THE LITTLE GOLD MINERS OF THE SIERRAS
AND OTHER STORIES
BOSTON D. LOTHROP & COMPANY FRANKLIN AND HAWLEY STREETS
Copyright, 1886, by D. LOTHROP & COMPANY.
I. THE LITTLE GOLD MINERS OF THE SIERRAS. 7 Joaquin Miller.
II. A MODERN HERO. 23 Marion Harland.
III. BENNY'S WIGWAM. 44 Mary Catherine Lee.
IV. BENNY'S DISAPPEARANCE. 63 Mary Catherine Lee.
V. HOW TWO SCHOOLBOYS KILLED A BEAR. 86 H. F. Marsh.
VI. PETE'S PRINTING PRESS. 94 Kate Gannett Wells.
VII. AUNT ELIZABETH'S FENCE. 119 George H. Hebard.
VIII. THE BUTTON BOY. 138 A. M. Griffin.
IX. DAN HARDY'S CRIPPY. 156 James Otis.
X. HIS THREE TRIALS. 185 Kate Gannett Wells.
XI. IN THE SECOND DORMITORY. 211 John Preston True.
XII. THE DOUGHNUT BAIT. 232 George Varney.
XIII. A REAL HAPPENING. 239 Mary B. Claflin.
THE LITTLE GOLD MINERS OF THE SIERRAS.
Their mother had died crossing the plains, and their father had had a leg broken by a wagon wheel passing over it as they descended the Sierras, and he was for a long time after reaching the mines miserable, lame and poor.
The eldest boy, Jim Keene, as I remember him, was a bright little fellow, but wild as an Indian and full of mischief. The next eldest child, Madge, was a girl of ten, her father's favorite, and she was wild enough too. The youngest was Stumps. Poor, timid, starved Little Stumps! I never knew his real name. But he was the baby, and hardly yet out of petticoats. And he was very short in the legs, very short in the body, very short in the arms and neck; and so he was called Stumps because he looked it. In fact he seemed to have stopped growing entirely. Oh, you don't know how hard the old Plains were on everybody, when we crossed them in ox-wagons, and it took more than half a year to make the journey. The little children, those that did not die, turned brown like the Indians, in that long, dreadful journey of seven months, and stopped growing for a time.
For the first month or two after reaching the Sierras, old Mr. Keene limped about among the mines trying to learn the mystery of finding gold, and the art of digging. But at last, having grown strong enough, he went to work for wages, to get bread for his half-wild little ones, for they were destitute indeed.
Things seemed to move on well, then. Madge cooked the simple meals, and Little Stumps clung to her dress with his little pinched brown hand wherever she went, while Jim whooped it over the hills and chased jack-rabbits as if he were a greyhound. He would climb trees, too, like a squirrel. And, oh!—it was deplorable—but how he could swear!
At length some of the miners, seeing the boy must come to some bad end if not taken care of, put their heads and their pockets together and sent the children to school. This school was a mile away over the beautiful brown hills, a long, pleasant walk under the green California oaks.
Well, Jim would take the little tin dinner bucket, and his slate, and all their books under his arm and go booming ahead about half a mile in advance, while Madge with brown Little Stumps clinging to her side like a burr, would come stepping along the trail under the oak-trees as fast as she could after him.
But if a jack-rabbit, or a deer, or a fox crossed Jim's path, no matter how late it was, or how the teacher had threatened him, he would drop books, lunch, slate and all, and spitting on his hands and rolling up his sleeves, would bound away after it, yelling like a wild Indian. And some days, so fascinating was the chase, Jim did not appear at the schoolhouse at all; and of course Madge and Stumps played truant too. Sometimes a week together would pass and the Keene children would not be seen at the schoolhouse. Visits from the schoolmaster produced no lasting effect. The children would come for a day or two, then be seen no more. The schoolmaster and their father at last had a serious talk about the matter.
"What can I do with him?" said Mr. Keene.
"You'll have to put him to work," said the schoolmaster. "Set him to hunting nuggets instead of bird's-nests. I guess what the boy wants is some honest means of using his strength. He's a good boy, Mr. Keene; don't despair of him. Jim would be proud to be an 'honest miner.' Jim's a good boy, Mr. Keene."
"Well, then, thank you, Schoolmaster," said Mr. Keene. "Jim's a good boy; and Madge is good, Mr. Schoolmaster; and poor starved and stunted motherless Little Stumps, he is good as gold, Mr. Schoolmaster. And I want to be a mother to 'em—I want to be father and mother to 'em all, Mr. Schoolmaster. And I'll follow your advice. I'll put 'em all to work a-huntin' for gold."
The next day away up on the hillside under a pleasant oak, where the air was sweet and cool, and the ground soft and dotted over with flowers, the tender-hearted old man that wanted to be "father and mother both," "located" a claim. The flowers were kept fresh by a little stream of waste water from the ditch that girded the brow of the hill above. Here he set a sluice-box and put his three little miners at work with pick, pan and shovel. There he left them and limped back to his own place in the mine below.
And how they did work! And how pleasant it was here under the broad boughs of the oak, with the water rippling through the sluice on the soft, loose soil which they shoveled into the long sluice-box. They could see the mule-trains going and coming, and the clouds of dust far below which told them the stage was whirling up the valley. But Jim kept steadily on at his work day after day. Even though jack-rabbits and squirrels appeared on the very scene, he would not leave till, like the rest of the honest miners, he could shoulder his pick and pan and go down home with the setting sun.
Sometimes the men who had tried to keep the children at school, would come that way, and with a shy smile, talk very wisely about whether or not the new miners would "strike it" under the cool oak among the flowers on the hill. But Jim never stopped to talk much. He dug and wrestled away, day after day, now up to his waist in the pit.
One Saturday evening the old man limped up the hillside to help the young miners "clean up."
He sat down at the head of the sluice-box and gave directions how they should turn off the most of the water, wash down the "toilings" very low, lift up the "riffle," brush down the "apron," and finally set the pan in the lower end of the "sluice-toil" and pour in the quicksilver to gather up and hold the gold.
"What for you put your hand in de water for, papa?" queried Little Stumps, who had left off his work, which consisted mainly of pulling flowers and putting them in the sluice-box to see them float away. He was sitting by his father's side, and he looked up in his face as he spoke.
"Hush, child," said the old man softly, as he again dipped his thumb and finger in his vest pocket as if about to take snuff. But he did not take snuff. Again his hand was reached down to the rippling water at the head of the sluice-box. And this time curious but obedient Little Stumps was silent.
Suddenly there was a shout, such a shout from Jim as the hills had not heard since he was a schoolboy.
He had found the "color." "Two colors! three, four, five—a dozen!" The boy shouted like a Modoc, threw down the brush and scraper, and kissed his little sister over and over, and cried as he did so; then he whispered softly to her as he again took up his brush and scraper, that it was "for papa; all for poor papa; that he did not care for himself, but he did want to help poor, tired, and crippled papa." But papa did not seem to be excited so very much.
The little miners were now continually wild with excitement. They were up and at work Monday morning at dawn. The men who were in the father's tender secret, congratulated the children heartily and made them presents of several small nuggets to add to their little horde.
In this way they kept steadily at work for half the summer. All the gold was given to papa to keep. Papa weighed it each week, and I suppose secretly congratulated himself that he was getting back about as much as he put in.
Before quite the end of the third month, Jim struck a thin bed of blue gravel. The miners who had been happily chuckling and laughing among themselves to think how they had managed to keep Jim out of mischief, began to look at each other and wonder how in the world blue gravel ever got up there on the hill. And in a few days more there was a well-defined bed of blue gravel, too; and not one of the miners could make it out.
One Saturday evening shortly after, as the old man weighed their gold he caught his breath, started, and stood up straight; straighter than he had stood since he crossed the Plains. Then he hastily left the cabin. He went up the hill to the children's claim almost without limping. Then he took a pencil and an old piece of a letter, and wrote out a notice and tacked it up on the big oak-tree, claiming those mining claims according to miners' law, for the three children. A couple of miners laughed as they went by in the twilight, to see what he was doing; and he laughed with them. But as he limped on down the hill he smiled.
That night as they sat at supper, he told the children that as they had been such faithful and industrious miners, he was going to give them each a present, besides a little gold to spend as they pleased.
So he went up to the store and bought Jim a red shirt, long black and bright gum boots, a broad-brimmed hat, and a belt. He also bought each of the other children some pretty trappings, and gave each a dollar's worth of gold dust. Madge and Stumps handed their gold back to "poor papa." But Jim was crazy with excitement. He put on his new clothes and went forth to spend his dollar. And what do you suppose he bought? I hesitate to tell you. But what he bought was a pipe and a paper of tobacco!
That red shirt, that belt and broad-brimmed hat, together with the shiny top boots, had been too much for Jim's balance. How could a man—he spoke of himself as a man now—how could a man be an "honest miner" and not smoke a pipe?
And now with his manly clothes and his manly pipe he was to be so happy! He had all that went to make up "the honest miner." True, he did not let his father know about the pipe. He hid it under his pillow at night. He meant to have his first smoke at the sluice-box, as a miner should.
Monday morning he was up with the sun and ready for his work. His father, who worked down the Gulch, had already gone before the children had finished their breakfast. So now Jim filled his brand-new pipe very leisurely; and with as much calm unconcern as if he had been smoking for forty years, he stopped to scratch a match on the door as he went out.
From under his broad hat he saw his little sister watching him, and he fairly swelled with importance as Stumps looked up at him with childish wonder. Leaving Madge to wash the few tin dishes and follow as she could with Little Stumps, he started on up the hill, pipe in mouth.
He met several miners, but he puffed away like a tug-boat against the tide, and went on. His bright new boots whetted and creaked together, the warm wind lifted the broad brim of his sombrero, and his bright new red shirt was really beautiful, with the green grass and oaks for a background—and so this brave young man climbed the hill to his mine. Ah, he was so happy!
Suddenly, as he approached the claim, his knees began to smite together, and he felt so weak he could hardly drag one foot after the other. He threw down his pick; he began to tremble and spin around. The world seemed to be turning over and over, and he trying in vain to hold on to it. He jerked the pipe from his teeth, and throwing it down on the bank, he tumbled down too, and clutching at the grass with both hands tried hard, oh! so hard, to hold the world from slipping from under him.
