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Darrel of the Blessed Isles by Irving Bacheller

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curve to take the path of the wind. Every thicket was a fount of
song that fell to silence when darkness came and the low chant of
the marshes.

When they came into settled country below the big woods they began
selling. At length the drove was reduced to one section; Trove
following with the helper named Thurston Tilly, familiarly known as
"Thurst."

He was a tall, heavy, good-natured man, distinguished for fat,
happiness, and singular aptitudes. He had lifted a barrel of salt
by the chimes and put it on a wagon; once he had eaten two mince
pies at a meal; again he had put his heel six inches above his head
on a barn door, and, any time, he could wiggle one ear or both or
whistle on his thumb. At every lodging place he had left a feeling
of dread and relief as well as a perennial topic of conversation.
At every inn he added something to his stock of fat and happiness.
Then, often, he seemed to be overloaded with the latter and would
sit and shake his head and roar with laughter, now and then giving
out a wild yell. He had a story of which no one had ever heard the
finish. He began it often, but, somehow, never got to the end. He
always clung to the lapel of his hearer's coat as if in fear of
losing him, and never tried his tale but once on the same pair of
ears. Having got his inspiration he went in quest of his hearer,
and having hitched him, as it were, by laying hold of his elbow or
coat collar, began the tale. It was like pouring molasses on a
level place--it moved slowly and spread and got nowhere in
particular. At first his manner was slow, dignified, and
confidential, changing to fit his emotion. He whispered, he
shouted, he laughed, he looked sorrowful, he nudged the stranger in
his abdomen, he glared upon him, eye close to eye, he shook him by
the shoulder, and slowly wore him out. Some endured long and were
patient, but soon or late all began to back and dodge, and finally
broke away, and seeing the hand of the narrator reach for them,
dodged quickly and, being pursued, ran. Often this odd chase took
them around trees and stumps and buildings, the stranger escaping,
frequently, through some friendly door which he could lock or hold
fast. Then Thurst, knocking loudly, gave out a wild yell or two,
peered in at the nearest window, and came at last to his chair,
sorrowful and much out of breath, his tale unfinished. There was
in the man a saving element of good nature, and no one ever got
angry with him. At each new attempt be showed a grimmer
determination to finish, but even there, in a land of strong and
patient men, not one, they used to say, had ever the endurance to
hear the end of that unfinished tale.

It was not easy to dispose of cattle in the southern counties that
year, but they found a better market as they bore west, and were
across the border of Ohio when the last of the drove were sold.
That done, Trove and Thurst Tilly took the main road to Cleveland,
whence they were to return home by steamboat.

It led them into woods and by stumpy fields and pine-odoured
hamlets. The first day of their walk was rainy, and they went up a
toteway into thick timber and built a fire and kept dry and warm
until the rain ceased. That evening they fell in with emigrants on
their way to the far west.

The latter were camped on the edge of a wood, near the roadway, and
cooking supper as the two came along. Being far from a town, Trove
and Tilly were glad to accept the hospitality of the travellers.

They had come to the great highway of travel from east to west.
Every day it was cut by wagons of the mover overloaded with Lares
and Penates, with old and young, enduring hardships and the loss of
home and old acquaintance for hope of better fortune.

A man and wife and three boys were the party, travelling with two
wagons. They were bound for Iowa and, being heavy loaded, were
having a hard time. All sat on a heap of boughs in the firelight
after supper.

"It's a long, long road to Iowa, father," said the woman.

"It'll soon be over," said he, with a tone of encouragement.

"I've been thinking all day of the lilacs and the old house," said
she.

They looked in silence at the fire a moment.

"We're a bit homesick," said the man, turning to Trove, "an' no
wonder. It's been hard travelling, an' we've broke down every few
miles. But we'll have better luck the rest o' the journey."

Evidently his cheerful courage had been all that kept them going.

"Lost all we had in the great fire of '35," said he, thoughtfully.
"I went to bed a rich man, but when I rose in the morning I had not
enough to pay a week's board. Everything had been swept away."

"A merchant?" Trove inquired.

"A partner in the great Star Mill on East River," said the man. "I
could have got a fortune for my share--at least a hundred thousand
dollars--and I had worked hard for it."

"And were you not able to succeed again?"

"No," said the traveller, sadly, shaking his head. "If some time
you have to lose all you possess. God grant you still have youth
and a strong arm. I tried--that is all--I tried."

The boy looked up at him, his heart touched. The man was near
sixty years of age; his face had deep lines in it; his voice the
dull ring of loss, and failure, and small hope. The woman covered
her face and began to sob.

"There, mother," said the man, touching her head; "we'd better
forget. I'll never speak of that again--never. We're going to
seek our fortune. Away in the great west we'll seek our fortune."

His effort to be cheerful was perhaps the richest colour of that
odd scene there in the still woods and the firelight.

"We're going to take a farm in the most beautiful country in the
world. It's easy to make money there."

"If you've no objection I'd like to go with you," said Thurst
Tilly. "I'm a good farmer."

"Can you drive a team?" said the man.

"Drove horses all my life," said Thurst; whereupon they made a
bargain.

Trove and Tilly went away to the brook for water while the
travellers went to bed in their big, covered wagon. Trove lay down
with his blanket on the boughs, reading over the indelible record
of that day. And he said, often, as he thought of it, years after,
that the saddest thing in all the world is a man of broken courage.

X

An Odd Meeting

They were up betimes in the morning, and Trove ate hastily from his
own store and bade them all good-by and made off, for he had yet a
long road to travel.

That day Trove fell in with a great, awkward country boy, slouching
along the road on his way to Cleveland. He was an odd figure, with
thick hair of the shade of tow that burst out from under a slouch
hat and muffled his neck behind; his coat was thread-bare and a bit
too large; his trousers of satinet fell loosely far enough to break
joints with each bootleg; the dusty cowhide gave his feet a lonely
and arid look. He carried a bundle tied to a stick that lay on his
left shoulder. They met near a corner, nodded, and walked on a
while together in silence. For a little time they surveyed each
other curiously. Then each began to quicken the pace.

"Maybe you think you can walk the fastest," said he of the long
hair.

They were going a hot pace, their free arms flying. Trove bent to
his work stubbornly. They both began to tire and slow up. The big
boy looked across at the other and laughed loudly.

"Wouldn't give up if ye broke a leg, would ye?" said he.

"Not if I could swing it," said Trove.

"Goin' t' Cleveland?"

"Yes; are you?"

"Yes. I'm goin' t' be a sailor," said the strange boy.

"Goin' off on the ocean?" Trove inquired with deep interest.

"Yes; 'round the world, maybe. Then I'll come back an' go t'
school--if I don't git wrecked like Robi'son Crusoe."

"My stars!" said Trove, with a look of awe.

"Like t' go?" the other inquired.

"Guess I would!"

"Better stay t' home; it's a hard life." This with an air of
parental wisdom.

"I've read 'Robi'son Crusoe,'" said Trove, as if it were some
excuse.

"So 've I; an' Grimshaw's 'Napoleon,' an' Weems's 'Life o' Marion,'
an' 'The Pirates' Book,' an' the Bible."

"I've got half through the Bible," said Trove.

"Who slew Absolum?" the other inquired doubtfully.

Trove remembered the circumstances, but couldn't recall the name.

They sat down to rest and eat luncheon.

"You going to be a statesman?" Trove inquired.

"No; once I thought I'd try t' go t' Congress, but I guess I'd
rather go t' sea. What you goin' t' be?"

"I shall try to be an author," said Trove.

"Why, if I was you, I'd go into politics," said the other. "Ye
might be President some day, no telling. Do ye know how t' chop er
hoe er swing a scythe?"

"Yes."

"Wal, then, if ye don't ever git t' be President, ye won't have t'
starve. I saw an author one day."

"You did?"

"He was an awful-lookin' cuss," said the other, with a nod of
affirmation.

The strange boy took another bite of bread and butter.

"Wrote dime novels an' drank whisky an' wore a bearskin vest," he
added presently.

"Do you know the Declaration of Independence?"

"No."

"I do," said the strange boy, and gave it word for word.

They chatted and tried tricks and spent a happy hour there by the
roadside. It was an hour of pure democracy--neither knew even the
name of the other so far.

They got to Cleveland late in the afternoon.

"Now keep yer hand on yer wallet," said the strange boy, as they
were coming into the city. "I've got three dollars an'
seventy-five cents in mine, an' I don't propose t' have it took
away from me."

Trove went to a tavern, the other to stay with friends. Near noon
next day both boys met on the wharf, where Trove was to board a
steamboat.

"Got a job?" Trove inquired.

"No," said the other, with a look of dejection. "I tried, an' they
cursed an' damned me awful. I got away as quick as I could. Dunno
but I'll have t' go back an' try t' be a statesman er something o'
that kind. Guess it's easier than goin' t' sea. Give me yer name
an' address, an' maybe I'll write ye a letter."

Trove complied.

"Please give me yours," said he.

"It's James Abram Garfield, Orange, O.," said the other.

Then they spoke a long good-by.

XI

The Old Rag Doll

The second week of September Trove went down the hills again to
school, with food and furniture beside him in the great wagon. He
had not been happy since he got home. Word of that evening with
the pretty "Vaughn girl" had come to the ears of Allen.

