STARRY FLAG SERIES
DOWN THE RIVER;
BUCK BRADFORD AND HIS TYRANTS.
AUTHOR OF "YOUNG AMERICA ABROAD," "THE ARMY AND NAVY STORIES," "THE WOODVILLE STORIES," "THE BOAT-CLUB STORIES," "THE RIVERDALE STORIES," ETC.
BOSTON LEE AND SHEPARD PUBLISHERS
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by WILLIAM T. ADAMS. In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY WILLIAM T. ADAMS. All rights reserved.
DOWN THE RIVER.
MY YOUNG FRIEND
WILLIAM H. LOW
IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
"DOWN THE RIVER" is the sixth of the continued stories published in "OUR BOYS AND GIRLS," and the last of "THE STARRY FLAG SERIES." It is the personal narrative of Buck Bradford, who, with his deformed sister, made an eventful voyage down the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, to New Orleans. The writer's first book—not a juvenile, and long since out of print—was planned during a long and tedious passage up the Father of Waters; and it seems like going back to an old friend to voyage again, even in imagination, upon its turbid tide.
Buck Bradford tells his story to suit himself; and the author hopes it will also suit the young reader. Whatever moral it may contain will be found in the reading; and the writer trusts it will impart a lesson of self-reliance, honesty, and truth, and do something towards convincing the young reader that it is best always to do right, whatever the consequences may be, leaving results, in the choice between good and evil, to take care of themselves.
However often the author may be called upon to thank the juvenile public for the generous favor bestowed upon his books, he feels that the agreeable duty cannot be so frequently repeated as ever to become a mere formality; for with each additional volume he finds his sense of obligation to them for their kindness renewed and deepened.
WILLIAM T. ADAMS.
HARRISON SQUARE, MASS., October 28, 1868.
PAGE CHAPTER I. TWO OF THE TYRANTS. 11
CHAPTER II. FLORA BRADFORD. 21
CHAPTER III. ON THE DEFENSIVE. 32
CHAPTER IV. WHO IS MASTER. 44
CHAPTER V. A BATTLE AT LONG RANGE. 55
CHAPTER VI. SQUIRE FISHLEY. 66
CHAPTER VII. AFTER MIDNIGHT. 77
CHAPTER VIII. MISS LARRABEE'S LETTER. 88
CHAPTER IX. THE HUNGRY RUNAWAY. 99
CHAPTER X. WHAT SIM GWYNN WANTED TO SEE ME FOR. 110
CHAPTER XI. BUILDING THE RAFT. 121
CHAPTER XII. SQUIRE FISHLEY MAKES IT RIGHT. 132
CHAPTER XIII. NEAR UNTO DEATH. 143
CHAPTER XIV. WHO ROBBED THE MAIL. 154
CHAPTER XV. THE DEPARTURE. 166
CHAPTER XVI. DOWN THE RIVER. 178
CHAPTER XVII. NIGHT ON THE RIVER. 189
CHAPTER XVIII. AT THE MOUTH OF THE OHIO. 201
CHAPTER XIX. AFTER THE EXPLOSION. 212
CHAPTER XX. EMILY GOODRIDGE. 223
CHAPTER XXI. FLORA AND HER PATIENT. 234
CHAPTER XXII. THE END OF THE VOYAGE. 245
CHAPTER XXIII. CLARENCE BRADFORD. 256
CHAPTER XXIV. UP THE RIVER. 268
CHAPTER XXV. TWO HOURS IN JAIL. 279
CHAPTER XXVI. CONCLUSION. 290
DOWN THE RIVER:
BUCK BRADFORD AND HIS TYRANTS.
TWO OF THE TYRANTS.
"Here, Buck Bradford, black my boots, and be quick about it."
That was what Ham Fishley said to me.
"Black them yourself!"
That was what I said to Ham Fishley.
Neither of us was gentlemanly, nor even civil. I shall not apologize for myself, and certainly not for Ham, though he inherited his mean, tyrannical disposition from both his father and his mother. If he had civilly asked me to black his boots, I would have done it. If he had just told me that he was going to a party, that he was a little late, and asked me if I would assist him, I would have jumped over his head to oblige him, though he was three inches taller than I was. I am willing to go a step farther. If this had been the first, or even the twentieth, time that Ham had treated me in this shabby manner, I would have submitted. For three years he had been going on from bad to worse, till he seemed to regard me not only as a dog, but as the meanest sort of a dog, whom he could kick and cuff at pleasure.
I had stood this sort of thing till I could not stand it any longer. I had lain awake nights thinking of the treatment bestowed upon me by Captain Fishley and his wife, and especially by their son Ham; and I had come deliberately to the conclusion that something must be done. I was not a hired servant, in the ordinary sense of the term; but, whether I was or was not a servant, I was entitled to some consideration.
"What's that you say?" demanded Ham, leaping over the counter of the store.
I walked leisurely out of the shop, and directed my steps towards the barn; but I had not accomplished half the distance before my tyrant overtook me. Not being willing to take the fire in the rear, I halted, wheeled about, and drew up in order of battle. I had made up my mind to keep perfectly cool, whatever came; and when one makes up his mind to be cool, it is not half so hard to succeed as some people seem to think.
"I told you to black my boots," said Ham, angrily.
"I know you did."
"Well, Buck Bradford, you'll do it!"
"Well, Ham Fishley, I won't do it!"
"Then I'll make you."
He stepped up to me; but I didn't budge an inch. I braced up every fibre of my frame in readiness for the shock of battle; but there was no shock of battle about it.
"I guess I'll let the old man settle this," said Ham, after a glance at me, which seemed very unsatisfactory.
"All right," I replied.
My tyrant turned on his heel, and hastened back to the store. Ham Fishley's father was "the old man," and I knew that it would not be for the want of any good will on his part, if the case was not settled by him. I had rebelled, and I must take my chances. I went to the barn, harnessed the black horse to the wagon, and hitched him at a post in the yard, in readiness to go down to Riverport for the mail, which I used to do every evening after supper.
Of course my thoughts were mainly fixed upon the settlement with the old man; and I expected every moment to see him rushing upon me, like an untamed tiger, to wreak his vengeance upon my head. I was rather surprised at his non-appearance, and rather disappointed, too; for I preferred to fight the battle at the barn, or in the yard, instead of in the house or the store. Though my thoughts were not on my work, I busied myself in sweeping out the horse's stall, and making his bed for the night.
"Buck! Buck! Buck!" called Mrs. Fishley, from the back door of the house.
She always called three times; for she was a little, snappy, snarling woman, who never spoke pleasantly to any one, except when she had company, or went to the sewing circle.
"Here, marm!" I replied.
"Come here; I want you!" she added, clear up in the highest tones of her voice, which sounded very much like the savage notes of an angry wasp.
It was some consolation to know, under the peculiar circumstances, that she wanted me, instead of "the old man," her lord and master, and that I was not called to the expected settlement, which, in spite of my fixed determination, I could not help dreading. Mrs. Fishley wanted me—not her husband. She was always wanting me; and somehow I never happened to be in the right place, or to do anything in the right way.
Mrs. Fishley believed she was one of the most amiable, self-denying, self-sacrificing, benevolent women in the world. Nobody else believed it. She had to endure more trials, bear more crosses, undergo more hardships, than any other housekeeper in town. She had to work harder, to think of more things, stagger under more burdens, than all her female neighbors put together. If she ever confessed that she was sometimes just a little cross, she wanted to know who could wonder at it, when she had so much to do, and so many things to think of. Job could be patient, for he had not her family to look after. The saints and martyrs could bow resignedly at the stake in the midst of the flaming fagots; but none of them had to keep house for a husband and three children, and two of them not her own.
To make a fair and just division of Mrs. Fishley's cares, one tenth of them were real, and nine tenths of them were imaginary; and the imaginary ones were more real to her than the actual ones. They soured her temper,—or, more properly, her temper soured them,—and she groaned, complained, snarled, snapped, and fretted, from very early on Sunday morning to very late on Saturday evening. Nothing ever went right with her; nothing ever suited her. If a thing was one way, that was the especial reason why it ought to have been some other way.
She always wanted her own way; and when she had it—which she generally did—it did not suit her any better. I am inclined to think that Captain Fishley himself, at some remote period, long before I was born, had been a more decent man than he was at the time of which I write. If he ever had been, his degeneracy was easily explained; for it would not have been possible for a human being, in daily contact with such a shrewish spitfire as his wife, to exist untainted in the poison which floated in the atmosphere around her.
This was the woman who inflicted herself upon the world, and upon me, though I was by no means the greatest sufferer. If the mischief had stopped here, I could have borne it, and the world could not have helped itself. To me there was something infinitely worse and more intolerable than my own trials—and they were the trials of my poor, dear, deformed, invalid sister. Tender, loving, and patient as she was under them, her sufferings made my blood boil with indignation. If Mrs. Fishley had treated Flora kindly, she would have been an angel in my sight, however much she snapped and snarled, and "drove me from pillar to post." The shrew did not treat her kindly, and as the poor child was almost always in the house, she was constantly exposed to the obliquities of her temper.
