OLD CARAVAN DAYS
MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD
I. THE START
II. THE LITTLE OLD MAN WITH A BAG ON HIS BACK
III. THE TAVERN
IV. THE SUSAN HOUSE
V. THE SUSAN HOUSE CELLAR
VI. MR. MATTHEWS
VII. ZENE'S MAN AND WOMAN
VIII. LITTLE ANT RED AND BIG ANT BLACK
IX. THE GREAT CAMP MEETING
X. THE CRY OF A CHILD IN THE NIGHT
XI. THE DARKENED WAGON
XII. JONATHAN AND THRUSTY ELLEN
XIII. FAIRY CARRIE AND THE PIG-HEADED MAN
XV. THE SPROUTING
XVI. THE MINSTREL
XVII. THE HOUSE WITH LOG STEPS
XVIII. "COME TO MAMMA!"
XIX. FAIRY CARRIE DEPARTS
XX. SUNDAY ON THE ROAD
XXI. HER MOTHER ARRIVES
XXII. A COUNTRY SUNDAY-SCHOOL
XXIV. THE TOLL-WOMAN
XXV. THE ROBBERS
XXVI. THE FAIR AND THE FIERCE BANDIT
XXVII. A NIGHT PICTURE OF HOME
OLD CARAVAN DAYS.
In the year eighteen hundred and fifty-seven, on the fifth day of June, the Padgett carriage-horses faced the west, and their mistress gathered the lines into her mitted hands.
The moving-wagon was ready in front of the carriage. It was to be driven by Zene, the lame hired man. Zene was taking a last drink from that well at the edge of the garden, which lay so deep that your face looked like a star in it. Robert Day Padgett, Mrs. Padgett's grandson, who sat on the back seat of the carriage, decided that he must have one more drink, and his aunt Corinne who sat beside him, was made thirsty by his decision. So the two children let down the carriage steps and ran to the well.
It was like Sunday all over the farm, only the cattle were not straying over the fields. The house was shut up, its new inhabitants not having arrived. Some neighbor women had come to bid the family good-bye again, though it was so early that the garden lay in heavy dew. These good friends stood around the carriage; one of them held the front-door key in trust for the new purchaser. They all called the straight old lady who held the lines grandma Padgett. She was grandma Padgett to the entire neighborhood, and they shook their heads sorrowfully in remembering that her blue spectacles, her ancient Leghorn bonnet, her Quaker shoulder cape and decided face might be vanishing from them forever.
"You'll come back to Ohio," said one neighbor. "The wild Western prairie country won't suit you at all."
"I'm not denying," returned grandma Padgett, "that I could end my days in peace on the farm here; but son Tip can do very little here, and he can do well out there. I've lost my entire family except son Tip and the baby of all, you know. And it's not my wish to be separated from son Tip in my declining years."
The neighbors murmured that they knew, and one of them inquired as she had often inquired before, at what precise point grandma Padgett's son was to meet the party; and she replied as if giving new information, that it was at the Illinois State line.
"You'll have pretty weather," said another woman, squinting-in the early sun.
"Grandma Padgett won't care for weather," observed the neighbor with the key. "She moved out from Virginia in the dead o' winter."
"Yes; I was but a child," said grandma Padgett, "and this country one unbroken wilderness. We came down the Ohio River by flatboat, and moved into this section when the snow was so deep you could ride across stake-and-rider fences on the drifts."
"Folks can get around easier now, though," said the squinting neighbor, "since they got to going on these railroads."
"I shipped part of my goods on the railroad," remarked grandma Padgett with—a laugh. "But I don't know; I ain't used to the things, and I don't know whether I'd resk my bones for a long distance or not. Son Tip went out on the cars."
"The railroads charge so high," murmured a woman near the back wheels. "But they do say you can ride as far West as you're a goin' on the cars."
"How long will you be gettin' through?" inquired another.
"Not more than two or three weeks," replied grandma Padgett resolutely. "It's a little better than three hundred and fifty miles, I believe."
"That's a long distance," sighed the neighbor at the wheels.
But aunt Corinne and her nephew, untroubled by the length of pilgrimage before them, ran from the well into the garden.
"I wish the kerns were ripe," said aunt Corinne. "Look out, Bobaday! You're drabblin' the bottoms of your good pants."
"'Twouldn't do any good if the kerns were ripe," said Bobaday, turning his pepper-and-salt trousers up until the linings showed. "This farm ain't ours now, and we couldn't pull them."
Aunt Corinne paused at the fennel bed: then she impulsively stretched forth her hand and gathered it full.
"I set out these things," said aunt Corinne, "and I ain't countin' them sold till the wagon starts." So she gathered sweetbrier, and a leaf of sage and two or three pinks.
"O Bobaday," said aunt Corinne—this name being a childish corruption of Robert Day: for aunt Corinne two years younger than her nephew, and had talked baby talk when he prided himself on distinct English—"you s'pose brother Tip's got a garden like this at the new place? Oh, the pretty little primroses! Who'll watch them pop open to-night? How you and me have sat on the primrose bed and watched the t-e-e-nty buds swell and swell till finally—pop! they smack their lips and burst wide open!"
"We'll have a primrose bed out West," said Bobaday. "We'll plant sweet anise too, and have caraway seeds to put in the cakes. Aunt Krin, did you know grandma's goin' to have green kern pie when we stop for dinner to-day?"
"I knew there was kern pie made," said aunt Krin. "I guess we better get into the carriage."
She held her short dress away from the bushes, and scampered with Bobaday into the yard. Here they could not help stopping on the warped floor of the porch to look into the empty house. It looked lonesome already. A mouse had ventured out of the closet by the tall sitting-room mantel; and a faint outline of the clock's shape remained on the wall.
The house with its trees was soon fading into the past. The neighbors were going home by the road or across fields. Zene's wagon, drawn by the old white and gray, moved ahead at a good pace. It was covered with white canvas drawn tight over hoops which were held by iron clamps to the wagon-sides. At the front opening sat Zene, resting his feet on the tongue. The rear opening was puckered to a round O by a drawing string. Swinging to and fro from the hind axle, hung the tar-bucket. A feed box was fitted across the hind end of the wagon. Such stores as might be piled to the very canvas roof, were concealed from sight by a black oilcloth apron hanging behind Zene. This sheet of oilcloth was designed for an additional roof to keep the goods dry when it rained.
Under the wagon, keeping well away from the tar-bucket, trotted Boswell and Johnson. Bobaday named them; he had read something of English literature in his grandfather's old books. Johnson was a fat black and white dog, who was obliged to keep his tongue out of his mouth to pant during the greater part of his days. He had fits of meditation, when Boswell galloped all over him without provoking a snap. Johnson was, indeed, a most amiable fellow, and had gained a reputation as a good watch dog, because on light nights he barked the shining hours away.
Boswell was a little short-legged dog, built like a clumsy weasel; for his body was so long it seemed to plead for six legs instead of four, to support it, and no one could blame his back for swaying a little in the middle. Boswell was a brindled dog. He had yellow spots like pumpkin seeds over his eyes. His affection for Johnson was extreme. He looked up to Johnson. If he startled a bird at the roadside, or scratched at the roots of a tree after his imagination, he came back to Johnson for approval, wagging his tail until it made his whole body undulate. Johnson sometimes condescended to rub a nose against his silly head, and this threw him into such fire of delight that he was obliged to get out of the wagon-track, and bark around himself in a circle until the carriage left him behind. Then he came up to Johnson again, and panted along beside him, with a smile as open and constant as sunshine.
No such caravan as the Padgett family has been seen moving West since those days when all the States were in a ferment: when New York and the New England States poured into Ohio, and Pennsylvania and Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee into Indiana, Illinois, and even—as a desperate venture, Missouri. The Old National Turnpike was then a lively thoroughfare. Sometimes a dozen white-covered wagons stretched along in company. All classes of society were represented among the movers. There were squalid lots to—be avoided as thieves: and there were carriages full of families who would raise Senators, Presidents, and large financiers in their new home. The forefathers of many a man and woman, now abroad studying older civilization in Europe, came West as movers by the wagon route.
Aunt Corinne and her nephew were glad when Zene drove upon the 'pike, and the carriage followed. The 'pike had a solid rumbling base to offer wheels. You were comparatively in town while driving there, for every little while you met somebody, and that body always appeared to feel more important for driving on the 'pike. It was a glittering white highway the ruts worn by wheels were literally worn in stone. Yet never were roadsides as green as the sloping 'pike sides. No trees encroached very close upon it, and it stretched in endless glare. But how smoothly you bowled along! People living aside in fields, could hear your progress; the bass roar of the 'pike was as distinct, though of course not as loud, as the rumble of a train.
Going through Reynoldsburg however, was the great triumphal act of leave-taking. The Padgetts went to church in Reynoldsburg. To-day it is a decayed village, with many of its houses leaning wearily to one side, or forward as if sinking to a nap. But then it was a lively coach town, the first station out from the capital of the State.
The Reynoldsburgers looked forth indifferently. They saw movers every hour of the day. But with recognition growing in their faces, many of them hastened to this particular carriage for parting words with grandma Padgett and the children. Robert Day set up against the high back, accepting his tribute of envious glances from the boys he knew. He was going off to meet adventures. They—had to stay at home and saw wood, and some of them would even be obliged to split it when they had a tin box full of bait and their fish-poles all ready for the afternoon's useful employment. There had been a time when Robert thought he would not like to be called "movers." Some movers fell entirely below his ideas. But now he saw how much finer it was to be travelling in a carriage than on the swift-shooting cars. He felt sorry for the Reynoldsburg boys. One of them hinted that he might be expected out West himself some day, and told Robert to watch down the road for him. He appeared to think the West was a large prairie full of benches, where folks sat down and told their adventures in coming.
Bobaday considered his position in the carriage the only drawback to the Reynoldsburg parade. He ought to be driving. In the course of the journey he hoped grandma Padgett would give up the lines—which she had never yet done.
They drove out of Reynoldsburg. The tin-covered steeple on the church dazzled their eyes for perhaps the last time.