"You're too young for that, boy," said he, the day Trove came.
"You must promise me one thing--that you'll keep away from her
until you are eighteen."

In every conviction Allen was like the hills about him--there were
small changes on the surface, but underneath they were ever the
same rock-boned, firm, unmoving hills.

"But I'm in love with her," said the boy, with dignity. "It is more
than I can bear. I tell you, sir, that I regard the young lady
with--with deep affection." He had often a dignity of phrase and
manner beyond his years.

"Then it will last," said Allen. "You're only a boy, and for a
while I know what is best for you."

Trove had to promise, and, as that keen edge of his feeling wore
away, doubted no more the wisdom of his father. He wrote Polly a
letter, quaint with boyish chivalry and frankness--one of a package
that has lain these many years in old ribbons and the scent of
lavender.

He went to the Sign of the Dial as soon as he got to Hillsborough
that day. Darrel was at home, and a happy time it was, wherein
each gave account of the summer. A stranger sat working at the
small bench. Darrel gave him no heed, chatting as if they were
quite alone.

"And what is the news in Hillsborough?" said Trove, his part of the
story finished.

"Have ye not heard?" said Darrel, in a whisper. "Parson Hammond
hath swapped horses."

Trove began to laugh.

"Nay, that is not all," said the tinker, his pipe in hand. "Deacon
Swackhammer hath smitten the head o' Brooke. Oh, sor, 'twas a
comedy. Brooke gave him an ill-sounding word. Swackhammer
removed his coat an' flung it down. 'Deacon, lie there,' said he.
Then each began, as it were, to bruise the head o' the serpent.
Brooke--poor man!--he got the worst of it. An' sad to tell! his
wife died the very next day."

"Of what?" Trove inquired,

"Marry, I do not know; it may have been joy," said the tinker,
lighting his pipe. "Ah, sor, Brooke is tough. He smites the
helping hand an' sickens the heart o' kindness. I offered him help
an' sympathy, an' he made it all bitter with suspicion o' me. I
turned away, an' said I to meself, 'Darrel, thy head is soft--a
babe could brain thee with a lady's fan.'"

Darrel puffed his pipe in silence a little time.

"Every one hates Brooke," said Trove.

"Once," said Darrel, presently, "a young painter met a small animal
with a striped back, in the woods. They exchanged compliments an'
suddenly the painter ran, shaking his head. As he came near his
own people, they all began to flee before him. He followed them
for days, an' every animal in the woods ran as he came near. By
an' by he stopped to rest. Then he looked down at himself an'
spat, sneeringly. When, after weeks o' travel, he was at length
admitted to the company of his kind, they sat in judgment on him.

"'Tell us,' said one, 'what evil hath befallen thee?'

"'Alas!' said the poor cat, 'I met a little creature with a striped
back.'

"'A little creature! an' thee so put about?' said another, with
great contempt.

"'Ay; but he hath a mighty talent,' said the sad painter. 'Let him
but stand before thee, an' he hath spoiled the earth, an' its
people, an' thou would'st even flee from thyself. But in fleeing
thou shalt think thyself on the way to hell.'"

For a moment Darrel shook with silent laughter. Then he rose and
put his pipe on the shelf.

"Well, I'd another chance to try the good law on him," said Darrel,
presently. "In July he fell sick o' fever, an' I delayed me trip
to nurse him. At length, when he was nearly well, an' I had come
to his home one evening, the widow Glover met me at his door.

"'If ye expect money fer comin' here, ye better go on 'bout yer
business,' Brooke shouted from the bedroom. 'I don't need ye any
more, an' I'll send ye a bushel o' potatoes by 'n by. Good day.'

"Not a word o' thanks!" the tinker exclaimed. "Wrath o' God! I
fear there is but one thing would soften him."

"And what is that?"

"A club," said Darrel. "But God forgive me! I must put away
anger. Soon it went about that Brooke was to marry the widow. All
were delighted, for each party would be in the nature of a
punishment. God's justice! they did deserve each other."

Darrel shook with happiness, and relighted his pipe.

"Mayhap ye've seen the dear lady," Darrel went on. "She is large,
bony, quarrelsome--a weaver of some fifty years--neither amiable
nor fair to look upon. Every one knows her--a survivor o' two
husbands an' many a battle o' high words.

"'Is it a case o' foreclosure, Brooke?' says I to him one day in
the road.

"'No, sor,' he snaps out; 'I had a little mortgage on her
furniture, but I'm going t' marry her for a helpmeet. She is a
great worker an' neat an' savin'.'

"'An' headstrong,' says I. 'Ye must have patience with her.'

"'I can manage her,' said Brooke. 'The first morning after we are
married I always say to my wife, "Here's the breeches; now if ye
want 'em, take 'em, an' I'll put on the dress."'

"He looked wise, then, as if 'twere a great argument.

"'Always?' says I. 'God bless thee, 'tis an odd habit.'

"Well, the boast o' Brooke went from one to another an' at last to
the widow's ear. They say a look o' firmness an' resolution came
into her face, an' late in August they were married of an evening
at the home o' Brooke. Well, about then, I had been having
trouble."

"Trouble?" said Trove.

"It was another's trouble--that of a client o' mine, a poor woman
out in the country. Brooke had a mortgage on her cattle, an' she
could not pay, an' I undertook to help her. I had some money due
me, but was unable to put me hand on it. That day before the
wedding I went to the old sinner.

"'Brooke, I came to see about the Martha Vaughn mortgage,' says I."

"Martha Vaughn!" said Trove, turning quickly.

"Yes, one o' God's people," said the tinker.

"Ye may have seen her?"

"I have seen her," said Trove.

"'At ten o'clock to-morrow I shall foreclose,' says Brooke, waving
his fist.

"'Give her a little time--till the day after to-morrow,--man, it is
not much to ask,' says I.

"'Not an hour,' says he; an' I came away."

Darrel rose and put on his glasses and brought a newspaper and gave
it to the boy.

"Read that," said he, his finger on the story, "an' see what came
of it."

The article was entitled "A Rag Doll--The Story of a Money-lender
whose Name, let us say, is Brown."

After some account of the marriage and of bride and groom, the
story went on as follows:--

"At midnight the charivari was heard--a noisy beating of pans and
pots in the door-yard of the unhappy groom, who flung sticks of
wood from the window, and who finally dispersed the crowd with an
old shotgun. Bright and early next day came the milkman--a veteran
of the war of 1812--who, agreeably with his custom, sounded the
call of boots and saddles on his battered bugle at Brown's door.
But none came to open it. The noon hour passed with no sign of
life in the old house.

"'Suthin' hes happened over there,' said his nearest neighbour,
peering out of the window. 'Mebbe they've fit an' disabled each
other.'

"'You'd better go an' rap on the door,' said his wife.

"He started, halting at his gate and looking over at the house of
mystery. While he stood there, the door of the money-lender opened
a little, and a head came out beckoning for help. He hurried to
the door, that swung open as he came near it.

"'Heavens!' said he, 'What is the matter?'

"Brown stood behind the door, in a gown of figured calico, his feet
bare, his shock of gray hair dishevelled. The gown was a poor fit,
stopping just below the knees.

"'That woman!' he gasped, sinking into a chair and making an angry
gesture with his fist. 'That woman has got every pair o' breeches
in the house.'

"His wife appeared in the rusty, familiar garments of the
money-lender.

"'He tried to humble me this morning,' said she, 'an' I humbled
him. He began to order me around, an' I told him I wouldn't hev
it. "Then," says he, "you better put on the breeches an' I'll put
on the dress." "Very well," says I, and grabbed the breeches, an'
give him the dress. I know ye, Brown; ye'll never abuse me.'

"'I'll get a divorce--I'll have the law on ye,' said the old man,
angrily, as he walked the floor in his gown of calico.

"'Go on,' said she. 'Go to the lawyer now.'

"'Will ye git me a pair o' breeches?'

"'No; I took yer offer, an' ye can't have 'em 'til ye've done the
work that goes with the dress. Come, now, I want my dinner.'

"'I can't find a stitch in the house,' said he, turning to his
neighbour. 'I wish ye'd bring me some clothes.'

"The caller made no reply, but came away smiling, and told of
Brown's dilemma.

"'It's good for him,' said the neighbour's wife. 'Don't ye take
him any clothes. He's bullied three wives to death, an' now I'm
glad he's got a wife that can bully him.'

"Brown waited long, but no help arrived. The wife was firm and he
very hungry. She called him 'wife'--a title not calculated to
soothe a man of his agility and vigour. He galloped across the
room at her, yelling as he brandished a poker. She quickly took it
away and drove him into a corner. He had taken up the poker and
now seemed likely to perish by it. Then, going to the stove with
this odd weapon, she stuck its end in the fire, and Brown had no
sooner flung a wash-basin across the room at her head than she ran
after him with the hot poker. Then, calling for help, he ran
around the stove and out of doors like a wild man, his dress of
calico and his long hair flying in the breeze. Pedestrians halted,
men and women came out of their homes. The bare feet of the
money-lender were flying with great energy.

"'She's druv him crazy,' a man shouted.

"'An' knocked the socks off him,' said another.

"'Must have been tryin' t' make him into a rag doll,' was the
comment of a third.

