WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED
By Frank R. Stockton
New York Dodd, Mead and Company
Copyright, 1874, by Dodd & Mead Copyright, 1902, by Marian E. Stockton
CHAPTER PAGE I. Harry Loudon Makes Up His Mind. 9 II. The Adoption. 15 III. Commencing Business. 21 IV. Kate, very naturally, is Anxious. 30 V. The Turkey-Hunter. 38 VI. Tony Strikes Out. 47 VII. Aunt Matilda's Christmas. 58 VIII. A Lively Team. 71 IX. Business in Earnest. 85 X. A Meeting on the Road. 97 XI. Rob. 103 XII. Tony on the War-path. 112 XIII. Cousin Maria. 118 XIV. Harry's Grand Scheme. 124 XV. The Council. 135 XVI. Company Business. 143 XVII. Principally Concerning Kate. 154 XVIII. The Arrival. 164 XIX. Constructing the Line. 172 XX. An Important Meeting of the Board. 181 XXI. A Last Resort. 189 XXII. A Quandary. 194 XXIII. Crossing the Creek. 202 XXIV. The First Business Telegrams. 210 XXV. Profits and Projects. 225 XXVI. A Grand Proposition. 237 XXVII. How Something Came to an End. 246 XXVIII. A Meeting. 253 XXIX. Once more in the Woods. 257 XXX. A Girl and a Gun. 264 XXXI. A Man in a Boat. 271 XXXII. Aunt Matilda's Letter. 277 XXXIII. Time to Stop. 286
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED.
HARRY LOUDON MAKES UP HIS MIND.
On a wooden bench under a great catalpa-tree, in the front yard of a comfortable country-house in Virginia, sat Harry and Kate Loudon worrying their minds. It was all about old Aunt Matilda.
Aunt Matilda was no relation of these children. She was an old colored woman, who lived in a cabin about a quarter of a mile from their house, but they considered her one of their best friends. Her old log cabin was their favorite resort, and many a fine time they had there. When they caught some fish, or Harry shot a bird or two, or when they could get some sweet potatoes or apples to roast, and some corn-meal for ash-cakes, they would take their provisions to Aunt Matilda and she would cook them. Sometimes an ash-cake would be baked rather harder than it was convenient to bite, and it had happened that a fish or two had been cooked entirely away, but such mishaps were not common. Aunt Matilda was indeed a most wonderful cook—and a cook, too, who liked to have a boy and a girl by her while she was at work; and who would tell them stories—as queer old stories as ever were told—while the things were cooking. The stories were really the cause of the ash-cakes and fish sometimes being forgotten.
And it is no wonder that these children were troubled in their minds. They had just heard that Aunt Matilda was to go to the alms-house.
Harry and Kate were silent. They had mourned over the news, and Kate had cried. There was nothing more to be done about it, so far as she could see.
But all of a sudden Harry jumped up. "I tell you what it is Kate," he exclaimed; "I've made up my mind! Aunt Matilda is not going to the alms-house. I will support her myself!"
"Oh, that will be splendid!" cried Kate; "but you can never do it!"
"Yes, I can," said Harry. "There are ever so many ways in which I can earn money."
"What are you going to do?" said Kate; "will you let me help?"
"Yes," said her brother; "you may help if you can, but I don't think you will be of much use. As for me, I shall do plenty of things. I shall go out with my gun—"
"But there is nothing to shoot, now in the summer-time," said Kate.
"No, there isn't much yet, to be sure," said her brother, "but before very long there will be partridges and hares, plenty of them; and father and Captain Caseby will buy all I shoot. And you see, until it is time for game I'm going to gather sumac."
"Oh! I can help you in that," cried Kate.
"Yes, I believe you can," said her brother. "And now, suppose we go down and see Aunt Matilda, and have a talk with her about it."
"Just wait until I get my bonnet," said Kate. And she dashed into the house, and then, with a pink calico sun-bonnet on her head, she came down the steps in two jumps, and the brother and sister, together, hurried through the woods to Aunt Matilda's cabin.
Harry and Kate Loudon were well-educated children, and, in many respects, knew more than most girls and boys who were older than they. Harry had been taught by his father to ride and to swim and to shoot as carefully as his school-teacher had taught him to spell and to parse. And he was not only taught to be skillful in these outdoor pursuits, but to be prudent, and kind-hearted. When he went gunning, he shot birds and game that were fit for the table; and when he rode, he remembered that his horse had feelings as well as himself. Being a boy of good natural impulses, he might have found out these things for himself; but, for fear that he might be too long about it, his father carefully taught him that it was possible to shoot and to hunt and to ride without being either careless or cruel. It must not be supposed that Harry was so extremely particular that there was no fun in him, for he had discovered that there is just as much fun in doing things right as in doing them wrong; and as there was not a boy in all the country round about who could ride or swim or shoot so well as Harry, so there was none who had a more generally jolly time than he.
His sister Kate was a sharp, bright, intelligent girl, rather inclined to be wild when opportunity offered; but very affectionate, and always as ready for outdoor sports as any boy. She could not shoot—at least, she never tried—and she did not ride much on horseback, but she enjoyed fishing, and rambles through the woods were to her a constant delight. When anything was to be done, especially if it was anything novel, Kate was always ready to help. If anybody had a plan on hand, it was very hard to keep her finger out of it; and if there were calculations to be made, it was all the better. Kate had a fine head for mathematics, and, on the whole, she rather preferred a slate and pencil to needles and spool-cotton.
As to Aunt Matilda, there could be no doubt about her case being a pretty hard one. She was quite old and decrepit when the war set her free, and, at the time of our story, she was still older and stiffer. Her former master had gone to the North to live, and as she had no family to support her, the poor old woman was compelled to depend upon the charity of her neighbors. For a time she managed to get along tolerably well, but it was soon found that she would suffer if she depended upon occasional charity, especially after she became unable to go after food or help. Mr. and Mrs. Loudon were very willing to give her what they could, but they had several poor people entirely dependent upon them, and they found it impossible to add to the number of their pensioners. So it was finally determined among the neighbors that Aunt Matilda would have to go to the alms-house, which place was provided for just such poor persons as she. Neither Harry nor Kate knew much about the alms-house, but they thought it must be some sort of a horrible place; and, at any rate, it was too hard that Aunt Matilda should have to leave her old home where she had spent so many, many years.
And they did not intend she should do it.
When the children reached Aunt Matilda's cabin, they found the old woman seated by a very small fire, which was burning in one corner of the hearth.
"Are you cold, Aunt Matilda?" asked Kate.
"Lor' bless you, no, honey! But you see there wasn't hardly any coals left, and I was tryin' to keep the fire alive till somebody would come along and gather me up some wood."
"Then you were going to cook your breakfast, I suppose," said Harry.
"Yes, child, if somebody 'ud come along and fetch me something to eat."
"Haven't you anything at all in the house?" asked Kate.
"Not a pinch o' meal, nor nothin' else," said the old woman; "but I 'spected somebody 'ud be along."
"Did you know, Aunt Matilda," said Harry, "that they are going to send you to the alms-house?"
"Yes; I heerd 'em talk about it," said Aunt Matilda, shaking her head; "but the alms-house ain't no place for me."
"That's so!" said Kate, quickly. "And you're not going there, either!"
"No," said Harry: "Kate and I intend to take care of you for the rest of your life."
"Lor', children, you can't do it!" said the old woman, looking in astonishment from one to the other of these youngsters who proposed to adopt her.
"Yes; but we can," said Harry. "Just you wait and see."
"It'll take a good deal o' money," said the old woman, who did not seem to be altogether satisfied with the prospects held out before her. "More'n you all will ever be able to git."
"How much money would be enough for you to live on, Aunt Matilda?" asked Harry.
"Dunno. Takes a heap o' money to keep a person."
"Well, now," said Kate, "let's see exactly how much it will take. Have you a pencil, Harry? I have a piece of paper in my pocket, I think. Yes; here it is. Now, let's set down everything, and see what it comes to."
So saying, she sat down on a low stool with her paper on her knees, and her pencil in her hand.
"What shall we begin with?" said she.
"We'll begin with corn-meal," said Harry. "How much corn-meal do you eat in a week, Aunt Matilda?"
"Dunno," said she, "'spect about a couple o' pecks."
"Oh, Aunt Matilda!" cried Kate, "our whole family wouldn't eat two pecks in a week."
"Well, then, a half-peck," said she; "'pends a good deal on how many is living in a house."
"Yes; but we only mean this for you, Aunt Matilda. We don't mean it for anybody else."
"Well, then, I reckon a quarter of a peck would do, for jest me."
"We will allow you a peck," said Harry, "and that will be twenty-five cents a week. Set that down, Kate."
"All right," said Kate. And she set down at the top of the paper, "Meal, 25 cents."
The children proceeded in this way to calculate how much bacon, molasses, coffee, and sugar would suffice for Aunt Matilda's support; and they found that the cost, per week, at the rates of the country stores, with which they were both familiar, would be seventy-seven and three-quarter cents.
"Is there anything else, Aunt Matilda?" asked Kate.
"Nuffin I can think on," said Aunt Matilda, "'cept milk."
"Oh, I can get that for nothing," said Kate. "I will bring it to you from home; and I will bring you some butter too, when I can get it."
"And I'll pick up wood for you," said Harry. "I can gather enough in the woods in a couple of hours to last you for a week."
"Lor' bless you, chil'en," said Aunt Matilda, "I hope you'll be able to do all dat."
Harry stood quiet a few minutes, reflecting.
"How much would seventy-seven and three quarter cents a week amount to in a year, Kate?" said he.
Kate rapidly worked out the problem, and answered: "Forty dollars and forty-three cents."
