THE LIGHT IN THE CLEARING
A Tale of the North Country in the Time of Silas Wright
Author of Eben Holden, Keeping Up with Lizzie, etc.
Illustrated by Arthur I. Keller.
The Spirit of Man is the Candle of the Lord —PROVERBS XX, 27
TO MY FRIEND
THOMAS R. PROCTOR, OF UTICA
LOVER OF THE TRUE IDEALS OF DEMOCRACY
WHOSE LIFE HAS BEEN A SHINING EXAMPLE TO ALL MEN OF WEALTH
HONORED GENTLEMAN AND PHILANTHROPIST
AT THE GATE OF THE LAND OF
WHICH I HAVE WRITTEN
DEDICATE THESE CHRONICLES OF THAT LAND
AND OF ITS GREAT HERO
From the memoirs of one who knew Governor Wright and lived through many of the adventures herein described and whose life ended full of honors early in the present century. It is understood that he chose the name Barton to signalize his affection for a friend well known in the land of which he was writing.
The Light in the Clearing shone upon many things and mostly upon those which, above all others, have impassioned and perpetuated the Spirit of America and which, just now, seem to me to be worthy of attention. I believe that spirit to be the very candle of the Lord which, in this dark and windy night of time, has flickered so that the souls of the faithful have been afraid. But let us be of good cheer. It is shining brighter as I write and, under God, I believe it shall, by and by, be seen and loved of all men.
One self-contained, Homeric figure, of the remote countryside in which I was born, had the true Spirit of Democracy and shed its light abroad in the Senate of the United States and the Capitol at Albany. He carried the candle of the Lord. It led him to a height of self-forgetfulness achieved by only two others—Washington and Lincoln. Yet I have been surprised by the profound and general ignorance of this generation regarding the career of Silas Wright, of whom Whittier wrote these lines:
"Man of the millions thou art lost too soon! Portents at which the bravest stand aghast The birth throes of a future strange and vast Alarm the land. Yet thou so wise and strong Suddenly summoned to the burial bed, Lapped in its slumbers deep and ever long, Hear'st not the tumult surging over head. Who now shall rally Freedom's scattering host? Who wear the mantle of the leader lost?"
The distinguished Senator who served at his side for many years, Thomas H. Benton of Missouri, has this to say of Silas Wright in his Thirty Years' View:
"He refused cabinet appointments under his fast friend Van Buren and under Polk, whom he may be said to have elected. He refused a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States; he rejected instantly the nomination of 1844 for Vice-President; he refused to be put in nomination for the Presidency. He spent that time in declining office which others did in winning it. The offices he did accept, it might well be said, were thrust upon him. He was born great and above office and unwillingly descended to it."
So much by way of preparing the reader to meet the great commoner in these pages. One thing more is necessary to a proper understanding of the final scenes in the book—a part of his letter written to Judge Fine just before the Baltimore convention of 1844, to wit:
"I do not feel at liberty to omit any act which may protect me from being made the instrument, however honestly and innocently, of further distractions.
"Within a few days several too partial friends have suggested to me the idea that by possibility, in case the opposition to the nomination of Mr. Van Buren should be found irreconcilable, a compromise might be made by dropping him and using my name. I need not say to you that a consent on my part to any such proceeding would justly forfeit my standing with the democracy of our state and cause my faith and fidelity to my party to be suspected everywhere.... To consent to the use of my name as a candidate under any circumstances, would be in my view to invite you to compromise the expressed wishes and instructions of your constituents for my personal advancement. I can never consent to place myself in a position where the suspicion of acting from such a motive can justly attach to me....
"If it were proper I could tell you with the most perfect truth that I have never been vain enough to dream of the office of President in connection with my own name, and were not Mr. Van Buren the candidate of our State, I should find just as little difficulty as I now do, in telling you that I am not and can not under any circumstances be a candidate before your convention for that office."
According to his best biographer, Jabez Hammond, Mr. Wright still adhered to this high ground in spite of the fact that Mr. Van Buren withdrew and requested his faithful hand to vote for the Senator.
There were those who accused Mr. Wright of being a spoilsman, the only warrant for which claim would seem to be his remark in a letter: "When our enemies accuse us of feeding our friends instead of them never let them lie in telling the story."
He was, in fact, a human being, through and through, but so upright that they used to say of him that he was "as honest as any man under heaven or in it"
For my knowledge of the color and spirit of the time I am indebted to a long course of reading in its books, newspapers and periodicals, notably The North American Review, The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, The New York Mirror, The Knickerbocker, The St. Lawrence Republican, Benton's Thirty Years' View, Bancroft's Life of Martin Van Buren, histories of Wright and his time by Hammond and Jenkins, and to many manuscript letters of the distinguished commoner in the New York Public Library and in the possession of Mr. Samuel Wright of Weybridge, Vermont.
To any who may think that they discover portraits in these pages I desire to say that all the characters—save only Silas Wright and President Van Buren and Barton Baynes—are purely imaginary. However, there were Grimshaws and Purvises and Binkses and Aunt Deels and Uncle Peabodys in almost every rustic neighborhood those days, and I regret to add that Roving Kate was on many roads. The case of Amos Grimshaw bears a striking resemblance to that of young Bickford, executed long ago in Malone, for the particulars of which case I am indebted to my friend, Mr. H.L. Ives of Potsdam.
WHICH IS THE STORY OF THE CANDLE AND COMPASS
CHAPTER I The Melon Harvest II I Meet the Silent Woman and Silas Wright, Jr. III We Go to Meeting and See Mr. Wright Again IV Our Little Strange Companion V In the Light of the Candles VI The Great Stranger VII My Second Peril VIII My Third Peril
WHICH IS THE STORY OF THE PRINCIPAL WITNESS
IX In Which I Meet Other Great Men X I Meet President Van Buren and Am Cross-Examined by Mr. Grimshaw XI A Party and—My Fourth Peril? XII The Spirit of Michael Henry and Others XIII The Thing and Other Things XIV The Bolt Falls
WHICH IS THE STORY OF THE CHOSEN WAYS
XV Uncle Peabody's Way and Mine XVI I Use My Own Compass at a Fork in the Road XVII The Man with the Scythe XVIII I Start in a Long Way XIX On the Summit Epilogue
Which is the Story of the Candle and the Compass
THE MELON HARVEST
Once upon a time I owned a watermelon. I say once because I never did it again. When I got through owning that melon I never wanted another. The time was 1831; I was a boy of seven and the melon was the first of all my harvests. Every night and morning I watered and felt and surveyed my watermelon. My pride grew with the melon and, by and by, my uncle tried to express the extent and nature of my riches by calling me a mellionaire.
I didn't know much about myself those days except the fact that my name was Bart Baynes and, further, that I was an orphan who owned a watermelon and a little spotted hen and lived on Rattle road in a neighborhood called Lickitysplit. I lived with my Aunt Deel and my Uncle Peabody Baynes on a farm. They were brother and sister—he about thirty-eight and she a little beyond the far-distant goal of forty.
My father and mother died in a scourge of diphtheria that swept the neighborhood when I was a boy of five. For a time my Aunt Deel seemed to blame me for my loss.
"No wonder they're dead," she used to say, when out of patience with me and—well I suppose that I must have had an unusual talent for all the noisy arts of childhood when I broke the silence of that little home.
The word "dead" set the first mile-stone in the long stretch of my memory. That was because I tried so hard to comprehend it and further because it kept repeating its challenge to my imagination. I often wondered just what had become of my father and mother and I remember that the day after I went to my aunt's home a great idea came to me. It came out of the old dinner-horn hanging in the shed. I knew the power of its summons and I slyly captured the horn and marched around the house blowing it and hoping that it would bring my father up from the fields. I blew and blew and listened for that familiar halloo of his. When I paused for a drink of water at the well my aunt came and seized the horn and said it was no wonder they were dead. She knew nothing of the sublime bit of necromancy she had interrupted—poor soul!
I knew that she had spoken of my parents for I supposed that they were the only people in the world who were dead, but I did not know what it meant to be dead. I often called to them, as I had been wont to do, especially in the night, and shed many tears because they came no more to answer me. Aunt Deel did not often refer directly to my talents, but I saw, many times, that no-wonder-they-died look in her face.
Children are great rememberers. They are the recording angels—the keepers of the book of life. Man forgets—how easily!—and easiest of all, the solemn truth that children do not forget.
A few days after I arrived in the home of my aunt and uncle I slyly entered the parlor and climbed the what-not to examine some white flowers on its top shelf and tipped the whole thing over, scattering its burden of albums, wax flowers and sea shells on the floor. My aunt came running on her tiptoes and exclaimed: "Mercy! Come right out o' here this minute—you pest!"
I took some rather long steps going out which were due to the fact that Aunt Deel had hold of my hand. While I sat weeping she went back into the parlor and began to pick up things.
"My wreath! my wreath!" I heard her moaning.
How well I remember that little assemblage of flower ghosts in wax! They had no more right to associate with human beings than the ghosts of fable. Uncle Peabody used to call them the "Minervy flowers" because they were a present from his Aunt Minerva. When Aunt Deel returned to the kitchen where I sat—a sorrowing little refugee hunched up in a corner—she said: "I'll have to tell your Uncle Peabody—ayes!"
"Oh please don't tell my Uncle Peabody," I wailed.
"Ayes! I'll have to tell him," she answered firmly.
For the first time I looked for him with dread at the window and when he came I hid in a closet and heard that solemn and penetrating note in her voice as she said:
"I guess you'll have to take that boy away—ayes!"
"What now?" he asked.
"My stars! he sneaked into the parlor and tipped over the what-not and smashed that beautiful wax wreath!"
Her voice trembled.
"Not them Minervy flowers?" he asked in a tone of doleful incredulity.
"Ayes he did!"
"And tipped over the hull what-not?"
"Jerusalem four-corners!" he exclaimed. "I'll have to—"
He stopped as he was wont to do on the threshold of strong opinions and momentous resolutions.
The rest of the conversation was drowned in my own cries and Uncle Peabody came and lifted me tenderly and carried me up-stairs.
He sat down with me on his lap and hushed my cries. Then he said very gently:
"Now, Bub, you and me have got to be careful. What-nots and albums and wax flowers and hair-cloth sofys are the most dang'rous critters in St. Lawrence County. They're purty savage. Keep your eye peeled. You can't tell what minute they'll jump on ye. More boys have been dragged away and tore to pieces by 'em than by all the bears and panthers in the woods. When I was a boy I got a cut acrost my legs that made a scar ye can see now, and it was a hair-cloth sofy that done it. Keep out o' that old parlor. Ye might as well go into a cage o' wolves. How be I goin' to make ye remember it?"