"'Brown, if yer goin' t' be a womern,' said one, as they surrounded
him, 'ye'd ought to put on a longer dress. Yer enough t' scare a
hoss.'

"Brown was inarticulate with anger.

"A number of men judging him insane, seized and returned him to his
punishment. They heard the unhappy story with loud laughter.

"'You'd better give up an' go to the kitchen. Brown,' said one of
them; and there are those who maintain that he got the dinner
before he got the trousers."

"Well, God be praised!" said Darrel, when Trove had finished
reading the story; "Brooke was unable to foreclose that day, an'
the next was Sunday, an' bright an' early on Monday morning I paid
the debt."

"Mrs. Vaughn has a daughter," said Trove, blushing.

"Ay; an' she hath a pretty redness in her lip," said Darrel,
quickly, "an' a merry flash in her eye. Thou hast yet far to go,
boy. Look not upon her now, or she will trip thee. By an' by,
boy, by an' by."

There was an odd trait in Darrel. In familiar talk he often made
use of "ye"--a shortened you--in speaking to those of old
acquaintance. But when there was man or topic to rouse him into
higher dignity it was more often "thee" or "thou" with him. Trove
made no answer and shortly went away.

In certain court records one may read of the celebrated suit for
divorce which enlivened the winter of that year in the north
country. It is enough to quote the ringing words of one Colonel
Jenkins, who addressed the judge as follows:--

"Picture to yourself, sir, this venerable man, waking from his
dream of happiness to be robbed of his trousers--the very insignia
of his manhood. Picture him, sir, sitting in calico and despair,
mingled with hunger and humiliation. Think of him being addressed
as 'wife.' Being called 'wife,' sir, by this woman he had taken to
his heart and home. That, your Honour, was ingratitude sharper
than a serpent's tooth. Picture him driven from his fireside in
skirts,--the very drapery of humiliation,--skirts, your Honour,
that came barely to the knees and left his nether limbs exposed to
the autumnal breeze and the ridicule of the unthinking. Sir, it is
for you to say how far the widow may go in her oppression. If such
conduct is permitted, in God's name, who is safe?"

"May it please your Honour," said the opposing lawyer, "having
looked upon these pictures of the learned counsel, it is for you to
judge whether you ever saw any that gave you greater joy. They are
above all art, your Honour. In the galleries of memory there are
none like them--none so charming, so delightful. If I were to die
to-morrow, sir, I should thank God that my last hour came not until
I had seen these pictures of Colonel Jenkins; and it may be sir,
that my happiness would even delay the hand of death. My only
regret is that mine is the great misfortune of having failed to
witness the event they portray. Sir, you have a great
responsibility, for you have to judge whether human law may
interfere with the working of divine justice. It was the decree of
fate, your Honour, following his own word and action, that this man
should become as a rag doll in the hands of a termagant. I submit
to you that Providence, in the memory of the living, has done no
better job."

A tumult of applause stopped him, and he sat down.

Brooke was defeated promptly, and known ever after as "The Old Rag
Doll."

XII

The Santa Claus of Cedar Hill

Christmas Eve had come and the year of 1850. For two weeks snow
had rushed over the creaking gable of the forest above Martha
Vaughn's, to pile in drifts or go hissing down the long hillside.
A freezing blast had driven it to the roots of the stubble and sown
it deep and rolled it into ridges and whirled it into heaps and
mounds, or flung it far in long waves that seemed to plunge, as if
part of a white sea, and break over fence and roof and chimney in
their downrush. Candle and firelight filtered through frosty panes
and glowed, dimly, under dark fathoms of the snow sheet now flying
full of voices. Mrs. Vaughn opened her door a moment to peer out.
A great horned owl flashed across the light beam with a snap and
rustle of wings and a cry "oo-oo-oo," lonely, like that, as if it
were the spirit of darkness and the cold wind. Mrs. Vaughn
started, turning quickly and closing the door.

"Ugh! what a sound," said Polly. "It reminds me of a ghost story."

"Well," said the widow, "that thing belongs to the only family o'
real ghosts in the world."

"What was it?" said a small boy. There were Polly and three
children about the fireplace.

"An air cat," said she, shivering, her back to the fire. "They go
'round at night in a great sheet o' feathers an' rustle it, an' I
declare they do cry lonesome. Got terrible claws, too!"

"Ever hurt folks?" one of the boys inquired.

"No; but they're just like some kinds o' people--ye want to let 'em
alone. Any one that'll shake hands with an owl would be fool
enough to eat fish-hooks. They're not made for friendship--those
owls."

"What are they made for?" another voice inquired.

"Just to kill," said she, patting a boy's head tenderly. "They're
Death flying round at night--the angel o' Death for rats an'
rabbits an' birds an' other little creatures. Once,--oh, many
years ago,--it seemed so everything was made to kill. Men were
like beasts o' prey, most of 'em; an' they're not all gone yet.
Went around day an' night killing. I declare they must have had
claws. Then came the Prince o' Peace."

"What did he do to 'em, mother?" said Paul--a boy of seven.

"Well, he began to cut their claws for one thing," said the mother.
"Taught 'em to love an' not to kill. Shall I read you the
story--how he came in a manger?"

"B'lieve I'd rather hear about Injuns," said the boy.

"We shall hear about them too," the mother added. "They're like
folks o' the olden time. They make a terrible fuss; but they've
got to hold still an' have their claws cut."

Presently she sat down by a table, where there were candles, and
began reading aloud from a county paper. She read anecdotes of
men, remarkable for their success and piety, and an account of
Indian fighting, interrupted, as a red man lifted his tomahawk to
slay, by the rattle of an arrow on the buttery door.

It was off the cross-gun of young Paul. He had seen everything in
the story and had taken aim at the said Indian just in the nick of
time.

She read, also, the old sweet story of the coming of the Christ
Child.

"Some say it was a night like this," said she, as the story ended.

Paul had listened, his thin, sober face glowing.

"I'll bet Santa Claus was good to him," said he. "Brought him
sleds an' candy an' nuts an' raisins an' new boots an' everything."

"Why do you think so?" asked his mother, who was now reading
intently.

"'Cos he was a good boy. He wouldn't cry if he had to fill the
wood box; would he, mother?"

That query held a hidden rebuke for his brother Tom.

"I do not know, but I do not think he was ever saucy or spoke a bad
word."

"Huh!" said Tom, reflectively; "then I guess he never had no
mustard plaster put on him."

The widow bade him hush.

"Er never had nuthin' done to him, neither," the boy continued,
rocking vigorously in his little chair.

"Mustn't speak so of Christ," the mother added.

"Wal," said Paul, rising, "I guess I'll hang up my stockin's."

"One'll do, Paul," said his sister Polly, with a knowing air.

"No, 'twon't," the boy insisted. "They ain't half 's big as yours.
I'm goin' t' try it, anyway, an' see what he'll do to 'em."

He drew off his stockings and pinned them carefully to the braces
on the back of a chair.

"Well, my son," said Mrs. Vaughn, looking over the top of her
paper, "it's bad weather; Santa Claus may not be able to get here."

"Oh, yes, he can," said the boy, confidently, but with a little
quiver of alarm in his voice. "I'm sure he'll come. He has a team
of reindeers. 'An' the deeper the snow the faster they go.'"

Soon the others bared their feet and hung their stockings on four
chairs in a row beside the first.

Then they all got on the bed in the corner and pulled a quilt over
them to wait for Santa Claus. The mother went on with her reading
as they chattered.

Sleep hushed them presently. But for the crackling of the fire,
and the push and whistle of the wind, that room had become as a
peaceful, silent cave under the storm.

The widow rose stealthily and opened a bureau drawer. The row of
limp stockings began to look cheerful and animated. Little
packages fell to their toes, and the shortest began to reach for
the floor. But while they were fat in the foot they were still
very lean in the leg.

Her apron empty, Mrs. Vaughn took her knitting to the fire, and
before she began to ply the needles, looked thoughtfully at her
hands. They had been soft and shapely before the days of toil. A
frail but comely woman she was, with pale face, and dark eyes, and
hair prematurely white.

She had come west--a girl of nineteen--with her young husband, full
of high hopes. That was twenty-one years ago, and the new land had
poorly kept its promise.

And the children--"How many have you?" a caller had once inquired.
"Listen," said she, "hear 'em, an' you'd say there were fifteen,
but count 'em an' they're only four."

The low, weathered house and sixty acres were mortgaged. Even the
wilderness had not wholly signed off its claim. Every year it
exacted tribute, the foxes taking a share of her poultry, and the
wild deer feeding on her grain.

A little beggar of a dog, that now lay in the firelight, had
offered himself one day, with cheerful confidence, and been
accepted. Small, affectionate, cowardly, irresponsible, and
yellow, he was in the nature of a luxury, as the widow had once
said. He had a slim nose, no longer than a man's thumb, and ever
busy. He was a most prudent animal, and the first day found a
small opening in the foundation of the barn through which he betook
himself always at any sign of danger. He soon buried his bones
there, and was ready for a siege if, perchance, it came. One blow
or even a harsh word sent him to his refuge in hot haste. He had
learned early that the ways of hired men were full of violence and
peril. Hospitality and affection had won his confidence but never
deprived him of his caution.

