How Deacon Tubman and
Parson Whitney Kept New Year's
And Other Stories
CUPPLES & HURD
94 Boylston Street
How Deacon Tubman and Parson Whitney Kept New Year's
The Old Beggar's Dog
Who Was He?
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
HOW DEACON TUBMAN AND PARSON WHITNEY KEPT NEW YEAR'S
(Illustrated by THOMAS WORTH)
Vignette Initial—"New Year's, eh?"
"What's the matter with the pesky thing?"
"Miranda belonged to that sisterhood commonly known as spinsters"
Miranda's chirography—"A Happy New Year"
"Ha, none of that, you woolly-coated rogue, you"
"I want to talk with you about the church"
"Tell the folks that you won't be back till night"
"It was found that the parson could steer a sled"
"Little Alice Dorchester begged him to stay"
"Old Jack was a horse of a great deal of character"
"Hillow, Deacon, ain't you going to shake out old shamble-heels to-day?"
"Jack was going nigh to a thirty clip"
"Go it, old boy!"
THE OLD BEGGAR'S DOG
(Illustrated by A.B. SHUTE)
"The old man and his dog were constant companions"
"He was teaching the dog a new trick"
"It was to the honor of the crowd that they hooted the officer roundly"
(Illustrated by A.B. SHUTE)
Vignette Initial—"It was evening"
"The Lad began to play"
"The God of Music was there"
"Even the waiters caught the infection"
"The music stopped with a snap"
WHO WAS HE?
(Illustrated by J.H. Snow)
Vignette Initial—"John Norton watched the approaching fire"
"A deer suddenly sprang from the bank"
"Past mossy banks where the great eddies whirled"
"Come ashore—you and your companion"
"The four sat in silence by the fire"
How Deacon Tubman and Parson Whitney Kept New Year's
"New Year's, eh?" exclaimed Deacon Tubman, as he lifted himself to his elbow and peered through the frosty window pane toward the east, where the colorless morning was creeping shiveringly into sight.
"New Year's, eh?" he repeated, as he hitched himself into an upright position and straightened his night-cap, that had somehow gone askew in his slumber. "Bless my soul, how the years fly! But that's all right; yes, that's all right. No one can expect them to stay, and why should we? there's better fish in the net than we've taken out yet," and with this consolatory observation, the deacon rubbed his head energetically, while the bright, happy look of his face grew brighter and happier as the process proceeded. "Yes, there's better fish in the net than we've taken out," he added, gayly, "and if there isn't, there's no use of crying about it." With this philosophical observation, he bounced merrily out of bed and into his trousers.
I say Deacon Tubman bounced into his trousers, but, to be exact, I should say that he bounced into half of them; and, with the other half trailing behind him, he skipped to the window and, putting his little, plump, round face almost against the pane, gazed out upon the world. Everything was bright, sparkling and cold, for the earth was covered with snow and the clear gray of the early morning spread its rayless illumination over the great dome, in the fading blue of which a few starry points still gleamed.
"Bless me, what a morning!" he exclaimed. "Beautiful! beautiful!" he repeated, as he stood with his eyes fastened upon the east and, balancing himself on one foot, felt around with the other for that half of the trousers not yet appropriated. "Bless me, what a day," he ejaculated, as he saved himself by a quick, upward wrench, from falling from a trip he had inadvertently given himself in an abortive effort to insert his foot into the unfilled leg of his pantaloons. "Ha, ha, that's a good un," he exclaimed; "trip yourself up in getting into your own trousers, will you, Deacon Tubman?" and he laughed long and merrily to himself over his little joke.
"A happy New Year to everybody," cried the deacon, as he thrust his foot into his stocking, for the floor of the good man's chamber was carpetless and so cleanly white that its cleanliness itself was enough to freeze one. "Yes, a happy New Year to everybody, high, low, rich, poor, south, north, east and west, where'er they are, the world over, at home and abroad—Amen!" And the deacon, partly at the sweeping character of his benediction and partly because he was feeling so jolly inside he couldn't help it, laughed merrily, as he seized a boot and thrust his foot vigorously into it.
"What's this? what's this?" cried the deacon, as he tugged away at the straps until he was red in the face. "This boot never went on hard before. What's the matter with the pesky thing?" And he arose from his chair, and, standing on one foot, turned and twisted about, tugging all the while at the straps.
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the deacon, disgusted with its strange behavior, "what is the matter with the pesky boot?"
Then he sat down upon the chair again, wrenched his foot out of the offending article and held it up between both hands in front of him and shook it violently, when, with a bump and a bound, out rattled a package upon the floor and rolled half way across the room. The deacon was after it in a jiffy and, seizing it in his little fat hands, held it up before his eyes and read: "A New Year's gift from Miranda."
Now Miranda was the deacon's housekeeper,—Mrs. Tubman having peacefully departed this life some years before,—and, speaking appreciatively of the sex, a more prim, prudent, particular member of it never existed. She had been initiated, some ten years before, into that amiable sisterhood commonly known as spinsters, and was, it might be added, a typical representative. Industrious? You may well say so. Her floors, stoves, dishes, linen,—- well, if they weren't clean, nowhere on earth might you find clean ones. She hated dirt as she did original sin, and I've no doubt but that in her own mind considered its existence in the world as the one certain, damning and conclusive evidence of the Fall. It was really an entertainment to see her looking about the house for a speck of dirt; and the cold-blooded manner in which she would seize upon it, bear it away in the dust pan, and, removing the lid of the stove, consign it to the flames, was—well,—what should I say,—yes, that's it—was most edifying.
Amiable! Yes,—after her way. And a very noiseless sort of way it was, too. For, though she had lived with the deacon for nearly a dozen years, he had never known her to so far forget her propriety as to indulge in anything more hearty and hilarious than the most decorous of smiles, which smile was such a kind of illumination to her face as a star of inconceivably small magnitude makes to the sky in trailing across it.
Of her personal appearance I will say—nothing. Sacred let it be to memory! If you ever saw her, or one like her, whether full front or profile, whether sideways or edgewise, the vision, I am ready to swear, remains with you vividly still. Let it suffice, then, when I observe that Miss Miranda was not physically stout, and that the deacon's standing joke was by no means a bad one when he described her as "not actually burdened with fat." Yes, she was a very cleanly, very thin, very prudent, very particular person, that never joined in any sports or amusements; never joked or participated in any happy events in a happy, joyous fashion, but lived unobtrusively, and, I may say, coldly, in her own prim, cold, bloodless, little world.
"Gracious me!" exclaimed the deacon, as he looked at the package. "Gracious me! what has got into Mirandy?" And he looked scrutinizingly at the little, fine, thin, faintly-traced inscription on the package, as if the writer had begrudged the ink that must be expended on the letters, or from a subtle and mystic self-sympathy had made the chirography faint, delicate, and attenuated as her own self.
"Gracious me!" reiterated Deacon Tubman, as he proceeded to untie the knot in the pale blue ribbon smoothly bound around the package. "Who ever knew Mirandy to make a present before?" and the deacon was so surprised at what had taken place that, for a moment, he doubted the evidence of his own senses. "And put it in my boot, too, ha, ha!" And the deacon stopped undoing the parcel, and, lying back in the chair, roared at the thought of the prim, modest, particular Miranda perpetrating such a joke. And when the wrapping of the package was at last undone, for every corner and crease of it was as carefully turned and as sharply edged as if the smoothing iron had passed over them,—will wonders ever cease in this startling world of ours?—out dropped a night-cap! Yes, a night-cap, delicately and deftly crocheted in warm, woolen stuff of a rich cardinal color.
"Ha, ha," laughed the deacon, as he held the cap between his thumb and forefinger of one hand up before his eyes, while he rubbed his bald crown with the other. "Good for Mirandy." And then, as a small slip of white paper fluttered to the floor, he seized it, and read:
[Handwritten: A happy New Year to Deacon Tubman from Miranda.]
"A good girl, a good girl," said the deacon, "not overburdened with fat, but a good girl!" and with this rather equivocal compliment to the donor, with his boot in one hand and the cap in the other, he rushed impulsively to the stairway and shouted:
"A happy New Year to you, Mirandy. God bless you; God bless you," and he swung the boot, instead of the cap, vigorously over his head, while his round, rosy face beamed down the stairway into the cold hall below, like a warm harvest moon over the autumnal stubble.
In response to the deacon's hearty, and, I may say, somewhat uproarious greeting, the kitchen door timidly opened, and Miranda, who had been astir for nearly an hour and had the table already laid for breakfast, stepped into view, and, with a smile on her face that actually broadened its thinness dangerously near to the proportions of a genial and happy reciprocation of the jovial greeting, dropped a courtesy, and said:
"Thank you, Deacon Tubman, I hope you may have many happy returns."