"I don't know," I whimpered and began to cry out in fearful anticipation.
He set me in a chair, picked up one of his old carpet-slippers and began to thump the bed with it. He belabored the bed with tremendous vigor. Meanwhile he looked at me and exclaimed: "You dreadful child!"
I knew that my sins were responsible for this violence. It frightened me and my cries increased.
The door at the bottom of the stairs opened suddenly.
Aunt Deel called:
"Don't lose your temper, Peabody. I think you've gone fur 'nough—ayes!"
Uncle Peabody stopped and blew as if he were very tired and then I caught a look in his face that reassured me.
He called back to her: "I wouldn't 'a' cared so much if it hadn't 'a' been the what-not and them Minervy flowers. When a boy tips over a what-not he's goin' it purty strong."
"Well don't be too severe. You'd better come now and git me a pail o' water—ayes, I think ye had."
Uncle Peabody did a lot of sneezing and coughing with his big, red handkerchief over his face and I was not old enough then to understand it. He kissed me and took my little hand in his big hard one and led me down the stairs.
After that in private talks uncle and I always referred to our parlor as the wolf den and that night, after I had gone to bed, he lay down beside me and told the story of a boy who, having been left alone in his father's house one day, was suddenly set upon and roughly handled by a what-not, a shaggy old hair-cloth sofy and an album. The sofy had begun it by scratchin' his face and he had scratched back with a shingle nail. The album had watched its chance and, when he stood beneath it, had jumped off a shelf on to his head. Suddenly he heard a voice calling him:
"Little boy, come here," it said, and it was the voice of the what-not.
"Just step up on this lower shelf," says the old what-not. "I want to show ye somethin'."
The what-not was all covered with shiny things and looked as innocent as a lamb.
He went over and stepped on the lower shelf and then the savage thing jumped right on top of him, very supple, and threw him on to the floor and held him there until his mother came.
I dreamed that night that a long-legged what-not, with a wax wreath in its hands, chased me around the house and caught and bit me on the neck. I called for help and uncle came and found me on the floor and put me back in bed again.
For a long time I thought that the way a man punished a boy was by thumping his bed. I knew that women had a different and less satisfactory method, for I remembered that my mother had spanked me and Aunt Deel had a way of giving my hands and head a kind of watermelon thump with the middle finger of her right hand and with a curious look in her eyes. Uncle Peabody used to call it a "snaptious look." Almost always he whacked the bed with his slipper. There were exceptions, however, and, by and by, I came to know in each case the destination of the slipper for if I had done anything which really afflicted my conscience that strip of leather seemed to know the truth, and found its way to my person.
My Uncle Peabody was a man of a thousand. I often saw him laughing and talking to himself and strange fancies came into my head about it.
"Who be you talkin' to?" I asked.
"Who be I talkin' to, Bub? Why I'm talkin' to my friends."
"Friends?" I said.
"The friends I orto have had but ain't got. When I git lonesome I just make up a lot o' folks and some of 'em is good comp'ny."
He loved to have me with him, as he worked, and told me odd tales and seemed to enjoy my prattle. I often saw him stand with rough fingers stirring his beard, just beginning to show a sprinkle of white, while he looked down at me as if struck with wonder at something I had said.
"Come and give me a kiss, Bub," he would say. As he knelt down, I would run to his arms and I wondered why he always blinked his gray eyes after he had kissed me.
He was a bachelor and for a singular reason. I have always laid it to the butternut trousers—the most sacred bit of apparel of which I have any knowledge.
"What have you got on them butternut trousers for?" I used to hear Aunt Deel say when he came down-stairs in his first best clothes to go to meeting or "attend" a sociable—those days people just went to meeting but they always "attended" sociables—"You're a wearin' 'em threadbare, ayes! I suppose you've sot yer eyes on some one o' the girls. I can always tell—ayes I can! When you git your long legs in them butternut trousers I know you're warmin' up—ayes!"
I had begun to regard those light brown trousers with a feeling of awe, and used to put my hand upon them very softly when uncle had them on. They seemed to rank with "sofys," albums and what-nots in their capacity for making trouble.
Uncle Peabody rarely made any answer, and for a time thereafter Aunt Deel acted as if she were about done with him. She would go around with a stern face as if unaware of his presence, and I had to keep out of her way. In fact I dreaded the butternut trousers almost as much as she did.
Once Uncle Peabody had put on the butternut trousers, against the usual protest, to go to meeting.
"Ayes! you've got 'em on ag'in," said Aunt Deel. "I suppose your black trousers ain't good 'nough. That's 'cause you know Edna Perry is goin' to be there—ayes!"
Edna Perry was a widow of about his age who was visiting her sister in the neighborhood.
Aunt Deel wouldn't go to church with us, so we went off together and walked home with Mrs. Perry. As we passed our house I saw Aunt Deel looking out of the window and waved my hand to her.
When we got home at last we found my aunt sitting in her armchair by the stove.
"You did it—didn't ye?—ayes," she demanded rather angrily as we came in.
"Done what?" asked Uncle Peabody.
"Shinin' up to that Perry woman—ain't ye?—ayes! I see you're bound to git married—ayes!"
I had no idea what it meant to get married but I made up my mind that it was something pretty low and bad. For the moment I blamed Uncle Peabody.
Aunt Deel's voice and manner seemed to indicate that she had borne with him to the limit of her patience.
"Delia," said my uncle, "I wouldn't be so—"
Again he checked himself for fear of going too far, I suppose.
"My heart! my heart!" Aunt Deel exclaimed and struggled to her feet sobbing, and Uncle Peabody helped her to the lounge. She was so ill the rest of the day that my uncle had to go for the doctor while I bathed her forehead with cold water.
Poor Uncle Peabody! Every step toward matrimony required such an outlay of emotion and such a sacrifice of comfort that I presume it seemed to be hardly worth while.
Yet I must be careful not to give the reader a false impression of my Aunt Deel. She was a thin, pale woman, rather tall, with brown hair and blue eyes and a tongue—well, her tongue has spoken for itself. I suppose that she will seem inhumanly selfish with this jealousy of her brother.
"I promised ma that I would look after you and I'm a-goin' to do it—ayes!" I used to hear her say to my uncle.
There were not many married men who were so thoroughly looked after. This was due in part to her high opinion of the Baynes family, and to a general distrust of women. In her view they were a designing lot. It was probably true that Mrs. Perry was fond of show and would have been glad to join the Baynes family, but those items should not have been set down against her. There was Aunt Deel's mistake. She couldn't allow any humanity in other women.
She toiled incessantly. She washed and scrubbed and polished and dusted and sewed and knit from morning until night. She lived in mortal fear that company would come and find her unprepared—Alma Jones or Jabez Lincoln and his wife, or Ben and Mary Humphries, or "Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg." These were the people of whom she talked when the neighbors came in and when she was not talking of the Bayneses. I observed that she always said "Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg." They were the conversational ornaments of our home. "As Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg says," or, "as I said to Mr. Horace Dunkelberg," were phrases calculated to establish our social standing. I supposed that the world was peopled by Joneses, Lincolns, Humphries and Dunkelbergs, but mostly by Dunkelbergs. These latter were very rich people who lived in Canton village.
I know, now, how dearly Aunt Deel loved her brother and me. I must have been a great trial to that woman of forty unused to the pranks of children and the tender offices of a mother. Naturally I turned from her to my Uncle Peabody as a refuge and a help in time of trouble with increasing fondness. He had no knitting or sewing to do and when Uncle Peabody sat in the house he gave all his time to me and we weathered many a storm together as we sat silently in his favorite corner, of an evening, where I always went to sleep in his arms.
He and I slept in the little room up-stairs, "under the shingles"—as uncle used to say. I in a small bed, and he in the big one which had been the receiver of so much violence. So I gave her only a qualified affection until I could see beneath the words and the face and the correcting hand of my Aunt Deel.
Uncle made up the beds in our room. Often his own bed would go unmade. My aunt would upbraid him for laziness, whereupon he would say that when he got up he liked the feel of that bed so much that he wanted to begin next night right where he had left off.
I was seven years old when Uncle Peabody gave me the watermelon seeds. I put one of them in my mouth and bit it.
"It appears to me there's an awful draft blowin' down your throat," said Uncle Peabody. "You ain't no business eatin' a melon seed."
"Why?" was my query.
"'Cause it was made to put in the ground. Didn't you know it was alive?"
"Alive!" I exclaimed.
"Alive," said he, "I'll show ye."
He put a number of the seeds in the ground and covered them, and said that that part of the garden should be mine. I watched it every day and by and by two vines came up. One sickened and died in dry weather. Uncle Peabody said that I must water the other every day. I did it faithfully and the vine throve.
"What makes it grow?" I asked.
"The same thing that makes you grow," said Uncle Peabody. "You can do lots of things but there's only one thing that a watermelon can do. It can just grow. See how it reaches out toward the sunlight! If we was to pull them vines around and try to make 'em grow toward the north they wouldn't mind us. They'd creep back and go reachin' toward the sunlight ag'in just as if they had a compass to show 'em the way."
It was hard work, I thought, to go down into the garden, night and morning, with my little pail full of water, but uncle said that I should get my pay when the melon was ripe. I had also to keep the wood-box full and feed the chickens. They were odious tasks. When I asked Aunt Deel what I should get for doing them she answered quickly:
"Nospanks and bread and butter—ayes!"
When I asked what were "nospanks" she told me that they were part of the wages of a good child. I was better paid for my care of the watermelon vine, for its growth was measured with a string every day and kept me interested. One morning I found five blossoms on it. I picked one and carried it to Aunt Deel. Another I destroyed in the tragedy of catching a bumblebee which had crawled into its cup. In due time three small melons appeared. When they were as big as a baseball I picked two of them. One I tasted and threw away as I ran to the pump for relief. The other I hurled at a dog on my way to school.
So that last melon on the vine had my undivided affection. It grew in size and reputation, and soon I learned that a reputation is about the worst thing that a watermelon can acquire while it is on the vine. I invited everybody that came to the house to go and see my watermelon. They looked it over and said pleasant things about it. When I was a boy people used to treat children and watermelons with a like solicitude. Both were a subject for jests and both produced similar reactions in the human countenance.