My mother, for several years before her death, had been of feeble constitution, and Flora had the "rickets" when she was a babe. She was now twelve years old, but the effects of the disease still lingered in her frame. Her limbs were weak, her breast-bone projected, and she was so drawn up that she looked like a "humpback." But what she lacked in body she more than made up in spirit, in the loveliness of an amiable disposition, in an unselfish devotion to others, in a loving heart, and a quick intelligence. She endured, without complaint, the ill nature of Mrs. Fishley, endeavoring, by every means in her power, to make herself useful in the house, and to lighten the load of cares which bore down so heavily upon her hostess.
Mrs. Fishley called me, and I hastened to attend upon her will and pleasure, in the back room. I knew very well that it would make no difference whether I hurried or not; I should "have to take it" the moment she saw me. If I was in the barn, I ought to have been in the shop; if in the shop, then I should have been in the barn—unless she had company; and then she was all sweetness, all gentleness; then she was all merciful and compassionate.
"What are you doing out there?" snarled she. "I've been out in the street and into the store after you, and you always are just where no one can find you when you are wanted."
I didn't say anything; it wasn't any use.
"Take that bucket of swill out, and give it to the pigs; and next time don't leave it till it is running over full," she continued, in the same amiable, sweet-tempered tones. "It's strange you can't do anything till you are told to do it. Don't you know that swill-pail wants emptying, without being told of it?"
"I always feed the pigs three times a day whether the pail wants emptying or not," I ventured to reply, in defence of the pigs rather than myself.
"There, carry it along, and don't spill it."
The pail was filled even with the brim, and it was simply impossible to avoid spilling it.
"What a careless fellow you are!" screamed she, her notes on the second added line above the treble staff. "You are spilling it all over the floor! I wish you could learn to do anything like folks!"
I wished I could too; but I did not venture to suggest that if she had not filled the pail so full, and even run it over herself before I touched it, I might have carried it "like folks." It was no use; she always got the better of me in an argument. I fed the pigs, as I always did, before I went after the mail, and carried the pail back to the shed. The door of the kitchen was open, and Mrs. Fishley was returning to her work as I entered.
"You careless child! What do you mean by letting those cakes burn?" I heard her cry to poor Flora, who was sitting in her arm-chair by the cooking-stove, whereon Mrs. Fishley was baking flapjacks for supper.
"I didn't know—"
"You didn't know, you careless hussy!" exclaimed Mrs. Fishley, seizing her by the arm, and lifting her roughly out of her chair.
"O, don't!" groaned poor Flora.
I could not stand that. I rushed into the kitchen, seized poor Flora's tyrant by the shoulders, and hurled her half way across the room. My blood was up to the boiling point.
I had never seen Mrs. Fishley use violence upon my poor sister before, though I afterwards learned that this was not the first time. I was a solid-built, stout fellow of sixteen; and when I seized the shrew by the shoulders, I was in real earnest. I had not made up my mind for this occasion to keep cool, and I did not keep so. I was as mad as a bear robbed of her cubs.
The idea of Mrs. Fishley's taking my poor deformed sister by the arm, and shaking her, was too revolting, and even horrible, to be endured. If I could bear everything else, I could not bear that. At the present time, I have this pleasant consciousness, that I did not strike the woman; I only grasped her by the shoulders, and hurled her away from her victim. It was a vigorous movement on my part, and Mrs. Fishley staggered till she saved herself by taking hold of a chair. She gathered herself up, and her eyes flashed fire.
"You rascal, you! What do you mean?" gasped she; and at the same instant she rushed towards Flora, who was trembling with terror in her chair.
"Stop a minute, Mrs. Fishley," I added.
"You rascal, you!" repeated she, looking first at me, and then at Flora.
"If you put the weight of your little finger on my sister again, I'll tear you in pieces," I continued, with both fists clinched.
"What do you mean, you serpent, you?"
"You touch her again, and you will know what I mean."
"Don't, Buckland, don't," pleaded poor Flora, alarmed by the hostile demonstration before her.
"I should like to know!" cried Mrs. Fishley.
As she did not tell me what she should like to know, I did not tell her. I stood upon the defensive between the virago and my sister's chair.
"Did any one ever see such a boy!" continued the termagant, her tones a whole octave above the treble staff, as it seemed to me. "How dare you put your hand on me?"
"You rascal, you!"
"You may snap and snarl at me as much as you like; I don't mind it; but you shall not abuse my sister."
"Abuse your sister, you wretch!" said she, the words hissing from her mouth. "I should like to know!"
"You will know if you touch Flora again," I answered.
Somehow I felt as though Mrs. Fishley was not getting the better of me in this argument; and I soon came to the conclusion that she thought so herself, for she settled into a chair, and began to exhibit some symptoms of hysterics.
"O, dear me!" she groaned. "I don't have to work enough to kill common folks, I don't have more trials than any living being, but something new must come upon me. There, I shall give up!"
"You must give up abusing Flora," I put in.
"How dare you tell me I abuse her?" snapped she. "Haven't I taken the best of care of her? Haven't I made her clothes for her? Haven't I nursed her when she was sick? Haven't I done for her ever since she came into the house?"
I don't think she had the least idea that she was not the best friend Flora had in the world, so blind are many people to their own errors and shortcomings.
"She has had enough to eat, and enough to wear; and my brother has paid for all she has had," I added. "But you are continually scolding at her, browbeating her, and making her as uncomfortable and unhappy as you can."
"Scolding her!" almost whistled Mrs. Fishley, so high was the key. "I never scold at any one. I never was a scolding woman."
"Gracious!" I exclaimed, mentally.
"When things don't suit me, I'm apt to say so; but I never scold," whined the shrew. "Whatever people may say of me, they can't call me a scolding woman."
Was it possible she thought so!
"I don't want to make any trouble, Mrs. Fishley," I replied, when she paused, rather for want of breath than for any other reason.
"Mercy! I shouldn't think you did! Ain't you ashamed of yourself to treat me as you did? You push me about as though you thought I wasn't anybody."
"Are you not ashamed of yourself for shaking that sick child?" I retorted.
"I didn't shake her."
"Then I didn't push you."
"You are getting to be a very bad boy, Buck Bradford; and you haven't heard the last of this," she said, rising from her chair, and restoring the griddle to the stove, which Flora had taken off. "I should like to know! Can't I speak to that girl without being treated in that manner? She would let the cakes all burn up before she would touch them."
"I didn't know they were burning, Mrs. Fishley," pleaded Flora. "You didn't tell me to see to them."
"Suppose I didn't tell you! Didn't you know enough not to let them burn? You are a careless, indifferent girl, and it don't make no difference to you how much trouble you make for a body."
"I would have seen to the cakes, if you had spoken to me."
"I don't care anything about the cakes, anyhow," I interposed. "If you can't help scolding Flora, you must keep your hands off her."
"You don't care anything about the cakes! I should like to know! Well, we'll see about it! I'll know who rules here, I vum! I'll call Mr. Fishley! We'll see if you don't care!" rattled Mrs. Fishley, as she bolted from the kitchen through the entry into the store.
"O, Buckland, what will become of us!" exclaimed Flora, rising with difficulty from her chair, and throwing herself upon my breast.
"Don't be afraid, Flora," I replied, pressing her to my heart, while the tears started in my eyes. "She shall not abuse you, whatever happens to me. While she did it only with her tongue, I bore it; but when she took hold of you, I couldn't stand that, Flora—no, I could not."
"I can bear it very well, Buckland." She never called me "Buck," as everybody else did about the place. "I only fear what they will do to you."
"I can take care of myself, dearest Flora. I am strong and tough, and I can stand almost anything," I answered, pressing her to my heart again, for she seemed to be the only person in the world who loved me.
And how I loved her—poor orphan child, weak, sick, and deformed! It seemed to me it would have been different if she had been well and strong, and able to fight her own battle with the hard and cruel world. She was helpless and dependent, and that which shut her out from the rest of the world endeared her to me, and wound her in with every fibre and tendril of my heart.
Mrs. Fishley did not immediately return; neither did her husband appear upon the battle-field; and I concluded that she could not find him.
While, folded in each other's arms, we waited in almost breathless anxiety for the coming of our tyrants, let me give the reader a few necessary particulars in regard to our antecedents and surroundings.
Torrentville, where the story opens, is situated in the south-western part of Wisconsin, though, for obvious reasons, it will not be found on the map. It was located on a stream, which we called the "Creek," though it has since received a more dignified and specific name, about seven miles from Riverport, on the Wisconsin River. At the time of which I write it contained two thousand inhabitants. Captain Fishley—he had been an officer in the militia in some eastern state, and his title had gone west with him—kept the principal store in the place, and was the postmaster.
My father had moved from the State of New York to Torrentville when I was eight years old, and soon after the death of my mother. He had three children, Clarence, Flora, and myself. He bought a farm just out of the village, employed a housekeeper, and for four years got along very well. But he was too ambitious, and worked too hard for his constitution. After a four years' residence in the west, he died. That was a sad day to us, for he was the kindest of fathers. Poor Flora scarcely ceased to weep, at times, for a year, over the loss of her only parent.
