Or, Memories of the Past
H. S. CASWELL
Author of Clara Boscom; Earnest Harwood, etc.
Left entirely alone on a quiet afternoon, the unbroken stillness which surrounded me, as well as the soft haze which floats upon the atmosphere, in that most delightful of all seasons, the glorious "Indian Summer" of Eastern Canada, caused my thoughts to wander far away into the dreamy regions of the past, and many scenes long past, and almost forgotten, passed in review before my mind's eye on that quiet afternoon. While thus musing the idea occurred to me that there are few individuals, however humble or obscure, whose life-history (if noted down) would prove wholly without interest to others, in the form of a book; and this thought caused me to form the idea of noting down some passages from my own life—as they were on that day recalled to my mind. Like the boy who dreamed a most remarkable dream and, when asked to relate it, "didn't know where to begin," so was I puzzled as to how I should make a beginning for my story. But the incidents of one particular day when I was about thirteen years old were so vividly brought back to my mind, that I have decided upon that day as a starting-point; and now to my story.
"Where alive has that lazy, good-for-nothing boy taken, himself off to now, I wonder, and the weeds I left him to pull in the garden not half done yet; but it's just like him, as soon's my back's turned to skulk off in this way. I'll put a stop to this work one of these days, see if I don't. Its likely he's hiding in some out-of-the-way corner with a book in his hand as usual." These and many other angry words came harshly to my ears, on that June afternoon now so long ago. I was seated in the small room over the kitchen which was appropriated to my use in the dwelling of Farmer Judson, where I was employed as "chore boy," or, in other words, the boy of all work.
"Walter, Walter Harland, come down here this minute, I say."
I started up, trembling with fear, for the angry tones of the farmer made me aware that he had come home in one of his worst tempers, and his best were usually bad enough; and, more than this, I knew myself to be slightly in the fault. Before leaving home that morning Mr. Judson had ordered me to clear the weeds from a certain number of beds in the garden before his return. I worked steadily during the forenoon, and for a portion of the afternoon, when, feeling tired and heated, I stole up to my room, thinking to rest for a short time and then again resume my labors. I was very fond of study, and, as my Algebra lay before me upon the table, I could not resist the temptation to open it, and I soon became so deeply absorbed in the solution of a difficult problem that I heeded not the lapse of time till the harsh voice of my employer fell upon my ear. I had learned by past experience to fear the angry moods of Mr. Judson. In my hurry and confusion I forgot to lay aside my book, and went downstairs with it in my hand. I stood silent before the angry man, and listened to the storm of abuse which he continued to pour upon me, until sheer exhaustion compelled him to stop.
"And now," said he (by way of conclusion) "be off to your work, and don't be seen in the house again till the last weed is pulled from them air beds." This was even better than I had dared to hope, for, on more than one former occasion, I had borne blows from Mr. Judson when his anger was excited. As I turned to leave the room the quick eye of the farmer fell upon the book which before had escaped his notice. Stepping hastily toward me he said:
"I see how it is, your head is so filled with the crankums you get out o' them books, that you are good for nothing else, but I'll stop this work once for all;" and, ere I was aware of his intention, he snatched the book from my hand, and threw it upon the wood-fire which burned in the kitchen fire-place. I sprang forward to rescue my book from the flames, but, before I could reach it, it was burned to ashes. As I have before stated I was then about thirteen years old, tall and strong for my age. I was usually quiet and respectful, but for all this I possessed a high spirit. I could easily be controlled by kindness and mild persuasion, but never by harsh and unkind treatment, and this act of Mr. Judson's enraged me beyond all control, and in a moment all the smouldering anger occasioned by his past harshness shot up as it were in a sudden blaze. I have often heard it said, and I believe with truth, that there is something almost appalling in the roused anger of one of those usually quiet and submissive natures. I have often since thought that passion rendered me partially insane for the time being; trembling with anger, I confronted my employer fearlessly, as I said "How dare you burn my book? you bad, wicked man, you are just as mean as you can be."
This sudden outbreak from me, who hitherto had borne his abuse in silence, took Mr. Judson quite by surprise. For a moment he looked at me in silence, then, with a voice hoarse from passion, he addressed me, saying, "such talk to me! you surely have lost any little sense you ever may have had." Then seizing me roughly by the shoulder he continued: "I'll teach you better manners than all this comes to, my fine fellow, for I'll give you such a flogging as you won't forget in a hurry, I'll be bound."
Instantly my resolution was taken; he should never flog me again. Shaking off the rough grasp of his hand, I stepped backward, and drawing myself up to my full height (even then I was not very tall) I looked him unflinchingly in the face as I said,—"touch me if you dare, I have borne blows enough from you, and for little cause, but you shall never strike me again. If you lay a hand upon me it will be worse for you." Wild with anger I knew not what I said. The strength of a lad of my age would, of course, have been as nothing against that of the sturdy farmer; but, had he attempted to flog me, I certainly should have resisted to the utmost of my ability. I know not how it was, but after regarding me for a few moments with angry astonishment, he turned away without any further attempt to fulfil his threat of flogging me. I turned and was leaving the house when he called after me, in a voice, which upon any previous occasion, would have frightened me into submission.
"Come back, I say, this instant." I had now lost all fear and replied, in a voice which I hardly recognized as my own, "go back, never. Should I be compelled to beg my bread from door to door, I will never stay another day under your roof." With these words I ran from the house, and soon reached the little brown cottage in the village three miles distant where lived my mother and sister Flora.
I never knew a father's protecting care and watchful love; for he died when I was but little more than three years old; and my sister Flora a babe in our mother's arms. No prettier village could at that time have been found in Eastern Canada than Elmwood, and this village was our home. Its location was romantic and picturesque. Below the village on one side was a long stretch of level meadow-land through which flowed a clear and placid river—whose sparkling waters, when viewed from a distance, reminded one of a surface of polished silver. The margin of this river, on either side, was fringed with tall stately trees, called the Rock-Elm. According to the statement of the first settlers in the vicinity, the whole place was once covered with a forest of those noble trees and to this circumstance the village owed its name of Elmwood. The number of those trees which still shaded many of the streets added much to the beauty of the village. The village was small, but much regularity had been observed in laying out the streets. The buildings were mostly composed of wood; and nearly all were painted a pure white with green blinds, which gave a very tasteful appearance to the place. It had its two churches, and three stores, where all articles necessary to a country trade were sold, from a scythe down to cambric needles and pearl buttons. There was also an academy, a hotel, one and two public schools, and I believe I have now mentioned the most important of the public buildings of Elmwood, as it then was. The cool and inviting appearance of the village, as well as its facilities for fishing, boating and other healthful recreations, caused it, in course of time, to become a favorite summer resort for the dwellers in the large cities; and for a few weeks, once a year, Elmwood was crowded with visitors from many distant places, and, as may be readily supposed, these periodical visits of strangers was something which deeply interested the simple residents of our village. In looking back to-day through the long vista of years which separate the past from the present, the object on which memory is inclined to linger longer is a little brown house near one end of the village of Elmwood. Kind reader that was the home of my childhood. There was little in the external appearance of the house or its surroundings to win admiration from the passer-by, but it was my home, and to the young home is ever beautiful. Recalled by memory the old house looks very familiar to-day, with its sloping roof covered, here and there, with patches of green moss; and the large square chimney in the centre. Between the house and the street was a level green, in which were several fine shady trees, and one particular tree which stood near the centre was what I most loved of every thing connected with the surroundings of my early home—this tree was of the species known in Canada as the Silver Fir, and I am certain that every one familiar with this tree will testify, as to its beauty; they grow to a large size with very thick and wide-spreading branches, which extend downward upon the trunk in a circular form, each circle from the top growing larger, till the lower limbs overshadow a large space of ground beneath. This tree was my delight in the sunny days of childhood and early youth, and in summer most of my school-tasks were committed to memory beneath its friendly shade; and I loved it, in the dreary season of winter, for the deep green which it retained, amid the general desolation by which it was surrounded. When left a widow my mother was poor, so far as worldly riches is considered. My father had once been in moderately easy circumstances, but the illness which terminated in his death was long, and the means he had accumulated gradually slipped away, till, at the period of his death, all my mother could call her own was the little brown house which sheltered us, and very thankful was she to find, (when every debt was paid even to the last fraction) that she still possessed a home for herself and children. My mother possessed much energy of mind, as well as a cheerful, hopeful disposition, and, although she sorrowed deeply for her sad loss, she did not yield to despondency; but endeavored to discharge faithfully her duty to her children, and to this end she sought employment, and toiled early and late that she might provide for our wants, and so far did Providence smile upon her efforts that we were enabled to live in comfort and respectability. By close industry and economy she kept me at school from the age of six to thirteen, and would willingly have allowed me to remain longer, as she considered my education of the first importance, but during the last year I remained at school (although only a child of twelve years) I grew discontented and unhappy, by seeing my mother toiling daily that I might remain at school. And many a night did I lay awake for hours, revolving the question in my mind of how I could assist my mother, for I felt that, young as I was, it was time for me to do something for my own support. Had circumstances allowed, I would gladly have remained at school, for I was fond of study; but I believe I inherited a portion of my mother's energetic disposition, and I felt it my duty to leave school, and seek some employment whereby I might support myself, and possibly assist, in a small way, my mother and little sister. My mother was reluctant to yield her consent that I should leave school, but when she saw how much my mind was set on it, and knowing the motives which influenced me, she finally gave her consent, and leaving school I began looking about me for employment. My mother's wish, as well as my own was that I should, if possible, obtain some situation in the village where I could still board at home, but, as is usually the case, no one needed a boy at that time. After spending several days in search of work, without success, I became disheartened. My mother advised me to return to my books, and think no more about it; but I was unwilling that my first attempt toward taking care of myself should prove an entire failure.