Aunt Deel often applied the watermelon test to my forehead and discovered in me a capacity for noise which no melon could rival. That act became very familiar to me, for when my melon was nearing the summit of its fame and influence, all beholders thumped its rounded side with the middle finger of the right hand, and said that they guessed they'd steal it. I knew that this was some kind of a joke and a very idle one for they had also threatened to steal me and nothing had come of it.
At last Uncle Peabody agreed with me that it was about time to pick the melon. I decided to pick it immediately after meeting on Sunday, so that I could give it to my aunt and uncle at dinner-time. When we got home I ran for the garden. My feet and those of our friends and neighbors had literally worn a path to the melon. In eager haste I got my little wheelbarrow and ran with it to the end of that path. There I found nothing but broken vines! The melon had vanished. I ran back to the house almost overcome by a feeling of alarm, for I had thought long of that hour of pride when I should bring the melon and present it to my aunt and uncle.
"Uncle Peabody," I shouted, "my melon is gone."
"Well I van!" said he, "somebody must 'a' stole it."
"Stole it?" I repeated the words without fully comprehending what they meant.
"But it was my melon," I said with a trembling voice.
"Yes and I vum it's too bad! But, Bart, you ain't learned yit that there are wicked people in the world who come and take what don't belong to 'em."
There were tears in my eyes when I asked:
"They'll bring it back, won't they?"
"Never!" said Uncle Peabody, "I'm afraid they've et it up."
He had no sooner said it than a cry broke from my lips, and I sank down upon the grass moaning and sobbing. I lay amidst the ruins of the simple faith of childhood. It was as if the world and all its joys had come to an end.
"You can't blame the boy," I heard Uncle Peabody saying. "He's fussed with that melon all summer. He wanted to give it to you for a present."
"Ayes so he did! Well I declare! I never thought o' that—ayes!"
Aunt Deel spoke in a low, kindly tone and came and lifted me to my feet very tenderly.
"Come, Bart, don't feel so about that old melon," said she, "it ain't worth it. Come with me. I'm goin' to give you a present—ayes I be!"
I was still crying when she took me to her trunk, and offered the grateful assuagement of candy and a belt, all embroidered with blue and white beads.
"Now you see, Bart, how low and mean anybody is that takes what don't belong to 'em—ayes! They're snakes! Everybody hates 'em an' stamps on 'em when they come in sight—ayes!"
The abomination of the Lord was in her look and manner. How it shook my soul! He who had taken the watermelon had also taken from me something I was never to have again, and a very wonderful thing it was—faith in the goodness of men. My eyes had seen evil. The world had committed its first offense against me and my spirit was no longer the white and beautiful thing it had been. Still, therein is the beginning of wisdom and, looking down the long vista of the years, I thank God for the great harvest of the lost watermelon. Better things had come in its place—understanding and what more, often I have vainly tried to estimate. For one thing that sudden revelation of the heart of childhood had lifted my aunt's out of the cold storage of a puritanic spirit, and warmed it into new life and opened its door for me.
In the afternoon she sent me over to Wills' to borrow a little tea. I stopped for a few minutes to play with Henry Wills—a boy not quite a year older than I. While playing there I discovered a piece of the rind of my melon in the dooryard. On that piece of rind I saw the cross which I had made one day with my thumb-nail. It was intended to indicate that the melon was solely and wholly mine. I felt a flush of anger.
"I hate you," I said as I approached him.
"I hate you," he answered.
"You're a snake!" I said.
We now stood, face to face and breast to breast, like a pair of young roosters. He gave me a shove and told me to go home. I gave him a shove and told him I wouldn't. I pushed up close to him again and we glared into each other's eyes.
Suddenly he spat in my face. I gave him a scratch on the forehead with my finger-nails. Then we fell upon each other and rolled on the ground and hit and scratched with feline ferocity.
Mrs. Wills ran out of the house and parted us. Our blood was hot, and leaking through the skin of our faces a little.
"He pitched on me," Henry explained.
I couldn't speak.
"Go right home—this minute—you brat!" said Mrs. Wills in anger. "Here's your tea. Don't you ever come here again."
I took the tea and started down the road weeping. What a bitter day that was for me! I dreaded to face my aunt and uncle. Coming through the grove down by our gate I met Uncle Peabody. With the keen eyesight of the father of the prodigal son he had seen me coming "a long way off" and shouted:
"Well here ye be—I was kind o' worried, Bub."
Then his eye caught the look of dejection in my gait and figure. He hurried toward me. He stopped as I came sobbing to his feet.
"Why, what's the matter?" he asked gently, as he took the tea cup from my hand, and sat down upon his heels.
I could only fall into his arms and express myself in the grief of childhood. He hugged me close and begged me to tell him what was the matter.
"That Wills boy stole my melon," I said, and the words came slow with sobs.
"Oh, no he didn't," said Uncle Peabody.
"Yes he did. I saw a piece o' the rin'."
"Well by—" said Uncle Peabody, stopping, as usual, at the edge of the precipice.
"He's a snake," I added.
"And you fit and he scratched you up that way?"
"I scratched him, too."
"Don't you say a word about it to Aunt Deel. Don't ever speak o' that miserable melon ag'in to anybody. You scoot around to the barn, an' I'll be there in a minute and fix ye up."
He went by the road with the tea and I ran around to the lane and up to the stable. Uncle Peabody met me there in a moment and brought a pail of water and washed my face so that I felt and looked more respectable.
"If Aunt Deel asks ye about them scratches you just tell her that you and Hen had a little disagreement," said my uncle.
She didn't ask me, probably because Uncle Peabody had explained in his own way, and requested her to say nothing.
The worst was over for that day but the Baynes-Wills feud had begun. It led to many a fight in the school yard and on the way home. We were so evenly matched that our quarrel went on for a long time and gathered intensity as it continued.
One day Uncle Peabody had given me an egg and, said that there was a chicken in it.
"All ye have to do is to keep it warm an' the chicken will come to life, and when the hen is off the nest some day it will see light through the shell and peck its way out," he explained.
He marked my initials on the egg and put it under a hen and by and by a little chicken came out of the shell. I held it in my palm—a quivering, warm handful of yellow down. Its helplessness appealed to me and I fed and watched it every day. Later my uncle told me that it was a hen chick and would be laying eggs in four months. He added:
"It's the only thing it can do, an' if it's let alone it'll be sure to do it. Follows a kind of a compass that leads to the nest every time."
This chicken grew into a little spotted hen. She became my sole companion in many a lonely hour when Uncle Peabody had gone to the village, or was working in wet ground, or on the hay rack, or the mowing machine where I couldn't be with him. She was an amiable, confiding little hen who put her trust in me and kept it unto the day of her death, which came not until she had reached the full dignity of mature henhood.
She was like many things on the farm—of great but unconsidered beauty. No far-fetched pheasant was half so beautiful as she. I had always treated her with respect, and she would let me come and sit beside her while she rolled in the dust and permit me to stroke her head and examine her wonderful dress of glossy mottled satin. She would spread her glowing sleeves in the sunlight, and let me feel their downy lining with my fingers and see how their taut snug-fitting plumes were set.
I remember a day when she was sitting on her nest with that curious expression in her eyes which seemed to say, "Please don't bother me now for this is my busy time," I brought three little kittens from their basket in the wood-shed and put them under her. The kittens felt the warmth of her body and began to mew and stir about. I shall never forget the look of astonishment in the little hen as she slowly rose in her nest and peered beneath her body at the kittens. She looked at me as if to say that she really couldn't be bothered with those furry things any longer—they made her so nervous. She calmly took hold of one of them with her bill and lifted it out of the nest. She continued this process of eviction until they were all removed, when she quietly sat down again.
I mention this only to show that the hen and I had come to terms of intimacy and mutual understanding. So when I saw Wills' dog catch and kill her in the field one day, where she was hunting for grasshoppers, I naturally entertained a feeling of resentment. I heard the cries of the hen and ran through the orchard and witnessed the end of the tragedy and more. Away down in the meadow I saw the dog and farther away "the Wills boy," as we then called him, running toward his home. The dog had run away as I approached and when I picked up the lifeless body of my little friend the hills seemed to lift up their heads and fall upon me. Of course that Wills boy had set the dog on her. I shall write no more of that hour of trial. Such little things make history, and it is necessary that the reader should understand me.
One June day of the next summer Uncle Peabody and I, from down in the fields, saw a fine carriage drive in at our gate. He stopped and looked intently.
"Jerusalem four-corners!" he exclaimed. "It's Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg."
My heart beat fast at thought of the legendary Dunkelbergs. Uncle looked me over from top to toe. "Heavens!" he exclaimed. "Go down to the brook and wash the mud off yer feet an' legs."
I ran for the brook and before I had returned to my uncle I heard the horn blow.
"The Dunkelbergs!—the Dunkelbergs! Come quick!" it seemed to say.
Uncle had tied a red handkerchief around his neck and was readjusting his galluses when I returned. In silence we hurried to the house. As we drew near I heard the voice of Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg and that of another woman quite as strange to my ear—a high-pitched voice of melting amiability. It was the company voice of my Aunt Deel. I had observed just a faint suggestion of it when the neighbors came, or when meeting was over, but I had never before heard the full-fledged angelicity of her company voice. It astonished me and I began to regard her as a very promising old lady. Uncle Peabody, himself, had undergone a change in the presence of the Dunkelbergs. He held his neck straighter and smiled more and spoke with greater deliberation.
Mr. Dunkelberg was a big, broad-shouldered, solemn-looking man. Somehow his face reminded me of a lion's which I had seen in one of my picture-books. He had a thick, long, outstanding mustache and side whiskers, and deep-set eyes and heavy eyebrows. He stood for half a moment looking down at me from a great height with his right hand in his pocket. I heard a little jingle of coins down where his hand was. It excited my curiosity. He took a step toward me and I retreated. I feared, a little, this big, lion-like man. My fears left me suddenly when he spoke in a small squeaky voice that reminded me of the chirping of a bird.
"Little boy, come here and I will make you a present," said he.
It reminded me of my disappointment when uncle tried to shoot his gun at a squirrel and only the cap cracked.
I went to him and he laid a silver piece in the palm of my hand. Aunt Deel began to hurry about getting dinner ready while Uncle Peabody and I sat down on the porch with our guests, among whom was a pretty blue-eyed girl of about my own age, with long, golden-brown hair that hung in curls.
"Sally, this is Barton Baynes—can't you shake hands with him?" said Mrs. Dunkelberg.