"A thousand to you, Mirandy," shouted the deacon in response, "a thousand to you and your—children!" and the little man swung his boot vehemently over his head and laughed like a boy at his own joke, while poor, frightened, scandalized Miranda turned and scudded, like a patch of thin vapor blown by an unexpected gust of wind, through the door into the kitchen, with a face colored scarlet from an actual, unmistakable blush, though whence the blood came that reddened the clean cold-white of her thin face is a physiological mystery.
In a moment the deacon was fully dressed and he scuttled as merrily and noisily down the resounding stairway as a gust of autumn wind running through a patch of russet leaves. Through the hall and kitchen he bustled and out into the woodshed, where he ran against old Towser, the big Newfoundland watch-dog, who stood in the passage expectantly watching his coming.
"A happy New Year to you, Towser, old boy," he cried, and, seizing the huge dog by his shaggy coat, he wrestled with him like a merry-hearted boy. "A happy New Year to you, old fellow," he repeated, as the dog broke into a series of joyful barks; "speak it right out, Towser. God made you as full of fun as he has the rest of us, and a good deal fuller than many of your kind, and mine, too," and with this backhanded hit at the vinegar-visaged and acidulous-hearted of his own species, the deacon shuffled along the crisp, icy path toward the barn, while Towser gamboled through the deep snow and plunged into the huge, fleecy drifts in as merry a mood as his merry master.
"A happy New Year to you, old Jack," he called out to his horse, as he entered the barn, and Jack neighed a happy return, more expectant, perhaps, of his breakfast of oats than appreciative of the greeting. "And a happy New Year to you, you youngster," he shouted to the colt, who, being at liberty to roam at will, had already appropriated a section of the hay-mow to his own satisfaction. "Ha, none of that, you woolly-coated rogue, you," he cried, as he jumped aside to escape a kick that the bunch of equine mischief anticly snapped at him. "None of that, you little unconverted sinner, you. I verily believe the parson is right, and that
'In Adam's fall We sinned all—'
men and beasts, colts and children, all in one lot."
And so, talking to himself and his cattle, the jolly little man, whose good-heartedness represented more genuine orthodoxy than the whole Westminster catechism, bustled merrily about the barn and did his chores, while the cockerels crowed noisily from their perches overhead, the fat white pigs grunted in lazy contentment from their warm beds of straw, and the oxen, with their large, luminous eyes, gazed benevolently at him as he crammed their mangers generously full with the fragrant hay that smelled sweetly of the flowers and odorous meadow lands, where in the warm summer sunshine it had ripened for the welcome scythe.
How happy is life, in whatever part of this great fragrant world of ours it is lived, when men live it happily; and how gloomy seems its sunshine, even, when seen through the shadows and darkness of our surly moods.
What happy-hearted fairy was it that possessed the deacon's heart and home, on this bright New Year's morn, I wonder? Surely, some angel of fun and frolic had flown into the deacon's house with the opening of the year and was filling it, and the hearts within it, too, with mirthful moods. For the deacon laughed and joked as he buttered his cakes and fired off his funny sayings at Miranda, as he had never joked and laughed before, until Miranda herself smiled and giggled; yes, actually giggled, behind the coffee-urn, at his merry squibs, as if the little imp above mentioned was mischievously tickling her—yes, I will say it,—her spinster ribs.
"Mirandy, I'm going up to see the parson," exclaimed the deacon, when the morning devotions were over, "and see if I can thaw him out a little. I've heard there used to be a lot of fun in him in his younger days, but he's sort of frozen all up latterly, and I can see that the young folks are afraid of him and the church, too, but that won't do—no, that won't do," repeated the good man emphatically, "for the minister ought to be loved by young and old, rich and poor, and everybody; and a church without young folks in it is like a family with no children in it. Yes, I'll go up and wish him a happy New Year, anyway. Perhaps I can get him out for a ride to make some calls on the people and see the young folks at their fun. It'll do him good and them good and me good, and do everybody good." Saying which the deacon got inside his warm fur coat and started towards the barn to harness Jack into the worn, old-fashioned sleigh; which sleigh was built high in the back and had a curved dasher of monstrous proportions, ornamented with a prancing horse in an impossible attitude, done in bright vermilion on a blue-black ground.
"Happy New Year to you, Parson Whitney; happy New Year to you," cried the deacon, from his sleigh to the parson, who stood curled up and shivering in the doorway of the parsonage, "and may you live to enjoy a hundred."
"Come in; come in," cried Parson Whitney, in response, "I'm glad you've come; I'm glad you've come. I've been wanting to see you all the morning," and in the cordiality of his greeting, he literally pulled the little man through the doorway into the hall and hurried him up the stairway to his study in the chamber overhead.
"Thinking of me! Well, now, I never," exclaimed the deacon, as, assisted by the parson, he twisted and wriggled himself out of the coat that he a little too snugly filled for an easy exit. "Thinking of me, and among all these books, too; bibles, catechisms, tracts, theologies, sermons; well, well, that's funny! What made you think of me?"
"Deacon Tubman," responded the parson, as he seated himself in his arm-chair, "I want to talk with you about the church."
"The church!" ejaculated the deacon, in response, "nothing going wrong, I hope?"
"Yes, things are going wrong, deacon," responded the parson; "the congregation is growing smaller and smaller, and yet I preach good, strong, biblical, soul-satisfying sermons, I think."
"Good ones! good ones!" answered the deacon, promptly; "never better; never better in the world."
"And yet the people are deserting the sanctuary," rejoined the parson, solemnly, "and the young people won't come to the sociables and the little children seem actually afraid of me. What shall I do, deacon?" and the good man put the question with pathetic emphasis.
"You have hit the nail on the head, square's a hatchet, parson," responded the deacon. "The congregation is thinning; the young people don't come to the meetings, and the little children are afraid of you."
"What's the matter, deacon?" cried the parson, in return. "What is it?" he repeated, earnestly; "speak it right out; don't try to spare my feelings. I will listen to—I will do anything to win back my people's love," and the strong, old-fashioned, Calvinistic preacher said it in a voice that actually trembled.
"You can do it; you can do it in a week!" exclaimed the deacon, encouragingly. "Don't worry about it, parson, it'll be all right; it'll be all right. Your books are the trouble."
"Eh? eh? books?" ejaculated the parson. "What have they to do with it?"
"Everything," replied the beacon, stoutly; "you pore over them day in and day out; they keep you in this room here, when you should be out among the people. Not making pastoral visits, I don't mean that, but going around among them, chatting and joking and having a good time. They would like it, and you would like it, and as for the young folks,—how old are you, parson?"
"Sixty, next month," answered the parson, solemnly, "sixty next month."
"Thirty! thirty! that's all you are, parson, or all you ought to be," cried the deacon. "Thirty, twenty, sixteen. Let the figures slide down and up, according to circumstances, but never let them go higher than thirty, when you are dealing with young folks. I'm sixty myself, counting years, but I'm only sixteen; sixteen this morning, that's all, parson," and he rubbed his little, round, plump hands together, looked at the parson and winked.
"Bless my soul, Deacon Tubman, I don't know but that you are right!" answered the parson. "Sixty? I don't know as I am sixty." And he began to rub his own hands, and came within an ace of executing a wink at the deacon himself.
"Not a day over twenty, if I am any judge of age," responded the deacon, deliberately, as he looked the white-headed old minister over with a most comic imitation of seriousness. "Not a day over twenty, on my honor," and the deacon leaned forward toward the parson and gave him a punch with his thumb, as one boy might deliver a punch at another, and then he lay back in his chair and laughed so heartily that the parson caught the infectious mirth and roared away as heartily as the deacon.
Yes, it was impossible to sit hobnobbing with the jolly little deacon on that bright New Year's morning and not be affected by the happiness of his mood, for he was actually bubbling over with fun and as full of frolic as if the finger on the dial had, in truth, gone back forty years and he was only sixteen. "Only sixteen, parson, on my honor."
"But what can I do," queried the good man, sobering down. "I make my pastoral visits"—
"Pastoral visits!" responded Deacon Tubman, "oh, yes, and they are all well enough for the old folks, but they ar'n't the kind of biscuit the young folks like—too heavy in the centre, and over-hard in the crust, for young teeth, eh, parson?"
"But what shall I do? what shall I do?" reiterated the parson, somewhat despondently.
"Oh, put on your hat and gloves and warmest coat and come along with me. We will see what the young folks are doing and will make a day of it. Come, come; let the old books and catechisms and sermons and tracts have a respite for once, and we'll spend the day out of doors with the boys and girls and the people."
"I'll do it!" exclaimed the parson. "Deacon Tubman, you are right. I keep to my study too closely. I don't see enough of the world and what's going on in it. I was reading the Testament this morning and I was impressed with the Master's manner of living and teaching. It is not certain that he ever preached more than twice in a church during all his ministry on the earth. And the children! how much he loved the children and how the little ones loved him! And why shouldn't they love me, too? Why shouldn't they? I'll make them do it. The lambs of my flock shall love me." And with these brave words, Parson Whitney bundled himself up in his warmest garment and followed the deacon down stairs.
