EBEN HOLDEN, A TALE OF THE NORTH COUNTRY
By Irving Bacheller
Early in the last century the hardy wood-choppers began to come west, out of Vermont. They founded their homes in the Adirondack wildernesses and cleared their rough acres with the axe and the charcoal pit. After years of toil in a rigorous climate they left their sons little besides a stumpy farm and a coon-skin overcoat. Far from the centres of life their amusements, their humours, their religion, their folk lore, their views of things had in them the flavour of the timber lands, the simplicity of childhood. Every son was nurtured in the love of honour and of industry, and the hope of sometime being president. It is to be feared this latter thing and the love of right living, for its own sake, were more in their thoughts than the immortal crown that had been the inspiration of their fathers. Leaving the farm for the more promising life of the big city they were as men born anew, and their second infancy was like that of Hercules. They had the strength of manhood, the tireless energy of children and some hope of the highest things. The pageant of the big town—its novelty, its promise, its art, its activity—quickened their highest powers, put them to their best effort. And in all great enterprises they became the pathfinders, like their fathers in the primeval forest.
This book has grown out of such enforced leisure as one may find in a busy life. Chapters begun in the publicity of a Pullman car have been finished in the cheerless solitude of a hotel chamber. Some have had their beginning in a sleepless night and their end in a day of bronchitis. A certain pious farmer in the north country when, like Agricola, he was about to die, requested the doubtful glory of this epitaph: 'He was a poor sinner, but he done his best' Save for the fact that I am an excellent sinner, in a literary sense, the words may stand for all the apology I have to make.
The characters were mostly men and women I have known and who left with me a love of my kind that even a wide experience with knavery and misfortune has never dissipated. For my knowledge of Mr Greeley I am chiefly indebted to David P. Rhoades, his publisher, to Philip Fitzpatrick, his pressman, to the files of the Tribune and to many books.
IRVING BACHELLER New York City, 7 April 1900
Of all the people that ever went west that expedition was the most remarkable.
A small boy in a big basket on the back of a jolly old man, who carried a cane in one hand, a rifle in the other; a black dog serving as scout, skirmisher and rear guard—that was the size of it. They were the survivors of a ruined home in the north of Vermont, and were travelling far into the valley of the St Lawrence, but with no particular destination.
Midsummer had passed them in their journey; their clothes were covered with dust; their faces browning in the hot sun. It was a very small boy that sat inside the basket and clung to the rim, his tow head shaking as the old man walked. He saw wonderful things, day after day, looking down at the green fields or peering into the gloomy reaches of the wood; and he talked about them.
'Uncle Eb—is that where the swifts are?' he would ask often; and the old man would answer, 'No; they ain't real sassy this time o' year. They lay 'round in the deep dingles every day.'
Then the small voice would sing idly or prattle with an imaginary being that had a habit of peeking over the edge of the basket or would shout a greeting to some bird or butterfly and ask finally: 'Tired, Uncle Eb?'
Sometimes the old gentleman would say 'not very', and keep on, looking thoughtfully at the ground. Then, again, he would stop and mop his bald head with a big red handkerchief and say, a little tremor of irritation in his voice: 'Tired! who wouldn't be tired with a big elephant like you on his back all day? I'd be 'shamed o' myself t' set there an' let an old man carry me from Dan to Beersheba. Git out now an' shake yer legs.'
I was the small boy and I remember it was always a great relief to get out of the basket, and having run ahead, to lie in the grass among the wild flowers, and jump up at him as he came along.
Uncle Eb had been working for my father five years before I was born. He was not a strong man and had never been able to carry the wide swath of the other help in the fields, but we all loved him for his kindness and his knack of story-telling. He was a bachelor who came over the mountain from Pleasant Valley, a little bundle of clothes on his shoulder, and bringing a name that enriched the nomenclature of our neighbourhood. It was Eben Holden.
He had a cheerful temper and an imagination that was a very wilderness of oddities. Bears and panthers growled and were very terrible in that strange country. He had invented an animal more treacherous than any in the woods, and he called it a swift. 'Sumthin' like a panther', he described the look of it a fearsome creature that lay in the edge of the woods at sundown and made a noise like a woman crying, to lure the unwary. It would light one's eye with fear to hear Uncle Eb lift his voice in the cry of the swift. Many a time in the twilight when the bay of a hound or some far cry came faintly through the wooded hills, I have seen him lift his hand and bid us hark. And when we had listened a moment, our eyes wide with wonder, he would turn and say in a low, half-whispered tone: ''S a swift' I suppose we needed more the fear of God, but the young children of the pioneer needed also the fear of the woods or they would have strayed to their death in them.
A big bass viol, taller than himself, had long been the solace of his Sundays. After he had shaved—a ceremony so solemn that it seemed a rite of his religion—that sacred viol was uncovered. He carried it sometimes to the back piazza and sometimes to the barn, where the horses shook and trembled at the roaring thunder of the strings. When he began playing we children had to get well out of the way, and keep our distance. I remember now the look of him, then—his thin face, his soft black eyes, his long nose, the suit of broadcloth, the stock and standing collar and, above all, the solemnity in his manner when that big devil of a thing was leaning on his breast.
As to his playing I have never heard a more fearful sound in any time of peace or one less creditable to a Christian. Weekdays he was addicted to the milder sin of the flute and, after chores, if there were no one to talk with him, he would sit long and pour his soul into that magic bar of boxwood.
Uncle Eb had another great accomplishment. He was what they call in the north country 'a natural cooner'. After nightfall, when the corn was ripening, he spoke in a whisper and had his ear cocked for coons. But he loved all kinds of good fun.
So this man had a boy in his heart and a boy in his basket that evening we left the old house. My father and mother and older brother had been drowned in the lake, where they had gone for a day of pleasure. I had then a small understanding of my loss, hat I have learned since that the farm was not worth the mortgage and that everything had to be sold. Uncle Eb and I—a little lad, a very little lad of six—were all that was left of what had been in that home. Some were for sending me to the county house; but they decided, finally, to turn me over to a dissolute uncle, with some allowance for my keep. Therein Uncle Eb was to be reckoned with. He had set his heart on keeping me, but he was a farm-hand without any home or visible property and not, therefore, in the mind of the authorities, a proper guardian. He had me with him in the old house, and the very night he heard they were coming after me in the morning, we started on our journey. I remember he was a long time tying packages of bread and butter and tea and boiled eggs to the rim of the basket, so that they hung on the outside. Then he put a woollen shawl and an oilcloth blanket on the bottom, pulled the straps over his shoulders and buckled them, standing before the looking-glass, and, hang put on my cap and coat, stood me on the table, and stooped so that I could climb into the basket—a pack basket, that he had used in hunting, the top a little smaller than the bottom. Once in, I could stand comfortably or sit facing sideways, my back and knees wedged from port to starboard. With me in my place he blew out the lantern and groped his way to the road, his cane in one hand, his rifle in the other. Fred, our old dog—a black shepherd, with tawny points—came after us. Uncle Eb scolded him and tried to send him back, but I pleaded for the poor creature and that settled it, he was one of our party.
'Dunno how we'll feed him,' said Uncle Eb. 'Our own mouths are big enough t' take all we can carry, but I hain' no heart t' leave 'im all 'lone there.'
I was old for my age, they tell me, and had a serious look and a wise way of talking, for a boy so young; but I had no notion of what lay before or behind us.
'Now, boy, take a good look at the old house,' I remember he whispered to me at the gate that night ''Tain't likely ye'll ever see it ag'in. Keep quiet now,' he added, letting down the bars at the foot of the lane. 'We're goin' west an' we mustn't let the grass grow under us. Got t'be purty spry I can tell ye.'
It was quite dark and he felt his way carefully down the cow-paths into the broad pasture. With every step I kept a sharp lookout for swifts, and the moon shone after a while, making my work easier.
I had to hold my head down, presently, when the tall brush began to whip the basket and I heard the big boots of Uncle Eb ripping the briars. Then we came into the blackness of the thick timber and I could hear him feeling his way over the dead leaves with his cane. I got down, shortly, and walked beside him, holding on to the rifle with one hand. We stumbled, often, and were long in the trail before we could see the moonlight through the tree columns. In the clearing I climbed to my seat again and by and by we came to the road where my companion sat down resting his load on a boulder.
'Pretty hot, Uncle Eb, pretty hot,' he said to himself, fanning his brow with that old felt hat he wore everywhere. 'We've come three mile er more without a stop an' I guess we'd better rest a jiffy.'
My legs ached too, and I was getting very sleepy. I remember the jolt of the basket as he rose, and hearing him say, 'Well, Uncle Eb, I guess we'd better be goin'.'
The elbow that held my head, lying on the rim of the basket, was already numb; but the prickling could no longer rouse me, and half-dead with weariness, I fell asleep. Uncle Eb has told me since, that I tumbled out of the basket once, and that he had a time of it getting me in again, but I remember nothing more of that day's history.
When I woke in the morning, I could hear the crackling of fire, and felt very warm and cosy wrapped in the big shawl. I got a cheery greeting from Uncle Eb, who was feeding the fire with a big heap of sticks that he had piled together. Old Fred was licking my hands with his rough tongue, and I suppose that is what waked me. Tea was steeping in the little pot that hung over the fire, and our breakfast of boiled eggs and bread and butter lay on a paper beside it. I remember well the scene of our little camp that morning. We had come to a strange country, and there was no road in sight. A wooded hill lay back of us, and, just before, ran a noisy little brook, winding between smooth banks, through a long pasture into a dense wood. Behind a wall on the opposite shore a great field of rustling corn filled a broad valley and stood higher than a man's head.