A few miles from the village of Elmwood lived Mr. Judson, a rich farmer, he might properly be termed rich in this world's goods, for, besides the broad acres which comprised the two farms in one where he resided, he was the owner of several houses in the village, which brought him a handsome annual income. The chief aim of his life appeared to be the acquisition of money, and, when once it came into his possession, it was guarded with miserly care. The very countenance and manner of the Farmer bespoke his nature. Aided by memory, I see him now as I saw him years ago:—he was of medium height, strong and muscular, but thin in flesh. His hair had once been black, but was then sprinkled thickly with gray; he had small piercing, restless black eyes that seemed to look several ways at once. His nose was of the form which I have often heard styled a hawk-bill; and, altogether, there was a sort of dry, hard look about the man which rendered his personal appearance repulsive and disagreeable. His constant care and anxiety was to get the largest possible amount of labor out of those in his employ; consequently, he was always in a hurry himself, and striving to hurry every one else. His farm-laborers used to say that he kept his eyes in such unceasing motion, to see that every thing went right on all sides, that a restless, roving expression of the eyes had become natural to him. Though living only a few miles distant, neither my mother nor myself knew any thing of the character of this man; and when he came to engage me to do "chores and light work" as he termed it, we gladly accepted his offer, as my mother had the idea that residing for a time upon a farm (if not overworked) would have a beneficial effect upon my health and constitution. Many wondered when it became known that I had gone to live with Farmer Judson; but each one kept their thoughts to themselves. When I took my place at the Farmer's I soon found that, if my work was light, there was likely to be plenty of it. I did not complain of this, for I expected to work; but what made my position almost unbearable was the constant habit of fault-finding in which my employer indulged. He was dreaded and feared by all under his roof. He was constantly on the watch for waste and expenditure within-doors, and without there could never be enough done to satisfy him; do your best, and he always thought you should have done more. As I have before said, I was very fond of books, and I had counted upon having my evenings at my own disposal that I might still do something in the way of self improvement; but I soon learned that books were quite out of the question in my new home. There was either corn to shell or errands to perform; in short, there was something to keep me busy till nearly bed-time every night. I used sometimes to think the farmer used to study up something to keep me busy on purpose to keep me from study. I believe my greatest fault in his eyes was my love of books. He was entirely without education himself, which, (in a great measure) accounted for his narrow and sordid mind; he looked upon any time devoted to books or mental culture as a dead loss.
"What's the use of botherin' over books," he would often say; and would often add in a boasting manner, "I don't know a from b, and if I do say it myself, where will you find a man who has got along better in the world than I have done." If getting along well with the world consists only in hoarding up dollars and cents till every feeling of tenderness and benevolence toward the rest of mankind becomes benumbed and deadened, then truly Mr. Judson had got along remarkably well. His door was but a sorry place to ask charity, as every one could testify who ever tried the experiment. It was reported that a poor woman once called at the house and asked for food. The farmer chanced to be from home, and his wife, thinking he might not return for a time, ventured to prepare a comfortable meal for the poor traveller; but, as fate would have it, he returned before the weary traveller had partaken of the meal prepared for her. As soon as he saw how matters stood he gave his wife a stern rebuke for "encouraging beggars"; and, with many harsh words, ordered the woman to leave the house. The poor woman rose wearily to obey the command, and, as she was passing from the room, she turned, and fixing her eyes upon Mr. Judson, said in a stern voice, "I am poor and needy—it was hunger alone which compelled me to ask charity—but with all your riches I would not exchange places with you who have the heart to turn from your door one in need of food; surely, out of your abundance you might have at the least given food to one in want; but go on hoarding up your dollars, and see how much softer they will make your dying pillow." It was said that the farmer actually turned pale as the woman left the house. Perhaps his conscience was not quite dead, and it may be that a shadow from the events of future years, even then, fell across his mind. It would have been difficult to find two natures more unlike than were those of Mr. Judson and his wife. The former was stingy, even to miserly niggardliness, as well as ill-tempered, sullen and morose, while the latter was one of the most kind-hearted and motherly old ladies imaginable, that is, had her kindly nature been allowed to exhibit itself. As it was, not daring to act according to the dictates of her own kind heart, through fear of her stern companion, she had in the course of years, become a timid broken-spirited woman. In her youthful days she had been a regular attendant at church, she also was a valuable teacher in the sabbath-school; but, after marrying Lemuel Judson, she soon found that all religious privileges of a social nature were at an end. Poor man, money was the god he worshipped; and so entirely did the acquisition of wealth engross his mind that every other emotion was well-nigh extinguished. He seldom, if ever, entered a place of public worship, and did what he could to prevent his wife from doing so. She did at the first venture a feeble remonstrance when he refused on Sundays to drive to the village church, but, as this was her first attempt at any thing like opposition to his wishes, he determined it should be her last, for he assailed her with every term of abusive language at his command, and these were not a few, for his command of language of this sort was something marvelous too listen to, and, if his words and phrases were not always in strict accordance with the rules of grammar, they certainly were sharp and pointed enough to answer his purpose very well. From the sour expression of his countenance, as well as the biting words which often fell from his tongue, the village boys applied to him the name "vinegar face," sometimes varied by "old vinegar Judson." Like all village boys, they were inclined on holidays and Saturday afternoons to roam away to the neighbouring farms. Mr. Judson always drove them from his premises the moment they set foot hereon, and in a short time he learned that, as the saying is, there was no love lost between them. He one day gave one of these boys a smart blow with his horse-whip the boy had ventured into the hayfield among the laborers. The blow of course caused him to take to his heels, but from that time the whole band were in league against the farmer. If he left a horse tied in the village, he would sometimes find him shorn of his mane, and often a hopeless rent in his buffalo; and, as far as he could find out, the deed was done by "nobody at all." As he was driving leisurely homeward on a very dark night he suddenly came upon a number of boys near the end of the village street, and one of the boys called out loud enough for him to hear, "there goes old vinegar Judson;" another emboldened by his companion, next addressed him with the question; "What's the market price of vinegar, old man? you ought to know if any one does, for you must drink a lot of it or you wouldn't be so cross and ugly." It was a very dark night, and the farmer was unable to distinguish one from the other, and horse-whip in hand he made a rush among the whole crowd, who dispersed in all directions. He was not agile enough to overtake a fast retreating army in the dark, and was forced to abandon the pursuit. As he turned to pursue his journey homeward, a voice from out of the darkness, again addressed him, saying, "don't you only wish you could catch us, old vinegar man?" Knowing that further pursuit would be useless, he proceeded on his way, uttering threats of future vengeance. He did spend a portion of the following day in trying to find out the boys who had insulted him; but all his efforts to that end were without success. A gentleman to whom he complained ventured to remark: "I fear, Mr. Judson, that in a great measure you have yourself to blame for all this, for you ever treat the boys with unkindness; and, without reason and experience to guide them, can you wonder that they render evil for evil. If you exercised more of the spirit of kindness in your casual intercourse with the boys, I think it would be better for both you and them." This advice was very good, but it is to be feared that the farmer profited but little by it. Through fear of her stern husband Mrs. Judson finally ceased to mention attending church; but often on a Sunday afternoon, when he was either asleep or walking over his farm, she would seat herself in a quiet corner of the large kitchen and read her Bible, and perhaps sing a hymn to some of the old-fashioned plaintive airs, which formed a large portion of the Church Music in her youthful days. I remember when I lived at the Farmer's, I used often to think it no wonder that Mrs. Judson almost always sung her Sunday hymn to the air of "Complaint," and read more frequently in the book of Job and the Lamentations of Jeremiah than any other portion of the Bible. The poor lonely woman seemed to feel a mother's tenderness for me, which manifested itself in many little acts of kindness, when unobserved by her husband, who took good care that no undue indulgence should be shown to any one under his roof. I soon learned to regard the old lady with all the affection of which I was capable; and it was her kindness alone which rendered my position endurable. I sought in many ways to lighten her labors, for, even in the busiest seasons, no help was allowed her to perform all the household work; and I soon found many ways of making myself useful.