"Lor'! but that's a heap o' money!" said Aunt Matilda. "That's more'n I 'spect to have all the rest of my life."
"How old are you, Aunt Matilda?" said Harry.
"I 'spect about fifty," said the old woman.
"Oh, Aunt Matilda!" cried Harry, "you're certainly more than fifty. When I was a very little fellow, I remember that you were very old—at least, sixty or seventy."
"Well, then, I 'spects I'se about ninety," said Aunt Matilda.
"But you can't be ninety!" said Kate. "The Bible says that seventy years is the common length of a person's life."
"Them was Jews," said Aunt Matilda. "It didn't mean no cull'd people. Cull'd people live longer than that. But p'raps a cull'd Jew wouldn't live very long."
"Well," said Harry, "it makes no difference how old you are. We're going to take care of you for the rest of your life."
Kate was again busy with her paper.
"In five years, Harry," she said, "It will be two hundred and two dollars and fifteen cents."
"Lor'!" cried Aunt Matilda, "you chil'en will nebber git dat."
"But we don't have to get it all at once, Aunt Matilda," said Harry, laughing; "and you needn't be afraid that we can't do it. Come, Kate, it's time for us to be off."
And then the conference broke up. The question of Aunt Matilda's future support was settled. They had forgotten clothes, to be sure; but it is very difficult to remember everything.
When they reached home, Harry and Kate put together what little money they had, and found that they could buy food enough to last Aunt Matilda for several days. This Harry procured and carried down to the old woman that day. He also gathered and piled up inside of her cabin a good supply of wood. Fortunately, there was a spring very near her door, so that she could get water without much trouble.
Harry and Kate determined that they would commence business in earnest the next morning, and, as this was not the season for game, they determined to go to work to gather sumac-leaves.
Most of us are familiar with the sumac-bush, which grows nearly all over the United States. Of course we do not mean the poisonous swamp-sumac, but that which grows along the fences and on the edges of the woods. Of late years the leaves of this bush have been greatly in demand for tanning purposes, and, in some States, especially in Virginia, sumac gathering has become a very important branch of industry, particularly with the negroes; many of whom, during the sumac season, prefer gathering these leaves to doing any other kind of work. The sumac-bush is quite low, and the leaves are easily stripped off. They are then carefully dried, and packed in bags, and carried to the nearest place of sale, generally a country store.
The next morning, Harry and Kate made preparations for a regular expedition. They were to take their dinner, and stay all day. Kate was enraptured—even more so, perhaps, than Harry. Each of them had a large bag, and Harry carried his gun, for who could tell what they might meet with? A mink, perhaps, or a fox, or even a beaver! They had a long walk, but it was through the woods, and there was always something to see in the woods. In a couple of hours, for they stopped very often, they reached a little valley, through which ran Crooked Creek. And on the banks of Crooked Creek were plenty of sumac-bushes. This place was at some distance from any settlement, and apparently had not been visited by sumac gatherers.
"Hurra!" cried Kate, "here is enough to fill a thousand bags!"
Harry leaned his gun against a tree, and hung up his shot and powder flasks, and they both went to work gathering sumac. There was plenty of it, but Kate soon found that what they saw would not fill a thousand bags. There were a good many bushes, but they were small; and, when all the leaves were stripped off one, and squeezed into a bag, they did not make a very great show. However, they did very well, and, for an hour or so, they worked on merrily. Then they had dinner. Harry built a fire. He easily found dry branches, and he had brought matches and paper with him. At a little distance under a great pine-tree, Kate selected a level place, and cleared away the dead leaves and the twigs, leaving a smooth table of dry and fragrant pine-needles. On this she spread the cloth, which was a napkin. Then she took from the little basket she had brought with her a cake of corn-meal, several thick and well-buttered slices of wheat bread, some hard-boiled eggs, a little paper of pepper and salt, a piece of cheese, and some fried chicken. When this was spread out (and it would not all go on the cloth), Harry came, and looked at the repast.
"What is there to cook?" said he.
Kate glanced over her table, with a perplexed look upon her countenance, and said, "I don't believe there is anything to cook."
"But we ought to cook something," said Harry. "Here is a splendid fire. What's the good of camping out if you don't cook things?"
"But everything is cooked," said Kate.
"So it seems," said Harry, in a somewhat discouraged tone. Had he built that beautiful fire for nothing? "We ought to have brought along something raw," said he. "It is ridiculous eating a cold dinner, with a splendid fire like that."
"We might catch some fish," said Kate; "we should have to cook them."
"Yes," said Harry, "but I brought no lines."
So, as there was nothing else to be done, they ate their dinner cold, and when they had finished, Kate cleared off the table by giving the napkin a flirt, and they were ready for work again. But first they went to look for a spring, where they could get a drink. In about half an hour they found a spring, and some wild plums, and some blackberries, and a grape-vine (which would surely be full of grapes in the fall, and was therefore a vine to be remembered), and a stone, which Kate was quite certain was an Indian arrow-head, and some tracks in the white sand, which must have been made by some animal or other, although neither of them was able to determine exactly what animal.
When they returned to the pine-tree, Kate took up her bag. Harry followed her example, but somewhat slowly, as if he were thinking of something else.
"I tell you, Harry," said Kate, "suppose you take your gun and go along the creek and see what that was that made the tracks. If it was anything with fur on it, it would come to more than the sumac. I will stay here, and go on filling my bag."
"Well," said Harry, after a moment's hesitation, "I might go a little way up the creek. I needn't be gone long. I would certainly like to find that creature, if I can."
"All right," said Kate; "I think you'll find it."
So Harry loaded his gun, and hurried off to find the tracks of the mysterious, and probably fur-covered animal.
Kate worked away cheerfully, singing a little song, and filling her bag with the sumac-leaves. It was now much warmer, and she began to find that sumac picking, all alone, was not very interesting, and she hoped that Harry would soon find his animal, whatever it was. Then, after picking a little longer, she thought she would sit down, and rest awhile. So she dragged her bag to the pine-tree, and sat down, leaning her back against the tall trunk. She took her bag of sumac in her arms, and lifted it up, trying to estimate its weight.
"There must be ten pounds here!" she said, "No—it don't feel very heavy, but then there are so many of the leaves. It ought to weigh fifteen pounds. And they will be a cent a pound if we take pay in trade, and three-quarters of a cent if we want cash. But, of course, we will take things in trade."
And then she put down the bag, and began to calculate.
"Fifteen pounds, fifteen cents, and at seventy-seven and three-quarter cents per week, that would support Aunt Matilda nearly a day and a half; and then, if Harry has as much more, that will keep her almost three days; and if we pick for two hours longer, when Harry comes back, we may get ten pounds more apiece, which will make it pretty heavy; but then we won't have to come again for nearly five days; and if Harry shoots an otter, I reckon he can get a dollar for the skin—or a pair of gloves of it—kid gloves, and my pink dress—and we'll go in the carriage—two horses—four horses—a prince with a feather—some butterflies—" and Kate was asleep.
When Kate awoke, she saw by the sun that she had been asleep for several hours. She sprang to her feet. "Where is Harry?" she cried. But nobody answered. Then she was frightened, for he might be lost. But soon she reflected that that was very ridiculous, for neither of them could be lost in that neighborhood which they knew so well. Then she sat down and waited, quite anxiously, it must be admitted. But Harry did not come, and the sun sank lower. Presently she rose with an air of determination.
"I can't wait any longer," she said, "or it will be dark before I get home. Harry has followed that thing up the creek ever so far, and there is no knowing when he will get back, and it won't do for me to stay here. I'll go home, and leave a note for him."
She put her hand in her pocket, and there was Harry's pencil, which she had borrowed in the morning and forgot to return, and also the piece of paper on which she had made her calculation of the cost of Aunt Matilda's board. The back of this would do very well for a note. So she wrote on it:
I am going home, for it is getting late. I shall go back by the same road we came. Your sumac-bag is in the bushes between the tree and the creek. Bring this piece of paper with you, as it has Aunt Matilda's expenses on the outside.
This note she pinned up against the pine tree, where Harry could not fail to see it. Then she hid her brother's sumac-bag in the bushes and, shouldering her own bag, which, by-the-way, did not weigh so many pounds as she thought it did, set out for home.
KATE, VERY NATURALLY, IS ANXIOUS.
Kate hurried through the woods, for she was afraid she would not reach home until after dark, and indeed it was then quite like twilight in the shade of the great trees around her. The road on which she was walking was, however, clear and open, and she was certain she knew the way. As she hastened on, she could not help feeling that she was wasting this delightful walk through the woods. Her old friends were around her, and though she knew them all so well, she could not stop to spend any time with them. There were the oaks—the black-oak with its shining many-pointed leaves, the white-oak with its lighter green though duller-hued foliage, and the chestnut-oak with its long and thickly clustered leaves. Then there were the sweet-gums, fragrant and star-leaved, and the black-gum, tough, dark, and unpretending. No little girl in the county knew more about the trees of her native place than Kate; for she had made good use of her long rides through the country with her father. Here were the chincapin-bushes, like miniature chestnut-trees, and here were the beautiful poplars. She knew them by their bright leaves, which looked as though they had been snipped off at the top with a pair of scissors. And here, right in front of her, was Uncle Braddock. She knew him by his many-colored dressing-gown, without which he never appeared in public. It was one of the most curious dressing-gowns ever seen, as Uncle Braddock was one of the most curious old colored men ever seen. The gown was not really as old as its wearer, but it looked older. It was composed of about a hundred pieces of different colors and patterns—red, green, blue, yellow, and brown; striped, spotted, plain, and figured with flowers and vines. These pieces, from year to year, had been put on as patches, and some of them were quilted on, and some were sewed, and some were pinned. The gown was very long and came down to Uncle Braddock's heels, which were also very long and bobbed out under the bottom of the gown as if they were trying to kick backward. But Uncle Braddock never kicked. He was very old and he had all the different kinds of rheumatism, and walked bent over nearly at right-angles, supporting himself by a long cane like a bean-pole, which he grasped in the middle. There was probably no particular reason why he should bend over so very much, but he seemed to like to walk in that way, and nobody objected. He was a good old soul, and Kate was delighted to see him.