While I went to wash my face in the clear water Uncle Eb was husking some ears of corn that he took out of his pocket, and had them roasting over the fire in a moment. We ate heartily, giving Fred two big slices of bread and butter, packing up with enough remaining for another day. Breakfast over we doused the fire and Uncle Eb put on his basket He made after a squirrel, presently, with old Fred, and brought him down out of a tree by hurling stones at him and then the faithful follower of our camp got a bit of meat for his breakfast. We climbed the wall, as he ate, and buried ourselves in the deep corn. The fragrant, silky tassels brushed my face and the corn hissed at our intrusion, crossing its green sabers in our path. Far in the field my companion heaped a little of the soft earth for a pillow, spread the oil cloth between rows and, as we lay down, drew the big shawl over us. Uncle Eb was tired after the toil of that night and went asleep almost as soon as he was down. Before I dropped off Fred came and licked my face and stepped over me, his tail wagging for leave, and curled upon the shawl at my feet. I could see no sky in that gloomy green aisle of corn. This going to bed in the morning seemed a foolish business to me that day and I lay a long time looking up at the rustling canopy overhead. I remember listening to the waves that came whispering out of the further field, nearer and nearer, until they swept over us with a roaring swash of leaves, like that of water flooding among rocks, as I have heard it often. A twinge of homesick ness came to me and the snoring of Uncle Eb gave me no comfort. I remember covering my head and crying softly as I thought of those who had gone away and whom I was to meet in a far country, called Heaven, whither we were going. I forgot my sorrow, finally, in sleep. When I awoke it had grown dusk under the corn. I felt for Uncle Eb and he was gone. Then I called to him.
'Hush, boy! lie low,' he whispered, bending over me, a sharp look in his eye.' 'Fraid they're after us.'
He sat kneeling beside me, holding Fred by the collar and listening. I could hear voices, the rustle of the corn and the tramp of feet near by. It was thundering in the distance—that heavy, shaking thunder that seems to take hold of the earth, and there were sounds in the corn like the drawing of sabers and the rush of many feet. The noisy thunder clouds came nearer and the voices that had made us tremble were no longer heard. Uncle Eb began to fasten the oil blanket to the stalks of corn for a shelter. The rain came roaring over us. The sound of it was like that of a host of cavalry coming at a gallop. We lay bracing the stalks, the blanket tied above us and were quite dry for a time. The rain rattled in the sounding sheaves and then came flooding down the steep gutters. Above us beam and rafter creaked, swaying, and showing glimpses of the dark sky. The rain passed—we could hear the last battalion leaving the field—and then the tumult ended as suddenly as it began. The corn trembled a few moments and hushed to a faint whisper. Then we could hear only the drip of raindrops leaking through the green roof. It was dark under the corn.
We heard no more of the voices. Uncle Eb had brought an armful of wood, and some water in the teapot, while I was sleeping. As soon as the rain had passed he stood listening awhile and shortly opened his knife and made a little clearing in the corn by cutting a few hills.
'We've got to do it,' he said, 'er we can't take any comfort, an' the man tol' me I could have all the corn I wanted.'
'Did you see him, Uncle Eb?' I remember asking.
'Yes,' he answered, whittling in the dark. 'I saw him when I went out for the water an' it was he tol' me they were after us.'
He took a look at the sky after a while, and, remarking that he guessed they couldn't see his smoke now, began to kindle the fire. As it burned up he stuck two crotches and hung his teapot on a stick' that lay in them, so it took the heat of the flame, as I had seen him do in the morning. Our grotto, in the corn, was shortly as cheerful as any room in a palace, and our fire sent its light into the long aisles that opened opposite, and nobody could see the warm glow of it but ourselves.
'We'll hev our supper,' said Uncle Eb, as he opened a paper and spread out the eggs and bread and butter and crackers. 'We'll jest hev our supper an' by 'n by when everyone's abed we'll make tracks in the dirt, I can tell ye.'
Our supper over, Uncle Eb let me look at his tobacco-box—a shiny thing of German silver that always seemed to snap out a quick farewell to me before it dove into his pocket. He was very cheerful and communicative, and joked a good deal as we lay there waiting in the firelight. I got some further acquaintance with the swift, learning among other things that it had no appetite for the pure in heart.
'Why not?' I enquired.
'Well,' said Uncle Eb, 'it's like this: the meaner the boy, the sweeter the meat.'
He sang an old song as he sat by the fire, with a whistled interlude between lines, and the swing of it, even now, carries me back to that far day in the fields. I lay with my head in his lap while he was singing.
Years after, when I could have carried him on my back' he wrote down for me the words of the old song. Here they are, about as he sang them, although there are evidences of repair, in certain lines, to supply the loss of phrases that had dropped out of his memory:
I was goin' to Salem one bright summer day, I met a young maiden a goin' my way; O, my fallow, faddeling fallow, faddel away.
An' many a time I had seen her before, But I never dare tell 'er the love thet I bore. O, my fallow, etc.
'Oh, where are you goin' my purty fair maid?' 'O, sir, I am goin' t' Salem,' she said. O, my fallow, etc.
'O, why are ye goin' so far in a day? Fer warm is the weather and long is the way.' O, my fallow, etc.
'O, sir I've forgorten, I hev, I declare, But it's nothin' to eat an' its nothin' to wear.' O, my fallow, etc.
'Oho! then I hev it, ye purty young miss! I'll bet it is only three words an' a kiss.' O, my fallow, etc.
'Young woman, young woman, O how will it dew If I go see yer lover 'n bring 'em t' you?' O, my fallow, etc.
''S a very long journey,' says she, 'I am told, An' before ye got back, they would surely be cold.' O, my fallow, etc.
'I hev 'em right with me, I vum an' I vow, An' if you don't object I'll deliver 'em now.' O, my fallow, etc.
She laid her fair head all on to my breast, An' ye wouldn't know more if I tol' ye the rest O, my fallow, etc.
I went asleep after awhile in spite of all, right in the middle of a story. The droning voice of Uncle Eb and the feel of his hand upon my forehead called me back, blinking, once or twice, but not for long. The fire was gone down to a few embers when Uncle Eb woke me and the grotto was lit only by a sprinkle of moonlight from above.
'Mos' twelve o'clock,' he whispered. 'Better be off.'
The basket was on his back and he was all ready. I followed him through the long aisle of corn, clinging to the tall of his coat. The golden lantern of the moon hung near the zenith and when we came out in the open we could see into the far fields. I climbed into my basket at the wall and as Uncle Eb carried me over the brook, stopping on a flat rock midway to take a drink, I could see the sky in the water, and it seemed as if a misstep would have tumbled me into the moon.
'Hear the crickets holler,' said Uncle Eb, as he followed the bank up into the open pasture.
'What makes 'em holler?' I asked.
'O, they're jes' filin' their saws an' thinkin'. Mebbe tellin' o' what's happened 'em. Been a hard day fer them little folks. Terrible flood in their country. Everyone on em hed t' git up a steeple quick 'she could er be drownded. They hev their troubles an' they talk 'bout 'em, too.'
'What do they file their saws for?' I enquired.
'Well, ye know,' said he, 'where they live the timber's thick an' they hev hard work clearin' t' mek a home.'
I was getting too sleepy for further talk. He made his way from field to field, stopping sometimes to look off at the distant mountains then at the sky or to whack the dry stalks of mullen with his cane. I remember he let down some bars after a long walk and stepped into a smooth roadway. He stood resting a little while, his basket on the top bar, and then the moon that I had been watching went down behind the broad rim of his hat and I fell into utter forgetfulness. My eyes opened on a lovely scene at daylight Uncle Eb had laid me on a mossy knoll in a bit of timber and through an opening right in front of us I could see a broad level of shining water, and the great green mountain on the further shore seemed to be up to its belly in the sea.
'Hello there!' said Uncle Eb; 'here we are at Lake Champlain.'
I could hear the fire crackling and smell the odour of steeping tea.
'Ye flopped 'round like a fish in thet basket,' said Uncle Eb. ''Guess ye must a been drearnin' O' bears. Jumped so ye scairt me. Didn't know but I had a wil' cat on my shoulders.'
Uncle Eb had taken a fish-line out of his pocket and was tying it to a rude pole that he had cut and trinmed with his jack-knife.
'I've found some crawfish here,' he said, 'an' I'm goin' t' try fer a bite on the p'int O' rocks there.'
'Goin' t' git some fish, Uncle Eb?' I enquired.
'Wouldn't say't I was, er wouldn't say't I wasn't,' he answered. 'Jes goin' t' try.'
Uncle Eb was always careful not to commit himself on a doubtful point. He had fixed his hook and sinker in a moment and then we went out on a rocky point nearby and threw off into the deep water. Suddenly Uncle Eb gave a jerk that brought a groan out of him and then let his hook go down again, his hands trembling, his face severe.
'By mighty! Uncle Eb,' he muttered to himself, 'I thought we hed him thet time.'
He jerked again presently, and then I could see a tug on the line that made me jump. A big fish came thrashing into the air in a minute. He tried to swing it ashore, but the pole bent and the fish got a fresh hold of the water and took the end of the pole under. Uncle Eb gave it a lift then that brought it ashore and a good bit of water with it. I remember how the fish slapped me with its wet tail and sprinkled my face shaking itself between my boots. It was a big bass and in a little while we had three of them. Uncle Eb dressed them and laid them over the fire on a gridiron of green birch, salting them as they cooked. I remember they went with a fine relish and the last of our eggs and bread and butter went with them.