One rainy afternoon, while busied about the house, Mrs. Judson surprised me by saying suddenly: "I suppose you don't know what makes me take so to you, Walter; but I'll tell you, you remind me of my youngest boy, Reuben." I looked at the old lady with wonder, saying, "I did not know you had any children, Mrs. Judson." "True" said she, "I forgot you did not know; but no further than your mother lives from here she must remember that I once had two boys who were very dear to me, but perhaps she never told you about it. It ill becomes me to speak of his faults, but I must say my poor boys had a hard life of it with their father. He had no patience with them when mere children, and matters grew worse as they became older. Do what they would, they could never please him, and he often beat them cruelly. But one way and another they got along till Charley was sixteen and Reuben fourteen years of age. Their father one day left them ploughing in the field while he went to the village; the ground was rough and stoney, and by some accident the ploughshare was broken. When their father came home and found what had happened, he seized the horse-whip and gave both the boys a terrible flogging. Neither of the boys had ever before given their father a word; but, when he stopped beating them, Charley stood up and said: 'You have beaten us, father, a great many times and for very little cause; but this is the last time.' That was all he said. His father told him to shut up his mouth and go about his work. After dinner he went back to the village, and some business detained him till late in the evening. I remember as if it were but yesterday how my two boys looked that night when they came home to supper. After supper they rose from the table, and Charley said: 'Mother, we are very sorry to leave you, but we must go. I don't know what we have done that father should treat us so; he seems almost to hate the sight of us, and it is better that we should go before his harshness provokes us to some act of rebellion. I am older than Reuben, and will do my best to care for him, and we will never forget you, mother; but I believe it to be for the best that we should leave home.' I had long feared this; and I begged of them to stay and try and bear it, at any rate till they should be older; but talking was of no use, the boys had made up their minds, and go they would. They each took a change of clothing in a small bundle, and prepared to leave the home which had sheltered them from their infancy. When I saw they would go, I divided the little money I had of my own between them that they might not go forth into the world entirely destitute. I could not really blame the boys, for their father's harsh words, day by day, was like the continual dropping which wears the stone, and the poor boys were fairly tired and worn out with being continually censured and blamed. With a heart heavy with a sorrow which only a mother can know, I walked with the boys to the turn of the road where they were to wait for the stage. I felt sorrowful enough but I kept back my tears till the hour sounded which announced the arrival of the stage. They both shook hands with me and kissed me, and poor Reuben, the youngest, cried as if his heart would break.
"The sight of my youngest boy's tears affected me beyond the power of control, and the tears were very bitter which we all shed together, but the stage was fast approaching, and we must control our grief, 'Good bye, mother,' said the boys at last as they left me to take their places in the stage coach, 'Don't fret about us; we will try to do right and remember all you have said to us, and let us hope there are happier days to come, for us all.'
"These were their last words to me, and they were swiftly borne from my sight by the fleet horses of the stage-coach. This was five years ago last October." "But did they never come back," said I, looking in the old woman's face with a feeling of deep pity. "Bless you child, no," said she, "their father won't allow even their names to be spoken in his hearing. When the boys left home, they went to the State of Massachusetts, where they both learned a trade, and are doing well; they often write to me and send me money to buy any little thing I may want. About two years ago in one of their letters they asked me to talk to their father, and try to persuade him to forgive them; they also wished to gain his consent that they might return home for a visit, 'for,' said they, 'since we have grown up to manhood it has caused us much sorrow that we must live estranged from our father. Mother, we have long since cast aside the boyish resentment we may once have cherished, and would be glad to return and inform our father by word that we still feel for him the affection due from children to parents; we would gladly forget the past and be at peace for the future.' I feared to speak of this letter to my husband, but the strong desire to see my dear boys again gave me courage, and one day when he seemed in a better humour than usual I mustered up courage, and told him what the boys had written, but my sakes' alive, Walter, if you'd a seen the storm it raised in our house; it fairly took my breath away, and I didn't know for a while, Walter, if my head was off or on; you may think you have seen Mr. Judson angry, but you never saw him any thing like what he was that day. I must not repeat all he said, to you, but he concluded by saying: 'The boys went away without my consent; you connived to get them off, and if ever you mention their names to me again you'll wish you hadn't, that's all;' and from that day to this their names have never been mentioned between us. They still write often to me and some day I'll show you their letters. I suppose it was wrong for me to speak so freely to you (who are only a little boy) of my husband's failings, but somehow I couldn't help it, and it does me good to talk about my boys. I don't know as Mr. Judson can help his harsh, stern way, for it seems to come natural to him; but I can't help thinking he might govern his temper, if he would only try; as it is I try to do my duty by him, and make the best of what I cannot help; and every day for years I have prayed that a better mind may be given him by Him who governs all things, and that is all I can do."
After the above conversation, I more then ever regarded the old lady with pity, and sought by every means to lighten her cheerless lot. But the kindness which his wife evinced toward me only served to render Mr. Judson more harsh and unfeeling in his treatment. I remember one day hearing him say to his wife in a tone of much displeasure, "You spoiled your own boys, and set them agin me, and now you are beginning to fuss over this lazy chap in the same way; but I'll let you know who's master here." Hard as was my lot at this time, my anxiety to lighten the cares of my mother caused me to bear it with a degree of patience which I have often since wondered at. I was fearful if I left this place I could not readily obtain another, and I toiled on, never informing my mother of the trials to which I was daily subjected. For a whole year I endured the caprice and severity of Farmer Judson. I had long felt that I could not much longer endure a life, which (to me) had become almost intolerable; and on the day of the incident noticed in the opening chapter of my story, my naturally high temper rose above control, and I left Farmer Judson's and returned to my home.
When I thus returned unexpectedly to my home my mother was at once aware, from my downcast appearance, that something was wrong, and when she questioned me I related the difficulty with Mr. Judson exactly as it took place. My mother listened attentively till I had finished, and then only said, "you are too much excited to talk of the matter at present; after a night's rest you will be better able to talk with more calmness, so we will defer any further conversation upon the subject until to-morrow morning."
