THE CABIN ON THE PRAIRIE
DR. C. H. PEARSON
Author of "Scenes in the West," Etc.
Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by Lee And Shepard, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
WHOSE SPIRIT HAS JUST GONE FROM PRAIRIE-LIFE
TO THE HILLS OF PARADISE,
I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK.
C. H. PEARSON.
A FRONTIER PROPHET.
"If you stay here long, you will become so Westernized that you will lose all love for New England. That's my experience." So said a brawny pioneer, a man of large mind, and generous heart, and a sledge-hammer fist that never struck a coward's blow; but when swung in defence of the right was like "the jaw-bone" of Samson to the Philistines. He had emigrated from Maine twenty years before, and was one of the first settlers I met on the prairie near the scene of my story. Was his prediction fulfilled? Ah, how like sweetest music sounded the bells of Salem (city of peace) the first Sunday of my return to the Old Bay State! Besides, the frontiersman misrepresented himself. For, seated by his ample clay-stick-and-stone fireplace, how his eye kindled, and tones mellowed, as he treated us to reminiscences of his early days! And what a grip he gave the hand of a freshly-arrived Yankee!
Then there were those east who said, "You will soon tire of the West." They, also, were mistaken. An invalid, with shadowy form and trembling limbs, when I left New England, I awakened to a new life in Minnesota. "Take a gun on your shoulders, kill and eat the wild game of the prairies," said my medical friends. I anticipated vicissitude and deprivation in following such counsel; but these toughened my weak frame, and added zest to frontier labors and pleasures; for I was soon able to do a man's share of the former, and in threading forest and prairie I was brought into delightful nearness to nature in its beauty, freshness, and magnitude, and in visiting the lodge of the Indian and the cabins of the settlers I met with plenty of adventure.
In writing this work, I have, with peculiar interest, lived over the scenes and incidents of my varied frontier experience; have travelled once more amid the waving grasses and beckoning flowers; heard again the bark of the wolf, and the voices of birds; felt on my brow the kiss of the health-giving breeze; worshipped anew in the log-cabin sanctuary. Yes, East and West are both dear to me. One fittingly supplements the other. Each holds the ashes of kindred. By a singular providence, since this tale was completed, a much-loved relative, one of the gentlest and most self-sacrificing whose presence ever glorified the earth, has found a resting-place in the bosom of the very prairie I had in mind while penning these pages. Sent west by physicians to save her life, she reached that spot in time to die, thus attaching my heart to that soil by another and sorrowful tie.
That East and West may be bound together by love, as well as by national and commercial relations, and that this story may tend in its humble way to so happy a result, is the earnest wish of
CHAPTER PAGE I. The Pioneer Family.—A Spirited Chase. 9 II. Shooting Double.—A Frontier Doctor. 23 III. Where Can He Be?—A Heart Revelation. 35 IV. A Brush With Indians.—A Black Heart. 47 V. Brother Smith and Quarter Stakes. 65 VI. Mrs. Jones's Story.—The Gray Wolf. 79 VII. A Sabbath on the Prairie. 93 VIII. Tom's Victory. 105 IX. A Surprise. 116 X. "No Whiskey at This Raising!" 126 XI. Old Mrs. Skinflint in Trouble.—Lost in the Woods. 142 XII. Fire and Flood. 158 XIII. The Indian Lodge. 170 XIV. The War-Song. 187 XV. The Massacre at Spirit Lake. 194 XVI. A Beleaguered Cabin. 210 XVII. The Mysterious Fire. 226 XVIII. The Boy in the Tree. 237 XIX. Bub's Broadside. 250 XX. Long Hair. 260 XXI. "Pull the String, Bub." 272 XXII. Tom and the Money-Lender. 285 XXIII. An Enchanting Scene.—The Parting. 295
THE CABIN ON THE PRAIRIE.
THE PIONEER FAMILY.—A SPIRITED CHASE.
"There, the last hill is dug, and I'm glad!" and Tom Jones leaned on his hoe, lost in thought.
He was a stout lad of sixteen, with frowzy brown hair, crowned by a brimless straw hat, and his pants looked as if they had been turned inside out and outside in, upside down and downside up, and darned and patched and re-darned and patched again, until time, and labor, and cloth enough, such as it was, had been used to fabricate a number of pairs of pants. As for boots,—for his lower extremities were not wholly destitute of protection,—they might have come down to him as an heir-loom from a pauper of a preceding generation. But what mattered it to him that his clothes were threadbare, many-hued, and grotesque? or that his boots let the deep, rich soil in at sides and toes? Was he not a "squatter sovereign," or the son of one, free in his habits as the Indian that roamed the prairies of his frontier home? He had not heard of "the latest fashion," and paid no attention to the cut of his garments, although, it must be confessed, he sometimes wished them a trifle more spruce and comfortable. His home, as I have hinted, was on the prairie. Nevertheless, the family domain was an unpretending one. Less than an acre, fenced in the rudest manner, enclosed the "farm and farm buildings," the latter consisting of a small log house and log pigsty, the cabin, at the time our sketch opens, being, it is evident, at least two seasons old—a fact which serves to show the more plainly the poverty and thriftlessness of the inmates; for they have had time, certainly, to cultivate quite a tract of the easily-tilled land, had they enterprise and industry. But they belonged to a class not famous for these virtues—the restless, ever-moving class that pioneer the way towards the setting sun. But perhaps we are leaving the boy propped too long on his hoe. Let us take a more critical look at him. "Fine feathers don't make fine birds," observes the old proverb. Forgetting the dress, then, please study his face. A clear, deep-blue eye, delicately-arched eyebrows, regular features, mouth and chin indicating decision and native refinement, and a well-developed forehead. Ah, here may be a diamond in the rough! Who knows?
The squatter's son looked about him with a dissatisfied air. "I do wish," he soliloquized, "that I could see something of the world, and do something for myself. Here we've been changing around from one place to another, doing nothing but raise a few potatoes and a little corn, living in a miserable cabin, where there are no schools, and scarcely any neighbors. It's too bad to spend all our days so. I believe we were made for something better; and, as the minister told us Sunday, we ought to try and be somebody, and not float along as the stick on the stream. I'm sure it isn't, and never was, to mother's mind; and, as to father—" And here he stopped and pondered, as if trying to solve a mystery, and in a style that would have been pronounced philosophic, had he been a college professor—scratched his head. Then, with his ragged sleeve, he wiped the sweat from his brow, leaving a streak of black that made that part of his face present quite a different appearance from what it did, reader, when you and I noticed it a moment ago. And going to the cabin, he returned with a rickety basket, and, commencing at the lower end of the field, began picking up the potatoes that had been left drying in the sun. A goodly crop had the little patch produced; for the vegetable decays and fertilizing rains and snows of centuries had covered the prairie with a dressing with which art could not compete, and it was more difficult not to get a harvest from the seed sown than to get one. The rows of hills were covered with the bountiful returns brought up to the light of day by Tom's well-used hoe. It was not, however, the size, quality, or number of the potatoes that most interested Tom just then. The fact that they were all out of the ground; that the corn was cut and stacked, and the pumpkins ready to be housed; that the fall work could be finished by that afternoon's sun-setting,—stirred him strangely; for he had of late begun to question the future, to learn what it had in store for him. He had come to realize, in a degree, that that future would be very much what he chose to make it. And serious dissatisfaction with the past and the present filled his heart with disquiet.
Tom's memory had been active for a few days. How like yesterday it seemed, when he was a little child, and his father, getting together money enough, bought a horse and wagon, and, putting the family in the vehicle, started out prospecting for a new home farther from the advancing waves of civilization! How many similar expeditions had they taken since, and how painfully had their experiences illustrated the saying, "A rolling stone gathers no moss"! But roll Mr. Jones would. Tom knew this too well. It was, indeed, viewed in one aspect, an easy way to get on, this going in one's own conveyance from place to place of Uncle Sam's unsettled lands; this living off the country, gypsying in the woods and on the prairies; this two thirds savage and one third civilized mode of putting a growing family through the world; and if you were to see Mr. Jones seated in the emigrant wagon, reins in hand and pipe in mouth, or with shouldered rifle on the track of a deer, you would say that such a life was eminently agreeable to him. Every man is made for something; and you would say that he was cut out for a wandering frontier loafer, who gets his subsistence by doing the least possible work in the easiest possible manner, and hunting and fishing. A horse and wagon, or extemporized log cabin, for a shelter; tools enough for the simplest tilling of the soil, and furniture for the rudest housekeeping and clothing; the making over, by the industrious wife, of clothes bought "some time back,"—such was the way the Joneses lived. Putting up a small log house by the bank of a river for the sake of the fish, and near a forest for the game, with "a strip of clean prairie" for "garden sarce,"—there they might remain for a year or two; then you would be quite sure to find the immigrant friend looking discontented, and expressing a wish to "sell his claim."
"It's growing so crowded with folks coming into the country, I can't go three miles without stumbling against a shanty or a house; and cart tracks are getting so plenty, I can't stand it. I must pull up stakes, and go farther on to find a place to breathe in."
And, perchance, realizing a trifle for his claim and improvements, Dobbin is hitched anew into the crazy old wagon. The broken crockery, and leaky black tea-pot, and ancient cooking-stove—the pipe of the latter running up through the wagon-top—are once more aboard, wife and children packed in, and the uneasy frontiersman is pushing out again towards solitude.
Tom had been reviewing this bit of family history more in detail, and much more vividly than we have now done. The result was a feeling of disgust, and a resolution to break away from such a life, and an endeavor for something higher.