Our breakfast over, Uncle Eb made me promise to stay with Fred and the basket while he went away to find a man who could row us across. In about an hour I heard a boat coming and the dog and I went out on the point of rocks where we saw Uncle Eb and another man, heading for us, half over the cove. The bow bumped the rocks beneath us in a minute. Then the stranger dropped his oars and stood staring at me and the dog.
'Say, mister,' said he presently, 'can't go no further. There's a reward offered fer you an' thet boy.'
Uncle Eb called him aside and was talking to him a long time.
I never knew what was said, but they came at last and took us into the boat and the stranger was very friendly.
When we had come near the landing on the 'York State' side, I remember he gave us our bearings.
'Keep t' the woods,' he said, 'till you're out o' harm's way. Don't go near the stage road fer a while. Ye'll find a store a little way up the mountain. Git yer provisions there an' about eighty rod farther ye'll strike the trail. It'll take ye over the mountain north an' t' Paradise Road. Then take the white church on yer right shoulder an' go straight west.'
I would not have remembered it so well but for the fact that Uncle Eb wrote it all down in his account book and that has helped me over many a slippery place in my memory of those events. At the store we got some crackers and cheese, tea and coffee, dried beef and herring, a bit of honey and a loaf of bread that was sliced and buttered before it was done up. We were off in the woods by nine o'clock, according to Uncle Eb's diary, and I remember the trail led us into thick brush where I had to get out and walk a long way. It was smooth under foot, however, and at noon we came to a slash in the timber, full of briars that were all aglow with big blackberries. We filled our hats with them and Uncle Eb found a spring, beside which we built a fire and had a memorable meal that made me glad of my hunger.
Then we spread the oilcloth and lay down for another sleep. We could see the glow of the setting sun through the tree-tops when we woke, and began our packing.
'We'll hev t' hurry,' said Uncle Eb, 'er we'll never git out o' the woods t'night 'S 'bout six mile er more t' Paradise Road, es I mek it. Come, yer slower 'n a toad in a tar barrel.'
We hurried off on the trail and I remember Fred looked very crestfallen with two big packages tied to his collar. He delayed a bit by trying to shake them off, but Uncle Eb gave him a sharp word or two and then he walked along very thoughtfully. Uncle Eb was a little out of patience that evening, and I thought he bore down too harshly in his rebuke of the old dog.
'You shif'less cuss,' he said to him, 'ye'd jes' dew nothin' but chase squirrels an' let me break my back t' carry yer dinner.'
It was glooming fast in the thick timber, and Uncle Eb almost ran with me while the way was plain. The last ringing note of the wood thrush had died away and in a little while it was so dark I could distinguish nothing but the looming mass of tree tranks.
He stopped suddenly and strained his eyes in the dark. Then he whistled a sharp, sliding note, and the sound of it gave me some hint of his trouble.
'Git down, Willie,' said he, 'an' tek my hand. I'm 'fraid we're lost here 'n the big woods.'
We groped about for a minute, trying to find the trail.
'No use,' he said presently, 'we'll hev t' stop right here. Oughter known berter 'n t' come through s' near sundown. Guess it was more 'n anybody could do.'
He built a fire and began to lay out a supper for us then, while Fred sat down by me to be relieved of his bundles. Our supper was rather dry, for we had no water, but it was only two hours since we left the spring, so we were not suffering yet Uncle Eb took out of the fire a burning brand of pine and went away into the gloomy woods, holding it above his head, while Fred and I sat by the fire.
''S lucky we didn't go no further,' he said, as he came in after a few minutes. 'There's a big prec'pice over yender. Dunno how deep 't is. Guess we'd a found out purty soon.'
He cut some boughs of hemlock, growing near us, and spread them in a little hollow. That done, we covered them with the oilcloth, and sat down comfortably by the fire. Uncle Eb had a serious look and was not inclined to talk or story telling. Before turning in he asked me to kneel and say my prayer as I had done every evening at the feet of my mother. I remember, clearly, kneeling before my old companion and hearing the echo of my small voice there in the dark and lonely woods.
I remember too, and even more clearly, how he bent his head and covered his eyes in that brief moment. I had a great dread of darkness and imagined much evil of the forest, but somehow I had no fear if he were near me. When we had fixed the fire and lain down for the night on the fragrant hemlock and covered ourselves with the shawl, Uncle Eb lay on one side of me and old Fred on the other, so I felt secure indeed. The night had many voices there in the deep wood. Away in the distance I could hear a strange, wild cry, and I asked what it was and Uncle Eb whispered back, ''s a loon.' Down the side of the mountain a shrill bark rang in the timber and that was a fox, according to my patient oracle. Anon we heard the crash and thunder of a falling tree and a murmur that followed in the wake of the last echo.
'Big tree fallin'!' said Uncle Eb, as he lay gaping. 'It has t' break a way t' the ground an' it must hurt. Did ye notice how the woods tremble? If we was up above them we could see the hole thet tree hed made. Jes' like an open grave till the others hev filed it with their tops.'
My ears had gone deaf with drowsiness when a quick stir in the body of Uncle Eb brought me back to my senses. He was up on his elbow listening and the firelight had sunk to a glimmer. Fred lay shivering and growling beside me. I could hear no other sound.
'Be still,' said Uncle Eb, as he boxed the dog's ears. Then he rose and began to stir the fire and lay on more wood. As the flame leaped and threw its light into the tree-tops a shrill cry, like the scream of a frightened woman, only louder and more terrible to hear brought me to my feet, crying. I knew the source of it was near us and ran to Uncle Eb in a fearful panic.
'Hush, boy,' said he as it died away and went echoing in the far forest. 'I'll take care o' you. Don't be scairt. He's more 'fraid uv us than we are o' him. He's makin' off now.'
We heard then a great crackling of dead brush on the mountain above us. It grew fainter as we listened. In a little while the woods were silent.
'It's the ol' man o' the woods,' said Uncle Eb. 'E's out takin' a walk.'
'Will he hurt folks?' I enquired.
'Tow!' he answered, 'jest as harmless as a kitten.'
Naturally there were a good many things I wanted to know about 'the ol' man o' the woods,' but Uncle Eb would take no part in any further conversation.
So I had to lie down beside him again and think out the problem as best I could. My mind was never more acutely conscious and it gathered many strange impressions, wandering in the kingdom of Fear, as I looked up at the tree-tops. Uncle Eb had built a furious fire and the warmth of it made me sleepy at last. Both he and old Fred had been snoring a long time when I ceased to hear them. Uncle Eb woke me at daylight, in the morning, and said we must be off to find the trail. He left me by the fire a little while and went looking on all sides and came back no wiser. We were both thirsty and started off on rough footing, without stopping to eat. We climbed and crawled for hours, it seemed to me, and everywhere the fallen tree trunks were heaped in our way. Uncle Eb sat down on one of them awhile to rest.
'Like the bones o' the dead,' said he, as he took a chew of tobacco and picked at the rotten skeleton of a fallen tree. We were both pretty well out of breath and of hope also, if I remember rightly, when we rested again under the low hanging boughs of a basswood for a bite of luncheon. Uncle Eb opened the little box of honey and spread some of it on our bread and butter. In a moment I noticed that half a dozen bees had lit in the open box.
'Lord Harry! here's honey bees,' said he, as he covered the box so as to keep them in, and tumbled everything else into the basket. 'Make haste now, Willie, and follow me with all yer might,' he added.
In a minute he let out one of the bees, and started running in the direction it flew. It went but a few feet and then rose into the tree-top.
'He's goin' t' git up into the open air,' said Uncle Eb. 'But I've got his bearins' an' I guess he knows the way all right.'
We took the direction indicated for a few minutes and then Uncle Eb let out another prisoner. The bee flew off a little way and then rose in a slanting course to the tree-tops. He showed us, however, that we were looking the right way.
'Them little fellers hev got a good compass,' said Uncle Eb, as we followed the line of the bees. 'It p'ints home ev'ry time, an' never makes a mistake.'
We went further this time before releasing another. He showed us that we had borne out of our course a little and as we turned to follow there were half a dozen bees flying around the box, as if begging for admission.
'Here they are back agin,' said Uncle Eb, 'an' they've told a lot o' their cronies 'bout the man an' the boy with honey.'
At length one of them flew over our heads and back in the direction we had come from.
'Ah, ha,' said Uncle Eb, 'it's a bee tree an' we've passed it, but I'm goin' t' keep lettin' 'em in an' out. Never heard uv a swarm o' bees goin' fur away an' so we mus' be near the clearin'.'
In a little while we let one go that took a road of its own. The others had gone back over our heads; this one bore off to the right in front of us, and we followed. I was riding in the basket and was first to see the light of the open through the tree-tops. But I didn't know what it meant until I heard the hearty 'hurrah' of Uncle Eb.
We had come to smooth footing in a grove of maples and the clean trunks of the trees stood up as straight as a granite column. Presently we came out upon wide fields of corn and clover, and as we looked back upon the grove it had a rounded front and I think of it now as the vestibule of the great forest.
'It's a reg'lar big tomb,' said Uncle Eb, looking back over his shoulder into the gloomy cavern of the woods.
We could see a log house in the clearing, and we made for it as fast as our legs would carry us. We had a mighty thirst and when we came to a little brook in the meadow we laid down and drank and drank until we were fairly grunting with fullness. Then we filled our teapot and went on. Men were reaping with their cradles in a field of grain and, as we neared the log house, a woman came out in the dooryard and, lifting a shell to her lips, blew a blast that rushed over the clearing and rang in the woods beyond it A loud halloo came back from the men.
A small dog rushed out at Fred, barking, and, I suppose, with some lack of respect, for the old dog laid hold of him in a violent temper and sent him away yelping. We must have presented an evil aspect, for our clothes were torn and we were both limping with fatigue. The woman had a kindly face and, after looking at us a moment, came and stooped before me and held my small face in her hands turning it so she could look into my eyes.