Presently there came a heavy step and a quick pull at the
latch-string. An odd figure entered in a swirl of snow--a real
Santa Claus, the mystery and blessing of Cedar Hill. For five
years, every Christmas Eve, in good or bad weather, he had come to
four little houses on the Hill, where, indeed, his coming had been
as a Godsend. Whence he came and who he might be none had been
able to guess. He never spoke in his official capacity, and no
citizen of Faraway had such a beard or figure as this man. Now his
fur coat, his beard, and eyebrows were hoary with snow and frost.
Icicles hung from his mustache around the short clay pipe of
tradition. He lowered a great sack and brushed the snow off it.
He had borne it high on his back, with a strap at each shoulder.

The sack was now about half full of things. He took out three big
bundles and laid them on the table. They were evidently for the
widow herself, who quickly stepped to the bedside.

"Come, children," she whispered, rousing them; "here is Santa
Claus."

They scrambled down, rubbing their eyes. Polly took the hands of
the two small boys and led them near him. Paul drew his hand away
and stood spellbound, eyes and mouth open. He watched every motion
of the good Saint, who had come to that chair that held the little
stockings. Santa Claus put a pair of boots on it. They were
copper-toed, with gorgeous front pieces of red morocco at the top
of the leg. Then, as if he had some relish of a joke, he took them
up, looked them over thoughtfully, and put them in the sack again,
whereupon the boy Paul burst into tears. Old Santa Claus, shaking
with silent laughter, replaced them in the chair quickly,

As if to lighten the boy's heart he opened a box and took out a
mouth-organ. He held it so the light sparkled on its shiny side.
Then he put his pipe in his pocket and began to dance and play
lively music. Step and tune quickened. The bulky figure was
flying up and down above a great clatter of big boots, his head
wagging to keep time. The oldest children were laughing, and the
boy Paul, he began to smile in the midst of a great sob that shook
him to the toes. The player stopped suddenly, stuffed the
instrument in a stocking, and went on with his work. Presently he
uncovered a stick of candy long as a man's arm. There were spiral
stripes of red from end to end of it. He used it for a fiddle-bow,
whistling with terrific energy and sawing the air. Then he put
shawls and tippets and boots and various little packages on the
other chairs.

At last he drew out of the sack a sheet of pasteboard, with string
attached, and hung it on the wall. It bore the simple message,
rudely lettered in black, as follows:--

"Mery Crismus. And Children i have the
honnor to remane, Yours Respec'fully
SANDY CLAUS."

His work done, he swung the pack to his shoulders and made off as
they all broke the silence with a hearty "Thank you, Santa Claus!"

They listened a moment, as he went away with a loud and merry laugh
sounding above the roar of the wind. It was the voice of a big and
gentle heart, but gave no other clew. In a moment cries of
delight, and a rustle of wrappings, filled the room. As on wings
of the bitter wind, joy and good fortune had come to them, and, in
that little house, had drifted deep as the snow without.

The children went to their beds with slow feet and quick pulses.
Paul begged for the sacred privilege of wearing his new boots to
bed, but compromised on having them beside his pillow. The boys
went to sleep at last, with all their treasures heaped about them.
Tom shortly rolled upon the little jumping-jack, that broke away
and butted him in the face with a loud squawk. It roused the boy,
who promptly set up a defence in which the stuffed hen lost her
tail-feathers and the jumping-jack was violently put out of bed.
When the mother came to see what had happened, order had been
restored--the boys were both sleeping.

It was an odd little room under bare shingles above stairs. Great
chests, filled with relics of another time and country, sat against
the walls. Here and there a bunch of herbs or a few ears of corn,
their husks braided, hung on the bare rafters. The aroma of the
summer fields--of peppermint, catnip, and lobelia--haunted it.
Chimney and stovepipe tempered the cold. A crack in the gable end
let in a sift of snow that had been heaping up a lonely little
drift on the bare floor. The widow covered the boys tenderly and
took their treasures off the bed, all save the little wooden
monkey, which, as if frightened by the melee, had hidden far under
the clothes. She went below stairs to the fire, which every cold
day was well fed until after midnight, and began to enjoy the sight
of her own gifts. They were a haunch of venison, a sack of flour,
a shawl, and mittens. A small package had fallen to the floor. It
was neatly bound with wrappings of blue paper. Under the last
layer was a little box, the words "For Polly" on its cover. It
held a locket of wrought gold that outshone the light of the
candles. She touched a spring, and the case opened. Inside was a
lock of hair, white as her own. There were three lines cut in the
glowing metal, and she read them over and over again:--

"Here are silver and gold,
The one for a day of remembrance between thee and dishonour,
The other for a day of plenty between thee and want."

She went to her bed, presently, where the girl lay sleeping, and,
lifting dark masses of her hair, kissed a ruddy cheek. Then the
widow stood a moment, wiping her eyes.

XIII

A Christmas Adventure

Long before daylight one could hear the slowing of the wind. Its
caravan now reaching eastward to mid-ocean was nearly passed.
Scattered gusts hurried on like weary and belated followers. Then,
suddenly, came a silence in which one might have heard the dust of
their feet falling, their shouts receding in the far woodland. The
sun rose in a clear sky above the patched and ragged canopy of the
woods--a weary multitude now resting in the still air.

The children were up looking for tracks of reindeer and breaking
paths in the snow. Sunlight glimmered in far-flung jewels of the
Frost King. They lay deep, clinking as the foot sank in them. At
the Vaughn home it was an eventful day. Santa Claus--well, he is
the great Captain that leads us to the farther gate of childhood
and surrenders the golden key. Many ways are beyond the gate, some
steep and thorny; and some who pass it turn back with bleeding feet
and wet eyes, but the gate opens not again for any that have
passed. Tom had got the key and begun to try it. Santa Claus had
winked at him with a snaring eye, like that of his aunt when she
had sugar in her pocket, and Tom thought it very foolish. The boy
had even felt of his greatcoat and got a good look at his boots and
trousers. Moreover, when he put his pipe away, Tom saw him take a
chew of tobacco--an abhorrent thing if he were to believe his
mother.

"Mother," said he, "I never knew Santa Claus chewed tobacco."

"Well, mebbe he was Santa Claus's hired man," said she.

"Might 'a' had the toothache," Paul suggested, for Lew Allen, who
worked for them in the summer time, had an habitual toothache,
relieved many times a day by chewing tobacco.

Tom sat looking into the fire a moment.

Then he spoke of a matter Paul and he had discussed secretly.

"Joe Bellus he tol' me Santa Claus was only somebody rigged up t'
fool folks, an' hadn't no reindeers at all."

The mother turned away, her wits groping for an answer.

"Hadn't ought 'a' told mother, Tom," said Paul, with a little
quiver of reproach and pity. "'Tain't so, anyway--we know 'tain't
so."

He was looking into his mother's face.

"Tain't so," Paul repeated with unshaken confidence.

"Mus'n't believe all ye hear," said the widow, who now turned to
the doubting Thomas.

And that very moment Tom was come to the last gate of childhood,
whereon are the black and necessary words, "Mus'n't believe all ye
hear."

The boys in their new boots were on the track of a painter. They
treed him, presently, at the foot of the stairs.

"How'll we kill him?" one of them inquired.

"Just walk around the tree once," said the mother, "an' you'll
scare him to death. Why don't ye grease your boots?"

"'Fraid it'll take the screak out of 'em," said Paul, looking down
thoughtfully at his own pair.

"Well," said she, "you'll have me treed if you keep on. No hunter
would have boots like that. A loud foot makes a still gun."

That was her unfailing method of control--the appeal to
intelligence. Polly sat singing, thoughtfully, the locket in her
hand. She had kissed the sacred thing and hung it by a ribbon to
her neck and bathed her eyes in the golden light of it and begun to
feel the subtle pathos in its odd message. She was thinking of the
handsome boy who came along that far May-day with the drove, and
who lately had returned to be her teacher at Linley School. Now,
he had so much dignity and learning, she liked him not half so well
and felt he had no longer any care for her. She blushed to think
how she had wept over his letter and kissed it every day for weeks.
Her dream was interrupted, presently, by the call of her brother
Tom. Having cut the frost on a window-pane, he stood peering out.
A man was approaching in the near field. His figure showed to the
boot-top, mounting hills of snow, and sank out of sight in the deep
hollows. It looked as if he were walking on a rough sea. In a
moment he came striding over the dooryard fence on a pair of
snowshoes.

"It's Mr. Trove, the teacher," said Polly, who quickly began to
shake her curls.

As the door swung open all greeted the young man. Loosening his
snow-shoes, he flung them on the step and came in, a foxtail
dangling from his fur cap.

He shook hands with Polly and her mother, and lifted Paul to the
ceiling. "Hello, young man!" said he. "If one is four, how many
are two?"

"If you're speaking of new boots," said the widow, "one is at least
fifteen."

The school teacher made no reply, but stood a moment looking down
at the boy.

"It's a cold day," said Polly.

"I like it," said the teacher, lifting his broad shoulders and
smiting them with his hands. "God has been house cleaning. The
dome of the sky is all swept and dusted. There isn't a cobweb
anywhere. Santa Claus come?"

"Yes," said the younger children, who made a rush for their gifts
and laid them on chairs before him.