It was a mild evening in June, and slipping out of the house, I went to my favorite tree in the yard, and, as I lay at full length beneath its wide-spreading boughs, which were bright with the rays of the full round moon, my mind was busy with many anxious thoughts. My anger had by this time cooled down, and when left thus alone I began to question if I had acted right in returning to my home; hard as Mr. Judson was to please, he always paid me my wages punctually, and I feared I had done wrong in thus depriving my kind mother of the assistance which my earnings (small as they were) afforded her. But when I called to mind the Farmer's harsh and unkind treatment, I felt that to remain longer with him was out of the question; for during the whole year I remained with him, I could not remember one word of encouragement or kindness, and, to a boy of thirteen, a kind and encouraging word is worth much. Surely thought I, every one is not like Farmer Judson, and can I not find some place where, if I do my best to please, I shall not be continually scolded and blamed; and, after retiring to rest, I lay awake, revolving all these thing's in my boyish mind till I mentally decided that, come what would, I could not return to the Farmer. It was far into the hours of night before I slept, and then my sleep was harassed by frightful dreams, in all of which Farmer Judson acted a prominent part. From my earliest recollection, the counsels and pious example of my mother had exercised a powerful influence upon my mind and character. She was naturally cheerful and hopeful, and her heart had long been under the influence of a deep and devoted piety, which exhibited itself in her every-day life. She never allowed herself to be too much cast down by the petty annoyances of life. I am an old man now, and the silver threads are beginning to mingle in my hair, but I can yet see my mother as I saw her the next morning when I went down stairs, and in a pleasant cheerful voice she enquired if I had slept well. I gave an evasive reply, for I did not like to tell her what a restless, miserable night I had passed. When the breakfast things were cleared away, my mother seated herself by my side, and said: "Upon reflection, my son, I have decided that you had best not return to Mr. Judson." These were joyful words to me, for I had feared my mother would decide otherwise, and I had never disobeyed her, but it would have been hard, very hard for me to obey had she wished me to return to my employer. Little Flora was, if possible, more pleased than myself at the decision; with a low cry of joy, she threw her arms around my neck, saying "Oh! Walter, I am so glad that Mamma will not send you back to that old man." Poor child, she had never before been separated from her brother, and she had sadly missed her playmate during the past year. "Although," continued my mother "you may not have been free from blame, I think Mr. Judson acted very wrong. If, as I trust, is the case, you have told me the truth, I consider you blameable in two points only, first, in neglecting your work in the absence of your employer, and, secondly, in allowing yourself to use disrespectful language to him." While my mother was yet speaking, the door opened and Farmer Judson entered the room, without the ceremony of knocking, and began talking (as was his custom when angry) in a very loud and stormy voice, "Pray be seated, Mr. Judson," said my mother, "and when you become a little more composed I shall be pleased to listen to anything you may wish to say." He did not take the proffered seat, but muttered something about "people putting on airs," and turning sharply upon me, he said, "I hain't got no more time to waste talkin, so get your hat and come back to your work and no more about it." I did not move, but waited for my mother to speak,—with a voice of much composure, she replied to him, saying: "I have decided, Mr. Judson, that Walter had best not return to you. Till last evening I have never from him heard the first word of complaint;" in a straight forward manner she then repeated what I had said upon my return home. "My son informs me," added my mother, "that in more than one instance he has endured blows from you, and for very little cause; had I before been aware of this he should have left you at once; for my boy is not a slave to be driven with the lash. I have no doubt that his conduct may in many instances have been blameable. I am sorry that he allowed himself at the last to speak disrespectfully to you, but you must be aware that his provocation was great, and we must not look for perfection in a boy of thirteen. Considering all things, I think he had best remain no longer in your employ; for to subject him longer to a temper so capricious as yours, would be, I fear, to injure his disposition."
Mr. Judson was unable to gainsay one word my mother had said, and to conceal his mortification got into a towering passion, and used some very severe language which deeply wounded my mother's feelings. As he strode angrily from the room he said, "You need not expect anything else but to come to beggary if you keep a great fellow like that lazin' round in idleness, and I, for one, shall not pity you, depend on't." With these words he left the house, closing the door after him with a loud bang. It was indeed a welcome relief when he left us alone. My little sister had crept close to me the moment the angry Farmer entered the room, where she remained: trembling with fear till he was fairly out of hearing, when she exclaimed, "I hope that ugly old man will never come here again. Wasn't you afraid, Mamma?"
"No, dear," replied my mother, with a smile; "and let us hope if ever he does visit us again he will be in a better temper."
I wished at once to set about looking for another situation; but my mother advised me to remain at home and rest for a time. Little Flora was delighted when she found that I was to remain at home, for a time at least.
Not far from our humble dwelling stood the residence of Dr. Gray, the village physician. His only child was a son of nearly the same age as myself, and we had been firm friends from the days of early childhood. When of sufficient age we were sent to the same school, where we occupied the same desk, and often conned our daily lessons from the same book. The uncommon friendship existing between us had often been remarked by the villagers. This intimacy was somewhat singular, as our natures were very dissimilar, it may be this very dissimilarity attracted us the more strongly to each other. From infancy the disposition of Charley Gray was marked by peculiarities which will appear in the course of my story. When at school he made but few friends among his companions; and the few friendships he did form were marred by his exclusive and jealous nature. He possessed very strong feelings, and for a chosen friend his affection was deep and abiding. My own nature was exactly the opposite. I was frank and joyous, and inclined to make friends with all. For all that Charley and I were so intimate, even as boys, his peculiar temperament was often a source of unhappiness to both. Charley was the child of wealthy parents, while I, being poor, was often obliged to attend school dressed in clothing which looked almost shabby beside my well-dressed companions, but with all this I was ever Charley Gray's chosen companion, in fact he seemed to care little for any other companionship, and his parents, who had known both my father and mother long and intimately, were much pleased with his preference for my society, and took much pains to encourage the friendship existing between us. Charley was as much delighted as my sister when I returned home; he had two or three times ventured to visit me at Mr. Judson's, but his visits always made the Farmer angry, and he chanced one day to come into the field when we were unusually busy, and, as a matter of course the Farmer was cross in proportion, and he finally ordered Charley to "clear out," "its bad enough," said he "to get along with one boy, but two is out of the question, and the sooner you make tracks for home the better." Charley was thoroughly frightened, and he followed the Farmer's advice at once by "making tracks" out of the field, and he never attempted to repeat his visit. I returned home in the month of June. Dr. Gray intended sending Charley to a distant school, the coming autumn; and we both keenly felt the coming separation. He was to be absent a year before visiting his home, and that time seemed an age to our boyish minds. The long midsummer vacation soon arrived, and now, memory often turns fondly to that happy period. My companion and I certainly made the most of the time allowed before the coming separation.
Together we visited all our favorite haunts, we angled for fish, we roamed over the fields and through the woods in the vicinity of Elmwood, and no day seemed long enough for our varied amusements. I often wished to invite other of our companions to join our sports, but somehow or other, if this was the case, Charley's enjoyment at once fled. When (as was often the case) I would mention some of our schoolmates, with a view to inviting them to accompany us on some excursion of pleasure, a cloud would instantly come over Charley's countenance, and he would say in a petulant tone: "What do you want with them, we can surely enjoy ourselves without their company," and this reply would at once remind me of his exclusive and peculiar temperament, (which for the moment I had forgotten) and to please him I would say no more about it. But for this one fault of my companion's, and a fault it certainly was, I believe had I had a brother, I could have loved him no better than I loved Charley Gray. Previous to my mother's marriage her home had been in Western Canada; her father died while she was quite a young girl, but her mother, now far advanced in years, still lived in the old home, some fifty miles from the city of Hamilton. The affairs of the farm and household were managed by a son and daughter who had never married, and still resided in their paternal home. My mother was the youngest in the family, and had been the pet of the household during her childhood and early youth; she was many years younger than either her brother or sister, and they had exercised a watchful and loving care over their pet sister till the period of her marriage and removal to Eastern Canada. Her brother and sister seldom left their own home, owing to their care of their aged mother, and for some years past my mother's circumstances had not allowed her to visit her early home; and, amid the cares of life, letters passed less and less frequently between them, till they came to be like "Angels' visits," few and far between. My mother was equally pleased and surprised, a few weeks after I returned home, by receiving a kind letter from her brother Nathan. Like all his letters it contained but few words, but they were dictated by a kind heart. The most important words (to me) which the letter contained were these: "Your boy Walter needs more schooling before he goes out into the world, send him to me and he shall have it. If his disposition is anything like his mother's at his age I know we shall get along famously together. I will board and clothe him for two years; he shall attend the best schools in the place, I promise nothing further, only then, when the boy leaves me, he shall have all he deserves, if it should be only a cuff on the ear. In case you should find any difficulty in defraying his expenses, I enclose money sufficient for that purpose. I know not the reason, but I feel a strong desire to see your boy, and find out what he is made of."