Then coming around a curve in the 'pike appeared that soul-stirring sight, the morning stage from Columbus. Zene and grandma Padgett drew off to the side of the road and gave it a wide passage, for the stage had the same right of way that any regular train now has on its own track. It was drawn by six of the proudest horses in the world, and the grand-looking driver who guided them, gripped the complication of lines in his left hand while he held a horn to his mouth with the right, and through this he blew a mellow peal to let the Reynoldsburgers know the stage was coming. The stage, billowing on springs, was paneled with glittering pictures, gilded on every part, and evidently lined with velvet. Travellers inside looked through the open windows with what aunt Corinne considered an air of opulent pride. She had always longed to explore the interior of a stage, and envied any child who had been shut in by the mysterious click and turn of the door-handle. The top was crowded with gentlemen looking only less important than the luxurious passengers inside: and behind on a vast rack was such a mountain of-baggage swaying with the stage, but corded firmly to place, and topped with bandboxes, that aunt Corinne believed their moving wagon would not have contained it all. Yet the stage swept past like a flash. All its details had to be gathered by a quick eye. The leaders flew over the smooth thoroughfare, holding up their heads like horse princes; and Bobaday knew what a bustle Reynoldsburg would be in during the few minutes that the stage halted.
After viewing this sumptuous pageant the little caravan moved briskly on toward Columbus. Zene kept some distance ahead, yet always in sight. And in due time the city began to grow around them. The 'pike never lost its individuality among the streets of the capital. They saw the great penitentiary surrounded by stone walls as thick as the length of a short boy. They saw trains of cars trailing in and out; manufactories, and vistas of fine streets full of stores. They even saw the capitol building standing high up on its shaded grounds, many steps and massive pillars giving entrance to the structure which grandma Padgett said was one of the finest in the United States. It was not very long before they reached the western side of the city and were crossing the Scioto River in a long bridge and entering what was then a shabby suburb called Frankfort. At this point aunt Corinne and her nephew entered unbroken ground.
THE LITTLE-OLD MAN WITH A BAG ON HIS BACK.
Grandma Padgett had prepared the noon lunch that very day, but scarcely expected to make use of it. On the western borders of Columbus lived a cousin Padgett in such a country place as had long been the talk of the entire family connection. Cousin Padgett was a mighty man in the city, and his wife and daughters had unheard-of advantages. He had kept up a formal but very pleasant intercourse with grandma's branch; and when he learned at the State Fair, the year previous, her son Tip's design to cast their future lots in the West, he said he should take it very ill if they did not spend the first night of their journey with him. Grandma Padgett decided that relationship must claim her for at least one meal.
Bobaday and Corinne saw Zene pause at the arched gates of this modern castle, according to his morning's instructions. Corinne's. heart thumped apprehensively. It was a formidable thing to be going to cousin Padgett's. He lived in such overwhelming grandeur. She knew, although she had never seen his grounds, that he kept two gardeners on purpose to take care of them. His parlors were covered with carpets in which immense bouquets of flowers were wrought, and he had furniture not only of horsehair, but of flowered red velvet also. I suppose in these days cousin Padgett's house would be considered the extreme of expensive ugliness, and a violation of all laws of beauty. But it was the best money could buy then, and that was considered enough. Robert was not affected by the fluttering care of his young aunt. He wanted to see this seat of grandeur. And when Zene walked back down the avenue from making inquiries, and announced that the entire family were away from home, Bobaday felt a shock of disappointment.
Cousin Padgett did not know the exact date of the removal, and people wrote few letters in those days. So he could not be blamed for his absence when they came by. Zene limped up to his seat in front of the wagon, and they moved forward along the 'pike.
"Good!" breathed aunt Corinne, settling back.
"'Tisn't good a bit!" said Bobaday.
And whom should they meet in a few miles but cousin Padgett himself, riding horseback and leading a cream-colored horse which he had been into the country to purchase. This was almost as trying as taking dinner at his house. He insisted that the party should turn back. His wife and daughters had only driven into the city that morning. Cousin Padgett was a charming, hearty man, with a ring of black whiskers extending under his face from ear to ear, and the more he talked the less Corinne feared him. When he found that his kinspeople could not be prevailed upon to return with him, he tied up his horses to the wagon in the wood-shed where Zene unhitched, and took dinner with grandma Padgett.
Aunt Corinne sat on a log beside him and ate currant pie. He went himself to the nearest house and brought water. And when a start was made, he told the children he still expected a visit from them, and put as a parting gift a gold dollar as delicate as an old three-cent piece, into the hand of each.
Bobaday felt his loss when the cream-colored horse could no longer be discerned in the growing distance. Grandma Padgett smiled pleasantly ahead through her blue glasses: she had received the parting good wishes of a kinsman; family ties had very strong significance when this country was newer. Aunt Corinne gazed on the warm gold dollar in her palm, and wagged her head affectionately over it for cousin Padgett's sake.
The afternoon sun sagged so low it stared into grandma's blue. spectacles and made even Corinne shelter her eyes. Zene drove far ahead with his load to secure lodgings for the night. Having left behind the last acquaintance and entered upon the realities of the journey, grandma considered it time to take off her Leghorn bonnet and replace it with the brown barege one drawn over wire. So Bobaday drew out a bandbox from under the back seat and helped grandma make the change. The seat-curtain dropped over the Leghorn in its bandbox; and this reminded him that there were other things beside millinery stowed away in the carriage. Playthings could be felt by an appreciative hand thrust under the seat; and a pocket in the side curtain was also stuffed.
"I think I'll put my gold money in the bottom of that pocket," said aunt Corinne, "just where I can find it easy every day."
She drew out all the package and dropped it in, and, having stuffed the pocket again, at once emptied it to see that her piece had not slipped through some ambushed hole. Aunt Corinne was considered a flighty damsel by all her immediate relatives and acquaintances. She had a piquant little face containing investigating hazel eyes. Her brown hair was cut square off and held back from her brow by a round comb. Her skin was of the most delicate pink color, flushing to rosy bloom in her cheeks. She was a long, rather than a tall girl, with slim fingers and slim feet, and any excitement tingled over her visibly, so that aunt Corinne was frequently all of a quiver about the most trivial circumstances. She had a deep dimple in her chin and another at the right side of her mouth, and her nose tipped just enough to give all the lines of her face a laughing look.
But this laughing look ran ludicrously into consternation when, twisting away from the prospect ahead, she happened to look suddenly backward under the looped-up curtain, and saw a head dodging down. Somebody was hanging to the rear of the carriage.
Aunt Corinne kneeled on the cushion and stretched her neck and eyes out over a queer little old man, who seemed to carry a bunch of some kind on his back. He had been running noiselessly behind the carriage, occasionally hanging by his arms, and he was taking one of these swings when his dodging eyes met hers, and he let go, rolling in the 'pike dust.
"You better let go!" scolded aunt Corinne. "Bob'day, there's a beggar been hangin' on! Ma Padgett, a little old man with a bag on his back was goin' to climb into this carriage!"
"Tisn't a bag," said Bobaday laughing, for the little old man looked funny brushing the dust off his ragged knees.
"'Tis a bag," said aunt Corinne, "and he ought to hurt himself for scarin' us."
"There's no danger of his doing us harm," said grandma Padgett mildly, after she had leaned out at the side and brought her blue glasses to bear upon the lessening figure of the little old man.
Yet Corinne watched him when he sat down on a bank to rest; she watched him grow a mere bunch and battered hat, and then fade to a speck.
The 'pike was the home of such creatures as he appeared to be. The advance guard of what afterwards became an army of tramps, was then just beginning to move. But they were few, and, whether they asked help or not, were always known by the disreputable name of "beggars." A beggar-man or beggar-woman represented to the minds of aunt Corinne and her nephew such possible enemies as chained lions or tigers. If an "old beggar" got a chance at you there was no telling in what part of the world he would make merchandise of you! They always suspected the beggar boys and girls were kidnapped children. While it was desirable to avoid these people, it was even more desirable that a little girl should not offend them.
Aunt Corinne revolved in her mind the remark she had made to the little old man with a bag on his back. She could take no more pleasure in the views along the 'pike; for she almost expected to see him start out of a culvert to give her cold shivers with his revengeful grimaces. The culverts were solid arches of masonry which carried the 'pike unbroken in even a line across the many runs and brooks. The tunnel of the culvert was regarded by most children as the befitting lair of beggars, who perhaps would not object to standing knee-deep in water with their heads against a slimy arch.
"This is the very last culvert," sighed Corinne, relieved, as they rumbled across one and entered the village where they were to stop over night.
It was already dusk. The town dogs were beginning to bark, and the candles to twinkle. Zene's wagon was unhitched in front of the tavern, and this signified that the carriage-load might confidently expect entertainment. The tavern was a sprawled-out house, with an arch of glass panes over the entrance door. A fat post stood in front of it, upholding a swinging sign.
The tavern-keeper came out of the door to meet them when they stopped, and helped his guests alight, while a hostler stood ready to lead the horses away.
Aunt Corinne sprung down the steps, glad of the change after the day's ride, until, glancing down the 'pike over their late route, she saw tramping toward the tavern that little old man with a bag on his back.
But the little old man with a bag on his back was left out in the dusk, and aunt Corinne and her party went into the tavern parlor. The landlady brought a pair of candles in brass candlesticks, setting one on each end of the mantel. Between them were snuffers on a snuffer-tray, and a tall mass of paper roses under a glass case. The fireplace was covered by a fireboard on which was pasted wallpaper like that adorning the room. Grandma Padgett sat down in a rocking settee, and Corinne and Bobaday on two of the chairs ranged in solemn rows along the wall. They felt it would be presumption to pull those chairs an inch out of line.
It was a very depressing room. Two funeral urns hung side by side, done in India ink, and framed in chipped-off mahogany. Weeping willows hung over the urns, and a weeping woman leaned on each. There was also a picture of Napoleon in scarlet standing on the green rock of St. Helena, holding a yellow three-cornered hat under his elbow. The house had a fried-potato odor, to which aunt Corinne did not object. She was hungry. But, besides this, the parlor enclosed a dozen other scents; as if the essences of all the dinners served in the house were sitting around invisible on the chairs. There was not lacking even that stale cupboard smell which is the spirit of hunger itself.