"O, Jim, you are white as snow," cried Madge as she came up.
"White as 'er sunshine, an' blue, an' green too, sisser. Look at brurrer 'all colors,'" piped Little Stumps pitifully.
"O, Jim, Jim—brother Jim, what is the matter?" sobbed Madge.
"Sunstroke," murmured the young man, smiling grimly, like a true Californian. "No; it is not sunstroke, it's—it's cholera," he added in dismay over his falsehood.
Poor boy! he was sorry for this second lie too. He fairly groaned in agony of body and soul.
Oh, how he did hate that pipe! How he did want to get up and jump on it and smash it into a thousand pieces! But he could not get up or turn around or move at all without betraying his unmanly secret.
A couple of miners came up, but Jim feebly begged them to go.
"Sunstroke," whispered the sister.
"No; tolera," piped poor Little Stumps.
"Get out! Leave me!" groaned the young red-shirted miner of the Sierras.
The biggest of the two miners bent over him a moment.
"Yas; it's both," he muttered. "Cholera-nicotine-fantum!" Then he looked at his partner and winked wickedly. Without a word, he took the limp young miner up in his arms and bore him down the hill to his father's cabin, while Stumps and Madge ran along at either side, and tenderly and all the time kept asking what was good for "cholera."
The other old "honest miner" lingered behind to pick up the baleful pipe which he knew was somewhere there; and when the little party was far enough down the hill, he took it up and buried it in his own capacious pocket with a half-sorrowful laugh. "Poor little miner," he sighed.
"Don't ever swear any more, Windy," pleaded the boy to the miner who had carried him down the hill, as he leaned over him, "and don't never lie. I am going to die, Windy, and I should like to be good. Windy, it ain't sunstroke, it's"—
"Hush yer mouth," growled Windy. "I know what 'tis! We've left it on the hill."
The boy turned his face to the wall. The conviction was strong upon him that he was going to die. The world spun round now very, very fast indeed. Finally, half-rising in bed, he called Little Stumps to his side:
"Stumps, dear, good Little Stumps, if I die don't you never, never try for to smoke; for that's what's the matter with me. No, Stumps—dear little brother Stumps—don't you never try for to go the whole of the 'honest miner,' for it can't be did by a boy! We're nothing but boys, you and I, Stumps—Little Stumps."
He sank back in bed and Little Stumps and his sister cried and cried, and kissed him and kissed him.
The miners who had gathered around loved him now, every one, for daring to tell the truth and take the shame of his folly so bravely.
"I'm going to die, Windy," groaned the boy.
Windy could stand no more of it. He took Jim's hand with a cheery laugh. "Git well in half an hour," said he, "now that you've out with the truth."
And so he did. By the time his father came home he was sitting up; and he ate breakfast the next morning as if nothing had happened. But he never tried to smoke any more as long as he lived. And he never lied, and he never swore any more.
Oh, no! this Jim that I have been telling you of is "Moral Jim," of the Sierras. The mine? Oh! I almost forgot. Well, that blue dirt was the old bed of the stream, and it was ten times richer than where the miners were all at work below. Struck it! I should say so! Ask any of the old Sierras miners about "The Children's Claim," if you want to hear just how rich they struck it.
A MODERN HERO
It was a very humble house. Only a flat of three rooms on the third floor of a tall tenement-house in a back street near the river. A bedroom, a tiny parlor and a kitchen, which was also an eating-room, made up the suite. The Briggses did all their daylight living in the last-named apartment. The floor was painted yellow; the walls were whitewashed; the furniture was homely, substantial and well-kept.
Everything was shining clean, and both windows were full of plants, many of them in flower. Mrs. Briggs was fully persuaded in her own mind that no other woman in the city had such a tale of daily mercies as herself. Among them were the southern exposure of those windows and the circumstance that a gap in the buildings back of them let in the sunshine freely. Her nasturtiums blossomed there all winter; from a pot she had suspended by strings from the top of the casing, sweet alysseum flowed downward like a fountain of soft green waters tipped with white; scarlet geraniums shot up rank shoots that had to be pruned into reasonableness, and as to Christmas roses—"But there!" the worthy soul would assure her acquaintances, "they do beat everything!"
This winter the calla was about to bloom. A kind lady had given the bulb to Mrs. Briggs's son, and there was no telling the store he set by it.
Topliffe Briggs—alias, Top, Senior—was an engineer on the great North, East, West and South Railway. He sat at the tea-table with his wife and son at five-thirty one cloudy February afternoon. His next train went out at six-forty-five. He had run "Her" into the station at four, and his house was but two blocks away. Mrs. Briggs could see from those unparalleled kitchen-windows the bridge by which the track crossed the river separating the town from the marshes, and could calculate to a minute when the familiar step would be heard on the stairs.
"You see we live by railroad time," was her modest boast. "And my husband always comes straight home." She did not emphasize the "my," knowing in her compassionate heart what other husbands were prone to lag by the way until they came home late and crookedly.
Top, Senior, was on time to-day. "I ken trust Her with Bartlett, you see," he remarked to his wife. "He won't leave tel she's all trig an' tidy for the next trip. I wisht I could be as sure o' Stokes!"
Mrs. Briggs looked up inquiringly.
"Stokes is a clever fellow," pursued Top Senior regretfully, slicing vigorously into the cold corned beef, for he was hungry. "Smart as a steel trap, and onderstan's his business. I never see a fireman what hed a better chance o' risin' to an ingineer. He knows Her pretty nigh's well ez I do. I've took real comfort in learning him all I could. But I'm afeerd, sometimes, he's on a down-grade and the brakes don't work."
"You mean that he drinks, don't you, father?" asked the sharp-eyed boy at his elbow.
"There, father!" interjected the mother. "You might 'a' known he'd onderstan', no matter how you put it!"
"I ain't afeered o' my boy blabbin'!" The brawny hand stroked the thin light hair of his only child. "An' I want he should learn to hate the stuff. It's the devil's best drivin' wheel—liquor is. I'd ruther lay you with my own han's 'cross the rails this very night, an' drive Her right over you, than to know that you'd grow up a drunkard. Never do you forget them words, Junior! I mean every one o' them!"
The boy started at the earnestness of the exhortation, winked hard to keep his eyes dry, and changed the subject. "Hev you noticed my lily to-day, mother? I guess it'll be wide open by the time you get in to-night, father."
They all turned to look at the tall stem, crowned by the unfolding calyx. "Junior's goin' to be a master-hand with flowers," observed the mother. "He saves me pretty nigh all the trouble o' takin' keer of 'em. I've been thinkin' that might be a good business for him when he grows up."
She was always forecasting his future with more anxiety than generally enters into maternal hopes and fears. When but a year old, he had fallen from the arms of a neighbor who had caught him up from the floor in a fit of tipsy fondness. The child's back and hip were severely injured. He had not walked a step until he was five years of age, and would be lame always. He was now twelve—a dwarf in statue, hump-backed, weazen-faced and shrill-voiced, unsightly in all eyes but those of his parents. To them he was a miracle of precocity and beauty. His mother took in fine ironing to pay for his private tuition from a public school-teacher who lived in the neighborhood. He learned fast and eagerly. His father, at the teacher's suggestion, subscribed to a circulating library and the same kind friend selected books for the cripple's reading. There was a hundred dollars in the savings bank, against the name of "Topliffe Briggs, Junior," deposited, dollar by dollar, and representing countless acts of self-denial on the part of the industrious couple, and his possible profession was a favorite theme of family converse.
"For that matter, there's lot o' things a scholard like him ken do," rejoined Top, Senior, with affectionate confidence in his heir's talents and acquirements. "'Tain't like 'twould be with a feller like me whose arms an' legs is his hull stock in trade. Why, I min' seein' a leetle rat of a man come on board one time 'scorted by a dozen 'o the biggest bugs in the city, an' people a-stretchin' their necks out o' j'int to ketch a look of him. Sech a mealy-faced, weak-lookin' atomy he was! But millions o' people was a-readin' that very day a big speech he'd made in Washin'ton, an' he'd saved the country from trouble more 'n once. He mought 'a' been President ef he had chose to run. That's the good o' hevin' a tiptop head-piece."
"I've made up my mind!" said Top, Junior, with an air. "I'm goin' to be a Hero! Like Julius Caesar an' Alexander an' William Tell an' Captain John Smith, an' other men I've read about. I wish you would be a Hero, father! It's ever so much nicer than runnin' an engine. Won't you—please! You are strong enough and good enough for anything, an' you know a great deal about things!"
The blue eyes were bright and wistful, his hand stole up to the bushy whiskers, ginger-colored from exposure to the air and boiler-heat.
"Me, a hero! Haw! haw!" roared the engineer, letting fall his knife and fork in his merriment. "I'd cut a figger at the head of an army, or speakin' in Congress, or a-setten' on a gold throne, wouldn't I? No! no! my man!" sobering down suddenly, into a sort of sad dignity. "Yer father ain't got the brains nor the eddication for nothin' of that kind! All he ken do is to live clean an' honest in the sight o' the Lord, an' to run his ingine 'cordin' to the best o' his lights."
"The Lord's too reasonable to expect more of you'n to do your duty in the place where's He's put you," said the wife gently.
"I hope he is, Mother! Ef he looked for more—or for any big thing 's fur as that goes, the chances are He'd be disapp'inted. I hev plenty o' time fur thinkin' while we're scootin' 'cross the level country an' creepin' up steep grades, an' I've worked it out to my own satisfaction that somethin' else I've got to be thankful fur, is that my way in life's been marked down so plain. 'Seems if I he'd been sot onto rails pretty much's She is, an' 's long ez I do my level best on that 'ar line, why, it's all I ken do. That's the hull of it! I ain't no speechifier, you see, Junior"—with an embarrassed laugh at the boy's evident discontent—"I'll hev to depen' on you fur to say it—or maybe, write done ship-shape, some o' these notions o' mine, some day. I'd git better holt o' them myself ef I was to hear somebody what knowed how to put things go over 'em. Mother! eddication wouldn't learn no woman how to make better bread'n yourn. Fact is, there's nothin' ekal to home, an home-vittles an' home-folks! With such a livin' ez I've took in, I sha'n't need a bite at the Agapolis deepo. We're half an hour there, but I hate the very smell o' them eatin' houses! An' please GOD! I'll bring Her in at twelve—sharp!"