But what had brought the squatter's son to such a conclusion? The condition of the family had for some time been unsatisfactory to Tom. Though brought up in this roving, improvident way, his better nature often revolted against it; not, however, so strongly and decisively as now. Still, desires, and even longings, for something better had flitted through his mind, only to make him moody and irritable. Doubtless these aspirations were due, in no small measure, to his mother—a woman much superior to her condition, but who, clinging to her husband with a pure and changeless love, accepted the privations of her lot without a murmur. Taken by her marriage from the comforts and advantages of a good home, she had followed his fortunes "for better or for worse," having much more of the latter, in a worldly point of view, than the former. Not that Mr. Jones was a hard or a dissipated man; but his roving habits, and the deprivations and poverty they endured, had made her days sad and toil-worn.
Tom, in his tastes, was like his mother. But a new event had recently occurred. A godly minister, in search of the lost sheep of the heavenly fold, had made his way into the region, and, the Sabbath previous to the opening of our sketch, had, in earnest, eloquent words, preached the gospel to the settlers. The log cabin, in which the services were held, was only a mile and a half distant, and Tom and his father, with the neighbors generally, attended. How differently the gospel message affects different persons! Some are softened, others are hardened, by it. Some are stirred up to certain duties, while, under the same sermon, others are incited to an entirely different train of thought and course of action. The effect on Tom of the sermons of the preacher was to incite his feelings to revolt against his lot in life, and arouse him to the necessity of a purpose in living. He did not look forward so much to the world to come as to the "to come" of this world. The present in its relations to life here—this was the point with him; and he revolved the subject, viewing it in every possible light, until a decision was reached.
"This preacher," said he, "is from a region of schools and privileges. Why can I not seek such advantages, and be somebody, and accomplish something? Why can I not go to the city to school this winter?" What an idea for him! It almost took his breath to think of it. And, then, how should he get there? Where was the money coming from to support him while studying?
"I must work and earn it," he replied. "I can do anything honest; I can, at least, work for my board."
Tom's mind had suffered from a famine of knowledge. He could read passably well, write a little, was good at reckoning, and the little he knew excited a craving for more. Public addresses had always moved him deeply, and the living truths of the gospel, as presented by the living preacher, had set the mental machinery in motion, until the decision to go from home in search of an education, had been wrought out; and it was this rising purpose that kept him so patiently at his day's task of finishing up the fall work, that he might commence his new career.
"I will finish getting in the crops by dark," said he, as he filled the basket, "and then there will be nothing to keep me at home;" and he was about raising the basket to his shoulder, when he was startled from his reveries by a loud cry of,—
"Tom, Tom! come quick! I've caught a fawn, and he'll get away!" It was twelve-year-old Charley from the hazel bushes that bordered the potato-patch near the woods. Tom ran to assist his brother, but could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw the little fellow had caught the fawn by the tail, and was struggling to hold the agile creature, forgetting how dexterously the deer can use his heels. Scarcely had the elder brother mounted the fence, when, with a smart kick, the fawn sent Charley over on his back, and leaped into the enclosure. At this instant a bevy of flaxen-haired urchins, hatless, bonnetless,—Tom's brothers and sisters,—came whooping from the cabin, and joined the chase. In a moment Tom had forgotten all his gloomy thoughts and high resolves, and was as eager as any of them, as they tried to secure the nimble prize. A lively time it was, too; fear and speed against numbers, noise, and strategy. A good force were the pursuers; the "olive plants" of the Joneses grew very naturally in regular gradations, like the steps of a flight of stairs. Tom, Eliza, Charley, Bob, Sarah, Bill, and Bub, the four-year-old, were all active with hands, legs, and lungs, while the mother stood in the doorway, surveying the scene, with baby in her arms.
"Fix up the fence where the deer jumped in!" cried Tom to Charley; and the latter hastened to repair the breach, for the brush had been broken down at that point.
From corner to corner and side to side bounded the deer, slipping through the fingers of one and another of the youngsters; but they gave him no rest.
"Stop him, 'Lize! Hold him, Bob! Head him off. Say! Get out of the way, Bub! There! why didn't you catch him, Charley? Mother, can't you put down baby, and help us? He'll get away! There! he's going over the fence! No, he isn't!" Amid such vociferations the children rushed on, pell-mell, till out of breath. Luckily, the brush fence was so thick and high, being made of dead trees piled upon each other, that the animal could find no point to push through or scale, especially while kept in "running order" by his pursuers. Although thus imprisoned, he was baffling their efforts, refusing to be captured, when Tom said to the children,—
"We can't catch him this way. But if you will all do as I tell you, I guess we can." The fawn was standing in the further corner of the field, as if waiting to see what they would do next. And Tom, ranging his force in line, himself at the head, gave the word to advance towards the deer.
"Steady, steady," said he, as they neared the animal. They had succeeded in approaching within a few yards, and Tom, with outspread arms and eagle eye, advanced slowly, watching to seize him if he should attempt to spring away, when little Bub, who had been sent into the cabin by Tom, having gone around unobserved on the outside of the garden behind the deer, suddenly ran a sharp stick through the brush into the creature's back, saying,—
"I make 'im wun!"
Frantically jumped the deer at this—a denouement so unexpected to his assailants, that the line became broken, the little soldiers were tumbled together, with Tom on top of them, and the deer stood almost at the same instant at the other end of the patch, the whole being accomplished with marvellous quickness.
"Get off my head!" screamed Sarah from under the heap.
"O, dear, you'll break my arm!" cried Eliza.
"What did you fall on me for?" angrily demanded Bob of Charley, as he spit the dirt from his mouth. "You did it on purpose—you know you did!"
"No, I didn't!"
"Yes, you did!"
"I should a thought Tom might a held the deer, an' not fell on us so heavy," sobbed Sarah, rubbing her eyes with her begrimed gown.
But while they fretted, the fawn had been critically examining the fence to find egress, seeing which the children dried their tears, and made for him again; and at length the graceful creature, bewildered by the din, and foiled by numbers, was forced to surrender himself after another vigorous scramble, in which the basket of potatoes was overturned, and the corn scattered in delightful disorder, and was borne by Tom in triumph to the cabin, accompanied by the excited group.
"We've got him, marm—we've got him!" they shouted in chorus as they followed their leader into the house.
"And where will you keep him to-night?" she inquired.
"He tan seep with me!" promptly answered Bub, at which there was much merriment.
"No," replied Tom, shaking his head at the mischief-maker, "you will stick a stick into his back, and 'make 'im wun' again."
After much deliberation it was decided that the fawn be tied to a bed-post, while a pen was built for his accommodation near the cabin. This was soon accomplished, and the fawn placed in it.
When Tom returned to his work, the day was far gone. He gazed around with regret as he saw that not only was it now too late to finish getting in the crops, but that the chase of the deer, in which he had engaged with so much ardor, had made him no little extra labor. What a task it would be to find all the potatoes, scattered and trampled into the rich earth as they were! and the bundles of corn had been broken from their bindings, and must be gathered together and refastened. To find and carry in the potatoes consumed the time till supper; and then, at his mother's call, he went in depressed and unhappy, and after bringing in the wood for the breakfast fire, and feeding the pigs, he went up the rude ladder to his straw bed on the floor.
It was scanty fare that the Jones family had. You could see that by their looks. It is true that they were healthy and strong; but they lacked the fair, plump development that plenty of food of a suitable variety gives to childhood and youth. Of vegetables they were not destitute; potatoes, corn, beans, and pumpkins they had in abundance since fall set in, if not before. Bread, milk, and meat were usually scarce with them. For the latter they depended principally on the father's rifle; but as he was apt to take wide and eccentric tramps over the prairies, there would be long intervals when but little game from his gun made savory the family cooking.
Mr. Jones had been away for some days now, and his patient wife had really suffered for food. Vegetables of the same kind, served up pretty much in the same way, with little to give relish to them, a big crying infant the while tugging at her breast, and the house-work to do, it is not strange that while the children, fresh from romping in the bracing prairie air, were favored with a ravenous appetite, she had little. Tom understood all this; for, constituted like her, he, too, felt the deprivations of the table, although in a less degree, and much did he worry about her meagre diet.
"Ah," he thought, as he lay down for the night, "when I am away and earning, won't I send the good things to mother!"
SHOOTING DOUBLE.—A FRONTIER DOCTOR.
Tom slept soundly, and notwithstanding he charged his memory to awaken him before daybreak, dawn was brightening the east while he was still in the shadowy land of dreams. The low attic had no window, save a pane of glass nailed over a hole under the eaves; and long the lad might have slumbered on, had not a loud sound suddenly aroused him.
"Does it thunder?" he exclaimed, fearing a prairie tempest had arisen to interfere with his cherished project of leaving home.
Peering through the window pane, he saw, to his surprise, that the morning was cloudless. What could it mean? Assuredly he had heard the rolling of thunder! He looked out again, for another and more agreeable thought had struck him.
"Yes, it's the hens!" he ejaculated; "my! what a heap of them!"
By "the hens," he meant prairie hens; for in this familiar way they are spoken of at the west. They had spied out the corn, and the fact that it was there, by some telegraphic system in vogue among the birds, had spread for miles around; and making their way through the tall grass from every direction, at once, as the sun appeared, they flew in a huge body over the little cabin into the field. For this species of grouse (Tetrao cupido) are models of good order and punctuality as to their meals, and many an eastern boy or girl might, we suspect, get a useful hint from them on table etiquette. They assemble, as if by appointment, around the farmer's grain-field, and quietly wait for the breakfast signal, which is the rising of the sun, then enter the enclosure together, and having fed just one hour by their unerring chronometer, they retire, to return at sunset for another hour's feeding. This was their first visit to Mr. Jones's patch; doubtless the trampled and scattered corn had tempted them in now.
