THE YOUNG SURVEYOR;
JACK ON THE PRAIRIES.
BY J. T. TROWBRIDGE
AUTHOR OF "JACK HAZARD AND HIS FORTUNES," ETC.
BOSTON: JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY, LATE TICKNOR & FIELDS, AND FIELDS, OSGOOD, & CO. 1875.
Copyright, 1875. BY JAMES R. OSGOOD & CO.
UNIVERSITY PRESS: WELCH, BIGELOW, & CO., CAMBRIDGE.
I. "NOTHING BUT A BOY"
II. OLD WIGGETT'S SECTION CORNER
III. THE HOMEWARD TRACK
IV. A DEER HUNT, AND HOW IT ENDED
V. THE BOY WITH ONE SUSPENDER
VI. "LORD BETTERSON'S"
VII. JACK AT THE "CASTLE"
VIII. HOW VINNIE MADE A JOURNEY
IX. VINNIE'S ADVENTURE
X. JACK AND VINNIE IN CHICAGO
XI. JACK'S NEW HOME
XII. VINNIE'S FUTURE HOME
XIII. WHY JACK DID NOT FIRE AT THE PRAIRIE CHICKEN
XIV. SNOWFOOT'S NEW OWNER
XV. GOING FOR A WITNESS
XVI. PEAKSLOW GETS A QUIRK IN HIS HEAD
XVII. VINNIE MAKES A BEGINNING
XVIII. VINNIE'S NEW BROOM
XIX. LINK'S WOOD-PILE
XX. MORE WATER THAN THEY WANTED
XXI. PEAKSLOW SHOWS HIS HAND
XXII. THE WOODLAND SPRING
XXIII. JACK'S "BIT OF ENGINEERING"
XXIV. PREPARING FOR THE ATTACK
XXV. THE BATTLE OF THE BOUNDARY FENCE
XXVII. VINNIE IN THE LION'S DEN
XXVIII. AN "EXTRAORDINARY" GIRL
XXIX. ANOTHER HUNT, AND HOW IT ENDED
XXX. JACK'S PRISONER
XXXII. AN IMPORTANT EVENT
XXXIII. MRS. WIGGETT'S "NOON-MARK"
XXXIV. THE STRANGE CLOUD
XXXV. PEAKSLOW IN A TIGHT PLACE.—CECIE
XXXVI. "ON THE WAR TRAIL"
XXXVII. THE MYSTERY OF A PAIR OF BREECHES
XXXVIII. THE MORNING AFTER
XXXIX. FOLLOWING UP THE MYSTERY
XL. PEAKSLOW'S HOUSE-RAISING
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
SETTING THE STAKES
JACK AND THE STRANGE YOUTH
TOO OBLIGING BY HALF
LINK DOESN'T CARE TO BE KISSED
SHOT ON THE WING
THE AMIABLE MR. PEAKSLOW
HOW THE BOYS WENT TO THE RIVER FOR WATER
TESTING THE LEVEL
"STOP, OR I'LL SHOOT!"
RETURNING IN TRIUMPH
THE END OF THE CHASE
JACK AND HIS JOLLY PRISONER
THE TORNADO COMING
FOLLOWING THE WAR TRAIL UNDER DIFFICULTIES
THE WATER QUESTION SETTLED
THE YOUNG SURVEYOR.
"NOTHING BUT A BOY."
A young fellow in a light buggy, with a big black dog sitting composedly beside him, enjoying the ride, drove up, one summer afternoon, to the door of a log-house, in one of the early settlements of Northern Illinois.
A woman with lank features, in a soiled gown trailing its rags about her bare feet, came and stood in the doorway and stared at him.
"Does Mr. Wiggett live here?" he inquired.
"Wal, I reckon," said the woman, "'f he ain't dead or skedaddled of a suddent."
"Is he at home?"
"Wal, I reckon."
"Can I see him?"
"I dunno noth'n' to hender. Yer, Sal! run up in the burnt lot and fetch your pap. Tell him a stranger. You've druv a good piece," the woman added, glancing at the buggy-wheels and the horse's white feet, stained with black prairie soil.
"I've driven over from North Mills," replied the young fellow, regarding her pleasantly, with bright, honest features, from under the shade of his hat-brim.
"I 'lowed as much. Alight and come into the house. Old man'll be yer in a minute."
He declined the invitation to enter; but, to rest his limbs, leaped down from the buggy. Thereupon the dog rose from his seat on the wagon-bottom, jumped down after him, and shook himself.
"All creation!" said the woman, "what a pup that ar is! Yer, you young uns! Put back into the house, and hide under the bed, or he'll eat ye up like ye was so much cl'ar soap-grease!"
At that moment the dog stretched his great mouth open, with a formidable yawn. Panic seized the "young uns," and they scampered; their bare legs and exceedingly scanty attire (only three shirts and a half to four little barbarians) seeming to offer the dog unusual facilities, had he chosen to regard them as soap-grease and to regale himself on that sort of diet. But he was too well-bred and good-natured an animal to think of snapping up a little Wiggett or two for his luncheon; and the fugitives, having first run under the bed and looked out, ventured back to the door, and peeped with scared faces from behind their mother's gown.
To hide his laughter, the young fellow stood patting and stroking his horse's neck until Sal returned with her "pap."
"Mr. Wiggett?" inquired the youth, seeing a tall, spare, rough old man approach.
"That's my name, stranger. What can I dew for ye to-day?"
"I've come to see what I can do for you, Mr. Wiggett. I believe you want your section corner looked up."
"That I dew, stranger. But I 'lowed 't would take a land-surveyor for that."
"I am a land-surveyor," said the young fellow, with a modest smile.
"A land-surveyor? Why, you're noth'n' but a boy!" And the tall old man, bending a little, and knitting his gray eyebrows, looked down upon his visitor with a sort of amused curiosity.
"That's so," replied the "boy," with a laugh and a blush. "But I think I can find your corner, if the bearings are all right."
"Whur's your instruments?" asked the old man, leaning over the buggy. "Them all? What's that gun to do with land-surveyin'?"
"Nothing; I brought that along, thinking I might get a shot at a rabbit or a prairie hen. But we shall need an axe and a shovel."
"I 'lowed your boss would come himself, in place of sendin' a boy!" muttered the old man, taking up the gun,—a light double-barrelled fowling-piece,—sighting across it with an experienced eye, and laying it down again. "Sal, bring the axe; it's stickin' in the log thar by the wood-pile. Curi's thing, to lose my section corner, hey?"
"It's not a very uncommon thing," replied the young surveyor.
"Fact is," said the old man, "I never found it I bought of Seth Parkins's widder arter Seth died, and banged if I've ever been able to find the gov'ment stake."
"Maybe somebody pulled it up, or broke it off, to kill a rattlesnake with," suggested the young surveyor.
"Like enough," said the old man. "Can't say 't I blame him; though he might 'a' got a stick in the timber by walkin' a few rods. He couldn't 'a' been so bad off as one o' you surveyor chaps was when the gov'ment survey went through. He was off on the Big Perairie, footin' it to his camp, when he comes to a rattler curled up in the grass, and shakin' his tarnal buzz-tail at him. He steps back, and casts about him for some sort of we'pon; he hadn't a thing in his fist but a roll of paper, and if ever a chap hankered arter a stick or a stun, they say he did. But it was all jest perairie grass; nary rock nor a piece of timber within three mile. Snake seemed to 'preciate his advantage, and flattened his head and whirred his rattle sassier 'n ever. Surveyor chap couldn't stan' that. So what does he dew, like a blamed fool, but jest off with his boot and hurl it, 'lowin' he could kill a rattler that way? He missed shot. Then, to git his boot, he had to pull off t' other, and tackle the snake with that. Lost that tew. Then he was in a perdickerment; snake got both boots; curled up on tew 'em, ready to strike, and seemin' to say, 'If you've any more boots to spar', bring 'em on.' Surveyor chap hadn't no more boots, to his sorrow; and, arter layin' siege to the critter till sundown, hopin' he'd depart in peace and leave him his property, he guv it up as a bad job, and footed it to the camp in his stockin's, fancyin' he was treadin' among rattlers all the way."
The story was finished by the time the axe was brought; the old man picked up a rusty shovel lying by the house, and, getting into the buggy with his tools, he pointed out to his young companion a rough road leading through the timber.
This was a broad belt of woodland, skirting the eastern side of a wide, fertile river-bottom, and giving to the settlement the popular name of "Long Woods."
On the other side of the timber lay the high prairie region, covered with coarse wild grass, and spotted with flowers, without tree or shrub visible until another line of timber, miles away, marked the vicinity of another stream.
The young surveyor and the old man, in the jolting buggy, followed by the dog, left the log-house and the valley behind them; traversed the woods, through flickering sun and shade; and drove southward along the edge of the rolling prairie, until the old man said they had better stop and hitch.
"I don't hitch my horse," said the young surveyor. "The dog looks out for him. Here, old fellow, watch!"
"The section corner, I ca'c'late," said the old man, shouldering his axe, "is off on the perairie thar, some'er's. Come, and I'll show ye the trees."
"Is that big oak with the broken limb one of them?"
"Wal, now, how did ye come to guess that?—one tree out of a hundred ye might 'a' picked."
"It is a prominent tree," replied the youth, "and, if I had been the surveyor, I think I should have chosen it for one, to put my bearings on."
