving old Zack backed into the corner of the room. But, regardless of his "expulsion," the next morning he came to school again and resumed his arduous studies.
The story had gone abroad, and the whole community was waiting to see what would follow. The school board appealed to the sheriff, who offered to arrest old Zack if the board would provide him with a warrant. It seemed simple enough, at first, to draw a warrant for old Zack's arrest, but legal difficulties arose. He could not well be taken for assault, for it was the lawyer that had attacked him; or for wanton mischief, for his intent in going to school was not mischievous; or yet for trespass, for he had offered to pay for his schooling.
There was no doubt that on account of his age he had no business in the school and that the board had the right to refuse him schooling; yet it was not easy to word his offense in such a way that it constituted a misdemeanor that could properly be stated in a warrant for his arrest. Several warrants were drawn, all of which, on the ground that they were legally dubious, the resident justice of the peace refused to sign.
"I am not going to get the town mixed up in a lawsuit for damages," said the justice. "Lurvey is a doughty fighter at law, as well as physically, and he has got the money to fight with."
The proceedings hung fire for a week or more. The school board sent an order to the master not to hear old Zack's lessons or to give him any instructions whatever. But the old fellow came to school just the same, and poor Cobb had to get along with him as best he could. The school board was not eager again to try putting him out by force, and it seemed that nothing less than the state militia could oust him from the schoolhouse; and that would need an order from the governor of the state! On the whole, public opinion rather favored his being allowed to pay his tuition and to go to school if he felt the need of it.
At any rate, he went to school there all winter and made remarkable progress. In the course of ten weeks he could read slowly, and he knew most of the short words in his primer and second reader by sight. Longer words he would not try to pronounce, but called them, each and all, "jackass" as fast as he came to them.
In consequence his reading aloud was highly ambiguous. He could write his name slowly and with many grimaces.
Figures, for some reason, came much easier to him than the alphabet. He learned the numerals in a few days, and by the fifth or sixth week of school he could add and subtract on his slate. But the multiplication table gave him serious trouble. The only way he succeeded in learning it at all was by singing it. After he began to do sums in multiplication on his slate, he was likely to burst forth singing in school hours:
"Seven times eight are fifty-six —and carry five. Seven times nine are sixty-three —and carry seven. No, no, no, no, carry six!"
"But, Mr. Lurvey, you must keep quiet in school!" the afflicted master remonstrated for the hundredth time. "No one else can study."
"But I can't!" old Zack would reply. "'Twouldn't come to me 'less I sung it!"
Toward the last weeks of the term he was able to multiply with considerable accuracy and to divide in short division. Long division he did not attempt, but he rapidly learned to cast interest at six per cent. He had had a way of arriving at that with beans, before he came to school; and no one had ever succeeded in cheating him. He knew about interest money, he said, by "sense of feeling."
Grammar he saw no use for, and did not bother himself with it; but, curiously enough, he was delighted with geography and toward the end of the term bought a copy of Cornell's text-book, which was then used in Maine schools.
What most interested him was to trace rivers on the maps and to learn their names. Cities he cared nothing for; but he loved to learn about the mountain ranges where pine and spruce grew.
"What places them would be for sawmills!" he exclaimed.
Much as he liked his new geography, however, he had grown violently angry over the first lesson and declared with strong language that it was all a lie! The master had read aloud to him the first lesson, which describes the earth as one of the planets that revolve round the sun, and which says that it is a globe or sphere, turning on its axis once in twenty-four hours and so causing day and night.
Old Zack listened incredulously. "I don't believe a word of that!" he declared flatly.
The master labored with him for some time, trying to convince him that the earth is round and moves, but it was quite in vain.
"No such thing!" old Zack exclaimed. "I know better! That's the biggest lie that ever was told!"
He quite took it to heart and continued talking about it after school. He really seemed to believe that a great and dangerous delusion had gone abroad.
"It's wrong," he said, "puttin' sich stuff as that into young ones' heads. It didn't oughter be 'lowed!"
What old Zack was saying about the earth spread abroad and caused a great deal of amusement. Certain waggish persons began to "josh" him and others tried to argue with him, but all such attempts merely roused his native obstinacy. One Sunday evening he gave a somewhat wrong direction to the weekly prayer meeting by rising to warn the people that their children were being taught a pack of lies; and such was his vehemence that the regular Sabbath service resolved itself into a heated debate on the contour of the earth.
Perhaps old Zack believed that, as a recently educated man, it had become his duty to set things right in the public mind.