"Grand old chap!" said he, staring thoughtfully at the flannel cat
in his hands. "Any idea who it is?"

"Can't make out," said Mrs. Vaughn; "very singular man."

"Generous, too," the teacher added. "That's the best cat I ever
saw, Tom. If I had my way, the cats would all be made of flannel.
Miss Polly, what did you get?"

"This," said Polly, handing him the locket.

"Beautiful!" said he, turning it in his hand. "Anything inside?"

Polly showed him how to open it. He sat a moment or more looking
at the graven gold.

"Strange!" said he, presently, surveying the wrought cases,

Mrs. Vaughn was now at his elbow.

"Strange?" she inquired.

"Well, long ago," said he, "I heard of one like it. Some time it
may solve the mystery of your Santa Claus."

An ear of the teacher had begun to swell and redden.

"Should have pulled my cap down," said he, as the widow spoke of
it. "Frost-bitten years ago, and if I'm out long in the cold, I
begin to feel it."

"Must be very painful," said Polly, as indeed it was.

"No," said he, with a little squint as he touched the aching
member. "It's good--I rather like it. I wouldn't take anything
for that ear. It--it--" He hesitated, as if trying to recall the
advantages of a chilled ear. "Well, I shouldn't know I had any
ears if it weren't for that one. Come, Paul, put on your cap an'
mittens. We'll take a sack and get some green boughs for your
mother."

He put on snow-shoes, wrapped the boy snugly in a shawl, and,
seating him on a snowboat, made off, hauling it with a rope over
white banks and hollows toward the big timber. The dog, Bony, came
along with them, wallowing to his ears and barking merrily. Since
morning the sun had begun to warm the air, and a light breeze had
risen. The boy sat bracing on a rope fastened before and looped
around him. As they went along he was oversown with sparkling
crystals. They made his cheeks tingle, and almost took his breath
as he went plunging into steep hollows. Often he tipped over and
sank in the white deep. Then Trove hauled him out, brushed him a
little, and set him back on the boat again. Snow lay deep and
level in the woods--a big, white carpet, seamed with tiny tracks
and figured with light and shadow. Trove stopped a moment, looking
up at the forest roof. They could hear a baying of hounds in the
far valley. Down the dingle near them a dead leaf was drumming on
a bough--a clock of the wood telling the flight of seconds. Above,
they could hear the low creak of brace and rafter and great waves
of the upper deep sweeping over and breaking with a loud wash on
reefs of evergreen. The little people of this odd winter land had
begun to make roads from tree to tree and from thicket to thicket.
A partridge had broken out of her cave, and they followed the track
of her snow-shoes down the side-hill to a little brook. Under its
ice roof they could hear the tinkling water. Above them the brook
fell from a rock shelf, narrow and high as a man's head. The fall
was muted to a low murmur under its vault of ice.

"Come, Paul," said Trove, as he lifted the small boy; "here's a
castle of King Frost. There are thousands in his family, and he's
many castles. Building new ones every day somewhere. Goes north
in the spring, and when he moves out they begin to rot and tumble."

He cleared a space for the boy to stand upon. Then he brushed away
the snow blanket flung loosely over the vault of ice. A wonderful
bit of masonry stood exposed. Near its centre were two columns,
large and rugose, each tapering to a capital and cornice. Between
them was a deep lattice of crystal. Some bars were clear, some
yellow as amber, and all were powdered over with snow, ivory-white.
Under its upper part they could see a grille of frostwork,
close-wrought, glistening, and white. It was the inner gate of the
castle, and each ray of light, before entering, had to pay a toll
of its warmth. On either side was a rough wall of ice, with here
and there a barred window. The snow cleared away, they could hear
the song of falling water. The teacher put his ear to the ice
wall. Then he called the boy.

"Listen," said he; "it's the castle bell." Indeed, the whole
structure rang like a bell, if one put his ear down to hear it.

"See!" said he, presently, stirring a heap of tiny crystals in his
palm. "Here are the bricks he builds with, and the water of the
brook is his mortar."

Near the bank was an opening partly covered with snow. It led to a
cavern behind the ice curtain under the rock floor of the brook
above.

The teacher took off his snow-shoes. In a moment they had crawled
through and were crouching on a frosty bed of pebbles. A warm glow
lit the long curtain of ice. Beams of sunlight fell through
windows oddly mullioned with icicles and filtered in at the lattice
of crystal. They jewelled the grille of frostwork and flung a
sprinkle of gold on the falling water. The breath of the
waterfall, rising out of bubbles, filled its castle with the very
wine of life. The narrow hall rang with its music.

"See the splendour of a king's home," said the teacher, his eyes
brimming.

The boy, young as he was, had seen and felt the beauty and mystery
of the place, and never forgot it.

"See how it sifts the sunlight to take the warmth out of it," the
teacher continued. "Warmth is poison to the King, and every ray of
light is twisted and turned upside down to see if he has any in his
pocket."

They could now hear a loud baying on the hill above.

As they turned to listen, a young fox leaped in at the hole and, as
he saw them, checked a foot in the air. He was panting, his tongue
out, and blood was dripping from his long fur at the shoulder. He
turned, stilling his breath a little as the hounds came near. Then
he trembled,--a pitiful sight,--for he was near spent and between
two perils.

"Come--poor fellow!" said the teacher, stroking him gently.

The fox ran aside, shaking with fear, his foot lifted appealingly.
With a quick movement the teacher caught him by the nape of his
neck and thrust him into the sack. The leader now had his nose in
the hole.

"Back there!" Trove shouted, kicking at him.

In a moment he had rolled a heavy stone to the hole and made it too
small for the hounds to enter. Half a dozen of them were now
baying outside.

"We'll give him air," said the teacher, as he cut a hole in the
sack and tied it. "Don't know how we'll get him out of here alive.
They'd be all over me like a pack of wolves."

He stood a moment thinking. Bony had wriggled away from Paul and
begun to bark loudly.

"I've an idea," said the teacher, as he cut the foxtail from his
cap. Then he rubbed it in the blood and spittle of the fox and
tied it to the stub tail of Bony. The dog's four feet were scented
in the same manner. The smell of them irked him sorely. His hair
rose, and his head fell with a sense of injury. He made a rush at
his new tail and was rudely stopped.

"He's fresh, and they'll not be able to catch him," said the young
man, as Paul protested. "Wouldn't hurt anything but the tail if
they did."

Then breaking the ice curtain, as far from the hole as possible, he
gave Bony a spank and flung him out on the snow above with a loud
"go home." The pack saw him and scrambled up the bank in full cry.
He had turned for a glance at his new tail, but seeing the pack
rush at him started up the hillside with a yelp of fear and the
energy of a wildcat. When the two came out of the cavern they saw
him leaping like a rabbit in the snow, his hair on end, his brush
flying, and the hounds in full pursuit.

"My stars! See that dog run," said the teacher, laughing, as he
put on his snow-shoes. "He don't intend to be caught with such a
tail and smell on him."

He put the sack over his shoulder.

"All aboard, Paul," said he; "now we can go home in peace."

Coming down out of the woods, they saw a pack of hounds digging at
one side of the stable. Bony had gone to his refuge under the barn
floor.

As he entered, one of them had evidently caught hold of his new
tail, and the pack had torn it in shreds. Two hunters came along
shortly, and, after a talk with the teacher, took their dogs away.
But for three days Bony came not forth and was seen no more of men,
save only when he crept to the hole for a lap of water and to seize
a doughnut from the hand of Paul, whereupon he retired promptly.

"He ain't going to take any chances," said the widow, laughing.

When at last he came forth, it was with a soft step and new
resolutions. And a while later, when Trove heard Darrel say that
caution was the only friend of weakness, he understood him
perfectly.

"Not every brush has a fox on it," said the widow, and the words
went from lip to lip until they were a maxim of those country-folk.

And Trove was to think of it when he himself was like the poor dog
that wore a fox's tail.

XIV

A Day at the Linley Schoolhouse

A remarkable figure was young Sidney Trove, the new teacher in
District No. 1. He was nearing nineteen years of age that winter.

"I like that," he said to the trustee, who had been telling him of
the unruly boys--great, hulking fellows that made trouble every
winter term. "Trouble--it's a grand thing I--but I'm not selfish,
and if I find any, I'll agree to divide it with the boys. I don't
know but I'll be generous and let them have the most of it. If
they put me out of the schoolhouse, I'll have learned something."

The trustee looked at the six feet and two inches of bone and
muscle that sat lounging in a chair--looked from end to end of it.

"What's that?" he inquired, smiling.

"That I've no business there," said young Mr. Trove.

"I guess you'll dew," said the trustee. "Make 'em toe the line;
that's all I got t' say."

"And all I've got to do is my best--I don't promise any more," the
other answered modestly, as he rose to leave.