"Tell the folks that you won't be back till night," called the deacon from the sleigh, "for this is New Year's and we're going to make a day of it." And he laughed away as heartily as might be—so heartily, indeed, that the parson joined in the laughter himself as he came shuffling down the icy path toward him.
"Bless me, how much younger I feel already," said the good man, as he stood up in the sleigh, and with a long, strong breath, breathed the cool, pure air into his lungs. "Bless me, how much younger I feel already," he repeated, as he settled down into the roomy seat of the old sleigh. "Only sixteen to-day, eh, deacon," and he nudged him with his elbow.
"That's all; that's all, parson," answered the deacon, gayly, as he nudged him vigorously back, "that's all we are, either of us," and, laughing as merrily as boys, the two glided away in the sleigh.
Well, perhaps they didn't have fun that day—those two old boys that had started out with the feeling that they were "only sixteen," and bound to make "a day of it." And they did make a day of it, in fact, and such a day as neither had had for forty years. For, first, they went to Bartlett's hill, where the boys and girls were coasting, and coasted with them for a full hour; and then it was discovered by the younger portion of his flock that the parson was not an old, stiff, solemn, surly poke, as they had thought, but a pleasant, good-natured, kindly soul, who could take and give a joke and steer a sled as well as the smartest boy in the crowd; and when it came to snow-balling, he could send a ball further than Bill Sykes himself, who could out-throw any boy in town, and roll up a bigger block to the new snow fort they were building than any three boys among them. And how the parson enjoyed being a boy again! How exhilarating the slide down the steep hill; how invigorating the pure, cool air; how pleasant the noise of the chatting and joking going on around him; how bright and sweet the boys and girls looked, with their rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes; how the old parson's heart thrilled as they crowded around him when he would go, and urged him to stay; and how little Alice Dorchester begged him, with her little arms around his neck, to "jes stay and gib me one more slide."
"You never made such a pastoral call as that, parson," said the deacon, as they drove away amid the cheers of the boys and the good-byes of the girls, while the former fired off a volley of snowballs in his honor and the latter waved their muffs and handkerchiefs after them.
"God bless them! God bless them!" said the parson. "They have lifted a great load from my heart and taught me the sweetness of life, of youth and the wisdom of Him who took the little ones in His arms and blessed them. Ah, deacon," he added, "I've been a great fool, but I'll be so, thank God, no more."
Now, old Jack was a horse of a great deal of character, and had a great history, but of this none in that section, save the little deacon, knew a word. Dick Tubman, the deacon's youngest, wildest, and, I might add, favorite son, had purchased him of an impecunious jockey at the close of a, to him, disastrous campaign, that cleaned him completely out and left him in a strange city, a thousand miles from home, with nothing but the horse, harness and sulky, and a list of unpaid bills that must be met before he could leave the scene of his disastrous fortunes. Under such circumstances it was that Dick Tubman ran across the horse and, partly out of pity for its owner and partly out of admiration of the horse, whose failure to win at the races was due more to his lack of condition and the bad management of his jockey than lack of speed, bought him off-hand and, having no use for him himself, shipped him as a present to the deacon, with whom he had now been for four years, with no harder work than plowing out the good old man's corn in the summer, and jogging along the country roads on the deacon's errands. Having said this much of the horse, perhaps I should more particularly describe him.
He was, in sooth, an animal of most unique and extraordinary appearance. For, in the first place, he was quite seventeen hands in height and long in proportion. He was also the reverse of shapely in the fashion of his build, for his head was long and bony and his hip bones sharp and protuberant; his tail was what is known among horsemen as a "rat tail," being but scantily covered with hair, and his neck was even more scantily supplied with a mane; while in color he could easily have taken any premium put up for homeliness, being an ashen roan, mottled with black and patches of divers hue. But his legs were flat and corded like a racer's, his neck long and thin as a thoroughbred's, his nostrils large, his ears sharply pointed and lively, while the white rings around his eyes hinted at a cross, somewhere in his pedigree, with Arabian blood. A huge, bony, homely-looking horse he was as he drew the deacon and Miranda into the village on market days and Sundays, with a loose, shambling gait, making altogether an appearance so homely and peculiar that the smart village chaps, riding along in their jaunty turn-outs, used to chaff the good deacon on the character of the steed, and satirically challenge him to a brush. The deacon always took the badinage in good part, although he inwardly said, more than once, "If I ever get a good chance, when there ain't too many around, I'll go up to the turn of the road beyond the church and let Jack out on them;" for Dick had given him a hint of the horse's history, and told him "he could knock the spots out of thirty," and wickedly urged the deacon to take the shine out of them airy chaps some of these days.
Such was the horse, then, that the deacon had ahead of him and the old-fashioned sleigh when, with the parson alongside, he struck into the principal street of the village.
New Year's day is a lively day in many country villages, and on this bright one especially, as the sleighing was perfect, everybody was out. Indeed, it had got noised abroad that certain trotters of local fame were to be on the street that afternoon and, as the boys worded it, "There would be heaps of fun going on." So it happened that everybody in town, and many who lived out of it, were on that particular street, and just at the hour, too, when the deacon came to the foot of it, so that the walk on either side was lined darkly with lookers-on and the smooth snow path between the two lines looked like a veritable home-stretch on a race day.
Now, when the deacon had reached the corner of the main street and turned into it, it was at that point where the course terminated and the "brushes" were ended, and at the precise moment when the dozen or twenty horses that had come flying down were being pulled up preparatory to returning at a slow gait to the customary starting point at the head of the street a half mile away. So the old-fashioned sleigh was quickly surrounded by the light, fancy cutters of the rival racers and Old Jack was shambling along in the midst of the high-spirited and smoking nags that had just come down the stretch.
"Hillow, deacon," shouted one of the boys, who was driving a trim-looking bay, and who had crossed the line at the ending of the course second only to the pacer that could "speed like lightning," as the boys said; "Hillow, deacon, ain't you going to shake out old shamble-heels and show us fellows what speed is, to-day?" And the merry-hearted chap, son of the principal lawyer of the place, laughed heartily at his challenge, while the other drivers looked at the great angular steed that, without check, was walking carelessly along, with his head held down, ahead of the old sleigh and its churchly occupants.
"I don't know but what I will," answered the deacon, good-naturedly; "I don't know but what I will, if the parson don't object, and you won't start off too quick to begin with; for this is New Year's and a little extra fun won't hurt any of us, I reckon."
"Do it! do it! we'll hold up for you," answered a dozen merry voices. "Do it, deacon, it'll do old shamble-heels good to go a ten-mile-an-hour gait for once in his life, and the parson needn't fear of being scandalized by any speed you'll get out of him, either," and the merry-hearted chaps haw-hawed as men and boys will when everyone is jolly and fun flows fast.
And so, with any amount of good-natured chaffing from the drivers of the "fast uns," and from many that lined the roads, too,—for the day gave greater liberty than usual to bantering speech,—the speedy ones paced slowly up to the head of the street with Old Jack shambling demurely in the midst of them.
But the horse was a knowing old fellow and had "scored" at too many races not to know that the "return" was to be leisurely taken; and, indeed, he was a horse of independence and of too even, perhaps of too sluggish a temperament to waste himself in needless action; but he had the right stuff in him and hadn't forgotten his early training, either, for when he came to the "turn," his head and tail came up, his eyes brightened, and, with a playful movement of his huge body, without the least hint from the deacon, he swung himself and the cumbrous old sleigh into line and began to straighten himself for the coming brush.
Now, Jack was, as I have said, a horse of huge proportions, and needed "steadying" at the start, but the good deacon had no experience with the "ribbons," and was, therefore, utterly unskilled in the matter of driving. And so it came about that Old Jack was so confused at the start that he made a most awkward and wretched appearance in his effort to get off, being all "mixed up," as the saying is, so much so that the crowd roared at his ungainly efforts and his flying rivals were twenty rods away before he had even got started. But at last he got his huge body in a straight line and, leaving his miserable shuffle, squared away to his work, and with head and tail up went off at so slashing a gait that it fairly took the deacon's breath away and caused the crowd that had been hooting him to roar their applause, while the parson grabbed the edge of the old sleigh with one hand and the rim of his tall black hat with the other.
What a pity, Mr. Longface, that God made horses as they are, and gave them such grandeur of appearance and action, and put such an eaglelike spirit between their ribs, so that, quitting the plodding motions of the ox, they can fly like that noble bird and come sweeping down the course as on wings of the wind.
It was not my fault, nor the deacon's, nor the parson's, either, please remember, then, that awkward, shuffling, homely-looking Old Jack was thus suddenly transformed by the royalty of blood, of pride and of speed given him by his Creator from what he ordinarily was into a magnificent spectacle of energetic velocity.