'You poor little critter,' said she, 'where you goin'?'
Uncle Eb told her something about my father and mother being dead and our going west Then she hugged and kissed me and made me very miserable, I remember, wetting my face with her tears, that were quite beyond my comprehension.
'Jethro,' said she, as the men came into the yard, 'I want ye t' look at this boy. Did ye ever see such a cunnin' little critter? Jes' look at them bright eyes!' and then she held me to her breast and nearly smothered me and began to hum a bit of an old song.
'Yer full o' mother love,' said her husband, as he sat down on the grass a moment 'Lost her only baby, an' the good Lord has sent no other. I swan, he has got putty eyes. Jes' as blue as a May flower. Ain't ye hungry? Come right in, both o' ye, an' set down t' the table with us.'
They made room for us and we sat down between the bare elbows of the hired men. I remember my eyes came only to the top of the table. So the good woman brought the family Bible and sitting on that firm foundation I ate my dinner of salt pork and potatoes and milk gravy a diet as grateful as it was familiar to my taste.
'Orphan, eh?' said the man of the house, looking down at me.
'Orphan,' Uncle Eb answered, nodding his head.
'Best in the world,' said Uncle Eb.
Want t' bind 'im out?' the man asked.
'Couldn't spare 'im,' said Uncle Eb, decisively.
'Where ye goin'?'
Uncle Eb hesitated, groping for an answer, I suppose, that would do no violence to our mutual understanding.
'Goin' t' heaven,' I ventured to say presently—an answer that gave rise to conflicting emotions at the table.
'That's right,' said Uncle Eb, turning to me and patting my head. 'We're on the road t' heaven, I hope, an' ye'll see it someday, sartin sure, if ye keep in the straight road and be a good boy.'
After dinner the good woman took off my clothes and put me in bed while she mended them. I went asleep then and did not awake for a long time. When I got up at last she brought a big basin of water and washed me with such motherly tenderness in voice and manner that I have never forgotten it. Uncle Eb lay sleeping on the lounge and when she had finished dressing me, Fred and I went out to play in the garden. It was supper time in a little while and then, again, the woman winded the shell and the men came up from the field. We sat down to eat with them, as we had done at noon, and Uncle Eb consented to spend the night after some urging. He helped them with the milking, and as I stood beside him shot a jet of the warm white flood into my mouth, that tickled it so I ran away laughing. The milking done, I sat on Uncle Eb's knee in the door-yard with all the rest of that household, hearing many tales of the wilderness, and of robbery and murder on Paradise Road. I got the impression that it was a country of unexampled wickedness and ferocity in men and animals. One man told about the ghost of Burnt Bridge; how the bridge had burnt one afternoon and how a certain traveller in the dark of the night driving down the hill above it, fell to his death at the brink of the culvert.
'An' every night since then,' said the man, very positively, ye can hear him drivin' down thet bill—jes' as plain as ye can hear me talkin'—the rattle o' the wheels an' all. It stops sudden an' then ye can hear 'im hit the rocks way down there at the bottom O' the gulley an' groan an' groan. An' folks say it's a curse on the town for leavin' thet hole open.'
'What's a ghost, Uncle Eb?' I whispered.
'Somethin' like a swift,' he answered, 'but not so powerful. We heard a panther las' night,' he added, turning to our host. 'Hollered like sin when he see the fire.'
'Scairt!' said the man o' the house gaping. 'That's what ailed him. I've lived twenty year on Paradise Road an' it was all woods when I put up the cabin. Seen deer on the doorstep an' bears in the garden, an' panthers in the fields. But I tell ye there's no critter so terrible as a man. All the animals know 'im—how he roars, an' spits fire an' smoke an' lead so it goes through a body er bites off a leg, mebbe. Guess they'd made friends with me but them I didn't kill went away smarting with holes in 'em. An' I guess they told all their people 'bout me—the terrible critter that walked on its hind legs an' lied a white face an' drew up an' spit 'is teeth into their vitals 'cross a ten-acre lot. An' putty soon they concluded they didn't want t' hev no truck with me. They thought thin clearin' was the valley o' death an' they got very careful. But the deer they kep' peekin' in at me. Sumthin' funny 'bout a deer—they're so cu'rus. Seem's though they loved the look o' me an' the taste o' the tame grass. Mebbe God meant em t' serve in the yoke some way an' be the friend o' man. They're the outcasts o' the forest—the prey o' the other animals an' men like 'em only when they're dead. An' they're the purtiest critter alive an' the spryest an' the mos' graceful.'
'Men are the mos' terrible of all critters, an' the meanest,' said Uncle Eb. 'They're the only critters that kill fer fun.'
'Bedtime,' said our host, rising presently. 'Got t' be up early 'n the morning.'
We climbed a ladder to the top floor of the cabin with the hired men, of whom there were two. The good lady of the house had made a bed for us on the floor and I remember Fred came up the ladder too, and lay down beside us. Uncle Eb was up with the men in the morning and at breakfast time my hostess came and woke me with kisses and helped me to dress. When we were about going she brought a little wagon out of the cellar that had been a playing of her dead boy, and said I could have it. This wonderful wagon was just the thing for the journey we were making. When I held the little tongue in my hand I was half-way to heaven already. It had four stout wheels and a beautiful red box. Her brother had sent it all the way from New York and it had stood so long in the cellar it was now much in need of repair. Uncle Eb took it to the tool shop in the stable and put it in shipshape order and made a little pair of thills to go in place of the tongue. Then he made a big flat collar and a back-pad out of the leather in old boot-legs, and rigged a pair of tugs out of two pieces of rope. Old Fred was quite cast down when he stood in harness between the shafts.
He had waited patiently to have his collar fitted; he had grinned and panted and wagged his tail with no suspicion of the serious and humiliating career he was entering upon. Now he stood with a sober face and his aspect was full of meditation.
'You fightin' hound!' said Uncle Eb, 'I hope this'll improve yer character.'
Fred tried to sit down when Uncle Eb tied a leading rope to his collar. When he heard the wheels rattle and felt the pull of the wagon he looked back at it and growled a little and started to run. Uncle Eb shouted 'whoa', and held him back, and then the dog got down on his belly and trembled until we patted his head and gave him a kind word. He seemed to understand presently and came along with a steady stride. Our hostess met us at the gate and the look of her face when she bade us goodbye and tucked some cookies into my pocket, has always lingered in my memory and put in me a mighty respect for all women. The sound of her voice, the tears, the waving of her handkerchief, as we went away, are among the things that have made me what I am.
We stowed our packages in the wagon box and I walked a few miles and then got into the empty basket. Fred tipped his load over once or twice, but got a steady gait in the way of industry after a while and a more cheerful look. We had our dinner by the roadside on the bank of a brook, an hour or so after midday, and came to a little village about sundown. As we were nearing it there was some excitement among the dogs and one of them tackled Fred. He went into battle very promptly, the wagon jumping and rattling until it turned bottom up. Re-enforced by Uncle Eb's cane he soon saw the heels of his aggressor and stood growling savagely. He was like the goal in a puzzle maze all wound and tangled in his harness and it took some time to get his face before him and his feet free.
At a small grocery where groups of men, just out of the fields, were sitting, their arms bare to the elbows, we bought more bread and butter. In paying for it Uncle Eb took a package out of his trouser pocket to get his change. It was tied in a red handkerchief and I remember it looked to be about the size of his fist. He was putting it back when it fell from his hand, heavily, and I could hear the chink of coin as it struck. One of the men, who sat near, picked it up and gave it back to him. As I remember well, his kindness had an evil flavour, for he winked at his companions, who nudged each other as they smiled knowingly. Uncle Eb was a bit cross, when I climbed into the basket, and walked along in silence so rapidly it worried the dog to keep pace. The leading rope was tied to the stock of the rifle and Fred's walking gait was too slow for the comfort of his neck.
'You shifless cuss! I'll put a kink in your neck fer you if ye don't walk up,' said Uncle Eb, as he looked back at the dog, in a temper wholly unworthy of him.
We had crossed a deep valley and were climbing a long hill in the dusky twilight.
'Willie,' said Uncle Eb, 'your eyes are better'n mine—look back and see if anyone's comin'.'
'Can't see anyone,' I answered.
'Look 'way back in the road as fur as ye can see.
I did so, but I could see no one. He slackened his pace a little after that and before we had passed the hill it was getting dark. The road ran into woods and a river cut through them a little way from the clearing.
'Supper time, Uncle Eb,' I suggested, as we came to the bridge.
'Supper time, Uncle Eb,' he answered, turning down to the shore.
I got out of the basket then and followed him in the brush. Fred found it hard travelling here and shortly we took off his harness and left the wagon, transferring its load to the basket, while we pushed on to find a camping place. Back in the thick timber a long way from the road, we built a fire and had our supper. It was a dry nook in the pines—'tight as a house,' Uncle Eb said—and carpeted with the fragrant needles. When we lay on our backs in the firelight I remember the weary, droning voice of Uncle Eb had an impressive accompaniment of whispers. While he told stories I had a glowing cinder on the end of a stick and was weaving fiery skeins in the gloom.
He had been telling me of a panther he had met in the woods, one day, and how the creature ran away at the sight of him.
'Why's a panther 'fraid o' folks?' I enquired.