"Boy, you're right! But it took me tew days to decide even that. The underbrush has growed up around it, and the old scar has nigh about healed over."
The old man led the way through the thickets, and, reaching a small clear space at the foot of the great oak, pointed out the scar, where the trunk had been blazed by the axemen of the government survey. On a surface about six inches broad, hewed for the purpose, the distance and direction of the tree from the corner stake had, no doubt, been duly marked. But only a curiously shaped wound was left. The growth of the wood was rapid in that rich region, and, although the cut had been made but a few years before, a broad lip of smooth new bark had rolled up about it from the sides, and so nearly closed over it that only a narrow, perpendicular, dark slit remained.
"What do you make of that?" said Mr. Wiggett, putting his fingers at the opening, and looking down at his companion.
"I don't make much of it as it looks now," the young surveyor replied.
"Didn't I tell you 't would take an old head to find my corner? T' other tree is in a wus shape than this yer. Now I reckon you'll be satisfied to turn about and whip home, and tell your boss it's a job for him."
"Give me your axe," was the reply.
"Boy, take kere what you're about!"
"O, I will take care; don't be afraid!" And, grasping the axe, the young surveyor began to cut away the folds of new wood which had formed over the scar.
"I see what you're up tew," said the old man, gaining confidence at every stroke. "Give me the axe; you ain't tall enough to work handy." And with a few strokes, being a skilful chopper, he cleared the old blaze, and exposed the blackened tablet which Nature had so nearly enclosed in her casket of living wood.
There, cut into the old hewed surface, were the well-preserved marks of the government survey:
N. 48 deg. 15' W. 18 R. 10 L.
"What does that mean?" asked the old man, as the youth made a copy of these marks in his notebook.
"It means that this tree is eighteen rods and ten links from your corner stake, in a direction forty-eight degrees and fifteen minutes west of north."
"I can understand your rods and links," said the old man; "for I know your surveyor's chain is four rods long, and has a hundred links. But banged if I know anything about your degrees and minutes."
"All that is just as simple," replied the young surveyor. "A circle is supposed to be divided into three hundred and sixty degrees. Each degree is divided into sixty minutes; and so forth. Now, if you stand looking directly north, then turn a quarter of the way round, and look straight west, you have turned a quarter of a circle, or ninety degrees; and the angle where you stand—where the north line and the west line meet—is called an angle of ninety degrees. Half as far is forty-five degrees. Seen from the corner stake, wherever it is, this tree bears a little more than forty-five degrees west of north; it is forty-eight degrees and a quarter. Where's the other tree?"
That was ten or eleven rods away, still in the edge of the timber; and it bore on its blazed trunk, facing the open prairie, the inscription—laid bare by the old man's ready axe—
N. 82 deg. 27' w. 16 R. 29 L.
"Eighty-two degrees twenty-seven minutes west of north, and sixteen rods twenty-nine links, from your corner," the young surveyor read aloud, as he copied the marks into his notebook. "The other tree is so surrounded by undergrowth, it would take you and your axe an hour to cut a passage through so that I could run a line; and I am going to try running a line from this tree alone. Be cutting a few good stakes, while I go and bring up my horse and set him to eating grass."
OLD WIGGETT'S SECTION CORNER.
The horse was driven to a good shady place on the edge of the woods, relieved of his bridle, and left in charge of the dog. In the mean while the old man cut a few oak saplings and hewed them into stakes.
"Now, I want ye to give me a notion of how you're gwine to work," he said, as the youth brought his compass and set it up on its tripod at the foot of the tree. "For, otherwise, how am I to be sure of my corner, when you say you've found it?"
"O, I think we shall find something to convince you! However, look here, and I'll explain."
While waiting for the wavering needle to settle in its place, the youth made a hasty diagram in a page of his notebook.
"Here we are on the edge of the timber. A is your first tree. B is the one where we are. Now if the bearings are correct, and I run two lines accordingly, the place where they meet will be the place for your corner stake; say at C."
"That looks cute; I like the shape of that!" said the old man, interested.
"If the distance was short,—feet instead of rods,—all the instruments we should want," said the young surveyor, with his peculiarly bright smile, "would be a foot measure and two strings."
"How so?" said the old man, who could not believe that science was as simple a thing as that.
"Why, for instance, we will say the tree A is eighteen feet from the corner you want to find; B, sixteen feet. Now take a string eighteen feet long, and fasten the end of it by a nail to the centre of the blazed trunk, A; fasten another sixteen feet long to B; then stretch out the loose ends of both until they just meet; and there is the place for your stake."
"I declar'!" exclaimed the old man. "That's the use of the tew trees. Banged if I dew see, though, how you're gwine to git along by runnin' a line from jest one."
"If I run two lines, as I have shown you, where they meet will be the point. Now if I run one line, and measure it, I shall find the point where the other line ought to meet it. We'll see. Here on my compass is a circle and a scale of degrees, which shows me how to set it according to the bearings. Now look through these sights, and you are looking straight in the direction of your section corner."
"Curi's, ain't it?" grinned the old man. "'Cordin' to that, my corner is out on the perairie, jest over beyant that ar knoll."
"You're right. Now go forward to the top of it, while I sight you, and we'll set a stake there. As I signal with my hands this way, or this, move your stake to the right or left, till I make this motion; then you are all right."
The young surveyor had got his compass into position, by looking back through the sights at the tree. He now placed himself between it and the tree, and, sighting forward, directed the old man, who went on over the knoll, where to set his stakes.
On the other side of the knoll, it was found that the line crossed a slough,—or "slew," as the old man termed it,—which lay in a long, winding hollow of the hills. This morass was partly filled with stagnant water; and the old man gave it a bad name.
"It's the wust slew in the hull country. I've lost tew cows in 't. I wouldn't go through it for the price of my farm. Couldn't git through; a man would sink intew it up tew his neck."
"Then we may have to get a boat to find your section corner," laughed the young surveyor.
"But it's noth'n' but a bog this time o' year; ye can't navigate a boat thar. And it'll take till middle o' next week to build a brush road acrost. Guess we're up a stump now, hey?"
"O, no; stumps are not so plenty, where I undertake jobs! Let's have a stake down there, pretty near the slew; then we will measure our line, and see how much farther we have to go."
The old man helped bear the chain; and a careful measurement showed that the stake at the edge of the slough was still four rods and thirty links from the corner they sought.
"Banged if it don't come jest over on t' other side of the slew!" the old man exclaimed, computing the distance with his eye. "But we can't measure a rod furder; and yer we be stuck."
"Not yet, old friend!" cried the young surveyor. "Since we can't cross, we'll measure the rest of our distance along on this shore."
The old man looked down upon him with indignation and amazement.
"Think I'm a dog-goned fool?" he cried. "The idee of turnin' from our course, and measurin' along by the slew! What's the good of that?"
Finding that the old man would not aid or abet what seemed to him such complete folly, the young surveyor made another little diagram in his notebook, and explained:—
"Here is the end of our line running from the direction B,—theoretically a straight, horizontal line, though it curves over the knoll. You noticed how, coming down the slope ahead of you, I held my end of the chain up from the ground, to make it horizontal, and then with my plumb-line found the corresponding point in the ground, to start fresh from. That was to get the measurement of a horizontal line; for if you measure all the ups and downs of hills and hollows, you'll find your surveying will come out in queer shape."
The old man scratched his bushy gray head, and said he hadn't thought of that.
"Well," the young surveyor continued, "we are running our line off towards C, when we come to the slew. Our last stake is at D,—say this little thing with a flag on it. Now, what is to be done? for we must measure four rods and thirty links farther. I measure that distance from D to E, along this shore, running my new line at an angle of sixty degrees from the true course. Then, with my compass at E, I sight another line at an angle of sixty degrees from my last. I am making what is called an equilateral triangle; that is, a triangle with equal sides and equal angles. Each angle must measure sixty degrees. With two angles and one side, we can always get the other two sides; and the other angle will be where those two sides meet. They will meet at C. Now, since the sides are of equal length, the distance from D to C is the same as from D to E,—that is, four rods and thirty links, just the distance we wish to go; C, then, is the place for your corner stake."
"It looks very well on paper," said the old man, "but"—casting his eye across the bog—"how in the name of seven kingdoms are ye ever gwine to fix yer stake thar?"
"That is easy. Go round to the other side of the slew, get yourself in range with our line from the tree, by sighting across the stakes, and walk down toward the slew,—that is, on this dotted line. Having got my angle of sixty degrees at E, I will sight across and stop you when I see you at C. There stick your last stake."
"Banged if that ain't cute! Young man, what mout be your name?"
"I was only boy a few minutes ago," said the young surveyor, slyly. "Now, if you are ready, we'll set to work and carry out this plan."
The line from D to E was measured off. Then the youth set his compass to obtain the proper angle at E; while the old man, with his axe and a fresh stake, tramped around to the eastern side of the slough. Having got the range of the stakes, he was moving slowly back toward them, holding his stake before him, when the youth signalled him to stop just in the edge of the quagmire.
The new stake stuck, the young surveyor, taking up his tripod and compass, went round to him.
"That stake," said he, "is not far from your corner. Are there any signs?"
"I've been thinkin'," said the old man, "the 'arth yer looks like it had been disturbed some time; though it's all overgrowed so with these clumps of slew-grass, ye can't tell what's a nat'ral hummock and what ain't. Don't that look like a kind of a trench?"