With muzzle lifted well up, tail erect, the few hairs in it streaming straight behind, one ear pricked forward and the other turned sharply back, the great horse swept grandly along at a pace that was rapidly bringing him even with the rear line of the flying group. And yet so little was the pace to him that he fairly gamboled in playfulness as he went slashing along, until the deacon verily began to fear that the honest old chap would break through all the bounds of propriety and send his heels anticly through his treasured dashboard. Indeed, the spectacle that the huge horse presented was so magnificent and his action so free, spirited and playful, as he came sweeping onward that the cheers, such as "Good heavens! see the deacon's old horse!" "Look at him! look at him!" "What a stride!" ran ahead of him; and old Bill Sykes, a trainer in his day, but now a hanger-on at the village tavern, or that section of it known as the bar, wiped his watery eyes with his tremulous fist, as he saw Jack come swinging down, and, as he swept past, with his open gait, powerful stroke and stifles playing well out, brought his hand down with a mighty slap against his thigh, and said: "I'll be blowed if he isn't a regular old timer!"
It was fortunate for the deacon and the parson that the noise and cheering of the crowd drew the attention of the drivers ahead, or there would surely have been more than one collision, for the old sleigh was of such size and strength, the good deacon so unskilled at the reins, and Jack, who was adding to his momentum with every stride, going at so determined a pace, that had he struck the rear line with no gap for him to go through, something serious would surely have happened. But as it was, the drivers saw the huge horse, with the cumbrous old sleigh behind him, bearing down on them at such a gait as made their own speed, sharp as it was, seem slow, and "pulled out" in time to save themselves; and so, without any mishap, the big horse and heavy sleigh swept through the rear row of racers like an autumn gust through a cluster of leaves.
But by this time the deacon had become somewhat alarmed, for Old Jack was going nigh to a thirty clip—a frightful pace for an inexperienced driver to ride—and began to put a good strong pressure upon the bit, not doubting that Old Jack, ordinarily the easiest horse in the world to manage, would take the hint and immediately slow up. But though the huge horse took the hint, it was in exactly the opposite manner that the deacon intended he should, for he interpreted the little man's steady pull as an intimation that his driver was getting over his flurry and beginning to treat him as a horse ought to be treated in a race, and that he could now, having got settled to his work, go ahead. And go ahead he did. The more the deacon pulled the more the great animal felt himself steadied and assisted. And so, the harder the good man tugged at the reins, the more powerfully the machinery of the big animal ahead of him worked, until the deacon got alarmed and began to call upon the horse to stop, crying, "Whoa, Jack, whoa, old boy, I say! whoa, will you, now? that's a good fellow!" and many other coaxing calls, while he pulled away steadily at the reins. But the horse misunderstood the deacon's calls as he had his pressure upon the reins, for the crowds on either side were yelling and hooting and swinging their caps so that the deacon's voice came indistinctly to his ears at best and he interpreted his calls for him to stop as only so many encouragements and signals for him to go ahead. And so, with the memory of a hundred races stirring his blood, the crowds cheering him to the echo, the steadying pull, the encouraging cries of his driver in his ears and his only rival, the pacer, whirling along only a few rods ahead of him, the monstrous animal, with a desperate plunge that half lifted the old sleigh from the snow, let out another link, and, with such a burst of speed as was never seen in the village before, tore along after the pacer at such a terrific pace that, within the distance of a dozen lengths, he lay lapped upon him and the two were going it nose and nose.
What is that feeling in human hearts which makes us sympathetic with man or animal, who has unexpectedly developed courage and capacity when engaged in a struggle in which the odds are against him? And why do we enter so spiritedly into the contest and lose ourselves in the excitement of the moment? Is it pride? Is it the comradeship of courage? Or is it the rising of the indomitable in us that loves nothing so much as victory and hates nothing so much as defeat? Be that as it may, no sooner was Old Jack fairly lapped on the pacer, whose driver was urging him along with rein and voice alike, and the contest seemed doubtful, than the spirit of old Adam himself entered into the deacon and the parson both, so that, carried away by the excitement of the race, they fairly forgot themselves and entered as wildly into the contest as two ungodly jockeys.
"Deacon Tubman," said the parson, as he clutched more stoutly the rim of his tall hat, against which, as the horse tore along, the snow chips were pelting in showers, "Deacon Tubman, do you think the pacer will beat us?"
"Not if I can help it! not if I can help it!" yelled the deacon, in reply, as, with something like a reinsman's skill, he lifted Jack to another spurt. "Go it, old boy!" he shouted, encouragingly, "go along with you, I say!" And the parson, also, carried away by the whirl of the moment, cried, "Go along, old boy! Go along with you, I say!"
This was the very thing, and the only thing, that the huge horse, whose blood was now fairly aflame, wanted to rally him for the final effort; and, in response to the encouraging cries of the two behind him, he gathered himself together for another burst of speed and put forth his collected strength with such tremendous energy and suddenness of movement that the little deacon, who had risen and was standing erect in the sleigh, fell back into the arms of the parson, while the great horse rushed over the line amid such cheers and roars of laughter as were never heard in that village before. Nor was the horse any more the object of public interest and remark,—I may say favoring remark,—than the parson, who suddenly found himself the centre of a crowd of his own parishioners, many of whom would scarcely have been expected to participate in such a scene, but who, thawed out of their iciness by the genial temper of the day and vastly excited over Jack's contest, thronged upon the good man, laughing as heartily as any jolly sinner in the crowd.
So everybody shook hands with the parson and wished him a happy New Year, and the parson shook hands with everybody and wished them all many happy returns; and everybody praised Old Jack and rallied the deacon on his driving, and then everybody went home good-natured and happy, laughing and talking about the wonderful race and the change that had come over Parson Whitney.
And as for Parson Whitney himself, the day and its fun had taken twenty years from his age. And nothing would answer but the deacon must go with him and help eat the New Year's pudding at the parsonage. And he did.
At the table they laughed and talked over the funny incidents of the day and joked each other as merrily as two boys. Then Parson Whitney told some reminiscences of his college days and the scrapes he got into, and about a riot between town and gown when he carried the "Bully's Club"; and the deacon returned by narrating his experiences with a certain Deacon Jones's watermelon patch, when he was a boy.
And over their tales and their nuts they laughed till they cried, and roared so lustily at the remembered frolics of their youthful days that the old parsonage rang, the books on the library shelves rattled and several of the theological volumes actually gaped with horror.
But at last the stories were all told, the jokes all cracked, the laughter all laughed, and the little deacon wished the parson good-bye and jogged happily homeward. But more than once he laughed to himself and said, "Bless my soul, I didn't know the parson had so much fun in him."
And long the parson sat by the glowing grate, after the deacon had left him, musing of other days and the happy, pleasant things that were in them, and many times he smiled, and once he laughed outright at some remembered folly, for he said: "What a wild boy I was, and yet I meant no wrong, and the dear old days were very happy."
Aye, aye, Parson Whitney, the dear old days were very happy, not only to thee, but to all of us, who, following our sun, have faced westward so long that the light of the morning shows through the dim haze of memory. But happier than even the old days will be the young ones, I ween, when, following still westward, we suddenly come to the gates of the east and the morning once more; and there, in the dawn of a day which is endless, we find our lost youth and its loves, to lose them and it no more forever, thank God.
The Old Beggar's Dog
He was a tramp—that is all he was—at least when I knew him. What he had been before, I cannot say, as he never told me his history. Of course every tramp has a history, even as every leaf that the winds blow over the fields has its history, and my old tramp doubtless had his, and God knows it must have been sad enough, judging by his looks, for he had the saddest face I ever looked at, and I've seen a good many sad faces in my day.
No, he was nothing but a tramp, old and gray-headed, and nearly worn out with his tramping. How long he had been going the rounds I cannot say, but for nearly a dozen years, once each year, hi made his appearance in the city, tarried a month, perhaps, and then quietly disappeared, and we saw him no more for a twelvemonth. Inoffensive? Decidedly—as mild-mannered a man as ever asked grace at a poorhouse table.
Indeed, the children were his best patrons, for he had a most winning way with them, and he could scarcely be seen on the street without the accompaniment of a dozen, tagging at his heels and holding on to his hands and the skirts of his long coat. There's Dick there, six feet if he's an inch and gone twenty last month. Well, many and many a time have I seen the strapping fellow when he was a little chap sitting astride the old vagabond's neck, with his little feet crooked in under his armpits, laughing and screaming uproariously as his human horse underneath him pranced and curvetted along the pavement, and charged through the flock of childish admirers around him, as if they were a hostile soldiery and Dick was a very Henry of Navarre, whose white plume must always be found in the path to glory.