Captain Fishley was appointed administrator of the estate, and when it was settled there was hardly fifteen hundred dollars left. My brother Clarence was just twenty-one when my father died, and he was appointed the guardian of Flora and myself. He was considered a very smart young man, and no one doubted his ability to take care of us. But he was dissatisfied with Torrentville; there was not room enough for a young man of his ability to expand himself. He had no taste for farming, and for two years had been a clerk in Captain Fishley's store. He wanted to go to New Orleans, where he believed he could make his fortune. About a year after the death of his father, he decided to try his luck in the metropolis of the south-west.
Clarence was a good brother, and I am sure he would not have gone, if he had not felt satisfied that Flora and myself were well provided for. I was then a boy of thirteen, handy at almost anything about the farm, the house, and the garden, and Captain Fishley wanted me to come and live with him. Clarence agreed to pay Flora's board, so that she was a boarder at the house of the Fishleys. It was stipulated that I should go to school, and do certain "chores" for my board, while Clarence paid for my clothes. My principal work, and all that the captain said I should be required to do, was to take care of the horse, and go after the mail every evening.
Instead of this, I was compelled to be at the beck and call of all upon the place, including Ham, the captain's only son, and miserably spoiled at that. Before I had been a year in my new home, I was dissatisfied, for the cloven heels of the three members of the family had appeared. I was crowded with work, picked upon, insulted, and trodden under foot. Perhaps I could have endured my fate, if poor Flora, upon whom our tyrants had no claims, had fared well.
We heard from Clarence occasionally, and learned in general terms, from his letters, that he was doing very well. I did not like to bother him with complaints, and I did not do so till existence had become almost a burden. I think Clarence wrote back to the captain, and for a time there was some improvement in our condition; but it soon became worse than before. I repeated my complaint. My brother wished us to get along as well as we could till he could spare the time to visit us; but that time had not yet arrived.
A few days before my story opens, early in April, I had a letter from him, saying that he was well established in business for himself, and that he would certainly come to Torrentville in October, as soon as the sickly season was over, and take us to New Orleans. He added that he should be married before that time, and would bring his wife with him. This was joyful news, but it was a dreary while to wait.
The door suddenly opened, and Mrs. Fishley bounced into the kitchen, followed by her husband, both of them apparently wrought up to the highest pitch of anger by my misdeeds.
ON THE DEFENSIVE.
At the approach of Captain Fishley, I felt the shudder that swept through the feeble frame of Flora, as she stood infolded in my arms. I gently placed her in the chair again, and released myself from her clinging embrace; for I realized that, in the brief moment left to me, it was necessary to prepare for war. I knew the temper of Captain Fishley; and, though he had never yet struck me, I believed that it was only because I had been all submission.
I was fully resolved to defend myself, and especially to defend Flora. I picked up the heavy iron poker which lay on the back of the stove, and placed myself in front of my trembling sister. The captain was a brute, and his wife was hardly better than a brute. I feared that she, supported by her husband, would again lay violent hands upon Flora, knowing that such a course would sting me deeper than a blow upon my own head.
I did not flourish the poker, or make any irritating demonstrations with it; on the contrary, I held it behind me, rather for use in an emergency than to provoke my tyrants. I was not disposed to make the affair any worse than the circumstances required, and by this time I was cool and self-possessed. Perhaps my critical reader may wonder that a boy of my age should have set so high a value upon controlling his temper, and preserving the use of his faculties in the time of peril, for it is not exactly natural for boys to do so. Youth is hot-blooded, and age and experience are generally required to cool the impetuous current that courses through its veins.
My father—blessings on his memory—had taught me the lesson. One day, a fire in the long grass of the prairie threatened the destruction of all our buildings. Clarence and myself went into a flurry, and did a great many stupid things, so excited that we did not know what we were about. Father stopped in the midst of the danger to reprove us, and gave us such a solemn and impressive lesson on the necessity of keeping cool, that I never forgot it. Then he told us to harness the horses to the plough. Clarence struck a furrow along the imperilled side of the house; my father mowed a wide swath through the tall grass, and I raked it away. Before the fire reached us, we had made a barrier which it could not pass. We kept cool, and fought the devouring element with entire success.
I do not mean to say that I never got mad; only that, when I had a fair chance to think an instant, I nerved myself to a degree of self-possession which enabled me to avoid doing stupid things. Such was my frame of mind on the present occasion, and I coolly awaited the coming of the tyrants. Both of them were boiling over with wrath when they entered the kitchen, and rushed towards me so fiercely that I thought they intended to overwhelm me at a single blow.
"What does all this mean, Buck? What have you been doing?" demanded Captain Fishley, as soon as he had crossed the threshold of the room.
I deemed it advisable to make no answer.
"I'll teach you to insult your betters!" he continued, as he rushed forward, with arms extended, ready to wreak his vengeance upon me.
I was satisfied that the blow was to come with the word, and I slung the poker over my shoulder, in the attitude of defence.
"Hold on, Captain Fishley!" I replied.
He had evidently not expected any such demonstration. He had no occasion to suspect it, for previously I had been uniformly submissive, not only to him and his wife, but even to Ham, which had always been a much harder task. The tyrants halted, and gazed at me with a look of stupefied astonishment.
"What are you going to do with that poker?" asked the captain, after a long breath, in which much of his wrath seemed to have evaporated.
"Defend myself," I replied.
"Do you mean to strike me with that poker?"
"Not unless you put your hands on me or my sister. If you touch me, I'll knock you down, if I have to be hanged for it," was my answer, deliberately but earnestly uttered.
"Has it come to this?" groaned he, completely nonplussed by the vigorous show of resistance I made.
"I think it is time something was done," he added, glancing around the room, apparently in search of some weapon.
"I think so too, and I am going to do something, if need be."
"What are you going to do?"
"If you want to talk, I'll talk. I wish you to understand that I'm just as cool as well-water, and this thing has gone just as far as it's going to."
"What do you mean by that, you scoundrel? What thing?"
"My sister Flora is a poor, weak, sick child. She isn't your servant, nor your wife's servant; and she shall not be kicked round by either one of you. That's all I have to say."
"Who has kicked her round?" growled the captain.
"Mrs. Fishley has done just the same as to kick her. She took her by the arm, dragged her out of her chair, and was shaking her when I stepped in."
I was particular to state the facts thus explicitly, because I did not believe Mrs. Fishley had been careful to include this portion of the affair in her complaint to her husband.
"It's no such thing! I should like to know!" exclaimed Mrs. Fishley, who, by some miracle, had been enabled to hold her tongue thus far.
"I saw her do it," I added.
"It's no such thing!"
"Didn't you take her by the arm?" I demanded.
"Well, I did just touch her on the arm, but I didn't hurt her none. I wouldn't hurt her for a million dollars."
"Let Flora speak for herself," I continued. "What did she do to you, Flora?"
"I don't like to say anything about it, Buckland. She didn't hurt me much," answered the terrified child.
"You see, she won't say I shook her, or did any such awful thing," said the virago, triumphantly.
"Speak, my dearest sister. We had better settle this matter now," I added.
"She did take me by the arm, pull me out of the chair, and was shaking me, when you interfered," replied the poor girl, trembling with fear of the consequences of her truthful confession.
"Well, I never!" gasped Mrs. Fishley.
Captain Fishley evidently believed that his wife was lame; but this did not make much difference to him. He was a tyrant and a bully; but, as tyrants and bullies always are, he was a coward, or he would have demolished me before this time. He had a wholesome respect for the poker, which I still kept in readiness for immediate use.
"No matter whether Mrs. Fishley touched the child or not," said he, savagely. "No boy in my house shall insult my wife, or raise his hand against her."
"And no man or woman, in this or any other house, shall raise his hand against my sister," I answered.
"She sat there like a log of wood, and let the flapjacks burn," snarled Mrs. Fishley.
"She hadn't anything to do with the flapjacks. Flora boards here, and isn't anybody's servant," I replied.
"I should like to know! Is that girl to sit there before the fire and let whatever's on the stove burn up before she'll raise her hand to save it?"
"It's no use of talking," said I. "You know all about it as well as I do. All I have to say is, that Flora shall not be abused by anybody, I don't care who it is."
"Nobody's going to abuse her," snapped the shrew.
"I've got another account to settle with you, Buck Bradford," continued Captain Fishley. "Did Ham tell you to black his boots?"
"And you told him you wouldn't?"
"I told him so."
"What do you mean, you rascal?"
"I only meant that I wouldn't do it. That's all I meant."
"I should like to know what we're coming to!" ejaculated Mrs. Fishley.
"We are coming to an understanding, I hope," I answered.
"I hope so too, and I mean to do it," added the captain. "High times we're having here, when the boys won't do what they are told, and then take the poker when they're spoken to."
"Captain Fishley, I think there are two sides to this question. The agreement my brother Clarence made with you was, that I should take care of the horse and go after the mail for my board. That's what he said to me in one of his letters. Instead of that, you make me do all the dirty work about the place, and run from pillar to post at everybody's beck and call."
"That's all you're good for," interposed Captain Fishley, sourly.
"Perhaps it is; but that's not what my brother, who is my guardian, agreed to have me do. You have kept me at home from school half the time—"
"Too much learning spoils boys."
"That wasn't what spoiled you. But that's nothing to do with the agreement."
"None of your impudence, you saucy young cub," said he, shaking his head, and moving a step nearer to me; whereat I demonstrated mildly with the poker.