"Yes; and here's another at right angles with it. Surveyors cut such places on the prairies, pile up the sods inside the angle, and drive their corner stakes through them. But there must have been water here when this job was done, which accounts for its not being done better. We'll improve it. Go for the shovel. I'll get the bearings of those trees in the mean while, and see how far wrong they make us out to be."
When the old man returned with the shovel, he found his boy surveyor standing by the compass, with folded arms, looking over at the woodland with a smile of satisfaction.
Sighting the trees, the tall, straight stems of which were both visible over the knoll, he had found that their bearings corresponded with those copied in his notebook. This proved his work to his own mind; but the old man would not yet confess himself convinced.
"We may be somewhur nigh the spot, but I want to be sure of the exact spot," he insisted.
"That you can't be sure of; not even if the best surveyor in the world should come and get it from these bearings," replied the youth. "Probably the bearings themselves are not exact. The government surveyors do their work in a hurry. The common compass they use doesn't make as fine angles as the theodolite or transit instrument does; and then the chain varies a trifle in length with every variation of temperature; the metal contracts and expands, you know. Surveying, where the land is worth a dollar and a quarter a foot, instead of a dollar and a quarter an acre, is done more carefully. Yet I am positive, from the indications here, that we are within a few inches of your corner."
"A few inches, or a few feet, or a few rods!" muttered the old man, crossly. "Seems like thar's a good deal of guess-work, arter all."
"I am sorry you think so," replied the young surveyor, quietly removing his tripod. "If, however, you are dissatisfied with my work, you can employ another surveyor; if he tells you I am far out of the way, why, then, you needn't pay me."
The old man made no reply, but, seizing the shovel, began to level the hummock a little, in order to prepare it for a pile of fresh sods. He was slashing away at it, with the air of a petulant man working off his discontent, when he struck something hard.
"What's that ar?" he growled. "Can't be a stone. Ain't a rock as big as a hazel-nut this side the timber."
Digging round the obstacle, he soon exposed the splintered end of an upright piece of wood. He laid hold of it and tried to pull it up. The youth, with lively interest, took the shovel, and dug and pried. Suddenly up came the stick, and the old man went over backwards with it into the bog.
He scrambled to his feet, dripping with muddy water, and brandished his trophy, exclaiming:—
"Dog my cats! if 't ain't the end of the ol' corner stake, left jest whur't was broke off, when the rest was wanted to pry a wheel out o' the slew, or to kill a rattler with!"
He appeared jubilant over the discovery, while the young surveyor regarded it simply as a piece of good luck.
THE HOMEWARD TRACK.
The new stake having been stuck in the hole left by the point of the old one, and plenty of fresh turf piled up about it, the old man wiped his fingers on the dry prairie-grass, thrust a hand into his pocket, and brought forth an ancient leather wallet.
"My friend," said he, "shall I settle with you or with your boss?"
"You may as well settle with me."
"Nuff said. What's yer tax?"
"Two dollars and a half."
"Tew dollars and a—dog-gone-ation! You've been only tew hours and a half about the job. I can hire a man all day for half a dollar."
"It is an afternoon's work for me," argued the young surveyor. "I've had a long way to drive. Then, you must understand, we surveyors" (this was said with an air of importance) "don't get pay merely for the time we are employed, but also for our knowledge of the business, which it has taken us time to learn. If I had been obliged to hire the horse I drive, you see, I shouldn't have much left out of two dollars and a half."
"Friend, you're right. Tew 'n' a half is reasonable. And if I have another job of land-surveyin', you are the man for my money."
"A man, am I, now?" And with a laugh the young surveyor pocketed his fee.
"Good as a man, I allow, any time o' day. You've worked at this yer thing right smart, and I'll give ye the credit on't. How long have ye been larnin the trade?"
"O, two years, more or less, studying at odd spells! But I never made a business of it until I came to this new country."
"What State be ye from?"
"York State! That's whur I hail from."
"One wouldn't think so; you have a good many Southern and Western words in your talk."
"I come by 'em honest," said the old man. "I run away from home when I was a boy, like a derned fool; I've lived a'most everywhur; and I've married four wives, and raised four craps of children. My fust wife I picked up in ol' Kaintuck. My next was an Arkansaw woman. My third was a Michigander. My present was born and raised in the South, but I married her in Southern Illinois. She's nigh on to forty year younger 'n I be, and smart as a steel trap, tell you! So you see we're kind of a mixed-up family. My fust and second broods of children's married off, or buried,—scattered to the four winds o' heaven! Tew boys o' the third brood, and that ar Sal, is with me yit. Some of the present brood you've seen. Thar's been twenty-one in all."
"Of the fourth brood?"
"No, of the lot. Whose hoss mout that be?"
"Mine; I brought him from the East with me."
"What do you have to pay for a beast like that, now, in York State?"
"I didn't pay anything for him."
"Somebody gi'n him tew ye?"
"Ye gambled for him?"
"Raised him from a colt, then?"
"Picked him up astray?"
The young surveyor, laughing, shook his head.
"Then how in the name o' seven kingdoms did ye come by him, if ye didn't find him, nor steal him, nor raise him from a colt, nor buy him, nor have him gi'n tew ye?"
"I borrowed him of a neighbor, and drove him to a show, where the old elephant broke loose and had the handling of him for about a second and a half. The owners of the elephant paid the damages; and I kept the horse. Nobody thought he would get well; but he is now scarcely lame at all. I can show you the scars where he was hurt."
The two had approached the wagon during this talk; and now the old man examined the horse with a good deal of curiosity.
"That your dog tew?"
"Yes, sir. Here, Lion!"
"Cost ye suth'n, didn't it, to bring yer animals West with ye?"
"Not a great deal. When my friends wrote for me to come, they said good horses were scarce and high-priced out here, and advised me to bring mine. I couldn't leave my dog behind,—could I, old Lion?"
"Who mout your friends be?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Lanman, at North Mills; and Mrs. Lanman's brother,—my boss, as you call him,—Mr. Felton, the surveyor. They came out last year; and last winter they wrote to me, offering me a good chance if I should come. It was in winter; I drove Snowfoot in a cutter, and crossed the Detroit River on the ice just before it broke up. There the sleighing left me; so I sold my cutter, bought a saddle, and made the rest of the journey on horseback. That was rather hard on the dog, but I got the stage-drivers to give him a lift once in a while."
"What did you say your name was?" the old man inquired.
"I don't think I said. But I will say now. My name is Ragdon,—Henry Ragdon. My friends call me Jack."
"And it ain't yer name?"
"O, yes, it is, and yet it isn't! I was brought up to it. My friends like it, and so I keep it."
[Footnote 1: See "FAST FRIENDS"; also the previous volumes of this series,—"JACK HAZARD AND HIS FORTUNES," "A CHANCE FOR HIMSELF," and "DOING HIS BEST," in which is given a full account of the young surveyor's early life and adventures.]
"Wal, Jack,—if you'll rank me with your friends, and le' me call ye so," said the old man, with a cordial grip of his great, flat hand,—"I s'pose we part yer, and say good by. I'll shoulder my tools, and take a cow-path through the woods; you'll find a better road than the one we come by, furder north. Jest keep along the edge of the perairie. I sha'n't forgit this job."
"Nor I," said the young surveyor, with a curious smile.
It was the first work of the kind he had undertaken on his own account, and without assistance; for which reason he felt not a little proud of it. But he did not tell the old man so.
After parting company with him, he drove in the shade of the woods, along a track so little travelled that the marks of wheels looked like dark ruled lines in the half-trodden grass.
The pleasant summer afternoon was drawing to a close. The peculiar wild scent of the prairie, which seems to increase as the cool evening comes on, filled all the air. The shadows of the forest were stretching in a vast, uneven belt over summit and hollow; while far away beyond, in seemingly limitless expanse, swept the golden-green undulations of the sunlit hills.
Jack—for I trust we shall also be entitled to call him so—kept his eye out for game, as he drove leisurely along; stopped once or twice for a rabbit on the edge of the woods; and, finally, pulled up sharply, as a prairie-hen shot whirring out, almost from under his wheels.
He sprang to his feet and faced about, raising his gun; but before he could take aim, the bird, at the end of a short, straight flight, dropped into the prairie-grass a few rods away.
Jack followed on foot, holding his piece ready to fire. Knowing the shy habits of the bird, he trampled the grass about the spot where she had alighted, hoping to scare her up. He also sent his dog coursing about; but Lion, though an intelligent animal, had no scent for birds.
Suddenly, from the very ground between the hunter's feet, with a startling rush and thunder of wings, the hen rose. Up went gun to shoulder. But instantly the dog gave chase, and kept so exactly in the line of flight, that Jack durst not fire.
"You silly boy's dog!" he said; "don't you know better than that? You'll get a stray shot some day, if you run before my gun-barrels in that fashion. Now go to the horse, and stay."
The dog, who had fancied that he was doing good service, dropped ears and tail at this rebuke, and retired from the field.
Jack was continuing the hunt, when all at once a strange spell seemed to come over him. It found him on one foot, and he remained on one foot, poising the other behind him, for several seconds. Then, softly putting down the lifted leg, and lowering his gun, he stole swiftly back, in a crouching attitude, to his wagon by the woodside.