"Uncle Braddock!" she cried.
The old man stopped and turned around, almost standing up straight in his astonishment at seeing the young girl alone in the woods.
"Why, Miss Kate!" he exclaimed, as she came up with him, "what in the world is you doin' h'yar?"
"I've been gathering sumac," said Kate, as they walked on together, "and Harry's gone off, and I couldn't wait any longer and I'm just as glad as I can be to see you, Uncle Braddock, for I was beginning to be afraid, because its getting dark so fast, and your dressing-gown looked prettier to me than all the trees when I first caught sight of it. But I think you ought to have it washed, Uncle Braddock."
"Wash him!" said Uncle Braddock, with a chuckle, as if the suggestion was a very funny joke; "dat wouldn't do, no how. He'd wash all to bits, and the pins would stick 'em in the hands. Couldn't wash him, Miss Kate; it's too late for dat now. Might have washed him before de war, p'raps. We was stronger, den. But what you getherin sumac for, Miss Kate? If you white folks goes pickin it all, there won't be none lef' soon fur de cull'ed people, dat's mighty certain."
"Why, I'm picking it for the colored people," said Kate, "at least for one colored person."
"Why don't you let 'em pick it the'rselves?" asked the old man.
"Because Aunt Matilda can't do it," said Kate.
"Is dat sumac fur Aunt Matilda?" said Uncle Braddock.
"Yes, it is," said Kate, "and Harry's been gathering some, and we're going to pick enough to get her all she wants. Harry and I intend to take care of her now. You know they were going to send her to the alms-house."
"Well, I declar!" exclaimed the old man. "I neber did hear de like o' dat afore. Why, you all isn't done bein' tuk care of you'selves." Kate laughed, and explained their plans, getting quite enthusiastic about it.
"Lem me carry dat bag," said Uncle Braddock. "Oh no!" said Kate, "you're too old to be carrying bags."
"Jis lem me hab it," said he; "it's trouble enuf fur me to get along, anyway, and a bag or two don't make no kind o' dif'rence."
Kate found herself obliged to consent, and as the bag was beginning to feel very heavy for her, and as it did not seem to make the slightest difference, as he had said, to Uncle Braddock, she was very glad to be rid of it.
But when at last they reached the village, and Uncle Braddock went over the fields to his cabin, Kate ran into the house, carrying her bag with ease, for she was excited by the hope that Harry had come home by some shorter way, and that she should find him in the house.
But there was no Harry there. And soon it was night, and yet he did not come.
Matters now looked serious, and about nine o'clock Mr. Loudon, with two of the neighbors, started out into the woods to look for Aunt Matilda's young guardian.
Kate's mother was away on a visit to her relations in another county, and so the little girl passed the night on the sofa in the parlor, with a colored woman asleep on the rug before the fireplace. Kate would not go to bed. She determined to stay awake until Harry should come home. But the sofa-cushions became more and more pleasant, and very soon she was dreaming that Harry had shot a giraffe, and had skinned it, and had stuffed the skin full of sumac-leaves, and that he and she were pulling it through the woods, and that the legs caught in the trees and they could not get it along, and then she woke up. It was bright daylight. But Harry had not come!
There was no news. Mr. Loudon and his friends were still absent. Poor Kate was in despair, and could not touch the breakfast, which was prepared at the usual hour.
About nine o'clock a company of negro sumac gatherers appeared on the road which passed Mr. Loudon's house. It was a curious party. On a rude cart, drawn by two little oxen, was a pile of bags filled with sumac-leaves, which were supported by poles stuck around the cart and bound together by ropes. On the top of the pile sat a negro, plying a long whip and shouting to the oxen. Behind the cart, and on each side of it, were negroes, men and women, carrying huge bales of sumac on their heads. Bags, pillow-cases, bed-ticks, sheets and coverlets had been called into requisition to hold the precious leaves. Here was a woman with a great bundle on her head, which sank down so as to almost entirely conceal her face; and near her was an old man who supported on his bare head a load that looked heavy enough for a horse. Even little children carried bundles considerably larger than themselves, and all were laughing and talking merrily as they made their way to the village store at the cross-roads.
Kate ran eagerly out to question these people. They must certainly have seen Harry.
The good-natured negroes readily stopped to talk with Kate. The ox-driver halted his team, and every head-burdened man, woman, and child clustered around her, until it seemed as if sumac clouds had spread between her and the sky, and had obscured the sun.
But no one had seen Harry. In fact, this company, with the accumulated proceeds of a week's sumac gathering, had come from a portion of the county many miles from Crooked Creek, and of course, they could bring no news to Kate.
When Harry left Kate, he quietly walked by the side of Crooked Creek, keeping his eyes fixed on the tracks of the strange animal, and his thumb on the hammer of the right-hand barrel of his gun. Before long the tracks disappeared, and disappeared, too, directly in front of a hole in the bank; quite a large hole, big enough for a beaver or an otter. This was capital luck! Harry got down on his hands and knees and examined the tracks. Sure enough, the toes pointed toward the hole. It must be in there!
Harry cocked his gun and sat and waited. He was as still as a dead mouse. There was no earthly reason why the creature should not come out, except perhaps that it might not want to come out. At any rate, it could not know that Harry was outside waiting for it.
He waited a long time without ever thinking how the day was passing on; and it began to be a little darkish, just a little, before he thought that perhaps he had better go back to Kate.
But it might be just coming out, and what a shame to move! A skin that would bring five dollars was surely worth waiting for a little while longer, and he might never have such another chance. He certainly had never had such a one before.
And so he still sat and waited, and pretty soon he heard something. But it was not in the hole—not near him at all. It was farther along the creek, and sounded like the footsteps of some one walking stealthily.
Harry looked around quickly, and, about thirty yards from him, he saw a man with a gun. The man was now standing still, looking steadily at him. At least Harry thought he was, but there was so little light in the woods by this time that he could not be sure about it. What was that man after? Could he be watching him?
Harry was afraid to move. Perhaps the man mistook him for some kind of an animal. To be sure, he could not help thinking that boys were animals, but he did not suppose the man would want to shoot a boy, if he knew it. But how could any one tell that Harry was a boy at that distance, and in that light.
Poor Harry did not even dare to call out. He could not speak without moving something, his lips any way, and the man might fire at the slightest motion. He was so quiet that the musk-rat—it was a musk-rat that lived in the hole—came out of his house, and seeing the boy so still, supposed he was nothing of any consequence, and so trotted noiselessly along to the water and slipped in for a swim. Harry never saw him. His eyes were fixed on the man.
For some minutes longer—they seemed like hours—he remained motionless. And then he could bear it no longer.
"Hel-low!" he cried.
"Hel-low!" said the man.
Then Harry got up trembling and pale, and the man came toward him.
"Why, I didn't know what you were," said the man.
"Tony Kirk!" exclaimed Harry. Yes, it was Tony Kirk, sure enough, a man who would never shoot a boy—if he knew it.
"What are you doing here," asked Tony, "a-squattin' in the dirt at supper-time?"
Harry told him what he was doing, and how he had been frightened, and then the remark about supper-time made him think of his sister. "My senses!" he cried, "there's Kate! she must think I'm lost."
"Kate!" exclaimed Tony. "What Kate? You don't mean your sister!"
"Yes, I do," said Harry; and away he ran down the shore of the creek. Tony followed, and when he reached the big pine-tree, there was Harry gazing blankly around him.
"She's gone!" faltered the boy.
"I should think so," said Tony, "if she knew what was good for her. What's this?" His quick eyes had discovered the paper on the tree.
Tony pulled the paper from the pine trunk and tried to read it, but Harry was at his side in an instant, and saw it was Kate's writing. It was almost too dark to read it, but he managed, by holding it toward the west, to make it out.
"She's gone home," he said, "and I must be after her;" and he prepared to start.
"Hold up!" cried Tony; "I'm going that way. And so you've been getherin' sumac." Harry had read the paper aloud. "There's no use o' leavin' yer bag. Git it out o' the bushes, and come along with me."
Harry soon found his bag, and then he and Tony set out along the road.
"What are you after?" asked Harry.
"Turkeys," said Tony.
Tony Kirk was always after turkeys. He was a wild-turkey hunter by profession. It is true there were seasons of the year when he did not shoot turkeys, but although at such times he worked a little at farming and fished a little, he nearly always found it necessary to do something that related to turkeys. He watched their haunts, he calculated their increase, he worked out problems which proved to him where he would find them most plentiful in the fall, and his mind was seldom free from the consideration of the turkey question.
"Isn't it rather early for turkeys?" asked Harry.
"Well, yes," said Tony, "but I'm tired o' waitin."
"I'm goin' to make a short cut," continued Tony, striking out of the road into a narrow path in the woods. "You can save half a mile by comin' this way."
So Harry followed him.
"I don't mind takin' you," said Tony, "fur I know you kin keep a secret. My turkey-blind is over yander;" and as he said this he put his hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a handful of shelled corn, which he began to scatter along the path, a grain or two at a time. After ten or fifteen minutes' walking, Tony scattering corn all the way, they came to a mass of oak and chestnut boughs, piled up on one side of the path like a barrier. This was the turkey-blind. It was four or five feet high, and behind it Tony was accustomed to sit in the early gray of the morning, waiting for the turkeys which he hoped to entice that way by means of his long line of shelled corn.