"I don't mean to be impudent, but I won't be treated like a dog any longer. I was willing enough to do all I was told, even if it wasn't according to the agreement; but I get blowed up twenty times a day by all hands. Ham never speaks civilly to me, and treats me like a nigger servant. This thing has gone just as far as it can go. I have made up my mind not to stand it any longer."
"We'll see," replied the captain, grinding his teeth and puckering up his lips.
"But I don't want to fight, or have any trouble, Captain Fishley," I proceeded, more gently, for I had warmed up considerably as I recited the history of my wrongs. "If Ham wants me to black his boots, and will ask me civilly to do so, I will do it, though that's not my work, and my brother never meant that I should be anybody's boot-black."
"You will do what you are told to," bullied the masculine tyrant.
"And not meddle with things in the house," added the feminine tyrant.
"All I ask is, that Flora shall be let alone, and to be used fairly myself," I continued. "I will do the work just as I have done till October, if I can be treated decently. That's all I have to say."
"That isn't all I've got to say," replied the captain. "Buck Bradford, drop that poker!"
"I will not."
"Not till I think it is safe to do so."
"Do you think I'm going to be threatened with a poker in my own house?"
"I won't threaten you if you'll let me alone. I've said all I have to say."
I know very well that Captain Fishley had not pluck enough to touch me while I had the poker in my hand; and I was fully satisfied that Mrs. Fishley would not meddle with Flora again very soon. The scene was becoming rather embarrassing to me, and I decided either to end it or to shift the battle-field. I turned and walked towards the back room. As one dog pitches into another when the latter appears to show the white feather, Captain Fishley made a spring at me, hoping to take me in the rear. I was too quick for him, and, facing about, I again drew up in the order of battle.
"We'll settle this another time. You haven't seen the end of it yet," said he, as he turned and walked into the store.
WHO IS MASTER.
I remained in the back room long enough to assure myself that Mrs. Fishley did not intend to put a rude hand upon Flora. I even ventured to hope that she was ashamed of herself, and would not repeat the dastardly act. I went to the barn to consider the situation. I felt just as though I had won the victory over my tyrants in the present battle; but I was confident that the conflict would be renewed at some more favorable time.
Like all small-minded men, like all tyrants and oppressors, Captain Fishley was a revengeful person. He would wait till he caught me napping, and then spring some trap upon me. He would delay his vengeance till some circumstances conspired against me, and then come down upon me with the whole weight of his malignity. I determined to keep a sharp lookout upon all his movements, and especially to avoid all cause of offence myself. I meant to keep myself as straight as I possibly could.
I had time only to run my course through my mind before the supper-bell was rung at the back door by Mrs. Fishley. Should I go in to supper as usual, and meet the whole family, including Ham? I answered this question in the affirmative, deciding that I would not sulk, or make any unnecessary trouble to any one. I went in, and took my seat as usual at the table, by the side of Flora. It was a very solemn occasion, for hardly a word was spoken during the meal. If I had been ugly, I might have congratulated myself upon the sensation I had produced.
The head of the family sweetened his tea twice, and upset the milk-pitcher upon the table-cloth, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have brought forth some sharp criticisms from his wife; but Mrs. Fishley neglected to express her disapprobation of her spouse's carelessness, even in the mildest terms. All these things assured me that our host and hostess were busy thinking of the great event of the afternoon. The captain looked morose and savage, and Mrs. Fishley looked as though a new burden, or a new grief, had been added to her heavy load of worldly cares.
I half suspected that Captain Fishley was not entirely satisfied with the conduct of either his wife or his son. It was even possible that he had spoken to them in disapprobation of their course; but I had no means of knowing. It seemed to me that otherwise father, mother, and son would have joined in a general jaw at me, as they had often done before. Whatever good or evil had been wrought by my vigorous action, my appetite was not impaired. I ate a hearty supper, and then went into the store for the mail-bag, which was to be carried down to Riverport.
"Are you going after the mail, Buck?" asked Captain Fishley, in an ugly, taunting tone, which assured me that he had not recovered from the shock.
"O, you are! I didn't know but you would give up work altogether," sneered he, apparently disappointed to find me no longer a rebel.
"I told you I should do my work just as I always did. All I want is fair treatment for my sister and myself," I replied in the least offensive tones I could command.
"I expect my brother, Squire Fishley, will come up to-night," added the captain, more mildly. "You will go to the hotel in Riverport for him, and bring him up. Take a lantern with you; it will be dark to-night."
Squire Fishley had been a state senator, and the captain regarded him as one of the greatest men in Wisconsin. I was rather pleased to have his company home on the lonely ride from Riverport, and I confess that I was somewhat proud of making the acquaintance of the distinguished gentleman.
"Don't be in a hurry, Buck," said Ham Fishley, as I picked up the mail-bag.
I stopped and looked at him, for his tones were more conciliatory than I had heard him use within my remembrance. I actually flattered myself that I had conquered a peace.
"I want to ride with you as far as Crofton's," he added. "I have been very busy getting ready, and haven't had time to black my boots yet. It's a pretty stylish party I'm going to, and I want to look as scrumptious as any of them. Will you black them for me? I'll be much obliged to you if you will."
"Certainly I will, Ham, when you ask me in that way, and glad to do it for you," I replied, without hesitating an instant.
I took the boots and went to work upon them. There was an unmistakable smile of triumph on his face as I did so; but I was perfectly satisfied that the triumph was mine, not his. Doubtless those civil, polite words were an invention of the enemy, to win my compliance; and Ham, forgetting that I had not rebelled against the work, but only the tyrannical style of his order, was weak enough to believe that he had conquered me. I made up my mind to review the circumstances, and explain my position to him, on the way to Crofton's.
"Hasn't that letter come yet, Captain Fishley?" asked an ancient maiden lady, who entered the store while I was polishing Ham's boots.
"I haven't seen anything of it yet, Miss Larrabee," replied the postmaster.
"Dear me! What shall I do!" exclaimed the venerable spinster. "My brother, down in Ohio, promised to send me forty dollars; and I want the money awfully. I was going down to see Jim's folks, but I can't go, nor nothin', till that money comes. I hain't got nothin' to pay for goin' with, you see."
"I'm very sorry, Miss Larrabee. Perhaps the letter will come in to-night's mail," added the captain.
"But the mail don't git in till nine or ten o'clock, and that's after bedtime. Ethan writ me the money would be here by to-day, at the furthest. You don't suppose it's got lost—do you?"
"I think not. We've never lost anything in our office, leastwise not since I've been postmaster," answered Captain Fishley, who seemed to attribute the fact to his own superior management.
"It may come up to-night, as you say, and I will be down again in the morning to see about it," replied Miss Larrabee, as she left the store, hopeful that the money would arrive in season to enable her to depart the next day on her journey.
I finished blacking Ham's boots, and he put them on. He was going to a party at Crofton's, and had already dressed himself as sprucely as the resources of Torrentville would permit. He was seventeen years old, and somewhat inclined to be "fast." He was rather a good-looking fellow—an exceedingly good-looking fellow in his own estimation. Being an only son, his father and mother were disposed to spoil him, though not even Ham wholly escaped the sharp points and obliquities of his mother's temper. His father gave him what he believed to be a liberal allowance of spending money; but on this subject there was a disagreement between Ham and the "old man."
The young man always wanted more money, and the old man thought he had enough. Ham was pleasantly inclined towards some of the young ladies, and some of the young ladies were pleasantly inclined towards him. Ham liked to take them out to ride, especially Squire Crofton's youngest daughter, in the stable-keeper's new buggy; but his father thought the light wagon, used as a pleasure vehicle by the family, was good enough even for Elsie Crofton. I had heard some sharp disputes between them on this subject.
There was to be a party that evening at Crofton's. Ham was invited of course; I was not. Ham was considered a young man. I was deemed a boy, not competent to go to parties yet. As long as Flora could not go, I was content to stay at home with her.
I placed the mail-bag in the wagon, Ham took his seat by my side, and I drove off. As the reader already knows my position in regard to my tyrants, I need not repeat what passed between Ham and me. I told him I had made up my mind to do all the work I had been in the habit of doing, without grumbling, until October, but that I would not be treated like a dog any longer; I would take to the woods and live like a bear before I would stand it. My remarks were evidently very distasteful to my companion. He did not say much, and I was sorry to see that he was nursing his wrath against me. He regarded me as a being vastly inferior to himself, and the decided stand I had taken filled him with the same kind of indignation which a brutal teamster feels towards his contrary horse.
"Hold on a minute, Buck; I want to get a drink of water," said Ham, as we approached a spring by the roadside, half a mile before we reached Crofton's.
I drew up the black horse, and he jumped out of the wagon. He did not drink more than a swallow; and I did not think he was very thirsty.
"Go ahead!" said he, leaping into the rear of the wagon, behind the seat, where I had thrown the mail-bag.
He sat down on the end-board of the wagon, and though I thought it a little strange that he should take such an uncomfortable seat, especially when he had on his best clothes, I did not suspect any mischief. The first thing I knew after I had started the horse, the mail-bag came down upon my head with a force which made me see more stars than ever before twinkled in the firmament of my imagination. At the next instant, Ham seized me by the collar of my coat with both hands, in such a way that I could not easily move.
"Now, Buck Bradford, we'll settle this business. I'm going to know who's master, you or I," cried Ham.