Taking his horse by the bridle, he led him down into a little hollow. Then, piercing the undergrowth, he hastened to a commanding position, where, himself hidden by the bushes, he could look off on the prairie.
His heart beat fast, and his hand shook, as he drew the bird-shot out of the two barrels of his fowling-piece, reloading one with buck-shot, the other with an ounce ball.
All the while his eye kept glancing from his gun to the shadowy slope of a distant hill, where were two objects which looked like a deer and a fawn feeding.
A DEER HUNT, AND HOW IT ENDED.
They were a long way off,—more than half a mile, he thought. Evidently they had not seen him. Though marvellously quick to catch scent or sound, deer have not a fine sense of sight for distant objects.
"They have left the covert early, to go out and feed," thought he. "If not frightened, they will browse around in the hollows there until dark."
He was wondering how he should manage to creep near, and get a shot at the shy creatures, when the dog barked.
"That won't do!" he muttered; and, hurrying to silence Lion, he saw a stranger loitering along the prairie road.
Jack stepped out of the bushes into the hollow, and beckoned.
"I've sighted a couple of deer that I'm trying to get a shot at; if you go over the hill, you'll scare 'em."
The stranger—a slender youth in soiled shirt-sleeves, carrying a coat on his arm—looked at him saucily, with his head on one side and a quid turning in the cheek, and said,—
"Well! and why shouldn't I scare 'em?"
"I can't hinder you, of course; but," said Jack, "if you were hunting, and I should be passing by, I should think it a matter of honor—"
"Honor is an egg that don't hatch in this country," interrupted the stranger; and the quid went into the other cheek, while the head went over on the other side, as if to balance it. "But never mind; 'tain't my cut to interfere with another feller's luck. Show me your deer."
Jack took him through the thickets to his ambush. There were the deer still feeding; the old one lifting her head occasionally as if on the lookout for danger. They seemed to be moving slowly along the slope.
The dark eyes of the strange youth kindled; then he said, with a low laugh,—
"I'd like a cut-bore rifle for them fellers! You never can get 'em with that popgun."
"I believe I can if you'll help me. You notice there's a range of hills between us and them; and they are on the north slope of one. I've been surveying a little of the country off south, and I think you can get around the range that way, and come out beyond the deer, before they see you. There's everything in our favor. The wind blows to us from them. At the first alarm they'll start for the woods; and they'll be pretty sure to keep along in the hollow. I'll watch here, and take them as they come in."
Quid and head rolled again; and the strange youth said jeeringly, with one eye half closed, looking at Jack,—
"So you expect me to travel a mile or two, and drive the deer in for you?" He then pulled down the nether lid of the half-closed eye, and inquired, somewhat irrelevantly, whether Jack saw anything green there. "Not by this light!" he answered his own question, as he let up his eyelid and snapped his thumb and finger. "Ye can't ketch old birds with chaff. I've been through the lot. Parley-voo frong-say?"
Jack regarded him with astonishment, declaring that there was no catch about it. "Only help me, and we will share the game together."
Still the fellow demurred. "I've walked my legs off to-day already; you'll find 'em back in the road here! Had nothing to eat since morning; wore myself down lean as a rail; felt for the last two hours as though there was nothing but my backbone between me and eternity! No, sir-ree! I wouldn't walk that fur out of my way for a herd of deer. If I had a horse to ride I wouldn't mind."
Jack was greatly excited. He had never yet had a good shot at a deer; and if, at the end of his day's work, he could carry home a good fat doe, and perhaps a fawn, of his own shooting, it would be a triumph. So, without a moment's reflection, he said,—
"You may ride mine. Then, if you don't want a share of the game, I'll pay you for your trouble."
The strange youth took time to shift his quid and balance it; then replied in a manner which appeared provokingly cool to the fiery Jack,—
"I'll look at him. Does he ride easy?"
Jack ran down to the horse, led him into the bushes, where the wagon could be left concealed, and had already taken him out of the shafts, before the stranger came lounging to the spot.
"Pull off the harness," said the latter, with the easy air of ordering a nag at a stable. "And give me that blanket out of the buggy. I don't ride bareback for nobody." And he spat reckless tobacco-juice.
Jack complied, though angry at the fellow for being so dilatory and fastidious at such a time. The strange youth then spread his coat over the blanket, laid his right hand on it, and his left on bridle and mane, and with a leap from the ground threw himself astride the horse,—a display of agility which took Jack by surprise.
"I see you have been on horseback before!"
"Never in my life," said the stranger, with a gleam in his dark eyes which belied his words. And now Jack noticed that he had a little switch in his hand.
"He won't need urging. Be sure and ride well beyond that highest hill before you turn; and then come quietly around, so as not to frighten the deer too much."
The fellow laughed. "I've seen a deer before to-day!" And, clapping heels to the horse's sides, he dashed through the bushes.
Jack followed a little way, and from his ambush saw him come out of the undergrowth, strike across the prairie, and disappear around the range of hills.
The deer were still in sight, stopping occasionally to feed, and then, with heads in air, moving a few paces along the slope. Jack waited with breathless anxiety to see his horseman emerge from among the hills beyond. Several minutes elapsed; then, though no horseman appeared, the old deer, startled by sound or scent of the enemy, threw high her head, and began to leap, with graceful, undulating movements, along the hillside.
The fawn darted after her, and for a minute they were hidden from view in a hollow. The stratagem had so far succeeded. They had started toward the woods.
Jack, in an ague of agitation, waited for the game to show itself again, and, by its movements, guide his own. At length the fawn appeared on the summit of a low hill, and stopped. The doe came up and stopped too, with elevated nostrils, snuffing. For a rifle, in approved hands, there would have been a chance for a shot. But the game was far beyond the range of Jack's gun.
To try his nerve, however, he took aim, or, rather, attempted to take aim. His hands—if the truth must be confessed—shook so that he could not keep his piece steady for an instant. Cool fellow enough on ordinary occasions, he now had a violent attack of what is called the "buck fever."
Fortunately, the deer had not seen the horseman; and, while they were recovering from their first alarm, they gave the young hunter time to subdue, with resolute good sense, his terrible nervous agitation.
They did not stop to feed any more, but moved on, with occasional pauses, toward the woods; following the line of the hollows, as Jack had foreseen.
All this time the dog lay whining at his young master's heels. He knew instinctively that there was sport on foot, and could hardly be kept quiet.
The deer took another and final start, and came bounding along toward the spot where the wagon had stood. But for the excitement of the moment, Jack must have felt a touch of pity at sight of those two slender, beautiful creatures, so full of life, making for their covert in the cool woods. But the hunter's spirit was uppermost. He took aim at the doe, followed her movements a moment with the moving gun, then fired. She plunged forward, and dropped dead.
The fawn, confused by the report and by the doe's sudden fall, stood for an instant quite still, then made a few bounds up toward the very spot where the young hunter was concealed. It stopped again, within twenty paces of the levelled gun. There it stood, its pretty spotted side turned toward him, so fair a mark, and so charming a picture, that for a moment, excited though he was, he could not have the heart to shoot. Ah! what is this spirit of destruction, which has come down to us from our barbarous forefathers, and which gives even good-hearted boys like Jack a wild joy in taking life?
The dog, rendered ungovernable by the firing of the gun, made a noise in the thicket. The fawn heard, and started to run away. The provocation was too great for our young hunter, and he sent a charge of buck-shot after it. The fawn did not fall.
"Take 'em, Lion!" shouted Jack; and out rushed the dog.
The poor thing had been wounded, and the dog soon brought it down. Jack ran after, to prevent a tearing of the hide and flesh. Then he set up a wild yell, which might have been heard a mile away on the prairie,—a call for his horseman, who had not yet reappeared.
Jack dragged the fawn and placed it beside its dam. There lay the two pretty creatures, slaughtered by his hand.
"It can't be helped," thought he. "If it is right to hunt game, it is right to kill it. If we eat flesh, we must take life."
So he tried to feel nothing but pure triumph at the sight. Yet I have heard him say, in relating the adventure, that he could never afterwards think of the dead doe and pretty fawn, lying there side by side, without a pang.
He now backed his buggy out of the woods, set the seat forward in order to make room for the deer behind, and waited for his horse.
"Where can that fellow have gone?" he muttered, with growing anxiety.
He went to a hill-top, to get a good view, and strained his vision, gazing over the prairie. The sun was almost set, and all the hills were darkening, save now and then one of the highest summits.
Over one of these Jack suddenly descried a distant object moving. It was no deer this time, but a horse and rider far away, and going at a gallop—in the wrong direction.
He gazed until they disappeared over the crest, and the faint sundown glory faded from it, and he felt the lonesome night shutting down over the limitless expanse. Then he smote his hands together with fury and despair.
He knew that the horse was his own, and the rider the strange youth in whose hands he had so rashly intrusted him. And here he was, five miles from home, with the darkening forest on one side, and the vast prairie on the other; the dead doe and fawn lying down there on the dewy grass, the empty buggy and harness beside them; and only his dog to keep him company.
THE BOY WITH ONE SUSPENDER.
Jack's first thought, after assuring himself that his horse was irrevocably gone, was to run for help to the line of settlements on the other side of the grove, where some means of pursuit might be obtained.
He knew that the road which Mr. Wiggett had described could not be much beyond the hollow where his wagon was; and, dashing forward, he soon found it. Then, stopping to give a last despairing look at the billowy line of prairie over which his horse had disappeared, he started to run through the woods.