God bless the youngsters! Who of us with the burden of life's toil and care weighing us down, ever saw a frolicsome group of them, happy in their freedom from trouble and care, and did not wish he might slip his shoulders from under the load of his fifty years and be a boy again? What a pity it is that we must age and die in our wrinkles, leaving nothing better to gaze upon than a shrunken face, colorless of bloom and written all over with the scraggy record of our griefs, our errors, and our pains! Why cannot death charm back the boyish vigor and girlish grace to our faces, when, with the invisible and fatal gesture, he sweeps his hand swiftly across them?
The dog? Oh! certainly; but don't hurry me. I'm too old to tell a story in a straight line and at express speed. I will get to the dog all in good time, and, in order to feel as I do about the terrible thing that happened to him, you must know something about his master, for in an odd sort of way they supplemented each other. Indeed, they seemed to have entered into a kind of partnership to share each other's moods as they shared each other's fortune. And it was a strange, and, I may say, a very touching sight, to see two creatures, of different species, so intimately attached to each other; and often, as I have looked at the dog when he was gazing at his master, have I said to myself, "Surely, something or some one has blundered, and a human soul was put, by mistake, into that dog's body," for never—no, sir, I will not qualify it—never have I seen a greater love look from human into human eyes than I have seen gazing devotedly up into the old man's face from the eyes of that dog. How did he look? Queer enough, I assure you, for his cross, while an admirable one to yield wit and affection both, was the worst possible one for beauty, for his father was a full-blooded shepherd and his mother a Scotch terrier, without a taint in her blood.
How well I remember the dog and his peculiar looks! I remember him now as plainly as if he were lying on the rug there this very minute. He had the size of his father and the bristly coat of his mother. His ears were like a terrier's, and naturally pricked forward. His color was a dirty gray—a miserable color; his tail had been cropped and the remnant that remained—some four inches in length—stood stiffly up, with scarce a suggestion of a curve; he was homely, but not inferior looking, for his head was such an one as Landseer would have loved to have translated from time and death to the immortality of his canvas; what a matchless front, and room enough in the cranium to hold the brains of any two common dogs. But his eyes were the impressive and magnificent feature of his face—large, round and warmly hazel in color, and so liquid clear that, looking into them, you seemed to be gazing into transparent depths, not of water, but of intelligent being. What eyes they were! I remember what a young lady said once apropos to them. She was a belle herself, and nature spoke through her speech. She came into the office here one day when the dog was performing, for he was a great trick dog, and, after watching him a moment, she exclaimed, "Ah! if a woman only had those eyes, what might she not do!" More fun could look out of that dog's head than of any other I ever saw, whether of dog or man. And though you may not credit it, yet, as true as I sit here, I have seen those eyes weep as large and honest tears as ever fell in sorrow from human orbs. "Laugh, too?" You put that question incredulously, do you? Well, you needn't, for the dog could laugh. "With his tail?" No, any dog can do that, but he could laugh with his mouth. Why, sir, I have seen him sit bolt upright on his haunches there by that post, lean his back against it, and laugh so heartily that his mouth would open and shut like a man's when guffawing, and you could see every tooth in his head, and he did it intelligently, too, and laughed because he was tickled and couldn't help it.
Alas! poor dog, he came to a sad end at last, and died in so wretched a way that the recollection of his death puts a dark eclipse upon the unhappy memory of his life.
Comfort to his master? You may well say that; and no man ever loved his child more fondly than the old beggar loved his dog. And well he might, for he was his companion by day, his guard by night, and the means by which he eked out the sometime scant living that the fickle charity of the world flung to him. How often have I seen the old man take him in his arms and hug him to his breast, that had, I fancy, so many bitter memories in it; and how often have I seen the dog lap with gentle and caressing tongue the tears as they rolled down the furrowed cheeks, when the fountain of grief within was stirred by the angel of recollection. But it was from the sympathy of his faithful and loving companion, and not from the moving of the bitter waters, that his aching heart found consolation.
Tell you about the man? Why, certainly; but there isn't much to tell. You see, no one knew much of him, for he seldom if ever spoke of himself. I suppose I knew him better than anyone on his beat here, for I fell in love with his dog, and with himself, too, for that matter, for, in the first place, he was old, and whoever saw a white head and didn't love it, and whoever looked upon a wrinkled face and didn't wish to kiss it, if it was peaceful, and the old man's head was as white as snow is, and the peacefulness of a sleeping child hovered over the sadness of his face, albeit the shadow of a sorrowful past lay darkly resting upon it. But though I saw much of him as he swung around on his annual visit, and though he looked upon me as his friend—as, indeed, I was, and proved myself to be such more than once, thank God!—still he never offered to tell me his history, and I certainly never questioned him about it. For life is a secret thing, and each man holds the key to his own; and only once, if at all, may it be opened, and even then only the Father is gentle and forgiving enough to look upon the wheat and the chaff which we in our grief or joy keep closely locked from human eyes.
No, I knew little of him; but occasionally, sitting by the fire here when a storm was heavy outside, for the coming of storms was always the prelude of these moods in him, he would begin to mutter to himself, and to talk to his dog of days long gone; of men and women he had once hated or loved, or who loved or hated him—God knows which—and of deeds he had once done, but which were now deeply buried under the years.
Perhaps he did not know that he was talking. Perhaps his soul, busy with the past, forgot the motion of the lips and ceased to keep its watch over the movements of that member which, unless ceaselessly guarded, betrays us all so often. What did he mutter about? Well, the man is dead and gone, and what little there is to tell cannot pain him now. Death makes us indifferent to disclosure, and little do we care what the world says about us when we lie sleeping in the grave, I ween. Yes, the man is dead and gone this many a year; God rest his soul, and I heartily hope he has found riches and rest and his dog ere now, as I feel certain he has, and what little I know can do no harm, if told, to any.
Well, as I was saying, when storms were brewing in the air and the sea, the uneasiness of the elements themselves seemed to take possession of his soul and agitate it,—for his very body would rock to and fro and sway in the chair when the fit was on him, and he would talk to his dog, and to men and women, too, whom no one could see save himself, and if what he said might be taken as the words of a sane man, he certainly had been rich and powerful one day—and loved and hated, too, for that matter. For from his speech one could but learn that all that makes life worth the living was once his, and that he had lost it all—but whatever may have been his other losses, one there must have been in truth, for as to it his words were always the same: "Gone, gone," he would say, "gone—and the winds I hear coming blow over her grave—but winds cannot reach her, for she lies warm and well covered, deep down in her grave." And so he would sit muttering and swaying his body in the chair, as the winds blew stormily out of the east, and the boom of the waves rolled up from the bluff, as they pounded heavily against the rocks and the shore.
Why did I not make him settle down? Because he wouldn't. I tried time and again to persuade him to it, but he never would consent. Perhaps he was right in his impulse to roam, and loved the careless freedom of it, and the solitude it gave him. For if a man would hide himself from man he must keep on the move. If he stops he becomes known. But in travel he loses his identity, and passes from place to place unknown and unnoted.
But it seemed pitiful to me that one so old and feeble should have no home, and so I persuaded him to settle down for one winter, at least, and hired him a little house in a pleasant street and started him in his housekeeping experiment. But alas! evil came of it, and I never did a deed I more profoundly regretted, for it led to the calamity I am about to tell you of, and brought upon the poor man the greatest grief that might befall him, even the death of his dog, and in a most cruel and painful fashion at that. Ah, me! could we but see the end of things from their beginning, how little of our doing would be done at times; for the benevolent blundering of our lives is as often fruitful of harm as the evil we do in our malice and passion.
It all happened in this way, and I will tell you as it was told me, partly by the old man himself, and partly by those who had knowledge of the dreadful event at the time, for I was out of the city the morning the occurrence took place, or it never would have happened. I don't think anything of the kind ever before made so much talk, or excited so much indignation.
The legislature at its last session, not having wit or honesty enough to exercise itself over one of a dozen crying evils that were then vexing the people, got greatly excited over—dogs!
Some miserable curs—many affirmed they were wolves, and no dogs at all—in a remote corner of the state, had killed a few sheep, and the farmers of that region got up a great scare, and raised a hue and cry against the whole canine family. It is incredible how much noise was made over the killing of a few half-starved sheep that were browsing on those northern mountains! You would have thought, judging by the clamor, that the fundamental interests of the commonwealth were attacked, and that the stately structure of government itself was on the point of falling to the ground.
Well, when the legislature met the excitement was at its height and the gust of popular foolishness converged all its forces at the capitol. In due time a bill was reported, and an outrageous bill it was, too, for it not only put a heavy tax upon dogs in every section of the state, city as well as country, but provided that certain officers should be appointed to enforce the law, whose duty it should be to kill every dog not duly registered on a certain date. Even this was not all; for it stimulated the enforcement of the law by enlisting the cupidity of men and boys alike, especially of the lower and hardened classes, by providing that whoever killed an unregistered dog should be paid three dollars from the state treasury.