He pulled on his overcoat and felt in the pocket for his gloves. "I'm main proud o' them fellers!" he said, fitting one to a hand half the size of a leg-of-mutton and not unlike it in shape.
He had said the same thing every time he put them on since Christmas. They were a holiday gift from the conductors on the line between the two cities which was his semi-daily beat.
"I take a world o' comfort in them, this freezin' weather. Fact is, Mother, this world's been pretty full o' comfort, all the way through, for us—a nice easy grade—ef yer father ain't a Hero, Junior! Six-twenty! I mus' be off! I like to be there in time to see thet Stokes is on han' an' all right. Ef you don't min', Mother, we'll hev him to dinner nex' Sunday. I want to do somethin' t'wards savin' Stokes. 'Specially ez he's on my line!"
At six-fifty, Top, Junior, from his post at the calla-window, saw the long line of cars, spaced by dots of murkey red, the luminous plume of smoke trailing, comet-wise, above them, slowly pass over the bridge. It was a cloudy evening and the marsh-mists swallowed up the blinking windows as soon as the train gained the other shore. Junior loved his mother, but his father seemed to take most of the life and cheer out of the room when he went. Existence stagnated for the boy who had no mates of his own age.
"I wish he didn't hev to run in bad weather and nights!" he said, fretfully.
"It's his business, child, an' your father ain't one to dodge his duty."
"I hate the word!" retorted the petted cripple. "When I'm a man I'll be my own master, and switch Duty off the track."
The obnoxious word came up again in the course of the evening. In reading aloud to his teacher they happened upon this definition of "a hero," given by one of the characters in the story under his eyes: "One who, in a noble work or enterprise, does more than his duty."
Junior looked up disappointed. "Is that the meaning of hero?" he said, intensely chagrined.
"That is one way of stating it. I doubt, myself, if we can do more than our duty. What do you think, Mrs. Briggs?" asked the young woman. She esteemed the honest couple for their sterling worth and sense, and liked to draw them out.
"A person ken ondertake more, I 'spose. Ef they don't carry it through, it's a sign 'twas meant fur them to go jest that fur, an' no further. 'Twon't do fur us to be skeery 'bout layin' holt of the handle the Good Lord puts nighest to us, fur fear it's too big a thing fur us to manage. That's what my husband says. An' if ever a man lived up to it, he does."
Top, Junior, looked sober and mortified. The heroism of common life does not commend itself to the youthful imagination. When his lesson was finished it was time for him to go to bed. "Wake me when father comes in!" was the formula without which he never closed his eyes.
His mother never failed to do it, but he wanted to make sure of it. She put on a lump of coal, just enough to keep the fire "in," and sat down to the weekly mending. At eleven-forty, she would open the draughts and cook the sausages ready-laid in the pan on the table. Top, Senior, liked "something hot and hearty," after his midnight run, and this dispatched, smoked the nightcap pipe of peace, Junior, rolled in a shawl, on his knee. The wife's face and heart were calm with thankful content as the hours moved on. She was rosy and plump, with pleasant blue eyes and brown hair, a wholesome presence at the hearthstone, in her gown of clean chocolate calico with her linen collar and scarlet cravat. Top, Senior, had noticed and praised the new red ribbon. He comprehended that it was put on to please him and Junior, both of whom liked to see "Mother fixed up." In this life, they were her all, and she accounted that life full and rich.
As she served, she heard the slow patter of February rain on the shelf outside of the window, where her flowers stood in summer. The great city was sinking into such half-sleep as it took between midnight and dawn; the shriek and rush of incoming and outgoing trains grew less frequent. She did not fret over the disagreeable weather. Top, Senior, had often said that such made home and fire and supper more welcome.
At Junior's bed-time, he was eighty miles away, walking up and down the muddy platform of the principal station of Agapolis, stamping his feet at each turn in his promenade to restore the circulation. His was a fast Express train, and he stood during most of the run, on the alert to guard against accident. There was no more careful engineer on the road. Fireman and brakeman were off for supper in or near the station. He slouched as he walked, his hands thrust deep into his pockets; his overcoat was heavy and too loose even for his bulky figure. He had "taken it off the hands" of an engineer's widow whose husband was dragged from under a wrecked train one night last summer. "Mother" used to look grave when Top, Senior, began to wear it, but she was not a mite notional—Mother wasn't, and she was glad now that poor Mrs. Wilson had the money and he had the beaver-cloth coat. His face was begrimed with smoke, his beard clogged with cinders and vapor. A lady, travelling alone, hesitated visibly before she asked a question, looked surprised when he touched his hat and turned to go half the length of the platform that he might point out the parlor-car. He observed and interpreted hesitation and surprise, and was good-humoredly amused.
"I s'pose I don't look much like what Junior calls 'a hero,'" he meditated with a broader gleam. "What a cute young one he is! Please GOD! he'll make a better figure in the world 'n his father hes done. I hope that lily-flower o' hisn will be open in the mornin'. 'Seems if I got softer-hearted 'bout hevin thet boy disapp'inted every day I live. Come summer, he shell hev a run or two on Her every week. Mother 'n me hes got to make up to him for what he loses in not bein' strong an' like other chillren. Mother—she's disposed to spile him jest a leetle. But dear me! what a fustrate fault that is in a woman! She did look good in that ere red neck-tie, to-night, an' she was always pretty."
The rain was fine and close, like a slanting mist that pierced the pores, when the Express drew out of the station, and as it fell, it froze. Stokes growled that "the track would be one glare of ice before they got Her in." He was inclined to be surly to-night, an uncommon circumstance with the young fellow, and after several attempts to enliven him, Top, Senior, let him alone. He was not in a talkative mood himself. The tea-table chat ran in his head and set him to dreaming and calculating. In five years Junior would be seventeen—old enough, even for a lad who was "not strong," to earn his living. If all went well, there ought to be a hundred and fifty dollars in the bank by then. There might be something in Mother's idea of setting him up as a florist. And Mother could help with the flowers.
"Hello! ole feller! look out!"
Stokes had stumbled over the fuel in the tender, in replenishing the boiler-fires. He recovered himself with an oath at the "slippery rubbish." Something had upset his temper, but he neither spoke nor looked like a man who had been drinking. The teazing, chilling drizzle continued. The headlight of the locomotive glanced sharply from glazed rails and embankments; the long barrel-back of the engine shone as with fresh varnish.
"D'ye know that on a night like this She beats out the tune o' Home, Sweet Home, 's plain as ever you heerd a band play it?" said Top, Senior, cheerily out of the thickening damps. "It makes me see Mother 'n the boy clear 's ken be. It's a great thing fur a man to hev a comfortable home, 'n a good woman in it!"
Stokes burst out vehemently at that: "This is worse than a dog's life! We—you 'n me—are no more to them selfish creturs in there"—nodding backwards at the passenger cars—"then the ingine that draws 'em. I'm sick o' freezin' an' slavin' an' bein' despised by men no better 'n I be! How a man of any sperrit 'n' ambition ken stan' it fur twenty years as you hev, beats my onderstandin'."
He will always remember the pause that prefaced the reply, and how Top, Senior, patted the polished lever under his hand as he spoke: "She's a pretty respectable cretur, take Her all in all. When you 'n I run into the las' dark deepo that's waitin' fur us at the end, I hope we'll be able to show's good stiffikits as hern. Here's the bridge! Will be soon home, now."
It was a long bridge, built far out to be above high tides. As they touched it the furnace-door flew open. Some said, afterwards, that the door was not properly secured, others spoke of a "back-draught," others suspected that the fire was over-fed. The volume of flame that leaped out licked the very faces of the two men. They recoiled with a bound and made a simultaneous rush for the air-brake in the forward passenger-car to stop the train and check the backward sweep of the blaze. The passengers, seeing the flash and hearing the whistle and shouts of "Down brakes!" pressed against the front windows and a dense living mass blocked the door against which Topliffe Briggs flung all his weight.
"Git in ef you ken," he said to the fireman. "I'll try Her!" He fastened the shaggy great-coat up to his chin as he faced the pursuing fires, walked forward to the stand where lapped and curled the fiercest flames, laid hold of steam-brake and the lever by which he "drove" the engine. His fur-lined gauntlets scorched and shrivelled as he grasped the bar; the fire seized upon his hair and garments with an exultant roar. He held fast. He must get the passengers off the floorless bridge that might ignite at any moment. He must check the engine as soon as he cleared the last pier, or the cars would take fire before they could be uncoupled. He shut his eyes from the maddening heat and glare, and drove straight on. Not so fast as to hurry the greedy flames that were doing their worst upon him, but at a rate that ran them over the river and upon solid earth as the fuel in the tender burst into a blaze and the forward car began to crackle and smoke in the hot draught. At that point steam and air-brakes did their work in effecting a safe halt.
"The fireman was badly scorched," reported the press next day, "but train and passengers were saved by the heroism of the engineer."
The words flashed along the wires over land and ocean; were set up in startling type in hundreds of newspaper offices while he who did not know heroism by name was breathing his last on a mattress laid on the yellow-painted floor of the room he had seen so "clear" when the engine-throb and piston-beat played Home, Sweet Home. The sunshine that had followed the rain touched the white cheek of the opened lily before falling on his sightless eyes and charred right hand.
When they brought him in he knew whose silent tears dropped so fast upon his face, and the poor burned lips moved in a husky whisper. The wife put her ear close to his mouth not to lose his dying words:
"I was afraid you'd see that we was a-fire. From the winder. I hope you—didn't—wake Junior!" The boy who had begged his father to be a hero!
"Now, Pettikins," said Benny Briggs, on the first day of vacation, "come along if you want to see the old Witch."
Pettikins got her little straw hat, and holding Benny's hand with a desperate clutch, trotted along beside him, giving frequent glances at his heroic face to keep up her courage. Her heart beat hard as they took their way across to the island. The island is really no island at all, but a lonely, lovely portion of Still Harbor, between Benny's home and Grandma Potter's, which by means of a small inlet and a little creek, and one watery thing and another, is so nearly surrounded by water as to feel justified in calling itself an island. They crossed over the little bridge that took them to this would-be island, and following an almost imperceptible wood path, came within sight of the Witch's hut. It was a deserted, useless, wood-chopper's hut, which the mysterious creature whom the children called a witch had taken possession of not long before. Here Fanny drew back. "O Benny, I am afraid," said she.