"You see I build my blind," said he to Harry, "and then I don't come here till I've sprinkled my corn for about a week, and got the turkeys used to comin' this way after it. Then I get back o' that thar at night and wait till the airly mornin', when they're sartin to come gobblin' along, till I can get a good crack at 'em." With this he sat down on a log, which Harry could scarcely see, so dark was it in the woods by this time.
"Are you tired?" said Harry.
"No," answered Tony; "I'm goin' to stop here. I want to be ready fur 'em before it begins to be light."
"But how am I to get home?" said Harry.
"Oh, jist keep straight on in that track. It'll take yer straight to the store, ef ye don't turn out uv it."
"Can't you come along and show me?" said Harry. "I can't find the way through these dark woods."
"It's easy enough," said Tony, striking a match to light his pipe. "I could find my way with my eyes shut. And it would not do fur me to go. I'll make too much noise comin' back. There's no knowin' how soon the turkeys will begin to stir about."
"Then you oughtn't to have brought me here," said Harry, much provoked.
"I wanted to show you a short way home," said Tony, puffing away at his pipe.
Harry answered not a word, but set out along the path. In a minute or two he ran against a tree; then he turned to the right and stumbled over a root, dropping his bag and nearly losing his hold of his gun. He was soon convinced that it was all nonsense to try to get home by that path, and he slowly made his way back to Tony.
"I'll tell ye what it is," said the turkey-hunter, "ef you think you'd hurt yerself findin' yer way home, and I thought you knew the woods better than that, you might as well stay here with me. I'll take you home bright an' airly. You needn't trouble yerself about yer sister. She's home long ago. It must have been bright daylight when she wrote on that paper, and she could keep the road easy enough."
Harry said nothing, but sat down on the other end of the log. Tony did not seem to notice his vexation, but talked to him, explaining the mysteries of turkey-hunting and the delight of spending a night in the woods, where everything was so cool and dry and still. "There's no nonsense here," said Tony. "Ef there's any place where a feller kin have peace and comfert, it's in the woods, at night."
By degrees Harry became interested and forgot his annoyance. Kate was certainly safe at home, and as it was impossible for him to find his way out of the depths of the woods, he might as well be content. He could not even hope to regain the road by the way they came.
When Tony had finished his pipe he took Harry behind his blind. "All you have to do," said he, "is jist to peep over here and level your gun along that path, keepin' yer eye fixed straight in front of you, and after awhile you can begin to see things. Suppose that dark lump down yander was a turkey. Just look at it long enough and you kin make it out. You see what I mean, don't you?"
"Yes," said Harry, peeping over the blind; "I see it;" and then, with a sudden jump, he whispered, "Tony! it's moving." Tony did not answer for a moment, and then he hurriedly whispered back, "That's so! It is moving."
TONY STRIKES OUT.
There was no doubt about it, something was moving. There was a rise in the ground a short distance in front of the turkey-blind, and a little patch of dark sky was visible between the trees. Across this bit of sky something dark was slowly passing.
"Ye kin see 'most anything in the darkest night," whispered Tony, "ef ye kin only git the sky behind it. But that's no turkey."
"What do you think it is?" said Harry, softly. "It's big enough for a turkey."
"Too big," said Tony. "Let's git after it. You slip along the path, and I'll go round ahead of it. Feel yer way, and don't make no noise if ye run agin anything. And mind this"—and here Tony spoke in one of the most impressive of whispers—"don't you fire till yer dead certain what it is."
With this Tony slipped away into the darkness, and Harry, grasping his gun, set out to feel his way. He felt his way along the path for a short time, and then he felt his way out of it. Then he crept into a low, soft place, full of ferns, and out of that he carefully felt his way into a big bush, where he knocked off his hat. When he found his hat, which took him some time, he gradually worked himself out into a place where the woods were a little more open, and there he caught another glimpse of the sky just at the top of the ridge. There was something dark against the sky, and Harry watched it for a long time. At last, as it did not move at all, he came to the conclusion that it must be a bush, and he was entirely correct. For an hour or two he quietly crept among the trees, hoping he would either find the thing that was moving or get back to the turkey-blind. Several times something that he was sure was an "old har," as hares are often called in Virginia, rushed out of the bushes near him; and once he heard a quick rustling among the dead leaves that sounded as if it were made by a black snake, but it might as well have been a Chinese pagoda on wheels, for all he could see of it. At last he became very tired, and sat down to rest with his back against a big tree. There he soon began to nod, and, without the slightest intention of doing anything of the kind, he went to sleep just as soundly as if he had been in his bed at home. And this was not at all surprising, considering the amount of walking and creeping that he had done that day and night.
When he awoke it was daylight. He sprang to his feet and found he was very stiff in the legs, but that did not prevent him from running this way and that to try and find some place in the woods with which he was familiar. Before long he heard what he thought was something splashing in water, and, making his way toward the sound, he pushed out on the bank of Crooked Creek.
The creek was quite wide at this point, and out near the middle of it he saw Tony's head. The turkey-hunter was swimming hand-overhand, "dog-fashion," for the shore. Behind him was a boat, upside-down, which seemed just on the point of sinking out of sight.
"Hel-low, there!" cried Harry; "what's the matter, Tony?"
Tony never answered a word, but spluttered and puffed, and struck out slowly but vigorously for the bank.
"Wait a minute," cried Harry, wildly excited, "I'll reach you a pole."
But Tony did not wait, and Harry could find no pole. When he turned around from his hurried search among the bushes, the turkey-hunter had found bottom, and was standing with his head out of water. But the bottom was soft and muddy, and he flopped about dolefully when he attempted to walk to the bank. Harry reached his gun out toward him, but Tony, with a quick jerk of his arm, motioned it away.
"I'd rather be drownded than shot," he spluttered. "I don't want no gun-muzzles pinted at me. Take a-hold of that little tree, and then reach me your hand."
Harry seized a young tree that grew on the very edge of the bank, and as soon as Tony managed to flop himself near enough, Harry leaned over and took hold of his outstretched hand and gave him a jerk forward with all his strength. Over went Tony, splash on his face in the water, and Harry came very near going in head-foremost on top of him. But he recovered himself, and, not having loosed his grip of Tony's hand, he succeeded, with a mighty effort, in dragging the turkey-hunter's head out of the water; and, after a desperate struggle with the mud, Tony managed to get on his feet again.
"I don't know," said he, blowing the water out of his mouth and shaking his dripping head, "but what I'd 'most as lieve be shot as ducked that way. Don't you jerk so hard again. Hold steady, and let me pull."
Harry took a still firmer grasp of the tree and "held steady," while Tony gradually worked his feet through the sticky mud until he reached the bank, and then he laboriously clambered on shore.
"How did it happen?" said Harry. "How did you get in the water?"
"Boat upsot," said Tony, seating himself, all dripping with water and mud, upon the bank.
"Why, you came near being drowned," said Harry, anxiously.
"No I didn't," answered Tony, pulling a big bunch of weeds and rubbing his legs with them "I kin swim well enough, but a fellar has a rough time in the water with big boots on and his pockets full o' buck-shot."
"Couldn't you empty the shot out?" asked Harry.
"And lose it all?" asked Tony, with an aggrieved expression upon his watery face.
"But how did it happen?" Harry earnestly inquired. "What were you doing in the boat?"
Tony did not immediately answer. He rubbed at his legs, and then he tried to wipe his face with his wet coat-sleeve, but finding that only made matters worse, he accepted Harry's offer of his handkerchief, and soon got his countenance into talking order.
"Why, you see," said he, "I kept on up the creek till I got opposite John Walker's cabin, where it's narrow, and there's a big tree a-lyin' across—"
"Still following that thing?" interrupted Harry.
"Yes," said Tony; "an' then I got over on the tree and kep' down the creek—"
"Still following?" asked Harry.
"Yes; and I got a long ways down, and had one bad tumble, too, in a dirty little gully; and it was pretty nigh day when I turned to come back. An' then when I got up here I thought I would look fur John Walker's boat—fur I knew he kept it tied up somewhere down this way—and save myself all that walk. I found the ole boat—"
"And how did it upset?" said Harry.
"Humph!" said Tony; "easy enough. I hadn't nuthin to row with but a bit o' pole, and I got a sorter cross a-gettin' along so slow, and so I stood up and gin a big push, and one foot slipped, an' over she went."
"And in you went!" said Harry.
"Yes—in I went. I don't see what ever put John Walker up to makin' sich a boat as that. It's jist the meanest, lopsidedest, low-borndedst boat I ever did see."
"I don't wonder you think so," said Harry, laughing; "but if I were you, I'd go home as soon as I could, and get some dry clothes."
"That's so," said Tony, rising; "these feel like the inside of an eelskin."
"Oh, Tony!" said Harry as they walked along up the creek, "did you find out what that thing was?"
"Yes, I did," answered Tony.
"And what was it?"
"It was Captain Caseby."
"Captain Caseby?" cried Harry.
"Yes; jist him, and nuthin' else. It was his head we seen agin the sky, as he was a-walkin' on the other side of that little ridge."
"Captain Caseby!" again ejaculated Harry in his amazement.
"Yes, sir!" said Tony; "an' I'm glad I found it out before I crossed the creek, for my gun wasn't no further use, an' it was only in my way, so I left it in the bushes up here. Ef it hadn't been for that, the ole rifle would ha' been at the bottom of the creek."
"But what was Captain Caseby doing here in the woods at night?" asked Harry.
"Dunno," said Tony; "I jist follered him till I made sure he wasn't a-huntin for my turkey-blind, and then I let him go long. His business wasn't no consarn o' mine."