Tom's eyes danced for joy, as, peeping at the hens, he hurried on his clothes. Hundreds were there pecking along like so many turkeys. It was the combined whirr of their wings that woke him so effectually; many an older person on the frontier has been deceived by the same sound, supposing it to be thunder, so heavy a noise do these wild fowl of the prairies make when numbers of them fly together.
"Won't mother be glad!" he whispered to himself; "and what a dinner she'll have to-day!" And descending the ladder, he took from the hooked pegs overhead his father's old shot-gun, where it had hung unused for months, and from a little box some powder and shot, and a percussion cap; then loading in haste, he rested the weapon on the window-sill, that he might take steady aim, and fired at the fowl. A terrible report followed, and Tom came to himself to find his mother bathing his forehead, and his sisters crying. The gun was out of order, and, being also overloaded, had blown off the lock, burning his face, and stunning him by the recoil.
Poor Tom returned to consciousness to suffer. His face began rapidly to swell, and presented a frightful appearance, so blackened was it by the powder, and the smarting was intense. Mrs. Jones, in her isolated life, had been too many times thrown on her own resources to be wholly overcome by the disaster. Her chief anxiety was lest Tom's eyes were destroyed, as the eyebrows and eyelashes had been completely burned off by the explosion. When she saw, however, that he was not blind, she said, with tears,—
"O, how glad I am, dear child, that your eyes are spared!"
A couple of miles away lived a doctor,—or an individual who wore that title,—on whom, in emergencies, the scattered settlers were wont to call. This queer Aesculapian specimen was remarkably tall and lank, always went with his pants tucked in the tops of his thumping cowhide boots, and wore a red woollen shirt, the soiled and limpsy neck-band of which, coming nearly to his ears, served instead of a collar. He dwelt alone, with his cat, in a rude, claim-shanty, sleeping with his window open and door unfastened; and if his services were needed in the night, the messenger would put his head in at the window and call to him, or pull the latch-string and walk in. The doctor was pompous in conversation, and affected long words; but it was understood—unfortunately for his patients—that his advantages had been poor.
For this worthy Charley had been promptly despatched by his mother; and good time did the child make, so frightened was he about poor Tom. He was an imaginative lad, and, when much excited, apt to see "two hundred black cats fighting in the yard," when there was only a frolicsome kitten chasing its tail; and at such times he had the bad habit of running his words together. He was just the one to send on the errand, so far as speed was concerned; but when he burst into the doctor's cabin, shouting,—
"Blews-sed-off! blews-sed-off!" the slumbering man of herbs prematurely awakened, rubbed his forehead, to be sure he was not dreaming, and stammered,—
"Wha-wha-what's to pay?"
"Blews-sed-off! blews-sed off!" reiterated the urchin.
"Boy," said the doctor, now fully aroused, "be self-possessed and collected, and state distinctly what has happened." And holding the lad by the shoulders, he added, "Speak very slowly, that I may understand you!"
"Blew—his—head—off!" emphatically repeated Charley, pausing after each word.
"A shocking occurrence, truly!" ejaculated the physician. "I do not wonder, boy, that one so unaccustomed to such sanguinary events should be terrified. But who is the unfortunate victim of this tragical and fatal accident—or was he murdered in cold blood?"
"Yes, sir," replied Charley, who, in turn, did not understand the doctor, but supposed he must assent to all he said.
"Yes—what?" sharply asked the physician. "Was it, I say, an accident, or was the man assassinated? Be quick, now!"
"Yesir!" instantly screamed Charley, thinking the doctor was now reproving him for speaking slowly.
"Well, you are scared out of your seven senses, you wretched dunce!" retorted the doctor, out of temper; and, shaking the lad, he said, "See if you can tell me now who it is that's killed."
"It's our Tom!"
"And how do I know who your Tom is?" roared the physician. "There's my Tom;" and he pointed to a monstrous gray cat that sat on an oak chest watching the boy with green-glaring eyes; "and if he should mistake you for a thieving gopher some fine morning, and eat you up alive, small loss would it be to the world, I'm thinking!"
"He's my brother!" timidly interposed Charley, keeping to the question.
"Your brother! Well, old hunter, what do you say to that?" said the doctor, stroking his disagreeable pet: "that dirty-faced, uncombed, ill-dressed ignoramus of a boy claims you for a relative. Do you realize the honor, eh?"
"I mean that our Tom is my brother," explained Charley, bursting into tears.
The doctor, softened by his distress, asked more gently,—
"But hasn't your Tom any other name?"
"No, sir," answered the boy.
"Well, what is your name?"
"O, I see! you belong to the Jones tribe; not much matter if all their heads were blown off. But what do you want of me?"
"Mother wants you to come right down quick, and make Tom well."
"What! after his head's blown off? That's a job, anyhow. Nice-looking young man he'd be—wouldn't he? going round, well as ever, without any head on his shoulders. But I see how it is: his head isn't all gone—just a trifle left—enough to grow another with;" and the doctor, now in good humor, succeeded in drawing from the lad an intelligible account of the accident, and mounting his horse, with saddle-bags behind him, and a tin pail in his hand, he proceeded to a well-to-do settler's, and narrating the accident with nearly as much exaggeration as did little Charley, he added, with an emphatic jerk of his collar, "I'll fix the fellow up so that he'll be as good as new." He then begged some yeast, and a roll of cotton batting, and, repairing to the Joneses, covered Tom's face with the cotton dipped in the yeast, and returned to his loggery. Whether the application was in accordance with the Materia Medica of orthodox practice or not, after a short time the pain subsided, and Tom dropped into a peaceful sleep; seeing which, Mrs. Jones went about her morning's work with a thankful heart. The children had had nothing to eat as yet, and now that their brother's moanings had ceased, they realized that they were hungry.
"Tan't I have my supper?" sobbed Bub, clinging to his mother's dress as she walked.
"'Tisn't supper; it's breakfast!" answered Bob, giving the child a push, which helped him cry the louder.
"Cry-baby cripsy," mocked Bob, making ugly faces at the little fellow; for fasting had made Bob quarrelsome.
Sad-eyed Mrs. Jones tried in vain to quiet them, carrying and nursing baby and preparing the meal at the same time, for even the older children were cross as unfed cubs. Mrs. Jones was no disciplinarian; she was too broken-spirited to command her offspring; if she ruled at all, it was by affection and tact. In this instance she set the older ones at work. One she directed to replenish the fire, another to wash the potatoes, a third to sweep the floor: a slow job the latter was, as the "truncheon," or floor of split logs, was jagged, and the broom worn nearly to the handle. She suggested to Charley to see if the fawn had got away, which had the effect of causing Bub to go on the same mission. This stratagem, however, did not avail much in the case of Charley, who quickly saw through his mother's device, and returned, exclaiming,—
"Pooh! I guess the fawn's all right!"
But Bub found congenial occupation in teasing the fawn. The pen was narrow; and Bub, not being able to reach the deer, and tired of shouting at him, started off into the field for a famous long stick which had served him for a steed the day before. As he looked for it among the corn, he saw something flutter, then heard a curious cackle. It was a prairie hen, whose wings had been broken by shot from Tom's gun. The bird moved painfully away, trying to hide behind the leafy stalks. But Bub's bright eyes could not be eluded, and he followed after, calling, "Chick, chick, chick!" mistaking it for a domestic fowl. The cunning bird dodged in and out among the standing and prostrate stacks with marvellous swiftness, considering its condition; but persevering curly-pate seized the hen at last by the neck, saying, exultantly,—
"I dot yer; now you 'have!"
The strong wild fowl struggled desperately, scratching his chubby hand until it bled; but Bub trudged on with his prize into the cabin, saying, as he entered,—
"See, marm! I totched a biddy!"
The little captor's entrance was greeted with shouts of delight on the part of the children, and by a loving kiss from his mother; for Bub was a great favorite, and a manly wee boy, despite his loud-lunged blubbering, in which he excelled on occasions, and his mischievious pranks, in which also he was the equal of Bubs of more civilized communities. As he stood in the cabin door, coolly holding the kicking prairie hen, heedless of its cruel claws, his torn and soiled baby-frock surmounted by a round fat face, bright blue eyes, and light hair falling in tangled ringlets, the golden sun resting upon his bare head and lighting up his dimpled cheek, he formed a picture worthy the pencil of an artist.
"What a little man you are!" exclaimed the mother, taking the heavy fowl from him. "You shall have some nice breakfast for this!" and she put a baked potato and a piece of corn-cake on the corner of a trunk, and while Bub with a satisfied hum partook of the food, she quietly slipped out of doors and wrung the hen's neck.
The children plied the little hero with questions as to where and how he caught the hen, which he took his own time to answer while he munched. Then they rushed out in a body, hoping to find another. Their search was successful, and they brought back two, which they found lying some distance apart, quite dead. The old gun had "scattered" prodigiously, but, as the flock of hens was so large, did good execution, as appeared from the result.
Tom was asleep on his mother's bed,—which occupied a corner of the one room,—but, aroused by the din which greeted Bub when he came in with the "biddy," regarded the affair quite complacently, although he said nothing. And as the hens were being picked by 'Lize and Sarah, he was comforted by the reflection that his well-meant attempt at gunning had brought the family something to eat. Tom, indeed, had never seen fowl prepared for the household under just such circumstances, and he watched each step in the process with peculiar interest. Mrs. Jones, with a fond mother's quickness, understood well how he felt, and, though she seemed not to notice him, made unusual parade in all that was done.
"Be very careful of those feathers, girls. Why, how thick and soft they are! We'll save every one; and who knows but when Tom gets well he'll contrive some traps and catch hens enough to make a pair of pillows, or a feather-bed?"
"Is a feather-bed very nice?" asked Sarah.