The landlady was very fat and red and also melancholy. She began talking at once to Grandma Padgett about the loss of her children whom the funeral urns commemorated, and Grandma Padgett sympathized with her and tried to outdo her in sorrowful experiences. But this was impossible; for the landlady had-lived through more ordeals than anybody else in town, and her manner said plainly, that no passing stranger should carry off her championship.
So she made the dismal room so doleful with her talk that aunt Corinne began to feel terribly about life, and Robert Day wished he had gone to the barn with Zene.
Then the supper-bell rung, and the landlady showed them into the big bare dining-room where she forgot all her troubles in the clatter of plates and cups. A company of men rushed from what was called the bar-room, though its shelves and counter were empty of decanters and glasses. They had the greater part of a long table to themselves, and Zene sat among them. These men the landlady called the boarders: she placed Grandma Padgett's family at the other end of the table; it seemed the decorous thing to her that a strip of empty table should separate the boarders and women-folks.
There were stacks of eatables, including mango stuffed with cabbage and eggs pickled red in beet vinegar. All sorts of fruit butters and preserves stood about in glass and earthen dishes. One end of the table was an exact counterpart of the other, even to the stacks of mighty bread-slices. Boiled cabbage and onions and thick corn-pone with fried ham were there to afford a strong support through the night's fast. Nothing was served in order: you helped yourself from the dishes or let them alone at your pleasure. The landlord appeared just as jolly as his wife was dismal. He sat at the other end of the table and urged everybody with jokes to eat heartily; yet all this profusion was not half so appetizing as some of Grandma Padgett's fried chicken and toast would have been.
After supper Bobaday went out to the barn and saw a whole street of horse-stalls, the farthest horse switching his tail in dim distance; and such a mow of hay as impressed him with the advantages of travel. A hostler was forking down hay for the evening's feeding, and Robert climbed to his side, upon which the hostler good-naturedly took him by the shoulders and let him slide down and alight upon the spongy pile below. This would have been a delightful sensation had Bobaday not bitten his tongue in the descent. But he liked it better than the house where his aunt Corinne wandered uneasily up stairs which were hollowed in the middle of each step, and along narrow passages where bits of plaster had fallen off.
There was a dulcimer in the room aunt Corinne occupied with her mother. She took the hammer and beat on its rusty wires some time before going to bed. It tinkled a plea to her to let it alone, but what little girl could look at the queer instrument and keep her hands off it? The landlady said it was left there by a travelling showman who could not pay his board. He hired the bar-room to give a concert in, and pasted up written advertisements of his performance in various parts of the town. He sent free tickets to the preacher and schoolmaster, and the landlord's family went in for nothing. Nobody else came, though he played on the flute and harmonium, besides the dulcimer, and sang Lilly Dale, and Roll on, Silver Moon, so touchingly that the landlady wiped her eyes at their mere memory. As he had no money to pay stage-fare further, and the flute and harmonium—a small bellows organ without legs—were easier to carry than the dulcimer, he left it and trudged eastward. And no one at that tavern could tell whether he and his instruments had perished piecemeal along the way, or whether he had found crowded houses and forgotten the old dulcimer in the tide of prosperity.
Grandma Padgett's party ate breakfast before day, by the light of a candle covering its candlestick with a tallow glacier. It made only a hole of shine in the general duskiness of the big dining-room. The landlady bade them a pathetic good-by. She was sure there were dangers ahead of them. The night stage had got in three hours late, owing to a breakdown, and one calamity she said, is only the forerunner of another.
Zene had driven ahead with the load. It was a foggy morning, and drops of moisture hung to the carriage curtains. There was the morning star yet trembling over the town. Aunt Corinne hugged her wrap, and Bobaday stuck his hands deep in his pockets. But Grandma sat erect and drove away undaunted and undamped. She merely searched the inside of the carriage with her glasses, inquiring as a last precaution:
"Have we left anything behind?"
"I got all my things," said Robert. "And my gold dollar's in my pocket."
At this aunt Corinne arose and plunged into the carriage pocket on her side.
THE SUSAN HOUSE.
The contents of that pocket she piled upon her seat; she raked the interior with her nails, then she looked at Robert Day with dilating eyes.
"My gold dollar's gone!" said aunt Corinne. "That little old man with a bag on his back—I just know he got into the barn and took it last night."
"You put it in and took it out so many times yesterday," said Bobaday, "maybe it fell on the carriage floor." So they unavailingly searched the carriage floor.
The little old man with a bag on his back was now fixed in Corinne's imagination as the evil genius of the journey. If he spirited out her gold dollar, what harm could he not do them! He might throw stones at them from sheltered places, and even shoot them with guns. He could jump out of any culvert and scare them almost to death! This destroyed half her pleasure as the day advanced, in watching boys fish with horse-hair snares in the runs which trickled under culverts. But Robert felt so much interest in the process that he was glad to have the noon halt made near such a small fishing-place. He took his lunch and sat on the bank with the boys. They were very dirty, and one of them had his shirtsleeve split to the shoulder, revealing a sun-blistered elbow joint that still worked with a right good will at snaring. But no boys were ever fuller of out-door wisdom. They had been swimming, and knew the best diving-hole in the world, only a couple of miles away. They had dined on berries, and expected to catch it when they got home, but meant to attend a show in one of their barns that afternoon, the admission price being ten pins. Bobaday learned how to make a slip-knot with the horse-hair and hold it in silent suspense just where the minnows moved: the moment a fish glided into the open snare a dexterous jerk whipped him out of the water, held firmly about the middle by the hair noose. It required skill and nice handling, and the split-sleeved boy was the most accomplished snarer of all.
Robert shared his lunch with these youths, and parted from them reluctantly when the horses were put in. But aunt Corinne who stood by in a critical attitude, said she couldn't see any use in catching such little fish. You never fried minnies. You used 'em for bait in deep water, though, the split-sleeved boy condescended to inform her, and you could put 'em into a glass jar, and they'd grow like everything. Aunt Corinne was just becoming fired with anxiety to own such a jarful herself, when the carriage turned toward the road and her mother obliged her to climb in.
About the middle of the afternoon Zene halted and waited for the carriage to come up. He left his seat and came to the rear of Old Hickory, the off carriage horse, slapping a fly flat on Old Hickory's flank as he paused.
"What's the matter, Zene?" inquired Grandma Padgett. "Has anything happened?"
"No, marm," replied Zene. He was a quiet, singular fellow, halting in his walk on account of the unevenness of his legs; but faithful to the family as either Boswell or Johnson. Grandma Padgett having brought him up from a lone and forsaken child, relied upon all the good qualities she discovered from time to time, and she saw nothing ludicrous in Zene. But aunt Corinne and Bobaday never ceased to titter at Zene's "marm."
"I've been inquirin' along, and we can turn off of the 'pike up here at the first by-road, and then take the first cross-road west, and save thirty mile o' toll gates. The road goes the same direction. It's a good dirt road."
Grandma Padgett puckered the brows above her glasses. She did not want to pay unnecessary bounty to the toll-gate keepers.
"Well, that's a good plan, Zene, if you're sure we won't lose the way, or fall into any dif-fick-ulty."
"I've asked nigh a dozen men, and they all tell the same tale," said Zene.
"People ought to know the lay of the land in their own neighborhood," admitted Grandma Padgett. "Well, we'll try what virtue there is in the dirt road."
So she clucked to the carriage horses and Zene went back to his charge.
The last toll-gate they would see for thirty miles drew its pole down before them. Zene paid according to the usual arrangement, and the toll-man only stood in the door to see the carriage pass.
"I wouldn't like to live in a little bit of a house sticking out on the 'pike like that," said aunt Corinne to her nephew. "Folks could run against it on dark nights. Does he stay there by himself? And if robbers or old beggars came by they could nab him the minute he opened his door."
"But if he has any boys," suggested Robert looking back, "they can see everybody pass, and it'd be just as good as going some place all the time. And who's afraid of robbers!"
Zene beckoned to the carriage as he turned off the 'pike. For a distance the wagon moved ahead of them, between tall stake fences which were overrun with vines or had their corners crowded with bushes. Wheat and cornfields and sweet-smelling buckwheat spread out on each side until the woods met them, and not a bit of the afternoon heat touched the carriage after that. Aunt Corinne clasped a leather-covered upright which hurt her hand before, and leaned toward the trees on her side. Every new piece of woodland is an unexplored country containing moss-lined stumps, dimples of hollows full of mint, queer-shaped trees, and hickory saplings just the right saddle-curve for bending down as "teeters," such as are never reproduced in any other piece of woodland. Nature does not make two trees alike, and her cool breathing-halls under the woods' canopies are as diverse as the faces of children wandering there. Moss or lichens grow thicker in one spot; another particular enclosure you call the lily or the bloodroot woods, and yet another the wild-grape woods. This is distinguished for blackberries away up in the clearings, and that is a fishing woods, where the limbs stretch down to clear holes, and you sit in a root seat and hear springs trickling down the banks while you fish. Though Corinne could possess these reaches of trees only with a brief survey, she enjoyed them as a novelty.
"I would like to get lost in the woods," she observed, "and have everybody out hunting me while I had to eat berries and roots. I don't believe I'd like roots, though: they look so big and tough. And I wouldn't touch a persimmon! Nor Injun turnip. You's a bad boy that time you give me Injun turnip to eat, Bobaday Padgett!"
She turned upon her nephew, fierce with the recollection, and he laughed, saying he wished he'd some to fool somebody with now.
"It bit my mouth so a whole crock of milk wouldn't help it, and if brother Tip'd been home, Ma Padgett wouldn't let you off so easy."
"You wanted to taste it," said Robert. "And you'd eat the green persimmons if they'd puckered your mouth clear shut."