My mother was alone when she received this letter; she read it again and again, and with each perusal her heart warmed toward the brother whom she had not seen for so many years. "But," thought she, "whatever my own wishes may be in the matter, Walter must decide for himself. I should consult his feelings (as far as possible) upon a matter which concerns him so deeply." When I came home that evening my mother gave me Uncle Nathan's letter, and with silent amusement watched my face grow sober as I read it. She really knew this kind-hearted brother—I did not, and that made all the difference in the world. I suppose my grave countenance, as I perused the letter, informed my mother that a second Farmer Judson was rising before my mental vision. When I had finished, I looked up, and, with an anxious voice, said:
"Tell me, mother, is Uncle Nathan as gruff and crusty as his letter?"
"My son," replied she, "your uncle's manner may seem somewhat short and crusty to one not acquainted with him; but beneath this rough exterior, he has a very kind heart. I am well aware that he makes this offer with sincerity, and that he has your interest at heart. You certainly need more education to fit you for the duties of life, and now a way is open for you to obtain it. I can hardly bear the thought of your going so far from home, and yet I need not expect you always to remain under my own roof. It is my duty to submit to a temporary separation, if that separation is for your own interest. I will not advise you too strongly, for I consider you have a right to a voice in the matter as well as myself. Should you decide to go, where my advice and influence cannot reach you, I trust you will retain the good principles I have endeavoured to inculcate; you are my only son and should you allow yourself to be led into evil ways, it would be the heaviest trial I have ever known, and my sorrows have been neither few nor light." I had such full confidence in the opinions of my mother, that I allowed her to write to uncle Nathan accepting, for me, his generous offer. Charley Gray was entirely cast down when he learned that I was to go so far away. "It's too bad," said he, "that they must send you away to an old Uncle, who very likely is cross as a bear, and that before the holidays are over; and then in the fall I'm to be sent off to school, nobody knows where, so I suppose we may as well call our good times ended." As Charley said this his lip quivered and the un-shed tear glistened in his fine dark eyes. I was the only companion with whom he was intimate, and the swiftly coming separation grieved him deeply. I tried to cheer him up, but when any thing chanced to cross the wishes of Charley he was prone to look upon the dark side of every thing, and I fear there are many older and wiser than Charley Gray who yield to the same failing.
After I had consented to go to Uncle Nathan, and a letter had been written informing him of my decision, I began to feel many misgivings. From the style of his letter I got the idea that I should find him like Farmer Judson; and the very thought caused me to shudder with a vague feeling of terror. My mother told me again and again how kind my relative would be to me, and I tried hard to believe her; but with all this my mind was haunted with many fears regarding the future. My mother strove to send me from home well supplied with clothing, that I might prove no immediate expense to my uncle, and the little money she had laid by, with which to replenish her own and little Flora's wardrobe, was applied cheerfully to meet my more immediate wants. Young as I was this circumstance fretted and annoyed me. I remember saying one day to my mother, in a vexed impatient tone, "it seems too bad that we should be so poor. Some of my companions who have rich parents, spend more money every year upon toys and candy than would buy me a whole new suit of clothes, and now to obtain a few new articles of clothing for me you and my little sister must do without what you really need; if the dispensing of money were left in my hands, I would make every one rich alike, and then no one should be ashamed of their poverty as I have often been, when among the rich boys of the village." "Be ashamed of nothing but doing wrong," replied my mother, "and you had best leave the dispensation of wealth or poverty to the One whose right it is, for, be assured, He knows best what is for our good; I had much rather see you grow up a good man than a rich one. If your life is spared, and you prove to be a useful and honorable man, people will never inquire whether your boyhood was passed amid wealth or poverty." I was then in too discontented a mood to profit by my mother's words, but many times in after years were they recalled forcibly to my mind. Time passed on till the last night arrived, which I was to spend at home for an indefinite period. Charley Gray obtained permission to spend this last night with me, and we lay awake for hours talking over our numerous plans for the future in true school-boy fashion. Many an air-castle did we rear that night which the lapse of years have laid in the dust. In our boyish plans of future greatness, I was not exactly sure what I was to be, only I was to be a wonderfully great man of some kind, while Charley was, of course, to become a very eminent physician, such as should not be found upon any past record; and we talked, too, of the wonder we should excite among our old friends when we might chance to revisit the scenes of our early home. We even spoke of driving past the farm of Mr. Judson in a fine carriage drawn by a pair of beautiful bay horses; but with all our lively talk poor Charley was sadly out of spirits. His old bosom foe was at work; he feared that among new companions I might meet with some one who would supplant him in my affections. To one of my nature, this jealous exclusive disposition was something incomprehensible; later in life I learned to pity him for a defect of character, which in his case was hereditary, and which he could no more help than the drawing of his life-breath. I was to leave Elmwood by the early morning train so we were up betimes; but, early as it was, we found my mother already up and breakfast awaiting us. The railway station was a little beyond the village, and more than a mile from our dwelling. Dr. Gray sent over the horse and carriage very early, and Charley, with my mother and Flora, was to accompany me to the depot. The morning air was fresh and invigorating, and under other circumstances we should highly have enjoyed the drive, as it was that morning, we were rather a sad and silent party. When we arrived at the station I moved rapidly about and looked after my luggage with far more care than was necessary, in order to conceal the sorrow I felt at leaving home; and I was heartily glad to hear the whistle which announced the approaching train, that the parting might be the sooner over. During the few moments we stood upon the platform awaiting the arrival of the train Charley stood by with the most solemn face imaginable. His countenance was always remarkably expressive of either joy or sorrow, and at this time his expression was certainly not one of joy. Many a time since, have I smiled as memory suddenly recalled the woe-begone face of Charley Gray, as I left him that morning. In order to make him laugh I enquired if he could not imagine the look of astonishment with which Farmer Judson would regard us when we should drive past his farm in our fine carriage, which (in imagination) we had possessed the night before. Any one acquainted with Mr. Judson could not have helped laughing at the idea; Charley did laugh but there were tears in his eyes. As the train rapidly neared the station he suddenly extended his hand to me for a last good-bye, and hurried swiftly from the spot, he could not bear to witness my parting with my mother and sister which was yet to come. My mother had borne up until now, but when the time came that I must indeed go, her tears could no longer be kept back. I kissed Flora good-bye, and last of all turned to my mother. She imprinted a parting kiss upon my brow, and as she held my hand with a long, lingering pressure, said in a choking voice, "Remember my counsels, respect yourself, and others will respect you, and may God bless and preserve you from evil!"
I was deeply moved, but to spare my mother's feelings I kept back my tears. The conductor's loud voice was heard calling "All aboard." I hastily entered the car, and taking my seat, the tears I had so long repressed now flowed freely, till some of my fellow-passengers began to question me, when I became ashamed of my weakness. To the many pitying enquiries I replied that I was going a long distance from home and was grieved at parting with my friends.
"Chare up, me man," said a good-natured Irishman who happened to be seated near me. "I was jist yer size (only that I was bigger) when I lift me father and mother in ould Ireland, an' come over to Ameriky."
This remark drew a burst of laughter from several of the passengers, and, though the tears were not yet dry upon my cheek, I could not help joining in the laugh. The man was not in the least disturbed by the merriment of the others, but again turning to me continued:
"As I was a tellin' ye, an older brother an' mesilf crossed the sea to Ameriky, an' the first year we arned money enough to fetch over the ould folks, and we are now livin' altogether agin, in the city uv Montreal, where we have a nate little home uv our own as your two eyes could light upon." The friendly talk of the Irishman both amused and cheered me. How true it is that kind and sympathizing words never fail to cheer the desponding heart.