"Humph! she can't hurt you in the daytime," said Benny. "She ain't no different in the daytime from any other old woman. It's only nights she is a witch."
Fanny allowed herself to be led a few steps further, and then drew back again. "O Benny," said she, "there's her broomstick! there it is, right outside o' the door—and O Benny, Benny, there's her old black cat!"
"Wal, what on it, hey? What on it?" creaked a dreadful voice close behind them. Then, indeed, Fanny shrieked and tried to run, but Benny's hand held her fast. She hid her face against Benny's arm and sobbed.
It was the old Witch her very self. She looked at them out of her glittering eyes—O how she did look at them!—with her head drooped until her chin rested on her chest. This seemed to bring the arrows of her eyes to bear upon the enemy with greater force and precision.
"There ain't any law ag'in my having a cat and a broomstick, is there?" she asked in a voice like the cawing of a crow, bringing her staff down with a thump at the words "cat" and "broomstick." "What are you skeered of?"
"Why, you're queer, you know," said Benny desperately.
"Queer, queer?" piped the Witch; and then she laughed, or had a dreadful convulsion, Benny couldn't tell which, ending in a long, gurgling "Hoo-oo-oo!" on a very high key. "Now, s'pose you tell me what is 't makes me queer," said she, sitting down on a log and extracting from the rags on her bosom a pipe, which she prepared to smoke.
"Whew!" whistled Benny, "'twould take me from now till Christmas; I'd rather you'd tell me."
The crone lighted her pipe. The match flaring upon her wrinkled, copper-colored face and its gaunt features made her hideous. Poor little Fanny, who ventured to peep out at this moment, sobbed louder, and begged to go to her mother. The old woman puffed away at her pipe, fixing her gaze upon the children.
"Got a mother, hey?" said she.
"And a father?"
She puffed and gazed.
"You wouldn't like to see 'em shot?"
At this Benny stood speechless, and Fanny set up such a cry to go home that Benny was afraid he should have to take her away—that is, if the Witch would let him. He began to consider his chances. Still the more terrible the old Witch seemed, the more Benny wanted to see and hear her. He whispered to Fanny:
"She won't hurt you, Pettikins—she can't; I won't let her. Hush a minute, and see what I'm going to say to her!"
Fanny hushed a little, and Benny fixed an audacious gaze upon the Witch—or a gaze which he meant should be audacious. "What is the matter with you?" said he.
The old woman removed her pipe and sat holding it with her forefinger lapped over it like a hook.
"They call it 'exterminated,'" said she, pushing back the broad-brimmed, high-crowned man's hat that she wore, and showing her gray, ragged locks. "I'm exterminated. You don't know what that is, I s'pose?"
"Exterminated, ex-ter-min-ated," said Benny, scratching his head, "why, to—to—drive out—to—ah—put an end to—to—to—destroy utterly."
"I don't know what your book meaning is. I didn't get mine from books. I got it all the way along—began to get it when I wasn't much bigger'n that little gell," said the Witch, pointing at Fanny with her pipe. "I didn't know what it meant when I first heard it, but I know now. Hoo-oo-oo-oo!"
"I wish you'd tell us about it," said Benny. "Tell us about beginning to learn it when you wa'n't much bigger'n Pettikins."
"That's when the colonel said we must move west'ard," said the witch, laying her pipe down on the log, leaning her elbows on her knees, and resting her bony jaws in the palms of her hands. "Injuns, before they're exterminated, stick to their homes like other folks."
"You ain't an Injun, be you!" gasped Benny, with a look and tone which expressed volumes of consternation and disappointment at her utter failure to come up to his ideal Indian. Why, she wasn't the least bit like the pictures! She wasn't like the magnificent figures he had seen in front of the cigar stores in New Haven. Where were all her feathers and things—her red and yellow tunic, her gorgeous moccasons, her earrings and noserings and bracelets and armlets and beads? Why, she was ju-u-u-ust as ragged and dirty!
All this and more Benny's tone expressed when he said: "Why, you ain't an Injun, be you?"
"Well, I was. I ain't nothing at all now. I ain't even a squaw, and they said they was going to make a Christian on me. I was a Chetonquin."
"Oh, yes," said Benny, looking at her now with the interest attaching to one who had worn the feathers, and beads, and moccasons, and rings. "Well, what did you do when the colonel told you to go West?"
"We had a fight."
That was satisfactory to Benny. "Which whipped?" he asked, with his own native briskness, as if this, now, was common ground, and he was ready to talk at his ease.
"Which a'most always whips? It was a hard fight. I hid behind a big tree and watched it. When I saw my father shot I started to go to him and a shot struck me. See there!" said she, pushing up her coarse gray locks and showing a deeper, wider seam than the creases and wrinkles on her face. "A bullet grazed me hard and I was stunned and blinded with the blood, and couldn't run, but my people had to. They didn't any on 'em see or know about me, I s'pose, and I laid there and sorter went to sleep. Colonel Hammerton took a notion to pick me up when he rode over the ground he had soaked with the blood of my people—ground that belonged to my people," shrieked the woman, straightening herself up and shaking her fists in the air.
Benny liked that. Even Fanny gazed at the strange creature with fascination. And when the Indian's excitement abated and she ceased to mutter and chatter to herself and sunk her face into her palms again, gazing absently on the ground, Fanny pulled Benny's sleeve and whispered, "Ask her what he did then, after he picked her up."
"What did he do with you then?" ventured Benny.
The old woman started, and gazed at them curiously, as if she had forgotten all about them, and had to recall them out of the distant past. "What did who do?" said she.
"What did Colonel Hammerton do with you when he picked you up?"
"Oh, I didn't know who picked me up—thought 'twas some of my people, I s'pose. Colonel Hammerton carried me off to the fort, and then took me to Washington: said he was going to make a Christian on me. I had to stay in houses—sleep in houses!—like being nailed up in a box. Ugh! what a misery 'tis to be made a Christian on! Hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo! You wouldn't want to know all the racks and miseries and fights and grinds on it. I guess they got sick on it themselves, for after I'd tried a many times to get away from houses, and been brought back, I tried again and they let me go, and I've been a-going ever since. I asked for my people, and they told me they was exterminated, every one on 'em. Yes, I've been a-going ever since, but I can't go any more. I hope they'll let me stay in these forests 'till the Great Spirit takes me away to my people. He can't find me in the houses, but if I keep out in the forest, I hope he'll find me soon. It's been a weary, long time."
"Are you two hundred years old?" asked Benny softly. "That's what folks say."
"Two hunderd? Hoo-oo-oo-oo! two hunderd? I'm ten hundered, if I'm a day," said the poor old creature. "But don't be afeard on me—I hope there won't be anybody afeard on me here, for then they'd be driving on me off, or shutting me up again somewhere where the Great Spirit can't find me. Tell your people not to be skeered on me—ask 'em to let me stay here."
The sad old eyes looked wistfully at Benny, whose generous heart took up the poor Indian's cause at once.
"You can stay here fast enough," said he. "I know who these woods belong to—some o' my relations. There won't anybody be afraid of you. Me 'n 'Bijah'll take care of you."
"O, bless you!" said she. "I thought I'd got to the right place when I got here—it looked like it—it felt like it. It seemed a'most as if I most expected to see wigwams. A-h-h-h-h, if I could sleep in a wigwam!"
Benny felt that he could sympathize with her in that. He and the boys had played Indians and 'Bijah had built wigwams for them in the wood, and he had greatly wished and entreated to be allowed to sleep all night in one. But he could not guess at the longing of the aged to go back to the things dear and familiar to them in childhood; he did not know that all the old Indian's days were spent in dreaming of those things, and that she often wandered all night in the woods, fancying herself surrounded by the wigwams of her people—searching anxiously for that of her father. Though Benny could understand nothing of the pathetic sadness, he felt a strong desire to offer consolation and cheer, and he said, "I can build wigwams. Me 'n 'Bijah'll make you a wigwam!"
But the aged Chetonquin muttered to herself in a tuneless quaver, and shook her head doubtingly.
"What! She don't believe it!" Benny exclaimed to himself. "Don't believe that 'Bijah can make wigwams! We'll show her!"
And he was so eager to be about it that he took leave directly of his strange acquaintance, who seemed lost in reverie, and to have forgotten him entirely.
When Mr. and Mrs. Briggs heard Benny's story of the poor Indian woman, their excellent hearts were at once filled with compassion for so forlorn a creature. Mr. Briggs had very radical theories about equal mercy and justice for each member of the human race.
"It isn't likely," he often said, "that some have a right to be in this world and others haven't;" and he immediately set himself to illustrate his theories in the case of the Chetonquin.
Mrs. Briggs said there could be not doubt that she needed other things besides wigwams, which conjecture was found to be sadly true upon investigation. An attempt was made to put this last of the Chetonquins into more comfortable quarters, but she received the suggestion with dismay, and prayed so earnestly to be left on the spot she seemed to think was like her own native forest, that it was decided to make her as comfortable as possible there, since it was early summer and no harm could come from exposure. When the weather was cold again, she would be glad to be sheltered elsewhere. So Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, Grandma Potter and 'Bijah, took care that she needed nothing, and left her to be happy in her own way.
Her shattered mind, little by little, let go of everything save the memories of her childhood. All the people of the neighboring region, old and young, came to understand and respect the sorrows of the poor creature they had talked of as a witch. But the most friendly people seemed to disturb her—to break in upon her dreams—and children, especially, were not allowed to visit her.
Benny could not forego, however, the pleasure he had promised himself, of getting 'Bijah to help him make a fine wigwam in the woods, and saying to old Winneenis—as she called herself—"There! what d'ye call that? There's a wigwam for ye, 'n me 'n 'Bijah made it, too!"
Benny might make as many wigwams as he pleased, Mr. Briggs said, "but he was not to go near or disturb old Winneenis."
One extremity of the island was in the vicinity of Grandma Potter's, and Benny passed a good many days of his vacation at Grandma's. One day Benny said to 'Bijah, "Now you can make that wigwam, can't you, 'Bijah? You said you would when the hay was all in, and it is all in, ain't it? Le's make it to-day over there in the woods, on the island. The boys are coming over to-morrow, and I want to have it done before they get here. Say, will you, 'Bijah?"