"I wanted to see what the things that the little pig that lived in the stone house filled his churn with, tasted like," admitted aunt Corinne lucidly; so she subsided.
"Do you see the wagon, children?" inquired Grandma Padgett, who felt the necessity of following Zene's lead closely. She stopped Old Hickory and Old Henry at cross-roads.
"No; but he said turn west on the first road we came to," counseled Bobaday.
"And this is the first, I counted," said aunt Corinne.
"I wish we could see the cover ahead of us. We don't want to resk gettin' separated," said Grandma Padgett.
Yet she turned the horses westward with a degree of confidence, and drove up into a hilly country which soon hid the sun. The long shades crept past and behind them. There was a country church, with a graveyard full of white stones nearly smothered in grass and briers. And there was a school-house in an open space, with a playground beaten bare and white in the midst of a yellow mustard jungle. They saw some loiterers creeping home, carrying dinner-pail and basket, and taking a languid last tag of each other. The little girls looked up at the passing carriage from their sunbonnet depths, but the boys had taken off their hats to slap each other with: they looked at the strangers, round-eyed and ready to smile, and Robert and Corinne nodded. Grandma Padgett bethought herself to ask if any of them had seen a moving wagon pass that way. The girls stared bashfully at each other and said "No, ma'am," but the boys affirmed strongly that they had seen two moving wagons go by, one just as school was out, and the boldest boy of all made an effort to remember the white and gray horses.
The top of a hill soon stood between these children, and the travellers, but in all the vista beyond there was no glimpse of Zene.
Grandma Padgett felt anxious, and her anxiety increased as the dusk thickened.
"There don't seem to be any taverns along this road," she said; "and I hate to ask at any farmer's for accommodations over night. We don't know the neighborhood, and a body hates to be a bother."
"Let's camp out," volunteered Bobaday.
"We'd need the cover off of the wagon to do that, and kittles," said Grandma Padgett, "and dried meat and butter and cake and things out of the wagon."
"Maybe Zene's back in the woods campin' somewhere," exclaimed aunt Corinne. "And he has his gun, and can shoot birds too."
"No, he's goin' along the right road and expectin' us to follow. And as like as not has found a place to put up,—while we're off on the wrong road."
"How'll we ever get to brother Tip's, then?" propounded aunt Corinne. "Maybe we're in Missouri, or Iowa, and won't never get to the Illinois line!"
"Humph!" remarked Robert her nephew; "do you s'pose folks could go to Iowa or Missouri as quick as this! Cars'd have to put on steam to do it."
"And I forgot about the State lines," murmured his aunt. "The' hasn't been any ropes stretched along't I saw."
"They don't bound States with ropes," said Robert Day.
"Well, it's lines," insisted aunt Corinne.
"Do you make out a house off there?" questioned Grandma Padgett, shortening the discussion.
"Yes, ma'am, and it's a tavern," assured her grandson, kneeling upon the cushion beside her to stretch his neck forward.
It was a tavern in a sandy valley. It was lighting a cautious candle or two as they approached. A farmer was watering his team at the trough under the pump spout. All the premises had a look of Holland, which Grandma Padgett did not recognize: she only thought them very clean. There was a side door cut across the centre like the doors of mills, so that the upper part swung open while the lower part remained shut. A fat white woman leaned her elbows upon this, scarcely observing the travellers.
Grandma Padgett paused at the front of the house and waited for somebody to come out. The last primrose color died slowly out of the sky. If the tavern had any proprietor, he combined farming with tavern keeping. His hay and wheat fields came close to the garden, and his corn stood rank on rank up the hills.
"They must be all asleep in there," fretted Grandma Padgett. The woman with her arms over the half door had not stirred.
"Shall I run in?" said Bobaday.
"Yes, and ask if Zene stopped here. I don't see a sign of the wagon."
Her grandson opened the carriage door and ran down the steps. The white-scrubbed hall detained him several minutes before he returned with a large man who smoked a crooked-stemmed pipe during the conference. The man held the bowl of the pipe in his hand which was fat and red. So was his face. He had a mighty tuft of hair on his upper lip. His shirt sleeves shone like new snow through the dark.
"Goot efenins," he said very kindly.
"I want to stop here over night," said Grandma Padgett. "We're moving, and our wagon is somewhere on this road. Have you seen anything of a wagon—and a white and a gray horse?"
"Oh, yes," said the tavern keeper, nodding his head. "Dere is lots of wakkons on de road aheadt."
"Well, we can't go further ourselves. Can you take the lines?"
"Oh, nein," said the tavern-keeper mildly. "I don't keep moofers mit my house. Dey goes a little furter."
"You don't keep movers!" said Grandma Padgett indignantly. "What's your tavern for?"
"Oh, yah," replied the host with undisturbed benevolence. "Dey goes a little furter."
"Why have you put out a sign to mislead folks?"
The tavern keeper took the pipe out of his mouth to look up at his sign. It swayed back and forth in the valley breeze, as if itself expostulating with him.
"Dot's a goot sign," he pronounced. "Auf you go up te hill, tere ist te house I put up mit te moofers. First house. All convenient. You sthay tere. I coom along in te mornin'. Tere ist more as feefty famblies sthop mit tat house. Oh, nien, I don't keep moofers mit te tafern."
"This is a queer way to do," said Grandma Padgett, fixing the full severity of her glasses on him. "Turn a woman and two children away to harbor as well as they can in some old barn! I'll not stop in your house on the hill. Who'd 'tend to the horses?"
"Tare ist grass and water," said the landlord as she turned from his door. "And more as feefty famblies hast put up tere. I don't keep moofers mit te tafern."
Robert and Corinne felt very homeless as she drove at a rattling pace down the valley. They were hungry, and upon an unknown road; and that inhospitable tavern had turned them away like vagrants.
"We'll drive all night before we'll stop in his movers' pen," said Grandma Padgett with her well-known decision. "I suppose he calls every vagabond that comes along a mover, and his own house is too clean for such gentry. I've heard about the Swopes and the Dutch being stupid, but a body has to travel before they know."
But well did the Dutch landlord know the persuasion of his house on the hill after luckless travellers had passed through a stream which drained the valley. This was narrow enough, but the very banks had a caving, treacherous look. Grandma Padgett drove in, and the carriage came down with a plunge on the flanks of Old Hickory and Old Henry, and they disappeared to their nostrils and the harness strips along the centre of their backs.
"Hasn't the creek any bottom?" cried Grandma Padgett, while Corinne and Robert clung to the settling carriage. The water poured across their feet and rose up to their knees. Hickory and Henry were urged with whip and cry.
"Hold fast, children! Don't get swept out!" Grandma Padgett exhorted. "There's no danger if the horses can climb the bank."
They were turned out of their course by the current, and Hickory and Henry got their fore feet out, crumbling a steep place. Below the bank grew steeper. If they did not get out here, all must go whirling and sinking down stream. The landing was made, both horses leaping up as if from an abyss. The carriage cracked, and when its wheels once more ground the dry sand, Grandma Padgett trembled awhile, and moved her lips before replying to the children's exclamations.
"We've been delivered from a great danger," she said. "And that miserable man let us drive into it without warning!"
"If I's big enough," said Robert Day, "I'd go back and thrash him."
"It ill becomes us," rebuked Grandma Padgett, "to give place to wrath after escaping from peril. But if this is the trap he sets for his house on the hill, I hope he has been caught in it himself sometime!"
"Where'll we go now?" Corinne wailed, having considered it was time to begin crying. "I'm drownded, and my teeth knock together, I'm gettin' so cold!"
They paused at the top of the hill, Corinne still lamenting.
"I don't want to stop here," said Grandma Padgett, adding, "but I suppose we must."
The house was large and weather-beaten; its gable-end turned toward the road. The "feefty famblies" had left no trace of domestic life. Grass and weeds grew to the lower windows. The entrance was at one side through a sea of rank growths.
"It looks like they's ghosts lived here," pronounced Robert dismally.
"Don't let me hear such idle speeches!" said Grandma Padgett, shaking her head. "Spooks and ghosts only live in people's imaginations."
"If they got tired of that," said Robert, "they'd come to live here."
"The old house looks like its name was Susan," wept Corinne. "Are we goin' to stay all night in this Susan house, ma?"
Her parent stepped resolutely from the carriage, and Bobaday hastened to let down some bars. He helped his grandmother lead the horses into a weedy enclosure, and there unhitch them from the carriage. There was a shed covered with straw which served for a stable. The horses were watered—Robert wading to his neck among cherry sprouts to a curb well, and unhooking the heavy bucket from its chain, after a search for something else available. Then leaving the poor creatures to browse as best they could, the party prepared to move upon the house. Aunt Corinne came out of the wet carriage.
Grandma Padgett picked up some sticks and chips. They attempted to unlock the door; but the lock was broken. "Anybody can go in!" remarked the head of the party. "But I don't know that we can even build a fire, and as to provisions, I s'pose we'll have to starve this night."
But stumbling into a dark front room, and feeling hopelessly along the mantel, they actually found matches. The tenth one struck flame.
There were ashes and black brands in the fireplace, left there possibly, by the landlord's last moofer. Grandma Padgett built a fire to which the children huddled, casting fearful glances up the damp-stained walls. The flame was something like a welcome.
"Perhaps," said Grandma with energy, "there are even provisions in the house. I wouldn't grudge payin' that man a good price and cookin' them myself, if I could give you something to eat."
"We can look," suggested Bobaday. "They'd be in the cellar, wouldn't they?"
"It's lots lonesomer than our house was the morning we came away," chattered aunt Corinne, warming her long hands at the blaze.
And now beneath the floor began a noise which made even Grandma Padgett stand erect, glaring through her glasses.
"Something's in the cellar!" whispered Bobaday.
THE SUSAN HOUSE CELLAR.
It was not pleasant to stand in a strange house in an unknown neighborhood, drenched, hungry and unprotected, hearing fearful sounds like danger threatening under foot.
Corinne felt a speechless desire to be back in the creek again and on the point of drowning; that would soon be over. But who could tell what might occur after this groaning in the cellar?