"Very, when the weather is cold, and a body is weakly, as Tom is now; it's so easy to rest upon. There, Eliza, you may pass me the one that is picked, and I'll dress it. How fat it is! and so tender! What a feast we shall have! How thankful we ought to be that Tom's eyes were not put out when he shot these hens! How good he was to think of getting them for us! I hope, girls, you'll help him all you can, when he gets about, and not let him do all the chores."
Mrs. Jones was very handy at such work, and she took care to face the bed so that he might see every part of the operation.
"There's the heart, and there's the liver—sweet as a nut!" and she smelled of them with the air of an epicure. "We must keep them by themselves for the present." Then, deftly jointing the fowl, she put the parts to soak in cold water, strongly salted. "That will take out the wild taste," said she. "How I do wish Tom could eat some of this when it is cooked, it will be so strengthening! But I guess, if nothing happens, the doctor will let him have a taste to-morrow!"
WHERE CAN HE BE?—A HEART REVELATION.
"Where can he be?" sighed Mrs. Jones, as she looked anxiously out of the little cabin window. Many times a day had she done the same, save that she thought the question, but did not utter it, as now. Her husband had been away for more than a week, and no tidings from him. What could it mean? When would he return? Had any evil befallen him? These and similar inquiries were continually arising in her mind, filling her with disquiet. She was one of those singularly-constituted persons who are given to presentiments, and who, when they are under the spell of a deep, controlling conviction that something unusual is to transpire,—a persuasion that comes to them, not through reason or evidence, or the probabilities of things, but, as some express it, "as if a voice had spoken to them" when no human being was near, or by a secret whispering to the soul by some unseen and seemingly superhuman authority,—when she had such a presentiment it never deceived her. For some time she had foreboded trouble. The foreboding grew upon her till its dark shadow cast a gloom upon all her feelings; it thrilled her at times with fear. She would start at the veriest trifles, as if affrighted. Particularly at night did she cower under the feeling, and of late it had been hard for her to sleep; and when she slept, it was wakefully: often would she start up, and look around to see that all was right, then fall asleep again. And yet she did not apprehend danger to herself particularly. Sometimes she feared for her husband; but the growing feeling was, that trouble for the settlers was at hand, and a terrible fear of the Indians rested upon her.
It was far into the night now, and the lone watcher felt too uneasy to retire. The moon shone with great brilliancy, and she sat without a light, busying herself with some coarse sewing. The children were peacefully sleeping, and not a sound was to be heard save their breathing, and the whisper of the wind outside. The silence was painful to her, and she arose and peered out of the window again. Everything looked weird and ghastly. What a solitude! For miles over the smooth prairie not a human habitation was to be seen. In the other direction stood the mysterious forest. How black and dismal seemed the trunks of the trees in the shimmering moonbeams! She gazed timidly at their indistinct outlines, with strained eye.
"How foolish I am!" she murmured; but, as she turned from the window, her attention was fixed once more upon the forest; for it seemed to her that a dark object moved along its outskirts. "It's only the trees!" she said, striving to reassure herself.
But in a moment more an ox appeared; then a dark figure followed, and another, and another, walking in single file. As the strange procession emerged more fully into view, she saw that the forms behind the ox were those of Indians; they were driving off the settlers' cattle. As their route lay near the cabin, fear that they would pay her a visit, for a moment quite paralyzed her. It was but for a moment, however; the instinct of the mother was roused. Her children might be murdered. She glanced again at the advancing savages, and then, softly opening the door,—which, fortunately, was on the other side of the cabin,—she returned with the axe, the only weapon of defence at hand, and, with flashing eyes, and a deadly resolution depicted on her face, which seemed turned to marble, silently awaited the onslaught. But the savages, in their soft moccasins, glided noiselessly by, like so many snakes. They did not appear to notice the cabin, and were soon out of sight. When they were gone, Mrs. Jones sat down, feeling as weak as before she had felt strong. The reaction was too great, and, a faintness coming on, her head sank upon the side of the bed where Tom lay. This aroused him, and he called, repeatedly,—
"Hush," she whispered, at last; "they'll hear you!"
"Who?" whispered Tom, alarmed.
The mother kept perfectly still, listening intently, until satisfied that the danger was really past; then she related to her son what she had seen, and what her fears had been.
"But, mother," said Tom, confidently, "there are no signs of trouble from them. They wouldn't dare to attack the settlers; for they have always been beaten by the white man. Besides, there are not many near us. You see that these have not harmed us; they only stole an ox. Why, mother, don't you know that there has been no Indian war for a good many years, and that the Indians have been growing weaker and weaker all the time, and going farther and farther off?"
This was plausible; and Tom only expressed the views of the settlers. Mrs. Jones knew that there was no reason for her anxiety, except her fears, and she had not ventured to express them to any one before; for she was aware, such was the prevalent feeling on this subject, that it would expose her to ridicule. But now she only shook her head, and said,—
"I wish your father was safe at home."
"Why, mother, you don't worry about him—do you?" exclaimed Tom, in amazement. "The Indians always liked him, and he can go anywhere over the prairies and through the woods without guide or compass, and not get lost. And he's a great marksman, you know: it wouldn't do for an Indian to get in the way of his rifle."
"But, Tom," said the mother, taking his hand, and suddenly changing the subject, "why is it that you don't get better faster? Your skin is real hot, and you look feverish. The doctor said you ought to have been out before this." Tom looked down, but did not reply. "Tom," continued she, tenderly, "something is troubling your mind. I have known it for some time. Don't you love your mother well enough to make her your confidant? What is the matter, my son?"
Still the lad did not reply; but his heart was deeply moved by this unexpected and loving attack upon the citadel that held his secret secure, as he had supposed. Soon the tears began to stream from his eyes, and he sobbed aloud.
Mrs. Jones's eyes closed, and her lips moved as if she were in prayer; upon which Tom, after she had ceased, asked, softly,—
"Mother, are you a Christian?"
"That is a serious question, my son," said she. "I sometimes hope that I am one; but it is a great thing to be a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. But why do you ask?"
"O," replied he, embarrassed, "I don't just know why. I know you're good enough to be a Christian; but you never spoke to us children about it, and—I didn't know what to think."
Mrs. Jones seemed pained by the answer, and said,—
"Tom, I know I have been negligent in this matter." Then she added, hesitatingly, "But your father does not feel as I do about it; and I have scarcely felt like instructing the children contrary to his views. I have ever tried to please him in everything; perhaps I have carried this too far."
"Mother, were you praying just now?"
"Yes," said she, hesitatingly.
"And were you praying for me?"
"Yes, my son."
Tom was silent for a while, and then said,—
"Mother, since I heard the preacher, I have many times wished I were a Christian; that is, if—if—the Bible is true. But there are some things that I don't understand, and they are right in my way."
"What are they, Tom?" He colored, and said,—
"I don't like to tell you, for I am afraid you will think me very bad. But I thought some time I would like to ask some one about it who knows more than I do. You believe that there is a God, mother?"
"With all my heart."
"And that he is pleased with those who do good, and angry with those who do wrong?"
"Well, it seems hard, if this is true, that he should let me get hurt so the other morning, as I was trying to shoot the hens for you, and you needed them so much, when there's Jo Priest, and ever so many more, swearing, ugly fellows, that go a gunning almost all the time, and kill things just for the fun of it, and they get plenty of game, and never get injured;" and the lad spoke bitterly.
"My child," said the mother, "there are many things hard to be understood about God's dealings with us, and I am afraid that a great part of them seem harder than they really are, because we are so ignorant. But you know how I am situated. I don't hear any preaching, nor see those that do, very often; and it's not to be expected that I can clear up these things, as they can."
"I wish," interrupted Tom, petulantly, "that the preacher was here. I'd like to ask him; but perhaps he wouldn't like to talk with a poor ignorant boy like me."
"Well," continued the mother, "I know here"—and she placed her hand upon her heart—"that all God does is just right, however dark it seems, and that satisfies me."
Tom was impressed by his mother's faith, but soon objected,—
"Mother, do you think we can always trust our feelings? You said a little while ago that you felt that there would be trouble with the Indians; but nobody expects that. And now you say that you feel that all God does is right. Now, if you are wrong about the Indians, and about father's being in danger from them, how can you be sure that your feelings are right about God?"
"Tom," replied she, "I have a great many impressions that come to nothing. But there are some that never do. And I know that God does right; for I feel that he does; and, Tom, we shall see about the Indians;" and she sighed heavily, and rose, and gazed long and earnestly off over the prairie, and towards the woods. Then, seating herself on the bedside, she said, gently,—
"My son, you haven't told me all your troubles yet. Hadn't you better hold nothing back from me?"
The lad turned away at this, deeply touched again; "for," thought he, "her feelings are right about me; perhaps they are about God;" and her persevering and delicate solicitude pierced his very soul.
"Mother," said he, at length, struggling with emotion, "I don't want to grow up ignorant and useless. And I don't want the children and us all to be so poor and despised;" and the tears came again, and the mother's mingled with his. "I can't bear to have it so, and I won't," he added, rising in bed, and speaking with excited energy.
"Ah, my poor child," said the mother, "I knew it was that that lay on your mind, and took away your appetite, and made you so unhappy. And I have been praying for a long while that you might feel so."
"You didn't want me to be miserable—did you, mother?" asked Tom, in surprise.
"God forbid, Tom. But I couldn't wish you to grow up contented with such a life. I have felt that you might do a great deal of good in the world, and I wished you to see it."
"But, mother, how can I have things different?"
"Tom," returned she, looking searchingly at him, "how have you thought to make them different?" The boy averted his face again, and made no reply for a moment, and then said, softly,—
"I had decided to go away and get learning, and earn my living, and try to be somebody."