"Wal, I'd know but I can," said 'Bijah.
"I want a real one," said Benny, "life-size, just like them you saw when you was out there to Dakota—none o' your baby-houses."
'Bijah went up-stairs into the barn chamber, humming The Sweet By and By, and Benny accompanied him in doing both. 'Bijah opened an enormous chest and pulled out a lot of old buffalo and other robes, the worn-out and moth-eaten accumulation of years, not to say generations, and sitting down, took out his jack-knife and ripped the ragged linings out of several that were pretty well divested of their fur, and making a pile of skins, old horse blankets and lap rugs, he said, "Now, then, sir, we'll have a wigwam fit for old Black Hawk himself."
And you may be sure 'Bijah was as good as his word. He got out old Tom and the wagon, and he and Benny and the skins and blankets all got in and drove over to the woods on the island, and there 'Bijah cut poles and made the finest wigwam ever seen this side of the Rocky Mountains—or the other side either, for that matter. They spread blankets on the ground inside, and Benny declared it wanted nothing but a few Indians and tomahawks and bows and arrows lying round to make it look just like the picture in his g'ography.
Benny's last thought was of his wigwam that night as he slid off into the delicious sleep that only rosy-cheeked, tired boys know. He dreamed he was the chief of a powerful tribe, and that he found old Winneenis, not old any longer, but a little girl like Fanny, crying in the forest because she couldn't find her way to her people, and that he took her by the hand and led her home. Her shout of rapture when she found herself once more with her people, wakened Benny, and he saw it was morning, and the shout he had heard instead of being that of little Winneenis, was grandma's voice calling him to get up. He was rather disappointed to find he wasn't a powerful chief, but he consoled himself with the thought of his uncommonly fine wigwam, and hurried down stairs to see what time it was, for the boys were to come on the early train, and he meant to go right over to the woods with them.
He had scarcely finished his breakfast when the boys arrived, and they all started for the woods in great glee.
On the way, Benny told them the story of old Winneenis, and the boys were full of wonder, interest, and curiosity to see her.
Upon reaching the wigwam, they admired its outside, agreed that nothing in that style of architecture could surpass it.
"And now," said Benny, "see how nice 'tis inside," and he took a peep in himself. "Why," whispered he, drawing back, "she's here—she's here in the wigwam, sound asleep, and she looks awful glad. Sh-sh"—with a warning shake of his finger—"we mustn't disturb her; father said I mustn't. Le's go away and wait till she wakes up."
They each took a peep at the old Indian woman and went away softly.
They remained in sight of the wigwam, exhausting every device for wearing away the time, and Joe's watch was frequently consulted. Time and patience wore away together.
"There," said Charlie, at last, "we've waited long enough; we ought to wake her up now."
"It might make her crazy again to see such a lot of us, and I—I don't like to," said Benny. "I'll go 'n ask 'Bijah what to do."
They went and brought 'Bijah, who said he should think likely she would want to sleep a spell, she must be pretty well beat out, pokin' around all night. He'd heard her making them queer noises o' hern—something like a hoarse kind o' Phoebe bird, it sounded, in the distance.
"I shouldn't be surprised," he began, in a low tone, stooping and peering in at the wigwam; but, contrary to his words, he did look very much surprised indeed.
He stepped into the wigwam and touched the sleeper gently. Then he shook his head at the boys and motioned them away, and when he came out, they understood from his look, that old Winneenis was dead.
Wandering, as was her wont at night, she had come upon Benny's wigwam, standing in the clear moonlight, and to her longing, bewildered mind it had probably seemed the wigwam of her father. Who can ever know the joy, the feeling of peace, and rest, and relief, with which she laid her tired bones down in it, and fell asleep, a care-free child once more, and thus passed from its door into the happy hunting-grounds? And Benny always felt glad the wigwam had been built.
Every year a few of the blest among the boys of Still Harbor were taken to New Haven or New London to see the Greatest Show on Earth, while the unlucky remainder were obliged to content themselves with what imagination could do for them. But one memorable year Mr. P. T. Barnum landed and magnified himself on our own fences. His magnanimity ran over and flamed into Still Harbor, bringing all his miracles and monsters to our very doors, as it were, and we had no more miserable boys. But we had plenty of boys who aspired to be miracles and monsters, or boys who essayed the trapeze, the tight rope, the flying leap and all sorts of possible and impossible acrobatic contortions and distortions.
Eminent among these was Benny Briggs, for if you looked high enough, you could see him any day with a balancing pole in his hand, walking on the ridge-poles and fences, or making of himself all sorts of peduncles and pendulums; bringing about in his own individual person the most astonishing inversions, subversions and retroversions, and the most remarkable twists and lurches and topsey-turveys and topplings-over.
But there was one opportunity that Benny's soaring ambition had not embraced. His active mind had never yet discovered the possibility of a real tight rope. For a real tight rope he languished, on a tight rope he yearned to walk. The clothes line was a little too slender; his sister Fanny's skipping rope was not only too slender, but too short; and these were the only ropes of his acquaintance. The ridge-poles and fences only mocked at his ideal. He wanted something that hung unsupported; something airy; something worthy of the acrobatic art, upon which he could walk with credit and grace, and, reaching the end, bow and kiss his hand to the spectators, before returning. For this he searched by day, and of this he dreamed by night. And one day he found it.
"Benny," said his mother on the morning of that day, "your grandmother Potter has sent for you to come over. She's going to have uncle John's and uncle Calvin's boys there. You'll like that, won't you?"
"Hi!" shouted Benny, throwing up his new straw hat, the sign and seal of pleasant summer weather, "I'd like to see the fellow that wouldn't!"
At nine o'clock that morning—at exactly nine o'clock—Benny started. His mother remembered it well, for she looked up at the clock and said:
"Now, don't hurry, Benny; go along easily and you'll get there before ten," for grandmother Potter's was scarcely two miles back in the country, and Benny thought nothing of stepping over there, especially when inducements were offered.
He called his dog Sandy, and marched off with a light step and a light heart; but his hands remained at home, that is to say, his hands were nowhere so much at home as in his trousers pockets, and there they reposed, while Benny paced along, whistling "Not for Joseph, not if I knows it," and Sandy nosing it all the way. His mother watched him with pride as usual; the neighbors saw him go by and said, "There goes Benny Briggs; he hain't broken his neck yet, but I presume to say that'll be the next thing he does."
Uncle John's and uncle Calvin's boys from New Haven, arrived early at grandmother Potter's, a place which seemed to them to contain all the pleasures of all the spheres, for grandmother's weakness was for boys, and nothing suited her better than getting all her grandsons together and giving them "full swing," as Abijah called it, and Abijah was made by nature to help grandmother out in her benevolent plans. He instituted jolly measures, and contrived possibilities of riot and revel that no mortal ever thought of before. As circuses were the fashion in urchin society, on that particular day, Abijah, like a wizard, had called up out of the farm resources, and out of certain mysterious resources of his own, that were so plainly of unearthly origin that it was of no use in the world to try to look into or understand them, such a circus as would have made not only P. T. Barnum, but the ancient Romans themselves perfectly miserable with envy. There was the trapeze, the tight rope, the—well, alas, I don't know the names of them all, having had a limited education in such matters, but there they all were, whatever they are called—those things that make a perfect, finished, spal-en-did, be-yeu-ti-ful circus. There were hoops with tissue paper pasted over them, to be jumped through by the most wonderful bareback riders on earth, and old Tom, grandmother's own horse, was perfectly safe as a trained Arabian steed, when 'Bijah was there to see how the thing was managed. Everything was safe and sure and delightful when 'Bijah had charge of it. Nothing ever went wrong, or upset, or came to a sorry end with him or his plans. He knew what he was about, and ends with him were even more brilliant and satisfactory than beginnings and means. I shouldn't dare to fully tell you what good times the boys had at grandmother Potter's, especially on Fourth of Julys, Thanksgivings, Christmases and birthdays, for fear of making all the boys who couldn't go there, discontented and low spirited for the rest of their lives. I'm sorry for those boys, but at the same time I may as well go on and tell them about Benny Briggs. He was preparing to be very discontented and low spirited just at the moment when Joe and Will and Harry and Rob and Charlie and Morris and Cad were shouting their exultation at the only wonderful circus on earth. They all decided that the performances were not to begin, however, until Benny Briggs arrived. There could be no circus without Ben. No, indeed! There were stars of the arena among them, of various magnitudes, but Benny was the comet that outshone and outstripped them all.
"Why don't he come along?" said Charlie, dancing a double-shuffle on the barn floor to let off his impatience.
"Let's go and look for him," said Joe, and they all shuffled off down to the gate, thinking to see Benny with his nose pointed straight for that gate, or as straight as could be expected, considering its faithfulness in another direction. But no Benny was to be seen.
"He can't be far off," said Joe, seizing an opportunity to look at his new silver watch, "for it's half-past ten now, and Ben is always here before ten—always was, I mean."
"Let's go up to the top of the hill and meet him," proposed Will; "we can see him from there anyhow."
So Charlie and Joe and Morris and Will and Cad started for the top of the hill, while Harry and Rob, who were a good deal inclined to wait for things to come to them, remained to swing on the gate.
The five spies soon returned and reported that Benny was nowhere to be seen. Impatience now seized them all, and they flocked into the house to put it to grandma whether it wasn't mighty queer that Ben Briggs hadn't come.
"He hasn't come?" exclaimed grandma, looking up over her glasses at the clock. "Why, what can be the matter? It's almost eleven o'clock!"
"It's one minute and a quarter past," said Joe, appealing to his watch. "Your clock's 'leven minutes slow."
"O, get out!" said Charlie, with a contemptuous sniff. "All the clocks are either fast or slow, according to that turnip."
Here would have ensued a good deal of pro and con about watches, but grandma held them to the subject of Benny Briggs. She drew from them that they had been to the very top of the hill and couldn't see him coming.
Grandma was surprised and disappointed. "It's incomprehensible," said she.
"O, I say, grandma," groaned Charlie, flopping into a chair and fanning himself, with his hat, "what a big word! In-com-pre-hen-si-ble! And the other day you said Prist-by-te-ri-an-ism! O my!"