"I heard a noise," said Grandma Padgett, to bespeak their attention, as if they could remember ever hearing anything else.
"It's cats, I think," said Robert Day, husky with courage.
Cats could not groan in such short and painful catches. Conjectures of many colors appeared and disappeared like flashes in Bobaday's mind. The groaner was somebody that bad Dutch landlord had half murdered and put in the cellar. Maybe the floor was built to give way and let every traveller fall into a pit! Or it might be some boy or girl left behind by wicked movers to starve. Or a beggarman, wanting the house to himself, could be making that noise to frighten them away.
The sharp groans were regularly uttered. Corinne buried her head in her mother's skirts and waited to be taken or left, as the Booggar pleased.
"Well," said Grandma Padgett, "I suppose we'll have to go and see what ails that Thing down there. It may be a human bein' in distress."
Robert feared it was something else, but he would not have mentioned it to his grandmother.
"What'll we carry to see with?" he eagerly inquired. It was easy to be eager, because they had no lights except the brands in the fireplace.
Grandma Padgett, who in her early days had carried live coals from neighbors' houses miles away, saw how to dispense with lamp or candle. She took a shovel full of embers—and placed a burning chip on top. The chip would have gone out by itself, but was kept blazing by the coals underneath.
"Shall I go ahead?" inquired Robert.
"No, you walk behind. And you might carry a piece of stick," replied his grandmother, conveying a hint which made his shoulder blades feel chilly.
They moved toward the cellar entrance in a slow procession, to keep the chip from flaring out.
"Don't hang to me so!" Grandma Padgett remonstrated with her daughter. "I sh'll step on you, and down we'll all go and set the house afire."
Garrets are cheerful, cobwebby places, always full of slits where long, smoky sun-rays can poke in. An amber warmth cheers the darkness of garrets; you feel certain there is nothing ugly hiding behind the remotest and dustiest box. If rats or mice inhabit it, they are jovial fellows. But how different is a cellar, and especially a cellar neglected. You plunge down rough steps into a cavern. A mouldy air from dried-up and forgotten vegetables meets you. The earth may not be moist underfoot, but it has not the kind feeling of sun-warmed earth. And if big rats hide there, how bold and hideous they are! There are cool farmhouse cellars floored with cement and shelved with sweet-smelling pine, where apple-bins make incense, and swinging-shelves of butter, tables of milk crocks, lines of fruit cans and home-made catsup bottles, jars of pickles and chowder, and white covered pastry and cake, promise abundant hospitality. But these are inverted garrets, rather than cellars. They are refrigerators for pure air; and they keep a mellow light of their own. When you go into one of them it seems as if the house were standing on its head to express its joy and comfort.
But the Susan House cellar was one of dread, aside from the noise proceeding out of it. Bobaday knew this before they opened a door upon a narrow-throated descent.
One of Zene's stories became vivid. It was a story of a house where nobody could stay, though the landlord offered it rent-free. But along came two good youths without any money, and for board and lodging, they undertook to break the spell by sleeping there three nights. The first two nights they were not disturbed, and sat with their candle, reading good books until after midnight. But the third, just on the stroke of twelve, a noise began in the cellar! So they took their candle, and, armed with nothing except good books, went below, and in the furthest corner they saw a little old man with a red nightcap on his head, sitting astride of a barrel! In Zene's story the little old man only had it on his mind to tell these good youths where to dig for his money; and when they had secured the money, he amiably disappeared, and the house was pleasant to live in ever afterward.
This tale, heard in the barn while Zene was greasing harnesses, and heard without Grandma Padgett's sanction, now made her grandson shiver with dread as his feet went down into the Susan House dungeon. It was trying enough to be exploring a strange cellar full of groans, without straining your eyes in expectation of seeing a little old man in a red nightcap, sitting astride of a barrel!
"Who's there?" said Grandma Padgett with stern emphasis, as she held her beacon stretched out into the cellar.
The groaning ceased for an awful space of time. Aunt Corinne was behind her nephew, and she squatted on the step to peer with distended eyes, lest some hand should reach up and grab her by the foot.
It was a small square cellar, having earthen sides, but piles of pine boxes made ambushes everywhere.
"Come out!" Grandma Padgett spoke again. "We won't have any tricks played. But if you're hurt, we can help you."
It was like addressing solid darkness, for the chip was languishing upon its coals, and cast but a dim red glare around the shovel.
Still some being crept toward them from the darkness, uttering a prolonged and hearty groan, as if to explode at once the accumulations of silence.
Aunt Corinne realizing it was a man, rushed to the top of the steps and hid her eyes behind the door. She knew her mother could deal with him, and, if he offered any harm, pour coals of fire upon his head in a literal sense. But she did not feel able to stand by. Robert, on the other hand, seeing no red nightcap on the head thrust up toward them, supported his grandmother strongly, and even helped to pull the man up-stairs.
One touch of his soft, foolish body was enough to convince any one that he was a harmless creature. His foot was sprained.
Robert carried a backless chair and set it before the fire, and on this the limping man was placed. Grandma Padgett emptied her coals on the hearth and surveyed him. He had a red face and bashful eyes, and while the top of his head was quite bald, he had a half-circle of fuzz extending around his face from ear to ear. He wore a roundabout and trousers, and shoes with copper toes. His hands were fat and dimpled as well as freckled. Altogether, he had the appearance of a hugely overgrown boy, ducking his head shyly while Grandma Padgett looked at him.
"For pity sake!" said Grandma Padgett. "What ails the creature? What's your name, and who are you?"
At that the man chanted off in a nasal sing-song, as if he were accustomed to repeating his rhyme:
J. D. Matthews is my name, Ohio-r is my nation, Mud Creek is my dwellin' place, And glory is my expectation.
"Yes," said Grandma Padgett, removing her glasses, as she did when very much puzzled.
Corinne, in a distant corner of the lighted room, began to laugh aloud, and after looking towards her, the man laughed also, as if they two were enjoying a joke upon the mother.
"Well, it may be funny, but you gave us enough of a scare with your gruntin' and your groanin'," said Grandma Padgett severely.
J. D. Matthews reminded of his recent tribulations, took up one of his feet and began to groan over it again. He was as shapeless and clumsy as a bear, and this motion seemed not unlike the tiltings of a bear forced to dance.
"There you go," said Grandma Padgett. "Can't you tell how you came in the cellar, and what hurt you?"
Mr. Matthews piped out readily, as if he had packed the stanza into shape between the groans of his underground sojourn:
To the cellar for fuel I did go, And there I met my overthrow; I lost my footing and my candle, And grazed my shin and sprained my ankle.
"The man must be a poet," pronounced Grandma Padgett with contempt. "He has to say everything in rhyme."
Chanted Mr. Matthews:
I was not born in a good time, I cannot speak except in rhyme.
"Ain't he funny?" said Bobaday, rubbing his own knees with enjoyment.
"He's very daft," said the grandmother. "And what to do for him I don't know. We've nothing to eat ourselves. I might wet his foot and tie it up."
Mr. Matthews looked at her smilingly while he recited:
I have a cart that does contain A panaseer for ev'ry pain. There's coffee, also there is chee, Sugar and cakes, bread and hone-ee. I have parch corn and liniment, Which causes me to feel content. There is some half a dozen kittles To serve me when I cook my vittles. Butter and eggs I do deal in; To go without would be a sin. When I sit down to cook my meals, I know how good a king feels.
"Well, if you had your cart handy it would be worth while," said Grandma Padgett indulgently. "But talkin' of such things when the children are hungry only aggravates a body more."
Producing a key from his roundabout pocket, Mr. Matthews lifted his voice and actually sung:
J. D. Matthews' cart stands at your door. Lady, will you step out and see my store? I've cally-co and Irish table linen, Domestic gingham and the best o' flannen. I take eggs and butter for these treasures, I never cheat, but give good measures.
"Let me see if there is a cart," begged Bobaday, reaching for the key which his grandmother reluctantly received.
He then went to the front door and groped in the weeds. The hand-cart was there, and all of Mr. Matthews' statements were found to be true. He had plenty of provisions, as well as a small stock of dry goods and patent medicines, snugly packed in the vehicle which he was in the habit of pushing before him. There were even candles. Grandma Padgett lighted one, and stuck it in an empty liniment bottle. Then she dressed the silly pedler's ankle, and put an abundant supper on the fire to cook in his various kettles; the pedler smiling with pure joy all the time to find himself the centre of such a family party.
Bobaday and Corinne came up, and stood leaning against the ends of the mantel. No poached eggs and toast ever looked so nice; no honey ever had such melting yellow comb; no tea smelled so delicious; no ginger cakes had such a rich moistness. They sat on the carriage cushions and ate their supper with Grandma Padgett. It was placed on the side of an empty box, between them and the pedlerman. He divided his attention betwixt eating and chanting rhymes, interspersing both with furtive laughs, into which he tried to draw the children. Grandma Padgett overawed him; but he evidently felt on a level with aunt Corinne and her nephew. In his foolish red face there struggled a recollection of having gone fishing, or played marbles, or hunted wild flowers with these children or children like them. He nodded and twinkled his eyes at them, and they laughed at whatever he did. His ankle was so relieved by a magic liniment, that he felt able to hobble around the house when Grandma Padgett explored it, repeating under his breath the burst he indulged in when she arrayed the supper on the box:
O, I went to a friend's house, The friend says, 'Come in, Have a hot cup of coffee; And how have you been?'
Grandma Padgett said she could not sleep until she knew what other creatures were hidden in the house.
They all ascended the enclosed staircase, and searched echoing dusty rooms where rats or mice whisked out of sight at their approach.
"This is a funny kind of an addition to a tavern," remarked the head of the party. "No beds: no anything. We'll build a fire in this upper fireplace, and bring the cushions and shawls up, and see if we can get a wink of sleep. It ain't a cold night, and we're dry now. You can sleep by the fireplace down-stairs," she said to the pedler, "and I'll settle with you for our breakfast and supper before we leave in the morning. It's been a providence that you were in the house."