It was a bad law, in truth, for it was the outgrowth of senseless excitement, and an attempt to tax the affections. Property, of course, can be taxed, but we all know that a dog is not property, any more than is a boy's pet rabbit, or a child, for that matter. A dog is a member of his master's family. He has connection with his heart, not with his pocket. He is a creature to love and be loved by, and not to be bought and sold like a bit of land or a yoke of oxen, and any law aimed at the affections is an offence to the holiest impulses of the bosom, and as such should be resented.
Yes, the law was a bad one. I did what I could to defeat it in its passage, and I broke it all I could after its passage, and that was some satisfaction to my feelings, which were in fact outraged by it; for I saw not only the injustice of it, as viewed in the light of correct principle, but that it would bear heavily upon the poor, and bring sorrow like the sorrow of death itself into families. I saw, moreover, that it was a cruel law in its relation to children, whose pretty and harmless pets and playmates could be murdered before their very eyes. Many a sad case did I hear of, the winter after the law was passed, but the saddest of all was that of my old friend, who was living peacefully and happily with his dog in the little house I had hired for him.
He was sitting one evening in the comfortable quarters I had provided for him, playing with his companion and teaching him some new tricks to practise against my return, happy as he might be, when a loud rap was delivered upon his door, and at the same instant it was pushed rudely open, and a man walked into the room and, without pausing to give or receive a greeting, pointed to the dog, and said:
"Is that your property, sir?"
"I never think of him in that way," answered the old man, mildly. "He has been my companion—I may say my only companion—these many years, and I love him as property is not loved. No, sir, Trusty is not property—he is my companion and my friend."
"I didn't come here to listen to any of your crazy nonsense, but as an officer of the law, to see if you have registered your dog, and paid your tax as it commands, and, if you hadn't, to see that the penalty was put upon you as you deserve, you old begging loafer, you."
"I've broken no law that I know of," replied the beggar, "I love my dog, that is all. I hope it breaks no law for a man to love his dog in this city, does it, friend?"
"If you don't know what the law is, you'd better find out," answered the fellow, roughly. "What right have you to own a dog, anyway? It strikes me that it is about enough for you to sponge your own living out of the community, without sponging another for a miserable whelp of a dog like that."
"Trusty eats very little," replied the old man, respectfully, "and he amuses people a great deal, especially the children; and, besides, he is a great comfort to me, and God knows that I have nothing else to comfort me in all the world—wealth, home, friends, and one dearer than all,—all lost, and thou'rt all I have left, Trusty, to comfort me," and he looked affectionately at his companion, whose head was resting lovingly on his knee.
"Oh, I've heard the whining of your class before to-night," replied the fellow, "and am not to be taken in by any of your sniffling, so you needn't try that trick on me. Law is law, and I shall see it enforced, and on you, too, in spite of your shuffling, you miserable old sneak of a beggar, you."
"Friend," answered the old man with dignity, as he rose from the chair and looked the fellow calmly in the face, "better men than you or I have begged their daily bread before now, and eaten it, too, with an honest conscience and a grateful heart, and more than once when night has overtaken me, weary of journeying along inhospitable roads, and I have been compelled to make my bed on the leaves under some hedge, I've remembered that the Son of God when on the earth to teach us the sweet lesson of charity, 'had not where to lay his head.' The lesson he came to teach, you certainly have not learned, or you would never have made my poverty and my misfortunes the butt of your scoffings."
The old man spoke with dignity, but the coarseness of the fellow's nature and the hardening influence of the business he was engaged in prevented him from feeling either shame or sympathy, for he turned toward the door with an oath, saying: "You'll hear from me in the morning, old chap, but I'll tell you this to chew on over night; that if your tax money isn't ready when I come again, I'll teach you what it is to break the laws in this city, and insult the officers whose duty it is to see them enforced against just such white-headed old dead-beats as you!" and with another oath, he passed out of the door and shut it with a slam.
I don't know how the old man passed the night. But little sleep, I warrant, came to his old eyes, for he was as timid as a child, and easily frightened, and a threat against his own life would have disturbed him less than one against the life of his dog. But whether he slept or not, the hours of the night wheeled along their dark courses without stopping, and speedily brought the dreaded morning. I know not when he died, or where, but well I know that the memory of that dreadful morning and the woe that came to him on it haunted him to the close of his life, and embittered the last hours of it.
The morning came as all mornings, whether they bring joy or grief to us, do come. The threat the fellow had uttered against his dog the evening before had naturally disturbed him and the old man was nervous and excited, but he managed to cook his frugal breakfast and eat it with his companion. I can well imagine his thoughts and his worriment. "Law! what law?" I can hear him say. "I've broken no law. I've only loved and been loved by my dog. That's not wicked, surely. He said he'd come again, and if I didn't have the money ready. Money! what money? He knows I've no money. Tax! what tax? Do they tax a man's heart in this city? Can't a man love anything here unless he's rich? Kill my dog! I don't believe it. There isn't a man on the earth wicked enough to kill an old man's dog, an old man's harmless dog; no, he didn't, he couldn't mean that! he just said it to scare me. Yes, yes, I see now; he'd been drinking and he said it just to scare me." Thus, as I fancy, the poor old man sat muttering to himself, listening with dread to every passing step, listening and muttering to himself, while his old heart, quaked in his bosom, and his soul, which had so little to cheer it, as it journeyed along its lonely path, was sorely tried and disquieted within him.
The clock in a neighboring steeple was striking the ninth hour, and the old man paused in his muttering and sat counting the strokes as the iron tongue pealed them forth; counting them in his fear as if each stroke was a knell, and so indeed to him it was, and many of the chimes we listen carelessly to, would be knells to us, if we knew what would happen twixt them and their next chiming.
The vibration of the last stroke was swelling and sinking in the air, when a heavy step sounded on the stair, and without even the ceremony of knocking, the door was pushed suddenly open, and the fellow, who had intruded upon him the evening before, entered the room. In one hand he held a rope and in the other a club.
"Well, old chap," he said, "you see I am here as I told you I would be. I've given you a whole night to study up the law."
"Law! what law?" exclaimed the old man, interrupting him, "I don't know that I broken"—
"Come, come, old shuffler, none of your blarney, if you please," broke in the fellow; "you know well enough what law I mean. I mean the dog-law."
"Dog-law! dog-law!" answered the old man, "what law is that?"
"Oh, you don't pull the wool over my eyes," sneered the other; "you know what law I mean well enough, but, to jog your memory, I'll say that the law I mean makes the owner of a dog pay a tax of three dollars, and if the tax isn't paid"—
"Three dollars!" ejaculated the poor man. "Three dollars! when have I had so much money as that? Three dollars! you might as well have asked me to pay three thousand as three."
"Very well, very well," exclaimed the other; "the law covers just such cases as yours—covers them perfectly," and he laughed a coarse, cruel laugh. "Out with the money, or I take the dog."
"Take my dog!" screamed the old man, "take Trusty! What should you take him for? You can't want him."
"Oh, yes, I do, old fellow," retorted the other; "I want him very much indeed, I know just what to do with him, I'll see to that."
"Do with him?" cried the other, whose mind, perhaps because paralyzed by fear, perhaps because of the enormity of the deed, would not receive the horrible suggestion, "what would you do with Trusty?"
"Kill him, damn you!" shouted the other; "kill him as I have a hundred other curs this fall and pocket the money the law gives me for doing it. Do you understand that, you old dead-beat?"
For a moment the wretched man never spoke, his lips paled to the color of ashes, and shrivelled as if suddenly parched against the teeth, and he clutched the back of a chair for support. Twice he essayed to speak, his lips moved, but his tongue in its dryness clove to the roof of his mouth. At last he gasped forth in the hoarse whisper of mortal terror:
"Kill my dog! kill Trusty!"
It was a sorry sight, truly, and might well touch the hardest heart. But the officer of the law—God save the mark!—remained unmoved. What was one dog more or less to him? had he not already killed hundreds, as he said? The sportsman's favorite hunter, astray without his collar, the lady's pet, crying pitifully in the street, unable to find its mistress's door, the children's playmate, waiting in front of the school house for school to close, the poor man's help and comfort, his household's joy, guardian and friend, caught in the street on his return from his humble master, to whom he carried his homely dinner. What was one dog more or less to him, hardened by the murderous habit of his office and eager to earn his wretched fee,—what was one dog more or less to him?
"Come, come," he cried, as he uncoiled the rope he held in his hand, "out with the money or I take the dog."
"How much is it? how much is it?" cried the old man, fumbling in his pockets and bringing forth a few small pieces of silver and some pennies. "Here take it, take it, it's all I have—there's a ten-cent piece, isn't it? and there's two fives, and here, yes, God be praised, here's a quarter of a dollar; Trusty earned that yesterday. Let's see, twenty-five, that's the quarter, and ten is thirty-five, and two fives, that makes forty-five, and eight pennies, that makes fifty-three cents; won't that do? It's every cent I have, as God is my witness—it will do, won't it?" And the old man seized one of the hands of the fellow, and strove to put his little hoarding into it.