The day before school closed he went to his late antagonist, the lawyer on the school board, and again offered to pay the twenty dollars for his tuition. After formally expelling him from school, however, the board did not dare to accept the money, and old Zack gave it to the long-suffering Master Cobb.
THE SAD ABUSE OF OLD MEHITABLE
About this time there occurred a domestic episode with which Halstead was imperishably connected in the family annals.
In those days the family butter was churned in the kitchen by hand power, and often laboriously, in an upright dasher churn which Addison and Theodora had christened Old Mehitable. The butter had been a long time coming one morning; but finally the cream which for an hour or more had been thick, white and mute beneath the dasher strokes began to swash in a peculiar way, giving forth after each stroke a sound that they thought resembled, Mehitable—Mehitable—Mehitable.
That old churn was said to be sixty-six years old even then. There was little to wear out in the old-fashioned dasher churns, made as they were of well-seasoned pine or spruce, with a "butter cup" turned from a solid block of birch or maple, and the dasher staff of strong white ash. One of them sometimes outlasted two generations of housewives; they were simple, durable and easily kept clean, but hard to operate.
Our acquaintance with Mehitable had begun very soon after our arrival at the old farm. I remember that one of the first things the old Squire said to us was, "Boys, now that our family is so largely increased, I think that you will have to assist your grandmother with the dairy work, particularly the churning, which comes twice a week."
Tuesdays and Fridays were the churning days, and on those mornings I remember that we were wont to peer into the kitchen as we came to breakfast and mutter the unwelcome tidings to one another that old Mehitable was out there waiting—tidings followed immediately by two gleeful shouts of, "It isn't my turn!"—and glum looks from the one of us whose unfortunate lot it was to ply the dasher.
Addison, I recollect, used to take his turn without much demur or complaint, and he had a knack of getting through with it quickly as a rule, especially in summer. None of us had much trouble during the warm season. It was in November, December and January, when cold cream did not properly "ripen" and the cows were long past their freshening, that those protracted, wearying sessions at the churn began. Then, indeed, our annual grievance against grandmother Ruth burst forth afresh. For, like many another veteran housewife, the dear old lady was very "set" on having her butter come hard, and hence averse to raising the temperature of the cream above fifty-six degrees. Often that meant two or three hours of hard, up-and-down work at the churn.
In cold weather, too, the cream sometimes "swelled" in the churn, becoming so stiff as to render it nearly impossible to force the dasher through it; and we would lift the entire churn from the floor in our efforts to work it up and down. At such times our toes suffered, and we were wont to call loudly for Theodora and Ellen to come and hold the churn down, a task that they undertook with misgivings.
What exasperated us always was the superb calmness with which grandmother Ruth viewed those struggles, going placidly on with her other duties as if our woes were all in the natural order of the universe. The butter, eggs and poultry were her perquisites in the matter of farm products, and we were apt to accuse her of hard-heartedness in her desire to make them yield income.
Addison, I remember, had a prop that he inserted and drove tight with a mallet between a beam overhead and the top of the churn when the cream "swelled"; but neither Halstead nor I was ever able to adjust the prop skillfully enough to keep it from falling down on our heads.
And we suspected Addison of pouring warm water into the churn when grandmother's back was turned, though we never actually caught him at it. Sometimes when he churned, the butter "came" suspiciously soft, to grandmother's great dissatisfaction, since she had special customers for her butter at the village and was proud of its uniform quality.
With the kindly aid of the girls, especially Ellen, I usually got through my turn after a fashion. I was crafty enough to keep their sympathy and good offices enlisted on my side.
But poor Halstead! There was pretty sure to be a rumpus every time his turn came. Nature, indeed, had but poorly fitted him for churning, or, in fact, for any form of domestic labor that required sustained effort and patience. He had a kind heart; but his temper was stormy. When informed that his turn had come to churn, he almost always disputed it hotly. Afterwards he was likely to fume a while and finally go about the task in so sullen a mood that the girls were much inclined to leave him to his own devices. Looking back at our youthful days, I see plainly now that we were often uncharitable toward Halstead. He was, I must admit, a rather difficult boy to get on with, hasty of temper and inclined to act recklessly. There were no doubt physical causes for those defects; but Addison and I thought he might do better if he pleased. He and Addison were about the same age, and I was two and a half years younger. Halstead, in fact, was slightly taller than Addison, but not so strong. His complexion was darker and not so clear; and I imagine that he was not so healthy. Once, I remember, when Dr. Green from the village was at the house, he cast a professional eye on us three boys and remarked, "That dark boy's blood isn't so good as that of the other two," a remark that Halstead appears to have overheard.