"P-p-p-p-pooh!" stuttered Morris, who was always a little ahead of everybody, except in conversation; "I know a l-l-l-l-longer word."
"Let's hear you say it, then," shouted the rest of the boys.
"Takes you to make long words," said Charlie.
"I-i-i-i-i-i-i"—began Morris, embarrassed by the evident want of confidence in his ability.
"Go it!" said Charlie.
"Fire away!" said Joe.
"In-co-co-co-co-co" proceeded Morris.
"Spell it!" suggested Harry.
"I-n, in, c-o-m-e, come," spelled Morris with great fluency, and then stopped short.
"Income!" exclaimed two or three voices disdainfully. "Call that a long word? Ho-ho!"
"N-n-no; wa-wa-wa-wait a minute," implored Morris, tugging at a button on his jacket, and fixing a studious, inquiring gaze on the kitchen floor.
"Write it," said Will.
"I c-c-c-c-can't," said poor Morris gloomily.
"Give it up, then," recommended Joe.
"No sir," said Charlie, putting his feet up in a second chair and making himself comfortable, "I don't give it up, sir; I'm going to know what this bumper of a word is."
"Well, how are we ever going to know if Morris can't say it nor spell it nor write it?" demanded Joe.
"Mebby he can thing it," said little Cad.
"Good for you, Caddy!" said Charlie. "You've hit it; Morris can sing fast enough. Now, Morris, we'll sing, 'I love to go to Sunday-school,' and you sing your word instead of those. Begin, boys! Sing loud, Morris."
So the boys all sang softly—
I love, I love, I love, I love, I love to go to Sunday-school—
except Morris, who sang with a triumphant shout
I love, I love, I love, I love, In-com-pre-hen-si-bil-i-ty!
and the boys gave him three cheers.
At that moment grandma purposely left the pantry door open, and there, disclosed to view, was a land of promise; a row of delicious little cakes, with chocolate frosting, smiling on the pantry shelf. The boys instantly crossed over to this inviting land and took possession, while grandma, who was sometimes rather unwise in her loving kindness, looked greatly pleased.
"I do wish Benny was here," said she. "Boys," she added, as if a new thought had come to her, "go and tell 'Bijah I want to speak to him."
The boys clattered out—a stampede of young colts, it seemed—and soon returned, each doing his part in bringing 'Bijah, for every separate boy had hold of him somewhere, as if at the least laxity on their part there was danger of his escape. 'Bijah grinned broadly and bore it bravely.
"'Bijah," said grandma Potter, "I must have Benny here to dinner; I can't have his place vacant. What can have kept him away?" she added, as if to herself. "I hope he hasn't been doing anything he ought not to—he's such a little rogue."
"Wal, I d' know's I should be for goin' so fur's to say that, Mis' Potter, but Benny is curis, and mebby he has slipped over to Spain or France before comin' round here," said 'Bijah.
"O dear!" groaned grandmother, the names of these far-away regions giving her a sense of exposure and danger, "I hope nothing has happened to my Benny. 'Bijah, you must harness up and go over and see what's the matter."
"Yes'm," said 'Bijah, turning to obey, and every boy set up a petition that he should go in the long wagon and let them go too. So in the long wagon they went, shouting and whistling and singing along, with their eyes wide open to catch a sight of Benny, if by chance he should be coming, loitering on his way. But not one of them looked in the right direction.
In spite of Benny's frequent little derelictions from the path he might have been expected to walk in, his mother was greatly surprised and troubled to hear that he had not arrived at his grandmother's, and, furthermore, that he had not been seen on the road.
"Why, nothing could have tempted him to stay away from grandma's," said she. "Still," she added after a moment's reflection, "he may have gone by the Brook road and met Johnny Barstow. If he has, and then stopped to do a little fishing, he would never think how the time was flying. I never saw a boy who had so little idea of time as Benny."
"Wal," said 'Bijah, "we'll go down the brook road way 'n see 'f we c'n ketch this young trout."
So they returned by the Brook, but found no Benny, and Johnny Barstow hadn't seen him.
Every ray of the calm smile which usually shone in grandma Potter's face faded when she saw 'Bijah and the boys come back without Benny and heard of their fruitless search. She sat silently down in her rocking-chair, and her dear, sweet old face was pale.
"'Bijah," said she at length, "you must take the colt and the light buggy and go—go somewhere—anywhere—everywhere, until you find him. No, boys, you can't go. 'Bijah mustn't be hindered."
'Bijah was at a loss where to go, but he obeyed directions, and went somewhere, anywhere, and it seemed as if he had been everywhere, and inquired at every house in and about Still Harbor, along the shore, in the woods and through the fields, but nobody had seen Benny since about nine o'clock that morning.
At last he went again to see if Benny, perhaps, had got home.
"What!" cried Mrs. Briggs, when she saw 'Bijah come the second time, "he hasn't come? You haven't found him? O, my boy, my boy!"
"O, now, Mis' Briggs, don't you go to worry about Benny," said 'Bijah. "I never see a boy 't knew how to take care of himself better'n Benny. He'll turn up all right, you'll see."
But in spite of his apparent cheerfulness, 'Bijah was a good deal troubled himself. Where could Benny be, unless at the bottom of the Sound?
'Bijah in his search had already been to Mr. Briggs' store to inquire for Benny, and in starting to go there again, he met Mr. Briggs coming home. He and 'Bijah discussed the possibilities and probabilities of Benny's case, and Mr. Briggs agreed to send word over to grandma Potter if Benny came home, and 'Bijah agreed to come directly over and tell his father and mother if Benny should reach his grandmother's at the eleventh hour.
The eleventh hour arrived, however, and still no Benny. The boys sat in the barn door and wondered in voices hushed almost to whispers, where Benny could be.
"Where is Benny?" asked little Fanny again and again. "O, where is Benny?" moaned his poor mother; and the question sank like lead into his father's heart. Grandma raised her gentle eyes and asked it of Heaven itself, and you, my children, by this time are asking it of me. I feel bound to tell you this much: Benny was—I shudder to say it—Benny was enduring the fate once proposed for Mr. Jefferson Davis.
The sun was getting low, the shadows were long on the grass, and Benny's pitiful shadow as it lengthened, stretched nearer and nearer home. Ah, would he ever get there himself again?
It was milking time. 'Bijah sat milking the cows in the barnyard, when in bounced Sandy. He hadn't come on Benny's account, that was plain. He was thirsty, and begged for milk, which he had frequently had from the hand of 'Bijah. He was no story-book dog—only quite a commonplace fellow, who hadn't the faintest idea that he ought to have arrived here hours ago, and won fame for himself by showing the way to Benny. However, you'll see presently that he wasn't to blame for that.
'Bijah stopped milking and sprang to his feet.
"Hello!" said he, "Sandy, I vum! That means 't Benny ain't fur off. You don't ketch that feller to stir a peg from Benny 'f he c'n help himself."
'Bijah gave Sandy some milk, feeling sure that if Benny was on earth, Sandy would go straight back again to where he had left him. Benny was not on earth, but Sandy, having finished his refreshment, without even waiting to return thanks, trotted off across lots at a great pace, 'Bijah following in hot pursuit. Away they splashed through the marshy meadows; jump, they went over the stone walls. "Land!" said 'Bijah. "Where be you a-goin'?" as Sandy leaped across a ditch into the great Kingsbury orchard. Mr. Kingsbury had died a year before. His wife had closed the old homestead and gone to live with her daughter, and the farm had been for sale ever since. 'Bijah sprang over the ditch and came sprawling into the orchard.
When he had picked himself up, Sandy was nowhere to be seen. The loneliness of the deserted farm and the soberness of approaching evening were all about him.
"Hello!" he shouted, and he thought he heard a response. "Hello!" he repeated, and he was sure of a faint, faint cry, towards which he bounded, shouting, "Benny, Benny!" and presently directly over his head he heard a voice which seemed to come from Heaven, saying:
"'Bijah, O 'Bijah, here, up here!"
'Bijah looked toward the sky, and behold, dangling from one of the topmost branches of a famous big sour apple-tree, a pair of sturdy boy's legs! And there was Sandy, lying on the ground beneath them.
"Jericho!" said 'Bijah; and he hadn't much more than said it before he was scrambling up the tree like a great ourang-outang. With some difficulty he unhooked Benny and brought him to earth, and his great warm heart swelled with tender pity as he returned home with the poor boy in his arms; and his shoulder was as wet with Benny's tears when he reached there, as if he had been out in a thunder storm.
I dare say you will partly guess the story of Benny's misfortune, but for the sake of those who are not good guessers, I shall tell you that he had taken a fancy to cut across a corner of the Kingsbury farm that morning, to make the distance to his grandmother's shorter, in his unwise fashion, never considering that climbing walls and fences, paddling through the marshy meadows and contriving to get over the ditch would more than overbalance the few steps he saved.
When he reached the Kingsbury orchard, where all the apple boughs were trained in horizontal lines, with a view to making them bear well, his head seemed to swim with suggestions of tight ropes. Around and above the air was filled with golden opportunities as near to tight ropes as Paradise is near to Heaven itself. These precious opportunities whispered to Benny, the charming visions beckoned, and Benny felt that if it cost him two and sixpence, he must have a walk on some of those enchanting boughs.
Everything was just as it had been left when Mr. Kingsbury died. Against one of the trees stood a ladder, and scattered all about under the trees were the limbs that had been lopped off, under his direction, the very day when he fell with apoplexy. Here and there they had been gathered up in bristling piles.
Benny ascended into one after another of these blissful trees. At first he walked on the lowest boughs, but gradually went higher and higher, until he promenaded fearlessly on the very topmost. He bowed, he kissed his hand, he turned and returned, he was happy and time sped swiftly by. He was so absorbed in his delight, that he heard, as one who hears not, a wagon go rattling along the road, and the shouting, whistling and singing of boys. It was past noon before he recalled the object with which he had left home that morning. He sat upon the very pinnacle of achievement—that is to say, he sat upon the very highest point in the orchard, his head up, his spirits up, with such a decidedly upward tendency that it was hard for him to make up his mind to descend to the plane of common life. However, he thought it must be something past ten o'clock, so he slipped himself off his pinnacle, or was in the act of doing so, when he missed his hold and went off with a sudden jerk. Something scraped the whole length of his back, and seemed to hold him in a relentless grip. It was the stump of a small branch, which had caught him by the bottom of his loose jacket, and slipped up under it quicker than a wink, as Benny slid down. It was one of those things of which we say, "You couldn't do it again to save your life."