He had not gone far when he heard a cowbell rattle, and the voice of a boy shouting. He paused to take breath and listen; and presently with a crashing of bushes three or four horned cattle came pushing their way through the undergrowth, into the open road, followed by a lad without a jacket, with one suspender and a long switch.
"Boy," Jack cried, "how far is it to the nearest house?"
"Our house is jest down through the woods here," replied the boy, stopping to stare.
"How far is that?"
"Not quite so far as it is to Peakslow's house."
"Where is Peakslow's house?"
"Next house to ours, down the river."
Seeing that this line of questions was not likely to lead to anything very satisfactory, Jack asked,—
"Can I get a horse of anybody in your neighborhood,—a good fast horse to ride?"
The boy whipped a bush with his switch, and replied,—
"There ain't any good horses around here, 'thout 'tis Peakslow's; but one of his has got the spring halt, and t' other's got the blind staggers; and he's too mean to lend his horses; and, besides, he went to Chicago with 'em both this morning."
Jack did not stop to question the probability of a span thus afflicted being driven on so long a journey; but asked if Mr. Wiggett had horses.
"No—yes. I believe his horses are all oxen," replied the boy; "not very fast or good to ride either."
Thereupon Jack, losing all patience, cried out,—
"Isn't there a decent nag to be had in this region?"
"Who said there wasn't?" retorted the boy.
"Where is there one?"
"We've got one."
"No; a mare."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"'Cause you asked for horses; you didn't say anything about mares."
"Is she good to ride?"
"Pretty good,—though if you make her go much faster 'n she takes a notion to, she's got the heaves so folks'll think there's a small volcano coming!"
"How fast will she go?"
"As fast as a good slow walk; that's her style," said the boy, and whipped the bushes. "But, come to think, father's away from home, and you'll have to wait till to-morrow night before you can see him, and get him to let you take her."
"Boy," said Jack, tired of the lad's tone of levity, and thinking to interest him by a statement of the facts in the case, "I've been hunting, and a rascal I trusted with my horse has run off with him, and I have a harness and a buggy and a couple of dead deer out there on the prairie."
"Deer?" echoed the lad, pricking up his ears at once. "Did you shoot 'em? Where? Can I go and see 'em?"
Jack was beginning to see the hopelessness of pursuing the horse-thief that night, or with any help to to be had in that region; and he now turned his thoughts to getting the buggy home.
"Yes, boy; come with me," he said.
The boy shouted and switched his stick at the cattle browsing by the wayside, and started them on a smart trot down the road, then hastened with Jack to the spot where the wagon and game had been left, guarded by Lion.
But Jack had another object in view than simply to gratify the lad's curiosity.
"If you will hold up the shafts and pull a little, I'll push behind, and we can take the buggy through the woods. After we get it up out of this hollow, and well into the road, it will be down-hill the rest of the way."
"You want to make a horse of me, do ye?" cried the boy. "I wasn't born in a stable!"
"Neither was I," said Jack. "But I don't object to doing a horse's work. I'll pull in the shafts."
"O good!" screamed the boy, making his switch whistle about his head. "And I'll get on the seat and drive!" And he made a spring at the wagon.
But Lion had something to say about that. Having been placed on guard, and not yet relieved, he would permit no hand but his master's to touch anything in his charge. A frightful growl made the boy recoil and go backwards over the dead deer.
"Here, Lion! down with you!" cried Jack, as the excited dog was pouncing on the supposed intruder.
The boy scrambled to his feet, and was starting to run away, in great terror, when Jack, fearing to lose him, called out,—
"Don't run! He may chase you if you do. Now he knows you are my friend, you are safe, only stay where you are."
"Blast his pictur'!" exclaimed the boy. "He's a perfect cannibal! What does anybody want to keep such a savage critter as that for?"
"I had told him to watch. Now he is all right. Come!"
"Me? Travel with that dog? I wouldn't go with him," the boy declared, meaning to make the strongest possible statement, "if 't was a million miles, and the road was full of sugar-candy!" And he backed off warily.
Jack got over the difficulty by sending the dog on before; and finally, by an offer of money which would purchase a reasonable amount of sugar-candy,—enough to pave the short road to happiness, for a boy of thirteen,—induced him to help lift the deer into the buggy, and then to go behind and push.
They had hard work at first, getting the wagon up out of the hollow; and the boy, when they reached at last the top of the hill, and stopped to rest, declared that there wasn't half the fun in it there was in going a fishing; the justice of which remark Jack did not question. But after that the way was comparatively easy; and with Jack pulling in the shafts, his new acquaintance pushing in the rear, and Lion trotting on before, the buggy went rattling down the woodland road in lively fashion.
On a sort of headland jutting out from the high timber region into the low prairie of the river bottom, stood a house, known far and near as "Lord Betterson's," or, as it was sometimes derisively called, "Lord Betterson's Castle," the house being about as much a castle as the owner was a lord.
The main road of the settlement ran between it and the woods; while on the side of the river the land swept down in a lovely slope to the valley, which flowed away in a wider and more magnificent stream of living green. It was really a fine site, shaded by five or six young oaks left standing in the spacious door-yard.
The trouble was, that the house had been projected on somewhat too grand a scale for the time and country and, what was worse, for the owner's resources. He had never been able to finish it; and now its weather-browned clapboards, unpainted front pillars, and general shabby, ill-kept appearance, set off the style of architecture in a way to make beholders smile.
"Lord Betterson took a bigger mouthful than he could swaller, when he sot out to build his castle here," said his neighbor, Peakslow.
The proprietor's name—it may as well be explained—was Elisha Lord Betterson. It was thus he always wrote it, in a large round hand, with a bold flourish. Now the common people never will submit to call a man Elisha. The furthest they can possibly go will be 'Lisha, or 'Lishy; and, ten to one, the tendency to monosyllables will result in 'Lishe. There had been a feeble attempt among the vulgar to familiarize the public mind with 'Lishe Betterson; but the name would not stick to a person of so much dignity of character. It was useless to argue that his dignity was mere pomposity; or that a man who, in building a fine house, broke down before he got the priming on, was unworthy of respect; still no one could look at him, or call up his image, and say, conscientiously, "'Lishe Betterson." He who, in this unsettled state of things, taking a hint from the middle name, pronounced boldly aloud, "LORD BETTERSON," was a public benefactor. "Lord Betterson" and "Lord Betterson's Castle" had been popular ever since.
The house, with its door-posts of unpainted pine darkly soiled by the contact of unwashed childish hands, and its unfinished rooms, some of them lathed, but unplastered (showing just the point at which the owner's resources failed), looked even more shabby within than without.
This may have been partly because the house-keeper was sick. She must have been sick, if that was she, the pale, drooping figure, sitting wrapped in an old red shawl, that summer afternoon. She looked not only sick, but exceedingly discouraged. And no wonder.
At her right hand was an empty cradle; and she held a puny infant in her arms, trying to still its cries. At her left was a lounge, on which lay the helpless form of an invalid child, a girl about eleven years old. The room was comfortless. An old, high-colored piece of carpeting half covered the rough floor; its originally gaudy pattern, out of which all but the red had faded, bearing witness to some past stage of family gentility, and serving to set off the surrounding wretchedness.
Tipped back in a chair against the rough and broken laths, his knees as high as his chin, was a big slovenly boy of about seventeen, looking lazily out from under an old ragged hat-rim, pushed over his eyes. Another big, slovenly boy, a year or two younger, sat on the doorstep, whittling quite as much for his own amusement as for that of a little five-year-old ragamuffin outside.
Not much comfort for the poor woman and the sick girl shone from these two indifferent faces. Indeed, the only ray of good cheer visible in that disorderly room gleamed from the bright eyes of a little girl not more than nine or ten years old,—so small, in truth, that she had to stand on a stool by the table, where she was washing a pan of dishes.
"O boys!" said the woman in a feeble, complaining tone, "do, one of you, go to the spring and bring some fresh water for your poor, sick sister."
"It's Rufe's turn to go for water," said the boy on the doorstep.
"'T ain't my turn, either," muttered the boy tipped back against the laths. "Besides, I've got to milk the cow soon as Link brings the cattle home. Hear the bell yet, Wad?"
"Never mind, Cecie!" cried the little dish-washer, cheerily. "I'll bring you some water as soon as I have done these dishes." And, holding her wet hands behind her, she ran to give the young invalid a kiss in the mean while.
Cecie returned a warm smile of love and thanks, and said she was in no hurry. Then the child, stopping only to give a bright look and a pleasant word to the baby, ran back to her dishes.
"I should think you would be ashamed, you two great boys!" said the woman, "to sit round the house and let that child Lilian wait upon you, get your suppers, wash your dishes, and then go to the spring for water for your poor suffering sister!"
"I'm going to petition the Legislature," said Wad, "to have that spring moved up into our back yard; it's too far to go for water. There come the cattle, Rufe."
"Tell Chokie to go and head 'em into the barnyard," yawned Rufe, from his chair. "I wonder nobody ever invented a milking-machine. Wish I had one. Just turn a crank, you know."
"You'll be wanting a machine to breathe with, next," said the little dish-washer.
"Y-a-as," drawled Rufe. "I think a breathing machine would be popular in this family. Children cry for it. Get me the milk-pail, Lill; that's a nice girl!"