Mr. Matthews smiled deferentially, and appeared to be pondering a new rhyme about Grandma Padgett. But the subject was so weighty it kept him shaking his head.
They came down-stairs for fuel and coals, and she requested the pedler to take possession of the lower room and make himself comfortable, but not to set the house on fire.
"What shall we give him to sleep on?" pondered the grandmother. "I can't spare things from the children; it won't do to let him sleep on the floor."
"I have a cart, it has been said, Which serves me both for cupboard and bed,"
chanted Mr. Matthews.
"Well, that's a good thing," said Grandma Padgett. "If you could pull a whole furnished house out of that cart 'twouldn't surprise me."
The pedler opened the door and dragged his cart in over the low sill. They then bolted the door with such rusty fastenings as remained to it.
As soon as he felt the familiar handle on his palms, J. D. Matthews forgot that his ankle had been twisted. He was again upon the road, as free as the small wild creatures that whisked along the fence. Grandma Padgett's grown-up strength of mind failed to restrain him from acting the horse. He neighed, and rattled the cart wildly over the empty room. Now he ran away and pretended to kick everything to pieces; and now he put himself up at a manger, and ground his feed. He broke out of his stable and careened wildly around a pasture, refusing to be hitched, and expressing his contempt for the cart by kicking up at it.
"I guess your sprain wasn't as bad as you let on," observed Grandma Padgett.
The observation, or a twinge, reminded Mr. Matthews to double himself down and groan again.
With painful limps, and Robert Day's assistance, he got the cart before the fireplace. It looked like a narrow, high green box on wheels. The pedler blocked the wheels behind, and propped the handle level. Then he crept with great contentment to the top, and stretched himself to sleep.
"He's a kind of a fowl of the air," said Grandma Padgett.
"Oh, but I hope he's going our road!" said Bobaday, as they re-ascended the stairs. "He's more fun than a drove of turkeys!"
"And I'm not a bit afraid of him," said aunt Corinne. "He ain't like the old man with a bag on his back."
But J. D. Matthews was going in the opposite direction.
Before Grandma Padgett had completed her brief toilet next morning, and while the daylight was yet uncertain, the Dutch landlord knocked at the outer door for his fee. He seemed not at all surprised at finding the pedler lodging there, but told him to stop at the tavern and trade with the vrow.
"And a safe time the poor simple soul will have," said Grandma Padgett, making her spectacles glitter at the landlord, "gettin' through the creek that nigh drowned us. I suppose, you have a ford that you don't keep for movers."
"Oh, yah!" said the landlord. "Te fort ist goot."
"How dared you send a woman and two children to such an empty, miserable shell as this?"
"I don't keep moofers to mine tafern," said the landlord, putting his abundant charge into his pocket. "Chay-Te, he always stops here. He coes all ofer te countries, Chay-Te toes. His headt ist pat."
"But his heart is good," said the grandmother. "And that will count up more to his credit than if he was an extortioner, and ill-treated the stranger within his gate."
"Oh, Chay-Te ist a goot feller!" said the Dutch landlord comfortably, untouched by any reflections on his own conduct.
Grandma Padgett could not feel placid in her mind until the weeds and hill hid him from sight.
Mr. Matthews arose so sound from his night's slumber, that he was able after pumping a prodigious lot of water over himself, and blowing with enjoyment, to help her get the breakfast, and put the kettles in travelling order afterwards. He had a great many housewifely ways, and his tidiness was a satisfaction to Grandma Padgett. The breakfast was excellent, but Corinne and Bobaday on one side of the box, and J. D. Matthews on the other, exchanged glances of regret at parting. He helped Robert put the horses to the carriage, making blunders at every stage of the hitching up.
They all came out of the Susan House, and he pushed his cart into the road.
"I almost hate to leave it," said aunt Corinne, "because we did have a good time after we were scared so bad."
"Seems as if a body always hates to leave a place," remarked Bobaday. "The next people that come along will never know we lived here one night. But we'll always remember it."
Grandma Padgett before entering the carriage, was trying to make the pedler take pay for the food her family ate. He smiled at her deferentially, but backed away with his cart.
"What a man this is!" she exclaimed impatiently. "We owe you for two meals' vittles."
"I have some half a dozen kittles," murmured Mr. Matthews.
"But won't you take the money? The landlord was keen enough for his."
The pedler had got his rhyme about Grandma Padgett completed. He left her, still stretching her hand out, and rattled his cart up to the children who were leaning from the carriage towards him.
"She is a lady of renown," chanted J. D. Matthews, indicating their grandmother.
She makes good butter by the pound, Her hand is kind, so is her tongue; But when she comes I want to run!
He accordingly ran, rattling the cart like a hailstorm before him, downhill; and out of their sight.
"Ah, there he goes!" sighed aunt Corinne, "and he hardly limps a bit. I hope we'll see him again some time."
"I might 'a forced the money into his pocket," reflected Grandma Padgett, as she took up the lines. "But I'd rather feel in debt to that kind, simple soul than to many another. Why didn't we ask him if he saw Zene's wagon up the road? These poor horses want oats. They'll be glad to sight the white cover once more."
"I would almost rather have him come along," decided Robert Day, "than to find the wagon. For he could make a camp anywhere, and speak his poetry all the time. What fun he must have if he wants to stay in the woods all night. I expect if he wanted to hide he could creep into that cart and stretch out, with his face where he could smell the honey and ginger cakes. I'd like to have a cart and travel like that. Are we going on to the 'pike again, Grandma?"
"Not till we find Zene," she replied, driving resolutely forward on the strange road.
ZENE'S MAN AND WOMAN.
A covered wagon appeared on the first crossroad, moving steadily between rows of elder bushes. The carriage waited its approach. A figure like Zene's sat resting his feet on the tongue behind the old gray and the old white.
"It's our wagon," said Robert Day. Presently Zene's countenance, and even the cast in his eyes, became a certainty instead of a wavering indistinctness, and he smiled with satisfaction while halting his vehicle at right angles with the carriage.
"Where have you been?" inquired Grandma Padgett.
"Over on t'other road," replied Zene, indicating the direction with his whip, "huntin' you folks. I knowed you hadn't made the right turn somehow."
Grandma Padgett mentioned her experience with the Dutch landlord and the ford, both of which Zene had avoided by taking another cross-road that he had neglected to indicate to them. He said he thought they would see the wagon-track and foller, not bein' fur behind. When he discovered they were not in his train, he was in a narrow road and could not turn; so he tied the horses and walked back a piece. He got on a corn-field fence and shouted to them; but by that time there was no carriage anywhere in the landscape.
"Such things won't do," said Grandma Padgett with some severity.
"No, marm," responded Zene humbly.
"We must keep together," said the head of the caravan.
"Yes, marm," responded Zene earnestly.
"Well, now, you may drive ahead and keep the carriage in sight till it's dinner-time and we come to a good place to halt."
Bobaday said he believed he would get in with Zene and try the wagon awhile. Springs and cushions had become tiresome. He half-stood on the tongue, to bring his legs down on a level with Zene's, and enjoyed the jolting in every piece of his backbone. He had had a surfeit of woman-society. Even the horsey smell of Zene's clothes was found agreeable. And above all, he wanted to talk about J. D. Matthews, and tell the terrors of a bottomless ford and a house with a strange-sounding cellar.
"But the man was the funniest thing," said Bobaday. "He just talked poetry all the time, and Grandma said he was daft. I'd like to talk that way myself, but I can't make it jee."
Zene observed mysteriously, that there were some queer folks in this section.
Yes, Bobaday admitted; the landlord was as Dutch as sour-krout.
Zene observed that all the queer folks wasn't Dutch. He shook his head and looked so steadily at a black stump that Robert knew his eyes were fixedly cast on the horizon. The boy speculated on the possibility of people with crooked eyes seeing anything clearly. But Zene's hints were a stimulant to curiosity.
"Where did you stay last night?" inquired Robert, bracing himself for pleasant revelations.
"Oh, I thought at first I'd put up in the wagon." replied Zene.
"But you didn't?"
"No: not intirely."
"What did you do?" pressed Robert Day.
"Well, I thought I'd better git nigh some house, on account of givin' me a chance to see if you folks come by. I thought you'd inquire at all the houses."
"Did you stop at one?"
"I took the team out by a house. It was plum dark then."
"I'd gone in to see what kind of folks they were first," remarked Bobaday.
"Yes, sir; that's what I'd orto done. But I leads them round to their feed-box after I watered 'em to a spring o' runnin' water. Then I doesn't know but the woman o' the house will give me a supper if I pays for it. So I slips to the side door and knocks. And a man opens the door."
Robert Day drew in his breath quickly.
"How did the man look?" he inquired.
"I can't tell you that," replied Zene, "bekaze I was so struck with the looks of the woman that I looked right past him."
Robert considered the cast in Zene's eyes, and felt in doubt whether he looked at the man and saw the woman, or looked at the woman and saw the man.
"Was she pretty?"
"Pretty!" replied Zene. "Is that flea-bit-gray, grazin' in the medder there, pretty?"
"Well," replied Bobaday, shifting his feet, "that's about as good-looking as one of our old grays."
"You don't know a horse," said Zene indulgently. "Ourn's an iron gray. There's a sight of difference in grays."
"Was the woman ugly?"
"Is a spotted snake ugly?"
"Yes," replied Robert decidedly; "or it 'pears so to me."
"That's how the woman 'peared to me. She was tousled, and looked wild out of her eyes. The man says, says he, 'What do you want?' I s'ze, 'Can I git a bite here?'"
Robert had frequently explained to Zene the utter nonsense of this abbreviation, "I s'ze," but Zene invariably returned to it, perhaps dimly reasoning that he had a right to the dignity of third person when repeating what he had said. If he said of another man, "says he," why could he not remark of himself, "I says he?" He considered it not only correct, but ornamental.
"The man says, says he, 'We don't keep foot-pads.' And I s'ze—for I was mad—'I ain't no more a foot-pad than you are,' I s'ze. 'I've got a team and a wagon out here,' I s'ze, 'and pervisions too, but I've got the means to pay for a warm bite,' I s'ze, 'and if you can't accommodate me, I s'pose there's other neighbors that can.'"