But the hard-hearted wretch drew his hand back with a jerk, and, seizing the dog by the neck, slipped the rope over his head and saying, "The law allows me four times that for killing him," opened the door and pulled the poor dog out after him into the street.
"God of heaven!" screamed the poor old man, as he rushed, bareheaded as he was, out of the door, and hurried in pursuit of the man, who was pulling the dog along and walking as fast as he could, while Trusty struggled and cried and did all he could to get rid of the rope. "Where is thy justice or thy mercy? Oh, sir; oh, sir;" he shouted, running after the man, "give me back my dog; oh, give him back to me, good people;" he cried, for his own cries and those of the dog, too, had already drawn a crowd to the scene, "good people, tell him not to kill my dog."
It was to the honor of the crowd that they hooted the officer roundly, and called on him and shouted, "Give the old man back his dog," and greater honor yet to them that some of the boys pelted him with snowballs and junks of ice as he hurried on, and one brawny chap, sitting on the seat of his cart, struck him a stinging blow with his black whip as he scuttled past, with, "Damn you, take that, for killing my dog." The officer shook his club at the honest fellow and said, "I'll pay you for that, see if I don't," but he dared not stop to make the arrest, for the crowd was thickening and the air getting fuller of missiles, and every door and window was hooting him as he passed them, with the poor dog crying and moaning pitifully at his heels. Even the women, God bless them (for the feeling against the law ran high in the city), opened the doors and lifted the windows of their houses, the ladies crying, "Shame on you, shame on you!" and the cooks and chamber maids from the nadir and zenith of their household worlds, with homelier and more piquant phrase and saucier tongues, scoffed him for the miserable work he was doing; but in spite of the popular uprising, now almost swelled to the dimensions of a mob, and the verbal uproar, through the hoarse murmur of which the boy's gibe, the woman's taunt and the strong man's curse, came and smote upon him in volleys, still he clutched the rope and rushed along, threatening the crowd that was closing in ahead of him with his club, and so making headway on his dreadful errand, while the poor old man, unable to keep up with him, was filling the air with his cries, and, without knowing what he was saying, perhaps, kept calling on the people, saying, "Oh, good people, good people, don't let him kill my dog."
Indeed, his grief was piteous to see, for he was half distraught with fear, and like as a mother whose child had been snatched from her and was being hurried to death, so he, with tears, sobs and screams, kept entreating one moment the crowd and the next beseeching heaven, saying, "Don't let him kill my dog," and being an old man and white-headed, and as his countenance and gestures were eloquent with the eloquence of true grief, the people were filled with pity for him and their hearts melted with sympathy at the piteous spectacle they beheld.
Then up spake the honest carter, saying, "Friends, let's give the old man a lift, for it's a shame that one so old should lose his dog. How much is it you lack of the tax?" he asked of the poor old gentleman as he came panting up. But he was so confused and tremulous with terror that he could not answer, and so being unable to do more he stretched his old shaken hands in which the money was still, tightly clutched, up to him, but the old hands shook so that the carter could not count it, until he had taken it into his own steady palm.
"Here's fifty cents and a few odd pennies," he shouted, "and the law demands three dollars; two dollars and a half is wanted; who'll help make up the three dollars and save the old man's dog? Here's fifty cents," he added as he took a silver half-dollar from his pocket and dropped it into the hat, "it's half I earnt yesterday, and more than I'll earn to-day, perhaps, for times be dull, but the old man shall have it, if Mary and I go without sugar and tea for a week."
'Twas a good speech and bravely said, and the crowd responded to it as bravely, for it fairly rained dimes and quarters and pennies, not only into the carter's hat until it sagged, but into his cart, too, until the bottom of it was speckled all over with copper and silver coin, and the honest fellow held up his hands for the crowd to give no more, crying:
"Hold, hold! Here's enough, and more than enough."
But he could scarcely make himself heard, because of the cheering and the laughing and the rattling of the pieces as the crowd continued to rain them all the faster into his cart. Ah, me, what is that sweet something in human hearts, which, in its response to human want, translates us like a flash from low to highest mood; aye, which breaketh through all barriers of selfish habit, and even the adamantine of foreign tongues and poureth out its rich largess in a common tide to meet a brother's need, where'er that brother is or whatever he may be?
But the old man did not wait to gather up the offerings of the generous and sympathetic crowd, but snatching a handful of silver from the carter's hat pushed his way out of the jam, and, holding the hand in which he clutched the silver high above his head, hurried on after the officer, crying at the top of his voice: "Here's the money, here's the money; oh, good people," for the street was nearly blocked with those that swarmed thickly in the wake of the officer and he could make but slow progress through it, "tell him I have the money and am coming; don't let him go any farther; I shall never catch him; stop him, stop him, for the love of heaven, stop him; here's the money." And thus crying aloud and calling, with his thin, tremulous voice, upon the officer to stop, he ran frantically along the street, as fast as he could, in pursuit.
But it is certain that the old man would not have caught up with the officer had the latter been uninterrupted in his progress, for the street was filled with people and he could not push his way with much speed because of his feebleness, but fortune, or perhaps I should say misfortune, favored him, so that he shortly overtook the object of his pursuit and came up with the officer and the dog. But, alas! his old heart got little gain thereby, but a grievous loss, rather, for when he came to the spot both lay stretched senseless on the ground, the man knocked flat to the earth by the fist of an indignant citizen, and the dog lying with his skull broken in by a brutal blow from the fellow's club.
When the old man came to the spot where the dog and the officer lay, he stopped, and when he saw what had happened, the money he had brought with which to deliver his dog, fell rattling, unheeded to the ground, and then he raised his palms toward heaven, as if entreating the vengeance or the benignity of the skies, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he lifted up his voice and wept, saying: "Oh, God, he's killed my dog!" And then he sank down all in a heap, as if he would die beside his dying dog, for the dog was not yet dead, but dying.
This his master soon perceived, and heedless of the multitude who thronged the street from side to side, he lifted the dying dog into his lap and laid his poor crushed head against his breast and mourned over him as a mother, deserted by husband and friends, might mourn for an only babe when, alone in a foreign land, it lay on her bosom dying; and the multitude, who, by this, had knowledge of the dreadful deed, stood in silence while he mourned.
"Trusty, Trusty," he said, "do you know me, Trusty?" and his tears fell fast into the dog's bristly coat. The poor creature, now far gone in that unconsciousness which deafens the ear to the voice of love itself, still faintly heard the familiar tones, for he lifted his eyes to his master's face and nestled closer into his bosom. It was a touching sight, in truth, and those who stood close enough to see the moving spectacle, wiped their own eyes, divinely moist with the mist of sympathy.
It was evident to all, and to the old man himself, that above and around and closing in upon them was the mystery which men call death—a mystery as inscrutable as it hovers over the kennel and stable as when it enters the habitations of men—and that in a few moments the life still within the body of the poor animal, with all its powers of doing, of thinking, and of loving, would depart the structure in which it had found so pleasant an abode and so facile a medium of expression.
For a few moments nothing more was said; the old man continued to sob and the life of his companion continued to ebb away. The brutal blow that caused his death had mercifully numbed the power of feeling, so that whatever the gloomy journey he was about to take might mean to him, whether the same life he was leaving, or a larger, or none at all, he would move on through the darkness toward the one or the other at least without pain.
"You and I have fared in company for many a year," said the old man at last, "and bread, whether scant or plenty, and bed, whether hard or soft, we have shared together. Thou hast made the days brighter, and the nights shorter, by thy presence as I suffered through them, and dark will the one be, and long the other, when I see thee no more; would to God I could die with thee, my dog, my dog!"
Did the dog indeed understand what he said or did he merely sense the sorrow in the tones and seek once more, as he had done so many times before, to comfort his disconsolate master? I know not; I only know that the poor animal, with dying strength, lifted his muzzle to his master's face, and twice he lapped it with his tongue. Aye, lapped the salt tears tenderly from his master's wrinkled and pallid cheeks with his tongue; only this, for no more could he do. "My dog," cried the old man once more, amid his tears. "My dog, the God who made thee so loving and worthy to be loved, and filled thee with such sweet feeling and the wish to comfort human woe, will not surely let thee perish. In his great universe there is, there must be, room for thee. I will not mourn thee as wholly lost. I cannot do it. For amid the false thou hast been true, and surely falsehood shall hot live on and sweet truth die. Tell me, my dog, give me some sign that we shall meet in the great hereafter?"