We had written to Uncle Nathan, informing him of the day on which he might expect my arrival; and at the time appointed he drove over to Fulton, the small village two miles from his farm, where was the railway-station. As I stepped from the car I eagerly scanned each face among the crowd to see if I could find any one whose appearance answered to my ideas of Uncle Nathan, but for some time I could see no one whom I could suppose to be my unknown relative. I at length spied a middle-aged gentleman walking backward and forward in a leisurely manner, upon the platform, whom I thought might possibly be my uncle, and, as the crowd had mostly dispersed, I mustered up courage, and in a low voice accosted him with the question. "Please Sir are you my uncle Nathan?" "Your uncle who?" said the old man, as he elevated his eyebrows and regarded me with a broad stare of astonishment. "No I'm not your Uncle, nor nobody's else that I know of," said he, in a sharp crusty voice, then, giving a second look at my downcast face, he seemed suddenly to recollect himself, and said in a much softer tone: "If its Nathan Adams you mean he's just driven round to the other door. Be you a friend of his'n." "Yes Sir," answered I, as I hurried away to the "other door" pointed out by the stranger. From the ideas I had formed of my uncle I was unprepared to meet the kind, hearty looking man whose sunburned face beamed with a smile of welcome, when his eye rested upon me, as I walked with a timid, hesitating manner toward him. He at once held out his hand, saying, "I don't need to ask if you are my nephew Walter, for if I'd a met you most anywhere I should have known you were Ellen Adams' son; just the same dark eyes and happy smile which made your mother such a beauty at your age, for your mother was handsome if she was my sister; but I suppose, like all the rest of us she's beginnin' to grow old and careworn by this time, 'tis the way of the world, you know, boy, we can't always keep young, do our best. Its amazin' how time does fly, it only seems like yesterday since your mother trudged to school over this very road, with her books and dinner-basket on her arm; and now here's you, her son, a great stout boy that will soon be as tall as your old Uncle Nathan. It really does beat all; but I forget that, while I am moralizin' like on the flight of time, you must be famishin' with hunger, to say nothin' of your bein' tired most to death with your long ride in the cars; give me a seat in my wagon behind old Dobbin, with a good whip in my hand, and those who like the cars better may have them for all me. Come right along with me, my boy, and point out your luggage and we'll be off to my farm in no time." Before I reached my new home I had quite got rid of my fears of finding a second Farmer Judson in the person of my Uncle Nathan. As we drove through the village of Fulton, my Uncle directed my attention to a large and tasteful building standing in an open green, on a slightly elevated portion of ground. I said the building stood in an open space, but omitted to mention the thick shade trees which stood in regular rows between the building, and the long street which ran the entire length of the village.
"That," said my Uncle, with no little pride in his voice, "is Fulton Academy, where I mean to send you to school; and I hope when you leave it, you will be a wiser boy than you are now." The homeward drive after leaving the village lay past finely cultivated farms, with their waving fields of ripe grain and beautiful orchards loaded with ripe fruit, which delighted the eye of the passer-by; but the most important object (to me) was the Academy, where I hoped to acquire the knowledge necessary to fit me for the duties of life. During the year I lived with Mr. Judson I many a time thought how I should enjoy my books did my circumstances allow me to do so, and now all this was within my reach. As these thoughts passed rapidly through my mind, I looked up in the kind face of my relative and impelled by a sudden impulse, I seized his hand and, pressing it to my lips, said, "if I am a good boy and do my best to please, you will love me a little, won't you, Uncle Nathan?" "Bless your heart, child," replied my Uncle, "who on earth could help loving you? Yes, Walter, you may be sure I shall love the son of my favorite sister, Ellen; and, were it not so, I think I should soon love you for yourself alone, for, if I am any judge of faces, you are better than the general run of boys of your age."
Can this, thought I, be the man who wrote that short, crusty letter. I must confess, that (at first sight) I was not favorably impressed by the external appearance of the home I was approaching. I had expected to see a handsome tasty building, painted white perhaps; with green blinds, like those we had passed on the way from the village; and when Uncle Nathan said "here we are, Walter, most at home," and I raised my eyes to gain a view of the homestead, the faded dingy appearance of the house and its surroundings struck me as unpleasant. It was a large old-fashioned square farm-house, which had once boasted a coat of red paint, but the winds and rains of many years had sadly marred its beauty, so much so that, but for the patches of dull red still visible beneath the eaves and round the windows, one would have been loth to believe the old house had all been of a deep red. The high road lay between the house and the long stretch of meadow-land which separated it from the river. The picket fence in front of the dwelling was in rather a dilapidated condition, and the gate, being minus a hinge, hung awry. Many tall sunflowers stood in the narrow strip of ground between the front fence and the house, and they were about all I could see in the way of ornament. But with this rather shabby look there was after all something inviting and attractive about the place, something that suggested the idea of quiet and repose and cozy comfort. Reader, have you never seen a home like Uncle Nathan's? I have seen many of them. Little did I then think how, in course of time, I should learn to love that old house and its inmates. A little before we reached home Uncle Nathan addressed me in a confidential voice, saying:
"Aunt Lucinder (as every body calls her) is my sister, who keeps house for me. She's kinder partickler and fussy, and you must not mind if she does snap you up kinder short sometimes, 'tis her way you know; but never you fear, for with all her sharp speeches she has a kind heart, and her bark is a deal worse than her bite; and if you once gain her over for a friend, you'll have a firm one, depend upon that. Then there's mother, she lives with us, too, she's an old, old woman Walter, and we have all try to please her in everything, and of course you'll always be quiet and respectful-like to her. I have often before spoke of hiring a boy to do chores about the house, but Lucinder always said, 'all boys were good for was to make a noise and litter up the house,' but I guess you'll get along famously with her; she's an old maid you know, that is she never was married, and folks say that old maids are always kinder cross and crusty." Seeing my sober face as we drew nigh the house my uncle laughed, as he said in an encouraging tone, "Don't you be a grain scared, Walter, neither of them old wimmen will hurt you. I shouldn't a said a word, only I thought if I gave you a hint of Aunt Lucinder's queer ways you'd know better how to get along with her." I had always thought all women like my own mild-speaking mother and kind old Mrs. Judson, but by this time I began to think Aunt Lucinda must differ very widely from them; and when I followed Uncle Nathan into the clean wide kitchen where a bountiful supper awaited our arrival, I felt somehow as though I was stepping upon dangerous ground, and I almost feared to set my foot down lest it might chance to be in the wrong place. Aunt Lucinda, however, gave me a much more kindly welcome than I had feared, which I regarded as a favourable omen. She also introduced me to the notice of my aged grandmother who was seated in her deep arm-chair in the corner. She has seen more than eighty years of life, but as she sits there, day by day, in her quiet decrepitude, she still pretends to a superintendence of the labors of Aunt Lucinda in a way that might sometimes provoke a smile. She seems not to realize that my uncle and aunt are themselves middle aged gray-haired people, and still calls them her boy and girl. When made aware who I was my grandmother seemed delighted to see me, and talked long and affectionately of my mother whom she had not seen for many years. Aunt Lucinda was busily employed at the ironing-board, but looked often to see that her mother's wants were all supplied; nothing could exceed the affection and care she seemed to bestow upon her aged parent, indulging every whim, so that the old lady hardly can realize that she is old and almost helpless. We were soon seated at the supper table, and they all must have had the idea that I had brought with me from Elmwood a most unheard-of appetite, if I could judge by the quantities of food they insisted upon piling on my plate. Aunt Lucinda treated me with a good degree of kindness, but evidently kept a sharp eye to all my movements, doubtless expecting that in a short time I would break out in some flagrant misdemeanor, when she would be called to open hostilities. Poor Aunt Lucinda, you had little to fear from the homesick boy who sat in the purple twilight, leaning his elbows upon the window-sill, thinking of his now far-distant mother and sister, and his loved companion, Charley Gray. As I sat there a line of light in the eastern sky gradually became brighter, till the full round moon rose to view, bathing the whole scene in a flood of silver light. Seated thus, gazing over the moonlit landscape I began (with a mind beyond my years) to look far away into the future, and I made many resolves for my course of action in time to come. I wished to assist my uncle in doing up the "chores" for the night, but he would not hear of it. "You'll get work enough here," said he, "but you shall rest after your journey and you shall not lift a hand to-night." When work was over and the house quiet, Aunt Lucinda placed the large family Bible upon the table, preparatory to their evening worship. "Now won't it be nice, Lucinda," said Uncle Nathan, "we've got some one in the house that has good eyes, to read the chapter for us every night, it bothers me to read by lamplight, and I have often heard you call a word wrong if the light was the least mite dim." "My sight isn't so bad as it might be," replied my aunt who evidently did not relish this hint that she was not as young as she had been, but she readily consented that for the future I should read the Chapter from the Bible each evening. After reading we all kneeled and Uncle Nathan offered a simple but heartfelt prayer, in which he failed not to remember the poor boy, who kneeled by his side, as well as his distant friends. After prayers I was shown at once to the room which was to be mine during my stay, and very different it was from the one I occupied at Farmer Judson's. It was an airy, cheerful, looking apartment, furnished plainly, but with everything necessary to my comfort. When left alone my first act was to remove from my trunk the small Bible which was my mother's parting gift, with the request that I would allow no day to pass without reading at least one Chapter, alone. And I have no doubt the obeying my mother's parting injunction, made the slumber all the sweeter, which weighed down my eyelids almost as soon as my head pressed my pillow.