"You shouldn't told him you had money and things!" exclaimed Robert, bulging his eyes.
"I see that, soon's I done it," returned Zene, shaking a line over the near horse. "The woman spoke up, and she says, says she, 'There ain't any neighbor nigher than five miles.' Thinks I, this settlement looked thicker than that. But I doesn't say yea or no to it. And they had me come in and eat. I paid twenty-five cents for such a meal as your gran'marm wouldn't have set down on her table."
"What did they have?"
"Don't ask me," urged Zene; "I'd like to forget it. There was vittles, but they tasted so funny. And they kept inquirin' where I's goin' and who was with me. They was the uneasiest people you ever see. And nothing would do but I must sleep in the house. There was two rooms. I didn't see till I was in bed, that the only door I could get out of let into the room where the man and woman stayed."
Robert Day began to consider the part of Ohio through which his caravan was passing, a weird and unwholesome region, full of shivering delights. While the landscape lay warm, glowing and natural around him, it was luxury to turn cold at Zene's night-peril.
"I couldn't go to sleep," continued Zene, "and I kind of kept my eye on the only window there was."
Robert drew a sigh of relief as he reflected that an enemy watching at the window would be sure Zene was looking just in the opposite direction.
"And the man and woman they whispered."
"What did they whisper about?"
"How do I know?" said Zene mysteriously. "Whisper—whisper—whisper—z-z! That's the way they kept on. Sometimes I thought he's threatenin' her, and sometimes I thought she's threatenin' him. But along in the middle of the night they hushed up whisperin'. And then I heard somebody open the outside door and go out. I s'ze to myself, 'Nows the time to be up and ready.' So I was puttin' on the clothes I'd took off, and right there on the bed, like it had been there all the time, was two great big eyes turnin' from green to red, and flame comin' out of them like it does out of coals when the wind blows."
"Was it a cat?" whispered Robert Day, hoping since Zene was safe, that it was not.
Zene passed the insinuation with a derisive puff. He would not stoop to parley about cats in a peril so extreme.
"'How do I know what it was?" he replied. "I left one of my socks and took the boot in my hand. It was all the gun or anything o' that kind I had. I left my neckhan'ketcher, too."
"But you didn't get out of the window," objected Bobaday eagerly. "They always have a hole dug, you know, right under the window, to catch folks in."
"Yes, I did," responded Zene, leaping a possible hole in his account. "I guess I cleared forty rod, and I come down on all-fours behind a straw-pile right in the stable-lot."
"Did the thing follow you?"
"Before I could turn around and look, I see that man and that woman leadin' our horses away from the grove where I'd tied 'em to the feed-box."
"What for?" inquired Robert Day.
Zene cast a compassionate glance at his small companion.
"What do folks ever lead critters away in the night for?" he hinted.
"Sometimes to water and feed them."
"I s'ze to myself," continued Zene, ignoring this absurd supposition, "'now, if they puts the horses in their stable, they means to keep the wagon too, and make way with me so no one will ever know it. But,' I s'ze, 'if they tries to lead the horses off somewhere for to hide 'em, then that's all they want, and they'll pretend in the morning to have lost stock themselves.'"
"And which did they do?" urged Robert after a thrilling pause.
"They marched straight for their stable."
The encounter was now to take place. Robert Day braced himself by means of the wagon-tongue.
"Then what did you do?"
"I rises up," Zene recounted in a cautious whisper, "draws back the boot, and throws with all my might."
"Not at the woman?" urged Bobaday.
"I wanted to break her first," apologized Zene. "She was worse than the man. But I missed her and hit him."
Robert was glad Zene aimed as he did.
"Then the man jumps and yells, and the woman jumps and yells, and the old gray he rears up and breaks loose. He run right past the straw pile, and before you could say Jack Robinson, I had him by the hitch-strap—it was draggin'—and hoppin' against the straw, I jumped on him."
"Jack Robinson," Zene's hearer tried half-audibly. "Then what? Did the man and woman run?"
"I makes old Gray jump the straw pile, and I comes at them just like I rose out of the ground! Yes," acknowledged Zene forbearingly, "they run. Maybe they run toward the house, and maybe they run the other way. I got a-holt of old White's hitch-strap and my boot; then I cantered out and hitched up, and went along the road real lively. It wasn't till towards mornin' that I turned off into the woods and tied up for a nap. Yes, I slept part of the night in the wagon."
Robert sifted all these harrowing circumstances.
"Maybe they weren't stealing the horses," he hazarded. "Don't folks ever unhitch other folks' horses to put 'em in their stable?"
Zene drew down the corners of his mouth to express impatience.
"But I'd hated to been there," Robert hastened to add.
"I guess you would," Zene observed in a lofty, but mollified way, "if you'd seen the pile of bones I passed down the road a piece from that house."
"Piled all in a heap at the edge of the woods."
"What kind of bones, Zene?"
"Well, I didn't get out to handle 'em. But I see one skull about the size of yours, with a cap on about the size of yours."
This was all that any boy could ask. Robert uttered a derisive "Ho!" but he sat and meditated with pleasure on the pile of bones. It cast a lime-white glitter on the man and woman who but for that might have been harmless.
"I didn't git much rest," concluded Zene. "I could drop off sound now if I'd let myself."
"I'll drive," proposed Bobaday.
Zene reluctantly considered this offer. The road ahead looked smooth enough. "I guess there's no danger unless you run into a fence corner," he remarked.
"I can drive as well as Grandma Padgett can," said Robert indignantly.
Zene wagged his head as if unconvinced. He never intended to let Robert Day be a big boy while he stayed with the family.
"Your gran'marm knows how to handle a horse. Now if I's to crawl back and take a nap, and you's to run the team into any accident, I'd have to bear all the blame."
Robert protested: and when Zene had shifted his responsibility to his satisfaction, he crept back and leaned against the goods, falling into a sound sleep.
The boy drove slowly forward. It seemed that old gray and old white also felt last night's vigils. They drowsed along with their heads down through a landscape that shimmered sleepily.
Robert thought of gathering apples in the home orchard: of the big red ones that used to fall and split asunder with their own weight, waking him sometimes from a dream, with their thump against the sod. What boy hereafter would gather the sheep-noses, and watch the early June's every day until their green turned suddenly into gold, and one bite was enough to make you sit down under the tree and ask for nothing better in life! He used to keep the chest in his room floored with apples. They lay under his best clothes and perfumed them. His nose knew the breath of a russet, and in a dark cellar he could smell out the bell-flower bin. The real poor people of the earth must be those who had no orchards; who could not clap a particular comrade of a tree on the bark and look up to see it smiling back red and yellow smiles; who could not walk down the slope and see apples lying in ridges, or pairs, or dotting the grass everywhere. Robert was half-asleep, dreaming of apples. He felt thirsty, and heard a humming like the buzz of bees around the cider-press. He and aunt Corinne used to sit down by the first tub of sweet cider, each with two straws apiece, and watch their faces in the rosy juice while they drank Cider from the barrels when snow was on the ground, poured out of a pitcher into a glass, had not the ecstatic tang of cider through a straw. The Bees came to the very edge of the tub, as if to dispute such hiving of diluted honey; and more of them came, from hanging with bent bodies, around the dripping press.
Their buzz increased to a roar. Robert Day woke keenly up to find the old white and the old gray just creeping across a railroad track, and a locomotive with its train whizzing at full speed towards them.
LITTLE ANT RED AND BIG ANT BLACK.
A breath's delay must have been fatal. Robert had no whip, but doubling the lines and shouting at the top of his voice, he braced himself and lashed the gray. The respectable beast leaped with astonishment, dragging its fellow along. The fore wheels cleared the track, and Bobaday's head was filled with the prolonged cry of the locomotive. Zene sprang up, and the hind part of the wagon received a crash which threw the boy out at the side, and Zene quite across the gray's back.
The train came to a stop after running a few yards further. But finding that no lives were lost, it put on steam and disappeared on its course, and Zene and his trembling assistant were trying to prop up one corner of the wagon when Grandma Padgett brought her spectacles to bear upon the scene.
One hind wheel had been splintered by the train, the leap of the gray turning the wagon from the road. Grandma Padgett preserved her composure and asked few questions. Her lips moved at frequent intervals for a long time after this accident. But aunt Corinne flew out of the carriage, and felt her nephew's arms and wailed over the bump his cheek received, and was sure his legs were broken, and that Zene limped more than ever, and that the train had run straight across their prostrate forms.
Zene busied himself with shamefaced eagerness in getting the wagon off the road and preparing to hunt a shop. He made piteous grimaces over every strap he unfastened.
"We cannot leave the goods standing here in the wagon with nobody to watch 'em," said the head of the caravan. "It's nigh dinner-time, and we'll camp in sight, and wait till we can all go on together. A merciful Providence has brought us along safe so far. We mustn't git separated and run ourselves into any more dangers than we can help."
Zene lingered only to pitch the camp and find water at a spring running down into a small creek. Then he bestrode one of the wagon horses, and, carrying the broken wheel-hubs, trotted away.
Grandma Padgett tucked up her dress, took provisions from the wagon, and got dinner. Aunt Corinne and her nephew made use of this occasion to lay in a supply of nuts for winter. The nuts were old ones, lying under last autumn's leaves, and before a large heap had been gathered, aunt Corinne bethought her to examine if they were fit to eat. They were not; for besides an ancient flavor, the first kernel betrayed the fact that these were pig-nuts instead of hickory.
"You would have 'em," said Bobaday, kicking the pile. "I didn't think they's good, anyhow."
"They looked just like our little hickories," said aunt Corinne, twisting her mouth at the acrid kernel, "that used to lay under that tree in the pasture. And their shells are as sound."
But there was compensation in two saplings which submitted to be rode as teeters part of the idle afternoon.
Grandma Padgett had put away the tea things before Zene returned. He brought with him a wagon-maker from one of the villages on the 'pike. The wagon-maker, after examining the disabled vehicle, and getting the dimensions of the other hind wheel which Zene had forgotten to take to him, assured the party he would set them up all right in a day or two.