When Tony and Harry had nearly reached the village, who should they meet, at a cross-road in the woods, but Mr. Loudon and Captain Caseby!
"Ho, ho!" cried the captain "where on earth have you been? Here I've been a-hunting you all night."
"You have, have you?" said Tony, with a chuckle; "and Harry and I've been a-huntin' you all night, too."
Everybody now began to talk at once. Harry's father was so delighted to find his boy again, that he did not care to explain anything, and he and Harry walked off together.
But Captain Caseby told Tony all about it. How he, Mr. Loudon, and old Mr. Wagner, had set out to look for Harry; how Mr. Wagner soon became so tired that he had to give up, and go home, and how Mr. Loudon had gone through the woods to the north, while he kept down by the creek, searching on both sides of the stream, and how they had both walked, and walked, and walked all night, and had met at last down by the river.
"How did you manage to meet Mr. Loudon?" asked Tony.
"I heard him hollerin'," said the captain.
"He hollered pretty near all night, he told me."
"Why didn't you holler?" Tony asked.
'Oh, I never exercise my voice in the night air,' said the captain. "It's against my rules."
"Well, you'd better break your rules next time you go out in the woods where Harry is," said the turkey-hunter, "or he'll pop you over for a turkey or a musk-rat. He's a sharp shot, I kin tell ye."
"You don't really mean he was after me last night with a gun!" exclaimed Captain Caseby.
"He truly was," declared Tony; "he was a-trackin' you his Sunday best. It was bad for you that it was so dark that he couldn't see what you was; but it might have been worse for ye if it hadn't been so dark that he couldn't find ye at all."
"I'm glad I didn't know it," said the captain earnestly; "thoroughly and completely glad I didn't know it. I should have yelled all the skin off my throat, if I'd have known he was after me with a gun."
After Harry had been home an hour or two, and Kate had somewhat recovered from her transports of joy, and everybody in the village had heard all about everything that had happened, and Captain Caseby had declared, in the bosom of his family, that he would never go out into the woods again at night without keeping up a steady "holler," Harry remembered that he had left his sumac-bag somewhere in the woods. Hard work for a whole day and a night, and nothing to show for it! Rather a poor prospect for Aunt Matilda.
AUNT MATILDA'S CHRISTMAS.
When Harry and Kate held council that afternoon, their affairs looked a little discouraging. Kate's sumac was weighed, and it was only seven pounds! Seven whole cents, if they took it out in trade, or five and a quarter cents, as Kate calculated, if they took cash. A woman as large as Aunt Matilda could not be supported on that kind of an income, it was plain enough.
But our brave boy and girl were not discouraged. Harry went after his bag the next day, and found it with about ten pounds of leaves in it. Then, for a week or two, he and his sister worked hard and sometimes gathered as much as twenty-five pounds of leaves in a day. But they had their bad days, when there was a great deal of walking and very little picking.
And then, in due course of time, school began and the sumac season was at an end, for the leaves are not merchantable after they begin to turn red, although they are then a great deal prettier to look at.
But then Harry went out early in the morning, and on Saturdays, and shot hares and partridges, and Kate began to sell her chickens, of which she had twenty-seven (eighteen died natural deaths, or were killed by weasels during the summer), they found that they made more money than they could have made by sumac gathering.
"It's a good deal for you two to do for that old woman," said Captain Caseby, one day.
"But, didn't we promise to do it?" said Miss Kate, bravely. "We'd do twice as much, if there were two of her."
It was very fortunate, however, that there were not two of her.
Sometimes they had extraordinary luck. Early one November morning Harry was out in the woods and caught sight of a fat wild-turkey.
That was enough to keep Aunt Matilda for a week.
At least it ought to have kept her. But there was something wrong somewhere. Every week it cost more and more to keep the old colored woman in what Harry called "eating material."
"Her appetite must be increasing," said Harry; "she's eaten two pecks of meal this week."
"I don't believe it," said Kate; "she couldn't do it. I believe she has company."
And this turned out to be true.
On inquiry they found that Uncle Braddock was in the habit of taking his meals with Aunt Matilda, sometimes three times a day. Now, Uncle Braddock had a home of his own, where he could get his meals if he chose to go after them, and Harry remonstrated with him on his conduct.
"Why, ye see, Mah'sr Harry," said the old man, "she's so drefful lonesome down dar all by sheself, and sometimes it's a-rainin' an' a long way fur me to go home and git me wrapper all wet jist fur one little meal o' wittles. And when I see what you all is a-doin' fur her, I feels dat I oughter try and do somethin' fur her, too, as long as I kin; an' I can't expect to go about much longer, Mah'sr Harry; de ole wrapper's pretty nigh gin out."
"I don't mind your taking your meals there, now and then," said Harry; "but I don't want you to live there. We can't afford it."
"All right, Mah'sr Harry," said Uncle Braddock, and after that he never came to Aunt Matilda's to meals more than five or six times a week.
And now Christmas, always a great holiday with the negroes of the South, was approaching, and Harry and Kate determined to try and give Aunt Matilda extra good living during Christmas week, and to let her have company every day if she wanted it.
Harry had a pig. He got it in the spring when it was very small, and when its little tail was scarcely long enough to curl. There was a story about his getting this pig.
He and some other boys had been out walking, and several dogs went along with them. The dogs chased a cat—a beautiful, smooth cat, that belonged to old Mr. Truly Matthews. The cat put off at the top of her speed, which was a good deal better than any speed the dogs could show, and darted up a tree right in front of her master's house. The dogs surrounded the tree and barked as if they expected to bark the tree down. One little fuzzy dog, with short legs and hair all over his eyes, actually jumped into a low crotch, and the boys thought he was going to try to climb the tree. If he had ever reached the cat he would have been very sorry he had not stayed at home, for she was a good deal bigger than he was. Harry and his friends endeavored to drive the dogs away from the tree, but it was of no use. Even kicks and blows only made them bark the more. Directly out rushed Mr. Truly Matthews, as angry as he could be. He shouted and scolded at the boys for setting their dogs on his cat, and then he kicked the dogs out of his yard in less time than you could count seventy-two. He was very angry, indeed, and talked about the shocking conduct of the boys to everybody in the village. He would listen to no explanations or excuses.
Harry was extremely sorry that Mr. Matthews was so incensed against him, especially as he knew there was no cause for it, and he was talking about it to Kate one day, when she exclaimed:
"I'll tell you what will be sure to pacify Mr. Matthews, Harry. He has a lot of little pigs that he wants to sell. Just you go and buy one of them, and see if he isn't as good-natured as ever, when he sees your money."
Harry took the advice. He had a couple of dollars, and with them he bought a little pig, the smallest of the lot; and Mr. Matthews, who was very much afraid he could not find purchasers for all his pigs, was as completely pacified as Kate thought he would be.
Harry took his property home, and all through the summer and fall the little pig ran about the yard and the fields and the woods, and ate acorns—and sweet potatoes and turnips when he could get a chance to root them up with his funny little twitchy nose—and grunted and slept in the sun; and about the middle of December he had grown so big that Harry sold him for eleven dollars. Here was quite a capital for Christmas.
"I can't afford to spend it all on Aunt Matilda," said Harry to his mother and Kate, "for I have other things to do with my money. But she's bound to have a good Christmas, and we'll make her a present besides."
Kate was delighted with his idea, and immediately began to suggest all sorts of things for the present. If Harry chose to buy anything that she could "make up," she would go right to work at it. But Harry could not think of anything that would suit exactly, and neither could Kate, nor their mother; and when Mr. Loudon was taken into council, at dinner-time, he could suggest nothing but an army blanket—which suggestion met with no favor at all.
At last Mr. Loudon advised that they should ask Aunt Matilda what she would like to have for a present.
"There's no better way of suiting her than that," said he.
So Harry and Kate went down to the old woman's cabin that afternoon, after school, and asked her.
Aunt Matilda did not hesitate an instant.
"Ef you chil'en is really a-goin' to give me a present, there ain't nothin' I'd rather have than a Chrismis tree."
"A Christmas tree!" cried Harry and Kate both bursting out laughing.
"Yes, indeed, chil'en. Ef ye give me anything, give me a good big fiery Chrismis tree like you all had, year 'fore las'."
Two years before, Harry and Kate had had their last Christmas tree. There were no younger children, and these two were now considered to have outgrown that method of celebrating Christmas. But they had missed their tree last year—missed it very much.
And now Aunt Matilda wanted one. It was the very thing!
"Hurrah!" cried Harry; "you shall have it. Hurrah for Aunt Matilda's Christmas tree!"
"Hurrah!" cried Kate; "won't it be splendid? Hurrah!"
"Hurrah!" said Uncle Braddock, who was just coming up to the cabin door, but he did not shout very loud, and nobody heard him.
"Hurrah! I wonder what dey's all hurrahin' about?" he said to himself.
Harry and Kate had started off to run home with the news, but Aunt Matilda told the old man all about it, and when he heard there was to be a Christmas tree, he was just as glad as anybody.
When it became generally known that Aunt Matilda was to have a Christmas tree, the people of the neighborhood took a great interest in the matter. John Walker and Dick Ford, two colored men of the vicinity, volunteered to get the tree. But when they went out into the woods to cut it, eighteen other colored people, big and little, followed them, some to help and some to give advice.
A very fine tree was selected. It was a pine, ten feet high, and when they brought it into Aunt Matilda's cabin, they could not stand it upright, for her ceiling was rather low.
When Harry and Kate came home from school they were rather surprised to see so big a tree, but it was such a fine one that they thought they must have it. After some consideration it was determined to erect it in a deserted cabin, near by, which had no upper floor, and was high enough to allow the tree to stand up satisfactorily. This was, indeed, an excellent arrangement, for it was better to keep the decoration of the Christmas tree a secret from Aunt Matilda until all was completed.