"All right, Ham; you shall know in about two minutes and a half," I replied, choking with wrath, as I hauled in the horse.
Then commenced a struggle which it is impossible to describe. I do not myself know what I did, only that I thrashed, squirmed, and twisted till I found myself behind the seat with my antagonist; but he held on to my coat-collar as though his salvation depended upon the tenacity of his grip. Finally I doubled myself up, and came out of my coat. In the twinkling of an eye, I sprang upon him, and tumbled him out of the wagon, into the dirt of the road. Though he was a year older and two inches taller than I was, while he had been clerking it in the store, I had been nursing my muscles with the shovel and the hoe, the pitchfork and the axe; and I was the stronger and tougher of the two. I could do more, and bear more, than he. A fight depends as much upon the ability to endure injury as it does to inflict it.
The rough usage I had given Ham was very disheartening to him; while I, with the exception of being a little shaky about the head from the blow of the mail-bag, was as fresh as ever.
"Have you found out who's master yet, Ham?" I demanded, edging up to him.
He looked sheepish, and retreated a pace at every step I advanced. At this point, however, the black horse started, and I was obliged to abandon the field for a moment to attend to him, for the reins had fallen under his feet. I turned the horse around, and then I saw that my cowardly assailant had armed himself with a club.
A BATTLE AT LONG RANGE.
I was always very fond of a dog and a horse, and had a taste for everything appertaining to these animals. Darky, as the black horse was called, and my dog Bully, were prime favorites with me. If I bore a divided love, it was so equally divided that I could not tell which I liked the best. I was fond of working over the horse, the wagon, the harnesses, and most especially I had a decided penchant for a graceful whip; but I wish to protest, in the same breath, that I never used it upon Darky. Though I was a firm believer in corporal punishment for vicious boys and vicious horses, I did not think he ever needed it. I had a suspicion that Ham Fishley had never had half enough of it, owing to the fact that he was a spoiled child. It seemed to me then that a good opportunity had come to supply the deficiency, even if it were administered strictly in self-defence.
When I had turned Darky, and admonished him to stand still, I saw that Ham had picked up a club, which appeared to be a broken cart-stake. It was necessary that I should provide for this new emergency. I glanced at the wagon, to see if there was anything about it that would answer my purpose. My eye fell upon the whip, which rested in the socket at the end of the seat. It was a very elegant whip in my estimation, with a lash long enough to drive a four-horse team. The brilliant thought occurred to me that this whip was better than a cart-stake for my present purpose, and I took it from its place.
I wish to say, most emphatically, in this connection, that I am not a fighting character; but, in the present instance, I was obliged to fight or submit to the most degrading abuse. Ham was in the act of asserting his right, not to ask me, but to order me, in the most offensive manner, to black his boots, or to perform other menial offices for him. I trust that I have already proved my willingness to do my duty, and to oblige even those whom I regarded as my enemies. Ham had made a cowardly assault upon me, and with the club in his hand he proposed to reduce me to what he considered a proper state of subjection.
I purposed that he should not reduce me at all. I walked towards the place where he stood, with the whip in my hand. As I approached him he moved towards me with his weapon thrown back in readiness to hit me. I halted first, and then retreated a few paces, to afford me time to disengage the lash from the handle of the whip,—I used to consider myself very skilful with the whip,—though this may be vanity,—and I could take a piece out of a maple leaf at twelve feet, three times out of four, all day long. This was one of my accomplishments as a boy, and I enjoyed the practice.
Retreating before the advance of Ham, I brought the whip smartly around the calves of his legs, with a regular coachman's flourish. This did not operate to cool my antagonist's temper; indeed, I am forced to confess that this was not exactly the way to subdue his ire. I am sorry to say that Ham used some naughty words, which politeness will not permit me to repeat. Then he rushed forward with redoubled energy, and I gave him another crack with the whip, which hit him in the tenderest part of his pedestals.
I knew by his wrinkled brow that the part smarted; but, as long as it did not cure him of the infatuation of "licking" me, I felt that he was responsible for all consequences. He wanted to throw himself upon me with that club, and I am satisfied that a single blow of the formidable weapon would have smashed my head. He followed up his treatment, and I followed up mine, keeping just out of the reach of his stick, and lathering his legs with the hard silk snapper of my whip.
He foamed, fretted, and struggled to gain the advantage of me; but he was mad, and I was cool, and I kept my respectful distance from him, punishing him as rapidly as I could swing the long lash. Ham soon became fearfully disgusted. At the rate he was subduing me, he must have felt that it would be a long job. His patience—not very carefully nursed—gave out at last; and, when he found that it would be impossible for him to inflict a single blow upon me, he raised the club, and let it fly at my head. If it had hit me there, I think the reader would have been saved the trouble of reading my adventures "Down the River." As it was, it struck me on the left shoulder, and I did not get over the effects of the blow for a fortnight. But I was too proud to show any signs of pain, or even to let him know that I had been hit.
I picked up the club, and held it in my left hand, to prevent him from making any further use of it, leaving my right to manipulate the whip. I felt that I had disarmed and overpowered him; but I was not yet quite content with his frame of mind, and I continued my favorite exercise for some time longer. I did not actually punish him any more; I only cracked the whip in unpleasant proximity to his tender extremities. He hopped and leaped like a Winnebago chief in the war-dance.
"Quit, Buck Bradford!" cried he, in tones of anguish.
"You have got enough of it—have you, Ham Fishley?" I replied, suspending the exercise.
"We'll settle this another time," howled he.
"No, we won't; we'll settle it now. You began it, and I want it finished now," I added, cracking the whip once more in the neighborhood of his pedal extremities.
"I will quit when you say you have had enough of it."
"You won't hear the last of this very soon, I can tell you!"
"What are you going to do about it, Ham?"
"I'll pay you off for it yet!"
"Will you!" I continued, startling his sensibilities again with the noise of the snapper.
"Yes, I will!" snarled he, passionately.
If the calf of his left leg had been a maple leaf at that moment, I should have taken a piece out of it as big as a dime.
"Mind out, Buck Bradford!"
"Have you had enough?" I demanded.
"Yes, I have!"
"O, well, if you are satisfied, I am, though you are not very good-natured about it. Next time you want to hit me over the head with the mail-bag, just remember that when I am awake I keep my eyes open," I replied, coiling up the lash of my whip. "When I told you I had stood this thing long enough, I got myself ready for anything that might come. I'm ready for anything more, and I shall be ready the next time you want to try it on."
"You had better go along with the mail," snapped he, in a tone so like his mother's that I could not have told who spoke if I had not seen Ham before me.
"I made this stop to accommodate you, not myself. After what has happened, I want to tell you once more, that I am ready to do my work like a man, and to treat you and everybody else like gentlemen, if you use me decently. If you know how to behave like a gentleman, I'd like to have you try it on for a few days, just to see how it would seem. If you will only do that, I promise you shall have no reason to complain of me. That's all I've got to say."
"You've said enough, and you had better go along with the mail," growled he.
I turned Darky again, very much to that knowing animal's dissatisfaction apparently, for my singular proceedings had doubtless impressed him with the idea that he was to escape his regular trip to Riverport.
"Aren't you going along to Crofton's?" I called to Ham, as I got into the wagon.
"A pretty fix I'm in to go to a party," replied he, as he glanced in disgust at his soiled garments.
"Well, you ought to have thought of that before you began the sport," I added, consolingly.
Ham made no reply, but fell vigorously to brushing his clothes with his hands.
"Better come along with me, Ham," I continued, kindly; for I felt that I could afford to be magnanimous; and I think one ought to be so, whether he can afford it or not.
"I'm not going to Crofton's in this fix," said he.
"I can help you out, if you like, Ham. I don't bear any ill will towards you, and just as lief do you a good turn as not," I added, taking from the box of the wagon-seat a small hand broom, which I kept there to dust off the cushion, and brush down the mail-bag after a dusty trip.
I jumped down from the wagon again, and moved towards him. He was shy of me after what had happened, and retreated at my approach.
"Let me brush your clothes, Ham. I won't hurt you."
"You have brushed me about enough already," said he, shaking his head.
"What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid."
"Let me brush you, then. I wouldn't hurt you now any more than I would my own sister."
He stood still, and I brushed and rubbed his garments till he looked as bright and fresh as if he came out of the bureau drawer.
"There, you are all right now," I added, when I had finished the job. "Jump into the wagon, and I will take you along to Crofton's."
"You are up to some trick, Buck," said he, suspiciously.
"No, I'm not. I'm not afraid of you. I don't hit a fellow over the head with a mail-bag," I replied, seating myself in the wagon again.
Half a dozen "fellows and girls" were approaching from the direction of the village; and, as Ham did not care to see company just yet, he got into the wagon, and I drove off. He kept one eye on me all the time, and seemed to be afraid that I intended to continue the battle by some underhand measures.
"I am sorry this thing has happened, Ham; but I couldn't help it," I began, after we had ridden a quarter of a mile in silence. "You pitched in, and I had to defend myself. I hope you won't do it again."
Ham made no reply.