None the less, he was strong enough to work when he chose, though he complained constantly and shirked when he could.
On the Friday morning referred to, it had come Halstead's turn "to stand up with old Mehitable," as Ellen used to say; and after the usual heated argument he had set about it out in the kitchen in a particularly wrathy mood. It was snowing outside. The old Squire had driven to the village; and, after doing the barn chores, Addison had retired to the sitting-room to cipher out two or three hard sums in complex fractions while I had seized the opportunity to read a book of Indian stories that Tom Edwards had lent me. After starting the churning, grandmother Ruth, assisted by the girls, was putting in order the bedrooms upstairs.
Through a crack of the unlatched door that led to the kitchen, we heard Halstead churning casually, muttering to himself and plumping the old churn about the kitchen floor. Several times he had shouted for the girls to come and help him hold it down; and presently we heard him ordering Nell to bid grandmother Ruth pour hot milk into the churn.
"It's as cold as ice!" he cried. "It never will come in the world till it is warmed up! Here I have churned for two hours, steady, and no signs of the butter's coming—and it isn't my turn either!"
We had heard Halstead run on so much in that same strain, however, that neither Addison nor I paid much attention to it.
Every few moments, however, he continued shouting for some one to come and help; and presently, when grandma Ruth came downstairs for a moment to see how matters were going on, we heard him pleading angrily with her to pour in hot milk.
"Make the other boys come and help!" he cried after her as she was calmly returning upstairs. "Make them come and churn a spell. Their blood is better'n mine!"
"Oh, I guess your blood is good enough," the old lady replied, laughing.
Silence for a time followed that last appeal. Halstead seemed to have resigned himself to his task. Addison's pencil ciphered away; and I grew absorbed in Colter's flight from the Indians.
Before long, however, a pungent odor, as of fat on a hot stove, began to pervade the house. Addison looked up and sniffed. Just then we heard Theodora race suddenly down the hall stairs, speed to the other door of the kitchen, then cry out and go flying back upstairs. An instant later she and Ellen rushed down, with grandmother Ruth hard after them. Evidently something was going wrong. Addison and I made for the kitchen door, for we heard grandmother exclaim in tones of deepest indignation, "O you Halstead! What have you done!"
Halstead had set the old churn on top of the hot stove, placed a chair close against it, and was standing on the chair, churning with might and main.
His head, as he plied the dasher, was almost touching the ceiling; his face was as red as a beet. He had filled the stove with dry wood, and the bottom of the churn was smoking; the chimes were warping out of their grooves, and cream was leaking on the stove. The kitchen reeked with the smoke and odor.
After one horrified glance, grandmother rushed in, snatched the churn off the stove and bore it to the sink. Her indignation was too great for "Christian words," as the old lady sometimes expressed it in moments of great domestic provocation. "Get the slop pails," she said in low tones to Ellen and Theodora. "'Tis spoiled. The whole churning is smoked and spoiled—and the churn, too!"
Halstead, meantime, was getting down from the chair, still very hot and red. "Well, I warmed the old thing up once!" he muttered defiantly. "'Twas coming, too. 'Twould have come in one minute more!"
But neither grandmother nor the girls vouchsafed him another look. After a glance round, Addison drew back, shutting the kitchen door, and resumed his pencil. He shook his head sapiently to me, but seemed to be rocked by internal mirth. "Now, wasn't that just like Halse?" he muttered at length.
"What do you think the old Squire will say to this?" I hazarded.
"Oh, not much, I guess," Addison replied, going on with his problem. "The old gentleman doesn't think it is of much use to talk to him. Halse, you know, flies all to pieces if he is reproved."
In point of fact I do not believe the old Squire took the matter up with Halstead at all. He did not come home until afternoon, and no one said much to him about what had happened during the morning.
But we had to procure a new churn immediately for the following Tuesday. Old Mehitable was totally ruined. The bottom and the lower ends of the chimes were warped and charred beyond repair.
Largely influenced by Addison's advice, grandmother Ruth consented to the purchase of one of the new crank churns. For a year or more he had been secretly cogitating a scheme to avoid so much tiresome work when churning; and a crank churn, he foresaw, would lend itself to such a project much more readily than a churn with an upright dasher. It was a plan that finally took the form of a revolving shaft overhead along the walk from the kitchen to the stable, where it was actuated by a light horse-power. Little belts descending from this shaft operated not only the churn but a washing machine, a wringer, a corn shelter, a lathe and several other machines with so much success and saving of labor that even grandmother herself smiled approvingly.