"Do get it yourself, Rufus," said the mother. "You'll want your little sister to milk for you, soon."
"I think it belongs to girls to milk," said Rufe. "There's Sal Wiggett,—ain't she smart at it, though? She can milk your head off! Is that a wagon coming, Wad?"
"Yes!" cried Wad, jumping to his feet with unusual alacrity. "A wagon without a horse, a fellow pulling in the shafts, and Link pushing behind; coming right into the front yard!"
Rufe also started up at this announcement, and went to the door.
"Hallo!" he said, "had a break-down? What's that in the hind part of your wagon? Deer! a deer and a fawn! Where did you shoot 'em? Where's your horse?"
"Look out, Rufe!" screamed the small boy from behind, rushing forward. "Touch one of these deer, and the dog'll have ye! We've got two deer, but we've lost our horse,—scamp rode him away,—and we want—"
"We do, do we?" interrupted Wad, mockingly. "How many deer did you shoot, Link?"
"Well, I helped get the buggy over, anyway! And that's the savagest dog ever was! And—say! will mother let us take the old mare to drive over to North Mills this evening?"
JACK AT THE "CASTLE."
For an answer to this question, the person most interested in it, who had as yet said least, was shown into the house. Rufe and Wad and Link and little Chokie came crowding in after him, all eager to hear him talk of the adventure.
"And, O ma!" cried Link, after Jack had briefly told his story, "he says he will give us the fawn, and pay me besides, if I will go with him to-night, and bring back the old mare in the morning."
"I don't know," said the woman, wrapping her red shawl more closely about her, to conceal from the stranger her untidy attire. "I suppose, if Mr. Betterson was at home, he would let you take the mare. But you know, Lincoln,"—turning with a reproachful look to the small boy,—"you have never been brought up to take money for little services. Such things are not becoming in a family like ours."
And in the midst of her distress she put on a complacent smirk, straightened her emaciated form, and sat there, looking like the very ghost of pride, wrapped in an old red shawl.
"Did you speak of Mr. Betterson?" Jack inquired, interested.
"That is my husband's name."
"Elisha L. Betterson?"
"Certainly. You know my husband? He belongs to the Philadelphia Bettersons,—a very wealthy and influential family," said the woman with a simper. "Very wealthy and influential."
"I have heard of your husband," said Jack. "If I am not mistaken, you are Mrs. Caroline Betterson,—a sister of Vinnie Dalton, sometimes called Vinnie Presbit."
"You know my sister Lavinia!" exclaimed Mrs. Betterson, surprised, but not overjoyed. "And you know Mr. Presbit's people?"
"I have never seen them," replied Jack, "but I almost feel as if I had, I have heard so much about them. I was with Vinnie's foster-brother, George Greenwood, in New York, last summer, when he was sick, and she went down to take care of him."
"And I presume," returned Mrs. Betterson, taking another reef in her shawl, "that you heard her tell a good deal about us; things that would no doubt tend to prejudice a stranger; though if all the truth was known she wouldn't feel so hard towards us as I have reason to think she does."
Jack hastened to say that he had never heard Vinnie speak unkindly of her sister.
"You are very polite to say so," said Mrs. Betterson, rocking the cradle, in which the baby had been placed. "But I know just what she has said. She has told you that after I married Mr. Betterson I felt above my family; and that when her mother died (she was not my mother, you know,—we are only half-sisters), I suffered her to be taken and brought up by the Presbits, when I ought to have taken her and been as a mother to her,—she was so much younger than I. She is even younger by a month or two than my oldest son; and we have joked a good deal about his having an aunt younger than he is."
"Yes," spoke up Rufe, standing in the door; "and I've asked a hundred times why we don't ever hear from her, or write to her, or have her visit us. Other folks have their aunts come and see 'em. But all the answer I could ever get was, 'family reasons, Rufus!'"
"That is it, in a word," said Mrs. Betterson; "family reasons. I never could explain them; so I have never written to poor, dear Lavinia—though, Heaven knows, I should be glad enough to see her; and I hope she has forgiven what seemed my hardness; and—do tell me" (Mrs. Betterson wiped her eyes) "what sort of a girl is she? how has she come up?"
"She is one of the kindest-hearted, most unselfish, beautiful girls in the world!" Jack exclaimed. "I mean, beautiful in her spirit," he added, blushing at his own enthusiasm.
"The Presbits are rather coarse people to bring up such a girl," said Mrs. Betterson, with a sigh—of self-reproach, Jack thought.
"But she has a natural refinement which nothing could make her lose," he replied. "Then, it was a good thing for her to be brought up with George Greenwood. She owes a great deal to the love of books he inspired in her. You ought to know your sister, Mrs. Betterson."
The lady gave way to a flood of tears.
"It is too bad! such separations are unnatural. Certainly," she went on, "I can't be accused of feeling above my family now. Mr. Betterson has had three legacies left him, two since our marriage; but he has been exceedingly unfortunate."
"Two such able-bodied boys must be a help and comfort to you," said Jack.
"Rufus and Wadleigh," said Mrs. Betterson, "are good boys, but they have been brought up to dreams of wealth, and they have not learned to take hold of life with rough hands."
Jack suggested that it might have been better for them not to have such dreams.
"Yes—if our family is to be brought down to the common level. But I can't forget, I can't wish them ever to forget, that they have Betterson blood in their veins."
Jack could hardly repress a smile as he glanced from those stout heirs of the Betterson blood to the evidences of shiftlessness and wretchedness around them, which two such sturdy lads, with a little less of the precious article in their veins, might have done something to remedy.
But his own unlucky adventure absorbed his thoughts, and he was glad when Link vociferously demanded if he was to go and catch the mare.
"Yes! yes! do anything but kill me with that dreadful voice!" replied the mother, waving him off with her trembling hand. "Don't infer from what I have said," she resumed, gathering herself up again with feeble pride, "that we are poor. Mr. Betterson will come into a large fortune when an uncle of his dies; and he gets help from him occasionally now. Not enough, however, to enable him to carry on a farm; and it requires capital, you are aware, to make agriculture a respectable profession."
Jack could not forbear another hit at the big boys.
"It requires land," he said; "and that you have. It also requires bone and muscle; and I see some here."
"True," simpered Mrs. Betterson. "But their father hasn't encouraged them very much in doing the needful labors of the farm."
"He hasn't set us the example," broke in Rufe, piqued by Jack's remark. "If he had taken hold of work, I suppose we should. But while he sits down and waits for something or somebody to come along and help him, what can you expect of us?"
"Our Betterson blood shows itself in more ways than one!" said Wad with a grin, illustrating his remark by lazily seating himself once more on the doorstep.
Evidently the boys were sick of hearing their mother boast of the aristocratic family connection. She made haste to change the subject.
"Sickness has been our great scourge. The climate has never agreed with either me or my husband. Then our poor Cecilia met with an accident a year ago, which injured her so that she has scarcely taken a step since."
"An accident done a-purpose!" spoke up Rufe, angrily. "Zeph Peakslow threw her out of a swing,—the meanest trick! They're the meanest family in the world, and there's a war between us. I'm only waiting my chance to pay off that Zeph."
"Rufus!" pleaded the little invalid from the lounge, "you know he could never have meant to hurt me so much. Don't talk of paying him off, Rufus!"
"Cecie is so patient under it all!" said Mrs. Betterson. "She never utters a word of complaint. Yet she doesn't have the care she ought to have. With my sick baby, and my own aches and pains, what can I do? There are no decent house-servants to be had, for love or money. O, what wouldn't I give for a good, neat, intelligent, sympathizing girl! Our little Lilian, here,—poor child!—is all the help I have."
At that moment the bright little dish-washer, having put away the supper things, and gone to the spring for water, came lugging in a small but brimming pail.
"It is too bad!" replied Jack. "You should have help about the hard work," with another meaning glance at the boys.
"Yes," said Rufe, "we ought to; and we did have Sal Wiggett a little while this summer. But she had never seen the inside of a decent house before. About all she was good for was to split wood and milk the cow."
"O, how good this is!" said the invalid, drinking. "I was so thirsty! Bless you, dear Lill! What should we do without you?"
Jack rose to his feet, hardly repressing his indignation.
"Would you like a drink, sir?" said Lill, taking a fresh cupful from her pail, and looking up at him with a bright smile.
"Thank you, I should very much! But I can't bear the thought of your lugging water from the spring for me."
"Why, Lilie!" said Cecie, softly, "you should have offered it to him first."
"I thought I did right to offer it to my sick sister first," replied Lill, with a tender glance at the lounge.
"You did right, my good little girl!" exclaimed Jack, giving back the cup. He looked from one to the other of the big boys, and wondered how they could witness this scene and not be touched by it. But he only said, "Have these young men too much Betterson blood in them to dress the fawn, if I leave it with you?"
"We'll fall back on our Dalton blood long enough for that," said Wad, taking the sarcasm in good part.
"A little young venison will do Cecie so much good!" said Mrs. Betterson. "You are very kind. But don't infer that we consider the Dalton blood inferior. I was pleased with what you said of Lavinia's native refinement. I feel as if, after all, she was a sister to be proud of."
At this last display of pitiful vanity Jack turned away.
"The idea of such a woman concluding that she may be proud of a sister like Vinnie!" thought he.
But he spoke only to say good by; for just then Link came riding the mare to the door.