'Wall, ye see, they used t' be friendly, years 'n years ago—folks 'n panthers—but they want eggszac'ly cal'lated t' git along t'gether some way. An' ol' she panther gin 'em one uv her cubs, a great while ago, jes t' make frien's. The cub he grew big 'n used t' play 'n be very gentle. They wuz a boy he tuk to, an' both on 'em got very friendly. The boy 'n the panther went off one day 'n the woods—guess 'twas more 'n a hundred year ago—an' was lost. Walked all over 'n fin'ly got t' goin' round 'n round 'n a big circle 'til they was both on 'em tired out. Come night they lay down es hungry es tew bears. The boy he was kind o' 'fraid 'o the dark, so he got up clus t' the panther 'n lay 'tween his paws. The boy he thought the panther smelt funny an' the panther he didn't jes' like the smell o' the boy. An' the boy he hed the legache 'n kicked the panther 'n the belly, so 't he kin' o' gagged 'n spit an' they want neither on 'em reel comf'able. The sof paws o' the panther was jes' like pincushions. He'd great hooks in 'em sharper 'n the p'int uv a needle. An' when he was goin' t' sleep he'd run 'em out jes' like an ol' cat—kind o' playfull—'n purr 'n pull. All t' once the boy felt sumthin' like a lot o' needles prickin' his back. Made him jump 'n holler like Sam Hill. The panther he spit sassy 'n riz up 'n smelt o' the ground. Didn't neither on 'em know what was the matter. Bime bye they lay down ag'in. 'Twant only a little while 'fore the boy felt somethin' prickin' uv him. He hollered 'n kicked ag'in. The panther he growled 'n spit 'n dumb a tree 'n sot on a limb 'n peeked over at thet queer little critter. Couldn't neither on 'em understan' it. The boy c'u'd see the eyes o' the panther 'n the dark. Shone like tew live coals eggszac'ly. The panther 'd never sot 'n a tree when he was hungry, 'n see a boy below him. Sumthin' tol' him t' jump. Tail went swish in the leaves like thet. His whiskers quivered, his tongue come out. C'u'd think o' nuthin' but his big empty belly. The boy was scairt. He up with his gun quick es a flash. Aimed at his eyes 'n let 'er flicker. Blew a lot o' smoke 'n bird shot 'n paper waddin' right up in t' his face. The panther he lost his whiskers 'n one eye 'n got his hide fill' o' shot 'n fell off the tree like a ripe apple 'n run fer his life. Thought he'd never see nuthin' c'u'd growl 'n spits powerful es thet boy. Never c'u'd bear the sight uv a man after thet. Allwus made him gag 'n spit t' think o' the man critter. Went off tew his own folks 'n tol' o' the boy 'at spit fire 'n smoke 'n growled so't almos' tore his ears off An' now, whenever they hear a gun go off they allwus thank it's the man critter growlin'. An' they gag 'n spit 'n look es if it made 'em sick t' the stomach. An' the man folks they didn't hev no good 'pimon o' the panthers after thet. Haint never been frien's any more. Fact is a man, he can be any kind uv a beast, but a panther he can't be nuthin' but jest a panther.'
Then, too, as we lay there in the firelight, Uncle Eb told the remarkable story of the gingerbread hear. He told it slowly, as if his invention were severely taxed.
'Once they wuz a boy got lost. Was goin' cross lots t' play with 'nother boy 'n lied t' go through a strip o' woods. Went off the trail t' chase a butterfly 'n got lost. Hed his kite 'n' cross-gun 'n' he wandered all over 'til he was tired 'n hungry. Then he lay down t' cry on a bed o' moss. Putty quick they was a big black bear come along.
'"What's the matter?" said the bear.
'"Hungry," says the boy.
'"Tell ye what I'll dew," says the bear. "If ye'll scratch my back fer me I'll let ye cut a piece o' my tail off t' eat."
'Bear's tail, ye know, hes a lot o' meat on it—heam tell it was gran' good fare. So the boy he scratched the bear's back an' the bear he grinned an' made his paw go patitty-pat on the ground—it did feel so splendid. Then the boy tuk his jack-knife 'n begun t' cut off the bear's tail. The bear he flew mad 'n growled 'n growled so the boy he stopped 'n didn't dast cut no more.
'"Hurts awful," says the bear. "Couldn't never stan' it. Tell ye what I'll dew. Ye scratched my back an' now I'll scratch your'n."
'Gee whiz!' said I.
'Yessir, that's what the bear said,' Uncle Eb went on. 'The boy he up 'n run like a nailer. The bear he laughed hearty 'n scratched the ground like Sam Hill, 'n flung the dirt higher'n his head.
'"Look here," says he, as the boy stopped, "I jes' swallered a piece o mutton. Run yer hand int' my throat an I'll let ye hev it."
'The bear he opened his mouth an' showed his big teeth.'
'Whew!' I whistled.
'Thet's eggszac'ly what he done,' said Uncle Eb. 'He showed 'em plain. The boy was scairter'n a weasel. The bear he jumped up 'an down on his hind legs 'n laughed 'n' hollered 'n' shook himself.
'"Only jes' foolin," says he, when he see the boy was goin' t' run ag'in. "What ye 'fraid uv?"
'"Can't bear t' stay here," says the boy, "'less ye'll keep yer mouth shet."
'An the bear he shet his mouth 'n pinted to the big pocket 'n his fur coat 'n winked 'n motioned t' the boy.
'The bear he reely did hev a pocket on the side uv his big fur coat. The boy slid his hand in up t' the elbow. Wha' d'ye s'pose he found?'
'Durmo,' said I.
'Sumthin' t' eat,' he continued. 'Boy liked it best uv all things.'
I guessed everything I could think of, from cookies to beefsteak, and gave up.
'Gingerbread,' said he, soberly, at length.
'Thought ye said bears couldn't talk,' I objected.
'Wall, the boy 'd fell asleep an' he'd only dreamed o' the bear,' said Uncle Eb. 'Ye see, bears can talk when boys are dreamin' uv 'em. Come daylight, the boy got up 'n ketched a crow. Broke his wing with the cross-gun. Then he tied the kite swing on t' the crow's leg, an' the crow flopped along 'n the boy followed him 'n bime bye they come out a cornfield, where the crow'd been used t' comin' fer his dinner.'
'What 'come o' the boy?' said I.
'Went home,' said he, gaping, as he lay on his back and looked up at the tree-tops. 'An' he allwus said a bear was good comp'ny if he'd only keep his mouth shet—jes' like some folks I've hearn uv.'
'An' what 'come o' the crow?'
'Went t' the ol' crow doctor 'n got his wing fixed,' he said, drowsily. And in a moment I heard him snoring.
We had been asleep a long time when the barking of Fred woke us. I could just see Uncle Eb in the dim light of the fire, kneeling beside me, the rifle in his hand.
'I'll fill ye full o' lead if ye come any nearer,' he shouted.
We listened awhile then but heard no sound in the thicket, although Fred was growling ominously, his hair on end. As for myself I never had a more fearful hour than that we suffered before the light of morning came.
I made no outcry, but clung to my old companion, trembling. He did not stir for a few minutes, and then we crept cautiously into the small hemlocks on one side of the opening.
'Keep still,' he whispered, 'don't move er speak.'
Presently we heard a move in the brush and then quick as a flash Uncle Eb lifted his rifle and fired in the direction of it Before the loud echo had gone off in the woods we heard something break through the brush at a run.
''S a man,' said Uncle Eb, as he listened. 'He ain't a losin' no time nuther.'
We sat listening as the sound grew fainter, and when it ceased entirely Uncle Eb said he must have got to the road. After a little the light of the morning began sifting down through the tree-tops and was greeted with innumerable songs.
'He done noble,' said Uncle Eb, patting the old dog as he rose to poke the fire. 'Putty good chap I call 'im! He can hev half o' my dinner any time he wants it.'
'Who do you suppose it was?' I enquired.
'Robbers, I guess,' he answered, 'an' they'll be layin' fer us when we go out, mebbe; but, if they are, Fred'll find 'em an' I've got Ol' Trusty here 'n' I guess thet'll take care uv us.'
His rifle was always flattered with that name of Ol' Trusty when it had done him a good turn.
Soon as the light had come clear he went out in the near woods with dog and rifle and beat around in the brush. He returned shortly and said he had seen where they came and went.
'I'd a killed em deader 'n a door nail,' said he, laying down the old rifle, 'if they'd a come any nearer.'
Then we brought water from the river and had our breakfast. Fred went on ahead of us, when we started for the road, scurrying through the brush on both sides of the trail, as if he knew what was expected of him. He flushed a number of partridges and Uncle Eb killed one of them on our way to the road. We resumed our journey without any further adventure. It was so smooth and level under foot that Uncle Eb let me get in the wagon after Fred was hitched to it The old dog went along soberly and without much effort, save when we came to hills or sandy places, when I always got out and ran on behind. Uncle Eb showed me how to brake the wheels with a long stick going downhill. I remember how it hit the dog's heels at the first down grade, and how he ran to keep out of the way of it We were going like mad in half a minute, Uncle Eb coming after us calling to the dog. Fred only looked over his shoulder, with a wild eye, at the rattling wagon and ran the harder. He leaped aside at the bottom and then we went all in a heap. Fortunately no harm was done.
'I declare!' said Uncle Eb as he came up to us, puffing like a spent horse, and picked me up unhurt and began to untangle the harness of old Fred, 'I guess he must a thought the devil was after him.'
The dog growled a little for a moment and bit at the harness, but coaxing reassured him and he went along all right again on the level. At a small settlement the children came out and ran along beside my wagon, laughing and asking me questions. Some of them tried to pet the dog, but old Fred kept to his labour at the heels of Uncle Eb and looked neither to right nor left. We stopped under a tree by the side of a narrow brook for our dinner, and one incident of that meal I think of always when I think of Uncle Eb. It shows the manner of man he was and with what understanding and sympathy he regarded every living thing. In rinsing his teapot he accidentally poured a bit of water on a big bumble-bee. The poor creature struggled to lift hill, and then another downpour caught him and still another until his wings fell drenched. Then his breast began heaving violently, his legs stiffened behind him and he sank, head downward, in the grass. Uncle Eb saw the death throes of the bee and knelt down and lifted the dead body by one of its wings.