"And that's all due to me!" Halstead used to exclaim once in a while. "If I hadn't burnt up that old churn, we would be tugging away at it to this day!"
"Yes, Halse, you are a wonderful boy in the kitchen!" Ellen would remark roguishly.
One day about the first of February, Catherine Edwards made the rounds of the neighborhood with a subscription paper to get singers for a singing school. A veteran "singing master"—Seth Clark, well known throughout the country—had offered to give the young people of the place a course of twelve evening lessons or sessions in vocal music, at four dollars per evening; and Catherine was endeavoring to raise the sum of forty-eight dollars for this purpose.
Master Clark was to meet us at the district schoolhouse for song sessions of two hours, twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday evenings at seven o'clock. Among us at the old Squire's we signed eight dollars.
The singing school did not much interest me personally, for the reason that I did not expect to attend. As the Frenchman said when invited to join a fox hunt, I had been. Two winters previously there had been a singing school in an adjoining school district, known as "Bagdad," where along with others I had presented myself as a candidate for vocal culture, and had been rejected on the grounds that I lacked both "time" and "ear." What was even less to my credit, I had been censured as being concerned in a disturbance outside the schoolhouse. That was my first winter in Maine, and the teacher at that singing school was not Seth Clark, but an itinerant singing master widely known as "Bear-Tone."
As opportunities for musical instruction thereabouts were limited, the old Squire, who loved music and who was himself a fair singer, had advised us to go. Five of us, together with our two young neighbors, Kate and Thomas Edwards, drove over to Bagdad in a three-seated pung sleigh.
The old schoolhouse was crowded with young people when we arrived, and a babel of voices burst on us as we drew rein at the door. After helping the girls from the pung, Addison and I put up the horses at a farmer's barn near by. When we again reached the schoolhouse, a gigantic man in an immense, shaggy buffalo coat was just coming up. He entered the building a step behind us.
It was Bear-Tone; and a great hush fell on the young people as he appeared in the doorway. Squeezing hurriedly into seats with the others, Addison and I faced round. Bear-Tone stood in front of the teacher's desk, near the stovepipe, rubbing his huge hands together, for the night was cold. He was smiling, too—a friendly, genial smile that seemed actually to brighten the room.
If he had looked gigantic to us in the dim doorway, he now looked colossal. In fact, he was six feet five inches tall and three feet across the shoulders. He had legs like mill-posts and arms to match; he wore big mittens, because he could not buy gloves large enough for his hands. He was lean and bony rather than fat, and weighed three hundred and twenty pounds, it was said.
His face was big and broad, simple and yet strong; it was ringed round from ear to ear with a short but very thick sandy beard. His eyes were blue, his hair, like his beard, was sandy. He was almost forty years old and was still a bachelor.
"Wal, young ones," he said at last, "reckonin' trundle-bed trash, there's a lot of ye, ain't there?"
His voice surprised me. From such a massive man I had expected to hear a profound bass. Yet his voice was not distinctly bass, it was clear and flexible. He could sing bass, it is true, but he loved best to sing tenor, and in that part his voice was wonderfully sweet.
As his speech at once indicated, he was an ignorant man. He had never had musical instruction; he spoke of soprano as "tribble," of alto as "counter," and of baritone as "bear-tone"—a mispronunciation that had given him his nickname.
But he could sing! Melody was born in him, so to speak, full-fledged, ready to sing. Musical training would have done him no good, and it might have done him harm. He could not have sung a false note if he had tried; discord really pained him.
"Wal, we may's well begin," he said when he had thoroughly warmed his hands. "What ye got for singin' books here? Dulcimers, or Harps of Judah? All with Harps raise yer right hands. So. Now all with Dulcimers, left hands. So. Harps have it. Them with Dulcimers better get Harps, if ye can, 'cause we want to sing together. But to-night we'll try voices. I wouldn't wonder if there might be some of ye who might just as well go home and shell corn as try to sing." And he laughed. "So in the first place we'll see if you can sing, and then what part you can sing, whether it's tribble, or counter, or bass, or tenor. The best way for us to find out is to have you sing the scale—the notes of music. Now these are the notes of music." And without recourse to tuning fork he sang:
"Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do."
The old schoolhouse seemed to swell to the mellow harmony from his big throat. To me those eight notes, as Bear-Tone sang them, were a sudden revelation of what music may be.
"I'll try you first, my boy," he then said, pointing to Newman Darnley, a young fellow about twenty years old who sat at the end of the front row of seats. "Step right out here."