With a smile the girl came and offered me her hand and made a funny bow and said that she was glad to see me. I took her hand awkwardly and made no reply. I had never seen many girls and had no very high opinion of them.
My attentive ears and eyes began to gather facts in the history of the Dunkelbergs. Mr. Dunkelberg had throat trouble, and bought butter and cheese and sent it to Boston, and had busted his voice singing tenor, and was very rich. I knew that he was rich because he had a gold watch and chain, and clothes as soft and clean as the butternut trousers, and a silver ring on his finger, and such a big round stomach. That stomach was the most convincing feature of all and, indeed, I have since learned that the rounded type of human architecture is apt to be more expensive than the angular.
As we sat there I heard the men talking about the great Silas Wright, who had just returned to his home in Canton. He had not entered my consciousness until then.
While I sat listening I felt a tweak of my hair, and looking around I saw the Dunkelberg girl standing behind me with a saucy smile on her face.
"Won't you come and play with me?" she asked.
I took her out in the garden to show her where my watermelon had lain. At the moment I couldn't think of anything else to show her. As we walked along I observed that her feet were in dainty shiny button-shoes. Suddenly I began to be ashamed of my feet that were browned by the sunlight and scratched by the briers. The absent watermelon didn't seem to interest her.
"Let's play house in the grove," said she, and showed me how to build a house by laying rows of stones with an opening for a door.
"Now you be my husband," said she.
Oddly enough I had heard of husbands but had only a shadowy notion of what they were. I knew that there was none in our house.
"What's that?" I asked.
She laughed and answered: "Somebody that a girl is married to."
"You mean a father?"
"Once I had a father," I boasted.
"Well, we'll play we're married and that you have just got home from a journey. You go out in the woods and then you come home and I'll meet you at the door."
I did as she bade me but I was not glad enough to see her.
"You must kiss me," she prompted in a whisper.
I kissed her very swiftly and gingerly—like one picking up a hot coal—and she caught me in her arms and kissed me three times while her soft hair threw its golden veil over our faces.
"Oh I'm so glad to see you," she said as she drew away from me and shook back her hair.
"Golly! this is fun!" I said.
"Ask: 'How are the babies?'" she whispered.
"How are the babies?" I asked, feeling rather silly.
"They're fine. I'm just putting them to bed."
We sat on the grass and she had a stick which she pretended to be dressing and often, after she had spanked the stick a little, she made a noise through closed lips like that of a child crying.
"Now go to sleep and I'll tell you a story," said she.
Then she told pretty tales of fairies and of grand ladies and noble gentlemen who wore gold coats and swords and diamonds and silks, and said wonderful words in such a wonderful way. I dare say it prospered all the better in my ears because of the mystery by which its meanings were partly hidden. I had many questions to ask and she told me what were fairies and silks and diamonds and grand ladies and noble gentlemen.
We sat down to one of our familiar dinners of salt pork and milk gravy and apple pie now enriched by sweet pickles and preserves and frosted cake.
A query had entered my mind and soon after we began eating I asked:
"Aunt Deel, what is the difference between a boy and a girl?"
There was a little silence in which my aunt drew in her breath and exclaimed, "W'y!" and turned very red and covered her face with her napkin. Uncle Peabody laughed so loudly that the chickens began to cackle. Mr. and Mrs. Dunkelberg also covered their faces. Aunt Deel rose and went to the stove and shoved the teapot along, exclaiming:
"Goodness, gracious sakes alive!"
The tea slopped over on the stove. Uncle Peabody laughed louder and Mr. Dunkelberg's face was purple. Shep came running into the house just as I ran out of it. I had made up my mind that I had done something worse than tipping over a what-not. Thoroughly frightened I fled and took refuge behind the ash-house, where Sally found me. I knew of one thing I would never do again. She coaxed me into the grove where we had another play spell.
I needed just that kind of thing, and what a time it was for me! A pleasant sadness comes when I think of that day—it was so long ago. As the Dunkelbergs left us I stood looking down the road on which they were disappearing and saw in the sky and the distant, purple hills and sloping meadows the beauty of the world. The roaring aeroplane of a humming bird whirled about me and sped through the hollyhock towers. I followed and watched the tiny air-ship sticking its prow in their tops, as if it would have me see how wonderful they were, before it sped away. Breast deep in the flowers I forgot my loneliness for a few minutes. But that evening my ears caught a note of sadness in the voice of the katydids, and memory began to play its part with me. Best of all I remembered the kisses and the bright blue eyes and the soft curly hair with the smell of roses in it.
I MEET THE SILENT WOMAN AND SILAS WRIGHT, JR.
Amos Grimshaw was there in our dooryard the day that the old ragged woman came along and told our fortunes—she that was called Rovin' Kate, and was said to have the gift of "second sight," whatever that may be. It was a bright autumn day and the leaves lay deep in the edge of the woodlands. She spoke never a word but stood pointing at her palm and then at Amos and at me.
I was afraid of the old woman—she looked so wild and ragged. I have never seen a human being whose look and manner suggested a greater capacity for doing harm. Yet there was a kindly smile on her tanned face when she looked at me. Young as I was, the truth came home to me, somehow, that she was a dead but undeparted spirit and belonged to another world. I remember the tufts of gray hair above her blue eyes; the mole on the side of her aquiline nose; her pointed chin and small mouth. She carried a cane in her bony right hand and the notion came to me that she was looking for bad boys who deserved a cudgeling.
Aunt Deel nodded and said:
"Ayes, Kate—tell their fortunes if ye've anything to say—ayes!"
She brought two sheets of paper and the old woman sat down upon the grass and began to write with a little stub of a pencil. I have now those fateful sheets of paper covered by the scrawls of old Kate. I remember how she shook her head and sighed and sat beating her forehead with the knuckles of her bony hands after she had looked at the palm of Amos. Swiftly the point of her pencil ran over and up and down the sheet like the movements of a frightened serpent. In the silence how loudly the pencil seemed to hiss in its swift lines and loops.
My aunt exclaimed "Mercy!" as she looked at the sheet; for while I knew not, then, the strange device upon the paper, I knew, by and by, that it was a gibbet. Beneath it were the words: "Money thirst shall burn like a fire in him."
She rose and smiled as she looked into my face. I saw a kind, gentle glow in her eyes that reassured me. She clapped her hands with joy. She examined my palm and grew serious and stood looking thoughtfully at the setting sun.
I see, now, her dark figure standing against the sunlight as it stood that day with Amos in its shadow. What a singular eloquence in her pose and gestures and in her silence! I remember how it bound our tongues—that silence of hers! She covered her eyes with her left hand as she turned away from us. Slowly her right hand rose above her head with its index finger extended and slowly came down to her side. It rose again with two fingers showing and descended as before. She repeated this gesture until her four bony fingers had been spread in the air above her. How it thrilled me! Something jumped to life in my soul at the call of her moving hand. I passed a new gate of my imagination, I fancy, and if I have a way of my own in telling things it began that moment.
The woman turned with a kindly smile and sat down in the grass again and took the sheet of paper and resting it on a yellow-covered book began to write these words:
"I see the longing of the helper. One, two, three, four great perils shall strike at him. He shall not be afraid. God shall fill his heart with laughter. I hear guns, I hear many voices. His name is in them. He shall be strong. The powers of darkness shall fear him, he shall be a lawmaker and the friend of God and of many people, and great men shall bow to his judgment and he shall—"
She began shaking her head thoughtfully and did not finish the sentence, and by and by the notion came to me that some unpleasant vision must have halted her pencil.
Aunt Deel brought some luncheon wrapped in paper and the old woman took it and went away. My aunt folded the sheets and put them in her trunk and we thought no more of them until—but we shall know soon what reminded us of the prophet woman.
The autumn passed swiftly. I went to the village one Saturday with Uncle Peabody in high hope of seeing the Dunkelbergs, but at their door we learned that they had gone up the river on a picnic. What a blow it was to me! Tears flowed down my cheeks as I clung to my uncle's hand and walked back to the main street of the village. A squad of small boys jeered and stuck out their tongues at me. It was pity for my sorrows, no doubt, that led Uncle Peabody to take me to the tavern for dinner, where they were assuaged by cakes and jellies and chicken pie.
When we came out of the tavern we saw Benjamin Grimshaw and his son Amos sitting on the well curb. Each had a half-eaten doughnut in one hand and an apple in the other. I remember that Mr. Grimshaw said in a scolding manner which made me dislike him:
"Baynes, I'm glad to see you're so prosperous. Only the rich can afford to eat in taverns. Our dinner has cost us just three cents, an' I wouldn't wonder if I was worth about as much as you are."
My uncle made no reply and we passed on to a store nearly opposite the well, where I became deeply interested in a man who had tapped me in the stomach with his forefinger while he made a sound like the squealing of a rat. Then he said to Uncle Peabody:
"Look at that man out there by the well! He's the richest man in this section o' country. He owns half o' this village. I wouldn't wonder if he was worth fifty thousand dollars at least. What do ye suppose he spent for his dinner?"
"Three cents," said my uncle.
"Guess again—it was a cent and a half. He came in here and asked how much were the doughnuts. I told him they were a cent a piece. He offered me three cents for four of them—said it was all the change he had. He and his boy are eating them with some apples that they had in their pockets."
I remember how my uncle and the man laughed as the latter said: "His wealth costs too much altogether. 'Tain't worth it"—a saying which my uncle often quoted.
Thus early I got a notion of the curious extravagance of the money worshiper. How different was my uncle, who cared too little for money!
At Christmas I got a picture-book and forty raisins and three sticks of candy with red stripes on them and a jew's-harp. That was the Christmas we went down to Aunt Liza's to spend the day and I helped myself to two pieces of cake when the plate was passed and cried because they all laughed at my greediness. It was the day when Aunt Liza's boy, Truman, got a silver watch and chain and her daughter Mary a gold ring, and when all the relatives were invited to come and be convinced, once and for all, of Uncle Roswell's prosperity and be filled with envy and reconciled with jelly and preserves and roast turkey with sage dressing and mince and chicken pie. What an amount of preparation we had made for the journey, and how long we had talked about it! When we had shut the door and were ready to get into the sleigh our dog Shep came whining around us. I shall never forget how Uncle Peabody talked to him.
"Go back, Shep—go back to the house an' stay on the piaz," he began. "Go back I tell ye. It's Christmas day an' we're goin' down to ol' Aunt Liza's. Ye can't go way down there. No, sir, ye can't. Go back an' lay down on the piaz."