And there Benny, exalted, hung. The tips of his toes just touched a bough below; with the tips of his fingers and thumb he could reach and pick at the end of a branch above. He tried to throw his legs up and catch on some salient point. He struggled to reach his elbows up and pull himself back. He would have unbuttoned his jacket, and, slipping his arms out, dropped to the ground, but it looked a long way, and directly below him was a pile of the lopped-off branches, with their sharp ends sticking up towards him like the spikes of cruel chevaux-de-frise, and he didn't fancy dropping on those. He shouted for help, but there was no one to hear him on the deserted farm, and the few farmers who rattled by in their wagons paid no heed to a boy's shout. Boys are always shouting, and the more hideous the noises they make the more it is like them. Sandy, who had remained asleep in the grass while Benny performed his manoeuvres, thought no more of this one than he had thought of the others. He supposed it was a part of the fun—the very best part of it—as he opened one eye and saw those legs dancing in air; and Benny's yells were the things to be expected of Benny. But when Benny shouted, "Go, Sandy, go home!" and various other commands to Sandy, hoping the dog might go and bring some one to his rescue, as dogs always do in stories, Sandy sat upon his hind legs and looked at Benny in amazement. These were remarks that had never been made to him before, and he couldn't guess for his life what they meant. Never had he been sent home. He had stuck to Benny through thick and thin, during all his eventful life, and he meant to do it now. So there he did stick, until he saw by the shadows that it was about milking time, and being thirsty, to say nothing of hungry, and observing that Benny was still engaged in dancing and tilting on the tips of his toes, Sandy excused himself, went after his milk, and brought back deliverance to Benny, as we have seen.
Poor, poor Benny! The joy of his return called out more tears than smiles. Worn and faint and nervous, he was put to bed at grandma Potter's, and it was many days before he was the same old Benny Briggs again. In one respect he was never quite the same. His views in respect to tight ropes had met with a radical change.
* * * * *
P. S. If any of you boys should say as Charlie Potter did, "Pooh! if I'd been Benny Briggs I could have got down out of that tree," I'll say to you as Benny said to him:
"Humph! I'd like to see you try it!"
HOW TWO SCHOOLBOYS KILLED A BEAR.
It was an unpleasant day. The gray clouds looked cold and dark, and the wind was blowing a gale as the stage left the little village of Lowton on its daily trip to the Summit. The weather prophets said it was the equinoctial, although it was ten days too early if the almanac was right; and every one predicted a storm, a northeaster that would set all the streams boiling, and probably carry away all the bridges between Lowton and the Summit.
But little for northeasters cared Leon and Sam Bearer, as they settled themselves cosily inside. They each carried a shot-gun, and under the care of their elder brother, Herbert, they were going on a two weeks' hunt among the well stocked forests on the mountains back of the Summit.
At noon they stopped at the Half-Way House, a little hotel built just at the rise of the mountain, where they were served with fresh venison in a dining-room hung with great antlers from the deer killed by the landlord, and his son, who was only fourteen years old—no older than Sam. The boys became very much excited listening to their hunting stories; and after dinner nothing but Herbert's decided command prevented their loading the guns to be ready for any game they might see on the road. The landlord and the driver said that they never saw any deer driving along the road; but the boys thought it might be that they would, and after they started a strict watch was kept, which resulted in seeing forty-one squirrels but nothing larger.
They had not driven many miles up the mountain before it cleared off, and the sun came out. The forest road, lined with ferns and banks of moss, was very picturesque, and Leon and Sam enjoyed the ride as only happy schoolboys can, in the pleasantest spot that boys can be—a forest peopled with deer and squirrels. And when they reached the Summit House they were in as good spirits as jolly boys could be who expected a glorious chase the next day.
The hotel was a large, pleasant one, and on every side were the trophies of game that so delight a boy's heart. The office and dining-room were hung with antlers, and the hat rack in the hall was made from them. Then there was a couch and some seats covered with bear skins and supported by great branching antlers with so many prongs that Leon tired of counting them, although he knew each one represented a year, and that he could compute the deer's age by them. In the sitting-room there were a stuffed deer, a fox, a number of similar animals, a partridge, some pigeons and many small birds; and in the office were two large panthers that looked very fierce and natural, their glass eyes glaring as if watching a victim, their feet placed as if ready for a leap. But the boys enjoyed most the deer in the large park back of the hotel. There were four old deer and two pretty young fawns with glossy, spotted coats, that Sam and Leon thought were the most beautiful animals they had ever seen, as they ran and played together like lambs, jumping and capering with a perfect grace that only deer possess.
After a nice venison supper the boys went to bed, and in a few minutes both were dreaming of deer, and bears, panthers and hounds, and all the excitements of the chase among the game-covered mountains.
Early in the morning, and long before Herbert was up, Sam and Leon were out again watching the deer in the park, and examining again the terrible panthers whose changeless eyes looked just as fierce as the night before. Their guns were loaded, and when they had eaten breakfast and the men were ready to start, the boys were off ahead ready for the expected game. All the way up the mountain path to the runways they kept the lead, occasionally stopping to rest in the shade of some great pine where chattering squirrels were quarrelling over their breakfast. Often, too, they would leave the path and plunge off in search of "track," which they failed to find, so that by the time the runways were reached they were well tired.
The landlord stationed Sam and Leon on the lower runway, while he and Herbert went to those higher up the mountain. There was a long time to wait before any game could be expected, as the man who was to start the hounds had a good distance to make before sending them off, and he was only a half-hour ahead of the watchers.
Leon laid down to rest after making sure that his gun was in good order; but Sam wandered around, looking for squirrels and "signs of game," until suddenly he heard, away back on the mountain, the bay of a hound. This was a signal that the chase had begun, and he hurried back to the watching-place to be ready for the deer, should the deer come. For nearly an hour the boys stood with guns ready, every minute hoping to see a deer. A squirrel running through the brush would bring their guns to their faces, and at the slightest rustle of the bushes they would start and listen. Meanwhile the hounds were surely coming nearer and nearer, their excited barking proclaiming that they were close upon the game; and at last Sam was sure they were down on the lower runway and, turning to Leon in great excitement, he said, "Let's keep cool and we can kill this deer! Then won't Herb be sorry he went further up?" Both boys felt sure there must be a deer coming, although they had been told that the hounds often came in without anything.
At last they could hear the brush crackling—yes, the hounds were surely down on their runway; and in a minute the dogs and game did come in sight together. But what a surprised pair of huntsmen they were when they saw what the game was! Leon was frightened, while even Sam felt a little uneasy. The hounds had not started a deer at all. Instead they were pursuing an old bear, and two young cubs about the size of a large dog. The old bear was very large and fierce, and whenever the hounds came up with the cubs, that could not run very fast, she would turn around and fight until the cubs ran on a few rods and then she would run again.
Just as the bear and cubs reached the watching place there was a fight, and the great creature caught one of the hounds and hugged him in her arms till he was breathless, all the time sitting up on her hind legs and looking as tall as a man. While she was in this position Sam took aim at her head and fired, and a moment later Leon fired too. Then the bear started to run, and they both fired the other barrel of their shot-guns, though without taking much aim, but a moment after they saw her lying on the ground, surrounded by the pack.
By this time Herbert and the landlord had come down in hot haste to see what the shooting was for, and in great surprise they gathered around the huge creature which the boys had secured. Leon and Sam had really killed a bear, a genuine black bear, a large one too—the landlord said the largest he had seen that year; and there were never two prouder fellows than these two schoolboys, as they surveyed their noble game.
But this was not all. The hounds were sent after the cubs, and in a few minutes they were caught alive. They were taken to the hotel and caged. Very quiet animals they were; in a few days they would eat from the boys' hands, as tame as the fawns in the park, never trying to bite or showing any crossness. With these pets and with their fine bear skin to show, it is no wonder that the boys thought there was never a pleasanter place than the hotel in the mountains; and it is not at all strange that they hated to leave it when their two weeks were up. But they had a new, strong cage made for the baby bears, and took them home to keep in the little yard near the barn, where every boy, and nearly every man in town came to see them, and to hear the story of their capture, and take the dimensions of the handsome black bear skin. At school certainly nothing else was talked of that term, and I fear the boys really believed they were the best hunters in the State. How long their mamma will allow them to keep their pets they do not know, but they hope it will be as long as the two bears live and behave.
PETE'S PRINTING PRESS.
"What do you want for Christmas?" asked Mrs. Downs, in a kindly manner.
"I don't know, mother," replied Pete slowly. "Last year it was a paint-box, bicycle, foils, and you said I could use Dick's foils—and that you couldn't afford bicycles after the new carpet, so it got down to a paint-box and that wasn't much of a Christmas."
"That's the comfort in regularly having Christmases; in time you get what you want," answered his mother.
"That isn't always so. I think it depends on what a fellow wants; and I've made a strike this year. I'm not going to say thank you for what I don't want; only I don't exactly know what I do want. It must be either—either—a—bicycle—or a printing press—or Indian clubs; and if it is a bicycle, it must be the real kind—wooden ones are not allowed in processions; and if it is clubs, I shall knock my head off; so it better be a printing press. It doesn't make any difference to you this year, does it, as we have not got to buy a new carpet? I have decided; it shall be a printing press, and I shall get orders enough to pay for new curtains."
"Not quite so fast, I don't know about the orders, and I do know printing presses cost, and that Indian clubs are cheap."
"Oh! you can't put me off till another Christmas; it is like Alice in Wonderland having jam to-morrow. And when to-morrow comes, it isn't to-morrow. I am going to have it, and you can all club together and buy it instead of giving me separately, sleeve buttons and scarf pins and cologne and paper and pocket scissors. A fellow wants real things that he can do something with. Printing press, now, you remember." And off rushed Pete as Dick gave a low war-whoop, the signal for an incursion of boys into the shed.
This shed was filled with relics of former joys, with the debris of unsuccessful inventions, with tool-boxes whose tools were missing, with oil cans without oil, with boards full of nails, with the wheels of broken carts, and with strings, ropes and clothes lines of various lengths; yet to a new-comer it was always an El Dorado of enjoyment. Into this now sprang, tumbled, the cronies, Dick, Jack, Phil and Shel, which latter name was a contraction for General Sheridan.