Linley School was at the four corners in Pleasant Valley,--a low,
frame structure, small and weathered gray. Windows, with no shade,
or shutter, were set, two on a side, in perfect apposition. A
passing traveller could see through them to the rocky pasture
beyond. Who came there for knowledge, though a fool, was dubbed a
"scholar." It was a word sharply etched in the dialect of that
region. If one were to say _skollur-r-r_, he might come near it.
Every winter morning the scholar entered a little vestibule which
was part of the woodshed. He passed an ash barrel and the odour of
drying wood, hung cap and coat On a peg in the closet, lifted the
latch of a pine door, and came into the schoolroom. If before
nine, it would be noisy with shout and laughter, the buzz of
tongues, the tread of running feet. Big girls, in neat aprons,
would be gossiping at the stove hearth; small boys would be chasing
each other up and down aisles and leaping the whittled desks of
pine; little girls, in checked flannel, or homespun, would be
circling in a song play; big boys would be trying feats of strength
that ended in loud laughter. So it was, the first morning of that
winter term in 1850. A tall youth stood by the window. Suddenly
he gave a loud "sh--h--h!" Running feet fell silently and halted;
words begun with a shout ended in a whisper. A boy making
caricatures at the blackboard dropped his chalk, that now fell
noisily. A whisper, heavy with awe and expectation, flew hissing
from lip to lip--"The teacher!" There came a tramping in the
vestibule, the door-latch jumped with a loud rattle, and in came
Sidney Trove. All eyes were turned upon him. A look of rectitude,
dovelike and too good to be true, came over many faces.

"Good morning!" said the young man, removing his cap, coat, and
overshoes. Some nodded, dumb with timidity. Only a few little
ones had the bravery to speak up, as they gave back the words in a
tone that would have fitted a golden text. He came to the roaring
stove and stood a moment, warming his hands. A group of the big
boys were in a corner whispering. Two were sturdy and quite six
feet tall,--the Beach boys.

"Big as a bull moose," one whispered,

"An' stouter," said another.

The teacher took a pencil from his pocket and tapped the desk.

"Please take your seats," said he.

All obeyed. Then he went around with the roll and took their
names, of which there were thirty-four.

"I believe I know your name," said Trove, smiling, as he came to
Polly Vaughn.

"I believe you do," said she, glancing up at him, with half a smile
and a little move in her lips that seemed to ask, "How could you
forget me?"

Then the teacher, knowing the peril of her eyes, became very
dignified as he glanced over the books she had brought to school.
He knew it was going to be a hard day. For a little, he wondered
if he had not been foolish, after all, in trying a job so difficult
and so perilous. If he should be thrown out of school, he felt
sure it would ruin him--he could never look Polly in the face
again. As he turned to begin the work of teaching, it seemed to
him a case of do or die, and he felt the strength of an ox in his
heavy muscles.

The big boys had settled themselves in a back corner side by
side--a situation too favourable for mischief. He asked them to
take other seats. They complied sullenly and with hesitation. He
looked over books, organized the school in classes, and started one
of them on its way. It was the primer class, including a half
dozen very small boys and girls. They shouted each word in the
reading lesson, laboured in silence with another, and gave voice
again with unabated energy. In their pursuit of learning they
bayed like hounds. Their work began upon this ancient and
informing legend, written to indicate the shout and skip of the
youthful student:--

The--sun--is--up--and--it--is--day--day?--day.

"You're afraid," the teacher began after a little. "Come up here
close to me."

They came to his chair and stood about him. Some were confident,
others hung back suspicious and untamed.

"We're going to be friends," said he, in a low, gentle voice. He
took from his pocket a lot of cards and gave one to each.

"Here's a story," he continued. "See--I put it in plain print for
you with pen and ink. It's all about a bear and a boy, and is in
ten parts. Here's the first chapter. Take it home with you
to-night--"

He stopped suddenly. He had turned in his chair and could see none
of the boys. He did not move, but slowly took off a pair of
glasses he had been wearing.

"Joe Beach," said he, coolly, "come out here on the floor."

There was a moment of dead silence. That big youth--the terror of
Linley School--was now red and dumb with amazement. His deviltry
had begun, but how had the teacher seen it with his back turned?

"I'll think it over," said the boy, sullenly.

The teacher laid down his book, calmly, walked to the seat of the
young rebel, took him by the collar and the back of the neck, tore
him out of the place where his hands and feet were clinging like
the roots of a tree, dragged him roughly to the aisle and over the
floor space, taking part of the seat along, and stood him to the
wall with a bang that shook the windows. There was no halting--it
was all over in half a minute.

"You'll please remain there," said he, coolly, "until I tell you to
sit down."

He turned his back on the bully, walked slowly to his chair, and
opened his book again.

"Take it home with you to-night," said he, continuing his talk to
the primer class. "Spell it over, so you won't have to stop long
between words. All who read it well to-morrow will get another
chapter."

They began to study at home. Wonder grew, and pleasure came with
labour as the tale went on.

He dismissed the primer readers, calling the first class in
geography. As they took their places he repaired the broken seat,
a part of which had been torn off the nails. The fallen rebel
stood leaning, his back to the school. He had expected help, but
the reserve force had failed him.

"Joe Beach--you may take your seat," said the teacher, in a kind of
parenthetical tone.

"Geography starts at home," he continued, beginning the recitation.
"Who can tell me where is the Linley schoolhouse?"

A dozen hands went up.

"You tell," said he to one.

"It's here," was the answer.

"Where's here?"

A boy looked thoughtful.

"Nex' t' Joe Linley's cow-pastur'," he ventured presently,

"Will you tell us?" the teacher asked, looking at a bright-eyed
girl.

"In Faraway, New York," said she, glibly.

"Tom Linley, I'll take that," said the teacher, in a lazy tone. He
was looking down at his book. Where he sat, facing the class, he
could see none of the boys without turning. But he had not turned.
To the wonder of all, up he spoke as Tom Linley was handing a slip
of paper to Joe Beach. There was a little pause. The young man
hesitated, rose, and walked nervously down the aisle.

"Thank you," said the teacher, as he took the message and flung it
on the fire, unread. "Faraway, New York;" he continued on his way
to the blackboard as if nothing had happened.

He drew a circle, indicating the four points of the compass on it.
Then he mapped the town of Faraway and others, east, west, north,
and south of it. So he made a map of the county and bade them copy
it. Around the county in succeeding lessons he built a map of the
state. Others in the middle group were added, the structure
growing, day by day, until they had mapped the hemisphere.

At the Linley schoolhouse something had happened. Cunning no
sooner showed its head than it was bruised like a serpent, brawny
muscles had been easily outdone, boldness had grown timid, conceit
had begun to ebb. A serious look had settled upon all faces.
Every scholar had learned one thing, learned it well and
quickly--it was to be no playroom.

There was a recess of one hour at noon. All went for their dinner
pails and sat quietly, eating bread and butter followed by
doughnuts, apples, and pie.

The young men had walked to the road. Nothing had been said. They
drew near each other. Tom Linley looked up at Joe Beach. In his
face one might have seen a cloud of sympathy that had its silver
lining of amusement.

"Powerful?" Tom inquired, soberly.

"What?" said Joe.

"Powerful?" Tom repeated.

"Powerful! Jiminy crimps!" said Joe, significantly.

"Why didn't ye kick him?"

"Kick him?"

"Yes."

"Kick _him_?

"Kick _him_."

"Huh! dunno," said Joe, with a look of sadness turning into
contempt.

"Scairt?" the other inquired.

"Scairt? Na--a--w," said Joe, scornfully.

"What was ye, then?"

"Parr'lyzed--seems so."

There was an outbreak of laughter.

"You was goin' t' help," said Joe, addressing Tom Linley.

A moment of silence followed.

"_You_ was goin' t' help," the fallen bully repeated, with large
emphasis on the pronoun.

"Help?" Tom inquired, sparring for wind as it were.

"Yes, help."

"You was licked 'fore I had time."

"Didn't dast--that's what's the matter--didn't dast," said big Joe,
with a tone of irreparable injury.

"Wouldn't 'a' been nigh ye fer a millyun dollars," said Tom,
soberly.

"Why not?"

"'Twant safe; that's why."

"'Fraid o' him! ye coward!"

"No; 'fraid o' you."

"Why?"

"'Cos if one o' yer feet had hit a feller when ye come up ag'in
that wall," Tom answered slowly, "there wouldn't 'a' been nuthin'
left uv him."

All laughed loudly.

Then there was another silence. Joe broke it after a moment of
deep thought.

"Like t' know how he seen me," said he.

"'Tis cur'us," said another.

"Guess he's one o' them preformers like they have at the circus--"
was the opinion of Sam Beach. "See one take a pig out o' his hat
las' summer."

"'Tain't fair 'n' square," said Tom Linley; "not jest eggzac'ly."

"Gosh! B'lieve I'll run away," said Joe, after a pause. "Ain' no
fun here for me."

"Better not," said Archer Town; "not if ye know when yer well off."

"Why not?"

"Wal, he'd see ye wherever ye was an' do suthin' to ye," said
Archer. "Prob'ly he's heard all we been sayin' here."

"Wal, I ain't said nuthin' I'm 'shamed of," said Sam Beach,
thoughtfully.

A bell rang, and all hurried to the schoolhouse. The afternoon was
uneventful. Those rough-edged, brawny fellows had become serious.
Hope had died in their breasts, and now they looked as if they had
come to its funeral. They began to examine their books as one
looks at a bitter draught before drinking it. In every subject the
teacher took a new way not likely to be hard upon tender feet. For
each lesson he had a method of his own. He angled for the interest
of the class and caught it. With some a term of school had been as
a long sickness, lengthened by the medicine of books and the
surgery of the beech rod. They had resented it with ingenious
deviltry. The confusion of the teacher and some incidental fun
were its only compensations. The young man gave his best thought
to the correction of this mental attitude. Four o'clock came at
last--the work of the day was over. Weary with its tension all sat
waiting the teacher's word. For a little he stood facing them.