Grandma Padgett was sitting on a log knitting.
"We'd better have kept to the 'pike," she remarked.
"Yes, marm," responded Zene.
"The toll-gates would be a small expense compared to this."
"Yes, indeed, marm," responded Zene, grimacing piteously.
"Still," said Grandma Padgett, "we have much to be thankful for, in that our lives and health have been spared."
"Oh, yes, marm! yes, marm!" responded Zene.
The wagon-maker hung by one careless leg to his horse before cantering off, and inquired with neighborly interest:
"How far West you folks goin'?"
"We're goin' to Illinois," replied Grandma Padgett.
"Oh, pshaw, now!" said the wagon-maker. "Goin' to the Eeleenoy! that's a good ways. Ain't you 'fraid you'll never git back?"
"We ain't expectin' to come back," said Grandma Padgett. "My son's settled there."
"He has!" said the wagon-maker with an accent of surprise. "Well, well! they say that's an awful country."
"My son writes back it's as fine land as he ever saw," said Grandma Padgett with dignity and proper local pride.
"But the chills is so bad," urged the wagon-maker, who looked as if he had experienced them at their worst. "And the milk-sick, they say the milk-sick is all over the Eeleenoy."
"We're not borrowing any trouble about such things," said Grandma Padgett.
"Some of our townsfolks went out there," continued the wagon-maker, "but what was left of 'em come back. They had to buy their drinkin' water, and the winters on them perrares froze the children in their beds! Oh, I wouldn't go to the Eeleenoy," said the wagon-maker coaxingly. "You're better off here, if you only knew it."
As Grandma Padgett heard this remonstrance with silent dignity, the wagon-maker took himself off with a few additional remarks.
Then they began to make themselves snug for the night. The wagon-cover was taken off and made into a tent for Grandma Padgett and aunt Corinne. Robert Day was to sleep in the carriage, and Zene insisted on sleeping with blankets on the wagon where he could watch the goods. He would be within calling distance of the camp.
"We're full as comfortable as we were last night, anyhow," observed the head of the caravan.
Zene said it made no difference about his supper. He took thankfully what was kept for him, and Robert Day felt certain Zene was trying to bestow on him some conscience-stricken glances.
It was an occasion on which Zene could be made to tell a story. He was not lavish with such curious ones as he knew. Robert sometimes suspected him to be a mine of richness, but it took such hard mining to get a nugget out that the results hardly compensated for the effort.
But when the boy climbed upon the wagon in starlight, and made a few leading remarks, Zene really plunged into a story. He thereby relieved his own feelings and turned the talk from late occurrences.
"I told you about Little Ant Red and Big Ant Black?"
"No, you never!" exclaimed Bobaday.
"Well, once there was Little Ant Red and Big Ant Black lived neighbors."
"Whose aunts were they—each other's?" inquired the boy.
"They wasn't your father's or mother's sisters; they was antymires," explained Zene.
"Oh," said Robert Day.
"Ant Red, she was a little bit of a thing; you could just see her. But Ant Black, she was a great big critter that went like a train of cars when she was a mind to."
"I don't like either kind," said Robert. "The little ones got into our sugar once, and Grandma had to fight 'em out with camphor, and a big black got into my mouth and I bit him in two. He pinched my tongue awful, and he tasted sour."
"Big Ant Black," continued Zene, "she lived in a hill by a stump, but Little Ant Red she lived on a leaf up a tree."
"I thought they always crept into houses," urged Bobaday.
"This one didn't. She lived on a leaf up a tree. And these two ants run against each other in everything. When they met in the grass they'd stand up on their hind feet and shake hands as friendly as you please, but as soon as their backs was turned they'd talk! Big Ant Black said Little Ant Red was always a meddling, and everybody knowed her son was drowned in under the orchard cider-press where his mother sent him to snuff round. And Little Ant Red she used to tell how Ant Black was so graspin' she tried to carry that cider-press off and hide it in her hole.
"They had all the neighbors takin' sides. There was a yellow-back spider. He took up for Ant Red; he hoped to get a taste of her, and Ant Black he knowed was big enough to bite him unless he was mighty soople in wrappin' the web around her. Every mornin' when the dew stood in beads on his net he told Ant Red they was tears he shed about her troubles, and she run up and down and all around, talkin' like a sawmill, but keepin' just off the web. And there was Old Grasshopper, he sided with Ant Red, and so did Miss Green Katydid. But all the beetles, and them bugs that lived under the bark of the old stump, they took up for Ant Black, 'cause she was handy. And the snake-feeder was on her side.
"Well, it run along, feelin's gittin' harder and harder, till Ant Black she jumped up and kitched Ant Red fussin' round her cow pasture one night, and then the cows began to give bloody milk, and then Ant Black she give out that Ant Red was a witch.
"Now, these kind of critters, they're as smart as human bein's if you only knowed it. And that was enough. The katydid, she said she felt pins and needles in her back whenever Ant Red looked at her; and the snake-feeders said she shot arries at 'em when they was flyin' over a craw-fish hole. All the beetles and wood-bugs complained of bein' hit with witch-bells, and the more Ant Red acted careful the more they had ag'in her.
"Well, the spider he told her to come into his den and live, and she'd be safe from hangin', but she wasn't sure in her mind about that. Even the grasshopper jumped out of her way, and bunged his eyes out at her; as if she could harm such a great big gray lubber as him! She was gittin' pretty lonesome when she concluded to try a projic."
"What's a projic?" inquired Robert Day.
"Why, it's a—p'epperation, or—a plan of some kind," explained Zene.
"So she invites Big Ant Black and all her family, and the spider and all his family, and the beetles and bugs and all their families, and the snake-feeders and Miss Katydid for young folks, and don't leave out a neighbor, to an apple-bee right inside the orchard fence.
"So it was pleasant weather, and they all come and brung the babies, the old grasshopper skippin' along as nimble and steppin' on the shawl that was wrapped round his young one. And the snake-feeders they helped Miss Katydid over the lowest fence-rail, and here come Big Ant Black with such a string behind her it looked like a funeral instead of a family percession and she twisted her neck from side to side as soon as she see the great big apple, kind of wonderin' if they couldn't carry it off.
"Little Ant Red had all her children's heads combed and the best cheers set out, and she had on her good dress and white apron, and she says right and left, 'Hoddy-do, sir? hoddy-do, marm? Come right in and take cheers. And they all shook hands with her as if they'd never dreamt of callin' her a witch, and fell right on to the apple and begun to eat. And they all e't and e't, till they'd made holes in the rind and hollered it out. And Big Ant Black she gits her family started, and they carries off chunk after chunk of that apple till the road was black and white speckled between her house and the apple-tree.
"Little Ant Red she walks around urgin' them all to help theirselves, and that made them all feel pleasant to her. But Big Ant Black she got so graspin' and eager, that what does she do but try to help her young ones carry off the whole apple-shell. It did look jub'ous to see such a big thing movin' off with such little critters tuggin' it. And then Ant Red got on to a clover-head and showed the rest of the company what Ant Black was a-doin'. Says Ant Red: 'You ain't e't more'n a mouthful, Mr. Grasshopper.'
"'No, marm,' says he.
"'I s'ze to myself,' says Ant Red, 'here is this polite company, and the snake-feeders don't touch nothin,' and everybedy knows Miss Katydid lives on nothin' but rose-leaf butter, and the bugs and beetles will hardly take enough, to keep 'em alive.' 'And I s'ze to myself,' says Ant Red, 'here's this big apple walkin' off with nobody but Ant Black to move it. This great big sound apple. And it looks to me like witchcraft. That's what it looks like,' says Ant Red.
"They all declared it looked just like witchcraft. Ant Black tried to show them how holler the apple was, and they declared if she'd hollered it that way so quick, it was witchcraft certain.
"So what does they do but pen her and her young ones in the apple-shell and stop it up with mud. Even the mud-wasps and tumble-bugs that hadn't been bid come and took part when they see the dirt a-flyin'. Ant Red set on the clover-head and teetered.
"Now, down to this present minute," concluded Zene, "you never pick up an apple and find a red ant walkin' out of it. If ants is there, it's one of them poor black fellers that was shut up at the apple-bee, and they walk out brisk; as if they's glad to find daylight once more."
THE GREAT CAMP MEETING.
Towards evening of the next day the broken wagon wheel was replaced. By that time the children were not more anxious to move forward than was Grandma Padgett. So just before sunset they broke up camp and moved along the country road until the constellations were swinging overhead. Zene took the first good crossway that led to the 'pike, and after waiting to be sure that the noses of Old Hickory and Old Henry were following, he jogged between dewy fence rows, and they came to the broad white ribbon of high road, and in time to the village of Somerford, having progressed only ten miles that day.
Bobaday and Corinne were so sleepy, and their departure from Somerford next morning was taken at such an early hour, that they remembered it only as a smell of tallow candles in the night, accompanied by a landlady's head in a ruffled nightcap.
Very different was Springfield, the county seat of Clark County. That was a town with people moving briskly about it, and long streets could be seen, where pleasant houses were shaded with trees.
Zene inquired the names of all small places as soon as they entered the main street, and then, obligingly halting the wagon at one side, he waited until Grandma Padgett came up, and told her. He learned and announced the cities long before any of them came into view. It was a pleasure to Bobaday and aunt Corinne to ride into a town repeating its name to themselves and trying to fasten its identity on their minds. First they would pass a gang of laborers working on the road, or perhaps a man walking up and down telegraph poles with sharp-shod heels; then appeared humble houses with children playing thickly around them. Finer buildings crowded on the sight, and where the signs of business flaunted, were women and little children in pretty clothes, always going somewhere to buy something nice. Once they met a long procession of carriages, and in the first carriage aunt Corinne beheld and showed to her nephew a child's coffin made of metal. It glittered in the sun. Grandma Padgett said it was zinc. But aunt Corinne secretly suspected it was made of gold, to enclose some dear little baby whose mother would not put it into anything else.