Shep was fawning at my uncle's foot and rubbing his neck on his boot and looking up at him.
"What's that ye say?" Uncle Peabody went on, looking down and turning his ear as if he had heard the dog speak and were in some doubt of his meaning. "Eh? What's that? An empty house makes ye terrible sad on a Chris'mas day? What's that? Ye love us an' ye'd like to go along down to Aunt Liza's an' play with the children?"
It was a clever ruse of Uncle Peabody, for Aunt Deel was softened by his interpretation of the dog's heart and she proposed:
"Le's take him along with us—poor dog! ayes!"
Then Uncle Peabody shouted:
"Jump right into the sleigh—you ol' skeezucks!—an' I'll cover ye up with a hoss blanket. Git in here. We ain't goin' to leave nobody alone on Chris'mas day that loves us—not by a jug full—no, sir! I wouldn't wonder if Jesus died for dogs an' hosses as well as for men."
Shep had jumped in the back of the sleigh at the first invitation and lay quietly under his blanket as we hurried along in the well-trod snow and the bells jingled. It was a joyful day and old Shep was as merry and well fed as the rest of us.
How cold and sad and still the house seemed when we got back to it in the evening! We had to drive to a neighbor's and borrow fire and bring it home with us in a pail of ashes as we were out of tinder. I held the lantern for my uncle while he did the chores and when we had gone to bed I fell asleep hearing him tell of Joseph and Mary going to pay their taxes.
In the spring my uncle hired a man to work for us—a noisy, brawny, sharp-featured fellow with keen gray eyes, of the name of Dug Draper. Aunt Deel hated him. I feared him but regarded him with great hope because he had a funny way of winking at me with one eye across the table and, further, because he could sing and did sing while he worked—songs that rattled from his lips in a way that amused me greatly. Then, too, he could rip out words that had a new and wonderful sound in them. I made up my mind that he was likely to become a valuable asset when I heard Aunt Deel say to my Uncle Peabody:
"You'll have to send that loafer away, right now, ayes I guess you will."
"Because this boy has learnt to swear like a pirate—ayes—he has!"
Uncle Peabody didn't know it but I myself had begun to suspect it, and that hour the man was sent away, and I remember that he left in anger with a number of those new words flying from his lips. A forced march to the upper room followed that event. Uncle Peabody explained that it was wicked to swear—that boys who did it had very bad luck, and mine came in a moment. I never had more of it come along in the same length of time.
One day in the spring when the frogs were chanting in the swamp land, they seemed to be saying, "Dunkelberg, Dunkelberg, Dunkelberg, Dunkelberg," from morning to bedtime. I was helping Uncle Peabody to fix the fence when he said:
"Hand me that stake, Bub. Don't be so much of a gentleman."
I handed the stake to him and then I said:
"Uncle Peabody, I want to be a gentleman."
"A gentleman!" he exclaimed as he looked down at me thoughtfully.
"A grand, noble gentleman with a sword and a gold watch and chain and diamonds on," I exclaimed.
He leaned against the top rail of the fence and looked down at me and laughed.
"Whatever put that in yer head?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know—how do ye be it?" I demanded.
"They's two ways," said he. "One is to begin 'fore you're born and pick out the right father. T'other is to begin after you're born and pick out the right son. You can make yerself whatever you want to be. It's all inside of a boy and it comes out by and by—swords and gold and diamonds, or rags an' dirt an' shovels an' crowbars."
I wondered what I had inside of me.
"I guess I ain't got any sword in me," I said.
"When you've been eating green apples and I wouldn't wonder," he answered as he went on with his work.
"Once I thought I heard a watch tickin' in my throat," I said hopefully.
"I don't mean them things is really in ye, but the power to git 'em is in ye," said Uncle Peabody. "That's what I mean—power. Be a good boy and study yer lessons and never lie, and the power'll come into ye jest as sure as you're alive."
I began to watch myself for symptoms of power.
After I ceased to play with the Wills boy Uncle Peabody used to say, often, it was a pity that I hadn't somebody of my own age for company. Every day I felt sorry that the Wills boy had turned out so badly, and I doubt not the cat and the shepherd dog and the chickens and Uncle Peabody also regretted his failures, especially the dog and Uncle Peabody, who bore all sorts of indignities for my sake.
In the circumstances I had to give a good deal of time to the proper education of my uncle. Naturally he preferred to waste his time with shovels and rakes. But he soon learned how to roll a hoop and play tag and ball and yard off and how to run like a horse when I sat on his shoulders. It was rather hard on him, after his work in the fields, but he felt his responsibility and applied himself with due diligence and became a very promising child. I also gave strict attention to his talent for story-telling. It improved rapidly. Being frank in my criticism he was able to profit by all his failures in taste and method, so that each story had a fierce bear in it and a fair amount of growling by and by. But I could not teach him to sing, and it was a great sorrow to me. I often tried and he tried, but I saw that it wasn't going to pay. He couldn't make the right kind of a noise. Through all this I did not neglect his morals. If he said an improper word—and I regret to say that he did now and then—I promptly corrected him and reported his conduct to Aunt Deel, and if she was inclined to be too severe I took his part and, now and then, got snapped on the forehead for the vigor of my defense. On the whole it is no wonder that Uncle Peabody wearied of his schooling.
One day when Uncle Peabody went for the mail he brought Amos Grimshaw to visit me. I had not seen him since the day he was eating doughnuts in the village with his father. He was four years older than I—a freckled, red-haired boy with a large mouth and thin lips. He wore a silver watch and chain, which strongly recommended him in my view and enabled me to endure his air of condescension.
He let me feel it and look it all over and I slyly touched the chain with my tongue just to see if it had any taste to it, and Amos told me that his grandfather had given it to him and that it always kept him "kind o' scairt."
"For fear I'll break er lose it an' git licked," he answered.
We went and sat down on the hay together, and I showed him the pennies I had saved and he showed me where his father had cut his leg that morning with a blue beech rod.
"Don't you ever git licked?" he asked.
"No," I answered.
"I guess that's because you ain't got any father," he answered. "I wish I hadn't. There's nobody so mean as a father. Mine makes me work every day an' never gives me a penny an' licks me whenever I do anything that I want to. I've made up my mind to run away from home."
After a moment of silence he exclaimed:
"Gosh! It's awful lonesome here! Gee whittaker! this is the worst place I ever saw!"
I tried to think of something that I could say for it.
"We have got a new corn sheller," I said, rather timidly.
"I don't care about your corn shellers," he answered with a look of scorn.
He took a little yellow paper-covered book from his pocket and began to read to himself.
I felt thoroughly ashamed of the place and sat near him and, for a time, said nothing as he read.
"What's that?" I ventured to ask by and by.
"A story," he answered. "I met that ragged ol' woman in the road t'other day an' she give me a lot of 'em an' showed me the pictures an' I got to readin' 'em. Don't you tell anybody 'cause my ol' dad hates stories an' he'd lick me 'til I couldn't stan' if he knew I was readin' 'em."
I begged him to read out loud and he read from a tale of two robbers named Thunderbolt and Lightfoot who lived in a cave in the mountains. They were bold, free, swearing men who rode beautiful horses at a wild gallop and carried guns and used them freely and with unerring skill, and helped themselves to what they wanted.
He stopped, by and by, and confided to me the fact that he thought he would run away and join a band of robbers.
"How do you run away?" I asked.
"Just take the turnpike and keep goin' toward the mountains. When ye meet a band o' robbers give 'em the sign an' tell 'em you want to join."
He went on with the book and read how the robbers had hung a captive who had persecuted them and interfered with their sport. The story explained how they put the rope around the neck of the captive and threw the other end of it over the limb of a tree and pulled the man into the air.
He stopped suddenly and demanded: "Is there a long rope here?"
I pointed to Uncle Peabody's hay rope hanging on a peg.
"Le's hang a captive," he proposed.
At first I did not comprehend his meaning. He got the rope and threw its end over the big beam. Our old shepherd dog had been nosing the mow near us for rats. Amos caught the dog who, suspecting no harm, came passively to the rope's end. He tied the rope around the dog's neck.
"We'll draw him up once—it won't hurt him any," he proposed.
I looked at him in silence. My heart smote me, but I hadn't the courage to take issue with the owner of a silver watch. When the dog began to struggle I threw my arms about him and cried. Aunt Deel happened to be near. She came and saw Amos pulling at the rope and me trying to save the dog.
"Come right down off'm that mow—this minute," said she.
When we had come down and the dog had followed pulling the rope after him, Aunt Deel was pale with anger.
"Go right home—right home," said she to Amos.
"Mr. Baynes said that he would take me up with the horses," said Amos.
"Ye can use shank's horses—ayes!—they're good enough for you," Aunt Deel insisted, and so the boy went away in disgrace.
I blushed to think of the poor opinion he would have of the place now. It seemed to me a pity that it should be made any worse, but I couldn't help it.
"Where are your pennies?" Aunt Deel said to me.
I felt in my pockets but couldn't find them.
"Where did ye have 'em last?" my aunt demanded.
"On the haymow."
"Come an' show me."
We went to the mow and search for the pennies, but not one of them could we find.
I remembered that when I saw them last Amos had them in his hand.
"I'm awful 'fraid for him—ayes I be!" said Aunt Deel. "I'm 'fraid Rovin' Kate was right about him—ayes!"
"What did she say?" I asked.
"That he was goin' to be hung—ayes! You can't play with him no more. Boys that take what don't belong to 'em—which I hope he didn't—ayes I hope it awful—are apt to be hung by their necks until they are dead—jest as he was goin' to hang ol' Shep—ayes!—they are!"
Again I saw the dark figure of old Kate standing in the sunlight and her ragged garments and bony hands and heard the hiss of her flying pencil point. I clung to my aunt's dress for a moment and then I found old Shep and sat down beside him with my arm around his neck. I did not speak of the story because I had promised not to and felt sure that Amos would do something to me if I did.
Uncle Peabody seemed to feel very badly when he learned how Amos had turned out.
"Don't say a word about it," said he. "Mebbe you lost the pennies. Don't mind 'em."
Soon after that, one afternoon, Aunt Deel came down in the field where we were dragging. While she was talking with Uncle Peabody an idea occurred to me and the dog and I ran for the house. There was a pan of honey on the top shelf of the pantry and ever since I had seen it put there I had cherished secret designs.