"And when did you think of starting?"
"The morning," answered he, with an unsteady voice, "that I got hurt with the gun."
"And were you going off without letting me know it, Tom?"
"Yes, mother; but I expected to write back, and tell you all about it."
"Tom," returned the mother, tenderly, "you asked me, a little while ago, why it was that God let you get hurt that morning when you were trying to kill the hens for the family, while those bad boys go uninjured. I believe God's ways were right in this. Why, my dear child, you are better to me, and more necessary to me, at present, than many prairie hens; and you might have harmed yourself more by going from home than you were by the powder. You meant it well, Tom; but you reasoned about going away, just as you reasoned about God's dealings with you, like a child. Tom, you are necessary now to my comfort, and perhaps my life. I am not over strong, and any great trouble might be too much for me. I am afraid nights now, but I feel safer when you are here. And you help me a great deal about house, and in the care of the children. Your father is away so much I have to depend on you. And what if, when you are away, the cabin should take fire,—and you know our stove is none of the tightest,—or if we should have trouble with the savages? And who would get the wood up for us during the cold winter that is coming? God took too good care of us, Tom, to let you forsake us that morning. Besides, Tom, you wouldn't have succeeded."
"Why not?" asked Tom, faintly.
"You hadn't decent clothes to go in, nor any recommendations. Your life had been very different from that you proposed to enter upon, and you hadn't a cent of money to help you on your way. The chances were, that you would have suffered, and, instead of helping us, as you do now, you would have been a source of sorrow, anxiety, and expense to us. Is it not so?" Tom saw that his mother understood the case; but his heart sank as his air-castle fell, and he wept anew. "But do not misunderstand me, Tom, as you did God's dealings with you. What I say brings to you a great disappointment. It seems almost cruel in me thus to cut off your hopes of being something better in the world. Tom, it does not follow, because you were going too soon, and God permitted an accident to stop you, that the time may never come for you to realize your hopes so far as they are right. You say you wish to be useful. You are useful now, very useful. Be contented to help at home for the present, and God will, I doubt not, open something better for you in his own good time." And, kissing him, she lay down upon her bed for a short nap before the day should break.
A BRUSH WITH INDIANS.—A BLACK HEART.
"Hello! Let me in, I say. Are you all dead?" and a strong hand shook the door.
Mrs. Jones rubbed her eyes, for she had overslept herself; and as the children depended on her to awaken them in the morning, they were sleeping too. Hastening to the door, she undid the fastening, and her husband entered.
"Is that you, Joseph?" she asked.
"It isn't anybody else, I reckon," he gruffly answered; "but where shall I put this?" taking a quarter of venison from his shoulder, which his wife hung against the wall on a wooden peg.
"I'm glad you've got back, Joseph."
"Well you might be, for you came near never seeing me again."
"I hope you haven't met with any mishap," said the wife, anxiously.
"Nothing to speak of, only a scratch from the bullet of one of them rascally red-skins."
"Why, you haven't been fighting with the Indians—have you?"
"Not exactly," he answered; "I've always treated them well; but after this, if any of 'em get in my way, I shall pop at 'em before they do at me; that's all."
"But how did they happen to shoot at you?" asked Mrs. Jones.
"Well," said her husband, "just give me something to put on my side, for it's a grain sore after my long tramp, and cook us a venison steak, and I'll tell you all about it;" and Mr. Jones, pulling open his hunting-shirt, showed an ugly-looking flesh wound in his side.
"Dear me, Joseph, you are hurt," said the wife, as she carefully bandaged it, putting on a simple salve, which she always kept on hand for family use. "You look tired and pale—bringing home such a load, and bleeding all the way. Sit down, and I'll get you something to eat directly."
Scarcely had he seated himself, when there was a cry of pain from Tom, and Bub came tumbling head first upon the floor; for, having seen his father, he had scrambled, without ceremony, across Tom's sore face, and receiving a push from the latter, landed upon his nose.
By this time the rest of the children were awake, and shouting, "Dad's come home!" while Bub bellowed at the top of his lungs, "My nose beeds! my nose beeds!"
"O, no, it don't," replied his mother, soothingly.
"Well, it feels wed, it does!" he answered, determined to be pitied.
This remark elicited peals of laughter from his brothers and sisters, which Bub taking as insults, he roared the louder.
"Children," cried Mrs. Jones, "stop laughing at Bub."
But he cut too comical a figure for them to stop at once, for, as he had used, the night before, one of Tom's old shirts for a night dress, he now found it difficult to move towards his father, as each time he stepped the garment would trip his feet.
"Children," interposed Mr. Jones, "why don't you hush. Your marm's spoken to you a number of times already."
At which Bub added with dignity, as he tried to balance himself,—
"I des they're blind, they're so hard o' hearin'!"
"Your father," said the mother, impressively, "has been shot at by the Indians, and came very near being killed, and you ought to keep more quiet."
"Did they kill you, daddy?" asked Bub, who now stood at his father's knee, his blue eyes wide with wonder; "tause, if they did, I'll stick my big stick into their backs."
There was a suppressed tittering at this, for which the children felt half ashamed, considering the startling intelligence they had just heard.
"Mother was afraid you'd have trouble with the Indians," observed Tom, "and she was so much worried that she didn't sleep last night."
"Why, the Indians haven't been doing any mischief about here—have they?" asked his father.
"No," replied Tom, "and I told mother that there wasn't any danger."
But the venison was filling the cabin with its savory smell, and Mrs. Jones said,—
"Hurry, children, and get washed and dressed for breakfast."
And going to the basin, which was in its place on the wash-bench outside the door, with much discussion as to who should have the first chance, hands and faces were treated to a hasty bath.
Mr. Jones was about forty-five years of age—a short, thick-set man, with dark hair and heavy beard. He was a man of much natural ability, and exhibited singular contrasts in character and speech. The free and easy carriage, and quaint language of the "Leather-stocking," sat easily upon him; and yet, at times, he would express himself in words well chosen, and even elegant. He hated society, and was despised by the settlers for his lack of enterprise; and yet, when circumstances drew him out, they were wonder-struck at the variety and accuracy of his information. These inconsistencies made him a mystery; and he was looked down upon, and looked up to, as his neighbors came in contact with one of the other side of his characteristics. In all, too, that pertained to the habits of the animals, and the appearance of the country, no one was so well posted as he. He was built for physical endurance, was cool and courageous in danger, but could not confine himself to regular employment, bodily or mental.
"Isn't Tom coming to breakfast?" inquired Mr. Jones, as the rest of the children were greedily helping themselves from the plate of meat.
So the mother related how Tom had been hurt, and then said,—
"But you haven't told us how you received your injury?"
"Well," said Mr. Jones, as he pushed away his plate, having satisfied his appetite, "I had started for the lake, hearing that there was a good many wild geese and other sorts of game there, and the prospect was, that we should make a pretty big thing of it; but the afternoon after we reached the pond, and was looking about a little, Davis and I were crossing a prairie, and had come in sight of a grove, and says I to him, 'You just go round on the other side of the thicket, and I'll go in on this, and if there's any deer in there, one of us'll start them out.' Well, I'd got within a few yards of the trees, when, the first I knew, I heard the crack of a rifle, and a bullet came singing through my side. Says I to myself, 'That's a red-skin's compliments!' and making believe that I was a gorner, I pitched forward and lay still as a door nail, in the tall grass. I hadn't lain there more 'n a minute, when, sure enough, a red-skin popped out from behind a tree close by, and made for me, to take my scalp. I had my revolver ready, and when he was within a few feet of me, I just let daylight through him; and as he fell, not knowing how many more of the scamps might be about, I dragged myself along to the side of the lake, where I found Davis waiting for me,—for he had seen the whole thing,—and creeping around to the other side under the banks, we made tracks for home. Why under the sun the feller didn't put the bullet through my heart, I can't make out, for I never knew one of 'em to miss, when he was so near as that, and had a fair aim."
Mrs. Jones then knew why her heart was so burdened on his account at the very hour of his marvellous escape from death.
But their conversation was interrupted by a settler who called to ask if they had seen anything of a stray pair of cattle.
"Ah, neighbor Allen, is that you?" said Mr. Jones, going to speak to the caller, who sat upon his horse before the door.
"Ah, Jones, when did you git back? and what luck?" rejoined the horseman in a hearty way.
"Got a taste of venison," replied Mr. Jones, "and had a brush with the Injins."
"Ah, ha! the red scamps want to smell powder again—do they? Well, I'm ready for them, for one, and I have seven boys not an inch shorter than I am, and as good with the rifle as the best, who would like a sight at the varmints. But if none of your folks have seen any stray cattle about the diggins, I must be going. Fact is, I reckon they've been driv off by some thievish villain."
"What sort of cattle were yours?" inquired Mrs. Jones.
"One was red, and the other was a brindle."
"Was the red one very large, with very wide-spreading horns?"
"That's the ticket," said the man.
"I saw such a one last night, going down that way, by our cabin."
"You did? Was Brindle follerin'?"
"No," replied she, "but some men were driving him."
"They were Indians!" cried Tom, excitedly.
But Mrs. Jones fell to scraping the tin pan she held in one hand, with a case-knife, and drowned his words, so that they did not hear, while she motioned to him to be silent.
The caller sat thinking a moment. His hair was silver-white, but his face was youthful and ruddy; and his massive, well-knit frame indicated remarkable physical strength. He was a bold and athletic man, skilful with the rifle, and a lineal descendant of the revolutionary hero whose name he bore, and whose fighting characteristics were reproduced in him.
"What time was the ox driv by?" he asked.
"About twelve, I should think," said she.
"Were the men afoot?"