'Jes' look at his velvet coat,' he said, 'an' his wings all wet n' stiff. They'll never carry him another journey. It's too bad a man has t' kill every step he takes.'
The bee's tail was moving faintly and Uncle Eb laid him out in the warm sunlight and fanned him awhile with his hat, trying to bring back the breath of life.
'Guilty!' he said, presently, coming back with a sober face. 'Thet's a dead bee. No tellin' how many was dependent on him er what plans he bed. Must a gi'n him a lot o' pleasure t' fly round in the sunlight, workin' every fair day. 'S all over now.'
He had a gloomy face for an hour after that and many a time, in the days that followed, I heard him speak of the murdered bee.
We lay resting awhile after dinner and watching a big city of ants. Uncle Eb told me how they tilled the soil of the mound every year and sowed their own kind of grain—a small white seed like rice—and reaped their harvest in the late summer, storing the crop in their dry cellars under ground. He told me also the story of the ant lion—a big beetle that lives in the jungles of the grain and the grass—of which I remember only an outline, more or less imperfect.
Here it is in my own rewording of his tale: On a bright day one of the little black folks went off on a long road in a great field of barley. He was going to another city of his own people to bring helpers for the harvest. He came shortly to a sandy place where the barley was thin and the hot sunlight lay near to the ground. In a little valley close by the road of the ants he saw a deep pit, in the sand, with steep sides sloping to a point in the middle and as big around as a biscuit. Now the ants are a curious people and go looking for things that are new and wonderful as they walk abroad, so they have much to tell worth hearing after a journey. The little traveller was young and had no fear, so he left the road and went down to the pit and peeped over the side of it.
'What in the world is the meaning of this queer place?' he asked himself as he ran around the rim. In a moment he had stepped over and the soft sand began to cave and slide beneath him. Quick as a flash the big lion-beetle rose up in the centre of the pit and began to reach for him. Then his legs flew in the caving sand and the young ant struck his blades in it to hold the little he could gain. Upward he struggled, leaping and floundering in the dust. He had got near the rim and had stopped, clinging to get his breath, when the lion began flinging the sand at him with his long feelers. It rose in a cloud and fell on the back of the ant and pulled at him as it swept down. He could feel the mighty cleavers of the lion striking near his hind legs and pulling the sand from under them. He must go down in a moment and he knew what that meant. He had heard the old men of the tribe tell often—how they hold one helpless and slash him into a dozen pieces. He was letting go, in despair, when he felt a hand on his neck. Looking up he saw one of his own people reaching over the rim, and in a jiffy they had shut their fangs together. He moved little by little as the other tagged at him, and in a moment was out of the trap and could feel the honest earth under him. When they had got home and told their adventure, some were for going to slay the beetle.
'There is never a pit in the path o' duty,' said the wise old chief of the little black folks. 'See that you keep in the straight road.'
'If our brother had not left the straight road,' said one who stood near, 'he that was in danger would have gone down into the pit.'
'It matters much,' he answered, 'whether it was kindness or curiosity that led him out of the road. But he that follows a fool hath much need of wisdom, for if he save the fool do ye not see that he hath encouraged folly?'
Of course I had then no proper understanding of the chiefs counsel, nor do I pretend even to remember it from that first telling, but the tale was told frequently in the course of my long acquaintance with Uncle Eb.
The diary of my good old friend lies before me as I write, the leaves turned yellow and the entries dim. I remember how stern he grew of an evening when he took out this sacred little record of our wanderings and began to write in it with his stub of a pencil. He wrote slowly and read and reread each entry with great care as I held the torch for him. 'Be still, boy—be still,' he would say when some pressing interrogatory passed my lips, and then he would bend to his work while the point of his pencil bored further into my patience. Beginning here I shall quote a few entries from the diary as they cover, with sufficient detail, an uneventful period of our journey.
AUGUST 20 Killed a partridge today. Biled it in the teapot for dinner. Went good. 14 mild.
AUGUST 21 Seen a deer this morning. Fred fit ag'in. Come near spilin' the wagon. Hed to stop and fix the ex. 10 mild.
AUGUST 22 Clumb a tree this morning after wild grapes. Come near falling. Gin me a little crick in the back. Willie hes got a stun bruze. 12 mild.
AUGUST 23 Went in swinmun. Ketched a few fish before breakfus'. Got provisions an' two case knives an' one fork, also one tin pie-plate. Used same to fry fish for dinner. 14 mild.
AUGUST 24 Got some spirits for Willie to rub on my back. Boots wearing out. Terrible hot. Lay in the shade in the heat of the day. Gypsies come an' camped by us tonight. 10 mild.
I remember well the coming of those gypsies. We were fishing in sight of the road and our fire was crackling on the smooth cropped shore. The big wagons of the gypsies—there were four of them as red and beautiful as those of a circus caravan—halted about sundown while the men came over a moment to scan the field. Presently they went back and turned their wagons into the siding and began to unhitch. Then a lot of barefooted children, and women under gay shawls, overran the field gathering wood and making ready for night. Meanwhile swarthy drivers took the horses to water and tethered them with long ropes so they could crop the grass of the roadside.
One tall, bony man, with a face almost as black as that of an Indian, brought a big iron pot and set it up near the water. A big stew of beef bone, leeks and potatoes began to cook shortly, and I remember it had such a goodly smell I was minded to ask them for a taste of it. A little city of strange people had surrounded us of a sudden. Uncle Eb thought of going on, but the night was coming fast and there would be no moon and we were footsore and hungry. Women and children came over to our fire, after supper, and made more of me than I liked. I remember taking refuge between the knees of Uncle Eb, and Fred sat close in front of us growling fiercely when they came too near. They stood about, looking down at us and whispered together, and one young miss of the tribe came up and tried to kiss me in spite of Fred's warnings: She had flashing black eyes and hair as dark as the night, that fell in a curling mass upon her shoulders; but, somehow, I had a mighty fear of her and fought with desperation to keep my face from the touch of her red lips. Uncle Eb laughed and held Fred by the collar, and I began to cry out in terror, presently, when, to my great relief, she let go and ran away to her own people. They all went away to their wagons, save one young man, who was tall with light hair and a fair skin, and who looked like none of the other gypsies.
'Take care of yourself,' he whispered, as soon as the rest had gone. 'These are bad people. You'd better be off.'
The young man left us and Uncle Eb began to pack up at once. They were going to bed in their wagons when we came away. I stood in the basket and Fred drew the wagon that had in it only a few bundles. A mile or more further on we came to a lonely, deserted cabin close to the road. It had began to thunder in the distance and the wind was blowing damp.
'Guess nobody lives here,' said Uncle Eb as he turned in at the sagging gate and began to cross the little patch of weeds and hollyhocks behind it 'Door's half down, but I guess it'll de better'n no house. Goin' t' rain sartin.'
I was nodding a little about then, I remember; but I was wide awake when he took me out of the basket The old house stood on a high hill, and we could see the stars of heaven through the ruined door and one of the back windows. Uncle Eb lifted the leaning door a little and shoved it aside. We heard then a quick stir in the old house—a loud and ghostly rattle it seems now as I think of it—like that made by linen shaking on the line. Uncle Eb took a step backward as if it had startled him.
'Guess it's nuthin' to be 'fraid of;' he said, feeling in the pet of his coat He had struck a match in a moment. By its flickering light I could see only a bit of rubbish on the floor.
'Full o' white owls,' said he, stepping inside, where the rustling was now continuous. 'They'll do us no harm.'
I could see them now flying about under the low ceiling. Uncle Eb gathered an gathered an armful of grass and clover, in the near field, and spread it in a corner well away from the ruined door and windows. Covered with our blanket it made a fairly comfortable bed. Soon as we had lain down, the rain began to rattle on the shaky roof and flashes of lightning lit every corner of the old room.
I have had, ever, a curious love of storms, and, from the time when memory began its record in my brain, it has delighted me to hear at night the roar of thunder and see the swift play of the lightning. I lay between Uncle Eb and the old dog, who both went asleep shortly. Less wearied I presume than either of them, for I had done none of the carrying, and had slept along time that day in the shade of a tree, I was awake an hour or more after they were snoring. Every flash lit the old room like the full glare of the noonday sun. I remember it showed me an old cradle, piled full of rubbish, a rusty scythe hung in the rotting sash of a window, a few lengths of stove-pipe and a plough in one corner, and three staring white owls that sat on a beam above the doorway. The rain roared on the old roof shortly, and came dripping down through the bare boards above us. A big drop struck in my face and I moved a little. Then I saw what made me hold my breath a moment and cover my head with the shawl. A flash of lightning revealed a tall, ragged man looking in at the doorway. I lay close to Uncle Eb imagining much evil of that vision but made no outcry.
Snugged in between my two companions I felt reasonably secure and soon fell asleep. The sun, streaming in at the open door, roused me in the morning. At the beginning of each day of our journey I woke to find Uncle Eb cooking at the fire. He was lying beside me, this morning, his eyes open.
'Fraid I'm hard sick,' he said as I kissed him.
'What's the matter?' I enquired.
He struggled to a sitting posture, groaning so it went to my heart.
'Rheumatiz,' he answered presently.