I ran into the deserted house, and with the aid of a chair climbed to the first shelf and then to the next, and reached into the pan and drew out a comb of honey, and with no delay whatever it went to my mouth. Suddenly it seemed to me that I had been hit by lightning. It was the sting of a bee. I felt myself going and made a wild grab and caught the edge of the pan and down we came to the floor—the pan and I—with a great crash.
I discovered that I was in desperate pain and trouble and I got to my feet and ran. I didn't know where I was going. It seemed to me that any other place would be better than that. My feet took me toward the barn and I crawled under it and hid there. My lip began to feel better, by and by, but big and queer. It stuck out so that I could see it. I heard my uncle coming with the horses. I concluded that I would stay where I was, but the dog came and sniffed and barked at the hole through which I had crawled as if saying, "Here he is!" My position was untenable. I came out. Shep began trying to clean my clothes with his tongue. Uncle Peabody stood near with the horses. He looked at me. He stuck his finger into the honey on my coat and smelt it.
"Well, by—" he stopped and came closer and asked.
"Bee stung me," I answered.
"Where did ye find so much honey that ye could go swimmin' in it?" he asked.
I heard the door of the house open suddenly and the voice of Aunt Deel.
"Peabody! Peabody! come here quick," she called.
Uncle Peabody ran to the house, but I stayed out with the dog.
Through the open door I heard Aunt Deel saying: "I can't stan' it any longer and I won't—not another day—ayes, I can't stan' it. That boy is a reg'lar pest."
They came out on the veranda. Uncle Peabody said nothing, but I could see that he couldn't stand it either. My brain was working fast.
"Come here, sir," Uncle Peabody called.
I knew it was serious, for he had never called me "sir" before. I went slowly to the steps.
"My lord!" Aunt Deel exclaimed. "Look at that lip and the honey all over him—ayes! I tell ye—I can't stan' it."
"Say, boy, is there anything on this place that you ain't tipped over?" Uncle Peabody asked in a sorrowful tone. "Wouldn't ye like to tip the house over?"
I was near breaking down in this answer:
"I went into the but'ry and that pan jumped on to me."
"Didn't you taste the honey?"
"No," I drew in my breath and shook my head.
"Liar, too!" said Aunt Deel. "I can't stan' it an' I won't."
Uncle Peabody was sorely tried, but he was keeping down his anger. His voice trembled as he said:
"Boy, I guess you'll have to—"
Uncle Peabody stopped. He had been driven to the last ditch, but he had not stepped over it. However, I knew what he had started to say and sat down on the steps in great dejection. Shep followed, working at my coat with his tongue.
I think that the sight of me must have touched the heart of Aunt Deel.
"Peabody Baynes, we mustn't be cruel," said she in a softer tone, and then she brought a rag and began to assist Shep in the process of cleaning my coat. "Good land! He's got to stay here—ayes!—he ain't got no other place to go to."
"But if you can't stan' it," said Uncle Peabody.
"I've got to stan' it—ayes!—I can't stan' it, but I've got to—ayes! So have you."
Aunt Deel put me to bed although it was only five o'clock. As I lay looking up at the shingles a singular resolution came to me. It was born of my longing for the companionship of my kind and of my resentment. I would go and live with the Dunkelbergs. I would go the way they had gone and find them. I knew it was ten miles away, but of course everybody knew where the Dunkelbergs lived and any one would show me. I would run and get there before dark and tell them that I wanted to live with them, and every day I would play with Sally Dunkelberg. Uncle Peabody was not half as nice to play with as she was.
I heard Uncle Peabody drive away. I watched him through the open window. I could hear Aunt Deel washing the dishes in the kitchen. I got out of bed very slyly and put on my Sunday clothes. I went to the open window. The sun had just gone over the top of the woods. I would have to hurry to get to the Dunkelbergs' before dark. I crept out on the top of the shed and descended the ladder that leaned against it. I stood a moment listening. The dooryard was covered with shadows and very still. The dog must have gone with Uncle Peabody. I ran through the garden to the road and down it as fast as my bare feet could carry me. In that direction the nearest house was almost a mile away. I remember I was out of breath, and the light growing dim before I got to it. I went on. It seemed to me that I had gone nearly far enough to reach my destination when I heard a buggy coming behind me.
"Hello!" a voice called.
I turned and looked up at Dug Draper, in a single buggy, dressed in his Sunday suit.
"Is it much further to where the Dunkelbergs live?" I asked.
"The Dunkelbergs? Who be they?"
It seemed to me very strange that he didn't know the Dunkelbergs.
"Where Sally Dunkelberg lives."
That was a clincher. He laughed and swore and said:
"Git in here, boy. I'll take ye there."
I got into the buggy, and he struck his horse with the whip and went galloping away in the dusk.
"I reckon you're tryin' to git away from that old pup of an aunt," said he. "I don't wonder. I rather live with a she bear."
I have omitted and shall omit the oaths and curses with which his talk was flavored.
"I'm gittin' out o' this country myself," said he. "It's too pious for me."
By and by we passed Rovin' Kate. I could just discern her ragged form by the roadside and called to her. He struck his horse and gave me a rude shake and bade me shut up.
It was dark and I felt very cold and began to wish myself home in bed.
"Ain't we most to the Dunkelbergs'?" I asked.
"No—not yet," he answered.
I burst into tears and he hit me a sounding whack in the face with his hand.
"No more whimperin'," he shouted. "Do ye hear me?"
He hurt me cruelly and I was terribly frightened and covered my face and smothered my cries and was just a little quaking lump of misery.
He shook me roughly and shoved me down on the buggy floor and said:
"You lay there and keep still; do you hear?"
"Yes," I sobbed.
I lay shaking with fear and fighting my sorrow and keeping as still as I could with it, until, wearied by the strain, I fell asleep.
What an angel of mercy is sleep! Down falls her curtain and away she leads us—delivered! free!—into some magic country where are the things we have lost—perhaps even joy and youth and strength and old friendships.
What befell me that night while I dreamed of playing with the sweet-faced girl I have wondered often. Some time in the night Dug Draper had reached the village of Canton, and got rid of me. He had probably put me out at the water trough. Kind hands had picked me up and carried me to a little veranda that fronted the door of a law office. There I slept peacefully until daylight, when I felt a hand on my face and awoke suddenly. I remember that I felt cold. A kindly faced man stood leaning over me.
"Hello, boy!" said he. "Where did you come from?"
I was frightened and confused, but his gentle voice reassured me.
"Uncle Peabody!" I called, as I arose and looked about me and began to cry.
The man lifted me in his arms and held me close to his breast and tried to comfort me. I remember seeing the Silent Woman pass while I was in his arms.
"Tell me what's your name," he urged.
"Barton Baynes," I said as soon as I could speak.
"Where is your father?"
"In Heaven," I answered, that being the place to which he had moved, as I understood it.
"Where do you live?"
"How did you get here?"
"Dug Draper brought me. Do you know where Sally Dunkelberg lives?"
"Is she the daughter of Horace Dunkelberg?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg," I amended.
"Oh, yes, I know her. Sally is a friend of mine. We'll get some breakfast and then we'll go and find her."
He carried me through the open door of his office and set me down at his desk. The cold air of the night had chilled me and I was shivering.
"You sit there and I'll have a fire going in a minute and get you warmed up."
He wrapped me in his coat and went into the back room and built a fire in a small stove and brought me in and set me down beside it. He made some porridge in a kettle while I sat holding my little hands over the stove to warm them, and a sense of comfort grew in me. Soon a boy came bringing a small pail of fresh milk and a loaf of bread. I remember how curiously the boy eyed me as he said to my new friend:
"Captain Moody wants to know if you'll come up to dinner?"
There was a note of dignity in the reply which was new to me, and for that reason probably I have always remembered it.
"Please present my thanks to the Captain and tell him that I expect to go up to Lickitysplit in the town of Ballybeen."
He dipped some porridge into bowls and put them on a small table. My eyes had watched him with growing interest and I got to the table about as soon as the porridge and mounted a chair and seized a spoon.
"One moment, Bart," said my host. "By jingo! We've forgotten to wash, and your face looks like the dry bed of a river. Come here a minute."
He led me out of the back door, where there were a wash-stand and a pail and a tin basin and a dish of soft soap. He dipped the pail in a rain barrel and filled the basin, and I washed myself and waited not upon my host, but made for the table and began to eat, being very hungry, after hastily drying my face on a towel. In a minute he came and sat down to his own porridge and bread and butter.
"Bart, don't dig so fast," said he. "You're down to hard pan now. Never be in a hurry to see the bottom of the bowl."
I have never forgotten the look of amusement in his big, smiling, gray eyes as they looked down upon me out of his full, ruddy, smooth-shaven face. It inspired confidence and I whispered timidly:
"Could I have some more?"
"All you want," he answered, as he put another ladle full in my bowl.
When we had finished eating he set aside the dishes and I asked:
"Now could I go and see Sally Dunkelberg?"
"What in the world do you want of Sally Dunkelberg?" he asked.
"Oh, just to play with her," I said as I showed him how I could sit on my hands and raise myself from the chair bottom.
"Haven't you any one to play with at home?"
"Only my Uncle Peabody."
"Don't you like to play with him?"
"Oh, some, but he can't stand me any longer. He's all tired out, and my Aunt Deel, too. I've tipped over every single thing on that place. I tipped over the honey yesterday—spillt it all over everything and rooend my clothes. I'm a reg'lar pest. So I want to play with Sally Dunkelberg. She knows all kinds o' riddles and games and all about grand ladies and gentlemen and she wears shiny shoes and her hair smells just like roses, and I want to play with her a little while—just a wee little while."
I had unburdened my soul. The above words are quoted not from my memory, but from his, which has always been most reliable. I remember well my thoughts and feelings but not many of my words on a day so distant.
"Forward, march!" said he and away we started for the home of the Dunkelbergs. The village interested me immensely. I had seen it only twice before. People were moving about in the streets. One thing I did not fail to notice. Every man we met touched his hat as he greeted my friend.
"Good morning, Sile," some said, as we passed them, or, "How are you, Comptroller?"
It was a square, frame house—that of the Dunkelbergs—large for that village, and had a big dooryard with trees in it. As we came near the gate I saw Sally Dunkelberg playing with other children among the trees. Suddenly I was afraid and began to hang back. I looked down at my bare feet and my clothes, both of which were dirty. Sally and her friends had stopped their play and were standing in a group looking at us. I heard Sally whisper:
"It's that Baynes boy. Don't he look dirty?"
I stopped and withdrew my hand from that of my guide.