She was quickly harnessed to the buggy, while Link, at his mother's entreaty, put on a coat, and made himself look as decent as possible. Then Jack drove away, promising that Link, who accompanied him, should bring the mare back in the morning.
"Mother," said the thoughtful Lill, "we ought to have got him some supper."
"I thought of it," said the sick woman, "but you know we have nothing fit to set before him."
"He won't famish," said Rufe, "with the large supply of sauce which he keeps on hand! Mother, I wish you wouldn't ever speak of our Betterson blood again; it only makes us ridiculous."
Thereupon Mrs. Betterson burst into tears, complaining that her own children turned against her.
"O, bah!" exclaimed Rufe, with disgust, stalking out of the room, banging a milk-pail, and waking the baby. "Be sharpening the knives, Wad, while I milk; then we'll dress that fawn in a hurry. Wish the fellow had left us the doe instead."
HOW VINNIE MADE A JOURNEY.
Leaving Jack to drive home the borrowed mare in the harness of the stolen horse, and to take such measures as he can for the pursuit of the thief and the recovery of his property, we have now to say a few words of Mrs. Betterson's younger sister.
Vinnie had perhaps thriven quite as well in the plain Presbit household as she would have done in the home of the ambitious Caroline. The tasks early put upon her, instead of hardening and imbittering her, had made her self-reliant, helpful, and strong, with a grace like that acquired by girls who carry burdens on their heads. For it is thus that labors cheerfully performed, and trials borne with good-will and lightness of heart, give a power and a charm to body and mind.
It was now more than a year since George Greenwood, who had been brought up with her in his uncle's family, had left the farm, and gone to seek his fortune in the city. A great change in the house, and a very unhappy change for Vinnie, had been the result. It was not that she missed her foster-brother so much; but his going out had occasioned the coming in of another nephew, who brought a young wife with him. The nephew filled George's place on the farm, and the young wife showed a strong determination to take Vinnie's place in the household.
As long as she was conscious of being useful, in however humble a sphere, Vinnie was contented. She did her daily outward duty, and fed her heart with secret aspirations, and kept a brave, bright spirit through all. But now nothing was left to her but to contend for her rights with the new-comer, or to act the submissive part of drudge where she had almost ruled before. Strife was hateful to her; and why should she remain where her services were now scarcely needed?
So Vinnie lapsed into an unsettled state of mind, common enough to a certain class of girls of her age, as well as to a larger class of boys, when the great questions of practical life confront them: "What am I to be? What shall I do for a living?"
How ardently she wished she had money, so that she could spend two or three entire years at school! How eagerly she would have used those advantages for obtaining an education which so many, who have them, carelessly throw away! But Vinnie had nothing—could expect nothing—which she did not earn.
At one time she resolved to go to work in a factory; at another, to try teaching a district school; and again, to learn some trade, like that of dress-maker or milliner. Often she wished for the freedom to go out into the world and gain her livelihood like a boy.
In this mood of mind she received two letters. One was from Jack, describing his accidental visit to her sister's family. The other was from Caroline herself, who made that visit the occasion of writing a plaintive letter to her "dear, neglected Lavinia."
Many tears she shed over these letters. The touching picture Jack drew of the invalid Cecie, and the brave little Lilian, and of the sick mother and baby, with Caroline's sad confession of distress, and of her need of sympathy and help, wakened springs of love and pity in the young girl's heart. She forgot that she had anything to forgive. All her half-formed schemes for self-help and self-culture were at once discarded, and she formed a courageous resolution.
"I will go to Illinois," she said, "and take care of my poor sister and her sick children."
Such a journey, from Western New York, was no small undertaking in those days. But she did not shrink from it.
"What!" said Mrs. Presbit, when Vinnie's determination was announced to her, "you will go and work for a sister who has treated you so shamefully all these years? Only a half-sister, at that! I'm astonished at you! I thought you had more sperit."
"For anything she may have done wrong, I am sure she is sorry enough now," Vinnie replied.
"Yes, now she has need of you!" sneered Mrs. Presbit.
"Besides," Vinnie continued, "I ought to go, for the children's sake, if not for hers. Think of Cecie and the poor baby; and Lilian not ten years old, trying to do the housework! I can do so much for them!"
"No doubt of that; for I must say you are as handy and willing a girl as ever I see. But there's the Betterson side to the family,—two great, lubberly boys, according to your friend's account; a proud, domineering set, I warrant ye! The idee of making a slave of yourself for them! You'll find it a mighty uncomf'table place, mark my word!"
"I hope no more so than the place I am in now,—excuse me for saying it, Aunt Presbit," added Vinnie, in a trembling voice. "It isn't your fault. But you know how things are."
"O, la, yes! she wants to go ahead, and order everything; and I think it's as well to let her,—though she'll find she can't run over me! But I don't blame you the least mite, Vinnie, for feeling sensitive; and if you've made up your mind to go, I sha'n't hender ye,—I'll help ye all I can."
So it happened that, only four days after the receipt of her sister's letter, Vinnie, with all her worldly possessions contained in one not very large trunk, bid her friends good by, and, not without misgivings, set out alone on her long journey.
She took a packet-boat on the canal for Buffalo. At Buffalo, with the assistance of friends she had made on board the boat, she found the captain of a schooner, who agreed to give her a passage around the lakes to Chicago, for four dollars. There were no railroads through Northern Ohio and across Michigan and Indiana in those days; and although there were steamboats on the lakes, Vinnie found that a passage on one of them would cost more money than she could afford. So she was glad to go in the schooner.
The weather was fine, the winds favored, and the Heron made a quick trip. Vinnie, after two or three days of sea-sickness, enjoyed the voyage, which was made all the more pleasant to her by the friendship of the captain and his wife.
She was interested in all she saw,—in watching the waves, the sailors hauling the ropes, the swelling of the great sails,—in the vessels they met or passed, the ports at which they touched,—the fort, the Indians, and the wonderfully clear depth of the water at Mackinaw. But the voyage grew tiresome toward the close, and her heart bounded with joy when the captain came into the cabin early one morning and announced that they had reached Chicago.
The great Western metropolis was then a town of no more than eight or ten thousand inhabitants, hastily and shabbily built on the low level of the plain stretching for miles back from the lake shore. In a short walk with the captain's wife, Vinnie saw about all of the place she cared to; noting particularly a load of hay "slewed," or mired, in the mud-holes of one of the principal streets; the sight of which made her wonder if a great and flourishing city could ever be built there!
Meanwhile the captain, by inquiry in the resorts of market-men, found a farmer who was going to drive out to the Long Woods settlement that afternoon, and who engaged to come with his wagon to the wharf where the Heron lay, and take off Vinnie and her trunk.
"O, how fortunate!" she exclaimed. "How good everybody is to me! Only think, I shall reach my sister's house to-night!"
In due time a rough farm-wagon was backed down upon the wharf, and a swarthy man, with a high, hooked nose, like the inverted prow of a ship, boarded the schooner, and scratched his head, through its shock of stiff, coarse hair, by way of salutation to Vinnie, who came on deck to meet him.
"Do' no's you'll like ridin' with me, in a lumber-wagon, on a stiff board seat."
"O, I sha'n't mind!" said Vinnie, who was only too glad to go.
"What part of the settlement ye goin' to?" he asked, as he lifted one end of the trunk, while the captain took up the other.
"To Mr. Betterson's house; Mrs. Betterson is my sister," said Vinnie.
The man dropped his end of the trunk, and turned and glared at her.
"You've got holt o' the wrong man this time!" he said. "I don't take nobody in my wagon to the house of no sich a man as Lord Betterson. Ye may tell him as much."
"Will you take me to any house near by?" said the astonished Vinnie.
"Not if you're a connection of the Bettersons, I won't for no money! I've nothin' to do with that family, but to hate and despise 'em. Tell 'em that too. But they know it a'ready. My name's Dudley Peakslow."
And, in spite of the captain's remonstrance, the angry man turned his back upon the schooner, and drove off in his wagon.
It took Vinnie a minute to recover from the shock his rude conduct gave her. Then she smiled faintly, and said,—
"It's too bad I couldn't have a ride in his old wagon! But he wouldn't be very agreeable company, would he?" So she tried to console herself for the disappointment. She had thought all along: "If I can do no better, I will take the stage to North Mills; Jack will help me get over to my sister's from there." And it now seemed as if she might have to take that route.
The schooner was discharging her miscellaneous freight of Eastern merchandise,—dry goods, groceries, hardware, boots and shoes,—and the captain was too much occupied to do anything more for her that afternoon.
She grew restless under the delay; and feeling that she ought to make one more effort to find a conveyance direct to Long Woods, she set off alone to make inquiries for herself.
The first place she visited was a hotel she had noticed in her morning's walk,—the Farmers' Home; and she was just going away from the door, having met with no success, when a slim youth, carrying his head jauntily on one side, came tripping after her, and accosted her with an apologetic smile and lifted hat.
"Excuse me,—I was told you wanted to find somebody going out to Mr. Betterson's at Long Woods."
"O yes! do you know of anybody I can ride with?"
"I am in a way of knowing,—why, yes,—I think there is a gentleman going out early to-morrow morning. A gentleman and his daughter. Wife and daughter, in fact. A two-seated wagon; you might ride on the hind-seat with the daughter. Stopping at the Prairie Flower."