He got to his feet, little by little, and every move he made gave him great pain. With one hand on his cane and the other on my shoulder he made his way slowly to the broken gate. Even now I can see clearly the fair prospect of that high place—a valley reaching to distant hills and a river winding through it, glimmering in the sunlight; a long wooded ledge breaking into naked, grassy slopes on one side of the valley and on the other a deep forest rolling to the far horizon; between them big patches of yellow grain and white buckwheat and green pasture land and greener meadows and the straight road, with white houses on either side of it, glorious in a double fringe of golden rod and purple aster and yellow John's-wort and the deep blue of the Jacob's ladder.
'Looks a good deal like the promised land,' said Uncle Eb. 'Hain't got much further t' go.'
He sat on the rotting threshold while I pulled some of the weeds in front of the doorstep and brought kindlings out of the house and built a fire. While we were eating I told Uncle Eb of the man that I had seen in the night.
'Guess you was dreamin',' he said, and, while I stood firm for the reality of that I had seen, it held our thought only for a brief moment. My companion was unable to walk that day so we lay by, in the shelter of the old house, eating as little of our scanty store as we could do with. I went to a spring near by for water and picked a good mess of blackberries that I hid away until supper time, so as to surprise Uncle Eb. A longer day than that we spent in the old house, after our coming, I have never known. I made the room a bit tidier and gathered more grass for bedding. Uncle Eb felt better as the day grew warm. I had a busy time of it that morning bathing his back in the spirits and rubbing until my small arms ached. I have heard him tell often how vigorously I worked that day and how I would say: 'I'll take care o' you, Uncle Eb—won't I, Uncle Eb?' as my little hands flew with redoubled energy on his bare skin. That finished we lay down sleeping until the sun was low, when I made ready the supper that took the last of everything we had to eat. Uncle Eb was more like himself that evening and, sitting up in the corner, as the darkness came, told me the story of Squirreltown and Frog Ferry, which came to be so great a standby in those days that, even now, I can recall much of the language in which he told it.
'Once,' he said, 'there was a boy thet hed two grey squirrels in a cage. They kep' thinkin' o' the time they used t' scamper in the tree-tops an' make nests an' eat all the nuts they wanted an' play I spy in the thick leaves. An they grew poor an' looked kind o' ragged an' sickly an' downhearted. When he brought 'em outdoors they used t' look up in the trees an' run in the wire wheel as if they thought they could get there sometime if they kep' goin'. As the boy grew older he see it was cruel to keep 'em shet in a cage, but he'd hed em a long time an' couldn't bear t' give 'em up.
'One day he was out in the woods a little back o' the clearin'. All t' once he heard a swift holler. 'Twas nearby an' echoed so he couldn't tell which way it come from. He run fer home but the critter ketched 'im before he got out o' the woods an' took 'im into a cave, an' give 'im t' the little swifts t' play with. The boy cried terrible. The swifts they laughed an' nudged each other.
'"O ain't he cute!" says one. "He's a beauty!" says another. "Cur'us how he can git along without any fur," says the mother swift, as she run er nose over 'is bare foot. He thought of 'is folks waitin' fer him an' he begged em t' let 'im go. Then they come an' smelt 'im over.
'"Yer sech a cunnin' critter," says the mother swift, "we couldn't spare ye."
'"Want to see my mother," says the boy sobbing.
'"Couldn't afford t' let ye go—yer so cute," says the swift. "Bring the poor critter a bone an' a bit o' snake meat."
'The boy couldn't eat. They fixed a bed fer him, but 'twant clean. The feel uv it made his back ache an' the smell uv it made him sick to his stomach.
'"When the swifts hed comp'ny they 'd bring 'em overt' look at him there 'n his dark corner." "S a boy," said the mother swift pokin' him with a long stick "Wouldn't ye like t' see 'im run?" Then she punched him until he got up an' run 'round the cave fer his life. Happened one day et a very benevolent swift come int' the cave.
'"'S a pity t' keep the boy here," said he; "he looks bad."
'"But he makes fun fer the children," said the swift.
'"Fun that makes misery is only fit fer a fool," said the visitor.
'They let him go thet day. Soon as he got hum he thought o' the squirrels an' was tickled t' find 'em alive. He tak 'em off to an island, in the middle of a big lake, thet very day, an' set the cage on the shore n' opened it He thought he would come back sometime an' see how they was ginin' along. The cage was made of light wire an' hed a tin bottom fastened to a big piece o' plank. At fust they was 'fraid t' leave it an' peeked out o' the door an' scratched their heads's if they thought it a resky business. After awhile one stepped out careful an' then the other followed. They tried t' climb a tree, but their nails was wore off an' they kep' fallin' back. Then they went off 'n the brush t' find some nuts. There was only pines an' poppies an' white birch an' a few berry bushes on the island. They went t' the water's edge on every side, but there was nuthin there a squirrel ud give a flirt uv his tail fer. 'Twas near dark when they come back t' the cage hungry as tew bears. They found a few crumbs o' bread in the cup an' divided 'em even. Then they went t' bed 'n their ol' nest.
'It hed been rainin' a week in the mount'ins. Thet night the lake rose a foot er more an' 'fore mornin' the cage begun t' rock a teenty bit as the water lifted the plank. They slep' all the better fer thet an' they dreamed they was up in a tree at the end uv a big bough. The cage begun t' sway sideways and then it let go o' the shore an' spun 'round once er twice an' sailed out 'n the deep water. There was a light breeze blowin' offshore an' purty soon it was pitchin' like a ship in the sea. But the two squirrels was very tired an' never woke up 'til sunrise. They got a terrible scare when they see the water 'round 'em an' felt the motion o' the ship. Both on 'em ran into the wire wheel an' that bore down the stern o' the ship so the under wires touched the water. They made it spin like a buzz saw an' got their clothes all wet. The ship went faster when they worked the wheel, an' bime bye they got tired an' come out on the main deck. The water washed over it a little so they clim up the roof thet was a kin' uv a hurricane deck. It made the ship sway an' rock fearful but they hung on 'midships, an' clung t' the handle that stuck up like a top mast. Their big tails was spread over their shoulders, an' the wind rose an' the ship went faster 'n faster. They could see the main shore where the big woods come down t' the water 'n' all the while it kep' a comin' nearer 'n' nearer. But they was so hungry didn't seem possible they could live to git there.
'Ye know squirrels are a savin' people. In the day o' plenty they think o' the day o' poverty an' lay by fer it. All at once one uv 'em thought uv a few kernels o' corn, he hed pushed through a little crack in the tin floor one day a long time ago. It happened there was quite a hole under the crack an' each uv 'em bad stored some kernels unbeknown t' the other. So they hed a good supper 'n' some left fer a bite 'n the mornin'. 'Fore daylight the ship made her pott 'n' lay to, 'side liv a log in a little cove. The bullfrogs jumped on her main deck an' begun t' holler soon as she hove to: "all ashore! all ashore! all ashore!" The two squirrels woke up but lay quiet 'til the sun rose. Then they come out on the log 'et looked like a long dock an' run ashore 'n' foun' some o' their own folks in the bush. An' when they bed tol' their story the ol' father o' the tribe got up 'n a tree an' hollered himself hoarse preachin' 'bout how 't paid t' be savin'.
'"An' we should learn t' save our wisdom es well es our nuts," said a sassy brother; "fer each needs his own wisdom fer his own affairs."
'An the little ship went back 'n' forth 'cross the cove as the win' blew. The squirrels hed many a fine ride in her an' the frogs were the ferrymen. An' all 'long thet shore 'twas known es Frog Ferry 'mong the squirrel folks.'
It was very dark when he finished the tale an' as we lay gaping a few minutes after my last query about those funny people of the lake margin I could hear nothing but the chirping of the crickets. I was feeling a bit sleepy when I heard the boards creak above our heads. Uncle Eli raised himself and lay braced upon his elbow listening. In a few moments we heard a sound as of someone coming softly down the ladder at the other end of the room. It was so dark I could see nothing.
'Who's there?' Uncle Eb demanded.
'Don't p'int thet gun at me,' somebody whispered. 'This is my home and I warn ye t' leave it er I'll do ye harm.'
Here I shall quote you again from the diary of Uncle Eb. 'It was so dark I couldn't see a han' before me. "Don't p'int yer gun at me," the man whispered. Thought 'twas funny he could see me when I couldn't see him. Said 'twas his home an' we'd better leave. Tol him I was sick (rumatiz) an' couldn't stir. Said he was sorry an' come over near us. Tol' him I was an' ol' man goin' west with a small boy. Stopped in the rain. Got sick. Out o' purvisions. 'Bout ready t' die. Did'n know what t' do. Started t' stike a match an' the man said don't make no light cos I don't want to hev ye see my face. Never let nobody see my face. Said he never went out 'less 'twas a dark night until folks was abed. Said we looked like good folks. Scairt me a little cos we couldn't see a thing. Also he said don't be 'fraid of me. Do what I can fer ye.'
I remember the man crossed the creaking floor and sat down near us after he had parleyed with Uncle Eb awhile in whispers. Young as I was I keep a vivid impression of that night and, aided by the diary of Uncle Eb, I have made a record of what was said that is, in the main, accurate.
'Do you know where you are?' he enquired presently, whispering as he had done before.
'I've no idee,' said Uncle Eb.
'Well, down the hill is Paradise Valley in the township o' Faraway,' he continued. 'It's the end o' Paradise Road an' a purty country. Been settled a long time an' the farms are big an' prosperous—kind uv a land o' plenty. That big house at the foot o' the hill is Dave Brower's. He's the richest man in the valley.'
'How do you happen t' be livin' here?—if ye don't min' tellin' me,' Uncle Eb asked.