Before a week had passed away I made up my mind that I might have found a worse home than the old farm-house at Uncle Nathan's. Aunt Lucinda was not positively unkind to me, but I could not help a feeling of fear when in her presence, for she evidently regarded my every movement with a watchful eye, and looked upon my presence in the family as an infliction that must be borne; but with all this she was very careful for my comfort, and treated me in every respect as one of the family. Few would, at first sight, receive a favourable impression of my aunt. During the first few days of my residence in the family I used often to wonder to myself how two sisters could be so dissimilar in every way as were my mother and Aunt Lucinda. My mother's manner was very gentle, and her speech was mild and pleasant, while my Aunt had a sharp, quick manner of speech, and took the liberty upon all occasions of speaking her mind plainly. She was however a very clever house-keeper, always busy, and a large amount of work went every day through her hands. From the first moment I saw her I felt strongly attached to my venerable grandmother, who treated me with the greatest kindness and seemed never so happy as when, seated by her side, I read aloud to her from the large Bible which lay constantly within her reach. The personal appearance of Uncle Nathan was very pleasing; there was a mild good-humoured expression upon his countenance which at once told you he was not one at all inclined to fret or borrow trouble. This disposition to take the world easy often irritated my aunt, and she sometimes went so far as to say, "if she didn't stir up Nathan now and then, every thing would go to wreck and ruin about the place." Mindful of Uncle Nathan's advice I did my best to please my aunt, and endeavoured to win her affection by many little offices of kindness, as often as I had opportunity, but for some time my attempts to gain her goodwill produced but little effect. When I had been a few days an inmate with the family, I became an unwilling listener to a conversation which troubled me much at the time, although I have often since smiled at the recollection of it. I happened one day to be employed in the back kitchen, or what they termed the sink-room, and I soon became aware that I was the subject of conversation by the family in the room adjoining. "Now if that boy ain't the most splendid reader I ever did hear," said my kind old grandmother, "and I think, takin' all things into consideration it's a good thing Nathan sent for him; what do you say Lucinda?" "What I say is this," replied my aunt, "it don't do to judge folks, specially boys, by first appearances, and I shouldn't wonder a mite, for all his smooth ways and fine readin' if the fellow turns out a regular limb for mischief before he's been here a fortnight. I think Nathan Adams must have been out of his senses (if he ever had any to get out of) when he went and fetched a boy here to tear about and make a complete bedlam of the house. I had to work hard enough before, but with a boy of that age round the house to cut up capers and raise Cain generally, I don't know how we're to live at all." "Well, Lucinda," replied Grandma, "Nathan's been a good dutiful boy to me," (Uncle Nathan was past forty) "and if he took a notion to bring Ellen's boy here, I don't see as you ought to say a word against it. What if you'd a married Joshua Blake as you expected to, and he'd a died and left you with a boy to bring up and school, I guess you'd a been glad if Nathan or somebody else had offered to take him off your hands for a while." This reply from her mother, at once silenced Aunt Lucinda, and there was no more said upon the subject.
Weeks and days succeeded each other in rapid succession, till mellow autumn with its many glories was upon the earth. It had been a very busy season, and long since Uncle Nathan's capacious barns had been filled to overflowing with their treasures of fragrant hay and golden grain. The corn-house was filled with its yellow harvest, and the potatoes were heaped high in the cellar. Each different sort had its separate bin, and my memory is not sufficiently retentive to mention the numerous kinds of potatoes by their proper name which I that autumn assisted in stowing away in the old cellar; and potatoes were not the only good things to be found there when the harvest was completed. The apples were of almost as many different sorts as the potatoes, and their flavor was very tempting to the fruit-loving appetite, and their red cheeks were just discernible by the dim light, which came faintly through the narrow cellar-windows. Large quantities of almost every species of garden vegetable were stowed away, each in their respective place. The cattle and sheep had been driven from the far-off pastures to enjoy for a season the "fall-feed," of the meadows. The bright-hued autumn leaves were cast to the ground by every breeze which floated by; the migratory birds were beginning their flight southward, while on every hand were visible indications of the approach of winter. I had done my best during the busy season to render myself useful, and by this time had become quite an important member of the household, so much so that I one day heard uncle Nathan wonder "how he ever got along without me." He had often hired boys before, but a hired boy who merely works for wages is often very different from one whose services are prompted by affection and gratitude. Aunt Lucinda still seemed rather to distrust me and, although she said nothing, I was too sharp-sighted to be ignorant of the scrutinizing watch she maintained over my conduct. I did not, as many boys of my age would have done, allow myself to cherish any resentment toward my aunt, on the contrary I did every thing in my power to gain her goodwill; I never allowed the water-pails to become empty; I split the kindlings for the morning fire; and, by the time I had been a few weeks in the family, my busy aunt found herself freed from many household tasks to which she had been accustomed for years, and, more than this, I invariably treated her with the utmost kindness and respect. It happened one evening that my aunt was suffering from one of the severe headaches to which she was often subject. After supper she was almost incapable of any exertion whatever. When it was nearly dark she suddenly remembered that the large weekly wash had not been brought in from the clothes' yard, and there was every appearance of approaching rain. "I don't know," said she in a desponding voice; "what will become of the clothes, but if they are all spoiled I can't bring them in, for my head aches as though it would split." It was with fear and trembling that I came forward, and offered to get the clothes-basket and bring in the clothes. She looked at me with astonishment, saying, "a pretty sight the clothes will be by the time you bring them in, and then the lines will be broken into fifty pieces; no, no, let them hang and take their chance in the rain; I can't any more than have to wash them all over again." "Please let me go, aunty," said I, "I will handle the clothes very carefully, and I certainly will not break the lines." Touched in spite of herself by my desire to assist her she gave me the basket, saying, "now do pray be careful and not destroy every thing you put your hands on," and again seated herself with a troubled countenance to await my return. She was often inclined to think that nothing could be done properly about the house which was not performed by her own hands. Her face did brighten a little when I appeared after a short time at the kitchen door, bearing the well-filled basket with its snow-white contents in a most wonderful state of preservation. It was not her habit to praise any one to their face, but, when I had left the room, she turned to Uncle Nathan and said "I do believe after all there is some good in that boy. I am afraid I have been a little too hard with him, but I've made up my mind if he behaves as well as he's done so far, that he shall have a friend in his Aunt Lucinda; he's the first boy that's ever been about the house that I could endure at all, and I do believe he means well, and does his best to please us, and that's more than can be said of most boys."
The busy season was over at last, and the harvest all gathered in; on the following Monday I was to enter as a pupil at Fulton Academy. I had long anxiously looked forward to this day, and now that it was so near, I grew restless with expectation. I spent the Saturday afternoon roaming among the old woods which skirted the farm on one side, and seated by turns at the roots of some of the fine old trees, whose covering of many-hued leaves had long since fallen to the ground, my thoughts wove themselves into many bright forms, and many a purpose for good was matured in my mind. I dreamed of a time when, by the unaided exertions of manhood I would purchase ease and relaxation for my patient mother and loving sister, and next to those of my own household I breathed a wish for the happiness of the loved companion of my childhood Charley Gray.