"Well, they'll have to travel fast to git away from me! And if I catch 'em—" But the remainder of the sentence was lost in the distance, for the old man had already touched the trail of the stolen ox, and, dismounting, examined carefully the ground, then fiercely shouting, "Indians!" drove on at full speed.
When he had gone, Mr. Jones turned to his wife, and asked,—
"Did you see the men that driv the ox?"
"Why on earth didn't you say so, then?"
"Husband," said Mrs. Jones, "the trouble will come soon enough; and I was hoping Mr. Allen would never find out who took his cattle. If he shoots one Indian, it will bring hundreds of them upon the settlements, and we shall have dreadful times!"
"Fush!" returned the husband; "Allen is good for a dozen Indians, and there are plenty more of us to help him. But don't you be scared; the red-skins know us too well to risk a fight. They'll only prowl around and steal a little beef, and shoot at a fellar unaware, from under kiver—that's all they'll venter on—you can depend on that!" Then he took down his rifle, cleaned and loaded it, and saying, "I guess I'll go along a piece; perhaps Allen'll come across the varmints afore he's aware," with a quick step he was soon hidden from view.
The news of the accident that had happened to Tom, and that Mr. Jones had been shot at by the Indians, spread rapidly, with many exaggerations; for the inhabitants of a new country, being mutually dependent, feel a special personal interest in whatever befalls each other. Besides, there are not such distinctions as obtain in the old, settled portions of the country, and they become well acquainted with one another's affairs. Moreover, the doctor, as he went his rounds, gave a flaming account of the injury that his patient at the cabin had sustained, and painted in glowing colors the magical effects of his professional services. If he did not assert in so many words that Tom's head was actually blown from his body, and that he replaced it so that it was on better than before, he gave the impression that something as extraordinary had been achieved by his medical and surgical skill. And through the day quite a number called to satisfy their curiosity, or show their sympathy. It proved, therefore, quite an occasion for the Jones children, and they feasted their eyes and ears to their hearts' content. As for the mother, weary of the unwonted interruptions, and wishing to commune with her own heart, she willingly bade the last visitor "good by," and, calling Robert, she directed him to bring in some wood and make a fire, that she might fry some cakes for tea. Robert proceeded with alacrity to do this, the other children helping him in the task, the prospect of the cakes being the quickening principle. Robert filled the grate with dry wood, and, proceeding to light it, the room was soon dense with smoke. This, however, was no new experience, as the blackened walls of the cabin testified. But soon the smoke had measurably cleared away, and the tea-kettle sent up volumes of steam, and Mrs. Jones, taking some meal from her frugal stock, poured boiling water upon it, and added some salt. Then putting on the griddle some deer fat, she put the dough in large iron spoonfuls into the sputtering grease.
"Your father will relish these," said she to the children, who stood in solid ranks around the stove, watching her with interest. And having taken off the last cake, she set the heaping plate in the open oven to keep warm till her husband came.
"I guess pa's coming now," said Sarah, who, anxious to get to eating, had looked out to see if he was in sight. "No; it isn't he, either; I don't know who it is. How nicely dressed he is!"
At the latter exclamation the family urchins rushed in a body through the door, upsetting Sarah in their eagerness to see the wonder.
A gentlemanly, middled-aged man in black, with gold spectacles and pleasant countenance, approached.
Accustomed to the plainly-attired specimens of humanity that do the hard work of the frontier, the children, overawed by his appearance, shrank behind cabin and pigsty, in spite of his kindly invitations to stay, where they peeped at him in open-mouthed astonishment.
"Mrs. Jones, I presume," said he, bowing, as, abashed, she answered his polite rap on the door-frame.
"Yes, sir," she replied, wondering how he knew her name.
Entering, without being asked,—for Mrs. Jones was too confused to think of it,—he said,—
"I heard that your son had met with an injury, and as I was looking up children for the Sabbath school we are to organize next Sunday, I thought I would step in and see how he was, and how many of your little ones could attend."
"It is the missionary," whispered Tom, as his mother nervously smoothed the bed-clothes.
The good minister heard the remark, and not appearing to notice the mother's embarrassment, stepped to Tom's side, and in a way that made both mother and son feel at ease, said,—
"I hope you are not seriously hurt, my lad."
"No, sir," replied Tom, grateful for his thoughtful kindness. "My face was burnt pretty badly by the powder; but it's nearly well now, and the black is coming off nicely."
"How did you contrive to get hurt so, at this season of the year? Boys sometimes get burned with powder on Independence Day. I once met with such an accident myself."
"How did it happen?" Tom ventured to inquire, for he loved dearly to hear a story.
"It was when I was about fourteen," replied the minister. "I was a wide-awake little good-for-nothing, and had for some weeks saved up my pennies to celebrate the Fourth with. I bought me a half pound of powder, and a little iron cannon, on wheels, and, as you may believe, anticipated a jolly time. I had decided, the night before, to commence the day with a grand salute; and that it might produce the greatest effect, I crept softly down in my stocking feet, by my parents' bed-room into the front hall, before daylight, and having loaded my little gun to the muzzle the evening before, I touched it off. It made a great noise, I assure you—all the louder, of course, because it was in the house; then, slipping on my shoes, I went into the streets, leaving the old folks to go to sleep again if they could. My first use of the powder, you see, did no harm to me, unless it made me careless. When I got into the street, I found crowds of boys and men were there before me, making all the noise they could, firing off crackers, pistols, and guns, and making the foggy morning air resound with the music of tin horns and drums. Meeting a boy with a large horse-pistol, I bought it of him at a foolishly high price, and banged away with that till breakfast time. At the eastern extremity of the city, where I then lived, was a high hill, called Munjoy, on which the soldiers were to encamp that day; and after eating a hurried meal, I went there. Scores of white tents were pitched, occupied by men who sold all sorts of tempting eatables, while thousands of men, women, and children walked about. It was an exciting scene to me. The hill, indeed, was a glorious spot, for it overlooked the city on the one side, with its thousands of buildings and shaded streets, and on the other the harbor, with its shipping and wharves, and lovely islands, while the ocean stretched away as far as the eye could reach."
"I never saw the ocean," interrupted Tom.
"Well, I will tell you what it resembles. You have looked for miles and miles over the prairie—I mean a rolling prairie, that in gentle swells of land extends till the sky shuts down upon it?"
"O, yes," answered Tom.
"Well, imagine that prairie turned to water, so deep that you could not touch bottom with the longest line you ever saw,—the ocean would look so; only remember that it is always in motion—ebbing, and flowing, and roaring, and dashing against the land and the rocks, its waves sometimes running very high, topped off with a white foam."
"O," said Tom, earnestly, "if I could only once see it!"
The minister studied Tom's expressive face a moment, and then said,—
"Perhaps you may, some day. But I was going to tell you how I got hurt. I had exploded all the powder, and was about tired of the pistol,—for you know such things don't satisfy a great while, after all,—when I came across some boys who were making volcanoes. Volcanoes, you know, are burning mountains. They took some powder, wet it, worked it with their fingers into miniature hills, then put one end of a strip of match-paper in the top of each, and lighted the other end of the paper; this would burn slowly down into the top of the powder-hill; that would take fire and send up showers of sparks for quite a while, as it gradually consumed. This amusement fascinated me. So, buying a quarter of a pound of powder, I made a hill like those I had seen, and lighted the match-paper as I saw them light theirs; but when it had burnt all away, the hill did not burn. Thinking, therefore, I had put too much water in mine, I stooped down and poured on from the paper some dry powder. In an instant it ignited from a smouldering spark, exploding also the contents of the paper which I held in my hand. My face was dreadfully burned, and became as black as a negro's."
"So did mine," said Tom; "but it is coming off nicely now."
"So I see," returned the minister, laughing; "and I dare say you worried almost as much about the black as you did about the burn."
"Tom feared it would never come off," said the mother.
"Ah, that's just the way I felt. But I have found out since that there's something worse than a black face."
"What's that?" asked Tom.
"A black heart!" replied the minister.
"A black heart!" repeated Tom, in doubt of his meaning.
"Yes, my lad. What I mean is a heart blackened by sin. Ah, if folks worried more about that, and less about their looks, how much more sensible it would be!" Then, after a pause, he said,—
"But there is one thing for which we should be very grateful; and that is, that as there are remedies for us when we injure the body, and disfigure it,—as we did our faces, my son,—that can heal the injury, and bring the skin out all fresh and fair, so there is a great Physician, who can heal the hurt which sin has done our souls, and cause them to be pure and white forever. Isn't that a glorious thought?"
"Yes," whispered Tom, weeping.
"Yes," ejaculated the mother, with deep emotion.
"But," said the minister, "how many of these little folks"—for most of the children had ventured in, and stood listening spell-bound to his recital—"will come to Sunday school next Sunday?" And getting a promise that as many of them would be there as possible, he took leave, saying he hoped to call again soon.
The children's hearts were taken captive by their clerical visitor. And well it might be so, for he was their true friend. And it mattered little to him that their dwelling was rude and comfortless, their clothing old and worn, and their manners uncultured. He loved them for his Master's sake, and for their souls' sake: for this he had left the elegances of his eastern home, and come out into the wilderness. He was a true man, and a true minister of Jesus Christ—seeking not a name, wealth, luxury, the favor of the rich and great, but to bring the straying lambs and sheep into the fold.
"I think we won't wait any longer for your father," said Mrs. Jones, after the children had got somewhat over the excitement caused by the missionary's call; and putting her hand into the oven to take from thence the plate of cakes, she looked in to see why she did not find them, exclaiming,—
"Why, where are the cakes? I certainly set them in here. Who has taken them away?"
The children gazed at each other in consternation.