"Come on, Bart," he said.
I shook my head and stood looking over at that little, hostile tribe near me.
"Go and play with them while I step into the house," he urged.
Again I shook my head.
"Well, then, you wait here a moment," said my new-found friend.
He left me and I sat down upon the ground, thoughtful and silent.
He went to the children and kissed Sally and whispered in her ear and passed on into the house. The children walked over to me.
"Hello, Bart!" said Sally.
"Hello!" I answered.
"Wouldn't you like to play with us?"
I shook my head.
Some of them began to whisper and laugh. I remember how beautiful the girls looked with their flowing hair and ribbons and pretty dresses. What happy faces they had! I wonder why it all frightened and distressed me so.
In a moment my friend came out with Mrs. Dunkelberg, who kissed me, and asked me to tell how I happened to be there.
"I just thought I would come," I said as I twisted a button on my coat, and would say no more to her.
"Mr. Wright, you're going to take him home, are you?" Mrs. Dunkelberg asked.
"Yes. I'll start off with him in an hour or so," said my friend. "I am interested in this boy and I want to see his aunt and uncle."
"Let him stay here with us until you're ready to go."
"I don't want to stay here," I said, seizing my friend's hand.
"Well, Sally, you go down to the office and stay with Bart until they go."
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" the man asked of me.
"I don't know," I said.
"That means yes," said the man.
Sally and another little girl came with us and passing a store I held back to look at many beautiful things in a big window.
"Is there anything you'd like there, Bart?" the man asked.
"I wisht I had a pair o' them shiny shoes with buttons on," I answered in a low, confidential tone, afraid to express, openly, a wish so extravagant.
"Come right in," he said, and I remember that when we entered the store I could hear my heart beating.
He bought a pair of shoes for me and I would have them on at once, and that made it necessary for him to buy a pair of socks also. After the shoes were buttoned on my feet I saw little of Sally Dunkelberg or the other people of the village, my eyes being on my feet most of the time.
The man took us into his office and told us to sit down until he could write a letter.
I remember how, as he wrote, I stood by his chair and examined the glazed brown buttons on his coat and bit one of them to see how hard it was, while Sally was feeling his gray hair and necktie. He scratched along with his quill pen as if wholly unaware of our presence.
Soon a horse and buggy came for us and I briefly answered Sally's good-by before the man drove away with me. I remember telling him as we went on over the rough road, between fields of ripened grain, of my watermelon and my dog and my little pet hen.
I shall not try to describe that home coming. We found Aunt Deel in the road five miles from home. She had been calling and traveling from house to house most of the night, and I have never forgotten her joy at seeing me and her tender greeting. She got into the buggy and rode home with us, holding me in her lap. Uncle Peabody and one of our neighbors had been out in the woods all night with pine torches. I recall how, although excited by my return, he took off his hat at the sight of my new friend and said:
"Mr. Wright, I never wished that I lived in a palace until now."
He didn't notice me until I held up both feet and called: "Look a' there, Uncle Peabody."
Then he came and took me out of the buggy and I saw the tears in his eyes when he kissed me.
The man told of finding me on his little veranda, and I told of my ride with Dug Draper, after which Uncle Peabody said:
"I'm goin' to put in your hoss and feed him, Comptroller."
"And I'm goin' to cook the best dinner I ever cooked in my life," said Aunt Deel.
I knew that my new friend must be even greater than the Dunkelbergs, for there was a special extravagance in their tone and manner toward him which I did not fail to note. His courtesy and the distinction of his address, as he sat at our table, were not lost upon me, either. During the meal I heard that Dug Draper had run off with a neighbor's horse and buggy and had not yet returned. Aunt Deel said that he had taken me with him out of spite, and that he would probably never come back—a suspicion justified by the facts of history.
When the great man had gone Uncle Peabody took me in his lap and said very gently and with a serious look:
"You didn't think I meant it, did ye?—that you would have to go 'way from here?"
"I don't know," was my answer.
"Course I didn't mean that. I just wanted ye to see that it wa'n't goin' to do for you to keep on tippin' things over so."
I sat telling them of my adventures and answering questions, flattered by their tender interest, until milking time. I thoroughly enjoyed all that. When I rose to go out with Uncle Peabody, Aunt Deel demanded my shoes.
"Take 'em right off," said she. "It ain't a goin' to do to wear 'em common—no, sir-ee! They're for meetin' or when company comes—ayes!"
I regretfully took off the shoes and gave them to her, and thereafter the shoes were guarded as carefully as the butternut trousers.
That evening as I was about to go up-stairs to bed, Aunt Deel said to my uncle:
"Do you remember what ol' Kate wrote down about him? This is his first peril an' he has met his first great man an' I can see that Sile Wright is kind o' fond o' him."
I went to sleep that night thinking of the strange, old, ragged, silent woman.
WE GO TO MEETING AND SEE MR. WRIGHT AGAIN
I had a chill that night and in the weeks that followed I was nearly burned up with lung fever. Doctor Clark came from Canton to see me every other day for a time, and one evening Mr. Wright came with him and watched all night near my bedside. He gave me medicine every hour, and I remember how gently he would speak and raise my head when he came with the spoon and the draft. It grieved me to hear him say, as he raised me in his arms, that I wasn't bigger than "a cock mosquito."
I would lie and watch him as he put a stick on the fire and tiptoed to his armchair by the table, on which three lighted candles were burning. Then he would adjust his spectacles, pick up his book, and begin to read, and I would see him smile or frown or laugh until I wondered what was between the black covers of the book to move him so. In the morning he said that he could come the next Tuesday night, if we needed him, and set out right after breakfast, in the dim dawn light, to walk to Canton.
"Peabody Baynes," said my Aunt Deel as she stood looking out of the window at Mr. Wright, "that is one of the grandest, splendidest men that I ever see or heard of. He's an awful smart man, an' a day o' his time is worth more'n a month of our'n, but he comes away off here to set up with a sick young one and walks back. Does beat all—don't it?—ayes!"
"If any one needs help Sile Wright is always on hand," said Uncle Peabody.
I was soon out of bed and he came no more to sit up with me.
When I was well again Aunt Deel said one day "Peabody Baynes, I ain't heard no preachin' since Mr Pangborn died. I guess we better go down to Canton to meetin' some Sunday. If there ain't no minister Sile Wright always reads a sermon, if he's home, and the paper says he don't go 'way for a month yit. I kind o' feel the need of a good sermon—ayes!"
"All right. I'll hitch up the hosses and we'll go. We can start at eight o'clock and take a bite with us an' git back here by three."
"Could I wear my new shoes and trousers?" I asked joyfully.
"Ayes I guess ye can if you're a good boy—ayes!" said Aunt Deel.
I had told Aunt Deel what Sally had said of my personal appearance.
"Your coat is good enough for anybody—ayes!" said she. "I'll make you a pair o' breeches an' then I guess you won't have to be 'shamed no more."
She had spent several evenings making them out of an old gray flannel petticoat of hers and had put two pockets in them of which I was very proud. They came just to the tops of my shoes, which pleased me, for thereby the glory of my new shoes suffered no encroachment.
The next Sunday after they were finished we had preaching in the schoolhouse and I was eager to go and wear my wonderful trousers. Uncle Peabody said that he didn't know whether his leg would hold out or not "through a whole meetin'." His left leg was lame from a wrench and pained him if he sat long in one position. I greatly enjoyed this first public exhibition of my new trousers. I remember praying in silence, as we sat down, that Uncle Peabody's leg would hold out. Later, when the long sermon had begun to weary me, I prayed that it would not.
I decided that meetin's were not a successful form of entertainment. Indeed, Sunday was for me a lost day. It was filled with shaving and washing and reading and an overwhelming silence. Uncle Peabody always shaved after breakfast and then he would sit down to read the St. Lawrence Republican. Both occupations deprived him utterly of his usefulness as an uncle. I remember that I regarded the razor and the Republican as my worst enemies. The Republican earned my keenest dislike, for it always put my uncle to sleep and presently he would stretch out on the lounge and begin to puff and snore and then Aunt Deel always went around on her tiptoes and said sh-h-h! She spent the greater part of the forenoon in her room washing and changing her clothes and reading the Bible. How loudly the clock ticked that day! How defiantly the cock crew! It seemed as if he were making special efforts to start up the life of the farm. How shrill were the tree crickets! Often Shep and I would steal off into the back lot trying to scare up a squirrel and I would look longingly down the valley, and could dimly see the roofs of houses where there were other children. I would gladly have made friends with the Wills boy, but he would have nothing to do with me, and soon his people moved away. My uncle said that Mr. Grimshaw had foreclosed their mortgage.
The fields were so still that I wondered if the grass grew on Sunday. The laws of God and nature seemed to be in conflict, for our livers got out of order and some one of us always had a headache in the afternoon. It was apt to be Uncle Peabody, as I had reason to know, for I always begged him to go in swimmin' with me in the afternoon.
It was a beautiful summer morning as we drove down the hills and from the summit of the last high ridge we could see the smoke of a steamer looming over the St. Lawrence and the big buildings of Canton on the distant flats below us. My heart beat fast when I reflected that I should soon see Mr. Wright and the Dunkelbergs. I had lost a little of my interest in Sally. Still I felt sure that when she saw my new breeches she would conclude that I was a person not to be trifled with.
When we got to Canton people were flocking to the big stone Presbyterian Church. We drove our horses under the shed of the tavern and Uncle Peabody brought them water from the pump and fed them, out of our own bag under the buggy seat, before we went to the church.
It was what they called a "deacon meeting." I remember that Mr. Wright read from the Scriptures, and having explained that there was no minister in the village, read one of Mr. Edwards' sermons, in the course of which I went to sleep on the arm of my aunt. She awoke me when the service had ended, and whispered:
"Come, we're goin' down to speak to Mr. Wright."
We saw Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg in the aisle, who said that they would wait for us outside the church.
I remember that Mr. Wright kissed me and said:
"Hello! Here's my boy in a new pair o' trousers!"
"Put yer hand in there," I said proudly, as I took my own out of one of my pockets, and pointed the way.
He did not accept the invitation, but laughed heartily and gave me a little hug.
When we went out of the church there stood Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg, and Sally and some other children. It was a tragic moment for me when Sally laughed and ran behind her mother. Still worse was it when a couple of boys ran away crying, "Look at the breeches!"
I looked down at my breeches and wondered what was wrong with them. They seemed very splendid to me and yet I saw at once that they were not popular. I went close to my Aunt Deel and partly hid myself in her cloak. I heard Mrs. Dunkelberg say:
"Of course you'll come to dinner with us?"