"O, thank you! And can I go there and find them?"
"I am going that way, and, if you please, I will introduce you," said the youth.
Vinnie replied that, if he would give her their names, she would save him the trouble. For, despite his affability, there was something about him she distrusted and disliked,—an indefinable air of insincerity, and a look out of his eyes of gay vagabondism and dissipation.
He declared that it would be no trouble; moreover, he could not at that moment recall the names; so, as there was no help for it, she let him walk by her side.
At the Prairie Flower,—which was not quite so lovely or fragrant a public-house as the name had led her to expect,—he showed her into a small, dingy sitting-room, up one flight of stairs, and went to speak with the clerk.
"The ladies will be here presently," he said, returning to her in a few minutes. "Meanwhile I thought I would order some refreshments." And he was followed into the room by a waiter bringing a basket of cake and two glasses of wine.
"No refreshments for me!" cried Vinnie, quickly.
"The other ladies will like some," said the youth, carelessly. "Intimate friends of mine. Just a little cake and sweet wine."
"But you have ordered only two glasses! And a few minutes ago you couldn't think of their names,—those intimate friends of yours!" returned Vinnie, with sparkling eyes.
The youth took up a glass, threw himself back in a chair, and laughed.
"It's a very uncommon name,—Jenkins; no, Judkins; something like that. Neighbors of the Bettersons; intimate friends of theirs, I mean. You think I'm not acquainted out there? Ask Carrie! ask the boys, hi, hi!"—with a giggle and a grimace, as he sipped the wine.
"You do really know my sister Caroline?" said Vinnie.
The youth set down his glass and stared.
"Your sister! I wondered who in thunder you could be, inquiring your way to Betterson's; but I never dreamed—Excuse me, I wouldn't have played such a joke, if I had known!"
"What joke?" Vinnie demanded.
"Why, there's no Jenkins,—Judkins,—what did I call their names? I just wanted to have a little fun, and find you out."
Vinnie trembled with indignation. She started to go.
"But you haven't found me out," he said, with an impudent chuckle.
"I've found out all I wish to know of you," said Vinnie, ready to cry with vexation. "I've come alone all the way from my home in Western New York, and met nobody who wasn't kind and respectful to me, till I reached Chicago to-day."
The wretch seemed slightly touched by this rebuke; but he laughed again as he finished his glass.
"Well, it was a low trick. But't was all in fun, I tell ye. Come, drink your wine, and make up; we'll be friends yet. Won't drink? Here goes, then!" And he tossed off the contents of the second glass. "Now we'll take a little walk, and talk over our Betterson friends by the way."
She was already out of the room. He hastened to her side; she walked faster still, and he came tripping lightly after her down the stairs.
Betwixt anger and alarm, she was wondering whether she should try to run away from him, or ask the protection of the first person she met, when, looking eagerly from the doorway as she hurried out, she saw, across the street, a face she knew, and uttered a cry of joy.
"Jack! O Jack!"
It seemed almost like a dream, that it should indeed be Jack, then and there. He paused, glanced up and down, then across at the girlish figure starting toward him, and rushed over to her, reaching out both hands, and exclaiming,—
"Vinnie Dalton! is it you?"
In the surprise and pleasure of this unexpected meeting, she forgot all about the slim youth she was so eager to avoid a moment before. When she thought of him again, and looked about her, he had disappeared, having slipped behind her, and skipped back up the stairs with amazing agility at sight of Jack.
JACK AND VINNIE IN CHICAGO.
Vinnie poured out her story to her friend as they walked along the street.
Jack was so incensed, when she came to the upshot of the adventure, that he wished to go back at once and make the slim youth's acquaintance. But she would not permit so foolish a thing.
"It is all over now. What good would it do for you to see him?"
"I don't know; I'd like to tell the scamp what I think of him, if nothing more. He wanted a little fun, did he?" And Jack stood, pale with wrath, looking back at the hotel.
"If it hadn't been for him, I might not have seen you," said Vinnie. "Maybe you can't forgive him that!"
Jack looked into her eyes, full of a sweet, mirthful light, and forgot his anger.
"I'll forgive him the rest, because of that. Besides, I've no time to waste on him. I'm hunting for my horse."
He had written to Vinnie of his loss; and she was now eager to know if Snowfoot had been heard from.
"Not a hair of him!" said Jack. "I got an old hunter and trapper to go with me the next day; we struck his trail on the prairie, and after a deal of trouble tracked him to a settler's cabin. There the rogue had stopped, and asked for supper and lodgings, which he promised to pay for in the morning. The man and his wife had gone to bed, but they got up, fed him and the horse, and then made him up a bed on the cabin floor. He pretended to be very careful of his horse, and he had to go out and make sure that he was all right before he went to bed; and that was the last they saw of him. He bridled Snowfoot, and rode off so slyly that they never knew which way he went. He had struck the travelled road, and there we lost all trace of him. I went on to Joliet, and looked along the canal, and set stablemen to watch for him, while my friend took the road to Chicago; but neither of us had any luck. I've hunted all about the country for him; and now, for a last chance, I've come to Chicago myself."
"How long have you been here?" Vinnie asked.
"Only about two hours; and I must go back to-morrow. I've not much hope of finding Snowfoot here; but as I had a chance to ride in with a neighbor, I thought best to take advantage of it. Lucky I did! Why didn't you write and let somebody know you were coming?"
"I did write to my sister; but I didn't expect anybody to meet me here in Chicago, since I couldn't tell just when I should arrive."
"Where are you stopping?"
"On board the schooner that brought me. She is lying quite near here, at a wharf in the river."
"Can you stay on board till to-morrow?"
Vinnie thought the captain and his wife would be glad to keep her.
"Though it isn't very nice," she added, "now that they are discharging the cargo."
"Perhaps you had better go to the Farmers' Home, where my friend and I have put up," said Jack.
"You at the Farmers' Home! Why couldn't I have known it?" said Vinnie. "It was there I went to inquire for Long Woods people, and met that scape-grace. When do you go home?"
"We start early to-morrow morning. You can go with us as well as not,—a good deal better than not!" said the overjoyed Jack. "Nothing but a little load of groceries. You shall go home with me to North Mills; Mrs. Lanman will be glad to see you. Then I'll drive you over to Long Woods in three or four days."
"Three or four days!" exclaimed Vinnie, not daring to be as happy as these welcome words might have made her. "I should like much to visit your friends; but I must get to my sister's as soon as possible."
Jack's face clouded.
"Vinnie, I'm afraid you don't know what you have undertaken. I can't bear the thought of your going into that family. Why do you? The Lanmans will be delighted to have you stay with them."
"O, but I must go where I am needed," Vinnie answered. "And you mustn't say a word against it. You must help me, Jack!"
"They need you enough, Heaven knows, Vinnie!" Jack felt that he ought not to say another word to discourage her, so he changed the subject. "Which way now is your schooner?"
Vinnie said she would show him; but she wished to buy a little present for the captain's wife on the way. As they passed along the street, she made him tell all he knew of her sister's family; and then asked if he had heard from George Greenwood lately.
"Only a few days ago he sent me a magazine with a long story of his in it, founded on our adventure with the pickpockets," replied Jack. "He writes me a letter about once a month. You hear from him, of course?"
"O yes. And he sends me magazines. He has wonderful talent, don't you think so?"
And the two friends fell to praising the absent George.
"I wonder if you have noticed one thing?" said Vinnie.
"What, in particular?"
"That Grace Manton has been the heroine of all his last stories."
"I fancied I could see you in one or two of them," replied Jack.
"Perhaps. But I am not the heroine; I am only the goody-goody girl," laughed Vinnie. "When you see beauty, talent, accomplishments,—that's Grace. I am glad they are getting on so well together."
"So am I!" said Jack, with an indescribable look at the girl beside him.
"Mr. Manton is dead,—I suppose you know it," said Vinnie.
Jack knew it, and was not sorry; though he had much to say in praise of the man's natural talents, which dissipation had ruined.
The purchase made, they visited the schooner, where it was decided that Vinnie should remain on board. Jack then left her, in order to make the most of his time looking about the city for his horse.
He continued his search, visiting every public stable, making inquiries of the hostlers, and nailing up or distributing a small handbill he had had printed, offering a reward of twenty dollars for "a light, reddish roan horse, with white forefeet, a conspicuous scar low down on the near side, just behind the shoulder, and a smaller scar on the off hip."
In the mean time he kept a sharp lookout for roan horses in the streets. But all to no purpose. There were roan horses enough, but he could see and hear nothing of the particular roan he wanted.
In the evening he went to see Vinnie on board the schooner, and talked of his ill success.
"A light roan? that's a kind of gray, ain't it?" said the captain of the Heron. "That bearish fellow from Long Woods, who wouldn't take into his wagon anybody connected with the Bettersons—"
"Dudley Peakslow,—I sha'n't soon forget his name!" said Vinnie.
"He drove such a horse," said the captain; "though I didn't notice the forefeet or any scars."
Jack laughed, and shook his head.
"That's what everybody says. But the scars and forefeet are the main points in my case. I wouldn't give a cent for a roan horse without 'em!" Then he changed the subject. "It's a beautiful night, Vinnie; let's go for a little stroll on the lake shore, and forget all about roans,—light roans, dark roans, white feet, black, blue, green, yellow feet! Perhaps your friends will go with us."