The next day was a holiday, and Harry and Kate went earnestly to work. A hole was dug in the clay floor of the old cabin, and the tree planted firmly therein. It was very firm, indeed, for a little colored boy named Josephine's Bobby climbed nearly to the topmost branch, without shaking it very much. For four or five days the work of decorating the tree went on. Everybody talked about it, a great many laughed at it, and nearly everybody seemed inclined to give something to hang upon its branches. Kate brought a large box containing the decorations of her last Christmas tree, and she and Harry hung sparkling balls, and golden stars, and silver fishes, and red and blue paper angels, and candy swans, and sugar pears, and glittering things of all sorts, shapes, and sizes upon the boughs. Harry had a step-ladder, and Dick Ford and five colored boys held it firmly while he stood on it and tied on the ornaments. Very soon the neighbors began to send in their contributions. Mrs. Loudon gave a stout woollen dress, which was draped over a lower branch; while Mr. Loudon, who was not to be diverted from his original idea, sent an army blanket, which Kate arranged around the root of the tree, so as to look as much as possible like gray moss. Mr. Darby, who kept the store, sent a large paper bag of sugar and a small bag of tea, which were carefully hung on lower branches. Miss Jane Davis thought she ought to do something, and she contributed a peck of sweet potatoes, which, each tied to a string, were soon dangling from the branches. Then Mr. Truly Matthews, who did not wish to be behind his neighbors in generosity, sent a shoulder of bacon, which looked quite magnificent as it hung about the middle of the tree. Other people sent bars of soap, bags of meal, packages of smoking-tobacco, and flannel petticoats. A pair of shoes was contributed, and several pairs of stockings, which latter were filled with apples and hickory-nuts by the considerate Kate. Several of the school children gave sticks of candy; and old Mrs. Sarah Page, who had nothing else to spare, brought a jug of molasses, which was suspended near the top of the tree. Kate did not fancy the appearance of the jug, and she wreathed it with strings of glittering glass balls; and the shoulder of bacon she stuck full of red berries and holly-leaves. Harry contributed a bright red handkerchief for Aunt Matilda's head, and Kate gave a shawl which was yellower than a sunflower, if such a thing could be. And Harry bore the general expenses of the "extras," which were not trifling.
When Christmas eve arrived everybody came to see Aunt Matilda's Christmas tree. Kate and Harry were inside superintending the final arrangements, and about fifty or sixty persons, colored and white, were gathered around the closed door of the old cabin. When all was ready Aunt Matilda made her appearance, supported on either side by Dick Ford and John Walker, while Uncle Braddock, in his many-colored dressing-gown, followed close behind. Then the door was opened, and Aunt Matilda entered, followed by as many of the crowd as could get in. It was certainly a scene of splendor. A wood fire blazed in the fireplace at one end of the cabin, while dozens of tallow candles lighted up the tree. The gold and silver stars glistened, the many-colored glass balls shone among the green pine boughs; the shoulder of bacon glowed like a bed of flowers, while the jug of molasses hung calm and serene, surrounded by its glittering beads. A universal buzz of approbation and delight arose. No one had ever seen such a Christmas tree before. Every bough and every branch bore something useful as well as ornamental.
As for Aunt Matilda, for several moments she remained speechless with delight. At last she exclaimed:
"Laws-a-massey! It's wuth while being good for ninety-five years to git such a tree at las'."
A LIVELY TEAM.
"I want you to understand, Harry," said Mr. Loudon, one day, "that I do not disapprove of what you and Kate are doing for old Aunt Matilda. On the contrary, I feel proud of you both. The idea was honorable to you, and, so far, you have done very well; better than I expected; and I believe I was a little more sanguine than any one else in the village. But you must not forget that you have something else to think of besides making money for Aunt Matilda."
"But, don't I think of other things, father?" said Harry. "I'm sure I get along well enough at school."
"That may be, my boy; but I want you to get along better than well enough."
This little conversation made quite an impression on Harry, and he talked to Kate about it.
"I suppose father's right," said she; "but what's to be done about it? Is that poor old woman to have only half enough to eat, so that you may read twice as much Virgil?"
"But perhaps she will have five-eighths of enough to eat if I only read nine-sixteenths as much Latin," said he.
"Oh! you're always poking arithmetic fun at me," said Kate. "But I tell you what you can do," she continued. "You can get up half an hour earlier, every morning, and that will give you a good deal of extra time to think about your lessons."
"I can think about them in bed," said Harry.
"Humph!" said Kate; and she went on with her work. She was knitting a "tidy," worth two pounds of sugar, or half a pound of tea, when it should be finished.
Harry did not get up any earlier; for, as he expressed it, "It was dreadfully cold before breakfast," on those January mornings; but his father and mother noticed that the subject of Aunt Matilda's maintenance did not so entirely engross the conversation of the brother and sister in the evenings; and they had their heads together almost as often over slate and schoolbooks as over the little account-book in which Kate put down receipts and expenditures.
On a Thursday night, about the middle of January, there was a fall of snow. Not a very heavy fall; the snow might have been deeper, but it was deep enough for sledding. On the Friday, Harry, in connection with another boy, Tom Selden, several years older than himself, concocted a grand scheme. They would haul wood, on a sled, all day Saturday.
It was not to be any trifling little "boy-play" wood-hauling. Harry's father owned a woodsled—one of the very few sleds or sleighs in the county—which was quite an imposing affair, as to size, at least. It was about eight feet long and four feet wide; and although it was rough enough,—being made of heavy boards, nailed transversely upon a couple of solid runners, with upright poles to keep the load in its place—it was a very good sled, as far as it went, which had not been very far of late; for there had been no good sledding for several seasons. Old Mr. Truly Matthews had a large pile of wood cut in a forest about a mile and a half from the village, and the boys knew that he wanted it hauled to the house, and that, by a good day's work, considerable money could be made.
All the arrangements were concluded on Friday, which was a half-holiday, on account of the snow making travelling unpleasant for those scholars who lived at a distance. Harry's father gave his consent to the plan, and loaned his sled. Three negro men agreed to help for one-fourth of the profits. Tom Selden went into the affair, heart and hand, agreeing to take his share out in fun. What money was made, after paying expenses, was to go into the Aunt Matilda Fund, which was tolerably low about that time.
Kate gave her earnest sanction to the scheme, which was quite disinterested on her part, for, being a girl, she could not very well go on a wood-hauling expedition, and she could expect to do little else but stay at home and calculate the probable profits of the trips.
The only difficulty was to procure a team; and nothing less than a four-horse team would satisfy the boys.
Mr. Loudon lent one horse, old Selim, a big brown fellow, who was very good at pulling when he felt in the humor. Tom could bring no horse; for his father did not care to lend his horses for such a purpose. He was afraid they might get their legs broken; and, strange as it seemed to the boys, most of the neighbors appeared to have similar notions. Horses were very hard to borrow that Friday afternoon. But a negro man, named Isaac Waddell, agreed to hire them his horse Hector, for fifty cents for the day; and the storekeeper, after much persuasion, lent a big gray mule, Grits by name. There was another mule in the village, which the boys could have if they wanted her; but they did not want her—that is, if they could get anything else with four legs that would do to go in their team. This was Polly, a little mule, belonging to Mrs. Dabney, who kept the post-office. Polly was not only very little in size, but she was also very little given to going. She did not particularly object to a walk, if it were not too long, and would pull a buggy or carry a man with great complacency, but she seldom indulged in trotting. It was of no use to whip her. Her skin was so thick, or so destitute of feeling, that she did not seem to take any notice of a good hard crack. Polly was not a favorite, but she doubtless had her merits, although no one knew exactly what they were. Perhaps the best thing that could be said about her was, that she did not take up much room.
But, on Saturday, it was evident that Polly would have to be taken, for no animal could be obtained in her place.
So, soon after breakfast, the team was collected in Mr. Loudon's back-yard, and harnessed to the sled. Besides the three negroes who had been hired, there were seven volunteers—some big and some little—who were very willing to work for nothing, if they might have a ride on the sled. The harness was not the best in the world; some of it was leather, and some was rope and some was chain. It was gathered together from various quarters, like the team—nobody seemed anxious to lend good harness.
Grits and thin Hector were the leaders, and Polly and old Selim were the pole-horses, so to speak.
When all the straps were buckled, and the chains hooked, and the knots tied (and this took a good while as there were only twelve men and boys to do it), Dick Ford jumped on old Selim, little Johnny Sand, as black as ink, was hoisted on Grits, and Gregory Montague, a tall yellow boy, with high boots and no toes to them, bestrode thin Hector. Harry, Tom, and nine negroes (two more had just come into the yard) jumped on the sled. Dick Ford cracked his whip; Kate stood on the back-door step and clapped her hands; all the darkies shouted; Tom and Harry hurrahed; and away they did not go.
Polly was not ready.
And what was more, old brown Selim was perfectly willing to wait for her. He looked around mildly at the little mule, as if he would say: "Now, don't be in a hurry, my good Polly. Be sure you're right before you go ahead."
Polly was quite sure she was not right, and stood as stiffly as if she had been frozen to the ground, and all the cracking of whips and shouting of "Git up!" "Go 'long!" "What do you mean, dar? you Polly!" made no impression on her.
Then Harry made his voice heard above the hubbub.
"Never mind Polly!" he shouted. "Let her alone. Dick, and you other fellows, just start off your own horses. Now, then! Get up, all of you!"
At this, every rider whipped up his horse or his mule, and spurred him with his heels, and every darkey shouted, "Hi, dar!" and off they went, rattledy-bang!