The important day arrived when I was to begin school-life at the Village Academy, the day I had so long looked forward to with pleasant anticipations. The teacher who had taught the Fulton Academy for several years was a gentleman of high culture, and of sound judgment. Teaching with him was a loved life-work. He had been left an orphan at an early age, and had, by his own exertions, obtained the education which enabled him to occupy a position of influence and respectability, consequently, he was all the better able to sympathize and assist studious pupils who laboured against many discouragements to obtain an education. Instead of regarding the pupils under his charge as only objects for correction and reproof, he treated them as reasonable beings, and laboured diligently to develop their better natures, as well as their intellectual powers. When I entered the school-room, and Mr. Oswald made some enquiries regarding my studies, and other matters, I looked in his clear honest, but withal searching eyes, and felt certain I had found a friend in my teacher. My ideas at the time, of my new home as well as my school, will I presume be best expressed by transcribing the copy of a letter, written to Charley Gray about this time. I lately found it among, some old papers. It reads thus:
Fulton, Oct. 25th, 18—
As I cannot possibly see you, I will do the next best by writing to you in answer to your kind and very welcome letter, which came to hand two days since. I have so much to tell you that I hardly know where to begin; but if I intend to finish I must make a beginning in some way. I will first endeavour to tell you something about my home. You know I feared Uncle Nathan might be like Farmer Judson; but never were two more unlike; he never scolds or frets, and, although he is not a great talker, somehow or other when he does talk I always like to listen to what he says. I am sure you would like Uncle Nathan, and if you could pay a visit to his farm he would not drive you off as Mr. Judson did. My grandma and aunt live with my uncle. Grandma is a very old woman, but she looks happy and contented as she sits day after day in her large arm-chair, dividing her time between her knitting work and reading in the large-print Bible which always lies close to her hand; sometimes she says it tries her eyes to read, and then I wish you could see how pleased she seems when I offer to read to her.
You remember the day Charley, when we were at school at dear old Elmwood, when we were out at recess and that poor old beggar-man who was nearly blind passed the play-ground, and dropped his cane into the ditch. Some of the thoughtless boys set up a laugh, but you left your play and ran and picked up the cane and placed it in his hand; and the old man patted your head and said "I know you will make a good man, my lad, if you live to grow up, for there is always good in the boy who pays respect to the aged and helpless." The master who saw it all from the open window did not forget to reprove the boys who laughed at the poor old man, while at the same time he warmly commended your kind act, "Take my word for it boys," said he "an act of kindness, or any mark of respect to the old and feeble, will always leave a feeling of happiness in your own hearts;" and I know now that our teacher told the truth. Sometimes grandmother calls me to read to her when I am busy with study or play, and at first I do not feel inclined to go, but I always do, and I feel more than paid when I finish reading and she says, "thank you, Walter, you are a good boy to remember poor old grandma and I hope if you live to be old, and your eyes grow dim like mine, some one will be as kind to you as you are to me." I don't know how it is, Charley, but some how I always feel happier after reading to grandma Adams. Aunt Lucinda is Uncle Nathan's sister, you know; she keeps house; she is a real go-a-head sort of woman, and a great worker; she is older than Uncle Nathan, but, between you and I, I don't think she cares to hear that spoken of, but it's no harm for me to tell you. She is so different in her ways from your mother and mine that at first I hardly knew what to make of her. She has a queer way of snapping people up short if she isn't just suited. For a long time I was afraid Aunt Lucinda would never like me, she seemed to have such a horror of boys—may be that's the reason she never got married. I have begun to think lately that I am gaining in her good opinion and I am very glad of it. After all she is kind-hearted, for all her queer ways; I could get along better if she wasn't so distressingly neat and particular about the house. I tell you if you lived with my Aunt, you'd have to remember always to wipe your feet on the door-mat before coming into the house; if you did happen to forget Aunt Lucinda would sharpen up your memory, depend upon it. When I first came here I really believe she thought I should burn either the house or barn, perhaps both, or commit some other enormity; but as no such occurrence has as yet taken place, she begins to think, I believe, that I am not so bad as I might be. In fact I heard her tell Uncle Nathan the other day, that she "would be real sorry if I was to go away, I was such a help about the house, and so careful to keep the chores all done up," that was a great deal for Aunt Lucinda to say in my favor; and I was so pleased when I heard her that I wished there was more chores to do than there are although I sometimes think there are quite enough already. But it is time I was telling you something about my school. I attend the Academy over at Fulton, the small village which is about two miles from Uncle Nathan's farm. The Academy is the only thing here which reminds me of Elmwood. It is a large building, two stories in height, painted white, and the grounds around it are thickly set with many different kinds of shade-trees. The upper story of the building is used as a Public Hall while the lower one is appropriated to the school. There is about an equal number of boys and girls attending this term. By-the-bye, Charley, when I first entered the school I was very much afraid that my own attainments would seem very little compared with those of my then unknown companions, but I have got rid of that fear now, I am in the class next the highest and am eagerly looking forward to the day, which I hope is not far distant, when I shall stand in the first ranks in Fulton Academy. There are two teachers. Mr. Oswald, the head master, and Mr. Lawrence, who is quite a young man, is the assistant teacher. This same assistant is very pompous in his manner, and when Mr. Oswald is not present, he is disposed to act something of the tyrant. He has red hair, which I believe is a matter of much annoyance to him, for he is uncommonly vain regarding his personal appearance. Knowing this, some of the boys delight in playing off jokes upon him. One day last week, Mr. Lawrence was leaning over a desk, working out a difficult example in Arithmetic, directly behind him was Ned Stanton, the most mirthful and fun-loving boy in the whole school. Ned took a match from his pocket and, first giving me a sly nudge to look, held it close to Mr. Lawrence's head, making believe to light it by his red curling locks. The act was so sudden and withal so comic that I burst out laughing before I thought where I was. Mr. Oswald raised his eyes just in time to see Ned holding the match, I expected the fellow was in for a punishment for sure; but will you believe me when I tell you that Mr. Oswald actually laughed himself. He tried hard to put on a stern look, and said "I think Edward you had best attend to your ciphering." The assistant was so busily occupied that he saw nor heard nothing of it all, till he raised his head, and seeing many of the scholars trying to conceal their laughter, and even observing an expression of quiet mirth on Mr. Oswald's face, he looked from one to another with such a ludicrous manner of enquiry and astonishment it made the matter still worse. But, whatever Mr. Lawrence may lack in any way, is more than made up to us in Mr. Oswald. He is past thirty years of age, he is married, and has a little boy and girl who attend school. The little boy is very nice, and if I wasn't afraid you would laugh at me I would say that I think Rose Oswald the handsomest girl I ever saw, and I have said it after all, laugh or no laugh. Mr. Oswald is very highly learned, but when we meet with him, somehow or other, the space between us and that tall, learned, and somewhat grave looking man, seems annihilated. I believe it is his kindness which does this. Like all schools there are both good and bad scholars here; some of them practice much deceit with the teachers, and will sometimes even conceal their books when in the class, and recite from them, to save study; I never do this, Charley, for I know it is wrong, and I know you wouldn't do it either. But the small space left warns me that I must bring my long letter to a close. Write soon, and tell me how you are getting along, and all about your school, and every thing else that you think may interest me. I have made some companions here but you needn't fear my forgetting you, for I have met with no one who, to me, can quite fill the place of Charley Gray. With much affection I remain,
Your sincere Friend,
P.S. Write soon, and don't forget to write a long letter.
In uncle Nathan's household a "bee" for the paring of apples had been the annual custom from time immemorial; and in rural districts, the merry-makings of any kind are a very different affair from the social gatherings in a large city; in the country a social gathering has about it a genuine heartiness of enjoyment, unknown in the city drawing-rooms of wealth and fashion. In the country you come nearer to nature, as it were, untrammelled by the customs and usages of fashionable society. Uncle Nathan was just the one to get up a social gathering of this kind, and enjoy it too; if his hair was growing white, the flowers of social feeling still bloomed in his heart; and the yearly apple-paring bee was never omitted in the household. He used to say "the apple pies would not taste half so good in winter if the apples were not pared by the hands of the merry company who assembled upon the occasion."