"I say," exclaimed Phil, "I am getting tired of your shed; haven't had an idea in it for months—same old contrivances—get up something new."
"You just wait," said Pete, the proprietor.
"O come along, boys, if it is 'wait,' don't let us wait here," said Shel, and off they started on a raid for fun. Pete returned from the excursion to dream all night of what might and of what might not be. His wishes became so thoroughly mixed that he fancied he had told his mother he wanted nothing, not even Christmas itself; but the horror of such a mistake effectually roused him.
The next morning there was no indication of forthcoming glories, except that they had less than usual for breakfast; a kind of atonement to which Mrs. Downs sometimes treated her family. Pete sighed. The greetings for a merry Christmas were of doubtful value to him. He was of a foreboding nature and experience had taught him to be prepared for disappointment in the matter of presents. He went to church and noticed carefully the style of type in the hymn books; he came home and took down all his books from their shelves for the same purpose of investigation. Even dinner itself failed to bring forgetfulness; for he thought, if he could print bills-of-fare for such lengthy repasts he might make money; though he felt he could never spell the queer French names of dishes. At last the meal was ended, and the big parlor doors were thrown open, displaying horizontal rows of evergreen, with various knick-knacks fastened to these mysterious lines, which on inspection proved to be the bars of an old-fashioned clotheshorse. It made one think of sums in addition put down in agreeable shapes; one green line of gifts and then another and another, which suddenly changed into a sum in long division. Brown-looking packages lay about the feet of the clotheshorse, and on them Pete fastened his eyes, for printing presses cannot hang.
His name was called several times and he received the very things he did not want; sleeve buttons, scarfpins, cologne, and paper. He says, "thank you," each time more faintly, whilst his mother's eyes twinkle. At last Santa Claus tried to lift a big bundle; he puffed and panted and called Pete to help him. Pete comes slowly forward, bends down to help, felt something cold and hard beneath the wrapper, fumbled over it, clasped it round, excitedly tried to lift it, whispered awestruck, "It is, it is a self-inker;" bends further down, lifted it up awkwardly, and dropped it on his little slippered foot, with a big bang and a painful, "oh!" The scene was too funny for sympathy and the general laugh increased the ache in the right-hand corner of the big toe on the left foot. Pete limped out of the room and was soon forgotten in the universal excitement; but when all were busy with their ice cream, he crept back to his beloved bundle, unwrapped it, and lying flat down on his stomach hugged himself to it, and gazed at it again. It was growing late. He knew that as soon as the guests were gone he must do his share in putting things to rights, restoring furniture to its place, and worse than all, in smoothing out the wrapping paper and tying it up in little bundles, and in unravelling all the knotted strings; for his mother was accustomed to take off the edge of too great Christmas enjoyment, by enforcement of this economical rule. That night he dreamed of Franklin, of editors, of type setting, and of sensible mothers, who knew what fellows want.
The next morning he woke with a sense of much to do, and soon began his future career by sorting the type. This was a long job, for he had several kinds; capitals and small letters, heavy face and light face type, besides commas, hyphens and periods, and somehow everything was mixed up. Now and then he stopped to admire his new gift and his own energy, or to call some one to help him.
At last his task was done. Pete was a methodical boy and always finished one job before he began another. "Now," said he, "what shall I do first? set the type or ink the tablet? I'll ink the tablet and then print my name, it is so short."
He began the inking process just as Dick announced himself by his war-whoop, and called out,
"At it, are you! Got any orders! Shel has a big job—whole lots of placards from his father, flaming ones to print, takes all kinds of type; makes money on it; so busy he can't speak to a fellow, so I came along here, for I'm one of the kind don't believe in orders for boys. Learn by looking on, is my way—have all of the fun and—none of the ink guess I'll say, seeing how your hands are. That isn't the way—your mother will have something to say to that."
"You keep still and let me alone," answered Pete. "I'll come out all right. I am going to set the type for Pete Downs, Centreville, Illinois, U. S.," and he carefully began to insert the letters on the left hand of the chase. He placed the chase in the body of the press, put some paper on the pressure and began to work the handle up and down till the type was well inked; he next marked out the size of his card on the pressure, inserted his gauge pins, placed his card upon them, took hold of the handle and pushed it up and down, thus bringing the card on the pressure against the inked type; he pushed with all his might and lifted up his work with a conqueror's air. Dick, who had been maliciously watching, burst into peals of laughter. The name read thus:
PETEDOWN, ne . S
"You've forgotten the quads," said Dick, "and you haven't enough ink. You must put on spectacles to read it."
"That's nothing" replied Pete, growing red as he began to separate the words and rub more ink on the tablet. Again he pressed down the handle, lifted it up and gazed again. This time the name ran:
PETEDOW (ce rville, Ill )
The rest was so smutchy that not a letter was legible.
"Better go into partnership," said Dick; "you are not smart enough for an apprentice, but on account of your capital you might be worth something as a partner."
Pete cleaned the tablet with half the turpentine and benzine in the bottle and began afresh. This time came out in watery lines:
PETE DOWNS centreville, Illinois U. S.
"Why, what's the matter now?"
"Forgotten enough leads and a capital," replied Dick. "What is the use in trying alone; go in with some boy who knows, and you'll get on."
"Perhaps. But I'll clear up first."
His mother had provided him with overalls for just such occasions; but Pete was confident that printing was neater work than carpentering and had avoided thinking of them. The ink was so imbedded in one corner of the tablet and so scanty in another, that he tried to even the amount, and then wash off the whole. Soon his finger-tips were coal black and sticky; to remove this difficulty, he put finger by finger into the turpentine, rendering that muddy and spreading five distinct streaks on the back of his right hand. Then he poured benzine into the left hand to rub on the back of the right hand. This operation sent ink and benzine up his coat-sleeve, and all ten fingers became so useless that in order to use them more freely he rubbed off their contents on his—jacket. Seeing what he had done, his increasing fears brought tears; to check which, he stuck his fingers into his eyes; which hurting, sent more tears mingling with ink down his cheeks, just at the moment that his mother appeared and that Dick's instinct led him to disappear out of the window or door, he never knew which.
"My son, for shame!" said she; "how could you forget the overalls?"
"Oh! I don't know—wish I hadn't. I am going to take a partner and then it won't happen again."
He cried, and was so funny-looking that there was nothing for his mother to do but to laugh and advise speedy partnership.
"What boy would you have," asked he. "Dick has been here tormenting me, I don't want him. I might try Shel; it need not be for life, you know. He had a press last year and has got used to it."
"Very well," answered his mother. "I expected as much. Change your suit, go ask him, and tell him I approve because his mother makes him wear overalls."
Pete had not anticipated such a speedy ending of his troubles, and hastened away to do his mother's bidding. But whilst dressing, he reflected that Shel knew too much and would snub him, and that Clarence was the kind of boy who could get jobs easily. So he went to Clarence's and proposed partnership.
"What terms?" demanded Clarence in a business-like manner, hands in his pockets. "I'm pretty particular about the contract. Are you a greenhorn? That's got to be taken into account."
"Well, yes, suppose I am now; but I need not be long if you keep your bargain, besides my press is new and that counts for me."
"Well, yes, it does. Self-inker? lots of type?"
"Well, not so very much; self-inker though. Or come, you just go in and try it for a month and we'll make terms afterwards."
"Pretty dangerous plan; but I'll try it, seeing it is a new press. I'll come to your house right after dinner; and we have dinner right after breakfast, so the kitchen work can be all done up. One gets hungry between dinner and supper; and it's always a cold supper, so it needn't be any work."
"Agreed," said Pete. "I know those tricks on meals, too."
The boys parted till half-past twelve, when Clarence appeared and set to work in a vigorous manner to properly clean and ink the tablet. Pete, with overalls on, watched every motion. His name was printed and came out clear, beautiful:
Quads, leads, capitals, spelling all right. Pete felt as if he had done it himself.
"Now you try," said Clarence; and success again came in a dozen cards. Then his name became an old story.
"I'll go and ask the cook," declared Pete, "if she don't want her name printed," and off he ran.
"Certainly" was her obliging answer; she added slowly, "Only I haven't a name good enough to print; you call me 'Hannah!' but if you put that on a card it looks common; and if you say 'Ora,' no one will know it is me; and if you only put my last name, they'll think the whole family has called. You better take the nurse's name, 'Mehitable Jones,' you can't get round that."
Hardly waiting till she had finished, Pete went to Mehitable, who kindly consented to believe that she needed a dozen cards, and to write down her name that it might be printed correctly. This looked like business. The cards were quickly printed, and delivered, and the package was marked on the wrapper "C. O. D."
"That is not my name," exclaimed Mehitable.
"Of course, that isn't your name," explained the boys; "cards are inside. That means you must pay us right off, just what you please; we didn't say anything about it first, because we trusted you—but we can't afford to work for nothing."
"Well," said Mehitable, "here is five cents."
Pete's first money earned by honest hard labor; two and a half cents apiece. "That's an unfortunate price for us," said Clarence, "though it be convenient for the buyer. Let's keep all uneven sums as capital towards other type, and all even sums we'll divide."
This was rather a shock at first to Pete; but with a partner who was such a superior business man he would not dispute.
"The first great trouble," stated Clarence, "is to get orders; the second, to execute them. You be the travelling agent and I'll be the office man."
"Now," said Pete, "I won't. I want to print as well as you. I'll be travelling agent in your family, and you in mine, and then we'll get more out of each."
"That's an idea," replied Clarence; and the partnership, which to judge by the angry looks of the past second seemed on the point of dissolution, still remained unbroken.
That afternoon's success was marked, and afterwards when business called Clarence away (for if the truth must be told), he was partner in two other firms on strict terms of secrecy, Pete did not prosper. It was always too much or too little ink; quads were not even and a sufficient number of leads were seldom inserted. He often set the type the wrong way so that it printed backwards, and worse than all he did not know how to spell; and as he before had had occasion to accuse his mother of moral reasons for her gifts, he now declared that she had only given him the press, to teach him how to spell. One day she particularly distressed both his memory and conscience by wishing him to print for the nursery the motto, "Fidelity is a virtue;" and it came out,