'Crazy,' said he; ''fraid uv everybody an' everybody's 'fraid o' me. Lived a good long time in this way. Winters I go into the big woods. Got a camp in a big cave an' when I'm there I see a little daylight. Here 'n the clearin' I'm only up in the night-time. Thet's how I've come to see so well in the dark. It's give me cat's eyes.'
'Don't ye git lonesome?' Uncle Eb asked.
'Awful—sometimes,' he answered with a sad sigh, 'an' it seems good t' talk with somebody besides myself. I get enough to eat generally. There are deer in the woods an' cows in the fields, ye know, an' potatoes an' corn an' berries an' apples, an' all thet kind o' thing. Then I've got my traps in the woods where I ketch partridges, an' squirrels an' coons an' all the meat I need. I've got a place in the thick timber t' do my cookin'—all I want t' do—in the middle of the night Sometimes I come here an' spend a day in the garret if I'm caught in a storm or if I happen to stay a little too late in the valley. Once in a great while I meet a man somewhere in the open but he always gits away quick as he can. Guess they think I'm a ghost—dunno what I think o' them.'
Our host went on talking as if he were glad to tell the secrets of his heart to some creature of his own kind. I have often wondered at his frankness; but there was a fatherly tenderness, I remember in the voice of Uncle Eb, and I judge it tempted his confidence. Probably the love of companionship can never be so dead in a man but that the voice of kindness may call it back to life again.
'I'll bring you a bite t' eat before morning,' he said, presently, as he rose to go, 'leet me feel o' your han', mister.'
Uncle Eb gave him his hand and thanked him.
'Feels good. First I've hed hold of in a long time,' he whispered.
'What's the day o' the month?'
'I must remember. Where did you come from?'
Uncle Eb told him, briefly, the story of our going west
'Guess you'd never do me no harm—would ye?' the man asked. 'Not a bit,' Uncle Eb answered.
Then he bade us goodbye, crossed the creaking floor and went away in the darkness.
'Sing'lar character!' Uncle Eb muttered.
I was getting drowsy and that was the last I heard. In the morning we found a small pail of milk sitting near us, a roasted partridge, two fried fish and some boiled potatoes. It was more than enough to carry us through the day with a fair allowance for Fred. Uncle Eb was a bit better but very lame at that and kept to his bed the greater part of the day. The time went slow with me I remember. Uncle Eb was not cheerful and told me but one story and that had no life in it. At dusk he let me go out in the road to play awhile with Fred and the wagon, but came to the door and called us in shortly. I went to bed in a rather unhappy flame of mind. The dog roused me by barking in the middle of the right and I heard again the familiar whisper of the stranger.
'Sh-h-h! be still, dog,' he whispered; but I was up to my ears in sleep and went under shortly, so I have no knowledge of what passed that night. Uncle Eb tells in his diary that he had a talk with him lasting more than an hour, but goes no further and never seemed willing to talk much about that interview or others that followed it.
I only know the man had brought more milk and fish and fowl for us. We stayed another day in the old house, that went like the last, and the night man came again to see Uncle Eb. The next morning my companion was able to walk more freely, but Fred and I had to stop and wait for him very often going down the big hill. I was mighty glad when we were leaving the musty old house for good and had the dog hitched with all our traps in the wagon. It was a bright morning and the sunlight glimmered on the dew in the broad valley. The men were just coming from breakfast when we turned in at David Brower's. A barefooted little girl a bit older than I, with red cheeks and blue eyes and long curly hair, that shone like gold in the sunlight, came running out to meet us and led me up to the doorstep, highly amused at the sight of Fred and the wagon. I regarded her with curiosity and suspicion at first, while Uncle Eb was talking with the men. I shall never forget that moment when David Brower came and lifted me by the shoulders, high above his head, and shook me as if to test my mettle. He led me into the house then where his wife was working.
'What do you think of this small bit of a boy?' he asked.
She had already knelt on the floor and put her arms about my neck and kissed me.
'Am' no home,' said he. 'Come all the way from Vermont with an ol' man. They're worn out both uv 'em. Guess we'd better take 'em in awhile.'
'O yes, mother—please, mother,' put in the little girl who was holding my hand. 'He can sleep with me, mother. Please let him stay.'
She knelt beside me and put her arms around my little shoulders and drew me to her breast and spoke to me very tenderly.
'Please let him stay,' the girl pleaded again.
'David,' said the woman, 'I couldn't turn the little thing away. Won't ye hand me those cookies.'
And so our life began in Paradise Valley. Ten minutes later I was playing my first game of 'I spy' with little Hope Brower, among the fragrant stooks of wheat in the field back of the garden.
The lone pine stood in Brower's pasture, just clear of the woods. When the sun rose, one could see its taper shadow stretching away to the foot of Woody Ledge, and at sunset it lay like a fallen mast athwart the cow-paths, its long top arm a flying pennant on the side of Bowman's Hill. In summer this bar of shadow moved like a clock-hand on the green dial of the pasture, and the help could tell the time by the slant of it. Lone Pine had a mighty girth at the bottom, and its bare body tapered into the sky as straight as an arrow. Uncle Eb used to say that its one long, naked branch that swung and creaked near the top of it, like a sign of hospitality on the highway of the birds, was two hundred feet above ground. There were a few stubs here and there upon its shaft—the roost of crows and owls and hen-hawks. It must have passed for a low resort in the feathered kingdom because it was only the robbers of the sky that halted on Lone Pine.
This towering shaft of dead timber commemorated the ancient forest through which the northern Yankees cut their trails in the beginning of the century. They were a tall, big fisted, brawny lot of men who came across the Adirondacks from Vermont, and began to break the green canopy that for ages had covered the valley of the St Lawrence. Generally they drove a cow with them, and such game as they could kill on the journey supplemented their diet of 'pudding and milk'. Some settled where the wagon broke or where they had buried a member of the family, and there they cleared the forests that once covered the smooth acres of today. Gradually the rough surface of the trail grew smoother until it became Paradise Road—the well-worn thoroughfare of the stagecoach with its 'inns and outs', as the drivers used to say—the inns where the 'men folks' sat in the firelight of the blazing logs after supper and told tales of adventure until bedtime, while the women sat with their knitting in the parlour, and the young men wrestled in the stableyard. The men of middle age had stooped and massive shoulders, and deep-furrowed brows: Tell one of them he was growing old and he might answer you by holding his whip in front of him and leaping over it between his hands.
There was a little clearing around that big pine tree when David Brower settled in the valley. Its shadows shifting in the light of sun and moon, like the arm of a compass, swept the spreading acres of his farm, and he built his house some forty rods from the foot of it on higher ground. David was the oldest of thirteen children. His father had died the year before he came to St Lawrence county, leaving him nothing but heavy responsibilities. Fortunately, his great strength and his kindly nature were equal to the burden. Mother and children were landed safely in their new home on Bowman's Hill the day that David was eighteen. I have heard the old folks of that country tell what a splendid figure of a man he was those days—six feet one in his stockings and broad at the shoulder. His eyes were grey and set under heavy brows. I have never forgotten the big man that laid hold of me and the broad clean-shaven serious face, that looked into mine the day I came to Paradise Valley. As I write I can see plainly his dimpled chin, his large nose, his firm mouth that was the key to his character. 'Open or shet,' I have heard the old folks say, 'it showed he was no fool.'
After two years David took a wife and settled in Paradise Valley. He prospered in a small way considered handsome thereabouts. In a few years he had cleared the rich acres of his farm to the sugar bush that was the north vestibule of the big forest; he had seen the clearing widen until he could discern the bare summits of the distant hills, and, far as he could see, were the neat white houses of the settlers. Children had come, three of them—the eldest a son who had left home and died in a far country long before we came to Paradise Valley—the youngest a baby.
I could not have enjoyed my new home more if I had been born in it. I had much need of a mother's tenderness, no doubt, for I remember with what a sense of peace and comfort I lay on the lap of Elizabeth Brower, that first evening, and heard her singing as she rocked. The little daughter stood at her knees, looking down at me and patting my bare toes or reaching over to feel my face.
'God sent him to us—didn't he, mother?' said she.
'Maybe,' Mrs Brower answered, 'we'll be good to him, anyway.'
Then that old query came into my mind. I asked them if it was heaven where we were.
'No,' they answered.
''Tain't anywhere near here, is it?' I went on.
Then she told me about the gate of death, and began sowing in me the seed of God's truth—as I know now the seed of many harvests. I slept with Uncle Eb in the garret, that night, and for long after we came to the Brower's. He continued to get better, and was shortly able to give his hand to the work of the farm.
There was room for all of us in that ample wilderness of his imagination, and the cry of the swift woke its echoes every evening for a time. Bears and panthers prowled in the deep thickets, but the swifts took a firmer grip on us, being bolder and more terrible. Uncle Eb became a great favourite in the family, and David Brower came to know soon that he was 'a good man to work' and could be trusted 'to look after things'. We had not been there long when I heard Elizabeth speak of Nehemiah—her lost son—and his name was often on the lips of others. He was a boy of sixteen when he went away, and I learned no more of him until long afterwards.
A month or more after we came to Faraway, I remember we went 'cross lots in a big box wagon to the orchard on the hill and gathered apples that fell in a shower when Uncle Eb went up to shake them down. Then cane the raw days of late October, when the crows went flying southward before the wind—a noisy pirate fleet that filled the sky at times—and when we all put on our mittens and went down the winding cow-paths to the grove of butternuts in the pasture. The great roof of the wilderness had turned red and faded into yellow. Soon its rafters began to show through, and then, in a day or two, they were all bare but for some patches of evergreen. Great, golden drifts of foliage lay higher than a man's head in the timber land about the clearing. We had our best fun then, playing 'I spy' in the groves.