"Because, if you do, it will come out just as this has," I continued. "I suppose you feel a little sore about this scrape, for you don't come out first-best in it. You know that as well as I do. I reckon you won't want to talk much to the fellows about it. I don't blame you for not wanting to, Ham. But what I was going to say was this: if you don't say anything about it, I shall not."
"I don't know what I shall do," replied he, doggedly.
"I don't, either; but, between you and me, Ham, I don't think you feel much like bragging over it. If you don't mention it, I won't."
"I suppose you mean by that, you don't want me to say anything to the old man about it," growled he, involuntarily putting himself in the attitude of a conqueror, and me in that of a supplicant.
"No, Ham; that isn't what I meant. If you want to tell your father or anybody else of it, I'm willing; but one story's good till another's told. That's all."
Our arrival at Crofton's prevented any further consideration of the matter. Ham leaped out of the wagon without another word, rushed through the front gate, and disappeared, while I drove on towards Riverport.
Ham was quick-tempered, and I hoped he would get over the vindictive feelings which he manifested towards me. At the same time, I could not help thinking that he was fully in earnest when he told me I had not seen the end of it. Of Ham's moral attributes the least said would be the soonest mended. Certainly he was not a young man of high and noble purposes, like Charley Woodworth, the minister's son. Captain Fishley himself, as I had heard Clarence say, and as I knew from what I had seen and heard myself, was given to low cunning and overreaching. If he could make a dollar, he made it, and did not stand much upon the order of his making it.
I cannot say that he put prairie sand into the sugar, or put an ounce bullet into the side of the scale which contained the goods; but some people accused him of these things, and from what I knew of the man I could not believe that he was above such deeds. Ham was an apt scholar, and improved upon the precept and example of his father. I had heard him brag of cheating the customers, of mean tricks put upon the inexperience of women and children. If he had been a young man of high moral purposes, I might have hoped that we had seen the end of our quarrel.
I could not help thinking of this subject during the rest of my ride to Riverport, and I could not get rid of a certain undefined dread of consequences in the future. I criticise Ham and his father in the light of my own after experience rather than from any settled opinions which I had at the time; and I don't wish it to be understood that I was any better myself than I ought to be. I had no very distinct aspirations after goodness and truth. My character had not been formed. My dear little sister was my guide and Mentor. If I did wrong, she wept and prayed for me; and I am sure she saved me from many an evil deed by the sweet influence of her pure and holy life. If I had drank in more of her gentle spirit, the scene between Ham and myself could not have transpired.
I reached the post-office in Riverport, and took the mail-bag for Torrentville into the wagon, leaving the one I had brought down. Then I drove to the hotel, and inquired for Squire Fishley. The landlord told me that he was engaged with a party of gentlemen in a private room. Fortunately I was in no hurry, for I could not think of disturbing a person of so much consequence as Squire Fishley. I never reached home with the mail till nine o'clock, and the bag was not opened till the next morning, when sorting the mail was Ham's first business. I drove Darky into a shed, and amused myself by looking around the premises.
I walked about for half an hour, and then asked the landlord to tell Squire Fishley that I was waiting to take him up to his brother's. I was told that my passenger was just going down to the boat to see some friends off, and directed to put the squire's trunk into the wagon, and drive down to the steamboat landing. The landlord conducted me into the entry, and there, for the first time, I saw the captain's brother. He would have been a good-looking man under ordinary circumstances, but he was as boozy as an owl!
I was astonished, shocked, at this spectacle; for, unlike politicians in general, Squire Fishley had made his reputation, and his political capital, on his high moral and religious character. I had often heard what a good man the distinguished senator was, and I was horrified at seeing him drunk. With unsteady gestures, and in maudlin tones, he pointed out his trunk to me, and I put it into the wagon. I did not see him again till he reached the steamboat landing. He went on board with two other gentlemen, and was absent another half hour.
The bell of the steamer rang furiously for the start, and I began to be afraid that my passenger's devotion to his friends would lead him to accompany them down the river. I went up into the cabin, and found him taking a "parting drink" with them. I told him the boat was just starting; he hastily shook hands with his companions, and accompanied me down to the plank. I crossed it, and had hardly touched the shore before I heard a splash behind me. I turned, and saw that Squire Fishley had toppled into the river. His last dram appeared to be the ounce that had broken the camel's back.
I saw the current bear him under the guards of the boat, where, in the darkness, he was lost to my view. I ran, followed by a dozen idlers, to the stern of the boat, and presently the helpless tippler appeared again. A raft of floating logs lay just below the steamer. I cast off the up-stream end of one of them, and the current swung it out in the river. Leaping astride it, I pushed off, just in time to intercept the unfortunate senator, who had sense enough left to grasp it.
"Hold on tight, squire!" I cried to him.
I worked along the log to the place where he was, and assured myself that he had a secure hold. Beyond keeping myself afloat, I was as helpless as he was, for I could not do anything to guide or propel our clumsy bark. We had disappeared from the view of the people on shore, for the night was, as Captain Fishley had predicted, very dark.
I think we floated half a mile down the river, and I heard persons shouting far above us, in boats. We were approaching a bend in the stream, where I hoped the current would set us near enough to the shore to enable me to effect a landing. Just then the steamer came puffing along; but her course took her some distance from us. She passed us, and in the swell caused by her wheels we were tossed up and down, and I was afraid the squire would be shaken from his hold. I grasped him by the collar with one hand, and kept him in position till the commotion of the water had partially subsided.
But the swell did us a good turn, for it drove the log towards the shore, at the bend of the stream, and I found that I could touch bottom. With a hold for my feet, I pushed the timber towards the bank till one end of it grounded. I then helped the squire to walk up the shoaling beach, out of the river. Cold water is the natural enemy of ardent spirits, and in this instance it had gained a partial victory over its foe, for the squire was nearly sobered by his bath.
"This is bad—very bad!" said my passenger, when he had shaken some of the water from his garments.
"I know it is, Squire Fishley; but we have got over the worst of it," I replied.
"I'm afraid not, boy. I shall never get over the disgrace of it," he added, with a shudder—partly from cold, I judged, and partly from a dread of consequences.
"Nobody will know anything about it if you don't tell of it. When you fell in, I heard a dozen people ask who you were, and nobody could tell."
"Don't let any one see me, boy," pleaded he, as we heard the voices of people moving down the bank of the river in search of the unfortunate.
I knew just where we were, and I conducted him to an old lumber shed, some distance from the bank of the river, where I left him to go for the horse and wagon. I avoided the people who were searching for the unfortunate, and found Darky just where I had hitched him, at the steamboat landing. I was not very uncomfortable, for I had not been all over into the water. I drove down to the lumber shed, took the squire in, and headed towards home. The senator was shivering with cold, though fortunately it was a very warm day for the season, and he did not absolutely suffer.
It had been cloudy and threatening rain all the afternoon and evening, and before we reached the main road it began to pour in torrents. I had an oil-cloth, which I put over the trunk and the mail. Under ordinary circumstances, a seven-mile ride in such a heavy rain would have been a great misfortune; but, as both of us had been in the river, it did not make much difference to us. I had no umbrella; and it would have done no good if I had, the wind was so fresh, and the storm so driving. If we had not been wet in the beginning, we should have been soaked to the skin long before we reached Torrentville.
The squire suffered so much from cold that I advised him to get out, take hold of the back of the wagon, and walk or run a mile or so to warm up his blood. He took my advice, and improved his condition very much. But the cold was by no means the greatest of his troubles. Remorse, or, more likely, the fear of discovery, disturbed him more.
"Boy, what is your name?" asked he, after he had walked his mile, and was able to speak without shivering.
"John Buckland Bradford, sir; but the folks all call me Buck."
"You seem to be a very smart boy, Buck, and you have done me a good turn to-night, which I shall never forget."
"I'm glad I helped you, sir. I would have done as much as that for anybody."
"It is bad, very bad," added he, apparently thinking of the consequences.
"I know it is, sir. That was a pretty narrow plank on the steamboat."
"It wasn't the narrow plank," he replied, bitterly.
"I suppose you had been taking a little too much," I added, willing to help him out.
"Did you think I was intoxicated?"
"I don't know much about it, but I did think so."
"I would rather give a thousand dollars than have it known that I drank too much and fell into the river. The story would ruin me, and spoil all my prospects."
Squire Fishley was a stranger in Riverport. He had not been to Torrentville since I lived with the captain, and I was sure no one knew who it was that had fallen into the river. I comforted him, and assured him it would be all right.
"If your friends on board of the steamer don't expose you, no one else will," I continued.
"They will not; they are going to New Orleans, and will not return for months. If you should happen to say anything to my brother or his family—"
"I will not breathe it," I interposed.
"I will do something handsome for you, Buck, and be your best friend."
"I don't mind that," I replied.
"I am not in the habit of drinking ardent spirits, or even wine, to excess, when I am at home, though I don't belong to the temperance society," said he. "I didn't take much, and my friends would not let me off. I don't know that I ever was really intoxicated before in my life."
"It is a bad habit."
"But it is not my habit, and I mean to stop drinking entirely," he replied, earnestly; and I could not help thinking how humiliating it must be for a great man like him to confess his folly to such a poor boy as I was.
"We are nearly home now, sir," said I, after we had ridden a while in silence.
"You will remember your promise—won't you, Buck?"
"Certainly I will, sir."
"Take this," he added, crowding something into my hand.