Polly went, too. There was never such an astonished little mule in this world! Out of the gate they all whirled at full gallop, and up the road, tearing along. Negroes shouting, chains rattling, snow flying back from sixteen pounding hoofs, sled cutting through the snow like a ship at sea, and a little darkey shooting out behind at every bounce over a rough place!
"Hurrah!" cried Harry, holding tight to an upright pole. "Isn't this splendid!"
"Splendid! It's glorious!" shouted Tom. "It's better than being a pi—" And down he went on his knees, as the big sled banged over a stone in the road, and Josephine's Bobby was bounced out into a snow-drift under a fence.
Whether Tom intended to say a pirate or a pyrotechnic, was never discovered; but, in six minutes, there was only one of the small darkies left on the sled. The men, and this one, John William Webster, hung on to the poles as if they were glued there.
As for Polly, she was carried along faster than she ever went before in her life. She jumped, she skipped, she galloped, she slid, she skated; sometimes sitting down, and sometimes on her feet, but flying along, all the same, no matter how she chose to go.
And so, rattling, shouting, banging, bouncing; snow flying and whips cracking, on they sped, until John William Webster's pole came out, and clip! he went heels over head into the snow.
But John William had a soul above tumbles. In an instant he jerked himself up to his feet, dropped the pole, and dashed after the sled.
Swiftly onward went the sled and right behind came John William, his legs working like steamboat wheels, his white teeth shining, and his big eyes sparkling!
There was no stopping the sled; but there was no stopping John William, either, and in less than two minutes he reached the sled, grabbed a man by the leg, and tugged and pulled until he seated himself on the end board.
"I tole yer so!" said he, when he got his breath. And yet he hadn't told anybody anything.
And now the woods were reached, and after a deal of pulling and shouting, the team was brought to a halt, and then slowly led through a short road to where the wood was piled.
The big mule and the horses steamed and puffed a little, but Polly stood as calm as a rocking-horse.
Notwithstanding the rapidity of the drive, it was late when the party reached the woods. The gathering together and harnessing of the team had taken much longer than they expected; and so the boys set to work with a will to load the sled; for they wanted to make two trips that morning. But although they all, black and white, worked hard, it was slow business. Some of the wood was cut and split properly, and some was not, and then the sled had to be turned around, and there was but little room to do it in, and so a good deal of time was lost.
But at last the sled was loaded up, and they were nearly ready to start, when John William Webster, who had run out to the main road, set up a shout:
"Oh! Mah'sr Harry! Mah'sr Tom!"
Harry and Tom ran out to the road, and stood there petrified with astonishment.
Where was the snow?
It was all gone, excepting a little here and there in the shade of the fence corners. The day had turned out to be quite mild, and the sun, which was now nearly at its noon height, had melted it all away.
Here was a most unlooked-for state of affairs! What was to be done? The boys ran back to the sled, and the colored men ran out to the road, and everybody talked and nobody seemed to say anything of use.
At last Dick Ford spoke up:
"I tell ye what, Mah'sr Harry! I say, just let's go 'long," said he.
"But how are you going to do it?" said Harry. "There's no snow."
"I know that; but de mud's jist as slippery as grease. That thar team kin pull it, easy 'nuff!"
Harry and Tom consulted together, and agreed to drive out to the road and try what could be done, and then, if the loaded sled was too much for the team, they would throw off the wood and go home with the empty sled.
There was snow enough until they reached the road—for very little had melted in the woods—and when they got fairly out on the main road the team did not seem to mind the change from snow to thin mud.
The load was not a very heavy one, and there were two horses and two mules—a pretty strong team.
Polly did very well. She was now harnessed with Grits in the lead; and she pulled along bravely. But it was slow work, compared to the lively ride over the snow. The boys and the men trudged through the mud, by the side of the sled, and, looking at it in the best possible light, it was a very dull way to haul wood. The boys agreed that after this trip they would be very careful not to go on another mud-sledding expedition.
But soon they came to a long hill, and, going down this, the team began to trot, and Harry and Tom and one or two of the men jumped on the edges of the sled, outside of the load, holding on to the poles. Then Grits, the big mule, began to run, and Gregory couldn't hold him in, and old Selim and thin Hector and little Polly all struck out on a gallop, and away they went, bumping and thumping down the hill.
And then stick after stick, two sticks, six sticks, a dozen sticks at a time, slipped out behind.
It was of no use to catch at them to hold them on. They were not fastened down in any way, and Harry and Tom and the men on the sled had as much as they could do to hold themselves on.
When they reached the bottom of the hill the pulling became harder; but Grits had no idea of stopping for that. He was bound for home. And so he plunged on at the top of his speed. But the rest of the team did not fancy going so fast on level ground, and they slackened their pace.
This did not suit Grits. He gave one tremendous bound, burst loose from his harness and dashed ahead. Up went his hind legs in the air; off shot Gregory Montague into the mud, and then away went Grits, clipperty-clap! home to his stable.
When Harry and Tom, the two horses, the little mule, the eight colored men, the sled, John William Webster and eleven logs of wood reached the village it was considerably after dinner-time.
When the horse-hire was paid, and something was expended for mending borrowed harness, and the negroes had received a little present for their labor, the Aunt Matilda Fund was diminished by the sum of three dollars and eighty cents.
Mr. Truly Matthews agreed to say nothing about the loss of his wood that was scattered along the road.
BUSINESS IN EARNEST.
Although Harry did not find his wood-hauling speculation very profitable, it was really of advantage to him, for it gave him an idea.
And his idea was a very good one. He saw clearly enough that money could be made by hauling wood, and he was also quite certain that it would never do for him to take his time, especially during school term, for that purpose. So, after consultation with his father, and after a great deal of figuring by Kate, he determined to go into the business in a regular way.
About five miles from the village was a railroad station, and it was also a wood station. Here the railroad company paid two dollars a cord for wood delivered on their grounds.
Two miles from the station, on the other side of Crooked Creek, Harry's father owned a large tract of forest land, and here Harry received permission to cut and take away all the wood that he wanted. Mr. Loudon was perfectly willing, in this way, to help his children in their good work.
So Harry made arrangements with Dick Ford and John Walker, who were not regularly hired to any one that winter, to cut and haul his wood for him, on shares. John Walker had a wagon, which was merely a set of wheels, with a board floor laid on the axletrees, and the use of this he contributed in consideration of a little larger share in the profits. Harry hired Grits and another mule at a low rate, as there was not much for mules to do at that time of the year.
The men were to cut up and deliver the wood and get receipts for it from the station-master; and it was to be Harry's business to collect the money at stated times, and divide the proceeds according to the rate agreed upon. Harry and his father made the necessary arrangements with the station-master, and thus all the preliminaries were settled quite satisfactorily.
In a few days the negroes were at work, and as they both lived but a short distance from the creek, on the village side, it was quite convenient for them. John Walker had a stable in which to keep the mules, and the cost of their feed was also to be added to his share of the profits.
In a short time Harry had quite a number of applications from negroes who wished to cut wood for him, but he declined to hire any additional force until he saw how his speculation would turn out.
Old Uncle Braddock pleaded hard to be employed. He could not cut wood, nor could he drive a team, but he was sure he would be of great use as overseer.
"You see, Mah'sr Harry," he said, "I lib right on de outside edge ob you' pa's woods, and I kin go ober dar jist as easy as nuffin, early every mornin', and see dat dem boys does dere work, and don't chop down de wrong trees. Mind now, I tell ye, you all will make a pile o' money ef ye jist hire me to obersee dem boys."
For some time Harry resisted his entreaties, but at last, principally on account of Kate's argument that the old man ought to be encouraged in making something toward his living, if he were able and willing to do so, Harry hired him on his own terms, which were ten cents a day.
About four o'clock every afternoon during his engagement, Uncle Braddock made his appearance in the village, to demand his ten cents. When Harry remonstrated with him on his quitting work so early, he said:
"Why, you see, Mah'sr Harry, it's a long way from dem woods here, and I got to go all de way back home agin; and it gits dark mighty early dese short days."
In about a week the old man came to Hurry and declared that he must throw up his engagement.
"What's the matter?" asked Harry.
"I'm gwine to gib up dat job, Mah'sr Harry."
"But why? You wanted it bad enough," said Harry.
"But I'm gwine to gib it up now," said the old man.
"Well, I want you to tell me your reasons for giving it up," persisted Harry.
Uncle Braddock stood silent for a few minutes, and then he said:
"Well, Mah'sr Harry, dis is jist de truf; dem ar boys, dey ses to me dat ef I come foolin' around dere any more, dey'd jist chop me up, ole wrapper an' all, and haul me off fur kindlin' wood. Dey say I was dry enough. An' dey needn't a made sich a fuss about it, fur I didn't trouble 'em much; hardly eber went nigh 'em. Ten cents' worf o' oberseein' aint a-gwine to hurt nobody."
"Well, Uncle Braddock," said Harry, laughing, "I think you're wise to give it up."
"Dat's so," said the old negro, and away he trudged to Aunt Matilda's cabin, where, no doubt, he ate a very good ten cents' worth of corn-meal and bacon.
This wood enterprise of Harry's worked pretty well on the whole. Sometimes the men cut and hauled quite steadily, and sometimes they did not. Once every two weeks Harry rode over to the station, and collected what was due him; and his share of the profits kept Aunt Matilda quite comfortably.
But, although Kate was debarred from any share in this business, she worked every day at her tidies for the store, and knit stockings, besides, for some of the neighbors, who furnished the yarn and paid her a fair price. There were people who thought Mrs. Loudon did wrong in allowing her daughter to work for money in this way, but Kate's mother said that the end justified the work, and that so long as Kate persevered in her self-appointed tasks, she should not interfere.