"Tom Linley and Joe Beach," said he, in a low voice, "will you wait
a moment after the others have gone? School's dismissed."

There was a rush of feet and a rattle of dinner pails. All were
eager to get home with the story of that day--save the two it had
brought to shame. They sat quietly as the others went away. A
deep silence fell in that little room. Of a sudden it had become a
lonely place.

The teacher damped the fire and put on his overshoes.

"Boys," said he, drawing a big silver watch, "hear that watch
ticking. It tells the flight of seconds. You are--eighteen, did
you say? They turn boys into oxen here in this country; just a
thing of bone and muscle, living to sweat and lift and groan.
Maybe I can save you, but there's not a minute to lose. With you
it all depends on this term of school. When it's done you'll
either be ox or driver. Play checkers?"

Tom nodded.

"I'll come over some evening, and we'll have a game. Good night!"

XV

The Tinker at Linley School

Every seat was filled at the Linley School next morning. The
tinker had come to see Trove and sat behind the big desk as work
began.

"There are two kinds of people," said the teacher, after all were
seated--"those that command--those that obey. No man is fit to
command until he has learned to obey--he will not know how. The
one great thing life has to teach you is--obey. There was a young
bear once that was bound to go his own way. The old bear told him
it wouldn't do to jump over a precipice, but, somehow, he couldn't
believe it and jumped. 'Twas the last thing he ever did. It's
often so with the young. Their own way is apt to be rather steep
and to end suddenly. There are laws everywhere,--we couldn't live
without them,--laws of nature, God, and man. Until we learn the
law and how to obey it, we must go carefully and take the advice of
older heads. We couldn't run a school without laws in it--laws
that I must obey as well as you. I must teach, and you must learn.
The two first laws of the school are teach and learn--you must help
me to obey mine; I must help you to obey yours. And we'll have as
much fun as possible, but we must obey."

Then Trove invited Darrel to address the school.

"Dear children," the tinker began with a smile, "I mind ye're all
looking me in the face, an' I do greatly fear ye. I fear I may say
something ye will remember, an' again I fear I may not. For when I
speak to the young--ah! then it seems to me God listens. I heard
the teacher speaking o' the law of obedience. Which o' ye can tell
me who is the great master--the one ye must never disobey?"

"Yer father," said one of the boys.

"Nay, me bright lad, one o' these days ye may lose father an'
mother an' teacher an' friend. Let me tell a story, an' then,
mayhap, ye'll know the great master. Once upon a time there was a
young cub who thought his life a burden because he had to mind his
mother. By an' by a bullet killed her, an' he was left alone. He
wandered away, not knowing' what to do, and came near the land o'
men. Soon he met an old bear.

"'Foolish cub! Why go ye to the land o' men?' said the old bear.
'Thy legs are not as long as me tail. Go home an' obey thy mother.'

"'But I've none to obey,' said the young bear; an' before he could
turn, a ball came whizzing over a dingle an' ripped into his ham.
The old bear had scented danger an' was already out o' the way.
The cub made off limping, an' none too quickly. They followed him
all day, an' when night came he was the most weary an' bedraggled
bear in the woods. But he stopped the blood an' went away on a dry
track in the morning. He came to a patch o' huckleberries that day
and began to help himself. Then quick an' hard he got a cuff on
the head that tore off an ear and knocked him into the bushes.
When he rose there stood the old bear. "'Ah, me young cub,' said
he, 'ye'll have a master now.'

"'An' no more need o' him,' said the young bear, shaking his bloody
head.

"'Nay, ye will prosper,' said the old bear. 'There are two ways o'
learning,--by hearsay an' by knocks. Much ye may learn by knocks,
but they are painful. There be two things every one has to
learn,--respect for himself; respect for others. Ye'll know,
hereafter, in the land o' men a bear has to keep his nose up an'
his ears open--because men hurt. Ye'll know better, also, than to
feed on the ground of another bear--because he hurts. Now, were I
a cub an' had none to obey, I'd obey meself. Ye know what's right,
do it; ye know what's wrong, do it not.'

"'One thing is sure,' said the young bear, as he limped away; 'if I
live, there'll not be a bear in the woods that'll take any better
care of himself.'

"Now the old bear knew what he was talking about. He was, I
maintain, a wise an' remarkable bear. We learn to obey others, so
that by an' by we may know how to obey ourselves. The great master
of each man is himself. By words or by knocks ye will learn what
is right, and ye must do it. Dear children, ye must soon be yer
own masters. There be many cruel folk in the world, but ye have
only one to fear--yerself. Ah! ye shall find him a hard man, for,
if he be much offended, he will make ye drink o' the cup o' fire.
Learn to obey yerselves, an' God help ye."

Thereafter, many began to look into their own hearts for that
fearful master, and some discovered him.

XVI

A Rustic Museum

That first week Sidney Trove went to board at the home of "the two
old maids," a stone house on Jericho Road, with a front door
rusting on idle hinges and blinds ever drawn. It was a hundred
feet or more from the highway, and in summer there were flowers
along the path from its little gate and vines climbing to the upper
windows. In winter its garden was buried deep under the snow. One
family--the Vaughns--came once in awhile to see "the two old
maids." Few others ever saw them save from afar. A dressmaker
came once a year and made gowns for them, that were carefully hung
in closets but never worn. To many of their neighbours they were
as dead as if they had been long in their graves. Tales of their
economy, of their odd habits, of their past, went over hill and
dale to far places. They had never boarded the teacher and were
put in a panic when the trustee came to speak of it.

"He's a grand young man," said he; "good company--and you'll enjoy
it."

They looked soberly at each other. According to tradition, one was
fifty-four the other fifty-five years of age. An exclamation broke
from the lips of one. It sounded like the letter _y_ whispered
quickly.

"Y!" the other answered.

"It might make a match," said Mr. Blount, the trustee, smiling.

"Y! Samuel Blount!" said the younger one, coming near and smiting
him playfully on the elbow. "You stop!"

Miss Letitia began laughing silently. They never laughed aloud.

"If he didn't murder us," said Miss S'mantha, doubtfully.

"Nonsense," said the trustee; "I'll answer for him."

"Can't tell what men'll do," she persisted weakly. "When I was in
Albany with Alma Haskins, a man came 'long an' tried t' pass the
time o' day with us. We jes' looked t'other way an' didn't preten'
t' hear him. It's awful t' think what might 'a' happened."

She wiped invisible tears with an embroidered handkerchief. The
dear lady had spent a good part of her life thinking of that narrow
escape.

"If he wa'n't too partic'lar," said Miss Letitia, who had been
laughing at this maiden fear of her sister.

"If he would mind his business, we--we might take him for one
week," said Miss S'mantha. She glanced inquiringly at her sister.

Letitia and S'mantha Tower, "the two old maids," had but one near
relative--Ezra Tower, a brother of the same neighbourhood.

There were two kinds of people in Faraway,--those that Ezra Tower
spoke to and those he didn't. The latter were of the majority. As
a forswearer of communication he was unrivalled. His imagination
was a very slaughter-house, in which all who crossed him were
slain. If they were passing, he looked the other way and never
even saw them again. Since the probate of his father's will both
sisters were of the number never spoken to. He was a thin, tall,
sullen, dry, and dusty man. Dressed for church of a Sunday, he
looked as if he had been stored a year in some neglected cellar.
His broadcloth had a dingy aspect, his hair and beard and eyebrows
the hue of a cobweb. He had a voice slow and rusty, a look arid
and unfruitful. Indeed, it seemed as if the fires of hate and envy
had burned him out.

The two old maids, feeling the disgrace of it and fearing more,
ceased to visit their neighbours or even to pass their own gate.
Poor Miss S'mantha fell into the deadly mire of hypochondria. She
often thought herself very ill and sent abroad for every medicine
advertised in the county paper. She had ever a faint look and a
thin, sickly voice. She had the man-fear,--a deep distrust of
men,--never ceasing to be on her guard. In girlhood, she had been
to Albany, Its splendour and the reckless conduct of one Alma
Haskins, companion of her travels, had been ever since a day-long
perennial topic of her conversation. Miss Letitia was more
amiable. She had a playful, cheery heart in her, a mincing and
precise manner, and a sweet voice. What with the cleaning,
dusting, and preserving, they were ever busy. A fly, driven hither
and thither, fell of exhaustion if not disabled with a broom. They
were two weeks getting ready for the teacher. When, at last, he
came that afternoon, supper was ready and they were nearly worn out.

"Here he is!" one whispered suddenly from a window. Then, with a
last poke at her hair, Miss Letitia admitted the teacher. They
spoke their greeting in a half whisper and stood near, waiting
timidly for his coat and cap.

"No, thank you," said he, taking them to a nail. "I can do my own
hanging, as the man said when he committed suicide."