"What is it, sir?" I asked.
"No matter now; it may help your memory."
It was a little roll of wet paper, and I thrust it into my pocket as I drove into the yard.
Although it was after eleven o'clock, Captain Fishley and his wife were still up, waiting for the arrival of the distinguished guest.
"Now, remember," said Squire Fishley, as I drove into the yard, and the captain came out at the back door.
"Don't be at all afraid of me," I replied.
"How are you, Moses?" exclaimed Captain Fishley, as, by the light of the lantern he carried in his hand, he saw that his brother had arrived.
"Pretty well, I thank you; but very wet and cold," answered the squire, shivering.
"Well, I am glad to see you," added the postmaster, as he took the hand of the guest and helped him out of the wagon.
The squire was so chilled that he could hardly stand. So far as I could judge, he had entirely recovered from his debauch. The captain led the way into the house, and I followed them with the trunk and the mail-bag. Mrs. Fishley bestowed a cordial welcome upon her brother-in-law, and placed the rocking-chair before the stove, in which there was still a good fire.
"Why, you are as wet as though you had been in the river!" cried Mrs. Fishley.
"It has been raining very hard," replied the squire, casting an anxious glance at me.
"What made you so late?" asked the captain. "I expected you by nine o'clock."
"I had some friends with me who were on the way to New Orleans, and I waited to see them off," answered the senator, with a shudder—not at the thought of his friends, perhaps, but on account of the chill which pervaded his frame.
"You'll catch your death a cold, Moses," interposed Mrs. Fishley. "I think you'd better take something, to guard against the chills."
"Yes; I'll give you a glass of corn whiskey, mixed with hot water," added the captain, taking up the suggestion.
"No, I think I won't take any," replied the squire, shaking his head.
"Hadn't you better?" persisted Mrs. Fishley. "It'll do you a heap of good."
"Not to-night, thank you!"
"I don't believe in drinkin' liquor when a body's well; but when they're wet through, and shiverin' with cold as you are, Moses, it is good for 'em—only as a medicine, you know."
But not even as a medicine could Squire Fishley be induced to partake of any of the fire-water. He had drank corn whiskey enough for one day; and I think at that moment he loathed the thought of drinking it. He compromised the matter, being a politician, by offering to drink a dish of hot tea, which, I doubt not, was just as good for him as the "ardent" would have been.
I warmed my fingers a little at the stove, and then went out to take care of Darky. I stirred my own blood by the exercise of rubbing him down; and, when I left him, nicely blanketed, I think he was as comfortable as the squire in the house, and I am sure his head did not ache half so badly. My work for the night was done; but, before I went into the house, I could not help taking the present which the senator had given me from my pocket and examining it. I had suspected, from the first, that it was a bank bill. I thought that the squire had given me a dollar or two to deepen the impression upon my memory, and I had already come to the conclusion that he was a more liberal man than his brother; as, indeed, he could afford to be, for he was said to be quite wealthy.
I took the little roll from my pocket while up in the hay-loft, where I had gone to give Darky his last feed. It was wet, but the paper was new and strong, and had sustained no serious injury. I unrolled the bills, and was astonished to find there were not less than half a dozen of them. As they had apparently just come from the bank, they stuck together very closely. The first bill was a one, the next a five; and by this time I was amazed at the magnitude of the sum, for I had never before had six dollars of my own in my hand.
I looked further, and was utterly overwhelmed when I found that each of the other four bills was a ten. Forty-six dollars! Squire Fishley had certainly made a mistake. He could not have intended to give me all that money. Befuddled and befogged by the whiskey and the cold bath, he must have forgotten that the roll contained forty-six dollars, instead of two or three, which was probably all he intended to give me. I should have felt rich with a couple of dollars; but actually possessed of the sum in my hand, I should have been a John Jacob Astor in my own estimation.
The money was not mine. The squire had not intended to give me all that, and it would not be right for me to keep it. I could not help thinking that if I chose to keep the money, I might do so with impunity. I had the squire's secret, and he would not dare to insist upon my returning the bills; but this would be mean, and I concluded that I should feel better with the two or three dollars fairly obtained than if I took advantage of the obvious blunder of the giver.
"What have you got there, Buck?"
I started as though a rifle ball had struck me. Turning, I saw Ham Fishley standing at the head of the stairs, and I wondered how he had been able to come up the steps without my hearing him. I had been intensely absorbed in the contemplation of the bills, and was lost to everything around me. If I had heard any noise, I supposed it was Darky. I saw that Ham had taken off his boots, and put on a pair of old rubbers, which explained why I had not heard his step on the stairs.
"What have you got there, Buck?" repeated he, as I did not answer the first question.
"I've got a little money," I replied.
"Where did you get it?"
"I didn't steal it?"
"Well, I didn't say you did. I only asked you a civil question."
"It's some money I made on my own account," I replied, as composedly as I could.
"Have you done with that lantern? I want it," he continued, either satisfied with my answer, or too wet and cold to pursue the inquiry any further.
I gave him the lantern, and followed him down stairs, greatly annoyed by the discovery he had made, for I could not help thinking that he had been watching me, perhaps to obtain another opportunity of settling the old score. I closed the stable door, and went into the house. The family, including the squire, had gone to bed. Ham, with the lantern in his hand, passed through the entry into the shop. I lighted a lamp in the kitchen, and went up to my room, which was in the L over the store. I took off my wet clothes, put on a dry shirt, and got into bed.
Though it was after midnight, I could not at once go to sleep. I could not help thinking of the stirring events of the evening, for never before had so much happened to me in so brief a period. I was beginning to gape fearfully, and to lose myself, when the whinings of Bully at the side door disturbed me. My canine friend usually slept in the barn; but he appeared to have been out late, like the rest of us, and had been locked out. He was a knowing dog, and the light in the store had probably assured him that some one was up, or he would not have had the impudence to apply for admission at that unseemly hour.
I had just become comfortably warm in bed, and did not like the idea of getting up, even for the accommodation of Bully, though I was willing to do so rather than oblige the poor fellow to stay out in the cold all night. I waited a while to see if Ham would not have the grace to admit my friend; but the whining continued, and reluctantly I jumped out of bed. Putting on my socks and pants, I crept down stairs, so as not to disturb the squire, who occupied the front chamber.
In the lower entry, I found that the door which led to the shop was partly open; and I looked in as I went along, for I wondered what Ham was about at that late hour. He was sorting the mail, which I had brought up from Riverport, and I concluded that he intended to lie abed late in the morning. I paused a moment at the door, and soon became satisfied that he was doing something more than sorting the mail. He was not ten feet from me, and I could distinctly observe his operations.
I should not have staid an instant after I found what he was doing if his movements had not excited my attention. He had lighted the large hanging lamp over the counter where the mail was sorted; and, as I was about to pass on to the relief of Bully, I saw him hold a letter up to the light, as if to ascertain its contents. I could not entirely make out the direction upon it; but, as he held it up to the lamp, peering in at the end, I saw that the capital letter commencing the last name was an L. I concluded that this must be the letter for which Miss Larrabee had inquired, and which she had declared was to contain forty dollars.
Ham glanced around the store; but, as I was in the darkness of the entry, and concealed by the door, he did not see me. He was nervous and shaky in his movements. He held the letter up to the light again, and having apparently satisfied himself that it contained a valuable enclosure, he broke it open. I confess that I was filled with horror, and, of the two, I was probably more frightened than he was. I saw him take several bank bills from the paper and thrust them into his pocket. I had never considered Ham capable of an act so wicked as this. I was shocked and confounded. I did not know what to do. Badly as he had treated me, I would gladly have saved him from such a gross crime as that he was committing.
What should I do? What could I do? I was on the point of rushing into the store, telling him I had seen the flagrant act, and begging him to undo the deed by restoring the money to the letter, and sealing it again. At that instant he lighted a match, and set the letter on fire. I was too late. He took the burning paper in his hand, carried it to the stove, and threw it in. He waited a moment till it was consumed, and then returned to the mail counter. The envelope still lay there; he carried that to the stove, and saw it ignited from the burning letter.
Ham's nefarious work appeared to be finished; and, without being able to decide what I should do, I hurried back to my chamber, even forgetting all about poor Bully in my agitation. I heard the step of Ham a moment later. The whining of the dog attracted his attention, and he let him in before he went to his room. My heart beat as though I had robbed the mail myself. I trembled for Ham. Though he had always been overbearing and tyrannical in his demeanor towards me; though he had taken a mean and cowardly advantage of me that evening; though he was a young man whom I could not like,—yet I had lived in the same house with him for several years, and known him ever since I came to Torrentville. I did not wish anything so bad to come upon him as that he was bringing upon himself. It was sad and pitiful enough to be mean and tyrannical, without being a thief and a robber.
I really pitied Ham, and if he had not destroyed the letter, I should have gone to him, and begged him to retrace his steps. I knew him too well to take such a course now, and I lay thinking of his crime, till, overcome with weariness, I went to sleep.
MISS LARRABEE'S LETTER.