"I'll bet it's some of Bub's doings," said Eliza; and noticing for the first time that he was not in the room, they hastened out to find him.
"Bub, Bub!" called the mother.
"Bub, Bub!" echoed the children, as they searched the field over, and looked into every nook and corner that they could think of. But there was no answer, and not a trace of him was to be found, until, at last, Charley called out,—
"Here's his stick!"
"He cannot be far off, then," said his mother, although she began to grow uneasy about him.
"No," said Robert, "for he rides that stick most all the time:" then he suddenly added, "Ah, you little rascal! I see you!" Then turning to the rest, he whispered, "Just look here, but don't make any noise!"
And Mrs. Jones and the children, gathering softly around the pen, peeping in, saw Bub, comfortably seated by the fawn, the cakes in his lap, eating them and feeding the gentle creature. Bub had teased the fawn the most, and Bub was the first to tame it.
BROTHER SMITH AND QUARTER STAKES.
"Good morning, Mr. Jones. I suppose we may call this Indian summer—may we not?" and the missionary—for it was he—shook hands with the hunter.
"Scarcely time for it yet," replied the latter. "But this is fine weather, though."
"Shall you be busy to-day? I wish to find a good quarter section of land on which to put up a house. I have been thinking that as I have never pre-empted, and have therefore a right to do so, I may as well do it."
The hunter laughed scornfully, and said,—
"Good many folks about here pre-empt more than once."
"But that is illegal," replied the minister.
"They don't stand about that."
"But they are obliged to take oath at the Land Office that they have never availed themselves of the privilege."
"And they take it."
"But they perjure themselves in doing so."
"Well," said the clergyman, with a sigh, "I can't understand how a person can break the laws and take a false oath for the sake of a little land."
"Nor can I," replied the hunter, almost fiercely; "and I makes no pretensions to piety, either. I pre-empted once, and afterwards sold out; and I hev moved about considerable sence; but I have never cheated government out of a cent yet—nor anybody, as to that. I don't own nothing here; this is government land that my cabin sets on, and if it was put up for sale to-day, by the proper authorities, I couldn't say a word if it was sold, improvements and all. I have to take my risk, and I'm contented to, rather than own the biggest farm out doors, and get it by lying under oath. No; they calls Joseph Jones a worthless dog, and I don't say he isn't; but let me tell you, neighbor, that I haven't it on my conscience that I went into the Land Office and lifted up my right hand, solumly promising to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and then, when I knows that I have pre-empted once, or maybe a number of times, swear that I never hev—as some of your praying, psalm-singing folks has!"
"Do I understand you to say, Mr. Jones, that professing Christians living about here have done this?"
"That's just what I say," replied the hunter; "and I have as much respect for sich whining hypercrites as I have for a hissing adder: that's why I never took much to meetin's, I suppose. What I gits, I gits honest—don't I, pet?" and he caressed his rifle as if it were a living thing, and understood what he said. "I brings home what the good Lord sends inter the woods an' over the prairies fur me. 'The cattle upon a thousand hills are his'—that's Scripter, I believe; and it means, I take it, that the deer, and the elk, and the bear, and the geese and the hens, belong to him: nobody ken say, 'I owns them all,' and keep them for his own use; and when Billy, here,"—patting his gun,—"brings down a fat buck, we feel honest about it—don't we, Bill? 'Tisn't like standing behind the counter with a smerk on yer face, as yer cheat in weight an' measure, or sell sanded sugar for the genuine. Many an' many's the time I've known this done, by them that lives in fine houses, and wears fine clothes, an' goes reg'lar to church; an' if they passed Joseph Jones, wouldn't deign to speak to the old hunter. Not that I care about that; I don't deign to speak to them; and if heaven is for them, I had just as lieves stay a while outside, for they an' I could never git along together here, and we couldn't be expected to there. But did you want anything perticular of me?"
"I was told," said the missionary, "that none of the settlers understood so well about the land, and where to find the section and quarter section stakes as you; and I thought, if it wouldn't be taking too much of your time, that perhaps you would show me around a little."
"Nothin' would suit my feelings better," said the hunter. "Was there any perticular direction you wish to go to?"
"Brother Smith tells me that here is a fine quarter section still unclaimed;" and the clergyman took from his note-book a roughly-sketched map of the vicinity, purporting to show what was taken up and what was not.
"Did he give you that?" asked the hunter, as he ran his eye over the paper.
"Yes; as looking up land is new to me, I was thankful to get some sort of a guide," replied the missionary.
"I don't see much to be thankful for on that drawin'."
"Why, isn't that quarter section free?" inquired the minister, perplexed.
"Yes; an' we'll go an' see it. But are yer goin' afoot?"
The missionary replied affirmatively.
"You'll never stand it in the world, to hunt up land in that way—too much ground to go over. Wife," he added, putting his head in at the door, "you jist entertain the minister, while I see if I ken scare up a team fur him."
Mr. Jones strode off as if he had a congenial errand to do, and striking a "bee line" across the prairie, over a river, through a grove, halted before a cosy cottage that would remind one of New England. The acres and acres of tilled land stretched away from the dwelling, enclosed in the most substantial manner, and sleek cattle, that fed in the rich pasture, bespoke competency and enterprise. He stopped not to knock at the door, but entering, asked of a lady who sat sewing'—
"Is yer husband about, Mrs. Lincoln?"
"Yes; he's in the other room. I'll speak to him."
And in a moment the robust form of the owner of the farm appeared.
"How are you, Jones?" he said, in an offhand way.
"O, I'm nicely. I called on an errand fur yer minister, that you've invited to settle among us. He wants a spot for a cabin,—like the rest of us, I suppose,—and Smith has told him to look at the quarter section way over there, a mile and a half beyond Clark's; you know the place. I jist want to git your team and take him over in a good, Christian way, and not let him travel his legs off, so that he can't preach to us sinners next Sunday."
Mr. Lincoln had been foremost in urging the missionary to cast in his lot with them, and no one had made more promises of material aid than he. He was sincere in this, and was really a generous man, but exceedingly careless. He had been told that the minister was going to look up a claim; but it had never occurred to him, until now, that the preacher had no other conveyance than his feet, and that to walk over the prairies would be a toilsome and time-consuming task. Slapping his caller on the shoulder, he said,—
"Glad to see you interested, Jones; and to encourage you, I'll harness right up, and you may take the span."
The nimble-footed steeds were soon in the buggy; and the hunter, having taken the preacher aboard, was, in good time, pointing out to him the boundaries of the claim. It was a lovely spot,—like many such in Prairiedom,—and the hunter took care that it should be seen to advantage. On a gentle swell of ground was a small gem of a grove, commanding a view of the rest of the section. The fall flowers, many-hued and bright-eyed, nodded gayly in the tall grass; a natural spring, bursting from the hillock, wound its way along till lost in the distance; the sun was pouring down its rays from a sky fleecy-clouded and soft. How could the preacher, with his pure tastes and cultivated love of the beautiful, help being delighted with the scene?
"This is delightful!" he exclaimed. "I'll build my cottage right here by the side of this spring, and my tilled land will always be in view."
The hunter had anticipated his decision, and dryly observed,—
"It wouldn't be no sich place as yer ought to hev."
"Why not?" asked the minister, smiling.
"Do you reckon on keeping a horse?" asked the other.
"No; I couldn't afford that."
"How, then, are you goin' to git to yer appintments, an' to visit the sick an' the dyin', from this pint? And you'll never farm it much; the land looks nice and slick as a gentleman's lawn: this is one of the Lord's lawns, neighbor; but 'twasn't made for you to live on. Don't you expect to hev no evenin' meetin's? You can't hev them out here where there's no live critter but the prairie hins, and maybe in the winter a stray wolf or two. You're a perfessional man, and it's necessary for you to be right among folks, and not livin' off one side, like as if you wanted to keep out the way of company."
This rugged, common-sense way of putting things was quite effective, and the missionary said,—
"You are right. But what can I do? By this chart I find that there is little vacant land about here, and I am unable to purchase an improved farm at the prices at which they are held."
"You don't mean to settle down on this—do ye?"
"That is out of the question."
"Well, Joseph Jones isn't of much account, but if he don't show you a bit of land that's been left for jist sich as you, then I lie like that lying chart," he said, angrily. And motioning the preacher to resume his seat in the buggy, the hunter drove back for some distance in the direction from which they had come, then, striking a well-worn cart-path to the right, suddenly emerged from a piece of woods near a river, on the farther bank of which was a saw-mill, and in the stream were men at work strengthening a dam.
"There," said the hunter, "is the centre of things, so fur as this vicinity is concerned. That's the store,"—as he pointed across the river to a small building,—"and a hotel is going up just opposite; and the land sharks and speculators that's going to settle here will want jist sich as you right among 'em, to stir up their consciences, and jog their pure minds by way of remembrance,—as the Book says,—an' not way off there!" pointing contemptuously over his shoulder.
"But brother Smith informs me that all the land near to the town is taken up," said the missionary.