As for Kate, she said she should work on, no matter how much money Harry made. There was no knowing what might happen.
But the most important of Kate's duties was the personal attention she paid to Aunt Matilda. She went over to the old woman's cabin every day or two, and saw that she was kept warm and had what she needed.
And these visits had a good influence on the old woman, for her cabin soon began to look much neater, now that a nice little girl came to see her so often.
When the spring came on, Aunt Matilda actually took it into her head to whitewash her cabin, a thing she had not done for years. She and Uncle Braddock worked at it by turns. The old woman was too stiff and rheumatic to keep at such work long at a time; but she was very proud of her whitewashing; and when she was tired of working at the inside of her cabin, she used to go out and whitewash the trunks of the trees around the house. She had seen trees thus ornamented, and she thought they were perfectly beautiful.
Kate was violently opposed to anything of this kind, and, at last, told Aunt Matilda that if she persisted in surrounding her house with what looked like a forest of tombstones, she, Kate, would have to stop coming there.
So Aunt Matilda, in a manner, desisted.
But one day she noticed a little birch-tree, some distance from the house, and the inclination to whitewash that little birch was too strong to be resisted.
"He's so near white, anyway," she said to herself, "dat it's a pity not to finish him."
So off she hobbled with a tin cup full of whitewash and a small brush to adorn the little birch-tree, leaving her cabin in the charge of Holly Thomas.
Holly, whose whole name was Hollywood Cemetery Thomas, was a little black girl, between two and five years old. Sometimes she seemed nearly five, and sometimes not more than two. Her parents intended christening her Minerva, but hearing the name of the well-known Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, they thought it so pretty that they gave it to their little daughter, without the slightest idea, however, that it was the name of a grave-yard.
Holly had come over to pay a morning visit to Aunt Matilda, and she had brought her only child, a wooden doll, which she was trying to teach to walk, by dragging it head foremost by a long string tied around its neck.
"Now den, you Holly, you stay h'yar and mind de house while I's gone," said Aunt Matilda, as she departed.
"All yite," said the little darkey, and she sat down on the floor to prepare her child for a coat of whitewash; but she had not yet succeeded in convincing the doll of the importance of the operation when her attention was aroused by a dog just outside of the door.
It was Kate's little woolly white dog, Blinks, who often used to come to the cabin with her, and who sometimes, when he got a chance to run away, used to come alone, as he did this morning.
"Go 'way dar, litty dog," said Miss Holly, "yer can't come in; dere's nobody home. Yun 'long, now, d'yer y'ear!"
But Blinks either did not hear or did not care, for he stuck his head in at the door.
"Go 'way, dere!" shouted Holly. "Aunt Tillum ain't home. Go 'way now, and tum bat in half an hour. Aunt Tillum'll be bat den. Don't yer hear now, go 'way!"
But, instead of going away, Blinks trotted in, as bold as a four-pound lion.
"Go 'way, go 'way!" screamed Holly, squeezing herself up against the wall in her terror, and then Blinks barked at her. He had never seen a little black girl behave so, in the whole course of his life, and it was quite right in him to bark and let her know what he thought of her conduct. Then Holly, in her fright, dropped her doll, and when Blinks approached to examine it, she screamed louder and louder, and Blinks barked more and more, and there was quite a hubbub. In the midst of it a man put his head in at the door of the cabin.
He was a tall man, with red hair, and a red freckled face, and a red bristling moustache, and big red hands.
"What's all this noise about?" said he; and when he saw what it was, he came in.
"Get out of this, you little beast!" said he to Blinks, and putting the toe of his boot under the little dog, he kicked him clear out of the door of the cabin. Then turning to Holly, he looked at her pretty much as if he intended to kick her out too. But he didn't. He put out one of his big red hands and said to her:
Holly obeyed without a word, and then snatching her wooden child from the floor, she darted out of the door and reached the village almost as soon as poor Blinks.
In a minute or two Aunt Matilda made her appearance at the door. She had heard the barking and the screaming, and had come to see what was the matter.
When she saw the man, she exclaimed:
"Why, Mah'sr George! Is dat you?"
"Yes, it's me," said the man. "Shake hands, Aunt Matilda."
"I thought you was down in Mississippi; Mah'sr George," said the old woman; "and I thought you was gwine to stay dar."
"Couldn't do it," said the man. "It didn't suit me, down there. Five years of it was enough for me."
"Enough fur dem, too, p'r'aps!" said Aunt Matilda, with a grim chuckle.
The man took no notice of her remark, but said:
"I didn't intend to stop here, but I heard such a barking and screaming in your cabin, that I turned out of my way to see what the row was about. I've just come up from the railroad. Does old Michaels keep store here yet?"
"No, he don't," said Aunt Matilda; "he's dead. Mah'sr Darby keeps dar now."
"Is that so?" cried the man. "Why, it was on old Michaels's account that I was sneakin' around the village. Why, I'm mighty glad I stopped here. It makes things different if old Michaels isn't about."
"Well, ye might as well go 'long," said Aunt Matilda, who seemed to be getting into a bad humor. "There's others who knows jist as much about yer bad doin's as Mah'sr Michaels did."
"I suppose you mean that meddling humbug, John Loudon," said the man.
"Now, look h'yar, you George Mason?" cried Aunt Matilda, making one long step toward the whitewash bucket; "jist you git out o' dat dar door!" and she seized the whitewash brush and gave it a terrific swash in the bucket.
The man looked at her—he knew her of old—and then he left the cabin almost as quickly as Blinks and Holly went out of it.
"Ef it hadn't been fur dat little dog," said Aunt Matilda, grimly, "he'd a gone on. Them little dogs is always a-doin' mischief."
A MEETING ON THE ROAD.
Some weeks before the little affair between Blinks and Holly, related in our last chapter, Harry and Kate took a ride over to the railroad station.
During the winter Harry had frequently gone over on horseback to attend to the payments for his wood; and now that the roads were in fit condition for carriage travel, he was glad to have an opportunity to take the buggy and give Kate a ride.
For some days previously, Crooked Creek had been "up;" that is, the spring rains had caused it to overflow, and all travel across it had been suspended. The bridges on such occasions—and Crooked Creek had a bad habit of being "up" several times in the course of a year—were covered, and the lowlands were under water for a considerable distance on each side of the stream. There were so few boats on the creek, and the current, in time of freshets, was so strong, that ferriage was seldom thought of. In consequence of this state of affairs Harry had not heard from his wood-cutters for more than a week, as they had not been able to cross the creek to their homes. It was, therefore, as much to see how they were getting along as to attend to financial matters that he took this trip.
It was a fine, bright day in very early spring, and old Selim trotted on quite gayly. Before very long they overtook Miles Jackson, jogging along on a little bay horse.
Miles was a black man, very sober and sedate who for years had carried the mail twice a week from a station farther up the railroad to the village. But he was not a mail-carrier now. His employer, a white man, who had the contract for carrying the mails, had also gone into another business which involved letter-carrying.
A few miles back from the village of Akeville, where the Loudons lived, was a mica mine, which had recently been bought, and was now worked by a company from the North. This mica (the semi-transparent substance that is set into stove doors) proved to be very plentiful and valuable, and the company had a great deal of business on their hands. It was frequently necessary to send messages and letters to the North, and these were always carried over to the station on the other side of Crooked Creek, where there was a daily mail and a telegraph office. The contract to carry these letters and messages to and from the mines had been given to Miles's employer, and the steady negro man had been taken off the mail-route to attend to this new business.
"Well, Miles," said Harry, as he overtook him. "How do you like riding on this road?"
"How d' y', Mah'sr Harry? How d' y', Miss Kate?" said the colored man, touching his hat and riding up on the side of the road to let them pass. "I do' know how I likes it yit, Mah'sr Harry. Don't seem 'xactly nat'ral after ridin' de oder road so long!"
"You have a pretty big letter-bag there," said Harry.
"Dat's so," said Miles; "but 'taint dis big ebery day. Sence de creek's been up I haint been able to git across, and dere's piles o' letters to go ober to-day."
"It must make it rather bad for the company when the creek rises in this way," said Harry.
"Dat's so," answered Miles. "Dey gits in a heap o' trubble when dey can't send dere letters and git 'em. Though 'taint so many letters dey sends as telegraphs."
"It's a pity they couldn't have had their mine on the other side," remarked Kate.
"Dat's so, Miss Kate," said Miles, gravely. "I reckon dey didn't know about de creek's gittin' up so often, or dey'd dug dere mine on de oder side."
Harry and Kate laughed and drove on.
They soon reached Mr. Loudon's woods, but found no wood-cutters.
When they arrived at the station they saw Dick Ford and John Walker on the store-porch.
Harry soon discovered that no wood had been cut for several days, because the creek was up.
"What had that to do with it?" asked Harry.
"Why, you see, Mah'sr Harry," said John Walker, "de creek was mighty high, and dere was no knowin' how things ud turn out. So we thought we'd jist wait and see."
"So you've been here all the time?"
"Yes, sir; been h'yar all de time. Couldn't go home, you know."
Harry was very sorry to hear of this lost time, for he knew that his wood-cutting would come to an end as soon as the season was sufficiently advanced to give the men an opportunity of hiring themselves for farm-work; but it was of no use to talk any more about it; and so, after depositing Kate at the post-office, where the post-mistress, who knew her well, gave her a nice little "snack" of buttermilk, cold fried chicken, and "light-bread," he went to the station and transacted his business. He had not been there for some weeks, and he found quite a satisfactory sum of money due him, in spite of the holiday his men had taken. He then arranged with Dick and John to work on for a week or two longer—if "nothing happened;" and after attending to some commissions for the family, he and Kate set out for home.