For a second my hopes leaped high. I was hungry and visions of jelly cake and preserves rose before me. Of course there were the trousers, but perhaps Sally would get used to the trousers and ask me to play with her.
"Thank ye, but we've got a good ways to go and we fetched a bite with us—ayes!" said Aunt Deel.
Eagerly I awaited an invitation from the great Mrs. Dunkelberg that should be decisively urgent, but she only said:
"I'm very sorry you can't stay."
My hopes fell like bricks and vanished like bubbles.
The Dunkelbergs left us with pleasant words. They had asked me to shake hands with Sally, but I had clung to my aunt's cloak and firmly refused to make any advances. Slowly and without a word we walked across the park toward the tavern sheds. Hot tears were flowing down my cheeks—silent tears! for I did not wish to explain them. Furtively I brushed them away with my hand. The odor of frying beef steak came out of the open doors of the tavern. It was more than I could stand. I hadn't tasted fresh meat since Uncle Peabody had killed a deer in midsummer. He gave me a look of understanding, but said nothing for a minute. Then he proposed:
"Mebbe we better git dinner here?"
Aunt Deel hesitated at the edge of the stable yard, surrounded as she was by the aroma of the fleshpots, then:
"I guess we better go right home and save our money, Peabody—ayes!" said she. "We told Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg that we was goin' home and they'd think we was liars."
"We orto have gone with 'em," said Uncle Peabody as he unhitched the horses.
"Well, Peabody Baynes, they didn't appear to be very anxious to have us," Aunt Deel answered with a sigh.
We had started away up the South road when, to my surprise, Aunt Deel mildly attacked the Dunkelbergs.
"These here village folks like to be waited on—ayes!—an' they're awful anxious you should come to see 'em when ye can't—ayes!—but when ye git to the village they ain't nigh so anxious—no they ain't!"
Uncle Peabody made no answer, but sat looking forward thoughtfully and tapping the dashboard with his whipstock, and we rode on in a silence broken only by the creak of the evener and the sound of the horses' hoofs in the sand.
In the middle of the great cedar swamp near Little River Aunt Deel got out the lunch basket and I sat down on the buggy bottom between their legs and leaning against the dash. So disposed we ate our luncheon of fried cakes and bread and butter and maple sugar and cheese. The road was a straight alley through the evergreen forest, and its grateful shadow covered us. When we had come out into the hot sunlight by the Hale farm both my aunt and uncle complained of headache. What an efficient cure for good health were the doughnuts and cheese and sugar, especially if they were mixed with the idleness of a Sunday. I had a headache also and soon fell asleep.
The sun was low when they awoke me in our dooryard.
"Hope it'll be some time 'fore ye feel the need of another sermon," said Uncle Peabody as Aunt Deel got out of the buggy. "I ain't felt so wicked in years."
I was so sick that Aunt Deel put me to bed and said that she would feed the pigs and the chickens. Sick as he was, Uncle Peabody had to milk the cows. How relentless were the cows!
I soon discovered that the Dunkelbergs had fallen from their high estate in our home and that Silas Wright, Jr., had taken their place in the conversation of Aunt Deel.
OUR LITTLE STRANGE COMPANION
In the pathless forest we had a little companion that always knew its way. No matter how strange and remote the place might be or how black the night its tiny finger always pointed in the same direction. By the light of the torch at midnight, in blinding darkness, I have seen it sway and settle toward its beloved goal. It seemed to be thinking of some far country which it desired to recommend to us.
It seemed to say: "Look! I know not which way is yours, but this—this is my way and all the little cross roads lead off it."
What a wonderful wisdom it had! I remember it excited a feeling of awe in me as if it were a spirit and not a tool.
The reader will have observed that my uncle spoke of the compass as if it directed plant and animal in achieving their purposes. From the beginning in the land of my birth it had been a thing as familiar as the dial and as necessary. The farms along our road were only stumpy recesses in the wilderness, with irregular curving outlines of thick timber—beech and birch and maple and balsam and spruce and pine and tamarack—forever whispering of the unconquered lands that rolled in great billowy ridges to the far horizon.
We were surrounded by the gloom and mystery of the forest. If one left the road or trail for even a short walk he needed a compass to guide him. That little brass box with its needle, swaying and seeming to quiver with excitement as it felt its way to the north side of the circle and pointed unerringly at last toward its favorite star, filled me with wonder.
"Why does it point toward the north star?" I used to ask.
"That's a secret," said Uncle Peabody. "I wouldn't wonder if the gate o' heaven was up there. Maybe it's a light in God's winder. Who knows? I kind o' mistrust it's the direction we're all goin' in."
"You talk like one o' them Universalists," said Aunt Deel. "They're gettin' thick as flies around here."
"Wal, I kind o' believe—" he paused at the edge of what may have been a dangerous opinion.
I shook the box and the needle swung and quivered back and forth and settled with its point in the north again. Oh, what a mystery! My eyes grew big at the thought of it.
"Do folks take compasses with 'em when they die?" I asked.
"No, they don't need 'em then," said Uncle Peabody. "Everybody has a kind of a compass in his own heart—same as watermelons and chickens have. It shows us the way to be useful, and I guess the way o' usefulness is the way to heaven every time."
"An' the way o' uselessness is the way to hell," Aunt Deel added.
One evening in the early summer the great Silas Wright had come to our house from the village of Russell, where he had been training a company of militia.
I remember that as he entered our door he spoke in this fashion: "Baynes, le's go fishing. All the way down the road I've heard the call o' the brooks. I stopped on the Dingley Bridge and looked down at the water. The trout were jumping so I guess they must 'a' got sunburnt and freckled and sore. I can't stand too much o' that kind o' thing. It riles me. I heard, long ago, that you were a first-class fisherman, so I cut across lots and here I am."
His vivid words touched my imagination and I have often recalled them.
"Well, now by mighty! I—" Uncle Peabody drew the rein upon his imagination at the very brink of some great extravagance and after a moment's pause added: "We'll start out bright an' early in the mornin' an' go up an' git Bill Seaver. He's got a camp on the Middle Branch, an' he can cook almost as good as my sister."
"Is your spring's work done?"
"All done, an' I was kind o' thinkin'," said Uncle Peabody with a little shake of his head. He didn't say of what he had been thinking, that being unnecessary.
"Bart, are you with us?" said Mr. Wright as he gave me a playful poke with his hand.
"May I go?" I asked my uncle.
"I wouldn't wonder—go an' ask yer aunt," said Uncle Peabody.
My soul was afire with eagerness. My feet shook the floor and I tipped over a chair in my hurry to get to the kitchen, whither my aunt had gone soon after the appearance of our guest. She was getting supper for Mr. Wright.
"Aunt Deel, I'm goin' fishin'," I said.
"Fishin'! I guess not—ayes I do," she answered.
It was more than I could stand. A roar of distress and disappointment came from my lips.
Uncle Peabody hurried into the kitchen.
"The Comptroller wants him to go," said he.
"He does?" she repeated as she stood with her hands on her hips looking up at her brother.
"He likes Bart and wants to take him along."
"Wal, then, you'll have to be awful careful of him," said Aunt Deel. "I'm 'fraid he'll plague ye—ayes!"
"No, he won't—we'll love to have him."
"Wal, I guess you could git Mary Billings to come over and stay with me an' help with the chores—ayes, I wouldn't wonder!"
I could contain my joy no longer, but ran into the other room on tiptoe and announced excitedly that I was going. Then I rushed out of the open door and rolled and tumbled in the growing grass, with the dog barking at my side. In such times of joyful excitement I always rolled and tumbled in the grass. It was my way of expressing inexpressible delight.
I felt sorry for the dog. Poor fellow! He couldn't go fishing. He had to stay home always. I felt sorry for the house and the dooryard and the cows and the grindstone and Aunt Deel. The glow of the candles and the odor of ham and eggs drew me into the house. Wistfully I watched the great man as he ate his supper. I was always hungry those days. Mr. Wright asked me to have an egg, but I shook my head and said "No, thank you" with sublime self-denial. At the first hint from Aunt Deel I took my candle and went up to bed.
"I ain't afraid o' bears," I heard myself whispering as I undressed. I whispered a good deal as my imagination ran away into the near future.
Soon I blew out my candle and got into bed. The door was open at the foot of the stairs. I could see the light and hear them talking. It had been more than a year since Uncle Peabody had promised to take me into the woods fishing, but most of our joys were enriched by long anticipation filled with talk and fancy.
I lay planning my behavior in the woods. It was to be helpful and polite and generally designed to show that I could be a man among men. I lay a long time whispering over details. There was to be no crying, even if I did get hurt a little once in a while. Men never cried. Only babies cried. I could hear Mr. Wright talking about Bucktails and Hunkers below stairs and I could hear the peepers down in the marsh.
Peepers and men who talked politics were alike to me those days. They were beyond my understanding and generally put me to sleep—especially the peepers. In my childhood the peepers were the bells of dream-land calling me to rest. The sweet sound no sooner caught my ear than my thoughts began to steal away on tiptoe and in a moment the house of my brain was silent and deserted, and thereafter, for a time, only fairy feet came into it. So even those happy thoughts of a joyous holiday soon left me and I slept.
I was awakened by a cool, gentle hand on my brow. I opened my eyes and saw the homely and beloved face of Uncle Peabody smiling down at me. What a face it was! It welcomed me, always, at the gates of the morning and I saw it in the glow of the candle at night as I set out on my lonely, dreaded voyage into dream-land. Do you wonder that I stop a moment and wipe my glasses when I think of it?
"Hello, Bart!" said he. "It's to-morrer."
I sat up. The delicious odor of frying ham was in the air. The glow of the morning sunlight was on the meadows.
"Come on, ol' friend! By mighty! We're goin' to—" said Uncle Peabody.
Happy thoughts came rushing into my brain again. What a tumult! I leaped out of bed.
"I'll be ready in a minute, Uncle Peabody," I said as, yawning, I drew on my trousers.
"Don't tear yer socks," he cautioned as I lost patience with their unsympathetic behavior.
He helped me with my boots, which were rather tight, and I flew down-stairs with my coat half on and ran for the wash-basin just outside the kitchen door.
"Hello, Bart! If the fish don't bite to-day they ought to be ashamed o' themselves," said Mr. Wright, who stood in the dooryard in an old suit of clothes which belonged to Uncle Peabody.