"Brother Smith—who's he? I know Charles Smith; and if you kin fellowship him, I can't. An' when you come to sift folks down,—as I foresee sich as you will,—you won't brother him much, unless he repints—an' I don't say he won't. Now let me introduce you to your future home, ef you settles in these parts. There, this is the town, where we now are;" and he placed the tip of his little finger on the place as represented on the map. "Now coming down square on to the town-site is this eighty-acre lot; lays beautiful to the town, the main street running right up to it. And through that street," continued he, impressively, "must go all the travel to the important places beyond. And by and by, when the immigration gets strong enough, the owner of that piece of land will hev corner lots and sich to sell. Let me show jist how it lays;" and crossing the bridge, and passing up the projected street, he stopped the horses on a gentle rise of ground, forming the nearest point in the eighty acres. "There," he continued, referring to the map again, "you see the eighty-acre lot runs lengthwise from the town. Across it runs a tributary of the river—just down there where you see the plum and bass-wood trees; and beyond that are ten acres of the richest and easiest-worked river bottom that the sun ever shone on—all fenced; then follers thirty acres of young and valuable timber land. Here's your building spot right here where we stand, in sight of everybody, and all the travel, handy to the store, and saw-mill, and post-office, and sich, and handy to meetin'; and the ten acres of alluvial, rich as the richest, and finely pulverized as powder,—you ken plough it or hoe it jist as easy as you ken turn your hand over,—will give you all the sarce you want, and something to sell. And there's wood enough down over the place to keep yer fires a going; and when you want to pre-empt, jist sell some of yer standing timber there, to help pay for the whole, at government price."
"But," replied the missionary, as the squatter finished his graphic description, "I see by this chart that this is taken up;" for he had meanwhile been examining it.
"Well," said the hunter, "whose name's writ down as the owner of this land?"
"Henry Simonds," said the minister, reading from the paper.
"And do you know who 'Henry Simonds' may be?" asked the hunter. "It's a young chap jist turned nineteen, and of course not old 'nough to pre-empt, according to law, and who hasn't lived on this claim a day in his life. There isn't a sign of a shanty on the place, and the law requires that every man must show something of a house to prove that he is an actual settler. That name's a blind. This land jines Smith's, and he's been carrying on the ten-acre lot over the river, rent free; and it comes very handy for him to come in on this piece and get his saw-logs. It's government property; and all you have to do is, to put you up a cabin, and go ahead, and if Smith kicks up a fuss, jist send him to me."
This revelation of duplicity on the part of Mr. Smith took the minister by surprise. It was evident that the location would be as advantageous for him as his plain-spoken guide had represented. It was defrauding the government for Smith to hold it as he did; and should he, in a legal way, take possession, no one could accuse him of wrong. But he had not come out on the frontier to promote his worldly interests; and he said to the hunter,—
"What you say is all right, I have no doubt, Mr. Jones; but it is not land that I want so much as to do good among this people; and I should not wish to do anything that would cause ill feeling."
"Just as I expected," said the squatter, with a disappointed air; "and I rather think you belong to the kingdom that is not of this world. But you are stopping at Edmunds's—aren't you? Well, it's only a short piece to his cabin, and I must take the team back; but"—after thinking a moment—"if you'll take the dam on your way, you'll find Palmer there. He's a Christian, if there is one in these parts; and you can depend on him; and if you choose to talk with him a bit about this eighty-acre lot, there won't be any harm done."
The minister thanked the squatter for his services, the latter saying, as he drove off,—
"Call on me agin, if you want anything in my line."
As the missionary passed towards the dam, he saw the surveyors at work, dividing the town site into lots; and he paused to notice again the location. The underbrush had been carefully removed, and the cleared space—bounded on one hand by the river, and on the other by the forest, while farther away from each side stretched the smooth prairie—looked as if nature had intended it as a business centre.
"How do you like our town plot?" said a voice at his side.
"It is charming!" exclaimed the preacher; and, turning, he saw Mr. Palmer.
He was a medium-sized man, in shirt sleeves and blue overalls, with an old black silk hat on, which, from its bent appearance, gave one the idea that it had on occasions been used for a seat as well as a covering. The keen blue eyes under it, and the general contour of the face, ending in a smoothly-shaven chin, revealed a hard-working, frugal, money-saving character, yet honest, sincere, and unselfish. He was, indeed,—what he struck the observer as being,—a prudent counsellor, a true friend, a wisely-generous helper in every good word and work. No man in the settlement was more respected than he—a respect not based on his personal appearance, it was clear; for he had a perfect contempt for the ostentations of dress and equipage, but due to his straightforward and consistent deportment. He was about forty, and unmarried, and, on account of his amiable, thrifty, and Christianly qualities, was said to be the victim of incessant "cap-setting" by managing mammas and marriageable daughters, and of no little raillery on the part of the men, which he bore with great good nature, safely escaping from each matrimonial snare, and returning joke for joke.
"Been looking up land?" asked the bachelor.
The missionary related the day's doings, and what the squatter had said about Mr. Smith and the eighty acres.
"Jones has stated the facts in the case," said Mr. Palmer, "and advised well; but it won't do for you to have any falling out with Smith. If you will leave the matter with me, I guess I can manage it so that you shall have the eighty acres, and there be no bad feelings. We had better pay Smith something than to have a quarrel."
"But is Smith a member of a church?" asked the missionary.
"We don't know who is who, yet," answered the other; "but should we ever form a church here, of course he'll have to show a certificate of membership in order to join; and I rather think he'll never be able to do that. Do him all the good you can, but don't trust him overmuch."
MRS. JONES'S STORY.—THE GRAY WOLF.
"Was it so very different east, mother," asked Tom, one day, "where you came from, from what it is here?"
"Different in what respects?" she inquired.
"O," he answered, hesitatingly, "I mean, were folks as poor and ignorant as—as—"
"As we are, you were going to say," said she, placidly, finishing his sentence for him.
"I don't think that you and father are ignorant," he replied, looking confused; "but—"
"I understand what you mean, Tom. No; where your father and I were born, and where we were married, the country was thickly settled. All the children went to school, and there were no such cabins as the one we live in, but nice, framed houses of wood, stone, or brick."
"Were there no poor people there?"
"Yes, as many as there are here,—a great many in the large cities,—and they found it very hard getting along."
"Were yours and father's folks very poor?"
"No; they were in comfortable circumstances."
"Then why, mother, did you come west, and why do we live as we do now?"
As she did not at once reply, the lad, busy once more with his own thoughts, forgot that he had asked the question. He had often revolved the matter in his own mind, but had never before ventured to speak of it. His mother's conversation with him, after his injury by the gun, had shown him the folly of his plan of leaving home clandestinely; but dissatisfaction with his lot grew with his growth and strengthened with his strength. It was a great mystery to him how his mother could consent to live so, for so many years. He would look at the black and crazy loggery, with its clay "chinking," that was ever more cracking, and crumbling, and falling to the floor, leaving holes between the logs, through which the wind and rain entered; and the one rickety chair, and the rude benches and boxes for sitting accommodations, and the bedsteads, composed of rough oaken slabs, spiked at the head and side to the walls, and a rough post at the unsupported corner, and the cracked and rusted stove and leaky funnel; and then he would look at his mother, who, despite her coarse and dingy dress, seemed so superior to her condition; and the more he realized the contrast, the more he marvelled. When he was younger, he had noticed this incongruity between his gentle mother and her wretched surroundings; and now he sometimes wished he could be insensible to it, it made him so unhappy. How restless he became—how like a caged eaglet, as he pondered the subject by night and by day—none knew save the watchful friend who moved so gently about the dark-lighted cabin, and kept so uncomplainingly at her tasks.
And his father seemed to him, in his way, as much of a mystery as his mother. Was he contented with the roving life he led? and did he never realize the deprivations of his wife and children? Did father and mother ever know brighter days? and were they never to see them again? And was it duty for him to keep on in the same way, sacrificing every rising aspiration and pure taste, and getting nothing in return but poor food and clothing, a comfortless home, and a mind undeveloped and unfurnished?
Seated on the end of a box, shelling corn by drawing the ears against the back of a broken scythe, he had been working and thinking through the evening, while the children slept, with no one to notice his absent-minded labor but his ever-wakeful mother.
"I will not endure it," he mentally exclaimed; and, by way of emphasis, he drew the ear of corn he held against the edge of the scythe with unusual force, at the same instant springing to his feet with a cry of pain, and a finger in his mouth, upsetting his seat, and sending the contents of the box rolling across the floor, and into the gaping cracks.
"O, I've scraped my finger awfully!" he said, with grimaces that added nothing to his personal attractions.
"Why, how did you do it, my son?" asked the mother, although she knew very well.
"Why, you see, I was thinking about something, and pulled my finger, instead of the cob, against the edge."
Mrs. Jones laid back the strip of bleeding flesh into the place from which it had thus unceremoniously been torn, and from which it hung by a bit of skin, and carefully bound up the wound.
Then, sweeping the scattered kernels into a heap, and restoring them to the box, she seated herself in a little dislocated chair, and said,—
"There, don't shell any more now, Tom; I have something to say to you. You asked why we came west. The time has come when you had better know something of our history; it may help you decide your course of action.
"Your father and I were born in Connecticut, in the same town. We attended school together in our early childhood, and often played together. Both of our families were respectable—your father's quite so, although not so well off as to property as mine. He was a bright, promising boy, quick to learn, warm-hearted, and conscientious. I never knew him guilty of any of the petty meannesses too common among school children. He was sensitive to a fault, but had high notions of honor, and despised falsehood and deception in any form. When I was seventeen I became secretly engaged to him. My parents did not suspect this, nor did any of the household, except a younger sister, to whom I confided my secret. I now think it would have been better for all concerned had I from the first been open in the matter, and frankly stated to my mother what my preference was. But I knew that he was not their choice for me. They were ambitious to have me marry brilliantly, as the phrase went,—that is, wealthily and in style,—and he was young, and had his fortune to carve out pretty much for himself. He knew what their hopes were concerning me, matrimonially, and, that I might be perfectly free to break the engagement, should I repent of it, rarely saw me, nor did any correspondence pass between us. My regard for him did not lessen on this account, for I understood his motives. When he was of age, his father died, leaving him a thousand dollars as his portion. With this he went into business, with good prospects, in a neighboring city. I shall never forget how earnestly he spoke, one evening, as we parted after a brief interview.