If I did not get up as early as usual the next morning, none of my tyrants were stirring in season to abuse me for lying abed so late; for they, like myself, had not retired until after midnight. The first thing that came to my mind in the morning was the scene I had witnessed in the post-office. The secret seemed to burn in my soul, and I wanted some means of getting rid of it. I actually pitied Ham, and would gladly have availed myself of any method of saving him from the crime—of saving him from himself, rather than from the penalty of the offence, for even then the crime seemed to me to be worse than the punishment, and more to be dreaded.
It was nearly breakfast time when Ham made his appearance, and I imagined that he had found some difficulty in going to sleep with the burden of his crime resting upon his conscience. Squire Fishley did not appear till the family were just ready to sit down at the table. He looked sleepy, stupid, and ashamed of himself, and Mrs. Fishley thought he must have taken cold. According to his custom, the senator said grace at the table, by invitation of his brother, who, however, never returned thanks himself.
I could not help keeping one eye fixed on the distinguished man, for so unusual an event as saying grace in that house did not fail to make an impression upon me. I noticed that he cast frequent glances at me, and very uneasy ones at that. Doubtless he felt that I could unfold a tale which was not exactly consistent with his religious pretensions. But, in spite of all I knew, I did not regard him as a hypocrite. I did not know enough about him to enable me to reach so severe a judgment. The shame and penitence he had manifested assured me he was not in the habit of getting intoxicated; and I was willing to believe that he had been led away by the force of circumstances a single time, and that the error would cure itself by its own reaction.
"It's rather chilly this morning," said Captain Fishley. "Buck, you may make a little fire in the stove."
"It has cleared off pleasant, and it will be warmer by and by, when the sun gets up," added Mrs. Fishley, who always had something to say, on every possible topic that could be introduced, whether she knew anything about it or not.
I went to the store. In the open stove were the tindered remains of the letter Ham had burned. The sheet of paper had been entirely consumed; but the envelope, which he had destroyed afterwards, was only half burned. The right hand lower corner had apparently been wet, so that it resisted the action of the fire, and appeared to rise in judgment against the mail robber. The piece contained part of the last name of the superscription, with a portion of the town, county, and state, of the address. Without any definite purpose in doing so, I put the remains of the envelope in my pocket.
While I was making the fire, Miss Larrabee entered the store, and went up to the counter appropriated to the post-office. Ham whistled Yankee Doodle, which was patriotic enough, but out of place even in the shop, and sauntered leisurely over to wait upon her. I was astonished to see how cool he was; but I think the whistle had a deceptive effect.
"Has that letter come yet?" asked Miss Larrabee; and her anxiety was visible in the tones of her voice.
"What letter do you mean, Miss Larrabee?" asked Ham, suspending his whistle, and looking as blank as though he had never heard of it.
"Why, the letter I came for last night," replied the ancient maiden.
"Yes; the letter from Ethan's folks."
"I haven't heard anything about it before."
"Well, you was a standin' here last night when I axed your father for it," added Miss Larrabee, who thought the matter was of consequence enough to have everybody take an interest in it.
"I didn't mind what you said. So many letters come here, that I can't keep the run of them."
"I've axed your father for't goin' on three times; and he said it would come in last night's mail. It must have come afore this time."
"If it must, I suppose it has," replied Ham, taking a pile of letters from the pigeon-hole marked L.
Having lighted the kindlings in the stove, I stood up to observe the conduct of Ham. He resumed his whistle, and examined the letters. Of course he did not find the one he was looking for.
"None for Larrabee," said he, suspending the patriotic air long enough to utter the words.
"Goodness gracious! There must be!" exclaimed the unhappy spinster. "Have you looked 'em all over?"
But Ham took down the L's again, and went through the pile once more.
"None for Larrabee," he repeated, and then, for variety's sake, whistled the first strain of Hail, Columbia.
"But, Mr. Fishley, there must be a letter for me. Ethan writ me there was one comin'; and he said it would be here by to-day, for sartain," protested Miss Larrabee. "Mebbe it's got into some other hole."
"Well, to please you, I'll look them all over; but I don't remember seeing any letter for you."
"I tell ye it must have come afore now," persisted the venerable maiden.
Ham whistled his favorite air as he went through all the letters in the pigeon-holes, from A to Z. He did not find it, and Miss Larrabee was in despair. She had made all her preparations to visit "Jim's folks," and had intended to start that day.
"It's a shame!" exclaimed she. "I know Ethan sent the letter. He wouldn't play no sech trick on me. Them mail folks ought to look out for things better'n that."
"If it didn't come, it didn't," added Ham, consolingly.
"But I know it did come. Ethan must have put it in the post-office. 'Tain't like him to say he'd do a thing, and then not do it. I almost know he sent the letter."
At this point Captain Fishley and his brother entered the store, and Miss Larrabee appealed to him. The postmaster looked the letters over very carefully; but, as there was none for the lady, he couldn't find any. He was very sorry, but he displayed more philosophy than the spinster, and "bore up" well under the trial.
"What on airth am I to do!" ejaculated Miss Larrabee. "Here I've got all ready to go and see Jim's folks; but I can't go because I hain't got no money. When I set about doin' a thing, I want to do it."
"People sometimes make mistakes in directing their letters, and then they have to go to the dead-letter office," suggested Captain Fishley.
"Ethan didn't make no mistake. 'Tain't like him to make mistakes. Do you think Ethan don't know where I live?"
"I don't know anything about it, only that the letter isn't here."
"Dear suz! What shall I do? When a body's made up her mind to go, it's desp'ate aggravatin' not to go."
At this trying juncture, Squire Fishley interposed, and, after some inquiries in regard to the responsibility of the parties, suggested that his brother should lend the lady money enough to enable her to make her journey.
"I'd be much obleeged to you, Captain Fishley, if you'd do it," said Miss Larrabee, delighted with the suggestion. "I shan't be gone more'n a month, and when I come back I'll hand it to you. That letter must come to-day or to-morrow, and if you have a mind to, you can open it, and take the money out. It will save me the interest."
"But suppose the letter has gone to the dead-letter office?" added the postmaster.
"Sakes alive! I've got money enough to pay it, if the letter is lost. Why, Ethan's got more'n 'leven hundred dollars that belongs to me."
"All right, Miss Larrabee," replied Captain Fishley, as he took out the money, and wrote a note for the amount.
The worthy maiden of many summers put on her spectacles, signed the note, and counted the money. She was happy again, for the journey was not to be deferred. I think Ham was as glad to have her go as she was to go. I could not help watching him very closely after his father and the squire left the store, to observe how he carried himself in his course of deception and crime. I had never known him to whistle so much before, and I regarded it as the stimulus he used in keeping up his self-possession.
"What are you staring at me for, Buck Bradford?" demanded he, as I stood gazing across the counter at him.
"A cat may look at the king," I replied, stung by the harsh words, after I had cherished so many kind feelings towards him, though I forgot that I had not expressed them, since the affray on the road.
"Do I owe you anything?"
"No, you don't owe me anything."
"Yes, I do. I owe you something on last night's account, and I'm going to pay it too," he added, shaking his head at me in a threatening manner.
I did not like his style, and not wishing to make a disturbance in the store, I said nothing. I walked up to the stove, where I found that my fire was not doing very well, for my interest in the letter had caused me to neglect it. I put on some more kindlings, and then knelt down on the hearth to blow up the fire with my breath. Captain Fishley and the squire had left the store, and Ham and I were alone. I heard my youngest tyrant come from behind the counter; but I did not think anything of it. While I was kneeling on the hearth, and blowing up the failing embers with all my might, Ham came up behind me, with a cowhide in his hand, taken from a lot for sale, and before I suspected any treachery on his part, or had time to defend myself, he struck me three heavy blows, each of which left a mark that remained for more than a week.
I sprang to my feet; but the wretch had leaped over the counter, and fortified himself behind it. He looked as ugly as sin itself; but I could see that he was not without a presentiment of the consequences of his rash act. I do not profess to be an angel in the quality of my temper, and I was as mad as a boy of fifteen could be. I made a spring at him, and was going over the counter in a flying leap, when he gave me a tremendous cut across the shoulder.
"Hold on there, Buck Bradford!" called he, as he pushed me back with his left hand. "We are square now."
"No, we are not," I replied, taking a cowhide from a bundle of them on a barrel. "We have a new account to settle now."
"We are just even for what you gave me last night," said he.
"Not yet," I added, leaping over the counter in another place; and, rushing upon him, I brought my weapon to bear upon his shoulders.
"What are you about, you villain?" demanded Captain Fishley, returning to the store at this moment.
He seized me by the collar, and being a powerful man, he wrested the cowhide from my grasp, and before I could make any successful demonstration, he laid the weapon about my legs, till they were in no better condition than I had left Ham's the evening before.
"I'll teach you to strike my son!" said he, breathless with excitement.
"He struck me," I flouted.
"No matter if he did; you deserved it. Now go to the barn, and harness the horse."
I saw the squire coming into the store. I was overpowered; and, with my legs stinging with pain, I went to the barn.
THE HUNGRY RUNAWAY.
I went to the barn, but not to obey the order of Captain Fishley. I was as ugly as Ham himself, and anything more than that was needless. I went there because the barn was a sort of sanctuary to me, whither I fled when the house was too warm to hold me. I went there to nurse my wrath; to think what I should do after the new indignities which had been heaped upon me. I had not been the aggressor in the quarrel. I had been meanly insulted and assaulted.