But in response to this appeal the dog gave no motion, for, indeed, his strength, like a tide ebbing in the night, was gliding silently and swiftly outward in the gloom, gliding outward and beyond all questioning and answering, but he opened wide his glorious eyes and fixed them steadily on his master's face with such a great love in their depths that mortal might not doubt that in that love was hope and its sustaining evidence; and then the fatal dimness crept along their edges, the pure, sweet light faded away in their clear depths, and the impenetrable shadow settled forever over the lustrous orbs. The lids at last gradually closed as in sleep, and the beggar's dog, with his head on his master's neck and his body resting on his bosom, lay dead.
It was evening—dark, cool and starry. The earth and water lay hidden in the dusky gloom. Above, the stars were at their brightest. They gleamed and glowed, flashed and scintillated, like jewels fresh from the case. Their fires were many-colored—orange, yellow, and red; and here and there a great diamond, fastened into the zone of night, sent out its intense, colorless brilliancy. Through all the air silence reigned. The winds had died away, and the waters had settled to repose. No gurgle along the shore: no splash against the great logs that made the wharf; no bird of night calling to its mate. Outside all was still. Nature had drawn the curtains around her couch, and, screened from sight, lay in profound repose.
Within, all was light, and bustle, and gayety. From every window lights streamed and flashed. The large parlors were alive with moving forms. The piano, whose white keys were swept by whiter hands, tinkled and rang in liveliest measure. The dance was at its height; and the very floor seemed vibrant with the pressure of lively feet. The dancers advanced, retired, wheeled and swayed in easy circles, swept up and down, and across the floor in graceful lines.
Amid the happy scene the Old Trapper stood, his stalwart frame erect as in his prime; while his great, strong face fairly beamed in benediction upon the dancers. For his nature had within its depths that fine capacity which enabled it to receive the brightness of surrounding happiness and reflect it again.
It was a study to watch his face and mark the passage of changeful moods; surprise, delight, and broad, warm-hearted humor, as they came to and played across the responsive features. The man of the woods, of the lonely shore, and of silence, seemed perfectly at home amid the noise and commotion of human merry-making.
At last the music died away. The dancers checked their feet. The lady who had been playing the piano rose wearily from the instrument and joined a group of friends. The music was not adequate. The notes were too sharp; too isolate; they did not flow together. There was no sweep and swing, nor suavity of connected progress in the strains. The instrument could not lift the dancers up and swing them onward through the mazy motions.
"I tell ye, Henry," said the Old Trapper, as he turned to Herbert who was standing by his side, "the pianner isn't the thing to dance by, for sartin. It tinkles and chippers too much; it rattles and clicks. It don't git hold of the feelin's, Henry;—it don't start the blood in yer veins, nor set yer skin tinglin', nor make the feet dance agin yer will. It's good enough in its way, no doubt; but it sartinly isn't the thing to lift the young folks up and swing 'em round. The fiddle is the thing;—yis, the fiddle is sartinly the thing. I would give a good deal if we had a fiddle here to-night, for I see the boys and girls miss it. Lord-a-massy! how it would set 'em a-goin' if we only had a fiddle here."
"John Norton," said the Lad, who was sitting on a chair hidden away behind the Trapper, "John Norton," and the Lad took hold of the sleeve of his jacket and pulled the Trapper's head down towards him, "would you like to hear a violin to-night?"
"Like to hear a fiddle? Lord bless ye, Lad, I guess I would like to hear a fiddle. I never seed a time I wouldn't give the best beaver hide in the lodge to hear the squeak of the bow on the strings. What's the matter with ye, Lad?" and he drew the old man's head still closer to him, until his ear was within a few inches of his mouth. "I love to play the violin better than I love any thing in the world, and I've got one of the best ones you ever heard, out there in the bow of the boat."
"Heavens and 'arth, Lad!" ejaculated the Trapper, "Did ye say ye could play the fiddle, and that ye had a good one out there in the boat? Lord-a-massy! how the young folks will hop. Scoot out there and git it, boy, and Henry and me will let the folks know what ye've got and what ye can do."
The Lad fairly flashed out of the room. He was gone in an instant; and in a few minutes he had returned, bearing in his hands a bundle which he carried as carefully as a mother would carry her babe; but brief as had been his absence it had allowed sufficient time for Herbert to communicate with the master of ceremonies and for him to announce to the company present that the great lack of the occasion had fortunately and unexpectedly been supplied; for the young man who was with Mr. Herbert and John Norton not only knew how to play the violin, but actually had one in his boat, and had gone to get it, and would be back in a moment. The announcement was received with applause. White hands clapped, and a hundred ejaculations of wonderment sounded forth the surprise and pleasure of the eager throng. And when the Lad came stealing in, bearing his precious burden, he was received with a positive ovation.
It was amusing to see the change which had come over the looks and actions of the company at the mention and appearance of the violin. The faces that had shown indifference and the look of languid weariness freshened and became tense in all their lines; and on their heads again animation sat crowned. Those who were seated jumped to their feet. The conversationalists broke their circle and swung suddenly into line. Eyes sparkled. Little happy screams and miniature war-whoops from the boisterous youngsters rang through the parlor. In eye, and look, and voice, the popular tribute spoke in honor of the popular instrument,—an instrument whose strings can sound almost every passion forth: The quip and quirk of merriment, the mourner's wail, the measured praise of solemn psalms, the lively beat of joy, the subtle charm of indolent moods, and the sweet ecstacy of youthful pleasure, when with flying feet and in the abandon of delight she swings, circles, and floats through the measures of the voluptuous waltz.
In one corner of the parlor there was a platform, from which charades and private theatricals had been acted on some previous evening, and to this the Lad was escorted; and strange to say his awkwardness had departed from him. His form was straight. His head was lifted. His shambling gait steadied itself with firmest confidence. His long arms sought no longer feebly to hide themselves, but held the package that he carried in fond authority of gesture, as a proud mother, whose pride had banished bashfulness, might carry a beautiful child. So the Lad went toward the dais, and, seating himself in the chair, proceeded with deliberate tenderness to uncover the instrument.
An old, dark-looking one it was. The gloom of centuries darkened it. Their dusk had penetrated the very fibre of the wood. Its look suggested ancient times; far climes; and hands long mouldering in dust. It was an instrument to quicken curiosity and elicit mental interrogation. What was its story? Where was it made? By whom, and when? The Lad did not know. It was his mother's gift, he said. And an old sea-captain had given it to his mother. The old sea-captain had found it on a wreck in the far-off Indian Ocean. He found it in a trunk—a great sea chest made of scented wood and banded with brazen ribs. And in the chest, with it, it was rumored the old mariner had found silks, and costly fabrics, and gold, and eastern gems,—gems that never had been cut, but lay in all their barbaric beauty, dull and swarth as Cleopatra's face. Thus the violin had been found on the far seas—at the end of the world, as it were, and in companionship of gems and fabrics rich and rare; and in a chest whose mouth breathed odors. This was all the Lad knew.
"Henry," said the old Trapper, "the Lad says the fiddle is so old that no one knows how old it is; and I conceit the boy speaks the truth. It sartinly looks as old as a squaw whose teeth has dropped out and whose face is the color of tanned buckskin. I tell ye, Henry, I believe it will bust if the Lad draws the bow with any 'arnestness across it, for there never was a glue made that would hold wood together for a thousand year. And if that fiddle isn't a thousand year old, then John Norton is no jedge of appearances, and can't count the prongs on the horns of a buck."
At this instant the Lad dropped the bow upon the strings. Strong and round, mellow and sweet, the note swelled forth. Starting with the least filament of sound, it wove itself into a compact chord of sonorous resonance; filled the great parlors; passed through the doorway into the receptive stillness outside; charged it with throbbings—thus held the air a moment; reigned in it—then, calling its powers back to itself, drew in its vibrating tones; checked its undulating force; and leaving the air by easy retirement, came back like a bird to its nest and died away within the recesses of the dark, melodious shell from whence it started.
When the bow first began its course across the strings the old Trapper's eyes were on it; and as the note grew and swelled he seemed to grow with it. His great fingers shut into their palms as if an unseen power was pulling at the chords. His breast heaved. His mouth actually opened. It was as if the rising, swelling, pulsating sounds actually lifted him from off the floor on which he stood, and when the magnificent note ebbed and finally died away within the violin, not only he, but all the company stood breathless: charmed, surprised, astonished into silence at the wondrous note they had heard.
The old Trapper was the first to move. He brought his brawny hand down heavily upon Herbert's shoulder, and, with a face actually on fire with the fervor stirred within him, exclaimed:
"Lord-a-massy! Henry, did ye ever hear a noise like that? I say, boy, did ye ever hear a noise like that? Where on arth did it all come from? Why, boy, 'twas as long and as solemn as a funeral, as arnest as the cry of a panther, and roared like a nest of hornets when ye poke 'em with a stick. If that's a fiddle, I wonder what the other things be that I have heerd the half-breeds and the Frenchers play in the clearin's."