Miss S'mantha looked suspicious and walked to the other side of the
stove. Impressed by the silence of the room, much exaggerated by
the ticking of the clock, Sidney Trove sat a moment looking around
him. Daylight had begun to grow dim. The table, with its cover
of white linen, was a thing to give one joy. A ruby tower of
jelly, a snowy summit of frosted cake, a red pond of preserved
berries, a mound of chicken pie, and a corduroy marsh of mince,
steaming volcanoes of new biscuit, and a great heap of apple
fritters, lay in a setting of blue china. They stood a moment by
the stove,--the two sisters,--both trembling in this unusual
publicity. Miss Letitia had her hand upon the teapot.

"Our tea is ready," said she, presently, advancing to the table.
She spoke in a low, gentle tone.

"This is grand!" said he, sitting down with them. "I tell you,
we'll have fun before I leave here."

They looked up at him and then at each other, Letitia laughing
silently, S'mantha suspicious. For many years fun had been a thing
far from their thought.

"Play checkers?" he inquired.

"Afraid we couldn't," said Miss Letitia, answering for both.

"Old Sledge?"

She shook her head, smiling.

"I don't wish to lead you into recklessness," the teacher remarked,
"but I'm sure you wouldn't mind being happy."

Miss S'mantha had a startled look.

"In--in a--proper way," he added. "Let's be joyful. Perhaps we
could play 'I spy.'"

"Y!" they both exclaimed, laughing silently.

"Never ate chicken pie like that," he added in all sincerity. "If
I were a poet, I'd indite an ode 'written after eating some of the
excellent chicken pie of the Misses Tower.' I'm going to have some
like it on my farm."

In reaching to help himself he touched the teapot, withdrawing his
hand quickly.

"Burn ye?" said Miss S'mantha.

"Yes; but I like it!" said he, a bit embarrassed. "I often go
and--and put my hand on a hot teapot if I'm having too much fun."

They looked up at him, puzzled.

"Ever slide down hill?" he inquired, looking from one to the other,
after a bit of silence.

"Oh, not since we were little!" said Miss Letitia, holding her
biscuit daintily, after taking a bite none too big for a bird to
manage.

"Good fun!" said be. "Whisk you back to childhood in a jiffy.
Folks ought to slide down hill more'n they do. It isn't a good
idea to be always climbing."

"'Fraid we couldn't stan' it," said Miss S'mantha, tentatively.
Under all her man-fear and suspicion lay a furtive recklessness.

"Y, no!" the other whispered, laughing silently.

The pervading silence of that house came flooding in between
sentences. For a moment Trove could hear only the gurgle of
pouring tea and the faint rattle of china softly handled. When he
felt as if the silence were drowning him, he began again:--

"Life is nothing but a school. I'm a teacher, and I deal in rules.
If you want to kill misery, load your gun with pleasure."

"Do you know of anything for indigestion?" said Miss S'mantha,
charging her sickly voice with a firmness calculated to discourage
any undue familiarity.

"Just the thing--a sure cure!" said he, emphatically.

"Come high?" she inquired.

"No, it's cheap and plenty."

"Where do you send?"

"Oh!" said he; "you will have to go after it."

"What is it called ?"

"Fun," said the teacher, quickly; "and the place to find it is out
of doors. It grows everywhere on my farm. I'd rather have a pair
of skates than all the medicine this side of China."

She set down her teacup and looked up at him. She was beginning to
think him a fairly safe and well-behaved man, although she would
have been more comfortable if he had been shut in a cage.

"If I had a pair o' skates," said she, faintly, with a look of
inquiry at her sister, "I dunno but I'd try 'em."

Miss Letitia began to laugh silently.

"I'd begin with overshoes," said the teacher, "A pair of overshoes
and a walk on the crust every morning before breakfast; increase
the dose gradually."

The two old maids were now more at ease with their guest. His
kindly manner and plentiful good spirits had begun to warm and
cheer them. Miss S'mantha even cherished a secret resolve to slide
if the chance came.

After tea Sidney Trove, against their protest, began to help with
the dishes. Miss S'mantha prudently managed to keep the stove
between him and her. A fire and candles were burning in the
parlour. He asked permission, however, to stay where he could talk
with them. Tunk Hosely, the man of all work, came in for his
supper. He was an odd character. Some, with a finger on their
foreheads, confided the opinion that he was "a little off." All
agreed he was no fool--in a tone that left it open to argument. He
had a small figure and a big squint. His perpetual squint and
bristly, short beard were a great injustice to him. They gave him
a look severer than he deserved. A limp and leaning shoulder
complete the inventory of external traits. Having eaten, he set a
candle in the old barn lantern.

"Wal, mister," said he, when all was ready, "come out an' look at
my hoss."

The teacher went with him out under a sky bright with stars to the
chill and gloomy stable.

"Look at me," said Tunk, holding up the lantern as he turned about.
"Gosh all fish-hooks! I'm a wreck."

"What's the matter?" Sidney Trove inquired.

"All sunk in--right here," Tunk answered impressively, his hand to
his chest.

"How did it happen?"

"Kicked by a boss; that's how it happened," was the significant
answer. "Lord! I'm all shucked over t' one side--can't ye see it?"

"A list t' sta'b'rd--that's what they call it, I believe," said the
teacher.

"See how I limp," Tunk went on, striding to show his pace. "Ain't
it awful!"

"How did that happen?"

"Sprung my ex!" he answered, turning quickly with a significant
look. "Thrown from a sulky in a hoss race an' sprung my ex. Lord!
can't ye see it?"

The teacher nodded, not knowing quite how to take him.

"Had my knee unsot, too," he went on, lifting his knee as he turned
the light upon it. "Jes' put yer finger there," said he,
indicating a slight protuberance. "Lord! it's big as a bog spavin."

He had planned to provoke a query, and it came.

"How did you get it?"

"Kicked ag'in," said Tunk, sadly. "Heavens! I've had my share o'
bangin'. Can't conquer a skittish hoss without sufferin' some--not
allwus. Now, here's a boss," he added, as they walked to a stall.
"He ain't much t' look at, but--"

He paused a moment as he neared the horse--a white and ancient
palfrey. He stood thoughtfully on "cocked ankles," every leg in a
bandage, tail and mane braided,

"Get ap, Prince," Tunk shouted, as he gave him a slap. Prince
moved aside, betraying evidence of age and infirmity.

"But--" Tunk repeated with emphasis.

"Ugly?" the teacher queried.

"Ugly!" said Tunk, as if the word were all too feeble for the fact
in hand. "Reg'lar hell on wheels!--that's what he is. Look out!
don't git too nigh him. He ain't no conscience--that hoss ain't."

"Is he fast?"

"Greased lightnin'!" said Tunk, shaking his head. "Won
twenty-seven races."

"You're a good deal of a horseman, I take it." said the teacher.

"Wal, some," said he, expectorating thoughtfully. "But I don't
have no chance here. What d'ye 'spect of a man livin,' with them
ol' maids ?"

He seemed to have more contempt than his words would carry.

"Every night they lock me upstairs," he continued with a look of
injury; "they ain't fit fer nobody t' live with. Ain't got no hoss
but that dummed ol' plug."

He had forgotten his enthusiasm of the preceding moment. His
intellect was a museum of freaks. Therein, Vanity was the
prodigious fat man, Memory the dwarf, and Veracity the living
skeleton. When Vanity rose to show himself, the others left the
stage.

Tunk's face had become suddenly thoughtful and morose. In truth,
he was an arrant and amusing humbug. It has been said that
children are all given to lying in some degree, but seeing the
folly of it in good time, if, indeed, they are not convinced of its
wickedness, train tongue and feeling into the way of truth. The
respect for truth that is the beginning of wisdom had not come to
Tunk. He continued to lie with the cheerful inconsistency of a
child. The' hero of his youth had been a certain driver of
trotting horses, who had a limp and a leaning shoulder. In Tunk,
the limp and the leaning shoulder were an attainment that had come
of no sudden wrench. Such is the power of example, he admired,
then imitated, and at last acquired them. One cannot help thinking
what graces of character and person a like persistency would have
brought to him. But Tunk had equipped himself with horsey heroism,
adorning it to his own fancy. He had never been kicked, he had
never driven a race or been hurled from a sulky at full speed.
Prince, that ancient palfrey, was the most harmless of all
creatures, and would long since have been put out of misery but for
the tender consideration of his owners. And Tunk--well, they used
to say of him, that if he had been truthful, he couldn't have been
alive.

"Sometime," Trove thought, "his folly may bring confusion upon wise
heads."

XVII

An Event in the Rustic Museum

Sidney Trove sat talking a while with Miss Letitia. Miss S'mantha,
unable longer to bear the unusual strain of danger and publicity,
went away to bed soon after supper. Tunk Hosely came in with a
candle about nine.

"Wal, mister," said he, "you ready t' go t' bed?"

"I am," said Trove, and followed him to the cold hospitality of the
spare room, a place of peril but beautifully clean. There was a
neat rag carpet on the floor, immaculate tidies on the bureau and
wash table, and a spotless quilt of patchwork on the bed. But,
like the dungeon of mediaeval times, it was a place for sighs and
reflection, not for rest. Half an inch of frost on every
window-pane glistened in the dim light of the candle.

"As soon as they unlock my door, I'll come an' let ye out in the
mornin'," Tunk whispered.

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